Archive for the ‘Meditation’ Category

What Peace Corps Taught Me – Presence

Written by Kate • June 13, 2012 •

Peace Corps

Peace Corps

When I arrived in Benin in 1995, I was your typical type A personality. I expected things to happen like a well oiled machine, for traffic to flow, for service people to get things done in an efficient manner, for me to accomplish something quickly and move on to the next accomplishment. I could use my will to move mountains and get other people to move faster, do the right thing.  This is my perspective of my life was before I left.

I arrived in Benin and went through a series of shocks. Of course, being in a African country itself was the first big shock. Benin is peaceful so there is no famine or conflict or mass migrations. Benin was full of people going about their lives in the most trying of circumstances, without access to education, without transportation, electricity, or running water. And it was damn hot. Tropical, a few degrees off the equator hot. So people didn’t stay indoors much so it was a puzzle to me why everyone was outside all the time. Didn’t they have homes? Benin finally yielded many of its mysteries to me and after a year or so, I was able to easily navigate ordinary life in Benin. I learned something new pretty much every day until I left and it became a warm, comfortable, hospitable environment very quickly.


I learned to love the people, the food, the quiet, the night sky without street lights obscuring my view, full moons, and taking outdoor showers.  I got used to 100 degree heat such that I distinctly remember being at my friend Colleen’s place and wondering if some crazy Arctic cold front had moved in to make it freezing in my part of Africa. I put on all my warmest clothes, two layers, and a blanket. Still cold.  So I finally consulted her outdoor thermometer to find out what level of freezing weather we had achieved in Benin to find myself shocked when it said it was 72 degrees.  In short, I was fully adapted.

Expectations versus Reality

One of the most painful changes I had to adapt to is the fact that no one had the sense of time we have in the West and people prefer to be polite and acquiescing rather than truthful. It took me too long a time to put these concepts together and until I realized that, I waited for lots of meeting to start that were never going to happen.

One of the things I took upon myself was to get out into the area I lived in, well off the main road, and speak with people about how they’re doing, what they need, and how I could help. But with only my bike as transport, I would ask people to meet me at a certain time at a certain place that was convenient to us both.  I laugh now at what I was expecting but at the time I didn’t know better. Most people don’t own clocks or watches and they don’t have the time to walk 30 minutes to where I wanted to meet.  And then there was market day, when everyone got together and sold their goods and wares. I didn’t realize that it was a vital day in the lives of EVERYONE.  No one could miss market day. But there I was, let’s meet on Wednesday, the 23rd at 2pm at so and so.

I would ride up on my bike and wait. And wait. And wait. They never showed. But in that hour or the two that I first waited, I went through such a range of emotion. First anger and then rage that they would make me wait like this. Indignation that they would make an appointment with me and not keep it. And I would focus on how badly I was being treated and how things “should” play out. Unfortunately, this had to happen three or four times before I realized something was wrong with the way I was approaching this with my neighbors, people I wanted to help that we’re consistently blowing me off.

Patience and Presence

As I waited for my neighbors and through other experiences in Benin where rushing through anything became simply impossible, I learned that patience is like a muscle. The more I tried to be patient, the better at I became. It helped a lot that in many circumstances, I simply had no choice.  So I could go around getting angry at people or I could step into the flow of life around me. It seemed a no brainer to step into the flow rather than be angry all the time.

As I became better at being patient, I noticed that I was able to use the time to enjoy the moment I was experiencing. I had no other place to be and no phone, TV, or other person to distract me. I sank deeper into the moments I waited and found the ability to experience each moment. Life seemed to expand in these moments and I felt such peace and an increasing sense of wonder at how lovely each moment is. Without knowing its name, I learned to become fully present for long stretches of time each day.


Upon my return to the US, I wasn’t prepared for the cacophony and distractions with which I was presented. All of sudden everyone had cell phones and used the internet 24/7. I got caught up, distracted, and lost my endless patience in the pace of modern life. But after several years of this, the whisper of what I had experienced was starting to get through to me.

I then began to slowly re-implement all of the “advances” I had achieved in Peace Corps. I stopped watching TV, stopped listening to radio. I added in moments of stillness and meditation into my daily life. And life seems to both slow down and to be far more enjoyable now that I’m able to be in the moment.

I created an e-book to help others learn what I had learned in Peace Corps, which can be found on my website called 8 Steps to Living a Tranquil Life.  In case you don’t want to download it, the five main ideas of the book are as follows:

  1. Begin to slow your life down. Find additional time in your life by eliminating as many distractions as you’re able.
  2. Begin to add meditation into your life, in any of its forms.
  3. Find time to pray or use visualization to connect to the Divine.
  4. Add in longer moments of stillness, starting at about 15 minutes per day.
  5. Begin to experience what it is like to be fully present in a moment. And expand from there.

