The Bear in My Backyard

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I know spring is here for certain when my annual bear makes his first vernal visitation. I’ll hear a ruckus outside and the thud of a downed trashcan, followed by a sighting a few moments later if I’m lucky. My bear is amazingly nimble, his black, velveteen coat undulating as he plods steadily through the brook, up the hillside and across the street to the next set of trashcans in the neighborhood. He’s hungry, and he knows exactly where to find the bounty of human leftovers – and those cans are ever so much more fruitful than foraging in the woods for tiny berries.

A few weeks ago, my bear made his opening appearance of the 2015 season. I heard a rumbling outside and went to the door to investigate. There he was on my back deck large as life, just eight or 10 feet from me. He was looking a little confused, though, because the trashcan he’d come to know as a reliable food source was nowhere to be found. I opened the slider and gently said “skedaddle” a couple of times. Frightened, he quickly climbed up the steep bank in retreat, stopping a safe distance away to peer back at the house through the leaves of the laurel bushes. My guess is he was trying to figure out the case of the missing trash.

The black bears we have around here are big guys (and gals). They scare us – emerging from the woods in all their wildness and coming so close to our homes. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection says the probability of a bear attacking a human is exceptionally low, but will remove bears from proximity in response to our reports. In the process, DEEP also tags their ears and sometimes installs GPS tracking devices around their necks. With enough reports, tagged bears are euthanized.

This makes me very sad, especially because we are the ones to draw bears into our neighborhoods with our birdfeeders, unprotected trashcans, and sometimes food left out just for them. Without these temptations, DEEP says the bears would naturally stay in secluded areas removed from our neighborhoods and our lives.

I was an unwitting contributor to the problem. I don’t have a garage so my trash has been fair game. My bear’s one-time annual visit was a novelty and didn’t require much cleanup, but last year he was back a few times, and I learned how this form of unintentional “feeding” puts the bears’ lives at risk. My trashcan is now a distance from the house, the lid fastened down with a bungee cord. He’ll knock the can down but he can’t get into it, and my hope is he’ll eventually give up trying – and that his attempts are thwarted at every other household on his route. What are the chances?

My bear may be a bit of a troublemaker, but I’ve come to like him. We go back five or six years now, and I appreciate his surprising reliability, the memory that draws him back to this spot time and again, his quiet footfall and great determination, and the timidity that is so unexpected in a creature so impressively big and strong. We don’t want to mess with eachother. It’s a peaceful coexistence we seek, but he can only follow his instincts, not realizing how doing so sometimes puts his life at risk. We humans have a choice, and we can make the mindful one by not indulging the hunger of these gentle beings that cohabit our world.

My bear has two tags, one on each ear, which means he doesn’t have many chances left – and I want him to live. I imagine him sated and happy, with a rich (and natural) source of seeds, berries and plants upon which to graze and flourish, far from the madding crowd.

Kathy Simpson is a freelance writer with Copper Beech Institute who specializes in mindful living and holistic health. She is a regular contributor to Copper Beech Institute’s mindfulness and contemplative practice blog, Awaken Everyday.

Copper Beech Institute is the nation’s newest retreat center for mindfulness and contemplative practice located in West Hartford, Connecticut. We offer more than 40 transformational retreats and courses, as well as mindfulness practice and mindfulness at work offerings to help you find the calm, compassion and true happiness you seek.

Learn more about Copper Beech Institute l Follow our Awaken Everyday blog

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A Little Piece of Ground

by Miranda Chapman

I am in the throes of meaningful upheavals in my life which are both terrifying and beautiful at once. At moments like these, when everything feels uncertain and a sense of stability has gone missing, the world can offer a little piece of ground, just enough to stand on, to keep walking. I was given this gift of ground in one of my weekly mindfulness sessions at Hartford Correctional Center.

The group at HCC is ever-changing and in the latest iteration an intense and rough man entered our circle. He has tattoos all over, one of which reads ‘RELENTLESS’ across his throat, ‘DISTURBED’ on one of his forearms, and ‘FUCK THIS’ across the knuckles on both of his hands. When he first walked into our group his agitation and discomfort was palpable.

