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 6-Minute Loving-Kindness Meditation to Expand Your Awareness

1. In preparing for this practice, let’s all try to sit comfortably with both feet planted on the floor, spines erect, but relaxed. We can close our eyes if that feels OK, or keep the eyes open and soften the gaze. 


2. Let’s now take our attention to the sensations of breathing, following the in-breath as it travels through the nostrils, expands the chest, and settles in the belly. Follow the out-breath as it travels back from the belly to the chest and out through the nostrils. 


3. Then asking, “What is my experience right now? What thoughts are going through the mind? What feelings are here?” And saying to yourself, “Let me be with you. This is what it is right now.”What body sensations are present that you are aware of right now? 


4. Now, we’re turning to a loving-kindness practice. Allow yourself to remember and open up to your basic goodness. Remember times when you’ve been kind or generous, or recall your natural desire to be happy and not to suffer. If this is difficult, then look at yourself through the eyes of someone who loves you. What does that person love about you? Or you may recall the unconditional love you felt from a beloved. 


5. And as you experience this love, notice the feeling in your body, maybe a feeling of warmth in the face, maybe a smile, a sense of expansiveness. Rest in this feeling of open, unconditional love for a few minutes. 


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How Mindfulness Can Support LGBTQ+ Youth

Dr. Gio Iacono is calling on people in the field of mindfulness to pay attention to LGBTQ+ youth. 

“Traditional mental health approaches just are not meeting the needs of queer and trans youth,” he says. “They are very much underserved and understudied in terms of developing and researching programs and interventions that will actually be helpful.” 

A mental health clinician and assistant professor at the University of Connecticut, Iacono recently received a grant from the Mind and Life Institute to develop mindfulness-based programming that is accessible, safe, and supportive for young people of sexual and gender minorities.  

“Traditional mental health approaches just are not meeting the needs of queer and trans youth.”

Iacono identifies as queer himself and says that his interest in developing systematic mindfulness-based programming for LGBTQ+ youth largely stems from his personal experience of a lack of resources when he was younger. He says that he didn’t know “that you could be queer and be okay, or you could be trans and be okay and a fully deserving human being.” 

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How to Practice Listening Without Getting Defensive

If you’re like most people, you’ve likely had the experience of listening on autopilot, when you think you are listening, only to realize as someone stops speaking that you have no idea what was said. Perhaps you were distracted by a notification on your device, a repetitive noise outside, or your mind wandering back to a news article you recently read. It’s hard to shut out distractions completely, especially in this day and age when distractions abound.

Or, maybe you only half heard what was said, as the subject matter sent you into a fear-based place. It’s a common reaction: When anyone says something we don’t like, it’s plausible that instead of really listening and then thinking it through, we feel threatened. This activates the amygdala, which readies us to attack back. 

When anyone says something we don’t like, it’s plausible that instead of really listening and then thinking it through, we feel threatened.

Really taking the time to listen to how another person feels—without immediately and sometimes impulsively reacting—creates the space for both parties to feel heard and then to show up with kindness and a more mindful ear. This can be done in any dyad, romantic or otherwise. In this way, you take a moment to pause and reflect on why you feel threatened and then proceed to truly listen, without being on the defensive.

While mindfully listening, you might still come up against distractions and triggers, but you can practice noticing your distractibility without judgment and try to redirect your attention to the speaker and the words flowing from them. You can practice cultivating compassion for feeling the need to lash out; you can also do the work that lets you become more attuned to why you are feeling triggered, so you can learn to take a pause before reacting.

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Reclaim Your Morning With Soothing Sounds

For the span of three years, I began every morning to the tune of “It’s a Beautiful Day” by Michael Bublé as my morning alarm (I’m a bit of an eternal optimist). However, for the past four years I have reverted to the readily available alarms on my cell phone’s clock app, both out of the desire for change that accompanies listening to a song every morning for three years, and the ability to easily set my alarm before bed without much thought. By the start of my day at 7 a.m., I am met with either the abrupt sound of the buzzer, or (when I’m feeling adventurous) the wind chimes, which I assume are meant to encourage a soothing, gradual wake-up, but still seem to do the opposite. 

Since the start of lockdown, I have been gradually working to develop a better morning routine—one that is motivating, limits my screen time, and encourages me to set goals for the day. I’ve been primarily focusing on the activities I perform throughout my morning, not putting much emphasis on what I had considered to be the smallest, potentially unimportant, pieces of my pre-existing routine. 

However, as a new graduate student working toward a career in the field of sound studies, I’ve recently been encouraged to become more aware of my sonic environment and how I contribute to the soundscape. Through this awareness, and the effort to create a more meaningful and comforting morning, I have begun to reconsider how my morning alarm impacts my day. This interest sparked the beginning of my small, but mighty, research project. 

What’s the Perfect Sound to Wake Up to in the Morning?

In order to find my perfect sonic start, I had to consider my thoughts and emotions with each new alarm sound I tested. I turned to journaling, which helped me to assess my emotions each morning. Following a few weeks of journaling, I’ve noticed a few key congruencies in my notes. First and foremost, the volume of my alarm impacted my mood almost instantly. I’m a light sleeper, and I have anxiety, so the loud alarm caused many mornings to be quite frantic and frightful. This small aspect of my morning, something I had never considered, was actually a cause of immediate tension and anxiety, mainly manifested through the tightening of my chest. Not only did this impact my body immediately, but in some cases, I found, I carried that tension throughout the day.

Secondly, I noticed the timbre, or the quality of the sound, to have a similar impact. When the sound was harsh, sudden, and disjointed, I had similar emotional responses of discomfort and unease. It’s as though I absorbed the qualities of harshness, which led me to approach my morning quite impatiently, without much mindful consideration. 

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True Freedom: Caring Deeply Without Striving

Vicissitudes.

I’ve always loved that word. It seems onomatopoeic. You can hear the ups and downs of change and variation in there, and the pain of all that jolting. Just when things are going so…this other thing comes along. It does make sense that we’re so heavily wired for safety and security, and are therefore resistant to change and the challenges it brings. Because survival, right? Be safe, be secure, keep things the same, survive.

Ah, but life doesn’t cooperate with that instinct. It’s right there in the definition of vicissitude in the American Heritage Dictionary: “the quality of being changeable; mutability.”

One choice when the deep drive to be safe and secure meets up with the mutability of all of life is just to say, “F— it, I don’t care,” but the damn thing is, if you’re human, you cannot help caring. And that’s one of life’s massive conundrums.

My inner human raged: “Of course you care. You care deeply. You want this to work.” But caring was killing me. And in an endeavor that’s about developing composure and equanimity, it didn’t make a lot of sense.

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