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Category Archives: Mindfulness Instruction

What Mindfulness Isn’t

I watched a video this morning of author and meditation teacher Susan Piver speaking as part of the Mindful Relationship Summit, happening for free online right now for a limited time. Her talk was entitled: A Celebration of Love, Mindfulness, and Passion. If you’re interested in signing up, go to: http://www.mindfulrelationshipsummit.com/?ref=ba4b546cf7

I really appreciated the way she spoke about what mindfulness is, and isn’t:

Mindfulness is not a synonym to calm. Mindfulness means being with what is. And sometimes what is is calm, and sometimes what is is terrifying. Mindfulness is not about converting everything into an equal tone, it’s about going in fearlessly into what you do experience, with your eyes, mind, and heart open – without knowing what you’re going to find.

This morning, I wrote this on my writer’s facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/InMindfulMotion/)

Today’s unexpected gratitude (and it’s only 8:30am!):

Around 1:00am this morning, our smoke/carbon monoxide detector began to chirp its low battery alert. At first, it sounded only sporadically, allowing us, eventually, to ignore it and fall back asleep. (You see, this particular alarm is both hard-wired into our electrical system and operates on a 9-volt battery, so the only thing to silence it would be to change its battery, of which we did not have replacement for.)

I woke up to my alarm at 5:00am only to discover that the low battery chirping had amped itself up to sounding once PER MINUTE. Yeah. Not great.

After taking a shower, through which I could still hear the incessant chirping (that’s how loud it was), I called Rosauer’s Grocery Store, to find out what their hours were, and was over- joyed to discover that they open every day at 5:00am. With wet hair and pajamas I immediately fled the house and headed there.

I was the sole customer in the store and wondered if the cashier who checked me out was at all curious why I was there at 5:20am buying only a 9-volt battery (a pack of two, actually, so that we now have a backup).

Thank you Rosauer’s, for opening your doors at the crack of dawn and for carrying 9-volt batteries!

P.S. I know it makes total sense but FYI: 5:30am is a super chill time to go grocery shopping.

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Will Meditation Change My Life?

Spurred by the feature article in the current May 2017 edition of Lion’s Roar magazine, entitled How to Meditate Like the Buddha, which highlights eleven leading Buddhist teachers answers to common questions, I thought I would try my hand at answering one of the questions that were posed. Here goes:

Q: Will Meditating Change My Life?

A: (in my own words)

Yes. And no. (Classic Zen response, right?)

In the sense that meditation has the capacity to open new mental pathways, expand our perspective, and deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us, yes, meditation has the very real potential to change our lives in a variety of beneficial ways. To be clear, though, it will only change our lives to the degree in which we actively, diligently, and appropriately practice it.

However, meditation will not change anything in the Being Human department. We will continue to interface with everything related to our human manifestation, regardless of how much cushion time we log: aging, illness, death, sorrow, loss, anger, standing in line FOREVER at the grocery store, tax season, paying bills, challenging co-workers, world politics, and so on.

While the physical happenings around us won’t change, what CAN change is our relationship to them – our inner experience and attitude, the way in which we interact mentally and emotionally with those physical happenings. Developing a meditation practice allows us to create spaciousness, stillness, and quietude in the otherwise extremely full, cluttered, and chaotic atmosphere of our mind’s landscape. And from this creation of space, we have the opportunity to respond with more ease, understanding, and compassion in our everyday lives – which changes everything.

 

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Back to the Basics: Why Mindfulness Matters

mindfulness-practices-page-001Handout I created to accompany my talk

Preparation for a teaching talk I gave last night at my local sangha, Be Here Now, entitled: Back to the Basics, Why Mindfulness Matters:

To listen to the audio file of the actual talk I gave last night: http://www.openway.org/content/back-basics-why-mindfulness-matters-nicole-dunn

Rather than waiting until the end of this talk to offer my solidifying words of summary, of which I hope will be of service and value, I’d like to start off with them instead: Mindfulness matters because life matters. We have only this one life span of 20 or 30 or 50 or 70 or 90 years. If we do not cultivate mindfulness, it is easy for our lives to pass by very quickly – for our lives to be full of suffering, anger, sorrow, and envy. It is easy for us to take our lives for granted, to be unfulfilled and unsatisfied. Without mindfulness, it is easy to spend our whole lives caught in the past and/or consumed by the future. Mindfulness is the friend that shows us that another way of living is possible.

To help illustrate this, I’d like to share my first experience with mindfulness in an applied context – my first practical encounter that wasn’t based in intellectual knowledge or theory. (In order to shorthand it, the version of this story, which I’m including here, is taken from the book I’ve written and am working on getting published.)

