Category Archives: meditation
Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, said “Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.”
For me, autumn is just full of joy. I feel it just watching a leaf slowly float down from the tree. Does that sound sappy(pun not intended) well, too bad. That really is how I feel.
I think we need to widen our definitions of joy. So, when we seek it, we will find it. Can we find joy in the brilliantly colored leaf on the sidewalk? In crisp, cool wind that gives us an excuse to wear our favorite scarves? In a beautiful crafted sentence found in a new book? In the creativity and cleverness of others? In a hot cup of dark coffee? In our kids who constantly challenge and amaze us? In the warmth of our partner’s hand on a cold walk?
To be joyful is to have your eyes open for the little details that give meaning to the moment. Gratitude is recognizing that moment in your heart.
No matter how introverted I say I am I still need to connect with people. But that connection hasn’t always been easy for me to make. And, recently, I have been wondering why it is so hard.
Not that I don’t have friends. I have actually been blessed with many wonderful close friends. They are truly amazing, so I guess I must be doing something right. But, well, I just moved to a new city and now I am faced with the prospect of having to build a social life from scratch.
Moving can be exciting. You get a fresh start, on everything, even who you are, or, at least, how you present yourself to others. This time, I told myself, I am going to be more outgoing. I’ll try to talk to people I wouldn’t normally talk to. I’ll have more confidence, be less guarded, and be a better listener. You know, “be myself” but better. 😛
Contemplating my struggle with friendships and relationships makes me think of my daughter, whose friendship mojo is strong. In the six weeks since we have moved here she has made several really good friends, had 3 sleepovers, and almost daily invitations for playdates/hang outs. Her social calender is so full it needs 13 months.
Not that I want that. I couldn’t handle that. But I would like to make at least a few meaningful connections. And it would be nice if it didn’t seem so hard.
I recognize that a big part of my problem is my impatience. I haven’t yet figured out how to enjoy the slow and somewhat obscure process of vetting, I mean, making friends. In the past I relied on intuitive (snap) judgements regarding compatibility. But, the new me, in my new city of Brotherly Love, is trying out new things and new people. I am meditating on remaining open, and curious. And that helps, a little bit. But sometimes it doesn’t.
Of course, sometimes I have to think “Maybe it is just me.” Maybe everyone else I know easily makes full and satisfying friendships. Maybe they often get that experience of being “known” and accepted. Maybe once an outsider, always an outsider. (and maybe feeling negative about the process isn’t really helping:P)
I don’t know. I really don’t. All I can do is just keep showing up and putting myself out there. Or maybe I should give up looking for a specific outcome but somehow not give up on the process. But, I should probably not crawl back into my shell. Unless maybe it is my shell that somehow, paradoxically draws other interesting shell dwellers to it.
One of my favorite little books on meditation, mindfulness, and all that jazz is the classic “The Miracle of Mindfulness” by Thich Nhat Hanh.
It opens with the story of a father who never has time for himself. Maybe this will sound familiar: housework to do, career stuff, children demanding time in so many ways. Even a child’s wish to play with a parent is just one more thing that must be addressed before getting “Me Time.”
Eventually, however, the father figures out a secret to getting limitless time for himself: he counts it all as his time. By bringing all of himself to the activity at hand—bathing the baby, helping with a math problem, washing the dishes—all of that time is his. Brilliant and beautiful: I love this kind of reframing.
As the gentle Thai monk points out in the next chapter, however, chances are quite good that the father doesn’t remember to bring all of himself to all of his activities, all of them time. One reason for that, he suggests, is that we all need practice and training in mindfulness, so that our habits support us rather than carry us away from that goal of limitless time.
But I know something the monk doesn’t, at least not as lived experience. Or maybe he is just too kind and gentle to point this out: sometimes, living on someone else’s time is easier. A mom can spend a full day living on family time: getting kids up and ready for the day’s activities, driving, shopping, cooking, mediating arguments, taking care of bedtime, planning for tomorrow. Even in 2011, you get Good Mom Points for spending a day this way. You’re busy, so you must be important, and you put your desires last, if you can even remember what they are.
