withholding judgment

This is, by far, the most challenging part of my practice, currently. And my life.  Since forever.

My reaction is often swift, heavy-handed and, in my own distorted mind, is completely justified because it is based solely on principle. The principle according to me.

 

 

My yoga/ meditation practice shines a glaring light on this ingrained, reactionary habit. When I sit, the judgments come. When I don’t sit, they also come. When I label my thoughts, the judgments come. When I watch my breath…well, you get it.

Then when I enter the world outside my practice space and interact with other humans, the judgments are there just as swiftly and cause discord and conflict in my relationships. And this is true whether or not the judgments are even spoken aloud. The mere thoughts of judgment can create waves of reaction that spread.

My ability to quickly evaluate people and situations is actually quite helpful in my work. Reading a student’s expressions or evaluating a possible motive for errant behaviour is beneficial to the method of problem-solving I choose to implement with a student.

But, as soon as I create a story based on a judgment, then comes my undeniable attachment to that story. And the defensiveness when the story is challenged.

I genuinely wish to nurture a non-judgmental mind because the majority of my moments and my relationships are NOT about solving problems. At all.  Nor are they about fixing what I see as the errant behaviour of others.

 

Oh to be soft and receptive enough to accept all beings I encounter with a touch of grace and humour.  To see their quirks and oddities with curiosity and compassion, not instant judgment.  To free myself from the tyranny of reaction.

 

Frustration, irritation and even some good old-fashioned anger are signs that I’m holding on to a story created by my judgement of how I think things are. This area needs sustained attention. Even if the judgment is based on principle. Even if I am right. Did I mention that I most often think I’m right?

I’m grateful for my practice.  It encourages me (with all my oddities) to pause, take a breath, withhold judgement and befriend myself as a work in progress again and again and again.  The “again and again and again” part IS the practice.

So today, I begin.  Again.  And again.

 

 

that’s why they call it practice

There are days that my practice happens on a yoga mat. Some days it exists on a meditation cushion. Some days it is simply moments of listening actively to another person who is standing right in front of me.

But every single minute of every single day, my practice is to see what is in front of me without passing declarative judgment. To see, notice, accept then make choices based on the reality of the situation, not on my judgment of what is in front of me.

 

 

2fall2016

This “resist the urge to judge” practice has been severely put to the test this week. News from many sources this week elicited responses that all reflected some sense that “this is good”, “this is bad” or “this is catastrophic”.

As soon as my judgment has been leveled and I’ve dispatched the labels “good”, “bad” or “catastrophic”, the situation in front of me now rises to the status I have given it.

And then my thoughts and emotions about it rise up alongside my judgment. And, as if from nowhere, it’s as if I’m in a blender with all aspects of the situation. No distance, no perspective and no escape.

My escalated emotional, reactional state lulls me into thinking I’m actually awake. But am I? Am I really awake?

The Taoist Farmer

A man named Sei Weng owned a beautiful mare which was praised far and wide. One day this beautiful horse disappeared. The people of his village offered sympathy to Sei Weng for his great misfortune. Sei Weng said simply, “That’s the way it is.” 

A few days later the lost mare returned, followed by a beautiful wild stallion. The village congratulated Sei Weng for his good fortune. He said, “That’s the way it is.”

Some time later, Sei Weng’s only son, while riding the stallion, fell off and broke his leg. The village people once again expressed their sympathy at Sei Weng’s misfortune. Sei Weng again said, “That’s the way it is.”

Soon thereafter, war broke out and all the young men of the village except Sei Weng’s lame son were drafted and were killed in battle. The village people were amazed as Sei Weng’s good luck. His son was the only young man left alive in the village. But Sei Weng kept his same attitude: despite all the turmoil, gains and losses, he gave the same reply, “That’s the way it is.”

Our times call for a practiced measure of relaxed alertness. Be awake. Be aware. But don’t expect that escalation and reaction is the same as being awake.

If what is happening really is what it is, now what?

