Thursday, January 21, 2010

On Kindness

When I was decorating my bodywork room I made this strange deal with myself to buy everything I could off of Craigslist. It was great fun scanning through the items, locating the perfect thing and then making arrangements to check it out and if all went well, purchasing it. I met all sorts of people. The experience was great fun and very interesting. What struck me about the different people I met was that almost without exception, the older people took more time with the transaction, chatted on a personal level and seemed more interested in me as a person than the younger folks did. One young person, who was on her way to Europe and thus, had no need for the good looking toaster I was about to purchase, went on talking to her friends, completely ignoring me while I stood there waiting to see the appliance. (I didn't limit my Craigslist purchases to bodywork room items.) Contrast that with with a woman who was probably in her late 30's who sold me some flannel massage sheets and then invited me and a friend to sit on her porch in order to enjoy watching a bird's nest full of baby birds.

My experience during the Craiglist buying spree was that the older people acted in a more kindly manner than the younger ones I met. That is quite a generalization, I know, but it was what I experienced. When wondering about the why of this I came up with a theory. I think that there can be a certain kindness that we aquire with age due to an accumulation of experiences, especially heartbreaking ones. The older we are, the more loss we experience and the more we understand the vulnerability of the human experience. This allows us to connect more fully with other people around us.

Of course, suffering causes some people to close themselves off, to behave bitterly toward others, but that is a topic for another post.

During the meditation retreat that I attended recently, a poem was read that resonated with me. I ran across the poem today and am reprinting it here for you. As always, wishing you balance.


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 every where
like a shadow or a friend.
By Naomi Shihab Nye

Friday, January 15, 2010

Somatics: Living in Our Bodies

Have you ever gotten a glance of yourself in a mirror or photograph and were surprised at what you saw? Or perhaps you were not surprised to see your shoulders slouched forward or your chin jutting out or whatever your idiosyncratic postural habits might be.

We remind ourselves then to sit up straight, pull the shoulders back and resolve to be more mindful about posture. We will it to happen. Only it doesn't. Or at least, it doesn't happen for long. For as soon as we stop thinking about correcting our posture, we slide back into our familiar posture.

We cannot improve our alignment by putting on a "posture suit."

After all, these patterns we have established are our familiar experience- they make us feel at home in our body, even if they are uncomfortable, locked down or painful. For whatever reason, and for a multitude of reasons, we experience our bodies in the way that we do. Perhaps we are holding onto old patterns that once served a good purpose, but are no longer needed. For example, maybe we protected ourselves during adolescence from the hurtful remarks of others by sinking the chest and lowering the gaze. Or perhaps the stress of our present life is causing a chronic stress reaction. Our nervous system is stuck in a "flight" reaction and we are quite literally shrinking into ourselves. Or maybe we are stuck in a "fight" reaction, always ready to assert ourselves. Wouldn't it be better if our nervous system was free to react to given situations rather than be locked in our habits of posture and movement?

If we were able to say goodbye to these habits, living our our own skin would feel very different indeed.

The term somatics comes from the Greek word soma, meaning body, and refers to our experience of our body from the inside.

Simply put, somatics is how we live in our body.

Imagine that you wished to remodel your bathroom. You could move the bathtub and the toilet to new spots, but if you didn't re-do the plumbing your bathroom wouldn't be functional and you would have to put everything back in its old spot to use it. Forcing a change in posture is like moving the fixtures around in your bathroom. It doesn't change the inner structure of the bathroom, so the new arrangement cannot last. In order to make real changes, you have to re-wire and re-plumb.

And that is what somatic therapies and education do. Using movement, breath, imagery and touch, the soma experiences new possibilities- the nervous system is retrained. The body learns healthier and easier ways of being.

Change happens at a deep level and our way of experiencing ourselves, the way that we live in our bodies, cannot help but change.

Wishing you balance,


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Mindful Computing

Lately I have considered committing social networking suicide. With two blogs, a website, 6 e-mail accounts, 2 Facebook pages and a Twitter account, I have lots of opportunities to tune into and contribute to a near constant stream of information and chatter. The internet is such a gift- with its information at the ready and opportunities to connect with people who otherwise might have been long lost or undiscovered. The internet gives us a chance to share ideas with and to be inspired by people all over the globe. It is fertile soil for creativity, collaboration and conversation.

It is also a great big time suck. The internet can be so seductive; it is so easy to get swept up in the quest for instant gratification, compulsively checking our inbox for proof positive that we are loved. I say we, but I mean me. My relationship with the computer could be described as an addiction, with far more time than I would like to admit spent tweeting, blogging, commenting, reading, browsing, checking stats and updating.

So, as you can imagine, one of the things that appealed to me about attending a week long meditation retreat was the fact that I would have no access to a computer. I knew that going cold turkey would help me break some unhealthy habits and replace them with healthier ones. Here is what I have done since I got home-

1. I cleaned up my desktop and began the work of organizing and discarding files.

2. I re-did my computer home page- I simplified it and changed the theme to one that was more peaceful.

3. I installed a mindfulness bell that is set to go off every 15 minutes with a lovely chime that serves to help me track the time and reminds me to pause to relax and take a breath or two as I work.

4. I am writing my first drafts on paper- the old fashioned way.

5. I taking more time with communiques, rather than giving in to a false sense of urgency, giving myself time to think and chose my words.

So far, so good. I am spending far less time on the computer these days which is opening up much needed time for other endeavors and I haven't had to kill off my virtual identity to achieve a more balanced approach to computing. I thought it might be useful to pass along these ideas and to see if anyone else has any more thoughts on mindful computing to share.

Wishing you balance,


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Breathing for Stress Reduction

hat follows is a reprint of an article provided by the Massage Garden that I think is useful. As I sit here, snow falling outside, threats of a blizzard and hazardous driving conditions, my son out there somewhere with no cell phone and my not knowing how to reach him; I need a reminder to breathe. Incorporating an awareness of the breath into our everyday can be an important part of reducing stress and engaging with the present moment. As always, I wish you balance.

Proper Breathing For Stress Reduction

Oxygen is the first and most basic necessity of life.

Stress is the first and most basic causative factor of muscle tension and pain.

Optimal breathing brings oxygen into your muscles and helps release stress and tension from your body. The result is heightened energy and awareness while reducing the discomforts brought on by improper breathing.

Stress is mirrored in your breath. When you are enduring stress, you tend to breath more shallo wly. The carbon dioxide level in the blood rises and the oxygen level decreases. You start breathing harder so you can rid yourself of carbon dioxide build up. This causes the diaphragm to tense and the abdominal muscles to constrict, preventing you from inhaling deeply and properly. This is called shallow breathing and starts the cycle all over. You are locked in a state of tension until you can begin breathing from your abdomen once more.

The first step in regaining optimal breath, and its benefits, is to become aware of your breathing patterns and to recognize when you are not breathing correctly. Every time you feel yourself become tense, proper breathing can be employed and your sense of well being will begin to improve. Use this breathing technique:

Lie on your back and place your hands on your stomach. Inhale slowly and deeply, letting your abdomen expand fully with air. You will feel the air rise under your hands. Allow the abdomen to fall as you exhale slowly, at the same time letting go of stress and tension. Repeat inhaling and exhaling slowly and deeply for a minimum of 2 minutes. Work up to 5 minutes at a time.

Practice this exercise every day, preferably in a quiet place when you can be alone. You should begin to feel calmer and more relaxed when you are done.