Life

11/16/14 Life # , , ,

This Shit is Hard

love-and-lightI post a lot about personal growth and enlightenment (my idea of enlightenment isn’t a religious one, but you can apply to the term whatever works for you). This isn’t because I see myself as a paragon of said enlightenment. In fact, quite the opposite is true. The more I learn about the higher consciousness associated with spiritual growth, love, connectedness, and anything else you might put under the umbrella of enlightenment, the more I feel I have to learn.

Which is why it’s particularly disappointing to see people I respect and admire, people who routinely spout love-filled ideology, behaving in ways counter to their supposed spirituality.

Listen, I get it. It’s not easy to deal with some of the situations life throws our way. It’s not easy to decipher the truth of a situation when everyone has their own version (and we see things through a lens uniquely altered by our own experiences, loyalties, and agendas). It’s not easy to watch the people we love targeted, belittled, hurt, shamed, excluded. But as I try to learn and grow, to become a better person really, my goal is to bring love and light to every situation, ESPECIALLY those where it’s difficult to do so. And while I’d love to say I always do this, the truth is that it’s not always possible.

Because this shit is HARD.

So when I find myself in a situation where I want to rage, where I want to be my smallest, meanest, most petty self, my goal shifts. Then I am aware that I am just not capable of bringing light and love to the situation, and my goal becomes to NOT bring more darkness to it. In those situations, it’s sometimes all I can do to mediate on the issue at hand, to STAND SILENT rather than BE MEAN. Yes, I would like to be the kind of person who can always bring light and love to a situation, but the truth is, I’m just not there yet. Sometimes I can pull it out, but other times it takes everything I’ve got just to NOT BRING DARKNESS.

As I share my own journey, the last thing I ever want is to be a hypocrite, to be less than honest about where I’m at on the path. But there is one thing I can say with certainty – it has been a long, long time since I have been outwardly mean, small and petty, even in a very trying situation. Inwardly, I still struggle with these things from time to time. Of course I do. But I have finally gotten to the point where I can’t remember the last time I’ve said or done something to make someone feel bad about themselves, their behavior, their journey. The point where I can honestly say that a majority of the time, I strive to make people feel loved and worthy of love.

Because here is the truth; there has never been a spiritual teacher, or even someone I respect and admire spiritually (again, not a religious definition for me, make the connection to this word that suits you), who has spent their time pointing out the flaws of others, criticizing them, being mean and petty and small and making others feel mean and petty and small. The people I admire spiritually aren’t always perfect. They are often people who will acknowledge, again, that this shit is hard. But neither do they bring more darkness to already-dark situations. Instead they bring the light, or at the very least, turn inward to work on themselves until they can.

So the next time you find yourself in a trying situation, try asking what you can do to bring love and light to it. And if you can’t, that’s okay. Just don’t bring darkness. Look inward instead and work on being the kind of person who can. And if you are the unfortunate target of darkness-bearing people (especially those cloaked as light-bearers), retreat and bring light to yourself — and find others who will join you in keeping the torch lit, and of course, in passing it on.

<3

 

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11/13/14 Life # , , , , , , ,

You Are Not In Jeopardy

All_Is_WellIf I ever get a tattoo, this is what it will say.

I think these words often, ever since I read a quote that went something like; “Do not for a moment entertain the idea that you are in jeopardy.” I wish I could remember who said it! Rumi maybe?

In any case, those words changed the way I think about fear and worry and strife and the never-ending obstacles that can feel like a necessary part of life’s bargain. As soon as I read them, I felt a burden lifted from my shoulders. Of course, I know now that this is because all our fear and stress and anger and disappointment is a result not of the events that happen in our lives, but of the way we think about them and our attachment to the outcome. But back then I only knew that I felt… relief at the idea that I am okay.

I AM NOT IN JEOPARDY.

What powerful words. My mantra, ALL IS WELL, is just a shorter way of saying it.

