How Do You Move From A Human DOING To A Human BEING?

Do you sometimes feel like more of a human doing than a human being?
Do you feel like you're always running to catch up, worrying that you're running further and further behind?
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When our emotions and physical sensations are yelling for our attention, our minds are working on overdrive to find out why. Good old rational critical thinking!

You see yourself here (uncomfortable, stressed, anxious) and you want to be there (at ease) so your mind analyses the gap between and tries to bridge it.

It uses the doing mode to break problems into smaller bits, and then attempts to analyse and solve them, trying to inch you closer to your goal. The doing mode is activated whether you're trying to catch a train or pay your tax. Thank goodness we have it! It's one of our most important assets.

BUT it can be not so helpful because it focuses on the gap and if that gap cant be closed despite trying everything, you become fixated on the gap and can't find an escape. You start torturing yourself with harsh criticisms.

‘What started it this time? What have I done to myself again?
What I should have said, done? Why does it hurt so much?

These open-ended questions can increase anxiety, depression and stress, burning up your energy and leaving you feeling fragile and broken. It gives the mind free reign to catastrophise. Maybe I'll never get better, maybe someone’s hiding something…

One fear leads to the next and before long you are lost in dark and maudlin thoughts. It’s a vicious exhausting cycle!

BUT THERE IS AN ALTERNATIVE!

You can’t stop the triggering of unpleasant sensations in the body but you can stop what happens next. The spiral of negative thoughts, feelings and emotions. You can learn to take a mountaintop view that is unclouded by thoughts, feelings and emotions. Psychologists call it the being mode.

You can become AWARE that you are thinking. This metacognition allows you to experience the world without your thoughts acting like a distorting lens. You can learn to see the world as it actually is, not as you expect or fear it to be. This can break the cycle that leads to anxiety, stress and depression.

It allows you to step back from your pain and suffering and breaks free from the tendency to overthink it. You will see it as only one aspect of your daily experience. Unpleasant yes, but not all of who you are.

BEING MODE IS NOT BETTER OR WORSE THAN DOING MODE…. JUST DIFFERENT.

It’s bigger than thinking, kinder than thinking and often wiser than thinking and it has been cultivated for thousands of years. And we can learn this by the practice of mindfulness meditation.

The only way to know is carrying out the practices. Belief is irrelevant but it’s certainly worth a try. Isn’t It?

With peace and kindness,

Rita.

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Don’t forget! The Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program is coming up!

Early Bird closing soon! Save up to $100!

Mindfulness is a non-judgmental approach to paying attention to the present moment. By practicing mindfulness you can change the way you think about your experiences and therefore cope more effectively with everyday stress, including anxiety, chronic pain or mild depression. MBSR teaches us how to bring mindfulness (awareness) into each day so as to better cope with the inevitable ups and downs of life. It incorporates techniques such as meditation, gentle yoga and mind-body exercises to help people cope with stress.

The MBSR program involves 8 two and a half-hour sessions plus one full day session, taking place over eight weeks.  This highly participatory, practical course includes:

  • Guided instruction in mindfulness meditation

  • Gentle stretching and mind-body awareness exercises

  • Group discussion aimed at increasing awareness in everyday life

  • Essential daily home practices that concretise the benefits

  • Techniques that can be practised anywhere, anytime, to fit into your lifestyle.

  • Workbook, selected readings and a series of guided meditations

15 October - 3 December 2019 (8 weeks)
Tuesday evenings: 6:15 - 8:45 pm
One full-day event: 23 November
Waverley Library, 32-48 Denison Street, Bondi Junction

Get your tickets here!

3 Short Steps to Ease: Softening From the Inside

I don't know about you, but I love this time of year.

I must have been a bear in a previous life. Hibernation time! I have fewer demands on myself and others seem to have little demands of me too. Everything slows down. It's a perfect time to practice being a human being rather than a human doing.

If you know me well, you'll know that I love everything soft. Soft sheets, soft clothes, soft light. Even my hot water bottle is dressed in winter softness. I know there are a lot of you out there that love soft too.

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And in this vein I want to talk about softening from the inside. We know now that every thought or emotion has a physiological response in the body. Check it out for yourself. If you are feeling joy, there may be a lightness in the breath, an expansion in the chest, an upturn at the corners of the mouth, a smoothness at the brow. In anger, you may notice a tightness around the diaphragm, a clenching of the fist or jaw, a rapid deep breath or no breath at all. A sad thought may bring up wetness in the eyes, a slumping of the shoulders, slowness in the breath or a deep sigh.

This is a wonderful thing. An immediate feedback loop that you can begin to play with. And it all starts with AWARENESS. Practicing mindfulness helps us become more in tune with ourselves and offers us choice. So instead of being swept away with our thoughts, feelings and body sensations we can work towards acceptance and skilful paths to a calmer, more resilient and, dare I say, happier state.

Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself. If you have an honest intention to create more ease in your life, you can take up your challenge on promiseorpay. This week I challenge you to put the following into operation a few times a day, and night, and see what happens.

PAUSE | RELAX | OPEN


Pause: Take a moment to pause and check in on yourself.
Choose what is calling for your attention: your thoughts, feelings or body sensations.
This interrupts the autopilot stress cycle.
If your thoughts are taking over, notice them and, if you can, label them: worry, stress, guilt, confusion...
It’s amazing how repetitive our thoughts can be when we pay attention. Over and over. Labelling helps us interrupt the repetitiveness.
If it's a strong feeling or emotion, notice them and, if you can, label them: grief, anger, sadness. See is any of these feelings pair with thoughts. Write them down. Categorise them into pleasant and unpleasant.

