An Antidote for Overwhelm

By Risa Gaull Brophy, BS, MQT

If I’m feeling anxious or overwhelmed, then I’m also probably not breathing. I’m probably not even in my body. I’m just up in my head, letting my mind take me into fear, into the future, and out of the present moment – which is where my power and the ability to act is.

These steps help me return to my breath and the present moment. You might find them useful, too.

Step 1: Breathe.

If you’re really stressed out, try this 7-4-8 breath: Breathe in slowly for a count of 7, hold gently for a count of 4, exhale slowly for a count of 8 and feel all the tension release from your body. Repeat 3 times (or more) and, just like Dorothy clicking her heels, you’ll find yourself magically transported to a place of calm, centeredness. Welcome back 😉

Step 2: Do a mind dump.

If I start to feel overwhelmed, thinking about all the things I need and want to do, I write everything down on a to-do list, then prioritize it, and focus on doing only those things that absolutely have to be done today. I also remind myself to take one day at a time, one step at a time. I don’t have to have it all figured out; I just need to know what the next right step is.

Step 3: Who’s running this show, anyway?

If I’m honest and I look a little deeper, it’s usually not a time management issue that drives my anxiety. The question usually is: from what place within me am I operating?

I’m operating in reaction to some underlying sense of fear or insecurity, and I’m letting my mind run the show. Our beautiful minds, God bless them, are really good at helping us navigate and take action in the world. All our minds really want to do is keep us safe. The mind likes things to be predictable and will desperately try to be in control of everything.

Well, in case you haven’t noticed, life is not predictable and the only thing we really ever have control over is ourselves. So you see, the mind was never meant to run the show. Its job is to serve the heart.

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Wayne Dyer

The heart is where our Higher Self resides — our spirit, our truth, our place of inner knowing. It’s where we experience peace, and our connection with All That Is.

This is the place of calmness and clarity that I experience when I do qigong — and what I most love to teach. Using our breath, gentle, flowing movement, and the focus of our attention, we integrate mind, body, and spirit, coming into alignment with our truest selves, and into harmony with the divine pulse of the universe.

I have learned how to operate from this centered place within me, and I now easily notice when I am in “control mode” versus taking inspired action. As I grow spiritually, I am constantly cultivating my faith and trust in a power greater than me, and I remind myself that “I don’t have to push the river.”

I plead temporary insanity when I’ve forgotten that I am not alone, that there is a Divine Order at work, and that I am safe and supported by a loving and abundant universe. I affirm, “All is well.” I know that I am a powerful co-creator, and that whatever I focus on, expands.

Risa Gaull Brophy of Full Circle Wellness, LLC, has a B.S. in health/fitness and has been teaching qigong and tai chi for over 20 years. She has specialized training in Medical QiGong – using particular exercises to stimulate and balance energy in the body in specific ways for disease prevention and healing. She will be offering a half-day workshop, QiGong: Return to Peace at Copper Beech Institute on October 22, 2018.

 

Wilderness

by Paul Bloom

I recently returned from a backpacking trip to the Wind River Range, and as in previous trips the experience was all consuming. Wilderness inevitably points back to original self, and this article explores that relationship.

wilderness2

Spider and spider web doing their job in a windy treeless valley of Wind River, elevation 10,000 ft.

Wilderness is our precious mother, the high mountains our brothers and sisters to whom we must return.

In the Zen tradition, we say Don’t Know Mind is our original self. The activities of wilderness are no different. The everyday activities of wilderness demonstrate the wisdom of a before thinking mind in unmistakable ways.

We can see this same wisdom dancing on Main Street or at the dinner table with family, but it is often harder to access. Wilderness points us unmistakably to who we are and where we come from.

An ancient forest reveals the generosity of the life cycle. Living trees transform carbon dioxide into oxygen effortlessly, and give this oxygen back to living creatures across the planet. In death, the rotting tree trunks provide nutrition and habitat for forest animals. Even the cougar, when it eats the deer, participates in the dance of host and guest (ref. Gary Snyder), the natural process that comes into play without cognitive thought. Wilderness acts with mindless generosity, and it is only human beings that get in its way.

