As the year comes to an end, we make resolutions. Here’s a practice of remaining steadfast to our new year goals before giving up on them. Happy 2023!
Learning To Stay, Pema Chodron
So whenever we wander off, we gently encourage ourselves to “stay” and settle down. Are we experiencing restlessness? Stay! Discursive mind? Stay! Aching knees and throbbing back? Stay! What’s for lunch? Stay! What am I doing here? Stay! I can’t stand this another minute! Stay! That is how we cultivate steadfastness.
As we head towards the end of the year, a gentle reminder to slow down and smell the roses. And even if the mind is jumping around, here is an invitation to slow down. Inspired by Walk Slowly by Danna Faulds.
The mind in its origin is pure before conceptual ideas and assumptions are formed. Our underlying beliefs may be valid and some not, and could be taking us down the path of distress. Here is a practice of returning to an open mind, keeping an open heart to the vagaries of any meditation that tend to arise in life outside the mat too. When the mind merely mirrors reality as it is, we can respond more wisely and calmly to the circumstances.
The practice of cultivating grace—embodying qualities of calmness, graciousness, which requires responding from a place of inner wisdom such as kindness instead of conceptual beliefs, and sitting or softening ourselves toward unpleasant emotions such as fear and the need to control instead of reacting or resisting to make ourselves “feel better”.
Inspired by Grace, by Joy Harjo (extract)
I could say grace was a woman with time on her hands, or a white buffalo escaped from memory. But in that dingy light it was a promise of balance. We once again understood the talk of animals, and spring was lean and hungry with the hope of children and corn.
Referring to Buddhist text, Martine Batchelor describes feeling tone or its Pali word “vedana” as the pleasant, unpleasant and neutral tonality of experience that arises upon contact through the six senses with one’s outer or inner environment. Our distress in part come from our reactive underlying tendencies in connection with experiencing pleasant, unpleasant or neutral vedanas. Investigating the impact of feeling tones could help us identify the neurophysiological blueprints of mental processing, and therefore help us find ways to respond more helpfully to stimulus.
The purpose of this practice is to observe feeling tone, the first or most instinctive feeling or sensation that arises, holding space for it ie not judging them, followed by noticing desires or impulses that arise which are often about ridding or fixing how we feel after the initial feeling tone.
In connection with this theme, we refer to Birdwings, a poem by Rumi
Your grief for what you’ve lost lifts a mirror up to where you are bravely working.
Expecting the worst, you look, and instead, here’s the joyful face you’ve been wanting to see.
Your hand opens and closes, and opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralyzed.
Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birdwings.
Obsessively grasping for something or someone leads us down the path to distress or suffering if we’re not mindful. Here’s to becoming aware of it in thoughts and actions, and letting go by simply observing and moving the attention back to the breath, and becoming more discerning of where we should be paying attention. The quality of our lives depends on where our attention is. There’s no need to grasp.
When we feel our life is lacking something, add love to it. When the mind judges and distresses us, add love to those thoughts. Whenever we feel impatient or judge ourselves and others, add love. Even if we don’t feel very loving at that point, we can just bring to bring to bear the intention, perhaps with words of affirmation.
This practice is about not taking ourselves too seriously whenever we find it difficult to sit — a practice of not taking life too seriously when things don’t go our way. Playfulness helps cultivate patience. And when we can sit with that quality, we see things with clarity. What’s clear is clear, what’s veiled is veiled – nothing more.
Patience is said to be a virtue to help us deal with distress or when things are not going our way. Underlying patience is humility, and so here’s a practice on humility. Humility is not about cancelling out our voice or lowering our self-esteem. Rather it’s the quiet confidence that we can go about our lives without needing overt validation. When we become like the bald eagle that flies towards the storm, only then can we go above it and become more.
surrendering like an eagle, Noelle Lim
if we remind ourselves of our imperfections
tell us we’re not good enough
punishing the fragile ego
life becomes a suffering
but what if we can be for changing
if answering setbacks
means leaving outside the ego
the enemy of courage locking us in a wallow
instead, why not surrender and accept
on hand, a willing heart
to life’s irregular cracks and weathering
we’ll see the play of her seasons
and witness the glory of her possibilities
let life not beat us down
instead, accept her grand invitation
to climb onto her big, strong wings
like those of the bald eagle
that flies towards the storm
gliding higher, gathering more strength, more speed
The breath represents life, it’s the first thing we do when we become a life. Being conscious of the breath also has the benefit of activating the parasympathetic nervous system that restores us to equilibrium and calms us down.
