90 Second Sanity Pitstop: A GREAT Idea!

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90 Second Sanity Pitstop: A GREAT Idea!

Best wishes on this Remembrance Day, 2014, lest we forget...

This is a great way to not forget yourself throughout the day and allow stress to get the better of you. In his article published in Elephant Journal yesterday, Josh Korda describes a 90 second technique that will help you "return to yourself" and calm down significantly. I highly recommend it as an addition to your existing meditation practice. I've tried it three times today already, and it was a really nice way to regroup, refocus, reflect and remember that I'm not a human DOING, but a human BEING! The stress relief was lovely too... :) It's a long article... so if you don't have the time to read the WHOLE thing, just scroll down to the end where he describes the 3 part method. As always, happy meditating!

Renata Duma, Creator of Meditation.Works

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90 Second Sanity Pitstop

by Josh Korda, Elephant Journal, November 10, 2014

It’s hardly news that life is stressful, a journey in which disappointing and emotionally difficult events will occur.

Putting aside the inevitable ordeals of aging and sickness, you and I will experience the loss of loved ones; projects we’ve devoted years of effort towards may suddenly fail; stuff will hit the fan. The world doesn’t conform to our plans; there’s no way to avoid pain and discomfort as the Buddha noted in his first noble truth.

And yet, despite all the bad news you and I will face, our lives could be so peaceful, even joyous, if we didn’t add needless suffering into the mix. What needless suffering?

As the second noble truth suggests, our greatest source of misery is the desire for life to be otherwise, the seeking of an inoculation against discomfort.

We react to bad news as if it’s a mistake, a personal affront, and crave a way to avoid what’s inevitable. For example, Americans will spend over $12 billion this year on face lifts, Botox treatments and breast augmentations. The more we struggle against the inevitable, the more prone we become to repetitive thought patterns.

Of course, chronic stress and worry transcends how we react to aging. It’s a pattern installed by evolution: When our ancestors experienced a looming danger, those that became anxious probably reacted and lived to face another day, while those that remained peacefully unaware, and didn’t feel motivated to act, probably perished.

50,000 years ago, living on the Serengeti, a state of “high alert” that resulted during a life threatening encounter increased ours chances of survival (the heart races and pumps blood to the outer limbs, allowing us to fight harder or run faster, the digestive system halts, we stop producing the white blood cells that aid our immune response while creating excessive red blood cells, as the body prepares itself for physical injury).

Today life is a bit different. While our hardwired reactions and negative emotions—anger, anxiety, etc.—are appropriate when those rare, life threatening situations occur, for most of us having a hair trigger stress response is unnecessary.

We are the dominant species on the planet, after all. Anxiety is more than an unpleasant sensation—stress hormones, such as cortisol, which run through the body for long periods, take a disastrous toll on our health.

Stress that continues without regular deactivation becomes chronic stress, which leads to all kinds of problems: stomach ailments, high blood pressure, insomnia, hair loss, headaches, heart problems, the list goes on and on. Our immune systems suffer due to the reduction of white blood cells and overproduction of red blood cells. Stress also leads to a greater dependence on, or addiction to, mood changing behaviors such as alcohol, drugs, shopping, food binges, etc., as a means to relieve this underlying tension.

Alas, in our busy lives, when we deal with a stressful situation, we often move directly to the next challenge, then to the next, stumbling across even more stressors—our smartphones and laptops push texts and emails at us that ask for our immediate attention, the viral posts on news feeds are invariably grim.

And so it’s easy to overlook the importance of taking time to deactivate ourselves from “high alert” states. But if we overlook taking time to restore the body to a neutral state, chronic stress builds, and it becomes progressively harder to override anxiety; stress becomes chronic.

It’s important to note that so long as we remember to switch off our stress activations when the external demand has been met, the long term effects of stress aren’t particularly adverse. Unfortunately, many of us never learn how to “switch off.”

And so I’d like to offer a routine I employed to stay sane and peaceful while I worked as an advertising art director and copywriter (my livelihood before I became a dharma teacher). Now, you might object that advertising is hardly an industry known for its life threatening experiences, but let me assure you, the impossible deadlines, difficult to please clients, long work days and exacting standards provided a ceaseless array of stressors and triggers.

