Non-doing: Can I do it?

This article also appears on the Huffington Post

Photo by Janice E. LodatoI knew I was in real trouble when I was at the dentist this month for a cleaning and check-up and I was giddy about the prospect of having my feet up and being able to close my eyes for 40 minutes in the middle of my day. Sure, there was someone poking around with a metal object at my teeth and gums, but, hey, if you can get to your relaxed state (thanks Reiki/yoga/meditation), then it’s an excellent spa moment.

Relaying my glee about chilling at the dentist to my husband revealed that something was wrong, very wrong. Why do I have to go to the dentist to relax in the middle of the day?

Hi, my name is Janice and I’m addicted to busyness. Perhaps you are too. Do you have an unrealistic to-do list in your mind, on a piece of paper, on your computer, or smartphone each day? Do you shift constantly from one task to another — perhaps mindless shifting from one to the other? Do you suffer from what Jonathan Fields calls “Reactive Life Syndrome”? If you’re like me, you’re nodding your head, “yes”.

I guess we could spend some time today figuring out how we got here. What life demand or crisis brought us to this place of reaction and constant doing? Part of it is probably cultural. Part of it is probably a coping technique to avoid deeper issues. But how do we break free?

Last week, my life coach, Mary Ann Johnstone, directed me / challenged me to do less. To start taking things off my to-do list – not by working constantly so I could cross them off, but by opting not to do them.

I’m doing miserably at non-doing.

My to-do list is relentless. Though as my 12-year-old daughter noted the other day, “We’re never really doing nothing. We’re always breathing, thinking, meditating, sleeping . . . “ So true, there is always something.

But how can I move to a place of spaciousness? Where is the ability for spontaneity? For choice? For intention?

Here’s a super-simple example. I like to start the week with the laundry done and put away. It seems to make my Mondays easier when I’m not digging through a hamper or staring at my closet trying to decide what to wear. However, sometimes the busyness of doing the laundry takes away from a more soul-fulfilling activity.

So, if I approached my day with greater intention and made a deliberate choice about what I’m doing – one that chooses my higher self – my best self – my highest intention, instead of a preset expectation around clean clothes, then maybe, just maybe, I would feel better about my day and my life. Maybe some stress would drop away. Maybe greater connections would happen; more creativity would manifest; or maybe nothing would happen at all. Remember I’m not doing, right?

So, maybe it’s a feeling or a place of meaningfulness that I’m seeking. Perhaps that is where I would be if I chose intention over reaction.

We are not our actions. We are not what we do. So, I’ve heard people say. There is an essence self outside of our actions. But how do we know it and express it? I think it’s through actions, words, and thoughts. Am I missing something here?

So I’m seeking a place of essence, of intention, of expression of my true self. Of the “me” that is meant to be.

How will I get there? Will it be from a place of relentless doing? Or will it happen in the place between actions? Or is it the type of actions that make the difference? The ones that serve the highest self? Or do even the banal actions serve it? Even the doing the laundry matters . . . done with intention.

What do you think? Are you able to live in a place of non-doing? How do you express your essence-self? Please leave a comment below and join the conversation.

Wishing you abundant spaciousness.

 

 

 

Surfing with Grief

This article also appears in the Huffington Post.

IMG_0582The ground shifted underneath me. November 2016 was a month of grief and shock for me. The loss of the election by way of the Electoral College to a man who brings darkness and hatred with his words and actions shook me to the core. Then, on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, one of my colleagues took his own life in our office suite. I’m still reeling from it all.

On the one hand I’m doing ok. Still doing all my self-care: Reiki and meditation every day, eating nutritious foods, and exercising. I’m also focusing on talking with others about these losses. Sleep has been a mixed bag and, honestly, the darkness of this time of year creates an extra weight.

I’ve always been interested in the mind-body connection. When I was a philosophy student, “The Body in the Mind” by Mark Johnson was very influential to me. During this grieving-time I’m paying attention to the signs in my body.

