This, too.

From Pinterest

I’d about worked myself into a full-blown worry attack. There are a lot of things up in the air right now in which timing is key and I don’t have control of many of the variables. I felt crabby, and I craved a big bowl of New York Super Fudge Chunk ice cream. My inner rebel kicked in and my self-talk sounded something like this: “I should meditate, but I don’t want to meditate. I’m sad the 28-day Meditation Challenge with Sharon Salzberg is over, and I probably won’t be able to keep the practice going on my own. Who am I kidding? I’m not the meditating type!”

Before I could go much further (as if that wasn’t far enough), the words popped into my mind, “This, too.”* Now where did that come from? The words came to me in a quiet, kind tone of voice, unlike the critical tone I’m so accustomed to hearing in my head. I can’t believe it. Only a month of meditating and I can’t even indulge in a good worry episode? This was new for me. I felt a gentleness with myself that hadn’t been there before. My worries were still there, but I felt some space…a little more room to maneuver. The quiet voice continued:

Things end. This, too.

Things aren’t in my control. This, too.

I don’t want to do things, even when they’re good for me. This, too.

I worry. This, too.

I laid down on the couch and took some deliberate deep breaths. I said some lovingkindness phrases for myself and others. And then I took a nap.

This, too.

*I’m sure I’ve heard the phrase “This, too” somewhere. I’m getting paranoid that with all the reading I’m doing, that others’ words are seeping into my consciousness and I don’t know to whom to attribute them. Whoever came up with this phrase, thank you. It’s a really good phrase.

(If you enjoyed this post, click on over to my Facebook page and hit like. I post shorter tidbits about self-compassion, share good links, and let you know when I’ve written something new. Thanks for your support!)

Tweeting with Sharon

Sharon Salzberg

A week ago today I participated in my first “Tweetchat.” This is quite an accomplishment for me as six months ago I didn’t have a clue what Twitter was all about, and I still don’t fully understand it. For those Twitter-challenged like myself, a Tweetchat is sort of like a virtual meeting held on Twitter. Everyone gets together at a certain time and uses the same hashtag (#) and an actual conversation takes place (it’s magic!).

This Tweetchat was with Sharon Salzberg, author of Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation. Although I had some anxiety ahead of time (What would I ask? Would I sound dumb? Would I make some Twitter faux pas?), it went really well and I got a lot out of it. Since then, I’ve been obsessed with organizing the content. I saved everything right afterward (because I don’t think Twitter keeps things very long), printed it all out, and then organized tweets by topic. This isn’t everything, but it will give you some of the highlights.

First, as with any social engagement, there are a few pleasantries and introductions:

Sharon Salzberg Getting ready for the #realhappiness #tweetchat at 1:30 PM today! Tweet you soon!

barbmarkway Ready for my first tweet chat with @Sharon Salzberg #realhappiness

HMKoutoukas Happy President’s Day! This Month’s #TweetChat will start at 1:30 PM with @SharonSalzberg. Open to all! #realhappiness

On meditation practice in general:

HMKoutoukas Q: What time of day is best to start your practice via @FaceBook Fan #realhappiness

SharonSalzberg@HMKoutoukas The time when U’ll actually do its the best time. Going from thinking abt it 2 doing its the hardest part #realhappiness

SharonSalzberg@HMKoutoukas I try to sit first thing in the am, before e-mail! #realhapiness

barbmarkway Sometimes I feel like I’m just daydreaming with a few deep breaths thrown in #realhappiness

SharonSalzberg@barbmarkway Sometimes it is just a few mindful breaths! but in the long run, we are still building awareness. It’s good #realhappiness

SharonSalzberg@TheBuffyProject They say the Buddha taught med. in 4 postures – sitting, standing, walking & lying down #realhappiness

SharonSalzberg@2catsandapencil Even if I’m sleepy or concentration seems crummy. In the end, it’s all good. #realhappiness

SharonSalzberg@2catsandapencil Sometimes we think things r going badly but when we look back we see we were building strength and openness #realhappiness

SharonSalzberg@2catsandapencil Please keep going. it takes time but meditation really does have an effect. #realhappiness

On dealing with thoughts and anxiety:

SpicedNutmeg When I sit initially my mind is quiet and then there is flood of thoughts and no stop to it. Thank #realhappiness