 

fallgarden1

Instead of asking what my reaction to injustice will be, I could be asking, what is my response to it going to be?

Without emotional escalation and obsession with the unfairness of it all, what can I do now? On my mat? On my cushion? While listening to others?

Today, right now, can I choose tolerance, peace and resist the urge to judge beyond the usefulness of it?

Honestly? I don’t know. I really don’t know.  I’m kind of attached to my judgment of this mess.  I’m kind of attached to the rage.

But that’s why it’s a practice.

practice makes practice

I love puzzles.

All kinds.

Jigsaw, crossword, mazes, lateral-thinking brain teasers. Although, I do find the last ones a tad frustrating since I tend to be too much of a linear, sequential thinker to consider the myriad of potential solutions.  Usually end up thinking “how did I not come up with that answer?” when I finally find it out.

I also love to guess whodunit long before the last clue is dropped in the plot of a suspenseful, crime drama.

This fondness for puzzles extends to when I am dealing with someone who is expressing a level of anger, for example, that seems to be beyond what is called for. I look for subtle clues that the person might be giving off about what other, more authentic emotion, may really existing beneath the rage but is resistant to surface.

Oddly enough, this puzzling interest of mine is not helpful for my mindfulness practice.

Whether I am considering my yoga, meditation or daily mindfulness practice, the hyper-vigilant scanning for the “why’s” and “how’s” is a considerable distraction.  A misdirection of sorts that clashes with a mindful moment.  I want to know…

Why practice at all and is it even practical to do so?

How could my practice lead to a greater resilience in the face of challenges?

Why do I feel the need to document and share my views on my practice?

But at the end of this cycle of my present inhale and exhale, it is clear that this distraction and misdirection is taking me away from that which I seek.  Presence.

Practice is not a puzzle to be solved or a means to a better end.

While there may be beneficial side effects from maintaining a regular mindfulness practice, it becomes just another puzzle when there is one eye on the potential of puzzle mastery.

Practice doesn’t make perfect.

Practice makes practice.

In the face of whatever arises.

That is all.

 

 

 

medication / meditation

 

Medication?

The casual statement over dinner was not tossed into the centre of the table as a controversial conversation starter. To the one saying the words, it was a matter of fact and as practical as leftovers.

“There’s no way we are meant make it through this life without self-medicating.”

Resistance bubbled up from somewhere deep inside of me.

Wait! That can’t be right. Can it?

And what does she mean by ‘self-medicating”? Does she think, like me, that self-medicating refers to anything that significantly distracts or numbs us to the way things really are? To take the edge off? To help us avoid dealing with the hard emotions and thoughts?

But should we not be able to make it through a day without having to numb ourselves to reality? I pondered this question as I filled my wine glass yet again. Yup.

How do I personally avoid feeling the discomfort of stressful challenges?

I over-plan. It borders on an addiction. Stress can’t get to me if I map out each day with detours around all the potential potholes. Seems reasonable to me except for the hangover-type reactions I have to predicting a smooth route during construction season.

 

Meditation?

But then, another day and another conversation with someone else resulted in my companion responding to the knowledge that I regularly facilitate “Meditation for Resilient Living” sessions with his own unique take on things.

“So you teach people how to sleep, then!”

Meditation as self-medication?

While sleeping is a common form of self-medication, what an interesting suggestion that a regular practice of sitting meditation could actually be a way to avoid feeling the discomfort of the bumps in the road.

Meditating in a seated position where the bones can be stacked on top of each other and your spine can be long helps with the desire to doze off during a sit but the real work is with sitting with whatever comes up.

 

Anything and Everything

Instead of avoiding the not-so-fun stuff, sitting is a chance to notice it, feel it, even get royally ticked off that you have to feel something uncomfortable but not have to do anything about it or to fix it.

So done with intention, clear instructions and lots and lots of practice, meditation is the opposite of self-medicating. There is no need for numbing, distracting or avoiding. It is all acceptable.

 

Now what?

Now what about my attachment to over-planning?  Self-medication?  Probably a proactive kind.  A preemptive attack on stress!

