Category: Mindfulness

Resting in RAIN and Sea

Resting in RAIN and Sea

4 AM.

I’m awake in bed feeling anxious. Only one day until the Inauguration. How will it turn out? What will happen in the meantime? What could go wrong?

4:15.

This is too early to wake up for the day. I remember I have choices. Instead of letting worried thoughts carry me off into that dark and scary place I’ve been to before and depriving me of sleep, I can get off that bus. I can do something different. There are alternatives to getting stuck in a trance of fear or even fighting it. Fight, flight, and freeze are not the only options available.

Normally, I might do a yoga nidra meditation, which features a body scan and is virtually guaranteed to knock me out or get me into a state of relaxation from which sleep would follow soon after. I can’t count the number of nights yoga nidra has provided me with two or three more hours of sleep than I would have gotten without it. Instead of feeling sleep-deprived, I wake up feeling well-rested.

This morning, however, a different meditation comes to mind. Since I’m practicing trusting intuition and stepping out of the way to allow wisdom to flow, I go with it. This time, I’ll listen to my own recording of a Tara Brach-inspired RAIN meditation.

RAIN is an acronym that stands for: Recognize, Allow, Investigate, and Nurture. There are other variations from other teachers that use different key words. But RAIN really works for me, so RAIN it is.

Recognize and Allow are brief steps that bring you into connection and relationship with the emotional discomfort. You don’t push it away, deny it, or numb it. You greet and welcome it like a familiar friend – which begins to wake up the more evolved  “tend and befriend” part of the brain.

Hello, Anxiety. You belong. 

This is the invitation. Then on to Investigate, which is where the conversation begins.

Where are you, and what do you want me to know?

Explore the vulnerability. Really get to know it.

I find Anxiety in my heart and throat and rest one hand on each area. That kind of tender touch is like putting a warm blanket on the place that hurts. Tending to it as you would tend to a suffering child. It’s like swaddling a baby: a soothing, gentle pressure and caring presence. I’m already lying under my weighted blanket, which is soothing in itself, but this tender touch deepens the attention and provides gentle contact where it is most needed.

Often during the Investigate part of RAIN, after locating and tuning in to where the suffering is in my body, I’ll see an image in that area. If I stay with it, the image begins to change and shift into what I call an energy story that resolves in a healing image along with the realization that the physical energy imbalance in that part of my body has resolved, as well.

But this time, I connect with the vulnerability and ask Anxiety what it needs. It communicates a sense of people who are unwell, mean-spirited, untrustworthy, unhinged, and sinister being in control. I see flashes of situations that brought up similar feelings in the past. That kind of emotional energy is stored in the body – likely around an even earlier trauma, or core wound that I sense I’m getting closer to healing every time I do RAIN.

Understanding it a little better, I now call it Fear and realize it needs Love and a sense of safety. It wonders if this world is a safe place to be in (which feels very young). It needs to feel the presence of loving energy and to know that Love is stronger than the presence that seems so threatening in the dark hours of the night. That’s what the Nurture step is about, and this is my favorite part. It calls on imagination, and I love imagining. It’s a powerful tool.

I know exactly what to do. I call on my parents and grandparents, who also live inside me. There is a place in my heart area I know as Unconditional Love, and it’s like a crystal that’s similar to Aladdin’s lamp. Rub it, and they’ll all come out and surround me with their loving presence. There are other beings, too – beings of love, light, and wisdom.

When I call upon Unconditional Love, they all come forth. And then I allow myself to receive their loving energy and to listen to what they have to say. This time, I hear (and write down):

You were never alone or unsupported. Everything that was hard served a purpose. You are becoming so strong and can help others.

You have one another. Share your feelings, and dissolve the separation.

You are discovering your true power and untapped resources. All is well. Let them in. Share yourselves. You are surrounded by love.

There’s not enough togetherness in your life.

Remember how the sea held you. Take refuge in the sea.

Then these loving beings slip back into my heart, and I’m standing on my favorite beach where the land meets the vast ocean, feeling the cool, wet sand under my bare feet. I reach for my phone and turn on the sound of long, crashing ocean waves from the White Noise app.

