mindfulness in daily life

Meditation programme devised for ‘stressed’ primary school pupils

wildmind meditation newsThe Westmorland Gazette: Meditation could soon be on the curriculum for primary school pupils thanks to a programme devised by a Lake District woman.

Holly Horsley, 25, is on a mission to reduce stress caused by the school curriculum which, she says, focusses ‘too much’ on career-led subjects and not enough on life skills to combat pressure.

She is working with national charity, Fixers, to produce an information pack about the benefits of meditation, which will be sent out to local schools.

“I like to find a quiet place and just sit there and be in my element,” she explained.

“To me, meditation is something that is already there, something that is already in your mind, which everyone has the power to unlock.

“You don’t have to be sat going ‘ommm’ or be part of a particular religion. It’s not about that.

“For my Fixers project, I am campaigning for primary schools to teach children meditation techniques from an early age.

“I believe that these stress-reducing exercises will help young people feel more centred, calmer, and in more control at potentially difficult moments in their life.”

Miss Horsley began practising meditation last year and believes that young people could benefit from learning stress-reduction methods at an early age.

She said around 300,000 UK children and teenagers suffer anxiety, and the number of young people admitted to hospital after self-harming has increased by 68 per cent over the last ten years.

Dr Guinever Chivers, from NHS Cumbria, agreed anxiety is an issue among young people.

“Children are much more stressed these days,” he said. “Young people do feel things very strongly and often look for their own solutions. What we can then see is unhealthy coping mechanisms such as self-harm.”

Now Miss Horsley hopes the information pack she is creating will encourage schools to incorporate meditation into the curriculum.

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Could meditation help Long Island students?

wildmind meditation news

Anne Michaud, Long Island Newsday: A woman I had just met was so upset that she began to confide in me about her high school daughter. The girl had burst into tears when she got a 92 on a test, and she was concerned that if she didn’t attend a summer study program, she wouldn’t be able to compete with her peers for college admission.

“Why are kids so anxious now?” the mom asked. “Was life such a treadmill when we were young?”

This family lives in one of Long Island’s better public school districts — with plenty of academic pressure — but these questions are being raised all around. A poll released in December — conducted by National Public Radio, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health — said that 40 percent of parents believe their high school kids are stressed over school.

Admirably, some schools are trying what could be a stress antidote: mindfulness and meditation.

At Centennial High School, south of Baltimore, physics teacher and meditation instructor Stan Eisenstein is offering a 10-week course in mindfulness to 30 teens after school. The nonreligious course is based on Buddhist principles and shows students how to tune in to their bodily sensations and breath, as well as their thoughts and emotions. According to a story in The Baltimore Sun last month, Eisenstein calls these skills “a first-aid kit” for stress.

His course has become so popular that …

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Relax needless fear around others

Young woman with long straight hair and bangs smoking a cigarette and giving the finger.

We all know this fear. You’re walking down a street, someone you don’t know comes toward you, and there’s a second or more of wariness, scanning, apprehension, and tension or bracing in the body: a barely conscious assessment of possible threat.

Or you step into a meeting with people you know and still there could be a watchfulness, a restraint, a certain carefulness in how you speak that comes more from subtle anxiety than reasonable prudence.

Perhaps someone disagrees with you in this meeting – and you feel uneasy, off balance, unprotected; maybe later you worry what others thought about how you responded to the disagreement: Was I too irritated and pushy? Do they think I’m defensive? What should I do next time?

When you get home, let’s say your teenage son is quiet and prickly as usual. You want to tell him that the chilly distance between you feels awful, and you want to open your heart to him . . . but it feels awkward, you’re afraid of making things worse, and when you spoke from the heart while growing up it did not go well and the fears reaching back into your childhood shadow and strengthen your fears today, so you say nothing, again.

And these are just the milder anxieties. Consider stronger ones, such as common fears about others getting angry, public speaking, being vulnerable, talking with authority figures, what others might think about your body, or being around people who aren’t like you.

Sometimes these fears are justified. People at home or work might actually want to hurt you. On a larger scale, think about Europe as it lurched into World War II, a time when many people treated others terribly, and when underestimating this threat had devastating consequences; there are many similar examples.

But often our fears around other people are not justified. They could care less about what we did – we are usually just a bit player in their own personal drama, anyway – or if they do care, it’s a passing feeling. Even if the other person does react, most likely you could handle it fine.