I think that some people are born planners. We are the same people who have not-so-hidden addictions to office supplies especially the ones that assist in keeping us organized. I’m thinking of starting a support group.

As a work in progress, I’ve decided to continue planning because, it reduces my overall stress levels and supports me tremendously in my life’s work.

But, the real work will be in letting go of my aversion to potholes and bumps in the road. I’m going to attempt to be aware of when I reach for my favourite self-medicating organizational tools and ask myself:

What am I avoiding feeling?

If I allowed myself to feel it, what would happen?

porch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step one is good for now.  I’ll keep you posted on the support group, though.

 

why practice?

In the gray dim of a pre-dawn workday and still groggy from sleep, I was travelling along a main highway with a large number of only what I can assume were regular commuters who try to beat the morning traffic rush by leaving home at the crack of stupid.

 

path through the woods

 

 

With my once-strong eyesight now becoming as temperamental as my body’s thermostat that goes from chilled to tropical moments in a heartbeat, I wasn’t overly concerned when my car headlights appeared slightly dimmer on the asphalt in front me. I chalked it up to my sleepy middle-aged eyes not making the visual transition with the dawn’s light.

But writing this off soon turned to a mild panic when my interior lights began to fade as well right before my headlights faded altogether.

I talked myself off my reactive panic ledge by saying “just calmly put on your blinker to get over to the right shoulder” as everything around me became less visible. That would have been stellar advice if my blinkers were actually working. That meant my four-way flashers were useless, too.  Now can I panic?  This gave a whole new meaning to the term ‘blind spot’.

As cars and large transport trucks whizzed by me, probably cursing the moron with the remarkable bedhead driving in the dark without her lights on, my momentary reaction was “my car is dead and so am I. There is no hope”.  Way to stay calm in a crisis, Danette!

 

wrong way

 

My accelerator did nothing to increase my speed but since I’d been hovering around the speed limit, I decided that I had enough momentum to get over to the side if I waited in the middle lane until the two lanes to my right were completely free of cars coming from behind me. Oh yes, this plan is flawless!

But then an oddly peaceful inner voice became clear. I realized that I could only control a minor portion of this situation.

 

 

“Do what is in front of you and let go of the outcome.”

autumn moment

 

The time pressure to get to my side-of-the-road destination before my car rolled to stop in the middle lane kept trying to incite the inner calm to riot. Those few moments felt like a bottomless pit of slow-motion moments.

With a deep breath, I drew myself back to the inner voice who was saying “Shoulder-check and wait. Mirrors and wait. Shoulder-check, clear now slowly move one lane”. I repeated this for many more moments until I got the far right lane and then I rolled the car onto the shoulder of the road. When I felt I was far enough over to be safe from the passing traffic, I hit the brakes.

Once the ignition was turned off and my shaking hands and voice had called for a tow truck, my short breath and trembling body revealed how much more panicked my body was than my mind had even let on.

There’s nothing like a full mind-body-engaging experience to get the two doing a tag-team wake-up call.  While the body responded to some deep breathing, the brain began tucking away all sorts of wacky thoughts for me to develop into full-fledged manic stories later on.  Even now, I have a short anxious mind-movie that plays in my head whenever I drive past the very spot on the highway where I had this experience.

Beyond the fear factor and the ensuing stories to uncover about how close I came to shuffling off this mortal coil, I do sort of know what an alternator does and have never been more impressed with the important task it performs.  So that’s good.

 

But I also learned that my practices of meditation, yoga, deep breathing and uncovering my old and new stories are now an integral part of my resilient responsive repertoire in the face of crisis and panic.  

old church

Hmmm.  Maybe that’s all I need to know.

no chance of rain

 

You know that rare, unexpected moment when you look around you and notice that there are no major crises swallowing up your attention? You know the kind of event that seemingly hijacks your life and derails even your daily plans?  None.

