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.

 

lemons of the mind

Let’s just get this on the table – someone should put a sticker on my forehead labeled, “imposter.”  A sticker would be preferable to permanent marker because it would take quite awhile for the marker to wear off, and I am not above only labeling myself for as long as I can take it.

I startled myself recently.  I was in the kitchen washing dishes when the thought came to me that I have not been honest with myself.  And, I didn’t realize it.

At that moment in the kitchen, I understood that driving my desire to find distractions when it is time for me to sit down and write was because I did not want to deal with the task of meeting my mind.  It is much easier to keep busy.

(The phrase “meeting my mind,” one of my favorite phrases, is an idiom from Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, an international teacher of Buddhist philosophy.)

I’ve found in the past several months when it is time for me to write,  I’ll actively look for something else to do.  I go in search of a distraction.   Then, I become frustrated with myself for not having written that day.

The light bulb should have come on for me many months ago.  I meditate regularly. (I believe it is one of the best things we can do for ourselves, our families and our neighbors.)  The reason the lightbulb should have come on for me sooner, is that I’ve experienced this feeling before.  When I began my meditation practice about eight years ago, it was very difficult for me to sit down to practice.  I would argue internally with myself, make excuses, probably complain;  but,  I knew it is what I had to do.  I knew if I wanted to begin purging myself of irrational fears and begin to know myself, as unpleasant as that process could be, I needed to sit for meditation.  So, I did.  I fought myself and I sat.  Fought myself and sat.

As a newbie writer, writing for me entails quite a bit of thinking, editing, revisions and the like.  All of which lend themselves to the opposite of being busy.  During that time my mind has the opportunity to tell me all of those things I do not want to hear.  Or, at least, I don’t want to hear them repeatedly.

So, when you are fortunate enough to notice a subtlety in yourself, slightly different perspective or understanding, however small it may be, rejoice.  Rejoice silently.  Be grateful.   I believe tiny shifts hold big promise.

Nothing new here.  But, to my mind, a crisp or a crumble is hard to beat for a late summer dessert.  Cooks Illustrated has a good recipe for apple crisp.  I’ve tweaked it a bit, adding lots of oats and almonds, less sugar, more fruit, and some spices, to incorporate what I like into a dessert.   I’ve tried many other recipes.  Time and time again I go back to this method.

Peach Blueberry Crisp

adapted from Cooks Illustrated

Filling

8 small peaches, rinsed and cut into bite size pieces, skins on, set aside

1 pint blueberries, rinsed and set aside

zest of 1 lemon (optional)

juice of 1/2 lemon (bottled lemon juice can be substituted)

1 T. fresh ginger, peeled and minced (optional)

1/4 c. (scant) sugar

Topping

1 1/4 c. old fashioned oats

1/4 c. sliced or slivered almonds (optional)

1/4 c. sugar

1/4 c. brown sugar

3 T. flour

1/4 t. each cinnamon and nutmeg

pinch salt

5 T. cold butter, diced

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In an 8 x 8 baking dish, combine the filling ingredients.  Toss to coat and spread evenly in baking dish.

2.  In a medium mixing bowl, combine topping ingredients from oats to pinch of salt.  Mix until well incorporated.  Cut in the diced, cold butter with pastry cutter or hands.  Combine until butter is incorporated throughout the topping mixture. ( I find that my hands to the best job here.)

3.  Spread topping evenly over fruit mixture.  Place baking dish on a baking sheet to avoid spillage in the oven.  Bake for 40 – 50 minutes until topping begins to turn golden brown and fruit juices are bubbling.  Check oven after 40 minutes to ensure topping does not brown too much.  Serve warm.