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
Metta

Free 1st Saturday Community Meditation


Are you feeling stressed, trying to balance life, family, work?

Do you feel like sometimes you’re just skimming life or missing out on something critical?

Do you sometimes feel like you’ve lost something you once had and can’t quite put your finger on it?

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Meditation can help you regain your compassionate, patient, adaptable center.

You will learn how to:

  • handle stress with greater ease
  • discover the true source of your unhappiness or suffering
  • understand how the causes of suffering operate
  • find the way out of suffering
  • cultivate step by step practices that support peaceful and happy life
  • be more present for your daily life
  • deal with difficult emotions
  • to recognize harmful and beneficial habits
  • let go of harmful habits
  • cultivate healthy habits
  • and much more

We offer free community meditation every first Saturday of the month.

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Donations gratefully accepted.

WHERE: 1839 S Halsted

WHEN: 1st Saturday of each month 9-9:45 am

OTHER: Please refrain from wearing perfumes and colognes. Wear soft comfy clothing. Layers are good.

 

Spring Break Stress-Buster


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Do you answer yes to any of these?

Are you a college student feeling a bit stressed out?
Do you sometimes have trouble concentrating right when you need your mental focus most?
Do you try to “cram” before tests?
Do you sometimes feel anxious about all the work load – balancing school with work, friends and family?
Do you want to end this semester with your best work?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, this mini-retreat is for you.

Studies repeatedly show that students who meditate do better on tests of all kinds. They also feel less negative stress and maintain better over all health.

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Learn to adapt, refresh, succeed
Designed specifically to address the needs and pressures of college students to help you complete your semester in the best way possible, the retreat is for beginning meditators with no or little experience, and more experienced practitioners.

You will enjoy:

  • transformative morning or movement
  • meditation
  • writing
  • unleashing your full potential
  • leave feeling relaxed and alert
  • You will learn strategies for developing your powers of focus and concentration
  • how to take tests with less stress
  • cultivate self compassion.

    Come in comfortable soft clothes, bring a yoga mat if you have one, and a notebook and something to write with.

    WHEN: March 26, 2016 9-10:30 am
    WHERE: 1839 S Halsted St
    TUITION: Just $25
    QUESTIONS? Call Hillary at 312-714-4563 or email me at calmchicago [at]gmail [dot]com

    Advance registration requested. https://squareup.com/market/hillary-johnson-2
    P
    lease share with your favorite college students!

Namaste,

Hillary

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Yang 24 Tai Chi Class


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Tai Chi Yang 24 Form

Beautiful mindful movement for everybody!

The most popular form of tai chi in the world.

Perfect for all ages and abilities.

This mindful meditation reduces stress, increases immunity and helps us great each moment with more grace.  We begin with basic movements and slowly build from there. If you’re tired of feeling like you are always rushing around and want to enjoy greater softness of heart, mind and body, this is the class for you!

Other Details:

Where: 1839 S Halsted St (just south of 18th St.)
When: 9-9:50am Saturdays
Tuition: $80/mo
Sign up now with Square of Chase Quick Pay (email me and I’ll send you the link. It’s secure, instantaneous and easy!)

Got any questions? Shoot me a line and I’ll be glad to help you out.

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River of Nonjudgmental Now


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All we have is this moment right here and now.

Maybe we’re not so happy with something about how this right now is. In this case we have two choices.

Beat ourselves up about it. Perseverating over and over on our perceived failures. Which naturally will lead to a lovely downward spiral culminating in something like I suck at this. Why do I even bother? I’ll never amount to anything. 

You get the general idea.

OR…

We can choose to restart. Reboot. Begin afresh right here and now.

In this scenario, we can just skip the whole Eeyore routine. 

  
The Buddha said that we can start from wherever we are. How wonderfully freeing! 

So, check in with yourself for a moment now. Just sit and breathe. What’s going on? Just recognize whatever that may be.

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How are we doing in relation to whatever’s happening right here and now? 

Can we allow things to be just as they are? Can we pause together and let go of struggling a little bit?

Perhaps we can gently investigate as if we were some friendly social scientist, what’s going on with this member of the tribe of human beings, this situation.

This way, we’re making a little bit more space in our hearts and minds for what could be, rather than being stuck in some stories playing in our heads like so many DVR movies.

This way we can see, directly, through our own experience that whatever is happening doesn’t define us. It’s not me, not mine, not who I am. Not a permanent condition but just some passing conditional weather.

And as Bugsy Malone said, “Everyone deserves a fresh start every now and again.”

Make today a beautiful and amazing day loves.

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Meditation tricks to Help You Survive the Holidays


It seems the holidays start earlier and earlier every year. Before the vague sugar-induced hangover of Halloween has even gotten a chance to lift, ads for Black Friday abound, mountains of red and green candy appear in vast piles next to twinkling lights and signs screaming SALE, BUY BUY BUY, shout at us from every grocery aisle, gas station, social media feed, and shop window. It can all be a little overwhelming.

Thoughts may race. Distress ranging from mild anxiety to full-on panic may arise. How to navigate all the choices and demands! What cookies to bake, parties to attend? What to wear? How can we manage to keep everyone in our work, social and love/family lives happy and having the best holiday possible? Data indicates that somewhere between 38% to 54% of us feel an increase in stress levels during the holidays. Thankfully, we can learn to significantly dial down the stress with a few tips straight out of the meditation playbook.

In this interactive, experiential class you will learn how to reduce stress by learning how to:

* Pause the merry-go-round of the mind

* Let go of expectations

* Generate greater compassion for yourself and others

All you need is yourself, and your desire to reduce stress. This holiday season, we can really experience more peace on earth and good will for all.

When: December 13, 2015 from 11:00am to 12:00pm

Where: 1839 S Halsted St. (Free street parking, easy CTA

Sign up through Dabble, Square Marketplace or via Pay with Chase Quick Pay!

Sign up now. And bring friends.

Thanks, Hillary