Mindfulness is increasingly being used in schools to help children deal with stress and to improve their ability to manage their emotions. It also helps with focus, attention, and memory. In some schools where mindfulness has been taught, detention rates have decreased dramatically — even dropping to zero.
One school in Baltimore, Robert W. Coleman elementary, has replaced detention with meditation and is seeing astonishing results. In this video, Ali Smith, founder of the Holistic Life Foundation, joins the Emmy award-winning daytime talk show, The Doctors, to discuss the program he helped set up.
This CBS This Morning clip also discusses how mindfulness is being brought into the school. Twice a day, more than 300 students participate in a 15-minute long “mindful moment,” where they focus on breathing. What’s most remarkable about this program is that it’s being done in a neighborhood where kids are traumatized by violence and prevalent drug-dealing. Ali, and his brother Ahmed, are from the area and wanted to bring about social change.
At the time the second video above was published, the program had spread to 14 schools in the area, reaching around 4,000 children.
The holiday season can be a perfect storm of stressors: financial strain, crowded malls, striving for perfection when we’re entertaining or buying gifts, travel, over-indulgence in food and alcohol, dealing with seldom-seen relatives, and for some of us being on our own while it seems everyone else is merrymaking.
This is where meditation comes in really handy! It’s been shown to reduce stress, so that we can feel at least a little calmer when the world around us is going into a consumeristic frenzy. It helps to reduce depression, too, for those who find that the holiday season is a downer. It promotes joy and other positive emotions. And it helps boost empathy and kindness, which is a mercy when you’re dealing with your drunk, racist uncle.
So here are a few tips for helping you to keep calm and stay positive during the holiday season.
Be mindful of your purpose
Mindfulness (observing our present-moment experience) is closely associated with a quality called sampajañña, which could be translated as “mindfulness of purpose.” Mindfulness of purpose helps connect us with the kind of life we want to create for ourselves.
It’s good to remember that holidays are “holy days.” They’re supposed to help us develop spiritual values that enrich our lives. This doesn’t necessarily mean going to a synagogue, church, or temple; spiritual values include things like resting (so that our batteries are recharged), connecting with others, experiencing gratitude and appreciation, and giving. It’s easy for things to get our of balance. It’s good to give gifts, for example, but giving material things to loved ones doesn’t mean much if we’re so stressed we’re also making them miserable.
So, reflect on what the holidays are about for you, and keep that in mind. It might help you catch yourself when you’re acting in ways that undermine your overall purpose.
Don’t just do something, sit there!
If you don’t have a meditation practice already, you might think that the holiday season is a bad time to start, and if you already have a practice, it’s tempting, when things get busy, to stop meditating. But regular meditation doesn’t have to take a lot of time. A five or ten minute meditation is enough to help us bring a bit more calm and balance into our lives. Start (or keep) sitting!
Keep coming back to compassion
The Reverend Ian Watson, whose pen-name was Ian Maclaren, used to say, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Keep reminding yourself that all those people you tend to get annoyed by are just like you. They want to be happy and don’t like suffering. And, just like you, they don’t experience as much happiness as they’d like and encounter way too much suffering for comfort. Bear this in mind, and you may find that you’re just a little gentler and more understanding with people. The reduced conflict will reduce your stress levels.
Don’t stress out about stressing out! When you lose your patience, remember that we all slip up. When you feel frazzled, remember that this is the normal human response to being overloaded. When you find you’re getting down on yourself or things are hard, place a hand gently on your heart and say, “It’s OK. I care about you and want you to be happy. I forgive you.”
Be kind in crowds
When you’re in a crowded mall, it’s easy to get stressed by how slowly everyone is moving. Try repeating “May we all be well and happy” as you navigate the throng. It’ll help displace some of those “My god, could these people move any slower!” thoughts
Take a breath
Get used to coming back to your breathing. Paying attention to the sensations of your breathing helps you to let go of stress-inducing thoughts, which allows you to dial back on the adrenaline. You can take a few mindful breaths while you’re standing in line, while on an escalator or in an elevator, or as a mini-break while cooking or wrapping gifts.
Somewhere in the boxed set of Game of Thrones videos you’re giving to a loved one, it says “Valar Morghulis” — everyone must die. Although that might seem like a depressing thought at a time of the year that’s supposed to be about celebration, you’re actually more likely to appreciate people you care about, and to be patient with people you have difficulty with, if you remember that our time together on this planet is short.
