So much noise.

There is a Buddhist Sutta that I suggest all who are interested in Mindfulness or Meditation practice should read called the Satipatthana Sutta. You can even find it on the internet for free at accesstoinsight.org. I suggest bringing your practice back to the basics is a great place to start. Sometimes we, I say we because I struggle with this too, I often get stuck in the noise of the world.

What do I mean by this? I have spent my whole life fighting this part of my brain that becomes obsessed with things, ideas, behaviors, sometimes people. So of course when I first started studying Mindfulness, Yoga, Buddhism, and spirituality this became an obsession too. I felt like if I was going to do it I wanted to do it right. To put it bluntly I became so obsessed that I was totally missing the whole point. After years of being angry, drinking large amounts of alcohol, and living a survival based lifestyle learning Mindfulness seemed very confusing. I switched my behaviors but I didn’t yet know how to switch my mind.

On the outside looking in I may of looked great, I was sober, practicing meditation, yoga, and started going to the temple. I was still very much living in a survival state of mind however with my mind constantly swinging from one obsession to the next, one thought to the next, one experience to the next without actually sitting and being present with any of them. This is why I say so much noise.

In the world we live in there is so much information out there feeding our minds, and without contemplation we may believe every teacher we hear, or every book we read, but this is harmful. We forget to just keep it simple. In a world full of “quick fixes” where “Mindfulness” has become a buzz word is anyone really learning how to be “Mindful”? Am I really learning how to be “Mindful”?

The practice is simple and the path is clear, “just be present with all sense experiences.” This is the practice at the heart of both Buddhist and Yogic teaching. However why do we struggle and make it so difficult? Why do we think we need a certain type of incense to be present, or a special oil, or a precious stone.? Now do not get me wrong, I love my incense, oils, and crystals. I have however have gotten lost because I became obsessed with which one will “save me.” Why am I still looking for things outside of what already exists inside me?

This is a question I must admit I do not have the answer for yet, but I do know that after 5 years of practice I am starting to see that the answer may be as simple as just existing in the moment with all beings just as it is. In the Sutta I talked about in the beginning of this post you will find some amazing answers, starting with awareness of the body, then the mind, then the truth of what exists in the now.

I can tell you this, my mantra forever will be “Right now, it’s like this.”

May this benefit any beings who need this reminder today.

There is no quick fix.

In the world we live in today there is no question that our minds are constantly being sent messages that aren’t ours. Drive down any road and you will see billboards, signs, commercials, all trying to put an idea of what you need into your brain. All these messages create an illusion that sends a message to the brain that says, “I need that, it looks so good, why do I not have that.” At times these thoughts will become overwhelming for some people who are battling certain mental health conditions it may even over take them and they won’t be able to control or stop the thoughts. I think most of us struggle with these messages.

Part of the problem here is that we look for things outside of us to comfort, heal, or give us an experience of pleasure. We tend to chase pleasure, for some even just shopping without buying creates a level of pleasure. We so often can’t sit with the uncomfortable feelings in the present moment that when our brain is already conditioned to look at these billboards, commercials, signs, we automatically go to these as options for fixing the unpleasant feelings. Sometimes we may notice we find fixation on these things as a way out of the uncomfortable moment.

In the world we live in where we are bombarded with advertisements it’s easy to get stuck in the cycle of fixation from one thing to the next. Even things that were supposed to bring us healing are now commercialized, look at yoga, meditation, mindfulness. They try to sell you rocks, candles, books, the list goes on. All with the idea that it will bring you back to yourself but really you are just continuing the cycle in a different way.

So how do we break this cycle, how can we teach ourselves to let these thoughts pass and not get so caught up in the escape of instant gratification and quick fixes?

First we have to become aware and practice self kindness. It’s okay to buy something that is helpful for you, but being aware of the time you spend searching for that thing and counting on it to “save” you is an issue.

We have to learn to go to the basics again, knowing your body and it’s basic needs, simplifying our needs. Asking ourselves questions about why we are fixated on a particular object or advertisement? Does my body really need this, does my brain really need this?

Use your meditation practice to calm the mind, start with focusing on your breathing, feel the belly move in and out, then notice the rise and fall of the chest. Slowly bring in the need to mind, what does my body really need in the moment to provide myself with healing?

Don’t be afraid, you have all you need inside. Don’t be fooled by the quick fixes. Continue to be kind to yourself.

May this help someone today.

The thoughts !? Self- soothing? I can’t meditate.

We live in a world where we were wired to be constantly thinking. In fact we were born that way, it kept us safe on many levels in our life. We were always thinking about where we were going to get food next, where to find shelter, procreation and keeping our species alive. Then through the centuries we added more things to think about, money, education, wars, politics. Now we are in my opinion at our worst so far, we are constantly thinking about what will happen. We are currently in the middle of a pandemic, political up-roar, and an entire shift in thought. Our children are being taught through computer screens, therapists are meeting with people over the phone, doctors visits are virtual. We have so many devices to manage and patterns of thought going through our heads at any given moment of the day it is no surprise to me that I so often here, “Hannah, I cannot meditate.”

