bringingupbuddhas

suburban adventures in bu-curious mothering

Tag: thich nhat hanh

i’m tired of hating trump. let’s try loving him instead.

#MettaBomb #MettaBombTrump #PrayForPence

In the months leading up to Super Tuesday – or for many, Not-so-super Tuesday – I began dedicating part of my Metta meditation practice to Donald J. Trump. If you’ve never heard of Metta, it’s a Buddhist prayer during which you fill yourself with love, then offer that same love to a benefactor, a stranger, a challenger, and finally to all sentient beings.

I bet you can guess who my challenging person was. To be honest, it wasn’t easy to wish Trump love, peace, and protection during the presidential race. His energy felt overwhelming and frantic to me. Insurmountable. So while I practiced Metta, I’d use my imagination to shrink him down into a newborn baby. As a baby, I could more easily relate to him. I’d observe his orange face soften, his puckered mouth relax, and I’d hold his vulnerable infant body in my arms, cooing to him, “May you be happy. May you know love. May you be protected. May you be peaceful and at ease.”

Since Super Tuesday, I have not taken very good care of my Metta baby. Not only have I neglected him, but I have actively wished him suffering, torment, and failure. I have wished him unwell because his core values do not align with mine and because I fear his potential.

This fear has made me a slave to unplanned interruptions. Instead of focusing on my personal priorities, I am occupied by incessant introductions of new concerns regarding a man who is already taking up way too much space in my head. In this real-time barrage of American panic, I am losing myself to fear.

But Metta isn’t about fear, it’s about love. And I have faith in love. Big time. So I sit in meditation today, and I drop the bomb on Trump – the Metta Bomb.

#MettaBomb is a Twitter hashtag created by one of my favorite meditation teachers, Sharon Salzberg. It’s a random act of digital gratitude rooted in lovingkindness – and the only kind of bomb that raises our consciousness.

When we feel authentic love – not superficial ego boosts that placate, but *fulfilling love* – we do no harm. We find space for higher thinking, for forgiveness, for compassion. Donald Trump is human, just like you and me, and he will respond to an outpouring of authentic love if we are brave enough to offer it to him.

Let’s walk our talk, friends. Let’s be the change. Let’s continue to stand for equality, to organize and empower, to speak for the voiceless. Let’s elevate our speech and minds by dropping the #MettaBomb on Trump. Let’s lead with love.

And while we’re at it, let’s #PrayForPence. He’s likely having a tough week after being called out by the cast of Hamilton. Personally, when I feel confronted or rejected, it’s really hard to do good work, and I bet Mike Pence is the same. So let’s pray he recovers quickly, so that he can heal and soften and let some love and light in. Let’s pray that his experience on Broadway helps him understand that he is no longer representing the majority of constituents in his state, but the majority in his country, and the majority is asking for peace and protection.

How can we ask it, if we’re not willing to give it? I’m ready to give it. Are you?

#MettaBomb #MettaBombTrump #PrayForPence

it’s okay to argue in front of kids

My husband and I got into an argument yesterday in front of the kids. It started spontaneously with a little snippiness over a pair of smelly sneakers (of all things) then quickly escalated into something more complicated. We sat down and hashed it out while the kids circled, then after five minutes or so we moved on with our day.

People fight. That’s life. A family brawl is a great opportunity to model mindful communication and to teach by example. Our young audience reminds us to keep the argument clean – taking turns listening to each other, acknowledging our partner’s frustration, expressing compassion for our partner’s pain. (Thich Nhat Hanh writes about this extensively and I recommend any of his books to learn more about mindful communication!)

It’s okay to fight in front of kids, so long as we make up in front of them, too. When our kids see us argue mindfully, they learn how to argue mindfully. And when they see us apologize and forgive, they learn how to apologize and forgive.

