Friday, November 18, 2011

Mother Mindfulness

“The child is in me still and sometimes not so still.”  
-Fred Rogers

I recently spent some time with one of my oldest and dearest friends, Claire and her gorgeous baby daughter, Vivienne.  One thing that strikes me as utterly beautiful and amazing is how loving and patient Claire is with her children. I've known her for a long time and it warms my heart to see her blossoming into such an extraordinary mother.

Having grown up with loving yet somewhat impatient parents, I am inspired by Claire's ability to deliver comfort with patience and ease.  Her love and nurturing is beautiful to witness. Though I'm sure at times Claire is not feeling so patient, she rarely lets it show and instead simply allows Vivienne to have her tantrum by holding her calmly, soothingly, and not putting her down until the strong emotion or sensation has dissolved.

Regardless of how much love we received or did not receive as children, regardless of how much older, wiser or more mature we've become, we all have an "inner child" existing somewhere beneath the surface.  Most of the time when a strong emotion passes over us as adults, its roots reach far back to an experience or experiences that we had as children. These seeds that were planted long ago can affect the feeling of not belonging, of not being listened to or heard, a feeling of being afraid, inferior, angry, vulnerable or alone.  These seeds grow into big emotions when, as adults, we are faced with the very same experiences that planted those seeds in the first place (a spouse who isn't hearing your needs, an impatient co-worker who says something to make you feel inferior, etc).  Sensing this, our inner child starts to have a tantrum and often times there is no one there to soothe those strong feelings.

Enter the practice of mindfulness.  Thich Nhat Hanh says that mindfulness can act as a nurturing mother in times of powerful feelings.  He says that we can soothe the strong emotions we encounter by cradling them with mindfulness.  We can go home to ourselves and comfort the little child inside, listen to our child, and respond directly to him/her.

As a part of my practice, whenever I feel a strong reaction to something, I immediately bring my attention to it (instead of pushing it away or suppressing it) and I allow my attention to hold it, like Claire holds a fussy Vivienne.  I acknowledge the presence of anger, sadness, anxiety, remorse, judgement, etc. and let it know that I am there for it, holding it and not abandoning it until it feels soothed and attended to.  Once I do this, the intensity of the emotion begins to subside and I can act from a place of compassion and clarity instead of anger or defensiveness.  It's a very simple but powerful practice!

Practice this today and every day and watch your reactions, your suffering and your misperceptions be transformed.  Do this for yourself, your loved ones and the world.

Until next time...

“The most sophisticated people I know - inside they are all children. ” 

Taking Care of Anger
(from the Plum Village website:

"Thay often compares our anger to a small child, crying out to his mother. When the child cries the mother takes him gently in her arms and listens and observes carefully to find out what is wrong. The loving action of holding her child with her tenderness, already soothes the baby’s suffering. Likewise, we can take our anger in our loving arms and right away we will feel a relief. We don’t need to reject our anger. It is a part of us that needs our love and deep listening just as a baby does.

After the baby has calmed down, the mother can feel if the baby has a fever or needs a change of diaper. When we feel calm and cool, we too can look deeply at our anger and see clearly the conditions allowing our anger to rise.

When we feel angry it is best to refrain from saying or doing anything. We may like to withdraw our attention from the person or situation, which is watering the seed of anger in us. We should take this time to come back to ourselves. We can practice conscious breathing and outdoor walking meditation to calm and refresh our mind and body. After we feel calmer and more relaxed we can begin to look deeply at ourselves and at the person and situation causing anger to arise in us. Often, when we have a difficulty with a particular person, he or she may have a characteristic that reflects a weakness of our own which is difficult to accept. As we grow to love and accept ourselves this will naturally spread to those around us."

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Wanderer, your footsteps are
the road, and nothing more;
wanderer, there is no road,
the road is made by walking.
By walking one makes the road,
and upon glancing behind
one sees the path
that never will be trod again.
Wanderer, there is no road--
Only wakes upon the sea.

-Antonio Machado

I love to take walks.  I suppose it's because, like yoga, walking can be a moving meditation, a way to see where we are resisting life, and a tool to help us to let go of the resisting. As I walked yesterday morning, I was reminded of the beauty of just being: warm sunlight, cool air, the scent of drying leaves, freshly cut grass, the sound of leaf blowers in the distance, hawks calling out high overhead, the scratching sound of squirrels chasing each other around trunks of trees, the soothing sound of gentle breezes moving the tops of trees sending colorful leaves gracefully tumbling to the ground, the way my feet connected with the earth without me having to think about it. Such miracles! We practice walking so that each step quietly unfolds in front of us and so that we can be there to witness that unfolding.  We walk simply to walk and enjoy the miracle of being alive.  We walk to awaken to the conditions of happiness and contentment that exist around us and in us.

