Mindfulness Northwest Newsletter Articles

Here are the article from our monthly Mindfulness Northwest Practice Letter plus some additional notes from Executive Director Tim Burnett.
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  • 2 Jul 2021 8:39 AM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    By Tim Burnett & Carolyn McCarthy

    Just over a year ago, a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd. Like so many individuals and organizations, Mindfulness Northwest heard this wake-up call. Instead of an immediate public response, we’ve turned inward, toward self-examination. We wanted to share what we’re working on and invite you into the conversation. 

    I spoke with Executive Director Tim Burnett about what we’re up to, where we’re headed, and why we’re committed to this work. 

    --Carolyn McCarthy

    Diversity & Inclusion Coordinator, Mindfulness Instructor

    Carolyn: What excites you about justice work at MNW?

    Tim: I'm a privileged person: white, male, middle class, hetero, cis-gendered. As I learn about social justice, I understand more and more fully the huge leg up I and my family have received from the way our inequitable society functions. This engenders a deep sense of responsibility.

    I founded Mindfulness Northwest from a sense of good fortune at having encountered mindfulness at a young age. I wanted to share the life-changing benefits with as many others as possible. 

    Our mission is a lot about accessibility. We wanted to provide access in many locations, and to make the programs as affordable as we could - financially accessible. We look for physically accessible locations, too. Our online programs provide a whole new level of access.

    What I didn't understand was the many barriers that weren't visible to me. These barriers are starting to come into my view (and I know we have a long way to go in even understanding them). I want to keep learning. I'm glad that we've begun this journey with education and reflection among our staff. And I know these are just the first steps on a very long road.

    Carolyn: Totally. It’s an ongoing process. It’s generational work. Never complete. And yet we must do what we can. I’m pleased with some of the progress we’ve made: adding a land acknowledgement and an acknowledgement of the Buddhist roots of mindfulness to our courses, completing Intercultural Development Inventories for all teachers and staff with 828 flow, forming small groups to work together on social justice issues. And creating my job!

    Tim: Right! It’s good to remember the progress. A big goal that we’re still working toward is to increase the diversity of our staff. We understand that it's easier to approach something new like mindfulness if the instructor looks and sounds more like your home culture. I look forward to finding ways to include mindfulness teachers and ambassadors from BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities, among others.

    Carolyn: Agreed. Educating our teachers is helping us better serve all communities; a shift in hiring will take that to the next level. 

    That said, I’ve been moved and inspired by the teachers at MNW. This group is willing to take a long, hard look at our own sh*t. Our mindfulness practice provides a solid foundation for turning toward the difficult. It’s clear that as students of consciousness and compassion, we can’t turn away from social justice. 

    Tim: Right. And yet it can be deeply uncomfortable. The challenge for me in doing this work feels like a mix of shame and avoidance. 

    I feel shame around the huge privilege I enjoy, especially the economic privilege that's accumulated in my family from rising home values. For example, I now understand about redlining and how American home ownership, since the 1930’s, was supported for white families ONLY. My great-grand uncle was a chicken farmer and was able to buy his ranch back then, and the rising value of that property was like a bucket brigade of wealth that led to my grandmother giving my mom help with the down payment on her first house. Mom's house appreciated wildly creating a lot of wealth for my family and on to me. What did we do to “deserve” this influx of wealth exactly? And what about similar hard-working Black families that weren’t allowed onto this wealth escalator? I feel shame for my family’s resulting wealth and privilege.

    The avoidance feels "slipperier": I have a long habit of being very productive and keeping very busy in my life. This has allowed me to accomplish a lot - helping to nurture a Buddhist practice center and creating Mindfulness Northwest for instance - but I find it generally hard for me to pause and open out to new areas of life and learning. I intend to, but I simply don't "get around to it." People recommend great books and videos on DEI [Diversity, Equity & Inclusion] and I find myself simply not making it a priority to engage. I'm trying to give myself more permission to be a little less constantly productive and make room for more engagement with social justice. 

    Carolyn: I appreciate the honesty and humility there. It can be so tough to face this work, especially if it’s bringing up shame and other challenging emotions. Why are you committed to coming back to this work?

    Tim: Mindfulness has helped me learn how to feel more deeply; compassion training opens my heart to the suffering in our wonderful but deeply unjust world. I'd love for Mindfulness Northwest to make a deeper contribution than helping people like me who've been so fortunate. I'd love for us to serve all of the communities of the Pacific Northwest. 

    In the Buddhist roots of mindfulness we work with huge, aspirational goals, and these are always in my heart. I carry a vow to deeply support all beings without exception.

    Carolyn: What do you want our students and clients to know?

    Tim: I'd like people to know that we're working on it. We're working on social justice, diversity in our own ranks, and increasing accessibility to mindfulness practice. And that we are humble about it all, too. We know that there is much we don't know. We're just getting started.

    And I want the folks we've been able to work with, hundreds of people over the last decade, to know how much we appreciate them. It's been an amazing journey so far and I'm sure it's just going to get richer and more interesting as we engage more fully with all of our communities.

