March 28, 2011

Meditation Practice - The Basics

The #1 biggest misconception about meditation practice is that it involves clearing the mind of thought, like you sit down and pull some kind of meditation emergency brake. Or at the very least, if you can’t stop thought altogether, you should at least have only peaceful, positive thoughts. Susan Piver 
There are many ways to meditate, many schools that teach different techniques, and certainly a history and an association with various spiritual and religious practices. There are also misconceptions about the practice. So many people I have spoken with say, "I could never meditate", "I can't be still", "I can't not think," or "I'm just not calm enough." Defeated before they begin. So, here are some foolproof steps to an easy beginning practice.

Cardiologist Dr Herbert Benson simplified meditation for his patients through a technique he termed The Relaxation Response.  His book by the same name, originally published in the 1970s, has become a perennial best-seller.
The Relaxation Response

The Relaxation Response distilled the basics of meditation practice to the following four components:

1. Sitting in a Comfortable Position in a 
2. Quiet Environment
3. Using A Mental Device - a focal point; an object to look at like a candle, or a word or phrase to repeat (called a Mantra)
To shift the mind from logical, externally oriented thought, there should be a constant stimulus: a sound, word, or phrase repeated silently or aloud; or fixing gazing at an object.   Since one of the major difficulties in the elicitation of the Relaxation Response is "mind wandering," the repetition of the word or phrase is a way to help break the train of distracting thoughts.  Your eyes are usually closed if you are using a repeated sound or word; of course your eyes are open if you are gazing. Attention to the normal rhythm of breathing is also useful and enhances the repetition of the sound or the word.
4. A Passive Attitude
When distracting thoughts occur, they are to be disregarded and attention redirected to the repetition or gazing; you should not worry about how well you are performing the technique, because this may well prevent the Relaxation Response from occurring.   Adopt a "let it happen" attitude.  The passive attitude is perhaps the most important element in eliciting the Relaxation Response.  Distracting thoughts will occur.  Do not worry about them.  When these thoughts do present themselves and you become aware of them, simply return to the repetition of the mental device.  These other thoughts do not mean you are performing the technique incorrectly.  They are to be expected."

March 25, 2011

Photo Friday

A mother-daughter project.
We both post a photo every Friday - no description, just a moment from the week we want to capture and remember.

Inspired by SouleMama's {this moment} and 3191 (blog and book).


March 24, 2011

Meditation Inspiration - more Gail Straub

In a previous post, I mentioned Gail Straub's book Circle of Compassion. I am still finding myself inspired by the short meditations and gentle reminders throughout this little gem of a book.

I don't spend a lot of time in the car, but usually when I am in the car alone, I listen to news or music. Today, I decided on silence. This evening I was leafing through Gail's book, and this page caught my eye:
"When I am alone driving in my car I use this as quiet time; I empty out, I pray, I remember what I am grateful for, I am quiet."
The silence was good. My mind was still busy within that, but I feel I am more conscious of that busyness now. Meditation has helped give me that moment of awareness about what's going on in my head, and at that moment I have a choice to continue or not. When I fill the quiet with music or news, it distracts me, and I don't notice my thoughts. That moment of awareness doesn't come, or is easily missed. The quiet is important for me. I strive to be aware even in the loud and distracting moments, but Gail reminds me to create quiet in-between time in which to practice bringing greater awareness from the meditation cushion into the rest of my life.

March 21, 2011

Book Review - Through A Narrow Window

When our family traveled in Eastern Europe in the early 1990's, our Prague pen-pals took us to the Jewish Cemetery and the Jewish Museum. In the small museum was a powerful exhibit of art made by children in concentration camps. The impact has never left me and I have always questioned how such artwork could have been made under the circumstances and how it was preserved. 

I chose to review Through A Narrow Window via Story Circle Book Reviews because it not only answers the questions I've had but has more artwork and background about the art teacher, Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, and her students.

Below is an excerpted version of my review now posted on Story Circle.

