Meditation

I'm Not Fine, Thanks for Asking.

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How many times a day do we meet a friend or acquaintance, trade polite greetings and ask, “How are you?” The response is almost always, “I’m fine.”  No more is said, no more is asked.  We exchange pleasantries and go about our busy days.  I can’t help but ask, "Are we all really fine?"  If we are not, do we really want to lay out our laundry list of struggles when asked, and do we really want to take the time to listen to the honest response of others?

An important reality of life is that everyone is not fine. Everyone has problems, everyone is struggling with something in their life.  Yet, so often we are unable or unwilling to share our struggles with others.  We put up walls and keep a "safe" distance so as not to appear weak or vulnerable.  We use the excuse that we don't want to burden people with our troubles or waste their time.  Or, we hold back, fearing they will judge us.  Instead of sharing our real fears, worries, and challenges, we opt to put on a happy face, a strong front, and tell ourselves and those around us that everything is “fine.”   But living in a sea of “fine” can leave us feeling lonely and isolated.

I am not proposing that we disclose a litany of woes every time someone asks us how we are doing.  I am suggesting, however, that we chose wisely who we want to share with and share away.  Asking for help, leaning on friends in times of need, and sharing with others what is really going on takes great strength and courage.  It is only by opening ourselves up to those around us that we can truly know each other, and feel comforted by the fact that we are not alone.  Giving others that same gift of open-hearted, empathetic listening in return connects us in a very profound way.

I am grateful for the people in my life with whom I can share my joys and my struggles, and who trust me to listen to theirs.  Together, we have faced the death of loved ones, the rewards and challenges of parenting, the great joys of life, the heart-wrenching battles with disease and illness, and so much more.   We allow ourselves to be seen and known.  In doing so, we strengthen our connection built on respect, trust, kindness, and love, knowing there is no judgment, only open hearts and open minds, and a soft space to land when one is needed.  That is the true foundation of friendship.  So, thank you to those people in my life who let me know that everything is not always fine and thank you for listening.

Accepting What Is

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.

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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.

Mindfulness and the Value of Being in the Present Moment

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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

To Sit with Discomfort

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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.

Choose Happiness

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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 cannot control how other people act, but we can choose how we allow them to make us feel.  Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."  Ultimately, we can choose to limit the time we are around people who do not bring happiness and positivity into our lives.

Circumstances - Giving up the illusion that we have control over many aspects of our lives is the first step.   Once we accept that, a great burden is lifted from our shoulders (ahhh. . . .), and we can focus instead on how we want to respond to those circumstances. 

Stress - When it comes to all of that stress in our lives, it is not the stressor itself, but how we perceive it and then how we choose to respond to it that will determine whether or not it will lead to stress at all.

Worry - Worrying does nothing to help the situation.  As a worrier myself, I know this to be true.  Once we recognize that our worrying is not serving us, we can take action, or take a deep breath, and stop worrying so much.

Money -  The "If only" syndrome  . . ."If only I had [fill in the blank].   I would be happy. "   One look at the news and you will see examples of wealthy people, who have enough money to buy whatever material goods they want, and you see so much suffering.  Enough said.  Happiness is an inside job, as Sylvia Boorstein says, and not a result of external circumstances.

How we walk through our lives is all about choice, and how we choose to see things.  Yet, we are often so busy running on automatic pilot, acting from a place of habitual response and routine patterns of thought and behavior, that we don't even realize we have a choice.  As Viktor Frankl put it best, in Man's Search for Meaning, "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.”

Easier said than done, you say?  It's easier than you think.

Below is a reposting of a favorite Weekly Wisdom from Tal Ben Shahar, author of Happier, reminding us that we have the power to choose . . .

Choice is creation.

To choose is to create.

Through your choices you create your reality. At every moment in your life you have a choice.

We can choose… to focus on faults OR to be a benefit finder.

We can choose… to look at what is not working or to look at what is working.

We can choose   . . .to take things for granted OR to appreciate the good.

