The Well

Tag: Meditation

Giving Thanks

by Andrew Shaw on Nov.23, 2009, under Archives

With Thanksgiving being this week, I felt it would be appropriate to talk more about gratitude.  I teach a contemplation on gratitude in my ten-week course at A Deep Well.  This contemplative meditation is about shifting our perspective, moving our focus from our problems to our privileges, from what we lack to what we have.  The comparing mind is a source of much suffering, of dissatisfaction, sadness, jealousy, resentment, anger, worry and stress.  When we compare, we feel that we don’t have enough.  But if we were to really notice all that we do have, these negative feelings are replaced by gratitude, appreciation, happiness, contentment, love, and compassion.  This is a great exercise to practice every week, but especially this week, as giving thanks for our many blessings is such an important part of the Holiday. 

To start, notice that you’re breathing.  Notice Being Alive. 

Next, try to bring to mind things that you’re grateful for.

In your day-to-day life, what things are you grateful for?

Most of the time we forget about how blessed we really are and we take so many things for granted.  What things small or large are you grateful for?  It may be that you have food to eat, a safe place to live, a job and a paycheck, or other comforts.  Just see if you can bring to mind some things in your life that you feel grateful for.  Even something as simple as your breath, your heart beating, being alive, may be something you feel grateful for.  Maybe you feel grateful for having a healthy body and mind, that you have abilities and are capable of doing many things.  You can walk and talk.  You have your senses; you are able to fully experience the wonders of life around you—you can see the beautiful flower, you can feel the warmth of the sun on your skin, you can hear the music of the birds, you can taste life.

Now bring to mind people you feel grateful for.  Relationships, friends, family.  People who support you, love you, accept you, care about you.

Bring to mind something that’s happened or is happening that you feel grateful for.  Something good that recently occurred or is happening for you now.  

If you can’t think of anything that you are grateful for, maybe you can feel thankful for the most basic gift.  There are people who are sick and dying… but right now, you have life, you are here, you are alive, and that’s a wonderful thing. 

If you aren’t able to feel gratitude, that’s okay.  You shouldn’t have to feel something.  The most important thing is to let yourself be as you are with acceptance.  This may gradually change with more practice and training the mind to notice more and appreciate more.

Just spend a few moments allowing all the things, people, events you are grateful for to come to mind.  And see if you can feel the gratitude in your heart when it comes, a feeling of warmth, of happiness, of love, of appreciation.  And let this feeling of gratitude, of thankfulness and contentment, flow in you.

Expressing gratitude and stopping in the moment to recognize and acknowledge the immense blessings that are constantly around all of us, creates more happiness, more abundance and more of the good things in life. We are surrounded by goodness. In order to realize it, we must recognize it, acknowledge it and give gratitude for it. The more we stop for a Moment of Gratitude, we will find less lack, negativity and discord.  We can begin to shift our focus from what we don’t have to what we do have, from comparing ourselves to those who have much more to those who have far less.  And with this comes greater perspective and happiness.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving, filled with joy and gratitude, and as always may you Be Well.

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A Taste of Now

by Andrew Shaw on Nov.08, 2009, under Archives

Last week, I introduced you to the concept of mindfulness- awareness of the present moment.  To give you a better taste of this, we can do a very simple informal mindfulness activity, mindful eating.  If you have raisins, grab a couple now and try this exercise. 

We’ll start by just taking a few breaths in and out.  Just focus your attention on your breathing.  Notice how you’re breathing.  Notice where in your body you feel your breathing (belly, chest, nose).  And just take a few more breaths in and out, to center yourself in the present, in this moment. 

And then we’ll bring our attention to the raisin sitting here in our hand.  As we look at the raisin, maybe we can think about the life of this raisin, where it came from, how it got here.  We can think about how this raisin once was on a vine, how it was touched and nurtured by the sun and the rain.  We can think about all the care and energy that brought the raisin here to us.  If you feel like it, you may wish to express some gratitude, some appreciation for that whole process.  

And then holding the raisin in the palm of our hand, we’ll begin to really notice the raisin using all of our senses.  What does the raisin feel like in the palm of your hand, notice it lightness.  What does the raisin look like, notice its shape, size, color, textures.  Then taking the raisin between your fingers, what does it feel like, sticky, wrinkly.  See if you can pay close attention to the subtle aspects of this little raisin.  Bringing the raisin to your nose, what do you smell?  You may even be able to hear the raisin, bringing it close to your ear, rolling it between your fingers, you may be able to hear a faint crackling sound. 

Then when you’re ready, bring the raisin gently to your lips, noticing the touch of the raisin to your lips.  Then we’ll place the raisin in our mouth, on our tongue, and without taking a bite yet, we’ll just move the raisin around in our mouth.  Again, just noticing how the raisin feels in our mouth, on our tongue, the shape, the textures.  And then, when you’re ready, go ahead and take a slow bite and as you begin to chew, notice the flavor of the raisin, notice too the sensations of your mouth, your jaw moving as it chews.  Notice the changing taste, size, texture and consistency of the raisin as you chew.  And after you’ve taken your time and carefully chewed, swallow the raisin, again noticing the sensations in your mouth and your throat as you do this.  Afterwards, you may now notice the absence of the raisin in your mouth.  You may notice a subtle aftertaste.  

And before moving on to take your next bite, we’ll just bring our attention back to our breathing for a moment, taking a breath in and out, once again expressing thankfulness for this raisin, for this little piece of nourishment, for this very moment, and for being here, alive, to take it all in.

