Mindfulness Northwest Newsletter Articles

Here are the article from our monthly Mindfulness Northwest Practice Letter plus some additional notes from Executive Director Tim Burnett.
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  • 7 Oct 2020 8:07 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Tim Burnett



    Dear Friends,

    Lately I've been thinking about how I can support myself better in living more deeply in the way I intend:  to be more grounded and deliberate in my choices at home, especially. And since I'm home so much more, this matters. Work, play, rest, all is happening almost totally at home now. How can I meet my days more fully?

    Are you also finding it hard not to drift at home? Using technology, which most of us are also using a lot, ‘more’ seems to be particularly slippery in terms of making choices about how I want to use my time. It’s so easy to unintentionally misuse my time.  For example, I may be heading for a bit of research online or for a moment of writing and end up spending 45 minutes on email or reading the news for the fifth time that day.  And once I notice what’s going on, it usually doesn't feel good.

    I also notice when I'm unfocussed and drifty like this that I'm also more vulnerable to low moods. It's easier to dip into depression or spin into anxiety.

    It's surprising how easily we can drift and flit about so, isn't it? Mindfulness is all about being intentional and grounded, and I do mindfulness practices every day, and have for 30 years!

    So what's going on? Are some distractions just too sticky? Are tough moods just inevitable? Or are there other practices and supports I can add to my home life to help me with this?

    A good friend of mine, a fellow teacher of MBSR, identifies herself as a contemplative. On her Facebook page, email signature, and I assume when she's thinking about who she is, there's a short list of roles and one of them is that she is a "contemplative."

    This got me thinking. Am I a contemplative? I do a lot of contemplative practices, that's for sure. I'm also ordained into a religion that prizes sitting meditation. I've spend time in monasteries -  the traditional home for contemplatives, too. So yes I guess I pass the "duck test" pretty well there.

    And then I thought, well, do I actually live like a contemplative? And I answered well: sometimes. Kinda sorta.

    What is a contemplative? Literally it'd be "one who contemplates" right? The Oxford English Dictionary’s  first meaning is "expressing or involving prolonged thought" - a thoughtful person. Their second meaning is "involving or given to deep silent prayer or religious meditation." So a contemplative is one who practices, and there's a connection to religious practice.

    And then we're in tricky cultural waters. The practices of mindfulness are deliberately presented as non-religious. This in the interest of them being accessible to more people and available in settings like workplaces and universities that are supposed to be unconnected to religion. I think this has been skillful and wise.

    But there's a big "and yet" to it, too.

    If the very idea of living as a contemplative has religious roots, does that mean we just can't access a whole set of tools and practices outside of a religious context? That's all off limits unless you're "doing religion"? That seems like a great shame. Maybe there are ways to fold these practices into a modern life.

    So I thought about the Zen Buddhist training as that's been a big part of my life. And I encourage you to think about your trainings and connections and upbringing. What's in there you can tap? You can renew? You can reinvent? What has feeling in your heart and in your body?

    For me the container of Zen practice is very grounding. Mindful. Stable. For those hours or that week at the Zen temple I really am living as a contemplative. A contemplative within a kind of sacred space. A place where things feel orderly, calm, deliberate - and I do, too.

    I thought about why that might be. Part of it is being with others who are practicing, for sure. But there is also a whole way of being, of moving and holding my body, of acting, that I do within that context that's important. That matters to me.

    I realize that I can practice this whole way of being at home, too. Although it surprises me that I haven't lived as a contemplative that much at home, it's never too late to try a new approach.

    So I've been adding more of the practices I do at Zen centers and monasteries to my home life.  Two stand out: making offerings at altars and reciting short mindfulness phrases called gatha (pronounced gah-tuh). 

    I'm not sure the details of my religion-inspired contemplative home practice matters too much. The point is for each of us to consider what is meaningful and supportive. I encourage you to consider if there is something deep within you to draw on. To bring forth. We are likely to be living under Covid for quite a while longer and as the seasons turn toward Winter such consideration might actually be pretty urgent and important.

    But to clarify the example I'll share a bit about my renewed home contemplative practices.

