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An Introduction & Invitation: Wake Up Before Your Wake Up Call

Welcome, everyone.

My name is Toni Parker and I’m excited you are here. I’ve been working on my book Wake Up Before Your Wake Up Call and I have so much I want to share. I am looking forward to engaging with community, inspiring conversation, and connecting. As a therapist, speaker, and meditation teacher, I have sat with many people, been inspired to deeply listen, and support the process of getting to know oneself. Through my work, I have helped people to wake up. I have helped people to learn to wake up and pay attention to the sensations in their body, their thoughts, feelings, and to learn to hear the messages that are speaking to them. I have listened to my calling and I am here to offer you the opportunity to do the same.

Often, our minds and bodies are asking us to wake up. We experience subtle sensations, perceptions, or opportunities. However, truly hearing those sensations knock is a practice. Our lives are full, fast paced, and demand a lot from us. Sometimes we are on autopilot going from one thing to the next and we don’t pay attention to the messages we are receiving. Taking time to pay attention to these messages can be a challenge. Navigating boundaries, social media overload, jobs that require constant attention, or raising families can be both wonderful and exhausting. Life asks so much of us. Finding time to steal away, to sit quietly, to get to know yourself offers you the chance to hear when your life is asking you to wake up.

I want to invite you to notice where you might be receiving wake up calls in your life. Are you taking time to slow down, to notice the Spring trees in bloom, or the way you feel as you listen to a piece of music? Are you recognizing when you might be feeling disconnected in your relationship but don’t want to acknowledge it because it could be too painful? Are you experiencing some kind of anxiety but are not sure what it is or where it is coming from? If we begin to investigate those sensations, emotions, and feelings then we can wake up before something bigger happens. We can begin to make conscious choices about how we want to live with intention that aligns with our values.

Sometimes we are shaken awake by a major transition, event, or crisis. However, waking up doesn’t have to come at one of these pivotal moments. Waking up to your life can be slow, soft, and subtle, and teach us to pay attention to those whispers we hear but sometimes ignore. Shifting your perception, awakening your senses, and mindfully walking through your day can alter the way you show up in your life.

Our emotions offer us so much information. Even in moments of feeling sad, or exhausted, or resentful, we can learn a lot about who we are. We can take these experiences as lessons, even as friends, that teach us about our own humanness.

Have you ever asked yourself:

  • What am I feeling sad about?
  • What makes me feel most alive?
  • How can my answers inform my decisions?
  • Can I accept this and continue asking with a curious and open heart?
  • What could I do differently?
  • What am I willing to do?
  • What do I need right now?

Living a life on autopilot can be numbing, or feel safe. There is comfort in knowing what to expect from your routine. I invite you to ask yourself where that routine is keeping you stuck, where it is dimming your vitality, and becoming an obstacle to your authenticity. I believe you can live a life of feeling, honoring both pleasure and pain, and moving forward in a compassionate, conscious, and curious way.

Are you listening?

Please share in the comments below ways that you connect with the authenticity of your life, what makes you feel alive, and how you practice being awake.

I’m grateful for your presence and honor your journey.

With love,

Toni

 

Waking Up to Your Life: My Offering to You

The bulk of my work is geared towards helping people wake up to their lives. As a psychotherapist and group facilitator, I’ve noticed that people tend to come to therapy because a major wake up call or crisis has occurred. We then work on what this means to them and how to transition from such big changes. I also see people that are feeling depressed, anxious, lonely, or sitting with the sensation that something is off. This is where we dig in and take the time to figure things out. I’m ever curious and excited by learning about the needs and experiences of the individuals I work with. From working so intimately with people, I feel grateful to be teaching ways we can find more connection to our lives and others. I’ve come up with five pillars, or focal points, to practice waking up daily. These five pillars have come from years of witnessing people in therapy, facilitating groups, and leading classes. I feel so blessed to be able to share with you what I most deeply care about. It is important for us to understand what is present for us. These five pillars can help you in your understanding when times feel challenging, and offer you a path to waking up to your most fulfilling life.

