Here’s how mindfulness changes karma. When you sit, you are not allowing your impulses to translate into action. For the time being, at least you are just watching them. Looking at them, you quickly see that all impulses in the mind arise and pass away, that they have a life of their own, that they are not you but just thinking, and that you do not have to be ruled by them. Not feeding or reacting to impulses, you come to understand their nature as thoughts directly. This process actually burns up destructive impulses in the fires of concentration and equanimity and non-doing. At the same time, creative insights and creative impulses are no longer squeezed out so much by the more turbulent, destructive, ones. They are nourished as they are perceived and held in awareness. Mindfulness can thereby refashion the links in the chain of actions and consequences, and in doing so it unchains us, frees us, and opens up new directions for us through the moments we call life. Without mindfulness, we are all too easily stuck in the momentum coming out of the past, with no clue to our own imprisonment, and no way out. Our dilemma always seems to be the other person’s fault, or the world’s fault, so our own views and feelings are always justified. The present moment is never a new beginning because we keep it from becoming one.
Ultimately, it is our mindlessness that imprisons us. We get better and better at being out of touch with the full range of our possibilities, and more and more stuck in our cultivated-over-a-lifetime habits of not-seeing, but only reacting and blaming.
If we hope to change our karma, it means we have to stop making those things happen that cloud mind and body and color our every action. It doesn’t mean doing good deeds. It mean knowing who you are and that you are not your karma, whatever it may be at this moment. It means aligning yourself with the way things actually are. It means seeing clearly.
Where to start? Why not with your own mind? After all, it is the instrument through which all your thoughts and feelings, impulses and perceptions are translated into actions in the world. When you stop outward activity for some time and practice being still, right there, in that moment, with that decision to sit, you are already breaking the flow of old karma and creating an entirely new and healthier karma. Herein lies the root of change, the turning point of a life lived.
The very act of stopping, or nurturing moments of non-doing, of simply watching, puts you on an entirely different footing vis-à-vis the future. How? Because it is only by being fully in this moment that any future moment might be one of greater understanding, clarity, and kindness, one less dominated by fear or hurt and more by dignity and acceptance. Only what happens now happens later. If there is no mindfulness of equanimity or compassion now, in the only time we ever have to contact it and nourish ourselves, how likely is it that it will magically appear later, under stress or duress?
Try: Setting aside a time every day for just being. Five minutes would be fine, or ten or twenty or thirty if you want to venture that far. Sit down and watch the moments unfold, with no agenda other than to be fully present. Use the breath as an anchor to tether your attention to the present moment. Your thinking mind will drift here and there, depending on the currents and winds moving in the mind until, at some point, the anchorline grows taut and and brings you back. This may happen a lot. Bring your attention back to the breath, in all its vividness, every time it wanders. Keep the posture erect but not stiff. Think of yourself as a mountain.
When it comes to creating a vibrant life with good health and abundant energy, I find most people want a silver bullet. We want just one thing we can do to feel better. In many respects, diet seems to be the easiest, or at least the first place people start.
But health, wellness and thriving are about more than what we eat. What we think is just as important.
There are lots of ways we can alter the way we think. There is therapy, biofeedback, and my favorite – meditation.
The evidence is overwhelming about how effective meditation is in improving our health. A 2010 article in Neurology demonstrated that health-related quality of life, including incidences of depression, anxiety and fatigue, decreased significantly for those participating in a structured 8-week program of mindfulness training. Other studies have found that meditation produces lasting results in the brain (increasing connections) and improves proper immune system function.
I’ve practiced meditation on and off for many years. I started because I thought that was what you were supposed to do to be a better person. But when I started practicing as a way to sink into my body, become in tune with my rhythms and ease my fears, I began so see the health benefits. I became more relaxed. Perfection wasn’t an all consuming pursuit. I slept better.
