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…”

3 Simple Ways to Strengthen Your Relationships

Having strong relationships is one of the single greatest predictors of wellness, happiness, and longevity. And our connections flourish when we take time to get to know ourselves, and others, better.

Here are three ways to strengthen the relationships you have, and nourish the ones that might need some work:

1. Start with kindness

Kindness is like a magnet. People like to be around others who are kind because they feel cared about and safe with them. The age-old Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would want them to do to you” still rings true today.

It’s also reciprocal. When we practice kindness, not only do we feel better, but we help others feel good, too. And this just increases opportunities for positive connections throughout our day, which, in turn, contributes to our own health and well-being.

2. Let go of toxic people

Take an inventory of your relationships to a get a sense for who’s nourishing you and who’s depleting you. A strong friendship will make you feel comfortable, confident, and fully supported.

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How Mindful Leaders Can Heal Trauma

San Francisco is in the midst of probably the worst housing crisis in the country, and the San Francisco Department of Public Health is tasked with stewarding the health of the city and county’s population, and inside of that we have recognized that the way we function is often trauma-inducing not only to the communities that we serve. but to the workforce.

That we are often bureaucratic, siloed, that people are demoralized, that we are not trustworthy, and that it can be a very mean place to work. And because of that, we have gone on a mission to move from being trauma-inducing to a trauma-informed, and ultimately a healing organization, and organization that is trustworthy and has at its core compassion and empathy, and is thoughtful about the way we deliver services. 

We ask the key question—not, “What is wrong with you?” but, “What has happened?”

We ask the key question—not, “What is wrong with you?” but, “What has happened?” And when you ask what has happened it invites compassion, it invites looking at strengths in the face of adversity.

I was an embedded trauma trainer inside a maternal adolescent health ward, and as I was delivering the trauma training I noticed that the workforce, although interested in trauma principles, did not seem like it had the strength and the bandwidth to really hold the important work that was ahead of us. And it occurred to me that what we needed to do was become a mindful organization, in order to become a trauma-informed organization. That trauma-informed and healing needed to exist inside of a nest of mindfulness.

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A Basic Meditation to Tame Your Inner Critic

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Nearly everyone recognizes the inner critic, that judgemental voice inside us that heckles and cuts us down. Whatever we do isn’t enough.

Reasoning with our inner tyrant validates it as if it deserves our attention, when mostly its just an unhelpful pattern of thinking we’ve picked up along the way.

This push for perfect is exhausting, but often avoidable with practice. Rationalizing with what is basically an irrational habit doesn’t help much. The inner critic is like the old two guys on the Muppet Show endlessly deriding whatever happens without reason at all. Reasoning with our inner tyrant validates it as if it deserves our attention, when mostly its just an unhelpful pattern of thinking we’ve picked up along the way.

To start this mindfulness practice, begin by focusing on breathing. Notice the physical sensation of breathing in, and then breathing out as best as you’re able.Find yourself a posture of ease and strength.However you’re feeling right now, leave things alone for the next few moments. Your attention wanders and then comes back to breathing in and breathing out.For many of us this is already enough to bring self judgement to mind. You may immediately start thinking “I’m not very good at this” or “I should do this more often.” But for this brief practice today, reflect on somewhere in life you do feel judged. At school, at work, as a parent or as a child.Notice first how judgement is more than a single thought—it may affect how you feel, with tension or unease somewhere in your body, it may influence your emotional state.Then, notice where your thoughts go when experiencing this kind of self criticism, and the patterns you fall into under this kind of stress.Now for the next few minutes, practice leaving that voice of judgement, that inner critic alone. Stop wrestling with is or appeasing it, or pushing it away. Label it if you want, or even give it a specific name if you prefer. Recognize what it feels like to you, and then let it be.On each in breath, acknowledge whatever you’re experiencing right now in your body, your emotions, your thoughts, nothing to fix or change, this is what’s going on right now. And on each out breath, offer yourself relief. Wish yourself what you would a close friend with the same doubts.Breathing out, wishing yourself relief or strength or humour or joy or anything else that feels appropriate. Breathing in, this is how things are, breathing out focusing on ease or whatever else comes to mind.Wish yourself well, not because you deserve it more than anyone else, but because you deserve it as much as anyone else.
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Learning the Light Touch of Allowing

Kasper Garam/Adobe Stock

When I first started meditating, I was anxious and fidgety. I wanted to crawl out of my skin. I’m truly astounded that I didn’t quit, since I was 17 at the time and had quit all sorts of things in those days—and they were mostly things that were good for me. Things that weren’t good for me, I just kept on doing. But somehow I did keep going with meditation. Maybe it had something to do with peer pressure or pride, or just the notion of how silly it would be to chuck the whole thing aside because I couldn’t pay attention to my breath without going just a little bit crazy. Also, meditating confirmed that you were not part of the mainstream, and not being mainstream was a part of my thing back then (#sixties, which didn’t end till the middle of the seventies).

Stick-to-it-iveness, or stubbornness, or whatever it was, paid off, because meditation soon became a regular and important part of my life. A lot of the agitation died down (although it’s still there in a big way at times) and I began to sense a backdrop of well-being that lay behind all experiences. Nice.

And…

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Why You Shouldn’t Suppress Your Emotions

Our emotions are elusive, shape-shifting inner beasts, but despite the challenge of pinning any of them down in precise terms—what is anger, really?—we don’t doubt they’re part of our makeup. We don’t think of an emotionless human being as a good thing.

Yet there is little evidence that emotions were treated with respect throughout much of history. Words that point to emotions in ancient languages are tinged with notions of irrationality or possession by spirits. In the West especially, it seems, emotions were considered irrational. Fortunately, artists came along with an interest in the actual psychological makeup of individuals—the full catastrophe, as it were. During the Renaissance, there was a concerted effort to represent affetti (movements of the soul) in the faces and gestures of the people depicted in works of art. The artists, most prominently Leonardo da Vinci, wanted to portray how people were actually feeling.

Whereas these artists were exploring rich movements of the mind and heart from the outside in, mindfulness meditation gives us the opportunity to explore from the inside out. In basic mindfulness practice, we’re instructed to simply notice our thoughts and come back to the anchor of our attention (most often the breath). As we become more accustomed to noticing and coming back, we become familiar with the quality and texture of our thoughts. Before we’ve decided a thought is bad or good or otherwise, we have a split second to just see it for what it is, as if we were in a creative writing class focusing simply on what we see, not what we think or feel or about it.

When we do that, we definitely notice that some thoughts contain emotional content, and that these emotional “thoughts” arrive as an experience in our body, not just our brain. If you’re angry, you may clench your teeth. If you’re indifferent, your whole body may shrug. If elated, you may shriek. And so on and so on.

This wondrous array of responses is part of what’s beautiful about being human. The longstanding diminishment of emotions as anti-rational has cramped our style.

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