I repeat the phrase often. I repeat it when I’m worried about paying for braces or college or about that strange sound coming from my car (and how much it’s going to cost to fix). I repeat it when I wonder if — yes, IF — I will sell another book and when I’m feeling like a hack and a has-been (it happens more often than you might think). I repeat it when I wonder if my brand is shot to hell from writing different kinds of books and if I’ll ruin my career by doing something bold and ill-advised. I repeat it when I’m thinking about my kids moving out of the house and the now-imminent moment (exhilarating and terrifying!) when I will have long stretches of time to fill with something other than the mindless tasks of making lunches and driving people everywhere.

These simple words have the power to calm the shallow breath and knotted stomach of anxiety. They have the power to ground me in an instant – whether I’m driving in the car saying them out loud or standing in a check out line repeating them in my head. But I know it isn’t the words themselves that do the job. It’s the knowledge — the REMINDER — that all really IS well. It’s well because I say it’s well. It’s well because, in the words of another famous, unattributed quote, “Everything will be okay in the end, and if it’s not, it’s not the end.” The only sure thing in life is that everything is always changing. Don’t like what’s going on, how you’re feeling, what someone is saying? Ride it out and it will pass. Try it the next time you are worried or scared or beaten down. Take a few slow, calming breaths and say the words.

All is well. I promise.

<3

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10/20/14 Life # , , , ,

You Are Terrifying and Strange…

warsan_shire_quote1It took me a long time to understand that not everyone will know how to love me. That’s okay. But it’s also okay to insist on the kind of love you deserve. It might mean that it takes longer to find the right people. It might mean there are fewer of them. But in the end, the people who know how to love you — just as you are — are the people you need in your life. As for the others; send them light and love and let them go. In the meantime, learn to love yourself like the most gentle of friends, the most passionate of lovers, the kindest and wisest of mentors. Because the most important thing of all is that you know how to love you.

Have a wonderful week, sweet friends.

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10/14/14 Life , Recipe of the Week , Recipes # , , ,

Vegetarian Sausage and Biscuits

sausage_biscuitsIt’s been surprising to realize how little I miss from my meat-eating days. I’m going on three years being vegetarian, and the truth is, I rarely crave anything with meat these days. Part of that is because there are so many vegetarian substitutes for meat products, and we’re lucky enough to live in an era where most of them are really very good. The other part of it is that my taste buds have changed. I mostly crave “live” food (vegetables and fruit), and if I go too long eating a lot of pasta or bread or rice, it’s salads and fresh fruit that I really want.

That said, every now and then you hear the call of some forgotten food, often with associations of comfort or childhood. Sausage and biscuits has been on my list for the last few weeks, so I finally decided to try and make it veggie. And you know what? It rocked. Really, it was almost indistinguishable from the meat version. Even the kids said it was the best sausage gravy EVER. Plus it was super easy and took about twenty minutes.

Hope you enjoy it!

Biscuits and Vegetarian Sausage Gravy

14 oz. vegetarian sausage (I used Good Life’s non-GMO version in a tube)

4 cups vegetable broth (I made my own with 4 cups of water and 4 tsp of Better Than Bouillon vegetable paste)

4 tablespoons corn starch

1 cup Greek yogurt

Salt and pepper to taste

Brown the vegetarian sausage in a little oil (I use grapeseed oil), breaking apart with a spatula or wooden spoon while it cooks. While the sausage is browning, whisk together the broth and corn starch.

Once the sausage is brown and a little crispy, add the broth and corn starch mixture. Whisk on and off for about two minutes or until the gravy is thickened.

Turn off heat and whisk in yogurt. Add salt and pepper to taste (liberal pepper adds a nice Southern flavor to the gravy).

Pour over your favorite biscuits. Or rice. Or potatoes. Or basically anything.

Enjoy!

