Present Moment Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living by Thich Nhat Hanh

Present Moment Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living
Present Moment Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living by Thích Nhất Hạnh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Last month I attended a women’s retreat. At the retreat center, they had these little cards up all over the building with these great little meditations on daily living. All day, the meditations prompted me to pause and reflect as I washed my hands or looked in the mirror or took a step outside the front door. I loved the feeling of calm they facilitated.

My friend and I asked the women in charge of the retreat center where the cards were from, and they said they were Thich Nhat Hanh meditations, but the cards were out of print. Through the magic of the internet, I found out the meditations were from Present Moment Wonderful Moment and managed to find two sets of the cards and a copy of the book. I gifted one set of the cards to my friend and kept the other set intending to put them up around my house. But when my eight-year-old daughter saw the book, she independently suggested that we make pretty, hand-written cards to put up around the house. So we did.

One afternoon, we used a paper cutter and some pretty card stock my daughter got as a gift a couple of years ago and made eight cards, four for her and four for me, to put up around the house. We each have the Waking Up meditation by our beds, and I have the Ending Your Day one by my bed, as well. She has the Opening the Window on her bedroom window, the blinds of which she opens every morning first thing so she can look outside and read her meditation. We also have the Washing Your Hands, Looking in the Mirror, and Brushing Your Teeth meditations on our bathroom mirrors. We are enjoying them so much, we plan to make more.

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It’s apparent that we need to investigate other gluing options for the silver paper, but even with their imperfections, I like our little cards.

This is a gem of a book, and I love how it’s brought these moments of mindfulness to our days. I don’t know if it’s directly attributable to the book, but since we put up the meditations, my daughter has been joining me for a short sitting meditation every morning. It’s such a lovely way to start our day! (And our cat Owen must think so, too. Every morning he climbs into my daughter’s lap and offers her a purring meditation.)

The only thing missing from this book is a meditation for when my kids are squabbling over something that seems incredibly tiny to me.

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Guest Post: This I Believe

My friend Linda always has something to say that simply and deeply speaks to my heart, so I was thrilled when she agreed to guest post on Imperfect Happiness this week. I hope you find her words as powerful as I do. If you do, please let her know in the comments.

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My husband and I married when we were both in our forties, and as we say in Texas, it wasn’t our first rodeo. We invited our families to participate, and when the minister asked: “Who gives this man?” we laughed out loud when Rad’s family loudly—and in unison—proclaimed: “We do. As is. No returns.”100_3035

I’m a Virgo, born under a new moon when Mercury was in retrograde. (I have no idea what any of that means.) I’m left-handed and an introvert. I have a strong family history of heart disease. I’m 5 feet 8 inches tall and have green eyes and used to be a brunette. I tend to be anxious and sometimes suffer from agoraphobia and panic disorder. I was labeled “too sensitive” as a child because I cared and felt deeply. I used to think I had to be perfect to be loved. I’m often in physical pain. I’m a decent, kind and caring person. I have a good sense of humor, and have always had a strong sense of justice. And I have an endless list of likes and dislikes.

I did not make myself up. I am a product of genetics, culture, society, my family, and every single experience I’ve ever had, including my interactions with all of you. I am an extraordinarily ordinary human, always changing, evolving.

Here I am: as is.

This isn’t a theological reflection but it is a deeply spiritual one for me. After participating in a mindfulness program a few years ago, I began the practice of moment-to-moment awareness – well, at least some of the time.

As I practiced this present moment awareness, I noticed there was a constant litany going on in my head. “Why did you say that?” “You should be ashamed for thinking THAT.” “I can’t believe you’re so clumsy.” “You forgot again?” “Yikes, look at that jiggly belly!”

A few months ago I was invited to add the practice of accepting myself as is to my daily meditation. “May I accept myself as I am,” I say silently to myself. In the beginning I would often sit with tears running down my face; I sometimes still do.

As is.

I can stop trying so hard. I can stop worrying about what other people think. I can relax. I can try new things and not be perfect. I can say: “no, that’s not for me.” I can be happy now, not when.

