Wednesday, 31 December 2014

#613 Nothing Personal

     We tend to "take it personally" when people treat us in uncaring, nasty, or cruel ways. I've felt this many, many times in my life. Yet, the fact is that I play an insignificantly tiny part in most of these people's lives. How they behave, has little to do with me, and almost everything to do with the rest of their lives, past and present. So taking their behavior personally is actually a bit egocentric. The world does not revolve around me. Things happen for innumerable, complex, interrelated reasons, of which I'm a very tiny part. 

     So what should I concentrate on if not my feelings, my comfort, my wishes, my needs, my security, my convenience, my ...?

     "Be kind, for everyone is carrying a heavy load."

Monday, 29 December 2014

#612 Feeling Lousy? Now What?

     Feeling down, blue, out of sorts, alone, useless, etc happens so often for many of us that, at some level, we identify with it - it feels like home, "that's me - that's how I am, who I am". Other emotions, like love, joy & happiness seem to slip right through, so we correctly recognize their transient, ephemeral nature.
     Is it possible that identifying with downer emotions is what makes them so sticky? What if we didn't focus on these so intently when they appeared - would these evaporate as seamlessly as joy? Can we imagine the effect of having no preference for joy over sadness?

Saturday, 27 December 2014

#611 Healing is in My Hands

     All of us have been traumatized many times, in many ways. These hurts and traumas conditioned us to try to avoid re-injury from similar situations. Conditioning is not only reactive but also proactive. When we're wise, we nurture ourselves and each other to flourish, like loving grandparents. When we lack wisdom, we re-traumatize ourselves and each other, like cruel children. We choose to do one or the other, countless times, every day.
     Nurturing and traumatizing feel very different. Their impact, on ourselves and everyone else, is as different as heaven or hell. 
     May I be progressively more mindful to nurture more & more, and traumatize less & less.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

#610 Carry On in Love

     This time of the year can be particularly challenging emotionally.
our wise heart-mind, being kind to ourselves and all those we touch, is the best we can do.

     When at times we can't, may we have the wisdom and humility to reach out for help.
     Leaving fear behind, we carry on, together, in love.

Monday, 22 December 2014

#609 Short-term Gain, Long-term Pain

     We routinely criticize politicians for making promises they can't possibly deliver; as well as for planning only as far ahead as the next election. Why would they use such dishonest, short-sighted, mindless approaches that guarantee problems later on? Because it works - this is how most of us think, so we elect them!
      Honestly examining the roots of our problems, and personally doing our part to correct these are signs of profound maturity & wisdom. Only a tiny proportion of us is interested. For most, regardless of the image we try to project to others or even to ourselves, deep introspection & moral responsibility are very uncomfortable matters we do our best to avoid. Deep down, we don't think we have what it takes.
     So most of us avoid the deep realities of life by clinging to distractions - for our entire lives, if we can. Happy, happy, busy, busy. But reality is extremely difficult to handle with an immature consciousness. In fact, wisdom traditions suggest that our only problem is an immature consciousness!

          “No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it.”                                      Albert Einstein 

     Mindfulness practices are gentle, progressive trainings to help us clearly see & accept our "ordinary mind", and thus be able to transcend it - evolve to a higher level of consciousness. THEN we can engage reality with awareness, using all our multiple intelligences
     We CAN effectively deal with life's core challenges, rather than try to hide from them in distraction.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

#608 Fearing the Shallows & Depths

     This morning, in a local jewellery store, I saw a collection of clay wall hangings, each with a woman's face on top, and a slogan, meant to be funny, below. On one of these was written:
          "Deep down, I'm really shallow!"

     This is dark humor - trying to deal with something that's actually terrifying. I think a large proportion of us, women and probably more so men, go to great lengths to remain constantly distracted so as to avoid seeing clearly who / what they are deep down. They fear that their own character / psyche / soul is at best shallow, at worst wicked. This is a hangover from the dark ages of clerics terrifying people with burning in hell forever unless they pay clerics to pray for them. How could, or indeed why would we live meaningful, dignified lives if we believe that we're "rotten to the core"?
     All the world's wisdom traditions have intelligent, educated, well-meaning, civilized representatives. Also, all have shrill representatives who've miraculously evaded a thousand years of human evolution, and misery loves company.
     Meditation practices are avoided at all costs by those who fear getting to know themselves (as well as those who gain by propagating this fear). In meditation we do directly experience the "shadow" aspect of ourselves - the less flattering aspects of our personality that everyone else clearly sees, but which otherwise remains hidden from us. But seeing & understanding our shadow has nothing to do with encountering "the devil". Becoming aware of this part of our subconscious helps us mature and behave as responsible, civilized adults.
     Fortunately, meditation also lets each of us directly experience the very best of human nature. Each of us, fundamentally, is kind, spacious awareness. This wise, mature, civilized aspect is amply able to hold the relatively small, transient shadow aspect.
     Mindfulness practices, which are all forms of meditation, are ancient, time-proven practices, specifically designed to foster human evolution of consciousness. In other words, we CAN intentionally promote our own psychosocialspiritual maturation - but ONLY IF we can overcome fear-based avoidance.

