Book Club · fitness

FIFI Book Club: Why We Swim, by Bonnie Tsui

Hi readers– we’re reading a new book for this installment of the FIFI book club. It’s called Why We Swim, by Bonnie Tsui. Some of the bloggers are long-time and even year-round swimmers, inside and outside. Others of us have dipped a toe in from time to time, but are newly intrigued by wild swimming, lake swimming, open-water swimming. We’ve written about it recently.

We’ll be reading and commenting on the various sections of the book over the next five Fridays. We’d love to have you join us and add your comments to the mix.

To start, we’d like to introduce ourselves in terms of our past, present and aspirational relationships with moving around in water.

First up, Bettina:

I’ve been a swimmer for most of my life. My mum signed me up for a course when I was five and for the local swim club when I was in primary school. Later, I became a lifeguard. When I was 17, I moved to Wales and qualified as a beach lifeguard too. That was the only time in my life I’ve been anywhere close to an open or cold water swimmer though. Back then, we were in the ocean even in the winter, admittedly with very thick wetsuits.

Unfortunately nowadays, I don’t live close enough to a body of water large enough not to give me the heebie-jeebies. Small, murky lakes and rivers creep me out for some reason. I prefer the pool. I love the flow I can get into while doing laps. Swimming is my favourite way to get away from things and clear my head. Nothing quite compares!

Here’s Diane:

I’m a water baby. My earliest memories involve playing in the water at a lake. My hair would turn greenish in the summer from spending so many hours in the chlorinated public pools. I was even a lifeguard and swim instructor for a while. Masters club swimming, and the friends I have made there, have been central to my life for the past 15 years. I love the drills focusing on making every stroke streamlined and efficient. I swim outdoors with friends year-round. My goal is to do a 10 km swim this summer.

Next up, Sam:

Try as I might, I am not a fitness swimmer. I wish I were a fitness swimmer. I try and I try but it never seems to take the way that running did and cycling has. I know it’s great exercise and it’s easier on my joints than other forms of exercise, but still. My last attempt was just a couple of years ago, when my knee was really bothering me, and I paid for small group swim coaching/stroke improvement at the university pool. It worked for a few months but then didn’t.

The only time I’ve been successful as an indoor pool swimmer was when training for triathlon on campus with the university triathlon club. I was the anchor person for the slow lane. People came, got faster, and moved on. But I stayed. I really liked the team drills and having a coach suggest what I should try next. Apart from the team environment I’ve never been able to make it work on my own.

My struggle with indoor swimming is in contrast to my love of the water outside. I grew up on the east coast of Canada, in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and lots of my childhood summer memories are of days at the beach playing in very cold waves. Now living in Ontario I love swimming in the great lakes. What do I love about it? It makes me feel like a kid again. I feel very relaxed and comfortable in the water. I never feel like I’m at risk for drowning. It’s fun and playful. I’m drawn to the water. And I still hold out hope that eventually I’ll be a lane swimmer. Someday!

Here’s Kim:

I love swimming and miss it so much right now. I’m a lengths in the pool kind of woman; I really enjoy the smell of chlorine, the light through the windows on the water in the winter, the clear view to the bottom of the pool and the lines marking the lanes. I love indoor and outdoor pools, and I really really love cooling off in outdoor pools, stretching after other kinds of fitness activities (for example: long summer cycle tours).

I lived in the UK for several years and became quite attached to winter swimming in the outdoor lidos – generally the heated ones, as I do not own a wetsuit. That said, I am now very cold-water, wild-swimming curious: I have a chronic inflammatory condition and have heard cold water immersion is a source of terrific therapy. I’ve started standing in my shower under a flood of cold water once a day to begin getting used to the concept. I cannot wait for my local pool – Victoria Park Outdoor Pool!! – to reopen in July, and I’m very keen to read Why We Swim and share my thoughts with my fellow flutterers.

And now, me, Catherine:

I’ve always loved swimming for fun. I learned at age 4 in this creek near my grandparent’s house:

Black Creek, near Darlington, South Carolina.

I spent summers at the local pool and loved playing games with other kids, practicing dives, and swimming underwater when I wanted some solitude. In high school we lived in Myrtle Beach, SC, and I went to the beach and swam often. The beach and the warm waters of the Atlantic are my happy place. My sister and her kids and I go as often as possible.

Like Sam, I’ve never been a fitness swimmer. I’ve tried, but going to the pool and doing laps has never become a habit. Honestly, I don’t like it a lot. I always feel slow and my stroke techniques feel awkward. It’s recently occurred to me to get some swim instruction, which I think I’ll do.

But, the main thing I love about swimming is the ability to go outside my lane– to paddle around to the middle of a lake, float on my back and look at the sky, to use my own body to power through and on top of water to get places. In the ocean, to jump up or dive through waves, to swim out past the breakers, tread water and look at the scene– I love it all.

Then there’s the experience of being in water: the weightlessness, the hydrodynamics of movement, the quiet world of underwater swimming (I’ve scuba dived a bit and loved it). I’ve not pursued swimming for pure pleasure since adulthood. I think it’s high time now.

Well, readers, that’s us. What about you? What’s your currently relationship with swimming? Do you want to change it? Are you looking for inspiration, community, warmer weather, a cute swim cap? Let us know, and join us next week as we talk about section one of the book: survival.

Susie the Swimmer says, we can swim!

Book Club · meditation

40 days later: FIFI book club meditation update

Hi readers– a lot has happened since we finished reading and blogging about Sharon Salzberg’s 28-day guide to meditation practice, called Real Happiness. In short, it’s been mayhem within and without.

I found this on a coaching website. Dunno if screaming is the malady or the cure. Feel free to pick either, or both.
I found this on a coaching website. Dunno if screaming is the malady or the cure. Feel free to pick either, or both.

Just to insert a moment of levity here: when I googled “mayhem” and checked out images, it displayed this, which I adore. It has forever rehabilitated the word “mayhem” for me, and I hope it does the same for you:

High street in Hanoi, Vietnam, with little kids driving little motorized vehicles every which way.

In the midst of mayhem, can we find a little peace and quiet? Maybe we can. Sharon Salzberg thinks so, and provides some tools through her explanations, stories and exercises. Some of us have been meditating off and on (some mainly on) for years, and others are newer to meditation. Yet others were curious about how using some meditation techniques would enhance their own contemplative or therapeutic regimens.

If you’re curious about what we had to say about the Real Happiness book, you can check it out. Here’s the most recent one, and there you’ll find links to all previous posts.

If you’ve read the book, or read some of our posts, or been meditating in the past 40 days, how are things going? What is your relationship with meditation these days? Let us know in the comments.

And now, 40 days later, here are our reflections on where we are. Let’s start with Tracy:

My main goal in doing the Real Happiness Book Club with the bloggers in September was to get back on track with my meditation. I can honestly say that I have managed to stick to a daily practice consistently ever since.

Most days I use the Insight Timer meditation app, for either a guided or timed silent meditation, depending on what I feel like. After my session, the app tells me how many days in a row. Yesterday it said I’d hit 50 consecutive days of meditating with the app.

Since September when we started I have missed one day of meditation and I’m feeling grounded. It’s partly because meditation itself is grounding. But also because, for me, routine is grounding. Even the kittens have a routine around my meditation and usually, by the end, they are sitting quietly nearby (sometimes one will end up on my lap). Amidst the uncertainty of COVID and the seemingly endless amount of time spent in front of the computer these days, meditation has become a cherished part of my daily life again.

Here’s me (Catherine):

It’s not an overstatement to say that meditation has been a lifeline for me these past few months. I’m honing my new-found tool of neutral identification of emotions, sensations and thoughts that arrive around the clock, sometimes blamming into me with intensity.

What does this tool do? It allows me to feel, and be aware that I’m feeling. That last part always strikes me as miraculous, every single time it happens. It’s not a knee-jerk denial or rejection of feelings or thoughts. No, it’s a method for seeing them without their stories and associations and self-judgment PR campaigns attached. And what a relief this is– to feel what I feel, and let the feelings do what they do, which is come and go.

There’s another tool I’m learning how to use, courtesy of meditation: viewing the world (including and especially me) with full-on compassion. What do I mean here? Sometimes (I’m working on increasing the frequency…) when I encounter something or someone that provokes judgment– oh, that’s stupid! what was I thinking? argh, there they/I go again!– I take a beat. Then I think, oh, poor them/poor me. That’s hard. Just a little sympathy– for myself or others– enlarges my capacity to love and understand the world and myself.

Even though I’ve been developing and working on these tools for a while now (for many years, in fact), I’ve felt a pressing need to sit daily, sometimes twice daily, in the last 40 days, for obvious reasons. And doing so has made these last 40 days more meaningful. Have I gotten more work done? No. More exercise? No. More sleep? Maybe. More peace? Yes– in moments. And moments of peace are good.

Here’s Martha:

I am not good at meditating. I read the book and enjoyed much of it. I even took away a number of good tips. Did I implement a daily practice? No.

I realized I’m someone who likes to “do and be mindful” and I’m not someone who likes to “sit and meditate.” I do have a routine where I gather my thoughts at the end of the day and also at its start. Is this meditation? I don’t know.

What I do know is that I am aware of how my body feels at different times of the day. I am more mindful about what I am doing and that has slowed me down, and that is good. I’m more reflective, but in a productive way and not in “let’s go spiraling and overthink all the things” way.

I’m glad I read the book. I will likely read it again and try to implement if not a daily practice, perhaps a weekly one to get started. I would also recommend the book because I did change my approach and I grew my understanding of what a meditative practice would look like.

Here’s Christine:

Despite my best intentions, I have not added meditation to my days.

I enjoy the process, I see the benefits, and I *want* to do it but I don’t.I know that my challenges arise from some combination of my uneven schedule and the task initiation issues that plague people with ADHD. It’s really hard to switch off what I am doing and choose to be still.

Yet, I feel like a solution to when and how to fit meditation into my life is only just outside my reach at the moment.

