“No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it.”
– Albert Einstein
It has been a strange year for many – very unpredictable, transitional, and emotional. Definitely a year of letting go, and of new beginnings. I usually send the last newsletter of the year closer to the Winter Solstice or the New Year, but this year it seemed more appropriate to touch base with you near Thanksgiving.
During unknown or challenging times, it is important to remember what you are thankful for – and sometimes you may be so overwhelmed or frightened that it can be very difficult. However, if you allow yourself to be still for a minute – you will be able to find something that you are thankful for. It may be a situation, a person, a quality within yourself, a beloved pet, an enjoyable hobby, a sunrise or sunset, a flower, etc. It may be that you are grateful you made it through another day. Gratitude can be big or small – it doesn’t matter – what matters is allowing yourself to recognize it, acknowledge it, and feel it’s warmth.
Regularly noticing the things in your life which make you feel thankful (and they can change daily) reminds you to be open and hopeful. Positive thought really does build upon itself, just as negative thought does. They also do coexist. The beauty of it (which we often forget) is that you can always, at any time, make an adjustment by bringing light into your thoughts. And, yes, some days this is harder to do than others.
Although 2010 was described as a challenging year by many, it has been a year in which shifts have begun. Many individuals have begun, or are beginning, to see the changes in their lives. Things may not be where you had hoped they would be at this time, but more often than not, if you step back, you will be able to see the progress on yourself, your life, etc. The progress may look/feel like baby steps, or great strides, but either way the steps are leading you forward and you are taking them!
2011 promises to be a different year. It is a less transitional year, and more of a year in which people will see some concrete changes (these will vary with each individual, and with the amount of effort you have been putting into your necessary changes and desired goals the past few years). It should be an easier, lighter year with more births, less deaths. It is a more positive and settled year. When I ‘look’ at it – I see a beautiful little pink flower just coming up out of the earth in the morning sun. I am so happy to be able to tell you this!
I know that for many of you the changes and opportunities that were presented to you this year came in surprising ways. The energy shifts have resembled a roller coaster ride complete with tunnels. Congratulations on adapting to the twists and turns. As you look back on this year, remember to think about all the things you learned, and to be thankful for the knowledge that you now possess, and can use in a variety of situations.
Below you will find some articles having to do with wellness, a few local holistic recommendations, some links to sites offering unique and meaningful gifts for yourself or someone else, a good excerpt on meditation, and a poem.
I am so thankful and blessed to have crossed paths with each and every one of you. Have a Splendid Holiday Season! As always, I am available to support and encourage you on your path to well-being and wholeness ~ please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Be Well, Be Thankful. Be Love…
In Peace & Gratitude,
Natural Allergy Relief – Allergy Treatment Without Medication by Corey Binns
Itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing and coughing are all signs that allergy season has arrived, and it’s hitting harder than ever, with experts predicting this will be the worst allergy season in a decade. While many sufferers typically reach for an arsenal of over-the-counter or prescription medications to fend off symptoms, others may be bothered by the potential side effects or unable to take some due to certain medical conditions. The good news is you may be able to treat your worst allergy symptoms without medication.
Supplements and lifestyle strategies may promise relief. But be sure to talk to your doctor before taking any supplements, as they may interact with other medications you’re taking, says Roberta Lee, M.D., vice chair of the Department of Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center and author of “The Superstress Solution.” In addition, read the box for the appropriate dosage and take according to the directions or as instructed by your doctor.
Watch the Clock
To keep pesky pollen, grass and other allergens at bay, keep your windows closed in the morning and at dusk, when allergens are at their peak. Avoid exercising during those times, as well. “If you’re running at that time of day, you’re basically inoculating yourself,” says Lee. Take a shower after being outside to scrub off pollen and other allergens. Same goes for Fido. Give your pets a good washing so they’re not dragging pollen into the house.
The fewer allergens you have in your system, the less you’ll sneeze and sniffle. Take a deep breath outside, however, and you’ll inhale pollen and other allergens that stick to your mucus membranes. That’s where a Neti Pot comes in handy. The hypertonic saline wash can flush out these allergens in your nasal passages. “Pre-made nasal irrigation solutions found at the drugstore are perfectly fine to use,” says Lee. She recommends using the Neti Pot twice a day.
