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mindfulness

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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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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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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Why Do I Meditate?

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Why Do I Meditate?

Why Do I Meditate?     By Tracy Martorana

I think about this often…why do I meditate?   I have a graphic I use to show people the benefits of meditation and how meditation supports Holistic Wellness (balancing Body, Mind, Heart and Soul).

But do I meditate to lower my blood pressure?  No.  It’s the more esoteric benefits that I gravitate to…mindfulness, awareness, peace & serenity…but to what end?  What do these even mean and why do I care?

I have realized that sitting in meditation, being mindful of the present moment and letting go of judgment, slowly trains your brain to let go.  It’s not so much that I stop caring, but I have begun to realize that my thoughts and opinions are not reality and that in clinging to them and in trying to push them on others, I am causing much of my own stress and suffering. 

In the introduction of The Issue at Hand by Gil Fronsdal, he explains this phenomenon pretty simply:

 “Mindfulness entails knowing what is happening in the present moment while it is happening.  It is a training in how not to be lost in thoughts, opinions, and reactivity.  It is also a training in how to see things as they really are, as opposed to seeing them through the often distorted lens of preconceived ideas and interpretations.” (p. ix)

Learning to meditate is simple, but it is far from easy.  Meditation is about so much more than sitting in silence for 20 minutes.  That is the simple part!  The more difficult part, but also the most valuable, is learning how to take what you learn about yourself in meditation and let it change the way you interact with the world. 

As I have learned to pay attention to my thoughts, as I have noticed the lies I tell myself and the stories I make up in my mind to support what I want to believe, when I notice the patterns in behavior or the reactions to certain people or emotions; as I learn about me, I learn to laugh at my thoughts and just let them go. I have learned to cling less to my judgments and accept that the opposite is also true.  These are gifts I gained in meditation, but it wasn’t until I took what I learned off the mat, that the benefits really started to emerge.

I continue to learn about me and the way tiny little inconsequential things in my past have colored my views on all kinds of things, big and small.  The more I sit in meditation, the more I learn about me and the more I can let go.  The more I can let go, the more I enjoy mindfulness, awareness and peace & serenity. 

This is why I meditate.

Tracy Martorana
Guest Blogger
New Leaf Meditation Project
NewLeafMeditation.org

Tracy Martorana is the owner of Holistic Wellness with Tracy and Tracy’s Teas,in LeRoy NY.  She is a Nutrition & Wellness / Lifestyle Coach, an Herbalist and a Meditation instructor.  Her mission is to teach people how to make healthy choices easy and enjoyable. You can learn more about Tracy, her blog, her teas and her book (90 Days to Holistic Wellness – balancing your Body, Mind, Heart and Soul) at her website: www.holisticwellnesswithtracy.com.

 

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