Lastly, a meditation practice is for life, not just for Christmas! Keep sitting, even once the holiday season is behind you.
But in a hardscrabble neighborhood in West Baltimore, the boy who tussled with a classmate one recent morning instead found his way to a quiet room that smelled of lemongrass, where he could breathe and meditate.
The focus at Robert W. Coleman Elementary is not on punishment but on mindfulness — a mantra of daily life at an unusual urban school that has moved away from detention and suspension to something …
2016 is coming to a close — thank goodness! It’s been a challenging year, with political upsets that the pundits hadn’t predicted — from Brexit to Donald Trump’s election as US president — leading to fears of rising nationalism and racism and deepening rancorous splits in our already polarized societies. And that’s not to mention the loss of beloved celebrities such as David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Harper Lee, Florence Henderson, and Leonard Cohen, to name but a few.
I don’t know what 2017 will be like, but I think we should prepare for further potentially traumatizing events.
A major tool for keeping your head when all around are losing theirs is meditation. My own meditation practice hasn’t exactly kept my life stress-free, but it’s definitely helped. Just last night I arrived at a meditation class I was teaching feeling rather anxious about some financial matters, and left, after leading a number of meditations totaling about 70 minutes, feeling calm and clear.
Here are some of the benefits of meditating regularly:
- Improves attention span
- Decreases stress from multitasking
- Improves memory and learning
- Enhances will-power
- Prevents relapse into depression
- Reduces anxiety
- Improves immune function
- Reduces inflammation
- Promotes weight loss
- Decreases feelings of loneliness and isolation
If you haven’t yet taken up meditation, there’s no time like the present, and Wildmind’s 31-day online course, Sit Breathe Love, is starting today. It not only teaches two meditation practices that will help you calm your mind and improve your emotional states, but is designed to help you establish a rock-solid daily meditation practice, since we know how hard it can be to establish a new habit.
Sit Breath Love will take you right up to the end of this appalling year, and leave you perfectly placed to deal with whatever 2017 is going to throw your way!
If you’re interested, you can learn more and enroll on our Eventbrite page.
Stress and anxiety are a part of life, especially during these times of uncertainty. However, we don’t need to be enslaved by our anxiety and instead can strengthen our mindful skills to ease our anxious minds, come into our lives and grow in confidence.
1. Release the critic. Not only is anxiety painful enough, but we …
In other words, I took the very enlightened approach of pretend it didn’t happen—one that’s about as effective as other common responses such as get angry, push people away, blame yourself, or wallow in the pain.
Even for the relatively self-aware and emotionally adept, struggles …
New Yorkers may not think of the city’s gritty streets as a place to find inner peace, but a new group called Buddhist Insights is aiming to change that.
“There’s this idea that you have to escape New York to find peace and quiet,” explains Buddhist Insights co-founder Giovanna Maselli. To challenge that idea, she and her co-founder, Buddhist …
These days there’s an increasing interest in gaining insight. (Let’s just accept the loaded word “gaining” for now.) On the whole this is a good thing. For a long time many in the West have been doubtful about whether awakening is a realistic goal. “Maybe we’re too messed up,” and “Maybe the modern world isn’t conducive to awakening,” were common doubts.
As the years have gone by, however, more and more practitioners have had insight experiences, and this has been very encouraging for others. More people now think not just that awakening is possible, but that they personally are capable of it. This is great! How can there be a downside to this?
One thing I’ve been concerned about recently is the narrowness of the goal many people set themselves. The ultimate aim of practice is often seen purely in terms of having insight into non-self. And while that is crucial to attaining the goal, simply having insights doesn’t turn you into the kind of person that the Buddha suggested we should take as our ideal. The Buddha’s concept of the ideal individual is someone who not only has insight, but who is an all-round excellent human being.
In one conversation about the ideal person, the Buddha outlines qualities such as: having calmness; being free from craving; being free of attachment to preferences, being free from fear, anger, and pride; being restrained in speech; having no longings about the future and no regrets about the past; having honesty and transparency; being free from envy; having no disdain for others; refraining from insults; and not thinking in terns of being superior, inferior, or even equal to others.
