Meditation & Minfulness

Loving Kindness Meditation – A Weekend with Tara Brach

March 28, 2016

I spent the weekend at Kripalu with Tara Brach. And 300+ others who were there to learn more about Loving Kindness and Forgiveness meditation practices.

Loving Kindness or Metta is one type of meditation that is simply the heartfelt wish for the well being of oneself and others. It is fundamentally about softening the heart and bringing the feelings of compassion, empathy and friendliness that are within our core to the surface of our being or presence.

Isn’t that lovely?

In concept, Loving Kindness is just that – lovely. But in actuality, in practice, when it is personal, Loving Kindness is really quite challenging.

Think of someone who has wronged you. Someone who is challenging for you to communicate and interact with. Think of an instance that was hurtful or painful for you. What tends to come next is blame, judgement, resentment and probably deep rooted thoughts of intense dislike.

Now try to send loving, kind thoughts of forgiveness and compassion to that person.

Therein lies the challenge.

We create these stories that encase the situation or person in one specific way. Then through practiced thinking, we convince ourselves that this is the only way to see the person or situation. We may have practiced seeing or thinking this way for years. Oh vey.

Here is the thing – these thoughts and emotions feel awful. They actually feel toxic and unhealthy complete with physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, upset digestion and tension.

So if toxic emotions towards others feel awful and loving kindness is lovely – what’s the problem again?

Oh right – we’re vigilantly wired to be on hyper alert for the negative because we needed to be on the look out for bears and danger when we lived in the woods collecting berries. It’s a survival technique that has stuck around. More on that here.

I don’t know about you, but I do a pretty good job of masking my judgmental thoughts. I have some pretty negative opinions and there are areas of my life where I feel truly wronged and I can get pretty really cynical. And I hide these thoughts. They are a deep, dark secret because they make me feel like a bad person.

I had read Tara Brach’s books and listened to her pod casts and thought ‘Nope. Can’t do it. No way can I associate empathy and compassion to this negativity.’ I couldn’t even imagine toeing the line of loving kindness when it came to these well-practiced and well ingrained cynical stories I had created.

Here are some ‘oh wows’ from this past weekend with Tara and 300 others also interested in learning more about Loving Kindness meditation:

  • I’m not an anomaly, misfit or even a bad person. There are so many others who also feel bound by cynical emotions towards another. And this causes us to suffer.
  • Being bound by negative, cynical thoughts put us in a trance that inhibits our ability to truly feel what is going within ourselves.
  • When we are in a trance, when we aren’t willing to really feel, we are not living a full life. This causes suffering.
  • Loving Kindness and forgiveness ≠ condoning the situation or person. It isn’t about letting down your boundaries. It is about letting go of the story so it can start to release it’s grip on your thoughts, lifting the toxic trance.
  • Those that cause suffering are most likely suffering very much themselves.

The weekend illustrated the power and importance of connection in this journey – in everyone’s journey. Realizing that others are struggling and suffering in similar ways breaks down our tough exteriors, creating a space for compassion and empathy to come out with out fear of danger (or bears). Surrounded with others who were like me took away the perception that I was the only one who had judgmental, toxic thinking patterns.

For me, this was the first step in realizing that I could begin to forgive and let go of the stories that seeded my toxic, judgmental thoughts. It’s certainly going to be a project, but I started. I actually toed the Loving Kindness line. I saw the potential of practicing Loving Kindness or Metta Meditations and how worth the effort will be.

There was one question Tara sprinkled throughout her lecture that felt like an echo in my soul:

“Who could you be if nothing was wrong?”

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    My Meditation Practice

    Ramblings On My Meditation Practice – When Space is Hard

    March 20, 2016

    Over the last few weeks I’ve begun to gage my practice based on my natural breath. If I sit down to practice and my breath is even, smooth and unfaltering I know I’m going drop into my meditation practice.

    If my breath feels short and choppy I know the next 20 minutes are going to be hard.

    When I struggle with meditation I want nothing to do with what is inside my form. I want to jump out of my form, usually through my shoulders. Isn’t that random? My exit strategy is at my shoulders? I know I hold a lot of tension in my shoulders and arms – probably due to the job in software where I spend the day sitting and directed towards a computer screen.

    For a while I was struggling with this jumpy – short breath – uncomfortable meditation before work. I was too amped up on starting the day and getting the day underway. But then, I had one of these challenging sessions on a lazy Saturday. What?

    I had nowhere to be, just the space of a Saturday afternoon ahead of me. And I couldn’t be there. I couldn’t just be within my own form, with my attention on my own breath.

    I was thinking about how it was Saturday and I wasn’t going out and being social like a fun person. I was thinking about what if I got hungry during my meditation and all I could think about was my hunger. I wasn’t even hungry yet! I was thinking about how I should organize something for the week or accomplish something on my to-do list.