So I’m going to keep switching tactics and keep trying to fit it in.It may work, it may not, but I won’t be too hard on myself about it either way.

Meanwhile, if you can, read Salzberg’s book. It’s an encouraging, helpful read, whether or not you end up with a meditation practice.

And Mina wraps it up for us:

This morning I meditated for 10 minutes, because I felt the weight of all I had to do in the day crowding around my meditation time. Really though, there should be no because in that sentence. That’s my usual amount of time anyhow.

During the period we were reading Real Happiness together, I was inspired and upped my minimum daily sit from 10 to 20 minutes. But as soon as the book was done, so was I. I didn’t gradually reduce my meditation time. I cut back from one day to the next. Whether or not the day’s agenda feels pressing, I only sit for more than 10 minutes once a week. Initially, I was disappointed with myself for not sticking with the longer sits. Then I reassessed. Did I feel like I’d gotten more benefit from the 20-minute sits? No. For me, the benefit is the daily-ness, more than the length.

And there’s this—one of my personal takeaways from Sharon Salzberg’s book was that meditation is not the one and only source of the benefits she talks about in her book. She didn’t write that. This is my personal, anecdotal observation in my own life.

I’d go further. Meditation and mindfulness are just one of the three central sources of the benefits Salzberg describes—benefits such as emotional and psychological resilience, ease and peace of mind, focus etc… Other sources of introspection and growth are important for me.

For example, I’ve recently been doing a lot of training in Non-Violent Communication techniques. My new skills support my meditation practice and my meditation practice supports my learning the new skills.

Another important source of the benefits Salzberg talks about is movement. In addition to all the shared stressors we face in this moment, I’m also in the midst of moving from my home of 27 years. The change is my own free choice. But it comes with heartbreak, grief and a whole wasp’s nest of logistics. While my meditation practice is one part of sustaining my balance and flow through this period, movement is as (or more) important. I need to literally sweat the stress away some days, not just OM it away.

So, in a paradoxical way, reading Salzberg’s book gave me permission to accept these particularities about what feeds my soul and to use that knowledge to support myself. Instead of being disappointed by my 10-minute meditations, I’m happy to have the resource of meditation and to have the extra time when I’m not meditating anymore to devote to another mode of support. I didn’t fall off the wagon when I cut back my meditation time after the book club. I recognized that the wagon had more wheels than just meditation and I am taking time to keep them all rolling smoothly.

Book Club · fitness

FIFI Book Club: Real Happiness by Sharon Salzberg– Keeping the Practice Going

Hi readers, and welcome to the seventh installment of FIFI book club’s reading of Sharon Salzberg’s book Real Happiness: a 28-Day Program to Realize the Power of Meditation. Each week we’ll offer some reflections as we move through the chapters, and maybe do some of the exercises, too. You are invited to join us, and we’d love to read and respond to any comments you’d like to share.

Last week we blogged here about week four. We blogged here about week three. we blogged here about week two. We blogged here about week one, Concentration. We blogged about Chapter 2: Why Meditate, here. You can read the first entry 1 here.

Today’s group post is about keeping the practice going, so it will be our last one. For 30 days. We’ll be back in a month to update you on where each of us is in terms of meditation. If you are meditating, or have been reading this book or doing a course on meditation, we’d love to hear from you about how that process is going for you.

NOTE: we will all be checking back in a month from now to report on ways the book and the meditation exercises have affected our own meditation practices and also how mindfulness has inserted itself into our everyday lives. Stay tuned!

And now, without further ado, is Mina:

I have thoroughly enjoyed re-reading this book and re-immersing myself in Sharon Salzberg’s gentle, yet firm voice. I love her straightforward insights. I love that she is very clear that meditation is about daily-ness—doing it regularly and showing up with more patience and kindness in our daily lives, in regular situations.

In a section of this Keep Going chapter titled, Make Sure Your Life Reflects Your Practice, I was struck by a quote she attributes to a teacher from India: “It seems to me that some people here want to meditate in order to have great transcendent experiences or amazing alternate states of consciousness. They may not be too interested in how they speak to their children or treat their neighbour.” Yes! Though I would also add that it’s not just about how we treat our children or community, but also how we treat our own selves, too. This is the biggest promise of meditation. Not fireworks and transforming into a cone of white light rising up into the sky to join the lucky enlightened ones, but more kindness, patience, ease and love.

Early in this chapter, there’s a multi-paragraph long list of all the benefits of meditation, including: help us drop painful habits, be calmer, be kinder to ourself and others etc… All of which brings me back to the first chapter of the book and a question I posed in an earlier book club post—is meditation alone enough to accomplish all this? I don’t think so. I have had a daily meditation practice for almost two years now. While I find it a powerful tool as I work toward that list of great outcomes, I need more resources to support the practice and access its benefits.

I think of meditation in terms of food pairing or food synergy—that’s the science of combining foods to access more of the nutrients. Meditation is the same. To access its nutrients, we have to combine our sitting practice with dharma talks and other sources of insight (therapy, retreats, or other self-refinement modalities). So that before we even take our seat on the cushion, we have begun to understand ourselves better. Combining multiple sources of wisdom, with what we are learning in our meditation, is a surer way to access the nourishment of our sitting practice.

That’s where books like this one come in. Meditation can definitely help us feel happier. Not instantly. Not without commitment. And not without the scaffolding of books like this, to give us the guidance we need to access the energy and aliveness that meditation offers. I feel revitalized after spending time in the company of Sharon Salzberg’s words.

Here’s Christine:

Reading Sharon Salzberg’s ‘Real Happiness’ has been a terrific investment in self-care.

Even though I didn’t put the work in to develop a consistent meditation practice*, I still got a lot out of the meditation that I did do, AND I got a lot out of reflecting on the content of the book itself – and the feelings that arose as a result.

This final section felt very good to read. I especially appreciated this commentary on the point of meditation:“This is why we practice meditation – so that we can treat ourselves more compassionately; improve our relationships with friends, family, and community; live lives of greater connection; and, even in the face of challenges, stay in touch with what we really care about so we can act in ways that are consistent with our values.”

Like most of us, that list encompasses my most important goals in life and even the little bit of meditation I have done during this process has helped me move closer to those ideals. And, I really love the idea that meditation is about giving ourselves internal space to respond differently – it’s not about changing ourselves or others, it’s about expanding the capacity we already have.

I also appreciated Salzberg’s advice about being willing to start over (which happens to be a specialty of mine) and about just showing up for practice. In her discussion of that latter point, she quotes the advice of her teacher, Munindra-Ji, who says “Just put your body there. Your mind will do different things all of the time, but you just put your body there. Because that’s the expression of commitment, and the rest will follow from that.”

I wish I had read that at the beginning.

I essentially give that same advice for developing a writing practice (short version – practice being in your writing spot, if you can’t write, just sit. Next time, sit and write a complaint about how hard it is to be there. Eventually, the regular writing will come.) and I hadn’t thought to apply it to meditation. I think I need to make a more conscious list of my procedures so I have it available for transferable skills moments like this.

Anyway, I love having that permission to just sit. And her further discussion in that section expands on that helpful beginning. She reminds us not to evaluate our progress over and over during a session and to use the right criteria for evaluation. In this case, the criteria she suggests is about how life is different and how well we are able to go with the flow rather than any sort of metric about minutes meditated or distractions therein.As I consult my notes, I realize that I could write essay after essay about the insights in this book in general and this section in particular so I think I will just finish here by saying that this book was worth every second I spent with it so far and I plan to spend even more.If you want to have a little more mental space in your day to day, you, too, may be able to find it by creating space in your schedule for reading this book and for doing the practices within. I made the space for reading but didn’t make quite enough space for the practices. In October, I’m going to create that extra space in my schedule so I can create even more space in my brain. I’ll let you know how it goes.*To be clear, the issue is not her program or meditation itself. Despite my initial intent, I was not able to prioritize meditation for a variety of reasons during the time frame of these review posts. And I’m ok with that. Now that I have read the whole thing, I suspect I will have more success with consistency. I always forget that I need the big picture when I am learning something new. In TKD, for example, I need to see someone perform the whole pattern slowly before I can start learning it. This meditation practice isn’t exactly building on the step before in the same way but I think I still needed the context of the whole to fully commit to practicing the pieces.

Here’s Tracy:

I am so grateful that Catherine invited me to this book club for Sharon Salzberg’s Real Happiness. As I’ve mentioned in previous weeks, it really kick-started my fading meditation practice back into action. I have diligently managed to commit to 20 minutes a day almost every day for the past 5 weeks, with very few exceptions and it feels good.

I had a couple of insights when reading the final chapter, “Keeping the Practice Going.” The first was in response to when she says, “With a strong foundation in how to practice meditation, we can begin to live in a way that enables us to respect ourselves, to be calm rather than anxious, and to offer caring attention to others instead of being held back by notions of separation.” I love this idea of living more calmly and I have found over the years that I have attained the ability to do this at least some of the time. When I am practicing regular meditation I have a better chance of carrying a calm countenance into my day. I also like the notion of “caring attention.” I contrast this with a different kind of attention that I can give others when I am not grounded: annoyed attention; judgmental attention; frustrated attention; fix-it attention.

My favourite recommendation from this chapter for when the practice is waning is “start over.” Somewhere along the way a laminated bookmark fell into my hands. It says “Remember you can still start over every morning.” I taped it to my bathroom mirror alongside the quote that got me through my divorce: “Beware for I am fearless and therefore powerful,” from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I like to remind myself that I can actually start over at any moment of any day. If I didn’t meditate in the morning, I can meditate now. If I don’t meditate now, I can meditate before bed. Indeed, I can even do a bedtime / sleeping meditation, which I do in a pinch, when the day has gotten away from me and I know that I will not stay awake long enough to sit. I open the Insight Timer app and play one of Jennifer Percy’s Yoga Nidra for Sleep meditations. But mostly, I will do my 20 minutes of silent sitting in the morning. And if I miss a day entirely I will pick it up the next day. Meditation has helped me let go of all-or-nothing thinking where it has to be perfect. I love the idea of starting over, fresh page, new day!