The good news is that meditation isn’t just for yogis and Buddhist monks. Anyone can do it, anywhere. And it’s free. Here’s a basic plan that I use with clients to get started.
When starting out, it’s best to find a quiet place. Sit in a chair with your back supported and your feet on the ground, in a cross-legged position, or however else is comfortable. You can close your eyes or you can focus on a stationary point. Take a few cleansing breathes. You can chant Om three times if that helps clear your mind.
Scan your body from head to toe, relaxing as you go. Then observe your breath. In. Out. If thoughts enter your mind space, notice them but don’t chase them. Watch them float by like a fish in an aquarium. If you are apt to follow a thought, thank the thought for coming and tell you will get back to it when you’re done.
If this is your first time meditating, start with 5 minutes. Work your way up to 20 minutes. If you can’t find 20 minutes, do it for 5 minutes, 4 times a day.
How often should you meditate? This is a practice best done daily. And yes, I know it’s hard. It can be harder than getting your booty moving. But the benefits are tremendous.
Meditation cultivates awareness. When we are aware we begin to see ourselves in a different light. We see those behaviors that are self-destructive. We see how we choose to feel bad. We see how our thoughts undermine our health.
So the next time you reach for that slice of chocolate cake that will leave you bloated and brain-fogged, try sitting on the cushion. Discover why you engage in self-sabotaging behaviors. Your body will thank you from every level.
Today’s post is excerpted from my favorite, and often quoted, Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn. This excerpt should be particularly useful when we are forced to get “naked with ourselves” over the next couple of days. (See Facing Our Naked Self: Entering the Universe’s Sensory Deprivation Chamber)
While it may be simple to practice mindfulness, it is not necessarily easy. Mindfulness requires effort and discipline for the simple reason that the forces that work against our being mindful, namely, our habitual unawareness and automaticity, are exceedingly tenacious. They are so strong and so much out of our consciousness that an inner commitment and a certain kind of work are necessary just to keep up our attempts to capture our moments in awareness and sustain mindfulness. But it is an intrinsically satisfying work because it puts us in touch with many aspects of our lives that are habitually overlooked and lost to us.
It is also enlightening and liberating work. It is enlightening in that it literally allows us to see more clearly, and therefore come to understand more deeply, areas in our lives that we were out of touch with or unwilling to look at. This may include encountering deep emotions – such as grief, sadness, wounded-ness, anger and fear – that we might not ordinarily allow ourselves to hold in awareness or express consciously. Mindfulness can also help us to appreciate feelings such as joy, peacefulness, and happiness which often go by fleetingly and unacknowledged. It is liberating in that it leads to new ways of being in our own skin and in the world, which can free us from the ruts we so often fall into. It is empowering as well, because paying attention in this way opens channels to deep reservoirs of creativity, intelligence, imagination, clarity, determination, choice, and wisdom within us.
We tend to be particularly unaware that we are thinking virtually all the time. The incessant stream of thoughts flowing through our minds leaves us very little respite for inner quiet. And we leave precious little room for ourselves anyway just to be, without having to run around doing things all the time. Our actions are all too frequently driven rather than undertaken in awareness, driven by those perfectly ordinary thoughts and impulses that run through the mind like a coursing river, if not a waterfall. We get caught up in the torrent and it winds up submerging our lives as it carries us to places we may not wish to get and may not even realize we are headed for.
Meditation means learning how to get out of this current, sit by its bank and listen to it, learn from it, and then use its energies to guide us rather than to tyrannize us. This process doesn’t magically happen by itself. It takes energy. We call the effort to cultivate our ability to be in the present moment “practice” or “meditation practice.”
Question: How can I set right a tangle which is entirely below the level of my consciousness?
Nisargadatta: By being with yourself…by watching yourself in your daily life with alert interest, with the intention to understand rather than to judge, in full acceptance of whatever may emerge, because it is there, you encourage the deep to come to the surface and enrich your life and consciousness with its captive energies. This is the great work of awareness; it removes obstacles and releases energies by understanding the nature of life and mind. Intelligence is the door to freedom and alert attention is the mother of intelligence.
