Applying Mindfulness to Cope with Addiction by Kevin O'Brien

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Applying Mindfulness to Cope with Addiction by Kevin O'Brien

Applying Mindfulness to Cope with Addiction
by Kevin O'Brien

Addiction is a nearly universal problem.  Everyone has habits they would like to change.  Some are relatively inconsequential things, such as checking a smartphone a little too often, not being present with your loved ones, or eating unhealthy foods occasionally.  Other habits such as alcoholism, smoking, drug, gambling and sexual addictions can drastically affect the lives of the individual, their family and society in negative ways.

Whatever the habit, they all derive from the natural reward mechanism for seeking pleasure and avoiding pain.  Sometimes habits can be triggered by the pleasure associated with the act itself, such as a euphoric high of a substance or the taste of a food.  Other times they are triggered to avoid the pain of an uncomfortable feeling, such as taking a substance to stop physical or emotional pain, drinking to relax after a hard day at work, or having a smoke to calm nerves.  These habits are all responses that have been learned and unconsciously reinforced over many years, making them very difficult to stop even when a person has a strong desire to do so.   

Mindfulness meditation can be a very effective tool in changing undesirable habits in the following ways:

  1.    It teaches us to pay attention to the here and now.  Meditation at its core is a practice that helps build concentration and focus on what is happening within and around us.  We learn to notice our bodily sensations and thoughts that may have previously gone unnoticed, allowing us to catch stray thoughts and feelings that may not be helpful in reaching our goals.  We may catch a tempting thought or sensation before it gains a head of steam and becomes a full-fledged craving.

  2.   Mindfulness meditation helps us notice the space between the sensations (emotions, feelings, bodily sensations, thoughts), the urge to act on those sensations, the decision to act, and the actions themselves -- our behavior.  These steps may appear to be seamless, but they are not.  The focus and attention of a consistent meditation practice shows us that each of these points provides us with an opportunity to choose and not automatically do the behavior without considering the consequences or alternatives.

  3.   Meditation changes our relationship to cravings. One of the greatest insights that becomes obvious during a consistent meditation practice is the truth of impermanence, that everything has a beginning, a middle and an end.  We tend to give into cravings by believing that unless we do something to alleviate the discomfort the feeling is going to last forever.  If a craving arrives, we can learn to simply observe it.  Notice where it lies in our bodies, it may be a tightness in the belly or a tightness in the neck or back.  Notice the thoughts that arise.  Then notice the craving change.  It will start small, rise up like an ocean wave and then subside and disappear.  Perhaps the craving will come back but the cycle is always the same.  We are not stuck with a craving forever; it will go away of its own accord if allowed to and not given into no matter what our mind tells us. When we are able to feel the urges and not react to them by giving in to the craving, the reinforcement pattern gets weaker and in time the cravings become lessened or subside all together.

  4.   Mindfulness also allows us to learn from our slips. Training the mind in meditation practice allows us to notice what were the triggers that brought on the cravings and what was going on in our bodies and minds before, during, and after we indulged.  This awareness helps us to be more vigilant to the factors that were present within and around us before and during our slip.  We may notice feelings of shame and inadequacy after a slip. Feelings that, if not acknowledged and dealt with, may bring on the “what the heck” effect, repeating the behavior again to self soothe because you feel bad about screwing up.

Here is a simple meditation practice to help cope with cravings:

1. Practice breath awareness for a few minutes to gain focus and to bring yourself in the present.

2. Introduce something into your mind that is mildly pleasurable or will relieve discomfort, something other than the substance or behavior you are trying to correct if you know you have a problem.  An example of something mildly pleasurable may be a favorite food, drink or something that isn’t healthy but tastes good but is not what you are addicted to.  An example of something to relieve discomfort: having to wait to use the bathroom or mild cramping in the back while sitting in meditation.

  • What are the thoughts that come up about this?  Where do the desires arise in the body?  Just notice, don’t do anything, just observe using your breathing to bring you back if you get too lost in the thought or too focused on the craving.
     
  • Notice that the craving waxes and wanes.  Notice there is a space between you and the craving.  The craving or behavior does not define who you are.  The craving begins as a small wavelet and rises to a giant wave, then subsides, begins, rises and subsides.

3. Return to the breath practice for a few minutes.

As you get more accustomed to this in your sitting practice and you are feeling stable, introduce thinking about whatever you are addicted to in the same way during your meditation sitting practice.  This may naturally happen in your normal practice through the normal workings of the mind.  Use the breath to notice the impermanent nature of these cravings.  They rise and subside, rise and subside.

Then take it out to the real world when you are tempted by an addiction or addictive behavior.  Using your mindfulness practice will help you notice the craving early so you don’t go on auto-pilot and do the addictive habit without awareness. Use the breath to ride the craving until it subsides.  Don’t reinforce it with your thoughts.  When it goes away, let it go.  When it comes back, become aware of it until it goes away on its own.

I hope this technique is a helpful addition to your mechanisms for coping with undesirable habits or addictions.

Kevin O'Brien
New Leaf Meditation Instructor
New Leaf Board of Advisers

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The Jar in Our Minds by Larry Perkins

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The Jar in Our Minds by Larry Perkins

The Jar in Our Mind
by Larry Perkins

 

Many people begin meditation with a misconception of what meditation is or the benefits it can provide.  Today, I'd like to discuss the misconception that meditation will stop your mind from thinking.  This is akin to believing that because you have placed a mask on your face you would no longer be able to breathe, or by placing a glove on your hand you would no longer be able to grab things.

Just as your lungs provide a means to transfer oxygen from the air to your blood, and fingers provide a sense of touchour minds serve a function as well: to create thoughts.  But do not be discouraged, because through meditation you can learn to become aware of these thoughts and, in doing so, learn to identify less with them and be able to more clearly see them for what they are: the mental phenomenon of this existence.

Let us envision for a moment that your head is a large transparent jar of water.  As you look into the jar, this is analogous to your perceiving the world around you through the thoughts in your mind.  In this case, there are no thoughts that cloud your perception.

Now, let’s add some of these ‘thoughts.’  In our example, we will use confetti, some dirt, and food coloring.  Just like the thoughts created by our minds, these items create a cloud through which we end up seeing the world.  If we only added dirt and were to believe what we see, we would believe that the world is a dirty, muddy place.  If we used confetti, we could be deluded into thinking that the world was some kind of party.  And if we only add food coloring, we would be tricked into seeing that the world is shaded some color or another.  If we do a mixture of these things, it would be more representative of the thoughts that are typically generated: there are some negative thoughts (like the dirt), there are some good thoughts (like the confetti), and there are thoughts that are colored by the past stories we have told ourselves and continue to believe.

As we live our lives, our mind creates thoughts based on the experiences we are involved in.  This ‘churning’ keeps our thoughts swirling through our mind.   In order for these things to settle in the jar, we have to put it on some flat, level surface.  Similarly, in order for our minds to settle, we have to let them process the experiences we have had without adding more to them.  This is where the sitting practice of meditation comes in.  By sitting and following our breath, we are providing an opportunity for our minds to work through and sort out the experiences of our lives.

This settling isn’t an easy process.  Because we have been conditioned to believe that the stories our thoughts present us are true, we will be distracted by the thoughts as they drift before our awareness.  When that happens, we will respond and follow the thoughtand that is okay and natural.

By being present with our breath, we can guide our attention and awareness away from the ever-present thoughts and allow them to work through themselves without carrying us along with them.  The very fact we recognize that we have transitioned from being aware of the breath is where we are presented the choice: continue following the entrapping thought or return to the breath.  It is always a choice, and one that we will experience over and over again each time we practice our meditation.

Bio: Larry Perkins is a Performance Improvement Coordinator in the Nuclear Industry who spent 11 years serving in the US Navy. He has been an informal student of meditation since 2010 when he first came across such influential persons as Alan Watts and Ram Dass (Richard Alpert).  A spiritual non-theist, he has 2 daughters and 2 sons over the course of 2 marriages so he has a firm grasp on the role of duality in this incarnation.  He became qualified as a volunteer Meditation Instructor for the New Leaf Meditation Project in December 2016 and serves on the New Leaf Board of Advisers.  Everyday, Larry looks for opportunities to learn without boundaries and teach without preaching.

 

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Finding Comfort in Discomfort: Chronic Pain and Illness

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Finding Comfort in Discomfort: Chronic Pain and Illness

37-year-old Catherine carries the weary body of a 90-year-old with grace and dignity as she quietly suffers with simple tasks because of her rheumatoid arthritis. She showed up to a beginners’ meditation class in the hopes of developing patience and finding acceptance with her aching body.
 
I met Robert 3 years ago after his seventh failed back surgery. The doctors recommended a course of daily pain medication that would leave him undesirably stupefied. He was looking for an alternative solution that would keep his feet planted on the ground.  
 
