Monday Moments: Curate Your Authentic Self, Mindfully

In so many ways Authenticity is the Art of Simplicity; both are about removing that which is not you, rather than trying to add that which is. Each is often the product of tempering a great idea – the dream of who you want to be – with modest expectations that are in line with your true self. Neither happens overnight, but is the result of time. That is not to say you will never get to be who you want to be, knowing that it takes time will help you avoid the frustrations that inevitably come when you discover that finding your authentic self rarely happens fast enough.

The path to authenticity is a journey of baby-steps; gently placing your foot out and testing the terra firma beneath you, before placing your weight and lifting your other leg from the ground.

When you simplify your life you do more than quiet the noise and distractions that can undermine your growth. You open those around you to the idea of change, and that can be a very scary thing. Especially when they see you leave the nest they are still in.

So take your time and relax. There is an inevitability to your growth that others may not be so comfortable with. Learn to test the combination of friends and food and art and clothes that are all around you. Learn to cultivate the people and the objects in your life in a way that will bring you and your dreams together. At the same time, learn to gently let those things that do not support you go. As you do, you will learn the pleasures that come from living a life that is both simple and authentic at the same time. One that is true to your Simple Truth.

Living a simple life does not need to be boring. It simply needs to be true to your needs, cultivating those things that bring you joy.

The concept of living a simple life is one reason I teach meditation. Unlike what many think, meditation is not an end unto itself. It is a tool to remove the distractions from your life, so that you can create a community of people around you with whom you can share the same ideals.

You see, family and friends should always be more than a random selection of stragglers you end up with. They are the people who acknowledge the joy that can be found within your subtle nuances. They touch the same notes of music you enjoy and smile.  They savor the same sights and the smells that are a part of who you are.

It is why curating your life is about so much more than just letting go of the bad. It is about replacing the not-so-good with the good.  It is about creating a path to the joy that you should find in every article of clothing you own, in every candle you light, in every window you open, and in every meal you enjoy. Clearing the clutter from your life is about peeling back the layers that have prevented you from being your authentic self and opening yourself up to an enlightened life.

Do not be afraid of being your authentic self. It is who you are, and will sooner or later find its way out in the end.
The next time you hesitate to be you, smile and ask yourself, “what am I waiting for?”

After all, it is your life. It is time to start living it your way.

Learn more about living an authentic life by clicking here and discovering what we call The Strategy for Happiness. You may be surprised how easy it can be…

Monday Moments: Zen & Your Mindful Meal

Summer may be coming to a close, but we all know the beach body mindset is far from gone. Even when it’s time to wear those baggy sweaters and heavy coats, how you look affects how you feel about yourself, how you treat yourself, and how you treat the world and the people around you.

So forget about fitting into somebody else’s idea of beauty and start fitting into the body you were given – perfectly.  After all, having a great body is not about fitting into a double zero.  It’s about being happy with who you are; right here, right now.  So forget the extreme diets, forget the sweat mentality.  It’s time to find grace in the beauty that is you.

The Simple Truth is that there should be no restrictions to living your life.  After all, living life isn’t about fitting into the right outfit, it’s about creating great memories wherever you are.  This is why your diet should not be about losing, but gaining .  Gaining balance, gaining calm, gaining happiness without carrying around the weight that so many people can throw on you.  Because that is what you really carry around; not the pounds, but the guilt, the fear, and the self-loathing society created for you.

It sounds funny, but when you change your relationship with the food you eat, you don’t gain weight, you shed the angst of your old life as you gain health.  And yes, that is very, very visible no matter what season it is. It is also something that meditation and mindfulness can help you with.

Why not start your own Mindful Diet with these helpful tips that will reduce your stress and fill you with joy for the remainder of the summer, and for years to come:

Mind Before You Eat
Food is sometimes more a habit than a necessity.  We eat what we are comfortable with rather than what we really want.  So slow down before you dig in.  Stop and take three slow, deep breaths.  With each breath in, feel your body slow down.  Become comfortable with where you are and ask yourself what it is that you really want.  It will help you get rid of the stress that social occasions often create and the auto-responses we often have around lunch and dinner time. It will also help you take the emotions  out of your meal.   The result is a calmer meal that you can fully without all the extras.

