Mindful Tools

Mindful Tools for Everyday Living - Getting Unstuck

(1) Notice when you get “hooked” - Shenpa

  • Begin to clearly notice the hook  - may feel like a tightening, tension or heat
  • Shenpa is human nature, not problematic in and of itself
  • We get carried away in the momentum of the hook, caught in a habitual pattern
  • It's like the “itch” of a mosquito bite and then we feel the need to scratch it
  • Shenpa is the tiny spark, our reaction is the kerosene that can take the spark into a full blown forest fire
  • The Kerosene is our thoughts, talking to ourselves and fueling the fire.  We will justify our pattern of behavior by thinking we have the "right to react"  and we talk ourselves into our reaction, justify it,  but this sets off a chain reaction which results in unhappiness and unease.  This reaction is often motivated by our desire to escape this uneasiness and underlying discomfort (blame someone else for example) -- this is the desire to scratch the itch.

(2) Learn to “Choose a fresh alternative” - Relax, Open Up and Be with it

  • Do something different
  • We often act in a way that only strengthens our unhealthy habits of resentment, anger, blame, etc.
  • This habitual response only entrenches us in our patterns of behavior
  • Try to NOTICE the feeling of being hooked and then PAUSE and simply sit with that feeling
  • Remember that these feelings are fluid, impermanent, temporary
  • If we don’t feed the spark, it will go away.  If we get into a habit of not feeding it, it will stop hooking us.

(3) Make this a life long journey to experience freedom, joy and happiness

  • Make this a way of life
  • Two Habitual Responses to the Hook:   (1) Repressing or denying it OR (2) Acting Out as we move into the storyline, which makes our experience very solid
  • Choose a fresh alternative and learn to let go of the story
  • We need to do this with Lovingkindeness to ourselves – don't beat yourself up for feeling  a certain way or for getting "hooked" as this will add shenpa on top of shenpa, be kind and forgiving of yourself without adding additional negativity towards yourself.
  • Positive Groundlessness - simply experiencing the rawness of what is may result in feeling a sense of groundlessness.  We feel we need something to ground us which may be our anger, for example, but this groundlessness can be positive.  In this space of positive groundlessness, we see that there is no need to hold onto to bias, preference, hatred, anger.  This is a scary place as there is a sense of no ground beneath our feet, no fixed point of reference or view to hang on to.  But this groundlessness is also filled with positive qualities such as vastness, openness, freedom, limitless potential and nothing to hold us back from joy and happiness.
  • Mindful Awareness Practice  helps us sit with the "hook" and learn to be with this feeling.  It also helps us to PAUSE when we are hooked, recognize the feeling and that it is only temporary (learn to sit with the itch), and choose a fresh alternative, a path that helps us move through life with greater ease and happiness.

Mindful Tools for Everyday Life- Week Four Handout

Week Four:  Finding Real Happiness – An Exploration of What Really Makes Us Happy and How to Get More of It. Positive Psychology is the scientific study of optimal human functioning.  Historically, the field of psychology looks at treating mental illness or dysfunction.  Positive psychology, however, looks to understand the positive, adaptive, creative and emotionally fulfilling aspects of human behavior.

Flow, as defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is the state of optimal attention and immersion during an activity.  Finding one's flow leads to greater happiness and sense of wellbeing.

How do you know if you are in your flow?

  1. You lose awareness of time (“lose yourself in something”)
  2. You aren’t thinking about yourself (self-consciousness disappears)
  3. You aren’t interrupted by extraneous thoughts
  4. You have clear goals but aren’t focused on the finish line, the activity itself is the reward
  5. You are active, not passive (not watching TV)
  6. You work effortlessly, the activity is not easy but everything is clicking and seems effortless
  7. Balance between challenge and skill
  8. No worry of failure
  9. You want to repeat the experience

Happiness must combine both pleasure and meaning, providing both present and future gain.

The Hamburger Analogy (Tal Ben-Shahar)

(1) Bacon Double Cheeseburger - Hedonistic Pleasure -  unhealthy but tasty hamburger, will bring immediate short-term pleasure but have the opposite effect on our long-term feeling of wellbeing.

(2) Tasteless Veggie Burger (the ones that taste like cardboard) - Doing everything for the long term goal, but with no short term enjoyment - might bring us negative emotions while we’re eating it but brings us long-term benefits.

(3) Eating a Healthy by Tasty Burger - finding out what things in life can bring both immediate and long-term happiness; that is, a meal that is both tasty and healthy.

Finding our Happiness:

(1) We must deal with the Past-  exercise gratitude and forgiveness. Once we must become aware of what at we are feeling, we can better understand what is causing us anger, resentment, etc.  By becoming aware of it, we can lessen its grip on it, accept it as it is and learn to let it go. We cannot let it go until we become aware of it and accept it.

