I write to you from NYC where I have spent the last several weeks with my family. Each time I spend extended periods of time in Manhattan I learn a little bit more about myself. The cadence of life is faster here; the sensory stimulation is constant (wildly varying between pleasant and unpleasant); and endless choices about how I may spend my free time. The options that I am particularly curious about are not the options limited to what Broadway shows to see or when I will dine with friends but more noticeable are the thoughts, attitudes, mood states, or daily self-care routines I will cultivate.
As Pema teaches us: Life is a good teacher and a good friend, Things are always in transition, if we could only realize it. Nothing ever sums itself up in the way that we like to dream about. The off-center, in=between states an ideal situation, a situation in which we don’t get caught and we can open our hearts and ends beyond limit. It’s a very tender, nonaggressive, open-ended state of affairs.
What astonishes me is that when I am truly present and willing to engage with the fullness of life I am reminded of the simplicity of my needs. I am reminded of the natural rhythms that sustain my well-being such as proper rest, no alcohol (it’s been over a year and a half of this life-changing experiment), moving my body in a way that is kind and gentle, daily meditation and nourishing the body with clean and healthy food. Rest, movement, sitting in silence, nourishing food. I always come home to these practices and I always find the truest version of myself in the simplicity of life. I invite you to listen in and see what simple practices you might cultivate that will sustain your health, heart and mind?
Please see below for the wonderful practice opportunities in 2018:
September: 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course
October 12th: Relational Mindfulness Book Signing at King's English 6 pm. Bring a loved one, friend or spouse!
October 13th LOVE IN ACTION, Day-Long Retreat with Deborah Eden Tull
November: 6-Week MAPS II Course
Weekly sitting group will begin in September - more details to come...stay tuned.
I am overjoyed with the incredibly beautiful Spring weather that surrounds me as I write to you. The sensory experiences of Spring are a natural invitation to step into the present moment…literally stopping to smell the roses (or peonies or lilac), feeling warm sunshine on my back, enjoying an evening sunset with a loved one, savoring the taste of seasonal fruits and vegetables…the sensory experiences are endless.
The beauty of this season is juxtaposed with political unrest, gun violence, inequality of all kinds, and grief and loss around the globe and it can feel overwhelming at times to know which set of emotions from which to live. How can I enjoy the bounty of my life while so many are suffering in catastrophic ways? I don’t want to turn away from world events yet I feel overwhelmed by the constant barrage of suffering in the news. I want to help but how can I, as one person, bring about change when the issues we face appear soulfully and environmentally insurmountable? One of my Buddhist teachers reminded me that in rejecting the beauty of my own life I am perpetuating self-violence and I am missing an opportunity to be engaged with life at large. Further, if I humbly “take my seat” and from this compassionate platform be of service to others then I am aligned to being fully present in life.
In dharma study we can look at life from a place of aversion, attachment, or equanimity. Aversion would look like avoidance of worldly reality while I live in my own bubble of (perceived) safety. There is an attitude of ME-ness in this approach and a feeling of separation from others. Attachment feels like over-identification with the pain and suffering in the world (an within ourselves) at the expense of living in the fullness of our own life. Equanimity is living with it all and finding a place to be with “all of life” with an attitude of acceptance. Acceptance does not mean allowing injustices to continue but rather accepting that life is sometimes overwhelming, sometimes joyful and sometimes infuriating. With acceptance of the present moment experience we begin to practice equanimity and we can see more clearly a path to social engagement that does not perpetuate violence.
Here are a few examples of how this practice looks in my day-to-day life: Upon waking taking a few breaths and checking in before I check my phone, reading the newspaper and sending out Metta (loving-kindness phrases) when I read a story of heart-breaking violence or allowing myself to feel shared joy when reading an article of celebration. Enjoying a hot cup of coffee and spending time in appreciation for my home, family and current sense of safety; honoring my body through gentle stretching and meditation practice and looking inward for ways that I may be harming myself through negative thoughts, self-criticism or perhaps an attitude that is not serving me; going to the drive-through coffee shop and I remember to bring my own mug and I stick to the “no straw” challenge I have with my teenaged daughter as I understand the impact my daily choices (plastic habits) have on the health of the planet. This way of “being with” life allows me to move through my day with a sense of connection, ease and wakefulness.
Part of my path was and continues to be to explore imbedded feelings of unworthiness that came to me from past generations as well as a response to my own childhood trauma. As I realized that I did not have to choose to be present in my own life at the expense of worldly ignorance, I felt a sense of relief move through my body. In fact, I am even more deeply motivated to engage in service as one way to fully honor the life I live and because I believe that I am not separate from my brothers and sisters around the globe. We are part of the same living organism. In fact, I WANT to know what is happening on our planet so that I may use the energy of outrage, anger or grief to fuel non-violent activism. This type of wakefulness is imperative in this time in history. Thankfully, truly, I have begun to feel worthy of goodness over time and I realize how important it is to me to live a life of meaning. This is my guiding light…love of life and service to others has become my “happiness compass” from which I make decisions about how to spend my time and energy.
Let’s talk about the two kinds of happiness, as researched by happiness researcher Emma Seppälä. One is hedonic happiness and one is eudaimonic happiness. “Hedonic is the pleasures of life. The sex, drugs, rock and roll, money, achievement, awards. All the things that give you that high. It could be a notification on Facebook or a lot of notifications. It’s a release of chemicals in the brain that make us feel good. Yet, they don’t last for very long. That’s why if you had a burst of happiness from let’s say, a piece of chocolate cake, or a raise, or a promotion, or something, soon thereafter, it’s worn off and you want more,” Seppälä says.
On the other hand, eudaimonic happiness is more closely related to self-actualization. According to Seppälä, the eudaimonica type “comes from a sense of purpose, a sense of meaning, and a sense of connection to others. A sense of something greater than yourself. It’s what you feel if you’re a parent. It’s what you feel if you’re doing service. It’s what you feel if you’re contributing to something that’s helping others in some way.”
What does the science show? A strong basis in eudaimonic happiness effects our physical well-being. In fact, if you base your life mostly on eudaimonic happiness, research suggests that you have lower inflammation at the cellular level, and your longevity’s increased. This increases your ability to bounce back from disappointments and be more resilient. According to Seppälä, it isn’t bad to have fun; the pleasures in life are here for us to enjoy. The secret to resilience, then, isn’t to give up that ice cream, but to make sure the ice cream-type pleasures aren’t becoming more important to your happiness than your relationships and personal goals.
If we base our life on seeking pleasure rather than meaning then we are often less happy, or experience a decrease in well-being. If we live a life where we seek out and cultivate meaningful connections, meaningful use of our professional time and acts of service we tend to experience a higher degree of well-being. Somewhere between pleasure and meaning is the middle path of well-being which is unique to each one of us.
As I watch the buttery-yellow colored peonies resting in a vase on my desk, I see the tight blossom has loosened and dropped petals rest at the base of the vase. I am reminded that the seasons and moments of life continue no matter what, change continues to take place, and there is no need to avoid the beauty of the process. I can rest in the flow of life and pay attention to what brings abiding contentment.
**Italicized paragraphs were extracted from an interview between Emma Seppälä and psychologist Anett Gyurak on Heleo. They are not my words.