Further, if there truly is something to deal with – a conflict, issue, broken agreement, betrayal – it is possible to be clear-eyed, strong, straightforward, confident, and secure without being anxious about it (see the chapter on kindness and assertiveness in Buddha’s Brain. Anxiety is something added to our response to situations; sometimes it’s helpful, but usually it clouds thinking, adds needless suffering, and fuels conflicts with others.

So there are two kinds of mistakes we can make: having too little or too much anxiety around others. We should do our best to avoid making either kind. But which mistake is more common?

It’s the second one: needless anxiety stirred into the sauce of life, making it bitter.

Be mindful of anxiety around others, especially subtle unease, concern, tension, nervousness, or worry. Tune into your body, that little jump in heartrate or funny feeling in the pit of your stomach. Watch the thoughts passing through, the quiet murmuring in the back of the mind that overestimates threats and underestimates resources, that predicts problems which are actually unlikely.

Be aware of the costs to you of unnecessary – not useful, not valuable – anxiety. Besides feeling bad, it makes a person play smaller with others, hold back his or her truth, and hunker down – or go to war, in ways small or large. Then really decide in your heart if you want to be free of this worthless fear.

With someone who you know cares about you, try saying to yourself (adapt my suggestions to your needs): I know you’re not going to attack me. Find your way to having the statement ring true, and then see how you feel. Do it again with this statement to yourself: Even if you did attack me, I would still be OK in the core of my being. Let the truth of this and related good feelings sink into you. Here’s another one: I can take care of myself around you. Let this, too, sink in.

And: If you hurt me, I’ll still be OK in my core. And: I wish you well. If you have any difficulty with this practice, try other people who love you. The essence here is to feel your way into a place in which you recognize others and situations as they truly are, you take care of your own needs, and no needless anxiety is added.

Then try this practice with one or more friends . . . and then with a neutral person, such as a stranger on the street . . . and then even with someone who is difficult for you. If there is truly something to be anxious about, so be it. Otherwise, keep opening to the experience of being realistic about others and strong on your own behalf – without feeling any pointless fear.

Also try this approach when interacting with others. Can you talk with a family member, a friend, a neutral person, and a difficult person without one bit of unnecessary worry, alarm, sense of threat, or uneasiness? As you deepen your sense of being appropriately fearless with others, keep letting this experience sink in so you become increasingly grounded in this way or being.

Enjoy the sense of freedom this practice brings, the greater ease with others, the confidence. Notice how you can be more relaxed, patient, open, and caring with other people when you are not afraid.

What a comfort, and what a relief.

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Learning to love your suffering

Woman showing compassion to a young child that she is holding.

Buddhism talks a lot about suffering, but a lot of us think that we don’t suffer, or that we don’t really suffer. There’s a tendency for us to think of suffering in terms of physical pain or material deprivation: the person with terminal cancer or a broken leg, the refugee, the starving child. So we often think of suffering as being something that’s extreme or unusual. But actually, we all suffer, every day. You may be suffering right now.

  • When you’re worrying what people think about you, you’re suffering.
  • When you feel resentful, you’re suffering.
  • When you’re impatient, you’re suffering.
  • When you’re embarrassed, you’re suffering.
  • When you’re irritated, you’re suffering.
  • When you’re feeling sad, you’re suffering.
  • When you have regrets, you’re suffering.
  • When you’re jealous, you’re suffering.
  • When you’re bored, you’re suffering.

If you look closely at your mental states over the course of any given day, you’ll probably notice that you spend a lot of time dipping in and out of suffering of one sort of another.

And if you look at the people around you, it’s a fair bet that half of them are suffering at any given time. Just notice: how many of them are showing signs of being happy?

I think one reason we deny our own suffering is because we think of suffering as a sign of “failure.” After all, we’re meant to be happy all the time, or so certain messages we receive from society tell us. But if we don’t acknowledge suffering — even our minor experiences of suffering — then we can’t do anything about it, and will continue to go about life in a sub-optimal emotional state.

So I suggest that we notice experiences of suffering, and we accept the fact of our own suffering. There’s no point fretting about the fact that we suffer; it’s not a sign of failure. It’s just a part of the experience of being human, and a fact to be acknowledged. And once we’ve acknowledged and accepted our suffering, we can start to do something about it. In particular, I suggest wishing our suffering well. Drop lovingkindness phrases into your mind — “May you be well; may you be happy; may you be free from suffering.” Just notice your suffering, give it your compassion. Love your suffering, and see what happens. You might find that once you’ve given compassion to your own pain, it’s natural to notice the suffering around you, and to respond compassionately to others.