Pillar 1: Body Sensations

As a starting place, having a keen sense of our physical life, a baseline, allows us to move with grace and confidence. Tuning into the body and listening to its signals bring us closer to our connection with consciousness. In Buddhist and Western psychology, the body is believed to be a conduit for life energy. Are you connecting to the innate wisdom of your body? Are you checking in and listening to the messages? What do you feel? Where do you feel it? Sit with what arises whether it is discomfort or calm, rate it, and try to understand what your body is communicating to you. Often, anxiety can present physically. Do you notice it in your chest? What might it be trying to teach you? I want to encourage you to nurture your body’s wisdom, not to block or numb it. Physical activity can help break up stagnation and a build up of energy. Burst exercise, tapping, walking in nature, and gentle stretching can support your body’s ability to communicate with you as well as to release anything that doesn’t serve you.

Pillar 2: Mind Kindness

Mind kindness works to teach us to separate the noise from the insights/inspiration/intuition we receive. My hope is to support you in breaking through internal chatter that is destructive and distracting so that you can align with true spirit from a place of peace. We can all be victims of our own mind. One practice, and it is a practice, is to take some time away from the bombardment of information–phones, computers, ipads, etc. that deliver a never ending wave of news, email, or messages. This constant flood is a barrier to true connectedness. The goal is not about shutting off or blocking your thoughts. I encourage you to  notice, to say hello, and even thank your fertile mind. Then, you can engage with what comes next. It’s challenging to be fully present when our mind creates stories, lives in the past, or in the future. In moments of overwhelming thoughts, grab onto something tangible to shake up the thought pattern. Bring yourself back to the present and try grounding yourself with breath and movement.

Pillar 3: Emotional Equanimity

There is a paradox I often see around trying to find the balance of being alive with ideas and vitality as well as being at peace. When life feels too serious, or you are taking yourself too seriously, what thoughts can you bring in to make yourself laugh? What brings you joy? What memories make you giggle to yourself? Let’s loosen up with some laughter! When we learn to forgive ourselves, forgiveness of others becomes much easier. Let go of resentment, of the story, and forgive! With the practice of becoming awake, we must learn to be flexible and not stuck in rigidity. Life is in constant motion as are our emotions. How do you bring in movement and levity when life feel too serious?

Pillar 4: Self-Compassion

Humans can be impatient, cruel, and self-critical. How can we be kind to others if we are not practicing kindness towards ourselves? Find your tribe, offer yourself the compassion of connection. Sometimes honoring yourself and being compassionate is a practice of letting go of people that do not serve you any longer. Being kind to ourselves gives us the deep ability to be kind to all sentient beings–animals, children, nature, etc. Scheduling in self-care, alone time, and meditation can help solidify this practice of self-compassion. How do you practice self-kindness and love?

Pillar 5: Waking Up to the World

Let’s work to enrich and broaden life. Are you moving through the world awake or numb? How can you tell the difference? Get involved and give back! This can expand your awareness of the world, connect you to your heart and the needs of the world, and open you up to new possibilities and opportunities. Practice loving others and see how your mind and heart shift. For example, when my husband, Steve, would pass homeless people on the street he would bring them a meal. Have you ever given your time or energy to someone in need? What does it feel like to show interest and love by offering your attention? Don’t be afraid to feel! Give yourself the freedom to activate your senses in nature, feel her beauty, grace, and the immensity of her gifts. How does this influence the way you show up in the world? It is never too late to be who you are meant to be. We can take the fulfillment of our dreams into our own hands!

Stay tuned for my next blog on action steps towards waking up!

With love,

Toni

Mindful Self-Compassion

Relationships are one of our most important sources of well-being.  When we are down or distressed, we turn to others (partners, friends, parents, children) for comfort and guidance. Our intimate relationships, along with the relationship that we have with ourselves, can bring us great joy and, at times, also disappointment.  The way to navigate dealing with both circumstances is to have compassion.  Not only compassion for others and the situation, but compassion for yourself.

Self-compassion is when you are aware and honest, with a willingness to be non-judgemental, towards yourself.  No one in the world knows your feelings as well as you do. Because of this, you are the one most qualified person to bring compassion to yourself, which includes care, sensitivity, warmth, awareness, and kindness.  Having compassion for yourself will help you to bring compassion to others and your relationships with acceptance, unconditional love, and understanding.

Bringing Mindful Self-Compassion Into Your Life 

1. Remind yourself to slow down.  Take notice of when you become irritable or angry, especially towards yourself.  Meeting yourself where you are, rather where you think you should be, will help to you to accept the situation, calm yourself, and slow down.