My first real-life experience of what the heck mindfulness was came in early 2002. I was 22-years old and my husband, Mike, and I had started attending a meditation group in the tradition of Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh. At the time, we were living on the East Coast in the suburbs of Philadelphia, where I was born and raised. We were trying to save money in order to move back to Missoula, Montana, where Mike grew up and he and I met and married. I was working for a preschool and after school program and Mike was working at U-Haul. Between us, we shared one vehicle: our trusty, old Ford Econoline van, affectionately named Humphrey. (We lived in Humphrey for a year after we got married and he took us faithfully on the long and lovely road up to Alaska and back). Mike would drop me off at work; I would walk to the library down the road when I was finished; and Mike would pick me up there when he was done with his shift. On one particular day, I went to the library to wait for Mike after work, as usual. I was really looking forward to meditation that night. Although we had only been attending the weekly group for a short time, I quickly took to it and found it refreshing and grounding in ways I could not, at the time, fully understand.

After ten minutes of standing outside the library and waiting for Mike, I began to wonder what time it was, so I went back into the library to check. (It’s important to mention that my idea of arriving on time to anything means getting there about ten minutes early). Once I saw the clock, I began to get a little irritated. I didn’t want to be late to meditation. I went back outside and anxiously scanned the road for any sign of Humphrey. After ten more minutes, I went to check the time again and then proceeded to get very impatient; elevating from irritated to frustrated. I stomped back outside and paced back and forth along the sidewalk, thinking to myself: Where the hell is he? We’re going to be late! Another ten minutes went by and back in I went, to check the time, as if that would somehow help matters. After my third venture inside, my irritation, which had turned to frustration, grew to anger. I was pissed off! I stormed back outside muttered profanities to myself as I paced rapidly and kept a militant eye on the road. We were going to be late to meditation for sure!!!

In the midst of my internal fuming and cursing, I sat down on a bench. In exasperation, I exhaled heavily and slumped against the wooden slats, my head tilted back, face pointing upwards to the sky. In a seemingly cliché moment, I received a message, as though it were etched in the clouds overhead. The words thundered down: Just enjoy me. Those words resonated inside of me, loud and gentle and clear. The present moment had sent me a message. In that instant, I became aware of how embittered I had become while waiting; how tense my body and mind were. I was aware of how futile all of my pacing and checking of the time and angry mutterings really were – and, though it seems painfully clear to me now, I realized just then, that my ranting and raving wasn’t going to make him arrive any sooner. During my 20-minute escalation, I had no idea how stressed out and irrational I had become. With the words, just enjoy me, the light of mindfulness shone through my thick fog of anger.

I got up from the bench and suddenly realized what a beautiful spring day it was. The sky was magnificently blue and the afternoon sun was warm and welcoming. I did some slow walking meditation and admired the budding trees and green grass. I shifted my gaze, from anxiously watching the road, to my immediate surroundings and I practiced getting in touch with my breathing. When I calmed down, I was then able to look more deeply into why my husband might be late. I mean, it was unlikely that he chose not to pick me up on time. I saw clearly that he was probably helping a customer and was unable to leave on time. I stopped waiting for my husband to arrive and instead practiced enjoying the day. That made all the difference. The time I had spent waiting felt like an agonizing eternity (not to mention exhausting), even though it was only about 20-30 minutes, while the same amount of time I spent enjoying was refreshing, energizing, and liberating.

When he did finally arrive, much too late to go to meditation, I greeted him with a smile and said, “Thank you for being late.” And I truly meant it. I was very aware, in that moment, that had I not had the transformation I did, my first words to him would’ve been very, very different and the evening would’ve been ruined because of my anger-fueled words and actions. It was my first practical encounter with the power of mindfulness and I was so very grateful for the real-world translation.

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What Mindfulness Isn’t

tool_kit

With our second installment of Mindful Community Conversations happening tonight (a monthly series I put together to focus on difficult topics that incorporate the practice of mindfulness as a tool to help along the path of healing), I’ve been thinking about the sometimes common tendency to regard mindfulness as the only tool needed in order to build a healthy, happy life, or to recover and heal from difficult situations. It’s important to relay, especially to newer practitioners, that mindfulness, while a big tool in the tool box, is only one of many others. Just as we would not be able to use only one tool to build a foundation for a house, we will likely not be able to use mindfulness alone to build a foundation for our well being.

