The life- changing magic of meditation

cropped-stones-323807__180-legal.jpgThere is so much information supporting the benefits of meditation, but I won’t cover much of that here. I am simply going to say that meditation enables us to keep our promises to ourselves, make good and healthy choices, and access a wealth of wisdom and information not immediately accessible by our buzzing minds.

If you want to experience the magic that meditation will  bring to your life, but are turned off to the idea of sitting in silence, here are a couple of fantastic meditation apps you can try: Calm and Headspace.

You only have to allot about ten minutes to meditation to reap some significant benefits including  better sleep, stress reduction, clarity and peace. Who doesn’t have ten minutes?

If this appeals to you, I recommend approaching it like an experiment. If you don’t currently meditate, then you know what a typical day is like without meditation. Why not see what it’s like with meditation? How about a week with meditation? The results may astound you. But don’t take my word for it.

The Art of of Self -Care

stock-photo-48674142-artist-brush-painting-picture-of-beautiful-landscapeIt has in fact occurred to me that not everyone is as passionate about simplifying as I am. Not everyone thinks that organizing a closet or an office is fun. Therefore, someone can like the idea of simplifying, but not actually ever do it. Which is perfectly fine if the idea of it is only mildly appealing anyhow.

Like so many things- exercising, losing weight, getting healthy, changing careers, creating a beloved project, giving up sugar- it is easy to like the idea of it, and quite a bit harder to do it. I suspect that to make any lasting change, we first need to fall in love with the idea of it.

We all know that doing something new, even if it’s for the best, requires bypassing that well-worn groove our old habits have created in our brain, in order to start on a new path. The new path can be steep and muddy, thick with brush, a tangle of overgrowth. We haven’t been here before, so the first hundred steps are difficult, prickly and tiring. It requires so much energy, so much of our will.

If the reason for starting down this path is not compelling enough, then who in their right mind would bother? It’s too much damn effort and life can be challenging enough without forcing ourselves to do unpleasant things on a regular basis.

If the reason for starting is not compelling enough…

The goal has to be compelling. We have to be able to envision what we want and to feel excited about the possibility. What would it look like? What would it feel like? Whatever our desire or goal is, big or small, I think that we  have to believe it will feel fantastic to reach it.

We are creatures of habit, and if we cannot imagine the rewards of something different, then that well-trodden path, the one of least resistance, will pull us back every time. Why wouldn’t it? It’s familiar, easy, and takes very little effort to travel that way. These samskaras as they are called in yoga, are deeply embedded patterns and they usually don’t change easily.

I like to think of self-care as an art. This implies that we are the artists of our own lives and have the liberty to choose our medium. Maybe simplifying does not appeal to you, but maybe something else does. (I would argue that simplifying will help you reach any goal, whatever that is, but I don’t want to be too pushy here).

I use the term self-care because I think that anything we really want that doesn’t do harm to ourselves or others is by its very nature, self-care. Greater fulfillment, a better relationship, more energy, resources, a sense of peace, a fit body, an aesthetically pleasing environment, writing a book or painting a masterpiece; getting more sleep or earning more money or having more time…..you fill in the blank… It is all self-care.

So here comes my pep talk for making your desired result more compelling:

Self-care–meeting all of your needs- does feel amazing.

It is worth it. The rewards are great.

What are they? Feeling lighter, freer, healthier and clearer, more in control of your life. Intuition is heightened, energy is increased, the right opportunities and people and ideas show up in your life.

And the momentum! One step down that new path, then another and another and it starts getting easier and then other good things get easier. For example, have you ever noticed when you work out you want to eat healthy afterwards? Or if you get rid of clutter in one room you want to go on to the next? When you get enough sleep you are clear headed and efficient, and everything goes more smoothly. One positive choice leads to the next, moving you forward. You gain traction, you notice little miracles, you put your life in order.

Momentum is awesome.