    Carolyn: Thanks for the conversation. In closing, let’s shine a light on other voices. What are some resources that have had an impact on you?

    Tim: A few that have been transformative and eye opening:

    Ta-Nehisi Coates' article in The Atlantic Monthly: "The Case for Reparations"

    Ruth Ozeki's novels My Year of Meats and A Tale for the Time Being

    Duncan Ryūken Williams' American Sutra 

    Louise Erdrich's latest novel The Night Watchman 

    Carolyn: Thank you. I look forward to hearing from our readers, too. Let’s continue to learn together as a community and grow in justice for all.


  • 2 Jun 2021 4:29 PM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    by Beth Glosten


    Posture is the structural basis of our upright position. And posture supports our upright position in meditation. But it is tricky. We are guided to be upright, but relaxed – not too tight, and not too loose. But what does this all mean? If I’m “relaxed,” I feel my shoulders slump forward and my whole body submit to gravity – that is not the position I want. But, if I strive too much, I feel fixed and rigid. Is there a balance?

    Yes, a resounding yes! I’ve been a student of posture since I struggled with significant back injuries years ago. First, as always, let’s start with definitions. Posture is alignment of the bones of our spine, the vertebrae. Correct posture is when these bones are aligned in their intended manner – allowing curves in the region of the low back, the thorax or chest, and the neck (see Figure 1, below). The final five vertebrae of our spine are fused to form the sacrum, at the back of the pelvis.

    Figure 1

    Figure 2

    Contemporary life conspires to pull our vertebrae out of alignment. A common way (but not the only way!) stems from our hours in front of a screen, and/or use of arms to lift things. This is a “flexed” posture, or “C-shaped” posture (See Figure 2, above). Is this you? You are not alone. Can you see the loss of the normal lumbar curve, exaggerated thoracic curve and cervical (neck) curve? Many try to correct this with the advice “bring your shoulders back and down” but this more often than not creates no change in the upper, rounded, back, and forward-positioned shoulders, but leads to an exaggerated change through the low back – an “S-shaped” posture (see Figure 3, below), a posture that is often uncomfortable.

    Figure 3

    What to do? Learn about your own body! Lie on your back on the floor, with your knees bent, and feet flat on the floor. Use a pillow or rolled towel to support your head if that is most comfortable. Try to completely allow your weight to be held by the floor. Release the muscles of the low back. Avoid any sense of pushing any part of your spine or body onto the floor. Then, feel where your body contacts the mat. You’ll likely feel it heavy at the back of the pelvis (the sacrum), less heavy at the low back (reflecting the lumbar curve), some contact between your shoulder blades (reflecting the thoracic curve) and no contact at the neck (reflecting the curve of the cervical spine). Then, alternately gently press your low back to the mat and lift your low back off the mat – in a pelvic rocking motion, 6 or 8 times. After this motion, feel where your low back settles.

    Come sitting, and do the same movements, seeking the same balance of the spine, only now upright. These movements can help you feel the most balanced contour of your low back.

    But what about those rounded shoulders? Sitting upright, with awareness of your low back, slowly and gradually pull your shoulder blades together. Feel them come together behind you. Avoid a rapid, forced movement. Feel how this motion supports a lift in your sternum. Feel the activation of the muscles of your upper back that live between the shoulder blades. This lift of your chest should create a slightly straighter upper back, not just an increase in the curve of your lumbar spine. This takes some practice!

    When I settle into a seated position for a formal meditation practice, I do a scan of my spine. First, I feel my seat bones (those prominent bones that we sit on – the base of the pelvis) on the bench or cushion and try to allow my weight to be fully held by those seat bones – this often results in a gentle, positive release of over-tight leg and shoulder muscles. Then, I do very small front-to-back pelvic rocking motions. This supports balance over the seat bones. I do a slow scan of my upper back and torso noting if my shoulders are tending forward. If so, I gently bring my shoulder blades together, keeping the position of my pelvis unchanged. I feel an activation of the upper back muscles that allows my shoulders to soften, and my head and neck to feel balanced over my shoulders. Over the course of my practice, I may need to repeat this alignment check when I feel my upper body sink. If I’m too abrupt with these postural adjustments I can easily overdo it and feel tight and tense. In the end, I seek a position of supported balance. This position, for me, enhances awareness of the sensations of breathing and creates a sense of openness.

    One other note about posture and meditation. Do you sit on a cushion? If so, be sure that your pelvis is lifted. For most of us, tight hamstring muscles (those strong muscles of the back of the thigh) make it difficult for us to sit upright without a rounded back if we sit directly on the floor. By sitting with your pelvis lifted and supported several inches above the floor, some of the stretch and strain is taken off of the hamstrings, which allows your back to assume its normal curves. Explore different cushions to find the position of your pelvis that allows you to adopt good posture while sitting (see Figure 4, below.)

