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. 

Small hearts can hold lots of gratitude

Mindful eating practice for families

Gratitude is the theme for November with Thanksgiving and Chanukah holidays coming up. Practicing gratitude is an extremely important skill because it brings joy and appreciation to our life through the power of the heart. It’s mental health and a daily attitude that helps us connect with that which brings us joy. Mindful eating is a perfect mindfulness activity for the month of November and one that can be practiced any time that food is available.

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a very small heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” 

– A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Appreciation through kindness

Gratitude is defined as “readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness” (Webster online dictionary). What’s important in this definition is the willingness to appreciate and to incorporate kindness. We may be appreciative of what we have, what we don’t have, how we feel, or how we are experiencing life and we relate to this with kindness. Being grateful helps us alleviate suffering by bringing our awareness to the positive instead of the negative. It is also a way to practice open-hearted kindness towards others and ourselves.

Daily gratitude practices can be a way to focus on the positive

During this global pandemic, mental health has been affected by stress, worry, and a general malaise that we are all experiencing. As a long-time meditation practitioner and teacher, gratitude practice is a staple in my daily routine. I keep a gratitude journal in which I write what I’m grateful for either at the start or end of the day. I find that practicing gratitude brings present-moment awareness and a way to wind down the mind.

Parenting is challenging so gratitude is a family activity that reaps benefits for everyone.

As a parent to a teenager, I try to model being grateful to remind my family of the benefits of this practice. We often ask each other what we are grateful for at the dinner table or before retiring for the night. We say a gratitude prayer before we eat, thanking all that had a part in the meal. My daughter and husband are getting better at training the mind to focus more on the positive aspects of the day. My family has learned about the power of attraction and when we think positive thoughts, we attract more gratitude and positivity and feelings of well-being. It doesn’t take a lot of time to practice this and can be as simple as pausing, taking three long deep breaths, reflecting on the present moment, and then choosing something or someone for which to be grateful. The practice does take repetition to become routine and it is well worth the effort.  That’s why it is called “a practice.”

Some aspects of life for which we can be grateful:

  • A place to live
  • Work that sustains
  • Food that nourishes the body
  • Feelings that bring awareness to the self
  • Pets who bring unconditional love
  • Family with whom we can communicate 
  • A mind that can choose what to think about
  • A heart that can be open to compassion and empathy
  • A body that is healthy and able to move freely
  • Open spaces in which to exercise
  • Talents we can share with others
  • The present moment in which reality is positive

This gratitude practice is inspired by Thank the Farmer from Mindful Games by Susan Kaiser Greenland and is a mindful eating practice that is perfect for the holiday season. 

Choose a person to “lead” the meditation practice. This person will read the instructions as well as participate. This is a slow practice so make sure to take your time.

  1. Start by picking one item of food. A raisin is commonly used. I have also used popcorn or a piece of cookie. It must be small as this is not a meal or even a snack. It is a mindfulness practice and using our 5 senses, we will explore the story of this food.
  2. With the food in your fingers, notice what it feels like. Smooth, rough, squishy, hard, etc.
  3. With your eyes, notice what it looks like. A cloud, a shape, a bumpy glob, etc.
  4. With your nose, notice what it smells like. Sweet, strong, weird, etc.
  5. With your ears and fingers, notice what it sounds like. Crackles, squeaky, etc.
  6. With your mind, consider where this food grew. A farm, a forest, a garden, etc.
  7. Consider who picked this food? A person, a machine, a family, etc.
  8. Ask yourself how it gets to the store? A truck, a car, a person brings it, etc.
  9. How did it get from the store to your home? Your parent, friend, sibling, etc.
  10. Now, we take a moment to feel gratitude for having this food to eat. Say, “thank you” to everyone who had a part in growing and bringing the food to your home. The farmer, the picker, the truck driver, etc.
  11. Now we put the food on our tongue and notice what it tastes like, before actually eating it. Don’t chew yet! Just let it sit there momentarily.
  12. Finally, we get to chew it… what does it taste like now, after all that mindful awareness? 
  13. Have you thought about your food this way before? Do you think it tastes differently now?

Thanks for trying out this practice. I’d love to hear what your family experienced. Email me at mindfulfrontiers@gmail.com.

Anne-Marie Emanuelli is the founder and Creative Director of Mindful Frontiers LLC, an education-based mindfulness meditation center in northern New Mexico offering classes, workshops, and coaching to children, families, and individuals of all ages and meditation experience. Anne-Marie’s credentials are from Mindful Schools and Sage Institute for Creativity and Consciousness as well as an 8-week MBSR course. She is a retired NM level 3 licensed classroom teacher and has taught mindfulness to students since 2016.

For more information on Mindful Frontiers and meditation, see our website at MindfulFrontiers.net.