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A Response to the Florida School Shooting: Understanding and Ownership

When tragedy strikes, I find comfort and clarity in contemplation. Meditating in the days since the Parkland shooting, I have come to know this:

Whether it's a nasty word spoken or an act of violence, it all comes from the same place. We hurt each other out of fear and confusion.

At our most basic human level, we all want to feel that we are safe and that we belong. When we are deprived of these most basic needs, we compensate through extreme self-protection. Under the pressures of abuse, neglect, trauma, or lack of connection, overwhelming feelings of isolation and inadequacy can form and create fertile ground in which fear can take root.

When fear is the root, confusion is the flower. Debilitating fear distorts perception. The ability to empathize is lost. Reality is skewed. The world is seen through a filter in which others are perceived as threatening or as less than human, as objects to exploit in the interest of self-preservation. Behavior becomes erratic and dangerous. Some call this “evil.” Humanity (both self and other) is forgotten.

So this then begs the question: why is our country experiencing the devastation caused by fear and confusion? Culturally, we have moved away from a community mindset and toward one in which each person feels a need to value his or her own needs above others’. We:

• Have too much pride to ask for help.
• Prioritize individuality but forget about the collective consciousness.
• Keep busy to avoid discomfort.
• Push our children to be accomplished.
• Sacrifice balance for self-importance.
• Chase fame over Integrity.
• Hang onto external validation.
• Mock what is different.
• Try to convince each other of the validity of our perspectives rather than simply sharing.
• Take other’s thoughts, feelings, and actions personally.
• Forget to forgive daily.
• Interact with hundreds of people but feel unknown.
• Would rather be intelligent than vulnerable.
• Derive our sense of self from what we have, rather than who we are quietly, when no one is looking.

What is the answer? I don't believe that there is only one answer. But I do have some suggestions:

• Be humble.
• Let go of your attachment to old ideas and see reality as it is.
• Drop your ego and become more dedicated to the true well-being of those around you than to your principles.
• Really listen and communicate with total honesty and kindness.
• Let your kids fail, and let them know that you love them exactly as they are.
• Check in with your family and friends to support them as they grow and deal with change and stress.
• Ask your kids more questions about their peers in school or in the neighborhood who seem to be having a hard time, and take a “village mentality” to ensuring physical and mental wellness.
• Be less secretive about mistakes.
• Slow down enough to notice when someone is guarded right next to you and reach out with sincerity.
• Be present.

Above all, become a master of yourself. Choose to do the work to own what is yours: your personal triggers are critical to be aware of: your reactions to others, your pain, your assumptions, and your judgments. Be brave enough to look inside and clean up what needs cleaning. Weed out your own fear and confusion first, so that you don't try to contribute to a solution while still wearing a distorted veil.

While there is great national focus on the external work to be done, I offer a reminder of the power of inner work. What can we notice, own and bring awareness to within ourselves? When we are empowered and committed to looking inwardly first and foremost, we can be confident that we are indeed contributing to the solution, and at its most fundamental level. From there, we can advocate for much needed systemic change.

The truth remains: World peace is predicated on inner peace.



Mindfulness Misunderstood

Over and over again, the concept of mindfulness is misconstrued and misunderstood. Mindfulness becomes a goal, something else on my clients’ to do lists. It is perceived as another hobby or interest to study. Mindfulness is made to seem separate from normal life, as if it is a kind of respite or refuge from the real world. It is none of those things.

We live in a world that is increasingly busy. Time appears to move more quickly than it used to, an optical illusion of sorts. We find ourselves multitasking and juggling, not only working to pay the bills, but using leftover scraps of energy to pursue personal passions or worry about the kids. We want our children to be well balanced and to enjoy opportunities, so we attempt to keep up with the latest on nutrition, safety, and world events, trying to understand the world we live in and to limit their risk factors. We make time for those we love, care for aging parents, sneak in cups of coffee with cherished friends. We can be reached at any moment in time, burdened by modern technology, sleep providing an insufficient buffer between us and a world that no longer rests. We squeeze in time for exercise, our home, the pets, all while seeing reminders about mindfulness, and then we wonder...do we really have to make time for that, too?

When we hear the word mindfulness, many of us imagine a serene environment or a natural retreat. We envision stillness, silence. We imagine ancient secrets—the keys to happiness—handed down from teacher to student. We vow to rearrange our lives to make space for mindfulness. We make mindfulness into a “thing,” a noun and a verb both, and we put it on our self-care list.

This is the misunderstanding.

