Nature, Nurture, and the Nest Nearby

It’s my first day of springtime yard work. There’s much to be done to clear the way for the new season. I tease out last fall’s remaining leaves from among the dense shrubs, clip back wasted perennial blossoms and sever branches that were taken by the harsh winter, all the while relishing the sight of my two cats rolling about on the gravel driveway as if sloughing off winter’s detritus. It’s their first time out in months.

Then I recall the bird’s nest perched on the thin ledge above my front entryway. As of a few days ago, it has become the feverish focus of a pair of Eastern Phoebes who have returned to this spot every spring for as long as I’ve lived here. Cats and low-flying birds not making the best of bedfellows, I tempt my cats back into the house with the promise of food. Sadly for them, that’s where they’ll stay until well after the baby birds have fledged.

The Phoebes are as much a part of my springtime experience as the outdoor chores that demand my attention. They’re a team – mother and father, dedicated and focused, swooping in with new supplies of mud and moss to fortify last year’s nest, chirping noisily as if in conversation. They are constantly in my line of sight, perched on the utility wire as I approach the house, in the tree outside my living room window, flying about the yard whenever I open the front door. I check the nest daily for new developments and signs of life.

On this day, all is strangely quiet. I near the nest, pausing to look up. Just inches above me, the mother Phoebe sits in the nest, utterly still. Moments pass, yet she remains motionless. I have never been this close to a wild bird for so long before. I can practically touch her dark, downy feathers; her watchful eye locks with mine. The busy stage of nest renovation appears to be over. The tender, protective time of attending to her eggs has begun.

That moment stays with me – the Phoebe’s stillness, her ardency, and her complete commitment to her nest and to staying put no matter what. What an example for those of us who practice meditation. It’s also one of those magical moments of connection, when life meets the wonder and immediacy of life and thought drops away – an opportunity that nature offers in every moment of every day in infinite ways, if only we pay attention.

Now the Phoebes are busy again. When I’m in the yard, they fly to their alternate perch on the utility wire 20 feet or so from the nest, making constant chipping sounds as if to draw my attention to them and away from their babies. It doesn’t really work, though. I’m eager to see the tiny heads of their brood emerge above the nest that will quickly become overcrowded, and to watch hopefully as the fledglings take their first tentative flights into their new world, buoyed by air and fresh, new life.

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.

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The Power of Practice

More and more I have come to see my mindfulness meditation as a practice of self-love and self-care. It’s this quiet space that I take for myself to build a friendship with what is really there from day to day, to listen deeply to what is present in mind, body, and heart, to try to love myself harder.

This week at Candlelight Meditation I read this poem written by Charlie Chaplin, the famous mime, on his 70th birthday:

As I Began to Love Myself – Self Love Poem by Charlie Chaplin

As I began to love myself I found that anguish and emotional suffering
are only warning signs that I was living against my own truth.
Today, I know, this is “AUTHENTICITY”.

As I began to love myself I understood how much it can offend somebody
As I try to force my desires on this person, even though I knew the time
was not right and the person was not ready for it, and even though this
person was me. Today I call it “RESPECT”.

As I began to love myself I stopped craving for a different life,
and I could see that everything that surrounded me was inviting me to grow.
Today I call it “MATURITY”.

As I began to love myself I understood that at any circumstance,
I am in the right place at the right time, and everything happens
at the exactly right moment. So I could be calm.
Today I call it “SELF-CONFIDENCE”.

As I began to love myself I quit steeling my own time,
and I stopped designing huge projects for the future.
Today, I only do what brings me joy and happiness, things I love to do
and that make my heart cheer, and I do them in my own way and in
my own rhythm. Today I call it “SIMPLICITY”.

As I began to love myself I freed myself of anything that is no good for
my health – food, people, things, situations, and everything that drew
me down and away from myself. At first I called this attitude
a healthy egoism. Today I know it is “LOVE OF ONESELF”.

As I began to love myself I quit trying to always be right, and ever since
I was wrong less of the time. Today I discovered that is “MODESTY”.

As I began to love myself I refused to go on living in the past and worry
about the future. Now, I only live for the moment, where EVERYTHING
is happening. Today I live each day, day by day, and I call it “FULFILLMENT”.