In that rare moment, even if you’re experiencing some confusion, minor loss, life dis-order or chronic busyness, the things you’re facing apparently do not qualify for the master list of significant life stressors so should be more or less manageable according to the creators of the master list.

Quite recently, I realized that over a few weeks surrounded by the unremarkable stress of being a living, breathing conscious person, I became increasingly agitated.   And as my general uber-vigilant disposition was not picking up any external signs of an intense struggle to engage or an insurmountable obstacle to overcome, it seemed that I needed to create some concrete struggle internally.

Suddenly my own arbitrary deadlines rose to commandment status with the added pressure of “someone will be waiting on me for this”.  In my own gospel, Never Leave Anyone Waiting is the second commandment after Do Everything Correctly and followed by Everything Matters. My inclination to set regular goals and write lists became a firm attachment to perfectly imagined outcomes followed by an out-of-balance disappointment when they were not realized. My growing acceptance of “this is the way life is” was recklessly abandoned on the meditation cushion with my settled breathing and mind. Slow, mindful movements were replaced with jittery legs and fidgety fingers. Sleep was rest-less and stillness disappeared.

Remember, there was no genuine crisis. Bounty was all around me.  Relationships, life’s work, passions and creative outlets were all within much more-than-rich and satisfying range. Life, as they say, was and is good.

SAM_2124

On a clear, breezy day with no clouds or chances of rain, am I addicted to the chaos of panic and pressure? Do I need to create drama where there is none in order to feel engaged, relevant and meaningful? Does dis-ease become my default position especially when things are going well?

I don’t know.  Now comes the sitting and listening with a curiosity for what comes up and with no predetermined outcome.  If panic asks to take over, I’ll re-read “the “3 steps to pacify the panic” blog I wrote a few years ago and get un-stuck (again!) from this familiar place.

May your summer be full of self-accepting moments where you never give up on the places where you get repeatedly stuck!

 

 

 

 

exercise science lesson plan

 

 

The Kinesiology class is also known as Grade 12 Exercise Science and my visit there was in the midst of their unit on the impact of stress and anxiety on athletic performance.

I began by dividing the students into two groups. Each group elected one member to participate in a small performance task on behalf of the group.

The task was to race against the other team’s elected student to the other end of the gym, step over a bench, grab a ball, step back over the bench and race back to the starting line. It was a simple task.

The students were ramped up by the ease of the task and ready to ace the race when I interrupted their early celebration with an additional last-minute requirement.

Each team was given five pieces of paper each having a “thought” written on it that might come into any mind in preparation for any performance. Before the race was allowed to begin, a team member had to read out each thought and the whole team had to determine whether or not it was a heavy thought or a light thought.

If the thought was heavy, their racer had to carry or put on a piece of equipment to represent the weight of the thought. The equipment included goalie pads, a medicine ball, glasses that obscured vision and a chest pad that restricted movement.

 

The heavy thoughts were:

Absolutely everything is on the line here!

 Messing up right now, especially in front of all these people, will be the worst thing
  that will ever happen to me!

I won’t be the least bit surprised if I fail at this. Things like this always happen to me!

I just need to be so much better than anyone else here or I will look like a total loser!

Nothing ever changes. I always mess up eventually!

 

One team intentionally got all the heavy thoughts and the other, the light.  This meant that one racer was eventually decked out in all the weighty equipment while the other had encouraging notes randomly taped to his body. It was clear by the facial reactions to the notes being read out that these were all-too recognizable thought patterns in this age group.

 

The light thoughts were:

What a great chance to play and participate! How cool is it that I can grow my skill set      and also learn from failure?

 How can I mess up too badly if the result I want is to make a real difference in the world by participating whole-heartedly in whatever I do?

 I’m incredibly grateful for some of the amazing things I’ve been able to accomplish so far.

Comparing myself to others is a losing proposition. As soon as I compare myself to someone else, I eliminate the joy of whatever I’m doing.

When I take the idea of “messing up” out of the equation, the only way to fail is to continue to choose to focus on how others see me instead of being true to myself.
Oddly, there was less recognition and even some eye-rolling when the light notes were read out.  Patterns run deep.

