Posts by Saddhamala

10 ways to live a better life

When we think of changing our lives for the better, we may think of a new job, a new home, a new relationship, or material wealth – more “things” that we think will improve our lives.

Recently I saw a bumper sticker that read “the best things in life are not things” – it made me smile and I started thinking about ways to live a better life without looking for or wanting more stuff.

Here is my list:

1. Simplify – rather than desiring more, find ways to live with less. Bring clothing to Good Will or a charity. Clear away clutter from countertops and tables. If you have not used something or worn something for a year – give it away.

2. Enjoy nature – nature soothes the psyche and lessens stress. If you are fortunate enough to live near nature, do not take it for granted. Rather than rushing to work in the morning, take a moment or two to enjoy the trees, ponds, streams, rivers and the sky. If you do not live near natural beauty, take a drive to a nearby lake or take a walk in the woods.

3. Enjoy the arts – whether you enjoy visual art, performance art or historical art – make it part of your life. Take time to visit museums, see a play, or go to a local gallery.

4. Cook at home – it can become a habit to eat fast food in transit to work or school and at restaurants for business lunches and dinners. Cooking at home is less expensive and often more healthy than food from restaurants.

5. Cook for friends – invite friends and family members to your home and prepare a meal together – it is such a lovely way to spend time with people you care for.

6. Bring mindfulness to work – in this culture of multi-tasking, we rush through our work without really enjoying what we do. Being mindful at work helps us to concentrate on one task at a time, and enjoy the sheer pleasure of being present to what we are doing.

7. Spend time with children. I was washing dishes with a four year old recently. It was fun to watch her enjoy running her hand under the water from the faucet and delighting in the bubbles from the dish washing liquid. Her laugh made me laugh, and we both had fun.

8. Focus on others rather than yourself. It is so easy to get caught up in our own needs. Find ways to help others – shovel snow from an elderly person’s walkway, bring a meal to a neighbor who is not feeling well or volunteer at the local SPCA.

9. Spend time with friends – make a conscious effort to remember this. Write notes in your calendar to call a friend and make time to do something together. Friendship is such a precious thing, so we should not take it for granted.

10. Do something creative – whether it is writing a poem or a short story, painting a picture or a room in your house, or taking a photograph.  Doing something creative is energizing and makes life better.

So there you have it, ten ways to live a better life – non of which are expensive – but which will make you happier and your life better.

 

 

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How to clear your mind of negative thoughts

The mind is like a wild elephant that needs taming. If you have ever meditated and tried to quiet your mind, you will have experienced your thoughts as continuous and difficult to manage.

We worry, we obsess about the same things over and over again, we are anxious about things that never happen, we want more than we have, or something different from what we have, and we have expectations of ourselves and others that may never be met.

What we think creates the world we live in. When we think negatively about ourselves and others, we do not experience the beauty and joy that can be found within ourselves and others.

One of my friends is a lawyer in New York. He graduated from Law School, passed the Bar Exam, got his license to practice, worked for a short time and then was laid off due to the failing economy.

I wanted to rescue him because I worried that like many lawyers in New York, he would be unemployed, would not be able to pay off his school loans and would not be able to maintain his apartment.

A couple months after he was laid off, he met a colleague who offered him a job. All of my worrying was energy spent on something that never manifested.

Rather than worrying about my friend being unemployed, I could have thought positively about the situation. I could have thought about my friend’s strengths as a hard working, skilled lawyer.

I could have thought that the situation could actually end up to his benefit – he might find work he enjoys more than the work he was doing before he was laid off (which is what happened).

In meditation I practice working with my mind and I have experienced changing negative thoughts. First I become aware of my negative thoughts.

For example, I may notice that I am anticipating a negative outcome from working with a person with whom this has happened in the past, however, worrying about a situation in the future, when I do not know what the outcome will be, is wasted energy.

Rather than being concerned about working with the colleague, I could consider the positive qualities about the person and empathize with circumstances that might have made our interaction difficult for her.

She might have been experiencing personal or professional difficulties or have health issues or just see things differently.

When I think positively and with compassion, I am successful in clearing my mind of negative thoughts – it just takes awareness, mindfulness, understanding and compassion.