Use All of Your Senses
Stop just eating and start enjoying.  Take the time to see and smell and yes even hear your food.  Don’t take a bite until you have run through all five senses and are aware of the full experience that is your meal.  You will learn to appreciate your food on a whole different level.  With all that joy flooding into your body, you will also eat less.

Slow Down & Enjoy
When your social calendar comes calling, it’s easy to rush into everything you find.  It is also easy to forget what you are eating and drinking as you try to fit it all in.  Use your meals as a chance to slow down.  The next time you feel yourself rushing through a meal, stop, breathe and give yourself thirty seconds to come up with a good answer as to why you are craving what you are craving.  It will teach you to be mindful of your meal and to enjoy it a whole lot more.

Love Your Body
Don’t just accept your body.  Don’t just appreciate your body.  LOVE YOUR BODY!  Love your curves and your freckles.  Love your hips and your stomach.  No matter what shape you were born with, LOVE IT! OWN IT!
Sure, you can lose a little here or there.  You can add some muscle tone and get in better shape.  You can even nip and tuck, if you want to go there – we all can.  But before you do  that, the next time you feel self conscious, take out two minutes to stand in a Superman pose – feet spread wide, hands on hips, chin up and shoulders back and smile.

Feel the self confidence rise up in you.  Feel your adrenaline rise and your cortisol drop – which means you will feel more confident and powerful no matter what you’re wearing.  And that helps you make the right choices whether you’re in a clam shack or the juice bar of some spa.

Learn to enjoy your meals mindfully and live life fully.  After all, this is your life.  It’s time to life it YOUR way!

Jeff Cannon
Simple Truth Project

Monday Moments: Love, Security, Recognition – Balance Your Happiness

Why do you do what you do? Why does anyone?

Is it for Love, to find “the one” who will fill your life with joy and happiness?  Is it for a better job and a higher salary that will give you a greater sense of Security?  Or is it to have a title that will give you the respect and theRecognition you deserve? Stop and think for a moment. Because it is important. Having the right mix of these things are what drive you to do, whatever it is that you do.

If you want to break of out your self-defeating patterns, take a moment and think about why you are doing what you are doing. It’s may even warrant a step back from time to time to look at your actions from an outside point of view in order to find the Simple Truth behind your actions. If you are honest with yourself it will not take long to realize that everything you do is driven by your need for Love, Security andRecognition

If the answer you see shocks you, don’t worry, it’s not just you. These three needs are the drivers behind everyone’s life. Just look at the people around you. Ask yourself whythey are doing what they are doing. You will quickly see that the need for Love,Security, or Recognition are what motivates everyone to act the way they do in life – for better or for worse.  If you do not see the answers visually, just listen to the way they speak and the words they use.

·       Love – the person that speaks about their friends, their family, the passions in their life has Love as a priority for them.

·       Recognition – the person that speaks about their job title, the size of their home, the toys they have collected, their latest accomplishment, or even the accomplishments of others has recognition high on their list of needs in life.

·       Security – someone who constantly talks about their investments, their salary, their retirement fund or their safety is basing their happiness on Security.

Oh, and a quick tip on the side, if you want this person to listen to you more fully, see what happens when you weave the terms they use into your own lexicon. A person who holds Love as a priority will respond more deeply when you start to speak about the people in your own life. Recognition? See what happens when you give them the respect and recognition they want. And security? Mirror the words they use to give them a sense of the security that is possible with you. You may be surprised at how well it works. Just make sure your words are authentic, or there will be consequences to pay from misleading them later on.

I hope this helps you on your journey, and if you want to learn more about balancing theLove, Security and Recognition in your life

Modern Meditation Profile – Shalini Bahl

Shalini Bahl – “…what was left, was the most profound silence I had ever experienced.”

In many ways, Shalini Bah, the founder of The Mindful Universe, is like myself. She is like so many of you. She pursued a conventional path until she faced an awakening of sorts; within a shaman’s circle in the jungles of Costa Rica.

