Sunday, 30 June 2013

Financial Times News: The Shrink & The Sage: How mindful should we be?

On 28th June 2013, Financial Times online magazine published an article in their life&arts section titled: The Shrink & The Sage: How mindful should we be?

Here are some interesting quotes:
"Try as I might to play devil’s advocate, I can’t find the drawbacks to mindfulness. In fact, it can also have a host of other benefits. For instance, by learning to be more aware of the constant stream of impulses arising in our minds, and less identified with them, we can become better able to choose whether to act on them or not. When we’re mindful, our life can be more autonomous.
...slowing down to notice things rather than speeding past them makes for a much richer and more nuanced life experience. Try it.
I’ve heard a lot of mighty claims for mindfulness over recent years, setting off one of the most reliable thought alarms of all time: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. But unless you’re an expert on what is being bigged up, how do you know where truth ends and hype begins."

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

WIRED News: Enlightenment Engineer - In Silicon Valley, Meditation Is No Fad, It Could Make Your Career

On 18th June 2013, the tech magazine WIRED Online posted an article in it's Business>Entrepreneurs section titled: Enlightenment Engineer - In Silicon Valley, Meditation Is No Fad, It Could Make Your Career.

Here are some interesting quotes from the article:
"We blink, smile at one another, and look around our makeshift zendo—a long, fluorescent-lit presentation room on Google’s corporate campus in Silicon Valley. Meng and most of his pupils are Google employees, and this meditation class is part of an internal course called Search Inside Yourself. It’s designed to teach people to manage their emotions, ideally making them better workers in the process.
More than a thousand Googlers have been through Search Inside Yourself training. Another 400 or so are on the waiting list and take classes like Neural Self-Hacking and Managing Your Energy in the meantime. Then there is the company’s bimonthly series of “mindful lunches,” conducted in complete silence except for the ringing of prayer bells, which began after the Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh visited in 2011. The search giant even recently built a labyrinth for walking meditations.
It’s not just Google that’s embracing Eastern traditions. Across the Valley, quiet contemplation is seen as the new caffeine, the fuel that allegedly unlocks productivity and creative bursts. Classes in meditation and mindfulness—paying close, nonjudgmental attention—have become staples at many of the region’s most prominent companies. There’s a Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute now teaching the Google meditation method to whoever wants it. The cofounders of Twitter and Facebook have made contemplative practices key features of their new enterprises, holding regular in-office meditation sessions and arranging for work routines that maximize mindfulness. Some 1,700 people showed up at a Wisdom 2.0 conference held in San Francisco this winter, with top executives from LinkedIn, Cisco, and Ford featured among the headliners.
Steve Jobs spent months searching for gurus in India and was married by a Zen priest. Before he became an American Buddhist pioneer, Jack Kornfield ran one of the first mainframes at Harvard Business School.
But in today’s Silicon Valley, there’s little patience for what many are happy to dismiss as “hippie bullshit.” Meditation here isn’t an opportunity to reflect upon the impermanence of existence but a tool to better oneself and improve productivity. That’s how Bill Duane, a pompadoured onetime engineer with a tattoo of a bikini-clad woman on his forearm, frames Neural Self-Hacking, an introductory meditation class he designed for Google. “Out in the world, a lot of this stuff is pitched to people in yoga pants,” he says. “But I wanted to speak to my people. I wanted to speak to me. I wanted to speak to the grumpy engineer who may be an atheist, who may be a rationalist.”

