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Filtering by Tag: meditation

A FEW DAYS EARLY

Cindy Maddera

 The open road calls, for a number of reasons, but in this case it’s for a graduation. I’m disappearing for a few days, so I thought I’d post something on gratitude a little earlier than usual. The other day I ended my yoga practice with a guided meditation. I had never used this feature of my meditation bells app before and I chose something based on the length of time I had. The title was “Practicing Gentle Kindness Toward Ourself” by Sarah Blondin. She starts off by telling us “I know the dark calls to you sometimes, that you turn your face from the light.” and with that first sentence, I knew I was going to hear somethings that would create great emotion within. 

“I know it hurts to live in the disconnect between what you are currently experiencing and what you wish you could be.” 

”I know you work so hard to control the outcome of your life, that you forget to breathe sometimes. That you live in the shallow end, t you forget to go deep, breathe deep.” 

”I know you live there in the tear between these two worlds, between the dark and the light, between trust and distrust, between love and hatred, between acceptance and resistance, between control and faith, between sun soaked mornings and dark forests.” 

I heard these words and thought “Fuck...how does she know?!?”  Well, she knows because so many of us live in the space between. I might as well set up a hammock in that space, I spend so much time there. I am also struck by the balance required to live between worlds. I can accept my body as it is now, but I can still be resistant to it and want for improvement. I can be in complete control of my actions, but I still have to have a little faith that those actions will have good consequences. The thing I am constantly working on is not falling over into the side that is all dark. I don’t want to get stuck there. I don’t want to be trapped there. I fear that if I even allow myself to be present on that side for any amount of time, I will remain there forever in the dark. I have convinced myself that this would be catastrophic.

”You are human my dear one, my dearest love, you are human. You are allowed to be in both ways.” 

The truth is, I enjoy dark forests just as much as I do sun soaked mornings. I am grateful for the reminder that I am human. Flawed, imperfect, beautifully human. 

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

Every morning this week, my alarm has gone off at 4:50 AM and I have crawled out from under my heated blankets. I have pulled on my thermal leggings and long-sleeved T. I have unrolled my yoga mat and I have spent an hour in practice. I do not adjust the thermostat and the house is chilly, but I move my body through rounds of sun salutations to warm myself up. Often, Josephine comes back in from doing her thing outside and climbs back under the covers of my bed. She has a new haircut and she probably needs a sweater. She rolls herself up in my comforter like a burrito. It is only near the end of my practice, when I am settling down into a ten minute meditation, when I hear her jump from the bed and run into the living room to find me. Then she climbs into my lap and curls up like a ball. Instead of counting through a mantra, I scratch the dog.

I call it puppy meditation and I think I’m on to something. Like, move over goat yoga. Puppy meditation is taking a seat.

There have been plenty of scientific studies describing the health benefits of caring for and owning a pet. One study gave a group of people a rabbit or a turtle or a stuffed toy that matched one of those two things and then measured anxiety levels. Anxiety levels were lower for people who were petting the live animal. Even if it was a turtle. A review paper submitted to BMC Psychiatry found the current pile of scientific papers out there regarding pet ownership and mental health to be accurate in showing that:

‘pets provide benefits to those with mental health conditions through the intensity of connectivity with their owners and the contribution they make to emotional support in times of crises together with their ability to help manage symptoms when they arise.’

Even if it is a turtle.

There are lots of meditation techniques. Walking. Candle gazing. Chanting. Mindfully petting a dog fits right in. It’s a really nice way to start out the day. Every one is happier. Me. Josephine. Albus not so much. He curls up on the bathroom floor and gives us the side eye. But I bet if you had a nicer cat, you could have kitty meditation. Even turtle meditation.

I am thankful for puppy meditation. I am thankful for my puppy.

P.S. I bought Josephine an advent calendar. Michael incredulously said “You bought the dog an advent calendar?!” Then I told him why I bought the dog an advent calendar. Every time I get us one, the candy is terrible and there’s lots of complaining about who has to open it and eat it. Josephine’s little nubby tail is going to wag so hard that it’s going to make her whole body wiggle with excitement every time we open a day on the advent. We could be opening garbage and she would do all of her tricks. If anybody is going to gain joy out of a daily advent calendar, it’s going to be Josephine.

