the radical concept of ease: breathe in, breathe out


(Photo credit: In Her Image)

 

You’re probably like I was: you’ve already heard about all the amazing benefits that a regular meditation practice can bring into your life.

This isn’t just New Age woo (and hey, I’m a fan of the woo)–there are actual, clinical, documented benefits to regular meditation.

So why don’t you meditate regularly? Probably for the same reasons as anyone else.

Perhaps…You’ve tried it, and feel…antsy, like you can’t sit still. Or perhaps you’ve tried to make it a regular habit, but the day just gets so crammed and crowded. Perhaps you feel like you’re not doing it right, or like meditation has to belong to a religion.

How can something so seemingly simple seem so…hard?

 

Why It Doesn’t Work For You.

Meditation is a lot of things. Most people have heard a set of rules for how you’re “supposed to” meditate.

Confession? I’ve now spent more than a decade learning about this, and–I don’t think that there is one set presence practice that works for all people, all of the time. Astonishingly, this is a controversial opinion among some people who practice meditation–they see this alternative forms of meditation as a resistance against their “true” meditation.

The first time I ever tried to meditate was with a meditation group, in college. They showed me the way I was supposed to sit, to hold my hands, and told me what I was supposed to focus on (my breath, of course–and to keep focusing on the breath to avoid thinking).

That was the longest twenty minutes of my life.

I felt like I was going to crawl out of my skin.

Years later, I knew that I needed the benefits of calm and ease that everyone swore meditation would provide, yet I also knew–for absolute certain!–that I didn’t want to EVER feel the crazy, itchy, “crawl out of your skin” feelings that I felt on that meditation cushion.

So I tried something different–it started with music and a candle flickering. It became my nightly habit.

Many years later, when I was actually practicing a form of meditation from the Soto Zen tradition on my weekly visits to the local monastery, I would come to understand a few radical concepts.

 

RADICAL CONCEPT #1: There is not just “one” way to meditate that works for all people. Some people need to find their way.

Anyone who tries to make you feel like you’re doing it “wrong” probably needs to concentrate more on their own practice, instead of directing their attention on judging others.

 

RADICAL CONCEPT #2: Most people can’t go from our modern-day 100mph lifestyle to 0mph on the meditation cushion (and most people, by the way, don’t have a meditation cushion, and you don’t need one in order to meditate!).

It’s OKAY to practice interim styles of meditation that aren’t as fixed as formal meditation, and you can even get many of the same benefits.

 

RADICAL CONCEPT #3: Meditation is meant to be a communal act. This doesn’t mean it has to happen in groups, but it does mean that your meditation practice will flourish the most when you’re interacting with others who are also meditating. There’s a level of support and interconnectedness that arises that truly seems to be one of the most important keys for making a regular practice of meditation successful.

 

RADICAL CONCEPT #4: Meditation doesn’t need to happen for hours every day. Meditation in even small increments actually does provide benefits.

Click here to be one of the first people to learn about how you can establish a regular, 5 to 15-minute meditation practice.

 

I’ll finish this up by sharing that a few years ago, I had an experience where I was trying to share my love of meditation with all the best of intentions, and I was publicly criticized for doing so. It was an experience that, at first, embarrassed (okay, humiliated!) me, and later ended up being one I learned a lot from–particularly, I learned to clarify for myself what this practice means to me.

At the end of the day, presence practices are designed for us to come into more love, connection, and community with ourselves, at our core.

If you truly want to know who you are, try getting quiet with yourself, sometime. I promise, you’ll learn everything that is important to know.

living in the world of sensuous delight

My new phrase: sensuous delight

 
sen·su·ous. adjective.
1. perceived by or affecting the senses
2. readily affected through the senses
3. of or pertaining to sensible objects or to the senses

 
de·light. noun.
1. a high degree of pleasure or enjoyment; joy; rapture.
2. something that gives great pleasure.
 
verb (used with object)
3. to give great pleasure, satisfaction, or enjoyment to; please highly.
 
verb (used without object)
4. to have great pleasure; take pleasure (followed by in  or an infinitive).

 
* * *
 
Words like “take time to reflect” or “recharge yourself” are so over-used as to be over-worn, but nonetheless, this was what I knew my life was calling for me to do–and even though I’m someone who feels well-versed in the idea of rooting in how I want to feel, and using that to guide my life and my choices, I knew that I wanted nothing more than some time spent with tea and The Desire Map.

I already knew that my highest life value is that of freedom. I already knew that as I walk through my day-to-day, I wish to feel inspired, connected, affluent, and useful.

But at the same time that I was working through The Desire Map, I realized that there was something else to add to the list:

sensuous delight.

Mmmmm-hmmm. That means everything you’re thinking it means (and more).

 
* * *
 

It appeared like this: I came home after a long day and found Marie Antoinette (the Sophia Coppola version) was on television.

It was already towards the end, when Marie’s really vamping it up with feather plumes in her hair, and the cinematography is so lavish that one can feel the luxury.

I found myself riveted, delighted by the color, the scale, the camera perspectives, the lines, the music, all of it so…sensuous. I had been tired from the long day, but watching what remained of the movie, I felt more awake, more fully-alive.

The phrase came to me, quite suddenly: sensuous delight.

Yes! To delight in the senses.

“In my life, I cultivate sensuous delight! This is a core desired feeling!” I thought.
 

* * *

 

During my first year of graduate school, I often felt profoundly depressed. Then one Sunday, I decided that I would put on the movie, Amelie. While it was playing, I made cookies.