    I've set up an altar with a little Buddha statue in my front hall where I see it as soon as I come in the front door and often as I move around my place. And now I do little rituals there several times a day. I light the candle, offer a little bit of incense, bow - all actions I've done a million times at Zen places so there's a real feeling in them for me. And then I recite a little verse depending on what's next. 

    It's a way to pause. A way to set intentions. A way to remember how I want to live. A way to renew again and again the life of a contemplative. And a way to touch into beauty. I've been surprised by how moved I am to see my little candle burning by a few flowers from the yard and my little wooden statue of Buddha.

    A few examples:

    After getting up in the morning I pass this little altar on the way to the kitchen to make coffee. It's been nice to pause there, light the altar in the newly dark, pre-dawn morning and say:

    Awakening in the morning 
    I arise with gift-bestowing hands 
    Ready to give my heart to myself, 
    and to anyone I can be helpful to. 

    So many of us work at home now. Here's a verse I'm trying on for after breakfast when I'm ready to sit down to work:

    Sitting down to work
    I vow with all beings
    To apply energy, intelligence, and kindness to my tasks, co-workers, and students
    May all of us benefit from today's work.

    Going out to run errands is a big shift in focus to bring some deliberate energy to, I realized. Here's my draft of a verse to say before leaving for the store:

    Re-entering the marketplace
    I vow with all beings
    To buy and sell with love
    Holding bodhicitta as my only true possession

    ("bodhicitta" is a Buddhist term for the thought or intention of awakening)

    I haven't decided whether to do another verse when I get home from errands. I know from past experience that if I get too ambitious with this it'll soon come tumbling down like a house of cards and I won't do it anymore. What's the balance? A little is a lot.

    Sitting down to eat is a situation many of us say a blessing, or offer a verse, for. This fits into the idea of mindful eating very well. I have two choices. One is from a traditional Zen chant, the other a modern piece by my Buddhist teacher.

    Traditional:

    Innumerable labors brought us this food
    We should know how it comes to us
    Receiving this offering we should consider
    Whether our virtue and practice deserve it
    Desiring the natural order of mind
    We should be free of greed, hate, and delusion
    We eat to support life and practice the way of Buddha.

    Norman Fischer:

    As we make ready to eat this food
    we remember with gratitude
    the many people, tools, animals and plants,
    air and water, sky and earth,
    turned in the wheel of living and dying,
    whose joyful exertion
    provide our sustenance this day.

    May we with the blessing of this food
    join our hearts
    to the one heart of the world
    in awareness and love,
    and may we together with everyone
    realize the path of awakening,
    and never stop making effort
    for the benefit of others.

    Finally, I do one last offering at my altar right before heading to the bedroom with a stop at my meditation cushion. I sit without a timer or plan in the evening. Ten or 15 minutes. I offer loving-kindness to myself and a few others who come to mind. I breathe. I just be. And then after this evening sit, as my last out loud words of the day, I recite this poem from the 16th century Japanese haiku poet Kobayashi Issa:

    This dewdrop world
    is a dewdrop world.
    And yet.
    And yet.

    These are just examples from my experiments so far. I'm curious to see if I sustain these practices. So far it all feels very supportive. Slows me down a little and supports a more deliberate approach to my days. And that helps me a lot with a more stable and joyful mood.

    If my examples stir something in you I hope you'll consider what in your background you can draw on. What can you do every day to help you stay grounded and in touch with your intentions? Perhaps some elements from a childhood religion? Perhaps something from trainings or wilderness trips or spiritual experiences you've had? Are there poems you appreciate? Perhaps reciting a poem out loud at a few of these inflection points during the day would be helpful. Or setting up a nice corner in your room for meditation or other practices will make it easier to remember your practice intentions?

    What might help you to live more fully as the contemplative I believe we all have the very deep potential to make real in our lives?

    Yours,

    Tim

    P.S. If you'd like to reply to this email with examples of what you do, or what you discover, I'd be delighted to know. I only have my own unique background to draw on and you have a different background. What practices, rituals, remembrances, and ideas help you live the life you most deeply intend to live?