Duane’s pitch starts with neuroscience and evolutionary biology. “We’re basically the descendants of nervous monkeys,” he says, the kind with hair-trigger fight-or-flight responses. In the modern workplace, these hyperactive reflexes are now a detriment, turning minor squabbles into the emotional equivalents of kill-or-be-killed showdowns. In such situations, the amygdala—the region of the brain believed to be responsible for processing fear—can override the rest of the mind’s ability to think logically. We become slaves to our monkey minds.
But Googlers don’t take up meditation just to keep away the sniffles or get a grip on their emotions. They are also using it to understand their coworkers’ motivations, to cultivate their own “emotional intelligence”—a characteristic that tends to be in short supply among the engineering set. “Everybody knows this EI thing is good for their career,” says Search Inside Yourself founder Meng. “And every company knows that if their people have EI, they’re gonna make a shitload of money.”
Duane, for one, credits Google’s meditation program with upgrading both his business and personal life. It wasn’t long ago that he was a stress case, and with good reason: He was leading a 30-person site-reliability team while dealing with his father’s life-threatening heart disease. “My typical coping strategy—the bourbon and cheeseburger method—wasn’t working,” he says. Then Duane attended a lecture Meng arranged on the neuroscience of mindfulness and quickly adopted a meditation practice of his own.
Duane believes the emotional regulation he gained from meditation helped him cope with his father’s eventual death. The increased ability to focus, he says, was a major factor in his promotion to a management post where he oversaw nearly 150 Googlers. In January he decided to leave the company’s cadre of engineers and concentrate full-time on bringing meditation to more of the organization. Google executives, who have put mindfulness at the center of their internal training efforts, OK’d the switch.
In 2013 nearly 1,700 signed up to hear headliners like Arianna Huffington, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, Twitter cofounder Evan Williams, and, of course, Meng talk about how they run their enterprises mindfully. Gordhamer has become a Silicon Valley superconnector, with an array of contacts that would make an ordinary entrepreneur burst with envy. He now leads private retreats for the technorati, and more conferences are in the works—one just for women, another to be held in New York City. “Everywhere you turn at Wisdom,” says PayPal cofounder Luke Nosek, “it’s like, ‘Oh my God, you’re here too?’”
On an enclosed porch outside the exhibition hall at this year’s Wisdom 2.0 event, Zen-monk-turned-CEO Marc Lesser talks about his plans to take the Search Inside Yourself training to companies everywhere. Plantronics, Farmers Insurance, and VMware have already signed up. Nearby, companies promoting mindfulness apps and “cloud-based platforms for market professionals” hawk their wares while an acoustic guitar player strums. On the main stage, executives discuss how they maintain mindful practices during the workweek: One wakes up early and focuses on his upcoming meetings; another takes a moment to pause as she dries her hands in the bathroom. In the cavernous, wood-paneled main hall, oversize screens show a silhouette of a brain connected to a lotus flower and the logos for Twitter and Facebook. "

Sunday, 23 June 2013

The Mind-Body Connection and the 'Inner Smile'

"The mind-body relationship is bidirectional - the mind can influence the body, and the body can influence the mind." - Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness (2010),  p43.
"...the psychologists Fritz Strack, Leonard Martin and Sabine Stepper asked a group of people to watch cartoons and then rate how funny they were. Some were asked to hold a pencil between their lips so that they were forced to purse them and mimic a scowl. Others watched the cartoons with the pencil between their teeth, simulating a smile. The results were striking: those who were forced to smile found the cartoons significantly funnier than those compelled to frown. It’s obvious that smiling shows you are happy but it is, admittedly, a bit strange to realise that the act of smiling can itself make you happy." - Professor Mark Williams, Mindfulness: A practical guide to peace in a frantic world (2011), p21.
"Even something as simple as curling up the mouth into a half smile can produce feelings of happiness and relaxation that weren't present before the facial muscles were mobilized to mimic the smile. [...] Every time you intentionally assume a different posture, you are literally changing your physical orientation and therefore your inner perspective as well." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living (2005), p102.
"While following your breathing, you have been able to stay fully conscious for some time. You have succeeded a bit, haven't you? So why not smile? A tiny bud of a smile, just to prove you have succeeded. Seeing you smile, I know immediately that you are dwelling in awareness. Keep this smile always blooming, the half-smile of a Buddha." - Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, The Sun My Heart (1988), p20.
"Research shows that smiling has many beneficial physiological effects. It lowers blood pressure, enhances the immune system, and releases natural painkillers (endorphins) and a natural antidepressant (serotonin). People who smile in a wholehearted way live, on average, seven years longer than those who do not have a habit of smiling." - Jan Chozan Bays, How to Train A Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulnes (2011), p217.

Professor Mark Williams of Oxford Mindfulness Centre demonstrating how easily the physical posture of the body, or parts of the body affects one's interpretation of experience - in this case how a pen is held in one's mouth.

