4 Mindfulness Practices That We Need Right Now

In the middle of the chaos of the world right now, what can we do to take care of ourselves?

Let’s talk about a handful of simple mindfulness practices that can be helpful.

  1. Breathe deeply into the belly. This is one to start with, no matter where you are or what you’re doing. We get caught up in our heads, stuck in a cycle of thoughts that are rarely very helpful. So to get out of our heads and into our bodies, we can do deep breathes, into the deepest part of our bellies. Do several breaths like this, maybe for 30-60 seconds if you have time. This not only calms you down, but helps you to be more present with your body and surroundings.
  2. Check on your feelings, give yourself compassion. Turn your attention to the sensations in your body, and notice how uncertainty and fear/anxiety might feel for you right now, as a bodily experience. This, again, helps get you out of your thoughts, but also it’s important to notice how you’re feeling. Practice giving these feelings some space, letting them be (it’s OK to feel anxiety!). Then see if you can give them some compassion, to take care of yourself when you’re feeling uncertainty or frustration.
  3. Find calm in the middle of a storm. When the world is full of chaos, can we find calm? Find your breath. Let the swirl of thoughts calm down. Notice the light around you, notice sound. Notice the beauty of the moment. Widen your awareness beyond yourself, and feel the peace of a moment of stillness. You can still take action, but from a place of calmness.
  4. Send compassion out to others. Once you’ve practiced compassion for your own uncertainty and fears … once you’ve found a moment of calm and centeredness … you can open your heart to others right now. They’re afraid, they’re feeling anxious. Open your awareness beyond your home, to the others in your neighborhood and city, to others around the world, to your loved ones and strangers. Feel the worry they’re feeling. Send them compassion, from the deepest place in your heart. Let it flow out as a healing salve to everyone. Notice how this feels. Notice how it might change how you interact with others.

Let these practices help you through this troubled time, my friends.

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Dealing with the Immense Uncertainty of the World

The world is in a state of fear and uncertainty right now, and it’s stressful and overwhelming for most of us.

This kind of fear, stress, uncertain and overwhelm can have some really strong effects on our lives:

  • Constant fear and stress can cause anxiety problems, worsening sleep and health, depression and anxiety
  • In a place of fear, we can often make bad decisions
  • People can panic, overreact because of fear, and cause widespread confusion and disruptions
  • Our relationships can deteriorate when we’re operating from a place of fear
  • We become less productive, less focused, when we’re stressed
  • It has an obvious impact on our happiness, including the impacts from all of the above

These are just some of the strong effects from a constant sense of fear, uncertainty, stress and overwhelm.

So how do we cope with this?

Obviously, there’s no easy answer. Let’s talk about what I’ve found to work, and what I recommend right now.

Dealing with the Uncertainty & Fear

The first thing is just to acknowledge that we’re feeling a lot of uncertainty and stress about the world situation. Bring awareness to the feelings you’re experiencing, and acknowledge their presence.

Often we want to ignore the feelings, or we’re just operating on autopilot and not really aware of it. But then we’re operating from that place of fear and stress, and these emotions are driving us without us being aware of it.

Next, see if you can give the fear and uncertainty some space. That means to turn your attention toward it, and let it be in your awareness … but with a sense of spaciousness, as if you’re giving it a wide open room to just be. You don’t need the feelings to go away or change, they are just going to be in your awareness with a feeling of having space around them, letting them exist as if you could even welcome them.

This is a way of taking care of yourself. When we’re feeling fear, it’s important to nurture ourselves, take care of the feeling. Give it space, and allow it to be in your awareness.

Third, see this as an opportunity to practice. We often close ourselves off to fear and uncertainty, but they can be really powerful things to practice with. They are incredible teachers! Let yourself pause for a few moments to practice with this, because uncertainty and fear and stress will always be a part of your life – you won’t ever be free of them! They show up whether you want them or not, so why not get good at being with them?

This is an opportunity to practice mindfulness with your fear and uncertainty. Open to the opportunity, instead of turning away to distraction and busyness.

