Blogging Mindfully

If I blogger deletes a post draft, can they still learn from it?

One of the bits of guidance often given to new meditators, particularly those working through Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (or, like me, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is that whenever you feel the urge to talk to someone about meditation, you should shut up and go meditate.

Which makes for really lousy blog posts.

But I think the spirit of that advice is that it’s better to be mindful and meditate than it is to talk about it. And it’s easy to fall into the trap of talking more about meditation than actually DOING meditation.

That said, I think there’s something gained from reflection as well. (This is not me arguing with Dr. Kabat-Zinn. This is me being a blogger and liking expressing thoughts in writing.)

I’m not very good at meditating though. In the last year that I’ve been working through this therapy and mental-process-adjustment, I’ve not attained any sort of amazing breakthroughs. In fact, about the only thing I’ve attained is better awareness of how my brain works – watching your thoughts can be a pretty amazing experience, especially when you deal with TraumaBrain and other vestiges of mental illness.

That awareness DOES help with self-compassion though. It’s a learning process, and my mental judge is … extremely vocal. And not keen on shutting up. But slowly through the meditation practice (and it is a practice), I’ve learned to be at least aware of my self-judgment more than I used to be, and being aware of that mental voice lets me be more kind to myself about how my brain functions.

It’s all about little victories, and small steps in the right direction. I’ve had to work on accepting wherever I am on a given day, accepting what kind of focus I have or don’t have, and just being mindful and kind in this moment. The Gurus say there’s no such thing as bad meditation – only today’s meditation. I’m still working on taking their word for it.

And really, meditation is not easy, but it’s also so very simple it’s frustrating how hard it can be. (That’s a confusing sentence.)

I really encourage giving it a try though, just for a few minutes, if you find yourself in a stressful situation. Ok, WHEN you find yourself in a stressful situation.

Try the following (done easily in a desk chair, in the parking lot, in the bathroom, wherever):

Stop what you’re doing, sit back comfortably (straight spine, but not forced), and take three slow, deep breaths. With each breath think to yourself “Breathing in, I see myself at peace” and “Breathing out, I am relaxed” – that’ll give your mind something to chew on while the oxygen gets to your brain and slows down your central nervous system.

I keep a post it note on my computer that says “Stop. Breathe. Be here now.” to help me remember to ground myself in this present moment and slow down. Bad and stressful things are usually related to worry about the future or fretting about the past – very rarely is there a problem in THIS exact moment. (Even, or especially, worry about money. For the next 2 minutes, you can let go of worries about money.)

Even just little snippets of meditation, little snippets of being truly HERE in the present moment, can make a big difference. You’ll slow down your nerves, be more alert and refreshed, and be better able to handle the stresses of life. Think of them as fun-size Mindful Moments – just the right size for a mid-day stress-relieving mental snack.

And now, since I’ve talked the talk for 650 words or so on the subject of meditation, it’s time for me to go walk the walk.

Or sit the sit, as the case may be.

Making Mandalas

Crossposted from the Deadly Divas

Everyone has their own way of expressing emotion, of managing anxiety.

A year or so ago, when I was digging through reviews of various fountain pens, I stumbled across a blog called Spiritual Evolution of the Bean, by artist Stephanie Smith. She teaches the creation of mandalas as art and personal expression, and after following her instructions and making a few, I was totally hooked.

What is a mandala? Well, that depends. In the Buddhist and Hindu traditions, mandalas may be employed for focusing attention of aspirants and adepts, as a spiritual teaching tool, for establishing a sacred space, and as an aid to meditation and trance induction.*Any concentric diagram can be a mandala, though the most traditional mandalas are a circle circumscribed with a square.

For me, mandalas are a way of drawing that starts small and works concentrically outward, free of judgment, thinking, or really planning out what I want to do. They are a form of focused mindfulness, of being completely in the moment and allowing myself to express whatever comes to my mind (with no judgment).


How do you make one?

To create a mandala, you must first release all judgments about your ability to aesthetically put pen to paper. Throw those thoughts out the window because no one has to ever see it but you, (unless you choose to share it) and it’s totally your prerogative to destroy it once completed. – Stephanie Smith

After that, you take a piece of paper and a writing implement of some kind, and, starting in the middle, you work out in concentric circles, allowing your subconscious or unconscious mind to pick patterns at random. There is no wrong choice as long as you make simple geometric shapes repeated around the circle. You can use words, or not, but repeated ones seem to work better (like the repetition of the phrase “A thought can be changed” – kind of like a visual mantra).

Stephanie Smith explains the process much better than I ever could in two of her posts on the subject: Oh the Mandala and Mandala Process Continues (Go read them, I’ll be here when you get back)

I also highly recommend the following YouTube video. It’s a different style of mandala, but then, it’s a different person, and each person will tend toward slightly different patterns and styles.

YouTube – How to Grow a Mandala

Looking at other mandala art (and “Zentangles”, which are the same principle) for ideas of patterns is a lot of fun too, but the ultimate goal is making art, not looking at it. Spontaneous art, at that. Sometimes I plan out colors (or use the colors that someone requests), but usually I just find some markers that I like and go with it. All the ones you see pictured are made with prismacolor markers and black and white gel pens. Literally ANY media will work. Pencil, crayons, ballpoint pen, whatever.