    Figure 4

    Why care about posture? It is the healthiest position of the spine. And while it may take some time to develop the needed awareness, and muscular control and strength to support this position of the spine in meditation, with time, you’ll be able to hold the position with ease. Ease won’t come from just relaxing, ease will come from settling into this balanced position of the spine and torso. And, good posture supports a positive sense of self, contributing to focus and presence during meditation.

  • 6 May 2021 9:55 AM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    by Tim Burnett

    Recently we were asked to provide a workshop for one of our clients on "Pandemic Fatigue" and I realized: yeah - that's a thing now isn't it?

    It's been a long hard slog for all of us. For some, suffering the loss of someone close to us or losing one's job has been devastating. Although not exactly the same, all of us have had some level of disruptive changes in our lives: the social restrictions, the masks, the isolation. All of these have taken their toll. Questions about the future are in our minds, too: Is there light at the end of the tunnel? What will the "new normal" be? Will it ever really end?

    I bottomed out a little on all of this recently myself. Maybe you have too?

    My recent flash point was that I'd really hoped we could offer more in-person programs this fall - but it looks like that won't be the case. I'd already let go of this same hope for summer. Season after season through the pandemic as we've planned our Mindfulness Northwest schedule, I've been hoping, hoping, and then letting go. This time around was the hardest one. But I bet it won't be the last. Thank goodness online programs work as well as they do.

    What have your recent flash points been in your patience practice? Schools opening or not opening? Being able to see relatives in nursing homes finally, or not? Waiting to travel again?

    My recent upset helped me see there was a way I was figuratively "holding my breath" waiting for a big change in our Covid-limited reality. Time to remember to keep breathing. It will all go at the pace it goes and there isn't a lot I can do about it. Have you also been holding your breath waiting for change? That's a limited kind of patience with a built in expiration date. Sooner or later you can't hold it anymore!

    Pandemic Fatigue is a thing. So is Pandemic Patience. This seesaw of Covid ups and downs inspired me to reflect on how mindfulness and compassion training support being deeply patient with a chaotic and unpredictable world.

    My Zen teacher, Norman Fischer, in his book The World Could Be Otherwise, talks about patience like this:

    To practice patience is to patiently, tolerantly forebear hardships and difficulties -- but not passively. The deep practice of patience is transformative. It transforms difficult circumstances from misfortunes or disasters into spiritual benefit. For this reason it is a particularly powerful practice, a prized and essential one. A person who develops it has strength of character, vision, courage, dignity, and depth. She or he understands something profound about human beings and how to love them.

    Every time we sit down for formal mindfulness practice we're practicing a form of this deep patience. We're facing each moment that arrives; we're working with our mind's wish that this moment be other than how it is; we're gently guiding ourselves back. We're facing discomforts and difficult moods with curiosity and openness as best we can. We don't jump up to fix the problems we think of, instead we stay in our practice and keep breathing.

    And as we key into compassion, we find ways to invite kindness into these feelings of challenge. Norman suggests that patience helps us understand something profound about how to love human beings. And in turn, we discover that these same tenets apply to loving ourselves a little better, too.

    As the pandemic continues, It's been helpful for me to remember that patience isn't just putting up with something. It's a practice. It's feeling into how resistance and complaint only make things worse. But it's more than refraining from resistance and complaint. It's a compassionate and mindful practice of actively accepting "this is how it is right now" and transforming our approach to, "What can I learn here? How can I help?" 

    Of course I'm far from perfect at this and I bet you'd say the same. And yet like every one of the positive qualities of the human heart, we can build and develop our patience. We can try to remind ourselves that what we practice grows stronger.

    Maybe we started out thinking of patience being about putting up with other things. But in the end we see that it's really a profound patience and love even as we work with our own human frailties and foibles. It's also a profound sympathy for the struggles of others. We are truly in this together and patience is a natural response to the full catastrophe.

    Wishing you all the best as we continue to navigate this time of such rapid change together…with patience,

    Tim


  • 8 Apr 2021 10:30 AM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    by Carolyn McCarthy

    The ferry was running late. New to island living, my friend hadn’t planned for the ways wind and water might shape his day. Now he would miss his meeting. Frustrated, he texted a colleague to ask her to cover for him. But wait! They seemed to be speeding up. The boat made landfall earlier than expected; he and his wife sped home in the car. While she drove, he texted the colleague again: “No problem! We’re going to make it home!” And they did. Eager, they tried their shiny new keys in the backdoor lock – no matches. A key opened the front door, but - alas! - the chain lock was engaged. They couldn’t get in!

    Back in the car and off to the hardware store seeking help. On his way, he asked himself the central question of Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC): “What do I need right now?” Well, he thought, I need kindness, I need patience . . . I need a pair of bolt cutters! Happily, he got all three. He offered himself patience and kindness; the clerk at the hardware store loaned out their bolt cutters. They zipped back to the house, snapped the chain, and he made it to his meeting.

