The Final Straw…

A few days ago, I was speaking with my dear friend and colleague Kristine Janson about straws. Yes, you read that right: straws. Kristine had asked me if I used straws and I didnā€™t think that I used straws, but then when I really thought about it, I realised that I actually use straws all the time.

Whenever I go to my local coffee shop and order a smoothie, I am given a straw. Or when my children order slushes (which in the summer is ALL the time), they get the fattest straws possible. And lately on my drive home from teaching, I have been stopping for a chocolate milkshake and I drink that milkshake with a STRAW. In my head this is my weekly act of self kindness šŸ˜‰

However, while this is an act of self-kindness for Jane, is it an act of kindness for the planet?

Well, my conversation with Kristine reminded me that itā€™s not. In fact, in the U.S. alone, there are 500 million straws used per DAY!!! And what happens to those straws? They just sit there and pollute. They do not biodegrade. In fact, according to Jackie Nunez who wrote ā€œThe Sipping Pointā€, every piece of plastic ever made is still in our environment in some capacity (for full article click here).

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When I thought about this, I felt a bit overwhelmed. I mean we are talking about straws. If this one teeny tiny item could cause so much havoc for our earth, what other mindless consumption habits do I have?

Kristine and I spoke about this overwhelm and of ways in which we can engage and act to counter mindless consumption in ways that do not feel like we are being completely engulfed and dragged down by the enormity of the issue: the destruction of our environment at the hands of humans. How can we move forward in a way that is helpful, but also in a way that one can maintain a sense of hope?

One thing that Kristine has taken on is some advice from the late Akong Rinpoche, past Abbot and Founder of Samye Ling. In the film ‘Akong – a Remarkable Life’, Akong Rinpoche talks about the importance of not just practising for ourselves and our own benefit, but also of acting in society. He calls this acting in society ‘outer’ practice, to complement our ‘inner’ practice of meditation. Akong Rinpoche did much charity work with one of his project being ROKPA, an international relief organisation that is represented in 17 countries world wide! His ‘outer’ practice was robust.

Kristine has been focusing her ‘outer’ practice of environmental issues. Sheā€™s been inspired by the work of Joanna Macy, the eco philosopher and author of ā€œActive Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazyā€, as well as Thich Nhat Hanh, who considers and encourages mindful consumption in a way that honours all generations. His teachings stress the interconnection between all living beings, and in his book ā€œFor a Future to Be Possible: Buddhist Ethics for Everyday Lifeā€, he states that ā€œ[w]e have to eat, drink, consume, but if we do it unmindfully, we may destroy our bodies and our consciousness, showing ingratitude toward our ancestors, our parents, and future generationsā€. Therefore, it is no surprise that these principles have come together to shape and influence Kristineā€™s teaching practice; and in 2018, she will be co- leading (with Fay Adams) a course on Engaged Mindfulness, or a course that helps mindfulness practitioners really develop their own ‘outer’ practice in a way that does not overwhelm, rather nurtures and supports well-being (for more information on the Engaged Mindfulness course, please click here)

In the meantime, I have decided to give up using plastic straws and I have pledged to continue to find small ways in which I continue to transform my consumption from mindless to mindful. So this weekā€™s challenge is to find your own small modification to your consumption habits that might help nourish rather than deplete, not only you but this planet!

-Jane

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Kind Intentions…

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Yesterday, I was teaching in Dublin at the Recovery College that is run by the School of Nursing in Dublin City University. I always love driving up to teach the MBLC to this inspiring group of not only service users, but service providers, who are working together to empower those who are recovering from mental illness, have been engaged in the mental health care system and are now ready to take their mental well-being into their own hands.

During our session yesterday, we were going over our pleasant events journals and I was taken with the beauty of what some might think of as trivial moments, but when looked at through a mindful and kind lens, were completely brave and transformative. There were stories of simple hellos; cooking nourishing meals; allowing oneself to take good care of their mind diet in relation to what is watched on TV and much more. We can take these small acts of kindness and pleasant events for granted- events that are lived without much consideration.

