End of year preparations

Every year Christmas (oh miracle) is on again. And although this is actually well-known, you may be surprised how quickly the year has passed, and automatically you may fall into the annual hustle and bustle at the end of the year … Sounds familiar?

Somehow you be running out of time, or getting a sense that you are running out of time, so you may have to make all the preparation urgent. And in addition, the house has to be decorated, biscuits to be baked, the ham to be organized, gifts to be shopped and wrapped and various Christmas functions to be attended. Phew …

How can mindfulness help you to stay calm and peaceful? Below are some tips for you:

  1. Be aware of what is really important to you at Christmas. What do you like, what do you appreciate and how much “do you care” about these things. Think about how you can live more fully in your daily life with mindfulness.
  2. Who is particularly important to you? With whom do you want to spend time, or have a nice glass of wine, or do some shopping … perhaps sitting under the Christmas tree, or celebrating joyfully with your loved ones?
  3. With all the gifts and delights, deliberately consider: who would you like to give a present to, and what kind of gift? And why, what is the intention: heartjoy, love, gratitude?
  4. Practice mindfulness: allow yourself time to step out to be present, i.e., a walk, a cup of tea, a glass of wine, a breathing exercise. Main thing is, you do it with intention.
  5. Take a moment to think about what you are grateful for. This can really be anything: people, tasks, and the many “little things” that make life lifeable and so often overlooked … Feel this feeling of gratitude, perhaps the joy that comes from it.

In general, less is often more! Not the quantity but the quality counts. Only one thing cannot be done often enough: always be aware of what you are really grateful for!

24 Days Meditation Challenge

It is the time of the year where we might feel exhausted, tired, and stressed. It causes some pressure regarding the end of year preparing. The holiday season can even cause some anxiety and that certainly doesn’t help to the nervous system to relax. The more you feel running out of time, and certainly not being able to shuffle 10 minutes aside for yourself, the more you need the time out.

You may remember that you came up with a great new years solution and plan for 2018. Mainly to do with your well-being and health. What happened there? Did you manage to carve out time for making yourself number one priority? If yes, congratulations. If the answer is No then don’t get too upset; simply start now. In the end it is your choice what you are going to do with your time. Just keep in mind pushing yourself to the limit without any down time might not be sustainable.

This 24 day meditation calendar is a gift for you from me and an invitation to catch up on your good intentions, to conclude this year with dignity, calm and peace.

https://tuerchen.com/4bfb9318?fbclid=IwAR0Bm637Y4vufEn4tPUnYjySOPWHdrhjliSAF1yjy72tK1JdJRywNY5myZE

You can make it. Good luck.

‘Don’t miss the moment‘ – Awakening Joy – How I have met James Baraz

James Baraz and myself, Yarra Valley, VIC, Australia, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

This post is about how I have met James Baraz – the co-founder of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in California (https://www.spiritrock.org/), the founder of THE AWAKENING JOY program (https://www.awakeningjoy.info/)  and the co-author of AWAKENING JOY (https://www.amazon.com/Awakening-Joy-10-Steps-Happiness/dp/1937006220).

This post is also an invitation to sign up for his Perth workshop in November 2018 (more info at the end of this post).

I have met James Baraz during a retreat in the YARRA Valley in Victoria (Australia) at the end of 2014. James Baraz and Jill Shepherd co-led this insight retreat in this magnificent landscape close to Melbourne.

After arriving at the retreat venue and being allocated a bed in a shared room of five people and moving in for the next seven days, I noticed a little bit of exhaustion, nervousness and tension in my body. For one, it was simply the tiredness after such a long travel (flight Perth to Melbourne, then 2hrs care drive) and two, adjusting to sharing a room with four other people, and three, not knowing what this retreat would be like.

I had a very tough year claiming a lot of grief, tension and heaviness in my mind and body. I must admit I was craving for some quiet, for recollection, rejuvenating and greater clarity. There could have not been a better time for this retreat. I felt it was the right space for me to review and conclude 2014 with kindness, embodiment and ease.

