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Tag: peace

Six reasons to meditate

Meditation

Every so often, I’ll be listening to a recitation of problems and I’ll say, “You know, I think meditation could really help with that.” And then I’ll get a list of reasons why the person I’m talking to can’t possibly meditate. (These are all real reasons.)

  • Their dog has dementia and wants to go outside every five minutes. (A five-minute meditation practice is perfectly valid.)
  • The apartment’s too noisy–someone’s car alarm is always going off. (It’s completely possible to meditate no matter the background noise–leaf blowers, fireworks, a thunderstorm. I do try to choose a quieter time if I can. No doubt every apartment complex, dorm, or other communal living space has its quieter times.)
  • Physical issues make sitting in the ‘proper’ position too painful. (My view is that the proper position is the one that allows you to meditate comfortably for the amount of time that yields the benefit you’re looking for. Insight meditation also recommends being comfortable. I once attended a day-long meditation retreat, and found that the grouchy monk running the retreat and I had different views on this. As I made myself comfortable, he shot me looks, and finally explained how wrong it was to do so–that if a fly, for example, lands on your nose while you’re meditating, you should simply allow it to sit there for as long as it likes. I was very comfortable with never returning to that meditation center. I believe a real spiritual leader won’t judge you, and neither should you judge yourself, if you decide that being comfortable while you meditate is right for you.)
  • They’ve tried it, but clearly have no talent for meditation, as they just can’t stop thinking no matter how hard they try. (There are a lucky few who have a natural talent for meditation–the rest of us get to get good at it the hard way, which starts off in exactly this way. As someone to whom a few things have come easily, I think it’s a salutary experience to keep working at something worthwhile despite no immediate signs of genius. I have read–and I believe this–that meditating with your mind running 100 miles an hour is still practice.)

So there are the excuses. If you haven’t yet committed to a meditation practice, here are a few reasons to meditate based on my own experience, that I hope will speak to you.

  1. Meditation is great for releasing what’s bothering you. When I’m feeling upset, I often try to make time to meditate ahead of schedule (typically after breakfast and before my shower in the morning, and before bed at night). Inevitably anything I’m upset or excited about will cross my mind as I meditate. When it does, I visualize packing several symbols of whatever it is into a helium balloon, and cutting the string.
  2. Meditation is also great practice for releasing judgment of yourself and the need to be perfect. It soon becomes apparent that thoughts enter your mind, that’s what they do, and it’s OK. Perfection, whatever that might be, isn’t possible, but awareness and recognition of what’s happening is. You simply recognize the thoughts, release them, and move on–nothing else is necessary. This works in real life, too–you notice something has gone off the rails a bit, take corrective action, and just keep moving.
  3. Once you’ve meditated for awhile, not only does ‘monkey mind’ rarely happen during meditation, but my experience has been that it fades considerably all the rest of the time too. I used to actually try to drum up thoughts in quiet moments, asking myself, ‘OK, what’s next?’ I don’t do that anymore, and there are nice quiet spaces in my mind pretty much all the time. Peace, in other words. Calm. Serenity.
  4. I find that meditating before bed generally puts me in the perfect frame of mind for sleep. Good sleep is pretty much impossible to overvalue.
  5. When I meditate, I’ve found that I’m much more patient and tolerant. It’s not unusual now for people to thank me for my patience. I’m not sure that happened even once in all the years I didn’t meditate.
  6. Studies have shown that violent crime decreases in the surrounding area when people meditate regularly. I love that a practice intended to benefit me and my own life, in combination with the practice of others I both know and don’t know, raises the vibration of our neighborhoods and cities such that harmful violence is prevented, and lives that could have been painfully disrupted or even ended, never are. Together, we can bring that about.

If you meditate, what benefits have you experienced?

This post is illustrated with the SoulCollage card I made today, Meditation.

SoulCollage® cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

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Communing with nature

Japanese garden

I’m writing from the Japanese Garden today, and I’ve just seen the smallest possum ever, apart from rescued babies. Since it’s shortly after 4 pm and possums are nocturnal, I guess I’ve just seen the Benjamin Franklin of the possum kingdom.

Multicolored koi swim gently beneath the platform where I’m sitting on a bench.

