Monthly Archive: June 2017

Beginner’s Mind, one of the 7 pillars of mindfulness

7 pillars of mindfulness

If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.  -Shunryu Suzuki

Last week I decided to wash windows.  The windows in my place are the new kind that fold inward so that you can wash the outside from the inside.  Clever.

But I wasn’t used to these windows, and assumed that they would stay up when I simply put them back – like the windows I’m used to.  This assumption worked fine until the last set, where one of the windows didn’t stay put because, as it happened, the latch was stuck.  The window fell and hit me hard.  That window caused me a lot of pain, and may even have produced in me a mild concussion.

This may seem like a pretty mundane event – one we all encounter daily.  And that’s my point.  Had I approached these windows as something new – which they were – I would likely have saved myself grief.

When we’re relaxed and present, with no agenda going into something, then we have beginner’s mind. The next time you’re with a friend or loved one, try approaching them in this way, and see how that opens up new possibility for you.

Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable. -Mary Oliver

I first read of the 7 pillars of mindfulness in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book on mindfulness Full Catastrophe Living. These pillars are Buddhist principles that help us be present and mindful in our everyday living. The 7 meditations I offer to anyone who signs up on my website www.thejoyofliving.co are based on these, and I use them in my own meditation practice.

 

Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .

Moments of Peace and Joy

In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.

-Albert Camus

There are so many inspirational quotes like this one (there’s more below) that have the power to give us a lift just by reading them.  Each time, for instance, I read Camus’ quote, I feel my heart sigh – a spiritual pat on my back saying Good job! You can rest now.

For a few lovely moments I can feel a sense of accomplishment and be at peace.  And then in the next moment, I review my daily list (yes, I do have a daily list), and dig in. Then on days like today, I catch myself wondering what my life would be like if I felt this sense of peaceful joy most if not all of every day.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love my life: I’m doing what I love, have pretty good health, and friends and relationships that feed my spirit.  Even so, when I’m challenged, there is a tiny voice inside me that can get loud and that is sometimes filled with terror. This tiny voice has a lot of power, because it can stop me from feeling that peace and joy, or even remembering it exists.

The voice isn’t fake – it’s real. But the reasons for feeling the terror aren’t real, at least not any more.  And yet it persists. You might also experience moments of discomfort, or even terror, and if you do … if it helps … here’s what I do to calm that voice down:

  • Be with your pain. That’s right! Sit mindfully with the voice, and the feelings in my body it generates. A know in my stomach, tense shoulders, whatever the sensation, I sit with the feelings and let them be whatever they need to be.  The important thing is to learn to accept the voice as real and genuine, and a natural part of who you are.
  • Limit your time with it. In my meditation practice, I always begin by focusing on my process of breathing; then move my focus to something else, ending with breathing. I do this so that I can begin and end on something that balances me, and breathing is our natural balancer. Each in-breath activates our sympathetic nervous system, and each out-breath activates our parasympathetic nervous system – together, this contributes to bringing us, naturally, into homeostasis. In the middle, I will take 10 minutes or even half an hour to be with my tiny voice and the sensations and feelings it generates inside me.  I will only spend this time on it, limiting it’s influence and impact on me, so that I – and not it – controls my day.  This is important! Being with anything or anyone doesn’t mean they get to take over – taking over isn’t a path to peace or joy. Ever! So limit the time you spend with your pain.  Contain it by giving it time and acceptance, then moving on.
  • Love yourself, including your pain. This may be hard to do, and yet it’s essential. If you can’t get past the judgments about this part of you that you wish didn’t exist, then at least respect it’s reality, and perhaps make an opening for love somewhere down the road.  One way to do this is to think of this part of yourself as a small child who’s been hurt – because in fact this is very likely the source of this pain.  Then ask yourself: What would I do if I were with a small child in pain?  Would I brush the child aside, or comfort him or her?  Then do the same to that small part of you that’s in pain.