    As I look back on this, I think about the irony of space-how suffocating space, or open time, can be. Some people are OK with space, but some people aren’t. When you aren’t use to open space, or you don’t practice being in open space the unknown territory can feel uncomfortable and even a bit scary.

    And this is why meditation is called a practice. Because you’re practicing being in this space. In the areas that are outside of your comfort zone. It’s practicing being observant of and not attached to the uncomfortableness.

    I have to be honest and say it has taken me 2 years to get to the point where my tipping point is now towards being observant as opposed to being consumed by the space, the void, the uncomfortableness. This will probably ebb and flow – this tipping point will shift depending on where I am on this journey.

    Even when meditation is hard, and even though it has taken a long time to even notice progress and feel the benefits, I can’t help but feel how worth it the journey has been. Even when it is not great, I can recognize it. Struggling, or being grumpy or unhappy or in a funk is no longer some elusive force that descends upon me without warning or without anything I can do about it. I may not be able to totally get rid of it, but I can put a little space between the uncomfortableness and I. My meditation practice has put me in touch with the ability to not only be more comfortable in the space, but to also call on this space when I need it.

    Try it. Practice it. Keep at it.

    Meditate and be well.

     

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    Meditation & Minfulness

    Why Do We Need Meditation?

    March 13, 2016

    Here is something that really confused me about Buddhism.

    Buddhism says we’re all inherently good.

    So if this is the case, why is so hard for us to feel good? To do good? To see good?

    I’ll be the first to admit I go negative pretty quick. Waiting in line at the Starbucks when I have only a few minutes to get to my gate and catch my flight – UGH. A chronically late employee – SERIOUSLY? I finally get to the head of the check-out line and the cashier chooses now to change out the cash drawer – SHOOT ME NOW.

    But here is the thing.

    These responses actually feel awful. And they’re the definition of unproductive. In this negative state of mind I don’t solve problems, think creatively or communicate well.

    So if these feelings aren’t productive, and we are all good on the inside, why is our default negativity?

    Because research shows that we are more likely to make choices based on the need to avoid negative experiences as opposed to our need to seek out positive experiences. Basically, the negative experiences have a much greater impact than positive experiences.

    This ingrained tendency to respond to the negative is probably a result of evolution. We needed to respond to the negative quickly – it was what enabled us to survive as hunters & gatherers. The negative response activates our fight-or-flight response and we needed that to outrun the bears when we lived in the woods eating berries.

    I would say our exposure to stress is just as great today, but in a different package. Even though we have supermarkets filled with produce and we only visit bears at the zoo, we are constantly bombarded with unnatural stimuli. Messages, lighting, noise, pollution, traffic, inefficient communication, negative energy, did I mention messaging? And we suffer as a result.

    Our bodies respond to stress by turning on the fight-or-flight mechanisms regardless of the stimuli. Our bodies and minds don’t logically distinguish between being chased by a bear and a stressful interaction with a loved one, a tight deadline at work or a violent movie. The biological reactions are the same in all of these scenarios – and the result is reverting to our reptilian brain. The reptilian brain is thought to be the first area to develop our evolutionary past. The reptile brain is composed of the brain stem and the cerebellum and is responsible for those behaviors necessary for survival – direct stimulus response, fight or flight response, competition, aggression and domination.

    What is important to note here is that the reptilian brain is designed for instinctive responses and has no capacity for judgement, rational or incorporating future consequences. Thinking, problem solving and consideration do not happen in the reptilian brain.

    The reptilian brain is our protector, not our thinker.

    But here is the problem: stress activates our reptilian brain, drowning out our rational brain.

    Enter meditation.

    Meditation is the practice of calming the mind. By practicing meditation, we actually tap into other areas of the brain, specifically slower brain wavelengths as opposed to resorting to our reptilian brain. These slower brain wavelengths give us the opportunity to process before reacting. We’re actually creating space in our thoughts. Meditation allows us to practice ‘pausing’ our thoughts which gives us more space to choose our response. It gives us more space to tap into and utilize our more advanced brain areas as opposed to immediately turning on the fight-or-flight response.

    This is one of the reasons why meditation has been shown to be effective in addressing chronic stress, addiction and depression.

    These different areas of the brain also allow us to be more self aware, which makes sense because we are more aware of our thoughts and inner currents. Self awareness is one of the driving forces behind emotional intelligence which is what has piqued the interest of the professional world. It’s this benefit of mediation that sparked Google’s mindfulness training Search Inside Yourself.

    So this is why we need meditation. We are bombarded by stimuli, some healthy but most not so healthy which cause us stress and suffering. Our primary predator is no longer the bear, but the bear’s effects are still prevalent.

    Even though we are inherently good according buddha (and so many other religions), we still need meditation because of our evolutionary tendencies. Meditation can be a key anecdote to our busy, stressful lives.