So back to yesterday. After we fought, my oldest wrapped her arms around my waist and buried her head in my chest, “Are you and Daddy going to get a divorce?” I actually thought this question was funny because our verbal scuffle was pretty tame in comparison to some others we’ve had, but I reminded her that it’s okay to disagree, it’s okay to be mad, it’s okay to argue… it’s okay to be wrong, it’s okay to forgive, and it’s okay to move on.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

http://www.vanessagobes.com

buddha stripped bare

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Relationships are incredibly challenging. Shards of complication stream toward us from multiple directions all day, every day. We are offended, we are wronged, we are neglected, we are stressed, we are overburdened, we are overlooked. Sometimes all we have to do is witness the toxicity, and just by watching, we take on its burden.

Other times, we create interpersonal drama where none need exist. We project our unassociated dis-ease onto neutral events and conversations, and we become tangled in a sticky web of thoughts. We obsess. We replay conversations that happened in the past, and imagine future conversations that might never happen at all. We assume what our counterpart is thinking and intending. We lose sleep and snap at loved ones. We talk about our drama with friends. We become distracted at work. And while our minds are very busy miscreating, we are not allowing space for that which is truly our natural state: JOY.

Joy is not found while beating another person over the head with their wrongness. In fact, sometimes the harder we fight to prove another’s wrongness, the more we realize we are the wrong ones, and are too proud to admit it.

Joy is humility. Joy is forgiveness. Joy is acceptance. Joy is surrender. Everything else is a life lesson.

Communicating with a joyful heart elevates all interactions. When we communicate with a fresh and open mind, we see the good in everyone and everything.

This makes good sense. Joy is a pretty simple concept. But when we’ve been trained over the course of our lifetimes that joy equals achievement, joy equals money, joy equals success, joy equals pride, suddenly joy seems a little more complicated.

Our challenge is to remember that joy isn’t complicated – ego is. When we clear our thoughts and allow space for higher thinking, we see clearly and love without reservation.

Joy is always accessible to us, but for most it takes some deprogramming – some Self work. I call this “Buddha stripped bare.” We’ve got to strip off the layers of pain we’ve been hiding behind all our lives, to dig deep and be vulnerable enough to admit that we project our pain onto everyone and everything. We have to open up to the fact that we are the ones who bring the toxicity to the table. We are not offended, wronged, neglected, stressed, overburdened, or overlooked by others. We invite those complicated, toxic situations into our lives because we are frantically searching for our joy in all the wrong places.

Thich Nhat Hanh says, “To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.”

Our joy is staring at us in the mirror. When we recognize it, we elevate.

Peace,
Vanessa

http://www.vanessagobes.com

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.

huyenquangquangduc

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

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.

Beat Stress – and Boredom – through Mindfulness

step-by-step: how to teach your young kids to meditate

This is a script that I loosely followed while teaching the children in my town’s public elementary school to meditate.  I thought it might be helpful for other parents who’d like to do it with their own children, with scouting troops, with church youth groups, with summer campers, with classrooms.  My best advice in doing this is to be animated.  Don’t be afraid to ad-lib or get silly.  The kids will respond beautifully.

For children grades 2-5

Hi, my name is ________________.   I’m here to teach you a way to be happy.  Not haha happy.  Not that-was-a-funny-movie happy.  Or I-love-ice-cream happy.  Not even I-just-got-a-new-puppy happy.  I mean heart happy.  We’re going to use a tool to help us learn how to do that.  Can anyone imagine what our special happiness tool could be?

 

The thing I’m thinking of is very close by.  It’s free, it’s super easy to find and it does not require assembly or a special carrying case.  It’s as close as your breath….  In fact, it IS your breath.

 

Just by breathing we can help ourselves find happiness.  And we can use special breathing tricks to help us.  But to be good at anything, what do we need to do?  Practice!  Right.  Just like soccer or piano or drawing.  If you want to be good at something, you need to practice.

