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Empathy works. It always does.


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Scratching, unwholesome seeds, and mindfulness

It is 5:00 am at the second day of our Mindfulness Retreat. I wake up in the dark with a terrible itch on my left foot. I guess that it is probably fire ant bites from walking in the woods. The itch is overwhelming, it drives me crazy. I start scratching as hard as I can, until I feel it starts to bleed. The itching just gets worse.

After 10 minutes, I finally pause my scratching and attempt to practice “accepting what is”. I breath in and breath out of the terrible itch, and try to have an openhearted curiosity about what it is like to have a big itch. I do my very best to accept the experience, rather than to change it.

I have to say, I am not completely up for the challenge. I fail several times at holding back my scratching. Half of my brain would like to apply a sander to get rid of the itch. The other half gradually surrenders and succeeds at breathing in and out of the big itch.

Eventually I fall back asleep.

The next morning I wake up with less itch and a little more understanding about what I believe Thich Nhat Hanh means by wholesome and unwholesome seeds in our consciousness.

“Whether we have happiness or not depends on the seeds in our consciousness. If our seeds of compassion, understanding, and love are strong, those qualities will be able to manifest in us. If the seeds of anger, hostility and sadness in us are strong, then we will experience much suffering.” Thich Nhat Hanh

At the surface it might seem that Thich Nhat Hanh is making a distinction between good and bad, right and wrong, an instruction to only water the ‘good’ seeds. A moral dichotomy.

After my itchy experience, I see this differently. He is instead simply inviting us to be present with whatever is: to make our choice based on our most mindful vision for ourselves and others. If I want to keep my foot happy, I better stop scratching, even if the scratching feels good in the moment.

By extension, I imagine that if I want more happiness, peace, and love in my life, I might do better if I water the seeds of happiness, peace, love, understanding, and compassion in myself. If I want more conflict, suffering, or stress I might focus on watering the seeds of anger, fear, deficit.

When we are in choice about which seeds we water, we can be in choice of how we experience our lives. This is a practice with no right or wrong, just trying, and failing. Then trying again. Failing. Sometimes doing things that are not so wholesome, but feel good in the moment. We try to be curious and we try again. We continue until we are practiced enough to transform unwholesome habits into more wholesome ones.

Which seeds do you nurture within yourself? Let me know, I would love to read from you.


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Walking mindfully, walking peacefully

Walking Mindfully, Walking Happily

It’s March 2017, SXSW week in Austin. A week bustling with thousands of participants trying to get to their coffee, their meetups, their conferences, screenings, and social gatherings in time.

It’s also the week of the premiere of “Walk With Me“, a documentary about monastic life in the mindful communities founded by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Seven monastics flew in from France and Deer Park, California to support the movie. In the middle of the chaos of the Austin Convention Center, they led an hour of mindful walking. An action to nurture a sense of peace, presence and love to the event.

I joined once. I was excited to walk with the monastics in a setting so different from our usual private Sunday Sangha.

When I returned a second time, it was because I was so moved by the first experience.

I feel so touched to see random people ask if they can join our walk. I see them invite friends to walk with them, happy to talk about what mindfulness means to them. I feel delighted to see dozens of new smiling faces carefully take a step, then another, focusing on their breath, feeling their feet touch the Earth. We walk as a river, balancing our individual footsteps with the pace of the community.

“Happiness is here and now

I have dropped my worries

Nowhere to go, nothing to do

No longer in a hurry.

 

Happiness is here and now

I have dropped my worries

Somewhere to go, something to do

But I don’t need to hurry.”

-Thich Nhat Hanh

I am moved by how inspiring we can be when we offer our suggestions with Santa Claus energy: “Hohoho, wouldn’t life be more wonderful if you joined me for mindful walking?”

​​If we share what is important to us with an openness to hear a ‘no, I believe we are more likely to get a ‘yes’. Without the force of demand energy, our childlike excitement to share what we imagine is helpful to others becomes contagious.

What can you offer with Santa Claus energy? Which gift can you contribute to the buffet of life-enriching choices?

Let me know. I’m curious to read your special offering.


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Celebrating our inner child

EllykinderfotoHave you ever met your inner child?

I have.

At the Mindfulness Retreat I attended with my Thich Nhat Hanh Sangha last weekend.

I was enthralled by the workshop Gale and Curt organized for us. I valued the support for deep self-connection, the safety of our group, the sharing in our circle, the individual and pair work it offered.

I cried a lot.

And yet, I was not suffering.  I was not even sad. I was just touched to spend time with my inner child.

My inner child has a sense of innocence, happiness and excitement about life. She is curious and eager to learn and contribute. She is satisfied with where she’s at and doesn’t need much.

She certainly doesn’t need the forcefulness of a protector — a protector who lives in the fear and responses she created when I was around eight years old. A protector who still thinks it is 1973 – who believes she has to scramble to get a pancake before they are eaten by her siblings. A protector who still carries the fear that her siblings will start to talk over her as soon as she starts to tell about her day and stutters.

My inner child knows better.

She knows that was then and now is now. She doesn’t fear that there isn’t enough, or afraid that she doesn’t matter. She simply trusts that we share our basic goodness and that the world is a fantastic place – waiting to be explored and enjoyed. My inner child engages people and life with openness, authenticity and vulnerability.

I am so moved to meet her.

As I look at her, I understand Thich Nhat Hanh’s Second Mindfulness Training in a whole new way:

True Happiness: “…I can live happily in the present moment, simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy…”

I always thought that those conditions referred to my material well-being, my physical health, my marriage and friendships. This weekend I learned they do not. The conditions of my happiness are the unconditional acceptance and love I receive from my inner child. With her I can relax. With her I can manifest my true self and realize my dreams.

Contact me 512-589-0482 to understand and nourish the conditions of your happiness.


Thank you, David Nayer, for editing this blog at such a late notice. My life is richer by your support.


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SXSW: Did I climb the ladder against the wrong wall?

Did I climb the ladder against the wrong wall? Did I get faster to a place I didn’t want to go? Am I being a manager instead of an effective leader?

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” (Peter Drucker in: Covey, S. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, 2013, p. 108)

20160312_122328As I wind down from all my excitement and focus on SXSW and reap the fruits of my investments, I wonder if I lost some of my mindfulness and compassion along the way. Was I so rushed to finish all my chores (print business cards, update website, register for Square, install online scheduling tool, post Tweets and FB messages), that I forgot it’s not about what we do? That it’s about who we are and the intention behind our action? About the values we are serving, more than about the actions we complete or not complete?

I realize that in the hassle to get things done, I neglected my spiritual nourishment. I haven’t been to my mindfulness Sangha in more than two months. I haven’t read Thich Nhat Hanh’s writings in more than four weeks, I hardly sat on my meditation cushion since I came back from the Netherlands in February.

Reviewing all I did and didn’t do, AND all I was and wasn’t, I realize that at the end of my life I probably won’t care about the success of my business, the money I made, the fame I built. At the end of my life I hope that others will appreciate me for how caring I was, how I focused on connection, how I walked towards conflict and misunderstanding to resolve it, and how dedicated I was towards empathy and compassion.

And I make a new pledge to myself: “I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion, and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair” (Second Mindfulness Training, transmitted to me by Thich Nhat Hanh in 2011 with my Dharma name “Joyful Harmony of the Heart”).

That’s all I am asking of myself: To master the art of friendship in the context of mindfulness.


You want help to be a leader in your own life? Contact me, 512-589-0482 for a free, discovery session.

Thank you, David Nayer, for editing this post during your travels. I am inspired by your dedication to contribute!


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Mara pays me a visit

Mara brought me a visit today. Right during meditation.

He usually does that. I don’t know how he knows when I’m gonna sit -my schedule is rather erratic- but he knows. As if he is around the corner, waiting for me to ring the bell, then barge into my room, pull up a chair, and talk right in my face. Rather loudly too. I never understood how my husband sleeps through his barking, but he does.

Image courtesy to lennemi.files.wordpress.comMara rants in a non-stop stream of words: “You should do butterflies to transform your pain, not this stupid chunking along with your plans. You’re too attached to your ego, you don’t live from your heart. You’re not funny enough, your website doesn’t have nearly as much humor as your sister’s. You’re not giving enough, you don’t really love from your heart, serving without attachment or expectation.”

A constant cascade of words that undermine my self-confidence, self-acceptance, and self-compassion.

This time it’s different. I remember how Mara threw arrows at Buddha, and how Buddha transformed each of them into flowers.

Mara is just doing what he is supposed to do: to create a world of illusion, of suffering, of despair. Nothing wrong with that. We each have a role to play, and Mara is playing his to the best of his abilities. There would not be any mindfulness, any compassion, if it were not for the suffering in the world.

No mud, no lotus.Image courtesy to a3.urbancdn.com

All I need to do is to bring my awareness back to my breath, my thoughts, my feelings.

Breathing in, I know I am breathing in.

Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.

In.

Out.

Breathing in, I know I have feelings of loneliness, sadness, shame in me.

Breathing out, I smile to the feelings of loneliness, sadness, shame in me.

Breathing in, I know I have seeds of solidity and peace in me.

Breathing out, I smile to the seeds of solidity and peace in me.

I look at Mara. He looks rather cute on the tiny, red seahorse chair. “Hey friend, thank you for visiting me. I would love to hear what you have to say. I’ll listen to you after my sit.”

Breathing in, I know I have unconditional love in me.

Breathing out, I smile to the unconditional love in me.


