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?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Finding the Gap

Mindfulness is particularly useful  in helping us deal with difficult emotions. 

Crucially, as we develop mindful awareness of our emotions, we sharpen our ability, as Salzberg says, to "recognize a feeling just as it begins, not fifteen consequential actions later." 

We begin to find the "gap" between what triggers our emotions and our usual conditioned reactions. In that space, we have the opportunity to act in a different, more skillful way.

Salzberg offers the acronym, RAIN to help remember the steps in dealing with emotions mindfully and gaining some control and mastery over whether our emotions carry us away or whether we can manage them and continue to stay grounded and in control of our actions: 

Recognizing what you are feeling. 
Accepting the emotion or emotions that are arising
Investigating the emotion with unbiased interest rather than running from it
Not Identifying with the emotion. Whatever you might feel at any moment is temporary and not your entire self

By practicing RAIN as you sit, being mindful of your emotions, you get in touch with your capacity to "witness" your internal life - both thoughts and feelings - without having them rule you. 

I encourage you to continue to work with Salzberg's guided meditation, Mindfulness of Emotions, in the Real Happiness link on the right, if that's helpful. I also encourage you to continue to find moments of mindfulness throughout each day. 

You've been doing this for three weeks now, and it may be getting harder to commit day-to-day. Hopefully you're also noticing some changes in the way you react and in your relationship to your experiences. 

Please share, if you feel comfortable ...

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Another mindfulness meditation opportunity

The Counseling and Wellness Center is offering a 4-week mindfulness workshop for students only.

It will meet on four consecutive Tuesdays from 1 to 2:10 p.m. starting next Tuesday, Feb. 25. We will meet in the Multi-faith Center.

Here is what students in the past have said about this program:

This course was such a wonderful experience and added A LOT to my experience with meditation and Marymount. 
I loved it, I will do it again next semester!

If you can commit to attending all four sessions, please sign up by sending me an email at ssorrentino@mmm.edu. 

Letting Go.

How do you let go of the thoughts that pop up without judgment? This past week I find myself really struggling with this question.
During mediation the thoughts that come up seem to just float in from somewhere else, I don’t feel like I am really in charge of where they are coming from because I’m actively not thinking about anything other than my breathing.  I know that once I notice them I am supposed to acknowledge them and let them go but that is really difficult for me.  I am frustrated when something silly (like remembering that I wanted to Google something) pops into my head and pulls my concentration. It takes me a few minutes to get back into the swing of things and more it happens during one session the more frustrated I get.
I guess the challenge for this week to realize that while I’m not in control of what pops into my head I can control how I respond to it. 
I’ll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Wrapping up Week 2

Congratulations, you've now been practicing meditation for two weeks. Before we move into Week 3, when you will add a fifth day of practice, a few last thoughts on the body techniques learned last week.

Focusing awareness on our bodies last week helped us begin to notice the stuff we "add on" to our direct experience -- our preoccupation with the past, the future, our worries and the long-held assumptions through which we see the world. In choosing to consciously practice mindfulness and come into the present moment, even fleetingly, we begin to shift the balance. We start to be able to gather our attention more frequently and get lost in our automatic-responses less frequently.

Progress is the result of frequency of practice. And, as you've no doubt realized, setting aside 20 minutes for daily practice is one tough habit to develop. As you work on that, it will help to also remember to try to incorporate moments of mindfulness throughout your day. Set the daily intention to be more mindful and you will begin to have flashes throughout your day when you notice you've been lost in thought, arrived at your destination without even realizing you were travelling, suddenly tuned into a conversation you had been oblivious to. Notice that those when you wake up are moments of mindfulness. The second you recognize you had checked out from your own experience is the moment you have checked back in. And that is mindfulness practice: noticing and beginning again.

