Category Archives: begin to meditate

Find Your True Intention

What is your true intention?
startwithheart
Jack Kornfield says that setting a long term intention or vow is like setting the compass of your heart. I love that. A compass of your heart. Wherever you find yourself in your thoughts, emotions, decisions and challenges, there’s the compass of your truest intention that can guide you.

In fact all eight aspects of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path form a helpful guide for us to rely on when we find ourselves at a crossroads. And we are always at a crossroads, because whatever our current situation, even if we can’t change the circumstances, we have a choice about how we relate to what’s arising in our experience. We can mindlessly react out of fear and potentially do something unskillful, even harmful. Or we can align ourselves with our truest intention, use our wisest effort, deepen our understanding of the nature of things, cultivate mindfulness and come up with the wise words and actions that make the best possible response to the situation.

And if we have done something unskillful, we can use the Eightfold Path to figure out where we went wrong. Instead of wallowing in misery, guilt and self-loathing, we can actively investigate and then renew our intention. It’s a very handy-dandy guide indeed!

Over the next eight weeks we will explore all eight of these aspects. We begin with intention, in part because it is the first week of the new year, but also because finding our truest intention will help us in our exploration of the other aspects. The other aspects might help us to refine our intention as well.

For now, we can test whatever current intentions we may have to see if they are true. Especially right after the new year when we to one degree or another often create resolutions. Most popular ones are to lose weight, to exercise more, etc. Nothing wrong with either, but they are not our truest intentions. And if our short term goals are not aligned with our truest intentions, they usually fail.

Why do they fail? Because they are rooted in fear. It’s like choosing to run on a gravel road barefoot. How long will you last? The ‘gravel’ is all the negative inner thoughts we have to contend with that force us to constantly question and justify our set intention. There’s another option. One that is full of kindness and compassion, and rooted in a deeper understanding of life. We can choose to run on the Eightfold Path that is truly supportive.

To find our true intention we might start with the intention to meditate on a regular basis. If we follow that intention and develop a regular habit of meditating, we find an opening, an easing of tension, a softening of that harshly critical mind — the one that builds walls rather than bridges, that strives to be clever rather than kind, the one that thinks it has something to prove. We discover that our striving comes from a sense of separation, and that sense of separation is rooted in fear. We discover we have nothing to hide, nothing to prove and nothing to fear from simply being fully alive in the world. And, once we understand that, we discover we have something to give. We can engage in life with a loving generous spirit.

Once that regular habit of meditating is in place, we find our understanding deepening and widening, and our truest intention becomes broader as well.

You might pause for a moment now, or for a few minutes after your meditation practice when your mind is quieter, to see what comes up for you when you ask ‘What is my truest intention in this life?’ And then simply allow whatever response arises to come up. Notice if what comes up is loving, calm, wise and undemanding. That’s your Buddha nature, your wise inner voice, offering guidance. If what comes up is full of shoulds or shouldn’ts or this is a bunch of bs, well that’s just an inner aspect that is rooted in fear, trying it’s best to protect you from the dangers it perceives everywhere. While we offer these kinds of voices respect, we can also respectfully decline to be motivated by them. Make room for that inner wisdom to be heard. It may be challenging amidst the cacophony of more frantic thoughts, full of judgment and skepticism. But if you sit quietly enough for long enough, you will create enough space for it to be heard. Because it isn’t going anywhere. It is always within you. You may not have heard it because we tend to pay attention to what is loudest, fastest and most demanding. Inner wisdom is none of those things. But it is there offering lovingkindness and the wisdom to give you exactly what you need right now. Let it tell you your wisest intention. Then write it down, bring it to mind often, and see how living with that intention shifts the way you relate to life. Maybe you begin to see the gifts rather than only the problems. Then you know you’ve set a wise intention.

For a number of years now I have been living with two intentions: To be present in this moment, anchored in physical sensation; and to be compassionate with myself and others. These two intentions have stood me in good stead. Feel free to try them for yourself and see if they are your truest intentions too. I begin my daily meditation practice, and I use them throughout the day as I make choices at every turn. When I’ve forgotten my intentions, I see pretty quickly how valuable they are, and I return to them with renewed appreciation.