Note that our thoughts, feelings and body sensations are difficult to distinguish at first. The important thing is to immediately drop the story. Ahhhhh, we are so attached to our stories! It’s the story that often trips us up and keeps us in the past or future.

And now the important bit:

Relax. Scan your body and notice any areas of sensation.
Wherever you may feel tension or tightness, sense the possibility of softening, of letting go a little. Relax your body. When we’re stressed, our muscles tighten, which sends signals back to the brain to fight, flee or freeze, making thoughts more distracted and chaotic. Scanning the body and finding the tension and deliberately relaxing the tightness does the opposite. You can do this step many times over.
When you locate the tension, imagine it is possible to breathe into this part- to fill it with air. Then, relax on a slow out breath. Matching inner and outer breaths to 4 counts works well.

Open as the body relaxes. Open to the bigger space around you, around the holding or the tension. When we relax, we have a greater opportunity to clear our minds and sense the comfort or warmth around us. And if we are doing this process throughout the day, it allows us to focus on the job at hand and become more creative.

Through trial and error, I have found this an incredibly effective way to go to sleep at night. I notice when I go to bed, there is sometimes a thought like “I hope I can get to sleep" or "wow, big day tomorrow!". When I check into the body at that point there is tension in the wanting to sleep. Relaxing that part or parts of the body over and over takes me out of the sympathetic part of the nervous system (fight, flight) and drops me into the Para sympathetic part (rest and revive). Doing this over and over relaxes my body and tricks my mind into believing everything is okay, and usually it is anyway. Often I’m too caught up in the early hours catastrophising to notice!

So PAUSE, RELAX and OPEN (over and over and over……..)

I have recorded and uploaded a Relax and Open meditation to play with - check it out here alongside the others I have uploaded and let me know how you go.

But really, these three steps can be practiced in 20 seconds wherever you are. Bed is a perfect time. The benefit comes in the practice.

Wishing you all ease and joy,

Rita

P.S. Have you booked your spot in the next Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program? I’d love to see you there! Click here for more details.

Mindfulness Monthly | May

I am often asked “What is the right way to practice mindfulness?”.

Truth be told, I have asked myself the same question many times. I don’t want to waste my time going down the wrong road. Which is more efficient, which is guaranteed to work faster?
 
Over the last 10 years, there has been an explosion in mindfulness courses, apps and techniques. The choice is amazing and while I celebrate this way of studying  and training the mind, it can be overwhelming. Sometimes, too much choice can immobilise us and cause us to do nothing at all.

In my teen years, life was so simple. If you had the right pair of jeans (Staggers), you were cool. If you didn’t have them, not cool. There were only 2 shops that catered for teenagers in Sydney. The IN shop and John and Merivale.  If you bought their 8-panel floral ground-length skirt, you were cool. If you didn’t, you weren’t. Now, I can't even buy a pair of jeans. I don't know the correct style, colour, degree of wash, denim weight, length, rips or no rips, waisted, hipped, EEEEKKKKKKKK!
 
The endless choice makes me  doubt myself over and over. There is NO pleasure in shopping. I always feel just slightly off. I never seem to get things quite right. And don’t start me on home design, entertaining, travelling, eating or exercise. The next best thing is always on the horizon and here I am, moping about at the bottom of a hill, completely clueless. I blame social media, commercials, the supermarket isle. Basically, I blame TOO MUCH CHOICE and how that undermines my confidence.
 
And then we come to mindfulness.  You may have been introduced to mindfulness through the “pure” teachings of Goenka Vispassna, the more secular teachings of an MBSR course, the inclusivity of the Thich Nat Hahn practices, the gentleness and love practices of Insight or Loving Kindness practices. Perhaps transcendental meditation. You may have chosen to use an app (Insight Timer, Calm, Smiling Minds...), or gone to a retreat, listened to a podcast or read a book... But how did you choose that? Why? 
 
With selectivity, a problem arises with the need to defend your choice if challenged. If you have moved through the exciting evangelical state  (having found the answer to all human suffering) to the often less than exciting states of meditation, you may begin to have doubts that you're on the right path.
 
The Buddha claimed there are at least 84,000 ways to awaken/show up to your life. So, obviously, there are a few more choices on the horizon. 

The stress is enough to make you want to meditate! Oh yeah, that's where we started.
 
My current mentor shared with me recently that it's all just opinions and views and in choosing your way, you must follow the curve of your heart.
 
Jack Kornfield wrote in his beautiful book Path with Heart: If your path has heart, follow it. If it doesn’t, don’t.
 
Happy meditating, and follow your heart,

Rita xx

P.S Our next MBSR program is up, as is a peaceful Dawn to Dusk day of meditation and learning. I would love to see you there!

Mindfulness Monthly | March

 I can barely imagine a more beautiful setting than last Saturday at the Full Day of Mindfulness for past and current MBSR Sydney Mindfulness Training graduates. Those of you who couldn't come missed a wonderful day of self-care, introspection, quiet, beauty and community. The next one will be held in August. I'll let you know closer to the date!

Here I am in a very large (a slightly too large) campervan at a Big 4 Caravan Park with everything I need.  We are exploring the south coast town of Eden. What fun! It took a while to figure out the gas, the waste system and the beds, but we're all good now. Happy campers!

Today we went to Guerrilla Bay. If you haven’t, you should. It was so beautiful. Yesterday we swam at Hyams - the whitest sand in Australia. AND I found (and stocked up on) what I believe to be the best coffee roasters south of Sydney. Bliss.

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When people first come to a mindfulness class, the first meditation is usually a Body Scan. Mindfulness of the body is often described as the first foundation of mindfulness. Similar to the Yoganidra at the end of yoga.  

The Body Scan is not designed to relax the body, it's more about waking up to different parts of the body. 
 