Nisargadatta Maharaj, I Am That
Try: Asking yourself in this moment, “Am I awake?,” “Where is my mind right now?”
There is one question, I am rarely asked about, but I wish I was. Are there any dietary changes I can make to help ease my menstrual cramps? You bet there are. But before getting clinical, let me tell you my story and why I wish I was asked this more often.
Dysmeno – what?
Since 15, I have hated my ovaries and uterus. I just couldn’t make peace with them since they insisted on ganging up on me once a month and causing me extreme pain. By the time I was 16, I was on the pill for the sole purpose of easing my cramps, which were beginning to interfere with schoolwork. I still had cramps but they weren’t as debilitating.
In my mid-30’s, having just ended a relationship, and reading too many concerning things about birth control pills, I decided to go off them. Ugh. I was back on the ride of unbelievable monthly pain. I talked to my ob-gyn about it and we tried several things, including laparoscopy to rule out endometriosis. It wasn’t that and nothing was working. Instead, I was diagnosed with dysmenorrhea. I fancy term for painful menstrual cramps with no known cause. Great.
I decided to check my regular nutritional sources to see if there might be something I could do. They all suggested eliminating dairy. Ha. There was no way I was giving up my cheese. Instead, I chose to continue eating copious amounts of Advil each month.
I had completely forgotten about this prior research when I gave up dairy 18 months ago, following my multiple sclerosis diagnosis. (Since MS is more debilitating than my monthly cramps, I decided to end my love affair with cheese). Not only that, but my consumption of vegetables, especially dark leafy greens went from nil to 2-3 times a day.
I was so focused on MS that it took me a few months to realize that I was barely taking Advil anymore. Yes, it seemed my menstrual cramps were nothing more than a minor annoyance now. Holy cheese curd. Every woman should know this.
A Dietary Prescription
There are many causes of severe menstrual cramps. So my experience may not be the same for you. Nevertheless, I and many others believe unresolved emotions, stress and diet play a significant role in the severity of our monthly menses. There are many books that discuss the effect unresolved emotions have on our menstrual cramps. Christiane Northrup’s Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom is especially good on this, so I won’t address that here.
As for stress, you probably know that you can never eliminate it. However, you can change the way you react to stressful situations. Try yoga, meditation or exercise to help you change your stress response. Anything that will get your body relaxed will help alleviate the pain of cramps.
Unresolved emotions and stress response can take a while to have an effect. So if you are tired of popping Advil or want to have a loving relationship with your feminine cycle, try these dietary recommendations:
- Eat dark leafy greens. Dark leafy greens provide you with a balanced proportion of magnesium and calcium, which is critical to reducing cramping. Most of us are deficient in magnesium in part because we don’t’ get it in our diet (it is easily processed out) and we consume far too much calcium in proportion. All that dairy and calcium supplements actually leaches magnesium from your system. Greens will help restore the right balance that will calm your uterine muscles.
- Eat sardines or taking an EFA supplement. Essential fatty acids are critical for proper menstrual system functioning and easing inflammation that results in pain.
- Eat lots of high fiber whole foods. Ditch the processed foods and base your diet on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Not only will this deliver a good balance of nutrients, but will also provide lots of good fiber. A happy digestive system leads to a happy reproductive system.
- Nix the meat, dairy and eggs. Red meat, dairy and eggs can increase cramping in those of us that have dark red, heavy menses. Not only does dairy interfere with our magnesium absorption as discussed above, but it can clog up the lymph system which backs up into our reproductive system leading to cramps and PMS. Note, if you are iron deficient, eating lots of greens, especially spinach should be enough to offset the absence of iron found in red meat.