We have forgotten how to self – soothe, we have forgotten how to even know if we are in the moment or not. Our minds are constantly swinging from one thought to the next. We are just doing what we have evolved to do for survival. Habitually keeping our minds busy and in a constant state of “fight, flight, freeze, or fawn” mind states.

So where do we begin? After years of evolving and developing, racing thoughts, high anxiety, high pressure, and survival skills, how do we meditate?

First, I want you to know, you are not alone. This is a normal problem that has existed for as long as humans have been around. I suggest starting with placing your right hand on your belly and your left hand on your chest, what do you feel? Notice if you can connect with the place in your body where the breath is present. Notice how the body moves as you breathe in and as you breathe out. Stay here for three minutes and just connect do not worry about your thoughts, you may find that as you shift your attention to the physical sensations you may have less intrusive thoughts. This is a practice of learning how to self – soothe. Many of us lost this ability as we got older and started to get stuck in the fast paced society we live in today. For some it may even be because of trauma we have lost this ability. After you practice this for a few minutes, you may notice thoughts coming to the forefront of your mind, once again this is normal. See if you can just say to yourself, “I am only thinking, thinking, thinking” then re-direct your attention to your breathing. “now I am breathing, breathing, breathing.” The goal here is for me to help you understand that our thoughts will not have all the power if we do not let them have it. Through this practice you will slowly learn to control your mind and let go of thoughts. My hope is that you will slowly learn how to self – soothe yourself again. This is about changing our relationship to our thoughts and the patterns of thinking that cause further harm, further anxiety, and unhealthy self soothing or coping skills.

The baby in the womb was rocked to sleep and soothed by the movements of the mothers body, watching the breath move in and out of the body is a very similar feelings.

Give it a shot, remember, thoughts are normal, you are not doing anything wrong.

May all beings find comfort today.

Purifying my mind?

The Vatthupama Sutta, says “knowing, monks, covetousness and unrighteous greed to be a defilement of the mind, the monk abandons them.[4] Knowing ill will to be a defilement of the mind, he abandons it. Knowing anger to be a defilement of the mind, he abandons it. Knowing hostility to be a defilement of the mind, he abandons it. Knowing denigration to be a defilement of the mind, he abandons it. Knowing domineering to be a defilement of the mind, he abandons it. Knowing envy to be a defilement of the mind, he abandons it. Knowing jealousy to be a defilement of the mind, he abandons it. Knowing hypocrisy to be a defilement of the mind, he abandons it. Knowing fraud to be a defilement of the mind, he abandons it. Knowing obstinacy to be a defilement of the mind, he abandons it. Knowing presumption to be a defilement of the mind, he abandons it. Knowing conceit to be a defilement of the mind, he abandons it. Knowing arrogance to be a defilement of the mind, he abandons it. Knowing vanity to be a defilement of the mind, he abandons it. Knowing negligence to be a defilement of the mind, he abandons it.

Well I am not a monk and you probably are not either. I want to point out that this Sutta is still very important for us to read and understand. Two words stick out to me.

The first word being “knowing” in our practice we use the words right intention and we practice awareness of our mental states, objects, basically our feelings. This takes practice we do not just become awake to our mental states over night. Right intention starts to come into play after the “knowing” or possibly you want to use “right understanding” we have to see clearly and understand the defilements of the mind before we can abandoned them.

Here is an example, I had an addiction to alcohol for years. Most of those years I had no idea just how addicted my body/mind was to this substance. Here is another one, compulsive sex or dating. I would engage in these behaviors almost like I was on auto pilot, very unaware that they were wrong or that they may be damaging.

When I decided to abandon these behaviors it only came through awareness of the way it was hurting me. How these mental states were effecting my life and the lives of others. Once I saw this I had to investigate and see clearly the mental states so I could start to abandon them. This took “right understanding” and “right intention” the intention to fully acknowledge that I needed to abandon these behaviors and mental states.

So through meditation practice our minds start to open up we investigate the truth of the present and learn to stay in the moment. Each moment we notice “a defilement” or just “unhealthy mind state” we have to abandon it. With practice and present time awareness we learn the practice of this beautiful Sutta. It’s also important to be kind to yourself, remember a thought is not real, if you do not engage in the thought it’s like a passing bird flying over your head. Recognize the bird and watch it go.

May this help you on your path.

Attachments, me?