The body, like the breath, experiences things in the here and now. Meaningful moments that are happy, gratifying or pleasurable are usually felt in the body. Like being present for a birth, a death, a beautiful sunrise for example.
 
On the other hand, when we are suffering or fearful or in conflict, we often do the opposite. We tend to disconnect from our bodies – a clever response because we hardwired for survival AND we don’t like pain!
 
We can use our sense of touch, sight, sound, taste and smell to bring us into the body. Without the intention to be here, we are conditioned to leave all the time. So how do we teach ourselves to sit with our emotions? 

We have a tendency to develop our own personal escape habits, numbing ourselves with too much or too little food, obsessively drinking, shopping, texting, Facebook, Instagram. You know what you do. We convince ourselves that if we don’t feel, then somehow we have conquered our fears. But numbing isn’t the same as being, being balanced, at ease, fearless in the face of all that arises in our body heart and minds.
 
We tend to cut off from our body’s intelligence and our heart's wisdom. As we deepen our awareness through the body scan and breath practices, we can train ourselves to come back again and again and deepen our conscious awareness. We can begin to live all of our life, the good, the bad and the beautiful

Approach slowly with interest and care. We wouldn’t have left if we weren’t afraid of what’s there, so be very forgiving and gentle and kind. Forgiving about leaving, gentle about arriving. Approach your body tenderly as a container of freedom and joy.
 
MEET EACH MOMENT MINDFULLY, MEET IT AS A FRIEND

I have uploaded a Body Scan here for you to have a play with. This is a systematic arrival in different parts of the body. Try to do it every day if possible, or every other day, and see if you can open up to whatever experiences are here, feeling the sensations from the inside out. If you don’t know what I mean, hold your arm up in the air for 5 minutes. Sensation!
 
Happy practicing,
Rita

Mindfulness Monthly | February

I have just returned from a very quick week in Washington and am completely blissed out. Picture this:

A large conference room with 1000 of my new besties sitting openheartedly in front of arguably the two best mindfulness teachers around, Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield.

I was at the opening weekend of a two-year training in mindfulness in Washington recently and I couldn’t be happier. I can hear your hearts beating faster as you read this.  Mine did as I laughed, cried, and opened myself up to a room of Canadians, Americans, Icelanders, French Chinese and others from over 47 countries. I felt the possibilities of a world that could exist in love and peace as this microcosm of humanity talked about their aspirations as teachers, being connected to themselves in authenticity, awareness and compassion.

It was truly a beautiful thing. 

I have come back refreshed and incredibly excited. Please forgive me for sounding evangelical. I know it’s in there and I will try to tamper myself down a bit but it’s difficult when I have been so inspired.
 
Some other experiences from this trip...
Food is really bad there. I mean depressingly so. Americans need to kneel down and thank whomever up there for WHOLEFOODS. That place saved my life. On the first day of the conference perhaps ten people walked across the road to put some healthy stuff in their brown cardboard containers. By day 4 the place was packed with gleeful mindfulness participants heaping yummy fresh salad, veges, fruit and gluten free everything’s into their baskets. Pure joy.
 
The staff and the hotel kept telling us that we were the nicest group they have ever catered for. WE thought they were the best as well.

Try to see the goodness in others; they often act the better because of it. -  Nelson Mandela
 
I was reminded (AGAIN) that whatever is projected outwardly, wether we appear confident and together, or frayed at the edges, we are all at times vulnerable and scared. Sometimes we want to be seen, sometimes we want to hide and for the most part, all we want is to be able to love and be loved.
 
In our culture, this doesn’t come naturally. It is something that has to be relearned.

Tara quoted someone or other (oopsie, cant remember who) that we live in a PTSD world- bombarded daily on every screen with devastating news and apocalyptic visions of the future. Most of the time we think we should be doing something other than what we are engaged in. Frantically running around just trying to keep up in an ever-changing fast paced world.

We need to stop, reconnect to the better parts of ourselves and have kindness and compassion for our not so good parts. It really is possible to train ourselves in awareness, to lessen self judgements, to quieten our mind and retrain our habits.

It's possible to pause, be less reactive and more loving to others and ourselves.

This is something I'm bringing with me into the next month.

I hope this finds you well and at peace,

Rita
 

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CLEARING
 
Do not try to save
the whole world
or do anything grandiose,
Instead, create
a clearing
in the dense forest
of your life
and wait there
patiently,
until the song
that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
and you recognise and greet it.
Only then will you know
how to give yourself
to this world
so worth of rescue 

- Martha Postlewaite

The Relaxed Mind

One of the first insights beginner meditators see is this previously unconscious stream of inner dialogue. The ceaseless movement of the untrained mind. It constantly changes, like the weather at Machu Picchu. Rain, snow, sun, wind. Likes, dislikes, emotions, plans, worries, memories, stories.

Mindfulness meditation is learning to steady our attention on the present moment, finding a wise and loving awareness in our relationship to this natural change of body and heart and mind in every season.

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For the mind to become steady, it is necessary to develop a degree of stability through concentration. Concentration is the art of calming and steadying our attention, like a candle flame in a windless place. As we train ourselves to become mindful of breath and body, we can see more clearly and become more present.

To steady and focus the mind takes time, practice, self-care and patience. Jack Kornfield shares that training the mind in meditation is like training a puppy. We put the puppy down and say, “Sit. Stay.” What does it do? It gets up and runs around. “Stay.” It turns around again. Twenty times, “Stay.” After a while, slowly, the puppy settles down. 

This is the same with our minds in meditation practice. At the beginning we may be present only 2% of the time. 98% spent thinking, planning, daydreaming, whatever. After a few weeks you may be concentrating for 5% Being fives times more present to touch the earth, to feel the breeze, to see the eyes of others, to be awake to our senses is no small improvement. Try it, you'll see.