Elsewhere the Buddha talks of this ideal individual very much in terms of gentleness, kindness, and compassion. He encourages us to be the kind of person who doesn’t act in ways that cause harm to others in any way, not even indirectly, if that can at all be avoided. He also encouraged us to be good friends to each other.
This is where we should conceive of our practice leading. This is the goal we should orient our lives around.
Inherent in the Buddha’s view of the goal is that it’s not just about losing the delusion of self, or even of gaining insight. It’s also about cultivating ethical, skillful qualities—especially positive emotions. This is why the Buddhist path is usually taught as starting with training in ethics, then in meditation (including the active cultivation of kindness and compassion), and only then, finally, culminating in the development of insight.
For a small number of people, insight experiences are upsetting or even devastating, leading to a loss of meaning and a sense of despair. These cases are rare, and I don’t personally know anyone for whom this has been more than a passing disorientation before the positive aspects of insight have revealed themselves. But in the cases I’ve heard of where some kind of insight experience has lead to long-term problems, there seems to have been a narrow focus on mindfulness and insight, and a lack of emphasis on lovingkindness and compassion meditation. Many meditation teachers have an habit of trying to ignore these potential problems, but fortunately they are being studied and hopefully we’ll learn more about them in time.
One of the benefits of modern neuroscience is that we now know that as we learn a new skill, the brain physically changes. Areas associated with that skill become larger, just as a muscle grows with exercise. The goal of practice doesn’t just involve a cognitive insight into impermanence or non-self, but requires that we strengthen our “muscles” of kindness and compassion. Developing insight removes certain barriers to the arising of skillful qualities and (often) to the dropping away of some of the grossly unskillful ones, but it takes effort to actually bring about growth.
I’d encourage you, then, to develop, on the cushion and in daily life, the qualities I’ve mentioned. If we do that, then insight, when it arrives, is more likely to be an astonishing, liberating, and joyful surprise, and less likely to be a disorienting, upsetting, and painful shock to the system.
A little while ago, while I was in the shower, I had a series of realizations.
I was unmindfully mulling over a financial problem, because my bank had messed and moved all my money into someone else’s account, and then I became aware that I was caught up in unhelpful and distracted thinking.
My initial thought was that I was being blown around by one of the “four worldly winds” that Buddhism talks about: gain and loss. We often end up thinking that getting and having stuff is one of the most important things in life, and therefore think that losing stuff is important too.
As long as I’m not starving, loss isn’t really a problem. (I’ll get the money back, I’m told, although it seems to be taking a long time.) But the problem of money is fundamentally a practical one, and doesn’t have to be an emotional one. I don’t have to let loss affect my sense of wellbeing.
The other worldly winds are high and low status, approval and disapproval, and pleasure and pain. These are various things that we think are important. Sometimes in fact we think that they’re the most important things in life, because they’re where happiness comes from. But the Buddha didn’t think that.
I think of them as being a bit like “The Matrix” in the movie of the same name. They’re a virtual reality that we create and then live inside of. We become absolutely convinced that they’re real and important. It can be hard sometimes to imagine any other way of seeing our world.
Anyway, all of that flashed into my mind, and then I had my epiphany, which is probably nothing you haven’t heard before: The only important thing is to love.
This wasn’t something that came to me as a general statement, but as a personal one. The only important thing in my life is love. I need to take love as the central principle in my life—the one thing that I remember at all times. The worldly winds aren’t important. They’re things that we delude ourselves into thinking are important.
But it’s not always easy to be loving. We can realize things like “The only important thing is to love” and still behave like a jerk. I often do. The worldly winds are part of our genetic inheritance as mammals and they’re hard to set aside.
Our genetic inheritance sometimes makes us behave like assholes. There are circuits in our brains dedicated to tracking our importance in terms of loss and gain, high and low status, etc. The perception of loss of money, a risk to our status, and so on, triggers powerful feelings, which then lead to the brain’s resources being devoted to “fixing” the perceived problem. Those “fixes” sometimes make us treat others badly, because our worldly wind–driven habits are strong and fast. They often overwhelm us. And so while we may believe, on some level, that love is the most important thing, we still act as if it’s less important than things like status. (Think, for example, of when when we bicker with a partner and don’t want to admit we’re wrong. Status, in this case, trumps love, even though in the long term it’s much better to be loved than to be right.)