    When my friend shared this story, I was tickled. Bolt cutters: my favorite new self-compassion tool! And yet, he’s absolutely right: kindness and patience alone would not cut it. He needed resources, action. He needed both aspects of self-compassion, the tender and the fierce.

    Mindful self-compassion is the practice of learning to befriend ourselves in any moment, especially when things are tough. When we think of self-compassion, we often default to an image of warmth and kindness. This tender or yin self-compassion can feel wonderful. Our MSC workshops and classes explore the process of offering ourselves kindness in a moment of suffering, as we would to a sick child: not to make them feel better, but simply because they feel bad. Can we notice our own suffering, then offer kind words, a warm hand, or other tender care? This tenderness is an ongoing practice, a muscle we can develop over time. In my experience, it helps. But it’s not enough.

    When I began studying MSC, it was a revelation that I could treat myself as well as I treated my friends. I felt deeply nourished, growing in my sense of self-worth and self-confidence as a result of treating myself better.

    Still, my most challenging relationships were not improving. In any moment of stress or challenge, I worked on soothing myself. And yet I became more and more agitated. I remember wondering after yet another painful interaction, “So is this the practice? I just take it and take it and then go soothe myself?” Clearly, something was missing.

    What did I need? Yep: a bolt cutter. I needed fierce self-compassion. Sometimes called yang self-compassion, this is the self-compassionate side of you that protects, provides, and motivates. This is the coach or cheerleader in you, encouraging you to do your best not with a harsh, critical voice, but because it cares about you and wants the best for you.

    To revisit the sick child analogy, this is the mama bear who offers not only a cool washcloth on a hot forehead, but advocates at the doctor’s office to get the help her child needs. This aspect of self-compassion provides clarity, empowerment, and encouragement to take meaningful action. Kristen Neff, a founder of MSC with an upcoming book on fierce self-compassion, sees this element as key to social justice work: we need to soothe our pain AND take fierce, wise action.

    Recently I got a call from my step-mom: my father, in treatment for cancer, had taken a turn for the worse. He’d been rushed to the ER and was now in the ICU recovering from emergency surgery. Over the next few weeks, I needed a lot of tender self-compassion. I reminded myself that this was really hard, a part of human experience, and that I was not alone. I tried to be gentle with myself.

    I also needed the fierce: to ask for help at work, to research my dad’s conditions, to advocate for myself by letting go of some other responsibilities. I used my encouraging inner voice to make sure I got exercise, saying things like, “I know you feel worn out, I know it seems counterintuitive, but you will feel SO MUCH BETTER if you dance or go for a run. You can do it!” Most of the time, I did.

    My dad got better every day; we’re all holding up okay. I was grateful for the tools of self-compassion I teach and practice: yin and yang, tender and fierce. I needed both sides to move through that challenge.

    What are the challenges you face? Is there a place for Mindful Self-Compassion? Might you offer yourself a little more kindness? And how could you advocate for yourself, asking for what you need? This practice is not always easy, but it can feel awfully good. I would love to hear about your experiments. Kindness, patience, bolt cutters: what do you need right now? 

    Join Carolyn’s Spring MSC class HERE. See our full Spring lineup HERE.

  • 22 Mar 2021 8:44 PM | Tim Burnett (Administrator)

    In January 2021, Tim gave a 4-talk series based on the courageous women practitioners through the centuries who contributed so much to our mindfulness tradition. Watch the talks and peruse the notes here: 2021 - The Hidden Lamp and see other talks from our Roots of Mindfulness and Roots of Compassion retreat series here: Roots of Mindfulness. We hope you enjoy these in depth lectures and discussions on the Buddhist roots of mindfulness and compassion training.

  • 4 Mar 2021 2:27 PM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    by Tim Burnett

    You do not have to be good.
    You do not have to walk on your knees
    for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
    You only have to let the soft animal of your body
    love what it loves.

    Right. Remembering these lines I feel something in my gut unclench a bit. I find it easier to breathe. I hadn't realized my breath felt so constricted. I feel my jaw soften a bit. I feel a little more ease.

    These opening lines from Mary Oliver's well known poem "Wild Geese" are a deep comfort to me. What comforts you?

    Lately I've been feeling overwhelmed. Feeling like I can't quite keep up with my responsibilities. Even when I ignore the to-do list items that I decide are less important, I don't feel like I'm keeping up my end of the bargain. Bargain between me and who? I'm not sure but it feels like a bargain has been struck and I'm not doing my part. Am I getting lazy? Am I just not efficient enough or smart enough?

    And I've been making mistakes. Not huge mistakes - I can give myself some room there - but mistakes. Being sloppy in communication with people mostly. Creating some unneeded stress and angst. The mistakes feel unkind and I dislike myself when I feel unkind.

    And I suspect that at the root of it all there's an underlying fear that I'm just not good enough. Not good enough to pull it all off. Not good enough to be the person I'm supposed to be.

    I know it's not that bad. I know I'm essentially fine. And I remember my privilege. Living in a community with so many folks experiencing homelessness, I remember I have a comfortable and secure life in all of those basic ways. I do know I'm one of the lucky ones.