CHATTER

Cindy Maddera

My head space has been really crowded with chatter lately. There are fifty different thoughts and conversation happening loudly all at once in there. The other day it was so bad that I almost stepped off my yoga mat five minutes into my practice, but I stayed put and did my best to make the yoga teacher voice the loudest. There have been moments during my practice while holding a pose for an extended period of time, it has felt as if my brain would explode from the vibration of noise in there. There is a screaming voice yelling at me to get up, move, stop being still. 

Buddha said that the human mind is full of drunken monkeys. What an amazingly accurate description and such a visual one. I can easily see a wild pack of monkeys in various states of drunkenness with all the drunk personalities represented. It's like the party scene from Breakfast at Tiffany's except all the actors are played by monkeys. There's even one laughing hysterically one minute at it's reflection and then sobbing the next minute. Buddha taught that you should not try to fight these monkeys (because monkeys can bite), but instead learn to tame them by sitting quietly in daily meditation. The Yoga Sutras refer to these monkeys as chitta vritti. Sutra 1.2, "yoga chitta vritti nirodha" translates to "yoga is the silencing of the modifications of the mind." For years and years and years, yoga has been taught as a way to prepare the body for meditation and can even be a moving meditation in of itself. 

There are loads of scientific papers that validate the importance of meditation. It reduces anxiety. It lowers blood pressure. It down regulates inflammatory genes and up regulates immune system genes. Researchers even believe that meditation could aid in the prevention of Alzheimer's disease. So I really should be meditating. My meditation practice fell apart years ago though and every attempt I've made to revive that practice has failed. I have settled into the idea that my meditation practice is a moving meditation practice. It happens when I am flowing through rounds of sun salutations and when I take my walks. Yet, I recognize that I really need to practice the art of stillness. Those evenings around the campfire when I sat and journaled our day and then drew cartoons in the margins were the closest to stillness that I have come in a long time. That is why I have signed up for a meditation and journaling workshop on Sunday at Sunshine Studio. We all need a little nudge and I am hoping to gain some momentum from this workshop rebuild my meditation practice.

Because those drunk monkeys are starting to look like an out of control Frat party. 

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

This week, I walked into my therapist's office and immediately flopped down onto her chase lounge just like you see people do in the movies. She looked down at me and asked "are we laying down today?". I nodded my head yes and she went to her chair and sat down with an "okay!". I usually sit. Sometimes I kick my shoes off and tuck my feet into a lotus position, but I never lay down. Usually because I'm pretty sure I'm going to fall asleep. For some reason though, I decided that maybe the possibility of accidentally falling asleep through a session wasn't on the top of my list of some of the worst things I could do. I laid there for a few minutes, not saying anything, just being still. Finally, I took a deep breath and said "sometimes, it is nice to just be still." and my therapist agreed with me and then we sat in stillness for a few minutes before beginning our session. 

I struggle with stillness. While we were on our camping trip a couple of weekends ago, I was constantly up and fiddling about, straightening this, cleaning up that. Michael and Ted had gone to the store, leaving me and Jennifer alone at camp with the girls. They had been gone long enough for Jennifer and I to realize that we had made a terrible mistake in letting the two of them go to the store by themselves. I sat down in my camp chair and said "Okay...I'm going to not move from this chair for fifteen minutes." A second later I was up and doing something around the camp site. This is normal behavior. When Talaura was visiting, I kept us busy running us around the city all day. We would get home and I would still be up and about, messing with laundry or cleaning the kitchen. At one point Talaura even said "Cindy...why don't you sit down and rest?" She knew that I had to be running on fumes and she knew that I probably needed permission from someone else that it was okay to relax.

I know it must sound kind of surprising to hear that someone who practices yoga and writes about mindfulness has a hard time being still. Savasana, or final relaxation pose, still remains the most challenging, yet most important pose in my practice. Some days are better than others of course. This is true of anything, but there are times when I surrender easily into savasana. I get up from my mat after those easy savasanas feeling slightly loopy and then take forever getting my mat folded up and my shoes back on. I know it is possible for me to be still. I just have to work at it. This week, I have been practicing moments of stillness. I've been looking into going back to temple to get my meditation practice under control. I've sat with the dog draped across my lap while reading a book. I have surrendered completely to savasanas.

I am thankful for this practice in stillness.  