(2) Happiness in the Present – breaking habituation, savoring experiences and using mindfulness as ways to increase happiness in the present

(3) Finding Meaning and Purpose -  While the pleasant life might bring more positive emotions to one’s life, to foster a deeper more enduring happiness, we need to explore the realm of meaning. Without the application of one’s unique strengths and the development of one’s virtues towards an end bigger than one’s self, one’s potential tends to be whittled away by a mundane, inauthentic, empty pursuit of pleasure. (Martin Seligman)

More reading: NYTimes articles

- Advice from Life’s Graying Edges on Finishing with NO Regrets

- The Joy of Quiet

Mindfulness Tools for Finding Happiness

(1) Be Present – Practice Being, rather than Doing.  How? Connect the mind to the body with Mindfulness exercises.

- example of how we habitually "do" and remain disconnected to our present moment experience . . .

- text or talk on cell phones while we walk

But we can change that behavior by fully immersing ourselves in our present experience, being fully present with the sensations and the experience itself

- Washing dishes example

“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

-       Return to our birthright of happiness, as young children do, we can find great pleasure and joy in each moment

-       Focus our attention away from thinking and direct it into the body, where being can be felt.


(2) Still your Mind - Suffering Comes from our Thoughts - Do Not Identify with your Story, it is not You

- Still your mind by connecting to the experience itself, not your thoughts

- Recognize your story, what story am I telling myself about my situation, experience, etc.?

- Cease creating a story


(3) Gratitude Practice

- Focus on the Beauty that Surrounds You

- Think about what you did right each day

- Recognize all that you have to be grateful for


(4) Lovingkindness Practice - Look at yourself and others with kindness and compassion instead of reflexive criticism.

Metta Mediation Practice: (said to yourself, to others you love, to a neutral or difficult person and to all beings).

May I (You) be safe.  

May I (You) be happy.  

May I (You) be healthy.    

May I (You) live my (your) life with ease.   


These take practice, but if we consciously integrate these tools into our lives, they can have profound effects on our happiness and sense of wellbeing.



Simple Step #5 - Step Outside Your Comfort Zone


Our children’s lives are filled with “firsts” - their first day of school, their first soccer game, their first time riding a bike, their first exam, their first date, their first time away from home.   They would probably not classify all of these as exciting experiences, some might be considered terrifying experiences.  Yet, I admire how they march on each day into a world that is full of new adventures and personal challenges. As parents, it is often tempting to want to protect our children from this scary world.  We want them to succeed so badly that we often feel the need to set them up in situations that will only offer them the possibility of success.  This is where one of the greatest challenges of parenting lies – allowing our children to experience failure and disappointment.  Through these experiences they build their inner resilience, their ability to bounce back from whatever life throws their way.  They learn that their self worth is not defined by their successes, but by their willingness to try and to rebound from whatever the outcome.

I love Michael Jordan’s quote on the true meaning of success.  He said, “I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career.  I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

Unlike our children who face many great challenges as they grow, as we get older, it is easy to become accustomed to our routine and to what we feel comfortable doing.  When I turned 40, I realized that I missed that thrill of putting myself outside of my comfort zone and learning what it feels like to try something new.  So, at the ripe old age of 40, I decided to attempt an Olympic triathlon.  I always wanted to complete a marathon or a triathlon.  Each year I would come up with a million reasons why I would not be able to do it.   This time I was determined to push myself forward and accept this personal challenge.

Let me assure you that I am not a hardcore athlete.  I have always been committed to staying fit with moderate exercise as part of my weekly routine, but I was not a runner, biker or swimmer at the onset of this personal challenge.  Yet, after many months of training, I became a swimmer, runner and biker.   Look at that – a new definition of me at age 40!  I had already accomplished something.

After many months of training, the time had come to attempt my first Olympic triathlon.  This involved a .9 mile swim in the chilly waters of the Long Island Sound, a 25 mile bike ride up and down the hills of Westchester County, and a 6.2 mile run to complete the race.  Despite my rigorous training, the night before the triathlon I was terrified.  I am not a huge fan of fear and anxiety, but I am a huge fan of what happened next.  I found myself involved in quite an amazing self-coaching exercise.  I began to tell myself that I was prepared, that I had done everything that I could do to prepare for this day, that I would put my safety first throughout the race and if I ever felt that I could get hurt, I could always simply stop.  I reminded myself that it was just a race, and finish or not, I was going to try.  My family would love me just the same whether I came in first, last or didn’t finish at all.   They were proud of me for simply trying.  Most importantly, I was incredibly proud of myself.