I remember being young and counting down the days till holiday, or another significant event I was excited about. I remember often just waiting for the minutes, hours, or days to pass till I could leave my home and go somewhere else. I was homeschooled for my childhood and when we had an event or maybe a field trip of some sort I would get really excited to see other children or just people. I would often create fantasies around what this event would look like. Day dreams would help pass the time and keep me excited. As the days got closer to the special event or trip I would get more and more excited. Now this seems like a normal human experience we all get excited about things we are planning for in the future, we all may day dream here and there or imagine what it will be like.

The key here is what happened to me if a plan or event fell through. I would be so upset and heart broken if the holiday was ruined or the fieldtrip was canceled. I may of known that it was because of a snow storm, or maybe someone got sick. It didn’t matter see I spent all those days, months, weeks, and moments, creating a storyline in my mind of how everything was going to play out. Does this sound familiar?

Now I learned at a young age that when I felt upset or something didn’t go as planned I could manipulate my feelings with unhealthy behaviors. I would self-harm, over eat, not eat, and eventually I would drink. However one thing I did not learn was how to accept life as it was in that moment.

So, now I know that I became so attached to these plans or events that I would often crave the unhealthy behavior whenever anything didn’t go my way. What an easy way to not ever be present with myself when I am upset.

What I have learned to understand to be true is that being overly attached to anything can cause harm to myself and others. Another word for this is clinging I grab on to something and basically suck the life out of it and when it leaves a craving to escape gives birth. So when we become so attached to an outcome and the outcome fails to go the way we want it to we give birth to craving an escape.

When we live this way we miss out on life and never learn to be fluid. The key to this predicament is acceptance and mindfulness. When I notice I am getting stuck or creating an attachment I remind myself to stay in the moment, “what right now can I be grateful for?”

Be kind to yourself and roll with the punch’s, practice being the rock in the stream controlling how you react and letting the rest go.

Equanimity as self love

In Buddhism, equanimity (Pali: upekkhā; Sanskrit: upekṣā) is one of the four sublime attitudes and is considered:

“Neither a thought nor an emotion, it is rather the steady conscious realization of reality’s transience. It is the ground for wisdom and freedomand the protector of compassion and love. While some may think of equanimity as dry neutrality or cool aloofness, mature equanimity produces a radiance and warmth of being. The Buddha described a mind filled with equanimity as “abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill-will.”

Equanimity means I am not responsible for anyone else’s actions or karma. It means I am only responsible for my own actions and karma.

How many times have you tried to manipulate or control another person and their outcome? How many times have you blamed someone for your reaction?

This is how important equanimity practice is for us. I myself have tried to control or manipulate other people in many different ways in fact I probably still do. It’s a practice to learn to let go and let other beings be responsible for their own happiness. Sometimes I may think “I’m just trying to help” or “I love them so much” unfortunately I still have to remember I cannot control the outcome.

Another aspect of this practice is the blaming someone else or making an excuse for why you acted in a particular way. “Well he said that first” “she disrespected me so I just reacted”. This is also unhealthy and not part of the equanimity practice. We have to learn to control our reactions. In equanimity practice we learn only I can control my actions and I have a choice in how I act.

How is this self care?

When we let go of the need to control we let go of so much stress that we didn’t need to carry in the first place. When we take responsibility we heal and become more self aware. These are so important for our mental and spiritual health.

May we remember that we are only in control of our responses not what happens after.

May we remember to let go of the need to control others and have compassion to their choices.

Stop looking through the pin hole

I have always struggled with obsessive thoughts and high anxiety. As the obsession would slowly build my awareness would shrink. I would get so stuck literally stock on the object of my obsession that it would take over my every thought. Everyone I ran into I would talk about this object of obsession and keep replaying it over and over in my mind till it was all I could see. The pin hole reaction, everything else is dark except what I am obsessed about.

The question now is how do you stop this? Is there a way to stop the obsession? As a person who still struggles and is working on it I can’t tell you there is an exact answer to how to forever stop obsessive thoughts but I can tell you how mindfulness practice can and will slowly help.

First when I notice myself slowly shrinking my view to the object of obsession and notice everything else I’m doing going away I try to catch it. Build awareness around my obsessive mind and see if I can catch it and open the awareness back up.

One of the ways I open the awareness up is by using meditation specifically practicing a meditation where I practice labeling my thoughts as simply positive, negative, or neutral. This helps my brain practice learning to how recognize what is happening. It also allows my to not get caught in the thought itself.

Awareness of this happening is key, if I can catch the obsession starting before it takes over my mind I have a better chance. So often this is still me trying to control an outcome or situation. I don’t like how this feels so I obsess to look for a way out of the situation.

Accepting that this is the way it is right now and will pass is key however easier said than done.

Body awareness also helps pull me out of the obsessive thinking mind, simply allowing my awareness to focus on relaxing my shoulders, stomach, legs, feet, ect. Will start to allow my brain to ease up on the object of my obsession.