2. Ask yourself how can you be happy right now.  Enjoy what you want for the fact that you like it or the activity of it.  This will help bring more awareness about yourself and what makes you happy.

3. When you make a mistake, it becomes a great opportunity to express compassion.  Remember that we are all human and we probably will hurt someone or ourselves – it is part of the human experience.  Taking responsibility for the mistake is a great example of using compassion towards yourself along with situation or person that was hurt.

4.  Learn to generate a kind voice in your own head.  Think of something that you do not like about yourself – as if you have a critic.  What is the critic saying and what emotions are rising as you hear them?   Invite and acknowledge all of these feelings and emotions, whatever they are – anger, sadness, fear, resentment, envy.  Try not to judge any of it as they are simply just thoughts and feelings moving through you. It is neither bad nor good, just awareness.  The compassionate self must be built – this is a great awareness exercise for building it up.

As you practice self-compassion, you will likely discover the awareness of being present.  You will feel more freedom to show up as you are and a greater sense of well-being, for yourself and your relationships.  Another wonderful outcome of practicing self-compassion is once you’ve experienced it for yourself, you will have it to share with others and it will flow automatically and effortlessly.

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Building Your Marriage on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness are based on the Satipatthana Sutta, one of the most important and widely studied discourses in Buddhism. This fourfold “establishment of mindfulness” was created to help us attain, as well as maintain, moment-to-moment mindfulness in our lives.

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness are:

  1. Mindfulness of your body
  2. Mindfulness of your feelings
  3. Mindfulness of your mind or consciousness
  4. Mindfulness of how your mind operates

It’s important to note that you don’t have to be a Buddhist to benefit from practicing mindfulness in your marriage. As we’ve read in The Mindful Marriage, mindfulness empowers you to become more present to everything in your life, including your relationship with your partner.

Mindfulness of Your Body

The first foundation is mindfulness of your physical body. This base foundation provides a starting point and brings you into the present moment. You can get in tune with your body by doing Mindfulness Meditation or by conducting a body scan.

The intention of a body scan is to simply become aware of and present with your body. It’s nice to relax and it’s great if it happens, but that’s not the goal of this exercise. The goal is to check in with each area of your body in a nonjudgmental way, to feel what there is to feel.

The Mindful Marriage Body Scan
Begin by sitting comfortably. Start to “feel” into the areas of your body that are in contact with your chair in this moment. Feel into where your feet touch the ground. Feel where your legs, your back, your arms, and maybe even your head comes into contact with the chair. You may be feeling tingling or a change in temperature. Notice your breath entering and leaving your body. Remember to continue to breathe easily throughout this entire exercise.

Now, move your attention to your ankles and lower legs. What do you feel? Perhaps it’s the pressure of your legs against the ground or fabric. If you notice that your attention is somewhere else, gently and without judgment return your attention to your legs. Sometimes it’s helpful to imagine that you are breathing into your lower legs – as if your attention could ride on the breath.

Next, move your attention to your knees and thighs. What do you feel? Remember, tingling or even numbness counts as a sensation. Notice that thinking about a specific area or picturing it in your mind’s eye is different from actually feeling it.

Let your focus move from your thighs to your lower trunk, your pelvis and your belly, up to your belly button. Notice any sensations in these areas.

Now, let go and feel into your upper body – your stomach and chest areas, feeling the sensations of the breath here with each inhalation and each exhalation. Feel your spine against the back of the chair. Notice any sensations – or absence of sensations – that are here.

From here, move your attention to your hands and each of your fingers. Then, when you’re ready, move your focus to your wrists and forearms and feel there. From there, move to your elbows and upper arms, noticing any sensations or lack of sensations. Remember, if your mind wanders off, bring it back to the body part you are focusing on.

Move your attention to your shoulders, the back of your neck, and then to your head. Feel your jaw, your face, mouth, nose, cheeks, eyes, forehead, and your entire face.

Now, become openly aware of your entire body again. Imagine breathing from the crown of your head all the way down into your toes and up and out again. Notice all the sensations in body and allow them to be just as they are in this moment.

Allow some movement back into your body, like wiggling your fingers and toes. Stretch your body in any way it wants that feels good. Take a moment to reflect on your experience.

