Embarking on a New Journey in 2015 – Mindfulness and Meditation

meditation-6-600x399 Everyone can learn something new no matter where they begin. Last summer, after discovering two wonderful apps on my smart phone, Insight Timer and Headspace, I began trying to regularly meditate. Now meditating regularly actually just met listening to a guided meditation usually 5-10 minutes while sitting on the floor in the living room. Later in the summer, I bought myself a meditation cushion which greatly enhanced the experience. I highly recommend you get one if you are interested in meditation as it has brought much more comfort during the practice. I also got myself a soft blanket that I have designated as my meditation shawl.

Once school started, I realized I had a short possible meditation window, between the time my daughter left to catch the city bus to school and the time my son’s alarm rang to start his morning routine. I found that if I had my mat and cushion all set up in the living room and I planted myself down the minute she’d left I would have exactly 15 minutes to do a guided meditation. It wasn’t perfect but it was a start and it did seem to work.

During the fall, I was happy that I was “finding” or perhaps making time to meditate regularly. Thanksgiving weekend, I attended my first all day retreat led by Robert Beatty the founder of The Portland Meditation Center (PIMC). These retreats are offered regularly at the meditation center but I’d never been to one and decided it was time to check it out.

Imagine being in a room with fifty strangers. People you’d never met before and sitting, not talking, with them for an entire day and at the end you do feel like you have had a shared experience, a deepening and a bonding that happened in almost complete silence. It was utterly eye-opening to me since the whole experience was so different from what I am used to in Jewish services. To be honest, I hadn’t known that it was going to be a silent retreat. I knew I would be meditating but hadn’t really thought about what that meant. It was a wonderful surprise.

I had three poignant “aha” moments that day.

I had been to the PIMC twice before for qigong meditations. One of those times, my mom had come along. I wasn’t really expecting the flood of emotions I had while I was sitting, remembering being there with her. She had enjoyed it very much and being in that space felt like a positive experience that we had shared. I have no memories of her in either of the synagogues we’ve belonged to while we’ve been in Portland or at the Unitarian Church where she chose to attend. She had never felt comfortable at my synagogue and I had never joined her either for her Sunday worship. The thought made me sad, and as is the case when you are confronted with emotions during meditation, a little weepy.

One of the most amazing parts of the day was lunch. Here is why. We partook of our entire lunch time – one hour – in complete silence. Fifty people waited in line together in silence not looking at phones but just “being” quietly. This time allowed us a chance to look out the window and notice that the sun had come out AND that rain drops were also falling off of the downspout. I noticed the pictures hanging on the wall and some of the pussy willows displayed on the buffet. It was so different from the rushing to a table to get “kiddush” luncheon with people sort of grabbing at things for themselves as is often the case at synagogue. I waited in line quietly for almost twenty-five minutes, but it was mindful time not filled time. A very different experience. Then when we chose what we wanted to eat from the potluck buffet, I realized I had a taken a HUGE plate of food. It all looked so healthy and good and I wanted to try all of it. What I noticed from the meal was the textures of the food, the crunch of the pickle, the tang of the beets. On one of the salads, a spinach salad, there was an apple mixture on it that reminded me of charoses, the apple mixture we eat at Passover, suddenly I looked up and had this thought of who else in the room was Jewish and might have actually noticed this connection as well. I ate much more slowly and methodically than I ever do. Not talking while I was eating helped me remember to feel grateful for all this abundance of food that I was eating and enjoying.

When we got back to the meditation hall after lunch and I shut my eyes, I immediately felt compelled to recited the Birkat Hamazon, the Jewish blessing after eating, in my head. It felt appropriate to recite this blessing for the food. I actually felt the sustenance and satisfaction in my body.

After the retreat, I knew I wanted more of this in my life. I’d been listening to amazing talks on Dharma Seed when I’d walk the dog and felt like I wanted to deepen my connection to meditation. A week ago, I began the process. I signed up for a year-long course that Robert Beatty was offering to Deepen Your Meditation. In our first class, Robert invited us to sit each day last week for 30 minutes. I started feeling overwhelmed. I thought, “I’ve never sat that long. How will I be able to do it?” Instead of telling myself I couldn’t do it, I just tried and surprise, surprise without all that much trouble I’ve actually been able to do it each day all week. Not only that but this week, I sat without listening to any guided talks from the various apps and CD’s I have. The Insight Timer offers a timer and interval bells that can help you in your practice. I actual found that the interval bells have a lovely way of (b)ringing me back to the present. Sorry for the terrible pun, but that is what the sound does for me. Bring me back to my breath or my body. Helping me be present and remind me to gently guide the chattering mind.

So what about you? Are you a long time or recent meditator? Do you have a practice that has evolved? I am so excited about what this year holds and I am eager to learn some more about deepening this incredible and simple but not always easy practice of meditation. In the new March 2015 edition of Shambahala Sun, you can read Thich Naht Hanh’s helpful hints on how to sit even if you don’t have a teacher or a community. I look forward to sharing all I learn this year and hope to learn from you as well.

Finding Joy Everywhere

images-7I am not an Oregon Ducks Fan. To tell you the truth, I am not really even a football fan, but I live in Oregon and today there was a buzz throughout the city. The Oregon Ducks are at the Championship Game tonight in Texas. I attended meetings and appointments today where many friends of mine were wearing Ducks gear. Everyone was excited and people were saying Go Ducks all day long. The last time we were in the championship was in January 2011 and the Ducks lost.