So why donā€™t we pay attention to these pleasant moments? Why do they go unnoticed?

Well, Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist who does much work through contemplative studies, would explain this as the negativity bias. Our minds our conditioned to focus more on the negative than the positive. His famous sound bite is that the mind is like Velcro for the bad and Teflon for the good.

When our group had an open discussion on our remembered pleasant events, I felt a warmth opening and a feeling of inspiration. I suddenly had the realization that life isnā€™t so bad. There are many opportunities to be kind to myself and to really encourage a feeling of gratitude.

So after my drive home, instead of my routine check in to my emails, I immediately put on my warmest PJs, made myself a hot water bottle, crawled onto the couch and watched a favourite show on Netflix. Before I knew it, my three kids had emerged from their own ā€˜doingsā€™ and lounged and laughed at the comedy before us. I then savoured this seemingly mundane activity. I was safe, warm and surrounded by those that I love. Something that I take for granted on a daily basis.

So this weekā€™s challenge is to find a way to do one random act of kindness towards yourself each day. Then, notice how this kindness feels- using the activity as a mindfulness support to keep you present and open to all of the feelings, sensations and thoughts that come with it. If your mind starts to drift off from the kindness, gently bring it back- and savour, savour, savour!!!!

-Jane

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Trust Life

A few mornings ago, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I saw an interview between Oprah Winfrey and Br. David Steindl- Rast.

Iā€™ve always liked Oprah. This is a legacy born from being raised in North America- her TV show used to air at 4pm every day, right about the time I was getting home from school. So when I saw her interviewing Br. David, a Benedictine whose life calling has been to promote and teach grateful living, I couldnā€™t look away.

1R320I21-10Right from the beginning, Br. David said something that resonated in my bones. He said that one of the foundations of life is to trust it. Trust Life. Somehow these words immediately set me at ease. It was as if someone was whispering a secret to me that I had long forgotten, a secret that I knew and held in my heart but had been covered with all sorts of lifeā€™s debris.

Trust Life. I havenā€™t been trusting life. Fears, doubts, resistances have been swirling and plaguing my experiences. Days of sunshine and long walks have been accompanied by anxiety about my future. Evenings out with friends have been overshadowed with self- doubt and a fear of not being accepted. Time spent with family has been polluted by obsessive thoughts about their health and needs.

Oh sure, there have been moments of ease and a sense of being settled- but these moments pass, replaced with this mistrust. Itā€™s like I am always looking over my shoulder for the next trauma to hit.

Itā€™s crazy- I simply forgot to trust life. Or, as Br. David mentions in his interview, I have withheld my trust, instead of giving it. I have resisted. This is interesting for when we teach mindfulness, we often speak of how resistance reinforces. It does not alleviate suffering, but amplifies it. Once again, I find myself learning this lesson.

If I look back on my life and to all of the catastrophes and moments of hardship and despair, I can see that they have delivered me to where I am right now. Even the most difficult situations have been life giving in some way. However, and Br. David reminded me of this, when I look forward, I canā€™t see this. I canā€™t see it or know it and this is where the fear comes and robs me of my present moment happiness- so I need to trust. Trust Life.

This weekā€™s challenge is to trust life in the face of despair and fear. Whenever you find yourself caught up in the spiral of doubt, remember that life has delivered you this far, and all of your misfortunes have created the wonderful human being that is YOU in this moment.

– Jane

Interested in learning more on mindfulness? Check out our Level 1: Being Present mindfulness course starting next month: click here

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R.I.P.

Traditionally, Halloween is known for being the night when the veil between the worlds of the dead and alive is thinnest. The concept of dead and alive can be equated, quite easily, with awake and asleep. Indeed, the acronym R.I.P. found on headstones and obituaries stands for Rest in Peace, suggesting that death is a place of rest and rejuvenation.

This is ironic, though. If death is a place of rest, why do we fear it so much? Why do we cling so tightly to the suffering that comes with being alive?

