Do What You Love, Share Openly and Abundance Will Follow

Openly sharing my passion for mindfulness led to unexpected abundance and friendship.

Sometimes abundance comes from just doing what you love and being wholeheartedly open. This is the lesson I learned last year after an unexpected encounter led to a generous donation to my meditation center.

Living in northern New Mexico is an enchanting lifestyle that requires acceptance and patience. This culturally and economically diverse area of the country attracts all sorts of people for its natural beauty as well as historic and cultural richness. One of the many benefits of living in this sparsely-populated area is our closeness to nature and the outdoors which translates into many opportunities for exercise outside. During the pandemic, this has been especially welcomed as the concept of “staying at home” extended into nature. Daily walks, jogs, bike rides or swims provided much-needed physical activity. During the summer months, swimming in an outdoor pool is my main daily exercise; soaking in sunshine as I move mindfully through water.

My dream for several years has been to teach mindfulness to elementary-aged children and their families.

Last summer, the outdoor pool opened in June with restricted access to lap swimming only. I was grateful to get back in the crisp and energizing water to exercise. Many regular lap swimmers met at the pool and though social distancing was enforced, we were able to enjoy friendly conversations and mutual support. One such encounter was particularly gratifying.

I met a couple visitors to our area who had decided to spend a month enjoying the enchantment of New Mexico. That month ended up being the entire summer as the pandemic intensified. Every morning we would say hello at the pool and we began having conversations that covered many interesting topics — a great way to balance physical and intellectual activity. At that time, I was looking towards retiring as a full time classroom teacher with the dream of starting an education-based meditation center called Mindful Frontiers. As my retirement date came closer and the business plan for my center more concrete, I shared my passion with these fellow swimmers. My dream for several years has been to teach mindfulness to elementary-aged children and their families. The vision is to welcome a mindful future — one child, family, educator — one present moment at a time. My dreams were openly listened to my these kindred swimmers as I opened up and shared my passion with them.

I felt so comfortable in our conversations that it seemed safe to be vulnerable about my dreams and aspirations.

Eventually, I was asked what I needed to really get my meditation center off the ground and of course financial backing was my answer. After all, I had plenty of time, energy and passion already. I felt so comfortable in our conversations that it seemed safe to be vulnerable about my dreams and aspirations.

As the summer came to a close an early cold snap shut down the pool a few days earlier than planned. Everyone bid each other a good end of summer and year ahead until we could meet up again in and around the pool. My new friends went back home after exchanging email addresses.

A month or so later, I received an email from one of the friends, asking how my business plans were going and with an offer of a donation. Within a few weeks, a gift arrived that provided the startup funds I needed to get Mindful Frontiers off the ground. I believe this gift was made possible by a willingness to be vulnerable, openly sharing my passion for mindfulness and believing in the vision of the endeavor.

Without this unexpected donation, Mindful Frontiers would have had a much slower start. I will forever be grateful for the auspicious encounter at the swimming pool that fueled a friendship framed by kindness and support. Because of allowing myself to be vulnerable and open, abundance was attracted into the open space of the heart.

Mindful Meditation Brings Hope in Times of Uncertainty

Contemplative and reflective practices are ways to welcome hope back into our life.

Mindful meditation is an insight practice in which a focus anchor is used. The breath, sounds, body sensations, and walking can all be used to anchor our awareness in the present-moment. Basically, that’s what mindful meditation is: bringing full attention to one thing (the attention anchor) in the present moment. By doing so repeatedly and routinely, the body and mind learn to relax and settle into the moment. We call meditation a practice because it takes repetition and commitment.

Just because someone “tried it once” and couldn’t settle their mind doesn’t mean we should give up on meditation. Like any healthy habit, we have to practice to achieve mastery.

All meditation styles use the breath as a concentration anchor. Counting breaths, following the breath through the four cycles (in, pause, out, pause), and simply being aware of the sensation of the breath going in and out of the body. The breath is used as a focus anchor because it is ubiquitous and we can either harness it or just be aware of its natural rhythm.

Other attention anchors would be sound, sensations, body scanning and eventually, open awareness which is where a meditator doesn’t use just one specific anchor. In this practice, we sit and welcome awareness of whatever comes along: investigating and appreciating thoughts, sensations in the body, and feelings / emotions, without attachment or engagement. Just being aware with equanimity and allowing present-moment awareness is a more advanced and freeing practice to which anyone can aspire.

Body scans are an effective way to release tension in the body and mind and are helpful for those who “can’t sit still.” Body scans use breathing and applied focus to release energy within the body in a systematic way. 

