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..


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 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.

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

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.


by Berenice Boxler. 

“Thank you.” Probably more than once a day we use this little word, but it quickly becomes a phrase, a polite necessity. We are brought up to kindness and learn this little word – in connection with “please” – in early childhood. I too pay attention to whether my children express their appreciation when given a taster at the cheese counter. Gratitude is much more than a friendly acknowledgment.

Gratitude, one of the nine qualities of mindfulness according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, is not just an answer to someone or for some gift. Genuine gratitude needs no impulse and no receiving something in advance. Gratitude is especially nurturing when we feel it for what we already have.

I can be grateful for the ability to see and to feel the sun on my skin. I am grateful to my body for carrying me through life every day. And so much more… A meditation teacher once said he is currently deeply grateful for the absence of toothache.

Gratitude is a superpower:

  • Gratitude makes you happy. There are studies that show that a conscious practice of gratitude makes optimism stronger, inspires more and makes happier. But even without research, it is clear that regular feelings and expressions of gratitude increase the inner contentment and appreciation for what we have – and therefore we are less concerned about what we do not (yet) have.
  • Gratitude improves relationships. Honest and sincerely expressed gratitude for the small and large gestures in a relationship can greatly improve the general atmosphere, be it with love partners, in the family or in the professional life.
  • Gratitude helps against sleep disorders. This is the result of a study by Alex M. Wood of the University of Stirling, one of the world‘s most respected gratitude researchers. He and his team were able to show that people who feel and practice gratitude, sleep better and fall asleep more easily. Tip: If next time in bed in the evening, your head starts rolling its worrying slope again, maybe try a gratitude exercise? It certainly cannot harm…
  • Gratitude reduces stress and promotes well-being. Studies such as those by Martin Seligman and Tracy Steen have shown that exercises such as gratitude help reduce stress levels. Put simply, anyone who considers what he is grateful for cannot think about problems or fears at the same time. Further studies show that we feel less alone, have fewer physical stress symptoms, and have more energy.

Gratitude for being alive

Gratitude allows us to wake up to the wonders and richness of the present moment and not take things for granted. We breathe, we are alive, we have eyes and ears, etc. – This is usually not worth mentioning for us, but it should be. Mindfulness and gratitude go hand in hand: we can‘t be grateful for things that we are not aware of. As with all emotions, there is no black or white, it is a mixture. For example, I can be grateful for the new opportunities I have after having moved countries, and – at the same time – be sad at the friendships left behind. The one feeling does not exclude the other. Everything is allowed, even at the same time.

To notice good things, when and wherever they are, always brings us out of this dangerous vortex of thought, in which we quickly see the world as a place where bad things happen or where nothing works out the way we want. In reality, life consists of good and bad, but our brain is designed to pay more attention to the bad (so-called “negativity bias” of the brain). Mindful gratitude helps us to appreciate the beautiful moments of life, while on the other hand we are better able to create such moments for others.

Practices for more gratitude

There are many ways to practice gratitude and thus to nurture and strengthen the inner sense of fullness: e.g. journaling about things you are grateful for, consciously opening the eyes and perceiving the beautiful, honestly saying “I thank you” for a friendly gesture, thinking of 10 things you are grateful for (everything is fine here, be it “delicious breakfast”, “my healthy children”, or “having been in time for the bus”), or using imagination and 5 fingers for this exercise:

Thumb: What strengths and talents am I proud of?
Pointer finger: What in nature inspires and excites me?
Middle finger: Whom can I be of benefit today?
Ring finger: Who do I love from the bottom of my heart?
Little finger: For what in my life am I deeply grateful?

(Source:, last loaded on 14.4.2019, 13:54).
As with any practice, the secret is regularity. The more often we practice it, the stronger it will get in us. Gratitude does not cost anything while it gives us so much. So what are you waiting for?

I thank you very much for reading this article!

Speech is silver…

by Berenice Boxler

We communicate countless times every day. Face to face or in writing by mail, SMS or otherwise. People share what they have experienced or what matters to them, be it just with their best friend or an anonymous crowd of followers. Without our ability to communicate, social interaction is difficult to imagine.

The question of why

Why would I like to tell my relatives that I am spending a wonderful holiday in a grandiose winter residence? Why do I call a friend and pour out my love broken heart? Why do I ask my children every day what their day was like?

The question of the „why“ of a communication or a conversation leads into our inner being, into our inner landscape. There are innumerable reasons why we would want to communicate: to be heard, to feel the other‘s compassion or compassionate joy, to be understood, liked or recognized, to feel better than others (need for superiority), community, closeness, etc. Every action has at its core one or more needs that need to be met – even if we are often unaware of this.

