As caring individuals, I believe we are always hoping that we can be kindly present to others. To listen well. To have compassion for them. This is part of being able to hold presence for others.
What is "presence"? I am sure there are plenty of definitions, but this is the one I like best: "... the condition of being consciously and compassionately in the present moment with another ... believing in and affirming their potential for wholeness." This beautiful explanation is offered by James E. Miller.
I imagine that if we really could be present in this way to others, our world would look and feel very different. Presence is a learned skill and one that we are not taught how to create for ourselves, and within the context of relationship.
And what about this holding of presence for oneself? For me, this is pivotal and a precursor to actually being able to offer presence to others. If we cannot be fully in the present moment with ourselves--just as we are, warts and all—providing self-compassion, in touch with our innate wholeness, even as we tenderly embrace our woundedness, how can we possibly do the same for others? We can't.
So, for me, the starting point to being more kindly present to others is to begin with ourselves. We turn our attention inward. We breathe. We transparently notice what is there. We tenderly acknowledge what we see and love all of it. Yes, all of it! Without ego or agenda, without small mindedness or mean-spiritedness. Loving ourselves just as we are, holding an intention to remove anything that keeps us from feeling whole, lovable and loving.
This is the starting place. As Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron advocates, you start where you are. And you do it with a loving glance and a tender touch, welcoming your whole self in.
With time, love, and tenderness (thank you Michael Bolton)—and plenty of actual practice—we will find that our ability to hold presence for ourselves has become a reality, and it actually feels natural to be present to others.
And might I add, not just being present, but whole-heartedly available to another without exhaustion, resentment, or self-diminishment. Without judgment or inner bias. Not holding to hope that this person will change because you think they should.
Genuine presence allows us to be purely there, heart in tact, compassionately holding space for each person, just as they are. Never forgetting that this entire process begins when we can do the same for ourselves first.
I've just returned home from a busy time of travel, interaction and care-giving. There is nothing I love more than being present to my dear ones. I sit. I listen. I care. I hold presence for. I physically hold when it is welcome. For what purpose are we here if not to love?
And yet, after periods like these, I find it is it is important for me to rest in solitude; to take time to catch up with myself. Yes, even to comfort myself and apply tenderness to any worn edges.
Some writing about this from one of my retreat times...
When was the last time you gave yourself permission
Today, may you give yourself permission
to be alone,
to savor the silence.
May you find respite in your soul and be well.
Journaling excerpt from Awakening the Spirit Within,
©Janice L. Lundy (2000)
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.
I recall sitting on a bench in the Meditation Gardens of the Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas, CA in 1999, tucked in amongst giant palms and soft ferns, journaling these words:
Living in the present moment takes full effort and concentration.
I knew when I recorded them they were "a gift from beyond." I've carried these words in my heart for all the years since then and they never fail to point me back towards what matters most—to be here, now.
How easy it is for us to lose our way, to spend our energy unwisely, supremely focused on the past or the future. Granted, reflection on what has gone by is fine; reliving beautiful memories is wonderful too. Learning from mistakes, so wise!
Leaning into the future, exploring infinite possibilities, can be beautiful as well—the stuff of dreams—and we are definitely meant to dream.
But when we lose our equanimity and fall with misery into either camp (regret, worry, anxiety), we lose touch with the glorious gift of the present moment. This precious moment. This moment. This.
When I am able to stay attuned to this glittering jewel, fully embracing its one-of-a-kind gifts, the present moment holds everything—past and future, what's gone and what's yet to come—and in that generous holding, I am at home in the world. I can breathe. All is well.
The same can be true for any of us. For you.
Today, may you find comfort and ease in the present moment. May you be well, at home in yourself.
Photo courtesy of encinitastemple.org
The aphorism above became an entry in my book Awakening the Spirit Within. It's now out of print but used copies are available at Amazon.com.
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.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama, voted the most respected political and spiritual leader of our times, often speaks about how important it is to cultivate both rational wisdom and heart wisdom. Without a true blending of “mind” and heart, we have no real ability to navigate life skillfully. If we lack rationality, we might make foolish choices. Without inner knowing and compassion, we may harm ourselves, or others. In Eastern traditions, a blending of both is encouraged. Some have called this cultivating the “heart-mind.”
How well do you know your heart-mind? In the West, we have a tendency to focus on head over heart. We tend to dismiss the heart’s wisdom, or, at the very least, consider it to be of secondary importance. Perhaps this is because we have not spent enough time tending to the landscape of our good, wise hearts.
In the words of Bhagawan Nityananda, "The heart is the hub of all sacred places. Go there and roam."
Right now, connect with your good, wise heart. Do this by bringing your awareness to your head. Become cognizant of all the thinking that is going on in there. Now, bring your attention to your breath, specifically where it enters you at the base of your nostrils. Feel yourself breathing.
