It seems counter intuitive to have to "practice" being present, but this seems to be the nature of the human experience. If we let the mind go where it will, it goes everywhere but here!
We can become familiar with what kind of mind we have for the purpose of staying more present. In the present moment we are more steady and open to what is arriving, or what needs to be dealt with in a skillful manner. Not to mention, connect to the deeper meaning, beauty or invitation of the moment—this sacred moment.
Is your mind one that holds a plethora of discursive thoughts about the past? Or about the future? My mind tends towards the future most often, having struggled with anxiety for many years. My mind may want to catastrophize about what's wrong or could go wrong. The phone simply needs to ring unexpectedly and my first reaction is to think, "Oh, no, what's happened?" especially when it comes to my children or mother. I tend toward anticipatory anxiety when it comes to travel, deadlines, or big life events too. The practice of staying present has saved my sanity over and over again, and minimized unhealthy responses to what isn't true and may never be true.
That said, many people have minds that dwell on the past. They may swim in a sea of regret, anger or sadness minimizing the gift of the moment or its many possibilities.
It doesn't matter which kind of mind you have (and there certainly are other varieties, I'm simplifying here), only that you recognize it kindly, with warm-hearted curiosity, so you can know how to be with it in the most generous and skillful way. Ram Dass once said,"My thinking mind is a perfect servant and a lousy master." I tend to agree.
How do we invite the mind to serve us? I believe we invite it back to a place of neutrality—calm, equanimity— again and again. This is the practice. And it has been my primary practice for over 25 years now. My breath has saved me from my wild mind again and again.
Here is a practice for doing so yourself. I call it "Breathing for Well-Being." And here's an affirmation to go along with it. I hope it helps you stay connected to your wise self and sacredness of the present moment.
"Whenever I feel off balance, I bring my awareness to the earth, feel my feet upon its sacred soil, and allow its solidity to hold me in Presence."
(Excerpt below from Portable Peace: A Weekly Guidebook)
Last August when I was interviewing a prospective student for our Spiritual Guidance Training Institute, he asked if I would mind if he asked a personal question. Of course, I said yes.
"What is your current spiritual practice?" he queried.
It didn't take me long to answer. It's easy. My beingness longs for silence. To sit in the deep quiet of the world, this is a gift; a time of letting go of the need to listen, or to take anything else in.
Of course, there will always a bit of subtle noise. The world is not a completely quiet place, but whatever silence is there for me, I'll take it. My body-mind, heart and soul thrive in silence.
One time I visited my friend Anne. She lives in an intentional community in the forests of northern Michigan. I stepped out of my car to face a sea of green fern fronds, and heard absolutely nothing. Nothing. No noise. The silence was deep and powerful. This took me by surprise. It was so quiet, in fact, that the quiet itself made a sound—the sound of nothingness.
My soul was supremely happy.
Seedlings rest in the moist soil of Mother Earth's womb
*Excerpted from Awakening the Spirit Within
In last week's post, I spoke about being present, and how one of my silent retreat times along the ocean helped me understand and experience the gift of the present moment in beautiful new ways.
Here's another "awakened moment" from that sacred "time-in."
One day as I was sitting on a stone bench, tucked away from the eyes of the tourists who visited the Gardens daily, I settled into a state of "looking deeply." Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh has written much about looking deeply and how doing so opens up awareness of our interconnectedness. For me, looking deeply draws me into a world of wonder, awe, and Mystery. Stilling one's thoughts, really looking at something's uniqueness—watching it, being with it—thins the veils, and we become acutely aware of how we "inter-are", as TNH teaches.
Considering that I have a great deal of aversion to insects, it was surprising to me that it was a spider who invited me to look deeply. Rather than recoil when I noticed him/her in a flowering bush just behind my shoulder, I was naturally drawn into wonderment. So I simply sat and watched the scene unfold. As I did, the spider taught me about life, and these are the words that came forth:
The spider weaves his web with glistening silver thread.
