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 You Can Help Others by Practicing Mindfulness

A great meditation teacher once described the frightening scene in the refugee boats floating adrift after the end of the Vietnam war. Overcrowded with children and elderly people, rich and poor, and everyone in between, it soon became clear that if one person in the boat began to panic, everyone would sink. But if one person remained calm, the whole group could remain calm, and everyone could survive.

So many cultures, spiritual traditions, and even social and neuroscience tell us that our emotions, positive or negative, are contagious. Sometimes, we are called to be the calm one in the storm buffeting humanity, as COVID-19 has done in this lifeboat we call planet earth.

For me that call first came a few years ago, in the midst of practicing a loving-kindness meditation at a very challenging job, where I worked alongside many difficult people. I realized that perhaps I would be the “benefactor” in someone else’s life. This became even more clear to me when I read up on the research about resilience and discovered that one of the best predictors of resilience and thriving in young people who have grown up with multiple traumatic events known as ACEs or Adverse Childhood Events, is the presence of one caring, compassionate and consistent adult in their lives. Adults can provide this for each other, too, of course, and so can kids with their peers.

The old saying goes that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. These days consider that not just who you’re with physically as you shelter in place, but who you’re hanging out with on social media as well.

Within families, we find that when one person practices mindfulness, it impacts others. Parents who practice mindfulness, even if their partners or their kids roll their eyes, make the whole family happier, with better communication and fewer accidents in the home. Parents of special needs kids who practice seem to have kids whose worrisome behavior decreased, and social skills and mood seemed to get better, helping siblings too. When one spouse practices, both appear to be happier with the relationship, which itself is often less reactive and conflict driven.

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10-Minute Nourishing Breath Meditation

Mindful breathing often serves as the foundation for meditation practices because your breath is always with you, wherever you are, and it can be used as an anchor to the present moment. In essence, all that’s involved is simply being mindful when you breathe in and out. There is no need to analyze, count, visu­alize, or manipulate the breath in any way. Just breathe normally and naturally and be aware of breathing in and out. There are a few methods you can use to focus on your breath. You can be mindful of your breath in your nose, chest, belly, or even your entire body as it breathes in and out.

With any of these practices, the deepest healing occurs when you come to terms with the way things are.

For dealing with the challenges of stress and anxiety, we sometimes recommend abdominal breath­ing—breathing from the belly, rather than only into the chest—as this can be very calming. However, if another location is preferable, please listen to your own wisdom. Generally speaking, abdominal or belly breathing is the way we all naturally breathe, especially when we’re lying down. To determine if you’re breathing from your abdomen, place your hand on your belly and feel whether it expands as you inhale and contracts as you exhale. If it doesn’t, turn your attention to breathing more deeply and feeling your belly expand and contract with your breath.

An important benefit of abdominal or belly breathing is that it helps moderate irregular breathing patterns, which often arise due to stress or irritation. Anxiety can lead to shallow, rapid, or sporadic breathing and even hyperventilation, and a full-blown panic attack can cause increased shortness of breath, thoughts of losing control, and pains in the chest. By bringing the breath back into the belly, you can help the body return to balance. So when anxiety arises, first acknowledge the feeling, then gently bring attention to the abdomen and practice mindful belly breathing.

Before we begin, we have one final bit of advice: With any of these practices, the deepest healing occurs when you come to terms with the way things are. This might mean simply noticing and acknowledging stress or anxiety rather than falling into old patterns of running away from it. You may discover that by embracing your fear you find your heart.

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Keeping a Cool Head and Warm Heart in Challenging Times

The spread of COVID-19 around the world is being more than matched by the spread of information. Words that we had never or rarely encountered have become mainstream— “coronavirus, social distancing, self-isolation, pandemic.” Other words are increasingly encountered everywhere, “unprecedented, uncertain, scary, worry and anxiety.”

Cultivating good health education by understanding the very real threats we face is very important for preventing the virus’ spread. But as we educate ourselves we’re also creating understandable fear, worry, and anxiety. This is a double-edged sword that on the one side creates an appropriate call to action and on the other can create panic, reactivity and additional problems.