This ingredient, found in many spicy foods, comes from the chili pepper plant and can act as a pain reliever. It may also clear up your congestion. An over-the-counter nasal spray for allergies, called Sinol, uses capsaicin. “The spray has an apparent effect on nasal membranes to reduce irritation by allergens such as pollens,” says Clifford Bassett, M.D., a member of the faculty at New York University School of Medicine and assistant clinical professor of medicine at the Long Island College Hospital SUNY at Brooklyn.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Oily fish, green leafy vegetables, flax seed and hemp seed are all rich in omega-3. “The trouble is most people don’t get enough in their diet,” says Lee. “I prescribe omega-3 for general health as an anti-inflammatory.” This can help reduce inflammation, which amplifies an allergic response. Lee recommends eating oily fish such as salmon, tuna, herring and sardines once or twice a week. If you’re not a fish eater, take one to three grams of omega-3 fatty acids from supplements each day.
Found in sunlight and naturally occurring in some foods, such as egg yolks, herring and cod liver oil, vitamin D is vital to protecting muscle strength as we age and in preventing cancer, diabetes and autoimmune diseases and may offer asthma and allergy protection. Ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels. Lee recommends taking 2,000 international units of vitamin D3 a day if they’re low. Or, if it’s a warm, sunny day, expose one third of your body to the sunshine for 10 minutes.
Ginger and Turmeric
Your spice cupboard is home to a host of tasty allergy remedies. “Get involved in your senses and enjoy spices that inadvertently make your food healthier,” says Lee. Both tumeric and ginger are powerful anti-inflammatories that may help reduce nasal and sinus inflammation. And unlike medications, they are also high in antioxidants. Lee says you can reduce inflammation and add more vitamins to your diet all at once by drinking two to three cups of ginger tea a day or cooking with two to four grams of tumeric a day. “It’s kind of like getting two medicines in one.”
Stinging Nettle and Quercetin
Your body’s mast cells are filled with chemicals that cause inflammation. Exposure to an allergen can cause the mast cell to rupture, releasing chemicals that start an allergic reaction. Stinging nettle and quercetin are anti-inflammatory supplements that can act as mast cell stabilizers. Lee recommends taking two to four capsules of stinging nettle every four to six hours. Quercetin works like a natural Benadryl, Lee says. Take 500 mg twice a day.
This herbal supplement avoids the chain reaction of an allergy attack and decreases swelling. “It helps with itchy eyes, swelling in your nose and coughing.” She recommends taking about 50 mg twice a day.
This ancient medical practice can alleviate many allergy symptoms. But, Lee cautions, you should find an acupuncturist who has trained for at least four years. Lee says you may want to visit an acupuncturist as often as twice a week when your symptoms are at their worst. During the winter when allergies subside, you may not need to see someone at all.
Pollen isn’t the only thing that makes a bad allergy season. Chronic stress can contribute. “People with asthma have far worse asthma when they’re stressed,” says Lee. Allergies are similar. To alleviate stress, Lee recommends an anti-inflammatory diet and deep breathing exercises.
Drinking Water At The Correct Time
Maximizes its Effectiveness On the Human Body
– 2 glasses of water after waking up – helps activate internal organs
– 1 glass of water 30 minutes before a meal – helps digestion
– 1 glass of water before taking a bath – helps lower blood pressure
– 1 glass of water before going to bed – avoids stroke or heart attack
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Olive leaf is the leaf of the olive tree (Olea europaea). While olive oil is well known for its flavor and health benefits, the leaf has been used medicinally in various times and places. Natural olive leaf and olive leaf extracts are now marketed as anti-aging, immunostimulators, and even antibiotics. Clinical evidence has proven the blood pressure lowering effects of carefully extracted olive leaf extracts. Bioassays support its antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory effects at a laboratory level. A liquid extract made directly from fresh olive leaves recently gained international attention when it was shown to have an antioxidant capacity almost double green tea extract and 400% higher than vitamin C. continued…. (see website – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olive_leaf)
Information also available at: http://www.herbwisdom.com/herb-olive-leaf.html , http://health.learninginfo.org/herbs/olive-leaf-extract.htm
1. Cucumbers contain most of the vitamins you need every day, just one cucumber contains Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B3, Vitamin B5, Vitamin B6, Folic Acid, Vitamin C, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium and Zinc.
