Should There Be a Fee for Meditation Instruction?

Should learning to meditate be free? Should instructors be paid for sharing their expertise?

I’ve been thinking about these questions intensely since attending a recent meditation teacher training in which the answer was a resounding NO.

Without naming names, this training was offered for free by a local non-profit that has brought meditation into public schools, churches, the military, large corporations, prisons, hospitals–you name it. Although I already had formal training as a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction teacher and other forms of meditation, I wanted to learn more about best practices for working in the public sector.

But the day left me feeling very frustrated and discouraged. We were told that we were not being certified as representatives of the organization, that they did not want any volunteers, and if we wanted to teach meditation on our own, we should should still follow their provided script and not bring in any other wisdom or techniques. They reiterated again and again that we should not charge for meditation instruction, period.

I felt confused. While I feel that meditation should be made accessible to all, those sharing their skills also need to make a living. How to balance those issues?

At the lunch break I sat with a few participants and informally polled them about their reasons for attending and intentions to teach meditation. Everyone had noble aspirations, from teaching their grandchildren to meditate, to working with battered women’s shelters, to making meditation available to non-English speakers. Sharing the benefits of a meditation practice with others is a beautiful thing; with that I could not argue.

Yet I had invested $2500 in my training as an MBSR teacher, not to mention the money I had spent learning bodywork modalities, yoga teacher training, and personal enrichment, trying to make myself a well-rounded teacher. Was I wrong to want to be compensated for my hard-earned expertise and experience?

I decided to press the instructor further on his financial model. If his organization has no outside funding, there are no paid employees, he doesn’t charge for his services, and this is his full time career, how does he support himself? I asked him this pointedly in front of the group and he replied, “How do I live? I live peacefully and happily.” It was all I could do not to flip him the bird.

I felt insulted, frankly. I am serious about my meditation practice and about sharing its benefits with others. I am just as serious about paying my rent on time and wanting to secure a future for myself. Money is not a dirty word; it’s just energy. Exchanging money for instruction in meditation seems acceptable to me. I have always donated some of my time and services to underserved populations, which is my way of making them accessible to those who might not be able to afford them.

After this experience I began to wonder, should people charge for meditation instruction? I mean, what could be more simple than focusing the attention on the breath? It’s the birthright of everyone on this planet. Everyone has the tools, yet I hear from people all the time that they want help in developing the skills, and some are willing to pay for that expertise.

But not all. Twelve years after starting my massage practice, two years after my yoga teacher training, and a year after my MBSR training, I am barely getting by financially. I am in my mid-40s and have never made more than $20k per year. I’m over it! I don’t aspire to be rich and enjoy living simply, but I would like to feel secure, knowing that I can pay my bills and be planning for my old age. Mindfulness was recently on the cover of Time magazine, evidence that it has become mainstream, yet here I am.

I’m not sure what I want to do with all this. I am planning to go back to graduate school in the fall and finish my master’s degree in library and information science, hoping it might lead to a better job where I can still help people. I’m not sure what to do with this blog, or my website, whether to market my teaching or where to put my energy.

I would really like to hear from people about whether meditation instruction has value, and whether to charge a fee or not. If you are “making it” as a spiritual teacher, let me know how. Is there a model that you think works well (e.g. a corporation sponsoring meditation instruction made available for free to participants)? Teachers, students, I want to hear from everyone.

Thank you!

The Meditation Diet

Here we are in the third week of January. This is the time when most of us who made New Year resolutions are already slacking off. Statistics show that only eight percent of people who make New Year resolutions actually stick to them, and most people abandon them after just one week.

Weight loss is the number one resolution we make, and I was no exception. I decided to try a low carb diet to lose ten pounds, and started January 1. After three weeks of it, and not losing a single pound, I got discouraged and gave up.

My other resolution was to change not just what I was eating, but how. I’ve always been one of those people who likes to read while I eat. I like classified ads or small bite-sized information that I can read between glances at my plate. Maybe it’s a habit from living alone. Not sure. But I do know that it disconnects me from the eating experience.