This is where mindfulness comes into play: recognizing why I want to talk. Am I lonely? Do I burst with pride and joy and want to let it out? Do I need understanding? This awareness of the inner state of emotions and thoughts (and physical well-being) can greatly affect how and with whom we speak – and if now is the right time.

Sometimes the needs of some people will oppose our own core values. Do you know people who like to brag about their accomplishments or always put themselves in the best light? Also, it is not easy to hear harsh criticism of one‘s own behaviour or work. But even these individuals fulfil an inner need: to uphold recognition, self-esteem, personal perfectionism, or something completely different. With a mindful attitude, we can easily observe this without judging it.

The conscious recognition of the inner landscape in the present moment holds the great opportunity to be more awake for our speaking and to be more skilful in our choice of time, listener and content.

The content: what do we say?

There is a story of Socrates asking another person to first send his story through three strainers: truth – kindness – necessity. When the story fails the test, Socrates says, „Well, if it is neither true nor good nor necessary, let it be buried and burden you and me not with it.

There are other traditions with contemplations about „wise speech“. When we check our speech habits to see if what we want to communicate is true, friendly, and indeed necessary to tell, then there is simply no need for gossip, accusation, and meaningless talk. That may not be easy to implement in practice. This question („Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?“) has often helped me not to talk about others only by hearsay, impulsively express the harsh word or to gab when the other simply wants some quiet.

Where are we coming from: How do we speak?

The way we speak is no less important than the content. If I speak out of a state of anger or disappointment, then people won’t like listening to me. The other gets into a fight-or-flight mode and is hurt, ashamed or annoyed – and I achieve nothing, certainly not understanding or cooperation. A meaningful communication is not possible and distance is created.

Especially the children have the finest antennas for how we are. Our body language and our tone of voice tell them directly. My lesson („Now clean up your room!“) will fizzle out and be met with resistance. But if I‘m aware of my mood and I have the strong intention not to speak out of anger, then I‘ll wait – and apply some self-care and self-compassion – until I‘m able to combine clarity and friendliness. That might look like this: „Wow, what a creative play! Do you want to take so many suitcases on your trip? Where are you going? … When you‘re done playing, please put the suitcases back, otherwise the room can not be cleaned tomorrow.

It is not easy – but very worthwhile – to commit yourself never to speak when you are angry. At most something like „I am very upset and need some time for me now. We‘ll talk about this when I am calm again.“ is helpful, but everything else does not help us to what we need. A proverb says, „Anger is like burning coals: it burns us and the other“ – when we throw the coals to the other with our words or deeds, we burn ourselves with our rage.

Mindful communication needs practice

Our communication is characterized by habits, conditioning and thought patterns. But we can learn to slowly but surely navigate this huge ship of speech into a calmer sea, where there are not so many icebergs and pirates. It takes time and practice, but it‘s worth it.

Waiting for spring time

by Berenice Boxler

At the beginning of the year I was in Northern Germany on a retreat. Silence, meditation in sitting, walking and eating and in movement. Imagine a movie apparatus projecting a movie onto a collection of people. There will not be much to recognize, as there are too many forms, colours, movement, sounds. If the same movie is played onto a white wall, then you will start to see the content. This is exactly what happens in a retreat: no television or smartphones, no alcohol, no books and no talking – „silence as the real teacher“ (Jake Dartington). External distractions and routines are reduced to a minimum, so that one can see the inner processes (= films) more clearly. Only then can we see the tricks of editing and the art of putting it all together.

On one of the mindful walks, my attention turned to the landscape: grey and muddy, withered branches, well-kept but flowerless gardens, dirty horses in the pasture, everywhere puddles and rotten leaves. The houses were beautiful and you could see that the people here take great care to keep everything in order.

The brain is always working

Nevertheless, I was able to catch the following thought, which appeared again and again: „How beautiful will this look, once everything blooms!“ In my imagination I saw laughing children in summer dresses on the swings, flowering hedges, the pond full of plants and the house “Am Rosengarten” in all its glory.

And again and again I could see the lightning-fast functioning of the brain: external impressions (here: seeing) –> judging –> imagination and ideas: „what if …“ or „I think it would be more beautiful like this…“. Everything, but not the non-judgmental perception of the present moment: Right now it is so.

Life is happening now

But the practice of mindfulness does not consist in judging and criticizing these trains of thought. It‘s about recognizing how we humans function.

Realizing that we want to change things and situations that we do not like – even if only in our imagination. Realizing that we judge everything and everywhere. Realizing that we are nearly always working towards a goal, waiting for something (spring for example). Realizing that this moment in its supposedly imperfection is life. Realizing that there are so many beautiful and exciting things to experience right now: the beautiful eyes of the horses, the clear air, the voice of the body (cold!), the connection with other people, nature in all its wet green and brown colouring.

