changing it up

How many times have you noticed yourself reacting to a certain situation(s) the same way over and over?  I notice this of myself time and time (and time) again.  I call this living life in the weeds.  I’d rather not live life in the weeds.  If you feel the same, read on. Read on because this is good news.  

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Those habitual responses that most of us have are simply neuronal structures, well grooved pathways in the brain, through which our responses flow.  Some cultures call them imprints.  Whether they are imprints or pathways, meditation can help us with redirecting those well grooved channels.

For example, as I’ve mentioned before, thefullvegetarian.com/daily management , if I have a medical issue, I assume the worst.  In 1- 2 minutes I can be wondering how long I have left to live almost regardless of facts surrounding the situation.  How do I do this so spectacularly?  It is just one of the well greased pathways in my brain.  A reaction that I have had so many times in the past, it becomes almost second nature.   My thoughts automatically flow through those channels of the brain.  

The good news is I can change that and so can you.  This is where meditation is available to step in and help us.  The practice creates new neuronal pathways.  In addition to creating new pathways in the brain,  the practice can also cultivate an awareness of thoughts and feelings. By cultivating awareness of thoughts and feelings coupled with a basic understanding of the nature of mind, we set the stage for change:  change in our reactions throughout daily life, change in our perception of life events, and change in our habitual patterns.  (Psychology Today’s blog has a great straightforward post titled, “Change Your Mind, Change Your Brain.” It discusses how those new channels are created. Sorry, I was unable to link to it.)

And, the next time we are confronted with a similar situation in which we have an immediate fixed reaction, we can ask ourselves:  Is this simply a reaction I tend to have more often than not?  Is my reaction based on fact or emotion?  What is the reality of the situation?  If you get caught up in your thoughts while trying this and are not able to mindfully be fully present, give yourself time and without judgment  try to move on from the situation.   If you have the intention to be mindful of your reactions and a consistent meditation practice, change will slowly come.  

So, back to living life in the weeds.  The good news is we aren’t stuck. Not by a long shot.  We are not trapped by habitual responses.  When the day comes your response to a situation has changed, notice the shift in consciousness.  Notice if you have a visual with this shift or a particular feeling.  The feeling could be one of lightness and freedom.  The visual could be a bright, open spot far outside of the weeds where you stand.  I’ll catch up with you there. 

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Meditation Q&A / Tips and Advice

Q:  Why is it so hard to make the practice of meditation stick? 

A:  It can be difficult to make the practice stick usually because of emotional resistance. I struggled for the first two years of my practice.  It was something I knew I had to do, yet it was the last thing I wanted to do.  For me the struggle came with the fear of meeting my mind. (Recognizing my thoughts.) Because once I met my mind, what was I going to do with all of that emotion and those irrational thoughts?  Clearly my fear was driven by a strong identification with my thoughts and emotions.  With the practice of meditation once I developed some space between myself and my thoughts, I began to find the practice more accessible and was able to make it stick.  

Q:  I am dealing with a lot of stress in my life.  (This is a comment I get from about 80% of people coming to class for the first time.)  How can meditation help me with managing stress?

A:  Meditation calms the fluctuations of the mind.  As the fluctuations of the mind calm, the practitioner is better able to cope with stress.  More often than not, the first indication meditation is changing your response to stress is that you may not react as quickly as you had in the past.  

Q:  What am I supposed to do during meditation, clear my head?  

A:  While there may be meditation techniques that are designed to do that, the practice I’ve found most useful is simply the development of awareness, self-awareness.  So, during this practice we acknowledge all thoughts and emotions without fixating on them, being lost in them, or trying to change them. 

Meditation Tips and Advice 

An accessible practice I teach most often is sitting quietly with the breath.  It can be as simple as this:

In a comfortable seated position with a straight spine, notice your inhales and exhales, be fully present and engaged, and recognize your thoughts and emotions.  Try it for five minutes.  Notice how you feel afterward.  

If you’d like to read more about this technique, go to http://learning.tergar.org   Or, email me with any questions you may have at katurnbull@mac.com.

