Now-ness

Now-ness

“The more you can be completely now, the more you realize that you’re always standing in the middle of a sacred circle. Whether you’re brushing your teeth or wiping your bottom. Whatever you’re doing, you’re doing it now.” – Pema Chodron, Comfortable With Uncertainty

pexels-photo-459846.jpegMindfulness is a practice of wisdom and compassion. As Jonathan Foust writes, mindfulness asks two questions: what is happening? and can I be with it? In order to get to the second question, you must acknowledge the first. This doesn’t mean you have to like it. Instead, a curious awareness of what is happening right now pulls us out of our rumination about the past and our anticipation of the future. It reminds us of our radical resilience in the face of the circumstances and conditions that characterize our unique experience.

The video below, This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life, was presented by David Foster Wallace at Kenyon College’s commencement in 2005. For me, it suggests that our presence, our dwelling in the now, gives us a choice in how to respond. We can choose to stay in auto-pilot, a default mode of avoiding boredom and seeking novelty, or, we can observe with an open, optimistic mind and heart. Most of life is the ordinary. But it becomes extraordinary when we actually live it. Really, really live it.

Pema Chodron shares a story of an arrogant, proud lady who was seeking enlightenment. Asking around, she was told to visit a wise old woman who lived in a cave atop a high mountain. “I want to attain enlightenment” she declared, “show me how.” Chodron continues, “Whereupon, the wise old woman turned into a demon, brandishing a great big stick, and started chasing her, saying, ‘Now! Now! Now!‘” And that’s our reminder.


What “gets you to now?” In our Sunday Meditation Group, participants shared the following: people’s reactions, snuggling, nature, birds, sounds, morning, light, meditation, reminders (mindfulness bell apps), luminous beings, and weather.

When we make time for ourselves and set an intention to do one thing at a time, we arrive at now. In this moment, we have everything we need.


28167291_1931831960465744_282017310712890880_nPlease join Center For Self Care and Your Mindful Coach for these great events “happening now!”
Wed., Mar. 14 – Mindful Dads Meeting
Sun., Mar 18 – The Mindful Parent
Sun., April 8 – Connection and Reflection Retreat (promo code TEACH for 25% discount)
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This Lousy World. And Being With It.

This Lousy World. And Being With It.

To give a cow a large spacious meadow is the best way to control him.” – Suzuki Roshi

I sat in practice. The feeling arose. Somewhere between uncertainty and overwhelm. This feeling didn’t bring a lot of content with it. Somewhat ominous but not quite imminent. Like something lurking in the distance while I rested comfortably behind the reinforced walls of a fortress in my mind.

Sometimes it feels like I’m just a bag of bones meant to carry around this overactive thinking machine of mine. My friend Jim describes it as a “mind tornado”. Rumination, reflection, anticipation and regret. What to do?

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I sat with it. It became a form in my mind, a jagged red shape, not quite circular, rhythmically heaving. It held heat and energy. But it wasn’t me. I imagined myself pulling up a chair next to this feeling. Not quite attending to it, but observing it. “What is this?” I asked. No answer was forthcoming. But I didn’t sense it needed an answer. It just needed to be seen.

From the silence emerged a response, “You don’t know. And that’s OK.” The shape retreated, the mind became still. I found myself at peace, if only for a moment. Psychologist, author and Holocaust-survivor Victor Frankl wrote about the importance of creating space for this peace. This space opens us to choice and possibility. Like the cow in Suzuki Roshi’s quote, making room for our experience allows us to flow more freely through life.

There’s an awful lot going on. Some local, some universal, most repeating and some truly unique. No wonder Jon Kabat-Zinn’s pioneering thome on mindfulness is entitled, Full Catastrophe Living. Our human instinct for survival drives us to make sense of it all and eliminate threats (perhaps foreclosing risk-taking and exploration). But we can find a stillness, if only for a moment. Sitting with our experience. Taking a breath. Being present.

The practice below begins with instructions for quieting and softening the body. An invitation to explore the present experience is offered and a question is asked. Try it out for yourself!


Make some time for yourself to learn and practice in the coming months. Join us for our co-ed full-day retreat, Connection and Reflection on Sunday, April 8. Enter the promotional code “EARLY” for a 10% discount. 

