honor the Earth today.

It’s Earth Day… (shouldn’t every day be Earth Day?) I’m choosing to re-post this blog from April 2014, because it just doesn’t get better than this.  This is a meditation from my friend and spiritual guide, Katie Harmon-McLaughlin, straight to you!

Happy Earth Day 

“Meeting God is not a momentary ‘spiritual’ affair; rather, God is the ether, the reality, the body, the garden in which we live. God is never absent; God is reality (being). Everything that has being derives it from God (we are born and reborn by God). The entire cosmos is born of God, as is each and every creature. We depend on this source of life and its renewal absolutely. We could not live a moment without the gifts of God’s body- air, food, water, and other creatures. This realization is an overwhelming experience of God’s transcendence; it calls forth awe and immense gratitude. Yet, at the same time, as Augustine puts it, God is closer to us than we are to ourselves. Where can we go where God is not, since God fills heaven and earth?” -Sallie McFague, A New Climate for Theology

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Meditation Challenge

Take a few moments to breathe deeply and know that with each breath you are inhaling and exhaling divine love; the unifying, life-giving spirit in all of creation.

Consider how this matters for you now.

Consider your connectedness with all other life.

Consider all that you have done so far today; all that you have eaten, all that you have touched. Pay attention to the fabric of the clothing you wear and think about where it came from. Pay attention to the place where you sit and the materials that surround you. All of these came from the earth.

The gifts of God’s body, the earth, are sustaining your daily existence. Pause in gratitude. 

Some of the things you touch and wear and use today have caused earth destruction. Pray for forgiveness for the ways we sometimes live unaware as though we are disconnected. Pray for greater awareness and compassion in the days ahead.

Become aware of the surrounding air that embraces every part of you, touching your fingertips, resting on your shoulders and head. Know that embracing-stillness as God, holding you in each moment. Know that there is not a place you can go in this world where you will not be in this loving embrace.

There is no distance between you and God.
There is no distance between you and love.
There is no distance between you and the rest of creation because you are part of sacred creation and are daily sustained by this planet.

How will you live this holy connection today?

for more from Katie, visit the Community of Christ Spiritual Formation Center Facebook page and GO OUTSIDE TODAY!  You may not live near and epic beach, but there is something really beautiful to cherish outside your front door!

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building a friendship with yourself. #MeditationThoughtMondays

friends with yourself

I used to say that I was one of the funniest people I know. At least top five. But then I started reading books written by my favorite comedians (who are, undoubtedly my near and dear friends, since we’ve spent hours of our lives together through the miracle of television.)  So, yeah, my name moved down a few places on my list of funniest people, but I’m ok with that. I still think that I’m highly entertaining and I would love to be friends with me.  I have quite a few great qualities that make me a great friend. (I about peed my pants laughing through Mindy Kaling’s list ‘Why it’s so awesome to be my friend’ in her book Why Not Me?  I think you should make your own list called ‘Why I’m the most awesome’ that details your most endearing qualities and e-mail it to me!)

I didn’t always feel this way. Because, well, I’m not perfect. And back when I was a perfectionist, being not-perfect was unacceptable.  (I consider myself a “recovering perfectionist” and “reformed control-freak.” I don’t have time for that nonsense anymore!)  Most of you can relate: when you take honest inventory of the sum of your being, it seems like your flaws add up more quickly than your charming qualities. While it’s easy to feel this way, I would suggest that your friends and your loved ones disagree with the outcome of your equation. Sure, it’s true: no one is perfect. And it’s also true that anger, jealousy, bitterness, and insecurity are ubiquitous human emotional responses. In yoga, we believe we are all working toward equilibrium between the dark and the light (remember this post about those crazy neon shorts?) to become whole and authentic. So we can still be friends with ourselves, even if we are only nearly-perfect.

Building a friendship means investing time into a relationship. In his in-depth study of the hilarity of modern dating, Modern Romance, comedian and author Aziz Ansari concluded that surface level, three-new-ladies-a-night-found-on-Tindr dates were not as fulfilling as investing time and effort into getting to know one person at at time.  Ansari (the real life actor of smarmy and charming Tom Haverford from Parks and Rec) studied how romantic relationships are built in small towns where the pickin’s are slim (surprise, surprise, he chose a town in Kansas) and found that when choices are limited, people found success and fulfillment in the dating scene by spending quality time with one person and getting to know them before making a split-second ‘Hot or Not’ decision.

Well, pickin’s are slim, dear reader: there is only ONE youAnd YOU need to invest in yourself, get to know yourself, and make friends with yourself—the imperfect parts AND the perfect parts—to truly feel whole, authentic, and confident. 

Chögyam Trungpa (I introduced him in the post about compassion as a bridge) calls it: “Making friends with yourself through Meditation and Everyday Awareness.”

