Urban Mindfulness--The Book!


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    The Way Things Are Now: A Mindful Lunch in Queens

    By Irene Javors, LMHC

    Recently, I had lunch with a friend in my neighborhood. We met at a neighborhood place that still makes homemade mashed potatoes and meat loaf soaked in gravy. Forget about carb awareness or calorie counting. This is burgers, chicken wings, french fries and souvlaki land. Everyone knows everyone and the waitstaff has been there for years.

    Anyway, on this given Sunday the subject of our conversation was the economy. My friend will be 70 in a few weeks, retired and living on social security and a small pension. She is worried about how she is going to be able to make ends meet if her stocks fall any lower. We talked about the bizarre nature of finances today. People are losing their jobs yet prices on just about everything--health care,property taxes, rents, utilities, groceries--aren't budging. Toilet paper costs sixty five cents and the price of cereal is over five dollars. My friend kept shaking her head and saying, “Nothing makes any sense."

    She related how someone who lives in her building just got let go from his job of twenty eight years. He's 52 and he has no idea how he is going to find work. He knows that he will have to settle for a paycut and he wonders what this will mean in terms of continuing to have health insurance. In the co-op where I live, someone on the second floor was unable to pay mortgage and maintenance and had to go into foreclosure.

    By my third cup of coffee, I thought to myself,”How do I maintain a mindful approach to all that is going on?” I asked my friend how she was getting through these uncertain times. She looked me in the eye and said, "We gotta help each other." A light turned on in my brain. Right, we need to get more mindful of each other; be present in ways that are about sharing and caring for one another. My mother used to tell stories about how as a child during the depression, her family was thrown out of their apartment because they couldn't pay the rent. Neighbors who had some money would join together and throw a “rent party” for her family and move them back in by the evening.

    Yes, that was a different time and place, but the idea is something that we can learn from: we are not isolated entities, living separate disconnected lives. If there is one central precept of mindfulness practice, it is that we are inter-connected. We need to remember all that connects us and out of that awareness, put into practice a way of living that is mindful of what brings us together.

    Our lunch lasted a luxurious 2 hours. No one rushed us out. When we left, the staff waved good-bye to us. We went out into a cold, blustery day, mindful that these hard times can be made a great deal easier through caring and friendship.

    Hope for Change (or vice versa)

    By Jonathan Kaplan, Ph.D.

    In the wake of the historic inauguration of Barack Obama as our first Black President, it seems a little trite to write about how to meditate on the subway today. Pres. Obama has succeeded in inspiring hope and confidence in millions of people across the globe. Acknowledging the difficult road before us as a nation, he instills a sense of confidence that we can successfully overcome our challenges. Indeed, he was elected based significantly on his ability to inspire Americans in his (and our) ability to bring about change.

    While listening to his speeches, I often found myself thinking some cynical version of "We'll see about that." Perhaps I've been disappointed by too many of our political leaders in the past? Or perhaps I am defensively preparing myself for inevitable failures, compromises, and partial successes? Regardless, I resist being hopeful. It's a variation of the classic pessimist's argument: if I don't get my hopes up, then I'm not disappointed when things don't work out. Why risk falling when you can just hang out on the ground?

    From a mindfulness perspective, both pessimism and optimism are states of mind introduced into the present moment, but neither accurately describes what is happening now. They represent our expectations or predictions for what will happen in the future, which has yet to occur. In a way, they are both wrong. We don't know what's really going to happen (on Monday, did anyone predict that Caroline Kennedy would withdraw from consideration for the NY Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton?). And, whether we embrace optimism or pessimism, it says more about our personal past than what the future holds.

    Despite their inherent inaccuracy, these attitudes profoundly influence our experience in the present. If I am pessimistic, then I will give voice to the naysayer within and feel jaded. If I am optimistic, then I feel happy and hopeful. Psychological research has consistently demonstrated the inter-relationship between our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. If I think that Pres. Obama will fail, then I will feel sad and give voice to the critic within. If I feel happy, then I am prone to think that he will succeed and I might even check-out his weekly Presidential Address on YouTube.

    So, what to do? Do I remain pessimistic and cynical in the present in order to prepare myself for some future disappointment? Or do I cultivate optimism and become inspired for future success?

    I think it's time for me to give in to hope.

    Being with Powerful Emotions in the City

    By Rob Handelman, Ph.D.

    This blog entry took me a while to write, as my mother died a month or so ago. This is not about grief (for a nice paper on mindfulness and grief, click HERE), but how to be with such pain while having to function in our real, urban world.

    When my mother died, I was in the relative comfort of Massachusetts with family, where it felt safe to feel everything that was coming up for me.  Then it was back to reality, the stimulation of our city, taking care of the business of life, my psychotherapy practice, family.  The feelings, of course, did not magically go away, and while they have changed, they hit when they want.

    Hmm, so what to do when I’m standing on a subway platform and a wave hits me and I tear up?  Do I try to control the expression (assuming I can) of these feelings? As a man in this culture, there is a strong unspoken prohibition against the expression of these feelings in public (and private too) from which I am not immune.  At times, it is the noise of the city, the visual stimulation, the smells, that make for the stress of urban life.  When it comes to feelings like these, it is the awareness of other people that impacts me the most, bringing up feelings of self-consciousness.  I would prefer to grieve in a quiet, private place, with people that I choose, but that’s not always possible.

    So, while we have little control over these powerful feelings when they do present themselves to us, we do have control over our awareness of them.  While we may feel the need at times to contain our behavior, we can still practice our awareness of these feelings in the present, especially where and how we feel them, in particular in our bodies.  We can notice how we relate to our feelings, whether we judge them, or push them away, argue with them, or allow them.  Often the best we can do is to let them move through us, without resistance or judgment, and to explore how we experience to them.  With that, I let go of the struggle and allow a few tears to roll down my face, waiting to get home for the good sob.