The every-day experience of modern humans, when not intoxicated, appears to be summed up by the following diagram:

Basic mindfulness practice begins with one becoming more aware of this situation. As Professor Mark Williams writes in Mindfulness: A practical guide to peace in a frantic world (2011), p102:
"Soon you’ll notice that the body... creates tension in the mind in a self-sustaining loop. Awareness of this is a major discovery."
As we habitually and instinctively judge our experiences and react to them, we get caught up in reacting with aversion to any necessary discomfort, or clinging on to sources of comfort, both of which cause our general levels of tension to increase. By understanding how aversion and clinging - non-acceptance of necessary pain and impermanence - cause us to double our discomfort in life, we can begin to take action which significantly reduces our stress. As Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn writes in Wherever You Go, There You Are (1994), p224:
"...we have to stop making those things happen that cloud mind and body and color our every action. [...] It means aligning yourself with the way things actually are. It means seeing clearly."
In order to bypass the emotional reactions which can so easily colour our perceptions, we can practice remaining calm and peaceful when potentially intense situations arise. Kabat-Zinn writes of this in Full Catastrophe Living (2005), p179:
"To bring calmness to the mind and body requires that at a certain point we be willing to let go of wanting anything at all to happen and just accept things as they are and ourselves as we are with an open, receptive heart. This inner peace and acceptance lie at the heart of both health and wisdom ."
This peacefulness can allow us to accept and skilfully interact with difficult situations, as Kabat-Zinn elaborates, p280:
"The way of mindfulness is to accept ourselves right now, as we are, symptoms or no symptoms, pain or no pain, fear or no fear. Instead of rejecting our experience as undesirable, we ask, "What is this symptom saying, what is it telling me about my body and my mind right now?" We allow ourselves, for a moment at least, to go right into the full-blown feeling of the symptom."
This peaceful witnessing is all that is necessary to allow impermanence to carry one from intense suffering to a place of increasing joy. Professor Williams illustrates this, in Mindfulness (2011), as follows, p28:
"...tension, unhappiness or exhaustion aren’t ‘problems’ that can be solved. They are emotions. They reflect states of mind and body. As such, they cannot be solved – only felt. Once you’ve felt them – that is, acknowledged their existence – and let go of the tendency to explain or get rid of them, they are much more likely to vanish naturally, like the mist on a spring morning."
Once one begins to experience this process first-hand, then it can become a relatively simple lifelong practice, opening one up to more and more happiness, as Williams states, p106:
" may begin to smile at the way the mind works so cleverly to get back to its own agenda! And in the smile is the awakening, the coming back to a direct sense of what it is like to be fully alive in this moment."
Remaining constantly open to the fluctuations of the mind within the broader container of one's awareness is the key to maintaining a long-term and rewarding mindfulness practice; utilising an inward smile to befriend those aspects of our being which tend to pull us off centre. Kabat-Zinn mentions this in The Mindful Way Through Depression (2007), p85:
"It's very common to have a feeling that we've "got it" in certain moments, that "this" must be what I am really supposed to be feeling, only to feel at other moments like we've "lost it," maybe even in the very next moment. This too is a very common experience when beginning a meditation practice, and not a problem at all, especially if we can be aware of it and smile inwardly at the unending antics of our own doing mind."
The American zen teacher Jan Chozan Bays also refers to utilising this 'inner smile' in her book How to Train A Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulnes (2011), p215:
"When you meditate, try a soft “inner smile” like the smile on the face of the Buddha."
Just before this, she states:
"This does not have to be a wide smile; it can be a small smile, like the smile of the Mona Lisa."
The Mona Lisa's smile has been discussed at length across the world - is it because it taps into a peaceful contentment we are aware lies within all of us?
Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh is probably one of the biggest advocates of using the half-smile as part of formal mindfulness practice, as he writes in his book The Miracle of Mindfulness (1987), p80-81:
"Let go entirely, keeping your attention only on your breath and half smile. Think of yourself as a cat, completely relaxed before a warm fire, whose muscles yield without resistance to anyone's touch."
As one smiles in this barely visible way, one can feel an internal physical response which amplifies one's ability to accept things as they are. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, in Anger - Wisdom for Cooling the Flames (2001), that this internal physical component of one's smile can be directed to one's whole body, p226-227:
"Smile to your whole body as you breathe in, and send your love and compassion to your whole body as you breathe out. Feel all the cells in your whole body smiling joyfully with you."
He adds to this in Peace is Every Step (2010), p34:
"It’s useless to fight. Sit back and smile to yourself, a smile of compassion and loving kindness. Enjoy the present moment, breathing and smiling... Happiness is there if you know how to breathe and smile, because happiness can always be found in the present moment."
He mentions that this is not some kind of attempt to control and manipulate the situation, but instead it is a recognition of our civilised dimension, p40:
"When we smile to ourselves, that smile is not diplomacy; it is the proof that we are ourselves, that we have full sovereignty over ourselves."
The author in front of one of the large smiling heads at a Buddhist temple, part of the Angor Wat complex in Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2009.
Kabat-Zinn writes at the very end of the chapter titled Keeping up the formal practice in Full Catastrophe Living (2005), p436:
"...just sit, just breathe, and if you feel like it, allow yourself to smile inwardly."
It can be difficult to feel the impulse to smile when formal mindfulness meditation feels heavy, but understood in the context of self-compassion and how that self-compassion limits one's own stress, as well as the transfer of one's stress onto others, then an inner smile can become a heart-felt dimension of mindfulness practice - approaching the world one experiences as a friend rather than an adversary. As Professor Williams states in Mindfulness (2011), p102-103:
"As you spend more time observing these tensions, you will gradually realise that the simple act of awareness helps to diffuse them. You’ll have to do nothing more than observe with friendly curiosity. All else follows."
He supports the oft-reported experience from mindfulness practitioners that with practice, discomfort is replaced with more joy, p126
"Many people say that, in time, initial discomfort ebbs away and is replaced by soothing, almost therapeutic, sensations."
The following diagram seems to sum up the potential that mindfulness practice holds to meet all experiences with neutral judgement - with acceptance, and the resulting lessening of tension within the body. This releases one from the emotional reactions that the build-up of internal tension can trigger, opening one's life to a natural state of peaceful joy no matter the situation:

This neutral stance - not attached to positive sensations, but accepting life's necessary pains as they arrive, and inwardly smiling to ourselves as we meet the world with compassion, is the essence of mindfulness practice, as Kabat-Zinn relates in Wherever You Go, There You Are (1994), p106:
"When your mind and body collaborate in holding body, time, place, and posture in awareness, and remain unattached to having it have to be a certain way, then and only then are you truly sitting."
This is more easily said than done, of course, but as the saying goes "practice makes perfect", and motivation can be gained when one considers that one can never stop acting and that one's actions always influence one's inner experience, as well as the world outside. Kabat-Zinn has the following to say on this, in Full Catastrophe Living (2005), p440:
"Your life is already doing itself. The challenge is whether you can see in this way and live in accordance with the way things are, to come into harmony with all things and all moments. This is the path of insight, of wisdom, and of healing. It is the path of acceptance and peace. It is the path of the mind-body looking deeply into itself and knowing itself."

Friday, 14 June 2013

Traditional Chinese Ink Painting: Bamboo

"...unless you can endure the bitterness of defeat, you cannot be really strong. Readiness to be weak can be a sign of strength. We say, “The willow tree cannot be broken by the snow.” The weight of the snow may break a strong tree ’s branches. But with a willow, though the snow may bend or twist the branches, even a heavy snow like the one we had last year cannot break them. Bamboo also bends easily. It looks quite weak, but no snow can break it." - Japanese Soto Zen teacher Shunryu Syzuki, Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness (1999), p124.
"This poem by a Buddhist monk describes active concentration:
Poem by Vietnamese Dhyana Master Huong Hai (Ocean of Fragrance),
The wind whistles in the bamboo
and the bamboo dances.
When the wind stops,
the bamboo grows still.
The wind comes and the bamboo welcomes it. The wind goes, and the bamboo lets it go. " - Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of Buddha's Teaching (2008), p105.
"One night I was sitting outdoors at a temple in Japan, in the deep dark of the monastery’s forest of giant bamboo. It was the seventh day of a silent retreat. The air was fresh after two days of typhoon rain. My mind was completely still and my awareness open wide. In the silence I could hear a single bamboo leaf softly falling, down, down. Gradually I became aware of a subtle spicy fragrance. It came from the bamboo. I have never been able to smell it since. I will always remember its delicate perfume, and that remembering evokes in me the sublime peace of that night." - Jan Chozan Bays, How to Train A Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulnes (2011), p132.
"If any one subject area could be said to epitomise Chinese Painting and in particular shades of black, then it would certainly be bamboo." - Jean Long, Chinese Ink Painting: Techniques in Shades of Black (1984), p24.