 

the sun never says

 
 “The Sun Never Says”  
Persian Poet, Hafiz
 
Even / After all this time, / The sun never says to the earth, / “You owe Me.” / Look at what happens / With a love like that, / It lights the whole sky  
 
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Image courtesy of Carrie Lenz
 

First, a side note:  a developing awareness (with a big emphasis on developing) of my expectations has taught me many things.  They are our allies.  If I have awareness, however slight, of my expectations, I am better able to see through my clouds of daily thoughts.    

In an unburdened state, the sun lights the sky again and again without expectation that the earth will repay it.  

Expectations are surreptitious, reliable, and remind me of fireworks.  They are surreptitious in that they can be the sneakiest, slipperiest sort of beliefs dodging in and out of our subconcious and conscious worlds without our awareness of them. Trying to get ahold of them to have a closer look, as I’ve done in my meditation practice or during moments of mindfulness, is like grabbing for mist.  Reaching your arm out for a handful, it lightly disappears. They are reliable in that they consistently couch and strongly determine our experiences.  Finally, expectations are like fireworks.  It is an exclamation.  It is, this is what I think will or should happen (!) with a bang.  

I have been working with these strong belief systems in my meditation practice and during moments of mindfulness because I want to have an understanding of what emotions are packed in and around them.  As I strain to glimpse their components, I experience their  slippery personalities.  As thoughts do, they moved on by.  I know better.  I know I need to be more patient and let them move as they will.  

The reason for my desire to have a better understanding of the emotions surrounding these beliefs is that I don’t want my experiences determined before I experience them.  So, by lessening the bang (!), the this is what I think will or should happen, it gives my conceptual mind a break and a little more breathing room for a more direct experience of reality in any given moment in which expectations are involved.    

Who will join me? Who wants to acknowledge and become aware of their expectations? If you do, try sitting quietly while noticing your breath. Possibly even a consistent ten minute daily practice will allow some of these lightly moving beliefs to be noticeable. Once they are noticed and acknowledged, we may begin to develop a better understanding about why we act and react as we do.  Then, we put ourselves in the drivers seat to change the expectations, should we choose. 

Maybe then we will feel a little more like the sun does each day when it shines its warmth and light over the earth. It does so without burden or expectation. By choosing to modify unhealthy expectations, such as those that have simply been hanging around because they are part of repetitive thought patterns, maybe we’ll have more room for love.  Just as the sun loves the earth.  

 

 

swimming with vulnerability

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Image courtesy of Abigail Lenz

It sneaks up on me unannounced.  I imagine it to be a swirl of blue color, shades of the ocean, weaving, flowing like a silk scarf moving noiselessly through day and time in and out of rooms as it follows me around the house.  Eventually it catches me and settles in at quite unexpected times.  I imagine it brings a thermos of hot coffee and a snack as if to say, “Hey, I’ll be here for awhile.”  Doggedly I recognize it and turn my attention to other things only to find it waving to me from across the room.  I turn my attention to feeding my dogs and making dinner.  It is still there.  I turn my attention to taking out the trash and recycling.  It is still constantly, slowly moving around me.  The thick consistency of its movement tells me it is not going anywhere. I know this.  

The It, is vulnerability.  Vulnerability looks like the sign in the picture above.  A sign on which all manners of various locations and directions are posted indicating different routes (or journeys) we can take in life.  Note the top arrow in the picture says, “Go Fish.” Yep.  Such is vulnerability.

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Image taken at Shadowood Farm 

I’ve noticed this feeling tends to swoop into my life when one of the following two things happen:

1) When I am grasping for something to be as it was. So, maybe that “something” was a particularly fun weekend spent with my husband or seeing all three of my dogs swim and play at the beach with an incredible amount of free spirit.  Not that these things cannot happen again, they will.  But, vulnerability, for me, tends to blossom out of my desire to stop time.  To grasp, reach, and keep a particular situation as it is all the while knowing this is not the way things work, nor should they.  

2) The second way in which vulnerability leans the most heavily on me is when I am feeling purposeless.  For me, lack of purpose feels like what I am doing does not matter or does not make a difference in the big picture of life.  