 

You want help to smile to all your thoughts, feelings, and sensations? Contact me for a free, discovery session. I would be delighted to help, 512-589-0482.


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What are you doing?

Have you ever asked yourself “What am I doing?”, while you’re doing the dishes, riding your bike, listening to a friend? And then answer truthfully?

I hadn’t. I had heard the question before, but I always thought it was a trick question. To test that you really, really understood the Buddhist teachings. Like: “I am taking a shower, but actually, there is no self, so I cannot talk about an ‘I’. The shower and I interare, there is no separateness between me and the shower, so the shower and me are both taking each other.” And so on, till I got so lost, that I had no clue how the question was supposed to be answered.

Thich Nhat Hanh, Plumvillage.orgYesterday, I read ‘The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings’ by Thich Nhat Hanh:

“Sometimes I ask one of my students, “What are you doing?” to help him release his thinking about the past or the future and return to the present moment. I ask the question to help him be – right here, right now. To respond, he only needs to smile. That alone would demonstrate his true presence.”

My goodness, after all these moments of trying to come up with a smart, carefully crafted answer, I read that the question is only meant to bring my attention back to what I am actually doing.

I usually am actually doing something different than what I think I am doing. I am meditating, but I am actually planning my evening. I am in conversation, but I am actually watering the seeds of fear, disconnect, and judgment. I am writing my blog, but I am actually thinking about the letter of condolences I am gonna write.

And you know what, the question is a fun game! “What am I doing?” helps me to stop, breathe, and check in with myself. And then make a choice. “Do I want to continue planning for tonight, or do I want to pay attention to my breath?” “Do I want to water judgments, or do I want to use words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope?” “Do I want to contribute with my blog, or do I want approval?” The question opens up a whole world, that was previously unknown to me. It helps me to connect to and understand my attention and my intention. And that is a delight.

What are you doing?

—–

You want help pausing and making new choices? Contact me 512-589-0482. I would be honored to help.


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Don’t give up

Have you ever planted a seed? Carefully crafted a hole in the ground, planted it, and watered it every day? Have you ever felt that excitement, the anticipation of the moment the first leaves unfold on a warm, sunny day?

Image courtesy to Wikimedia.orgAnd then, after days and days, nothing happens? Sure, all the weed pierces through, happy with all the care and protection you offered. But none of the leaves of your beloved walnut pit.

You continue with watering, watching, weeding. But after weeks, you give up. Your planting program failed, the walnut is infertile, you move on to a new plan.

Too soon. While you were watching, weeding, watering, the walnut pit sprouted in the deep, dark safety of the earth. Your carefully crafted gardening plan slowly softened the hard shell. The roots started to dig deeper, the leaves started to reach for the light. And just before it popped up, you stopped with your care and protection, and the precious plant-to-be died, before it could manifest and grow into the magnificent walnut tree it was meant to be.

A friend complained that this mindfulness thing, this sitting meditation didn’t help at all. She suffered just as much from restlessness, depression, anxiety, and frustration. Hell, yeah, she even yelled more than before. She was done sitting on a cushion and observing her breath. It didn’t help at all.

Thich Nhat Hanh invites us to keep practicing mindfulness, joy, and compassion, even if we don’t see results right away. Some seeds in our store consciousness take a long time to sprout and grow into their potential. Some seeds are protected by such a hard shelf, that it takes patience and commitment, before the rain and the warmth of the earth finally help it sprout and grow up. Some seeds have been watered for so long, that their roots are strong, and they are firmly grounded in your habit energy.

The path of mindfulness, joy, and compassion is not about results, expecting peace, and opposing anger, depression, jealousy, and anxiety. The path is about loving to be a gardener and taking care of all the plants that manifest in our mind consciousness. Gently, patiently, and with delight. Looking at all the plants with a sense of wonder. “Oh, this is what anger looks like… I understand… Gosh, now I get what my neighbor is feeling…” “Ah, this is what craving feels like… My goodness, that’s what my friend must experience when she can’t stop drinking…”

In these moments of openness, acceptance, and curiosity, we can enjoy tending to our gardening with non-attachment and non-aversion, and trust that the innate qualities of love, life, and light will manifest in their own time.

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You want help to enjoy being mindful and open to life? Read testimonials of people who hired me as their coach. I would love to help you too! Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a free, discovery session.


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Smile therapy

Have you ever heard of smile therapy?

I hadn’t.

So I invented it.

Throughout the day I bring my attention to my facial expression and invite myself to smile. You wouldn’t notice the difference probably, my smile is fainter than that of the Mona Lisa, but I do.

Image courtesy to theartofchildhood.files.wordpress.comJust inviting a smile changes my experience. I soften and open up.

The Second Mindfulness Training “True Happiness” says: “I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy.”

So here I am, disappointed that I didn’t make the money I wanted, sad that my friend didn’t call back, scared that my parents will die this year, angry that the driver in front of me cut me off, and I notice the corners of my mouth turn downward in dissatisfaction with what life offers me.