Fourth, practice welcoming it and giving it unconditional friendliness. This might sound strange when it comes to fear, because for so long we’ve had an adversarial relationship to fear and uncertainty. We don’t like them, because they feel like stress and pain. But we don’t have to relate to fear this way. We can be more open toward it, even friendly.

So start by trying to welcome it. Allow it into your experience. Even be warm towards it, as you might welcome a good friend.

Then try to give it some unconditional friendliness. It’s an amazing practice. See if you’re able to bring the kind of warmth and friendliness towards it that you do with a loved one. You don’t need the feeling to be any certain way, you can be friendly with it no matter what.

Fifth, let yourself feel the openness of the moment. This one is a little harder to explain, but bear with me. If you can relax and open your awareness wider than the narrowness of your thought patterns or narrative … you can experience the openness of this moment.

Let your awareness open wider than your body. Let it take in the room all around you — light, colors, shapes, sound, textures, sensations on your skin. Feel the relaxed, open nature of the moment — fluid, changing, not fixed, unknowable, dynamic, spacious. This is the nature of our world, the root of uncertainty. It’s actually beautiful to behold. Let yourself relax into this openness.

That can take practice, don’t worry if you don’t feel it right away. Keep practicing with it!

Sixth, open to feeling connected to others through your uncertainty and fear. As you sit in stillness, as you feel the sensations in your body, as you welcome the feelings and practice friendliness with them, as you experience the openness of the moment … you can also feel a connection to others.

Think about everyone else in the world who is experiencing similar feelings of discomfort and uncertainty. Similar levels of stress, fear, overwhelm, anxiety. You are not alone — so many others feel it right now! In this way, you are all connected. Let your heart feel this connection to others going through similar experiences. Send them compassion and love, wishing them well.

In this way, our fear and uncertainty, in these very uncertain times … become an opening for connection and compassion. This is transformative. Try it right now.

The world is in a state of intense mass uncertainty. Don’t shut yourself off to it, ignore it or try to control, distract or exit.

Open yourself to this, because it is a powerful time to practice.

Learn More with Me

If you’d like to practice with me, there are two offerings this Saturday (March 14) and one ongoing program where you can join me:

  1. Zen Dharma talk on Fearlessness with Susan O’Connell (and Leo) on Saturday: I’m joining my Zen teacher Susan in giving a free dharma talk on the idea of fear and practicing fearlessness. It’ll be my first dharma talk ever! It’s tomorrow — Saturday (March 14) at 10am Pacific / 1pm Eastern. Watch online here.
  2. Fearless Purpose Online Workshop (Saturday): A couple hours later, Susan and I will be conducting a 3-hour workshop called Fearless Purpose. The in-person event has been canceled, but you can still participate online. We’re still holding this workshop because we believe it’s so important right now. It will be from 1-4 pm Pacific / 4-7 pm Eastern. You can still sign up for online participation here.
  3. Fearless Training Program: I also offer an ongoing program called Fearless Training, where we train with uncertainty in the mindfulness methods I talk about in this article. I invite you to join us and train together! Check out Fearless Training here.
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The Power of Getting Clarity

Before I started Zen Habits, I was in a place in my life where I had a beautiful family, but I was stuck and dissatisfied with myself.

I knew I wanted to change things — my health, finances, job, way that I was approaching life — but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do about any of it. Most of the time, I just ignored all of this, and distracted myself.

I didn’t have any clarity on what I wanted or what I needed to do. This lack of clarity is felt in all of us very deeply, so that it shows up in how we talk, how we hold ourselves, how other people feel us. It affects our relationships, our jobs, our health.

Then I got very clear that I needed to change. And clear that I wanted to quit smoking, start running, become vegetarian, start waking earlier, and start writing more. I went on to do all those and more.

Clarity helps us to focus, to take action, to feel energized.

A lack of clarity causes stress, inaction, a scattered focus, relationship difficulties, confusion on teams.

