A Path to Mindfulness: PART II

Welcome back!

We fully and whole-heartedly appreciate your support and accolades to our Part I launch! With excited anticipation, we will now be sharing a second reflection to our first account. We wanted to dive deeper and get to the source of our more detailed experiences. Revisiting our intention to offer insights grounded in truth, we gave permission to ourselves to be open, even a little exposed. We understand that the public world sometimes hides behind this disguise that "everything is awesome all of the time." We are here to directly confront that this is NOT reality, and it is not serving to anyone to fall into this thinking trap. Mindfulness practices help EVERYONE, and we are all in need of guidance through our spiritual growing pains. Many thanks for your interest, again we unfold...

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Koren

You mentioned the book Radical Acceptance from Tara Broch, what is a key learning you've taken away from that book, and how are you using it in your daily life today?

J.C.

This is an excellent question!!

Radical Acceptance is one of my favorite books and I encourage anyone interested in starting a mindfulness practice to read this book. Tara Broch is a terrific author and through these pages she shows you how to accept all things in life—good or bad.  The general thesis of the book is this: you have the choice in life and no one but yourself can choose how you want to respond to external circumstances.

Tara uses a lot of phrases and analogies to drive this point home but one in particular that resonated with me. The idea of “this too”.

Just as with cars on an icy roads, when “bad things” happen in life we need to steer into the skid, not away. Similarly, when we resist what already is, we create suffering.

Tara proposes that instead of resisting life; accept what is almost as though you are asking for it. Hence “this too”

When life gets difficult, think to yourself “ I want this too”. When you’re feeling sad or angry, don’t run from the emotions. Instead, tell yourself “I want this too” and see how the grips of those emotions instantly loosen.

The notion of “this too” was so powerful to me that I got it tattooed on my inner arm this last April while in New York with my Wife. This way, I can see this powerful teaching on a daily basis and incorporate it into my life.

I can’t tell you how many times I have felt down or frustrated and my tattoos snaps me out of it. It’s a not so subtle reminder for me to live life on a daily basis with a heart of acceptance and not resistance.

 

Koren

What challenges do you find that keep you away from being the best version of yourself? What does being the best version of yourself look like to you?

J.C.

This is a great question because I think everyone should ask themselves “what would it look like if I were at my best?”. It’s not a bad thing to dream big and having an answer to this question can help you navigate through life’s choppy waters.

For me, I’m at my best when I’m teaching. I love helping other people see the beauty behind themselves and mindfulness. My whole life I’ve always made connections through stories and analogies and because of this, I feel like I can be an effective teacher.

I image my further being one filled with helping others through mindfulness and having a strong close group of family and friends. If I’ve helped people and loved people then to me, I’ve lived fully.

Right now, working in corporate America has made it difficult to pursue teaching full time. As I’m sure many people can relate, making good money can be like putting on a pair of golden handcuffs. It’s hard to leave a situation that can set my family up for financial wealth for a situation full of unknowns and potential risks.

However, as I practice mindfulness more and more, I’m discovering that this is really my only option. I must take the risk if I want to be the best version of JC that I can be.  Although it’s scary to walk away from good money and a stable job it’s even scarier to live an inauthentic life. 

Two years ago I would’ve never imagined that people would be reaching out to me on a regular basis wanting to know how to live more mindfully. But then again, two years ago I hadn’t asked the question and was too scared to envision what the best version of me would look like.

 

Koren

What techniques do you rely on when you need to practice more mindfulness? What triggers signal that you could act more mindfully to yourself or with others?

J.C.

I’ve been insecure my whole life. Battling with insecurity can make you incredibly sensitive to how you are perceived by those around you. This is definitely the case for me.

My whole life I have wanted people to like me because I was compensating for not liking myself. Even with this realization, I still sometimes find it challenging to avoid obsessing on what others think of me.

For example, when I’m in front of a large group of people I find myself telling the same old stories I used to tell myself. I get tangled in thoughts like “don’t mess up or people won’t like you” and “you better do a good job if you want people to think you’re worth anything”

Typically, I feel the tension in my body before I realize that I’ve fallen down the wormhole of old narratives. My gut tenses up, I feel warmth all over my body and I actually begin to sweat a little. When I’m in this state of mind I often feel hopeless and scared.

Fortunately, since practicing mindfulness these instances are less frequent and when they do happen, I have the ability to see them with clarity. I can see my mind and choose to take my attention elsewhere. I can stop focusing on myself and instead focus on how I can help the people in the room. The anxiety I feel can then be transformed into excitement and my neurotic dialog can transform into a dialog centered on giving and helping.