Over the years I’ve heard from people who regard mindfulness as some kind of magic solution to every situation that arises. Those same people then become deflated and disappointed in themselves (as though they were a bad practitioner) as a result of mindfulness not being enough to help them through certain difficulties, such as when dealing with depression, addiction, loss, grief, anger, anxiety or trauma. While the practices of mindfulness: sitting meditation, walking meditation, mindful eating, mindful breathing, and so on, can aid in any situation that arises, we also need to develop and work with other tools in order to support and nourish our entire being.

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A Moment Before Eating

mindful-eating-2I wanted to share about my practice of pausing before I eat, in order to connect with the spirit of connection and gratitude for the meal in front of me. I have two different verses that I use, depending on what meal it is. Each morning, before I eat my standard breakfast of two hard-boiled eggs and a banana, I say this verse inwardly to myself:

This food is the gift of the whole universe,
the earth, the sky, and much hard work.
May I keep my compassion alive
by remembering that there are many people
who will not have enough food to eat today,
who will suffer and die from starvation and malnutrition.
May I accept this food with gratitude
and reverence for the life I am afforded.

This verse is a compilation of my own words mixed with those from the Meal Contemplations, generated from my root practice tradition with Thich Nhat Hanh. It’s a verse that arose for me while on retreat one year at Deer Park Monastery, which I’ve carried with me ever since. As you can see, there is a certain weighted gravity associated with this verse that I recite each morning. It contains an uncomfortable energy, and rightfully so.

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Sitting Meditation

IMG_38697

Perhaps you wonder: Is sitting meditation really that important of a practice to develop? I mean, really, you may be thinking, all I’m doing is, like, sitting there, doing nothing. Well, yes.  And no.  Classic Zen answer right?

On one hand sitting meditation is a matter of doing nothing in the sense that we’re not involved in something externally active.  But on another hand we’re actively engaged with our inner environment and let’s face it, there’s a whole lot going on in there.  With such a vibrant, tumbling, churning, cycling, ongoing inner landscape it seems a poorly inadequate sentiment to think that sitting meditation is a matter of doing nothing.

The editor’s summary of a study published in Science magazine in July of 2014 states:

Don’t leave me alone with my thoughts

Nowadays, we enjoy any number of inexpensive and readily accessible stimuli, be they books, videos, or social media. We need never be alone, with no one to talk to and nothing to do. Wilson et al. explored the state of being alone with one’s thoughts and found that it appears to be an unpleasant experience. In fact, many of the people studied, particularly the men, chose to give themselves a mild electric shock rather than be deprived of external sensory stimuli.

The abstract states:

In 11 studies, we found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think, that they enjoyed doing mundane external activities much more, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts. Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative.

For more info click here.

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Sitting and Breathing

real-heart-drawing-meditator-with-red-heartThis past Monday marked the start of a new class series I’m teaching entitled Being Here Now.  I just recently taught a 6-week series by the same name that ended last week.  Essentially this is the same class with different students, although this one is an 8-week series.  Since I had to reformat a bit in order to add two more weeks worth of material I decided to elongate the instructions for sitting meditation and also allow more time to go over the practice of deep breathing, which is what I’ll be doing for our next class – both are very simple but not at all easy to execute.  This post will be my brainstorming platform of what I’ll be covering in next week’s class.

Sitting meditation is one of the largest tools that we can use and develop in terms of building a strong foundation for becoming more mindful in our daily lives.  Sitting meditation allows us the opportunity to practice simply being with our genuine experience as it’s unfolding, without trying to manipulate, judge, or distract ourselves.  The “aim” of sitting meditation is to be with our sitting, to be with our breathing.  That’s it.  As I said, simple but not easy.  Note: I put the word aim in quotation marks because we want to be careful not to set any specific goals or purpose during our sitting meditation, as this can be a pitfall to practice.  We do however want to be clear as to the intent behind our desire to cultivate a sitting meditation routine.  The act of sitting meditation, over time, will allow us to create more spaciousness in our lives.  It can teach us to learn how to slow down in order to experience and appreciate all of the wonders of life that reside within and around us in any given moment.  This development of spaciousness is also crucial if we have a desire to live more happily and joyfully with less stress and anxiety.  If we want to improve our quality of life we must learn how to start slowing down, at least a tiny little bit.  This doesn’t mean we necessarily have to stop doing the things we’re doing physically – for many of us this slowing down involves our internal mental activity more than our physical output of energy.  Sitting meditation puts us in touch with our mental landscape so that we can start seeing the habits and patterns that fuel and propel us forward, which is a necessary component in creating effective change.

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