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
These are not easy times in which to live. Daily we are bombarded with stories of tragedy and loss. Daily we deal with a myriad of responsibilities at home and at work. Daily we may care for others, shouldering burdens that feel too heavy to bear.
If this is true for you, and if you happen to be a sensitive person, the door of your heart can gradually drift shut from the "too muchness" of life. Have you ever experienced this?
Body and mind fatigue may set in. Compassion fatigue too. When they do, it is time to be extra gentle with yourself and open the door of your heart. This practice from my book Portable Peace: A Weekly Guidebook, can help:
Week 25: Open The Door to Your Heart
Feeling closed down, agitated, irritated with yourself or others? Stop what you are doing and open your heart. Heart opening stretches not only release bodily tension, but enable your emotional heart—your heart center, the 4thchakra—to open if it feels tight or closed down. It allows self-awareness through self-love to return.
You can do this exercise anywhere. Simply stand up, stretch your arms out wide to the sides as if you were an airplane. Breathing slowly and evenly, gently arch your body back as if there were an imaginary string connecting your heart to the sky. Stay in this position for at least a minute. Continue to breathe in a relaxed way so you can feel any constriction that is present open up and release. You may need to repeat this heart-opening practice a few times if you’re feeling especially resistant.
This practice can also be done lying on the floor. Lie flat on your back, arms at your sides or spread wide like airplane wings. Relax your torso and allow your legs to rest comfortably, feet comfortable so they fall gently to their sides.
Slowly and gently lift and arch your back, raising your torso just a few inches off the ground. Don’t strain or lift too high. Attune your awareness to your heart center so that you can intuitively feel when your chest is beginning to feel less constricted, more open. Hold this position for a few seconds, then release gently back to the floor.
Our thoughts and feelings move in energetic patterns throughout our body and often house themselves in certain regions. They can get “stuck” in one area or another. Thus the phrase, “I feel like my heart is breaking,” when sorrow is present. Discomfort can actually be felt in the heart center. Anger can also be felt in this region by tightness or the discomfiting experience of pressure in the chest. Often simple physical movements can help redistribute the energy and, ultimately, release it.
Sometimes a less formal practice of movement can do the trick, too. Try it yourself and see. Lie down on the floor and very slowly, gently, move your body around. Wiggle, stretch, lift and raise, move from side to side—however your intuition instructs you. Listen to your body and feel where lack of peace may have housed itself. Release it by moving your body.
Anytime you connect with your body and allow it to help to release what’s burdening you, honor its trustworthy service. Place your hands in prayer pose, thumbs touching your heart center, and thank it for serving you well.
©2015, Janice L. Lundy
Portable Peace: A Weekly Guidebook
Portable Peace: A Weekly Guidebook contains 52 original practicing for accessing the deep peace that lives within you. It is available as a paperback book and as a downloadable book here.
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
It's been one heck of a summer. As I am sure many of you know, you can plan all you want, hope all you want, even send forth a thousand intentions into the great, wide universe, and life can still ignore your well-formed wishes, delivering something else altogether.
This was the story of my summer, beginning with a freak accident in a grocery store which resulted in many weeks of PT, multiple (unexpected) surgeries for my husband, and other dear loved ones with plenty of their own challenges. Mega doses of TLC was distributed all around.
As I navigated each surprising event as it unfolded, I was profoundly aware that I was being invited to be even MORE gentle with myself than I had been before. I wasn't sure this was possible, but it was.
Now, as the season of Fall beckons, I am keenly aware that the invitation continues. Certain issues are somewhat resolved. Others are not, but things feel hopeful. Perhaps a light at the end of the tunnel? I live into the Mystery of the moment and stay attuned to all the ways I may yet need to let go ... to flow with life as it presents itself.
I wish the same for you so you are at ease within yourself and your life.
This week I appeared on this radio show:
My good friend, Kenny Brixey, invited me to speak to his listeners on Empower Radio about what it means to live gently with one's self.
The show is 25 min. I loved that Kenny shared much about his own journey to live more gently with himself too—from a guy's perspective! :-)
Listen here: https://goo.gl/AM3P5k
For many of us, the predominant message today is “do more.” Our society it seems is so achievement oriented that we have unconsciously adopted this maxim, wrapping it around anything that reeks of “not enough.” As a result, we continue to work hard at being thin enough or successful enough. If we are not self-aware, we can fall into the trap of applying “not enough” to everything. We may find ourselves caught in its web, working too hard in multiple arenas, trying to get everything “just right.” And why? Because on a very deep level, we still want approval and recognition. It’s an ironic fact that we may even want approval from the people who contributed to our lack of feeling good enough in the first place.
Reorientation, for me, has often been the key. When a disempowering message of "You are not enough" breaks through, I can turn my attention in another direction. I know this message is untrue, so it is up to me to turn toward that which is true. I am enough—and you are too. We all are.
Loving yourself more—just as you are—is a good solution. Can affirmations of this truth be helpful? I believe they can. Statements like, “I am enough,” repeated often can become more comfortable, as if they are seeping into our consciousness like warm, syrupy love. In this case, self-love! And self-appreciation. We now know that thoughts, intentionally heard or repeated and internalized, whether positive or negative, can change our brain, forging new neural pathways that are beneficial or injurious in terms of self-image. In my journeys with women over the years, I am amazed how the use of the simple phrase “I am enough” can minister to what is injured inside of us. Like a healing balm, we have an inner knowing that if we use it often, its reparative nature will work. Why? Because on the deepest level, we know these words are true. We are enough.We are not broken or damaged goods. We are not a self-improvement project. We do not need to win the approval of others. We are good people and simply being here in the world—just as we are—is enough.
1. In what areas of your life do you strive to be more, do more? Do you have a sense of where this striving comes from?
2. When you say the words, “I am enough” to yourself, how do you feel? Practice using this phrase when you catch yourself striving, pleasing, or doubting your choices for yourself.
© 2018, Janice L. Lundy
Adapted from Living Gently with Myself: A 30-Day Guidebook
Since completing my new book, Living Gently with Yourself, I'm a bit low on words—at least the handwritten kind—so I thought I'd post this short video which speaks rather than writes what's on my mind. I hope it supports what's in your heart.
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.