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…”

One Woman’s Quest for Spaciousness in New York City

A few years ago, I had a recurring nightmare that I was being swallowed up by New York City, the dizzying megalopolis I used to call home. The feeling paralleled a fainting episode: the cacophony around me began to retreat into a dulled echo; I felt light-headed and clammy before plunging into a free fall when blackness would hit. With the descent—with the sudden quiet and sensation of being swept into oblivion—came profound physical relief, as if I was returning to breath, the source of life.

I didn’t need a psychologist to deconstruct how these episodes were indicative of stress occurring during my conscious hours. My life was hectic and harried, not an uncommon state to find oneself in. Like many urbanites, I was frantically active in a way that swallowed up the existence of a meaningful inner life, almost as if I had been afraid to have one. By keeping myself busy, I could be safely sealed in a pseudo-collective trance alongside my fellow commuters and neighbors, all of us escaping our own demons on some level, gliding along on a wash of adrenaline and trying to make ends meet. I was one of those go-getter types, always fixated on what was next in my conquests—whether it be the next rung on the career ladder, the next exotic travel destination, or the next romantic encounter. I’d turned into an unapologetic overachiever, with no intention of slowing down: I was exclusively focused on the future, not on the present, as if the abundance I chased would dissolve if I stilled myself.

I was frantically active in a way that swallowed up the existence of a meaningful inner life, almost as if I had been afraid to have one

It’s no surprise that my relationship with my inner world was estranged, and a whole host of events forced me to have a spiritual reckoning of sorts, including a parental death, a heart-wrenching break-up and a deepening dissatisfaction with my humanitarian career, which had started to feel less impactful than it had in my early thirties. It all made me want to retreat into myself for the first time in a very long while. I’d started to realize that a harried life undermined meaningful living. Inhabiting the world with heightened awareness, with consciousness, and with an intractable connection to the deeper self is critical to any kind of healing we need to do as humans during our short gestation here, and I hadn’t been doing that. Suddenly, slowing down and being mindful was the only thing that mattered to the entire fabric of my being, and yet I was confronted with this sense that something huge was missing: if I was going to venture onto a healing path, and have the regenerating experience I was longing for, I needed the space to do it.

In Japan, there is a word for what I was longing for: yutori, or spaciousness. That’s what I was after. Perhaps we all experience this need, but we don’t know how to articulate it outside of ourselves, or feel selfish asking for it as we are conditioned to think that the more we do, the more we have, the better off we are. We are juggling so much and we fear that if we remove even a single thing, our whole balancing act—or the illusion of it—will get irrevocably disrupted.  Time is sacred and yet we fill it to capacity, leaving little space for our bodies and souls to recharge or digest anything. When our need for space becomes unyielding, it’s usually brought on by events that send us reeling on an emotional level. And yet we are entitled to spaciousness like we are entitled to breath; we need it in order to unfold our beings, to understand ourselves more, to learn to listen to inner wisdom, to grow emotionally and spiritually, to create, to self-actualize. If we don’t get the space we need to grow, what might start out as a soft clamor becomes a full-on outcry, as in my case.

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A 7-Minute Mindfulness Practice to Shift out of “Doing” Mode

The ability to recognize and disengage from self-perpetuating patterns of ruminative, negative thought is a core mindfulness skill. The basic tool to shift mental gears is the intentional use of attention and awareness. By choosing what we are going to attend to, and how we are going to attend to it, we place our hand on the lever that enables us to change mental gears.

When can we find opportunities to cultivate “being mode”? In principle, this mode of mind can be practiced in all situations. In being mode, the mind has nothing to do, nowhere to go and can focus fully on moment-by-moment experience, allowing us to be fully present and aware of whatever is here, right now. But the tendency to enter “doing mode” is pervasive, where the present moment is boiled down to a narrow, one-dimensional focus: “What does this have to say about my progress in reaching my goals?”

