Three Powerful Ways To Address Fear and Anxiety

by Nadia Colburn

This is a time of heightened anxiety for many of us in America. But whether you’re anxious and fearful about what you read in the news or something happening closer to home or even in your own body, fear and anxiety have a way of contracting our muscles and our minds.

Sent down a long tunnel of worry, our bodies contract and our shoulders hunch over, as if forced to fit too small a space. The form our bodies assume is self-protective: we try to create a shield over our own heart.

The problem is, this strategy doesn’t work; fear and anxiety don’t actually protect us. It takes many of us a long time to realize this—it certainly took me a long time. For much of my life, I thought on some unconscious level that if I weren’t anxious and fearful about danger, I would be deluding myself, and therefore would be more vulnerable, more exposed, and unable to make wise and prudent decisions.

But over time, I came to realize that, in fact, the opposite is true: being able to breathe through our fear and anxiety, actively working to mitigate them, does not make us more naïve, but instead makes us more awake, more alive and more able to make good decisions that will actually protect and help us and others.

The Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the best teachers on fear. A peace activist in the Vietnam War, he had many experiences of life-threatening danger. He lived with the threat of death by violence, saw great suffering firsthand and lost many close friends.

And yet, he teaches us that when we are in a place of fear and anxiety, we are less able to make good decisions.

After the war, Thich Nhat Hanh helped countless Vietnamese “boat people,” refugees who escaped the communist regime on small, dangerous boats. Time and again, he saw that those who were able to remain calm—who did not succumb to their anxiety and panic— were more likely to survive their rocky boats and the dangerous journey.

So if we are in a state of fear and anxiety, here are three things I recommend doing:

1) Breathe. Remember you are here now. Come back to the present moment.  Come back to your body. Come out of your head and into your experience right now, without judgment. Drop the story of what you are feeling and just feel. I also recommend chanting meditations that can help stop our spinning minds and allow us to come back to a sense of joy.

2) Choose an action to do and do it. If you are worried about something, your worry won’t create positive change. Find one or two new things you can do to address your concerns. If you are worried about the political situation, for example, make a realistic practical plan for what you can do to be actively engaged in creating change and stick to it. Then, when worry arises, you can channel your energy into action itself.

3) Remember that worry, anxiety, violence and illness are only facets of human experience, and perennial parts of what it means to be a human. Find the full richness of your human experience. What you are experiencing is not unique to you. And there are always many other sides to human experience—joy, love, friendship, compassion—that are all equally important parts of what it means to be human. Try to water the seeds of positive qualities you want to cultivate. The more you feed and water the seeds you want more of, the more they will grow and bloom for you, so don’t forget to feed what you love.

Nadia Colburn brings together mind, body, and spirit through online and in-person classes, and through meditation, yoga and writing retreats. She is a published writer with a Ph.D. in English from Columbia and B.A. in from Harvard. Nadia will be offering the day retreat, Breathing Out Fear: Facing the World with Equanimity and Courage, April 29, 2017. You can learn more about Nadia at www.nadiacolburn.com

Photo by Mae Chevrette.

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The Beauty of What You Love

by Brandon Nappi

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened…. Let the beauty we love be what we do. – Rumi, as interpreted by Coleman Barks

The most widely read poet today has been dead for 700 years. Yet the voice of Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī, otherwise known as Rumi, is as alive as ever. It’s a rather peculiar fact that despite many Americans’ political suspicion of things Middle Eastern, we can’t seem to get enough of this medieval Muslim mystic from thirteenth-century Afghanistan. Why is this? As I prepare to offer a day retreat this spring on the intersection of Rumi’s poetry and mindfulness practice, I’ve been giving my mind and heart to this question. Here are some initial hypotheses:

1. Ageless Wisdom for Our Age

We live in an era of multiplicity. From toilet paper to breakfast cereal, we have exponentially more choices than ever. When we truly look more deeply, many of these options are hollow: we read fake news, wear synthetic clothing, eat artificial food and create superficial relationships. As we process more information than ever before, we crave the truth. If wisdom is the capacity to live the truth in love, then many are longing to discover, experience and live what is lasting and grounded in this rapidly changing world. Rumi’s wisdom offers true nourishment for souls who are hungry for real food.

