Practicing Mindfulness and Awareness, Kindness, and Letting Go

How do you begin a class with mindfulness or practice it yourself? Once you and your students have all entered the classroom and greeted each other, invite your students to join you in practice. Or if you’re by yourself, commit yourself for a certain length of time, and even set an alarm, so you can focus on the practice, not on keeping time:

 

Let’s begin class today with a short mindfulness practice or just enjoying the fact that we’re here together. The focus will be on the breath and calming mind and body. Or if you’d prefer, simply sit quietly or take out a journal and do a free write.

 

Push away from your desk. Sit up straight but not rigid, near the front end of your seat, so you don’t get tempted to slump. Or, if you’d like, sit cross-legged on the floor. Then turn your attention inwards. Exhale through your nose, and then notice how you inhale. You do it naturally, spontaneously, don’t you? Just notice the sensations of breathing.

 

Mindfulness is both a practice and an open, curious, moment to moment awareness. When leading a practice use a calm tone of voice. Giving choices to students is important, so they feel empowered and that their own preferences are important to you.  When possible, give two or three choices. Some students won’t want to close their eyes, so give them a few different alternatives. Never force anything. Speak clearly, while monitoring your own feelings and thoughts as they arise so you can be in tune with the students.

 

Close your eyes partly or fully. Or if you want to leave them open, pick a spot on the floor about three feet in front of you, and let your eyes rest on that spot. Notice what it feels like to take in a breath. You might notice your body expanding slightly with the breath. Simply notice the sensations as you inhale. As you exhale, notice the sense of exhaling. Notice how your body can let go, settle down, relax a bit. It’s like a momentary holiday.

 

Never lead something that you haven’t practiced many times. Before leading any exercise, imagine doing it with your particular students, so you note who might have difficulty with it and what they might be feeling. Start with just this much, just two minutes.  You, and the students, will soon want more. Do the rest of this practice when you’re ready.

 

Once your mind and body quiet, you might notice awareness of what is going on inside yourself on a new level. You can become aware of awareness itself. You might begin to hear thoughts and beliefs or feel sensations that were previously automatic. You might feel pressure to immediately react to these thoughts and feelings and to take them as important. Instead, let whatever arises be the object of awareness. Even the sensation of pressure. By simply noticing, instead of a thought or sensation dominating your mind, your mind becomes simply noticing, becomes awareness itself.

 

Notice how long or short, deep or shallow your breaths are. (Pause.) Notice if any place in your body is tense. Go to that area with your awareness and just notice it. Notice how the area expands as you breathe in. Then relaxes, settles down as you breathe out. There is a natural rhythm here. Then go to another part of your body. Notice how you breathe in from that area. Notice your body expand as you breathe in and lets go as you breathe out.

 

If you feel tension, you might immediately react with an impulse to run away from the feelings. Or if you feel pleasant sensations, you might feel an impulse to grasp onto them and not let go. You might not want these unpleasant feelings and thoughts to be there; you might not want the pleasant ones to end. Or sometimes you might feel confused or not want to do anything. Your awareness might switch from the initial feeling to your response to the feeling. The two are different.

 

If you find yourself drifting away, just notice it and gently return your awareness to the breath.

 

What do we do when we realize we lost our focus or got caught by a train of thoughts or responses to sensations? Maybe we spent a few breaths engaged in a memory or following the sound of someone laughing in the hall. We all lose focus at times. If at the moment of realization we get down on ourselves, we lose focus again. If we get angry at the people disturbing our practice with laughter, or angry with ourselves, we lose focus. If we are kind, gentle, and committed to returning attention to awareness, we regain focus. We feel good.

 

The initial sensations or feelings of an emotion have a message for us. But we lose the message contained in the initial feeling when we switch attention from it to our emotional response. So if possible, return to the initial feeling, before memory or language arise.

 

We are learning how to respond to life itself, to be kind, gentle and aware. We are helping ourselves and our students learn how to return attention over and over again to the object of attention.

 

If you notice a student is falling asleep, just smile and take that in. If someone is having difficulty, their breathing rate is increasing or they seem to be getting lost in a painful memory, offer other points of attention to the class⎼ suggest students could focus on the feeling of their feet on the floor or their hands on their lap. Or if there is a gentle breeze outside or birds calling, you could offer that as a point of focus. Never force or pressure participation. You need to be aware of your own responses when you notice your students not participating and take it as a message to return your own focus to the breath.

 

If any thoughts or images arise, just notice them with your inhalation, and then settle down, relax, let go as you exhale.

 

Part of why we react to sensations as we do is because of our past experiences or the ways we were taught to respond. Many of us carry painful memories or trauma. We might have developed automatic ways to respond situations that undermine our sense of autonomy. We might fear awareness or simply were not taught how to be so aware. We might have become unsure of our ability to handle a situation. We might have beliefs or theories about reality that have not been carefully questioned.

