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Part 2 Mindfulness Reset: Being more mindful in the New Year

Of all the 2021 New Year’s resolutions, being more mindful is probably high on many people’s lists. We all want the world to stop spinning and find peace in our own skin.  As Michael Franti  said, “It’s never too late to start the day over.” 

We tend to think mind wandering is due to the onslaught of technology and the stresses of external events. However, neuroscience has shown that the tendency to distraction is not due to something out there, but is an integral part of our wiring. Over the next few blog posts, we will explore the unhelpful tendencies of the mind or what the Buddha called the ‘monkey mind’.

Just this morning, I was on a quiet walk near the water and found myself zoning out to thoughts about an email I forgot to send and how forgetful I have been lately, as well as other signs of aging that I’m experiencing. By the time I realized I had exited the moment I was almost home.

Rather than a New Year’s resolution to be mindful, I suggest setting an intention to deliberately upgrade the brain’s software system. By simply bringing more curiosity and heart-centered kindness to all rigidity and resistance, a softening and rewiring happens in the hardware of the brain. The prefrontal cortex grows new connections, where equanimity can begin to calm the duality of the limbic/default brain.

Harvard psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert conducted a study of ‘stimulus-independent thought” (mind wandering) and found that we are distracted almost 50 percent of our waking hours and we don’t notice it because it happens in the default network of the brain.

In their research conclusion, published 2010, Science 330, 923, they write:

“A human mind is a wandering mind

and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.

The ability to think about what is not happening

is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”

Mindfulness apps and classes are flooding the internet and after the challenges of 2020, it makes sense that we want to fix the problem of distraction but it can be confusing to know how to actually do that. John Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Center at UMass Medical Center says “an attitude of non-striving is essential for mindfulness”. I recently read someone promoting another mindfulness class with the slogan, ‘Join Us as We Strive for Mindfulness’.

Mindfulness is not a fad or a trend.

Taking a class or downloading an app to learn techniques can be helpful, but if there’s a goal or expectation that ‘doing’ mindfulness will fix something, then it may end up like all the resolutions that are forgotten by Valentine’s Day.

There is no place to get to or goal to be achieved. It is the simple yet profound realization that we are not our thoughts but the one who is aware of the thinking. With practice, we can learn to place attention wherever we like.

For example, mind wandering can sometimes be very helpful. When I write a story or create a new painting, letting my mind make fresh connections is often an important part of the creative process. You may have the experience of trying hard to solve a problem and then having the Aha! moment in the shower…as soon as you stop directly thinking about it. With a little mindfulness, ‘stimulus-independent thought’ can be intentional and beneficial. But when unconscious, thinking can crowd out life experiences and result in rumination and unhealthy behaviors.

The problem isn’t the thinking. Thoughts are important ways we create, invent, express, and learn. The challenge is asking the mind to willingly notice the distraction and tolerate the discomfort of not following every thought.

Conditioned to strive and push forward, it takes practice to tolerate the discomfort of not striving and to give the space between thought and opportunity to arise so we can discover what is actually happening instead of listening to thoughts about what is happening.

Mindfulness doesn’t deal with the content of experience (what happens), it works more with the velocity and depth (how deeply and authentically, we experience what happens).

Space for processing opens possibilities for different approaches to problems and a sense of life being lived through you instead of to you. Breaking the shell of the protective ego softens our rigidity to let real life in. Wholeness and authenticity begin to replace the false self.

In, The Book of Awakening, philosopher and poet, Mark Nepo writes, This is the ongoing purpose of full attention: to find a thousand ways to be pierced into wholeness.”

If your New Year Resolution includes living life more mindful, may we recommend the following tips for a Reset?

 

Tips for A Mindfulness Reset: 

-Invite stillness and notice what is happening inside and out. If there is resistance, meet it with self-compassion.

-If you find your mind wandering, bring attention to breathing in and out through the heart.

-When stressed, try surrendering to the living moment. Meet the situation with a ‘don’t know’ mind. (Like the Taoist farmer, ask yourself, “Is this good or bad? Who knows?”)

-Remind yourself that there is no past or future. Life only happens in this moment, and you can start the day (or your life) right now.

 

Feel free to offer any comments or share ways you reset yourself when feeling contracted. I also invite you to attend my virtual Mindfulness Meditation class every Tuesday evening, you can find more information here: https://learn.edu/events/

“Be crumbled.

So wild flowers will come up where you are.

You have been stony for too many years.

Try something different.

Surrender.”    -Rumi

Kim Ruggiero, MA

Blog is written by Kimberly Ruggiero.

Kimberly Ruggiero is a long time meditator. She works as a transformational coach and artist. She has a BS in Chemistry, MA in Consciousness Studies and studied at the Lyme Academy College of Fine Art. Kim has training in MBSR and is certified through the Engaged Mindfulness Institute. She works as a Program Coordinator in Integrative Health and Healing and facilitates a Mindfulness Meditation Group at TGI –  every Tuesday evening online –  https://learn.edu/events/

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The Power of Forgiveness and Gratitude

Could Forgiveness be a gift and a passage to Grace?