The ocean is one of my greatest resources. It’s big enough to absorb any suffering I bring to it – and I’ve brought some mighty big suffering to it in the past. I can take everything that feels overwhelming, set it down, and let the ocean carry it away into the immensity that can hold and transform it all. And then I feel lighter, connected, supported. Not alone. Better able to focus on the here and now, without emotional baggage clouding my vision.

I really imagine being at the ocean, with all my senses. And then I wake up hours later to the sound of the waves, feeling rested, peaceful, and resourced. Ready to greet the day with my best, most present self.

Every time I do RAIN meditation, it’s different. Different images, different words, different ways of nurturing. Your experience will be different, too, calling upon your deepest wisdom and connecting with something greater than yourself. I find it to be a really beneficial meditation for these times we’re in.

But don’t just take my word for it. The value I attribute to RAIN is backed by science. As neuropsychologist and author of Neurodharma, Dr, Rick Hanson explains: 

We need to deal with real dangers, but much of the time we overestimate threats and don’t feel as safe as we actually are. This makes us feel bad, and it wears down physical and mental health over time. Plus when we feel at all anxious, attention understandably skitters around, scanning the world, body, and mind for what might go wrong.

Helping yourself to feel reasonably safe calms the stress response system and helps you stay focused rather than looking about for a tiger that might pounce.

If more people got in touch with their vulnerability and true power through practices like RAIN, I imagine there would be less bad behavior, blame, addiction, susceptibility to manipulation, and violence in the world. I really do. It’s powerful medicine.

If you’d like to try it – either when you’re in the grip of unsettling emotion or after the fact – here is my version of RAIN:
 

And if you’re interested, Tara Brach wrote a book about it, Radical Compassion: Learning to Love Yourself and Your World with the Practice of RAIN, which I recommend highly.

I’m also trained to guide others through the RAIN process and to conduct 1:1 Meditation Out Loud sessions. Contact me if you’re interested in scheduling a remote session.

In these challenging and uncertain times, may we bring as much presence and compassion as we can to ourselves and the world around us and remember that we are not alone, even in the middle of the night or anytime during the course of the day when it might feel like it.


© 2021 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

What’s Going on Inside This Heart?

What’s Going on Inside This Heart?

Here we are in the uncharted waters of December 2020. It was dark when I woke up this morning at 6:45 and checked in with my heart. What’s going on in here? What’s the weather like inside this heart?

It feels a little weary, to be honest. Weary from one encounter after another over the past several months with people I assumed were “on the same page” and seeing the world through a similar lens, only to discover that’s not the case at all.

I remember back in March when we absorbed one shockwave after another as we moved into and adjusted to shutdown mode. It feels a little like that. But this time, it’s more about digesting realities about the stories we’re buying into that have solidified throughout the year, and how to be in relationship with one another when those stories differ radically. 

I keep reminding myself we’re in uncharted territory, and everyone is doing the best they can. I try to catch myself and shake off the seductive stories before they have a chance to settle in. Daily.

Earlier this year, things were moving so fast, and it seemed every week served up a different theme. At some point, themes didn’t seem to be so much of a thing. It just felt increasingly chaotic. But now I’m feeling another theme arising. In a nutshell, it feels like our country is divided into perceptions of government/authority being either protective or controlling. Maybe that’s a huge overgeneralization. But it was what I saw when I stepped into my heart yesterday and asked the question I ask many times a day: WTF?

The theme I’m digesting now centers on rebuilding, reconnecting, and caring about people who see things very differently. How to live in a world with so much difference of opinion and clinging to compelling narratives. (Are they fact or fiction? Or a mixture of both?) How to live in a world in which it seems so many people have been drinking the Kool-Aid, so to speak. People who would think the same of me. People I’ve known and respected for a long time. And still do.

Even though I catch myself repeatedly, to have that reaction in the first place… This is new to me. It’s an adjustment, a revelation. And it’s often uncomfortable. In this heart of mine, connection is more important than being right. So I listen and try not to offend. I try to understand what’s below the beliefs and find some kind of caring beneath it all.

Sometimes it can feel overwhelming, especially if you’re a “feeling” type. And if you’re not getting enough sleep.

The Power of Presence

When we get hijacked by emotions, awareness (a.k.a. mindfulness) gives us options. This happened to me when I was driving home yesterday. Realizing I was hooked in an addictive storyline that I called out as “romanticizing”, I surveyed my options and decided I could take a deep breath and blow it out, blow it along, release what doesn’t serve. Then it wouldn’t get stuck in me like fluffy seed fairies dispersed into the air looking for a place to land and take root.