UPCOMING CLASSEs and opportunities
Our Art + Mindfulness Course for Girls 9-12 is almost full! Learn More
Sept. 10th - Nov. 5th: 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course: This much loved and requested 8-week Mindful Self-Compassion Course will be offered beginning in September. In this program you will learn: how to stop being so hard on yourself, how to handle difficult emotions with greater ease, how to motivate yourself with encouragement... Learn More
Oct. 13th Day-Long Retreat With Zen Buddhist Teacher, Deborah Eden Tull: I hope you will join me for a day of Retreat with Deborah Eden Tull on Saturday, October 13th. The details are forming but I have a waitlist started already. If you’d like to reserve your spot then please email me with your name, preferred phone and email address. I will send out more information in the coming weeks. Learn More
Nov. 6th- Dec. 11th: MAPS II Cultivating Positive Emotions: Take a peek at my upcoming course offerings…THERE IS A NEW COURSE CALLED…MAPs II: Cultivating Positive Emotions for those of you who have already taken MAPs I...Learn More
When we remember that change in our lives is inevitable and that we have a choice about how we respond to difficulties as well as how to let in happiness then we are living in presence.
Thank you to the stranger who left me feeling really irritated this morning and then, unskillfully, I was snarky to in response. I was caught off guard by my “reaction” to her behavior as it was not only out of character for me but also unskillful on my part. I have committed my life to living with compassion and this was a moment where I fell short. I was reminded of two things: 1) I am not perfect (and no one is) 2) The bubbling up of my response to her deserved deeper self-inquiry and ultimately meant there was a part of me with which I needed to check-in.
I could have fed my unskillful behavior to my inner critic who would have reminded me through incessant self-criticism of my “unworthiness” but instead, I CHOSE to turn toward the part of me who felt grumpy and to ask this tender part of myself what it was that I needed. “Oh, sweetheart, what’s going on? How may I help you feel settled and seen?” I learned quickly that a part of me felt overwhelmed by the lack of relational care in the world. This part of me felt fearful that we are losing the beautiful human connection of caring for one another in large and small ways. Zooming out and widening the perspective, this part of me felt disheartened in general by the way we treat one another with a lack of care.
As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, I had a difficult experience with a stranger that morning and I responded to her rough behavior with dissonance. I got hooked, as Pema Chödrön refers to as “shenpa.” I bit the hook, I became triggered in the moment by the woman’s lack of care toward me earlier. It’s amazing how many feelings we can experience in a 2 minute period of time!
I served myself a slice of Humble Pie and I gratefully received this moment as an opportunity to turn to self-inquiry.
This is my personal process:
Bringing Conscious Awareness to working with difficult emotions:
- Pausing and taking a few deep breaths (I may bring a hand to heart or belly or both).
- Being willing to lovingly and kindly look within
- Engage in self-inquiry: “How am I? What do I need? What is really going on inside?”
- Validate the voice within, respect the value of my emotions, and TRUST my experience. There is always information in the wave of emotions (be mindful of how you interpret this information) This is an opportunity for CLEAR SEEING.
- Let go of what is no longer needed from that moment and move forward with information and wisdom to inform the next moment of my day
- Asking: What is the next right step that is BEST FOR ALL? (This step does not always look pretty, it may be messy)
- Begin anew: Giving myself the gift of a Fresh Start, informed with the learning of the difficult experience and taking action as identified in step 6.
A few hours later I am walking down the chip aisle at Whole Foods and I hear someone behind me saying, “Excuse me, excuse me, ma’am.” I realize she is calling to me and I turn around and this stranger says to me, “I am sorry to bother you but I must stop and tell you how beautiful you are.” I openly received her words and thanked her for her kindness and courage to call out to me, a stranger to her. We then crossed paths on the next aisle and I stopped her and thanked her for sharing kindness with me and I mentioned that I had had an opposite experience earlier in the day that left me feeling disheartened. She then told me a bit of her life story which was:
She was homeless for 12 years and is now in college studying communications and public relations. She continues to say, “I realized when I was young that I yearned for others to notice and share with me things that were beautiful to them and I decided that I would make a practice of noticing beauty and sharing it on the spot." She went on to share that she was passing through Utah from California after visiting her mother who was 9 months sober due to recovering from a stroke. She spoke of the beauty of this newfound relationship amidst such a traumatic health event. I stood humbly, now in the frozen food aisle, as I listened to her share something beautiful in her world with me, no longer a stranger to her heart nor I to hers.
There is beauty everywhere around us, mixed with darkness and difficulty. If we can practice responding to both the dark and the light as opportunities for self-reflection and growth we step even more into the shared connection of being human and, can wisely discern how to speak up and engage in the world with courage, compassion and as an act of service.In the end, healing and freedom come from our willingness to “Call Out” that which is beautiful as well as that which is unkind, unjust or disillusioned. Somewhere, in the middle of these dualities that we all experience in life is the heart, is the breath, is feeling connected to something larger than ourselves and of realizing the way toward peace and care for one another is developing a loving relationship with ourselves so we awaken to the possibilities of caring deeply for one another.
In love and learning,
Upcoming Courses and Events
Aug. 13-17: Art and Mindfulness Camp this Summer for Girls ages 9-12
with Stella and Becca Peters. Stella will be teaching art classes about fashion illustration, vision boarding, and painting, and Becca will start the day with Mindfulness + Meditation...Learn More
Sept. 10th - Nov. 5th: 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course:
In this program you will learn: how to stop being so hard on yourself, how to handle difficult emotions with greater ease, how to motivate yourself with encouragement... Learn More
Oct. 13th Day-Long Retreat With Zen Buddhist Teacher, Deborah Eden Tull:
Save the date a day-long meditation retreat led by guest speaker and Becca’s personal teacher in the Zen Buddhist tradition, Deborah Eden Tull. More details to come but save the date to join us for this remarkable day of practice and learning about Relational Mindfulness...Learn More
Nov. 6th- Dec. 11th: MAPS II Cultivating Positive Emotions:
This 6-week format, MAPs II class emphasizes heart-based qualities that complement mindfulness and can be cultivated through meditation practices. We will explore loving kindness, compassion, equanimity (even-mindedness), joy, generosity, and gratitude...Learn More
Becca is in the process of forming a weekly evening sitting group. More details coming soon...
can be like love
embedded in velvet
watched over by Trust, Care and Joy
How can we heal, change and grow if we do not change our habitual ways of living, being and loving? We are in a time of transition and change in the world we live in yet we are often terrified of trying on new ways of thinking, living, being and loving. What are symptoms that change is imperative? A run down immune system, feeling over scheduled and with little time for yourself, feeling impatient and letting that brevity of care seep into the relationships that matter the most in your life. These type of symptoms are here to wake you up to make brave decisions towards health, connection, wellness and love.
Think about the last time you were asked to attend an event and you were exhausted + run-down from the week, yet you still said “yes.” Do you recall how you felt saying yes? Maybe resentful or wishing you could stay home and rest? What did you fear might happen if you spoke your deepest truth? What if instead of “yes” you said, “You know, I would love to be there but I really need to take care of my health and wellness and stay in this evening?” What if we lived from a place of honest communication and began to shift the paradigm from Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) to Fear of Missing IN? Fear of disappointing another to considering our own needs as much as we consider everyone else's.
It may be helpful to unpack what I mean by the word “In.” It means the turning toward our whole and full experience of being a human and listening in, checking in and nurturing ourselves. It may begin with a simple question of self-inquiry: How am I? How am I really? And what do I need to feel well?