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How Do I Want To Feel In 2018?

How Do I Want To Feel In 2018?

Last year a foolish monk, this year, no change.” – Ryokan

I think that is the point. How do we practice within circumstances and conditions that may not change as quickly as we like or change without us having a sense of control? Do I really need to change to feel happy, at peace and live a life of meaning? Maybe there is something to aspiring to be that foolish monk. As we enter this season of resolutions and new beginnings, I thought I’d walk you through my plan for feeling the way I want to more often in 2018.

Entering 2017, my teacher, Jonathan Foust asked, “How do you want to feel at the end of the year?“ My response was to feel relaxed, to feel confident, and to feel connected. Another question Jonathan likes to ask is, “What is between you and feel free?” or in my case, “What is between you and feeling relaxed, confident and connected?” My responses should sound familiar to you because they are human: uncertainty, doubt, fear, anger, frustration and overwhelm. Each of these reflect my mind declaring that something is wrong and I need to do something about it, the stress response. But do I? When I’m actively taking care of myself, I cultivate a clarity that recognizes when I’m caught and reminds me that it isn’t the end of the world. So this year is going to be all about self-care.

treble-clef-sand-art.jpgRelaxation, confidence and connection are states, not traits. Just like with happiness, sadness, fear, and joy, they are impermanent. Here one moment, gone the next. So the task becomes, how can I develop practices and habits that incline me towards these states so that they arise more frequently and for longer periods of time? I’ll start with some principles in identifying these practices: Heart, Simplicity, and Accountability

Heart – Does what I’m doing have heart?

One of my favorite practices when I am very busy is to take my to-do list, which is crammed with 30, 40 or 50 absolute “must dos,” and consider one question: Does it have heart? The answer for most of my everyday tasks is a resounding no. So I’m planning to put them on the back burner. Certain things just might not get done. There are, however, several things that I do regularly – meditating, exercising and creating – that represent self-care and definitely have a lot of heart.

Simplicity – How can I simplify what I’m doing?

Simplify-Your-Investment-Menu.jpgI have a tendency to equate busyness with accomplishment. So I create unnecessarily complex plans and goals for myself (which also drive my wife a bit crazy when it involves family vacations). Looking back to my year in review for 2016, I listed 12 intentions and 8 goals. It almost feels like it was written by my inner critic because I wasn’t setting myself up for success. So instead, I’ll have a simple scoreboard. I’ll know if I’m on track each day by monitoring just three simple datapoints.

Accountability – Who will keep me on track when motivation fails me?

I do not like to admit failure. Its one of the shortcomings of a perfectionist. I’ve taught habit building to both adults and adolescents and the biggest point of resistance comes when I introduce the concept of accountability partners. This is someone who you check in with and can support you when motivation is lagging. But it can also be a powerful tool, to keep you doing what you said you’d do and also adjust as you progress. So keep an eye on me Jim, Ryan, John, and Thom!

20/20/20 in 2018

new-year-new-me1So here’s what I’m planning for 2018. I’m calling it 20/20/20 and I think it follows the principles I listed above of heart, simplicity and accountability. Further, it brings me closer to the states of feeling relaxed, confident and connected. It is all about self-care. Each day, I will take three 20 minute periods of “single-tasking” one of five activities. My choices are meditating, exercising, stretching, reading and journaling. During this time, I’ll only be “doing what I’m doing.” No headphones, no internet, no distractions. I’m going to carve out space so I’m not moving right from one of these tasks to jumping in the car or rushing through my day. And to keep me accountable, I’m telling you! I’ve published a tool I’m using to track my progress so you can publicly shame me if I get off track! I even let you comment on it! Heck, I’d love you to check it out but I’d be even more thrilled if you’d join me with some intentions of your own. Let me know and I’ll add you.

With this plan in place, there is one final piece, self-compassion. I’m not always gonna get the job done. But with self-compassion, I can recognize that if it was easy, I’d already be doing it. I’m doing my best in this moment and my next step is to get right back on the horse, to create an identity of not missing back-to-back days.