Here are a couple other things to try:

  • A few times throughout the day, stop what you're doing and become aware of your body. I do this sometimes when I'm waiting for the train. I feel my feet on the platform, my posture, my bag on my shoulder, the air around me, the smells, the sounds, the sights, and maybe notice whether I am having a reaction of some kind - thoughts, feelings?  And that's it, a moment of mindfulness.
  • Drinking your coffee or tea or double mocha frappa-latte or whatever. Tune into the feel of the cup in your hands, use your senses. Notice the intention to lift the cup to your mouth, the feel of the liquid entering your mouth. Feel the sensations of the liquid in your mouth, maybe holding it there briefly before swallowing and noticing what your tongue or lips or throat are doing. Then as you swallow, feeling the liquid moving into your stomach, and maybe noticing the rising of the intention to lift the cup back to your mouth.
  • Choose any everyday activity and bring your full awareness to it. Try slowing it down and noticing it that way. Whatever thought or emotion that arises from paying attention to something so automatic, notice that too. Meet those thoughts and feelings with a gentle acknowledgement: This is what's happening right now, and it's perfectly OK. 

 Today begins Week 3 which will focus on emotions. To the right, in the Real Happiness link, you will find Salzberg's intro to Mindfulness of Emotions and also a guided meditation. These can help you in your practice.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

What's the big deal about this moment?

We spend our time in meditation practice being present in this moment ... and this moment ... and this moment. Catching ourselves when we've strayed into planning and fantasizing and rehearsing the future or longing for or regretting or reliving the past. And we bring ourselves back, again and again to our experience in just this  moment.

So, what's the big deal? Why is this important to do?

During this past week, the value of being grounded in the present and fully aware of my experience in each moment has been driven home.

 I'm caught up in a debate within a volunteer group I'm part of, and I can't seem to drop thinking about it, not even long enough to think about and attend to other really important aspects of my life. I have found myself almost obsessively rehearsing the future and reliving the past.

And how has that strategy benefited me? Well, I'm tense, my muscles hurt, I'm unhappy, I've said things I regret, I'm not enjoying gifts like snow days. So, how has this benefited me? Um ...not! It certainly hasn't turned the debate in my direction. Only I am suffering.

And what happens if I come back to the present moment? My awareness opens up. It's like pulling the camera back from macro zoom focus to panorama focus, and I can see a much larger picture. This brings a sense of calm and clarity. The tension and sense of urgency and clutching onto my position and my point of view can drop away. I still might not win the debate, but if I don't, I'll be able to accept that.

Here's a quote from Jon Kabat-Zinn, a significant writer and teacher of mindfulness meditation:

... there is nothing particularly unusual or mystical about meditating or being mindful. All it involves is paying attention to your experience from moment to moment. This leads directly to new ways of seeing and being in your life because the present moment, whenever it is recognized and honored, reveals a very special, indeed magical power: it is the only time that any of us ever has. The present is the only time that we have to know anything. It is the only time we have to perceive, to learn, to act, to change, to heal. 

How is your meditation practice going? What have you noticed? Please feel free to share ...

May you be happy!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Walking Meditation

So, how has the Body Scan been going? My guess is that some of you love it and others of you hate it. When I first started practicing the Body Scan, I pretty much got as far as my left ankle and feel asleep every time. Now, I sometimes practice it sitting in a chair, which helps keep me awake, and I find it is very grounding. It's a good way to settle my mind when I feel flighty or distracted.

The next body-centered meditation is the Walking Meditation. Simple enough, the practice is to gently rest your attention on the sensations of walking. The Real Happiness Audio Files link to the right contains both Salzberg's intro to Walking Meditation and a Guided Walking Meditation. I recommend them both.

The Walking Meditation is done with eyes open (so you don't crash into anything). Since the focus is on an everyday activity, it can serve as a bridge for being mindful of all the movements we make throughout the day. It's a way to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life, rather than having it be only something you do for 20 minutes, once a day.