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

Wednesday morning, I got to my desk and then plopped down onto a cushion for fifteen minutes of meditation. It is a habit I had tried to form last year, but with all the traveling and office move the habit didn't stick. I set it aside and didn't think about it, but Wednesday I looked at my desk and said "I am going to meditate before starting anything." I didn't do it because it was the first day of Lent. I didn't do it as part of anything other than I just wanted to do it. I repeated the act on Thursday, which was probably the worst meditation practice I have ever practiced, but I sat there for fifteen minutes trying really hard. I repeated the practice on Friday morning with a slightly better meditation moment than Thursday's. I do not know if this is the beginning of a good habit or just a momentary thing. I have started and stopped a routinely meditation practice so many times before. Stuff bubbles up when you are still and quiet and I don't really like dealing with that stuff that makes me feel human emotions. Maybe it is time to feel human emotions. I am thankful for the meditation this week as well as the time well spent on my yoga mat. 

There was a meeting this week for people volunteering with the AIDS Walk Open. One woman there is a woman I have worked with in the Memorial Booth every year. She said hello to me and then asked me if I thought about doing photography professionally. She said she loved looking at my pictures and reading the blog. She is not the first person this week to say something kind to me about the photos that I take. I am thankful for those compliments and encouragement because they come to me at a time when I am struggling to get the camera out to take a picture. I am uninspired by my current view. I have a sticky note on my desk that reads "Shoot with a mindful eye." I scribbled those words down a while back when I was watching a photography class on shooting in black and white. I feel like my mindful eye is broken or tired. I see things. I'm just not sure those things are worthy of shooting. So, not only is it surprising to hear praise about my work, it is also encouraging. 

This is a busy weekend. I will be subbing the Saturday morning yoga class at Sunshine Yoga tomorrow morning from 9:00-10:30 AM. I feel like I'm slowly being dragged (kicking and screaming) out of this teaching hiatus I've been in over the last five years. I am equal parts thankful and nervous. Saturday afternoon, Michael and I will be volunteering for the AIDS Walk Open where we will be Hole Patrol over the mini golf hole at the Ragazza. The AIDS Walk Open is a big fundraising event for the AIDS Walk. We are both prepared to sell as many mulligans and raffle tickets for the cause as we can. I am really excited about volunteering at this event this year. I can't wait to see the teams that come through and judge their costumes. (I'm still mad we didn't win the best costume award for last year. We were robbed!) They are predicting to have about 130 teams this year. That's a lot of money raised for the AIDS Walk Foundation. This is something to easily be thankful for. Don't forget! You can always make a donation to my AIDS Walk Fundraising page!

There's a lot to be thankful for on this Friday. I hope your weekend is filled with joy and that you have a truly Thankful Friday. 

NOTES ON MEDITATION

Cindy Maddera

About a month ago, I started meditating for fifteen minutes in the morning before starting work. I walk into my office, put away my lunch and my bag and then plop down on my zafu pillow. I start with ten rounds of alternate nostril breathing and follow this up with twenty four rounds of a mantra. It has been an a easy forming habit for Monday through Friday. Meditation comes in other forms on weekends. I don't sit down for a traditional round of meditation, but I don't take my vitamins or floss on weekends either. There are some Sundays when I don't brush my teeth until well after noon. That is not the point. The point is that I have formed a new weekday habit and instead of starting my day by reading all the emails and checking in to all the online places, I start my day by mentally cleaning up my brain. The best analogy I can come up with is that it's like starting an intense baking project with a clean kitchen as opposed to working around dirty countertops, cake batter encrusted bowls and sticky floors. 

When Yogananda was a young man, he would sit in meditation and see visions of his Guru, Sri Yukteswar Giri. Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book Eat Pray Love, describes having visions of her guru while in meditation. I have heard other stories as well. People see their guru or Buddha or even a vision of what they can only describe as God. I see nothing. Well...not nothing exactly. I see colors that range from deep blue and violet to something in the far red. I say far red because I know those wavelengths penetrate deep tissue. So I assume my eyelids are filtering out most all of the other wavelengths since white light (regular light bulb) contains all of the wavelengths. The blue and violet are probably due to synapses firing because they are confused by the absence of light. I am a scientist with a Spock like brain. The thing is I don't see a guru (probably because I don't have a guru) and I don't see anything God-like. Though, the other day I saw a silhouette of a deer and thought "Oh! That's must be my patronus!" Then I slapped myself on the forehead and snorted. That must be my patronus. Really? That must be ridiculous. Everyone knows my patronus is an elephant. 