On the morning of the race, as the sun was rising over the beach where we would start our swim, I watched the physically challenged athletes enter the water first.  Many of these individuals were without an arm or leg, or both.  I was in awe of their courage and the incredible stories of hard work, determination and sheer will power that got them to this moment.  Those brave individuals inspired me to get into that cold water and do my best.  I spent the next three hours taking it literally one stroke, one push of the pedal and one stride at a time, focusing on my breath the whole way and telling myself that I could do this.  At the top of the highest climb on my bicycle, I was brought to tears by an incredible feeling of accomplishment.  I realized that I could actually do this.

Much to my great relief and amazement, I finished!   I did not finish at the front of the pack, but I finished.  My family was there at the finish line to cheer me on and give me big hugs when I was done.  But it wasn’t their praise that I felt most, it was the incredible feeling that at the age of 40 I had done something that I never thought I could do.  I had experienced another "first" in my life.  I persevered, pushed myself and overcame my fears.   I was left with a strong sense that the human mind and body is capable of incredible things through sheer will and determination.  In many ways, I felt like a child again, experiencing the thrill of stepping outside of my comfort zone, and the pride that I gave it a try.   Just like in life, I thought, we have to have faith in ourselves, face our fears, and take each moment as they come, one step at a time, by simply putting one foot in front of the other each step of the way.

I am not suggesting that everyone should run out and sign up for a triathlon.  I am suggesting that there is great value in stepping outside of your comfort zone and encouraging your children to do the same.  It can be as a simple as trying a sport that you have always wanted to try, planning a trip that you have always dreamed of taking, or signing up for a class that has always peaked your interest.  Whatever it is, there is so much to be gained from putting yourself out there.  The only way to fail is by never giving it a try.

Simple Step #3 – Slow Down


“Slow down, you move too fast, you’ve got to make this moment last.”  Simon and Garfunkel, Feeling Groovy. After a very special celebration that took months and months of busy preparation, a good friend of mine complained, “I can’t believe it is over so fast!  How do I make time stand still so I can enjoy these important moments?”  I can’t make time stand still, but I do think that the key to making those moments last is to slow down.

In our modern world, we often equate being busy with being important.  If our days are not loaded with constant demands on our time, then we feel we are doing something wrong.  There is a subtle, unspoken pride, a bragging right, in discussing how incredibly busy we are.  We often pack our days and our children’s days with activities, meetings, playdates, after school clubs, tutoring, sports, dinner plans, book clubs, and more.  No time to relax, take a walk, or even talk to each other without being distracted by doing at least one other activity (or more).  We try to jam as much as we can into our daily lives to live a fuller, more meaningful life.  But what if we have it all wrong?  What if the most meaningful moments, the connections, the important stuff is found in those quiet moments, the ones we don’t schedule into our day, the ones that we too often don’t have time for?

I think that the best way to slow down time is to simply slow down.  Clear your busy schedule a bit.  Are you or your children really benefiting from so much activity?   We want to have balanced, joyful, well-adjusted children, yet we don’t give them time to be balanced, joyful or well-adjusted.  We want to be calm, peaceful parents, but we are too busy to be calm or peaceful.

Ask your children what their favorite memories are and they will often mention some little, quiet moment they had that meant the most to them, not the jam packed days filled with endless activities, not the days spent rushing around.  Ask yourself the same question.  What are your most precious moments?   A recent, treasured moment for me was a hike in the woods that I took with my husband and children.  We enjoyed being outside in nature, talking and listening, and not rushing to go anywhere – just finding great pleasure in being where we were.

So, turn off your TVs, cell phones, video games and MP3 players.  Cancel some of those after school activities and meetings.   Make time in your schedule for more time to just be – no plans, nowhere to go.  Instead, go for a walk, read a book, tell your children a story or listen to theirs.  Even in the midst of a hectic, busy day or a special, joyful occasion, take the time to be present in the moment.  Don’t think about what was or what is to come next.  In fact, don’t think at all.  Just feel the energy of right now in your whole body.  Take a pause, a breath, a moment or two.  Slow down and make those moments last.  Those will be the moments that will mean the most.

