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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  • 14 Jan 2021 12:27 PM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    Dear Friends,

    We finally kissed 2020 goodbye a few weeks ago, hoping for more peaceful, healthy, and productive times ahead. And yet as I write this, the U.S. is breaking tragic records for deaths from Covid-19 and Congress is debating whether to impeach President Trump for the second time. That 2021 is off to a difficult start feels like a massive understatement.

    I do take a little comfort in our practices of mindfulness and compassion during a difficult time and I hope you do, too.

    Mindfulness helps me be a bit more aware of how it's all affecting me. I feel distracted, worried, at times fearful. At times angry. I've learned it's so much better if I know how I'm feeling. I used to be so good at "stuffing" difficult feelings.

    And mindfulness helps me make choices that help keep me at least a bit more available to myself and others. No, I don't need to check the headlines every few minutes. Yes, it is nourishing to do my practice, to exercise, to reach out to friends and family. And yes, I am human and I have been reading too much news and neglecting exercise. I'm working on it.

    But most importantly mindfulness supports acceptance. The current situation is a tough pill to swallow. How could it be that our country is this divided? How could the events in the Capitol that happened last week have happened? And yet it is and they did. By allowing these realities in more fully, I stand on ground that's a little bit firmer than the shaky ground of rage or denial or distraction and avoidance. This helps me keep going.

    This acceptance isn't acquiescence. It's not saying it's "all okay." We each have different views and approaches, but I am sure that things are happening that are very much not okay for just about every single member of our society right now. So tough. And I do know that it's a lot tougher for a lot of people than it is for me.

    Although it never feels like I'm doing enough, standing on this firmer ground of acceptance-of-what-is gives me a bit more strength to contribute. In my case recently: a bigger than usual donation to the food bank - it's so hard to accept that I have neighbors without enough food - and I was able to muster a little courage to go with a friend and volunteer some help at the nearby homeless tent city here in Bellingham (it was easier than I thought and they were very appreciative, but what a hard thing to see).

    And mindfulness steadies the ground for compassion. Compassion: that willingness to be with suffering and try to help. Even when the suffering is really challenging - even when what I see "out there" brings up strong emotions and suffering in me, mindfulness helps steady the ground in me for compassion for those who are behaving in ways that upset me greatly.

    Our teachers remind us that everyone wants to be happy and doesn't want to suffer. Some suggest that all unhelpful behavior is a result of unmet needs somewhere along the way. I think of the wise advice given to parents to seek to correct the child's choices and behavior without giving your child the message that there's something inherently wrong with them. And I think also of the danger in being righteous and demeaning to others.  Can I look at the many troubling images in the news and have compassion for my fellow humans even when they're behaving badly?

    These are tricky times. There are no simple answers. Plus it's almost impossible - maybe completely impossible - to speak out about what's happening without offending someone. We won't get it right. But our practice calls on us to try our best. To accept, to work for a better world, to view everyone with the eyes of compassion. Our year - now it may be years - of living under Covid I hope will help us to see at last that we're truly all in this together.

    As you know Mindfulness Northwest offers a variety of classes, workshops, and retreats to support your practice. I want to highlight this month that we're growing our drop-in offerings. In addition to the Midday Mindfulness I offer (Wednesdays weekly, noon to 1pm) and the monthly Alumni Practice Group (fourth Friday of the month, 7pm - 8:30pm) we're adding a new weekly Midday Mindful Movement program on Mondays noon to 1pm. All three of these drop-in programs are offered free of charge. You need to register to receive the Zoom link. And we rely on your kind donations to our Accessibility Fund to help fund our operations when we aren't charging registration.

    Hope to see you soon at one of our programs.

    And here's hoping for a peaceful Inauguration Day next Wednesday.

    Yours in mindfulness and compassion,

    Tim


  • 1 Dec 2020 2:15 PM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    When Kindness Is the Only Thing That Makes Sense Anymore, by Teresa Johnson

    I have a strong preference for life to make sense, especially the part that involves human interactions. Do you find that, too?  So much rides on our ability to see eye to eye and solve problems.  I want everyone’s attitudes and actions, including my own, to line up like a tidy picket fence, upright, orderly, and organized for the common good.   But is that really what will help us to live more peacefully together, or is all that wanting to control behaviors part of the problem?  