  1. The head to toe scan: This body scan takes the practitioner’s attention one area at a time starting with the crown of the head and ending with the toes. It should take about 20 minutes and can take even longer if the practitioner wishes. Starting at the top of the head, using breath and focus, attention is placed on the crown and then moved down the body.  With awareness, curiosity and mindfulness feelings or sensations are welcomed. As the body scan progresses, attention is placed one area at a time: the face, forehead, eye area, nose, cheeks, mouth, and chin. The same kind of breathing and focus is placed as attention is moved down the body:  back of head; shoulders; chest; mid back, hips, thighs, knees, calves, ankles and feet, ending with the toes. 
  2. The toe to head scan: This body scan is the same as #1 except for the direction of the focus. Starting with toes, attention and breath is directed upward through the legs, abdomen, chest, shoulders, back of head, face, crown. 
  3. Tensing and releasing body scan: This body scan can be effective at helping a person fall asleep as the body parts being focused on are tensed as breath is held and then released as the breath is expelled. The act of alternately tensing and releasing muscles is an effective way to encourage relaxation. 

With all these body scans, the key is to go slow and to keep the focus on using breath as an anchor of attention. The mind directs its attention to areas of the body while the breath encourages release of tension and relaxation. Body scans are very effective and can be done any time of the day, including to help induce sleep.

Another mindfulness practice for people who have a hard time sitting still is walking meditation.

In the Zen tradition, walking meditation begins with a very slow walk in which the breath is matched to footsteps. Breathing in when lifting the foot and breathing out when stepping down. After circling around a meditation room a few times, zen meditators generally walk more quickly for a few more rounds, allowing breathing to be natural and bringing the focus on the body. I have done walking meditation more casually during daily exercise walks by placing my awareness on the sensation of my feet on the ground, my breathing and my body.  I have also used sounds around me as anchors during the walk, or a mantra or song repeated over and over. 

There’s no easier time than right now to explore mindful meditation. During Covid19-pandemic social distancing and isolation, teachers from different meditation lineages are sharing guidance freely and generously. Even the Dalai Lama shares Buddhist teachings and spiritual rituals online. Additionally, there are many mobile apps that offer guided practices and my educational center, Mindful Frontiers, has a YouTube channel with videos for all levels and ages.

Mindful meditation guides us in navigating difficult experiences with calm introspection and balanced outward equanimity. Whether you’ve tried once and couldn’t sit still or you used to meditate and let the practice go, now is a wonderful opportunity to bring hope into our uncertain world. Start here and now; one breath at a time.

#weekly prompt— Published on March 3, 2021

Lace Up Your Walking Shoes

Walking for fitness naturally helps you manage blood pressure and weight. It also helps reduce stress and releases feel-good endorphins. In other words, walking is a major mood-booster.

“Without physical exercise, I can get pretty grumpy,” says Anne-Marie Emanuelli. She’s the founder of Mindful Frontiers, a center for mindfulness and meditation in El Prado, New Mexico. Emanuelli attributes her calm, reflective mind to her habit of regular walks, jogs and bike rides.

Lace Up Your Walking Shoes

“When I exercise outdoors, it is an active reflection time to work out personal and work-related issues as well as tuning in to my body and mind,” says Emanuelli. She has worked out many issues with friends and colleagues during long walks in the countryside. “Usually, by the time I get back home, issues have been worked out and I feel much better.”

If you’re not used to walking regularly, try starting small with the Mayo Clinic’s 12-week walking schedule. It starts out at 15 minutes per session the first week. It helps you build up to 40 minutes of walking by week 12.

Excerpt from Embrace These 5 Mental Wellness Habits to Start the New Year Off Right The Hartford Extra Mile (December 15, 2020)

Meditation Can Help You To Have Compassion And Empathy For Self And Others

Anne-Marie Emanuelli, Creative Director at Mindful Frontiers

People are often attracted to meditation because of a need for emotional, spiritual or physical healing.

Once a person starts meditating, they generally realize the benefits extend far beyond a healing practice. It becomes a state of being and a lifestyle choice.

I was attracted to meditation a couple decades ago at a time when a physical ailment affected my ability to live life with ease. Not ready to accept surgery, a doctor suggested reading Dr. Christiane Northrup’s groundbreaking book Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom. Through her book, I was introduced to Caroline Myss, a medical intuitive, who wrote about alternative ways to heal.

Meditation was a practice recommended by these authors and it became my path to personal wellbeing. Eventually, surgery became necessary and I was able to make this choice with equanimity, inner strength and the ability to stay grounded in the only moment of existence: the present.