In marriage, mindfulness of your body will help you to become cognizant of yourself before tension can elevate into conflict. For example, if you’re talking with your partner and you feel a knot in your stomach, it may be a signal that you need to express something that you’re holding back. Pay attention to fluctuation in your body temperature, pressure in your head, tension or pain in your joints, and tingling in your hands and feet.

Mindfulness of Your Feelings

The second foundation is mindfulness of your feelings or sensations. As you begin to become mindful of your physical body, your awareness of feelings and sensations also becomes heightened.

Feelings can be classified into three tones:

  1. Pleasant
  2. Unpleasant
  3. Neutral

These tones correspond with your emotions and help you to see things as they really are.

It’s not unusual to see things differently than your partner. For example, if you both watch the same movie, one of you may love it and think of it as a pleasant experience while the other may really dislike it and perceive it as an unpleasant experience. Your different “feelings” about the movie can result in a disagreement that escalates and leads to conflict.

Coming to terms with your feelings and emotions, especially when they’re unpleasant, can be downright uncomfortable. Given the choice, most of us would prefer to avoid them and push them under the rug. This is unhealthy. Instead, take time to understand your feelings and label them – pleasant, unpleasant, neutral. Remember that these tones aren’t judgments or thoughts. They are merely a way to classify what you are feeling and sensing so that you can comfortably “be” with things as they are.

Mindfulness of Your Mind or Consciousness

The third foundation is mindfulness of your mind or consciousness. Another way to think of this foundation is to be mindful of your mental state without making judgements. This foundation focuses on turning your attention towards your mental activity (those thoughts and emotions running rampant in your head) and offers up a different lens to see them as objects that can be observed in a non-reactive way.

Just like your feelings and sensations, your various states of mind come and go, depending on what is happening in your relationship and your life in general. Sometimes you are restless and discontent, sometimes you are happy and full of positivity. These thoughts, feelings, and states of mind can pull you into a narrative that may not be accurate. This only serves to distract you from the present moment.

As you learn to observe your mental states without judgment or opinion, you can start to disentangle yourself from unbeneficial thoughts. Mindfulness of your mind with this awareness will empower you to approach your marriage with a newfound perspective.

Mindfulness of How Your Mind Operates

The fourth and last foundation is mindfulness of how your mind operates. This foundation focuses on opening yourself up to the world you experience.

This asks you to look at your subjective experiences as a gateway. It prompts you to ask questions like, “What am I identifying with or resisting that keeps me tied to this suffering?” or, “What is the origin of this suffering?” Being mindful of your experiences in this way allows you to get to the root of your subjective experience, allowing you to become fully aware and open.

For example, if you’ve had a regrettable incident with your partner, you’re likely feeling sad, angry, misunderstood, tense and/or irritable. You may launch into negative thoughts and judgments about yourself or your partner and how you both reacted. You might be thinking, “Why was he/she so mean? Nothing ever seems to work between us!”

If you can be mindful of how your mind operates, unpacking the experience so it doesn’t remain a ball of confused emotions, sensations, and mind states, then you are more apt to reduce gridlock in your relationship. This allows whatever is arising in your body in response to conflict – that tension or shortness of breath you’re experiencing – to come and go with an attitude of friendliness, openness, and understanding. In this state, you become more self-aware and can resist the urge to stonewall.

Putting these Four Foundations of Mindfulness into practice will ultimately put you in touch with your body, feelings, mind, and how your mind operates, helping you to wake up to yourself, your partner, and the needs of your marriage.

 

Article source: The Gottman Blog

Strengthen your Brain

The brain can change. The first step in this process is identifying the circuitry problem – or the patterns of activity that are underlying what you are trying to figure out. The second step is figure out how to do an intervention to make the changes. Slowly, yet steadily, researchers have identified ways to strengthen the communication from the prefrontal cortex to the amygdala – it is the strength of that connection and the relative activity in those two regions that underlies whether you are resilient or not. These researchers have found that one way to strengthen your prefrontal cortex is to exercise. The prefrontal cortex is the organ of executive decision making, planning and also postponing gratification.

Another way to strengthen your brain – and this may sound like telling an alcoholic to go to a bar – is to find ways to put yourself in situations where you have to resist temptation, where you have to postpone gratification, as this will strengthen your prefrontal cortex. Strengthening the prefrontal cortex will enable it to send stronger signals to the amygdala, which helps the brain calm down and change.

