bringingupbuddhas

suburban adventures in bu-curious mothering

Tag: health & wellness

when your meditation practice is a disappointment

Do you ever feel like your practice is letting you down? I do. Sometimes I feel like I’m just dialing it in – a getting-it-done-to-say-I-did-it sort of thing. A chore. Sometimes I’m super bored, especially when I’m sitting for long periods of time. Sometimes my mind scatters in a gazillion directions and then returns to focus: scatter-return-scatter-return-bored-return-antsy-return-blah-blah-blah-return. Sometimes I get really hungry and can’t stop thinking about cookies. Sometimes I don’t think I can sit another nanosecond but I do. Sometimes I don’t think I can sit another nanosecond and I don’t.

Sometimes I sit in meditation and nothing happens and then I wake up in the middle of the night with what I call a “spiritual brain dump,” receiving some sort of revelation that helps me better understand the world as it is. Sometimes I see and talk to Jesus; we hold hands or hug. Once he told me to keep chanting “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.” (Jesus loves Buddhism. He’s so Badass.) Sometimes I feel like I’m floating but I’m not. And sometimes, not often, I see gorgeous colors and patterns – colors I’ve never seen in real life. And it’s wonderful.

I’ve been meditating formally for 7 or 8 years, consistently for 5 or 6, and I’ve got to say, for me, it’s 90% relaxation, boredom, and stick-to-itiveness. The 10% of wonderful that comes through makes it all worth it, as does the self-awareness that seeps into existence when not in formal sitting.

If Forrest Gump were bu-curious like me, he might say, “Meditation is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” When you meditate, try to release expectations and trust that you’ll get what you’re supposed to get. Going into meditation with a particular outcome in mind can lead to the following:

1. Disappointment. Last time you meditated you felt buzzing all over your body. It was awesome. You felt like you were finally “doing it right” (ha) and are eager to get back to that feeling of full presence again. But this time you drop in and wait for the buzz, and you just can’t get there. You’re bummed.

2. Frustration. Since you’re not achieving the particular outcomes you’d intended to achieve, you are convinced you must be “doing it wrong.” In actuality, the only thing that’s getting in the way of your practice is your expectation that it should be something else. Remember, whatever happens, that’s what’s happening. The whatever is the sweet spot. Just eat the chocolate, Forrest.

3. Limitation. While the buzzing (or blue lights or numbness or gap) may be totally captivating, by wishing and willing yourself a return visit to those places, you are limiting yourself to those experiences and perhaps closing yourself off to other experiences that could serve you in ways you never imagined.

4. More limitation. Setting expectations for your practice is giving in to the human brain’s need to constantly create metaphors that spin out of the familiar. We can only describe objects, feelings, and experiences based on objects, feelings, and experiences we already recognize. Expecting to experience something you understand may be the ultimate limitation. Opening up to a pure wonder may allow you to experience that which you cannot explain and never could’ve expected. The Kindgom of Wonder is home to mysteries and colors and sounds and wisdom infinitely deep and wide, so try to notice when you’re hoping or expecting a particular experience or outcome and loosen up your grip on it.

And after all this is said, just as a wandering mind is a crucial part of meditation (if the mind doesn’t wander, we live in the now and meditation is obsolete), so, too, is expectation. It helps us better understand the nature of our minds and our habits, leading to a fuller awareness of self. So when we notice that we are engaging in disappointment, frustration, limitation, and more limitation, we can open up to the greater mystery by cutting the cord between our practice and our expectations.

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Blog post written with love by Vanessa Gobes. Vanessa is co-founder of Chrysalis Meditation Center in Winchester, Massachusetts, a place where people can develop or deepen a spiritually-based mental health practice. Located 15 minutes north of Boston, Chrysalis supports people of all ages, genders, races, abilities, and incomes in their journey to peace. To learn more about the programs offered at Chrysalis, visit http://www.insidethechrysalis.com.

fun mindfulness event at MIT in boston

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Hello Bringing Up Buddhas readers!