Remember, the ultimate goal here is to let go of the conscious part of your brain that says you can or can’t do art. There is no “wrong” mandala. It might be uneven, or you might not like the colors overall when you’re done, but that doesn’t matter. And really, when you finish one, only you decide what to do with it – whether you save it, throw it away, frame it, or just keep a whole running notebook, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the process of doing it, the careful progression of repeated shapes around a circle. (I make lots, and they all provide relief of anxiety and help me feel calmer and more relaxed, but only a few of them end up on the internet or in frames.)

So the next time you find yourself bored, perhaps you’ll grab a piece of paper and doodle a mandala.

I’ve found them to be addicting, and now keep a little notebook with me for that purpose (mostly because my bills started getting mandala doodles on the return envelopes after awhile). They’re very good for keeping my brain busy in stressful situations, and also for filling in dead time while I’m waiting around for an appointment.

And sometimes they turn out quite pretty at the end.

*From Wikipedia

Cultivating Kindness

*crossposted from Seven Deadly Divas*

There are a few posts flying around the interwebs about kindness lately (the one that first got me thinking is on the same site as was part of the notable Dickwolves Brouhaha).

I like words. Specifically, I like how words can be very precise even when we don’t really think about their meanings or use them interchangeably. For example:

Kindness vs. Niceness

Kind:

  • having or showing a tender and considerate and helpful nature; used especially of persons and their behavior; “kind to sick patients”; “a kind master”; “kind words showing understanding and sympathy”; “thanked her for her kind letter”
  • charitable: showing or motivated by sympathy, understanding, and generosity

Nice:

  • pleasant or pleasing or agreeable in nature or appearance; “what a nice fellow you are and we all thought you so nasty”- George Meredith; “nice manners”; “a nice dress”; “a nice face”; “a nice day”; “had a nice time at the party”; “the corn and tomatoes are nice today”
  • decent: socially or conventionally correct; refined or virtuous; “from a decent family”; “a nice girl”
  • courteous: exhibiting courtesy and politeness; “a nice gesture”

In relation to people, those are two very different concepts, and I think our society over stresses “niceness” to the point that “kindness” is often forgotten.

Which makes sense because niceness is about social compliance.

Someone who is socially or conventionally correct, who doesn’t “make waves”, inconvenience others, or act disagreeably, is a “nice” person. You can have nice dogs – they’re dogs that don’t impose on you, who behave appropriately and not intrusively or in an objectionable manner. It’s essentially… well… a social nicety. (Go figure on that phrase, right?)

Acting “un-nice” gets an immediate social reaction of disapproval and (sometimes) shame. We are expected to be nice – to value and serve the social structure as more important than the people in it.

Kindness, on the other hand, is more about awareness of others as well as self. It takes paying attention to others, and an active attempt to understand where they’re coming from and what’s happening. A nice response might be the same as a kind one sometimes, but ultimately niceness serves society where kindness serves people.

I’d even go so far as to say that kindness is more akin to compassion than it is to niceness. Kindness isn’t really something you can expect, and forced kindness starts to look a lot like being “nice” instead.

For example: as a child, I was told to write thank you notes to everyone who gave me gifts – to the point of not being able to use those gifts until I had written and mailed the thank you for it. That’s niceness.

As an adult, however, I know how much I love getting mail and hearing from friends in a physical way (especially the friends who live far away). I have intentionally kept up with writing thank you notes, not because I know it’s expected of me (it’s really not, at least not in this internet age) but as a way to do something unexpected and catch up with a friend. Do I gain some benefit from it? Of course. But that benefit is more from knowing that I have the ability to make a mailbox full of bills less depressing than it is from any expectation of a return note or even an acknowledgment. Writing a note has gone from socially expected niceness to a choice I make to do a little kind thing with 5 minutes of my day.

(I admit, however, that I did not particularly relish writing wedding thank you notes, because THOSE were expected social niceness. Even if I did have fun playing with stamps.)

The internet tends to value niceness over kindness – much like society as a whole. In large groups of people, those social niceties are what keep things flowing in a way that everyone is comfortable and familiar with.

Kindness stands out, where niceness is expected, and in our happy little intertube world, kindness is harder. It’s much easier to be compassionate to the friend sitting next to you than it is to think about a pixellated icon as a person to whom you might choose to be kind.

Of course, it’s easily as important to be kind to yourself as it is to be kind to others. Some would say (if you are one to believe in the golden rule) that being kind to yourself is the first step in being kind to others. To treat others as you’d like to be treated is to first value yourself and others equally and to know how you wish to be treated and what your personal and emotional state is

Sometimes the ultimate act of self-kindness is to allow yourself to look inward and rest, to step away from niceness and realize that putting others above yourself is as disproportionate as putting others below yourself. Forcing yourself to be kind to others in a way that depletes your energy and makes you miserable isn’t kind to you.

There’s a balance to be had there, and I’m the first to admit that I’m pretty bad at it. But I am trying, and slowly getting better at knowing when I need to be kind to myself and when I can choose to be kind to others (and reminding myself to apologize when I am decidedly unkind).

Niceness doesn’t really mean being good to yourself or to others, it’s simply social compliance. Not that social compliance is inherently bad (cutting in line is kind of asshatish), but it’s not the most important of our interactions with others. Niceness doesn’t improve friendships or create connections the way kindness can – and it certainly doesn’t recharge our batteries and allow us to rest and take care of ourselves. Kindness is one of the seven virtues precisely because it DOES do those things. I’d go so far as to argue that kindness (both to self and to others) can really improve the quality of our relationships.

And maybe that’s a little too kum-ba-ya for a Monday morning, but I think it’s important to think about.