Category Archives: Mindfullness

Exercise 71: Find your hope

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Background: Today’s practice is deeply inspired by Resmaa Menakem’sMy Grandmother’s Hands.‘  I am including it here because  this important book is something that everyone should be reading right now.  It is explores questions of race, white supremacy, and trauma by exploring where these things live in our bodies.  It is not easy work for an old white guy like me; but it is important work.  Contemplatives and those who love spiritual practice might find this approach to be a powerful one.  Each chapter features practices like this one.

To be honest, I am a little hesitant about sharing this practice here.  I think that this practice could have lots of positives not related to exploring racial trauma and white body supremacy.  And this is my concern: I would not want to co-opt and distract from this important work.  I am also aware and sensetive to the issues around white people stealing the work of black people without approprite credit and attibution.  The best I know how to do in this regard it to state again, emphatically, that regardless of your background or history Resmaa Menakem’s excellent ‘My Grandmother’s Hands’ should be on your reading list.

The Practice

  1.  Place your feet flat on the floor.  Wiggle your toes.
  2. Become aware of your skin.  Note where it is sitting under cloth and where it is exposed to the air.  Feel the textures and the temperatures, the moisture and movement of air.
  3. Note where you are sitting.  Feel the pull of gravity pulling you down and the support of your chair, cushion, or floor supporting you upward.  Note the softness or hardness of the places where you are back, butt, and legs touch whatever you are sitting on.
  4. Can you sense hope in your body?  Where is that hope living right now, at this moment?  Does it move or change with your breath?  Is there excitement living with your hope?  Anxiety?
  5. What specific desires come with finding this hope in your body: what is it that you are hoping for?  Healing?   Success?  Do you have hopes around racial trauma and moving past the hurts you have recieved or the hurt your actions have caused?
  6. Can you find any fear in your body?  Where is it?  Does it move or spread?  Does it feel growing and alive or dead and cut off?  Sit with your fear, for a moment.
  7. Explore the specifics of this fear to the extent that it is safe, wise, and kind to yourself to do so.  What is it that you are afraid of?  Does this fear imply anything about your relationship to future events?
  8.   Hold the hope and the fear.  Experience them both fully in your body.  Take your time with this step.  This is a microcosm for the experience of what it is to be human.
  9. Return to checking in with your body.  Notice the way your breath feels.  If you would like to continue but need a moment, take that moment, and then take another.  You can return to a focus on your body by checking in with your sensory experiences that are happening now: listen, for example, for three sounds in your environment.  Look around and name for things.  Take a deep breath and smell the air.  Inquire into your taste buds and see if there is a taste in your mouth.
  10. If you would like to continue, you can hold search for and hold other dualities.  Begin by choosing one item from the pairings listed below; (or, of course choose something not listed.)  Some pairings you might try: love/apathy; acceptance/anxiety; like/ dislike; joy/sorrow; admiration/disdain.
  11. To the extent you can, find where that first element lives in your body.
  12. Explore how it feels and moves within.
  13.  Identify some of the  specific ways that this might pop up in your life.
  14. Find the opposite in your body.
  15. Explore how the opposite feels and moves within.
  16.  Identify some of the specific ways that this might pop up in your life.
  17. Spend a moment just holding the both of these oppposites together.
  18.  If you wish, hold this pair as you return to an earlier pair, such as hope and fear.

 

Exercise 70: Naming (best as a contemplative walk)

Background-   this practice could be connected with a wide array of inspirations.

  • Mindfulness and many other Buddhist practice speak about the importance of noting the specifics of the situation we find ourselves in as noted by our senses. Sometimes this is described as noting the ‘thisness and thusness’ of where we find ourselves.
  • In the book of Genesis, Adam was given the task of naming things in the Garden of Eden.
  • Francis is known to have described the living and nonliving things around him with familial titles: for example ‘sister moon’ and ‘brother sun.’

 

This practice is ideally done as a contemplative walk.  A good contemplative walk carries a tension within it.  Of course safety is ultimately important.  Therefore, diverting some attention to an awareness of how to get home and ensuring that we don’t walk into an unsafe situation are very important.  Walking into an unsafe situation might be failing to look both ways before we cross a street.  It also might be making sure we don’t wander into neighborhood that is unsafe for us.

