Morning Smile

Every night my body turns and turns and turns, hunting for a comfortable position. Exhaustion finally takes over, and I drift off to sleep… for about twenty minutes. Then the turning begins again. At dawn, the sunlight wakes me from my half-asleep, somewhat restful state. And I smile.sun-32198_1280-smile

It’s not every morning that I want to smile, but I smile anyway. I have learned I cannot control my body, but I can control my mind. This knowledge has freed me from suffering. Especially on the tough days when I really want to wallow, if I plaster a smile on my face when the light hits my eyes, everything shifts.

My body will hurt; it’s been this way for nearly 20 years, so I don’t expect it to stop, although I would welcome the absence of pain. Even when the pain is intense, the smile opens the mind to so much more than the physical experience of tired and sore bodies. While physical pain is part of my world, so is the absence of suffering.

The smile may leave my face after I climb out of bed, but it remains inside me. I feel the bliss of eternity wash through me throughout the day, and the world looks beautiful.

In my book, Peace with Pain, there’s a chapter called Smile Before Sleeping. It’s a great technique to learn mindfulness. But now I want to encourage you to Smile Upon Waking and notice how your world changes.

Smiling gets easier the more you do it. Your face remembers how wonderful it feels, to stretch your lips and raise your cheeks. With continued practice, smiling becomes a powerful habit. Then the smile appears even when you are distracted.

Of course, it helps to meditate every day as well. Even a few minutes of silence can melt years of conditioning that was built on misery. While you are meditating, you may notice the smile appearing spontaneously. These are my favorite types of smiles, when the mind stops and the facial muscle cannot help but express the Joy beyond thought.

At whatever stage you’re at, starting your day with a morning smile can transform your whole world. Don’t take my word for it, try it, right now.

 

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Jenna

 

One Life

We appear in this body, in this set of circumstances only once. This life is unique. The aggregates composing what we call the jiva or soul bounces from life to life, yet our personality structure and what we face right now, happens in its own unique moment in time.

When I look at my past lives, millions of them streak by; it’s like looking through a kaleidoscope that’s being turned quickly through different patterns, making me dizzy. If I concentrate, I see the images clearly of one life, of another life, and yet another one.

From these images arises an awareness of that time, and these experiences offer valuable lessons about the nature of life.

Scrubbing the floor of the monastery run by Saint Clare, a close friend of Saint Francis…I feel the love they each had for Christ and for God. I feel the whispers of unspoken accusations that Francis and Clare were more than friends, revealing even in the most sacred of places doubts can poison the mind.

forestAs Queen of a small forest tribe, I live surrounded by enemies. Although my people follow my lead while I attempt to negotiate peace and then fight bravely when peace fails, our community is destroyed. Even with great power, it is not possible to control other people and circumstances.

In the city as a small child, I leave the Baptist Church to wait for my friend on the steps leading up to her apartment while she walks home from the Catholic Church. At 6 years old I’m too young to know about the mafia war when I am caught in the crossfire. As I die, I know innocence does not protect us from death.

While these past lives and the others I’ve felt are fascinating stories, the times and places I’ve visited and the people I have been do not really matter in the larger scheme of things. What matters is the awareness and knowledge retrieved from a past life. The only thing we take with us from life to life is awareness. We don’t need to pinpoint a previous life to help us understand the tendencies and biases that permeate our minds. It’s enough to be mindful as the habitual thoughts arise and examine them in terms of is this something I want to continue to carry with me in this one life?

If visions of your past arise, from this life or other lives, don’t be alarmed or intoxicated by them. See them for what they are: transient experiences passing through the mind. Watch and learn what you can about your patterns, keeping only what is useful to further your journey towards Light.

One day, when it is your time and you have prepared your mind, you will let go of all it and realize there never was an individual Self; that all of this is simply the play and movement of Light…but that’s a discussion for another time.

 

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Jenna

 

30 Second Change

ice-hockey-659809_1280During an NHL hockey game, the average ice time for a player per shift is 30 seconds. When a player hits the ice, he gives all of his strength and his full focus, because in 30 seconds, multiple goals can be scored and games can be won or lost. Then he sits for a few minutes and gets up to do it again.