The development of steady concentration comes through nurturing an inner peacefulness. As our meditative skill grows, we learn that the mind becomes concentrated not through strain and struggle, but from letting go of anxiety about the past and future, and relaxing into the present.

Let me write that again.

Relaxing into the present moment.

Over and over and over again. We feel our mind tighten.....relax.
We feel tension on our bodies, our hands and chest....relax.

This is a natural process and a wonderful informal practice that is simple and available to us all. For more on this way of being you may want to read The Relaxed Mind by Dza Kilung Rinpoche.

But remember, it’s all in the practice, and that’s why it’s called practice. 

Rita

Mindfulness Monthly | OCTOBER

Yep, this is where I am. On a two month adventure to South America. It feels very... big. I've been practising my Spanish on Duolingo like crazy but so far I'm understanding next to nada!

The first real stop after acclimatising to the altitude is Cusco, a city in the Peruvian Andes, once the capital of the Inca Empire.

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Before ticking Machu Picchu off my proverbial bucket list of sacred sites, the following thoughts swirled in my mind:

Very excited and a little nervous about being disappointed. I don’t do well with sacred sites. Actually, I don’t do so well with tarot readings, psychics, other dimensions... 

Somehow, I just can’t feel the energy (oops, don’t tell anyone that). I WANT to, I really want to, but it just doesn’t happen. Uluru for me was a lot of busses, tourists and cameras. Then the walk around was simply too uncomfortable to feel anything but the heat...

I have also yet to feel the overwhelming devotional love for a guru. I have huge affection and love for some of my teachers but would I sacrifice my family for that devotion? Sometimes this feels like failure, a spiritual failing...

What I do know is that when I sit in meditation, sit quietly without an agenda and stay as close as I can to my breathing, something wonderful happens in the stillness. Thoughts of failure are irrelevant and I tap into a profound peace. This is my little sacred site.

It was, of course, not at all what played out during the actual experience. Surprise surprise. 
Here's how it went down:

Easy arrival, a lot of people, not much breathing on my part. Next thing I knew I had turned a corner and there it was, a magical scene in real time making all the photos I had ever seen seem irrelevant. 
There were no thoughts, simply deep breathing and stillness. There was no thinking, just seeing. I knew I was seeing something extraordinary, but it wasn’t till the next day (without the guide), that I could sit and take in the mountains and the clouds, the rain and the sunshine. It was then that my favourite mountain meditation come alive.

People may come and share in the majesty of the mountain.
Others may come and feel that it is not a good day to see the mountain, that it’s too cloudy or too misty, hot or wet.
All of this matters little to the mountain, who is not affected by whether people like or not. Or the changing weather.
Through it all the mountain just sits there, being itself.


If we can bring this into our meditation practice we too can sit like the mountain, unaffected by the waves of expectations and disappointments. 

I've also uploaded a 10-minute meditation on my website, recorded in Chile. Find a quiet place to practice your breathing and become aware of your sitting. You can find it here, along with a 5-minute meditation. 

Happy Spring to you all.

Mindfulness Monthly | AUGUST

I am finally coming to the end of the flu. Not the cough cough, sniffle sniffle kind, but the blocked head, razor throat, rivers of muck (too much information?) and the I will NEVER EVER be okay kind. 

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This sickness has caused me to miss one of my closest friend's big birthdays. I sadly missed saying goodbye to my wonderful MBSR group on their last night. I had to pass up a few teaching gigs and I still miss my good friends and beautiful family who I have strategically distanced myself from to prevent their contamination.
 
I know people are in much worse places than me and it's just a cold, but boy oh boy, does laying low give one's thoughts and emotions time to play out their course. They went in waves:

My brain will never work again so teaching is off the cards.
My friends will forget me and I'll be No Fun Rita.
My family can do without me and eventually I'll fade from their lives forever. 
No energy means no walking, so energetic holidays are over…….
It's actually all over really….
Blah blah blah

It's been fun.
 
So. What to make of it all?
 
I've been thinking about perception, about how I look at life when its not going the way I want it to. In this blog post, I'm going to be looking at attachments and expectations, and try to put a few things in perspective.
 
Welcome to the August Mindfulness Monthly. May you all be healthy and live life with ease and energy.

"This is a wonderful day. I've never seen this one before." 
- Mary Angelou

On Attachment

There is an old story about a Zen master and his student:

The master and young monk were about to cross a river on foot, but before they did so they came across a young woman on the riverbank who wanted to cross but was too small and fragile to make the journey. So the kind old master carried her on his back across the river. This upset the young monk a great deal as he felt his master had violated the vinaya, the ‘rules’ of the masters. The monk kept quiet for a few days but felt increasingly upset and angry with his master as each day passed. Eventually he couldn’t help it and told his master he was very angry. The old master laughed and laughed telling the young monk, ‘I left the woman the minute we finished crossing the river, but you have been carrying her until now. 

How do I live a free life when I care so much about the things I am attached to?
 
Thanks to a timely gift by a good friend, I have been reading Everyday Enlightenment by His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa. His Holiness points out that it is good to have tenderness and care about certain things in our lives. However, that is not the same as having attachments. 
 
He says we should recognise when those connections support us, allow us to grow, provide inspiration and momentum. And then to recognise when they keep us stuck, fearful, jealous or even bored. It could be people that drain us, wealth that fixates and drives us, and habits that waste our time.

When we label a person, a material thing or a fixed idea of who we are or where we're going as "me" and "mine", we set ourselves up for the possibility of hurt, disappointment, jealousy and anger. The person may change, you may lose your wealth, you may be boxed in through old memories of yourself, and finally, your expectations and untamed desires may have you looking for happiness in all the wrong places.
 
