Practicing presence at the holidays

As much as you may love the holidays, they’re uniquely designed to seduce you into believing the thoughts and stories you otherwise hold in spacious awareness. As the old adage goes, if you think you’re enlightened, go home to mom and dad and the rest of the family and see what happens. If you haven’t completely released the grip of the past, it will surely come back to haunt you. The holidays are an especially good time to sit quietly and welcome the full range of your experience. Here are some reminders for flowing through the holidays with presence and grace:

Only the present moment exists.

It’s tempting to get embroiled in the unfinished business of a lifetime when you’re spending time with the people who helped create it in the first place. Even if your parents are no longer with you, or you’re the parents now and the kids come home to you, it’s easy to get triggered by the old familiar faces, the habitual chatter and patterns of behavior. But the truth is, the past no longer exists except as thoughts in your mind right now. In this moment, is there any problem that isn’t generated by your thinking, judging, interpreting mind? Let go of the thoughts, and the past has lost its hold over you.

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Mindfulness with children

Here’s another post on working with mindfulness  in everyday life:

One thing about mindfulness meditation that few writers have noted is that it’s contagious. Once you’ve been practicing for a while and started to notice how much more relaxed and focused you feel and how much more enjoyment you get out of life, you’re likely to want to share the benefits with others. And who comes to mind first if not family members–your partner, kids, parents, brothers and sisters and cousins and close friends. When you see them suffering through stress or boredom or depression or anxiety or attention deficit, as you yourself once did, you want to shake them and say, just sit down and follow your breath!

Because we’re so close to them, and their well-being is at least as important to us as our own, we may feel especially motivated to influence our children. Needless to say, shaking is counterproductive; instead, the most effective approach is to set a shining example yourself. If you’re interested in introducing your kids to mindfulness, the best thing you can do is practice mindfulness. When they notice that you’re now calmer, less reactive, and more enjoyable to be with, your kids will be curious and want to discover your secret.

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Interview on Unity Radio

Listen to my recent conversation with Paulette Pipe about the benefits and limitations of mindfulness and the direct approach “beyond mindfulness” to unshakable happiness and peace. Includes a 10-minute guided meditation. Enjoy!

Beware the Witness Trap: Excerpt from Beyond Mindfulness

For many years I practiced mindfulness meditation as a Buddhist monk. For hours each day I paid careful attention to the coming and going of my breath and to the sensations of my body as I sat. I became adept at noticing thoughts and feelings as they occurred and found myself feeling calmer, more spacious, and more disengaged from the drama that had seemed to be my life. In time my customary anxiety diminished, and a sense of ease and contentment enveloped me. My relationships improved, my mind settled down, and my concentration deepened. Instead of worrying about the future or obsessing about the past, I lived increasingly in the moment, focused on doing the next task as carefully and mindfully as possible. From a nervous intellectual, I transformed into a paragon of patience, groundedness, and equanimity. I was a completely different person.

Drawing on my enthusiasm for the practice, my years of experience, and the expert guidance I had received, I led meditation workshops and retreats for others and wrote a popular guidebook, Meditation for Dummies, which extols the benefits and teaches the particulars of mindfulness meditation. More recently, I authored and narrated two mindfulness-based digital programs, Mindfulness Meditation and Freedom from Stress, which make mindfulness accessible to a much wider audience.

But in the context in which I learned and practiced it, mindfulness was always a stepping-stone, not an end in itself, a skillful method for going beyond mindfulness to recognize the foundation out of which mindfulness arises. According to this tradition, the act of being mindful is a portal to a deeper, enduring awareness that can’t be manufactured or practiced. This deeper awareness is always functioning, whether we know it or not. Indeed, it is our natural state of spontaneous presence, without which there would be no experience at all. Instead of cultivating it like a talent or strengthening it like a muscle, we just need to recognize and return to it.

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Mindfulness and Depression

Even though the event that triggered this post (which originally appeared on my Facebook page) occurred several months ago, the message is timeless:

Many people have written about Robin Williams’s propensity for depression. I would only recommend that we be cautious and compassionate in our pronouncements. No one, not even those closest to him, can really know what was going through his mind when he chose to end his own life. Clearly, he must have been haunted by some extremely negative, hopeless, despairing thoughts that he didn’t know how to handle. Perhaps a particular incident put him over the edge. Or possibly the accumulation of numerous difficulties and disappointments—his open-heart surgery, the canceling of his TV show, his struggle with addiction—finally took their toll. (As we know now, he had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.)

Most perplexing is the question of how–in the Bay Area, birthplace of cutting-edge psychotherapies; in Marin County, home to two world-renowned meditation centers; with good friends like Zen priest Peter Coyote—Robin could have failed to avail himself of the resources at his fingertips. Yes, we need to lift the stigma that still hovers around depression. Maybe we could begin by finding a softer, more embracing term than “mental illness,” which still reeks of the loony bin.

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