Embarking on a New Journey in 2015 – Mindfulness and Meditation

meditation-6-600x399 Everyone can learn something new no matter where they begin. Last summer, after discovering two wonderful apps on my smart phone, Insight Timer and Headspace, I began trying to regularly meditate. Now meditating regularly actually just met listening to a guided meditation usually 5-10 minutes while sitting on the floor in the living room. Later in the summer, I bought myself a meditation cushion which greatly enhanced the experience. I highly recommend you get one if you are interested in meditation as it has brought much more comfort during the practice. I also got myself a soft blanket that I have designated as my meditation shawl.

Once school started, I realized I had a short possible meditation window, between the time my daughter left to catch the city bus to school and the time my son’s alarm rang to start his morning routine. I found that if I had my mat and cushion all set up in the living room and I planted myself down the minute she’d left I would have exactly 15 minutes to do a guided meditation. It wasn’t perfect but it was a start and it did seem to work.

During the fall, I was happy that I was “finding” or perhaps making time to meditate regularly. Thanksgiving weekend, I attended my first all day retreat led by Robert Beatty the founder of The Portland Meditation Center (PIMC). These retreats are offered regularly at the meditation center but I’d never been to one and decided it was time to check it out.

Imagine being in a room with fifty strangers. People you’d never met before and sitting, not talking, with them for an entire day and at the end you do feel like you have had a shared experience, a deepening and a bonding that happened in almost complete silence. It was utterly eye-opening to me since the whole experience was so different from what I am used to in Jewish services. To be honest, I hadn’t known that it was going to be a silent retreat. I knew I would be meditating but hadn’t really thought about what that meant. It was a wonderful surprise.

I had three poignant “aha” moments that day.

I had been to the PIMC twice before for qigong meditations. One of those times, my mom had come along. I wasn’t really expecting the flood of emotions I had while I was sitting, remembering being there with her. She had enjoyed it very much and being in that space felt like a positive experience that we had shared. I have no memories of her in either of the synagogues we’ve belonged to while we’ve been in Portland or at the Unitarian Church where she chose to attend. She had never felt comfortable at my synagogue and I had never joined her either for her Sunday worship. The thought made me sad, and as is the case when you are confronted with emotions during meditation, a little weepy.

One of the most amazing parts of the day was lunch. Here is why. We partook of our entire lunch time – one hour – in complete silence. Fifty people waited in line together in silence not looking at phones but just “being” quietly. This time allowed us a chance to look out the window and notice that the sun had come out AND that rain drops were also falling off of the downspout. I noticed the pictures hanging on the wall and some of the pussy willows displayed on the buffet. It was so different from the rushing to a table to get “kiddush” luncheon with people sort of grabbing at things for themselves as is often the case at synagogue. I waited in line quietly for almost twenty-five minutes, but it was mindful time not filled time. A very different experience. Then when we chose what we wanted to eat from the potluck buffet, I realized I had a taken a HUGE plate of food. It all looked so healthy and good and I wanted to try all of it. What I noticed from the meal was the textures of the food, the crunch of the pickle, the tang of the beets. On one of the salads, a spinach salad, there was an apple mixture on it that reminded me of charoses, the apple mixture we eat at Passover, suddenly I looked up and had this thought of who else in the room was Jewish and might have actually noticed this connection as well. I ate much more slowly and methodically than I ever do. Not talking while I was eating helped me remember to feel grateful for all this abundance of food that I was eating and enjoying.

When we got back to the meditation hall after lunch and I shut my eyes, I immediately felt compelled to recited the Birkat Hamazon, the Jewish blessing after eating, in my head. It felt appropriate to recite this blessing for the food. I actually felt the sustenance and satisfaction in my body.

After the retreat, I knew I wanted more of this in my life. I’d been listening to amazing talks on Dharma Seed when I’d walk the dog and felt like I wanted to deepen my connection to meditation. A week ago, I began the process. I signed up for a year-long course that Robert Beatty was offering to Deepen Your Meditation. In our first class, Robert invited us to sit each day last week for 30 minutes. I started feeling overwhelmed. I thought, “I’ve never sat that long. How will I be able to do it?” Instead of telling myself I couldn’t do it, I just tried and surprise, surprise without all that much trouble I’ve actually been able to do it each day all week. Not only that but this week, I sat without listening to any guided talks from the various apps and CD’s I have. The Insight Timer offers a timer and interval bells that can help you in your practice. I actual found that the interval bells have a lovely way of (b)ringing me back to the present. Sorry for the terrible pun, but that is what the sound does for me. Bring me back to my breath or my body. Helping me be present and remind me to gently guide the chattering mind.

So what about you? Are you a long time or recent meditator? Do you have a practice that has evolved? I am so excited about what this year holds and I am eager to learn some more about deepening this incredible and simple but not always easy practice of meditation. In the new March 2015 edition of Shambahala Sun, you can read Thich Naht Hanh’s helpful hints on how to sit even if you don’t have a teacher or a community. I look forward to sharing all I learn this year and hope to learn from you as well.

Appreciating your Volunteers

As a consultant working with companies around their Employee Volunteer Programs, I teach companies how to recognize their volunteers. This week, however, I was the unexpected recipient of some recognition that happily caught me off guard.

After my son moved to a new middle school this year, that is part of a K-8 program, one of my neighbors suggested I volunteer as a Reader Responder for our RHS Publishing House program. Essentially, all of the children in the school are invited to submit their writing and art work for the monthly magazine that is produced and goes on-line for our school community. Here is the newest edition.