We are human beings, it's in our nature to form connections, especially when we are inspired by a person or place. However, they need to be examined. Whether our attachments are positive for us and have a relaxed joyful nature or whether they stir up the more disturbing, ‘grasping’ emotions in us, I think we all know the difference.

Expectations kill the beauty of life. They keep us fearful of disappointment and keep us running and busy. At the end of the day it will all be gone: your possessions, reputation, relationships and body. Businesses and buildings will collapse and good friends and families will leave or be left. At the end we must be comfortable being alone with ourselves. Practicing non-attachment can make you one of the luckiest people in the world.

How To Practice Non-Attachment

Notice when you are feeling desire for something - a person, a new watch, new job, new car, a slice of lemon meringue pie. The next 'thing' that is going to make you happy.

Then take a moment, walk away. Relax. Play with how long the desire lasts. Can you distract yourself? Does some other desire take over?

And of course, you may become so fixated that you must get it. We're only practicing, remember?
Then notice how long the satisfaction lasts. Five minutes, a day...

And then what do you desire next?

Becoming conscious of desire and aversion (what we like and what we don't like) changes our perspective and interrupts the cycle of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Perhaps you'll be able to step lighter in the world. It's certainly worth a try.

Happy exploring,

Rita x

Spruce Up Your Summer

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Just between you and me I am taking up a mindfulness practice for the summer. I am known to be (at times) a little untidy, a little messy, a bit of a procrastinator and generally have trouble finishing things until I am very close to the line.

Personally I find all these characteristic a little endearing but sometimes those around me are not so thrilled. Especially if the mess is in their space or they are waiting for me to do the tax, the Medicare claim, wash my car…

I have decided that I am going to do the following and, if it appeals, please join me.

Part A: Leave No Trace

How: Pick a room in your house (I am choosing the kitchen) and whatever you do there when you leave, leave it as if no one would know you’ve been there. For example, if I cook a meal (quite unlikely) or make a cup of tea (very likely) as I leave the kitchen I will stop, turn around and check that there is no trace of me left. No soggy used tea bag, no open drawer, no teaspoon in the sink, no watermark on the counter. Instead of my usual “Ill clean it up later” which usually becomes very later and compounds itself until there is a huge mess annoying others (and eventually even myself), I intend to start small and see what happens. Give it a go and see what you discover. If you managed to successfully achieve this at least 60% of the time you can graduate to Part B (below).

Part B: The PHD of Perfection

Leave Things Better Than You Found Them. Perhaps that may mean picking up a piece of trash from the side walk, straightening the cushions on the couch, tidying that draw, helping someone on the street, leaving spaces or things cleaner or tidier than you found them. Whatever it is, start small Perhaps by improving your immediate physical environment.

It could start with just tidying and then moving to help the environment by using pollution free cleaning products, taking reusable bags to the shops and not wasting resources such as power, food and water. And then you could go on with cleaning up your mind by working with your heart and mind through meditation in transforming difficult mental and emotional states like anger jealousy and resentment to joy compassion gratitude and kindness. 

STOP and WAIT Practice

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My clients report back that the overall number one practice that has impacted their life was the simple S.T.O.P., so I have included this here again and added the newer W.A.I.T.

S is for stop. Just stop. 

T is for take a mindful in breath and mindful outbreath.

O is for observe whatever there is to observe of the 6 senses. Using all or some of them: What am I seeing What am I hearing What am I tasting What am I smelling What am I touching (shirt, fingertips, anything) What am I thinking (the 6 sense)

P is for Proceed with your next step.

The S.T.O.P can be a game changer for slowing things down and reconnecting with what’s important in your life in this moment.

Do the S.T.O.P. practice:

  • Before a meeting, leaving a meeting 
  • Waking up in the morning 
  • Before switching on your computer, answering your phone 
  • Before starting a meal, having a drink. 
  • And many many more times. I’m sure you can come up with your own.

W.A.I.T. is for the rapid fire, non-face to face communication that social media has presented us with. W.A.I.T. was developed for adolescents where the impulsivity and emotionality of the limbic system has not yet been monitored by a mature pre frontal cortex, the part that controls our judgement. So reactivity is high.

Although W.A.I.T. was developed for adolescents it can prove valuable to anyone living in this digital age.

For example, before you press SEND or post on Facebook, Instagram or wherever, ask yourself: 

W - Wide audience. Would I be happy for anyone to read this - family, my 500 Facebook friends?

A - Affect. Am I in a good emotional place right now? Am I being reactive instead of response-able?

I - Intent. Might my intent be misunderstood?

T - Today, tomorrow, or the next day. Can this wait a day? If I wait might I feel differently about it later. My guess is most times we do.

Time For Some Spring Cleaning

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Meditation is a process of lightening up, of trusting the basic goodness of what we have and who we are, and of realizing that any wisdom that exists, exists in what we already have. We can lead our life so as to become more awake to who we are and what we’re doing rather than trying to improve or change or get rid of who we are or what we’re doing. The key is to wake up, to become more alert, more inquisitive and curious about ourselves.
— Pema Chödrön

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is knowing what is happening inside and outside ourselves moment by moment, the practice involves reconnecting with sensations as well as our bodies, thoughts and feelings.

It is about creating an awareness of the present moment in order to allow choices to be considered. Becoming more aware of our emotions and patterns can help us notice and respond to changes in our mental health.

You can’t change what you don’t know and can’t see.

The first step to mindfulness is reminding yourself to take notice of your thoughts, feelings and sensations as well a regularly taking the time to be aware of the sensations of the world around you. Naming thoughts and feelings is to develop awareness. Don't drown in them, just name them.