A Few Supplements to Consider
I’m not a huge fan of supplements. I believe we can get what we need from food, if we are eating good quality organic food. However, when our body is out of balance, supplementation can be necessary. If your cramps are severe, try these:
- Probiotic. Helps metabolize estrogen and improves gut function. A properly working gut will ensure a healthy lymph system, while a backed up lymph system will adversely effect the menstrual cycle.
- Evening primrose oil. EPO is not cheap, but it can be very effective at having an anti-inflammatory effect that can reduce cramps.
- Vitamin B complex. Vitamin B helps our body handle stress. Since stress contributes to the severity of menstrual cramping, be sure to get your B-vitamins, especially if you find that eliminating red meat is helping.
Our monthly cycle is truly a beautiful thing. It is unfortunate that our bodies get out of balance and cause us pain. In addition to all of the above, remember to take time out for you at your time. Don’t try and push through the pain, but honor your body and take down time.
Laurie Erdman, JD, MS, CHHC is a sought after Get More Energy Expert, coach, speaker and writer who inspires, trains and mentors companies and individuals to extinguish burnout and unleash their energized potential and profitability. Creator of the Burnt Out To Balanced SystemTM, Laurie’s mission is helping high performing individuals recover from or avoid burnout so they can accelerate their careers and create their best life. Laurie brings her experience in the legal, business, coaching and health fields, as well as her personal experience with burnout, to help people bring their best self to life and companies create sustainable growth through engaged employees. Visit www.LaurieErdman.com to download her new book: Burnout. Identify It. Extinguish It. Ignite Your Life.
Now. Right now.
Take a deep breath and slowly exhale.
Snap your fingers.
Your breath goes in…
In and out.
Look up. The ceiling/sky is
Your breath goes in…
The walls/trees are
Your breath goes in and out.
In and out.
Touch your arm.
Your skin feels
How does your skin feel?
Take off your shoes.
Beneath your feet, the carpet/grass is soft, rough, warm, cold, wet, dry…
And, your breath goes in and out.
coffee/grass/stale air/fresh air/food/dirt/cleaning products…
What is that smell?
Open your ears.
You hear birds/talking/arguing/the whir of a fan/nothing/everything.
And, your breath goes in and out.
Your breath goes in and out.
Your breath goes in and out.
Return to your normal activities.
Repeat daily. More often if possible.
Any questions? Any comments?
Music is the space between the notes. – Claude Debussy
To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day. – Lao Tzu
The flavor and the sheer joy of non-doing are difficult for Americans to grasp because our culture places so much value on doing and on progress. Even our leisure tends to be busy and mindless. The joy of non-doing is that nothing else needs to happen for this moment to be complete. The wisdom in it, and the equanimity that comes out of it, lie in knowing that something else surely will.
When Thoreau says, “it was morning, and lo, now it is evening, and nothing memorable is accomplished,” this is waving a red flag in front of a bull for go-getting, progress-oriented people. But who is to say that his realizations of one morning spent in his doorway are less memorable or have less merit than a lifetime of busyness, lived with scant appreciation for stillness and the bloom of the present moment?
Thoreau was singing a song which needed hearing then as it does now. He is, to this day, continually pointing out, for anyone willing to listen, the deep importance of contemplations and of non-attachment to any result other than the sheer enjoyment of being, all “far better than any work of the hands would have been.” This view recalls the old Zen master who said, “Ho ho. For forty years I have been selling water by the river and my efforts are totally without merit.”
It reeks of paradox. The only way you can do anything of value is to have the effort come out of non-doing and to let go of caring whether it will be of use or not. Otherwise, self-involvement and greediness can sneak in and distort your relationship to the work, or the work itself, so that it is off in some way, biased, impure, and ultimately not completely satisfying, even if it is good. Good scientists know this mind state and guard against it because it inhibits the creative process and distorts one’s ability to see connections clearly.
The five colors blind the eye.
The five tones deafen the ear.
The five flavors deaden the tongue.
Racing and hunting madden the mind.
Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching