August 31, 2010
Walking a labyrinth can be a profound experience. In our town, we have a simple labyrinth, marked on the earth with stones in a circle of redwoods. I love to walk it, using it as a moving meditation.
There are many ways to walk a labyrinth. You can find very specific instructions for what to do as you walk one – even eHow has a page on how to walk one.
I like to approach labyrinth walking more casually, without a set procedure. Sometimes I set an intention, but more often I simply start to walk and see what experiences it brings. It always takes me out of linearity. We are so accustomed to seeing life – our hours, days, years – as a line that progresses from one place to another. The latter place is usually a goal. We try to find the straightest way to the goal. We measure the distance in our minds. If it’s a car trip, we watch our progress on a map. But getting to the center of a labyrinth is like the “long and winding road”. You come closer to the center and your mind may start to try to measure how close you are to the “end”. Just then, you find yourself taking a turn that leads you back out toward the edge.
For me, the labyrinth mirrors life, which isn’t really linear. Walking it is a great way to relax into the twists and turns of life, to let go of the constant focus on future goals and the tendency to try to see how everything leads to something else. It’s a way of being in the Now. Martha Cuffy, who is seen in the photo walking a labyrinth with friends, expressed similar sentiments in a lovely post with a perfect title – Walk your Life in a Labyrinth.
I was inspired to write this post by Eleanor, a seminary student in Hong Kong, who left a beautiful comment on the website about her experience walking the labyrinth. It’s moving and inspiring to read how she uses her walk in the labyrinth to process emotions and gain insights into herself and her life. She has quite an inner journey, and comes out of it with beautiful observations on the nature of silence. This is a beautiful example of the power of walking the labyrinth. Not every walk will be this profound – one needs to let go of expectations and see what special gifts the labyrinth holds each time it is walked.
Have you walked a labyrinth? What was the experience like for you?
June 21, 2010
It’s the summer solstice where I live – the longest day of the year. A lover of warmth and light, I celebrate the day with a mixture of emotions. At the same time that I rejoice in the light and beginning of summer, there’s the knowledge that from now on the days will gradually shorten. The concept of Yin-Yang expresses this perfectly – in the light half resides the seed of darkness, in the dark half resides the seed of light.
It seems as I grow older, the two sides of the coin of life are more evident in every experience. When young, I would be totally happy or totally sad, and at some level there was actually a belief that life could be all one way or another. As I age, with more and more up and down waves of living under my belt, there’s a sense of the impermanence of all experiences. Love is tinged with the knowledge of loss, and life takes on an increasingly bittersweet quality. Sadness dances in happiness and joy dances in sorrow. There is an incredible aliveness in this. Life itself dancing in my heart!
Related post: Musings on the Winter Solstice six months ago — Finding Harmony in Diversity with Meditation
May 22, 2010
Sometimes I am mesmerized by my hula teacher’s hands. They move with such grace and fluidity, offering no resistance to the aloha spirit that moves through them. Although I relaxed early on into the body movements of hula, I’ve had a challenge with my hands. Despite repeated reminders that the hands should move from the wrist, my hands would seemingly stiffen up and refuse to follow. I felt so awkward, not to mention frustrated!
At yesterday’s lesson, my teacher danced very close to me, demonstrating with her hands as I watched in awe. I wondered how anyone’s hands could move so beautifully and effortlessly. I hoped that maybe, just maybe, I would catch on through “osmosis” as she danced close to me. At one point, she held my wrist and moved my hand for me. I started to feel the right movement. My hands cooperated for a while, only to get quickly “blocked” again.
Once back home from the class, I started to practice in front of a mirror. I did an exercise of slowing waving my arms up and down at my sides, allowing my hands to follow the movement of my wrists. I then placed my arms in position for the basic kahalo step. Suddenly something clicked – a split second before I started to move, an “aha” happened in my brain. The right synapses must have started to fire, because I saw my hands in the mirror undulating like waves, effortlessly, as I started to dance! It was like a frozen river that unfroze and started to flow.
