The Basics of Nature Mindfulness

    —
March 20, 2020

Ursasana: Bear Posture

Many years ago, a bear sat down next to me while I was meditating in the woods. It was an afternoon in mid-October in the Berkshires, and I had been mountain biking in my favorite preserve. I took a break from riding to enjoy the perfect fall afternoon. I was overflowing with gratitude. My life was going well.

I sat under a strong oak tree and closed my eyes. I asked Spirit to come and sit with me, to share in my heartfelt thanksgiving. I spoke the words aloud and immediately heard footsteps in the woods behind me. They got closer, but I continued with my meditation, until directly behind me, I heard a twig snap and a loud exhalation through a very big nose. I knew in that moment, in every cell of my body, that a bear was behind me.

My heart pounded, and adrenaline surged through my body. I was totally alert and aware. I very slowly turned my head to look behind me and saw shining black fur from shoulder to rump, close enough to reach out and touch. It was a large black bear. Immediately my mind provided options for survival. Get up and run away? Get up and yell to scare the bear away? Climb a tree? Those ideas seemed bad. Sit still, do nothing, and breathe? Yes, that made sense. And so I did. I slowed my breathing and meditated on the intensity of my body’s response to this perceived threat.

In my yoga I had learned that strong sensations and emotions, including fear, can be powerful doorways into meditation. Rather than turning away from an uncomfortable experience, I had learned to breathe into what I was feeling. In this case, the fight-or-flight response was a huge wave washing over my mind, body, and soul. Instead of making a big story about what was happening, I remembered to face the experience in all of its raw power. I had the thought, This is the coolest thing that has ever happened to me! I had another thought, too: This might be the worst thing that has ever happened to me! Many hundreds of hours, I had practiced breathing through the intense sensations of yoga postures, watching my experience without reaction and allowing things to be the way they are. All that training on the mat was now being put to the test in a pose I had never tried before, Bear Pose, or Ursasana.

For a moment, I wondered how it might feel to be bitten by a bear. That was not a helpful thought, so I returned to my breathing. Moments seemed to stretch into hours. The bear walked out from behind the tree and sat next to me. It was smelling me. Still I remained motionless. In time, the bear walked away. I turned to look as it walked away. It turned to look back at me. Our eyes met, and then it disappeared down the hill. I stood up and fell down, my legs weak and wobbly. I stood again and got to my bike. I climbed on board and pedaled out of those woods like a bat out of hell!

For days, I was in a state of profound shock and elation. My life was filled with magic, possibility, and power. Anything could happen. I felt incredibly alive. The presence of the bear stayed with me—even to this day. I have never been a thrill seeker or adrenaline junkie. I’ve never jumped out of an airplane or tried bungee jumping. I’ve always been drawn to more meditative outdoor activities, like canoeing, archery, or watching birds. But sitting in meditation with a bear gave me an unexpected adrenaline jolt.

While sitting with a bear is not likely to happen to many people, you may encounter other life-forms or elements that can help you awaken and experience a greater degree of aliveness. We long for connection with our relatives who roam the forests and wildlands, and we still find nourishment in their company. In mindful rewilding, we open ourselves up to the sensations and life-giving experiences that the land holds for us. Such moments of communion between you and the living earth can open doorways into a more magical, mysterious, and meaningful life. And it makes all the difference to have the right mental tools and preparation to help you ride the waves of powerful energies you will encounter in both the human and the more-than-human worlds.

When sitting with that bear, I used a technique we lovingly call “BRFWA”: Breathe, Relax, Feel, Watch, and Allow. You might use BRFWA on your first walk in a park or a wood that is new to you. You might use it during your first solo camping experience or when you see an animal that frightens you. I once used BRFWA when I got caught in a rip current while swimming off the Big Island of Hawaii. It allowed me to remain calm and to act skillfully, possibly saving my life. In any survival situation, the first advice is almost always to remain calm and think, not to react or panic. But how we are supposed to do that is not often explained. 