Venus came to a practice because she struggles with the will to live and the chronic depression that follows her in the wake of years of abuse. She trusted a meditation practice would help her find meaning, purpose and hope in her life.
 
I continue to be inspired by John who competes in triathlons on good days but meditates because some days he can’t get out of bed when he feels the effects of his slowly progressing multiple sclerosis.
 
We are confronted with a seemingly hopeless situation when we discover we have a condition that will not get any better.
 
But there is hope.
 
I have witnessed it in my friends Robert, Venus, Cat, John and countless others.
 
Over the 60+ years of his teaching, the Buddha talked extensively about how we were prisoners to the impulses that drives us away from things that make us uncomfortable and towards the things that give us pleasure. He proposed a radical path to finding inner peace, a middle way, that suggested we didn’t have to be the unwitting passengers on a boat that tugged us one way or another. We could choose how we respond to discomfort and craving: We could simply sit.
 
I know, I know. That doesn’t sound like much of an answer at first. But when we come to a meditation practice in the face of great suffering we find a solution in acceptance. We learn how to do this while sitting on the cushion.
 
My friend and New Leaf Meditation instructor Christine exemplifies one of those stories that gives me hope.
 
Diagnosed with a chronic condition 8 years ago that causes intense muscle and joint pain for several days out of the month, Christine came to a meditation practice to find a way of coping with her illness. Today, she volunteers as a meditation instructor to share her experience with others who wonder if there is a way to manage their new reality.
 
I’m grateful that Christine has agreed to host a monthly meditation and discussion group called “Finding Comfort in the Uncomfortable: Chronic Pain and Illness Group.” We’ll meet on Sunday, February 12th at 8:30pm EST for the first session.  
 
You can find the details about how to connect with us online or by phone at newleafmeditation.org/events

May your practice be strong and your life go well. 

Warmly, 
Anthony A. Cernera, M.Ed. 
Founder & Meditation Instructor
New Leaf Mediation Project


P.S. In addition to tomorrow night's 8:30pm EST Chronic Pain & Illness meditation group, we have a beginner's introduction to meditation on Thursday, February 16th at 8pm EST / 5pm PST with New Leaf Instructor Lee Peterson. Details at newleafmeditation.org/events
 

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Surrender by Kary Schumpert

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Surrender by Kary Schumpert

Surrender by Kary Schumpert

Sweet surrender
Is all that I have to give

– Sarah McLachlan, “Sweet Surrender”

In the popular lexicon, we think of surrender in terms of the end of war when one side gives up completely to the other.  In movies, the criminals surrender to the police. We think of surrender as giving up, and most often in terms of defeat.  Surrender, traditionally, means giving up control to someone else or something else.  For me surrender has changed its meaning and significance over time.  In fact, this morning the word and meaning changed completely for me.

For a couple of days I had been thinking about the state of my life in terms of an assessment.  The questions came and went, and while I considered the situational circumstances, it was really more of an internal process.  How am I doing in my career?  How am I doing in my health?  How am I doing with my attitude towards money?  How am I doing with my family?  With my spirituality?  With my friendships?  With love?  With myself?  I wasn’t looking for answers in terms of external “success,” but more about how I felt in terms of peace within those questions.

I thought a lot about which areas of my life I felt peaceful, and which areas I did not.

Last night I felt like I had reached the end of the questions--at least for the moment.  It was difficult to figure out what had brought on the questions.  Although for me, questioning and thinking in terms of spirituality and my life is a familiar exercise--sometimes deliberate, sometimes not.  It wasn’t a birthday or anniversary of any particular event, but maybe it had to do with the season of fall and recent conversations with a good friend.

I had made a pot of tea and sunk into the couch to watch a few episodes of one of my guilty pleasure TV shows.  I purposefully pushed the questions away and lost myself in the story of something else.  The word on my mind before I went to sleep that night was “surrender.”  I kid you not.  

Sunday morning I woke up early.  My heart and mind were quiet and I felt calm.  I opened my patio door and curled up in the turquoise Adirondack chair and felt the silence.  I drank coffee and felt the steam from the cup and the cool energy of autumn.  After almost an hour, I returned inside and picked up my phone, opened up the e-mail app and clicked on one of the daily meditations that I subscribe to.  I was pleasantly surprised that the subject line was “The Secret of Surrender.”  Once again, I found synchronicity in both meaning and timing.  I lapped up the words and thought back to the word on my lips when I fell asleep last night: surrender.  

Surrender, just in the course of the journey between last night to this morning’s readings and reflections, means something new.  For me, it is peace in the moment.  It is being comfortable with what is, even when it is not what I want.  It is learning to realize the long path, but being in step with right now.  It means letting myself go and not getting caught up in end results.  It means sinking into the moment.  Surrender is the ultimate measure of taking control by letting go of control.  Surrender means being okay, even when things are not okay.

Surrender is not wishing for something, but finding comfort in loss.  It is not defeat, but neither is it a win.  Surrender is finding grace.  Surrender means letting go of people and situations and results.  Surrender means not knowing.  Surrender is finding love for myself.  Surrender means giving up looking at everyone’s “papers” trying to find the answers, and instead looking down at my own work.  Surrender means being in my own footsteps, literally and figuratively.  Surrender means forgiveness.

Surrender means right now.

Kary Schumpert is an environmental educator and writer living in New Mexico. She loves running, hiking, camping, reading, teaching, writing, and exploring spirituality. Her writing has been published in Elephant Journal, New Leaf Meditation, Green Teacher, and Community Works Journal. She is a contributing editor for Community Works Journal and she keeps a blog at runningintolife.wordpress.com.

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Adrienne's Three Simple Steps for Happiness

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Adrienne's Three Simple Steps for Happiness

Day 23: Adrienne's Simple Steps for Happiness Part 1 of 3

This is the first of three days from my friend and New Leaf Instructor Adrienne Koon. I trust you'll enjoy it as much as I did! - Anthony

Event for Today: Metta Monday at 8:30pm EST / 5:30pm PST Connection Details Here

Quote of the day - “Don’t rely on someone else for your happiness and self-worth. Only you can be responsible for that. If you can’t love and respect yourself – no one else will be able to make that happen. Accept who you are – completely; the good and the bad – and make changes as YOU see fit – not because you think someone else wants you to be different."  --Stacey Charter
 
So many times I’ve heard what people want out of life is to be happy. 
 
Some personal ramblings:

I have been struggling hardcore with stress...and anxiety about the stress....about the anxiety.  It's due to stress at work and other inner workings of my mind.  You know...self-doubt and feeling undervalued as a human, garden variety depressive thoughts, etc..  We all go through this, but that doesn't invalidate how you may be feeling.  Your feelings are very real for you and if you are not okay with them, it is okay not to be okay right now.  Don’t get stuck there though.  I feel like I may have gotten stuck for a bit too long and have spiraled a bit into more depressive thoughts which makes me want to be a hermit, when in actuality, I am quite extraverted!  It’s so conflicting and painful to feel like that.  If you’re reading this email, I’m sure you’ve felt the same at one (or several) points in your life.  And my heart genuinely goes out to you.
 
The First Steps:

You betta recognize!  Recognize your thoughts.  When you are feeling any certain way other than how you want to be feeling, there in lies your chance to take action!  So if you don’t mind, I’d like to take these actions together this week!  There are only a few today and I’m not going to mention exercise because that’s the most difficult thing to do when you just don’t feel like moving sometimes. 

  1. Sit outside!  It’s cold in a lot of the country right now, so bundle up.  Brrr!  Look at the sky.  Take it in, whether it’s daytime and the sun is out and you can see each cloud outlined by a shadow of another cloud or if it’s nighttime and the only star you can see is the brightest.  It’s beautiful out there and the graphics are amazing!
  2. Go to bed early!  As I sit up at 1:12am writing this, that is my advice.  :)  I have learned from experience that getting enough sleep (don’t overdue it) is essential to feeling emotionally and mentally better.  Sometimes, we are trying to find something in our gadgets late at night, but the gadgets won’t have the connection or genuineness we so desperately crave at times.
  3. Don’t eat the wrong things!  There is a psychological reason we crave certain foods and when we are feeling down or anxious, we usually reach for the worst of the treats, right?  I do love potato chips with a passion, but if I’m feeling down, I have started trying my absolute best to get something healthier instead.  I started buying unsalted pistachios (because stress + blood pressure = not okay) and they really are not terrible :)  They’re good for you too!

These are the simplest first steps you can take toward happiness.  I am going to do each of these today.  Please do them with me!  I’d love to hear about what you see when you’re outside today and what time you get to bed.  I will let you know in my next email the same.
 