SharonSalzberg@SpicedNutmet Practice cn B more abt getting space from thought than stopping them. Then flood of thoughts is no problem. #realhappiness

CharleySez Hi. Meditating can give more space for anxieties and worries as there are no distractions. How best can we sit with these? #realhappiness

SharonSalzberg@CharleySez true. 1st understand it’s normal. 2nd, we work w/balanced awareness & compassion 4 ourselves #realhappiness

SharonSalzbert@CharleySez it includes feeling the worry in yr body then moving attention 2 something easier 2 b w/then back. #realhappiness

SharonSalzberg@CharleySez We try 2 call anxiety painful rather than “bad”. that takes practice 2! #realhappiness

CharleySez@SharonSalzberg Thank you. Being with the worry, also with compassion for self, taking it moment by moment – I will do that. #realhappiness

SharonSalzberg@CharleySez That sounds great! You will see changes, more in your life than on the cusion. but that’s where it counts. #realhappiness

On dealing with emotions:

SpicedNutmeg I find it difficult to separate the thought and emotion. I’m caught in it. #realhappiness

SharonSalzberg@SpicedNutmeg mayB ask yourself “What am I feeling in my body?”. Breath & body will giv sum space w/out denying the emotion. #realhappiness

SharonSalzberg@SpicedNutmeg Can u feel your emotions in your body? that is often grounding, and interesting 2 #realhappiness

TheBuffyProject Sometimes it’s important to give yrself the space to feel unhappy, too. That, too, is #compassion #realhappiness

TheBuffyProject “I feel what I feel, and it’s ok.” Recognition leads to potential options. #realhappiness

On dealing with anger:

Stacysingsone Wanted to ask ? about compassion–the more compassion I feel, the more angry I feel when others do not #realhappiness

SharonSalzberg@Stacysingsone When you c lack of compassion can u remind yourself that the lack is itself suffering? #realhappiness

SharonSalzberg@Stacysingsone It is hard 2 c. The Buddha said, within & without, we are fighting ignorance. #realhappiness

SharonSalzberg@Stacysingsone It’s not that anger is “bad” but it won’t work. #realhappiness

SharonSalzberg@Stacysingsone If we think of it as bad we usually strengthen it. even tho we don’t want to #realhappiness

Stacysingsone@SharonSalzberg Thanks for thoughts on anger. have more work to do. #realhappiness

On working with pain:

barbmarkway I struggle with “Is pain real?” I blame myself. I sometimes use the mind/body connection against myself. #realhappiness

SharonSalzberg@barbmarkway Pain is real @ it’s hard. it also changes w/in itself. we can make it harder due 2 habits. Rt. thr is R work. #realhappiness

barbmarkway@SharonSalzberg Yes, I do a lot of “add on” like you write about. Trying to notice that more. #realhappiness

SharonSalzberg@barbmarkway Very hard. But good to examine what makes things worse. that’s the part we don’t have 2 feel helpless about #realhappiness

barbmarkway@SharonSalzberg So hard not to anticipate more pain when you’re in “chronic pain” cycle #realhappiness

MettBomb RT@SharonSalzberg@HMKoutoukas Research shows Med. affects pain first by helping us not anticipate next hit of pain. #realhappiness

barbmarkway@SharonSalzberg Thank you for this! #realhappiness

(If you enjoyed this post, click on over to my Facebook page and hit like. I post shorter tidbits about self-compassion, share good links, and let you know when I’ve written something new. And of course, you can follow me on Twitter. Thanks for your support!)

Unique and the Same

I’ve had ideas swirling in my head all day. My thoughts seem random, yet connected. I’m not sure how to express them in a coherent fashion, yet I feel compelled to write.

I was talking to Greg about how sometimes I want to feel unique and special.  And yet, at other times, I want to feel I’m not alone. This dilemma makes me recall when I’ve been in therapy and the therapist tries to “normalize” my experience by saying, “I think everyone feels that way.” Sometimes this can feel validating, and at other times, it feels dismissive. Why is this?

Greg said it reminded him of a poster he once saw that says: “Remember that you are unique, just like everyone else.”

After this philosophical discussion, we ate dinner, not really talking. Thank goodness I’m married to another introvert who is comfortable with silence.