And then instead of trying to figure out how to get rid of the patterns you don’t want in your life, they are simply being replaced, or squeezed out, by the new things that you do want.

Full disclosure: Left to my own devices, or my natural temperament, I am the worst at breaking old habits and creating new ones. I have an Inner Brat who wants what she wants when she wants it (ice cream for lunch, while I sit around getting nothing done and make my blood sugar level rise? Yes please!)

I often want absolute convincing that a new pathway will be greatly rewarding before I will begin something new and good. I need research and experience and even signs from a divine source that this new way will be amazing. But the problem with this is that rewards often don’t become apparent until we’ve begun. We can’t experience it until we experience it.

I needed to know that writing and exercising nearly every day, even when I don’t feel like it, as well as mindfully choosing what I eat, and including meditation or yoga because that is what keeps my on the path-will be worth the effort.

But I couldn’t know it for sure until I did it.

And when I don’t do it, my day feels lacking, I am out-of-sorts, dissatisfied.

So if you have some desire for something new and better, whatever that is (you get to pick! ) I want to save you weeks or even years of resistance. I want to tell you that whatever it is you want, if it comes from your Better Self, your Higher Self, your Real Self, it will be so freakin’ worth it!  It can’t not be. I want to tell you that the burdensome path you may be avoiding is covered in gold, but you won’t see it until you are on it.

Self-care in every form will never let you down. Positive change is exciting and rewarding every single time, even when it starts out scary or daunting or difficult- perhaps especially when it starts out that way.

The act- the actual physical act– of beginning down that difficult new path, whatever that is, is pretty quickly rewarded. You won’t have to wait long to notice the fabulous results, and as you continue, step by step, the whole landscape comes into view, your own sweet masterpiece.

Holistic High

A holistic lifestyle will make you high. And it’s legal. And it doesn’t have to be costly. A holistic lifestyle can make you feel healthy and clear headed and great in the present. As a bonus, it can move you forward. How do you let it move you forward or heal you? You embrace it, you live it, make it part of your identity. What we’re all after is to feel good. It sounds so simplistic, but when you think about it, every single choice we make is an attempt to feel good or to avoid feeling bad. When we do something for someone else, it’s because we feel good about doing it. When we follow our passion, live with purpose, do our job, try to learn something new, take a shower or cook a meal, it’s always because it feels good to do so or bad not to do so.

Those afflicted with an addiction are just trying to feel good, at least momentarily, and also trying to avoid feeling bad- or feeling at all. Their addiction is centered on wanting to feel good and not wanting to feel bad. And then it turns very bad. Though he credits AA for giving numerous addicts a fighting chance of recovery, columnist and recovering addict John Cheese points out in his writing that this organization focuses somewhat on the spirit while neglecting the rest of the person. Come to think of it, I do have an image of the recovering alcoholic, smoking and inhaling platefuls of cookies at meetings, while they hand their will over to God. What if one of the steps was to exercise or change their diet or meditate? To clean out their bodies and their surroundings?   What if they were encouraged to become addicted to a healthy lifestyle? Some of them do and doesn’t it make their recovery less fragile?

I think people need a holistic lifestyle and not just those people facing addiction or stress (who doesn’t have stress?) or those living with health issues. I think people facing life need a holistic life style. Who wouldn’t be better off nurturing body, mind, and spirit?

So what is a holistic lifestyle? I mean, that’s a broad term and can’t possibly come in a one-size-fits-all package. I guess each person creates their own version –like a smorgasbord of mindfulness- but it will likely include at least some of the following:

Yoga or other forms of exercise https://musingsimplicity.wordpress.com/2013/12/03/simply-yoga/

Whole foods and water https://musingsimplicity.wordpress.com/2014/01/23/our-nutritional-guru-the-body/

Simplify https://musingsimplicity.wordpress.com/2014/08/10/simplify-your-way-to-a-healthy-weight/

https://musingsimplicity.wordpress.com/2014/11/15/extreme-decluttering/

Meditation https://musingsimplicity.wordpress.com/2014/02/18/the-gift-of-silence/

There’s also an array of alternative healing techniques such as acupuncture, reiki, and other varieties of energy healing. Like de-cluttering, these treatments clear the blocks in your body so that the healing and effective energy can flow through naturally, like it’s supposed to. These methods work and are increasingly becoming accepted as valuable compliments to western medicine.