The basic instructions are to give yourself enough space to be able to walk across a room (if it were warmer weather, you could try it outside). Then, stand in a relaxed posture, and bring your attention to your feet making contact with the floor. As you prepare to take a step, notice the subtle shifting of your weight, the muscles in your legs engaging, the shift in your balance from one leg to the other as you step forward and set your foot down. And then just walk, noticing what it feels like in your body. When you get to the other side of the room, turn around and come back. And repeat. If it helps, make a mental note "touch, touch" as you put each foot down. Or, "lift, place lift place" as each foot lifts up and touches down. If that's not helpful, don't bother. You can experiment with speed as well, walking first at a normal speed, then slowing it down and speeding it up. And as with any other meditation, when you notice you are not paying attention to walking, gently and kindly escort your attention back to the sensations of walking.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Note on Body Scan link

If you're having trouble opening the link, please try a different browser. I could open it in Google Chrome, but not Internet Explorer. We're trying to get this fixed ...

The Body Scan

The meditations for Week 2 are rooted in the body - a body scan, walking meditaiton and a body sensation meditation.

These help us feel more comfortable and in tune with our bodies. They deepen our understanding of the way our experiences are constantly changing and help us spot those judgments or projections we "add on" to our direct experience.

In the Body Scan, we use mindfulness to observe our natural tendency to want to cling to pleasurable experiences and push away unpleasant ones. Sometimes we're so worried about hanging onto our pleasurable experiences that we are unable to enjoy them while they're going on. The same is true with unpleasant or painful experiences. These we usually want to get away from quickly. We might spend so much energy worrying about having these experiences and getting rid of them that we make the experience worse than it is. We tend to ignore the neutral experiences, robbing oursevlves of some of the richness and complexity of our own lives.

Salzberg says, " When we can't let the moment in front of us be what it is ... we're out of balance. Mindfulness restores that balance; we catch our habitual reactions of clinging, condemning, and zoning out, and let them go."

Try using the body scan link at the right for instructions for the Body Scan.

Sunday, February 9, 2014


If you want to get updates whenever there is a new post, please email me at ssorrentino@mmm.edu. You could put "Real Happiness" in the subject line and simply say, "add me to the updates."

For those of you who were the first to sign on to the Challenge, this option wasn't available. So, if you want to be included you have to let me know.

May you be happy.

Welcome to Week 2

Congratulations on arriving at Week 2 of the Real Happiness Meditation Challenge!

During week one, we practiced developing our concentration. In Week 2, we will practice the skill of mindfulness. Salzberg says mindfulness is "giving purposeful, nonjudgmental attention to whatever arises in the present moment. ... thought, emotion, or physical sensation."

Practicing mindfulness, we start to notice that with every experience, there is both the direct, actual experience, and then everything else we think about it. Salzberg calls all that other stuff the "add-ons." And it is often those add-ons to our actual, direct experience that take us out of the moment and cause suffering.

For example, if you're meditating and your foot itches, your direct experience of the itch might include a tickle, a burning, and widening or shrinking of the itchy area and probably, if you watch long enough, a fading of sensation. But if you're meditating and your foot itches, and the very next thing that happens is you start to think, "Oh no. I'm not going to be able to concentrate. This is going to ruin my meditation. Why can't I do this? I can never do anything. I'm never going to be able to find peace." Wow! That's a whole bunch of stuff that is not an itch.

So, in the practice of mindfulness, all those add-ons become just something you're noticing, like the sensation of the breath or the rising and passing of sounds. Those thoughts come and go. Just because you think them, doesn't make them true. It's just brain activity that comes and goes, which you can step out of and observe

You can think of mindfulness as "wise attention" because it is the ability to see the direct experience and also what we add on to our direct experience. It gives us the ability to choose whether to heed these add-ons. It gives us the opportunity to turn off the automatic pilot, and not act based on some conditioned responses we may  not even be conscious of, but instead to see all that is happening and make skillful decisions and choices.

