The Benefits of Motivation and Curiosity: On the Road and in a Meditation Practice July 31, 2021 16:55
(photo credit: Muhammad owsama via Unsplash)
If you prefer to listen to this month's blog post, please click here for the audio link.
These past few weeks, I have been grateful to be able to drive to Bloomington to attend Dharma teachings in-person at TMBCC (Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center).
The center is now open for weekly teachings, and visitors are required to wear masks (an act of compassion that protects themselves and others).
An ongoing (and major) construction project is happening on State Road 37, which is the road I usually take to B-town. Part of this highway is closed, and a detour is required in order for me to reach my destination. The orange cones, "rodeo barrels," and ever-changing traffic patterns with unexpected curves and sharp turns make this weekly commute a continual surprise. The road is forever morphing and changing.
However, dedication, curiosity, and motivation inspire me to navigate my way back and forth each Sunday. I wake up a little earlier. I leave the house a little sooner, and I keep an open, judgment-free mind. Expectations typically create unwanted limitations, and they are a sure-fire way to set myself up for disappointment and stress.
I type in the address on the GPS system in my car and follow the directions (usually--a few rebellious "route recalculations" are part of the fun). Each time I've taken this trip, my car has led me on a different route.
I'm exploring new pathways.
I'm trusting the guidance.
I'm open to discovery, and I'm curious about the journey.
This is SIGNIFICANT growth for me. I am notoriously bad at directions, and I get lost and turned around very easily. As a result, getting lost used to be quite anxiety-triggering for me...to the point that it would prevent me from exploring new places and experiences.
I'm also not usually thrilled about driving long distances, either. This commute takes me well over an hour each way. However, I have been enjoying these excursions. I'm more relaxed and patient in the car. I'm less fearful and more open. I'm less disoriented and more curious. I don't worry about the time as much as I used to, and I have enjoyed taking in the new scenery each week.
I'm not sure what's changed, but because my motivation is strong, I'm more flexible, accepting, and eager to discover new pathways.
Meditation practice is like this, too.
Meditation is a method of self-regulation. Over time, a regular practice regulates my thoughts, which can trigger a relaxation response in the body.
Scientific studies have shown that meditation can reduce inflammation, which can ward off harmful disease. Meditation can increase insulin production, which can improve blood sugar regulation in the body. Meditation can also have anti-aging effects by preserving the ends of chromosomes (called telomeres).
Consequently, training the mind through a regular meditation practice can indirectly affect the expression of genes and influence the production of hormones. In other words, meditation can affect your body on a cellular level!
It can also encourage the growth of new neural pathways in the brain. This process is also known as self-directed neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the brain's ability to adapt to change. The environment, thoughts, and actions can influence the brain's ability to create these new neural pathways.
A regular meditation practice can improve the ability to focus and remain present. It can lead to reduced stress and anxiety, and it can also enhance and improve intuition and interoception (an awareness of sensations inside the body).
Meditation naturally leads to improved self-awareness and self-regulation. It can also prevent age-related brain atrophy and protect against memory loss. Meditation retrains the brain to become more fully present and to rely less on living unconsciously on "auto-pilot."
It's not easy to break away from ingrained habits--to bust out of the status quo and embrace new things.
Change is possible.
Growth is possible.
Where you choose to place your attention determines the quality of your life.
Personally, meditation has encouraged me to take more responsibility for my life. I feel more confident, and I'm more willing to explore new experiences and interests. I'm also less judgmental and fearful.
So, maybe not being able to travel to Bloomington and attend Dharma teachings in-person for several months gave me more time to meditate at home and hone my own self-directed neuroplasticity skills.
And, maybe all of these construction projects with their detours and alternate routes are pushing all of us, gently, out of our well-worn habits and encouraging us to explore and appreciate the scenery of unknown roads.
The path to awareness is both a physical and mental journey, and being open, curious, and motivated will help make this journey more meaningful and enjoyable.
Speaking of enjoying your practice--I have added several new mala designs to the online shop. Feel free to check out the full collection here.
Finding Perspective in Your Practice: Dealing with Distractions August 1, 2017 14:33
What’s right in front of you matters. This moment matters. Navigating now seems simple in theory, but in practice…distractions can compete for your attention and hijack your intentions. They can dominate your view and force you to take unexpected detours and delays.
Last month, I took a personal retreat and spent a few days nestled in a small, circular cabin in the woods. My intention was to use this time to practice yoga, meditate, read, write, and simply enjoy being mindful and present.
On the first day of my retreat, I noticed a small spider that had created a web on the railing of the deck. Stretching to a cluster of branches in a nearby tree, this web was a perfect circle, and the spider sat in the center, patiently waiting for her lunch to arrive. She was beautiful. Her pale green body shimmered in the sun, and each leg curved like a tiny arch. I wanted to capture this moment, this now, by taking a photo.
Over the next three days, I attempted many times to snap a close-up photograph of this lovely, eight-legged architect. I had a small tourist camera—nothing fancy or expensive, but it had a decent zoom capacity. Unfortunately, it didn’t recognize the spider as the focal point of the shot, so it would zoom in on a nearby cluster of leaves or the trunk of a tree that was behind her instead. I struggled to capture the image that was right in front of me—the image that mattered most was elusive—the lens of my camera couldn’t recognize it as meaningful like my eyes (and mind) did.
I changed position, experimented with different angles, moved furniture around…no luck. In the meantime, I practiced yoga, meditated, read, wrote, hiked, and simply savored just being in each moment. Morning eased into evening. Sunlight shifted, moved, and disappeared through branches as the days progressed.
Meditation can be like this, too. Your intentions are good—you want to practice—you want to sit and focus on mantra recitations—but the phone rings, a siren sounds in the distance, a random memory or thought surfaces and will not let go. Distractions are a part of navigating now. Ignoring them, or growing impatient with them rarely helps.
Acknowledging them, however, is essential. It’s part of the practice. The phone is ringing…that’s an ambulance…this is a thought…that is a memory from the past. Taking a moment to breathe, briefly acknowledge what surfaces, and then offer a little time and space for these distractions to move, shift, and pass will help in navigating the detours.
Be gentle, and give yourself permission to continue your practice—to pick up where you left off—without berating or judging yourself for succumbing to yet another distraction. Be kind, mindful, and consistent with your practice. Eventually, the benefits will unfold and appear.
On the last afternoon of my retreat, I had returned from an hour-long hike in the woods. The sun was at just the right angle on the deck, creating enough shadow for me to zoom in and capture a close-up shot of the spider and her web. As an added, unexpected bonus, tiny orbs of dappled sunlight appeared to be caught, glistening and suspended in her web. Patience and consistency, these are the jewels of any practice.