Awaken curiosity and creativity

Encouraging mindfulness during creative endeavors.

Welcoming mindfulness into artistic projects is a fun way to incorporate curiosity and creativity into our daily life. Many of us have seen the extreme concentration of children when they are fully engaged in an artistic project: drawing, coloring, finger painting, or writing a story. Their whole body is engaged. I remember my daughter would stick her tongue out when focused on a project and when I saw that I knew she was in her creative zone.

I am a life-long creative and always have an artistic project in the works. Knitting, crocheting, sewing, cooking, and writing fill my heart with a joyful calm. The mind is focused, the heart is connected and I know this is a special time. Recently, I began guiding monthly Meditative Creations classes. We use the power of mindfulness to enhance focus and curiosity. Whether it is coloring a mandala, free-drawing, knitting, or journaling, mindfulness awakens what is happening inside and out. Using mindfulness, we pay close attention and use the five senses as a way to invite curiosity.

In an article entitled Mindfulness and Creativity published in the Canadian Teacher Magazine, Peggy Bochun quotes Harvard neuroscientist, Dr. Daniel Siegel. “Mindfulness helps fine-tune brain connections and creates integration by developing new neural pathways.” When we incorporate mindfulness into creative activities, the brain can focus intently on what is being created and we are able to integrate “the whole of the body, both hemispheres of the brain, and memory” which develops new ways of engaging with the project. 

For example, when we are drawing, mindfulness helps bring full attention to the hand-eye activity. The mind is in the background as we focus intently on what the hands are doing. We notice the colors, the texture, the feeling of the instruments in the hand, and the sound of drawing on paper. When knitting or crocheting, we bring full attention to the movement of the needles or hook and the sensation of the yarn in the fingers and hands. The sense of smell can be used to notice the odor of colored markers or pencils as we draw or paint designs. The eyes are engaged as we pay attention to the colors of our creation as well as the rhythmic pattern of the activity. Periodically, we may stop, breathe, and notice our whole body in space playing a role in channeling creativity. 

The following is a group activity and each person has their own project to work on. The practice requires a leader who guides everyone through the five senses as well as inviting moments of silence.

Meditative Creations Practice

We begin by describing to each other what we are creating. Just a simple sharing of the project. “I’m drawing a picture. I’m coloring a mandala. I’m knitting a scarf, etc.”

We begin by noticing our body and our breath. Taking a few slow, deep breaths in the nose and out the mouth, we allow the body and the nervous system to calm down. This helps us to be ready to focus on our project.

The leader will then invite everyone to bring mindfulness through the five senses by asking the following phrases and encouraging participants to reply silently to themselves. This practice requires silence and individual attention. (If helpful, background acoustic music can be played).

What do you see? The eyes are needed to direct what you’re doing.

What do you feel with your fingers? The sense of touch is a central part of your project. Do you feel the pencil, marker, hook, needle, etc? Is the instrument hard, smooth, sharp, or dull?

What do you hear? Is the pencil or marker making a sound as it draws or colors on the paper? Do the needles make a clicking sound? What sound does your project make?

What do you smell? Is there a smell to the project or materials you’re using? Or is there a scent in the environment where we are all creating?

What do you taste? Sometimes smell and taste are closely related and if there is a smell to the project or environment, it may bring up a taste or remind us of a past activity.

When done, we put down our projects, close our eyes, take a few deep breaths, notice our body in space and then open the eyes and look closely at what we’ve created. The leader may choose to ask participants what they notice about their project or whether there are thoughts and realizations that have come up as a result of doing this meditative creation practice.

Published in the Taos News, October 13, 2022

Meditating Through Transitions:

Using equanimity and mindfulness during times of change.

Published September 15, 2022 in The Taos News

It is said that the one thing constant in life is change. Transitions are sometimes difficult and we grow in many ways as we experience times of change. Everything changes, from the seasons, our health, our thoughts, and our bodies, to our perspectives on life. The way we understood and thought of life as a child is not what we understand as adults. We continue to learn and evolve as humans based on what is going on right now and how we relate to each situation. 

