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Splash Into Calm: Digesting Experiences

The holiday season is officially here. The past two blogs have focused on the food we eat.   You would be shortchanged if I didn’t dive deeper into what I feel is paramount to living a happy, fulfilling life. It is our capacity to digest, assimilate, comprehend, and shape our experiences

Our lives, are affected by our perceptions, judgments, and behavior toward those who disturb us. The real problem arises when our attitude limits our ability to live a peaceful and centered life. It is part of the human condition, so if you are human you probably partake in some of these attitudes. Please do not berate yourself (or go into denial). Take this as an invitation to become conscious of thoughts you might not even know you have.

Every tradition offers help with this challenge. The yoga texts have some relevant philosophy and I broach this subject now because this time of year we need a little extra help. I usually introduce this concept to my students right before Thanksgiving and it is greatly appreciated.

The teaching tells us that the agitation in our mind stems from our thoughts and opinions of others. Most people we meet fall into four categories and when we cultivate certain positive attitudes toward them, our state of mind will remain calm and undisturbed.

Let’s take a close look at the four attitudes:

Attitude #1: Cultivate friendliness toward the happy

Some people we know are happy about their successes and are filled with excitement and joy. However, before we know it, even as we are congratulating them, jealousy creeps in. This disturbs our state of mind, especially if we want for ourselves what they have attained.

Shifting your attitude to open up to their joy and celebrate their happiness can fill you up, leaving you feeling calm and centered. Next time you feel uneasy around someone’s happiness, take a breath and notice what is bothering you. Then bring yourself back to the moment and make the choice to shift your thoughts to an attitude of friendliness and happiness toward their success.

Attitude #2: Cultivate compassion for the unhappy

This one seems easy when we first look at it. Of course we are compassionate toward others who are not happy. However, we have all encountered people who are whiny and annoying and at times we would like to shake them and tell them to chill out! It is easy to get frustrated and judgmental toward those individuals.

 When you find yourself feeling impatient with someone who is unhappy, even if their behavior is inappropriate, take a breath and look beyond the behavior and practice compassion even if you do not feel compassionate. Recognize that those who are unhappy and negative are not at peace; realize how difficult and painful it must be to live that way.

Your shift in attitude from annoyance to compassion will calm your mind. Open up to looking beyond others’ discontent and your judgment will slip away. Remember, you can act with compassion while taking care of your needs around a negative, unhappy person. You will know you behaved with kindness and it will ripple throughout your day.

Attitude #3: Cultivate delight in the virtuous

I am sure you have come across a person who is quite intelligent or talented, or a wonderful athlete well-respected by others, or someone who might be generous and kind. No matter what positive qualities a person might possess, there are times when envy will set in as their mere presence makes us feel “less than.” We try to find something about them to pull them down a notch. We might not even realize we do this, but subtle negative thoughts often surface.

This thinking only disturbs your state of mind. To help foster a peaceful mind, cultivate appreciation, and take pleasure in others’ virtuous qualities.  Try to find delight in people you might envy by noticing their good qualities and consider cultivating those aspects within yourself.

Attitude #4: Cultivate disregard toward the wicked

We have all come in contact with those who are rude, disrespectful, or downright mean. Why wouldn’t we become defensive and judgmental? After all, we would never behave that way!

These people disturb our state of mind and emotions. It is helpful to keep a few important concepts in mind:

  • Remember that you have had times when your behavior was inappropriate and harmful toward others.
  • Do not take the person’s behavior personally, even it is directed toward you. They did not wake up that morning and specifically pick you out to be rude to, even if it feels that way. Keeping this distance helps you ignore the behavior of others, which will make your life much more serene.
  • Keep your focus on your feelings and responses, not theirs. That is the one thing you can control.

Keep in mind that this practice if for you. You are cultivating a more peaceful, joyous way of living with the capacity to digest your life experiences with a new perspective.

This holiday season, see if you can put the person you are struggling with in one of these four categories. Were you able to cultivate any of the attitudes? Did your state of mind change? Let me know in the comments below.

Posted in: Splash into Calm

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Riding the Wave of Pain

When you breathe, there is a beginning and crest and then an ending.  It is like that with everything:  Sound, sensation, thought, emotions and fatigue.

Everything has a wave and when you can track it, it will help to diffuse the experience.  Riding the wave is a foundational concept in many arenas, and my focus will be on the concept from Duke University Yoga of Awareness Program.  Let’s use pain as an example. 

We tend to talk about our sensation in absolutes, yet it changes.  Even if the sensation is chronic, it still has movement. 

When you begin to notice the pain and track the different sensations associated with it you will take the emotional charge out of it.

To begin to cultivate noticing the wave, try this:

  • Find a place in your body where you are feeling sensation or pain
  • First imaging a wave and think about how it begins, crests and then lessens.
  • Now, without using words to judge it, simply track it and say what you are experiencing.  For example:  It might be a burning sensation that shifts into a stinging or throbbing.  It might move down your leg and pulse or feel hot or cold. 
  • Notice the sensation from the onset, to the crest and the decline.  You might have many of these, but there each has movement when you really pay attention.

This will take practice but the research out of Duke Integrative Medicine, supports that when we are mindful of the entire wave of sensation we take our reaction out of the equation.  Pain and it is exacerbated by our judgments. 

Let me know in the comments below if you were able to work with the wave of sensation.  Was it challenging to name the experiences without any judging description?  Feel free to share your experience.

Posted in: Technique of the Week

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Acceptance: Good, Bad, Right, Wrong

Acceptance is observation of life and suspension of judgment about whether what is happening is good or bad, right or wrong….  Ron Smothermon

When we observe what is happening without imposing our labels, we are freed up to stay in the moment. 

In the moment, no matter what the moment brings you can feel calm and centered if you allow your mind to relax around what is happening.

I have had the opportunity to practice this the past week.  I have a virus that has forced me to slow down and take time off from the Cancer Center where I teach.  At first I was quite frustrated and resistant to that prospect, but as time has gone on I realize that my body needs the time to heal.

I decided to step out of my judgment about my situation and embrace the experience of staying home, resting and accomplishing what I can when I feel up to it.  At times my mind what’s to chime in and label myself as lazy, but then I take a breath, get centered and am once again accepting and compassionate to myself.

Let me know in the comments below how you relate to the quote.  When do you notice yourself in judgment?  What have you done to make a shift to acceptance?

Posted in: A Calm Perspective

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Airport Stress: Practice Kindness

I was at the airport boarding my plane.  In front of me was a frustrated mom raising her voice to her  child while holding her heavy carry on in one hand and a baby in the other.

My first reaction was judgment at how she was speaking with her child.

I took a breath and asked her if she needed help and she did not hesitate to say “YES”.  Her voice was still curt but and she said a quick thanks. 

There are opportunities every day to practice kindness even when the tendency is to judge.    Remembering that we are all human, doing the best we can helps us see beyond the behaviors of others.

The most powerful  practice (and toughest to attain) is to let go of any attachment to their response and treat the person you are helping with compassion, as another human being, no different from yourself.

If I had stayed in judgment or frustration of her behavior I would have felt tense and agitated.  When I choose to be kind, my state was calm and centered.   

Let me know in the comments below what your experience has been and how you feel when you practice kindness.

Posted in: A Calm Perspective

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