December 2016

Joy on Demand

Joy on Demand

by cheryl on December 21, 2016

in Healthy Living

Our mindfulness practice helps us to be more present, awake and alive for life as it unfolds. We don’t practice to get better at meditating, we practice to be able to live more fully, deeply and openheartedly.

Mindfulness helps us to be more aware of our inner world and how we respond to the world around us. It gives us the space and precious time to connect inward and find our inner compass so that we have a better sense of who we are, what we want and how we want to move through our days. It also gives us a skill set to be abe to slow down, to turn off our over-thinking brain so that we can simply notice and experience our life as it unfolds. Finally, through our mindfulness practice, we develop the amazing internal power of choice. When we slow down and stop our habitual patterns of behavior and reactivity, we can see that in each moment we have the power to choose how we wish to see the world and how we wish to respond to it.

Mindfulness practice is just that – a practice. And, it takes practice.  As my kind and patient family will attest, it is not easy to break habits, and when we feel overwhelmed or sad or frustrated, we act out and those long-ingrained patterns of behavior which are often our default mode. When that happens, our mindfulness practice teaches us that we must treat ourselves just as we would treat others, with kindness, patience and compassion. We invite all of those feelings in and sit with them. We give ourselves permission to be human. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “Everything is part of the curriculum.”

Joy on Demand in 2017

After a challenging end to 2016, I have been feeling a persistent malaise and unease lately. So, I have been looking to pump up my daily dose of happiness and joy in 2017. Awareness is the key. I look at what brings me joy – dancing in the kitchen, listening to my favorite music, cuddling with my kiddos, finding peaceful, quiet times to just breathe and connecting with my friends. I also know what brings me down – too much news (the world will still be there if I turn off CNN or my phone for a while). I made a list of what makes me happy and put it on my refrigerator, then pledged to do more of those things each day. In 2017, I choose to do more of what makes my heart sing. You can too!

In his book, Joy on Demand, Chade-Meng Tan, the former software engineer and founder of mindfulness programs at Google, describes how he went from being someone who was “constantly miserable” to becoming the “Jolly Good Fellow” of Google.

As we say goodbye to 2016 and hello to a bright and shiny new year, we can start with the intention of finding more joy in each day. Meng explains that “thin slices of joy occur in life everywhere . . . and once you start noticing it, something happens, you find it’s always there. Joy becomes something you can count on.”

Here’s how:

(1) Easing Into Joy – Stilling the Mind – The first step in finding more joy is to quiet your mind. Suffering comes from our thoughts. As Shakespeare wrote, “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” Many of us find that our minds are very busy and generally in a state of unrest. When we learn to quiet our minds by simply anchoring our attention on our breath, on our the bodies or on the warm sunlight on our face, we can create a stillness and an openness that makes way for joy. Easing our minds helps us be more open and present for the simple pleasures all around us.

(2) Inclining the Mind Toward Joy – When we are caught up in our heads (in thoughts of the past or future), we miss out on the present and opportunities for great joy now. We are usually caught up in thinking about things that are simply out of our control, and no matter how much we think about it, our thoughts won’t change that. So, we can open ourselves up for more joy simply by being more present for what we are experiencing right now. We can learn to invite joy in by simply stopping to notice the simple pleasures all around us each day.

(3) Rediscovering What Brings Us Joy – Singing out loud, dancing in the kitchen, watching the sunset, being in nature, these are a few of my favorite things. Once we find more moments of ease and stillness, we can bring our attention fully into our actual experience. We can also choose to fill more moments with those things that make us happy. Think about what makes you happy and find more opportunities to do them each day. Then, fully immerse yourself in those moments and feel the joy envelop you.

(4) Uplifting the Mind – We can learn to invite in more wholesome joy, joy that is widespread, not ego-centric, and joy that can truly change the world. This joy arises from goodness, generosity, lovingkindness and compassion. We can volunteer, give time to those in need, help a stranger, call a friend. Research shows that joy we experience from helping others, joy that comes from meaningful acts of interconnectedness, is joy that last longer and is more deeply fulfilling.

As Meng writes . . .

“In modern society, with modern technology, pleasure is more accessible than ever, all around us, on demand. Our lack of joy is certainly not for lack of ways to gratify our egos and senses. However, the joy that comes from these sources is inherently problematic since it depends on external factors out of our control.

By contrast, joy that comes from within—from a peaceful mind as a result of taking a few breaths, joy from being kind toward others (which involves other people but does not depend on them), joy from our own generosity, joy from doing the right thing—all this joy is ours to have, independent of circumstances. If we do accidentally lose our joy, or something really bad happens and overwhelms us, there’s still joy in knowing we can get it back. We all have an infinite resource at our disposal, no matter how constrained or difficult our circumstances, and that resource is joy. Joy isn’t elusive when you know where and how to find it.”

