Have you ever been in a moment of deep concentration and then, as if the concentration part of you grew legs, you watch all of your focus walk right out of the room?.
Whether you're just beginning a meditation practice, or you've sustained a practice for a while now, the truth is that at time it can feel frustrating. With stimuli shot at us all the time gathering up a moment of quiet where we don't feel pulled in several different directions seems almost impossible.
I just received a text message. Did I send that email? Did I close the garage door? Is this cough something I should get checked out. My back itches. My foot went to sleep ... And on and on and on. Little thought trains can pull in just like that and then - bam! - it feels like you're 100% failing this whole meditation thing.
There's good news. The moment you noticed is significant. THAT'S THE MINDFUL MOMENT!
Believe it, or not, you're doing it. Mindfulness is the practice of becoming aware. Aware of yourself. Aware of your surrounding. Noticing when your mind has wandered is a mindful act. It is the act of noticing. Once you've noticed, you've already returned.
There's no such thing as meditating perfectly! It's not a game and no one wins. Meditation and mindfulness are simply tools in our wellness toolbelt. The more comfortable we are in using them, the more effective they will become. But, just like like being really handy with a screwdriver, it doesn't really matter how well you can use the tool. What matters is what you're building with it.
So, if you've noticed that your focus drifted away, give yourself a HUGE round of applause. You just did it. You noticed, and in less time than it takes to blink your eye, you're already back.
Have you ever struggled to focus and someone told you to just 'concentrate'?
Did it work? Of course not. When you're distracted every skills, except concentration, seems to heighten. When we try to force the sounds, smells, and sights around us to - poof! - magically disappear instead they seem to grow larger and more annoying than ever!
Focus is hard.
Understatement of the year? Sure. But why is it so hard? In my experience it is because I want to be somewhere else, doing something else, but distractions are constant reminders of where I am. I want so badly to be on the other side of a project or and email or a goal, but the distractions are constant reminders of two things: 1) I'm right here, even if I don't want to be and 2) I'm human.
Perhaps it is my dog when she is begging to go out and all I want to do is finish this blog post that I've been working on all morning. Or it's construction going on in the building next door to your yoga studio - savasana now sounds like a jackhammer.
Whatever it is, if you're safe and there's no cause for alarm, it can be an opportunity.
Distractions are reminders of where we are, in the present moment, really. I want to be done writing my blog post, but the reality is that I am sitting in my office, with my dog, and she has to go pee. That's the present reality right now. I can fight it (attempt to ignore her), or I can get up and let her out. The reality might be that you are in savasana and you are hearing a jackhammer. You want to be in la la land, but the reality is that you are still laying down, on a yoga mat, in a studio, and next door to the studio a build is under construction.
Distractions also aren't an enemy. They aren't the cause of our suffering. Our expectations for the present moment are the enemy, and resistance we have when our preferences and expectations are made to change is what causes our discomfort. Struggling hard to change your present moment, wish it away, or stamp your feet because it should better just adds another layer of suffering on top of an already uncomfortable situation.
When our alarm bells go off from a loud noise is it really worth the alarm? If so, then being in the present moment is much more important that focusing on a project for the future. The alarm is telling you to move, you're in danger! If you're not sure, then being in the present moment is much more valuable because you can get up, investigate, and make a decision whether or not your action is needed. If not, is fighting the distraction going to add or detract from your suffering?
Today, use your distractions as an opportunity to attune your focus. And become a wise warrior i the battle for concentration! This meditation can help.
"I am happy that you are happy." WOOF! Those words sound simple but sometimes can be a mouthful to say and even harder to swallow.
Feelings of inadequacy happen from time to time. Hey human, yes you, human. It's ok. Me too! Sometimes it pops up unexpectedly, but when faced with inadequacy your power can be zapped in an instant.
In JK Rowling's Harry Potter series, Professor Lupin introduces the class to a mysterious creature called a Boggart. It is an shape-shifting creature that has the ability to transfigure itself to resemble the fears of anyone who looks upon it - like a giant spider or a teacher delivering an 'F' grade. The Boggart is not fear itself. Instead it is like a funhouse mirror providing an overgrown message that makes the onlooker feel exposed.
Sure, that is fantasy book for children, but we all have Boggarts in our lives. Shapeless things that take form only when we see them and stop us in our tracks. Often the Boggart in our life is called Envy. The root of envy is fear. At one point in the human life perhaps this deep fear was actually a protection: preservation of stock when there was not enough to go around, guarded territory to ensure ground was not lost to an enemy, staying alert to alarm to prevent loss of life to a predator. Forms of these alarms still exist and often for very good reason. It is just to feel defensive in scenarios of true inequity. That is not the same thing as every day envy and, truly, it is less common.
More often in your daily life, alert bells go off for smaller offenses that make you just feel annoyed, prickly, defensive, and jealous! You may even know your reaction is disproportionate (which can be even more annoying!) but nevertheless the feeling is there. Rotten, stinky envy. You want what they have, or you don't understand why life served them such a sweet deal while you've been working hard with less to show for it.
No one knows that envy looks like until they see it. Consider a time when you weren't where you wanted to be with your fitness goals... or career goals... or even relationship goals, and then, bam! A fabulous gal unrolls her mat next to yours and pops up into handstand (or perhaps she sits down at the desk next to yours in a perfect hip-hugging pencil skirt or you get a perfumed invitation to a friend's perfect wedding and you are wayyyy single) - damn it - all that hard work, meditating, finding oneness, goes right out the window. Your brain starts to stir and spin and before you know it you're in full blown envy mode!
But, as always, Jo provides a solution to the students of Hogwarts. The spell 'Riddikulus' creates needed relief by reshaping the Boggart into something funny or tame. In the book the lesson is clear. A moment of vulnerability in the presence of the Boggart is witness enough to the fear underneath and from there the students' can start to deal with it. The same can be said for envy. When we're dealing with everyday envy is 'riddikulus' to assume that someone else's good fortune is a threat to your own and deep down we know it. Modern life is very rarely the zero-sum life and death scenarios that your primal side wants you to believe. The mere presence of jealousy provides information. In the presence of envy you are face-to-face with a fear. But, don't kill the messenger. Instead, use the information for your best use! Like the wizards you could try shouting, "Ridiculous!"
- Or -
you could try this meditation (in the recording at the top of this post) for cultivating empathetic joy.
Empathetic Joy is a tool that reveals envy for what it is, like the Boggart, a funhouse mirror, a funky version of what's going on inside that has nothing to do with the person or thing you encounter. Empathetic joy can also be seen as an agreement with yourself that another person's good fortune is not a threat. Another person's good fortune is not an indication of anything you lack, it is not an omen that you may never achieve your dreams simply because they have, and it is not receipt indicating that they received a larger slice of a limited pie. Empathetic joy is the first step in truly believing that there is enough to go around - including - enough for you. Empathetic joy is being truly happy for another even while holding space for yourself to feel what you feel on your journey.
When you are honest about your feelings of envy you can move closer towards joy for another person's experience and take the sting out of practicing with compassion your feelings of inadequacy, scarcity, and competition. You can be GRATEFUL for the Boggart's message and start to work with it. You can feel excited for everyone in your life AND excited for yourself as you are, where you are. You can be grateful for all you have in your life without comparison. You can experience extreme pleasure witnessing the success of those around you without making any negative assumptions about your own progress.
You can be powerful and compassionate.
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Bend Into Shape
For people who love dogs, yoga, good food and/or great parties ... that covers everyone right?