One way in which I was not connecting with my two truest intentions was in relationship to my weight. I had a lifetime of thought streams running through me that were pretty compelling. They went something like this: You’re fat. Well, you’re not THAT fat. What’s wrong with being fat? Why do you want to lose weight? Who are you trying to impress? I don’t want to have to buy a larger set of clothes, so I need to diet. It would be fun to look great in that outfit on that model in a magazine. But what kind of attention would I be trying to attract? etc. etc. You know the drill. A lot of inner conversation and very little positive action. Mostly self-deflating sabotage.

Then one summer day I ate my neighbor’s delicious home-grown cherry tomatoes as if they were candy and, because I hadn’t had any oil or bread (I found out later) I developed a horrendous case of heartburn. I’d never had heartburn, didn’t know what was happening, so called the doctor. The advice nurse said get to the hospital pronto. So I did, and ended up spending the night in the cardiac unit under observation. The next day the cardiologist put me on the treadmill and assured me that my heart was in excellent shape. ‘But,’ she said, ‘as a kindness to your heart, you could lose a little weight.’

As a kindness to my heart? Those words sang out to me, so aligned were they with my truest intention. Suddenly all the inner conversation fell away. All my wimpy resolutions to lose weight fell by the wayside. All I had to do was live my truest intention and be kind, compassionate to my dear little heart. I had never ever thought of my heart that way. It was always just a pump. I was grateful that it was reliable, but it was just so much plumbing. Now, with the doctors words, I had something I could work with by simply widening my intention to include my heart.

Just this week I saw a study on PBS News Hour about how important emotion is in motivation. When we look at the experience I had, we can see how suddenly the doctor offered me an emotional connection to my heart, a request to be kind to it. So as we set our intentions, we might consider their emotional content. Fear is a short sprint motivator but backfires and fails in the long run. An intention based in love is a lifelong relationship.

If you set a lifelong intention, you can set short term goals that are aligned with your true intention, and they will be much easier to meet. If they are not easy, investigate!

If you don’t have a meditation practice, establishing one as a kindness to yourself, your family, friends, coworkers, and the world, is a great place to start. (If you don’t know where to begin, start here.)

If you have an established practice, congratulations. You might in meditation find some inspirational insight that guides you to your truest intention that speaks to any challenges you face right now.

I have taught the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path several times, so here’s a link to other posts on the subject: [READ MORE ON FINDING YOUR TRUEST INTENTION.]

New Page on Blog in Spanish

Look to you right on this page and you’ll see at the bottom of the list of PAGES a new one titled COMO MEDITAR. If you, or someone you know, would be more comfortable learning basic meditation instruction in Spanish, please check it out and share the link to the page freely.

Gratitude for Everything

We come together this time of year in a celebration of giving thanks. Many of us have cherished traditions. Probably just as many would be happy to skip the whole season. But whatever our feelings about the holiday of Thanksgiving, most of us enjoy feeling gratitude and the act of counting our blessings even if the rest of the year we are complaining about our lack of blessings. This one day is a day of accounting, checking in and doing a little tally. We tell ourselves that even though we lost a job, got ill, lost a loved one or any of a myriad of other situations that might befall us in any given year, still, at Thanksgiving we seek out those things that are going well, polish them up, list them and take comfort in them.

And there’s nothing wrong with a little comfort. But this kind of gratitude is finite and conditional. What if the balance sheet doesn’t come out? What if the awful things that have happened cannot be compensated by any small comfort we may have? What if we have tried and tried to look on the bright side of seeming disasters, and have just not been able to find it? Then where’s the gratitude? Gone!

To have nothing and then not to even have gratitude? That really sucks! It feels better not to even go there! Forget gratitude. It’s unreliable.

I’ve talked before about the value of noticing when we are operating from a finite source, how the results are shallow rooted, unsatisfying and unreliable. So then, let’s look to see if we can discover gratitude from a deeper source.

