Is Your Style of Meditation a Cup or a Sword?

Which style of meditation or yoga is right for you?

Some people tends toward the cup, while others tend toward the sword. One reflects the masculine side of human nature, the other the feminine. Neither is right. Neither is wrong. Each simply connotes the basic nature of the human experience. They have little to do with being a man or a woman, and everything to do with the nature of existence. One speaks toward nurturing, the other toward a well defined path. They are simply facets of our humanity.

Many teach a softer form of yoga and meditation; that is more reflective of the cup. Yes, there are elements of the sword in those styles, but for the most part, they are soft and gentle. The other style, found in practices like Zazen, are more reflective of the sword, providing a strong foundation and a solid path upon which to grow.

Many men find this style more reflective of their natural state of mind. The important element to keep in mind, is not hard or soft, but which is right for you and when. The Simple Truth Method is created to help men and women from all paths to decide for themselves which techniques to use for different purposes. Yes, our students learn to weave a tapestry that aligns with your natural state. At some times, that state tends toward the sword, at others it tends toward the cup – depending on what you are going through in the modern world we now live in.

If you are seeking a style of meditation that reflects who you are, and have not found that in such styles as Samatha or Vipassana or Transcendental, then you may consider the Simple Truth Method, a style that helps you become who you are.

It is why so many men and women have found themselves more comfortable weaving traditional techniques together, into their own practice. On that fits their needs, in a way that works for them, free from judgment, free from the need to fit into something that they simply are not.

Sword or Cup – which are you? Which do you naturally tend toward?

Morning Meditation

Before waking this morning I lay in bed, one hand on my stomach, the other on my chest feeling the slow rise and fall of each inhale and exhale as I allowed my mind to stir in a gentle Buddha Breath. My mind woke, but not too much, never leaving the gentle meditation of my waking.

As time slid by the light changed across Manhattan. I rose and walked to my cushion. There I sat. I brought my Waking Buddha Breath with me as I lowered myself into a formal seated meditation. I started with a Pranayama OutBreath to clear my head of my dreams and focus my mind. The rapid chuffs of air that escaped through my nose in the short, sharp puffs that has given this technique its name were strong and even. One every second or so which started in my abdomen and worked themselves up to the room and the world around me.

When there was no more air to give I was left floating on my seat, my awareness followed my meditation, naturally landing on that place where my sit bones met my seat. It drew my attention down, to my feet, to my ankles as they pressed against the floor, tooting me  to the pillow and the earth below. Each reminded me of the roots of the tree that my body began to emulate.

They rose up the trunk that was now my spine and body as my consciousness gently scrolled through my five senses. My eyes, I was aware of the patterns on the back of my eyelids as the last dreams left me. My ears, as I heard the sounds of the room, the building, the world gently coming to life around me; aware of each, acknowledging and welcoming them into my world, my awareness, my consciousness. My sense of touch as my sense of self dropped to my hands and my heart.

My meditation paused at my heart for a moment as my breath slid from quiet into a mantra meditation. Less a mantra actually and more the wonderfully rasping sounds as I felt it stir against my vocal cords, delivering that wonderfully deep and soulful sound one associates with monks; resonating low and vibrating deep as if reaching to the energy that surrounds each of us.

That same resonance and vibration found its way downward to that place in my lower abdomen and centered itself within me. It wrapped itself around my chakra and shifted into the thoughts of safe, healthy, happy. My own mind followed those thoughts as the vibration of my chanting extended those thoughts of me to you, from I to us, and from us to a feeling of one.

My mind, my awareness, my consciousness shifted somewhere in there I became nestled in that wonderful network of Love that is the backdrop to our world, that we so easily forget is there. With the feeling of energy coming back to me as I connected with each of you, I smiled and continued to breathe. I let go of the callings of the morning and they let go in return.