I also appreciated the point about using ordinary moments. It’s fine to sit in silence, but I can also close my eyes and breath at a stop light while driving, or pay attention to my breath when I’m sitting in a meeting at work, or pause for a moment to be more mindful and attentive when I sit down to a meal.

And I had an insight when reading the section about life reflecting my practice. I used to think (recently, in fact) that in order to get my meditation habit kickstarted I would need to go away to the meditation centre for a ten-day course. That only ten days of ten hours a day of meditation would reinforce my habit. But I no longer think this. If I weave meditation throughout my day and into my life, then every thing I do can be a meditation of sorts. As Salzberg says, “Are we living according to our deepest values, seeking the sources of real happiness, applying the skills of mindfulness, concentration, and lovingkindness throughout all areas of our lives?” I don’t need to be at a meditation centre for that. Actually, as wonderful as the meditation centre is, it’s an artificial environment sheltered from my actual life. A stronger practice can emerge when I am incorporating meditation into my daily life and letting its effects flow into all areas. That’s a new way of thinking about it for me — quite dramatically different from my thought that I had to “get away” in order to “get it.”

That is the one new way of looking at it that I hope sticks when I am longing for the opportunity, lost this summer due to covid-19, to spend a month in the cloistered space of the Ontario Vipassana Centre.

Here’s Martha:

In some ways, I wish I had read this chapter first. It spoke to me so clearly. I loved the practical, focused tone – especially the part about perfection. However, I also recognize that if I had I wouldn’t have identified all the way I do practice a form of meditation. The issue is that I have no regular practice but I have an intermittent one. And Truth be told, I joined this read-a-long so I could form a regular practice. (I am just a bundle of contradictions today!).

The timing couldn’t be better though. I embark on my 60th year tomorrow and what better way to kick off such a momentous adventure than by committing to practicing what I have learned. I usually end my day with a quick think about what I did that day and I set out a plan for the next. Salzberg’s book is about taking on a lengthier process to ground one’s self and to be. She quotes a teacher who says “just put the body there.” I’m reading that as make the space, take yourself there and the rest will follow.

I’ve watched as slow food, slow fashion, slow teaching have emerged and influence how we approach our everyday lives. Why not with meditation? Salzberg’s focus on making ordinary moments meditative ones highlights the mindfulness even as she encourages the longer focus. My approach to meditation has been fast; I flit from a moment to a moment but never go deeper. I’ll use my morning and evening resets as a place to start from and see where this new approach takes me. I like the idea of the meditation journal as a place to collect insights, howsoever random they may appear at first blush. The only thing I am sure of is that the next 30 days are going to be interesting …

And me, Catherine:

Daily meditation practice has been a lifeline for me these past few months. That’s not an exaggeration. When I haven’t been able to move my body– my usual go-to for anxiety, stress, and trouble focusing– I have been able to sit and listen to a guided meditation. Even 5 minutes helps. Even 3 minutes. Even 10 deep breaths. They all help.

How do they help? Meditation, over time, helps create a neutral space for observing, noticing what I’m doing and what I’m feeling. I cannot convey to you all how important that space is for me. Being able to occupy it sometimes, for a moment or two, offers a little perspective from which to see self-judgment, self-blame, other negative thoughts and emotions, as what they are– just some thoughts and emotions. They come. They go. That’s the way of them.

This morning is day two of ouchy-crick-in-neck time. I slept oddly, and it’s been bothering me. In addition to some gentle stretching and occasionally anti-inflammatories, I sat this morning and meditated on bodily sensations. My ouchy neck was the initial focus, but over time the feeling kind of dissolved, and I got sort of bored with it. I returned to the breath, and then noticed tingling in my right foot. So I focused there. At the end of 15 minutes, I felt more balanced– by that I mean more aware of my body as a collection of changing sensations over time. It was a relief to let go of focus on one thing and judgment of it as bad.

This doesn’t always happen in meditation; sometimes I’m thinking about lunch, or work, or imagining going to the beach, etc. At some point I’ll notice this and head back to the breath. This is what mindfulness is, says Sharon Salzberg: heading back to the breath when you notice you’ve moved away from it. Yeah, I can do that.

We’ll check back in a month from now. Until then, keep breathing…

Book Club · fitness

FIFI Book Club: Real Happiness by Sharon Salzberg, week four–Lovingkindness

Hi readers, and welcome to the sixth installment of FIFI book club’s reading of Sharon Salzberg’s book Real Happiness: a 28-Day Program to Realize the Power of Meditation. Each week we’ll offer some reflections as we move through the chapters, and maybe do some of the exercises, too. You are invited to join us, and we’d love to read and respond to any comments you’d like to share.

Last week we blogged here about week three. we blogged here about week two. We blogged here about week one, Concentration. We blogged about Chapter 2: Why Meditate, here. You can read about the intro and chapter 1 here.

This week is week four of meditation practice techniques and exercises, called Lovingkindness: Cultivating Compassion and True Happiness. Here are our reflections.

First up is Mina:

I love the encouragement the lovingkindness meditation gives me to be my best self. And by that I don’t mean some perfectly, implausibly love-everybody, angelic version, but as Sharon Salzberg writes in this Week 4 chapter, “extending friendship to ourselves and others—not in the sense of liking everyone, or dispensing universal approval, but more as an inner knowing that our lives are all inextricably connected.” A couple paragraphs later she writes, “to look at ourselves and others with kindness instead of reflexive criticism.”

The lovingkindness she describes is gritty and takes a lot of presence. But since, as she points out in her description, the first person to whom we are extending our kindness is ourselves. When I screw up and get my kindness toward someone else wrong, I need to be kind to myself, instead of taking that easy refuge in reflexive self-criticism. Berating myself that I’m not a nice person is a lot less likely to improve my behavior than paying attention to where I went awry and reminding myself of our inextricable connectedness.

In the Ten Ways to Deepen Your Practice section, number 9 suggests we refrain from speaking ill of others. So … that is a practice that I’ve been wrestling with for a few years. Unsurprisingly, it’s a work in progress. I’ve gotten better than I used to be, but boy is it hard. All those moments of gossip, righteousness and schadenfreude that slip into conversations. Can you believe she …? I wouldn’t have done … What did she expect … ?

In my efforts, I’ve discovered that it’s easier to bring my attention to the moments I’m about to write, in an email or text, something not-so-nice about someone else. As soon as I notice, I stop. I think about how I’d feel if the person saw what I’d written. I stop writing or delete. I have noticed that some friends are frustrated if I don’t want to participate in these kinds of conversations. But they’re so fun, a friend once said to me. Are they? After paying some attention to how I feel after such exchanges, I’ve noticed that my ego might feel temporarily better (as in—I’m doing better than that person). But I’ve also noticed, when I take the time, that I feel some level of nausea, too. As if the person actually heard what I said and was hurt by it.

Of course, I only notice these responses, if I’m paying attention. Thank you, Sharon Salzberg, for reminding me how to use the lovingkindness meditation for just that!

Next up is Christine:

I enjoyed the process of reading and reflecting on this section.

I am still not doing the practices as often as I had hoped to be but I am being patient with myself as I figure out how to make meditation a regular part of my life. And, by doing that, I guess I have been practicing one part of lovingkindness.

I find lovingkindness meditations a little bit of a struggle. I don’t object to them in a philosophical way, I don’t argue with the ideas involved. I just find it hard to focus because I have trouble letting go of the idea of a list of people to think about. So that makes me aware of the possibility of forgetting someone. And I also have trouble holding the image of someone in my mind. Well, I’m sure you can see the spiral I end up falling into from all of that.

But that being said, I love the idea of changing how we pay attention to the people around us. Lovingkindness is not about learning to let people walk all over you and it’s not about learning to adore them, it’s about learning to see them and yourself differently – with more compassion.

This change in approach doesn’t necessarily affect the other person, you aren’t doing it ´for’ them, per se. It can, however, change how you see and interact with them. That definitely makes your interactions a little smoother and creates some ease for you. (That may or may not create changes in your dynamic but that’s not the point.)

So, as she has mentioned throughout the book, changing the way we pay attention affects our experiences and this one seems to have a more tangible result than some of the other practices. Meanwhile, I love how she keeps emphasizing that it doesn’t make us like difficult people and that we don’t have to try to like them, we just have to learn to understand that they too are struggling and that we can be compassionate about that.

I am very intrigued to continue my practice with meditation for quieting the inner critic. The inner critic of people with ADHD can be particularly chatty and I like to have many tools for managing that chatter. My ADHD meds have already helped a lot with that particular issue and they give me the space to make good use use of tools like the meditation she shares here.

Even though this whole chapter was interesting to me, I found the final section ´Ten Ways To Deepen Your Practice’ especially useful. Even just the first two recommendations ‘Think of kindness as a strength, not as a weakness,’ ‘Look for the good in yourself,’ bring me a kind of restful feeling, and that’s pretty good for a few lines of text.

Side note: The personal timing of this topic is interesting to me considering that I had a revelation this weekend that one of the reasons I feel tired when I open FB is that I feel like I am trying to maintain too many friendships at once – like there are extra things to remember all the time. I wonder how exploring and practicing lovingkindness meditation might help me address that feeling?

Here’s Martha:

So far this has been the hardest week for me. I’m not sure why. I think I have looked upon meditation as a way of emptying my brain or jumping off the hamster wheel. I don’t object to the concept of loving kindness. However, I don’t much enjoy focusing on people in my meditation. Perhaps it is because I already spend some time each week connecting with people purposefully in loving kindness through chats, messages, or online.

That said, I took this book as an opportunity to learn new things about meditation and I have. I’ve enjoyed exploring mindful attention not just in everyday life but as a form of practice. I realized I need to look at meditation practice as a form of kindness to self, and as such it should become one of my big rocks if I want to keep at it. I like lists so “Ten Ways to Deepen Your Practice” spoke to me in ways other parts of the chapter did not.

