Mindfulness Matters

IMG_1983If you’ve read my posts about Thanksgiving before, you know my basic premise is that we should be thankful everyday, not just this day. In fact, we could be thankful in every moment we are alive. Each moment that we are not, we are missing an opportunity to open ourselves to the grace of being alive.

Much has been happening in the world lately. Many people in many places are losing their lives in acts of violence. The attacks in Paris have captured the developed world’s attention and motivated a huge outpouring of support, solidarity, and outrage.

Still, more events like these could occur and each day that they do not is an occasion to be grateful. Each moment that some mishap does not visit us is a victory against the vicissitudes of randomness, genes, and the laws of physics, not to mention the intentions of malicious others.

It can also be helpful to recognize the privilege we enjoy to be having a feast today. While indulging in turkey and traditional trimmings, it can be helpful to recognize how fortunate we are to have enough food to eat. Many people around the world go hungry on a daily basis.

How to best account for our privilege is an open question that I don’t pretend to have an answer to. One thing that I do know is that there is really no way to let ourselves off the hook. A bit of volunteer work or donating money won’t cut it. We cannot save the world nor can we do our part or not do our part. The wound of the world persists.

Our primary task is to keep our own house in order: to act with mindfulness in the world, to treat ourselves, others, and the environment of which we are a living component with compassion, kindness, and appreciation.

What we do beyond this is a matter of individual commitment, conscience, and the context of your life in this moment. We can never do enough yet everything we do contributes something.

Take a mindful breath today before taking a bite of that turkey. Be mindful of the turkey’s life that was taken for you to eat it. Be mindful of the opportunity to gather with friends and family. Be mindful of the peace you are enjoying. Be mindful of the absence of calamity (I am assuming that if you are reading this post that you are enjoying peace and the absence of calamity).

This is what I’ll be doing today and I wish everyone an abundant, heartfelt, and harmony today and everyday.



Photo Credit: Bill McChesney

Photo Credit: Bill McChesney

Earlier this season, just about the time when kids went back to school, I started noticing something. Roxy, a dog in my neighborhood would bark plaintively for almost an hour after the school bus picked up her young people to take them to school.

It just so happened this was my meditation hour and so I spent the time listening to her bark. It was a wonderful lesson on resistance to the reality of the present moment.

There were different levels of this resistance that presented themselves to my mind as I sat. The first was just plain aversion–I didn’t want that noise to be happening and “interfering” with my meditation. Of course, it wasn’t really interfering and I’ll address that later.

The next level was compassion. I felt bad for the puppy and felt her pang of longing as she pined for the kids who heretofore in the summer months had been her constant companion. I wanted to fix the situation but there wasn’t much I could do. She actually lives far away but the sound gets carried through the valley.

Each bark was an invitation to open or resist. I would often find myself coming back from a scree of resistance, catching myself pushing against it, not wanting it to be there, and then re-settling back into the landscape of now that, of course, included the barking sounds.

One overlay of thoughts was a preconceived notion of what meditation should look like. I not only didn’t want the barking to be there, I also wanted a peaceful, restful, calming meditation. Such desire misses the point of practice.

The purpose of practice is to open to things as they are in this moment, in this context. No matter what is happening without or within us we can have a beneficial meditation session.

After a few mornings of working with resistance, it was easier to be with the barking and the resistance mostly faded. After a few weeks, Roxy herself, perhaps, also stopped resisting and she no longer barked at the appointed hour.

We both adapted in our own way!


How to Live WellI wrote a prepublication endorsement for Toni Bernhard’s latest book: How to Live Well With Chronic Illness and Pain: 

As a psychotherapist treating chronic pain, I wish this book had been written years ago. This is an invaluable guide for anyone touched by these challenges.

This is Bernhard’s third book. In a sense she has already shown has to live well in her previous book, How to Wake Up: A Buddhist Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow. Her current book is more specifically focused on people who suffer with chronic illness and pain and is designed to help these people no longer suffer. It is not that this book can cure the conditions that give rise to the suffering but to transform the mental and social conditions that actually give rise to the suffering.

Her voice is clear, friendly, and deeply personal. We are guided by Toni’s experience as a person with an unexplained and debilitating chronic illness. I have my own chronic pain condition but it has not been debilitating. There are limits to what I can understand from a deep experiential perspective. Bernhard does understand and she brings this knowledge at a practical, field-tested level. This book is a treasure trove of advice, wisdom, and pragmatic information.

She takes on sensitive subjects that beset the person with chronic illness, especially those conditions that are invisible to an observer and that wax and wane. It is hard to run one’s life with that level of uncertainty. Of course, this uncertainty is at the core of human experience. Chronic conditions illuminate this essential truth and in this way they can give us an inside route to awakening. While your health may be compromised, you can be a whole person because who you are is not dependent upon conditions within our without you.

How To Live Well covers vast ground, from topics such as how to interface with medical providers, well-meaning but often ignorant friends and family, and dealing with symptoms.

She gently shows us how to take responsibility for ourselves and to empower self-care in response to others. Particular helpful issues are dealing with other’s expectations that you should be well. This is often well-meaning but wishful thinking. Others may offer opinions about how god is involved in the condition—either causing it or offering it as a challenge for you to undertake. Unless that happens to be your particular worldview, such comments are usually unwelcome, hurtful, and useless.

I particular enjoyed the section on loneliness and appreciate her journey from loneliness to solitude that was occasioned by the increased amount of time alone from her illness.

Because Toni is writing from her own experience, this book avoids giving pat answers that may fit most people or are only relevant to people without chronic illness. For example, she has a chapter on sleep and she juxtaposes the received wisdom of sleep hygiene with the reality of how she has to cope. For example, sometimes she takes naps; sometimes she isn’t able to get to bed or wake up at the same time.

Much of this book is like giving you a permission slip to be yourself and be more accepting of your condition. Acceptance can make all the difference between suffering and equanimity in the face of limitation, distress, and uncertainty.

I read How To Live Well dipping in first to sections that caught my attention and then jumped around to fill in the rest. The book lends itself to this sort of reading or you can start at the beginning and work your way through.

This book is written for the person with conditions of chronic pain and illness and will also be useful for the clinicians that treat these people. For clinicians, How to Live Well can help to inform, inspire, and instruct you on how to better serve your patients with chronic conditions.

Order your copy now. From Wisdom Publications and available wherever books are sold.


11986556_955052131220229_4776758610082173299_nMindfulness A to Z official release is here!

Here is an excerpt from “S is for Sangha”

The sangha is the community of people who follow the teachings of the Buddha, or more generically, anyone who engages in mindfulness meditation. When the sangha meets, we touch that invisible, underground sense of connectedness that gets obscured by the busyness and the stories of “me” that otherwise engulf us. Sangha is a commitment to practice and to supporting the practice of others. If you are a strong sitter and can practice on your own, consider sharing that strength with people who founder in solitude. If you struggle when you practice alone, seek out a community where others can support you. We are all in this together—all struggling to bring a modicum of awakening into life in all its imperfections.

Arnie Kozak, Mindfulness A to Z: 108 Insights for Awakening Now

Available right now from Wisdom Publications and wherever books are sold on September 22nd!

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