Zen Blog

This blog collects various internet feeds aimed towards information, experience and technique exchange in support of our shared spiritual journey.....

”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

How We Can Thrive Within Discomfort

Discomfort isn’t loud. It’s like the sound of a distant jackhammer—incessant and unsettling. It feels awful—it can show up as defensiveness, annoyance, impatience. But because it doesn’t shout, it’s easy to shut discomfort out and go into the hidey-hole of avoidance.
 
Like other challenging emotions, though, discomfort is a signal—an internal GPS—that tells us we might be off course. Discomfort says: Pay attention. Something important is happening.
 
Discomfort may arise as simple pinpricks of irritation, when someone cuts you off in traffic, or a neighbor plays their music too loud. Heavier discomfort arises when life is turned on its head, as it has been during the pandemic. Or during conversations about racism, and the work needed to actively oppose it. You may not know how to work with your discomfort—and you’re not alone. 
 
It’s a biological imperative for every living creature—from pill bug to human being—to move away from the unpleasant and, like a moth drawn to a wool sweater, move toward the pleasant.
 
But there’s a rich upside in getting comfortable with discomfort, not the least of which is preventing it from ballooning into full-blown anger, fear, or anxiety. By avoiding our discomfort we also decline the invitation to grow and engage in necessary and meaningful change. As author and speaker, Luvvie Ajayi says comfort is overrated.

 “Being quiet is comfortable,” says Ajayi. “Keeping things the way they’ve been is comfortable, and all comfort has done is maintain the status quo.” You can think of beginning to work with your discomfort as an act of loving-kindness to yourself, your neighbors, your community.

Turning toward instead of away from discomfort begins with the ability to pay attention in a kind, open, and non-reactive way.
 
Being mindful of discomfort isn’t just an intellectual exercise. It’s visceral. It means noticing the physical sensations that tell you’re uncomfortable. And it means having the willingness to stay with unease long enough so that it informs you.
 
“We have to be vigilant,” said Lama Rod Owens recently on the Ten Percent Happier Podcast. “For me, vigilance is rooted within just always dropping back into the body, over and over again, letting my body tell me what’s going on. What’s happening. Where’s my fear. Where’s the tendency to shut down. I can feel that in my body and I can stay open to it.”

Meditation teacher Shinzen Young offers a step-wise approach to staying open to and untangling discomfort, or any other emotion, by connecting with and labeling what’s happening within the experiential categories of See, Hear and Feel.

If you have the wherewithal to turn your attention toward your discomfort, connect with it, and (Feel) its somatic contours. Does discomfort fizz like an Alka Seltzer tablet in your stomach or wedge itself in your throat? As sensations arise, gently and matter-of-factly label them either silently or out loud as “feel.”(See) the images that appear in your mind alongside your discomfort. When they come into focus, stay with them, and label them as “see.”And as your mind chatters away (Hear) your thoughts as though they were a garbage truck making the early morning rounds and label them “hear.”

Elements of See, Hear, and Feel can emerge like singular shooting stars across the sky of your body, heart, and mind, or they can explode simultaneously like fireworks. Either way, developing the sensory clarity to track the See, Hear, Feel of discomfort, and label it fosters concentration as well as the equanimity to learn from your experience. 

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Working with Bias in the Heat of the Moment

The path of mindfulness, awareness, kindness, and compassion will take us as deep as we’re willing to go. Not only can it help us to relieve our stress, but it can arouse in us the courage to pull back the curtain and honestly face our patterns and conditioning, tracing them back to unconscious stories that shape how we see the world, and the other people in it.

It can be helpful to notice our preconceptions and stories in the quiet of a meditation session, but it can also be powerful to notice our biases on the spot, in the heat of the moment, and switch things up. Here are some steps to consider.

1. Notice Your Habitual Thought Patterns

Based on some old information, you find yourself trapped in a habit pattern. You’re prejudging a person, people, or a situation, and it’s all attached to a story you’re holding onto: These people always…

When lost like this, you need to find out where you are, what’s really happening in your mind as it interprets what’s in front of you. Do you feel uncomfortable, awkward, nervous? Are you reacting more to the story about the situation than the present circumstances? Are you disengaging and distancing yourself from what’s right there?

2. Uncover Your Preconceptions

It’s good to familiarize yourself with the territory, the terrain of what you’re uncovering in your mind. Consciously explore yourself and your patterns particular to these conditions: Every time I see this, I think this…

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How Mindfulness Teachers Can Build Brave Space

I was touched today upon reading this beautiful poem by Micky ScottBey Jones, and it inspired me to reflect on how we might be sure our teaching spaces are places of support, encouragement, love, and safety in these deeply unsettling times.