Here’s Tracy:

This week I fell back into doing what I know, using the weekly theme more as a guide than following the chapter in all of its detail. I know and love the loving kindness, or metta, practice. It can have a dramatic effect on my feelings towards myself and others, especially when I imagine extending my metta towards people with whom I experience difficulty.

My favourite guided version of this practice is the Metta Bhavana practice by the Buddhist teacher Bodhipaksa, which I first discovered on a CD of his that I bought about 15 years ago. That was my first encounter with the four stages of lovingkindess, where you direct it first towards yourself, then to someone you feel good about, then to someone you feel neutral about, and then to someone you have difficulty with. When coupled with the mindfulness we have been practicing over the past few weeks, I was able have keen awareness of how resistant I was to extending lovingkindess towards someone I have difficulty with. But I did it anyway. As outlined in Real Happiness, we extend loving kindness in meditation by wishing someone well with a few positive phrases. My phrases, taken from Bodhipaksa, are “May [I/you/we/they] be well; may [I/you/we/they] be happy; may I/you/we/they be free from suffering.” But you can insert “peaceful” or “safe” or “healthy” or “live with ease” or whatever resonates as well-wishing from your heart.

What this practice done consistently does for me is make me more compassionate towards myself and others. I confess that a couple of times this week I focused on myself because, what with getting back to work after a long absence and all, I found myself being hard on myself for having some difficulty staying on top of things. Introducing this loving kindness into my meditation every morning, I was able to accept that there’s nothing wrong with a slow start. Not only that, I was even able to recognize that I am feeling energized and happy to be back at my regular role.

But it also made me more able to extend a quick olive branch after I acted poorly towards a server at a restaurant that I frequent. I was snippy because our reservation for an outdoor table had not been noted, so we had to wait quite awhile. It hadn’t been noted because they hadn’t checked their voicemail. So I said, “does your voicemail say we don’t take reservations by voicemail; you have to speak to a person?” in a not-nice tone of voice. Maybe not the worst thing but the interaction left me feeling like I had been unfair and mean. So I approached her later and apologized, expressed that she didn’t deserve to be spoken to like that, and admitted that my behaviour was uncalled for and that she always does a great job (it is the only restaurant patio I go to on a regular basis since COVID). I don’t know if I can attribute my entire ability to do that to this week’s meditation theme, but part of what motivated me was a quick awareness that she must not have enjoyed that interaction any more than I did.

Next week I will continue with the loving kindness meditation, maybe doing a few more of the suggested practices from the Week Four Chapter. Since we started, I have consistently managed to meditate for at least 20 minutes every day and I feel as if this book club was just the kickstart I needed to get back on track. 

And here’s me (Catherine):

For me, this past week has been more difficult for focusing on daily meditation. My semester is in the middle of its third week, and I’m running on all cylinders all the time. I haven’t been doing meditation first thing in the morning, instead using that time for class prep and assignment grading. This is not good for me. When meditation gets pushed into some other TBA slot, I feel like it diminishes the specialness of the time spent. Meditation isn’t like throwing that last load of laundry in the dryer; I need some dedicated space around sitting for contemplation or just peace.

Enter Sharon Salzerg and lovingkindess meditation. I’ve done this meditation before, and (like Tracy), use different phrasing depending on what I’m focusing on. Like Christine, my inner critic needs a lot of attention, and offering up gentle awareness and open-heartedness toward those feelings and thoughts is always welcome in my mental universe.

One of the Ten Ways to Deepen Your Practice suggestions I really like is “include those who may feel left out”. Salzberg suggests trying this in conversation, asking quieter people what they think. Here’s a story of how suggestion played out in my life this week.

My department puts together a student curriculum committee to work with us to review and offer feedback on new and revised courses, and suggest changes for existing offerings. We were talking about who should be on the committee, and I suggested K (one of my students). In describing K, I said that they were in need of a little polishing in terms of student-faculty interactions. In a talk with K recently, they said that they thought they needed to be aggressive as they wanted “to be a lawyer, and I hear that lawyers are aggressive”. K has acted on this by being a bit annoying, I admit.

After telling my colleagues about this, they said, “well, then, why would we want K to be on this committee?” I said, “because K needs to learn how to act around faculty, and they will definitely learn from us.” My colleagues agreed, somewhat reluctantly.

I talked with K today to encourage them to join this committee. K is pleased, and I think it’s an opportunity for growth for them. It’s not going to be easy, navigating this relationship. But, I know it will give all of us (K, me, the rest of the students and faculty on the committee) a chance to practice forms of lovingkindness toward each other and ourselves. Thank you, Sharon Salzberg for putting this practice front and center at a good time!

Book Club · fitness

FIFI Book Club: Real Happiness by Sharon Salzberg, week three–Mindfulness and Emotions

Hi readers, and welcome to the fifth installment of FIFI book club’s reading of Sharon Salzberg’s book Real Happiness: a 28-Day Program to Realize the Power of Meditation. Each week we’ll offer some reflections as we move through the chapters, and maybe do some of the exercises, too. You are invited to join us, and we’d love to read and respond to any comments you’d like to share.

Last week we blogged here about week two. We blogged here about week one, Concentration. We blogged about Chapter 2: Why Meditate, here. You can read about the intro and chapter 1 here.

This week is week three of meditation practice techniques and exercises, called Mindfulness and Emotions. Here are our reflections.

First up is Mina:

I love this bit in the Week Three chapter about how mindfulness works with our emotions by opening: “…the possibility of finding the gap between a trigger event and our usual conditioned response to it, and of using that pause to collect ourselves and change our response.” Even if we’re not Olympic athletes or Formula 1 race car drivers, nanoseconds can matter deeply in our lives. I couldn’t even count the number of times I’ve not even paused to take a breath before my auto-response has exploded, usually incinerating my partner, possibly others in the vicinity and most definitely sparking a backdraft into me.

Forget enlightenment, finding that pause is, for me, the single biggest possibility offered by meditation. Mastering the pause is not the work of a week. More like a lifetime. Sharon Salzberg points out in this chapter that the pause has two parts. First is the pause itself. Taking that breath. Noticing. The second part is how we are in the pause. What is the quality of our noticing? This second part is where I have the most trouble. Because, as she points out, we need to notice without judgment, without blame, without casting aspersions on ourselves or others, and without giving into our discomfort, by lashing out at ourselves or someone else. That. Is. Hard. Learning to be comfortable with whatever arises can cause me enormous amounts of agita.

This past week I was supposed to be working diligently on a client project that’s due next Friday. Instead, I mooched around more than usual and told myself it was because my ankle was sprained. Also, we decamped to Montreal (from New York) for 3.5 months this week, so I was preoccupied with packing and traveling and unpacking and settling in under quarantine restrictions. Then there was the non-client, pro bono work that I love and so keep doing no matter what. And then there was my undertaking to myself (as part of this book club) to meditate for twenty minutes a day, instead of my more usual ten minutes.

As the week progressed, I got increasingly anxious about my client project, and increasingly intransigent about doing it. While meditating, I’d think to myself, “What a wastrel. You are obviously a highly unimportant person if you have this much time to meditate. Oh, and arrogant, too, thinking you’ll still be able to finish the project on time.” And so on.

But … this book was also whispering in my ear, “You are not your thoughts. What does it feel like to be ignoring your client project to the maximum like this? Be with what’s arising. No judgment.” And guess what? Instead of biting my partner’s head off when he asked me if I was stressed, I explained where I was at and how I was feeling. Same movie. New ending. This week’s chapter supported me in a moment of need, when my ability to find the pause was tenuous.

Here’s Christine:

This week’s topic really resonated with me.

As a storyteller by both trade and inclination, and as someone whose ADHD fosters emotional extremes, I am always looking for ways to notice both the internal narratives I create and the feeling that initiates them.

Years ago, when I was seeing a psychologist for situational depression, I was asked to create a mood diary to help identify some of the things that brought me down. I couldn’t do it. It was completely impossible for me backtrack from the feelings to the thoughts I had followed to get there. At the time, this added to my feelings of frustration and failure. Since my ADHD diagnosis, I know that I had multiple obstacles in my way – the spiderweb of thoughts, stories and connections that every event generates, plus the extreme emotional reactions/RSD that can come with ADHD, plus my challenges with task initiation (keeping a notebook at hand and summoning the motivation to write while already feeling bad? Tricky to say the least.)

I could probably do it now if I had to. I know lots of ways to help build habits and my medication generally gives me a little space between a given thought and my action – even internal ‘actions’ like creating a story. That doesn’t mean that I can always catch my thoughts before they drag me into feeling bad but I can usually trace them backward more easily these days.

The fact that my medication creates that space between thought and action (with varying success depending on how tired/busy/overwhelmed/awash in emotions I am) makes me curious about how more mindfulness could create a bigger space between those things.

My storytelling and coaching self was also drawn into the discussion of how we tend to mix up our thoughts (and the connecting stories) with our whole selves. Salzberg gives the example that when we strike our funny bone we don’t think of ourselves as a sore elbow but when we have a sad thought we think ‘I’m sad.’ A lot of my coaching practice involves helping people separate their stories from the facts about themselves, and I’m interested to see how meditation can be another tool in helping people develop that skill.

Before I was medicated for ADHD, I was often drawn to meditation because I felt that there was something important in there for me. And I could meditate – sometimes even for long sessions – but I couldn’t make it a habit. I remember speaking to my doctor at the time and saying that I felt like creating a meditation habit was on the other side of a river and that I wanted to try medication to see if it would help me build a bridge to the habit. (Interesting that I chose that metaphor at the time. It’s no wonder that things like this ‘Motivation Bridge’ video end up helping me so much –

By the time I was medicated, I had a lot of family things to deal with and lost track of the plan to add more regular meditation to my life. I have come back to it multiple times since, though. I find it cool that my instincts were right – I function better when I have space between thought and action. I thought at the time that medication would help me meditate and that would be the path to finding that space. Instead, the medication gave me the space but I still think meditation will, over time, make that space larger.