Some examples of areas to find clarity in:

  • Your mission in life
  • Your morning routine
  • Your financial plan
  • What you need to do to improve your relationship
  • How you’ll get healthier
  • What others expect of you; what you expect of them
  • How a meeting will be run
  • What your boundaries are in each relationship

As you can see, this is a pretty broad topic — it can apply to every part of our lives. And we don’t have to be perfect, and we don’t have to get clarity on everything this week. It’s something to bring awareness to, that we can improve over time.

But the more we find clarity, the more we’ll have focus, calm, motivation.

How to Get Clarity

OK, great … we want to get clarity in our lives … how do we do that?

I’ll share some things I’ve learned for finding clarity:

  1. Create some space. When we’re unclear on something (how we should reach a goal, for example) … most often we put it off instead of getting any clarity. Instead, try creating some space to get clarity. Carve out an hour. Half a day. A weekend. (Depending on how big the thing is that you need clarity on.) Then do the things below. But carve out the space.
  2. Journal, iterate. Write about what you need clarity on — it doesn’t have to be any solid answers, or any kind of coherent writing. Just let your thoughts pour out. Stream of consciousness. Just give yourself space to reflect.
  3. Meditate & contemplate. Similarly, you can go out in nature and spend some time in solitude. Go for a walk. Sit on a rock. Meditate. See what comes up for you. Hold one question in your mind: “What do I want here?” Or something like that. See if anything emerges as you hold the question.
  4. Talk to others. Share your thoughts with others. Share what you’re not sure about. What you’re afraid of. Hear their thoughts. Just the act of talking it out is valuable — you’re giving space for your thoughts and feelings, and having them heard. Often you can get clarity from a good conversation.
  5. When you have a little clarity, write it down. If you have some kind of answer, any kind of clarity at all, write it down as simply as you can. Two sentences. Putting it down simply helps it become more clear. And then you can start to take action on it.
  6. Take action to get clarity. Many people think they need to have clarity before they take action, but it often happens the other way around. Have the slightest bit of direction? Go in that direction, take the first steps, see what it’s like. You’ll learn more from doing than going back and forth on things. For example, as I started working on my mission, I got clearer and clearer that this is what was meaningful for me, but I also got clearer on how I’d go about doing it. Maybe in a couple years, I’ll have even more clarity, but I’m not going to wait for that in order to take action. Start moving, and learn from that.
  7. Reflect after you take action & get clearer. As you set things in motion, it’s useful to step back every month or two to see how things are going. What have you learned? What’s getting in the way? Use what you’ve learned to get even more clarity. Write it down simply. Take action again.

And repeat.

What areas of your life need clarity? How is the lack of clarity affecting you and those around you?

Are you ready to create the space to get the clarity?

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The Honest Guide to Mindfulness

Mindfulness has (amazingly, wonderfully) become quite a buzzword in the last decade or so, and for good reason. It’s powerful, and can help us to become more present, happier, more focused, and much more.

However, if you’re new to mindfulness, it’s easy to get the wrong idea from all the marketing you’ll find online. Images of people at complete peace with the world and themselves, full of bliss, simply by sitting still and meditating for a few minutes … they are beautiful images, but they don’t tell the whole truth.

Mindfulness is powerful, and you should absolutely do it. But you should do it with your eyes wide open, knowing what’s up.

So here’s my attempt at an honest guide to mindfulness.

Mindfulness is hard. You can meditate and get antsy, want to get up, want to go do something else, plan your day, dive into your work, answer a few messages, search for some information you’re itching to know about.

Mindfulness is hard, which is a good reason to do it.

Mindfulness is messy. You’ll get started with meditation, maybe get on a streak of meditating every day, and feel really good about yourself. Then you might fall off, struggle to start again, feel bad about it. You’ll do this for years, perhaps. Or maybe you’ll meditate regularly but struggle to be mindful throughout the day, especially during certain situations like working online or while you’re eating or socializing. You’ll get better at being present, but only in spurts and starts, and the learning will be anything but smooth.

