Being with the Echoes of Your Life

by Berenice Boxler.

Some time ago I was on a retreat in Northern Germany. On a retreat, usually lasting several days, people come together to practice mindfulness (or some other contemplative practice) and meditation under the guidance of an experienced teacher. Under special conditions – delicious food, outer silence, no mobile phones or books – the participant can focus on the journey inside and practice being and meditating free of external expectations and outer impulses.

“When … then…” – living for the future

At the beginning of this very retreat, the teacher said that we should “be with the echoes of life”. For as much as one wishes that the mind would come to rest or the body would finally relax, it often takes quite a while before the everyday stress and tension start to dissolve. We are so calibrated to live for the future: one more week until the holidays, a few more days until the weekend, only two more days of rain, then things will finally get better. The mind is constantly fantasizing about being away from the “here and now” into a supposedly better future. “When… then” – this attitude is well known. And it is notorious, because it is an illusion that the future will be better. Anyway, the future is only in the mind – as soon as it has arrived, it is the present, and – as we all know by experience – the present will never be good enough.

For a few days now, I have been dealing with my body, which has decided to tell me particularly loudly and painfully that it has been neglected. And because it has taken a particularly deep breath, it is still crying out after 10 days…  “Being with the echoes of my life” means that I don’t perceive my present state of being as punishment, disturbance or difficulty. It means nothing more and nothing less than acknowledging that everything we do (or don’t do) has an effect. Life is made up of countless moments, and if we don’t care about the individual moments, life will slip through our fingers. Then we miss the chance to stop working in time. Then we miss the chance to go to bed early after an exhausting day (instead of “rewarding” the brain with often mindless TV-zapping) to get the needed rest. Then we miss the chance to tell the raging child what it usually really needs in a difficulty: “I am here.”

“Not now, later” – but when is “later”?

This clichéd “not now, later” quickly becomes the standard. And as soon as we are on vacation, as we start the retreat, as we lay down our heads for sleeping or finally take time to eat, we expect that the body or the head may now please use this short time window. Calm down, switch off, relax. Right now, come on! But the organism just doesn’t work like that. You can imagine it as if you were racing non-stop at 130 km/h over the motorway and expect that the car can come to a direct stop elegantly and without damage to the vehicle and its occupants at any time you wish. But “being with the echoes of life” means that we first take our foot off the gas pedal and only brake gradually, everything else just doesn’t work without causing damage.

It doesn’t matter how long one has been practicing mindfulness, it’s never done. Well, this is normal, because life is not done yet. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? Who knows what kind of body sensations I will wake up with tomorrow? Yes, I can prepare and make plans. But much more important than looking into the future is listening to the present. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says: “We take care of the future best by taking care of the present now.” And if I consciously take care of my present, then I will also be better able to deal with the echo which my present actions throw at my life tomorrow. Therefore, “not now, later” is a fallacy that cannot work at all. Now is important, just now. Because it is now that life is unfolding.

P.S. On March 13-15, 2020 I will organize a weekend retreat with a friend (also an experienced MBSR and mindfulness teacher), near Hamburg (Germany). In German. Registration is open! More information here as download..

Year of Wonder

by Berenice Boxler.

I borrowed the title of the article from a book that fascinated me from the start. Clemency Burton-Hill, a British radio presenter, introduces a classical piece of music every day. In her preface she speaks of a “space to pause, think and reflect, to become one with ourselves and just be.” Some people meditate or practice yoga, she writes, and for her it is music that is part of self-care and her daily dose of well-being. I am curious to see what happens after a brilliant Bach prelude.

The same procedure as every year…

Every year, the last days of the year invite us to take stock and make resolutions for the next year. There are the classics like “eat less sugar”, “do more sports” or “discover new things”. And every year there is this initial motivation and big plans, which after a few weeks often fall victim to the daily routine and everyday stress. Frustration and self-doubt arise, an all-or-nothing thinking (“Well, it doesn’t matter now anyway…”) and dissatisfaction kicks in. Why is it so difficult to keep New Year’s resolutions? And why do we do it again every year, even though it never works out the way we want it to be?

Doomed to failure

New Year’s resolutions are usually made at the end of the year. It is the time of great calm and the slowing down of everyday life, no phone calls or e-mails come in, no alarm clock rings in the morning and the Christmas treats are enjoyed with the thought: “That’s fine for now, but next year I’ll pay more attention to what I eat”. People celebrate, relax, maybe have a little argument with the family, but the work is resting or at least quieter. In this atmosphere, it is easy to plan and imagine how the change should look like. And then January comes and we are surprised to discover that the merry-go-round of life suddenly starts to turn faster again. Work colleagues are annoying us, the traffic jam robs us of valuable time and the exercise is more strenuous than we thought – if there is any time left at all to do sports. We have made our plans without considering the reality of life.

