bringingupbuddhas

suburban adventures in bu-curious mothering

Tag: mental health

have compassion for the white guy: a woman’s thoughts on the 2016 election results

In the beginning, there was light. And not too soon after, came the white guy.

The white guy has been ruling the world ever since. The white guy always calls the shots. He’s the pack leader, the policy maker, the merchant trader, the lead teacher, the insider, the gatekeeper, the holy translator, the tax collector, the pulpit speaker, the declarative writer, the slave maker. People listen to the white guy and obey the white guy because he makes the rules… and enforces them by whatever means he deems necessary.

Times are changing, though, as times do, and the status of the white guy is changing with them. He is no longer the collective demagogue. His power recedes toward a more balanced place, as a diverse contingent of humans leans into American leadership — first inaugurating a brilliant man of color, and next a brilliant women of strength. The White Guy Only Club is quickly becoming irrelevant.

Can you imagine how scared and vulnerable the white guy must feel? If he doesn’t rule the world, what is his purpose? How does he define himself? Does he lose his place on the inside? What then? Who is he? Why is he?

He doesn’t know how it feels to be us. He doesn’t know the frustration or the fear, the dependence or the desperation, the lack or the limitation. The white guy only knows how to rule.

So what will the white guy do in response to his release from autonomy? Willingly share his white guy power by welcoming women and people of color into the fold with open arms? Abandon his role completely in frustration? Or take up arms and battle his way back to complete control?

Life happens in the transitions — those times when we humans show the best and the worst of ourselves. I pray that the upcoming transition is one of peace and fairness. I pray that the white guy thinks beyond his traditional status. I pray for love and forgiveness and perspective and radical acts of sanity (JKZ). I pray for my kids. I pray for your kids. I pray for women and men and light people and dark people. I pray that each of us who lives by faith acts in accordance with it. I pray for Americans to see one another as brothers and sisters. I pray for kindness, for surrender, for pause.

And I pray for the white guy. Because life happens in the transitions – and transitions can be really hard.

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Vanessa Gobes is a meditation teacher and workshop facilitator, focusing her work in Greater Boston. She co-founded Chrysalis Meditation Center in 2015 in Winchester, Massachusetts, where she especially enjoys introducing mindfulness techniques to women and children. Vanessa continues to write about mindfulness, motherhood, and mayhem with humor and truth for a long list of online publications.

 

sound healing seriously works

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This is Brian working on my earth angel BFF.

Every Tuesday evening after I teach my meditation class, I stick around the studio for an hour to receive sound healing from Brian Russo. I’ve been doing this for a few months now. Every week. And let me tell you.

This shit works.

Get ready for a little TMI. Last month was very stressful for me and I ended up with a hemorrhoid. Incredibly attractive, I know. I did not tell Brian before the healing because that would have been embarrassing. (And blogging about it isn’t??) During the healing, he came over to me and put a big bowl on my belly and did something that sounded a lot like an elegant, beautiful, birdsong exorcism. During this enchanting ritual, I felt that sore on my tush move to the left side of my butt and work its way straight out through my hip. I went home to check it out and it was GONE. Yes. GONE.

Okay, so that’s a one-off, right? A mere coincidence.

The very next Tuesday, I dehydrated myself by accident. Hot days, lazy with water, we’ve all been there. To add to it, I wore a high ponytail all day and my head was POUNDING. Nausea, fatigue, the works. I drank and drank and popped Advil (something I rarely do) and went to work to try to meditate my headache away with no luck. Brian came in with his bowls. I told him my head was screaming at me and he put the bowl on my head and sang his beautiful song and gonged away. Guess what? Headache GONE. Gone again.

A two-off. That’s all. This couldn’t be really working. It’s just sound, right?

I went away for a couple of weeks. Spent some time getting trained in Chakra Psychology at Kripalu, stayed a week in Maine with family. By the time I came back to town, I had a white deposit on my left tonsil that looked a whole lot like tonsillitis. Now, this is really disgusting and I am sharing way too much about my body, but I feel like I need to explain this completely so you understand the strange and wonderful power of sound.

So.