2. Nonduality

We are coming to understand how interconnected the world is. The daily choices we make impact everyone and everything. Nearly every spiritual tradition teaches at its essence that there is no separation between what is ultimate, which many name as God, and the world of material phenomena. The creator and the created are inseparably intertwined.

When we fail to recognize this essential oneness, we suffer and we cause others to suffer. When we act from the understanding of unity, we contribute to the flourishing and wellbeing of the world. This act of acting from a place of wholeness and connection with the divine and one another is called love. In a world that is increasingly fragmented, Rumi celebrates this unity and invites us to know it ourselves.

3. Spiritual (but Not Religious) Longing

While Rumi’s wise insight is born from deep within the Islamic tradition, many Americans struggle to find a home within mainstream religious institutions. While fewer Americans are participating in the traditional structures of religion, the deep spiritual hungers of the soul have not gone away. Questions of purpose and meaning along with the longing for connection and love surge within the human heart as much today as ever. Fundamentally, many of us are wondering: Who am I in relationship to the universe, to God and to my neighbor? Fresh translations of Rumi’s verse persistently meet these deep questions which leap forth from within us. Many find in Rumi a guide and friend to assure us that we are not alone in this spiritual odyssey of life.

Join me and my dear friend Helen BetGivargis for an exploration of Rumi’s most captivating and enduring themes in the day retreat, What You Seek Is Seeking You, The Wisdom of Rumi, on May 13, 2017. We’ll hear Rumi in his original Persian voice and explore mindfulness practices that resonate with his wisdom.

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 50 transformational programs annually to foster peace, resilience, and compassion in everyday life. For a listing of all retreats led by Brandon, click here.

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13 Ways Mindfulness Makes Me a Better Parent

By Carla Naumburg

I recently got the following question on my Twitter feed: Do you feel meditation has really changed you? More relaxing, less stress? So on?

The short answer to these questions is YES! All of the above! But that answer isn’t terribly helpful, so I thought it would be useful to share just how my meditation and mindfulness practice helps me to be a better parent.

Before we get into the details, I feel compelled to clarify something. As I have said many times, I am not the Dalai Mama. If any of you were to follow me around for a few days, or spy on me (in a totally non-creep way, of course), you would probably see me snap at my kids or sneak a peek at my smartphone or hide in the kitchen for a break.

You would see me being anything but mindful.

cNaumburg

Carla Naumburg

The reality is that I’m doing all of these things less often than I was before I started meditating, and when I do find myself doing them, I am able to calm down, center myself, and make better choices more quickly than before. That’s just what happens when you learn to pay attention to the present moment without judging it or fighting with it. (I actually have a huge amount of experience fighting with reality. I never win.)

Here are the ways in which my meditation and mindfulness practice make me a better mother (in no particular order):

