Category: Windows to Wisdom

Listen to the Silence

Listen to the Silence

Found on something-everything-nothing.tumblr.com
Found on something-everything-nothing.tumblr.com

Winter weather has descended on many of us in full force in recent weeks. My brother called from New Hampshire to assure me that while yes, he is buried in snow, he is surviving. That’s what they do in New England!  At that point, the total was 96 inches. Yikes! We’ve lived in the south for close to twenty years and while it’s not uncommon for us to be turning on the air conditioning when he’s pulling out his snow shovel, this year the heat has run pretty much non-stop. That was until our heat pump decided it was tired.  The silence was deafening and noticeable even before the temperature in the house began to plummet. If you have forced air heat, like we do, you know what I mean!

True silence is hard to come by these days. I don’t know about you, but when a background noise like our heat stops, my whole body heaves a sigh of relief. It’s a reminder to me of how much stress can be created by sound.  The sensation of our bodies relaxing is their way of saying, “Thank you. I really need the quiet.” Silence feeds us. External noise, especially extraneous sounds that are not particularly pleasing, is a stressor that can zap our energy.

There’s another kind of background noise, and that’s the running commentary that chips away at our self-confidence throughout the course of each day.  It’s often a very unconscious dialogue, but it’s there nonetheless. I’m talking about those thoughts and comments to ourselves  that are less than kind.  I’ll give you an example, though it may not be necessary. You walk into a coffee shop to get a cup of coffee on your way to work. There’s a line at the counter and you’re running late. Your inner conversation may be something like, “I should have gotten up earlier. I’m already late, I should just go. But, I really want coffee. I stayed up too late. I should have gone to bed earlier. God, I wish I wasn’t so old. I wish I had more energy. I wish I looked like that woman there looks. I bet she isn’t going to be late for work.” You know what I mean, right?

In order to turn off, or turn down, the noise in our lives, internal or external, we first have to become aware of it. Occasionally we receive a free reminder when circumstances occur like our heater breaking. At other times it is necessary to be pro-active, to take specific steps to create a quieter world.

I have begun to turn off my phone and simply check it periodically for missed calls. Not everyone is happy about that, but it’s the best way I know how to downgrade my stress level and to create the quiet I need. How can you create a quieter world for yourself?

“I’ve begun to realize that you can listen to silence and learn from it.

It has a quality and a dimension all its own.”

Chaim Potok

 

 

 

 

 

Developing A Mindfulness Practice

Developing A Mindfulness Practice

Spa-imageUntil recent years, our western culture has been driven by thought processes that are nearly the antithesis of the practice of mindfulness.  Our generation, in particular, was taught at a very early age to think ahead, to plan, to set goals, and to learn from our mistakes. We believe that what we are doing today should, in some way, serve our future. And yet, we are far from being secure and at peace in our “old age”. Instead,  we are a generation plagued by stress related illness and disease. The light, however, is beginning to dawn on many, that maybe there is another way. The age old practice of mindfulness meditation is gaining in popularity.

Serious research into the scientifically measurable benefits of meditation has only been undertaken in the last ten years.  “In 2000, there were 70 studies published in peer-reviewed journals using the terms mindfulness, yoga, or meditation; in 2011 there were 560,” said David Vago, an associate psychologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, as quoted in an article in the Boston Globe.  It is clear that there are benefits, but what remains to be learned is who benefits, how much of what type of meditation is required, and findings that can be used to tailor treatment. Although research is, at yet, inconclusive mindfulness and meditation are being used as part of therapeutic regimens to treat chronic pain, PTSD, stress, depression, addiction, high blood pressure, anxiety and other chronic illnesses.

201-x600-get-sited-meditationTAKE A STEP

If you have never practiced meditation or mindfulness, you’re in for a treat. First of all, it’s simple. Second, it’s easy. Third, it’s calming.  In other words, it’s easy to do and feels good.

Here are a few ways to begin:

1. Take a conscious breath. That’s it! Just breathe, in and out, but do it consciously. Focus your attention on the process of breathing. Close your eyes if you can and feel the breath coming in through your nose and filling your lungs; follow it into your chest and back out again. You can do this anywhere, any time. Just do it. Once a day is enough to start. Work your way up to five times a day, spread throughout the day.