Here’s me, Catherine:

This week of meditation shifts the focus to emotions, and that’s been significantly harder for me than the previous two weeks (which were about attention to the breath and then attention to the body). Why? Well, even though breathing and bodily feels are foundational, emotions can feel bigger and more dramatic, more overwhelming. Breathing in and out is soothing because it makes my emotions simmer down, recede to a distant corner, hopefully to slink away.

But that isn’t the lesson Sharon Salzberg teaches us here. She notes that we erect barriers to happiness, and facing our emotions can help us get around or over those barriers. The barriers, FYI, are:

  • desire: grasping, clinging, wanting
  • aversion: anger, fear, impatience
  • sloth: numbing out, switching off, disconnecting, becoming sluggish
  • restlessness: anxiety, fretfulness, agitation
  • doubt: inability to make a decision

The sloth one really hits me where I live. My anxiety and sadness reactions tend toward shutting down; I sometimes feel overwhelmed and very low energy. Retreating to my bed or mindlessly zoom-scrolling just exacerbates the problem, and then I blame myself for my weakness. Yuck! So what does Salzberg recommend?

The RAIN method: recognize, accept, investigate, and non-identify with the emotion. By slowing down and adopting a non-reactive reaction to a passing emotion, it just… passes.

It was hard to do the difficult emotion meditation this week; it got a bit intense for me. But, one of my meditation teachers told me that it’s always possible to back off and go back to the breath, or to acknowledge the intensity and let that feeling pass.

Meditation is a life-long contemplative self-knowledge development process. Each time I restart it, I develop a bit more resilience or a bit more depth in the contents of that meditation. Every day, every sitting is different, and I am finding that I really look forward to what is unfolding.

And here’s Tracy:

This week I actually did what the program suggested because I’ve been sort of using it as a nudge to get me back to a daily practice (which it has) but have only been loosely following it. But since I had an initial “no way” reaction to the week’s theme of “Mindfulness and Emotion,” I took that as a sign that I needed to pay attention and not avoid. So glad I did.

I also took more detailed notes after my meditations this week (I’ve been keeping a notebook where I make a little entry after each sitting). My first entry says: “Her teacher when she was 18 was Goenka! [that is the teacher whose method is taught at the Vipassana Centre]. I did the guided and learned RAIN: Recognition, Acceptance, Investigation, Non-identification. Worry and fear came up…”

Keeping the notes helped me recognize that worry came up a lot last week. I have just adopted two little rescue kittens and one of them was having some litter box issues. She was peeing beside the box, and then took it to other places where you really do not want a kitty to pee. Medical has sort of been ruled out. I jumped way ahead to “I’m going to have to separate these cats because she’s a nervous kitty who needs to be a solo cat and if I don’t re-home her she will be miserable and eventually I’ll have to throw out all of my furniture and this is what my life is going to be for the next 15-20 years” (she’s done it twice, and both were easy clean-ups).

It was a good opportunity for me to the same issue can seem emotionally overwhelming one day and completely manageable the next. I also learned that I tense up and stop breathing when I get worked up emotionally, and that a lot of my “negative” emotions live in my chest and throat, both of which get tight. And that consciously breathing helps me calm down.I also started the week with last week’s mindful tea-drinking exercise and I highly recommend it. It was the most pleasant cup of tea I’ve had in years.

Book Club · fitness

FIFI Book Club: Real Happiness by Sharon Salzberg, week two–Mindfulness and the Body

Hi readers, and welcome to the fourth installment of FIFI book club’s reading of Sharon Salzberg’s book Real Happiness: a 28-Day Program to Realize the Power of Meditation. Each week we’ll offer some reflections as we move through the chapters, and maybe do some of the exercises, too. You are invited to join us, and we’d love to read and respond to any comments you’d like to share.

Last week we blogged here about week one, Concentration. We blogged about Chapter 2: Why Meditate, here. You can read about the intro and chapter 1 here.

This week is week two of meditation practice techniques and exercises, called Mindfulness and the Body. Here are our reflections.

I’ll start today (Catherine).

This chapter is my absolute favorite, even among other meditation books I’ve read. Why? Because it evokes all kinds of sense memories I have: very painful ones (my appendix ruptured when I was 30; that’s a 9.8 on the 10-point pain scale for sure), and also ordinary ones (I noticed this week that I rush like mad through teeth-brushing, so slowed down to see what it was like; answer: more interesting).

Saltzberg is in effect giving us permission to focus on what our bodies feel like when we’re going through our day. And how do they feel? Different from moment to moment. And what does this mean? Nothing much; it’s how bodies work. But, that feels like an enormous relief to me. Experiencing and witnessing non-earthshaking change for 15–20 minutes is having the effect of opening up something, a set of possibilities I’m too timid to identify or hope for. Is the world/my world really less fragile, less endangered, less burdened that I usually (these days) think it is? Dunno. For now, I’ll just continue to sit and walk and breathe and attend to those sensations.

Here’s Mina:

Week Two of this book’s program is about mindfulness and the body. In keeping with the theme, I’ve been listening daily to one of my favourite 20-minute body scan meditations. Yes, I “should” be listening to Sharon Salzberg’s meditations, but I no longer have any way of listening to CD’s and I want what I want, my fave.

Early in the chapter, Salzberg talks about the difference between our direct experience and the add-ons we impose, which cause further suffering; what other Buddhist teachers call the second arrow. Applying that line of thinking to myself—my direct experience is that I’m not following the book’s specific meditations, but I’m avoiding the temptation to add-on, by criticizing myself for my lack of followership, or criticizing myself for not being a compliant book club member.

One of the reasons I’m drawn to my fave is that at the end the meditation teacher asks a series of questions that always intrigue and provoke me in different ways. If I am not this body, who am I? If I am not my emotions, who am I? If I am not my thoughts, who am I? She repeats the questions three times. The fact that she repeats the questions three times is something that took me a long time to realize. My mind would either have drifted before the questions started or it would begin wrestling with the questions and miss their repetition. Over time I’ve gotten more comfortable letting the questions be and noticing what bodily sensations, emotions and thoughts pass across the horizon in response. Some days I feel peaceful and loose. Other days I feel anxious and want to hang on tighter to my body, emotions and thoughts.

Then, after I’d written that paragraph above, I got a real test of the direct experience vs. add-ons. I sprained my right ankle on a run. Badly enough that I am wearing one of those big clunky surgical boots and will not be running (or doing yoga, or my skipping workout, or, or, or) anytime soon. The direct experience is a loss of mobility and freedom. The add-ons I’m struggling with are the enormous frustration of not being able to move how I like in my body and not being able to get my heart rate up in the great outdoors.

My mind’s first impulse is to catastrophize—I’ll never be fit again. I’ll dissolve into a muscle-less worm. Never mind other add-on self-talk in the category of blaming and criticizing myself for the accident.So, my practice at the end of this second week about body and mindfulness, is to notice my instinct to add-on, to be gentle with my body, so it can heal (because I know it will, despite my fears) and to be kinder to myself, because why suffer more than I need to?

Here’s Martha:

This was a curious chapter for me. I spent a fair bit of time in my 30s letting go of negative self talk so as another FIFI book blogger noted, it doesn’t always resonate when Salzberg uses those examples. I am intrigued by mindfulness as a practice as I have several friends and colleagues who use it for self-care. I did like the variety of options to approach mindfulness as the body scan is a common one (I often fall asleep before I get past my neck so I use it to fall asleep sometimes if I’m distracted).

I was challenged to think about the differences between concentration and mindfulness, and I concluded at the end of the chapter the difference is about the level of deliberation. Salzberg describes it quite well in the walking meditation. I’ll probably have to think about these two a lot more in the future as it’s still a little fuzzy for me.

Eighty pages into a 200-page book, and I have come to realize that there are things I do that could qualify as a meditation, but I don’t put myself in that space often enough to see it as a practice. Salzberg notes this in the section on every day activities as meditation, but I can’t see myself using teeth brushing as mindfulness exercise. This chapter more than anything has reminded me how little time I spend being still as I have a need to be always doing. So even though I may find binding a quilt a very mindful exercise, I’m not necessarily sitting with my thoughts in any focused way.

Here’s Tracy:

Week Two, “mindfulness and the body,” took me back to when I did the “Mindfulness Meditation for Stress Relief” course. The main thing we did in that course, for the entire 8 weeks, was a daily body scan. I didn’t see the point but I did it anyway. Now I think the body scan is a great way to learn how to pay attention.

I know I said at the beginning that I would go into the Real Happiness course with “beginner’s mind.” But I confess that I spent the whole week doing the body scan. I skipped the walking meditation (nothing against walking meditations, but I didn’t feel like it). Once I did a guided version (narrated by someone who isn’t Sharon Salzberg) that I found on the Insight Timer app (best app on my phone). The rest of the time I did my usual Vipassana meditation, which is a head to feet and feet to head body scan, paying attention to sensation.

I have wandered away from the daily Vipassana practice, so it felt good to reconnect with it even if for 20 minutes and not the recommended one hour, twice a day. I have nothing much to report about that besides the grounding feeling of doing it daily. Routine, for me, provides a foundation for my life that I definitely feel is missing when I let the structure of routine slide.

The one thing I haven’t done but that I plan still to do is Salzberg’s “everyday activity meditations.” This is where you take something you do all the time and on auto-pilot, and do it mindfully – slowly and with awareness of each part of the movement. It could be brushing your teeth, making your coffee, slicing a tomato, folding your laundry. She suggests a drinking tea meditation, in which “we try to be more fully present with every component of a single activity – drinking a cup of tea.”

I will report back on this next week, but I will admit now that my busy mind is already saying, “when am I going to fit a mindful cup of tea into my day?” I also plan to do Week Two’s “try this: do a task in slo-mo.”Overall, I’m in touch with my body and didn’t find the mindfulness of the body theme to be a bit challenge. I expect that week three, Mindfulness and Emotions, will be a different thing. I am less in tune at times with my emotions and I have lots of feelings these days.