In The Creative Task Of Performing One’s Life, Michael Stone suggests that mindful living helps you “hear what your life has to say to you.” Our heart, mind and body are filled with wisdom and have a lot to say. I’m hoping these practices help me hear more clearly.


If you are still kicking around where you are headed, you might enjoy my recent Center For Self-Care post, 10 Questions To Ask Yourself In 2018.

One of my favorite experts in the area of goals, systems and habits is James Clear. I’ve linked two articles below that changed my perspective on goals, intentions and resolutions that I think you’ll like:

Forget About Setting Goals. Focus On This Instead.

Identity-Based Habits: How to Actually Stick To Your Goals This Year

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I use Pomodoro Timer Lite for the Android to keep track of time when I’m working on 20/20/20. It is great for creating short times of focused concentration. Finally, I’m reminded that routines work great but sometimes they get thrown for a loop. I wrote about this in Maintaining a practice through vacation, illness and busyness.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that almost everything you read here was introduced to me by my meditation teacher, Jonathan Foust.

Cultivating the Heart: Equanimity

Cultivating the Heart: Equanimity

We concluded our Cultivating The Heart series with the topic of equanimity. Our work over these classes examined the Four Immeasurable Qualities of the Heart or the Brahmavihāras. The first three, compassion, lovingkindness, and joy,  are states that we can cultivate and incline our minds towards. But this isn’t to the exclusion of unpleasant qualities – the true practice of meditation is feeling what we are feeling while we are feeling it. When we are sad or grieving or frustrated or furious, it is helpful to be able to identify this so our words and actions reflect who we are and not the state that we are in.

MeditatingSuitcaseEquanimity is often thought of as a synonym for balance, or even peace. As it turns out, there are actually two Pali words that are usually translated as equanimity. The first, Upekkha reflects a “seeing with patience,” an awareness that includes some wisdom. Sounds a bit like mindfulness, no? The other word, Tatramajjhattata, literally means “to stand in the middle of all this.” The practice of equanimity is just as much about being with whatever is happening as about balancing it all out.

And thank goodness! The day of this evening workshop, I taught seven straight classes to 7th through 11th graders, coached two sports and stayed up too late the night before. But through it all, I could find brief periods to notice and allow my experience.

Equanimity reflects a fairness and even-mindedness of the mind/heart that can be cultivated with mindfulness and meditation. Releasing the effort to make things a certain way, we instead “become aware of the waves and rest seated in the midst of them.” Below are two practices you can try to arrive at this awareness:

I shared some books that I’ve found helpful in this exploration. The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully by Frank Ostaseski and The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship by David Whyte. Among Ostaseski’s invitations are to “Find a place of rest in the midst of things” and “Welcome everything, push away nothing.” Whyte addresses the question of finding balance by reminding us that it isn’t just about “work/life” balance but is instead a delicate dance of our vocations, our relationships and our selves. When we try to compartmentalize things that aren’t going right, they infect the other arenas in life. Our task instead is to integrate these three marriages because they just can’t be separated.


20120826-081640When you look at a tree during a storm, you see that its branches and leaves are swaying back and forth violently in the strong wind. You have the impression that the tree will not be able to withstand the storm. Like the tree, you feel vulnerable. You can break at any time. But if you direct your attention down to the trunk of the tree, you see things differently. You see that the tree is solid and deeply rooted in the ground. If you focus your attention on the trunk of the tree, you realize that because the tree is firmly rooted in the soil, it cannot be blown away.” -Thich Nhat Hanh, Fear


Equanimity is not about ignoring what’s happening or being indifferent to it. Jack Kornfield describes how we can appear serene by standing stoically and may even find a bit of peace or relief as we withdraw or seclude. Indifference, he adds, is based on fear, “True equanimity is not a withdrawal; it is a balanced engagement with all aspects of life. It is opening to the whole of life with composure and ease of mind, accepting the beautiful and terrifying nature of all things.”

One traditional meditation comes directly from Jack Kornfield’s book The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness and Peace. Find Jack’s version here or listen below to cultivate the qualities of equanimity.

In this practice, we offer phrases that include

  • May I be balanced and at peace.
  • May I have true equanimity.
  • May I learn to see the arising an passing of all things with equanimity and balance.
  • May I bring compassion and equanimity to the events of the world.
  • May I find balance and equanimity and peace amidst it all.

