Genuine well being for ourselves and the planet

Posts tagged ‘Health’

Happiness in the Time of Covid-19: Part 2, Meditation

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A favorite meditation site in summer

There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that meditating regularly is good for your physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental well-being. For example, here’s an article in the Washington Post quoting a Harvard neuroscientist on how meditation reduces stress; another article citing former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on meditation, health, and happiness; and here, from 2003, is the Time magazine cover story on the science of meditation. A quick google search will yield many, many more nuggets on the benefits of meditating. I also devote a full sermon/chapter to exploring the connection between mediation and happiness in my new book, Preaching Happinesswhich the publisher will be mailing out in a few weeks.

The point of this blog is not to repeat all that’s already out there. Rather, I want to stress, from my own experience as both a meditator and a teacher of meditation:

  1. You can do this;
  2. It will likely make you feel much better;
  3. It will help you navigate the incredibly anxious Covid-19 time with greater ease; and
  4. Your ease and calm will enable you to better assist others, in whatever ways you contribute to the greater good.

I hate to use the word “should,” so I’ll just say, you will do yourself a big favor if you meditate at least several times weekly during this crisis. It may be hard to find the time and space to do this if you have young children who are now present all the time, but, challenging logistics aside, most everybody is capable of meditating.  It does not matter whether you are religious, spiritual, or an avowed agnostic; meditation can be an integral part of any religious practice but it can also be straight up secular. It does not matter if you have a very busy mind; in fact, we all have busy, busy minds. You don’t have to have a ton of extra time at your disposal — the benefits of meditation are cumulative, but just a few minutes here and there can be helpful. It doesn’t even matter if you can’t sit still for a long period of time; you can lie down, stand up, or try walking meditation instead. If you have never meditated before, that does not matter either. You can do it now. I will tell you how.

Here are a few pointers:

  1. Meditation is about the breath, and some form of attention or intention.  Breathe, and focus. That is all.
  2. It is a common temptation to judge ourselves harshly for thinking too much instead of maintaining focus. You may well feel frustrated, and think, “I am a bad meditator.” Nonsense. All our minds wander again and again. Ad infinitum. No worries. Just make a mental note, “oh there’s a thought,” and come back to your object of intention or attention. No judgment necessary.
  3. If you are trying, if you are practicing, even a few minutes a week, then yay. Good for you! Keep it up.

Now, here are a few practices.

Exhale twice as long as you inhale. That is all. You can do this with your eyes open or closed. I like to inhale to the count of four or five, and exhale to the count of eight or ten. Do whatever is most comfortable for you and your lung capacity.  Do this for five minutes, or 30, or an hour. Don’t push too hard, be at ease and relaxed. Hopefully, this will leave you feeling much calmer — no matter the daily news!

Three deep breaths. Again, you will want to be taking relaxed deep breaths, inhaling and exhaling fully. With each breath, focus on a positive word. When I do this practice — which is frequent — I breathe in, “peace, peace, peace, peace, peace,” and breathe out, “peace, peace, peace, peace, peace,” I do the same with the words “abundance” and “love.” Each of the three words corresponds with a different part of the brain, but you can use any three positive words you want. This is another one you can do for just a couple of breaths, or, for a much longer time. Totally your choice.

Focus on your breath. One of the great things about meditation is that the only tool you need is your breath! This is perhaps the most classic form of meditation: noting gently the inhale as you breathe in, and noting gently the exhale as you breathe out. I like to add a pause in between each inhale and exhale. Make it your own, in an easy going way. Thoughts will come and go — just come back to the breath.

Guided meditations. There are so very many ways to meditate. Conveniently, in the 21st century, you can turn to many different teachers online. One of my favorites is Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, a leading positive psychology researcher, who has a whole page of guided meditations on her website. Sink into her words, experience the magic of loving kindness — and come back again and again.

Another favorite of mine comes from Jon Kabat-Zinn, perhaps best known for his Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) trainings. You can find many of his guided meditations online; this one is the one I like best.

So there you go, several options. If you want more choices, drop me an email.

But seriously, for your happiness, for a better world, I truly hope you give it a try.












First, here’s why it matters:

Eating Our Way to Happiness

Food.  One can’t very well have an integrated approach to happiness without considering what we put in our bodies.

It’s a big topic.  There’s a lot to ponder.

Yet it wasn’t on my mind until this week when my friend and fellow choir member Dave Grundy gave me a copy of  Prevention magazine’s  “Happiness Diet.”

I was a tad skeptical at first, but the article makes a science-based case for why certain foods and drinks enhance our mental and emotional well being.  A brief excerpt:

“Food is directly linked to three areas of brain function that create your ‘happiness ability.’  The first is your capacity to focus, think, plan and remember (we call them ‘foods for thought’).  The second is emotional regulation (‘foods for good mood’).  And third are foods that give you the ability to power through a deadline and control anxiety (‘foods for energy’).”

I’m particularly pleased to note that some of my favorites — coffee, blue or red skinned potatoes, tomatoes, and garlic — all made the list!

So what we eat affects how happy we feel — simultaneously, how happy we feel affects what we eat. Three days after Dave brought the happiness diet to my attention, the Happiness Initiative posted a link to a happiness weight loss video from an annual conference in Australia.  The sound quality of this video is challenging, but if you can hang in there, Professor Tim Sharp — Chief Happiness Officer of the Happiness Institute in Sydney — explains how to use the “primacy of positivity to achieve a healthier weight.”  Makes sense.

An integrated happiness approach also means making the connection between how our eating choices affect the rest of the planet.   For me, that means choosing vegetarian options roughly 95% of the time to help  stem climate change.

There are many, many other issues — from fair trade coffee to the rights of immigrants on our dairy farms.  I want to highlight just one wonderful way to eat fresh, organic, and local — very local — even in the depths of winter.  Thanks to Peter Burke and his workshops at the Hunger Mountain Coop in Montpelier, my husband Bob now grows a variety of nutritious and tasty sprouts all winter long.  I love watching this little garden grow on the window sill, with snow and ice on the other side of the glass.  What a treasure!

Who we eat with can also build our happiness levels.  When I worked at Home Share Now as staff mediator, I grew to appreciate how lonely it can be to eat alone, and what a relief it was for folks in a new home share match to once again have someone with whom to share meals.  Food is a connector, dining is a relationship builder.

Food also provides an opportunity for a sustained gratitude practice.  Years ago, Bob and I began lighting candles at dinner every night, even in the summer when it doesn’t get dark till 10 PM.  At each dinner, we toast someone or something — an idea, the weather, happy news, a person in pain …  We didn’t consciously establish this ritual, much less set out to do a nightly gratitude practice.  But that’s how it’s evolved.

Now, when I think about our winter toasts next to the wood stove, or the summer toasts on our screened porch, and the smiles or sadness we share as our glasses touch, and the simple food we’re about to enjoy (almost always with his home grown garlic), it fills me with contentment, joy,  and gratitude.  In other words, happiness.