 

For example, if we feel a pain in our chest and imagine it is a heart attack, the level of pain goes up. If we realize it is acid reflux, our fear decreases considerably. Mindfulness is not psychological analysis. We are just breaking down automatic responses by becoming aware of the simplest elements of our experience. What is the feeling of our feet on the floor? Taking a breath? Keep it simple. Yet, nothing could be more profound.

 

Just sit for a minute with the calm and quiet of having nothing to do but breathe in and breathe out or listen to bird calls outside the window.

 

And once we develop the ability to just sit with whatever arises for us, we have patience with ourselves and with others. We are kinder to ourselves and we allow ourselves to think more deeply. If something arises that we feel uncomfortable with in the situation, we know we have choices about how to respond. We can go back to putting our attention on a simpler sensation or switch to another practice. Or we can persist in completing even what feels difficult.

 

Or if we have to face a difficult task and we feel a tightness in the belly or a shaking in the knees, we just feel it. We understand the sensation as a message that we need to wake up and concentrate. Then once the message is delivered, we let the sensation go and return to the situation of the moment.

 

Using Imagination and Mindfulness to Inquire into Big Questions

**This article was written and scheduled to be published by the Education that Inspires online magazine 6 – 8 weeks ago, before we knew the devastation the coronavirus could have on our world. The post now seems to me an artifact of a lost time. But one thing I hope we learn from the response to this pandemic is how important it is to constantly improve our critical thinking capacity and enhance it with emotional awareness and compassion. And our whole culture needs to put education, public education, in the prominent position it and our children deserve. Our public schools need to be set free from Betsy DeVos and those like her, set free from the 30+ years of corporate attacks on public education masquerading as “reform,” and allowed to teach critical thinking enhanced by imagination, social-emotional awareness and compassion. If we learn how to think more critically and compassionately, and we study our world and examine what our political representatives say, and do, more clearly, maybe there will be less of a chance anything like this situation will happen again. For now, maybe this post can inspire online educational discussions.**

 

Teenagers are natural philosophers, when the educational environment is open to them asking sincere questions. They are constantly asking themselves, their friends, and, hopefully, their teachers questions like: “Is love real? What does friendship mean? Who or what am I?” So, one of the first things to do is discover what questions the students have related to the course ⎼ or life⎼ and what questions they think must be answered to better understand the course material.

 

One of the big questions often raised, although sometimes students can’t verbalize it, is “Do we have free will or is that just a comforting illusion?” It is related to the question of “Who am I?” And: “How much freedom do I have to shape who I am and what I feel?” Such questions provide educators opportunities to develop their students’ critical and creative thinking and engage with the Philosophic Imagination.

 

I remember students gleefully proclaiming in a class discussion that we have no free will. I don’t know if they did this after studying in a science class how every event has a cause, and they were saying to me or to the rest of the class: “I know something you don’t.” Or if saying “there is no free will” was an assertion of it, like saying “I am not bound by old ways of thinking.” It didn’t matter that by saying there was no free will they were denying what their emotions were proclaiming. Or maybe they were just daring me to prove otherwise.

 

Once in a psychology class, we were discussing compassion and one student asked: “Are we really free to be kind when we want? Maybe some people are just born nice. With all that we learned in science about how chemical and electrical messages and genetics control us, how can we be free to decide anything?”

 

I asked: “What does it mean to be free? Does it mean we act without any reason or that there are no restraints on what we do? Or that every time we have a thought or desire, we act it out? Would we feel free then?”

 

“I would feel a slave if I had to express every thought I heard in my mind,” responded one student.

 

“But would I lose my spontaneity if I didn’t act on my thoughts?” asked a third student.

 

Then I asked: “Does what we know or believe influence how we act? If we learned about experiments that show people can learn to act with more kindness and compassion, would we be more kind? Or if we studied experimental evidence that mindfulness training strengthens the parts of the brain that prepare us to act to help others⎼ would knowing that change your mind, or not, about being free to be kind even if you weren’t born kind?”

 

How do you start the discussion? Decide on a question for imaginative mindful inquiry.

 

After students have settled down and we have greeted them, tell them the question for the day. “Our question for today is What does it mean to be free?” Ask them to raise their hands if the question has come up for them in discussions with friends or family.

 

In engaging in this discussion, we need to keep in mind religious beliefs about the question. We might also have to re-shape the questions we ask to meet the age and personal history of our students.

 

One way to start is with an exercise in imagination and mindful inquiry. This can not only introduce the question but develop the skill of self-awareness that is crucial in actually acting freely. And being able to imagine a situation, the implications of one’s words or the consequences of one’s actions, is central to critical thinking and making decisions….

 

To read the whole post, go to the EducationThatInspires magazine.

 

 

Kindness Allows Us to Breathe in Life More Deeply: A Meditation on Kindness

Imagine kindness spreading across a room, a stadium or a city. One person influencing those around him or her until everyone joins in.