For years a possum family lived in one of my pecan trees, but you couldn’t have proved it by me–I never saw them once. I only received reports from my next-door neighbors, who smoked outside, giving them opportunity to observe all the nocturnal wildlife.

A mosquito just bit me–clearly there’s plenty of food here for the possum family. I’ve been told that each can eat up to 10,000 insects a day, so they’re highly beneficial. I thought about wearing mosquito repellent today, but didn’t. The scent is repellent even to me!

As is usually the case, I suppose, the people are making far more noise than the animals, though birds call, squirrels scamper, koi tussle over fish food, and ducks bathe noisily. Only the humans hoot and holler; only the human babies wail. Many, but not all, are the quiet types you’d expect to see in a Japanese garden. Most look as though they’d just as soon not see any other people.

More ducks swim by, almost silently, leaving chevron-patterned ripples in their wake.

My brochure says this garden was once a gravel pit–an immense improvement, no doubt. This is not wild–in fact, it’s less wild and more groomed than my own backyard, the dogs’ domain–but it’s nature, and I’m grateful to be here. I’d love to be somewhere truly wild, but I’d have to go much further than 5 minutes from home to get there. I’m lucky to have such beautiful gardens so close to home.

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Following my visit to the garden, I felt a tremendous sense of peace and groundedness, making me think that I need to make it a priority to spend time here more often. Several times since I starting writing this, I’ve come across the term “communing with nature” or “communion with nature” in various contexts. How interesting that the term we naturally reach for when speaking of nature references a sacrament. We were made to be in nature, not in fluorescent-lit, indoor-outdoor carpeted cubicles, and really not in houses either. We’re meant to see the sun and sky, trees and rain, leaves and flowers, other creatures … not just occasionally, but every day.

My experience of peace and groundedness after visiting the garden also made me want to create a garden of my own. I have flower beds and potted plants, I grow herbs to cook with, I’ve had trees and shrubs planted (I don’t have the muscle or fortitude to dig into solid clay sufficiently deep to plant something large), but I haven’t done anything that’s fundamentally changed the nature of my urban lot. I understand now why my aunt restocked her koi pond over and over, despite repeated incursions by local raccoons with a taste for expensive seafood. (I don’t understand, though, why it wasn’t possible to devise some sort of pond cage that would have defeated the raccoons!) I’m thinking now about how I might be able to create a secret garden, a place that would be an escape, a place where I could commune with nature. It would be a challenge, but I’m sure it’s possible …

How to meditate

meditation

Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It’s a way of entering into the quiet that’s already there – buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day. –Deepak Chopra

When you have pain in your body, when all sorts of thoughts are going through your mind, you train again and again in acknowledging them openheartedly and open-mindedly, but not making them such a big deal. –Pema Chodron, in How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind

Before I started meditating, some years ago now, I resisted doing so for a long time. The instructions all seemed inane–“Just focus on your breath. It couldn’t be simpler.”

When meditation is difficult for me now, my favorite method is to focus intently on the sounds around me. The clock’s pendulum, back and forth. The barking dog outside. A dog breathing at my feet. Leaves being raked. Whatever’s happening–there’s always something.

A common misperception is that you need quiet in order to meditate. People often tell me that they have to wait for more perfect circumstances to start meditating. The apartments where they live are too noisy, or their dog has dementia and wants to go outside every five minutes.

The bad news, and the good news, is that life never gets perfect. You should also know that someone, somewhere, is always using a leafblower. You must simply begin.

Meditation is a way to create peace and quiet in a noisy and imperfect world, not to mention a noisy and imperfect mind. When I describe to people what meditation is, sometimes they’ll tell me there is never a break in their stream of thoughts.

If you meditate, though, there will be.

I remember being dismayed when I started meditating that it seemed I wasn’t very good at it. There’s still the occasional day when that seems true. If you find that you’re not either, remember that the beauty of meditation is that you don’t have to be good at it to reap its benefits. And, you will get better.

Key to the whole process, I believe, is dropping judgment about having thoughts. There seems to be a belief that meditation involves turning off your thoughts. It does not.