Bess learning from Gretel

Friday, 19 December 2014

#607 Riding Liminality & Loving Life

     How do I relate to my breath? When we start mindfulness practice, focusing on the feel of our own breath can evoke anxiety, rather than the hoped for sense of peace. Gradually, we learn to "surf" or "ride the breath" - a kind of balancing act on top of a constantly moving, flowing, ball of breathing energy.
     Likewise, how do I relate to all other manifestations of constant change - directly to liminality itself? Every fraction of second we're in the now - straddling the past and future. We're not quite sure what just happened, and we sure don't know what's about to happen! Can we learn to surf liminality? Can we learn to ride uncertainty's raw energy? It's the only way to transcend constant anxiety!
     Such a direct, intentional, curious, nonjudgmental, playful engagement with / surfing on / flowing with the energy of liminality itself seems to be the ultimate basis for dismantling anxiety. 
     Anxiety is ineffective striving to avoid challenges - fearful avoidance.
     Mindfulness is brave, competent "leaning into" life-as-it is, difficulties & all - lovingly embracing life. I'm not aware of a better alternative.

Bess - Dec 19, 2014

Monday, 15 December 2014

#606 Spacious Awareness

     For most of us, our default level of consciousness is one in which "I" and "mine" are the axis around which the universe turns. In other words, we're normally egocentric, self-absorbed, at times self-obsessed, and thus by necessity, we're stuck in an adversarial relationship with everyone and everything else. It's critical to clearly see this. Self-awareness is humbling, so we compulsively seek distraction - today's "opium of the people".

      “Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection - or compassionate action.”          Daniel Goleman "Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships"

     Mindfulness practices help us see clearly and accept our far-from-perfect conditioned selves. The upside is that we also become aware of a qualitatively higher level of consciousness. At this level of awareness, we experience spaciousness, clarity, generosity, freedom, stillness, silence, loving-kindness, joy - the polar opposites of claustrophobically agonizing about "me & mine". Spacious awareness is always at hand - in fact we're it - whenever our "noisy ego" doesn't drown it out. While screaming, a baby cannot appreciate that his loving parents are right there trying to soothe it.
     As we progressively shift from being egocentric to allo- and ecocentric, appropriate self-care & self-compassion remain. We're AS important - not more, not less - as other human beings. Normal, healthy maturation is transcending an unhealthy, exaggerated degree of self-concern ie self-obsession, and opening our heart-minds to embrace & nurture all that we encounter, right here, right now.

Jonathan Shapiro

Saturday, 13 December 2014

#605 Perspectives Evolving

     How we feel, how we are, and how we perceive is one indivisible unit
     With mindfulness, we learn to monitor how we feel, and recognize this as a constantly changing energy, flowing through. When we lightly hold anything in spacious awareness, we are no longer stuck in it or identified with it - it is no longer who we are, and it no longer, or at least less strongly, distorts our perception of reality. We are spacious awareness, not the ever-changing energies passing by.
     Self-concern (egocentricity) seems to be a step on the path to developing a healthy sense of self. Then concern for one's immediate family's welfare, then one's ethnicity, religion, country, etc. are only expansions on this same egocentric theme. Ideally, by one's 60s, one is progressively letting go of egocentricity / tribalism, and is developing a wise, grandparent-like nurturing attitude toward all of humanity, nature, the cosmos.
     Having a grandchild helps promote this allocentric / ecocentric shift. A grandchild brings joy that helps keep open the heart-mind, that can hold everything in spacious awareness.


Tuesday, 9 December 2014

#604 Mindfulness Solutions to Chronic Pain

     “All of us know on some level that pain is an inevitable part of the human condition, even if we sometimes shun that realization or pretend that we ourselves are immune to it. What is less well known is that there are many ways available to us to actually meet chronic or persistent pain and work with it, such that it does not inevitably have to lead to unending suffering and the complete erosion of a satisfying life. But when we are actually in the clutches of pain, whether it be primarily somatic or emotional (and it is invariably a mix of the two), and traditional medical approaches have not led to reliable relief, any way to go through the pain to an oasis of respite seems virtually inconceivable. In such moments, it is all too easy to fall into despair and depression.”                         Jon Kabat-Zinn PhD

       Gardner-Nix, J.  “The mindfulness solution to pain. Step-by-step techniques for chronic pain management.” New Harbinger Publications Inc, Oakland CA, 2009.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