Trungpa writes: “Meditation is contacting our actual situation, the raw and the rugged state of our mind and being.  No matter what is there, we should look at it.  It is building a long-term friendship with [yourself.]” 

When a friendship is deep and authentic, you ultimately discover things that you don’t especially love about each other.  And when you encounter a part of the friendship that is uncomfortable, you move beyond this discomfort with grace because keeping the friendship alive is worth it. I’ve been roommates with my two closest girlfriends and I assure you that we know each other’s ‘dark sides’ and love each other anyway.

In meditation, when you sit down to make friends with yourself and truly get to know yourself, you will undoubtedly encounter what you deem to be negative aspects about yourself. But, in meditation, you won’t have to hide them from anyone. You are afforded the luxury of being real, authentic, and unencumbered by judgement. You just get to be your own friend– No matter what!

As Trungpa writes, in meditation, “you cultivate the positive side [of your friendship].  That is a very good way to start making friends with yourself.”  When you are friends with yourself, your inherent worth becomes obvious, delightful, and alluring.  Basically, your list of awesomeness will write itself.

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on my list of awesomeness? I make KILLER Halloween cosutmes!

Take a chance—without apps or websites that tell you if you’re Hot or Not—and just sit with yourself.  Sit for 10 minutes and just enjoy the alluring fact of being awesome—and being a good friend to yourself.

Here are some of my favorite, basic meditation techniques to get you started:

Sitting

Counting Backwards 

Learn to Meditate: Your way.

If you do write your “awesome reasons why you should be friends with me” list… send it along– I will probably agree with all of them!

Happy Making Friends,

-lisa

the bridge I’m not ready to cross. #MeditationThoughtMondays

compassion the link

The ground is beginning to thaw out.  On my neighborhood walks I discover purple crocus sneaking through piles of dead leaves and green shoots of daffodils braving the awakened spring. Nothing delights me more. I turn into a helpless Instagram fanatic, stomach prone to dirty sidewalk, grinning as I capture the perfect angle. It’s not original: everyone takes pictures of spring flowers; but it sure warms my heart.

flowers ins

I’m also working on warming my heart toward a few key people that I have a grudge against. That’s right, I have been holding a grudge against a certain person for five months. I mean, literally, all winter long, my heart was frozen with bitterness. Like any good self-respecting yogi, I’d meditate on my anger and hold my anger tenderly like a sleeping baby, and totally heal this anger… until I saw this person again. I mean, how long does it take to ‘get over’ one minor indiscretion?  This person wasn’t even a close friend!  The primary concern was that I felt wronged by him.  His actions left me feeling disrespected and unworthy. They shook my fundamental belief in myself, my trust in my judgment, and my confidence in being an excellent teacher. And, let’s be honest… this kid probably didn’t mean to trigger my deepest insecurities!  But all winter long on, little icy pellets of anger lodged, frozen in my heart.

I’d gotten adept at using my sitting meditation practice to attend to my anger, to cool it with time and with breath, and was working on adding forgiveness into the mix.  I always, always felt better after this meditation: lighter, sunnier, more joyful, ready to love myself.  But I still wasn’t ready to love this person.  Not even in the slightest: he could sit in a frozen cave in the Himalayans wearing only a t-shirt for the rest of his life, for all I cared. (For those of you who don’t know how much I loathe the cold, this is like my ultimate nightmare. That, and being late to a friend’s wedding. I truly hate being late.)

Anyway, one morning I was reading Mindfulness in Action by Chögyam Trungpa, and I realized that, despite my Herculean meditation efforts, I was missing the point. He writes: “Compassion is the link between meditation and everyday life.”      

compassion the link

Here I was, stuck on one side of an icy, crashing current and on the opposite bank the sun was shining and the soil was thawing in its warmth.  And compassion?  The bridge I wasn’t ready to cross.

In his newest book (compiled posthumously by Carolyn Rose Gimian) meditation master Chögyam Trungpa explains that the real meaning of compassion is fundamental warmth.  He writes:

“We have a tendency, which almost feels automatic, to freeze up, to keep things frozen within ourselves.  [However] when we begin to experience fundamental warmth in our practice of meditation, that generous attitude and experience invites us to relate more openly with people.  We begin to thaw out.”

So, I had this sitting practice during which I experienced relief, ease of spirit, spontaneous joy, total and complete contentment… like being holed up in a tiny mountain cabin next to a fire (yes, please!).  And then I’d go back into the real world and still felt like my heart was frozen a little bit, because I’d not been thoroughly warmed by compassion. Compassion, it turns out, is the bridge between meditation and meditation in action.

One way I found to cultivate compassion is to adapt the popular Lovingkindness Meditation (also known as Metta Meditation) to help me cross the bridge.

This technique uses a simple formulaic verse:

“May _________ be happy.

May __________ be healthy and strong.

May __________ be safe and protected.

May __________be free of pain and suffering.

May __________be able to live in this world with serenity and ease.”