That being said, I’m not perfect. I still sometimes get nervous and want others to like me but through mindfulness I have the tools necessary to transcend my limiting belief.

 

J.C.

It seems like you are very active and in touch with your body. Do you find it easier to be present in your body or by watching the mind?  Why or why not?

Koren

Great question! I have found that the two can be interconnected and influenced by the other. So, it is very dependent on the situation for me.

Being from a heavy ballet and yoga background, it has required me to bring awareness to the body in a number of ways. I’ve learned that the body is a complex instrument, but it is also an intelligent communicator for how we interpret sensation and variations sources of pain.

To settle on the topic of ballet for a moment, I was eventually able to distinguish the difference between good sensations versus physical pain. Furthermore, this became an initial teaching for how to respond to discomforting sensations both physically and mentally.

I was injured at numerous points throughout the peak of my ballet years. As a result, I had to consciously train myself to listen to that pain and decide when to “back off.” I was away at a summer ballet intensive with two fractured metatarsals, plantar fasciitis, and tendonitis… all in one foot. I proceeded to dance, as best I could, and it was an ultimate test of patience and compassion (little did I know at the time). When I found the sharp pains arising, my body was communicating with me… “slow down.” This broke into a conflicting competition with my mind- as much as I was physically experiencing signals of “STOP” from my body, my mind wanted to fight. When my mind wasn’t able to win the battle, it began to… well, have a bit of a tantrum. I remember mentally beating myself up, coaching myself to be stronger, get over it, and keep going. That bully of a coach in my mind really should have been playing the compassionate mentor when I needed it most. When all was said and done, my injuries persisted longer than anticipated due to my inability to surrender to my critical mind and let my body heal. So as you can see, I found it easier to rely on my mind and let it step forward. I wasn’t able to allow the compassionate part of my mind to overpower the inner critic. But, the body always has a way of informing you what is really present and what needs attention.

Fast-forward to years later, I began my second teacher training while simultaneously being informed of a health concern. This was also a time when I was immersed in my first experiences with seated meditation practice. At the time of being informed, my body did what has been described to me by anyone who has been given unfortunate news. My ears blocked out sound enough to the point that the physician sounded like a distant voice in the background. My heart felt like it dropped to my feet. I could feel the acid building up in my stomach with overwhelming fear. It felt like the wind was kicked out of me. My mind began racing, while muffling what the woman was saying over the phone. Anxiety was emerging in both a mental and sensory way. My body had a reaction, which lead to a mental reaction. And my mental reaction started to enhance physical sensations based on what was happening in my mind.

This became a critical learning period for me in understanding the power of the mind and the haven of the body. As my introduction to Vipassana meditation began, I was taught the value of being present and accepting all that is. At first, this was a highly difficult practice for me. I realized how wild, uncontrolled, and destructive my mind could be, and how it had the ability to take full reign and take me out of my body. At the time, I felt uncomfortable in both my mind and body. This felt like a true challenge. It was clear how often I resorted to the mind my entire life. It was then that I discovered the value of observing my body when the mind takes charge with anxiety, fear, anger, or any strong emotion. What was revealed to me was how important awareness of the body is as our tool to remain present in acceptance. Rather than fearful of the future and shameful of the past, we have the choice to be here, now.

So when you ask if its easier to be in my body or mind, I can confidently say that it feels safe to be present in my body when my mind needs quieting. And it feels comforting to acknowledge difficult thoughts for all that they are, rather than judge the story in that moment.

 

J.C.

How has your experience with anxiety shaped your mindfulness practice? What do you do or avoid in order to create space between you and the anxiety?

Koren

There are definitely some layers to unpack here, this is an interesting way to pose the question too.

My more recent experiences with anxiety have certainly been influenced by Mindfulness practices, and these resources have shaped how I cope with anxiety. Without the adoption of these tools into my life, my story around and relationship with anxiety may have continued in the same detrimental loop.

Prior to learning Mindfulness techniques, I was not able to proactively confront my anxiety issues with beneficial solutions. Whether my anxiety appeared in the form of a negative thought or a full-blown panic attack, it was difficult for me to notice what was happening and how to respond with empowered action. I could not separate myself from the anxiety, so the anxiety was able to consume me. In my early 20’s, I would allow my nerves to overwhelm what I was doing, making it difficult for me to respond and intervene. I would leave rooms to hide in quiet spaces when I felt intense energetic responses flood through my chest and head. I would call my family and close friends crying because I thought I was having a heart attack or because I thought “something was wrong.” I would experience hypochondriac fears when my body produced mild signals of pain. While I still experience some of these reactions in varying levels and forms, I am better equipped to respond to them. Rather than get buried in the emotional chaos, I now ask myself to pause and simply notice. What is happening? What sensations do I feel? Is there a tightening, a tingling, a closing? What is happening in my mind? Sensations, I feel you. Thoughts, I see you. Emotions, I hear you. I’ve essentially learned to befriend the anxious part of myself, instead of avoiding or criticizing the experience. I’ve found the value in opening up my arms to whatever presents itself, and give those feelings the space to just be. We are human, so why not welcome what is human?