We can choose   . . . to perceive failure as a catastrophe OR as a learning opportunity. We don’t have a choice whether we fail at times, but we do have a choice of what we do with that failure. 

We can choose   . . . to run away from challenges OR to courageously face challenges.

We can choose   . . . to be cynical and sarcastic OR to be open and sincere.

We can choose   . . . to overlook the potential OR to see the potential and cultivate it.

We can choose   . . . to reject emotions OR to accept emotions.

We can choose   . . . to be mean and dismissive OR to be nice and kind.

We can choose   . . . to overlook life’s treasures inside and all around us OR to be mindful of the wonder and the miracle unfolding within and around us.

At every moment in your life you have a choice. All these moments add up to a lifetime; choices add up to a life – – – your life.

What kind of life do you want for yourself? For those around you? 

To live the life you want you must first become mindful that you have a choice.

 

Share the Love

On this day before Valentine's day, I am feeling inspired by the incredible evening I had last night at the JCC in Manhattan.  I was thrilled to attend an evening with Sharon Salzberg entitled, "How Meditation Changes the Lives of Inner City Youth."  Sharon was joined by the three founders of the Holistic Life Foundation, a nonprofit organization committed to nurturing the wellness of children and adults in underserved communities.  Andres Gonzalez, and brothers Atman and Ali Smith, the co-founders of the program, spoke about their journey to bring yoga, mindfulness and meditation to the inner city youth of Baltimore.  Many of these children live in a world of crime, drugs, poverty and violence.  These incredible men have changed the lives of so many young people by sharing their love, showing them respect and by teaching them tools to cultivate compassion, empathy and resilience.  So, on this day before Valentine's Day, a holiday filled with flowers, chocolates and romance, I am deeply reminded of the incredible power of love --- how it feels, how healing it can be and how important it is to share it freely with others.  Happy Valentine's Day to all and may your day be filled with lots of love!!!

Join us in Sharon Salzberg's 2015 Meditation Challenge!

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I am thrilled to be a guest blogger again this year on Sharon Salzberg's 2016 Real Hapiness Meditation Challenge.   During the month of February each year, thousands take the pledge to sit and meditate everyday. Now in it’s sixth year, this REAL HAPPINESS Meditation Challenge is an amazing community around the world exploring what meditation has to offer.  Jump in and join me and thousands of others around the world, each day in February as we find a warm and cozy spot to sit and find our inner peace.  You can read more about it by clicking here

The Dalai Lama's Laugh

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It is Thanksgiving time again.   Time to gather with friends and family to celebrate and give thanks for all that we have.  This time of year, however, is also full of stress and anxiety for many who are rushing around preparing for the holiday season.  Time with family and friends, and holiday travel, also bring challenging situations, annoyance and for many a feeling of sadness.    Although this is a time for giving thanks for all that we have, it is sometimes difficult to feel grateful in the midst of the stressful holiday season. So what does all of this have to do with the Dalai Lama's laugh, you may ask?  I recently had the great pleasure of spending two days with the Dalai Lama in New York City. I sat in a crowded theater with hundreds of others listening to him speak. When I first arrived, I was surprised to hear protesters outside the theater chanting loudly that he was the "false Dalai Lama."  As we were ushered into the crowded theater, we were searched for dangerous objects before being allowed into the room.   This was all a strange and disturbing beginning to a day with the the winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace.  When I finally arrived at my seat, excited to be in the presence of such an important historical figure, the Dalai Lama began his lesson in Tibetan.  For the first 20 minutes, and throughout the two days, he spoke in a language I could not begin to understand.    Then, when his interpreter began to speak in English to translate his words, it seemed that even English was not going to help me truly understand the complicated teachings of Dependent Origination and Intrinsic Existence.  As I struggled to understand his existential teachings, I found myself captivated by one thing - the Dalai Lama's laughter.

Many of us shared the same experience that day.  There was something about his deep, joyful belly laugh that seemed to exude happiness.  This is a man who has lost his country, who bears the burden of continuing the Tibetan culture and its spiritual teachings, who, at 79 years old, lives in exile and travels the world sharing these teachings to hundreds of thousands of people, and who has the fate of an entire culture in his hands.  And yet, despite the tremendous burden he carries, he manages to sit happily, with a radiating smile, filling the large theater with his laughter.  This alone was worth the price of admission.