Gratitude from that deep source, that sense of connection to all of life becomes gratitude for everything. Everything. This is not just reflecting back and saying well, this bad thing happened, but now good has come of it, so now I am grateful for it. This is deep complete gratitude for everything. Everything!

Suddenly a resounding ‘No!’ is proclaimed across the land. We can’t be grateful for the horrors of the world, for the evil that is done, for the devastation that is wrought, for the injustices – the list is long of all the things we refuse in any way to acknowledge one iota of acceptance, let alone gratitude. Really, Stephanie, you’ve gone too far this time.

Maybe so. Let’s investigate. I’m sitting with it now and asking in deeply. You do the same. I am asking myself, ‘How can I be grateful for the horrors of the world?’ Well, I can be grateful they are not happening to me in this moment. But that is clearly a self-serving, blind, finite answer. So what is the infinite answer?

It begins, as always, with coming fully into this present moment, this spacious awareness. In this relaxed state we can sense in to our bodies and all sensory experiences become illuminated. We notice sounds and sense into the rhythms, the volume, the tones, the pitch, the pulsing, the beat, the variety, the layering. We look around and notice light and shadow, color, texture, distance, shapes and the interaction of all of these in space. Closing our eyes we sense in to the pressure where our body meets whatever is supporting it. We feel the texture of whatever clothing or furniture comes in contact with our skin. We feel the temperature of the air, and the stillness or movement of it. We feel whatever is going on inside our body — pain, tension, energy, pleasant sensations and numbness. We taste the inside of our mouths. We smell the air. Some of our senses in this particular moment may be subtle, but still present if we stay with them. We become aware of our breath, rising and falling.

When we are able to release fully into this moment, savoring each sensation with a beginner’s mind, really noticing how this moment, the very one we thought was so ordinary, is in fact extraordinary because of our attention.

In this open spacious moment where we experience all that arises with a freshness we didn’t even know we were capable of experiencing, we feel gratitude.

This isn’t a gratitude conditioned on whether what we are seeing and hearing and sensing is pleasant, ordered in the way we like things to be. We have access to a less critical noticing. The impulses we might normally have — to tidy up the mess of newspapers on the floor or to bang the broom on the ceiling to get the loud radio upstairs to stop, or any other fault-finding rescue mission we might think up — all that falls away. In this moment, everything is just fine, even the mess, the noise, and all the things that usually irritate us.

We feel gratitude for simply being alive in this moment. Because this moment is the only thing that is real. Everything that has passed, both our personal history and the collective history of the world is just memory turning to compost. Whatever is in the future is currently simply potential, trending toward possible directions, always subject to the unseen and unknown, thus beyond our ability to imagine with any useful accuracy.

But this moment, this is our one and only reality. On a finite level we can enjoy it and wish it would last, or dislike it and rush to get past it. When we pause and release the tension that has us so tightly wrapped, we tap into the infinite: This moment, fully relaxed, is the gateway to our sensing the infinite.

From this deep connected place, we bring forth an authentic response to whatever arises in our experience. This is the only place where we can interact with the world, to sow peaceful seeds that might nourish the world of our great grandchildren. We can’t do that from the past or the future. There’s no power there. We can only be effective right here and now, by staying present and connected in deeply rooted moment. From this singular point of power, the present moment, when all our preferences and judgments have fallen away, we can see the universal dance and our place in it.

Raging at the horrors of the world we are stuck in a finite limited powerless rant. We feel like helpless victims in a storm of intense chaos. Going deep and quiet, touching the infinite, that is what makes real change possible. It is where Gandhi went and where Martin Luther King Jr. went before taking powerful peaceful action that changed the world. It is where Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi have gone time and again, both able to draw sustenance and even freedom in physical incarceration – turning inward to the silence, finding patience and compassion instead of bitterness – and then allowing that sense of connection to inspire wise action.