It was, as she put it, “a pivotal point in my life. It is where I started breaking down my barriers and discovered my true calling.”

Shalini grew up in a very loving space, and a very comfortable environment in Kuwait. She got married and started on the path that was expected of her, but not one she necessarily chose for herself. Her marriage was not what she thought it should be, and increasingly dissatisfied with the life before her, she asked for a divorce – something a woman in India simply did not do.

After her divorce she began to question what she had grown to accept in her world. It was at that time that she, by her own admission, came out of a very dark place in her life. She moved to the United States to pursue a PhD. It wasn’t until several pauses occurred in her life, that she began to reflect upon all that she had gone through.

She remarried and began following a traditional path, when she had an opportunity to travel to Costa Rica with her second husband and son to take part in a Shamanic ritual. Upon arrival there they were explained that the ritual involved drinking Ayahuasca and would last all night long.

As someone who grew up in a culture where alcohol was shunned, let alone hallucinogenics, she was skeptical about trying it. Her husband decided not to participate. She remembers thinking that she “should not” drink a hallucinogenics when a small voice in her asked, “says who?” She felt that she was there for a reason and had to go through it, even though it was the most frightening thing she had done in her life – sitting with 100 strangers in the middle of the forest for an all-night ceremony that involved drinking Ayahuasca.

The first time she joined the Shaman’s circle and drank the Ayahuasca, she felt her senses open up for the first time. It was enough of a taste that she decided to attend the second ceremony. On the second night she received a larger amount and within minutes could feel the energy being pulled out of her body. She felt like she was being asked to jump off into the unknown at the end of a dark roller coaster ride. As she put it, “I could hear my very academic voice, my parental voice, giving advice that this was not real, but the fear was real. I could feel my fear of death, my fear of life, echo within me. I resisted all night and eventually in the early morning hours I gave in and surrendered to it. What was left was the most profound silence I had ever experienced.”

“I realized the noise of my mind, a noise I had relied upon my entire life, that everything I had prided myself on was meaningless. I realized how so many of the conversations that we have are there to show how smart we are. I was always an “A” student, and suddenly here I was in a place where a lot of that was without importance. As were a lot of my ideals – right or wrong.”

It left her feeling shaky and ungrounded. She knew her experience was not real, but then she began to ask, if that was not real, then what is?

When she returned to the United States and to U Mass, she used her experience as a subject for her dissertation. It was during the writing that she realized what the various voices were. They were the same voices we all have, that compete for our attention.

The title of her dissertation was; Multiple Selves and The Meanings They Give to Consumptions

Her dissertation was published in a top marketing journal. It led to a job on the faculty of a well known university. All was going well, but her changed perspective on her experience kept coming back to her.

She was somehow changed by her experience in a way that others began to notice. Even her son, at one point, commented on her new ability to remain open and say “that’s interesting. Let’s explore that,” instead of shooting a new idea down.

“When things are going fine, you don’t ask. It is only when things begin to turn upside down that you begin to explore the source of your suffering and very often you are the source.”

It was not long before her second divorce was finalized, “when I wondered what I should do, I realized it was not my husband, it was me who had changed. I was not trying to be a rebel, but realized that the choices I had made in the past lacked awareness of who I was and what I wanted in a relationship,” she recalls.

“I was stuck on a track I had been set on by society and by my family. Never once did I ask what I wanted in life. It was only after leaving my job as a tenure track professor to marry and this time with more awareness, did I ask myself, if I could do anything, what would it be and the answer was clear, it was to teach mindfulness.”

Because of her academic training and business experience she chose to bring mindfulness to business and academia and started to look for a training that would be secular and accessible to these audiences. “The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program was ideal for what I had in mind and was only 45 minutes away from where I lived, so I underwent my training there. I remember the first time trying the choiceless awareness meditation and finding it so clinical and boring. Immediately something within me realized that all along I had used my practice to find bliss and get into a particular state rather than be ok and fully present with what ever is arising. In that moment I was able to see my striving even in my practice.” It opened a new door – a level of peace and calm, away from all the striving – and allowed her to just feel what was.