Practice:  Meditate where you are right now.  Feel what is around you.  Are you on a chair that has a soft fabric and comfy cushion?  Are you sitting in your car in a parking lot?  Are you standing in the bathroom reading this with a toothbrush in one hand?  Notice your surroundings!  Come back to where things are happening.  Right here, right now.  Pay attention to the smells in the air and textures around you.  What is it you see?  As you’re observing, say it aloud!  This is called “grounding” and can bring us back to the present moment in an instant and can get us away from our anxious thoughts. 
This exercise is not to distract from the anxious thoughts, but to recognize we’re having them and to redirect to something healthier!  That, my friends, is a great starting point for anyone who may have needed this email today. 

I hope your day is peaceful and full of connection!  <3
 
P.S. - Exercise really does work.  I did 12 minutes of a good mix of jumping jacks and dancing like a fool and immediately, I felt better.  ;)
 
A Nice Resource for Today:  Carve Out Time to Meditate
 
The discussion group on Facebook can be found here:  New Leaf Meditation Project
 
<3 AJ

Adrienne Koon
New Leaf Meditation Instructor
newleafmeditation.org

Steps for Happiness Part 2 of 3

Good morning Anthony, we have our second installment from our friend AJ! Hope you can join us at tonight's meditation group. - Anthony

Event for Today: The Weekly Book Club is tonight at 9pm EST / 6pm PST but it has a special feature. Halfway through at approximately 9:30pm we'll pause for 10 minutes to talk through a gratitude reflection with our friend and New Leaf Instructor Chris. Details here!  

Quote of the day:  “Happiness is a choice, not a result.  Nothing will make you happy until you choose to be happy.  No person will make you happy unless you decide to be happy.  Your happiness will not come to you.  It can only come from you.”  -- Ralph Marston
 
Think of the path to happiness as a path in the woods.  The path has to be put there somehow, right?  And it’s usually by you going the same route over and over again.  At first, the path is going to be obstructed and tough to get through, but over time, the path becomes easier to navigate and the result is a beautiful way through the woods!  Such is the brain.  We can create new neural pathways each time we choose to take a new path in our thinking.
 
Follow up from my previous email:
 
I was at work and on my lunch break, drove around the block to a duck pond that’s nearby.  There were not a lot of ducks because it’s cold here, but there was a crane standing peacefully, watching over the pond as a guardian to his kingdom.  He was so stoic and regal.  The patience he must have would be tremendous, I’d imagine. 
I also saw a building that was entirely made of mirror glass.  There aren’t many in the area.  I watched as a crow flew by and saw the reflection of the bird in the building.  The wind was slightly blowing and it gave me goosebumps.  It was a lovely, emotional experience.  What was yours?!
Also, I went to bed a little after 10pm :)
 
Remember how I told you I had been stuck a bit too long in the depressive thoughts pattern?  Well, it really hit me hard the other day.  I had a breakthrough though, I think.  What ultimately is going to help is what I am going to do about this whole horrible web of feelings I’ve unintentionally woven for myself.  And part of it started with writing these emails.
 
The Next Steps:

  1. Learn something new!  I don’t mean take up woodworking overnight.  I mean just learn something.  Google the world’s strangest facts.  Look up what a “thagomizer” is!  Search “engineerguy” or “Crash Course” on YouTube!  This will help you stay engaged with yourself and can boost your self-confidence!  Then, you can share what you learn with a friend...like me!
     
  2. Ask someone about their day!  I don’t mean the same old “how was your day?” bit.  I mean really ask them about their day.  “What exciting things happened in your day?” or “If you could do any part of your day over again, what would it have been?”  Listening to someone else can help us get out of our cyclical thinking and can make another person feel good, in turn helping us feel good too!  And law of reciprocity says they will ask you how you’re doing in return.  This is your opportunity to open up and form the start of the connection you’re needing.

Only two steps for today, friends!  Please share what you learn for yourself and about someone else!  I’m curious to know.
 
May your day be filled with willpower and self-compassion.
 
Choose happiness because it is good for your health.
 
A Nice Resource for Today:  Meditation Can Change the Brain
 
<3 AJ


Adrienne Koon
New Leaf Meditation Instructor
newleafmeditation.org

Adrienne's Simple Steps for Happiness (Part 3 of 3)

Quote for Today: "You have to learn to select your thoughts the same way you select your clothes everyday.  Now that's a power you can cultivate."  --Eat Pray Love
 
Event for Today: Water Cooler Wednesday with New Leaf Instructor AJ 9pm EST / 6pm PST - event details here

Follow up from my previous email

Today, I learned that “octothorpe” is another term for the pound sign or “hashtag” as kids call it nowadays. 

I asked a friend about their day and they opened up to me!  I was honored they trusted me.  I won’t go into detail because I will keep what they told me.  After empathizing with their situation, they were able to release that and ask me about my day as well.  I took the opportunity to open up as well and I have to say that I feel better and more connected to my friend.  It’s a good feeling.
 
The Not Final Step:

  1. Smile!  Yep.  Just smiling can trick your brain into happier thinking.  This is such a small step, but can be oh, so difficult if we’re really just not feeling smiley.  You can do it!
  2. Get rid of something!  We are trying to declutter our minds, right?  Sometimes our belongings can be as cluttering as our thoughts can be.  The following statement is from the article I’ve attached below and rings so true:  “By getting rid of clutter, we’re saying goodbye to an old way of doing life while simultaneously trusting that the present and future will be just as rewarding.” 

Smiling, learning, and going to bed early are only the start of something beautiful which you can cultivate.  It takes practice to move forward and start your happiness journey.  Just as we have our meditation practice, we should also practice selecting our thoughts.  If we don’t want to feel down and out, then we have the ability within us to choose a different thought.
 
Practice:  Meditate silently for 3 - 5 minutes today.  Think these thoughts as you’re settling in to meditate “may I be happy, may I be peaceful, may I be loved”.  Say this phrase three times before your meditation or you can repeat the phrase throughout.
 
May your day be filled with good choices, prosperity, and happiness.  Please stay in touch!
 
A Nice Resource for Today:  Getting Rid of Stuff Can Lead to a Healthier Lifestyle
 
<3 AJ

Adrienne Koon
New Leaf Meditation Instructor
newleafmeditation.org

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Day 19: Self-Compassion

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Day 19: Self-Compassion

Day 19: Self-Compassion

Today we have a great guest post from our friend and New Leaf Meditation Instructor Leann Harris! 

Quote of the day:  “Perhaps, most of all, compassion involves courage: the courage to let our hearts break. But here’s the thing: our hearts are going to break anyway. Bad things sometimes happen in life, and we all have to find ways to work with them. The question is this: What are we going to do when that happens? Will we close ourselves off, or open ourselves up? What if we accept this pain and occasional heartbreak as simply part of what it costs to have an amazing life? ” -- Russel Kolts, PhD

Recommended Exercise: Meditate for 3 or 5 minutes using the self-compassionate exercise below.

Video Reflectionhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CH4kwNq5WF8

Reflection: Sometimes the hardest thing we have to face is how we face ourselves. 

One of the things I strive to do every day is be kind to those around me. While some days I do better than others, I have realized that I’m leaving out a very important piece: being kind to myself. Self-compassion is hard for many of us to do on a regular basis. Maybe we think if we’re kind that we’re “letting ourselves off the hook”. Sometimes we think self-compassion will turn us into doormats. I have learned over the years that if I want to be kind and loving towards others, I need to realize that self-compassion is not a luxury but a necessity.

We can’t give others what we won’t truly give to ourselves, and we all need compassion. Whether we’re in a good situation or a bad one, we all will eventually get sick, grow old, and die. We lose those people and things around us we cherish, yet we all just want to be happy.

I have a series of practices I use in order to bring myself back to feeling calm, centered, and soothed. These are based on Compassion Focused Therapy which uses the three circle model of emotion. This model says we are always trying to balance three things:
  1. Feeling driven and excited (“Yes, I can do this!”) with.
  2. Feeling anger, anxiety and distrust (“I’m horrible at this!”) with
  3. Feeling safe and connected (“I am loved and supported in whatever I do.”). 
This exercise uses guided imagery to feel safe and soothed so that we may allow ourselves to experience compassion turned inward.

Self- Compassion Exercise:
  1. Find a cozy spot in a room where you can add items to invoke multiple senses. For example, burning a candle or incense, playing soft music or the sounds of the ocean, or wrapping yourself in soft, fuzzy blankets. Make sure you are warm and comfortable.
  2. Get settled in any position that’s comfortable and take 3 deeply soothing breaths. Gently close your eyes.
  3. Take a moment to experience the room and observe your thoughts. Notice any that seem harsh towards yourself, such as “I don’t have time for this!” or “I should be doing something for others.” 
  4. Imagine the kindest person you know. This could be someone from your past, a leader who you admire, or someone you create in your own mind. Imagine this person is sitting next to you. (It’s ok if you can’t picture them – just know this person is there). 
  5. Feel this person’s warmth and kindness.  Imagine it flows over to you like warm water and cradles you. Feel how grounded and supported you are in this person’s presence.
  6. What do you wish your wise and kind friend could see about you? Imagine this person knows exactly what to say to make you feel reassured and strong. 
  7. Listen to what this person says and how this person feels when you are near. Notice yourself relaxing, releasing all tension and fear. Feel your body soaking up wisdom, courage, warmth, and kindness.
  8. Rest for a few minutes with this wise friend. Give yourself permission to not worry but to rest instead.
  9. Once you feel restored, allow this person to slowly dissipate yet let your feeling of calm remain. Know that they are always with you.
Don’t worry if you had trouble with parts of this. We spend our days not being very kind to ourselves so it will take some practice in order for this to feel natural. The most important thing is to keep trying and don’t beat yourself up for beating yourself up in the beginning.