Please join us in Boston on Saturday, June 13th for MASTERING MINDFULNESS AT HOME AND SCHOOL – an experiential mindfulness workshop for teachers, parents caregivers. This is an engaging, interactive, **fun** program for beginners and for those with mature practices.

Deepen your practice with four dynamic teachers: Christopher Willard, Janell Burley Hofmann, Daniel Lauter, and Vanessa Gobes covering subjects like: managing teen anxiety, mindful use of technology at home and in class, creative mindful practices for the classroom, exploring meditation through the senses, introducing mindfulness to public schools, sustainable home practices, healing the body through meditation, and more.

You will leave this workshop with:

  • teachable practices for stress reduction and compassion cultivation
  • ideas for expanding mindfulness in your hometown or school
  • a network of professionals and parents doing similar work
  • online access to guided visualizations and meditations
  • a smile on your face

June is the perfect time to fire up your practice! Parents can engage mindfulness with children during long summer weeks  and teachers can use the summer to strengthen practices for a solid September start! Book a sitter, grab a friend or colleague, and make your way to M.I.T. for a class that can change your life and work.

The Stata Center at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 

Saturday, June 13, 2015, 10:00 AM to 3:30 PM

(Lunch break 12 – 1)
$50

MEET YOUR PRESENTERS AND REGISTER HERE:

http://www.vanessagobes.com/workshops.html

tips on teaching kids to meditate

Relax your expectations when meditating with small children. If they want to meditate with their feet in the air or their eyes on the ceiling, let them. Posture will develop as they engage consistently in practice.

This short video is of me introducing meditation to my son’s kindergarten class. They are on their third round of mini-sittings taking place over five minutes. Each mini-sitting lasts between 30 seconds and two minutes. During this round, they are using their ears to count how many times they hear my bells chime. My son is assisting with the ringing – he’s excited to be an active part of the exercise.

Notice the children’s creative posture… but also notice that they are participating attentively. They’re hanging in pretty nicely if you ask me! Giving kids a little wiggle room (literally) will help them acclimate to silence on their own terms.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

http://www.vanessagobes.com

truth, time, tears

I always cry in church. And yoga class. And weddings. And sometimes when I talk to really old people or feel my daughter’s heartbeat or listen to Otis Redding or watch Steve Carell movies.

There’s something about experiencing Truth, be that in the form of teachings or introspection, music or laughter, that makes our eyes well up with tears. Not wah-wah tears, but healing tears, inspired tears, humbling tears. Grateful tears that stir from some beautiful place deep within and tell us: This is Truth and Truth is Love and only Love is real.

Sometimes we mistake Time for Truth. We think that our long relationships with Truth-based practices or teachings automatically deem us Masters. We’ve meditated for 20 years, been a parent for 40 years, have read The Bible every night for 60 years, or been married for 80 years… but Time doesn’t mean we’ve mastered these practices, or even found the lessons in them. Time doesn’t grant us wisdom. Time doesn’t empower us. Time doesn’t move us to tears. Truth does. And Truth reveals itself not in Time, but in our own readiness.

My favorite Brian Weiss quote is, “Profound understanding can be gained in five minutes or in fifty years. In the end, you will be healed, no matter how long it takes.”

When we are ready, we awaken. When we are ready, we let go. When we are ready, we align. When we are ready, we honor our Truth by living it to the best of our abilities. It’s not always easy, but it’s from the point of readiness that healing begins and Truth flows…

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

Vanessa serves the Boston area, teaching kids and caregivers how to meditate. To learn more visit: www.vanessagobes.com.

goodbye back pain

I’ve had constant lower back pain for several years. I’ve tried yoga and chiropractic and massages, but nothing really made it go away. I mean, all those things made me feel great, but the back pain still lingered.

Okay, switching gears for a minute – hold tight, this will come around.

