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Love and Positivity versus Shame and Guilt: Applying Mindfulness to Work August 26, 2012

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Over the past several months I’ve been making an increased effort to apply the practice to different areas of my daily life, or as many aspects as I possibly can. One area that I have found especially challenging and fruitful at the same time has been my work, both paid and unpaid (school).

I have made a vow to myself to motivate myself to work only (or as much as I can) with love and positivity. I guess the vow was due to seeing just how much suffering I cause myself by using shame, guilt, and fear as motivation to complete my work. This suffering has manifested in multiple forms, including but not limited to stress, physical pain, exhaustion, and aversion.

To give a bit more detail, before, I would make an effort to complete a school assignment (such as a lovely major term paper/ essay) by framing it in my mind in the form of a negative, that is, what I would lose if I didn’t complete it. “If I don’t finish this essay on time…I won’t get a good course mark (fear).” “…I will be a bad student (shame).” “…I will regret it later (guilt).”

On the other hand, a type of motivation that I am just learning to use more would be out of love and positivity. I am completing a task because I am taking good care of myself, or because I enjoy doing it, or because I have an inherent motivation to direct my mental/ physical energy toward something and I choose this object as a target. In other words, I am gaining something positive by doing it, whether it be the satisfaction of completing a task I set my mind to, the inherent enjoyment of the work, or a paycheck that puts food on my breakfast table.

I spent a lot of time (i.e., years) practicing the negative forms of motivation of shame, guilt, and fear, so its no surprise that they are taking quite a bit of effort to overcome. They have become quite heavily engrained habit energies.

I completed most of an undergraduate degree motivating myself through fear and anxiety. I actually went through a period of time once I completed my degree where I had quite a bit of ambivalence about my accomplishment. I felt that I didn’t really deserve to have a bachelor’s degree, that piece of paper that set me in a different category from my parents and many people in my family and a large proportion of the population. I felt that I didn’t deserve it because I could look back over the course of four years and see quite clearly just how much negative emotions and mental states were used to achieve that accomplishment. And as a result, I was still living in those states of impatience, anxiety, and shame that were still causing so much suffering in so many other areas of my life.

I think meditation has a big part to play in my determination to be more positive in motivating myself to work. Meditation is the cultivation of awareness, so I have become more aware of just how much negativity can surround my work. This awareness doesn’t just take place in the moment, but builds and increases and accumulates over time. I get to the point where I just get so absolutely tired of seeing how my regular behaviour can directly cause my own suffering that I veer myself in the other direction. (I’m not sure if the veering is always a conscious phenomenon.)

Sometimes that other direction can be just as painful, because its new and uncertain and scary: I don’t know if this whole lovey-dovey, positivity stuff will work. Negativity seems to be all that I have ever known as far as I can tell, and its seems like a big mistake to throw something out if it has been working.

But again, when these types of motivations are so heavily engrained and become such strong habit energy, I have to veer myself in the other direction again and again. Its a daily practice. I have to remind myself again and again why I am doing it. And that reminder often occurs in the midst of suffering, when I am filled with shame or guilt or regret, or physical pain and exhaustion, and I remember why I am trying to make changes.

I recently explained to someone who is very close to me my determination to be more positive and loving in my efforts to complete my work, in this case my job search process. The other person responded to me with, “Well, isn’t that just the way life is sometimes, is that we have to just suck it up and get something over with so that its done?”

And my response was no, not for me. Maybe for other people it can work from time to time, but as far as I am concerned I have to do a complete 180 degree turn. My default, automatic response is to use that “suck it up, get it over with—even though it hurts and is painful and will cause suffering down the road”. So I don’t need to think about using that strategy. Instead what takes more effort, and is better for my well-being, is the opposite, using a desire to love myself or to frame my situation in a positive light in order to accomplish something.

I think if I can’t successfully use that strategy, then maybe I just shouldn’t be doing whatever it is I am trying to do.


Quote: The Porcupine Effect August 26, 2012

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I received the following quote from a loyal blog reader and sangha friend in response to the Brene Brown video on vulnerability posted earlier:

Joan Halifax (Being with Dying) talks about overcoming “the porcupine effect”:

“Some of us have dependency issues, and a hard time receiving support from others, thus we may repress our fundamental tenderness toward each other. All too often our so-called strength comes from fear, not love; instead of having a strong back, many of us have a defended front shielding a weak spine. In other words, we walk around brittle and defensive, trying to conceal our lack of confidence. If we strengthen our backs, metaphorically speaking, and develop a spine that’s flexible but sturdy, then we can risk having a front that’s soft and open, representing choiceless compassion.”

Touching the Earth: Photos August 21, 2012

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Photos from my recent Touching the Earth camping and meditation retreat.

