patience

Day 25 of Wildmind’s 100 Day Meditation Challenge

100 day meditation challenge 025One quarter of the way to 100 days :)

Sometimes we see signs of progress in our meditation, like times the mind becomes much calmer, or when we feel an unusual level of joy. It’s good to have these “road signs,” but it’s best not to grasp after attaining anything. Sometimes the mind is like a toddler asking “are we there yet?” We have to remind ourselves to be grown-up drivers; the journey takes as long as it takes, and so we just stay focused on the bit of road we’re driving on now.

Progress (unlike driving) isn’t linear, though. We’ll tend, over time, to see these signs appear, and we’ll have more sits where it all starts to “flow.” But there will also be bad days, and weeks, and sometimes longer periods. But the commitment to practice pays off, so stick with it. That’s the point of this challenge.

We’re also often not conscious of the progress we’re making. Much of it is happening below the threshold of consciousness. (Sometimes even other people notice it in us but we don’t see it ourselves.) When you’re meditating you’re doing things like growing new neurons and developing new pathways in the brain, and those things may not have any tangible effects for a while. But then you find that you’re calm in a situation that would normally make you angry or stressed…

Changes sometimes happen quite quickly, though, because we’re learning to use resources we didn’t know we had at our disposal. For example there already are regulatory pathways in the brain that allow us to moderate our emotional states of fear, anger, craving, etc., but until we learn to use them they’re not of much use to us. Then we discover that being mindful (which is employing these regulatory pathways) allows us to be calmer and more self-possessed — quite quickly.

So I’d encourage you to trust the process, which you probably already do to a large extent, if you’ve started meditating. Enjoy and appreciate the signs of progress when they’re present. Even seek them out, because sometimes we overlook the positive. But when they’re not apparent, accept that that’s OK.

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When words heal

Lakshmi Krupa. the Hindu: Sue Craig is a busy management consultant from the U.K. A professional running her own business, with two teenage children, elderly parents and in-laws, she was in search of something that would help her stay calm. “I came across passage meditation a few years ago and it really appealed to me,” explains Sue who is on a visit to Chennai, as part of her trip to explore India.

“In this form of meditation, you meditate or focus all your energies on a text — it could be an extract from a scripture or words of wise men or saints …

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Entrusting yourself to the waves

I was drawn to my first Buddhist mindfulness retreat during a time when my son, Narayan, was four, and I was on the verge of divorce. During a slow, icy drive through a winter snowstorm on the way to the retreat center, I had plenty of time to reflect on what most mattered to me. I didn’t want a breakup that would bury the love I still shared with my husband; I didn’t want us to turn into uncaring, even hostile, strangers. And I didn’t want a breakup that would deprive Narayan of feeling secure and loved. My deep prayer was that through all that was happening, I’d find a way to stay connected with my heart.

Over the next five days, through hours of silent meditation, I cycled many times through periods of clarity and attentiveness, followed by stretches when I was swamped in sleepiness, plagued by physical discomfort, or lost in a wandering mind. Early one evening I became inundated by thoughts about the upcoming months: Should my husband and I hire lawyers or a mediator to handle the process of divorce? When should we move to separate residences? And, most importantly, how should I be there for our son during this painful transition?

As each anxious thought surfaced, I wanted to really dig in and work everything out in my mind. Yet something in me knew I needed to stay with the unpleasant feelings in my body. A verse from Ryokan, an eighteenth-century Zen poet, came to mind: “To find the Buddhist law, drift east and west, come and go, entrusting yourself to the waves.” The “Buddhist law” refers to the truth of how things really are. We can’t understand the nature of reality until we let go of controlling our experience. There’s no way to see clearly what’s going on if on some level we’re attempting to ignore or bypass the stormy weather.