From this place we are able to spot leaders who are authentic and deeply rooted. Instead of ranting at these leaders as if they singularly hold all the power and we, who were powerful in our ability to work to elect them, are suddenly cranky demanding children angry at mommy. We encourage our leaders to remain unseduced by the shallow-rooted calls to finite power that surround them, and to stay deeply connected both to that deep wisdom and to the community that elected them in order to make wise decisions that affect us all. And we continue to stay connected, using that access to be the change we want to see in the world.

Whatever injustices we face in the world can be met from this deep place in a truly transformative way. So first on our Thanksgiving list of gratitude might be our own ability to access this font of quiet connected wisdom, grateful that it is possible in any moment to access this place.

But what if we are new to the practice and this access to the moment is just a pipe dream? Be with the pipe dream, see it for what it is. Let it inform your experience of this moment. Keep practicing being present with whatever is. Stay focused on the senses, noticing. Notice everything. Notice the judgments, notice the emotions, notice the thoughts. Just notice. Maybe it feels like a big tangle, a tight knot, inaccessible. Be with that! Notice and notice again.

When we begin to meditate it is like any new skill. At first paying attention to the present moment feels as if staying present is like trying to balance on the head of a pin. The moment we realize we’re on it, we fall off. But with patience, intention, compassion and consistent practice, we begin to notice the head of the pin getting larger until we feel present for longer and longer periods.

This sensing in to this moment is the practice that gives access to the infinite source within ourselves, the connected place that has gratitude for everything. There’s no hurry to get there. There’s just the practice. Wanting to be there, rushing to get ‘there’ only seals the door and locks us out of the possibility of accessing it. For there is no ‘there,’ only ‘here.’ Just this experience. Can you feel gratitude for the rise and fall of your breath?

We don’t have to feel grateful for the Holocaust, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, or the sexual predator living near the neighborhood playground. But finding wise ways to respond to them includes recognizing that the world is now, has always been and always shall be full of what the Tao calls ‘the 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows.’ Without the sorrows, there are no joys. That is the nature of earthly existence.

Over and over again in our lives we see that good times can cause bad things. A booming economy is perceived as a good thing, but it also causes overworked people to feel they don’t have time for each other and then they fill their sense of lack with purchasing material things.

And we’ve all had the experience of bad times causing good things, bringing strangers together as one people to address the challenge or weather the storm together. The yin and the yang freely flow from black to white and back again, and that’s the nature of life.

As we observe this flux and flow in our own lives and in the world around us, we may find we have a more open ‘don’t know’ mind about things. When I was younger knowing seemed so important. Now that I’m older, not knowing feels even more delicious!

There’s that wonderful old story told in Buddhist and Taoist traditions, of the farmer whose neighbors told him he was so unlucky because his horse ran away. They were surprised when he replied, “Maybe yes, maybe no.” Then the horse returned with a lot of other horses to fill his corral, and his neighbors said, “Oh, what great fortune!” He still answered, “Maybe yes, maybe no.” When his son fell off one of the horses and broke his leg, the neighbors said, “What terrible luck!” And even then the farmer said, “Maybe yes, maybe no.” Well, the neighbors thought him very strange indeed. But then the military came to the village seeking young men for conscription into the army, and the farmer’s son was exempted because of his broken leg. The neighbors now saw that healing leg differently, as their sons marched off to war. “You are so lucky,” they told the farmer. And he said, of course, “Maybe yes, maybe no.” And so the story goes on throughout life.

While taking full responsibility for our own behavior and vowing to do no harm to ourselves or others, with a don’t know mind we can be less outraged at the poor choices of others, and certainly at the inconstancies of nature. Events we might perceive as good fortune, we can vest with less power to enslave us. (Enslave us? Yes, because we say, “Now that I have this great job, this great relationship, this great house, how can I keep it? How can I make this happiness last?” And suddenly we’re caught up in fear and suffering again.) It is said that the greatest suffering is caused by striving for a perfect world or by running away in fear from the imperfect world we see around us.