2. Feeling tired in the afternoon, put down the caffeinated soda and pick up a cucumber. Cucumbers are a good source of B Vitamins and Carbohydrates that can provide that quick pick-me-up that can last for hours.
3. Tired of your bathroom mirror fogging up after a shower? Try rubbing a cucumber slice along the mirror, it will eliminate the fog and provide a soothing, spa-like fragrance.
4. Are grubs and slugs ruining your planting beds? Place a few slices in a small pie tin and your garden will be free of pests all season long. The chemicals in the cucumber react with the aluminum to give off a scent undetectable to humans but drive garden pests crazy and make them flee the area.
5 Looking for a fast and easy way to remove cellulite before going out or to the pool? Try rubbing a slice or two of cucumbers along your problem area for a few minutes, the phytochemicals in the cucumber cause the collagen in your skin to tighten, firming up the outer layer and reducing the visibility of cellulite. Works great on wrinkles too!!!
6.. Want to avoid a hangover or terrible headache? Eat a few cucumber slices before going to bed and wake up refreshed and headache free. Cucumbers contain enough sugar, B vitamins and electrolytes to replenish essential nutrients the body lost, keeping everything in equilibrium, avoiding both a hangover and headache!!
7. Looking to fight off that afternoon or evening snacking binge? Cucumbers have been used for centuries and often used by European trappers, traders and explores for quick meals to thwart off starvation.
8. Have an important meeting or job interview and you realize that you don’t have enough time to polish your shoes? Rub a freshly cut cucumber over the shoe, its chemicals will provide a quick and durable shine that not only looks great but also repels water.
9. Out of WD 40 and need to fix a squeaky hinge? Take a cucumber slice and rub it along the problematic hinge, and voila, the squeak is gone!
10. Stressed out and don’t have time for massage, facial or visit to the spa? Cut up an entire cucumber and place it in a boiling pot of water, the chemicals and nutrients from the cucumber with react with the boiling water and be released in the steam, creating a soothing, relaxing aroma that has been shown the reduce stress in new mothers and college students during final exams.
11. Just finish a business lunch and realize you don’t have gum or mints? Take a slice of cucumber and press it to the roof of your mouth with your tongue for 30 seconds to eliminate bad breath, the phytochemcials will kill the bacteria in your mouth responsible for causing bad breath.
12. Looking for a ‘green’ way to clean your faucets, sinks or stainless steel? Take a slice of cucumber and rub it on the surface you want to clean, not only will it remove years of tarnish and bring back the shine, but is won’t leave streaks and won’t harm you fingers or fingernails while you clean.
13. Using a pen and made a mistake? Take the outside of the cucumber and slowly use it to erase the pen writing, also works great on crayons and markers that the kids have used to decorate the walls!!
|The Dash by Linda EllisThe Dash movie launched Simple Truths into the limelight, and has been viewed over 30 million times. See what everyone has been watching, and check out our blog for inspirational videos and articles, http://blog.simpletruths.com, and click on the link to receive a FREE newsletter! http://www.thedashmovie.com/land.html
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901 Cherry Ave, San Bruno, CA 94066
– Barbara Donoghue, CMT, offers incredible massage sessions that incorporate a combination of modalities including Swedish and Deep Tissue, Shiatsu and Pressure Point Therapy, Stretching, CranioSacral Therapy, and Energywork. Pregnancy massage is also available. Call 323/252-8553 for more information, and to schedule an appointment in your home or office. You will love it!
– Dr. David Bond (Doctor of Chiropractic, Qualified Medical Evaluator, Diplomate in Homeopathy, Diplomate in Pain Management, Qi Gong instructor) is skilled in deep tissue, trigger point release, myofasical release and neuromuscular reeducation techniques as well as traditional and non-force chiropractic techniques. Dr. Bond also incorporates nutritional therapies, detoxification protocols and energy medicine. For more information, visit www.essentialchiropracticcenter.com or Call 818/501-8743 to schedule an appointment in either Sherman Oaks or Woodland Hills. He is the best!
– Herbs of Hope Inc./Rev. Dr. Damir de Balkany M.C.C. Master Herbalist – Radiesthetist. Offering Testing & Consultation. Located in Ventura, CA (46 S. California Street #9, Ventura, CA 93001). Call 805/652-1658 for further information. His work is remarkable!