🙂

 

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09/25/14 Life # , ,

Go Out Into the World and Do Good

Go_Into_the_WorldSometimes you just need a reminder of why we’re really here. <3

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09/22/14 Life # , , , , , , ,

Let It Breathe

hafiz_quoteFor years now I’ve had a recurring dream. The details are never exactly the same, but I’m always lost someplace, trying desperately to get out because I MUST be somewhere else immediately. When my children were younger, it was usually that I was supposed to pick them up, and I knew they were waiting for me on the other side of a mall or city or office building that I couldn’t seem to navigate. Floors changed from gymnasiums to hospitals, hallways turned into mazes from which there was no escape, and city blocks seemed to morph before my eyes into an unrecognizable landscape. I’d end up wandering around, thinking, “But that corner was RIGHT HERE.”

Saturday night I dreamed that I was in a strange kind of dorm with my daughter. We were supposed to man a booth for charity at a flea market, but we’d both woken up late. She wanted to throw clothes on and go, but I preferred to take a quick shower first so I wasn’t so out of it. We were still negotiating when she decided to leave without me. So I tried to find my way there, but the harder I tried to escape the dorm building, the more lost I became. Eventually I decided to go to the first floor, reasoning there would at least be access to an exit, but when I got there it was a hospital with sick people in every room and no exits I could find. When I went back up to the second floor, it had become a sports arena, and in my dream, I wasn’t even sure I’d been on the second floor of the dorm to begin with.

And all the while, the minutes ticked by. I kept checking clocks on the walls only to find that it had become so late in the afternoon that there was hardly a point trying to get to the flea market at all. I woke up panicked, with a familiar knot of anxiety in my chest that told me how wound up I’d been even in my sleep.

After that, I thought a lot about why I keep having these dreams, and why they make me so anxious, and I realized it’s never the being LOST that freaks me out; it’s always the fact that I’M SUPPOSED TO BE SOMEWHERE ELSE. It’s that ticking clock telling me I’m late, that itinerary telling me I have somehow failed my responsibilities. Such an obvious connection to real life that “metaphor” hardly applies!

It seems there’s always someplace else I’m supposed to be, something else I should have done by now. I’m never where I believe I SHOULD be. Shouldn’t I be on some bestseller list somewhere by now? Shouldn’t I have won some kind of award? Shouldn’t there be a movie or TV show about ONE of my books? Shouldn’t I have more financial security? And this isn’t an entitlement thing. It’s a “what the hell have I been doing with myself?” thing.

But the answer is simple. I’m on the road. I’m working and raising kids and learning and growing and experimenting (when I have the luxury), and yes, making mistakes, too. I’m here because I need to be here, and because there is some purpose to this particular hallway, this particular floor. There is something important I haven’t yet seen or done on this city block, and I think I will be better off if I just stop looking at the clock and instead take a deep breath and look around.

<3

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09/09/14 Life # , , , , ,

Why Are We Here Again?

We_are_here_to_healI love this quote so much. I think from now on, if I have a quandary, I’ll just look at this and ask myself; what will bring healing? What will bring love? What will allow me to create something beautiful? Or alternately, will this action or these words harm anyone? Will they destroy?

It’s a very human response to think about how our decisions will affect us. Will this contribute to my personal gain? Will it make me look good? But what if we put those concerns aside and thought only about this? What a relief!

And it kind of makes every decision seem simple, doesn’t it?

Sending you healing, love and creation, Sweet Friends!

<3

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09/02/14 Life # , , , , ,

Happy New Week!

charles-bukowski-quotes-drink-from-the-wellOne of the most amazing things about this beautiful, wonderful, crazy life is that there is no limit to the number of times you can begin again.

<3

 

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08/21/14 Life # , , ,

Are You a Seeker?