There is no need to start my day just yet. The day will come soon enough. I simply need to watch the morning sun lighten the sky. I simply need to watch myself to stay centered in the bliss that my morning practice has given me this morning and every morning that I remember to follow it.

 

Much Love

Meditation: Peace is Within You

Did you know that peace is within you?

 

It is there every moment of every day.

You simply have to settle your mind

With Meditation

And reach for it.

You simply have to acknowledge

That you are out of sorts

And off of your best

You simply need to admit

That you cannot do everything.

 

It is okay

Nobody can.

 

We all have our limits

But the beauty of admitting what your limits are

Makes your brain aware

That you are okay with them

 

So smile when you are overwhelmed this week

Breathe when you are finding the stress and anxiety

We all so often talk about

Let your mind settle

And admit that you are human

 

As we all are.

 

Meditations & Seizures to Recovery – Seizure Pt I

This past Saturday I practiced yoga for the first time in two weeks – it helped align my muscles.

Yesterday morning I enjoyed a walking meditation along the Hudson River – it helped align my mind.

Yes, the birds do sing along the Hudson. Yes there are quiet places in the middle of the world’s largest metropolis. It simply depends on where you decide to place your attention and what you decide to focus your attention on.

This post is a story of what you can do when you place your attention on a single point of focus, and where that focus can take you.

Both practices, the yoga and the walking meditation, were the first time I was able to abide them since I had a rather massive seizure on September 20th. It knocked me down and took me out for several weeks. There was no convulsions. There was a simple shutdown as my brain experienced an overload and quietly rebooted itself.

In between these events, the September seizure and my walking meditation, I have floated in a muddle of missed connections and forgotten streets, of thoughts that have gone unexpressed, and of the constant reminder that the human experience is a glorious thing to behold.

Throughout it all, I knew the information was in there, I was just unable to access it. The process of which has been a process of breathing and patience, of stopping in silence, interrupted by flashes of knowledge as my brain awakened itself.

It has been a path of following the tried and true, interrupted by frantic thoughts and the need to quiet my mind, of getting lost in a city in a well laid-out grid, of waiting on random corners as my neurons settled down, of not moving until my sense of space and direction returned to me. Of getting lost in time on a park bench, blankly contemplating a leaf in empty silence until something sparked a memory in the back of my brain and stirred my mind to life.

 

The Seizure

On September 20th, the last coherent text I sent out was at 4:39 in the afternoon. After that my wife received a call from a stranger at 6:49, telling her I was sitting in our lobby, unresponsive and not moving. Unseen by either of them, the electrical pulses in my brain had quietly lapsed as it seized.

During this time, my brain was reducing the input, shutting down my sight and my hearing as it went through its own reboot. My sight closed in on me, reducing my field of vision to a very narrow band of light. My hearing began to fail as my brain, the good computer that it is, shut off the sounds that overwhelmed it a short while before. My fingers tingled and went numb as my sole focus was to painstakingly scroll through my phone to my wife’s number in the hopes that I could find someone to dial it before everything went dark.

What usually takes seconds took me well over an hour that afternoon – all with the thought of preparing for the chance passing of a stranger.

If I could have spoken intelligibly, I knew what I would have said, but the words and thoughts were trapped deep in my mind at this point, unable to be expressed. So I sat down on the stone steps of the lobby, resigned to setting things up; remembering, forgetting, taking each step one at a time before forgetting and having to reverse direction once again, reminding myself what it was I was trying to do – prep my phone so that I could hand it to a stranger and point to the dial button.

This was how I spent the seventy minutes between those two points of contact.

I remember the conversation going on inside my head. One voice saying “this could take for hours,” the other voice saying, “Well, it’s not like we’re going anywhere anytime soon, so just breathe and focus, and move as smoothly as you can so you don’t make any mistakes.”

It was a meditation of remembering, of forgetting, of focusing and of letting go.

As luck would have it I saw movement somewhere in the lobby. I tried to speak and showed him the screen of my phone. I may have said the word “wife” but I am not sure if that is what made it out.