For some of us it’s warm, cozy and rejuvenating to spend time with ourselves and for others the idea of this sounds terrifying. One of the gifts we receive when we turn our attention to our own process is that we notice natural rhythms that are otherwise overlooked. When teaching meditation to groups of practitioners it is quite common for many to notice fatigue as soon as they direct their attention inward. Why? Because most of the time we live on auto-pilot as a defense mechanism to avoid the overwhelming demands of life. Many of us are just trying to get through the day. However, when we do step into a few moments of stillness we often learn so much about our body, mind and heart. We may notice that we feel sleep deprived, or are hungry, or maybe we need a massage. We may notice that we are feeling stressed and distracted and that a breath of fresh air may be just what is needed to reboot. These are just a few examples of how the simple act of turning toward our inner experience provides much wisdom on the natural rhythms of what our human body + mind + heart need to reach wellness. I invite you to take a moment now. Rest the soles of your feet on the floor beneath you, sit with an upright and easy posture, and take 3 slow deep cleansing breaths. Sit in stillness for 2 minutes and notice what you notice without judging your experience. How is your mind? Busy? Clear? What’s on your heart? Sadness? Joy? Worry? Move your attention to notice your body. Can you feel the pressure of your body on the chair beneath you? Are you relaxed, energized or tired? Take a few moments to acknowledge and honor what you noticed and with this awareness begin to align your next moments in a way that supports your truth. Self-care is like building a muscle. We practice slowing down, checking in and noticing what we notice. From that place of honest, non-judgmental and loving awareness you can begin making shifts in your choices and behavior to practice deeply aligning with your needs. Have fun with this, it’s an experiment in exploring the willingness to live life with greater consciousness and care for yourself.
Self-care is the soothing feeling that comes from sinking into a warm bath, having a cup of tea or sitting down with a good book. Take a moment and remember the ways you already take care of yourself and see if you might implement one additional act of care into your day today, and again tomorrow, and build a pattern of self-care that will tilt the scale away from living on automatic pilot toward living an embodied life. If self-critical thoughts arise as you begin know that it is normal to feel nervous or resistance when we challenge old ways of living to make room for the new. Keep moving towards love.
Please join me for a 2-Hour Mindful Self-Compassion workshop on Sunday, February 18th from 1:30-3:30pm at Avenue’s Yoga in Salt Lake City. Advanced registration is required and space is limited. You belong and I hope you will join me. Click here for more details and to register.
My book this month which is part of an inspiring collection of books for sale at the SHOPPE is: Judgement Detox by Gabby Bernstein. It is a companion to the Universe Has Your Back cards that many of you have and love. Let’s spend more time reading, listening to and surrounding ourselves with inspiration to remind us that life sustains us and that we are part of a big, juicy world.
My fave new products at the SHOPPE at Metta are:
Velvet Journals and beautiful paper goods:
All gemstone malas are HALF off through the month of February, going quickly, so if you've had your eye on one of these beauties, now is the time! Message me to make an appointment to shop.
All other jewelry is 20% off through the month of February to celebrate the month of love.
Since I last wrote to you I am officially one month settled into a new and slower paced professional rhythm and I am discovering a little bit more about myself each day as I move through daily life with more spaciousness, rest and time. I must admit that I miss each one of you with whom I have sat across from over the last decade. This mindful observation period of time is fortified by my choice to eliminate alcohol from my life now over 1 year ago. This means that I have gone through times of joy, hardship, trial and celebration fully feeling the range of emotions and without numbing my senses. I am truly happy to choose health over habit and hope that my sharing with you serves as loving support and encouragement if there is an area in your life that could use a little (or a lot) of loving awareness.
This is the topic I would like to share with you this month as we enter a time of parties and holiday socializing which often include alcohol. Alcohol has different meanings to each of us, even those of us who have never had a drink for religious or health reasons.
What I know to be true: Now is the time. We cannot wait to take care of ourselves because how we care for ourselves translates into how we care for one another and how we care for the planet. It’s time to cultivate wakefulness in our moment-to-moment lives. What holds you back from making changes that will support your health and well-being?
Welcome to my first official newsletter, which, by the way, has been on my wish-I-would-do list for several years now. My hope and aspiration is to reach out to you periodically with thoughtfulness and care to plant seeds of self-reflection and self-discovery, to offer words of kindness and self-love, and to provide a little slice of spaciousness in this hurried and fast- paced time that we live in. In this newsletter you might find poetry, literary recommendations, music, nourishing recipes for the body, mindfulness practices, meditation retreats, upcoming classes, as well as my personal thoughts on living.
I write to you on a cool summer morning with my beloved golden-doodle, Frenchie, by my side, and a warm fire in the distance. It is only fitting to include Frenchie in the inaugural newsletter as she is the quintessential compassionate representation of unconditional love and support. In the end, aren’t we all looking for a sense of acceptance just as we are? The kind of acceptance felt when we see our own reflection through the eyes of a compassionate loved one or beloved pet?
What is on my Heart this month?
What happens when your awareness radar senses love?
So often I feel that we, as humans, are looking for ways outside of ourselves to become better versions of who we already are or to cope with the stressors of life. Of course, it is natural to strive for greater peace, for understanding, for a new skillset but why do we do this? Understanding the “why” behind our actions is another way of showing up for ourselves either from being "in love” or “out of love” with who we are right now. Let me give you an example from my own life as an invitation to step into your own gentle self-inquiry. Ten months ago I made the commitment to eliminate alcohol from my life for a period of one year as an experiment. (This is a beautiful story which I will share in more detail with you at a later time). When I looked back at some of the most painful experiences in my life from childhood through adulthood I realized that alcohol was involved in some way, it was a main or supporting actor in the narrative of the event. For me, as an adult, having a single glass of wine covered up my innate wisdom, it numbed all of my senses, not just the stressful sensations.
The author, Brené Brown talks about when we drink alcohol it may take the edge off of a stressful day but it also dulls our positive emotions as well, after all, alcohol is a depressant. When I realized that a single glass of wine each evening was not only effective in relaxing my body after a full or stressful day but was also effective in reducing my ability to be aware of the presence of love… I stopped AWAKE in my tracks. It hit me that there may have been a mixed tape song unconsciously playing in the background of my mind 24/7 with a chorus of “you don’t have the skills to soothe yourself.” I began to curiously question, “Am I reaching outside of myself for soothing and might this be a subtle form of being “out of love” with myself?” This began my year-long journey of loving self-inquiry. I began to inquire about my “why” from a place of being in total love with the desire to know myself. What I learned was that not only did alcohol cover up clear seeing, and the opportunity to heal even more deeply, but it also robbed me of the innate selflove that I truly needed on a day-to-day basis AND THAT I ALREADY HAVE WITHIN ME. MY AWARENESS RADAR sensed the presence of love ALL OF THE TIME and it is this “aha” moment that allowed me to call LOVE to the forefront as the leading actress and to greater understand the roles of fear, loss, and ultimately forgiveness.
Bringing Awareness to Everyday Life: Is there an aspect of your life where love is not (yet) on your radar?
There are many ways we can step into love. I explored curiosity and insight as acts of love in my personal story with you. Sometimes just the simple act of acknowledging our pain is all that is needed to begin to soften and soothe ourselves. Pema Chödron shares in her teachings that we can “relax our struggle like touching a bubble with a feather.” When we neither occupy the space of denial of our pain nor over-identify with our pain, we have another choice. We may step into the role of a compassionate observer who turns toward the pain with curiosity and care. Over time we are able to move in and out of pleasant and difficult sensations with greater trust, ease and confidence. We learn that no part of ourselves is unworthy of compassion and that no part of another is either. Learning new ways of being in relationship with ourselves and others takes time and practice. Please be gentle with yourself.