Then I realized I had a second thought to add to the first:
1. The only important thing is to love
2. And to remember to love.
But as Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails sang, “Love is not enough.” Actually, it’s the feeling of love that’s not enough. I can think of plenty of times in my marriage when I felt I loved my wife and told her so, but it wasn’t enough, because I wasn’t acting in ways that made her feel loved. Love is not enough.
So we need to learn to show love, and not just feel it. We need to learn what it is that people need in order to grow in happiness and to become free from suffering, and offer it to them. Usually that thing is empathy, and listening. Sometimes it’s a wider and wiser perspective.
Now I’m up to three things:
1. The only important thing is to love
2. And to remember to love
3. And to keep learning how to show love.
And then as I was soaping my self, I have another thing to add to those three. This is something to be done, not just thought, and so the fourth reflection is: “Am I being loving right now?”
Well, was I? No! I wasn’t being harsh, but I was washing my body in a rather unmindful way, because I’d been having all those thoughts. (It wasn’t a very long shower—thought is fast.) So I soaped myself with love. I felt the love in my heart. I let it fill my hands. I washed my body with kindness and affection. I took pleasure in the sensation of hot water splashing on my body. It felt like these realizations now meant something.
So now I had four things:
1. The only important thing is to love
2. And to remember to love
3. And to keep learning how to show love.
4. Am I showing love right now?
And then my shower was over.
Although the fourth thought came last, it actually seems like it’s the key one. It’s the one that the others are expressions of. It’s the question I need to keep returning to.
So these are the four things (which are really just one thing) I’m going to let rest in my mind. I’m going to keep coming back to these phrases over and over again. This is something I don’t want to forget.
Diana Winston, director of mindfulness …
The weeks leading up to the US presidential election were a real emotional roller coaster for me. I’m still a “Resident Alien” rather than a citizen, and so I couldn’t vote. But of course I had opinions and feelings about the outcome of the election, which directly affects my life in many ways.
The election is of course now over, and it didn’t go the way I’d hoped. It was unthinkable to me that Donald Trump could possibly be elected. Even though polls have been wrong in the past, the fact that a large majority of people considered him temperamentally unsuited to be president and dangerously lacking in knowledge, and his tendency to alienate large groups of voters, gave the impression that he was never going to win.
Because of the uncertainties, however, I’d been anxious for some time. As the results came in, however, and it became almost certain that Clinton was going to lose, I felt strangely calm. After all, what’s done is done.
Today, after waking up to find that Trump had indeed triumphed, I was of course aware of many different responses from non-Trump supporters. Some are stunned. Some are angry and looking for someone to blame. Some are embarrassed for their country. Many are of course deeply worried.
We will soon have a president who has given hatred and callousness the green light. He’s mocked a disabled reporter, boasted about sexually assaulting women, defrauded contractors, will soon be in court on fraud charges relating to “Trump University” (and soon after that for child rape), has all but given Russia the go-ahead to invade its Baltic neighbors, has given the nod to violent supporters, and is the darling of White Supremacists. And that’s to say nothing of his attitude towards Muslim-Americans and undocumented migrants.
Yes, he may end up trashing the economy, ending health insurance for millions of people, pulling out of trade treaties (and precipitating trade wars), and ignoring global warming (which he thinks is a hoax). But it’s the hatred that most bothers me and causes most anxiety.
How to respond to all this?
First, to those who are in shock, realize that as of now, little has changed. True, global markets are on edge, but that doesn’t directly affect most of us in the short term. Right now we’re still here, still breathing, still eating, still living, still doing the same things we were doing yesterday. As of now, nothing much is different on a practical level. Our main problem now is responding with fear. It’s envisioning what might go wrong in the future that dominates our minds and causes us acute suffering. Our own minds often do us more harm than our enemies.
So I’d suggest taking a deep breath, counting your blessings, and (as best you can) let go of catastrophizing. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. Trump may not even become president, or his presidency might be short-lived, given the rape and fraud trials he faces. He may not be able to enact all of his promises. He may not even try; the man is an inveterate bullshitter who says what he thinks people want to hear.
What’s different for you right now, in this moment? Not much, in all likelihood.
You’re scared. I get that. I was experiencing anxiety and dread this morning. Offer yourself some kindness and compassion. You need it. We all need a source of unconditional love and support, and we can be that source.