In Week 2, see if you can add a fourth day of meditation practice. Aim for at least one sitting of 20 minutes. Do what you can -- you are collecting a number of tools and options for cultivating a meditation practice.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Thinking about what's "helpful" rather than what's "right"

I'll bet many of you at this point are second-guessing yourselves and judging yourselves quite harshly, especially if you're having trouble finding time to meditate, you can't sit still for 20 minutes, you can't stop the endless flood of thinking or you don't want to do this anymore. Or some other variation.

Here are a few tools to use in your meditation to help you work with these challenges:

- Counting: Inhale, exhale and silently say "one" to yourself. Then, inhale, exhale, "two." Inhale, exhale, "three." And so on up to 10, then start over at one again. I guarantee you don't get past three or four before you're off on some thought tangent. So, start again at one. One of the things that meditation helps us get comfortable with is simply starting over, again and again.

- "Not breath." If you're doing a breathing meditation, the moment you find you're not attending to your breath and you notice a thought taking you away, simply identify it as "not breath" and return your attention to the sensation of your breath. This can help cut down a bit on the harsh critic in your head because when it says, "you're not doing this right" you simply notice that thought as "not breath," helping you stay detached, centered and calm.

- Using the words "in," "out," or "rising," "falling" to gently tack onto each in and out breath. Do it ever so lightly, just enough to stay connected to the breath.

- Keep a sitting journal - Try keeping a log each day of how long you meditated, what the predominant aspect of it was - sleepy? bored? energized? planning? busy mind?, etc. and your general emotional state of the day - calm, anxious, focused, scattered, irritable, etc. At the end of the week, review your journal and see if you notice any relationship between your meditation practice and your day.

- Remember, you can also use the hearing meditation if that is going better for you or the mini-meditations throughout the day.

Feel free to mix things up, see what works for you. The important thing is to not regard your experience as right or wrong but to simply choose whatever will be most helpful in each moment.

Salzberg writes, "Success in meditation is measured not in terms of what is happening to us but by how we relate to what is happening."

On a separate note, tomorrow starts the second week of the Real Happiness Meditation Challenge. Congratulations. Give yourself a pat on the back for taking the time to do something good for you.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Real Happiness audio files posted

You might find the new link posted at the right, the Real Happiness audio files, to be helpful with your practice. These come from Workman publishers' Web site and are mp3 files.
I hope they are useful. And please share here in the comments section your experiences using them.

New Real Happiness Blogger

Residence Hall Director Julie Brown has signed onto the challenge and will be blogging along with me throughout the month. Look for her posts along with mine! If there are any others out there who want blog, please contact me at ssorrentino@mmm.edu.
Welcome, Julie!

Am I doing this right?

Meditation is new to me. I’m starting at square one. Until this past Saturday I had never even thought about trying it. I've done my session each day and I find I keep wondering if I am doing this right.

I want my meditation to be like what is described in the book or to sound like what other people describe their practice as, but when I really think about it I know that’s an unrealistic goal. It’s not going to be the same as in the book because I am not the person described in the book. My meditation is going to be different from yours because we are different people with different experiences. But knowing that and feeling that in the moment isn't exactly the same thing. I find myself finishing my session and wondering if I did it right or if I was just sitting with my eyes closed. I am giving myself time to get it, I know that with any new activity there is a learning curve and I am sure if I keep at it each day it will become easier.

So for right now while I am filled with some doubt on if I am doing this right and if I am really getting it, I am trying to keep one of my favorite sayings in mind “Act as if ye have faith and faith shall be given” put it another way – fake it till you make it.   

Mini-meditations throughout the day

Up until now, you've been working with formal meditation - setting aside a specific time for practice. You can also incorporate mindful moments into your day in other ways.

Taking advantage of those moments throughout the day when you have a minute or two between things: waiting for the elevator, riding the subway or bus, waiting for class to start. These are times when you can connect to your breath and the sensations of it in your body.You don't have to close your eyes, no one has to know you're doing it. Just take a quick moment to center yourself.