“I’m doing ok,” I tell everyone and yet my head is pounding. I catch my reflection in a window, and I see my body slumped forward. It is difficult to sit up straight. I eat well and then suddenly intense nausea grips me. I sleep very little or a lot or I wake with a fright during the night.

Work is very difficult. Each day I dread going back to the office. I was not there when Sergey’s body was discovered so I don’t carry that pain, but I feel the grief of my colleagues. I see their swollen faces, their gaze that is focused on the floor, and I hear them saying, “I’m ok.”

I’m pushing on at work. Trying to be strong for myself and others. This is the job that I wanted, that I have been seeking. I have a wonderful set of colleagues, the work is meaningful, and a great institution supports us.

However, as things return to normal: an 8-hour day with 10 meetings; demands to meet unrealistic schedules; and difficult problems to solve technically and interpersonally; I feel myself recoiling from it all.

This grief is significant. These dark days are difficult. It’s all a familiar feeling – not sure if that helps or not that I’ve felt this before. I keep coming back to this metaphor:

The “lifeboat” has taken me out to sea. It dropped me off with my surfboard in my regular clothes, no fancy wetsuit or bathing suit. Only thing is, I don’t know how to surf.

Maybe I knew once – in a previous life? Who knows? Anyway, I recall seeing what others do at these times.

They lie down on the surfboard and start paddling with their arms.

So I start to do that. I see a wave form and know that I’m supposed to stand up on the board, balance, and ride the wave. I attempt to do this, but I’m smacked down by the wave and it pushes me to shore.

I stand up with my surfboard in one hand, soaked, sand inside my clothes, salt water in my nose and mouth.

Stinking eyes see people waving to me from the lifeboat – they’re telling me to ride the waves again.

And so I swim out to where the waves are breaking. I don’t know how to do this surfing thing, of that I’m sure, but I see a wave coming and try to stand on the surfboard. I do stand for a tenuous moment with fingertips still clinging to the board and then I fall again.

Back on shore, I sit in the sand exhausted and sore – knowing I’ll need to ride the waves again and again until I’m an expert at this thing I never wanted to know how to do.

That’s what grief is like for me right now.

I don’t know how this will all work out. I do know this is a very difficult time for myself and others and so my intention is: self-care and care for others.

As we navigate grief, I want to offer to you a helpful thought – a practice. When we’re grieving I know these things are helpful:

  • Reiki
  • Meditation
  • Time in nature
  • Talking with friends
  • Physical movement
  • Creativity

That last one is particularly powerful. One doesn’t have to be a skilled artist or even produce work that you share with others, it is the act of creating that breaks down the bonds of grief. Some helpful resources can be found here.

So, I invite you to a place of self-care and creativity. Care of yourself through mindful practices of Reiki, meditation, journaling, connecting with like-minded people, being in nature, moving your body, and creating.

These things will build you up and support your heart in its journey. They will also point to the actions that will align with your values and intentions.

Wishing for us all healing of body, mind, and spirit.

Everyday Mindfulness

This post also appears on The Huffington Post

“If you really want to be a rebel, practice kindness.”
The Kindness Rebellion by Sharon Salzberg

Stop. Notice. Or don’t stop. Keep going AND notice. It’s all here for you right now.mindfulness meditation

Lately, I’ve been putting a focus on everyday mindfulness as a way to increase kindness and calm in my life. For me this means not just the mindfulness of the meditation cushion and the Reiki session. It also means the mindfulness – the deep awareness – of the ordinary.

An example of everyday mindfulness is feeling the water while I’m washing my hands. Noticing its temperature and the sensation of the water on my skin. Seeing the bubbles of the soap and smelling the scent of the soap. Hearing the sound of the water flowing from the faucet and into the sink. Still . . . only washing for 60 seconds or less, though in those moments – those seconds – completely mindful of washing my hands.

