mindfulness in daily life

Lovingkindness: when the rubber hits the road (Day 21)

Lotus, isolated on whiteWhen 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)

Lotus, isolated on whiteWhat 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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Becoming a Google Glass Explorer

google glass

I’m now officially a Google Glass Explorer (or #GlassExplorer)!

You’ve probably heard of Google’s “Project Glass.” It’s the virtual reality display that sits on your face like glasses, and allows you to receive and send messages, or to make video or audio recordings.

Here’s a video, giving you a first person view of “what it’s like.”

I’ve been officially selected to try out Google glass, based on a submission I wrote for their competition.

On Feb 26 I wrote:

#ifihadglass it would be to use it as a mindfulness teaching tool, plucking moments of beauty from ordinary life, creating full-immersion audiovisual haikus to share with the world, showing how every moment is a opportunity for experiencing appreciation and wonder.

Today +Project Glass wrote:

Hi Bodhipaksa, thanks for applying! We’d like to invite you to join our #glassexplorers program. We’ll be sending you a private message with more details in the coming weeks — keep an eye on our stream at Project Glass.?

Wow!

Now I still have to pay for the things, and I believe the cost is about $1500, but I’m psyched to have been chosen, and I’m going to be wandering around for the next few days, imagining I’m wearing Google Glass, and getting a feel of how I could use it as a teaching tool. I already have some interesting ideas.

I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

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The compassionate art of taking breaks

At the weekend I read a great article by Tony Schwartz in the New York Times. It was exactly what I needed at that moment to address the problem of being overly busy. The article was about the importance of taking breaks in order to maintain productivity, and it started like this:

Think for a moment about your typical workday. Do you wake up tired? Check your e-mail before you get out of bed? Skip breakfast or grab something on the run that’s not particularly nutritious? Rarely get away from your desk for lunch? Run from meeting to meeting with no time in between? Find it nearly impossible to keep up with the volume of e-mail you receive? Leave work later than you’d like, and still feel compelled to check e-mail in the evenings?

With the exception of the thing about breakfast — I always eat breakfast — this is my life. I’m a bit ashamed to admit it, but checking my email first thing in the morning is what I do. Often there are 30 — sometimes 50 — that have arrived overnight, and I’ve got into the habit of doing triage on my emails as soon as I wake up. I grab my iPad, and I’m off.

I have another bad iPad habit as well, which is of reading on it at night after I go to bed. Because of this I almost always go to sleep later than I should, and then the kids often wake me during the night, or wake up very early in the morning.

And during the day I work more or less continually, usually eating my lunch at my desk. If I’m lucky, my lunch break lasts 10 to 15 minutes. I do of course meditate every day, so at least that counts as a substantial break, but otherwise I’m busy throughout the work day. Sometimes — and you may recognize this in yourself — I get to the point when I just can’t take in one more word. I hit the wall. My brain grinds to a halt and I’m forced to back away from the computer screen. I more or less collapse back in my office chair and wait until my brain has untangled itself from the knot it’s got itself into.

It’s not very mindful or compassionate!

Because this article resonated with me so strongly, I took it very seriously. On Sunday, after my wife had headed out with the kids, I lay down and took a nap. I slept for an hour. And I decided I’d make changes to my work day, too.

Schwartz claims that the brain works on 90 minute cycles. These cycles were identified as operating at night back in the 1950s, and it’s become recognized (he says — I haven’t checked out the science) that these cycles operate throughout the day. That “wall” that I hit is presumably when I’ve pushed past the 90 minutes of one cycle and, failing to take a rest, am now running on empty.

So I’ve been more conscious the last couple of days of the need to take breaks. I’ve been keeping better track of the time, and making sure I program in breaks. I also try to be more mindful of tiredness, so that I’m taking breaks when I need them, and not when the clock says I should have them.

For my breaks I’ve been getting up and walking around, doing the dishes, making and drinking some coffee, going outdoors for a few minutes in order to get a change of scenery and air, and meditating. I plan to add exercising and stretching to my breaks as well.

