Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Greatest Love of All

The greatest love of all
     Is happening to me
I found the greatest love of all
     Inside of me
                                                  The greatest love of all
                                                       Is easy to achieve
                                                  Learning to love yourself
                                                       It is the greatest love of all

iStock_000002128470XSmallThe song, The Greatest Love of All, has a lot of meaning for me.   I resonate with its lyrics on a deep level.  And I love to sing.  Singing is one way I express myself.  I have fond memories of belting out the words of this song, with great feeling, with a close friend. It was a very empowering experience.

Singing can also be a form of meditation for me.  I choose a song that speaks to me and sing it mindfully, several times in a row, while reflecting on its meaning and how it impacts me and my life.  On several occasions, I have meditated on this particular song.  One thing that I have reflected about is that learning to love myself was not “easy to achieve.”  It was a journey that involved many years of therapy and other growth work. But once I reached that destination, I discovered how powerful self-love can be. 

I’m not saying that I am perfect at it.   I still have occasional doubts.  During the Real Happiness Meditation Challenge  this month, I discovered that these moments of doubt are more easily overcome with regular meditation practice.  I came to appreciate that mindfulness of emotions, letting go of emotions and thoughts, lovingkindness meditation, and shifting the balance to more frequent mindful noting of the  positive, were a powerful combination of practices that have already helped me to strengthen my self-awareness, self-compassion, self-acceptance, self-regulation, and self-love.

It has been two months since I began to develop my daily meditation habit. Now, even when I falter for a day or two, I easily get back on track.  It no longer feels like an effort to meditate daily. It feels like a part of me. 


The Many Benefits of Gratitude

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” –Epictetus

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” –Oprah Winfrey

iStock_000002128470XSmallGratitude is an important practice for optimal well-being.  It helps us to appreciate what we have, instead of focusing on what we don’t have.  Research studies have demonstrated that people who cultivate a sense of gratitude have lower levels of stress and depression, higher levels of empathy, generosity, and helpfulness, and are generally more satisfied with life.

Robert Emmons and his colleagues have been studying the nature of gratitude and its potential impact for human health and well-being for the past decade.  In addition to the above effects, their studies indicate that  people who adopt a daily gratitude practice have more high energy positive moods, a greater sense of feeling connected to others,  better sleep quality and duration, and higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to control groups that focused on hassles or social comparison (ways in which participants thought they were better off than others). Those who kept weekly gratitude journals  exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, and were more optimistic about the future compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events. The researchers also noticed that participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important academic, interpersonal and health-based goals over a two-month period compared to those who did not make gratitude a focus of their attention.

Sarah McLean describes how to make a gratitude list in her book, Soul Centered: Transform Your Life in 8 Weeks with Meditation. She writes about how difficult it can be to think of things to be grateful for when experiencing challenging life circumstances and points out that gratitude is even more essential when we are suffering, because it can transform our perspective about difficult situations.  She suggests that when it is hard to come up with things to put on the list, we can appreciate our ability to perceive the world around us with our senses and how amazing our bodies are at automatically sustaining life through our beating hearts and flowing breath.  We can also be grateful for having enough food to eat, a roof over our heads to keep us dry, and clothing to keep us warm.  In her gratitude meditation, Sarah McLean also encourages us to appreciate our own positive qualities, such as wisdom, creativity, awareness, stability, flexibility, and love.  I would add to the list the qualities of passion, humor, playfulness, determination, perseverance, compassion, and generosity.

It is the 24th day of the Real Happiness Meditation Challenge. Focusing on what I feel grateful for in my daily meditation has helped me to  develop greater life balance, fostering a more positive attitude about negative situations. In the course of my life, gratitude has helped me to transform suffering into meaningful growth and purpose. How has gratitude helped you in your life?


Balancing Mindfulness of Emotions with Lovingkindness

It is the 17th day of the Real Happiness 28-Day Meditation Challenge. For the past two weeks, I have been working on mindfulness of emotions at night.  I have mostly been using a guided meditation by Sharon Salzberg that encourages noticing what emotions arise while initially focusing on the breath, which can be found on the CD in Real Happiness and on the Workman Publishing website: http://www.workman.com/realhappinessebook/.  I have also tried Ron Siegel’s Stepping into Sadness and Stepping into Fear meditations, which can be found in his book, The Mindfulness Solution and on the website for the book: http://www.mindfulness-solution.com/DownloadMeditations.html.  These two meditations helped me to fully experience difficult emotions.

iStock_000002128470XSmallSharon Salzberg, Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach all talk about a four step process of becoming mindful of emotions that can be remembered with the acronym RAIN – recognition, acceptance, investigation and non-identification.  Achieving balance involves noticing, accepting and exploring our emotions, while being careful not to identify with them. We strive neither to avoid nor to cling to our emotions, but to be mindful of them in the moment and notice how they come and go, like waves in the ocean.