Equanimity is a way to work with change that helps us accept transitions with grace and patience. Equanimity is defined as, “mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.” How do we bring mental calmness and composure to difficult situations? Life can be really challenging and many times it seems we will never make it through. Equanimity helps us bring ease and acceptance into stressful and unpleasant experiences so that we are at peace no matter what changes come into our life. 

In an article in Lion’s Roar entitled Finding a Better Balance, author Christiane Wolf writes about how equanimity can protect us from emotional overreaction and allow us to rest in a more balanced perspective. She explains a few things we can do to bring equanimity into how we relate to life.

  • Be willing and able to accept things as they are in each moment— whether they’re challenging, boring, exciting, disappointing, or even exactly what we want.
  • Equanimity should not be confused with indifference. Equanimity isn’t gritting your teeth or white-knuckling it. Rather, it’s caring deeply with acceptance and nonreactivity.
  • Equanimity and mindfulness are closely interwoven and mutually reinforcing. Through mindfulness, we can observe the flow of thoughts, feelings, and sensations in the body without having a knee-jerk reaction. 
  • Living life in a conscious way will make us more equanimous over time but we don’t have to leave that up to the worldly winds. We can practice it deliberately. Ultimately, our equanimity isn’t only good for us, but also for everyone we encounter.

The following practice is a group contemplation on change. We sit together in a circle and one person shares the reading while everyone else listens attentively. Then, we all answer the final questions and discuss together how we can bring equanimity to changes in our daily life.

Equanimity Contemplation and Meditation

Change surrounds us. It lies within us, too. The trees in the yard have changed. They’ve grown taller. Their leaves die and scatter on the ground in the fall. We don’t resemble our baby pictures much anymore, either. Like trees, we’ve grown up. As babies, we couldn’t walk. But we learned to run, ride bikes, go out alone to movies and parties. 

Some changes we don’t notice while they’re going on. The snow melts; the birds fly south; our hair grows a little every day. Other changes startle us. A best friend moves away. Perhaps a favorite grandparent dies. These changes we wish hadn’t happened, and we have to remember that change is as natural as breathing. We can’t keep it from happening, but we can trust that change never means to harm us. It’s a sign we’re growing up and becoming more resilient. 

What changes have you noticed today? 
Choose one change and explain how you can bring equanimity to it. 
(How can you be mindful of what happened and accept it without getting wound up in despair or over-reactivity?)
This contemplation was inspired by the book, Today’s Gift by the Hazelden Foundation. Article photo courtesy Melissa Askew for Unsplash.

Meditating with Mother Nature:

Showing gratitude for our relationship with the natural world.

Published August 11, 2022 in the Taos News.

Meditating in nature is a satisfying activity. Many enjoy sitting under a tree or by a stream, lying on our back in a meadow, or just sitting on a bench in the backyard. Communing with nature can be a rewarding experience, especially if we are showing gratitude and paying close attention to what is around us. In the book, Awake in the Wild, author Mark Coleman writes, “Nature has the power to transform and awaken us. For centuries, monks, mystics, and other individuals have lived, meditated, and sought refuge in the forests, deserts, and mountains.” 

Recently, I spent 4 days in a hermitage at Lama Foundation. This is something I’ve enjoyed since 2008. When I was teaching, a personal retreat helped me nurture inner strength before going back to the classroom. As a retired educator, I enjoy silent retreats as a way to feed a relationship with nature and all life forms. This fall, I’m looking forward to a 7-day group retreat at Vallecitos Mountain Retreat Center. I highly recommend retreats to parents and individuals; it’s a great way to draw inspiration from stillness, tranquility, and inner wisdom while close to nature.

Mark Coleman is a meditation teacher who incorporates Buddhist philosophy. I practiced with him in 2020 when an in-person retreat at Vallecitos was canceled due to Covid. It was transformed into an online at-home meditation retreat that was really lovely. Mark explained how meditating in nature has a long history. The Buddha spent much time in the forests of northern India and this is where it is said he reached enlightenment under a grove of Bodhi trees. Buddha then spent nearly 50 years teaching and meditating in nature and encouraged his students to meditate at the foot of trees. 