What would life be like if we spent more time embracing the joy that is already present and less time attending to negative states of mind? Have you heard of Dr. Rick Hanson’s research on the brain’s negativity bias? Dr. Hanson states, “The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.” Another act of self-love is to study and become educated about the similarities we all share in being human. You may enjoy reading Dr. Hanson’s article to learn about evolutionary development and the ancient circuitry of the brain to understand how, for our ancestors, being fearful meant self-preservation and how, as modern humans we have choices in where we place our attention in turn reframing our interpretation of reality and thus rewiring our brain. You can read this article here.
Women's Retreat Sunday, September 24th
Distractions fill up space in our lives and yet space and stillness are our helpers in healing. Please join me for a day of mindfulness, silence, yoga and spaciousness on Sunday, September 24th. I will guide you in meditation and soothing mindful self-compassion practices. I have joined hearts with Nikki Breedlove who will lovingly guide you in an extended yoga practice followed by a beautiful vegan lunch magically prepared by an in-house chef. Goody bags containing healing crystals and essential oils will be provided to each guest. Registration is open until Friday. Register here.
The next course I will offer in Salt Lake City is an 8-week Compassion Cultivation Training Course from CCARE and Stanford University’s School of Medicine. You can learn more about this course and registration on my website.
My private practice is currently full as I am choosing to carve out more time to devote to writing my first book, taking care of my body and the day-to-day attentiveness needed to respond to living with an auto-immune disorder, and celebrating the lives and needs of my own nuclear family.
Item of the Month, Available for sale at THE SHOPPE:
PRITI MAT is a natural yoga mat made from sustainably harvested tree rubber.
New Wellness App! Jiyo
Deepak Chopra is the co-creator of this awesome holistic health and well-being app. There’s a community feed where people share inspiring content — it’s great for finding spiritual running buddies. You can listen to guided meditations, read articles by experts and watch videos. Plus Jiyo has a health tracker that monitors you and delivers personalized health tips and reminders!
Do you know the feeling of easefully sailing through life and then in the next moment feeling as if you are pushing against a strong head wind? A natural response to conflict or pain is Resistance; an instinctual desire to push away the difficulty or wanting to rid ourselves of the discomfort. Why? Because turning toward pain is a vulnerable process and if we don't have the tools (yet) to sooth the vulnerable part of ourselves we tend to push away from it. If we buy into the story that we will be swallowed up by our own vulnerability then we feed the resistant behavior. This familiar cycle to many of us leads to more pain and difficulty. We may spend hours if not days, months or even years ruminating and replaying the details of an event, blaming others, anything really to avoid accepting what has happened and moving in the direction of empowered course correction. Can you relate to what I am talking about? However, if we acknowledge and honor the unpleasant feelings that accompany resistance then we free our minds & hearts to make a clear course correction and to adjust our sails to move with the changing winds. This requires courage to acknowledge what we are feeling, compassionate tools to nurture the part of us feeling anxious or upset, and to consciously choose a new course of compassionate action.
Suffering has many appearances: outward suffering such as a broken arm, inner suffering such as anxiety and depression, and the deepest seeds of suffering such as belief systems that keep us in a place of separateness. The way we respond to our own suffering will either perpetuate suffering through varying degrees of violence toward ourselves or others or will turn into a healing and growth opportunity. The way we response to Resistance and Suffering will determine the course of our life.
When we find ourselves distracted, blaming and sending negativity to another we can remember that this is likely a sign that we are personally suffering and what we truly need is to take honest and nurturing care of the part of us who begs for nurturance. Many people have not been shown or taught self-nurturance and may find relief in seeking support from a trusted friend or mental wellness professional to gain self-compassion skills. Others possess self-compassion skills and must courageously dig deep to bring mindful awareness to the conditioned habits of responding to suffering. Wherever we land on the continuum, the path to healing is clear. Move on over shame and fear, move on in Self-Compassion.
When we find ourselves feeling resistance (gentle reminder: pushing away the difficult sensations rather than turning toward and soothing the part of us who is in pain) we can use this awareness as a reminder that a course correction is required to locate smoother waters. It can be helpful to reframe the role of resistance in our lives so that we might actually welcome it. Rather than resistance serving as an avoidance tool it can serve as a reminder for self-compassion. It is as if we have a built in compass which offers moment to moment feedback requiring courageous course correction urging us to a path of living life with greater ease...adjusting our sails with each deep breath.
In meditation the metaphor of the vast ocean is often used to remind us that underneath the wave lies a vast, still and peaceful ocean. When we practice slowing down and responding compassionately to the suffering in life we will find peace, clarity and hope even in raging storms . The wave IS the ocean, wherever a wave has formed there is calmness below.
Earlier this week I wrapped up teaching the transformational 8-week Compassion Cultivation Training Course from Stanford's CCARE program at Metta Mindfulnes Center in Salt Lake City. In a very short period of time group members learn how to turn toward suffering and make room for shared joy and connection. As a group, We wake up and Rejoice in life just as it is. The benefits are strengthened through continued practice and dedication of living a life of Compassion for ourself and another. Just as we build and strengthen a muscle through exercise, so can we grow and cultivate Compassion through daily practice. When we spend focused time priming the heart and mind to seek out ways to offer and receive Compassion we are transformed. I would like to share a sweet story that illuminates how a simple verbal exchange, a micro-moment, left an imprint on my heart.
I have had a series of surgeries and medical procedures over the last 5 months that have given me insight into the world of Western Medicine, of which I have deep gratitude for modern science and skillful physicians. Holistically, my preventative approach to wellness resides in Eastern Medicine, Meditation, kind body movement and eating a plant-based diet. Yesterday, after 2 visits to medical doctors for treatment of an on-going issue related to my last surgery, I stopped into Real Foods Grocer to pick up a few items to make my daughter's favorite meal. Although part of me wanted to go home and rest a larger part of me knew that cooking this meal for her would bring us both so much joy and nourishment. I chose to listen closely to the part of me who wished to create connection with my daughter. When we pay attention, our hearts guide us to ease and connection. If I were to use a metaphor to describe the opening and closing of the heart, I would offer the image of a peony flower. When closed you notice the petals tightly huddled together protecting what is contained inside. When fully open the petals appear buoyant and supportive of the center and also wildly joyous opening to the sun.
I arrived to Real Foods with a heart partially opened and feeling sad to have spent much of my day in doctor's offices which caused me to miss time with a best friend. I was aware that part of me was physically suffering and part of me was committed to remain open to the present moment experience of the unknown. (Side note: The awesome researcher Barbara Fredrickson calls the ability to hold both sensations "co-experiencing" and she shares through research this is a factor is resilience and life satisfaction). When I walked to the aisle of produce I was struck by the vibrancy of colors and the freshness of the nourishing vegetables in front of me. I could feel my desire to touch and smell each one grow as I paused to notice the details of shape, form and texture. After mindfully selecting and filling my basket with an abundance of parsley, beets, green apples, arugula and ginger I made my way to the check-out line. As I was mid-way through the check-out process a short and elderly "gentle" man wearing a huge smile and a cowboy hat stood in line behind me. He waited patiently to pay for 2 gallons of milk. We made eye contact and smiled at one another and as I began to notice his patience I said to him "You got behind the wrong lady, I am sorry this is taking so long." He smiled both with his mouth and his eyes and said "It looks like you selected a lot of healthy vegetables. I am happy to wait, I WANT YOU TO BE HEALTHY." I could feel his words undoing another layer of petals around my heart. In that instant, I knew I was not alone. The stranger next to me was no stranger at all. He offered Loving-Kindness to me by wishing me well with all of his heart. He may have no idea how deeply his words penetrated my tender heart nor how this softening would carry me through the night in my interactions with my beloved daughter. She and I were both recipients of his Kindness and Compassion.
