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  • 4 Jan 2019 9:30 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    By Tim Burnett

    Dear Friends,

    I'm happy to write this New Year's morning to wish you well and thank you for your interest in mindfulness. I deeply believe that this oddly simple and deeply profound practice and sensibility around how we meet our moments is critical. I deeply believe that taking up this practice of mindfulness to whatever level we each can is helping our society and our world. And I have a lot of faith that with our shared efforts this benefit will continue. It matters.

    Why our mindfulness matters

    Gandhi famously wrote:

    Your beliefs become your thoughts,
    Your thoughts become your words.
    Your words become your actions,
    Your actions become your habits,
    Your habits become your values,
    Your values become your destiny.

    What a wonderful reminder that unlike the assumption that thoughts are just a private thing and that form and matter are completely separate, the way we think and what we believe critically matter. The mind creates the world in deep and important ways. The world isn't all "out there" and beyond our influence: we are co-creating it with everyone else all the time starting with the way we think about it, the way we look at it, the way we talk about it.

    And it all starts with a meeting between mind and moment. Mind and moment. That meeting is profoundly important. Our practice helps us to show up for that meeting with awareness, with curiosity, with perhaps a little more kindness.

    It's easy to look at that "out there" world and be very discouraged. There were many problems in 2018 and the daily news is as much of a horror show as it's been in a very long time. This is true. And it's challenging.

    See the good, too

    And yet there are also billions of kind, caring people doing their best - doing our best - to make this world a better place. I strongly encourage you to review this article on overall trends in the environment, education, health care, and economic justice. You might be surprised that there's a lot of good news out there: Ways the World Improved in 2018

    I had the honor of presiding over a turning-of-the-year ceremony last night at our Zen Center here in Bellingham and as we practiced meditation before we began the ceremony I was thinking about time and our place in it. So many have come before us and so many are yet to come. We hold the space for a brief moment. May we all be even better stewards of these years we're here as we honor those who came before and prepare for those yet to come.

    And see below for a wonderful example from the poet Naomi Shihab Nye of how it can be. All is not lost.

    Happy New Year,

  • 18 Dec 2018 9:28 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    This being human is like a guest house,
    Every morning a new arrival.   

    A joy, a depression, a meanness,
    some momentary awareness comes
    as an unexpected visitor.

    Welcome and entertain them all!
    Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
    who violently sweep your house
    empty of its furniture,
    still, treat each guest honorably.
    He may be clearing you out  for some new delight.

    The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
    meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

    Be grateful for whatever comes.
    because each has been sent
    as a guide from beyond

  • 18 Dec 2018 9:28 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Michael Kelberer

    For many, the experience of the holiday season can be an intense mixture of the pleasant and unpleasant. Competing for our attention are the near constant jingle jangle of consumerism and the joy of gift-giving, the warmth and the complexity of family connection, the demands and the blessings of spiritual practices – it can be easy to feel disconnected and adrift. The practices of mindfulness and gratitude can reconnect us to what’s firm and real and enduring. They can bring us home.

    With Mindfulness

    With mindfulness, we can ground ourselves in our home in the moment. This moment. The only place where things are in fact real. And our present home is available anytime: two feet on the ground and a slow breath will bring us there. This is not to “escape from” the swirl of activity and emotions, but rather to not get carried too far away by them.

    With mindfulness, we can avoid making the unpleasant things worse. We remember that while the noise and the demands are real, we can choose to not add additional suffering with stories about them. In the wisdom of our own home, we can choose not to throw the second (and third) dart.

    With mindfulness, we can choose where to place our attention, we can return home to what nourishes us. Our breath. The friends and family members who support and love us. The things we are grateful for.

    With gratitude

    Gratitude helps us remember what's truly important to us and it turns out one of the most important things to humans is to connect. To connect with our best selves and to connect with others. Research has shown it helps with our mental health in ways similar to mindfulness but also helps us to relate to others with empathy, overcome our own past challenges and traumas, engage in self care more consistently, and even sleep better. An apt set of benefits for the holiday season!

    Here are two ways to practice gratitude. One is creating a gratitude list and then referring to it whenever you need a nourishment break from the overwhelm. A second involves cultivating an attitude of gratitude. A willingness to meet and greet whatever shows up in our lives knowing, as Rumi puts it, that “each has been sent as a gift from beyond.” (See Mindful Poetry, below)

    Gratitude advocate Br. David Steindl-Rast suggests that we can cultivate a deep attitude of gratefulness for everything in our lives. We've posted our favorite teaching of Br. David's put to music and images by the film maker Louie Schwartzberg HERE and Br. David's Gratefulness.org website is a cornucopia of resources. 