The breath can be really powerful like that. It can blow those story seeds along, saying Not Here. With mindfulness, we can notice what’s going on and choose the seeds we allow to grow in our garden and what to do about the stubborn, subterranean root and rhizome systems that started a long time ago.

With mindfulness, every moment is an opportunity to choose what’s most important and what’s best (which can change). We can choose to get stuck in a limiting personal narrative or to step out of it. We can choose to drop down into something much deeper: a field of being I call Presence.

Dropping into presence actually saves a lot of time because you realize what is and isn’t ultimately important, and a lot of stuff you thought was important just falls away. Here, fresh ideas, insights, solutions, and perspectives are accessible. And lovingkindness.

I sense that all the division we’re experiencing in the world around us at this time and confusion about who or what to believe is ultimately calling us inward, to our our deeper wisdom, which is very, very different than sorting things out in our head through thinking and analyzing or being brainwashed by media. (If you haven’t watched The Social Dilemma, I urge you to.) 

Asking for Help

When we are caught up in the lower, addictive energies of a storyline, we also can ask for help. Especially when we’re tired and don’t have the energy to drop down deeper.

One evening this week, before falling asleep I asked for help. I had gotten triggered and was having trouble getting unhooked – like when those prickly hitchhiker seeds get caught on your clothes, and it’s really hard to get them off. Authentic movement (which is a new thing for me) has become my go-to for releasing and expressing emotional energy. But I was too tired to dance or meditate that evening. So I sent out an earnest S.O.S. to Unconditional Love (spirit guides, angels, ancestors, higher self, etc.). And I ended up having a very interesting dream.

I dreamed I was able to cross the border and visit Eckhart Tolle in his home in Vancouver. We were in his living room, which was modern and spacious. I was drawn to the patterned flooring, which I found lovely. I told him I was grateful to be in his Presence (“with a capital P”), meaning the pure presence coming through him.

I woke up feeling I’d received an energy upgrade in my sleep! I felt totally different.

Then I wrote down the words going through my head and put them on the image that came to mind. 

The image is of the octagonal apex of Inner Light Lodge at Light on the Hill retreat center. I spent the past few years doing a lot of inner growth work in that building with my Hidden Treasure tribe. As I worked on the image, I noticed the roofing of the protruding structure was very similar to the flooring in my dream – which took it to another level, literally!

So we can ask for help. Help that I’ve learned is always available if we can open ourselves to it.

Step out of the storyline, drop into presence, and see what’s there. Ask for help when you need it. This is my advice for these times, which I give myself daily.

What’s the weather like inside this heart? Feels more like peace now…because the energy was channeled into these words.

May we all find constructive ways to channel and release the energies coursing through us. And inspire one another to connect with our deeper wisdom and compassion, which is so much richer than any personal or collective narrative.


© 2020 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

The model pictured is Hannah Zlotnick, https://www.anandagaia.com/ .

What Do You See?

What Do You See?

This summer, the river that runs by my front door has been my refuge.

On the river, everything is so normal and predictable. It could be any summer. The sun and moon rise and set on schedule and travel the path they always do, undistracted by human drama. Birds sing. The water lilies open and close at the same time each day.

I speak insights and words of gratitude into my online journal through my phone (set to airplane kayak mode), and herons and eagles have an uncanny knack of appearing suddenly out of nowhere and flying overhead as if to underscore certain especially resonant and relevant inspirations. The other night, I was on the river doing this under the moonlight, and instead of a heron or eagle, it was a shooting star that appeared like an exclamation point at the end of a sentence that had brought me to tears of homecoming.

It’s downright magical and sacred on the river.

This stretch of the Hudson River is the church I attend almost daily. It’s been keeping me balanced and centered as 2020 continues to carve its unpredictable and uncharted course through human and personal history. It’s taught me how to stay and to deepen my connection with the life around me. When I teach meditation classes, I use the phrase “on and off the [meditation] cushion.” But out here, “on and off the river” carries the same meaning.

Riverside Litter

There is a small spot on the riverside nearby just large enough for a family or small group of friends to enjoy the river and launch kayaks. It’s been getting a lot of use this summer, which is great. However, people often leave behind their garbage. It’s been happening more noticeably this year than in the past.