Connecting with the reality of the present moment allows you to manage unhelpful thoughts, develop responses to difficult feelings and events, manage stress and cope with physical pain better. It can also remind us to be kinder to ourselves.

The popular Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program offers a set of simple yet powerful practices that can be incorporated into daily life to help break the cycle of anxiety, stress, unhappiness, and exhaustion. It promotes the kind of happiness and peace that seeps into everything we do and helps to meet the worst that life throws at us with new courage.
 
Those who have taken a course in MBSR report feeling more engaged in their work and relationships, more energised and less anxious. They report sleeping better and have fewer physical symptoms of stress. 

With the MBSR program you are invited to learn how to transform your relationship to the way you think, feel, love, work, and play.

Meditation in Sydney Can Be A Pain, Here's What You Can Do About It

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In every class the following questions arise:

Whenever I try to sit to meditate I get pain in my legs. What do I do?  Do I grin and bear it, meditate on it, or just move my legs?

This is what’s so brilliant about meditation practice. Not that your legs hurt but that opportunity to acknowledge that pain is unavoidable in our lives and this is a chance to play around with it a bit. Sometimes its as simple as getting used to the posture of sitting – the more you sit the easier it gets.

So you have a choice and different teachers have different approaches…

You can start by using the pain as an object of meditation: Notice the pain. Does it come and go? Who is experiencing the pain? When your mind is more focused on following your breath, does the pain seem to ease?

If it goes on and is too much to bear you can either go easy on yourself and adjust your posture to relieve the pain, or you can maintain your position and keep meditating on the pain. Relax if you can because resisting the pain causes more pain in the muscles. Try to sit as solidly as you can - you’ll find real benefit there.

Please remember although we try to do it right its s ultimately your call. Either way, meditation shouldn’t be torture.

How About A Little Hygge?

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I had never heard of this word until my beautiful and wise sister-in-law brought it to my attention (I do love my sister in laws – lucky me!). “Hygge” (pronounced hue-guh not hoo-gah) is a Danish word used when you become aware of a feeling or moment, whether alone or with friends, at home or out, ordinary or extraordinary, as cosy, charming or special. Now how brilliantly mindful is that!!!!!

You don’t have to learn how to be “Hyggeligt”. You don’t have to change your lifestyle or buy something to get it.  You can’t buy a ‘Hygge living room’ and there’s no ‘Hygge foods’ to eat. Just like buying a mindfulness candle or statue of the Buddha doesn’t make you more mindful, being sold something as Hygge is just marketing.

The Danes created Hygge to break up the boring months of long cold nights and very short days. It is the undefinable feeling of finding moments to celebrate or acknowledge and thereby break up the day, months or years. The simple act of a candle glowing with a cup of coffee in the morning or a home cooked evening meal with friends can make a huge difference to one’s spirit.

Hygge only requires consciousness, a certain slowness, and the ability to not just be present – but recognise and enjoy the present. It is synonymous with cosiness, charm, happiness, ‘contentedness’, security, familiarity, comfort, reassurance, kinship, and simpleness.

By creating simple rituals without effort, the Danes see both the domestic and personal life as an art form and not a drudgery to get away from. They incorporate Hygge into their daily life so it becomes a natural extension rather than a forced and stressful event.

Hygge is just about being aware of a good moment. How Hygge is that?

Desire: How to Work with the Wanting Mind

Have you ever found yourself trapped in wanting or desiring something or someone so badly that it drives you crazy? Whether it’s a person, a fat jam-filled doughnut or that special handbag.

Not only can wanting and grasping feel all compassing, often we condemn ourselves for feeling that way in the first place. It creates tension in the body and the mind. It hurts.

Following Radical Acceptance we can learn to be aware of this aspect of our nature without being caught up in it. As it arises we can feel it fully, softly naming our experience “hunger”, “wanting”, “longing”, or whatever, every few seconds, five, ten, twenty times until it ends.

If you are still in its grip you may want to go a little deeper and really examine this wanting mind.

Take a few minutes, sit quietly and feel into the answers to some of the following simple questions:

How long does this kind of desire last?

Does it intensify first or just fade away?

How does it feel in the body?

What parts of the body are affected by it? Is it the gut, the breath, and the eyes?

What does it feel like in the heart? In the mind?

When it is present, are you happy or agitated, open or closed?

As you name it, see how it moves and changes. If wanting comes as the demon hunger, name it. Where do you notice hunger - in the belly, the tongue, the throat?

You may see that its passes quickly. For example, have you ever wanted something in a shop window and when you walk away forgotten all about it?

When I want something badly I often feel it in the chest area. It is almost as if my lungs and heart are expanding towards it. It’s a similar feeling with jealousy.

Jack Kornfield says we may be able to see how wanting and jealousy arises out of a sense of longing and incompleteness, a feeling that we are separate and not whole.

We can all recognise the familiar refrain: ‘if only I was richer, thinner, taller, more outgoing, less outgoing, whatever…then I would be happy, complete at ease “ However the satisfying of our wants usually give rise to the next set of ‘what ifs…. and the cycle begins again! It often brings on more wanting. We are taught in this culture that if we can grasp enough pleasurable experiences quickly one after another, our life will be happy. The whole process can become very tiring and empty. When we are caught-up by wanting it is like an intoxicant and we are unable to see clearly.

The process of such unskilful desire is endless, because peace comes not from fulfilling our wants but from the moment that dissatisfaction ends. When wanting is filled, there comes a moment of satisfaction, not from the pleasure, but from the stopping of grasping. THIS IS AN IMPORTANT MOMENT.