"To meditate is to look deeply," offers Thich Nhat Hanh. In truth, anyone can meditate on anything, even the minuscule movements of a spider, and become aware that there is so much more to life than we had previously imagined.
Selection adapted from Awakening the Spirit Within by Janice (Forrest) Lundy. ©2000, Heart to Heart Press.
Without exaggeration, it's safe to say that a tiny yellow book titled, Slowing Down in a Speeded Up World, pretty much saved my life. At the time, I was operating like the cartoon character, Speedy Gonzalez, the Mexican mouse, living on overdrive. Author Adair Lara was the first wise woman who gave me permission to get off the fast track and begin to live in a way that was more grounded and slow.
In truth, everything is speeding up these days. Even time seems to race by. That speediness is definitely felt in our bodies as stress, in our minds as racing thoughts, and in our emotions as overwhelm or disconnection. I do not believe we are meant to live this way. Moving so quickly we miss the magic and meaning of life.
Moving quickly also sends constant messages to our body-mind to be on alert (hurry! move! get going!), and what this does is create a continuous stream of cortisol moving through our body. Cortisol is a hormone that is released into our bloodstream when stress is activated. In regular doses, it's necessary and good for body health. Too much cortisol, surging through regularly, is not a good thing, and will ultimately take its toll on us.
The bottom line is we can't be healthy (body, mind and spirit) when we are always struggling to keep up. More and faster is not better. It is up to each one of us to find the pace of life that suits us best, and, more specifically, one that truly nourishes us. Going slow is not a bad thing, it's a mindful thing, and one that, when fully embraced, will allow us to experience the world in a whole new way.
Author Robert Gerzon explains in his book, Finding Serenity in the Age of Anxiety, that our bodies are not intended, nor constructed, for such fast-paced living. As passengers on the train of life, we often move through our days at breakneck speeds. This speediness may be experienced in our bodies as anxiety and other stress-related disorders such as heart arrhythmias, headaches, and insomnia.
When we do slow down or come to a screeching halt, we immediately feel the difference. Our bodies and minds tell us so. If we could just listen more intently to the signals our body-mind sends, we would instinctively know what to do (or not do) to be well. But, first, we must slow down enough for inner listening to take place.
You can begin slowing down by actually changing your pace. You can choose to walk more slowly—from the car, through the parking lot, into the store. You can walk more purposefully by looking up at the blue sky or at the green trees, instead of robotically downward. You can do things mindfully, with full and present attention, instead of multi-tasking. As Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh advocates, when you are washing the dishes, just wash the dishes.
Any practice that roots you more deeply in the present moment will help you become aware of how quickly you are moving through your day. It will also help you discern how satisfying this feels and if the pace of your life needs to be altered to meet your deepest needs.
Adapted from Living Gently with Myself: A 30-Day Guidebook by Janice L. Lundy
We’ve heard for some time now that meditation is good for us. We’ve heard stories of peace-loving masters and blissed-out yogis. For many of us, such an ease-filled state of mind seems impossible because of the clamorous nature of our thoughts. More times than I can count I’ve heard someone say, “No matter how hard I try, I just can’t meditate.”
On the surface, this statement may seem true. It may feel like hard work to quiet our mind, but only if we’ve made it so. It doesn’t have to be so difficult. What if we could adopt a gentler, more realistic approach to meditation? What if meditation were no more than a period of focused attention? A kind time of being present with ourselves as we are by experiencing our breath? That’s all!
Often we begin to meditate holding the energy of struggle. We’ve heard about “monkey mind” or how thoughts are like wild horses that must be corralled. Immediately, this creates an attitude of aversion. What if you thought about your mind and meditation differently? Here is how yogic teacher Ram Dass explains it: “Imagine a flower. The center is called your primary object of meditation. And the petals are all the thoughts that keep coming out from that center. The primary object of our meditation is our breath. We focus on our breath going in and our breath coming out.”