Earlier on she had explored Zen and different forms of Meditations. Neither really fit her life or her style. Neither aligned with her views, or her need for a less dogmatic approach. After leaving such a formal growing up, she did not want to be tied to any specific doctrine. Like many of us, she wanted a touch of spirituality but she also needed to fulfill the scientific approach she had grown with, to create a solid foundation from which to launch. The mindfulness meditation gave her the freedom to explore each experience for what it is with curiosity and compassion and has been her practice of choice since then.

“When I feel that I am tight, I can contemplate what is going on around me and understand how that relates to what is within me. Once I identify the dominant thought in my life, I can then choose what I want to do with that thought instead of the thought dictating my actions on autopilot.”

Today, it is these times of mindfulness that bring her back to a sense of balance. It affords her a point of balance with which to calm herself and enhance the quality of her awareness. Creating the quality of her awareness so that she can understand what she needs in that moment.

She laughs, “I still get triggered in certain situations, but I find I now step back to pause, so that I can return to a state of objectivity. This can happen before sending an email or enjoying a true dialogue. I find that I bring my practice of non-judgment and of curiosity so I can respond more skillfully to the world and the people around me. It is amazing to see the mind – and realize how you still cannot be objective.

“I realized at one point, that you can live your life without seeing past the blind spots, without even seeing the blind spots. They are blind spots, so by definition you cannot see them. But with the training of meditation we can confirm our own experiences. So when an experience triggers the wrong response, we can create a change in the actions that we take while being kind to ourselves.”

“Only 5% of decisions are made consciously. The rest are made based by our subconscious mind, which is very often in a fight or flight mode, which can lead you down the wrong path, to make the wrong decisions. But this is nothing to be afraid of. In the end we can be relieved to know that we all make mistakes. We are all human. It is how we learn.”

This is one of the lessons found within her new project and her new website – The Mindful Universe.

 

[learn_more caption=”Click to See The Full Interview”]

What drew you to yoga and meditation?

What drew me to meditation was my suffering. There were personal transitions in my life in India that I didn’t take the time to process at the time. Once I moved to the US I found myself in a new country without my usual support system – family and friends – that left me feeling empty and void. This feeling of emptiness was the start of my search for answers to questions I didn’t have. I naturally fell upon meditation as a way of quieting my mind to access answers that were beyond my usual thinking mind.

Soon after I experienced my first spiritual breakthrough at a shamanic journey in Costa Rica, where I experienced complete silence of the mind after going through a night of near death experience. That broke away many beliefs I had held all my life as reality and opened me up to experiencing life in an entirely new way. I came back from that looking for a formal meditation practice and teacher. This was way back in 2002 and have been meditating since then, albeit more regularly in the past 8 years.

How have they changed your life?

Mindfulness practice has touched every aspect of my life.

The most important discovery for me has been to see the limits of my thinking mind and how mindfulness – a curious and compassionate attention to what is – helps me expand my lens to get a bigger perspective and choose more skillful responses even in challenging situations. And when I fail, this training has taught me to learn from my failures and be kind to myself.

Being an academic and researcher by training I love the inquiry based framework it offers to view my experiences with open curiosity and kindness so I continue to learn each day about places I am still stuck in autopilot, very often without my conscious knowing. It is such an aha moment every time to see that – I had no idea that I was living that aspect of my life in a limited and reactive way. We are blind to our blind spots and this practice is helping me see my blind spots.

The other thing I am working with is how can I have impact while living with ease. I am finding that once I have clarity around what it is I truly value then all I have to do is align myself with that vision and get out of my own way. Breaking away from dogmatic principles and practices.

How should a practice make someone feel?

Mindfulness meditation is an exploration into what is going on for you in this moment. When we explore with an open, gently and curious mind we reconnect with our mind, body and emotions with clarity. With this clear seeing we have access to more information about us and can make more skillful choices indtead of running on autopilot. The practice is a little counter intuitive in that we come closer to even the negative sensations and discomfort without trying to push it away. In learning to be with whatever is arising, we see our own reactivity and how we might choose differently to be a little kinder, a little more aware, toward ourselves and others.