Fortune Sitole, Artist: Unique and remarkable art. Description: “current pieces that “assemble mixed media to create townships of South Africa, showing every day life – playing ball, jumping rope, walking to school, washing, music and dancing. I use wood, sand, aluminum, oil and acrylic paint, sticks, bottle caps and other objects. I use all recycled materials and my work has been categorized as Folk Art, Raw Art, Township Art and Green Art. Townships in South Africa are slowly disappearing and my work documents their history…. Fashioning my work as homage to my ancestors, family and community, these pieces are a reminder of the day-to-day life in black South African townships. But shanties exist throughout the world and my art actually tells a story of the universality of poverty… The characters in my scenes are about communities who have overcome adversity and have progressed into the 21st century.” Fortune’s Website: www.fortunesgallery.com
Josephine Wall, Artist: This artist’s creative output includes painting, pottery figures, sculpture, stained glass, and customized items of clothing. She states that “Much of the inspiration for her mystical images comes from her close observation of nature and her interest in its preservation. Though she often strives to impart a message in her scenes, she also hopes to inspire in her audience a personal journey into the magical world of their own imagination.” Please visit her website at: www.josephinewall.co.uk to see her work, and learn more.
Plein Air Life – Handmade Lip Balm, Lotions, and Skincare: This company offers an incredible line of handmade products utilizing the freshest ingredients. Products include handmade soap, candles, scrubs, lotions, body sprays, lip balms, lip colors, body balms, essential oils & fragrance oils. They are located in Laguna, CA but their products can be purchased online. For more information, visit their site at: www.pleinairlife.com
The Crystal Matrix Center in Los Angeles offers a wide selection of crystals, minerals, classes, workshops, and holipathic treatments. Please visit their site for more information:
BALI MALAS offers spiritual jewelry, created by Aum Rudraksha Designs, all comprised of the rudraksha bead. Rudraksha beads are a symbol of compassion for humanity, a reminder of the present. Please visit their website at: www.balimalas.com
Juliette Campbell Jewelry is hand-made in New York City. All the stones are natural and of the highest quality available. Each piece is one-of-a-kind and created to be worn as an everyday talisman to bring peace, happiness and good health into your life. The website shows her pieces, and provides explanations of symbols and stones: www.juliettecampbelljewelry.com
Excerpt from “Broken Open” by Elizabeth Lesser
Since I have studied a variety of meditation practices, from teachers and cultures all over the world, one might think I have a highly ritualized and complicated meditation practice. But actually my practice is simple. While it is surely informed by all of my study and experiences, I would be mocking the real meaning of meditation if I represented it as an exotic journey. Immersion into many forms of meditation has led me deeper and deeper into the most essential core of all of them: mindfulness – a nondenominational form of practice that teaches moment-to-moment awareness, a kind of falling in love with naked reality.
While books and tapes are good introductions to mindfulness meditation, I believe that they are not a powerful as working with a teacher or a group – what is called in the East a sangha, or a community of seekers. A teacher or a sangha keeps us on track, inspires us, and answers questions along the way. If meditation is something that appeals to you, I suggest participating in a weekend retreat or workshop in your area or at a retreat center. Many community churches or yoga centers have weekly meditation groups. The following instructions are meant to help you begin meditating, or to revive a stalled routine.
Chögyam Trungpa was one of my first meditation teachers. He taught meditation as a twofold process: first, as a way to access stability and dignity in the midst of any situation; and second, as a way to wake up, as if from a dream, into vibrant and genuine aliveness. Trungpa believed that at the core of life was what he called “basic goodness,” and that each one of us is basically good, and more than that, wonderfully noble. “You can transcend your embarrassment,” he said, “and take pride in being a human being.” Trungpa stressed good posture in sitting meditation practice as a way of demonstrating our basic goodness. He said that keeping a straight back is a way to overcome our embarrassment at being a human being. He often used the image of riding a horse when he taught meditation posture. Sitting tall in the saddle tells the horse that you are the master. Sitting tall on the meditation cushion or in a chair tells your mind and body that you are the master. Sitting upright in the saddle tells the world that you believe in yourself.