Back to our own Thanksgiving tables.  The Dalai Lama's laugh is a great example of how our own happiness need not be defined by our circumstances.  Despite our suffering, our challenges or our difficult circumstances,  we too can choose to find happiness and laughter.  As the Dalai Lama says, "Happiness is a choice."   There are simple ways to find joy in each moment.  For example, we can simply take a deep breath and enjoy the fact the we can take a  breath.  I often think back to when my mother was ill and I found tremendous joy on mornings when she could simply breathe with ease.  This simple act of gratitude is easily forgotten when life gets busy.  But the ability to take a slow, deep breath is something to be very thankful for.

Another way to bring gratitude to Thanksgiving is to look at the food on our table and think about everyone who has contributed in some way to our meal -- the famers in the field, the animals in the farm, the food company employees who produce and package our food, the truck drivers, the grocery store clerks, the cashiers, the caregivers and cooks who prepare it, and those who worked to make money so the food could be purchased.  Each and every person played a part in getting this food on the table for us to enjoy.  This brings a great sense of interconnectedness, interdependence and a feeling of appreciation and gratitude to our hearts.   Try thinking about all the people who contributed in some way to your Thanksgiving meal, from its very beginning in a field somewhere in the world to your plate.

On to a more challenging gratitude practice - dealing with difficult people.  Even the difficult people in our lives can help us find gratitude and happiness.  Pay attention to the person in your life who causes you discomfort or unease, and try to find something that person has done for you, directly or indirectly, that brings you joy.  They may have brought someone into your life who you love very much, or perhaps they make someone you love very happy.  Whatever it is, recognize it and be thankful for it.   It is also helpful to recognize that even the people who are most challenging for us are also just searching for their own happiness, and are often struggling in their own way to find it.  Opening the door to compassion for them, will also help us find our own peace and happiness.

Bah Humbug!  Why even try?  All this effort to cultivate gratitude can actually pay off.   Dr. Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist and author of Hardwiring Happiness, has spent years studying the brain and has found that we can actually change our brains and create more happiness in our lives with practice.   We can cause our neural machinery to cultivate positive states of mind.  This is known as “self-directed neuroplasticity.”  Neuroplasticity refers to the malleable nature of the brain.  Dr. Hanson has found that we can change our brains to be happier by deliberately training the mind to appreciate the good that is all around us.  What better time to start practicing happiness and hardwiring your brain for positivity than Thanksgiving.

So, this Thanksgiving, practice laughing out loud like the Dalai Lama and take the time to look around or inside yourself and notice a few things that you can be truly grateful for.  Whether it is your breath, your health, your children, the food in front of you, the sun rising, or the person sitting next to you, simply take the time to notice how fortunate you are and give thanks for that good fortune.

 

 

 

New Fall Evening Mindfulness Class: Finding Real Happiness

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What if you could be more peaceful with yourself, those around you and your world? Join us on a journey to finding real happiness as we explore meditation and mindfulness, and learn how to incorporate them into our everyday lives. Mindfulness can help you lower your levels of stress, stay focused and calm, and live your life with a greater sense of ease and happiness.

This course is an introduction to the fundamentals of mindfulness and meditation, and will help you gain a deeper understanding of these practices.

Join us for contemplation, meditation and action-based exercises. This is a five week class. We will meet for one hour each week.

Evening Class Dates & Time: 10/8, 10/15, 10/22, 10/29 and 11/5 from 7 pm to 8 pm.

Investment: $195

Location: Groove, 108 Chatsworth Avenue, Larchmont, New York.

 

THIS CLASS IS NO LONGER ACCEPTING REGISTRATIONS

 

About the Instructor . . .