First, you extend the above prayer to yourself, because compassion and warmth must first germinate in your own heart, before they can be genuinely extended to others.

Then, you extend this same prayer to someone you love.  (Easy. I love a lot of people.)

Then, you extend this same prayer to a casual friend, someone who is an acquaintance. (Easy, I assume the best of strangers and definitely extend love to them.)

Then, you extend the same prayer to someone about whom you feel neutral. (Easy, again, I live in a city and I see many new faces every day.)

Then, here’s the kicker: you extend the same prayer to someone who has hurt you. (UGH!  Ice pick to the heart!)

Then, you hold the image of these five people in your mind’s eye and envelop all of them in the sunshine and warmth of compassion.  You close the prayer by extending loving-kindness to all sentient beings.

Here’s your Meditation Challenge:

Practice Loving-kindess Meditation daily for 14 days.  Be cognizant of your daily experience of compassion and warmth. Notice how your heart begins to thaw out after a few days.

Begin with 5 minutes of deep, calm breathing.  Then, say aloud the following prayer:

“May _________ be happy.

May __________ be healthy and strong.

May __________ be safe and protected.

May __________be free of pain and suffering.

May __________be able to live in this world with serenity and ease.”

Each time you repeat the prayer, fill in the blank:

  1. Yourself
  2. Someone whom you are very fond of (family member or intimate partner)
  3. Casual friend or acquaintance
  4. A person about whom you feel neutral
  5. Someone who has hurt you

Lastly, envelop all five people in the warmth of compassion.  Extend love to embrace all sentient beings by saying aloud: “May all sentient beings be happy and free from suffering.”

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Use compassion to cross the bridge… sunshine awaits.

what you keep forgetting. #MeditationThoughtMondays

bells of mindfulness

I’m great at forgetting things.  One time I left the mop by the front door to remind myself I needed to clean my entryway and it was still there two weeks later.  (I put the mop away. Without cleaning.)

With forgetting comes the nearly oracle act of remembering the most mundane, ordinary tasks at the most inappropriate times. Like when I’m with a private client talking about their chronic back pain and I suddenly remember I didn’t put the sheets in the dryer. Or when I’m in savasana at the end of yoga class and realize I forgot to pay my rent and return a phone call from last Tuesday. Not game changers, but definitely not ideal to forget.

My mind is such an dexterous venue; I’m grateful that it can multi-task and hold incongruent thoughts simultaneously, but sometimes, man, I wish it could focus on one thing. I’m always looking for more ways to be mindful, to train my mind to be actually present in the moment, as opposed to hurdling wildly from one thought to the next. ‘Mindfulness’ is surprisingly trendy right now…at least that’s what trendy people tell me. The act of being mindful is hard remember, because… I just forget.

Even if I wake up with the intention of being mindful and present all day long (even while driving!), I’ve forgotten by 9:30 am when I sit down at my computer, with my breakfast and my iPhone and start multi-tasking.

One mindfulness training exercise that I’ve used for years and I absolutely love is called ‘Bells of Mindfulness.’  It involves choosing a sound— like a chime on a timer— to bring your attention back into the present moment. 

In his gem of a book, Peace is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh tells a story about his ‘Bells of Mindfulness.’  He says that he and his fellow monks living in the monastery at Plum Village always stop what they are doing when they hear the monastery bells ringing. Upon hearing the sound of the bell, he pauses, takes a deep breath and thinks:

‘The sound of the bell brings me back to my true self.’   

this is me, not being mindful, just doing an annoying 'tourist' yoga-gram in front of a church in Europe.

this is me, not being mindful, just doing an annoying ‘tourist yoga-gram’ in front of a church in Europe.

This probably works well if you live in a place like Europe where cathedral bells toll on the hour, but I don’t hear church bells every day. Thich Nhat Hanh suggests choosing a different sound, such as the dinging in your car when you forget to buckle your seat belt, as a ‘bell of mindfulness.’ I suggest using your smart phone or your genius watch or whatever the heck tells you ‘you have too much to do!’ all day long.  Remember how I have my phone remind me to de-stress every few hours?

 

Here’s a quick, 5- minute mindfulness practice that will help you train your mind.  (You’ll want to download the free app “Insight Timer.”) 

  1. Find a comfortable place to sit.
  2. Set a timer for 5 minutes, with a 1 minute interval chime.  
  3. Breathe naturally, enjoying the natural rhythm of your breath. Focus on the place where the breath enters your body, and just enjoy sitting.
  4. Start your timer.
  5. Every time you hear the interval chime, repeat silently: “The sound of the bell brings me back to my true self.”
  6. After five minutes, notice how calm you feel. Smile, extend gratitude for the time you spent ‘not forgetting’ your true self, and move on with your day.

I suggest practicing this Meditation Moment in the middle of your work day and also before your formal meditation practice in the evening.

Let me know what you forget.

-lisa

bells of mindfulness