A Little Talk About Attitude

This is a little talk about how being mindful of what attitude we bring to our chores, tasks, and projects can help us to see what’s really going on. Are we feeling that our chores are drudgery or obligations that must be done? And when we bring this attitude how do we feel inside? And what is this feeling telling us–does it have something to share with us? Is there something underlying that feeling of drudgery? What if we sit with it, allow it, and let it speak to us? Doing this opens us to release and the possibility of another attitude. The possibility of bringing an attitude of appreciation and gratitude is available.

A Little Talk – Appreciative Joy

This little talk is about Appreciative Joy. You may also hear it called sympathetic joy or in the original Pali language, mudita. Appreciative joy is the delight that springs from an open heart for our own and others’ happiness and good fortune. Joy is such a natural feeling. But, sometimes it is hard to feel. What gets in our way? We’ll explore how the mind states of resentment, jealousy, and envy can flow under the covers creating obstacles to our ability to feel joy. And, we’ll talk about what we can do, in addition to our formal practice, to awaken in us our open heart from which appreciative joy springs. Enjoy.

The Ease of Constancy

Constancy is the outcome of approaching activities wth the quality of faithfulness and dependability; it is also enduring and unchanging. How then do we reconcile the advice to choose constancy in our mindfulness practice when everything is ever changing? When our inner world feels confused or emotional?  When our outer world feels chaotic and unsteady?

It’s a kind of paradox. Constancy is what results when we bring a consistent attitude to our every day situations and activities. When we bring our presence in the same steadfast way to every living moment, whether it is eating a daily meal, dealing with a sudden and unexpected event such as an illness or a natural disaster, facing relationship issues such as indifference and betrayal, or living through political turmoil and policies that create war, refugees, and intolerance, we build constancy.   Think about it this way. Everything is always changing and yet our approach is always dependable. We bring our attention to and acknowledge in an even, non-judging way what is here, right now.  Constancy results not from habitual reaction to what is happening but from the consistently of approach to what is happening in the moment.

A Zen teacher reminds us that constancy requires no particular effort.  It does require training, however. Just as in dance or sports we train the body with exercises and practice to build something we call muscle memory, so too, we train the mind to pay attention and to acknowledge what is here in front of us without judging through our meditation practice. This builds constancy. Being aware of and acknowledging the worry, fear, and anxiety that we feel in our daily lives is our starting place. Our formal practice—taking time, giving space, sitting in stillness—is our practice room. We learn to sense and observe the changing mind within from a place of non-reactivity, openness, and truth. As within, without. As we build our constancy with respect to our inner world, we also build it with respect to our outer world.

Bringing the intention to build constancy in our practice just as a ballerina brings the intention to perform the arabesque in its true form and beauty and the baseball pitcher brings the intention to throw each ball with exquisite form and accuracy is a beautiful place to start. Start here. Same place. Same time. Bring intention. Be still. Be aware. Acknowledge. Observe. No judgement. 

From there our steadfastness, our constancy, provides us the freedom to respond in an appropriate way that feels right to us. 

Start Where You Are: Breath or Feet

This post is part of my Start Where You Are series. In our mindfulness practice we typically bring our awareness to our breath. For many of us this is something that feels natural and we can do easily or with a little practice. But for some of us this is really tough and may stop us in our tracks and keep us from building a regular, every day  practice. 

If you find that it is difficult to bring your awareness to your breath start where you are. Instead bring your awareness to you feet. But first, sit in a chair so that your feet can be flat on the ground or floor. This helps you to really feel your feet. If your feet are in the air, it is much harder to feel them. Trust me, I know. Now, remove your shoes and socks if that feels right. If it doesn’t, keep them on and after some practice try removing them. 

Close your eyes or lower your gaze. Let your face be soft. Sense the space around you. Sense the seat you are sitting on and how it supports you.  Now bring your awareness down into your feet. Let your attention sink down—yes, let it sink—all the way down to the bottoms of your feet and sense what they are touching. If you are wearing socks or shoes sense the quality of your feet touching them. If your bare feet are on the floor or on the ground sense their contact with whatever they are touching. 

Keep your awareness there. You may be surprised to sense some energy flowing up through your feet. This is grounding energy. It flows up the body and is calming. If it feels right follow its flow. Stay with it sensing the energy rising up through your feet and legs. Or, just sense it in your feet. 

