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Mindfulness literature portrays the practice of generosity as the first prerequisite to the rest of the Ten Perfections. This precedence emphasizes the importance of generosity. Without generosity, the mind is tight, selfish, bound and shackled by a strong ego. Under such weight, it is not possible to find relief or explore what is possible. 

With your own awareness of body, feelings, and mind, you can notice how generosity feels. It is light and not heavy. It engenders feelings of being at ease, warmheartedness, open and peaceful. It has a sensation of positive energy.

Now consider its opposite — stinginess. Feel the tightness, constriction, tension, fear and lack of ease in your body. In your mind’s eye, experience the burden of your thoughts as consider the concept of stinginess.

Biochemistry shows that how we feel directly affects chemical reactions in our body through hormonal secretions and electrical spikes commensurate to our state of mind. So, if we truly listen to ourselves we know deep down that generosity promotes good health and happiness.

Check out the recent article by Terri Yablonsky Stat on the benefits of giving for your own health and happiness.

 
 
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Now that our Top of Mind blog is up and running again, our vision is to create a safe place for community sharing on topics relevant to our practice of Mindfulness Meditation. Our time together in class is simply not long enough to learn about all the changes that meditation students are experiencing. So each month we'll start with a reflective question and encourage your responses. Why is this type of  community engagement important?


1.    Articulating your reflections helps balance your mind with positive reinforcement of your growing insights.
2.    As people express their learnings, we realize that we are not alone in our experience of mindfulness. We begin to appreciate the range of life’s possibilities through sharing.
3.    Supporting each others’ practice through sharing our insights creates a synergistic, dynamic, learning community for the benefit of all. 

So find your courage and your voice. Feel free to type in your "top of mind" responses in the comments section below this post so that we may engender a lively dialogue of different perspectives.

Here's the reflective question for the month of September:

How has the practice of meditation changed your perspective on life?

 
 
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We live in a consumer-based culture that values success based on the attainment of the comfortable life. We surround ourselves with exotic pillows, fine beds, soft chairs, fashionable clothing, pain medications, an abundance of food, state-of-the-art devices and entertainment galore. There is nothing wrong with possessions and comfort. Nevertheless, attachment to these comforts can be a source of stress.

Let us examine comfort with respect to some of the underlying elements that can cause stress.

We live in a consumer-based culture that values success based on the attainment of the comfortable life. We surround ourselves with exotic pillows, fine beds, soft chairs, fashionable clothing, pain medications, an abundance of food, state-of-the-art devices and entertainment galore. There is nothing wrong with possessions and comfort. Nevertheless, attachment to these comforts can be a source of stress.

Let us examine comfort with respect to some of the underlying elements that can cause stress.

  • Delusion: We may think it is our given right to be comfortable, not realizing that discomfort is also part of reality. It is not realistic to live always in comfort and become intolerant to discomfort. Birth, aging, illness and death are aspects of life that are not comfortable in nature.
  • Hate: Aversion to discomfort also is a cause of stress. When we experience discomfort, we may become angry. Anger is a major stressor.
  • Greed: We may find that our endless pursuit of the comfortable life may result in tremendous financial and mental burdens. Difficult to satisfy the desire for comfort, we continue to seek more and more comforts. The result is more agitation and stress.

How can mindfulness meditation help us deal with the stress of a comfortable life? Meditation practice can help us regain an understanding of what truly is reality as well as gaining tolerance to discomfort, developing patience, and finding ways to change our attitude towards discomfort to eliminate stress. It is possible to feel discomfort yet be free from feeling stressed.

Obviously, at the primal level discomfort can be a biofeedback mechanism to indicate that something is wrong. Therefore, it is appropriate to seek a doctor’s advice to cure an illness that brings discomfort. However, it is possible to deal with the discomfort without causing stress.

It is easier to build acceptance and tolerance to discomfort when its intensity is light. During meditation practice, for example, sitting for a long period may become uncomfortable. This sitting can become a safe opportunity to analyze the mind’s relationship to sensation that is not comfortable. As we meditate, we can track the discomfort and the way it may disappear.

How can we build our tolerance to discomfort? By challenging ourselves to get out of our comfort zones in prudent ways. For example, once a week try sleeping on the floor instead of a bed or fasting for day. These practices will give you the opportunity to not react to an uncomfortable feeling right away. Instead, you can focus on analyzing the mind’s relationship to discomfort and see if a new perspective can be developed in a way that does not cause you stress. You can begin to feel grateful when experiencing a discomfort by knowing that the nerve system is functioning. Discomfort need not be not stressful.

  • Delusion: We may think it is our given right to be comfortable, not realizing that discomfort is also part of reality. It is not realistic to live always in comfort and become intolerant to discomfort. Birth, aging, illness and death are aspects of life that are not comfortable in nature.
  • Hate: Aversion to discomfort also is a cause of stress. When we experience discomfort, we may become angry. Anger is a major stressor.
  • Greed: We may find that our endless pursuit of the comfortable life may result in tremendous financial and mental burdens. Difficult to satisfy the desire for comfort, we continue to seek more and more comforts. The result is more agitation and stress.

How can mindfulness meditation help us deal with the stress of a comfortable life? Meditation practice can help us regain an understanding of what truly is reality as well as gaining tolerance to discomfort, developing patience, and finding ways to change our attitude towards discomfort to eliminate stress. It is possible to feel discomfort yet be free from feeling stressed.

Obviously, at the primal level discomfort can be a biofeedback mechanism to indicate that something is wrong. Therefore, it is appropriate to seek a doctor’s advice to cure an illness that brings discomfort. However, it is possible to deal with the discomfort without causing stress.