In other words, meditation is nothing more than focusing on your flower center. The thoughts that will naturally interrupt your focus are not clamorous monkeys at all, but mere extensions of you. Petals. Thoughts. Some are lovely, some are tainted; mostly, they’re just distracting.
Invite yourself to peaceful inner space by focusing your attention on the breath moving into your body in the solar plexus (lower abdomen), feeling it rising and falling. Or, focus at the base of the nostrils and feel “the whisper of the breath,” as Ram Dass describes it, entering on the in-breath, and another whisper of breath on the out-breath. The point of meditation is to hold your conscious awareness on that experience as best you can. And if you can’t (and you won’t, because your thoughts will wander away), you simply return your attention to the art of breathing.
This is beginning meditation, and despite what you’ve been told, it can be as simple as breathing and staying; staying long enough for a sparkle of serenity to be seen. As you continue to sit kindly, over time, you will feel more comfortable and confident in your experience. Glimmers of grace—inner peace—will steal in on little cat’s feet and sit down beside you. Breath by breath by breath.
Adapted from Portable Peace: A Weekly Guidebook by Janice L. Lundy ©2015.
It's November, and as I pondered what to write here, it came to me how grateful I am for the practice of gratefulness! A thanks-filled mind and heart have been an important part of my journey to live more gently with myself. Why? Because it takes so much energy to maintain the opposite.
When we're focused on what is going wrong in our lives—or how much we wish our lives were different—a great deal of energy is expended. Negativity, or living in lack, can be exhausting. Over the years, I've found there's a better way...
Today's blog post is an excerpt from the Introduction of my book, "Thank You" Is My Prayer. Reflections, Prayers and Blessings for a Grateful Heart. The words speak for themselves. I hope they touch your heart this November!
A spiritual practice is a unique opportunity to experience sacred time and space; to remove ourselves from the distractions and noise of a too busy world, and to remember our spiritual connection. Spiritual practices, properly cultivated, help us access all of the virtues of the Spirit: inner calm, joy, compassion, and gratitude.
Our inner landscape can shift dramatically when we have the diligence to root our spiritual practice in the cultivation of just one virtue of the Spirit. Focusing our intention and attention on just one thing allows us to deepen our understanding and experience of it. This deeper experience reveals previously hidden truths, even, a truer reality. Gratitude can be this one focal point, and, in Eckhart-like fashion, it can be enough. I know this from my own experience and from gathering up the success stories of similar seekers.
For many years, I was not particularly attuned to the generosity of the Divine One and the natural abundance available to us on a day-to-day basis. In fact, when I discovered gratitude as a spiritual practice, I was at a low point in my life. I was stressed, sick and overwhelmed. I had no clarity about how to reverse my situation. A friend suggested the daily gratitude practice espoused by Sarah Ban Breathnach in her book, Simple Abundance. I chortled at her premise that recording five things you were grateful for each day could transform your life. But I gave the practice a go. I was desperate for inner change.
I vividly recall the day I chose to begin the practice. I was lying in bed in the wee hours of the morning. Five things, I thought to myself. Just five. And this is what I came up with: Birds singing outside my window, the smell of coffee brewing in the kitchen, the sounds of my children’s laughter in the next room. Wait, I thought to myself, that’s only three. Despite earnest effort, a trio of “Gratitudes” was all I could come up with. Heaven knows why (after that failed beginning) I stuck with the practice, but I did. By week’s end, I was up to five Gratitudes, and I was feeling noticeably better.
What I realized was that by “looking for the good”, my way of perceiving the world was changed. Instead of focusing on what was wrong or missing in my life, I began to see with the eyes of my heart. And what I saw when I looked was a cornucopia of things that did not cost money or require effort. Things that helped me acknowledge the generosity of the Creator, particularly through nature. Things that were beautiful, timeless and true. Surprisingly, at the end of one month of gratitude practice, I felt truly happy again. Hallelujah! I believe the same can hold true for any of us.
