to think or not to think

After posing questions to the meditation session participants, inviting them to reflect on those questions, and then sharing in a silent group meditation practice, a participant asked,

“You give us lots to think about during the reflection time and then are we      supposed to stop the thinking during meditation?  I’m so confused about  when I should be thinking or not thinking.”

Great observation.

To think or not to think.  Is that the question?

There’s nothing wrong with thinking or not thinking.

The key is to have enough influence over your own mind so that your mind is not compulsively running the show 24/7 and dragging you along helpless for the frenetic ride.

 

Whatever you are doing, do it.

When you’re thinking, think.

When you’re meditating, notice the thoughts, notice the desire to think then train the mind to come back to the breath or the body while letting the thoughts go. 

porch solitude

 

I remember a time when I first started meditating, many moons ago, I was absolutely thrilled for some quiet time to sit and think during meditation. I had created no space in my daily life to think.

Clearly missing the point of meditation. But this view of meditation-as-permission-to-think viewpoint made training my mind to settle even more challenging .  I was filling the stillness and space with thinking.  Intentionally yet unaware...story of my life!  

 

But once I introduced intentional times of non-doing and constructive rest into my life and gave myself permission to indulge in as much relaxed-body and mind thinking time as I could handle.  This allowed the training my merry-go-round mind in my mediation practice easier. Not easy. Just easier.

To think or not to think is not the question.

Being aware of thinking and choosing when to do it and when not to do it is the practice.  It is your practice.  It is my practice.  Still.  Always.

It’s a question of who is ultimately in charge. You?  Or your mind?

 

want not, get not

Deep down to your very core, what is it that you truly desire?

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Peace and solitude?

Fame and fortune?

Love and acceptance?

Fun and distraction?

Freedom from any pain or discomfort?

Competence and efficiency?

Knowing you are warmly valued by another?

To make a difference in your world?

Appreciation for what you produce and share?

Camaraderie and affection?

Acceptance of what “is”?

All of the above?

 

Do you even know?  Are you willing to do a few experiments to find out?

Experiment #1:

Grab a friend. Sit across from each other. Breathe deeply and set the intention to not over-think. Have the friend ask “What is it that you truly desire?” You answer the question. You both take a breath. Have the friend ask “What is it that you truly desire?” You answer. You both take a breath. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Keep repeating until you have nothing left to answer. Or until you have dug deep past the unconscious shopping list of what most of us think we want down to your core values.  Those quiet, hidden values that may be huddled in a corner waiting for you to notice.

What came up? What does it say about where you are right now?
Once what you really desire comes out into the light of day, what about your life right now nourishes that desire?

If you were to write out a description of your ideal day, what would it look like? With all the photographic realism and detail of a Vermeer painting, how could you describe this ideal day so it is a superbly elegant fit for your temperament, your value, preferences and uniquely personal dreams?

If you had the words describing how you are living your ideal life and getting what you truly desire right in front of you, what is preventing you from living out this ideal life?

Experiment #2:

Take as long as you need to write, edit and re-write down your ideal day. Edit out things that do not fit your values and edit in things that do. Write it in the present tense. And don’t forget gratitude. Ie. “It is 7 am and I am grateful for getting a good night’s sleep. My morning begins with…”.  Go through an entire day.

Don’t forget the detail! The devil, god and everyone else in the world and all their dogs and cats are also in the details. Vague ideals lead to vague outcomes.

Once you have a description that excites you to read over and over again, read it over and over again daily. For a month. And notice.

What changes for you and what stays the same? What happens to your expectations? Do you notice how you are already getting some of what you want? Or do you notice that the things you do regularly are not beneficial for getting you closer to your ideal day?

If you are not getting all that you want from life, what can it hurt to try?

And if you don’t know what you desire, how do you know when you get it?

Maybe most of  your life is going just the way you want it to but there are a few pockets of discontent or a lack of satisfaction in one or two areas.  Experiment!

