Freedom From Suffering

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When I first starting going to a weekly Tergar meditation group, I was confused. At the beginning and end of each session, we could read an aspiration and dedication. Part of the closing dedication reads, “By the power of this compassionate practice may suffering be transformed into peace.”

That seemed like a rather lofty goal, and it seemed very esoteric. I thought that it was some kind of “woo-woo” thing that my mind in meditation would somehow change the vibration of the universe and ripple out to change the world. While that may or may not be true, there was a very practical interpretation of that phrase as to how my meditation practice could help ease the suffering of others.

As the weeks went by, I started noticing subtle changes in my own behavior. When someone would do something that used to really bother me, I found that it actually didn’t bother me anymore. I was able to respond to someone’s self-inflicted crisis in a compassionate and rational way.

Little by little, my calmer way of reacting to those around me began to generate a more peaceful environment. I wasn’t causing as much conflict. Therefore, their suffering was eased simply by me not contributing to their suffering!

While some of the phrasing still feels a little awkward to me, always talking about suffering and how all beings want to find happiness, I find it starting to become more natural. If you’re just starting formal meditation practice, please stick with it. If nothing else, you will find your own peace of mind increase. If you’re more advanced in your practice, thank you, and I hope to be more like you someday.

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Anchored to the Problem — I’m Drowning

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Imagine yourself trapped at the bottom of a body of water. You see a release valve and know that you must open the valve so that the water can drain and you will be able to breathe.

You work on turning the valve, but it is stuck. The harder you work, the more out of breath you feel. As you panic, you put even more focus on trying to turn that valve. It moves slighty, so you put even more effort into turning it. You are running out of breath and must get that valve turned to drain the water so you will live.

Now realize that you are only about 8 feet underwater. You are in a swimming pool, and all you need to do is reach the surface and take a deep breath of air. You are OK. There really was no need to drain the pool. In fact, there are many reasons to keep the water in the pool. You realize how silly it was to put in so much effort and to feel so much anxiety about opening the valve.

Focusing on draining that pool is like focusing on trying to solve whatever problem you have, especially if it involves another person. In meditation the other day, I realized how wrapped up I was in trying to “fix” another person. I could see how much suffering this person was experiencing. About 80 – 90% of my energy/life was focused on worrying about this person and trying to help solve their difficulty.

My mind was trapped, wrestling with this problem, and I could feel my heart rate increase and other symptoms of stress. The more I thought about the problem, the more critical it seemed that I should come up with a solution. It seemed that I could not experience peace of mind until I was able to “help” or change this person. In a way, it was my job. I was anchored to the problem.

Suddenly, that image of struggling to drain a pool came to me. I was entangled, chained to this problem. Yes, watching this person was painful, but that does not mean that I need to solve their problems. I don’t need to fix them.

Previously, when experiencing discomfort dealing with this person, my only thought was to make the feeling stop. Get away! Shut this situation down! That is the same as the feeling of panic at the bottom of the pool.

I do not need to solve this problem or change this person any more than I need to drain the pool. I need, instead, to learn to be comfortable with the discomfort. I needed to learn to experience those challenging emotions and thoughts without needing to escape them. As I learn to let go of those thoughts, emotions, and problems that are drowning me, my deepest wish is that you can find freedom too.

Fixed Mindset vs Growth Mindset

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I just watched an incredible TED talk that spoke to my under-achiever tendency  and gave me hope that I can change. Eduardo Briceno’s “The Power of Belief — Mindset and Success” used social science research to show how a fixed mindset (“I’m smart” or “I’m not good at sports” or “I’m talented at X, Y, or Z”) contributes to lower performance, while a growth mindset (“I can learn” or “I will practice”) can help catapult one toward success.

The good news is that he talks about how to change this mindset in ourselves and others. Focusing on the process rather than the result can help change a fixed mindset, which in turns helps instill traits such as grit or persistence.

This talk really challenged me to look at some of my core beliefs about myself and how those core beliefs actually prevent me from reaching my potential.

Easier Together: Group Meditation

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Why do I find it so much easier to meditate in a group setting? I recently visited a local branch of Tergar: The Meditation Community of Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. This group is from a Tibetan Buddhism tradition, yet is also heavily influenced by mindfulness meditation research.   I’ve only gone twice, but am excited about the teaching and practice I am finding there.

I frequently lapse in my regular meditation practice. Weeks (months?) go by with no ‘formal’ meditation, but merely moments throughout the day when I pause and take a quiet, reflective moment. When I do set actual time to meditate, sometimes even 15 minutes can feel like an eternity. I was using a meditation app for a while, but soon after was feeling constrained by the guidance.

