During the month of February, challenge yourself to participate in MMC’s 28-day meditation program. It’s simple: Commit to meditating each day and connect online to share experiences – pleasant, difficult or otherwise. We will follow the meditation program outlined in Sharon Salzberg’s book, “Real Happiness.” This blog will be your guide, including links to helpful Web sites and guided meditations. Meditation can help with overall wellness, pain, stress, anxiety, sleep and concentration. This is your opportunity to start a new practice to enhance your wellbeing or to continue your practice in the company of your fellow Griffins.

Sign up with the form below and to the right and check back here often.

Friday, February 28, 2014

28 Days Later

Going into this month I was more than a little skeptical that I would be able sit still long enough to even do meditation. The idea that I would find it useful and actually enjoy it would have been too much to even believe.

But I am glad to say I was wrong. I was able to meditate, even though it was tough to focus at the beginning, I got through it. I could sit still, I could focus, and I could breathe.  I was able to do so much more that I thought I could. 

It wasn't long into the month that I was beyond surprised to find that meditation was helping in a lot of ways.  I almost instantly started sleeping better, I found that when something unexpected came up I was better able to respond to it, and I slowly realized I was being less hard on myself. All great improvements!

I wouldn't have thought that spending 20 minutes a day on meditation would have made such changes. I am excited to continue my practice and see what else changes just by taking a little time to focus and breathe.  

Day 28!

Congratulations to all of us Griffins who have participated in the 28-day mindfulness challenge!

Hopefully this is a beginning and not an ending for all of us, a springboard to further explorations with mindfulness practice and being more mindful in everyday life. The start of a new way of relating to our moment-to-moment experiences.

Hopefully you have glimpsed the possibility that through this practice, you can improve your relationships, feel more connected, recognize your habitual patterns of reacting and adding on to your experiences, and face life's challenges with more resilience.

Keeping up this practice and this new way of being will take some tending. See if you can commit to a 20-30 minute daily practice. Don't forget to cultivate those brief moments of mindfulness throughout your day - breathing while waiting for the elevator, getting in touch with your body while waiting on the subway platform, offering lovingkindness to people you pass on the sidewalk, being mindful of brushing your teeth.

If you find your practice is getting inconsistent or falls off, start over. Don't forget that change takes time.

Also, in the post before this one, I have given a list of resources for classes, readings, online talks and guided meditations.  Practicing with supports can make it much easier to keep this going or to pick it back up again if you need to.

At the end of "Real Happiness" Salzberg writes that if she suggested you could really help a friend by doing a simple exercise 20 minutes a day, you'd probably do it without much delay. But sometimes giving ourselves that same 20 minutes is hard to do.

I invite you to treat yourselves as good friends and continue to take care.

Thank you for joining me and Julie in this 28-day program.


Resources for ongoing practice

Classes and courses

Insight Meditation Center
28 W. 27th St.
They offer a lot of different classes and also drop-in meditation sittings on a weekly basis. Fees are modest and sometimes by donation.
Of particular interest to college students is Generation Meditation: Young Adults, which is a drop-in group every Sunday at 6,  by donation.
Also, for everyone, they offer a Beginner Orientation every Tuesday from 7 to 9 p.m. and also a teacher-led sitting group during the same time period. You could start with the first and transition to the latter.
They also offer sitting groups in Brooklyn and Queens.
It's worthwhile to explore their Web site, https://www.nyimc.org/.

If you are interested in a more intensive training. I recommend taking an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course. This is a well-researched, highly regarded program to learn and practice mindfulness meditation and stress reduction. There are courses starting in March in NYC:

@MMC - Cultivate Your Inner Buddha
4-week mindfulness class for MMC students only
Thursdays from 4 to 5:10, starting April 3.
For info or to sign up: ssorrentino@mmm.edu


Real Happiness by Sharon Salzberg
Mindfulness in Plain English,  by Henepola Gunaratana
Moment by Moment by Jerry Braza
Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Mindfulness for Beginners by Jon Kabat-Zinn
A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook by Bob Stahl and Elisha Goldstein

Web sites

http://www.wildmind.org/ (NOTE: They offer a 4-week online course starting next week)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


It's only Wednesday - Wednesday morning at that. It's cold. And it's snowing - again. The 68th Street subway station is crowded, as usual. Some lady with three large bags on her shoulders shoves me from behind in the crush to the stairs. As if being obnoxious will get her out of the station faster. Really?

I'm not feelin' the love.

But this is the week for practicing lovingkindness in our Real Happiness challenge, I say to myself as I get out to the street. Sooo, what do I notice my experience is in this moment?

As soon as I emerge from the subway station, I am looking for her. I'm priming for a fight (not that I'm bold enough to confront anyone). But I can feel it. My chest is tight, my mind is focused and the add-on thoughts are flowing: How much of an advantage did she get by shoving me? What's her problem? Why are people so rude? They're so focused on themselves that they can't be courteous. What's wrong with people?

OK, try to direct lovingkindness to her.


OK, try again.

Wow, this is really hard. I don't want to let go of my self-righteousness and my feeling of being wronged. I'm justified!

Fortunately, just at that moment I pass two really cute dogs. Big, shaggy, goofy. I smile in spite of myself.