  • 22 Sep 2020 2:24 PM | Tim Burnett (Administrator)

    Tim Burnett's five talks as part of our Roots of Compassion series are available under the  Roots of Mindfulness page in the Learn section of the website.

    This year Tim investigates 8th century Buddhist teachings on the practice of patience. The participants were particularly moved by Tim's 5th and final talk. Videos of the talks and Tim's notes and references are available.

  • 17 Sep 2020 2:57 PM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)


    by Michael Kelberer

    With my serenity, sense of well-being, and actual well-being assaulted on many fronts lately, I’ve been feeling desperate to make things better.  At the same time, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by the size and number of crises in our world right now. Maybe you can relate?

    Where to start?

    I remembered a long-time piece of wisdom about not being able to help others if you’re not in good shape yourself. I call it the Delta rule: When the cabin suddenly loses pressure, put your own mask on first before helping the person next to you.

    For me, what provides the helping-others oxygen are loving-kindness and compassion meditations. They are the main focus of my practice now.

    With my serenity, sense of well-being, and actual well-being assaulted on many fronts lately, I’ve been feeling desperate to make things better.  At the same time, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by the size and number of crises in our world right now. Maybe you can relate?

    Where to start?

    I remembered a long-time piece of wisdom about not being able to help others if you’re not in good shape yourself. I call it the Delta rule: When the cabin suddenly loses pressure, put your own mask on first before helping the person next to you.

    For me, what provides the helping-others oxygen are loving-kindness and compassion meditations. They are the main focus of my practice now.


    Loving-Kindness

    When I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed, I start with Loving-Kindness. I find this practice not too emotionally demanding, and therefore easy to do when emotional times are tough. And it does reliably lessen the fears that are constraining my heart and depleting my oxygen. 

    In it, we focus our awareness on a person, and repeat phrases of well-wishing, such as:

    May (I/he/she/they) be happy.

    May ____ be safe and secure.

    May ____ be healthy and well.

    May ____ live with peace and ease.

    [There’s a more in depth description, and guided meditations, on our website at https://mindfulnessnorthwest.com/loving-kindness.]


    There are several variations on this practice, and here are a couple:

    MBSR Standard: In this one, we start with offering loving-kindness to ourselves, then to a loved one, then to an acquaintance, then (if it feels right) to someone we have difficulty with. Sometimes this practice ends with expanding our well-wishes to the larger world. (See the first two practices on the Loving-Kindness page) 

    Loving-Kindness for you and a loved one: We begin by focusing on a loved one, then send well wishes to both of us together, and then focus on ourselves. Or vice-versa. (This is the third practice on the page.)

    Loving- Kindness with your own phrases: Same as the above but personalizing your wishes using your own phrases instead of the standard ones. A description of this plus a video of Tim Burnett leading a guided contemplation for finding your own phrases – it’s very helpful and poignant – can be found here: https://mindfulnessnorthwest.com/LKM-phrases

    Compassion

    The root of the word compassion is to suffer together. It means feeling another’s pain and having a genuine desire to help alleviate that pain. Cultivating compassion is said by the Dalai Lama (and the Buddha and many others) to be the necessary basis for reducing the suffering of the world. My strategy is: when my Loving-Kindness practice has opened and stabilized my heart, I move into these practices.

    Here are the ones I use. You can find them on the MSC section of the Practices tab on our website: https://mindfulnessnorthwest.com/msc-practices

    Giving and receiving compassion: This practice helps cultivate the belief that (a) I can receive what I need to relieve my own pain and suffering from the world, and (b) I can, in turn, provide that relief to others. There are two guided versions of this practice (by Tim Burnett and Chris Germer) on our site.

    The self-compassion break: This is a short (and very portable) practice created by Kristen Neff to provide us with a tool to give ourselves compassion at the exact moment we are suffering. Look for the guided practice by Kristen Neff on that same page, and don’t miss the video of Kristy Arbon actually demonstrating the practice – very moving!

    Compassionate_____: You can also bring the mindset of compassion into any mindfulness practice. You’ll find several guided meditations using this approach on our MSC page as well.