And yet we try to do it again every year, this time it must work out, the suffering may be deeper, but so is the potential fall. Even though we may tell ourselves not to make any resolutions this time, it is often impossible to escape the pull that the word “new” creates. A new chapter, a new beginning, and this time even a new decade.

So how is it possible to really initiate changes that will take effect in the long term? The American meditation teacher Oren Jay Sofer has an inspiring approach to this, which he applies to communication*, but which is helpful in all areas of life: aligning life according to the most basic needs instead of strategies.

The big “WHAT” – strategies in everyday life

Most people organize their lives according to strategies. A strategy is WHAT we do. It is bound to a specific place, person, time or object. We pursue many strategies every day. For example, WHAT I do is a weekly shopping in a particular supermarket that has organic products. Another strategy is to get on the home trainer four times a week, if possible, to put an end to the December sluggishness. Or I plan to prepare an important telephone call tomorrow morning. And when the kids are in school, I will work on my projects. Life is made up of plans and schemes, and although organizing can be tiring, it is often necessary in order to cope with the complexities of everyday life. And the famous New Year’s resolutions also fall into the category of strategies: from January onwards, going to the gym three times a week for 45 minutes, shopping for fresh goods twice a week and cooking for myself, going to the cinema regularly with friends, watching less TV and sleeping more, etc.

But what happens if one of my children is home sick tomorrow morning and I don’t have time to prepare? How do you think I’ll feel if I’m still so tired or even sick this week and can’t do any sports? What happens if the supermarket doesn’t have the ingredients for my planned meals and I have to go to a second one in addition? And what does it mean if my friends are too busy or there is no good film shown in the cinema? Anything that disrupts our plans or strategies creates stress, frustration or anger. And when that accumulates, the brain likes to generalize such as “It never works out!” and “Why does this always happen to me?!”

Having fixed strategies in your head creates a comfortable feeling of control – but you cannot control life. Life is the way it is, not the way we want or plan it to be.

The deep “WHY” – human needs

Needs are the reason WHY we do something. They are not tied to places or people. A strategy can contain many needs. Marshall Rosenberg, the “father” of non-violent communication, has compiled a whole range of universal human needs. For example, there is the area of “physical well-being” (such as air, food, outer peace, shelter, security, etc.), then “play” (joy, humour), “autonomy” (freedom, choice, space, etc.) and “connection” (acceptance, communication, respect, empathy, trust, intimacy, community, etc.) and others.

Each person has a hit list that determines what is important for him or her individually. Some prefer to work autonomously and therefore may work as an independent entrepreneur or in key positions, others function best within a team, some are drawn to nature on a daily basis, others need interpersonal harmony to flourish, and therefore say “yes” to most requests so that other people won’t be disappointed. Whether we are aware of it or not, everything we do as human beings, we do to satisfy one or more needs. For example, if I want to go to the cinema with friends, the following needs are beneath the wish: pleasure, community, friendship, relaxation, lightness. A workout, on the other hand, is based on movement, health, challenge and self-care. And cuddling with the children serves the needs for connection, warmth and affection.

There is no right or wrong regarding needs, there is only a “That’s how it is. That’s what’s important to me so that I can live authentically.” The more aware we are of what drives us deep inside, the better we can follow this inner desire and align our lives accordingly. And then it becomes much easier to deal with the adversities of life.

What does it look like to live a life according to our needs?

If my need is to live healthier, there are so many strategies I can apply: going for a run, dancing, muscle training at the gym, doing yoga, eating more greens, consuming less sugar and caffeine, getting more sleep, meditating, taking the steps instead of the elevator, etc. It doesn’t matter if I’m sick today or the traffic jam takes up my time: some strategy is always possible. If I have decided to bring more human connection into my life, then I can go dancing, go to the cinema, contact friends (even if it would actually be “their turn”), sit in a café and maybe start a conversation with a stranger, join a club, try something new outside of the house, see people in my immediate surroundings in a new way and really look and smile at them, do a particular kindness exercise, etc. The list is endless.

So why not pick out one or more needs that could use a little more attention and nourishment, and make these your New Year’s resolutions? Here you can download a list that might bring some inspiration.

Aligning 2020 according to needs and values

In 2019, my word of the year was “self-care”. This year I have chosen “kindness, compassion, connectedness.” There are countless possibilities to fill these words with life, and all of them will have an effect on me: “What we focus on will grow.” This has been proven by research in neurobiology. My invitation is not to concentrate on what is not (yet) going well or what could be better. Life is never perfect, never finished. Our mind produces so many ideas and wishes, so many possible disasters, but none of them are the real life. Let’s concentrate on what we are longing for deep inside – and try to align our actions in micro and macro steps along everyday life, which will undoubtedly surprise us again and again, whether pleasant, neutral or unpleasant. But then we cannot “fail” at all, yet simply grow a little bit more every day. And then it can really become a “year of wonder”.