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breaking good

The calendar, the empty hallways and the locked school doors all tell me its time to rest and to take a much-needed, week-long break from teaching, supporting student learning and administrating all sorts of never-ending administrivia.

Even though I’m not rushing through a regular work week, I’m becoming more aware of how deep rest is not the mere absence of work and imminent deadlines. And how its not that easy to cultivate simply because there is more time for it.

Whether you find yourself catching warm rays on a beach this week, travelling with friends and family or hibernating at home against the devious return of the biting winds of winter, it seems that deep rest and nourishing restoration is a minute-by-minute choice.

nature resting deeply

nature resting deeply

For me, its a choice this week to:

1. Transform my allegiance to the clock as lord and master to instead choosing to listen deeply to the needs of my body

 
2. Wholeheartedly do whatever I’m doing whether its sleeping, eating, sitting, stretching, walking, cooking, reading or writing

 
3. Take intentional, extended breaks from electronics, screens and pseudo-connectors and choose to listen deeply to those around me

 
4. Hydrate often, mindfully nourish my body with goodness and to choose to pause frequently to engage in deep, mindful breathing

 
5. Resist the urge to allow the word “should” into my mind or my mouth

 
6. Be grateful for time to pause and to rest deeply.

 

Here’s to learning how to break ‘good’ this week and for the days to come.

 

 

the myth of living in the moment

There was time when I would easily fall into a stony-eyed stare around people who used the language of ‘living in the moment‘. Even as someone who had been meditating for many years, I would secretly rebel with thoughts like

“if you only knew what I was going through right now

or

if you could just spend one day at my job and with all my responsibilities, you would see that I don’t have time to live in the moment”.

Eventually, the chronic irritability, stress-aches, frequent illnesses and general dis-ease of my life led to me to question whether or not I was missing something.

Through continued meditation, yoga, the reading of wisdom literature from many traditions and conversations with others who were walking with the same questions and resistances, I found a place where I could consider releasing my cold, judgmental stare.  It was a micro-start.  A work in progress, to be sure.

The place I found was one where I realized that ‘living in the moment‘ does not mean bearing witness to every single moment as free of stress and discomfort. It does not mean a constant evaluation, categorizing, dissecting and cataloging of my moments to see how they could be made more livable, more acceptable and even easier to manage then share with others.

Attending to this moment means that I see it with soft eyes, not searchlight eyes. Receptive eyes to what is really in front of me and to sit with whatever response comes from it.

But living in each moment is not really reasonable. There are simply too many of them. They come too quickly and leap frog over each other as we tumble and stumble through our days. This reality calls for a bit of intention.  We can select a few moments each day when we choose to stop, sit, soften, notice and receive the moment just as it is.

Maybe the first moments of wakefulness in the morning. Or just before falling asleep. Or at a stop light. Or doing the dishes. Sitting quietly on a porch with a cup of coffee. Choosing to add some moments of meditation to your day.

This is as close to ‘living in the moment’ as I can get. Some moments. Some days. It is what it is.

 

attention

Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.  

(Albert Einstein)

As a teacher, I am well-acquainted with the terms of attention. I am first a magician who must mesmerize students with something that will keep their attention long enough to relay some information that is on my agenda. Then a salesperson who must demonstrate the value of acquiring attention as a beneficial life-long skill.  And finally an educator whose aim is to share a strong, passionate belief in the amazing power of attention.

But what can I say to students about the transformative power of attention in a world where they are constantly being called to attention and then shamed for not being able to pay attention long enough only to get an earful of seemingly useless information? To them, the word attention is loaded with expectation, compromise and perhaps even boredom.

 

The word “attend” means “to expect, wait for, pay attention,” and directly from Latin attendere “give heed to,” literally “to stretch toward”. 

