Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: jon kabat-zin

Mindfulness and Concentration Balance

Each morning, before I sit in meditation for twenty minutes, I read one chapter of Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat Zinn. Remember? I said I would go back and do this after I read the book straight through, and here I am crushing it.

Ok, maybe not crushing it, but at least I am getting to it most days.

This morning was something special. I read this:

“Without calmness, the mirror of mindfulness will have an agitated and choppy surface, and will not be able to reflect things with any accuracy.” Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat Zinn

I am great at mindfulness. I am hyper-aware of everything around me; the people, their moods, the air, objects, what needs to be done, etc. It’s my superpower and it comes naturally to me. It also drives me bonkers much of the time, especially when I come face to face with the fact that not everyone shares my awareness. What do you mean, “When did we move that trash can to the other side of the room?!”

With that tidbit of knowledge about me, you would think I would have an eye for minding the details, but…nope. I’m a big picture person. I take it all in at once, all the time, which leads to some pretty overwhelming thoughts and feelings that I have only begun to understand and accept.

What’s missing? Calmness and focus, concentration. Which is what this chapter was about. Concentration leads to calmness, and calmness is addictive. We can throw ourselves into it like an escape pod and stay there forever. It’s another form of attachment, a refusal to accept and move in the world around us.

Single-minded pursuit, complete focus on one thing, is a wonderful way to get things done, but it has its drawbacks. Have you ever known someone with that superpower? I’m in awe of them, and then I’m frustrated and angry with them because they will not look at me when I’m talking to them. They don’t notice that I’m there wanting to connect.

Where is the balance? Practicing focus and concentration alongside mindfulness. Being still allows the water around you to be still or flow quietly around you, while mindfulness allows us to see what’s beneath the surface and move.

I have typically fallen asleep during my meditation practice. I’m still sitting, sometimes nodding my head, but I’m dreaming. I’m talking to someone, holding my pencil, turning a page, or planning what I’ll do later. I’m never quiet for long.

Today, I put my mind on my breath and thought, “Calm the water.” I imagined standing hip deep in a warm river (I hate cold water) and running my hands in the water. When I moved my feet, the silt at the bottom floated up and mixed with the rushing water, obscuring my view. I stood still and let the water run and waited. Soon, the silt and leaves settled, and I could see the rocks beneath my feet, the fish swimming in the deep, and the sticks that might poke me if I moved too quickly.

It worked. I want to bring this feeling with me all day long and I’ll try. Every time I start to feel overwhelmed, I’ll take a breath and think, “Calm the water,” so I can see more clearly and make kinder decisions, respond in more helpful ways.

In the past (like this past week kind of past), I’ve struggled with trying to do everything. I’ve actually cried out loud, “Everyone says slow down, do one thing at a time, but when I do, I lose something, forget something, or fail!”

Just typing that made me think, “Yeah, Michelle, that’s attachment. You need to let things go.”

No one on the planet can do EVERYTHING. I’m getting more done, but not well, and in the process of doing I’m failing at the most important thing, being present and loving to the people around me. I’ve got lots of thinking to do, but first…stillness. Calm the water, so I can see beneath.  

Can We Stop “Selfing” For A Moment?

What does “selfing” mean?  In the book he says, “there is not absolute separate “self” in the first place, just the process of continual self-construction or “selfing.”

“If we could only recognize the process of selfing as an ingrained habit and then give ourselves permission to take the day off, to stop trying so hard to be “somebody” and instead just experience being, perhaps we would be a lot happier and more relaxed.” From Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Continual self-construction. This is who am, not this. That is who am. I don’t know about you, but I have struggled with that most of my life. My awareness of it started in high school when I wasn’t part of any social group. I had a few friends in the theater, in band, in sports, and in classes. But who were my people? A remember a girl, one in the 90’s we called “goth,” telling me the reason why she liked me. I didn’t dress like them or act like them, I simply hung out with them at lunch sometimes, talking about the darker side of life. I didn’t seem to need to blend in and become them.

That was a rare moment that I felt accepted just as I was. And strange, I can’t remember her name, just her words and that feeling.

It was the same at university, at work, and then once I was married with children, it happened again. Moms have cliques. Did you know that? Stay-at-home moms, working moms, single moms, attachment parents, cry-it-out parents, vegan, organic, eat whatever you want please just leave me alone for a moment moms. The list goes on and on. They separate out into smaller and smaller playgroups, and I was a little bit of all of them.

When we decided to homeschool…oh man. The separating into those like me and not like me exploded. There I was again, not exactly like any one group. On the outside again.

Religion, politics, health, etc. I don’t seem to fit into any group completely. Does anyone?

It’s all based on this continual self-construction idea. We let words and ideas define who we are and how we should react to the world around us. We separate into camps and put up barriers between them.

What if we didn’t? What if we took a break from being “somebody” and just experienced being right in this very moment, with these very people? If we did it successfully for several days in a row, we’d probably never go back.

That’s what I’m doing today. I’m nobody. Each experience that comes across my path today, I will greet and embrace with curiosity and a smile. It does not add or subtract from my being. It only exists, as I do. It feels incredibly freeing to let go of labels and titles.

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

Slow down, you move too fast. You got to make the morning last…”

Can you hear that song? It’s one of my personal theme songs.