Mindfulness is not confined to a place or location. It’s not a performance, and it has no cast, wardrobe, or set requirements. Mindfulness doesn’t ask for a specific schedule or a certain routine. Mindfulness is not feeling happy all the time. Mindfulness will not eliminate challenges of the modern world. Mindfulness will not make you feel proud. It will not make you feel accomplished. It will not halt time, prevent sickness and aging, or pay the bills. Mindfulness will not make you no longer care about what hurts you. Mindfulness is not a crutch, a task, nor a magic pill.

Mindfulness is a kind of attention that is open and present, curious and friendly. It is a quality that you can choose to invoke into every single moment of your busy, multitasking life. It can be brought into a corporate meeting, a nursing home, or a conversation with your rebellious teen. Mindfulness infuses a sense of vitality into everything you do. It allows you to feel everything more acutely, enabling you to notice both what feels wonderful and also what hurts. Mindfulness cures emotional numbness, and its open and friendly nature softens discomfort. When you are mindful, beneath everything you experience is a sense of contentedness, a comfort knowing that everything is okay.

Ultimately, mindfulness is not something separate from your life. It doesn’t help you to retreat or disengage. Mindfulness not a thing. It is a way of being. It can be brought into all you do, all you say, all you pursue.

Begin to conceptualize mindfulness as a filter through which to experience your life. When you do, all you currently manage will take on a kind of calm and rich quality. As you begin to live more mindfully, you will see your choices and your intentions shift in a way that truly serves you. You will find you don’t have to think as much in general. The quality of your attention will become like a tuning fork, guiding you as you navigate the changing circumstances of your life. Simply bringing your present attention with friendliness to any moment completely alters the way you experience that moment. 

You are living anyway...why not be more alive to it?

As Jon Kabat-Zinn, a contemporary master of Mindfulness tells us, “Practice as if your life depends upon it… because it does.”

 


The Power of Our Voice:
The Influence of Spoken Word and Silence

As I prepare for this month’s Kundalini Yoga workshop on the first of Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements (Be impeccable with your word), the theme of how to speak has come to the forefront of my attention. Additionally, in light of our President’s recent degrading comments about developing countries, I find myself again reflecting on the concept of how important it is to use one’s voice consciously. There are infinite examples around us of how using our words can create peace or war, light or darkness, openness or guardedness, creativity or decay.

According to yogic science, the most powerful and influential voice we will be exposed to throughout our life is our own. More powerful than any external voice we may hear, our words have the greatest impact and solidify ideas into beliefs more readily. Our thoughts, which are are the energy and intent behind our speech, and our words themselves actually matter.

We can be so reckless with our words, often following up with damage control, forced to use phrases like, “Oh, I didn’t really mean that.” We use our words lightly, as if they are entertainment. We vent. We gossip. We judge others. Think back to a casual comment you’ve made about the extended family member you don’t care for, or an assumption you’ve made about a neighbor. What began as an idea became more and more solidified each time you spoke it aloud. It grew into a belief which, with time and external validation, petrified into a pseudo-fact. By speaking in a denigrating way about others, we are actually inventing our own internal stories, which is unfortunate. When we do this, it creates a barrier between ourselves and the truth about the other.

It interrupts our ability to really know another. And the truth is always the highest commodity.

But what might happen if we choose our words with a greater sense of personal responsibility? What if we resist the temptation to be funny, to seek attention, or to be right? What if we prioritize humility and truthfulness instead of pride and glory? Everything shifts.

Create an intention to use your words as tools to build yourself and others up, rather than as weapons of destruction. How can you do this? Here are some practices to help you communicate with greater integrity:

Cultivate self-awareness. Breathe deeply as you listen to others speak. Notice the quality and intent behind what they say. When you speak, take time between thoughts to pause and breathe. Slower thinking usually results in more thoughtful words.

Notice self-criticism. Pay attention to the times you chastise yourself for an incomplete job, neglected task, or imperfect appearance. These criticisms are usually harsh and unfair. Each of us is doing the best we can with the energy and resources at our disposal. Observing your behavior and learning from it is a helpful thing to do... beating yourself up is not. It does not lead to true learning or genuine change. Catch harsh thoughts before they become words. Tell yourself, “It’s ok! I am doing just fine. I am ________________ (say what is so good about you in that moment). I am learning as i go and I will remember __________________ for next time!”

Be silent in the judgments you make of others. Hear the assumptions in your own mind and notice yourself yearning for others to align with you in your criticism. Feel the pull and desire for attention or a sense of self-righteousness. Try to practice silence in those times. In a world where we are constantly encouraged to speak our opinions, I remind myself that my opinion is only that: mine and an opinion. It is powerful and compassionate to cultivate the ability to say nothing, even if it feels like you want to share your perspective. Let the truth of the moment be without your narration.