***

Here’s the bad news, which is really good news in disguise. It takes a little while to make good habits become actual habits and not just temporary experiments. Also, feelings tend to flow more easily through a clear mind and body, so any unwanted angst that was kept at bay may begin to surface. Those who allow it to happen and stay present with whatever comes up have struck gold! I love the line that was in the movie Wild: Your power comes from the same place as your pain.

So just like we have the option of jumping in to clear clutter, we also have the option of jumping in to a holistic lifestyle. One change makes the next easier and soon we are gaining momentum. The experiment becomes a lifestyle. We can ride the wave of this natural high and when the inevitable challenges of life appear, we’re as ready as we can be to meet them.

Simplicity of cause

There is, at the surface, infinite variety of things; at the center there is simplicity of cause”. –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Beyond all that makes up the din of the commercial world lies the essential miracle and mystery of creation. – Emerson

When I started this blog I thought I would not write about religion (or politics). But then I don’t always get to choose what appears in my head and if I can’t write about the big topics- the controversial ones, the volatile and meaningful and frustrating ones- then why bother writing, really. These are the topics that usually come through in raw truth and clumsy human experience.

My earliest memory of church is of standing next to my grandmother, reciting a prayer by rote memory: Lord I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed. Why am I not worthy? I wondered. What have I done? Because I was pretty sure it was the grownups who could really screw up here, and not my five year old self. The prayer was coming through my lips from my head only. My heart was sort of disconnected from the whole experience.  At the time I thought the whole world was Christian, or at least the good people. And not only that, they were all Catholics.

When my three children were of the age to attend church, I did what I thought was the right thing to do. And it may have been. I dressed them up a bit and gathered my husband, who somehow thought I was equipped to make this all-important choice. Despite the I am doing right by my family feeling, I felt like a bit of an imposter, because I just never really liked going to church. But I dutifully signed my oldest up for the First Communion classes, because in the moving sidewalk that is Catholicism, when it’s time, it’s time. This meant that she had to attend a class before the church service each Sunday, and attend mass after the class. By the time mass rolled around, she was hungry and bored and so done with church. Conformity not being her strong trait,this just wasn’t working out for her. At all.

On one such occasion, which is etched in my memory, my husband had to carry her out as she had grown increasingly agitated. By the time they were half way down the aisle, her complaints had turned to a full out wailing of “I HATE CHURCH!” Even as my heart sank- couldn’t they have made it outside before that unfiltered explosion? – I had the thought that matched hers. So do I. So. Do. I.

I’m pretty sure God spoke to me that day through a child, saying get the hell out of here! But the culture of religion is a strong pull and it took a little while longer before reluctantly abandoning ship. The thought of it made me feel happy and free, but also worried. There was that notion that what if I am damaging my children by not bringing them to church? What if I am damaging them if I do? Or what if it is the right choice for some of us but not for others? How do we reconcile that? Never have I been so conflicted. Maybe the better choice is to sloth through for several years and then let our children choose. At least that way they would become familiar with the option of prayer and God and a spiritual life without it having to come from their parents. I mean, I was all set, my beliefs firmly in place, mostly built from my inquisitive and reflective nature and raw experience. I didn’t require a mediator or a designated time of public worship, but what about the rest of the family?

