Self Talk

Our inner voices can be very critical.  As we struggle to meet whatever ideals we have set for ourselves, the inner voice draws attention to our shortcomings.  We throw habitual meanings on these shortcomings like I'm not good enough (thin enough, smart enough, loved, etc).  While self reflection can lead to positive change, why can that inner voice be so mean?

Last year I served as a mentor for two amazing yoga teacher trainees.  I was able to hold space for them and help them reach their goals despite challenges.  I work in health care and as a yoga teacher.  I feel that I have refined holding space for others and helping them through difficult times.  I would never have spoken to them the way I sometimes do to myself.

Recently I thought, what if I could hold space for myself with the same love that I hold for others?   Could I hold my own space with the same compassion that I have for others?  Could I get better results and be happier in the process if I had an internal mentor voice that could combat or replace any critical self talk?   

For me, the process has started with a Metta (loving kindness) meditation practice.  There are online videos, but I rather enjoy keeping this for myself.  The verbiage goes something like this,

"May I be happy

May I be healthy

May I be peaceful and at ease

May I be free from suffering ".

Send these well wishes to yourself, then to someone you love (may you be), to someone who has cared for you, to someone who you don't know quite as well, to someone you struggle with, and to a larger group of people (maybe all beings).  Include yourself in this last group (may we be).  At the end of your meditation, return the thoughts back to yourself.  These well wishes can also be sent when you catch yourself thinking unkind things of yourself or others.  It just may change the way you interact with others and yourself.

Hold just as much love for yourself as you do for others.  Serve as your own mentor and watch yourself accomplish your goals with strength and ease.  Come from a place of love and watch your whole world turn into a better place.

Lessons from Nepal #6 - Stages of Meditation

After visiting Kopan Monestary in Nepal, we were unable to find a taxi, and walked back to town.  We were invited into the home of our new friend.  We were welcomed with open arms, given tea, and a tour of the home.  We saw living quarters, a dining area (where the children were doing homework), kitchen, and a very small prayer room.    

Being Americans in our first few days in Nepal, we were confused and amazed that the beautiful prayer room contained a monk, dressed in red and yellow, with a book in front of him, quietly meditating.  He briefly broke his focus (he did not seem happy in that moment), while our Neapli friend showed us the room and explained that the monk had to go through the book every day.  We stayed in the doorway hoping that we would not be offensive to the meditating monk.  We left the prayer room (and the monk), and shared tea.  It was obvious to us that it is a completely normal thing in Nepal to have a Buddhist monk meditating in your home.  It took us another 3 days to get enough courage up to ask any questions about the monk.  As it turns out, the meditating monk helps to prepare their home for the festival which was less than a few weeks away.

I hear a lot of Americans say that they are unable to meditate, because they just can't empty their minds or think about nothing.  You'll be pleased to know that according to the book, An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life by The Dalai Lama, that complete emptiness of the mind is not necessary to practice meditation.  There are a total of 9 stages of calm abiding.  I assure that the monk, although an avid meditator, was not completely undistracted when we entered the prayer room with our friend.   He did appear to quickly regain his concentration and proceed with his meditation (but even he wasn't "perfect" - what a relief).

    Stage 1 - Placement

During this stage, the meditator practices placing his/her concentration on an object.  Frequent distractions occur, and regaining focus requires great effort.  The idea is to become aware of that the mind has wandered, notice it without judgement, and continue the mediation.  Isn't great that the distracted meditator is at the first stage, and not unable to mediate!  Everyone starts somewhere.

    Stage 2: Continual Placement

During stage 2, the meditator may be able to continually place his/her mind on a chosen object of meditation for a few minutes at a time.  The mind is still distracted frequently, and the periods of distraction are still longer than the moments of focused mental stillness.  Again, notice the mind wandering and bring it back to the meditation without judgement.

    Stage 3:  Re-placement

During Stage 3, the meditator is able to immediately catch distraction of the mind, and quickly regain it's focus.    

    Stage 4: Close Placement

During this stage, the meditator may be able to complete an entire meditation session without the mind becoming distracted.  There is still the possibility of excitement or laxity during this stage.

    Stage 5: Disciplining

During this stage, the meditator has achieved a calm, focused mind and becomes aware of more subtle dullness or laxity.

