Urban Mindfulness--The Book!


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    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.

    Being Present When Buying Presents

    By Jonathan Kaplan, Ph.D.

    It's that time of year again. I see signs of it everywhere, and the "big event" is almost here. You know what I'm talking about: Black Friday! Maybe you thought I meant Thanksgiving, and the wonderful opportunities to express appreciation to ourselves and others in celebration of the holiday. But no. Here in NYC, I see more signs and announcements about the upcoming shopping deals than anything about Thanksgiving. So, rather than talk about gratitude, I thought that I would talk about shopping. Mindfulness is about accepting what is, you know. However, if you would like to read about the power of gratitude, you can check out my post from last year.

    So, how can mindfulness and shopping go together? Isn't there something antithetical about them? If we're mindful, aren't we supposed to not want anything?

    In a strict sense, mindfulness isn't really about content at all. It's more about process. That is, how do we relate to what arises, whether it's a physical pain, an interaction with a friend, or an incredibly low price on a 52" flatscreen TV? Are we aware of our own reactions physically, mentally, and emotionally? By developing some insight into these things, we have more freedom. We're not beholden to our automatic ways of being in the world or stumbling through on automatic pilot. So, for example, we might not get swept up into buying something we don’t need, simply because it’s a good deal.

    In bringing mindfulness to shopping, we can consider this process before, during, and after we make our purchase.

    Before Shopping

    As you think about going shopping (whether on Black Friday or any other time), what reactions do you have? Do you look forward to the experience? Do you angrily predict crowds of pushy people? Do you condemn the consumerism seemingly rampant in our culture? Do you smile as you consider what kind of presents would make my friends and family happy? None of these reactions are better than any other (even though the last one sounds nicest, yeah?). Rather, they all represent a judgment on the experience of shopping, which you're not even doing yet. They're evaluations about some future event that has yet to occur. Whether they are correct or incorrect is not the point. Instead, it is a matter of noticing how your mind has gone into its time machine yet again, and you're dragging this anticipated future into the present moment. As you do so, what becomes our emotional reality? Is there something that is actually happening now that might be worthy of our attention? If so, simply note what judgments that arise about shopping and return your attention to whatever is present right now.

    TIP:  Although it's not a mindfulness exercise per se, I do think it's helpful to imagine what our intended recipients would enjoy as a gift. Take a few moments to consider what you know about them, and then see what ideas come to mind. It might not be anything too grandiose (Uncle Ron is such an avid spelunker!), but simply an expressed interest or personality quirk. Perhaps something in this vein would be appropriate? Generating some understanding of our recipients beforehand can help guide us in making more judicious purchases.

    While Shopping

    There's a lot to notice when we're shopping. If we're on-line, we can notice how we go about making shopping decisions. Do we already know what we want? Are we attracted by price? On-line reviews? The technical descriptions of the product? How we anticipate the recipients would react to such a gift?

    If we're in the store, there's a lot more stimuli. We can notice the people around us, the merchandise, and our own behavior as we consider various items. I write about this process in more detail in my latest book, but we often can touch and play with the items that we might buy.

    Regretfully, many of us are suffering economically during these harsh times. And, we can bring mindfulness to this painful reality, too. How do we relate to our restricted budgets? Do we feel guilty or ashamed over not being able to afford to spend as much we did in previous years? Are we stressed as we consider how to negotiate these lean times with the recipients of our gifts?


    After we've done our shopping, how do we relate to what we've bought? Are we excited? Embarrassed? Noncommittal? If you’ve scored a fabulous deal or found the ultimate gift for one of your loved ones, please take some time to savor this experience. Don’t just skip to the next thing on your list. Allow yourself to enjoy how you feel.

    If you missed out, you can become aware of how that feels, too. You might not want to do so, but we can’t just be mindful of the pleasant things sometimes. Of course, if you’re looking for some way to feel better, consider how you feel now about something that you “totally scored” last year. Most likely, there has been a newer, more stylish, or better functioning model released over the past year. Do you still react to having that original purchase with as much adoration as you did before? Do you find yourself wanting to get the new, improved version? What does this tell you about our desires, even when we get what we want?

    Of course, if you did get a really nice TV and you find yourself feeling somewhat empty about your purchase, I’d be happy to relieve you of any ill feelings. I’ll come by and pick it up tomorrow. < smile >
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