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…”

How to Stay When You Want to Run

As the roller coaster accelerated up the impossibly steep incline, I remembered, with very poor timing, that I am terrified of both speed and heights, and that a rather flimsy seatbelt was the only thing keeping me from flying off into a messy death. Even worse, I had talked my poor, dear old mother into coming along—for fun. As I heard my own whimpering screams begging for a swift end to this trip through hell, I could also hear my mother’s voice squealing with joyous abandon, “Wheeeee, this is so fun. Let’s go again!”  

We all want to feel good; we all want to feel safe. And if we could, we’d probably all love to have as much fun as my mom. The challenge is that what makes you feel safe and joyful might make me feel petrified and shaking. You might love the adrenaline rush of a roller-coaster, I might need a calming lavender-scented pillow and a clear path to the door. And it’s all OK.  

Mindfulness can help us un-frizz our frazzled nervous systems. It can help us train our attention. It can help us feel connected to ourselves and each other. But that doesn’t mean it’s always going to feel peaceful. And there might be times when it feels downright intolerable to continue. It’s not “one size fits all.”  

Mindfulness can help us un-frizz our frazzled nervous systems. It can help us train our attention. It can help us feel connected to ourselves and each other.

One person might find that mindful practices help them feel really relaxed and focused. But you might find (at times) that paying close attention to your breath or tuning in to your body makes you want to run for the hills.  

Here’s the thing: Everybody is different, and our experience changes all the time. What might feel like no big deal for one practitioner, might feel impossible for you—today.  

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Where Music and Meditation Meet

Grant Jones knows first-hand the healing potential of Black music. When he was growing up in Boston in the ’90s, pop divas, rap, and R&B ruled the American radio waves. He would imitate Usher, Lauryn Hill, and Aaliyah, and now credits these artists as some of his first vocal teachers who introduced him to his own voice and to Black music. “It’s the first contemplative practice that I ever knew.”    

Today, Jones is working on an album with Black music culture at its heart and mindfulness instruction on the track list.    

With guidance from Grammy Award-winning jazz bassist, singer, songwriter, and composer Esperanza Spalding and contemplative thought leader Lama Rod Owens, the project is part of Jones’ clinical psychology PhD research at Harvard. The album, with the working title HEALING attempt, will be used in a study that tests its healing efficacy for Black folks experiencing elevated stress and anxiety, then be published on major streaming platforms. Jones expects to finish it in 2022. He released an EP called Constellations in summer 2021, which explores similar themes and offers a taste of what’s to come.  

For Jones, mindfulness and music are streams that flow to the same river, offering peace, healing, and creative flow. “I can’t make anyone take part, but I can definitely try to invite some folks that have never been invited before because I’m sure that a lot of people would say yes.”  

Mindfulness and music are streams that flow to the same river, offering peace, healing, and creative flow.

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What We Bring to the Table

When a change in my father’s employment necessitated a move from the outskirts of New York City to a small town in rural Pennsylvania, my whole family became fish out of water. We adapted over time—some of us better than others—but moving from a huge ethnic mosaic to a small, pretty homogenous place left me with an enduring sense of how many-faceted this huge place called America is, and how many different types of humans it houses. There are layers to the human onion: the surface presented to the world, the layer just below for friends and family, and the deeper parts we rarely talk about. To find those deeper parts, it helps to sit at a table with someone, for a while. Otherwise, they’ll likely remain the stereotype you project onto them. Admittedly, it can be hard to end up at a table with someone really different from yourself—or, in pandemic times with anyone at all. But we need to aspire, to stumble into unique interactions.  

Sitting Around the Table

The tables we start out at, of course, tend to be in our own homes, where, if we’re fortunate, we make a connection to family that can sustain us throughout our lives. If not, we may have to seek belonging at other tables.  

