Breathing

This is where it all begins—and ends. The foundation of any quiet corner is breathing. If you breathe into your quiet corner and allow your breathing to direct you in your search, it will create space and quiet for your corner. As I concentrate on breathing slowly, my focus shifts and I welcome the ensuing calm as it enfolds and comforts me.IMG_1389

Most of us breathe very shallowly. We only breathe into our throats and don’t allow oxygen deep into our bodies. Take a moment. Become aware of how you’re breathing in this moment. Is your breathing deep and calm? Or is it shallow and hurried? The next time you feel stressed, panicked, or otherwise pressured, again notice your breathing patterns. Your breathing will be shallower than normal. Or you may discover that you are actually holding your breath, not breathing at all. This is a common response to stress. Think for a moment about what this might mean to your well-being.

As a simple exercise, take a breath through your nostrils and send this breath into your lower chest. Continue inhaling as you first fill up your lower chest, then your middle chest, and then your upper chest. Slowly release this breath—first the upper chest, then the middle chest, and then the lower chest. Do this three times as slowly as possible. In doing this, you will discover your first quiet corner.

If you take three deep breaths a few times during each day, especially at those critically stressful moments, you’ll be on your way to reducing stress and introducing some serenity into your life. It is truly simple and immediately rewarding.

from Find a Quiet Corner

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Becoming Aware 1:1

Situating Yourself: What is Our Purpose Here?

Like everyone else, you probably are searching for something in this life to satisfy a dream, a longing, or something that you can’t even name. As you begin to read this book you may even have an agenda for yourself. Perhaps you’re looking for answers to the gnawing questions in your brain about what your role in this life is. And perhaps you’re looking for some serenity, a little peace of mind that will at least temporarily take you away from your troubles. Maybe you’ve tried other things to help you gain this peace and nothing has worked, so you’re skeptical that anything can work.

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Perhaps you’ve reached some measure of peace in your life and want to go deeper. You want to experience more joy. You want to experience your life more fully, and you want to achieve an emotional balance so that the highs and lows of life are moderated.

Or maybe you’re committed to the pursuit of happiness at any cost, or to acquiring things like money and power because you believe that these will give you joy and freedom.

Perhaps you don’t even know what you want—you just know that something is amiss, something needs to happen inside you because no matter what happens to and around you there is no satisfaction. Maybe you have everything you’ve ever dreamed of—the compatible relationship, the satisfying job, the nice home, plenty of love from children and family—yet something inside feels empty. You might even hesitate to acknowledge this empty feeling, thinking that your friends and family wouldn’t believe you or would consider you ungrateful.

Perhaps you believe you have a fatal flaw that nothing and nobody can correct, and up to this point in your life you’ve kept it your secret. Or maybe you’re sitting with a minor under-the-skin-dis-ease, something you can live with but that colors the way you see everything. It’s not extreme, mostly it goes unnoticed by others, but it’s beginning to affect your behavior more and more. You’re simply fed up with it and want it gone.

Right now, try not to figure any of this out, and don’t worry about where or whether you fit in to any of these scenarios. Simply know that wherever you are coming from and wherever you think you might want to go, you are, right this moment, in the right place. Know that whatever you think your purpose in life or your purpose in reading this book (blog) is, you are, right this moment, in the right place.

Let’s make a pact. Let’s agree that for now our purpose is to be present and willing, right here, right now. To this end, let’s do a simple exercise. Look around you. What does the room you’re in look like? Are there windows? Notice the source of light. What shoes are you wearing? Are you standing or sitting? How’s your breathing? Take three long, deep breaths to put your attention there. Look around you again. Ground yourself in the here and now. Focus on just being where you are, right now, in this moment. Breathe deeply.

This exercise is a simple one, and I will ask you to remember it and turn to it from time to time. Let’s call it your purpose tool. Whenever you find yourself fearful or anxious, use this tool. Whenever the question “What is my purpose?” arises, use this tool. Whenever you are in a state of existential angst, use this tool. Whenever you don’t know what to do next, use this tool

You may be asking yourself such questions as “Why? What good will this do me? How can such a simple exercise help with the important maters of my life?” Take a moment. Stop. Use your purpose tool. If you practice this regularly and follow the other suggestions in this book (blog), I promise that you will find the answers to even your most perplexing questions. But for now let’s agree that our purpose is to be here, on this page, in this moment, and nowhere else. That is enough purpose just now. Read along, trust, and bring this tool with you as you go.