I’m slowly making my way through Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn and loving it. Each morning, I sit and read a couple chapters, maybe ten to fifteen minutes, and then I sit in meditation for another fifteen minutes. I really think it’s helping me move into my mediation practice more smoothly and I’m becoming more aware of what’s happening while I’m sitting.

From this morning’s read, I have two quotes to share with you.

“If you find yourself rushing or becoming impatient, slowing down the pace can help take the edge off your rushing and remind you that you are here now. If you miss the here, you are likely to miss the there.” From Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn

This was from the chapter on walking meditation, where you focus on your step, your balance, your breathing, most likely walking in an area where it doesn’t matter where you go, like a labyrinth or garden. He also says you can do an informal walking meditation anywhere, like the grocery store. Feeling rushed? Take a moment to focus on your body while you walk. The world flows right past you.

It seems like the opposite of what you should do if you’re feeling impatient, to slow down. Isn’t that what you’re impatient about? But then I remembered how many times I’ve felt rushed and panicked, when I suddenly realized I was hungry or had to go to the bathroom. I had lost touch with my own body. Slowing down, in this case unintentionally and for a split second, brought my body back into focus and showed me my needs so I could take care of them. What could happen if I slowed down on purpose?

Here’s another quote, this time from a chapter on loving-kindness, a practice I usually scoff at.

“Being whole and simultaneously part of a larger whole, we can change the world simply by changing ourselves.” From Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn

I’m picturing water molecules, heated up from below on a flame or from above by the sun. One molecule warms and starts to vibrate, warming the molecule next to it, and then the next, until all of them are bouncing around together, slamming against each other until the boiling water turns to gas and disperses into the air.

We are those molecules. If I calm myself, work on my personal mental, physical, and financial health, I have a positive effect on the people around me. They in turn have more space to work on theirs, because they aren’t defending themselves against me.

At the post office, on the road, or on social media, my hope is that I’m spreading the virus of peace and joy I’ve been infected with out into those spaces. The people I meet won’t catch anger and stress from me. Instead of heating up in the world, I hope to cool the space around me, not to a solid but a nice warm liquid that is easily moved and shaped. Maybe it will catch on and spread, maybe not. But my life will be better for trying. I’d like to see that kind of “contact tracing.”

I’m really enjoying this book. I think I’ll keep reading it at this pace and probably use it as a regular way to step into my everyday meditation practice from now on.

Valentine’s Day Thoughts

It’s Valentine’s Day so, of course I need to post something about love. Right?

A letter, a poem, what? Reflections? I’m still thinking as I type.

Valentine's Day
I found this expression on a mountain trail.

I woke up this morning feeling full of love and excitement for the day to start, not because it’s Valentine’s Day, but because I am in love with life. Cliché and silly, but exactly how I feel. There are so many people to meet, so much to feel and experience, and so little time. It’s Monday and I had a beautiful weekend. Today, my husband works in his office all morning. There’s nothing I need to do, no place to go, no one to take care of but myself.  

That doesn’t mean that I’ll sit on the couch all day. I’m far too much of a squirrel for that. I’ve already read, done my yoga and meditation practice, posted on Instagram, and read some more. I’m writing now, will probably have breakfast, then share these thoughts with you. The rest of the day will be filled with household chores, conversations and plan making with a few friends and family, and I need to get out and paint the trim on the new shed.

It’s all just as I would wish it to be, for the most part, and nothing like I thought my life would ever be. I’m happy, satisfied, not grasping at a better life, a better feeling, more of anything. It’s a high I’ve chased before and for a moment, I have it. But will I grasp it so tightly in my hands that I smother it? Once it starts to wriggle free, as it inevitably will, will I crush it trying to keep it close? I don’t think I will, not this time.

What’s different?

For the first time I can remember I know that I’m happy and I know why, and I’m aware that things will change. The seasons will change around me, the ground will shift, the sky will cloud up and get dark.

What changed?

I’m not sure. Somewhere along the way it dawned on me that we are all only here for a short time, and every single thing changes, no one escapes alive. People come in and out of our lives. Our hormones and brains change our feelings and thoughts day and day out.

And I’m starting to really love and trust myself. I’m not feeling so insecure about myself, who I am and what I like. My only regret right now is that I didn’t learn earlier that to really love others and feel the security of being loved, I had to love myself. I’ve always had a hard time accepting who I am and how I feel.

Valentine's Day
Enjoying the view from the top of the mountain.

This morning, reading a few pages of Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn, I found this:

“The weather of our own lives is not to be ignored or denied. It is to be encountered, honored, felt, known for what it is, and held in high awareness since it can kill us. In holding it this way, we come to know a deeper silence and stillness and wisdom than we may have thought possible, right with the storms. Mountains have this to teach us, and more, if we can listen.”

The weather right now is pleasant, so I’m sowing seeds and growing the crops, taking it all in and experiencing it to the fullest, not in fear of the future but in preparation for change. I love his mountain analogy. I’m being the mountain in some ways. I’m here, doing what I do, and watching the world swirl around me. It will no matter what I do. I may as well enjoy the show.

Happy Valentine’s Day! Love on your fine selves a bit. You’re awesome and you’ve come so far!

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