Here’s a thought! Let’s just stop striving for a moment! Let’s stop running away from what is! Instead, let’s simply focus on our breath and the various senses. Fully present in this moment, we feel gratitude for just this, whatever form it takes in this moment. We access the place deep within ourselves that is beyond the 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows. Each moment, with all its sensory offerings, offers access to this vantage point, from which we recognize the fleeting gift of the wild, the monstrous and the wondrous nature of earthly existence. And we have ringside seats!

On this fine fall day, we might enjoy looking at this idea as a multitude of leaves flying around in the wind, each leaf in some state we call beautiful autumn foliage or dried up, dead, and ugly.

And we see ourselves in this turbulent swirl, sometimes in our leaf nature being acted upon and sometimes in our wind nature, causing a stir. But only when we are able to stand in the middle of the whirl, in the quiet stillness of the eye of this ongoing storm of life, can we relax into a state of gratitude for everything.

In this centered stillness we can see with fresh eyes the multi-layered dimensions of all things. We can see into the fearful hurting heart of the being who hates and hurts others in turn, and we can see the strength and resilience of the being who has been hurt but is able to access connection and compassion for all beings, spreading joy. We see those who would divide to conquer, and we recognize their fear and how they are conquered by it. We see those who see the unity and act out of that sense of unity for the well being of all. We see the natural disasters and are awed by the power of nature, and the fragileness of our brief lives, and the strength of the human spirit when challenged.

This rich alive moment that until we relaxed into it seemed so ordinary fills us with a sense of abundance. From this perspective, everything that brought us to this point softens in its wake.

We see that all those events we would not have chosen are now just stories, stories that we have clung to as proof of the veracity of our tightly held beliefs, stories that have left us scarred but still standing, or perhaps lessons we are still trying to learn from. They exist, along with cherished memories, only in our minds. And we can hold them lightly, letting them go when they no longer serve us, feeling gratitude for whatever gifts they brought us. Or we can cling to them tightly, empowering them to define and confine us.

When we relax into simple awareness of this moment, we fully inhabit our bodies and minds in a way that enables us to live an authentic, heartfelt generous and meaningful life. Accessing the infinite wisdom of simple presence, simple awareness, brings clarity and gratitude for everything.

Meditation Class: What to Expect & How to Replicate it at Home

Since a storm cancelled our class, I will use this week’s post to go over a few meditation techniques that are intrinsic to the class, but not usually mentioned in the blog. Should any of you who are blog followers like to join the class, let me know.

Creating a Setting for Sitting
We turn off our cell phones and give ourselves over to this time we have claimed in the day. Although we are a group of women who have many responsibilities and we arrive at the class at the end of busy days, we let this be a sacred time out of that busy-ness. We recognize that if we give ourselves this time, we can return to our responsibilities totally refreshed and better able to cope with whatever arises. We recognize that in this time we have claimed for ourselves, there is absolutely nothing right now for which we are responsible.

Body Preparations
Before we start our meditation, we each take a moment to stand and stretch whatever in the body calls out to make one last movement before sitting. Whatever movements we make, we do them from a very interior receptive place, sensing into the body, really feeling the muscles, the energy body, our emotional and mental state at this moment. We notice how we are arriving, and we use this opportunity to gather our thoughts into focus on this moment.

Some students find doing a little deep breath work helps to create spaciousness and release the thoughts and images that linger from their busy day, making room for meditation. Try it and see if it is something of value to you. Take a deep breath and really release it, adding a sound on the exhale if that feels right, really letting go of all holding. This can be a valuable tool, but one that isn’t entirely portable, since you probably won’t want to do it in an airport waiting area. So use it if you like it, but don’t depend on it.

Sitting Posture
When we are sitting, we want the buttocks to be higher than the knees. Sitting on the floor, this means using enough cushions to make it so the knees can touch the floor. This cross-legged position does not work for all bodies. It certainly doesn’t work for mine. When I am sitting on the floor, I use a zafu (round sitting cushion) on end and let it support my buttocks as I sit in a kneeling position.