When someone compliments you, receive it. Receive kindness with an open heart and gratitude. Don’t make less of praise or shrink before it. If someone shares a compliment with you, be big, smile, and graciously say thank you! Hear it without fear of being envied, misunderstood, etc.

When you say something, mean it. Do what you say you will do. Whether you make a commitment to yourself or to someone else, practice speaking only what you really mean and intend to do. We are all human and will not be perfect at this, but we must be careful not to be reckless or haphazard with what we say. Each time you say something to yourself or to someone else, think of it as a promise. Promises are special because, by their very nature, they are meant to carry a sense of loyalty. See how loyal you can be toward yourself and others.

You can perpetuate recycled resistance or you can uplift others -- the choice is yours. Recycled resistance is the unconscious and chronic venting about what is imperfect. We find ourselves caught in a kind of merry-go-round where we whine and complain about what we do not like, whether that’s ourselves, co-workers, neighbors, children, spouses, government leaders, or even the weather. By using our voice in this pessimistic way, we give life to a very resistant and negative state of mind that weakens us. We would like to think it is therapeutic, but it’s not; rather, it is self-defeating. It reinforces a mental filter that is skewed toward looking at what is wrong with life rather than what is good in it. If you focus on what is wrong with yourself, your family, your job, or the world and you can be guaranteed you will find evidence to support your perspective. So what can you do about your tendency to recycle resistance? You can train yourself to catch it happening in real time. Catch yourself, or catch whoever you are speaking with. If you’re the offender, decide on the spot to stop. If it’s someone else, kindly acknowledge their struggle and then ask them what is actionable. Use your voice to help the other person become empowered enough to find their own solutions or simply to recognize the need for acceptance. In every situation, in every moment, we can always use our voices as Lighthouses, rather than contributing to the continuation of painful, stormy ignorance.




New Year’s Resolutions: How to Be At Peace on the Road of Success

With its long, dark nights and cooler temperatures, winter is the season that organically calls us to slow down, to go inward, and to reflect upon our lives. Questions naturally arise as part of that contemplation:

• Am I happy?
• Are my priorities clear?
• Have I been taking care of myself to the best of my ability?
• Do my choices and my lifestyle reflect my values?
• What changes do I want to make?
• Can I summon the time and energy necessary to implement my New Year’s Resolutions?
• If I haven’t succeeded at these resolutions previously, what will be different this time?

As we undertake any new endeavor, our approach is what is most important. How we go about what we’re trying to do always has more significant impact on our state of mind than what we’re actually attempting to accomplish. While the what of our intentions is important, if we are not at peace in our own minds with the way we relate to our goals and the effort required, we will be in conflict. Outward success will not bring the contentment we desire if we experience inner conflict. To be happy and successful, we must be at peace in our approach toward success.

Here is a list of what is essential to remember in your peaceful approach to your New Year’s Resolutions:

Take small steps in the direction of your intentions and consider each step forward an achievement. To borrow from the wisdom of the Talmud, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” Don’t get too far ahead of yourself. Just begin.

Set yourself up for success by setting daily or weekly goals and achievable minimum tasks to accomplish. If you want to add a daily walk to your routine, set a minimum of 10 minutes to consider yourself successful at your commitment. If your goal is to get the gym and exercise, don’t tell yourself that you have to be there for an hour to have succeeded; set a minimum of walking through the door so that you’ve met your goal every time you go, even on that hard day when you are struggling just to get in the car. Want to eat more healthfully? Set a minimum of adding one serving of good fats or a little extra protein to your daily intake.

Never use self-judgment as a means to motivate. When you fall (and you surely will!), be kind to yourself. Use language that is compassionate without rationalizing and pardoning your behavior. See it for what it is. Rather than making excuses for your decisions, acknowledge the challenge that it was, be gentle, let it go, and refocus on your goals.

Change the words Start Over to Continue. The words start over imply that you are back at the beginning and give a feeling that all progress to this point has been lost. Try saying “continue” the next time you slip up. It has an honorable quality. A kind of perseverance is naturally built into that word.

Learn from the last time. When you falter, notice what happened and why. Make mental notes for next time. We are complicated creatures and studying our own behavior is helpful to making changes. Use your newfound self-knowledge to dig in more deeply.

Embrace a warrior spirit. Resolutions are not for the faint of heart. It helps to remember that resilience and determination have warrior-like qualities, and you are engaged in an inner battle between being true to yourself and seeking comfort and convenience. It is a noble fight. Be big about it.

