Just Take One Minute

I was out for a walk in my neighborhood, grooving to some tunes on my headphones and lost in my head, when I saw this poster on a telephone pole:

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It stopped me in my tracks. I was pleased and amazed that some mystery person had taken the time to remind his neighbors to be mindful. It was a refreshing change from the usual garage sale and lost cat posters, and I liked that it had rusty staples like it had been there awhile, anonymously encouraging people as they passed by.

And so I stood there, trying to do what the sign said. Boy, one minute can sure seem like a long time, I thought, feeling anxious to get back to my Daft Punk. I’m not sure if I can spare one minute. I don’t want my heart rate to come down, I explained to myself.

They say that if you if you don’t have time to meditate, you should just do a practice for 20 minutes. And if you don’t have 20 minutes, you should meditate for an hour. How apt.

I continued on my walk, observing how difficult it was to take even just one minute out of my whole day, just one of 1,440 minutes.

Then I moved house, and all my minutes got jumbled up, my usual routines and practices all went out the window for a few days. In the chaos I kept thinking about that mystery sign, how I should just take one minute to press pause, look up at the spacious sky, and take in the wider view. Remind myself of the fleeting nature of the moving experience, and that there were constants I could find all around me.

I started a new little mantra: Just Take One Minute. When I felt myself getting overwhelmed with my “gotta do’s” or rushing about town, I stopped and did nothing but breathe for one minute. Instead of jumping in the car and simultaneously setting the iPod, sipping water, putting on lip gloss, buckling the seatbelt, fishing for a mint in the glove box, putting on sunglasses, singing, punching in directions to the phone, AND backing out of the driveway, I just stopped for one minute before doing anything else. And breathed. THEN I started the process of backing out and driving, and I noticed that I was more prone to do one task at a time, and that I was more aware and engaged in the task at hand: driving.

So I invite you to try this simple little practice. Read to the end of this paragraph, and then stop everything for one minute and just feel yourself breathing. Without changing the breath, just notice what it feels like. Then at the end of the minute, notice how you feel overall. Has anything changed? How can you use this practice to help you manage your life?

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On the Edge of the Neutral Zone

I’m on the move again, packing up my belongings and relocating to a new home. This will be the 27th time I’ve moved in 44 years, which I’m guessing is more than the average person experiences in their lifetime. I suppose I should be an expert at it by now, but moving is always a challenge.5668170-brown-cardboard-moving-box-on-a-white-background-with-a-fragile-sticker

Experiencing change is simply part of being human. There are the changes that come with the natural rhythms of our lives, as well as the unexpected events that force us out of our familiar patterns. These transition times are an opportunity to deepen our understanding of who we fundamentally are.

This transitional, in-between state is like a neutral zone (well, Comic-Con is in town afterall). It’s a liminal state. What once was, is no more, and what is to come has not yet come into being. Half my stuff is at the new place; half of it is still being packed up at the old.

Living in this liminal state can produce anxiety, since all the old structures are breaking down, yet new structures have not yet been built to provide that vital sense of connectedness with life. It is during this transition state when it’s common to have feelings such as grief, loss, doubt, excitement, anxiety, and confusion.

Yet we are also most open to God’s ‘still small voice’ during this time. When you’re stripped away of those outer structures, you can look directly at who you are. You, without all your stuff or routines or habits, your personality quirks. Just your divine essence.

Moving and any change can be very stressful. It’s easy to just check out during the transition process, “killing” time, or waiting it out like a delayed flight. But these transition moments are present moments like any other. I found that I kind of liked my meditation room emptied out, and that a packing box makes a good yoga prop for a restful legs-up-the-box pose. I found that I could create my own sense of spaciousness amidst what feels like chaos on the outside, just by doing a simple sitting practice. The liminal time became a rich experience in itself.

imagesThink of all the transitions you make in your life: the simple act of breathing in and out; moving from one yoga pose to another; getting in and out of the car; work time to play time, sleeping to waking. And there are the larger transitions: growing older, marrying and divorcing, living and dying. Life is one long transition.

See if you can find some awareness of these liminal states as you move throughout your day. If you meditate, take a few moments after your formal practice to just notice what is, before moving into the next activity. When you first wake up simply be aware of your consciousness, before the monkey mind has his espresso and springs into action. Or take any mundane moment, like taking a sip of water, as a reminder to Be Here Now.

We can find continuity during change by claiming the present moment. Over and over and over again.