This exploration allows me to experience the sacred in the ordinary. It takes me deeply into all the gifts of this abundant life . . . the water, the soap, the knowledge, the care, the ability . . . to wash my hands. So ordinary, so divine.

You may be reading this and saying to yourself, “How can you revel in such an ordinary and mundane task when the world is imploding upon itself?! When we’re faced with constant violence and hatred. Wake up and fight.”

And, yes, I hear you. I can’t read the news or interact on Facebook without crying. I hear you, my heart breaks constantly and I speak up as I can. And my path is one of peace. My path is one of the warrior of peace. I will stand calmly in the face of violence. I will be a source of love, kindness, and calm.

In order to do that, I need to cultivate it. To create calm in me, I need to practice it. To be able to smile and reassure those who are suffering, I must be sincere in my peacefulness. To be able to listen calmly and provide helpful guidance, I must be calm. I must be able to be present. Here in the ordinary of everydayness and in the extraordinary face of violence and upheaval.

I’m not saying that this is your path or should be your path. I’m simply saying this is the way for me. The path to peaceful presence and kindness for me is through everyday mindfulness.

I’m able to access that through the practices of Reiki and meditation and ongoing, daily, moment-to-moment reminders to be myself, to be here – not in the past and not in the future. Here at this red light, this opportunity to breath, to notice my hands on the wheel and my feet touching the floor, and the sensation of a small smile that comes over my face that reminds those around me that I am safe, I am calm. I am.

Worry or Don’t Worry

worry about trafficSeveral years ago I was traveling on business from Los Angeles to Tucson. I had a flight to catch from LA and was getting ready to leave my company’s office in the afternoon, drive to LAX, return the rental car, and fly out. One of the managers on my team was encouraging me to leave so I could make it there on time and get ahead of the afternoon rush hour traffic. I told her I was getting ready and would leave soon. She looked at me incredulously and said, “You’re not worried, are you?” To which I replied, “Worry, don’t worry. The outcome is the same.”

I don’t think I invented that phrase and I know for sure that I don’t always embody that point of view. However, when I can be there – that place of not worrying; of allowing things to enfold – then I feel calm and free to experience things as they are without being consumed by anxious thoughts.

When I worry, that’s all that is going on. I become consumed by it. When I worry, I’m less thoughtful, more rigid, less creative, and more likely to slip into anger and even rage.

In the travel situation, leaving the office early enough might eliminate the worry but it would not necessarily help me make the flight on time. Who knows how much traffic I would encounter? Who knows if my car would breakdown? Who knows if the rental car shuttle would leave promptly? All these things, and more, are out of my control. I did leave at a reasonable time to catch my flight, but with fewer cushions for traffic delays, etc.

By pushing away the worry, I drove more safely, spoke more clearly, and addressed people more directly and kindly. Indeed, I did make my flight, returned the rental car, and didn’t set any speed records on the highways. But, most importantly for me, my state of mind, and for how I want to live my life, I didn’t worry.

I didn’t allow my mind to go through a litany of “Oh my God, I’m never going to make it on time. Why is that person driving so slowly? Oh no another red light! I’m not going to make it. Will I be able to get on another flight? Why did that meeting run so long? I’m terrible at managing my time. Everyone expects too much of me. It’s not fair. Oh my God, a traffic jam! I’m never going to make it!” And on and on my mind would go. I know this because my mind has done this many times. I’ve worried so much that it has tied my stomach in knots and paralyzed my actions.

When I release worry and move to a place of acceptance, I have freedom to experience my world as it is and enjoy what is being presented to me. In order to release worry, I use breath awareness, Reiki, meditation, and exercise to deeply experience my body and mind in a calm state. Then, when stressful situations arise, I can call up that state of calmness, release worry, and choose how I will act and think in this moment – all the while enjoying what is happening right now.

Wishing for you the calm of not worrying because worry or don’t worry, the outcome is the same.