During the last few days of the retreat I tried to let go, over and over, but felt repeatedly stymied by my well-worn strategy for feeling better—figuring things out. Now Ryokan’s verse was rife with possibility: Perhaps I could entrust myself to the waves. Perhaps the only way to real peace was by opening to life just as it was. Otherwise, behind my efforts to manage things, I’d always sense a lurking threat, something right around the corner that was going to cause trouble.

My old habits didn’t give up easily, though. As soon as I’d contact some tightness in my chest, I’d flip right back into worrying about my son’s new preschool, carpooling, or about how to find a baby-sitter with more flexible hours. Then I’d become hypercritical, harshly judging myself for “wasting” my retreat time. Gradually, I recognized that my heart was clenched tight, afraid to let the intensity of life wash through me. I needed help “entrusting.”

Each afternoon, the teachers had been leading us in a lovingkindness meditation. I decided to try weaving this into my sitting. The classical form of the meditation consists of sending loving prayers to ourselves and widening circles of other beings. I began to offer kind wishes to myself: “May I be happy and at ease; may I be happy and at ease.” At first, repeating the words felt like a superficial mental exercise, but soon something shifted. My heart meant it: I cared about my own life, and becoming conscious of that caring softened some of the tightness around my heart.

Now I could more easily give myself to the waves of fear and sorrow, and simply notice the drifting thoughts and physical sensations—squeezing and soreness—that were coming and going. Whenever the worries that had been snagging me appeared, I sensed that they too were waves, tenacious ones that pressed uncomfortably on my chest. By not resisting, by letting the waves wash through me, I began to relax. Rather than fighting the stormy surges, I rested in an ocean of awareness that embraced all the moving waves. I’d arrived in a sanctuary that felt large enough to hold whatever was going on in my life.

After my retreat, I returned home with the intention of taking refuge in presence whenever I was irritated, anxious, and tight. I was alert when the first flare-up occurred, a week later. My ex-husband called to say he couldn’t take care of Narayan that evening, leaving me scrambling to find a baby-sitter. “I’m the breadwinner, and I can’t even count on him for this!” my mind sputtered. “Once again he’s not doing his share, once again he’s letting me down!”

But when I was done for the day, I took some time to pause and touch into the judgment and blame lingering in my body, and my righteous stance softened. I sat still as the blaming thoughts and swells of irritation came and went. Underneath the resentment was an anxious question: “How will I manage?” As I let the subterranean waves of anxiety move through me, I found a quiet inner space that had more breathing room—and more perspective.

Of course I couldn’t figure out how the future would play out. The only time I had was right now, and this moment was okay. From this space I could sense my ex-husband’s stress about finding a new place to live, working out our schedules, and, more deeply, adapting to a different future than he had imagined. This helped me feel more tolerant and kind. It also revealed the power of entrusting myself to the waves. My husband and I continue to be dear friends. With him and in countless instances with others, this gateway to presence has reawakened me to a space of loving that feels like home.

Adapted from Tara’s upcoming book, True Refuge – Finding Peace and Freedom in your Own Awakened Heart (Bantam, Feb, 2013)

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Tone down the negative, enhance the positive

Painful experiences range from subtle discomfort to extreme anguish – and there is a place for them. Sorrow can open the heart, anger can highlight injustices, fear can alert you to real threats, and remorse can help you take the high road next time.

But is there really any shortage of suffering in this world? Look at the faces of others – including mine – or your own in the mirror, and see the marks of weariness, irritation, stress, disappointment, longing, and worry. There’s plenty of challenge in life already – including unavoidable illness, loss of loved ones, old age, and death – without needing a bias in your brain to give you an extra dose of pain each day.

Your brain evolved exactly such a “negativity bias” in order to help your ancestors pass on their genes – a bias that produces lots of collateral damage today.