The reason I knew it wasn’t tonsillitis is that I have had an open pore on that left tonsil for years and it frequently gets filled up with grossness and turns white. This has been happening for a very, very long time. So I went to work on Tuesday night with this white thing on my throat. It hurt. I told Brian and he said, “Okay, we’ll work on that.”

He did work on it. A mini birdsong exorcism – like the last time but quieter and shorter. While this was happening, a woodpecker came to me and pecked that white nugget right out of my tonsil and swallowed it. This actually happened in my mind but it felt super real. And weird.

The next day, that white nugget on my tonsil turned into a glob. WTF?? It was supposed to go away! My biz partner Denise suggested that the sound healing may have been drawing everything up to the surface so that it could heal permanently. I liked that theory so I decided not to panic. That night, Wednesday night, the white thing was GONE. Gone again. Gone AGAIN. No soar throat. Nothing. Third time in three weeks.

So you may be wondering about the woodpecker. When I was in Maine on vacation, a gorgeous bluish-grey woodpecker flew into the glass windows at our rental. It made such a loud noise. We all went out to look as the stunned woodpecker writhed on the ground. I fired up my hands and gave it Reiki, praying for it to keep breathing: “I invoke the divine light of the creative source within. I am a clear and perfect channel. I am light. I am love. Please live. Live. Live. Fly. Live. Breathe.” I chanted those words over and over to this beautiful creature and finally watched as it passed away. I smoothed its wings and admired its perfect, soft feathers, then carried it to the woods where I laid it on a bed of leaves. It was very emotional for me. I couldn’t shake that bird. Kept thinking about his beautiful shape and feathers and softness. I think that night in my office with Brian and his bowls, the woodpecker’s spirit came to me to thank me for loving it while it was dying. Maybe it was attracted to Brian’s beautiful birdsong.

And maybe I’ll see you tonight at 7:30.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

Vanessa Gobes is a mom, writer, and meditation teacher. She co-founded Chrysalis Meditation Center located at 28 Church Street in Winchester, Massachusetts. 

Meet your best friend and worst enemy.

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Say hello to cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone secreted by your adrenal glands, two triangular-shaped organs that live just above your kidneys. At the risk of oversimplification, cortisol is the reason you are here today. If not for this quick-acting hormone, your primitive ancestors would have been gobbled up by bears and tigers thousands of years ago.

Cortisol, also known as “the stress hormone,” shuts down nonessential bodily functions and provides the body with everything it needs to fight, flee or freeze. Cortisol overrides your immune and reproductive systems (you’re not worried about healing a cut or making babies when you’re about to be someone’s lunch) and temporarily disables bone and muscle growth. It increases gastric acid production in the belly and stimulates sebum oil production in the skin. (Maybe if you taste really disgusting you’ll turn off that predator.) Cortisol raises blood sugar and insulin levels for a big burst of energy. It sends lactic acid to your muscles so you can pump those arms and legs, and it forces the oxygen you inhale into your lungs so you can run top speed. All of this and more happens in milliseconds, without any conscious effort from you. Pretty amazing, right?

 

Cortisol is designed to hang out in your body for short stints. If you walked around jacked up on cortisol all day long you’d look and feel absolutely INSANE. Can you imagine feeling stressed all the time? Feeling like you’re always running away from something or chasing something or hiding from something?

 

Hmmmm… Come to think of it, this is exactly how your life may look some days. Traffic, money, terrorists, deadlines, relationships, work, sordid pasts, kids, over-scheduling… all stimulate cortisol production. And those are just the obvious stress triggers. Your life may be filled with other complexities that people couldn’t even imagine! If this describes you, cortisol may overproduce in your body a dozen times a day or more. This is not good. Here are just a few reasons why:

 

1. When cortisol floods your hippocampus (the part of your brain responsible for memory and emotional responses), it kills brain cells. Fortunately, the hippocampus protects itself with something called Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor, or BDNF. Unfortunately, when cortisol secretes chronically, BDNF cannot keep up with demand and your brain cells bite it.

