Today I sat to write my Second Blog Post. I whipped the first blog out almost effortlessly; the start of a new year begs for a blog whose focus is resolving to change! That was low-hanging fruit, as they say. And now, for my second blog...uh-oh, had I picked all the easy citrus? I wanted to introduce one of my favorite topics, mindfulness, but what to say that hasn't been said, and by folks more eloquent than I?
Mindfulness, says Jon Kabat-Zinn, is the act of paying attention, on purpose to the present moment without grasping to judgment. My clients have heard me say this many times before in our striving to allow what is happening more room on the stage filled with our distractions and defenses. It's so simple, I tell my clients, and so difficult, this mindfulness. Our brains are wired to keep us safe, and so our neocortex turns our attention to that which might cause us the most danger. My life is pretty darn easy, all things considered (no attacking bears, poisonous mushrooms, unsurvivable winters just around the corner) and so my mind focuses naturally on the things it interprets as danger—not being good enough, getting things screwed up, failing at my roles, unintentionally causing harm to my children. I am physically safe, but my darn amygdala keeps firing, setting off the alarm that causes my body flush with hormones that ready me to fight, flee or freeze. Too much of that, and I am noticing symptoms. Difficulty concentrating, chronically upset stomach, waking up with a start, heart fluttering. My intervention is to notice without judgment, the sensations in the moment, as the practice of mindfulness teaches. I aspire to thicken my neocortex and weaken the link between my amygdala and the rest of my brain so that I am calmer, less fight-or-flighty over thoughts about forgetting my kids' lunch or missing an appointment. (http://www.scientificamerican.com/video/how-does-meditation-change-the-brai2013-10-30/)
Here at my small desk, today, I wonder how I can bring all this home to my Tiny Blog Audience? (I call you that because it goes with my office on the farm and let's face it, it's my second blog, and you, my audience, are tiny).
There at my computer in my Tiny Office, I wrote a couple of fruitless paragraphs and stared out the window when—I am not making this up—I spotted a bald eagle flying above the pond just to the north of me. I immediately and harshly corrected myself, sure that I was wrong. “It's a hawk, Drama Queen, the sunshine just makes it appear to have a white head and tail feathers. Calm down, Conclusion Jumper!” [tightness below my rib cage] I slipped out of my office to spy more closely, [heart beating faster] and soon it circled straight above me, in its effortless way on the invisible currents of air. [expansiveness in my chest and upper back] I was not mistaken! A bald eagle!
Let's just get side tracked for a moment. A month ago, at a California zoo, I heard a mother tell her small son, right in front of one of these magestic avians, that the bald eagle was extinct. I remember feeling the sensations in my body then [heaviness in my stomach] at the mere idea of extinction, the finality of it. I remember now [heat in face, chest drawn in slightly] how I had laughed behind her back at the mistake this mother made, knowing that she didn't have her facts straight, that bald eagles had recently been removed from the endangered species list and are now on the "least concern list" (http://www.buzzle.com/articles/endangered-bald-eagle.html.) How self-righteous, I. [tightness in my chest]
Remembering that day and how easily I jumped from the seemingly intolerable Tiny Experience of grieving the loss of the bald eagle [heaviness, a “pit” in my stomach] to a more enjoyable Tiny Experience of laughing at someone else's expense [lightness, movement fluttering in my lungs]. I understand this now as my learned effort to distract me from my own sadness. This small example of how a thought leads to an uncomfortable feeling expressed in my body first by a sensation causes me to distract myself from it by a small, unkind action. When viewed in the context of children who feel hurt turn to take it out on someone else or (gasp! can it be?) a group that feels violated creates violence to get revenge for their loss of power, I begin to see how healing begins with ourselves. By paying attention and learning to accept, tolerate and comfort ourselves through even the slightest of body sensations, we can keep the unkind acts from jumping out and emanate a centeredness that is peace. And so, we begin by noticing the smallest physical sensations [these things, adjectives describing a part of our bodies]. We let them be noticed, without rushing to judge or fix them. This is the process of listening to our bodies so that we may integrate our whole experience before for we act in a way that does not add peace and kindness into the world.
That eagle today reminds me to circle, circle back to my body, my guide to what IS. I notice the [expansiveness in my chest and the lift in my face] when I open to the lesson I was not expecting, from this visitor I was not expecting. How humbling, how wonder-full.
May I be like the eagle, silently gaining perspective by circling, circling, seeing and allowing, without judging or pouncing. May I use nature to guide me, and may I trust my own strength to keep me above that ground where thoughts mire me or where uncomfortable feelings tangle me in unkind action.
May we all extend our wings, rising higher than the suffering on the ground. May we move the current above to create winds of change. May we light on our goal with precision and strength to sustain us, but not take more than we need.
For a chance to create those winds of peace within ourselves and our community, please join us at 4e Yoga Studio in McMinnville on Saturday, January 24th for a Yoga and Meditation for Peace. (See the Upcomers page for details.)