It involves becoming aware of your thoughts, and gently releasing them. As this process continues over time, more space opens up between your thoughts.

When I become aware during meditation that I’m thinking, I let the thought go, like cutting the string to a helium balloon, or releasing a bubble to the surface of water. There is less than no point in thinking, “Oh damn, thinking again,” because that is creating more of what you don’t want. So release any judgment along with the thought.

Thinking is what everyone is doing, even during meditation. However, those who meditate are having fewer useless thoughts, even when they’re not meditating. The habit of creating mind space (as well as of dropping judgment) carries over into real life. Thank goodness.

Besides creating calm, peace, and tranquility, a major point of meditation is to create space for guidance and wisdom to come to you. If the noise of your busy life is preventing you from hearing your inner wisdom, meditation clears space to allow it to come through loud and clear.

I typically meditate 15-20 minutes (I set a timer), both morning and evening. If work is really pushing my buttons, sometimes I’ll take 10-20 minutes to meditate at lunch as well. I keep Doreen Virtue’s Archangels and Ascended Masters on my coffee table, and often ask for the help of an angel or ascended master as I meditate. I also keep a journal nearby, so that when guidance comes to me I can write it down. It’s encouraging to flip back through my journal and read so many positive and encouraging words.

I find that meditation really centers me in the morning, preparing me for my day, and calms me at night, preparing me to sleep.

I’ve just recently started a 40-day x 40-minute meditation challenge. I’m still meditating 2-3 times a day, but extending one of my meditation sessions to 40 minutes. So far I’m finding the 40 minutes quite long, but I also have a sense that the extra time is benefiting me in ways I don’t fully understand.

If you aren’t yet meditating, I encourage you to simply begin! Even 5 minutes a day will benefit you. And if you’d like to meditate longer, please feel free to join the challenge!

How not to melt down

Whatever you cannot enjoy doing, you can at least accept that this is what you have to do. Acceptance means: For now, this is what this situation, this moment requires me to do, and so I do it willingly. –Eckhart Tolle

Tonight’s the full moon; yesterday at work a new policy that disadvantages all of us who work on a particular product was announced. General unhappiness was rampant; one person in particular was really angry.

This morning first thing she was presenting at a fairly major meeting, and both she and the meeting pretty much melted down. I was only on the phone, where it was bad enough–I was pleased not to be an eyewitness to the train wreck.

Yesterday I was able to receive the bad news with equanimity, and feel fully at peace, which really made me happy.

Earlier this week I worked an intense 12-hour day tracking down production issues. When I finished, I told my manager she could call me the next morning if she needed me.

About twenty minutes after I got up, just as I was about to pop my farm egg into the oven, the phone rang.

What I meant was that she should call me if she needed information she didn’t have to answer questions from the VP. What she wanted me to do was to start working again at that moment and produce results to be presented at the management meeting in an hour. I produced results in half an hour as the dogs circled, wanting their breakfast, and then got back to my morning routine.

The night before, my manager had strongly encouraged me to leave the office and go home, and I’d said that as long as I was working late, I might as well finish what I was doing–and mentioned that I’d thought of leaving early the next day, and she agreed. As I left my unbaked egg on the kitchen counter and headed into my home office, I was so glad I had. I know very well that I don’t handle a lot of overtime well. I can crank up the intensity and get extra results out of a fairly normal workday, but working continuous extended hours is not a recipe for success.

I need time to recharge my batteries, to wind down so I can sleep, to breathe.

So the day of the wakeup call, I did all that immediately needed to be done, attended scheduled meetings, and then took the rest of the afternoon off. I took a lovely walk by the river, and then ate at a barbeque restaurant and had a cocktail. I knew a local chef had opened this place, but didn’t know quite where it was. I wandered into a chain-linked patio with a Coffee Bar sign, and found I was actually in the restaurant I’d heard about.

It was a really peaceful, laid-back afternoon, and I think the physical exercise out of doors was significantly helpful.

As well, I have had a regular meditation practice for some years now, 15-20 minutes morning and night, pretty much without fail.