  1. I’m less anxious. Anxiety is worrying about the future, usually about things I can’t predict or control. I am an expert worrier (especially when it comes to parenting), but the practice of mindfulness helps me see those anxious thoughts for what they are – just thoughts – and then let them go.
  2. I sleep better. Perhaps it’s because I’m worrying less, perhaps it’s because I have more skills for quieting the endless chatter of my brain. Either way, I know I sleep better when I’ve been meditating. (Needless to say, I’m a better mother when I’m well rested.)
  3. I’m less reactive. My kids, like most children, are highly skilled at pushing buttons (especially mine). Before I started meditating, I was basically one giant button waiting to be pushed. It’s starting to get better. Maybe I don’t respond the first time they push, or even the second, or maybe my response isn’t quite as intense as it used to be. This is awesome, because I feel a lot less like a crazy person who freaks out at every little thing.
  4. I can calm myself down faster. As helpful as meditation is, I still lose my temper. I still get frustrated and annoyed and angry and impatient. Rather than losing myself in whatever crappy mood I’ve gotten myself into, rather than spiraling out of control, I’m getting better at taking a few deep breaths and getting myself into a better headspace.
  5. I’m better at being bored. Let’s face it. Parenthood can be really boring. If you don’t believe me, I have three words for you: Chutes and Ladders. Every time I meditate, I’m practicing tolerating boredom, because there is nothing less interesting than following your own breath.
  6. I’m more grateful. I’m so good at working myself into a tizzy about every little thing. When I slow down, breathe, and pay attention to what is actually in front of me, I realize that life is pretty amazing. Even when it isn’t that amazing, I still have a lot to be grateful for; if nothing else, my children and husband are healthy and I get to spend time with them. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Mindfulness is the energy that helps us recognize the conditions of happiness that are already present in our lives.”
  7. I’m comparing myself to others less. I used to spend a lot of time noticing all of the ways in which other mothers are “better” than me: they cook more, they’re fitter or more crafty, they’ve achieved more professionally… the list goes on and on, and it makes me miserable. Coming back to the present moment, to the here and now, gets my mind off the merry-go-round of constant comparisons.
  8. I’m learning to loosen my grasp on the future. It’s easy to get caught up in my fantasies about who my children will become and what they will achieve. High school, college, successful careers, healthy relationship, white picket fence, 2.5 children, etc. etc. If I get too attached to my dreams for my kids, I won’t be as open to who they are becoming and what they want. Mindfulness helps me let go just a little bit, so I can focus on strengthening my relationship with my children, regardless of what path they are traveling.
  9. I beat myself up less about the past. I make a lot of mistakes in parenting (and life) and then I obsess about them. I replay them in my mind, judge myself harshly, and end up hosting my own one-person pity party. I get into a terrible headspace, and often take it out on my kids. Mindfulness helps me let go of the self-critical thoughts and come back to the present moment.
  10. It’s getting easier to access joy. When I let go of my worries and obsessions about the future and all of my frustrations about the past, there’s a lot more room in my mind for happiness. That’s all.
  11. I’m better at just being present. This sounds fairly obvious, but it’s worth re-stating. Each time I am able to put down my smartphone or get out of my crazy brain and be fully present for my girls, I am actually communicating something really important to them. I am telling them that they matter to me, that they are worth my time and attention, and that I care about what they have to say. That’s a big deal for children (and for parents).
  12. I’m kinder. I’m not sure I can explain this one, but I know it’s true. The more I meditate, the nicer I am. I’m less snappy, less impatient, less grumpy, less likely to interrupt or rush or snap at my kids. I’m just plain nicer.
  13. I enjoy parenting more. That’s the bottom line, and that makes me a better mother. That makes it all worth it.

Carla Naumburg is a clinical social worker, writer, and mindfulness practitioner. She is the author of “Ready, Set, Breathe: Practicing Mindfulness with Your Children for Fewer Meltdowns and a More Peaceful Family” and “Parenting in the Present Moment: How to Stay Focused on What Really Matters.” Carla will be offering “Mindfulness and Yoga Retreat for Mothers,” a weekend retreat at Copper Beech Institute, March 31–April 2, 2017. 

Main photo by Heidi.

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Everything Is Our Teacher

by Brandon Nappi

As the late winter sunlight grows stronger each day, I look out beyond the terrace here at Copper Beech Institute and watch the koi happily dancing within our small pond. I remember the last time I stood here on a steamy summer day, peering down through the black water and following the long slimy stems downward until they disappeared into the murky depths. It’s amazing that these magnificent blooms which begin in the mud can courageously stretch their way toward the surface until they finally drink in the full radiance of the sun.

The waterlily and the lotus flower, its Asian cousin, share this dual life in sunlight and mud. Both are necessary for blooming. For this reason, these plants have become a poignant symbol of the contemplative life.