As I began to love myself I recognized that my mind can disturb me
and it can make me sick. But As I connected it to my heart, my
mind became a valuable ally. Today I call this
connection “WISDOM OF THE HEART”.

We no longer need to fear arguments, confrontations or any kind of problems
with ourselves or others. Even stars collide, and out of their crashing
new worlds are born.Today I know THAT IS “LIFE”!

After reading this poem I shared my own personal struggle to make time for self-love and how our society doesn’t really teach the beauty and power of it on a regular basis. So often, because it’s not taught, it can feel like practices that care for the self are selfish but, in reality, they’re essential to feel our wholeness.

As a group we shared the difficulty we can often face when trying to make time for stillness within our lives and that urge that can arise to be doing, moving, or producing something instead. We talked about the resistance to using the “L word” with ourselves because we have been programmed to believe that it means we are egotistical or narcissistic. But, love isn’t about glossing over our faults or mistakes or humanness, it’s about showing up for ourselves and embracing everything that’s there: the invited and the uninvited.

It’s a choice that I have to make everyday. To show up for myself and to be with myself. To allow space for the stillness so what needs to be revealed to me will have the opportunity to do so. And so I can really, fully love myself, one breath at a time.

What would it take for you to love yourself a little more today?

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.

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What is a Mother’s Love?

A Mother’s Love is seeing the world through new eyes
It is letting go of the expectations of what you want your child to be and finding instead who they are
It is the courage to start each day anew
It is challenging the status quo to change the world your child will grow up in
It is listening for the ‘song’ beneath your child’s words, finding the unspoken verse

A Mother’s Love is being a role-model when you don’t want to be
It is weariness from being up all night with a teething toddler or
from waiting for a child who has not come home
It is knowing when to listen instead of lecture
It is a warm soft embrace
It is a bowl of rice krispies with heavy cream or a spoonful of homemade cookie batter

A Mother’s Love is feeling that first kick, the first movement of life from our own
It is saying good bye when it would be easier to stay
It is letting them try on their own
It is is forever
It is remembering the never-ending days in those blink-of-an-eye years

A Mother’s Love is being strong for your child when you just want to be a puddle on the floor
It is recognizing your limits and accepting help
It is a 5am wake up call or a last-minute project to complete
It is simply holding hands
It is the permanent ache in your heart for the child you have to live without

A Mother’s love is strong and compassionate and fierce
It is loving those who don’t want a mother but still need one
It is snuggling together, wishing time could just hold still a little longer
It is patience in the midst of chaos
It is standing outside of the children’s hospital and making it okay to go in

A Mother’s Love is preparing your child for the scrapes of life and the inevitable falls
It is showing the importance of getting back up and trying again
It is all encompassing
It is boundless
It knows no end

On this Mother’s Day, may we each find compassion for our own selves, for each other, and for all the beautiful and brave mothers in our lives, knowing each of us is doing the best we can at any given moment. When we encounter someone who is not at their best, may we be able to let go of judgment and simply hold a compassionate space for them. When we find we are the “someone” who is not at our best, may we be gentle with ourselves and remember we are not alone. This year, let’s be willing to be mothers to each other.

Kimberlea Chabot is the founder of a hyper-local resource for holistic living called Lucky Penny Found. 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

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3 Piece McMindfulness Value Meal

by Dr. Brandon Nappi

Over the past few years, we have witnessed the explosion of mindfulness and meditation in popular culture. Physicians are referring their stressed out patients to take an eight-week course in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, panicking children are taking quivering breaths before exams, athletes are using guided meditations to optimize performance, and psychologists are prescribing meditation to enhance sex.

Shouldn’t we be celebrating the advent of mindfulness to the board room, the locker room, and the bedroom? Here at Copper Beech Institute, we generally welcome this mindfulness explosion and appreciate the opportunity to be of service to those who are interested in bringing awareness compassion to daily life. Still, I have concerns that the unbridled enthusiasm for the very real benefits of mindfulness might unintentionally cloud the reality of what mindfulness might offer us in our lives. In the past few years, this over-promising of mindfulness practice has been coined McMindfulness. Many have wisely wondered what happens when mindfulness becomes a fast-food commodity. How might mindfulness be like the extra fistful of fries which are a party in the mouth and a teenage breakup in the stomach?