The root of Buddhist meditation practice goes back to yoga, which means “yoking” or engaging fully with our spiritual practice. In the Zen tradition, we engage this yoking to alleviate suffering and discomfort through a deep immersion in the task at hand (ref. Heart Sutra). Some version of this yoking to practice is present throughout all lineages in the Buddhist tradition, including the Zen and Tibetan lineages, and in most other religious traditions, if less central.

Then how did we human beings come to a place where to do what is useful and necessary most often requires the yoking to purely achievement-based objectives and the abandonment of an intuitive wisdom — the opposite of discovering our true selves?

Shakyamuni Buddha realized that the discomfort of consciousness was a natural and necessary part of the human condition. He also realized that this discomfort did not need to control our lives, that we are capable of stepping past an absorption with our own suffering. A habit of meditating or of yoking to the activity at hand allows us to engage the great questions of life and death in many ways. Meditation helps us to abandon an absorption with our own discomforts and our tilt towards mean-spirited actions.

The wilderness can also be a great teacher, one of the windows into understanding original self and great love. Wilderness never cares about just for me. The mindless generosity of wilderness is always intuitive, without aggression and points the way back to our original selves.

Paul Bloom is a senior dharma teacher in the Kwan Um School of Zen. He will be offering the half-day retreat, Introduction to Zen Practice, at Copper Beech Institute on Saturday, September 23, 2017.

Discovering Mindfulness

by Brooke Van Allen

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”

Brooke1

Brooke Van Allen

This quote started a cleansing whirlwind within my mind and soul from which I would never return. Mindfulness had been sitting outside my window staring at me, inviting me in for years. I had to open the window to mindfulness myself, because no matter how many times people in your life tell you that you need to wake up and open your eyes, only you can choose to embark on this journey for yourself.

Coming home to my own breath and my own light brought me to a place of safety and wholeness that I had never felt before. Mindfulness is not some foreign trait or concept that only certain, special people can attain; it is simply the ability to sit with myself. It is almost humorous to me how little there really is to it. I used to view meditation and the concept of mindfulness as one more thing on my to-do list, one more thing I could never perfect. What I soon came to realize, is that every single person has the beautiful capability to sit, breathe, and know that just that is enough.

The small lessons I’ve learned in each meditation practice apply to my daily life entirely. As I sit and breathe and focus on nothing but the smooth inhale and exhale of life, it is absolutely inevitable to notice my human-ness shine through in the form of scattered thoughts.

When a teacher acknowledged this, telling us that it is normal and the entire purpose is to sit with yourself through it all, I had a small but quite life-changing breakthrough. I have always struggled with accepting how I feel instead of shaming myself and pushing my thoughts and feelings away (which had the undesirable effect of blowing up the entire situation 1000 times). When I was told to watch my thoughts pass by in non-judgmental way, breathing with where I was at in that exact moment instead of pretending that I was in a state that I was not, I felt self-acceptance on a level I never had before.

Self-acceptance and self-awareness go hand in hand. I do not think that one is truly possible without the other. The more that I sat with my breath, my mind, and my raw soul, the more I became aware of who I truly am. For me, this required some time in isolation with no company except my own thoughts. I came to know the person that has been reaching out to me for years — my genuine self. I noticed the relationships in my life start to flourish in the gentlest of ways. When we spend time sitting with ourselves in silence and hearing our own voices clearly, we bring out true selves to the table and tend to be more accepting of everyone else as well. This is self-love and wholeness at their purest. Without self-compassion, the world knows no compassion at all.

Everyone has their own light inside themselves and the ability to quiet outside noise and listen from within. When I found this within myself I began to see it in everyone, and I felt a deep connection to and love for every being on earth. Wherever I am, whatever I am doing, I am always with my mind and in the moment. I am finding it much easier to peacefully and joyously cherish the beautiful moments in my life while I am in them instead of letting the inevitable fact that they will end spoil it for me. When living mindfully and fully in this way, I am not sad when the moment is over because I know I was all there, soaking it up in its entirety.

I now have a daily gratitude journal in which I write down everything in the past 12 hours that I am grateful for. This keeps me mindful throughout the day of each and every moment and all it has to offer. The quiet moments of life such as sitting outside in the morning and listening to the birds open my mind to the richness of life to be grateful for. Full compassion, acceptance, and love in every raw moment of life.