We always start with an arrival meditation and then go around the circle checking in with how we are doing, where we are at, and what we are working with. It’s a really incredible space of vulnerability and a call to action for honest sharing and deep listening — a rare space in a correctional environment. When he first shared he said that his mind is always racing and he never feels at ease.

It has been five weeks since he started coming and last week something incredible happened. This is what he shared in circle:

“Just now, when we were meditating I experienced for the first time a quiet mind. For a few moments I was just focusing on my breath, everything else was quiet. I never thought that was possible. I felt so peaceful.”

We all nod and smile at him, encouraging him to continue.

“I was an angry kid. I have been in this place [jail] just for pure violence. This week I was in the dorm [each dorm has 120 men in very close quarters] and I noticed myself getting riled up, feeling the familiar anger start to rise, and then I remembered. I sat back on my bunk, closed my eyes, and started to focus on my breath. I realized that I didn’t have to let the anger control me, I could just watch the anger until it passed. And it did.”

Holding back tears I thanked him and told him that in a time when I needed a little piece of ground, he gave me one. In five short weeks, meeting once a week for a mere hour, this man is starting to transform in front of my very eyes.

This week he shared that he can finally look at himself in the mirror again and the old hate and self-loathing is slowly starting to creep away day-by-day, breath-by-breath.

“Miracles are happening to me. Things that I never thought possible.”

In moments of despair, loss, feeling uprooted, these gifts can come along that remind us that transformation is a breath away and that we only need the ground beneath our feet to keep walking.

by Miranda Chapman, Program Director at Copper Beech Institute

Copper Beech Institute is the nation’s newest retreat center for mindfulness and contemplative practice located in West Hartford, Connecticut. We offer more than 40 transformational retreats and courses, as well as mindfulness practice and mindfulness at work offerings to help you find the calm, compassion and true happiness you seek.

Learn more about Copper Beech Institute l Follow our Awaken Everyday blog
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Becoming a Mindful Risk-Taker

As a mom, I am constantly telling my children to take more risks: call a friend, invite over the new neighbor, try out for the team, enter the race, ask the teacher, etc, etc. I’m like a coach, yelling from the sidelines, telling each one how to get in the game. However, my enthusiasm and You-can-do-it attitude seems to be wearing thin with my older kids. I am pretty sure they are on to me. From their point of view, I am simply on the sidelines, barking out commands. While I am certain I earned the right to be the coach of this team, I know the best mentors are the ones who lead by example and show, not just tell, how the game is played.

It is easy to get caught up in our own rhythm and familiar patterns. As adults, we know what we are good at and what we are not. We let go of challenging our assumptions. We become complacent. We lock away the side of ourselves that once thrived on living just outside our comfort zone. We start forgetting how to take chances. With the Spring energy blossoming and renewing the Earth, new possibilities for getting in the game are all around us. Here is a list of three ways to jump back in:

1. Pursue something with no outcome

Invite friends over without orchestrating the meal ahead of time. Go for a hike with no destination. Dump out all the odds and ends of every art kit not completed and enjoy creating. In this fast-paced world of social media that our children were born into, we sometimes forget that experiences are about relishing each moment, not just about being able to post the end result. It only takes being on Pinterest for a few minutes to receive the gift of inspiration-and the curse of comparison. We start to feel like everyone has achieved more, done more or gone further than we ever could. We remain small, taking fewer risks, and begin to live up to our own labels: “I am not a creative person” “I’m not good at sports” “I am just too type-A for that.” If we push past our need to control the outcome, we can start to let our body be in the same place, at the same time. We can begin to enjoy sinking into an experience rather than just celebrating achievements. We can show others- and even surprise ourselves- with the beauty that is created when we decide to be here, now.

Being Mindful doesn’t mean to play it safe.