It felt so easy and natural for my hands to move that way. What on earth was stopping them before? As I tuned into the feeling of inhibition that had been in my hands, I remembered how my mother had always tried to get me to stop moving my hands. I am by nature a very expressive person. When I hear music, I can’t sit still. My mom found that trait charming when I was a baby bouncing up and down in my crib singing “hubba hubba hubba” to the music, but later she felt she needed to teach me restraint. What particularly worried her was my tendency to gesture with my hands while talking. I would be enthusiastically describing something, hands moving all around, and she’d say “Mary, stop that, stop moving your hands!” She had explained that a refined, lady-like person doesn’t do that. (Heaven forbid I should grow up to be unladylike!) This irked me no end, but I somehow took her words to heart. Although I was never able to stop moving my hands entirely, they had been quite well “tamed”.
By now the origin of my hula hands block must be obvious. Allowing my hands to move so freely wasn’t something I could easily do. It involves a kind of letting go. It’s a lot like the letting go of meditation. In meditation, we let go of resistance to what comes naturally. We learn to let go of resistance to the natural movement of the mind. In hula, it’s about the natural movement of the body. The traditional hula hand movements are natural and flowing, like the nature they depict.
My teacher has mastered hula with her whole being. Although she may give instructions, her most powerful teaching is from embodying hula. When my teacher danced right next to me, I absorbed something at a deep intuitive level about how she moved. It was as if the “aloha spirit” was being transferred from her to me.
I found a beautiful discussion of the “aloha spirit” at the Cyber Shaman’s website:
“The Aloha Spirit is a well known reference to the attitude of friendly acceptance for which the Hawaiian Islands are so famous. However, it also refers to a powerful way to resolve any problem, accomplish any goal, and also to achieve any state of mind or body that you desire.”
“In the Hawaiian language, aloha stands for much more than hello or goodbye or love. Its deeper meaning is the joyful (oha) sharing (alo) of life energy (ha) in the present (alo)”
I tell this story in honor of the aloha spirit, and my teacher, Betty Ann. For me, it is a story of healing, and it’s healing for me to share it with you. May all of us experience “the joyful sharing of life energy in the present”.
May 9, 2010
Some of us react to loss by “shutting down”. We don’t feel we can bear the pain of grief, or we don’t want to risk loving and losing someone again. Rachel, whose comment is quoted below, feels her heart has been “shut for business” since she broke up with her ex four years ago. When she experienced an emotional release in the Opening the Heart meditation, however, she felt hope that she’ll eventually be able to move on and find someone new.
“I felt a significant release with tears when trying this meditation. I split with an ex over four years ago… I haven’t been able to move on at all romantically as I haven’t been able to let go of this past relationship. My heart shut for business to anyone else. I’m really hoping this meditation will eventually help me move on and find love again.”
Rachel has every reason to be hopeful now that she’s been able to start grieving the loss of her ex. If we can grieve a loss fully, feeling the pain all the way through, it leaves us with an open heart that can make new connections. It’s said that the only way through grief is straight into the heart of it. You have to fall into it completely. An open heart is one that can grieve. We can’t really feel love and joy if our hearts are closed to feeling pain. Grief is a natural process that allows us to let go of one relationship and let in another.
Life is full of losses, large and small. Large losses, like losing a loved one, a job, moving, or falling ill, cause us to grieve. But so do smaller losses, losses that we might not even recognize as something to grieve. This really struck me yesterday as I was inhaling the wonderful fragrance of the jasmine flowers gracing my patio. Spring is my favorite season, and the return of the jasmine nourishes my being and brings me joy. But yesterday I noticed that almost all of the buds had already bloomed, and most of the lovely little flowers were on the decline. Lots of spent blossoms were at my feet. I felt as if I wanted to hold on to the jasmine forever, to never let it go. At some point I noticed a tight feeling in my heart. I felt that holding on feeling so clearly and sensed it as a tightening up against life. I felt I needed to let go and when I did, I felt grief. It was a surrender to the inevitability of loss that is part of the fabric of life. In that surrender I felt my heart relax and open. Though I felt sad, in that moment I felt fully alive. I was open to whatever might come next.
