Urban Mindfulness--The Book!


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    And Again

    And Again

    By Jenny Taitz, Ph.D.

    Each year furnishes an opportunity to begin again and so does each moment!

    I recently returned from a fantastic meditation retreat in Maui. After living in paradise and spending days practicing yoga and learning from the leading meditation teachers in the world, I felt tremendous equanimity.

    And then, I missed the shuttle to the airport by 10 seconds, almost missing my flight as I stood waiting for a pricey taxi. Once I landed, I was famished, nauseous, tired, and lacking any semblance of serenity. My ride home from the airport got stuck in holiday traffic and picked me up an hour late. As I stood in heavy rain waiting for my kind and tardy ride, I felt like I may be good candidate for a television show like Candid Camera or Punked. You thought you were mindful and look at you now! When it rains, it pours.

    Sharon Salzberg, a surprisingly practical meditation teacher (previously interviewed by Jonathan Kaplan, Ph.D. on this blog) explains one of the main elements in practicing mindfulness is beginning again. It is inevitable that our mind will wander away from the practice of present focused attention or we will face a challenging situation that affects our equilibrium. In the city we are often faced with distractions or difficult encounters with others. What do we do when we move off our urban mindful path?

    Over the years, I have sat with several clients who have relapsed to substance use after years of strict sobriety. Some have described a sense of losing the time they spent abstaining from drugs when they slip into a moment of drug use. I prefer to understand slips as wrong turns. If you are driving and you’ve covered 200 miles, it is challenging to return to the main road after a wrong turn, but you don’t lose the 200 miles you’ve covered. One of the best predictors of successful smoking cessation is number of previous failed attempts. In other words, trying to quit repeatedly means you are more likely to succeed. The thought “I can’t quit, I’ve tried six times,” is entirely unsubstantiated. In fact, the person trying to quit smoking six times is scientifically more likely to succeed in smoking cessation than Mary, who is on her first attempt. When we see each moment as a time to begin again, moments are exciting choices. One of the most important moments is when you notice you’ve been gone --that is the moment to practice self acceptance and kindness to begin again.

    To be honest, I practiced beginning again several times in my return travels. When the airport shuttle left, I noticed my mind thinking “how awful and irresponsible.” I returned to the moment and considered what a difficult job it is to shuttle people to the airport and returned to my breath and problem solving. While I waited at the airport, I tried to focus on my breath and appreciate the kindness of a loved one providing me a lift from the airport. I really got stuck when I began to think, “I studied meditation and loving kindness and now I’m grumpy, I might be incorrigible!” That was the moment to begin again rather than get caught in the story in my mind.

    We will all repeatedly have moments over the holidays and New Year wherein we stray from our intention and inner wisdom. Are these moments that strengthen our practice and resolve to begin again or do we get stuck? It may be helpful to:

    1. Notice when you are not in the present moment or living with intention

    2. Bring compassionate awareness to where you are and where you’d like to go

    3. Begin again- again and again

    Starting Over...Again

    By Emily Polak, Ph.D.

    Starting over can be welcome or aversive. Whether we like it or not, with the New Year comes an opportunity for beginning anew. And while we do not have to wait until January 1st to make changes, New Year’s is a natural time to reflect about one’s life and decide to make different choices.

    So with New Year’s quickly approaching, let’s take the opportunity to take stock of the past year. How do you feel when you think back on the year? What comes to mind? Perhaps it has been rough financially or your job is not as satisfying as you’d like. Or perhaps it has been a year of accomplishment and blessings. Likely, you have experienced significant amounts of both joy and sadness. I know I have.

    Often in life, we think we have moved beyond something only to find it reappear as an obstacle yet again. This happened to me recently in my career. It can be challenging to maintain a positive attitude when things have not gone the way you hoped. It is much easier to look back and focus on regret, frustration, and disappointment. Mindfulness teaches us not to deny such feelings when they arise, but also not to dwell or cling. Rather we allow each emotion to emerge and then fall away. If we are able recognize the transience of all experiences, negative emotions become much less threatening. We know they will soon pass and something else will arise.

    So as this year comes to an end and as the next begins, perhaps we can resolve to embrace transience, to make friends with impermanence. We can make an effort to be present in each moment, recognizing that whatever it brings will soon be gone. In doing so, we can try to remember that every end is a beginning. In this never ending cycle of beginnings and ends, what will you do with this opportunity to begin anew?

