Monthly Archives: April 2017

Things Are Looking Up

Imagining that things are getting better, that we are slowly, steadily progressing toward a more peaceful world can be inspiring. Looking to the barbaric practices of the past such as burning people at the stake, or state supported slavery, then comparing those practices to positive developments of the present, such as increased ability for global, instant communication, which facilitates awareness and resistance to terrorism and oppression creates a strong sense of progress.

Of course the opposite is also true. If we look at the modern day machinery of war, and compare it to the brutal, but small scale, hand to hand combat of the past, it may seem that things are getting worse. Whether you think things are getting better or worse, if we are progressing toward peace or self-destruction, depends a lot on where and how you look.

How you feel also influences where you look. Where you look influences how you feel. If you feel lousy, you will imagine a lousy future and find evidence to support that. If you feel good, you look at all the good in the world and find evidence to support that feeling. It also works the other way around where a good feeling is rendered lousy by learning bad news and a lousy mood is obliterated with happy news.

Without knowing the future or our future we don’t know if things are getting better or worse. If we pay attention to the present moment, we can see if we feel bad or good. We can see if we are thinking of ourselves or others. The problems of war and oppression fundamentally hinge on shared beliefs about self and other. If we are looking down, at our phones, computers, the road, we are more prone to think of ourselves. If we look up at the sky, the moon, the ceiling, a work of art, the birds, Juliette on the balcony, we may forget ourselves for the moment and engage with the world. Looking up opens your mind. It makes you receptive to the world. Whatever you may be thinking, looking up changes you awareness. Try it. Look up at the ceiling or the sky. Take in the world.

This Is Your Brain on Zen

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Exploring the Emotional Landscape

When explorers go exploring they carry a compass. That way they can always tell which way is North and can find their way back from wherever their travels take them. The work of exploring is to intentionally enter the unknown and see how it connects with the known. When we explore our emotional landscape, our breath is both our compass and our vehicle. We know happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and we feel these and other emotions with various levels of intensity and subtlety. All of these feelings create a vast world for us to get lost in and to explore.

The feeling of happiness we get when our favorite team wins is different from the happiness we get when we drink a glass of water to quench a nagging thirst. The anxiety we feel before speaking in public is different from the anxiety we feel at the dentist. A sadness that lingers is different from a sadness that passes quickly. The feeling we get as we intentionally explore an unknown place is different from the feeling we get when we suddenly realize we are lost. When it comes to our emotional landscape, we are all explorers. Sometimes we forget we are exploring and feel lost. That is why it is so helpful to remember we are explorers and learn to orient ourselves with our breath.

When we regularly check in with our breath, we can take known paths through unknown territories. We can set up camp and make a home away from home. We can learn to recognize our habitual emotions, see where we tend to travel, how we travel and how to get from one place to another. We can intentionally explore an area we unintentionally entered. We can take a moment to break our momentum and notice where we are.

As we practice recognizing our emotional landscape and intentionally engaging where we are, we can traverse the vast mountains, valleys, plains, and planes of experience. We may not always like where we are, but as we practice being there, we get somewhere else.

 

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Breathe Easy

The easiest things we do take no effort at all. Breathing is easy. Loving is easy. Caring is easy. Being aware is easy. These components that are the basis of a mindfulness practice are all things that we do effortlessly all the time. They are so easy for us that we can’t not do them. Practicing mindfulness can be easier than not practicing.

To practice mindfulness you use your natural abilities to breathe, feel, care, love and pay attention, to both create peaceful feelings and to work with whatever feelings you have. To create peaceful feelings you can regulate your breathing to breathe like you would if you were at peace. Then think thoughts that evoke good feelings, like thinking about love or gratitude. To work with more difficult feelings you regulate your breathing to gather your focus and be open and caring toward the pain that you feel.

When you are well and truly relaxed you feel a deep sense of peace. The world may be falling apart around you, but your body and mind are at rest, You can deal with your little part of the world. You have found the way to put down your stress. In that place, in that mind space, you have wisdom. There, you are free to feel love. You can care about yourself, your friends and family, and the world. You can heal from your bumps, bruises and ailments.

When we don’t make time to be at peace we forget how to do it. We imagine that peace is at a spa resort, after retirement, in summer vacation, somewhere half-way around the planet, in the distant future, or lost in the past. We imagine that peace is a particular set of circumstances rather than within our immediate grasp. We forget that peace can be created through controlling our breathing.

When we consciously, intentionally practice creating and experiencing peaceful, easy feelings we learn the way. The more often we visit, the easier it is to get there. Sometimes it is necessary to feel stressed, anxious, afraid, sad or frustrated. It is important to feel those emotions in their time. Yet, when their time passes, it is important to let them pass. There are many things you can do to try to relax and let your breath fall in step with a comfortable circumstance, or you can begin with your breath and find that peaceful feeling right where you are.

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