You might even think ahead and decide what moments in your day you might try this. Sharon Salzberg has some great suggestions: Take three mindful breaths before responding to an email or a text message; stop to follow a few breaths when the microwave dings; let the phone ring three times before answering and take a mindful breath during that interval. I wonder how your reactions and behaviors might change if you paused at these moments.

I'm sure you can come up with some other ideas for this. It would be great to hear what you are trying ... it might also help others in the challenge.

May you be happy!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Wait ... what's the point of all this?

You might be starting to wonder that very thing about now. What follows is a long passage from Sharon Salzberg's book, "Real Happiness" about why we work at cultivating the ability to pay attention in the here and now. I'd love to hear your reflections on this in relation to your meditation practice.

She writes,
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. When we're keenly aware of what's happening, we don't need to grasp for the next great moment of sensation or taste or sound (all the while missing what's actually here, right in front of us). Nor do we need to postpone our feeling of happiness until a more exciting or more pleasant object comes along, thinking, 'This is OK, but it would be better if ...' Only when we are attentive in each moment do we find satisfaction in our lives. The point of our practice is to point us to our direct experience.

She gives an example. If you eat an apple but you're not really fully paying attention, you won't notice its taste and smell and texture. You might not even notice you're eating it, if your doing something else at the same time. That experience is likely to leave you unsatisfied and wanting something else. Once you become aware of this mild sense of discontent, you might be inclined to blame the apple - it's uninteresting. You might not realize that the quality of your attention played a role in your experience of the apple. So, you may move on to a banana. If you're not paying attention to the full experience of eating it, you might experience the same thing and yearn for a mango, thinking, "when I get that, then I'll be happy." Salzberg calls this an "interminable chain of longing" and says concentration - what you have been practicing for the past few days -- is what breaks this chain.

What are some of your reflections?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Sign up for updates!

We have created a new feature: Meditators signing up for the challenge from now on, can sign up to get email updates every time there is a new post.
For those of you who signed up before today and want to get the email reminders, drop me a quick email at ssorrentino@mmm.edu with the Subject Line: Real Happiness Updates.

Guided meditation links working

Hi all,
Sorry for the initial inconvenience, but guided meditaiton links to the right are now working. Let us know if you find them useful.
May you be happy!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Snow Day Post

It's been a quiet, cozy snow day on my end. Snow days are great because they seem to break through the unending busy-ness, the go-go-going of everyday life and offer a glimpse of the stillness and non-doing we are cultivating in mediation.

I'm wondering how this practice is going for everyone?  We are up to 20 Griffins committed to meditating together for the month of February. Any questions? Anyone want to share any experiences or challenges? Please feel free - I'm sure others will relate to whatever you are encountering.

The goal for this first week of the challenge is for each of us to try to do a 20-minute sitting meditation on three days this week. Remember, you can follow the instructions in the Day 1 post or either of the links to the right.

If your're finding the breathing meditation hard or frustrating, of you just want to experiment, try the "Hearing Meditation" that follows for cultivating concentration:

Hearing Meditation
Settle into your seat or lie down and close your eyes, if that's comfortable. Or if your eyes are open, let your gaze rest and unfocus.

Take a few breaths in and out, noticing the physical sensations of the breath entering and leaving your body. Do this for a few minutes. Not forcing or controlling your breath, just noticing it. Not judging.

Then, turn your attention from noticing your breath, to noticing the sounds around you. Whatever's there, you don't have to strain to be hearing something. Simply noticing whatever sound reaches your ears.

No need to identify what they are. You may find that you have an immediate reaction to them and categorize them into pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. Simply notice the tendency to do this, and open back up to simply receiving the sound waves. You note them and let them go, note them arising and subsiding.

At any point if you lose concentration, become distracted by thoughts - even thoughts about the sounds -, emotions or physical sensations, see if you can simply note that this has happened and open back up your attention to receive the next sound. You can always return to concentrating on your breath to stabilize your mind, if that is helpful.