What_you_seekWhat_you_seekI’ve always considered myself a Seeker, but I have an ongoing debate with myself about whether or not it’s a good thing. For a long time, I assumed everyone pondered life constantly, that everyone spent a large amount of time contemplating the universe, their place in it, whether or not there is a creator force, etc., etc., etc. It wasn’t until I married my second husband that I realized that isn’t true. I’d say, “Do you ever think about XYZ?” And he’d shrug and say, “No.” It was a shock to me. How can you not WONDER? Don’t you CARE?

But over time I also realized that those kinds of people seemed happier. Honestly, my ex just didn’t think that much about stuff. He took life as it came and adjusted as necessary. I envied him and others like him. Spared the angst of pondering life’s great questions, they seemed free to just BE. At the same time, I can’t imagine living absent the rich inner life that keep my mind occupied even in the most mundane of circumstances. I recognize that having this kind of heart and mind is what makes me who I am, and now that I’m older and I actually like myself, I wouldn’t want that to change. Still, I’m always trying to strike that elusive balance between letting my mind go where it will and not making myself crazy (which is probably why meditation has been such a lifesaver for me).

What about you? Are you a Seeker? Do you think it makes you happier or less happy? Would you change it if you could?

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08/15/14 Life , Uncategorized # , , , , , ,

You’re So Money

Time for this week’s movie update for all you fellow cinefiles.

😉

 

Saw BOYHOOD for our Friday matinee and it was every bit as wonderful and emotional and moving as I expected it to be. Filmed over twelve years using the same cast, the movie speaks to the universal struggle of growing up and growing older, and somehow you leave the theater feeling a little less alone on the journey. The film is in limited release (we had quite a few showings last week, only two this week, and I suspect it will be gone by next week), so jump at the chance to see it if you can.

 

Friday night we watched SWINGERS, a 90s movie featuring a young Vince Vaughn and John Favreaux. I’d seen it before, but it had been awhile and I’m glad I got to watch it with the kids. How else can we say, “You’re so money, and you don’t even know it,” to each other and get the reference? Streaming on Netflix.

 

Saturday the littlest Z and I watched DRINKING BUDDIES while everyone else was out. It was an entertaining look at the complexity of male/female friendships, although a bit slow on the pacing side. That said, it’s streaming on Netflix, and there’s something to be said for free movies.

 

We continued our late night Saturday tradition by watching the horror movie OCULUS. I was surprised by how good this one was. It was extremely well-written, with little of the gore that characterizes a lot of scary movies. Instead the film relies on psychological terror (my favorite!) and a tense round of flashbacks to the incident that shaped events in the modern day timeline. I was on the edge of my seat through most of the movie, and we all agreed that it was a win in terms of horror films. I think we might have streamed this one from Amazon for $2.99.

 

Happy Movie Watching, guys, and Happy Weekend!!

🙂

 

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08/11/14 Life , Writing # , , , ,

Dreaming is Good – Doing the Work is Better

estee-lauder-dream-quoteBack when I used to be in sales, I lived by the belief that if I focused my energy on activity rather than numbers, the numbers would come, that connecting with prospective clients, setting up meetings, writing as many proposals as possible, and making calls was more productive than obsessing about whether we were going to meet our goals.

The funny thing is, I recognize it now as a kind of mindfulness, a way to focus on the actions of the present moment rather than get caught up in the potential outcomes. Talk about foreshadowing for LIFE!

When it comes to writing, I’ve never thought much about “success”. It’s always been about the act itself. On those rare occasions when I get distracted by how well (or not) my books are performing, whether we’re ever going to get that TV deal for THIS WICKED GAME, and if my dream book will be picked up by my current publisher, I try to put my focus back on the activity and have a little faith that doing the work will take me where I want to go — or at least where I’m SUPPOSED to go. Sometimes it’s easier said than done, but this week I’m putting all my energy into finishing one project so that I can start revisions on PROMISES I MADE and then complete revisions to my adult book. After that? Well, there are concepts to develop and more books to write, of course!

I do believe there’s a time and place for dreaming, but at some point, we have to put our heads down and get the work done. In other words, dreaming is good — but taking action to make your dreams a reality is better. Wishing you all a joyful and productive week!

