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…”

Live on Purpose

“Our purpose here on earth: to manifest the very nature of our spirit, which is touched by the spirit of God.”

~Rumi

By Leo Babauta

So often we live our lives drifting, getting by, trying to find comfort and pleasure, doing what we need to do, doing things out of habit, getting lost in the busywork, going through the motions, getting caught up in our thoughts, getting lost in distractions, trying to stick to something but then reverting to habitual patterns, dealing with one crisis after another, putting out fires and sweeping up messes, dealing tiredness and stress and depression and anxiety, trying to keep our heads above water, trying to make ends meet, falling behind and getting overwhelmed, struggling and not wanting to face our problems, getting mired in a pit of neverending tasks, losing our days and weeks because they all blend together.

This is the human condition, and it is beautiful.

But what would it be like to live with purpose? To have meaning in the work that we do, and to structure our lives with that purpose in mind, and with the most meaningful relationships and activities?

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How Labels Help: Tame Reactive Emotions by Naming Them

It was a particularly difficult day. My then nine-month-old daughter had a terrible night and left my wife and I with only a handful hours’ sleep. Needless to say, we were slow getting up and out the door that morning.  Before we left, my wife and I “discussed” who should’ve gotten up with Celia during the night (we’d been down this road before—these back-and-forths never help solve this issue, and somehow, we yet again veered this way). We barely spoke in the car the rest of the way to work after we dropped our daughter off at daycare.

And then I was hit by one issue after another once I walked into my office. An upset parent who’d left a voicemail who urgently needed to talk to me.  A clinician who needed help dealing with a student in crisis.  An important meeting I needed to chair that I’d forgotten to put in my calendar. And worst of all, I must have used a ladle to scoop my sugar into my coffee travel mug that morning.

Simply labeling a difficult emotional experience allows you to take the reins back, if only briefly.

I sat with my face in my hands at my desk for a moment.  I was seething with what life had deposited on top of me. My temples were pulsing, and my clock said it was only 9:30. Somehow, I remembered what I’d recommended to clients many times, but usually forgot to do myself.  It was a nice therapeutic “nugget” that made sense, but seemed like it should be innate to me, an experienced therapist: “Name it”—or as I’ve heard psychiatrist and mindfulness expert Dan Siegel say—“Name it to tame it.” In other words, say to yourself, out loud, what negative emotion you’re experiencing, as you’re experiencing it, in order to get some distance from it. As the clinical wisdom goes, simply labeling a difficult emotional experience allows you to take the reins back, if only briefly.

How Labelling Emotions Help Us Move On

I’d recommended this emotional labeling to clients for years, but I’m fairly certain I’d never tried it myself.  Again, I was a therapist—this simple labeling practice was for my child clients to use. It was “Self-Management 101.” I thought I was far beyond such “basic” strategies—I was wrong, because I sat at my desk with distress rippling through me, my mind was electric with ranting, and I was on track for a less than effective, connected, and creative day. I needed to return to the basics.

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What to Do if Your Partner Won’t Meditate

Critics of the modern mindfulness movement often note that those of us who promote the benefits of mindfulness have a way of getting evangelical in our attempts to raise awareness about the practice.  “If it’s great for me,” we think, “it must be good for you, and you are missing out!”  

The culture of mindfulness often reinforces this attitude in subtle ways: books, articles, and podcasts present these practices as a kind of panacean remedy for all our ills, so we struggle to understand why others wouldn’t want to give it a try.   

Being excited about mindfulness may seem harmless, but when we get too pushy about it in our most intimate relationships—especially with our partners and spouses—it can become a source of relational friction, and even conflict.

Are You a Pushy Meditator? 

We know this first hand. During the early years of our mindfulness practice, we both experienced an almost irresistible desire to proselytize to our spouse about the benefits of mindfulness. The experiences we were having on the cushion were so profound, so life-altering, we wanted everyone – especially our partners – to learn about the practice and experience these incredible benefits.

The more we deepened our practice, the more we felt the weight of years of anxiety, stress, and emotional baggage begin to lift.  And that left us wondering naively: “Why wouldn’t everyone – especially our life partner – want the same?” During this time, the two of us even started writing a book together called Start Here on building mindfulness into the midst of everyday life.  

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When to Let Go of the Dharma, Too

The following discussion of the Buddhist parable of the raft is excerpted from our upcoming online course, Secular Dharma. In the course, Stephen and Martine Batchelor lay out a new vision for understanding and practicing dharma in the contemporary world. Through these traditional parables, Stephen and Martine investigate the core elements of Buddhist thought and introduce practices geared toward the way we live today.

Imagine, friends, a man in the course of a journey who arrives at a great expanse of water, whose near bank is dangerous and whose far bank offers safety. But there is no ferryboat or bridge to take him across the water. So he thinks: ‘What if I collected grass, twigs, branches and leaves and bound them together as a raft? Supported by the raft and by paddling with my hands and feet, I should then be able to reach the far bank.’ 

“He does this and succeeds in getting across.

“On arriving at the far bank, it might occur to him: ‘This raft has been very helpful indeed. What if I were to hoist it on my head or shoulders, then proceed on my journey?’ Now, what do you think? By carrying it with him, would that man be doing what should be done with a raft?’

“’No, sir,’ replied his audience.

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What Is the Best Diet for Mental Health?

Should you eat an apple—or a bag of Oreos? Go to McDonald’s—or the vegetarian restaurant on the corner?

When we make these everyday food choices, many of us think first of our physical health and appearance. But there’s another factor we may want to consider in picking foods: their impact on our mental health.

A growing body of research is discovering that food doesn’t just affect our waistline but also our moods, emotions, and even longer-term conditions like depression. Which makes sense, after all. Our brains are physical entities, running on the energy that we put into our bodies, affected by shifts in our hormones, blood sugar levels, and many other biological processes.

Whole-food diets heavy on the fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed protein can lift our moods and protect us from depression.

Although there are many unanswered questions, the research to date can give us some guidance when we’re hunting for an afternoon snack. What we know so far can be summed up, more or less, as this: Whole-food diets heavy on the fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed protein can lift our moods and protect us from depression, while too much junk food and sugar may put our mental health at risk.

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