Painful experiences are more than passing discomforts. They produce lasting harms to your physical and mental health. When you’re feeling frazzled, pressured, down, hard on yourself, or simply frustrated, that:

  • Weakens your immune system
  • Impairs nutrient absorption in your gastrointestinal system
  • Increases vulnerabilities in your cardiovascular system
  • Decreases your reproductive hormones; exacerbates PMS
  • Disturbs your nervous system

Consider the famous saying: “Neurons that wire together, fire together.” This means that repeated painful experiences – even mild ones – tend to:

  • Increase pessimism, anxiety, and irritability
  • Lower your mood
  • Reduce ambition and positive risk-taking

In couples, upsetting experiences foster mistrust, heightened sensitivity to relatively small issues, distance, and vicious cycles. At much larger scales – between groups or nations – they do much the same.

So don’t take painful experiences lightly, neither the ones you get nor, honestly, the ones you give. Prevent them when you can, and help them pass through when you can’t.

How?

This week, take a stand for yourself, for feeling as good as you reasonably can. A stand for bearing painful experiences when they walk through the door – and a stand for encouraging them to keep on walking, all the way out of your mind.

This is not being at war with discomfort or distress, which would just add negativity, like trying to put out a fire with gasoline. Instead, it is being kind to yourself, wise and realistic about the toxic effects of painful experiences.

In effect, you’re simply saying to yourself something you’d say to a dear friend in pain: I want you to feel better, and I’m going to help you. Try saying that to yourself in your mind right now. How does it feel?

When emotional pain does come, even softly, try to hold it in a large space of awareness. In a traditional metaphor, imagine stirring a big spoon of salt into a cup of water and then drinking it: yuck. But then imagine stirring that spoonful into a clean bucket of water and then drinking a cup: it’s the same amount of salt – the same amount of worry or frustration, feeling inadequate or blue – but held in a larger context. Notice that awareness is without any edges, boundless like the sky, with thoughts and feelings passing through.

In your mind, watch out for how negative information, events, or experiences can seem to overpower positive ones. For example, researchers have found that people typically will work harder or put up with more crud to avoid losing something than to gain the same thing. And they feel more contaminated by one fault than they feel cleansed or elevated by several virtues. Try to switch this around; for instance, pick some of your good qualities and keep seeing how they show up in your life this week.

Be careful whenever you feel stymied, frustrated, or disappointed. Humans (and other mammals) are very vulnerable to what’s called “learned helplessness” – developing a sense of futility, immobilization, and passivity. Focus on where you can make a difference, where you do have power; it may only be inside your own mind, but that’s better than nothing at all.

In your relationships, be mindful of reacting more strongly to one negative event than to a bunch of positive ones. For example, studies have shown that it typically takes several positive interactions to make up for a single negative encounter. Pick an important relationship, and then really pay attention to what’s working in it; let yourself feel good about these things. Deal with the problems in this relationship, sure, but keep them in perspective.

Overall, whenever you remember, deliberately tilt toward the positive in your mind. That’s not looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. Given the negativity bias in the brain, you’re only leveling the playing field.

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The sacred pause

In our lives we often find ourselves in situations we can’t control, circumstances in which none of our strategies work. Helpless and distraught, we frantically try to manage what is happening. Our child takes a downward turn in academics and we issue one threat after another to get him in line. Someone says something hurtful to us and we strike back quickly or retreat. We make a mistake at work and we scramble to cover it up or go out of our way to make up for it. We head into emotionally charged confrontations nervously rehearsing and strategizing.

The more we fear failure the more frenetically our bodies and minds work. We fill our days with continual movement: mental planning and worrying, habitual talking, fixing, scratching, adjusting, phoning, snacking, discarding, buying, looking in the mirror.

What would it be like if, right in the midst of this busyness, we were to consciously take our hands off the controls? What if we were to intentionally stop our mental computations and our rushing around and, for a minute or two, simply pause and notice our inner experience?

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Learning to pause is the first step in the practice of Radical Acceptance. A pause is a suspension of activity, a time of temporary disengagement when we are no longer moving towards any goal. The pause can occur in the midst of almost any activity and can last for an instant, for hours or for seasons of our life.