 

 

 

Your One-on-One Meditation Session

meditationImagine you’re at home, seated on your sofa or your favorite chair. The house is quiet and you’re feeling really pleased with yourself for taking this time in your day for meditation. You close your eyes, focus your mind, try to find your breath, and then . . . nothing, or a lot of something. A lot of noticing that pain in your knee and the crookedness of your back. Or you can’t stop trying to solve that nagging problem with your computer. Your mind keeps asking, “Why won’t it print?!” Then you remember, “Oh, I’m supposed to be meditating. How am I supposed to do this?”

If this is your meditation practice, a one-on-one session is exactly what you’re looking for. When I work one-on-one with clients we explore what has been working and not working with their practice. Also, we uncover what they hope to achieve by meditating.

There are three main components to the first meditation session:

  1. Reviewing past experiences and the intentions around a meditation practice for you as an individual. This will vary greatly from person to person.
  2. Demonstrating and planning for your at-home practice. We review various sitting positions — their pluses and minuses and explore how to carve out those precious minutes in your day to practice.
  3. We meditate together. Honestly, there is nothing better when it comes to meditating than meditating with at least one other person. Meditating with others makes the practice much easier and often more profound. In a session, I use a guided format that aligns with your intentions and sets you up for ongoing success in your meditation practice.

Subsequent meditation sessions provide a check-in on your progress. I serve as an accountability buddy. What better way to succeed than knowing you have someone to report back to on your journey? Each session, also includes a guided meditation because with each practice we learn more about how to meditate and the workings of our inner selves.

My clients report greater mental clarity and deeper relaxation by cultivating a daily meditation practice. With on-going one-on-one sessions, they have a way to check-in on their practice and achieve a state of deep relaxation. One of my clients has reported that as her practice has grown, she has been able to be calmer in her interactions with her family and more mindful before she speaks. She says that being calm and mindful has deepened her relationship with her children!

Contact me today to schedule your one-on-one meditation session and find out what meditation can do for your life!

Mindfulness: Current Research

Mindful Meditation BuddhaMany people wonder, why should I meditate? What are the benefits? To me, the short answer is: “Because it works.” Then, of course, the next questions are: “How does it work? How will it help?” Simply put, meditation works by increasing awareness. To be mindful is to be aware of one’s experiences, both internal and external experiences. Mindfulness-based meditation helps one to become aware. By being aware, we are able to make better decisions, manage our mood, and activate more parts of our brain.

Now you may be asking, “But what difference will awareness make? What does the research show in how awareness changes our experiences / our human experience?”

Here’s what the research shows: (Courtesy of mindful.org) *

  • Mindfulness Relieves Anxiety and Improves Mood
    • A review of 39 previous studies involving 1,140 patients, by Professor Stefan Hofmann of Boston University, concluded that mindfulness is effective for relieving anxiety and improving mood.
  • Mindfulness May Keep Brains Young
    • A study by Dr. Eilnee Luders at UCLA School of Medicine, published in NeuroImage, shows that long-term mindfulness practitioners have greater brain volume, stronger neural connections, and less atrophy than non-practitioners. This suggest mindfulness may keep brains young and even help prevent dementia.
  • Mindfulness can lead to better Decision Making
    • A study conducted at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute by Dr. Ulrich Kirk, published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, finds that people who practice mindfulness use different parts of their brains in the decision-making process. This is most visible in their ability to react more rationally, rather than emotionally, when faced with unfair situations.
  • Mindfulness Changes Brain Structure
    • Research published in 2011 in Neuroimaging by Sara Lazar and her team at Massachusetts General Hospital, reveals that an 8-week mindfulness training program makes measurable changes in brain structures associated with learning and memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress.
  • Mindfulness Reduces Stress
    • A study conducted by Britta Holzel at Massachusetts General Hospital, and published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, finds that mindfulness-based stress reduction can lead to structural changes in the amygdala, a brain structure that plays a crucial role in stress responses.
  • Mindfulness Increases Immune Response
    • A study by Richard A. Davidson and Jon Kabat-Zinn, published in Psychosomatic Medicine, indicates that mindfulness increases both positive feelings and antibody responses to immune system challenges.
  • Mindfulness Enhances Attention, Mood, and Memory
    • A 2010 Wake Forest University study, published in Consciousness and Cognition, shows that only 4 days of mindfulness training can enhance the ability to sustain focused attention. It also shows significant improvements in mood, visuo-spatial processing, working memory, and cognition.
  • Mindfulness Reduces Irritable Bowel Syndrome
    • A 2010 Swedish study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry finds that 10 weeks of mindfulness training results in a 50% reduction in IBS symptoms, as well as other positive outcomes.
  • And others:
    • A study at Duke University shows that mindfulness can reduce the frequency of binge eating by as much as 75%
    • Patients in recovery for substance abuse at the University of Washington were 50% less likely to relapse if they practiced mindfulness