I don’t have a dining table. Well, actually I do, but it doubles as my sewing table and it always seems to be covered with fabrics and notions and knits being blocked. The table used to do double duty but I’m still reeling from the time I tripped and spilled an entire plate of spaghetti marinara over my sewing machine and project. Since then I’ve moved to the worst place of all to eat: at my desk in front of the computer.

Yep, one hand on the mouse, the other holding a fork. And is if it couldn’t get any worse, while I eat I surf the internet for those bite-size nuggets of information, typically news. And what’s usually in the news? Bad stuff. Death. Destruction. Suffering. Not really what I want on my menu.

I looked over at my bunny, Gilligan, and how he eats. He’s focused. He eats one piece of cilantro at a time. He chews, he swallows, then he starts another piece. His eyes half close in contentment. When he’s full, he stops.

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When I teach my mindfulness classes, we eat a single raisin as slowly as possible, using all the senses and observing what happens when we slow down and focus on the task at hand. Eating becomes a meditation in itself.
Evidence is emerging that the best approach for long term, healthy weight management is mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation reduces stress, bridges the mind-body split that is at the root of most disordered eating, and puts you in touch with your natural hunger and satiety cues. It also frees you from the influence of emotions and thought patterns that provoke you to eat (when you are not mindful and conscious of them).
You can practice this yourself, using a single food like a raisin or a handful of nuts or an orange. Then extend it to your whole meal. Then expand it to the steps in cooking your meal, savoring it, and even cleaning up afterward. I love the idea of washing your dishes as if bathing a baby Buddha. With practice, your whole life becomes a practice of mindfulness.
Here are a few tips to explore mindful eating:
  • Eat in a place free of distractions such as TV, computer, phone. Before the first bite, take a few deep breaths to get settled.
  • Appreciate your food. Take a moment to ponder where it came from, who grew it, who transported it to your table, even your own efforts to prepare it.
  • Notice. Are you feeling impatient? Are you mentally distracted? Don’t judge yourself; just notice what’s happening as you prepare to eat.
  • Use your senses. What textures, colors, smells do you notice in the food you are about to eat? Observe.
  • As you take your first bite, keep noticing what’s happening in your mind. Are you making judgments about the food (too hot, too cold, too salty…)? Notice how easy is it for the mind to make comparisons.
  • Chew thoroughly. Savor all the textures and flavors you experience.
  • As you continue to eat, the mind will likely wander off into thoughts. When you notice this, bring your attention back to your food and the experience of eating.
  • When you feel full, stop eating and spend a few moments breathing quietly before moving on to the next task.

The Magical Laundrymat

Yesterday was laundry day, which meant a trip down to the Magical Laundrymat. Yes, that’s what it is actually called, an unassuming place with a name that always makes me laugh. Magical? Laundry? My experience there had always been absolutely mundane.

Laundry is one of my least favorite chores. I put it off as long as possible. Then I find ways to spend the least amount of time in the actual laundrymat. I put my washer load in, set a timer on my phone for 28 minutes, then go run an errand like mailing a letter at the post office, or washing the car. At minute 27 I go back in and move the clothes to the dryer, reset the timer for 32 minutes, and find something else to do. Usually I go sit in my car with a book.

Except this time I forgot my book. Doh!! I thought about walking the couple blocks home to get my book, but by the time I got back the laundry would be finished anyway. My familiar bugaboo, boredom, loomed large.

A little voice in my head went off: “Hey, Mindfulness Teacher! What if you just did nothing?” I sat down on a bench and crossed my arms, resisting the idea. I saw the timer on the dryer: 28 minutes to go. Sure seemed like a long time to do nothing.

A spiritual lesson just waiting to be discovered.

A spiritual lesson just waiting to be discovered.

I drew a few deep breaths and gazed at the dryer, the tumbler going round and round and round. Round and round and round. I felt mesmerized. The rhythm of the motor began to take over the buzz in my head. I picked out a piece of clothing, a red top, and watched it circling around and around. Then another piece caught my attention, my pink bunny-print pajamas, and I followed its circuital route with my eyes. Then a black sock took over.