By practicing mindful rewilding, you are not looking to put yourself in a survival situation, though many of these skills can help you feel more confident and capable when you’re away from the conveniences of modern society. Inevitably, the more time we spend outdoors, the more likely we are to come up against our comfort zone or find ourselves in a situation where remaining calm and being skillful are necessary. In these moments, BRFWA can be a great ally.

I recommend that you use BRFWA regularly as a moment-to-moment practice. Using it daily will support your developing a general state of mindfulness. You can also use BRFWA to go deeper into a pleasant experience. Maybe you practice it when you take a walk or when you dip your feet in a cool stream or when you feel a fresh breeze moving through your neighborhood. Practice BRFWA regularly so that when something truly challenging happens, it is second nature for you, as it was for me when I had my encounters with the bear and the rip current.

BRFWA: Breathe, Relax, Feel, Watch, Allow

To begin working with BRFWA outdoors, try the following steps:

  1. Go outside. Find a place where you can sit comfortably and have a view of a natural, outdoor space. (This might also be the place where you want to establish your daily nature meditation.)
  2. Get grounded. Feel your sitz bones and imagine they are plugging in to the earth. As you ground down through your seat, also lengthen your spine and let it rise up through the crown of your head. Imagine that your spine is the trunk of a great tree and you are the bridge that connects the heavens and the earth.
  3. Breathe. Soften your belly, and slowly deepen your breathing with each inhalation and exhalation. If possible, breathe in and out through the nose. A good ratio for this breath is to inhale for four counts and hold the breath gently for seven counts; then exhale for eight counts, and repeat the cycle. As you breathe, notice the qualities of the air. What is the temperature? Is it hot, cold, or somewhere in between? How moist or dry is the air? What can you smell? Leaves, pine needles, the smoke from nearby fireplaces? In which direction is the wind moving? What can you hear? Your breath, your heartbeat, your joints settling? Branches creaking against each other, leaves rustling in the breeze, dew dripping to the ground, chipmunks or squirrels scampering, crows cawing, pigeons cooing, an airplane passing overhead?
  4. Relax. As you breathe, begin to consciously scan your body. Notice any places where you are holding tension. Focus on each of these places, as you continue to breathe calmly and deeply, and invite these places to soften and let go. Maybe your forehead is tense, and your brow is furrowed. Maybe your shoulders are tight and raised with tension. Perhaps your jaw is clenched. See if you can allow your jaw to relax, so that your teeth are parted. Invite your tongue to sit heavy and relaxed in your mouth, with the tip of the tongue resting against the ridge of skin behind your two front top teeth. With each exhalation, feel tension melting out of your body, mind, and spirit. Relax into the support of the earth element. Feel the earth beneath you and within your bones and muscles.
  5. Feel. As you continue to breathe and relax, notice what you can feel. Notice your body and what your body can feel—the air on your skin, the earth against your buttocks and legs, the light on your skin or coming through your clothing. Notice your heart and how you are feeling right now, not from a place of judgment, but from a place of compassion for yourself, and from a larger perspective, from your witness. Notice how the breath moving in and out helps you to feel more. This is one of the great secrets of yoga: the more deeply you breathe, the more of your own life you can feel.
  6. Watch. Be the witness. Observe your experience and allow as much space as you can for whatever is happening to be the way it is. Simply observe the land around you. Notice movement wherever it may be. Watch the play of light and the subtle movement created by the atmosphere’s constant state of motion. Watch everything, and be curious about any life you see, whether birds in the bushes or trees, ants crawling on the ground, or a squirrel leaping from limb to limb. When you come into the present moment using these steps, doors of perception will open to you. You will see the world through new eyes.
  7. Allow. Let it be. Let the moment be exactly the way that it is. Let go of grasping to your idea of what this moment should be. Let go of any aversion to things as they are. See if you can simply allow this moment to be as it is, and give yourself the opportunity to experience this moment right now in its pure expression. No matter the weather, no matter the terrain, can you allow this living earth and your relationship with it to be the way that it is? Moment by moment, can you keep letting go of your opinions, preferences, and judgments? It’s not easy for any of us, which is why we practice. This awareness is something to come back to moment after moment after moment, always beginning again.
  8. This is an excerpt from Rewilding: Meditations, Practices, and Skills for Awakening in Nature by Micah Mortali.