As we continue through the meditation, we bring loved ones, strangers, even difficult people to our imagination, offering these wishes to them as well. We do this with a deep self-compassion as we remember, Your happiness and suffering depend on your actions and not on my wishes for you.

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The practice of meditation can lead us to an experience of equanimity. But it requires work. I think to the three refugees in Buddhist tradition: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. By practicing regularly with love (Buddha), learning and inquiring (Dharma) and gathering in community (Sangha), we can deepen and reinforce a practice that can be a lifelong companion.


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Visit www.center4selfcare.com to learn more and register for upcoming offerings including Mindful Dads Meeting, Stress Management for Men and our co-ed, full-day retreat on Sunday, April 8!

Cultivating the Heart: Joy

Cultivating the Heart: Joy

Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh

In the Buddhist tradition, there are four immeasurable qualities, four qualities of the awakened heart. They include compassion, lovingkindness, joy and equanimity. I think of myself as a compassion and kindness person, but joy, I’m not so sure it is for me. I feel happy and content, but joy feels a bit too active (and uncontrollable) for me. But joy can serve as both the input and the output of our practice as Thich Nhat Hanh describes above. I don’t have to feel it in any particular moment, but I’m always able to explore it.

As I prepared this week’s session, I gave myself time to intentionally practice joy. Joy is close cousins with gratitude so it seemed appropriate for the season. Beginning with gratitude can be an on-ramp to joy as we recognize the good things in our lives and the circumstances and people that brought them about. But it is important to specify what we mean by joy. The Pali/Sanskrit word Muditā means a certain kind of joy, an Appreciative or Empathetic Joy. One of my favorite meditations on joy comes from Brian Dean Williams and can be heard below.

Williams offers four phrases to silently repeat as we visualize someone we know who is doing really well right now:

May your happiness increase.
May your success continue to grow.
May you continue to create the conditions for peace and freedom in your life.
I see your success and I wish for it to grow. 

While meditating on joy can help settle the mind and make one feel more connected and happy, the most exciting quality to me is these empathetic qualities. Usually we think of empathy in terms of identifying and connecting with difficult emotions in others. But can it work the other way around? By finding joy in others, we can awaken the joy that lives in each of us. And there are many gates to joy including integrity, generosity, gratitude, trust, mindfulness and connection.

I’ve been practicing with an image of my son recently, who is doing really well. As I work through the practice, repeating phrases like “May you continue to create the conditions for peace and freedom in your life,” I open up a bit. I say to myself, “Wait, things are going pretty well for you as well.” Its okay to be joyful now.

How beautiful to think, “I know how you feel” when we see another person full of joy and delight! This activation carries the secret – that we hold the tools for joy inside of us. With presence, mindfulness, and of course practice, we can find joy and experience its benefits. This joy can be abundant and boundless, able to be experienced by others without limiting its effect.


This fall, Your Mindful Coach, in conjunction with the Center For Self-Care is offering four free beginner’s meditation workshops at the Tredyffrin Library in Wayne, Pennsylvania. The series is called “Cultivating The Heart.” The title recognizes the practice of mindfulness and meditation as a process. There is no sudden awakening or enlightenment. Instead, by gently tending the garden of our mind and heart, we set an intention that inclines us toward kindness and compassion. We’d love you to join us. But if you can’t, I’ve provided resources from our time together below.

Also check out, Asking The Beautiful Questions, this Saturday, December 2. Register today or read below for more details.

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smile.jpgTwo additional practices we worked with in our session were “Smile and Return” and Coherent Breathing. Mindfulness practice can be boiled down to three things: catching yourself, being gentle and beginning again. We do this over and over, no matter how many times we become lost in thought or distracted by a feeling. In our workshops, we have practiced returning our attention and even naming our distraction. In this practice, we use a physical smile to gently guide ourselves by to our breath, the focus of our observation. Try it out here:

Another nourishing practice is called coherent breathing. Turns out, they’ve even patented it (how can one patent breathing?) In this practice, you balance the rhythm of breathing, allow the breath to easily flow from inhale to exhale. At its simplest, you can simply count to 5 or 6 during each in breath and begin again, counting to 5 or 6 on the out breath. This practice can take us out of our reactive, fight or flight mode, by regulating the body and calming our emotions. Try it with this great guided practice from Jonathan Foust.