Two of these studies strongly relate to my experience of practicing mindfulness. For instance, the study of meditators who play the ultimatum game concludes:

“In summary, when assessing unfairness in the Ultimatum Game, meditators activate a different network of brain areas compared with controls enabling them to uncouple negative emotional reactions from their behavior. These findings highlight the clinically and socially important possibility that sustained training in mindfulness meditation may impact distinct domains of human decision-making.” (from: “Interoception drives increased rational decision-making in meditators playing the ultimatum game” Frontiers in Neuroscience, 5:49)

The key phrase here is that they were able to “uncouple negative emotional reactions from their behavior.” This seems to me to be one of the main benefits of mindfulness practices like meditation, yoga, and Reiki. The ability to uncouple my emotions from my actions is embodied when my life is in flow – where I feel in control of myself in the healthiest of ways, i.e., where I am aware of how feel (and feel it) however, I mindfully choose how to act in any given situation. Because I have practiced this dance between emotions and action on my meditation cushion, when the opportunity arises in “real” life situations, I’m able to discern between my emotions and my actions and, more often, choose wisely.

The other study that really spoke to me was the one that examined the experience of participants who trained in mindfulness for only 4 days.

A 2010 Wake Forest University study, published in Consciousness and Cognition, shows that only 4 days of mindfulness training can enhance the ability to sustain focused attention. It also shows significant improvements in mood, visuo-spatial processing, working memory, and cognition. (from “Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training” Consciousness and Cognition, Volume 19, Issue 2, June 2010, pages 597-605.)

In my experience, it doesn’t take a lot of sessions to start gaining the rewards — of course, the more consistent the practice, the better. It is indeed a practice. The more practices, the greater the rewards. The more automatic the responses become and, as some of these studies point out, one will start to experience changes in physiology, including brain chemistry.

Hopefully, you’ll find this research as compelling as I do and you’ll join us on the cushion today!

Wishing you the gift of awareness!

 

* Resources:

  • Mindfulness Relieves Anxiety and Improves Mood
    • “The Effect of Mindfulness-Based Therapy on Anxiety and Depression: A Meta-Analytic Review” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Volume 78, Issue 2, 2 April 2010, pages 169-183.
  • Mindfulness May Keep Brains Young
    • “The underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation: Larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter” NeuroImage, Volume 45, Issue 3, 15 April 2009, Pgaes 672-678.
  • Mindfulness can lead to better Decision Making
    • “Interoception drives increased rational decision-making in meditators playing the ultimatum game” Frontiers in Neuroscience, 5:49
  • Mindfulness Changes Brain Structure
    • “Mindfulness practice leads to increase in regional brain gray matter density” Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, Volume 191, Issue 1, 30 January 20111, pages 36-43
  • Mindfulness Reduces Stress
    • “Stress reduction correlates with structural changes in the amygdale” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, Vol. 5, Issue 1, pages 11-17.