Wishing you hope, courage, and compassion!

Leann Harris
New Leaf Meditation Instructor
newleafmeditation.org 

P.S. A Nice Resource for Today:  Self-Compassion Guided Meditations and Exercises

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7 Minimalism Tips for 2017

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7 Minimalism Tips for 2017

Start 2017 right by getting on a minimal path. Here are 7 tips to get you started.
 
1) Know the difference between organizing and minimizing; between rearranging and reducing. It’s tempting to voice the same old New Year resolution about reducing clutter and then taking action by buying yet more stuff in the form of storage boxes, baskets, etc. There’s nothing wrong with being tidy and organized in what you do have, just don’t mistake hiding for purging. If you’re serious about minimalism, about reduction, then remove first, organize what’s left later. Most often, if you’ve done an honest ‘purge’, you need far less (if any) ‘organizing tools’.
 
2) Start. The first step is always the most hesitant one. That’s the case for every new journey, that’s what makes it exciting. So, if emptying all the closets and having a garage sale right off the bat makes you a bit nervous, don’t do it. Try these things instead:

  1. Choose just one room, one closet, one area of the garage only AND commit to continuing to select a section of the house each week thereafter to purge. In other words, you can ease into it by taking small bites.
  2. Can’t seem to part with ‘out’ pile? (a great opportunity to sit down quietly and examine the reasons why - what’s holding you back from the liberation of unloading?) Box it up and tape it. If you don’t have to open that box in 6 months time, you will have proved to yourself that it’s not necessary for you to own. I personally think a clean break is much more empowering, but if you need to take baby steps, that’s perfectly okay.
  3. Start living in less space within your home. The fact is we already do live in far less space than we’ve designed for ourselves. Notice how easily we manage when on vacation to function perfectly well in a hotel room: a space to sit and read or have a meal, a space sleep, a place to hang our clothes, etc. Yet our everyday living seems to require thousands rather than hundreds of square feet. (actually, it doesn’t, and that’s why the majority of the time all that space is full of stuff). Start noticing just how much space you actually take up, actually utilize, and actually require. Sit down first - it can be quite a shock.

3) Ditch plastic. Start with all those containers in the kitchen. If your household is like most, you probably have more lids than bottoms, and the ones you have don’t fit. Also, your stack of containers is likely unruly, tumbling out of drawers and cupboards, even though you purchased that nicely telescoping matching set. You’re not alone. When I switched to glass containers I was amazed to find that I am able to easily function with 5 bowls with lids rather than three thousand plastic containers. It’s one of those mysteries of the universe. So, tidy up that kitchen space, put your food into something that won't leach chemicals into it, and keep the environment a tad cleaner.
 
4) Take 5. Take five outfits from your closet that you wear most often and put them in a prominent place in your closet or into another space. Wear these to work next week. The following week, mix the items around to create variations and wear these same items in different ways. You get the idea. This is an awareness exercise. We have closets jammed full of clothes (well, I don’t anymore, but I once did) and we only wear a small portion of them. This exercise will show you what you prefer, what you habitually choose, what you ‘forgot’ and had to go back to the original closet for. The result is a dramatically paired down, fully functional, and preferable weekday wardrobe. We prefer certain items, we are comfortable in them (whether the item itself is comfortable or not) and these are the pieces that we choose over and over again, no matter how many other items of clothing are in the closet. So it begs the question: “Why keep all of those other items on hangers?”


5) Relax and reflect. We tend to want to immediately ‘do’ something. Thus the urge to go out and buy more stuff in the way of ‘storage solutions’. The best starting point, I think is to reflect on what your actual goal is. It’s not to have an empty garage or closet. It’s to (pick one or several): decrease financial burden, increase free time, remove anxiety, create physical and emotional ease. Nothing else compares in terms of motivation than acknowledgement of the true reason for minimizing. With a clear picture of freedom in mind, there’s little chance of backsliding.
 
6) Family cooperation - or not. As individuals, or a couple, the transition may be a tad smoother than it is for multiple personalities. Respect one another. What may seem inconsequential to you, might hold great sentimental value for a member of your family and it not so easily parted with. Agree as a family, if possible, to get on a minimal path together. Then allow each to walk the path at their own pace, nudging only when someone has actually stopped altogether. Offer support, not criticism. Celebrate achievement so that everyone, including you, stays motivated. The best way to do that is to spend time together enjoying each other - time that would otherwise been spent maintaining ‘stuff’, for example. Use the box technique mentioned above. Just as adults reach for the same sets of clothes, children reach for their favorite toys. The excess just takes up space. Let family members choose their favorites, their must haves (within reason) and put the rest out of sight. The result a few months down the road will be very revealing.
 
7) Start the year with a moratorium on spending. Designate the first quarter as a no-spend period. Obviously, if a car tire needs replacing or something of similar urgency and obvious NEED arises you’re going to use common sense and take care of that. Begin with 3 months: no new electronics, shoes, vinyl, home decor, etc. You can do it. Keep track of each time you wanted to spend on stuff. New or used - no craigslist or consignment shop either. This is another eye-opener. When you realize how much of your spending and accumulation is ‘entertainment’ rather than necessity, you never look at your consumer habits the same way again.

Dawn Murphy is the author of "Physical Stuff & Mental Junk: A Minimalist Path to True Abundance." Her work has been been endorsed by Dr. Will Tuttle, author of "The World Peace Diet,"  Phil Borges, Ph.D of Bridges to Understanding, and Dr. Howard Zinn. She’s currently working on her fourth book, "So Vegan Easy" available in 2017. Visit her Blog/Website: www.veganminimalist.com 

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Day 14: Mindful Speaking by Sofia Reddy

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Day 14: Mindful Speaking by Sofia Reddy

Quote of the Day: “Be impeccable with your word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love. ” Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements

Reflection: As Ruiz says, words are powerful, and can be remembered for a long time after they are said.

Many of us might have used words as a weapon to release our own anger, hurt or sadness. Perhaps we have been subjected to others’ hurtful words and still carry that critical voice inside our own minds (and hearts). Harsh words are painful and keep us stuck in negativity and darkness. However, when we speak with integrity and intention to ourselves and to others we can grow, as Ruiz says “in the direction of truth and love.” We can practice having compassionate conversations with others by treating them with respect and dignity, which promotes our own respect and dignity. Before you say anything ask yourself: “is it kind?” “Is it truthful?” “Is it helpful?” “Is it necessary?”

Sometimes, we might lash out in pain and when we do it’s important to also practice self-forgiveness. Real guilt is a useful tool and can be used to help us change. It’s ok to make mistakes and it’s ok to say, “I’m sorry,” and try again. 

We can also practice mindful speaking to ourselves.

What’s the voice inside your head telling you? Is it in the direction of truth and love? Is it encouraging or discouraging? Catch the thoughts before they become actions. Remember, a thought is a thought and can be changed. Today and every day let’s be mindful of the words we are using to communicate within ourselves and to others. Let’s speak with loving-kindness.

Sofia Reddy, LICSW
New Leaf Mediation Instructor
Founder of Sofia's Sanctuary

Sofia Reddy, LICSW, is a full time clinical social worker and adjunct assistant professor for MSW students learning to work with Veterans and their families. As a therapist she teaches clients who have experienced both civilian and military traumas how to manage their recovery with mindful self-care. Sofia has been practicing mindfulness and meditation for the last 5 years and is passionate about bringing this practice to others. Learn more by visiting her blog or her facebook page.   

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Mindfulness to Cope with Addiction

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Mindfulness to Cope with Addiction

Mindfulness to Cope with Addiction
by Kevin O'Brien

Addiction is a nearly universal problem.  Everyone has habits that they would like to change.  Some are relatively inconsequential things, such as checking a smartphone a little too often, not being present with your loved ones, or eating unhealthy occasionally. Other habits such as alcoholism, smoking, drug, gambling and sexual addictions can drastically affect the lives of the individual, their family and society in negative ways. 