 

But before we start practicing our breath work, I want you to help me with a check list.  You don’t need to raise your hand, just check a little box in your head if you’ve ever experienced the following things:

 

  • Had a big fight with someone at home
  • Forgot to turn in your homework
  • Couldn’t sleep because you kept thinking about something
  • Felt embarrassed in front of your friends
  • Worried about something happening in the world
  • Got the sillies and found yourself in trouble
  • Was scared on a carnival ride
  • Felt out of control with excitement before a big day
  • Knew the answer but felt shy to raise your hand in class
  • Got left out of a party or outing with friends

 

I’ve felt all of those things.  And I bet you have, too.  And if you haven’t yet, you will.  No one is exempt from this.  We all feel bad sometimes.  We all mess things up.  We all feel insecure.   You, me, the most popular kid in school, the bully down the hall, the star on the basketball court.  Everyone.  And it’s okay to feel these things.  These feelings are important parts of being a person.  The bad stuff lets us know when something’s wrong so we can work to ease those feelings when they’re no longer useful.   Once we acknowledge the bad stuff and send it packing, we can create more open space for the good stuff that reminds us how wonderful it feels to be alive.  Each and every one of us deserves to know happiness and success, acceptance and love.  And we can achieve these beneficial feelings when we activate our superpowers.  We are all born with super strength.  No one is exempt from that either.  We’ll talk more on how to use your superpowers later but I don’t want you to forget you have them, so let’s pull on our super suits, tie on our super capes and adjust our flashy masks.  Check to make sure our tool belts are on tight.

 

Okay, good.  So when we can find a comfortable balance amongst all these feelings, we can feel peaceful.  Composed.

 

What does composure mean?  Let me try to help you understand.  Listen to this.

 

(Play a bit of Mozart.)

 

Can you hear how everything is in harmony?  All of the pieces of the orchestra are very different.  Some are deep, some are light, some sound a little sad, some sound cheerful or even silly.  But when they work together they create something balanced, productive and beautiful – something composed.  In order to maintain this composure, the musicians need to practice.  They need to dedicate time.  They need to focus.

 

We are like that.  In our lives, we juggle lots of different feelings.  They’re all important.  But when we can make all those diverse feelings work together and still feel balanced, we can maintain composure.  When we can engage that composure throughout the day, our frequency begins to rise.

 

Frequency is a big word.  It’s like the radio station our lives are tuned into.  You can tune into frustration and negativity or you can tune into love and empowerment.  Which one would you like to tune into?

 

Yes, me, too.  So think of frequency like energy – and get those super suits ready.  When it’s on the rise, we’re getting happier and happier.  We can use our super powers to feel good and think clearly.  And when our frequency rises, the people around us can feel it and believe it or not, our awesomely fast frequency helps others.  Just by being fast.  Superhero fast.

 

Understanding that we are all very much the same may help in relieving some of the confusion we feel when we’re angry or sad or anxious.    And we can team up that understanding with meditation to cool our own jets and ease the stressful feelings we’re carrying around.

 

Who has heard the word meditation before?

 

Meditation is a quiet time to connect with our breath, to be still, to remember that right here, right now, we are alive and safe and okay.  When we meditate, we remember to treat our bodies well, to use kind words with others and think before we speak, to think clear, useful thoughts.  When our thoughts are good, our lives will be good.

 

For some people, this comes naturally.  But most of us need to practice to achieve that state of peace and harmony, which we can find by taking a moment to TUNE IN.

 

Times to use meditation:

  • While taking exams and quizzes (you know the answers but your jitters keep you from remembering clearly)
  • Leading up to big celebrations, holidays, vacations or events (when you’re so excited that you’re having a hard time sitting still or thinking clearly)
  • Before games, recitals, performances (visualization helps you prepare by creating a vision for your future)
  • During arguments with friends or family members (taking time to breathe will calm you down so you can use your most compassionate voice)
  • In uncomfortable social situations (mindfulness will bring you back to your personal truth and keep you out of trouble when trouble is tempting)
  • To ease depression or sadness (bringing your thoughts to center will connect you to “what is” instead of “what was” or “what might be”)

 

There are many ways to meditate.   But we always begin by breathing.  So let’s sit straight in our seats, feet on the floor, spine long, chin tucked in, head reaching to the ceiling.  Place your hands in your lap, palms up and close your eyes completely.  Now think of yourself as breathing “on purpose”.  Start with a deep inhale, filling your lungs as much as you can and releasing the breath, completely emptying your lungs.  Try it two more times with me.  Now breathe in and out through your nose naturally and notice the way your body feels from the inside.  The chair supporting your weight, your hands relaxed on your legs, the air touching your skin, your soft belly rising and falling with every breath.  If your thoughts get lost and you forget that you’re breathing, just gently bring yourself back to this place.  Let’s breathe for one more minute and when the time is up, I’ll invite the bell as a signal to end this meditation.