    And yes, I do my mindfulness practice daily (well close to daily anyway). And I exercise. And I eat well. I get out in nature. And I know it'll be okay. Part of me knows full well it is okay already.

    And yet this human life includes hard times.

    This human life includes feelings and moods that swing. Includes doubt. Mine does anyway. It's hard to accept this. For the most part, I don't compound these tough moods by telling myself that as a mindfulness teacher I shouldn't be having bad moods - that I should be balanced and at peace - deeply accepting everything and using the tools of mindfulness to find steady and lasting peace.

    But I'm human. And a deep part of this particular human's condition seems to be an unrelenting desire to be good. To do it right. To always be doing it right. And that's a set up. And sometimes I suffer.

    And so I listen to Mary Oliver's words and take comfort. I don't have to be good. I don't have to be perfect. Whatever 'letting the soft animal of my body love what it loves' means, it has a feeling of ease and release. And I do know it's all right.

    You do not have to be good.
    You do not have to walk on your knees
    for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
    You only have to let the soft animal of your body
    love what it loves.

    How do you find comfort when your world closes in?

    For me, a community of practice helps. Like last weekend: I was fortunate enough to help lead a Day of Mindfulness. Even over Zoom these are such powerful and healing experiences. Part of why I'm inspired to write this vulnerable piece about my own fears and doubts is the deep honesty expressed and the courage of those at the Day of Mindfulness. We spent our time together deeply just being with what is.

    And all with the support of a community of practice. It's hard to fully appreciate, I think, how much the community piece helps until you experience it. Practicing steadily for a day does help; practicing together helps even more. At least that's been my experience.

    I hope Mindfulness Northwest's programs can be one of those deep and important comforts for you, too. There is so much more to this work than learning new skills and slowing down a little. When we come together to learn and practice mindfulness something important happens. Internal and external barriers can soften. New perspectives and insights can emerge. Please read on to learn about upcoming offerings.

    I hope you have access to what's deeply comforting to you. I hope it helps.

    All best,

    Tim


  • 4 Feb 2021 4:30 PM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    The Calm Within the Storm

    by Michael Kelberer

    By all accounts the Dalai Lama is the embodiment of equanimity. In the face of persecution, a lifetime of exile, the responsibility of both an entire nation and an entire religion, he has always seemed grounded, open-eyed and to be acting from a base of strength.

    That’s not me. Mostly I’ve been Dorothy: seeming to live a calm life in Kansas, but with the first heavy wind – wham! I’m in Oz without a red slipper in sight.

    Depending on my emotional weather, the portable storm cellar I constructed for myself has varied over the years from alcohol to ice-cream, denial and more ice cream, emotional shutdown…you get the picture. While studying mindfulness, however, I heard about equanimity and balance as solutions to life’s pain and suffering. But deep down I couldn’t imagine they were anything more than mental tricks to create the same good feeling as ice cream (without the fattening side effects).



    Recently, though, I read a great article by Sharon Salzberg in Lion’s Roar magazine entitled, Calm in the Midst of Chaos, that focused on equanimity. Not only did the article reshape my understanding around the topic, it also spurred me to consider: which mindfulness practices can help me achieve such balance?

    As I pored over the article, a couple of meaningful points I especially appreciated talked about staying present and centered. How am I supposed to do that?

    Creating Space

    Sharon Salzberg says that equanimity starts with mindfulness. By bringing ourselves into the present moment, by pausing between stimulus and response, we give ourselves the opportunity to expand our awareness beyond the immediately buffeting winds of life. And in this spaciousness we can make choices with our whole selves, not just the part that’s reacting to whatever strong emotions those winds have triggered.

    Reading this, I remembered that this expansiveness is exactly what happens when I remember to do more concentrated mindfulness practices like Awareness of Breathing, Listening Meditations and the Body Scan. And for immediate relief, informal practices like the S.T.O.P. practice or Two Feet and a Breath have proven to be really helpful.


    A Gyroscope

    Salzberg likens being in a state of equanimity to the steadiness of a gyroscope. No matter how strongly a gyroscope is buffeted, it always returns to its center. It feels the winds but its core strength makes it remain in a balanced state.

    When I thought about it, I realized that I have two things that help pull me back to my center in the midst of crisis: my core values and my purpose in life. These can be the gravitational center that can right my life when overwhelm threatens. Even if this reconnection with core values or purpose doesn’t “solve” my present storm, it can help me feel more secure, clear-eyed and serene in the face of troubling times.

    Attending the 8-week Mindful Self-Compassion class offered exercises around core values and helped me create a list of my own. A regular re-reading (and tweaking) of that list helps strengthen the presence of my core values so that when the winds do blow, I can find them easily. And the Affectionate Breathing practice helps me notice when my mind wanders so that I can gently return my attention to the present moment – which strengthens my basic gyroscopic muscles.