When we are mindful, we naturally practice gratitude and that alone is enough to rewire a chaotic mind. Each moment is a gift of which we are each fully deserving, and there is always space to quiet the mind, notice the breath, and feel at peace. Now that I am here, I am really here.

When I walked the labyrinth at Copper Beech on my first retreat, I placed a stone at the center on which I wrote, “I am whole, I am love.” Each and every being is completely whole and embodies love; it is only a matter of bathing in the light that has been trying to pour down on us for a lifetime.

Brooke Van Allen was a summer intern at Copper Beech Institute. 

 

Three Teachers Weigh In: How do I know if my meditation practice is working (especially when nothing seems to be happening)?

By Paul Bloom, Miranda Chapman and Anne Dutton

Paul Bloom: Exactly! Every meditation practioner has confronted this question.

In the Zen tradition there is a kung-an (koan) that unwraps the conundrum:

A monk approached the Master.
Master, I have been practicing hard for many years but can’t see the results of my practice. Please help me.
Master: Have you had your breakfast?
Monk: Yes.
Master: Then wash your bowls.
At this the monk had an awakening.

This teaching presents a clear direction: perceive the ordinary activities of your life and so discover your true self, nothing fancier. Like practicing the piano — chords, scales, Beethoven. When we unwrap the clutter of cognitive thinking compassion appears by itself. Zen calls this Don’t Know Mind.

Shakyamuni Buddha looked up to see the morning star and had a great awakening.

This approach to meditation requires faith — faith that we are not fools to pursue the great question, “What am I?”

But pursuing this question is the most important thing we can do. Awakened mind is our birthright. When we practice with this attitude then the practical possibilities of lessening the violence and suffering of this world appear by themselves.

So when the clouds of doubt about practice fill your mind, you must trust yourself 100 percent! Some days are cloudy, some bright. This is as it should be. When we have the courage to trust our daily practice through both clouds and sun, then one clear day and the morning star appears.

Miranda Chapman: I often like to think of my meditation practice as the cultivation of a deep, intimate, long-haul friendship. Sometimes, when I engage with that friendship, I see the fruits of it and feel so nourished; sometimes it’s just incredibly quiet, no exciting discovery or transformation.

For me, all of that is part of trusting in any great friendship — being open to the rich and textured spaces of insight and resonance, and the subtler spaces of silent abiding. In the quiet times, if I am not careful, I can extrapolate disconnection or stagnation but, if I am willing to look more closely, things are always moving, shifting, coming together and falling apart.

So, if trust in my practice is present, I don’t need the grand gestures of revolution, instead there is a profound knowing that something is always happening; it’s my work not to force the scale. And, when I am able to settle into that patience, a natural sense of restfulness arrives so I am ready when the great sea changes do come.

Anne Dutton: One approach to this question is to inquire into what we think “should” be happening.

In the eight-week MBSR course, we talk about the “attitudinal foundations” of mindfulness practice in class one. These include taking an attitude of acceptance toward what we notice, as best we can, from moment to moment, and letting go of striving, goals, and outcomes.

Why is letting go of goals so critical? Because meditation is the practice of bringing our attention to the present moment as it is. It is the profoundly radical and courageous practice of easing up on our resistance to a reality that is rarely completely satisfactory — and often downright painful. We deeply investigate the moment instead, cultivating our capacity to become intimate with it.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, the most direct path to deriving benefit from meditation is to let go of the demand, or even the idea, that your meditation result in an outcome.

Paul Bloom was authorized as a senior dharma teacher in the Kwan Um School of Zen in 1991 and has taught at the New Haven Zen Center for more than two decades. He will be offering the afternoon workshop, Introduction to Zen Practice, on September 23, 2017.

Miranda Chapman regularly teaches mindfulness and movement programs at Copper Beech Institute and leads the weekly Candlelight Meditation sitting group. Learn more about her upcoming programs.

Anne Dutton is an MBSR instructor, psychotherapist, yoga teacher, published Buddhist scholar, public speaker and translator. She will be teaching the eight-week MBSR program at Copper Beech Institute beginning September 24, 2017.

Are You Happy Now?

