Category: Monthly Musings



I have been thinking about the importance of perspective recently.  As our society becomes more and more polarized, it seems it has become harder and harder to appreciate the perspectives of those who may see the world differently than we do.  We all have views on the way things should be that are largely based on our upbringing and other formative experiences.  These views are deeply held and we often don’t even recognize that we have them.  When someone says or does something that is counter to these core beliefs it often triggers a strong reaction in us.  On the other hand, we tend to like when our core beliefs are supported.  Social media companies and news organizations recognize this, and thus our feeds are full of reinforcing information that often focuses on the positives of our beliefs and the negatives of other beliefs. This can lead to greater and greater polarization. Yet if we want to solve difficult problems, we often have to not only acknowledge but even understand and appreciate the beliefs and views of others.  This can be very hard because we often move from feeling negatively about an action to making negative assumptions about the person doing the acting.  Rather than try to understand them, we judge them.



This time of the year is often associated with joy.  According to, one of the definitions of joy is “the emotion of delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying”.  There are often many opportunities to experience joy now- giving and receiving gifts, noticing the sense of wonder that can arise in children, feeling our own sense of wonder, perhaps in relation to our religious traditions.  Last weekend I participated with some of my family and 5000 or so others in the Tacky Light Run in Midlothian, a four-mile run/walk through neighborhoods with houses decorated for the holidays in a variety of often extravagant ways.  I experienced joy in spending the time with my family, in seeing the decorations myself, and in watching others’ reactions to them.  As with many positive emotions, joy can be missed or overlooked in the context of ongoing negative events.  We may be caught up in worrying about these events, which can range from global to personal. 

Thanksgiving Mindfulness


Thanksgiving is a wonderful opportunity to practice mindfulness.  The day is devoted to giving thanks, and we can pay attention to all of the things for which we can be thankful: family, friends, food, activities.  We can Intentionally notice our experience as it arises, becoming aware of being in relationship with others, and really paying attention to what we are eating, drinking, and doing. Thanksgiving is also an opportunity to notice when we wish things were different than they are. We might find getting to wherever we are planning to go challenging.  We might be spending time alone when we would prefer to be with others, or we might be with people we find difficult.  Our favorite sports team might lose.  When faced with these moments, we can see if it’s possible to just be with things as they are, noticing what we are feeling without judgement.  We can notice the thoughts that arise and recognize the choice we have in getting caught up in them, which may only serve to amplify our suffering, or in letting them go.  This doesn’t mean we have to passively accept our situation, but rather to observe it so that we can choose the most skillful response. 

Capturing Moments of Mindfulness


I was giving a talk on mindfulness recently and someone in the audience noted they had tried to meditate for 10 minutes and when they finished, their email inbox had filled up with work messages they had to attend to.  They implied this made it seem that the time they had spent meditating had a higher cost than benefit. This situation applies to many of us when we try to find the time to practice mindfulness.  How do we find the time to practice when we have busy schedules and seemingly more to do than there is time to do it all? Even though our lives are very busy and it seems that there is no time for meditation, often there is if we really have the intention to practice.   When practicing, any time spent intentionally paying attention to our present moment experience is beneficial, and more time is better.  Just like with exercising, if we want to make it a regular part of our lives we have to make the commitment to do it, set aside the time, and then do it regularly.  Often this works best if we have a schedule and a time carved out every day, perhaps half an hour every morning after we get up.  This is my favorite time to meditate.  If half an hour is too long, we might try 15 minutes.  If it’s only 15 minutes, we might even get up 15 minutes earlier to do it.  Ideally, we will set an intention for how much we will meditate, decide when we will do it, and then practice every day.

Carrying Baggage


We all accumulate baggage throughout our lives, much of it stuff we might be happier if we did not continue to carry with us.  There are regrets, losses, perceived slights that we hold on to, to name just a few.  We often wish things were different regarding these experiences, that we had acted differently or made different choices, that a relationship hadn’t ended, or that someone had acted differently toward us.  Yet in this moment, things are just as they are, and wishing they were different will not make them so.  “Wanting things to be different than they are” is a basic definition of suffering often used in mindfulness practice. Mindfulness has been defined as “Intentional present moment nonjudgmental awareness with kindness”.  So is it possible to just be with our experience as it is, without judgment, noticing any desire for things to be different that arises?  There are often little things that we wish were different- the temperature to be cooler, the environment to be quieter, the chair to be more comfortable.  And as we pay attention, we may notice that more significant wishes for things to be different also arise.  When this happens, we can pay attention, noticing what we feel in the body, what thoughts come up, what emotions are present. We might notice gnawing in the pit of the stomach as thoughts of something mean we said to a friend arise, and become aware that we have been holding on to feeling guilty.  Noticing this, we can ask ourselves, is there something I might do that would help the situation, perhaps apologize? 