However, being too planful takes some of the power out of a contemplative practice.  I believe in something larger than us that will guide our steps when we are willing to cede control of our destination.  Even if I am wrong on that, it is clear that being too strategic and logical ends up giving over a certain measure of headspace over to the logical, planning side of our brain.  As a result, we end up not being as fully contemplative as we might have hoped for.

If a walk does not make sense for you right now, much of this practice can be applied to a more sedentary approach.   A practitioner might find value in applying this practice to a place they think they know very well.  It can be surprising the things we discover when we look at familiar surroundings with fresh eyes.  Alternatively, Finding a seat with unfamiliar surroundings can also bring new discoveries.

Before beginning the practice description, I would like to own and name the reality that this practice can feel a bit silly.  The internal monologue would look rather amusing if viewed out of context.  I believe that a little silliness if quite a powerful thing.  Most of us (including me) are entirely too grim and somber about our spiritual practice.

The Practice

1.  Begin a walk with a cultivated sense of purposelessness.

2.  Identify something in your field of vision.  Greet and name it.  (e.g. ‘hello tree with yellow leaves on the north side.’  or ‘Hi, fire hydrant with a rusty chain.’)  work at noticing and naming in a way that identifies the uniqueness of this one particular thing you are seeing.

3.  Note, name, and greet the next thing in your field of vision as you continue your walk.  The goal is to produce a nearly nonstop litany of the things you encounter.  If someone were to hear your thoughts, it might almost sound like a guided tour of the walk.

4.  As you continue the walk, see if you can apply it to sounds or smells.

5.  You can similarly greet feelings, thoughts and memories as they come up for you.

 

Exercise 69: Box Breathing

Background for 69A: Box breathing is a mindfullness practice.  It begins by identifying 4 points:  the inhale, the pause after the inhale, the exhale, and the pause after the exhale.  Practioners are invited to imagine a box and circle their attention around each side with each of the four parts of the breath.

Mindfulness offers up many tools.   I find these tools very useful in enhancing my experiences of other types of spiritual practice.  One of the most basic principles of mindfulness is to anchor ourselves in this present moment  with the information the 5 senses provide.  One of the challenges with this sensory data is to receive it in  a manner which is as concept-free as possible.

Thus, in mindfulness, it is  good start to notice the feeling of the breeze on my hand.  It is better to disengage my knowledge that it is a breeze and to simply tune in to the feeling on my hand.  It is even better than that to release my concept knowledge that I have a hand: the goal is to simply experience that sensation as something that is occuring.

It is powerful to attend to the breath for as long as we are able.  Perhaps that is just for a part of the inhale.  Perhaps we are able to stay fully in our breath for all 4 “sides” of the “box.”

Two versions of this practice are presented here.  It is worth being reflective on how the two different prescriptions for breath-lengths leave you feeling.

Practice 69A

  1.  Place the feet flat on the floor.  Find your breath.
  2. Inhale for a count of four.
  3. Pause for a count of four.
  4. Exhale for a count of four.  
  5. Pause for a count of four.
  6. Repeat steps 2-5.  This time, stay with the breath for as long as you can.  
  7. Repeat steps 2-5, imagining that each 4-count takes a finger to the end of a side of a box.  As you move on to the next corner of the box, you have entered a new part of the breath.
  8. Continue this 4-part 4 -count, either staying in the breath or imagining the box.  Note how this leaves you feeling.  After this reflection, you may wish to move on to practice 69B.

Background to 69B

It might be helpful to recall the shape of a trapezoid from your last geometry class.   download

For this practice, it’s helpful to envision a box of the shape shown above.  We could imagine that this box had legs of 3 feet.  We could imagine the smaller, upper base was 4 feet, and we could imagine that the lower, longer base was 5 feet.