The concept of the entire family’s spiritual life being squarely on my shoulders felt daunting. Surely any choice I made would be inadequate for someone.   So we stayed a while longer, until one of our daughters asked why the priests were always men.  The patriarchy and politics and rituals just felt so stifling. Many of the beliefs did not sit well with me (while others, the ones common to all religions, the really big ones, resonated. These just didn’t seem to require a Sunday meeting). Then when the news revealed all the charges of molestation at the hands of the Catholic priests, I just felt so justified in leaving.   The fact that children could be forsaken and this was to be handled within the church itself, somehow above the law, was the last straw for me.  I had a visual of the institution with all its pomp and circumstance, crumbling when the truth came to light. I was tired of trying to convince myself we needed this.

I think that all institutions have good and bad, dark and light, and this is no exception. So to leave it behind is to relinquish the good too and it would not be a complete expression if I did not acknowledge this. Because I also see the beauty- in fact the same daughter that rejected church as a young child, was admiring the stain glass windows and the sheer awesomeness of a church building one day when circumstance led her inside, and exclaimed how “beautiful it is when it is silent in here”. I personally think a church would be a beautiful place in which to meditate. For many it is the perfect place to gather and connect, to each other and to a divine presence. The routine and service and comfort that can sustain a church community are not lost to me. I know what I have given up. All of us have to choose for ourselves, and sometimes for our children as well.

   My middle daughter elicited the most doubt in my decision. Shortly after leaving the church, she took out a series of books from the library, and read them over and over again. The characters were a Jewish family who adhered to many religious rituals. Shabbat and Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot, this family observed them all; from what they ate to when they prayed and how they welcomed the seasons- with feasts and parades and festivals and prayers. Each time she checked out the books I would cringe. Damn, those books again, they kept appearing, making me doubt my choice. Had I denied her this? I don’t mean being Jewish, of course. We were Christians after all. I mean being religious. Maybe we should’ve split up the team. My husband may have been willing to go to church with her while I stayed at home with the other rebels. One day I just asked her. Do you think you’re missing out? Do you regret this? She told me no, absolutely not. But how can she ever know for sure? In any case, her sense of wonder has remained strong, her integrity unflinching.  Sometimes I am amazed at her clarity of what is right and wrong. Doing the right thing goes a long way in connecting us to our divinity.

   My youngest daughter is scientifically minded and plans to contribute to the field of medicine. She views religion as a waste a time, and thinks energy should be focused on getting something done. She is empathetic and intuitive and does a damn good job of running her own life. She doesn’t think she missed out either.

And lest you conclude that because I fled the church, it means I am devoid of reverence for the mysteries of life that could not be further from the truth. I think that Jesus was the coolest guy to walk the planet, and I have an absolute belief that we too are made from the same stuff and therefore capable of so much. We are worthy. We are all that.  I don’t just believe in the power of prayer, I know of it. My own experiences are so powerful and clear to me that words would not do them justice.

We are all on our own journey and will be brought to our knees at one point or another. I like to go there willingly and often and preferably not in church, but that doesn’t make me better or worse off than someone else. It’s just my preference.  Church, no church, Jesus or Buddha, Muhammad or Moses, one God or many gods or nature or nothing at all that you can name; we all have the gift of intuition and when we get rid of the extraneous, it becomes much clearer.   We don’t have to place a name or even a religious attachment to this gift. My simplistic Spiritual Life for Dummies: If church makes you feel good, then go. If it doesn’t, then don’t. Brilliant, I know.

The late Ernest Holmes, when reflecting on the quest for authentic and direct religious experience, wrote, “It is only the unessential that is vanishing, that the abiding may be made more clearly manifest”. This remains relevant today, perhaps more than ever. And this is where simplifying comes in. We all get to choose what is essential for us. We all have perfection at our core and how we access that is up to us. Or sometimes something happens to move us along to that center. There lies the gold- the peace, the love, joy, and our gifts.   All the rest is just extra stuff.

The Gift of Silence

Of all the things to come to the mainstream, meditation has to be one of the most exciting. Complete with scientific proof of its power, it is free, accessible to anyone, and is life changing. It’s even brain changing. That our brain is pliable and we have the power to alter it for the better through meditation  is so intriguing to me.

