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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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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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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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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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Live and Love Like a Dog

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Live and Love Like a Dog

Live and Love Like A Dog
Guest post by J.P. Rippetoe

Even, and perhaps most importantly, when you act in ways that are out of alignment or cause yourself pain, show unconditional love.

There are two movies that are quoted on a regular basis in our house. The first is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. “The blessing” makes a regular appearance at family dinners and whenever I finish a project around the house, I proudly announce that I “fixed the newel post.” The other movie that we quote often is Steele Magnolias. This is partly due to my having worked on a production of the play years back and six months of rehearsals has embedded the lines firmly into my long-term memory. Recently the quotes from Steele Magnolias that have been coming forward most are from the funeral monologue. Our house is grieving the loss of one of our dearest friends, fellow healer and our soul sister, and, like M’Lynn, I wanted to know why. I feel blessed that as I meditate, I can often get answers, and in this case I did. The Universe let me know she had learned the lessons that she needed to learn in this life and that the lessons that she had for we who remain would best be learned through her crossing the Rainbow Bridge. One of the lessons for me is to learn to live and love like a dog, which seems apropos considering she was a veterinarian.

Be Fiercely Loyal to Your Pack

Your pack is going to be defined by you. For some, it will include a large number of family and friends, for others it will be a small clan. Regardless, loyalty is key. When a member of your pack is hurt, you circle around them and do all you can to help them to heal and protect them. This loyalty goes beyond protecting them from external forces. We all know that there have been times when we have said and done things that have been hurtful to others or ourselves. In those times, our pack needs to remain fiercely loyal to us and help us to not only see the truth of our actions but also (and maybe more importantly) see the value in who we are. It also may be the case that a member of the pack may need to have time away from the pack. This should only be done when there is discord being created and I would suggest working to resolve the issue in other ways prior.

Love Unconditionally

There is no greater example on this planet of unconditional love than a dog. I don’t think it is at all a coincidence that dog and God use the same letters. I have seen first hand this love from my own dogs. When things were the darkest in my life, my dogs loved me when it seemed that others (including myself) could not. Even in those rare times when I have been less than the ideal doggy daddy, I have been quickly forgiven and loved. Take this example and start to apply it to your pack and the world in general. When your relational partner snaps at you for doing or not doing what was expected, show unconditional love. When someone cuts you off in traffic, show unconditional love. Even when you act in ways that are out of alignment or cause yourself pain, show unconditional love.

Shake It Off

With this lesson, I am not referring to the annoyingly catchy Taylor Swift song that is most likely stuck in your head right now. I have watched my dogs when they clash with the cat or each other over something. In the moment, there is a lot of growling, barking and showing of teeth. Once it is all over, they walk away, shake their body and move on. Some level of conflict is inevitable, but how long you carry that conflict is a choice. When it shows up in your life, be able to share your point of view, try to understand the opposing perspective and, when it’s all done, shake it off.

Take Long Walks in Nature With Your Pack

We live in a digital age. As I write this, I have two laptops, an iPhone, iWatch and two headsets within easy reach. Despite all the technology, we are losing our connection with each other. The time to put the tech down and move into nature is at hand. I find that when I walk in nature with my pack, magic happens. Conversations start and flow in directions that it would never go in other circumstances. I am not sure if it’s the closeness to the plants, the abundance of fresh air or the exercise, but our hearts open in nature. Use this to your advantage, get out on a regular basis and connect with our planet and each other.

Never Miss a Chance to Wag Your Tail

Celebrate. Do it often and for as many things as you can. This is showing the Universe gratitude for the gifts it brings to you, so be grateful for everything! If your friend calls and offers to take you out for lunch – celebrate. When you find money, be it $20 or a penny – celebrate. When you are playing volleyball and the other team wins – celebrate with them. Never miss a chance to celebrate for at the end of our lives we will not be remembered for how much stuff we have, but for the memories we have created with our pack. A surefire way to create those memories is to celebrate – wag your tail.

As I move forward in my life and heal the hole in my heart left by the loss of my friend, I know that I will do so as a better man for having known her and for having learned her lessons. I appreciate my pack more now than ever before. I am sure to let them know how much I love them. I hope that you can incorporate these lessons as well. Above all else, be kind, to those in your life and to yourself.

