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…”

Five Obstacles to Happiness (and How to Overcome Them)

“You’re making Daddy late for work!” I said, standing over my then-three-year-old daughter with the winter coat I was insisting she wear. 

“No! I’m not wearing it!” Celia screamed. My anger surged. Thoughts of “I’m sick of this” and “She’s doing this on purpose” swept through my mind. I was scheduled to conduct a 9 a.m. parent training therapy session, and her resistance would make me late. Ironically, it was on “mindful parenting.”

Mindlessly, I pressed my agenda. Understandably, she pushed back. “NO!!” she yelled, dropping rag-doll-style to the kitchen floor. 

I lost it. Bending down nose to nose with her, I yelled: “Celia! Put on your f&@#ing coat!”

She froze. I jammed the coat onto her, led her to the car, buckled her in, and drove to daycare. My daughter, usually chatty, was notably silent. Me? My cheeks burned red with the shame and self-doubt of a man completely convinced he was a “horrible father.”

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Why It’s So Hard to Let Others Care For You

Both of us have experienced (and, so far, survived) cancer and its treatments multiple times. Evan twice, and Pat three times. On this matter, at least we can invoke authority through experience.

When first diagnosed and in planning treatment one can usually rely upon support from partners, friends and family, as well as the numbness of shell shock, to get through the initial period. Most of us are pretty good for the short-term. Then the routine of hospital visits, coping with side effects and managing daily life sets in and friends and family, and even partners, are often less available, as what was acute usually moves into the chronic. Staying in for the long haul can be tough. It can be helpful to remember this whether you are carer or being cared for.

Although support programs are increasingly available through the hospital and cancer organizations, both of us were very fortunate that key friends stepped in to organize formal care teams. They accompanied us to hospital visits when our partners were working, prepared meals and provided visits and emotional support to both us and our partners.

It seemed allowing others to care for us is sometimes hard to accept. We may view it as a weakness, imagine we are a burden, or not worthy of such attention…

This was extremely helpful but came with varying degrees of resistance. It seemed allowing others to care for us is sometimes hard to accept. We may view it as a weakness, imagine we are a burden, or not worthy of such attention; and yet we often have no trouble caring for those in need; and may even go out of our way to do so. We might well ask, why the double standard? We are so often, sooner or later in the same boat.

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Finding Space to Love, Trust and Rest

Frank Ostaseski  a well respected meditation teacher, is the co-founder of the Zen Hospice Project, the Metta Institute and author of The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully. He recently suffered a severe stroke. This brief article speaks to what he is learning in his recovery about the relationship between the brain and witnessing awareness.

Over the last few months, I have actually suffered several strokes or TIAs. Some more impactful than others. Each had slightly different symptoms and effects,  some of which remained, while others past after a short period of time. All of this has been extraordinary teaching in uncertainty and humility.

I feel a deep gratitude for years of awareness practice. The accumulated effect of decades of studying the mind, heart, and body has proved to be a reliable companion as I attempt to navigate the new set of conditions I have been given. Let’s see  if it will help me write something that is cogent and real without too many errors.

The Power of Natural Awareness

At times, I find myself in awe of the mind’s capacity for witnessing awareness. It can remain stable even when the brain is scrambled. Awareness by its nature is open, transparent and sometimes mirrorlike. Often a non-conceptual open awareness simply emerges without the structure of formal meditation practice. Just a natural occurrence. At times it can be infused with certain essential qualities such as clarity, compassion or love. I’ve come to rely on this higher order of understanding to guide me in territory that I have not traveled in before.

When I  came home after the initial stroke and the first hospitalization, home-health staff arrived at our home to be sure I could manage activities of daily living. Things like showering, walking up and downstairs. They were rightly concerned about my falling given my vision deficits and troubles with conceptual processing. They were pretty worried about the gangplank from the dock to our houseboat. I was also told that the nature and location of my stroke might affect impulse control and cause me to take risks which might not be safe in my condition. Some of this was difficult for me to process, understand, believe and accept, yet I appreciated their concern and tried to include what seemed useful in their expertise and counsel.

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Meditate at Your Desk

biscotto87/Adobe Stock

Most of us spend a great deal of time sitting behind our desks, or in conference rooms or colleagues’ offices, so having a short practice that helps you refresh your attention while at work can be beneficial. What I call the “desk chair” meditation gives you a way to incorporate a short mindfulness practice into your day.

This meditation can be done anywhere you are able to sit quietly and practice.

If you work in an open office, you may need to be creative to find a quiet place to practice. Many people have told me that they’re best able to do this practice by leaving their office and finding an empty conference room, or even leaving the building to sit in their car during part of their lunch break.

The “desk chair” part need not be taken literally. This meditation can be done anywhere you are able to sit quietly and practice—be it the staff room, a park bench, or even an airplane seat.

Begin by bringing your attention to the sensations of your breath.When you’re ready, direct your attention to the soles of your feet, opening your mind to whatever sensations are there to be noticed.Perhaps you are noticing the pressure on the soles of your feet as the weight of your legs rests on them. Perhaps the soles of your feet feel warm or cool.Just notice. No need to judge or engage in discursive thinking. If your mind is pulled away or wanders, redirect your attention, firmly and gently.Move your attention next to the tops of your feet, ankles, lower legs, knees, and so forth.Gradually scan through your body, noticing sensations, noticing discomfort, and noticing areas of your body where you detect an absence of sensations. No need to search for sensations; just keep scanning through your body, taking your time and being open to what is here.

Excerpted from Finding the Space to Lead: A Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership by Janice Marturano. Copyright ©2014 by Janice Marturano. January, 2014, by Bloomsbury Press. Reprinted with permission.

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How a Lack of Gratitude Kills Relationships

Imagine that you’ve embarked on a quest to be more grateful. You dutifully journal about the happy events in your day, training your mind to see the positives. You notice and begin to appreciate all the little things your partner does for you, from brewing your morning coffee to letting you pick what movie to watch. This can only be good for your relationship, right?

According to a new study, it depends—on whether your partner is grateful, too.

While gratitude has been shown to be a boon for individuals—making you happierhealthier, and more successful—less is known about how gratitude works in relationships, where personalities and habits collide to create complex, dynamic interactions.

To go deeper into whether gratitude helps relationships, Florida State University psychologist James K. McNulty and his coauthor Alexander Dugas recruited 120 newlywed couples to fill out surveys. Initially, they reported how happy and satisfied they were with their marriage and their partner, and how much gratitude they felt and expressed for their partner and the nice things they did. They repeated the gratitude survey a year later and the marriage survey every four months for three years.

That gave researchers a snapshot of how each partner’s gratitude and marital satisfaction changed over time. And they found that spouses heavily influenced each other.

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