Thich Nhat Hanh was also a firm believer of meditating with nature. “When we look into our own bodily formation, we see Mother Earth inside us, and so the whole universe is inside us, too. Once we have this insight of interbeing, it is possible to have real communication, real communion, with the Earth;” from Love Letters to the Earth. The idea of “interbeing” is very important to Thay and his followers. Interbeing is the belief that we are one with nature, its beings, and all that is part of our planet. We breathe together, hold space together and depend on each other for survival. 

The following practice is intended for families to practice together in a natural setting. Find a quiet place outdoors – the backyard, a city park, next to a stream, or in a forest and enjoy this practice together. It is appropriate for all ages.

Meditating with Mother Nature

Once you’ve found your spot in nature, gather everyone around and find a place to sit. If you have brought chairs, cushions, or blankets, they can make sitting on the ground more comfortable. Barefooted would also be nice.

– As you take your seat, notice what is going on in the body or mind. We can always be aware of something, whether it is thoughts or sensations. This is Mindful Awareness.

– Close your eyes and bring attention to the body. Sense your posture and what parts of the body are in contact with the earth. Sit with as much ease as possible so that relaxation can be present.

– Breathe normally and feel the full movement of your breathing as it moves through the body. As you breathe, feel the air coming in and going out, and imagine that you are breathing with all life forms around you. The plants breathe, animals breathe, insects breathe, etc…Do this for a few minutes together, allowing everyone to enjoy their own breathing sensations as well as the appreciation that there’s a community breathing together.

– Now, bring your awareness to the natural environment around you. What do you hear? What do you feel? Are there sensations in relation to the areas that are in touch with the earth? Tickling of grass, Crumbling of earth, Solidity of rocks …?

– Open your eyes and look around you. What do you see? Trees swaying in the wind. A bird on a branch, an ant on the ground; pay attention carefully and with a curious heart. 

– Allow everyone time to silently engage with their surroundings so that there is an awareness of the relationship we have with all kinds of life forms – the plants, the insects, the trees, the birds, and even the hidden animals. Feel into the fact that we are all part of this living, breathing ecosystem. Even if the family can only sense this for a short time, it is worthwhile, and with practice, the time can to extended. ( Worthy goal is to sit in nature for at least 30 minutes.)

Anne-Marie Emanuelli is the founder and Creative Director at Mindful Frontiers LLC, an education-based mindfulness meditation center offering workshops, classes, and coaching for children, families, individuals, and classrooms. For more information please visit the website at MindfulFrontiers.net. 

Labyrinth Walking and Meditation:

Combining movement and awareness into a deeply inspiring practice.

Labyrinths are perhaps one of the oldest, and certainly one of the most mysterious symbols known to mankind.  This unique symbol is a geometric shape that does not occur naturally and yet feels very much at home in the landscape. According to Rev. Lauren Artress, founder of Veriditas, where I received training in labyrinth facilitation, “a labyrinth is a spiritual tool that has many applications in various settings. It reduces stress, quiets the mind, and opens the heart. It is a walking meditation, a path of prayer, and a blueprint where psyche meets Spirit.” Labyrinths have been part of indigenous cultures for thousands of years and Native American cultures have depictions on their artwork, pottery and petroglyphs. The Man in the Maze symbol is actually a labyrinth, not a maze. Unlike a maze, the labyrinth has one circuitous path in and out where there are no secret passages, no trickery and no goal. Each person walks the labyrinth at their own pace and in their own time with no expectations. 

Labyrinth walking is a moving meditation that can be healing, inspirational or simply calming. Walking meditation, which Thich Nhat Hanh describes as “a profound and pleasurable way to deepen our connection with our body and the earth,” is a meditation practice wherein “we breathe, take a mindful step, and come back to our true home”. Labyrinth walking uses mindfulness to engage the body and mind in present-moment awareness as we journey.

Casa Oasis 7-circuit left-handed classical labyrinth in Arroyo Hondo, NM, USA.
Labyrinth Walking for Families
• A labyrinth can be walked with feet or fingers. The following practice can be used for either of these journeys.  Finger labyrinths can be found on the web in a wide range of designs and complexity. My experience with children is that they love the labyrinth so have fun with your family labyrinth meditation.