Can a person take photos mindfully? Likely so, but I don’t these these ones were…












Nature and Meditation August 21, 2012

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I noticed after posting my previous article about the camping and meditation retreat that I didn’t say much about the nature setting of the retreat. Because it was my first retreat outdoors, I have been thinking about how to capture the effect that being in the wilderness for four days had on my overall experience.

In some sense, its not very surprising to me that I don’t have any huge insights or intense experiences to share about being on retreat in nature. For me, the effect that nature has on my overall well-being and my consciousness is nothing new. Nature has been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember.

Over the past few years, I have been discovering all of the many different ways that nature and wilderness affects my wellness. Again and again, I keep seeing just how important it is for me to spend time in nature regularly. Perhaps because it can be difficult at times for me to get out into nature and wilderness, it seems I keep underestimating just how restorative and healing this type of environment can be.

As I mentioned in my previous post, being in a natural environment where I am immersed in, and surrounded by, wild plants and animals, allows me to feel a great deal of ease and peace that I rarely feel in urban settings. I think silence is an important part of this, I realize now after living in noise pollution for so many years.

I also enjoy a great deal of love and acceptance while being in nature. It seems I can drop the persona or self-identity of the various aspects of my human experience, and just be another living being, walking on the earth, under the sun and sky. It seems that these environments allow me to find a sense of love and acceptance within myself,  or that nature reflects back to me my own loving and caring nature.

I could say that it doesn’t matter what I write about regarding how important nature is to me, because the act of participating in the event says more than any words I could write. I turned down many other very appealing and exciting opportunities to take part in the trip, so the fact that I prioritized this trip in my life says something about what I need to be well and what I find satisfying.

I will say that it was important to me to be able to meet other people who place importance on both meditation and nature in their lives, because these two aspects have become quite important in my life lately. It was also important to me to meet a meditation teacher who incorporates nature into their teachings. I was very eager to learn how the teacher combined nature and the dharma in a way that would speak to me.

In all, I found it very satisfying to have the chance to meet and spend four wonderful days with so many people. I experienced a strong sense of community and connection with my fellow campers and practitioners. In a sense, it was a relief to not feel the alienation I often experience of being a nature-lover trapped in the city (although it is more likely that many people in the city feel more like I do but don’t express it).

“For Jeanne”: A Poem August 20, 2012

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For Jeanne

With a gentle nudge

the body of the boat glides away

effortlessly sailing on the water

over the forest of reeds

How long have I been struggling?

How long have I been fighting the current

ignoring the wind

forcing my tired body that’s crying out in pain?

Where have I been paddling?

Look again

the distant vision I have been striving for endlessly

day and night

is only an illusion

that vanishes as easily as the water’s reflection

in a gentle breeze

So let the image of the canoe

the vision of the peaceful silent movement

touch me deeply

in my heart

May it be that easy for me

from time to time

May I take the time to stop

and sit atop the glassy water

and let the tiny waves nudge me along

May I find my breath

again and again

so I can paddle in harmony with my body

May I end the journey

just for now

and pull into this shore

Let me stay here a while

long enough to listen to my heart

and dwell in my body

and learn how to be again

before I set out

into the water

once more

August 12, 2012

Anglin Lake, SK

Touching the Earth Deeply: Canoe Trip Meditation Retreat August 16, 2012

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I recently had the wonderful opportunity to take part in a combined canoe trip and meditation retreat aptly named Touching the Earth. The retreat was led by a meditation teacher from Saskatoon who I had met years before at a Day of Lovingkindness. I had heard about the retreat from a friend, and other sangha members told me it would be a wonderful opportunity.

The main reason I wanted to go was because I needed to go camping. I didn’t go camping last summer while living in Ontario for many reasons, and I thought I would be okay going without just this once. I thought I could compensate by going outside a lot. I was wrong, I wasn’t okay.

I gave up an annual family vacation in BC to go on the trip. I had to explain to many of my family members why I was going, and told them plain and simply I needed to go. This is what I need.

The trip lasted four days, and I caught a ride with a sangha buddy to a small, quiet lake up north in Saskatchewan. There were 11 people total.

One of the main benefits I received from the trip was a huge letting go of my preoccupations, and I enjoyed a great amount of space, freedom, ease, and peace inside. It was truly a delight for me to let go of a lot of burdens and preoccupations. I felt like the environment around me was the perfect setting to do this. I experienced a lot of harmony with my surroundings, and a great deal of deep connection and communion with all of the wildlife around me–I had never seen so many birds in my life! It was like I was letting go of everything and letting all of the Earth, all of Nature, all of the trees and birds and plants and animals just hold it all for me until I ready to deal with it again.

