The Moon

 

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“The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.”

― Jon Kabat-Zinn

When the moon is bright and beautiful, one of my daughters will text me: “look at the moon!” When it is a group text, her sisters will chime in: “Pretty,” “I see it!” “Awww, there’s no moon in the city mom L,” or an emoji moon. I am always filled with emotion when I share the sight of the moon on those evenings. It is curious what I remember now that my children are grown and it is always comforting when they remember the precious, quiet moments that speckled their imperfect childhood. I remember late one summer night at our home three miles outside of Queens, NY I corralled my three girls into the car in search of a place where we might see a lunar eclipse; a treasure hunt I thought – we didn’t find it. There is more to that memory than my desire to introduce my children to the wonders of the night sky. During that time I was grieving, alone, and filled with fear about my future and theirs. I had to get out of the house – I just had to go somewhere away from the feelings that swirled around like a storm in my heart and mind.

A year later the turmoil that led me in search of the moon that night had passed, as all things do. We moved to Connecticut where life was simpler and the moon was easier to find; we only needed to step into our front yard, and there it was. Home become our usual stargazing spot. The harvest moon was always our favorite; its warm amber glow enhanced by the cool air, the fragrance of autumn and the girls’ growing excitement that Halloween was just around the corner–I can still hear their little voices filled with awe: “oh mommy.” Priceless.

As I told my little girls to “look at the moon,” I did not predict that in the decades ahead they would continue to notice and remember. The practice of mindfulness was not yet a daily part of my life. Unbeknownst to me, in those moments of stillness with my children I was encouraging their innate ability to notice, be present, and become one with the world around them, because there is beauty and love to be found in the darkest of times if we can just stop and look at the moon.

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Running in Stillness

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Running in stillness-

                                    by Kim Oliver, Ph.D.

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”

Thích Nht Hnh

When I was 12 years old I joined the local youth track team and I started running; not to become an athlete, or to cross the finish line, or reach a goal… I just ran. I ran, and I ran, and I ran… almost every day for the next five years. I didn’t have the competitive focus or the relentless drive necessary to become exceptional; I was average, but I loved to run without exception.

Even then, I realized that my love of the sport was derived from something greater than the physical act of running, but it was only many years later in looking back on my tenure as a Golden Spike that I truly comprehend what motivated me to lace up my Adidas Antelopes day after day, year after year. When I ran I couldn’t think, or at least I didn’t. Academic pressure, social stresses, the whirlwind of living in household with four younger siblings and two young parents, insecurities, worries: it all fell away, piece by piece, with every stride.

I focused on the feeling of air filling my lungs, on the rhythm of my steps contacting earth, on the loops around the track, around the lake, around the neighborhood. I watched for rough patches in the woods, puddles in the dirt, for twigs or rocks obstructing my path, for inclines that would needed a burst of energy, or descents that required steady balance and a shorter gate. I didn’t project, I didn’t reflect, I didn’t worry. I wasn’t wrong, scared or unworthy.

Unbeknownst to me, I had stumbled across the seventh practice of the Noble Eightfold Path taught by the Buddha more than 2,500 earlier: Right Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the complete (both mind and body) awareness of the present moment. To be fully present requires the awareness of our thoughts, our feelings, our bodies and our surroundings, without the distortion of judgment. When we are mindful we are not caught in thoughts of the past or the future. We are not judging ourselves or our worthiness. We recognize our thoughts for what they are: thoughts. We see our feelings for what they are: feelings. That is not to minimize our thoughts or feelings or the significance they may hold, rather we acknowledge that thoughts and feelings are not the reality of who we are or of the present moment: they come and they go, and they change, as everything changes. Through mindfulness we learn to accept our thoughts and feelings, to accept ourselves and to accept those we love.

When I was 18 I stopped running, much as I had started, without much thought. During difficult times I often had a fantasy that I was running, running anywhere or nowhere. I imagined I could run and never stop and that with every step I would be further and further from the pain or discomfort I was facing. But in the fog of unpleasant thoughts and feelings I failed to recognize the true peace that running had given me in my youth. It had not allowed me to escape my thoughts and feelings or flee a particular situation, it had given me the ability to stop!; to be truly present; to be aware of my body, of my breath, of the world around me: to be Mindful.

You don’t have to become a Buddhist to grow in your ability to be mindful, to pay attention, to accept, to be aware. These principles are available to us no matter our beliefs – they are not religious constructs and they are inherently human ones.

Psychologists and neuroscientists are using the technology of the 21st century to substantiate the profound impact of the ancient practice mindfulness. fMRI technology has been used to show structural changes in the brain of participants in an eight week mindfulness based stress reduction program. Mindfulness practices have been shown to help people reduce anxiety, cope with chronic pain, reduce stress, regulate their emotions, and increase their capacity for empathy and compassion and neuroscientists are continuing to map how mindfulness training can change the brain.

You don’t have to become a Buddhist or meditate for hours on end or join a track team to practice Mindfulness. There are an infinite number of ways to incorporate Mindfulness into your life and in doing so reap the benefits of this ancient practice (rubber stamped by science).

We don’t need to run away – we can be still – breathing, noticing, accepting, and truly living every moment with compassion for ourselves and others.