quiet

Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat.

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Focus on your breath.

It seems so simple.

So why is it so hard?

I learned to breathe back in the late 90’s in Takoma Park.  I was rebuilding my life after a debilitating health crisis and needed tools to help me move forward. After a period of personal and professional dysfunction, my skills were shaky and my confidence was at an all-time low. I was looking for building blocks, bits of accomplishment that could provide a new foundation.

I ended up in Takoma Park on Sunday nights through a friend.  He had been attending a meditation class was sponsored by the Insight Meditation Community of Washington (IMCW).

The class met in a yoga studio.  We brought cushions to sit on while we were guided through a inspiring talk and then a period of sitting.  Maybe it was twenty minutes of sitting.  Maybe it was more.

My friend and I both struggled with the task of emptying our minds. My friend had something called monkey mind, where thoughts bounce around in the head like monkeys swinging from tree branch to tree branch. His head was filled with constant chatter and he couldn’t quiet it down.

I had a different problem.  My mind would focus on a subject, but any subject was filled with doom and negativity.  I was hard wired to think the worst and couldn’t point my mind in a different direction.

We went to those Sunday night classes for some time. And then we added a popular Wednesday night meditation where a few hundred people gathered to hear Tara Brach talk and then guide us through a shared time sitting quietly.

I was relieved, over time, to realize that quieting the mind was a challenge for many people. It gave me hope that many had eventually discovered ways of emptying the mind that had worked for them.  Instead of focusing on my own negative, I decided to do the simplest thing the instructor suggested: I focused on my breath.

Focusing on one’s breath is really simple.

You feel yourself breathe in. You feel yourself breathe out.

Then you feel yourself breathe in and breathe out again.

It’s really easy because the breathing pretty much happens without much effort.

The key is to just keep focusing on your breath.

But it’s a bit tricky since the mind tends to wander.

My mind wandered all over the place. My mind left no topic unpondered.

So I ended up getting strict about focusing on my breath. And eventually, I learned what it feels like to think about nothing. While breathing. And sitting.

Eventually, I also learned how to use my breath outside of the formal medication class. I learned how to use my breath when I needed to refocus or calm down or shift my thinking.

The good news about the breath is that it’s alway there, available for you to use as a tool.

Little by little, I added to my breathing experience. I found soothing music that I could listen to whenever I felt my mind going to dark or disconcerting places.  Sometimes I added a comforting mantra that helped me to distract my focus from a bad place.

And I listened to so many of Tara Brach’s talks, available for free on her website.  Some I listened to over and over, memorizing the words of comfort and reassurance. I ended up being able to hear her voice.  And I ended up believing that I could learn to laugh again after going through such a hard time. I heard Tara Brach laughing genuinely, without taking anything away from the depth of her advice.

And years later I started writing cartoons about sitting quietly. Because no matter how good I got at focusing on my breath, my mind was constantly trying to outsmart me and drift to anything and everything else.  And eventually it was comical.

Seriously, though. Try focusing on your breath. It’s really helpful.

And if you’re into it, listen to Thich Nhat Hanh whose stories of sitting quietly and breathing purposefully are delightful and addictive.

My favorite story of his is about apple juice.

Hope you read about apple juice and enjoy.

“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.”

― Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace

In the meantime, remember to breathe.

xoxo, d

Anything But Quiet

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I don’t think I need to say that it’s been anything but quiet around here.  My little corner of here and the greater world of here have been loud and chaotic, demanding attention.

But you knew that.

And I said it anyway.

Because it helps me to process the noise if I first acknowledge that THERE IS NOISE. (more…)

The Trivial I.

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The Trivial I.

I chatted tonight with a friend from forever ago.

I can talk about our conversation here because he doesn’t read my blog.  He won’t know I spoke about him publicly… for however public this blog is.

But he wouldn’t mind me talking about him anyway. He’s engaged in self-discovery and committed to the value of transparency.  And our conversations count as that for him – since everything counts as that for him.

This friend is a former love interest, a former partner-in-crime.  But it was so many lives ago that it doesn’t even seem like it was us.  I remember those years like it was something that happened to two other people.

I wonder if that’s how others my age view their past lives.

It’s just that life has happened over and over again since that time and now we are completely different people.  We are the same, of course, in essence, in character, in personality, in spirit.

But we are different.

Different people with a shared past that is so remote.

So he told me about his journey in meditation.

I was happy for him. I’ve been meditating much longer and I know how it can change a life for the much better.

He told me about his work on self-discovery.

I was cautiously happy for him. I realize his self-discovery is occurring within his very narrowly established view of the world.  His discovery, like mine, will be limited to what we already believe to be true.

Then he told me about his morning meditation.  An inspired, hopeful, committed and dedicated affirmation about his life.

And I tripped.

It was an incantation where every sentence began with “I” or “my” – I will be this, I will be that….my life is this, my life is that.

And I realized that I’ve lost my connection to the world of self-discovery.

I used to be all about finding my true self, being a better self, and changing my self from what it was to what it can be.

I even used to motivate others to do the same.

But I’ve changed.

I no longer believe as strongly in the focus on self.

And, to be honest, I’m a little worried.

About myself.

Maybe I’m doing it wrong. Or missing out. Or skipping a step.

If this is too vague, I’m sorry. I’m trying not to rant.

But I did some research into the morning meditations and they overwhelmingly seemed very “I” focused….at least to me.

I want a morning meditation that starts with “The world around me” or ‘we’ or ‘us’ or something like that. I don’t want to focus on what I am or what I will be today.  I want to focus on what the world needs today.

I’m not able to give the world too much of what it needs today.

And I certainly won’t be selfless today.

I will be selfish today, dogmatic, stuck in my schedule and married to my routine.

But I’d like to think, at least, that I’m thinking about the world.

Find me a meditation that reminds me I am small and that my thoughts are small.

Find me a meditation that says my gratitude is not the goal…just a tool in my efforts to meet my goals head on.

Find me a meditation that says today is all I have… to do things different and perhaps make a difference, however trivial.

What is your meditation?

And if it’s focused on I, it’s okay.  I won’t yell at you or judge you.

I’ll learn from you.

Because seriously.  It’s me, not you.

Happy-ish Monday-ish.

xoxo, d