    A considerable amount of research has shown that meditation in the loving-kindness tradition yields benefits quite quickly compared to other forms of mindfulness meditation. Helping others from a place of true compassion seems to be self-sustaining – compassion comes with its own energy store for action.

    So where to start? For me, it’s to open my heart with loving-kindness and cultivating compassion so that when I do take action, it will be out of empathy and love.

  • 6 Aug 2020 5:44 PM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    Sabbatical 

    by Tim Burnett

    Dear Friends,

    I just returned from my July sabbatical. For several years I've been taking July totally off from work and from my own habits around work. This leads me to a month of no projects, no meetings, no teaching, minimal email (hard to get to zero on that!), and this year especially: a month of no Zoom!

    I spent quiet time at home, made progress on an important personal project, had some downright lazy time, went on three outdoor adventures (two of them solo), and made time to connect with a few dear friends.

    It wasn't all peaceful and glorious inside my mind. There were moments of angst and confusion and loneliness. But there were more moments of peacefulness, insight, and joy. And now, I think most importantly is my overall feeling of settling, of unclenching, of relaxing more fully into accepting things as they are, and a renewal of creative energy and motivation to do what I can to be of service while also having the life I most deeply want to live.

    I've always appreciated that a root idea inside the word "mindfulness" is "remembering."  This year's sabbatical felt like a month of remembering who I am and feeling into who I might be, going forward.

    I'm so grateful to the many colleagues whose support (and restraint during July!) made this possible. And I'm grateful that I've learned to give myself permission to honor my intention.

    I've learned that the real obstacle to taking this kind of time away from work is me, myself. In previous years I've found myself scheduling a retreat or a staff meeting or an event in July because we were having trouble scheduling it in June or August. "No big deal," I'd tell myself, "I still have plenty of time-off in there." But what message was I sending myself?

    Sometimes the word "sabbatical" feels a little pretentious when I tell friends I'll be off for a month. But looking again at its roots it's bang on. Sabbatical is used most often now at universities where it refers to a free year for research, travel, writing and open ended work by scholars, but it goes more deeply to the sabbath - this idea described in the early Bible of a day of rest. Or a year of rest. A year for the fields to be fallow so that the land can bear again and the farmer can renew herself for the hard work of being in this world.

    I am well aware that a month off isn't possible for most working people. I'm lucky and I'm exercising privilege in being able to do this. But don't we all need some version of this? Whether it's a year, a month, or a weekend that's really a weekend? Or building moments of sabbatical even into a busy day - taking a walk during the work day without devices perhaps? Formal mindfulness practice can be a kind of mini-sabbatical too - but it can also become one more item on the to-do list!

    Don't we all need to let our internal lands go fallow regularly? Nothing good will come of being always 'on,' always responding and reacting, always connected, always doing something for someone else. And how easy it is for the gas pedal to end up stuck to the floor!

    I hope you too will ask for the support you need from family, friends, and colleagues for some real and regular sabbatical time. And I'd also invite you to check out your own internal dialog around the idea of taking more time truly off. Is there a voice in you that keeps arguing: "That's impossible! There's too much to do! People are depending on me!"

    That may all be true in its way. But isn't it also true that without deeply caring for yourself and honoring the internal seasons of your psychology and physiology you simply won't be able to go the distance? Not to mention that you won't enjoy this one precious life? Hard work is not bad, it can be a great joy, but nothing but hard work, no matter how noble, just becomes suffering and all that goes with it.

    I hope you enjoy your next sabbatical,

    Tim




    Tim Burnett is Executive Director of Mindfulness Northwest


     


  • 7 Jul 2020 10:03 AM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    (Don't) Keep Calm and Carry On

    by Tim Burnett

    Dear Friends,

    Recently the famous, and much spoofed, WWII slogan from an England under the Blitz has been on my mind as a mindfulness practitioner:

    Keep Calm and Carry On.

    As the pandemic resurges in our country, as we collectively try to take another step forward (we hope) towards our American ideals of equality and justice, and as the world and our country particularly seem to be in such turmoil, there is a truth to this hackneyed slogan we can practice and live. Keep calm and carry on.