While most of us won’t be strapping on a pair or ice skates anytime soon, we can power up our lives with a 30 second change. We have the ability to accomplish a multitude of tasks in just 30 seconds.

Here are 9 things that can be done in just 30 seconds:

  • Walk around the room to get your blood flowing
  • Catch your breath after vigorous exercise
  • File the papers on your desk
  • Stretch your neck, shoulders and touch your toes
  • Write an email
  • Tell a joke and laugh
  • Create clarity so you can see your next step
  • Center your awareness in gratitude
  • Meditate and dissolve in Samadhi

In our fast-paced world, on a planet that’s literally rotating at 1000 miles per hour, we can feel like we don’t have time to do anything. We attempt to multi-task, but what really happens is we rush through our to-do list without focusing on any one task and then we often have to fix the mistakes caused by our lack of attention to what we’re doing.

What we don’t realize in our mission to get it all done fast is we are most efficient when we do one task at a time. Even a computer’s CPU, which gives the illusion of multi-tasking, really does only one function at a time; it just does it very quickly and switches between programs seamlessly.

The next time you feel frazzled and moving in great haste, stop for just 30 seconds. Time yourself, because 30 seconds is much longer than you may think. Take deep breaths and allow yourself to feel the air fill and empty from your lungs. Focus on all the little things that bring you joy. Give thanks for all that you have right now.

After 30 seconds, look at your to-do list and pick just one task. (Don’t have a to-do list written down? Make that your first task.) Like a hockey player, give that activity your full focus and strength for 30 seconds. You might be surprised that after 30 seconds, you can keep going. Maintain this same intensity of focus for 10 minutes, and notice how much you get done.

Perhaps after 10 or 15 minutes you’ll need to check your messages or email. Give the task of checking messages your full attention. Then switch to the next item on the list, again giving your entire focus to whatever it is that you need to do.

When you get lost in the hustle and your focus begins to waver, then stop for 30 seconds to make a change.

What can you accomplish in 30 second bursts?

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Jenna

Retreat and Return

As practitioners who live and work in the world, it is important for us to take time to retreat. This month a small group of eight made the journey to Lake Tahoe where we shared a retreat house. As the excitement from the day of travel through freezing rain and snow dissipated, we settled into our rooms before cooking dinner together. The outside world of our individual lives and cares were all left behind. After dinner, we entered into meditation and let the light do with us whatever it would. This is what retreat is all about: the letting go of the old so the new can blossom.

During times of retreat, a clearing away occurs. By stepping away from the worlds we have worked so hard to create, we free ourselves from the attachments that can bind us in misery. We step into retreat knowing we will eventually return, yet we do not know exactly who we will be when we get back. That is part of the mystery of self-discovery.

The first morning at the house brought with it snow, rain, and Stellar Jays enjoying the Jays20150515_083816peanuts on the deck offered by one of the members of the retreat house. The inclement weather caused our retreat leader to throw out the itinerary – morning yoga on the lawn didn’t sound inviting under the cold rainy skies – so we improvised by meditating in the warmth of the great room and watching the continuation of the Stellar Jay peanut competition. In the afternoon, we donned our warmest raincoats and headed out to see the majestic lake.

dirtpathP1030539We made a brief stop and map check at Bliss State Park before finding Inspiration Point. The beauty of the lake made us smile as the wind ripped through us. A dirt path across the street beckoned, so we wandered beneath the pines. Small, wet snowflakes fell and I felt a warm hug from the mountain earth. At one point we came to a cross-road with a sign: Desolation or Crystal Lake. Turing away from Desolation, we opted for Crystal Lake. The path became rocky and steep, so we stopped for one last picture before heading back to the warmth of the retreat house and another huge and delicious group meal.

The weather cleared the next day, allowing us to walk on a rocky beach along the gentle lapping shore of Lake Tahoe. Although an occasional car would speed by, there was an incredible stillness permeating the area. A pair of geese Geese20150516_135709swimming raced by us as we took pictures of the ever-changing clouds and ripples on the water. We were reminded of Rama’s talk on Magic that he recorded in Lake Tahoe and how he considered geese the symbol of the Seeker.