Spiritual practice is about stretching the heart open to contain both the darkness of pain and the lightness of joy. I’m aware of my own inclination to hoard the light—to accumulate as much pleasant experience as possible. Of course, it’s only natural to desire as much pleasure as possible in the form of laughter, happiness, fun, and positive experience. Yet, the waterlily reminds us that this is only half the story. Life is always a combination of pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral experiences, a mix of light, dark, and many shades of gray. Our mindfulness practice helps us to welcome the reality of all aspects of life so that we are not enslaved by the constant need to get our own way.  

We practice not to minimize negative emotions and maximize positive emotions; rather, we practice so that no matter what happens, we can receive whatever arises with equanimity and grace. We practice so that whether we are experience the mud of life or life’s sunshine, we remember that both are necessary for growth, both are necessary for blooming. When you realize that you can feel everything and anything—including unpleasant emotions and sensations, then you are free.  

Only the soft heart can stretch open to contain both the beauty and brokenness of the world. The hardened heart is brittle; it fractures easily and its fragility needs to be carefully guarded. Yet for the soft heart, everything becomes a teacher. All of life is a classroom, an opportunity to grow in wisdom in awareness. The availability of this freedom brings us to practice over and over again.

In these days of growing light, the warming mud will incubate the awakening roots of the waterlilies here at Copper Beech Institute. In the coming months, we’ll enjoy the blooms, not in spite of the darkness, but because of it. Soon, this courageous flower will reach up to greet our guests who come to Copper Beech to practice mindfulness and learn this central lesson of embracing the intermingling of light and dark as we seek together to remember that everything is our teacher.

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 is the nation’s newest retreat center for mindfulness and contemplative practice offering more than 50 transformational programs to foster peace, resilience, and compassion in everyday life. For a listing of all retreats led by Brandon, click here.

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To My Daughters

by Brandon Nappi

Dear Sophia and Ellie,

In our divided times, there are many prophets of doom eager to fan the flames of your fear. They will try to convince you to join their tribe with a promise of security. They will feed your anger and entice you with safety from the threats of enemies. Their invitation may, for a moment, comfort your anxious heart and relieve a worried mind. Be aware of the temptation to fear uncertainty so much that you rush to seek solutions before fully understanding our problems. False certainty is lead ballast posing as a life raft.

No matter how clever, slogans will not heal our country and political parties will not calm our restlessness. The pursuit of outer change in our world relies upon inner change in our hearts. Otherwise, we risk replicating the same cycles of greed, judgment and oppression under the banner of our cause, movement or political party.

Perhaps a father is too quick to give unsolicited advice, so in this wintertime of our nation, I will simply share with you what I am trying to cultivate in my own heart. Perhaps overhearing a father’s encouragement to himself will be useful to you in this or some future moment of confusion.

My counsel to myself,

Keep your heart soft, for cynicism is infectious and paranoia addictive. Be aware of your habit to assume the worst intentions of those with whom you disagree while elevating your own. Within all of us is the evolutionary drive to seek sameness and to fight difference. Hold this tendency in careful awareness and seek humility as a balm for your own arrogance. After all, no single person or group holds a monopoly on the truth. Each of us contains a small piece of it, and therefore all of us are needed to discover the truth in its fullness.

Seek justice with every cell of your being, but do not let your yearning for justice embitter your spirit. The most potent poison is the hardened heart and the judgmental mind. From time to time, a strident voice may obscure the inner whispering of wisdom. May a spirit of gentle humility allow the acknowledgement of your inevitable failings and imperfection. May you tame the flood of anger into a river of compassion. May righteous anger and lovingkindness be the two wings that allow you to soar.

Listen more than you speak, and speak only to the degree that you act with compassion. May you be known for the depth of your attention and the quality of your presence. Remember that light and dark are constant companions, and so the potential for love and hatred are both alive within you.

Occasionally, you will forget the values that you most treasure. Do not be overwhelmed by disappointment in yourself for most of us need to lose ourselves before finding ourselves.