    In an often overheated and short attention span world can we be a counter weight? Can we be the calm ones? Can we offer perspective? Can we offer balance? Can we feel and demonstrate how helpful it is to be grounded, embodied, and reflective? When the waves of stress wash over us, our family, our work teams, our communities, can we demonstrate the wisdom of a mindful response over habitual reactivity?

    We all know our practices help with this. Mindfulness helps. Compassion helps.

    And I think we also all know that's not enough.

    We didn't put the Practice Letter out last month partly because I was unable to finish my essay. Here's the opening paragraph of my unfinished piece:

    As the founder of an organization devoted to raising awareness, compassion and kindness, and breathing, I was deeply shocked that among George Floyd's last words were, "I can't breathe." And George Floyd's words are now echoing across our nation. They echo the suffering and loss of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and so many others before them. They echo in every way that words can echo. They echo with anger, they echo with fear, they echo with injustice, they echo with rage, and they even echo with hope, if that hope is but the quietest of echoes right now.

    And so, I'm reminded that there are also areas where we should absolutely not just "keep calm." The grounding of mindfulness and the breadth of compassion are also a powerful platform for wise action; for seeking an appropriate response to the layers of madness in our world.

    I find myself back to the helpful and challenging tension of holding what appear to be opposites.  We need calm. And we need rage. The world is wonderful and things are very much not okay.

    Can we both keep calm and carry on and seek ways to contribute to this world so full of promise, here in our country so full of wonderful ideals and difficult realities.

    Mindfulness Northwest joins with you in remembering that black lives matter. We join you in remembering that respect for each other and for our planet matters. We join you in remembering that all beings want to be happy and don't want to suffer. All beings. Without exception.

    Together we really can be a force for good. I get overwhelmed sometimes - I bet you do too - but I still hold that simple and powerful belief. Let's educate and empower ourselves and others more deeply. Let's both "keep calm and carry on," and roll up our sleeves and get to work.

    Wishing you well,

    Tim

    P.S. I've found these Anti-Racist Resources from the Greater Good Science Center helpful. Hope you do, too.


  • 6 May 2020 8:38 AM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    The Thread You Follow

    by Tim Burnett

    Dear Friends,
     

    There's a poem by William Stafford called "The Way It Is" that we share in class sometimes:
     
    There's a thread you follow. It goes among
    things that change. But it doesn't change.
    People wonder about what you are pursuing.
    You have to explain about the thread.
    But it is hard for others to see.
    While you hold it you can't get lost.
    Tragedies happen; people get hurt
    or die; and you suffer and get old.
    Nothing you do can stop time's unfolding.
    You don't ever let go of the thread.
     
    I think that part of our essential work during this time of the pandemic may be to take a fresh look at what that thread is for each of us. How does it feel? How did you find it? What's it like when you do let go of the thread? How does it feel when you find it, and take hold once again?

    This morning I'm thinking about what the thread is. For me, I would describe one important thread as the imaginative dimension of human life we call religious or spiritual.  Others might see it as X or Y or Z. And that’s the beauty of poetry: an invitation into a world and perspective that each of us interprets and can make our own.

    I stumbled into Buddhism – one of my threads – as a young man, not knowing why I was drawn to the austere quiet spaces where Zen meditation is practiced; not knowing why something seemed important in the writings of Zen teachers which I couldn't really understand. I carried the book Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind around in my backpack as I practiced my other important spiritual practice at the time: hiking in the mountains. Every time I read one of the short chapters in that book while sitting on a rock under the trees, I was both baffled and inspired. I couldn't really follow what the author, Shunryu Suzuki, was saying and yet I ended each reading feeling inspired and expansive.
     
    Now I realize that Zen Buddhism and exploring in the wilderness were my way of finding the thread.

    What is the thread for you? Can you put your finger on it? How does it feel? How did you find it? What's it like when you do let go of the thread? How does it feel when you find it, and take hold once again?

    There are so many possibilities. We humans with our hearts and minds are so rich, so complex. What is the thread? Time with good friends? Great literature or shows? Cooking? Playing or listening to music?  Time in nature? Refocusing your love for your family?
    One of the things I appreciate about Stafford's poem is he reminds us that it's not enough that these things exist - as possibilities - it's on us to find that thread and hold on through thick and thin. "Nothing you can do can stop time's unfolding / You don't ever let go of the thread."

