In Appreciation: The More Things Change, The More They Change (And That’s Okay)

The More Things Change, The More They Change (And That’s Okay)

I have had the supreme pleasure of writing about mindfulness and gratitude for the last year for Hilltown Families, and I am grateful to everyone who has taken the time each month to read my (imperfect) thoughts on these practices that mean so much to me. But as one of the main tenets of Buddhism is the concept of impermanence, or, as I like to joke, the more things change, the more they change, I find myself changing as well, and as I embark on new writing endeavors and wrap up a few in the process, I am now writing my final post for this website. Since this is a post that marks a transition, it seems only fitting that it focus on impermanence, and how through mindfulness, we can find much value in not only understanding change, but the truth and profundity of the deeper impermanence all around us. Read the rest of this entry »

The Silence of Snow: Meditation & Mindfulness

Silence of Snow: Peaceful Places

Snow can make you feel as though the world has stopped around you.  During snowstorms, travel is suspended, and, for a day or two, the quiet of the outdoors reminds us to simply enjoy the moment and to be mindful.

Meditation is a practice in which awareness is focused on the present moment.  There are many different ways to meditate and be mindful of the present moment.   It’s something you can practice in any space and at any time.  The rhythm of snow falling and the slower pace of winter provide a contemplative setting for the practice of slowing down in order to focus on the moment.

Additionally, as the season of giving thanks has ended, wintertime is now an occasion to set the year’s intentions and reflect.  Traditionally, intentions are set on New Year’s Eve; however, the pensive nature and silent voice of winter provide the atmosphere to connect with your inner self and meditate on personal intentions.

Curious to explore mindfulness and meditation? In Western Massachusetts there are many community-based resources and spaces for people to learn about and practice mindfulness: Read the rest of this entry »

In Appreciation: 5 Books in the Area of Mindfulness & Empathy

Reflections of a Year in Reading

Reading up on mindfulness and empathy is a powerful way to understand and reflect on our own mindfulness practice and our how to work within our current divisive paradigms.

As those who know me well can attest, I love to read. Like the house could be burning down but please just let me finish this chapter first love to read. With 2016 at a close and much confusion and uncertainty in the current morass, I have been reflecting on some of the best books I read last year on the practice of mindfulness and empathy, especially those that I am still pulling lessons from now to help me in my daily practice and daily existence.

Below are five of my favorite books that I read in 2016 on the areas of mindfulness and empathy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Giving the Gift of Mindful Presence to Yourself and Others

The Gift of Mindful Presence

This holiday season, families can achieve the sharing of kindness and meaningful gift giving by exploring mindfulness meditation in order to give the gift of mindful presence. Not only does the gift of mindful presence benefit those around you, it benefits the gift givers themselves by granting feelings of calmness and deeper awareness of the world around them.

Read more in our post, The Gift of a Mindful Presence.

[Photo credit: (cc) Abbey Hendrickson]

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In Appreciation: Mindfulness in the Face of Uncertainty

Mindfulness in the Face of Uncertainty

Uncertainty is always with us, though we are elaborately and profoundly adept at masking it under layers of practices and to-do lists to keep the uncomfortable, frightening feelings that come with uncertainty at bay. But for me, this past month shattered many of the illusions of certainty to which I was clinging. I was suddenly cast into a deep discomfort and fear of the unknown that I had never before felt so strongly or across so many aspects of my life, as well as the lives of many people whom I love.

When I first began to study mindfulness and Buddhism years ago, it was because on an impulse, I purchased the book Comfortable with Uncertainty by the American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron. I really liked the title, because I was young, insecure, and totally not comfortable with anything. Since in the immediate days after the election, I have been googling how to move to Canada, compulsively cleaning my house, and spending hours composing long, eviscerating responses to comments on Facebook that I would never actually post. I was clearly once again not comfortable with uncertainty. I pulled Chodron’s book back off the shelf for a refresher course on mindfulness when dealing with uncertainty.

Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Election Edition – NO on Fear! YES on Love!