Suddenly it occurred to me: this is like meditation! Thoughts flit across the tumble dryer of the mind like clothing. We latch onto these thoughts and follow them, churning them around and around. But we don’t have to.

I softened my gaze, letting the image of the dryer go blurry so it was just a wash of color like an Impressionist painting. I could still detect movement, but instead I focused on the image as a whole. Clothing coming and going, thoughts coming and going, breath coming and going. I felt peaceful.

A buzzer went off and the tumbler stopped. My laundry was done. I was surprised by how quickly the time had passed. I realized then why the place was called the Magical Laundrymat, and how little moments of inner sight can come from the most mundane of chores. I vowed to leave my book at home the next time, too.

An Eye Opening Meditation

I went to the Mingei Museum in Balboa Park recently to see an exhibit of over 300 quilts. I began exploring quilting a couple years ago and thought it would be fun and inspiring to see what others have done. Except that when I arrived the docent told me there had been an error on the web site–no quilts here. I was disappointed. “You should still check out the current exhibits. We have some interesting things to see here,” he said, consoling me.

So I began wandering around the museum. There was an exhibit on called “Take a Seat”, all about chairs and seating through the ages. I found myself doing what I usually do at museums and art galleries: shuffling along and letting my eyes pass over objects without really stopping to study them. I passed by elaborate carved wood chairs, plastic folding chairs, a jump seat from an airplane, old-fashioned school desk-chairs. I felt bored. Chairs weren’t quilts.

I just had to put some quilts in here! Here's one I made for my meditation room.

I just had to put a quilt in here! Here’s one I made for my meditation room.

Then I spotted a meditation cushion, part of the exhibit. It was a rectangular green zabuton with a square zafu to match. I smiled. I actually stopped to read the plaque: “Traditional Japanese meditation cushion.” It looked a lot like my own cushion at home. I began to think about my mindfulness practice and how I had been drifting through the museum rather mindlessly. Had I really seen anything?

I sat on a bench across from a chair. Immediately my mind began to analyze and label the chair. The color, the era, the materials, the shape. I made judgments about how I disliked it. I compared it to the chair next to it. Oh, how my mind wanted something to grasp!

Seeing, without looking, can be a form of meditation. When we slow down enough, and let the attention become soft and open, we begin to see things simply as they are, without trying to categorize and label everything. When we step back, we begin to notice simple concepts such as “color” or “curve”, without having to name it “orange” or “chair back”.

In this spaciousness you may begin to notice your body relaxing, your breath smooth and even. The object of your attention has not changed, but the readiness of the mind to receive it has transformed. You may become aware of details you never noticed before. Sometimes this eye-opening can be transcendent, reminding us of timeless truths or the Infinite itself.  You may perceive the wholeness and oneness of the object, inseparable from the viewer. Other times it can be an opening to what is immanent, to the physicality of sight and its object, to the exquisite sensuality of the real.

I invite you to try this meditation anywhere: go to a museum or a park, or even just look up at your ceiling as if you’ve never seen it before. Choose something to gaze at, let the initial thoughts rise and pass, and then settle into a state of quiet reception, and see what happens.

I may not have gotten to see my quilts, but the docent was right: there were some very interesting things to see in the museum.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Class Starts Soon

I’m very excited to announce that I’ll be teaching my first Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course in San Diego beginning October 23.  More details and registration here, and see the flyer below.

So what is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR? It’s a structured 8-week course that develops the quality of present moment awareness through meditative disciplines such as sitting and walking meditation, mindful movement (gentle yoga stretches), and bringing awareness to daily activities such as eating and interacting with others.

Meditation itself simply refers to the activity of paying attention on purpose. In this practice it is possible to develop the capacity to see things as they really are in a non-judgmental, open-hearted way, allowing for the capacity to live more fully, less on “auto-pilot”, and with greater clarity and insight.  This in turn reduces physical and psychological stress.

MBSR was originally developed in the 1980s by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.  Since then, a large body of evidence has developed to demonstrate the benefits of attention practice in the health care setting.  These concepts will be explored, experienced, and expanded in the basic 8-week course.