Another example for strengthening your brain is mental training or mediation which can be applied to self-awareness. Obsessive self-awareness can be uncomfortable, if not pathological, but with mindfulness meditation you can learn to step back from what you are feeling. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to have significant clinical effects in only a few short months. It has so much to contribute to the possibility of harnessing the power of neuroplasticity to change the brain, particularly in the area of attention. Mindfulness meditation helps to quiet down the amygdala.

You can find beginning and everyday guided meditations all throughout the internet. Also, many yoga studios offer mediation sessions during or after class. You may find your own ways of calming yourself – a ritual such as playing music, reading, cooking, anything that calms your mind – that makes you feel calm and peaceful, which will again help the brain calm down and change. All of these rituals and mindfulness meditations will no doubt help improve your relationships and overall capabilities of handling what life throws your way.

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How to Bring Heartfulness Into Your Marriage

We often hear the words “mindfulness” and “compassion” as interchangeable, positive attributes to embody and integrate into our lives. Although complimentary, mindfulness and compassion are not the same.

Mindfulness is about maintaining a moment-to-moment awareness and acceptance of your thoughts, feelings, physiology, and surrounding environment. When we talk about mindfulness, we also hear the term “loving kindness.”

So, what do these words really mean, how are they interwoven, and why is practicing them within marriage so important?

As Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. explains, “In Asian languages, the word for ‘mind’ and the word for ‘heart’ are the same. So, if you’re not hearing mindfulness in some deep way as heartfulness, you’re not really understanding it. Compassion and kindness towards oneself are intrinsically woven into it. You could think of mindfulness as wise and affectionate attention.”

Simply put, by practicing mindfulness and compassion, you powerfully bring your heart and mind together as one.

Mindfulness in marriage is about being receptive to your relationship experience and being present without judgment, while loving kindness and compassion are about embracing the fact you want to be free of pain and suffering and that your true wish is to alleviate yourself, as well as others, from this suffering.

Why Do You Need Heartfulness?
So, why do you need heartfulness – that melding of mindfulness and compassion – in your relationship? Because relationships are hard! Applying heartfulness in your marriage can help you, as Dr. John Gottman explains, to soften your startup. You are more able to be present, aware, and attentive of what you communicate and how it impacts your partner when you are talking to them. Practicing this on a daily basis helps you to see things clearer, view interactions through a lens of kindness rather than judgment, and act with calm wisdom instead of reacting. Softening the startup of your communications with your partner in this way will lead to a more stable and happy relationship.

The Benefits of Heartfulness
Approaching your marriage with heartfulness will produce numerous long-term benefits. Here are a few of the positive effects it can have on you and your spouse:

• The ability to handle difficult emotions with greater ease
• New perspectives on stressful situations
• More fluid communications
• Improved emotional well-being
• Transformation of your potentially difficult relationship

Integrating Heartfulness Into Your Marriage
The key to being heartful is to actively listen to your partner with an open heart and without judgment. Instead of thinking of the next thing that you’re going to say, be present and compassionate to what your partner is going through and what they are trying to communicate. The only way to do this is to step out of your own story so that you can fully take in and acknowledge what your partner is experiencing.

Now, I’m not saying that stepping out of your story is easy. By human nature, we’re all susceptible to falling prey to our own self-defeating narratives. Getting unstuck from this place takes yet another level of heartfulness – one that is focused inward.

I’ve certainly experienced the challenge of focusing heartfulness inward. There were times in my marriage where I became frustrated and critical with my late husband, Steve, saying things to him that could have been delivered more mindfully. Luckily, he dabbled in eastern practices and psychology himself, so when he saw I was triggered he had the wisdom to gently guide me towards having more self-compassion. In these instances, Steve would remind me to get in touch with my feelings and say, “Why don’t you take a moment and give yourself some compassion and then we can revisit and talk about what’s bothering you a bit later?”

Stepping back and changing my attitude towards myself first allowed me to calm down. I could then, in turn, be more trusting toward my husband and move forward communicating more openly.

The next time your buttons get pushed, or you start to blame your partner for something, take the opportunity to give yourself some compassion first. Then, after you are calmly refocused, make the space and effort to re-focus some of that compassion and kindness on your partner.