Fast-forward many years to the chapter in which I was a classroom teacher. Our school had experienced three student suicides in the span of about a year; two were just before the start of school.

Needless to say, it was a very shaky start that year. Meditation came back to mind as a way to deal with grief and it seemed my students might need this calming practice as well.

For a number of years after this experience, mindful meditation became a cornerstone of my teaching practice. Students of many ages and backgrounds have shared mindful meditation together and have expressed the benefits they felt from a moment of calm body and peaceful mind.

Whether it is to get through a difficult illness, grief of losing a loved one, or simply to carve out a daily moment of non-doing, everyone can benefit from meditation.

The benefits are plentiful and scientifically proven. A few of these include the ability to stay calm during emotional experiences, to be less reactive to behaviors, to listen more carefully to conversations, and to have compassion and empathy for self and others.

There’s also the spiritual benefit of sangha that comes from practicing meditation with others, whether in a monastery or a virtual community of meditators. There’s no better time than right now to explore mindful meditation.

During Covid-related social distancing and isolation, teachers from different meditation lineages are sharing guidance freely and generously.

Even the Dalai Lama offers Buddhist teachings and spiritual ceremonies online. These practices guide us in navigating difficult experiences with calm introspection and balanced outward equanimity.

Meditation quiets the mind and settles the nervous system

Children benefit from mindful meditation

By Anne-Marie Emanuelli

Published in The Taos News, Aug 6, 2020

Mindful Frontiers welcomes a peaceful future by teaching families how to meditate, encouraging them to bring this practice into their daily routine.

I have been exploring meditation for two decades and incorporated mindfulness practice into my classrooms at Taos Academy about five years ago. This decision came after three student suicides took the school by surprise and propelled me into a personal exploration for healing grief and anxiety.

Rediscovering meditation was my path to wholeness and I found that students also benefited from present-moment awareness.

Everyone encounters stress and we are living through a challenging time right now. Some stress is necessary, but when it causes anxiety or fear, it may not be healthy. Mindfulness meditation calms the mind and settles the body.

Jon Kabat Zinn, the “father” of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), defines mindfulness as “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Mindfulness meditation is what Kabat Zinn introduced to medical centers over 40 years ago.

The human mind is very active and when we are still, thoughts inevitably stream into our awareness. We follow our thoughts into imagining, inventing and creating beautiful objects, ideas and stories. That incredible thinking can also be stressful because some of these thoughts are filled with worry, anxiety and ruminating; stories of what has already happened or has yet to occur.

Paying attention to the present moment in a particular way is a helpful tool to relax; it benefits the brain, body, relationships and is something anyone can do – anytime, anywhere.

There are many types of meditation. Being aware of the present moment by focusing on an attention anchor – sounds, sensations or, most commonly, the breath – is the fundamental principle of meditation.

People around the world have been meditating for generations and it is called a practice because it takes time and repetition to master. Being aware of the present moment and doing it over and over trains the mind and body to relax into stillness.

Meditation quiets the mind and settles the nervous system. The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is a bodily system that determines how we respond to emotional experiences. It is made up of the sympathetic (SNS) and parasympathetic (PNS) nervous systems.

Although, as the name suggests, the ANS is automatic, we can stimulate the PNS response through meditation. By quieting the mind’s reactivity and calming down our attachment to emotional thoughts, we settle the “fight or flight” reactions of the SNS, thereby stimulating the PNS, which helps our body and mind come back to homeostasis.

There are many meditation practices that can help settle the nervous system, including sense awareness, body scanning and breath practice. The breath has four parts: in-breath, pause-in, out-breath, pause-out. Each part is a space of present-moment stillness, especially the pauses.

“Even just carrying the attention around one cycle of breath without losing focus may begin to give rise to that sense of stillness and help students to appreciate the pleasure inherent in meditation,” says Taos Zen teacher Sean Murphy (“How to Be a Breath Nerd”).

Here’s a breathing practice to try. Find a quiet place to sit such as under a tree, next to a stream or in your favorite space at home. Settle into a comfortable posture such as seated with your back straight and relaxed. You may close your eyes or gaze gently forward with slightly closed eyelids.

Begin by feeling the weight of your body and the sensation of contact with the ground. Notice your hands, legs, shoulders, neck and head. Take your time with this settling. Grounding awareness helps the mind and nervous system feel safe.

After taking a few deep breaths begin to focus on the natural flow of the breath, and mindfully, try to identify the four parts of your breath. If your mind gets distracted, it’s normal. When this happens, just bring your attention back to the breath and continue noticing the four parts, especially the pauses.