 

So often in our lives, we are pressured to blindly follow what others do. I usually try to resist just going along with how others go along or being swept up by other people’s emotions or ideas. But I would gladly join a bandwagon of kindness. Kindness is actually a cure for blindness. It wakes us up, so we actually see who we’re standing with and what we’re doing. This is the essence of kindness.

 

Kindness is the brother of joy, the sister of compassion, the father of insight, and the mother of transformation.

 

Acting with kindness can be one of the simplest of things to do. It can be like breathing. We breathe every moment. In fact, breathing is one aspect of ourselves that we can never do without. But being aware of our breath can take practice.

 

Many of us don’t breathe fully and deeply. We don’t realize that when our breath is calm, it is a friend who teaches us to be open and friendly. Or when it gets too rapid, it can dim our vision so we see others as enemies.

 

Likewise, when we act without kindness, we pay an unbelievable price. Just take a moment to remember what it feels like when we act out of fear, anger, hate, or greed. Or what thoughts or images rage in our mind. Our breath becomes tense and rushed. We erect a wall around ourselves built out of suspicion and muscular tension…

 

To read the whole post, go to The Good Men Project.

Mindfulness Reveals Your Values and Improves Your Quality of Mind

The values you hold show up in the subtlest ways. Values can include the conscious principles or standards you hold as well as what you unconsciously hold dear and deem worthy of your attention and awareness. What is valuable to you is what activates your energy and attention. It motivates your goals, intentions and actions and is a basic part of how you feel each moment. If you feel off in some way, dissatisfied, in pain, studying what you value can be crucial in understanding how to not suffer and how to act effectively to end the dissatisfaction.

 

To understand what you value, it helps to be mindful not only of thoughts, but sensations and feelings. Notice not only what you like, dislike, or don’t care about, but what you approach or avoid. What do you open to, find difficult or confusing? Feelings give life to values.

 

Meditation is the science of studying mind and heart, thoughts and feelings. It develops not only depth of concentration and focus, but the ability to discern and examine both conscious and even some of what is usually unconscious components of experience. This ability can allow you to change your values and change your life.

 

But to do that, when you meditate, you need to value inner knowing, and value meditating itself, not what you might get from it. It might seem paradoxical, but if you meditate in order to reduce stress, what happens when you have a stressful thought or image? If you meditate in order to derive great insights, then as soon as you have an insight, you will want to stop and write it down. You will lose the meditation. Which do you want more—the written record of the insight or the mental state which produced it? Which is more important—telling others your deep realizations or living a depth of experience?

 

To meditate, you value whatever is there for you. You value presence. Otherwise, you are looking into an image, concept or abstraction, not what is actually there, now. You divide mind into a now and an idea of a then and lose the sense of present experience. Another definition for being distracted is thinking of another time or activity as more valuable than where you are, or what you’re doing, now.

 

The Zen teacher, Shunryu Suzuki, said: “When you do something, if you fix your mind on the activity with some confidence, the quality of your state of mind is the activity itself. When you are concentrated on the quality of your being, you are prepared for the activity.” The quality of mind that you have determines the life you experience.

 

For example, if you teach and value the very act of teaching, teaching will be all you need in that moment. You will be committed to it. Whatever arises, whatever happens, you will greet as something to learn from and incorporate into the lesson, not as a distraction, not as something to repress or hate. If you’re a student and you value learning, you focus on developing an open, clear, discerning mind, and you will learn a great deal. You might learn even more, or maybe something different, than anyone expected. You will feel more spontaneous, free, and engaged.

 

If you feel an injustice has been committed, and you respond with empathy and energy to better understand the situation, you will think more clearly about the situation than if you take the situation as another burden, as something life shouldn’t ask of you.

 

To concentrate on the quality of your mind is to value your life in a very authentic manner. It means you value all who you meet or whatever you encounter. Other people are not on the other side of an unbreakable wall, but are essential to your being. You observe others more closely and deeply. You observe even the constantly shifting stories your unconscious creates to explain and integrate the various elements of your life, and you create a life that goes way beyond any story.

 

 

Especially nowadays, with this President, I think it is important for you to value your own experience for itself, value its depth, which is the same as valuing life. Valuing life not for any reason, not for what it can get you, but for itself.

 

 

In this country, everything is consumerised. People are too often valued in terms of what they can do for you, or how much they make, not for who they are. Education is monetized in terms of how much “value [is] added” to a student by a teacher. This leads to thinking of your own mind in “value added” terms, or what a thought or an emotion can get you. The problems with such a way of thinking have been discussed by many people, Buddha, Karl Marx, Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr.—just for a small sample. What is new in this time of history is that more people have access to more information on how a value system influences your life experience.

 

 

From one perspective, the election of this President has brought to the forefront the battle in our society about what it means to be a human being, or successful as a human being. Is success measured by how much money or power you accumulate? Or how you relate to others? Are you valuable because you are a living being? Or valuable only if you can earn more than others? Is power about controlling others and forcing them to agree with you? Or about controlling your own mind and behavior? Our nation in the past was too quick to monetize everything. This must be reconsidered if we are to continue as a democracy.