    Impermanence

    Stormy winds that blow me off center do so by taking advantage of my tendencies to cling to (some stormy winds feel positive) or resist the winds. As I’ve watched myself in mindfulness practice, I’ve noticed that I instinctively react to each gust of wind with either attraction or aversion, either trying to hold on or push away. Either response means I’m tying myself to the way the wind blows, and that is what gives the wind its power to push me around. That clinging is also, of course, based on the false hope that I can control the wind, something that’s ever-changing and, well, impermanent.

    There is a group of mindfulness practices called Open Awareness or Choiceless Awareness that help me specifically cultivate an awareness of the impermanence of things. I find that these practices makes it easier for me to let go of the wind so that I become more used to simply allowing the gusts to ebb and flow.


    Equanimity in Everyday Life

    My best days are the days I somehow balance moving through life purposefully without my plans getting in the way of meeting life as it is. These days seem to happen the more I incorporate my mindfulness practices into living – trying, in effect, to turn everything I do into a practice.

    There’s a delightful story about the Dalai Lama (a true story, although my memory may get the details wrong) that I heard a while back that illustrates this same equanimity Salzberg speaks of in her article:

    At his residence-in-exile in India, the Dalai Lama was with a group of religious leaders talking about the role of religion in life and how religions could come together around common values like compassion. Heady stuff. Then the door opened and an aide brought in a refugee from Tibet who, escaping persecution, had just arrived after a long and difficult journey over the Tibetan mountains.

    Having made this same journey himself as a young man, the Dalai Lama excused himself from the lofty conversation, and went over to greet the refugee. Hugging the newcomer and listening with complete attention, the Dalai Lama showed visible empathy and compassion toward the refugee as he heard the man’s story. Then, as the refugee was escorted from the room for food and rest, the Dalai Lama turned back to the religious leaders and immediately re-engaged in their conversation with his complete attention.

    The gentle wind of philosophy. The piercing wind of suffering. The same Dalai Lama. That’s equanimity.

    To access the mindfulness and compassion exercises mentioned above, please visit our Practice page.


    Michael Kelberer works for Mindfulness Northwest as Assistant to the Director and as a Mindfulness Instructor.


  • 21 Jan 2021 12:22 PM | Tim Burnett (Administrator)
    by Tim Burnett

    Dear Friends,

    We finally kissed 2020 goodbye a few weeks ago, hoping for more peaceful, healthy, and productive times ahead. And yet as I write this, the U.S. is breaking tragic records for deaths from Covid-19 and Congress is debating whether to impeach President Trump for the second time. That 2021 is off to a difficult start feels like a massive understatement.

    I do take a little comfort in our practices of mindfulness and compassion during a difficult time and I hope you do, too.

    Mindfulness helps me be a bit more aware of how it's all affecting me. I feel distracted, worried, at times fearful. At times angry. I've learned it's so much better if I know how I'm feeling. I used to be so good at "stuffing" difficult feelings.

    And mindfulness helps me make choices that help keep me at least a bit more available to myself and others. No, I don't need to check the headlines every few minutes. Yes, it is nourishing to do my practice, to exercise, to reach out to friends and family. And yes, I am human and I have been reading too much news and neglecting exercise. I'm working on it.

    But most importantly mindfulness supports acceptance. The current situation is a tough pill to swallow. How could it be that our country is this divided? How could the events in the Capitol that happened last week have happened? And yet it is and they did. By allowing these realities in more fully, I stand on ground that's a little bit firmer than the shaky ground of rage or denial or distraction and avoidance. This helps me keep going.

    This acceptance isn't acquiescence. It's not saying it's "all okay." We each have different views and approaches, but I am sure that things are happening that are very much not okay for just about every single member of our society right now. So tough. And I do know that it's a lot tougher for a lot of people than it is for me.

    Although it never feels like I'm doing enough, standing on this firmer ground of acceptance-of-what-is gives me a bit more strength to contribute. In my case recently: a bigger than usual donation to the food bank - it's so hard to accept that I have neighbors without enough food - and I was able to muster a little courage to go with a friend and volunteer some help at the nearby homeless tent city here in Bellingham (it was easier than I thought and they were very appreciative, but what a hard thing to see).

    And mindfulness steadies the ground for compassion. Compassion: that willingness to be with suffering and try to help. Even when the suffering is really challenging - even when what I see "out there" brings up strong emotions and suffering in me, mindfulness helps steady the ground in me for compassion for those who are behaving in ways that upset me greatly.


    Our teachers remind us that everyone wants to be happy and doesn't want to suffer. Some suggest that all unhelpful behavior is a result of unmet needs somewhere along the way. I think of the wise advice given to parents to seek to correct the child's choices and behavior without giving your child the message that there's something inherently wrong with them. And I think also of the danger in being righteous and demeaning to others.  Can I look at the many troubling images in the news and have compassion for my fellow humans even when they're behaving badly?