    And this is why we need meditation.

    If you are thinking about starting a meditation practice, you can visit my meditation recipe.

    Meditate & be well.

    2 Comments

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    • Reply Erin June 18, 2016 at 2:28 pm

      Thank you NBA2K16, I am glad this piece connected with you.

      Best,
      Erin

    Leave a Reply

    Meditation & Minfulness, My Meditation Practice

    My Meditation Recipe

    March 10, 2016

    There is so much information on the interwebz. On everything and anything and all of the things. Meditation is no exception here. This, coupled with the different ancient philosophies, interpretations, disciplines and religions it can be overwhelming.

    But the goal of my little corner of the interwebz is definitely not to process all of this information. It is to share my journey. What I’m trying, what I’ve found and where I’m headed.

    So much about mediation is grounded in connecting – to our minds, our souls, our environment and our community. So I’m here to share and hopefully connect with those that are also at some point on own journey.

    This is my Meditation Recipe, the steps that bring me in and out of my personal practice.

    I sit cross legged on a cushion. Sometimes I’m in my living room and sometimes I am at a local meditation center that has open sitting hours (more on that later).

    I close my eyes.

    I rest my hands on my thighs, palms facing down. This is considered more internal. Palms up would be more external.

    I then rock side to side on my sit bones to try to get level and comfortable. I do that a few times and then come back to stillness.

    Now I meditate.

    For me, for this stage of my practice, meditation means bringing my awareness within the edges of my form.

    I go inside my form by first finding my edges. Maybe that is your skin. Maybe that is a mental outline you create of your body. For me, it’s this little bit of heat I feel between my skin and the world. I find it with my mind and then come inside it. (This is also why I choose to practice with my palms facing down.)

    This may be uncharted territory and that can be uncomfortable. Going inside my form can be really cozy somedays and really uncomfortable other days. Sometimes I just don’t want to go there. This happens when there is something I don’t want to face or feel or deal with. That being said, I have gotten to the point where I usually can get myself to at least toe the line. So some days I go inside and some days I just get really close.

    Once I’ve arrived, I then find my breath. I focus on feeling it. I try to notice each articulation as it fills and empties my lungs. I focus on how the breath moves my body – lifting my sternum and collar bones as I inhale and deflating my torso as I exhale. I try to feel the muscles on the inside moving and stretching. I focus on the moment of stillness as the breath transitions from in to out. How much of my breath can I feel? Can I feel it all?

    And of course I loose my focus. Sometimes often, sometimes a little less than often.

    When this happens, I ask myself to come back. Just come back within my edges. Come back to my breath.

    Sometimes I get frustrated with myself. Sometimes I feel like i’m just going through the motions. Sometimes I can’t imagine going inside my edges.

    But then sometimes I catch myself thinking that I feel good. Really good. And that is great.

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    My Meditation Practice

    Ramblings on My Meditation Practice – When The Going Isn’t So Good

    March 10, 2016

    My practice is the tide of my life.

    Some days I can sit for hours in meditation embodies me like all the cozy things. It feels like a warm blanket or a steaming mug of coffee on a cold day. I come out of the practice feeling like sunshine has touched my body and soul.

    I move through my patterned breathing with intent and purpose. Really feeling each articulation of oxygen as it moves through it’s path, in and out of my form. I can just ‘be’ within the edges of my mind, still & focused.

    And then other days I barely make it 4 minutes.

    I can barely toe the line that creates the edge of my form. I’m inside then I’m out. Then I’m inside again. Oh no way – can’t stay there – back out I go.

    My breath is short and choppy. My still form is in appearance only, on the inside I feel like a little kid who has had too many gummy bears, soda and cupcakes. My shoulders feel itchy, my eyelids are forced and my jaw is tight.

    Sometimes this happens during my sessions before work, the thought of getting out of the door and impeding deadlines getting the better of my detachment efforts.

    Sometimes this happens on a beautiful Saturday afternoon when the openness of the weekend isn’t presenting itself in its usual opportunistic way but rather in a idleness riddled with ‘shoulds’ and ‘coulds’ and overall indecision.

    I’ve tried a few different things and I think this is key. While I sometimes get overwhelmed with the amount of meditation techniques out there, having a few you connect that you can go to during these trying sessions is really helpful.

    While I primarily do a breath-focused meditation but when just isn’t working I try the following techniques:

    1. Using a single word, phrases or ‘mantras’ to focus the mind. The journey within is personal so what is most important is that you choose a phrase or word that resonates with your heart and soul. I typically use ‘Be Here’ which helps me overcome the inability to come within my own form. I also use ‘Soham’, an ancient Hindu mantra that best translates to ‘I am that’. There are so many philosophies and deep meanings associated with this mantra, but simplistically, this sacred phrase serves to connect us with our own true spirit, self, divine and universe.
    2. Equal Part Breathing (Sama Vritti Pranayama) – equalizing the length of each inhale-pause-exhale-pause. For example, you would inhale for a count of 4, pause for a count of 4, exhale for count of 4 and then pause for a count of 4.
    3. Pausing as inhales transition to exhales and visa versa. When my breath is choppy and I can’t count the lengths of my inhales and exhales, I will just focus on pausing during the transition between breaths with the intent of spending a few seconds in that transition.

