Meditation

Meditation is an incredible tool to connect with your true self and with the world around you. Our meditation practices are always evolving. By taking the time out of our busy days to sit still and attempt to quiet all of those thoughts that run around in our heads, we have learned so much about who we really are and who we want to be. It has been an incredible journey so far. We look forward to continuing down this fascinating path and sharing with you our thoughts along the way.

New Website Coming Soon!

New Website Coming Soon!

by cheryl on June 20, 2017

in Meditation

As the summer months approach and change is afoot, 2bpresent is getting a new website and a new look!  Stay tuned for  new classes and programs and a variety of online resources to help you find your calm, all on our new website

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Accepting What Is

Accepting What Is

by cheryl on January 31, 2017

in Meditation

Acceptance.

Mindfulness can help us learn to accept what is – to accept our life experience as it unfolds. As Eckhart Tolle likes to say, we must accept the “isness” of our lives. When we are mindful, we begin to observe whatever we are experiencing – our physical body, our thoughts, and our emotions – and simply notice our experience as it is happening.  We notice our bodies: tightness, tension, openness.  We notice our thoughts: “Why did I do that?”  “I can’t do this.” Or, “I’m never going to get his all done.”  And, we notice our emotions: fear, sadness, joy.

One myth of mindfulness is that it eliminates all the bad stuff and leaves us to simply relish in the pleasant, joyful moments of life.  Mindfulness does not eliminate difficult emotions.  Instead, we become more skilled at self-awareness and better at understanding our experience without judging it or becoming overwhelmed by it.  We learn to be with whatever is there and feel it fully – the pleasant, the unpleasant and the neutral.  Rather than trying to get rid of it, fix it, or figure it out, we learn to sit with it, see it for what it is and accept it fully.

In this process, we begin to recognize that some things are simply out of our control, like other people’s actions, illness or even our own feelings that can arise in response to those things. But by sitting with our experience, by observing what is there, and acknowledging it, we can begin to accept it as it is.  We can be with our sadness, our frustration, our anger or our feeling of powerlessness, and simply recognize that those are all OK to feel and they are justified simply because we are feeling them.  No judgment, just observation. Acceptance does NOT mean that we have to agree with the situation or that we have to like it, it simply means that we accept that it is happening.

While mindfulness helps us recognize that many things are outside of our control, it also helps us learn that there are many things within our control.  We can begin to exercise our power to choose how we want to view our situation, we can choose how we want to respond to it and we can choose which actions we want to take to move forward in a healthy and meaningful way.

Mindfulness strategies we can use when faced with challenging situations:

(1) Focusing on A Pleasant or Neutral Present Moment Experience.  

Sometimes accepting your current situation can be incredibly difficult, particularly when you are facing great challenges. Often that difficulty brings up strong emotions like fear or anger.  When we are feeling overwhelmed and having difficulty sitting with strong emotions, it can be very helpful to direct our focus and attention to something neutral or pleasant. This is when our mindfulness practice gives us the insight to know that we are struggling or feeling overwhelmed, and the ability to place our attention on something more positive while our minds and bodies settle down.

Simple mindfulness practices like placing your attention on your breath, mindfully drinking your coffee, listening to the sounds around you or going outside and enjoying the full sensory experience of being in nature, can help you get out of your thinking mind and into your sensory world of experience. This can be at the very least a neutral experience and at best a quite pleasant one. Taking time out to take a few, deep, mindful breaths can also help activate your Rest and Digest response and turn off your Stress response. Practicing mindfulness in this way can help you relax, settle your mind, and add some pleasant, more joyful moments to your day.  I love this poem that beautifully expresses how we can move mindfully through our day   . . .

Walk Slowly (Danna Faulds)
It only takes a reminder to breathe,
a moment to be still, and just like that,
something in me settles, softens, makes
space for imperfection. The harsh voice
of judgment drops to a whisper and I
remember again that life isn’t a relay
race; that we will all cross the finish
line; that waking up to life is what we
were born for. As many times as I
forget, catch myself charging forward
without even knowing where I’m going,
that many times I can make the choice
to stop, to breathe, and be, and walk
slowly into the mystery.

 

(2) Accepting What Is.

This may be much easier said than done, but it is the key to lowering our suffering.  In Buddhist teachings, suffering is caused by our struggle against what is. Life can be painful, but our true suffering comes from our struggle against what we cannot change.  We don’t have to like it, we don’t have to agree with it, we just have to accept that it is happening. This shift in mindset can help us move forward and take the necessary steps to cultivate a healthy approach to how we can move on in a healthy and productive way.