Here’s Christine:

I haven’t meditated in a week.

Last week started off weird with a night of virtually no sleep and I didn’t sleep well for several nights after that. My fledgling self-care plan (journaling, meditation, reading, etc.) fell away bit by bit until, by the end of the week, I found myself using coping strategies (more reactive than proactive) rather than the proactive methods I had been using in the two weeks previous.

It’s not that I didn’t have pockets of time for meditation, it was that I kept thinking I would do it at a ‘better’ time, later. I felt that I had so little attention to give that once I was focused on the work I needed to do, I should keep going for as long as I could in hopes of accomplishing anything at all. (I am not stating this very well, this is not about me needing to feel ‘productive’ per se, it’s about me needing to have some tangible evidence of where my day went. It’s hard to explain.

But even though I didn’t choose meditation, I did choose the kind of self-kindness she advocates throughout everything I have read so far. I didn’t delve into any sort of unpleasant inner monologue, and I reminded myself that I had reasons for feeling so off. I wasn’t hard on myself at all about it.

I did notice, however, that it took a bit of extra effort to avoid what I call ambient anxiety (the sort that kind of floats over you without any immediately discernible origin.) Until that started floating around last week, I hadn’t realized that I had had a bit of a break from it. And, as it occurred, I kept thinking ‘meditation was keeping this away last week’ – I don’t know if that thought is true but it feels that way. It didn’t actually help me move from not meditating to meditating but it gave me some space for reflection.

I’m going to observe and see if this week’s meditation keeps that ambient anxiety at bay. Since I don’t live in a lab and I can’t control most of the factors, my observations won’t be scientific but they will be useful to me.

So, now that I have ‘confessed’ to not meditating, I will also confess to not having read this section about mindfulness until this morning so my thoughts on it will be (fairly) brief.

{By the way, I am so tired of the word mindfulness. I cringe every time I hear or see it because it has been so overused by the type of wellness gurus who thrive on encouraging people to blame themselves when the guru’s advice doesn’t work…”Well, my darling, if you had been truly mindful…” }

I am really intrigued, once again, by her discussions of attention in this section and, shockingly, I have some thoughts:

Previous to reading her discussions about the difference between feeling something in your body and getting caught up in thoughts about that sensation, I think that I believed that getting caught up in the thoughts was part of paying attention to the sensation. This wasn’t a conscious choice, it was kind of automatic – not unlike the thoughts themselves. This is odd because I regularly coach people to step away from that kind of thinking when they are writing, and I make that choice when I am writing or drawing. I’m curious about why I apparently don’t consistently apply it to physical sensations.

Her suggestions about having more meditative moments during the day sound kind of painful for me. Not physically painful, but mentally painful. I have to invest a lot of energy in keeping my attention on my work or on the tasks I have chosen for the day. So, it feels really risky to plan to sink into small tasks like making tea. I feel like I could get very off track very quickly. I’m curious about this, too. Would learning to invest more focus in those moments actually give my brain a break? Or would they lead to me wandering off track for a while after my tea is made?

Given my aversion to the word ‘mindfulness,’ I really enjoyed finding out that you can also refer to it as ‘wise attention.’ I LOVE that idea. Her discussion of how the m-word, or wise attention, helps us to separate our experiences from the thoughts we add to those experiences was really helpful for me.

I guess I am going to be a week ‘behind’ in the meditation practices since I really want to give the ones from this week a try but I won’t be hard on myself about it. I can’t change how last week went and since the overall purpose here is to develop a practice, learning to work around side quests like last week will be useful overall.I will, however, be sure to read Week Three a bit earlier than next Tuesday morning, though.

Book Club · fitness

FIFI Book Club: Real Happiness by Sharon Salzberg, week one–Concentration

Hi readers, and welcome to the third installment of FIFI book club’s reading of Sharon Salzberg’s book Real Happiness: a 28-Day Program to Realize the Power of Meditation. Each week we’ll offer some reflections as we move through the chapters, and maybe do some of the exercises, too. You are invited to join us, and we’d love to read and respond to any comments you’d like to share.

Last week we read Chapter 2: Why Meditate? You can read about it here. You can read about the intro and chapter 1 here.

This week, which is week 3 of the book club, is week one of actual meditation practice techniques and exercises, called Concentration. Here’s what we thought about it.

First up, Mina:

The first week of the 28-day program that Sharon Salzberg proposes is about concentration. Two short passages struck me in particular: “When our attention is stabilized in this way (i.e. when we concentrate) energy is restored to us” and “Not paying attention keeps us in an endless cycle of wanting. We move on to the next thing because we aren’t really taking in what we already have; inattention creates an escalating need for stimulation.”

In 2018, I took the year off shopping for any clothes, shoes and bags (yes, including workout gear). One of the things that surprised me the most was how much extra time I felt like I had. Not because I had previously been spending hours and hours a week shopping, but because it turned out that a lot of my mind space had been taken up with thinking about new things I wanted or had convinced myself I needed. I was not paying attention to all that I had and my inattention created an escalating need for the stimulus of new things.

Over the course of the year, I felt the effects of my attention stabilizing. Energy was restored to me. By imposing the concentrated discipline of not shopping on myself, I was able to notice how much attention I squandered. Plus, I fostered a whole new (and renewed) appreciation for what was already in my closet. I took extra pleasure in wearing the clothes I loved, over and over again. That year was like a concentrated meditation around my relationship with shopping and reminded me of the power of noticing, the simple act of taking note of what is.

That’s all the book asks of us in Week One. Sit. Notice. No judgment. That said, I found ways to judge myself. For example—inspired by the book, in the spirit of engaging anew with my meditation practice, I decided to increase my daily practice to 20 minutes. Yes, that’s right, my daily meditation is most often only 10 minutes (and yes, there’s one of my self-judgments in that word “only”).

Then, on Saturday (only 4 days after my new resolution), I decided I wanted to pamper myself. I tinted my eyelashes and used the 10-minute waiting period while the dye was on my lashes to meditate. Then I did another 10-minute meditation while my clay and berry face mask dried on my skin. 10 + 10 = 20 minutes. As if my life is so busy, that I need to multitask beauty regimes and meditation. Another self-judgment. So, as recommended in the book, I’m paying attention to that self-talk and releasing it. As Salzberg writes in the takeaway section, I’m being kinder to myself.

Here’s Tracy:

This week I stuck with Week One: Concentration, even though I did that last week. I like the simplicity of this sort of concentration, where I focus on the breath or on sound or on sensation and return to it whenever I notice the mind wandering.

She provides a very straightforward direction that is, to me, the essence of all meditation: “See if you can let go of any distractions and return your attention to the feeling of the breath.” That holds for whatever the focus of the meditation is (it may not be the breath).

It is also very comforting to remember that “once you’ve noticed whatever has captured your attention, you don’t have to do anything about it. Just be aware of it without adding anything to it — without tacking on a judgment…, without interpretation…, without comparisons…, and without projections into the future…” She calls it acknowledging without judging.

It’s all a really good reminder for me of how far I’ve come since I started meditating in 1992 and couldn’t sit quietly for two minutes at a time and thought that meant I was “doing it wrong.” I hear so many people get frustrated with meditation and say it’s not for them because they’re “not a good meditator.” They think a good meditator’s mind is always quiet and never wanders.

For me, over the decades, the key learning in meditation has been all about gaining awareness of the distractions and learning to ease the mind back to the intended focus of attention. That simple practice spills into the rest of my life “off the cushion.” That’s not to say I always live in awareness. But the more I meditate, the more I can carry that practice into my day to day. I am enjoying reconnecting with daily meditation as our book club reads Real Happiness.

Here’s me, Catherine:

Getting started on a new program is always exciting for me. However, a part of that excitement is anticipation and expectation about what will come out of that program, how I will be refreshed, improved, newly chilled and one with the universe. And even though I’ve started and restarted meditation practice many times in my adult life, this summer’s restart found me with the same hopes and pressures and judgments about events or states that hadn’t even occurred yet.

Here is where Sharon Salzberg’s steady and experienced voice comes in, telling us that this practice is just about breathing. And starting over. And paying attention to that cycle, without judgment. I love her recorded meditations– she offers low-key guidance and companionship throughout the 10–15 minutes that I’m sitting. I admit that I haven’t done a lot of unguided solo meditation; I tend to rely on a person or a recording for company in my silence. For right now (and maybe always), that’s just fine.

I have one recorded meditation that’s just bells ringing at the beginning, and at 5-minute intervals up to 30 minutes. Combining that with a hearing meditation (I’ll do this one on my back porch, listening to the wind through the trees) is sometimes very calming. Other times, I feel like I need a voice to remind me of what I’m doing, where I am, directing me to attend or focus on a part of my body or my environment. This week is all about the concreteness of meditation– the here, now, me sitting, me listening, me noticing. And me letting go of judgment. What a relief every time I have a non-judgmental moment!

Here’s Christine:

I’m not fully finished processing my meditation experiences from this week but I have been meditating every day. Some of the time I have been using the meditations from Salzberg’s website but I find those short meditations a little frustrating because she doesn’t really tell you to begin and she doesn’t always tell you to stop. I keep thinking that her initial comments are an introduction before the meditation so I don’t jump in right away. And since there are pauses in her meditation guidance, and since I know she doesn’t always clearly say to stop, I find myself breaking my concentration (the irony!) to see if I am still supposed to be meditating. (Of course, there is also the chance that I am just zoning out at the wrong times and missing part of the instruction, but it is frustrating, either way.)

As for the chapter, I enjoyed her discussion of how our attention gets fragmented in the current world and how meditation may help with that and I liked how she had practical advice for how to deal with common challenges that people face when developing a practice.

