Clouds In My Coffee

IMG_0098It’s already December, the final month of 2013.  It’s been a wild ride:  completing the Martha Beck Life Coach Training Program and setting up my practice; creating the Wise Owl Book Club; traveling to San Diego, Pismo Beach, Lake Tahoe and Napa…  Well, let’s just say that I am very grateful for the shorter, cooler days (even here in the desert) and to turn my focus toward my home and loved ones.

Of course, there’s still plenty to keep me busy–holiday events and shopping, work to do, knitting projects to finish–but during this time of year I find myself a bit more comfortable taking a moment to sit by the fire, drink a cup of tea and enjoy the time I have with my family.  And that means that I can also do something incredibly valuable:  dream.

When I take the time to dream, I get in touch with myself.  I listen to the small still voice inside that reminds me what’s most important, and what I should be focusing on now, in this moment.  I relax.  I play.  I listen.  And I remember to pay attention to my nightly dreams as well, which often hold messages from my soul about the way to go.

I’ll be writing more soon about methods of dream analysis that I find particularly useful and enlightening but, in the meantime, let me just recommend this:  take the time to dream while you’re awake.  Look for those clouds in your coffee, and open your imagination to what you find there.  Not only is dreaming a good way to get in touch with a peaceful, joyful part of yourself, but it just may suggest possibilities you haven’t yet dared to imagine.

Turtle Steps

IMG_1059I always swore that I wouldn’t be one of those blog-creators who mysteriously disappear and then return a month or so later full of apologies and promises to be more consistent in the future…  But here I am.  Luckily, I believe in the philosophy of wabi sabi–that nothing is perfect, nothing is permanent and nothing is finished.  That most certainly includes this website.

But I have exciting news to share–this year, I am fulfilling a long-standing dream to become a Martha Beck trained life coach.  The program begins in 2 weeks, and is a 9 month, intensive training of Martha Beck’s life design methods.  As you may have noticed from reading these posts, I am a huge fan of Martha Beck and her work, and I recommend her writing very strongly.

One practice that she advocates is “turtle steps,” that is, taking goals and breaking them into small pieces until they are so simple you just can’t help but accomplish them.  Most people tend to set huge goals, particularly at this time of the year–to lose so many pounds, to begin a massive workout program or to achieve some other high and lofty goal.  These goals, while commendable, are also daunting.  They tend to scare us out of accomplishing anything.  It is far preferable to set a smaller, reachable goal, and then continue to build on it.

For the past several years, I have kept my New Year’s resolutions small and interesting, rather than large and frightening, and I am happy to say that I have had a lot of success with them.  Last year, for example, my goal was to scatter light.  I wasn’t sure what that meant, all I knew was that I had been reading and studying wonderful ideas, and I was ready to share them, in one form or another, with the world.  In March, I created this website; in July, I published my e-book; in September, the book came out in print.  None of that was a stated part of my goal, but it all came naturally and organically from the desire to simply scatter light.  If my goal had been “to publish a book,” I’m not sure I would have accomplished anything.

So this year, I am interested in deepening my meditation practice, but setting any kind of specific meditation goal feels too daunting.  Instead, I have determined to read A Year with Hafiz: Daily Contemplations by Daniel Ladinsky.  Hafiz was a Persian poet who wrote about the sacred–something that can slowly and surely encourage and deepen my own meditation practice.  Who knows where these turtle steps will lead, but I know I’ll be further down this path a year from now than I am today.  Of course, by the end of the year, I’ll also be a trained life coach, but that feels less like a resolution and more like the beginning of an adventure!

Wishing you your own turtle steps,

Jennifer

P.S.  If you’re interested in the science behind using turtle steps to achieve goals, check out Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live or The Four-Day Win: End Your Diet War and Achieve Thinner Peace, both by Martha Beck.

Awakening

These pages are, as Emily Dickinson once said, my “letters to the world.”  But although Emily felt that her letters were to a world that “never wrote to me,” I feel instead that the world is constantly writing to me, with every flower that blooms, every breeze that touches my face, every moonrise and sunset.  With so many letters written across each moment, I want only to write back.  To answer in some way the messages of Love that surround me.