It’s also possible that the breath can be triggering. If you find it difficult to focus on the breath, just do the best you can as an observer, bringing to bear just an intention to observe and nothing else.
Breathing (extract), Thich Nhat Hanh
Breathing in, I have become space without boundaries. I have no plans left. I have no luggage.
Breathing out, I am the moon that is sailing through the sky of utmost emptiness. I am freedom.
This is a practice of removing the “I” to appreciate that we’re more than the sum of thoughts, feelings and impulses. When the thought arises “I am no good”, we reframe it as “the thought that I am no good is here”. Or when the emotion of sadness arises, we say “the emotion of sadness is here” instead of “I am sad”. If we are resisting to do something, we acknowledge the feeling and say “the impulse to resist is here”. Notice how that feels once you disengage and appreciate that thoughts are just thoughts, feelings are merely that, nothing more. Once we see that, we create more space between ourselves and thoughts etc to respond more helpfully to distress. Distress is just that, not us. Liberation is essentially what this practice is about.
The poetry below is inspired by the Adittapariyaya Sutta: The Fire Sermon, and writings by Dogen Zenji, founder of first Soto Zen monastery, Daihonzan Eiheiji.
Exploring courage starts with preparation – how we are starting and then continuing in the practice with a strong back (signalling confidence, conviction), soft front (care) and paying attention moment-by-moment (the little ways).
Courage (extract), Anne Sexton
when you face old age and its natural conclusion
your courage will still be shown in the little ways,
Saying yes to all our experiences—thoughts, emotions, moods, physical sensations—is not a weakness. This is a practice of just saying yes to our unfolding experiences as they are and noticing how our resistance and tension ease thereafter, when we no longer all these moments to have a grip over our sense of wellbeing.
Saying Yes (extract), RoseAnn V. Shawiak
Life falls, sliding through a side door, one that has not
been marked, but opens quickly when given a second chance.
An entire world opens up to an invitation, love is emanating
from people everywhere.
Splendidly opening upon a new shore, being rinsed clean, a
pure and newly sprung life.
All around sounds of nature are pouring forth in tribute of
our lives and experiences.
Bowing down, kneeling on one knee, saying yes with a gentle
happiness and a joy so great it cannot be contained.
Flowing out upon others who are in need, filling them with
Using the phrase “let me be grateful for this moment” as the anchor whenever the mind starts to wonder and we get lost in the busyness of our thoughts. Gratitude is probably one of the most powerful healers.
The Gift, Mary Oliver
Be still, my soul, and steadfast. Earth and heaven both are still watching though time is draining from the clock and your walk, that was confident and quick, has become slow.
So, be slow if you must, but let the heart still play its true part. Love still as once you loved, deeply and without patience. Let God and the world know you are grateful. That the gift has been given.
In mindfulness meditation, we’re cultivating the quality of non-grasping, non-driven-doing by staying with the breath or the body, and letting go the need to rise to the bait of our impulses to act. Often times, we could be reacting for no good reason.
Often we tend to live in our heads, lost in our thoughts. In this meditation, the invitation is to feel the heart without judgment, without analysis, without having to arrive to any conclusion. Just feeling it and allow whatever insights that spring from the practice.
Heart to Heart, Rita Dove
It doesn’t have a tip to spin on, it isn’t even shapely— just a thick clutch of muscle, lopsided, mute. Still, I feel it inside its cage sounding a dull tattoo: I want, I want—
but I can’t open it: there’s no key. I can’t wear it on my sleeve, or tell you from the bottom of it how I feel. Here, it’s all yours, now— but you’ll have to take me, too.
Thoughts such as judgments, beliefs, and assumptions are transient, impermanent, and mental events. The invitation is to simply observe our thoughts, and not get hooked, believe or act on everything that the mind suggests, and instead to practise