I’ve still felt a sense of strain in the work day. I think I really go at it when I’m working. But I would have felt much worse had I not taken those breaks.

But all those emails are still going to be flooding my in-box, right? That’s true, but I suspect that I’m just clearer and more productive when I’m better rested, and can therefore deal with them more quickly, efficiently, and effectively. Some of the email I need to deal with is correspondence about meditation practice, and for that kind of conversation you really need to be in a creative space — and that just doesn’t happen when you’re exhausted.

Another change I’ve made is not taking my iPad into the bedroom. This takes away the temptation to read articles or browse social media, and not only do I get to sleep earlier, but I’m probably getting a better quality of sleep because the light from electronic devices is believed to upset our circadian rhythms.

So it’s early days, but I feel like I’m getting more of a handle on my activities, so that I can be more mindful and compassionate toward myself. And that’s going to help not just me, but everyone I’m in contact with.

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Day 30 of Wildmind’s 100 Day Meditation Challenge

100 day meditation challenge 030Emily Schudel of our Google+ Community shares the following account of her progress to date:

The mind wanders into very interesting corners, but I am learning to patiently let it go and return to the breath. I find the practice creeping into my workday as well. I have an app on my computer that also helps (called Stillness Buddy) – pops up on my screen at intervals for a variety of stillness pauses in the day.

One thing I am really trying to be mindful of at work (and in life) now is getting away from multitasking. So many people seem to think doing many things at once is important, necessary and showing of great skill. I don’t know any more – I am beginning to think not, although I still get trapped in the mindset of doing many things at once. I’m trying to stop, do one task at a time (of course, work doesn’t always allow for that, but I try to do one thing for a set time, then switch to another) and do it with full attention on the task at hand, trusting that the other task(s) will be waiting for me to complete next. People at work laugh when I talk about multitasking being perhaps not the thing we should be working towards, but I am caring less and less. I feel like I accomplish more (and accomplish it better, if you will) but lending my full attention to one task at a time. But, I’m still working on it!

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Day 27 of Wildmind’s 100 Day Meditation Challenge

100 day meditation challenge 027Nicki, from Wildmind’s Google Plus Community, offers her take on “how it’s going so far” in the 100 Day Challenge:

The first thing I’ve noticed is a welling-up and outpouring of compassion. In interactions with friends I’ve been almost wholly focussed on them, their lives and interests and how to help them, rather than caught up in some internal dialogue with myself. And the compassion also extends more widely into the world.

Last week I was buying lunch in a takeaway shop, and saw an elderly man sitting slowly cutting and eating a piece of roast chicken (with apologies to vegetarian readers). It was obvious that the movements were difficult for him, and that the strength and coordination to navigate around the chicken bones were testing him to the utmost. So his hands moved slowly, carefully, and I looked at his translucent age-spotted skin and felt an almost unbearable tenderness for this unknown man.

This sounds lovely.

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Day 24 of Wildmind’s 100 Day Meditation Challenge

100 day meditation challenge 024We’re almost a quarter of the way through the challenge!

One thing I’ve been working on is cultivating more lovingkindness in daily life. I find that if I don’t deliberately do this, then my mind often has a bit of a hard and brittle “edge” to it that can come out in irritability and even in anger.

Lovingkindness meditation helps, but it’s not enough. There are still live, unexploded reserves of anger inside my being, and they need to be defused.

Practicing lovingkindness in daily life is like sending in the bomb squad.

So as I’m driving, or walking, or standing in line in a store, and even often when I’m working on my computer, I’ll be cultivating lovingkindness. Sometimes I repeat the lovingkindness phrases — things like “May you be well; may you be happy” — and sometimes all I have to do is to bring my awareness to the heart and remember to be loving. Often that’s all it takes.

There are times I forget, but that’s OK. If I forget to connect with lovingkindness while I’m walking to the post office, but remember on the way back, then at least some of my time has been spent cultivating lovingkindness. Any effort is better than none. I am setting up some “mindfulness triggers” to help me remember to connect with lovingkindness. Walking now triggers this action more often than not, as does driving. I find it a little harder to remember when I’m working, but that’s becoming easier as well. Often when I’m working I’m writing to someone or writing for a particular audience, and I find it enjoyable to connect with lovingkindness for those I’m communicating with.