Even though I don’t have much of a stake in the game, having not attended this school or really being a football fan, there seemed to be a certain joy that was present today everywhere I went and I wanted to share in it. Call me a joiner but I thought, why can’t I be excited and share the joy that my friends are feeling today? It reminded me of something Sylvia Boorstein, author and mindfulness teacher, spoke about last year during a lecture. She said that if we let ourselves experience the joy of others this allows us greater opportunities to experience joy than if we only noticed our own singular joy. I love that. We all know that when people get older there is much more “kvelling” over children and grandchild. Of course, there would be more joy in our lives if any joy experienced by another was a joy we could experience too. Certainly, when someone I know gets a new job, or gets married, has a baby, or experiences some other joyful event I like to share in their excitement. But expanding that to experiences like our state team being in a championship game or even hearing a story on the radio or reading something in print about a stranger, why can’t we also experience joy in that moment for that stranger as well.

There certainly is plenty of bad news to go around these days and I am choosing to consistently add the good news to my life as well. Even though I don’t have a vested interest in tonight’s game, I can be excited for something that is happening for my friends or my community that is positive and joyful.  You also have the opportunity to choose to enjoy others joyful moods as well! Go Ducks!

The blessings and curses of social media

facebook_like_button_blue-625x1000Over the past few weeks, since my mom’s death, I have spent time both on this blog and my Facebook feed as well as other social media sites looking for comments my mom had made to posts I’d written.  For a senior, she was one well versed social media expert, in fact, my mom got on Twitter before I did and had both a blog and Facebook presence. Most of the comments on my blog were lovely, supportive opportunities for her to share her own experiences like this comment after a blog post I’d written about giving a young girl $10 at the airport or this comment on a post where I ‘d shared a recipe from my paternal grandmother and she remembered her fondly as well.

When she commented on my FB page sometimes those were more tricky. I was often upset that she was sharing so much in reply to something I’d written, listing her own life story or mine in the comment section for everyone to read. She sometimes shared comments on my wall that made me uncomfortable. These past few weeks, however, rereading some of her comments both on my Facebook and my blog, I am filled with a new perspective. In fact, I honestly wish there were more, because with these words I feel like I have a piece of her and some additional insight into something that was important to her or something she wanted me to know. It is baffling to me that something that was such a source of conflict and irritation just a few months ago could actually provide some comfort to me now. I guess that’s life, in different circumstances your prospective changes.  Today mom, I am grateful that you were a no holds bar, share it all kind of woman even though that used to be very hard for me.  Thank you for being on my blog and Facebook page so often and leaving a piece of yourself on-line. I am so grateful for the gift of those words now. I love you.

Thoughts on a senseless bombing

shabbat candle sticks photoOn the eve of Shabbat, as I am making challah and preparing some dinner, it seems like there isn’t much more that can be added to the conversation during this difficult week in Boston, but I’m a writer and I process by writing so here is my two cents.

On Monday morning, I had a client meeting and when I mentioned to the client that I grew up outside of Boston, she asked me if I’d been watching the marathon that morning. This was early in the day before anything terrible had happened. I thought briefly in that moment about the year after graduate school when I got my first job in Boston how happy I was to have another paid day off in honor of Patriots Day. I didn’t know much about marathon running or even follow much about the race at that time but enjoyed the springtime vacation day just the same. Later Monday afternoon when I learned with the rest of the country about the terrible bombing that had occurred, I was dumbfounded. How and why would someone do something like this? After listening for an hour to the news, I purposely changed the radio station to our classical station because I know that I can not handle the 24/7 coverage that occurs tragedy after tragedy these days. I know that may sound like I am sticking my head in the sand but I know for myself that being plugged into the media coverage makes me sad and angry and scream out loud,  “What the hell is happening in our world?” Instead, I’m likely to try to find the stories on the internet about all the heroes. Monday my google alert for acts of kindness sent me half a dozen stories of those citizens who rushed to the aid of the wounded. Personally, I prefer to read those stories instead.

Yesterday, when I went to the gym, the television was broadcasting the live Interfaith Healing Service being held at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston. It may have only been words that Cardinal O’Malley and President Obama and other faith leaders offered but they felt like hope and light amidst the darkness. The President started and concluded his speech quoting a scripture, that said “run with endurance the race that is set before us.” He told us that as we do this to hold God close and that God would help us remember those who’ve been taken from us too soon. God would comfort their families. I know they were just words but having faith in God felt reassuring.

When my 12-year-old son got home from school, I mentioned that I had watched the healing service earlier in the day and found it comforting to hear what the clergy and the president had to say.  He wanted to know if the speeches offered by the speakers would have made me feel better if I had lost my legs or my child in the bombing on Monday. His question floored and saddened me,  it’s hard to even believe that a 12-year-old is thinking about these kinds of things. No matter how we try to protect and shield our children and try to have them experience a childhood like we did, times have changed and we no longer have the innocence of childhood that we once did. 12-year-olds know about bombings, shootings, war and other atrocities that seemed unfathomable just 20 years ago.

These are new times we find ourselves in. Times when raising children can seem joyous in one moment and fraught with fear the next.  I know that even with the darkness our children must know, they will still know the kindness, love and beauty of others. There is too much light in this world for the darkness to prevail. Spreading kindness, light and hope has become our responsibility as parents and as a nation.

This evening whether it is your custom to do so or not, I invite you to light Shabbat candles to remind yourself of the light, hope and peace that we must fill our world with.

Wishing everyone peace and light this Shabbat.