 

 

 

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Mindfulness and energy

Have you ever noticed that when you are with some people you feel energized and when you are with other people your energy is drained?

Do you have a difficult time saying “no” when someone requests something from you, and then find yourself feeling exhausted and resentful?

Do you put your own responsibilities on hold in order to do things for other people?

Have you been, or are you now, feeling like there are not enough hours in the day to do all that you need to do? Are you feeling overwhelmed and exhausted?

If you have answered “yes” to any of these questions, mindfulness can help you to be aware of how, and with whom, you expend your energy and therefore take better care of yourself by using your energy wisely.

I have belonged to an organization for eighteen years. I believe in the mission of this organization because it changes peoples’ lives for the better. It has changed my life for the better.

Over the years I have been happy to do whatever I could to see the organization thrive, including: fundraising, listening to people who are going through difficult times, teaching classes, catering for events and attending more meetings than I can count.

Because there were so many things that needed doing, and I believed in those things, and I knew I could do what was needed and do it well, I had a difficult time saying “no”. After so many years of doing so much, my energy was drained.

And I was exhausted. When I woke up in the morning I did not feel rested. I knew that exercising would help me feel more energetic, but I felt too tired to exercise, I just wanted to stay in bed as long as I could each morning.

When I became aware of the decisions I was making, in terms of how I was spending my time and expending my energy, I started to decline “invitations” to take on more and more responsibility  – but it wasn’t easy.

People were used to having me take on more and more work. It was difficult to say “no” but I realized I needed to take care of myself as well as caring for others.

In fact, I realized that unless I took care of myself, I could not take care of other people wholeheartedly.

Is it time for you to become mindful of how you expend your energy in terms of what you do and who you spend time with?

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30 ways to add zing to your meditation this spring

“What does spring have to do with meditation?” you might ask. Each season offers opportunities to bring creativity to our meditation practices. Want to know what spring can bring? In the spring, especially in places that have had a cold winter, going outdoors is especially pleasurable. The breezes are cooling, the sun is warm, there is no need for heavy jackets, sweaters and socks and days are longer.

So, springtime brings some rain, it’s true, but also amazingly beautiful flowers from seeds and bulbs.

Here is a list of thirty ways to bring new zing to your meditation practice in the spring:

  1. go outdoors and listen to the sounds of the birds
  2. listen to the trees as the breezes rustle the leaves
  3. look at the many different shades of green that emerge from trees
  4. watch the sunlight filter through trees in a wooded area
  5. practice walking meditation
  6. watch the sun set each evening
  7. take a mindful walk early in the morning
  8. walk by the sea and feel the sand on your bare feet
  9. plant a garden
  10. pull weeds from the garden
  11. watch as what you plant in your garden grows
  12. enjoy the fruits and vegetables from your garden
  13. cook vegetables from your garden
  14. hang the laundry outdoors on a clothes line
  15. hike in a state park
  16. enjoy an outdoor massage
  17. swim in the sea, a lake or a pool
  18. practice yoga outdoors
  19. practice QiGong outdoors
  20. make cooking a meditation
  21. enjoy chopping, slicing, sauteing food
  22. enjoy the aromas of what you cook
  23. go camping
  24. play outdoors with children
  25. have a picnic by yourself
  26. have a picnic with a friend
  27. watch wind patterns on a pond
  28. bring your sketch pad outdoors to draw trees, grass, birds or whatever comes into your vision or imagination
  29. bring your watercolors and other paints outdoors with a canvas
  30. don’t make any plans for the day and have a retreat at home, making each action and interaction a meditation

Everything we do can become a meditation when we pay full attention to it. And isn’t that what meditation should be? It is one thing to be mindful when we are sitting alone in meditation, but the real test of mindfulness is when we are out and about in “real” life.

Spring, with beautiful weather and the splendor of flowers and trees, is a great time to bring our meditation practice off the mat and into the world. Give it a try!

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Tips for busy people for a daily meditation practice

Are you one of those people who would like to have a regular meditation practice but a list of things seem to get in the way?

