Mental Balance

A balanced mind abides in the present moment.

To abide means to remain, continue, stay, dwell, reside.  The mind only knows now, this present moment.  There is no past or future.  Have I presented another paradox?  If the mind knows only the now then what is going on when I spend an entire day dwelling on past mistakes, losses or disappointments?  What is going on when I spend an entire night in fear and anxiety over future possibilities?  I am bringing the past and/or the future into the present moment and my mind will respond accordingly as will my body and my emotions.

When I abide in the past, whether the memories are filled with joy or trauma, my mind interprets it as happening in the present.  And if I abide in the future, whether I look forward with joyful anticipation or anxiety-filled dread, my mind thinks it is happening right now.  Aside from the physical and emotional responses that are triggered, I am totally oblivious to and missing out on the present moment.

Yes, there are times when the future or the past are appropriately part of the present.  When families get together and share laughter and joy while reminiscing, that is their present moment.  When a young family prepares for the birth of a child months ahead of its arrival, that is their present moment.  These experiences come and go and the attention returns to the beauty of the sky, paying bills on time, or preparing a meal that will be shared lovingly with the family.

The key is developing the ability to abide in the moment.  I come back to each person finding what works for them, what keeps them in the here and now.  For me, when I walk, my intention is to see, hear and enjoy my world.  I watch the sky, listen to the birds, say hi to neighbors and pet their dogs. I breathe the air and allow gratitude for my life, even when at present it is filled with challenges.

Years ago, Thich Nhat Hanh, suggested on one of his tapes to walk very slowly to the phone when it rings.  As you walk, ask yourself if you can be fully present with the person calling.  If you cannot stop what you are doing and be only with that person, do not answer the phone.  Call them later.  (Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese monk living in exile.  The primary focus of his loving, compassionate teaching is mindfulness.)

The way to begin is to become aware of your own mental patterns.  It is important to embrace this awareness without judgement.  Awareness allows me to accept what I have been doing to avoid the present moment.  Once I accept that I have created these patterns, I can forgive myself if necessary and begin to create new patterns of mental behavior.

For many people, this process is enhanced through counseling with a professional therapist.  I am in this group.  There have been a number of times in my life when therapy was essential to finding and maintaining a healthy mental state of being.  Others need medication in addition because they live with a chemical imbalance of some type that must be treated in order for them to be able to experience healthy thought patterns.  Remember, the physical directly impacts the mental and vice versa.

May you learn to abide in the moment as you discover the balance of body, mind and emotions that allows you to do so.  Peace, tranquility and contentment will follow and also abide with you.


Tread Lightly

“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” ― Thích Nhất Hạnh

The phrase “Tread lightly” is often intended as a warning in our culture but read the above quote again. Perhaps it is better taken as an invitation to walk with respect and love, literally for the planet that gives you life and sustenance, figuratively for all those you share life with on this planet.

For those of you who may not know, Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who lives in exile. His teachings on mindful, compassionate living are known internationally. He has had a profound influence on my personal journey through his books and recorded teachings. I lovingly invite you to search him out and be blessed by his simple, yet profound, teachings.

May this day unfold in love, peace, and compassion and may this precious, loving moment give birth to the next.


Conscious Hugging

In his book Peace is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh says

Hugging is a beautiful Western custom, and we from the East would like to contribute the practice of conscious breathing to it. When you hold a child in your arms, or hug your mother, or your husband, or your friend, if you breathe in and out three times, your happiness will be multiplied at least tenfold.

Hugging in this way was taught to me by Joseph LePage, founder of Integrative Yoga Therapy. I was attending my basic certification to become a yoga teacher. Joseph held me and whispered “Breathe with me, Catherine.” We took those three slow breaths and my world changed. He also taught me to go to my right when hugging someone I wanted to draw close, aligning our hearts.

My original college major was nursing. In the neonatal unit, we learned to care for premature infants. The medical community was just realizing the importance of touch in the lives of infants. One of our babies fit in my hand – his head resting on the heel of my hand and his feet barely reaching over my fingertips. As a student nurse I was tasked with holding him and whispering to him in the incubator. I remember the head nurse showing me how to slip my hand underneath him and then to let the fingers of my other hand rest lightly over his body. She said “To him, this feels like a hug. He needs our touch to thrive and survive.” I was rotated to another unit but we were told six months later that he was able to go home. He had survived and now could be held next to his parents’ hearts.

We all need to be held, hugged, and touched to thrive and survive. Human contact meets needs deep within us. Mindful hugging is a gift we give to others and to ourselves. I can tell when a person hugs me whether or not they are aware and actually feel me in their arms. I like it when they are. I can tell when I hug another person whether or not I am aware and actually feel that person in my arms. I like it when I am.

Conscious hugging, now this is a practice worth nurturing!