We can learn to switch out of automatic pilot by bringing our awareness to the present moment.

The doing mode has a strong tendency to keep itself going and to reassert itself once the mind has switched to another mode of processing. It is particularly important, therefore, that the mode to which the mind switches after disengaging from driven–doing be incompatible and inconsistent with that mode, in the same way that it is not possible to be in forward and reverse gears in a car at one and the same time. Being mode is an ideal candidate for such an initial, alternative mode into which to switch.

In the end, we need to balance being and doing mode in our lives. Whether it is because the culture we live in exalts doing, or because driven–doing is often propelled by automatic, well-worn routines, it can easily crowd out other ways of being with one’s experience. We can learn to switch out of automatic pilot by bringing our awareness to the present moment. When we do this, we start to see that we have a choice, and this is often the first step in taking care of ourselves differently in the face of sad moods.

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NYC Offering Mindfulness for the Morning Commute

Mindfulness in transit

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority offers programs that teach mindfulness, meditation, and yoga to its employees across the transit system, from bus drivers and train operators to office workers, ticket-takers, and mechanics. The programs, run by a corporate wellness consulting firm called the Health Enhancement Company, have been offered for several years, and HEC’s president Donna DeFalco estimates they’ve reached 7,200 employees so far. Now, they are rolling out a large-scale daily program geared toward people working on transit vehicles every day, who face uncommon challenges and stressors in their work, such as isolation from their bosses and colleagues and a lack of flexibility while on the job. 

Wellness in the House

This spring a program with potential to ease stress in the nation’s capitol launched at the US House of Representatives. The House Wellness Center brings wellness education and services—including mindfulness—to members and staff of the House. On tap: lunchtime seminars on topics including work–life balance, sleep essentials, and gratitude; assistance with life-management issues, such as childcare; a newsletter providing informational articles, a guide to resources, and wellness tips; and instruction in mindfulness-based stress management, among other skills. 

Ready, set, meditate! 

Started with a wink and…

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Original author: Mindful Staff
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Why Your Office Needs More Nature

We’ve all had those times where it feels as though a case of the Mondays extends all week long. Could a dose of nature be what it takes to give us a boost?

According to a study from 2016, workers exposed to sunlight and natural elements in the workplace report better moods, higher satisfaction with their work, and more commitment to their employer.

Workers exposed to sunlight and natural elements in the workplace report better moods, higher satisfaction with their work, and more commitment to their employer.

Researchers at Central Michigan University surveyed hundreds of workers from the United States and India and asked them about natural elements in their workspace, including views out of windows, office plants, and screensavers or wall prints depicting nature scenes. They also asked how much workers were exposed to direct sunlight (from working outside or being able to go outside during the day) or indirect sunlight (through windows), as well as surveying their levels of depression and anxiety symptoms, job stressors, job satisfaction, and commitment to their employer.

Analyzing the data, the researchers found that people with more exposure to natural elements in the office were less depressed, and more satisfied with and committed to their jobs, than those with less nature around them.

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How Parent’s Love Helps Kids Thrive

That moment when your baby meets your reach to pick her up and molds to your body as you hold her. When your preschooler calls out to you, emphatically pointing at the crescent moon he discovered, and you join him in looking up at the night sky. Or when your fifth grader catches your proud gaze in the audience of other parents during her elementary school graduation ceremony. 

According to emotion scientist Barbara Fredrickson, these small moments are when love happens between parents and their children.

Her research highlights that positive emotions like love, joy, and gratitude help us grow and become better versions of ourselves. While she used to think that all positive emotions were equally helpful, she has come to realize that love might be unique.

She now calls out love as especially beneficial for our health and growth. Apart from slowing down aging, love broadens our awareness of others’ needs and increases our feelings of social connection and oneness with others. Children who have early loving relationships with their parents grow up to be more compassionate adults.

We interviewed Fredrickson about how love grows between parents and their children and why it is important for children’s development.

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