I am typically messy and disorganized and forgetful and overcommitted. It’s a problem for me and it’s a problem for those around me. So I’ve made deliberate efforts to simplify all parts of my life and have been super disciplined and organized for about two months. I always strive to walk my talk, but these months I’ve been absolutely intentional about it. Will power and discipline are my #1 and #2 challenges in life so this effort has taken *extreme* concentration and commitment!

I’ve noticed, as I’ve become more disciplined, my back pain has dissipated, to the point that my lower back feels loose, flexible, and healthy. The pain is gone. And there’s no reason for it to be gone. But it’s gone nonetheless.

Physical pain is a manifestation of spirit’s last ditch effort to communicate with us. “There is something really wrong here! Please pay attention! I’m talking to you!!!” I’m totally convinced that God has rewarded my organizational efforts by alleviating my back pain. I can find no other explanation and I do not believe in coincidences.

So whether or not you buy into my healing hypothesis, consider this: What could your body be telling you? Do stress and challenges manifest for you physically? Have you ever equated your physical pain with emotional pain?

Here’s a fun exercise – write down something going on with your body that’s troubling you. (Headaches, allergies, back pain, tummy troubles, etc.) Now write down your biggest challenge or source of stress. (Be careful not to name another person as your source of stress – this has to be all about you!) Spend 3 weeks working deliberately and intentionally to ease that emotional challenge and see what happens to your physical pain.

Share your thoughts!

http://www.vanessagobes.com

tips for teaching mindfulness to middle schoolers

I just finished teaching a six-week meditation and mindfulness course at a local middle school. I’ve got to admit, middle schoolers are a tough crowd! But I wanted to share a little insight with parents trying to initiate a meditation practice with a 6-8th grader.

The breakdown:
Don’t sell it.
Take it slow.
Curb your expectations.
Practice more, teach less.
Know when to give it a rest.

Though we may hear people preach otherwise, meditation is not “the answer,” so it’s important that we don’t sell it that way to our budding teenagers. They’re too smart to be fooled and too skeptical to be convinced that sitting still for 20 minutes a day will make all their troubles melt away. Meditation is simply a tool to help kids slow down, diminish stress, and strengthen their connection with higher thinking.

Meditation isn’t a magic pill, it’s an open door – as imperfect and unreliable as anything else. When we teach an illusion of perfection and reliability, kids have no soft place to land when, not if, they screw up. So while we teach our kids how to meditate, let’s be sure they know that meditation is a way to soften those hairpin turns along life’s amazing journey, not straighten them out completely.

A lot of shifts can take place when a person (of any age) begins meditating. We can prepare our children by letting them know that Self-discovery can be hard work. Incredibly rewarding, but hard just the same. They should talk with parents or counselors about emotional or physical pain that arises during meditation. It’s all part of the healing process, and nothing to be afraid of or embarrassed by.

Each week of my middle school course, I’d begin by asking eagerly, “Who meditated this week?” and a hand or two (or none) would pop up in the circle. One boy practiced daily with his family. One girl practiced because she was bored while waiting for her sister to take a shower in the morning. One boy practiced because he was bored on the school bus. (Boredom is by far the most common form of inspiration amongst all my students. So if you’d like your children to be more mindful, bore them.)

While some of my middle schoolers warmed up easily to a sitting meditation practice, others were stone cold from giddy-up. Just because we, as parents and teachers, believe in this stuff, doesn’t mean the kids will jump on board, even with modern science giving its two thumbs way up. But with the right stimulation, we can encourage interest. We can try different approaches until we meet our children where they are.

Example. One day, do an eating meditation, the next a sensory game, the next a mantra-based meditation or maybe something guided, the next share space with a pre-teen without saying a word and see what happens. Reading the child’s non-verbals while teaching is instrumental in maintaining connection. And we must be prepared that some lessons will float belly-up. Just counteract it with a sure-fire winner the next time, be it a sitting meditation or mindful activity.