Blog-Post.jpgWhat brings joy to your heart? Let us know what you think and visit us to learn more. I have written and spoken extensively about joy in these and other articles: Where Does Joy Come From and How Can I Get It?More Time for Joy, and The Power of A Smile

From the Dhammapada

Live in joy,
In love,
Even among those who hate.

Live in joy,
In health,
Even among the afflicted.

Live in joy,
In peace,
Even among the troubled.

Look within.
Be still.
Free from fear and attachment,
Know the sweet joy of living in the way.

Mindfulness is for You!

Mindfulness is for You!

People reach out to me asking “How can I get my child to do mindfulness?” or  “I wish my sister would try this out!” Sometimes they have built a practice of mindfulness or meditation but more often, they are struggling with the same challenges and difficulties as everyone else. It is important to make time for your own self-care. As they say at takeoff, “should cabin pressure change, panels above your seat will open revealing an oxygen mask. Secure your own mask first before helping others.”

783C99D60E6644F493E40FF607274BA6Mindfulness teacher Dzung Vo uses a metaphor of the heart. Our very own heart is designed to take care of itself first. The surface and interior of the heart is lined with blood vessels that nourish the heart so it can perform its task of distributing blood throughout the body. Without properly functioning coronary arteries, our heart will be weak and won’t be able to feed our body. And it works the same way in our life and our relationships. The most reliable way to bring mindfulness to someone you love is to practice it yourself.

Mindfulness is contagious. When our loved ones, co-workers and even strangers see the impact of our mindfulness practice, they pay attention. In this way, you can use mindfulness to build and improve connection with others and to recognize our interdependence, leading to a more present and compassionate community for everyone.

On Tuesday, October 24, I was honored to present to a large group from the Main Line Newcomers Club at the Ludington Library. You will find the full talk above or read on for simple practices you can try yourself.

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When I first came to mindfulness, I was struggling with the grief of my dad passing away combined with challenges at work and home. The kids were struggling with school and my wife had a health issue. I found myself trying to fix all these issues but it was an impossible task. I wasn’t bring my dad back to life and the other things just had to play themselves out. And I wasn’t sleeping much at all, maybe 1-2 hours a night. My attempts to control how my life played out just generated more stress. What I was doing was not working.

More lightheartedly, there is this from Jack Kornfield:

If you can sit quietly after difficult news; 
if in financial downturns you remain perfectly calm;
if you can see your neighbors travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy;
if you can happily eat whatever is put on your plate;
if you can fall asleep after a day of running around without a drink or a pill;
if you can always find contentment just where you are:
you are probably a dog.

Mindfulness offers a different approach to the realities of our experience, something Jon Kabat-Zinn described as “Full Catastrophe Living.” With mindfulness, we pay curious attention to what is happening right now. This can be practiced and generates benefits by re-wiring the brain through a process called neuroplasticity.

Just as we exercise our body and strengthen muscles, so can we exercise the mind. In mindfulness meditation, we do this by choosing an anchor, our breath, our body, our senses, to which we return when we become distracted. It is simple, but it certainly isn’t easy. Fortunately, the important piece is not eliminating thoughts or distractions but instead returning your attention to your anchor each time you become distracted.

Mindfulness practice doesn’t require a lot of time or any special equipment. Even if you have time for just one breath, you can use this time to return to the present through the tools of our senses and surroundings. Consistent practice is most helpful. You might try one of the recorded practices below or others on my podcast which is available on iTunes.

I offered a handy Resource Guide as part of this talk and have summarized some simple, everyday mindful practices below:

  • 3 Questions – When you find yourself in a stress response, pause and ask yourself, What am I doing? Is it Right? What will I do next? Repeat these questions as needed.
  • Twenty Breaths – Sitting comfortably, close your eyes and breathe naturally. After exhaling, count each breath until you reach 10, then count back to one. Open your eyes and continue with your day.
  • Mindful Eating – Enjoy a snack in silence, slowly chewing each bite and observing what arises.
  • Stoplight or Telephone Meditation – As your approach a stoplight or hear the phone ring, allow yourself one gentle breath followed by a moment’s pause before resuming your activity. Use your body’s natural relaxation response to turn habitual reactions into thoughtful responses.