J. P. Rippetoe, the Alchemist Life Coach, is a blogger, writer, public speaker and the owner/co-founder of NRG Concepts (www.NRGConcepts-4u.com). Through his company, he takes a holistic approach to providing solutions for his clients, bringing balance and bliss into their personal experience. This is done through programs that include intuitive one-on-one coaching, creating community through small group life classes and assisting clients with the energy of their space through interior decor consultation, energy clearing and clutter cleansing. J. P. lives in Pittsburgh, PA with his co-creator, Gregory, their two cats, Mischa and Sasha, and two dogs, Botti and Nicky.

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Busyness

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Busyness

“A cluttered existence may keep us busy, but busyness doesn’t mean that we are fully engaged in what we’re doing. Usually, just the opposite, we feel busy because we are neurotically active at things that don’t matter much in the long run.”   ---- Thomas Moore, Original Self

Friends my age are beginning to think about retirement.

It’s sad to hear many of them remark that they don’t know what they’ll do with themselves without the busyness of corporate life, or that they’ll not retire because they don’t want to have too much time on their hands, or because they don’t want to experience the diminished income (i.e. they want to continue accumulating stuff). Also distressing is hearing from those who have retired from traditional work situations that they are bored. Some are filled with anxiety because of a ‘void’.

Similar feelings might be experienced when life is simplified.

But let me clarify: it’s not a void. It’s discomfort with a stranger. The stranger is you. And this is where you have the choice to become intimately acquainted or you can ignore him/her and just get busy again. I do hope that you'll choose the former and not the latter. I promise you won't be disappointed. The better you get to know that stranger, the more simple your life can become. The simpler your life becomes, the more opportunity to intimately know this stranger. This simplicity and willingness is fertile ground for a lush and deep-rooted spiritual life. It opens the opportunity for realization of how complex, how interesting, how creative you actually (we all) are.

Oh, what a journey! What an adventure! Without leaving your home you will begin to see new vistas, and in familiar friends you'll meet new people.

Don't be afraid of time, space, inactivity.

Creating stillness in the interior and physical space makes possible the visitation of inspiration. It makes possible the emergence of something new, but also allows forgotten passions and desires to surface. Simplifying your life allows the complex individual that you are to surface. You are a vibrant tapestry full of excitement and tranquility, desire and contentment. How many times have you found yourself reminded of something you love but hadn’t thought about or engaged in for some time; a place that you like to go, an activity that you enjoy? Have you ever remarked, “I loved doing that as a boy” or “I haven’t thought about that in years” or "Gee, I miss doing that"?

Most of us have had the experience of the busyness of life crowding out things that we take great pleasure in. We allow those things to fall away giving greater priority to (so-called) responsibility and achievement. When in most cases it’s just busyness that has taken the foreground. Engagement, unlike busyness, occupies your entire being; the physical, the emotional, the mental. It's making love all the time, but in different ways. I prefer living a love-filled life to a busy life, don't you?

So how do we engage with intent and stop the busyness?

If your busyness is primarily at work, take a look at how you can impact the flow. Can you better manage your time? Can you suggest a change of process (that may benefit others as well)? Are you taking on responsibilities that need not be yours? Can you prepare better for repetitive tasks that save you time and keep you better organized? Is your workspace organized in a way that helps rather than hinders you? If not, get rid of what you don't need and create a place for what you do need - and keep those things in their place. This applies to virtual files as well as to physical tools. Is your busyness related to achievement? That is, are you constantly taking on more and more in order to climb the company ladder? Is it possible to get recognition by doing something, maybe even one thing, extremely well rather than trying to do many things (and burning out)? And of course this takes us full circle to the root of wanting to achieve or earn more to get the attention and/or more stuff. This endless cycle is worth thinking deeply about.