 

(Wait one minute.  Invite bell.)

 

A great tool to help us is this bell.  You can think of the bell as a peaceful voice, inviting you to take a breath.  You can accept this invitation each time you hear any bell.  Keep your ears open for school bells, church bells, door bells – and use their sound as an opportunity to stop what you’re doing and breathe.  Tell the people around you what you’re doing and invite them to stop and breathe, too.  Use it as a reminder to think about your breath and about being connected to the earth and about being a perfectly imperfect human being.  Listen to the way the bell resonates and stay still and quiet until you can no longer hear its sound.

 

The Pebble Meditation is visual type of meditation that we can use to relax.  I learned it from a book called Planting Seeds, written by a Buddhist monk named Thich Nhat Hanh.  He worked with Martin Luther King Jr. to bring peace to America and to his own country Vietnam during a tough time in our countries’ histories.  And he’s continued to help us find peace since.  He especially loves to help children like you.  So here we go.  Each of you can close your eyes.  Imagine that there’s a black movie screen behind your forehead and you are a film director.  You choose all of the pictures in the movie.  Let me guide you the first time.

 

Imagine a flower.  Any color.  See its petals, its center, its softness, its beauty.

Imagine a mountain.  The weather around it is stormy, but deep inside the center of the mountian, it’s solid and still and quiet.

Imagine a clear, still, placid lake.  See the way the water reflects the sky above and the trees around like a mirror.

Imagine the sky.  See the clouds and the sun.  See a bird wheeling through the air, turning and twisting, happy and free.

 

Now, I’m going to share Thich Nhat Hanh’s Pebble Meditation.  As I share this meditation, I want you to imagine yourself as really being the things I say.

 

Pebble Meditation:

Breathing in, I see myself as a flower.

Breathing out, I feel fresh.

 

Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain.

Breathing out, I feel solid.

 

Breathing in, I see myself as still water.

Breathing out, I reflect things as they are.

 

Breathing in, I see myself as space.

Breathing out, I feel free.

 

Flower, in, Fresh, out (3X)

Mountain, in, Solid, out (3X)

Still water, in, Reflecting, out (3X)

Space, in, Free, out (3X)

 

(Invite bell.)

 

How do you feel?  Do you have any questions?  There are lots of ways to meditate and you can learn more about a mindfulness practice at the library or online.

 

In order to enjoy the benefits of meditation, we need to practice.  Try to find a few minutes every day to sit and be quiet.  Maybe for a minute or two after your alarm clock rings.  Maybe when you get home from school.  Maybe in bed at night when your mind is racing or before you start your homework.  As you work on your practice, you will find that you’ll notice your breathing all day long.  And that’s when you’ll know you’re getting really good at it.

 

Grades K-1 (Have kids sit on a line in a circle.)

 

Hi I’m ________________.  I’m here to teach you a way to get happy.  Not haha happy.  I  mean heart happy.  But to be really good at something, what do we have to do?  Practice!  We’re going to practice something called meditation today.  Does anyone know what this is?

(While you say the following sentence, use your fists to demonstrate the way these feelings look – ball up your hands and squeeze then hold them to your mouth as if you’re terrified, punch the air like you’re fighting, pump them in the air as if you’re excited, squeeze the seat bottom and bounce like you can’t sit still, pretend to hug something as if you can’t squeeze it tight enough.  Give yourself over to the acting – the kids won’t judge and it’ll help them understand.)

Have you ever felt squeezey?  We ball up our fists so tight like this.  We feel Scared.  Angry.  Excited.  Overwhelmed by love.  (This puppy is so cuuuuutte!)  Fidgety.  Meditation helps us to control our minds so that when these challenging feelings pop up, we can let them go and make our hearts happy and peaceful.  We can relax our bodies and our squeezey hands.  It starts with breathing deeply.  When I ring this bell, I’d like everyone to take three beautiful breaths.  Then we’ll stand up and start moving our bodies mindfully.  Stand in a circle and be sure not to touch anyone else’s body.