Once settled into my accommodation, I went for a little wonder exploring other facilities like the meditation hall, the garden and the walking path.

And then I met James Baraz. A dharma teacher, who was greeting and meeting everyone briefly with a huge smile in his face, with a few words of welcome and love, with an open heart making everyone feeling special and cared for. I have met many dharma teachers, all carrying, humble and loving, but there was something very special about James. Maybe it was his genuine and authentic, very natural and heart warming welcome, his offering of an exchange of loving words and HIS BIG SMILE … Meeting James in this very moment and being in his presence made me feeling very special and safe. I knew right then that he would be there anytime in case my mind, or heart, or body or all together would fall apart during the retreat. Time to relax J

In his daily dharma talks James was speaking about awareness, gratitude, forgiveness, love, joy, compassion, mindfulness, wisdom realities, equanimity and taught us every day a little more on how to apply all these aspects in relation to each moment of our existence. He spoke about the dance of awareness where everything noticing intention comes before action, so one moment to another can string together and dance in a flow.

James spoke about the relationship between wisdom and compassion and the four sublime states of Brahma Vihara: loving- kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity. He talked about the willingness and capacity to face and embrace suffering and acknowledged the amount of courage and compassion this would take. Both, compassion and joy combined and in full balance leads to equanimity, a balanced and non-reactive mind.

James guided us through many shorter and longer practices of Brahma Vihara. Here a re a few examples to recite and cultivate self-compassion by practicing this on a regular basis (and if it feels right placing the left hand over your heart region or any other body part during the practice)

In this moment there is suffering.

Suffering is part of life.

May I hold it in kindness and compassion.

**

I am aware of this pain.

I care about this pain.

At the right time may this pain release.

May I know peace.

**

May I hold my experience with balance and ease.

It is as it is.

Life is unfolding as it should.

It is like this.

Right now.

**

The profound richness and depth of James teachings have offered me a lot of insight, and it indeed made me feeling much happier and joyful at the end of this silent retreat. I’d gained new perspectives in relation to a few issues that had caused me so much suffering during the year. And returning from the retreat offered me an opportunity to conclude a few chapters of pain with compassion and forgiveness. Something I thought would not have been possible at all. However, in the end it was so very liberating and freeing.

Reflecting back on my retreat experience and of James in particular makes me smiling, remembering what he often said at the very end of each day: ‘DON’T MISS THE MOMENT’ and a few other encouragements like ‘Stop and start again. That is always an option’, ‘Peace is always within’, ‘Don’t cure, but care’ and last, but not least ‘You don’t have to figure it out’.

James and his wife Jane Baraz are visiting Australia in 2018. Please check workshop and retreat dates online and see whether you can attend.

About James and Jane Baraz

James Baraz has a master’s degree in psychology and has been a mindfulness meditation teacher since 1978. He is a co-founding teacher of the prestigious Spirit Rock Meditation Center in California, is a guiding teacher for One Earth Sangha (a website devoted to expressing a Buddhist response to climate change), has taught at the Esalen Institute since 1983, and has led retreats and workshops throughout North America and Europe for more than 30 years. In addition, he created the Awakening Joy course in 2003 and is the co-author of Awakening Joy: Ten Steps to Happiness, the book based on the course. He is also the co-author of Awakening Joy for Kids, which won the 2016 Nautilus Parenting and Family Gold Award. James lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife, Jane. He has two sons and three grandchildren. For more information, please visit www.awakeningjoy.info

Jane Baraz, MA, is an instructor of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at the University of California Medical Center.  She has been meditating since 1976 and is a founding board member of Spirit Rock Meditation Center. Jane completed professional training in MBSR with Jon Kabat-Zinn and is also a trained teacher in Mindful Self-Compassion.  She teaches for both the community at large and for a special National Institute of Health study to investigate whether mindfulness can slow down cognitive decline in patients suffering from HIV.   In addition to teaching at the medical center, Jane teaches courses and weeklong retreats at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, The Cancer Support Community, and in Europe and Australia. Jane enjoys bringing a friendly, gentle attitude to meditation practices and infuses her teaching with guidance for bringing more self-compassion into our lives.