 

2. Cortisol thins the skin by depleting it of hyaluronic acid, a moisture retainer, stripping it of elasticity and suppleness. Additionally, it triggers inflammation resulting in damaged skin cells. The stress hormone also produces more sebum in your skin. Sebum is an oily substance that mixes with your dead skin cells and clogs up hair follicles. Clogged follicles leads to… you guessed it. Acne, pimples, cysts. Ugh.

 

3. Cortisol interrupts the production of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that relays messages in the brain, including messages about mood, sex drive and function, appetite, and memory among other things. Serotonin is called the “feel good” hormone, and an imbalance may severely influence your mood and drop you into depression.

 

4. One in ten people experience the discomfort of a peptic ulcer. While ulcers are believed to be caused by a bacteria, stress aggravates them. Remember that increase in gastric acid production provided by your friend coritsol? Yup. Not helping. Especially when it’s triggered multiple times daily.

 

These conditions are often self-induced or self-exacerbated. They’re created through habitual negative thought patterns, unreasonable expectations, and unhealthy lifestyle choices.

 

You may think that tolerating stress is necessary for your survival: it makes you feel needed, important, alive. And if so, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans interpret stress the same way. The fact is, stress is toxic and has become America’s number one killer.

 

Here’s the good news. It’s not too late to reverse some of the chaos you’ve created in your body and mind. Those dead cells in your hippocampus? They’ll grow back. Those pimples and cysts? They’ll go away. That ulcer? It’ll heal. Depression? You can get through it. But not if you keep doing the same harmful things you’ve been doing. In order to create beneficial change, you need to change your stressful conditions or learn how to live above them. This begins with intentional, compassionate awareness of self and surroundings.

You may have heard of this thing called mindfulness? It can reduce your active cortisol production by 30%. Meditation researcher and expert Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” He also calls it “a radical act of sanity,” and never before have we needed such a radical act. This planet is suffering, threats of terror and destruction pierce daily life, and you don’t have time or resources to fix the problems created by the entire human race. Instead of taking on the burden of healing this collective disaster, you have permission to just work on healing yourself.

The Dalai Lama says, “World peace begins with inner peace.” He’s saying, Listen, y’all. You just do you. Fix your life. Deal with your drama. Everything else will fall into place around you. So say “no” to work. Say “yes” to play. Make time for silence. Spend time in nature. Hug someone. Care for an animal. Eat real food. Listen to your breath. Truly be with your children. Smile at strangers. Forgive your mother. Do nothing and be okay with it. Connect to yourself and others with full presence and compassionate awareness, and see how your world changes.

And when and if you feel compelled to engage a formal meditation practice, your friends at Chrysalis Meditation Center are here to support you. We are intimately familiar with your friend cortisol, because cortisol is our friend, too. In fact, we are so intimate with cortisol that we can see it before it arrives, and a lot of times we can even lower the gate before it floods in. Not because we are especially talented, but because we’re watching it closely. On purpose. Right now. Without judgment.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

http://www.insidethechrysalis.com

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Vanessa Gobes has been researching, reporting, and writing for 20 years: from spotlights on war heroes for her local newspaper, to the history of women’s golf fashion for 19th Hole Magazine, to mindful parenting for Mallika Chopra’s Intent.com. No topic has enthralled her more than mental and spiritual health. In response to this passion, she cofounded Chrysalis Meditation Center, Winchester, Massachusetts in September 2015.

Welcome to Work-Life Balance!

If you’ve subscribed to my blogs over the years, you’ll know that I jump on YouTube from time to time to explore various topics through mindfulness. The content of this channel is shifting and in this video I share its new direction. Thanks for tuning in, for liking, for commenting, for sharing.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

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.

time of transitions

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Fall is a time of transition. Here in New England, we are lucky to witness evidence of this all around us. The autumn winds rise, the temperature drops, and nature knows just what to do to protect itself, to refuel, and to grow. The results are an exquisite landscape of color and beauty.

Just like the trees, we humans need to protect ourselves, to refuel, and to grow. In mid-autumn, our eyes adjust to dark mornings, our skin dries out as thermostats crank up, our noses run when we step into the crisp air. So we try to go to sleep earlier and slather on creamy lotion, we dress warmer and walk faster.

Unlike the trees, we humans have complicated lives, unhealthy habits, and unrealistic expectations that need to be managed in addition to the transitional changes. This can make it hard for us to easily incorporate new routines into the day. (You mean on top of everything else I’m doing I have to rake leaves??)

Transitions, even one as simple as a new season, can cause our best selves to become elusive. The mind becomes focused on the uncomfortable effects of change rather than the simple practice of living; it becomes focused on the busy-ness of surviving rather than the joy of accepting. We don’t notice our quiet presence whispering: You need a good night’s sleep tonight; Don’t drink that martini; Stop talking; or Pare down your schedule. Through meditation, we can listen compassionately to that quiet voice – the voice that only wants the best for us.

Engaging mindfulness, especially during times of transition, can help us maintain composure mentally and physically. The practice helps to slow us down a little, wedging awareness between impulse and action so that we have a brief moment to think clearly before engaging in habitual behavior. As a result, we begin to make decisions that protect our peaceful center, refuel our bodies, and grow into healthy relationships. Through meditation, we see more clearly. We argue differently. We feel energized. We cough and sneeze less. We say “no.” We accept more easily. We feel braver.

Try meditating twice a day, especially leading into transitions like the coming of a new season. Twenty minutes in the morning and twenty minutes in the evening is ideal. But very few of us are ideal. So 10 minute bookends to the day would be amazing. And if that’s still too much, try five minutes. Still too tall an order? Try what my friend Dina Proctor, author of Madly Chasing Peace, calls “3 X 3 Meditation” – three quite minutes, three times a day. This simple practice is a truly perfect preparation for a life in flux, and a way to see the unchanging color and beauty of the internal landscape.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

Talking to dead people, snuggling with Jesus, and other strange, spiritual happenings that just sort of make sense

It’s a hot night in August and I’m heading into Boston to visit my very cool friend, AT. To add to AT’s coolness, she is a talented spiritual medium who does “table tippings.” Have you heard of this? You sit at a table with a medium. The medium calls upon your spiritual A-team, and the next thing you know, the table comes to life. Spirit guides, angels, and ascended masters fill the table with their energy and the table starts bouncing around, hugging you, spelling out words… it sounds crazy until you experience it.

So back to summer in the city, I’m in AT’s apartment with another one of our spirity girlfriends, JC, and we are sitting around this regular old side table, our hands placed lightly on the surface, and our fingertips begin to buzz. The table is vibrating. And then it’s full on moving. It spells out a name by rocking back and forth. One rock is “A,” two rocks is “B,” and so on. It’s wicky-woo equivalent of a flip phone. Next thing we know we’re welcoming some dead dude named Peter into the room. He is there for JC and they have a lovely chat. AT’s grandfather comes through next and he is hilarious and adorable. I mean, he’s in a table, but he’s still adorable. Funny and caring and charming.

Soon after, my mother’s mother makes her entrance. Pauline. I’ve never met her – she died before I was born – but I have always felt a deep connection with her. She is excited and begins spelling things out quickly. She wants me to know that “NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW” is the time for me to open a business. (I opened a meditation center with my neighbor in September – YAY!!!) Pauline wants me to know that everything’s going to work and that the business will be a great success. She’s hugging me. I mean, the table is lying on my lap, but somehow it feels like a warm embrace. She gives me some more business advice and then she is gone.

Spirits take turns entering the regular old side table, talking to AT and JC, one at a time. (Very polite, these spirits, I must say.) My Gram, my father’s mother, appears on my next turn and she has big hugs for me. (I start bawling.) Gram died in November of 2005. I was pregnant with my daughter SG. Gram tells me that she held SG in her arms the whole time I was pregnant. (Did I mention I’m bawling?) They have a special connection and Gram will always watch over her. (Bawling.)

It turns out, Gram is really into eastern medicine – which is a total surprise as her earth family is traditional Irish Catholic. She schools me on my chronic back pain. “It’s stuck energy,” she says through the regular old side table, and I should seek out alternative healing like acupuncture. (Not scoliosis? No. Not my crappy diet? No. Not my messy house? No. Not my poor exercise ethic? No. No. No. Go to acupuncture!!!) We talk about other things and when we feel fulfilled, she makes space for the next spirit.