• Pick a labyrinth (printed or in-person) that works for the age range of your family. Each person will follow their own journey through the labyrinth. Begin by explaining what a labyrinth is (the article above is a good place to start).

• Explain that everyone will be following the labyrinth path at their own pace. Children like to see who will get to the center first so be sure everyone understands that this is not a race. 

• If you are journeying a labyrinth in person, encourage children to walk or skip instead of run so that they may be more aware of where they place their feet. 

• The same thing goes for finger walking. Explain that the point of walking a labyrinth is to go slow and to be mindful. A fun option is to use a finger of the non-dominant hand when finger-walking.

• Before embarking on the labyrinth walk, take a few deep breaths together to release any pent-up energy and emotions. (Children can wiggle their jitters away). A short meditation is also helpful to set the tone.

• The entire labyrinth journey is done as quietly as possible. No talking, laughing, or loud noises so that each person can have their own journey in peace and without distraction. Background music may help with creating a relaxing ambiance.

• As you journey, notice the path, and when walking with feet, pay close attention to the plants, the rocks, or whatever is in or around the labyrinth. Stop at the curves and look up at the sky or the landscape and breath in nature and the environment.

• Whether you are walking with fingers or feet when the center is reached, it’s nice to stop for a couple of moments, take a few slow breaths and reflect on anything that has come to mind and look back over the path taken so far. When everyone has completed their walk, I recommend holding hands and taking some deep breaths together. If comfortable, participants can share their labyrinth journey with each other. If time allows, the family can do some coloring or journal writing.

Anne-Marie Emanuelli is the founder and Creative Director at Mindful Frontiers LLC, an education-based mindfulness meditation center offering workshops, classes and coaching for children, families, classrooms and individuals. For more information please visit our Linktree page.

Article originally published in The Taos News, July 14, 2022, as the Families Meditate Together monthly column.

For more information, follow these links about labyrinths, Veriditas and labyrinth journeys hosted by Mindful Frontiers LLC.

Mindfulness and Social-Emotional Learning:

Working with emotions, the mind, and the body.

Many parents and educators have heard of SEL or Social-Emotional Learning. In many schools, SEL has been incorporated into classrooms through activities that help students understand themselves and others. According to CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) “SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.” There are five “core competencies” that CASEL has identified to be important in nurturing social-emotional health: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. 

Group mindfulness and SEL circle practice are below.

Mindfulness, according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, is “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally.” Mindfulness helps us recognize and accept present-moment thoughts and emotions and can also help people handle stresses in life. Through mindfulness, we become more empathetic and compassionate. 

SEL and Mindfulness work well together to nurture healthy relationships. The areas in which mindfulness contributes directly to SEL are self-awareness, self-management, and social awareness. By cultivating an awareness of what is going on in the body and mind right now in the present moment and accepting this with gentleness and kindness, we understand and manage our emotions, thereby nurturing positive relationships and decision-making. The following family practice brings together self-awareness as well as acknowledging what others are experiencing.

A Circle of Mindful Awareness

Begin by sitting in a circle with our back to each other towards the center and the front of our body facing outward. The circle should be as small as is comfortable so that each person is either in physical contact with neighbors or at least close enough to sense their presence.

– Designate a leader who will guide the group, reading step-by-step directions.

– First, we bring our attention to the breath, counting three or four deep breaths to relax and settle the nervous system and mind. While we breathe collectively we are aware that others in the circle are breathing and we may be able to hear and feel that as well.

– With the energy and atmosphere settled, we imagine the breath as a river of energy flowing through the body, stopping now and again at different areas such as the head, neck, shoulders, abdomen, arms, legs, etc. (Leader can guide this body scan).

– Next, we will invite any emotions that are present for us, allowing the mind to join the experience. What is an emotion that is present for you right now?  Give this feeling a name by labeling it: sadness, excitement, happiness, tiredness, etc.

– Let’s now notice where in our body we feel the emotion we just recognized. This may be an area of tightness or warmth, coolness or tingling. With a quick body scan, where is the emotion the strongest in the body? 