We may take a pause from our ongoing responsibilities by sitting down to meditate. We may pause in the midst of meditation to let go of thoughts and reawaken our attention to the breath. We may pause by stepping out of daily life to go on a retreat or to spend time in nature or to take a sabbatical. We may pause in a conversation, letting go of what we’re about to say, in order to genuinely listen and be with the other person. We may pause when we feel suddenly moved or delighted or saddened, allowing the feelings to play through our heart. In a pause we simply discontinue whatever we are doing—thinking, talking, walking, writing, planning, worrying, eating—and become wholeheartedly present, attentive and, often, physically still.

A pause is, by nature, time limited. We resume our activities, but we do so with increased presence and more ability to make choices. In the pause before sinking our teeth into a chocolate bar, for instance, we might recognize the excited tingle of anticipation, and perhaps a background cloud of guilt and self-judgment. We may then choose to eat the chocolate, fully savoring the taste sensations, or we might decide to skip the chocolate and instead go out for a run. When we pause, we don’t know what will happen next. But by disrupting our habitual behaviors, we open to the possibility of new and creative ways of responding to our wants and fears.

Of course there are times when it is not appropriate to pause. If our child is running towards a busy street, we don’t pause. If someone is about to strike us, we don’t just stand there, resting in the moment—rather, we quickly find a way to defend ourselves. If we are about to miss a flight, we race toward the gate. But much of our driven pace and habitual controlling in daily life does not serve surviving, and certainly not thriving. It arises from a free-floating anxiety about something being wrong or not enough. Even when our fear arises in the face of actual failure, loss or even death, our instinctive tensing and striving are often ineffectual and unwise.

Taking our hands off the controls and pausing is an opportunity to clearly see the wants and fears that are driving us. During the moments of a pause, we become conscious of how the feeling that something is missing or wrong keeps us leaning into the future, on our way somewhere else. This gives us a fundamental choice in how we respond: We can continue our futile attempts at managing our experience, or we can meet our vulnerability with the wisdom of Radical Acceptance.

Often the moment when we most need to pause is exactly when it feels most intolerable to do so. Pausing in a fit of anger, or when overwhelmed by sorrow or filled with desire, may be the last thing we want to do. Pausing can feel like falling helplessly through space—we have no idea of what will happen. We fear we might be engulfed by the rawness of our rage or grief or desire. Yet without opening to the actual experience of the moment, Radical Acceptance is not possible.

Through the sacred art of pausing, we develop the capacity to stop hiding, to stop running away from our experience. We begin to trust in our natural intelligence, in our naturally wise heart, in our capacity to open to whatever arises. Like awakening from a dream, in the moment of pausing our trance recedes and Radical Acceptance becomes possible.

From Radical Acceptance (2003). Published with permission.

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Ten tips for setting up a meditation practice

The benefits of meditation come with regular practice, and that means making it part of your life. That’s one of the great challenges of learning meditation, so here are ten tips for establishing a meditation practice.

1. Get some instruction

You can learn the techniques of meditation from books and CDs: there are some good ones around (check out our shop). There are also meditation apps. But it helps a lot to learn from a live class if you can make it to one. Take a course – or go to a class where you can ask questions about the issues. In time, it helps to have friends or teachers who are more experienced meditators than you are.

2. Settle on a practice that suits you

On an meditation course there are three main practices – the mindfulness of breathing, the body scan and mindful movement, and there are many others out there. It’s worth experimenting a bit and then settling on the practice, or combination of practices, that work for you.

3. Find a regular time for practice

You might start off thinking you’ll just try fitting meditation into your day somehow or other, but establishing a practice means finding a time that works for you. For many people, first thing in the morning before the day starts up is a good time; others prefer the evening. There are pros and cons with either so you’ll need to experiment.

4. Set up a meditation place

You can meditate anywhere, but if you sit down amid clutter it has an effect. So set aside a space that evokes the feeling of meditation. Some flowers, a candle or an image on a table can be enough to encourage the feeling that you’re leaving aside the usual preoccupations. It also helps to set aside the cushions or chair that need for meditation, and it’s worth thinking about getting some meditation cushions or a stool.