The wonderful thing about this practice is that it’s about possibility and intention. I might not always accept myself as is, but I want to; it’s difficult when I’m feeling shame or fear or anger or pain. I love the story from the mindfulness teacher, Sylvia Boorstein, who tells of a woman, who when asked how she’s doing always answers: I couldn’t be better. Isn’t it true, Sylvia says, if we could be better, wouldn’t we?

When I accept myself as is, I’m better able to discern those things that I might be able to change. For example, I might still feel angry with the driver who just scared me to death when he turned left in front of me, but I don’t have to simultaneously honk, shout obscenities, and make obscene gestures. And I can also notice those things that I want to change, and try as I might, I will never change. I will likely always be prone to anxiety and startle easily. I flush beet red with shame when I make a mistake and hate admitting that I’m wrong. I will likely always have back pain.

A fortuitous by-product of this practice of self-compassion is that I find myself being even more compassionate and accepting of others just as they are, right here and right now.

So this is what I believe: I am an extraordinarily ordinary human, always changing, always evolving, and by practicing self-compassion, I am better able to love and accept myself and others.

Here I am: as is.

May we all accept ourselves as is, no returns.

Still More Grocery Store Lessons: Who Deserves Compassion?

I’ve written about my realization that feeling a sense of scarcity and like the world owes me something is a choice and that I can choose to feel differently. I’ve written about how much better showing compassion feels than feeling annoyed does. Now I come to the third thought that’s been percolating since my grocery store trip the other day:

Who deserves compassion? Continue reading

More Lessons in Compassion at the Grocery Store

I mentioned in yesterday’s post a recent trip to the grocery store, but I only told the middle of the story. Here’s how it began:

So, we’d managed to make it to the checkout line with only a few more items than were on the list and with me still on speaking terms with both of my children. I pushed my cart up to the conveyor belt as best I could and began unloading groceries. My son was enthusiastic about helping that day but is too short to reach into the cart with his three-year-old arms, so I would hand him an item and he would put it up on the belt while I rushed to put up five more items before he toddled back to the cart for something else.

I had just handed him a box of instant oatmeal and turned back to grab a few more things when I heard the man in the next line over say, “Oh, no,” in a grave voice. I turned to see my son sprawled on the floor holding his ear, the man bent over him saying, “Oh my God. I’m so sorry. It’s all my fault. I’m so sorry.” Continue reading

Self-Compassion: How Thinking About Bad Experiences Can Make You Happier and More Compassionate

Welcome to the March Mindful Mama Carnival: Mindful Mama Challenge

This post was written for inclusion in the Mindful Mama Carnival hosted by Becoming Crunchy and TouchstoneZ. This month our participants have challenges they’ve set for themselves toward becoming more mindful. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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There was a show on NPR a few months ago about an anonymous person who left $100 at a coffee shop and said that it was to cover coffee and treats for anyone who came in after her for however long it lasted. The owner of the coffee shop talked about the positive effects of this generous act, including how it’s inspired other customers to do the same thing. The owner suggested that if we practice random acts of kindness, like paying for someone’s tank of gas as well as our own next time we’re at the pump, we can increase the overall level of compassion in the world.

My first thought: Wow. What a great idea!

My second thought: But wait…what if the person in the car you just filled with gas is a murderer and needed a full tank of gas to carry out his plans? Or what if he’s getting ready to kidnap his child? How do I know I’m helping the right person?

I often let this kind of fear prevent me from compassionate action. I have identified three categories of reaction that keep me from generosity:

1) Fear of helping the wrong person. This is the one I described above. Along with this is a fear of being taken advantage of. I don’t think this is an unrealistic fear. I mean, Elizabeth Smart’s parents tried to help out a fellow who was down on his luck, and look what happened to their family.

2) Fear of negative judgment from the person I’m helping. Usually what I imagine they’d say is, “What a weirdo!” or “How dare she presume to know what I need!” or, along similar lines, “This [whatever item I've given to them] isn’t useful to me at all. What a pain in the butt that I have to get rid of this thing I don’t want on top of everything else I’m dealing with!”