On this similar thread, it’s important to understand our mechanisms for coping with anxiety (or any challenging emotion)- do we fight or flee? What additional emotions come up- is it anger? Depression? Shame? Once we are able to identify with the roles that we assume, it becomes easier to break the patterns. We are able to untangle this blurred web of overwhelm and enter the source of the true pain.

This practice is what creates space between my emotional struggles and myself. Once I am able to get to the root of the problem, give it the space to be felt, seen, and heard, I am able to excuse it from my awareness. The moment I can look the fear in the face, the fear is already beginning to dissolve. The more I can hold the hand of the part of me that is hurting, the more I free myself from my own demons. And with my yoga practice married with these mindful strategies, I can continually discover the gateways to my own freedom: “Yoga is the journey of the Self, through the self, to the self.” –Bhagavad Gita

 

J.C.

How do you balance the desire of growth for your business with mindfulness?? How has your mindfulness practice shaped you and your business and what does a fulfilling life look like for you?

Koren

Very compelling question, and one that I assume will require ongoing assessment and learning.

What I’ve found so far is that in order to grow any successful business, you have to be invested in the business of growing yourself. You can have all of the answers, strategies, and acumen in the world, but unless you are willing to grow along the way, others won’t be encouraged to grow with you. Human nature inherently asks us to evolve over time, but it is ultimately our choice if we say yes to this spiritual transformation. Yoga, mindfulness, and meditation are all about growth, but growth happens with organic timing. We cannot force growth and the speed to which growth takes place, but we can cultivate the space for growth to happen.

As you could guess where I’m going with this, a lot of growth has to do with patience. I’ve always had struggles with patience, which is impart why I am so attracted to mindfulness practices. Obviously, we all have the desire to succeed, but I’ve learned that success comes in various forms. What may look like success on the outside, does not amount to much if there is not success from within. Part of growing my personal wellness business is highly dependent on how I allow myself to expand in the process. Especially in an industry that requires transparency, authenticity, and service to others, it is harder to “fake it until you make it.” This path requires you to be real and to be seen by others so that they can feel safe to express themselves from their own truths.

In this age of our social media saturated culture, I find it very difficult to balance the desire for business growth and mindfulness. Platforms such as Instagram have evolved to one of the largest (if not the largest) marketing tools for yoga and wellness professionals. However, I’ve seen very unmindful practices develop within this social space. There appears to be an obsession around how many followers instructors can accrue, rather than the messages you are spreading and the desire to connect with like-minded community. I believe that this new eruption of “yoga fame” and the competition for numbers goes against the sole purpose of mindfulness practices. One of my respected teachers Max Strom once said “Fame is not a gift from God,” and I feel that there is much truth to this statement. While yes, it is no lie that I want to grow my business and community, I do not want to compromise my own integrity and respect for the practice values.

To the successes that I’ve made in my wellness undertakings, I can thank my Mindfulness strategies in a number of ways. Mindfulness has encouraged me to stay anchored in the moment, and be grateful for the present. As my students know, I love gratitude practices as a way to appreciate what is here and now, as well as it’s ability to create foundations for manifestation. If we are constantly focused on the future, we are unable to see what is already right in front of us. Mindfulness practices are still evolving and entering more mainstream avenues, and it is my goal to remain a loyal advocate and teacher to this cause. Circling back to my previous comments around growth, the growth that I’ve personally experienced through mindfulness has helped to shape my teaching and brand. I plan to continue to be in the forefront of this movement, and supply these profitable means to my students.

A fulfilling life to me is using these techniques as a way to instill more peace, love, and abundance into my own life so that I can more easily share these attributes with others. I’ve always felt drawn to a life of service in some way, and it is my passion to inspire others along their own paths. I have a love of teaching, collaboration, and artistic expression, which I hope to share amongst diverse and broad ranging communities. Amongst all else, the goal is always peace, love, and happiness.
 

LOKAH SAMASTAH SUKHINO BHAVANTU

“May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.”