When asked to write an article about forgiveness, I felt hesitant. With so much contention in the world how can anyone willingly surrender their strong position and forgive?

I consider forgiveness to be a superpower, right up there with gratitude. It’s recognizing there is a state of grace beyond suffering, no matter the situation.  They are both evolved qualities that require a certain capacity to hold strong negative feelings in a larger perspective.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”  –Martin Luther King Jr.

Anger and fear are normal, intelligent emotions signaling that a boundary has been crossed. Something needs our attention. When a human being feels betrayed, diminished, abused, oppressed or exploited, instinct is to fight back, run away or dissociate. If the hurt isn’t processed and resolved, seeking revenge, ruminative thinking and resentments often follow. Blinded by emotion and thoughts, we have difficulty seeing that we are hurting ourselves by embodying that painful emotion and resonating that energy inside our bodies and to others.

 “Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”  –Buddha

Neuroscientist Rick Hanson, author of Buddha’s Brain writes, “Our brains are like Velcro for bad experience and Teflon for the good.” When hurt, our tendency is to want to hurt back. Forgiveness requires the we stay present with all of our reactivity. It requires that we meet the moment with an open heart and feel what we feel. if we can’t then we stay open and gentle with that, too.

Holding onto anger may offer a temporary feeling of justice, (as anyone knows whose ever held a grudge) but it doesn’t make the hurt go away; there’s often an energy that remains below the surface, growing and expanding the feelings of separation. Unforgiveness feeds the ego that wants to be right. It can also be a powerful energy that fuels destructive action. Unforgiveness, when it is unconscious, is not bad, it simply keeps the suffering growing and expanding, bringing us more of what we don’t want.

Rather than trying to get to a state of forgiveness or gratitude, I think it’s enough to just be present for what’s happening right now. Presence is staying and participating with our experiences in each moment; giving non-judgmental, open-hearted attention to what’s within, whether it’s forgiveness or non-forgiveness. Softening the resistance to a situation or person we have difficulty forgiving can be triggering, so a big dose of patience and gentleness helps. It doesn’t mean becoming a doormat or staying in an abusive relationship. It means making decisions from a place of love not fear.

 

forgiveness

Practicing presence helps build the neuropathway of wisdom; making us better able to respond with equanimity. Meeting non-forgiveness with self-compassion and self-acceptance begins the process of healing and wise action and raises our vibrational energy. The body moves from fight/flight to homeostasis.

 

Forgiveness, like gratitude, comes from a non-dual mind that recognizes we are one. It arises when we include other perspectives; when we are able to shift from a mind that is certain–it’s either right or wrong, to one that is open and willing to observe the nuances of a given situation—I can see why it could be right from another perspective.

 

Presence, like forgiveness, has a quality of receptivity and wonder. It sees and accepts what is, without the reactivity. We discover that what we resist persists, and so we learn how to drop the resistance and stay with the moment.

Anger is palpable in the world right now and many are blaming whole groups of people (politicians, white men, the wealthy, the poor, immigrants, the police, protesters, people who won’t protest, people handing out money, people taking money). Angry energy resonates in the collective and we all tend to blame each other. Recently, anger has been directed at me for not wearing a mask and also for wearing one in the same day.  

 This unconscious behavior isn’t anybody’s fault. It’s our wiring. We can’t see what we are doing because the decider (ego-limbic system) shuts down the prefrontal cortex (newest part of the evolving brain).  The reactive reptilian brain of our ancestors is wired for tigers and, for the most part, it’s worked fine for thousands of years.  But we are realizing that the old mind isn’t working.

We are at a moment of potential global awakening. With meditation practice, a non-dual mind emerges and the prefrontal cortex learns how to stay online; we can notice the reactivity of the limbic system sooner. There really isn’t a tiger, it just feels like one.

World problems aren’t getting solved by the old mind of right and wrong thinking. Racism, sexism, partisan politics, and economic inequality are still here and thriving.

“We cannot solve problems with the same mind that created them.” –Einstein

The new mind is one that has a capacity for nonduality. It knows how to cultivate presence and invite forgiveness and gratitude, not as a strategic quid pro quo, but because it’s our true state. Nonduality can recognize the dual as part of itself; not a bad part, just part of our wiring. Awakening is a natural unfolding of universal intelligence and the implicate order of an evolving self-organizing system.  

The non-dual mind can engage the prefrontal cortex and open space so the different, limitless energy of our universal heart and mind can emerge. A non-dual mind can express the need for reparation without blame or criticism because it sees the nature of our interdependence and accepts the reality of both, human darkness and light.

For example, the dual mind might say, “I am angry at you. You are wrong.”  With awareness, the non-dual mind might say, “Anger is arising, let me investigate what this is about.” Personalizing the situation isn’t necessary, just an ability to be with anger and respond from our wisest self.

Nelson Mandala embodied the power of forgiveness. Anger did not rule his actions. He once said, “Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear. That is why it is such a powerful weapon.”