The less you do each day, the more you’re able to live each day. Experience each moment through presence. And witness how truly magical life can be.


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Why Aren’t We Kinder To Ourselves?

Written by Kate • December 20, 2011 •
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KindnessI’ve seen it in myself and in so many others, the rages, the shaming, the cutting words, the unkind way we treat ourselves after a mistake, after having done something “stupid”, after over eating/drinking/spending, after watching too much TV or spending too much time on the internet, or after doing something we’ve been trying to break ourselves out of the habit of for so long.  It’s absolutely amazing how we so completely trash ourselves to ourselves in our head.

I’ve been working on catching these previously unconscious, automatic thoughts so that I can be completely aware of all the thoughts I am thinking. The unkind thinking is happening less and less but I recently caught myself being extremely unkind to myself about something, I forget what. And I marveled at how I was choosing to look at whatever I had done in such a harsh light, with no compassion or kindness for myself in that moment.  And so I thought to myself, “why aren’t we kinder to ourselves?” “why are we so dang mean to ourselves?”  And it came to me that there are four main reasons we are so unkind to ourselves:

  1. Our Egos: Our egos tell us we can’t yet accept ourselves until we’re a better person or have a better job or better relationship or more money…you get the idea. We think that we don’t deserve happiness or praise or acceptance because we’re not yet perfect or at least a lot better. But you don’t have to be perfect to happy now, as I discussed in my recent post about seeing the wonders of the world now.
  2. Living in the future or the past: If we’re not present in this moment, our egos are given free reign to start a whisper campaign against ourselves that becomes so habitual that we no longer notice how we speak to ourselves mentally. And of course comparing our actions now to a past we can see better with perfect hindsight or dream of future in which we can act perfectly is bound to lead us to conclude that we’re just screwing up by the numbers.
  3. Family and Teachers: We’ve been raised and taught by people who haven’t been kind to themselves because they aren’t very present or aware of their own ego’s internal whisper campaign. Have you noticed how people who are really judgmental and critical of other people’s actions and behaviors are often even harsher to themselves in their own heads? They are as critical of themselves as they are of others. So we learn that we’re not good enough because we’ve been taught be people who think the same things about themselves.
  4. Off the Spiritual Path:  Dropping criticism of ourselves and other and beginning to rest in compassion and forgiveness for ourselves [and others] is something that we must arrive at for ourselves. This is kind of the point of our own spiritual evolution.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can accept and be kinder to ourselves through forgiveness and compassion, no matter what. The following are some steps you can take to begin to first notice how unkind we are to ourselves and then to turn the judgement into compassion:

  1. Meditate: You probably guessed this one was coming from my previous blogs, no? Meditate so that you can begin to notice your recursive thought and how few new or unique thoughts you actually have. This will help you become aware of your thoughts as you have them so that they become less unconscious and more known to you as they fly across your mental screen. Here are some previous blogs on how to meditate.
  2. Witness: Notice how mean, unacceptable, shaming, judgement or unkind we are to and of ourselves. After first, just be happy to notice them. It’s a huge step to just see that. And please don’t judge yourself harshly for judging yourself harshly! Be a witness to your own habits and rest in the comfort of knowing that you’re on the path to mending this.
  3. How do you treated beloved friends: Recognize that this is not how you’d treat a beloved friend or family member.  Once you realize you’d never speak to someone beloved to you so harshly or unlovingly, begin to ask yourself how you can treat yourself more lovingly and with more compassion? [This is an empowering question, not a disempowering question. Empowering questions get your fabulous brain to think of new ways and breakthroughs.]
  4. Loving-Kindness: Do a loving kindness meditation and ask for compassion for yourself and others. Practicing compassion is a wonderful use of your time and will bring huge dividends to you in all aspects of your life.
  5. Focus on all that you HAVE done: Begin to notice rather all the things you accomplished each day and congratulate yourself on a great day. Take five minutes before you leave your desk or before you go to bed and write down three to five things you’ve accomplished that day.  You’ll be begin to notice that you actually have gotten a lot accomplished and that you actually do rock. Don’t worry about all that you didn’t get done. Those tasks will take care of themselves soon enough.
  6. Gratitude: Be grateful for everything in life, including “your problems”.  By being and feeling grateful, you can turn around the negative thoughts and vibrations in your head in an instant.

I’ve personally experienced great gains by doing all of this and I find myself much happier with myself.  It’s been a wonderful evolution to realize that I can just choose to be very nice to myself. And now that I’m nicer to myself, I’m also so much more compassionate to others too.

What has been your experience?  Have you been able to witness your thoughts and to change them?