Some years ago I came across Doreen Virtue’s Archangels & Ascended Masters while browsing in the bookstore. I keep it on my coffee table and frequently flip through it before I meditate, asking one of the angels or masters for assistance with a particular concern, insight, healing, or whatever’s top of mind. I usually focus outward in the morning, inward at night.

I’ve also been using the prayer before work I posted awhile back on weekday mornings, especially when I have to join an early conference call before I’ve had a chance to meditate and center myself for the day.

I don’t feel a great deal of attachment to this workplace, which helps. I have absolutely no intention of retiring there, as a number of my coworkers plan on doing. It is not my home, and except for a few good friends, they are not my people. (Typically my people are not just everywhere in the corporate world in general.)

When the new policy was announced yesterday, someone asked if it was forever.

“I can tell you this,” I said. “Nothing is forever.”

It’s hard to contemplate that the good things in our lives won’t be forever, even if we ourselves are the ones to leave first. But for the not-so-good things, it’s a comforting thought.

No, this will not be forever.

Unplugged

The collective disease of humanity is that people are so engrossed in what happens, so hypnotized by the world of fluctuating forms, so absorbed in the content of their lives, they have forgotten the essence, that which is beyond content, beyond form, beyond thought. –Eckhart Tolle, in Oneness with all Life

I haven’t watched TV at home since the Clinton administration. And really, I have Bill to thank for the whole thing.

I remember well what was being featured on the news when I last watched it. The existence of Monica’s blue dress, purportedly complete with DNA, was making headlines and being discussed at the top of the hour, every hour.

A news junkie at the time, I was thoroughly disgusted with just about everything I was hearing, so when my cable went out (I needed it to get decent reception of even basic channels), I took it as a sign. I decided to cancel my cable service and swear off TV till the next inauguration. And by the time the next President was sworn in, I felt no need to watch news of his administration either.

It’s not just television news I don’t watch … at this point, I have a news blackout. I don’t read the newspaper, listen to news on the radio, or read news online (except during major election cycles). I’ve learned that when something important happens, people will tell you. One of my former coworkers actually delighted in telling me what everyone else already knew.

But even with my all-but-permanent news fast, I still manage to score quite well on current events quizzes–far better than most people who are actually keeping up with the news. The people who e-mail me the quizzes seem quite disgusted to hear my scores.

I don’t know how to explain this. The only thing I can think of is that perhaps our national politics are like a soap opera–even if you watch only every four years, you can still keep up with the plot.

I find that it’s nice to take a step back from the world, and it’s really nice to have a peaceful, quiet home that’s a true haven.

On 9/11, I heard the shocking news on NPR after the second plane hit. I watched TV pretty much all day at work that day, but afterwards I saw no more coverage of the attack. It’s been documented that how traumatized we were was directly proportional to the number of replays we watched. I found myself far less affected than most other Americans. Maybe it’s because I’d had a wake-up call in my life less than a year prior that caused me to re-evaluate my priorities and choices, and make time and resources available for what was truly important to me. Or maybe it’s that I wasn’t watching TV at the time.

When I tell people I don’t watch TV, they often ask what I do with myself instead–and isn’t that revealing? When I watched TV, I planned my life around it (think back to when you had to program a VCR if you couldn’t be there to watch a show), like it was a living being I needed to consider. I got home, turned it on, and watched unpleasant news up until the moment I turned everything off to (try to) go to sleep.

Now I have time to read, meditate, do needlework if I’m in the mood, cook for both people and dogs, write, spend time with friends, garden, shop, try new restaurants, sleep well … many of which lots of people say they don’t have time to do. Yet virtually everyone has time for TV.

Now I find that I have fewer thoughts and worries running through my mind. It’s not that I don’t have them, but the ones I do have are actually mine, not the whole world’s. I also have far less to feel angry about. This extra mind space allows me the inner quiet to hear my own guidance and higher wisdom, which I need to hear on a daily (hourly) basis.

Back in my storage room, I still have the first, and only, TV I ever bought. I remember what a necessity it seemed like at the time. I suppose it’s clutter, but when people say, “Heather doesn’t have a TV,” it amuses me to say that in fact I do have one–but it’s unplugged.

I gather analog TVs no longer work without an adapter. I’m cool with that. Unplugged is exactly how I like my TV–and my life.

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