Remembering to be kind to yourself is important, you are slowing learning how to retrain your mind.

Obsession has often been an escape for us, from trauma, if we obsessed we didn’t have to feel what was going on in the moment.

Breath in I am here now, I am safe. Breath out I forgive myself, I am doing the best I can.

Like a fine tuned instrument

“He generates desire, endeavors, activates persistence, upholds & exerts his intent for the maintenance, non-confusion, increase, plenitude, development, & culmination of skillful qualities that have arisen: This, monks, is called right effort.”

So often right effort is over looked as part of the 8fold path but it possibly is one of the most important. It takes practice to figure out what is to much and what is to little. I have some tools that help with this I would like to share with you.

The first tool is what I call intentional effort. At any given moment I am putting some amount of effort in, possibly in my mind, or my physical body through exorcise or yoga. However without intention my effort is lost and not directed. I am shooting an arrow but have no bullseye. So when you put effort into anything make sure you are using right intention. This helps us not get lost in the chaos of our effort. For example we are helping someone who is struggling we may go in with all great intentions but get lost in the co-dependency of helping. Intentional effort calls us to help with a purpose while being mindful of our own boundaries and when we need to pull back. Right effort is really all about finding our own balance.

Mindfulness of the self is another part of right effort. Without knowing what is going on inside and outside of me I won’t know how much effort to put in or possibly take away. Imagine you had never ran before and your put a lot of effort in to run, before you knew it you ran 10 miles and were in pain. In this example you completely let the effort of running over take you, and in return cause an amount of suffering. So you must practice mindfulness of the heart mind and heart body when practicing right effort.

Now when using intentional effort and mindfulness of the body and mind you will find what the right amount of effort will look like for you.

Don’t push to hard or pull back to quick, you are exactly where you need to be.

Pleasure? Pain? Suffering?

How many times have you eaten that second piece of cake just to be in pain after? How many times have you bought to much on amazon because you can’t be in your own mind? How many times did you scroll through your newsfeed to laugh at a different meme over and over again, and ignored your children?

I have done all of these things and more for many years. Unfortunately I trained my mind to avoid pain at all costs. I think we should take a second and talk about pain. For some this may be chronic pain, others an emotional trauma, some sickness, or the loss of a loved one, ect. You get the idea, it is one specific event. It is painful and you feel it in your core.

When we feel this specific pain we find a coping skill. Some of us may find healthy coping skills others unhealthy. Either way we find a way to “manage”. For those of us that find unhealthy coping skills like overeating, drugs, over shopping, dating apps, ect. We start a thought in our brain that says “nope! This sucks I need to find a way to feel pleasure and fast!” So we search for these coping skills. In return we create habits painful situation happens and we already know how to cope. Amazon prime is right there waiting for me along with my glass of whiskey.

Now let’s pause and explain suffering. Suffering or Dukka as we call it in Buddhism is that gnawing, aching feeling of I just can’t get enough of that cake, or enough products off of amazon, or the whiskey bottle ran out. Suffering is on going torment.

So now that we have talked through the difference of pain and suffering let’s discuss a way to learn how to handle the pain that occurs in life.

First learn how to recognize pain as pain. Pain is impermanent, it won’t last. Suffering is when we tell ourselves that it will last forever. Or better yet our mind tells us that. I promise you, pain will not last forever and so often if you sit and accept the pain or maybe even ask yourself questions about the painful experience it will get better.

This leads to the second part of handling pain. We allow pain into our life and our present moment without pushing it away. Accept that in this moment you are experiencing pain. See if after you accept it, you find it lessons.

Then investigate the pain. What is the pain? Is it from the past or the future? Is it physical? Mental? What is the truth about this painful emotion or sensation?

Lastly nurture yourself. Can you bring compassion to the pain of this experience. Don’t beat yourself up if you had that second piece of cake. Notice if you can bring mindfulness practice to your day and just be kind to yourself.

Today let’s start recognizing that pain is a natural part of life and we can learn how to accept and heal from it.

Courage

I was thinking about courage today, I often think of fear and how to relate to my fears or make friends with my fears. I don’t often think of what courage means. The action after recognizing my own fears and choosing to continue to live in the moment even when it is difficult or scary.

Courage to me is being willing to look clearly at any given situation. Courage means being honest with myself and leaning in to the things that are uncomfortable.

We need courage to truly live in the present moment to live through the pains of life and to see the beauty always.

I have lost a lot of loved ones the past year, it created a fear in me. I looked at myself differently as I fought through the painful emotions of loss. I continued to push myself forward but I was living in survival mode. Continuing life the best I knew how but possibly not truly living in the moment.

Courage means I not only am going to get thrown out of the nest but I am going to jump out. Love each moment for what it is and look for the beauty in everything.

Courage is how we overcome fear. Courage to accept life as it is one breath at a time.