Election Eve: Tools for Hope and Love

Last Sunday found the three of us gluing felt feathers onto felt wings. Smile on my lips. He’s old enough to truly join in making his costume. I’m the jumpy one. Not one to be crafty. Why are you nervous, Mama?

I worry that it won’t look like the picture in your head and you’ll be disappointed. I want you to like it. In this simple case, acknowledging it was enough to dissipate my fear and open room for love.

Too often, fear becomes the guiding force, squeezing out love. Too often, my love for my child leads down the fear path. As if my worry can protect him.  Read the rest of this entry »

In Appreciation: Greeting Negative Emotions, Mindfully

How to Greet Negative Emotions with Awareness and Ease

Invite your emotions to metaphorically invited grab a pumpkin-spice latte, and give it a name!

With two young daughters, the occasional emotional meltdown, by any or all of us, is not unheard of in our household. In fact, while the children might be most prone to public tantrums, my own metamorphosis after having children involved a myriad of complex and contradictory emotions that easily could have ended with me screaming in the shoe aisle at the department store as well. Especially after having children, I have found that using mindful awareness as a tool to manage negative emotions, and teaching my children the same, has had a profound effect on my ability to cope and rebound from the influx of negative emotions that try to pull us all down on a daily, even minute-by-minute basis.

Mindful awareness is very much exactly what it sounds like. It is a conscious effort to pay attention in the moment to what is around and within you, and you can do it wherever you are. In mindful awareness of emotions, one is paying specific attention to what they are feeling. There are several methods of practicing mindful awareness with emotions, but the method I prefer is as follows..  Read the rest of this entry »

In Appreciation: The Value of Being Bored

How to Let Your Kids Be Bored, And Why it Matters

One of our family’s yearly late-summer rituals is a road trip to Michigan, where my husband and I are originally from, and where his family still lives. Because we have small children, a big dog, and we like to visit a few of the Great Lakes while we are there, we opt to drive the 10+ hours instead of flying. Needless to say, we spend a good deal of time during these trips in the car. And for the first time this summer, we experienced a new phenomena. At some point early in the drive my six-year-old announced she was bored. My four-year-old, always eager to keep pace with her sister, announced she too was bore-ing (I assure you, she is not).

At first, we offered my daughters a few solutions for their newly discovered malaise. I had packed books and art supplies, stuffed animals and dolls, all stacked between their car seats to keep themselves entertained. But as my older daughter repeated every five minutes like the world’s most annoying metronome how she was still bored, I told her quite simply what I honestly think about her boredom. Namely, that her boredom isn’t my problem to solve for her. And that boredom has some positive attributes for those willing to tackle their road-trip ennui.  Read the rest of this entry »

Resources for Mindfulness in Western Massachusetts

Resources for Mindfulness in Western Massachusetts

What is meditation?  Carrying different meanings in different contexts, Wikipedia defines meditation as, “a practice where an individual trains the mind or induces a mode of consciousness, either to realize some benefit or for the mind to simply acknowledge its content without becoming identified with that content, or as an end in itself.”  In other words, when people meditate, they are focusing their awareness on the present moment, often times to their breath, allowing thoughts to enter and pass through their awareness without attachment, constantly balancing their attention back to the present moment.

According to health psychologist, Kelly McGonigal, because the brain is like a muscle which strengthens with practice, meditating can also help to exert willpower in other areas of your life. The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain associated with reasoning, problem solving, impulse-control, and perseverance. Being mindful of the present moment through meditation, as well as some other activities like physical movement, sends blood to the prefrontal cortex. McGongial suggests that a regular practice of meditation could help you accomplish many other goals which require the same kind of perseverance and attention.