OK, try again. Just a little. OK, I'm softening my chest. I'm breathing. Still, I can't get the phrases to form. OK, try again. May she be happy, may she be healthy, may she be free from suffering. OK, do it again. May she be happy, may she be healthy, may she be free from suffering. My chest is softening. Again. I don't really care as much about it. Again. Hey, this doesn't have to affect my day.

I remember what Salzberg writes about offering lovingkindess to people who are difficult. I don't have to condone her behavior. I also don't have to get stuck in my rigid tunnel vision thinking.

She writes:

Sending lovingkindness to a difficult person is a process of relaxing the heart and freeing yourself from fear and corrosive resentment - a profound, challenging, and liberating process, and one that takes the time it takes. 

May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be free from suffering.  

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Walking with lovingkindness

Another way to practice lovingkindness meditation is to link it with walking meditation. Rather than focusing on the sensations of walking, as you did in Week 2, try silently repeating the lovingkindness phrases as you walk.

Start by directing the lovingkindness toward yourself - may I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be free from suffering, may I live with ease. As you pass people on the street and they come into your awareness, or you see a dog or hear a bird or have a memory of someone, include them in your lovingkindness meditation - may you be happy, etc.

Then return to the phrases for yourself until another being enters your consciousness. Include them, and so on. Returning to yourself again and again provides you with a steady object of concentration, just like the breath.

The people or beings who enter your consciousness may be people you love and care about, or they may be beings who challenge you in some way. Still, offer them lovingkindness.

One important thing to note about those people who are difficult for us, especially those with whom we are angry: Offering them lovingkindness doesn't mean letting go of our principles, our values or our sense of right or wrong. But getting caught in anger can sometimes put blinders on us, we can get lost in fixation, lack of options, loss of perspective, destructive and damaging actions and forgetting what we care most about.

Through lovingkindess practice, when we experience the opening of our hearts and the knowledge of our connection to all others through our suffering and our desires for happiness, sometimes the struggle drops away a bit and options open up.

Still, when you practice lovingkindness with difficult people, you may not want to start with the person who has done you the most harm. You may want to start with someone less emotionally challenging as you experiment with this practice.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Welcome to Week 4

The meditation during Week 4 of the challenge, is what is known as lovingkindness meditation.

Salzberg writes that lovingkindness meditation is "the practice of paying attention to ourselves and others with a sense of interest and care."

During the practice, we focus caring attention first on ourselves and then on someone we know well, someone who is neutral like the barista at your favorite coffee shop, for example. Then, we offer lovingkindness to someone who is challenging for you and then to all beings everywhere.

You may not react well to this idea - some people have difficulty holding themselves in caring awareness.  Others my struggle with opening their hearts to someone they are struggling with. Still others may find the idea of offering lovingkindness to all beings to be too abstract.

Many however find that after practicing lovingkindness, they begin to feel more connected to other people and better able turn toward difficult relationships whether with themselves or others.

Offering lovingkindness does not mean you have to like everyone or approve of all behaviors. But it acknowledges that all of us are inextricably connected. It challenges the idea of me and you, or us and them, offering a way to see the world in terms of "we" and "us," Salzberg says.

It also opens the way for us to care for ourselves unconditionally, not just when we are perfect in one way or another.

"When we practice it, we acknowledge that every one of us shares the same wish to be happy, and the same vulnerability to change and suffering," Salzberg writes.

The first moment I recognized that lovingkindness meditation was having an effect on me was entering the subway station one morning.  I noticed that I was not irritated (as I normally would be) by the woman wheeling a suitcase who stopped short it the doorway. Instead, I found myself thinking about how difficult it must be for her to struggle with her unweildly load.

The practice of lovingkindness meditation:
To practice lovingkindness meditation, you silently repeat a series of phrases while holding the thought or image of someone in your mind, starting with yourself.
The customary phrases are variations of:
May I be happy
May I be healthy
May I be free from suffering
May I live with ease. 

Begin with yourself, then pick someone you know well, then someone neutral, then someone difficult, then all beings.

There is also a guided lovingkindness meditation in the Real Happiness audio link at the right.

May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be free from suffering. May you live at ease.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Actual experience and the stories we tell

In "Real Happiness," Salzberg tells of a friend whose company downsized as a result of the recession and he lost his job. He viewed his circumstances as his own fault despite the worldwide economic conditions, and started to think "everything is always my fault."

Reading that story, I notice at once that Salzberg's friend's logic is clearly flawed. But I know that I am also prone to blaming myself and know that when others point out my illogical thinking, it's hard for me to see that objective perspective. Mindfulness can help us notice when we're telling ourselves stories like that, and clinging to them without even realizing it.

She writes:
In mindfulness meditation, you observe what you're feeling with interest, curiosity and compassion, then let it go, without beating yourself up over it (I'm a horrible person!) or clinging to it (How can I make this peaceful feeling stay?); without musing on its meaning, or coming up with a game plan (though you can do both of those things later, after your meditation session). Mindfulness meditation doesn't eliminate difficult feelings or prolong pleasant ones, but it helps us accept them as passing and impermanent. Our goal is not to hang on to them, nor to vanquish them, but to pay attention to them in a deeper, fuller way.

It would be interesting to hear what you think of this way of shifting your relationship to your own experiences. How do you think that will affect how you feel or what you do?