* In the upcoming weeks I will be organising two workshops on the topic of “Mindful Communication”: 25.1.2020 in Luxembourg City (in English), on 8.2.2020 in Hosingen (in German). There are still places available!

Hush, it’s time to sleep

by Berenice Boxler.

There is tiredness, a deep fatigue that has nothing to do with the long walk I went on yesterday or with the fact that my sleep was interrupted. Surely it is also the weather, the dark season, or the prospect of a break in the near future that makes my body speak to me with every fibre: Now take a break! But it is not only the body. It becomes tangible to me every morning: I wake up, my head switches on and reflects on the tasks of the day. And I notice this relieved sigh deep inside me when I realize that I can stay home tonight.

The year draws to a close

I guess that’s normal at this time of year. Planning the Christmas days and travels, getting presents, buying winter shoes in a hurry, Christmas parties and markets everywhere – which often means a certain pressure of bringing baked goods – washing muddy pants and shoes regularly, trying not to constantly grab a candy bar, and so on. Yes, it’s a lot (especially for the brain) and tiring, the year feels long and it does something to you to have the year’s end ahead. Even if you don’t want to admit this or New Year’s Eve won’t be celebrated, a kind of interim reflection is made unconsciously and this signals to the whole organism: time for a break. The body does not need a second invitation and slowly but surely switches the gears down…

With planning through the days

My weeks are always planned, in December as well as in May: on Sundays I think about my professional and private priorities for the next week, my courses and workshops, I plan in time slots for sports and grocery, for driving services for the children and whatever other appointments are due. My brain works analytically, and writing down a plan helps me keeping my head available for other things. But if to-do lists or plans are too rigid, they can quickly cause difficulties. In the past, there was a lot of disappointment or frustration and irritation when I hadn’t followed my daily agenda.

Life does not go straight ahead

But life just doesn’t go according to plan. “Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.” said John Lennon. He’s right. Still, I continue to make plans, but they are increasingly flexible, more of an intention for a specific focus: I would like to start writing this article today (which can mean a lot, because I never know how long it will take), go through two units of a course and update them, and also do 20 minutes of sports. Oh yes, grocery shopping is also on the agenda. Reading and meditating on the other hand are not, I always do it at fixed times or when my head needs a break from the computer.

No, I didn’t accomplish this overnight. It takes time and a lot of trial and error to find your own working rhythm. And it doesn’t always work out so well. In addition, there are also bosses’ requirements, fix working hours or other limitations. Maybe an important e-mail comes in which takes up 30 minutes of your precious time. Therefore, there is no right/wrong or better/less useful. The internal and external circumstances are always changing, which means that a plan needs to be flexible and adaptable.

Stop, drop your work, look inward

But what is always helpful is to pause and feel what is actually right or necessary right now. Just observing without evaluating or criticizing.

It could look like this:

My body clearly signals to me that it is exhausted. Why this is the case or whether I like it is not really important. It’s just like that. – This means that my usual sports plan is adapted to what my body needs right now. For example a shortened session, a rest day, a massage instead of strength training, more sleep, etc.

The wet and cold weather influences my mood, I feel very uncomfortable outside. – Maybe I’ll take more time in the next few days to have a cosy reading session on the sofa with a cup of tea and some candles.

I notice that the celebrations and the baking requests somehow stress me out. – I decide to use simple and familiar recipes because I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. It’s about being together and sharing, not a competition.

There are chocolate and cookies everywhere, and it’s hard for me to say “no, thank you”. My body shows me that it really had enough sugar for this week, but there is also this habitual craving for more. – I’m trying to take the signals and well-being of my body important enough to slow it down a bit. Quitting completely is probably unrealistic, but maybe one piece per day is enough?

Now and here – there’s nothing else

In order to really live life, there is no way around coming into the present from time to time. What is it like now? What is important right now? Yes, a plan can be a helpful framework. But life simply won’t often work out as planned. Last year I spent almost the whole Christmas Eve in bed: a stomach upset had knocked me out. The children decorated the tree alone, my husband organized the shopping, and I stayed in bed for hours in a very quiet house, constantly wavering between bad conscience, physical discomfort and enjoying the peace. But there was also a lot of acceptance: that’s how it is right now.

Now my body is tired again, it shows it with different aches and pains and general tiredness. That doesn’t feel good, but it’s okay! The body is allowed to be tired after the enormous performance it grants me every day. But there can also be mental exhaustion: it has been a lot in the last few weeks and I notice that I didn’t allow myself many breathing breaks to feel it – and then to let it go again. There is still a lot left unfelt and unnoticed and the body now demands a break to give the organism the space and rest it needs. What a miracle, this being human!

My invitation for the coming days

Allow yourself to stop again and again, to listen inside, to feel what is there to be felt, to trust the signals of your body and your intuition and to allow yourself to do nothing.

And then from this place inside, to enjoy, to be happy, to take care of yourself, to withdraw or to open up, to argue or to love, to feel insecure, to ground yourself, to share, to be here for life in this moment.