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Meditating App -Great Way to Track Progress

Written by Kate • October 13, 2011 •
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Tibetan Singing Bowl

Tibetan Singing Bowl

I’ve been using an app from Spotlight Six Programs called Insight Timer. I think it’s helped me tremendously with my meditation practice.

There are several features I really like using. They are the following, in no particular order:

1. Tracking Meditation Time: The app provides a timer to track how long you’re going to meditate. The app has several different sounds, like Tibetan Singing Bowls, to choose from, all of which are incredibly soothing. It also allows for a delay, for however long you choose, to get yourself settled before the “real” meditation timer kicks in. It also provides for the timer to sound at intervals you select, in case you’re trying to stretch yourself in your meditation practice. The intervals give you subtle reassurance about how much time is left in your practice.

2. Tracking Meditation “Stats”: It also tracks your personal stats, as in when was the last time you meditated, how long you meditated for, and on what days of the week you meditate the most. In this way, I can track if I’ve been meditating for more or less time in the past week, month, etc.  It also gives badges out for every 100 days that you’ve meditated. And it tracks how many days you’ve meditated consecutively. This may not be the most Zen of features but I really like that it keeps me honest about my actual meditation practice.

3. A sense of community: I really love this feature of the app. Whenever I launch the app, it provides me with the number of people who are meditating right now around the world [who are, of course, sharing the app and also logged on]. In the morning, it can be as many as 78 or more people. I love to see that there are those who are logged in from all over the US, Netherlands, Japan, Brazil, Australia, the UK, etc.  It shows how many minutes each person has set to meditate for that session and how many minutes are left. It’s amazing to feel so connected to so many people in that moment,  knowing that we’re all sharing the same meditation practice in the same moment, around the world.

Have you tried this app? If so, what do you think of it? Or do you have your own favorite app you like to use?


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8 Ways to Live a More Tranquil Life

Written by Kate • September 19, 2011 •
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My new ebook called 8 Easy Steps to Living a More Tranquil Life is now available for download. It’s located at the right of each page.  In the book, you’ll get 8 different ways to help slow down your life and start inviting tranquility in.

Please feel free to download it and let me know what you think!

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Meditating with Delight

Written by Kate • August 17, 2011 •

My view one morning this summer visiting a lake

As anyone who’s tried to meditate knows, meditating can be quite difficult at times. I know it’s taken me a good long year or more to finally realize there is no “right” way to meditate.  When I first began, I actually had the hardest time just setting aside the time. I resisted even the thought of meditating.  And then after a month or more, I would be able to sit for just 5 minutes until I had to lunge up off the cushion. And then I wouldn’t be able to bring myself to meditate for a few days. But gradually it took. First 5 minutes,  then 8, then 10, then 13, then 15, then 19 and so on. Now, I feel edgy and unsettled if I don’t start my day with just a 10 minute meditation [which seems really short to me now!]

Even so, some days my monkey mind is an entity that won’t be tamed. Some days I’ve gone on a long trail of unconscious thinking and it’s seems like I’ve been gone thinking for most of my session before I’ve caught myself. Some days 15 minutes feels like an eternity. But then I return to the moment, to my intentions, and the remaining 10 minutes seem to speed by.

I follow my breathe some times. I say a mantra other times. Still other times, I try to engage my third eye and “experience divinity”.  They all work sometimes and sometimes they don’t. And many days, the 25 or so minutes that I meditate seem like some of the best of my life.

I also have found that adding 15 minutes of stillness to my day adds a great deal to my meditation practice. 15 minutes of stillness is not 15 minutes of meditating, figuring out what’s next, what I forgot to do, or really doing anything. Instead, I take a few minutes in the early afternoon and enjoy 15 minutes in my sunroom, looking out on the hills that surround my house. I don’t meditate. I don’t try to do anything.  At first, in those 15 minutes of not doing anything, I would fall asleep. But now I just sit and allow my mind to be quiet. Sometimes it takes off but now my mind seems to know this is our quiet time to just be.

Tonight, I did another round of meditation just because it felt like the right thing to do. And it was magical and I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have heeded the call. It was 15 minutes of pure delight, that welled in my belly and rose up through my whole body. I found myself laughing with the delight and savored every moment. It was the easiest meditation session I’ve had in ages. I didn’t want it to end.

I went into this meditation with the intention to be open to God, to be guided, and to just trust how things unfold. And I was able to spend the next 15 minutes meditating in pure delight.

If you’d like to try it, don’t stress out about the length of time. 5 minutes is a wonderful start!  Take some time to set your intention about what you’d like your session to help you with. Then set your timer and let whatever happens unfold. It may not be magical every time, but the delight that awaits you- it’s worth your time and energy!

What are some of your best meditation techniques? Anything you’d recommend?

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