One of my favourites is her advice about how to deal with a thought that takes your attention away from your breath. Instead of labelling it with a judgement, she suggests noting that it is ‘not breath’ and returning to focus on the breath instead. There is something beautifully simple about that and it matches a practice I have for my most distracted days. On those hectic, distracted days, I will set a timer that has the label ‘Are you doing what you mean to be doing?’ so that question pops up on my phone screen when the timer goes off. It’s a good and gentle way for me to identify being on task versus being off task. The ‘not breath’ label has the same feeling for me.

I also appreciated her reminders that your meditation practice will include ups and downs, sleepiness, distractions, and so on. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t doing it ‘right’ or that we aren’t making any progress, those things are all part of the practice. I especially appreciated the statement that “…success in mediation is measured not in terms of what is happening to us but by how we relate to what is happening.”

One of Salzberg’s suggestions in this section is to keep a sitting journal. I really liked that idea so I created a little folding record book for myself. She had suggested keeping it this week but that didn’t happen so I am going to keep it for the week ahead instead. Her journal questions involve how you felt during the session and how your emotions are at the end of the day but I am also adding some notes on whether I felt more able to stay on task throughout the day. I’m really curious to see how meditation might influence my capacity in that way.

I have been enjoying my meditations overall – even the long ones – and I am finding relaxation benefits already. When I have done my meditations in the evenings, I find that I get a gentle ‘second wind.’ Not a revved-up, excited feeling but a small boost in well-being that lets me finish my evening in a steady, relaxed manner.

Book Club · fitness

FIFI book club: Real Happiness by Sharon Salzberg, Chapter 2: Why Meditate?

Hi readers, and welcome to the second installment of FIFI book club’s reading of Sharon Salzberg’s book Real Happiness: a 28-Day Program to Realize the Power of Meditation. Each week we’ll offer some reflections as we move through the chapters, and maybe do some of the exercises, too. You are invited to join us, and we’d love to read and respond to any comments you’d like to share.

Last week we started with the introduction to the book and Chapter 1. You can read about it here.

For this week, we’re reading Chapter 2: Why Meditate? Why– so many reasons why… Here’s what out bloggers have to say about this chapter.

First up, Mina:

I’ve had an on and off relationship with meditation for more than 15 years. Since my first silent meditation retreat, eight years ago, that relationship has been more on than off and I’ve deepened my practice. For the last almost two years, I’ve meditated daily.

I love the topic of Chapter 2 of this book—science confirming what meditators have experienced anecdotally for years. That is, that meditating regularly has great benefits, including enhanced calm, concentration and connection to self and others, as well as improved health and wellbeing.

And yet, there are, in my experience, two tricky elements worth mentioning. First, as Sharon Salzberg points out in this chapter, meditation needs to be regular, just like physical exercise (which we also write about a lot here). Like exercise, there is no one and done with meditation. When we stop exercising, our muscles shrink and our fitness diminishes. When we stop meditating, the benefits retreat. There’s no pinnacle, no end point of enlightenment that will then free you from the invitation to practice. As a teacher of mine recently said, “None of us gets away with enlightenment, our challenges are grist for the pearl of our self.”

The second bit of tricky business is that noticing unexamined assumptions and kicking open doors (mentioned in this chapter) is only possible if we are open to it. We need to bring the intention to allow those things to happen with us to our meditation cushion. I missed this piece of the puzzle in the pages we read for this week. I’ve observed in my own practice and others’ the fine line between rumination and spotting unexamined assumptions. We are always navigating the border between falling down a rabbit hole into a swirl of entropy, instead of rising above our mind habits, into the spaciousness where we stop self-limiting, trying to control the uncontrollable (which is almost everything) and discover our best energy (benefits the chapter mentions). Helping us chart that course is what I’m hoping for in the next chapters in the book.

Here’s Tracy:

I read this chapter for last week and have just completed week one: “Concentration” because I wanted to take her suggestion at the outset of Chapter Two. She says, “If you’d like to get started on your meditation program right away, you can turn to Week One.” I did that. And I have included 20 minutes of meditation as part of my morning routine for the past seven days.

That said, chapter two is about the way meditation benefits people who practice it in their every day lives. The main selling point Salzberg offers is that “you’ll begin to spot the unexamined assumptions that get in the way of happiness.” I interpret her meaning here to be that meditation can help a person learn how to keep an open mind and let go of limiting thoughts (some of her examples: “I’ve blown it; I should just give up”; “We have nothing in common”; “I won’t be able to do it”; etc.).

Chapter Two also gets into the science of the benefits of meditation, using findings from empirical studies to support its capacity to reduce stress, improve cognition, improve the immune system, and deal with conflict. It is frequently used as part of therapy, to help people with anxiety, depression, and OCD.

As I said last week, I don’t need to be sold on the benefits of meditation. I know for certain that I do better in all areas of my life when I am meditating regularly. I’m going to stick with Week One for another week to sync with the book group commentaries and because I enjoyed this week of getting back to basics. Although 20 minutes is generally regarded as too short in the meditation technique that I practice (Vipassana), it’s longer than I’ve been doing lately, and I already feel more grounded than I did two weeks ago, when I was hardly meditating at all.

Now, here’s me (Catherine):

Like Mina and Tracy, I have a long history with meditation. I also have a long history of not sticking with meditation. What starts/restarts my practice is generally some event or crisis or “I’ve had it!” moment, often in the middle of the night. That’s what I think Salzberg means when she talks about emotions “kicking open the door” for meditation to come in.

I’ve taken the MBSR course mentioned in Chapter 2– twice. What can I say? I’m slow on the uptake… I was also deeply suspicious and guarded and closed off. Over time, with each new exposure to meditation, sitting with myself has gotten more familiar. I won’t say it’s easier, as each day and each sitting is different. But I think it is important for getting to know myself and my stories and my feelings better, and see them as just those things, not Holy Writ about who I am.

Salzberg says that meditation teaches us how to examine the assumptions about who we are and what we can and cannot do or be. Then we can see them for what they are: just some assumptions. Defusing their power can bring us closer to happiness, she adds. Let’s see how that goes as this round of meditation practice proceeds.

Here’s Christine:

Like the rest of Team Meditation, I like how, in Chapter 2, Salzberg compares meditation to exercise, noting that if you do it repeatedly, there will be inevitable (good) results. Of course, like exercise, there are an awful lot of ways to meditate and all kinds of overthinking I can do but I’m choosing to focus on choices that make sense for me right now.

Unlike some other members of the team, I did not jump ahead to meditation practice right away. I intended to but I kept talking myself out of starting (Yes, I am shocked at this turn of events, too. Ha!) So I was relieved to realize that our project for today was still about discussing the benefits of meditation instead of getting deeply into the practice. Basically, I was really glad to realize that I have a bit more time to get things sorted in my head before getting started.

The benefits she describes have a lot of appeal for me as someone with ADHD. The thought that a structured ‘rest’ period in my day could also help me make few assumptions about the world, help me to avoid limiting myself, and encourage me to figure out what is most important to me is really intriguing.

I will admit, I am a little skeptical about some of the benefits – even with their scientific backing. Perhaps I am actually skeptical about my ability to continue the practice regularly enough to see those sorts of benefits but I am definitely going to work on it.

Last week, I mentioned that I resisted the idea of choosing a specific daily time to meditate. This week, I am a bit hung up on the idea of starting with a 20 minute session. I am trying to find a balance between wanting to do this experiment ‘right’ (i.e. following the practice as outlined) and wanting to make adjustments/accommodations to increase my chances of being able to effectively develop this habit. I was considering trying the approach that Tracy described last week and building upward from a 5 minute habit but instead, I have decided to use 20 minute guided meditations until I am used to the practice. (I’m not sure what she is going to suggest in the next chapter but in case she was going to suggest just setting a timer and just breathing for 20 minutes, I wanted a backup plan so I don’t flounder in the moment.)

Since I am also committing to this practice as a way to help me create some additional ease around my ADHD thinking patterns, I am developing a list of self-observation questions to see if meditation makes a difference in those areas. For example, I am interested to see if it becomes easier to choose where my attention goes and if I can find some ease around intense emotions. (People with ADHD struggle with emotional regulation as well as attention regulation and many of us also have Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria.)

Salzberg closes the chapter by saying that by meditating we are opening a door of possibility, a door to authentic and accessible happiness, and she welcomes us in to sit. Even though I am a pretty happy person overall, I really love the idea that greater happiness is just right there waiting and that this practice can help us build the muscles to access it.

PS – After writing this, I tried a 20 minute guided meditation on Insight Timer last night. I really enjoyed it and the rest of my evening felt quite orderly and peaceful. This bodes well for continued practice.

Here’s Marjorie:

I’m going to trust my fellow bloggers to address the meat of this chapter. Instead, I’d like to address a writing decision that’s problematic for me.

I don’t like her examples. I don’t relate to them. Meditation can lead to people spotting their unexamined assumptions that get in the way of happiness. I can buy that, but I can’t relate to “She’s the smart one; you’re the pretty one.” Do people own these cliches as truths? Probably, but more likely it’s more nuanced than that. I was raised by a father who is deeply mistrustful of women and especially of women’s emotions. Do I still have moments when the very expression of emotion seems so taboo that I bottle it up and apologize if any squeezes out? Absolutely. But it isn’t as simple as “girls shouldn’t cry.” Minimizing it to this level may make writing easier, but it doesn’t speak to the complicated realities, and it alienates me from her to some degree. These simplifications reduce my trust in her as a guide.

And here’s Martha:

I have written about making a habit by doing something for 30 days. I have also written about making room for the big rocks (my priorities) rather than letting the small rocks (less important, or distracting activities) take over. Reading this book (chapter by chapter) has given me some insight into how busy my mind actually is and why making time for meditation is useful and important.

I have always associated meditation with stillness (sitting and watching waves roll in) but looking at it as another form of exercise was interesting. When my trainer develops a program, she looks at complementary work so I don’t overuse and risk harming a specific part like legs or arms. In looking at meditation as an exercise for the brain and heart, I realize that maybe my fitness has all been physical rather than addressing some of the mental components.