Posture in meditation does not refer only to a straight back. Posture includes the whole body. The body and mind are inseparable in meditation, and a relaxed and energetic body creates a beneficial base for meditation practice. Trungpa said that by working with posture in meditation, “you begin to feel that by simply being on the spot, your life can become workable and even wonderful. You realize that you are capable of sitting like a king or a queen on your horse. The regalness of that situation shows you the dignity that comes from being still and simple.”
I use Trungpa’s checklist of six body parts -seat, legs, torso, hands, eyes, mouth- as I sit down and assume a meditative posture. I elaborate here on each point:
1. Seat: It is best to sit on a firm pillow on the floor or on a firm-seated chair. If you use a chair, sot forward to that your back does not touch the back of the chair.
2. Legs: If you sit on a pillow, cross your legs comfortably in front of you, with your knees resting on the floor if they can. If you sit in a chair, put your feet flat on the floor, knees and feet hip width apart.
3. Torso: Keep your back comfortably straight, your chest open, and your shoulders relaxed. Philip Kapleau Roshi, the first Zen teacher I studied with, writes, “If you are accustomed to letting the chest sink, it does require a conscious effort to keep it up in the beginning. When it becomes natural to walk and sit with the chest open, you begin to realize the many benefits of this ideal posture. The lungs are given additional space in which to expand, thus filling and stretching the air sacs. This in turn permits a greater intake of oxygen and washes the bloodstream, which carries away fatigue accumulated in the body.”
A straight back and soft shoulders is a natural position. It does not have to feel forced or painful. In fact, after time, meditation breeds a sense of overall comfort. But often when we start to meditate, assuming a straight back makes us suddenly aware of discomfort in the body. This is why many people who meditate also practice yoga, or another form of physical exercise that strengthens and stretches the body.
One of the best ways to maintain a straight back and open chest in meditation is to repeat silently a phrase whenever you feel physical pain. For example, if you feel yourself tensing your shoulders as you hold your back straight during meditation, you can inwardly whisper to yourself, “soften, soften,” or “open, open.”
A straight back, open heart, and relaxed body will help your meditation practice immeasurably. A straight back will lead to dignity and courage. An open chest will nurture acceptance of life. A relaxed body will remind you to go easy on yourself, to treat your meditation practice as a gift instead of a chore.
4. Hands: Sometimes, when meditation gets very quiet, our concentration coagulates in the hands. It sounds strange, but you may experience this yourself. It’s not uncommon, as your exhalation dissolves outward, to feel as if all that is left of your body is your hands. Therefore, it is good to position your hands in a way that is both grounding and meaningful. You will notice in statues from a variety of religious traditions that the deities or saints hold their hands in intentional ways. These hand positions are called mudras in the Tantric Buddhist tradition – physical gestures that help evoke certain states of mind.
One frequently seen position is the forefinger lightly touching the thumb and the other three fingers flexed outward. Another common mudra is one hand resting in the palm of the other, thumbs touching. Many people like to meditate with their hands in the Christian prayer position of palms together, fingers pointing up. Some people meditate with their hands simply resting, palms down or upward, on their knees.
Each mudra evokes a specific quality that you can experience yourself merely by experimenting with them. For example, resting the palms upward on the knees indicates receptivity-openness to whatever comes your way. Hands placed downward on the knees produce a grounded feeling in the body, a sense of balance, and strength. My personal favorite hand position is where the thumb and index finger touch and create a circle. There is something about the thumb touching the finger that reminds me to be on the spot in my concentration, yet delicately so. I gently extend the other three fingers and rest my hands on my knees. This position keeps me steady and balanced. I attach the words on the spot to the mudra and use both the position of my hands and the intention of the mudra to bring my mind back to meditation when it wanders.
It is a good idea to stick with one position for your hands per meditation session, so as not to get distracted by the switching-mudra game. It’s very easy to turn anything into yet another way not to do the simple work of meditation. At the end of a meditation session, many traditions suggest raising the hands palm to palm and bowing. This is a way to indicate respect and gratitude for having meditated. It is also a way to experience a sense of humility as we bow to the universal forces of wisdom and compassion.