I still couldn’t figure out what I wanted to write, so I went downstairs to walk on the treadmill. I watch DVDs while I’m walking, and I’m on Season 2 of Mad Men. In the episode I was watching, Don Draper is having marital problems, and he is visiting with an old friend who offers some sage advice: “The only thing keeping you from happiness is the belief that you are alone.” What a great line! I thought this was surely a sign I needed to go upstairs and get busy writing.

Still, nothing came. I decided to do my meditation practice for the day.

This is week 4 of Sharon Salzberg’s Meditation Month and the focus is on Lovingkindness meditation. In this type of meditation, you focus not on your breath, but on certain phrases such as: May I be safe; May I be happy; May I be healthy; May I live with ease. You then extend these phrases (along with heartfelt intention if possible) to someone in need, then to someone you may know only casually, then to someone who you find difficult, then to people everywhere.  (For more details on this type of meditation, click here).

The person who popped into my mind when it was time to think of someone who may be in need was a previous client of mine. She had a child with a very rare and complex health condition. The condition wasn’t visible to others, so she was often given standard parenting advice that simply did not apply to her situation. Well meaning people would say things such as, “That’s just normal teenage stuff” or “You just have to use tough love.” These statements, meant to help her feel less alone, actually did just the opposite. She often told me she felt isolated from others, and that she was “crazy.” She seemed to feel better in our sessions when I found a way to validate her experience that, yes—her situation was different and unique. Somehow, paradoxically, that is what helped her feel less alone.

Looking back on it now, I wonder if I could have done more if I had helped her realize that somewhere (although not necessarily in her peer group), there are other mothers with similar challenges, going through similar painful circumstances. Would that have helped her feel less alone? It’s so easy to second-guess myself, but I  really don’t think I would have done anything differently.

Well, I’ve thoroughly confused myself further, and probably you, as well.

If I can come up with any take-away points, they’d be:

  •  Life is hard. It’s okay to acknowledge that fact.
  •  We’re all in the same boat.  We all want to be happy. We all want to suffer less and be at peace. It’s not always easy to find that place. I’m learning that meditation can help.
  • We’re not alone, even when we think we are.
  •  I need to use the word “AND” more. We are unique AND we are the same.
If you enjoyed this post, click on over to my Facebook page and hit “like.” I share shorter tidbits on self-compassion and let you know when I’ve written something new. Thanks for your support!

Would you help a friend in need?

This is the last paragraph of Sharon Salzberg’s book, Real Happiness. I think it’s so powerful, I want to share it:

“I often ask my students, ‘If you learned that there’s a simple, safe activity you could do for twenty minutes a day to help a friend in need, would you do it?’ They answer, of course they would, eagerly and without question. Spending that same twenty minutes to help ourselves, however, seems to make us uncomfortable; we worry that it’s self-indulgent, egocentric. But helping ourselves is helping our friends. Our own real happiness is the wellspring out of which our ability to give to others flows. As Thich Nhat Hanh once said, ‘Happiness is available … please help yourself.’ “

Rain

photo by K. Mohan via Flickr

It’s a beautiful, sunny, atypically warm winter’s day in the Midwest, and I’m thinking about rain. Go figure. I’ve got a few random things to share.

First, this week of Sharon Salzberg’s meditation challenge is about dealing mindfully with emotions.  The acronym she uses is RAIN. Here are the four “steps”:

Recognize: The first step is to recognize the feelings. She writes, “You can’t figure out how to deal with an emotion until you acknowledge that you’re experiencing it.”

Acceptance: The second step is acceptance. “We tend to resist or deny certain feelings, particularly if they’re unpleasant. But in our meditation practice, we’re open to whatever emotion arises.”

Investigate: The third step is to investigate the emotion. “Instead of running away from it, we move closer, observing it with an unbiased interest. In order to do that we need to take a moment, not only to refrain from our usual reaction, but also to unhook from the object of the feeling.”

Nonidentification: The fourth step is not identifying with the emotion. “The embarrassment or disappointment you’re feeling today isn’t your whole résumé, the final word on who you are and who you’re going to be. Instead of confusing a temporary state with your total self, you come to see that your emotions arise, last a while, then disappear. You feel some fear, and then you don’t. You’re resentful, and then you aren’t.