When I joined the group in meditation, it felt like almost no time went by before he rang the bell at 20 minutes. I felt so refreshed. This group also has a discussion period focused on different themes. There is so much to learn! I’m looking forward to learning more, meditating more, and experiencing more joy in my life.

Oh No! I’m One of *Those*

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Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, I was a gym rat. While some who know me now might not believe it, I used to be in shape and eat healthy. That was before kids and all those other life things settled in.

I’ve been meaning to join a gym for a couple of years now. My plans always got derailed by things like car accidents, having to move, or admission to the hospital. However, for a few months I was, seriously, going to join a gym. I wanted to join the Y, but then the holidays came. Having been a gym rat, I always hated going to the gym in January because it was full of those New Years Resolution folks who join the gym in January and disappear by February. I did not want to be one, so decided I would wait until at least February.

Then one day, about a week ago, my husband and I were watching TV. A silly, fun commercial came on for Planet Fitness. It was ridiculously affordable, and that gym was actually the closest one to our house.

My husband says, “Hey, let’s go ahead and join… today!”

I groan, stating how I don’t want to join in January of all months!

But he convinced me (it’s better to start in January than not start at all) and signed us up online right then. I’m so glad he did. It’s only been a week, but it does feel so good to be exercising again.

Being healthy is a lifestyle choice. All I have is today, and I can choose to make good choices. I’ll still play Assassin’s Creed on the XBox and eat chocolate, but I can be in better shape at my next birthday than I was at the last.

Not Returning To My Regularly Scheduled Program

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Feels like my life just took a break for a special announcement. When I got home from the hospital, I was thinking about how on TV, when there’s an interruption in programming for a special announcement, when it’s done they have the canned “We now return you to your regularly scheduled program.” I thought, yeah, now I can get back to my routine.” Then I realized that may not be the best idea.

Went in to the hospital for chest and left arm pain. I had also been throwing up, so after G-I tract meds did not relieve the pain, they tried nitro. When that removed the pain, they decided to keep me for more testing. The good news was that all the blood test showed no heart attack. They did a chemical stress test, and the next day a resting stress test. While waiting for those results, they gave me Prilosec to see if the pain was simply referred pain from a G-I issue.

The Prilosec actually helped quite a bit. Everyone expected the stress test would come back completely normal and I would go home and follow-up with my primary. But the stress test had an “irregularity.” They could not definitively say if there was a problem with the heart or not, so we decided to do an angiogram to make sure.

The good news is that, structurally, everything looked really good with the heart and nothing was clogged. As a side note, however, there were indications that I’ve had high blood pressure for a while and should start treating that with my primary doctor.

That all started Monday night, and I came home on Friday. I have started on blood pressure medication, but I’m thinking there needs to be more changes. Making that decision is the easy part, but where to start?

Obviously, I need to up the meditation to reduce stress, as that has lagged quite a bit. We’re also going to join the YMCA. But there’s more I need to do.

My house stresses me out. So, I hired professional to help, and this week she is coming to the house to help me start decluttering . Circumstances (two moves and a car accident that had me sidelined for several months) contributed to my home being out of control. I’ve tried on my own, but I need help.

I have visions of a clutter-free home where I can sew medieval garb, paint with watercolors, and bake fresh bread  at will. I can imagine all the family members helping with the upkeep and care of the home, dishes, and day-to-day cleaning. Then we’ll all be smiling and sitting around a table playing games to all hours of the night and life happily ever after. Right?

Well, one little step at a time. My heart is strong, and I want to keep it that way for many, many years to come. It’s never to late to try something different. Today I’ll make one small step towards a healthier me.

End of the World… or Just Under the Weather?

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It’s never when I’m feeling the worst, but it seems that when I start feeling better after being sick (cold, flu, middle-ear infection with vertigo), I often go through this period of feeling hopeless and helpless. It goes something like, “I haven’t been doing anything. I never do anything. I will never do anything. I’m a terrible person.”

It’s a feeling of impending doom. It’s that middle space between being so sick that I can barely move (and therefore am kind and forgiving of myself) to feeling well and charging ahead. I want to get stuff done, but just don’t quite have the energy to get going and get caught up with all I missed.

Anyway, that’s where I’ve been. Sometimes just acknowledging where I’m at helps. So, I’m getting back to it, all the daily stuff that keeps me going. I may not get caught up today, but at least I can stop myself from falling further behind.

Like a Dry Sponge

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There are days when I feel empty, rudderless, and godless. At moments I can feel so completely sure of a Higher Power working in my life, and other times I feel terror, like I’m fumbling, lost, a child in a grown-up world.

At those uninspired times, I need to break it down real simple. As long as I don’t take a drink or drug, there is hope in my life. When I get confused, I remember that AA is my spiritual path. Part of that spiritual path is to seek through prayer and meditation to improve my conscious contact with Spirit.