5. Talk to your family or housemates

To avoid people barging in or turning up the music just as you start to get settled, talk to the people you live with and let them know what you are doing. Don’t worry if they thing you’re weird: if they notice you’re calmer and happier they’ll soon change.

6. Meditate with others

It’s hard to keep anything going on your own, at least to start with. We all need encouragement and guidance. Many people find a setting where they can meditate with others: Buddhist centres, sitting groups, and even virtual settings, like a videoconference or app.

7. Go on retreat

Retreats are a chance to get away from all the things that usually fill up our lives. They vary in length: you can find day retreats or residential retreats for a weekend or longer. Just being quiet and meditating several times a day lets everything settle down so your experience can go deeper. On an intensive retreat you don’t do much apart from meditate, but there are less demanding options as well.

8. Take your practice off the cushion

If you think of meditation as something that only happens in the formal practice time, it will be hard to maintain. So look for ways to keep the thread of mindfulness and meditation alive through the day. The Three Minute Breathing Space gives you time to stop and connect with mindfulness, and you can find many more, informal ways to do the same.

9. Reflect on your values

Most of us get enthusiastic, every so often, about a certain kind of exercise or studying a particular subject. But, looking back, we only maintain a few of these. They are the ones that touch on the values at the core of our lives. If you can make the connection between something that is a deep-seated drive like helping others or understanding the truth, or a pressing concern like not getting depressed or being more effective as a parent, then you’re much more likely to be able to sustain it.

10. Be patient … and persistent

Establishing a regular meditation practice is a long-term project. You may miss days, get discouraged or just forget about meditation for a while. The key thing is to keep going. If you force yourself to meditate when you really don’t feel like it, you’ll probably have a reaction to the whole idea; but if you wait until you do feel like it before you pick your practice up again, it may never happen. But with time, you figure out ways to make your practice happen.

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Can patience co-exist with technology?

Cheryl Stritzel McCarthy, Chicago Tribune: In a world where a new laptop already seems slow, one wonders whether our ever-faster technology is creating a pervasive culture of impatience.

Allan Lokos, who teaches patience as founder of The Community Meditation Center in New York and author of “Patience: The Art of Peaceful Living” (Tarcher), thinks that’s not the case. Rather, technology offers more opportunities to be impatient — but those are also opportunities to build patience.

Technology is external, Lokos says, while the feeling of impatience is internal, he says: “The person who experiences impatience easily is going to experience it in every traffic …

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“It can wait.” A mantra for the 21st century

Buddha meditating lying on one side

You’re in the middle of a conversation with a friend, and your phone rings. You stop mid-sentence and suddenly you’re caught up in a phone call. You don’t even think about whether or not to pick up the call. It just happens.

You’re in the car and you hear the ping of a text message arriving. What do you do? Many people succumb to temptation and read the message and — worse — reply to it. (You can recognize those people; they’re the ones in front of you, swerving out of their lane without even realizing it.) Even if you try to ignore the incoming message, you can feel its emotional pull, as if your phone is an emotional black hole, drawing your attention inexorably toward it.

These distractions are hard to resist. How can we reclaim our attention in this world of email alerts, text message alerts, phone calls, IM alerts, and Facebook notifications?

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I’ve found one simple way of regaining control of my attention. It’s a simple phrase: “It can wait.” I didn’t make this phrase up. I borrowed it from a public service advertisement designed to combat distracted driving. I found it simple and powerful.

And I use it in my daily activities. When I feel the urge to look at my phone while I’m driving, even if it’s just to remind myself of the name of the song that’s playing, I say “It can wait.” This simple phrase makes it easy for me to keep my attention where it belongs — on driving safely.

“It can wait” is a reminder of what’s important. The text message, email, or phone call will still be there when I arrive at my destination. I can deal with it then. Right now what’s important is getting to my destination safely. (In theory the song is still there, but in practice I’ll forget to do the detective work necessary to figure out what the track was. Which just goes to show how important it was in the first place to have that information!)

