Thank You, Silence

We are surrounded by and inundated by noise all of the time. Its actual audible noise as well as the kind of chaotic thinking that leaves us lost, anxious and distracted; that mental/spiritual noise that can be so toxic.

In my own experience, I’ve been so accustomed to noise that when I sit in silence, I’m sometimes uncomfortably in shock by how quiet everything is. Ironically, silence seems to increase the mental noise because the literal noise has softened allowing us to hear what is going on inside of us. I remember being a kid and listening to the car radio really loudly when my mom or dad would ask me to turn it down “I can’t hear myself think,” they’d say. Little did I know that it would be such a profound statement. At concerts, we’re often immersed and lost in the music and movement of dancing to the exclusion of everything else, which is actually cool! We’re lost in the moment. But when the noise is toxic, getting lost in it isn’t so great.

We have a constant stream of thought happening. Our bodies might be telling us something; some subconscious reality we’ve otherwise ignored. But we’re stuck on this different level of thought while our core needs are going unmet.

So, sit in silence. Listen. When we get past that level of discomfort with literal silence, then our conscious voice begins to emerge. We notice things crystalizing almost as though it’s a kind of magic. Bubbles rising to the surface. Our truth manifesting. Our joys and fears, our anxieties and our bliss. All there to see. Then we can move on with the process of accepting these things and breathing consciously through them.

Reduce the noise, increase the awareness.

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Slow Down, Don’t Miss It

There is a mindful component to everything we do far beyond sitting in silence. We can mindfully drive, eat, walk, read, make love, etc. It simply means we’re consciously aware of and engaged in what’s happening. That’s it. All of the incredible books written and lectures given on the topic have that very simple truth at its core.

So, why be mindful? Obviously, mindfulness has been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce stress and potentially prevent serious medical conditions for worsening. It also helps us in our family and interpersonal dynamics and our general worldview. Mindfully, we’re more present and available to others because we’re available for ourselves. But if those reasons aren’t sufficient, here’s another: mindfulness let’s us live longer by living more fully.

Let me explain what I mean. We all know life is moving forward. The hours, minutes and seconds tick away no mater what we do. We can’t stop the clock and our lives are most definitely finite. Human mortality is something that weighs heavily on our minds. Think of the money spent on youth formulas and plastic surgery. Think of all of the medications we may take to preserve our lives so we can be here longer to experience more of it. But what are we being here for, anyway? Just to be here?

If life is so important, which it is, we should take every opportunity to savor it and really immerse ourselves in what it means to be alive. When we do things mindfully, we are maximizing the moment exponentially. We are increasing what every moment has to offer us. And while life doesn’t literally become longer, at least we’re creating a way of living whereby each moment is lived 100 percent instead of being forgotten or overlooked.

Mindfulness in the Trump era

Okay, I’m going there. I can’t skirt the issue any longer and even though I try to avoid politics, this subject goes far beyond mere political discourse.

There have been few figures who have spread divisiveness and chaos as much as Donald Trump. His election to the presidency has ushered in an era of unprecedented discontent and infighting, even amongst families and personal relationships. As a leader, he is juvenile and petty and has yet to display even the most scant ability to unify the nation or to advance policies to create a “greater” nation. He has merely created more bitterness, hopelessness and embarrassment.

So what are we to do? You know, those of us who dwell in the present, cultivate non-judgment, and peacefulness? How are we supposed to approach this?

One way is to ignore it. But how do we propose to help a world in the brink of an existential meltdown by pretending the problem doesn’t exist? Are we really living up to our claim of being peacemakers by having no response to a crisis?

On the other hand, we can embrace that this is what’s happened and now we can put our love and our compassion into action. Remember, we need compassion for ourselves just as much as others do, and this is the root of mindfulness.

We must accept that we can only do so much. It’s tempting to go on social media and bemoan the political environment and argue with those who think differently but this kind of behavior often ends in a draw with everyone being worse for wear. Our efforts to support our own opinion rarely produces a change of heart. Thus, Facebook and Twitter yield more in the way of a stress headache than in actual, appreciable change.

It occurred to me that the Trump presidency is an opportunity to put our mindfulness practice to work. Someone once asked me “aren’t you troubled by what’s happening?” I responded that I am. “So, do something!” they responded. I asked them what they’ve done. They had made a few calls to representatives, written some emails and joined a demonstration. “That’s great,” I responded, “but you could do all of those things without surrendering your peace” I added. They looked at me perplexed. It hadn’t occurred to them that demonstrating against a political issue can be a deeply mindful experience.