When you are feeling ready, you can simply sit with whatever you are feeling and allow yourself to feel it fully.  Invite it into your meditation, as we say. You can simply label it – anger, sadness, disappointment, etc.  Notice how it feels in your body.  And, simply notice how that feeling may change by simply observing it and accepting it as it is.  Soften into it.  One of my mindfulness teachers likes to point out that the word emotion has the word “motion” in it for a reason, and that is because emotions will move through us if we allow them to.

 

(3) Self-Compassion. 

One critical part of all mindfulness practice is self-compassion.  It is OK to feel anger, it is OK to have trouble accepting what is. Be aware and be careful not to add on a layer of self-judgment and self-criticism to what you are experiencing. By using your mindfulness practice to simply see what you are experiencing, to feel it fully, to acknowledge it and to accept it, you can begin to move forward. This self-compassion is a critical part of your self-care. Remember, we are not trying to eliminate, suppress or “correct” our emotional response, we are simply trying to recognize what we are feeling and accept it fully.  We are human and our feelings are real and justified simply because they are there.  In doing this, we can allow our emotions to move through us so we can move on.

 

(4) Acceptance and Mindful Parenting.

Acceptance is critical in mindful parenting.  Too often we try to correct our children or tell them why what they are feeling is not valid or why they should not feel that way.  For example, we may catch ourselves saying, “One day you will realize how silly this is.”  Instead, we need to listen fully and attentively, offering them our open, nonjudgmental attention. We must turn off our mental running commentary and hear what they are saying.  Try not to interrupt.  Just listen.  Be aware of your own thoughts and judgments and how those may be interfering with your ability to simply listen and absorb.  Accept what they are feeling simply because they are feeling it.  Finally, we need to validate what they are feeling and let them know that we hear them.  For example, we can simply say, “Wow, that must have been very hurtful.”  Simply listening without judging or trying to solve a problem, accepting fully what your child is feeling and validating those feelings can create an open and meaningful channel of communication.  It fosters deep connection and a safe space for them to feel heard and understood.  It also allows them a healthy roadmap to process their own feelings.

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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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Mindful Tips for the Holiday Season

Mindful Tips for the Holiday Season

by cheryl on November 21, 2016

in Meditation

Holiday Recipe: Mix complex family histories with pressure to have fun.  Add in travel fatigue and general exhaustion.  Don’t forget a dash of unease at the disruption to your daily routine.  Let simmer over the holiday season.  You will get a mix of fun times sprinkled with frustration, exhaustion and annoyance bubbling up to the surface at exactly the time when you want to be your best self and just be happy during the holidays. As Ram Dass once said, “If you think you are enlightened, go spend a week with your family.” The holidays can be both joyous and challenging.  No matter how often we practice peacefulness and calm, our long and ingrained history with family members and the stress and pressures of the holidays can often spark a mix of emotions this time of year.

Mindful Tips for Getting Through the Holiday Season.

(1) Be Kind. As the Dali Lama said, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” How, you ask, can we be kind when we are feeling exhausted, frustrated or annoyed? First and foremost be kind to yourself for feeling this way. It is completely normal and natural, and there are millions of others who feel exactly the same way. Kindness and compassion for yourself will relieve any pressure you feel to be happy and smiling throughout the entire holiday season. Next, be kind to others. They are also feeling holiday stress and need a little extra understanding and love this time of year.

(2) Take a break. Take time for yourself. Even though there is tremendous pressure to spend 24 hours a day with family members, especially when you rarely get to see them, be sure spend a little time alone and give yourself the opportunity to regroup, relax and rest. The time spent together when you are feeling calm and rested will be that much better if you give yourself some time to unwind. So, take a walk, meditate, or take a nap. This is your holiday too and you deserve it. Remember this will not only serve you, but it will also serve those around you if you can rejoin the group refreshed and rested.

(3) Show compassion. Especially this year, we are all feeling a bit on edge and uncertain about the future. Many of us will face family members with different political views. There are two ways to show compassion this year for people experiencing such raw and sensitive emotions. If emotions are running high, make your Thanksgiving table a politics-free zone. You can choose to simply agree not to talk about politics. It will all be there to discuss and debate after Thanksgiving.  Alternatively, you can take this opportunity to agree to really listen to one another. Set ground rules that you will each listen with curiosity and openness to the other’s point of view. Forget trying to prove you are right, and instead, simply try to cultivate understanding and compassion for another point of view.

(4) Foster Connection. Time together is a wonderful time to foster deeper connections with one another. One way to do this is to start a conversation that will give everyone the opportunity to learn more about each other and about ourselves.  Start a conversation around the Thanksgiving table and ask everyone to reflect — kindly and compassionately —  about what they learned this year, and how what they have learned has changed them. Leave judgment and criticism aside, and remember to listen and be open to what you can learn.