After our move to Pennsylvania, we ended up in a huge brick farmhouse in the middle of a residential neighborhood. The baby boom had engulfed the surrounding farms and replaced them with a grid of tree-lined streets. Our own baby boom—seven children covering a span of 15 years—readily filled the house.  Farmhouse kitchens are big. Ours accommodated a round table that could seat, with the aid of a leaf, all nine of us. We had a similarly expandable dining room table for special dinners. There was a picnic table in the backyard. All in all, there was a lot of gathering at tables to take in food. Uber Eats was in the distant future.  

Every time we sit together at a table, it’s an opportunity to peel away a little layer of the onion and be real. And find the kindness and conviviality at our core.

The family table imprinted on me an appreciation for how people bond over these tables and the meals shared there, how intimate they are, and at times charged with contention. Breaking bread at these tables can be a secular sacrament, a kind of simple sacred ritual that confers grace on the participants. The sensory pull and power of food and drink can ground us in the now, keep us present. It’s also true, of course, that toxic dysfunction can spread at the dinner table, and that is so sad, because every time we sit together at a table, it’s an opportunity to peel away a little layer of the onion and be real. And find the kindness and conviviality at our core.  

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A Practice to Cultivate a Curious Mind

Curiosity lets us tap into our natural capacity for wonder and interest, putting us right in that sweet spot of openness and engagement. From this state of mind, we’re more empowered to help ourselves break old habits and build new ones.  

1. First, find a quiet, comfortable place where you won’t be distracted. You can be sitting, lying down, or even standing up.

2. Recall your most recent run-in with a habitual pattern. See if you can remember the scene and focus in on the habitual behavior itself. What did you feel when you were about to act it out? What did that urge to go ahead and “do it” feel like?

3. Now check in with your body. What sensation can you feel most strongly right now? Pick only one from this list, the one you feel most strongly:

 Tightness Pressure Contraction Restlessness Shallow breath Burning Tension Clenching Heat Pit in stomach Buzzing/vibration

Is it more on the right side or the left? In the front, middle, or back of your body? Where do you feel it most strongly?

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Tap Into Ease with This Guided Meditation for Holiday Stress

azurita/Adobe Stock

The holiday season can be a time full of commitments, planning, and (pleasant or unpleasant) anticipation. Use this guided practice to help navigate stress that may arise. Remember to check in with yourself and acknowledge what you need to tap into ease. 

Start by finding a comfortable position, with your back resting against your chair and your feet on the ground. Feel the support of the ground and the support of whatever you’re sitting on right now. If the breath is a comfortable anchor for your attention, connect with your breath and the sensations of breathing in this moment. Take a few deep breaths. On your exhale, let yourself release tension that is easy to release. Notice any tension that is more difficult to release and allow it to be here. Give yourself the gift of not having to do anything right now. Let your breath be your guide. Sit here and let the breath breathe itself, in company with your attention. When you become aware that your attention has wandered away from the breath, gently bring it back. Invite the mind to settle, and if you care to, remember beautiful moments, joyful moments. (Maybe from Thanksgiving this year. A lot of people saw loved ones again for the first time after two years.) Take your time as you remember small moments or big moments of joy, happiness, connection. You can imagine each of these memories as a pearl that you place into a bowl—as if you’re collecting treasure. One memory at a time, let yourself feel your treasure. Now think about the upcoming days. The next weeks might be quite full with planning, work, family obligations, preparations for celebrations, and anticipation. Let yourself feel it all. What do you need? What do you need more of as a resource, as an anchor to this time? Maybe you need to focus a little bit more on rest. Maybe you need to implement a short walk in the fresh air every day. Maybe there is something you need to say no to. Maybe you need to give yourself permission to be imperfect—to be human. See if there’s anything arising now that you’ll want to remember after this meditation is over. Let all the thoughts, images, and concepts you brought to mind dissolve back into silence. Take a few longer, deeper breaths as you get ready to end this meditation and continue with your day. 
Original author: Christiane Wolf
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