Whatever the habit, they all derive from the natural reward mechanism for seeking pleasure and avoiding pain.   Sometimes habits can be triggered by the pleasure that is associated with act itself, such as a high of a substance or the taste of a food.  Other times they are triggered to avoid pain of an uncomfortable feeling, such as taking a substance to stop physical or emotional pain, drinking to relax after a hard day at work or having a smoke to calm nerves.  These habits are all learned responses that have been learned and unconsciously reinforced over sometimes many years and can be difficult to stop even when a person has a strong desire to do so.   

Mindfulness meditation can be a very effective tool in changing undesirable habits in the following ways:

1.       We learn to pay attention to the here and now.  Meditation at its core is a practice that helps build concentration and focus on what is happening within and around us.  We learn to notice our bodily sensations and thoughts that may have gone unnoticed.  This allows us to catch stray thoughts and feelings that may not be helpful in reaching our goals.  We may catch a thought or sensation before it gains a head of steam and becomes a full-fledged craving

2.       We notice the space between the sensations (emotions, feelings, bodily sensations, thoughts), the urge to act on those sensations, the decision to act, and the actions themselves-our behavior.  These steps may appear to be seamless, but they are not.  The focus and attention of a consistent meditation practice shows that these are all points where we have an opportunity to choose and not automatically do the behavior without considering the alternatives.

3.       Change relationship to cravings.  One of the greatest insights that becomes obvious during a consistent meditation practice is the truth of impermanence, that everything has a beginning, a middle and an end.  We tend to give into cravings by believing that unless we do something to alleviate the discomfort the feeling is going to last forever.  If a craving arrives we can learn to simply watch it.  Notice where it lies in our bodies, it may be a tightness in the belly or a tightness in the neck or back.  Notice the thoughts that arise.  Now notice the craving change.  It will start small, rise up like an ocean wave and then subside and disappear.  Then perhaps come back but the cycle is always the same.  We are not stuck with a craving forever it will go away of its own accord if allowed to and not given into no matter what our mind tells us.  When we are able to feel the urges and not react to them by giving in to the craving the reinforcement pattern gets weaker and in time the cravings become lessened or subside all together.

4.       Allows us to learn from our slips. Training the mind in meditation practice allows us to notice what were the triggers that brought on the cravings and what was going on in our bodies and minds, before, during and after we indulged.  This helps us to be more vigilant to the factors that were present within and around us before and during our slip.  We may notice feelings of shame and inadequacy after a slip.  These feelings may bring on the “what the heck” affect- doing the behavior again to self soothe because you feel bad about screwing up.

Meditation practice to cope with cravings

1.       Practice breath awareness for a few minutes to gain focus and to bring yourself in the present.

2.       Next introduce something into your mind that is mildly pleasurable or will relieve discomfort.  Not the substance that you are trying to correct if you know you have a problem. An example of something mildly pleasurable may be a favorite food, drink or something that isn’t healthy but tastes good but is not what you are addicted to.  An example of something to relieve discomfort: having to wait to use the bathroom or mild cramping in the back while sitting in meditation. 

a.       What are the thoughts that come up about this?  Where do the desires arise in the body?  Just notice, don’t do anything, just observe using your breathing to bring you back if you get too lost in the thought or too focused on the craving.

b.       Notice that the craving waxes and wanes.  Notice that there is a space between you and the craving.  It does not define who you are.  The craving begins as a small wavelet and rises to a giant wave and then subsides, begins, rises and subsides. 

3.       Return to breath practice for a few minutes.

As you get more accustomed to this in your sitting practice and you are feeling stable, introduce thinking about whatever you are addicted to in the same way during your meditation  sitting practice.  This may happen in your normal practice anyways.  Use the breath to notice the impermanent nature of the cravings.  They rise and subside, rise and subside.

Then take it out to the real world and when you are tempted your mindfulness practice will help you notice the craving early so you don’t go on auto-pilot and do the addictive habit without awareness.  Then use the breath to ride the craving until it subsides.  Don’t reinforce it with your thoughts when it goes away.  Use moment to moment awareness to concentrate on what is going on around and in you.

Kevin O'Brien
New Leaf Meditation Instructor
New Leaf Board of Advisers
 

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2017 New Year Meditation Challenge

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2017 New Year Meditation Challenge

  

Day 1: Start Small - The Power of Tiny Habits

Good morning Friend, 

Quote for Today"Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together." ~ Vincent Van Gogh

Recommended Exercise: Meditate for 1, 3 or 5 minutes. Read this email or check out the link to today's video. (Don't worry, everything is covered in both - you can read or watch.) The video starts with 3 minutes of silent meditation, so you can get your daily meditation in with me! 

Today's Video Reflectionhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlhOd__1FWY

A few quick logistical items:  

  1. We'll have a beginner's meditation instruction tonight at 9pm EST. Don't worry if you can't make it, it will be recorded. We'll stream live on Youtube here
  2. We'll host interactive beginner's sessions every night this week, typically at about 9pm EST / 6pm PST. The information for connecting will be in the daily emails and these sessions will NOT be recorded because they are a chance for you to work in small groups with our instructors.
  3. I'll be running a blog post where I'll be adding the daily emails in case you miss them. Check that out here
  4. I'm here to help! So are our 22 volunteer meditation instructors. Email me (reply to this), text/call me 203-613-3122 or pop into the Facebook Discussion Group.  

Reflection:  Happy New Year! I'm so glad we're starting the year off meditating together. Thank you for joining us! 

When we show up for a meditation practice it is because our motivation is very high. Something is going on in our life that needs a solution and we've found a practice that we will help us. 

A common problem many of us encounter is we start off with daily goals that are too ambitious. A central belief of our community is that a daily meditation practice is the answer: Starting small, focusing on slow and steady, is the way we'll see real change in our life. 

Put another way, if you want the most from your meditation practice, focus on meditating everyday more than you focus on sitting for long periods of time. 

Dr. BJ Fogg has a brilliant TED talk focusing on the power of Tiny Habits. If you have some time, check out the video. In short, he suggests that our motivation inevitably wanes and we get left with goals that are too ambitious when our motivation has disappeared.

I studied habit formation during my master's research, specifically for new meditators, and I can tell you the science is clear: It takes 66 days on average to create a new habit. That means for the first two months sitting a little bit everyday is the best strategy.  

We are what we do repeatedly. We experience the benefits of meditation not during the time on the cushion, but rather from the way our day to day life changes. Practicing a little bit everyday is the most powerful way to reshape your life. 

Summary: If you walk away from this challenge with only one lesson, let it be this: 3 minutes of meditation a day can change your life. It takes a long time to install new habits, so start small and celebrate consistency over the length of your practice.  

May your practice be strong and your life go well. 

Warmly, 
Anthony A. Cernera, M.Ed. 
Founder & Meditation Instructor
New Leaf Mediation Project

P.S. If you haven't yet, join the Facebook Discussion Group where over 5,000 of our friends support each other and talk about things like this challenge! 

Day 1 Part 2: How to Meditate

Good evening Friend, 

I had a great time with the group in tonight's introduction/kick off video.  If you haven't meditated before or you need a brush up, the recording might be helpful: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwWEhSWFSuY
 
Reflection: Tonight we practiced "Zazen" (zen meditation) which is a concentration practice and a "breathe awareness meditation." It is the oldest and most practiced form of meditation in the world. It is a simple practice, but by no means easy. 

  1. Sit in a solid chair with an upright spine. Take a relaxed but wakeful posture that allows for deep natural breathing. Good posture will help us sit completely still. 
  2. Breath in and out of the nose. Try not to "control" your breathing.
  3. Bring your awareness squarely to your breath focusing your attention on the experience of your breath all the way down in your lower abdomen. 
  4. Count each in and out breath. When you notice your mind is wandering, don't judge or criticize yourself. Your mind is merely doing its job. Brains think, eyes see and ears here. Just acknowledge that you were thinking, let go of the thought and bring your focus back to your breath.   

For a 7 minute video summarizing this check out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYhmjIV-BM8
For the whole long conversation tonight check out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwWEhSWFSuY
For a short blog post on this: http://www.newleafmeditation.org/blog/a-short-introduction
Our "How to Meditate" page with some additional resources: http://www.newleafmeditation.org/howtomeditate/

Some additional tips and resources: 

  • App Recommendation: "Insight Timer" is a great Android and iPhone app. You can adjust the settings to mute your phone while you are meditating and it will automatically turn the ringer back on when you are done.   
  • Join the Discussion Group: We have 5,000+ members in our discussion group on facebook. It is a great way to connect with other meditators, get inspired, have questions answered and support each other. Find the group here: www.facebook.com/groups/newleafmeditation 
  •  Email me: It is me, Anthony, on the other end of this email. Reply and you go straight to my personal email. If you are having a problem, a question, a worry or a success, please don't hesitate. Send me a note and say hi! 
  • Daily Beginner's Groups: Keep an eye out for all the emails this week. We have a beginner's meditation group everyday this week! 

Nice work tonight! I look forward to being in touch this week. Remember, I'm here to help. I'll send little reminders in the morning with some words of encouragement. 
 