This fall’s class will be very intimate, limited to just six people, so sign up early to guarantee your spot.

MBSR-1MBSR-2

Help! There’s a Monkey in my Mind!

I was chatting with a handyman while he installed an air conditioner at my house. “So what do you do?” he asked over the noise of his drill. “I teach meditation,” I said, noticing bits of drywall falling onto my zabuton. “Oh, meditation…I tried that once. Couldn’t do it. Too many thoughts in my head.” I smiled at the familiar refrain and said, “Yes, the monkey mind. I know just what you mean.”

“Whaddaya mean, monkey?” he asked, wiping the sweat from his brow. “Well, think about the way a monkey swings from tree to tree, going from fear to desire and thought to thought. That’s what our minds do without a focus,” I said. He laughed at the image. “Meditation is simply paying attention on purpose,” I continued, “and it can help interrupt that cycle and bring you peace.” “Huh,” he got quiet and continued drilling.

“So I guess you’ve tamed your monkey, since you’re a teacher and all,” he said as he worked. I burst out laughing. “No way, dude! I wrestle with mine every day. I’ve just learned a few techniques to help keep him in check. It’s something that comes with practice.”

He looked encouraged and began to tell me about his experience with recovery from drugs and alcohol. “I’m doing so much better these days but I still have so much stress,” he said, shaking his head. “I just think there’s got to be a better way, you know?” “There is,” I said, and handed him my card.

monkey mind

Ah, the monkey mind. If you’ve ever tried to meditate, even for just one minute, you’ve met your monkey. He’s the one who leads you over past hurts, drags you into future planning, and gets you started on a grocery list when you’re trying to focus on your breath. He’s insidious and distracting and incredibly frustrating. And the bad news is, he never goes away.

But the good news is, you CAN tame the monkey. The human mind has over 100,000 thoughts per day. That’s what our minds do: they make patterns and analyze and invent ideas. Our minds are incredibly creative tools. You can use that brilliant brain of yours to make friends with your monkey and find more focus, and therefore more peace. Here are a few tips:

When I lived in the UK they had an expression: ‘Slowly, slowly, catch a monkey.’ In other words, don’t get angry and wave your arms and threaten the monkey because he’ll only run away. Instead use kindness and sweetness. I like to use humor and imagine that I’m working with a child or a cute little animal. “Hey, little monkey! Aw, you’re so cute. Want a juicy banana? Come and sit quietly next to me while I meditate.” When I realize my attention has wondered off yet again, I laugh inwardly and say, “Ah, it’s happened again. That’s so funny. Come on back now.” Self-criticism won’t get you anywhere. Be compassionate towards yourself.

Give the monkey something to chew on. Use a mantra or repeat a phrase over and over (such as ‘I am at peace’ or ‘Breathing in, breathing out.’). Even if the monkey is shrieking and flying all over the place in the background, keep focusing. Eventually the monkey will get bored because you’re not giving him any attention and will quiet down.

Open your eyes slightly and keep a soft focus. Find a point on the floor to gaze at, or a candle flame or symbol, and use the visual as an anchor. I use a Buddha statue in my meditation space. When I get distracted I open my eyes and look at the Buddha. “Huh, he seems to be doing okay. I’ll try again.”

Practice, practice, practice. Practice some more. And then practice some more. Focus in meditation comes with practice. Every time you find you’ve wandered off, just bring your attention back again. And do that over and over and over. You will still have distractions but you’ll learn to recognize them for what they are. You’ll become more adept at ignoring them and keeping your concentration. And then one day you just might be surprised to find that little monkey asleep in your lap.

A Symphony of Sound

Let’s talk about sound. I’m settling in to my new living space and adjusting to being in closer proximity to my neighbors than I was before. Next door to me are a group of college freshman who do what college students do: party. All night. Very loudly.

I’ve found the sounds coming from next door really bothersome. They keep me from sleeping, and I’ve found it hard to do my meditative practices during or after their activities. (I wonder, do my Oms at 6am bother them?)

Yet, one of the meditations I lead asks participants to treat sound as just another passing phenomenon. Sounds can be as compelling as thoughts and just as immaterial and open to interpretation.