Micah Mortali

Micah Mortali is director of the Kripalu Schools, one of the largest and most established centers for yoga-based education in the world. An avid outdoorsman, mindful wilderness guide, 500-hour Kripalu yoga teacher, and popular meditation teacher, Mortali has been leading groups in wilderness and retreat settings for 20 years. In 2018, he founded the Kripalu School of Mindful Outdoor Leadership. Mortali has a passion for helping people come home to themselves and the earth, and he is finishing his Master’s at Goddard College on nature awareness and mindfulness practices. He lives with his wife and children in the Berkshires. For more, visit kripalu.org.

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The Place You Awaken

Establishing a place for regular outdoor meditation and nature observation is often referred to as a “sit spot” or “medicine spot”.  Like the Buddha, who found his own tree of awakening, we too can go to nature and practice being awake to the reality of the present moment.  This practice can also help us become more intimate with all the qualities of the land we live with.  

If one day I see a small bird and recognize it, a thin thread will form between me and that bird. If I just see it but don’t really recognize it, there is no thin thread. If I go out tomorrow and see and really recognize that same individual small bird again, the thread will thicken and strengthen just a little. Every time I see and recognize that bird, the thread strengthens. Eventually it will grow into a string, then a cord, and finally a rope. This is what it means to be a Bushman. We make ropes with all aspects of the creation in this way.” 

San bushman

Guided Sit Spot Practice

  1. Go to a place in nature that is close to where you live and that you can visit regularly.
  1. Take a few moments to center yourself, breathing in and out, and arriving fully in the present moment.
  1. As you are ready begin to walk mindfully with an intention to find a spot that calls out to you, a place you can sit and deepen your relationship with this place.  The spot should feel welcoming, safe and comfortable.  It could be under a tree, beside a boulder or in an open space.  Often, east facing spots can be nice for early morning sits.
  1. When you find a spot that feels good, in your own way, ask permission of that place and wait to see what comes to you.  If you feel invited, sit.  If not, keep looking.
  1. Once in your spot, sit comfortably and become as still as you can.  Imagine that you are melting into the earth, becoming a part of the land.  Sit for at least 15-30 minutes, noticing any movement, sounds, or other sensations and activities.
  1. Return often.

Find more practices for connecting to nature in Rewilding: Meditations, Practices, and Skills for Awakening in Nature by Micah Mortali.

Read Rewilding today!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes&Noble | Bookshop

Nature Meditation by a Window

With many people home-bound, we may need to get creative in seeking ways to connect with the natural world.  Sitting by an open window is one excellent practice for connecting with the outdoors, and it can be a powerful form of nature meditation as well.

“What is life?  It is the flash of a firefly in the night.  It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime.  It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”

Crowfoot, Orator of the Blackfoot Confederacy

  1. Find a comfortable seat by an open window that looks outdoors.  
  2. Morning, during the dawn chorus when birds are most active, can be a perfect time to enjoy your morning coffee or tea as you observe a new day emerge.
  3. Set an intention to stay present, letting go of thoughts or stories in your mind as they arise, and instead focusing your attention on whatever is fascinating in your environment.
  4. Sit for at least 15-30 minutes if you can.  Practice regularly to help alleviate stress, increase your sense of connection with your local environment, and awaken your senses.

Micah Mortali Facebook Live clickable image for guided meditation earthday

 

Find more practices for connecting to nature in Rewilding: Meditations, Practices, and Skills for Awakening in Nature by Micah Mortali.

Read Rewilding today!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes&Noble | Bookshop

The Basics of Nature Mindfulness

Ursasana: Bear Posture

Many years ago, a bear sat down next to me while I was meditating in the woods. It was an afternoon in mid-October in the Berkshires, and I had been mountain biking in my favorite preserve. I took a break from riding to enjoy the perfect fall afternoon. I was overflowing with gratitude. My life was going well.