Do I always see the world this way?  Of course not.  My true self, or buddha-nature (“buddha” means “awakened one”), is often sleeping and forgetful.  I am often caught up in fear or desire, asleep to the beauty and abundance that surround me.  But each day, I try to remember.  Each day, I strive to wake up, even if only for a moment.

There is an old saying about enlightenment.  Reaching enlightenment is like throwing a ball into the air, over and over again.  It goes up; it comes down.  But one day, when you toss the ball into the air, it stays there.  The secret is only this:  keep tossing.  Each moment you wake up is a moment transformed.

Wishing you wakefulness,

Jennifer

Music For A Windy Day

Recently I’ve discovered a new path to peace:  the musical creations of Dr. Jeffrey Thompson.  Dr. Thompson is a scientist and musician who experiments with sound and its effect upon the body–particularly the ways in which sound frequencies, built into musical soundtracks, can entrain brainwaves and trigger various health benefits.  By using certain frequencies, often combined with beautiful music and soothing sounds from nature, we can encourage our minds, and then our bodies, to enter into deeper states of peace and connection.  I have found that this music creates a lovely atmosphere when used as background music, but it is even more effective upon one’s mental, physical and emotional state when played through headphones and used during meditation or even sleep.

Here are a few of my favorites:


I hope you will enjoy this music as much as I do!  And if you’d like, please leave any comments or musical suggestions of your own below.

*These CDs (and many others by Dr. Thompson) are also available on iTunes.

Journey Into Stillness: Beginnings & Endings

It has been 40 days since the beginning of our journey into stillness.  Whether you sat beneath a bodhi tree, welcomed the dawn with a favorite mantra, or simply contemplated the idea of meditation, you are welcome here, at the place where one ending and a new beginning meet.

We are surrounded by endings and beginnings, some obvious, some not.  In a world that is constantly shifting, constantly changing, constantly evolving, it is important to mark the transitions, to notice when the gate swings open and we walk into a new life, a new day, or simply a new moment in time.

Breathe into the changes.  Find your sea legs; let yourself bend with the curves.  It is all a dance, and you were born to be a dancer.

Wherever you find yourself in your own journey to stillness, I hope it brings you joy and peace.  As for me, I will continue practicing the ways of stillness.  I will continue watching how one ending flows into a new beginning.  I will continue to fall deeper in love with the moments that hold me, and to share with you what I find along the way.

Namaste.

Journey Into Stillness: Meditation & Wabi Sabi

I have practiced meditation for years, for many reasons.  Most often because I am tired, or anxious, or because it seems like the right thing to do after yoga.  Most of the time, it feels good.  Afterwards, I am calmer, more centered, more balanced.  And besides, all the wisdom traditions of the world counsel us to practice meditation–they must be on to something.

But because I have devoted these 40 days to a more intense meditation practice, I have begun to ask myself:  why meditate?  Because it feels good and makes me kinder and calmer are all good answers, sufficient on their own, and yet because it is the focus of so many different religions and spiritual practices, I want more than that.

So this morning, as I meditated over a hot cup of coffee, I asked the wind:  why meditate?  And heard this answer:  Because it is an opportunity to stop and see, feel and hear a moment that will never come again.  Because it allows you to embrace the wabi sabi nature of the world and your life.

Meditation is not another project for your to-do list.  It is not something else you need to do or obtain to prove yourself spiritual.  Many people meditate to be calmer, more patient, more enlightened–and this may be the result–but the real reason to meditate is simply to allow what is to be.  To allow yourself to be.  To rest in the now.  Not so that you can check “enlightenment” off your list.  Not so that you can achieve some standard of perfection you have set for yourself.  But rather, so that you can learn to embrace imperfection.

Wabi Sabi teaches us that everything is imperfect, impermanent, unfinished.  We spend most of our time ignoring or denying that fact.  We either cling to what is before us–our relationships, our possessions, those things we think we want–or we push it all away, hold it at arm’s length, because we know it cannot last.  Meditation is an opportunity to practice a different way, a way that neither clings to what is nor denies it.

When we meditate (which is to say, when we are firmly rooted in the present moment), we allow ourselves to experience what is before us.  We really hear the birds sing; we feel the wind through our hair.  We taste the blackberry melting on our tongues; we allow the colors of the grass and flowers to flood our eyes.  No moment will ever come again in quite the same way, but when you allow a moment to fill your senses, when you experience it fully, it becomes a part of you.  You may not remember it later, but you don’t need to.  It is you, and you are it, forever.