Practice 69B:

  1.  Place the feet flat on the floor.  Find your breath.
  2. Inhale for a count of four.
  3. Pause for a count of  three.
  4. Exhale for a count of  five.  
  5. Pause for a count of three.
  6. Repeat steps 2-5.  This time, stay with the breath for as long as you can.  
  7. Repeat steps 2-5, imagining that each breath part covers the time it takes a finger to the end of a side of a box.  As you move on to the next corner of the box, you have entered a new part of the breath.
  8. Continue this pattern, either staying in the breath or imagining the box.  Note how this leaves you feeling.  This is your practice.  Please consider changing the lengths for a duration which is more comfortable.  One important thing is the regularity: choosing numbers and sticking with them.  Another important thing is the mere presence to the breath and attention to how that feels in the rest of the body.

Exercise 68: Sati/ Mindfulness meditation

Background:  This spiritual practice will introduce a few different approaches to staying present.  The overaching idea with mindfulness is to meditate by locating ourself in the present. One of the way that this is done is through recognizing when we are having having intrusive thoughts or sensations by simply and gently witnessing these: watching them come and go.  I find this powerful because identifying their coming and leaving is a way to remind myself that I am not the same as these thoughts, and as I do this I am shown that this is what the mind does– it thinks and feels things.

A second major feature of this practice is to locate the self with the physical sensations we are noticing now.  Most often these are the sensations of breath.

There are some related spiritual practices listed at this website.  I am sharing this practice to introduce a handful of new possibilities.  A few different possibilities are featured in each of the practices below.  I suggest trying each of them and then picking and choosing your favorite aspects of each of the practices below.

 

Practice 68A

  1.  Sit up in a way that is straight and comfortable.  See yourself as sitting on a seat between heaven and Earth.
  2. Close your eyes.
  3. Find your breath.  Pay attention to the abdomen: feel it pushing out with the inhales, and moving in, toward the spine, with the exhales.  
  4. Listen for a noise in your environment, when it comes up, notice how you can’t control it’s coming or coming.
  5. Return to your abdominal breathing.
  6. As thoughts or perceptions arise, gently notice these.  Observe how they are like the noises: they come and go.
  7. Return to noticing how the breath feels in your body.  
  8. Continue this process for the time you had alotted.

 

Practice 68B

  1.  Sit up in a way that is straight and comfortable.  
  2. Close your eyes.  Be aware that even with your eyes closed, you can still observe differences in the visual field.  Your eyes work even with the lids down.  Center yourself in this present moment by seeing what you see with the eyes closed.
  3. Find your breath.  
  4. As thoughts or perceptions arise, gently notice these.  
  5. Return to noticing how the breath feels in your body, or to that darkened visual field.
  6. Continue this process.

 

Practice 68C

  1.  Sit up in a way that is straight and comfortable.  See yourself as sitting on a seat between heaven and Earth.
  2. Close your eyes.
  3. Find your breath.  Pay attention to the place where the air comes in and out of the nostrils.  Feel the change in temperature and pressure as it comes in and out.
  4. How long can you be fully present, with no wandering of mind: the length of an inhale?  The length of the whole breath?
  5. As thoughts or perceptions arise, gently notice these.  Then return to being aware of the breath in the nostril.
  6. When the time you had set aside for this practice is complete, know that you can retun to this state, even for just a minute or two, through out the day.

Practice 68D

  1.  Sit up in a way that is straight and comfortable.  
  2. Close your eyes.
  3. Find your breath.  Pay attention to the subtle movement in the middle/side of the very lowest ribs.  Feel their slow movement as the lungs fill and empty.
  4. Listen for a noise in your environment, when it comes up, notice how you can’t control it’s coming or coming.
  5. With your next inhale, simply think ‘in.’  If you wish, in your mind’s gentle voice, you can hear this sound for the full length of the inhale: ‘iiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnn’
  6. With your next exhale, simply think ‘out.’  If you wish, in your mind’s gentle voice you can hear this for the full length of the exhale: ‘oooouuuuutttttt.’
  7. As distractions arise– and they will– notice the distraction as it comes and goes, and then return to the naming of the inhales and the exhales.  
  8. Continue this process for the length of time you had decided on today.
  9.   When stressful and difficult moments through out your day arrive, return to being fully present for the breath.

 

 

Exercise 66: Mindful Eating

Background:   Mindfulness asks us to sit with our sensory experiences.  It recognizes that our ability to taste, touch, and smell does not have the ability to look to the future or the past.  Nearly anything can be approached this way.   But eating is a good place to begin, particurly for sevens.  When Enneagram lore identifies ‘gluttony’ as the sin of sevens, they are careful to point out that this means more than food.  But food is certainly a part of it!