I noticed some lingering sadness about a couple of losses that I experienced over the past couple of years and focusing on it during meditation helped me to fully experience the sadness and move past it.  Then one night I realized I was delaying meditating because of unacknowledged fear.   Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  I think it would be more accurate to say, “The only thing we have to fear is the fear of fear.”  It is the fear of fear that causes us to avoid it and try to block it from our minds.  When we face our fear, it becomes more manageable. 

Once I acknowledged the fear, I was able to face it. And once I faced it, I was able to overcome it.  During my meditation I went from noticing anxiety, rising doubt, a little fear, some regret and then hopefulness that I could overcome this obstacle.  And once I started feeling hopeful, the fear faded away.  Avoiding the fear made it seem insurmountable.  Facing the fear made it quite tolerable and fostered a sense of hopefulness that helped me to overcome it.

I have been practicing lovingkindness meditation in the morning, focusing on wishes for myself, specific family members, friends and clients, as well as a general wish for all beings everywhere. I have found that this helps me to have a positive attitude, even in challenging circumstances.

May I be safe, May I be healthy, May I be free from suffering, May I be peaceful, May I be balanced, May I be happy.

May you be safe, May you be healthy, May you be free from suffering, May you be peaceful, May you be balanced, May you be happy.

May all beings be safe, May all beings be healthy, May all beings be free from suffering, May all beings be peaceful, May all beings be balanced, May all beings be happy.

I decided it was time to shift the balance even further, by actively fostering positive emotions during my nighttime meditation. I started listening to Sarah McLean’s soul-centered guided meditations and plan to try more of them, as they have already had a powerful impact in a short time.  Ocean Visualization & Self-Love Affirmations; Gratitude Meditation & Appreciating Your Life;  Transcendence & Loving Yourself; I am Aware – The Intention to Awaken…  These and many more of Sarah McLean’s meditations can be found on the Winter Feast for the Soul website: http://winterfeastforthesoul.com/index2.php?dest=meditations_mclean.

I intend to continue working on balancing negative and positive emotions in meditation and in life.  How do you work on achieving this balance? 


Seeking the Middle Way

iStock_000002128470XSmallIt is the ninth day of the Real Happiness 28-Day Meditation Challenge.  I meditated 5-10 minutes every morning and 20 -30 minutes at night on work nights as planned, except for one night when I came home late.  My initial intention was to shut off the TV and computer at 11 PM to meditate and I came close to this goal.  There were a couple of nights that it was more like 11:30 or 12, but overall, I was still winding down and going to sleep earlier than usual. 

At night I was doing both the breathing meditation and meditation on emotions from the CD in Sharon Salzberg’s book, Real Happiness.  During the 14 minute breathing meditation, I noticed that I was able to maintain concentration without difficulty.  I encountered problems with two aspects of breathing: the first was that focusing on the breath led to breathing a little heavier than natural, and the second was that I couldn’t just focus on one aspect of the breath, like the air flowing through the nostrils or the rising and falling of the abdomen. My struggle was to decide when to just be mindful of my breathing exactly as it was without trying to change it and when to try to change my breathing to try to make it lighter and to try to improve my single-minded focus.

In reading Real Happiness at Work, I discovered some wisdom to help guide me in this.  In chapter 1, there is a balanced breathing meditation that focuses on cultivating both tranquility and energy by striving for a balanced state of mind that is both calm and alert. Finding this balance involves finding the middle way between being too relaxed and falling asleep and too intensely focused and breathing heavily, as I was doing.  Sharon suggests using the image of holding delicate, fragile glass in our hands; if we hold it too loosely it will fall out of our hands and break and if we hold it too tightly it will shatter in our hands.

I decided that it made sense for me to set my intention before I start the breathing meditation each night to focus either on balanced breathing or mindful acceptance of my breathing as is.  For the next week of the meditation challenge, I am going to focus on balancing my breathing and then decide where to go from there.  Mindfulness will still be an aspect of this practice because I will still need to mindfully accept the quality of each breath once I make my best effort at balance.

The instruction to focus on one aspect of the breath created a different challenge for me.  I thought I was having trouble with it when I not only focused on the air flowing through my nostrils, but also noticed my abdomen rising and falling. Sharon’s analogy of looking for a friend in the crowd was helpful to me in understanding how to approach this.  My new understanding is that I do not have to block out all other aspects of the breath.  It is ok to notice the crowd even though I am looking for my friend. I can still notice other aspects of the breath in the background, even while concentrating on the aspect of the breath that I choose to focus on.

In what ways do you need to work on balance in your meditation practice or your life?  What can the lesson I learned teach you about seeking the middle way?