 

“The most crucial advice I can give? Simply: Stop, just for this moment. Put down your work. And see.”

Leo Tolstoy

All inclusive

by Berenice Boxler.

“You did a great job once again!” This voice is well known to me. It speaks reliably without being asked, especially when it is already difficult for me. That is not helpful! But the voice comes again and again. Like an uninvited guest who consciously wants to irritate me. With it in the bag: anger, disappointment, and above all shame. This unpleasant, sticky feeling in the stomach area that simply doesn’t want to go away.

Emotions only come in a package

It’s Christmas coming up. I would like a pack of light-heartedness, a few bags of unrestricted joy, a branch of satisfaction and a barrel of acceptance. And if there’s still room, I’d also like to have a bit of patience. How beautiful it would be to only pick out the raisins…

Emotions are only available as a complete package: all inclusive. Anger, fear, happiness, boredom, sadness, pride, shame, and so on. As the poet Rumi says: “This being human is a guesthouse.” All emotions are paying guests to be entertained. It doesn’t matter how they are dressed, what their history is or how much luggage they bring. They are simply guests, one no better than the other. They come, they stay, and they leave again.

From the outside it’s very simple: all are equal. An emotion is an emotion. It is a phenomenon that comes and goes, like the weather. Some simple information about how we are doing right now. As the bearer of an unpleasant emotion, however, this is not quite so easy: there is often the feeling of standing in the middle of a storm, being pulled and pushed around, one cannot think clearly, there is only a waterfall of possible explanations, accusations or insults, and the body prepares for flight or fight. No wonder man has found some pretty clever ways to escape the storm: too much work, stress eating, TV or other media, going out, denying (“Everything is fine!”), looking away.

Unhealthy handling of emotions

This running away from the experience, however it may look like from the outside, is not healthy for the body, very tiring for the soul and most importantly: it is no help at all to protect us against the next storm. And it will come, guaranteed. It is a vicious circle: No matter how much we decide to do it better or differently next time, we will be overrun again, because see above: “one cannot think clearly.” Thus preparing and planning doesn’t help at all, because the brain doesn’t function in the storm. It runs completely on survival mode.

Allow, let through, let go

In my experience – and that of countless other people – the only thing that helps is to open the door of the guesthouse. Feelings are there to be felt. Emotions appear in the body, then we can perceive them as feelings. There is tension, stomach pressure, a knot in the throat, tears, a smile, etc… And then they go again. Just like that. An emotion lasts only a few dozen seconds, then it is gone. Like the cloud in the sky that is blown away by the wind. That the anger, the fear, or the sadness last longer, this is because our thoughts feed them. “I wish I had…”, “But he promised…”, “What if…?” We humans are masters in visualizing, in remembering, in thinking through alternatives, in turning the knife in old wounds. And with that we artificially prolong what biologically is actually just a wave that would quickly wane again if we would simply let it.

This noticing the wave, the approaching storm, is not easy – but we can learn it. And then we can prepare ourself to let the storm pass through. We can’t stop it anyway. Firmly rooted, trusting in ourself, and knowing that it will pass. The practice is in feeling the anger (the body is tense, the thoughts are racing, it gets loud in the head), recognizing that the anger actually only wants to cover up this damn unpleasant helplessness (amazing, how powerless one can feel towards children…), not to follow the first reactive impulses for action, but to consciously decide what is really helpful and necessary now.

Do not switch on your own storm machine…

So much for the theory. In practice, the storm knocks me out of my shoes over and over again. And then the second practice is vital for survival: when the situation is externally ended, not prolonging the inner storm with our very own rain and wind machines. We can learn that too. This practice could look like this:

  • First, not listening infinitely to the inner, often hateful commentator. “Thank you, I got it. Not helpful. I know for myself that this wasn’t good.”
  • Consciously not distracting yourself, but reflecting the situation once more and noticing where the turning point was, where it tipped over, and why you didn’t perceive it.
  • Allowing emotions, feeling shame and disappointment. – Yes, that is difficult, but crucial. The emotions are there anyway, even if we don’t want to feel them. But when they smoulder in the subconscious, they influence our mood and current condition without us noticing.
  • Being a friend to yourself. “I understand that you feel bad. It’s ok. This too will pass. Don’t be so hard on yourself.” Or whatever a good friend would say to you. Maybe only putting a hand on your heart area. Whatever helps to open up for some kindness and compassion for yourself.
  • Then imagining how the situation would have gone with a mindful and kind attitude. If this feels good, then rest in this experience and imagination. And try again at the next opportunity…

Oh yes, and an honest apology is always helpful, no matter if after 2 hours or 2 days. Without blaming the other, without expecting anything. Simply because it feels right. And then letting go and starting again.