To be continued…

from Just Listen – A Guide to Finding Your Own True Voice

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The Practice of Being Still

We can be moving at a furious pace even when we’re not in motion. This activity is usually our mind working overtime, which can cause stress, distress, anxiety, and health problems. The solution then is simple: Slow down the movement of our mind.IMG_0594

But when our mind continues to move, even after our body is quiet, it can keep us from making the effort to be still, which moves us even further away from a calm mind. Our mind keeps chattering once we’ve stilled our body, because our mind doesn’t want us to be still. When we are still, our mind inevitably slows down and is no longer in charge. But our mind, and most especially our petty ego, wants to be in charge; it is not happy when it’s not, so it does everything in its power to keep us moving. And it usually wins.

So then the question becomes, how do we take charge of our mind? You might also wonder, isn’t my mind me? If I’m not in charge of my own mind, then who or what is? Good questions. Put them aside for a moment and consider this: If you were truly in charge of your mind, wouldn’t you just be able to say to it, calm down, relax, don’t worry, stop thinking so much, and other similar things? Haven’t we all tried such coaxing? Has it ever worked?

So now what? Well, the good news is that there is a way to take charge. Rather than fighting fire with fire, pitting will against will, you can learn another approach to relieve the pressure, quiet your mind, and let go of the need for answers.

What is this miraculous way? What do we use, if not our will, to calm ourselves and become masters of our minds.

Breath—it’s really that simple. Almost too simple for our complicated minds to understand and accept.

It may seem like there must be more to it, but the answer is, not really.

It is simply a matter of concentrating and bringing your attention to your breath. The key concept here is concentration. This is where your indomitable will can be utilized. Draw all of your energy and spirit into each breath, and as you do, draw your breath deeper and deeper into your belly-mind. Each time your mind strays, gently draw it back as you would a windblown scarf, and concentrate with all your might and attention on each inhalation and each exhalation. This is not an easy task. Each time, thoughts and sounds and disappointments will disturb you. But there will come a point when you will experience, for a fraction of a second, such full concentration on your breathing that all thoughts and outside interference will halt. This “space between thoughts” is where your truth resides, where your essence is revealed. Eventually, with practice, these moments will get longer, and you will completely lose yourself in the practice of concentrated breathing, deep in your belly. Then you will know why this practice is so valuable. You will experience contentment as never before, and a deep understanding will prevail. But even before this, when you engage in this concentrated breath practice each day, for fifteen, twenty, forty minutes, a number of things happen:

•Your body slows down.

•Your breath gets deeper.

•Your mind follows and begins to slow down (sometimes kicking and screaming, but eventually giving in peacefully).

•Your heart rate slows.

•Anger, depression, and anxiety abate.

•Pain symptoms relax.

These things occur, plus much more. You have the power to manifest these benefits. So concentrate, keep a positive attitude, and breathe your way to serenity.

As you become more aware of your breath, you will naturally cultivate a spirit of gratitude for your breath, because it equals life. Prior to this breath-attention practice, you most likely took your breath for granted, but do no longer. Once you stop taking your life-source for granted, you will extend this same attitude to all other things and people and circumstances. You might have to remind yourself now and then, but if you keep up the breath-awareness practice, then the practice of gratitude will automatically follow.

(from Serenity in Motion)

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Mindful Quotes for September

September always feels like a new beginning, a slightly larger and grander new beginning than the one I experience each time I sit on my meditation cushion. But that’s just my history. I now take each day, no matter the season, as a new beginning. Just back from a month in the Vermont countryside, I sit today with the rhythm of the city as the backdrop and enjoy that beat. No matter where my body rests, there I am.

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Meditation is one of the most serious things. You can do it all day, in the office, with the family, when you say to somebody, “I love you,” when you are considering your children…. Meditation is part of life, not something different from life.
J. Krishnamurti

If we are not in control of ourselves but instead let our impatience or anger interfere, then our work is no longer of any value. Mindfulness is the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves.
Thich Nhat Hahn

You should rather be grateful for the weeds you have in your mind, because eventually they will enrich your practice.
Shunryu Suzuki

Some say that my teaching is nonsense.
Others call it lofty but impractical.
But to those who have looked inside themselves,
this nonsense makes perfect sense.
And to those who put it into practice,
this loftiness has roots that go deep.