I sat under a strong oak tree and closed my eyes. I asked Spirit to come and sit with me, to share in my heartfelt thanksgiving. I spoke the words aloud and immediately heard footsteps in the woods behind me. They got closer, but I continued with my meditation, until directly behind me, I heard a twig snap and a loud exhalation through a very big nose. I knew in that moment, in every cell of my body, that a bear was behind me.

My heart pounded, and adrenaline surged through my body. I was totally alert and aware. I very slowly turned my head to look behind me and saw shining black fur from shoulder to rump, close enough to reach out and touch. It was a large black bear. Immediately my mind provided options for survival. Get up and run away? Get up and yell to scare the bear away? Climb a tree? Those ideas seemed bad. Sit still, do nothing, and breathe? Yes, that made sense. And so I did. I slowed my breathing and meditated on the intensity of my body’s response to this perceived threat.

In my yoga I had learned that strong sensations and emotions, including fear, can be powerful doorways into meditation. Rather than turning away from an uncomfortable experience, I had learned to breathe into what I was feeling. In this case, the fight-or-flight response was a huge wave washing over my mind, body, and soul. Instead of making a big story about what was happening, I remembered to face the experience in all of its raw power. I had the thought, This is the coolest thing that has ever happened to me! I had another thought, too: This might be the worst thing that has ever happened to me! Many hundreds of hours, I had practiced breathing through the intense sensations of yoga postures, watching my experience without reaction and allowing things to be the way they are. All that training on the mat was now being put to the test in a pose I had never tried before, Bear Pose, or Ursasana.

For a moment, I wondered how it might feel to be bitten by a bear. That was not a helpful thought, so I returned to my breathing. Moments seemed to stretch into hours. The bear walked out from behind the tree and sat next to me. It was smelling me. Still I remained motionless. In time, the bear walked away. I turned to look as it walked away. It turned to look back at me. Our eyes met, and then it disappeared down the hill. I stood up and fell down, my legs weak and wobbly. I stood again and got to my bike. I climbed on board and pedaled out of those woods like a bat out of hell!

For days, I was in a state of profound shock and elation. My life was filled with magic, possibility, and power. Anything could happen. I felt incredibly alive. The presence of the bear stayed with me—even to this day. I have never been a thrill seeker or adrenaline junkie. I’ve never jumped out of an airplane or tried bungee jumping. I’ve always been drawn to more meditative outdoor activities, like canoeing, archery, or watching birds. But sitting in meditation with a bear gave me an unexpected adrenaline jolt.

While sitting with a bear is not likely to happen to many people, you may encounter other life-forms or elements that can help you awaken and experience a greater degree of aliveness. We long for connection with our relatives who roam the forests and wildlands, and we still find nourishment in their company. In mindful rewilding, we open ourselves up to the sensations and life-giving experiences that the land holds for us. Such moments of communion between you and the living earth can open doorways into a more magical, mysterious, and meaningful life. And it makes all the difference to have the right mental tools and preparation to help you ride the waves of powerful energies you will encounter in both the human and the more-than-human worlds.

When sitting with that bear, I used a technique we lovingly call “BRFWA”: Breathe, Relax, Feel, Watch, and Allow. You might use BRFWA on your first walk in a park or a wood that is new to you. You might use it during your first solo camping experience or when you see an animal that frightens you. I once used BRFWA when I got caught in a rip current while swimming off the Big Island of Hawaii. It allowed me to remain calm and to act skillfully, possibly saving my life. In any survival situation, the first advice is almost always to remain calm and think, not to react or panic. But how we are supposed to do that is not often explained. 

By practicing mindful rewilding, you are not looking to put yourself in a survival situation, though many of these skills can help you feel more confident and capable when you’re away from the conveniences of modern society. Inevitably, the more time we spend outdoors, the more likely we are to come up against our comfort zone or find ourselves in a situation where remaining calm and being skillful are necessary. In these moments, BRFWA can be a great ally.