On this path no effort is wasted, no gain is ever reversed; even a little of this practice will shelter you from great sorrow.
Bhagavad Gita 2.40 (sacred text of Vedic knowledge: Stephen Mitchell translation)



Cultivate a Joyful Holiday Season by Expecting Less

The winter holiday season is upon us. Full of meaning and rich in tradition, the month of December can provide warm feelings, sweet memories, and the excitement of new adventures to come. It is a time of spiritual reflection, of giving and receiving, of hope and wrapped surprises.

For many people, the holiday season is a complicated time.

  • Some people feel the absence of loved ones who are gone. Memories of sharing holiday traditions can be bittersweet and leave you feeling vulnerable and raw.
  • For others, the holidays are full of pressure, self-imposed and otherwise, to not disappoint, to make perfect, and to stretch the budget to cover the ever-increasing gift list.
  • For a few, the holidays bring a profound sense of loneliness. Watching the festivities without participating can be a reminder of all that you’re missing.

 

How do we navigate the holiday season with grace, maximizing the unique beauty it holds for each of us but also moving easily through some of the challenges of the season?

The answer to that question comes down to a few simple reminders, steps we can take to approach the holiday with an expanded perspective and self-awareness, remaining cautious of the “expectation trap,” the tendency we all have to create ideas of what something should be like or some way that we ourselves should be. When we do this, we step out of the present moment and disconnect ourselves from the spirit of the season. Have you ever heard the saying, “Expectations are resentments under construction”? This is such an insightful statement!

Here’s a short list to help you avoid resenting the pressures of the season:
:

  • Remember Thich Nhat Hanh’s words of wisdom: “The greatest gift you can give someone is the gift of your own true presence.”  It isn’t presents that make someone feel special; it’s presence, the gift of your full and kind attention. Consider giving a gift of yourself… a lunch together, a special hike, a winter outing, sharing one of your unique talents with someone you love.
  • Allow yourself to miss that departed loved one. Don’t fear the emotions. Lean into them. Be gentle with yourself. Sit quietly and allow the feelings to come. Do not run from them; rather, welcome them in. Light a candle in memory at your Chanukah table, tell stories of your dear one around the tree.
  • Slow down. The roots of winter celebrations started many moons ago with our pagan ancestors who honored the Earth as our mother and saw the sun’s departure as a time for deep inquiry and respect. The book Celebrating the Great Mother by Cait Johnson and Maura Shaw is rich with ideas for honoring our earthly home with simple homemade customs. Consider adding a new tradition to your celebration – one that does not involve driving or online shopping to achieve meaning.
  • Take nothing personally. Let others have their own ideas of how the holiday should be. Be mindful of cultivating the conditions, pace and energy of your own holiday. Don’t compare your blessings to another’s bounty. Don’t confuse your values for theirs. Stay true to yourself and model peace within yourself. Be content with your choices and content with your circumstances.
  • Step away from perfectionism. Forgive yourself your mistakes. Let it be ok to accidentally forget someone on your list. Let it be ok to make a simpler holiday meal this year. Let it be ok to choose to spend less. Let it be ok to be too tired to go the extra mile. Let it be ok to be imperfect. Finally, remember the words of the late Leonard Cohen as you prepare for your family’s holiday customs:

                       

“Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.”

 

Warmest wishes for a beautiful, light-filled holiday season,

Teressa


 


Children’s Feelings

I wrote the following meditation because I wanted something to use with my own children when they experienced unpleasant emotions. I wanted my children to feel empowered to work with the wide range of their emotions, and to know that uncomfortable emotion can be allowed, and when it is allowed to be, it is much more bearable.

Our culture does not teach this. There are few examples in daily life for children. But more and more, thanks to the mindfulness movement in Western culture, children are hearing the messages that it is ok to be with what doesn’t feel good. This is a powerfully healing message.

Historically our self-protective instincts try to take us away from our unpleasant feelings through distractions of every kind: eating, drinking, spending, gambling, sex, technology, overworking… And over time these distractions become addictions.

Little Girl

But the feelings remain, for as we know, that which we do not allow into our experience for emotional digestion becomes like a “heavy energetic backpack” that we carry, without choice, indefinitely. Until we decide to sit down with our “backpack” and bit by bit really allow/feel what we have been carrying.

This guided meditation for children is to be read by an adult to the child. Please read slowly and pause after each step to allow the child to integrate the directions into her/his experience. Suggest that the child close their eyes but never force. The child must feel safe, above all else.