    The Greater Good Science Foundation has a wonderful section on gratitude science and practice, which they call a "key to well-being" and don't miss their wonderful lab of practices "Greater Good in Action"

    Have a mindful, grateful holiday season everyone!  

  • 17 Dec 2018 12:15 PM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    KUOW invited our Executive Director, Tim Burnett, to the studio to talk about the benefits of mindfulness.  Bill Gates' recent book picks endorsed meditation and Bill Radke, host of The Record, wanted to know why people want to practice mindfulness.  Hear what Tim had to say here.

  • 3 Dec 2018 11:14 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Catherine Duffy

    I’m paying more attention to my upper eyelid these days. 

    Last month I’d noticed what looked like a small blemish beginning to form between a couple of eyelashes on my left upper lid. Preparing to leave for a week-long Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) teacher training, I made a mental note of how I would care for my lid while away and figured the little nodule would work its way out by the time I returned home.

    Two weeks later and two doctor visits behind me, my left upper lid looked more like a mini-version of an overstuffed rice and bean burrito than its typical smoother version. 

    "my left upper lid looked ... like a mini-version of an overstuffed rice and bean burrito"

    A ‘chalazion’ or stye was the diagnosis: a clogged follicle or two that I likely got as a result of “bad luck,” my eye doctor said.  And to top it off, what I thought might end with a prescription for eyedrops to make this all better in a couple of days turned out to be a directive for warm compresses four-times a day, for a month.

    “A month?” I questioned.  “I have to go a whole month with this thing on my face?”

    Oh no, I thought, not this type of public scrutiny of my eyes again.

    Ten years ago, I experienced mega-doses of painful self-consciousness when my eyes were ravaged by the effect of the auto-immune deficiency called Graves disease.  This condition can cause a person’s eyes to protrude unnaturally. Once diagnosed, any corrective surgeries can’t be scheduled until the disease ‘burns out,’ so to speak, and stops pushing the eyeballs forward.

    For me, the burn-out took five years of waiting through plenty of challenging social moments.  You know the feeling: that sense of ‘otherness’ when you walk into a room and your difference feels so obvious. 

    I often wasn’t sure if I should say something about my eyes, explain my predicament, or just try to ignore the obvious confusion on the faces of people with whom I interacted and who didn’t know my story.  I remember one instance when I was looking for an item at a store and saw an old friend from a distance who I hadn’t talked to for years.  Feeling deeply self-conscious about my eyes, I turned and left the aisle rather than put myself into another painful social encounter. 

    Thanks to my MSC training, I have new tools and capacity to help me navigate these types of situations. Not that I am perfect at employing the three self-compassion components of mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness. But I am learning that embracing my human life as imperfect, and accepting my small and large challenges as a normal part of the human experience, is much healthier than resisting the fear, shame, or other painful emotions and memories they bring to my awareness.

    Choosing to practice openness to and allowing of my eyelid’s tenderness is a very compassionate gesture to offer myself.  Being open to whatever is here in this present moment without judgment is practicing mindfulness. Then, if I start to feel that ‘otherness’ notion creeping in during social situations, I remind myself of our common humanity:  That all of us struggle with life on many levels, every day.  And when someone asks about or winces at my puffy red eyelid, I practice being my own best friend and offer myself words of kindness that I would especially like to hear in that moment. 

    Is it easy for me to allow and be with whatever arises each day? Not always, but I’m getting better at it as I continue to practice MSC.  As much as I would like life to go well rather than have pieces feel like they’re falling apart, I find that my life’s struggles – big and small – actually create connection to others. We’re really all in this together.

    I’m still paying attention to my eyelid these days.

    The chalazion was removed last week and is healing nicely: my burrito has softened into a gently-rounded quesadilla for now and should be back to normal in a couple of months. Sure, I feel self-conscious some of the time but so does everybody, if we’re being honest.  And if I can allow myself to experience life’s sensitivities with openness and kindness rather than judgment and resistance, I’m practicing and getting better at embracing my humanness and the beauty of mindful self-compassion.

  • 2 Dec 2018 11:13 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    By Michael Kelberer

    The self-compassion break was created by Kristen Neff, author of Self-Compassion, as a way of bringing self-compassion into our lives just when we need it. It’s a short practice, and can be done almost anywhere, anytime you’re in physical, emotional or mental pain.

