Posts Tagged ‘stress reduction’

It does seem strange that as human beings we have great fears about death and dying and yet at the same time we spend a significant amount of time “rushing through life.”  Wow, that is an unfathomable dichotomy, isn’t it?  Does it make any sense at all to want to live forever and yet we run away from every encounter in life—even the fun and loving ones?

There is an old joke about the young married couple making love one evening and in the middle of the experience one of them looks up and says, “Don’t you think we ought to paint the ceiling pink?”  I am not sure if that is rushing through life, being mindless through life’s experiences, or simply being bored with the relationship, but it sure is a sad way to spend a few of the precious moments we have been given to spend here on Earth.

Dr. Jan Chozen Bays, in her book, How to Train a Wild Elephant Simple Daily Mindfulness Practices, once again addresses this issue as she shares an exercise she calls “One Bite at a Time (page105).”  She writes, “This is actually a task about becoming aware of impatience (page 106).”  Yes, most of us eat unconsciously and impatiently, and at the end of the meal we have no idea what we ate, what it tasted like, what it felt like in our mouths, and what flavors arose from it—sweet, sour, or salty.

I can picture myself standing at the door tapping my foot impatiently waiting for my former husband to finish getting dressed for some event that we were to be attending.  After many minutes I would yell out, “What are you doing shaving Mt. Everest?”  Or more recently I am sitting in the car waiting to drive my friend someplace and waiting once again for him to appear at the door with key and coffee in hand.  I am “waiting impatiently” when I could be sitting in quiet meditation, helping him to get ready, or finding some time to read a little in one of my favorite Zen books.  But what I am not doing is practicing anything I know about Zen, meditation, or peace.

We do not “taste” the flavors of life like the couple above who missed the sweetness of intimacy between two caring people.  Or the teacher who rushed through each lesson and class to get to the next lesson or class without seeing the students, hearing their joys, sorrows, or frustrations.   Research has shown that we need to change pace every 10 minutes when teaching or training because that is the attention span of most people today.  And even in those 10 minutes we are not actually experiencing those minutes we are either impatiently fretting about the past or worrying about the future and thus ignoring the present.

Dr. Bays’ final words in this exercise about “eating mindfully” are very poignant and fun at the same time: “There can be no party in the mouth if the mind is not invited to attend.”  When was the last time you actually experienced a party in your mouth while eating or drinking something delicious?  When was the last time you had a “party in your mind” when thinking about something?  Or are you living life like the old Calvinists used to—living a life of hell and damnation fearful of going to that fiery pit of hell no matter how good they tried to be in this life.

You may not even know about the Calvinists yet you may be living like one.  I know I am at times!  When I am impatient with myself or others I am wasting “mind time” that could better be used in a positive way.  When I am standing at the door tapping my foot I am wasting “physical energy” which could better be used in a positive way.  When I am impatient with my students because they are not paying attention in class I am wasting “mind time” that could better be used in a positive way.

Have you ever watched those time span pictures on the Discovery Channel or the internet where you can see a flower grow from a seed to a blossom in a matter of seconds?  It sure is beautiful to see the process and the progress, but that is not the way nature intended it.  There is a growth process that takes days or weeks to culminate in the flower or the fruit through its energy.  There is a time of watering and fertilizing, and pulling out the weeds from the garden to give the plant room to grow.  We aerate the soil to help it along.  We tend to the plant with love and care and eventually we have the fruit of our labors.

When was the last time you aerated your “soul.”  When was the last time you overturned the impatience and allowed yourself or others to “attend the party” of life at their speed, in their time, in their way?   When was the last time you fertilized their soul with a loving comment, a little patience, or a helping hand?  When was the last time you basked in the reality that doing something slowly could actually be FUN!

“The faster I go the slower I go” is an old Chinese proverb.  Envision the last time you hurried through a task at work, school, or home and it was poorly done, wrongly done, or not finished at all and you had to start it all over again.  Maybe, just maybe, if you had tried to deliver yourself from “impatience” and taken the task on “slowly” you would have only had to do it once.

I took the time yesterday, while cleaning up my after my class, to pop a piece of candy into my mouth.  It was hard candy from Colombia called “Fruticas Love.”  It is a delicious cherry candy with a center of chocolate cream. Yum! As I enjoyed the candy I heard myself saying to my friend Jeanette, “Oh my God, this candy is so delicious.  It is sweet and sour and now that it has broken into pieces in my mouth I can feel this luscious warm chocolate on my tongue fantastic!”  So she hollered back at me, “Well give me one to taste!”  But, unfortunately, I had only brought one piece with me. But I was truly enjoying every bite, taste, and morsel of this candy!  The experience only lasted a few minutes but it could have been a life time for all I knew!

Our challenge for this week is to see how slowly we can walk through life with patience, love, and compassion for ourselves and others. Let us take this week to experience the morsel of life we are given—and while you are at it “…invite your mind to attend.”


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“Techniques that cultivate mindfulness are simple, but the persistent application is challenging.” Congressman Tom Ryan wrote this in his important book A Mindful Nation.  Life is filled with challenges every day from simple things like getting the kids up and ready for school, or dealing with a difficult job, or taking care of an elderly parent.  But without these challenges we would probably not grow in compassion, love, creativity, problem solving, or fortitude.   

I know in my life each challenge has made me a stronger more resilient person, someone who has the tenacity to take on any challenge that comes along.  After the death of my fiance during the Viet Nam war I was able to stand up to power anywhere anyplace.  When my marriage ended I was able to pick up the pieces and move on with a very successful career and life.  When my father died I took over the care of my aging mother with Alzheimer’s and I am able to do that with love and compassion even at the most trying times.

This combined with my time spent meditating and sitting at the South Florida Zen Center has given me the tools to live a mindful life–seeing the big things in the small and the small things in the big.  It has brought peace in mind, body, and spirit and helped me stay healthy and happy.

Teaching my students to be mindful in class is a challenge as well.  Their minds wander at least as often as the TV goes from a commercial to the show and back and forth and back and forth. Even though it can be challenging I still  share mindfulness techniques with my students.  Over the years it has enabled them to see their inner strength, find peace in their lives, and compassion for others.  It has helped them be mindful when taking a test, or writing a paper, or studying for an exam. It has given them a clear mind when they needed it the most. 

Simply being persistent in using the techniques of mindfulness and meditation can be challenging.  Days can go by when I forget to sit or I forget to focus on one thing at a time mindfully.  I may find myself eating mindlessly and after I’ve finished the meal I have no idea what I ate or what it even tasted like.  I could not recall the color, smell, or texture of the food.  If I do this too long I gain weight and I end up with mindlessness attached to my hips and thighs from the food that I could not even remember eating!

But have no fear, mindfulness is simple so long as we persist!  Good luck in that!

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