Practice Good Intentions

You have an inherent wish for well-being and happiness. Ancient traditions can help you cultivate these wishes, regardless of your religious background.

Sit upright with your hands in your lap, the left hand underneath the right, with the thumb tips gently touching. In this dignified position, relax, breathe naturally, quiet your mind, and think these words:

“May I be healthy. May I be peaceful. May all my good purposes be fulfilled.”

Repeat the phrases with an intention of sincerity, self-respect, hope, and will to make it so. Repeat them five more times, believing that you are worthy of this kind of love.

If you continue to practice this loving-kindness prayer, you will feel a warmth in your heart; it is genuine compassion, and you are cultivating love for yourself.

As you experience self-love, you recognize that everyone shares your inherent wish for well-being and happiness.

Choose the name of someone whom you admire or cherish and insert their name into the phrases.

“May _____ be healthy. May _____ be peaceful. May all _____’s good purposes be fulfilled.”

Repeat the phrases a few times, extending loving-kindness to them and hoping they may experience self-love.

Repeat this meditation with the name of a neutral person or stranger, with the name of a dear friend, with the name of an enemy, with all the world in mind.

Give yourself opportunities to do this meditation regularly.

Lost and Found

I love that Sufi Proverb: “When the heart weeps for what it has lost, the spirit laughs for what it has found.” Brilliant. How often do our attachments to our ways and to our selves interfere with creative discovery of who we also are/can be. Not that we always must be “growing” (that Western imperative) but the truth is we “grow” by discovering who we are, realizing ourselves as the onion skins fall away. We don’t have to go anywhere or do anything new – to stay put and confront ourselves, listen, observe, understand. This is the process of becoming and perhaps it isn’t meaningful in any absolute sense, but doesn’t it always feel worthwhile and gratifying. So much more so than the impulses of gratification and comforts of habit that are so fleeting except when we embalm them in the stories we tell about ourselves.

Take Cover!

Imagine sitting on the couch watching TV, but your Tweenager has the remote and is spastically flipping through channels so erratically that your eyes/mind cannot settle on one thing. Now, you and that TV are in the back of a smelly taxi cab, driven by a novice driver from an exotic locale unfamiliar with modern traffic flow or the smooth application of brakes or gas. Now turn on some salsa music and pump up the volume. And, finally, overcrowd the back seat with some of the city's more self-centered denizens. 

Remember the 80's TV ad, “This is your brain on drugs”? Well, this is your mind on a NYC street: Distracted, annoyed, confused, insulted, and in serious need of a refuge. 

Walking the city streets can be wondrous and inspiring but it can be challenging; it's crowded and noisy, you're often in a rush to get to something important, and many things can get in your way: Tourists and other non-linear pedestrians; self-centered and other people not from chummy Midwestern small towns who don't abide general rules of civilized public conduct or grasp the concept of a queue; noises that can make a grown man want to stick his fingers in his ears; smells that make him want to stick his fingers in his nostrils; and dangerous drivers that make him want to flip just one finger.

The barrage quickly adds up and it’s easy to slip into a state of annoyance and negativity from which it's difficult to recover and reset. 

What to do?

First, some principles and simple strategies:

1. Simplify. Do one thing at a time.

When walking city streets, commit to leaving your mobile phone in your pocket/purse. Navigating the city is hectic enough without constantly checking your phone for messages or calls, let alone walking while texting. Hazards aside, this is a low quality experience (you won’t do either one well) and should be saved for those rare moments when you really need to keep moving AND really need to respond to something immediately. Otherwise, it can wait. Permit yourself this basic sanity.

This symbolic gesture claims and redefines the commute as a mental refuge, creates space in which your mind can relax, restore, and wander. You might also try this on the subway or bus. And, when driving, don't just resist using your phone (tisk, tisk), but also try turning off the radio for a few minutes to allow mental space to open up.

2. Take control

Despite feeling buffeted about like a pachinko ball, recognize that there are actual refuges in the city. You can make the choice to step out of the fray. If you're feeling swept away, paddle out of the rapids into an eddy. 

Give yourself permission to take a mini time out; duck into a contemplative place: A park, museum, church; or a doorway, lobby, or courtyard. Even some low-traffic stores and cafes have a tranquil atmosphere relative to what's going on outside. 

Take refuge, get your bearings, feel the space around you, find yourself there in that space, recognize that you regained control of your experience. 

Acknowledge that you have stepped out of the rush and are not going to jump back in, at least for a few minutes.

Take some long deep belly breaths, shrug your shoulders to release the tension there, gently close your eyes, bring your focus to the calming idea that you took control of your experience, that you can reset. Pay attention to your breath as it rises and falls, and listen to the sounds. Remember that you are free to feel good, and that you are prepared to carry on with your day.  

3) Walking meditation

You are in control of your attention; it is not at the beck and call of the myriad eye-catching and ear-catching distractions.