This is why it is not important how you meditate.  How long, where, with what tools–those are all just guides to lead you into the here and now.  What matters is that you open, and open again, and again.

We forget, in the rush of our lives, to be present.  We fall back into our old habits of clinging and pushing, clinging and pushing.  With meditation, we practice being, accepting, allowing.  We train ourselves to see the world differently, to experience our lives differently.  We learn to delight in the changes, rather than fear them.  We learn to love what is, even as it moves and transforms.  And finally, we allow ourselves to merge with time and space, forever entwined, a dance without beginning or end.

Journey Into Stillness: Books On Meditation

“[M]editation is like any other intimate relationship:  it requires patience, commitment, and deep tolerance.  Just as our encounters with others can be baffling, scary, and even irritating, our encounters with the self have their own moods and flavors.  Like any other relationship, this one changes over time.  And it is best undertaken with love.”  -Sally Kempton

My 40 day journey into stillness begins today.  Have you decided to join me?  Are you still not sure?  There is no right answer and no right way to do this.  Start now or catch up later–the path will always be there, waiting for you to explore it.  Try it now or try it later, but know always that the journey is your own.

Whether you are committed to your practice or only mildly intrigued, you may be looking for more guidance about how to begin.  I gave you some of my ideas about meditation here; here are a few of my favorite books on meditation:

Meditation Made Easy, by Lorin Roche.  This is “come as you are” meditation.  It is an excellent introduction to the simplicity of meditation, and demonstrates how easy and enjoyable it can be.

Meditation Secrets for Women: Discovering Your Passion, Pleasure, and Inner Peace, by Camille Maurine and Lorin Roche.  Roche teamed up with his wife, Camille Maurine, to write a book specifically geared towards women.  Throughout history, most formal meditation practices have been practiced and taught by men, to men.  This book takes a unique approach to meditation from a feminine perspective.

Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn.  A landmark book on meditation.  Kabat-Zinn discussed different meditative practices in small, poetically written chapters.  This book is both clear and inspirational.

Meditation for the Love of It: Enjoying Your Own Deepest Experience, by Sally Kempton.  Sally Kempton is a frequent contributor to Yoga Journal.  When you are ready to dive deeper into the many facets of meditation, particularly those arising from yogic wisdom, this is a lovely place to go.

The finger that points at the moon is not the moon, Zen and Buddhist sages tell us.  To understand meditation and, more importantly, ourselves, we must not only think and study–we must also practice.  We must explore.  And we must be patient with the process, for meditation is a path different from that of our daily lives.  Going inward is foreign territory for most of us.  The roads are not always clear; our journeys are not always what we expect.

Although no one can take the journey for us, we can learn from those who have gone before.  May you find the teachers you need, but always remember that your best teacher lives within your own heart.

“Give up to grace.  The ocean takes care of each wave ‘til it gets to shore.  You need more help than you know.”  ~Rumi

Journey Into Stillness: An Introduction To Meditation

In anticipation of 40 days of meditation beginning on May 15th, here are a few guidelines for developing your own practice:

(1)  Follow your own inner rhythms.  Your meditation practice should be as unique as you are, as personal as your connection with the Divine.  Trust what calls to you.  Trust what feels right to you.  If you feel peaceful, expansive, open, then you’re doing it right, whether you’re sitting, lying down or dancing.

(2)  Allow change.  No two days are quite the same; no two meditations are quite the same.  Some days you may feel blissful, other days it will be a struggle to sit still.  Embrace the changes.  Experience it all.  If something doesn’t feel right, try something else.

(3)  Be open.  To where you are, who you are and all that is.  Give yourself to the moment you are in, including how you feel, the noises around you, even the so-called interruptions.  They are all part of the practice.  Don’t expect to silence your thoughts, just let them be.  When you find yourself dwelling on your thoughts (and you will), just let them float away and return to your practice, again and again.

