Breath Focused Meditation – Letting Go Practice
For the next 7 days, I will post daily an offering to practice awakening the heart, to growing our voice – inner and outer. These posts come as inspirational quotes, brief practices to try out, reflections, stories to support your inquiry into growing from the inside out. I do this at the first week of each month.
This week will focus mainly on cultivating compassion and lovingkindness. In other words, befriending ourselves, turning toward our pain or discomfort, not away like we often do, and becoming that supportive friend to ourselves and to others. View the IGTV Talk for more.
FYI – all the pictures below may be downloaded, saved and shared.
“Listen, silence isn’t empty, it is full of the answers.” ~ Rumi
As we begin this month’s Week of Awakening, I invite you to practice listening to your body and to your heart by allowing the busyness of the mind to slow down, to quiet. How? You can begin by either using the 5 minute guided meditation at the top or you can find a few minutes to pause (sit, stand or lay down), place your hands on your chest, and follow the rise and fall as you inhale and exhale. If following the breath is not useful, then choose a neutral or pleasant sound as an anchor. Every time your mind wanders in thought, gets caught up in planning, etc., notice it with gentleness, and return to your anchor.
You are noticing the mind and easing it into settling down. Remembering that for these few minutes, there’s nothing that you need to accomplish. This little reminder, which you can breath in and out, can further help the mind rest. And when we allow our minds to rest, we can begin to turn our attention toward, to listen to our hearts and our bodies where we withhold so much wisdom. In the wise words of Ram Dass, “All that you seek is already within you.”
What is calling your attention? What does your heart have to say? What is your body telling you? Will you listen? If there’s resistance to listening or to what you are hearing, hold it gently. This, too, is information.
As we practice settling, noticing and listening, we cultivate mindfulness. This is an important foundation to growing our compassion muscle. I invite you today to attune to your heart and body, and really listen. When you are with other people virtually or in-person today, see if you can really listen to what they are saying, doing, or expressing. In our silence, we create space and often discover something new.
Loving-kindness is a heart-opening practice, one in which we cultivate an open-hearted receptivity. We do not deny how we feel, instead we know it through loving-kindness. It is a practice in giving and receiving good wishes and intentions.
I invite you to either listen to this recorded meditation from today’s Sunday meditation or to practice on your own. If practicing on your own, I encourage you to find a quiet place where you can spend a few minutes attuning to your heart. Here is a suggestion for your practice.
- Take a few deeps breaths in and out feeling your body settle into your posture.
- Choose an anchor to support yourself as you open to your heart’s wisdom.
- Read the poem below and allow the words to soften your heart, knowing that your anchor is there to keep you grounded.
- When you are ready, bring a loved one or friend to mind. Picture this person and allow any feelings of tenderness and warmth for this person to arise. Then repeat the lovingkindness phrases in the above picture, “May you…” Feel free to chose different or additional phrases are asking to be shared. This is YOUR practice.
- Notice your experience as you repeat these phrases a few times for this person. There is no need to fabricate a feeling. It’s ok to feel neutral or even resistant. Hold yourself gently.
- Now, move onto sending these phrases to yourself. Notice your experience, allowing it to be just as it is without judgment or expectation.
- Then move on to sending loving-kindness to all beings – repeating the phrases on the picture.
- End your practice with this question: How can I show up today with loving-kindness?
May all beings, including myself, be held in loving-kindness.
Dr. Kristin Neff, whose work in mindful self-compassion has been instrumental in my life, defines self-compassion as giving “ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend.” This brief heart practice is a simple, quick, yet deep way to connect with ourselves in the same way we might connect with a good friend in need of support.
It is easy to resist this type of practice, to label it as “soft” or “weak.” This is simply not true, and well-regarded compassion research supports this view. Don’t take my word or the compassion research field’s word, try it out for yourself. See how it lands for you. Try it more than once, more than one day. Try it after a challenging conversation or meeting. Try it before bed. Try it when something sets you off, or you experience an uncomfortable or unpleasant feeling (i.e. anger, sadness, worry, loneliness, frustration, annoyance, etc.)
Here’s the practice you can do anywhere –
- Find a moment of stillness.
- Place a hand(s) on your heart.
- Take a deep breath in and out.
- Open to the sensations of your hand on your heart.
- What do you notice? What wants to be seen, felt, heard?
- What message of kindness does your vulnerable self need right now?
The essence of this practice is to be present in the body, to allow yourself be aware of your experience. You are attuning to the heart by holding yourself in kindness like you would your friend. So see yourself, speak to yourself like a good friend would. “I am here for you.” “I care about you.” “You are not alone.” “It will be okay.”
“A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.” ~ Christopher Germer
For today’s self-compassion practice, I invite you to welcome yourself into your heart just as you are. Not the person you were. Not the person you want to be. YOU right now. Let this present self into your heart.
Sometimes without realizing it, we reject parts of ourselves. Most of us have been doing this since we were kids, always trying to meet the expectation of our parents, our school, our peers, our society. No wonder we can lose sight of ourselves, forget who are, and even dislike ourselves (or parts of ourselves) so much so we never feel enough. Ever wonder why you never feel quit satisfied? How many times have you heard yourself say, “I’m too (fill it in).” “I’m not enough (fill it in).” “If only I (fill it in).”