You can choose to redirect your attention to specific things, in the visual or auditory fields, your body, and/or thoughts and feelings. Try it: focus your attention on the feeling of your footsteps as they roll along the pavement. Bring awareness to your posture and allow yourself to be drawn comfortably forward.

As you walk, simply notice that your eyes are being drawn to this and that, or maybe darting around searching for something shiny and pleasing. Then gently bring your attention to your movement through space. Respond to every distraction by gently bringing your attention back to your movement. Over and over.

This is not about being impervious to distraction; it’s about being able to bring your attention back to something that works better for you.

If/when you catch yourself being annoyed, simply take note of it, then bring your attention back to your posture and the dignity with which you are experiencing the world, allowing it to be what it is, yet not getting ensnared in it; appreciating it, and being part of it, yet allowing yourself to move through it… like a silver fish swimming downstream.

Waking Up Well

When you first awake - before you reach for your phone/device (except to turn off the alarm), allow your first intention of the day to be spacious. Peacefully locate yourself there; feel the sheets, the pillow, the air on your face. Prop up your head, roll onto your back, and gently stretch out your limbs into the corpse pose. Relax and enjoy this brief, peaceful refuge before you jump into the daily grind. 

Do a few deep belly breaths: Slowly breathe in through your nostrils, mindful of your diaphragm pressing down and your belly rising. When your lungs are full, gently lock it, and hold it for a count of 3. Slowly exhale through your mouth until your lungs are emptied or until you reflexively draw the next breath in.

Then, over the next two minutes, see how few breaths you can comfortably take. The intention is to fully fill your lungs and body with fresh air. Very slowly breath in until your lungs are completely full, then sip in some more air, again; then hold it in, slowly counting until you want to exhale. Slowly release all the air in your lungs and when empty count a few seconds before drawing in the life-affirming oxygen that sustains you.

As you work the air into and out of your lungs, bring to mind something you appreciate about someone, something you're happy about in the world, and something you're proud of about yourself. Gratitude heals us.

And as you bring air deep into your lungs, imagine it flooding into your extremities; stretch your feet, legs, arms, hands, neck... feel your whole body waking up.

Pause and dignify this moment of caring for yourself.

Finally, when/if you do reach for your device, before checking messages, write a memo of the things that have come to mind, even if it's mainly a to-do list. 

Ok, time to get up. Enjoy your day!

Rebooting the Self

The challenge is to re-create our self-concept in ways that facilitate what we want out of life.

We come into the world as learning machines and have an innate motivation to understand the world and ourselves, and what to expect from interpersonal exchanges. We learn and grow and make assumptions about these things, and these become the "operating system" with which we perceive, interpret, and navigate life. Irrespective of our awareness of the whole mess of these assumptions they become our self-concept. They bias our perceptions, and bias the meanings we make of our experience.

This operating system evolves as we experience life, learn, and change. Left alone, the system tends to perpetuate itself, and growth happens without intention or direction. But we also educate ourselves to intentionally foster growth, learn to understand an ever broadening array of issues that impact us directly or indirectly. We learn about the wide variety of experience possible in this world and we learn about ourselves.

Along the way we begin to gain insight into the fabric of our self-concept: our assumptions, biases, principles, expectations, hopes and fears. We see that we tend to see and do things certain ways; tend to expect things to work out, or not; tend to feel this way or that; tend to like certain kinds of people, and dislike others; tend to be comfortable in some situations more than others; tend to strive, hide, want, care...

We begin to see the tendencies at work and come to understand they are not "the real me", but rather occur among many possibilities and alternatives. If we can see the assumptions at work we can choose to let the status quo carry on, or replace those thoughts with others that might be more helpful to us. It's rather like replacing "I can't do this" with "I can do this".

There are cultural forces that lead us to believe we can't change who we are, or aren't supposed to. Some will say these tendencies are the real me so the most I can do is be more self aware and use what I have. There's wisdom in that idea, but it's not enough. Some will say we are who we are because of genetics, or by the design of our Maker; or adages like, "people don't change". It can be comforting to believe there is a divine plan, a greater purpose. It can be comforting to believe it's out of our hands; that we are not responsible. But, these notions limit or impede our free will, agency, and self-determination. If we think we are fated by genetics to be, say, an addict, we may be discouraged from making changes to minimize the associated risks or consequences. If we believe God has a plan for us, we may become overly passive in determining our own path.

Alternatively, we can acknowledge we are inherently free to influence our own development as people, and take on the responsibility of finding ways to go about it and traveling that road for the rest of our lives. Might as well not fight it, but rather, embrace it, and find the joy in discerning what is right for who we are.

God exists in our deepest heart and truest self; to believe is to commit – even periodically, per one’s ability to handle it – to getting in touch with it and living accordingly. To do so is the ultimate meaning of life, and the deepest joy. Believing and faith are so beautiful, sacred, and uplifting because they are the ultimate hope for oneself and others. In that belief is the courage to hope to be our best self, to pray for the well being of all; to be tolerant, accepting, loving, compassionate, toward oneself and others.