 

 

**If you’d like to do a short mindfulness meditation, here is one way to begin: Maybe set an alarm clock for two or five minutes. Set an intention that, until the alarm clocks rings, you will put your attention on the mindfulness exercise. Give yourself the freedom to explore and find practices that foster clarity, calm and develop in you a sense of autonomy.

 

If you’d like, sit cross-legged on the floor or near the front end of a chair, and sit comfortably straight up, so you don’t get tempted to slump. Close your eyes partly or fully. If you want to leave them open, pick a spot on the floor about three feet in front of you, and let your eyes rest on that spot. Or chose a photo or natural object you find comfortable or beautiful. Then turn your attention inwards to your breath or outwards to the beauty. Exhale through your nose, and then notice how you inhale. You do it naturally, spontaneously, don’t you? Just notice the sensations of breathing. If you’re observing an object, let your eyes roam over the surface, studying it, noticing shades of light and color.

 

Notice what it feels like to take in a breath or to let your eyes rest on the object. Notice if you  your body expands slightly with the breath. You don’t have to do anything except be aware of the sensations as you inhale. As you exhale, notice the sense of exhaling. Notice how your body might let go, settle down, relax a bit. It’s like a momentary holiday.

 

You might feel your attention drawn toward or away from a thought or memory. This is simply the natural flow of mind. Just notice the response. If you find yourself drifting away, just notice that your attention drifted and has now returned. Feel free to be glad you noticed. Gently focus your awareness on the breath or the beautiful object.

 

Sit for a moment with a sense of your mind being quiet, at ease with whatever arises.

 

With your mind quiet, you can ask yourself: What is it I most value? What is most important to me? And then notice the thoughts and the feelings that arise when you think of valuing what you do.

 

**The more I meditate, the more I recognize how often my thoughts go to others, the more I recognize how interdependent I am with others. So speaking out against the racism, anti-democratic speech and actions of this administration is one result of mindfulness⎼and one way to remember and honor the work of people like Martin Luther King Jr., who called for a “true revolution of values” in his speech “Beyond Vietnam–A time To Break Silence.”

Mindfulness and Pain

 

This Thursday, June 15th, I will have surgery on my right wrist, or actually three surgeries. I did not want to undergo anesthesia multiple times so I thought I’d do them all at once, and the surgeon agreed. The first two are relatively simple: carpal tunnel (medial nerve in hand) and cubital tunnel (ulnar nerve, at elbow and blade of hand). The third is more complicated and is called a proximal row carpectomy; the surgeon removes three of the eight bones in my wrist. The surgeon predicts it will take two-three months to heal. I will be in a cast for two weeks, and writing may be difficult for an indeterminate length of time.

 

So, I am taking a vacation. I feel better approaching surgery as a vacation then as a dreaded time of suffering. It’s important, in difficult times especially, to be nice to yourself. For the next few weeks or more, instead of feeling an obligation to publish each week, I will do it only when it feels right. I have a blog prepared for next week, but after that—who knows. I will most probably miss writing, miss you as an audience, so I don’t know how long my “vacation” will last.

 

The wrist has been hurting on and off for many years. Driving, writing, certainly carpentry or splitting wood, but even holding a book or sleeping, could be painful. Karate has become problematic. My handwriting was never beautiful, but years ago, before I retired from teaching, I had trouble giving written feedback on student papers due to the pain. Students often commented that my writing was illegible.

 

Yet, I became sort of used to the pain—sort of. In early March, I pointed out to my acupuncturist the swelling in my wrist and she recommended I see a doctor. That led to x-rays and a CT scan, then nerve conduction tests. After seeing what my wrist looked like and reading the radiologist report, of “severe” this and torn that, the pain actually got worse.

 

I found this interesting. When I thought of the pain in my wrist as simply an unpleasant sensation that couldn’t be treated, I accepted it and lived with it. But once it had a label and a doctor’s evaluation, once I had the clear image of bones rattling bones, it became more solid and took on a life of its own. The sensations I felt became an alien presence I wanted removed. I scheduled the surgery.

 

This led me to use mindfulness training to study in more detail how my mind influenced the pain. I began to think of pain as a blatant and confounding puzzle, as a chance to learn more about how my mind and body worked. When pain arose, I breathed it in—if I could. I noticed whatever was there for me—how the beliefs and expectations I held influenced the sensations I felt and the thoughts about the sensations. My response to the pain influenced how much I suffered from it. When I let go of the thoughts and images, and focused on the breathing, the pain sensations moved to the periphery of awareness, and lessened in strength. Without resistance, pain decreased. It became one sensation among others. My response went from flight-flight-freeze to something a bit more open, and more relaxed.

