That Elusive Freedom of Heart: Autumn’s Offerings for Meditation & Mindfulness

MeditatingLYCWe cling to our own point of view, as though everything depended on it. Yet our opinions have no permanence; like autumn and winter, they gradually pass away.” – Zhuangzi

Happy September!

Most of the summers in my life have blended together, remembered mostly by which desk I sat behind for work, or by the stressful final weeks of preparation for annual international board meetings.  Every summer as an adult, moments of sad longing for carefree and spacious childhood summers would rise like a lost sailboat riding the ocean’s waves, only to plunge back into the business of life, forgotten until the next wave came along.  The ironic thing being that most of my childhood summers weren’t all that carefree either!  It was simply a matter of longing for some elusive freedom of heart.

This summer was much different.  It was actually one of the better summers I’ve had in my adult life, I felt a bit freer and more spacious, a fact which I attribute directly to my daily meditation and mindfulness practice.  Through my practice I’ve found that the time once taken up by trying to control things I had little control over, has freed me up to do more of what I love, like reading, writing poetry, drawing, listening to music, and being in nature.  The time once taken up by judging, blaming, and hating others has been freed up to practice lovingkindness, compassion, and gratitude.  And, more often than not, I am touching upon that freedom of heart I once found so elusive.

If you would like to learn more about my programs, and perhaps also find that elusive freedom of heart, I would love to meet you.  I have a number of offerings in the local MetroWest area that are listed below.  I also teach a new meditation & mindfulness program at the McAuliffe Regional Charter School (6th – 8th Grade) in Framingham, co-teach a new yoga & meditation program for 9th graders at the Holliston Public School, offer corporate wellness, and work with individuals and groups in the privacy of their own homes.

On a final note, I am honored to have been accepted into the Warriors at Ease certification program for meditation instructors, and look forward to offering meditation later next year for our active military, veterans, families, and healthcare staff, especially those affected by combat-stress, PTSD, and trauma.

Light & Love,
Lisa

A listing of current programs is regularly updated on my home page www.Mindfulfilled.com

(photo courtesy: Debbie Helbing)

I’ve Lost That Loving Feeling with Social Media

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had been on Facebook for the last 20 years.”  – what Henry David Thoreau might have said

“Get off Twitter and be the change that you wish to see in the world.” – what Mahatma Gandhi might have said

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment. So get off Instagram and be yourself.”  – what Ralph Waldo Emerson might have said

One of my goals as a meditation teacher is to be mindful and present in this moment – to be in the here and now. It’s what I teach others and how I want to live my life. I realized recently the irony of being on FB checking statuses, worrying about how many likes my business page was receiving, wondering what my friends were up to and reading the clickbait headlines that promised mindless distraction in exchange for a few hours of my life.

I felt mindless, distracted, and disconnected.

A few months ago I tried a social media fast, no FB, no Twitter, and rather than texting or skyping, I spoke with people on the phone. It felt nice to connect, I mean really nice. I heard people laugh, sigh, laugh some more, and even cry. Sometimes I would venture far to visit with friends face-to-face to have an in-person adventure together. Sometimes my friends would post our adventure on Facebook, and sometimes we just experienced our adventure together and kept it secret from the world. No pics, no status updates, just in-the moment real experiences and sweet, sweet memories.

I felt happy, loved, and connected. Relieved.

So for the next few days/weeks/months/maybe even years, I’m off of Facebook and social media. I’ll be here blogging as the spirit moves me, teaching meditation in my local community, working through my mile high pile of must-read books, having fun in the kitchen with my son, spending time in nature, doing yoga (once my cast is off), meditating, having adventures with friends and family, and come this autumn, spending 10 days in a silent Vipassana retreat. (That was kind of like a status update wasn’t it?!).

I want to be the change I wish to see in the world so that when my time arrives to die, I’m not saddened by the fact that I’d been on Facebook for the past 20 years. If you’d like to join me, I encourage you wholeheartedly. Maybe we can even make plans to have a real-life adventure together, what do you think?

Oh, and I haven’t lost the fact that this will be published on FB, Twitter, and LinkedIn.  I’m working on it . . .

The Voice In My Head

Water Wheel

There’s this voice in my head that I hear all the time.  Do you hear an inner voice? Am I alone on this one?

A quick Google informs me that the voice I hear might be:  1) my internal dialogue, 2) an auditory hallucination, 3) schizophrenia, 4) a brain disorder, 5) my intuition, or 6) a transmission from the mother ship.