 

 

 

Get yourself of the cushion and meditate in nature.

I just came back from Europe where I meditated quite a few times in nature. Every morning I cycled to a lake for my morning swim and on the ride I could hear the sound of nature, bird sound, leave sound, air and water sound. I could smell the soil beneath and see the lush green of the trees and grass wrapping the path I was cycling on. I fell in love with my early morning routine in this summer in Germany. One morning I stopped to record the sound of nature to be able to share this with like-minded friends (please feel free to click on the below meditations for your practice).

Being in nature makes me feeling fully connected on the inside and outside, to the space and the relative stillness – it makes me feeling one with this moment. Arriving at the lake I always felt welcomed by the ducks and the wild geese on the grass or in the water. Sometimes, we shared the lake and swam together. I could see the ducks and geese paddling through the water and I could hear them communicating with each other. I watched the duck mothers walking their little ones to the water and helping them to swim, cute and simple. No reason for me to leave or to change anything – just to be and to meditate with my eyes.

People often think that meditation has to be done on the cushion in a cross-legged posture and unmoving. I am so glad that there is always choice and there are many different ways of meditating. The invitation of this post is that you make time for meditating in nature. Meditation in nature offers you working with all senses and it helps you seeing more clearly how the here and now is unfolding. Continue reading “Get yourself of the cushion and meditate in nature.”

The ‘being busy’ demand and how we can relate to it

‘I am busy’ seems to be the default answer to the question: ‘How are you?’ The ‘I am well, how are you?’ automatic response seems to be replaced by ‘I am busy, you too?’. Telling each other how we busy we are is indicating how important we are, and it also implies that being busy is the new ‘usual’. Being busy is a benchmark that ‘decides’ who is worthy, or who is not, who is important, or who is not, who is lovable or who is not and so on. The ‘I am busy, I am worthy’ message does have the potential to be an underlying driver of our response and believe in being busy all the time.

The ongoing multi-tasking overload, the constant need to be on the go, every minute checking of our phones, the jumping from one task to the next, juggling demands, appointments and meetings is fed by the need to control our lives all the time. No wonder why we believe we are busy, because there is so much to do at home or at work. Workloads are increasing, resources and budgets are dropping, we are expected to do more for and with less. Everywhere is demand and there doesn’t seem to be an end to it. The result is that we feel exhausted and stressed and we do the best we can to meet daily challenges. And we accept and believe that life is busy – full stop.

Brené Brown once said: ‚one of the most universal numbing strategies is what I call crazy-busy’. There is no need to be busy. Of course, there are many tasks and duties we got to do, but believing we are busy all the time doesn’t seem to help, and it doesn’t seem to be a true reflection of facts. We are feeling busy because it feels good, it implies a status symbol and provides a sense of being in charge and being important. Being busy doesn’t mean that we must make tough decisions, decisions are already made, and we simply act on it. External demands and circumstances are in control of our way of lives. So being busy is an easy way out. It actually takes courage to step out of this vicious cycle.

‘Ben Hunnicutt, professor of leisure studies at the University of Iowa, explains, busy is actually one of the seven deadly sins; it is slothfulness. In the Middle Ages, slothfulness had two forms: one is lazy, the other – acedia – is running about frantically. “There is no real place I’m going, but by God, I’m making great time getting there.” (taken from Tony Crabbe, https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/five-reasons-everyone-busy-tony-crabbe/ ) How thought provoking.

Yes, think about it. There are many reasons why we are busy: avoiding making tough decisions, being addicted (dopamine release), society demand, reward and expectations.

So, the question is how can we work with this trend more wisely, and how can we respond with mindfulness and compassion?