Simple Step #2- Setting Yourself Up For Success


So here we are back in January. Our intentions are pure, our determination is strong and our resolutions need to be REALISTIC. What is it that we want out of 2012 and how can we establish a plan that will insure our success rather than set us up once again for failure? We all enter January with resolve and clear intentions of what we want to achieve, but do we design a plan that supports those ideas? Are those ideas realistic given our starting point? Just last week I celebrated my birthday with a day trip to Kripalu with Cheryl. We spent that day learning, meditating and doing Vigorous Kripalu yoga. Days later my abs are still sore and my mind is still thinking about what we learned. One of our seminars focused on how to keep the Kripalu feeling in our everyday lives. It's easy to feel terrific and eat well when you are on a retreat, but how do we come up with a plan to do this when we are back "in the real world." We discussed the Sanskrit word Sankalpa which is our "will, purpose or determination." When you make a sankalpa you set an intention with a yogic twist. As opposed to a resolution, a sankalpa involves consciously understanding what's behind something rather than focusing on the negative aspects of something (like losing 10 pounds, not yelling at the kids, etc.). Sankalpa focuses on your "being" rather on your "doing" and the greater personal meaning behind what you are working towards. What is it that you really want in the core of your being? So rather than setting a resolution this year, let's design a Sankalpa that involves "Right Action". Let's make a plan that is SMART, (specific, measurable, accountable, realistic and timbebound). Let's revisit it in a week, assess it, tweak it, and recommit to it. Let's be realistic that relapses will happen. I may have already had one relapse (day 2 ugh) ...when I heard myself shouting at my overtired child tonight. It should all be a fluid plan that can be changed and involve treating yourself with compassion. There is no failure. As long as there is intention the Prana (energy) will follow. Here is a quote to keep in mind while you are working on your Sankalpa and your SMART plan. "Whether you've broken the vow 100 times come back the door is always open."-Rumi

Simple Step #1 - The Eyes are the Window to the Soul


At a recent seminar entitled “Living Fearlessly,” I was asked to select a partner, another student in the class who I did not know, and sit face to face with him, knees touching, and take five minutes to simply stare into his eyes.  In the scheme of my daily tasks, this did not seem to be a hard request.  However, I soon found that it was almost impossible.   I could not stare into his eyes for an extended period of time without looking away.  I felt like I was intruding on his personal, private space, as if I was creating an uncomfortable intimacy with a total stranger by peering right into his soul, and allowing him to look into mine.  They say that the eyes are the window to the soul and this exercise seemed to have given me powerful evidence of the truth to that popular proverb. After that class, I was intrigued and began my own personal experiment.  I decided to make a conscious effort to make clear and lasting eye contact with people throughout my day.  The results were quite amazing.  To simply look into my husband’s eyes in the morning and wish him a good day, had a completely different effect than my usual routine of yelling good bye to him while making the children’s lunches as he walks out the door.  Next, I took the time, only a few seconds, to look into my children’s eyes as they went off to school, wishing them a wonderful day.  This was an incredibly loving gesture that warmed my heart, and hopefully warmed theirs as well.

I also noticed that by taking the time to look into my children’s eyes while they were speaking to me made those moment so much more intimate and meaningful.  It allowed me to be present, to truly listen and let them know that they were being heard.  That is an incredible gift that you can give another person, especially your children, just by looking into their eyes.   Of course, this required me to stop texting, to take a break from checking my e-mails or reading the newspaper or cleaning the kitchen.  It required me to be in the moment and truly connect with those around me.  In doing so, I made those daily interactions much less mundane and routine, and much more meaningful and loving.

I didn’t stop there.   I quickly realized that it is quite simple to go through my daily routine without making eye contact with the strangers that I encounter throughout my day.   I could go to the bank, shop at the grocery story, sit through a meeting and never make meaningful eye contact with anyone.  So, I decided to look into the eyes of everyone I came in contact with that day.  The results were amazing.  At my local grocery store, for example, I looked right into the eyes of the cashier and found that she looked right back at me.   That moment was very powerful.  On most days I would help bag the groceries, swipe my card and be on my way.  By taking the time to look into her eyes, I made a brief connection with another human being and saw that she was a loving, caring person with an incredibly rich and complex life.  For that one moment, she saw me and I saw her.   In those few seconds of eye contact, it seemed like everything else stood still.   I can’t accurately describe the feeling I got, but it was quite moving.  When you look into someone’s eye and they look into yours, there seems to be a connection that goes straight to your heart.

We are all moving through life at such a rapid pace that taking a moment to acknowledge the existence of another human being who crosses your path, to truly look at them and acknowledge them, brings greater joy to those seemingly ordinary moments that fill our days, and who wouldn’t want more joy in their lives?

It’s not easy.  I know that I often do not look into other people’s eyes, not because I don’t want to see them, but because I don’t want to be seen.  Allowing someone that access creates a great feeling of vulnerability.  You open yourself up and it can feel scary, intense and awkward.   My meditation teacher asked us to do an exercise that was a little odd, but very telling.  She asked us to go to a mirror, and stare into our own eyes for a while, and tell ourselves, “ I love you.”   It feels very strange and a bit silly, but it is an interesting lesson in learning to love yourself and in really looking inward.  If you cannot do this exercise, then perhaps you should ask yourself why.

So, give it a try and let us know what you find.  I hope it will be a simple step to help you be in the moment, and to truly connect with yourself and all of those amazing people in your life!

This is the first article in a series entitled Simple Steps.  Simple Steps are  little things that we can all do that can really make a difference in our lives.  Check out our complete list of  Simple Steps.