Or should I say the next Archangel? So, I never knew this guy Archangel Michael, but holy kapow. Michael is amazing. He guides and directs “Light Workers,” people whose purpose in life is to raise the earth’s vibration. He also protects all policemen and will help and protect anyone who calls on him. A “Yo, Michael!” is all it takes.

So Michael gives crazy juju to all three of us, as we are all considered Light Workers. The table is bouncing around and tilting to the side, “shining light” on us, and the room is getting hot. Really hot. We’re actually sweating. We’re sitting right in front of a blasting air conditioner but the temperature keeps rising. Michael has messages for each of us. For me, he has some intuitive gifts and he wants me to get to know him better. So I promise I will.

And then I ask, “Michael, is Jesus there with you?”

The table becomes still and the room is flooded with heat. More heat. Jesus announces his presence in the room through the regular old side table and the room is on fire. I’m asking questions and AT is like, “Vanessa, he’s not here to answer your questions. Just take what he’s giving.” So we get quiet but we’re all freaking out a little because his energy is HUGE. AT is giving a running commentary on the crazy shit happening in her body. My solar plexus feels like it’s burning up. It’s a fireball. Then the whole table flips upside down on top of our girl JC and it’s got her pinned to her chair. Jesus is dousing her with love and she’s, like, totally overpowered by it. OVERPOWERED BY A REGULAR OLD LITTLE SIDE TABLE.

The table eventually dismounts JC and starts bouncing around the room. I shit you not. I know this sounds so weird. But it’s bouncing and we’re trying to keep up with it and finally we’re all drained and AT closes the session. My solar plexus is still burning.

I drive home and wake up my husband at midnight, “Hon, wake up! Feel my solar plexus. Do you feel that? It’s burning, right? Jesus did that to me!” He mumbles something that sounds like, “I have no idea what you’re talking about, but sure, I guess it feels hot,” and rolls over. The next morning I make everyone in my house feel my solar plexus BECAUSE IT’S STILL HOT! And my back feels like new (at least for a couple of days).

So it doesn’t end there. AT comes to the new meditation center. (It’s called Chrysalis Center in Winchester, Massachusetts. Super cute. You should come visit.) She clears the office and the meditation room with sage and crystals, and we decide to try out her new spirit board – like a Ouija Board but fancy. She pulls it out of the box, sets the board on the rug and the box in a bag and leans the bag against the wall nearby. We are chit-chatting about crystals and new age nonsense and suddenly the box jumps inside the bag. AT and I stare wide-eyed at the box, “OMG that’s weird. The box just jumped. We need to start.”

All of our grandparents come through the board and, as it turns out, they knew each other in life and have been orchestrating our reunion from the great beyond. Lovely. Pauline couldn’t be more excited about Chrysalis. She says she has anchored herself to the center and she is living her dream out through me. It’s amazing how connected I feel to her. How supported. Family bonds are truly unbreakable and undying. She promises that she is always right behind me, at my back.

Gram comes through again, too, talking about crystals and energy and ways to bring good vibes into the center. She is incredibly wise. We talk about some other things and then everyone is gone.

That week, following Gram’s sage advice, I have an amazing acupuncture appointment. I invite my spiritual team into the room to help me heal. Jesus is the first to answer my call. My eyes are closed and I’m lying on my back on the table and I feel Jesus scoop me up in his arms. My body is on the table. But my essence comes right out. He holds me like a baby. My arms wrap around his neck and my head rests on his heart. His love is huge and true. I find that instead of fully surrendering to the love in the moment, I’m anticipating its end with sadness. He laughs, “I’m not going anywhere. I’m here for you.” And I relax into his embrace. After some time, he moves to release me and I squeeze my arms around his neck like my kids do to me when I try to put them down. He laughs and holds me a little longer. I hear him say, “Keep chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo,” which makes me smile. Nam Myoho Renge Kyo is a Japanese Buddhist chant that means “I surrender to mystical law,” and I chant it regularly. I love it. And I love that Jesus wants me to chant like a Buddhist for no other reason but it works for me. When he (He) puts me down on the table, Archangel Raphael, who has a talent for physical healing, enters the room in the form of an emerald green mist. The mist takes the shape of my body and settles into me while I lie on the table. It’s a beautiful experience, and again my back feels great for the next few days.

A week later, AT and I sit together again, this time for another table tipping with my business partner DC. As usual, the spirits take turns coming around to communicate. Each being who comes through the table has a unique energy. They communicate at different speeds, move in different ways, offer different things. Pauline loves my partner and hugs her. She wants us to visualize our desires wrapped in gold. She urges us to visualize several times a week so we can manifest wonderful things for the center. Gram comes through full of energy. She loved to dance when she was here on earth so I ask her if she could dance for us. And gosh darnit she does! The table is hip-hopping around the floor and I laugh. She is so adorable. I know it’s a regular old side table, but her energy brings it to life and makes us all giggle.

When Gram is done dancing and hugging us all, she says that we should look to Mother Mary for guidance. Mary is happy we are doing this work at Chrysalis Center. She is here for us as we teach children how to meditate and find peace. “Can we talk to Mary or Jesus?” I ask. “Not today,” AT says and I feel disappointed. “You get who you need,” she assures.

So a few minutes go by. Archangel Michael lights up the room with his amazing energy, confirming that DC is also a Light Worker. He blesses her and us. And then a new energy enters. He gives us the first letter of his name – G – and I yelp, “Gabriel??” He keeps spelling. G-A-U-T-A-M-A.

I burst into ugly tears. I knew Jesus could see me. While I was moved to tears by his appearance at AT’s apartment weeks prior, I wasn’t surprised because I had felt his presence in my life for many years. But Gautama Buddha? I never imagined that he was with me, too.

That he would acknowledge the work we are doing is more than I have words for. His energy bounces the regular old side table around like it’s a rubber ball. He says “thank you” to us for our work. (He thanks us? Humbling.) He tells us to keep going and buy more mala beads. People will want to buy mala beads.

So that week, we buy more mala beads (Gautama, you totally nailed it. Great call.) and I also buy a few books about Archangel Michael. I fall in love. He’s a hot blonde hunk with golden wings, a huge protective shield, and an enormous sword that cuts away negativity. What’s not to love? I start asking Michael to protect me several times a day and believe it or not, an electrical fire catches in the dry mulch bed in front of my house. I dial 9-1-1 just before it lights up my house. The divine part is that I’d been working at the office every day that week and I decided to work from home this day. Coincidence? No way.

But like I said, he does more than protect. He cuts away attachments. For example, you just had lunch with your mother-in-law and she spent the entire time making you feel inadequate because you work instead of staying home with the kids. Your jaw is clenched, your heart is beating fast, you are ready to blow. Instead, though, you offer to pay the bill, kiss her goodbye, get in your car, and say, “Michael, cut any cords connecting us.” He will do so immediately and you will feel better immediately. I swear it works. Try it.

The other emotional cords that he can cut are the ones that manifest pain in the body. Say you have a big presentation and you need to be in front of an audience in 5 minutes. As the seconds tick down, you realize you’ve got to poop. Your face flushes and you try to decide if you can make it to the bathroom before the spotlight goes on. As your tummy cramps up, you take a deep breath and ask, “Michael, cut this anxiety away. It’s not serving me. I don’t need it.” I’m telling you, you will feel the relief.

What Michael is cutting away is the delusion of dis-ease. We humans are very good at forming attachments – to fear, to anger, to resentment, to pride. But none of these feelings are real. They’re creations of the ego mind. A Course in Miracles calls them “miscreations.” But delusional miscreation or not, emotional pain can manifest in the physical body if it’s not kept in check. And it sure feels real to us.

This weekend, I become convinced that that regular old side table had been giving me a sneak preview of the ways Michael and Buddha would work together in my real life. I attend a Metta retreat – 8 1/2 hours with 50 Bostonians at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center. We practice Metta all day. The specifics of this Buddhist practice vary from person to person, but the idea of Metta is first offering safety, love, peace, and joy to oneself, then offering it to others. It can be done this way:

May I be happy.