By Brandon Nappi

Have you noticed the incredible pressure in American culture to be constantly happy? Life has become one giant happiness project that is as haphazard as it is fruitless. Luxury cars, hair conditioner, and faster cell phone service all promise to increase our happiness in some vital way.

Underlying these messages is the implicit assumption that we should be striving to maintain elevated states of delight and happiness at all times. This artificial elevation is simply an invention of a marketing culture that locates the cause of happiness outside ourselves. Our society puts incredible pressure on us to be happy. Shelves at bookstores are spilling over with self-help books. Happiness is a billion-dollar industry which peddles everything from wrinkle-free skin to slim waist lines and the perfect sex life. I don’t know about you, but this pressure to be happy is making me unhappy. Think of the messages that we invite into our homes by way of television: you’re fat, ugly, too old, too wrinkled, too stupid, too busy, and too tired. Billions of dollars a year are spent to entice us to measure our happiness by externals.

While we all wish to be happy, I find it incredibly freeing to remember that we are not created to feel constant pleasure. Conditions constantly change. Sadness, anger, and fear are equally part of the rich tapestry of human experience. Living a full life does not demand the elimination of all negative emotions. Indeed, we actually need a rich diversity of emotions to live deeply. The degree to which you know sadness is the degree to which you know joy.

By joy, I mean something deeper and more lasting than happiness. While happiness naturally ebbs and flows daily according to mood, life experience, and external conditions, true joy is like the current deep below the river where I bring my young daughters to play. Depending upon which point of the river we visit, we might notice calm pools of peace, crashing whitewater, or places where the water almost seems to be running backwards as it encounters giant boulders and tree trunks. The surface of the river knows the great variety of activity, but deep beneath the surface, the water knows only one direction.

Your sorrow, anger, frustration, and worry along with your happiness, gratitude, and elation are all valuable parts of what it means to be human. If those emotions make up the ever-changing surface in the river of our humanity, then joy is the steady current deep beneath. So you can have joy even in your sorrow. You can have joy beneath your anger. An abiding joy unfolds in the depths of our soul when we welcome whatever is arising on the surface with a spirit of acceptance. In an age of chronic pressure to look happy on the outside, we easily forget that joy comes from deep within.

So how do you cultivate this abiding joy? First, remember that being joyful is not about becoming something you’re not; it’s not about getting something you don’t have. Being joyful is about accessing something you already have. It is gained through awareness, not acquisition. This is the gift of mindfulness. Mindfulness opens our eyes to the richness and sacredness of what is already there. Within any awareness practice is the stunning surprise that joy is always available amid the full range of human emotion. Joy is provoked by the thing you walk past everyday — a dog’s wagging tail, a dandelion, the worn eighty-year path of footsteps on a colonial staircase.

What is remarkable about joy is precisely that it is not remarkable. The potential for joy has been generously scattered all over the earth like my daughter scattering sprinkles on her birthday cupcakes. This boundless joy has often been missing in organized religion. For too long, we’ve made the contemplative life a rather gloomy and somber endeavor in which spiritual practice has been defined by how aloof, disconnected, and how other-worldly we can seem. Joylessness is the surest sign of an impoverished and sick spirituality. If your spiritual path isn’t nourishing a palpable sense of quiet and ordinary joy, it may be time to evaluate the path itself.

 

Giving Back

by Kathy Simpson

One of the foundations of Copper Beech Institute is giving back to the communities that surround us. Our volunteer work with underserved and disadvantaged populations is something we do humbly and with the utmost respect for the amazing individuals we have the honor of meeting. “Mindfulness for All” is not just a hollow slogan, but rather a promise we believe in deeply and one which we reaffirm through our work in prisons, schools serving children living in poverty, shelters, organizations supporting people with disabilities and a spectrum of non-profit partners.

Many devoted Copper Beech volunteers do outreach work in mindfulness at various centers and organizations in Connecticut, both on a regular and one-time basis. Miranda Chapman and her father Brian Chapman are among our original outreach workers. They began offering weekly mindfulness sessions at the Hartford Correctional Center three years ago. One year later, Miranda’s work branched out to include Hartford’s Chrysalis Center, which provides supportive services for people who live in poverty and struggle with mental illness and substance abuse. Most recently, Miranda and her dad began offering mindfulness at the Hartford Transitional Housing Program, a halfway house for former inmates in the hopes of helping them ease back into the real world.