An Invitation to Brave Space

Together we will create brave space

Because there is no such thing as a “safe space”

We exist in the real world

We all carry scars and we have all caused wounds.

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5 Guided Meditations to Investigate Panic and Anxiety

panitan/Adobe Stock

Unprecedented, uncertain—these are terms we’ve heard used in excess over the past few months of living through a global pandemic. But no matter how tiring uncertainty may be, one thing remains true: We’ve all had to adapt to changing circumstances the best we can and as fast as we can.

Now, we’re facing yet another shift. Coronavirus restrictions are slowly easing and new stresses about going back to work, socializing while socially distanced, and what this all means are on the rise. If you’re finding yourself overwhelmed about reconnecting with the outside world, here are five guided meditations worth following to ease anxiety and calm panic

1. A Meditation for Investigating Panic Attacks

First, congratulate yourself that you are dedicating some precious time for meditation.Become aware of your body and mind and whatever you are carrying within you. Perhaps there are feelings from the day’s events or whatever has been going on recently.May you simply allow and acknowledge whatever is within you and let it be, without any form of analysis.Gradually, shift the focus of awareness to the breath, breathing normally and naturally. As you breathe in, be aware of breathing in, and as you breathe out, be aware of breathing out.Awareness can be focused at either the tip of the nose or the abdomen, depending on your preference. If focusing at the tip of the nose, feel the touch of the air as you breathe in and out… If focusing on the abdomen, feel the belly expanding on an inhalation and contracting on an exhalation.Breathing in, breathing out, experiencing each breath appearing and disappearing. Just breathing. And now gently withdraw awareness from the breath and shift to mindful inquiry.Mindful inquiry is an investigation into emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations that are driving your panic, anxieties, and fears, often beneath the surface of your awareness. There is a special and unique way of doing this practice that can foster the potential for deep understanding and insight.When you practice mindful inquiry, gently direct your attention into the bodily feeling of panic or fear itself. Allow yourself to bring nonjudgmental awareness into the experience of it, acknowledging whatever it feels like in the body and mind and letting it be.To begin this exploration you need to first check in with yourself and determine whether it feels safe or not. If you don’t feel safe, perhaps it is better to wait and try another time, and just stay with your breathing for now.If you are feeling safe, then bring awareness into the body and mind and allow yourself to acknowledge any physical sensations, emotions, or thoughts. Then, just let them be…without trying to analyze or figure them out.You may discover that within these feelings there’s a multitude of thoughts, emotions, or old memories that are fueling your fears. When you begin to acknowledge what has not been acknowledged, the pathway of insight and understanding may arise. As you turn toward your emotions, they may show you what you are panicked, worried, mad, sad, or bewildered about.You may learn that the very resistance to unacknowledged emotions often causes more panic or fear and that learning to go with it, rather than fighting it, often diminishes them. When we say “go with it,” we mean that you allow and acknowledge whatever is within the mind and body. Just letting the waves of emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations go wherever they need to go just like the sky makes room for any weather.Now gently return to the breath, being mindful of breathing in and out…riding the waves of the breath.As you come to the end of this meditation, take a moment to congratulate yourself and take a moment to appreciate the safety and ease you may be feeling right now that you can bring into your day. By acknowledging your fears, you may open the possibility for deeper understanding, compassion, and peace. Before you get up, gently wiggle your fingers and toes and gradually open your eyes, being fully aware here and now.Send some loving-kindness your way. May I dwell in peace. May all beings dwell in peace.