I had a profound experience during meditation recently. I had been feeling completely drained, exhausted, like my skin was a collection of raw nerves. I remembered to take quiet time and sit in meditation.

I started off with my usual mindfulness meditation app. But when the app ended, I remained sitting in silence. Then  I felt, with each breath, that I was drawing up energy from the core of the Earth. I was soaking up energy like a dry sponge soaks up water. Immersed in Spirit, I drank until my nerves were calm, my mind was at peace, and I felt renewed.

Just remembering that feeling helps me at this moment feel “OK.” We are still unsure of where we will be living a month from now. There are so many pros and cons of every house we have looked at. I don’t trust my own judgement. I know that if you give me 5 possibilities, on my own I will pick the worst possible situation.

I do not know what will happen next month, next week, or even later today. I have to trust that there is as energy above and throughout that guides me… when I keep my mind open and listen. As I prepare to go about my day, I must remember to stop, pray, and seek guidance in my every step and action.

Meditation Reboot: Mindfulness Apps

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Last year I made a commitment to start meditating regularly. Well, that didn’t work out so well. Soon I was caught up in the daily frustrations and flashes of anger and completely forgot about trying to meditate. Peace of mind can be so elusive.

Then, a couple of months ago, my son asked to go off his ADHD meds. When he takes them, he doesn’t eat all day. By the end of the day, when the meds wear off, he is crazy hungry and out of control. We decided that if he was willing to commit to a regular meditation practice we would be willing to let him stop his medication.

I read a lot about meditation for kids and one idea kept repeating: the best way to help kids develop a meditation practice was for the parents to also practice meditation. I realized there was no way around it. I had to start meditating.

I decided to try a meditation app. Unfortunately, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of them. They range in price from free to almost $100 or more. I started downloading and trying the free ones, but found most of them to be incredibly annoying. You know those syrupy-sweet voices that are almost a whisper? I hate those. Where I live, they call that “airy-fairy.”

I asked people about apps they used and stumbled across an app called Smiling Mind. I downloaded the Smiling Mind app (it’s available for IOS and Android.) The dude is Australian, and I found his voice to be remarkably non-irritating.

This particular app is completely free. There are no parts that you have to pay to unlock. I really like that. None of the dealer’s ‘first taste is free’ thing.

Smiling Mind has a number of different programs. They have programs for kids in different age ranges, programs designed for teachers, and a number of programs designed for adults with different focuses such as sports or for the workplace.

Each program comes in several modules which are designed progressively to help you develop mindfulness and increase the time, gradually, that you spend in meditation. Each module consists of meditation sessions, but they also include activities to enhance your mindfulness.

I’m averaging about 3 times a week, but hope to increase that. You can set daily reminders on your phone or to tell  it to notify you when you haven’t been on the app for a few days.

I’m really enjoying working through the basic adult program. Eventually, I’ll be able to do longer and longer meditation with little to no vocal guidance. Of course, you don’t actually need an app to meditate. Simply following your breath can help you return to calm.

I feel like this app is helping me develop mindfulness to instill a deeper sense of peaceful contentedness. Try it! You might like it.

 

 

Inclusion and Cooperation, Not Division

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I’m a longtime liberal/progressive Democrat. I was born and raised to believe that it is not enough to make sure that I get what I need. Instead, I have the responsibility to look out for those who are less fortunate.

I live in a “blue” state, and am happy about that. I am proud of that. However, I just got an email to get a free bumper sticker that says, “Vote Blue” and I’m not going to do it.

It is this duality, if you are not with me you are against me, that contributes greatly to our divided nation. The venomous hate I hear spewed about people of color, or poor people, or people with special needs… It hurts me. But hating the hater solves absolutely nothing.

If I were to say “Vote Blue,” I am blindly, rabidly following  some abstract thing. Party loyalty says that I don’t have to think. Just walk in this lane and this lane only. Anyone who is not in this lane is bad.

What we need is discussion. What we need is listening. I know that there are people who have been saying this for a while. I am not original or unique. This little blog I write… well, it’s just a small thing. But by writing this, I am reinforcing my belief that we need to come together. We need to look beyond party loyalty. We need to look at our humanity.

I need to be willing to hear a different point of view and be willing to admit that I may be wrong. I don’t have any solution, but what I can do is enter into quiet contemplation. I can be quick to see where others are right. While I will most likely vote straight Democrat, I will not separate myself from my fellow humans by declaring that Blue is the only way to go.

So today, try to spend some time listening. Maybe listen to another point of view and try to understand where that person is ‘coming from.’ Chances are, we all share common values and beliefs. It’s easy to say my way is better, but we can only experience true joy when we realize the connectedness of everyone and everything.