Mindfulness is something you can practice at any time, in any place. Still, if you don’t know anything about how to meditate or practice mindfulness, you may want to find guidance and support in the form of community-based classes or groups. Luckily, western Massachusetts is home to many organizations, courses, and sanctuaries for people to learn about and practice mindfulness. Read the rest of this entry »

In Appreciation: An Exercise in Perspective Taking

An Exercise in Perspective Taking

I remember a few years ago, seeing a dad at the library whose two kids were pretty out of control. Within minutes of entering the kid’s section, they had their shoes and socks kicked off even though he repeatedly told them not to. As he collected their discarded items off the carpet, he looked beaten down in that way that only an overwhelmed parent can.

I hate to admit this now, but I totally had a moment of righteous judgement about his parenting. I’ve thought of this moment many times since, not because it still makes me feel smug, but because experience has taught me, often and in public, how any parent can get overwhelmed by even the usually best-behaved children.

Read the rest of this entry »

In Appreciation: Mindfulness in Action

When Life Gives You Lemons, Be Mindful of Them

Sometimes the greatest mindfulness lesson you can give your children is the one you teach yourself. That’s what happened for me when I finally chose to pay attention to my clumsy struggle to adapt to plans that go awry.

This was going to be a post about basic exercises to teach mindfulness with your children. Then I had a little lesson in mindfulness myself, and decided to write about that instead—because teaching your children about mindfulness sometimes means taking a big dose of your own mindful medicine.

Despite the existential dilemma of it all, I am a big fan of plans. Now plans are fine, but not if they create issues for you whenever things don’t go as planned (and with kids that means plans often don’t go as planned). Other people are able to seamlessly turn the lemons of thwarted plans into lemonade. But me? Not so much.  Read the rest of this entry »

In Appreciation: Giving Thanks at the ‘Gratitude Table’

Giving Thanks at the ‘Gratitude Table’

Finding time to reflect and give thanks for our daily joys is no easy task in the midst of the hectic churn of day-to-day reality. But as my family and I discovered, taking a break at the “gratitude table’ is a simple, fun way to slow down and not just smell the flowers, but thank them too.

This fall was grueling for my family. My job suddenly became much more demanding and my hours increased. Both our kids had major transitions, with my 5-year-old starting a new school and my 3-year-old a new classroom. My husband had a significant injury which sidelined him for over a month, and we had just gotten a puppy because sometimes we like to punch ourselves in the face for fun.

None of these events were a tragedy in and of themselves, but I noticed in my own day-to-day talking that I was focusing my thoughts too often on the negatives these changes were bringing. The kids were reflecting that in small ways too. We had so much to be thankful for everyday. I knew that. I was just doing a poor job being mindful of it in between the busyness of daily life.

I am a big fan of giving thanks. In fact, the daily act of reflecting on what we have to be grateful for is a superfood for our emotional and physical well being, with benefits ranging from sleeping better and being less stressed to being more empathetic and less likely to act aggressively (University of Kentucky, 2012). I’d read about gratitude journals as a practice—basically you write down what you are grateful for everyday—and liked the concept. But journals (and every other paper product) in our house often end up covered in stickers and Hello, Kitty! doodles. And while a journal is a great individual practice, I didn’t want to just recalibrate myself. I wanted to do it as a family. However, a group journaling project sounded like a recipe for epic Pinterest-esque failure, and I try to avoid those. So instead, we created our own practice. My 5-year-old later dubbed it “the gratitude table.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Setting Intentions for a Mindful New Year

Pursuing Mindfulness in 2016

With the simultaneous and instantaneous beginning and end marking the shift between New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day comes an almost equally sudden desire for change. Along with the start of a new year come all of our best intentions for our selves, our treatment of others, and our footprint in our community and our world. In order to accomplish all that we’d like to, or even all that we can, during the new year, it is perhaps more important to connect with ourselves before we attempt to change ourselves – exploring the shape and structure of our foundation before we build upon it.