5. Eyes: Some meditation traditions recommend closing the eyes during meditation; others suggest keeping them open and directing the gaze downward, four to six feet in front of you, focusing on a point on the floor. Some suggest keeping a soft, unfocused gaze. I meditate with my eyes closed. You can experiment and see which way affords you the best relaxation and concentration. If you find that closing your eyes makes you sleepy, keep them open. If you find that keeping your eyes open is distracting, close them.
6. Mouth: We hold a lot of tension in the jaw. Let your jaw drop right now. Open your mouth wide, stick your tongue out, then close your mouth. Massage your jaw area from your ears to your chin. Now notice the difference. You can do this often during the day as a way to release tension. During meditation, it is not unusual for tension to gather in the jaw. The Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh recommends smiling slightly, while you meditate, a great way to keep the jaw soft. Or you can drop your jaw and open your mouth several times during meditation.
Understand that the pain or tension you may feel in your body as you meditate is
both physical and psychological. If you experience pain, constriction, restlessness, or all of the above, do not be alarmed, and do not take the attitude “no pain, no gain.” Adjust your position slowly and mindfully as many times as you want during a meditation session. The point of meditation is to be relaxed and awake. Therefore make sure you are comfortable, and at the same time sit in a way that keeps you alert.
At a meditation retreat I heard Thich Nhat Hanh answer a man who said he experienced pain in his shoulders and neck the minute he sat down to meditate. Thay asked the man if he felt that same pain the minute he sat down to watch television. He said that he did not.
“Do you stay awake for the whole hour?”
“Yes,” said the man.
“Well, then,” Thay suggested, “take that same position when you meditate and make the same adjustments for an hour and see what happens. Later you can see about straightening your body.”
As you sit down to meditate, approach the experience lightly so that your body relaxes, just as it would if you were about to slip into a bath or settle down before the television. Then choose your hand mudra, close your eyes, straighten your back, and at the same time soften your shoulders and expand your chest, so that your posture is also one of gentle openness.
Breath, posture, placement of hands, eyes open or shut: all of these techniques form the container for meditation practice. But none of them eradicates the absurd quantity and aggravating intensity of the thoughts that flood the mind when we sit down to meditate. Please expect this. Good thoughts, bad thoughts, pleasurable ones, disturbing ones – they will come and go as we sit in meditation, watching our breath, maintaining our posture. They are the weather of the mind. Our goal in meditation is not to get rid of thoughts. Rather, the goal is to abandon identifying with each thought as it comes and goes; to watch the thoughts as we would watch the weather from an observation tower.
Feelings also arise during meditation. They often rush into the empty space created when we slow down and sit still. At every retreat I have participated in, there are times when crying can be heard in the room. To an outsider it would appear strange to see a room full of people sitting in meditation on the floor or in chairs, some upright and silent, some bent over, crying softly. A strange sight indeed. But a beautiful one also. There is something so noble about the pure expression of feelings. When drama or sentimentality is absent, tears, are like a healing river moving freely through us. “The answer to anger or sadness or other negative states,” says Thich Nhat Hanh, “is not to suppress or to deny them, but to embrace them with mindfulness like a mother with a baby.” Suppressing feelings in meditation, as in daily life, is like blocking a stream with sticks and mud. Blocked emotions eventually gather enough pressure to break through the dams we construct. Better that they find their way out in the safe environment of meditation than in other situations, where we may be forced to act on them in thoughtless ways.
Guilt, doubt, anger, despair, and other forms of self-judgment are common visitors in meditation practice. So are our convictions, biases, and beliefs. The purpose of meditation is to step boldly into reality, just as it is in the here and now. Therefore, it is helpful to sweep the mind clean of belief systems. Strong opinions can be signs of our passion and intelligence, but sometimes they spring from that part of ourselves that wants to be right, and that holds on tightly to familiar explanations. The ego wants to be a “Republican” or a “Democrat,” an “American,” or a “European,” … It wants to judge things as right or wrong. It wants to be “for” something or “against” something. It does not want to delve more deeply into the full picture of reality. Thus, an opinion about the world can become a foe to mindfulness meditation. …
… As you establish a meditation practice, remind yourself every now and then why you are doing it. It is easy to fall into a rote form of practice or, even worse, to feel self-righteous or trendy just because you take a few minutes out of your day to cultivate a quiet mind and an open heart. Remind yourself that you are practicing so that you can be a peaceful person, so that the truths you discover in meditation become the way you live your life. After a while your practice will show up everywhere – from driving the car to reading a bedtime story to your child. Meditation is not separate from life; it is practice for mindful living.