 

The Guesthouse

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Rumi, translation by Coleman Barks

Trust

by Berenice Boxler.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program, has highlighted nine qualities as core aspects of the mindfulness practice. If we practice these qualities and cultivate them within ourselves, it can help us to lead a conscious and awake life, a life in the here and now and with everything that comes with it: ups and downs and the middle.

Trust

Trust is one of these qualities. What does that mean? Jon Kabat-Zinn grounds the feeling of trust in the body (Here is a YouTube-video on the nine qualities): We can trust in the body and in its wisdom to tell us what it needs. If we would just listen to it from time to time… We can trust that the breath flows in and out again. We can trust that our senses work, some more and some less. This trust in the body can be cultivated by perceiving and acknowledging what is happening. I trust to wake up in the morning. I trust to see when I open my eyes. I trust to breathe, no matter how the breath feels like right now. And why should heart and mind be different? With practice we can learn to trust that we can deal with life. And indeed, the practice leads to becoming more and more intimate with the inner processes and thus to recognize patterns and develop trust: Ah, when that happens, stress arises. When I do this, my body relaxes. And so on.

How does this look like concretely in everyday life?

In a few days I will be driving south, the 20-year high school graduation meeting is coming up. I’m looking forward to it, first of all, to my time-out and hotel, but also to a unique event that will pull me out of my comfort zone. I am curious about the people, their inside and outside appearance, I am curious about former friends and foes of back then. And above all, I am curious about what will happen inside me and with me. I don’t see it as a test (“How far am I? Are there still old wounds that I thought had been processed long ago?”), but simply as an expedition whose outcome I can’t and won’t plan. Films are already running in my head about how certain encounters might look like, and I watch them with amusement. How exciting! And yes, I know pretty well how I would like to be during the weekend: relaxed, cheerful, fit, interested and curious, friendly, not resentful, grown-up, self-confident.

Dealing with life

And I also know pretty well that I won’t be like this for 48 hours. But that’s fine. Because in the past year, trust has grown. Trust in me, that I have learned to feel feelings, to allow them and to name them. Everything may be, everything is part of me and my story. There is trust in my body, that it will clearly indicate me it needs a break or fresh air, when it would like a dance or when it is actually not hungry at all, but the appealing buffet and my inner protectors and distractors pull me to eating. Trust in the power of the practice of presence, mindfulness and compassion, for others and especially for me.

I am what I choose to become

Recently I read the following quote from Carl Jung: “I am not what has happened to me. I am what I choose to become.” This sentence fell on very fertile ground and has been with me every day ever since. Whatever has happened, whether 25 years ago, 10 weeks ago or yesterday (and no matter with whom, how painful or why) – it does not define what I am. Every day and every moment I can and I will decide anew how and who I want to be in order to live my own life. The question is not whether old patterns, forgotten stories and a cocktail of feelings will show up on the weekend. They will. But there is this cultivated and grown trust that I will and can face everything. And that there is this unshakable knowledge that every moment I can start anew to become what I choose to become. It will be exciting!

 

P.S. On November 14th, a 4-week advanced course will start for people who already have experience with mindfulness (e.g. through an MBSR course or some other practice). It will be about the nine qualities of mindfulness and the implementation in everyday life. There are still places available! You can find more information here. The course will be held in German. 

P.P.S. Interested in my previous articles on some of the other qualities? Here are the links: Acceptance, non-judging, beginner’s mind, letting be, gratitude, patience.

Waking up to life … and its side effects

by Berenice Boxler.

Recently I was on vacation in a wildlife park. The entry was included in the hotel I stayed in, and the brochure looked promising. I like animals, I enjoy being in nature, and a spacious park with a lot of outlet spoke to me, more than a zoo with often narrow cages.

In short, it was a very unpleasant and challenging experience, in many ways. An avalanche of thoughts and emotions was triggered by it: at first I quickly became aware of the absurdity of driving through the habitat of animals in a car at walking pace. Exhaust fumes, risk of accidents for the animals, background noise, all that bothered me a lot. The road was long, and though I continuously tried to focus my wandering mind on the beautiful sight of the forest, they routinely escaped into the narrow-minded search for an animal. I felt reminded of “Jurassic Park”: And where are the dinosaurs ?! My son eventually fell asleep in the back seat …

People and other obstacles

It was a strenuous journey: watching out, trying not to injure any of the very trusting animals with the car, avoiding potholes – but the most strenuous were the humans. Despite multiple signs, no one stayed in the special feeding zones and parking lots. The cars stopped everywhere, the animals were lured to the car with food and people cuddled with them (all expressly prohibited). At times it was extremely difficult to continue driving without hurting another creature, because in the hunt for the perfect selfie with a deer, all respect, caution and all park rules were undermined. “Dear parents, please pay attention to the behavior of your children.” This sign one could read everywhere, but unfortunately the so-called role-models (=adults) showed exactly the behaviour that was forbidden to protect the animals.