2. Expand your perspective through “beginner’s mind”

Pretend you just moved to town. Hop on to Goggle or Yelp to find a new restaurant, a new shop to browse in, or a landmark to visit. Pretend to be a tourist in your own state and make your destination a place you have passed by a thousand times but have never stopped in to see. Start a vegetable garden. Plant an herb bed. Ask an acquaintance for help. Ask that person whose overflowing flower pots you have always admired from afar or the neighbor who spends hours outside creating a breath-taking landscape. Take the time to get your hands dirty, show up with a thirst for curiosity, admit you don’t know how, and seek the guidance of others. Just following a different path and taking the time to be in nature can give us the pause we need to change our perspective.

Being Mindful means changing the lens in which we view our world.

3. Create an internal happiness through daily action

Happiness is an inside job. Most of us let outside events influence our mood, how we feel about ourselves, and to a certain extent, how we even feel about our own lives. We start letting the exterior landscape guide our emotions. The compliment we receive has us on cloud nine, while the snub pulls us back down. We seem to crash instead of glide through this world. Many approach happiness with statements like, “I will be happy when…” This time, try not to focus on the result, focus on the daily action. Planning to sign up for that 5K? Go ahead. It might seem like a bold thing to do, but the real happiness will come from being brave enough to commit to the daily action needed to reach that goal. Instead of saying, “I will be happy when I can finish a 5K,” plan instead to run each day at 7am, for fifteen minutes a day, for two weeks. Research has found that it is easier to do something on a consistent daily basis than every once in awhile. Incorporating it in your daily routine will help build healthy habits. Lean just far enough into the future to think about what you are really willing to commit to today.

Being Mindful means to show up fully in our commitments.

Late in the evening, I climbed the stairs, ready to retire for the night. It had been a busy day. A basketball tournament with an early morning arrival time, followed by two games, homework, baseball practice, and friends over for Sunday dinner. As I quietly approached my son’s room to turn off his reading light, I expected to see a long, lean figure sprawled across the bed in a heap of exhaustion. Instead, my eleven year old popped up from underneath his covers, ready to tell me even more about his day. He recalled the songs he sang in the car ride home; the basketball game shots he took: the ones he made and the ones he didn’t; and his wish to go some place warm to escape the long winter days that had spilled into Spring.

“I thought you would be sound asleep- you had such a busy day. Aren’t you exhausted?”

“Mom, there is so much good things going on, I didn’t have time to ponder them all.”

And so it is. He was literally too excited to go to sleep. Honestly, most of the good things in my life, I view from the coach’s sideline, managing and orchestrating and simply taking it all for granted. I certainly don’t take time to ponder all the good tings— and definitely not with child-like wonder and exuberance. As adults, we cram in the to-do’s, the needs of others, the stress and we almost forget that life isn’t just about existing to get to another day, but rather the excitement of being alive. There are so many good things in each of our lives. When was the last time you couldn’t contain your enthusiasm for this one big, beautiful life you were given?

Kimberlea Chabot is the founder of a hyper-local resource for holistic living called LuckyPennyFound. Please visit www.luckypennyfound.com for more information. Kimberlea lives in West Hartford, Connecticut and considers her husband of 18 years and their three children to be both her greatest blessings – and her greatest challenge to living mindfully. Kimberlea is a regular contributor to the Copper Beech Institute blog, Awaken Everyday.

Copper Beech Institute is the nation’s newest retreat center for mindfulness and contemplative practice located in West Hartford, Connecticut. We offer more than 40 transformational retreats and courses, as well as mindfulness practice and mindfulness at work offerings to help you find the calm, compassion and true happiness you seek.

Learn more about Copper Beech Institute l Follow our Awaken Everyday blog

Subscribe to our eNewsletters l Come to a retreat l Friend us on Facebook l Follow us on Twitter

Body, Heart & Mind: Wellness with Meditation

Meditation has become for me a steadfast morning ritual, but getting there was not a quick and easy path. Learning takes time and beginnings can be difficult, and each person’s journey is unique. I have been meditating on and off for over 10 years, but it’s only been over the last five years that I have come to meditate regularly. The more I practice, the more meditation helps keep me steady and balanced throughout the day.