    These are tricky times. There are no simple answers. Plus it's almost impossible - maybe completely impossible - to speak out about what's happening without offending someone. We won't get it right. But our practice calls on us to try our best. To accept, to work for a better world, to view everyone with the eyes of compassion. Our year - now it may be years - of living under Covid I hope will help us to see at last that we're truly all in this together.

    As you know Mindfulness Northwest offers a variety of classes, workshops, and retreats to support your practice. I want to highlight this month that we're growing our drop-in offerings. In addition to the Midday Mindfulness I offer (Wednesdays weekly, noon to 1pm) and the monthly Alumni Practice Group (fourth Friday of the month, 7pm - 8:30pm) we're adding a new weekly Midday Mindful Movement program on Mondays noon to 1pm. All three of these drop-in programs are offered free of charge. You need to register to receive the Zoom link. And we rely on your kind donations to our Accessibility Fund to help fund our operations when we aren't charging registration.

    Hope to see you soon at one of our programs.

    And here's hoping for a peaceful Inauguration Day next Wednesday.

    Yours in mindfulness and compassion,

    Tim




    Tim Burnett works for Mindfulness Northwest as Executive Director and Guiding Instructor.


     
  • 1 Dec 2020 2:15 PM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    by Teresa Johnson

    I have a strong preference for life to make sense, especially the part that involves human interactions. Do you find that, too?  So much rides on our ability to see eye to eye and solve problems.  I want everyone’s attitudes and actions, including my own, to line up like a tidy picket fence, upright, orderly, and organized for the common good.   But is that really what will help us to live more peacefully together, or is all that wanting to control behaviors part of the problem?  

    Each of the 7.8 billion human beings who share this planet has deeply rooted conditioning, uncountable cultural and familial variables, all of us in flux moment to moment.  We are all unpredictable and imperfect, so attachment to unrealistic expectations of ourselves or others inevitably renders suffering  as we fall into the traps of judgement, frustration, disappointment, anger, and anxiety. 

    Perhaps there is a different way to respond to the reality of our own sometimes conflicting values and impulses and the often confounding encounters with other human beings whose actions and opinions don’t make sense to us. 

    Mindfulness reminds us to begin close in, noticing first how we’re relating to those moments of dissonance in ourselves and with others. As we invite curiosity and openness into the room of our hearts and minds, we may recognize the habit of resisting conditions as they are.  We might also see an added layer of wishing we weren’t struggling.  

    Especially helpful in these moments of reckoning, is the simple yet powerful quality of kindness, the “state of being gentle and considerate,” (Merriam-Webster).  Kindness helps us to reach in toward ourselves and out to others with more tenderness and consideration. And amazingly, kindness helps the resistance to loosen, allowing us some space to be curious, explore, gain insight, and move toward acceptance, connection and understanding. 

    The task of bringing the practice of kindness into moments of conflict can seem daunting, especially when encountering all the  -isms that polarize this fragile human family and threaten to divide us irreparably.  Maria Popova, (Brainpickings), shares this wisdom, “The measure of true kindness — which is different from nicety, different from politeness — is often revealed in those challenging instances when we must rise above the impulse toward its opposite, ignited by fear and anger and despair.” 

    In the midst of difficult interactions, as we observe reactivity in ourselves or others, a deeply rooted practice of mindfulness and kindness can support us in exercising self-restraint and harmlessness when encountering opposing views, whether we’re in a conversation with a loved one or neighbor, attending a professional meeting, a rally, or listening to the news.  It can also temper the urge to blame or discharge anger or react toward someone else’s anger in an unskillful or inflammatory outburst.  In stepping back from reactivity long enough to gather our attention into the anchors of the body and breath, the space referred to in the Viktor Frankl quote, and the choice to re-orient toward a wholesome response, toward kindness, emerges.  From that large room of awareness,  we can also consider “...what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone, (Compassion, Miller Williams.) We have the option to see what’s behind the reactivity of others.

    Practicing kindness, formally in meditation and informally in daily life, opens the heart to see the role of suffering in the reactivity of ourselves and others and moves us toward understanding even when we disagree. 

    For sure, this is not easy work, and to be clear, kindness is never an act of assent in the face of injustice.  We can practice kindness right alongside fierce compassion as we stand for justice and human dignity while our mindful awareness supports the capacity to stay present and wholly connected.  Mindful discernment is also a powerful assistant in knowing how best to offer kindness in a given moment, answering, “What is most needed right now?”   Sometimes what’s most needed is further dialogue when all parties are able to be respectful, but other times, the kindest thing is a boundary as we request to end a conversation or respectfully agree to disagree.

    Going forward during this extraordinary moment in our collective human history, we’re faced with many challenges. Finding common understanding and vision is imperative to moving toward solutions that will impact us globally. A lot is at stake for our complex, often jumbled, infinitely creative, and beautiful human family. A lot. Martin Luther King said so eloquently that we are woven together, “tied in a single garment of destiny.“

    My hope for all of us, as we encounter each other, especially when we differ, is to remember first to pause, to connect to the breath, make space in our hearts and minds, recall our common good, and truly commit to kindness as the only response that makes sense anymore. 


    Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye

    Before you know what kindness really is

    you must lose things,

    feel the future dissolve in a moment

    like salt in a weakened broth.

    What you held in your hand,

    what you counted and carefully saved,

    all this must go so you know

    how desolate the landscape can be

    between the regions of kindness.

     

    How you ride and ride

    thinking the bus will never stop,

    the passengers eating maize and chicken

    will stare out the window forever.

     

    Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,

    you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho

    lies dead by the side of the road.

    You must see how this could be you,

    how he too was someone

    who journeyed through the night with plans

    and the simple breath that kept him alive.

     

    Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

    you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 

    You must wake up with sorrow.

    You must speak to it till your voice

    catches the thread of all sorrows 

    and you see the size of the cloth.

     

    Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,

    only kindness that ties your shoes

    and sends you out into the day to mail letters and

    purchase bread,

    only kindness that raises its head

    from the crowd of the world to say

    it is I you have been looking for,

    and then goes with you everywhere

    like a shadow or a friend.


  • 5 Nov 2020 4:36 PM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)


    Sitting with Uncertainty

    by Tim Burnett

    Dear Friends,

    On the day after the election our nation, and the world, hung in suspense about which way the presidential and senate races would go, along with many other weighty decisions. Did you have a challenging day like so many of us did on Wednesday?

    It helped me see with fresh eyes just how uncertain everything is. As COVID keeps reminding us, we don't ever know what's going to happen. And it's hard when things happen in ways we don't like. It's hard in general to work with the many disappointments of life, but don't you think it's far harder on us if we've already invested in some vision of the future? Isn't it harder to bear challenges when we've convinced ourselves that something else is going to happen; when we believe our predictions (or someone else's predictions) are actually describing the future, and not just predictions?

    And in the case of the presidential election most of us are likely still feeling the heaviness of the waiting game now two days after the polls closed. In addition, regardless of who is named president, there is plenty of uncertainty around some pretty big issues in our nation: What are our next steps with COVID? Healthcare? Social and Racial Justice? The Economy?  Uncertainty is powerful. And it's everywhere.

    I was thinking also about how we have so many technologies, theories, and ideas about the future that give us a false sense of certainty. Take weather reports for example. They're pretty good. Sometimes even the hour by hour predictions are accurate. That amazes me. It said it would rain at 10am and then at 11am it would clear up. And then it does just that. Amazing.

    But that doesn't mean that a weather report is actually predicting the future. It's a model, an approximation. It's a surprisingly good one often. Quite accurate. And that fools us. It fools us into thinking we actually know what's going to happen. It gives us a false sense of certainty about what the weather will be tomorrow.

    It's the same with political polls. It's the same with how we expect people to respond to things at work. The same with how our children turn out. We have information, we have data, we have models and predictions. They aren't wrong, they are usually reasonable predictions, but things aren't going to happen exactly as predicted, either. We get fooled. We get fooled into thinking we know what's going to happen. We are lulled into a false security when we confuse predictions with predestination; when we confuse models and forecasts with actual awareness of what the future will be.

    So I figure we need to practice with this: with accepting the unknowability of things and with how destabilizing it can be to let ourselves hang out in our heads when our heads start to believe predictions as future. Then it's so upsetting when that future doesn't come to pass. Which is what is normal. Which is how it all actually works.


    And yet there is something about our resilience and our human hearts that can also stay strong and grounded without depending on certainty. There's a more flexible and responsive strength available to us. It's hard to describe this in words so I decided to record a meditation on this today. It's a practice of feeling into the uncertainty and also exploring the still place in the middle of uncertainty. It isn't the stable ground of certainty we long for, but there is a feeling we can touch in our practice that's steady and still, even in the midst of the disordered flurry of a mind trying so, so hard to know what's going to happen.

    It's a full 30-minute meditation and I recommend giving it a try. You can play it here on our website:  Sitting with Uncertainty

    I'd love to hear about your experience with this practice and any thoughts you have about being stable and sane in the midst of the radical uncertainty that is our world.

    All best,

    Tim

    P.S. I closed the meditation with a favorite poem by John O'Donohue as I felt the weight of Wednesday and figured we need all the help we can get.


    John O'Donohue - Beannacht (Blessing)

    On the day when
    the weight deadens
    on your shoulders
    and you stumble,
    may the clay dance
    to balance you.
    And when your eyes
    freeze behind
    the grey window
    and the ghost of loss
    gets in to you,
    may a flock of colours,
    indigo, red, green,
    and azure blue
    come to awaken in you
    a meadow of delight.

    When the canvas frays
    in the currach of thought
    and a stain of ocean
    blackens beneath you,
    may there come across the waters
    a path of yellow moonlight
    to bring you safely home.

    May the nourishment of the earth be yours,

    may the clarity of light be yours,

    may the fluency of the ocean be yours,

    may the protection of the ancestors be yours.

    And so may a slow

    wind work these words

    of love around you,

    an invisible cloak

    to mind your life.



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