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More Mindfulness, Less Meditation

wildmind meditation news

Tony Schwartz, New York Times: More Mindfulness, Less Meditation. Here’s the promise: Meditation – and mindfulness meditation, in particular – will reduce your cortisol level, blood pressure, social anxiety and depression. It will increase your immune response, resilience and focus and improve your relationships — including with yourself. It will also bolster your performance at work and provide inner peace. It may even cure psoriasis.

50 Cent meditates. So do Lena Dunham and Alanis Morissette. Steven P. Jobs meditated, and mindfulness as a practice is sweeping through Silicon Valley. A week from Saturday, 2,000 technology executives and other seekers will gather for a sold-out conference …

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The Mindful Revolution

wildmind meditation news

Kate Pickert, Time: Finding peace in a stressed-out, digitally dependent culture may just be a matter of thinking differently.

The raisins sitting in my sweaty palm are getting stickier by the minute. They don’t look particularly appealing, but when instructed by my teacher, I take one in my fingers and examine it. I notice that the raisin’s skin glistens. Looking closer, I see a small indentation where it once hung from the vine. Eventually, I place the raisin in my mouth and roll the wrinkly little shape over and over with my tongue, feeling its texture. After a while, I push it up against my teeth and slice it open. Then, finally, I chew–very slowly.

I’m eating a raisin. But for the first time in my life, I’m doing it differently. I’m doing it mindfully. This whole experience might seem silly, but we’re in the midst of a popular obsession with mindfulness as the secret to health and happiness–and a growing body of evidence suggests it has clear benefits. The class I’m taking is part of a curriculum called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) developed in 1979 by Jon Kabat-Zinn, an MIT-educated scientist. There are nearly 1,000 certified MBSR instructors teaching mindfulness techniques (including meditation), and they are in nearly every state and more than 30

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Mindfulness of doors (and more!)

Series of doorways seen through doorways

Some of us in Wildmind’s online community are working our way through exercises from Jan Chozen Bays’ book, How to Train a Wild Elephant. We’re now on week 17 of the book, and this week’s exercise is called “Entering New Spaces.”

Here’s a brief outline of the practice:

The Exercise: Our shorthand for this mindfulness practice is “mindfulness of doors,” but it actually involves bringing awareness to any transition between spaces, when you leave one kind of space and enter another. Before you walk through a door, pause, even for a second, and take one breath. Be aware of the differences you might feel in each new space you enter.

This has been one of the hardest exercises for me, because I keep forgetting to do it! I’ll be in the Wildmind online community and I’ll read about being mindful while walking through doors, and I’ll think, “Drat! I’ve forgotten to do the exercise. I’ll make sure to be mindful next time I walk through a door.”

Then I forget all about the practice, and at some point I find myself back in the community, get another reminder of the exercise, and have the exact same thought.

So this time I decided I’d just get up and walk through a door just to begin engraving the experience of walking mindfully through a door into my brain, so that I build up the habit.

The experience was lovely: Being aware of approaching the door; mindfully taking a breath; being aware of pushing down on the door handle; being aware of pulling the door open, of stepping through, of being on the other side; mindfully closing the door; mindfully hearing the different sounds in the corridor.

The practice turned into a practice of realizing anatta (not-self) because I had the joyful experience of noticing that the being who arrived in the new space was not exactly the same being that had left the old one. There was no “self” that was transported across the threshold. And that experience was repeated as I stepped back into the office.

I’ve found that “rehearsing” practices is a useful thing to do. For example, you might hear about a practice like paying mindful and compassionate attention to feelings of hurt. (This is something I do — and teach — a lot.) But when someone says something hurtful, your normal automatic defense mechanisms may kick in, and you lose your mindfulness. Maybe you get angry, or maybe you get very upset. Rehearsal can help with that: you can deliberately call to mind an experience that you found hurtful, mindfully notice the sense of hurt, and then direct compassionate and kindly attention to the pain. That way you’re building up an association: feel hurt, be mindful. In time you can engrave that pattern into your brain so that it becomes automatic.