It is easier to build acceptance and tolerance to discomfort when its intensity is light. During meditation practice, for example, sitting for a long period may become uncomfortable. This sitting can become a safe opportunity to analyze the mind’s relationship to sensation that is not comfortable. As we meditate, we can track the discomfort and the way it may disappear.

How can we build our tolerance to discomfort? By challenging ourselves to get out of our comfort zones in prudent ways. For example, once a week try sleeping on the floor instead of a bed or fasting for day. These practices will give you the opportunity to not react to an uncomfortable feeling right away. Instead, you can focus on analyzing the mind’s relationship to discomfort and see if a new perspective can be developed in a way that does not cause you stress. You can begin to feel grateful when experiencing a discomfort by knowing that the nerve system is functioning. Discomfort need not be not stressful.


 
 
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Going Inside
In mindfulness meditation, we use the breath as a way to get into the “inside.” While focusing our attention within, we can remain grounded in the present moment, uniting the mind with the body. As we stay mindfully alert, we can ardently direct attention on the breath as the object of meditation, stilling both mind and body.

In meditation, a subtle but critical learning opportunity exists in understanding “what is” in an objective manner and in reading our biofeedback sensors. Ardently redirecting the mind to the object of meditation helps us learn how to direct the mind to a desired focus. At the same time, the practice of focusing offers a deeper comprehension of the nature of the mind.

We can apply the skills and insight developed in meditation towards removal of stress. Our objectives are to understand two crucial questions:

  1. How do we play a part in causing stress?
  2. How can we replace unproductive behavior with better patterns that can maintain our sense of well-being?


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Practice and Skill Building
Instead of focusing on outside factors as the cause of stress, by going “inside” we will learn how to react to outside factors in a way that does not cause stress. This method can only be applied if we gain confidence for directing the mind toward thinking productively. Meditation practice offers a safe, private, and realistic way to hone the skills required to direct the mind in a more productive manner. Sensitive to our biofeedback mechanism, honed in meditation, our body and mind will alert us whenever we need to use the skills we have practiced to overcome a stressful encounter.

Getting ourselves deeply familiar with our mind and body is the first necessary step to understand stress factors and how to overcome them skillfully. The practice of getting to know deeply and transcendentally requires a state of calmness for seeing what cannot be noticed otherwise.

Acquiring the skills needed to understand stress, the cause of stress, and the way to end stress requires effort. Just like learning any new skills, once a person is able to master the skills, then the process becomes effortless. Three P’s are requisite to skill building. These include the frequency of Practice, Persistence, and Patience. Practicing together with other people offers support and synergy towards mastery of skills.

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Living with Less Stress
Why learn from the inside out? Because the outside is not as dependable, and it is difficult to control. The only thing you can control is how you relate to the outside environment. Besides, who will take care of ourselves better and have our best interests at heart than ourselves? Moreover, is often the case that our own perceptions and interpretations of reality cause stress.

Mindfulness meditation practice helps us look deeply in to the “inside,” develop well honed concentration skills, and utilize our biofeedback tools to put us on alert whenever a certain unproductive reaction is about to occur. Then, by discerning what reaction (or non-reaction) would be wiser to pursue, we can redirect our mind away from our usual automatic and conditioned response toward a more productive and non-stressful response.

Practice Suggestions
The following exercises are designed to help you build skills in overcoming stress from the inside out.
  1. Reduce stimulation from the outside (e.g., lower or turn off TVs, radios, electronic instruments, etc.) and find more time to be alone in silence. Notice your “inside.”
  2.  Apply objective/detached observation with regard to how you internally relate to an object or phenomenon, arising first.
  3. Contemplate changing your inner attitude or perspective toward an object or a phenomenon from negative to positive. Then consciously apply a change in attitude toward a situation that you have experienced.
  4. Focus on how you habitually relate to an outside object or situation as well as a phenomenon arising from inside of you. Contemplate useful or beneficial changes (with details) leading to wiser ways of responding that produce happiness.

 
 
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What would you do if you were to die today? Death is certain, although most of the time we do not know when. Certainly, Michael Jackson, John Lennon and Portland grocery owner, John Zupan, did not expect to die on the day they died.  Knowing that life will end, why not resolve to be happy NOW instead of later? As a hospital chaplain I have the privilege of being with the dying and learned that the foremost topic on their minds is a review of their relationships (with self and others). They express a wish to have led a happier life, to affirm love for someone, or to seek forgiveness from someone even though these earnest desires cannot now be realized.In his book, Tuesdays With Morrie, author Mitch Albom recounts the last days of Morrie Schwartz, his 78 year-old sociology professor at Brandeis University who is terminally ill with Lou Gehrig's disease. Schwartz affirms that people should express love, joy, and other positive affections to those they care for while they are still alive, not just at their memorial services. And so Morrie stages his own farewell party while he is still able to enjoy his family and friends.

Why don’t we prioritize developing positive relationships with ourselves and with others while we are still alive and have plenty of time to do so?
When we are deluded that death is not imminent and we have a long life ahead of us, we forget that happiness is the primary goal of life. Instead, we get caught in the means (more wealth, status, etc.) to be happy, thinking that the means are the ends in themselves.

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In our self-sufficient pride, we are deluded into thinking that we are independent and ignorant of the fact that we are indeed interdependent. We forget about our need to nurture positive relationships, to offer forgiveness, to be generous, to express our appreciation, and to be tolerant of others.On the other hand, we feel responsible for all the unfortunate things that happen in our lives. We take them personally, judge ourselves harshly, and develop negative relationship with ourselves. With this mindset, we are deluded into thinking that we can control things that we cannot.Mindfulness meditation practice not only promotes your physical and mental health but it also offers insight on how to be happy where you are at in the moment.