Cheryl Brause is the Co-Founder of 2bpresent. She has practiced meditation and mindfulness for many years, and has worked in the field of teaching mindfulness meditation for the past four years to adults, teens and children. Cheryl has studied meditation and mindfulness under with many leaders in the field. She has completed her Level I and II Meditation Teacher Training from Om Yoga. She is trained in Learning to BREATHE - a mindfulness curriculum for adolescents, and completed her K-12 Mindful Schools Curriculum Training. Cheryl teaches mindfulness and meditation privately to children, teens and adults. She has also created and taught programs in our community to train teachers and students in stress reduction techniques and mindfulness tools to help them thrive.

What people are saying about 2bpresent classes and workshops. . .

"Every now and then you come across a class or a person who helps you to be a better person. Cheryl offers just that. I am a better person because of all the things that I have learned- I am a better spouse, a better mother, a better friend, a better co-worker, and actually even more compassionate with myself. And what’s the best part? That I got all this by simply learning how to slow down and calm down. I will be forever grateful!

Taking the beginning meditation class is the single most important thing I have done for myself in the last decade. I can honestly say that my family and I are all happier because of my taking this one step to learn how to be calmer and more mindful." - Psychologist, mother and participant in Real Happiness and Mindful Living

"Cheryl's class taught me not only how to meditate, but how to incorporate mindfulness into everything that I do. Cheryl is extremely knowledgable about the practice of mindfulness and has a teaching style that is very easy to understand and accessible. It was a truly life changing experience. I can't wait for my next class!" - MBA, mother, participant in Mindful Living

"I took Cheryl’s mindfulness class last spring and the effects have stayed with me. The tools and techniques she showed the class were fun and easy to use and the discussion really brought everything down to a real level that can be applied. Cheryl has a unique way of speaking about mindfulness that is very insightful and practical. I thoroughly enjoyed the class and would highly recommend it!" - Organizational Development Consultant, mother, participant in Mindful Living

New Spring 2014 Mindfulness Classes!

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Spring Cleaning?

Forget the closets  . . .

dive in to your mind!  

Join us this Spring for our new classes and workshops that will help you dive in to those mental habits of the mind that cause us stress and imbalance.  These classes are designed to help you lower your stress, and increase your sense of calm and balance.  You spoke, we listened.  We have added new classes with more guided meditation time so that you can sink in, relax and exercise that mental muscle weekly by gathering together to practice mindfulness with a group.  Men, women and teens (ages 14 and up) are all welcome to participate.  We hope you will join us!  Check out our new Spring classes by clicking on the class links to the right or checking out our new classes by clicking here.

What Do this Year's Olympic Athletes and Super Bowl Champions Have in Common?

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I am truly enjoying watching the 2014 Winter Olympics, as I marvel at the athleticism, mental toughness and bravery of the Olympic athletes.  They seem to be able to do things with their bodies that would be impossible to most mere mortals, while facing both physical and mental challenges with such incredible courage and composure.  Their secret is out, however, and all evidence points not only to incredibly disciplined physical conditioning, but also to training their brains to conquer their fears and mental roadblocks which could  keep them from performing  at their highest level.  Using techniques such as guided visualizations to imagine themselves achieving their Olympic goals, daily meditation practices to stay calm and focused, and mindfulness exercises to learn to handle their negative thoughts that serve as roadblocks to optimal performance, Olympians are including their brains as a key part of their daily conditioning.  Brain-Training Secrets of Olympic Athletes And, how about those Seattle Seahawks?  I must admit that I did not have a favorite team going in to this year's Super Bowl, nor did I pick a team to root for once the game began. (I was more interested in selecting the best Superbowl commercial.)  I was, however, blown away by the sheer force, focus and seemingly unstoppable performance of the Seahawks, led by quarterback Russell Wilson, on Super Bowl Sunday.  It was no surprise that I later learned of the incredible Seahawk training regimen that includes daily yoga, meditation and mindfulness training.  Lotus Pose on Two

What was once the purview of Buddhist monks and yogis, yoga, meditation and mindfulness training is now becoming an important part of melding physical and mental conditioning to optimize an athlete's performance.   Trainers, coaches and athletes alike are seeing that one of the most important parts of the body to train is the brain.