Alan Wallace, the internationally acclaimed Buddhist teacher who was at our past Summer conference in 2015, explains that the reason is due to the fact that within our human experience of being alive, our mind engages in an active mis-apprehension of reality. (For more on this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_4HBg4jdRZU) What he means by this is that we believe that there is a separation between ourselves and our environments (whether they be here or in the ‘ever-after’). This can lead to all sorts of destructive mind-sets, such as anxiety, insecurity, anger and disconnect. Moreover, this mis-apprehension of reality can dictate our thought processes, our reactions and our world view, and in turn, our perception of reality can be a quite localized. This is where suffering can stem from…a belief of being separate or isolated in a complex world.

So, on this Halloween night and the days that follow, our celebration of the removal of the veil between worlds can be applied to our own experience of being alive or ‘awake’. Can all veils drop? Can we rest in the knowledge that nothing is separate? Can we rest in the peace of being alive?…. The dead dancing in unison with the living… The unseen at one with the seen.

Or is this all too spooky? šŸ™‚

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Have a great Halloween Week!

-Jane

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Compassion is HERE and NOW

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I am just home from attending The Compassionate Mind Foundationā€™s (the work of Prof. Paul Gilbert) annual conference with my colleagues, Alan Hughes, Choden and Fay Adams. It was a lovely few days where we manned a stall for The Mindfulness Association, letting people know about our MSc: Studies in Mindfulness, as well as our non- MSc courses and teaching pathway (for more information, click here).

There were many inspiring talks on Compassion Focused Therapy and working with trauma, with people who hear voices, compassion and gender, and even some very funny research into how compassionate children are, or not, when it comes to sharing stickers!

However, what struck me the most was how international the conference was- thereĀ were people from Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Australia, The States and Canada (and not only me!) It was incredible to see that all throughout the world, there are people who are working hard at creating compassionate societies: something that is not reported in the news too often.

So, I thought it might be interesting to make this weekā€™s challenge a challenge to bring our own compassion into action. Is there one thing that you might do to not only move towards your own suffering and the suffering of others, but to also move towards alleviating it in some way.

I am not talking about giving up a kidney here, but maybe youā€™ve been trudging to work through a terrible cold- what might you do to respond to your cold more compassionately? Or maybe you have a friend who has been struggling with their own personal upheavals- how might you respond more compassionately?

IMG_5593Maybe you have always wanted to know more about cultivating compassion and living a more compassionate life: you might like to find a course, listen to a Ted Talk, do a practice!

In the words of Pema Chodron, start where you are! But the operative word is START! šŸ˜‰

Together, with all of our small acts and in our own little ways, we can all be part of the creation of compassionate societies!

-Jane

 

If you want to hear more about the transformative power of compassion, have a watch:

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Let Be, Let Go, Let In

IMG_4262A few days ago, I was golfing with a friend in the glorious Autumnal sunshine. Conditions were right for a relaxed afternoon of good conversation, mindful attention on not only the ball but also on the stunning park like setting and some nourishing fun. The two of us were hitting the ball well and pleasantly plodding along.

Happy. Content. Even Joyous.

Then, on the fourth hole, the game took a nose dive. Shots that I felt should be straight forward were ending up in the rough, the bushes, the lake- anywhere but the green! I could feel my body tense, I stopped noticing the bird song and an undertone of frustration replaced any feeling of satisfaction that may have been present.

The game was lost before we even reached the half way point!

Interestingly, we both noticed what was happening and we both really looked and marveled at how quick my mind jumped track to not only ā€˜focus onā€™, but completely embody the negative. It was crazy!

This got me thinking about Rick Hanson and his famous phrase: the mind is like Teflon for the good and Velcro for the bad. All my good shots, the sunshine, the good conversation had slipped through my fingers to be replaced by irritation, tense muscles and a feeling of not being good enough. Again, this was based on 1 or 2 (Okā€¦maybe 3 or 4!) bad shots.

