The Practice of Being Still

We can be moving at a furious pace even when we’re not in motion. This activity is usually our mind working overtime, which can cause stress, distress, anxiety, and health problems. The solution then is simple: Slow down the movement of our mind.IMG_0594

But when our mind continues to move, even after our body is quiet, it can keep us from making the effort to be still, which moves us even further away from a calm mind. Our mind keeps chattering once we’ve stilled our body, because our mind doesn’t want us to be still. When we are still, our mind inevitably slows down and is no longer in charge. But our mind, and most especially our petty ego, wants to be in charge; it is not happy when it’s not, so it does everything in its power to keep us moving. And it usually wins.

So then the question becomes, how do we take charge of our mind? You might also wonder, isn’t my mind me? If I’m not in charge of my own mind, then who or what is? Good questions. Put them aside for a moment and consider this: If you were truly in charge of your mind, wouldn’t you just be able to say to it, calm down, relax, don’t worry, stop thinking so much, and other similar things? Haven’t we all tried such coaxing? Has it ever worked?

So now what? Well, the good news is that there is a way to take charge. Rather than fighting fire with fire, pitting will against will, you can learn another approach to relieve the pressure, quiet your mind, and let go of the need for answers.

What is this miraculous way? What do we use, if not our will, to calm ourselves and become masters of our minds.

Breath—it’s really that simple. Almost too simple for our complicated minds to understand and accept.

It may seem like there must be more to it, but the answer is, not really.

It is simply a matter of concentrating and bringing your attention to your breath. The key concept here is concentration. This is where your indomitable will can be utilized. Draw all of your energy and spirit into each breath, and as you do, draw your breath deeper and deeper into your belly-mind. Each time your mind strays, gently draw it back as you would a windblown scarf, and concentrate with all your might and attention on each inhalation and each exhalation. This is not an easy task. Each time, thoughts and sounds and disappointments will disturb you. But there will come a point when you will experience, for a fraction of a second, such full concentration on your breathing that all thoughts and outside interference will halt. This “space between thoughts” is where your truth resides, where your essence is revealed. Eventually, with practice, these moments will get longer, and you will completely lose yourself in the practice of concentrated breathing, deep in your belly. Then you will know why this practice is so valuable. You will experience contentment as never before, and a deep understanding will prevail. But even before this, when you engage in this concentrated breath practice each day, for fifteen, twenty, forty minutes, a number of things happen:

•Your body slows down.

•Your breath gets deeper.

•Your mind follows and begins to slow down (sometimes kicking and screaming, but eventually giving in peacefully).

•Your heart rate slows.

•Anger, depression, and anxiety abate.

•Pain symptoms relax.

These things occur, plus much more. You have the power to manifest these benefits. So concentrate, keep a positive attitude, and breathe your way to serenity.

As you become more aware of your breath, you will naturally cultivate a spirit of gratitude for your breath, because it equals life. Prior to this breath-attention practice, you most likely took your breath for granted, but do no longer. Once you stop taking your life-source for granted, you will extend this same attitude to all other things and people and circumstances. You might have to remind yourself now and then, but if you keep up the breath-awareness practice, then the practice of gratitude will automatically follow.

(from Serenity in Motion)

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Mindful Quotes for September

September always feels like a new beginning, a slightly larger and grander new beginning than the one I experience each time I sit on my meditation cushion. But that’s just my history. I now take each day, no matter the season, as a new beginning. Just back from a month in the Vermont countryside, I sit today with the rhythm of the city as the backdrop and enjoy that beat. No matter where my body rests, there I am.

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Meditation is one of the most serious things. You can do it all day, in the office, with the family, when you say to somebody, “I love you,” when you are considering your children…. Meditation is part of life, not something different from life.
J. Krishnamurti

If we are not in control of ourselves but instead let our impatience or anger interfere, then our work is no longer of any value. Mindfulness is the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves.
Thich Nhat Hahn

You should rather be grateful for the weeds you have in your mind, because eventually they will enrich your practice.
Shunryu Suzuki

Some say that my teaching is nonsense.
Others call it lofty but impractical.
But to those who have looked inside themselves,
this nonsense makes perfect sense.
And to those who put it into practice,
this loftiness has roots that go deep.

I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.
Lao Tzu

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Off the Grid

This will be my last blog until September. Gulp. And I’ll not be posting on FB or Twitter either. Another gulp. Unless the spirit moves me, and even then it’ll be just for fun.

As a self-employed writer and teacher it’s not easy to stop paying attention to work. My work is my life and my life is my work and I can’t imagine doing anything else. Even so, it is important to unplug for a while. And that is what I plan to do for the next few weeks.

I hope you all get to detach from your usual life for a bit this summer so we can all return refreshed and with a new perspective. Have a happy end of summer and see you all in September.

Valley Trail

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Bettina’s Fruit Tart

Recently, some friends offered us their weekly CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share of vegetables and fruit. They were leaving town for a couple weeks and wanted to share the bounty. Among the plethora of just harvested vegetables from Roxbury Farm was a quart of yellow plums. We were delighted.