This is a practice that can be done with incredibly tiny parts of food.  To anticipate the eating, for example, of a single M&M can be a joyous, delightful thing.

As written below, this practice assumes that you will have something prepared to eat.  But there is no reason to begin feeling present once the food is prepared.  Being slow and aware during the process of getting the food ready is a great way to be.

 

The Practice 

 

  •  Take three deep breaths: inhalations and exhalations.  Finding yourself here.
  • Experience yourself as existing in the center of a vast network of relationships, all of which collaborated to bring this food to you.  Consider the person who sold it to you, the person who stocked the shelves.  The shippers who transformed it.  The farms that grew it or the factory that packaged it.  Allow yourself a moment of grattitude for this network of relationships; widen it even further if you wish; consider the people who trained and supported the shipper, the sales people, the farmers., for example.
  • Behold the food that you are going to eat.  Seek to see it as something truly unique.  This is not just an example of whatever sort of food you are eating (i.e. it’s not just an apple; it is one particular apple.)  
  • Turn the plate so that you can view this from some other angle.  Seeking to discover something about the appearance of this thing.
  • Smell the food.  Make yourself present to this scent.
  • Place a small bite of the food in your mouth.  Explore this texture with your tongue.  Don’t bite into it yet.
  • Note the flavor and the texture of this thing.  See if this texture and flavor are  unifrom.
  • Now, bite into this food slowly.  Notice the ways it is ground between your teeth.  Be present to the tastes and the textures that change.  Allow this chewed food to land on your tongue.
  • Tune in to the ways that this slowly grows uniform in taste and texture.  Notice any changes in your body as it reacts to the tastes.
  • When it is time, swallow this bite of food.
  • If there is more of the food left, take a look at the portion that remains.  Note how the bite you took out of it.  
  • Smell the food again.  How has the taste changed?
  •   Be present to other changes in your body.  Does your belly began to feel full?  Is your throat dry?  What taste remains even with the food no longer in your mouth?
  • Repeat steps 6-13 until the food has been eaten.
  • Sit in a moment of grattitude for this food. 

 

 

Exercise 65: Hand Washing as a Spiritual Practice

Background:  The most important thing is that you wash your hands correctly.  See this link for more details.

Once those details are committed to, we can move into an attitude to have about hand washing.  (It was this amazing podcast that helped me to see this, by the way.)

There is something to be said about having a regular return to the here and now through out the day.  Christian Monks had a Liturgy of the hours which called them to their prayers periodically.  Zen Buddhist teachers are known to periodically strike novices to bring them into the present while meditating.  Some people like periodic chimes to help bring them to the present.  Mindfulness and Celtic Traditions both would have us identify common occurences like walking through a threshold as an invitation into the present.

In this time, when suddenly we are washing are hands as frequently as we should have been all along, we have a rather convenient and regularly occurring event that we might use as our gateway into being here, now.  Each time we wash our hands, we could pass those twenty seconds singing “happy birthday” or whatever.  Or we could use it as a time to fully in those moments.

What is even better is that this is an act of self care, an act of affirming our body, an act that carries sensory experiences with it.  Just as we might focus on the feeling of the air right below our nostril as we inhale, we might locate our full attention on the soft, sudsy warmth flowing over our hands.  Our senses– including touch– do not have the ability to regret the past or worry over the future.  This is why tuning into to sensory input is such a centering practice.

Whatever you do, please just make sure you passed the full 20 seconds!

The Practice:

Each time you wash your hands, simply be present to that wonderful moment.  Tune into the temperature and percussion of the water.  Feel the soapy slickness as the lather works up.  Try and find something new about this experience.  Catalog each little detail.  

Exercise 54: Labeling Thoughts

Background:  Once, finding information was hard.  Those of us who remember life before the internet know that once we had to research with card catalogs and microfiche readers.  At that time, the challenge was to locate anything at all on certain topics.

