Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Climbing Mountains

During a period of transition in my life, I had the good fortune the meet a gifted therapist. In trying to determine which road I should take, she asked me a powerful questions which I have also come to adopt as a therapist many years later.
She asked me if I was looking back on my life in my old age, which of the choices in front of me would give me the greatest satisfaction.

The hardest times, like living through the death of a loved one, losing the illusion of stability we all take for granted, or transitioning to a new part of our lives, invite us to ask the same question-- which choice would give us the greatest satisfaction, the most meaning?

The process is similar to setting anchors for ropes when climbing a mountain or a tall rock. If you get too high up, your rope will catch your fall if it has been secured to an anchor. In life, setting these anchors of meaning can serve the same purpose. They can help you decide which steps can guide the path to your goal and remind you if your deeds are helping you along the way.

The difficult question in grief, in the ambiguity of losing a stable identity, is often "who do I become now?"

The mindful path can help you find a meaningful answer.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Why Synergy?

My new book focuses on how mindfulness can step by step help us to overcome the tendency to worry, obsess, ruminate, and get lost in our thoughts. In researching different aspects of what makes people "happy", I became convinced that there is a common ground, a convergence, of what goes into wellness and well-being.

Although I don't believe that "happy"realistically is a permanent, unchanging condition, I do believe that being happier and having more happiness, meaning, and satisfaction with our lives-- wellness-- is within reach for all of us. Interestingly, what goes into sustained wellness is not only good for individuals, but also for society, and our planet.

First and foremost is the regular, sustained practice of meditation. Mindfulness is very well-researched, and very similar across traditions and practitioners, especially relative to the more subjective experiences of Tantric meditation. Mindfulness teaches us about the mechanics of the body, and how stress and distress can be regulated by awareness of the body, inner speech, and mind. Mindfulness, practiced for around 20 minutes twice a day, everyday, can help us to step back from our incessant chatter and into the immediacy of the unjudged here-and-now.

Second, regular exercise can help us to nurture this awareness of the body, and help us to feel connected to our body. Modern life has found so many ways to alienate us from our bodies, be it in the form of cosmetics or microwave meals. Our bodies all too often become viewed as hindrances whose aging, decay, and needs stand in the way of some of our most desired pleasures. But pleasure is not happiness. Happiness with the body is in having a healthier body that we feel connected to, not in opposition from. Exercise, at the dose of 20-30 minutes a day, 3-4 times a week, can help us to get re-connected to our bodies, and invigorate the circuits of well-being in our brains.

Third, good nutrition. Each step builds on the previous one. Mindfulness is the foundation for awareness; exercise is the activating principle. Now comes the energy-- food. For the past 10,000 years, when humans can be said with some certainty to have abandoned a predominantly scavenger lifestyle, a plant-based diet low in saturated fats has sustained us. This isn't an exclusively vegan or vegetarian diet, but one that relies on sustainable, renewable sources of food, with animal products added for variety. Because this is our earliest recorded diet, it doesn't necessarily mean it's the healthiest. However, it does seem that every week, a new danger from our convenience-based, red meat-centered diet comes out. This modern diet and its convenience is killing us. A return to balanced nutrition therefore seems reasonable. In general, what's good for the heart is good for the body-- whole grains, daily fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and meat that's not red (wild-caught sustainable seafood, grain-fed poultry, if you must eat meat).

The synergy now begins to emerge. Mindfulness increases the awareness of the body-- the awareness of the body increases respect for the body-- respect for the body increases the desire to sustain the body with better nutrition-- and eating better can actually help the planet. The production of red meat produces more greenhouse gases than all the cars on our planet. And, as the swine flu/H1N1 pandemic has shown, how we "grow" our meat can have unintended consequences.

When we sit down for regular mindfulness practice, we are given part of the antidote for the alienation of modern life-- awareness of body, awareness of our mental chatter driving our behavior, awareness of how our actions and interdependent with the well-being or suffering of countless beings around us. When we crave what is unhealthy for our bodies, not only do we suffer, but also the planet and society suffer.

The synergy of mindfulness is that in making healthy choices for ourselves, we contribute to the health of society, and of our planet. And it all begins with being aware of this precious, fleeting moment, connecting to the belly breath, and sitting through the inevitable itches and discomforts of regular meditation practice.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The First Noble Post

Welcome to my blog!
Check back for future posts about mindfulness, wellness, resilience and the emerging wisdom of synergy to help heal mind, body, spirit, and planet. Here is a link to my first book on amazon--