We want our spine to be as vertical as possible, creating an open channel for the easy flow of breath. We want to let our skeleton hold us erect so that we may relax our muscles. If we need to rely on our muscles to maintain our position, we will find ourselves in pain later on in the meditation.

If sitting in a chair, it’s best to sit forward, with the feet firmly planted on the ground. The back can be well supported upright or not supported, but it shouldn’t recline, as this will hamper the practice. In our class in my home we are sitting on cushy couches that don’t create the best posture. We each take responsibility to be sure that we are using added cushions to support a more conducive posture.

Depending on the position you are in, if you can tilt the pelvis slightly forward, like a bowl tipping to spill some of its contents, this will provide the strength to maintain your position.

Let the skull find a seat of balance on top of the spinal column so that it will not be straining to stay upright.

If you have back problems or other physical limitations, find the position that works best for you. You can meditate flat on your back if you don’t fall asleep in this position. You can meditate standing as well, and meditators are encouraged to stand if they find themselves falling asleep in other positions. (Another antidote to sleeping is to have your eyes slightly open with a downward gaze. This is standard Zen meditation position, and is perfectly fine.)

If you think you may get cold sitting, since the body will be still for quite some time, put on socks, add a sweater, or wrap yourself in a shawl or blanket.

Awareness
When we meditate, we are not closing out the outside world but releasing all the boundaries within ourselves that keep us feeling separate. We relax into an awareness of our body, opening to all the sensations present in our experience. This will be different from person to person, from moment to moment, but in general we sense in to the overall energy first. We notice if our body is feeling energized or sluggish, for example. We can do a body scan, starting at the top of our heads and noticing where we are feeling tension. If we find tension, we can pause to sit with that sensation, make some small movements that might help to release and relax the tension, maybe breathe into the area. This is not a fault-finding mission. Tension is a normal part of life. Tension is a knot attached to a story, however. So to the extent we can ease our tension during meditation, we may relax more spaciously into this moment, beyond our stories of other times and other places. Tension anchors us elsewhere. The breath and other sensations anchor us in this moment.

Intention
Once we are settled and relaxed, we set our intention to be present in this moment. We set the intention that, when we notice that we are lost in thought or lost in a fog, we will bring our focus back to the present moment, the sensations in the body, the rising and falling of the breath. We set the intention to do this with great compassion, knowing that it is natural for the mind to think, so no scolding is necessary, and in fact scolding would simply take us off into another thought cycle.

The heart of the meditation
Every meditation is different. Letting go of expectation, we open to what arises in this moment. We notice sensations first and foremost, but we will also become aware of thoughts, moods, emotions as they pass through. Whenever we notice them, we expand our awareness so that there is room for all of our experience.

We may get bored. We notice boredom. We notice where we feel boredom in our body. We may feel achy. We get interested in the complex symphony of sensation within that sensation we had simply labeled ‘ache.’ We may find ourselves judging the experience, or judging ourselves. We notice the judging, notice here we feel it in the body. Is there some tightness that goes with the judging? We sense in to the tightness.

And so it goes. Whatever meditation we have is the right meditation for right now.

Mantras
Some students have previous meditation training, and typically they will have been given a mantra as part of TM training. Mantras are fine. A repeated word or phrase is a fine practice. But allow the mantra repetition to keep you present, not take you away in some quasi-dream state. Students often prefer these dream-states, seeing them as ‘real’ meditation. Whatever experience you have is fine, but for the purpose of our work together, we do Insight or Vipassana meditation. Going into a dream state is like a nice vacation, getting away from daily life, getting a good rest, maybe having some intense psycho-spiritual experience. These are all valuable in their way. But it often seems that people who meditate in this way are easily overwhelmed when they return to their lives from this mini-vacation.

Insight meditation is learning how to live daily life with joy, being present for all that arises, so that you don’t have to ‘escape.’ It is seeing the spiritual richness in even the most ‘ordinary’ moment of life.

That said, in our class we have some mantras that we enjoy singing out loud together for the last few minutes of the meditation some times.