One day, I paddled by this spot and was disgusted and saddened by the sight of trash piling up. It fit a basic theme of selfishness that was pissing me off. So of course that’s what I saw. A narrative arose in my head about people who feel entitled to leave behind their garbage in the name of personal freedom. I saw selfishness, irresponsibility, a lack of caring and concern for others and the earth.

I paddled away feeling irked. And separate from and somehow better than the people who left behind their trash. But it didn’t feel right. As I paddled on, I asked myself how far down the river I was going to carry these feelings and assumptions.

The great thing about having a regular meditation practice is that I can catch myself sooner when my mind goes over to the dark side. And once you realize what’s happening inside your head, it opens up a field of spaciousness in which the heart can speak.

I realized that just as people can do better with cleaning up after themselves, I can do better than judging them.

So I paddled along with a prayer in my heart:

May I and all beings be free from the suffering and ignorance that causes us to do harm. May I and all beings be free from the suffering and ignorance that leads us to exclude others from our heart.

That felt better because I was back in connection with my fellow humans.

Our human struggles and the demons we wrestle with are universal, even though they may look different on the surface. We get triggered, addicted, distracted, stuck. We fall short, miss the mark, make mistakes. It is the human condition.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that when we stop blaming others and making them wrong and instead take an honest look at ourselves and our reactions, we become empowered. Because the one and only person we can change is you-know-who. When we shift the way we look at something, new possibilities can come to light. We can find a better way to hold a situation so we can see expanded possibilities and take some kind of positive action. 

Opportunities for Caring

If we explore a little deeper, we’ll likely find that underneath our anger, indignation, and judgment is some kind of caring. The light of love, kindness, and compassion wants to shine forth, but the ego tends to obstruct it when things aren’t the way it thinks they should be.

The caring in me resonated with ideas such as putting a small sign at the spot on the river inviting people to enjoy it and to remember to carry out their trash. Maybe leaving a box of bags in case they didn’t think to bring their own. Or putting on some gloves and cleaning up the spot myself. We can see an opportunity to be of service and shine our light instead of another opportunity to disconnect our hearts. Instead of just photographing and griping, I can bring a bag and be part of a solution. I can share my images and ideas and be part of a productive dialogue.

The great news is that before I had a chance to do that, someone else had come along and cleaned it up! Another caring heart.

I’ve paddled by the littered spot on the river many times since and started reflecting on how it is connected with the other things we find unacceptable in our world, in our lives, and in ourselves. Might they, too, be opportunities to shine more light and love?

I’m thinking of issues participants (mostly female) in my mindfulness meditation courses bring up – that often resonate with me, too. I find it so beautiful when one person voices something they’re struggling with and others reassure them that they understand and that they’re not alone. Which is the truth. So often, we feel alone in our struggles, as if nobody would understand. Or maybe (God forbid!) they’d judge us. But we’re never alone. Our struggles really aren’t that special!

For example, instead of seeing weight gain as moving in the wrong direction or being unacceptable, could it be an opportunity to love your body more, not only when it meets your expectations but also when it doesn’t? With practice and intention, might feelings of disappointment or disgust cue you to take a breath and beam love to the parts – of your body, your life, your world, your past – you deem unacceptable?

I often do this during self-Reiki and chakra work. It’s a beautiful practice, and it really is a practice that you do again and again. As your capacity for mindful awareness increases, those familiar feelings of shame can cue love, compassion, acceptance, and even appreciation! And the kind of love that inspires you to give your body/life/world what it most deeply thirsts for instead of what is merely habitual. Without beating yourself up – because you realize punishment is neither a necessary nor effective path to well-being.

Might anxiety or white coat syndrome be an opportunity to bring more love and kindness to yourself, and to be less judgmental? To listen to what your body is saying when it gets your attention through a sympathetic fight-or-flight response, instead of trying to whip it into submission? Instead of creating more tension and dissatisfaction through resistance?

Litter.
Shame.
Blame and disconnection.
“I’m right, and you’re wrong.
Regrets and mistakes of all kinds.
Even fear.

What do you see in a heap of garbage on the side of the road? When you look in the mirror? When you take in community and world news? When you communicate with someone who doesn’t see the world as you do?