When I find myself in one of these two situations, I try to swim in its essence.  Swim in the essence of vulnerability.  It is the equivalent of Rumi coaching us to welcome all of our emotions to the table.  However, I envision myself literally swimming surrounded by the essence of vulnerability.  Surrounded by what vulnerability means to me at its very core.  In other words, I cannot let myself sugar coat how deeply this emotion can cut.  That is only skimming the surface.  

While sitting in meditation, I can let this blue emotion settle around me, engulf me. (By engulfed, I mean I am fully present – or try to be- and aware of this feeling.) Then, and only then, am I able to pick myself up, dust myself off, and get on with life.  If I try to cut corners and, say, welcome it with a wave and a hello, it visits me again relatively quickly.  If I try to turn my attention to other things (I have a lot of experience with this!), as I mentioned, it noiselessly, gently follows me.  It goes without saying, I need a lot of practice, most likely a lifetime of practice with this emotion.  

Meditation can get us through and help us with many things in life.  Vulnerability tends to be one of my more difficult feelings to deal with.  My energy and thoughts are inclined to gather around and stick to this feeling more easily than others.  If you have a particularly difficult emotion, maybe give sitting with it in meditation a try, or pick a less powerful feeling to begin with if you are new to the practice.  Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche teaches meditators to be fully present and aware of these emotions while not identifying with them.  Rather, as these significant feelings come up, we will watch them pass through our field of awareness, as Rinpoche teaches, just like clouds pass through the sky.  

 

where’s the compromise?

The art of compromise can be difficult, especially if we don’t realize that a compromise is needed. Sometimes, though, awareness  that an accommodation or middle ground is necessary can be a touchstone for a day’s meditation.  It can provide an external reference point.  How so? With the recognition that compromise would be a healthy move in a given situation, a framework of adjustment is established.  In other words, a knowledge that hmmm… my way of thinking about this issue may not be the only way to think about it… gives us an opportunity to treat other situations differently than we typically might.  Which, in turn, can be used throughout any given day to experience a different perspective.  

 

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Here’s an example:

My husband and I use natural flea and tick repellents on our dogs and in our home.  Fleas are not an easy thing to deter in South Florida.  Natural remedies involve a lot of vacuuming, washing towels and bedcovers, and using essential oils to deter the little critters. I could go on, but I’ll spare you.   Yet, the fleas still come.  My response? I get stuck in the “I must get rid of these fleas using only natural products because it is the healthiest thing to do for both human and animal” mindset.  This can go on for (ahem) months.  Stuck.  I get stuck.

One night around 2:00 a.m. when our labradoodle was itching loudly waking up both Scott and I, my husband asked me, “Kelly, where’s the compromise?”  There was no emotion in his voice.  Just a simple question.  

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It was an adjustment.  A re-boot.  An external reference point.  My mind immediately developed another frame of reference.  I’ve carried this new frame of reference with me over the past several weeks.  It has become a touchstone.  I began to look for, around, and under those compromises because I don’t want to be stuck.  Or, if I am going to be stuck, I want to recognize it.  Thus far, I’ve learned two things:

1) The greatest compromise may lie within ourselves.  And, 

2) If a lot of emotion is involved in a situation in which middle ground is trying to be reached, a personal agenda may be lurking in the background.  

The first lesson, accepting what is, is an internal job.  Isn’t a big part of compromising a willingness to allow something to be a way other then what it currently is or that we think it should be?  So, maybe inherent in taking the middle road is adjustment and acceptance.  The acceptance within ourselves that we haven’t failed or done something wrong if we think something should be a certain way. Yet, it just isn’t.  I haven’t failed if, try as I might, the natural flea remedies aren’t doing the job.  Adjustment.  Frame of reference.  I live in South Florida. The uber-flea capital of the world.  (Yeah, there is emotion in that exaggerated sentence.)  Silly as it may seem (it does to me, anyway) to use fleas as an example, I think this can be extrapolated to many areas in our lives. I know it can in my life.