Thinking of Rick, I remembered his talk from our summer conference and a particular moment when he spoke about the mind as a garden. He explains that in our mind gardens, we need to Let Be, Let Go and Let In or witness, pull weeds and plant seeds.

This noticing what was happening on the golf course was a blessing. I was able to witness my negative mood and simply, as Rick says, Let Be. This is half the battle.

I then Let Go of all of those negative thoughts and ideas about being a crap golfer- this was helped by my friend who kept reminding me of the amazing drive I had made 5 minutes earlier. I pulled the weeds from my mind garden.

This left me space to plant seeds or Let In the positive thoughts and traits that were present. A few bad shots do not define me. AND, I was actually grateful that I had the time, health and opportunity to spend the afternoon golfing in the sunshine, in park like conditions with a dear friend. What a treat in my often ā€˜too busyā€™ life!

So, what has this taught me? Itā€™s shown me that I have the skills and the knowledge to develop and grow a healthy, flourishing mind garden through Let Be, Let Go and Let In.

This week, I would like to invite you to try it out! Can we all become resourceful gardeners of our minds? Cultivating and maintaining a bit of happiness, contentment and maybe even joy.

-Jane

Watch Rickā€™s talk on ā€˜In The Garden of The Mind’:

 

I will be teaching on the Level 1: Being Present Mindfulness course in Samye Ling this November, if you have always wanted to learn more about mindfulness, sign up and come join us by clicking here.

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A Time for Giving Thanks

ā€œGratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.ā€ ~William Arthur Ward

This weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving; and being a Canadian, this means a time for giving thanks. It also means a time for family, food and the gathering in of the harvest, whether that be the veg from the garden or the boons and blessings that have fallen upon our lives.

Unfortunately, my extended family live quite far from me- well, they live in Canada. And this means that sometimes, if life feels busy, I try to do a quickie on Thanksgiving. Being in Ireland, I can get away with it. For instance, there have been years that I ignored it all together, or other years where I simply made pumpkin pie and served it as a post- school snack. However, more often than not, I have put on the full deal: bells and whistles included.

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So this brings me to this year. Iā€™ve been busy and I was thinking of going the quickie route; but much to my surprise, my kids are having none of it. Instead, they declared that they are taking the day off school and we will do Thanksgiving properly.

Ā My initial reaction was ā€“ Day off? No way!

But then I got thinkingā€¦ gratitude is important. I teach and encourage people to practice gratitude all of the time and here in front of me is an actual holiday dedicated to giving thanks. Why wouldnā€™t I do this for my children?

More thinking…why be grateful?

For all of you who like a bit of scientific back-up, according to Emmons and Mishra (2010), who did the research for me, there are all sorts of benefits:

gratitude interventions in adults consistently produce positive benefits, many of which appear to endure over reasonably lengthy periods of time. Gratitude interventions lead to greater gratitude, life satisfaction, optimism, prosocial behavior (Emmons & McCullough, 2003 ), positive affect (Emmons & McCullough, 2003 ; Watkins et al., 2003 , Study 4), and wellbeing (Lyubomirsky et al., 2005 ; Seligman et al., 2005 ), as well as decreased negative affect (Emmons & McCullough, 2003 ; Seligman et al., 2005 ; Watkins et al., 2003 , Study 3) compared with controls for up to six months. Similar findings, over shorter follow-up periods, have been documented in youth (Froh et al., 2008 ).

In short, gratitude is good for you! I mean life satisfaction and well-being, what more could you ask for?

So this weekend, I have organized a Thanksgiving meal for my friends and family and will find myself stuffed to the brim with delicious Autumnal fare, plenty of laughter and the love of all those most important to me. Not to mention and undoubtedly, I look forward to a long, post festivity nap on the couch in front of the fire.

Life satisfaction and well-being.

So at this time, I would like to extend the invitation to all of you, as a weekly challenge, to take some time out this week to give thanks and to treat yourself to some nourishment in whatever form it is that you need.

Happy Thanksgiving!

-Jane

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