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 Ways to Nurture the Positive in Difficult Times

Difficulty is never monotone. It’s a symphony of high and low emotions, thoughts, and sensations. Mixed in with the cacophony of horrible is often some good.

During the pandemic, I’ve delighted in the California poppies blooming in my front yard and laughed while giving my daughter an extraordinarily uneven haircut with a pair of dull scissors.

It can feel wildly inappropriate to feel delight or to giggle amid such worldwide suffering. Sometimes we feel guilty for feeling good. Certainly, more than a few of us have felt the spiky tendrils of guilt arise after a wave of pleasure that’s risen and fallen within us during the COVID-19 crisis. “Who am I to be happy when others grieve?” 

When our spirits are buoyed, it’s easier to be kind to others. Think of paying attention to the positive as a public mandate that uplifts everyone.

And, yet, it’s vital to connect to the glimmers of positivity that shine through adversity because they keep our hearts afloat and give us hope.

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7 Classic Children’s Books That Teach Kids Mindfulness

In recent years, there has been an explosion of books for kids about mindfulness and contemplative practice. Many of these wonderful books are explicitly about discovering the present moment, impermanence, equanimity, and other similar concepts. The best of these books are deceptively simple. Many have few words or a single, simple idea. The most elegant ones do not resort to preachy exposition.

Some of the most insightful lessons, however, come from books that are not actually trying to teach mindfulness! Just as mindfulness has been around for a long time, so too have picture books that convey mindful messages. In many cases, we just never noticed these lessons before. As parents, and children’s book authors ourselves, we have discovered that many of the best books about mindfulness are often just the best kids’ books. 

With this inspiration in mind, we’ve put together a list of classic children’s books with profound lessons on mindfulness. We hope you’ll share your favorite classics with us, too.  

1) The Snowy Day

By Ezra Jack Keats, Puffin Books

The Snowy Day takes readers on a journey with a boy as he explores his neighborhood after a recent snowfall. How is this story mindful? The simple rhythm, the heightening and highlighting of the senses (“crunch crunch crunch” through the snow) bring us into the moment, while the sheer joy, awe, and intentional curiosity of nature’s beauty and surprises in the midst of the city all evoke mindfulness. This brightly illustrated book is so sensory—the boy smacks a tree with a stick, then drags the stick though the snow, all before relaxing into a warm bath—that the reader can almost experience the day alongside the boy. By the end we have been transported to that feeling of waking up to a still, quiet snow blanketing the busy city, and the coziness of thawing out upon returning home.

2) The Missing Piece

By Shel Silverstein, HarperCollins

Shel Silverstein has many classics that teach compassion, emotional intelligence, humor, and so much more. The Missing Piece, told in minimal text with Silverstein’s trademark line drawings, tells the tale of a circle who is missing a pie-shaped piece. The circle ambles through the countryside, singing and observing, when, at long last, it finds its missing piece: a slender triangle that fits just right. Yet, once whole, the circle can no longer sing (the piece is in the way), and it now rolls too fast to smell the flowers or truly look at the butterflies. The circle decides that it is happier without the piece, and the two go their separate ways.

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A 7-Minute Guided Meditation to Embrace Fear

You can begin this mindfulness of emotions practice by bringing your awareness within your mind and body, finding any emotion that is here now. You can do this mindful practice with any emotion, pleasant or unpleasant. By practicing this, you will learn that you can feel sad without being sad, feel anger without being an angry person, and include any fearful part of yourself, from your natural open-hearted awareness.

1. Find an emotion—fear, anger, jealousy—and begin by feeling it fully. (I’ll use fear as an example in the following steps. You can substitute whatever emotion you choose.)

2. Silently say to yourself, “I am afraid.” 

3. Fully experience what it is like to say and feel “I am afraid.” Stay with this experience until you feel it completely.

4. Now, instead of saying, “I am afraid,” take a breath and say silently to yourself, “I feel fear.”

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Is Our Breathing Connected to Free Will?

Free will—our ability to decide whether to eat that piece of chocolate, or reach for that extra slice of pizza—has long been a subject of debate. For decades, neuroscientists have insisted that decision-making originates in the brain. Now, a groundbreaking study shows that you’re more likely to initiate a decision that involves free will while you are exhaling—a finding that suggests the body is far more influential in choice-making than originally thought.

At the center of the study is something called “readiness potential”: the firing of brain cells that occurs right before we become aware of our intention to act. More than 50 years ago, researchers discovered that the brain fires before we are consciously aware of the intention to do something (like reaching for pizza). Some interpreted that as evidence that brain activity, not intention, is responsible for decision-making, and that free will is a myth. 

A groundbreaking study shows that you’re more likely to initiate a decision that involves free will while you are exhaling.

In recent years, however, that belief has come under fire as we’ve discovered that much of what happens in the brain begins with information that comes from the body, or interoceptive signals. Some have suggested that brain signals interpreted as readiness potential were actually just physiological “noise” coming from the body. 

How Breathing Influences Choice

To shed some light on this debate, scientists at EPFL (École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, a Swiss research institute and university) conducted three computerized experiments. 

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4 Ingredients for Human Well-Being

During my first day of graduate school to become a psychologist, a wise, mischievous, provocative professor said to us: 

Human suffering is often about freedom and containment. When we have too much containment, we scream for freedom. “Let me be me! I need space! Don’t tell me what to do!” But when we have too much freedom, we start to feel adrift. Fearful. Lost in space… and suddenly we are longing for containment. “Hold me close! I need to feel safe!”  

My years of work as a therapist, professor, and community member—did I mention that I live in a cooperative household of eight adults?—have made the wisdom of this insight so clear to me. Our interpersonal upsets and inner pain are so frequently a form of rebelling against too much containment (“Don’t fence me in!”) or protesting not enough contact or security (“Where did you GO?”)

What does all of this have to do with a global pandemic, social distancing, and the disruption of everything?   

Our everyday social structures have been altered, and some have even (temporarily, at least) evaporated. These structures normally create connection: in meetings and at the water cooler at work, in class and at the playground at school, at the gym and the coffee shop. Importantly, they also create distance: We say goodbye to our partners and kids in the morning, and we greet them again in the evening. All of this happens automatically, without much effort on our parts. And while we like to rail against these structures (“Same old, same old, every day”), when they are suddenly removed, people respond in interesting ways. 

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