I recommend that you use BRFWA regularly as a moment-to-moment practice. Using it daily will support your developing a general state of mindfulness. You can also use BRFWA to go deeper into a pleasant experience. Maybe you practice it when you take a walk or when you dip your feet in a cool stream or when you feel a fresh breeze moving through your neighborhood. Practice BRFWA regularly so that when something truly challenging happens, it is second nature for you, as it was for me when I had my encounters with the bear and the rip current.

BRFWA: Breathe, Relax, Feel, Watch, Allow

To begin working with BRFWA outdoors, try the following steps:

  1. Go outside. Find a place where you can sit comfortably and have a view of a natural, outdoor space. (This might also be the place where you want to establish your daily nature meditation.)
  2. Get grounded. Feel your sitz bones and imagine they are plugging in to the earth. As you ground down through your seat, also lengthen your spine and let it rise up through the crown of your head. Imagine that your spine is the trunk of a great tree and you are the bridge that connects the heavens and the earth.
  3. Breathe. Soften your belly, and slowly deepen your breathing with each inhalation and exhalation. If possible, breathe in and out through the nose. A good ratio for this breath is to inhale for four counts and hold the breath gently for seven counts; then exhale for eight counts, and repeat the cycle. As you breathe, notice the qualities of the air. What is the temperature? Is it hot, cold, or somewhere in between? How moist or dry is the air? What can you smell? Leaves, pine needles, the smoke from nearby fireplaces? In which direction is the wind moving? What can you hear? Your breath, your heartbeat, your joints settling? Branches creaking against each other, leaves rustling in the breeze, dew dripping to the ground, chipmunks or squirrels scampering, crows cawing, pigeons cooing, an airplane passing overhead?
  4. Relax. As you breathe, begin to consciously scan your body. Notice any places where you are holding tension. Focus on each of these places, as you continue to breathe calmly and deeply, and invite these places to soften and let go. Maybe your forehead is tense, and your brow is furrowed. Maybe your shoulders are tight and raised with tension. Perhaps your jaw is clenched. See if you can allow your jaw to relax, so that your teeth are parted. Invite your tongue to sit heavy and relaxed in your mouth, with the tip of the tongue resting against the ridge of skin behind your two front top teeth. With each exhalation, feel tension melting out of your body, mind, and spirit. Relax into the support of the earth element. Feel the earth beneath you and within your bones and muscles.
  5. Feel. As you continue to breathe and relax, notice what you can feel. Notice your body and what your body can feel—the air on your skin, the earth against your buttocks and legs, the light on your skin or coming through your clothing. Notice your heart and how you are feeling right now, not from a place of judgment, but from a place of compassion for yourself, and from a larger perspective, from your witness. Notice how the breath moving in and out helps you to feel more. This is one of the great secrets of yoga: the more deeply you breathe, the more of your own life you can feel.
  6. Watch. Be the witness. Observe your experience and allow as much space as you can for whatever is happening to be the way it is. Simply observe the land around you. Notice movement wherever it may be. Watch the play of light and the subtle movement created by the atmosphere’s constant state of motion. Watch everything, and be curious about any life you see, whether birds in the bushes or trees, ants crawling on the ground, or a squirrel leaping from limb to limb. When you come into the present moment using these steps, doors of perception will open to you. You will see the world through new eyes.
  7. Allow. Let it be. Let the moment be exactly the way that it is. Let go of grasping to your idea of what this moment should be. Let go of any aversion to things as they are. See if you can simply allow this moment to be as it is, and give yourself the opportunity to experience this moment right now in its pure expression. No matter the weather, no matter the terrain, can you allow this living earth and your relationship with it to be the way that it is? Moment by moment, can you keep letting go of your opinions, preferences, and judgments? It’s not easy for any of us, which is why we practice. This awareness is something to come back to moment after moment after moment, always beginning again.
  8. This is an excerpt from Rewilding: Meditations, Practices, and Skills for Awakening in Nature by Micah Mortali.