Through a Narrow Window: Friedl Dicker-Brandeis and Her TerezĂ­n Students
Through a Narrow Window
by Linney Wix

Univ. of New Mexico Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-826-34827-2.
Reviewed by Barbara L. Heller

Posted on 03/08/2010
Through a Narrow Window: Friedl Dicker-Brandeis and Her Terezin Students is a beautiful book about a heart-breaking story. Friedl Dicker-Brandeis (1898-1944) was an artist, facing the usual tribulations of being a female artist in the early 1900s, but she faced a bigger struggle being a Jew in Czechoslovakia when the Germans came to power in the 1940s.
The author, Linney Wix, discusses Friedl Dicker-Brandeis' background as an art student and art teacher and the famous artists who taught and influenced her. The primary focus of the book is on Dicker-Brandeis' time in the Terezin concentration camp, which was created as a "model ghetto" for Nazi propaganda but in reality was a way station to the gas chambers. Friedl Dicker-Brandeis was interred in Terezin at the end of 1942 and was killed at Auschwitz less than two years later.
The fairy tale part of the story concentrates on Dicker-Brandeis' inspired teaching of art to children in the concentration camp and her wherewithal to hide two suitcases full of the artworks before she was transported to her death. This stash was found after the end of WW2.

Through a Narrow Window can serve many audiences. It is a beautiful art book filled with reproductions of work produced by Friedl Dicker-Brandeis and her Terezin students. Wix' essays illuminate Dicker-Brandeis' dynamic theories of art education and art therapy; and, Through a Narrow Window also honors a talented artist and Holocaust heroine.

Dr. Linney Wix is an Associate Professor in the Art Education Program. She received her Ph.D. in Educational Thought and Socio-Cultural Studies from the University of New Mexico (2003), her M.Ed. in expressive therapies from Lesley College (1980) and her B.A. in social work and B.F.A. from the University of Montana. Linney's creative work is in painting and ceramics. She is a Registered Art Therapist (A.T.R.) with the American Art Therapy Association and a licensed professional art therapist (L.P.A.T.) in New Mexico. 

March 18, 2011

Photo Friday

A mother-daughter project.
We both post a photo every Friday - no description, just a moment from the week we want to capture and remember.

Inspired by SouleMama's {this moment} and 3191 (blog and book).


March 16, 2011

Inspired by MLK

“We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
                                                                        ~Martin Luther King

There are a lot of crazy things going on around the world of late. A lot to get angry, worried, and scared about. How do we deal with all of it? Many of us can't, so at some point we just tune out.

I know for myself that I need to limit my intake of news and other media. I like to know a bit about what is going on, but not too much. For me, the best way to stay positive is to keep focused on the things I can do something about.

That's what this quote reminds and inspires me to do - focus on people and on building a person-oriented society in my own community.

How do you cope with bad news overload? Who or what inspires you to focus on the positive and to take action where you can?

March 14, 2011

Monday's Musings - More About Meditation

Meditation and I have been long-term acquaintances. During the 1970s some of my friends and colleagues studied Transcendental Meditation(TM). I was too busy being busy then and thought that politics and personal growth were not good bed-mates. I was also turned off by the fact that TM charged people for their secret mantras, phrases to be repeated while they meditated. I have changed my perspective over the years and was influenced by Gail Straub and her book The Rhythm of Compassion -- which talks about balancing the focus between self-care and social action.

                                                  The Rhythm of Compassion: Caring for Self, Connecting with Society
 "Without the in-breath of self care and reflection we can't sustain our involvement with the suffering of the world, nor do we have the clarity of heart and mind required for the complex challenges we face. On the other hand, without the out-breath of compassionate engagement with society our inner work implodes upon itself leading to the dead end of narcissism and spiritual emptiness." Gail Straub
This year, I used my participation in Winter Feast for the Soul to jump start a routine of daily meditation. My commitment for the 40 days was to sit quietly for 15-20 minutes 5 times a week. Over the weeks, without too much effort, I upped that to 30 minutes 6 or 7 times a week (missing one session every week and a half or so, mostly on the morning that I have to leave early for the Binghamton office). The most difficult part is choosing and maintaining a consistent time. Although I thought it would be too difficult to fit meditation into my morning schedule, I have found that if I leave it till later in the day…it often doesn’t happen and it gnaws at me during the day, as a “have-to” on my to-do list. So after my other morning ritual -- writing Morning Pages while I drink a cup of coffee, I go into another room and sit cross-legged on a cushion. Sometimes with a meditation CD and often just quietly, trying to follow my breath.