– Now we will take turns saying our name, the emotion, and where we feel it in our body. For example, “I’m Neveah and I feel happiness in my heart”. Moving around the circle, each person acknowledges those who spoke before them, repeating their name, their emotion, and where they feel them.

– Lastly, the person shares their own name, emotion, and body area. We continue this circle activity until everyone has had a chance to repeat their neighbors’ information as far back as possible to the first person, ending with their own.
To finish, the first person who started the activity will try to recite all of the other names, emotions, and body parts. 

– I recommend the leader be sensitive to the age and awareness level of each family or group member. Some young children may find it challenging to remember everyone’s emotions and body parts. There should be kindness and acceptance as the person tries their best to remember before sharing their own information. The activity is not about who can remember the most; rather, it is an opportunity to build self and social awareness through mindfulness.

Published June 9, 2022 in The Taos News

Mindfulness Practice for Sleep: Encouraging restfulness for the whole family.

“Of all the things we do on a regular basis, sleeping is one of the most extraordinary and least appreciated.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn (founder of MBSR)

Sleep is extremely important for our mental and physical health and yet so many people have trouble falling or staying asleep. We can’t force ourselves to go to sleep; it’s a state that we have to let go into. Everyone is different and each of us needs a different amount of sleep to be at our best. “Contrary to popular opinion, older people don’t need less sleep than the average person. In fact, adults require about the same amount of sleep from their 20s into old age, although the number of hours per night varies from person to person”. (WebMD). 

Sleep plays a very important role in the development of young minds. Sleep directly affects our feelings of happiness, alertness and attention as well as cognitive performance, mood and memory. “Sleep also has important effects on growth, especially in early infancy.” (Sleep Foundation)

Mindfulness can help us enjoy deep and restorative sleep and the practice that encourages this is a “body scan”. In a body scan, we are guided to place our attention on the body, slowly and sequentially by noticing one area at a time. For children, this may be done with the aid of a visual, such as a butterfly that lands on the body and when it does that part of the body is allowed to relax. For adults, it may be just noticing each part of the body in turn, being curious of the sensations there and then breathing into the area. 

I like using a recorded yoga Nidra or an MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) body scan. Mindful Frontiers has some on our Youtube channel as well as on our Insight Timer page. The following practice is one that can be done as a family at the end of the day or when a parent is helping a child fall asleep. When done together, a member of the family such as an adult or older sibling may read the script. Then, I suggest recording and reusing it so that everyone can relax together. If all members of the family fall asleep, that’s even better! 

Body Scan Meditation for Restful Sleep

  1. Begin the meditation by noticing the sensations at the top of your head. Simply note what you feel. There may be itchiness, warmth or tension.
  2. Focus your attention on your skull as it makes contact with the bed or the pillow. Allow curiosity in the sensations present and breathe into them.
  3. Scan your face area, forehead, eyes and nose. Notice tingling, temperature, tightness; let it all be there. 
  4. Now bring your attention to your upper body. Breathe gently, directing the breath and focus first to your shoulders.
  5. Notice your left shoulder and then your right shoulder. Notice how they feel.
  6. Allow your awareness to move down your arms and all the way to your hands and fingers. Allow all of this area to soften and relax.
  7. Let your attention now go to your back. Imagine a zigzag movement across your back as you breathe into this area and notice what’s there.
  8. Notice your upper back, your mid-back and the sensations in your lower back. Allow any pain or tightness to ease with the breath.
  9. Now, notice your pelvic area and the places where your body has contact with the bed. Feel whatever sensations are present and welcome relaxation. 
  10. Bring this kind and curious attention to your legs, knees and calves. Notice whatever sensations are present: vibration, tingling, temperature, heaviness. 
  11. Lastly, bring your attention to your ankles, feet and toes. Breathe deeply and let relaxation reach these body extremities.

Now that you’ve scanned your body once, you can start again. This time, you might start at your feet and go back up through your body until you get to the top of your head. Feel free to scan your body up and down as many times as is helpful for you to fully relax.