2. Begin to slow yourself down and tune in to what is going on in the present moment. When you’re eating, take a breath before you take your first bite. Focus on the sensations in your mouth as you chew and swallow.

3. Take five minutes a day to do nothing. Just sit, breathe and let your thoughts come and go as they wish. When you are comfortable with five minutes, increase it to ten, then fifteen.

4. When you walk into a room, notice your surroundings. If it is a place you have been before, look for something new that you have not seen before.

5. When you are walking, feel the muscles in your legs, the sensations in your arms, your back, your feet. Tune into your body.

6. When you are driving, turn off the radio, hang up the phone and listen to the sounds of your car as it drives down the road. Hear the tires whirring, the fan blowing, and the rattles or creaks, or the quiet. Open the window and feel the air on your face.

7. When your phone rings, take a deep breath and listen to it ring a second time before answering it.

 

 

Is Facebook the New Church?

Is Facebook the New Church?

I went to church regularly for the first seventeen years of my life. I grew up in a family of lifelong Episcopalians and I learned early on the value of falling asleep during a sermon. An inner quarrel grew, however, as I began to experience what I perceived as a disparity between what I believed spirituality to be and what I felt was being conveyed by the church.

It has been an on again, off again relationship, and after taking a serious stab at raising my children in the church and not being able to do so in a positive manner, it has been off.  I wandered off in a rather permanent sense, though every now and then I entertain the notion of going back.

When I ask myself what I miss about church and why I imagine that those who attend continue to attend, I come up with these three benefits of church attendance:

  • The social part, chatting with friends and acquaintances, sharing a bit of life together or a new recipe, catching up on the latest gossip. This is often the best part of regular church attendance. It provides an opportunity to socialize in an orderly fashion without excessive expectations or preparation.  One can escape in a flash if someone or something is particularly annoying with the comfort of knowing you won’t have to see the individual for another week, if then. “Sorry, got to run. I’m meeting Aunt Sally for lunch and she hates when I’m late. See you next week.”  Most people are best enjoyed in small doses.
  • Giving back. Being a part of a community that gives something back to the world feels good. Participating in church events or even just putting a few dollars in the plate on Sunday morning gives a person the feeling they’re contributing to the betterment of the world. We all need that. It’s all planned and orchestrated for us so it doesn’t cut into our very busy lives.
  • Food for thought. Inspiration. Something to help get us through the week. Nourishment for our soul, even if we’re not sure we have one. And even if we sleep through the sermon, chances are good that we’ll carry away a little golden nugget to spur us on in the daily challenges we all face.

Now, I ask you, doesn’t this sound exactly like Facebook? (And you can even get an app for that!)  I would love your feedback!

Think Time

Think Time

Today is one of those wonderful rainy days that invite rest and reflection. For the half-cup empty kind person like myself, such a day is a rare occurrence and one to be embraced. On occasion, a rainy day and I co-exist happily together, feeding on our similar contemplative, brooding natures and snuggling under the covers of introspection. But, not often enough.

It is also the kind of rainy day that called for a walk through the puddles, albeit a walk resulting from the endless prodding of a relentlessly pacing, determined dog whose urgings could not be ignored. I was grateful to him in the end.

You might enjoy a visit to 1950's Atomic Ranch House offering antique, vintage, retro items, photos, links and topics daily, where I found this photo. Click on the photo.

So I sweatshirt-ed and hooded and leashed my furry companion venturing out into the pouring spring rain with eager determination. It was not long before I felt invigorated by the cool moist air and my mind began to race uninhibited, sorting through the clutter that always finds a home on the desktop of my brain. My step quickened trying and keep up. Gradually we came into rhythm with one another, my brain and I, and it occurred to me that I don’t often give myself permission to let off the controls.  Usually I force myself to “focus” on one problem or another. This was something different and it felt good. Necessary. Liberating.

Last week I wrote about the benefits of “quiet time”. While quiet in a fashion, this was really “think time”, a time of disconnection from purposeful, guided brain activity, even self-imposed quiet time.