If your busyness is at home: Are chores shared? Is the family calendar too packed with planned activities? Are you signed up for too many social obligations? Why? Maybe you don't have to be in on everything. Give one of the picnics or movies a miss. Are you too burdened with responsibilities to others (extended family)? If so adjust the frequency and/or ask for help. Is your home arranged in a manner that is conducive to play and relaxation? Do you know where the things you need are? Do you have too much stuff? If you're in the cluttered and over-stuffed category, try this exercise: For 1 month, keep track of how many times and how long it takes to locate things (like keys, backpacks, the checkbook, dog leashes, etc.) for everyone in the family. You'll be amazed how many hours your family might rack up just trying to find things among the glut.

Busyness puts us out of touch, out of alignment.

We're out of touch with our own real wants and needs. We're out of alignment with our real selves. Speaking from a spiritual perspective, if we're in alignment with what we really are - which is an extension and expression of all that there is or ever will be - what could we possibly need? Very little on this physical plane, I should think. It's said that highly enlightened masters hardly needed even food. Most of us will not reach, nor desire to reach, that state of alignment. And that's okay.

We're all here to experience and express something unique. We're more likely to discover that uniqueness and achieve that expression when the distraction of busyness is removed. Busyness is a barrier to discovery. Remove it. Simplify your daily life and discovery how truly gifted and fascinating you are. Be pleasantly surprised by how often inspiration visits now that you can hear that voice. Our inspiration and creativity  and joy is right here, all the time. We just have been busily buzzing past it and shouting over it. Slow down, let some things go. The world will continue to turn. Engage by choice. Enjoy.

Copyright 2016 Dawn Murphy

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:veganminimalist.com 

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Momentary Peace:  Breathing Through Pain

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Momentary Peace: Breathing Through Pain

Momentary Peace:  Breathing Through Pain
By Kary Schumpert

I am grieving the loss of my dad.

This grief is a bit of a surprise. I didn’t know that I would feel like a I hit a brick wall, over and over again. In the last three months since his death, I haven’t slept. I haven’t been able to read a book, and I usually read one or two in a week. I have had faulty judgement. I have made some bad decisions. I have been walking in a fuzzy, cloudy, fog, which is a bit ironic, since I live in sunny, bright Albuquerque.

They say grief can be unexpected and surprising. Yes, I concur. There is pain and I can see how people can get lost in it. How can we honor our grief and our pain, but not get lost? How can we face our feelings, and yet not wallow? A moment of clarity struck the other day, while I was running.

I love running and recently joined a running group, because I thought I could use some companionship in an activity that I usually do solo. While my mind spins, I need exercise to feel right again. Right now, casual companionship feels wonderful, because I feel most alone.

Monday night, we met at the track and divided up into smaller groups, based upon our goals for the evening. Some were running/walking. Some were walking. I placed myself in the running group. That night’s run was three miles. I started out by myself in the middle of the group, but running solo. The group coach and another woman were slightly ahead of me. They slowed down to my pace and we all ran together. Their conversation resumed and then I joined in. In running, a good way to measure your pace and ease is to see if you can talk while running. I was a bit winded, so we slowed down a bit more and I took a breath.

It was in that moment, the gap in conversation that I realized all I need to do is breathe. Sometimes, it’s harder, while running uphill or running at a faster pace. Sometimes, in the middle of a busy day at work, it can be tricky, but taking a moment to breathe deeply can bring peace.

Why is it that it took a routine run to remind me of something so basic? Lately, it has been all about breathing. I am a newbie to yoga and as I move my way through the poses in a class, I breathe and move into the next pose. On a day when I feel cloudy and confounded by grief, I take a breath and count to 10. In a moment in the car, on the drive home, when a lane is closed and a car rushes in front of me, I am surprised by my anger. Usually, things like that don’t bother me. Then I take a deep breath and make room for that car, plus one more.

One day at the gym, while swimming laps, I felt the effort seemed much more difficult. I then realized my timing and breath were off. If I open my mouth and breathe out in a spurt of bubbles, I don’t take such big gasps when I turn my head up out of the pool.

Breathing helps me in my stumbling meditation practice. When I feel blocked and upset and don’t know which way to move, I realize all I can do is breathe. I will move and breathe myself through this. I will take moment by moment:  up the hills, through the shadows of grief, until I find my way back. I fill the void with a breath, sometimes a gasp.

I will breathe until I sleep, until I read again, until I find myself again. I will breathe. Eventually, I will let go of the pain. For now, though, it reminds me to breathe.