Can we learn to hold what we repel in a different, more spacious way so new, more empowering and caring possibilities can arise? Can we include them in our circle of lovingkindness so they can awaken our natural wisdom and compassion instead of keeping us rigid and stuck?

Yes, we can. Held the right way, the demons we wrestle become allies that help us to evolve. To love better.


© 2020 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

When the Heart Breaks Open

When the Heart Breaks Open

There’s a spot on the Hudson River I paddle to almost every day. It’s my quiet place of solitude. It’s just large enough to pull my kayak onto and do some walking meditation, back and forth for 15 to 20 paces.

This is a new spot for me. Normally, I wouldn’t linger in this part of the river because it’s fairly narrow. If a motorboat comes zipping by, there’s no escaping the wake. However, this year there hasn’t been much boat traffic on our stretch of the river between locks 5 and 6 – presumably due to section closures in the canal lock system. Works for me! It’s been the best summer for kayaking in the 12 years we’ve lived on the mighty Hudson.

And that’s all good because this summer, I’m practicing staying. I’d love to visit the ocean or the waterfalls in Ithaca, but staying close to home is a worthwhile experiment. I don’t see it as deprivation or a loss of freedom but as a gateway to greater freedom. I’m learning to stay where I am and more fully appreciate what’s right here. This learning to stay practice deepens gratitude, presence, and creativity.

Needless to say, I’m getting to know this tiny, rocky sliver of a “beach” intimately. 

This weekend, my attention was drawn to dragonfly exuviae (exoskeletons) attached to the rocky wall I walked alongside. The exuviae were well camouflaged and hidden in plain sight. But after I noticed the first, I noticed several more. I see them all the time on lily pads and blades of river grass, but I was able to examine the ones on the rocky wall more closely and became fascinated.

I noticed the opening out of which the dragonflies emerged and imagined the newborn dragonflies resting on their exuviae as they got used to their new dragonfly bodies and wings. Wings! Their winged bodies were trapped inside these shells.

Photography is and always has been a spiritual practice for me. The images I’m drawn to reflect and offer insights into the questions I carry. I often think of them as mirrors that reveal something about myself and the world around me.

The dragonfly exuviae carried some kind of insight or message – I could just feel it – although I couldn’t pinpoint it at the time. And anyway, that’s not what walking meditation is about. Be present now. Analyze later.

But I smiled whenever a dragonfly zipped by.

Later that day, when I looked at the images I captured, I sensed dragonfly exuviae offered metaphors for this season of molting and transformation and growing wings and not holding myself back by clinging to what is merely familiar. After all, I resigned from one of my part-time library jobs this week, to put more attention where I’m feeling called. Even though I loved that job, my co-workers, and many of the patrons. 

But things have changed. Since March, I’ve been providing mindfulness meditation courses for library patrons, continuously. At the beginning of this year, I never would have imagined my library work could transform into that. It was a dream come true. But as the library moves toward reopening more fully, I realized that I’d rather continue delivering mindfulness programming as a contractor than wipe down public computers as an employee in the “new normal”. 

Dragonflies molt many times during their lives, and each time is a new beginning, a new chapter. So I saw the exuviae as a reflection of this new chapter. 

But then something happened last night that brought up challenging emotions. I took a walk along the river at the park this morning and was triggered by an interaction with a couple I passed on the trail. When I realized we wouldn’t be able to keep the recommended six feet of distance between us, I put on my mask and offered a cheery “Good morning!” as I passed them. They ignored me completely, and I felt sad about the lack of civility. Normally, I’d be able to let it go, but I was still carrying sadness from last night and therefore was more sensitive.

I truly believe that all feelings have positive intention. Instead of pushing unpleasant feelings away, we can acknowledge and allow them and welcome them as messengers and teachers. We can pause to feel our feelings and discover what kind of wisdom they offer.

A little voice in me told me to stop at a quiet, secluded spot up ahead and sit on the bench by the river to be present to the feelings. So I did. 

Hello, Grief.
What can I learn from you today?
What do you have to say?

I felt the energy of sadness and grief in my chest and rested my hands there tenderly. Then I noticed an image coming to mind with increasing clarity, like watching pictures develop from the old Polaroid instant cameras. The image took the shape and color of a heart. Then it broke open just like the dragonfly exuviae, and a winged, dragonfly-like being emerged from it. The dragonfly started flying around, light and unfettered by the gravity of the world. A shimmering teacher of transformation.