None of us is perfect.  We’ve all lived and experienced pain and disappointment.  And this experience can leave scars as well as contribute to our maturity.  I believe we need to acknowledge and accept both to live a truly happy life.

This newsletter is in three parts: the first part is my contribution; the second is a video I’ve found that relates to the topic in part 1; the third is a quote. I hope you enjoy the richness this brings to the topic of the week with all three parts.

Matthieu Ricard: The habits of happiness

ted

Quote of the Week
We don’t realize that, somewhere within us all, there does exist a supreme self who is eternally at peace.
Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

Announcements
At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us. I offer both one-on-one consultations and coaching packages.  For more information, visit my website www.thejoyofliving.co/services-and-programs or contact me directly at maryanne@thejoyofliving.co

 

Is It Depression or Something Else?

Depression

Many celebrities are talking about the positive mental health movement. They want to take away the stigma of mental health challenges and encourage everyone to be more proactive. While I was thinking about today’s post, I came across a story on a popular TV show that dealt with depression…. only the lady didn’t have depression. In fact, she had pancreatic cancer! Her psychiatrist was seeing her for other reasons, noticed the change, and encouraged a follow-up with her doctor.

Depression is serious on its own, but sometimes there are underlining medical issues that need to be considered (or ruled out) before anyone starts treatment for depression. We tend not to think about underlining medical causes for depression because, well – we tend to be busy people with varied stressors within our lives. Depression can happen or we can be hiding it for years, or we don’t want to deal with the stigma of seeing a mental health professional and then we decide to simply “live with it”.

I’m here to tell you, today, that simply “living with it” isn’t a good option because you deserve to address your happiness – or, in rare cases, an underlining medical condition!

I am GIVING AWAY online therapy consultations. I can help you discover what the online therapy benefits are and you get to test-drive my services and see if we are a good match. To learn more about me, my programs, and read my free blog- please click here: http://thejoyofliving.co/programs/

The Gods – are they really jealous of us?

Achilles in Homer’s Iliad said that the gods envy us because we are mortal: any moment could be our last, and this makes everything more beautiful. “You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again”.

Some argue that Homer – and therefore Achilles – didn’t actually say this. In a way it doesn’t matter – that’s one of the things we know him for, and remember him for. It’s a compelling thought: how our impermanence makes everything more beautiful.

It’s Spring here in Ontario; this is one of the most beautiful times of the year.  From grayness and dirty snow and cold, to vibrant green, blue, and every color imaginable. From bareness to lushness.  Song birds wake us every morning, things are greening and multiplying as if in a hurry, making up for it’s Winter dormancy.

It’s wonderful and inspiring; and we appreciate it all the more because we know it will be with us only for a few short months.

If you’re like me, when things are going well, I find myself at moments wishing that I could stop time so that I could be in this space forever. But I didn’t just land in that particular moment. I mean, I didn’t come into existence and have all the knowledge and skills and abilities that got me to this moment, like, say, Athena. Athena popped full-grown out of the side of her father Zeus, fully ready and able to take on the trials of being Zeus’ daughter.  I didn’t. I had to learn, grow, make mistakes – sometimes big ones – then get myself up, brush myself off, and carry on. Until the moment, like this one, where life is wonderful.  Knowing it’s only a moment, and that there will be more moments like this one that come my way as I continue to live and learn.

Knowing that beautiful moments are fleeting means I really appreciate them. Knowing that I’m around for a very short time in cosmic terms gives me the motivation I need to get going.  For instance, I live in Toronto and the only time I visited the CN Tower was when I was a visitor, and when I took other visitors who insisted.  The CN Tower is there, every day – so what’s the rush? Last year, I visited Florence, and I took the time to see David, and their amazing cathedral, because it might be the only time I can do that – appreciate the beauty and mastery of those works.

Woody Allen once quipped: If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.  Being aware of impermanence, as the Buddhists teach, gives us the impetus we need to take action for what makes life worthwhile, and to truly appreciate what ends up being.