    Neff believes there are three essential components of self-compassion: mindfulness, common humanity, and kindness. The self-compassion break allows us to focus these three elements on the source of our immediate suffering or pain.

    Here’s the practice:

    1.  Mindfulness: “This is a moment of suffering.”

    First, we face into our suffering, this specific instance of suffering, and acknowledge it and name it. We might use phrases like “This is really hard right now.” “I’m really struggling.”

    2.  Common Humanity: “Suffering is a part of life.”

    In this step, we broaden our awareness to appreciate that we are not alone in our suffering, that the suffering we are experiencing is a part of being human. We might say to ourselves phrases like: “It’s not abnormal to feel this way.” “Many other people are going through a similar situation.” As Neff says, “The degree of suffering may be different, the flavor of suffering may be different,” but suffering is a fact of life for all humans.

    3.  Kindness: “May I be kind to myself in this moment.”

    For this part, it can help to put a hand on your heart or abdomen as a tangible reminder that you are bringing the same kindness toward yourself that you would offer a good friend who was suffering. You might speak to yourself with phrases like: “I’m here for you.” “It’s going to be okay.” “I care about you.” Choose any phrase that expresses your wish for your own wellbeing and happiness.

    You can find a recording of Kristen Neff leading an exercise in the self-compassion break on our website (Practice/MSC – Self-Compassion scroll down).

  • 15 Nov 2018 8:40 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    One Morning

    by Rosemerry Trommer

    One morning
    we will wake up
    and forget to build
    that wall we’ve been building,

    the one between us
    the one we’ve been building
    for years, perhaps
    out of some sense
    of right and boundary,
    perhaps out of habit.

    One morning
    we will wake up
    and let our empty hands
    hang empty at our sides.

    Perhaps they will rise,
    as empty things
    sometimes do
    when blown
    by the wind.

    Perhaps they simply
    will not remember
    how to grasp, how to rage.

    We will wake up
    that morning
    and we will have
    misplaced all our theories
    about why and how
    and who did what
    to whom, we will have mislaid
    all our timelines
    of when and plans of what
    and we will not scramble
    to write the plans and theories anew.

    On that morning,
    not much else
    will have changed.

    Whatever is blooming
    will still be in bloom.

    Whatever is wilting
    will wilt. There will be fields
    to plow and trains
    to load and children
    to feed and work to do.

    And in every moment,
    in every action, we will
    feel the urge to say thank you,
    we will follow the urge to bow.

    More Mindful Poetry: https://mindfulnessnorthwest.com/poetry/

  • 15 Nov 2018 8:38 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Beth Glosten

    Two mindfulness tools helped me navigate a recent loss. First, the Buddhist teaching story of the “two darts.” That is, life contains unavoidable pain, difficulties and challenges. These are the “first darts” of life.

    However, we can add to our pain by allowing the mind to magnify, expand on, and add to our suffering by firing “second darts” of regret, doubt, and second-guessing.

    Another tool is assigning a “feeling tone” to a situation: labeling a situation “pleasant,” “unpleasant,” or “neutral,” can give space between the event and how we respond. I frequently use this technique in traffic. I note that the traffic is “unpleasant,” and suddenly it is less personal. It is just the way it is.

    I am an avid horseback rider -- no less than a certified dressage geek. I take my sport seriously, and have worked and trained at it for a large portion of my life. However, a few months ago, I found myself without an equine partner for the first time in over 30 years. My emotional response to this life change took me by surprise.

    I found myself really sad every now and then during the weeks after my horse moved away. I wondered what was going on, and initially didn’t consider my horse loss as the reason. Then I realized I was grieving the loss of this source of passion and joy. The first dart.

    Oh my, was I good at bringing on additional darts: “You shouldn’t be feeling low for no longer having a horse, you should be grateful that you were able to have a horse in the first place.” I quietly removed that second dart, bandaging the site with “I am grateful for the years I’ve had the opportunity to ride and train, and I am sad to no longer have the equine connection I so love.”

    The darts kept coming: “How can you complain about your life, look at all the riches you enjoy.” This dart was also removed, and my compassionate voice countered with: “I do have a wonderful life with many privileges. I am a very fortunate person. Nonetheless, I am sad to not enjoy the physical, emotional, mental challenges of dressage training.”