At the end of the time period, as you return to your daily activities, see if you can remember how practicing this meditation  reminds us that we can meet our experiences with more presence and centeredness.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Oops: a note on the UCLA guided meditations link

I just noticed that you might get an error message when you click on the UCLA link, but you can still get to the site. If you see a message asking you if you mean: http://marc.ucla.edu/body.cfm. Follow that link and find the "free guided meditations" tab at the top.


Week 1: Concentration 

Ever lost track of time while you've been glued to your smart phone? Ever polished off the entire bag of chips yourself without even noticing what you were doing? Ever found your mind jumping from one thing to another when you're trying to do your homework?
You are not alone!
Our scattered minds are a hazard of our modern world and busy lives. But if we could steady our minds and refocus our attention, we could re-collect all that lost energy and feel restored.

The first week of the Real Happiness program focuses on exercising the skill of concentration, which helps us stabilize our attention.
Distractions are both internal and external. Internal ones often focus on regret about things that happened in the past ("I shouldn't have said (or done)  ...") , postponements of happiness ("I can't wait until I graduate, then I'll be able to ...") or fantasies about a future that may never happen ("If I don't get a good grade in this class, then I'll never get into graduate school). And of course, all the emotional upheaval that comes along with such thinking.
Distractions are also external: social media, movies and TV, roommates and friends, school work, jobs, family, marketing and consumerism.
The effect of all this distraction is a feeling of fragmentation or being un-centered and often, overwhelmed.
By practicing the skill of concentration, we develop the ability to be aware in the present moment and make choices about how and when we spend our energies and to reclaim some of those fragmented pieces of our selves.

This week's practice
This week you will begin to learn to use concentration to focus your attention. The first thing you're going to concentrate on is your breath (see instructions in yesterday's post and/or follow guided meditation links to the right). When you do this, most likely you will immediately notice that your attention scatters, that it's hard to concentrate. That's right! The exercise is to notice when your focus wanders and gently return it to the breath. Over and over and over. That's the muscle your developing.

I've posted a new link at the right to the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center. It contains audio of several different guided meditations you can use to help you. Try the 5-minute-long "breathing meditation" and the 19-minute "complete meditation instructions."

What do you think?
Why am I doing this? I have a million other things I need to do right now, what am I doing sitting here just breathing? How is this going to help with anything? I can't do it. I can't sit still. I'm doing this wrong. This is great.
Let's hear it!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Welcome to Day 1

Welcome to Day 1 of the Real Happiness meditation challenge! And congratulations for making this commitment to yourself!

There's a guided sitting meditation led by Sharon Salzberg at the link on the right. You can start by following that.

Here are also some meditation basics:
1. Find a comfortable, quiet place where you can avoid interruptions for between 10 and 20 minutes. Sit or lie down (although you might fall asleep lying down ; )) and get settled in.
2. Close your eyes if that feels comfortable, or simply let your gaze rest on the floor and let your eyes relax.
3. Feel the points of contact of your body with the chair or floor or bed - wherever you are
4. Take a few long breaths to call your attention to the sensation of air flowing in and out of your body. Then let your breathing return to normal
5. Now, let your attention rest in the place where you feel the flow of air most predominantly - you nostrils, your chest, your belly.
6. Then simply settle your attention at that place and follow the sensations of each breath entering and leaving your body
7. No need to control your breath, just let it do its thing
8. The first thing you might notice is that your attention quickly wanders off. That pesky attention, it's always got somewhere else it thinks it needs to be. Well, no problem. No judging either. Just, when you become aware that you're off thinking about what you have to do today, or that itch on the bottom of your foot, or that conversation you had yesterday with your friend or what to do with your life -- as soon as you BECOME AWARE -- simply, gently, kindly, escort your attention back to the sensations of breathing.
9. Repeat.
10. Yup, that's really it. Simple and incredibly difficult at the same time. Remember: No judging. You are not going to be good at this or bad at this. Your just going to be.

Give it a try, and let us know how it's going -- post your experiences and questions.
I'll be back later.

May you be happy!