Second, I decided to look up some quotes about rain and here are a few I liked:

Rain is grace; rain is the sky descending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life. -John Updike

Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet. -Roger Miller

Rain is grace; rain is the sky descending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life. – John Updike

Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby. -Langston Hughes

The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain. -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

And finally, here is a beautiful, original sound clip called “Rain Follows.” I hope you’ll listen and enjoy.

 

Befriending the Body

Lily wants to meditate. She’s pretty good at “downward dog.”

My body and I haven’t always gotten along. Eleven years ago I had surgery on my low back. The doc said I would be good as new in 6-8 weeks. It took a solid year, but I finally made a good recovery. Then, six years ago, I started having pain in my hands and arms. I went through a lot of specialists, ruling out everything from carpal tunnel to rheumatoid arthritis. I finally ended up with a spinal fusion at C5-C6. At six weeks post op, my surgeon pronounced me “cured” (his exact word) although I was still reporting significant pain and functional limitations. Long and unfortunately typical story, I’ve seen more specialists, had more tests, and of course, done the usual physical therapy and every other kind of therapy you can name. (I haven’t tried accupuncture yet, but I’m actually exploring that now.) I still have pain on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s a mild irritant; other times it’s so intense it makes me sick to my stomach. The main thing I hate about it is that the pain affects my ability to type and use the computer for long periods of time. I’m writing this post in short bursts, which really wrecks my concentration. (I’ve just gotten a voice activated dictation program; I’ve heard there’s a pretty big learning curve, but I’m hopeful). I’ve also found it difficult to travel. Somehow the vibration of the car seems to make the pain flair. But I did not want this to be a post about pain!

This is about Week 2 of the Sharon Salzberg’s meditation challenge based on her book, Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation. The purpose of the month is to give participants an overview of meditation. Week 1, which I wrote about here, was about breathing. This week was about mindfulness and the body. One of the exercises involved doing a body scan meditation and letting your awareness move from the breath to other parts of the body–head to toe somewhat in order. The instructions are to simply notice the sensations; no need to label them. It’s natural to try to hold on to sensations you find pleasurable, but you’re encouraged to notice them, but not cling to them. If you find sensations that are uncomfortable, you’re again encouraged to notice, without trying to make them go away. You can follow along with her on an audio version on her website. I tried doing this once, but actually found I did better moving at my own pace. Sharon also posted a really helpful post about working with pain that you can find here.

As I did last week, here are some of my observations from my practice sessions:

  • I have a difficult time not putting things into words. I guess that makes sense with me being a writer. I kept wanting to silently talk to myself while I was doing the exercise. Sharon’s directions suggest trying to move beyond the level of words and just be at the sensation level. This will take a lot more practice for me.
  • Since I was talking to myself, I made sure to be self-compassionate as I did. When I was feeling the sensations in my arm that were painful, I decided to talk sweetly to my arm. “You know arm, you do a lot for me. You basically work hard all day even though you don’t feel good. Thank you for that.”
  • I’d read enough ahead in the book to know a few phrases to throw in. I told my arm I wanted it to be “free of suffering.”
  • Somewhere (maybe in Sharon’s book) I’ve heard the phrases “soften” and “allow.” So I threw those words in liberally. I also tried to “make space” around the pain, and that actually seemed to help a bit.
  • Sharon wrote in her post: “If there is a whole area that is painful, don’t try to take in the whole scope of it…see if you can find the most intense spot and pay attention to that. Notice if it changes – does it get more intense, less intense, stay the same?” I let myself explore the pain and see that it’s actually quite nuanced. I tend to just say, “My arm hurts,” but it’s much more rich and varied and complex than that. Then the thought popped into my mind, “My elbow doesn’t hurt. It actually feels quite divine.” I was excited about that. Wow! It’s not really my whole arm that hurts.
  • Another point in her post I found really helpful was to see what we might be adding on to the pain – “future projection, a lifetime of hurt, self blame, etc.” I could write many posts about the “add-ons” I bring to my pain. Right now as I’m typing, I’m thinking: Am I doing too much? Am I going to hurt worse tomorrow? I’m being stupid. I should stop now. I don’t want to stop. This isn’t fair… The point is to be able to separate the “add-ons” from the actual experience so we know when it’s reasonable to listen to the thoughts and perhaps take some appropriate action, and when to say, “It’s just a thought.”
  • And finally, at the end of week two, Sharon tweeted, “Let the breath lead the way.” As I found the body scan meditation challenging, and I found comfort in her message. All I really need to do is breathe.