The world is what the brain presents to us – not necessarily as it is

This trip made a lot of things clear to me:

  • How fast the brain tends to judge and condemn other people and how it keeps repeating itself like a stuck record: “This can’t be true! Can they not read?!”
  • How the brain tends to generalize and put in a category: “The other people, the other visitors …”, there were certainly also some who behaved correctly – but my negativity bias did not notice them.
  • The swift conviction that you are right yourself and that there is a separation here: I vs. the other. This quickly results in arrogance or even rejection, or at least a deliberate separation or distance. A “we” becomes a “me” and “the other”.

In any case, many questions have been raised that have no clear answer:

Has the world changed so much in terms of behaviour in the last 20 years? Is it a subjective or an objective assessment that respect and seeing the bigger picture have become less important? Do selfies and self-portrayal on the Internet really increasingly override a correct behaviour towards other people, animals or the environment? And are these questions an expression of self-righteousness or signs of a fundamentally changed coexistence?

Mindfulness sharpens the view – also for the unpleasant

One thing is for sure: with a mindful attitude one becomes more awake to life, and thus also for the unpleasant. Mindful living is not a relaxing walk with a constant smile on your lips. Especially at the beginning or during such experiences as this mentioned above, the practitioner realizes soon how careless the majority of people (still) is. Only when we start to experience life fully do we become aware of how much trouble and unpleasantness there is and how successfully our subconscious has been working with distraction, automatisms and repression in the past. Only when the consciousness is opened up for one’s own inner processes, for the other and the world in which we all live, one becomes aware of how selfish and self-righteous a life in the autopilot can be.

A new road creates a lot of work …

Sometimes it feels like repairing a road: first of all you have to mill away the old surfacing and completely rip the road before, layer by layer, a new pavement can be laid. When in the past you simply moved places, you bought a new car with better wheels or just drove a long and cumbersome detour, it is now clear that the actual road of life consists of rough and bumpy places – which is why you avoided to drive there in the past. The detour became the new normal. But once you have taken the right path, there is often no turning back, and the bumpy and unfamiliar road becomes a challenge that must be accepted. There is now no way around, and the curiosity and the regular wonderful view motivates you to continue, but it can also stagnate again and again.

Therefore, it is just an idle game of mind to contemplate whether the others have changed or you simply became more attentive or sensitive. It does not matter at all. Everything, really everything, becomes an exercise and a welcomed challenge – and a teacher in the workings of the human brain. In the end, I can’t change anyone else, but just make sure that I stick to the rules and that I’m a role model for my own children. I can only work on my own road and level it piece by piece as I drive on it. And no, I will certainly never go back to a wildlife park.

 

P.S. There will be a 3h-workshop on “Mindfulness and Media” on 16 May 2020 (in German). You can find out more here: www.being-mindful.lu/en/mindfulness-and-media/

Routine or Ritual?

by Berenice Boxler.

It is this time again, summer is here! School is out, vacation, less traffic on the local roads, paddling pool in the garden and sunscreen. Much is easier now and people start to relax. There is often less time pressure in the morning, calmer driving to appointments and more ice-cream in the afternoon sun. Oh, and no homework! Other things remain as usual: washing and grocery shopping, processing emails, administrational work, tidying up the children’s rooms and cleaning the car.

Routines give a hold

Routines give us something to lean on, because they give the daily hustle a framework. Without routines – even though if they are not always respected – it would be harder to get through the day. Especially children unconsciously cling to these routines and can thus develop a sense of security and structure. There is a morning routine, a “We come home”-routine, and of course the evenings would be a mess without a basic structure. But I do as well appreciate this framing of the week: there are shopping days, creative work days, sports days, etc.

We humans work with routines and habits, and it can make everyday life a lot easier if a certain structure exists as a fix idea in the background.

And now the summer is here, the long holidays … and the established routines start to crumble. Then the children are allowed to go outside after dinner, bedtime is later, the weekly ice cream quota is increased at lightning speed, and without homework one lives even more relaxed. It is completely fine and also necessary that routines and rules are repeatedly checked for their current purpose. Just because something was “always” like that doesn‘t mean it is automatically right and helpful now. Especially holidays are an invitation to do everything a little more relaxed.

Lack of routine as a guarantee for difficulties …

It becomes difficult, however, when family members have different downtime. My break is not eight weeks long and I have to and I really like to continue my work. And just because the children can (theoretically) sleep until late does not mean that my husband‘s office suddenly has other core working hours. Not only different daily rhythms can cause difficulties here, also the unconscious transfer of one‘s own moods and desires unto others are often challenging. “Can I get an ice cream?” This I hear almost every day, and they‘d love to play with me all day. “But I don‘t want to go shopping!” is another vacation classic.