 

And, over the last few days, as the fact of surgery sank in and the big day approached, the incidents of high level pain decreased. I don’t know what was most responsible. Was it the natural therapies, pain pills, or increased mindfulness? Was the anxiety over surgery masking the physical sensation?

 

I still need the surgery. But I have a few strategies to help me face it, and my fears about it, with a little more confidence and less anxiety. I have realized how fear can be useful. It tells me to wake up. This is my life on the line. The kindness I give to others I can give myself. I have also accumulated a few good movies and books to enjoy. And I am forever grateful that I still have good health insurance. (Please tell Republicans in Congress that you oppose their undermining-health-care legislation.) On Thursday, please wish for me a good result, a healing. Thank you and may you be well.

 

*Many Buddhist teachers write about how to face pain, or face whatever. Pema ChodronShinzen Young, and Jon Kabat-Zinn are three authors whose wonderful books I can recommend.

 

**My friend Eileen Ain recommended Peggy Huddleston’s Relaxation/Healing CD.

 

***Photo by Kathy Morris.

Mindfulness, Visualization and Other Practices Which Appear in Compassionate Critical Thinking.

APPENDIX

Mindfulness, Visualization and Other Practices Which Appear in Compassionate Critical Thinking.

Practice, Page Number:
Listening to the Singing Bowl, 2-3
Settling Breath and Body, 6-7
Introductions to Different Types of Practice, 9-10
Settling Breath and Body, Mindfully Noticing the Quality of Breath, 10
Goal-Setting, 13
Inquiry Into the Depth of the Words You Speak, 14
The Openness of Inner Space, 16
Visualizing A Hero, 18
Visualizing A Flower, A Character In A Novel, 20-22
Openness Meditation, On The Sky, 26-28
Visualizing the Jewel of Indra, 30
Mindfulness of Thoughts and Inquiry Into the Brain, 31-32
Visualization to Anchor and Review Information on the Brain, 34
Developing Loving Attention: Perceiving A Stone, 36
Counting the Inhalation and Exhalation, Focusing Attention, 40
Visualization to Assist Memory, Review, and Integrate Material, 43-44
Counting the Exhalation, Focusing Attention, 48
Mindfulness of Sound and Silence, and Letting Go of Distractions, 51-52
Healing Meditation: Ball of Light, 56-57
Mindfulness of Sensations, Thoughts, and Inquiry Into Anger and Forgiveness, 59-60
Awareness of the Body Language of Others: Mirroring, 63
Inquiry Into Kindness, 64
NBC: Notice, Breathe, Consider, 66
Inquiry Into Joy, 68
Noticing Sensation, Inquiry Into Courage, 71
Inquiry Into Greed and Feeling Complete As You Are, 74
Developing Compassion by Visualizing a Person of Concern, 82
Compassion Meditation: Visualizing Others and You as Happy, Healthy, and at Peace, 83-84
Inquiry Into Loving-Caring, and Wishing Self and Others to Be Happy, Kind, and Loving, 88
Whole Body Awareness, 91
Focus On Air Passing Upper Lip, Inquiry Into Critical Thinking, 97
Labeling Thoughts, Noticing the Quiet Gap, 102
Practices to Intervene in Thoughts, 105
Proprioceptive Writing: Hearing Your Thoughts, 106-108
Testing Your Conclusions, 110

What Is Mindfulness?

Last week, my book agent sent me and I then posted on FB a video of an elementary school class using mindfulness practices. The comments following the video were mostly favorable and appreciative, but a few were not so favorable and exposed for me the way some people see and think about the practice. The video provides a great lesson on mindfulness, but I decided to add a few hopefully clarifying comments of my own on the subject.

 

Some people question the use of mindfulness in schools because they wonder if it is a religious practice. The word religion can stir people’s emotions, and prevent clear examination. People light candles in Christian churches, but not all lighting of candles is a Christian practice. Buddhists practice mindfulness, but so do yoga practitioners, Hindus, Taoists, even some people who are Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Atheists. Therefore, if you practice mindfulness, are you practicing religion? And, if so, which religion are you expressing?

 

Mindfulness is moment-by-moment, non-judgmental awareness of thoughts, feelings, sensations, or whatever arises in your mind. It treats whatever comes up for you as something to learn from and then, in many practices, let go. It is both a quality of awareness as well as a practice. It has been called a scientific study of the mind.

 

Is being aware a religious practice? Does that mean that every time I become aware of and open to my own thoughts, I am practicing a religion? I personally think the more aware humans become of what is going on in their minds, the more responsible they will be in their actions.

 

Other people questioned if mindfulness might be a form of indoctrination and if students would lose the ability to think for themselves. They implied mindfulness might lead students to fall under the sway of authority figures. But I fail to see the reasoning here. Mindfulness increases your ability to think clearly, to make independent, responsible decisions, because it increases your knowledge and awareness, moment-by-moment, of your thinking process. How can you make a responsible choice and think for yourself if you don’t recognize what is influencing that choice?