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The Remedy We Are Excited To Try in the New Year: Flow...

What are flower essences?

The goals of flower essence therapy include: ease in accessing higher vibratory states like joy and gratitude; enhanced mind-body-spirit balance, presence, acceptance of emotions and integration of difficult vibratory states; encouraging flow states like creativity; manifesting; supporting balance; expanding awareness of self and the Universe, ancestral connection and healing; and helping us to be of greater service to ourselves, others, and the Earth.

Flower essences work by way of the following:

  • synchronicities—helping us connect seemingly unrelated or previously unseen opportunities or happenings
  • indirect occurrences—positively affecting different environments and interpersonal dynamics
  • insights—supporting mental, emotional, physical, and/or astral awakening; new ideas, solutions, or information may present
  • physical changes—bringing up new sensations, shifts in organ/system functioning or in symptoms
  • emotional responses—bringing up new feelings or memories; stabilizing or releasing them
  • expression—inspiring artistic, verbal, and kinesthetic expression
  • dreamtime—bringing about new or recurring dreams, insights, and subconscious resolution
  • invoking intention—the more time and space you can offer, the more likely you’ll be able to feel flower essences. For example, taking them with a light meditation, a visualization, while doing yoga or some other kind of bodywork or prayer  

flower essence illustration

How to Select a Flower Essence

Flower essences can be purchased from a quality producer, or you can make your own. Here, I will discuss how to select and apply ready-made flower essence remedies. You can learn how to wildcraft your own flower essences with me in this video.

When you’re starting out with flower essences, it can be overwhelming—so many producers and so many essences! I like to encourage people to remember that it’s your relationship with the plant that is the most important thing in selection. Your relationship with the remedy is the co-creation with that plant. The more you work with flowers, the more you will be able to feel and trust this part of the process.

 

The following are some ways to begin exploring flower essences:

  • Depending on what issue(s) you’d like to address, begin by taking one to three essences that resonate with you. Many producers offer sets of remedies that have a particular focus. You may want to purchase a set to experiment with, such as the FES’s Range of Light, Delta Gardens’ Protection Set, Alaskan Essences, or the Bach Essences.
  • Consider flower essences that invite presence, relaxation, protection, and grounding.
  • If you want to study the essences more carefully, consider making flashcards or purchasing the flower cards (Alaskan Essences, FES, and Bach make sets).
  • If you’re curious to learn more about how a plant might connect with your ancestry, consider doing some research on how it was used historically.
  • Perhaps there’s a flower you’re curious about, or have seen in nature. Ask this plant if it would like to work with you.

flower essence

 

Here are five basic ways to select a flower essence:

  • Intuitively: A flower essence might come to you by way of revealing itself in nature, or appearing in a dream.
  • By dowsing: Using a tool of resonance, such a pendulum, to test for essences.
  • Through muscle testing: A simple way to muscle test is to make a ring with the index finger and thumb of your nondominant hand. If you would like to test for a yes for an essence, say the name of the plant and flick the circle with your dominant hand. If the circle holds, that’s a yes. If it breaks open, that is a no.
  • By consulting reference literature: Books, repertories, or flower affirmation cards.
  • Through blind testing: By drawing a card or randomly selecting an essence from a set. This method works well with children.

Any of these methods can be integrated into your ritual. Before making remedies for other people, it’s a good idea to spend some time with the flower essences yourself. The flowers will have much to share with you. Also, the more experience you have with the essences yourself, the better you will understand how the essences will work for others.

This is an excerpt from The Bloom Book: A Flower Essence Guide to Cosmic Balance by Heidi Smith.

 

Heidi Smith, MA, RH (AHG), is a psychosomatic therapist, registered herbalist, and flower essence practitioner. Within her private practice, Moon & Bloom, Heidi works collaboratively with her clients to empower greater balance, actualization, and soul-level healing within themselves. She is passionate about engaging both the spiritual and scientific dimensions of the plant kingdom, and sees plant medicine and ritual as radical ways to promote individual, collective, and planetary healing. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her partner and two cats. For more, visit moonandbloom.com.