I wish everyone a very healthy, joy-filled and peaceful New Year! I encourage you to keep up your mindfulness practice each day. And in 2017 . . .

May you be happy,

May you be healthy,

May you be safe, and

May you have a 2017 full of peace!

 

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Weekly Wisdom #61

by cheryl on December 19, 2016

in Weekly Wisdom

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
– Viktor Frankl

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I recently read Ruth Whippman’s New York Times Sunday Review Opinion entitled, Actually, Let’s Not Be in the Moment.  Her thoughts inspired me to think deeply about the value of mindfulness and being in the present moment.  Together with some mindfulness teachers around the country, we have been sharing our thoughts in response to this article, which I wanted to share with all of you.
I understand Ms. Whippman’s frustrations about mindfulness, but I am afraid that she has misunderstood the practice of mindfulness itself. The danger in the modern teaching of mindfulness is that many are looking at it as a “quick fix” to our problems and a short-cut to happiness without fully understanding what it actually is and how to practice it.

I have seen firsthand over the past seven years the benefits of mindfulness being taught in schools, in inner city youth programs, in hospitals, in prisons and in private classes.  My fear is that many people who would benefit greatly from mindfulness will read this article and never try this incredibly helpful practice.

My colleague, Julie Bayer Salzman, sent the following response to the New York Times, which I think sums up so many important points.

A letter from a wonderful colleague to the New York Times . . .

After reading Ms. Whippman’s account of her experience with Mindfulness, I encourage her to continue her practice, not abandon it. Her frustration is normal, and I believe stems from a common misconception about Mindfulness. Mindfulness is not about “constantly policing our thoughts away from the past, the future, the imagination or the abstract”; it is simply about being aware of what we’re thinking, how we’re feeling, or what is happening in and around us, at any given moment. There is no judgment in the practice; there is only awareness. Nor is there shame in a wandering mind – we all have them! But most of us, too, can probably identify with the distress that comes from a mind that is constantly preoccupied with either the past or future, and cannot focus on the present. There is a practical benefit to training the mind to stay present, and a reason it’s referred to as a “practice” as opposed to a philosophy.

Her statement that “we give inner-city schoolchildren mindfulness classes rather than engage with education equality” disregards the proof that teaching kids mindfulness has positive effects on not just the individual child, but the classroom as a whole. Obviously there are issues that need to be fixed in an educational system that tries to find quick and easy solutions to deep, systemic problems, but that has nothing to do with the relevance of Mindfulness in the 21st century classroom.

Overall, though I understand her tone is intentionally witty and sarcastic, I am disheartened to know that this “opinion” is going to be read by millions of Times readers and add to the various misinterpretations of the practice that already exist. The essence of Mindfulness has been diluted and distorted, leading people to believe it is something it is not. It is not about “not thinking”, or being calm, or even finding happiness. Though a degree of happiness (perhaps “contentment” is a better word) and present-moment awareness are by-products of the practice, they are not the goal of the practice itself. Actually, there is no goal. It is in the “doing” that “being” arises.

At the end of her piece, Ms. Whippman writes: “rather than expending our energy struggling to stay in the Moment, we should simply be grateful that our brains allow us to be elsewhere.” That’s the one statement where I am in agreement with her, precisely because of my practice – for gratitude is at the core of the work (yes, even being grateful for a wandering mind!). The “struggle” need only exist for as long as one chooses.

It takes time for Mindfulness to take root, and the guidance of people/organizations who really know what they’re doing. I hope she does not give up.

The danger in choosing Ms. Whippman’s  course of avoiding our reality by constantly escaping into a dream of some possible future happiness is that we can live our whole lives doing this only to realize one day that that brighter future has happened and we missed out on ever materialized, and we have actually missed so much of our lives by refusing to be awake and present for it. 
– Julie Bayer Salzman

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During this busy time of year, we all could use a few moments to sit quietly and breathe, to recalibrate our central nervous systems and find some inner peace.  Join Cheryl Vigder Brause for a wonderful evening of Mindfulness Meditation at Tovami Yoga this Friday evening.

Mindfulness Meditation is a powerful practice that can help lower stress, increase focus and attention, and improve our overall happiness and wellbeing. In this interactive, two-hour workshop, we will explore mindfulness practices that help us become more aware of our bodies, our thoughts and our emotions. These practices can help us relax, become more self-aware and accepting of own inner states, be less reactive to the world around us and feel more centered in a constantly changing world.

This 2-hour workshop will be Friday evening, December 9th from 7 pm to 9 pm, at Tovami Yoga in Mamaroneck.  For more information and to register for the evening workshop, click HERE.

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