May your practice go well. 

Warmly, 
Anthony A. Cernera, M.Ed. 
Founder & Meditation Instructor
New Leaf Mediation Project

Day 2: Events This Week

Good evening, 

As promised - I post the events for this week. Here is the link with all the details: newleafmeditation.org/events 

Here are the highlights of what you'll find on that events page:

  • Tonight at 9:30pm EST / 8:30pm PST - Beginner's Instruction with Leann
  • Tuesday - Beginner's Instruction at 8:30pm EST with Danielle 
  • Tuesday - The Weekly Book Club at 9pm EST (No reading required - show up - we read together!) 
  • Wednesday - Beginner's Session at 8:30pm EST with Kevin
  • Thursday - Experienced Meditators Huddle: Falling off the wagon and other challenges at 9pm EST with Chris  

We use some really cool software called "Zoom" which you can connect to us by computer, mobile device or phone! There are details on the events page about how to connect to our zoom channel. 

May your practice be strong and your life go well. 

Warmly, 
Anthony A. Cernera, M.Ed. 
Founder & Meditation Instructor
New Leaf Mediation Project

P.S. We'll have more events for the weekend but they aren't scheduled yet! We'll keep the events page updated and I'll let you know by email as they get updated! 

P.P.S. I'm open to taking requests! If you have a topic or a day/time you're interested in, let me know and I'll staff it with a volunteer meditation instructor and invite our friends to join us! 

Day 3: Link New Habits to Existing Habits

Good morning, 

Quote for Today: “The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken. ~ Warren Buffett  

Recommended Exercise: Meditate for 1, 3 or 5 minutes. Email me or jump in the discussion group and tell us what existing habit you identified to link your meditation practice to. 

Today's Video Reflectionhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_k_IpsSKP58

Reflection: Gosh, I like this meditation group of ours. We had an amazing session last night. 20 people showed up for our beginner's instruction with Leann. I loved meeting so many of you and I hope more of you will show up this week. There are groups all week. Check out newleafmeditation.org/events for the complete schedule.
 
Today many of us are going back to work. From a habit formation perspective this is a great opportunity. Here are two well researched facts that will hopefully change your enthusiasm for returning to work today: 

First, whenever we have a break in a routine like a week long vacation, starting a new job or moving, we have a perfect moment for installing new habits. Why? Because our previous habits are just a touch weaker than they normally are. Typically what prevents new habits from taking hold is our tendency to revert to our old habits. A reset or change of a routine is a great opportunity to break an old habit or insert a new one. 

Second, habits are like little programs our brain runs so we don't have to make decisions all day long. Personally, I wake up, shower and brush my teeth, in that order, everyday. When I started linking my meditation to that habit loop, I started seeing a great increase in my ability to remember to meditate every morning. My new program is wake up, shower, brush my teeth and sit on the cushion to meditate. 

Today's exercise is simple. Think about your day and identify a daily habit that you would like to link your meditation practice to. Email me or add your voice to the discussion group to share what existing habit you'll add your new habit too. Hopefully sharing our ideas will spark some realizations for our friends. 

May your practice be strong and your life go well. 

Warmly, 
Anthony A. Cernera, M.Ed. 
Founder & Meditation Instructor
New Leaf Mediation Project

Day 4: Two Types of Writing to Help Your Practice

Good morning Anthony, 

Quote for Today: “Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know more.” ~ Confucius

Recommended Exercise: Meditate for 3 or 5 minutes. Try one of the two writing exercises discussed in the reflection.

Tonight's EventBeginner's Instruction with Kevin at 8:30pm EST 5:30pm PST

Video Reflectionhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YL_uzU7MlBA

Reflection: It is hard to develop a new habit.
 
Fortunately, I have a weird trick to help you and it is scientifically proven to work.
 
In a famous study “The Methods of Interrogation and Indoctrination Used by the Communist State Police” Lawrence Hinkle and Harold Wolff, examined how the Chinese government “brainwashed” American prisoners of war to become vocal proponents of China. The so called brainwashing was perplexing to the American military who funded the study. There was no evidence of torture, drug use or hypnosis typically associated with such a dramatic reversal of opinions.
 
The Chinese secret police had discovered through small, incremental steps of essay writing the opinions of the prisoners could be deeply and profoundly molded. Simply writing and sharing essays on the merits of communism could change a prisoner’s most cherished beliefs. (Hinkle, 1957)

In the science of habit formation public statements are effective but written statements prove to most effectively shape future behavior. (Read, follow through.)  

Try this exercise:

  1. Stop right now and grab a pen and paper.
  2. Visualize when you would like to meditate.  I find it is best to link a new habit to something you already do daily like showering or brushing your teeth.
  3. Write down this commitment. “I will meditate for ____ minutes immediately after I __________.” 
  4. Send me an amazed email in a week telling me it worked!

This has been tested and proven in a number of ways over the last 50 years. I did a research experiment for my master’s thesis which confirmed just how powerful this simple trick is.
 
In my research I gave basic meditation instruction to 30 new practitioners. All agreed to meditate daily and report back their success. The control group got basic instruction. The experimental group got the same instruction plus the recommended steps mentioned above.
 
The difference was surprising. The control meditated 4.5 days on average and the experimental group meditated 5.75 days.
 
It is a simple trick and it works.

My friend Sheila has a great tip for helping quiet our mind during meditation.
 
Before sitting, Sheila dedicates a few minutes to writing in a notebook. She empties her mind of any of the random thoughts that she might need to process, let go of, or remember later.
 
Sheila tells me, “despite having a calendar, apps on the phone, etcetera, I keep details of things in my head and miraculously, they surface when they need to. When meditating, though, I find all those ‘reminders’ that bubble up to be distracting.”
 
She continues, “Sometimes there are bits of conversations and experiences that resurface because they feel unfinished. Often I replay these thoughts where I felt hurt or I get concerned that I left the wrong impression  and sometimes I don't even know the underlying 'why' until I revisit it. I write all of it down because it means that there is something there that requires further attention on my part.”
 
Sheila concludes, “After a few minutes of unloading my mind on paper, I feel ready to dedicate myself to my practice. I find sitting quietly comes more easily.”
 
I love Sheila’s practice and in trying it myself I find it very practical and effective. There is good scientific research that proves it is also a very helpful way to reduce stress. 
 
May your practice be strong and your life go well. 

Warmly, 
Anthony A. Cernera, M.Ed. 
Founder & Meditation Instructor
New Leaf Mediation Project

 

Day 5: No Super Humans

Good morning Anthony, 

Quote for Today: “You are perfect and complete, just the way you are.” ~ John Daido Loori

Recommended Exercise: Meditate for 1, 3 or 5 minutes. Look out for a moment where you are critical of yourself and ask if you would have said the same thing to a loved one. 

Today's Videohttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgdRb9BXcD4

Tonight's Event: Experienced Meditators Discussion - Challenges and pit falls with Chris at 9pm EST / 6pm PST. Details here

Reflection: I can say some pretty ugly things. 

Almost never about or to anyone else, of course. I try very hard to be caring, compassionate and kind with my words. I avoid swearing and work hard to never say something about a coworker or friend I wouldn't say if they were in the room. 

But me? That's a whole different story. 

When I first started developing these challenges four years ago, I tested it out on my friend Celia who I had been meditating with for years. At the start of week three I was typically doing a loving-kindness guided meditation. In my skype call with Celia I asked if she would like to do the guided or if she preferred silent meditation. 

She said she wouldn't mind just being silent. I replied, "Great, I can't stand the sound of my own voice." 

I then sat there for 10 minutes meditating with Celia and thought to myself, "wow, I would never say that about another person. Why am I okay with being so ugly to myself? 

After years of meditating I've come to strongly believe there are no super humans, no sub-humans, just human humans. 

Of the thousand people in this challenge I have emailed or talked with probably a quarter of you in the last week.I was a little heart broken to hear how hard many of you are on yourselves. Where many of you see the failure to live up to an inspirational ideal, I see a person who should be praised because they are trying to move in a positive direction. 

If you are finding yourself being critical about your meditation practice, I'd encourage you to take a minute and think about how you'd talk about this with someone you loved. Would you be harsh and damning? Or would you be supportive and encouraging? 

May your practice be strong and your life go well. 

Warmly, 
Anthony A. Cernera, M.Ed. 
Founder & Meditation Instructor
New Leaf Mediation Project

Day 6: Problems and Solutions for Experienced Meditators

Good morning Anthony, 

Quote for Today: “Above all, don't lie to yourself.” ~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Recommended Exercise: Meditate for 1, 3 or 5 minutes. Jump into the discussion group and let us know what challenges you've faced in your meditation practice and what solutions you are trying.  

Video Reflectionhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xsJkUM1dCYU

Reflection: We had a great discussion led by our friend and New Leaf Meditation Instructor Chris last night. Our topic was challenges facing experienced meditators and what we're doing about it. Thank you everyone who participated, you certainly helped me! 