As we seek to bring honesty and integrity to our own practice of teaching and learning here at Copper Beech, I offer these observations about some of the common McMindfulness tendencies that can be misleading and unhelpful:

1. Over Selling (and Under Practicing)

(Mc)Mindfulness seems to be the answer for everything these days. While the scientific research in many areas is incredibly promising, I am always careful to remember that mindfulness is not a means to an end. We don’t practice mindfulness to flee the present moment for some other idealized situation where everything is better, easier, and more pleasant. In fact, this craving habit of pursuing something beyond the present reality is precisely what creates our suffering. Persistent means to end thinking will destroy the fruits of our practice. While in the short run we might receive some relaxation benefit from even this kind of practice, the unintentional reinforcement of this habitual craving for something other than the present moment will only deepen our suffering in the long run.

I’ve taught mindfulness to kindergarteners, inmates, physicians, and executives. Of course, I wouldn’t do this work if I didn’t think mindfulness brought some benefit to people’s lives. Mindfulness offers us a confounding paradox: it’s precisely in surrendering any gain from the practice that we have the most to gain. When we let go of benefiting from mindfulness and commit to the regular and often boring practice of meditation, we receive the most benefit. This paradoxical wisdom eludes glossy advertisement and snappy media messages.

2. Equating Mindfulness with Positive Thinking

Mindfulness is not the cultivation of happy thoughts. The practice of mindfulness does not involve optimism (nor pessimism). It does not involve visualizing yourself as smart, rich, wise, important or peaceful. The goal of mindfulness is not the achievement of a blissful state separate from the daily challenges of life. Rather, mindfulness helps us to remain grounded and stable in the midst of the inevitable hardships of life. Mindfulness helps to cultivate awareness of thoughts so that we can wake up to the stunning reality that we are not our thinking (positive or negative).

In my own life, this truth that we don’t need to believe everything we think has brought an incredible relief from the torrent of my busy mind. Mindfulness practice offers us a stability that is beyond positive or negative thinking and is not dependent on what happens to be manifesting in the running commentary of the mind. Our culture preaches you can “have it all” if you simply visualize what you desire and think positively. The problem, of course, is that we have gotten what we wanted. At this point in human history, we in the West have more material possessions than ever before, we live longer, and we are safer than human beings have ever been. Still, we suffer, and in the process, we destroy our planet with this unbridled craving for what we don’t have.

The only thing worse than not getting what we want may be getting what we want. Equanimity is not dependent on something as elusive and unpredictable as thinking and desiring. In the end, mindfulness offers us solid ground to stand on when we are not getting what we want or thinking “happy” thoughts.

3. Glossing Over Risks

Many of us come to mindfulness to reduce our suffering in some way. In my own life, I discovered mindfulness when the raw and jagged edges of my emotional pain were lacerating my life. I would do anything to make the ache of sadness to go away. Ironically, when I began practicing 15 years ago, my pain seemed to intensify. All the mechanisms that I had used to deny and ignore my own pain were dissolving in my meditation practice. Nobody told me it might get “worse” before it got “better.”

Most of our consumer culture is driven by the attempt to numb pain. We eat, shop, drink, have sex, and consume media to avoid feeling the pain of life. Over time, mindfulness opens us to the full spectrum of human emotion — from the most sublimely pleasant sensations to the most heart wrenching painful experiences. In mindfulness there is a risk that we might become acquainted with not only the heights of joy but also the depths of pain. Committed practitioners will notice that this risk is inseparable from mindfulness practice.

This popular explosion of mindfulness invites us all to look deeply into our own lives and be honest about our motivation for practicing. It has brought much light into people’s lives; it has also helped us to clarify what is most essential to the integrity of the mindfulness tradition.

When society mass produces food, we generally lose nutrition and freshness. What tastes good in the moment may not serve our health in the long run. When mindfulness is marketed and packaged on an industrial scale, something of its original genius is likely to be lost. I believe that we can live lives of presence, compassion, and connection through mindfulness and meditation practice. While fast food might be an occasional treat, true nourishment is most often slow and requires effort. I look forward to sharing this journey of slow, steady, and nutritious mindfulness practice with you in the coming days and months.

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.

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