Today, our problem is quite the opposite.  The internet overloads us.  It is hard to imagine a topic which would not turn over results.  The issue, of course, is knowing which information is relevant and reliable.  It is no longer about finding information.  It is about filtering the excess so that we can get to what is useful.

Our brains are a lot like an internet search.  They can provide an overabundance of information.  Some of it is critical.  Other information?  Useless and unreliable.  While our brain shares with us intuitions about this person we just met or  pleasing sensory data which might help us to enjoy the moment it is also reporting our fears about tomorrow, and regrets about yesterday.  It might be replaying a script that no long applies.

This is one of the reason that contemplation is so important.  Many spiritual practices seek to turn down the volume of the brains constant broadcasts so that we can discern where the important information is.  Today’s spiritual practice calls on us to label the thinking that is going on.

It is important to remember that our brain’s job is to think.  It is unlikely we will achieve a goal of thoughtlessness.  This would be a dubious goal anyway.  My goal is to turn down the volume, not to turn it off.  When we day dream, we can return ourselves to this practice gently, with a sense of gratitude that we were able to bring ourselves back.

The Practice

  1.  Release your expectations and sense of obligations with your exhale.
  2. Inhale through the nose.
  3. Exhale through the mouth.
  4. Seek a time of mental quiet.
  5. When a thought arises, simply label it “thinking.”
  6. return to your breath.
  7. Continue this breathing, labeling of thoughts, and returning to the mental quiet for the time you have set aside for your practice this morning.

 

 

 

Exercise 51: A Mindful Body Scan

Background: The body scan is a well-loved mindfulness exercise.  This is a practice which invites us to carefully survey the body and to explore how it is feeling.  One of the objectives is to compare how the different body parts feel. Those parts of us that feel relaxed are contrasted with the places we feel tense.   

It’s a powerful thing, to note what feels comfortable.  Just as watching the example of someone performing well is often more helpful than analyzing what is wrong, finding parts of the body which are comfortable allows us to use them as a sort of example in how to bring that comfort elsewhere.

 

On this approach, the soreness is simply noted.  Noticing has a strange kind of power in contemplation.  Sometimes, just the act of noticing is enough to make the situation feel better.  It is a bit like putting a band aid on the “owie” of a small child.

The exercise that is on the next page is written with this simple approach of merely noticing.  After you feel comfortable with this, you might try the following variations and see how they work for you.  These variations bring a more active focus to the places which do not feel comfortable.  

The first variation is to “breathe into” the hurt.   As we inhale, we imagine the breath going straight to the place that is sore.  Envisioning the breath coming to work on the painful place can be very effective.

The second  variation is to turn the attention to relaxing the area.  Here, we will the muscles themselves to relax. Sometimes it is helpful to begin with the surrounding area and work our way inward, toward the center of the discomfort.  

After a particularly good body scan, I become delightfully aware of the ways my body parts are all connected.  I notice the joints, ligaments, and places that connect one part of me to another. I get this sense of being a single, unified body rather than just a collection of parts.   

 

The Exercise

 

  •  Inhale.  
  • Exhale.
  • Inhale again, and turn the attention to the soles of both feet.  Explore them front to back, or left to right. Let yourself become aware of where they are and how they are feeling.
  • Now, draw your attention up through the tops of the feet.  
  • Become aware of the ankles and lower calves.  Continue to be aware of how these body parts are feeling.  
  • In your mind’s eye, see your shins, too.  
  • Become aware of the knees, and the area behind the knees.  Continue to draw the attention up to the thighs.
  • Remembering to continue to breathe deeply, now notice the pelvis, hips, and buttocks.
  • Bring your awareness to your lower back and abdomen.  
  • Draw your attention up, through the rib cage and shoulders.  
  • Inhale.  Exhale.
  •  Wiggle your fingers.  Bring your awareness to each finger and thumb.  Notice where they come to join the hand.
  • Feel your palm and notice the back of your hand.  
  • Continuing to breathe deeply, note your wrist and forearms.
  • Draw your attention to the elbow and upper arm.
  • Note your armpit and the place where your arm joins the body.
  • Inhale.  Exhale.
  • Turn your attention to everything below the neck.  You have become aware of that whole portion of your body.
  • Now, draw your awareness up the neck. 
  • Become aware of the jaw, and slowly draw your attention across your face.  Feel how your nose and ear sit in your skull. Become mindful of how your eyes and sinuses feel.
  •  Notice the back of your head, and slowly draw your awareness up through the very top of the scalp.
  •  Now, relax for a few minutes, enjoying the connection with your body.