He called her from his phone before realizing his phone was a stranger’s number to her, and he pushed the send button on mine.

In minutes I began to hear the wail of sirens as the ambulance raced my wife for the lobby to take me to the Emergency Room at NYU.

 

Collapse & Recovery

My seizures are somewhat unique in a way. They are the result of 9 brain surgeries that have removed more than 20 tumors in as many years, as well as a few rounds of radiation that have left my brain swollen and angry.

It is not that I lose consciousness of what was going on around me. I am actually hyper-aware of the input coming in – I am just unable to process it into anything meaningful. I can walk up to a door, I know that on the other side of this door is my destination, but I am unable to understand how the door works. I can see the key in my hand, but I have no idea how to fit it into the keyhole, let alone to turn it in order to open the door.

In this case I was able to make it into the lobby of our building, but that was about as far as I could get. So, there I sat, in a stupor, patiently abiding my breath as I gave myself up to the actions of those around me, trusting they would do the right thing.

In so many ways these seizures remind me of the inherent kindness and goodness that is within us all. It would have been so easy for someone to grab my wallet, my mobile, or to shuffle me off to some nightmare scenario that screenwriters are so quick to turn into a blockbuster. But this has never happened.

Not once in all my experiences has anyone ever done anything other than to help, to assist, to see me through. For that I am eternally grateful. I am also eternally optimistic that the human experience is not one based on hate or anger or fear, but on love and compassion and understanding. That it is within each of us to reach out and lift up those who are in need, as has happened to me again and again and again.

 

The Fall

This seizure followed a fairly predictable pattern. I was running a number errands and had forgotten to take my Keppra – an anti-seizure drug. I dehydrated myself and skipped lunch which lowered my electrolytes and blood sugar, in order to get one more errand done. I put myself in what I call the danger zone, by adding level of stress to the whole situation, until I ran into a market that was loud and crowded and bright with more food choices than you could ever hope to see, and that is what flipped the switch. It over-stimulated my senses with brighter lights and jostling people and more noise than I could handle; and that is when my brain just said enough.

When then the seizure starts, it comes on pretty quickly. The signs give me perhaps a thirty or forty minute warning. It is like watching my brain shut down the inputs so that it can reboot. My field of vision quickly diminishes to create a tunnel. I begin to see flashing lights. My hearing begins to dim, and I get a numbness and tingling in my fingers and toes.

On this occasion I determined I had enough time to get home.

As I focused on the streets I knew it would not be long until my speech become unintelligible. I also knew I would start forgetting how to make the connections we all take for granted – like how to use a key in a door, how to take an elevator upstairs, or how to make a cell phone work. It is the funny thing about my seizures, I conceptually understand what something does, I simply cannot for the life of me make the connections that are necessary to make it work.

It’s kind of like being a car without a driver. The engine is idles just fine, but it’s not going anywhere without someone turning the wheel or stepping on the gas, let alone being ready to step on the brake.

In some cases if I catch it in time, I can stop the seizure by taking a cold shower to lower my body temperature, drinking an electrolyte replacement designed for marathoners called Skratch, or meditating to quiet down my brain’s activity. I can even nap for a few hours, or collapse into a deep unmoving sleep, until things seem to return to a normal path of recovery.

Needless to say, this time I missed that window of opportunity.

Instead, I felt the growing disassociation with the world as it shrunk in around me as I headed home, key in hand. I remember putting myself on as direct a path as possible. It was only a few blocks to our loft, not even ten minutes, but by the time I got to our front door, I wasn’t sure how to use the key that was in my hand in the lock.

I knew what was going on, so I stopped and breathed and settled things down. I focused on my breath until a connection was pulled together and slowly slid the key in, turning it, and opening the door.

In front of me was the steel door of the elevator that would take me to our loft. I knew what the elevator was for, but by this time I could not sync up the concept of the elevator with the idea of how to operate it [i.e., put the key in the lock, turn the key and push the button for the right floor].