Mindfulness is messy, just like life, which is the reason to open up to the messiness instead of our usual desire for things to be orderly and neat. We can learn to accept the messiness of life if we practice with it.

Mindfulness is uncomfortable. Sitting still and facing the sensations of the present moment can feel boring. It can bring up itches that you just need to scratch right now. Urges to go to do something else, to plan and solve and remember, will come up, because they are the old mental habits. And not following those urges can be very uncomfortable.

Mindfulness is uncomfortable because it’s so rare for us not to indulge in those old mental patterns. But that’s the very reason it’s so powerful.

Mindfulness pulls the rug out from under your feet. Let’s say you’ve been practicing meditation for a few months, and you think you’re getting the hang of it. All of a sudden, everything you think you knew about meditation can be upended, as you learn something new, or as a new pattern starts to come up. Now you have to adjust to that. After a few months, you might think you know a thing or two, and then you read a book or listen to a talk from a teacher, and that gets yanked away from you too. Over and over, you get upended, and it can be very jarring each time.

Mindfulness can be jarring when you get upended. And that’s part of the magic too — feeling like we are on solid ground is an illusion, and learning to deal with the groundlessness of not knowing is an incredible practice.

Mindfulness takes a metric crap-ton of practice. You’ll suck at meditation (or any other mindfulness practice) when you first start. You can’t “do it right” or keep your attention on anything for very long. Don’t worry, you never really master it! It’s all continual practice, without ever feeling like you know exactly what you’re doing. You practice and practice, and then practice some more. You might make some progress, only to find out that you still have so much more to learn.

It takes a crapload of practice, and that’s a beautiful thing to open up to.

You’ll think you’re doing it wrong, and fail a lot. You’ll start out and continually feel like your’e doing it wrong, and that won’t feel very good. The good news is that no one knows what the hell they’re doing, and it often won’t feel very good. The better news is that it’s not supposed to feel good, and you learn to accept the idea that you’re never very sure of anything. This is what life is always like, but we just usually blame it on the external circumstances (or think there’s something wrong with us), rather than accepting this uncertainty about everything as a basic part of our lives that we can open up to and even love.

It’ll show you all your “faults.” You’ll learn through mindfulness practice that you’re not as disciplined as you’d like to be. You’re not as tough, competent, skilled, exceptional. This will become clear as you practice.

You’ll come face-to-face with all of your demons. And then you’ll make friends with them.

You’ll start to think other people should be more mindful … and you’ll be wrong. As you start to get “better” at mindfulness, and more and more aware of your habits and patterns and thoughts … as you drop into the present more often … it will become clearer when other people aren’t being mindful. And you might think they should be practicing too, that they should put their phones down and be more present. You’ll think you know how others should be mindful, because you’ve learned a thing or two.

And then you’ll realize that judging others and thinking you know how others should behave is just your mind’s old pattern of judging and trying to get control. You’ll learn to let that go too, sometimes … and when you do, that’s when you’ll become more open to connecting with others vulnerably.

It requires more than mindfulness. As you practice, you’ll find that mindfulness by itself isn’t the answer to everything. It doesn’t magically solve any problems. It’s a powerful practice, and can bring wonderful awareness to your life. But sometimes that awareness is of all the terrible things you’re feeling, all the harsh thoughts you have about yourself, all the harsh thoughts you have about other people or the world around you. Awareness doesn’t always feel good! And it doesn’t solve everything.

Mindfulness is only part of the work. The work also requires compassion — for yourself and others. It requires vulnerability and the ability to open your heart. It requires honesty and the willingness to face things. It requires being willing to love things as they are, without needing to control things. It requires letting go of what you think things should be like, letting go of what you think you should have or shouldn’t have. The work requires you to be willing to be curious, to be open, to remain in not knowing.

It is beautiful work, and requires courage. I am learning along with you, and am glad to be on this journey with a fellow explorer.