This newsletter is in three parts: the first part is my contribution; the second is a video I’ve found that relates to the topic in part 1; the third is a quote. I hope you enjoy the richness this brings to the topic of the week with all three parts.

A Cinematic Haiku: The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

The Gods – are they really jealous of us

Quote of the Week
Awareness of impermanence is encouraged, so that when it is coupled with our appreciation of the enormous potential of our human existence, it will give us a sense of urgency that I must use every precious moment.
― the Dalai Lama

Announcements
At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us. I offer both one-on-one consultations and coaching packages.  For more information, visit my website www.thejoyofliving.co/services-and-programs or contact me directly at maryanne@thejoyofliving.co

Non-Striving, one of the 7 pillars of mindfulness

Non-Striving-one-of-the-7-pillars-of-mindfulness
The pillars of Mindfulness are Buddhist principles that help us live in beauty and peace.  One of them is non-striving.

I’m the kind of person who is always striving. Stiving to learn something new.  Striving to figure things out.  Striving to get somewhere. Striving involves incredible focus on whatever it is we are striving for,  which means little or no focus on anything else. That focus is on the future – some plan or future goal we’ve developed that is important to us.

If you’re like me, then you know that this practice and habit of striving means we miss a lot that is happening before our eyes. We miss that moment of tenderness or beauty; of connecting to that person beside us and with the world around us.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ll continue to strive for what gives my life meaning and purpose. Striving has its place. But striving sometimes hides dissatisfaction with what is, and can be a way to avoid what we think is, because unless we take a moment to look around us, whatever we believe is simply a thought in our minds.

This last point is important because we have such a huge capacity for self-deception. When I focus on something that engages me – say going for a hike in beautiful surroundings, or participating in a self-improvement course – I can lull myself into believing I’m into self-growth.  But if this is done at the expense of what I need to attend to – like, for instance, a failing relationship – then it’s really me striving to avoid seeing what I need to see.

So, if you’re like me, perhaps it’s time to take a breath, and simply look.

I first read of the 7 pillars of mindfulness in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book on mindfulness Full Catastrophe Living. These pillars are Buddhist principles that help us be present and mindful in our everyday living. The 7 meditations I offer to anyone who signs up on my website www.thejoyofliving.co are based on these, and I use them in my own meditation practice.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .

We belong to the World

The world doesn’t belong to you. You belong to the world. -Indigenous saying

I came across this quote a day after hearing of another dispute between different groups of people with different agendas. The dispute involved moving into a part of a national park and mining it.  This would mean less room for the animals already there, and a probable loss of regional flora.  Even more than this, it all rests on the assumption that we humans own that land. That the land is there for our benefit, and all other life must accommodate this.

As we take over more land, encroaching on more wild habitat, there are increasing clashes between people and other animals in the region.  When I was a child, I was taught that the animal had to pay for any of these clashes.  As an adult, I know better.

There are an estimated 7.5 billion people on Earth today.  That’s really impossible to fathom.  Even if we try to come up with a figure for available land it makes little sense, unless we assume that no other plant or animal has needs that don’t include us.  Yet, it’s well known that animals avoid people because we are so dangerous. Most animals couldn’t live in close proximity to us.

So what’s the answer? The answer has to include all life, along with the recognition that we as human beings belong to the world, and not the reverse.  That we bear responsibility for the welfare of the world and all Nature. With this in mind, I believe it’s entirely possible to develop ways of living that bring harmony instead of contention.  We can all take less space and be more mindful of how we live. We can become familiar with the flora and fauna in our area, along with their needs, in order to accommodate those needs in anything we do.

One step at a time, we can begin to educate ourselves and contribute to the welfare of our planet.

***This newsletter is in three parts: the first part is my contribution; the second is a video I’ve found that relates to the topic in part 1; the third is a quote. I hope you enjoy the richness this brings to the topic of the week with all three parts.