I also somehow knew having my wife find me collapsed in the apartment would be less desirable than accosting someone in the lobby and getting them to call her. Don’t ask me how, but this is the way my brain works in times like these.

So I sat inside the lobby with my keys in my hand and waited. My vision continued to degrade into a very narrow band of light, into which I scrolled my phone one step at a time. I remember thinking to myself, “this is just like yoga, one movement for each breath. Slow and steady,” with the idea that if I could set everything up, if someone came in, if I could catch their attention, I could just push send and give them the phone.

As you already know, a neighbor eventually did come in. I managed to garble out the idea for him to use my phone to call my wife. How he understood I have no idea, but he made the call.

Alex, I thank you for that.

06:49 – Laura sent a text that she was on her way down and calling 911

 

Into the ER at NYU

I remember sitting there, sweating and listening to the sirens as they approached. Alex stayed with me until the ambulance arrived. I acutely aware of my head hanging down as I focused on my breath. I was aware of everything going on around me, without placing too much attention on any one detail. It was as if my brain was absorbing the events in a very distracted way. It was detached, but taking it all in, as if floating just beneath the surface of a lagoon, watching what was going on above the surface without being able to interact with it; calm and serene.

I could not see the EMT when they came into the lobby, but remember hearing them. I was trying to say something, but realized whatever I was saying made no sense. I knew what I wanted to say, but could not get the words out, so I just let it go and let them handle the situation.

I could feel them moving me this way and that, strapping me onto a stretcher and loading me out the door. It occurred to me that this was what Stephen Hawkins must feel like. Able to take in the world around him, observing and noting from afar, without the ability to interact.

Laura climbed into the ambulance and told them NYU, and off we went. The ride itself was a benign trip through which I closed my eyes. I felt safe, knowing that from this point on, everything would be fine.

When I opened my eyes, it was to the noises and lights of the ER. We had arrived at the NYU Medical Center where the doctors have had me on file for decades.  The orderlies were taking vitals and placing electrodes on my chest and head. The nurses were securing IVs into my arms. There was nothing for me to do but lie there and breathe. Everything that could be managed was being managed. I was stable.

 

Recovery

When I woke, it was to the flashlight of a nurse checking the dilation of my eyes. It wasn’t great, but they would get better.

The key difference between my seizures and the seizures caused by something like epilepsy, is that in my case, it is all about the buildup. I hover in the yellow-zone for hours until something pushes me over the edge. I get over-stimulated by some trigger, my brain gets overloaded and simply says enough as it starts to shutdown.

After the seizure occurs, the event is over. There are no follow-up seizures. It’s a one-time event before my brain goes into repair mode, busying itself as it re-establishes the neural connections it once mapped my life to. There are no cascading of electrical impulses where the brain continues to misfire. I am not sent down into a series of seizure after seizure after seizure. And yes, I consider myself extremely lucky in this sense.

It took a day or two of observation for the doctors to confirm that my brain’s activity had normalized, after which they saw little reason to keep me. In effect, releasing me on my own recognizance.

 

The Road Back

What I have learned over the various surgeries and seizures that I have had, is that the physical brain is a truly remarkable organ. Not only does it have millions of connections that not only keep the body alive, but it reorders those connections every second of every day in an infinite number of combinations to create the thoughts and dreams we call the mind.

It also reprioritizes the way in which those connections are put together, in order to better respond to the world around us. A London taxi driver’s hypocampus, the area responsible for mapping and directions is heavier and more deeply folded than yours or mine. It is a survival skill they need having to drive through the more than 10,000 streets of London that have been built up over the past several thousand years – few of which follow any kind of a grid pattern.