Courage to Be Happy


Many of us hold on to our beliefs about the way things should be even when doing this makes us feel worse.  Thoughts arise in our minds justifying our position.  I recently watched a movie that brought this home to me.  The main character, Jordan, was developing a relationship with a divorced woman whom he really liked.  Then he discovers that she is still occasionally seeing her ex-husband.  Even though the man’s relationship with her is just beginning, he feels betrayed and he breaks things off, telling himself that he could never be with someone who does this.  He then ruminates about how bad his situation is, despite another friend pointing out to him that it was his decision to break things off, and that it is his choice whether to continue to feel slighted and miserable, or to let go of his belief that he could never have a relationship with a woman who continues to see her ex and maybe be happier.   Th​e friend tell him “It takes courage to be happy”.   Ultimately Jordan recognizes that it is his fear of heartbreak, of being hurt again, that prevents him from pursuing the relationship.  He decides to summon the courage to give it another try, rather than deciding it was over before it had even really gotten started. “It takes courage to be happy”.  I think this often describes situations we find ourselves in like the one in the movie.   Our beliefs about the way things should be affect the ways we see our situations and we can easily get caught up in justifying our reactions

Summer Mindfulness


Summer is here, which can often be a good time to practice mindfulness.  There may be more time to practice formally by meditating regularly.   With meditation practice we often say that more is better, and it is also important to remember that any practice is better than none.  This can apply to even a few minutes a day, perhaps pausing before getting out of bed in the morning to do a short body scan or attention-focused meditation, noticing breathing, sounds or other sensations arising from the body.  If more time is available, there is good evidence that meditating for 15 minutes a day can have positive effects on stress and emotion regulation.  The evidence for benefits increases further with longer periods of meditation. In addition to practicing formal meditation, summer offers many opportunities to practice mindfulness in everyday life.  Many people take vacations during the summer and, if so, we may notice the anticipation that arises when thinking about returning to a favorite location, or traveling to a new destination.  Some of the anticipation may be positive, related to old memories or excitement about going somewhere new. 

The Space Between Thoughts


When we practice attention-focused meditation, we choose an object to focus on, like the breath, and place our attention there.  We may follow a few breaths, then the attention wanders, often to thoughts and we get caught up in thinking.  Eventually we will notice the thinking, and we can choose to return the attention back to focusing on breathing again.  We do this over and over again. With time, the period of time between thoughts might begin to increase, and we become aware of awareness, of paying attention without thoughts arising.  In this space without thoughts, we can just be aware of our present moment experience.   At first we may only be aware of wherever we have chosen to place our attention, perhaps noticing the sensations of breathing or the points of contact from sitting.  We can also pay attention to the mind, noticing the absence of thoughts.  How is this absence of thought experienced?  With no thoughts there is no judging, no worrying, no wanting things to be different than they are.  There are no thoughts of the future or of the past, there is only the present moment.  In the space between thoughts, everything is just as it is. 

Noticing Thoughts


Thinking is obviously necessary to accomplish many tasks- around the house, at work, for hobbies and leisure activities.  Yet our minds continue to generate thoughts at other times, thoughts that often distract us from our present moment experience, and often increase our stress as negative thoughts or worries arise.  We live our lives in the present moment, and if we are caught up in thinking about the past or the future, we may miss what is unfolding right now. Humans have an innate negativity bias, so the thoughts that arise are often worries about what has happened in the past or what might happen in the future.  When thoughts arise, recognizing whether they are about something over which we have some control or whether they are focused on something beyond our sphere of influence is important.  If the thoughts are about something we have control over, we can focus on how to address the issue.  For instance, if we are worried about money, we can look at our budget and see where we might spend less or earn more.   If the thoughts are about something over which we have no control, perhaps an event in the past that had a negative outcome that is still bothering us, we can first recognize this.

Moving On From Difficult Interactions


Last month’s Musing focused on having a conversation with someone with whom we’d had a difficult interaction.  This month the topic is about how we might move on without having such a conversation. Difficult interactions with others can lead us to feel many different negative emotions, such as anger or resentment, and may result in us going over the event repeatedly, trying to understand what happened or imagining how things might have gone differently.  Often this does not accomplish much except to make us feel worse.  Getting caught up in the story of what happened in the past does not change the events although we still can learn from them so that similar situations might have a different outcome in the future. When we find ourselves in these situations it can be helpful to pause and assess what is happening.  First, is it even possible to take any action regarding the others involved?  If we can address it with the other person directly then we might choose to do so as was discussed last month.  But what if we can’t do this, perhaps because it was a one-time interaction with someone we don’t know, or if we choose not to because it is too difficult or there is too much risk?