I’ve asked a few people if they hear a voice, I’ve been met with squinty stares (my inner voice tells me they’re thinking I might be a Category “3”).  Actually, it’s not unusual at all for people to hear their own voice (or maybe the voice of Morgan Freeman) when reading a book.  When I read a book, it’s my inner voice I hear, word-for-word, which makes reading a very slow process for me.  Some people report that they hear the voices of their parents, or caretakers, speaking to them as if they were still young and in need of guidance.  And yet, others hear no voice at all.

I thought everyone had this inner voice, and I’m finding it fascinating that this might not be the case.  Our human brains are so complex, our world is so busy with information, so who knows?  Maybe I’m just picking up on the waves of all these cell phones around me.

Oh, and I hear music in my head too.  Ranging from the theme song from Indiana Jones, which I hear when I’m dodging around loaded carts at the grocery store; or the Hawaii Five-O theme song . . . I haven’t figured out the connection for that one yet, it’s like stumbling upon some 70’s radio station, I catch the rift and see the wave in my mind, and it’s gone.  Simon and Garfunkel sing “slow down you move too fast, you got to make the morning last” to me when my mornings are frenetic.  All in all, I’m glad to report that my inner playlist is a top 10 of pretty peppy songs, like the “Safety Dance” complete with visions of dancers twirling in the English countryside, which I hear when I’m feeling particularly free and alive; and, REM’s “It’s the End of the World” which comes in when I read the news.

I’ve had many conversations with my inner voice, ranging from best parenting practices, to the meaning of life.  Sometimes the responses are deeply intelligent, and other times it can’t be bothered to return my calls, especially if I ask the same question over and over, hoping to hear a different answer.  I’ve asked my inner voice for answers to some terrifically important questions, and received answers that would at first brush seem like a horrible miscommunication, but would actually turn out to be quite divine in hindsight.  Like the time my father-in-law was in the hospital after suffering a heart attack on the tennis court (he finished his game, by the way).  I asked “Will he be ok?” and the voice replied, “Yes, he’ll be just fine.”  Two days later, after hearing that my father-in-law had died, I felt deeply embarrassed, I’d trusted my inner voice and had been happy believing that a full recovery was in progress; I felt betrayed and confronted the voice.

“But you said he’d be FINE, and he’s dead.”

And the voice replied lightly, “I told you he’d be just fine.  He IS fine.  Better than ever, in fact!”

I began to find a deep respect for my inner voice, it had a great sense of humor, it was direct; and evidently it never lied, it just had a different perspective than I did.

We could have continued like this, my inner voice and I. But that wouldn’t make for much of a story, now would it?  As chance would have it, earlier this year, I enrolled in a course to become a certified meditation teacher.  My inner voice, my life, and my perceptions were about to change significantly.

The meditation course I’m enrolled in has been incredibly intense; my teacher likens the experience to a masters program.  The time, effort and dedication to my own practice deepened as I learned that meditation changes one’s brain, and ultimately, one’s experiences in life.  I now meditate regularly every day, going from the random 10 minutes a few times each week, to sitting for 30 minutes twice a day, once in the morning, and again in the afternoon.  At first, I’d experience incredible frustration during my sits, I’d either fall asleep, or I’d be so distracted I’d have to get up and write long lists of randomness that kept my mind busy.  These were both normal experiences for a body and mind that had been overly stressed and exhausted.  Little by little, however, I began to notice positive changes, especially with my inner voice.

The daily stresses and mind chatter quieted enough to allow my inner voice to surprise me more often with friendly little nuggets of wisdom, always perfectly timed, which would arise throughout the day to remind me to watch the sun dance on my boy’s hair, or to stop and smell the lilacs blooming near my home.  It felt as if I’d plugged into my soul’s GPS, and wherever I was, it was pointing out the finer nuances of life that were always happening around me, I’d just been too busy and stressed to notice. I loved it!   I made the relation that meditation had everything to do with how connected I was feeling.  When I meditated, I had four bars, a clear direct connection, skip a session, and I would only have two bars.

Recently I tried something new with my meditation practice.  Instead of concentrating outside of myself on a mantra, counting, or watching my breath, I looked inside myself. I asked “Who Am I?”

And guess who answered?  My inner voice!

Each time I asked “Who Am I?” . . . my inner voice would answer immediately, sincerely, and with divine humor.

Turns out, I’m no body, nobody, no thing, and nothing.  Nor am I any thing, or any one.  I thought I was some thing, but evidently I was mistaken.