    The Art of Non-Doing

    By Melissa Kirk, Guest Blogger from the West Coast

    In yoga class last week, the instructor talked a lot about “non-doing.” She encouraged us to do the poses, exerting only as much effort as was needed, and no more. Did you know sometimes we try to hold poses with our face? It’s true! If you do yoga, pay attention to how you tighten your jaw and mouth, and even the muscles around your eyes, when in a difficult pose. If you don’t do yoga, pay attention to your facial muscles anyway and notice when you tense them. We don’t normally notice these little tensions, but they’re there. In class, I practiced doing the poses but relaxing all the muscles I didn’t actually need in the poses. I started with my facial muscles, then muscles in the limbs that didn’t need to be in exertion right then. Then the neck, the forehead, the back, even the fingers. When I did this,  the poses seemed more effortless, I was calmer and my breathing was slower, and I almost felt like parts of my body were floating, while other parts were rooted to the floor.

    The next day, I was driving to work when I noticed that my left leg and foot, the ones that don’t need to do anything while driving, were tense.  I was hunched over in the seat and the area in between my shoulder blades was tense trying to hold me up, and I was even tense in my lips.  Taking the yoga lesson to heart, I untensed all these muscles that didn’t need to be tensed in that moment. I relaxed my left leg and foot. I relaxed my lips and jaw, even my forehead. I sat up straighter and let my spine fall into its natural shape. As I drove, I kept effort in my right leg and foot, my hands on the wheel, and my eyes and neck as I looked around me to see what other drivers were doing. But the rest of me was relaxed and calm; ready to spring into action, but content to sit on the sidelines for the moment. I felt a sensation like the parts that were doing the action were flowing in a river of energy; their effort was, in a way, effortless.

    The concept of “non-doing” is an important one, especially for us city-dwellers. We tend to be “doing” most of the time, and then when we’re “not doing”, we’re sacked out in front of the TV.  But what if we practiced noticing the effort we’re making that we don’t need to be, even in the moments when we’re “doing”? I’m talking about more than just noticing ourselves multitasking, though. I’m talking about noticing physical, mental, and energetic effort. The next time you’re on the phone at work, can you notice what the rest of your body is doing, the parts that aren’t holding the phone or actively talking? You might find that you’re tapping your fingers, kicking your leg, playing with a piece of paper, or seated in a twisted position so that your body needs to put in extra effort to keep you upright. Part of you might be scanning e-mail, and your mind might be thinking about another project.  You might feel vaguely anxious or worried. Meanwhile, part of you is talking on the phone, and, I imagine, sounding pretty coherent.

    Try this: just notice, in your daily life, what parts of you are making necessary effort, and what parts are making unnecessary effort. Then see if you can relax the parts that don’ t need to be engaged in that moment. If you’re talking to a friend, can you notice the parts of you that are thinking of that fight you had with your partner, and about how you forgot to buy cat food? The foot you’re tapping on the floor, and the way you’re playing with your fingers? And then can you gently, compassionately, let those go and come back to being with your friend?

    At work, as you’re doing one task, can you recognize the part of you that’s mad at your coworker who was rude to you last week, or worried about the upcoming performance reviews (or even happy that you got that raise or that your supervisor is pleased with your report)? And can you gently let that go and be where you are with whatever project you’re working on?

    The thing I find so intriguing about this exercise is that it reminds us to pay attention to our whole experience, which gets us living in the moment, and makes us curious about ourselves, how we react – physically and mentally - in situations. It encourages us to be mindful of not only our mental processes, but also of our bodies.

    When we’re only exerting as much effort as is needed and not holding tension in the rest of us, it gives us a chance to relax and be calm and steady even when life is swirling around us. In my yoga class, and driving, when I let go of the tension that was unnecessary, I felt in flow, relaxed yet alert, and gently but firmly in control. There was no part of me that was fighting the situation. Give it a try sometime!


    Melissa is a writer, editor, and blogger who blogs at http://honeybtemple2.blogspot.com/. She is an acquisitions editor at New Harbinger Publications, and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

    On the Radio Tonight

    Submitted by Jonathan Kaplan, Ph.D.

    I'll be talking with Jane Pratt on Sirius Radio tonight some time between 6:30 and 8:30 pm! Please tune into the show in order to hear our conversation about mindfulness in the city!

    Psychotherapy and Buddhism

    Submitted by Jonathan Kaplan, Ph.D.

    I'll be co-teaching a 6-week series of classes with Shastri Ethan Nichtern at the Interdependence Project, starting in January.  Specifically, I'll be teaching about various schools of psychotherapy (e.g., psychoanalysis, CBT, ACT, positive psychology, etc.), and he'll be discussing how they compare with Buddhist teachings on health and well-being.  For more information, please follow this link:  East meets West.
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