Friday, September 16, 2011

Loving Speech

The people closest to me have probably at one time or another either witnessed or been victim of my temper - which can manifest as a stern voice, a muted, non-emoting tone, a quick snap, a passive aggressive action and on a rare occasion even a scream or yell. I have a pretty hot temper, which may surprise some but will make others nod their heads in agreement. Becoming aware of ourselves is similar to the process of an addict admitting their addiction. When we become aware of our traits, characteristics, habits, we are admitting to ourselves that this is who we are in the present moment. This is the first step to our being able to evolve and transform into the best possible version of ourselves.

Here is Buddhism's 4th Precept: Deep Listening and Loving Speech that has inspired this post. There is so much to learn and discover in this precept.

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I vow to learn to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or the community to break. I will make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.

Loving Speech sounds easy, as do a lot of these practices, but I have found that when I am even the slightest bit stressed out, burnt out, stretched thin or just not feeling myself, this is one of the first things to go, especially towards those closest to me. Again, another reason why meditating is so crucial because it helps keep us from getting so mentally fatigued from all the goings-on in life that we can maintain our Loving Speech.

This isn't to say that we shouldn't address serious or negative issues in our lives or relationships, it merely means that we shouldn't use knee-jerk reaction speech when we feel frustrated or angry. Now, just last week I probably raised my voice and/or spoke in a "not-so-nice" tone towards my daughter, my husband and my mother. Have I failed at being able to engage in Loving Speech - not entirely. After each instance, I took a deep breath, apologized and acknowledged my wrong doing. Do I always do that? Not always, but I am ruthless for making sure I take responsibility for my feelings, actions and words. So, the second step - making sure we let those around us know we are sorry for our mistakes and letting them know how we feel without blame or lack of responsibility.

In Thay's practice he speaks on "Beginning a New." Every morning, when the sunrises, we have another 24 hours to start over, try to do things differently, reflect on what's going well, what's not, how we can make things "right" and then try it again when we make mistakes. I suffer greatly from perfectionism in terms of trying to evolve into my highest potential but I am humbled by my mistakes into remembering my humanity. Even though there have been some ugly times when I would be excrutiatingly ashamed to have anyone there to witness, I am deeply moved when at night, after saying "I love you" as I close the door to my daughters room, she says to me, "Thanks, Mom!" Or when she spontaneously says, "I love you my mommy."

Speak Lovingly. Listen Deeply. Breathe. We are alive.

The photo for this post is from pal2iyawit's Profile on Free Digital Photos.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Our Nourishment and The 5 Contemplations

My quest for healthy living began years ago when I struggled with sinus infections and the regular antibiotic "remedy" prescribed by 'western,' allopathic doctors wasn't getting to the root of the problem. At the same time I worked in a health food store. I quickly learned how directly related what we eat is to our health and wellbeing. This is practically basic common sense nowadays - or is it? I'd say it is, but even those who know it may still have a hard time practicing mindful, healthy eating, even if in their mind they really want to.

Of course, there are many who still don't believe the common knowledge of "we are what we eat" and continue to poison themselves with processed or fast foods. But those who have come to really understand the importance of what we eat may still be having a hard time actually putting it into practice. Well, this might be because we really have to search high and far for healthy food and there can often be a higher price for it.

One the other hand, some of us may have a hard time putting our desires to eat healthier into practice due to what Thich Nhat Hanh calls our habit energies. These are things we do, by habit, pretty obvious huh. But the key is that when we don't apply mindfulness to even our eating habit energies, we end up eating what we're used to eating, which may not be all that healthy. And it takes a lot of energy, focus and mindfulness to not only be become aware of what we eat but to also do the work to change the not so healthy habit food energy into healthier choices.

There are also lots and lots of resources out there now for finding out what would be the best choices for you and your body type. A word of caution though, there are many different "schools of thought" out there and if you do the research it can become very confusing. You'll find info on veganism, vegetarianism, paleo-dieting, high protein, low carb, ayurvedic, macrobiotic, candida cleansing etc... The list goes on and on. I do not promote one over the other but have personally been drawn to some due to what has helped me feel my best.

Below, I'm going to list some books that have helped me but it is always important to find what you connect with the most. Then there is always the importance of seeking out someone who's trained in one or many of the different schools of thoughts out there. See below for links to books and trained professionals that I know of in the area.

Mindfulness is KEY for becoming aware of our bodies and to note when we're getting hungry. If we wait until we're starving to find something to eat, then we usually make poor choices for food. So, it's key to use your mindfulness practice to be aware of when you eat or don't eat, when you get hungry and the choices you make so that you can start to plan ahead and begin to improve the quality of the food you choose to put into your body.

Another key practice that can help improve our eating habits is maintaining mindfulness when we actually sit down to eat our meals. In Thich Nhat Hanh's practice, we practice reciting The 5 Contemplations and eating in silence (which I haven't done in forever) so that we can be aware of our attitude towards our food and how well we chew and allow the food to nourish our bodies. I have been talking about reciting these contemplations for years but only periodically bring them out to read. My goal for writing this post is to memorize them one by one so that I can say them every day during at least one meal a day. I've gotta start practicing what I preach! So, you want to know what the 5 contemplations are? Of course, here there are!