At one point Chris paraphrased a meditation instructor (whose name I can't remember!) as saying, "the only rule in meditation is to not lie to yourself." This basic level of self awareness will go along way to helping you understand the challenges facing you and your ability to try out some solutions. Here are a few themes that came up last night. 

Problem #1 - Aversion to sitting: Many of us shared about the experience of having a challenging time in life and finding that when we meditated the emotions were very strong and it made sitting uncomfortable. So we started to avoid it. Solution: We all agreed there was no way around a problem or a difficult time, there was only through it. By accepting this and being gentle with ourselves, we found a solution of decreasing the period of time we were sitting. We knew it was going to be hard, but found with less time we could face our difficult emotions and slowly make our peace with them. We also discussed switching to guided meditation or substituting yoga or other mindful activities for a short period. 

Problem #2 - Boredom: Some of us who have been sitting for years talked about hitting a plateau and finding our meditation a bit routine or uninspired. Meditation started to feel more like a chore. Solution: Three themes emerged here. The first was obvious, try a new technique and see if that helps us rediscover the benefits and enthusiasm for our practice. The second was less obvious; try drilling down on the basics and refining the practice. There are only the 101s of meditation, nothing to graduate from. If we renew our desire to bring curiosity and inquiry to our practice we rediscover the subtly of the practice with new vigor. Third, use the boredom as a point of questioning. Why am I bored? What does boredom feel like? Why can't I accept being still? Why do I run away from feelings of discomfort, even those as subtle as boredom?   

Problem #3 - Life is going too well: Jan shared about her professional life as a psych nurse. She said so many patients stop taking their meds after they get better. For many of us we come to a meditation practice because we were suffering. Eventually that suffering fades, especially if we've been practicing and the motivation to meditate can disappear. Solution: Renew your commitment to sitting by reminding yourself of why you started. Do you want to return to that state of distress? Try writing down a list of all the things you love about the benefits of meditation and remind yourself that you value these. 

Problem #4 - Too much time: I basically took 2016 off and when I had all the time in the world I meditated less than I did when working 50 hours a week while in school. Why? Something about a lack of structure gave us few existing habits to link our meditating habit to. Solution: Create structure. Join a group, get a partner and try the writing exercise from Day 4. 

Problem #5 - Life changes: Many of us talked about moving and how this upheaval changed our routine and we lost our daily practice or sitting group. Solution: Don't be hard on yourself! This is understandable. In the same way we discussed changes being an opportunity on Day 3, we find that they can erode existing habits. Hit a hard reset. Go on a retreat, join a new group, invest in your relationship with this community, start small and celebrate your successes. 

Such a wonderful conversation last night. Thank you everyone who came and contributed their challenges and solutions. 

May your practice be strong and your life go well. 

Warmly, 
Anthony A. Cernera, M.Ed. 
Founder & Meditation Instructor
New Leaf Mediation Project

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The Great Debate: Let's Take a Seat, Drink, Breathe, Debate, Relax

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The Great Debate: Let's Take a Seat, Drink, Breathe, Debate, Relax

The Great Debate: Let's Take a Seat, Drink, Breathe, Debate, Relax
Guest blog by Kary Schumpert

It's hot. Heat and uncertainty seem to breed crankiness.

Each news headline brings on debate. Pro-this, pro-that, anti-this, anti-that. Passion and discussion and debate occasionally lead to rancor and nastiness. All of a sudden, folks that one disagrees with are evil and wrong. What's up?

There are lots of positives, though. I admire the passion and the fact that people are so dedicated to their issues and causes. They put up yard signs, sign petitions, send things in e-mail, post messages to their social media outlets, attend meetings, and reach out to others. And then there are the opposite actions when the opposing side is brought to attention. Folks are urged to support or boycott a company or organization for this reason or that. All of this action and discourse is welcome. People are actively shaping our democracy, our republic.

I grew up loving the idea of debate and discussion.

I have friends nearby and close friends from afar whom I keep in touch with in person and by e-mail, phone, and social media. A lot of those friends have opinions and political beliefs that span the spectrum, but I respect them even when I disagree with their messages and opinions. Far too often, we don't seem to get to have those discussions about what we think and why. For fear of setting off a rage of anger, we avoid the controversial topics or only converse about our deepest opinions with those who agree.

For my own sake, I try to read a variety of articles and get my news from lots of different sources, so that I can know and understand what people are hearing and learning. I miss, though, the ability to discuss politics and issues without it becoming mean-spirited. It helps me to hear opposing viewpoints. I need to be exposed to them. It helps me to better understand another perspective and it helps me to articulate my own stance. I can begin to see where there are misunderstandings and misperceptions and misinformation. It also shows me where the holes are in my own arguments. I enjoy finding where sides converge, or to learn that the means and ends are not necessarily that far apart.

In thinking of conversations on controversial topics, I am having a fit of nostalgia for my senior year in high school, particularly for the last semester and the following summer. Several of us were moving closer together, knowing that in a few months we would be moving farther away. A small group of us would discuss our beliefs and debate current events.

Today, many of those current issues are still very much the questions of the day. We examined religion and politics and money and how we thought things should get done. We talked about abortion and the death penalty and the environment. We weren't always well-informed, but the vanity of being 17 and 18 is that we already knew everything. We helped each other, though, and because of our common childhoods, we pushed each other into adulthood. We supported each other and listened and questioned. We didn't hate because we disagreed. It was an important first lesson that our politics and beliefs shaped us, but civility and friendship formed us as much, if not more. We lived the idea that respect for the person comes from engagement, even when you disagree. Agreeing to disagree can be one of the best feelings in the world, particularly after a hearty and heated exchange.

I would love to get my old tribe back together in the same room, and recall our side conversations in the back of the classroom and lingering next to lockers. If anything, we have all grown up and moved into our own lives. I know we still disagree on a lot of these issues, but I would like to think that we could still have those same passionate, yet respectful conversations. One of us is gone now, but I do know that the years and the memories and the miles melt into oblivion.

If you are craving some passionate and respectful discussion, here are some ways to go about it.

Whether they are old friends or new ones, find someone with whom you know you have a political or philosophical difference. If they're nearby, invite them over, or if they're far away, grab the phone. Let them know you want to catch up and that you want to discuss a controversial issue. Get a cold drink and make sure your friend has one as well--lemonade, iced tea, wine, beer, water--whatever will help to float the talk. Listen as they describe the issue as they see it and as they understand it. Ask what shaped their view. What would they do to solve the problem or issue? Ask your friend to give you the chance to do the same. It's not a Presidential debate, so you don't have to have all the facts or answers. Really listen. Contrast with each other how different your views are. Is the end result the same, but are the means very different?

Just when you feel your blood pressure rise, take a deep breath. Don't interrupt. Don't let your volume levels rise. Take a sip of your drink. Listen some more. Now take a pause. Get up and stretch. Take another sip of your drink. Hug or shake hands or give a verbal hug on the phone. I bet the opinions haven't changed. You probably still disagree. However, you may have a new perspective about why someone thinks the way they do. You may have made your argument stronger. You have new things to learn. Maybe it made you realize you are that much firmer with your position. You have a friend, you have a drink. It's a beautiful summer day. It's really not so bad.

Kary Schumpert
Guest Blogger
New Leaf Meditation Project

Kary Schumpert is an environmental educator and writer living in New Mexico. She loves running, hiking, camping, reading, teaching, writing, and exploring spirituality. Her writing has been published in Elephant Journal, New Leaf Meditation, Green Teacher, and Community Works Journal. She keeps a blog at runningintolife.wordpress.com.

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The Choice to be Mindful

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The Choice to be Mindful

The Choice to be Mindful
Guest post by Tanis-Arlene Taylor

Years ago, if someone asked me if I practice Mindfulness, I would have been completely clueless. What exactly does it mean to be Mindful? When I think of the word I can laugh, because I battle what I like to call a mind FULL of clutter. I am what people call a worry-wart. I seemingly like to create scenarios in my head before they even happen. It is a defense mechanism I developed in childhood, so that I could prepare myself for the worst. I created it to be a habitual behavior that swept through my adulthood, without any tangible evidence that it has done me a positive service. 

The idea of being Mindful was divinely introduced in my life about six years ago. I stumbled across some guided meditations, via the internet, during a time that I was desperately searching for help to escape from the darkness. I followed the sound of the soothing voice in my headphones, with incense burning, and a deep desire to believe that being told to ‘Just Breathe, Focus on my Breath’ would alter my circumstances. My memory is of falling asleep. Sleep, at that time, had become foreign to my body. So, it was welcomed with an open heart. From that moment on, I allowed myself to have an open mind to the practice of meditation and daily mindfulness. 