By the way, I had no problem noticing the sensation of a 14 pound Bichon on my belly. Does anyone have any tips for dealing with needy, neurotic dogs?

Just Breathe

kellyraeroberts.com

I’ve just finished Week One of Sharon Salzberg’s meditation challenge. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve always had a difficult time motivating myself to do any kind of formal meditation. Let me give you some background.

My first encounter with meditation was about fifteen years ago. One of the psychologists where I worked gave an informal presentation on meditation and then we had an experiential exercise. I don’t remember the details, except for the part where I started to cry during the experiential part. I was extremely embarrassed and had to leave the room. I’ve had similar experiences  in yoga classes. During the part at the end where it’s more quiet and reflective, I frequently tear up. (I once read in a yoga magazine that this is not unusual, so I guess I’m not too weird.) There’s a huge movement in contemporary psychology to incorporate “mindfulness” into the therapy process, and there’s plenty of research to back up its usefulness. I’ve tried to keep up with all the developments. I took an online course a couple of years ago called Mindfulness and Psychotherapy. I’d never taken an online course–it was actually a lot of work. We had reading to do, assignments, and of course, we were supposed to practice the various mindfulness exercises. Dare I admit that I often skipped the practice part?

I have no idea what I’m afraid of:

  • If I sit still I’ll be consumed with feelings I can’t manage?
  • My inner life will actually bore me to death?
  • I’m incapable of meditating and will be a failure?

So it was with a little trepidation that I committed to this challenge. But I was also excited! There’s a whole website devoted to these 28 days, and there are people blogging about their experiences. Some of the bloggers are experienced meditators, and others are novices. Every day I can peruse the site and see what speaks to me that day.  And there’s a structure to the month (I like structure!) Each week we’re focusing on a different aspect of meditation.

Okay, so back to Week One. Week One was all about the breath. The first aspect of meditation is learning to stabilize  your attention, and the way it’s usually done is by focusing on the breath. The directions are really simple. You take a few deep breaths, and then you just let your breathing settle at its natural pace. She suggests you do this for twenty minutes. When you notice thoughts, you just let them go and bring your attention back to the breath. Easy, right? I’ll include a link at the end of this post to a three-minute video that shows Sharon Salzberg teaching this.

Here are some random realizations I made throughout the week:

  • I can meditate in the middle of a messy room. One day I had the idea to redo the decorations on the fireplace mantle. This led to a lot of other changes–switch out pillows on the couch, bring things in from different rooms… I had stuff everywhere (it looked like a Hobby Lobby clearance sale), and I wasn’t happy with the way it was going. I wanted so badly to finish, or at least clean up and put it back the way it was. Yet time was running out and I needed to get my meditation in.  I was so proud of myself because I sat down, right there in the middle of the mess, and just did it. (I read somewhere that meditation is mostly about sitting down, shutting up, and seeing what happens.)
  • It does not kill me to ignore my phone alerting me of an incoming text, and I will remember to silence it in the future.
  • Sometimes focusing on my breath was relaxing and I felt all warm and tingly. Other times, I felt agitated and wanted to get up before it was time. Both experiences were actually okay.
  • It’s really hard to meditate with dogs around. Lily thinks she needs to be on my lap 24/7! And Larry thinks he’s a cat the way he nuzzles up against me.
  • I got tearful during a few of my sessions, but I was compassionate with myself (yea!) and was able to keep going without it being a huge sob fest (and even that would have been okay).
  • I skipped one day and I didn’t beat myself up about it. I did, however,  rationalize that there are actually 29 days in February this year, so I was still on track for the 28 day challenge.
  • You can’t fail at meditating! Sharon Salzberg talks about “The Magic Moment”–that moment when your attention naturally wanders. It’s in that very moment when you have a choice to act differently. Do you criticize yourself for this lapse in attention? Or do you simply say, “Oh, my mind wandered. Let’s go back to the breath now.” She says the magic moment is the ability to start over.  One day this week I found myself frustrated and getting irritable. It actually crossed my mind to say to myself,  “Hey, this is a magic moment. I can do an attitude adjustment right here and now.” I was amazed that just a few days of meditating was already making a difference.

All in all, Week One was freeing as I realized that every breath is a chance to begin again.

Here’s the link I promised you of Sharon teaching about the breath.