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…”

A 10-Minute Meditation to Cultivate Embodied Awareness

Adobe Stock/Lakshmiprasad

Mindfulness is a bit of a misnomer. It can lead us to think that meditation is all about the mind. In fact, we bring an embodied awareness to our practice when we can bring a full awareness of our mind, our heart, and our bodies—that’s our thoughts, our emotions, and our sensations. And with that, we actually have much more capacity to be present, to be clear, to be kind. So let’s try and practice what it means to cultivate embodied awareness. 

Take a moment to find a comfortable position. You don’t need to be in a particular posture. You can be standing, sitting, or even lying down. The most important thing is that you feel relaxed and alert. Make sure that you have some openness in the front of your body. You can roll your shoulders up and back. Or if you’re lying down, just allow your shoulders to really relax into the floor. You want to have some uprightness or length in your spine without being rigid or stiff. And you want to invite a softness into the face, the jaw, the shoulders, and the belly. This balanced posture of being both relaxed and alert, being both soft and open, is the beginning of our embodied awareness. Notice how the body is feeling in this moment. You don’t need to change anything about the mind, your thoughts, the heart, your emotions, the body, or any sensations. Just simply allow what’s happening to be in your awareness. How does your body feel right now? Feel what’s going on physically or mentally. What sensations are you experiencing? Where may there be tightness or tension in the body? And where is there ease or relaxation? Just notice what’s here. As you continue to settle into this embodied awareness, you can close your eyes if you’d like, or keep them open as you continue to rest your awareness on the body. Just notice what’s present, and allow what’s happening. Maybe there are thoughts or emotions coming up. Just let everything be here. Now, I’m going to invite you to take a deep breath in through the nose, and as you exhale, you can even make a sighing sound. Release any tension in the body as you breathe in and out. Do this a few times on your own as you breathe in, opening the front of the body, and as you breathe out, really softening and relaxing. Allow the breath to come to its natural rhythm, and just take a moment in silence to notice your bodily sensations. You don’t have to think about the body, but really feel any sensations or vibrations. Now, see if you can feel the contact with what’s supporting your body right now. It could be a chair, a cushion, a bed, or the floor or ground beneath you. Just really sense into your feet or seat, allowing yourself to feel grounded. Continuing to sense the connection with what’s underneath you, bring awareness to the pressure or the weight of the body. What is that sensation like? Even now, thoughts or concerns might be coming up, and this isn’t a problem. The mind thinks about the past or the future, and comments on the present. That’s what it does often. But the body is always in the present moment. And if thinking happens, just allow your awareness to rest back into an awareness of the body. Now, bringing your awareness to the breath as it flows in and out of the body, you might want to take one or two deep breaths in and out through the nose to connect you to this process that’s always happening (whether we pay attention or not). You can notice the belly rising and falling as you breathe in and out. If you’re having trouble connecting to the sensation, you can place one or both hands over your belly button to feel the belly rising on the inhale and falling on the exhale. If the breath is hard for you to follow, you can rest your awareness on the body’s contact with what’s underneath you, or on any part of the body that brings you a sense of ease of connection. If you’re staying with the breath, continue to notice the inhale and the exhale. Embodied awareness is a way for us to stay with our experience by using the body, the breath, or any sensory experience as a way to connect to the present moment. Not by pushing away thoughts or emotions, but by allowing the body to be the ground for our awareness. Just take a moment in silence to rest in this embodied awareness.As we end this meditation, take a moment to express gratitude toward yourself for taking time to cultivate this practice. And know that in any moment you can reconnect to the body, the breath, the sense of groundedness as a way to create spaciousness, ease, and rootedness. You can open your eyes now, and begin to move your hands and feet. Let yourself reconnect to your surroundings as we finish this meditation. 
Original author: Sebene Selassie
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Brené Brown on What it Really Means to Trust

Trust is a big deal. When people gain our trust or break our trust, it matters. It’s also a big word, packing a lot of weight. We say we trust people, or that someone has broken our trust. But what does that mean? What did they do? In an episode of Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations podcast, Brené Brown, a renowned vulnerability, courage, shame, and empathy researcher, breaks down the complexities of trust. 

She borrows a definition from leadership and well-being coach Charles Feltman who says that “trust is choosing to make something important to you vulnerable to the actions of someone else.” Trust isn’t built in grand gestures, Brown says, but in the small moments that people treat what is important to you with care.

BRAVING: An Acronym for Building Trust 

To talk about trust, Brown uses the acronym BRAVING which stands for: boundaries, reliability, accountability, the vault, integrity, non-judgment, and generosity. Understanding that these are components of trust and how they work can help us really understand how we do or don’t trust others, or ourselves. She says she uses this acronym “because when we trust, we are braving connection with someone.”

Trust is choosing to make something important to you vulnerable to the actions of someone else.