Some people suffering from anxiety, depression, stress or confusion have found relief from meditation that they didn’t get from years of therapy. Troubled kids who are growing up in violent homes and communities, and were emotionally unavailable to learn, received mindfulness training at a school in Richmond California, and their classroom success increased drastically.  For those without any serious issues, meditation simply improves day to day life, often dramatically.

I could go on and on about the benefits of meditation, but I think the experts have already said it best. Rebecca Gladding, M.D., in her article in Psychology Today says: I’m sure you’ve heard people extol the virtues of meditation. You may be skeptical of the claims that it helps with all aspects of life. But, the truth is, it does. Sitting every day, for at least 15-30 minutes, makes a huge difference in how you approach life, how personally you take things and how you interact with others. It enhances compassion, allows you to see things more clearly (including yourself) and creates a sense of calm and centeredness that is indescribable. There really is no substitute.

Jon Kabat-Zinn has brought meditation to the masses, integrating his yoga and meditation studies with western medicine. He has spoken at colleges, and even led a session on mindfulness at Google: http://yogasanas.net/index.php/component/relatedvideos/?vid=3nwwKbM_vJc

For some, the idea of meditation is too vague. Do I really just sit down and shut up? Do I close my eyes, focus on my breath? How do I stop thinking? Fortunately, technology has made it quite simple.  The easiest way to begin may be to download a free guided meditation,  put in headphones, and in just fifteen minutes, begin to change your brain and your life.  I’ve included a link to one such meditation below, but there are many others to choose from. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2pCDbisNv4

Because of the brain’s neuroplasticity, we have to keep meditating consistently to ensure that the new neural pathways that are forming stay strong. Fortunately, meditation is its own motivation. Results are typically obvious and immediate. And once it becomes habit, each meditation session is like coming home.

Random musings of monkey mind

Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify, simplify! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail.  –Henry David Thoreau

In her book, The Artists Way, Julia Cameron recommends writing morning pages in order to cleanse the mind of extraneous thoughts before attempting to write anything of substance. For more on Cameron’s morning pages:http://juliacameronlive.com/basic-tools/morning-pages/

I find that the morning pages tool, along with meditating, does the trick. And I need these tools, because without them, I have what Buddha described as monkey mind– when the mind is filled with thoughts that are like drunken monkeys, chattering on endlessly, clamoring for attention. For many, some of these irksome thoughts are fear based, or questions about the future, or a replaying of the past. But often, they are just the pesky little thoughts that keep returning, or worse yet, multiplying.

Today, just this once, I am giving the drunken monkeys space on the page. I am telling myself that after this purge of random musings, I will get back to the business of writing.  If you read on, you must forgive the  insignificance of most of these ponderings.  It is after all, the result of monkey mind.

*Why isn’t it expected that horse owners will clean up after their pets?  It is unacceptable for dog owners to let their dogs excrete all over a public road without cleaning up after them, but horses can make a huge mess, even while walking through a residential neighborhood, and that’s okay. Why is that? Is it just better for the environment? Or maybe someone does come around and clean it up. I just don’t know.

*Why is it so hard to find jeans that actually sit at the waist?  I don’t want jeans that sit at the hip, or just below the waist.  I want the waist to be at the waist. I don’t have an aversion to fashion. I love clothes. I understand there are trends. But please, give me back my jeans.  I just want jeans that have a waist at the waist.

*Sour dough bread is one of the only breads left that is actually good for you. Why is is so hard to find at my local grocery stores?  I am thrilled that I can find quinoa and chia seeds almost everywhere now. Why must I hunt down a loaf of sour dough bread? Do I really have to go to California to find it? Or Wegmans?