My sense is that we can’t let go and be truly open without feeling the pain of loss. What has your experience with this been?
April 26, 2010
Meeting Richard was an amazing experience. I felt a deep recognition. I even had a vision of him playing exquisite music on a keyboard. (I had no idea at the time that he was a musician.) There was such a strong connection that I actually had the thought – “could he be the one?” My emotions rebelled, however, and I immediately brushed the thought away.
As I got to know Richard, there was a level on which I knew, absolutely knew, that I wanted to be with him. And yet, I had a carefully constructed list of all the attributes I wanted in a mate, and he just didn’t fit the bill. (I might add that the same was true for him, I was not what he had in mind either!) We were both drawn to each other, but we struggled because of our preconceived ideas of what we thought our mate should be like. Our intuition told us one thing and our ideas and emotions told us something else.
Looking back on our years together, I see the great wisdom in the choice we made to be together. I couldn’t see it so clearly at that time. The choice came from a deeper knowing, a knowing that was within us even when our emotions protested, even when our minds didn’t really understand. Intuition contains that kind of wisdom. It’s like a computer that can process more information than we can possibly juggle with the conscious mind. Intuition mysteriously taps into the past, present and future, as well as bypassing our blind spots.
Intuition comes from a place that’s beyond logic, analysis or even our emotions. It’s an inner knowing that is steady and clear. With intuition, you “just know”. It’s actually very natural. If we human beings weren’t such complicated creatures, the concept of intuition wouldn’t even exist. We would simply know what work to do, what to eat, who to marry. Our next step would be obvious. But, alas, our ideas and emotions can cloud our vision, and we can become quite confused about the choices, large and small, that life requires us to make.
The goal of the Accessing Intuition Guided Meditation is to help you tap into your intuition by going beyond analysis, evaluation and emotional reactions. By allowing your awareness to settle down in a way that it transcends the influence of thinking and emotions, you able to attend to the subtle messages of intuition. Hopefully the meditation will also help you to trust your intuition, by learning to recognize what it feels like. Often we have an inner knowing about something, but we’re afraid to trust it. The more we’re able to recognize intuition, the easier it will be to trust in it. Intuition feels good in your body. There is a steadiness about it, and it is uncolored by emotions and concepts.
April 2, 2010
Our podcast has connected us with thousands of people all over the world, and yet none of this would have been possible when I first started meditating. Years ago I couldn’t have imagined that meditation could be shared through technology. I would never have pictured people listening to our meditations on mp3 players and computers, much less on a smart phone. What a blessing!
Our international meditation group is growing, all thanks to this “wired world”. Caroline left a wonderful comment on the website today. I wanted to share it here — I found it fascinating that she started meditation to escape the wired world, only to find meditation through it.
“I started meditation a year or so ago to find some peace from the incessant demands of information-overload in our wired world. When my employer provided us with Smart Phones I saw it as just one more intrusion. Then I discovered your podcasts and your wonderful Simply Being app…When I sit with Mary’s calming voice, all the cares of the day just fade away. THANK YOU!”
February 25, 2010
Even a few minutes is enough to relax and release tension. Our latest podcast episode, Mini Break from Work or Study, is a short meditation you can use when you have just a few minutes to spare. It guides you through a process that you can use anytime, even when you don’t have your mp3 player with you.
After you’ve done it a few times, your body will remember to use it to relax. Similar in length to the Deep Relaxation Meditation in our first podcast episode, this meditation has a different approach. You’ll be guided to let go of your work, stretch, take some deep breaths and do a quick body scan with tension release. I think you’ll be impressed with how much difference a little time away from work or studies can make.