 

Here is an audio file presentation of this exercise:
 

Exercise 49: Observing the Breath

Background

If you wanted to divide up all the spiritual exercises, all the contemplations, all the ways of approaching of mindfulness that have ever been, you could find one convenient dividing line around what they do with the breath.  

Many practices begin by asking us to take charge of the breath. Generally speaking, these practices encourage us to slow down our breathing.  There are lots of reasons that this is a good idea.

As discussed above, it may not be the most accurate picture of the way things work though.

The other category of practices asks us to simply observe the breath.  

The act of simply tuning into the breath can be so much more difficult than it sounds.  It is easy to overthink the direction, “Tune into your breath without changing it.” Generally speaking, holding this instruction to tightly will lead to struggles.  In trying to be too literal we tend to unleash a series of questions and doubts.

As with so many things, entering these exercises in a light-hearted manner is wise.  If we accept that we will not be perfect at it, we will be able to observe our breath much more effectively.

Exercise 17: Observing the breath

 

  1. Create a safe, quiet space.
  2. Sit in a comfortable, upright manner if you are able.
  3. Tune in to your breath.  Do your best to accept it without changing it.
  4. Note whether you are using the mouth, nose, or both.
  5. Become aware of specifically where you feel the breath entering the nose or mouth.  How does it feel there? What is the temperature?
  6. Note the temperature as it comes in.  
  7. Extend this awareness of the feeling and temperature as the breath leaves you.
  8. Where does the breath end in your body?  Does your abdomen move? Your chest?
  9. When you are ready, increasingly bring yourself into this particular breath.  The one you feel right now. This breath, now is the only breath you can ever change.  It is wholly unique among all the breaths you will ever feel. Greet each breath. Find its uniqueness. 
  10.  Welcome the special breaths that follow in the same way.  Sit in this awareness for most of the time you have devoted to your practice today.  
  11. When you are ready, return to your everyday life.  But know that you can welcome each breath throughout your day.

 

 

Exercise 41: Mindful Walking

Background: Mindful practices are rooted in the idea that our senses live in the now.  They have no memory, anxiety, hopes, or fears.  So whenever we engage and tune into our senses, we are helping to locate ourselves right here and right now.

There are many ways to use this.  For example: listening to a familiar song, but identifying one particular instrument and only focusing on this for the whole song.  Or doing yoga or dancing, with a particular awareness to one particular body part or sensation.

In today’s practice, I will break this down for one way of approaching a mindful walk.  As with all practice, please engage in this safely.  Be aware of where you are going, how you will get home, and your physical limitations around how far you should walk.

 

The Practice

1.  Before you begin, have your shoes ready.

2.  Sit and center yourself.  Release yourself from other responsibilities.   Take 3 deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth.

3.   Stretch, hydrate yourself, and consider your route as needed.

4.  Begin your walk.  Focus on a single sensation through out.   You might choose any one of these:

* The feeling of the air as it enters through your nose on the inhale.

* The feeling of your diaphragm expanding with each breath.

* The feeling on the sole of your foot as it makes contact with the ground each time.

* The feeling of any soreness or tightness.  (It’s a strange thing, drawing our awareness to physical hurts.  In my experience, doing it casually makes it feel worse.  But committing to mindfully inhabitting an ache or a pain is a way to befriend the pain, and realize that pain is only pain.)

* Looking for a particular shape or color everywhere it appears.

* Being on-the-look-out for all the different smells you can notice.

* Being on-the-look-out for all the difference temperature changes or air movements that come to your cheeks.

5.  To whatever extent it is safe to do so, do not consciously consider the route you are going to take.  Dwell inside the perception you chose and let your body decide where you are going to go.

6.  Whenever your brain begins to do its job of thinking, return to your breath or your chosen sensation.

7.  When your walk is completed, spend a few minutes sitting with your chosen sensation and breathing.

Throughout your day today, return to your sensation.

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