Second, remember that politics is a long game. Stay confident. We may be in for a rough time, perhaps for another generation. It’s possible that a lot of freedoms will be rolled back. But the world is changing demographically. The US (and other parts of the world) is becoming more diverse and more interconnected. The world, despite what you might think from watching the news, is becoming more tolerant and less violent.
Third, offer kindness and compassion to those you love. This morning I had a phone call with my girlfriend as she waited in class for her students to arrive. We had a loving conversation. I told her that I was imagining hugging her. My heart was filled with love and joy. Yes, there may be difficult times ahead. But no, we don’t have to make ourselves and others miserable. Let’s support each other.
Fourth, practice empathy toward those you disagree with. When one of the problems we face is a president-elect who espouses hatred, adding more hatred to the mix isn’t going to fix anything. So feeling contempt for Trump’s supporters isn’t going to help.
Many who voted for Trump did so out of desperation. Hatred is a response to fear. Many Trump voters are financially insecure and poorly educated (which is not a criticism!). Many of them are white. They see the world around them changing, and it frightens them. Economically they are left out. Racially, they are becoming a minority. Neither Obama nor Hillary Clinton has given them much succor or spent much time directly addressing this group of people, even though their policies have generally been helpful to them. They want change. They’re even desperate for change. And Trump (although he was born into an economic elite and treats ordinary working people with contempt — regularly stiffing contractors on his real estate properties) talks about change. Some of what he says makes no sense — he’s not going to bring manufacturing jobs back from China or elsewhere) but at least he’s talking about their problems in ways they can understand, even if they’re in line to suffer more than most as a result of his policies.
These are people who need our compassion, not our contempt.If you like my articles, please click here to check out my guided meditation CDs and MP3s.Even Trump’s White Supremacist supporters need compassion. Yes, they are filled with hatred. But it’s hatred based on fear. They see themselves as witnessing the death of centuries of white privilege. And that’s true! They simply can’t understand how to see living in a racially and culturally diverse country as a positive thing. They cling to their sense of superiority and specialness. It’s all based on fear. And fear is a source of suffering.
Perhaps his supporters will settle down now that they feel they’ve won. But if we do see an upsurge of hatred, this will largely take place at a local level. Already I’ve heard from local people who’s racial-minority children are experiencing higher levels of bullying and taunting. My own children, who are African-American, are terrified that they’ll be separated from their white parents, as America slides back into racial segregation.
When hatred is local, each of us is placed to meet it with love. Stern love, if necessary, but love. responding with hatred simply creates more hatred. What we need are empathetic responses. When you see someone acting out of bias, remember that you too, in your own way, lash out when you feel threatened, at least sometimes. Empathize before you act. And when you do act, perhaps it can be in the form of reminders that we are all in this together. We live, work, and study together. A world in which we live in antagonism toward each other is a world in which none of us will truly thrive or be happy.
We all suffer. We all need freedom from suffering. The problem is that all too often our attempts to deal with suffering simply cause more suffering.
The world seems crazy. It’s full of hatred, misogyny, and racism. But these are strategies for dealing with fear. Underneath these strategies are suffering hearts — blind hearts that need to be educated and shown better ways to live. Modeling love, compassion, and wisdom is perhaps the best way we can provide such education and help heal our society.
She remembers doing it as a child at school. When she was supposed to be learning how to touch type she got so frustrated with how slow it was she peeked under the hand-guard and typed faster by looking at the keys.
When she was studying and working in …
We hold all these misconceptions about what it is to be compassionate and kind, including that it makes us weak, that it’s a form of self-pity, that it’s indulgent, and that it gets in the way of success. Our competitive, tech-driven, busy …
This week-long retreat is an opportunity to enjoy my innovative and even provocative take on the “divine abidings” or Brahma Viharas — four inspiring and transformative practices that progressively expand our sphere of concern to include all beings.
The divine abidings are a path to insight, blending compassion and wisdom.
On this retreat we will delve progressively deeper into the divine abidings, developing an unselfish concern as deep as the world itself: a love that leads ourselves and others toward awakening.
These teachings have grown out of over 30 years of practicing these meditations, and of helping literally thousands of people to explore them. The retreat is suitable for people who already have some meditation experience. It’s not an event for complete beginners.
