Daily Practice is Never a Waste of Time


“Daily practice is never a waste of time.” (Sharon Salzberg)

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Even though we might not see the fruits of our practice right away (like, while we are actually DOING our formal practice, while our butts are on the cushion or bench or whatever), we CAN have confidence that the fruits WILL come.

Sometimes the effects might be very subtle or we might not feel it or notice it, but then something HAPPENS! (Cuz you KNOW life is ALWAYS going to give us opportunities) And then – BOOM! We suddenly notice that the way we are reacting is DIFFERENT than it was before.

This weekend at Kripalu, while I was on retreat with Sharon Salzberg and Stephen Cope, Sharon told a funny story about one of the first weeks she ever sat and did Metta practice all alone. She spent the week focusing on her self, using Metta phrases like, May I be happy, may I be safe, may I be strong, may I have ease of well-being. She said the whole week felt sort of dull and boring; nothing interesting happening at all and that she was sort of wondering if she hadn’t wasted a week because she didn’t feel anything special while she was sitting and practicing.

But then life intervened. A friend got sick and a bunch of the folks sitting had to leave the retreat center to go help them. In the rushing around of getting ready to leave the center, she dropped a big glass jar of some kind, sending shards of glass all over the place. A real mess. She noticed that her first thoughts were, God, you’re a clutz but I love you. She realized in that moment, that in the past she would have really been angry at herself and that clearly something had in fact been happening during her week of  Metta practice toward herself.

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Perhaps we are calm when we might’ve flown off the handle. We don’t holler like we would have done just last week or last year. (Like when the cats woke you up at four a.m., hollering for food even though you just got home from an intense weekend. AND, even though you did just feed them a few short hours ago… Don’t they KNOW you need some sleep for God’s sake!) In fact, this did happen to me this morning and I know I handled it totally differently than I have in the past.

In the past, I’ve experienced the rapid heartbeat of being startled awake and muttering under my breath or even actually hollering at the cats. A lot of  God damn it, why can’t they just shut up or be more like a dog and wait for the freaking food to arrive when I get up! A spray bottle of water has been involved many times. In the process, I’ve awakened my sleeping husband, who has the amazing capacity to sleep through absolutely anything! And how does he sleep like that? Why doesn’t he wake up and feed them? I got these cats FOR HIM after all. Shouldn’t he be taking care of them not me! Doesn’t anyone see the terrible injustice which I am now suffering!? ARGH!

I have stormed down the stairs fuming and slammed food into their dishes and wondered in my raging head, how  much longer will the darn beasts actually LIVE! (They are now 18 years old, heading toward 19 with no obvious sense of physical decline.) And in case you think I’m a cat hater, know this: I am not a cat hater. New to living with cats, yes. But I love them and for proof, feel free to check my Facebook or Instagram feeds for copious evidence. Pinky, who adopted me with a fierce and adoring intensity after my dog Tiger, died, has been renamed by me, AKA The Assistant. He actually has his own hashtag. He’s a happy part of my daily writing life. He tells me when it’s time for a break by jumping up and laying across my arm so I can do nothing other than pat him. Put down that pen Mom. And I listen to his furry feline wisdom.

This morning, when they woke me, I was really tired from a day of traveling back from retreat, but I could just empathize with the reality that they were hungry and needed food. They have the communication skills they do (meowing, box and paper shredding Very Loudly for a few examples) and use them well. I was able to have a feeling of tender appreciation of their plight rather than anger. The weekend of Metta practice definitely is already making a HUGE difference. Sharon, my cats thank you deeply for your teachings. 

I tiptoed down the stairs, picked Pinky up and cuddled him and quietly opened the can of food and plopped some into their dish and actually enjoyed the funny sounds they make while eating. It’s like a super yummy sound (think Young Frankenstein) with lots of lip smacking and purring. How wonderful to do something which created so much kitty happiness so easily. Then I crawled back into bed for a little extra R&R. Shortly after, I had two furry cuddle buddies. It doesn’t get much better than that.

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Though our formal practice might have felt kind of boring, or uninteresting, under the surface we were changing and it just took having an opportunity (something life will ALWAYS give us) to see that change become manifest.

So have courage yogis! Have some faith.

Look closely at your thoughts, the things you say and things you do.

I bet if you look with a close attention, you will notice that you’re changing slowly, bit by bit.

Your daily practice is NEVER a waste of time.

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May all be happy. May all be peaceful.