Nature is Speaking

Quote of the Week
A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. ― Albert Einstein

 Announcements
At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us. I offer both one-on-one consultations and coaching packages.  For more information, visit my website www.thejoyofliving.co/services-and-programs or contact me directly at maryanne@thejoyofliving.co

Defeating Fear

defeating fear

I watched a moving documentary last week – Daughter of the Lake – on Netflix. It’s about the struggles of indigenous people in a region in Peru who are being harassed to leave their land for strip-mining.  The narrator is a young woman of that region who is studying Law.

Our narrator begins and ends with water – how life-giving it is – and how necessary it is in daily living, even for it’s natural beauty. She travels with us to regions where strip mining has denuded the land of everything, having diverted waterways for the sake of mining, and forcing those remaining on the land to relocate.

She is understandably worried about her people’s future, and her own future. Hence this documentary.  The workers – or paid disruptors – travel to within eyesight of the homesteads, and stand there, armed with guns, threatening people with their presence. The local police disrupt peaceful demonstrations and appear to be on the side of the miners. While it’s true that there are always two sides to any disagreement, my focus here is how the narrator and her friends and family deal with their fears.

The answer? Clearly holding in her heart the meaning of the land to herself, her family and her ancestors – both for their well-being and for the Earth’s, acknowledging her fears, and taking things one step at a time. She asks for guidance from the local priest, and his response is both eloquent and powerful: “They use fear to attack your weakest side. You are not your weakest side. The people you love most are your weakness. Fear gives us a fragile dimension. It warns us, just like [this] river: when it’s very full, it’s a bit scary. It could carry you away. So a key to beating fear, is you stop thinking only about the present moment, and focus on what would happen if you stopped doing what was right. If you stopped defending what was important to you. Wouldn’t that be worse?”

We all have fear. Fear lets us know that something is important to us and we don’t want to lose it.  It can stop us if we let it; it can also serve as a strong motivator in our lives – getting us up and moving.

As one wise man said: It isn’t what happens to us that defines us, but how we deal with it.  We defeat fear and incidentally grow spiritually every time we keep going in spite of it, every time we put one foot in front of the other, keeping a clear view of what matters.

Final word: you may think that all of this effort on the part of the indigenous people against big business and big government was probably futile.  Well in this case it wasn’t.  Both government and big business eventually backed off.

 

Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .

The power of a power statement

I can do this!” She said, walking in.

What’s more empowering: “What did I do wrong this time!” or “I can do this!”? The first makes me want to hide away somewhere and lick my wounds; the second fills me with energy and confidence. The first focuses only on my perceived weaknesses and helplessness; the second focuses on my strengths.

“What did I do wrong this time!” is an example of what shamans call a Pretender Voice; “I can do this!” is an example of a Power Statement, or Commander Voice.

The idea of power statements are used by career counsellors to help a person present themselves to a potential employer in the most powerful light.  But long before that, they were taught to people by shamans to help them take back their power whenever they felt powerless, at the effect of something they had no control over. Power statements can be used to mask – as in the first instance – or to energize – as in the second.

I don’t mean to imply that all power statements used to impress others necessarily mask, but the focus is on impacting others, not ourselves; in that way it can be used to protect ourselves from others.  If this is the case, then in reality we don’t feel empowered, we feel weak, needing to hide behind a wall we make.

Power statements used to empower ourselves must be true, must be positive, and energizing to work. The thing about Pretender Voices is that, even though they feel overwhelmingly true at the time we voice them, they aren’t true. They’re false!  “What did I do wrong this time!” can indicate that we feel small with someone who we think knows more than we do.

Pretender Voices almost always hold a grain of truth, but become lies because of our focus on them: “This is never going to work!” might indicate that I’ve been through this before and expect the worst so thoroughly that it looms very large, as if it’s already happened. That it’s a done deal. We don’t see for what it is – one possibility – and not usually a very big one – out of many future scenarios, that have not already happened.