Heartful Affirmations
Practicing heartfulness can be as simple as expressing loving kindness and compassion through short and thoughtful affirmations. The next time you are upset, try saying the following out loud:

To yourself:
• “I am filled with loving kindness.”
• “I am safe and protected.”
• “I will get through this.”
• “I accept myself just the way I am.”

To your partner:
• “May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you find peace.”
• “May you accept yourself just as you are.”
• “May you be filled with loving kindness.”
• “May you live with ease and peace.”

The key is to find affirmations that resonate with you. Say these phrases softly, with a spirit of kindness towards yourself and your partner. Adopting a spirit of caring and kindness will make you feel more connected and most likely trigger a significant shift in your relationship. This shift will cause new pathways of understanding to open up, making you feel cared for, connected, safe, and protected.

Whatever your experience, commit to moving forward with mindful acceptance. Practice non-judgment and remember to extend equal amounts of compassion to your partner and yourself. Even though you may not always agree with or even understand what your partner is saying, integrating heartfulness into your marriage will enable you to be compassionate with each other in times of struggle and embrace the imperfections of your relationship with loving-kindness. Collectively, this is a powerful force for overcoming the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse – criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

As you can see, injecting your marriage with heartfulness – that powerful blend of mindfulness and compassion, towards your partner and yourself – doesn’t have to be complicated.  As Dr. Gottman says, “It’s the small things done often that make the difference!”

 

Resource: Gottman Blog

How to Rewire Your Brain and Build Greater Connection

Think you and your partner are destined to emotionally react to the same old triggers, until “death do you part?” Thanks to research in the field of neuroplasticity by Dan Siegel, Richard Davidson, and Jon Kabat-Zinn to name a few, we now know it’s possible to change our mental patterns to achieve a different outcome. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections. Reorganization can be done in a number of ways; however, two extremely effective means are through meditation and mindfulness.

Becoming mindful and aware can help you to identify and observe the patterns in your relationship that may be contributing to feelings of anxiety, disconnection, frustration, and loneliness: your partner perpetually connected to their cell phone instead of you; days-on-end where one or both of you come home from work, too exhausted to connect over the events of the day; your partner coming across as disinterested or apparently too tired to truly listen to what you have to say and share with them. Perhaps your own critical thoughts and defensiveness are taking a toll? These scenarios and more can lead to escalated misunderstandings, stonewalling, and ultimately, the death of your relationship.

In times like these, pause for a moment and ask yourself, “What is coming between me and my partner? Why are we having trouble connecting? What are the patterns that are preventing us from being intimate? What are some practices that can help us, individually and as a couple, to both wake up and open our hearts to one another with compassion and loving kindness?”

Paying close attention to what is going on within you, and within your heart, will give you the ability to be mindful and present to what you are experiencing in the moment. It’s also important to regularly unplug from technology, so that you can be fully present and listen to one another. In this space, you can then come from a place of responding to your partner with calmness and ease, rather than reacting and emotionally “shooting from the hip” without giving forethought to what you say and the actions you take.

Time to Rewire Your Brain

Here’s a short, yet powerful practice to help you figure out what’s necessary to feel connected with yourself and with your partner, so that you can rewire your brain.

  • Gently close your eyes and let your attention focus inward for a moment.
  • Feel your breath, your heart, and the life-energy within your body. Feel yourself – fully here in this moment – in a loving and caring way.
  • Let yourself become open and aware of what is going on inside of you. Observe this with acceptance, kindness, and compassion, and a deep understanding of wanting to know what is going on within you.
  • For the next few moments, as you pay attention to what is going on inside you, take time to ask yourself, “What is going on? What do I need in order to ‘wake up’? What does it mean to be intimate and really connect with my partner and myself?”
  • Relax and let yourself imagine what would help you. Pay close attention and be mindful to what comes up, tuning into those inner whispers that are trying to tell you something. Allow yourself to feel and embody these emotions, thoughts and actions.
  • Most importantly, really focus on channeling love toward your partner and yourself.
  • After you have sat with what has arisen for a few minutes, take a few full breaths and come back to the present moment.

Practicing mindfulness meditation like this will make you aware of the destructive patterns in your relationship and even your life in general. It will help you to cultivate new healthy habits and patterns of communication, and ultimately serve to reorganize and redirect your neural pathways.