2. A Meditation to Create Space Between You and Your Anxiety

When you’re ready, come into a comfortable seated position. Let’s take some breaths here. Find your ground by feeling your feet on the floor beneath you. Feel your body touching the chair or cushion you’re on. Really allow yourself to settle into this: Feel gravity, and release your weight toward gravity. Let’s take a few deeper breaths now. If you are already feeling anxious, it can be helpful to really extend the exhale. Take a nice, long inhale, then very much emphasize the exhale.Explore how you’re feeling right now. If you’re feeling anxious right now, it’s a great opportunity to practice. But if not, bring to mind a time recently when you felt some kind of fear, anxiety, worry, or agitation. Recall the situation or conversation. Just remember that event, and as you do, you might start to notice anxious thoughts emerging in your mind. You might also start to notice some related sensations in your body.Open your attention wide. Before we turn toward the anxiety more fully, let’s first open our attention wide. Here’s where we can use A.W.E. (And What Else?) Just notice. You may be feeling anxiety right now, but let’s direct our attention away from that and actively explore our senses.Open your eyes and look around. If your eyes are closed, I invite you to open them to look around the space you’re in. Simply orient yourself. And now notice three things that you see in the space around you. They can be very neutral or even pleasant things—flowers, an image. Simply describe them to yourself in your mind: the colours, shapes, forms.Turn your attention to the sounds around you. Once you’ve noticed three things visually and described them to yourself, turn your attention to hearing. Allow your attention to settle on the sounds around you. Listen for three different sounds; they can be near or far. Emphasize pleasant or neutral sounds. And, again, describe them to yourself: notice the vibration, the tone, how they arise and then pass. Now, let’s turn our attention to taste. This might be a little more challenging, but just notice: Can you detect any flavour in your mouth? Maybe something you ate before starting this practice? Toothpaste? Just notice what it’s like to taste.Now, turn your attention to your sense of smell. You might take in a deeper breath here. Just notice: Can you detect any scent in the space around you? Notice how they can shift and change with each breath.And finally, let’s move to the sense of touch. Beginning on the outer surface of our skin, feel the contact with the chair or the ground. If your hands are touching or resting against your body, just feel that sensation. It’s very simple: What do you notice when you turn your attention toward your hands touching? Feel the contact of your clothes with your body. Feel the temperature of the air on your skin. What can you notice?If you have the energy and some space now, turn your attention toward the felt sense of anxiety. If you feel the need for more space at any time, simply keep turning your attention outward: the sounds, the sights—wherever it feels calming and grounding for you to attend in your senses. When you do feel ready to explore, turn your attention to the felt sense: How do you notice anxiety? Where do you feel it in your body? Take a breath and notice where you feel it. Maybe it’s in your belly? See if you can notice the details, too: Is it throbbing or tingling? What’s the energy like? Within the sensation of anxiety, does it feel like there’s a lot of movement? Does it shift and change as you pay attention to it?Can you gently relax around the feeling of anxiety or fear? Think of the rest of your body holding this feeling with a lot of care. Pay close attention, explore, be curious: How does anxiety show up? How is it shifting? If at any point it becomes overwhelming or you get lost in thinking and find you’re unable to stay with the sensations, simply go to And What Else: Notice the sights around you. Notice the sounds. Feel the ground.If you are able to pay attention to this sense of anxiety, simply noticing it, let’s drop in a question. Staying with the felt sense of this fear, anxiety, worry, or agitation, just ask: What do you need? What do you want me to know? What are you trying to offer me? Just see what answers, images, words arise here. We’re asking ourselves here: What do I need?As we close out the meditation, see if you can commit to doing something to address that need you’ve identified. Alternatively, simply remember the information that has arisen for you during this practice. And now, if you’re ready, take a few deeper breaths. Soften your body slightly. Feel the seat under you, the ground under you.

