Follow along for the next 7 days for short teachings on practicing and applying mindfulness and compassion in our daily lives. The intention is to encourage and inspire each of us to remember to wake up to our precious lives, to uncover through deep listening the wisdom of our hearts, to grow our voice by connecting to our authenticity. Perhaps this is a lot to ask of social media style posts, but a central mission of Growing Our Voice is to make the practices of mindfulness and compassion accessible to everyone interested in exploring them.
I love this quote by Pema Chodron, Zen Buddhist nun, because it describes perfectly the act of being mindful of thoughts or thinking. When we begin to meditate, to cultivate concentration and wise attention, we encounter a very busy mind. We close our eyes, notice our breath, and then WHAM! our minds seem to go nutty. At first, this can feel unsettling, even overwhelming. This is why so many people think they cannot meditate. It’s a myth that meditation is about getting rid of thoughts or to stop thinking. That’s impossible!
Instead of trying to stop the thoughts, meditators practice witnessing the thoughts, to view thoughts as clouds in the sky. Sometimes these clouds are fluffy, like a fond memory, or dark and thick, like a judgment or worry. Regardless of the thought, we have the capacity to notice them without commentary and allow them to float away. In other words, we can practice depersonalizing the thoughts, seeing them as passing phenomena just like the weather. We are not our thoughts. Tomorrow’s post will explore this more. For today, let’s practice viewing ourselves as the sky and our thoughts like clouds passing through.
Here are two practices – 1. Active meditation – as you move throughout your day, notice the variety of thoughts that arise as you engage in an activity. Notice the randomness of the thoughts. Notice if you get caught up in a particular thought. Notice if you are judging the thought. 2. Formal meditation – find a few minutes to sit and allow your mind to settle. Choose an anchor like the breath to help stabilize your attention. As you tend to your anchor, notice when thoughts begin popping up and label the thoughts as “thinking” and return your attention to your anchor. Do this every time you notice the mind wandering. When you’re done, spend a moment reflecting on what you’ve learned about the thoughts that arose.
Be kind to your wandering mind. Give it time to settle like the specks in a glitter jar after it was shaken up. Taking a break from doing is a gift to yourself and to those with whom you engage afterwards. So do not try to stop thinking; instead, view the mind like a supportive spectator. To listen to a guided meditation, click here.
Along my walk yesterday morning, I came upon this small yellow ball with a smiley face. I could not help but stop. Here was likely a child’s toy with it’s bright color exuding happiness sitting on the edge of a wet and unkempt sidewalk. It has likely been pushed around by wind and passersby as indicated by the dirt on it. And yet, it can be cleaned and once again shine.
I snapped this photo because this simple object reminded me of how, regardless of the dirt we carry, we are all worthy of love and happiness.
Byron Katie, an expert teacher of self-inquiry, shares that “A thought is harmless unless we believe it. It’s not our thoughts but our attachment to our thoughts, that causes suffering. Attaching to a thought means believing that it’s true, without inquiring. A belief is a thought that we’ve been attaching to, often for years.”
A benefit of meditation is that as we practice witnessing our thoughts, we become more open to noticing our attachments (“this thought is me”) to particular thoughts or ways of thinking. Over time, such thoughts can become limiting beliefs, obstacles to our flourishing. They are like the dirt on this ball acquired over time. And yet, we can awaken to them and free ourselves from the beliefs that perpetuate our sense of unworthiness, not enough-ness, or fill in the blank.
Today’s practice is to pause, find an an anchor to stabilize, and inquire. “The ultimate purpose of inquiry is that is allows us to pause rather than ride along the habitual track of our assumptions about reality. In the space of a pause, truth can shine through.” ~ Tara Brach
Placing a hand on your heart center, following the rise and fall of your chest. When you are ready ask the following questions:
- What belief am I carrying around about myself?
- Is this belief really true?
- What has it been like to live with this belief?
- How has it affected my life, impacted how I relate to myself or others?
- What would my life be like without this belief?
May you know that you are beautiful and worthy exactly as you are right now!
When I was a young child, around 5, I recall being in the the backseat of my parents’ car bouncing my head on the back seat. It was like a rhythmic movement. In retrospect, it was a form of feeling into the refuge of my body. I was present as I felt my head touching the seat. I also shared a room with my older sister and would bounce my face on the pillow singing the abc’s to help us fall asleep. I was connecting with the energy of my body. As a young adult, I fell in love with live music, especially festivals, where people freely moved their bodies with the musical vibrations. As I have aged, I have become even freer with my movements, being present with my expression rather than my image. When was the last time you just danced around allowing the body to guide you without caring what you looked like?