A few questions to consider: what to say when being ask ‘are you busy too?’, ‘how to deal with the inner critic and judgment?’, ‘how to deal with a sense of unworthiness that might be evoked when our answer is ‘I am not busy’?’, and ‘how to deal with a sense of guilt that may surface when we are not buying into the mandatory busyness default reaction?’.

What to answer: As we all know the answer is not only words, it also contains non-verbal cues and can be displayed in posture, facial expression and gestures. Perhaps taking in an attitude of compassion for the other could help to start with. Take a breath or two before responding. Be aware that the feeling of being busy has underlying reasons (fear to be unimportant, unworthy, unlovable, bored, underachiever, vulnerable). Rather than saying ‘yes, I am busy too’ – see whether it is possible to say ‘I am focusing on … at the moment’.

Dealing with the inner critical voice and feeling of guilt: Keep in mind that probably no one ever said to you ‘what, you are not busy, then you must not be important, or must not be clever, or must not skilled enough’. Right? But you can hear that voice inside acting as if this would be the truth. The good thing is that it is not the truth. It is just our mind that is making it up.

Nevertheless, you are perceiving and experiencing a combination of tasks not as busy, but your mind may come up with the same story again ‘what, you are not busy?, ‘everyone is, what is wrong with you, you should be busy, others are too, you should work harder …’ Does that sound familiar? And it might evoke a sense or feeling of guilt too.

The invitation is to simply notice and acknowledge the thoughts, to bring kindness to the mind and body by practicing self-compassion. Descend awareness into the body, ground and anchor yourself. For example, being aware of the soles of your feet, being aware of all senses, placing your hands over that part of the body where you feel the judgement or guilt or any other feeling the most. Notice the gentle touch and the gentle rising and falling of this part of the body with every in-and outbreath.

The regular practice of mindfulness meditation and compassion helps developing greater capacity for attending to and being with any discomfort. The brain becomes less hooked and reactive with further practice. A very useful practice for  coping is the three minute breathing space. Feel free to listen and practice it on https://soundcloud.com/mindfulness2go/three-minute-breathing-space

Explore your relationship with ‘being busy’: Do you find yourself saying ‘I am busy’ very often? Then a good way to explore this to list every task and activity right from waking up in the morning until you go back to bed at the end of the day.

Write down what happens during the day, morning, afternoon, evening, work days, weekends. Maybe just chose one typical day of yours and see whether you can be detailed and specific (include brushing teeth, shower etc). Once the list is done have a look at it. What do you notice?

Then go through every task on the list and divide the list into things that lift your mood or that feel nourishing and into things that feel more draining or depleting. Put an ‘N’ next to all things that are perceived as nourishing and put a ‘D’ next to all things that dampen your mood. Sometimes you may not be able to decide whether it is nourishing or depleting. Then put ‘N/D’ next to it.

Investigate and consider depleting activities that can be stopped or that might feel a bit more nourishing if you would bring a different approach to them?

Ordinary and routine tasks may often feel depleting. What would happen if you could bring a beginner’s mind to it? Here is a way to consider ‘The cup in your hands. . . There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes. . . . If while washing the dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.” What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future – and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.’ (Thich Nhat Hanh ‘The Miracle of Mindfulness’)

Back to the list. Having a look at the nourishing activities and considering how you could have more of them? Is there anything you could let go of to have nourishing activities more often? Explore your sense of busyness. Look for where there are any attempts to fill space with stimulation. Can you bring more mindfulness presence to it?

It is OK to not be busy. It is OK to be focused or having a sense of accomplishment without any sense of busyness. It is OK to pause and stop and to think clearly, and to fill the gaps with awareness and presence. It is OK to just BE.

Day of Mindfulness – what to expect

This retreat day will be offering you greater insight into the impermanence of our mind- and body states. It is a great opportunity to take your experience and use of the MBSR/MBCT and mindfulness skills beyond the formal mindfulness-based programs.