Rock On, with Awareness!

The spiritual life pervades daily life. That’s my view. You don’t have to sit in a cave or be a renunciant to have a spiritual practice. And you don’t have to compartmentalize your practice to your cushion or mat or any formal practice. You can find opportunities to practice all around you.

Summer is my favorite time of year, and one of my favorite activities is going to all the outdoor concerts that San Diego hosts. Pack a picnic, feel the breeze off the Bay, and swim in an ocean of sound.

You might not think of a rock concert as a particularly spiritual place, but if you keep an open mind there are signs all around.

I had to like the sign the Yeah Yeah Yeahs put up at their show: “Please do not watch the show on a screen through your smart device/phone. Put that shit away as a courtesy to the person behind you and to Nick, Karen, and Brian! Much love and many thanks!” I’m not so much annoyed by having to watch a live show through somebody else’s screen, but I have often wondered how present these folks are. Are you here experiencing the ephemeral magic of a live show? Or are you busy recording the event so later you can try to remember whether you were there?

At another show Cyndi Lauper chatted with the audience about the subject of meditation. “I can’t meditate. I have too many thoughts in my head,” she said in her girly voice, pointing to her red dreadlocks. I wanted to jump out of my seat and shout, “That’s exactly why you should meditate! I’ll teach you how!” But social decorum kept me in my seat, reflecting on how much we all desire inner peace.

Then while watching an electrifying show by Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks asked the crowd to listen to each song as if for the first time. I loved this idea as a practice of mindfulness, and it helped me delve deeper into the sound and meaning of their songs. Maybe that also explains how they keep their sound so fresh and intense after all these years, as if they’re playing them for the first time.

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Rock on, Gold Dust Woman!

Concerts are also a great place to observe group energy and dynamics. It’s thrilling to see thousands of people singing in unison. Imagine what else we could do with our world when we all sing together.

Have fun this summer, and remember that wherever you go, there you are. Enjoy your life adventure!

Happiness is a Skill

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. These ideals are part of the very fabric of American life, written even into our Constitution. But maybe the Founding Fathers should have clarified what they meant about happiness, because it seems as a nation we have gotten caught up in the pursuit of happiness, rather than finding happiness where we always are: in the present moment.

For many of us, real happiness is a fleeting phenomenon. It always seems to be just around the next corner, in the next promotion, a new house, a new car, or even a new partner. We think that acquiring something new and better will bring contentment, but usually it doesn’t work. After the novelty of newness wears off, life returns to a baseline and we crave the next new thing.

Life is full of ups and downs. You can choose to BE happy.

Life is full of ups and downs. You can choose to be happy.

Some new studies are showing that there is another way to find lasting happiness. Instead of trying to find happiness as the direct result of something, you can focus on simply being happy and success will follow. We can actually reshape how the brain responds to the everyday environment through neuroplasticity, a concept that is gaining momentum in the scientific community and that has practical applications for all of us. You can change your perception simply by paying more attention to what is working right instead of constantly worrying about what is wrong.

Many years ago I was at a party and someone asked how I was doing. I started into a whole laundry list of everything that was going wrong in my life, but the other person just held up their hand and said, “No, I don’t acknowledge any of that.” I was shocked. But after the bruise to my ego healed I could see that they actually were happy. It was like they’d put up an umbrella against the dark cloud I’d been carrying around with me.

I’ve been trying to experiment with this in social settings by opening the conversation with something positive, or by putting a new spin on the facts. Instead of, “I’m stuck, nothing’s working,” I might try, “Wow, there is so much abundance in my life. I have so many choices and I feel overwhelmed trying to make sense of them all. It’s exciting being in the unknown!” It seems to change the whole tone of the encounter, and now science is backing up this effect.

By treating people kindly, happiness can actually be spread. Neurons that fire together, wire together, is how neuroplasticity is often explained. Changes in mood among one person are contagious in social settings, such as in an office environment. These changes are communicated by mirror neurons, which capture the perceived emotions of others.  If a room contains happy and unhappy people, those most expressive of emotions will have the most influence. Mirror neurons will most strongly pick up their emotions.

Over a longer term, practicing an appreciation for what’s good can rewire the brain to a more optimistic outlook. Just as harmful events and stress can cause anti-social changes in the brain, a positive environment can rewire the brain to promote pro-social behavior and well-being.

So don’t worry, be happy! And Happy Independence Day to all my US readers!

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