Try this for five minutes at first and each day add a minute until you reach 10 minutes. This will be your daily mindful meditation practice: 10 minutes of noticing your breath. When you feel comfortable with this practice, you can try others.

Welcome to your mindful frontier!

A Thought Is The Simplest Level Of Conceptualization

Meditation and mindfulness

Thoughts are a product of the way the mind interacts with our environment to create a story.

Stressful thoughts originate in the amygdala, part of the limbic system. Thoughts are also called “stories” in the Buddhist teaching of the Five Skandhas (Five Conditions) that explains how our brain relates to the chain reaction of a stimulus.

The chains contain sense perception; reaction; interpretation and story. The story is when the mind creates meaning around a stimulus and an experience. A thought is the simplest level of conceptualization.

We can most definitely control our thoughts by using mindful meditation skills based on present moment awareness.

Firstly, I do not use the word “control” in my teaching and practice. I prefer using the concept of “allowing”, “acknowledging,” “investigating.”

Certainly, a thought gone wild (the “story”) may end up causing hurt, pain, misunderstanding, even violence. However, a thought by itself doesn’t need to be controlled; rather, we can be gentle and allow thought to come and go with equanimity.

Basically, when a person meditates using open awareness, which is a type of meditation practice wherein all thoughts and awarenesses are welcome and acknowledged, they are allowing whatever comes to mind at that moment.

During an open awareness practice, thoughts come and go and we choose whether to allow them to pervade our consciousness or we can do a variety of things to acknowledge them and let them go.

For example, “noting” or “labelling” is a powerful way to acknowledge our thoughts and let them go.

When a thought comes to mind, we recognize it, accept it, investigate where we feel it in the body and maybe even what is about.

Then, we label it as “past”, “future”, “pleasant”, “unpleasant”, and we send it on its way into a file in our mind with that label.

With practice, this kind of mindful meditation will allow us to be focused on the present moment, and not controlled by thoughts. We won’t ruminate about them, or let them take over our consciousness.

The Present Moment Is The Only Time Period In Which We Actually Live

Anne-Marie Emanuelli, Creative Director and Founder of Mindful Frontiers

Amongst meditation experts, the understanding of ‘why we think about the past so much’ is that the past is an experience of our life to which we attach meaning because we lived the details of the event personally.

Our ego also clings strongly to the past because it is where a sense of our identity lies. 

The reason past thoughts are problematic is that we mix them up with actual reality, thereby creating a faulty story of suffering. 

The present moment is the only time period in which we actually live – the direct or actual reality that unfolds in the here and now. 

In the Buddhist teaching of the Five Skandhas (Five Conditions) we interact with our environment to “create what we ordinarily perceive as conventional human reality as opposed to actual reality.” (from ‘The Five Conditions’, an article by Sensei Sean Murphy).

Through meditation and mindfulness, the Five Conditions help us understand our perceptions, past conditioning, and personal history that causes suffering.

It is presented as a chain that begins with Sensation/Perception (first encounter with a thought), followed by Feeling (like or dislike), proceeds with Reaction (emotions related to the thought) and then with Interpretation (where the thought enters consciousness) and if left unchecked will end up in the Story (the place where meaning is created around the thought; usually faulty and irrational) that causes suffering. 

When a person meditates using open awareness, a type of meditation practice during which all thoughts and awareness are allowed and acknowledged, they are accepting whatever comes to mind at that moment. 

During an open awareness practice, thoughts come and go with equanimity (non-judgement or attachment). 

With practice, this kind of mindful meditation allows us to be focused on the present moment, and not get distracted by past thoughts. 

We don’t ruminate about them, or let them take over our consciousness with stories of pain and suffering. 

That would be called “gasping”, “clinging”, and “aversion” which is explained in the second of the four Noble Truths of Buddhism. 

By accepting thoughts with equanimity and allowing them to dissipate, we understand that there is a way out of suffering (The Third Noble Truth). 

Through meditation, mindfulness, non-attachment, and self-compassion (The Fourth Noble Truth), we can reach enlightenment, which is basically just a calm state of present-moment awareness that all is well, here and now. 

The more a person practices mindful meditation skills, the better and more proficient the person will become in not allowing their mind to ruminate about the past. 

As explained in ‘Altered Traits’ by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson, when a group of highly experienced meditators were studied, “Other signs of the yogis’ expertise include stopping and starting meditative states in seconds, and effortlessness in meditation (particularly among the most seasoned).” 

This suggests that a proficient meditator may be able to come in and out of present-moment awareness and relaxation, thereby not getting caught up in ruminating the past.

This post is part of a longer article published October 9, 2020 in Human Window on “How to Stop Thinking About the Past”. View entire article at Human Window