Thursdays are Miranda’s service days. She travels to all three centers, leading one-hour mindfulness sessions that include meditation and discussion. In this interview, Miranda shares about the programs she leads and her experiences with the people who receive her teaching.

Kathy: How do you structure the mindfulness sessions?

Miranda: They’re pretty much the same at all three centers. First, we sit in meditation and then I’ll check in with everyone about their practice: What came up most predominantly for you today? Where do you notice the practice showing up outside of our group sessions? Were there times when you saw opportunities to apply mindfulness after the fact? Then I’ll pull out a thread of their sharing as the basis for a brief teaching. If there’s time at the end, we close with a short practice such as loving-kindness.

At the Chrysalis Center, I only lead guided meditation. The people who join us there are struggling with emotional issues. Some are muttering under their breath or moving around a lot. There’s lots of trauma, and silence can be triggering. Guided meditation is more sustainable — and it’s impactful. I’m absolutely seeing its impact on the people who attend.

Kathy: How many people attend the groups?

Miranda: There’s a maximum of 12 participants at the jail — and there’s a waiting list. The men need permission to join the group; it’s a privilege for them.

The sessions at the Chrysalis Center are drop-in and the room is larger, so there’s an opportunity for more people to attend. A core group of people comes every week and new folks are joining all the time. Some members of the center come from the outside just for the mindfulness group.

At the halfway house, attendance has been spotty so far. The men are former inmates, and are focused on getting a job and a place to live and seeing their kids again so their attention is fractured. But we’ve only been there for six months. It took a while to build confidence at the jail so we’re waiting seeing what will happen at the halfway house.

Kathy: You’ve been at the correctional center for three years now. Tell us about your experience there.

Miranda: We have some guys who have been coming for over a year. The practice of meditation is a huge focus. We sit in meditation for 25-30 minutes. I use the momentum that has built there, and it’s effortless in a way. The group runs itself in terms of getting people in there. The guys talk about the group outside of the group. Generally, if you have enough people in the group who have bought in to the practice and are invested in it, everyone catches on more quickly.

Kathy: Hartford Correctional Center is a maximum security prison. Do you ever fear for your safety?

Miranda: I’ve never worried about my safety. I feel like how hungry these guys are for real love. Most have suffered such abuse, and such hardness has formed around that. It’s so beautiful watching these guys who are so tough softening with the practice. That’s when I know the work is working. One inmate shared, “I haven’t been hugged in two years. All I want is a hug from my mom.” We’ve had guys cry in there. I feel so much love for these guys.

No sex offenders are allowed in the group. Other than that, anyone can come. One beautiful man had an 80-year sentence. I don’t know what he did but in that room, it was so beautiful to be with him and his gentleness, which I know is not how he shows up on the outside.

Kathy: What have you learned from your experience at the correctional center?

Miranda: I go in there believing in the goodness of these men and their capacity to make different choices, like anybody. And I realize that I’m not that different from them. I’m a hair’s breath away from that same situation myself. If I’m going to really live this practice, I have to recognize my capacity for violence myself. That helps me equalize what’s happening in there.

A participant at the correctional center mindfulness program wrote a personal letter to Miranda after he was transferred to another center. This quote from that letter is testimony to the transformative power that mindfulness has had on his life: 

“For the first time in forever, I can really sit with myself and be inside my head and with myself on so many levels. There isn’t a battle going on within me. I am calm…. Again, thank you for what you do, and how you have helped me.”

We are grateful to Miranda, her dad and all the others who are venturing forth to offer this powerful teaching where it is needed the most.

Why Presence Matters

by Sandrine Harris

Coming home to yourself is a daily process of awakening. Presence is an unfolding practice that involves engaging your whole self — through the flow of sensory experience, movement in the body, and the internal landscape of the mind and heart. Through presence, we discover that we need not add anything to our experience. We learn that we can simply be, and that this is enough.