 

I wonder if the concern about indoctrination comes from critics noticing that the students in the video seem happier and more caring about the welfare of others then is true in many other classrooms. Is the implication that when students are happy and allowed to realize their own connection to others, it must be indoctrination? But when students are encouraged to compete or to think of themselves only in terms of being separate from others, then it is not indoctrination?

 

The last question I noticed has to do with how you treat thoughts.  Is mindfulness about suppressing thoughts or distancing yourself from them? Neither. It is about awareness. When you are aware of a thought or feeling, you are better able to let it go. Letting go is significantly different from suppressing or separating yourself from thoughts.

 

In order to separate from something, you must keep it alive in order to distance from it. Who, then, is separating from what? Are you your thoughts? Or are you the emotions you feel? The sensations? All of these change; they pass, yet there is a sense that your awareness continues as long as you’re alive (and awake). If you are identified with your thoughts, then which thought would you be? Your thoughts can be entirely contradictory from moment to moment. Why not focus on the nature of awareness itself, or the power to think, or to empathize with others?

 

What is dangerous is thinking that whatever thought shows itself in a moment is the truth and the only legitimate expression of who you are. You could then act righteously on one moment’s thought, and deny responsibility for the action with the next.

 

If acting kind and being aware or concerned about another’s welfare is religious, then all kind and caring people are religious, and I’d happily say mindfulness is a religious practice. Wouldn’t you? Or would you argue to eliminate kindness from schools because it is supposedly religious? What about caring?

The Book of Heart: The Spark We Need to Save Ourselves

On Sunday, a friend uncomfortably joked, and a neighbor seriously wondered if the weather augured the Apocalypse. On Monday, the U. N. Panel on Climate Change said unless humanity takes immediate, sustained, large-scale actions including reducing the use of  fossil fuels, global warming will create an earth too hot for agriculture and will threaten human survival.

 

The Western U. S. has had devastating droughts for years, but this year is one of the worst, accompanied by record breaking temperatures and creating conditions for forest fires. Parts of Canada and elsewhere are suffering the same fate. 10 of the worst years for fires have occurred since 2004 and 2021 could be even worse than any previous year. Right now, the Dixie Fire has burned more than 783 square miles and is now the largest in California history.  Clouds from the fires have recently blanketed sections of the western and even northeastern US. Meanwhile, Germany and China have recently experienced historic floods.

 

In my own neighborhood, our summer weather over the last few years jumped from drought to floods and back again. It rained nearly every day for weeks. Even though it happens periodically, earlier this summer we experienced a devastating infestation of gypsy caterpillars that stripped bare many species of trees. Whole sections of forests and hillsides look as they do in winter (or during a severe drought).

 

Last night was the fourth power outage we’ve had in about a month. Everything went from light to dark so quickly⎼ and it was a very dark night, covered with clouds and noisy with rain, thunder and lightning. When the power goes out, it is easy to wonder not only when, but if it will be restored.

 

And all this after 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic⎼ and four plus years of a moral and political pandemic led by DT and the GOP who threaten to strip us bare of rights and constitutional protections and enshrine a perpetual political winter.

 

After so much bad weather and destruction, fear speaks readily in our minds and hearts, in the places where religion often resides. There is nothing like a tornado or a big storm, with lightning, and thunder over our heads, heat that melts sidewalks or a pandemic to make us feel how vulnerable we are. The Delta variant could wreak havoc with our future. A study by the Public Religion Research Institute back in 2012 found that 63% of Americans thought the weather has gotten more extreme and 36% think the reason is the Biblical end times. (I was glad to notice that, according to an Ipsos poll, in 2021 the number of Americans who are aware of the human role in climate change is now 72%.) What changes in attitude will the U. N. report create?

 

According to the Pew Research Center in 2017, 35% of Americans say they read scripture at least once a week, and this is up 3% from 2014. Buddhist teacher and scholar Kurt Spellmeyer, in his book published in 2010, Buddha at the Apocalypse: Awakening from A Culture of Destruction, says “unlike other holy books, the Bible presents itself as a work of history⎼ a history that claims to map the whole of time.”

 

History begins, in the Old Testament, with Genesis, and ends particularly in the New Testament, with Revelations. Many of us look for God in time itself. And for 2,000 years people in the West looked for signs of the End of Time, or for transformation⎼ of souls or society, for heaven or utopia⎼ or for retribution and punishment.  As the millennium of the year 2000 approached, there was great dread amongst many about what would occur.

 

But if anything is biblical about the situation today it is the danger posed by the lies of DT, who called human-caused climate change a hoax, and by other GOP. These lies have caused us to lose time, accelerate the danger, and diminish political commitment to actually facing this existential ecological threat.