At one point I had a fleeting thought that I don't see anything because I don't believe in anything. I'm lying. It wasn't really a fleeting thought. It's a thought that has stuck around for awhile. At first I thought "Wow! I really don't believe in anything." It was suddenly easy to fathom endless nothing. I can see a little me sitting in the middle of nothing and it's true that I don't believe in gurus and gods. That's simplifying things. When it comes to God, I don't believe in the religious texts' description and interpretation of "God". Sure there's got to be something greater than us out there, but I think that something greater is that force that makes us all work together for the greater good. It's being a part of this great ant colony as opposed to being a lone wolf. That something greater is too big for word descriptions. In the case of gurus, I don't believe anyone should have that kind of powerful influence over your spirituality. I feel this way towards any religious affiliation. Priests, Rabbis, Imams. Even Buddhist monks. I am my own guru. Which sounds fucking arrogant right? Maybe so. Arrogant or not, it's true. I am the one responsible for my spiritual or lack of spiritual growth. 

I don't believe in nothing. I believe in me. Sure there's some arrogance in that, but shouldn't you believe in yourself just a little bit? I'm not so sure it is arrogance as much as it is self worth. 

 

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

I've been trying to figure out a way to incorporate a meditation practice into my mornings or anywhere really. My morning is already so full and has to be well choreographed and timed that I can't see where to wedge in at least fifteen minutes of meditation. This is what a typical morning tends to look like for me. I sit up in bed, drink the lemon water I sat on my nightstand the night before, and scratch the dog behind her ears. While I'm drinking the lemon water and scratching the dog's head, I'll watch a white paw reach under the door and slide back and forth. The paw belongs the meowing Albus who is waiting for me and Josephine to open the door so he can talk to us. About his almost empty food bowl. I get up and open the door. Josephine and I say "good morning!" to the cat and then I go make sure they all have food in their bowls. Then I hop in the shower. After I shower, I use my Neti pot, brush my teeth, put on a little mascara and fix my hair. Next thing I do is get dressed, which may or may not require me to retrieve my bra from the backyard (Josephine). 

Now it's time to make breakfast. While I'm cooking breakfast, I put away the clean dishes that are in the drainboard. I also run outside to start the cars so we don't have to scrape windows. I put my lunch in my lunch bag. I boil water for Michael's tea and fill his travel mug and I make sure the things he will need for the day is sitting together in one place on the table. I eat breakfast while reading my daily Skimm, kiss Michael goodbye and then (if time permits) wash my dishes. Then I put on my coat, block the dog door into the kitchen and kick the animals out into the garage. I set the alarm to the house, walk out the door and jump into my car. 

Well, I think maybe this is the week I've figured it out where to squeeze in fifteen minutes. Every morning this week when I've gotten to work, the first thing I have done after putting my lunch in the fridge and taking off my coat is to throw my meditation pillow on the floor and sit down for fifteen minutes of meditation. I am the first one to work in the mornings and have the whole office to myself for almost an hour. So it's quiet and there are no interruptions. I just stay at work a little later than usual to make up for the meditation time. So far this is totally working. I mean, it's still very much a practice because my mind chatter lately has been off the charts with all kinds of random crap. But the point is that I am working on quieting that mind chatter. As a result, my days have been more focused and clear. 

I am thankful for those fifteen minutes this week. I could look at fifteen minutes and see a large block of time. I spend about the same amount of time cooking and eating my breakfast each morning. In fact, I probably spend less time performing those tasks. It's more likely that I spend that amount of time cooking, eating and washing up. That's three tasks that can be accomplished in that block of time. Here I am waisting fifteen minutes by being still. Except I know that this moment of stillness is not a waste. It is valuable time where my brain can form new neuron paths and I can mentally prepare for the day. 

This has been a pretty good first week of the year. I have been on my mat every day. We have eggs. The snow is finally melting. I heard a song from David Bowie's new album on the radio yesterday (it made me swoon). I am grateful for all of this.

Here's to a lovely chilly weekend and a super Thankful Friday!