And though this was written for a child, we ALL have an inner child who has been avoiding feelings of loss, fear, sadness, grief, or shame.

I welcome adults to use this as well… you can record it for yourself or have a trusted loved one read it for you. The peace that follows is worth it.

There is no limit to how many times this can be done… in fact the more you use it for yourself or your children the more it will become automatic and the steps will flow easily and without effort.

Please share your experiences with me… I am cheering you on!



Children In Field

Tucked in Meditation
Making Heart Space for Children’s Feelings

1. Breathe deeply in through nose and out through mouth x 3
2. Pay attention to cool air entering and warm air leaving
3. Feel what is happening inside your body:
4. What is the strong feeling? Scared? Sad? Frustrated? Angry?
5. Where in the body is it? (Chest, belly, head, feet?)
6. Spend some time with this feeling. Even if it's uncomfortable, just stay and visit with this feeling. Tears may come. It’s all ok. Let the feeling have a chance to be there.
7. Now, feel your heart. It’s the space where you feel gratitude and love in the center of your chest.
8. Now pick up that feeling (really scoop it up) and bring it to your heart. Hold it gently to your heart and let it stay here for a moment.
9. Then ask your heart, which is as large as the universe, to open up a bit to make some extra room for this feeling. Ask it politely, but know that it will be happy to do anything you ask.
10. Now that there is plenty of room, Tuck In your feeling. Right into your heart. Like going to sleep after an adventurous day, you gently and lovingly tuck that feeling in.

11. Remember how grateful you feel that your feeling has a home.
12. Now your feeling and your heart have become one thing, not two. Like honey in warm tea, the feeling melts into your heart.
13. Now you stay very still for just a moment more. You might feel cozy.
14. Take 3 more deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Feel the air fill your lungs and belly, and empty back out. Wiggle your fingers and toes, and when you feel ready, open your eyes. Take a drink of water. Wonderful job!

Copyright Living Awareness, LLC
Teressa U. Cohen, MFT
teressaucohen@gmail.com



Heart-Based Communication in Relationship

Being in relationship with others can be both beautiful and challenging. We often have thoughts, feelings, perspectives and needs that differ from our partners, parents, friends, and older children.

It’s very easy to get caught up in our thoughts and in thinking. We spin the story of our perspective over and over and often the relationship remains stuck. We cannot always think our way out of relationship tangles. We often have to let the heart lead.

The following is a template for having an intimate conversation that will bring both clarity and healing if followed. The results are that both participants feel heard and honored, and as a result, understanding deepens. Both people feel safe. And when emotional safety and a spirit of acceptance are present, easy and fulfilling interactions follow.

I suggest asking another with whom you would like to resolve a current conflict or deepen a connection to join you for this heart-based conversation. I suggest having this template on your phone or printing a copy to keep alongside you as you have your conversation. It will eventually become second nature.

Please feel free to contact me and share your experiences!




Guidelines for Heart-Centered Connection

1. Choose a time that will not be hurried. Make certain it is a time that is mutually convenient. The pressure of time can often sabotage a well-intentioned conversation.
2. Set the space: make it special if you choose. A cup of tea and a candle go a long way.
3. Be clear on the Intention for the Connection. Know why you are requesting this time. Know what you hope to share or get some clarity on the other’s feelings. Share this intention in the beginning.
4. Stay connected to your breath. Breathe long and slowly throughout the conversation. Notice any tension in your body. Relax. Notice your facial expressions. Bring Awareness to yourself and the space.
5. Establish a “No Blaming” rule. There is enough room for both to share feelings that may even be in conflict, but there is no need to “win” this conversation. In winning, someone always loses and that sets up defensiveness from the beginning. Here, there is only sharing and listening.
6. Express what you need. Ask with humility for anything you need in the relationship. Ask without entitlement. Then ask what the other needs of you.

Trees

7. Acceptance of what is heard: see of you can both agree to accept what the other feels even if you do not agree or share the same perspective. This takes courage. Acceptance does not mean that you agree. It means that you accept that the others feelings are their reality. And you don’t try to change it by force. You accept and the other accepts you.
8. Apologize where appropriate. If an apology feels sincere, offer one. If one is offered to you, accept it with your whole heart.
9. “I hear you. I will remember this for you”. A most beautiful statement to close with. It demonstrates an honoring of the others experience.
10. Thank each other for sharing. It is always a privilege to hear someone’s most intimate thoughts.
11. Promise: make a promise to each other that you can keep. As a gift of the heart, give it freely without expecting anything in return.

Copyright Living Awareness, LLC
Teressa U. Cohen, MFT
teressaucohen@gmail.com