May the benefits of these practices touch you and those around you.

 

Cultivating the Heart: Lovingkindness

Cultivating the Heart: Lovingkindness

Repetition of simplicity leads to insight.” – David Nichtern

This fall, Your Mindful Coach, in conjunction with the Center For Self-Care is offering four free beginner’s meditation workshops at the Tredyffrin Library in Wayne, Pennsylvania. The series is called “Cultivating The Heart.” The title recognizes the practice of mindfulness and meditation as a process. There is no sudden awakening or enlightenment. Instead, by gently tending the garden of our mind and heart, we set an intention that inclines us toward kindness and compassion. We’d love you to join us. But if you can’t, you can find a recording of the entire session as well as the practices below:

We began our second session with a practice to arrive in the present using our breath, our body and our senses. Our bodies may be present but our minds are often in the past or the future. Filled with thoughts and memories of times past or anticipation over the future. We closed the practice with a beautiful poem from Danna Faulds:

Allow

By Danna Faulds

There is no controlling life.
Try corralling a lightning bolt,
containing a tornado.  Dam a
stream and it will create a new
channel.  Resist, and the tide
will sweep you off your feet.
Allow, and grace will carry
you to higher ground.  The only
safety lies in letting it all in –
the wild and the weak; fear,
fantasies, failures and success.
When loss rips off the doors of
the heart, or sadness veils your
vision with despair, practice
becomes simply bearing the truth.
In the choice to let go of your
known way of being, the whole
world is revealed to your new eyes.

Each week, two meditations are offered, one from the tradition of insight meditation and one from the tradition of mindfulness meditation.

expanding-the-circle-2-001.jpgWe explored the quality of lovingkindness. In practice, we offer our wishes of kindness to an expanding circle of beings. We start simply, with ourselves and a being for whom our love and care comes easily. We continue with a benefactor, a neighbor, friend or a neutral person, before arriving at a person who may be more difficult, someone who has caused us challenge or suffering. Through this practice, we explore an opening of our heart. This practice is for you. The beings you bring to mind needn’t know you have offered these wishes. It may be that lovingkindness to others doesn’t come easily and in that case, you might offer it to yourself.

Try the Lovingkindness Practice below to get a sense of it. Just like training a puppy, our task is to pause, reset and begin again.

May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe. May you live with ease.

Lovingkindness takes practice. At first you might find it mechanical. Stay with it. It may transition to feeling a bit awkward and then to natural and organic!

Catch Yourself

Be Gentle

Begin Again

One way to support this is through a practice called “Name it to Tame It.” In this practice, we note or name what arises in our mind, whether it be a thought, memory, emotion or felt sensation. It can be as simple as saying, “Thinking, Thinking” and then returning to the anchor of our breath. If you’ve ever been upset and said aloud, “I’m just really frustrated right now!” you may have experienced a feeling of relief.

Author and Doctor Dan Siegel has shared research on the impact of naming our states on settling our mind. In this process, our emotional system, which senses threats for us and warns our body that something is amiss. But when we involve our thinking brain, the prefrontal cortex, we are able to sooth emotions through an integrated connection of neurons and synapses that send messages to our emotional system that the perceived threat is not quite so urgent and doesn’t require a reactive response. It is best to practice this in a quiet, calm space then use this practice to enter the world with an approach of thoughtful responses instead of habitual reactions.

Please join us on Monday, November 27 for our next session, Cultivating the Heart: Joy (free but registration is required). In the meantime, visit me on Tuesday, October 24 for Mindfulness is For You: Tools for Self-Care and Stress Management at the Ludington Library in Bryn Mawr. The even is free but registration is required.

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“The practice is not about mastery. It is about trying.” – Ethan Nichtern (David’s son)

Cover art from the “Be Kind” series. Please support the artist, David Gerbstadt, by visiting his GoFundMe page and getting some for yourself.