 

Invite the bell.  Walking meditation…

 

Imagine walking through very deep snow, leaving deep footprints.

Imagine walking on thin ice, careful not to break it.

Walk like a business person.

like a big hairy beast.

like a robot.

like a burglar.

like a soldier.

like you are wearing a big crown.

like you are sad.

like you are happy.

like you are scared.

on a tight rope.

like a cat.

on hot coals.

like a toddler baby.

elephant.

shy

confident.

skipping across stones.

really fast.

 

Now walk really slow.  Notice how the heel of your foot touches the floor.  Lift and move your other foot slowly.  Can you feel how your body keeps its balance?  Let your body relax in each step and put all of your weight on the floor.  Breathe deeply.  Now breathe in whenever you lift your foot and breathe out whenever you place it down.  Walk this way for one minute.

 

When I invite the bell, I want you to stop walking and sit down where you are.  Then close your eyes.  Walking is a fun way to calm down, but we can also calm down by breathing deeply.  And no one even has to know we’re doing it.  Let’s try that now.  We’re going to do some square breathing.  As you breathe in count to 4.  When you reach the top of the breath hold it there and count to 4.  Then release the breath to the count of 4.  Then wait at the bottom of the breath for the count of 4.  I’ll snap my fingers 4 times while we breathe and help you keep track.

 

(Do 3 square breaths together.)

 

Now take 3 deep breaths.  Feel the way your body connects to the floor underneath you.  Relax your jaw, your hands, your belly.  If your thoughts get lost and you forget that you’re breathing, just gently bring yourself back to this place. Reach your head high to the ceiling and draw your shoulders back.  Let your body feel heavy and loose.  We’re going to do one more meditation.  It’s called The Pebble Meditation.

 

(Use same meditation written above.)

 

Invite the bell.  Anytime you hear a bell ring, I want you to stop what you’re doing and take three breaths.  Church bells, school bells, door bells, cow bells…  any bells.

 

Try to do this at home.  Teach your family and friends.

Have a peaceful day.

 

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

 

children respond beautifully to meditation

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A column that I wrote for The Winchester Star on April 11, 2013 (revised with a few edits):

An amazing opportunity was awarded me thanks to the annual Health Fair at my children’s elementary school, organized and staffed by town’s Moms and teachers.  The Health Fair showcased interactive healthy-living demonstrations designed for our kiddos – from dental care to martial arts.  My contribution took place in a quiet corner of the second floor library, where I taught 500 children how to meditate.

Every 10 minutes for 3 hours, a new contingent of tiny people filed into the room.  As this was my first foray into meditation instruction, my expectations were low – for myself and for the kids.  I assumed I’d experience:  A)Eye rolling  B)Teeth sucking  C)Boyish antics  or D)Utter Despondence.   Much to my relief, I encountered E)None of the above.

In fact, I found that the majority of children could already accurately define meditation, and a few even shared eagerly that they practice at home, tossing out yogi words like “shavasana” and “om”.

I also found that our children were engaged.  They were alert and seemed invested in the conversation.  They were actively listening, downright ready, willing and able to participate in the act of non-doing.

I referred to the famous Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who worked with Martin Luther King towards non-violence and peace in the 60’s and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, for a secular meditation suited perfectly for children:  “The Pebble Meditation”.  The students (with very few exceptions) closed their eyes and took a ride on their own breath, in and out, filling their bodies with Earth’s goodness and affirming their own goodness with every exhale.

The (amazing) school nurse, said to me, “That’s 500 souls you’ve touched today.”  I admit, it was hard to hold back the tears.  And I’ve felt quite humbled over the past few weeks as moms and friends have approached me to say they appreciated the lesson.  Many have shared their children’s requests to continue the practice at home and have asked how they can do that.

I think the best answer is to begin a practice yourself.  Our kids don’t do as we say, they do as we do.  So when we are living wholesomely and practicing meditation in the home, they will model the same behavior.