I experienced a great deal of healing on the trip. Being surrounded by so much space–such big sky, such huge expansive lakes, so many trees as far as I could see–in an environment where I felt safe and secure and supported created so much space inside for myself. I was able to take a step back and look clearly at how I was living my life this past little while and see what was causing so much pain in my heart. My heart had been hurting and grieving for some time, and I was too ashamed and afraid to look at the reasons why. The teacher’s guided lovingkindness meditation really helped, it was a wake up call for me to treat myself more kindly, more gently, more lovingly.

The retreat was named Touching the Earth, and I really felt like I touched the Earth deeply. We actually got to do the five earth touchings from Thay’s book Happiness which I have practiced on several recent retreats. I find that ritual to be very deeply moving, and I had tears streaming down my face the entire time. When we prostrated to touch the Earth, I really had a powerful feeling that I was touching deeply and intimately with the Earth below me. Very moving.

The retreat was actually held in silence with sharing circles. At first I was a bit ambivalent about the silence because all camping trips I had been on before were never silent, so I wasn’t sure what to think, maybe I even thought it was a little bit silly. But as always, once I fall into silence, I absolutely love it. I am so comfortable with it. I forget the delight and freedom of not having to engage in social conversations, while still enjoy the company of other people.

One more aspect of the trip about which I was a bit ambivalent was not being able to fish. I love to fish (maybe because I’m Metis), and find it to be so much fun. While on the trip, I would see and hear fish jumping all of the time, and my immediate reaction was, “Oh, I bet there’s fish over there!” And then I would realize, oh, yeah, I don’t actually have any fishing gear with me, so sometimes I would just smile to myself. Habit energy, I guess. It was actually kind of nice not to have to worry about all of the fishing gear and what to do with fish once you catch them.

All in all, the trip was exactly what I needed. It was worth it, all of the work I put into it to get arranged and all of the other opportunities I gave up. I knew it was worth it the first night we were out on the lake paddling on the calm water, the sky so big around me. That moment was pure magic, pure fulfillment of some of my deepest desires. It reminded me of feeling so filled with the amazing spirit of Nature and the Earth on my high school canoe trips.


My New Buddha Statue August 16, 2012

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A mini bronze Buddha statue I recently bought. Isn’t she beautiful?

Letting Go of Burdens, Shaking Off Worries August 13, 2012

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In a previous post, I shared this quote from Thay in his book Peace is Every Breath:

“Know how to shake off the worries and live joyfully. This is an art. Practice to let go of unimportant things that don’t bring happiness.”

This quote was and is still meaningful for me because I find it a constant challenge to feel that I am allowed to let go of my worries, that I can actually let go of my “problems” and just live mindfully in the present moment.

I am also reminded of a quote from the book Solitude that I just read that “life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved.” This quote was and is also meaningful to me, because it often seems that that is the way I approach life: Problems keep coming up that I have to solve, and once all of my problems and issues are sorted out and figured out, then I can finally relax and actually be happy and content.

My tendency to act this way has become quite apparent because of recent events. Last week I spent several days out of town visiting family and didn’t have access to the internet. I brought some notes with me for job hunting but didn’t look at them once. So I spent almost a full week not spending any time working on job searching. (The worry came up after a few days that I hadn’t checked my e-mail: “There might be an urgent e-mail right this minute that needs a response!” I couldn’t do anything about it, though.)

It seemed that for much of a week, because I was travelling and away from where I was staying this past month, that I could drop the burden of looking for a job. And it has become a burden much of the time. I can get feeling quite stressed out and worried about whether I’m doing the right steps or spending enough time on it. Sometimes my fear builds that I won’t find a job or I will run out of money.

So coming home from my trip I noticed that my stay with family was very relaxing in the sense that I had dropped the worries when I left on the trip, and experienced relief and some sense of peace. Nevertheless, it seemed that the closer I got to home from my trip, the more burdened and anxious I got. Sure, I might have dropped my worries when I left, but I picked them right up as soon as I got back.

I’ve noticed similar experiences on meditation retreats. I make all of the arrangements to spend a few days away from home to focus solely on my spiritual practice. I feel confident enough that everything is in place until I get back that the retreats are experienced as a huge relief from the usual daily burden of my worries and “problems.” And of course, the struggle after the retreat is how to continue my life after I get back without picking up the burden of my worries and concerns as soon as I return home.

But perhaps this is why meditation retreats, and vacations as well, are so successful. I am in a different location so all of my usual reminders of my worries and problems are gone. I’m surrounded by people that I only or mostly know through meditation. Finally, I’m completely taken care of on retreat in terms of a place to stay and sleep and all of my meals prepared. Of course I don’t need to worry about my usual problems in a such a setting!

I also find it amusing how I thought that the act of moving would somehow magically make my problems disappear. I noticed in Ontario that I frequently had the thought that when I move I won’t have to worry about certain problems or issues I was facing. I would be leaving the cause of the problems behind, when the causes came from where I live. At times I had the wisdom to notice, “No, the problems will follow me wherever I go, unless I am truly able to transform my difficulties wherever I am in the present moment.”

Sure enough, my foresight came true. Of course, I left my degree program behind now that I’ve finished with all of its struggles and challenges, but the same habit energy is still in me: The same behaviours and strategies I used to work on my school work are now directly transferred to my job search. I worry about spending enough time on job searching, I am obsessing over strategies to use to achieve my goals, I worry about what other people think and perceive of me, and I feel impatient and rushed because I have to many things I “have to do” and not enough perceived time to do it.

What I’m trying to explore now is how to practice the art of shaking off my worries and living joyfully and freely in each moment. I want to try to not worry about my “to do’s” if I’m not actually doing them in that moment. I want to offer myself gentleness, lovingkindness, and compassion by deciding that I am allowed to let my projects go, and everything will be just fine if I do that. I hope I can experience more peace, freedom, and joy by doing this.

Beautifully Inspiring Video: Brene Brown on The Power of Vulnerability August 8, 2012

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I came across this video several months ago while browsing the Ted talks site for a little entertainment, something I don’t do often at all. I absolutely loved it the first time I saw it, and it really stayed with me for some reason. I looked it up again recently, and found it as moving and inspiring as the first time I saw it. There are so many truths and so much dharma in it! I hope you find it as valuable as I did.

On Loving Speech August 8, 2012

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Recently I have had the opportunity to practice loving speech. Since I’ve moved back from Ontario, I have spent some time staying at my parents’ house, with my brother also staying with us. Many times I have watched myself resort to critical and negative speech, despite my view of myself as a dedicated practitioner of the five mindfulness trainings. Nevertheless, I am committed to practicing loving speech, despite the great effort it can take and the many learning experiences I encounter.

Visiting my parents has made loving speech particularly challenging, in part because I am not used to living with so many people at once in a small space since I was a teenager. Also, I feel constricted at times by my family’s best efforts to make conversation with me and catch up after being away for so long, where often I’m really not in the mood to visit.

Perhaps the biggest reason why I’m finding loving speech challenging is because I find myself drawn into old habitual ways of thinking, speaking, and acting since I was a teenager, despite the years I have had separation from my family and been on my own. I guess this is just to be expected that we all resort to familiar ways of being with each other. After all, family and familiar are made of the same root word origins.  My parents also resort to speaking to me and treating me like I’m still a teenager. But it is up to me to pause and take a step out of those unskilful patterns and find new ways of relating to my family.

How do I practice loving speech? I try to keep mindful of my intention as much and as often as I can. I intend to treat my family members with love, care, and respect (and that can include standing up for myself to assert my own needs). I am determined to do no more harm to my family in the way I speak and act toward them.

The times when I have to try my hardest to practice loving speech is when I am asking someone to do something for me, or when I want to criticize or suggest a different way of doing something around the house. I have noticed that I can ask someone to do something in a kind and loving way that doesn’t put an expectation that they should do it, or they are supposed to. Instead, what I can do is preface my request with a statement about myself (“It’s hard for me to prepare a meal when there are dishes in the way.”). Then I visualize myself calmly smiling, and that the words coming out of my mouth are kind and loving.

I ask as kindly as I can if they would like to helpme out by doing something for me (“Can you move your dishes for me?”). But even in the asking, I try to make it a soft request, not  a harsh demand that has to be fulfilled. I try not to have attachment to the outcome of another person’s behaviour. In other words, if they desire to help me out, it is great, but if not, that’s perfectly fine, too, and I can figure out a way to handle it myself.

Of course, this is the ideal of how I would like things to happen. But as always happens, people get tired, irritated and impatient, and these ideals are not always fulfilled.

Nevertheless, the times when I am able to try my best to act this way, I find that things go much more smoothly with my family. Its satisfying to see the practice put to work and to see such rapid results.

I hope I can take these lessons and apply them elsewhere…with friends, acquaintances, colleagues, coworkers, and relatives.

I will end with a reflection that I think I feel such a strong desire to act and speak lovingly to my family because strong memories have become so salient of how much I used to be verbally abusive to my family members as a teenager. As a typical teenager, I was egotistical, selfish, and completely self-absorbed. So I resorted to yelling and screaming at them, and acting violent around the home, in order to get what I wanted. I want to reverse these harmful effects in whatever way I can in the present.