There are times when you want to retreat to your own comfort zone, but the practice is there to see if there are any attachments you are holding onto or striving for, that can hold you back, or push you away.

People often talk about whether they are a good or bad meditator.  How does this resonate with you?

There is no wrong way to meditate. Just your intention to sit is the practice. That will help you develop the tools to be more present, more curious, more kind. You should always ask yourself if you can be more kind, more gentle, more quiet. It is okay if your mind is racing, and when you notice that you come back with kindness again and again. It is all about coming back to the present with the quality of compassion and equanimity.

The practice is about showing up each day. At a macro level, mindfulness is not a panacea for all of our problems. However, it offers a foundation for exploration in all sectors of our society. It is a broader lens for people to see the bigger picture and interconnectedness of all our actions so we may work toward finding solutions to make this a better world for everybody.

At what point did you decide to teach others?

This was a natural happening. It is not something I thought of doing but was natural to who I am in that situation. I was an assistant professor of marketing at a business school and ended up speaking with many stressed out students. At some point it became inevitable bringing in what I know about meditation and started organizing the Science of Breath seminars on campus and helped introduce the Art of Living classes on campus and in the community. Interestingly, at the time I was told by my colleagues it wasn’t my job to teach mindfulness or worry about the students’ stress and now it is my full time job. I changed my career from being a full time academic to part time and my main focus now is in bringing mindfulness to business, academia, and my community.

What do you find most rewarding about working with others?

Every time I teach I am touched by the experience of our shared humanity. It is in these moments I see how we are all one and the same no matter where we come from and what our personal history is. It has made me more empathetic in how I see people now. It is a rewarding feeling that no matter how challenging my day was, when I go in and let go of my strivings, which is an essential aspect of teaching, we all come out of the class feeling just a little more open or compassionate, in very small and big ways the difference it makes in our lives when we do this work together. It is humbling and empowering.

The other aspect of this work that energizes me is bringing mindfulness into corporate and academic settings because that’s where the rubber meets the road. Now we are not just talking about finding inner calm but how that inner calm can help us make better decisions. Exploring and seeing how mindfulness opens people up to finding their potential when they were feeling stuck or making decisions with more empathy and clarity to come up with creative solutions that maximize the well being of all stakeholders is very encouraging. It gives me hope that we can bring empathy and wisdom to make more skillful choices in education and business and now even in politics and other sectors of society.

What is your advice for someone just starting on their journey?

I know there are many self help books and programs but I recommend finding a teacher and a class that resonates with the person when they are starting out and then using the books to compliment and deepen their learning. This work and knowledge is subtle and many nuances can be missed when trying it on your own. It can leave people disillusioned or with the wrong impression that this is not for them simply because they didn’t know that what they are experiencing is normal and expected. So having a teacher who can guide through these misconceptions and the rich experience of learning from others in class and sharing in an open, authentic way is as important as the practice itself.

What should someone look for in a studio or an instructor?

I recommend trusting your intuition if the teacher’s style resonates with you. Try a free intro class with the teacher and see if it is the right fit. I would also add that humor, ease, and authenticity in the teacher typically are telling of the teacher’s embodiment of the practice. When checking out a teacher you may want to see where they got their training from since I am finding many people starting to teach mindfulness without sufficiently immersing themselves in the work. A final thing to look out for in a teacher is if they hold the interests of the participants up front or are their behaviors self-serving.

What does the term Modern Meditation mean to you?

To me modern meditation means a practice that is neither dogmatic nor prescriptive but works for every individual taking into account where they are and their personal needs. There is personal discipline involved even within modern meditation but the approach is fundamentally kind and flexible to accommodate the needs of the individual. The important question to hold gently is if the meditation is making you a little kinder, a little less reactive, and more aware in your life.

How have you adapted traditional meditation and yoga in your life outside the studio?

My formal practice of attending to the present moment with the attitude of kindness and curiosity is what I bring into life outside of the practice. It is not a striving kind of focus but a gentle awareness and presence that I remind myself to bring in my work, interactions and all activities.

How has expanding and deepening your practice, improved your life?