How soothed I felt–so much so that for the next few months, I would do it again, every Sunday: turn on Amelie, and make cookies. I’d eat three or four of the cookies, and then pack the rest up to give away, and for a little while each week, I felt okay, again.

I had never understood why this ritual was so soothing, until this recent phrase, “sensuous delight” came to me.

Sensuous delight is…the smell of cookies baking. The colors of Amelie, the richness as she walks the blind man through the busy Montmartre shops, describing to him the everyday simplicity of ice-cream and small children. The very sound of spoken French.

Oh, heaven.

Sensuous delight.

Is sensuous delight what’s missing from your life?

 

* * *

 

Now I understand.

Now I see…

…why I find conjugating Italian verbs, out loud, to be so relaxing.

…why, in high school, one of the most spiritual experiences of my life was playing cello in a performance of Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony–if you have never had the experience of actually sitting amid the stir and vitally-alive vibrations of an orchestra executing a beautiful piece of music, I highly recommend it.

…how it is that one of the things that I love most about running is the sweat, the way it beads across my forehead or slips down the small of my back, and how much I love the way I feel after a run, face-flushed, all systems returning to normal, again.

…why it is that my soul has never felt more at home than it has in exactly two places: Italy, especially in and around Florence, and where I live and love now: Sonoma Valley wine country. (Want to see what I’m talking about? Google “Sonoma Valley Sunsets” and turn on the “images” search feature!).

…how vinyasa flow appeals to me so much because it is like a moving prayer.

…why I won’t tolerate an ill-fitting pair of shoes (or any other uncomfortable article of clothing) in the name of fashion. If I’m not feeling comfortable, I don’t care how good it looks–I need the sensuous delight of walking into a room and feeling good in my own skin.

And speaking of fashion, now I understand why it is that the thought came to me, “These essential oils make every outfit feel complete,” something I dismissed as a bit of an oddball musing, at the time.

Living from the place of sensuous delight–why, of *course* the essential oils make every outfit feel complete.

Duh.

Of course, we are living in sensory worlds–cultivating sensuous delight is about how much we stop to appreciate them.

how “faux fear” might be fauxing up your life

What is “faux-fear”?

In my line of work, one of the biggest misconceptions that I need to work with is this one:

MYTH: That fear is a distinct feeling, known in the moment it is felt, and that it only shows up in that one way.

Just as there are many different flavors of sadness (depression, sad, melancholy, grieving, utterly devastated), the truth is that fear shows up in many different ways, many of them surprising. In fact, some of these could be at work in your life right now, and you wouldn’t realize it:

  • Doubt, second-guessing.
  • Persistent hesitation.
  • Over-work, over-commitment.
  • Boredom.
  • Chronic forgetting.
  • Chronic procrastination.
  • Sarcasm, especially as it relates to the possibility of change (i.e., “Don’t be so sappy!” or “That’s sooo cheesy!”).
  • Creating drama or surrounding oneself with drama.
  • Oh–this is a big one!–dismissing possibilities as “too simple” or “that won’t work” or an immediate “that’s impossible” rather than trying them and really putting 100% behind them, to see if change is possible.

 

You can also be sure that fear is at work when…

  • Everything in your life calms down, and then suddenly you and your partner are arguing, more, or one or both of you are suddenly more irritable–or suddenly, everything is “boring.”
  • You’re totally set on a plan for moving forward, and then insomnia strikes, you have a terrible night’s sleep, and the whole plan is thrown off.
  • You’re always starting but not finishing projects, because you “lose steam” or “interest” after you’re part of the way through them. Sometimes, this is just a sign that you like to start things and that it’s one of your strengths. Other times, this is a sign that fear is zapping your mojo.
  • You tell someone of your plans, and they pooh-pooh them, and then you don’t want to go forward with your plans, anymore. (A note about that: I can’t even tell you how many times, in a coaching session, someone has told me about this happening and we investigate it a bit, only to find that the person they told was someone with a history for pooh-poohing other people’s ideas. In other words? Sometimes we sabotage ourselves without thinking about it, by telling the most negative person around.)

 

Why “faux”?

I call these instances of “faux” fear because admittedly, these experiences aren’t *quite* like the “real thing,” that elevator-dropping sensation of being acutely afraid.

But “faux” fear will creep up on you. It will nip away at you, little piece by little piece.

Actually, here’s the biggest thing I can say about that:

99.99999999% of the time, the issue is really not paralyzing fear-fear, it’s the “faux-fear.”

Here’s the implication on that for your life:

If you start concentrating on sorting out where fear is at work in your life in more subtle ways–this “faux-fear” concept–you’ll actually be doing more for yourself to make long-term, lasting change.

Also, and this is another biggie:

Release the idea that because you aren’t feeling an “acute” sense of fear, there’s nothing there, no work to be done.

 

The first step to working on “faux-fear”

The first step is the one that so many 12-step groups have adopted: seeing clearly, and acknowledging the truth.

First, you’ve got to see and acknowledge exactly how the fear is showing up in your life. This is why hiring a coach can be so beneficial. No two people have fear showing up in exactly the same ways. I’ve had clients who have fear show up as chronic procrastination and they’re unable to get anything started, while other clients have a million to-do lists (and they get overwhelmed trying to manage their overwhelm).

Like so many of the practices that I offer, this is deceptively simple. It might seem like it’s not dramatic enough, but trust me, that’s just more Fear talking. Our fears know when they’re in danger of being replaced as a default response.

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