Although our activities were simple and ordinary on the surface and we ate a ton of food, throughout the retreat each one of us opened to the immensity of Eternity. I felt our bond as seekers within our Lineage grow deeper; a sense of support and community filled my heart with joy. I also felt great freedom and peace knowing all of my brothers and sisters on the path are moving towards Light at their own pace and in their own way.

On my return to the world, endless waves of gratitude pour through me. I am thankful for this body and the ability to practice meditation, for the teachers I have met along the way, and for the company of the holy who shared their weekend with me in retreat.

 

Need to Retreat? Dharma Center plans a variety of retreats for members. Group Retreats are a fun time of community and sharing, and an opportunity for powerful transformation. Please visit www.DharmaCenter.com to learn more about the benefits of Membership.

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Jenna

Two Techniques for Silence

My elbow has not quite healed, so instead of writing, I’ve taken a clip from my class on Saturday and turned it into a short video for you. (In case you’re wondering, apparently I have tennis elbow, even though I don’t play tennis. Well, occasionally, I’ll play Wii tennis, but I haven’t in quite a while. The elbow is much better, but not done healing yet.)

Enjoy!

 

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Iridescent Sand

Whether I am sitting on boulders overlooking the valley, on a cliff above the badlands, or JennaDesertViewTowerin a sandy wash, I love the desert. There is a certain type of power in the desert that cuts through the clutter of the mind and dissolves everything. Perhaps it is the harsh environment, where the sun can burn unprotected skin within minutes and the wind can dehydrate you before you realize you are thirsty, that keeps the human aura at bay. For most people, the desert is not the first choice of vacation destinations. But for those of us who seek silence and unity with God, the desert is the perfect place.

Before you run off to visit the cacti and sand, know the desert is a dangerous place. It’s very easy to get lost, as much of the terrain looks the same and each hill looks closer than it actually is. There are creatures out there who have made this challenging environment their home, and they will defend it if they feel threatened. And of course there are different types of energy found in this desolate place. Some areas will make you feel very open and empowered, while others will drain the life out of you. A journey to the desert is not to be taken as a causal romp. As with any adventure into Power, it is best to find a qualified guide who will take you to the places that will provide the most benefit for your current state.

Desert Road - IMG_1685A group of us from Dharma Center traveled to the desert this past weekend. We went out Friday evening before sunset and experienced a wonderful general cleansing while sitting above the badlands. As the light of the sun disappeared, a black void emerged at the edge of the cliff. Even with powerful flashlights, all light was swallowed up by the darkness. In silence we sat enveloped by the deep desert night. Stars dotted the sky, becoming thicker and thicker as the night progressed. Wind washed through us, clearing away all of the internal debris that comes from living in a city.

On Saturday night, we entered the sandy wash shortly after sunset. In our 4-wheel Jeeps, we drove a mile or two in, away from the road and from the last remnants of civilization. Then we walked until Lakshmi, our leader for the evening, found the just right spot for meditation. We sat in stillness as the sky grew completely dark. A bright planet danced for us while we watched the sky with silent minds. After meditation, we ate our sandwiches; food always seems to taste better in the middle of nowhere. We digested for a while, and then moved on to a new place to sit.

As we walked under the star-filled sky, I noticed how bright the sand was shining. It seemed strange; the only other time I had seen it this bright in the Gorge was during a full moon. Once we sat down again, I scanned the sky, searching for the moon that must be casting the light, but there was no moon that evening. The only source of light was the stars hanging in the sky. We dissolved into meditation once again. I watched as the others in our group seemed to disappear and meld with the desert landscape. A small shooting star raced by, followed by a brighter meteor that left a wide streak of silver.

