Underwater Meditation

The occasion to escape the Michigan winter is an opportunity for which I am truly grateful and I have the good fortune of being in St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Today is the fifth day of a week long vacation and I had been meditating in spite of the disruption in my daily routine. Mid afternoon today, I realized I had not meditated this morning. I realized this lapse in routine while listening to the steady rhythm of my breath amplified under water. At that moment I decided to turn my snorkeling adventure into a meditation.

Amazing how a submerged mind is similar to dry one.

I began to notice my emotional reactions to the underwater world. When a colorful parrot fish or two swam past, I wanted an entire school. When I found myself in an area devoid of coral, with only sand or sea grass, I was disappointed. But as I became more aware of the steadiness of my breath and the roller coaster of attachment and aversion, I also became delighted with the pure white sand on the bottom of the cove. Instead of being bored with the absence of coral, turtles, and fish, I began to notice the infinite textures of the dance of light and shadow on sand. I returned to the intensified echoed sound of my breath repeatedly, as I floated face down along the surface peering through my snorkel mask.

I look forward to the remaining opportunities to practice underwater meditation before returning to Michigan. It’s absolutely true that mind does what the mind does, whether on land or at sea.

~Claire Weiner
Coral Bay, St. John USVI

A Simple Resolution?

I found myself in the grocery store on the afternoon of New Years Eve restocking the pantry after being out of town for a week. In the produce section, I reached for one of the tempting mixes of designer greens including radicchio, baby kale, spinach and arugula. But before I placed the lettuces in my cart, I paused, because of the plastic container holding the organic greens. In the space of the pause, I became aware of all sorts of thoughts and emotions about the seemingly mundane task of acquiring lettuce. Does my purchase of organic produce in a plastic container contribute to the pollution of the planet? Is my need for this particular tasty mixture so great that I need to add to the communal waste? After a moment of self- reflection, I made a different choice, placing two different types of organic lettuce, red leaf and romaine, both sitting free and uncontained in the produce section, into my cart. I noticed that I felt less conflicted. A few hours later, while washing the lettuce and making salad, I told my husband about my experience and voiced my 2017 Resolution “To Avoid Produce in Plastic Containers”. A simple enough resolution or so I thought.

But then my resolution seemed to get more complicated.

I would no longer just be able to grab the nearest container of produce. I would need to think about my place on the planet and the impact of my choices. I would need to continue to pause and hopefully make skillful choices about my purchases throughout the year in the produce section and elsewhere.

The ability to pause is one of the immeasurable gifts of a regular practice- the ability to pause and reset. The miracle of even a moment can allow for different choices, less reactivity, more compassionate choices.

May 2017 be a year of peace, happiness, good health and mindful pauses.

~Claire Weiner

A Different Kind of Breath

I have been brought to my knees by a combination of virus, bacteria, ‘twitchy lungs’ and an aging immune system. I am humbled. I am also grateful.

In the past week I have personally spoken and texted with my primary care physician several times, visited Urgent Care, received a stat chest x-ray, picked up prescriptions for antibiotics, inhalers, steroids and over-the counter-preparations. The total cost for all of these remedies at my local chain pharmacy was less than $50.00. I have yet to spend a penny out of my pocket for the Urgent Care or the doctor’s visit because my Medicare and Blue Cross have been billed.

So while I am temporarily miserable from my limiting, but time limited illness, I remain focused on what else is present – the advantage of excellent, available, affordable health care, the support of family and friends and my practice. The practice that continues to help me observe the breath, even a breath that is a bit twitchy and congested these days.

 

~Claire Weiner

Mindful Reflections on Unwanted Change

Ten days have passed since the 2016 election and I’ve watched my reactions change into responses. Like half the country I am terribly disappointed and deeply troubled by the result. But I have to remember that the other half of the country is relieved and heartened by the result. This continues to be the lesson for me – the lesson in creating enough space within myself to contain many complicated and often conflicting emotions. Like many of you, I’ve tried to be skillful about my exposure to the media, allowing myself small doses as tolerated.

I’ve surrounded myself with friends, but have tried to steer the conversation away from hand wringing discussions. My practice is more important now than ever before. Every time I make a commitment to pay attention to quietness of the breath, I have the opportunity for nonreactive stillness (Krista Tippet On Being –Interview with Steven Batchelor, January 14, 2016). In that same interview Steven Batchelor, Buddhist teacher and author, spoke of the need to create “the conditions whereby we can embark on a way of life that is not dictated by our instinctive reactivity, our habits, our fears… but stems from an inner openness, that is unconditioned by those forces, and that allows the freedom to think differently, to act differently, to respond more fully.”

The possibility to be less reactive, more open and to respond more skillfully exists each time we pause and pay attention, even if it is only for a few moments. It seems more important than ever before to be deliberate about cultivating these skills. You can begin right now by paying attention to the breath.

 

~Claire Weiner 

Grateful for Mindfulness

Yesterday was a long and busy day. I woke early, went to work in my psychotherapy practice where I met a new client, did my best to begin to get to know him and establish a therapeutic relationship and saw a few return appointments. I worked on last minute plans for a meeting of non-profit group that I am privileged to lead.

And then I answered a phone call telling me that a cousin, only two years older than I am, died last night. Her death although not unexpected, was sudden as she received a grim diagnosis just six weeks ago.

My attention turned to negotiating airline travel so my husband and I could attend the funeral.

I then rearranged my schedule, made plans for dog watching.

I spoke to my children. I spoke to a dear friend whose mother is undergoing a cancer work-up at our local hospital.