I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.
Lao Tzu

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Off the Grid

This will be my last blog until September. Gulp. And I’ll not be posting on FB or Twitter either. Another gulp. Unless the spirit moves me, and even then it’ll be just for fun.

As a self-employed writer and teacher it’s not easy to stop paying attention to work. My work is my life and my life is my work and I can’t imagine doing anything else. Even so, it is important to unplug for a while. And that is what I plan to do for the next few weeks.

I hope you all get to detach from your usual life for a bit this summer so we can all return refreshed and with a new perspective. Have a happy end of summer and see you all in September.

Valley Trail

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Bettina’s Fruit Tart

Recently, some friends offered us their weekly CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share of vegetables and fruit. They were leaving town for a couple weeks and wanted to share the bounty. Among the plethora of just harvested vegetables from Roxbury Farm was a quart of yellow plums. We were delighted.

The plums were delicious, but we wanted to not waste a one, so what better use of fresh summer fruit than a tart? I immediately went to my friend Bettina’s wonderful book, aptly named A Taste of Heaven and Earth, for her simple recipe. And voila! A summer treat that’s sweet, healthy and delicious!

Plum Tart

Bettina’s Fruit Tart Recipe

Sweet Tart Pastry Recipe

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Mindful Quotes for August

On Sunday I will leave for the woods of Vermont for one whole month: To rest, to read, to restore.

The approaching school year always brings to mind, change, new beginnings and exciting possibilities. It is engraved in my bones, my muscle memory and my heart. I look forward to it, but first the fallow period of August. Ahhhhhh.

Higley Hill

“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”
T.S. Eliot

“Take rest; a field that has rested gives a beautiful crop.”
Ovid

“To become something else, you have to stop being what you are now; to start doing things a new way, you have to end the way you are doing them now; and to develop a new attitude or outlook, you have to let go of the old one you have now. Even though it sounds backwards, endings always come first. The first task is to let go.”
William Bridges

Return is the movement of the Tao.
Yielding is the way of the Tao.
All things are born of being.
Being is born of non-being.
Lao Tzu

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A Summer State of Mind

I often ask my students, as Mary Oliver asks us in the poem below: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” As I plan for a month in the country, I ask myself this same question.

This is my prayer for today, for my life, and especially for the month of August.

I vow to be idle and blessed, to pay attention, to be a girl, to be grateful for this special gift of time, to do nothing, to just be.

The Summer DaySummer flowers

Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

(from New and Selected Poems, 1992)

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Buddha on Infidelity

Sexual misconduct creates suffering. Period. Whether we are the ones engaging in it or are the victims of it, everyone involved suffers. Marriage & intimacy_Nancy OHara_July-14To understand just how corrosive and harmful this is to forming a true partnership and how it interferes with an intimate connection to another person, we only have to look at our own community and perhaps our own family and friends. Who doesn’t know someone who has been affected by the misuse and abuse of sex? 2,600 years ago, Buddha, a human being just like you and me, knew how destructive such behavior could be: it is number one on his list of five hindrances and number three on his list of ten precepts. The good news is that he also prescribed a way out of our suffering and offered us a clear path to liberation from our suffering and from our own misbehaviors.

The first of the five hindrances that Buddha warned us about is lustful desires. The first of the three poisons is greed. And the first of the four noble truths of Buddhism is Dukkha, which is often translated as suffering. In The Dhammapada, a concise collection of Buddha’s teachings, he said: “Lust and greed ruin the mind as weeds ruin fields.” This is an image that we can all relate to and have probably at one time or another experienced for ourselves.

So, if we have been a victim or a perpetrator of infidelity, how can Buddhism help us today in the twenty-first century to understand, cope, and deal with it? How can we move from ill-will, hatred or anger (the second hindrance) toward our self or our partner, to healing and forgiveness? … Read more

*This article first appeared in the July 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing magazine.

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Seppo’s Potato Salad

It’s summertime, which in my house means lots of salads with farm fresh vegetables, corn on the cob and veggie burgers. Or salmon on the grill when we’re in the country.

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And what is a real summer meal without good old-fashioned potato salad? Here’s a version that I haven’t made in a while, but definitely will in August when we’re vacationing in Vermont. I can almost taste it now!

Seppo’s Potato Salad Recipe

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