I can’t help but wonder how children, who usually suffer through an enforced “quiet time”, might react to the concept of “think time”. Might they be more cooperative and less resistant to stopping the usual activities when given something  to focus their attention on, even if it is their own thoughts? Wouldn’t this be preferable to the arduous task of shutting down their eager little minds and bodies entirely, a task inordinately difficult for most?  Might teachers instruct them in how to listen to their thoughts, thereby teaching them to listen to their own inner voice,  thereby instilling a beneficial life lesson as well as a restful break in activity?  Children might see it as a wonderful game of discovery, finding  it amusing and engaging and achieving the same results of quiet rest.

For us weary adults, a long walk in the rain, without electronic attachments, is a perfect way to create an opportunity for “think time”. We cannot always break away from the worry and planning and active thinking that our minds too often latch on to, but we can create space and time in our days for the possibility that our thoughts might enjoy an opportunity to find their own path. What might we discover? Today, I discovered a sense of my brain’s own ability to shuffle and sort and integrate without me, freeing up new space and energy for creativity without even trying.

“Symptoms of Inner Peace”

“Symptoms of Inner Peace”

photo by D Sander

Sometimes, particularly when life seems full of challenges, we become so focused on what we’ve yet to achieve both in our personal growth and  in our life accomplishments, that we forget to acknowledge or even take the time to consider what already has come to pass by effort or circumstance.

Last week I wrote about the importance of finding a few moments each day for Quiet. I have capitalized the word “Quiet” here because the kind of quiet I’m talking about, and that we are looking for, is more than just the lack of external sound, though that is important, it is a deeper quiet; the kind of quiet that we find when we learn to turn down the volume on our inner noise, on the loud cacophony of self-doubt, recriminations, banter and barter that too often produces a non-stop assault upon our sense of peace and security. What we are really searching for is inner peace.

But would we know what inner peace looks like if we encountered it? Might it already exist but we simply don’t recognize it? The next time you take a few moments to dwell in a “Quiet” place consider the following items. Do you already possess a bit of inner peace?

THE SYMPTOMS OF INNER PEACE

  • Tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than from fears based on past experience.
  • An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.Loss of interest in judging self.
  • Loss of interest in judging other people.
  • Loss of interest in conflict.Loss of interest in interpreting actions of others.
  • Loss of ability to worry.
  • Frequent, overwhelming episodes of appreciation.
  • Contented feelings of connectedness with others and nature.
  • Frequent attacks of smiling through the eyes of the heart.
  • Increasing susceptibility to love extended by others as well as the uncontrollable urge to extend it.
  • Increasing tendency to let things happen rather than to make them happen.

Saskia Davis copyright 1984

For more information on the author and the complete copy of “The Symptoms of Inner Peace” visit Symptoms of Inner Peace.com (A poster can be purchased on the website as well).

"Always Be Pure, Simple and Honest"

"Always Be Pure, Simple and Honest"

Telling Mom a story

I just opened up a bag of Yogi tea so I might have something hot to sip on this cool, fall afternoon.

I adore herbal tea, more for the medicinal value than the taste. When I sip a new odd mixture of steeped leaves for the first time, any slightly unpleasant taste makes me feel more certain that it must be good for whatever ails me.

As some of you probably know, Yogi tea has a little quote on the paper tag and the quote on mine said “Always be pure, simple and honest.” I paused to think about that. Sounded lovely… the perfect way to be…a wonderful state of mind, creating a great world to live in…but ah, being pure, simple and honest is probably the hardest thing a person can do.
We’ve told ourselves so many little lies  and half-truths over the years, many dictated by parents, siblings, spouses, friends, and experiences ~ it’s hard to find that tiny, pure kernel of innocence that once was us. Being pure, simple and honest is what children do best, very young children ~ the two-year old I saw at the park the other day comes to mind ~ expressive, open, honest and pure.

On the road to find outThe child within us is worth looking for, reconnecting with and getting to know again.  It is where we will find who we really are and who we were meant to be. Despite the fact that achieving such a state as an adult may be next to impossible, moving toward it is worth serious consideration.