We don’t have to wallpaper over unforgiveness with fake forgiveness. I suggest we come to recognize our capacity for presence with whatever is; to begin to intimately know and process anger and unforgiveness so we can finally move on from duality.

There’s a fragile, mysterious and beautiful interconnectedness of all things– the good, bad and the ugly. Forgiveness is not something we do, it is an energy that arises from the awakened consciousness.

Eventually, we realize that the world is our household and our capacity for forgiveness and gratitude, and the wise action that emerges, has the power to stop the war against ourselves and the planet. 

“Your heart is the light of this world. Don’t cover it with your mind.”  –Mooji

 

Blog is written by Kimberly Ruggiero: Kimberly Ruggiero: Kim received a BS in Chemistry and MA in Consciousness Studies. She works as a Program Coordinator in Integrative Health and Healing and facilitates a Mindfulness Meditation Group at TGI. She is also a professional coach and fine artist.

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Reflections on a Silent Meditation Retreat

I just returned from a seven-day silent meditation retreat, led by Rabbi David and Shoshana Cooper. The retreat, while conducted in a Jewish context, draws substantially Buddhist approaches to awakening and meditative practices. The retreat was bittersweet since this was to be the Coopers’ last, due to an illness that would no longer allow David to teach effectively. There were both tears and laughter – David has an extraordinary sense of humor – as a meditative container that held approximately 50 souls gathered to embark on this seven-day journey exploring the nature of consciousness. The Coopers were ably assisted by meditation teachers Rabbi Naomi Hyman, Beth Resnick-Folk, and musician and author Eliezer Sobel.

Participants left behind not only their cell phones, email, computers and tablets, but also refrained from reading, extensive writing and, of course, talking. The Coopers designed this protocol to allow the group to deepen into a profound inner quietness within which the mind can quiet down and be explored. For someone studying consciousness, doing field work means exploring one’s own consciousness, helped by others who are a little, or a lot, further along in their exploration.

The first few days of the retreat is that of settling in to the routine, allowing the meditations to quiet the mind, and noticing the profound silence of the group that is also filled with friendliness and kindness. Some silent retreats in other traditions can be austere – no smiling, no holding open doors for others, etc. At this retreat, smiling or acknowledging others is allowed (but not required). The practice is open-hearted with curiosity and a dose of humor. The teachers, who provided inspirational talks, were often very funny, approaching stand-up at times.

By the morning of the third day, thoughts entering my mind had slowed to a trickle. Instead of a steady stream, thoughts were bubbling up more discretely, one at a time. One thought that bubbled up was that this would be a good day to observe how mental distractions spontaneously arise in my mind. The teachers had mentioned that a silent retreat allows one to explore one’s own mind or consciousness, and I realized I could use this opportunity to get to know my mind’s operating system. The idea was that as each thought arose, I would create a category for that thought and develop an informal frequency distribution. I would be exploring the habits of my mind that have built up over a lifetime. As each new category arose, I would jot down a name for that category. After listing about 20 categories, no new categories arose. The top three categories – my most habitual thoughts – were (1) mental rehearsals, (2) reliving the past, and (3) to-do listing / planning thoughts.

This process is similar to a Buddhist process known as noting. As mentioned in the linked article, one of the most powerful aspects of noting is the disidentification with the mind. Most often we identify with our thoughts. The constant mental narration seems to originate with the part of one’s mind that one thinks of as “I”. These are my thoughts. I am thinking about this. I am thinking this over in order to decide what I should do. But through meditation and inner silence, one learns that thoughts are just the operation of the mind and identification with those thoughts recede. One is something deeper than the thoughts, or behind the thoughts. Thoughts arise in a field of consciousness, but is not consciousness itself. The process of noting thoughts naturally brings a separation of thoughts from consciousness itself. Instead of identifying with one’s thoughts, one identifies with one’s consciousness and notes that one is having thoughts. This subtle difference is essential for personal and or spiritual growth.

According to Piaget, children at the sensorimotor stage of development cannot sit still. They know the world and self-identify through their senses and impulsive movements. Piaget explains that when a child identifies with impulsive movement, the child cannot control those impulses. That is why a 2-year old child is all wiggly and in constant motion. As a child develops and no longer identifies with impulses, going from being impulsive to having impulsive movements, only then can the child sit still. This is akin to adults who identify with their thoughts. The adult identifies with the thoughts that are constantly jumping from one thought or feeling to another. The adult’s mind can’t “sit still.” The adult is at the mercy of the thinking and emotive mind. The mind cannot slow down. But through noting, thoughts are noticed, gently categorized, and disidentified with. This is not to say one stops having thoughts or that thoughts don’t continue to arise. They do. But now you have the thoughts, rather than the thoughts having you.

Charles Silverstein, PhD is the Academic Co-Director of the Master’s degree program in Consciousness Studies and Transpersonal Psychology at The Graduate Institute – a graduate school specializing in learner-centered, integrative and holistic education.

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