     

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    Meditation & Minfulness

    Being Still

    March 9, 2016

    We’re Still But We’re Not.

    I’m sitting in this super cozy coffee shop drinking lemon-ginger tea. I’d totally be drinking coffee, because coffee is like this warm blanket wrapped around you while sitting on a big cushy couch, but it’s almost 3PM I’ll be up all night should I fall into coffee’s beautiful lure at this hour.

    Anyway, back to the cozy coffee shop.

    Paul Simon’s Graceland album is on repeat.

    All the tables are filled with MacBooks and mugs of steaming brews & I’m doing my part to contribute to the scene here.

    Half the fun is people watching and everyone in a while I look up and scan my fellow Sunday-afternoon-cozy-coffee-shop-goers.

    Some are talking with each other.

    Some are engrossed in their MacBooks (even though there is no Wi-Fi here).

    And some are on their phones.

    The phone is part of each demographic – the MacBookers, the solo-sippers and those here with others.

    I’m guilty of that sometimes. We all are. That little handheld device has quite the allure. It’s like this invisible leash, calling to us from our pockets…just one swipe to see ‘what’s up’.

    Has anyone reached out? Has anyone responded?

    Is there something new? There is? Oooohhh…exciting. I better respond. Or not exciting….ignore.

    Nothing? Oh bummer. Maybe in a few minutes there will be something.

    Or I can always check something else.

    The social media channels always have something to check, consume, catch up on.

    Our phones are a source of constant stimulus and we are programmed to respond to stimuli.

    There is this guy and girl to my right who are just sitting at their table sipping and scrolling on their phone. The guy and girl are talking and thumb-scrolling. Some of their attention towards their conversation and the rest (most?) towards their phones.

    It’s so habitual we don’t even notice it. We’re moving between between apps, content, media and conversations.

    But we are not moving at all. It’s like we’re perfecting this still form of attention deficit disorder.

    A bunch of stuff is getting a little bit of our attention and as a result, we don’t actually get anything out of a bunch of stuff.

    And that is a total bummer. It’s actually a total loss.

    Our energy, our time, our minds, our beings are all finite. And when we live like this it’s like we’re not getting the most out of our finite selves.

    I’ve had a couple instance where I have totally given up my phone. These time periods have spanned a few days, and they’ve spanned weeks.

    And here is my learning – It feels really good. And I didn’t miss anything.

    While this may not be actual meditation where I sit on my pillow and think about my breath, it is about being present. It is about slowing down. It’s about not practicing still-ADD.

    Try it. Just for a bit. Give one thing your total attention. And be well.

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    Meet Erin

    About My Meditation Project

    March 6, 2016

    I’m trying something new and I want to write about it.

    So here I am.

    My name is Erin. And it’s really just me. I live alone with my 13 year old dog Dustin and I work at a software company as a manager.

    That may sound kind of boring and lonely, but it’s actually not. I do a lot of stuff and try a lot of new things. Sometimes too much and I wear myself totally out.

    And that is why I’m here. I actually want to do less which is the total opposite of what I find in the blog world. It’s really easy to find blogs written by high achievers, those who are pursuing greater health, greater organization, greater careers, better financial health. And that is awesome. We need to connect with others over an array of aspects – we’re complex beings.

    But I’m here to slow down. I’m here to figure out how to be more creative and more intelligent as a result of focus and sensitivity. I want to feel more. I want to hear more. I want to remember more. And after trying all the things I’m going in the other direction. I’m going to be still.

    So I’m turning to meditation.

    And I don’t totally understand what meditation is or how it works. Truth be told, I had a this unique and epic opportunity to take 5 weeks off from the day job to immerse myself in 300 hour yoga training that told me a lot more about meditation than I knew when I first started to practice. But I’m still a baby meditator.

    The only thing I  know for sure is that it’s hard.

    We think nothing of asking our physical, outer body to perform hard tasks. I have asked my body to do a lot of hard things like run marathons and train horses and do hours of physical yoga postures.

    And I have asked my mind to do hard things like get a masters and learn new technical skills that help me at work.

    But this has all been my outer mind. And my outer body. And I want to get smarter on the inside.

    So I’m turning to meditation.

    And this is my project. I’m going to start meditating and write about what I notice. Consider this an open invitation to join me.

    Peruvian Andes

    1 Comment

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    1 Comment

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