May I be safe.

May I be loved.

May I be joyful.

May you be happy.

May you be safe.

May you be loved.

May you be joyful.

The teacher begins directing us: “May I be safe and protected.” As she says these words, I almost immediately feel Archangel Michael’s wings wrap around my shoulders. It is lovely. I am so focused on Michael that the rest of the sitting blows past in a haze.

The teacher invites the bell and encourages those of us on our first Metta retreat to join her in the library. When she asks me directly about my experience, I choke my way through explaining what happened with the angel wings. She leans her head to the side and squints her eyes a little, “Well, you’re on a different path so I can’t really help you with that.” My face flushes and I recover by asking her how to better embody the “May I be safe and protected” part of the prayer. She says that it is not about safety from external stimuli but protection from the chaos of the inner landscape. She digs deep into this idea before we return to our cushions for round two.

I close my eyes gently and examine this idea of needing protection from my own thoughts. The way stress makes me sick and depression makes me lethargic and anger gives me a headache. I think about my chronic back pain. I think, This pain exists for no diagnosable reason. It’s got to be emotional residue piling up. May I be safe and protected. May I be safe and protected. May I be safe and protected. I feel Michael with me. When the sitting ends, I open my eyes and look to the teacher. She sits in front of a wooden altar carved with images of the Buddha. The first one I lay eyes on is of the Buddha holding a sword (below). Just like Archangel Michael.

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After the retreat, I ask the teacher about this carving and she tells me Buddha uses the sword to cut away attachments. “I knew it! Just like Michael!” I announce. “It’s all the same! How beautiful!” There is no one-or-the-other. Heaven doesn’t conform to our limited vision. Our guides and masters and angels are working together with common purpose. Collaborating. Cheering us on. Guiding us toward ideas and people and practices that meet us where we are. We awaken to spirit in countless ways because the Universe, knowing how diverse we humans are, has purposely made countless ways available to us. A Buddhist monk named Shunryu Suzuki once wrote, “Everything is the path.” Ain’t that the truth.

I scoop up my new pieces of awakening and bounce out of the Insight Center, excited to see how Jesus and Michael and Buddha and dead grannies and new-agey-wicky-woo all fit together perfectly in this amazing, crazy, weird, synchronistic, spiritual world we live in.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

p.s. Apologies for typos. This is long and I’m out of practice! Thank you for reading despite the imperfections!

mindfulness: don’t buy it, try it. if it doesn’t work, try something else.

Have you noticed the hard sell on mindfulness lately? “Step right up here! Step right up! Start meditating today and watch your troubles will melt away! Sit here, sir, sit on this cushion – have you ever felt so peaceful and healthy? Get your mindfulness today!”

Okay, okay, the traveling medicine man reference is a little dramatic, but you get what I mean. Mindfulness is being called the future of healthcare and I don’t disagree. I teach meditation and mindfulness because it has helped me personally and I have seen how it helps others. But buyers beware – Mindfulness is not a miracle cure and should not be “sold” as one.

A recent study out of the University of Exeter says that prescription drugs and mindfulness are about equally effective in longterm recovery from depressive episodes. The relapse rate over 2 years was 44% for mindfulness practitioners (weaning themselves off meds) and 47% for those taking antidepressants with no mindfulness support.

Between the lines of this report there is a thread of realism that I appreciate because it is often missing in articles and lectures touting the power of mindfulness: Mindfulness works for many, not all; and the practice does not guarantee a lifetime of sunshine and rainbows. Practicing mindfulness does not protect us from from the loneliness, from the fear, from the crazies, from the pain. After all, no one is exempt from the human experience. We all hurt. We all suffer.

The biggest hurdle to suffering is that we typically wrestle our problems on the surface of our lives – complaining about our jobs, arguing with family, hiding behind clutter, drinking too much, wishing for a different life, feeling tangled in the frustrating experiences we’ve woven for ourselves, which we mistakenly believe to be the reasons for our suffering. But these situations are superficial manifestations of something happening much deeper, generated from a shock of pain in the root ball of our lives. That pain pulses all the way up to our point of contact with the world, to the Now, and here the pain is triggered easily by people and circumstances surrounding us.