When we reject our present selves, we create unnecessary suffering. Pain in life is inevitable, but suffering is optional. So what can we do about it? We can love every aspect of us, even the parts we do not like. What would it be like if you accepted the whole of you? What would change for you?
Building off of yesterday’s practice, I invite you to try the self hug practice. Hold yourself in any way that feels accessible and whisper, “I accept all of you.” I know it may sound odd or feel strange, but loving our whole selves is kind of new for most of us. We’ve spent our lives learning to reject not accept. So give it a try. No one will ever know.
If you do this simple practice every day, over time you will notice a softening of your heart, a growing acceptance of everything that makes you who you are, imperfections and all. Of course, we can grow and evolve, shedding layers of habits and perspectives that no longer serve us. However, this is not possible until we cease rejecting or hating parts of ourselves.
May this poem by David Walcott inspire you to “greet yourself arriving.”
Last night, I began a six week course with Kristi Nelson, executive director of The Network of Grateful Living and author of the book Wake Up Grateful: The Transformative Practice of Taking Nothing for Granted. I am excited to share my learning with this community over the next few weeks (so stay tuned!).
This Maya Angelou quote was shared and I knew it would have to be today’s post. The essential foundation of mindful and compassionate living is presence. I cannot think of a better way to cultivate presence than by waking up, knowing we are alive just by experiencing the miracle of our breath, and acknowledging that this day will not be the same as yesterday. It is a day we have never seen and will never see again. Pause and allow this truth of impermanence to soak in. Life is such an astounding mystery.
I invite you today to tap into the wisdom of your life by connecting with presence and seeing the opportunity in front of you to act with purpose. How? First, watch this 5 minute video “A Grateful Day with Brother Steindl-Rast.” Ms. Nelson shared last night how some people use this as a meditation. So watch it without distraction. Allow it’s message to enter your heart, envelop your body, and calm your mind.
Next, try paying attention to the beauty that surrounds you even in the smallest way. Ask yourself as you view and witness life around you – What really matters to me? See if you can allow this day to teach you how to live with your heart open.
“When we embrace the poignancy and vulnerability that come with gratefulness, we’re reminded that time is limited and experiences are fleeting, so we had better treasure deeply what we have now and live more fully into what we know really matters.” ~ Kristi Nelson
Yesterday afternoon I went and got this tattoo. I had been thinking about it for a few years. I am someone who uses a lot of visuals to remind me of my values. It is important to me that I live what I teach. And I know that mindfulness practice is an act of remembering again and again. So, I wear my values on my clothes, my jewelry, and on my skin.
While a tattoo is not for everyone, it is an enduring experience of impermanence. Sounds paradoxical, I know. But when experiencing the sensation of the etching of the tattoo, one knows the discomfort will be temporary, the experience will be one of only memory. The pain rises and falls away, like all feelings, thoughts, sensations, experiences. This is what I remember when I look at my tattoo. Knowing this, I can bring kindness and care to all that I experience, both the pleasant and unpleasant, by holding my heart gently as it occurs and passes, not clinging or resisting.
I have shared this Thich Nhat Hahn quote on many occasions but it is worth sharing again, “It is not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.” And so, we cultivate compassion.
Cultivating compassion is a growing of strong roots, a heartful willingness to turn toward suffering. This “turning toward” is an act of seeing the heart of another or ourselves. This seeing brings presence and care to the hurt that one is experiencing. It is a tender holding of the heart with the intention to relieve the suffering. This intention is the essence of compassion, where the heart blooms and the suffering falls away.
This is like the cherry blossom. It blooms for only a short period of time. We enjoy witnessing the blooming, knowing it is short lived. We may even experience disappointment in the ending of bloom season, but the disappointment passes because we accept that this season is temporary. We also know that it will bloom again. I invite you to use this symbol as a reminder of the beauty, wisdom and freedom in knowing that all phenomena are impermanent.
For today’s practice, I invite you to review the previous days of this week as they help grow the roots of compassion. And take a moment to think about the current state of your heart or that of another. What compassionate message would you like to hear or would want to share with another? What compassionate action can you take to help your heart or that of another bloom?
May all beings be filled with lovingkindness and compassion.
It’s the last day of May’s Week of Awakening. I do hope you have found these posts and practices supportive. We all can use reminders of ways to come back into presence, to give voice to what lives within, to be caring and compassionate to ourselves and others. This path of living an awakened life is a daily practice. We start where we are, and we begin again every time we forget or lose our way. I am honored that you are here.
I had the opportunity to walk around my town today. As the sun beamed on my face, my heart warmed to the beauty of the day. I recalled Maya Angelou’s quote shared on Wednesday, “This is a wonder day. I’ve never seen this one.” Then Alexia Chellun’s gorgeous voice entered my ears. Her song, “The Power Is Here Now” was the perfect culmination of this week of compassion practice. I felt the energy of the warrior-bodhisattva, “one who aspires to act from the awakened heart of bodhichitta [loving-kindness and compassion] for the benefit of others” (Pema Chodron). Or “someone who has compassion within…and who is able to make another person smile or help someone suffer less. Every one of us is capable of this” (Thich Nhat Hahn). May we always aspire to live such a life.
As this week comes to a close, I leave you with these phrases of loving-kindness – May you feel nurtured and cared for this Friday. And in the wise words of my 11 year old son, “TGIND!” (Thank Goodness I’m Not Dead!). May we find a moment to pause and rejoice in being alive!