I was reminded of this as I began to look out the window of our apartment at the streets of Soho in Manhattan. This is the haphazard area that was laid down before the grid on Manhattan was established. No right angles. No first, second, third or fourth. Instead it is a mishmash of Spring and Mercer, Prince and Wooster, it was this pattern that I needed to access before I could leave the loft.

The amazing part of relearning the streets is that the harder I tried to picture them, the more difficult it was to do so. Instead, the more I relaxed, that more I let go, the quicker the image of the streets would come to me.

On the one day I went out thinking I would wander around the reacquaint myself with the neighborhood, I got lost within half a block. I could not remember what was North or South, East or West, uptown or downtown. I had to stop against a building and breathe for several minutes until I slowly realized where I was, and more important, where our loft was.

That was enough to send me back home for a very long nap.

On my second trip out, I thought of taking a different approach. I would take a left out of the apartment and stick to one street. As I walked down the street I read the signs as they begin to spark my memory. I could feel my brain make the familiar connections that were already there.

After several days of this I begin to visualize a grid around me. It was only a few blocks, but I begin to remember the names of the streets several blocks away. I even began to see the stores on the next block as if they were appearing out of some recess in my memory.

In between, there were moments of standing on a corner for minutes on end, unwilling to go any further until my brain could catch up with where I was. I was taking baby steps, allowing my brain to familiarize itself with the neural network it had slowly established over decades.

As my brain mapped the streets of the city, I could feel other aspects of my mind coming online. I learned it helped to put everything in a very specific place, and to not take any shortcuts. Life became easier when I was able to create familiar patterns that I could return to. As these patterns established themselves within my head, I could expand upon them more easily.

The moment I took a shortcut, was the moment I would get lost or confused, and have to take several steps backwards before starting over.
My conversation begin to get tighter. My writing became crisper. I could even remember the focus of a paragraph from the time I started and finished writing it. Oh, and autocorrect no longer confuses me by misspelling my words.

 

Q+A – Learn to Surf Your Meditation

Q:

How do I go further in my meditation? I feel like I’m getting stuck early on and I’m becoming frustrated by my inability to go further.

A:

Where are you trying to go and why do you need to get there so quickly?

The beauty to meditation is that it is a journey to nowhere. In so many ways it is a circle within a circle. You sit, you quiet the mind, and you let go. When you arrive to that place of calm you realize you are right where you are. You have gone nowhere. You have experienced what it is to have a clear vision of nothingness; free from the need to pay attention to thoughts or the interruptions of the world around you. With practice you become aware that the distractions of your mind are really no different than the distractions of the world you live in.

You see, meditation is not a place to travel to. There is no destination or linear path to follow. There are no road signs for direction. Instead there is an endless ocean upon which to float, and within that ocean there are entirely new levels of freedom to explore once you are able to free yourself from the inner-workings of your brain and allow your mind to stretch beyond itself. When you are able to do that, you will find that you can reach beyond the world of your five senses.

I often describe meditation as a walk into the ocean.  When you first close your eyes in meditation, it is like walking into the ocean. You are buffeted by waves that push you back and knock you over.  These are the thoughts and ideas, lists and regrets, assignments and tasks that your brain distracts you with.

It is as if a cerebral surf is crashing down on you, keeping you from reaching the calm swells that rise and fall beyond the waves. You know they are out there, but you struggle to reach them. The more you struggle, the more off balance you become, and the more difficult it is to stay focused on your destination.

Once through the surf, you begin to feel the calm rise and fall of the ocean swells. In time, you will even find that you can float on top of the beautiful water, rising and falling as if floating on the ebb and flow of the tides of existence.

With practice, you may even feel yourself slipping beneath the water, safe and quiet, watching the thoughts pass above you, above the surface.  There you can rest in quiet, aware they are there, but knowing that you do not have to interact with them.  You will find that you can stay in that place for a while, until you become aware of an even calmer point that is deeper, quieter, with even less motion from the waves and the currents of the outside world.

And so your journey goes until you are resting in that null space between your thoughts and your breath.