    Stage 6: Pacification

During this stage, laxity no longer arises, and one's attention may be directed to subtle excitement.  Great inward focus is necessary at this stage.

    Stage 7: Fully Pacified Attention

The mind rarely experiences excitement or dullness, and it becomes easy to pacify and refocus.

    Stage 8: Single Pointed Attention

The meditator can now easily be focused on an object without the slightest experience of dullness or excitation.  How many of us thought that this was a requirement to be a "good mediatator"?  In reality, it would take thousands of hours of practice to ever have the hope of reaching this level.  Even so, every stage of mediatation is highly beneficial.

    Stage 9:  Balanced Placement

The meditator can now focus on an object effortlessly for as long as he/she desires.  

It is important for a meditator to avoid judgement of his/her ability to meditate.  Even the monk was obviously affected by the parade of Americans entering his meditation space, that doesn't make him bad at meditation.

 My meditation practice may never reach stage 3 or 4, but it is still beneficial.  I notice that I am generally happier, less reactive, and able to focus more easily during my daily life.  I am less judgemental and more aware of myself and others the more consistant my meditation practice becomes.  My personal practice currently includes a few rounds of Japa Meditation  followed by seated meditation.  I'm aiming for 20-40 minutes daily, in one or more sessions.

I urge you to commit to daily meditation without judgement.  Break it up into a few small sessions, or all at once.  Make it a priority in your life.  You may find yourself happier, healthier, and less stressed.  If you are new to meditation or just want guidance, The Simply Being App is helpful and available on itunes.  There are also guided meditations available for streaming on You Tube and Yogaglo, as well as a number of other meditation websites.  Happy sitting!

Namaste - Beth

From Social Meditator to Daily Meditator

It is easy to say you'll become a daily meditator, but it is very challenging to actually do it.  I'll be the first to admit that I was a social meditator.  I'm defining social meditator as someone who will take group meditation classes, maybe even practice for about 2 weeks, then once you've missed one day, the practice is gone.  The good news is that in each day, in each moment, we can choose to begin again.  

Here are 6 steps to help you move from social meditator to someone with a solid daily practice.  This would work easily for any other habit you're looking to develop.

  1. Start Small - You would not run a marathon without proper training, and you should not set meditation expectations that are too large.  You may try  2-5 minutes dailyto start.  You may choose once a day, you may choose twice a day.  Maybe mornings are crazy, but you can fit 5 minutes in at lunch or before you go to bed.  Once you are well established in your small start, you can build your practice from there.
  2. Cue - Strong habits (good and bad) have cues that trigger behavior.   My cue has been feeding the pets.  They don't let me forget.  Once the pets have been fed (they have to be monitored or they share food), it is time to meditate.  
  3. Routine - Structure is your friend when it comes to habit formation.  If you like a guided meditation, have your favorites readily available.  This is not the time to begin searching YouTube for a new mediation.  If you like to do a little reading first, keep your book in the space where you meditate.  If you like to do some light stretching first or head directly to silent meditation, do that.  Establish a routine that works, and stick with it.
  4. Reward - The rewards of meditation itself are many, any no doubt that you've read about or experienced them for yourself.  It may be enough of a reward just to take a moment to enjoy the feeling after a meditation session.  If you need a more tangible reward, don't judge yourself.  You can meet yourself with kindness, and find a reward that works for you (plus you'll still have all of  the great mediatation benefits).  Maybe you wait to have that first sip of coffee or tea until after you meditate.
  5. Share - Humans are social, and it is only natural that we benefit from sharing our experiences with others.  You may reach out to a meditation group or a friend who is either an established or beginning meditator.  Social media is a great resource when it comes to connecting with other people with similar goals.  My friends have started a small meditation group on facebook.  Click here for the link.
  6. Non Judgement - Be kind to yourself.  If you miss a day, just begin again.  If you're running short on time, maybe you can squeeze in a fraction of your normal meditation time.  If it takes you a year or two to reach your goal (that may be 30 days straight or it may be 20 minute session), just be OK with working from where you are.

With consistent drive, compassion, and attention, you can move from social meditator (or non meditator) to someone who is enjoying the benefits of a strong daily practice.

 

Namaste - Beth