It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out how this experiment turned out. The racer who was weighted down and had movements restricted struggled to perform even a simple task while the racer easily completed the task with his notes blowing lightly in the breeze he created as he ran.

 

The demonstration led into a discussion about how our thoughts impact our ability to perform even if that performance is not an athletic task.

It came down to:

1. Your body does not know that your mind is having distorted thoughts.
2. So your body assumes your mind is right on the mark and reacts with anxiety.
3. Distorted thoughts need to be noticed then addressed.
4. This is a skill.
5. A skill that needs to be developed with practice.

 

Athletes practice for performances all the time. They have body conditioning programs, run drills and work hard to develop important key skills related to their sport through repeated repetition.

But are the physical practices enough because when we are made up of more than just the physical? What about mind training? What about developing that mastery over thoughts that wreak havoc on self-confidence and undermine the developed physical skills during performance. Mind training is crucial for challenging distorted thinking patterns and can be helpful for any type of performance.

I then instructed the students to remove their shoes and socks and led them through a walking meditation in the gym. To introduce the idea of practicing meditation to notice their mind’s compulsion to run off on some distorted tangent was the goal of the exercise.  And even if this was only a seed planted for most of the students, it was an incredible thing to see a whole class of senior students walking silently, paying attention to their feet touching the ground and beginning the process of recognizing distorted thoughts, one step at a time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

why i sit

I sit.

Intentionally.

In silence.

(4/365) concentration, meditation, contemplationIt is certainly not because I’m a calm, balanced person who lives devoutly among the pure and the pious. Nor it is because I exude self-discipline. Far from it. Sitting started out simply as my way to overcome the overwhelm, to quell the tsunami of thoughts and lower my oft-rampant heart rate for a sense of overall well-being. It was basically a physical solution to a spiritual problem.  But that has transformed into something more akin to falling down the rabbit hole where the experience has become curiouser and curiouser. While I still get the physical benefits of habitual stillness, my sitting has become a time when I explore previously unknown landscapes and meet the oddest characters who mostly exist inside my own head.

Body-Speak

I sit to notice my body.

Physically, the act of sitting provides an experience of grounding and being firmly rooted to one spot.  From here, there is room to build capacity to get out of my head and notice my bodily sensations. It may be a subtle sensation of discomfort especially if I’m sitting for an extended period of time, or perhaps tightness in one shoulder, a stiffness in a joint or a blunt lack of sensation in one area. During a typical day of non-stop mental information tennis, this quiet time of softens the mind-noise enough to allow me to be keenly aware of my body’s innate wisdom.

Feeling-Talk

I sit to feel the feelings.

The feelings could be connected to my body’s messages or they could be left-over feelings that had never been given permission to be expressed.  Isn’t that the point of feelings? To be felt?  Not all the feelings that come up are easy so I sit with whatever comes up and resist the urge to label the feelings “good” or “bad”. I notice the feelings then give into the fullness of their expression. A gratitude, a sorrow, a desire or even a dark numbness are acknowledged.  The practice is to hold both difficult feelings and the sense of ease and grounded-ness that sitting provides as a balancing act of surrender and release.

Story-Time

I sit to listen to the stories.

I love a good story.  I’m a stubborn idealist with an imaginative flair for dramatic detail so talk about walking the smooth path to self-delusion.  I can rant, rage and rationalize with the best of them.  But I have found that there is absolutely no light at the end of that alliteration tunnel. The mind-stories where I repeatedly have a starring role are fun for a creative outlet but definitely not so useful for living life on purpose and wide awake. Sitting often enough helps me to recognize the stories penned in fear and dread, to unravel the foggy plot-lines from the intricate web of physical sensations, emotions and to recognize the way things actually are.  That is the work. Unremarkable, hard work.

Work that frees.  Releases.  Softens.

And work that begins with sitting.

Just sitting.