Keeping the heart soft and open is why you sit silently on a meditation cushion. Waking up is steadfast work. There are easier and less lonely roads to travel. Each day you must choose. The roads you choose to travel will determine the person you become. Wherever your journey takes you, I encourage you to drink deeply from the limitless wellspring of courage and love that lives within you.

10 Quotes to Inspire You

Words to live by, by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?

The time is always right to do what is right.

We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.

On Introversion, Solitude and the Virtuous Life

Long before mindfulness was fashionable, Arnie Kozak was studying, practicing, and teaching mindfulness and Buddhist psychology. His lifelong practice of meditation began with journey to India in the 1980s. In 2002, he created Exquisite Mind in Burlington, Vermont as a vehicle to expand the value of mindfulness to larger audiences in the professional world and among individuals. We talked with Dr. Kozak about the life experience that has made him a contributing voice in the mindfulness revolution.

arniekozakDo you consider yourself to be an introvert?

Yes, I am an introvert—a strong one.

What does it mean to be a strong introvert?

Strong introverts prefer to be alone most of the time, and prefer socializing in small groups to large ones. Free form social gathering, such as sitting down to a roundtable of eight or 10 for a formal dinner, can be draining.

Strong introverts would rather people watch than talk with strangers, and prefer email over the telephone. Personally, I think Open Table (the online restaurant reservation system) is the greatest thing to happen since sliced bread!

However, despite being introverted and a highly-sensitive person, I enjoy the high stimulation activities of snowboarding (at high speed) and riding my Harley (not necessarily at high speed). These nontypical introvert interests highlight how we are all unique. 

How has introversion manifested in your life? What challenges has it posed for you personally in today’s “loud and crazy world”?

I always felt somewhat out of place as a kid and never knew why. It wasn’t all to do with introversion but it was a good part. It’s hard to be someone like me who has high self-expectations to live in a culture where my way of being is not the normative way of being. This led to a lot of negative self-judgment when I was younger.

Over the past few years, I have realized more and more the implications of being an introvert. One manifestation is that I have arranged my life to avoid the types of situations that I find wearing. I have built a great deal of solitude into my life. Most days, I am working from home with a focus on writing. I avoid talking on the telephone wherever possible. I mostly seek to avoid the loud and crazy world and when I do enter it, I usually do so in small doses.

What brought you to meditation and mindfulness?

I started meditating in college and did a more yoga-based practice for the first six years. I started doing mindfulness meditation (vipassana) when I was in graduate school. There were many factors from my childhood that likely contributed to my receptivity to meditation and yoga. I had discovered something akin to meditation on my own when I was a high school athlete. By the time I got to college, I had an interest in the mind and when I was exposed to meditation, it just made sense to me.

What teachers have guided your path?

I have had many wonderful guides along the way. My initial teacher was Gurumayi Chidvilasananda of Siddha Yoga. His Holiness, The Dalai Lama was also an early influence. My first vipassana teacher was Larry Rosenberg of the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center in Cambridge, Mass., and his influence is probably the strongest. We are both Jews from New York, Larry from Brooklyn and me from Queens. Different generations, of course, but we both have that metropolitan earthy, edginess to our teaching style.

How has your life been transformed by meditation and mindfulness? 

Meditation has been at the very center of my existence for my entire adult life. It’s a bit like asking a fish to describe water—it is the immersive medium where I dwell. The principle benefit of meditation is to reduce reactivity and I pretty much see a direct correlation: the more I practice, the less reactive I am. Meditation over these decades has also contributed to at least a fledgling sense of wisdom—insights into the deeper meaning of existence.

Specifically, my practice gives me the ability to cope with just about any situation, no matter how stressful. For instance, if I’m stuck in a crowded airport with flight delays, I use mindfulness to create a portable sense of solitude. I breathe a space around myself that provides a comforting sanctuary. I become curious about the sights and sounds around me at the same time that I extricate myself from the internal narrative about how “awful” the situation is. The result is that I can be with this, or whatever situation, with some equanimity—peaceful engagement in the midst of chaos.