RHS publishing House graphicEach month, the volunteer editor, sends out a list of all the articles and asks the volunteers to choose who they’ll respond to and send a written letter with feedback to the student. I remember the first newsletter that arrived in my email and reading through some of the student’s articles. Of course, the submissions vary widely since they are submitted from kindergartens through eighth graders but it’s always easy to find something to compliment these writers on. Their articles are often deeper than you might expect and very thoughtful. Kids just write what they see and know. I have enjoyed this volunteer job, and even though I am only able to reply to a couple of submissions each time, I try to put some thought and heart into each one.

On Tuesday, when the request came out from the editor to choose our assignments as Reader Responders (RR) for this edition, she also included a P.S. that said, “Here’s a good line from an RR to an 8th grader that points to the heart of these letters.” The quote was from one of my last letters! I was so excited and surprised. I sent her a quick thank you note but realized how that simple recognition, made me especially proud of the volunteer work I had done and eager to do more.

Don’t underestimate the value of recognition. Even an “old-timer” volunteer like me can be moved and elevated by some unexpected recognition. Be sure you are giving this liberally to your volunteers. Do it with heart and your volunteers just might increase their sense of commitment to their project or your company or organization.

To learn more about improving your Employee Volunteer Program or increasing your recognition to your volunteers. Feel free to contact me.

Find a need and fill it

I admit it, I probably am a bit of a volunteer junkie.  I know how much I get back from volunteering. That said, I have discovered that sometimes there are some volunteer opportunities I enjoy even more than others.

I am on the board of a Willowbrook, a wonderful summer arts camp my kids have attended for several years. It’s a six-week camp. Every week we have new campers who attend. Every Monday morning there are new kids and parents who aren’t familiar with our check in/check out logistics or what they do after they’ve checked in. It’s kind of like Ground Hog’s day.  For a couple of years, I have voluntarily showed up on Monday mornings to be a greeter, parent/board liaison and trouble-shooter. The younger 20-year-olds at the registration desk have told me frequently how grateful they are to have me there. They know that sometimes an anxious new parent feels more comfortable talking with another parent than with a younger registration staff member – though they certainly are completely competent to answer all the questions.

Over the years, I have come to really enjoy this volunteer job. I have had other long time camp parents ask me if I am on staff or getting paid to work to weekly morning shift. I cheerfully answer no. The truth is that I love this self-appointed job. I feel useful and feel that I am helping people.  It’s actually something I look forward to ALOT. I especially enjoy the one-on-one interaction with fellow parents. Learning why they chose our camp and how they heard about us is valuable information for our board. In addition, the past two years, I have also passed out information about our auction in the parking lot in the carpool line while parents are waiting to pick up their kids. It’s a chance to connect again and perhaps get some valuable feedback as well.

Neither of these roles were filled before I volunteered, but because they were something I loved doing I said I’d do it. Sometimes volunteering is matching the right person with the right job. It creates a synergy and an opportunity for the volunteer to really meld into their experience in a way that is meaningful and beneficial to both the organization and the volunteer. I know for me personally out of all the roles I have played at the camp, being the Monday morning greeter has been one of my favorites.

If you are part of an organization, and you see a need, offer to fill it! You might be surprised how gratifying it can be.

Receiving Gifts and Sharing Them

Often things come into our lives that we weren’t expecting. Perhaps we win a raffle or a lottery, we come into some unexpected money or maybe someone surprises us by treating us to a meal or gifting us in some other way. Every time this happens it can serve as a reminder to give back in someway in gratitude for what you have received.

This week began with a gift and since then it seems like there have been several more of those experiences.  Last week, two days before I was leaving for a trip to NYC,  a warning light flashed on my dashboard alerting me that my tire pressure was low. I have had that light come on before and it’s turned out to be nothing but I figured I could run it into our local auto shop – conveniently located five minutes from my house – to double-check that this was the case. This time they determined I had a nail in two of my tires. Wonderful. We were leaving for NYC and I had to quickly make an appointment the next morning to have them remedy the situation or I’d likely return from my trip with two flat tires. It was Father’s Day weekend and after the morning appointment the clerk who knows both my husband and me since we both get our cars serviced there, said, “I know it’s not your husband’s car but Happy Father’s Day, this one’s on the house.” I left smiling and thinking I know why I love this place. And it’s not just because of the free service it’s because they always treat us with swift service, a smile and sometimes and unexpected gift.

The next day my daughter, stepfather and I left for our trip to New York City. We were surprised by a very generous relative who treated us to a lavish New York City dinner replete with delicious food and wine, wonderful company with lots of reminiscing and the gift of a very extravagant free meal in the city.

The following day, my daughter and I were in the studio audience of a wonderful new television show on ABC called The Chew. Another relative is the producer and invited us to attend a taping. We were treated like VIP’s as we passed the crowd waiting to get in and were offered the opportunity to sit at the eight person tasting table with the best seats in the house. It was a wonderful experience. During the show we were told that each audience member was going to receive a free blender! As we left the show and each received our certificate for our free blender, I thought what are we going to do with two blenders? I mentioned to my daughter we should give one of them away to someone. That evening at dinner when we met up with some old friends we told them all about our day and how we’d won two blenders and asked if they were in need of one. They both laughed and said that just the day before they had been talking about the fact that they didn’t have a blender. I am sure it’s no surprise that we passed along one of our blenders to our friends. Even my 14-year-old daughter commented that it felt good to give something away especially knowing our friends would benefit from it.

Sharing some of what you receive can be as much fun as receiving something in the first place. If you have any pass it on stories. I’d love to hear them.