    “Riding is self-indulgent – think of the other things you could do with your time to help others.” “Yes, any sport is almost by definition, self-indulgent – there is nothing wrong with doing what I enjoy.”

    “You are tough – you made the right decision to not keep your horse – get over it.” Answer: “Yes, I am tough. But I am also human, emotional, and deeply connected to the horses and animals I have loved in my life. I am grieving my loss.”

    One weekend found me pretty low. Feeling tones were helpful. “I feel yucky. This is unpleasant.” Labeling my experience made it real and therefore manageable. But, another dart then flew: “You should go to dance class, you know you’ll feel better after getting vigorous exercise.” Reply: “That is probably true. But I just don’t think I can rally the energy to get in the car. Please, just let me be, let me experience this low. I know it won’t last forever.”

    I know that in other times in my life, I might try to sooth my pain with potato chips and red wine (and such soothing would be, at best, short lived!). Not this time. I took care of myself. I lowered expectations for productivity, ate good food, and rested. This self-care came naturally – it just seemed the right thing to do. I didn’t have to plan it, it just happened. My innate mindful care-giver took over. 

    My funk didn’t last forever, of course. Ten days later I was back to my energetic and enthusiastic self, looking forward to upcoming projects. But I learned from the experience. My strong reaction to losing my equine partner told me how passionate I am about the sport. As such, I’m considering ways to bring it back into my life. Awareness and extrication of my additional “darts” gave me space to experience the loss without making it worse. Feeling tones housed my reactions in understanding. Acknowledging my sadness made it just that. Another experience, however unpleasant.

    "Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future.”

    – Deepok Chopra

  • 5 Nov 2018 9:44 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Tim Burnett

    Dear Friends,

    I was recently speaking to a friend about a very difficult relationship she was having with a colleague at work, and it made me think about the many difficult relationships I've had at work. I bet you can think of quite a few too! I thought it might be helpful to reflect on how mindfulness training can help. 

    Starting with acceptance

    Are there expectations that the situation should be different from the way it is? While it's helpful to have hope for change and to look for ways to improve the situation, in mindfulness we find that change doesn't work well unless we start with a deep base of acceptance. Can you fully accept the difficult situation and the person involved just as they are? This may require you to feel some challenging feelings and to acknowledge a strong aversion to the other person or experience very difficult emotions in your own heart.

    Remember the definition of mindfulness from Jon Kabat-Zinn: paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally? Can you apply this simple, elegant, and often not-so-easy, practice to this difficult work relationship. Can you just attend to how it actually is in the moment when you encounter this person without adding judgments about how it should or shouldn't be?

    We start there: accepting that what's happening is what's happening.

    What am I adding?

    A helpful next step is to consider the qualities and habits of mind that are emerging around the situation. I like to ask myself, "what am I adding?" Are you adding a narrative about how this person should or shouldn't be? Are you adding ideas about how much more wisely and intelligently (or cleverly!) you should respond to this person? Are you adding a strong opinion about how the organization you work within should have been handling the situation? Are you adding an emotional tone like fear or anger about this person's presence in your life?

    While it's natural for our minds to attempt to place every situation in a narrative and emotional framework to help us deal with it, there are often elements to this process that do not serve us well. When mindfulness arises along with these mental and emotional additions they have much less power over us. 

    A helpful practice to meet this "piling on" aspect of the mind is the practice of labelling. You can do this practice both formally in sitting meditation and also in the middle of the night when you wake up upset about the situation. Try meeting that complex of thoughts and emotions with a simple label like "ruminating about so-and-so" or "fearful thoughts" or "planning" to see if you can acknowledge your thoughts but not get lost in them. Then it is also so helpful to come back to the breath and the body. Remember that the breathing doesn't worry about Monday morning at work. It just breathes.

    Every moment of resting with awareness in the sensations of the inhale and the exhale is a moment of peace from these "piling on" patterns. This doesn't make the patterns "go away" but it can bring more ease and perspective.

    Seek support, wisely.

    We live in such a go-it-alone culture! And yet as social animals we're designed to need support from others. Whom can you talk to about the situation that will help you bring a wise perspective to it? A warning, however – watch out for friends or co-workers who end up just reinforcing the complaining side of your mind. 

    'm thinking here of a beneficial stress response called "Tend and Befriend" - a response that leads you to seek support for being in a difficult situation. Can you really feel and receive that support? To be okay with the reality that as a person under stress you need love and kindness from others you trust? Be mindful that the whole conversation isn't just about problem solving. True, some new approaches to the problem may emerge from the other person's perspective, but let the bulk of the conversation be about your needs as a person.