People who are in this situation cite numerous reasons for this dilemma.

They say:

  • their family members are too noisy
  • they are too busy
  • they travel often
  • they have had a change in their daily routine which has upset their regular practice
  • they have been ill or are caring for someone who is ill
  • they have a visitor who was supposed to stay for 3 days and is still with them after 3 months!

All of these reasons that they do not have a regular (or daily) meditation practice are actually very good reasons to have one!

Here are some ways to begin a regular meditation practice, and reduce stress, even with everything else that is happening in your life:

  • If your family members are too noisy, you can wake up fifteen minutes before everyone else wakes up so that you can meditate when it is quiet.
  • If you are too busy, just meditate for ten minutes, anytime throughout the day and be mindful that if you really are too busy, it is even more important to meditate so that you remain calm and focused during your busy day.
  • If you travel often, you can meditate while you are waiting for the plane, or when you are on the plane, or in your hotel room before you unpack and get settled.
  • If you have had a change in your routine, you can consider how you can fit meditation into your new routine. For example, if you are leaving the house earlier in the morning, perhaps you can meditate when you come home in the evening, before dinner or before bedtime.
  • If you have been ill, it will be restorative to meditate when you feel that you can.
  • If you have been caring for someone who is ill, meditation will provide a needed way to care for yourself.
  • If your visitor is still with you, you can let him or her know how important your meditation practice is to you and then go outside for a walking meditation.

When our situations change it is easy to lose the momentum of a regular meditation practice.   If we make our meditation practice a priority, we will find ways to meditate even if we are busy, if we travel, if our daily routines change, if we have been ill or have been taking care of someone who is ill.

And if we can figure out a way to meditate for thirty days, it will become a habit and easier to do no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in.

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15 ways to practice mindfulness

mindfulness reminders

Each and every day we have many opportunities to practice mindfulness.

Here is a list of ways to practice mindfulness. Choose one to practice for a day or a week and give it your wholehearted attention.

1. When you wake up in the morning, notice your breathing before you get out of bed. The quality of our breath tells us a lot about our state of being. When the breath is slow and steady we are calm and peaceful. When the breath is constricted we are tense.

2. Before you get out of bed, notice your thoughts. What was your first thought upon waking? This practice helps us get in touch with what is on the mind and in our dreams

3. When possible, eat silently. Before you eat, consider all the people involved in providing the food on your plate – farmers, truck drivers, people in supermarkets. Offer gratitude for all these people.

4. Notice your environment: sunlight, rain, the wind, trees, sights and sounds. On your way to work, school, an appointment or your daily errands, be mindful of driving your car, walking, sitting on the subway, arriving at your destination, your state of mind and your thoughts. Are you in the present moment or thinking ahead to what you will be doing next? Notice your body, and let your breathing help you relax your shoulders, soften your face.

5. Notice when you can stop the pressure of pushing to get where you are going and simply enjoy the process of getting there.

6. Practice mindful, conscious breathing throughout your day: at work, while sitting down, at your desk, at your computer, while speaking on the phone and in person.

7. Allow yourself to be calm and peaceful. Use daily cues as reminders to be mindful: the doorbell, the telephone, a mindfulness bell on your computer, turning on a light, checking your watch or a clock for the time.

8. Approach meals with mindfulness and gratitude.  Really taste what you are eating.

9. As you leave your daily activities, take a moment to appreciate what you have accomplished and consider how you have interacted with others.  Wash your speech kind, helpful and appropriate to the situation?

10. Consider your trip home as a transition time between your daily activities and your time at home.

11. Become aware of your breathing, smile, notice the quality of your thoughts and feelings.

12. Approach your homecoming and the people you come home to, with peacefulness and kindness.

13. You can use conscious breathing – awareness of the breath – as a foundation to encourage mindfulness in all of your daily activities, just as you use it as the foundation for your sitting and walking meditation practices.

14. Eat meals without doing anything else. Eat them sitting down, rather than standing up or in your car or on the run. Taste every morsel of food and enjoy the aroma and texture of your food.

15. As you go to bed and prepare for sleep, breathe, become aware of your body and relax, and let go of daily activities and of your anticipation of tomorrow.