(5) Give Thanks. Bring your attention to the spirit of this holiday – Gratitude. This is an opportunity to give thanks for all that you have. Place your attention on the good in your life – family, the food on the table, children, good health, time together, or even the sun shining outside or the roof over your head. Giving thanks helps you recognize the positive in your life and creates an opportunity to feel good during the holiday season. As Sharon Salzberg said, “The difference between misery and happiness depends on what we do with our attention.”

(6) Smile, breathe and go slowly. Thich Naht Hanh once said, “Smile, breathe and go slowly.” This is a wonderful mantra to repeat during the holidays. Smile because you are alive. Breathe because it allows you to feel present in your body, and gives you a moment to pause and simply be grateful for each breath. Finally, go slowly. We move so fast most of the time, so use this time to go slowly and be present for each moment. Each moment matters and when added together these moments make up our life. So, take each moment as it comes. Experience your life as it unfolds. Smile and breathe.

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Growing Happiness

Growing Happiness

by cheryl on October 4, 2016

in Meditation


“Sometimes the smallest things
take up the most room in your heart.”

– Winnie the Pooh

The new science of “Happiness” is proving that we can grow our own happiness.  By taking just a few minutes each day to focus on the good, we can cultivate positive feelings.  Just like practicing the violin or hitting the tennis ball, with repetition and practice we can get better at focusing on the good in our lives, which by its very nature, allows less time to focus on the bad.  Here are a few simple ways to grow your own happiness:

(1) Pay attention to simple pleasures.  Drinking a cup of tea, walking your dog or hugging a child can be incredibly joyful experiences if you take the time to notice how good they actually feel.  Take time out every day to slow down and place your full attention on something that feels good.  It takes less time than going to the gym or preparing a healthy meal, yet it will greatly increase your overall feeling of wellbeing.

(2) Watch the sunset.  Study after study shows that immersing yourself in nature will increase your happiness.  Breathe in fresh air, look at the majestic, old trees around you or watch the magical colors in the sky.  Just a few minutes each day spent outside, appreciating the beauty and the awe of nature will greatly increase your daily dose of happiness.

(3) Focus on those you love.  If you spend a few minutes each day thinking about someone you love, you can actually feel love.  As you hold that person in your attention and send them love and well wishes, you can begin to notice how that feels — and it feels good.  Then, simply allow yourself to feel a bit of gratitude for having that person in your life.

(4) Send yourself love.  Often, we are our harshest critic, and sending ourselves love can be challenging.  Try spending a little time each day to self-reflect on what you did well, and not what you did wrong or didn’t do at all. Try looking in the mirror and notice what you like, rather than what you don’t like. Remind yourself each day that you are doing your best, and that is good enough. Simply notice how good it feels to send a little love your own way.  Remember, “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.”

Each day is a brand new day full of opportunities to learn, to experience the world and to connect with yourself and with the world around you.  Take a little time to grow and nurture your own happiness and see how that joy will grow and will spread to those around you.

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On we go!

On we go!

by cheryl on September 6, 2016

in Meditation

At this time of year, we feel it. Back to school is a time of transition, which evokes so many emotions. For some, leaving behind the carefree days of summer brings sadness and frustration when the summer fun ends and the “real world” of busy schedules and increased stress begins. For others, dropping off a child at college stirs intense feelings of sadness and longing for the past. New schools, new beginnings and saying good-bye remind us all this time of year of the intensity of being human. Anxiety, fear, uncertainty, sadness, joy and excitement are tangible for so many of us starting a new school year – – parents and children face new situations, changing routines and new benchmarks in our journey forward.

So, how do we deal with all of these intense emotions? Our “go to” method of coping with strong emotions is usually avoidance. Overeating, long hours at work, traveling, cleaning, planning, browsing the web, drinking all offer us brief distractions from feeling what we are feeling. These may provide some temporary relief, but those intense feelings are still there, lying just below the surface. And, these methods of avoidance carry their own unhealthy side effects on our bodies and minds.

Robert Frost once said, “The best way out is always through.” In order to properly process our emotions, we must allow ourselves to feel them. Matthew Brensilver, one of my mindfulness teachers, recently made the analogy of intense human emotions being like eating a meal that is way too big. The best way to deal with that discomfort is to simply sit and digest it. It may take some time, but sitting with stillness and quiet, acknowledging what we are feeling and allowing ourselves to feel it, is a very gentle way of digesting the intensity of our human experience.

I recently spent a week at the Garrison Institute with over 100 colleagues from the Mindful Schools Community as part of an intensive yearlong training program. The first three days were spent in total silence – no talking, no reading, no television, no computers or cell phones, no communication of any kind. Just three long, lovely days with my thoughts, my emotions and myself. It was fascinating, difficult, joyful and rejuvenating. At the end of the silence, I felt as if my central nervous system had been rebooted. Everything seemed clearer, brighter, simpler and more intense. I had time to digest, to sit in silence and to reconnect inward – – to deal with the good, the bad and the ugly, and to come out feeling whole, calm and peaceful.