<3

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08/01/14 Life , Movie Monday , Uncategorized # , , , , , , ,

Compliance, Syriana, Resolution, Wish I Was Here

Since we watch so many movies in our house, I thought I’d start giving you guys a heads up on the ones we like, especially streaming since that’s a nice, low-cost form of entertainment, and I think we’re all familiar with the agony of wading through the thousands of available movie on five different streaming services.

Last weekend we got lucky with FOUR movies that are good bets all around. Following are the trailers and a brief rundown on each.

COMPLIANCE

Deeply unsettling, especially since it’s based on a true story. I couldn’t help wondering not only how much we’ve all been brainwashed into complying with any kind of authority figure, but how many young women would feel powerless in this kind of situation. Terrifying.

SYRIANA

A political thriller that explores the complex nature of our relationship with oil and the lengths governments across the globe — our own included — will go to secure it. I love movieswith intersecting story lines like this one (a la TRAFFIC).

RESOLUTION

We were looking for a horror movie and ended up with this Tribeca film about a guy who holes up with his best friend in the middle of nowhere to help him get clean. It was really disturbing, and there was tons of symbolism that I didn’t fully grasp until we read the analysis. One of those gems you feel fortunate to stumble upon.

And if you’re looking to go to the theater, WISH I WAS HERE was a fun romp through Zac Braff’s brain. It wasn’t technically perfect, but it was moving and real and I really enjoyed it. Plus, it has a an awesome soundtrack.

 

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07/29/14 Life #

Like A Child

Like_A_ChildIt took me a long time to love myself this much. Too long! Sometimes as adults we lose sight of the fact that we are still the same fragile souls as when we were children. The things we need now aren’t very different from the the things we needed then, and I truly believe that we can only realize our truest purpose if we are nurturing ourselves at the most basic of levels. This almost universally means feeding our souls with good food and good books, plenty of rest, time spent in nature and with loved ones, and speaking kindly and compassionately to ourselves. You don’t need permission from anyone to do these things for yourself — ever. Start today!

<3

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07/24/14 Life #

Don’t Forget to Look Up

Love this reminder to live in the moment instead of via our screens (even though I adore you guys — you know I do!).

<3

 

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07/21/14 Life # , , , , ,

Focus Creates Expansion

Focus_Expansion_QuoteSometimes the Universe is so quiet. Other times, it speaks so loudly we can’t ignore it. A couple of weeks ago I read an article written by a man about to divorce his wife. The article was centered around things he wished he’d known earlier in his marriage. The fact that I clicked through at all is a bit strange; I don’t read many relationship-related articles (I haven’t been in one for six years) nor divorce-related ones (mine is well behind me, as is any angst related to it). But for some reason I found myself reading anyway. It was all kind of basic stuff about appreciating someone and not sweating the small stuff. Then I came to this (I’m paraphrasing, because I don’t remember where I saw it);

That which you focus on expands.

I felt the beginnings of an epiphany, but I didn’t realize how much it affected me until I realized, two weeks later, that I was still thinking about it. About how true it is, in relationships, yes, but in life, too. Then a few days ago, I saw this on the Abraham-Hicks page;

“Continuing to tell stories of shortage only continues to contradict your desire for abundance, and you cannot have it both ways: You cannot focus upon unwanted and receive wanted… ”

And I immediately thought; “expansion.”

It’s kind of crazy that I never thought about this before now. But of course, it makes sense. It’s like looking out the window and seeing dew on the grass, then being surprised when it’s wet and cold on your bare feet. Of course, the things we focus on expand — in relationship, careers, love and life. Of course, we contradict our desire for abundance when we focus on shortage. We don’t necessarily feel like we’re focusing on the negative, but if we’re thinking about the things we don’t have, about what everyone else has, in terms of money or love or recognition or freedom or health, the energy we need to manifest those things for ourselves is diverted into the unproductive task of dissatisfaction. And dissatisfaction, my friends, is a full time job.

It all keys into something I deeply believe; that the universe has everything we need in abundance. There is no shortage of love or money or recognition, no finite “pot” that must be split 7 billion ways (although we can certainly make the argument that the current distribution doesn’t always seem fair, but that’s a different discussion). The trick, then, is to live it. To expand not just our thoughts, but ourselves. I almost typed “Easier said than done” here, but that’s not really true. It’s actually easier to focus on the things that are available to us. Which is everything. I truly believe that! Do you?

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07/09/14 Life , Uncategorized

Building a Reservoir of Calm Through Meditation

I am quite often asked about my meditation practice. I tell myself it’s because I talk about it a lot (and Share stuff about meditation quite frequently), but it might also be because all the people who knew me Before Meditation wonder what happened to the high-strung, neurotic, moody, bag of stress that used to be me.

I’m not super proud when I look back on the way I used to be and the way I used to handle things. The combination of Type-A personality and mild Bi-Polar Disorder certainly didn’t do me any favors, but neither did I have any real coping mechanism for dealing with runaway feelings, stress, anxiety, or anything other than the smooth sailing that is only about 1% of real life. Anything out of the norm hit me like a wave, either in a set that seemed never-ending, or one at a time, out of the blue, a giant wall of rogue emotion. I was knocked down, “spin-cycled”, as we used to say in Southern California where I grew up. It could take me days, weeks, months, to touch solid ground again, and I’d be left flailing in the water, panicking and gasping for breath, expecting to drown at any minute.

I can’t even remember how I became interested in meditation. It might have been through a friend (a practicing Buddhist) who had a lovely, calm demeanor and a meditation corner in her home, but the turning point, the point at which it became more than just an abstract idea, was the summer I decided to take advantage of the free “Open Sit” at a local Buddhist center on Thursday nights. Every Thursday at 7pm I’d take the kids to the center where we would sit for a half an hour (they gave us a brief introduction to meditation, sitting postures, etc. prior to our first time), do calming exercises similar to Tai Chi (or take a silent walk through the grounds), and then listen to a “Dharma Talk”, a half hour presentation on some tenet of Buddhism. At the end, we’d sit for another ten minutes. I left feeling refreshed, calm, cleansed.

At first, I wanted to climb out of my own skin. I didn’t LIKE sitting alone with myself. It was scary and dark, and sometimes I’d even feel the clutch of panic. But little by little, I began to relish those silent moments with myself. Sometimes, I would even end my session feeling like it wasn’t enough, like I needed more time. At one of our earliest sessions, one of the other participants, a mother from New Jersey who drove up every Thursday for the Open Sit, said to me, “It’s wonderful that you’re here. You’ll be surprised how much will change in your family because of this one thing you are doing.” She was so, so right. By the end of the summer, I was hooked, and even my kids seemed to mellow.

I can’t really explain why meditation makes such a difference. One metaphor I like is that water must be still to have clarity. Throw in a rock, and all you see are ripples. Let it settle, and you can finally see what’s really there. With the mind, we can’t really think clearly or see things as they are when life conspires to make ripples 24/7. Meditation is a way to calm the waters so we can see and think clearly. The really amazing thing is how this sense of calm seeped into my life even when I wasn’t meditating. Now I understand that we all have this reservoir inside us that we draw upon in times of stress or worry or fear or hurt. When the reservoir is dry, we’re just clawing at the dirt, looking for something that isn’t there to get us through. Meditation fills the reservoir, so that even when I’m not meditating, my reactions to everything are calmer. I’m drawing from the reservoir of stillness that builds up through meditating, and it makes all the difference.

Since I get so many emails asking how to meditate, I wanted to share some basic guidelines for those of you who are curious, because meditation is sometimes seen as a mystery, and often those who are curious are embarrassed to ask what seems like a very basic question; how do I DO it? The truth is, the mechanics are easy! It’s something anyone can do anywhere. It requires no special equipment (although a good cushion is helpful), is completely free of charge, and requires no special knowledge (though you may find yourself seeking out knowledge as meditation becomes a bigger part of your life).

The first thing you need is a place to sit. Any quiet place will do, although it is helpful to have a wall to face, especially in the beginning. It may feel strange at first to face a wall, but it begins to feel a bit symbolic, a way to turn your back on worldly cares while you allow yourself some silent space in your own mind. You’ll get used to it! And you can can always make exceptions to sit outside, in a group of people, etc. It doesn’t have to be fancy. This is where I sit;

My_Meditation_Corner

I use the towel under one of my knees for comfort, but some forms of meditation recommend draping it over one’s lap. This is nice to do in the winter if it’s chilly (optimal temperature for meditating is 60-62 degrees, so some meditation centers keep their rooms cool — you can bring a shall or blanket if you like!).

 

 

 

 

Next, you need something to sit on. I use a zafu, which is a standard meditation cushion and platform combo that looks like this;

zafu

 

 

 

 

 

Basically, you sit on the round part and fold your legs, resting your knees on the platform like so;

Zafu_Sitting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alternatively, some people find this position more comfortable;

Zafu_Sitting_2

It doesn’t really matter. You can sit any way that you feel comfortable, as long as your spine is straight (critical to good breathing). If you have bad knees or a bad back, you can even sit upright in a chair. Whatever works! If you find that you aren’t comfortable, FIND ANOTHER CUSHION OR ANOTHER PLACE TO SIT. Nothing will make you avoid meditation like being physically uncomfortable. I love my zafu because the round cushion is filled with buckwheat that can be altered (by removing some of it) according to preference. I like mine very full. I have bad knees, and the firm zafu helps keep me up off the platform high enough that my knees don’t bother me. You can also stack more than one cushion if that’s what you need to sit comfortably.

Once you’re sitting, you can place your hands in any number of positions. A common hand position is with the backs of the hand resting on the knees, palms turned upright, thumb and index finger touching, like this;

meditation_position1

 

 

 

 

 

Chan meditation advocates this hand position;

meditation_Position_chan

You can also simply rest your palms facedown, so they are kind of “cupping” your knees. Again, what matters is that you are comfortable.

Once you are seated comfortably, you want to set some kind of timer. Anything will do, but I use an app called Insight Timer on my phone. It allows me to customize the settings, and even allows me to split up my sit into sections (in case you want to take a break partway through or change your meditation from, say, a mindfulness meditation to a compassion meditation). I have mine set to ring three gentle bells at the beginning of my sit and three gentle bells at the end.

I started with five minutes, expanded to eight, then ten, then fifteen, etc. Five minutes isn’t long, but even that much was a challenge in the beginning. We’re not accustomed to silence, and we’re REALLY not accustomed to being alone in our own minds. Your mind may rebel. Beginning slowly will allow you to build up to more time. You can sit once a day or three times a day. It’s totally up to you, but I found attaching my meditation time to a daily event helped me make it a habit, so I meditate every morning before I shower, and I build that time into my “getting ready time”. Sometimes I add a session or two during the day or before bed if I feel that I need or want it. Leaving my cushion out and ready at all times makes it easy to sit spontaneously.

A few basic tips; 1) breathe in and out only through your nose, and 2) don’t worry about “emptying” your mind. This last one is virtually impossible, and it will only frustrate you if you try. I’m going to give you a couple backs techniques to get started.