The second thing I’ve learned is that I should first examine my reasons for considering (or not considering) a compromise in any situation in life. If strong emotions are involved or attached to the situation, I may be operating from a personal agenda. If I am operating from a personal agenda, emotion may be driving my response rather than reason or facts.  

In other words, maybe taking the middle road is comprised of both compromise and acceptance.  A compromise between parties or situations and an acceptance between parties and within the individual.  Compromise can bring us back to an external reference point, a touchstone, and an opportunity to see things from a different perspective.  

 

meet lucy and practice openness

Three weeks ago openness came to me in the form of a 10 year old 70 pound black labrador retriever named Lucy.   

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Many of you know Scott and I already have two big dogs, Simon and Ollie, pictured below.  Simon is on the right.  Ollie is on the left.  That is a lot of dog.  So, another one?  Yes.    

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Coincidentally or not coincidentally, openness has been something I’ve been struggling with for a few years.  I felt it.  I knew it.  But it is a slippery thing, this openness business.  We set up boundaries to protect ourselves and to control our environments. When I met Lucy, I felt as if I was laying down a sword. It hit me at the gut level.  

Lucy’s owners were no longer able to care for her.  I ran into the situation, well, by accident.  And how did Lucy respond?  She was open to another human caring for her. In a very gentle yet assertive way, she told me she was ready for a new home.  There stood openness staring me in the face.  She has taught me to look at my boundaries, reconsider them, work on them, and challenge myself with turning toward rather than turning away.  

Ok, if some of you are now thinking, “Really, Kelly, really ?  All of this from a chance encounter with a labrador retriever? You are crazy.”  I would understand.  But, let me take you further into how meditation, boundaries, and openness collide.   

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A couple of days into informally fostering her (we’ve now adopted her), I realized the laying down of swords feeds openness.  The openness we cultivate when we whittle away at boundaries that we’ve set over the course of our lives.  When we decide we’ll control our environments a little less and be a little more open.  We cultivate openness through practice and through meditation.   

When I met Lucy, as I mentioned, I had the felt experience of laying down a sword.  I didn’t think about it.  That is simply what I felt.  Isn’t that what a boundary is?  Aren’t boundaries akin to our arsenal of swords we keep at hand to keep life and others in check?  

By practicing meditation, we choose to actively engage in our lives.  We turn toward rather than turning away.  By practicing openness we choose to turn toward.  Boundaries turn us away.  

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Heidi Swanson at www.101cookbooks.com has a fantastic soup on her site posted a few weeks ago. She calls it Immunity Soup.  It is one of the best broths I’ve had in a long time.  Spikes of garlic, ginger and pepper make it sharp while onion, carrot, and celery add mellow notes.  I’d also (and will) use the broth simply as a base for other soups.  It is that good.  

 

 

pie

With a hue the color of a lemon just finishing its metamorphosis from green to yellow, the pies my maternal grandmother used to make took center stage on our dining room table. The lightly browned peaks on the lemon meringue pies crested over the soft yellow interior tumbling from one side to another.

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“Grandma! Grandma! Can I have some pie?” I would inevitably ask as soon as I returned home from elementary school. But, the carefully prepared dessert was reserved for after dinner.  I knew as much, yet I could not keep myself from asking.

If it had been a hot day, the meringue might be slightly speckled and glistening, the air bubbles whipped into the egg whites having a bit of a hard time withstanding the heat.

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Yesterday I returned home from visiting her.  She lived independently until age ninety-four; and, although she has suffered a chain of events in the last six weeks that would not allow her to stand in a kitchen and make a pie, I know she would remember those grand desserts.

It wouldn’t surprise me if she kicks this pneumonia stuff and transitions into assisted living soon.  Maybe I should bake a pie in her honor and have it sitting prominently in the room when she moves in.

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Visiting a care facility, we see the fragile part of life.  In a park about a half mile from the nursing home, I saw vibrant life.  I saw green things growing with bugs, birds, and beetles moving about.  I went to that park after each visit to help me further accept the cycle of birth, life, and death. While I cannot say I am further along accepting those bigger life issues, I can say I envision a grand dessert sitting atop a picnic table with a little boy or girl just waiting for dinner to be done, and a grandmother smiling.