Wishing you the gift of mindfulness each and every day.

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Meditation on money, mindfulness and motorcycles

As a proponent of living mindfully and with a desire to bring mindfulness into my daily life in terms of: communication, work, family life, friendship, abundance, skillfulness and simplicity I have been thinking about mindfulness and money. I’ll write about the motorcycle in a bit.

I grew up with parents who wanted me to “understand the value of a dollar” and to “work for what I got”. These messages have been deeply ingrained. As a result, I have worked hard and believed what I have should be a result of the work I performed, so I had difficulty accepting gifts, especially gifts of money.

That being said, I do desire material things. I like to live in a place that is visually pleasing, preferably near a pond and surrounded by hemlock trees. I like to dress in clothing that is made well and is flattering.

I like to drive my Subaru because I live where winter is long and snowy and driving a Subaru helps me to feel safe. But yesterday, while driving my Subaru, I saw what seemed to be so many Lexuses (Lexi?) and I had a deep desire to have one because as well as being safe when I drive, I like to drive a fast and powerful automobile.

Perhaps for you, it is a house by the ocean, a red Porsche convertible, traveling to exotic places, or a motorcycle you desire.

I love gourmet food and fine dining at restaurants with ambiance. I desire beauty in the form of art, crafts, music, film and dance so I indulge in going to museums, crafts fairs, concerts, movies and dance performances.

I enjoy being generous with my sons, my friends and family members. I am also aware that when I am with people who have more money than I do, I enjoy being treated to meals. I find I am more generous to some people than others. I wish I had more money to be more generous, especially with my sons.

I find, when it comes to being mindful about money I have more questions than answers. I have many questions:

  • What does my upbringing have to do with the way I think about money?
  • What does my upbringing have to do with the way I spend money?
  • What does my upbringing have to do with the level of my generosity?
  • Why do I give to some people and causes more easily and liberally than others?
  • Why am I comfortable accepting gifts in certain situations and from certain people, and uncomfortable in other situations?
  • How do I assign value to what I purchase?
  • How does money fit in with living a life of simplicity?
  • Why is it so difficult to talk about money?
  • How does money fit with the way I feel about myself and others?
  • How do I feel about family members who withhold money?
  • What do I want to teach my children about money?
  • Why do I feel that when people have “a lot of money” their lives are “easier”?
  • Would I be happier if I had more money?

What I do not question, is the importance of being mindful when it comes to money. I do not question the importance I place on living simply even with my desire for material things. And I do not question the value I place on being generous no matter how much money I have.

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With no effort or practice whatsoever, Enlightenment is here

In all sects of Buddhism, meditation is a prevalent practice,  but Buddhist teachers from different sects use different language to teach meditation.

There are meditations that focus on awareness and insight; meditations that focus on our breath, our body, our feelings, our minds and our mental qualities; and meditations for developing loving kindness within our minds and hearts.

It is easy, when learning a form of meditation, to just focus on the form and then judge whether or not we are doing it “right”.

There is freedom from this judging and striving in Dzogchen practice. Dilgo Khentse Rinpoche (1910-1991), one of the great luminaries of Tibetan Buddhism in the twentieth century,  was a highly realized and accomplished master dedicated to the transmission and preservation of Tibet’s spiritual legacy and a principle teacher of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Here is a list of some of the teachings on meditation from Dilgo Khentse Rinpoche:

  • “In meditation we can see through the illusion of past, present and future – the past is only an unreliable memory held in the present. The future is only a projection of our present conceptions. The present itself vanishes as soon as we try to grasp it.
  • We should free ourselves from our memories and preconceptions of meditation. Each moment of meditation is unique and full of potential.
  • Simply meditating in the moment, with our whole being, free from hesitation, boredom or excitement is Enlightenment.
  • Everything is naturally perfect just as it is,  we are naturally perfect as we are, a symbol of Enlightenment.
  • Everything and everyone is constantly changing, nothing is permanent. When we want things or people to remain the same, we suffer. When we want something different from what we have, we suffer.
  • With no effort or practice whatsoever, enlightenment is already here – it is not something or somewhere outside of ourselves. Striving for Enlightenment obstructs our free flow of energy.
  • The everyday practice of Dzogchen is just everyday life itself. Each moment is a moment that can be a moment of mindfulness, gratitude and meditation… there is no need to behave in any special way or attempt to attain anything above and beyond who we already are.
  • When meditating, we should feel it to be as natural as eating and breathing… we should realize that meditation transcends effort, practice, aims, goals and the duality of liberation and captivity. Our practice should be without effort, without strain, without attempts to control or force and without trying to become ‘peaceful’.
  • Therefore we should be natural and spontaneous, accepting and learning from everything.”