Yesterday I painted my first traditional Chinese bamboo composition in my private painting class with Jasmine Zhang in Beijing. The process requires a confident and steady hand and a good understanding of Chinese ink brushes. This means that there is a lot of overlap with traditional Chinese calligraphy technique and execution, as Jean Long, author of Chinese Ink Painting: Techniques in Shades of Black (1984), states, p24:
"The structure of bamboo is allied in many ways to the strokes required in Chinese writing."
It seems bamboo ink painting and calligraphy complement and reinforce one another in this way. In the same paragraph, Long mentions the deeper symbolism of bamboo in traditional Chinese culture:
"As the bamboo grows upright, weathering all conditions, so it came to represent the perfect gentleman who always remains loyal."
Bamboo is famous for bearing heavy loads and remaining standing in heavy winds  - springing back with vigorous intention after the storms have passed. In this way it has provided inspiration for mindfulness practices - not letting the necessary pains of life uproot or break one as one remains upright and steadfast in the face of adversity.

Jasmine helped me complete the following painting - with the main stems and all leaf groups painted by myself:

I am looking forward to practising bamboo ink painting more, even though my skill is only at beginner level. Hopefully my mindfulness practice will help the process along faster. Feeling more peaceful and fending off apprehensiveness are essential to painting bamboo successfully. As Long states, p24:
"Tranquility combined with confident brush control is needed to achieve a successful bamboo painting."

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Daily Mail News: How RUBY WAX regained her sparkle: The comedian on training her brain to beat depression

On 2nd June 2013, the Daily Mail Online newspaper published an article in it's You mag section titled: How RUBY WAX regained her sparkle: The comedian on training her brain to beat depression.

Here are some interesting quotes from the piece:
"Having taken a postgraduate diploma in psychotherapy and counselling and a master’s in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), the comedian has written a book about neuroscience that’s also an odyssey through her own mind.

Sane New World is an exploration of the make-up of the brain, the chemicals it produces, and how it can be changed for the better using strategies such as mindfulness, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), deliberately breaking old habits or keeping a diary of your emotions."

"...the Priory where she was an in-patient.

Medication has helped, but not cured her.

And she had so much therapy that she says she grew sick of her own story. But eventually her researches into mental health led her to discover mindfulness."

"...she researched everything that might help her with her condition – which is why she studied psychotherapy before deciding it wasn’t for her. In 2009, she took a mindfulness course. This standard eight-week programme requires dedication and homework from participants. As well as weekly meetings of up to three hours, you’re supposed to spend 40 minutes daily observing the sensations in your body and carrying out mundane activities, such as tooth-brushing, with total awareness. Which must have been a tall order for Ruby, I suspect.

‘It was agony,’ she admits. ‘It’s like starting to go to the gym. Your brain isn’t disciplined so you have to do the exercise.’ But she found, to her amazement, that it helped her gain some control over her errant brain (which she compares to a bucking bronco)."

"Do her friends notice the difference? ‘I guess so. I feel as though people like me more rather than being scared of me. I listen to them, and people love to be listened to, whereas before I would just show off and hope they liked me,’ she says.

Ruby still meditates daily – usually just after she wakes up, but on the move if she has to – ‘in a taxi, on the Tube, always before a show to get my cortisol levels down. I do it for half an hour, but just a few seconds makes a difference. Paying attention to the present moment in a non-judgmental way changes the chemical make-up of the brain,’ she explains."

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Rooted in Nature: Guided Mindfulness Meditation using Natural Metaphors

"Meditation helps us wake up from this sleep of automaticity and unconsciousness, thereby making it possible for us to live our lives with access to the full spectrum of our conscious and unconscious possibilities. Sages, yogis, and Zen masters have been exploring this territory systematically for thousands of years; in the process they have learned something which may now be profoundly beneficial in the West to counterbalance our cultural orientation toward controlling and subduing nature rather than honoring that we are an intimate part of it." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living (2005), p3.
"There are many other rays, or transformation bodies, expounding the Dharma — the trees, the birds, the violet bamboo, and the yellow chrysanthemum." - Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of Buddha's Teaching (2008), p159.

Sitting upright like a mountain away from the back of the chair, rooted in a dignified feeling.
"...we sit like mountains, feeling rooted, massive, and unmoving in our posture. Our arms are the sloping sides of the mountain, our head the lofty peak, the whole body majestic and magnificent, as mountains tend to be. We are sitting in stillness, just being what we are, just as a mountain "sits there," unmoved by the changing of day into night and the changes of the weather and of the seasons." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living (2005), p126.