Mindful eating is a very simple yet powerful demonstration of how you can practice mindfulness in the midst of everyday life.   By slowing down and really paying close attention to things, you can have a very different experience, hopefully one that is more satisfying, relaxing, interesting, and enjoyable.  Please share your thoughts about doing this exercise.  Did it feel different than how you normally eat?  What was your experience?  I’ll be writing more on mindfulness, providing meditations and exercises for being more present, throughout the year.

 Be Well

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by Andrew Shaw on Oct.30, 2009, under Archives

Mindfulness is sort of a buzz word right now in the mental health field, although it has been around and has been a topic of research in western psychology for over twenty years.  And, its origins are actually much older, almost 3000 years.  Mindfulness is a concept that comes from Buddhism and Buddhist practice.   

Essentially, Mindfulness is being fully present.  It means bringing full attention and awareness to whatever is happening in the present moment.  Much of the time, we are lost in thought, worrying over the future, upset about something in the past, or we’re just running on auto-pilot not really paying attention to what’s actually happening here and now.  Mindfulness is a skill, that can be learned, practiced, and strengthened, that will help us to be more present and focus our attention and awareness.  It also allows us to be more accepting and open to what is happening in our lives.

So how do we develop this skill?  Mindfulness can be practiced formally, such as through various meditations, such as traditional sitting meditation where you focus your attention on  your breathing or on a mantra.  This allows you to concentrate and quiet the mind.  Other formal meditations include walking meditation, body awareness, yoga, tai chi, and metta (loving-kindness meditation).  Mindfulness can also be practiced informally, in our day-to-day lives, by bringing full attention and awareness to any regular daily activity or a particular experience.  So anything we already do during our day can be done with mindfulness.  You may garden mindfully, wash the dishes mindfully, drive to work mindfully, wait in line at the store mindfully.  The point is not to complete the task so much as it is to simply be in the moment, fully aware and focused on what you are doing.  So if you’re driving, you’re just driving.  Washing the dishes, just washing the dishes.  You pay careful and close attention to the simple action itself.  Notice the sound of the running water, the feel of the warm water on your hands, the smell of the dish soap, the colors and shapes of the dishes.  When the mind starts to wander, you simply bring your attention back to just washing the dishes and to noticing the subtle aspects of this activity.

In addition to using your senses to be more present, try focusing fully on your breathing and your body.  Notice how it feels in your body to breath in and out.  It may be helpful to place your hand on your belly and say the word “rising” as you inhale and your belly rises, and the word “falling” as you exhale and your belly falls.  You can center and ground yourself in the moment by paying close attention to sensations in the body.  What physical sensations do you feel in your body as you move, walk or stretch? See if you can be aware of the sensations in your feet and legs as you take a gentle step.  Notice the contact of your feet with the ground and the shift of your weight as you walk slowly.  Try stretching mindfully, paying close attention to how it feels in a particular part of your body as you extend and then release.

Your homework for next week is to buy a box of raisins… I’ll explain more in the next post, when we’ll do a guided mindful eating exercise, so you can really experience mindfulness.  

Be Well

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by Andrew Shaw on Aug.23, 2009, under Archives

This post will be the first of many on the topic of meditation.  Meditation is something that I use both personally and professionally.  I have been meditating for many years, I teach mindfulness meditation, and I use mindfulness-based concepts with many of my patients in my psychotherapy practice.  Meditation has been around for thousands of years, but has only just started to gain more attention in the West for its health and wellness benefits.  For the science-minded, over the past decade, there has been a growing number of research studies on the effectiveness of meditation.  It improves focus and attention, increases present-centeredness, reduces stress and anxiety, improves mood and attitude.  It can be helpful for dealing with difficult emotions, thoughts, and pain.  On a deeper level, meditation can bring one insight, a sense of understanding, connection and well-being.  Many of you probably have some familiarity with meditation and maybe you’ve tried to practice it as well.  For those of you who are new to meditation, it is a relatively simple practice but one that takes much commitment and consistency to really take hold.  The aim is to become more mindful, aware of the present moment with acceptance.  There are many types of meditation and ways to practice.  Hopefully you’ll have a chance to come back often to the WeeklyWell to read and learn more.  Today, I’ll give you some instructions for a concentration breathing meditation.

Find a quiet, comfortable place where you can sit for a few minutes.  Bring your attention to your breath by noticing how it feels in your body to breathe in and out.  You can place your hand on your belly and feel the rising and falling as you inhale and exhale.  Just notice this rise and fall.  All your attention comes back to your breath over and over.  The mind will stray to thoughts, planning, worry, etc.  You may be distracted by sounds or sensations in your body.  For now, with this meditation, when you notice the mind has wandered away from focusing on the breath, just gently bring it back.  Notice breathing in and out, in and out.  It may be helpful to use a simple word to coincide with your breathing that you can say to yourself.  For example, you can say “rising” or “breathing in” as you inhale, and “falling” or “breathing out” as you exhale.  Just use your breath and your word to focus your attention.  This is the main point to concentrate your full awareness on.  It is your anchor or home-base.  When the mind wanders, gently come back to your breath again and again.  Try this for a few minutes.

Over the course of this year, I’ll expand on this basic meditation and offer all sorts of other meditations and ways to be more mindful, present and aware.  When learning meditation, it can be very helpful to have support and guidance.  Many communities have weekly sitting groups, to learn, practice and gain support.  If you live in the L.A. area, I know of many groups and also lead several at A Deep Well.  Please let me know if interested.  You can also post any questions or comments here. 

Be Well

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