(4)  Go slowly.  Meditation is a practice, not a race.  Take your time building a practice.  As you begin your 40-day practice, if you are new to meditation, commit only to spending at least 30 seconds in meditation.  That is enough.  Over time, 30 seconds may become 2 minutes, then 5 minutes, then 20.  There is no reward for more time spent, and it is far more important that you focus on connecting with yourself than it is that you check off how many minutes you spent each day.  Two minutes in true stillness are far more valuable to peace and happiness than an hour spent watching the clock and worrying over tasks waiting to be done.  Remember, the path of stillness is a journey, not a destination.

(5)  Explore.  There is a kaleidoscope of different meditation techniques available to you.  Try many; use whatever sounds the most appealing, the most delightful.  A few suggestions:

Focus on your breath as it flows in and out of your body.

Focus on the feel of your heartbeat–feel the pulse of your life.

Use a mantra.  This can be a sacred Sanskrit word, such as Om (the sound of the universe), Sat Nam (“truth is my name”) or So Hum (“That I am”).  It could also be an affirmation that inspires you, such as “Love,” “I am peaceful,” or “I am at ease with myself and others.”  Use one that resonates with you.  Experiment.

Use music or guided meditations, especially when you are beginning, to lead you into meditation.  I sometimes meditate to Aine Minogue’s Celtic Meditation Music; I also like Gabrielle Bernstein Meditations and Spirit Junkie Guided Meditations.  (Gabrielle Bernstein also has free meditations available on iTunes–they don’t have the beautiful music of her cds, but are still a lovely guide into stillness.)  The yoga teacher, Janet Stone, recently released a new iPhone App (Yoga with Janet Stone) which includes some beautiful, guided meditations in addition to yoga practices.  The iChakra App is another good resource if you’re interested in Kundalini mantra meditation.

Sometimes the path to stillness involves movement.  Try a walking meditation, or do an activity you love, such as knitting or baking, with gentleness and presence.  Or lie down if that feels best to you.  Don’t worry about falling asleep–if you do, it only means you needed that more than anything else.  And meditation is all about supporting the parts of you that need support and finding your own manner of peace.

(6)  Bring all of yourself into your meditation–your fears, your anxieties, your sadness.  This is your chance to be whole, to embrace everything you are, the beautiful, the brave, the fragile, the rebellious.  Your feelings will not hurt you.  Explore them.

(7)  Just listen.  Tune into what your body is whispering, to what your heart is telling you.  When you listen closely enough, you may find yourself awakened to Truth, able to translate the voice of Love.  Write it down.  Share your discoveries.

(8)  Watch for magic.  Time spent in meditation always finds its way back to you.  When you open to the magic of the moment, it grows around you.  You have more energy, more patience, more love to give.  You find the right action arising naturally; you flow with your life rather than against it.

If you have questions or suggestions of your own, I would love to hear them.  What ways have you found to cultivate peace?  When are you called to silence, and what have you found there?

However you choose to journey into stillness, may it bring you home to yourself.

Namaste.

A Journey Into Stillness

I went into the desert because I wanted to live, as Thoreau said, “deliberately.”  I wanted to hear with the ears of a poet, see with the eyes of an artist, feel with the heart of a lover.  I did not want to dream about such things; I especially did not want to worry or grieve over them.  Those roads had never led me anywhere before.

So tell me, I said to my heart, what is it that you desire?  What is it that you are trying to tell me, and that I am not hearing over the roar of my daily life?

I don’t usually speak in words, came the soft but surprisingly clear answer.

That’s all right, I answered.  I’ll learn to translate.

We learn to listen by opening to stillness.  By greeting the entirety of the moment before us, all of ourselves, all that surrounds us.  When you open to the fullness of the moment you are in, you touch eternity.  You feel, you know, that you are surrounded by Love.

Will you journey with me?

On May 15th, I am going to begin a 40 day journey into stillness.  40 days is considered a sacred number in many traditions–for example, it was after meditating under a bodhi tree for 40 days that the Buddha obtained enlightenment.  Although I meditate regularly–usually for at least 5 or 10 minutes a day–for these 40 days I am committing to a more devoted practice.

Later this week, I will write about the various forms of meditation I have practiced, resources that have guided me, and the ways I have discovered to form a practice that can connect you to yourself, to the Divine, to the presence of Love.  I hope that it will inspire you to join me on this journey.  Whether you take it in silence, or choose to share your path with others below, on Facebook or on Twitter, we will journey together.

Breathe in stillness.

Breathe out love.

Namaste.

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