Right now it is like this, and there is nothing missing. With this realization, we can stop waiting, and live our lives, just as it unfolds.

Perspective – how we see the world

Do you know the story of the blind wise men and the elephant? The king sent his wisest men to experience and then describe an elephant. Since they were blind, each of them caught only one part: an ear, the tail, a leg, the trunk. They considered this part of the elephant to be the truth and argued about what an elephant would look like: like a branch, a long arm, a fan, a thick pillar. The king explained to them that everyone had perceived only part of the truth, their very own truth, and the wise men felt ashamed.

This story is often told on the second evening of the MBSR course when it comes to “perception”. The mindfulness practice wants us to be more open, to observe everything that is here. It’s not just about the trunk that feels like an arm in the story. It’s also about the accompanying thought: “That’s exactly how it is.” This strong identification with how we see the world can often cause our world view to conflict with someone else’s worldview.

Inner voice and thinking patterns

Our inner voice is very strong. Anyone who has ever tried a difficult task and whose inner critic wanted to tell him, “I can not do that!” knows its persuasive power. Often, we believe this voice more than others. If a friend tells us, “You look good!”, then we might say “I think I have dark circles under my eyes”, or “Does my belly not look too big in this shirt?” We often doubt the external perspective of others and stick to our small world view, which we cherish and nurture and cling to – even though we may not really like it. It is particularly difficult to accept compliments. “Wow, you did great!” is already commented by my youngest with the following words: “That’s totally easy!” (Well, except that he uses more colloquial words). I also regularly hear from my daughter: “I can’t do this!”, But more and more she tries again. And most of the time it works. At such moments, my inner voice is very strong, discussing what is the best way to save her from despair, but not to relieve her of the work and the sense of achievement.

The path is always the same: I observe what is in the foreground. Does she need an encouragement, a break, or my help? Nevertheless, every moment is exciting for itself, potentially holding a wrong decision – and this also depends on my own condition.

We all live in our own little truth

Everyone, young or old, has a limited perspective. We all live in our own little world, in our own little truth. We categorize and judge people on the basis of age, appearance, clothing, language, behaviour, etc. We evaluate whether or not he/she fits into our world or not. And then we deal with it accordingly.

Mindfulness enables us to come to life, and thus to the truth that we all have a filter in front of our eyes. Our parents, teachers, friends and life situations are constantly working on this filter, shaping and colouring it. “I’m shy.” has been one of my main filters for a long time, limiting me a lot and denying me new ways and important experiences. As I thought of myself, so I was, because “as we see the world, it presents itself for us.” Only through the mindfulness practice did I realize that my learned shyness was only a tiny part of my truth, just a thought that I had carved in stone. Recognizing and letting go of this paradigm was immensely liberating and opened the door to the world. It is still not easy to approach strangers, but I can recognize the old impulses and thought patterns – and then decide not to follow them and simply see what happens if I choose a different path. Just observing, in a calm, open and friendly way.


This summer is hot, unusually hot. “It is too much!”, this message from a loft and further comments reach me regularly. Then a storm is coming and it is raining heavily. A lot of traffic and sickness of ​​a child in the car prevent the scheduled arrival at the hotel. At the breakfast buffet, there are no more croissants left. I keep sleeping badly, it is too warm and the unfamiliar bed is keeping me awake. But then I experience a beautiful sunrise on the balcony while the whole hotel is still sleeping. The kids want to go swimming again and start whining.

I could go on forever. The summer vacation was beautiful, full of magical moments with the family and in nature, a lot of connection, discoveries and relaxation. Of course, the negativity bias of the brain is never on holidays, and therefore every evening I reflected on the day and only then did I realize how much beauty there was today compared to some few difficult moments. I am also not immune to feeling stressed or uncomfortable. My human brain does its job very well: filtering, judging, classifying, influencing the mood.

Giving up resistance with equanimity

Since my last retreat a practice accompanies me every day and helps me enormously to experience everyday life more relaxed: equanimity. Especially in unpleasant situations, this attitude opens the way TOWARD the experience and not AGAINST reality. Without being aware of it, life can quickly be full of resistance: Why is the breakfast buffet not being continually refilled? Does it have to be so hot right now? Of course, one will feel sick when watching too much iPad while driving!

Fighting against reality is not only pointless – things have already happened and now it is just as it is – but also extremely tiring. The constant struggle against life as it unfolds depletes the body and the mind. Still, accepting reality is anything but easy, especially if it´s something unpleasant or unwanted. The following sentences may help: “May I accept the things as they have developped.” and: “Things are as they are.” It’s hot. The basket is empty. The child feels sick. The room is stuffy and warm. I am tired. It is as it is, and with equanimity it is possible to acknowledge reality without resistance and then deal with it accordingly.