I lived the first half of my life without this practice and know that I lacked self awareness and agency to create a meaningful life. I ended up hurting others and myself, even when I didn’t mean to, because of my lack of awareness. This practice has changed my life and I cannot imagine living without it.

Research tell us that 99% of our DNA is shared. How can we use this concept to further humanity and the world?

The science of genetics and evolution is useful to remind us of our shared humanity. But I am always blown away with the authenticity of the connection that we feel when we come together to practice together. We all tend to judge, but at the end of an eight-week class we realize that we are all the same, we have all experienced the same emotions and want the same thing in life, to be happy.

There is an exercise I use all the time. It is to look into each other’s eyes, to acknowledge that this person across from me is just like me. They have suffered just like me. They have laughed and cried, just like me.

When I see people participate in this exercise, it is common to find people break down their barriers and cry, being moved by this person across from them. It is worth trying it. We call it Just Like Me.  It can be a very profound experience to bring out the natural state of empathy and compassion within everyone in addition to the intellectual knowing that we are connected.

What is your Simple Truth?

My simple truth is to live with open awareness, gentle curiosity and compassion. This reminder helps me to stay open to what is and notice where in my mind, body and thoughts am I holding on or resisting. What can I let go of so I may access the wisdom in this moment to choose skillful actions for the highest good of all involved? [/learn_more]

Monday Moments: Reset With A Meditation Outbreath

I know this may not be your thing, but I want you to give something a try.

I’ve been getting really great feedback from clients – including entrepreneurs and moms, executives and stay at home dads – on how good this is in breaking that thought loop and interrupting that mind chatter we all become trapped by.

It’s called the Out Breath, and it is something I wove into my meditations from a breath practice called Pranayama. Try it when the world starts to get too much for you, or when you simply need to reset.

It goes like this:

  1. When you become aware that your mind is getting stuck in a loop, or you notice that inner voice getting to be too much, gently place your attention on your breath. Just rest your awareness on the feeling of your stomach moving against your shirt and feel the fabric as it moves against your skin.
  2. Once you have caught your own attention, take a nice, slow, deep breath and feel yourself relax. When you are comfortable tighten your diaphragm and quickly back it up and back to send a small huff of air out of your lungs and out through your nose.
  3. It should feel like you are pulling your navel back and up towards your spine.
  4. Your mind may panic for a moment, but simply smile into it and take one out-breath every second.
  5. Do not worry about your inhale. Your body will take care of that on its own. Start slow and simply focus on the air as it rushes out past your nostrils.
  6. Try 12 to 15 of these in a row before pausing to take a long, slow breath in to fill your lungs.
  7. With practice you will be able to do this exercise for minutes at a time, but to start simply relax into 12 – 15 breaths, drawing your mind away from the distractions of your day and into that little huff of air that you are pushing out of your lungs.

That’s it.

When you hear the silent emptiness where your mind-chatter once was, simply smile and continue your OutBreath for a few moments more, before returning to whatever it is you were doing.

It’s an incredibly powerful way to hit the pause button in your life, day or night, and get back to enjoying your life without anybody knowing what you are doing.

I would love to hear how this has helped you refocus on work or while on a weekend escape, before or during a meeting, in the middle of a date, even while on your daily commute…

Be well and enjoy –

Summer Camp Meditation for Kids & Parents

Do your children and yourself a favor this summer. Give both of you a meditation break without even breathing. Have them leave their cell phones at home during summer camp and even sleep aways.

Summer camp and summer sleepaways are about the finding their independence. They are about giving yourself the chance to do the same.

Give everyone a break this summer and allow everyone in the family to experience summer and be filled with experiences, not ringtones, that you can all share when you all get back together at the dinner table.

Yes, remember that? The dinner table? And how much you have complained how little family together time you have had?

I know, your old brain probably uses the reasoning that you have to check in to make sure they are okay. But they are. Otherwise you would not have given them permission to head off on their own in the first place.

LOL – so let it go. Let the mobile phone go and learn patience this summer instead. It will do everyone good.

Be well, smile and breathe – knowing they are enjoying their growing experience as kids – almost as much as you are as parents…

 

 

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