Unsettled and Restless

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meditation candleI am unsettled and restless these days.

Maybe with the current state of the world it’s easy to understand why, but somehow this uneasiness seems more personal.

I’m caught in the tangle of planning for the future or in looking over my shoulder to resolve old business. I’m “doing” all the right things—eating complex carbs, fruits, and vegetables. I exercise regularly—a combination of aerobic and strength training. I stay in touch with friends near and far, read good books, limit exposure to distressing news while staying informed and involved. I have a family I love, a dog, work that is meaningful. I know how to have fun. I meditate regularly. And yet I am unsettled and restless.

This morning at 5:00 after the fourth day of waking early, it occurred to me what I might be missing. I remembered the deep and abiding feeling of a weeklong silent retreat four months ago.

So rather than stay in bed and stew about my inability to sleep and my growing concern about what the pattern of early morning awakening might mean about my psyche, I quietly got out of bed and went downstairs to meditate. It was still dark and the house was completely quiet. Even the dog was asleep.

I set the timer for an extended period and listened deeply to the sound of the bell on my phone. I set my intention to find refuge, to remember the experience I had during the weeklong retreat. I didn’t simply put in my time until the sound of the three bells forty-five minutes later. I was wholeheartedly present with myself, asking nothing of myself other than my presence.

I had become so entangled in the workings of my mind that I had lost touch with the present and myself. It was a gift I had forgotten. Like finding a precious jewel tucked away in the back of a drawer—only so much better.

Claire Weiner, LMSW, RYT
September 6, 2017

Meditation at Ten Thousand Feet

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plane in peaceful skyI’m on my way to what I hope is a new habit, a good habit. I typically meditate first thing in the morning. After trial and error, I’ve found that the likelihood of getting myself on the cushion decreases with every passing hour.

However on days that I travel, my first-thing-in-the-morning-meditation is often not possible. I’m often engaged in last minute packing or making other arrangements. My entire family lives out of state, so I fly frequently, as often as every six weeks. Even if my flight leaves late in the day, the prospect of flying somehow interrupts my schedule.

So the last several times I’ve flown, I’ve begun meditating shortly after boarding the plane. I wait until the passengers in my row are seated, set my phone in “airplane mode”, set my timer, close my eyes and find my breath.

As usual there is a lot to notice – the captain’s reminder of our destination, an announcement to fasten seat belts, the sound of the plane taxiing on a runway, a child kicking the seat, a baby crying, cool air blowing overhead. It is a rich sensory experience along with my mental reactions to it all.

Somehow when I hear the timer ring twenty-five minutes later, we are in the air and I am not irritated, impatient or bored.

It’s a given that air travel is stressful. As I write this blog, I am on my way from Michigan to New Mexico by way of Atlanta, which of course makes no sense. I am skeptical that my flight will arrive on time with my luggage, not to mention a quiet but certain anxiety about safety.

But my practice has shifted my relationship with flying; beginning with boarding the plane, as I begin to look forward to the opportunity to find my breath, and simply notice.

 

~Claire Weiner
July 14, 2017
On route to New Mexico

 

Walking Nowhere But Home:

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On Retreat with Rebecca Bradshaw and the Good People of the Yellow Springs Dharma Centerhiker's legs - on retreat at the yellow springs dharma center.

It was the first morning of a seven-day retreat. I arrived the evening before with two friends after driving four hours in steady rain. The day before my departure, I backed my car into a neighbor’s mailbox and destroyed the rear windshield. I was glad to be here.

When Rebecca gave the instructions for walking meditation, I was only half listening;  I’ve practiced walking meditation for years. But then I heard her say, “ “When you walk, there is nowhere to go but home”. I was struck by the simplicity and the power of her message and I began to understand and appreciate walking meditation in an entirely new way.

In the past, when practicing walking meditation, I slowed down, paid attention to the sensations of movement beginning in my hips, progressing down my legs through my knees, my ankles and finally the placement of my foot. And I repeated this series over and over. And whenever I noticed my attention wandering away from the experience of walking, whether to the scenery or sounds or thoughts, I did my best to return to the sensations of walking.

But today was different because I returned home, and home was solid and comforting.

The walking meditation felt less like an exercise in mindfulness and more like a practice in self -compassion, kindness and forgiveness. And isn’t that the true meaning of mindfulness?

 

~Claire Weiner
May 6, 2017
On retreat


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

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