Over the years in busy offices many colleagues developed panic attacks, anxiety disorders and other stress-induced maladies. And so, for my own peace of mind, I practied a “Ninety Second Sanity Pit Stop.” Here’s how it goes.

Take the first pause or break available:

When caught up in the narratives and dramas that trigger us—when we find ourselves “putting out one fire after another at work,” our foot on life’s gas pedal, impatient to the point of honking at others, etc.—the first step is to divert our attention from the visual and audio sensations that agitate us, such as the conversation or the computer screen. Sometimes we’ll have to remind ourselves that a 90 second mental health break will not change the outcome, unless we’re about to be trampled by wild animals, in which case continue running.

The first 30 seconds:

Become aware of your out breath and extend each exhalation as long and smooth as possible, until they’re at least three times as long as each in breath. Long out breaths activate the vagus nerve which, in turn, “switch on” the parasympathetic nervous system, deactivating the stress response. Don’t worry about your in breath, as your body knows how much oxygen to take in.

The second 30 seconds:

Find the muscle groups in your body that are most constricted and use each out breath to release and relax the tension. I highly recommend focusing on the areas where somatic emotions register, such as the abdominal muscles (fear), shoulders (feeling overwhelmed), the chest (abandonment) and the micro-muscles around the eyes (just about every emotion). Sometimes it helps to lightly tighten the muscles with the in breath, so that we can have a greater release during the exhalations.

The last 30 seconds:

While keeping the breath in awareness, bring an image of yourself onto the mind’s inner movie screen, where fantasies and memories play out. Holding the image, direct thoughts of kindness and compassion towards it: “May I be truly at ease.” “May I find lasting peace.” “I love you, keep going,” etc.

These thoughts can be repeated with every out breath, or again and again so other thoughts don’t intrude. When the 90 seconds are up, slowly open your eyes, and try, as you return to the busy stimuli of life, to keep some awareness on those outbreaths.

I recommend setting a timer on a smart phone or computer to remind us to take a pit stop every two hours at the very least; think of it as a spiritual refueling. I’ve used this tried-and-true method for quite a long time; it’s how I survived working in industries where other people succumbed to many stress related setbacks. I hope it will help others in their journeys.

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Good News for Meditators from Harvard University Scientists

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Good News for Meditators from Harvard University Scientists

Here is yet another article by Matt Saccaro, published on November 7, 2014, extolling the benefits of meditation as per findings from Harvard University. Though the good news isn’t really news, as the scientific community has been aware of this information for some time now, it is making its way more and more into the mainstream. The article also addresses anxiety and depression, and the extent to which individuals who took part in a study where they were asked to meditate daily, experienced "a significant after-training reduction of several psychological indices related to worry, state anxiety, depression and alexithymia." Reason enough to at least be curious about the power of meditation, if not to start today. MEDITATION.WORKS Guided Meditations make it easy for you to get started – or continue your already established meditation practice. Enjoy the article, and as always, happy meditating!

Renata Duma, Creator of MEDITATION.WORKS

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Harvard Scientists Have Good News for People Who Meditate

By Matt Saccaro  November 7, 2014

The news: It turns out meditating is good for more than just quiet time: It can actually help us fight the cripplingly high stress levels we experience during our busy lives, in the office or elsewhere.

Scientists from Harvard University and the University of Sienna recently found that meditation is so powerful it can change the physiology of a person's brain, resulting in positive changes like a decrease in anxiety and depression.

The science: Scientists put 24 participants with no history of meditation through an eight-week course on best practices for, "mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR)," fancy science talk for meditation. The course consisted of 2.5 hour sessions each week where participants learned "body scanning, sitting meditation, walking meditation and mindful stretching movements." The scientists also requested each participant perform at least 45 minutes of meditation each day. MRIs were performed before and after the meditation boot camp, and each participant answered a series of psychological evaluations to determine their stress and anxiety levels before and after the MBSR course as well.