Boundaries

To trust someone, Brown says, it’s essential that we are clear about our boundaries so they can understand and respect our limits. It’s also important that we understand the boundaries of others so trust can flow both ways. 

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How Mindfulness Shifts Our Perception of Time

Imagine a woman, well into her seventh decade of life but still mentally sharp, taking her grandson on his first walk along the beloved beach where she has lived for years. The little boy hears the roar of the surf, the screech of seagulls; he sees sand and sand castles, families under beach umbrellas, toddlers scampering away from the incoming tide, a carpet of tiny shells and garlands of shiny brown seaweed; he smells the briny, metallic air. To him, many things happened. The grandmother, in contrast, experiences these details much less distinctly. This means that for her, just one thing happened: another beach walk.

The difference between the grandmother’s and the boy’s subjective experiences of the identical physical experience offers a tantalizing clue to something that explorers of the human condition, from novelists to psychologists, have puzzled over: why our sense of the passage of time speeds up as we age. You’ve almost certainly experienced it. How can I have been working here for 10 years, when it feels like employee orientation was only yesterday? you ask. Where did the summer go? you wonder. And in your darker moments, Where did my life go? You don’t need to be as old as our beach-walking grandmother to feel this; the perception that time is accelerating creeps in well before middle age.

Scientists have identified many reasons for this, but one that has come to the fore recently has both the feel of truth and, even better, offers a hint that mindfulness might help counter the sense that life is slipping away, like the sand in an hourglass whose neck has inexplicably widened.

The Melting-Pot of Memory

The new idea is this. As we get older, we “chunk” the experiences we’ve had into broad categories, bundling individual moments into larger, more generic groups in our minds. The grandson’s beach walk, in his memory, consisted of dozens of vivid, individual experiences. To the grandmother, these experiences are so familiar that they get filed as a single one: “beach walk.”

Similarly, with age we group experiences into broad chunks such as “work” or “family” or “fun outings,” psychologist Mark Landau of the University of Kansas and his colleagues argued in a 2018 study. As a result, to an older person, “fewer things seem to have occurred in a given period, so it seems to have passed faster, in retrospect,” they wrote.

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A New Way of Seeing

A piece of garbage changed my life. 

Okay, maybe its effect wasn’t quite that profound, but it did trigger a change in how I look at—and really see—what’s right in front of me.

I was 15 and walking to school along my usual route, head down, not really paying attention to my surroundings. It was raining and I was grumpy, preoccupied with typical teenage thoughts: Does he like me? Did I study hard enough for the test? Can I really pull off wearing horizontal stripes?

Then I noticed a gum wrapper on the ground. It was bright pink and glossy from the rain. It had crumpled in such a way that it looked like a small, delicate piece of origami. The pink of the wrapper made the grass it was lying on look deliciously green. I was struck by how utterly beautiful it was.

While I’d been playing a movie in my head—with me in the starring role—I had been completely missing moments of beauty, everywhere and in the most unexpected places.

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Why Meditation is a Practice of Liberation

In December 2019, I traveled to Washington, DC, to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), at the urging of Ericka Phillips, a lifelong meditator, mindfulness meditation guide, and community organizer who also develops mindfulness-centered, community-focused workshops. She’s a rising thought leader in the mindfulness world, which is why she was asked to collaborate with the museum to design programming that incorporates mindfulness to engage audiences and enhance and support the visitor experience. “The museum,” Ericka told me, “is a representation of the journey of Black Americans and the story of America. And that story is one of liberation. It is a story of a journey toward freedom. Similarly, meditation is a practice of liberation. I want to help visitors see and experience meditation as a way we can practice our own liberation and experience freedom in the present moment.”

“The museum,” Ericka told me, “is a representation of the journey of Black Americans and the story of America. And that story is one of liberation.

(Since the museum had to close its doors during the pandemic, we’ll report on the specifics of the on-site mindfulness program when the museum opens again. In the meantime, its events page lists online offerings, including mindfulness.)

I‘ve seen many incredible museum spaces, but nothing prepared me for the magnificence of the NMAAHC. It immerses you in a way that makes knowledge visceral. As founding director Lonnie Bunch conveys in an introductory video, the experience is about what you need to know, not what you think you know. The journey begins with time travel: You enter a large, dimly lit glass elevator and descend three floors, watching the dates on the wall decrease until you’re at the year 1400. Soon, in a cramped, dark space meant to convey the traumatic breath stealing conditions on a slave transport, you’re introduced to the transatlantic trade in human beings: the many ships, how Africans were kidnapped, their eventual destinations, and the appalling numbers. Exhibits evoke the tight quarters, the backbreaking labor, the astounding cruelty of enslavement.

After the Civil War and Emancipation, a ramp takes you to the second floor, which depicts segregation, Jim Crow, and the birth of the Civil Rights movement. The third subterranean floor begins in 1968—a tumultuous time that included the death of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—and ends with the election of President Obama and the present day.

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