    If it's helpful to you to explore this idea more fully, I’m hosting a new by-donation hour of mindfulness every Wednesday at 12 noon, Pacific Time, through June called Midday Mindfulness. I'll enjoy seeing you there if you can come. I've also been offering retreats in format of our universal, non-religious mindfulness offerings, that include teachings on what I consider the Buddhist roots of our mindfulness and compassion trainings. More threads! You can see and listen to the growing catalog of lectures here

     
    Here's another short poem from William Stafford which I hope you'll appreciate.
     
    William Stafford - Yes
     
    It could happen any time, tornado,
    earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen.
    Or sunshine, love, salvation.
     
    It could you know. That's why we wake
    and look out--no guarantees
    in this life.
     
    But some bonuses, like morning,
    like right now, like noon,
    like evening.
     
    Wishing you well,
    Tim


  • 3 May 2020 7:57 AM | Tim Burnett (Administrator)

    We're delighted to announce talks on the Buddhist Roots of compassion and mindfulness given at our 2019 Roots Retreats by Executive Director Tim Burnett and visiting teacher Robin Boudette are now online! Enjoy video, audio, and notes from these in-depth explorations of the the Buddhist roots of our modern mindfulness and compassion training practices.

    2019 - Roots of Compassion: Mind Training with Slogans 

    2019 - Roots of Mindfulness: The Seven Factors of Awakening

    The full catalog of talks going back to 2015 is available here: Roots of Mindfulness

  • 2 Apr 2020 8:47 AM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    Let's Practice

    by Tim Burnett

    Dearest Friends,

    This is a frightening and overwhelming time. Some of us are working overtime on the front lines, some of us are sidelined. Most of us are just trying to get through the changes that each day brings.

    There are moments when everything is fine. Good, even. Spring is arriving. The streets are so quiet, it's amazing! There's a peacefulness. And it's very odd and creepy at the same time.

    How do we hold it all? How do we approach it?

    Let's practice.

    There is plenty of evidence that a regular mindfulness practice helps us be more resilient during difficult times. That includes meeting fear with more stability and patience, and being more available and open to joy and connection when they arrive.

    We're offering a wealth of free resources on our Practices Home page. You might try one of these each day. I'm especially finding breath counting helpful lately in my own practice.

    Depending on your situation, committing to a regular time to do a practice might be helpful. Maybe it's more a matter of fitting it in wherever it works. But let's all try to nourish ourselves in this way every day (and be forgiving when we miss a day or two).

    And as you know, signing up for a class provides a lot of support, too. We are offering a bunch of them as are other groups. A strange benefit from this catastrophe is you can do everything from the privacy of your own home. And please don't worry if that means a little chaos is in the background when you're online. We don't mind that. Its reality. We're all just doing our best.

    With love,

    Tim and the rest of the team at Mindfulness Northwest


  • 5 Mar 2020 11:28 AM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)


    Three Keys to Mindfulness

    by Tim Burnett

    We all go through seasons of suffering.  We change, others change. There are periods of relative stability and there are the crises - small and large - that come. 

    As I reflect on my own life's ups and downs, I'm inspired anew to take a fresh look at the practice of mindfulness. I'm thinking about the way mindfulness helps - but also about ways I can end up using mindfulness to try to avoid difficult moods and problems that may simply have to be weathered and seen through.

    The mindfulness approach encourages us to explore a really nuanced view around acceptance and improvement. Around fixing things. On the one hand improvement is great. We can make all kinds of changes to improve our situation. For example: I've been trying to focus on exercising more regularly and sleeping better. They help.

    On the other hand, trying to fix and improve things can become an endless treadmill that orients us away from accepting how things are. And in my experience from my own practice and the people I've had the privilege to work with over the years: it all starts with acceptance.

    We all have difficult periods. Transitions are hard. Illness is hard. When relationships get tangled, it's hard. And it's natural to want to solve the problem. It's natural to want to fix things. To improve the situation. Right now.