    Each of the 7.8 billion human beings who share this planet has deeply rooted conditioning, uncountable cultural and familial variables, all of us in flux moment to moment.  We are all unpredictable and imperfect, so attachment to unrealistic expectations of ourselves or others inevitably renders suffering  as we fall into the traps of judgement, frustration, disappointment, anger, and anxiety. 

    Perhaps there is a different way to respond to the reality of our own sometimes conflicting values and impulses and the often confounding encounters with other human beings whose actions and opinions don’t make sense to us. 

    Mindfulness reminds us to begin close in, noticing first how we’re relating to those moments of dissonance in ourselves and with others. As we invite curiosity and openness into the room of our hearts and minds, we may recognize the habit of resisting conditions as they are.  We might also see an added layer of wishing we weren’t struggling.  

    Especially helpful in these moments of reckoning, is the simple yet powerful quality of kindness, the “state of being gentle and considerate,” (Merriam-Webster).  Kindness helps us to reach in toward ourselves and out to others with more tenderness and consideration. And amazingly, kindness helps the resistance to loosen, allowing us some space to be curious, explore, gain insight, and move toward acceptance, connection and understanding. 

    The task of bringing the practice of kindness into moments of conflict can seem daunting, especially when encountering all the  -isms that polarize this fragile human family and threaten to divide us irreparably.  Maria Popova, (Brainpickings), shares this wisdom, “The measure of true kindness — which is different from nicety, different from politeness — is often revealed in those challenging instances when we must rise above the impulse toward its opposite, ignited by fear and anger and despair.” 

    In the midst of difficult interactions, as we observe reactivity in ourselves or others, a deeply rooted practice of mindfulness and kindness can support us in exercising self-restraint and harmlessness when encountering opposing views, whether we’re in a conversation with a loved one or neighbor, attending a professional meeting, a rally, or listening to the news.  It can also temper the urge to blame or discharge anger or react toward someone else’s anger in an unskillful or inflammatory outburst.  In stepping back from reactivity long enough to gather our attention into the anchors of the body and breath, the space referred to in the Viktor Frankl quote, and the choice to re-orient toward a wholesome response, toward kindness, emerges.  From that large room of awareness,  we can also consider “...what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone,” (Compassion, Miller Williams.) We have the option to see what’s behind the reactivity of others.

    Practicing kindness, formally in meditation and informally in daily life, opens the heart to see the role of suffering in the reactivity of ourselves and others and moves us toward understanding even when we disagree. 

    For sure, this is not easy work, and to be clear, kindness is never an act of assent in the face of injustice.  We can practice kindness right alongside fierce compassion as we stand for justice and human dignity while our mindful awareness supports the capacity to stay present and wholly connected.  Mindful discernment is also a powerful assistant in knowing how best to offer kindness in a given moment, answering, “What is most needed right now?”   Sometimes what’s most needed is further dialogue when all parties are able to be respectful, but other times, the kindest thing is a boundary as we request to end a conversation or respectfully agree to disagree.

    Going forward during this extraordinary moment in our collective human history, we’re faced with many challenges. Finding common understanding and vision is imperative to moving toward solutions that will impact us globally. A lot is at stake for our complex, often jumbled, infinitely creative, and beautiful human family. A lot. Martin Luther King said so eloquently that we are woven together, “tied in a single garment of destiny.“

    My hope for all of us, as we encounter each other, especially when we differ, is to remember first to pause, to connect to the breath, make space in our hearts and minds, recall our common good, and truly commit to kindness as the only response that makes sense anymore. 


    Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye

    Before you know what kindness really is

    you must lose things,

    feel the future dissolve in a moment

    like salt in a weakened broth.

    What you held in your hand,

    what you counted and carefully saved,

    all this must go so you know

    how desolate the landscape can be

    between the regions of kindness.

     

    How you ride and ride

    thinking the bus will never stop,

    the passengers eating maize and chicken

    will stare out the window forever.

     

    Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,

    you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho

    lies dead by the side of the road.

    You must see how this could be you,

    how he too was someone

    who journeyed through the night with plans

    and the simple breath that kept him alive.

     

    Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

    you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 

    You must wake up with sorrow.

    You must speak to it till your voice

    catches the thread of all sorrows 

    and you see the size of the cloth.

     

    Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,

    only kindness that ties your shoes

    and sends you out into the day to mail letters and

    purchase bread,

    only kindness that raises its head

    from the crowd of the world to say

    it is I you have been looking for,

    and then goes with you everywhere

    like a shadow or a friend.