If you can take a little time here and there to relax, it can make a big difference. Making it a habit to take breaks throughout the day can really reduce your stress. I have to remind myself to do this all the time. It’s so easy to get caught up in the sense of urgency about getting things done. You may feel you can’t afford to take the time, but you really can’t afford not to! When you take time off to “reset”, you’ll be able to accomplish a lot more. When you feel clear and relaxed, everything goes better!
February 12, 2010
Lyn emailed me about a statement on our Difficulty Meditating website page that she found confusing. This blog post is an attempt to explain it, but I’m not sure that I can anymore than I can explain the taste of an apple to someone who has never tasted one. Here’s the statement she found confusing:
“Although meditation can be a way to experience inner silence, this comes about not by eliminating thoughts, but by becoming aware of the silence that is naturally present in the mind along with the thoughts.”
The statement refers to the experience of silence in a meditative state, and a meditative state is very difficult to describe in words. It’s about the space between words, the space between thoughts. It’s about becoming unhooked from thoughts and concepts so that the background of consciousness in which everything is experienced becomes apparent.
Trying to describe this experience is like trying to describe space. It’s easy to describe the objects in space – a tree, an apple, a human being – but how do you describe space itself to someone? Everything exists in space – it’s that no-thing in which every “thing” is! How you put words to that?
Our awareness could be thought of as the space in which all of our experiences take place. It is an “aware space”. It is there all of the time, but we don’t put our attention on it. Our attention is focused on the experiences, rather than the awareness underlying the experiences. Meditation can bring about an awareness of awareness. And the nature of that awareness could be described as silence. As we disengage from the meaning of thoughts and they are allowed to flow through, the experience is one of silence along with thoughts. The gap between thoughts, the space in which they happen, is being noticed.
Does the statement make sense to you? How would you explain it to someone?
February 5, 2010
If you are reading this post, chances are you are someone who likes my voice, the style of my guided meditations and Richard’s music. I get lots of comments about how soothing and reassuring my voice is. That feels good, of course. But everyone’s reaction to my voice isn’t so favorable.
There have been reviews that said I sound like a Valley Girl, a Saturday Night Live skit, too sing-songy, aggravating, irritating, annoying, even drunk! Reactions to a person’s voice and style of speaking, especially in a guided meditation, can be so different. Something in a voice can trigger a difficult or unpleasant association. What soothes one person annoys another.
Obviously, there’s no “best” guided meditation style or “right” voice for everyone. People’s tastes are so varied. Nevertheless, the first time we got a negative review on our first CD, it made me want to quit. I listened to myself and thought “oh my they’re right, I sound ridiculous”. It didn’t matter that many people were already getting benefit from the meditations. My confidence in myself was so low. On top of that, I have a way of seeing things from all different sides. So I could easily feel that someone’s criticism was the truth of the matter.
Thank goodness I didn’t give up. It took a lot of reminding myself that a few people not liking what I do doesn’t negate the value many others were receiving from my work. It took accepting that as soon as you express yourself fully, in your own unique way, some people are not going to like what you do. It also took understanding that the more you express your true self, the more you had to offer those who resonate with you.
For much of my life, I didn’t fully express my creativity and talents because I preferred to hide and not give anyone the chance to criticize me. But that is no way to live. We all have gifts and we need to share them to be really fulfilled. If you express yourself and share your gifts, not everyone will enjoy them, but some people will absolutely love what you have to offer. And that’s what matters – that you give what you can to those who can benefit from it. Perhaps what matters even more is that you give the gift of yourself to yourself!
Now when I hear a criticism, it doesn’t phase me. My perspective is much more balanced, and my self-love and respect so much stronger. Day by day, I gather more courage to be more fully myself. The more I express myself, the less I care what others think, the more fulfilling life becomes. It’s an on-going journey for me. Some fortunate people grow up with that kind of confidence, but others have to gain it later. How about you? What has your experience been?