In mindfulness meditation, we often encounter unpleasant things when we sit. Instead of resisting them, we accept them. This disempowers them and allows us to float back to our breath and the knowledge that we are where we are, abiding in peace. What some struggle to understand is that when we do this, we aren’t ignoring those things. We’re acknowledging them but also acknowledging the present moment. In terms of the political environment, perhaps it’s like realizing the situation is troubling but knowing there’s only so much we can do right here and right now and that allowing our contentment and happiness to suffer only hurts us.

One thing that suffers most when there is contention is our ability to stay in place and grounded. Like strong waves constantly pummeling us, our grip becomes weak and we’re sometimes dragged under.

Opportunities to truly change the world (including the political climate) will avail themselves when you’re ready to see them. Maybe it’s becoming involved in a local campaign or initiative, partnering with others to petition officials and spread information or simply to inhabit the change you wish to see in each of your personal relationships.

Trump ascendency represents, in a grand way, the triumph of ego and unconsciousness. Maybe we are seeing the ultimate example of what happens when people lead unconscious lives and identify only with themselves. A kind of narcissism on steroids. So this is our chance to be the other; to be the living, breathing example of love and compassion and resist softly but surely against the tide.

Daily Practice

When I haven’t meditated for a while, I struggle when first starting back. That layer of noise is impenetrable and often I’ll stop early which leaves me frustrated. Naturally, there’s no right or wrong way to meditate and even the most experienced meditators have those pesky thoughts that pop up and bounce around their heads.

Daily meditation practice is so important because it puts us in a state where we are, by default, accepting our thoughts compassionately even when we’re not sitting and physically in the meditative pose. Think about it: how often have you meditated and, directly afterward, felt all of the stress of life rush back in? Meditation helps us even when we aren’t doing it.

But when a long time has passed, we easily fall back into our old unconscious habits. So, instead of falling out of practice, you can always shorten your sits. Or you can meditate when doing something else like walking, riding the train or driving. Nobody said you only have to sit in the lotus position to meditate.

When we begin to meditate, we often go full force into it, wanting to do long sits multiple times a day. Any teacher will tell you that’s a great way to wear yourself out. So, even if you’ve meditated a lot, don’t be afraid to take baby steps back to your practice because even a few minutes a day can transform everything!

Giving Our Best Love

We have no obligation to love others, but we know the world is a happier and more harmonious place when we do. To extend love is a practice in vulnerability. It’s as though we loan something to someone else trusting that they’ll keep it safe. 

But sometimes our love is trampled on. Sometimes the compassion we have for others is misused and abused. This can make us bitter and resentful; in our damaged states we might easily swear off our loving kindness. The proverbial cave of isolation seems like a better option. 

Love is a two way thing but it doesn’t necessarily return from where it’s sent. 

When you show someone love, they have no duty to show it in return. But on a cosmic level, a karmic level, such love is well stored and the dividends are just waiting to fill your account. It will come back someday, from someone or something, in some form. 

So extend to the world your very best love, your total and pure love. For it will revisit you surely. 

Being Mindful In Chaotic Times

By most accounts, our political environment has sunk so it’s lowest level in recent memory. People are using their ideologies to pit themselves against each other and those of us who want love and peace feel that we’re steadily losing ground to the forces of chaos and wonder as well if we’ll ever get it back.

Firstly, we must accept that we are not in uncharted waters. Society has been subject to chaos throughout history. Periods of peace and happiness are often bookended by those of stress and contention.

Secondly, we have the ability to transcend this easily and surely. Mindfulness gives us the freedom to delve deep into this present moment and find liberation through simply being

People ask me “shouldn’t I be concerned about the political environment and shouldn’t we be proactive about working to make the world better?”

What we should do or want to do has nothing to do with mindfulness. The state of being mindful is something we engage with to help ourselves focus and be. Perhaps our being mindful actually helps us survive the political environment and be better advocates for a better and healthier world. 

Never forget that where you are and who you are is set in this place. We are either cognizant of it or not. We can find peace in being, despite all of the storms raging beyond us. In fact, these are the times mindfulness is designed for especially. 

An Affirmation

I am imperfect.

I was born with my limitations.

But in acknowledging this, there is a kind of perfection that blossoms. 

I deserve my own love and my own forgiveness.

I embrace the totality of who I am.

My breath and the beating of my heart are gifts more valuable than gold or diamonds.

I have been given this moment in which to dwell and abide peacefully, noticing everything and everyone around me as one entity.

I lay my head on my pillow when the sun is hidden, filled with gratitude for who I am and for my imperfections. I open my heart to the next moment when it comes so I may dwell peacefully within it and experience the sensation of my own timeless presence.