There are some gurus and experts that will say you need to do very particular things in order to meditate – hold your hands just so, seat your body this way or that.  I always think, “If I had no hands, if I had no legs, if I couldn’t sit up, wouldn’t I be able to meditate?”  So I think that the best way to start is by just feeling comfortable wherever you are, without judgment, inhibition or over-instruction.  Give yourself a chance to succeed and find peace in your own comfort zone.  Once you feel confident in your ability to practice non-doing you can work on posture, form, mantras and breathing techniques.  But to begin, just shut your eyes and breath.

Meditation is not only for Buddhists.  Science has proven that meditation unites the left and right hemispheres of our brains, stimulating our ability to maintain composure, find peace, perform better at work and school and feel a general sense of well-being.  As Dr. Deborah Rozman says in her book Meditating with Children, “The child is helped to develop the attitude that apparent barriers or obstacles to progress are only challenges for greater growth and opportunity, so that she can cease identifying with any limiting condition and can begin thinking in terms of expanded possibilities for herself, for the grip, and later for the world in which she lives.”

Our children seem to understand the benefits of and the need for meditation this innately.  At the health fair, our babies took to non-doing easily – almost automatically.  They closed their eyes and allowed themselves to be guided into mindful breathing.  It was so beautiful.  And I’m so grateful and humbled to have been part of their collective experience.

If you’d like to learn more about meditation, please visit Thich Naht Hanh’s website or check out books like 10 Mindful Minutes by Goldie Hawn or The Soul of Education by Rachael Kessler.  If you’d like to see a mindfulness practice incorporated into your child’s school curriculum, please reach out to your child’s educator or school PTO.  Reach out to me via email or Facebook and I’m happy to share more.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

 

p.s.  I am deeply grateful for your likes, shares and tweets.  I’d like to grow my audience and could really use your help.  Thank you!  Peace!

more meditation in action

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Original version of my last column published in The Winchester Star (skip down if you’ve already read it):

Sometimes I am overwhelmingly repulsed by the amount of crap I own.  I walk around my oversized home and stare at all of the things I’ve accumulated over the years and pray that it would all just disappear.  The the electronics, the appliances, the photo albums, the decorations – they are like anchors.  The weight attached to all this stuff comes in the form of anxiety, stress, worry: more to care for, more to pay for, more to clean up, more to distract me, more to dust, more to lose, more to get lost in.

Buddhists call this attachment, our need to be connected to someone or something, the cause for all human suffering.  While the theory of attachment digs far deeper than the knick-knacks on my bureau, these little manmade treasures are a great place to start practicing non-attachment and create a simpler, less stressful life.

In his book Peace is Every Breath, Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that mindful consumerism is an important part of modern life.  By focusing our minds strictly on our shopping lists and taking a moment to consider the real value of a desirable item on a store shelf, we are empowering ourselves to make better choices for humanity and for the planet.  Our purchases come from somewhere.  Our purchase will end up somewhere, too.  While purchases may be fun for awhile, in the end, the desirable items will find a home in a heap of garbage.  Along with billions of other once-desirable items.

My New Year’s resolution was to stop buying stuff I don’t need, “giving up non-essential spending” my dear friend KF calls it.  Bad news for stores like Nordstrom, Target and Home Goods.  Heaven knows how often and easily I have strolled into those stores and loaded up bags and shopping carts with non-essentials – because they were shiny, because they were stylish, because they were on sale, because they scratched my itch to consume.

Consumerism is an addiction.  This works out well for manufacturers, I guess.  But what is good after all?  What is bad?  A thriving economy?  Sure, that’s good.  But what’s the cost?  More greenhouse emissions, more waste, more distraction, more stuff?  What’s the real price?  Sure, we’re happy now, playing with our trinkets and showing off our great taste.  But what about our kids?  Our grandkids?  Honestly, I’m not sure my great-grandchildren will inherit a clean planet.  Because at the rate I’m going, in a 50 years my junked picture frames and discarded tennis balls are going to be piled up so high that they just might block the sun.