… and the power of rituals

This is where rituals come into play. A routine can quickly become meaningless: It is a mostly automatic action, born of a decision and then developed into a habit or rule. However, as circumstances change, it is often difficult to stick to routines, and discussions and frustration are inevitable. A ritual, on the other hand, is a very deliberate act of performing and carrying out an action that also makes it possible to give life a firm framework – regardless of the season or external events. A ritual is performed because it has a nourishing and meaningful effect. It is a self-chosen and very individual preference, created out of the deep feeling: Yes, this is doing me good. And of course, rituals are also subject to change, but these are always deliberately chosen and adapted to current needs. A ritual is something that I create for myself – noone has to know or give consent – to make my day more conscious.

Examples in my life are the way I start the day: while still in bed, awakening the senses („Never get up until you‘re not fully awake,“ says Jon Kabat-Zinn), a bit of conscious breathing, drinking a glass of water, stretching the body slightly and then meditating. And it doesn’t matter how much time the current circumstances allow me, I will adapt the length of each part to the given moment. Another ritual is to consciously breathe three times before starting the engine of the car. Really tasting the first bite of each meal. In the evenings, reflecting on the day and doing a short gratitude exercise, and other little rituals that keep me attuned to the present and bring me back to what is really important: my life how it is right now. And it does not matter at all if it is a Sunday, a course day or day of travel at the beginning of the holidays.

When routines change or are difficult to follow, it is the rituals that allow us to hold the thread.

 

The Way it is

There‘s a thread you follow. It goes among

things that change. But it doesn‘t change.

People wonder about what you are pursuing.

You have to explain about the thread.

But it is hard for others to see.

While you hold it you can‘t get lost.

Tragedies happen; people get hurt

or die; and you suffer and get old.

Nothing you do can stop time‘s unfolding.

You don‘t ever let go of the thread.

William Stafford

Looking inside

by Berenice Boxler.

I look out the window and I see the forest I walked through this morning. Nature currently offers so much colour and life, texture and abundance. In the garden the flowers come out or have already passed into the next stage of their season.

There are so many exciting things to look at, whether in nature, in people‘s faces, on television, on vacation. Usually we humans are so immersed in the outside that an introspection seems strange and unnecessary at first. In all my classes and workshops I regularly notice frowning and incomprehension, especially at the beginning: „Why should I close my eyes and feel how my body is breathing? Why should I want to observe my thoughts and feelings?“

Life in the outside

The visual sense is so strong that we constantly look outward. There is nothing wrong with that, that’s how we grow up and that‘s how life is: colourful, diverse, attention-grabbing, constantly on the move. However, there is sometimes an over-stimulation. When my kids are constantly jumping around, I feel stressed out. And if they are fidgeting at the dinner-table, then I don‘t taste the food anymore. But others are less sensitive than me, for sure. Nevertheless, I notice that through my eyes I constantly send new stimuli to my brain and thus it can never come to rest.

Life on the outside can also be enormously exhausting, if we always check the outer world not only with the eyes but also mentally: What do the others think of me? How do I look? How should I present myself in order to be accepted? It easily happens that one‘s own life becomes a role by using this filter of outside perception of oneself and it moves us further and further away from how life actually is. This outward orientation is instilled, socially conditioned and an expression of the fundamental human desire to belong.

Why look inside?

If this outward orientation becomes the only measure of life, then at some point a quiet voice inside may whisper: „And me? What about me?“ It does not have to be that way, many are happy with their lives or have simply settled into their world and their habits. That‘s totally fine – but for some it is not enough.

In mindfulness practice you learn to observe the inner landscape. And this is immensely rich: thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, impulses, cravings … Life is so exciting when we open ourselves to everything that is here: outside AND inside of us.

And why should we look inside? Because the inside, our thought patterns and drives, our emotions, and also our present state of the body – all this determines what we do and how we do it. It determines how much someone annoys us or how intensively we receive a kind gesture. It influences how we feel and allows us to understand why we are doing what we are doing. And from this arises the choice for an action that will be more meaningful and helpful than any unconscious impulse.

The only control we have is about ourselves

Life outside cannot be controlled or completely planned. But would it not be nice to know the inner life and learn to control this? Almost all participants struggle to find time for formal mindfulness practice. It often takes a while for the understanding of the „why“ to develop – and usually a little longer until a conviction forms that these 2, 5, or 15 minutes of regular introspection are so deeply enriching and very helpful for daily life.

Jane Fulton Alt, an American photographer, says, „We need to go inward instead of outward, and learn to trust our own inner guide, preserving our identity and finding the answers from within.“

Adjusting a few screws…

by Berenice Boxler

Recently I burned three fingers on the hot pot. I had been lost in thoughts, the day had been full of deadlines and time pressure, no eye for details such as that I had forgotten to put out the stove. A short cry, a lot of water and a wound cream with plaster – well, the complete programme. Then it was interesting to feel the wave-like pains and how they weakened throughout the day.

What does the body need to work well?