Finding time to sit quietly each day, to reconnect inward and to feel whatever it is we are feeling, even if it is only for a few minutes a day, gives us the time and the space we need to digest and reboot. Each day is different, bringing with it its own set of feelings. Some days are joyful, others less so. To meet each day with self-compassion and kindness, and full acceptance of whatever it is we are feeling (“Hello sadness!”) helps us greet our experience with a sense of openness and a recognition of the impermanence of our emotions (this too shall pass, but first let me feel it).  Taking the time to sit with whatever we are feeling, helps build resilience, inner strength and confidence to know that we can make it through feelings that are uncomfortable or unpleasant. It also wakes us up to feelings of joy and happiness that we may miss because we are too busy to notice them.

In this time of transition and change, try simply sitting with your emotions, giving yourself a little quiet time, offering yourself compassion and kindness in your experience and recognize that this is all part of the intensity and the beauty of being human.

I wish you well and I wish you peace in your journey.

 

 

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How Meditation Changes the Brain

How Meditation Changes the Brain and the Body

by cheryl on February 21, 2016

in Meditation

As the research keeps rolling in, scientist are discovering the actual physiological changes that meditation can cause in our bodies which lead to an improvement in our overall health and wellbeing.  Some of the latest research is discussed in this recent article from the New York Times on How Meditation Changes the Brain, which you can read by clicking here.

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Making Friends With My Thoughts

To Sit with Discomfort

by cheryl on February 5, 2016

in Meditation

When I first tried meditating several years ago, I remember struggling between trying to still my body and my mind.  At first, I found it incredibly difficult and physically uncomfortable to sit still, which was then followed by my many thoughts,  “My knee really hurts . . . My back aches . . . I am feeling restless . . . I am uncomfortable,” which only made my physical discomfort more deeply felt. Other days, I would have no problem physically sitting still,  but my mind was the source of my discomfort, refusing to be still.

Over the years,  I have learned that it is best to “make friends” with my discomfort.  I try not to struggle against whatever is distracting me, or figure it out or beat myself up for having these distractions.   I use them, instead, as an important part of my meditation.  I try to approach my discomfort or distraction with a sense of curiosity and interest, no longer trying to do anything with it.   I simply observe what I am experiencing with a friendly, loving and gentle attention.   I look at my experience, whatever that may be, as an opportunity for self-awareness, rather than an obstacle to it.

It would be nice to report that each time I sit down to meditate I find myself enjoying twenty minutes of sheer bliss.   What I have found, instead, is that each meditation is different.  Somedays I have an ache or a pain, some days my mind is extremely busy, and other days my mind and my body are peaceful and still.   In essence, this is what the practice is all about.  Learning to sit and simply get to know myself, to have some sense of control over where I place my  attention, and when I feel out of control, to simply let it be and watch without becoming overwhelmed by it.

Just like my meditation practice, my days are not all the same, and certainly not always peaceful – – – people can annoy me, my children don’t always listen to me, my house is not always clean, my back sometimes aches, people close to me get sick, and the evening news continues to report great tragedies around the globe.   I find that I can now look at all of these things with a sense of presence, openness and curiosity, just like I practice on my cushion each morning.  Instead of getting swept away by what is happening, overwhelmed by it, or trying to figure it out, I can connect to my own inner stillness and allow myself to feel whatever comes up fully (anger, sadness, frustration and, yes, great joy) and just be with it.  All this from simply sitting on my cushion for a few minutes a day.

On to Week 2!

 

This blog is part of Sharon Salzberg’s Real Happiness Meditation Challenge.  In the month of February, you can join over 12,000 people around the world who have committed to sit each day and give meditation a try!  You can learn more about the challenge, join in and read what people are saying by clicking  here.

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Choose Happiness

Choose Happiness October 16, 2015

So many things affect our ability to be happy.  Or do they?  Once we recognize that happiness is a choice, and not a result of what happens to us, our ability to find happiness becomes much easier. What can make us unhappy, and how we can choose to respond . . .  People – We […]

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Mindfulness Tools for Everyday Living – New Winter Classes Now Forming

Mindfulness Tools for Everyday Living – New Winter Classes Now Forming October 5, 2015

“My mind is like a bad neighborhood, I try not to go there alone.”   – Annie Lamott    Join 2bpresent for an exploration of Mindfulness Meditation. Whether this is your first introduction to mindfulness and meditation, or you want to reboot your practice, come and join the group!  We will learn practical and accessible mindfulness […]

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