What is all this Mindfulness stuff anyway?

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Mindfulness is everywhere – in the news, on magazine covers, in our schools and all over the internet – which leaves many wondering, where did it come from and why is it attracting so much attention? Mindfulness has its roots in ancient India.  Over 2500 years ago, Vipassana meditation was taught by Buddha as a remedy for life’s ills.  Vipassana means insight into the true nature of things, to see things as they really are.  It is a non-religious meditation practice that aims to eliminate mental impurities so that one can reach a state of happiness and contentment, free from the burdens of the mind that are said to create human suffering.

Although mindfulness has been practiced for thousands of years, it has gained its recent popularity in the West in large part due to the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder and former director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, and his pioneering work in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction.  As a medical doctor who studied Buddishm, Kabat-Zinn decided to use mindfulness and meditation practices to treat patients suffering with chronic pain.  His work and the research that followed have shown that these ancient practices can bring great improvements in both physical and psychological health, as well as changes in attitude and behavior.

Mindfulness is now commonly defined as the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment—and accepting it without judgment.  In this busy, fast-paced modern world, the ability to hit the pause button and place your full attention on what you are actually experiencing in your body and in your mind, as you are experiencing it, has proven not only to improve chronic health problems, but has also been linked to human happiness.

The practice of mindfulness continues to evolve and new tools are emerging to incorporate mindfulness into our daily lives.  At 2bpresent, we have studied with Buddhist monks, psychologists, leaders in the fields of mindfulness meditation and positive psychology, as well as experimented with mindfulness apps and online meditation groups, to better understand how to integrate these ancient practices into our modern world.  Twenty-first century technology is being used to conduct research on the brain and the effects mindfulness practices have on our power to change our brain structure and improve its function.  There is also new and emerging research that shows the effects mindfulness practices have on children, improving emotional self-regulation, increasing focus and attention, decreasing stress and improving academic performance.  There is good reason that the mindfulness movement is gaining popularity, not just as a fad but as a promising new avenue to improved health and well-being.

In light of the soaring costs of medical care and the increasing use of prescription drugs to treat the symptoms rather than the causes of disease and disorders, mindfulness offers great potential to improved health and wellness.  It is also a key focus in our quest for happiness.  For all of these reasons, this ancient practice that dates back thousands of years is now experiencing a renaissance in our modern world as the mindfulness revolution.

Our Holiday Gift to You - Our Favorite Quotes for the New Year

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Last year at this time, we offered our Top 10 Mindfulness Tips from 2012.  This year, we want to give you some food for thought (no calories in this holiday gift), our Favorite Quotes for the New Year.  We love great quotes and the wisdom that comes from these incredible people.  They are like nourishment for the soul. We offer these to you to taste, chew on a bit, take some time to digest, and, afterwards, see how they leave you feeling.  Enjoy! (10)  "If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion."  - Dalai Lama.

(9)  "Between stimulus and response, there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and our freedom."  - Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

(8) “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”  - Nelson Mandela

(7) "Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be."  - Abraham Lincoln

(6) “[S]uffering is what happens when we struggle with whatever our life experience is rather than accepting and opening to our experiences with a wise and compassionate response.”   - Sylvia Boorstein, It’s Easier Than You Think 

(5) "Wherever you are, be there totally.  If you find your here and now intolerable and it makes you unhappy, you have three options:  remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it totally." - Eckhart Tolle

(4) “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” -Ferris Bueller

(3) What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

(2) "There are only two ways to live your life.  One is as though nothing is a miracle.  The other is as though everything is a miracle."  - Albert Einstein

(1) “A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.” – George Moore

 

 

 