Since I had a meeting with the little ones at the Maison Relais at noon, I talked about it: the tremendous healing powers of the body, the coming and going of pain, taking care of an injury, and „What can you do to support the body, so that it works fine for as long as possible?“ The 4- and 5-year-olds outbid themselves with „eating vegetables, eating pineapple, moving, eating apples“. We then talked about exercise, about nutrition – but nobody was aware of the importance of sleep, although many of them are often very tired. Maybe one should be tackling this issue a bit more with the children?

Self-care is not easy

Young or older, everybody knows what‘s right for the body. Why is it so difficult to do it? Why is everything else more important than taking good care of yourself?

„I have no time.“ is probably one of the most common obstacles. „Oh, that‘s alright. I do not feel like doing it right now.“ is another. And why not prefer some chips and TV at the end of a stressful day, rather than a meditation or a yoga session? That worked out fine so far, right?

Time passes, and the body changes. Everything changes. And even if you‘re okay, it does not hurt to think long-term. How can we support the body as well as possible so that it will carry us for a long time? How can we stay (or become) agile and resilient? How can we care for ourselves mentally so that we are prepared for more difficult times? Because, you know, they will come, the difficult times, because that is just part of life.

1 tool, many screws

No one has to sit down and meditate for 20 minutes each day (although that would actually not be too bad an idea). And it‘s not about suddenly training for a half-marathon.

But there is one tool and many small screws that can help us to better keep our everyday life and body in good shape:

 

The tool: pause and ask: „How am I doing right now? What does my body need now?“

The more regularly we do that, the more of an expert we become for our condition and our very individual needs. And hey, who would not like to be an expert in the field of keeping yourself in good shape?!

The screws:

– go out in nature more often (for example to a workshop on forest bathing on 19 October, more information here), take a walk, let your mind wander, open your senses to the wonders of nature, etc

exercise the body regularly: yoga, walking, fitness, chi gong, football, jogging, cycling, club sport, swimming, HIIT, muscle training, etc. Find something that suits you individually.

– get used to eating something green on a regular basis (like salad or green smoothies)

de-normalize sugar: the body does not need artificial sugar, and ripe fruit can be a wonderful substitute – So maybe save the ice cream and cake for special occasions and then really enjoy it?

– grant the body enough sleep (everything, really everything, works better with a rested body)

– and much more…

 

It‘s not about turning your entire life upside down. Take the tool in your hand, turn a small screw here and there and just watch how you feel.

Waiting for something to finally come true…

by Berenice Boxler.

Soon, my children will celebrate their birthdays again, and patience is not necessarily a strength that they have already become a master in. Or let‘s take the little trip, planned for the next holidays. „How many more days?“ They will grouch and ask me the same thing five times. And since they are not yet into counting high numbers, we sometimes count more creatively: „You will go to the forest with the class one more time before.“

Well, we adults are no better, it is just that we often conceal our impatience more skilfully: We pull out the phone when we have to wait somewhere. We distract ourselves with television, activities, or food. We ask if the other one has actually gotten our mail, if he dares not to respond within a few days.

Never here but always on the way to someplace else

Very often we are on our way somewhere or we push ourselves to get to a certain point. Thus we miss the here and now, because our view is only over there (and in the future). A feeling of impatience quickly kicks in: at the bus stop, on an appointment, at the thought of the upcoming holiday. We are confronted with resistance, strife and attempts to solve it, because impatience has as its core the idea: This moment right now is not good enough. Thus I am waiting for something/somewhere else.

What is patience?

What is patience? The dictionary describes it as „the ability to accept delay, annoyance or suffering without complaining“, originally derived from the Latin word patientia (=endurance, submission). A person is viewed as being patient when he or she can wait for something without complaining. But there is also a touch of prohibition and the task of having to endure something that you do not want. The word implies that there is a goal to wait for.

But patience is so much more than just pulling yourself together and waiting.

Patience is a form of wisdom, a kind of inner knowing that everything unfolds when the right moment has arrived. To be patient means to have the equanimity and perseverance to wait for the natural development and to give the things the time they need. Patience means recognizing the duration of a process and accepting that it is exactly what it is. You cannot make the carrots grow faster by pulling on them.

The power of patience

Cultivating patience has the great power to fully respond to the present moment and to grow from the experience: „That‘s exactly how it is. And even if I don‘t like it, that‘s the way it is.“ Patience is the ability to accept difficulty when it comes, with a sense of strength, trust, and dignity. A moment full of patience can be very reassuring, with confidence in the nature of things, and that it is ok as it is right now. The cultivation of patience creates space for experiencing life and for growth.

Author and meditation teacher Jack Kornfield says: „A cup of understanding, a barrel of love, and an ocean of patience“.

So I can try to teach my children that of course they can look forward to the holidays and their birthdays, but that they should not miss out on their lives while waiting. And the next time when I wait for the delayed train, I can practice being in this moment with acceptance and more equanimity: that‘s the way it is – even if I do not like it.