With an ongoing practice of thankfulness (one that has now spanned twenty years), I’ve witnessed how gratitude gives rise to all of the virtues of the Spirit. A grateful heart is a joyous heart because there is nothing perceived as lacking. A grateful heart is a peaceful heart because we are satisfied with what is here, now, with life just as it is. A grateful heart is a loving heart because we are supremely aware of how fortunate we are to be givers and receivers of love, both human and Divine.
With intention, attention and practice over time, gratitude delivers us into the arms of Presence: a profound awareness that the Divine is always here, within us and around us, showering us with invitations to look more deeply and to see the inherent blessings in everything. Even when life is difficult, blessings are present.
Excerpted from "Thank You" Is My Prayer. Reflections, Prayers and Blessings for a Grateful Heart, available in our online store.
©2016, Janice L. Lundy. Heart to Heart Press
After eight weeks of in and out travel (and pretty much living out of a suitcase), I'm home and getting back into a routine that honors my contemplative nature and needs. And though I have plenty to catch up on, including caring for our house, my body, and my work life, this segment I wrote for Living Gently with Myself is the focus of my efforts as I "regroup." I hope you enjoy and find it helpful ... wherever you are.
When I wrote my first book Coming Home to Ourselves, I was living a completely unbalanced life, which I set out to correct. I created a system whereby I would spend an allotted amount of time each day on each part of my personal triad: body, mind, and spirit. I theorized that by doing so I would get my life back in balance. Much to my surprise, my theory, put into practice, worked. One year after I implemented it, I felt great and my health returned. My life did feel more balanced.
Yet, walking the beach one year later, realized I was not completely at ease within myself. I felt unsettled much of the time and was not sure why. That afternoon, as I lay on the beach, relaxing, soaking up some sun while my children were occupied elsewhere, I found myself drawn to read a new book I’d picked up featuring the poetry of the 12thcentury Persian poet, Rumi. Rumi was madly in love with God.
As I read, listening to the waves lap upon the shore, I felt internal waves of peace and love wash through me, carrying me into what I can only call a unitive experience, a genuine feeling of oneness. Of belonging. Of deep connection to the God of my understanding, which, ironically, was very limited at the time.
In that moment, an awareness whooshed in (dare I call it grace?) that I was still living “upside down.” I was working too hard at getting my life just right by focusing on balance; trying to do all the right things for myself—body, mind and spirit. I experienced a new knowing that life, ultimately, was not about balance at all, but about harmony.
Balance, by its very nature, is impossible. Nothing is ever in perfect balance. I often assure myself of this by visualizing a teeter totter. The plank on which we sit is never completely parallel to the ground, it’s always tipped a bit, one way or the other; more up than down, more down than up.
The words of Rumi I read were not about balance and getting our lives just right, but about spiritual living, heeding the voice of the soul. When we can listen in thus way, he said, the soul points us toward the One. We are divine creatures in human form and we are most happy when we are living in harmony with the Creator, the Beloved, as Rumi called it. I knew in my bones that what he said was true, because in that moment, lying in the sun on a hot August day, I came to realize I was supremely happy feeling connected to Source.
From that day forward, I shifted my daily focus to take care of my spiritual life first, and then my body-mind second. The “balancing act” approach to life suddenly felt like striving and was deeply unsatisfying. I experienced a shift when I addressed my spiritual connection first. Everything in life seemed to fall into place as a result of this. Prioritizing my relationship with the Sacred through various spiritual practices enabled me to feel harmonious within myself, and at ease with all aspects of my life. The same can be true for any of us.
Putting your spiritual life first is a game changer. In fact, when you do, you will realize there is no “game” at all, just a beautiful Flow and you are part of That.
Is your inner life a priority or does it play second fiddle to attending to all of the responsibilities of your daily life?
© 2018, Janice L. Lundy
Excerpted from Living Gently with Myself: A 30-Day Guidebook.