The Pursuit of Happiness

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Happiness is a big topic these days.  There are many happiness blogs and books that explore how we can achieve greater happiness in our lives.  The emerging field of Positive Psychology, the study of happiness, has produced a large body of scientific research that helps us understand how we can be happier.  Major universities, like the University of Pennsylvania, have their own Positive Psychology departments that conduct research on what makes happy people happy.  Dr. Martin Seligman, thought to be the father of Positive Psychology, heads the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania.  Where traditionally the field of Psychology focuses on mental illness or psychological problems and how to treat them, Dr. Seligman and his peers examine how ordinary people can become happier and more fulfilled.  So, why is happiness such a “hot” topic these days? Research on the mental health and wellbeing of Americans may shed some light on the answer. Statistics show that anxiety and depression affect many Americans and that those numbers are growing.  Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in our country, affecting over forty million adults in the United States (18% of U.S. population).   An estimated one in ten adults reports being depressed.  In addition, anxiety disorders affect one in eight children in the United States and rates of depression and anxiety among young people in America have been increasing steadily for the past fifty years. Today, five to eight times as many high school and college students meet the criteria for diagnosis of major depression and/or an anxiety disorder when compared to half a century ago.  These statistics suggest that in the United States, a country in which we have greater material wealth and individual freedom than most other countries in the world, we are increasingly unhappy.

So, why aren’t we happier?

Perhaps it is because we live in a culture where we never feel that we have enough, or that we are enough.  We are always looking to get more, be more, have more.  Our culture values extreme individualism and ambition as characteristics needed to achieve success, creating a culture in which the fear of failure runs rampant.   In such a culture, we think that happiness is conditional upon our achievements.  Although our goals are often quite concrete (being promoted at work, buying a new car, moving to a bigger house, winning a race, making a team, getting into an ivy league school, fighting for social justice), if we press further in our investigation, we will usually find that our ultimate goal is simply to be happy.  As Tal Ben-Shahar, Harvard Professor and author of several books on Positive Psychology explains, “Wealth, fame, admiration and all other goals are subordinate and secondary to happiness; whether our desires are material or social, they are means toward one end: happiness.”

What the research shows is that the attainment of a particular goal to achieve greater happiness is misguided.  The  achievement of our goals may bring temporary joy, but it does not impact our overall level of  happiness.  For example, studies of both lottery winners and people who have been paralyzed reveal that people return to their same level of happiness (or unhappiness as the case may be) one year after the event.  Our projected happiness (or unhappiness) after certain events is not what we actually experience.  We have all experienced a situation where we work very hard to achieve a goal, are overjoyed in accomplishing that goal, only to emerge a short time after our goal is met asking ourselves, “What’s next?”  We quickly realize that the happiness we felt after achieving that goal was merely temporary.  We may even feel depressed when we realize that the achievement of our much-anticipated goal did not bring us the lasting happiness we desire.

So, how can we be happier?

Research suggests that 50% of our happiness is determined by our genetics, traits we are born with such as temperament.  The good news is this leaves us with 50% to work with.  Many researchers are looking at the effects of mindfulness practices and other cognitive exercises that can help us shape our reactivity and perceptions of ourselves and the world we live in.  In other words, instead of looking externally at what we can accomplish next, what we lack and what we want to gain so that we can be happier, we can change our perception of who we are, what we want and how we react to our circumstances.

This pursuit of happiness is what Sharon Salzberg explores in her book Real Happiness.  She explains,  “Because the development of inner calm & energy happens completely within and isn’t dependent on another person or a particular situation, we begin to feel a resourcefulness and independence that is quite beautiful—and a huge relief.”   In the practice of mindfulness meditation, Salzberg teaches people to look inside themselves in moments of quiet and accept things as they are.   Those quiet moments help us to connect to our own inner strength, our compassion for ourselves and for others, and our ability to ride the tides of our own emotions.  These qualities, which we all possess, can be fostered and strengthened simply by recognizing that they are already there.

Once we take the time to reconnect to who we really are, value our inner strengths and find a sense of peace and contentment in ourselves as we are, we are able to feel more happiness in our lives.  We can foster our own feelings of optimism and gratitude, which will enhance our sense of well-being.   With this new perspective, it is not the achievement of goals in which we seek to attain happiness; we already have a sense of happiness along the way as we pursue our goals.  The relationship between happiness and success is reciprocal – not only can success contribute to happiness, but happiness also leads to success.