(Adapted from mindful.org)

Published in The Taos News, May 12, 2022

Equanimity Practice to Cultivate Non-Reactivity and Freedom

This month I’d like to share with you the practice of Equanimity or Non-Reactivity.  In Buddhist psychology, there are the Four Divine Abodes. These are loving-kindness, compassion, joy and the most important, equanimity. During times of challenge, it is helpful to have a tool we can use to navigate the emotions we are experiencing from exposure to a conflict-filled and struggling world. This month’s practice focuses on non-reactivity so that we can view what is going on around us with care. Equanimity is an inner refuge that brings freedom and acceptance.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. 

In that space is our power to choose our response. 

In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” 

(Victor Frankl, author & Holocaust survivor)

In the words of Tara Brach, a Buddhist-trained meditation teacher who blends Western psychology and Eastern spiritual practices, “If we want to bring our intelligence, creativity and love into our relationships and world, we need to be able to access an inner refuge of presence.” The family practice I’m sharing with you explores how to bring equanimity (inner balance and non-reactive awareness) into our responses to what is going on around us. The practice uses the mantra, And This …, which allows space for the changing experiences of life to be acknowledged and move through us as we ground in the present moment.

When life gets busy and overwhelming, a powerful antidote is to pause, take a breath, notice what’s going on and then choose our next step. The freedom that comes from the pause is powerful. In the pause is the spaciousness of presence; it allows us to be aware and non-reactive. And when we’re able to rest and notice what is going on in the moment, we can find peace in our hearts. When we think with the heart, the mind will follow. 

Equanimity / Non-Judgment of the Present Moment practice using AND THIS…:

– Start by finding a comfortable place to sit in meditation as a family and choose a leader who will read the step-by-step practice that follows. If there are young children, I recommend bringing out some blank paper and coloring materials so they can participate in the AND THIS… activity using creativity. 

– Begin with a couple of deep breaths in through the nose and out the mouth. This relaxes the mind and body and engages the parasympathetic nervous system.

– Settling into the natural breath we notice the in and out rhythm and we also notice how the body is feeling. Is there tension, emotions, restlessness? Name what is felt and where it is felt in the body. Young children are encouraged to name what they feel in any way they wish.

– Next, we conjure up a difficult situation in the world: conflict in Ukraine, famine in Africa; whatever the family wishes to focus on. As we visualize the difficult situation, we see the suffering, the injustice and the pain in our mind’s eye. Each time we come back to noticing our breath and introduce the mantra, AND THIS _________.  We notice the feelings and allow them to be here, labeling them with a word: AND THIS sadness, AND THIS pain, AND THIS fear, AND THIS … For young children, we can have them draw what they are feeling about the situation. 

– Again and again, we bring ourselves back to the moment as it is with nonjudgment. No need to label it as not good, not bad, not even neutral, just life unfolding with us in it, just the here and now reality; and this, and this, and this. Young children may need to express what they are feeling with words and this is where the drawing comes in. Encourage them to put whatever they are feeling into their drawings.

– When ready, bring everyone’s attention back to the breath going in and out, allowing it to slow down, feeling your body settling back into the sitting posture. Open your eyes and gaze around the room, reintegrating the mind and body. Everyone can notice something in the room that has a bright color and shape and as we pay attention to it, we wake up from the meditation. 

– If there’s time, a family discussion can be invited to share the experience, the drawings and how the meditation went for everyone.

– Equanimity meditation can be done anytime something affects us emotionally. Take a few calming breaths, notice how the body feels, repeat the AND THIS … mantra as many times as desired, inserting a feeling word. When ready, we can move on with the day enjoying the freedom that comes from taking a pause.

Anne-Marie Emanuelli is founder and Creative Director at Mindful Frontiers LLC, an education-based mindfulness meditation center offering workshops, classes and coaching for children, families, classrooms and individuals. For more information please go visit the website MindfulFrontiers.net.

Published March 10, 2022 in The Taos News

Self-Compassion (Karuna) Meditation for Parents

February is the month of red hearts, roses and chocolate. Valentine’s Day encourages us to express our love to others with cards and gifts. This custom is said to have started in the 1500swith commercial cards appearing in the 1700s. 