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Move Towards Your Resistance

Our minds have the tendency to turn away and move away from what we’re fearing and resisting the most. We naturally don’t like pain, frustration, difficulty. So turning away and avoiding and putting off are protective acts.

And yet, this keeps us in our comfort zone. The path of growth is in the parts we’re resisting.

Each day, find the thing you’re resisting the most and move towards it.

I don’t mean that you should do something that’s actually unsafe. Jumping off a cliff to your death is not a good example of moving towards your resistance. Putting yourself in physical danger isn’t what I’m suggesting.

I’m inviting you to find the thing in your business or personal life that you know would be powerful for you, but that you’re resisting doing. Move towards that.

Turn toward it and look it in the face.

Move closer to the fear and let yourself feel it completely. Open your heart to it.

Let your love melt the resistance a little. Stay in it even if it doesn’t evaporate. Be courageous and fearless with it.

Do the thing you’re resisting the most. Do it bolder and louder than you are comfortable with. Do it with love, from a place of love. Do it long enough that you are no longer held back by it, and your relationship to it is transformed.

Find the joy and beauty in the middle of the resistance. Find gratitude in the midst of your fear. Find play in the midst of your burden.

You only need to focus on one small moment of it at a time, instead of the whole huge burden of it. You only need to open your heart for a moment. And then another, and another, but you don’t need to worry about all those anothers right now. Just this one moment.

Move closer to your resistance, open your heart to it, do it repeatedly, and see what happens. That’s my invitation to you.

Join my Fearless Training Program and practice with me.

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Transforming Overwhelm & Burden to Something Powerful

How many of you have felt overwhelmed recently by everything you have to do?

How many of you have felt something you have to do — or everything you have to do — as a burden?

Many of us feel everything we have to do as burden, as overwhelm. It stems from how we look at the world: it’s hard, it’s difficulty to bear, and things are crashing down around us.

This is not said judgmentally, but with compassion — almost all of us see things this way. It feels like it’s programming that’s hardwired into us.

But it’s changeable. It starts by shifting how we see the world.

Instead of seeing the world as burden, can we see it as gift?

Instead of seeing the world as difficulty and struggle, can we see it as possibility and opportunity?

Instead of thinking we have too much to do, can we see the joy in each task? And see that a pile of tasks, then, is an abundance of joy and possibility?

Because yes, we have a huge amount of tasks to do, and we feel like we don’t have enough time to do them all. But we all have the same amount of time, and all we can do is one task at a time. There’s no way around this.

We can get better at choosing which tasks to do (prioritizing), but in the end there’s never any certainty that we’re doing the exact right tasks. We can expand our capabilities through automation, delegation and outsourcing, but experience tells us that even doing all of that, we still have too many tasks to do. The problem doesn’t go away with these kinds of tricks.

The amount of tasks isn’t the problem, because we’ll always have too many to do. The problem comes partly from overcommitting to too much, but even if we get better at that, we often still feel overwhelm and burden.

The only real solution is a change in mindset. To see everything we have to do as a gift, as possibility and opportunity, as an abundance of joy.

We can implement systems, get good at prioritizing, get more focused, outsource and delegate and simplify and commit to doing less … but in the end, burden and overwhelm won’t go away until we shift the mindset.

So here’s the practice:

  1. When you experiencing overwhelm, burden, or fear, pause and feel it. Let yourself be fully with it, experience it, feel it fully, and open up to it. Can you be curious about it? Can you find a way to love this feeling?
  2. See if you can see the tasks in front of you as a gift. You choose to do these because you want to. They are benefitting you and others. Do them with love, and be grateful for the gift of each one.
  3. See if you can see the possibility and opportunity in each one. What can be done with them? How are they more open and vast than you feel them to be?
  4. Can you experience the abundance of joy in your pile of tasks? If each one is a joyful gift, then isn’t there pure abundance in this pile? You can reach into the pile and pull out an opportunity for joy, growth, and giving your gift to the world.

Mindset shifts aren’t something we can just flip like a switch. They need to be consciously practiced. Can you see the possibilities in this practice?

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