3. A Meditation for Working with Anxiety

To begin, sit in a way that is relaxed, and take a moment to adjust your posture on your seat to one that’s more comfortable. Feel your body in contact with the surface beneath you. Allow yourself to experience whatever is present right now. Whatever bodily feelings, mood, emotions, mind states, and thoughts are present. You might take a few deeper breaths to invite the body and the mind to relax and settle. Take a nice full deep in-breath, relaxing, releasing, and letting go on the out-breath. Breathe in, and fill the chest and the lungs with the in-breath. Release and let go on the out-breath. As you breathe in, you might invite in a quality of calm. You could repeat the word calm silently to yourself as you breathe in, and then again as you breathe out. Breathe in, calm the body, breathe out, calm the mind. When you’re ready, let the breath settle into its natural rhythm, allowing it to be just as it is. Breathe in, breathe out. You might invite a smile to the corners of your eyes and the corners of your mouth; a smile sends a message to our brain and to our nervous system that we’re safe and don’t have to be hyper-vigilant. Smiling invites us to relax, and be at ease.While sitting in a way that is relaxed and alert, you might bring to your mind a situation that is a source of anxiety or stress for you. It might be a work situation, family, health, finances, or it might be a combination of factors. Allow yourself to take in all the feelings, sensations, and emotions, and the overall sense of this situation, in the body and in the mind. Choose not to follow scenarios in your mind about what might happen or things that might go badly, and simply observe your thoughts and let them go. Be open to whatever bodily sensations are present with kindness and acceptance. There might be contraction, heat, tightness, tingling, or pulsing. Whatever is present, say yes to what you’re feeling. Be open to these feelings and let them come and go. Bring a kind awareness to whatever emotions are present, and allow yourself to feel them fully; they might be fear, worry, anxiety, or sadness, to name a few. Let these feelings be as big as they want to be, and say yes to all that you’re feeling. Let your awareness and kind attention hold whatever is present, whatever is arising for you in the body, heart, and mind. Bring interest to the changing flow of experience, letting everything stay for a period of time, and then pass on their own time. Meet it all with kindness, acceptance, and interest. If anxious thoughts arise like, “This will never go away” or, “I’ll never be able to do everything I have to do,” meet these thoughts with kindness and care. Without identifying with them or treating them as true, let the thoughts come and go. Continue to open to your experience in this way, meeting your experience with kindness and care. If it’s challenging, acknowledge that it is difficult. You could put a hand on your heart and wish yourself well, if this is helpful. Think to yourself, “May I be happy, and may I live with ease.” Take a nice deep full in-breath, letting go on the out-breath. Hold your experience with kindness and with care. Bring awareness to any emotion that may be present, perhaps underneath the feelings. Maybe there’s fear that the sadness, grief, or worry will continue. See if you can say yes to the emotion. Meet your emotions with kindness and care, and notice how they too shift and change if you can open to them. If a sensation or an emotion gives rise to an urge or an impulse to do something negative, like eat something unhealthy, take a drink, or take a drug, see if you can stay with that energy. See that this too comes and stays for a while, and then passes. If it’s helpful you could imagine it as like a wave coming along. Maybe there’s a strong energy, and the wave crests. But if you stay with it with awareness and with kindness, perhaps those feelings pass for a while, and then there’s calm. Be open to the thoughts or narratives that come up in your mind; they might be “This is too much,” or “I need to do something to deal with this pain or difficult feeling,” and invite yourself to stay with the direct experience. If the pain, discomfort, difficult emotion, or difficult feeling seems like it’s too intense, see if you can bring your awareness to another part of your experience. Perhaps an area of your body that feels more neutral, such as your hands, or your feet, or your seat, or something in your life that you’re happy about or grateful for. Let your awareness rest on a more pleasant or neutral experience for a time. When you feel ready, let your attention move back to the bodily feelings, and be open again to your experience, riding whatever waves arise. Stay as close to your direct experience as you can, and bring a kind awareness to the thoughts and stories that surround the pain, stress, or difficult emotion. Choose not to identify with the thoughts but just acknowledge them as thoughts. Let them come and go in their own time with kindness. Sit quietly for a couple of minutes, and be open to the changing flow of experience, recognizing how mindfulness can help us open up to and untangle ourselves from painful thoughts, stress, worry, anxiety, and the patterns of behavior that tend to go with those feelings, emotions, and mental states.

4. A Meditation to Sit With Difficult Emotions

Come into a comfortable sitting position. Imagine something difficult that you are going through. It doesn’t have to be the most difficult, but something moderately difficult. We want to practice with moderation before we move into the most difficult. Now, recognize your desire to push away the difficulty, to reach toward something that would soothe the difficulty in the moment (reaching out to someone, chocolate, distracting with technology, etc.), or denying that this difficulty is actually happening.Now turn toward it. Breathe deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth a few times. Now invite into your awareness a large figure of compassion and strength who envelops you in a blanket of love, acceptance, and security. It can be a big cloud of compassion, a large grandmotherly figure, anything that feels loving and kind. Now, imagine this figure is holding you.Turn fully toward your difficulty. Face it, head on. There is no need to be scared. Feel this wise being enveloping you and speaking kindly to you: “It will be okay, you are okay, you are lovable, you are enough, you are not alone, and we will get through this together.” Let yourself offer and receive loving and kind statements as many times as you need until your mind and body can soothe and slow down.Each time, you notice yourself reaching for the old familiar way of turning away from discomfort, try gently turning toward it. The more you train the mind to acknowledge and name whatever difficulty is here, it won’t feel so challenging. In addition, your limbic system and specifically your amygdala will send a signal to your sympathetic nervous system that you can physiologically relax.