This retreat day intends to assist you with establishing mindfulness and fostering mindfulness skills across all sorts of situations in your live. During the day we will be cultivating a sense of being and non-doing from moment to moment.

And the practice of mindfulness meditation invites you to be open to any experience, no matter whether pleasant or unpleasant or neutral.

Each practice is an opportunity to cultivate aspects of equanimity. And that doesn’t mean that you have to be a super meditator or that you have to try very hard. It is just a matter of keeping some principles in mind as you connect with your experience in the moment and these attitudes can help support a sense of equanimity.

Why should I attend?

 This intensive day is a great opportunity to look after yourself, to explore what the non-doing is like. It is just time for being with the ever changing experience and its qualities. The day of mindfulness is a rare day, a day for exploring what it is like not to fill our time with distractions, noticing what comes up and quality of contact with this experience as it changes (moving toward/away/ against or meeting it). We get to be with this changing landscape of our mind through the day, non-judgmentally.

How is this day structured?

The day of mindfulness is guiding you through different mindfulness meditation practices: sitting meditation, walking meditation and mindful movement. Some of the meditations will have some introductory instructions and then be practiced in silence.

Why silence?

 You may have noticed this day of mindfulness is often referred to as ‘silent retreat day’. Why silence? Being silent means that you are encouraged to not socialise or initiate contact with other participants during the day. Treat the experience of silence as a gift and a generosity for  yourself  and  others. Using less eye contact will help you tuning insight and will reduce the amount of interferences.

The practicing community

 This day of mindfulness is offered to people who are practicing mindfulness, who want to reconnect with or refresh their mindfulness skills, and/or who want to spend a day in the space of guided and unguided silent meditations.

What do I need to bring?

  •  Water
  • A Mug for tea/coffee
  • Lunch: please note there is no lunch catering, no fridge; please bring vegetarian meal
  • Bring mats, cushions, blankets, or any other items to help in your practice. There are chairs too in case you prefer to sit on a
  • Sun cream, umbrella (or rain coat just in case), sun glasses (will do walking meditation outdoors).
  • Comfortable clothes, wear loose fitting clothes, perhaps bring socks as temperatures may

What if I struggle?

 There will be a message board where you can leave a note for the mindfulness teacher. Lunch time can be used for check-in with the teacher.

May you enjoy this day with kindness and compassion.

On Walking

Who would have thought that WALKING can be quite meditative? Yes, it is actually true – because everything we do can be used as meditation if we bring awareness and attention to it. Really tuning into what is happening in the moment without any distraction helps to be fully present.

Walking meditation comes with some ease, we do it anyhow, we don’t have to add anything at all. We walk and breathe. In the context of mindfulness, we do it in a particular way. And the good thing is we can meditate so very often without any additional or extra time. Every walk can be an opportunity to meditate.

Most of the time, we walk from A to be, there is place we want to get to and we just walk with there without any noticing, well most of the time. We walk on autopilot whilst our mind is very often occupied with thoughts and worries.

Walking meditation invites us to pay attention in a particular way, in the now and by noticing the act of walking itself. When focusing on the experience of walking, the embodiment of walking we are no longer lost in automaticity, ruminating about the past or worrying about the future.

Walking meditation offers us to turn attention inwards, connecting with our body when things are getting frantic. Bringing attention inside leads to inner calm and clarity which leads to greater quality of this very moment.

It can be quite liberating, letting go of past and future, whilst simply focusing on every step we take – and it is the walk itself, not the finish line we are aware of. Don’t have to get anywhere, we are already here. Every step taken with intention helps quietening the mind. Inner peace, clarity and stability can be experienced when we deliberately pay attention to this one step, the next step and the next step.

Mindfulness, walking and breathing in awareness and if possible a smile on your face. That is it. How do we do a walking meditation?

Mindfulness is the key for being aware of walking, breathing and smiling. Mindfulness offers awareness in this very moment with an attitude of non-judgment and a beginner’s mind.