- Metta is kindness, or an empathic recognition that just as we desire happiness, other beings desire happiness; therefore we wish for the wellbeing of others.
- Karuna, or compassion, is the desire that beings be free from suffering so that they may experience happiness.
- Mudita, or joyful appreciation, is far more than “being happy because others are happy.” It begins by recognizing that true happiness does not arise randomly, but as the result of skillful actions. Therefore we rejoice in the good we see in ourselves and the world, and encourage its development, living as much as possible from a basis of gratitude and appreciation.
- Upekkha is often translated as equanimity, or balance. But it goes much deeper. The root meaning of upekkha is “to watch intimately.” It begins with the recognition that the deepest and truest form of happiness is the peace that arises from spiritual awakening; therefore if we truly want beings to be happy we should rejoice in and encourage the cultivation of insight in ourselves and others.
In cultivating upekkha we must look deeply into the hearts of beings and recognize their need for awakening. And we must look deeply into the nature of reality itself, so that we know what awakening is, and can help others to attain it. Upekkha, in its essence, is identical to “The Great Compassion” (Maha-Karuna) of the Mahayana, that seeks the enlightenment of all beings.
The divine abidings, ultimately, are a love as deep as life itself.
The retreat runs from Friday, 3 March until Friday, 10 March, 2017.
Today, they radiate happiness, frequently breaking into laughter. Lewis reaches over and touches her partner’s arm lovingly as her face beams.
Sitting in a Wellington cafe, they attribute one thing to their joyous connection. “Meditation saved our relationship,” smiles 57-year-old Lewis.
A decade ago, Hopkinson was a stressed out businessman who ran the Animates pet store …
Here is the first email from our Stress Reduction Through Mindfulness event which starts Tuesday, Nov 1!
Often people assume that as a meditation teacher I must be immune to stress. But life can be challenging for anyone! In the last four or five years I’ve gone through a number of very stressful experiences, including the discovery that my tax accountant had covered up the fact that she hadn’t submitted my business tax returns two years in a row, leading to the Internal Revenue Service pursuing me for tens of thousands of dollars in penalties (which I ended up not having to pay any of, fortunately), a painful divorce, moving house several times, surgery for cancer (I’m fine, by the way!), and financial problems caused by my health insurance not covering all of the subsequent medical bills.
One time I told a friend that I felt like I was walking up the “down” escalator while someone was hurling bowling balls down the stairs!
Although my meditation practice was helpful, challenges like these showed me that my existing practice wasn’t enough. I was pushed to go deeper and to develop new and more effective tools for managing the difficulties I was going through. It’s those approaches that I’m going to share with you over the 28 days of this course.
My approach to stress reduction is based on the fact that there are two distinct, but related, forms of stress.
There is the primary stress that results from having an experience that your mind interprets as a threat — such as being pursued for tax penalties, having your home life disrupted and dislocated by divorce and moving house, becoming ill, or experiencing loss. These give rise to unpleasant feelings such as anxiety, confusion, and grief.
Then there is the secondary stress caused by our reacting to primary stress in ways that create further unpleasant feelings. For example, sometimes we assume that in being stressed we’re failing in some way, and so we criticize ourselves. This creates more distress. Sometimes we overeat, overindulge in alcohol, or take out our frustrations in others, and these actions ultimately lead to even more stress being created. In fact, much of our stress results when our chronic attempts to solve or avoid unpleasant feelings themselves cause unpleasant feelings.
With primary stress, it’s the ability to offer ourselves empathy, kindness, compassion, and reassurance that’s most important. We need to learn to be gentle and kind to ourselves. We need to learn to soothe and comfort ourselves in the same way that we would a dear friend, or even a child or animal, that was experiencing stress and anxiety.
Mindfulness is of great benefit in dealing with secondary stress. It helps us to let go of unhelpful mental patterns of having aversion to unpleasant experiences and of using craving to try to bury or avoid those same experiences. We’ll explore a number of mindfulness practices that will help us to identify and let go of stress-inducing habits.
Those, then, are some of the skills we’ll be cultivating over the next four weeks. To help you, there will be readings every day, which I’m going to try to keep relatively brief so that I don’t end up adding to your stress!
There will also be around a dozen guided meditations. Some will be very brief, and others will be a little longer. You can listen to the first of them here. It’s a short meditation that helps us set the intention to be kind and patient with ourselves as we cultivate mindfulness and self-compassion.