 

 

 

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Building the Bridge Between the Heart and the Mind

How can we drop what we are holding on to, if we do not first look for the hand that is grasping so tightly?

Have you ever noticed that you have two distinctly different personae and tend to vacillate between them?

One is very rigid and concerned with the outcome of everything. It worries and frets, its gaze mostly downcast. It doesn’t rest easily, even keeps you up at night sometimes. It acts almost like a dog chasing its tail. It circles obsessively over every detail and unknowable outcome, chasing the same things in a constant repeated pattern. It is cunning, convincing, and tyrannical in nature. It is feverish and ungrounded. Changing, morphing, and flopping from one story or idea to the next. This is your unharnessed mind. The persona you take on when your mind is not connected to the compass of the heart.

For most of us, that’s the dominant persona. But the other aspect of you, as if by some divine intervention, will from time to time slip past the censor of the mind and cheerfully take over your being with its boundless and uninhibited spirit. This personality doesn’t worry. Its face is often lifted, looking in wonder at the shifting sky and swollen moon. Lips curled into a slight smile. It is fluid and flowing, as if it’s on a river of unending joy. It acts like water and reflects light. You feel buoyant. This is your heart-centered self, your true self.

Because most of us moved into our mind long, long ago as a way of protecting our hearts, we now live most of our time in that rigid, concerned first persona. Without even realizing it, we allow our minds to stand between us and our true nature. We have no (conscious) idea how much our minds are acting as a defensive block against our soft and tender core, constantly at work trying to find ways to keep us from feeling, from hurt, from heartache. The price we are paying, however, is that we are also kept from accessing source.

In order to be heart minded, we need to bring the heart and mind into harmony and partnership with one another. For this to happen, we have to train the mind not to fear and close off from the heart, and instead, serve our heart and implement its wishes. In order to do this, we have to undo our mind’s association of feelings of the heart with hurt and harm. In situations that would ordinarily have us retreat or retaliate, we need to remain conscious of what’s happening and choose to soften and lean into our heart’s center. Each time we practice this softening, we send a new message to the mind that signals that we are safe, willing, and wanting to live in this more open, more sensitive way.

Over time, if we are resolute in our intention to step into our heart, our mind will become less rigid in its defenses against feelings and tenderness, and gradually we will become more heart centered.

Remember, we are not trying to pit the heart and mind against one another; we are trying to marry their aptitudes.

Let’s say a wave of anxiety washes through you. You notice your mind begin to race and attach to fearful thoughts. The anxiety then morphs into panic, which courses through you and makes you feel like jumping out of your skin. You begin reaching for an escape, resorting to some form of substance or distraction that can act as a numbing balm.

What just happened? Because you avoided your distress, you are only slightly comforted. A part of you remains braced under the distraction, in fear of the next time this could happen. Your mind’s instinct to protect and defend has been confirmed.

Your heart is neglected and still aching.

But let’s say a wave of anxiety washes through you and instead of looking for an escape route, you go to a quiet room to confront the feeling. You let go of the notion that something is wrong and respond as if something very right is taking place. You know some part of you is calling out for your love and attention.

Let’s say you close your eyes and open your heart to the bigness of the feeling. You create space around it simply by looking without resistance at its contours. You know the only antidote is self-love and hospitality. The mind stops racing away from the distress, which makes room for the heart to begin healing and soothing the body. Your mind learns a new route. You are gifted with courage and resilience.

The only difference between these scenarios was one simple choice: to remain a bystander as the mind continues to ignore the call of the body and heart or to act in ways that support leading from the heart, so the mind can follow.

The two can be wonderful allies if we let them.

As we become heart minded, we begin transforming our human experience from something out of our hands to something very much in them. We begin to cultivate joy instead of haphazardly stumbling upon it when we are willing.

Each moment, our bodies are counseling us to make choices that bring us closer to love. The wisdom of the heart and body is there for us, always, if we listen and let it lead.