The most common meditation technique, and the cornerstone to any meditation practice (and to LIFE), is MINDFULNESS MEDITATION. Mindfulness refers to being completely present in the current moment, and this is often achieved in meditation by focusing on one’s breath. A good way to begin is to be conscious of the feel of your breath entering and leaving your nose, the cool air under your nostrils when you inhale, the warm air when you exhale. Eventually you may be able to enter a state of mindfulness, of being full present in your physical body, without focusing on breath, but that’s a good place to start. Your mind will probably wander. That’s okay. Acknowledge your thoughts and let them go. This is sometimes facilitated by a conscious “letting go thought” such as, “I am thinking about work. I am letting go.” I use the very simple, gentle phrase, “Bring it back” when my mind wanders. It’s a cue to myself to bring my attention back to my breath (or my compassion meditation or whatever else I’m doing that day). Whatever happens, don’t punish yourself or force anything. Just sit, gently bringing your focus back to your breathing when it wanders (it will).

One thing I’ve used in MINDFULNESS MEDITATION is to imagine I’m a tree on the bank of a large river. I can feel the wind in my branches and see things drifting by in the water (sometimes these things take on the form of my troubles), but I am calm and unmoving as they pass me by. Another technique is to imagine your chest as a hollow stalk of bamboo. When you breathe, the air moves unencumbered from your nose to your stomach and back out again. In, out. Choose a technique that works for you and feel free to mix it up. It might take a little trial and error to find the things you like best, and that’s okay.

GUIDED MEDITATION is a good way to get started if you aren’t comfortable sitting in absolute silence. In GUIDED MEDITATION, you listen as someone guides you through healing or positive or reflective thoughts, often by using nature scenes as a visual. You can find GUIDED MEDITATIONS for everything (healing, calm, creativity, etc.) on iTunes and pretty much everywhere else. I think guided meditations are a good place to begin meditating, but I encourage you not to rely on them too long. Mindfulness is the goal.

FOCUSED MEDITATION refers to an infinite number of methods which focus your attention on a certain thing. COMPASSION MEDITATION is a form of meditation in which you breathe in through the nose (some practitioners actually tell you to visualize breathing with your heart when doing COMPASSION MEDITATION), and exhale compassionate thoughts. Your compassion might be directed at an individual or individuals, or it might be directed toward animals or the world at large. Studies have proven that there are tangible health benefits for people who practice COMPASSION MEDITATION for fifteen minutes a day. I think it’s lovely that sending good thoughts out into the universe can actually make YOU healthier, don’t you?

FOCUSED MEDITATION can take on almost any form. Sometimes if I’m feeling blocked creatively, I’ll inhale all the creative, positive energy of the universe and imagine exhaling all the doubt and fear that make writing hard. If I’m worried about something like money or my kids, I’ll inhale peace and calm and exhale my worry. If I’m feeling ill, I’ll inhale health and healing and exhale whatever is making me sick. Sometimes visualizing helps, and I’ll imagine all the good things as a gold light and all the things I’m trying to get rid of as icky gray smoke. If you’re not in the mood to do MINDFULNESS MEDITATION (or if your mind is particularly jumpy due to a specific problem), just inhale what you need (the Universe has it in abundance) and exhale what is harming you or holding you back.

When your time is up, take a few minutes to breathe and bring yourself back to the real world. At our meditation center they say, “First move mind, then move body.” You can rub you neck or rotate your body to loosen up before finishing if you want. Then bring your hands together like you’re praying and give a little bow. This is a kind of “thank you” or “Namaste” to the Universe.

That’s really all there is to it. I wish I’d found it sooner. I think back to all the hours of my life I spent worried or stressed or anxious and all the times I reacted in a negative or defensive way to someone, and I wish I could have a Do Over. But regret is a wasted emotion, so I focus instead on being grateful that I found it when I did, and that I’ve been able to introduce my kids (and others) to it in a way that may save them some suffering. Now when a waves comes along, threatening to bowl me over, I know the secret to getting through it is as simple as letting go and floating on the surface. It may carry me a few feet left or right, but when it passes, I’m still there. And the shore is always in site.

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Michelle Zink is the award-winning author of over seven novels. She lives in New York with too many teenagers and too many cats.
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