As you name the wanting-mind and feel it carefully, notice what happens just after it ends, and noticed what states then follow. The issue of wanting and desire is a profound one. You will see how often our desires are misplaced. An obvious example is when we use food to replace the love we long for, or overeat when what we really need is to sleep.

Through the practice of naming, we can sense how much of our surface desire arises from some deeper wanting in our being, from an underlying loneliness or fear or emptiness.

We can develop a skilful relationship to our wanting. We can pause and relax and open to the moment of satisfaction, however brief. Know it and feel it and see if you can discover a wiser relationship to it.

Unskilful desire causes wars, it drives much of our modern society, and as unknowing followers, we are at its mercy. Painful desire involves greed, grasping, inadequacy, and longing. On the other hand, skilful desire is directed by love, vitality, compassion, creativity, and wisdom.

With the development of awareness, we begin to distinguish unhealthy desire from skilful motivation.

Adapted from Jack Kornfield’s book, “A Path with Heart“.

I Think Therefore I Am. Wrong.

In my experience one of the strongest motivations in coming to a Mindfulness class is to quiet an unruly mind. To gain some control over the persistent talk in our heads, the repetitive overthinking that escalates in anxious times and also fuels that anxiety. Short of having a lobotomy we just want a few moments of peace.

We all have our top three favourite repetitive thoughts, or our top ten and they are usually framed around some not good enough self talk: “No one will ever love me”; “If they really knew me then they for sure wouldn’t love me”; “I will always be anxious”. When we get stuck in a repetitive thought, the difficulty can be felt either in our body or mind.

  • Body – pain
  • Feelings – anger, sadness loneliness emptiness
  • Mind - anxious repetitive thinking about anything and everything
  • Attitudes – wanting something or someone, grasping, avoiding, fear.

Let’s look at our thinking-mind as an example. Normally, when thinking arises in meditation practice, we can simply name it “thinking, thinking,” and in the light of awareness it will vanish like a cloud. But sometimes it’s not so simple.

Jack Kornfield suggests numbering our repetitive thoughts, one to ten.

“Oh, that is three on the hit parade this week.”

If we do this we learn that we don’t have to play the record all the way through and we can more easily let them go. Doing so means we don’t strengthen those negative neural pathways.

A variation of this technique is to give them a humorous name or title. I have given names to many now familiar aspects of myself, such as “Mrs Not Funny”, “Miss Perfect”, “Mrs Do-my-hips-look-big-in-this”, Miss I-want-it-now”, “Miss Know-it-all”, “Miss Know-nothing”. In this way, the repeated patterns of fear, sorrow, impatience, or loneliness become more familiar, and I listen to their stories in a friendlier and openhearted way. “Hello, again Miss Impatience! What’s going on today?”

But sometimes the stories are so insistent and repetitive, it’s hard to let them go. We may feel we have been wronged, or are worried about an upcoming event, or some ongoing family dynamic. Such a story can play out many times.

Another technique to use is to expand our field of attention, which requires us to shift from that which is obvious to one of the other levels of awareness.

To do this, we can ask ourselves: How does this thought feel in my body?

You may find there is tightness in the diaphragm and the chest. We can name this, “tightness, tightness,” and stay meticulously attentive for some time. As we do, another sensation may take over, and other new images and feelings arise. Remember everything changes and EVERYTHING has a beginning middle and end. In this way, we can first begin to release the physical contractions and bodily fear that we have held.

Following this we can expand the attention further to the new feelings. What feelings arise along with this thought pattern and this tightness? At first they may be half hidden or unconscious, but if we sense carefully, the feelings will begin to show themselves. The tightness in the chest will become sadness, and the sadness may become grief. And as we finally begin to grieve, the pattern will release.

In a similar way, when we encounter a repeated physical pain or difficult mood we can expand awareness to the level of thoughts, the story or belief that comes along with it. With careful attention, we may find a subtle belief about ourselves that perpetuates the pain or mood. Perhaps a story about our unworthiness, such as “I’ll always be this way.” When we become aware of the story or belief, and see it as just that, the old pattern is released.

Repetitive thoughts and stories are almost always fuelled by an unacknowledged emotion or feeling. These feelings are part of what brings the thought back time and again.

Future planning is usually fuelled by anxiety. Remembering of the past is often fuelled by regret, or guilt, or grief. Many fantasies arise as a response to pain or emptiness. The task in meditation is to drop below the level of the repeated recorded message, to sense and feel the energy that brings it up. When we can do this, and truly come to terms with the feeling, the thought will no longer need to arise, and the pattern will naturally fade away.

Adapted from Jack Kornfield's “A Path With Heart”

Watch the following two videos:

10 Ways to Journey Mindfully

Tho other day I caught a train in rush hour. Admittedly I hadn’t been on a train for a while but doing what I do I spent the time looking at my fellow travellers curious as to how this seemingly lost time was being used. It interesting how time spent coming and going to work can feel like time being wasted, especially if you are stuck in traffic or being pushed and prodded on a crowded late bus home. Here are 10 ways to turn these moments into mindfulness practice and arrive at home or work less stressed.