Our practice - whether it is walking, breathing, asana, meditation - is a good remedy for our wayward minds and forgetful hearts.  It reminds us to live our lives with our eyes, hearts, and minds open.  It reminds us to really see, experience, and feel without regret or remorse.  Our practice points us towards kindness and love and we endeavor to allow ourselves to unfold into each moment as it arrives. 

I suppose the trick is to trust that the path will unfold with each step taken, not getting stuck where we've been or caught up with where we're headed, just awakening to what is in us and around us NOW.  Practice is creating the art of living beautifully, honestly and with strength and dignity.  If we want to live in peace with ourselves, each other and the earth, we practice dedicating ourselves to walking mindfully through the world.  We can understand this intellectually, we can read about it, hear dharma talks about it, but until we actually practice experiencing it, we cannot know its true meaning. Our life is the practice.

Try it today.  As you walk through your day, be aware of how you're moving, breathing, thinking.  Take the time to pay attention and to become more mindful of the energy you bring to your life and the world.

Until next time...

“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the curious eyes of a child -- our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh

Walking Meditation 
(in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh)

Wherever we walk, we can practice meditation. This means that we know that we are walking. We walk just for walking. We walk with freedom and solidity, no longer in a hurry. We are present with each step. And when we wish to talk we stop our movement and give our full attention to the other person, to our words and to listening.

Walking in this way should not be a privilege. We should be able to do it in every moment. Look around and see how vast life is, the trees, the white clouds, the limitless sky. Listen to the birds. Feel the fresh breeze. Life is all around and we are alive and healthy and capable of walking in peace. Let us walk as a free person and feel our steps get lighter. Let us enjoy every step we make. Each step is nourishing and healing. As we walk, imprint our gratitude and our love on the earth. We may like to use a mantra as we walk. Taking two or three steps for each in-breath and each out-breath:
Breathing in "I have arrived"; Breathing out "I am home"
Breathing in "In the here"; Breathing out "In the now"Breathing in "I am solid"; Breathing out "I am free"Breathing in "In the ultimate"; Breathing out "I dwell"

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Snap Shot: A Love Story

While there is perhaps a province in which the photograph can tell us nothing more than what we see with our own eyes, there is another in which it proves to us how little our eyes permit us to see.  
~Dorothea Lange

I've fallen in madly love with photography again.  Photography and I have had a sweet and tender history together that started during my junior year of high school.  It was the summer before junior year that I discovered the thick, dusty albums filled with neatly arranged photographs that my parents had taken in the early 60's during their courtship and travels.  Little square snapshots, anchored onto the album page by small black corner pockets, each one looking like a tiny piece of art.  Warm, saturated colors, thick photography paper… I was hooked!  Once I graduated from high school, however, and entered into the world of college and work, photography and I sadly lost touch.

We rekindled our connection on the campus of USC 11 or so years ago, during a photography course, and were inseparable for a long time, but alas, photography is NOT a cheap date.  Due to the amount of expensive equipment photography required, and how much it cost to buy and process film, we quietly went our separate ways again and haven't seen each other for a long time.  Over the years I've thought about photography and wondered how it was doing.  I guess you could say I was wistful about the lack of photography in my life.

We unexpectedly bumped into each other again recently and discovered that we are now both in very different places than we were when we last saw each other. It seems that photography has matured and has changed a lot (it's now wonderfully digital!).  It has become SO accessible, straightforward and much less complicated.  I too have changed a lot.  I've also become more accessible, straightforward and much less complicated.  The time certainly seems right for us to reconnect and stay together.  It appears that photography has a lot to teach me and I am ready to learn.

The first lesson photography teaches us is how to focus.  Our practice, like taking pictures helps us to see 
ourselves and the world rather than just look at them.  Our focus defines our life.  Our perception is determined by what we choose to focus on.  We can use our ability to focus our attention in a way that causes an empowering shift in our perception… or not. It doesn’t matter whether we are looking at a person, situation, or an experience. We can control what our picture looks like by controlling what we choose to focus on.  On the mat and in life, if you focus intently on the positive aspects of any person, place, or thing, the negative aspects will fade into the background. They will still exist, but they will be outside of your field of concentration, and will have little or no influence on the picture you see.

Photography also teaches us that the light we shine on our subject determines how we see it.  In photographic terms this is called "value", in terms of our practice this is called "self-observation".  If we deem a subject to be very important, we shine a spotlight on it so we can see its every detail.  If something has less importance, we don't shine as much light on it so that it doesn't distract us from what we're gravitating towards.  On our yoga mats we do this breath by breath, taking snapshots of how we are in each posture, each breath, in each moment.

When we practice assigning more value and positive energy to the things in our lives that we have gratitude for, we bring those things into sharp focus.  They become higher on our list of priorities and attract more of our attention.  As a result, the negative details of life will slowly hold less weight.