And that’s ok.  At least I’m not alone.

Why I Mind – This Too Shall Pass

Salisfy

I’m not sure who first said “this too shall pass” – there are a few variations on the story, but the version I heard years ago was about a king who’d asked his wise men to provide a mantra to relieve his suffering. The wise men presented the king with a ring engraved with the words “This Too Shall Pass.” The king found that the mantra worked well, and his kingdom-related worries where alleviated. On one very special day, however, a particularly happy and blissful day, the king was holding his newborn daughter, feeling the love for her swell in his heart. As he looked into her tiny blue eyes, the sun shown upon his ring and he was reminded that this too shall pass.

“Lisa, say your prayers.”

My mom was lying in the bed on the other side of the small, one-bedroom apartment we shared on College Street in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She’d wave her cigarette around in the darkness making figure eight patterns of orange light, the mentholated smoke filling the night air.

“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.”

Being with my mom like this was a rare event that I adored; she seemed so happy and relaxed. I was fine with the prayer, except with the part, you know . . . the part about dying. In my young mind, I’d made the physical connection to death by poking a dead bird with my finger. The bird was stiff, cold, and unmoving. I would eventually make the emotional connection to death as a regretful sadness, similar to what you might experience if the birthday party you’d been looking forward to for months had just this moment ended. The cake is gone, the guests are leaving, and you’re standing in the doorway with a balloon tied to your wrist, waving goodbye. You’re feeling totally distraught because this was also the same exact moment that you’d started having fun – the rest of the day had been a pathetic mess because your best friend couldn’t sit next to you at the table, your ponytails were too tight, and your mom was being overbearing and mean.

I remember the moment that I connected death with that regretful sadness. I was six, bathing in an old claw-foot tub. I was thinking about my cat who’d recently run away, mom said he was probably dead, and hot tears fell from my cheeks creating tiny ripples in the bathwater as they fell.

Over the years, my experiences with regretful sadness would be stored, one after another, like books saved on a shelf to be read at a later time. One book for each beloved pet euthanized, one book for the tiny field mouse that expired in my hand after eating cheese in the trap my mom had set, one book for all of the toads I accidently killed by putting them into a bucket once filled with crop fertilizer. And, there was one book of sadness so big it had a dedicated shelf, but it was a different book, in had no regrets in the reference section.

When I was 18, and one month into my Air Force basic training, my grandma died. She’s been my inspiration growing up – she taught me to identify local birds by their songs, camp on a rock in Canada, bake delectable sweets for the holidays, explore ice caves in the Great Lakes, and how to pick Salsify (huge dandelion-like flowers) in one piece (spray it with Aqua Net Super Hold hair spray bought at the local Woolworth’s). Standing next to my grandma’s casket in my dress blues, I unceremoniously poked her stiff, cold face. I felt sad that she was gone and sad that I would never hear her voice again, but there weren’t regrets – we had always been kind, loving, and respectful to each other.

As I grew older, I understood that life by nature was impermanent, that I too would pass. I would come to understand a very important concept that we are not our bodies, confirmed for me after reading Thomas Noguchi’s Coroner (the inspiration for the Quincy, MD television series), and the two grisly gems my boss’s wife, who shared a common interest in human mortality, gifted to me called Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab; and Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers (read this one if you’re thinking about donating your body to science – I still will, but I hold out hope that my body’s demise is a tad more polite).

All well and good, but the regretful sadness would continue to haunt the corners of my heart and mind. Then, one day when I felt particularly lost in life, I began visiting a local cemetery, contemplating life from the seat of my Volkswagen, looking out over hundreds of gravestones with names and dates commemorating lives mostly forgotten.

That’s when I got it . . . I mean, really got it.

Beneath each stone were the remains of a person, someone that had been born and then died. And in between those two major life events, they’d loved, hated, feared, struggled, laughed, wished, hoped, dreamed, cried, fell in love, fell out of love, broke bones, worried about wars, had children, got sick, got married, got divorced, listened to music, read books, believed in God, hated God, dipped toes in streams, made friends, lost friends, regretted the past, and worried about the future. Just like ME. What if on their final day here on Earth they’d wished they could do it all over, this time without regrets?

Comprehension turned into compassion, and I made the decision to live my life mindfully, by being present for whatever arises, by loving more, being authentic, by being kind. I meditate, do yoga, and live healthy. It’s a good life – I hope you’ll join me.

Namaste,
Lisa

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