Don’t worry if you don’t sense this grounding energy. Just keep your awareness in your feet. Notice the bottoms of your feet. Notice the tops and sides of your feet. Wiggle your toes. Experience what that feels like.  Feel both feet resting on what they are touching. Notice the quality of that. Is it hot or cold?  Rough or smooth? Hard or soft? Stiff or flexible. Bring your awareness inside your feet to bone, ligament, tendon, and muscle. Just notice how it is. It may change. Just keep your attention there and go with the changes. 

Do this for a few minutes and notice how you are. You may sense a change—a kind of calm or flowing energy may settle in. If not, that’s just fine, too.   Notice how it is for you now.  Just notice and bring your awareness back to your feet. This is your practice. Stay with your feet. Five minutes is fine. Two minutes is fine. One minute is fine, too.

At some point, you may feel ready to try bringing your awareness to your breath. If you do, then begin as before by sitting in a chair with your feet flat on the floor or ground. By grounding in this way, it helps you to bring your awareness to the breath. So first, take some time and just sense your grounded feet. Now bring your awareness to your breath just as it is. Don’t do anything! Don’t try to change it. Just notice it like an interested bystander. If it feels ok, stay with the breath—the breath in, the breath out, the slight pause. As you stay with the breath notice how it changes. Nothing is the same, everything changes, even the breath.

If it becomes difficult to follow the breath or you feel you need to change or control it then bring your awareness down into your feet. Really feel your feet just as before. At any point you can ground yourself by bringing your awareness down into the feet. 

If you sense anxiety or panic when you invite your awareness to pay attention to your breath, then please seek the help and support of a health professional. Working with them, you will be able to find ease with awareness of the breath.

Remember you are not alone. We have support. Hello! Here we are. The key is to start where we are.

The Problem with Directness

What we think the problem is, often isn’t.  “Oh gosh,” you say to yourself, your friends, your co-workers, your mentors, your therapist, “I’ve got this problem and it is XYZ.” We assume that by talking about it, analyzing it, stewing about it, or focusing all our energy on it, we can solve it and everything will miraculously start moving forward toward resolution.

Not so fast. The real problem and, therefore, its solution is in many cases, actually in most cases, not something we’d expect it to be. Rather, what’s smacking us in the face are symptoms. These are reactions we’ve created internally to defend,  protect, or shore-up the original situation. They may present themselves as big emotions, pointing fingers, or an emptiness so profound it scares the hell out of us.

OK, we say, “I am courageous. I’m going in. I can deal with this.”  I remember saying this to myself and others. “I’m going in. I’m resolving this issue now.”

I was emphatic. And, this head-on approach didn’t work.

A curious and often frightening thing can happen (as it did to me)  when we sit down in a comfortable and grounded way, go inside, and focus directly on what is bothering us.

We are greeted with feelings of obstinance or anger, or a sense that what we are focusing on has gone into hiding and doesn’t want us around, or we find nothing there at all except blankness.

The more we focus on it, the worse it gets. It is gone. Putting my direct attention on it drove it away and left only terror in its place. Not a good start. Here’s what to do.

This is the moment to back off and ground your energy.  Feel the earth energy in your feet and up through your body. Feel how your body is supported and held. Put lots of space there. Perhaps, even say inwardly, “I’m putting a lot of space here.” Space is always good thing.

Next, diffuse your attention. Instead of focusing it directly on the problem, divert it to the periphery. Instead of laser-sharp focus, diffuse your focus. Think of this as a kind of seeing sideways. Instead of looking straight ahead, focus your attention softly on the perimeter.  This is a kind of night vision. Have you ever noticed how at night, in the dark, when you look straight at something it disappears from view, but when you allow your vision to settle softly on the edges you can see more clearly.

Something magical happens when you do this. Things start coming forward as bodily sensations, textures qualities, images, words, or even sounds and colors. Now is the time to listen attentively and softly, to acknowledge whatever comes in an empathic and non-judging way. “Just inwardly letting what is presenting itself know, “I am hearing you. I am seeing you,” is all that is needed.

As you go with this process, the unraveling begins and ahas happen.  The thing at the center, eventually presents itself.  Then there is the realization that what the real problem is, the original situation, isn’t what we thought it was after all.

This is the time to continue listening, to holding all with empathy, and acknowledging. Little-by little, you will feel the release of energy until suddenly you are aware that what was there is not there any more. In its place is a feeling of forward energy, a bright, flowing, openness.

Try it. And remember, this process is not whizz-bang. It takes time and space and your whole soft attention. And, remember, sometimes, direct focus of our attention is what is needed. What’s needed is attuning to what’s going on inside and proceeding appropriately with care and non-judging attention.