Clearly we need an international coordinated public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But we also need another type of response at the level of our psychological well-being.

Cultivating Equanimity

Both modern psychology and ancient wisdom traditions emphasize the importance of equanimity: a quality of inner balance and steadiness that is imbued with awareness, care, and compassion. Equanimity is neither detached nor idealized. Rather it is a very real engagement with what we’re facing, but in a way that enables us to see clearly the changing weather patterns of our minds and the dynamic changes in the world as the pandemic runs its course. 

Equanimity helps us understand that when we recognize and allow difficult thoughts, worries and feelings—when we don’t over-identify with them or cling to them—they will change and pass. We begin to understand that difficult moods and thoughts last longer when we fight them or over-identify with them. This is not about clever words or ideas. It is about an attitude of mind, and more than this, an attitude of mind that we can train and cultivate.

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Five Mindfulness Lessons I Learned While Traveling During a Pandemic

Even in the best of times, traveling can be stressful. There may be delays, unforeseen expenses, or just bad weather. Before I left on a four-month backpacking trip, I took all the necessary precautions—but I never predicted a pandemic would break out.

In the face of this global crisis—and a sudden, desperate need to get back to my home in Canada—I found myself relying more and more on practicing mindfulness. So, while I wait to hear if I get to go back home soon, I thought I’d share the five mindfulness lessons I learned recently while traveling during a pandemic.

1. Take it one step at a time

My boyfriend and I were in a small town in Peru when the Peruvian government announced all borders out of the country would be shut in 24 hours. We were four hours from the nearest airport, our flights home weren’t for another month, and suddenly everyone we knew was texting us to ask if we were safe.

I knew we couldn’t let panic take over—instead, we came up with a plan. First we had to get on a bus. Then we had to buy a plane ticket. Finally, we had to get on a plane. Getting home was a huge task, but when we broke it into pieces, it felt a lot more manageable. 

2. Practice compassion

Once we arrived at the airport in Lima, we were met with chaos. Flights were being canceled constantly and the line to buy tickets wrapped around itself three times. There were only a handful of employees behind each airline desk. No one we asked had any answers for us. People were cutting in line. And despite the serious and very contagious illness sending us all home, most of us were crowded shoulder to shoulder.

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What I Learned About Myself at the Grocery Store: Mindfulness Lessons from COVID-19

I could see the last bag of 2% milk lying on its side, still untouched in the supermarket dairy section. I tried to stay calm as I motored quietly towards it, hoping no one else had noticed. I moved my eye-line so it would look like I was perhaps interested in chocolate milk, or maybe skim—there was still lots of that. The pandemic was upon us, and I wasn’t going to make it without 2% milk!

A dear mindfulness colleague called me an hour before that moment in the grocery store, with urgency in her tone. “Have you gone shopping? You have to go shopping, right now, I’m not kidding. We are all about to go on lockdown, go get food right now!” My colleague is a doctor, her husband is a doctor, I thought they would be the first ones to laugh this whole thing off as some kind of social media mind-madness. 

That phone call felt like a turning-point moment. Until then, I had been warmly hugging and hand-shaking all those who still wished to. I was pretty sure that this was all way over the top, and I was not planning to go and buy a case of toilet paper, or bottled water, or even one canned good. I wasn’t worried about a thing. It was all very curious, though. Then, exponentially the whole world seemed to go pop and suddenly almost ten billion of us were all pretty focused on one thing—the zombie apocalypse was here, and my friend was right. I definitely needed 2% milk.

My thoughts and feelings were in tumult as I counselled myself not to panic-buy while feeling the strong desire to back a truck up and just start shoving anything I could get my hands on into an army of carts.

I took a breath. I felt my feet connecting with the floor in front of the mozzarella. It would be OK if there was only medium cheddar left. I had faith that I could regulate myself enough to handle it. Even as I heard that thought cloud waft by, I wasn’t sure I believed it. I was certainly seeing just how many things I want. I could feel myself clinging to feeling I needed to have cheesy comforts to keep me warm and safe during a pandemic

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