Excuse me a moment while I go walk through a door again…

So there are two things I’m suggesting:

1. Generally, if you want to cultivate a new mindfulness habit, rehearse, either in your imagination (as with becoming compassionate toward feelings of hurt) or by acting out the exercise (as in walking through a doorway).

2. Mindfully walking through doors is a delightful exercise, and if you want to get a feel for just how delightful it is then get up and do it — right now!

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Taking care of the present moment

fall leaves sitting on tree rings

I’ve been having a well-earned rest from blogging after completing our 100 Days of Lovingkindness, during which time I managed to contribute a blog post every day, despite also, for the last month, having an intensive schedule of teaching and family responsibilities.

But practice goes on.

In the Wildmind community we’re working through a book called How to Train a Wild Elephant, which is an excellent book of mindfulness practices written by Jan Chozen Bays.

Week 2’s exercise is as follows:

Leave No Trace

Choose one room of your house and for one week try leaving no trace that you’ve used that space. The bathroom or kitchen works best for most people. If you’ve been doing something in that room, cooking a meal or taking a shower, clean up in such a way that you leave no signs that you’ve been there, except perhaps the odor or food or fragrance of soap.

(In Zen paintings turtles symbolize this practice of leaving no traces, because they sweep the sand with their tails as they creep along wiping out their footprints.)

So this has been very interesting for me, because I like to get things done, but I’m often so keen to move onto the next thing that I don’t finish off earlier tasks properly, and end up leaving paper and other objects lying around. There’s a sense of urgency and even anxiety about moving on to the next thing. There’s an anxiety to “get on with things.” When I’m doing one thing I’m already thinking about the next. And I don’t even finish that first task! I’m always leaning into the future, and away from the present.

The exercise is not necessarily about leaving no trace, though! When we tidy up a mess we’ve created in the past we are obviously leaving a trace, but we’re still doing the exercise, because “leave no trace” is really about bringing to completion tasks we’re working on now — for example putting the toothbrush away, the top back on the toothpaste tube, rinsing out and drying the sink — before moving (not rushing!) on to the next thing. The exercise is more about bringing task to completion, and about taking care of the present moment.

But when you start doing this exercise you realize how many tasks you currently have that are unfinished. So I ended up putting away laundry, putting away a bag I’d unpacked and left lying on the bedroom floor, tidying my desk, etc. In one sense I’m “leaving a trace” of tidiness, but on a deeper level I’m catching unfinished tasks that have left traces, and bringing the tasks home. And in so doing, the traces vanish.

The problem is that we live surrounded by the traces of half-finished tasks, and we take these traces for granted. So tidying up is, in fact, “leaving no trace.”

So I’ve been focusing on finishing tasks, whether I’m starting them now or whether I started them months ago and then left them incomplete.

I feel like I’m becoming more “upright” — standing in the present moment — as I leave no trace. There’s less leaning forward into the future, and more just being in the present. There’s less of that anxiety about getting on to the next thing. There’s more care and love. Something as simple as wiping down the sink after I’ve used it is like taking care of the present moment. Through doing this exercise I realize that I often see the present moment as an inconvenient obstacle that I have to rush through as quickly as possible in order to get onto more interesting future events. Now I’m finding that I like the present moment just fine!

You might want to take up the practice of leaving no trace, even just for a week, just to see how it goes.

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Lovingkindness while driving (Day 21)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

When the rubber hits the road is a great time to practice lovingkindness, and I mean literal rubber and a literal road.

There’s a lot of irritation involved in driving, right up to the extreme of road rage. It can be irritating to be in slow traffic, or busy traffic, or to be cut off, or to be held up by roadworks, or stuck at traffic lights.

We’re emotionally cut off from other drivers because we’re all in our own semi-private metal boxes, and so we don’t have access (usually) to their body language and facial expressions. So we often take things personally that aren’t necessarily personal. As comedian George Carlin said, “Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?”

And the mind wanders when we’re driving. We drive “on autopilot” and the mind gets distracted. And you might think that the mind, having meandered away from the unpleasant grind of the daily commute, would find something enjoyable to think about. But research shows that most of the time we think about things that make us even unhappier! So our internal experience is unpleasant, and we don’t much like what’s going on around us.

Next time you get a chance, look at drivers’ facial expressions. They’re often frowning, or at best neutral. You’ll rarely see anyone smiling while they’re driving. It’s a serious business. It’s an unhappy business, for the most part.