The team compared these results to a control group who went through no meditation training at all during the eight weeks.

The comparison demonstrated "an increase of cortical thickness in the right insular lobe and somatosensory cortex" of the meditation group. In layman's terms, meditation made parts of the brain corresponding to emotion and perception thicker. This ultimately resulted in "a significant after-training reduction of several psychological indices related to worry, state anxiety, depression and alexithymia."

So ultimately, meditation made people more emotionally attuned and less depressed — a pretty good argument to spend time solemnly reflecting each day.

The takeaway: We live in a society where depression, anxiety, and stress are increasingly part of our lives. Stress levels among Americans have risen by up to 30%, and it's not much better in Europe or Asia, where anxiety and depression is growing at alarming rates. Instead of solving the root causes of these problems, Americans are resorting to antidepressants at a higher rate than ever before. One in 10 Americans is now taking a prescription antidepressant.

Meditation, while not a panacea, can help us deal with such a society by decreasing our stress levels and increasing our abilities to emotionally relate to ourselves and others. And with further research, it could provide an alternative to being constantly doped to the gills in order to be happy (or just less sad).

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A Heart-Blowing List of things to be grateful for.

A Heart-Blowing List of things to be grateful for.

Gratitude. Remembering to be grateful opens the inner pathway to a sense of peace and contentment, even in times of strife or challenging times.

From this perspective, we avoid falling into the bottomless pit of what I like to call "the grumble theory": Whatever one yearns for, once achieved, one yearns for more. And so many of us live there in that pit of despair, trying to find joy and happiness in external things, events, relationships or experiences, never actually getting to peace of mind or true happiness.

One of my Guided Meditations that I offer on my website is called "Love & Gratitude", and it's a meditation exactly on that. Right now it's FREE for you to take advantage of. You'll find it in the "Store" section of MEDITATION.WORKS. I hope you do... I promise it will make you feel GOOD and help you keep your focus on the glorious aspects of your life - and even the not-so-glorious ones - that you're grateful for.

I came across this article from Elephant Journal written by Phil Watt. There are a few things in his "Grateful List" that will cause a chuckle... Keep in mind it's a man's perspective (which will explain a comment or two :)... and if you haven't seen Osho's video on the versatility of the word "F*ck", I suggest you ferret it out! It's right up there with HH The Dalai Lama passing gas, cracking up the audience and giggling about it on a talk show...!!!

Hope you check out my Guided Meditation on Love & Gratitude... and enjoy Phil's article below.

Happy meditating!

by Renata Duma, Creator of MEDITATION.WORKS

 

A Heart-Blowing List of Things to be Grateful for. - Phil Watt, courtesy of Elephant Journal

A movement has been going around Facebook in which, for five days, a person posts three things they are grateful for, whilst tagging a couple of people each day to do the same.

This is a great idea.

The posts ripple out positive energy into the ether...

The Fiery Light of Awareness

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The Fiery Light of Awareness

This article by Ruth Lera, published in Elephant Journal today, really brings home the power of awareness. Through meditation and mindfulness we can address any "issue" we choose to overcome, and through that mindfulness and "fiery light of awareness" watch it melt away. Ruth explains how to do just that in the article below... Original photo art by me... Renata Duma. ENJOY!

The Fiery Light of Awareness

That feeling, I know it so well. I wake up in the morning and I do a mental scan.

In my mind I go through all aspects of my life looking for what's wrong and it seems no matter how good things are going I’m always able to find something. Not enough money, someone I’m upset with, an area of my life I think I should be more successful in.

But then I think about all the greatness of my life and I slink away from these “problems” just to find myself surrounded by the shame of my own ungratefulness for all the wealth that is my life.

Problems, they always seem to be there, it doesn’t matter how good things seem to be.

Why is this?

The only answer I have is because we’re human. Humans having a spiritual experience? Or spiritual beings having a human experience? I’ll let you decide that one for yourself. But it seems inevitable that as a human we will often have a sense that there’s a problem in our life. And problems need to be fixed. Right?

Maybe not.