So I’m drawing the line.  Here and now.  Walking my talk.  This is not easy.  Temptation is everywhere.  We are programmed to spend spend spend.  Social pressures, sale coupons, technology updates, red carpet fashions – all keep us in buying mode.  It’s incredibly difficult to turn off the voices in our heads, the ones encouraging us to stand in line and swipe that card.  But it’s possible to turn down the volume, with inspiration, commitment and mindfulness.

Originally, I told myself that I’d cut out the riff-raff purchases completely.  No more for me EVER!  Then I thought, well, maybe just this year.  And then I got realistic.  I need to start with changing my lifelong spending habit just this month, taking it one day at a time.  After this month, I’ll focus on the next month, and then get through that month one day at a time.

It’s interesting.  Going into this resolute commitment to stop spending, I thought it would be sort of easy.  I mean, really, I’m not THAT spend-crazy.  I thought it’d make me feel good, powerful, wholesome.  I thought that I’d walk past that store window on Newbury Street and forget the fabulous Stella McCartney dress on display.  I’d get home and feel relief that I survived the day without making a purchase.  But that’s not the case.  Instead I’ve been coming home and feeling frustrated.  I want that dress.  I’d love to have that dress.  I’m still thinking about that dress.  I’d really like to see that dress hanging in my closet.  I’d really like to wear that dress out to dinner with my husband.

It sounds so petty, doesn’t it?  So spoiled and selfish.  So human.  But aren’t we all this way?  Another person’s struggle may not be consuming – it may be thinking judgmental thoughts or overeating, a technology addiction or being a workaholic.  None of these bad habits is contained within us – they reach far and wide.  Our issues affect those close to us, then those whom they encounter and those people affect other people.  It’s a wave of connection that makes your problem my problem and my problem your problem, even if we’ve never met each other.  So it’s important for each of us to get healthy and practice wholesome, mindful behavior, even though the caveman in us tells us otherwise.

Detaching ourselves from our humanness is hard work.  That’s why we’re not all monks and priests and mystics.   But that common bond of human suffering reminds us that we’re all in this together.  And when we see that one person is willing to give up pleasures and temptations in hopes of bettering the planet, we become inspired to do it ourselves.  Many thanks to those who planted this seed of mindful consumerism in me.

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I have a bookshelf tucked behind my bedroom door.  Most nights, I scan the shelf, choose a paperback that speaks to me and climb into bed.  I might only get through a couple of chapters before sleep overtakes me or before I need to put the book down and reflect on the writing, but I always read the message I need to hear.  Time after time, the words in my hand reflect the thoughts in my head.  And while I am no longer surprised by the tiny burst of intuition that leads me to that excerpt, I am always amazed.

Right after I wrote this column, I selected Chogyam Trungpa’s Meditation in Action for my nighttime read.  Here’s what he wrote:

So there is this possessiveness, this psychological hunger.  And this relates not only to money and wealth but to the deep-seated feeling of wanting to possess, wanting to hold onto things, wanting things definitely to belong to you.  For example, supposing you are window shopping.  One person might be unhappy all the time, and when he sees things he likes, this always produces a kind of pain in his mind because he is thinking, “If only I had the money, I could buy that!”  So all the time as he is walking through the shops this hunger produces great pain.  Whereas another person may enjoy merely looking.  So this wanting to own, wanting to possess and not being prepared to give out, is not really a weakness for any particular thing.  It is more generally wanting to occupy oneself with something, and if you have lost or lose interest in that particular thing, then you always want to substitute something else in its place.  It isn’t particularly that you can’t manage without a motor car or central heating or whatever it may be.  There is always something behind that, something fundamental, a kind of wanting to possess, wanting to own, which is always changing and developing and substituting one thing for another.  So that is the real weakness – though not exactly weakness, but more a kind of habit that one tends to form through a neurotic process of thoughts.  

