Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Channel Me

It is a curious thing when we set the intention to meditate and then choose another course of action instead. A reason might be that we don't have time or have a deadline that we need to meet. But more often than not, our reasons amount to an avoidance of sitting and paying attention to . . "me."

It's a strange paradox that we spend so much time satisfying "me," and so little coming to really know "me."

It's like watching television. There are many channels--drama, sports, comedy, nature, history, food--that we can spend a great deal of time watching, effortlessly.

And there is one channel that gets very little attention. Channel ME.

It's often regarded as "the boring channel," or the channel that doesn't have a lot going on.

When you turn to it, it can appear empty for a bit or have random dots or snow.

And so we'd rather shift out attention to where the action is--on another channel.

But if we hang out on this channel for a while (which is challenging given how terrific the other programming seems to be), this dynamic begins to change.

More on this in the next post.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

My "I" Made Me Do it.

Today's blog post concludes discussion of the ways we draw upon the use of "I" and "Me" in daily discourse to strengthen our sense of self--and separateness. Previous blog posts are found here and here.

Having begun to notice our use of "I" and Me" and experiment with not using it at times, we now bring the "awareness" we are cultivating in our mindfulness practice into the conversation. . . literally.

When we practice mindfulness, whether while sitting, or engaged in daily interactions and situations, we notice the rumblings of the ego. We can feel urged to act in ways that we sense are not kind or helpful, but nonetheless have a satisfying quality, or soothe an irritated and agitated self.

At times, we will utter "I" or "Me" as part of the exchange. When you do, in your mind (or verbally if you feel comfortable doing so) replace "I" with "My I."

Doing so, "I need to get this done" becomes "My 'I' needs to get this done."
"I think you're acting irresponsible" becomes "My 'I' thinks you're acting irresponsible."
"I am so sad" becomes "My 'I' is so sad."
"I can't believe this is happening" becomes "My 'I' can't believe this is happening."

If you find that the use of "my" imparts its own egoic grab (though one step removed and offering a measure of perspective), you can reframe the way you hear the word "I" in the first place. Pause after saying "I" so that it stands apart. That subtle and simple shift can also change the experience.

I Me "Mines"

In an earlier post, we explored our use of "I" and "Me" in daily discourse and how things might be different were they not a part of our vocabulary.

While the two words can be helpful to communicate, they can prove counterproductive to intimacy and collaboration---daresay destructive--as we call upon them to assert and maintain our sense of control, our individuality, and an endless collection of needs.

In this regard, they are like little "mines" that we drop here and there to protect us from egoic tangles with others.

Whether we know it or not, each time we use them--not to provide helpful pointers in communication--but to delineate the boundaries of who we are, and who we are not--we lose a little bit of our "non-selves," the aspect of our presence that is loving, compassionate, and open to the mystery of the unknown.

The great Zen teacher, Dogen said: "To know the self is to forget the self" and a great many spiritual and contemplative traditions explore the value of coming to understand our true nature.

Pema Chödrön writes of Dogen's observation:

"We might think that knowing ourselves is a very ego-centered thing, but by beginning to look so clearly and so honestly at ourselves—at our emotions, at our thoughts, at who we really are—we begin to dissolve the walls that separate us from others."

Today, notice how "I" and "Me" serve as little land mines--seemingly innocuous--but that nonetheless, in subtle and not so subtle ways, separate you from those in your midst at home, work, and, ultimately yourself.

Every now and again, take an "I", "Me" holiday and notice what changes. Don't worry, it might just kill "you."

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Experiment with I/Me

How might we be different were the words "I and "Me" not a part of our language?

Consider conducting the following I/Me experiment (or, rather, experiment)

1. Pay attention to your usage of "I" and Me" in your conversation, self-talk, and in what you write. Rather than do anything differently, just notice. Perhaps take a breath when you realize the I/Me has entered the picture.

2. After you gain a larger sense of your use of "I" and "Me," see what it is like to limit your use of the words, whenever possible.

You may even find, from time to time, that the comment you were about to make was largely unnecessary and gratuitously offered in the first place.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Judge Not

Mindfulness practice invites us to pay attention to the thoughts, feelings, and body sensations arising inside us when we feel agitated and distressed (or, of that matter, elated and invincible). Doing so, we spend a little more time attending inward, and a little less looking to people and situations as the source of our distress--and the target of our plan to fix things.

With less energy directed toward the "other" as a source of our discomfort and means to feel better, we are less likely to "judge" others.

Mindfulness is often referred to as non-judgmental awareness--which most succinctly can be understood to mean that we free ourselves from the weight of being judgmental when we notice our judgments, and pay attention to the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that accompany them.

Through the lens of mindfulness, the wise proscription "Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged" takes on an added meaning. Not only is it a reminder not to judge others, it also speaks to the way the structure and function of our brains--and of our personality--may change as we develop greater mastery over our "judgmental" natures.

"Just not lest ye be judged" comes to mean in a very direct and personal way that as as we refrain from judging others--and become more naturally inclined in this direction--we will not feel judged by others.

Judging and being judged are interpretations. As we become less judgmental of others, we will be less likely to interpret the words and deeds of others as being judgmental. Even more, we will not feel the sting of "being judged."

Judge Not and Yee Will Not Feel Judged

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Your Own Personal Cato

In the world of "ME" everyone is a source of either pleasure or pain. Think of the people you like and want to spend time with and those you don't. There are also those with whom we have no regard, one way or the other, but that would likely change were you to begin spending time with them. Yet curiously, despite our primal instinct to move toward pleasure and away from pain, we do not always do so--especially in establishing and maintaining relationships. These relationships, often a seemingly endless source of pleasure and pain, offer a wonderful opportunity to practice mindfulness.

In the classic "Pink Panther" films, Peter Sellers played Inspector Clouesau who would keep his instincts razor sharp by employing Cato, who would jump out and attack him when he returned home each day. In many ways, those closest to us can resemble an emotional Cato. When we least expect it, they surprise us with some statement or action that disappoints, angers, and frustrates us. These moments offers us two paths--the path of conditioned reactivity and the path of mindful responsiveness. Which one we take is up to us--not them.

Importantly, Inspector Clouseau knew to be on guard. Often we forget. Notwithstanding that the tactics we are exposed to repeat themselves again and again, we can become lost in reactivity each time. But each time also presents yet another opportunity to practice mindfulness and to grow. It is never too late; the moment is always here.

Equally important is the recognition that our emotional Catos are not trying to actually hurt us. They are doing the best they can; often they too are suffering. But because we ourselves are caught in our own conditioned patterns, and because their actions can trigger our deepest stuff (which may be why we chose to be with them in the first place), the challenging moments can seem endless.

So, the next time someone you care deeply about does something that causes you to feel agitated, rather than playing out the same drama (familiar thought it may be), appreciate the opportunity that awaits, and bring a measure of mindfulness (your personal practice) into the moment--just a wee bit more than otherwise might arise.

Here is a link to a scene from the Pink Panther.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

It's All About Me

A common reason we meditate is to experience greater ease in life. Unwanted, undesirable, and unexpected events arise all the time, triggering reactivity that can lead to feelings of stress, disrupt focus, and compromise our well-being. A natural tendency is to look outward to fix the problem. And often we can bring about short term changes that temporarily soothe the discomfort brought about by the unpleasant event.

A powerful insight that the meditative practice enlivens in us as that it is our resistance to the event, not necessarily the event itself, that creates the lions share of the discomfort.

A reminder of the role we play in experiencing greater ease in life is that we can change our relationship to the events taking place in our life and that doing so changes its effect on us. The slogan to the Mindful .ME blog--that "Meditation Begins with Me"--is a reminder of this profound insight.

The Mindful .ME Blog offers insights and exercises that allow you cultivate a more mindful way of being in the world.