3) A sense of scarcity. “What if I give too much and don’t have enough left for my own needs?” This is the one that comes up most often when I’m trying to decide how much money to pledge to my church, but I also get it when I think about volunteering my time. What if I make a commitment and then find it’s too much to give?

And then when I let these fears keep me from compassionate action, I feel ashamed and guilty, which, I’ve found, doesn’t inspire greater compassion. Apparently this is consistent with what a number of scientists have found, too (not with me, but with other people, but I assume the results could be extrapolated to me).

When I did my yoga teacher training, one of my instructors was Kelly McGonigal. At the time, she was finishing up her Ph.D. Since then she’s been very busy. She’s been pretty hot lately on NPR and on the Today Show and various other places for her book about willpower (The Willpower Instinct) and for her book about yoga and chronic pain (Yoga for Pain Relief). At the time, she struck me as a very self-confident yet compassionate person. Her yoga practice was beautiful and seemingly effortless. And she cut her own hair, which is, to me, the pinnacle of self-assuredness and not being afraid of what others think. I found her fascinating, but I also felt intimidated by her confidence in herself. She’s one of those people who inspire a recording of Wayne and Garth saying, “We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!” to start playing in my head. But then, I felt pretty much out of my league during the entirety of the teacher training.

At any rate, I’ve been checking out Kelly’s blog and her interviews off and on since she started appearing on the national stage, and I recently watched a video on her blog about the benefits of self-compassion. If you want to check it out, you can find it HERE. It’s thirteen minutes long, and the sound is a little echo-y, but it’s well worth the time.

One of the things that she said particularly struck me. She said that lack of self-compassion is associated with a fear of being compassionate to others. Specifically, people who were lacking in self-compassion were more likely to agree with the statement, “People will take advantage of me if I’m too compassionate.”

Hmm. Yes, that sounds somewhat familiar.

People lacking in self-compassion were also more likely to engage in negative self-criticism and unhealthy perfectionism, and to experience shame, guilt, anxiety, and depression.

Yes, [clears throat] also somewhat familiar.

McGonigal then briefly outlined a practice that was used in self-compassion studies and which appears to correlate with positive outcomes, including reduced procrastination, reduced anger, better resilience after a setback, and increased happiness compared to a daily practice of self-criticism and guilt.

I could really get into these kinds of positive outcomes.

I admit, self-compassion seems really, really corny to me. But I’m at an age where I’m starting to realize that if I don’t get moving on making changes and accomplishing great (-ish) things, I’m not going to have the chance to do that kind of thing, at least not in this lifetime. So, I’m going to give this self-compassion thing a try.

As part of the Mindful Mama Blog Carnival, I’m going to do the self-compassion daily journaling practice McGonigal describes in her presentation every day for one week. Basically, I’ll journal (not blog…journal. I’m not doing this self-compassion thing in public!) each evening about the most difficult event of my day with a focus towards writing down words of empathy and compassion for myself, rather than the usual “You dweeb. Why can’t you ever do [X] right?”

And I’ll let you all know how I do.

If you’d like to give it a try, too, please take a look at Kelly’s video (linked above a couple of times). I would love to know how it goes for you, so please leave your feedback in the comments section or blog about it and leave a comment with the link to your post.

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Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

Excuses, Excuses

Breakfast at my house (on a weekday when Daddy’s already off to work):

Green Smoothie

Breakfast

“Mommy?”

“Yes?”

“Mommy?”

“Yes?”

“Mommy?”

“What is it, Sweetie?”

“Mommy?”

“What, Sweetie?”

“Mommy?”

“What do you need, Honey?”

“Mommy?”

“Can I get you something?”

“Mommy?”

“Oh, for the love of Mike, what do you want?”

Lunch at my house:

My 6.5-year-old to her 2.5-year-old brother: “You’re a geologist!”

“NO I NOT A GEE-L-GIST!”

“You’re an oceanographer!”

“NO I NOT OSH-OG-FUR!”

“You’re a geophysicist!”

“NO I NOT A GEE…GEE…NO I NOT THAT!!!”

Me: “Honey, please stop calling your brother things. He thinks you’re insulting him.”

Her: “What does ‘insulting’ mean?”

Dinner at my house:

Dinner (or rather, what I want for dinner after surviving breakfast and lunch and if I can't have a book and a closed door, which is what I REALLY want)

The typical scenario in which no one needs anything until the moment my rear end touches the seat of my chair. I alternate between being the dutiful, long-suffering mother getting the milk/straw/yellow cup/asparagus that’s been requested and acting like my maternal grandfather. Whenever all of his eight children, their spouses, and various progeny were visiting, my grandpa ate hunched over his food possessively, both elbows on the table, watching the goings-on from the corner of his eye.

In other words, I’ve been working on a post about mindfulness and parenting (in response to a comment on my post “Simply Living: My Voluntary Simplicity Project“), and I find that I’ve not been able to focus long enough to even write it. But I thought you might enjoy this slice of my life (and there’s much more where that came from) while I try to get my frazzled brain around this mindfulness thing.

I’m cautiously optimistic.

Still Here: Week 6 Retrospective and Week 7 Preview

So, I made it through Week 6 of my meditation program.

(As a reminder, during Week 6, I alternated 45 minutes of yoga and 45 minutes of sitting meditation each morning this week. Well, I actually only did 30 minutes of sitting meditation on my meditation days. 45 just seemed so…long.)

The tricky part this week was that my husband was out of town and my mom was visiting and sleeping in my normal yoga-and-meditation space.

As a rule, I don’t handle upheavals in my routine very well.

I moved my morning practice upstairs and, by some miracle, kept my schedule for six of the seven days of Week 6. Each night I set the alarm for 5am, and each morning, with the help of the cats, I got up before the alarm,washed my face in cold water, bribed the cats with freeze-dried liver treats, and then retired to the office for yoga or meditation. That quiet time was quite pleasant and perhaps even necessary to maintaining some degree of calm during my not-at-all-routine days.

After my husband got home Thursday night, I found the routine harder to keep. Saturday I skipped yoga but did an abbreviated practice before bed. Sunday (day one of Week 7) I skipped entirely.

But today, I’m back in action with a morning yoga practice (and a blog post), although not without a fair amount of bellyaching.

For Week 7, I’m supposed to stop using the yoga and meditation recordings and just do 45 minutes per day of some combination of practice on my own. I’m thinking about doing 30 minutes of yoga in the morning and 15 minutes of sitting meditation in the evening because I like the feeling I get doing yoga in the wee hours of the morning and I like having a little moment of calm and reconnection to look forward to in the evenings. I missed that during Week 5 and Week 6 when all of my practice was in the morning.

I’ve got a few other blog posts floating around in my brain, but blogging just hasn’t been a priority since I started my meditation practice. I’m not sure why, but it feels less important than it once did. I also feel like I’m having a more difficult time expressing myself in writing than I have in the past. Maybe all of this “pondering the mysteries of the universe” is leaving me speechless.

Or maybe getting up before 5am most mornings is just catching up with me.

Week 3: Still Sitting

I was going to say I was “still standing,” but since I’ve not tried walking meditation yet, most of my Bold Plan involves sitting or lying down. Or doing yoga, which I very gratefully added this week. I had no idea how much my body needed to stretch until I started doing it!

Here’s what I’ve done so far:

WEEK 1:

30-45 minute Body Scan meditation in the morning

WEEK 2:

30-45 minute Body Scan meditation in the morning

10 minutes of sitting meditation in the evening

WEEK 3:

Alternate 30-45 minute Body Scan meditation with 45 minutes of gentle yoga in the morning

20 minutes of sitting meditation in the evening

Be aware of and write down one pleasant experience from the day

Today is the last day of Week 3. Week 4 will be just like Week 3, except instead of writing down one pleasant experience from the day, I’ll be aware of and write down on unpleasant experience from the day.

All of this is based on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Full Catastrophe Living, which is the book he wrote outlining the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program he pioneered at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. If you follow that link, you can find MBSR programs around the country. While I’m doing the program on my own now, I did start out in the live classes, and I think that’s probably the best way to be introduced to MBSR (although it’s probably more effective not to move across the country halfway through like I did).

In future posts, I’ll write in more detail what each of these steps entail (body scan, sitting meditation, yoga) as far as recordings and props go, in case you’re thinking of trying a meditation practice at home. Or maybe you just like details. Or maybe you’ll just choose to skip those posts. Whatever’s fine.

For now, this is what I’ve been up to.

As I mentioned yesterday, I really am enjoying myself. It doesn’t feel “Wow! This is amazing!” It just feels comfortable.

A surprisingly good mainstream article about mindfulness meditation and Jon Kabat-Zinn:

Posts by me about My Bold Plan:

The Mindful Path to Perfection: You’re Already There

“In moments of stillness you come to realize that you are already whole, already complete in your being…”

-Jon Kabat-Zinn

I have a tendency to dwell a lot on perfection. I have something of a conviction that things would be easier if I were flawless. Even when I run through the logical extremes of this kind of perfection and realize that even perfection isn’t without flaw, I still crave that state of never-erring.

In a very kind note Duane Elgin sent to me, he pointed out that another definition of “perfect” is more along the lines of complete, pure, total.

Yet another definition is having both pistils and stamens in the the same flower, so clearly not all definitions apply, but this “perfection as wholeness” definition really resonates with me, especially as I’m getting deeper into my meditation practice.

In Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn writes, “In moments of stillness you come to realize that you are already whole, already complete in your being…” In this sense, the purpose of meditation isn’t to relax or to stop yelling at my kids or to change anything at all. The purpose is to give myself a chance to recognize that I’m already whole. If more good comes from that, it’s just icing on the cake.

In the body scan meditation CD I have, Kabat-Zinn assures the listener that, “from the perspective of mindfulness practice, as long as you are breathing there’s more right with you than wrong with you, no matter what the condition of your body and its history and no matter what you are facing in this moment.”

It occurs to me that those things that never err are those things that are static, unchanging, dead.

I’m breathing. I’m living. I’m changing, whether I intend to change or not. In that sense, I’m not perfect.

But I exist in this moment, whole and complete. And if I come to recognize this wholeness through meditation or mindfulness or some other means, I’ll not only be breathing, I’ll be living.

And it doesn’t get much more perfect than that.

Mindfulness Meditation, Week 1 of 8: Done

As of this morning, I have officially completed Week 1 of my 8 weeks of mindfulness meditation.

Because part of the practice is avoiding judgments (positive or negative) about the meditation experience itself, I’m going to do my best to stick to what I’ve observed.

I have meditated every day this week. Some mornings I was conscious for more of the practice than for others. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, this is normal, so I’m not worrying about it.

It has not been nearly as difficult to go to bed at a reasonable hour as I would have guessed it would be. Having a target wake-up time seems to be the key, although I am, naturally, reserving judgment.

I’ve not had a chance to read nearly as much as I usually do. Mostly this hasn’t bothered me. If I get much closer to the next book club meeting and have made little to no progress on Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, I may be less complacent about my lack of reading time.

I’ve not noticed any major shift in my usual mood. I’m still short with my kids and my spouse more often than I’d like to be. I’m perhaps a little less anxious than last week, although whether that’s due to the meditation or the reduced online time.

I did find that our time hiking this afternoon was particularly enjoyable. The landscape seemed more vibrant and detail-rich than I remembered it. Maybe my increased awareness during daily meditation is rubbing off on the other parts of my day.

Mostly I’ve noticed that I’m more happy, at least today. I don’t know if that will continue, but it’s nice for today.

Another nice thing today: Graham Short, the micro-engraver I blogged about nearly a year ago left a comment on my blog post about him. I felt so very grateful that he read my blog and that he took the time to comment.

Tomorrow, in addition to my morning body scan meditation, I will begin doing a 10-minute sitting meditation at another time during the day. I’m quite nervous about how I’m going to manage it, but I’m cautiously optimistic.