I’ll share a little more from this chapter tomorrow morning because I felt the idea was so deeply profound.  I’d include it here but but this post is way too long already.  😉

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

bu-review: great reads for budding buddhists

Buddhism is a lofty subject.  Or at least it can be.  Buddhist writing can be confusing, especially for someone who is new to the practice, like me.  I prefer not to translate riddles or resort to look-ups on Wikipedia while I read, but to focus on practical lessons.  For this reason, I’ve really enjoyed learning from teachers who write for the masses.  There are some really great authors out there who have an extraordinary ability to make clear and simple sense out of ethereal concepts like inter-being, oneness, karma, the here and now, macrocosms in microcosms and equanimity.  Here are a few:

If you are bu-curious and looking to learn more about the philosophy or if you are a new-bu like me, I encourage you to read anything by Thich Nhat Hanh (“Thay”).  My friend introduced me to him just last spring and I don’t know how I lived so long without his wisdom.  He reminds us that, while Buddhist texts and scriptures can be complicated, life is actually pretty darn simple.  One of my favorite teachings of Thay’s is looking into the eyes of our loved ones and telling them, “I am here for you.”  Simple yet profound, this sentence validates our loved ones’ needs while affirming our own loving commitment.  And it doesn’t require years of Buddhist training to understand or master.  It just takes the desire to love.  Beautiful.  He’s published numerous books (too many to list).  A lot of them are pretty short but the content will surely provide readers with many tiny shifts along the way.  The first shown above, Living Buddha Living Christ, might be his most famous.  The second, Planting Seeds, is an awesome workbook for moms and dads who would like to introduce children to meditation.

Another book that I’ve really enjoyed is one my sister loaned me a couple of years ago – The Buddha in Your Mirror by Woody Hochswender, Gred Martin and Ted Morino.  It’s an open door to Zen, the Japanese brand of Mahayana born in the 13th century.  Zen was introduced by a monk named Nichiren who saw that Buddhism could have a profound effect on ordinary people and offered folks a path to awakening that was understandable, manageable and downright doable.  In this book, the authors introduce bu-curious readers to the mantra “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo”, which, if my interpretation is correct, is the giving over of oneself to the laws of karma, allowing oneself the opportunity to see clearly and compassionately into life’s troubles.  But of course the meaning runs much deeper than that, as does everything in Buddhism.

I’ve been chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo quite a bit lately.  You’re supposed to chant it out loud for at least 5 minutes at a time, and sometimes I do that, apologizing to my kids for the noise while they play nearby or inviting them to join me.  In fact, I like chanting so much that I’ve been whispering Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to myself in half-pigeon pose during sweaty yoga…  or stepping to the beat of the chant when I’m out walking the dog.  I like the idea of discovering the natural rhythm of the world, and me in it, through chanting.  Although sometimes I’ve got to admit, I can’t help but think When did I become this person???  

Another really terrific, easy-to-read book is Buddhism for Mothers by Sarah Napthali, another gift from a friend.  (Damn, I’ve got some good friends.)  I love this book for a lot of reasons.  Sarah never delves into nuts-and-bolts Buddhism.  Instead she sites practical examples of the ways she and other mommies use Buddhism to get through squeeze-y moments with their own BUBs.  She shares her shortcomings and triumphs, reminding readers that just because she’s a practicing Buddhist, doesn’t mean she’s always Zen.  But when she draws from her practice during tough times, she finds clarity, peace and patience with herself as a mother.


Okay, okay, last one.  Making a Change for Good by Zen teacher Cheri Huber is a self-help workbook.  My friend recommended this book to me because I wanted to break my lifelong habit of being a quitter.  In Making a Change for Good, Cheri teaches readers that through compassionate self-discipline, we can tap into the best part of ourselves.  And our nagging little voices that tell us we’re not good enough or that we don’t deserve success can be gently diverted away from the main stage of our minds.  The end of the book lays out 30 days of assignments from meditation to journaling that help readers beat bad habits and create lasting positive change.  I liked this book because I could DO something with it.  It was a great tool for me and I highly recommend it to anyone else who’d like to implement a little Buddhism to help make a change for good.

Well that’s a start.  My bookshelf is crammed with great reads that I’m excited to share, but we’ll start with these.  If you have a title that you’d like to offer, please post it here with a short description.  Hopefully it’s not one I’m planning to review!  😉

From mine to yours,

Vanessa