Kary Schumpert
Guest Blogger
New Leaf Meditation Project
NewLeafMeditation.org

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, Green Teacher, and Community Works Journal. She keeps a blog at runningintolife.wordpress.com

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Healing in Orlando

In the numbness that follows a tragedy we are often heard to repeat cliches that help us wrap our heads around the inconceivable. Whether it’s the misfortune or loss of a loved one, or something on a grander and uglier scale, we will be heard to say “everything happens for a reason” clutching to the belief that an invisible future explanation will present itself and ease the current pain.

I never subscribed to that Pollyanna-ish interpretation. Long before I read the Hermetica, Gnostic texts, Rudolph Steiner, or Neville, I felt instinctively, even though I didn’t like the feeling, that something was backward. It’s not some future revelation that we must look to. It’s the past and the present that hold the answer; the reason.

And the reason is us.

None of us want to hear it or look at it. But that doesn’t change the fact that each of us, however remotely, is fractionally culpable. Let me explain: If one human can become so completely out of alignment with the human family, then it can happen to any one of us. We are all equally capable, if not all likely, to become a beast or a saint. Until we recognize this, we’re not spiritually or emotionally mature. We have to ask, daily, “What’s going on inside of me? What’s happening on an energetic level? Where and how am I contributing to love or hate?” For however small or insignificant we think our intention, it contributes none the less. And one contribution (of energy) builds upon another, and so on. Looking at this squarely is how we heal.

The world’s spiritual leaders & guides have all known this. They’ve all faced conditions of adversity,  or of doubt, sometimes even atrocity. They overcame not just with the tools of prayer and meditation, but through Practice. They were able to carry on because they constantly and consistently put into action what they realized through meditation and contemplation. This is Practice. We overcome, heal, and change through Practice.

Meditation is not for escape or just to feel better at the end of your day. Of what use is contemplation and meditation if the result is only Nihilism or narcissism? The value is not in retreat, disengagement, or disconnection. The value is that it gives us the strength to engage fully, humanly, and spiritually while keeping centered, keeping ‘in love’ by remaining in the field of true knowing and compassion with detachment. That is the Practice. In this way we can say “yes, I will participate in the debate, but I do so from love, from recognition of myself in the other.”

We have to come from a place of oneness – even, and perhaps most critically, when in pain, in opposition, and when engaging in activism. If we’re not coming from a grounded centered place, we’re only contributing to the problem even with the best of (mental) intention. But it’s the intention and purity of our hearts, not our minds, that the Universe hears. The intention of our heart has to come from recognizing the shadow, from identifying with the beast in each of us and embracing it, understanding it, no matter how repulsive. Only then can we intend, not just what we want, but what is truly for the highest good, trusting that the intelligence that surrounds us will work in concert with that intention. For it will. Whether it’s noble or base, the Universe will only say ‘yes’ to our pure intention.

In the wake of tragedy, when we are in pain, this can be a very daunting task. But it is precisely at this time that we should turn not to magical thinking, but to practical tools (the difference between New Age and New Thought). Tools that we may not completely understand (like electricity or gravity) but that we know from experience will sustain us. What use is being able to still our minds for 10 breaths unless it teaches us how to be love in the world? Can you argue for your point of view impersonally and without anger? Can you argue from your heart center without hating the person opposing you? Can we forgive the most heinous of acts?

That is the Practice. The practice of meditation or other contemplative exercise is to prepare us to go into the world as lovers and fighters; as those who realize our connection with all that is. We can go into the world and fight from the heart center for what we believe is the highest good without hating the person who is opposing our view when we Practice. To remain connected to one another in the most trying, the most frightening of times is our test. And times will continue to be trying for as long as we provide a reason, for as long as we indulge in thoughts unguarded.

So in my own small part – which turns out is not small at all – I will strive to be ever so diligent in my every thought and deed. I will strive to keep my intentions kind. I will not add the energy of hate or separation in any degree to the world. Not in reaction to daily trivial upsets or to the most grandly horrific of events. I will not always succeed. In fact, I flub it several times a day. But I do, and will continue to, constantly practice. This is my response to this tragedy. This is my commitment to my human family.

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: veganminimalist.com 

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