Using tools from awareness practices like the Feldenkrais Method® and mindfulness meditation, we learn the beauty of engaging with life in a different way. When we create more space for the n-o-w, we are carving out more space to be well, to think more clearly, to tune into our bodies, and to relate to others. With embodied practices, we find delight in paying attention to the breath, in sensing our toes. We get curious about watching our minds — non-judgmentally. We allow ourselves to be in the deep knowing that we must give ourselves over to ourselves, and surrender our worries around goals, time pressures, or financial woes, in favor of living fully in this moment.

Several recent studies have looked at rates of distraction (which we can think of as lack of presence) and the feelings of happiness, contentment or connectedness to others. It seems the more distracted and not-in-the-moment we are, the more difficult it is for us to feel the positive emotions and to cultivate well-being.

I am continually amazed at how easily we can become “un-present”: pulled into past experiences or future worries. Like swirling whirlpools, our minds continuously flow from one place to another, and we tend to cyclically revisit the unpleasant parts too. However, this experience of being “un-present” is highly instructive. When meditation students tell me they are unable to be fully present (because they struggle to keep their focused attention on one thing, for example), I remind them of the excruciating focus we hold the capacity for when fixating on memories involving shame, anxiety or conflict, or worry about a future event. We tend to review difficult feelings with the utmost cyclical precision. And this is good news.

The attention skill at the center of these processes is the key to shifting from a state of “un-present” to present. What if we bring this same sort of clarity of attention and purity of focus into the present moment? This means we can also make space for experiencing the beauty of positive states, for appreciating the ephemeral moments, and for understanding our interconnectedness. We have this capacity, and when we learn to tune in with a different orientation, we begin the process of awakening and healing.

This is the moment we’ve been waiting for. And when we’re here, we can begin to sense the important things more clearly, and the less important things begin to take up less space. We untangle the wires, and sort the sock drawer. We do not ignore our past or future, or pretend any difficulties are different from what they are (though sometimes our perspective on them changes a great deal through mindful practice), but there is something more: ourselves. Outside of our jobs, our self-identification, our long-held stories, and our defined roles, we’re also the same as ever: human beings, with a beating heart, an imagination, and the ability to engage and connect with meaning.

Presence is possible, and it is a gift. Self-care, healing, choice, and connection all happen through awakening into the experience of life, in our minds and bodies, in this present moment.

 

Sandrine Harris is a movement educator and mindfulness facilitator who leads retreats at Copper Beech Institute and does outreach on the Institute’s behalf. She is certified in diverse modalities including the Feldenkrais Method®, mindfulness in education, health counseling, and several forms of movement and meditative practice. Sandrine will be offering a multi-day experience of awakening practices in her retreat, Embodying Presence: The Practice of Awakening at Copper Beech Institute on September 19–21, 2017.

 

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The One Fear That Will Teach You Everything You Need to Know

by Brandon Nappi

All fears can be boiled down to one single fear. It’s the fear of not being enough. For most people, the marching band of “not enough” will parade its way down the main street of your headspace several times a day without your permission, interrupting your plans. The playlist of this raucous and persistent band includes the following thoughts set on repeat:

I am not…

smart enough
funny enough
good enough
spiritual enough
forgiving enough
attractive enough
thin enough
popular enough
strong enough

The repetitive stream of “not enough” seems like a thoroughly convincing and a completely accurate summation of our innermost value. We conclude we are broken beyond repair and settle for strategies to hide this painful truth from others for as long as we can. Is there any other option for those of us who think, “If people really knew me and glimpsed just how broken I really am, they would sprint away with a mix of disappointment and disgust”?

To manage the sometimes intolerable pain of “not enough,” we hide behind distraction and facades. Some of us shop, exercise or self-medicate. Others become addicted to accomplishment and activity. For some, appearance or screens dull the pain of feeling of inadequacy. To bolster this inherently unpleasant and unstable situation, we can become bitterly judgmental of others, ironically elevating ourselves. Of course, comparing your best self to your friend’s worst self is not only unfair, unhelpful and unkind, in the long run, this judgment only fuels your intuition that you are in fact irreparably broken. From this perspective, we are all addicts clawing for the next fix to make our craving disappear.