The key to getting to that point is learning how not to fight the waves of distraction, but to surf on them.  And that requires climbing onto a metaphysical surfboard, free from attachment and from ego. It is not the same as “letting go.” Instead it means embracing the world you are in so that you can be one with the waves of your mind.

At first, don’t even worry about “meditating.”  Instead just allow yourself to drop in on your breath.

Simply be aware of the air as it flows in and out of your body.

Be aware of your lungs expanding and releasing with each inhale and exhale.

Pay attention to the quality of that breath.

Notice how cool and dry it is as it enters your nose.

Notice how warm and moist it is as it leaves.

Notice the feeling of your body as it sinks into your pillow or seat.

Gently move your awareness to the pattern of light that plays on your eyelids.

With each breath surf to another of your senses and explore what you see, hear, taste and smell.

Don’t jump, just surf through your five senses gently by moving your awareness and your attention to whatever you are experiencing.

When you are ready, return your attention to your breath.

Do not force your attention to go anywhere, simply follow it through your nostrils and own your windpipe.

Feel it enter your lungs.

Be aware of the currents that air creates as it swirls around your lungs and through your body.

Feel the energy that flows from your abdomen to your scalp, your fingertips and your toes.

Then, when you are ready, return your attention to your breathing and enjoy your meditation on the calm waves of your own ocean.

 

Be well,

 

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

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 –

Monday Moments: Meditation & Doodling

By definition, a doodle is “a drawing made absentmindedly.”
Interesting.

Perhaps it is time to update the dictionary.

Now that we know what is going on in the mind of the doodler, or at least in some of the minds…

In fact, research is tells us that the mind of a doodler, either absent minded or not, is active.  Very much so.

For some, the act of doodling helps them visualize the problems and issues that the subconscious is working on. For others, it is a way to free up the subconscious to enable it to explore unchartered areas.

Recent research in neuroscience and psychology shows that doodling can actually help people stay more focused, understand new concepts and retain information more readily. A blank page can serve as an extended playing field for the brain, allowing you to refine and improve on creative thoughts and ideas.

In fact, according to a 2009 study in Applied Cognitive Psychology, people who were encouraged to doodle while listening to a list of people’s names being read were able to remember 29% more of the information on a surprise quiz later, than those who did not.

If you’ve never doodled before, or you are not sure how, I want to introduce you to a classic exercise called Blind Contour Drawing. It is a classic intro-to-art exercise that involves drawing an object without looking at your paper while you do so.

No, you should not expect your drawing to look like a Monet or to win any awards, but you may be surprised at how alive it actually is. As some have said, “It is a way to see, without seeing.” Better still, it is a way to truly see the object before you, free from your own interpretations that might hold you back from your own creativity and from drawing what is truly there.

If at first this is uncomfortable for you, try taking a moment to find your seat and your breath. Breathe slowly and deeply as you fix your gaze upon an object in front of you. In time to your breath and without looking at your paper, reach out and pick up your pen or pencil. Clear your mind and begin to draw without look at your paper. If you do, simply smile, blink a few times, and begin again.

Refrain from looking at your pen or your paper. Instead, notice the lines and the angles of the object before you. See the curves  and the shadows, and allow your hand to flow freely.

Allow yourself to let go as you let your hand float for a few minutes. Do not worry, your mind will not allow you to go too long. It will bring you back; and when it does feel free to look down at what you have drawn.

At first you may laugh. But as you continue to look from paper to object, you will begin to see points of connection. You will begin to see where you hand took a turn that mimicked a turn in your object. That is your cue to smile. That is the point of connection between the object, your mind and the paper before you.

It is okay to set your drawing aside. It is okay to toss it in the bin. It is also okay to remember this exercise when you need to let go of the noise in your head so that you can focus on the task before you, as we all do from time to time.

Be well, and enjoy your Blind Contour Drawing.

A sort of doodling all on its own.

 

 

 

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