Good sound or bad sound?

Good sound or bad sound?

One morning I sat outside and tried to experiment with this. Closing my eyes, I immediately began to notice the sounds all around me. I also observed how my mind likes to label and make patterns. It went something like this: “It’s an animal…it’s a bird…it’s a hummingbird.” “It’s a vehicle…it’s a truck…it’s a UPS truck.” “It’s a person…it’s a child…it’s a child crying because he doesn’t want to go to school.”

I admit I found the “neutral sound” meditation very difficult. Maybe it was all the ear training I received when pursuing my bachelor’s degree in music theory. My brain hears sound and wants to give it a name. I hear a car horn and think, “That’s an F Sharp!” A doorbell rings and I hear it as a musical interval. I visited a Buddhist temple where they had a fan going intermittently and I heard it as wind blowing through the Himalayas.

Good sound or bad sound?

Good sound or bad sound?

But if we can let go of labels sound can be like any other ephemeral, passing occurrence. You might even begin to hear sounds as if they were instruments in a symphony: the percussion of a helicopter, the bass of a car stereo, the soprano of an ambulance siren. When we can detach our emotions from these sounds, they become neutral. And when we take the stance of the curious observer, we can lessen our suffering.

Give this practice a try with the following meditation:

·       Settle into a comfortable position and become aware of your breath flowing in and out.

·       When you are ready, shift your awareness to the sounds that are present in this moment.

·       Without searching for sounds, let them come to you and fill your ears while simply hearing sounds near and far away.

·       Notice any judgments or thoughts about the sounds and let them pass away.

·       Notice if you find yourself trying to identify or label the sounds and instead focus on hearing the bare sounds themselves.

·       Be aware that sounds arise and fade away, and notice if there are any spaces between sounds.

·       When your mind wanders or fixates on a particular sound, gently return your attention to the flow of sounds occurring in the present moment.

·       When you are finished, shift your attention back to your breathing and gradually open your eyes.

Finding a Foothold on the Mountaintop

I like to hike. Drive 40 minutes out of San Diego and you’re in the mountains, 6,000 feet up amidst whispering pines. So I turned to my favorite guidebook (Afoot and Afield in San Diego County by Jerry Schad) and picked out a new hike for my day off: Stonewall Peak in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, 850′ elevation gain. That seemed like a lot of elevation for me, but the description said there were switchbacks that made it doable and a magnificent view at the top. I laced up my boots and set off.

On the way there I thought about the mountain metaphor and the mountain/lake meditation I sometimes do. I hoped to find inspiration on my hike and to come back and write a blog post about the qualities of the mountain, that I would easily find steadiness and solidity. But that’s not quite what happened.

Stonewall Peak in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

Stonewall Peak in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

I found the trail head and looked up. Oh. Wow. That’s really high up there. I stopped to read an interpretive sign about how the mountain was formed, and cautioning against rattlesnakes and not hiking alone. A family with young children was just coming down the trail, the little boy riding on his father’s shoulders. Well, if they do it, so can I, I tried to convince myself.

The ascent began almost immediately. I could feel my heart beating fast and my skin getting hot. But I stopped to rest now and again, taking in the ever-increasing view, and plodded on. I passed many other hikers, including lots of small children and dogs. This reassured me.

The hike seemed to go on forever, a relentless uphill climb. But then I glimpsed the peak about 100 feet away. My first thought was, “Hallelujah! I’m at the top!” But then a wave of panic spread over me as I saw how I was supposed to get there.

The Final Ascent

The Final Ascent

There were natural rock steps with a handrail, and on one side the face of the mountain, the other side a sheer drop down 850 feet. I began to feel dizzy and very, very afraid (my heart rate has increased just writing about this). It was the same feeling I had at the top of Monument in London, atop the Eiffel Tower, and in the whispering gallery in St. Paul’s cathedral. Acrophobia. Fear of heights.