The truth is that we can choose to focus on something about us that we know is true and makes us feel empowered instead of helpless.  “I can do this!”, or “I can figure this out!”, or any number of true statements about ourselves will do. That’s why learning to find and then using our own Power Statement can effectively get us from a feel-bad to a feel-good place in a matter of seconds.

Do you know what your Power Statement is? If not, here’s a way of discovering it.

  • Close your eyes, take a few long and deep breaths; then think back to a recent time when you felt helpless and weak.  Remember the circumstances. Then see if you can recall what you were saying to yourself at the time; what your self-judgments were. Open your eyes and write these words down.  Notice how you feel when you feel powerless.
  • Now look at the words you wrote down and ask yourself: are these words really true about me now? Are they about me, or about what I see as my worst fear coming true? Are they about my capabilities in a given situation or about others that I have no control over? Discover how, in fact, they aren’t true but at the least, heavily skewed towards focusing on your weaknesses or worst fears.
  • Once you see the actual truth of these Pretender Statements, close your eyes once more, taking a few deep breaths. Then imagine the presence of a person you admire, or a storybook hero or heroine, or the strong and real part of yourself stepping up.  What words would you imagine they would use?  “You can do this!” “You’ve got what it takes!” “You can figure this out!” “I believe in you because you’re strong!”

What words ring true for you? How do they make you feel?  If they make you feel energized and positive, then those words are your Power Statement. Once you have it, write it down and paste it everywhere so that you learn to see it wherever you go; every time you begin to hear that Pretender Voice inside your head, say your Power Statement out loud. Until it’s there whenever you need it.

Stacey Kramer – The best gift I ever survived

power
Quote of the Week
The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.
― Coco Chanel
Announcements
At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us. I offer both one-on-one consultations and coaching packages.  For more information, visit my website www.thejoyofliving.co/services-and-programs or contact me directly at maryanne@thejoyofliving.co

Patience, one of the 7 pillars of mindfulness

Patience

There are 7 pillars of mindfulness that are contemplated as part of a Buddhist practice.  Cultivating patience is one of these.

It’s said that with patience, we understand and accept that sometimes things must unfold in their own time.  In this way, patience is a form of wisdom – it reminds us that we, along with every thing in existence is in process, and that this process can’t be hurried.  Try forcing a square peg into a round hole: if you persist, the peg will likely break and the hole will become deformed.  The same happens with every process we attempt to force.

So often, it’s us we try to force, becoming impatient with our own process. We loose weight too slowly (then gain it back too quickly); we keep stumbling over mistakes while learning, ignoring or forgetting that stumbling is a necessary part of learning; we want it all – NOW – knowing in the back of our minds that anything worthwhile takes time.

I’d like to distinguish the mindful quality of patience from a natural energetic that some of us have that’s called impatience.  Some of us naturally move fast, think fast, walk fast.  If you’re like this, it’s as natural for you to be this way as it is for someone else to saunter.  Trying to force yourself to slow down wouldn’t work any better than trying to force a slow person to speed up, and may indicate an impatience to achieve some kind of imagined perfection that actually goes against what you are naturally.  It’s a kind of lack of acceptance and tollerance that I’ll cover in a few weeks.

Patience brings self-compassion to our awareness, helping us acknowledge and accept our own process. This kind of compassion melts away all inner resistance, allowing us to be open to each moment as it happens – without judgment – trusting that the process is unfolding perfectly as it is.

The next time you find yourself getting impatient with something you’re doing – even meditating (many of us believe there is a “right” way to meditate, for instance) – take some time to be with the feeling, and with the sensations this creates in your body.  Let is simply be, taking an interest in your natural, organic process of being with these feelings and sensations.

I first read of the 7 pillars of mindfulness in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book on mindfulness Full Catastrophe Living. These pillars are Buddhist principles that help us be present and mindful in our everyday living. The 7 meditations I offer to anyone who signs up on my website www.thejoyofliving.co are based on these, and I use them in my own meditation practice.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .