2015 Aspirations – Tasting Mindfulness

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Tasting Mindfulness

 

For 2015, my aspiration is to continue building on the foundation of the previous year while being open to the winds of change.

It feels like roots are stretching into the ground and a trunk is growing, and I will nourish this solidity knowing storms come on their own timeline and often without warning.

In practical terms this means:

1. Continuing the Gathas & GTD practice

2. Continue investigating the link between decision making, rumination and depression.

3. To handle the unknown, I will practice more with “Positive Spin.” This entails asking myself, when facing a negative situation: “Given the facts I have, what’s the most empowering story I could tell?”

I also plan to memorize one of my favorite poems. It’s called “Tasting Mindfulness” and was written by Jon Kabat-Zinn:

Have you ever had the experience of stopping so completely,
of being in your body so completely,
of being in your life so completely,
that what you knew and what you didn’t know,
that what had been and what was yet to come,
and the way things are right now
no longer held even the slightest hint of anxiety or discord?

It would be a moment of complete presence,
beyond striving,
beyond mere acceptance,
beyond the desire to escape or fix anything or plunge ahead,
a moment of pure being,
no longer in time,
a moment of pure seeing, pure feeling,
a moment in which life simply is,
and that “is-ness” grabs you by all your senses,
all your memories, by your very genes,
by your loves,
and welcomes you home.

Reflection on 2014: Gathas & GTD Principles

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Gathas & GTD

For reflections on my first aspiration, faith, click here

My secondary aspiration for 2014 was to recite gathas (short meditation poems relating to everyday activities) as a concrete way to integrate mindfulness into my daily life. While my original intention was to practice with one gatha per week for the whole year, I quickly realized I would need more time to integrate each gatha into my daily life.

In response I decided to turn this aspiration into a two-year project, and every other week incorporate a chapter from Ready for Anything, David Allen’s book on essential principles for productivity. Conveniently that book has 52 chapters, so along with the 52 gathas I was able to trade off one per week and complete half of each by the end of this year. Continue reading Reflection on 2014: Gathas & GTD Principles

Reflection on 2014: Faith

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Faith

My primary aspiration for this year was to grow my faith. I define faith as the “confidence born from observing the fruits of practice.”

Faith does not mean everything works out the way we want it to. It simply means that we know two things with confidence: First, nothing has gone wrong. Second, by taking care of this moment completely we are taking care of every moment that unfolds from this one (i.e. the rest of our lives).

This confidence supports us in those moments when we are working with an edge or feeling overwhelmed by the sheer scale of a challenge. Trusting wholeheartedly in ourselves and in the potential for transformation can help facilitate seemingly miraculous shifts in well-being. Of course most of us need constant reminders in the form of friends, teachers and teachings that things are okay, but by gradually watering the seed of faith in ourselves, we can grow in our capacity to hold space for what arises.

How does one water the seed of faith?

By meeting what arises, being present with it, and seeing what happens.

At times, this can be difficult.

Earlier this year I was sharing an experience I had to a close friend about anxiety while shopping for winter boots. Purchasing clothing has been a historical source of suffering for me. I often go to great lengths to try and find the “best” item, and absent a clear best choice I can begin to ruminate and find myself in a decision paralysis, only furthering the intensity of my anxiety.

I was relaying the most recent episode of this decision paralysis to him, describing in detail how I felt myself slipping into the same old grooves of going back-and-forth while becoming physically unsettled and even more frustrated that I was back in this miserable spot I’ve been in so many times before. This anxiety surfaced an even more menacing emotion: doubt. I wondered aloud whether I was making any progress at all in my mindfulness practice, as it felt like I was back where I began with all the same suffering.

After listening with great patience he looked at me and asked “What if you could be in that store, facing all the same anxiety and worry and frustration that you’ve experienced so many times before…but be totally okay with it? What if you could shift from trying to stop the feelings from happening to recognizing they are there and trying not to get upset by that?”

I was floored.

His words served as a gentle yet vital reminder that the practice of mindfulness isn’t about “getting somewhere else” nor is it about trying to eliminate suffering. The practice is actually about a radical shift in my relationship to my suffering. By opening to my experience instead of wishing for it to be different I am paradoxically afforded new degrees of freedom. When I stop fighting how I’m feeling my mind is more capable of making wise choices, grounded in the reality of my present condition, about what to do next. That may be deciding to buy a particular pair of boots. Or, it may mean leaving the store and coming back another day. Either way, choosing out of awareness is always wiser than choosing out of fear.

By experiencing a more self-compassionate relationship to suffering I give myself the gift to be as I am. The well-being arising from such a response slowly waters the seed of confidence that the practice of mindfulness is worth cultivating. Over time, with diligent watering, the seed becomes a plant, which in turn grows into a garden.

I consider it my responsibility to cultivate this garden as a refuge for myself and for others to taste the wonders of life available in the present moment.

Brandon – True Garden of Faith

Click here for a reflection on my second aspiration, weekly gathas.

