Friday, February 19, 2016

React or Release? How Mindfulness Brings Compassion

Had just enough time to try a new vegan cafe, and I was by myself--no kids, no family--for the first time in years. I walked in, expecting a warm welcome, but none came.  I sat down. No one came. No one brought a menu, so I asked for one, and was told they were up at the counter.  Went up and grabbed one and sat back down again. No one came. Started working on some writing, fully expecting that someone would notice me, maybe ask me what I wanted to drink, etc. No one came.

No one told me you were supposed to order up front, so I waited for 20 minutes at that table dramatically looking at that menu, and no one took my order. I noticed a big line forming up front. Got concerned--was so short on time as it was. Asked the cashier: "Am I supposed to order here, then sit down?" "Yes," was her hurried and harried reply, as she was clearly very busy. Looked at line, now 8 people long, when there was no line when I got there. Could've been eating by now. So hungry, so thirsty. Felt frustration and indignant anger were building. 

My thoughts went wild: "They should have told me when I came in! They just left me sitting there! I need to complain about this. They need to hear about this injustice that has been served to me. They need to feel bad for ignoring me. Maybe give me a free meal. Put me at the front of the line." Took a few deep breaths. Looked around. They were all college kids, working their tails off. Multitasking as much as I do as a mother and more. I looked at the posters and flyers all over the coffeehouse, advertising charity concerts and helping services. I checked my phone. Still enough time. I remembered when others got mad at me for their own reasons, because I was so busy I didn't fulfill their expectations, and how badly I felt during those times. Returned to the present sensations. I was just hungry. Just thirsty. Just tired. Went to back of line. Waited my turn. Ordered and paid. Food came out in 3 minutes with a huge smile added on, and an extra big cup of tea. 

What a different world when mindfulness brings compassion. May we all be in this together. So grateful. heart emoticon

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Get Real!

Meditation for Moms and Dads (and Students and Profs and Everyone):  Getting Real
Guest Blog by Shana Smith
Author, Meditation for Moms and Dads (
Director, Gainesville Retreat Center (
Music for Children, (

When I was asked to write a guest blog for the UF Mindfulness website, I watched an entertaining movie inside my mind: “Great! Can’t wait to start writing! I’ve got some ideas—let me start up the computer. Wait—my son has to poop. It takes him 25 minutes to poop, and he needs me to read Curious George to him the whole time.  We’re already late for piano lessons!  I might have time to think about the blog while the kids are taking their lessons, after I go to the post office and return a few phone calls…no, no not then.  Got to go over room assignments and meals for our next meditation retreat. Where are their piano he still pooping?!”

How I actually wrote a whole book called “Meditation for Moms and Dads: 108 Tips for Mindful Parents and Caregivers” is a mystery that can only be explained through my mindfulness practice.  The rational, thinking mind could have never pulled it off.  It would say, well-intentioned and quite matter-of-factly, that I am just too busy to indulge in such an idea during this busy time of life.  There’s no time to even tweeze my eyebrows or have lunch with a friend.  How can I think of maintaining a meditation practice, and write a book about it?  Get real.

But the prospect of “getting real” is exactly the goal of mindfulness. A peek into any mother’s mind, or student’s, professor’s, or most anyone’s mind for that matter, is a testament to a perception of sheer chaos in life and the “monkey mind” that feeds into it.  We are forever pulled out, out, out into the storm of activity, ambition, relationships, responsibilities, self-care, caregiving, survival skills and management that it takes to live and function in this busy world, often feeling overwhelmed and stressed. It’s a vicious cycle: the more you get pulled out into the maelstrom, the more stressed and at the mercy of external forces you feel, making you even more vulnerable to the workings of the monkey mind. 

Enter mindfulness.

When you have a meditation practice and learn to practice mindfulness in daily activities, you have the opportunity to pull back from the cycle of being caught up in worldly mania and just watch your mind during the full expression of your life experiences. That’s when you realize that this monkey mind is just that—a kind of a half-cute, half-annoying beast that swings from branch to branch, changing direction and intensity constantly and with no rhyme or reason.  It creates self-doubt and confusion, and expends a whole lot of your precious energy. This mind we are so attached to is obscuring our reality.

A lot of people identify meditation and mindfulness as a technique to change the mind so that it becomes quiet and still. Mindfulness practice, for me, has not changed my mind. It’s busy in there, because usually it has to be: I’m a full-time parent who homeschools two active children and the director of a meditation center, as well as a writer, scientist, and still occasionally working musician. I need my mind to be what it was meant to be: able to handle and process a lot of stuff, but without the drama and hyperbole involved with the mind’s monkeyish tendencies. Most people in the regular world need a mind that can help them learn, multitask, and figure things out. So if we can’t always still the mind, what does mindfulness really do?

Mindfulness practice, via meditation and moment-to-moment awareness, changes the relationship you have with your mind, and there is where the magic lies.  You no longer get pulled out into a false sense of crisis or drama. When you do, you are able to recognize it much sooner and bring yourself back to mindful awareness.  You are simply aware of each experience, each moment, and the miracle of being able to experience it.  And sometimes, yes, the mind does become still.  For me, it’s usually during that precious thirty to sixty minutes that I have moved mountains around to secure as my daily morning meditation time. Sometimes it’s when walking in the woods or on the beach, or spending time with a beloved person or pet. It’s during these sacred moments that reality pours through like the golden sunbeams coming through the window, and it fuels mindfulness for the rest of the day.

Once you’ve had a taste of this new perception of life, cultivated through the practice of mindfulness, you will never be quite the same.  Generally, you will feel a greater sense of ease within yourself and with others.  But even more than that, you will begin to see that this new perception of life is the real one, and that all you were experiencing before—emotive attachments, heaviness, crisis, and drama—are illusory.  That monkey will become a sideshow most days, one you can even love and appreciate for all of its good intentions.  You will feel compassion. You will feel flow. You can write a book or create a masterpiece or make new discoveries. Or not. But your mind will no longer impede whatever is next in each moment of your experience.  Awareness will open the gates.

I wish I’d known about this practice as a university student, when months of intensive studying, bad boyfriends and sleep deprivation often turned me into a dramatic, sickly mess. Parenting isn’t much different really, except for one thing: now, my state of mind directly impacts not only myself and my spouse but two fresh new beings with open hearts and as-of-yet non-addled minds, and I don’t want to mess it up.  Even if you don’t have kids, you have people and other beings all around you every day. What a great opportunity mindfulness brings, in its ability to positively impact others.  Your mindfulness practice is indeed the world’s practice. 

Get real.