Resting in your heart center, what do you notice? A feeling of inner peace? Of gratitude? A sense of homecoming?
Ask your heart, “What would you like me to know right now?” Wait. Listen for its wise response. Reflect on the answer that comes.
Adapted from My Deepest Me: A 30-Day Guidebook
by Janice L. Lundy. ©2015
What a wondrous year this has been, this "Year of Living Gently." I want to thank each of you who has joined me for an incredible year of learning and growth. It began with the intention to create a supportive community and opportunities to learn and grow together as my book Living Gently with Myself: A 30-Day Guidebook was birthed. It ends with marvelous new friendships, internal knowings, new life practices, and so much more than words can possibly convey. Suffice it to say, that my heart is full to overflowing for this "Year", and for your companionship.
As 2018 winds down and the new year beckons, here are a few of my observations about this journey. Granted, they're not anything glaringly new for me. I'd say they are expansions and deepenings from personal experience, a gathering up of what I've learned from journeying with so many of you over the last twelve months.
I've chronicled many of these here at this blog already so I invite you to backtrack and review the archives. But here are the nuts and bolts, for me anyway, of what has become a truly miraculous way to live well in the world (and with others) as I am. Any of us can do the same.
1. Living gently is not a destination to be arrived at but a process of expanding and deepening. Expanding our awareness about all the ways we struggle with perfectionism in its many guises: holding too tight, pushing too hard, expecting too much, resting and engaging in are too little self-care. Deepening our self-understanding to the point of knowing what is "the kindest thing" we can do for ourselves in any given moment, dipping into self-compassion, letting be and letting go.
2. As we are willing to look transparently at our habituated ways of operating, we can see all of the ways we continue to be unkind to ourselves, despite our best intentions. We can look at ourselves through lenses of love, with eyes of compassion. We acknowledge how we continue to struggle and have tender mercy toward ourselves. No guilt, no shame, no self-recrimination.
3. As we look with kind eyes, we begin to soften towards ourselves. We let go of what hurts and what doesn't work. We embrace that which helps and heals. We talk more kindly to ourselves and extend comfort and care especially in times of personal suffering. Very simply, we start treating ourselves better and that has a profound effect on how we intersect with others too.
4. Living more gently with ourselves transforms us. We are better people because of our own self-care. This naturally results in our ability to live more kindly and gently with others. Funny how that works.
I invite you to continue—to expand and deepen—your journey of Living Gently. The book can help. Staying connected through events and gatherings, online or in-person helps too, because we do best when we are connected to one another—heart to heart, soul to soul.
My own living gently journey continues in Spirit-led ways. I keep listening and paying attention to how I am being guided to live my best life—happily, healthily, in service of others. May it be the same for you!
May you always live gently with yourself and feel Love's embrace.
I've admired the work and philosophy of Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, for a long time now. With great heartfulness, she consistently reminds us how important it is to listen to one another. She writes:
"Listening is the oldest and perhaps the most powerful tool of healing. It is often through the quality of our listening and not the wisdom of our words that we are able to effect the most profound changes in the people around us. When we listen, we offer with our attention an opportunity for wholeness. Our listening creates sanctuary for the homeless parts within the other person. That which has been denied, unloved, devalued by themselves and others. That which is hidden."
As a spiritual guide, I know what Dr. Remen says is true. Genuine listening is one of the greatest gifts we can give to another person.
The other day, when I read this passage yet again, I was struck by how, in the spirit of good self-care and self-compassion, we could change the orientation of her words to acknowledge how important it also is to listen to ourselves—to our inner voice. Consider this shift in language:
"Listening is the oldest and perhaps the most powerful tool of healing. It is often through the quality of our listening and not the wisdom of our words that we are able to effect the most profound changes within ourselves. When we listen, we offer with our attention an opportunity for wholeness. Our listening creates sanctuary for the homeless parts within us. That which has been denied, unloved, devalued by themselves and others. That which is hidden."
This word play touches a chord of recognition in me. You?
How often do we ignore our inner wisdom? How often do we silence the parts of ourselves that need to speak? To be seen and heard? If we take our healing journey seriously, it is vital that we listen to "the still small voice" within us and pay it heed. It knows things! It can know what's best for us on the deepest level. It has something important to say about our well-being.
Again, in the spirit of healing it might whisper, "Slow down, you're pushing yourself too hard." Or, "Stop saying that you "should" do those things, especially to please others?" Or, "You are good enough, just as you are." If we desire to feel more whole—at home within ourselves—then we simply must offer listening presence to ourselves, just as we would to others. And offer a hospitable welcome to all the parts of ourselves that need a warm and loving home. Nobody wants to feel homeless.
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
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.