My first reaction was to get mad at myself. No no no no no! This can’t happen now! I was aware of what was happening, yet I couldn’t seem to stop it. Then I tried denial, and started to march up the steps with determination. Damn you, fear! You’ll not stop me! But then it got even worse. My palms were sweating. My hands shaking and fingers tingling. I began to get tunnel vision. I freaked out.

I had noticed a man in a green shirt already at the top platform when I first arrived. I figured he would come down soon, and I would just ask him to help me down. But I waited, and waited, and the green T-shirt didn’t come. Then I spotted a family lower down the mountain, posing for pictures. They’ll come! They’ll be here any minute! But, then they turned and headed down the trail instead of up. I felt panicked.

I knew I was hyperventilating, and began scanning my mental toolbox. Okay, you need to find a focus. Gripping the rocks with my sweaty hands, I began to stare at the side of the mountain, just one little patch a few inches wide. At the same time I tried to slow my breath. I began to notice all the different colors in the rock, and the little flecks that sparkled in the sunlight. The only thing happening right now is this mountain, I told myself. Be the mountain. Feel your feet. Feel your heaviness. Breathe like a mountain, slow and even.

I felt a little better. I noticed two butterflies dancing along, just above the summit. They seemed okay. A few more breaths and I found the courage to turn my head and look out over the valley. Wow. So spacious. So still. Like meditation, I thought.

For a few minutes I just stood and took it all in: the view, my reaction to the situation, and my ability to respond and adapt. I had basically meditated my way out of my panic. I felt gratitude for my tools, especially the breath. Then I realized I was going to have to get down the mountain by myself, so I scooted down on my butt a few inches at a time, sort of crab walking my way down the steps. At the bottom I stood and brushed myself off. The precipice out of view, I let out a deep sigh.

Just then a couple walked up, about to make their own final ascent. “How is it up there?” the man asked. I hesitated a moment, about to launch into my story, then said simply, “It’s amazing.”

Whether you’re climbing mountains or struggling to keep your focus in meditation, it can be helpful to find a foothold, something to focus on and bring you back to the present moment, and to the steadiness that is your essence. This foothold could be as simple as the breath, or a mantra, or exploring the detail in a patch of rock on a mountainside. It really is amazing.

Do Yoga Because it’s Stressful

I’m puzzled when people say they can’t do yoga or meditate because they can’t relax, or they aren’t flexible enough. No one is born with the innate ability to relax; the practice itself is what brings increased focus and clarity. By meeting challenging situations again and again with conscious breath, you begin to develop relaxation and serenity. It takes time but research shows that after just six weeks of daily practice, the benefits of yoga and meditation are measurable.

The brain tends to react automatically to sensations of discomfort, triggering the physiological stress response. This might include increased heart and breathing rates, muscle tension, and higher levels of  cortisol and stress hormones. While some stress response is automatic and necessary, it has probably been reinforced by years of negative reactions to stressful situations. Your brain has developed a habit.

The good news is, habits can be changed! Neurons that fire together, wire together. Your thoughts and actions have an effect on the chemical composition of the brain, and the firing pattern of your neurons. A change in posture, relaxing the muscles of your face, and slowing your breathing all affect the brain in a positive, calming way.

In a yoga practice you might experience the stress response when you feel the buildup of lactic acid as muscles strain, or the restricted breathing while twisting your spine. Being upside down or feeling off balance can also produce anxious thoughts. You might suddenly think you’re going to overstretch, or that you’re not strong enough to hold the pose any longer. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to hold warrior pose for one more breath or running away from a sabre toothed tiger, the physiological response is the same: Your muscles tense and your brain reacts with negative thoughts.

But this works both ways. If you relax those muscles, especially in the face, the brain gets a message that says, “oh, time to relax”. Same with deliberately slowing your breathing. Yoga works not because the poses are relaxing, but because they are stressful. It’s the practice of staying calm during those stressors that creates a neurobiological benefit. Yoga retrains the brain’s habit so it doesn’t produce the stress response so automatically.

So when you feel the stress response happening in your body, use slow and deep breathing, relax the face, clear your head of anxious thinking, and focus on what’s happening in the present. These are real skills you can apply to your life, on or off the mat.

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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