*And while I’m on the subject of inadequate grocery stores, how am I supposed to reach the top shelves? At five feet one inch tall, I have resorted to climbing the shelves like Spiderman to reach an item. More than once. Sometimes another patron kindly reaches the thing for me, but more often I’ve shimmied up the shelving, risking things tumbling down. Risking myself tumbling down. Sometimes it feels dangerous. Is it assumed we are all tall enough to reach the top shelf? Because we’re not. Not all of us.

*Why do I keep having the OCD thought that I’ve left my dog out in the cold whenever I leave the house?  I know some people have the more common fear of leaving the stove on. But every time I’ve left my house this winter, I think back to when I last saw the dog. Did I let him in after letting him out? Was he on his bed? In the kitchen? Occasionally, I’ve turned back around and checked. He’s always inside. When I don’t turn around and check, I let my mind go as far as wondering how I will explain to my family that I’ve accidentally killed the dog. This random thought is disturbing.  I need to fix this one.

Simply Yoga

Yoga is my answer to everything.  Can’t sleep?  Achy joints, back, knees?  Practice yoga.  Anxious, depressed, fearful, angry, sad, hyper?  Yoga.   Overweight, overwhelmed, over worked? Yoga, yoga, yoga.  After practicing yoga for several years, I became certified to teach.  To stop myself from sounding like an evangelical, preaching yoga from the rooftops, I figured I’d lead some classes, and therefore help make it available to those who came to it of their own free will. I am mostly a student though, coming to my mat over and over because it brings me peace and presence in a distracting world.  It offers me creative inspiration and some physical fitness too.

Speaking of evangelicals though, one appeared at my front door one day and asked me what I thought should be done about the ‘sad state of the world’.

“Everyone should practice yoga”, was my response.  Really.  It’s pure magic. Or rather, it invites the magic that is already ours. My visitor promptly left, speechless.  I hadn’t meant to surprise or offend. It really is my answer.  It’s at least a mindful place from which to view the world.

What else besides yoga can so effectively improve physical and mental health, making thoughtful decisions, a good mood, and deep peace so available? And it’s legal!  (Well, mediation can do all these things too, minus the physical part, but it seems more people are likely to try yoga because it’s exercise).  Yoga is really a meditation in motion.  It’s an exercise practice that gets you out of your head and into your body.  It allows and invites your own life force energy to flow through you, healing and rejuvenating, strengthening and calming.

I’ve seen people fall asleep in class and I’ve seen someone break down and cry. That’s because they needed to sleep and cry. Yoga brings about whatever needs to be.  My favorite class I ever taught was for overweight students. They were all so serene by the end of class, their natural beauty shining through.  I could almost feel the increment of change a single class could bring about.   They instinctively knew that if they had the courage and commitment to keep practicing, the balance that yoga brings about would give them a real chance at a healthier weight.

Since physical yoga has boomed in the west, some would say we’ve lost the depth of its origins. We’ve added music, and advertisements of how it will tone and strengthen and shape. We offer yoga in our gyms, machines clanking outside the door of a class. We have expensive classes and expensive clothes .  We have Lululemon!  Luluemon is magical too, though.  If you want to look like you exercise without actually doing it, just try on a pair of  Lululemon’s  $90 yoga pants. They are amazing.  You will look like you do power yoga even if you never get off the couch.

The physical part of yoga will produce benefits that only physical exercise can give. But that is only one aspect of yoga.  Patanjali’s eight-fold path describes the whole of yoga, the guidelines for a meaningful and purposeful life. Pantanjali was a very cool guy from the eastern world who recognized our cerebral limitations.   But the beauty of yoga is, you don’t have to know about these guidelines to benefit. You don’t need to read about, talk about, or even think about the origins or purpose of yoga to reap the rewards.  Higher consciousness or a spiritual path needn’t be your goal. You can come to yoga because you want stronger biceps or to be more flexible. You can come to yoga because you didn’t have anything better to do on a Thursday evening.   Even then, you won’t escape its magic. You merely have to show up and breathe.  It’s that simple.