Many people come to meditation with preconceived ideas about what it is and their ability (or inability) to use it for health and well-being. As a nurse and a health coach, I continually ask clients about their knowledge and use of meditation. Responses vary from “oh, I’ve tried it I just can’t sit still” to “it’s too hard to quiet my mind, it’s just too busy with thoughts” and “I know about meditation, but have never tried it,” the later statement usually being followed by “I just am not sure how to do it.”

Having experienced the healing benefits of meditation in my own life, I usually incorporate meditation into sessions with clients either formally or informally. One tool I use is known as HeartMath. Science has shown that the heart communicates with the brain and body on number of different levels and that there is actually more communication from the heart to the brain than from the brain to the heart. The heart governs our emotions and thus the “ intelligence” of the heart affects our emotions and, as a result, our physical health, too. The HeartMath techniques give individuals a framework that uses breathing techniques to access emotions, feel them fully in the body and tap into the ability we all have to balance heart rhythms. This in turn helps to balance emotions, reduce stress, and improve overall well-being.

Meditation can come in a wide variety of styles with the main focus of each to teach us to listen, follow and gain awareness of what needs our attention in our lives. There is no one-size-fits-all technique, so investigating meditation styles and finding what works best for you and beginning to make it a consistent part of each day is the best way to start.

Learn more about HeartMath Techniques: https://www.heartmath.org/resources/heartmath-tools/

By Terri Laggis

Owner of Wisteria Healing Arts, Terri Laggis, R.N. is health coach, and senior faculty and board member at Copper Beech Institute. Terri will be co-leading a mindfulness retreat for nurses, Carriers of Light: Resilience and the Art of Nursing, May 1-3, 2015. Learn more >>

Copper Beech Institute is the nation’s newest retreat center for mindfulness and contemplative practice located in West Hartford, Connecticut. We offer more than 40 transformational retreats and courses, as well as mindfulness practice and mindfulness at work offerings to help you find the calm, compassion and true happiness you seek.

Learn more about Copper Beech Institute l Follow our Awaken Everyday blog
Subscribe to our eNewsletters l Come to a retreat l Friend us on Facebook l Follow us on Twitter

The Gift of Presence

by Angela Martin

“Hey, wanna go out tonight?” my girlfriend Noelle asked, launching right into our phone conversation without a hello as she often does. “It will be great for you and Rob, and me and Tim to all see each other.”

“Uh, well, I’ve got so much to do. I’m leaving for Milan with my student group in a month and I have to start pulling things together. Rob and I have plans tomorrow night, too, and he’s scrambling to finish the taxes so I don’t know.”

“What does any of that have to do with tonight?”

“I’ll see. I’ll ask Rob and text you.”

“You would have no fun in your life if not for me. We’re going.”

And she hung up.

I couldn’t believe what I had just said to my best friend.

I’m too busy.

I’ve known Noelle since first grade. She is the sister I don’t have, someone I used to talk with on the phone every day, but with the busyness of my life, I haven’t seen in weeks. What’s wrong with this picture?

I’m wrong with this picture.

I quickly texted an apology: “Yes, let’s go out. I’m so sorry. Please still be my friend.”

She texted back: “You are stuck with me forever, my friend – even though you are so crazy and really not that fun. Don’t forget the ancient Chinese proverb: All work and no play makes Angela a very dull girl!”

We met at Abigail’s in Simsbury in the tavern upstairs and we threw our arms around each other in a bear hug (Noelle taught me there is no other kind). We made our way to the bar and Noelle spied two seats and somehow corralled two more and whispered to me, “This is when the New Yorker in me surfaces.”

We sat down and began to catch up. “You know today is the anniversary of my dad’s death. It’s been 13 years.”

“Oh, Noelle, I’m so sorry, I forgot. I can’t believe it’s been so long,” I said, my heart aching with the memory of it, amplified all the more by our phone call earlier.

How could I have said no to her today of all days?

“I don’t know if it was a sign that he’s okay, Ange, but I went outside to break up the day with a little fresh air. I breathed deeply, which felt so good, when I heard a bird singing. Hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo. That’s how my dad used to whistle, remember?”

“I do remember,” I said and leaned into tell her, “It was a sign, I’m sure of it.”