The Five Food Contemplations to be recited before eating.

Contemplation 1:
This food is the gift of the whole universe: the earth, the sky, numerous living beings, and much hard, loving work.

Contemplation 2:
May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive it.

Contemplation 3:
May we recognize and transform our unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed, and learn to eat with moderation.

Contemplation 4:
May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that we reduce the suffering of living beings, preserve our planet, and reverse the process of global warming.

Contemplation 5:
We accept this food so that we may nurture our sisterhood and brotherhood, strengthen our community and nourish our ideal of serving all living beings.

After almost 15 years of exploring different diets and deepening my own self-improvement path, I have really come to believe that our attitude towards life and food is more important than the actual food we ingest. Now, this might seem to contradict everything I said above. Let me clarify. I do not think a person can eat fast or processed food all day everyday and maintain a great attitude and not suffer some kind of physical consequence. But on the contrary, if someone eats the healthiest diet in the world but has an anxious, nervous or fearful attitude towards their health or isn't fulfilling their passions or life purpose, then this person will also likely have some physical or emotional consequences. Hence, the extreme importance of applying our mindfulness towards our mind and body. Identifying and "consuming" our primary food, that which inspires and motivates us, our purpose(s) in life and then ingesting healthy secondary food - the actual items that we put into our bodies. In harmony and with mindfulness, we can create a healthy balance within our mind, body and spirit so that we can achieve our highest potential.

Breathe. Eat. Purpose. Inspiration. Contemplate. Smile! :-)

Some books I've found helpful are listed below though I do a lot of my research online. I currently eat a non-vegetarian diet, low in carbs but I do eat them and they are 95% of the time whole grain carbs (brown rice, quinoa, etc) and tons and tons of veggies and fruit and nuts!

Eat Right For Your Blood Type
Ayurveda: They Science of Self-Healing
Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing

Two local practitioners that I would recommend:

Sonali Sadequee is a holistic health and lifestyle counselor. Check out her site here.
Caroline Friedlander is a natrapathic Doctor. Check her out here.

The photo for this post was from Nathan Greenwood's profile on Free Digital Photos.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Looking Within

Those of you who know me well know that I tend to have a lot of energy, love running all over the place and have a hard time sitting still. When I lived in California, my roommate, Karla, and I had an outdated Thich Nhat Hanh calendar with 12 of his precious quotes next to beautiful nature scenes. We decided to put them up around our apartment. She selected one in particular that she thought needed to go in my room, by my bed, so I could read it multiple times a day. It is as follows:

"In daily life, there is so much to do and so little time. You may feel pressured to run. Learn to stop! Touch the present moment and you will touch peace and joy."
I can't tell you how true this is for me and for most of us! But especially those of us with even a little bit of extrovert in us or with a super strong social bug or those of us with children to look after.

I felt inspired today to discuss looking within because here in Atlanta we're having a nice rainy holiday that lends itself to staying in and slowing down. There are so many ways we can do this. We can make a cup of tea and practice tea meditation which essentially means applying deep mindfulness to every step of making and drinking the tea. Noticing and appreciating all the smells, sounds and tastes associated with the process. We could also tend to areas of our house that need our attention but doing so not with the end goal of cleaning it or getting it organized but with the goal of focusing on the process, our own personal process for doing things, becoming aware of how we approach a task and simultaneously applying mindfulness to it. We could also take time to journal about pertinent topics/issues/feelings in our life that we may need to understand more deeply to understand how we can resolve them. And of course, there is always good ole regular sitting meditation in a quiet space where you can hear the rain (if you're in the Atlanta area) or just hear the natural sounds around you. There are an endless number of ways we can look within, these are just a few ideas that came to me. I'm feeling inspired to think of more!

I mentioned in an earlier post how it's especially important to stay in and look within when we are having a rough day or dealing with a particularly difficult issue. This is very true and I think some of the above mentioned ideas for assisting us to look within can very much help us to calm our minds so we can see our feelings or issue more clearly. It is when we have calmed our mind and body that we can see the most clearly, understand our role in a situation or understand how we can make things better. Even when we do our best, we will make mistakes but we can always come back to our process for calming so that we can pick ourselves back up and try again.

I also believe that looking within is a very important "tool" for regular practice, even when things are going wonderfully. Perhaps even more important to practice when things are going well so that we can remember the positive, have it embed itself more deeply into the core of our existence. It is with this focus on the positive that we begin to water the seeds that we wish to have flourish so we have a beautiful garden growing within us. With a well nourished inner garden we can feel that inner beauty and joy we all seek to find... Don't forget, we need not seek that beauty and joy from anywhere else but within. We all have the capacity for joy and happiness and peace - we just need to care for it, nourish it, love it and trust it and it will grow into the most beautiful garden giving us the opportunity to be the person we most desire to be, so each day our presence is like giving the people around us a bouquet of flowers! :-)

Breath. Look. Smile. Understand. Process. Within.

The photo for this post is from the Prozac1 profile on free digital photos.