I have humbly learned a plethora of insight as to what mindfulness is for me, and how I can incorporate it into my daily life. Hardships have been the theme in my life for receiving the wisdom and the insight of what it means to be mindful. And naturally, the lessons have come in doses. However, I am learning that if I am truly being Mindful, the wisdom is ever present, to be accepted, every single day. I only need to be present for it. 

Do you ever find yourself looking down at your phone, without a clue as to what is happening around you? Do you find yourself daydreaming up a wonder and then realize twenty minutes have passed? Do you find yourself zoned into the television, only to realize half of the day is gone? I believe most of us have experienced these things. We are human, and each of us, from birth has individually designed specific coping mechanisms to deal with our individual reality. The question is, What DO you want your reality to be? 

The choice to be Mindful is the first step in not only self-discovery, but in creating the life we desire. How can we create a life full of love, joy, acceptance, forgiveness, serenity, and all the innate human desires, if we are unable to simple just BE in the present moment and just sit with ourselves? Our world today is so full of rush, go, zoom, on to the next (fill in the blank), that it is a wonder anxiety disorders are on the rise. What exactly are we rushing to? How do we know we will be fulfilled at that finish line if we cannot even answer if we are fulfilled in the present moment? Simply BEing opens doors of realizations and acceptance to what our reality TRULY is. And from there, you have to choose to accept or to change your circumstances. For instance, how do you know that you are truly happy? Does the feeling come from an external factor? Or does it come from an inner validation and fulfillment? 

I once heard that none of us will rise above being human here on Earth. That sentence has stuck with me, every single day since hearing it a few months ago. I am sharing this with you now to let you know that no matter where you are in life, no matter what circumstances you find yourself in, we are on the same playing field. We all can relate with our human emotions; sadness, fear, joy, anger, etc. To be mindful is to be aware of these emotions, without any judgement. It is the choice to allow the past to be in the past and to know that the future has yet to come. It is fully embracing the present moment. It is knowing you have the choice, in every single moment, to alter your reality. But, you first need to be awake enough to accept the truth of your reality. 

From my personal experience, this all starts with my daily choice to be present with myself and my environment at any given time. It is profound to be in this process of self-discovery, and each day I am learning that I am a capable, compassionate, picky, serious person, yet I want to be constantly open and have humility. I wouldn’t know this otherwise, had I not slowed down enough to find that out. To practice Mindfulness is the most authentic gift you can give to yourself. 

So, you have a choice. 

Do you want to be somewhere in the past; a time that cannot be changed? If so, what is the benefit? What is the con?

Do you want to be in the future; a time that has yet to come, with no guarantee? If so, what is the benefit? What is the con?

Or do you want to be here now? The present moment is the only viable moment of time. The present moment is truly a gift to be valued. The present moment is all you have. Ask yourself, what is the benefit and what is the con of living in the present.

And with that, my last question is…

Now, what are you going to do with those answers?

Tanis-Arlene Taylor
Guest Blogger
New Leaf Meditation Project 

Tanis-Arlene Taylor is pursuing a degree in Natural Science. She has a beautiful Wife and two amazing children. Tanis is daily student of a mindful life. She says, "I haven't always known the light, so I understand your fear, but I am a warrior for my own spirit and my purpose is to spread my light to all of those willing to receive it. We are all needed. We are all worthy. We are all capable. Love is bountiful, infinite, and holds a sacred space for us all. I will assist you to find and BE your own light. Namaste." 

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Listening to the Heart

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Listening to the Heart

Listening to the Heart
Guest post by Nicole Felts

It is not a unique sensation I am experiencing, feeling lost and overwhelmed by what are seemingly major decisions in my life. What am I doing, now and with the rest of my life? Certainly it is with the utmost urgency that I decide in this very moment what I must do with the rest of my life. Do I attend graduate school? Do I whimsically stay in Atlanta to pursue a dream that will probably never come true? But why will it never come true? Surely I could be an actress, although I have no formal training and zero experience…

Something happens in my mind as all these jumbled thoughts tumble out of my brain and onto this screen. I reflect upon the first rhetorical question I posed to myself and I begin to step out of my own body. I see the question floating and I am observing it years from now, with a soft, knowing smile. The version of me that is 5, maybe 10 years older, gently reminds the me of today that these urgent and anxiety-filled questions need not be so destructive to my mental wellbeing. I recognize that if I were using meditation and mindful practices in more moments like these, then perhaps I wouldn’t go through a thousand questions before reaching this point of reflectiveness and understanding. I will find these answers; they are deep inside me already, waiting to be found.

It is at this point that I commit to myself I will write more of these anxieties down, should they continue to rise, in order to afford myself the opportunity of stepping back and viewing it from a more Zen perspective. A perspective that instills in me if only I meditate on these ideas, I might find more of the answers I am truly seeking. Perhaps instead of, ‘what career could I choose that makes the most money,’ I could be meditating and contemplating what my deep-down truth, what my heart, is trying to tell me about myself and my life. I am sure many people experience the same uneasiness when ignoring their truths, when living entirely separate from their true selves.

I like to take every opportunity I get to tell people about what I call my “deep-down truths.” This is the feeling for me that is located deep in the chest cavity and tells me how I truly feel about something on the most instinctual level. I like to observe and listen to these truths, in hopes that if I live in harmony with them I might feel more at peace. It is my impression that it’s very much of the Western mindset to not entrust one’s own intuition. To not trust or believe in the energies of people around us, or the very energies we feel within ourselves. I am very aware that when I speak of these feelings, I might get odd glances if I broach this topic with the wrong crowd. I don’t care. It is important to me to start this conversation, especially with people who are extremely skeptical. “Trust one’s own heart? What even is that?” people with a Western mindset might say. It may be that these deep-down truths aren’t tangible to others; they aren’t backed by data or explicit logic all the time. But they shouldn’t be ignored; the heart chakra and these deep-down truths should never be pushed aside. It is when we find ourselves insecure and detached from our true selves that we know we have been trudging through life with no regard for these instinctual indicators within ourselves.

It was in that moment when I was scrambling to find an easy answer to the hard, almost intangible question of ‘What am I doing with my life?’ that I knew I needed to fall back upon meditation and mindful practices to once again become more in touch with my deep-down truths. The more we practice, the stronger this trust within ourselves becomes. The more we find we are happy with our decisions and with our choices. I hope you listen to your own heart, your own deep-down truths, however they exist. If you don’t know what in the world I’m talking about, I hope you put forth the effort to begin to learn.

Nicole Felts
Guest Blogger
New Leaf Meditation

Nicole Felts has a bachelor’s of science in biology and let a successful career in January 2016 pursue acting. The pursuit of that dream lead her to Atlanta, Georgia. When she isn’t acting she loves reading, horseback riding, cooking, and socializing with boyfriend. Occasionally I horseback ride. I lift weights a few days a week. Nicole says, “Throughout the day I reflect on what my mindfulness can do to benefit myself and those around me.” 

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Life Lessons from Facebook

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Life Lessons from Facebook

Life Lessons from Facebook
Guest post by Marla Ernest

I like to think that everything, positive or negative, is a learning experience. Recently, proof of this came to light in the most uncommon way. It was a simple social media post. It went like this.

Friend: Killing me softly with his song. : (

Me: Well, don't listen to that song then. Time to change stations.

Friend: I totally love the song.

Me: And I totally understand. Sometimes, you have to listen to the sad song until the dance music starts.

Friend: Yeah. The sad song lasted like 2 seconds. Then, I was listening to Prince, "Kiss."

It's a metaphor, right? Do you see what I see? Hmmmmm . . . the inner voice speaks deep and powerful truths. 

We can choose to focus on the sadness, or we can choose to focus on the blessings in life. Recently, I have had some very painful experiences that have brought grief to my life. Yes, I walk through that pain. I grieve, I cry, I hurt. Then, I find the good in the situation. When I went through my double mastectomy, I could have lived in the place where I mourn the loss of body parts, but I choose to move past the illness and live in the place where I am extremely grateful that the cancer was caught early. I choose to focus on the fact that I get to continue to live and grow. When I lost my uncle to a lung infection, I wept.

I could have lived in the place where my heart hurts, because he is no longer here with us, but I choose to move past the grief and live in the place where I enjoy the memories I have of conversations about family and life. I choose to focus on the relationship that I was lucky enough to have with him. Sadness is there. We have to pay attention to it and move through it. But, oh those happy times. They are the things in life that shine, that bring us hope, that remind us why we're here.

Let the sad songs play. Then, dance, my friends! Dance!

Marla Ernest, M.Ed., is a breast cancer survivor, mother, grandmother, and educator. When she isn't writing for her blog whoneedsboobsanyway.weebly.com, she is making art and jewelry specializing in healing stones. Marla is an English as a Second Language learning facilitator and holds a Masters degree in Education with an emphasis on curriculum and instruction. Her goal is to help others heal their physical, emotional, and spiritual bodies through humor, honesty, and the gifts of our earth.

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