Several of my students did not like the feeling of stillness. The first few times we meditated, I kept my eyes cast down to the floor and observed at least four pairs of legs pumping non-stop for the duration of the sittings. When the closing bell chimed, children reported feeling peaceful, anxious, antsy, happy, sleepy, or calm. Some reported physical discomfort. These are all totally normal responses to meditation. When we meditate, we slow down enough so that we can become acutely aware of what’s *really* happening in our bodies.

So for those students who jittered incessantly, we just took note of that, and I explained to them that our bodies aren’t used to being consciously still and rarely get our minds’ full attention. So when we meditate, our bodies enthusiastically jump on the opportunity to be heard, and it can make us feel uncomfortable. “She’s listening! Now’s our chance! Look at me! Pay attention to this! Houston, we have a problem!”

So while sitting, we might notice back pain that we’ve been ignoring, a tightness in the belly, or clogged sinuses. We might notice a buzzing in our ears, a dull headache, or just that we’re really tired. And most likely it will get worse before it gets better. But in the big picture, it can only get better, because once we hear our bodies communicate, we can work on relieving the discomfort by making choices that make our bodies happy.

But let’s get real. Meditation is not for everyone. One of my students was really bothered by the experience of meditating. She did not enjoy it at all. She bravely shared that she couldn’t stand sitting still and felt incredibly anxious every time we meditated and just wanted it to end. But she still came to the class every week, making me believe that even though she wasn’t keen for this particular practice at this particular time, there was something about the idea of self-soothing that appealed to her. The important thing is that she knows peace is a choice. The experience is hers now, and she can do with it what she wishes, be it now, in five years, or never. It’s all okay.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

***Visit http://www.vanessagobes.com to learn more about my services.***

hearts on fire

I’m on day #8 of the flu.  The nice thing about day #8 is that my head is finally clear enough to read, so I spent last night pouring over magazines and books.  Just before bedtime, I read The Secret of the 5 Powers, a comic book featuring Thich Nhat Hanh.  The comic touches on the actions of two monks, Thich Quang Duc and Nhat Chi Mai, who practiced self immolation (burning oneself to death), during the Vietnam War.

Don’t ask me why I’m reading this stuff after coughing my lungs up for a week, but I learned something totally fascinating and couldn’t wait to share on BUBs this morning.  You may or may not know this already, but for whatever reason, I’d never learned what happened in the aftermath of the burning expressions in 1963.  This is not folklore.  This is true.

On June 20, after six hours of cremation, all of Thay Quang Duc’s body had become ash, except his heart, which was still dark reddish-brown and intact.  After a second cremation, at 40,000 degrees Celsius, his heart remained exactly the same shape, although an even darker color.

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Miraculous.

Please feel free to share reactions in the comments below or link your own blog post to this page.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

are you a spiritual hypochondriac?

Please tell me I’m not alone in this!  Click on the link to watch this quick video and please strike up a conversation in the comments below!

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

Managing the Cold Mindfully

The mountain is so cold my son's head is covered in a layer of frost, but he's fearlessly reveling in the weather regardless.

The mountain is so cold my son’s head is covered in a layer of frost, but he’s fearlessly reveling in the weather regardless.  He doesn’t even have a scarf on!  Brrrrr!!!!!!

Close that door, it’s freezing out! has been the most often heard command in my house this week.  It has edged out, No candy canes before dinner!, Don’t throw ice at your sister!, and even the recurrent Put-on-your-snow-boots-we’re-gonna-be-late!!!!!

Welcome to winter in New England – five plus months of chattering teeth and cracked lips, drippy noses and numb fingertips.  The cold here is called biting for a good reason.  The wind has teeth and its nips can hurt.

This morning I took a quick drive downtown to run errands, nestled in my car’s cozy seat warmers.  I parallel parked and pushed the door open, gasping as a frigid shock of air flooded my car.  Heaving myself carefully onto the slippery pavement, I skated to the curb, searching for salty spots to plant my feet.