With the importance of connecting with our inner self in mind, we set our intentions for the new year: to discover mindfulness. Following on the heels of 2014’s resolution to appreciate daily moments  and 2015’s goal of sharing acts of kindness, our 2016 resolution is to pursue mindfulness and connect with our true sense of our selves. While the resolutions of previous years drew us further outside of ourselves in our efforts to create positive change in the world around us, this year’s resolution draws us back in, encouraging us to focus on ourselves in order to support our continued pursuit of the ability to have a positive impact on our communities and our world.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Gift of a Mindful Presence

Giving the Gift of Mindful Presence to Yourself and Others

This holiday season, families can achieve the sharing of kindness and meaningful gift giving by exploring mindfulness meditation in order to give the gift of mindful presence. Not only does the gift of mindful presence benefit those around you, it benefits the gift givers themselves by granting feelings of calmness and deeper awareness of the world around them.

As the holiday season kicks into full swing, the desire and feeling of obligation to give tangible, meaningful gifts grows. In most cases, though, the best gifts that we are capable of giving are not at all tangible and, when given, offer as much to the recipient as the giver. During last year’s holiday season, we encouraged families to focus on sharing acts of kindness with friends, neighbors, and community members throughout the holiday season. While many of our suggested acts of kindness end in a tangible representation of our intentions, the gift of presence is perhaps the greatest act of kindness of all – and yet it does not physically exist.

This holiday season, families can focus on meaningful gift-giving by incorporating mindfulness into their lives. Rather than giving actual presents (or perhaps in addition to), families can focus on sharing their presence with those around them – giving the gift of true attention, close listening, and deep understanding to those they care about. Read the rest of this entry »

The Good Life: We are Not the Weather

Off the Mat: Positivity Downs Winter’s Walls

Cabin Fever Gratitude

It’s 4 degrees outside and snowing. Again. I’m at the kitchen counter with my coffee dregs. 10 feet away, building a marble set, he’s forgotten I’m here. What can I get done without moving? I reach my phone and type email with my thumbs. Usually, I take advantage of voice dictation, but speaking would remind him I’m here. I wonder how many generations will pass before the phrase “all thumbs” is considered an asset. Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Introducing Technicolor

Technicolor and Skin Color

 "WIZARD OF OZ ORIGINAL POSTER 1939" by MGM - http://daw.dyndns.org/images/movies/posters/wizard%20of%20oz.jpgalt source: [1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.Last month, we took our son to see the Wizard of Oz on the big screen. This all-time favorite had yet to debut on family movie night due to my hubby’s flying monkey terrors. As the one who gets called for nightmares at 2 a.m., I had no need to introduce flying monkeys yet. But the rare chance to watch on a big screen was worth the risk.

We needn’t have worried. In the age of computer generated animation, his baseline of what looks real is vastly different than mine was at age 5. Hoisted up to the movie poster for a Facebook photo op, my kiddo commented on the image of Dorothy and Co. on the yellow brick road, Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: 2015 Resolutions to Connect, Play & Practice

Resolve. Re Solve. To solve again.

Recently, a friend lent me CDs by poet David Whyte. I’ve been listening in the car as Whyte reads and reflects on poets from William Shakespeare to Mary Oliver. People who choose words so carefully make me look differently and think differently about how a word sounds and what those sounds mean.

This fall, my kiddo began bringing home Words of the Week from kindergarten. His teacher posts words like WITH and THE as passwords to enter the classroom, to help kids learn by looking. Participating in his early reading, I find myself taking apart words. Paying attention to how the words I use fit together for sounds. For meaning.

Like that blessed and cursed word: RESOLVE.

Resolve. Re Solve. To solve again.

Something you just solve once, just figure out like 2 + 2, doesn’t need to be re-solved. We re-solve those things that aren’t easily fixed. That we’ve tried a few different solutions for, yet haven’t yet found one that sticks.

So here, dear readers, in no particular order, are my daily re-solutions for 2015: Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Moving Beyond the Edge of Code Yellow

The Edge

Our new neighbor stands at her mailbox. I cross to say hello. My son runs to join me, freezes at the edge of the driveway like a dog approaching an invisible fence. I look both ways with exaggerated movements, no cars in sight for 100 yards. Hold out my hand.

Come on.

NO!

This IS a good thing, I remind myself. We live on a busy street. I walk back. Take his hand. We cross together.

♦♦♦ Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Maze of Meditation Leads to the Senses

You are Here

Meditation is like a kindergartener in a corn maze.

My kiddo has been drawing mazes for months. They started as amorphous, blobby worm-like passages with an S for start and an F for finish at opposite ends. But they’ve grown. Evolved. Mutated into intricate intestinal networks. He fills sketchpad after sketchpad, after sketchpad with twists and turns and traps of more and more complexity. We’ve invested in cap erasers and a $1 flea market electric pencil sharpener, so packed with shavings I did wonder about the presence of actual lead from pencils of old.

On a recent Saturday, we coughed up $25 for a family excursion to a local corn maze. Not one for such seasonal fanfare, I was pleasantly surprised to find the experience worth the expense. My imagination had pictured a box hedge maze straight out of the Shining or Harry Potter, depending on your generational frame of reference.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Lessons in Unconditional Love from Piggett

Things that Fly

My boy is at school. Kindergarten. A whole new world. He’s only a mile away, much closer than the preschool over-the-river-and-through-the-woods. Still, it feels farther. Distant. I was in and out of his preschool room. Most days we said goodbye at his cubby-hole, but there were regular opportunities to come in and play, read a book, or just cuddle until he was settled.

Now, we say goodbye as he sprints out to the bus. If he remembers to say goodbye. He goes into a big building and hangs his new big backpack in a cubby I have never seen. May never see.

Apparently, stuffies don’t go to kindergarten.

I remember him that very first day, all wrinkled and noisy. Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: The Art of Choosing a Parenting Response

Enjoy the Ride

My five year old son is in his room, slamming the door. Deliberately and with precision. He’s got highly sensitive ears – auditory processing the occupational therapist calls it – and I can only assume he’s seeking Just. The. Right. Sound.  The SLAM! that will echo through the walls and into my bones set my teeth on edge. Sound rises above the bathroom fan but is muted by the water pressure, warm streams trickling down my hair, ears, face, shoulders. The water, the curtain, the closed door give me the ever so slight space I need to view the scene with a hint of detachment. Amusement, even, though shame lingers around the edges, like mildew never quite scrubbed from the grout.

Occupying the weeks between school and camp, we’re back from a 3 day urban adventure: Amtrak, NJ Transit, and a myriad of subway lines.  He’s a stellar traveler, fueled by curiosity and wonder and an obsessive love of trains.  Take him out of his ordinary and he shows his extraordinary. I thoroughly enjoy time with the big boy he’s becoming.

So it’s no surprise really when blubbery-whiny-tedious boy returns upon arrival home.  And along with him, short-tempered-uninspired-reactive Mama. Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Rainbow Dress at the Green River Fest

Free to Be

Spinning my boy, wearing our rainbow sundresses. (Photo credit: E Goffredo)

The venue: 2014 Green River Festival. For those unfamiliar, it’s a music fest – Happy Valley style. Vendors sell food on a stick, but it’s chicken satay. The hotdogs? Grass fed beef. The fried dough is topped with rustic pesto and goat cheese. This was our third year enjoying eclectic music and family friendly extras, like circus acts and hot air balloons. It was here, two years ago, my son first expressed his desire for a dress.

I was choosing between two upcycled t-shirt sundresses in the Maker’s Market. She makes kids’ sizes, too, but they’re more costly than I would spend on one unit of children’s clothing, especially one designed for single-season wear. He’s an only child. There’s no amortizing the cost.

I want a sundwess too, Mama. I want mine to have a numbuh fwee on it so peopew wiww know I’m fwee.

I give a non-committal response. Maybe we can.

The dress is seemingly soon forgotten – until it comes up again the next year. This time maybe doesn’t suffice because it’s accompanied by that kicker of all questions: why
Read the rest of this entry »

The Comment Box is Mightier than the Sword

It’s a Facebook Miracle

Uh-oh you haven’t updated your status in 5 minutes!

In the end, resistance was futile.