When we began talking, I asked the others if they noticed how iridescent the sand was. They said it seemed bright, but didn’t think much about it, even though we didn’t need our flashlights to see our backpacks and the ground as we normally did on a moonless night. We spoke about our questions for Eternity, and some found answers. My question for Rama, my teacher, was: how could I see him or God? The quiet knowing in my mind reminded me I see the Divine in every set of eyes I encounter. I whined about how I still missed Rama’s physical form, while knowing at the same time how ridiculous my whining was because in truth we are united. How could I possibly miss something that is always here?

We entered into silent meditation once again, and once again the world around us dissolved. As I sat in the stillness with open eyes, a golden mist surrounded us. Immediately I recognized it. The same thick, golden light emanated from Rama each time we sat with him. Not only did it look the same, it felt the same. Instantly I was viscerally transported into the presence of the Divine. My wish fulfilled. The feeling remains with me even now.

Eventually, the meditation ended and the golden light dissipated. However, even when it was time to leave, we walked on iridescent sand, glowing with its own light.

 

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Why Meditate?

Things rarely go the way we plan. Last week the weather forecast called for a calm, wind-free day. So a friend of mine and I went to beautiful Coronado beach to make a short video called “Why Meditate” for you.JennaonBeach

Once we started filming, the wind kicked up. Although the background is gorgeous, all you can hear on the soundtrack is the wind racing across the microphone. The next day, we tried again at Dharma Center. In two takes, it seemed like we had a great video. I uploaded it to the computer and discovered at some point the camera tilted, so viewers have a wonderful shot of my nostrils. So rather than post a video of me talking down my nose while you look up it, I’m writing instead. Don’t worry, we’ll try the video again, because as you know, three times is a charm!

Let me get right into it: Why Meditate?

If you’re like most people, you’re very busy. You have a huge pile of things you need to do just to maintain your life. And then you have another long list, perhaps tucked away, of fun things you want to explore in this big magnificent world. Between the two, who has time to sit and do nothing?

The truth is, most people don’t have time to meditate. However, the successful people, those who are at the top of their field, have made time to do some type of meditation. They may not call it that, but at some point each and every day, they stop and let their mind rest in silence.

Meditation allows us to access the eternal part of our being, completely changing our perspective. Sitting in silence lets us experience unreasonable joy and a peace deeper than anything we can imagine. This time spent with our true self recharges and refreshes us and lets us find the play of existence.

Besides these ephemeral and difficult to describe states, even just the practice of learning how to meditate brings wonderful benefits to our lives. Our ability to focus and concentrate improves, along with our memory and ability to learn new things. There is an increase in our sense of well-being, self-esteem, and our overall awareness. And it gives us what every extremely busy person needs most: meditation decreases anxiety and stress.

Ancient yogis and yoginis have known about all of the benefits of meditation for thousands of years. In our modern world, we don’t want to take someone’s word for it; we want scientific studies. If you’re not ready to devote time each day to sit in meditation, then peruse a few of the articles below and perhaps that will inspire you to give this most excellent gift of meditation to yourself.

When you’re ready to learn more, come find me or another teacher at Dharma Center.

Here’s just a few of the articles that point to the studies that have been done:

Forbes: 7 Ways Meditation Can Actually Change the Brain by Alice G. Walton

http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2015/02/09/7-ways-meditation-can-actually-change-the-brain/

Harvard Gazette: Eight Weeks to a Better Brain by Sue McGreevey

http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2011/01/eight-weeks-to-a-better-brain/

Huffington Post: The Daily Habit of these Outrageously Successful People by Carolyn Gregoire

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/05/business-meditation-executives-meditate_n_3528731.html

Body Mind Soul Spirit: This Buddhist Monk Shows Unheard of Brain Activity During Meditation by Rachel Nuwer

http://www.bodymindsoulspirit.com/this-buddhist-monk-shows-unheard-of-brain-activity-during-meditation/

If you are not in San Diego, you can learn how to start your own meditation and mindfulness practice from my book, “Peace with Pain: Your Guide to Life in a Malfunctioning Body,” available in paperback and Kindle.

 

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My work is entirely funded by my readers – by you. If you like what you have read, if you find insight or inspiration in these words, please visit my Support page to learn how you can help keep the work going with a one-time gift, or as an ongoing Patron.

THANK YOU!