    And yet we will often approach making improvements so much more wisely when we can start the process with more acceptance.

    As I've taught mindfulness over the years and explored the practice myself I've come up with a few lists of pointers and reminders for myself. A current favorite is what I consider the three key attitudes in mindfulness (and thus: in life!): curiosity, willingness, and kindness. These three attitudes feels especially important when times are tough.

    Curiosity   A colleague recently introduced me to a helpful distinction in thinking about curiosity. She suggested we notice whether we're in "deficit curiosity" or "interest curiosity."

    Deficit curiosity is the curiosity of lack and impatience. It's the curiosity that sends us so quickly to our phones to Google up a fact. Deficit curiosity can contribute to impatience and has a sense of lack to it. Deficit curiosity isn't the quality of mind I'm thinking of here as helping us accept our challenges and get interested in them. Deficit curiosity is more likely to have us grasping for a quick fix.

    Interest curiosity is more what I'm pointing to. Interest curiosity is open minded. It has that quality of "hmm…I wonder…." Where deficit curiosity can be a bit desperate and impatient to be "in the know", interest curiosity supports humility and even values "not knowing" and that quality of "beginner's mind."

    Being human is so complicated. No matter how much we learn, how many courses we take or articles we read, or teachers we work with, we'll never really understand it. Interest curiosity keeps us going and supports us in appreciating each insight along the way while accepting that we'll never know it all.

    Willingness  If we're not willing to try something new, nothing will ever change. And that begins with a willingness to accept things as they are. It includes a willingness to feel. A willingness to accept that "this is how it is right now."

    And a willingness to change is essential too! Willingness is also open minded (like interest curiosity). I think of willingness as being a realistic quality also: we can't do and try everything given the limits to our time and resources, but maybe we can expand the confines of our lives in more ways than we think we can with this willing orientation.

    One close friend has an often used phrase, "I'm always willing to feel better." When I think about willingness in light of mindfulness practice I remember some of the best parenting advice my wife and I received as new parents: if the baby is fussy and you can't figure it out, just "change the vibe." If you're inside, go outside. If you're outside go inside. Change something. Try something. Not expecting instant results, not expecting anything to work every time (or even most of the time!) but being willing to try. Be willing.

    Kindness   When I first took up meditation I didn't understand the essential contribution of kindness. I thought meditation was to chill myself out, to stay calm at all costs, to develop an unshakable kind of equanimity. And while calm and equanimity are valuable for sure, without the emotional dimension of kindness these qualities can also become ways to avoid our feelings at our peril. I eventually learned that I'd walled myself off from my own emotions in a way that was blinding and unhelpful, and ultimately made it difficult to really take care of myself.

    The practice of kindness in the context of mindfulness calls on us to ask ourselves what we need right now. It encourages us to see if we can offer ourselves some warmth, some kindness. Not because that will make challenging emotions go away or solve our problems, but simply because we're suffering. Kindness is an essential component as we meet our challenges.

    Kindness can be practiced. We can weave a sense of self-care and kindness into our formal mindfulness practice and we can see the informal practices of taking purposeful pauses during the day not just as a stress reduction technique but as real gifts to ourselves. As self-kindness.

    And kindness for ourselves can help us rebalance the common tendency to take care of everyone around us while ignoring our own needs. We can be so strongly conditioned to focus on others first can't we? Whether that's purposeful and well-meaning, or out of habit, or even out of some deep fear that we might be unlovable. We can notice our many choices throughout the day in service of others and start to remember to include ourselves in the equation in an explicit way. "After I help so and so with this, I'll take a break and give myself what I need too."

    Loving Kindness  Finally, the signature practice in mindfulness training - Loving Kindness Meditation - is also a great option. I was resistant to this practice at first - no surprise given my initial orientation to prize a kind of "Zen calm" over all else. But now I've come to appreciate it deeply. I'm especially moved by the innovation in the Mindful Self-Compassion curriculum to find ways to really personalize Loving Kindness Meditation by finding your own language to coach yourself in it.

    See our Loving Kindness Meditation page (https://mindfulnessnorthwest.com/loving-kindness) for the basics on this practice and the Finding Our Phrases page (https://mindfulnessnorthwest.com/LKM-phrases) for more on making this practice your own.