Since the minute Facebook stormed onto the scene a decade ago, I knew I did not want to get caught up in the hype. I began to detest all “social media,” not only as a regular person who found it tedious and self-serving but also as an actual journalist who saw the demise of the fourth estate. If anyone can say anything anytime, then who the heck knows if anything anyone is saying has any truth to it? But it was Facebook that caught the brunt of my wrath, as I watched otherwise sane people get sucked into this never-ending vortex of “status updates” and “likes” and “friends.” Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Finding the Time to Get Grounded

Around Here Somewhere

Believing it best to start honestly, I have a confession to make: I’ve lost my daily yoga practice. I know it’s around here somewhere. In fact, I’ve used it a few times recently. But then I misplace it again. It’s somewhere under the pile of magazines I want to sort before recycling; the outgrown toys I think might bring in a bit extra on Craigslist; the clean now-too-little big boy underpants that need a new home. (Can you donate underpants or is that too “eew?”)

Haven’t unrolled the mat in a while? Breathe. Stretch. Set the intention.

I miss it. I’ve had it for years! Each morning, I’d drag myself out of bed, pee, then go to my mat. Sometimes 30 minutes, sometimes more, sometimes just 10. Sometimes I’d fall back asleep there for a bit. Regardless, the act of breathing, stretching, connecting within – the intention to start my day on the mat – changed my day off the mat.

Don’t get me wrong. I then went on to drink my coffee, was often late to work, and didn’t necessarily greet my fellow commuters with enlightened bliss. But I felt better physically. Was more grounded. More clear headed.

So where did it go?

Read the rest of this entry »

Just My Type: The Treasured Moments of Watching A Child Sleep

Sleeping Noelle

Amid all of the stress and anxiety of raising a child with two autoimmune diseases, I have found something to cherish.

When our children are babies, we look at them a lot when they are asleep. That’s partly because they sleep a lot, and partly because they look so precious while sleeping. But we also want to make sure they are OK: I’m sure many of us have put our hand on a sleeping baby’s chest to make sure he/she is breathing!

But once the children are sleeping through the night, once they are toddlers and preschoolers and big kids, how often do we have that peaceful moment of just observing them while they sleep?

Diabetes has given me that. Read the rest of this entry »

HFVS Community Service Episode with Guest DJ, Charity Kahn (Radio Show/Podcast)

Hilltown Family Variety Show
Community Service Episode
with Guest DJ, Charity Kahn

Listen to Podcast:

This week on the Hilltown Family Variety Show, through music and mindfulness, Charity Kahn (of Charity and the JAMband) explores some of the ideas at the heart of community service: helping those less fortunate, practicing kindness, loving ourselves so we have something to give back, practicing gratitude for the role our communities play in our lives, having awareness around what our various communities are and who makes them up, and seeing the reality that we are all part of a global and interdependent ecosystem. So sing along, listen closely, and then go out and help someone today! – www.jamjamjam.com

Saturday from 9-10am & Sunday from 7-8am
September 21st & 22nd, 2013
WXOJ LP – 103.3 FM – Valley Free Radio
Northampton, MA


 Archived Podcasts Radio  Facebook Twitter

PLAYLIST

  • The Beatles — “With a Little Help From My Friends” [Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band]
  • The Youngbloods — “Get Together” [The Best of the Youngbloods]
  • Malvina Reynolds — “Magic Penny” [Ear to the Ground]
  • Carole King — “You’ve Got a Friend” [Tapestry]
  • The Beatles — “Help!” [Help!]
  • Charity and the JAMband — “Lovingkindness” [Family Values]
  • Coyote Oldman — “Clouds” [Rainbird]
  • Pete Seeger — “To Everyone in All the World” [The Rainbow Quest]
  • Charity and the JAMband — “Green Beans Everywhere” [Family Values]
  • The Pointer Sisters — “Yes We Can, Can” [The Pointer Sisters]
  • Charity and the JAMband — “We Are the Ones” [Family Values]
  • Dr. John — “Helping Hand” [The Very Best of Dr. John]

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