Effectiveness as a Teacher

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Cape Town

 

Your effectiveness as a teacher has a direct correlation with the depth of your own personal practice -Jeremy Hunter

Many years ago I was sitting on a mountain in South Africa. It was a warm summer day in Cape Town and I was soaking in the sun on a perch overlooking the magnificent Camps Bay. I was nearing the end of a consulting project in the region and had been mulling over my next steps of a while. I resolved that day I was going to decide what I wanted to do next with my life. No small resolution, but it was time.

I asked myself three questions: “What do I enjoy doing? What am I good at? What makes a difference in the world?” In response to all three questions one word emerged: “teaching”.  I received fulfillment from helping others learn, perceived I was pretty good at, and felt a quality teacher could make a tremendous difference. Plus, both my parents were teachers so I had some ancestral momentum.

Check. Continue reading Effectiveness as a Teacher

Pain in the neck

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OW Boston

One morning I awoke with pain in my neck.

I shrugged it off, reasoning that it was likely just a short-term kink.

The next morning I awoke with a similar pain.

Again, I engaged my habitual response to discomfort and thought little of it.

This pattern continued, but after a week there was worry that something was wrong, and the worry was strong enough to call me to action.

The first thing I did was Google “Neck Pain.” Continue reading Pain in the neck

Personal Sustainability – Mental, Spiritual & Themes

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Balancing Act

In this post I’m exploring the latter half of the four areas of personal sustainability, Mental and Spiritual, as well as sharing a few themes which apply to all.

Sustainability is defined as “conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources.” In this way I view sustainability as not just doing something as long as you can, but doing it in a way that promotes well-being (ecological balance) and prevents burnout (depletion of resources).

Mental (focus of energy)

When most people use the term burnout, I think they are referring to mental exhaustion. I don’t know anyone who intends to be burnt out by their work, but I know plenty of people who feel that they are. Here are some helpful ways I’ve found to address this: Continue reading Personal Sustainability – Mental, Spiritual & Themes

Sitting with Thay

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Sitting with Thay

Bell

Line forms, patiently waiting

Shuffling of feet, clinking of bowls, heaps of deliciousness

Stepping outside, inhaling freshness

Walk

The sun, it shines

Entering the hall, seeing a path, straight ahead: emptiness

I’ve arrived, I’m home

Sit

Breathing in, breathing out

Opening my eyes, directly in front, I see Thay

Posture straightens, thoughts abound

Breathe

Present moment, wonderful moment,

Following my breath, curiosity steadily rising, who are you?

Zen master, reading contemplations

Eat

Consuming energy, digesting freedom

Looking at Thay, I crave acknowledgment, who am I?

Be free, my friend

Stand

We turn, we bow

I stall awkwardly, hoping that perhaps, we might speak?

He passes, without words

Calm

Woman approaches, announces suffering

Asks for support, my heart opens, I am here

Deep listening, loving speech

Care

She bows, I smile

An insight manifests; Thay isn’t gone, he’s within me

No discrimination, no discrimination

Peace

Benefits of Mindfulness

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dessert in the desert

“If you come to mindfulness just expecting benefits, sooner or later you’re going to be confused.”
-Michael Carroll

If you Google “benefits of mindfulness” you will find hundreds of recent scientific studies. There is proof of mindfulness meditation’s effectiveness at strengthening attention in schoolchildren, creating more resilient business leaders, increasing brain density of the pre-frontal cortex, improving the functioning of the immune system, and plenty more. But most seasoned mindfulness teachers will tell you that while all those benefits may be true, they are side-products of the process and not to be focused on as the “goal.”

Three years ago I was speaking on the phone to Michael Carroll, the founder of an organization which focuses on sharing mindfulness to business audiences. We were talking about a new initiative I was involved with, and while I was extolling the numerous benefits of the program he stopped me and said, “If you come to mindfulness just expecting benefits, sooner or later you’re going to be confused.”

I was admittedly confused. Continue reading Benefits of Mindfulness

2014 Aspirations

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Wake Up OI

New Year, New Me. This year I have three primary aspirations:

1. Observe the fruits of practice

On October 15th, 2013 I was ordained into the Order of Interbeing, the core lay community of Thich Nhat Hanh, and given the practice name “True Garden of Faith.” No one is quite sure how names are chosen (except those who choose), but it is generally accepted that your name is an assignment, an indication of how you can grow in your practice of mindfulness, of understanding, of love.

Faith, as defined in The Art of Power, is confidence born from observing the fruits of practice.

Let’s break it down:

Observing: Shining light on what is occurring without judgment, without expectation. Steadily bringing attention back over and over and over to decipher what is truly there. Continue reading 2014 Aspirations

Reflections on 2013

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Bros on the rock

It’s that time of year again, to reflect back on the unfolding of the past and prepare for the blossoming which lies ahead.

In this post I’ll share an assortment of  insights from nurturing my four 2013 aspirations (integrity, names, humor and sustainability) throughout the year:

1. Integrity
Integration of thoughts & speech: I’ve always been a relatively communicative guy (this blog is prime evidence), but this year I took as a practice trying to share my thoughts and feelings verbally when they felt cloudy and muddled. I have the tendency to want to share with others only once I’ve already transformed suffering into a beautiful lotus, and not when I’m waddling around in the mud wondering where to go next. The reality is, much of my time is spent waddling. Continue reading Reflections on 2013

a brand new day is before me…