On Being Authentic

Everyone is talking about being authentic, of being our authentic selves, and of leading authentic lives. The talk grabs our attention. It feels right to say, “I want to be authentic.” But, exactly what is authenticity? And, how do we know when we truly are?

When we are authentic, the dictionary says, we are genuine, real, true, and honest. These qualities feel right. Most of us want these attributes for ourselves and others. Once we move from the abstract to our daily lives, however, exactly how these operate in us can be much harder to pin down.

What does it mean to be genuine in our words and actions? How do we know if we are being true? True to what? And, are we really honest? Authenticity is an inside job and there s a lot going on in there.

We ask ourselves what is authentic for us. An answer comes. How do we know the answer is authentic?  One way is to look at inner and outer drivers.

Inner drivers include what feels right or what feels true in the moment absent of any interference from our environment. Inner drivers include understanding our reasons for acting in a certain way, acting from our own bodily wisdom, and living courageously allowing our creativity to flow. When we are authentic we decide for ourselves without intervention from external authorities or events. But, the inside is a complicated place. Much of what is happening interiorly is due to externalities that we have taken onboard. Traumas, hurts, slights, and misconceptions have dug deep into the very sinews of our bodies, minds, and souls.

Outer drivers include cultural norms, and/or peer, social, and religious pressures to appear a certain way. Our actions, behaviors and outward manifestation can be driven from external forces.  When what drives us is something bound up inside of us as a result of  our environment, experiences, or traumas then it is these externalities that are driving us. Even external events experienced by our forebears such as famine, war, prejudice, or enslavement can be passed down epigenetically and drive our living experience.

When we feel pressured to adhere to a certain way of living, dressing, or acting or we ignore our own inner objections (such as ‘this doesn’t feel right’) but we do it anyway because we believe we will fit in better or be able to live more comfortably in our surroundings we are living from outer drivers and not our authentic selves.

Authenticity isn’t about being nice. Authenticity is about being true to our inner knowing about what right for us.

Authenticity isn’t about removing ourselves from our environment or our connections. It is about being creative and courageous to act in a way that is being true to who we are as we also live in our environment and nurture our connections.

Sometimes it is useful to sit with ourselves and ask the question? How does this feel inside? Suppose a friend asks you to do something. You immediately say, “Yes, of course I’ll do it,” because this is your friend asking and you want to please your friend. You don’t want your friends, family, society, or culture labeling you as bad, unkind, or selfish.

But inside something doesn’t feel right about it. This thing that your friend has asked you to do doesn’t align with your inner knowing of who you are, your core values, and what feels right. Realizing this you let your friend know, “This doesn’t feel right for me, so, no, not this time.” This is your authentic self shining through.

So what’s authentic? Acting to please your friend even though the action doesn’t align with your core values is not authentic. Letting your friend know that this action doesn’t feel right for you and so you won’t do it is authentic.

Take note here. It is not about your friend, it is about you. When we are authentic, we are not judging others, we are being true to ourselves.

We want to please our friends, our families, and our colleagues. We are compassionate and want others to rely on us. We want to feel included in our environment, community, and among our networks of friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances. Something in us believes because we have been told this that this is the way to feeling whole, creative,and full of forward moving energy. But it isn’t. This is what ties us up in knots inside, binds our energy, and dampens our creativity. This is not the path to authenticity.

The process of discovering our authentic selves can have big consequences. It can take a long time and much effort.

So, it was with my own journey to authenticity. As a woman I felt a strong need to be able to make it in life with my own smarts and to depend on no one. After getting an MBA I began working in high tech. I got promotions and made a lot of money but was miserable. I was always trying to fit in, to prove myself, and to succeed according to what my environment defined as succeeding. I had the education, capability, and work ethic.  Those were all there. But, something was missing. It had to do with truth, the truth of who I am and the misalignment between my essential true self and the expectations of the environment of my profession. It was all very subtle.

Years went by. Then it happened. On a business trip, my left foot began hurting so badly I could hardly walk. Getting to and from meetings was agonizing. I felt cut off and physically, emotionally, and spiritually drained. Finally the meetings were over and I boarded my cross country flight, slumped into a window seat and fell asleep. On waking, I  looked out the window. There, thirty-three thousand feet below, the sparse and rugged southwestern desert was lit in golden light. In a flash, like a pop,  it was clear.  High tech is not for me. Immediately, I felt energy flowing and the pain subside in my foot. Two days later I quit my job and the unwinding began. My life began opening to me.