The plums were delicious, but we wanted to not waste a one, so what better use of fresh summer fruit than a tart? I immediately went to my friend Bettina’s wonderful book, aptly named A Taste of Heaven and Earth, for her simple recipe. And voila! A summer treat that’s sweet, healthy and delicious!

Plum Tart

Bettina’s Fruit Tart Recipe

Sweet Tart Pastry Recipe

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Mindful Quotes for August

On Sunday I will leave for the woods of Vermont for one whole month: To rest, to read, to restore.

The approaching school year always brings to mind, change, new beginnings and exciting possibilities. It is engraved in my bones, my muscle memory and my heart. I look forward to it, but first the fallow period of August. Ahhhhhh.

Higley Hill

“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”
T.S. Eliot

“Take rest; a field that has rested gives a beautiful crop.”
Ovid

“To become something else, you have to stop being what you are now; to start doing things a new way, you have to end the way you are doing them now; and to develop a new attitude or outlook, you have to let go of the old one you have now. Even though it sounds backwards, endings always come first. The first task is to let go.”
William Bridges

Return is the movement of the Tao.
Yielding is the way of the Tao.
All things are born of being.
Being is born of non-being.
Lao Tzu

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A Summer State of Mind

I often ask my students, as Mary Oliver asks us in the poem below: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” As I plan for a month in the country, I ask myself this same question.

This is my prayer for today, for my life, and especially for the month of August.

I vow to be idle and blessed, to pay attention, to be a girl, to be grateful for this special gift of time, to do nothing, to just be.

The Summer DaySummer flowers

Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

(from New and Selected Poems, 1992)

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Buddha on Infidelity

Sexual misconduct creates suffering. Period. Whether we are the ones engaging in it or are the victims of it, everyone involved suffers. Marriage & intimacy_Nancy OHara_July-14To understand just how corrosive and harmful this is to forming a true partnership and how it interferes with an intimate connection to another person, we only have to look at our own community and perhaps our own family and friends. Who doesn’t know someone who has been affected by the misuse and abuse of sex? 2,600 years ago, Buddha, a human being just like you and me, knew how destructive such behavior could be: it is number one on his list of five hindrances and number three on his list of ten precepts. The good news is that he also prescribed a way out of our suffering and offered us a clear path to liberation from our suffering and from our own misbehaviors.

The first of the five hindrances that Buddha warned us about is lustful desires. The first of the three poisons is greed. And the first of the four noble truths of Buddhism is Dukkha, which is often translated as suffering. In The Dhammapada, a concise collection of Buddha’s teachings, he said: “Lust and greed ruin the mind as weeds ruin fields.” This is an image that we can all relate to and have probably at one time or another experienced for ourselves.

So, if we have been a victim or a perpetrator of infidelity, how can Buddhism help us today in the twenty-first century to understand, cope, and deal with it? How can we move from ill-will, hatred or anger (the second hindrance) toward our self or our partner, to healing and forgiveness? … Read more

*This article first appeared in the July 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing magazine.

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Seppo’s Potato Salad

It’s summertime, which in my house means lots of salads with farm fresh vegetables, corn on the cob and veggie burgers. Or salmon on the grill when we’re in the country.

Threebowlscover

And what is a real summer meal without good old-fashioned potato salad? Here’s a version that I haven’t made in a while, but definitely will in August when we’re vacationing in Vermont. I can almost taste it now!

Seppo’s Potato Salad Recipe

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Only 2 Weeks Left!

KILLING SACRED

Killing Sacred, the second installment in the Alex Sullivan mystery series, is set to be released in two weeks time!

If you haven’t already downloaded the chapter reveal, check it out here!

Pre-order Killing Sacred for a special price of $1.99 from iBooks or Barnes & Noble  before it goes on sale for the regular price of $4.99. This is the second book in the Alex Sullivan Zen Mystery series.

 

Last, but not least, if you missed the first book in the series, One Hand Killing, now’s your chance to catch up for free! For a limited time, download One Hand Killing from AmazoniBooksBarnes & Noble, or Kobo Books.

 

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Who Are We Without Our Dreams?

There are so many things in my life that I never would have experienced or accomplished without first having the dream. To name just a few: writing books; living alone in Paris for a summer; becoming a life coach and working for myself; creating a loving, lasting, intimate relationship; cycling through Ireland and Mallorca.

Cycling Warrior

My husband, Michael, just satisfied a lifelong dream of his and as his partner I am so proud and in awe of what he did. Here’s a note from him about this and some cool pictures to look at. At 65, he was the oldest guy out there, but not the last one up every mountain!

Michael: Last month I fulfilled a life long dream of cycling some of the iconic mountain passes of the Tour de France. In fact, it was so dreamlike that after getting off the plane in Geneva and traveling up into the snow capped Alps of Switzerland and France, it took nearly a week for the fact that I was actually there to sink in and become real.

I have done some outrageously satisfying adventures in my life that started out as seemingly insurmountable and intimidating challenges, but this trip ranks high as an epic undertaking of an unimaginable accomplishment and completion.

The sheer beauty of the place, and the beauty of the effort was life changing. I am really grateful to Nancy, who also exercised enormous endurance in supporting me while I followed through on this challenge!

Click here to see more photos of Michael’s trip

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