 

Spellmeyer argues our culture prides itself on getting things done and being down to earth but is actually escapist. On the surface is our love of all sorts of tech marvels that can both be so helpful, especially during a lockdown, but also isolate us. But also consider how often we have postponed serious consideration of the consequences of our actions, like the long-range effects of nuclear waste, or nuclear weapons, or the effects of fossil fuels on Global Warming.

 

In U. S. history, instead of dealing with our problems, we often looked to “go West” to escape them. Or on a more personal level, we find a readiness to hurry and move on. We often hear something once or practice a skill a few times and think we understand it like an expert.

 

And there is FOMO, the “uneasy and all-consuming feeling that you’re missing out,” “not in the know”. We might fear friends are better than us or in possession of more of something than we have⎼ or that we are inadequate. A study back in 2013, obviously before the pandemics of COVID-19 and DT, found that about three quarters of young adults experienced this.

 

The problem, whether its FOMO, escapism, even hurrying, is a culture of fear now augmented and manipulated by the GOP to serve their political purposes. And instead of using fear to spur considered action, we fear the emotion itself. Fear, of being hurt, of the world changing on us, or whatever, can make us hold onto our viewpoints rigidly and close our minds to rational thought. And it spreads easily.

 

So, understanding and skillfully facing fear not only lessens our own suffering but gives us tools to help others. Fear is normal but we are often led to treat it as abnormal. It is not just a feeling but is composed of different elements including sensations, thoughts, and possible responses. If we don’t understand it, we might think we are incapable of meeting whatever we face and run to escape it.

 

Fear warns us, wakes us up, but usually turns our thoughts to what might be in the future or to a hurt or trauma in the past. We might run to create ideas of a New Jerusalem, or of a devil or a great punishment to come and lose sight of the reality we face. But the thought that provides an escape from fear often keeps it alive. If our identity is based on fighting an enemy, what happens if there is no longer an enemy to fight?

 

So, one way to get clarity is to develop a mindfulness practice; instead of getting lost in a thought of the future or past, we can focus on a sensation or perception now. We can stop what we’re doing, sit upright but not rigid, hands resting in our lap, turn within and test what feels right. Do we feel more at ease with our eyes open, closed, or partly open? Is it more comfortable to focus on the beginning of an inhalation, the middle, the end, or the pause between inhalation and exhalation? Or the exhalation itself? And where do we feel natural putting attention? The tip of the nose? The hands? Belly? Feet? Just notice, acknowledge with kindness, and move on.

 

In this way we change our response to fear. We study it, study ourselves. The quality of our mind and body changes. We learn from our sensations and thoughts without getting caught by them.

 

If it wasn’t clear before, it is now that the fires and floods we are experiencing have more to do with human actions contributing to climate change, to not facing the reality, to the book of our heart instead of the Book of Revelations. Attributing global warming to “natural causes” is dangerous propaganda. But by acting in a considered and informed manner, we know we are capable of action. If we all speak out, maybe this U. N. report can provide the spark we need to save ourselves.

 

Religion can be one of the most important parts of a person’s life, yet there are so many ways people think about God⎼ or whatever we think is ultimate in our lives. One way people have conceptualized the universe is to think all of us and everything is Divine; our eyes, hands, nose, ears, tastes, even our thoughts are God’s. And one way we pray is by acting for the greater good. We don’t wait for God to do it for us because we are a tiny part of the Divine. And by doing what we can, God hears our prayers.

 

*This article has been syndicated by The Good Men Project.

 

 

Mindfully Healing from Hurt and Feelings of Revenge

Teachers know just how traumatized both adults and children have felt this past year, with all of the political tension and ongoing COVID crisis. As we hope for a more positive year ahead, mindfulness can be the first step in letting go of pain, but it has to be used in a trusting space, with awareness of what we as teachers and our students might be facing.

 

A trauma is an incapacitating form of stress. Stress by itself can be helpful or harmful. But when it is deep and we can’t integrate or face it, it can become traumatic. The DSM-5, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines a traumatic event as exposure to “actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence.”

 

In his book Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness, David Treleaven makes clear that this exposure can come in many ways, from directly experiencing or witnessing a trauma or from learning about what happened to a relative, loved one or close friend. Children are especially vulnerable. One in four children in the U. S. have experienced physical abuse, one in five sexual. Then we add a pandemic, political instability, and oppression, whether it be sexism or violence directed at one’s gender identity, race or religion, etc. and we have a huge number of people who have suffered from trauma. We have not just a coronavirus pandemic but a pandemic of extreme emotions like hate and a craving for revenge.

 

Teach Compassion and Turn the Classroom into A Compassionate Learning Community:

 

Compassion can include but is more than empathy. It is close to kindness, with the added commitment to taking action to relieve the suffering of others as well as ourselves. It is one of humanity’s greatest strengths. And when it lives in us, the hurt lessens or disappears.  In fact, practicing compassion is a way to skillfully let go of any hurt. By acting with compassion, we walk a bigger road and rediscover our strength.

