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

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.

Being Grateful Is A Much Deeper Emotion

When comparing concepts it is helpful to have definitions in order to start from a common foundation of understanding.

In the Oxford Online Dictionary, Gratitude is defined as the “readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” Thankful is defined as “pleased and relieved.”

One can right away see a difference emerging between these terms that can aid in making comparisons.

Being grateful is showing appreciation with kindness, whereas being thankful is simply to be pleased and relieved.

Interesting, isn’t it, that to be thankful has a side effect of being “relieved”? Relieved from what one might ask? Thanking seems to be something we do to be because of a sense of obligation.

Remember “the magic word” that we were reminded of growing up? It’s expected that we give thanks for something that has been given to us or an action that someone does for us. Once we say, “thank you”, we’re off the hook, so to speak.

Gratitude seems a deeper response as it contains kindness and appreciation for what we’ve been offered without prior expectation.

“Gratitude is an emotion expressing an appreciation for what one has as opposed to what one wants”, according to Psychology Today.

Furthermore, Harvard Medical School offers that gratitude is a “thankful appreciation for what one receives – tangible or intangible – as they acknowledge the goodness in their lives…”

Apparently being grateful is a much deeper emotion or response to receiving something than being thankful because there is an inherent kindness needed in gratitude.

The response comes from the heart and from being mindful of what was generously offered so the feeling lasts longer.

So, it seems that we get more personal benefit from being grateful and it would be something one would like to cultivate.

Mindful meditation is a practice that helps us be more aware of thoughts, sensations and even to feel gratitude for all that we have in our lives, at least in the present moment, anyway.

The more one integrates gratitude, the more comfortable it will become. With practice one may well notice a change in oneself by feeling grateful as it fills the heart with kindness.

Published in Human Window By Martin Caparrotta  
Updated on 30 October 2020

Mindful Communications

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Notes from the online course through MindfulSchools.org in Aug-Sept 2018.

The process takes its inspiration from Non Violent Communication techniques introduced by Marshall Rosenberg. The teacher of this course, Oren Jay Sofer, has written the book “Say What You Mean” which goes into more details with the precepts of mindful communication.

First step: lead with presence. Observe self, others, situation.

Second step: come from curiosity and care. Share feelings.

Third step: focus on what matters. What are the needs.

First Foundation: Presence: Effective communication requires presence. Stay aware of your presence in the conversation; maintain focus; honesty with self about what’s happening. The more aware we are, the more choice we have. Accept the unknown of what is going to happen and new possibilities of the dialogue.

Second Foundation: Intention: Intention determines direction. Intentions shape experience; Be aware of habitual conflict styles in order to transform underlying beliefs. Avoid thoughts of blame and criticism. Everything we do, we do to meet a need. People are more likely to listen when they feel heard. Reflect before responding.

Third Foundation: Attention: Attention shapes experience. Differentiate between “strategies” and “needs” to have more choice and clarity. The more we understand one another, the easier it is to find mutually beneficial solutions. Establish mutual understanding before problem-solving. Awareness of emotions supports ability to choose how we participate in conversation. Take responsibility of our feelings, connecting them to our needs makes it easier to be heard. Hear others’ feelings as a reflection of their needs which helps us understand the other person without blame, the need to agree or feeling responsible for their emotions. Having empathy for ourselves makes it easier to listen to others. Stating clearly what happened without judgment or evaluation aids in being heard. Observations rather than judgement or evaluation. Check in with other for understanding; use fewer words and more sincerity; speak in short chunks makes understanding easier. Be clear about what is wanted and why to get more creative about solution. Awareness of our reactivity to help make wiser choices of what to say. When in conflict, listen more closely to the other person first; increases chance of their willingness to listen to us.