Driving lovingkindness practice can liberate us from all this. It’s very like the walking lovingkindness practice that I described yesterday. When I do driving lovingkindness, I keep myself mindful by remaining aware of my surroundings, and I say the phrases, “May you be well, may you be happy” as I drive along. Sometimes it’s “May all beings be well, may all beings be happy.”

I might just have a sense that I’m imbuing my field of awareness with lovingkindness in this way, and every perception of a person (or a vehicle that a person contains) is simply touched by my kindly awareness. Or I may focus my attention on various vehicles as they pass in either direction, and wish the drivers and passengers well.

This can become very joyful. One of the participants in 100 Days of Lovingkindness wrote:

For my entire 30 minute ride to work I sent lovingkindness to each passing driver on the road. I can’t tell you the effect the that it had on me … I felt like a protective mother sending all of her children off on their day.

That’s rather lovely.

It’s so much more satisfying to wish drivers well than to have thoughts of ill will about them. When I’m driving with lovingkindness I find I want to let drivers merge, and it feels great. I can see why the Buddha described lovingkindness as a “divine state” — I feel like a gracious deity bestowing blessings as I slow down to create a space for a driver to enter the road. Even if it looks like the other driver is trying to cut the line, I have a sense of magnanimity and forgiveness as I let them in. It feels so much more enjoyable than trying to “punish” the driver by refusing to let them cut in.

And the act of well-wishing also helps prevent the mind from wandering into areas of thought that cloud my sense of well-being. The constant stream of thoughts like “May you be well, may you be happy” make it much harder for my mind to drift. So, despite some people’s fears to the contrary, I find I’m able to pay more attention to my driving, because I’m not getting lost in thought.

And smile! Smiling helps activate our kindness, and it makes us happier. And if some driver or pedestrian happens to see us smiling, they may be reminded that life doesn’t have to be cold, grim, and distracted, but can be warm, kind, and mindful.

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Metta on the go: 6 simple ways to take lovingkindness off the cushion (Day 17)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

For the sixth day of our 100 Days of Lovingkindness, we have a guest post from therapist Ashley Davis Bush.

What a wonderful feeling – you’re in your favorite meditation pose generating loving-kindness, starting with yourself and gradually turning to the world. A feeling of connection to your loved ones, your sangha, and to all sentient beings fills you with bliss.

The metta bhavana is a powerful meditation. It opens the heart and engenders feelings of love and openness.

But what about when you’re off the cushion . . . like when you’re late for work in that long line for coffee? Or when you’re stuck in traffic and just want to get home? Is the loving-kindness still radiating from within you?

Below are 6 simple ways to weave that loving feeling through everyday experiences. Until they become habitual, you might want to use Post It notes as reminders. Over time, you’ll find that metta is better than ever when it’s on the go.

Mirror Mirror on the Wall
When: when you look in a mirror
What: look yourself in the eye and say, “May you be happy. May you be healthy.”

Joy to the World
When: when you blow dry your hair
What: imagine the blow dryer as a large prayer wheel of sorts blowing out blessings. Say, “May all beings be happy. May all beings be safe from harm.”

Who is Your Mother?
When: when you’re standing in a line (especially if you’re in a hurry)
What: look at the cashier and think ‘who is your mother?’ Imagine his or her mother, that she may be alive or not. Imagine their relationship, good one or bad. Wish this anonymous mother well. Wish the cashier well. “May you both be at peace. May you both be healthy.”

Stop Drop and Roll
When: when stopped at a red light
What: ‘Stop’ the car, ‘drop’ down into your heart and ‘roll’ out some goodwill to your fellow travelers. Look at the people in other cars in front of you, behind you, passing you, and recognize that each one of them is just like you – they want happiness and they want to be free from suffering. Say, “May you know happiness. May you be safe.”

Bless Us Everyone
When: when you see or hear an emergency vehicle
What: wish those involved well — including the victims, their loved ones, the first responders, and associated medical or legal professionals. Say “May you be surrounded with love. May you be supported.”

Newspaper Clippings
When: when reading, watching or listening to the news
What: As you learn of distressing news, take a moment to send the people involved some peaceful wishes. Say, “I wish you peace. May you be safe from harm.”

Both on and off the cushion, the metta bhavana practice will keep your heart open, flexible, and radiant.

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