    Common Humanity & Self-Compassion

    It's also very helpful to remember how universal it is for humans to have trouble getting along. You might practice with the phrase "just like me..." during a mindful pause before going into work or during formal practice. Say to yourself something like,  "Just like me, many people have difficult relationships at work." Phrase it more specifically and in a way that fits your situation. And really feel into this. You are not alone. Of the billions of people on the planet there are surely a whole lot of them are experiencing a very, very similar situation. This wise internal support you can offer yourself is called a contemplation of "common humanity." Contemplating common humanity is a key part of the practice of self-compassion, along with mindful awareness and inviting yourself to be kinder to yourself.

    Trust your resources - in the moment.

    Somehow we have the false idea that endlessly thinking, rehearsing, and ruminating about a difficult relationship or problem will make us wiser and smarter and better prepared for action. But after a reasonable amount of intention setting and planning has been done, we quickly reach a point of diminishing returns. Or worse, further rehearsing and ruminating just wears us down internally. And all for naught since the actual reality of the next encounter with this person almost certainly won't match the future we'd been imagining.

    See if you can coach yourself to trust your resources instead. Remind yourself that you're a competent and intelligent person. Sure you have your limitations, but who doesn't? Remember that you don't know what's going to happen next – which could be an intimidating thought. Or, you could see it as an open and exciting thought: everything changes and you don't know what will happen next. The practice of mindfulness, especially regular formal practice, supports the emergence of more trust that whatever  happens we'll do our best to meet it and that this doing our best will be just that - our best. This is enough. Logically of course that's inherently true! How can we do better than our best? Trust that you'll meet the new situation as best you can and that this is enough.

    It's not easy, but is it really as hard as you think it is

    The mind has a powerful way of amplifying difficulty. See if you can meet the difficult situation with a "just" attitude. Without trivializing or avoiding the difficulty maybe you can reminder yourself that it's just a difficult situation. It's just work. And it's possible to put it down and step away from the situation when you go home, or even while at work, and in a moment that situation is not the present anymore. In fact, if you look carefully at your moment by moment reality I, bet the difficult feelings around the relationship are actually there most of the time! When they come they are powerful, and difficult, but in other moments there are other feelings and thoughts present in the mind and that particular difficulty, in that moment, ceases to exist.

    I'll close with a story from Buddhism that you might appreciate. While written in ancient China and in a Buddhist framework I think it speaks wisely to these situations!

    Layman Pang was sitting in his thatched cottage one day with his family studying the sutras. "Difficult, difficult, difficult," he suddenly exclaimed, "like try to store ten bushels of sesame seed in the top of a tree."

    "Easy, easy, easy," his wife, Laywoman Pang, answered. "It's like touching your feet to the floor when you get out of bed."

    "Neither difficult not easy," said their daughter Lingzhao. "It's like the teachings of the ancestors shining on the hundred grass tips."

    I don't know if you've ever had to store ten bushels of sesame seed in the top of a tree, but we sure do have to do some challenging things at work, and in life. Difficult, difficult, difficult to be sure. And yet is there also an element to this life that is easy, easy, easy? Or is the true reality neither difficult nor easy? Life unfolds as it does. We do our best. Moment to moment to moment.


  • 3 Nov 2018 9:44 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    Mindfulness Northwest retreats almost always come with talks on practice. For longer retreats (the Roots of Compassion in August and the Roots of Mindfulness in October), there are series of connected talks with a theme. And all are available on our website, along with the notes for the talks. Next best thing to being there!

    Here's a link to the overall pageRoots Talks

    And here are links to specific retreats:

    2018 Roots of Mindfulness. Theme: The Four Foundations of Mindfulness from the 2018 Roots of Mindfulness. Theme: The Four Foundations of Mindfulness from the Satipatthana Sutta.

    2018 Roots of Compassion. Theme: The four Buddhist Virtues (Loving Kindness, Compassion, Empathetic Joy and Equanimity) and the practices that support them

    2018 Spring Retreat. Topic: Clarity of Mind

    2017 Roots of Mindfulness. Theme: The Foundational Attitudes of Mindfulness

    2017 Roots of Compassion. Theme: The Mind-training Slogans (Lojong). 

    2015 Roots of Mindfulness. Theme: The Four Foundations of Mindfulness

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