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Day 16 of Wildmind’s 100 Day Meditation Challenge

100 day meditation challenge 016I encourage my meditation students to set up “mindfulness triggers,” by which I mean reminders to practice mindfulness. One of my mindfulness triggers is walking toward a pedestrian crossing, when I remind myself to have no expectations that the approaching cars will stop. Another is closing my car door and walking to my office, when I remember to walk meditatively in order to arrive at Wildmind’s World Headquarters mindfully and in a state of lovingkindness.

But some of us need mindfulness triggers for our mindfulness triggers, meaning that we read about these kinds of pracices and even plan to set them up, but then in the heat of daily action we forget to follow through.

If that’s you, then here are a few ideas to do right now. Stop everything and just do at least one of these things, otherwise you’ll forget. Habit is a very strong thing…

  1. First, change the ring tone and text message alert tone on your cellphone. When you hear the different sounds, you’ll be jolted into an awareness that they’ve changed, and this will remind you to take three deep breaths, and to notice what your current experience is before you answer the phone. So go grab your phone and do that now. I’ll wait.
  2. Second, if you spend much time on a computer, go to this site and set up a bell to ring randomly. When the bell rings, you’ll remember to take three deep breaths, and to notice what your current experience is. (There are mindfulness apps for smartphones that will do the same thing.)
  3. Third, put a band-aid on your finger. You’ll notice it throughout the day and it’ll remind you to take three deep breaths, etc. If it’s night time now, then set out a bandaid with your work clothes so that you remember to put it on tomorrow morning.

The more mindfulness we can bring into daily life, the better the quality of our awareness will be, and the more benefit we’ll be to others.

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Day 11 of Wildmind’s 100 Day Meditation Challenge

100 day meditation challenge 011It astonishes me how much time I spend making judgements about people, but the truly surprising thing is that although it makes me feel bad, I keep doing it. And it leads to unfortunate interactions with people which ends up causing them suffering too.

One thing that protects us against this kind of self-imposed suffering is lovingkindness (metta) practice. Lovingkindness is an important complement to mindfulness practice.

To cultivate metta we can do something as simple as repeat to ourselves, “May you be well; may you be happy” as we see others. We can do this while walking or driving, for example.

We can take a more reflective approach to cultivating lovingkindness. I often consider the truth of the following statements:

  • I want to be happy;
  • I don’t want to suffer;
  • I often find happiness elusive;
  • I find suffering hard to avoid.

I drop these thoughts in one at a time, giving myself time to feel their reality on an emotional level. And then I allow the part of me that wants me to be happy to wish myself well — basically allowing a sympathetic attitude toward myself to emerge. Somehow recollecting that it’s a difficult thing to live a human life allows me to be more tender, and to be more caring and appreciative of myself.

Then I can apply the same thoughts to another person: This person wants to be happy; he/she doesn’t want to suffer; he/she often finds happiness elusive; he/she finds suffering hard to avoid. I find that quite naturally I want to “root for” this person as they do this difficult thing of living a human life. I want them to be happy.

This might sound a bit complex, but it isn’t really. The important thing is to give yourself time to let the thoughts have some emotional reality. With a little practice these reflections can be done in a few seconds, and having been thought about in a conscious way, they can then remain in the back of our minds, having a positive effect on our attitudes to others without needing to be consciously articulated.

This is something that I do at the start of each stage of my lovingkindness (metta) meditations. It’s also something I do during my daily activities. It makes lovingkindness practice much more real and effective for me.

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Mindfulness in the 21st century

phone etiquette

This is an excellent phone etiquette idea. People often want to spend more time texting the people they’re not with than paying attention to the people they are with, and in doing so they deprive themselves of the opportunity to make rich emotional connections with others.

We need to develop ways, like this one, of dealing with our addictions to technology and to multitasking. Otherwise we risk becoming road-kill on the information superhighway.

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