#603 Healthy Relationship with CHRONIC Pain

     CHRONIC pain is fascinating - IF we don't allow it to automatically shut us down. By "shut us down" I include all of our usual mindless behaviors: anger, blaming, popping pills, otherwise "self-medicating", complaining, playing the victim, withdrawing, etc, etc.
     WHAT IF we DIDN'T judge chronic pain to be a terrible mistake? What if we simply didn't know what to make of it - drew no conclusions, made no judgments? The fact is, we don't know much at all about our generally unexamined life
     For one thing, we typically mistakenly OVERREACT to CHRONIC pain as though it were acute - yet it's sending us a TOTALLY DIFFERENT message, about a completely different situation.
     ACUTE pain signals an emergency. It's an alarm bell screaming at us to stop everything & immediately look after a potentially life-threatening injury.
     CHRONIC pain, far from being an emergency, is an ongoing reminder that we need to address existential issues in this lifetime. 
     To the extent we mindfully open our mind-heart to the reality of sickness, aging, and death, we heal into wholeness
     To the extent that we refuse to do so, and (like heroin addicts, we) aggressively demand a "cure" - escape from reality, OR become cynically embittered by life, we suffer
     The CHOICE is entirely ours - let's make it intelligent!

Friday, 5 December 2014

#602 Stillness & Momentum; Spaciousness & Anxiety

     We feel relatively secure when we feel in motion - literally or figuratively. The momentum of heading towards a goal  promises that we'll feel OK, especially when we get there! 
     On the other hand, stillness these days suggests the opposite. How does it feel being alone, with nothing to do, nowhere to go? Bored? Maybe, but below this very likely lurks anxiety. And what's the anxiety about? What is this "anxious quiver of being"?
     We're so deeply conditioned to chase after friends, position, security, mates, prestige, toys, money etc that we completely neglect to consider what's meaningful in our lives. Our momentum of chasing after stuff is so constant, we fail to realize that all this chasing after, is at the same time a desperate attempt to run away from - from what?

     Can we learn to deeply examine and engage the spacious stillness, silence, ... at the core of our being?

     Can we learn to hold our small "anxious quiver of being" within this expansive spacious intelligence?


Thursday, 4 December 2014

#601 Individuation, Maturation towards Wholeness

     "Individuation can be seen as the positive consequence of individuality. Jung used the term individuation 'to denote a process of becoming a psychological "individual," that is, separate, indivisible unity or whole.' To individuate is to gradually actualize our innate capacity to live as a unique individual. It is the consequence of a process of awakening that releases our innate potential. As Jung put it, 'Individuation means becoming a single homogenous being, and, insofar as "individuality" embraces our innermost, last and incomparable uniqueness, it also implies becoming one's own self. We could therefore translate individuation as "coming to selfhood" or "self-actualization."'
     In the same way that Michelangelo is said to have revealed David from the base stone, so too we gradually release our capacity for self-realization and wholeness. What may sometimes become confused is the distinction between the emergence of ego-identity and the process of self-realization. As Jung stated, 'Again and again I note that the individuation process is confused with the coming of the ego into consciousness and that the ego is in consequence identified with the Self ***, which naturally produces a hopeless conceptual muddle. Individuation is then nothing but ego-centeredness and narcissism. But the Self comprises infinitely more than mere ego ...'
     As we individuate we grow to recognize our individual relationship to a universal wisdom that has a unique expression because of our particular personality. To individuate is to expand the boundaries of individual identity and personality to be rooted in our inner sense of totality. It is our growing sense of, in Jung's terms, the Self as the root of meaning and the archetype of wholeness within each of us. This expression of individuation enables us to have a quality of inner authority, integrity, and knowledge of what is true for ourselves. It enables us to open to our unique responsibility in the task of our life for the welfare and good of all.
     Where individuation and individuality differ is that individuality leads to separation and a sense of self-preoccupation that isolates us from others, while, as Jung asserts, 'Individuation does not shut one out from the world, but gathers the world to one's self.' Individuation is the discovery of our own personal quality of wholeness that is intimately connected to our experience of the whole. We stand upon a threshold where the individual meets the universal yet retains a unique sense of self. This inner sense of wholeness is then open to the interdependence of ourselves with all others. I am reminded of the metaphor of there being one light though the lamps are many."

     *** Self - "Jungian term referring to the archetype of wholeness and meaning - the center of an individual's totality.

       Preece R. "The Wisdom of Imperfection. The Challenge of Individuation in Buddhist Life." Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca NY, 2006.


Wednesday, 3 December 2014

#600 Affectionate Attention

     "While mindfulness is about cultivating bare attention, discernment, clear seeing, and wisdom, at the same time, it is important to bring an affectionate quality to the attending - an openness to whatever may arise, along with a degree of kindness and a willingness to extend our intrinsic compassion to embrace even ourselves.
     ... this is not something that we need to force or strive to acquire. Rather it is a quality of being that we might realize is already part of who we are. All we need to do is keep it in mind from time to time for it to come more into the foreground in any moment."

       Kabat-Zinn J. “Mindfulness for Beginners. Reclaiming the Present Moment – and Your Life.” Sounds True, Boulder, 2012.

Michael Wood