Embodied mindfulness through movement has an energizing and heart opening quality. It can be as simple as the swaying of the head or the tap of a foot. It could be as big as jumping around or a sequenced movement. It’s an allowing of the musical vibration to move through you. Music brings us into our bodies.
One magnificent understanding I have gained about the body is that it is ALWAYS present. When we “lose ourselves” in the music through movement, we are experiencing presence. Recall a recent song you heard or a concert you attended where you sang loudly or danced. How did you feel? Where was your mind? Did you feel a sense of connection? How would you describe your energy?
Today’s practice is to DANCE! I invite you to find a way to express through your body. Play a song(s) that speaks to you, that nourishes your soul (whatever that word means to you). Allow your body to speak through movement, let your ears hear the nuances of sound, allowing your heart to be opened. See if you can limit external distractions for just one song and be in your body, present.
Please share a song that inspires you to dance, to sing, to connect. It may just be what another needs today.
Blessing for the Morning Light
~ David Whyte
The blessing of the morning light to you,
may it find you even in your invisible
appearances, may you be seen to have risen
from some other place you know and have known
in the darkness and that that carries all you need.
May you see what is hidden in you as a place
of hospitality and shadowed shelter,
may what is hidden in you become your gift
to give, may you hold that shadow to the light
and the silence of that shelter to the word
of the light, may you join all of your previous
disappearances with this new appearance,
this new morning, this being seen again,
new and newly alive.
Today’s practice – Here is a guided meditation recorded from this morning’s weekly meditation using this poem.
Silent Sunday Meditation 4.4.21
Or, find a quiet space to sit without distractions and read the poem slowly. Allow the words of the poem to penetrate your heart. Here are some questions that you can use to access your inner wisdom and to awaken the heart.
- How have you risen in your life?
- What do you love or most appreciate about yourself?
- If you find it difficult to connect with this question, visualize someone who you know loves and cares deeply for you. Look at yourself through their eyes. What do they love or appreciate about you?
- What arises in you with this acknowledgment? (thoughts, emotions, physical sensations)
- Can you hold yourself gently?
- Can you see yourself as a gift to the world?
- How might this view support how you show up for your life today?
“Mindfulness is a pause — the space between stimulus and response: that’s where choice lies,” teaches Tara Brach and so many mindfulness teachers. This is one of the simplest and beneficial teaching of mindfulness – to pause and breathe. Yet, it can be the most difficult to integrate into our hectic lives. Pausing causes us to interrupt habitual patterns – to notice when we’re on autopilot and to shift into presence. The effect is far reaching!
What if you just paused and took a breath right now? What if you paused and took a breath before talking with your child, partner, friend, or co-worker? What if you paused and took a breath before sending that text, email, tweet? What if you paused and took a breath before eating or drinking, before (fill in any action)?
Each time you pause and breathe, you are returning to the present moment. This is cultivating mindfulness. In the wise words of Thich Nhat Hahn, “The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” This is true for ourselves, too.
to be happy is not
genuine or useful
about what we feel,
while remaining calm
is the real work
Today’s practice is to GIVE VOICE TO WHAT LIVES WITHIN! Can you be honest with what you are feeling today? How can you express it in a supportive way?
I had the honor of participating in a weekend retreat, Vocal Odyssey, with the international musician, Nessi Gomes. We used our physical voice to awaken, express, and heal our inner voice. Using the vibration of humming, I tapped into my recent growing pains (yes, they continue past our adolescence). I gave that which lives within a voice. It was a deep, guttural alto hum that slowly evolved into a soft soprano. This physical release opened up my heart, gave me the supportive space to express what I was not giving honest attention to as I tried to appear “together” or “happy.” I wish this for you, too.
There are many ways we can express our deepest selves. I invite you to find some space and time to explore what lives within right now and to give it voice. Perhaps you want to scream. Perhaps you sweat it out through running or exercising. Perhaps you write, paint, sing, or even clean. Give voice to what lives within; this is the real work.
As April’s Week of Awakening draws to a close, our journey in waking up continues. What I hope you take from this week’s teachings is that you are the expert of your life, that your existence brings love and meaning into this world.
This week was a deep dive into our inner lives – noticing and inquiring about our thoughts, connecting with our bodies through movement, seeing our goodness, pausing for presence, and listening deeply to our inner voice.
Today’s invitation is to trust in yourself.