For a guided practice in learning to stay in our hearts during difficult times, follow along with Sarah in this video.

 

This is an adapted excerpt from Heart Minded: How to Hold Yourself and Others in Love by Sarah Blondin.

 

Sarah Blondin

Sarah Blondin is an internationally beloved spiritual teacher. Her guided meditations on the app InsightTimer have received nearly 10 million plays. She hosts the popular podcast Live Awake, as well as the online course Coming Home to Yourself. Her work has been translated into many languages and is in use in prison, recovery, and wellness programs. For more, visit sarahblondin.com.

 

 

 

 

 

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Let the Dark Places Be Teachers

FIND THE SOURCE

This is a tender exercise, a tracing of pain, the path back to the deepest wound. For myself, a huge hurt that I carry is often the source of great realizations and growth. I’ve worked with many different types of therapy for years to figure out where my pain stems from, and my curiosity has been my greatest guide in this effort. I want to know why I am the way I am, and my trauma informs so much of my mindset. Do you know where your pain comes from? Does it point back to a certain occurrence? Do you have only a vague idea, a slight memory, that seems to be the source? What do you do to familiarize yourself with the hurt you carry?

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There are countless, well-trusted methodologies to help us become acquainted with our pain, and when we dig into this work, the cave of our understanding becomes incredibly deep.

I like to turn my pain into a guide. I follow its directions, meditating on where it all began. It’s at these starting points where I find the most potent feelings. My heartbreak from a failed relationship will often give me a chance to let out my sadness in verse, but not before I try to unpack the whole story. Only when I attempt to understand the many aspects of this failed relationship can I fully feel it and pay tribute to it. I begin this kind of investigation by rambling in my journal. Then, if I feel inclined, I might pull the heart of my understanding into poetic form. I recently wrote a book of poetry called Help in the Dark Season, which focuses on my childhood trauma, the way it affects my adult relationships, and the modes of healing that have helped me grow. Writing this book was extremely hard, but after I finished, I felt like I’d turned coal into gold. I pulled back the curtain inside myself and let light do its thing. Now I not only get to feel the inner effects of my work but I’m also able to witness the importance of sharing this book with others, the way my words act as a key to unlock their personal process of healing. The result of this revealing has been an honesty and a newness that I couldn’t have reached without the alchemy of writing poetry.

I urge you to do this hard work with your trauma, if you’re able. Give yourself permission to move into the realm of blame. Maybe move beyond it toward forgiveness.

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Our traumas create our fears, and our responses to these fears can be as poetic and beautiful as we make them. Let your pain be a source of inspiration, turn this heavy load into poetry, own it, use it, and take as much from it now as it has taken from you in the past.

Close your eyes and meditate on the hidden ache you carry. I like to start with my childhood because that’s what makes sense for me, but you can start anywhere along your timeline. Do you see any images attached to your discomfort? Can you try and put words to your grief and your loss? Who hurt you? What was their childhood like? Why did they do what they did? Make use of the pain of being alive. See the universality in whatever caused you harm, and focus on the connection to others who have survived similar experiences. When I sit with my wounds, I find my resilience, and that makes me want to linger there, gather up the lessons left in the aftermath, and use them for my own creation. Writing about my pain enables me to claim it as my own, and this ownership is empowering.

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How can you show your reader your personal methods of self-care in a poetic way? Maybe start by writing a list of poems or even song lyrics that have been healing for you in the past. I have poems dog-eared and underlined in every book on my shelf, and I’ll pull them out in a moment of need. They’re my reminders that yes, it is indeed hard to be alive for everyone.

This is an excerpt from Every Day Is A Poem: Find Clarity, Feel Relief, and See Beauty in Every Moment by Jacqueline Suskin.

jacqueline suskin

Jacqueline Suskin has composed over forty thousand poems with her ongoing improvisational writing project, Poem Store. She is the author of six books, including Help in the Dark Season. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, the Atlantic, and Yes! magazine. She lives in Northern California. For more, see jacquelinesuskin.com.

 

 

 

 

 

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