Heart to Heart Press
I believe in the power of practice. In order to be proficient at anything, you have to do it again and again. Whether it's learning to change a diaper, writing a grant or rock climbing, practice makes progress. Taking good care of yourself and modulating your emotions works the same way.
Emotions are running high for many of us these days. The world does not go gently. It takes dedication and practice to know how to keep yourself calm and steady in difficult circumstances. In my new book, Living Gently with Myself, I reveal one of my favorite practices for doing just this. I call it "Gentling Down."
I'd like to share the full selection from the book with you here, hoping that it will help you shift gears from stressed to serene when you need it most.
Lesson 23: "Gentling Down"
When we are unfocused, stressed, worried, or hurrying, we begin to feel off center, disconnected from what matters most—living gently with ourselves. It doesn’t take much for this to happen, the world and its pressures being what they are. The good news is that we always have the opportunity to “return” again and again. We are creatures of choice and we can turn ourselves in any direction we wish. It simply takes remembering to do so.
When we do remember, we can stop to take a sacred pause. A sacred pause begins by taking one, genuinely deep breath. A full inhale followed by a full exhale. Feel the effect of that. Fully feel the breath working its magic upon you.
When we are moving quickly or overcome with emotion, it is not always easy to immediately settle down, as much as we might like this to be the case. Instead, we might require some time and space to do so. When this happens to you, you can give yourself a few extra minutes to gentle down. Here is how gentling down works:
When you are driving a car, for example, at some point you may need to shift the car into neutral; to glide or coast to a stop. Gentling down works exactly like this. Imagine yourself grabbing hold of your inner gear shift and moving it into Neutral position. Continue imagining that your body vehicle is starting to slow down. With each inhale and exhale—breathing in, breathing out, ever so kindly—it rolls to a gentle halt. Feel this slowing down take place within you and ride its rhythm. Give yourself as much time as you need to slow way down.
When you have “stopped” inside yourself, give yourself an additional gift: rest there for a few more moments. Maybe minutes, if you have them to spare, and I hope you do. Continue to breathe by feeling yourself “being breathed,” which is a wonderful sensation because it invites you to let go of any pressure you might be feeling to breathe correctly. You can let go and allow your body’s system to do what it does best. You can also put a spiritual spin on this process and imagine that the Creator (Spirit, God, Love) is actually breathing through you to gentle you down, sustaining your life so you don’t have to do anything at all but accept the gift of breath.
Gentling down is a supremely self-compassionate thing to do. Self-compassion, as you will recall, involves catching yourself in a moment of suffering, and then doing “the kindest thing.” When you have gentled down and are breathing normally once again, you may notice that your clarity returns, bubbling up like water from a refreshing spring. And with this clarity, you will know what to do next, whether it is to put your feet up and relax more deeply, or to make that phone call you’ve been putting off; to step out into your garden to smell the roses or get started making dinner.
When there is so much that life demands of us, gentling down is a very good tool to use to come back to center—no matter where you are or what you are doing. Gentling down may take a bit of practice but, if you’re like me, you’ll soon discover that this technique of literally “shifting gears” is oh, so helpful. And healing.
Excerpted from Living Gently with Myself: A 30-Day Guidebook
©2018, Janice L. Lundy
Living Gently is here.
Purchase your copy today.
Living Gently and kindly with yourself is absolutely possible whether you are the CEO of a corporation or a stay-at-home mother; a college student or a retiree; a “regular” person who is doing the best she can to live in harmony with herself and others but, perhaps, struggling along the way.
"If the breathing is at all unsettled, life is not your own."
"Heaven and Earth," c. Ming dynasty work Anthology on the Cultivation of Realization by unknown author, translated by Thomas Cleary in Taoist Meditation
On any given day, how do you truly feel? Do you feel calm and centered, or do you feel as if you've taken a seat on the carousel of life, whirling 'round and 'round, at its mercy?