6 Steps to De-Stress During High Stress Times


One of my students is going through a very high stress time right now. She’s a college student preparing for the MCAT test. A grueling seven-hour monster that a pre-requisite for getting into medical school (The Medical College Admission Test® (MCAT®), developed and administered by the AAMC, is a standardized, multiple-choice examination created to help medical school admissions offices assess your problem solving, critical thinking, and knowledge of natural, behavioral, and social science concepts and principles …) – Just reading this is enough to give a person a stress headache!
So, maybe you ‘re not taking a test like that but you have your own stressful stuff unfolding. The transition form spring into summer can do that. Kids getting out of school, work seasons change, job hunting, dealing with illnesses, etc. etc. I thought that it might be helpful for you all for me to share what I taught her today: Six Steps to De-Stressing During High Stress Times
So this week, try these out and please, let me know how it goes if you like. What questions come up? I’m happy to support you any way I can.
1. Journal about what you ingest, food, drink, friends, entertainments etc. What we put into the mind, body and spirit is what we become. Put another way, what we surround ourselves with is what we become. So it makes sense to really pay attention to what all that stuff is and examine it for ourselves, asking the question of each thing: Is this beneficial or wholesome for me or not? I encourage you to keep the log first and then examine it all for patterns and benefits or detriments.
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2. Meditate on a regular schedule. It’s can also be quite beneficial to do a brief bit of journal writing before and after you practice. This doesn’t have to go on for long, even a few minutes of writing can provide a great deal of insight when paired with meditation.  It’s not unusual to have a hard time creating a regular schedule but, boy, is it ever good for you. Your heart and mind like the rhythm of regularity and the discipline of sticking to something good for you.
3. Regulate your sleep, food and exercise as much as you can. You are in charge of making choices about what you do. Ask your friends to support you in this. So if you say no to some activity like a party that will go too late or be a little too crazy for you right now, for example, they shouldn’t beg you to come along but trust your discernment and support you. Also see number 2.
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4. Do walking meditation before sitting practice. This helps energize, stabilize and focus your mind and body for sitting meditation.
5. Try the PRO technique: Pause, Relax, Open offered by mindfulness expert Elisha Goldstein
6. If you like, comment here when you practice meditation and I’ll send you a hi-five in return and a meditation tip!
May you be well, safe, happy, may you live with ease.
With Metta,
Hillary
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Three Minute Walking Meditation


I’ll be teaching walking meditation at Hanig’s on North Ave. May 26th. Check it out. Also awesome shoes. You could win a pair in a drawing. Also drawing for deal on individual sessions with me focusing on the area of your choice.HANIG FLYER

Mindful Metta Mondays @Heartwood


Mindful Metta Mondays

img_1145Start Your Week Alive, Empowered
and Connected

with

Mindful Metta Mondays
at
The Heartwood Center in Evanston

with Hillary Johnson
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Registration is now open. Sign up to reserve your spot.

This summer the course will run each month for four weeks on Monday nights

CLASS TIMES:
June 6, 13, 20, 27, 2016, 7pm-8pm

July 11, 18, 25, August 1, 2016, 7pm-8pm

August 15, 22, 29, September 5, 2016, 7pm-8pm

HEARTWOOD CENTER, INC.

1818 Dempster Street, Evanston, IL 60202

4-week course $72 ($18/class) or $20 Drop in

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When we cultivate our natural capacity for opening the heart and allowing it to blossom, we get closer to the best versions of ourselves. Metta or loving kindness is a powerful transformative practice that deepens recognition of our profound interconnection with all living things, allowing us to experience this sense of connection, even with the difficult people in our lives. Insights are sharpened and equanimity is accessed when we integrated Mindfulness Meditation and Metta with Contemplative Writing, This course will help you develop and deepen your:

  • Concentration
  • Connection
  • Courage/Fearlessness
  • Authentic Happiness
  • Discernment

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Metta helps us awaken our hearts into a sense of spacious freedom, allowing us to bring greater loving kindness into everyday life, work and love. As we gain greater clarity and insight into our own hearts and minds by bringing attention to how we think, speak and act, we can open to a whole new, more discerning and caring way for engaging with ourselves and others.

As you develop your practice, you’ll see the fruits of greater loving kindness everywhere. This ongoing/repeatable class will help you sustain your practice and nurture the qualities of loving kindness with direction instruction, guided meditation and contemplative writing. There will also be plenty of opportunities for conversation and communal support for your practice.

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The more you practice, the greater the gifts. You will:

  1. Feel your stress and tension dissolve.
  2. Loosen the grip of tightening fear in the heart  and feel it turn into open and spacious caring.
  3. Experience a sense of ongoing renewal, peace, and confidence arising from your own loving kindness practices

It’s not surprising that many people consider calming the mind through meditation as first step to a more peaceful, less stress-filled life. Yet, compassion and loving kindness have the power of water, a gentle force for courage allied with wisdom. Enjoy the peace of offering the gift of your compassion for others as we hold them quietly in our hearts.

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Through cultivating empathy and understanding we expand our capacities for resolving conflicts and strengthen and multiply our possibilities for creatively easing suffering in the world and in our own hearts.

This course is for both new and experienced meditators. Bring a notebook and your favorite writing implement. You may bring a meditation cushion or bench if you like, but we also provide everything you need to be comfortable.

4-week course $72 ($18/class) or $20 Drop in

Email Hillary with any questions

OR

Register by calling Hillary at  312-714-4563 (Please leave a message if no answer)

OR

Use this link to register now.

Thank you. I look forward to practicing with you soon.

With Metta, Hillary

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Mindful Metta Mondays In Evanston


So excited, humbled, honored to announce that I’ll be teaching at this amazing place, The Heartwood Center, in Evanston.


Mindful Metta Mondays start Monday June 6th, 7-8pm at the Heartwood Center!
Four-week sessions in June, July and August. $72 for the month or $20 drop in. Registration will open in the next day or so. Each session will integrate meditation and writing to help us cultivate Metta or loving kindness for ourselves and each other.

Two Step Walking Meditation


Metta in this Moment
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Though we tend to tumble headfirst into the next moment out of sheer force of habit, we can train ourselves to pause in the midst of our busy days. We can ground ourselves in the midst of stressful situations by bringing awareness down to our feet, feeling the earth supporting us. Grounding ourselves this way, we’re more able to handle whatever difficulties arise with more grace and increased empathy and compassion for ourselves and others.

Mindfulness Practice with the Feet
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Bring your awareness to your feet. Feel them in your shoes. See if you can feel each toe on its own without wiggling them. It’s okay if you can’t. We’re not seeking any special experience. We just want to see what’s going on right here and now.

Now – Feel the shoes gently holding your feet. Next allow yourself to feel that the sole purpose of the earth, it’s only job, is to hold you up. Rest in that awareness.

2012_0506_images_10a_berry_conversation_wendell_portrait(The great Wendell Berry)

Simple Walking Meditation

Walking requires a constant shifting of our weight from foot to foot, an act we rarely pay much attention to. As we shift the weight, it’s as if we fill one leg and empty the other, of weight, of energy, however you like to think of it. This occurs as we place first one foot down in front of us to step forward and then the next. Let’s slow this process down for a few steps to attend mindfully to the many sensations of walking.

  1. As you step forward, place your foot down ever so softly, feeling that initial contact with the ground or floor. Slowly begin to shift your weight into your forward foot, feeling it supporting you as you fill the leg up.
  2. Be aware at the same time, of your rear foot and leg. Feel how the rear leg gets emptier and emptier; the foot releasing contact with the ground.

Repeat for a few steps, up to ten.

Walking is actually a wondrous act. Let’s enjoy it together. Let’s be grateful for our capacity to walk. Let’s take a moment of gratitude for our feet and legs.

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Pausing is Possible Anytime

You can practice this simple walking meditation any time. It’s a very good practice before any stressful events like meetings, difficult conversations etc. Try pausing next time you’re heading somewhere. The simple act remembering that you can pause and doing it, even for a moment or a few steps, is incredibly powerful.

Guided Meditations


People have all kinds of ideas about guided meditations and this blog will hardy be an authoritative response to all the ideas out there. That would be not only impossible but a waste of everyone’s time.

I can tell you this however. For the beginner, guided meditations can be extremely helpful. Because meditating alone in your room can feel like jumping into the deep end of a very choppy, stormy ocean without any support, a life jacket at least, a little raft.

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It can feel this way for the experienced meditator as well. Maybe life’s been handing you a particularly rough patch and though you’ve been meditating for years, you’re just not feeling it.

Maybe you’ve been sitting with your father who’s dying, maybe you’ve lost your job or are in the midst of a huge paradigm shift in your career, which you thought would last forever, and now it feels like you’ve got nothing to stand on.

Maybe you’re dealing with a terrible disease, acute or chronic and you’re just not even sure who you are anymore.

Maybe you’re just like the rest of us poor slobs wondering why and how it is that even the most joy-filled moments of heart splitting wonder seem to have this little nugget of sadness embedded in them. Maybe you’re one of those folks who feels you’re always waiting for the other shoe to fall.

On top of that you may be thinking, I should get a grip, I’ve been meditating for (insert number of months, years meditating here) I should be able to settle my mind down. I’m a terrible meditator. 

Or, maybe you’re a meditation teacher and you’re in that place where even the coach needs a little extra support and love and you think crap, who can I ask for help? This is SO embarrassing!  Nonsense darlings! Now and then all of us need some help, a little extra support, for all kinds of thing, including our own self care. In fact, research shows that actually asking for help is a sign of STRENGTH. So there’s that.

Let me tell you dear ones, you’re not a terrible meditator. You’re just feeling overwhelmed. There’s no shame in getting a little assistance.

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So, no matter who you are and how long you’ve been sitting and meditating, it is okay. If you feel like you need a permission slip – here it is.

Go ahead and use guided meditations when you want to. Sometimes it’s just nice to let someone else drive the bus, right?

When you feel ready to sit in silence, on your own, you’ll know.

Lots of people, all over the globe practice alone but they may also sit with a group from time to time, some weekly. Many folks also make regular check-ins with a meditation teacher. To that end, I strongly encourage you to find a teacher somewhere and study with them. It’s highly beneficial to have someone whose been down the road ahead of you to whom you may turn to ask questions and talk things over.

In support of all that, I’ve made a new page on the site offering some free guided meditations which I’m recording. You’ll also find links to the sites of several wonderful meditation teachers out there who offer audio, readings, books, retreats and so forth. Please check it all out. Explore. Find what works for you.

Please share the link to this page with friends, colleagues, loved ones. Anyone who might benefit from a little friendly mediation support.

Sail on friends. Sail on. Life’s just a series of tacking points. No direct line. Let’s enjoy the journey together.

Namaste,

Hillary

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