  1. Lets start with making physical contact with the world. Having  a sense of physical engagement with your surroundings helps us to bring the mind into focus and root us to our environment. Bring your attention to how your feet make contact with the ground, or the pedals on your bike. Notice your hands on the steering wheel or how the wind feels on your face.
  2. Pay attention to your breathing. This can relieve the stress associated with travelling and deliver a sense of space and wellbeing among the crowds. Focussing the mind on the gentle in breath and outbreath helps calm the body and diffuse anxiety. 
  3. Don’t always fill your commute with technology. It passes the time but only serves to clutter your mind more. Observe the world around you and your place in it. See how the trees that you pass everyday change with the seasons. Notice new buildings or old ones. Are your fellow passengers the same every day or are they different? Can you feel empathy for some of them? Why not help some one by a little kindness by giving up your seat or maybe smiling at a child.
  4. Leave plenty of time to get where you need to go. If you arrive early use that time to clear you mind.
  5. If possible take a different route. Seeing new things can help develop our sense of curiosity and creativity, and help to stay out of autopilot.
  6. Walk if possible. Get off the train or bus a stop earlier. Walking, especially slowly, calms and settles the mind.
  7. Use the movement of the bus or train to engage with your aliveness. Allow your body to surrender to the rock and roll.
  8. Check into your body and see how it is. Are your shoulders rigid? Are you restricting your breath? Is your neck tight? Are your fists clenched? Use your breathe to breath into these parts of the body and relax them on the out-breath. Do this a few times until your body becomes softer.
  9. Play with changing positives to negatives. This isn’t easy but fun once you get the hang of it. Firstly notice when you are feeling negative towards something. Queues are good for this. Use them as an excuse to rest and to look at the world around you. People watching can be a wonderful experience and make you more empathetic to others. 
  10. Work out how much time in your day is taken up with the daily commute and decide to do it differently. By adopting a more peaceful, positive and thoughtful mindset while travelling to and from work you will probably end up getting the best out of your work day and come home being a more present partner friend or parent.

Letting Go

The three questions an awakened person asks at the time of his or her death are very simple:

“Did I love well?”

“Did I live fully?”

“Did I learn to let go?”

They don't usually ask “How much is in my bank account?” or “How many books did I write?” or “What did I build?". Not surprising.

When we consider loving well and living fully, we can see the ways our attachments and fears limited us, and we can see the many opportunities for our hearts to open. 

At the end of our life, we may have what is called a crash course in letting go. Sooner or later we have to learn to let go and allow the changing mystery of life to move through us without our fearing it, without holding and grasping.

Letting go and moving through life from one change to another brings maturity. In the end we discover that 'to love' and 'let go' can be the same thing. Both allow us to touch each moment of life and be there fully for whatever arises next.

There is an old story about a famous rabbi living in Europe who was visited one day by a man who had travelled by ship from New York to see him. The man came to the great rabbi’s dwelling, a large house on a street in a European city, and was directed to the rabbi’s room, which was in the attic. He entered to find the master living in a room with a bed, a chair, and a few books. The man had expected much more. After greetings, he asked, “Rabbi, where are your things?” The rabbi asked in return, “Well, where are yours?” His visitor replied, “But, Rabbi, I’m only passing through,” and the master answered, “So am I, so am I.”

To love fully and live well requires us to recognise finally that we do not possess or own anything - our homes, our cars, our loved ones, not even our own body. Joy and wisdom do not come through possession but rather through our capacity to open and love more fully.

One great teacher explained it this way: The trouble with you is that you think you have time.” We don’t know how much time we have. What would it be like to live with the knowledge that this may be our last year, our last week, our last day? In light of this question, we can choose a path with heart.

Adapted from A Path with Heart by Jack Kornfield

Be Home for the Holidays

Originally written by Line Goguen-Hughes

Holiday activities can add stress in many ways. For example, there are likely to be more things to do, more disruptions of your usual routines of life, more disturbances of rest and sleep, and changes in what you eat and drink. While many of these are enjoyable, they can take a toll on body, mind, and spirit. And don’t forget “time stress”.

What can you do to gain freedom from this seemingly endless round of busyness?

  1. Take time each day to stop and to be present with yourself and life, just as it is. For example, for 5 minutes 4 times a day, stop and practice “being” instead of doing. Bring attention to the sensations of your own breath and body and allow them to flow naturally as you simply pay kind attention to the experience. See the exercise at the end of this article for more instructions. Practice for longer periods than 5 minutes if you wish.
  2. Give yourself time each day for rest and play. You may need to schedule this, just as you would schedule a meeting or a lunch date with a friend. Also, learn to use the time you are waiting for something or someone as “free time.” Practice being mindful and connecting and being present through paying gentle attention during these times.
  3. Give yourself permission to say “no” to invitations, or to leave events early. This will result in more time and flexibility for you. It also leads to a feeling of being back in control of your life.
  4. Look for ways to simplify your life, not only during the holidays but afterwards as well. For example, review your holiday patterns of gift giving, card sending, or party going. Look for ways to simplify without losing the essence or meaning of what you are doing. Apply similar review to other aspects of your life. Be willing to let go of anything that is no longer important or meaningful for you.

Above all, have kindness and compassion (a little “holiday spirit”) for yourself. Especially when you don’t do things “perfectly.” Or you forget to do any of the above or anything else you meant to do. Remember, inner peace exists outside the domain of time. Learn to connect and “be” with what is here. This will lead you to dwell more in your own inner stillness regardless of the outer circumstances. As you do that, you will surely be “home for the holidays."

Mindfully Cruise Through The Holiday Season

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While most of us find the holiday season a relaxing time when friends and family come together, for some people the idea can been less than pleasant. If this sounds like you, here are a few tips to help you through.

  1. Don't feed your boredom with unhealthy non stop treats. Savour every mouthful mindfully.
  2. Dodge the dog fights. Stick to topics everyone can agree on. Cute baby, how's the golf swing, wow its hot!
  3. Practice kindness with estranged family or in-laws. Families can be complicated. How others see things is not necessarily the same way you do. Everyone wants ease.
  4. Don’t feel obliged to eat everything. Take a dainty bite say thank you and move on.
  5. Find some quiet time. Press the pause button and take some time for NO-THING. Disappear for a while - a solo walk, a nap, a meditation.