Meditation Rock 2

how to manage mind clutter

 

Somewhere along the bumpy evolutionary path,  we have became chronic over-consumers and collectors.  It is absolutely no surprise then that ‘clutter happens’.   And more clutter means more to manage.

 

clutter

 

Now as the cooler days and crisper nights have us now reaching for sweaters, socks and fleece blankets, ’tis the season to pack up and put away the collected odds and sods of summer living.  And even though we’ll miss the carefree feeling of sun-dresses and flip-flops, there is something so refreshing about marking the change of seasons with a ritual of storing away the old and bringing out new-to-this-year items that have been tucked away for a season or three.

We have methods of organizing summer clutter, but what about the mind clutter?

When do we get around to gathering and clearing the cognitive dust-bunnies that can leave us feeling confused, tired and overwhelmed?

You may have mind clutter if you:

  • have a deep yearning for a simpler life in the face of your competing priorities
  • keep forgetting or losing commonplace things daily
  • find yourself overly-fixated on insignificant issues
  • are more impatient than usual and are chronically irritated
  • are noticing inconsistent self-care and sleep patterns

Either it is merely a minor case of mind clutter or you’re slowly losing your mind. The two can be easily confused but let’s assume it’s simply the former and save learning how to manage insanity for another day.

Mind clutter can be as distracting and easily as much of a hindrance to our daily functioning as can physical clutter.  But how do we deal with what we can’t see?

 

Minimize

When I’m tackling a closet or a basement, I tend to make three piles: “Keep”, “Toss” and “Recycle”. I’ve also found that that same categories come in handy when dealing with a barrage of thoughts and mental preoccupations.

Keep: When held up to the light of reason and experience, is this repeated thought or worry worth keeping around? If it has some value but I don’t have time to sit with it in the moment, it gets written down to be given intentional attention later.

Toss: If the thought is encased in black and white thinking, distortion, generalization or comes from a place of fear, then it is tossed.

Recycle: What have I learned from this current fixation or line of thinking? What life pattern and underlying belief is feeding this fixation? Can I share what I’ve learned with a friend, a colleague or write about it in a blog?

 

Manage

Once the clutter is reduced, it is time to create a management system for what is left. For a moment, think of your mind as a toddler, full of Energizer-bunny exuberance, ideas and untamed curiosity. Then remember that the very same toddler is also impulsive, egocentric and clearly not a pillar of self-discipline.

In the case of an actual toddler, you have compassion for the developmental traits that are expected as a toddler but not quite so acceptable as an adult. And, as the adult in a relationship with the toddler, you’d lovingly, compassionately guide the child towards towards a growing attention, focus, a consideration of outcomes and other general self-regulation tools. You’d also know that growth in these areas would not happen overnight and would be a process with a time-line differing for each person. You would lovingly and with an eye on the long haul, train the child for the long term outcome.

Why wouldn’t your mind need the same kind of compassionate training?  Like a child, your mind impulsively collects distracting worries, pleasures, needs, fears, opportunities and decisions to be made like a toddler picks up rocks, sticks and frogs. Meditation is an effective mind training/ management system to deal with mental clutter.

 

Meditation

Despite it being an endless well of depth to be explored, in its most basic form, meditation is simply sitting with what is. It is not trying to stop the thinking process, nor is it a chance to pronounce judgement on thoughts that will naturally arise in moments of quiet and it is definitely not sitting to create more peace or balance or hope.

It is simply sitting with your rambunctious toddler-mind and warmly inviting its focus back to the breath every time it wanders off to follow something shiny and interesting. That’s it. Sit. Breathe. Bring focus of the mind gently back to the breath. Inhale. Exhale. Sit. Breathe. Bring focus back to the breath. Inhale. Exhale.

Can’t you just feel the clutter fading with each focused breath?

 

Peace

 

Mind clutter is like having too much furniture in a dark room. When the lights are off, you cannot move around the room without stubbing your toe on something!

So turn on the lights with a few minutes of intentional minimizing and simple meditation each day and notice the incredible joy of “less is more”.