It can be exhausting, true, but the dirty little secret is, you spare yourself the labor of choosing how to use your time, and so you absolve yourself of the responsibility of what happens with it. Dissatisfied with how the day went? Well, what could you do—you were never on your own time.
Even in a relatively healthy family, it’s not unusual to see each individual’s time get tangled together with everyone else’s. Kids rely on mom to be their engine, waiting for her reminders to get ready for their own activities. Dad counts on mom for maintaining social connections and organizing what happens around the house. Mom plans vacations and weekends around what the rest of the family would enjoy. There’s nothing malicious or insidious about this state of affairs: part of it is training kids, part of it is efficient division of labor, part of it is the joy of making other people happy. Still, it’s the rare family woman who doesn’t find herself wondering, like the father in the story, where her “Me Time” has gone and—much more challenging—what she would with do if she ever found it.
This is a mind hack Triple Salchow: be fully present in the endless loop of household activities, acknowledge the choices that you’re making, and acknowledge your own desires. You gotta get the first part right, or you won’t be set up to land it at the end.
I trip on all of these sometimes, but I’m worst at the last one. I admit it: sometimes I will do something for the kids or for my husband because it just feels too hard to think of what to do for myself. My birthday’s coming up this week, though, so I’m going to work on sticking the jump at least once, as a gift to myself.
Many years ago I worked as a copyeditor for a psychology journal, an enterprise that was fascinating and tedious in direct proportion to the number of tables in each article.
I was struck by an article about cortisol levels in people who had undergone various kinds of severe stress or trauma. The people in the study had permanently elevated cortisol levels; whatever stressor had lead to the release of the cortisol hormone had occurred so much or so severely that it effectively stuck the body in the on position. In plainer English, the adrenaline rush of the fight-or-flight response we all have when faced by a crisis had become permanent condition for these people.
This article depressed me profoundly, because not only did I see myself in those people, but I saw the possibility that I would Never Feel Better. My Stress Hormone Release Valve (note: not scientific terminology) had broken and would now stay broken, maybe forever.
Not too long after that I took up the practice of meditation. Honestly, I was kind of desperate to feel better: anti-depressants weren’t common then, and talk therapy—the kind where you review all your grievances against your parents and the bullies in school and whoever else might have wronged you—had gotten stale and repetitive for me. (Nothing against therapy; I’ve had great therapists since then.) I would have tried anything, and while I was trying the stress-relieving qualities of a loaf of banana chocolate-chip bread at the bakery I saw a sign for a meditation class.
Truly it changed and saved my life, and now we are learning why. Scientists have begun studying the effects of meditation on Tibetan lamas and casual practitioners, and they are finding that meditation can change the way the brain works—including long-term cortisol levels!—for the better. We’re also learning that brains are more plastic than we think and that cognitive decline can be slowed or possibly (in some cases) even reversed.
Some people call this “Mind Hacking,” a term that reflects a kind of cheeky optimism about the possibility of reprogramming our thinking—and maybe even the physical processes underneath it—by hacking into our brains like a programmer rewriting less-than-functional software.
Meditation is one example of a powerful mind hack, but I like to think of a mind hack as anything that reframes my thinking in a way that breaks some previously written loop and starts me in a new direction. A great metaphor, analogy, or question can be a deceptively effective mind hack. Sometimes it’s just the right advice, permission, or idea at the right time.
I think all three of us are fans of a good mind hack, and between us we should have at least one to share each Monday, like AM’s post this Monday about letting go of “the idea that They need you and that the world won’t be right” if you take time off from your responsibilities and schedules.
So true, which is why I am writing this piece about mind hacks on Tuesday, when I wanted to have it done on Monday. 😉
Play along with us and share any good mind hacks you know, too. We’d love to feature your idea, book suggestion, inspirational quotation, or any other trick to keep our minds agile, positive, and healthy.