One warning about meditation: Do not use it as yet another way to judge yourself. Meditation can be difficult. While it hones some of our better qualities, it also holds up a mirror to some of our worst. This is one of the reasons we do it: to see ourselves clearly; to love ourselves, warts and all; to crack through the hard crust of the personality until the gem of the self is revealed. Let your resolve to meditate spring from your longing to break open into life, not from enmity toward yourself. Let go of the burden of self-judgment by returning, over and over, to your most basic self, just as you are, with an attitude of forgiveness. Soon you will find yourself forgiving others, and forgiving the world itself.
TEN-STEP MEDITATION PRACTICE
1. Place and Time: Find a private and relatively quiet place where you will not be disturbed by people, children telephones, etc. Choose an amount of time you are going to meditate. Set a timer or keep a clock close by. Begin with ten minutes, and work your way up over a few weeks or months to a half hour or forty-five minutes.
2. Seat and Posture: Assume a comfortable posture, sitting cross-legged on a pillow on the floor or on a simple chair. Keep the spine straight, and let your shoulders soften and drop. Do a brief scan of the body, relaxing parts that are tight. Relax your jaw. Choose a hand position and gently hold it.
3. Beginning: Close your eyes (or keep your open eyes focused gently on a spot on the floor). Take a deep breath in and let it out with a sigh. Do this three times. As you sigh, release anything you are holding on to. Remind yourself that for these few minutes you are doing nothing but meditating. You can afford to drop everything else for the time being. The pressing details of your life will be waiting for you at the end of the session.
4. Breath: Bring your attention to your breathing, becoming aware of the natural flow of breath in and out of the body. Observe your chest and belly as they rise and expand on the in-breath, and fall and recede on the out-breath. Witness each in-breath as it enters your body and fills it with energy. Witness each out-breath as it leaves your body and dissipates into space. Then start again, bringing your attention back each time to the next breath. Let your breath be like a soft broom, gently sweepings its way through your body and mind.
5. Thoughts: When a thought takes you away from witnessing your breathing, take note of the thought without judging it, then gently bring your attention back to your chest or your belly and the feeling of the breath coming in and out. Remember that meditation is the practice of unconditional friendliness. Observe your thoughts with friendliness and then let the breath sweep them gently away.
6. Feelings: When feelings arise, do not resist them. Allow them to be. Observe them. Taste them. Experience them but do not identify with them. Let them run their natural course, then return to observing your breath. If you find yourself stuck in a feeling state, shift a little on your seat and straighten your posture. Get back in the saddle and gently pick up the reins of the breath.
7. Pain: If you feel pain in the body – your knees, for example, or your back – bring your awareness to the pain. Surround the area in pain with breath. Witness yourself in pain, as opposed to responding to the pain. If the pain is persistent, move gently to release tension, and return to your posture and breath. You may need to lean against a wall or the back of your chair, or you may want to straighten your legs for awhile. Avoid excess movement, but do not allow pain to dominate your experience.
8. Restlessness and Sleepiness: If you are agitated by thoughts or feelings, or if you feel as if you cannot sit still, or if you are bored to distraction, come back to your breath and your posture again and again. Treat yourself gently, as if you were training a puppy. Likewise, if a wave of sleepiness overtakes you, see if you can waken yourself by breathing a little more deeply, keeping your eyes open, and sitting up tall. Sleep and meditation are not the same thing. See if you can be as relaxed as you are during sleep, yet at the same time, awake and aware.
9. Counting Breaths: A good way to deal with all of these impediments to concentration is to count your breaths. On the in-breath, count “one,” and on the out breath, count “two.” Continue up to ten. Then begin again. If you lose count at any point, start over at “one.” As thoughts and feelings, pain and discomfort, restlessness and sleepiness arise, allow your counting to gently override their distracting chatter.
10. Discipline: For one week, practice meditation each day, whether you are in the mood or not. Even if it is for only five minutes, commit to a regular practice. See how you feel. If you notice a difference (or even if you don’t), commit to another week. Then consider joining a meditation group or taking a retreat and receiving more in-depth instruction and support in your practice.