Mindful Health

November 15, 2009

Our life is what our thoughts make it. ~Marcus Aurelius

The attainment of wholeness requires one to stake one’s whole being. Nothing less will do…. ~C. G. Jung

Synchronicity again. I first ran across psychologist Ellen Langer when I was preparing for the talk on mindful management last month. Langer did early experiments in mindfulness and its effect on aging, so I hunted down her 1989 book, Mindfulness, and read it recently. Today I see that she has a new book, Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility, and that a movie with Jennifer Aniston, based on the book, will soon be coming out. No doubt, mindfulness is becoming more mainstream.

Langer says we have learned to influence health “by exchanging unhealthy mindsets for healthy ones and increasing a generally mindful state. The latter is more lasting and results in more personal control.” Jon Kabat-Zinn lists seven attitudinal factors that underlie mindfulness: (1) non-judging; (2) patience; (3) beginner’s mind; (4) trust; (5) non-striving; (6) acceptance; and (7) letting go. Cultivating these attitudes, Kabat-Zinn stresses, requires energy, motivation and commitment. May I establish daily practice in mindfulness for health.


This is My Real Life

August 15, 2009

Being Zen
Although I can try to push away my experience, the fact remains that whatever is happening right now is my genuine life. Like it or not, want it or not, this life is what is. To embrace it rather than push it away is the key to freedom. ~Ezra Bayda, from Being Zen

What a treasure this book is! Bayda helps us understand how practice can help us become free of the constriction of fear, awaken compassion, and “learn to be at home, even in the midst of the muddy water of our lives.” His prose is so clear and practical that I would not presume to paraphrase.

“The key to practice,” he says, “is not to try to change our life but to change our relationships to our expectations–to learn to see whatever is happening as our path. Our difficulties are not obstacles to the path, they are the path itself.”

“What we need is a gradual yet fundamental change in our orientation to life–toward a willingness to see, to learn, to just be with whatever we meet…To simply be with our experience–even with the heaviness and darkness that surround our suffering–engenders a sense of lightness and heart.” Learning to approach pain and suffering with “…a certain lightness of heart…is what transforms and softens our will–as ego, as striving, as struggle–into willingness.” (I love this idea…see more on will here.)

Bayda offers a lovely meditation consisting of four-line rounds that repeat several times, moving from self to others to all beings. He distinguishes this from affirmations, which he says are “like mental injections we use to change or cover over our feelings.” (I couldn’t agree more–see Positivity). “This practice is the opposite: it is not about changing or covering over our feelings, it is about experiencing whatever is present.” It focuses on the physical awareness of the heartspace, and so is not simply a mental exercise.

As Bayda’s teacher, Charlotte Joko Beck, says in her introduction, “Even though all reading is preliminary, it is a crucial first step.” Now to practice!


From the Archives: May

May 2, 2009

pen

Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go. ~E. L. Doctorow

Selected posts from last May:

Radical Acceptance
This is a transformative practice.

Life is Now
Tolle exhorts us to pay less attention to our life situations, and more attention to life itself.

Faults-Image
Do we place greater value on projecting a positive image or accepting reality (in which we are all flawed)?

The Soul at Work
….or, as Parker J. Palmer calls it, the integration of soul and role


Flowing Water

April 6, 2009

There is guidance for each of us and by lowly listening, we shall hear the right word. Certainly there is a right for you that needs no choice on your part. Place yourself in the middle of the stream of power and wisdom which flows into your life. Then, without effort, you are impelled to truth and to perfect contentment. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today I said to Terry that I want to be flowing water. Maybe becoming flowing water is the way to be on one’s true path. (I almost said “the first step on the path”–oh, my ingrained habit of linear thought!)

I see this process of becoming flowing water as acceptance, letting go of resistance, and dwelling–as Thoreau advises–“as near as possible to the channel in which your life flows.”

What does this mean in practical, day-to-day terms? I think it means deep listening, stillness (ironically), and shedding the illusion of control. We have control over very little in this life, and yet we behave as though the world cannot turn without our efforts.

This week, I want to hold an image of flowing water, to be as close as possible to the channel in which my life flows, and to notice how that feels.


Making Our World

March 28, 2009

If we want to make something spectacular out of our world, there is nothing whatsoever that can stop us. ~Maria Ranier

Make or find? In a previous post, I grappled with Eric Maisel’s concept of making (as opposed to finding) meaning in our lives. How does that jibe with Byron Katie’s concept of loving what is or Eckhart Tolle’s encouragement to live in the Now? If we are attempting to make our worlds, our lives, our meaning, are we pushing the rope?

Right effort is part of the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism. As with other things, perhaps it’s finding (or is it making?!) a balance between effort and surrender. Changing what we can and accepting the rest, as the first part of the serenity prayer teaches. This prayer goes on to refer to a deity, but I think surrender can also be to life and the natural world.

How do you reconcile right effort and surrender? To whom or what do you surrender (if you do)?


Loving the World

January 9, 2009

There is only one heroism in the world: to see the world as it is, and to love it. ~Romaine Rolland

Acceptance is coming up for me again today. When I can see the world as it is, and can also see how it could be so much better, how do I accept what I can’t change, change what I can, and have the wisdom to know the difference? I believe it takes intention and attention.

That old serenity prayer really says it well! It’s a good way to remember my intentions. I want to accept the world just as it is, and still love it (like Richard Nixon, maybe–we luv you, cuz you need it*). I want to discern the places where I can make it better, and to have the courage to foster change. As Donna said in the comments to another post, “Sure, the world is perfect as it is–but it could be better.” I just love that!

So I want to turn my attention to the things I can change, the places where I can make a difference, and stop spinning my wheels in futile endeavors. I want to keep my eyes open to the truth of the world, and at the same time, open my heart to it as well.

How do you do this?

*from Steve Miller Number 5


Change and Growth

January 4, 2009

Change is inevitable; growth is optional. ~Tavis Smiley

Thanks to Carol for passing on this great quote. There are many people talking these days about change, the pace of change, the disorienting effects of change, “change management.” (Now there’s an oxymoron!) But I don’t hear much about growth within change, rather more about just keeping up, staying sane, not falling farther behind. There is something lost in this discussion. I don’t want to spend my energy just treading water; I want to swim into new water! Remembering what Marcel Proust said: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

I think the first step for growth is embracing (or at least shaking hands with) the change itself, accepting it as a condition of modern life. Why struggle against the inevitable? But beyond that, I have found stillness and mindfulness useful for getting in touch with the part of me that hungers for learning and growth. It is easy to be overwhelmed with the plethora of choices today, and this stillness helps us hear what we need above the din.

How have you approached change? Growth? How do we not only stay sane in this crazy-making proliferation of options, but expend our energy wisely for both our own development and a better world?