In photography, as in life or our practice, we need to make choices about what we are willing to expose ourselves to and for how long. Our time is so precious.  Being aware of how we use the time we have available to us is an important practice.  Perhaps THE most important!

If we spend too much time focusing on unimportant activities (overexposing yourself), we end up underexposing ourselves to the really important ones. And sometimes, let's face it, we also need to acknowledge that some things are not worth exposing ourselves to at all.

When we learn to look through the lens of our soul we begin to see with greater focus, clarity and compassion.  We start to distill life and its moments down to the essence of what is important to nourish our spiritual growth and how we can see the world from this new expanded field of awareness.

As you move through the world today, what will your focus be? 

Until next time...

"A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed."  -Ansel Adams

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


"There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them."  
~Andre Gide

One of my favorite teachers, Erich Schiffmann, often uses an analogy during his training workshops that has really stuck with me over the years.  He talks about how we, as spiritual beings, live in "houses" with dirty windows.  He says that our windows to the world have become so dirty and caked with filth that we are unable to clearly see anything that is going on outside ourselves.  

With his typical dry humor, Erich paints a mental picture for us: We're inside our house, very little light is coming through the dirty window, but suddenly we see someone trying to peer in.  But because the window is so dirty, our vision becomes distorted, and from our perspective it appears that a monster is looking in with a grimace.  We recoil in fear… a monster!  EEEEEEK!  

Having dirty windows makes the world seem like little more than a background to our ceaseless thinking; a blurry landscape that passes before our eyes as we focus on - most likely - our wrong perception of things. When we get up the courage to wipe the window clean, we see that in reality there is not a monster outside the window, but some saintly person (Erich used Jesus as an example, but you can insert whoever your idea of a peaceful, friendly, loving person or spiritual teacher may be).  Because our view was so warped, we actually saw this vision of peace as a something ugly and harmful: a monster!  

Erich says our practice gives us the tools of a handy dandy "mental squeegee" and spiritual Windex, and with practice, patience and compassion, we learn to first clean off the lense of the mind, then to keep it clean.

The Buddhists call this "Right View".  Right View supports wisdom, and they believe that the capacity to wake up and understand things as they are (washing our inner windows as it were), is present in each of us.  Thich Nhat Hanh writes: “Our happiness and the happiness of those around us depend on our degree of Right View. Touching reality deeply — knowing what is going on inside and outside of ourselves is the way to liberate ourselves from the suffering that is caused by wrong perceptions. Right View is not an ideology, a system, or even a path. It is the insight we have into the reality of life, a living insight that fills us with understanding, peace, and love.” (The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, page 51).

Imagine how living in the moment, without constantly evaluating, analyzing and being fearful, would change your perception of yourself and your life. To practice Right View takes courage.  We start by looking deeply at what is causing our windows to get so dirty. This takes patient exploration, asking ourselves the big questions and answering them honestly, such as: "Why does this person bring up anger in me?", "Why does this situation spark fear in me?", or "What makes me resist taking responsibility for ____?".   As perception arises we have to ask ourselves again and again, "Am I  sure?".  Until we see clearly, our wrong perceptions will prevent us from having Right View.  Right View is the big squeegee that clears the window of the mind, heart and spirit and allows us to live more peacefully.

We practice so that we can take back this moment.  Not just to experience it, but also to discover the reality of who we are.  What we begin to see as the windows get cleaned is that we are more than the thoughts and perceptions that bind us.  Until we clean the windows and observe the truest nature of things without opinion, we will not find ourselves as we were meant to be… compassionate, loving and kind. 

Grab your squeegee and a big ol' spray bottle of Windex and I'll see you on the other side of the window :)

Until next time...

"I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations."
(From The Five Mindfulness Trainings in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh)
perception |pərˈsep sh ən|nounthe ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through thesenses the normal limits to human perception.• the state of being or process of becoming aware of something in such a way the perception of pain.• a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression Hollywood's perception of the tastes of the American public we need to challenge many popular perceptions of old age.• intuitive understanding and insight “He wouldn't have accepted,” said my mother with unusual perception.
Halloween Playlist:The Shankill Butchers-The DecemberistEnter Sandman-The Buddha Lounge Ensemble Rama Lama-Sons and DaughtersHell-Squirrel Nut ZippersDevil's Haircut-BeckLittle Ghost-The White StripesLake of Fire-NirvanaPeople Are Strange-The DoorsI Put A Spell On You-Creedence Clearwater RevivalZombie-The Cranberries25 Minutes To Go-Johnny CashDevil Town-Bright EyesEvil-Howlin' WolfKarma Police-FlunkHouse of The Rising Sun-Cat PowerSkeletons (Acoustic)-Yeah Yeah Yeah'sWitch-BellyInto Dust-Mazzy StarShaman's Fire, Navel-Jonathan Goldman