“It can wait” is a tool I also use in my meditation practice.

Sometimes when I’m meditating I find myself getting caught up in some train of thought. Sometimes those thoughts are compulsive. Right now I’ve just moved into a new office and we’re making some changes at work, so I find myself planning how we’re going to use the space, how we can set up better organizational systems etc. It’s all creative stuff. But it’s not what I want to be doing in my meditation practice. So I say, “It can wait.” And again, I find it relatively easy to let go of the train of thought. Sometimes it’ll come back a few times, but I keep saying “It can wait” and the planning part of my mind eventually gets the message.

“It can wait” becomes a powerful statement of affirmation in the importance of the present moment. I find myself planning? “It can wait.” Right now I’m just going to be with my present moment experience. I’ll find happiness by surrendering to the present moment, not by arranging the future in my mind.

So I offer this to you as a practice that I’ve found to be simply and effective. When you need to be focused on the present moment and an emotional black hole appears and tries to steal your attention, just say “It can wait” and embrace the present moment in mindful awareness.

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Three ways to cultivate patience in 2012

Therese Borchard: Ah patience. How do we cultivate you without driving ourselves more crazy?

Being that my new year’s resolution is to be more content with living with the questions in my life versus rushing towards the answers, I found useful the advice in Allan Lokos’s new book, Patience: The Art of Peaceful Living.

Lokos is the founder and guiding teacher of the Community Meditation Center in New York City, and the author of Pocket Peace: Effective Practices for Enlightened Living.

Here are the three themes that I found most helpful in his book.

1. See things as they are.

Writes Lokos:

In the …

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Something there is that doesn’t love a wall

I made three resolutions for this year’s summer trip:

· be extra patient with my partner
· don’t drink wine every day
· meditate

By the end of week one however, wine bottles were chinking in campsite recycling bins, I’d shouted GET ON WITH IT several times and had only meditated once, on the first morning.

Something about good resolutions makes me do the exact opposite. I want to be a better person. But it’s as if my definition of ‘better’ doesn’t always win the rubber stamp of approval from some mysterious internal committee. And this committee has a habit of voting with its feet.

Earlier this year, for example, I booked onto a two-week meditation retreat where the norm would be to meditate 6-8 hours a day. I usually meditate for half an hour daily, so I decided in the weeks leading up to the retreat to ‘build up’ my practice a bit. In came the goal-setting: I would add an evening sit and extend the morning one to forty minutes.

I didn’t even do it once. In fact, in the run up to the retreat, I stopped meditating altogether.

Once on the retreat, I planned to eat mindfully. A golden opportunity. Others might be doing something similar and if they weren’t, no one would be able to say anything because we were all in silence!

The plan lasted until day three. Surrounded incessantly by mindful eaters, the deliberate way they cut up their food drove me mad. And the way they chewed! The way they put their knife and fork down between mouthfuls. GET ON WITH IT I wanted to shout. I had to go and sit next to some big blokes who shovelled their food down any old how.

My aims often fail in this way. Perhaps I don’t have enough self-discipline. Perhaps I should cultivate aims that are less off-the-peg. Perhaps my motivation is wrong – too self-focussed. Or maybe my goals are too ambitious and I need to break them down into small, achievable outcomes. All of that sounds plausible.

And yet, I don’t know. Robert Frost’s ‘Mending Wall’ comes to mind, in which the poet talks to his neighbour about mending their dividing wall. ‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall/That wants it down. I could say ‘Elves’ to him/But it’s not elves exactly.’

Well, something there is that doesn’t love a goal either, I reckon. That wants it to fail. I could say ‘resistance’. But it’s not resistance exactly.

It’s probably closer to elves, and I’m interested in elves. I can’t shake off the feeling that they have friends on my internal committee and that those friends might be trying to tell me something.

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