And I start smiling.

I look around in my experience and notice this cognitive dissonance between my inner experience and my outer expression. Something isn’t right. I can’t have unpleasant feelings and smile at the same time. One of the two has to change to establish a sense of alignment and integrity. And since I am devoted to my smile therapy, it’s gonna be my experience.

Instead of holding on to my anger, disappointment, jealousy, grudge, or self-righteous indignation, I start searching for things I can smile about. What can I appreciate in this moment that aligns with my smile? Maybe it is the sun on my arms, or the mockingbird singing? Or the relief that we still live in our beloved house? Or the fact that my headache is gone? Or the joy of my Compassionate Communication Group last Monday?

And you know what?

It is super easy to find something to be grateful for.

Thich Nhat Hanh is right: I have more than enough conditions to be happy.

—–

You want help to find things you can be appreciative of? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary discovery session.


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Generosity generates happiness

Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that giving makes us happy. Since I lately struggle with feelings of fear, depression, and discouragement, I am willing to give it a try. In each and every moment I’ll focus on generosity and “share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need”, including myself.

Sitting as silent witness as Lisa Coleman is executed is my act of giving. I know my vigilance won’t save her life, repair the pain and suffering of the boy she beat and starved to death, or bring peace to those left behind. I only know that I can be with her in spirit and send her love and peace, while she counts down the last minutes of her life.

As I drive up to Capitol Hill I am noticing how appreciative I am that I am alive. How grateful I am that I can feel the sun on my arm, my hands on the steering wheel, my breath flowing through me. I might muddle through life, and yet everyday offers a new opportunity to live and love.

Image courtesy to WikimediaAnd as I sit and imagine her fear, despair, anger, and loss as she is strapped to her death bed, I feel my anger towards society dissipate. We are in this together. We are confused and lost as to how create connections that are inclusive, supporting, open, and loving. We don’t know how to reach out to those on the fringes of society, at the top of corporations, and bridge the differences. We make mistakes with sometimes horrendous consequences, and we punish by killing, because we lost sight of our compassion and interbeing.

I look at the cars stopping at the traffic light in front of us. I look at the drivers and the passengers and wonder who they are, where they are going, what they’re doing. I imagine their families, their loved ones. I see them as children, maybe happy, maybe unhappy. And I tap into this universal reservoir of limitless love: “May you be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit. May you be safe and free from injury. May you be free from anger, afflictions, fear, and anxiety.” And all I wish for is that they will never kill, be killed, or lose a loved one to killing or execution.

Sitting as silent witness when someone is executed and sending out loving-kindness to everyone in this world is a simple way of giving, and I feel elevated by it.

—–

You want help to practice generosity and giving? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary discovery session.


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I am never bored…??!

My sister tells me that she feel impressed and inspired, because I am never bored. I happily confirm the assessment. “You’re right, Saskia, I am never bored. Especially not since I started meditating. I have always something to do, even when I am waiting, because I can always focus on my breath and observe my thoughts, feelings, and sensations.

I feel proud, relieved, and excited that I have found something that brings me joy in every moment.

Image courtesy to WikimediaAs the days pass, I start to pay attention. To the truth of my experience. How utterly bored I feel on my meditation cushion, many, many times. Just focusing on my breath, and nothing else going on. Not enough distraction, not enough entertainment, too much antsyness. I follow Thich Nhat Hanh’s instructions:

Breathing in, I know I am breathing in.

Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.

In.

Out.

Okay, okay, I get it. Focus on your in-breath as you breathe in, and on your out-breath as you breathe out. But 20 minutes in a row???! I get the idea in two minutes, can I do something else the rest of the time?

Let’s try Pema Chodron’s advice. Sit up straight, tongue resting lightly on my palate, mouth lightly open.

Breathing in, I adjust posture.

Breathing out, I let go.

Way better. My neck needs adjustment. I need to straighten my back. Relax my belly. I have something to do, some distraction. Then there is a ring-tailed cat outside. Cool! I have to pay attention to her. You see them seldom, because they are so shy. Now I have an interesting thought. Let’s elaborate on it, it’s a perfect outline for a post.

I am never bored??!… I am bored all the time. Especially with what’s most crucial to my life: my breath.

Jack Kornfield has this story:

There once was a Zen Buddhist student monk. His teacher shared one practice with him: focus on your breath. The student practiced for years, and years, and years. Then finally he tells his teacher: “Master, I have practiced focusing on my breath for all these years. I’m getting bored. Can we add another practice?” The teacher grasps his head, pushes it down the water basin and holds it there till the student grasps for air. Then he lets him go and asks: “Are you still bored with your breath?”

That student is me. Learning to find delight in each and every breath.

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You want help to enjoy every breath? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary discovery session.