Do you have a partner, and how has that shaped your contemplative experience in this life?

I am very fortunate to be married to another strong introvert. We resonate at pretty much the same frequency and so we are in harmony when it comes to managing our social, travel, and solitude calendar. To borrow a phrase from Rilke, she is the guardian of my solitude, and I hers.

My wife is not a meditation practitioner herself, yet she has an interest in mindfulness and our relationship has a lot of solitude built into so I have the uninterrupted time for meditation practice (recently, about two hours each day).

What courses do you teach as assistant professor in psychiatry at University of Vermont Larner School of Medicine?

I teach a month-long elective to fourth-year students focused on bringing mindfulness into medicine. It’s based on the novel curriculum developed at the University of Rochester School of Medicine integrated with my own methods and curriculum from years of teaching mindfulness in the community and to undergraduates at UVM.

What is the typical profile of someone attending one of your retreat programs?

My attendees have ranged from teenagers to octogenarians. Mostly, folks are middle-aged and predominately female. Many already have had some exposure to mindfulness and want to deepen their understanding, and others have heard about it and want to get started. With my solitude and introvert programs, obviously introverts are coming. There is a definite positive correlation between introversion and interest in meditation.

You’ll be offering Solitude and the Virtuous Life at Copper Beech Institute in February. What will participants come away with at the end of the retreat?

Participants will learn practical tools such as mindfulness meditation and a technique I developed known as “Story Art” that combines journaling practice, meditation, and creativity to help people to free themselves from difficult situations. For this program in particular, participants will also come away with a deep appreciation for solitude and hopefully a commitment to integrating it into their lives. This appreciation will be based on science, poetry, and wisdom perspectives.

What words of wisdom do you have to offer introverts who seek greater peace in their lives? Extroverts?

Introverts and extroverts alike need more solitude in their lives. That is the central teaching and purpose of this program. It’s not just about introverts. Mindfulness is a key in the process of facilitating solitude in our lives.

Any guidance for readers as we embark on a new era of leadership in our country?

Variability is the nature of the universe and, as always, we live in variable, uncertain times. It’s really no different now than ever before but perhaps we are just more aware of it. The process is the same: meditate, breathe, nurture solitude, and work on jettisoning any sense of entitlement that things should always go the way we think they should go. Cultivate a sense of curiosity towards even the things that feel aversive. Out of this curiosity, there is the opportunity for feeling compassion, love, and even gratitude.

Arnie Kozak, PhD, is a psychotherapist, clinical assistant professor in psychiatry at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, and workshop leader at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, Copper Beech Institute, and Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. He is author of several books, including “108 Metaphors for Mindfulness: From Wild Chickens to Petty Tyrants, Mindfulness A-Z: 108 Insights for Awakening Now,” and The Awakened Introvert: Practical Mindfulness Skills for Maximizing Your Strengths and Thriving in a Loud and Crazy World. He will be offering Solitude and the Virtuous Life at Copper Beech Institute February 24–26, 2017.

 

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Sanity Tip for the New Year

by Millie Grenough

New year, new challenges, new opportunities! This Oasis Sanity Tip is short and to the point. Take 60 seconds to do it now.

Take a minute to pause.
Thank the old year.
Welcome the new year.
Look around you.
Bring to awareness one thing that you are especially grateful for now.
Take three breaths in and out to savor it.

Mille Grenough is an ex-nun turned nightclub singer, an ex-shy Kentuckian turned international presenter. Millie delights in inspiring people to do what they thought was impossible. She is a professional coach, motivational speaker, instructor in psychiatry at the Yale University, blogger for the Huffington Post and author of 10 books. Millie will offer the day retreat, “Finding Oasis in the Overwhelm” at Copper Beech Institute on March 19, 2017.


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The Gift of Mindfulness

By Lori Pelikan Strobel

To sit with the uncomfortable and recognize it. To not judge myself for my imperfections. To know it’s all right to be me. To accept this being and body with its many flaws and quirks.