There is an expression in Dozgchen, emaho, which means each and every moment provides an opportunity to be kind, generous, honest, mindful, grateful and loving.  Emaho!

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How to meditate and live mindfully

Meditation can be a mystery. It brings up questions.

How do I meditate?

Am I meditating correctly?

What is the purpose of meditation?

I would like to begin with a story. The story takes place each morning when I am on my way to work. I drive to the end of my road, take a left onto another road and then take a right onto a highway that brings me to work.

Very often, in the evening, I drive to the end of my road, take a left onto another road, and take a right onto the highway when, actually, I should take a left to go to the grocery store. When I do this, I am on automatic pilot.

Have you ever been on automatic pilot while driving or when thinking? Each time we are on automatic pilot, we act in habitual ways and those habits become more and more ingrained – more fixed.

We may sit down for meditation, and rather than focusing on our breath, or observing our thoughts, we start making a list of things to do – or we start thinking about what someone said or did that we reacted to with annoyance or irritability.

We spend a lot of time thinking about the past and/or worrying about the future.

So, what is it like to be in the present moment and how can stay there? We can practice being in the present moment by meditating – by sitting quietly and observing what is happening right here, right now.

The next time you sit down to meditate, ask yourself:

  • “What am I experiencing right now in my body?
  • What physical sensations am I experiencing?
  • What is my mind focusing on?
  • What am I experiencing in my thoughts? What emotions am I experiencing?
  • What is the feeling tone right now?”

When we acknowledge our experiences, even if those experiences are uncomfortable, we are dwelling in the present moment, we are being mindful.

When, in meditation, we find ourselves making a list of things to do later or compulsively thinking about what our partner said last night, we can bring our attention to the breath as an anchor to bring us back to the present moment and create stillness and awareness.

When we learn to be in the present moment in meditation, we are more likely to live in the present moment when we are working, when we are with our families, when we are with our friends and when we are on our own.

Larry Rosenberg outlines five steps of meditation practice.

“Whenever possible:

1. Just do one thing at a time.

2. Pay full attention to what it is you are doing.

3. When the mind wanders from the present moment, bring it back.

4. Repeat step 3 several billion times!

5. Investigate your distractions.

And remember… meditation may be simple, but that does not mean it is easy!”

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Meditation can help you sleep

man sleepingOne of the questions I am asked most often is “Can meditation help me sleep?”

Many people think meditating in the morning is best- and it is a great way to start your day, however meditating before bed is also a great way to end your day and can help you make the transition from your day of activity to a night of sleeping peacefully.

Have you ever had the experience of being very tired, going to bed and then tossing and turning because thoughts keep coming to mind and you cannot sleep? It is very frustrating to be tired but unable to fall asleep, especially when you have another busy day to look forward to tomorrow.

Meditating before bedtime can help you rest so that you can fall asleep.

Meditation will turn down the volume of thoughts in your mind. Sitting on your meditation cushion, or in a chair, or even lying down in bed, and focusing on your breathing will help to clear your mind of the myriad of thoughts, worries and planning that often stops us from relaxing and falling asleep.

Give it a try right now – focus on your breathing – you can count your breaths from one to ten and then start over again – or focus on the quality of your breath. Is your breathing calm and regular? is it short and shallow?

You can also just focus your attention on the breath and as you do, your breathing will help your body to relax and before you know it you will be sleeping.

Our busy days often affect our inability to rest and go to sleep peacefully. When that happens, try meditating before bed time to help you fall asleep and get a good night’s rest.

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