Over the last five years I have taken a new approach to problems. And I can see that others have, too. The new idea is that there is nothing to fix.

Or perhaps this isn’t a new idea at all. Perhaps the Buddha explained this long ago and we are just finding it again.

Thich Nhat Hanh says:

“Our practice is based on the insight of non-duality. Both our negative feelings and positive feelings are organic and belong to the same reality. So there is no need to fight; we only need to embrace and take care. Therefore, in the Buddhist tradition meditation does not mean you transform yourself into a battlefield, with the good fighting the evil. This is very important. You may think you have to combat evil and chase it out of your heart and mind. But this is wrong.

The practice is to transform yourself.

If you don’t have garbage, you have nothing to use in order to make compost. And if you have no compost, you have nothing to nourish the flower in you. You need the suffering, the afflictions in you. Since they are organic, you know that you can transform them and make good use of them.”

But how do we turn our garbage into compost? How do we create the fertile ground where the flowers will grow?
I’ve looked to many teachers for the answer to this question and they all seem to say the same thing. Just notice everything, just bring awareness to everything you think and feel and this simple step will bring about change.

Bhante Gunaratana puts it best here,
“How do you “kill” a hindrance (another word for problem)? You watch it to death. “You bathe it regularly in the fiery light of awareness and it melts away.”

Want to bring some fiery light of awareness to your problems? Here is a technique that can be used for that nagging problem that just won’t let go.

First: Bring the problem up to the surface of your awareness and give it a name. There was a time in my life that anxiety about money was overwhelming for me. So, I named it monxiety. I like having funny or humorous names for my problems because they make me smile.

Second: Every time your attention turns to the problem say its name in your mind. Don’t analyze the problem or try to find a solution. Just name it.

Third: Do this naming process over and over again. At times I would have to internally say monxiety every 30 seconds even every 2 seconds.

Fourth: Watch what happens.

Warning:
Often when we bring attention to problems in our life they become hotter and stronger before they leave us. I think of this process as the problem coming up to die. It’s like the problem is having it’s last ‘hurrah’ before it leaves us.

Usually we can’t see it that way. We just think the problem is getting worse and we feel really frustrated because we have been working so hard bringing our awareness to the problem to make it ‘better’ and it seems to be getting worse.’

In fact the problem feeling stronger can be a sign of progress—if there is such a thing. It can really help to tell a friend you trust about the process you’re doing so they can mirror back to you that the problem feeling bigger is just a reflection of the progress you’re making.

Again Bhante Gunaratana explains it best,
“While you are doing the awareness process there is a sense of ‘It’s still there. It’s still there. When will it ever go away?” But one day you say, ‘You know, I haven’t seen such-and-such around lately. I wonder why? By George it’s gone at last.” We often see it (problem) when it is present and see it when it is gone, but fail to notice that ‘going away’ stage in which it is becoming weaker and less frequent.”

Having problems might not be going anywhere for the human race anytime soon. But needing to run from them might be.

So, lean in, turn towards, shine a light, bring awareness to, look it straight in the eye, hug it in close, welcome it in, whatever you want to call it—notice your problems with an attitude of curiosity and loving-kindness and they might not be around for much longer.

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All our Guided Meditations are now FREE for a limited time. Just go to MEDITATION.WORKS (if you're not already here... :) and get to the Store... They're waiting there for you to help you get meditating, gain deeper awareness, cultivate inner peace and feel better - about anything you want or need to feel better about. Happy meditating!

Renata Duma, Founder, MEDITATION.WORKS

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Matthieu Ricard: What is happiness and how can we all get some?

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Matthieu Ricard: What is happiness and how can we all get some?

Biochemist turned Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, who is often described as the happiest man on earth, says we can train our minds in habits of well-being in order to generate a true sense of serenity and fulfillment. In his TED Talk, below, he says, “No one wakes up in the morning thinking, "May I suffer the whole day?" Which means that somehow -- consciously or not, directly or indirectly, in the short or the long term, whatever we do, whatever we hope, whatever we dream -- somehow, is related to a deep, profound desire for well-being or happiness.” And according to Ricard, the secret to finding that happiness on a deep, all pervasive level is...