And a voice spoke: You are so much more than this. So much more than this challenge – which you will rise to, and which will pass. So much more than the feelings that arise. You are part of something much greater.

As I watched the dragonfly fly around in my mind’s eye, an answer came to me about some options I have. The energy in my chest subsided. I had a plan.

And then I understood more of the wisdom inherent in the image of the exuviae on the rock wall: When the world breaks my heart, maybe it’s okay because something new and more evolved is hatching from it and will show me the way, if I take the time to lean in and listen.

Take a look at your photo library or Instagram page. What images were you drawn to, and what feelings, associations, insights, etc. do they call forth? What is it you’re seeking as you go about living in this world? What is life putting in your path as a mirror or messenger so you may better understand yourself and your relationship to the world?

You can watch a time-lapse of a dragonfly breaking out of its exuviae HERE.


© 2020 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Live from the Labyrinth

Live from the Labyrinth

I’ve been asking myself some important questions lately and wondering how others would answer them. For example:

What matters most to you?

And how do you connect with it?

What consistently matters most to me is: Presence, Connection, Compassion, and Gratitude.

I connect with these qualities on a daily basis by doing walking meditation in the labyrinth, which is my sanctuary. It’s the only reason why I leave the house and has become my favorite daily ritual. It’s a meditation practice from which insights arise, and it’s really supporting me during this time of staying home during the pandemic. 

After more than a month of staying home, I’ve made a series of five “labyrinth time” videos, complete with lots of uplifting birdsong. Is it a meditation? Meditation instruction? A poem? All of the above? I don’t know what to call it. All I know is that it’s real and tender and honest. (So much so that sometimes I feel shy about sharing.) These are videos for quiet moments.

Here’s what’s going on: As I walk the labyrinth, I stop periodically to dictate insights into a Google doc on my phone. Then I put my phone back in my pocket, return to presence, and start walking again. At the end of my walking meditation, before leaving the labyrinth, I record myself reading the insights and reflections out loud, accompanied by all the natural sounds. I also take pictures either before or after walking the labyrinth. This video series is my own personal chronicle of where I draw strength from during this time of deep uncertainty.

What you’re hearing is an unfiltered narration of what arises in my mind when I’m immersed in moving meditation in nature and feeling present and connected. The themes center around being intimate with what is and shifting out of expectation, desire, and thought patterns and back into presence. Repeatedly. With compassion. 

And you can see the changes the natural world goes through as the weeks pass. Even as our normal routines remain collectively altered, nature keeps doing what it always does at this time of year: renewing, growing, blooming. The natural world is a steadfast background and an anchor of presence we can return to again and again.

I hope you will enjoy these videos. 

Walking Meditation Out Loud: Week 1

Walking Meditation Out Loud: Week 2

Walking Meditation Out Loud: Week 3

Walking Meditation Out Loud: Week 4

Walking Meditation Out Loud: Week 5

Walking Meditation Out Loud: Week 6

And here is instruction for the practice of walking mediation:

.


© 2020 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this post, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, mindfulness meditation teacher, clutter coach, and Reiki practitioner who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Hand-Washing as an Opportunity for Presence

Hand-Washing as an Opportunity for Presence

I’m taking a few moments to reach out from my working home retreat (a.k.a. sheltering in place) to write about a topic that has been at the forefront of my mind since all this went down:

Mindfulness.

At the beginning of the month, I stepped into a new role I’d been preparing for, for quite some time: teaching a mindfulness meditation course. The first class session took place in-person and was attended by 17 women. By the second class – a week later – things had begun to change rapidly, and we weren’t able to meet face-to-face. Already familiar with Zoom video conferencing, I moved the course to that platform without missing a beat, and it’s how we conducted our three remaining class sessions. This week, I began teaching a second mindfulness course. And now a third is in the works!

Needless to say, I’ve been busy…because it’s a really good time to begin/return to/deepen a meditation practice! 

As the participants in my courses report, mindfulness meditation provides real, practical benefits for navigating our lives as we adjust to new, constantly changing information and circumstances. It’s gratifying to be able to offer skills that help people to be more resilient and emotionally healthy during these challenging times when we’re experiencing so much anxiety, grief, and other strong emotions. 