Making my way to the bank, I skidded over the brick sidewalk, involuntarily tightening my lower back muscles with a shiver and tremble, reflexively recoiling from the cold, adjusting my balance to stay upright while defending a blast of wind.  I hustled into the bank and scuffed the salt off my boots, relishing a few minutes of warm reprieve before heading back into the bluster.

As I walked out the door and immediately went stiff, I realized I was engaging in an internal battle against the cold – clenching my body so much my back felt achy.  The discomfort triggered my mindfulness practice.  I don’t need this discomfort.  It’s only here to tell me something.  And I’m listening carefully to what it’s saying. 

I took a deep breath, inhaling frigid air into my warm lungs, releasing it as steam through my mouth.  Warm steam.  I could produce warmth.  I relaxed my tense muscles and took a few steps, continuing to walk that way until I noticed my head and neck shrinking back between my shrugging shoulders and my lower back aching once again.  Then once again I mindfully melted the contraction and returned to the posture of a cold hardy New Englander.  Thich Nhat Hanh would’ve been so proud of me.

This time I wanted to hold onto the posture, so I envisioned warm blood flowing freely through my body, heating up my skin and keeping my muscles loose.  Cold isn’t bad.  It’s just another way of being.  Be comfortable, I thought over and over.  I considered my young children who dive into the snow hatless and spend hours digging out forts from the plowed white heaps along the driveway.  Why is it they don’t seem to battle the freezing cold like adults do?  Maybe it’s because joy trumps discomfort.  They’re not surviving the storm; they’re reveling in it.

I walked with this thought for a block or so, doing my best to fill up on joy, when another blast of wind surged, stopping me in my tracks.  My head lowered, my watery eyes squeezed shut, my hands plunged deeper into my coat pockets.  Be one with cold, be joyful in the cold, I urged myself, this time out loud.  I looked up and caught the eye of another soul braving the single digit temps.  “Brace yourself,” he warned.  “The Almanac calls for a harsh winter.”  I smiled and tried to feel thankful for all of the opportunities I’ll have to practice mindful freezing this year.

I climbed back into my car, the radio tuned to Christmas music.  “I really can’t stay…  Baby, it’s cold outside.”  You can say that again.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

This article was originally published by Vanessa Gobes on Intent.com and has subsequently appeared in Vanessa’s column “Mine to Yours” in The Winchester Star.

how to tame your PMS and take back your life

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I have a love/hate relationship with my period.  I love it because my uterus is downright miraculous and menstruation is its required maintenance.  I hate it because tampons give me a headache and PMS gives me a bad attitude.  

Have you ever read The Red Tent?  It’s the story of Jacob and his multitude of wives; the red tent is the annex where Biblical village women would go when they were OTR, though back then it would be more appropriate to say OTH (On The Hay).  Our female ancestors menstruated simultaneously and would leave their men and boys in the competent hands of young girls who hadn’t yet started monthly bleeding and old women who’d survived the transition out of the cycle.  So basically, once a month, young women enjoyed a whole week spinning stories and teaching each other feminine skills in a cozy tent without men demanding seconds of mutton stew or begging for blow jobs.  Honestly, I think it sounds kind of awesome.  I’m seriously considering erecting a red tent in my backyard.

The only reason I hesitate to bunk with a bunch of menstruating modern chicks is that most of us are crazy.  We women are generally so out of touch with natural body rhythms that when the crazies set in we can’t see that it’s all just hormonal hocus-pocus.  We pick fights with friends, feel offended by co-workers, convince ourselves that our children are purposely not flushing their poops to spite us.  We weep and we lash out and we oversleep, all the while believing whole-heartedly that this is who we are.  But here’s the newsflash:  We are not psychos.  We have PMS.  And we are so totally disconnected that we accept PMS as our normal state of being.

Several years ago I read Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of NOW.  (Most likely anyone hanging out on this website has read it, so I won’t recap.)  Back in 2011 I responded to his study on the pain body with a rant on one of my blogs:

During his description of how to manage the pain body, Tolle strolls a bit through the forbidden forest:  PMS.  He actually calls it “menses,” causing me to choke on my pink lemonade.  Menses?  Who says that?  