During my first sits in January I felt flooded by a rush of thoughts…that I could compare to the rowdy
crowd waiting outside Walmart on Black Friday, jostling and pushing to be first. After a few weeks, my ever-present thoughts got less unruly, and seemed willing to line up more calmly like a movie theater ticket queue, one at a time but close together.

I’ll write more about meditation and my practice over the next few months. Meanwhile, if you are interested in learning more about meditation here are two short free online videos:

Susan Piver offers a free Introduction to Meditation class on her website including this 10-minute video.

And this under 3 minute video is an amusing reminder of how difficult it can be to sit quietly.
Be sure to check out the rest of this WildMind website which has some serious and helpful meditation suggestions as well.

March 11, 2011

Photo Friday

A mother-daughter project.
We both post a photo every Friday - no description, just a moment from the week we want to capture and remember.

Inspired by SouleMama's {this moment} and 3191 (blog and book).



March 9, 2011

Travel Books

I've been thinking about travel-related reading recently, due to being asked to participate in a travel-themed book club and also a friend's recent post on facebook listing his favorite travel narratives and requesting suggestions.

His list of books included Blue HighwaysThe Great Railway BazaarThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Travels with Charley, and Walden.

Travels with Charley in Search of America: (Centennial Edition)Blue Highways: A Journey into AmericaPlanetwalker: 22 Years of Walking. 17 Years of Silence.Climbing Free: My Life in the Vertical WorldMiles from Nowhere: A Round the World Bicycle AdventureMy Journey to Lhasa: The Classic Story of the Only Western Woman Who Succeeded in Entering the Forbidden City

The suggestions I made were Planetwalker, Climbing Free, Miles from Nowhere, My Journey to Lhasa, My Life in France, Beyond the Sky and the Earth plus some Edward Abbey and Kerouac.

The travel-themed book club I joined (which has not yet met to discuss a book) will be reading Tales of a Female Nomad, The Motorcycle Diaries, and The Unbearable Lightness of Being over the next few months.

I also had a conversation with Dan about some of his favorite travel books and he listed several fiction picks, including The Hobbit and The Crossing (and others by Cormac McCarthy).

For me this brought up the question, what is a travel book?

The first thing that comes to my mind is a non-fiction, first person, adventure narrative of a trip of some sort. Looking at some of these selections though, it is clear that the genre is much broader than that and definitely includes fiction, and possibly even stories about a place written by a local rather than a traveler.

When I asked one of the owners of RiverRead, our local independent bookstore, about this, she said that when people come in looking for travel guides for a specific country, she typically recommends one guidebook (such as Lonely Planet) plus one work of fiction set in the country (such as Little Bee). I like this idea and plan to expand my own list of favorite travel narratives to reflect these broader lines.

Little Bee: A NovelNigeria 2nd (Bradt Travel Guide Nigeria)

I also found a couple of lists online of "must read" travel books including The 86 Greatest Travel Books of All Time from Conde Nast Traveler. Interestingly, I think I've only read 2 of the 86, which just goes to show how broadly interpreted and just plain huge this category is.

What are your favorite travel narratives?

March 7, 2011

Monday's Forecast

Yesterday morning there was no snow on this picnic table (right outside our back door) and it was raining. Overnight we have gotten 12 - 15 inches and still coming. It had warmed enough that it seemed like Maple Syrup season had begun ( the period of cold nights and warm days that start the sap running) and Alan had collected approximately 45 gallons of sap and started it boiling on the outdoors wood-fired stove. Maybe the run will pick-up again later in the week.
Time to hunker down...State of Emergency declared for our county today. All roads are offically closed.
Time to write and read by the fire, eat the hearty soup I made this weekend, and maybe later venture out with snowshoes and camera.