In today’s class, we discussed ways in which we can integrate mindfulness practice into daily life. Not just formal meditation “on the cushion” but ways we can pause for presence throughout the day. The possibilities are endless.

For example, any moments of waiting are invitations to mindfulness:

  • waiting in traffic/at red lights/in line (if you still go out)
  • waiting for websites to load
  • waiting for food to heat up
  • waiting on hold to talk to someone
  • waiting for your gas tank to fill
  • waiting for a video conference to begin.

Virtually any activity can be an opportunity to take a mindful pause and awaken a more spacious quality of presence. My new favorite is:

Hand-washing. 

Hand-Washing to Awaken Awareness

In the 20 or so seconds you spend washing your hands, you can shift out of your head and whatever story is going on inside it and into presence. You can become aware of what is happening here and now: the sensation of soap lathering, the stream of warm water on your skin, the fragrance of the soap. It’s actually quite a lovely experience when you direct your attention to it. 

At times, I’ve noticed myself feeling impatient and wanting the 20 seconds to be over so I can get on with what’s next. This was especially true on days when my workload was heavier. Over the course of the past couple weeks, I’ve trained myself to allow hand-washing to cue presence. As a result, hand-washing breaks have become much more pleasant. They bring me back to what is actually happening in the moment. It might be the sensations described above, the movements of the breath, or simply being aware of the energy in the feet or body as a whole while standing at the sink.

Hand-washing can ground you in the moment and in your body. And what’s wonderful about that is: It gets you out of your head and whatever trance you were in. It liberates you from the prison and tunnel-vision of thought. It’s like waking up from a dream.

Hand-Washing to Awaken the Heart

In my classes, I teach about the two wings of mindfulness that work together like the two wings of a bird: awareness and compassion. Awareness is a clear seeing of what is present here and now. Feeling the sensations of the soap and water and the energy/aliveness in your body (feet, hands, etc.) are examples of awareness. The other wing, compassion, is bringing a loving care to the moment.

Hand-washing also can be a cue for practicing lovingkindness, and here’s how: As you wash your hands, you can be aware of the greater intention behind hand-washing. By this, I mean something beyond any sense of fear that might be present. Caring for your own well-being and the well-being of others. You might send yourself caring wishes by thinking silently (or even singing out loud) phrases such as:

May I be well and healthy. May I be safe and protected. May I be peaceful and at ease.

You can bring to mind someone you care about and send them well wishes, too (which is sometimes easier than sending them to yourself):

May you be well and healthy. May you be safe and protected. May you be peaceful and at ease.

You could even expand your lovingkindness to the whole planet:

May all beings be well and healthy. May all beings be safe and protected. May all beings be peaceful and at ease.

So as you wash your hands, you remember your wish for yourself and others to be well. This awakens the heart and generates a sense of connection, even when we can’t be with those we care about. Many people have been expressing grief over not being able to hug their parents or children, and this practice offers a different, more spacious kind of hug. You can imagine your dear one’s face smiling as you send them well-wishes while washing your hands.

Mindful Moments Matter

A new study by researchers from Yale, Columbia, and Dartmouth shows that short moments of mindfulness can have profound effects on regulating emotional intensity. In other words, practicing mindfulness throughout the day counts. It’s not just about taking time out of your day to practice formal, seated meditation for months on end (though I highly recommend it if you can do it, as it deepens your practice). You can reap benefits of mindfulness practice much sooner than that, in the moment, when you switch to that channel.

Each time you wash your hands, you can consider whether an awareness or compassion practice feels most right at the moment. It gives more meaning to this activity we do so many times a day. It also liberates you from your active mind that’s so often either focused on the past (regret, grief, etc.) or the future (worry, fear, etc.) and so rarely inhabits the present moment – which is the only moment we ever have and where all our power resides.

Returning to the present moment several times a day is an empowering practice that adds up through the course of a day, a week, a month, a year. Each time you bring yourself back from the trance of thought is like doing one rep that strengthens the muscles of awareness or compassion and deepens those neural pathways back “home”. It allows you to wake up from the dream and rest in a quality of consciousness that can hold everything that arises, like the ocean holds all the waves. 


© 2020 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this post, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, mindfulness meditation teacher, clutter coach, and Reiki practitioner who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

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