Whenever a man talks about PMS or periods, I reactively roll my eyes, and Tolle is no exception.  But to my surprise, he is onto something profound.  During a woman’s menstrual cycle, he says, there is “an opportunity for the most powerful spiritual practice, and a rapid transmutation of all past pain becomes possible.”  He invites us hormonal bitches to observe the painful and emotional waves of PMS rather than be pulled down and drown by them.  A fast track to enlightenment via the feminine aisle?  Well, shit.  I gotta try this.

My first problem appears to be that when I’m behaving like a raving lunatic I don’t connect it to hormones.  For two weeks of every month, Aunt Flo moves in with her crappy attitude, her heavy suitcases, and her complaints about my cooking;  she tosses and turns in my bed, she tries to tell me how to manage my relationships, she pigs out on my chocolate cookies.  Half my adult life, I’ve shared a home with this cranky old rag…   

Screeeeeeeeccchhhh!  Hold up!  There it is.  The shift in perception.  I’ll reiterate because this is big:  Half of my adult life (2 weeks each month) operates under Aunt Flo’s grueling regime.  I’m not the freak.  She is!  Awakening to this fact was the first step in keeping Flo contained in her guest suite so I could move around my home in peace.

So this is it, ladies.  The big how-to in reclaiming your body, your emotions, your awareness:  Observe your behavior in the 7-10 days before your period begins.  Each time you are short with your boyfriend or hypercritical of your mother-in-law, each time you feel insecure about a relationship or explosively frustrated with your kids, take a breath and observe.  Watch as if you’re hovering over yourself like a sweet Midol angel.  Don’t judge the behavior.  Just notice who’s doing the talking in your head.  Is the voice loving?   If the voice is not loving, it’s not you.  It’s that curmudgeon Aunt Flo, otherwise known as your pain body.

These observations may quiet your pain body immediately.  But it’s possible that longer term observation will be required.  It depends how attached you are to your pain.  We get used to having the pain around, we accept the pain as normal, the pain becomes our story, we convince ourselves that life is pain.  But this simply isn’t so.

Meditation is the absolute best catalyst in detaching from habitual beliefs.  And there are some pretty fantastic side effects.  When I meditate, I better maintain composure, especially when I’m PMSing (yes, I use PMS as an action verb).  I still get pissed and crazy and squeezy, but not for very long.  The feelings become more like a motorcycle gang joyriding past my house on a quiet Sunday.  The ground rumbles, my heart pumps faster,  the engine noise fills every square inch of space around me; but within a few minutes, the last biker is out of sight, the engines are barely audible, and my heartbeat resumes its rhythmic thump-bump.

Another side effect is physical healing.  A consistent meditation practice will do this:  diminish cramps, diarrhea, cramps, headaches, cramps, cramps, and cramps.  When we meditate we are simply more aware.  We are more thoughtful about the food we eat, the cocktails we drink, and the lifestyle choices we make.  When we meditate we create opportunities for our bodies to heal.  When we are peaceful in our minds, we are peaceful in our bodies.  All of our inner bits are connected, after all.

Meditation isn’t complicated.  There’s really nothing to it.  Just sit down, close your eyes, and breathe.  Try to feel your heart beating.  Try to sense the flow of blood under your skin.  When your mind starts to wander and chit-chat with Aunt Flo, watch it without judgment, then ask it nicely to be quiet so you can focus on your breath and your heartbeat.  Sit for 90 seconds if that’s all you can do.  The next time you sit it’ll be easier.  You might make it to two minutes.  The next time three and so forth.

Go ahead and experiment.  Try it and see if it works.  You are your own best teacher.  The proof will be in your period.

Please share this with the PMSy women in your life.  (Did you know PMS is an adjective, too?)

From mine to yours,

Vanessa