I shared this story with my daughter while we made dinner that evening. She said to me, "Mama, the way you describe the man at the store is the same way you describe your great uncles who helped take care of you when you were a little girl." Again, another connection, another layer of softening. I smiled and nodded in agreement while she looked at me with a sparkle of knowing in her eyes.
Each moment of the day we come in contact with many people for whom we do not know the details of their life. Each of these micro-moments presents an opportunity to act with Kindness and Compassion. How many times have we shown up frantically to the store, running through our to-do list in our mind, barely making eye contact with the cashier or others around us, or forgetting to connect even with ourself. When we SEEK out ways to act with and to receive Compassion and Loving-Kindness we not only moisten our own heart but our words or gestures may be the heart-felt medicine a stranger needs to moisten and heal her own. As Barbara Fredrickson writes in her book Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become, she claims that “love blossoms virtually anytime two or more people . . . connect over a shared positive emotion.”
**Becca Peters will offer another 8-week Compassion Cultivation Training course in January of 2016. Please reach out to her if you'd like to reserve a spot for yourself or as a gift for a loved one by emailing her at: email@example.com
We are often taught that setting an intention is an action item, a verb, some way for us to measure outward success, another thing TO DO. When was the last time you set an intention for how you would like to practice BEING. If we look reflectively at the motivation behind an intention we will likely uncover a heart-felt aspiration. We may aspire to practice patience, to be more present with our loved ones, to be less critical of ourselves...to open to joy.
Are you willing to set an intention by choosing to cultivate a specific heart-felt tone for the day, an intention to practice and reinforce a new way of BEING? It reminds me of a story based on the children's book Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert. When my daughter was very young we read her favorite book and decided that together we would plant a rainbow of love in the backyard. Our aspiration was simply to cultivate love, to meet the day with an open heart and to grow that love by planting seeds all around us. We selected the flowers, tilled the soil, and one-by-one planted each flower with kindness and the heart-felt aspiration of sharing this kindness and beauty with the world. After each flower was gently placed in the soil and nurtured with water my daughter and I looked up. In the sky above us was the most vibrant and stunning rainbow. This moment will stay with me forever and is a great reminder that what we aspire to create, what attitude with which we choose to greet each breath, really sets the tone for how we perceive the world. Our perceptions absolutely color our experience so why not drop-in to your own heart-felt aspirations, take 3 deep cleansing breaths, and consciously plant seeds today that will support how you want to show up for life.
A Mind Entangled in Knots, if undone, will no doubt be free.
(excerpt from Thupten Jinpa's "Essential Mind Training")
In speaking of the second of five Mindfulness Trainings, specifically speaking of True Happiness, Caitriona Reed offers a spacious perspective of the magnificence of the unknown. An excerpt below is taken from her thoughts housed within "For a Future to be Possible" by Thich Naht Hanh:
"…We cannot fix the world, we cannot even fix our own life. By accepting failure we express our willingness to begin again, time after time. By recognizing failure we change, renew, adapt, listen, and grow. It is only by practicing without expectation of success that we can ever truly open to the world, to suffering and to joy. What extraordinary courage there is in risking losing what you know for the sake of the unknown; risking what you think you are capable of for the sake of your true capability! What profound freedom - not having to get it right all the time, not having to live for the sake of appearance! By opening to our own failure, we open to the magnificence of the unknown, participating unconditionally, renewing our life."
Intimate Speech: It’s so important to know our intention, our motivation. This arises out of the silence, the deep inner stillness of silence.
Is it true? Is it kind? Is it beneficial? Is it necessary? And is it the right time?
Intimate Speech by Roshi Joan Halifax
Toad, a poem by Mary Oliver
I was walking by. He was sitting there.
It was full morning, so the heat was heavy on his sand-colored head and his webbed feet. I squatted beside him, as the edge of the path. He didn’t move.
I began to talk. I talked about summer, and about time. The pleasures of eating, the terrors of the night. About this cup we call a life. About happiness. And how good it feels, the heat of the sun between the shoulder blades.
He looked neither up nor down, which didn’t necessarily mean he was either afraid or asleep. I felt his energy, stored under his tongue perhaps, and behind his bulging eyes.
I talked about how the world seems to me, five feet tall, the blue sky all around my head. I said, I wondered how it seemed to him, down there, intimate with the dust.
He might have been Buddha – did not move, blink, or frown, not a tear fell from those gold-rimmed eyes as the refined anguish of language passed over him.
This dharma talk is about the “anguish of language.” Let’s begin to look at the function of speech through a case in Dogen’s Shobogenzo : “The great master Hyung ju was asked by a government official who had brought an offering, “It is said that the World Honored One had intimate speech, and Mahakashapa did not hide it. And what was the World Honored One’s intimate speech?
This is a wonderful question. And it’s a challenge, as you can imagine. Another koan to consider:
Hyung ju said to the man who was presenting a gift to him:
“No I don’t.”
“If you don’t understand it, that is the world’s honored one’s intimate speech. If you do understand it, that is Mahakashapa not hiding.”
You might remember the story of Mahakashapa. The Buddha was talking before a great assembly and, at a certain point, he held up a flower. Everyone in the assembly was asking, ‘What was that about?” and Mahakashapa, in the back of the assembly, just smiled. This is a story about that kind of connection, in fundamental silence. The whole assembly was quiet, the flower is herself silent, and it’s a much deeper silence we are referencing here that gives birth to intimate speech, that incredible sense of connection that happens through the medium of a moment, a moment that is characterized by openness, ease, spaciousness, boundlessness.
A little later we’ll look at the function of discrimination in how speech arises, but I wanted to begin with three precepts from the Order of Interbeing that are interesting to use as a base for our exploration, and to look also at the classical definition of dis-speech if you will.
The first precept in the Order of Interbeing says: “Do not be bound to any doctrine, theory or ideology, even Buddhist ones. All systems of thoughts are guiding means, they’re not absolute truth.” This is a basis for how we communicate. The precept guides us to not be bound to any doctrine, theory or ideology, even Buddhist ones. It goes on to state that all systems of thoughts are guiding means, they’re not absolute truth.
What we often say in the zendo, usually during sesshin, is, “Don’t believe your thoughts. Don’t believe them. They’re just concepts in the mind, see if you can drop beneath the mind.”
Later on in the precepts, Thich Nhat Hanh articulates two mindfulness trainings that are related to speech. In the eighth precept of the fourteen, “Do not utter words that create discord and cause the community to break. Make every effort to resolve all conflicts, however small.” This is a very powerful admonition not only for our community of practice, but also as a vision of a global community. “Make every effort to resolve all conflicts, no matter how small they are.”
Then in the ninth Precept, he bares down a little bit, because he is very committed to engaged practice. He says: “Do not say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people. Do not utter words that can cause division or hatred. Do not spread news that you do not know to be certain. Do not criticize or condemn things that you are not sure of. Always speak truthfully and constructively. Have the courage to speak out about situations of injustice even when doing so may threaten your own safety.”