There are a lot of ways to expose that root source – clinical therapy, medication, prayer, time, experience, revelation… the list goes on and on. And of course mindfulness is included on that list.

If you’re like me and mindfulness is the healing practice you buy into, bringing our fullness of presence into thoughts, speech, and actions provides us with useful insight into the sources of our struggles and allows us opportunity to soften pain at its root.

Once healing begins below ground, it permeates the surface and those difficult, superficial experiences take on a new look. They aren’t so all-encompassing. They’re not so unmanageable. They’re not so friggin’ annoying.

This takes practice. Life can present us with a crisis at any time and establishing a solid mindfulness practice today can prepare us to manage chaos *when* it comes.

Crisis can be a tiny trip-up or a whopper shocker – from locking keys in the car to losing a job. Typically it creeps up on us when we’re not expecting it. And when we are entrenched in its immediate magnitude, peace of mind feels suddenly inaccessible because we default to survival mode. Panic, knee-jerk reactions, and the like.

Mindfulness helps us recover to composure so we can think clearly and make good decisions.

A major crisis – like we might experience during a depressive episode – is not an ideal time to begin a mindfulness practice for the first time. We could engage little bits of mindful awareness, for example, trying to maintain focus only on what we are doing at the present moment. But the mind has been hijacked by fear so emotional composure is most likely unavailable. Our thoughts are bouncing around wildly so that the stillness required for productive healing is absent. We feel so lonely and stuck that the last thing we want to do is examine the roots of our pain. Heck, we barely want to get out of bed.

There will eventually come a break in the pain, be that through antidepressants or psychotherapy, a natural lifting of the burden or a Moses-style burning bush. That break is the right time to engage in wholesome, compassionate self-awareness. It’s time to begin practicing mindfulness.

Begin practicing WHAT? What really IS mindfulness? You might ask. People talk about mindfulness all the time but how do you actually DO it??

Personally, I define mindfulness as spiritually-based mental health. Western medicine has watered down the Buddhist practice of mindfulness to make it acceptable in our secular society; but political correctness aside, mindfulness is a heart-opening practice, a spiritual practice, a practice that provides us the vigilance required to remember we are more than skin and bones – “we are spiritual beings having a human experience” (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin).

It’s also an incredibly practical practice. We start by watching our thoughts and trying not to judge them, remembering to breathe. Slowing down. Saying no to relationships and projects that don’t align with our goals. Saying yes to people and places that make us feel good. Meditating. Having honest conversations. Serving people who need help. Asking forgiveness of the people we’ve hurt. Forgiving people for hurting us. Forgiving ourselves for the million things we’ve screwed up. Doing what we can to make our lives easier. On purpose.

As we fill our lives with experiences that are happy and wholesome, forgiving and accepting, we find that there is less time for their opposites – negative and destructive, regretful and blaming.

Next, or maybe simultaneously, we remind ourselves to just notice. We form good habits like taking a deep breath before we speak. Like eating at least one healthy meal a day. Like making eye contact with with people on the sidewalk.

These little things draw us into presence and toward gratefulness but sometimes we forget to do these things so we can also surround ourselves with gentle reminders. Here are some fun, practical examples. Start with one:

Let the color yellow engage your practice.

When you see yellow, take a breath.

Draw a heart on the back of your hand with a Sharpie. Smile when you notice it.

Wear your watch on the wrong wrist. Feel it and make a good decision.

Put an neon collar on your dog. Remember to feel loved.

Paint your kitchen light switch turquoise. Flick it and turn on your inner light.

Once you get used to responding to this one thing, start adding more things. Within a few months, you’ll be breathing and smiling and loving at multiple triggers – or maybe you’ll be noticing that you’re not breathing or smiling or loving. And if that’s the case, you may find yourself ready to understand why you’re not, at which point you can try meditating on the roots of love and pain in your life.

It’s a beautiful and effective practice for many, but mindfulness is not a magic pill, it’s an open door – inviting us to be okay with the process of healing no matter what that looks like, to examine the wounded place at its source, to find a little sanity in this crazy world.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

http://www.vanessagobes.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