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Neuroscientist touts benefits of meditation for kids

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Neuroscientist touts benefits of meditation for kids

Do you associate moments of “not-doing” with boredom? I sure did until I learned how to meditate… Think of sitting quietly, alone in a room for just 15 minutes: No TV, no computer, no smartphone, no books, no magazines, no music… not even knitting needles. If you’re like most, this probably sounds like a recipe for complete boredom or a complete waste of time. In our fast paced world where “doing” is revered and the mind is “in charge” 24/7, we avoid such moments of “not-doing” because we don’t associate it – or the boredom that ensues - with having any value. Now that we know that just 15 minutes a day of “not doing” and meditating has so many widespread benefits including “higher levels of well-being and increased resilience” as Neuroscientist, Dr. Richard Davidson says in his article below, by not setting the example that our attention is a skill that needs to be cultivated, what’s the message we’re sending our kids?

Aside from the higher levels of well-being and increased resilience...

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ABC newsman Dan Harris puts aside his skepticism and finds meditation a useful tool for keeping his mind on track

ABC newsman Dan Harris puts aside his skepticism and finds meditation a useful tool for keeping his mind on track

Thanks for this, Dan… (Please see ABC newsman Dan Harris' interview in USA TODAY below, where he talks about his meditation practice and announces the publication of his new book, 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help that Actually Works – A True Story.) And no, meditation isn’t just for people who live in yurts or collect crystals or listen to Cat Stevens… LOL! I particularly like your reference to...

Building the Brain with Meditation: “QUIET UP THERE!”

Building the Brain with Meditation: “QUIET UP THERE!”

In her fabulous article below, ‘Building the Brain with Meditation’, Anne-Marie Hardie said, “I believed that meditation meant that I had to immediately silence my mind. I was trying to tune out all my thoughts and ideas, and so when they would pop up, as they inevitably would, I would become frustrated and stop meditating. I was not giving myself the time to learn the practice and to inevitably learn about myself.”

This is what I hear over and over again from individuals who are new to the path of meditation...

Overcoming self-aggression and engendering true peace: The ultimate purpose of humanity

Overcoming self-aggression and engendering true peace: The ultimate purpose of humanity

SAKYONG MIPHAM (photo below) is the leader of Shambhala, a global community of meditation and retreat centers. He's also an avid marathon runner who frequently retreats to study at a Tibetan monastery in India, and he writes a regular column in the Shambhala Sun.

The author of the bestselling titles “Ruling Your World" and "Turning the Mind Into an Ally," Sakyong Mipham was named one of the 30 global visionaries of our time by Planet magazine. He spends his time teaching all over the world, using his unique blend of Eastern and Western perspectives to the benefit of his students in North and South America, Europe, and Asia.

As within, so without: The indisputable power of creative visualization and meditation

As within, so without: The indisputable power of creative visualization and meditation

In a recent article on Nurse.com (Feb, 2010), the following was published: “Meditation is gaining new respect among neurologists, psychiatrists and others who study the brain. An increasing volume of scientific study is not only showing that meditation helps reduce stress, but is offering some physiological clues about why it might be beneficial to the body and brain.”...

The one thing we can do to end violence in the world...

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The one thing we can do to end violence in the world...

It’s a MAD MAD MAD MAD world out there… And it’s getting madder, in fact, by the minute. Being a first generation Ukrainian Canadian has given me pause to think long and hard about what we might be do to stop the violence and corruption that has seized Ukraine today… and anywhere else in the world that violence, corruption, war, aggression and intolerance real their ugly heads. Aside from starting with the self and living a non-violent existence – and meditating on peace – there’s one more thing we can do… and that’s to agree with Pope Benedict the XVI and the Dalai Lama - and teach our children how to meditate. Why?...