This is a very big step in the Buddhist world. It was a big step in Vietnam: if you must, you must risk your own life by speaking the truth. Even when speaking the truth puts you at risk, you must speak the truth. These two precepts on speech are at the center of the 14 Mindfulness Trainings, they’re the articulating point as 8th and 9th. The 7th has to do with the breath, the function that sews mind and body together, and the last precepts have to do with body.
In the classical or Theravaden teachings of the precepts of speech, there are certain perspectives on speech that are identified as ones you must avoid. You can’t lie. You have to speak the truth. Another is the destructiveness of engaging in gossip and slander. Another behavior of speech that harms is using harsh or cruel language, rough language, even skeptical language. The fourth type of speech that is considered harmful is engaging in trivial talk, frivolous speech.
These dis-positive speech behaviors are interesting to consider in our current world. As I move around our own monastery or move around airports, one hears how much toxic speech comes out of people’s mouths. You listen to cooks at fast food places in the airport and you hear what they’re talking about and you might ask yourself: is this what’s going into the food?
The Buddha identified five conditions we are to explore in relation to speech:
1. Do I speak at the right time or not? Is this the right time? Really stepping back to see if this is the right moment.
2. Do I speak the facts or not. Am I saying what’s really true?
3. Am I speaking harshly or gently?
4. Do my words benefit beings or not?
5. What is my motivation? Do I speak with a good heart or is my heart malicious?
When the Zen teachers of America, as a community of Buddhist priests, began to explore the function of speech in our communities, we agreed to use the Gatekeepers of Speech, that lead to the classical admonitions.
- Is it true?
- Is it kind?
- Is it beneficial?
- Is it necessary?
- And is it the right time?
I really appreciate the guidepost: “Is it necessary?” Imagine reflecting only on this before you opened your mouth? Is it necessary?
In the classical teachings of the Buddha there are various kinds of karma (meaning action, cause and effect.) Weighty karma is interesting, because it involves terrible things like wounding a Buddha, or killing a fully enlightened being, or killing a parent, that’s weighty karma. But the weightiest of all karmas is causing a schism in the sangha which is done through speech. This is very deep, and very interesting to contemplate.
In the classical teachings of the Buddha, he articulates guidelines in a community of practice, and this pertains to our families as well. How do we relate to each other to create depth and coherence in a family system? Or in a community system? One is that we all share a common space. We’re not living all over the place; we share a common living circumstance. We also share the essentials of daily life, including food. We break bread together, we become companions. We observe the precepts. We understand how important it is to practice in a wholehearted deep and loving way together, and we help each other to live wholesomely together. We use words that benefit individuals and the entire community, and we avoid using words that are harmful to ourselves and to others in our community. We create the opportunity to share insight, communicating deeply about our values, and to not engage in trivial speech, which is a caricature of what it is to be human. To speak deeply about subjects of relevance and concern. We share a common practice and ethos.
The Buddha articulated these insights 2500 years ago. Dogen zenji, who brought the Soto school to Japan in the early 1200s, recognized the impact of communications on relationships. He articulated what he called the Four Beneficial Actions. The first was the action of giving, what is it to give your energy, your resources, your life, to truth. To be really seated in the dharma, in truth, in reality, as a non-dual experience. The second was the importance of kind speech. It takes a tremendous amount of discipline not to engage in speech that is harmful, but to engage in speech that is beneficial to others. Then he spoke about ‘identity action.’ This is very important in our world and in the Buddhist community. What is it to treat every individual with ultimate regard? Not that this one is more special than that one, but holding all individuals in ultimate regard, treating them all equally well. The fourth is beneficial action. How do we embody basic goodness, how do we actualize it through the medium of our body, through our actions in the world? Beneficiality, goodness for others.
Dogen wrote, in Moon in a Dewdrop,
“Kind speech means that when you see sentient beings, you arouse the mind of compassion and offer words of love and care. It is contrary to cruel and violent speech. You should be willing to practice it for the entire present life. Do not give up. World after world, life after life. Kind speech is the basis for reconciling rulers and subduing enemies. You should know that kind speech arises from kind mind and kind mind from the seed of compassionate mind.”
“Kind speech is not just praising the merit of others. It has the power to turn the destiny of the nation.”
Most of us are very in touch with what’s happening in the world today, and how the destiny of the world rests in speech, and how we wish it were more kind.
Katagiri Roshi gives a slightly different perspective, reified in the Pali canon:
“Kind speech is not merely speaking with an ingratiating voice like a cat that’s purring. This very naturally consciously or unconsciously is trying to get a favor by fawning of flattering. This is not kind speech. Kind speech is not the usual sense of kindness. It can appear in various ways, but we should remember that it must constantly be based on compassion. Under all circumstances, that compassion is always giving somebody support or help or a chance to grow.”
This is a very pivotal statement in our exploration, because what Katagiri Roshi says is that kind speech isn’t necessarily being a sweet person. Kind speech means speaking the truth to benefit others. It means speaking truth to power as Gandhi articulated. How do we speak truth to power in a way that is beneficial but not fawning or attacking?
Speech also is a reciprocal experience. There’s the speaker and the listener. I had a very interesting experience a few days ago, where someone called me to discuss an issue. When I’d say something, they would seem to hear me, but they weren’t hearing what I was saying at all. It was an interesting moment. As I was taught to do I’d ask: “What did you hear me say?” “What do you think I meant by that?” What I realized in the interaction was that mutuality, reciprocity in speech and listening, is a very fundamental part of this training in right speech and right communication. Instead of right speech, we could say right communication, which involves reciprocity and mutuality. When someone is engaging in slanderous speech in relation to an individual or the sangha or gossiping, one stops that. One tries to transform that. One endeavors to clarify the communication. One invites inquiry into the process. One does not engage in that mutuality of slander by tolerating listening, or by that kind of invitation allowing the slander to deepen in the atmosphere.
I think that the “right speech” precept should be called “right communication,” because times have changed. At the time of the Buddha, the Buddha was speaking directly to his students and to those who came to him for advice. But now, we’re dealing with a huge range of communication media, including texting, email, advertising, radio, magazines, newspapers, movies, TV, and so on. How do we actually create a context where right communication can happen? Communication that is truly about benefiting the world?
One of the interesting and contemporary perspectives on right communication comes from Suzuki Roshi, who realized that the fifth precept on intoxicating substances also included speech; dogmatism, trying to proselytize, was a form of intoxicant. You can use speech to convince people to join your view. He says: “Do not sell liquor means not to boast or emphasize the advantage of things. If you boast about the profundity of Buddhist teaching, you are selling a kind of liquor to the people. Any spiritual teaching by which we’re intoxicated is liquor.”
I think this is very wonderful for Suzuki Roshi to say. People do get intoxicated by teachings just as they get intoxicated by movies, by advertising.
“Do not sell alcohol,” says Suzuki Roshi, means absolute freedom from all teachings. Complete freedom from all teachings. We should practice the precepts, yet not be bound by them.
So how do we listen to the teachings. or look at television. or go to a movie and be in that communication medium and yet not be tainted, not become intoxicated?
The Lankavitara Sutra of the Sixth century puts it very simply. “Words or speech arise from the experience of mental discrimination.” When we’re dropped beneath ‘this is that, that is this” kind of mind, when we’re in the experience of ‘intimate speech’ referenced in the koan, we’re deeper than the mind that is discriminating, that is categorizing, that is caught in this little box-making: “Words arise from the experience of mental discrimination.”
So any time we’re engaged in speaking, in thinking, in reading, we’re not in that mind of intimate speech. My first teacher, Seung Sang, called it ‘before thinking mind.’ It’s the mind and heart of transmission, the non-dual mind, the mind that’s profoundly open. It’s why when we do deep practice here, we are in silence, and why we ask people to not read, or get on the internet, not even to journal, but to see if the speaking function can calm down. Behind that, the thinkng function then can calm down, so beginner’s mind or “before thinking mind”, “not knowing” can be more present.
Speech is an outflow of energy. When people, for example, are gravely ill, we encourage them not to speak so much. The Sanskrit word ‘asrava’ connotes exactly this kind of energy loss that happens when people speak for too many hours during the day. The capacity for concentration definitely diminishes when the speaking function is overly engaged in. So we want to explore what it is to be very conscious about our speech, very mindful about the experience of speaking.
Speech also has a very powerful effect of that whole domain of practice that we call Engaged Buddhism, a Buddhism of social action and social service. Social action means the transformation of those institutions that are engaged in structural violence. Social service means direct service to populations in need or environments that are marginalized. Chris Queen, who’s written on Engaged Buddhism, talks about an ethic that involves discipline, virtue, altruism, and engagement—four different expressions of a deep Buddhist ethic. The ethic of discipline means we restrain ourselves from engaging in speech that is harmful or trivial or non-factual, untruthful. We just don’t do it. And that restraint, renunciation, discipline is a very important part of what it means to live in a sane and ethical society.
An ethic of virtue, Dr. Queen writes, is engaging in speech that actually promotes depth, understanding, insight and harmony in society. An ethic of altruism, he references, it’s knowing when it’s right to speak the truth. Knowing when the moment is right, even when that might produce a short-term difficulty.
Sally Taylor, also a Buddhist scholar, talks about another kind of speech. She calls it ‘prophetic speech.’ This is very important in Engaged Buddhism. because so much of how Buddhists have engaged in speech has been narcotizing; it doesn’t necessarily result in transformation. She says that prophetic speech avoids psychic violence or interpersonal vilification on one hand, but doesn’t engage in narcotizing, non-dualist speech that makes it seem as if the perpetrator of violence isn’t culpable or responsible for his or her actions.
It is speech that holds individuals or institutions deeply accountable. This is a kind of speech that has a much higher level of accountability. In fact, in the Pali cannon, the Buddha teaches that as long as speech is based in compassion and is truthful and timely, it’s okay to admonish deeply individuals and governments.
But the more nervous Buddhists don’t feel so comfortable with this. In fact, from the point of view of social responsibility, justice and environmental sanity, although I believe that Buddhists hold a very good heart in this regard, often Buddhist voices are rather muted and not calling governments and individuals to accountability. Some of us feel that it’s absolutely necessary to do this, to speak out.
I don’t believe this reflects the lack of resources within Buddhism because certainly the central teachings in Buddhism on non-violence, patience, generosity, compassion, interdependence suggest powerfully that when such things aren’t present in the mind of an individual, we need to help them be present not only through actions but also through education and transformation. But more than that, many engaged Buddhists feel we have to actively condemn institutions that engage in criminal behaviors, in amoral and immoral behaviors like piracy or prostitution or slavery or the black market in drugs or the exploitation of and violence toward women and children. We can’t just look into the suffering of the perpetrator. It’s not enough. We have to engage in much more forthright behavior based on the insight of the suffering of the perpetrator, but to actually engage in speech and activities that promote social change.
Martin Luther King was such a person who did not hold back. He said: “Our lives begin to end the day we remain silent about something we care about. In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” And Ellie Wiesel said: “We must always take sides. This seems contrary to Buddhism: you would think that you don’t want to polarize, you don’t take sides. Ellie Wiesel says: “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Gandhi said it another way: “Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as cooperation with good.”
We must expect that our prophetic speech might be disagreeable to people, to our leaders. But let’s think of it as a bitter pill—it’s hard going down, but hopefully it produces a better effect. What makes the difference in “prophetic speech” is if you drop beneath the discursive and the discriminative to the place where intimate speech is present.
Do you have a way to do that? To stop the asrava, the outflow of energy which is produced in a mind that’s very active and compulsive. Do you have a way to step down to a place where you can touch into your fundamental motivation? Why really am I here? What am I here to serve? How can I do my best? How can I really be of benefit to others? What will really make a difference when I open this mouth? How can I be more skillful? How can I use words that not only heal but that transform individuals as well as social institutions?
So in this regard then, I hope that we can consider the profundity of examining, inquiring into the function of speech and communication in our lives. I think that no matter what kind of people are in a society or community, more difficult than intoxicants, more difficult than sex, the most difficult of all the guidelines we live by is speech. How can we drop beneath speech altogether? How can we use speech to benefit? How can we use speech to transform? How can we not engage in mutuality that is slanderous and gossipy? How can we not engage in speech that is just stupid and trivial? And how can we engage in a communication with each other that is based in the deep consideration of truth and its timeliness. And finally to ask ourselves, is it really necessary? And if it is, then it is both beneficial and transformative.
It’s so important to know our intention, our motivation. This arises out of the silence, the deep inner stillness of silence. I hope we can step into internal quietness, to really see what is really necessary, to see what is true.
Wandering mind not a happy mind
About 47% of waking hours spent thinking about what isn’t going on
November 11, 2010 | Editor's Pick Popular
By Steve Bradt, Harvard Staff Writer
People spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy. So says a study that used an iPhone Web app to gather 250,000 data points on subjects’ thoughts, feelings, and actions as they went about their lives.
“A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” Killingsworth and Gilbert write. “The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”
Unlike other animals, humans spend a lot of time thinking about what isn’t going on around them: contemplating events that happened in the past, might happen in the future, or may never happen at all. Indeed, mind-wandering appears to be the human brain’s default mode of operation.
To track this behavior, Killingsworth developed an iPhone app that contacted 2,250 volunteers at random intervals to ask how happy they were, what they were currently doing, and whether they were thinking about their current activity or about something else that was pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant.
Subjects could choose from 22 general activities, such as walking, eating, shopping, and watching television. On average, respondents reported that their minds were wandering 46.9 percent of time, and no less than 30 percent of the time during every activity except making love.
“Mind-wandering appears ubiquitous across all activities,” says Killingsworth, a doctoral student in psychology at Harvard. “This study shows that our mental lives are pervaded, to a remarkable degree, by the nonpresent.”
Killingsworth and Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard, found that people were happiest when making love, exercising, or engaging in conversation. They were least happy when resting, working, or using a home computer.
“Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness,” Killingsworth says. “In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged.”
The researchers estimated that only 4.6 percent of a person’s happiness in a given moment was attributable to the specific activity he or she was doing, whereas a person’s mind-wandering status accounted for about 10.8 percent of his or her happiness.
Time-lag analyses conducted by the researchers suggested that their subjects’ mind-wandering was generally the cause, not the consequence, of their unhappiness.
“Many philosophical and religious traditions teach that happiness is to be found by living in the moment, and practitioners are trained to resist mind wandering and to ‘be here now,’” Killingsworth and Gilbert note in Science. “These traditions suggest that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.”
This new research, the authors say, suggests that these traditions are right.
Killingsworth and Gilbert’s 2,250 subjects in this study ranged in age from 18 to 88, representing a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds and occupations. Seventy-four percent of study participants were American.