 

Having students research compassion can be a way for them to teach themselves the benefits. A wonderful resource is the Greater Good Science Center

 

Explore what emotion is and specifically what revenge is.

 

How do we as teachers explore negative or hostile feelings if they arise in class, either online or with in-person instruction, considering the time restraints, stress, degree of trauma, and unique circumstances we face today? [https://www.badassteacher.org/bats-blog/for-blended-teaching-its-not-just-the-covid-its-the-stress-by-dr-michael-flanagan]

 

A useful guideline especially on-line is be short and simple, with processing afterwards and weaving the practice into the subject matter of the day. Before introducing any type of meditation or visualization to our students, we must first practice several times by ourselves and then imagine how specific students would feel doing this type of practice. Provide choices in all aspects of practice, including postures, whether we keep our eyes open or closed, etc.

 

Start with asking questions to stimulate engagement and intellectual curiosity. What is emotion? Feeling? How do you know what you feel? Why have emotions? Work on increasing self-understanding and our ability to calm mind and body and focus through mindfulness. We strengthen ourselves and our students with visualizations, compassion, and other exercises, then apply those practices to better understand the person and situation that hurt us, and how to respond in the most healing fashion.

 

A student once asked me what to do about his “feeling” he needed to take revenge on a classmate. He obsessed over it. Young people can be especially vulnerable to this emotion, as they are so aware and sensitive to how others treat them

 

I told him that it was a difficult question, but like any emotion, the inner push or craving for revenge can seem like it is one humongous stone in our gut that we can’t handle. But it is not one thing and not just a feeling. It is composed of many components that can be broken down so we can handle them.

 

What is emotion? Daniel Siegel makes clear emotion is not just feeling. One purpose of emotion is to tag stimuli with value so we know how to think and act. There are phases in the process of constructing emotion. The first phase is jolting the system to pay attention, what he calls the “initial orienting response.” The second is “elaborative appraisal,” which includes labeling stimuli as good or bad, dangerous or pleasing. We begin to construct meaning and then prepare for action, to either approach or avoid something. This sets up the third step, when our experience differentiates further into categorical emotions like sadness, happiness, or fear. Memory and thoughts are added to feeling and sensation. Teaching about emotion, its uses and how it’s constructed is one of the most important subjects we could teach our students. In fact, it takes up most of my book on teaching compassionate critical thinking.

 

Revenge is a complex of emotions, like anger, hate, humiliation, fear and a sense of being threatened. According to Janne van Doorm, hate, anger, and desire for revenge are similar but have a different focus: “anger focuses on changing/restoring the unjust situation caused by another person, feelings of revenge focus on restoring the self, and hatred focuses on eliminating the hated person/group.” …

 

To read the whole article, please go to MindfulTeachers.Org.

Waking Up to a New World

I wake up to a new world. The standing Buddha in the yard is wearing a large conical white hat and is surrounded by a foot of virgin snow. The solar lights on the deck are miniature mountains.

 

And even indoors⎼ near my bed, a painting on the wall I’ve looked at almost every day for ten years named “Golden Woods,” by the English artist Jo Barry ⎼ suddenly, the painted light flows through the artwork. It is absorbed by dark trees and adds so much life to the yellow, orange, and gold leaves and flowers they pop out and become so distinct that, for the first time, vast depths can be seen behind them. Unrevealed details.

 

And Linda, a wife, partner, and best friend⎼ is standing by the dresser, the universe seen and loved in her eyes. What a beautiful morning.

 

Already it’s different outside. The light has changed, dimmed. Near the Buddha, under the bird feeder, Cardinals, Chickadees, Blue Jays, a Mourning Dove⎼ is that a Nuthatch?

 

Writing, like a good conversation, can be one of life’s greatest gifts. Yet it can be so tenuous. It is best when words just emerge almost by themselves. When I started writing this morning, my mind was fresh from a good night’s sleep. There was clearly something pushing to be noticed and written, but I didn’t know what it was. The only thing clear was the fresh snow, the light in the painting, and that naming emerges from the nameless. Writing can be like that, when we trust the process. We pick up a pen and don’t know if we will get what we aim at or what, if we let it, we’ll say.

 

Other times, it’s amazing that we can speak at all or write about anything. One minute, we feel we are in the grip of a great revelation, only to find, on the very next day or next moment, a contrary revelation. We speak, thinking we know what we’re talking about, but so much lives in each word, each perception, that all we can ever describe is one moment’s cupful. The rest spills out or jumps from the cup as if our speaking or looking gives it feet.

 

We can worry so much about saying the wrong thing or how we will sound that our voice becomes foreign to us, as if spoken at a great distance, like an echo. And this echo can be  painful and isolating, made worse when we think only we personally carry such burdens or there is something missing in us because we do so. If only we could step right through this distance.

 

When we study ourselves closely, mindfully, study our actual sensations and feelings, we can eliminate the seeming separation between us and everything….

 

This piece was published by The Good Men Project. To read the whole post, please click on the link.