Healthy habits, affection, and bonding are essential for your physical, mental, and spiritual well being. When you and your partner feel mutually nurtured and cared for, your neural pathways in your brain fire, leading to feelings of love and greater connection.

Remember, you are in control of your relationship’s emotional and physical destiny! It just takes time, practice, and compassion – for yourself and your partner.

Resource: Gottman Blog
Photo: Courtesy of  digitalart on Freedigitalphotos.net

How to Mindfully Meditate in Marriage

Do you find yourself feeling anxious, depressed, or even lonely in your relationship?

All of us experience challenges and conflicts in our marriage at one time or another. As Dr. John Gottman explains, continuously mishandling ongoing problems can result in uncomfortable gridlock and a sense that you are “spinning your wheels” and getting nowhere. The key to avoiding gridlock is to gain a better understanding of what your partner is thinking and feeling – but how?

Life is ever-changing and, whether you realize it or not, you make choices daily about how to respond to your partner. It takes disengaging from autopilot to become more aware of your own thoughts and actions. This is where mindfulness meditation comes in. Mindfulness meditation stems from Vipassana or insight meditation, which translates into “clear seeing or insight.”Although rooted in Buddhist meditation, we are going to be exploring the secular practice of mindfulness in this new series titled The Mindful Marriage.

Mindfulness meditation is not just about relaxation – it’s about maintaining a moment-to-moment awareness and acceptance of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.

It’s important to approach meditation with a “beginner’s mind.” With this mindset, you’re able to see your partner with fresh eyes.

Mindfulness meditation is not about giving up all of your concerns or thoughts about a situation. Instead, it allows you to take in new information and look at in a different way. This empowers you to become more present to everything in your life and ultimately brings back a sense of wonder, curiosity, and awe.

Exercise: Putting Mindfulness Meditation into Practice

Here is a simple meditation exercise that I like to practice daily. I recommend doing this 20 minutes a day. However, if your life doesn’t allow for this at the moment, start with five or ten minutes. The most important part is to get started meditating on a regular basis. It will enable you to tune into the present moment and become mindful of the different sensations in your body.

Begin by sitting comfortably, with both feet on the ground. Gently close your eyes or lower your gaze, as you start to observe your breath. Bring your attention to how your feet come into contact with the floor. Become aware of any or all of the sensations you are feeling. Notice the firmness of the ground under your feet and the points of contact where your shoes touch your feet. Pause, take a breath.

Moving your attention higher, notice where your thighs and buttocks come in contact with the chair. Allow the chair to support you and hold your body without your needing to do anything.

Now, move your attention to your back. Where does your back come in contact with the chair?  Can you feel the difference between where there is contact and where isn’t? (Pause, take a breath.)

Bring your attention to your hands. Notice what are they touching—perhaps the chair, your thighs, or maybe your other hand. Are they tingling, cool or warm? Just notice any sensations.

Now, being fully present, feel your entire body sitting on the chair in this moment. Bring your attention to your breath, making the next couple of breaths a little bit deeper so you can really feel the breath. (Pause, take a breath.)

What sensations are the most pleasant? Where do you feel everything the most? At your nostrils where the air comes in? At the back of your throat? During your in-breath or the out-breath? In your chest or in your belly? Be aware and accepting of whatever you sense in these body parts, without controlling or changing those feelings.

Use this place – where you feel it the most – as an anchor to come back to whenever your mind wanders off. Breathing normally, remember to be kind to yourself as you work this practice into your daily life.

Rest assured, you will have days where you sit down and are laser-focused on the present. There will also be days where you sit down and can hardly remain still, as your mind races. Yes, it can and will be challenging. When this happens, and your mind is wandering, just gently bring yourself back to the breath. This is all part of the practice—the key is to accept what is happening without judgment.

Quieting the excess chatter in your mind will help to steady your emotions and lower your mental and physical levels of stress, making you less reactive to your partner’s words or actions. You can also use this practice to tune in daily and focus on the small, everyday moments with your loved one. Start by paying attention and intently listening to what they have to say or being really present when you hug or kiss them. Actually feel the situation and get in touch with your physical sensations.

Time to take this newfound practice and sense of awareness forward into your marriage!

 

Resource: Gottman Blog
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