Metta
Sending metta (loving kindness) is a lovely addition to any meditation. This can be the meditation itself, beginning with yourself, “May I be well, may I be happy, may I be free.” Then extending it to someone it’s easy to send metta to, then someone neutral, then someone challenging, then all beings.

The Bell
I happen to have the most deliciously toned Buddhist bell bowl, featured prominently at the top of this blog. When it rings it sends out such sweet sounds out into the silence, touching the depth of the clear pond of our experience. I ring it three times, and then we bow. Bowing is a way of honoring our practice, honoring each other, and showing our gratitude for this opportunity to awaken.

The Dharma Talk
This is where I give the dharma talk that I later post on this blog. There is often discussion that arises and the sharing is very rich.

Dedication of Merit
We end our practice with a dedication of the merits for the benefit of all beings. “May all beings be well, may all beings be happy, may all beings be free.”

Why In Times of Crisis Meditators are Especially Grateful for the Practice


As meditators, we are grateful for our practice that helps us more skillfully navigate this current financial crisis and all situations in our lives — not as observers untouched by the experience, but as conscious participants, fully engaged but clear seeing.

Here are some examples of the kinds of differences in our daily lives that we meditators often find between having a regular meditation practice and not having one:

Say you have a headache or stomach upset after looking at the value of your retirement fund or the daily news. As a non-meditator you might take a drug or try to distract yourself in various unskillful ways, and if it persists call the doctor in hopes of more heavy duty drugs.

As a practiced meditator you will more likely sit with the sensation of the pain, notice the emotional component and breathe into the experience. You may recognize the tension in the body and understand the cause and condition from which it arose. You may give yourself more spaciousness, be gentle with yourself right now, not take on too much during this period, and perhaps take walks in nature or meditate more frequently.

As a non-meditator you may not connect the fear you are feeling with the anger you are expressing to family or fellow drivers on the road. You may not see the connection between your anxiety and your difficulty doing your work, so you give yourself a hard time for being so stupid. And you may give coworkers, also affected by the crisis, a hard time for their suddenly less than stellar performances as well.

As a practiced meditator you will be more likely to see the connection between your emotions, thoughts and behaviors, and sense your connection to all other beings. So you will be more likely to take the fear experience, sit with it, and allow it to inform your interactions with your coworkers, family and everyone else, in the form of compassionate understanding for any unskillful displays they show in response to their own anxiety.

As a non-meditator you may compound your fear by getting caught up in incessantly imagining a dark future, rerunning images of the 1930’s in your head, thinking back over what you might have done differently in the past that would have changed this outcome or cursing the past actions of others in an endless loop of blame. This leaves you unable to be attentive to the current moment that requires your full attention.

As a practiced meditator you have trained your mind to notice when your thoughts get caught up in the future or the past and you can skillfully and gently bring your attention back to this moment, knowing that this is the only moment that is real, the one you can experience with all your senses and the only one in which you can take action. The future and the past are just plans, fantasies and memories, in other words, just thoughts.

As a non-meditator you may have your identity firmly invested in your material wealth or your position. As a practiced meditator you have a greater opportunity to begin to recognize that you are not your stuff, that your value is not composed of material wealth, prestige or how you make that wealth, that you – and all of us – are uniquely and universally valuable just the way we are.

These are some of the reasons why at times of crisis meditators turn to each other and say, “I am so grateful for the practice. I can’t imagine going through this without the practice.”

Of course there are people who don’t have a regular sitting practice who have found the same spaciousness of mind. Perhaps they do Qi Gong or some other form, or perhaps they have a naturally spacious mind. But for most of us, without a meditative practice of some kind, we fall into the habitual and unskillful patterns of mind that bring us ongoing suffering.

At a time of crisis those who don’t have a regular practice might say to themselves, “I really should start to meditate.” or “I need to meditate more regularly.” It’s never too late to start!

If you would like to learn more about getting started meditating, click on the link (right side of this page) to my website — Stephanienoble.com. In the meditation section you will find several downloadable pages that offer ways to begin. If you need more help, contact me, or find a meditation center in your area.