I'm recalling a time when I climbed aboard the Tilt-A-Whirl at our local fair with my youngest daughter—against my better judgment. You see, I do not like carnival rides. The motion actually makes me very ill. But she begged me to ride with her and I reluctantly agreed. We climbed aboard, and as the whirling began, I thought to myself, "This isn't so bad. I think I can handle it." Within seconds though, the operator shifted gears and dramatically increased the speed and rotation factor. Sheer terror came over me, that out-of-control feeling knowing I was at the mercy of this man (who had a profoundly menacing look on his face), and there was no way I could get off the ride to regain my equilibrium. The whirling seemed to go on forever. I nearly cried with relief when it stopped, wobbled my way to a nearby restroom, where I collapsed on the floor and emptied the contents of my stomach into the commode. I lay there for what seemed like forever trying to regain my footing. I felt dizzy and nauseous for the rest of the day and upset with myself because of the poor choice I'd made.
Of course, my over-the-top carnival ride isn't a perfect metaphor for what can happen to us in daily life, but it is similar. Many of us are familiar with that spinning, out-of-control feeling as we move through our days; a loss of equanimity from the pace or "too-muchness" of life.
The only "remedy" I know for this is to come back to "center" as quickly as we can with the healing power of our own breath. I think of breath as our sacred touchpoint, the fulcrum of the human teeter-totter of life. It calms and stabilizes us like no other force or practice. It is simply miraculous! We carry our breath with us and can access it any time: "Portable Peace." And, as you know so well, the challenge is remembering to use it when you need it.
But did you also know that breath can bring you back to center in a variety of ways? Conscious breathing is not just for stabilizing, but for deep calm, and also for raising our energy level when we are feeling sluggish or worn out. Yogis of the past and present document the differences for us. Breathing one way, we get super relaxed, in another way we attain equanimity. And in yet another way, we can raise our energy to very high levels of strength and endurance.
I love this thought, offered by an unknown yogi. "When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace." If we are to live more gently with ourselves, it is vital that we own our breath, claim its power to do whatever our body/mind needs in the moment—whether it be rest, balance, or energy—so we can continue to serve ourselves and others well. The beautiful breath that moves through your being is a gift of the greatest measure. I invite you to learn to harness it for your own good.
Vigilance, faithfulness, to one’s practice is important on the spiritual path. As Joan Gattuso reminds us, “Without spiritual discipline we are never going to wake up or advance on our journey through this life.” It’s true, if we are not alert, our spiritual practice can become shoddy and prone to excuses. Spiritual laziness is a real danger. It is good to be watchful for these tendencies.
On the other hand, we can also place too much pressure on ourself to get our practice exactly right. Unconsciously we may strive to become the perfect pray-er, meditator, devotee, or disciple. Our practice can actually become a source of pressure and angst because we have burdened it and ourself with unhealthy “shoulds” and expectations. We live in a culture that focuses on human perfection, and sometimes, mistakenly, we link the quality and frequency of our practice to some sort of divine reward system.
Wisdom resides in walking a middle path. We keep our eyes on the goal of practice (self-realization, God-realization), yet at the same time, we treat ourself kindly and gently. Spiritual progress is not about achievement but about accessing more gentle places within us. Quiet places where we can hear our own compassionate voice saying, “Rest”; where we hear a divine voice whisper, “Welcome home.” “Progress not perfection,” is a wise mantra to keep.
You can learn more about and read excerpts from this transformative spiritual formation book here. Available in our online store.
is a touchpoint. a resting place, a "remembering" of who we really are and how we can best live—kindly and compassionately with ourselves and others.
Janice Lynne Lundy, DMin
is an educator, interspiritual director/guide and retreat leader who has been pointing people back toward the Sacred for more than twenty years. She is the author of several spiritual growth books, including Your Truest Self, My Deepest Me and Portable Peace., and is the co-founder and co-director of the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute.