Tag Archives: Mindfulness

The Ultimate Happiness Prescription – Deepak Chopra

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The Ultimate Happiness Prescription was the thinnest book on the stack so it bumped the 400, 500 and 900+ page monsters aside. Deepak Chopra rides to the rescue on a day hijacked by too much real life. Good message for the frazzled, in any case. The book explores spiritual and neurological dispositions toward emotional equanimity and follows each of seven keys (Deepak Chopra likes to write self-help books in lists of seven) with some simple steps to move your happiness set point up on the scale.

It’s quite sensible, not very woo-woo at all. Body awareness provides clues to how you really feel about events, circumstances and decisions. Chopra examines the interrelatedness of matter, the energy field consisting of the entire universe and you in it, as he tells you to pay attention to what you feel and where in the body you feel it. Stress affects certain areas, anger and fear others—by bringing awareness to physical feelings you can mitigate and even heal what might be making you unhappy, or unwell.

There’s a very good section on being present in the moment. Nothing new about the teaching—it is thousands of years old—but it is a powerful catalyst for change. The point is that happiness can only exist in the moment because the past is over and the future does not yet exist. That seems obvious but we cart around so much baggage that we seldom devote full awareness and appreciation to the present. Chopra recommends a mindfulness practice to increase present-moment awareness. He emphasizes the benefits of meditation as well.

I tend to like Chopra’s audio and video lectures more than his books. Those events seem to treat subjects in greater depth than the slim, nicely laid-out books. But The Ultimate Happiness Prescription is worth the relatively short amount of time it takes to read it and probably worth a few re-reads, too. The activities Chopra suggests and the points he makes apply to every type of self-improvement effort. In the end, he delivers an introduction to the quest for enlightenment—not some exalted mystical state but a better, saner, more intelligent and, well, happier way to live in this world.

The Ultimate Happiness Prescription: 7 Keys to Joy and Enlightenment   Deepak Chopra | Harmony Books 2009

Peace is Every Step – Thich Nhat Hanh

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Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist monk who organized the Buddhist Peace Delegation to the Paris Peace Talks in 1969, has written numerous beautiful slender volumes dense in mindfulness philosophy and practical teachings. Peace is Every Step, introduced by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, translates the mindfulness practice into ordinary life. It is infused with the gentle wisdom Nhat Hanh has shared with readers and audiences since the turbulent 60s and is no less appropriate for these tumultuous times.

Nhat Hanh’s point is that we cannot just work for, legislate or impose peace—we have to become peace to have any influence on our surroundings, our government and on the health of the planet. His is a very empowering teaching. By paying close attention to the moments of our lives, we enter that still space of perfect balance, of being fully present in the now, and release all chaos and confusion.

The book is divided into three main sections—each consisting of subheads with precepts, inspiration and examples to make mindfulness absolutely clear. Breathe! You are Alive outlines how to eat, wash the dishes and walk mindfully with instructions about the attention to the breath that returns your consciousness to the moment. Transformation and Healing deals with anger, love and compassion. Nhat Hanh explains a way to hug using three deep meditation breaths to anchor yourself firmly in the connection. It sounds a little bit awkward but extremely cool. Peace is Every Step talks about real awareness of the immediate and extended world around you, seen and unseen suffering, and how to contemplate clouds when you are the river.

Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the great masters of mindfulness meditation and his appeal to many people is his approachability and his no-fuss notions of how to live a richly rewarding and generous life. From politics to ecology to watching leaves color and fall in autumn, Peace is Every Step is a prescription for healing ourselves and our fractured planet, a do-it-yourself manual for replacing fear, enmity and confusion with a serene and sustainable existence.  

Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life   Thich Nhat Hanh | Bantam Books  1992

Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There – Sylvia Boorstein

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I’ve been revisiting some of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings lately and thinking about consciously living with more mindfulness. That seems like a fairly gentle way to de-stress, be present in the moment and very focused on whatever I am doing. Sylvia Boorstein’s Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There is a down-to-earth how-to for elevating the quality of your life without making yourself crazy. It’s not a story; it’s a primer for giving yourself a meditation retreat that will establish or deepen a mindfulness practice. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to follow the schedule and reap the benefits. You just have to do it: sit, walk, eat, sleep. Simple–but not. Most of us don’t retain the skill, through childhood and into adulthood, of just being with ourselves.

Boorstein counsels you about setting up a retreat–in a formal retreat center, a borrowed cottage or a room of your house with the phone turned off and the family on hold for a couple of days. You structure the get-away however you can, even if you can’t actually get away. Prepare your exit strategy from daily responsibilities–someone else may need to walk the dog, cook the meals, collect the mail, etc. You’ll be busy doing nothing. Organize the most basic necessities–comfortable clothes, good meditation cushion, timer or alarm clock with a pleasing tone, a shawl or cover-up to ward off chills, walking shoes–unless you are lucky enough to be staying on a warm beach and living barefoot.

Walking and sitting meditation periods alternate between and around meals and sleep. It can be hard to just sit and empty your mind. Minds chatter–Buddhists call this monkey mind–and it can seem impossible to turn those streaming thoughts off. But that’s why they call it a practice. Let the thoughts arise, note them and let them go. Eventually they will go. At some point, you will become aware of your breathing. Focus on the breathing. Return focus to your breathing when a thought interrupts. No big deal. Do it over and over and the thoughts will get bored and go plague somebody else. But it takes practice and you don’t make a big competition out of it. Take a break and take a walk.

Here’s how you walk: find a clear, quiet, private place. If it is in your garden or along a wooded path, be sure you can traverse it without a lot of interruptions. If you are home and your path is a hallway, clear it so you can walk unimpeded. Set the timer or the alarm on your watch. Then stroll. Don’t check the time. Walk for half-an-hour. Begin by becoming aware of all the sensations of your whole body–the feeling of the breeze, sunshine, relaxed shoulders, relaxed breathing. Gradually your steps will slow and then you can focus on the sensation of your bare feet touching the floor or the movement of your knees as you step. If your mind starts up with its flotsam and jetsam routine, go back to the whole body awareness and run through the progression again. Stop when the alarm goes off.

There are many brief instructions for various ways to approach the sitting and walking practices and how to overcome the dread monkey mind, or at least get it to chill a bit. Boorstein relates the actions of the retreat to the precepts of compassion and awareness that are central to Buddhist teaching. But the lessons are logical and pragmatic, not didactic. You’re not becoming a Buddhist–you are becoming a more peaceful person. A peaceful person knows how to eat mindfully. There are ways to pay attention to the food, to your reactions to it, to the sensory impressions you have, to the acts of chewing and swallowing. Those tricks make you very present to the moment of eating a meal.

Throughout the book, there are short stories and anecdotes to illustrate a precept, a practice or a common pitfall. It’s very easy and very doable. You don’t de-stress by stressing over how you let go of stress.  You do discover more of who you are, buried under all the layers of your busy, disconnected life. You could follow Boorstein’s guide for a weekend, a week or a lifetime. Every activity–or lack of activity–can be folded into regular daily life. Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There is a kind of Mindfulness 101.  You don’t even need a retreat to try these techniques. You can practice them for a half hour here and there in the carnival of your quotidian. Little by little, they will help you to get past all the noise and really hear the music.

Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There: A Mindfulness Retreat with Sylvia Boorstein   Sylvia Boorstein | HarperSanFrancisco   1996