Here is Meditation #1, a 5-minute guided meditation to help us arrive and to set our intentions for the course.
Register here to learn more about reducing stress in your life!
The study of 79 women, published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, found mindfulness skills increased the ability to detect physical sensations related to sex. Women who underwent four sessions of mindfulness-based sex therapy reported improved agreement between their self-reported sexual arousal and their psychophysiological sexual response. The therapy combined psychoeducation, sex therapy, and mindfulness training…
The problem with distractions is that they’re compelling. They make us think that they’re important. They draw us into their stories. It’s as if they’re saying, “This is what you need to be thinking about right now.”
And so, over and over, we end up immersed in stories driven by anxiety, anger, desire, and self-doubt.
These distractions come from relatively primitive parts of our programming, which evolved as protective mechanisms. As mammals who suffered from predation, we needed to be anxious and alert for potential physical threats to our wellbeing. When such threats became actual—a stranger approaching our camp, for example—we might respond with displays of anger in order to invoke respect or fear in the other party. Living in an environment where resources were scarce, our sensory desires motivated us to seek and hold on to food and other essentials. Self-doubt promoted caution, so that we didn’t recklessly put ourselves in danger, and also helped us fit into a hierarchical social group where not everyone could be the leader.
Although we still do face threats, uncertainties, scarcity, and so on, for the most part the kinds of mental states I’ve been describing don’t really help us in modern life. In fact they hinder us in many ways, and rather than protect us they mostly cause us to suffer. The circuitry in our brains connected with these states is still there and keeps looking for things to get anxious, angry, greedy, or doubtful about. Sometimes that circuitry gets out of control and has a destructive effect on our lives, as with stress, social anxiety, and depression.
Even outside of pathological conditions, though, these mental states diminish our wellbeing. We’re always happier when we’re mindfully attentive to whatever we’re doing, even if it’s just our breathing, than when the mind is off wandering.
The thing, then, is how do we convince ourselves that our distractions are not actually important for our happiness, and that mindfulness is what’s truly important?
The Buddhist tradition offers lots of ways to do this, including reflecting on the drawbacks of our distractions (“Anxiety doesn’t solve my problems, it just makes it harder to tackle them”). But one of my favorite approaches is to drop in a gentle reminder that it’s valuable to disengage from distracted thinking—that it’s important to be mindful.
My current phrase is, “The most important thing right now, is right now.” This is a simple reminder of priorities. In a sense there’s nothing “wrong” with anxiety, doubt, and so on. Having those things show up isn’t a sign of failure. It’s not a weakness. It’s not a sign that you’re a bad person. They’re simply part of your old programming, and tend not to make you happy or bring you a sense of contentment. Instead, they stir us up emotionally and create worlds of pain. What is a higher priority, what is important for us to do, is to be mindful of our present-moment experience.If you like my articles, please click here to check out my guided meditation CDs and MP3s.The second “right now” in “The most important thing right now, is right now” is pointing to everything that’s arising in our direct sensory experience. Sounds, light, the body, our feelings are all arising right now. Paying attention to those in a mindful way allows the mind to calm, our body to let go of tensions, and our emotions to come to rest in a sense of contentment, or even joy.
This “mantra” suggests exploration. What is “right now?” That’s for us to find out, through mindful exploration.
So as you find yourself coming out of a period of distracted thinking in your meditation, and re-emerging in a more mindful state, try dropping in the phrase “The most important thing right now, is right now,” and let it direct your attention to what’s truly important, which is your immediate sensory reality.
One student, Zia, wrote to me to let me know how the words had changed as she practiced with them:
Over several days, the reminder “The most important thing right now, is right now” has morphed in my mind into “All that matters right now is right now”. At some times, it further morphs into “ALL that matters right now is right now”. The capital “ALL” brings more of a sense of the vastness, the divinity, that is contained in the present moment and that becomes more accessible through attention.
This is a beautiful reminder that we can treat phrases like these as living things that you’re inviting to share your life, rather than objects that you keep around. Let them adapt, grow, and evolve.
These academic demands are compounded by the additional stress of preparing for standardized tests, such as the SAT, SAT subject tests and the ACT. Our teens are constantly having to study and retrieve information under pressure, over and …