 

Sharon Salzberg returns to join 2bpresent for Lovingkindness in the Face of Adversity-November 13th

We are thrilled to welcome back Sharon Salzberg to our mindful community for a fall evening exploring Lovingkindness in the Face of Adversity

Wednesday November 13th from 7:00-9:00pm

Mamaroneck, NY (location to be sent upon confirmation)

 

Sharon is one of America’s leading spiritual teachers and authors.  She is cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, Massachusetts. She has played a crucial role in bringing Asian meditation practices to the West. The ancient Buddhist practices of vipassana (mindfulness) and metta (lovingkindness) are the foundations of her work.

During this evening we will explore the power of lovingkindness when we face our own physical challenge or illness, emotional upheaval, negativity from others, or unfairness in how we are being treated. We will look at lovingkindness and compassion as strengths rather than as submissive states, and talk about joining them with discerning action, wisdom, and our often untapped capacity for resilience. We'll practice meditation along with dialogue and discourse.  Suitable for both beginning and more experienced meditators.

To Register Click Here

Be Where You Are

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A recent  New York Times article  and YouTube video I Forgot My Phone left me wondering, how much of life are we missing out on when we are constantly turning our attention to that little screen?  How often are we truly present where we are?  Our minds are usually taking us elsewhere --- wandering back into our past or worrying about the future.   It is a challenge for us to reign in our active minds and be fully present where we are.  Now, with the help of technology, it has become easier and easier to be where we are not.   We don't need the torrent of our thoughts to take us elsewhere, we have the help of our smartphones to whisk us away. How often do we feel a slight moment of boredom and immediately jump on our smartphones to avoid that brief moment of mental stillness?  Instead of enjoying a momentary quiet interlude, we immediately look up the latest news stories, check in to see what our friends are doing on Facebook, or reply to our endless stream of emails.   How often do we "leave" the people we are with to chat with, Instagram, or email those who are somewhere else?  I am all for keeping in touch and social media is a wonderful way to stay connected, but I think it is important to remind ourselves and our children that we need to enjoy where we are and who we are with by resisting that ever present temptation to jump into the electronic cyberworld of being elsewhere.

How often have you been in a restaurant and watched a family eating "together" -- one child watching a DVD, a teenager texting friends and parents checking their email?  Are they really enjoying each other's company or merely occupying space next to one another while engaging with someone or something elsewhere?   The average teenager writes over 3,000 texts per month. With the soaring popularity of other forms of social media, their options are vast to live in a virtual world of communicating with a screen instead of with the people next to them.   I wonder if our children are learning the art of conversation or merely mastering the art of internet slang?  Will they learn to use their imagination and creativity in the face of a moment of boredom or merely power on when they want to disengage ?  Do they know how to connect through eye contact or just through Instagram?   Imagine what they could do with all of the time they spend on their smartphones and all that they are missing right in front of them.

As parents, we spend so much time teaching our children how to be "safe" online, and are so preoccupied with checking in on their internet conversations,  that we may be missing the greater lesson of teaching them to simply power off.  When they are unplugged and not constantly distracted,  perhaps we can teach them the importance of making face to face human connections -- how to make polite conversation, use eye contact, be a good listener.  These are the elements of creating real human connections that I hope will not be lost on the next generation.  In addition, we all suffer from the affects of our constant multi-tasking -- lack of focus, inability to concentrate, uncontrollable mind wandering.  In our distracted and fractured culture, where we are all wired up and constantly interupted by the beeps of our electronic devices, perhaps powering off will be the best lesson of all for our children's mental and emotional well being.

Do people really need to see the dessert I am eating on vacation or an artistic picture of my shoe or one more "selfie"?   Will the world end if I don't respond to an email in the middle of a dinner conversation?   Am I really enjoying the concert when I am preoccupied with taking a video of it to show everyone afterwards?

So, let's try to be where we are and enjoy who we are with.  It is those moments in which we are truly present that are our most precious and most meaningful moments of all.