5. A Meditation to Explore Anxious Feelings

Begin with a brief mindful check-in, taking a few minutes to acknowledge how you’re currently feeling in your body and mind…being mindful of whatever is in your awareness and letting it all be. There’s nothing that needs to be fixed, analyzed, or solved. Just allow your experience and let it be. Being present.Now gently shift your attention to the breath, becoming mindful of breathing in and out. Bring awareness to wherever you feel the breath most prominently and distinctly, perhaps at your nose, in your chest, or in your belly, or perhaps somewhere else. There’s no other place you need to go…nothing else you need to do…just being mindful of your breath flowing in and out. If your mind wanders away from the breath, just acknowledge wherever it went, then return to being mindful of breathing in and out.Reflect on a specific experience of anxiety, perhaps something recent so you can remember it more clearly. It doesn’t have to be an extreme experience of anxiety, perhaps something that you’d rate at 5 or 6 on a scale of 1 to 10. Recall the experience in detail, as vividly as you can, invoking some of that anxiety now, in the present moment.As you imagine the experience and sense into it, be mindful of how the anxiety feels in your body and stay present with the sensations. Your only job right now is to feel and acknowledge whatever physical sensations you’re experiencing in your body and let them be. There’s no need to change them. Let the sensations run their course, just like a ripple on a lake is gradually assimilated into the entirety of the body of water.Now feel into any emotions that emerge…anxiety, fear, sadness, anger, confusion…whatever you may feel. As with physical sensations, just acknowledge how these emotions feel and let them be. There’s no need to analyze them or figure them outIf strong emotions don’t arise, this doesn’t mean you aren’t doing this meditation correctly. The practice is simply to acknowledge whatever is in your direct experience and let it be. Whatever comes up in the practice is the practice.Bringing awareness to your anxiety may sometimes amplify your anxious feelings. This is normal, and the intensity will subside as you open to and acknowledge what you’re experiencing and give it space to simply be.Continue feeling into the anxiety, just allowing any feelings in the body and mind and letting them be, cultivating balance and the fortitude to be with things as they are. The very fact that you’re acknowledging anxiety rather than turning away from it is healing.As you continue to acknowledge your physical sensations and emotions, they may begin to reveal a host of memories, thoughts, feelings, and physical experiences that may have created limiting definitions of who you think you are. You may begin to see more clearly into how these old patterns of conditioning have driven your anxiety. This understanding can set you free—freer than you ever felt possible.Now gradually transition back to the breath, breathing mindfully in and out… Next, slowly shift your awareness from your breath to sensing into your heart. Take some time to open into your heart with self-compassion, acknowledging your courage in engaging with your anxiety. In this way, your anxiety can become your teacher, helping you open your heart to greater wisdom, compassion, and ease within your being.As you’re ready to end this meditation, congratulate yourself for taking this time to meditate and heal yourself. Then gradually open your eyes and return to being present in the environment around you. May we all find the gateways into our hearts and be free.
Original author: Kylee Ross
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Using Mindfulness to Break Racial Bias

The global anti-racism protests have ignited a much-needed reckoning among many mindfulness practitioners about systemic racism. For 15 years, I have studied the nature of bias academically, contemplated its socioemotional impacts with over 10,000 hours of meditation, and trained more than 16,000 professionals nationwide in science-backed, compassion-based tools to break it. In this moment of reckoning, I offer you five tools that you can use anywhere, anytime to face and transform the virus of racial bias that still afflicts our hearts and minds. Rooted in the science of neuroplasticity, collectively these tools spell out the acronym PRISM: perspective-taking, pRosocial behaviors, individuation, stereotype replacement, and mindfulness. We begin with mindfulness and work our way backwards to perspective-taking. 

1. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the bedrock of breaking bias. It is the act of noticing or becoming aware of what is happening in the heart, mind, and body at the moment of contact with another person. Toni Morrison famously said, “Race is the least reliable information you can have about someone. It’s real information, but it tells you next to nothing.” Yet, even in 2020, I often get asked, “Where are you from?” “Brooklyn,” I reply to which they often retort, “No, where are you really from?” For people of color, this line of reasoning is all too familiar. I feel anger. I feel hurt. I feel othered. My thoughts are spiraling: Is it because my skin isn’t white that I can’t be from Brooklyn? Are you asking about my ethnicity? Why does that matter? 

Toni Morrison famously said, “Race is the least reliable information you can have about someone. It’s real information, but it tells you next to nothing.”

This is where my mindfulness practice jumps in. It helps me acknowledge my feelings and thoughts. No longer denied—I know who I am and I won’t let this line of reasoning make me feel less than. I take a breath, and I respond. This takes daily practice, but underneath it is the resolve to not let myself believe other people’s ideas of me. Similarly, if you’re curious about someone’s ethnic background, can you bring mindfulness to why? What would that information help you deduce about that person? Are those deductions skillful, helpful, and onward leading?  

2. Stereotype Replacement

Stereotype replacement is the active practice of visualization to break our mind’s habits of putting people into stereotypical boxes. For example, notice the first image that comes to mind when you read the word leader.

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