Usually, in this column, I share meditation practices for the entire family to do together. This month I’d like to invite adults in the family to practice unconditional love for themselves. The practice of Karuna is one in which we generate compassion for ourselves. In the book “Self-Compassion for Parents: Nurture Your Child by Caring for Yourself,” Susan M. Pollak writes, “…have you ever had the wish that a wise and compassionate person would show up at your doorstep just when you needed it the most – when your toddler has a meltdown, when your daughter gets bullied in high school, when you disagree with your partner about parenting, or when you’re just plain overwhelmed?” The following meditation practice encourages us to take on the role of this wise and compassionate guide. Self-compassion, or Karuna, gives us permission to offer the comfort we would share with a friend or loved one to ourselves.

Kindness and Self-Compassion practice for parents:

  • Start by finding a quiet space where you will not be disturbed. Your bedroom, the bathroom, a closet or even the car works. If the sun is shining through the window, that’s an added bonus.
  • Sit in a comfortable position on the floor or on a cushion or chair. Close your eyes if that feels ok. Otherwise, just stare at a neutral spot in front of you.
  • Begin by noticing your breath going in and out of the body, either at the nostrils, the chest or the belly. Using curiosity, follow the flow of the breath from the very start of the inhale, all the way through to the exhale. You can experiment with pausing a couple of seconds at the end of the in-breath and at the end of the out-breath. (This is a form of box breathing). Slowing down the breath activates the parasympathetic nervous system and welcomes calm and tranquility.
  • Once you feel relaxed, notice any emotions or feelings. Is there tension in the neck? Do you have a headache? Is there residual anger or fear? Are you hungry? Thirsty? Tired? See if you can identify and label the feeling or emotion. Usually, when we slow down and get curious, something comes to the surface that needs our attention. 
  • Now, allowing that emotion and sensation to be as it is, start rocking the body in any direction that feels right. Just as you rock your baby to sleep, you are rocking your emotions to stillness. You may like to put one or both hands on your heart, calling in warmth and compassion.
  • Now, ask yourself these questions: “What do I need?” “What does my body need?” Pause and listen for a response. 
  • Take a few minutes to be open to whatever comes up, without judging or censoring your response. You may choose to write this down on paper or just sit with it for several more breaths.
  • With this information in mind, create a mantra for yourself for the rest of this meditation using the following phrases. May I be … May my body be … (fill in the blank for yourself)
    • (For example, May I feel loved. May my body relax. May I feel safe. May my body be at ease.)
  • Repeat your mantra while breathing slowly for as long as you can before ending your meditation with a smile and a sense of gratitude for taking time for yourself.

A quick version of this can be used when you find yourself caught up by emotions or reactions during the day. Stop, take a few slow breaths, ask yourself what you need and create a mantra to repeat. Try it anytime you need some self-compassion.

published in The Taos News, February 10, 2022

Welcoming a Mindful New Year: How to Bring Meditation into Your Family’s Routine.

It’s a new year according to the construct of our human-made 12-month calendar. However, it is not just a new wall or desk calendar. “A new year starts when Earth has made one orbit around the Sun. This takes roughly 365 days, so every new year on the last day of December, we are at the same location around the Sun as last year.” (Astronomicca.com) 

As we get ready to start a new year, many people will resolve to make changes in their life. Most New Year’s resolutions start with honest determination and end within a few weeks or months with lassitude. In this month’s column, I’d like to explain how to bring mindfulness and meditation into your family’s daily routine and make it stick. It isn’t difficult and like any change, it takes willingness, vulnerability, and practice. Meditation is called a “practice” for good reason: it takes repetition, just like an exercise routine, to make it part of our schedule. So how can a family bring mindfulness meditation into an already-busy schedule? It’s as simple as one breath, one present moment at a time, and practice.

The reasons for bringing mindfulness meditation (also called vipassana meditation) into your family’s life are well researched and proven. 

  • Families learn how present-moment mindfulness awareness can bring relaxation and social-emotional wellbeing into their home.
  • Children learn that they aren’t judged by their thoughts, sensations, and feelings.
  • Mindfulness is a way to feel good about yourself, just as we are in this moment, and it settles the nervous system in the process.
  • Parents model what it looks like to be confident yet relaxed; to be happy and at ease, while accepting that life is never perfect.
  • Families build strong bonds through a shared activity; the time spent together is an investment in compassionate relationship-building.