It’s tempting to hate this voice of negativity and resent its rants. The common temptation is to go to war with “not enough.” Arming yourself with positive thinking and the law of attraction, we attempt to think our way toward healing. This makes a certain amount of logical sense: “I’ll simply replace one negative thought with another positive thought.” While this may help for a time, ultimately positive thinking as a method to counteract “not enough” sets up a battle of thinking in which you attempt to replace the negative thought with the positive one.

Not only is this exhausting, it’s a never-ending war. Einstein’s often quoted wisdom is instructive here: “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.” Hatred doesn’t eliminate hatred. Warfare does not end warfare. Thinking is not healed with more thinking.

This fear of “not enough” has something important to teach us. This inner voice of criticism doesn’t need to be conquered; it simply needs the same thing that every other being needs: our compassionate presence. When the inner critic appears, observe it with curiosity and kindness. Watch it with your mind’s eye. Carefully notice each thought. Lean in to look carefully at the very thought that seems to want to hurt you. Thoughts are only thoughts. They only have the power we give them. Even more, remember that you are not your thoughts. Who you are is vastly larger than any thought form. Of course, it’s one thing to know this as a concept and another thing to know this directly through experience. Mindfulness practice provide a direct taste of this freedom as we give ourselves to the practice of being present. There is unspeakable power in your presence. The very act of observing your thoughts of “not enough” itself is healing.

Somewhere along the way, we have forgotten that we are infinitely loveable. And though we often forget, we have an infinite amount of love to share — even for your inner critic. This is the powerful reality that every great spiritual tradition is naming each in their own way. The good news is that you don’t have to feel this for it to be true. This one fear of “not enough” is the hidden voice of the world calling out for love.

Some teachers through their wisdom show us who we want to be. Other teachers show us through their ignorance who we don’t want to be. Still other teachers, teach us by offering countless invitations to practice in action what we value in our hearts. “Not enough” is this kind of teacher.

“Not enough” is our teacher inviting us to share our compassion and our loving presence. The world, like the inner critic, is longing for our love. What a gift that within all of us is one single fear that teach us everything — to practice presence and love in all we do. Is there any greater lesson?

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.

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

The Difference Between Narcissism and Healthy Self-Attention — and a Meditation and Writing Prompt

by Nadia Colburn, Ph.D.

If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you are interested in looking inward. But how do we make time for this, especially in our busy world? And how can we justify this attention?

I remember being at a New Year’s Eve party maybe fifteen years ago. Most of us were in our early thirties and beginning to solidify our adult lives.

We were going around in a circle, saying what we wanted to focus on for the year, and one friend said, “This year I’m going to focus on myself more.”

He meant his statement as a joke. After all, he was a struggling to be in a serious relationship, and part of that struggle was to listen better, to not always put himself first. He thought it was funny to suggest that he’d be more narcissistic.

But I wondered whether, in fact, if my friend really did need was more attention to himself, just in a healthier way.

We live in a culture that often cannot distinguish between healthy and unhealthy self-attention. A narcissist focuses on his outward needs, appearances and gratifications. Blocked from his own inner life, a narcissist doesn’t recognize the inner lives of others. This is dangerous for the narcissist and everyone else (and yes, this is relevant to contemporary politics.)

Healthy self-attention, by contrast, is being able to be with oneself, with whatever arises, with curiosity and compassion. This attention actually makes us more available for others, more present in our lives, and more able to be our best selves.

But because many of us associate self-attention with narcissism, we don’t know how to focus on ourselves in healthy ways, and so we miss out on a chance to really know ourselves and to wake up to the great miracle of who we are in the world.

In fact, many of our blocks — in life, in our creativity, in our relationships and at work — come from the ways in which we cannot fully be with ourselves. And many of the imbalances in our culture come from our inherited discomfort with ourselves.

What would happen if you took more time to get more comfortable with yourself, to sit, to listen, to tune into your creativity, to attend to your body, to move, to relax, to wake up? What would it be like if you could justify taking the time and energy to do that? Even if you’re a regular meditator, are there parts of your being that you’re overlooking?

This short meditation and writing prompt that invites you to come into your light and tap into your creativity — and bring healthy, restorative attention to yourself:

Nadia-Video

 

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 weekend retreat, Living From Your Center: Integrating Mind, Body and Spirit, at Copper Beech Institute August 18–20, 2017. You can learn more about Nadia at www.nadiacolburn.com

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