    Top 9 Ways to be Mindful in 2009

    By Jonathan Kaplan, Ph.D.

    1. Breathe

    Why is it that mindfulness folks are always talking about the breath? Because it is an ever-present anchor for our attention in the present moment. As long as you are alive, you can become aware of your breathing at any time. Becoming mindful of your breathing is also very subtle and inconspicuous, so you can practice during a meeting, while riding the subway, or standing in line at the store.

    2. Attend a meditation group

    NYC has many ongoing meditation groups for beginners and more experienced practitioners. Use the UM calendar to find a convenient group for you by clicking here: NYC Meditation Calendar.

    3. Use technology to help

    Computers, cell phones, TV, and the internet. We often find ourselves wrapped-up in these devices in a very un-mindful kind-of-way. However, they are merely tools; they do not have any inherent interest in promoting distraction. So, we can use them to help support our meditation or mindfulness practice. I’ll be posting more on this issue in the coming months. However, here are a few ideas for now:

    •On-line: Set a bell to ring periodically to remind you to be mindfully present. Click here for a helpful website: Mindfulness Bell

    •iPhone: Use the Clock to set a countdown timer for your meditation sessions. Now, you won’t be peeking at the clock!

    •Computer: Set your screen saver to display an inspirational reminder, like “Be” or “Peace”.

    •TV: During the commercial breaks, check in with your breathing and posture. Simply notice what is happening in your body.

    4. Create a Sensory Mindfulness Kit

    Mindfulness isn’t just about breathing or meditating. It’s about paying attention, and our senses provide us with important information about our experience. You can create a box for “moments of mindfulness” by collecting objects that appeal to your five senses: touch, sight, taste, hearing, and smell. A patient of mine once collected items related to the beach: sand, tropical postcard, chocolate with coconut, CD of ocean sounds, and suntan lotion (for its scent). She would bust-out this Sensory Mindfulness Kit whenever she wanted a few moments of peace and awareness.

    5. Put reminders at “points of performance”

    In working with folks with ADD/ADHD, I advise the use of Post-It reminders at particular “points of performance”. If you know that you will need something at a specific place, then write a reminder to yourself at that place or close to it. For example, you might attach a note to “Sit with Dignity” on your computer screen in order to prompt better awareness of your posture.

    6. Practice Money Mindfulness

    It’s likely going to be a tough year financially for many people. Grim economic news is likely to cause lots of worry, panic, stress, and real hardship. As a result, it’s important to cultivate mindfulness particularly at these times. If you’re panicked about your long-term investments, then practice some mindfulness strategies when you get wrapped up in worry and regret. If you really do need to make some changes in your financial portfolio, then it is also best to ground yourself mindfully before proceeding with decision-making. The best money-managers that I’ve seen are the ones with crunch the numbers unemotionally with equanimity as opposed to letting their emotions go up and down with the NYSE.

    7. Pay attention to how and when—not what—you eat

    Many people will try to diet and lose weight this year. A big culprit in our struggle with weight is related to our simple failure to pay attention to our body’s cues of hunger and satiety. Thus, it is important to slow down and notice how your body feels before you start eating. If you’re hungry, then eat. If not, then don’t. Hunger should be your “trigger” for eating, not sitting on the couch.

    8. Remind yourself about what matters most

    Mindfulness is helpful in many ways, including helping us realize the degree to which our actions (and reactions) fall in line with our fundamental values, morals, and goals. As we cultivate mindful awareness, we can reflect on what we’ve noticed and learn to better appreciate what’s happening as it happens. Thus, we can see (and transcend) automatic patterns, which might not be serving us well. For example, by noticing the urge to overeat or seeing the start of our procrastination ritual, we can stop the process and bring more purpose to what we decide to do next.

    9. Check out Urban Mindfulness regularly

    There are big plans brewing for 2009. We’ll have podcasts and downloadable meditations available. The UM blog will have more contributors and more frequent updates. Also, we’ll be pursuing more formal efforts at marketing and branding. If you’d like to become part of the UM team, please send an e-mail to UrbanMindfulness [at] gmail.com.

    'Tis the Season: Mindful Touring NYC with a Friend

    By Irene Javors, LMHC

    For the last two weeks, a very dear friend has been staying with me. She recently lost her beloved partner of some forty years and she has come to visit. She is immersing herself in the city's cultural riches In all my spare moments, I have been going with her to various NY attractions. Usually, with work and family obligations, I have so little time to take in Gotham's great abundance of just about everything. During one of our meanderings, we found ourselves in the area of Fifth Avenue and 56th Street. I looked down the avenue and I was suddenly struck with how beautiful everything looked. With all the holiday lights and the store windows ablaze with the colors of the season, I felt myself awash with a childlike glee.

    My friend tells me that, "NY is incredible!" She wants to absorb as much of it as she can. At times, I want to tell her that the terrific energy that she experiences is really the collective auras of frantic, anxious people who are lost in their individual bubbles. But I refrain from saying anything and I try to enter into the mind of someone who does not have the sometimes jaded eyes of a native New Yorker.

    Her observations of the city are quite refreshing. She sees the diversity as "amazing". The subways are a challenge but," wow, you don't need to take your car." What is 'old hat' to me is brand new to my friend. My frustrations with Gotham melt away each time she makes one of these comments. I become more mindful of the uniqueness of this city.

    I am also quite aware that Gotham is helping my friend cope with her terrible loss. The city is a setting wherein she is working through her grief. New York has lived through so much loss itself, that it has the compassionate openness to absorb the enormity of my friend's loss. This place, awash with so much life. offers the hope of renewal.

    For my dear friend, New York is a light in the darkness of her loss. That is really something to celebrate!