April 18, 2016

Mindfulness and Meditation: Try Me!

Musings on Mindfulness and Meditation 

I think a lot.  I analyze why I’m thinking what I’m thinking.  As one friend astutely offered, my thinking process is systemic.  Lucky me!

At times I convinced myself that constant thinking was powerful – a sign of high intellect, a defense mechanism should anyone question me or present an idea that warranted analysis. My thinking was a means for insight, the preferred way to innovate and produce, and the way to get ahead.  Other times, well, most of the time, this thinking was also depleting, restrictive, judgment laden, and suffocating.

Recognizing the burden of my thoughts, I considered meditation.  But I resisted what I understood to be traditional meditation.  Sit, clear the mind, let go of thoughts, release negative feelings, and "be" for a really long time and wait for an epiphany.  Sit for a long time?  Clear the mind?  Release feelings?  Way too hard.  I was bound to fail. 

Gratefully I’ve discovered incredible friends and books and experiences that have revealed for me an easier way.  And it has been transformative.   

Once I got over the resistance and started meditating I've found that I’m a lot easier on myself.  I’m a lot easier on other people.  I’m a lot more comfortable with feeling my feelings, whatever they are and whenever they are.  I’m a lot nicer and calmer as a wife.  I’m a lot nicer and calmer as a mother.  I’m hopeful I’m a better friend.  Sure, I make mistakes, and mistakes will continue to happen, whether I acknowledge them or not.  Mindfulness and meditation have helped free me in so many ways, I'm compelled to share.

Mirror Neurons
Have you heard about mirror neurons?  They are amazing. You know that time after you had a massage and you felt physically so good about yourself and about life, and then you came home and your husband and children were excited to see you, and everybody started feeling super duper?  Or that time when you were frustrated with your husband, but you pretended to suppress those feelings and have an objective conversation about him helping with the dishes, and then he got defensive and the conversation blew up?  Turns out we pick up on each other’s emotions, feelings and intentions.  Neurologically, we mirror each other.  It’s one of those scientific findings that shouldn’t be so surprising but is affirming nonetheless.  In The Whole Brain Child, Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson write: “At the most complex level, mirror neurons help us understand the nature of culture and how our shared behaviors bind us together, child to parent, friend to friend, and eventually spouse to spouse.” They go on to state: “Have you noticed that when you’re nervous or stressed out, your kids will often be that way too?  Scientists call this “emotional contagion.”  The internal states of others – from joy and playfulness to sadness and fear – directly affect our own state of mind.  We soak other people into our own inner world.” 

Takeaways: My brain state is powerful and it can affect others.  I am responsible for myself, and I get to choose how I feel and how I come into contact with others.   Why not choose an optimal state of mind when interacting with those I love?  Moreover, and sometimes even harder, if those I love come to me in a less than optimal state (angry, anxious, sad), I can see it for what it is, and (through mindfulness), I can make a commitment to find a calm and happy place for me, ideally helping to shift their less than optimal state……. simply by finding my inner peace. 

Finding Inner Peace
Okay, finding inner peace is not always easy but it is sometimes easy, and we can build from sometimes.  We live in a world with lots of stimuli and lots of less than optimal stuff coming at us from varied directions.  Mindfulness and meditation can help, and it doesn’t have to be what I initially understood it to be – long periods of stillness, release of all thoughts and feelings, and foreign mantras.  If you are cool with all of that, that’s truly fantastic.  Go for it!  For me, I’ve found peace and insight in minute increments, in paying attention to others and myself more intently, in being present when I walk and talk, and in acknowledging my feelings and thoughts and distractions.  I’m learning to press the pause button and make some decisions, in that pause space, about what I do with all that stimuli.  In Search Inside Yourself, by Google champ Chade-Meng Tan, he draws from emotional intelligence and mindfulness research (Daniel Goleman and Jon Kabat-Zinn), and shares some of the following about self-regulation: “Self-regulation isn’t about denying or repressing true feelings.  Feelings carry valuable information, so if you deny or repress them, you lose that information….self-regulation is not about never having certain emotions.  It is about becoming very skillful with them.”

Because I keep gabbing to my friends about my mindfulness and meditation, some have asked me how to do it.  Many of them carry the same notion I did initially -- that being at peace has to be intense, hard work, prescribed in some certain way.  It doesn’t.  It takes practice, but it doesn’t have to be hard.  I don’t believe there is a wrong way to be mindful or meditate if you are coming to it with good intention and an open heart.  What’s great about 2016 is that there are a lot of people and places playing with mindfulness and meditation.  It’s no longer relegated to an alternative crowd meeting atop a mountain.  Schools and corporations are adopting mindfulness practices too. 

You can follow the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute on Facebook or Linked In for resources, conferences, and tips.  Oprah and the Chopra Center offer a lot of guided meditation online. 

If you’re in this area of New Jersey, Mary Lea Crawley offers classes on mindfulness for teachers, parents, and children (See https://mindfulkidsnj.com/ ) and my friend Jennifer Church offers varied meditation opportunities too (See www.attunein.com ).  If you want to go deeper to learn even more about energy and the mind and begin to play with and transmute emotions and thoughts in ways that will empower you and support those around you, check out Suzy Meszoly at https://www.energyhealingschoolny.com/.

Hearing from you and building a community
I’m interested to hear how you might be practicing mindfulness and meditation, so please comment here, via Google +, or email me offline. 

I've seen mindfulness benefit our daughter, and I've seen it assist children with special needs stay more in the present moment than in the past, and I've seen it help many different kinds of kids worry less about the future.  Have you seen it positively impact your children?

For me, before I could get to a stronger place of practice, I needed help from others to address some of my personal hang-ups.  Janelle Hoyland http://www.janellehoyland.com/ and Jennifer Louziotis (Spiritual Happy Hour Radio on Facebook) were instrumental in this process, and I’m eternally grateful to them both. Don't hesitate to find your people on your quest for inner peace~