 

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

Every morning, after I've gone around to all of my microscopes and have made sure they're working properly, I go and get my cup of coffee for the day. Usually, I get my coffee and then head back up to my desk, but lately I've started taking what I call "the long way" around to my desk. It's really not so much a long way around as much as it is a completely out of the way loop around to my desk. My completely out of the way loop takes me up a flight of stairs, out a secret door and onto a path that leads to the fountains on the west end of the building. The sidewalk winds around the fountains in a large circle and then meets up with original path, which then leads to a different secret door near my office. This is one of the ways I add steps to my day. I do a little here, get on the treadmill there and then do a little more over there. By the end of the day it all adds up. This completely out of the way loop has also become a really nice morning meditation. It's still very early, so there's not many people out. It's usually just me and the birds and the occasional snail. It's a moment of peace before the clamor of the day sets in. 

Thursday morning, as I made my breakfast and watched Josephine in the backyard, I noticed the sky growing darker and darker. Finally I called Josephine in just before the sky opened to dump more buckets of rain. Michael was saying goodbye as I was zipping up my rain jacket. He looked me oddly and asked if I was riding my scooter. I laughed and said "no way". We both ran to our vehicles getting completely drenched on the way. I set aside the thought of missing my morning meditation walk. I could just walk inside, but when it came time to get my coffee, the skies lightened and it stopped raining. I walked with my coffee mug out onto my out of the way path. I am thankful for these morning moments of solitude. It gives me time to make lists in my head for daily tasks. I don't need it to be outside, but I'm not going to lie that it helps. As I'm walking I notice how the sidewalk curves here and bends there. I hear the different sounds of the water fountain from the roar of the spraying jets to the trickle of drips that fall over the edge of one pool into the other. I see all sorts of little birds. It is in these moments where I am telling myself to pay attention and be aware. See the details. This practice makes it easier to see the details in the day's tasks and problems.

I am thankful for the two whole days without rain this week. I am thankful for rice noodles. I am thankful for the salad greens, spinach and kale that we ate on this week because it came straight out of our garden. Everyone knows that those things taste sweeter when they come from your own garden. I am thankful for bicycle rides and scooter rides. I am thankful that Mom is coming in for a visit this weekend. Saturday starts the Corporate Challenge softball tournament at 6:30 AM. There's no dragging Michael out that early on a Saturday. So I'm really thankful Mom will be here to come with me to the games. I am thankful for the small details and I'm thankful for you.

Here's to a fabulous weekend and wonderful Thankful Friday!

LOVE THURSDAY

Cindy Maddera

Monday evening, I sat down for meditation. You would think that it sounds perfectly reasonable for me to sit down for a meditation practice, that in fact this is a common every day occurrence. You would be wrong. My meditation practice never really recovered from my move to Kansas City. There have been times when I think I've gotten it back on track. I will have weeks of consistency to 20 minutes, but eventually that road block would show up. I'd get sick or go out of town. There would be one late night or one full day where the only effort I could make physically was to press a button on the remote control. So for me to even announce on Monday "hey, I'm going to sit down for meditation right now" is kind of a big deal. 

And let me tell you it was awful. I made it through ten rounds of alternate nostril breathing and twenty four rounds of mantra, but spent the rest of my time wiggling around on my meditation pillow, moving my legs this way and that, and peaking at the timer. Instead of focusing on the breath, I noticed every twinge and ache, every prickle of a limb falling to sleep. The fan was too loud. There were people outside talking. That one dog never stops barking. I felt it all. I heard it all. But somewhere in the middle of that there was a moment of peace and almost clarity. It may have only lasted for a brief minute, but it was there.

There's nothing like a bad meditation practice. It showed me how out of practice I have become and it is a reminder of imperfection. I did not assume for a minute that I would sit down after over a year of not meditating and find instant enlightenment. I knew it would be a struggle. Just as much as I knew the next night would also be tough. I'll tell you a not so secret. Part of the practice of sitting down for meditation is making the choice to set a time to actually sit down for meditation. 

We live in a world where we are constantly striving for perfection. We beat ourselves up over and over again for not being enough. Yet, I think we all know by now that's there is no such thing as perfection. It is enough that I set the intention for my practice. I am enough.

Don't forget that you are enough. Happy Love Thursday!