Participants find below suggestions very helpful when they at the start of their practice:

  • Take a few steps at home – that may help feeling a bit safer and might be easier to focus; once your attention can stay for longer go for a walk in nature and later focus on walking wherever you are; start slowly
  • Start with a few steps – no marathon needed
  • Pace doesn’t matter – start slowly, but not too slow that you fall over
  • Morning practice is always recommended – a nice way to start the day – it helps setting an intention for the day
  • Take your shoes off and connect with earth – feel the support and groundedness
  • Walk like a king (that’s what Thich Nhat Hanh said) – with dignity and uprightness
  • Walking meditation can be done everywhere, between meetings, from the car park to the office, from the garage to the house, when shopping etc

Be aware of the breath when walking. Maybe bring some playfulness to the experience of walking and count the steps with every inbreath and outbreath. Experiment and tune in with the rhythm of breathing and walking.

And here is a guided standing and walking practice.

https://soundcloud.com/mindfulness2go/mindful-standing-and-walking

 

Three Minute Breathing Space (3MBS)

The Three Minute Breathing is a very useful coping strategy. It helps us pausing intentionally to simply checking in with this moment. A moment that may feel unpleasant and challenging, or a moment that feels quite nice and pleasant. If the experience is more about struggle and difficulty the 3MBS offers us four different ways of dealing with it. It is recommended to practice this technique not only for coping, but also on a regular basis. It helps us checking in with whatever is showing up. There is an intention that helps to pause, to see more clearly and to investigate with curiosity. It can help calming the mind and body and helps us in proceeding in a much more calmer way. By seeing more clearly we can also choose a more skillful action to respond. The 3MBS also helps being more aware of and expanding on pleasant experiences. With the same openness and curiosity we are noticing moments that feel nice and that we might have missed if we wouldn’t stop with intention.

Step 1  Opening Awareness – checking in with thoughts, emotions and sensations. Simply noticing what is present in this very moment. This might be something pleasant, unpleasant or kind of neutral. Use three guiding questions: what are my thoughts; what are the emotions associated with the thoughts; and how does it feel in the body? Located sensation in the body.

Step 2 Grounding – shifting the focus of attention to the awareness of breathing. Noticing breathing sensations and movements in the body. Making space for the incoming breath, and letting go of the outgoing breath.

Step 3 Proceeding – expanding awareness to the entire body, environment, soundscape.

Heart Qualities

©️ReginaG

Loving-kindness practice is one of the most important practices taught by Buddha. It is opening the heart, liberating the mind from fog and wrong views. It is not only loving-kindness, but also compassion, joy and equanimity leading to the same results.

As we know the practice of meditation is about turning attention inwards and to develop attitudes of non-judgment, patience, non-striving and so forth. But how do we bring the four qualities (loving-kindness, compassion, joy, equanimity) from the inside to the outside? You may wonder why don’t we bring them inside? Because they are already existing qualities within. Because of our wrong views and thinking and egocentric attitudes we often don’t notice these inner qualities of Meta.

Practicing meditation helps seeing more clearly and helps developing a different way of relating. Layer by layer we remove the fog and wrong views as well as reconnect with the origins within. This doesn’t happen by doing or by any action, this simply happens through clear seeing and being with the non-doing.

As soon as we connect with the origins of loving-kindness within we are free of expectations, free of ‘I’ and ‘me’ and ‘mine’, free of attachment or aversion. Then we are the love – the love that simply is.

Our thinking, our speech, our actions will be guided by this unconditional love. Aversion and Hate won’t have any grip anymore. Loving-kindness can be seen as the treatment of toxic mental content.  It creates a deep connection to the other qualities like compassion, joy and equanimity.

Greed is resolved as soon as all the layers have fallen. And joy starts to spark without any comparison and judgment.  It doesn’t know any envy or jealousy. We simply rest in peace, are free from proud and egoism. The awareness of these four qualities is the result and essence of our meditation practice.

And this is how we bring loving-kindness to the outer world.