My Balancing Act

New 28-Day Meditation Challenge Begins Today

Today is the first day of the 28-Day Meditation Challenge based on practices found in Sharon Salzberg’s books: Real Happiness, and Real Happiness at Work. I participated in this challenge last year and have made a commitment to participate again this year. I hope you will join me by making your own commitment to 28 days of meditation practice.

Each week of the Meditation Challenge has a different focus…


The Courage to be Vulnerable and Daring

My intention is to live my life as fully awake as possible. Yet, the more I meditate, the more I realize how frequently I am on autopilot. I was comforted to learn that this is a common realization among regular meditators, so I guess I am in good company.

As a child I learned to distract myself from distressing realities, to block them out of my mind. Even though I have spent close to 35 years working on enhancing my self-awareness, I discovered that there is still a part of me that automatically falls back into my old avoidance pattern when I feel vulnerable. It is a common human instinct to avoid unpleasantness so it is understandable that I have this tendency. I try to notice when I start to fall back into this habit and change it as soon as I can. However, I am also learning to respect my vulnerable feelings and accept myself when I am having difficulty overriding my urge to distract myself.

Brene Brown talks about the power of vulnerability and having the courage to tell the story of who we are with a whole heart…


7 Steps to Mindful Awareness

Do you make regular visits to yourself?

–Rumi

Recently, while reading the book True Refuge, by Tara Brach, PhD, I was struck by her concept of the sacred pause. I appreciated her description of the steps involved in pausing and arriving in presence and started playing around with the concepts in my mind. I began to conceptualize it a little differently because my original introduction to mindfulness, close to 20 years ago, was through the lens of Dialectical Behavior Therapy(DBT), which I started learning when I participated in my first week-long training with Marsha Linehan on how to teach clients mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotional regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness skills. Beginning to integrate these two approaches to mindfulness, as well as related concepts learned from workshops and courses with Sharon Salzberg, Ron Siegel and others, produced these seven steps to mindful awareness.


The Benefits of Mindfulness

I have been talking a lot about mindfulness in this blog and I decided it was time to explain why I am so enthusiastic and determined about developing this skill. Mindfulness involves focusing on the present moment, non-judgmentally, with acceptance and compassion. This can be done informally, as we go about our daily activities, and in formal mindfulness meditation practice. So the question is: what are the benefits of becoming more mindful and accepting of our present experience?

According to Ron Siegel in The Mindfulness Solution: Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems, “a wealth of scientific evidence” shows that mindfulness can have a profound effect on our lives. Researchers have demonstrated “changes in both inner experience and outward behavior” and have recently been able to show changes in brain functioning and brain structure due to advances in brain scanning technology…


Shifting Gears from Automatic Pilot to Mindful Attention

I neglected this blog for the past few months and it is time to get back on track. I had to add one more task to my routine because of the need to prepare for a major presentation and I discovered that it felt very much like trying to rub my belly and pat my head while juggling, all at the same time. I couldn’t keep up the regular discipline of all four activities I had added to my schedule–blogging, meditation practice, exercise, and brain training–with presentation preparation added to the mix…

According to Ronald Siegel, Psy. D., author of The Mindfulness Solution, mindfulness has three main components: focused attention, open monitoring (of any inner thoughts, emotions, body sensations, and urges that come into conscious awareness), and compassionate acceptance of our inner experience…


A 3-Step Process for Shifting Attention and Regaining Focus

I am noticing a pattern in my efforts to develop healthy habits. When I add a new habit to my routine, it causes a temporary setback in the habits that I already established.

I recently started doing regular brain training exercises to enhance my memory, attention and flexibility through Lumosity. This coincided with an unanticipated change in my work schedule that caused me to have to leave 1/2 hour earlier in the morning, which affected my meditation and exercise routine. The first week, I played the brain training games on 6 out of 7 days but did not meditate or exercise at all. The second week, I did brain training 4 times and also succeeded in meditating several times. Now in the third week I am continuing brain training and meditation and also getting more serious about exercising again.

I decided to add brain training to my routine for two reasons…


A Lovingkindness Project for Schools to Combat Bullying

I have been practicing lovingkindness meditation for several months now, so when I read an article in my local newspaper about an anti-bullying program that tries to promote kindness and compassion, I started to wonder if introducing lovingkindness meditation into our schools would help combat bullying.

The Star Ledger article was about 18 year old Ashley Craig and the non-profit foundation she started, Students Against Being Bullied (SABB)…


Harnessing Radical Acceptance & “I Want” Power to Enhance Self-Control

The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that persuades you to get up to meditate and exercise when you feel like staying in bed, helps you to resist the extra helping of dessert, and motivates you to start working on the project that you feel like putting off until tomorrow. According to Robert Sapolsky, a neurobiologist at Stanford University, the main purpose of the prefrontal cortex is to bias the brain towards choosing to do “the harder thing.”

Kelly McGonigal describes the three regions of the prefrontal cortex involved in motivating us to make the harder choices as specializing in “I will” power, “I won’t” power and “I want” power…


Can Simple Breathing Exercises Enhance Self-Discipline?

Balance continues to elude me… I had successfully moved past the obstacles I wrote about last month and was back to meditating every day and exercising 4 times per week. That lasted two weeks and then I got so preoccupied with work and family obligations that it fell apart again. I am back on track with the meditation but the exercise is still a challenge.

I returned to Kelly McGonigal’s book, The Willpower Instinct, for additional inspiration. She mentions that daily breath focus meditation can teach the mind how to handle inner distractions…


A Willpower Tug-of-War Between Different Parts of Self

I spent the first two months of 2014 developing a solid daily meditation practice, and the next step towards my goal of achieving greater life balance was to add exercise to my daily routine. The first week went well. I exercised every morning and continued to meditate regularly at night. Then we switched to daylight savings time and it all fell apart. I was tired and not feeling well, so I gave myself permission to take a day off, then another and another.

I started reading the book, The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of it, by Stanford University psychologist Kelly McGonigal, to help me get back on track. In the first chapter she wrote, “every willpower challenge is a conflict between two parts of oneself.” She recommends…