Five ways to bring mindfulness into your family’s daily routine:

  • When the family is gathered at the dinner table, mindfulness can be incorporated in the first few minutes before eating. Whether you say a prayer or express gratitude for the food being shared, mindfulness can be as simple as a couple of minutes of noticing the body, the food, the colors, and acknowledging all that came together for the food to be available at this moment. In my family, we say a prayer and when it’s my turn, I start by having everyone feel their feet on the floor, head reaching the sky, sitting area on the chair, and what is felt at the heart center. Then, we thank all life forms for the food on the table and all those who had a part in bringing the meal to the table.
  • When the family is driving to and from school or another activity, we can notice sounds, sights, feelings internally and externally in our environment. Electronic devices are put down for a short period of present-moment mindfulness. 
  • When picking up children from school, parents generally ask, “How was school today?” Often, the answer is a basic, “Fine”. We can encourage more discussion by asking the question, “What is something that happened today that felt good, brought joy, made you laugh?” Then, we can ask, “How did that feel in your body?” It may be harder for younger children to tap into this and they will learn how with practice.
  • During an active time of the day, we can do some mindful movement. Dancing, yoga, walking, and just jumping around can be an opportunity for mindfulness. Encouraging children to notice what their body is doing, how it feels in the different limbs to move, what sounds are generated by the activity, and if this is happening outside, noticing nature is a great mindful activity.
  • Before settling in for the night, the parent can lead a body scan to bring mindful relaxation to the bedtime routine. Bringing attention to each part of the body, starting from the feet or the head is very relaxing. Imagining a butterfly landing on each part of the body can add visualization to the body scan.

I suggest experimenting with one of these for one week at a time and then discussing with your children which ones they enjoy. Then, rotate between these mindfulness activities from time to time to keep the experience fresh. Children (and parents) like having a predictable routine and yet can get bored with the same thing after a while. Although meditation is about practice, our minds need variety, too.

published January 13, 2022 in The Taos News

Wintering

I was on a bike ride today, listening to an On Being podcast, KATHERINE MAY – HOW ‘WINTERING’ REPLENISHES, referring to her recent book entitled, “The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times” (Link below), and I felt inspired to share my thoughts on the idea of “wintering”.

First, a summary of the interview: “In so many stories and fables that shape us, cold and snow, the closing in of the light — these have deep psychological as much as physical reality. This is ‘wintering,’ as the English writer Katherine May illuminates in her beautiful, meditative book of that title — at once a season of the natural world, a respite our bodies require, and a state of mind.”

My thoughts to share: I have a hard time letting go of the green seasons (Spring and Summer). Although I appreciate the beauty of Autumn and cherish the spectacular changing of the season with the bright and sunny leaves, and “Indian summer” warmth that signals the transformation, I grieve. It takes me several weeks to settle into the change as I experience the hibernation of plants, the drying of flowers, and the shedding of leaves. By mid-November, when the brown season has settled in, I’m better, looking forward to snow and wearing cozy sweaters. Still, in my heart, I acknowledge a deep love of the green seasons.

The podcast interview with Katherine May helped me understand going inward, being contemplative, and slowing down during the wintering time of year. And right now in December, we are in a “quiet season” when we let Mother Earth rest. So I’ll rest with her until the Winter Solstice signals a promise of light returning. The days will get one minute longer each day as we cross the bridge of mid-winter. It will still be cold, brown, quiet, and introspective for a few months, and my heart will be sensing that the green seasons are not too far away.

Our life is one of cycles (seasons, rituals, celebrations), writes Katherine May, and we can allow ourselves to be part of the cycles without judgment. Staying present in each moment with equanimity is how we find solace and stability in the cycles of the seasons. In the words of the interview, “the framing of Wintering, of the understanding of the seasonal, cyclical, of the rhythmic nature of these things, gives you a frame actually to live with it.”

What are your thoughts on the change of seasons? Please share.

Katherine May — How ‘Wintering’ Replenishes | The On Being Project

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