I made dinner for other friends with whom we are going to see a play. I insisted that cooking was therapeutic.

And I meditated. Finally I went to sleep.

Undoubtedly I am missing dozens of activities, decisions throughout the day. The above list… just the highlights.

And throughout the day, I was extremely grateful for my mindfulness practice. I was grateful for the spaciousness of the practice that affords me the opportunity to stop and notice my breath, even in the middle of an emotional storm, grateful for the awareness that cooking and eating in my own kitchen is comforting and reassuring, and grateful for the friends who said “Of course”.

And I was grateful for the colleague who called me first thing this morning to follow- up on a difficult conversation, remembering the importance of what we had discussed earlier in the week. Grateful too, for the meeting of the non-profit I attended where we sat in together for thirty minutes – a supported opportunity to return to quiet presence, where I became aware again and again of what is important and dear in my life. So as I get ready to board the plane in a few hours, to attend the funeral tomorrow for a cousin only two years older than I am, who was perfectly healthy two months ago and will be buried tomorrow, I am grateful for today. So very grateful.

~~~~~~~~~

Practice Possibility:

Breathe in deeply and notice the sensation. And then simply let go of the breath and notice the sensation. Now if you’d like, repeat.

See if you can notice the spaciousness of each breath.

This spaciousness is a gift available as long as we are alive enough to notice the sensations of our breath.

~Claire Weiner

Listening for the Quiet

When was the last time you stopped and listened for the quiet? I mean, really listened.

Last night I attended an outstanding concert. Glen Hansard, the Irish singer, guitarist and songwriter performed with his band for nearly three hours. The energy was high and the crowd was engaged, loud and active. And then suddenly in the last half hour of the show, Hansard unplugged himself, walked away from the microphone to the front of the stage, played his guitar and sang. The boisterous crowd hushed. And then Hansard did it again a few songs later, as if daring the audience to really pay attention to the quiet.

We live in a noisy world. The environmental

noise of traffic, cell phones, televisions, computers, can make it difficult for us to listen to the quiet. We get used to noise, a lot of noise, and then we rely on earplugs, expensive noise canceling earphones or white noise machines to block out the noise. But those strategies don’t really give us access to the quiet.

This morning, following the concert, as I prepared to take my dog for a walk, I put my cell phone in my pocket. I reached for my earphones to listen to the next installment of a favorite podcast.

But then I remembered the quiet from the concert last night and shifted my intention.

I put the earphones down and walked out the door with just my dog.

It was stunningly quiet this morning.

 

~Claire Weiner 

The Hard Work of Mindfulness

As I sat watching the Dallas Police Memorial Service on my computer this afternoon, I, like many, felt very sad as the people of the city of Dallas, the state of Texas, President Obama and others gathered together in an attempt to lead our country through our collective suffering. The loved ones of those killed by a sniper attack at the peaceful protest last week will have the lifelong painful work of personal grief -of asking why, how and now what.

For the rest of us, we need to do the hard work and have the difficult conversations about racism. We need to move our country and our communities closer to the ideal of this country. As the president said today “ We know that bias remains…. if we’re honest, we’ve heard prejudice in our own heads.”

As a non-profit organization, the mission of the Ann Arbor Center for Mindfulness is to cultivate and support the understanding of mindfulness, to promote health and well-being. The practice of mindfulness is not about feeling good, it is about being aware of whatever is present in our own hearts and minds, even if what we are aware of is prejudice. The practice of mindfulness allows for greater generosity, patience and compassion with the self, and also with and for others.

It is my hope that in the coming year Ann Arbor Center for Mindfulness can be involved in programming to the community related to race and awareness in a way that can open our hearts and our minds, so that we can all move closer to the ideal in our community.

 

~Claire Weiner

Finding Compassion

Watching and listening to the news these days can be disheartening to say the least. The world is jarred again by a terrorist attack in Brussels, only eight months after the attack in Paris. And four months ago, in the United States we were reminded of our vulnerability in the unlikely small city of San Bernadino, California.

Then there is climate change, the Flint water crisis, racial profiling, gun violence and the unsavory nature of political debate. This morning I read about the new law in North Carolina that bars transgender individuals from using bathrooms and locker rooms that do not match the gender on their birth certificate. With all the chaos and upheaval in the world, it is this bill, passed readily by North Carolina legislature and signed into law by the North Carolina governor that caught my attention today. The world seems to be such a difficult place these days, why go to such lengths to make it even more difficult for people? The North Carolina law seems so intentionally unkind.

I sat down to meditate in quite a state of despair after reading this news.

Maybe I shouldn’t read the newspaper until after I meditate, but mindfulness is not about escaping from what is present. In fact, the practice of mindfulness is just the opposite. Mindfulness and the practice of moment-to-moment awareness place us smack dab in the middle of whatever is happening at the present moment.

So whether the present moment is horror, sadness, frustration or anger because of the day’s news, then that’s where we are for now.

And that’s what we need to continue to notice without judgment.

So this morning when my phone chime rang to start my meditation, I noticed my disbelief with the North Carolina legislature and by the end of my meditation, my mental state was different. I was still bothered by the North Carolina law, but the outrage had dissipated, making room for compassion for those suffering from this law. Meditation made space for compassion that had not been present at the start.

I believe if we continue to notice even the most difficultmental states, without judging, then the outcome will eventually be compassion.

If with practice we intentionally place our attention with the difficulty, then we will be less reactive and more skillful. We will find the compassion that is at the heart of us all.

 

~Claire Weiner

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