Pay Attention! The importance of practicing Reiki

I Practice Self-Reiki Every Day

Moments of inattention often lead to life’s mishaps. For instance, recently, I was at an airport and I wanted to clean my glasses while waiting at the gate for my plane. I reached into my Ziploc bag full of small liquid bottles and pulled out what I thought was my lens cleaner. I sprayed my lenses and got busy wiping them clean. However, they didn’t come clean.  They had a terrible whitish film over them. Then I realized I had not used the lens cleaner — I had instead used my hairspray. Ugh! How did this happen?! Clearly it was because I wasn’t paying attention. (Fortunately, when I got home I found that an alcohol wipe gently removed the hairspray.) I believe these moments of inattention happen to all of us and are part of our human condition with our monkey minds and our plugged in world.

There are ways, however, to help us pay attention. During Reiki classes, I encourage my students to practice self-Reiki everyday for the next 21 days following their class. As with any new habit, this 21-day time period provides a manageable interval in which to repeat a task in order to make it a habit. During this time, I also encourage my students to journal about their experience. They can write brief passages in their journal, even just one word or a sketch is sometimes enough to capture the experience of their daily Reiki practice. As Reiki Practitioners, this is something we do everyday: we practice self-Reiki. It is easily integrated into one’s life as a morning and evening routine and throughout the day when hands are placed on oneself and the connection is made with universal life-force energy. This connection provides a moment of deep attention. For me, it often brings me out of head and into my body. I notice how I’m sitting, breathing, and feeling in my body in this moment of time.

How does one remember to make the connection? It is through practice. Reiki, like many of life’s endeavors, is a practice. It is a requirement that it must be done over and over again. After a Reiki class, though one is fully attuned and able to practice Reiki, the depth of the practice and the skillfulness of a seasoned practitioner is not yours yet. You must practice. You must practice on yourself daily and on others as often as is possible. Through the practice, you will get to know Reiki. You will notice the flow of energy more. You will experience deeper states of relaxation. You will connect more often with your higher self. Your experience of Reiki will intensify with practice. However, this is often the exact area that is most difficult for students, i.e., the practicing. Reiki, though, is so simple: anytime, anywhere: Hands on, Reiki’s on.

Don’t be fooled by its simplicity! You must practice and when you do, you experience its depth. I recently read the following regarding meditation in the March 2015 issue of Shambhala Sun: Judy Lief writes: “Meditation practice is called ‘practice’ for a reason: just like a singer practicing scales or a yogi practicing downward dogs, the point is repetition, doing the same thing over and over.” For some people, they might think this is very boring, but with Reiki it is not boring because you are not the same from moment to moment and so what you experience and notice will not be the same. Repetition is in the act of placing hands on and noticing.  What you notice will be unique to the present moment — to who you happen to be right now.

What have you experienced in your practice of Reiki? How has it helped you to pay attention? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

What I learned at the Waterpark

Like many Reiki Practitioners I have studied meditation for many years and have received excellent instruction.  In a meditation or yoga class, there is often a direction around observing our emotions.  As we do this observation, we notice that emotions arise and fall away.  For me, I was observing the negative emotions, e.g., anger, anxiety, resentment.

Image by Janice Lodato
Image by Janice Lodato

However, recently I had the opportunity to observe my positive emotions arise and fall away.  My family and I spent a long weekend at a waterpark.  It was a weekend filled with fun, laughs, lots of physical exertion and challenges to my feelings of safety.  I left the waterpark filled with feelings of enjoyment and happiness.  After arriving home, waking the next morning and commuting to work, those feelings had fallen away.  I missed them and mourned their passing.  I wanted to hold onto them and puzzled over why they had left.  Then I remembered the words of my meditation teachers, “Emotions arise and fall away.”  Now, I understood from an experience that was closely observed that this was true for positive emotions too.

So I invite you to observe your emotions in moments of their heightenedness and their everydayness.  You can do this through meditation, your Reiki practice, your relationships and your beingness.

Wishing you love, light and the companionship of your emotions.