No resignation

Experiencing life with equanimity has nothing to do with resignation or giving in. It does not mean accepting everything just because it happened. Rather, it is a very active way of living, because we can also ease suffering with equanimity, where it is in our power and useful. It is too hot? I can accept this and try to find a solution for a refreshment. Someone has hurt me with words? I acknowledge this fact as a reality and then make clear that I disagree with it. But: “May I accept the things that I can neither control nor change, just as they are.

Right in the middle and in balance

Equanimity includes the full range and depth of emotions without being swept away by them. An equanimous attitude is part of the whole life, in its downs and in the highs: I am sad, without losing myself in self-pity and wanting to run away from the sadness with the help of food or television. I am happy without holding on to the pleasant and being afraid of losing it. I am friendly, without expecting anything in return. I feel compassion for the sick child without making reproaches (the kind lesson can come later, when it feels better again).

Equanimity allows life in combination with all that is here without being overwhelmed. It takes some practice to walk on the path of equanimity and to open the doors leading to it. It is also not something one can produce, but it comes from within, as a result of an inner process. But it really pays off to walk the path with practice and patience.

The art of listening

As children we learn to speak, as adults we should learn to listen.” Unknown

Recently at a festivity, I tried to avoid the noise avalanche during lunch, but in vain. For several reasons it was impossible to escape, and I was tormented by a multitude of loud sounds, table talk, and live music at the same time. Afterwards, I felt mentally exhausted and my body was full of tension.

Every day, so many sounds enter the ears and reach our brains. There are no doors there that we could close. The ears are open, even when we sleep, and we are the only guardians of the ear canal. But we only have limited control over what we let in. Of course, we can decide not to go to the rock concert or to stand there in front of the speakers. But especially within family life there are word streams and soundscapes of great quantity, and we cannot avoid hearing it all.

Noise or sounds?

Sounds can be pleasant, touching and uplifting. They can also be a big burden if they exceed a certain volume or duration. Of course, people are different in their noise tolerance. Hearing meditation takes the sounds as an object of attention to arrive in the here and now. Every sound, every tone, comes and goes, and we can perceive it in its entirety, trying not to guess the origin of it or to categorise the sound (“cat”, “rain”, “shouting”). This is very difficult and also very insightful because it makes us realise how obsessed our brains are with categorising and evaluating things (i.e. sounds).

Listening to other people

Listening is almost indispensable for our interpersonal communication. Of course, there are ways and means of communicating when the hearing does not work properly. But it seems that listening in the world of hearing people is not a natural matter of course. Do you know this, when trying to tell your children something, and they act as if they didn’t hear you? Or your friend, emphasising that she would listen, but obviously being bored and mentally almost visibly already at the next appointment? Or you just want to get rid of what’s on your mind, and the other person downplays your feelings (“That’s really not that bad!“) and interrupts you with well-intentioned but unwanted advice? Every day there are so many moments in which words are heard but not understood, or in which the other person is somewhere else with their mind.

True listening

True listening is a great gift that nourishes and connects us. True listening recognises and allows feelings and needs behind the uttered words. True listening gives time and space for the whole story, and true listening avoids advice and reproaches. We are so used to sharing our opinion that we often do not realise what the other person is actually needing. True listening also allows the awareness of one’s own feelings and resonances without having to fend them off. If a child is sad and tells about it, we can try to listen with compassion (“That’s hard.”), without distracting it with chocolate or television. When a partner addresses a problem, we can try to acknowledge his point of view and our own feelings without rushing to defend ourselves. If a friend has received good news and tells us joyfully, we can try to rejoice with her and open our hearts without giving in to own feelings of envy and disappointment (“Why not me?!“).

When we realize that, after the pure listening to sounds and words, our brain makes a selection, forms an opinion, interprets and evaluates and thereby triggers thoughts and emotions – only then can we make a clear choice as to how we proceed. Only then can we decide how to respond to the noisy car radio, dissatisfied children’s voices or criticism from the boss.


Proper Listening Is an Art

When I ask you to listen to me
and you start giving advice,
you have not done what I asked.

When I ask you to listen to me
and you begin to tell me why I shouldn´t feel that way,
you are trampling on my feelings.

When I ask you to listen to me
and you feel you have to do something to solve my problems,
you have failed me.

So please, just listen and hear me.
And if you want to talk,
wait a few minutes for your turn,
and I promise I´ll listen to you.

Leo Buscaglia