  • 5 Nov 2020 4:36 PM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)


    Sitting with Uncertainty

    by Tim Burnett

    Dear Friends,

    On the day after the election our nation, and the world, hung in suspense about which way the presidential and senate races would go, along with many other weighty decisions. Did you have a challenging day like so many of us did on Wednesday?

    It helped me see with fresh eyes just how uncertain everything is. As COVID keeps reminding us, we don't ever know what's going to happen. And it's hard when things happen in ways we don't like. It's hard in general to work with the many disappointments of life, but don't you think it's far harder on us if we've already invested in some vision of the future? Isn't it harder to bear challenges when we've convinced ourselves that something else is going to happen; when we believe our predictions (or someone else's predictions) are actually describing the future, and not just predictions?

    And in the case of the presidential election most of us are likely still feeling the heaviness of the waiting game now two days after the polls closed. In addition, regardless of who is named president, there is plenty of uncertainty around some pretty big issues in our nation: What are our next steps with COVID? Healthcare? Social and Racial Justice? The Economy?  Uncertainty is powerful. And it's everywhere.

    I was thinking also about how we have so many technologies, theories, and ideas about the future that give us a false sense of certainty. Take weather reports for example. They're pretty good. Sometimes even the hour by hour predictions are accurate. That amazes me. It said it would rain at 10am and then at 11am it would clear up. And then it does just that. Amazing.

    But that doesn't mean that a weather report is actually predicting the future. It's a model, an approximation. It's a surprisingly good one often. Quite accurate. And that fools us. It fools us into thinking we actually know what's going to happen. It gives us a false sense of certainty about what the weather will be tomorrow.

    It's the same with political polls. It's the same with how we expect people to respond to things at work. The same with how our children turn out. We have information, we have data, we have models and predictions. They aren't wrong, they are usually reasonable predictions, but things aren't going to happen exactly as predicted, either. We get fooled. We get fooled into thinking we know what's going to happen. We are lulled into a false security when we confuse predictions with predestination; when we confuse models and forecasts with actual awareness of what the future will be.

    So I figure we need to practice with this: with accepting the unknowability of things and with how destabilizing it can be to let ourselves hang out in our heads when our heads start to believe predictions as future. Then it's so upsetting when that future doesn't come to pass. Which is what is normal. Which is how it all actually works.


    And yet there is something about our resilience and our human hearts that can also stay strong and grounded without depending on certainty. There's a more flexible and responsive strength available to us. It's hard to describe this in words so I decided to record a meditation on this today. It's a practice of feeling into the uncertainty and also exploring the still place in the middle of uncertainty. It isn't the stable ground of certainty we long for, but there is a feeling we can touch in our practice that's steady and still, even in the midst of the disordered flurry of a mind trying so, so hard to know what's going to happen.

    It's a full 30-minute meditation and I recommend giving it a try. You can play it here on our website:  Sitting with Uncertainty

    I'd love to hear about your experience with this practice and any thoughts you have about being stable and sane in the midst of the radical uncertainty that is our world.

    All best,

    Tim

    P.S. I closed the meditation with a favorite poem by John O'Donohue as I felt the weight of Wednesday and figured we need all the help we can get.


    John O'Donohue - Beannacht (Blessing)

    On the day when
    the weight deadens
    on your shoulders
    and you stumble,
    may the clay dance
    to balance you.
    And when your eyes
    freeze behind
    the grey window
    and the ghost of loss
    gets in to you,
    may a flock of colours,
    indigo, red, green,
    and azure blue
    come to awaken in you
    a meadow of delight.

    When the canvas frays
    in the currach of thought
    and a stain of ocean
    blackens beneath you,
    may there come across the waters
    a path of yellow moonlight
    to bring you safely home.

    May the nourishment of the earth be yours,

    may the clarity of light be yours,

    may the fluency of the ocean be yours,

    may the protection of the ancestors be yours.

    And so may a slow

    wind work these words

    of love around you,

    an invisible cloak

    to mind your life.



  • 23 Oct 2020 8:30 PM | Tim Burnett (Administrator)

    Tim Burnett and Robin Boudette gave talks on the core Buddhist teaching "The Three Marks of Existence" this year at our annual October Roots of Mindfulness retreat. Their talks are now available here: 2020 - Three Marks of Existence

  • 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


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