 

With the intention of occasionally closing young mouths while not closing young minds, I begin each class with a few minutes of corporate silence as a way to ask my students, ‘in your actions and your words, to what are you attending? Stretching your mind toward? In this moment, what are you expecting?

The practice of intentional stillness and silence is a struggle for most of them but a welcome break for others.

 

After the silence, I ask:

  • Are you fixating on the details in the fabric? 
  • Measuring each moment with a hyper-vigilant awareness? 
  • Stretching your mind to some perceived perfect place? 
  • Or is your mind an aimless wanderer on a journey to nowhere? 
  • Or have you not even noticed where your attention has settled? 
  • Or quite possibly, are you not able to name the several dozen places your attention has quickly travelled before I have finished asking the question?

 

While there is no right answer to these questions, there is space for students to become of aware of their intuitive or learned style of attention.  And the impact of it.

With the intention of reducing the weightiness of paying attention, what about replacing the word ‘attention’ with observe? Or notice? And with learning to sit with experience with less scrutiny and more openness to what is?

Teachers and parents, can we take some of the weight off the word ‘attention’, add the invitation to observe and notice instead and see if it transforms the ability of our children to be present?  Let’s encourage them to genuinely and gently notice their world as opposed to mentally documenting it, passively disengaging or restless running from what is in front of them.  And more importantly, can we model that for them?

 

 

You can become blind by seeing each day as a similar one. Each day is a different one, each day brings a miracle of its own. It’s just a matter of paying attention to this miracle. (Paulo Coelho)

 

 

 

how to know if you’re a bot

Something you did just made us think you might be a bot.

This was part of surprising note that popped up in a window as I was attempting to log into a web site I use regularly. And even though it was simply a case of this site’s computer system set to automatically detect odd activity of potential cyber-bots, for a split second, I was slightly offended. What could I have possibly done that was so odd to make them think I was a bot?   If they knew me, they’d know that I am so technologically-challenged that spamming still means getting creative with that weird canned mystery meat to me.

 

 

After I got over myself, I thought it might actually be cool to be a bot every now and again. Wired for one task. Equipped with the precise tools to accomplish that task. And an unswerving, determined march to the finish line with sweet clarity.  As a bot there would be no question about the meaning of the path, the choice of a particular route or the estimated time of arrival at the destination. No emotional or energetic obstacles or distractions that cause wondering or wandering. Efficient. Masterful. Simple.

But not being a bot means being awake.  Intentionally embracing the inefficiency of all those emotional and energetic obstacles on the messy path to mastery. And maybe it means occasionally, while still awake, consciously shelving some of the messy distractions to provide some much needed rest and clarity.  And the fluid flexibility to be both.

To be bot or not to be bot. That is the question.

 

how the race is won

Time cast a spell on you
But you won’t forget me     ~Stevie Nicks

 

Here we go again, working for Race Weekend!

My original and extended family along with friends & honorary family members gather every spring to participate in a 5K run and this year marks our tenth event. It all began in 2004.

It was early in the month of May 2004 that Ed Manion’s cancer was to have the final say in their on-going conversation. He was an unforgettable son, a brother, a husband, a father, an uncle, a grandfather, business owner, active community member and friend to many.

Three weeks after saying our goodbyes to this force of nature, we ran, walked, strolled or rolled across the finish line at our first ever family Race Weekend to raise funds for an endowment fund set up in Ed’s name at the Ottawa Hospital.

Photo: GO TEAM MANION!!!!

What a difference a decade makes.

We still run to remember the man who modeled how to never give in and never give up. To remember that races are to be run with others and that winning is in showing up at the starting line.  We run to remember and to forget the ache of loss and to dull the fear of forgetting.

Then after the race is run, we gather at our family home to break bread, tell stories, give compassionate space for wistful moments and raise a glass to the man, who in going to sleep, albeit it reluctantly, urged us to wake up to our lives.

With family.  With friends.  And with intention.  Showing up at the starting line really is the best way to remember someone.