    Tough times  happen for all of us. I hope the practices and the orientation toward starting with acceptance of mindfulness is helpful to you. I invite you to see if the three attitudes of curiosity, willingness, and kindness prove helpful in your own journey. Especially when times are tough.

    TimQuestions? Call us: 360.830.6439 x 0, or email:  office@mindfulnessnorthwest.com


  • 31 Jan 2020 12:13 PM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    Finding Mindfulness in the Stress of Heavy Traffic

    by Beth Glosten

    It is 5:30pm. You have a 6:30pm meeting in Seattle. You are driving westbound on the SR520 bridge -- slowly. There has been an accident on the bridge. You are going no faster than a crawl. Or, you have tickets to the Opera. You are traveling down Mercer Street slower than if you were walking. You wonder if you’ll get there in time. Any of these scenarios sound familiar?

    Heavy and slow-moving traffic in the Puget Sound region is a common cause for stress. The population of the city is growing: in 2017, Seattle had grown 18.7% since 2010. These 114,000 people brought cars with them. The obvious result: more traffic congestion and longer drive-times. The city’s geography contributes to our heavy traffic – it is hemmed between Puget Sound and Lake Washington. On some highways, if there is a blocking accident, there are few alternative routes. While there are efforts to make the city friendly for pedestrians and bicyclists, suffice to say we are in a transition – cars continue to clog the streets and freeways. Even if highways could be expanded to accommodate the growing population, data from other cities show that adding more lanes and more space for cars just leads to more cars on the road, not decreased travel times.

    So, face it. Clogged traffic is here to stay in Seattle. The good news? Mindfulness can help us deal with it. For me, mindfulness has made a huge difference in my traffic experience. I used to live in Redmond, WA. I would dread making the trek into Seattle at rush hour. It was a horrible experience! I recall sitting in my car, barely crawling along, thinking “I can’t stand this! I’m going to jump out of my skin!” I’d feel anger and frustration at the other cars/drivers on the road that were “getting in my way.”

    Suffice to say, this mindset increased my stress. It was not helpful.

    Here are some thoughts on reframing your mindset while in bad traffic.

    First, if you are stuck in heavy traffic, remember, you are part of it. Own it! Reframe your experience as being part of the problem, not a victim of the problem. In all likelihood, your reason for being on the road is no more or less valid than anyone else’s.

    Second, utilize STOP practice – the acronym for: Stop, Take a breath, Observe, then Proceed. Stop, look around you. See the community of drivers around you. You are not alone in your situation and frustration! Take a breath – let the soothing effect of a deep breath relax your body. Observe your body. Can your shoulders soften? Can you let go of your clenched jaw? Feel what other sensations you notice in your body that might be caused by the tension of being stuck in traffic. As you proceed, acknowledge the challenge that everyone around you is experiencing.

    Third, label your experience. Acknowledge that your traffic experience is unpleasant, saying to yourself “this is hard, this is not fun.” Offering yourself these words helps you frame the situation as what it is: traffic - only traffic - it is not a personal affront.

    Fourth, see yourself as part of a traffic community. Can you acknowledge the others around you who are similarly suffering in traffic? Along with yourself, offer compassion to your whole community of traffic sufferers. Send phrases of loving kindness to yourself and others in traffic such as: “may I/you stay calm,” “may I/you find patience,” “may I/you accept this situation of slow-moving traffic.”

    Fifth, be a helpful part of this traffic community! Let the next car merge into your lane (really, cutting them off will NOT get you to your destination any sooner). Plan your journey to allow plenty of time to change lanes and make turns. Avoid tailgating - hanging on the bumper of the car in front of you will also not get you to where you’re going any faster, and it risks an accident. Wave to those who let you in when changing lanes to say “thank you.” It makes both you and the other driver feel better! On city streets, be respectful of bicyclists and pedestrians.

    Let mindfulness help you contribute to a civil and safe traveling (albeit slowly) community.

    Questions? Call us: 360.830.6439 x 0, or email:  office@mindfulnessnorthwest.com.


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