January 28, 2010
Dan on Facebook asked for some thoughts on seasonal depression. A lover of the outdoors, he’s finding it challenging to spend so much time inside. Winter is a challenge for me too, even here in California where the winters are far milder and shorter than in my native New Jersey. Finding ways of getting through winter has been a big focus for me, and for the first time this year, winter’s not so hard. In fact, at times I’m even enjoying it!
Seasonal depression is quite common, and it can range from simple “winter blahs” to something much more intense. The darkness of winter, combined with the cold and the necessity to stay indoors, can all lead to feeling blue. But I think sometimes winter can also trigger a stronger depression that has to do with unresolved emotional issues that surface when winter forces us to be less active and we have less things to distract us from what lies within us. In that sense, winter can also be an opportunity to see what parts of yourself need healing and attention. For example, for most of us, there’s grief from a variety of losses in life that we’ve never fully processed. Our culture doesn’t do grief well. We get a “stay on the sunny side of the street” kind of message that causes us to avoid the painful feelings of grief. But avoiding, suppressing and distracting ourselves from feelings doesn’t make them go away. Given the more restful time of winter, these feelings can surface.
Although I’m going to share list of some things I’ve done to make winter easier, I have to start by saying that inner work I’ve done in the past has a lot to do with my good spirits this winter. Your everyday, garden-variety winter doldrums might be helped by some of the things I’ll share, but it may take more than that if the depression is more intense. If you feel your depression is more than simple winter blahs, I’d encourage you to explore the possibility that there is more going on. You can find lots of reading online about depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder. It may be that winter is helping you to see that there’s some inner work to do. Attending to your depression can lead to a more fulfilling life later on. There are lots of good therapies for depression, so I hope you’ll get some help if needed.
And now, as someone who has always dreaded the coming of winter, here are the things I’ve found that are making a big difference for me:
- I bring more light into my home – light candles, have some pretty lamps lit. If I had a fireplace, I’d make lots of fires. It’s amazing though, how much even one lit candle can mean in winter. Whenever possible, I spend a least a few minutes in the sun, really soaking it in. Full spectrum lighting can help as well.
- Exercise. Exercise helps with depression, and part of the blahs may come from being more sedentary in winter. I used to rely a lot on walking and when it was too cold to go out in winter, I was at a loss. A few things have made all the difference — an elliptical machine, a bodybar and the hula.
- I do whatever it takes to stay warm. Lots of layers of clothes, especially yummy wool sweaters with beautiful colors that lift my spirits. I use an electric mattress pad to warm my bed before I get in. If I feel chilled, I’ll even warm my clothes in a dryer and put them on. I can’t tell you how good the heat feels. I have no shame when it comes to keeping warm. People joke about it when I wear two wool hats, one on top of the other, but my comfort comes first!
- Find enjoyable indoor activities. For me, lately, it’s been the hula. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me. Find something that really lifts your spirits and do it!
- Bring nature indoors. If you, like me, are a lover of nature, having plants indoors can really help. Taking care of them, seeing them grow brings a bit of spring and summer into your home. Forcing bulbs in winter is also wonderful. How about some lovely, fragrant narcissus or hyacinth? The Nature Attunement Meditation is perfect for this as well!
- Attitude. Oh yes, lest I forget, that all important ingredient. Cognitive therapy is effective in depression, and I think of an attitude adjustment as being just that. If I focus on how long and dreary winter is and how much I want it over with, it does seem incredibly long and dreary. Instead I’m learning to focus on the positive side of winter — the opportunity to be more restful and go within. It’s a time to hibernate and meditate. It’s a time to contemplate.
- Surrender. Finally, perhaps the most important ingredient is surrendering to the melancholy when it’s present. We’re conditioned to fight it and resist it, to feel it’s bad or wrong. It’s a natural part of life. So often our suffering comes from feeling we should be different than we are (as in always happy and upbeat). Life as we know it couldn’t exist without the poles of opposites – joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain. Let it be OK to feel blue.
Perhaps some of these things will be useful for you. Or you may have some other strategies to share. I’d love to know what works for you!