The piece that spoke to me most deeply in this chapter is Salzberg’s point about meditation as a way to identify unexamined assumptions. In my day work, I’m often paid to look for and examine assumptions so it feels odd to turn that lens on myself. It’s probably why I haven’t done any specific practice “along the way.”

So, readers: what do you think about the science behind and benefits of meditation? We’d love to hear your impressions and experiences.

Book Club · fitness

FIFI book club: Real Happiness by Sharon Salzberg, intro and Chapter 1

 Hi readers, and welcome to the first installment of FIFI book club’s reading of Sharon Salzberg’s book Real Happiness: a 28-Day Program to Realize the Power of Meditation. Each week we’ll offer some reflections as we move through the chapters, and maybe do some of the exercises, too. You are invited to join us, and we’d love to read and respond to any comments you’d like to share.

This week we’re starting with the introduction to the book and Chapter 1. The book clubbers also share a bit about their experiences with meditation.

For next week, we’ll be reading Chapter 2: Why Meditate? Feel free to join us.

Now, on to the reflections. Let’s start with Tracy.

Tracy: I’ve been meditating off and on, when in my last few months of grad school I was maximally stressed out and needed to find a way to manage my anxiety. I taught myself using a book called The Joy Within: A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation (Joan Goldstein and Manuela Soares, 1992). Like Sharon Salzberg’s Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-day Program, the book I used in 1992 offered a four week introduction to meditation. They have a slightly different approach than Salzberg, who recommends starting with 20 minutes, three times a week and then increasing the number of times of week until it’s a daily practice. Goldstein and Soares recommend starting with a daily practice, but aiming only for five minutes the first week, ten the second, 15 the third, and then finally hitting 20 in week four. That worked for me then because even two minutes of sitting quietly seemed like an eternity when I was just starting out.

I don’t need to be “sold” on the benefits of meditation. I cannot imagine life without it anymore because it is the only way I really get the mental break I need. It also gives me perspective and equanimity that spills over into the rest of my life. That said, I get in and out of routine with it, and right now I am fully out. I was supposed to spend four weeks at the Ontario Vipassana Centre this summer, meditating anywhere from 5-10 hours a day, but because of COVID that didn’t happen. This four week program might be just what I need to get back in touch with what I call “my inner silence,” which is the “place” I go when I meditate. Over the years, I have learned to get myself there whether I have a few seconds, a few minutes, or an hour.

I am going to try my best to approach the four-week program with “beginner’s mind,” and have already decided I’ll build to my daily practice her way, starting with three 20-minute sessions this week, four next week, etc. As my 14-month sabbatical comes to an end, it will be more important than ever for me to start my day from that inner silence.

Now, on to Emm’s reflections:

Emm: When I was in middle school, I used to sneak books off of my Dad’s shelves to read privately, alone in my bedroom. I delved deeply into his immense History of Western Art, giggled at Haig’s Humans, and conspired with The Devil’s Dictionary. When I nabbed Richard Hittleman’s Guide to Yoga Meditation, I assumed it would be yet another glimpse into the magical, foreign world of “adult thought.” Instead, it proved to be a practical guide to a basic meditation practice, and based on what I read there (certainly not the entire book), I began a regular meditation practice which followed me pretty consistently through high school and into college. In meditation, I’d found a quiet place in my mind, separate from the chaos of the rest of my life.

Years later, my meditation practice is mostly nonexistent. It fell out of favor over the years; I’m not exactly sure why. I think that a part of me is self-conscious meditating. I suspect I’d reach for it more if I were alone without fear of being “found out” or interrupted. Maybe part of me still feels like that kid stealing books off of Dad’s shelves? Maybe as an atheist, I’m embarrassed at the implied spirituality of the practice?

Regardless of these discomforts, I know I have benefited from it in the past, and I’m hopeful that I could benefit from it again. I would love to find again that place of nonjudgemental awareness that I know meditation can bring. I would welcome feeling less distracted and more able to focus my attention on a given task. It sounds like Salzberg believes in these benefits as well, and maybe she can help me reconnect with them.

Now, Christine will share some of her reflections.

Christine: Before I even began to read the book I gave a little thought to meditation – which I have practiced on and off for years. I enjoy it and I find it helpful but I have never practiced it long enough (both in the sense of individual sessions and over time) to really see the benefits in other areas of my life. I guess I mean that I find it a good thing in the moment – to ground myself, to find calm…using it almost as a reaction to feeling stressed. However, I haven’t been dedicated enough to the practice over time to find many proactive/preventative benefits so I am interested in seeing if this collaborative (yet individual!) effort helps support me to develop that.

And, I know that I face the same issue with meditation as I do with exercise or lots of other things – task initiation. It’s always a challenge for me to begin a task, no matter how enjoyable, helpful, or necessary that task is. So, while I am reading I will also be looking for ways to make it easier to start any given session.

I really like Salzberg’s ‘matter of fact’ approach and I love this particular quote from the introduction to the book – “By knowing yourself better, being kinder to yourself and others, and having a better facility of connecting in the moment, you’ll find that a deeper kind of happiness is available to you than just what is forthcoming at a tasty meal. It’s a lasting tranquility, a sense of peace, a feeling of satisfaction.“

This is the same kind of language I use when speaking to my coaching clients about issues they are facing and it feels good to see it applied to this particular practice.

Given that I am someone who struggles with how to manage and apply my attention, I am intrigued by this particular quote in Chapter 1, “At its most basic level, attention, what we allow ourselves to notice. literally determines how we experience and navigate the world.”

This set me off to wondering about how my ADHD affects how I am experiencing the world and how that experience is different from what other people experience. I am very interested in exploring this further as I read the book and as I practice meditation. I wonder if the practice will help me to increase my ability to notice what I am noticing and to have a little more control over where my attention goes? I understand that that is really the key to this whole thing, but does the fact that I already struggle with this more than the average person mean that I am going to struggle more with a consistent meditation practice? Or does it mean that the rewards might be even greater for me?

I’m interested to find out.

Speaking of ADHD challenges, I found myself very resistant and irritated by her suggestion that the reader should choose a specific time each day to meditate. I completely understand *why* she suggests that – things that are time-specific tend to get done – but given the alarming fluidity of my schedule lately, the idea of picking a consistent time to meditate feels stressful. So, instead of trying to pick a time that I will do it from now on, I will choose a time day-by-day. That means that rather than saying ‘I will meditate at 5pm daily.’ I will say ‘Today, I am meditating at 5pm.’ Tomorrow, I may choose a different time. I think that achieves the same purpose without making me stress about whether my chosen time will still work in a week. (Yes, I do overthink everything time-based, it’s an ADHD feature.)

I’m looking forward to working through the practices in this book and seeing where they lead me.

And now, my reflections.

Catherine: I’ve meditated off and on my whole adult life, since graduate school. I’ve taken two MBSR courses (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) that use meditation techniques for both stress reduction and pain management. I’ve done weekend-long yoga and meditation retreats at the Kripalu center in western Massachusetts, and used those immersion experiences to kick-start a new plan for regular meditation. Each time I’ve restarted meditation, however, my practice has petered out. I never created a stable place for it in my day or in my life.

However, one place I’ve consistently done meditation in recent years is at yoga classes. Several of the classes have either a short meditation at the beginning or end of class, or use yoga nidra (a deep relaxation exercise). It’s reintroduced me to meditation as a part of body awareness and body appreciation (the latter of which I’m always in need of).

Sharon Salzberg’s book is one I had bought a few months ago, but didn’t pick up until July. Focus and attention and concentration have been in very short supply since March, for obvious reasons.

This July, my yoga studio Artemis offered a 4-day Zoom meditation class. It started at 7:30am, which for me is a significant effort. But it felt like such a relief! I had the beginning of techniques to turn to anytime– starting with my own breath.

Meditation doesn’t fix whatever ails you, but I think it will help me develop greater capacity for non-judgmental awareness. I’m currently meditating every day when I first get up, just after coffee (nothing happens before coffee). I’m looking forward to being with the other bloggers and you, dear readers, as we go through the weeks of reading and experimenting with sitting in quiet.

Book Club · fitness

Starting Aug 18: FIFI book club reads Real Happiness, by Sharon Saltzberg

At Fit is a Feminist Issue, we are all about exploring the ways movement expands our lives and reveals truths about ourselves. Also, we like writing about how fun it is, and how hard it is, and the ways the meaning of movement changes. We’ve even devoted a few FIFI book clubs to diving into a book on movement. We read the 100 Day Reclaim, by Mia Shanks. You can see some of our posts about it starting here.

We also read The Joy of Movement, by Kelly McGonigal. We posted all about it, and you can start reading about it here.

This time, we are switching it up a bit. We’re going to explore the ways that stillness can present new truths and new possibilities for us. We are reading the 10th anniversary new edition of Real Happiness by Sharon Salzberg.

The cover of the book Real Happiness, by Sharon Saltzberg.

Sharon Saltzberg is a world-famous writer and teacher and lecturer on meditation. She co-founded the Insight Meditation Society, has taught and spoken and written and worked with people all over the world. You can read more about her long and interesting life and career here.

You can also join us in reading her book, Real Happiness: a 28-day program to realize the power of meditation. There are four weeks’ worth of (optional) meditation and other exercises in the book, along with QR codes to link to some online meditations. You can find those meditations here, so you don’t actually need the new version of the book.

We’ll be posting our thoughts and questions and responses to parts of the book each Tuesday afternoon at 2pm, starting August 18. If you’d like to read along with us, we’d love that. And feel free to post any of your thoughts or responses in the comments.

For August 18, we’ll read the introduction and Chapter 1– What is Meditation?

Also, if any of you have comments or experiences or responses you want to share about practicing meditation, we’d love to hear it. Some of us are new-ish to practicing, others have had an off-and-on relationship with sitting, and some of us are regular meditators. There’s room for all here. As always.

See you all next Tuesday!