The subject changed as it easily does between friends, one story leading to another. The evening ended too soon, we said our goodbyes and drove home.

When I was climbing into bed, I thought back on the night, knowing it was one I would long remember. It was a night when my dear friend reminded me how essential it is to live today and not worry about tomorrow, to carve out time for the people we love most in the world – and to be grateful, so very grateful, for those who are walking the journey with us.

I love you, my friend, and always will.

by Angela Martin, director of marketing communications at Copper Beech Institute, the nation’s newest retreat center for mindfulness and contemplative practice. Copper Beech Institute offers more than 40 transformational retreats and courses, as well as mindfulness practice and mindfulness at work offerings to help you awaken to the beauty of your life.

Mindfulness on My Knees

By Dr. Brandon Nappi

My first impulse is resistance. I’ll simply pretend that the icy pulsing around the edges of my stomach is not happening. It’s 1:48 a.m. Maybe I’ll fall back asleep and it will go away.

2:07 a.m. No luck. My nausea is growing more intense. Not yet ready to concede, I compromise by pacing aimlessly in the kitchen studying the unread meditation magazines that have piled up like unpaid bills. All along, my cats glare at me irritated for the nocturnal disturbance.

My mind races immediately to the past. Over the previous 10 days, the petri dish of our house has produced stomach bugs, fevers, rashes, and a swollen gland the size of a Volkswagen bus. I’ve logged 11 hours of Harry Potter, melted countless brain cells playing Minecraft, and failed miserably at creating a Monopoly real estate empire. After missing countless days of work, juggling schedules with my wife, and forging ahead in the face of sheer exhaustion, I wonder, “Why did this have to happen now?”

A sudden stabbing of faintness and nausea interrupt my cry of injustice. It’s time to head to the bathroom. Now my thoughts surge toward the future: “With all the appointments, speaking engagements, e-mails, and presentations, I don’t have time for this.”

My body remained unconvinced. I’m on my knees now studying the ancient grime embedded in the original 1937 hexagon floor tiles which are cold and unforgiving against my ankles. For a moment, I ponder the cost of retiling the bathroom floor. Then I laugh and think, “Without a toilet inches from my face, this posture looks a lot like meditation.”

I’m sweating now and my heart is racing. My stomach is cramping, and I remember the breath. “The present moment is always the safest place to be,” I repeat to myself.

The serpentine urge to reverse gravity is primal and involuntary. My body is no longer my own. Letting go, I empty the contents of my belly too many times to count. I am thrown around like a rag doll in a toddler’s fist. The new toilet seat that I installed last year is holding strong. I feel a strange sense of pride and inspiration. Hot tears pour down my cheeks. I remember the words of the poet Rilke, “Just keep going. No feeling is final.” Tonight, this is my mindfulness practice.

Sometimes in life, we are powerless. There is nothing to solve or fix. Past or future will not support us in the moment. There is no action to take or plan to form. Sometimes the only choice we can make is the choice to be present and just keep going. Mindfulness is not magic; it does not remove pain or erase the challenges of life. I remember a wise teacher telling me, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” Suffering is simply the inevitable pain of life plus our resistance to that pain. For three wretched hours my mindfulness practice is simply the practice of no-resistance. I try over and over to get out of my own way and allow what wants to happen to unfold.

I awake the next morning shaking in a fetal position. I feel the tender touch of a hand to my head. “I love you Daddy.” Before leaving for school, my daughter brings me water in the mug that she made me in kindergarten. I am weak, and I can smell the foreign stench of my sickness, but my heart is full to be loved so completely. Now she is the caregiver, and our roles have reversed. To give and receive care amid the pain and joy of life – this is the great practice of mindful living. If a stomach virus is the price to be paid to remember this, it was well worth the cost.

Dr. Brandon Nappi is founder and executive director of Copper Beech Institute, the nation’s newest retreat center for mindfulness and contemplative practice. Copper Beech Institute offers more than 40 transformational retreats and courses, as well as mindfulness practice and mindfulness at work offerings to help you awaken to the beauty of your life.