This is mindfulness to me. Mindfulness is not all peace and joy. It’s also recognizing the difficult and awkward. It’s not a place on a map or a location you can come to easily. Sitting here on an uncomfortable bench with the sun on my face, I peer into the forest of trees before me and wonder about the whereabouts of this place called mindfulness. Before me I see paths, a road and a mess of leaves dumped from the outstretched branches above. My attention is drawn to the heart song of birds and I think about the bumpy trail to finding home in the wisdom of imperfection.

I’ve always strived to make everything perfect in my life. It’s my default position—perhaps because I am the eldest sibling or the only daughter, or the mom who needs to make it better for everyone, or the woman who always does what is right. I think I’m just naturally hard wired to seek perfection in myself and I don’t see it changing any time soon. It has served me well, but it has also come with a price—the price of endless worry and anxiety that quietly lies in wait to take me over.

If there is too much stress, I go into full anxiety mode. I get stressed for not understanding or for not being smart enough to figure things out. Why can’t I figure out Photoshop? Or why don’t I understand how my insurance claims are calculated? Why does it seems no one else is worried that they are stuck in traffic and going to be late? Or what if the plane is stuck on the tarmac and I can’t get where I want to go?

When it becomes too much, my fight or flight response kicks in and I want to run screaming, “Let me breathe!”

I don’t like this weakness in me. I don’t feel good about myself when I feel powerless. I want to live authentically and forgive myself for this frailty.

Somehow in learning to practice mindfulness, I began to see this apprehension within myself more clearly, as if through an unfiltered lens. I’ve come to realize that I don’t need to escape my anxiety, but rather I can let go of the feeling that I need to do everything and make everything right. My decisions don’t need to be perfect. I don’t need to understand everything. I don’t have to be on time. I don’t need to fly a plane. We all have special gifts and those aren’t mine. I need to sit with my uncomfortableness and recognize it for what it is. When I sit with this, the curtain of perfection blows away to show me that it’s still me—imperfections and all. My breathe alone—each inhale and exhale—provides me with clarity to bring all of myself to this moment. I now yell, “I can breathe!”

It’s not always easy. All my mess, my flaws, and frustrations are here, and that is all right because I have tools to use when anxiety sneaks in again. Mindfulness has given me this gift. The guided meditation, the yoga, the contemplative thoughts, the focus, the breathe—these are my instruments. I will play them to help me disengage from an unhelpful default mode of music.

Mindfulness is a place of the moment. That moment does not discount my past, my future, or my character. Who I am and what I want to be are so inexplicably entwined. There is no mindfulness without me being who I am and recognizing that there is joy and peace in taking care of myself. Physically and emotionally, a mindfulness practice allows me to discover my goodness and my limits. It allows me to listen to them in a non-judgmental manner. Mindfulness is to engage my mind, enlist my heart, and embrace my love.

A glow of light fills the air as I look out from where I’ve been meditating, and I see the leaves not fall from the trees but rather flutter and float gently to the ground. As I sit here on this warm bench with the sun pouring down on my face, I’m crying. These are not tears of sadness. I’m crying for the realization that I’m ok even when I go to my default position of expecting perfection in myself. I’m crying with relief that somewhere along the way I may have gotten lost in flight and that too is ok. I didn’t even know that I was lost until this perfect moment—this moment as I see the leaves drift with no real destination. They will settle where they find themselves, while I sit here uncomfortably on the bench with the sun shining on my face and say hello again to me.

Lori Pelikan Strobel recently participated in a recent Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Course at Copper Beech Institute. She is a wife, mother of two adult daughters and a dog named Louie, and her work experience has ranged from pharmaceutical sales representative and Pilates instructor to community college teacher and real estate agent. You can find more of her writing at www.loripelikanstrobel.com

Copper Beech Institute offers the eight-week MBSR course during both day and evening. We invite you to learn more »

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