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The Messy & Beautiful Process of Transformation

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The Messy & Beautiful Process of Transformation

I came across this article in Elephant Journal yesterday. In it, the Gerry Ellen Avery says, “The messy parts (of transformation) usually happen in the dark when no one is paying much attention, nor do we care enough to understand and be aware of it. We just want the results of a clear and flowing path.” How true… And it is during those times that meditation is of utmost importance because it’s through meditation that we can stay grounded and attain as much clarity as possible, even during "messy" times...

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The power of “beginning again”, by Aleksandra Knezevic

The power of “beginning again”, by Aleksandra Knezevic

The following was written by my dear friend Aleksandra Knezevich (as was the previous blog) just a month or so before she passed away, suddenly, in 2012. Aleksandra was a great, great soul and helped many people live more joyful and fulfilling lives through finding their authentic selves through encouraging daily meditation and through the practice of Ho’oponopono, a Hawaiian method of clearing karmic connections through the recitation of a mantra...

Meditation brings awareness - and creates new outcomes by Aleksandra Knezevic

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Meditation brings awareness - and creates new outcomes by Aleksandra Knezevic

The following was written by my dear friend Aleksandra Knezevich just a month or so before she passed away, suddenly, in 2012. Aleksandra was a great, great soul and helped many people live more joyful and fulfilling lives through finding their authentic selves through encouraging daily meditation and through the practice of Ho’oponopono, a Hawaiian method of clearing karmic connections through the recitation of a mantra...

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5 reasons why Sudoku is like meditation

5 reasons why Sudoku is like meditation

I came across an article on the benefits of playing Sudoku the other day and it occurred to me that each and every one of the benefits that were listed in the article are also a benefit of meditation (for a minimum of 15 minutes a day).

During the past 10 years, Sudoku has emerged as one of the most popular puzzle games in the world, with millions of Sudoku books sold and meditation is becoming the number one medicine for whatever ails you, physically, emotionally or spiritually...

Constant stress puts your health at risk

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Constant stress puts your health at risk

Stress is a 20th century epidemic and constant stress is a killer… and can result in heart disease, sleep problems, digestive problems, weight gain, obesity, depression, memory impairment and the worsening of skin conditions such as eczema, among many other detriments...

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Meditation lowers levels of the stress hormone, cortisol

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Meditation lowers levels of the stress hormone, cortisol

Below are the results of a study conducted in China on the positive effects of guided meditation. We all know the multitude of benefits from daily meditation, however what makes this study unique is that they used guided meditations as the method of meditation. The results are astounding, including a significant decrease in cortisol after just 20 minutes a day for five days. Imagine what a regular routine of meditation (meditation or guided meditation) could do…

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His Holiness the Dalai Lama advised Baliga, an undergraduate at Harvard-Radcliffe, two things regarding her anger at her sexually abusive father.

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His Holiness the Dalai Lama advised Baliga, an undergraduate at Harvard-Radcliffe, two things regarding her anger at her sexually abusive father.

The following is an excerpt from a heart-wrenching article in the Sunday New York Times (the full article is posted below) on the power of forgiveness. It made me reflect on the fact that there are few among us who have not suffered some form and/or varying degree of trauma, abuse or cruelty. The memory of those occurrences haunt us at best, if not cripple our lives – until we remove the emotional charge from our nervous system (I suggest reading up on EMDR if this is of interest: http://www.emdria.org), find true forgiveness for our perpetrators and perhaps even take the next steps to extend them our compassion and, if at all possible, offer them our assistance...

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A time for everything...

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A time for everything...

After reading this article on Mindfulness by Dan Hurley, recently published in Time Magazine, caused me to step back, so to say. The concept of comparing apples to oranges came to mind... actually more like comparing apples to wing-nuts. Mindfulness is Mindfulness. Meditation is Meditation. Being spaced out (letting the mind run amuck like a squirrel chasing a nut and BEING the nut) is being spaced out. And performing an activity that requires total focus is no time to be particularly Mindful (unless you're stressed and you remember to BREATHE), nor is it time to be Meditating or spacing out. Duh. Thanks for the most appropeau final paragraph in your article, Dan... Glad someone agrees there's a time for everything... and thanks to Gautama Buddha who taught us everything has it's time...

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