More than 5,000 people are now using the iPhone Web app.
The news: It turns out meditating is good for more than just quiet time: It can actually help us fight the cripplingly high stress levels we experience during our busy lives, in the office or elsewhere.
Scientists from Harvard University and the University of Sienna recently found that meditation is so powerful it can change the physiology of a person's brain, resulting in positive changes like a decrease in anxiety and depression.
The science: Scientists put 24 participants with no history of meditation through an eight-week course on best practices for, "mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR)," fancy science talk for meditation. The course consisted of 2.5 hour sessions each week where participants learned "body scanning, sitting meditation, walking meditation and mindful stretching movements." The scientists also requested each participant perform at least 45 minutes of meditation each day. MRIs were performed before and after the meditation boot camp, and each participant answered a series of psychological evaluations to determine their stress and anxiety levels before and after the MBSR course as well.
The team compared these results to a control group who went through no meditation training at all during the eight weeks.
The comparison demonstrated "an increase of cortical thickness in the right insular lobe and somatosensory cortex" of the meditation group. In layman's terms, meditation made parts of the brain corresponding to emotion and perception thicker. This ultimately resulted in "a significant after-training reduction of several psychological indices related to worry, state anxiety, depression and alexithymia."
So ultimately, meditation made people more emotionally attuned and less depressed — a pretty good argument to spend time solemnly reflecting each day.
The takeaway: We live in a society where depression, anxiety, and stress are increasingly part of our lives. Stress levels among Americans have risen by up to 30%, and it's not much better in Europe or Asia, where anxiety and depression is growing at alarming rates. Instead of solving the root causes of these problems, Americans are resorting to antidepressants at a higher rate than ever before. One in 10Americans is now taking a prescription antidepressant.
Meditation, while not a panacea, can help us deal with such a society by decreasing our stress levels and increasing our abilities to emotionally relate to ourselves and others. And with further research, it could provide an alternative to being constantly doped to the gills in order to be happy (or just less sad).
Last year I attended a Mindful Self-Compassion Retreat just like the one mentioned in the article below. IT WAS LIFE CHANGING. You may have noticed, as have I, that many teachings around mindfulness often suggest ways for us to be better "doers"...parents, workers, lovers, partners, surfers, etc. I am left wondering, "Why not teach ways for folks to tend to themselves as human beings, just as they are, not needing to be a better version of who they are?" Mindful Self-Compassion offers an approach to living that invites us to include ourselves in the circle of compassion. This reflective process looks & feels differently for each of us depending on our unique life experiences. Despite our differences an indisputable commonality is the sense of shared humanity, that "just like me" she/he also knows what it is like to suffer and wishes to feel understood, cared for, included, and at ease. When we learn to treat ourselves with compassion we begin to observe with curiousity our habits of thought, behavior, and attitude. We practice being present to the edges of the heart with a soft gaze inward and asking "What does the part of me who is suffering need to hear right now?" We learn to soothe and comfort ourselves and to let go of striving to be a better version of who we truly are. This reflective process becomes a launching pad for making awakened decisions in life that align with our core and universal needs. We naturally feel more connected to the world and, therefore, wish to live in such a way where we treat ourselves and others with compassion.
For those of you who have entrusted your heart in personal therapy with me or have courageously participated in a group class, you know that I truly believe in the process of self-inquiry met with self-compassion. In real life this translates into "being with" what we are truly aware of rather than focusing on changing or getting rid of our authentic experience. This approach makes room for joy and wonder.
If you'd like to be a part of an upcoming Compassion or Mindfulness Class, or would like to arrange a private group class please visit:
The One Vital Skill They Don't Teach You In Business School
Getting into a top business school requires demonstrating a certain level of success. Many people believe we need to push ourselves hard in order to succeed in business and in life. I used to believe this too. I went to an Ivy League school, got my MBA from Stanford and worked in finance for almost ten years, where I would work hundred plus hour weeks and push myself to the brink of exhaustion.
I got burned out and quit my job. I still wanted to have an impact with my career, but I wanted to do it in a more enjoyable and sustainable way, without sacrificing my values. Since then, I’ve learned one vital life skill that I wish I had known thirty years ago that has helped me tremendously on this path.
This one skill allows you to be successful (and redefine what “success” means to you) without all the self-criticism and suffering. This vital tool is self-compassion.
Recent research suggests that treating oneself kindly, rather than criticizing oneself, actually leads to greater willpower and better results. This is a radical concept for anyone used to pushing themselves hard to get things done. Luckily, it’s a skill that can be taught and cultivated over time.
If you want to start cultivating the skill of self-compassion, here is a simple and practical exercise: write yourself a self-compassionate letter.
A 2010 study showed that people who wrote a self-compassionate letter to themselves once a day for seven days were less depressed, less anxious, and experienced greater happiness up to six months later! Click here for instructions on how to write a self-compassionate letter.
Think of a friend of yours who had some sort of misfortune or was feeling inadequate. How would you respond to this friend? In particular, what tone of voice would you speak in, and what might you say? Take a moment now to think of a friend and imagine what you would say.
Now think of a time when you’ve been suffering. You’ve failed, had some misfortune, you were feeling inadequate in some way. What conversation went on in your mind? What was the tone of your voice? What was the content?
I recently spent a week at a self-compassion retreat with leading self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff, PhD, and her colleague Christopher Germer, PhD, a clinical psychologist specializing in mindfulness and compassion-based psychotherapy. At this workshop, they demonstrated that even though many of us may not think we know how to be self-compassionate, we really do because we’ve been doing it with other people our whole lives.
According to Kristin Neff’s definition, self-compassion involves three main steps;
Mindfulness “Self-compassion requires taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions, so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated,” Neff says. In order to practice self-compassion, you first have to recognize that you’re having a hard time. We can’t change our suffering if we do not first acknowledge that we are indeed suffering. Even if it may seem like something insignificant, if you feel upset, even a little bit, then you are suffering.
Mindfulness, as defined by Neff, is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. If you’ve never meditated and are curious to learn more about mindfulness, here is a free 30 day meditation challenge that’s just five minutes a day.
When we suffer, we often assume we are alone in our suffering and this creates a sense of isolation that compounds the problem. If, instead, you were to say to yourself; “other people have had this problem too, it’s part of being human,” you will begin to identify with our common humanity and start to recognize that we all suffer in one way or another. As you connect with this common humanity, you may notice a softening of your heart and a sense of our interconnection.
Self-Kindness The third component of self-compassion involves treating ourselves with kindness and gentleness. As Neff says; “Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism. Self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals.” For many of us, this feels very foreign at first as we’re used to speaking to ourselves in a harsh and critical manner.
The next time you’re struggling with something, think of how you would speak to a friend in the same situation and then say those words to yourself. Another great tool is to ask yourself in any given moment; “What do I need right now?” Or, you can try a loving kindness or self-compassion meditation.
Underneath it all, self-compassion is really about embracing our imperfections, which, ironically, allows us to feel better.
To learn more about Dr. Neff and Dr. Gerner's work please visit: www.mindfulselfcompassion.org
As you know, the Compassion Cultivation Class to be held in March at Metta Mindfulness Center is currently full. Many of you have inquired about the next Mindfulness Class offering. I am happy to announce that I will offer a 6-week summer course beginning in June; UCLA's Mindful Awareness Practice course. Take a peek at the attached flyer...and please don't wait to sign up if you are interested...classes fill up quickly.