Thoughts like clouds drifting across the sky detached from us as we simply observe their coming and going.
"Just as clouds moving across a vast spacious sky are sometimes dark and stormy, sometimes light and fluffy, so thoughts take different forms. Sometimes clouds fill the entire sky. Sometimes they clear out completely, leaving the sky cloudless." - Professor Mark Williams, Mindfulness: A practical guide to peace in a frantic world (2011), p146.

Air gently moving in and out of our nostrils and down into our bellies.
"When you place your attention in your belly and you feel the belly moving, or you place it at the nostrils and you feel the air passing in and out, you are tuning in to the sensations your body generates associated with life itself. These sensations are usually tuned out by us because they are so familiar. When you tune in to them, you are reclaiming your own life in that moment and your own body, literally making yourself more real and more alive." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living (2005), p76.

The spine like a lively blade of grass reaching for the sun.
"This wholeheartedness must be as a single blade of grass or a single tree, because it is your single moment of life and your single moment of death." - Japanese 'Soto Zen' Founder Master Eihei Dōgen (1200-1253),  Shobogenzo (Translated by Hubert Nearman, 2007), p773.

Awareness filling the body like a peaceful lake of fresh water.
"Breathing with the lake image moment by moment, feeling its body as your body, allow your mind and your heart to be open and receptive, to reflect whatever comes near. [...] Can you identify not only with the surface but with the entire body of the water, so that you become the stillness below the surface as well, which at most experiences only gentle undulations, even when the surface is whipped to frothing?" - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are (2004), p142-143.

The waves of one's breathing flowing in and out as if lazily washing onto a beach.
"Bring your attention to your belly, feeling it rise or expand gently on the inbreath and fall or recede on the outbreath. Keep the focus on your breathing, "being with" each inbreath for its full duration and with each outbreath for its full duration, as if you were riding the waves of your own breathing." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living (2005), p58.

Calmly alert like a frog watching for a passing meal.
"A frog also sits like us, but he has no idea of zazen. Watch him. If something annoys him, he will make a face. If something comes along to eat, he will snap it up and eat, and he eats sitting. Actually that is our zazen—not any special thing." - Japanese Soto Zen teacher Shunryu Syzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (1995), p80.

Allowing any unnecessary tension to thaw and dissolve like icicles during the arrival of Spring.
"When we’re still frozen solid... It’s a very lonely and cold life. In fact, what we really want is to melt. We want to be a puddle. Perhaps all that we can say about practice is that we’re learning how to melt." - American Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck, Nothing Special - Living Zen (1995), p134.

Acceptance of the present moment opening like a flower in the morning sunshine.
"As you continue practicing, the flower of insight will blossom in you, along with the flowers of compassion, tolerance, happiness, and letting go. You can let go, because you do not need to keep anything for yourself." - Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, The Sun My Heart (1988), p121.

The mind like the infinite sky - not discriminating against, or pursuing anything within it - whether a soaring eagle or a raging storm.
"Mindfulness involves settling into awareness itself, which is as different from thoughts and feelings as the sky is different from the clouds, birds, and weather patterns that pass through it. It is a bigger container, in which all the other events of mind and body unfold. It is a different way of knowing, a different way of being. It is a capacity that we all already have, one that is innate to being human. And we can learn to trust it." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, The Mindful Way Through Depression (2007), p99-100.

Cradling one's emotions like a mother comforting a baby.
"Awareness, like a field of compassionate intelligence located within your own heart, takes it all in and serves as a source of peace within the turmoil, much as a mother would be a source of peace, compassion, and perspective for a child who was upset. She knows that whatever is troubling her child will pass, so she can provide comfort, reassurance, and peace in her very being." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living (2005), p324.

Rooted in the moment with a sense of precariousness like a pine tree on the side of a steep rocky mountain.
"No amount of outside support can substitute for that inward fire, that quiet passion for living life as if it really mattered, for knowing how easy it is to miss large swaths of it to unconsciousness and automaticity and to our deep conditioning. That is why I urge those who practice with me to practice as if their lives depended on it." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Coming To Our Senses (2006), p305.

Our bright awareness softly shining out like a sun illuminating and warming the infinite space around us.
"Throughout your meditation, keep the sun of your awareness shining. Like the physical sun, which lights every leaf and every blade of grass, our awareness lights our every thought and feeling, allowing us to recognize them, be aware of their birth, duration, and dissolution, without judging or evaluating, welcoming or banishing them." - Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, The Sun My Heart (1988), p13