Rinnova la tua mente: meditazioni sulla vita familiare
Nella meditazione mindfulness molta attenzione è dedicata ai concetti di “interdipendenza” e “impermanenza”. Ma come possiamo creare una vita significativa nelle mutevoli circostanze in cui ci troviamo? Attraverso la comprensione diretta del cambiamento e riflettendo sul complesso insieme di circostanze e sui contesti su cui sono costruite le possibilità della nostra vita.
A partire dalla mattina presso Associazione Funakoshi, condurrò una giornata di mindfulness il 7 dicembre 2019, dedicata a periodi di meditazione seduta e camminata, utilizzando gli strumenti classici del respiro, del corpo, e visualizzazioni, insieme agli esercizi Feldenkrais ad hoc guidate da Antonella Vannoni, per esplorare gioiosamente la vita familiare e le relazioni interpersonali, l’interdipendenza e l’impermanenza.
In serata, ci sarà una meditazione guidata e un discorso aperto al pubblico specificamente dedicati ad approfondire la comprensione dei temi e delle visualizzazioni utilizzate durante il giorno, seguito da un breve periodo di discussione.
L’evento è aperto a chiunque, sia ai principianti che alle persone più esperte, interessati alla pratica della mindfulness, allo yoga e ai Feldenkrais e sarà fatto in Italiano.
We are what we eat – and see and hear and feel and think. Experience, conscious and unconscious, has been accumulating in our body-mind since before we were born, influencing the perspectives we have and the choices we make and that continue to make us. Maybe that’s why I miss home so much these days. I have traveled so far from it.
I came to in Italy in 1990 and have been here ever since. I wanted to understand meditation and deepen practice. When graduate school became an option, I decided to live in a Buddhist monastery instead. It was the “graduate program” I really wanted to do. I started out in the monasteries supervised by Ajahn Sumedho in the UK because the teachers were trustworthy, and the food, language and climate wouldn’t be obstacles like other more exotic locations in the world. I could learn and grow and see what happened. It would get back to baseline and reset my inner clock.
It was a good choice.
The daily routines in the monastery strip away at the veneer of life as you knew it before you enter. You feel comfortable and grounded and the process of exploring who you are and your expectations for life slowly bubble to the top. There is no pressure. You wash dishes, mop floors, eat one meal a day and wear the same set of clothes for every occasion.
One day the abbot invited me to go to Italy. There was a “start up” monastery project and I am Italian-American. There would be the same daily routine, intensified by living in close quarters with just one other monk. It dug more deeply into my core. It began chipping further away at expectations. It was intensified by a foreign language I didn’t know. It also presented new horizons and possibilities for exploration.
When I left the monastery a year later, the transformation, was far from complete. l had no money, no home; but I had a clear sense that I was just where I needed to be. So I stayed in Italy to build a new life. It was the American Dream in reverse.
Thirty years have now passed and each little chapter since has felt like a new training, a new opportunity, small transformations. Choosing life outside the monastery, remaining in Italy, beginning a new profession, learning a new language, navigating marriage, fatherhood, in the framework of unfamiliar cultural norms and expectations, have been obstacles and opportunities for growth.
And all have helped me to refer back, over and again, to lessons of mindfulness learned, in the controlled retreat center and monastery conditions and in the laboratory of life. Tweaking here and modifying there, my intention has always been to incline toward the best version I could imagine of myself, by paying close attention to indications here and now.
These last few years, the death of one parent and the aging of the other has created new perspectives, new challenges and new ways to be mindful. I have traveled to be with ailing parents and meditated in hospital waiting rooms. I have watched my in-breath and out-breath by their bedsides and done walking meditation in the corridors while they slept; and I returned again and again to that far away country where I wasn’t born, where I didn’t grow up, that has become my home, to continue to observe where I am right now.
This is my practice and this is life.
We all deal with things in our own ways, using our own particular skill sets and intuitions. For this, I feel particularly grateful for the mindfulness tools I have metabolized over a lifetime. As we say in NY, “You wanted baseline? You got baseline.” For me that means balance, breath and clarity to examine, not getting too up, not getting too down. Mindfulness has provided me with powerful and stealthy tools to confront where I’ve been and where I’m going – by stopping where I am right now. And in these last few years of life, nostalgia and memory have been useful mindfulness tools as well.
Memory is a powerful force. We spend lots of time thinking about things. If we are paying attention to our thoughts, if we arereflective and there is a quality of letting things flow without getting too caught up in one thing or another, this is a kind ofmindfulness. If not, it just might be daydreaming. Researchers say two things about daydreaming: 1) that people spend as much as half of their waking hours in this distracted state and 2) it’s not very good for your overall health. Think about your own experience for a moment.
We are probably all familiar with that dreamlike fuzziness we experience when we’re not paying attention. It feels like something that happens to most people, and we generally snap out of when we notice it. If it’s frequent, quite intense and time-consuming, it’s daydreaming. It might even be dangerous if you’re behind the wheel of a car or operating heavy machinery. It’s also a distraction in relationships.
If you’re dealing with difficult interpersonal issues or your health, you know what that kind of daydreaming is like. It seems like an endless loop of thoughts and feelings, with no clear solution or way to escape. It too may be quite common in people’s experience. It can also be an added layer of suffering on top of an experience that is already unpleasant.
Then there is daydreaming that is obsessive, difficult to understand and manage, and anxiety provoking. This kind of daydreaming can be alarming and is also both the source and a symptom of suffering.
Daydreaming can be seen as a general tendency many have for zoning out or time tripping into the past or the future and not being in the present. It can be a subtle wishing things were different than they are right now – even when they’re not that bad. In any event, daydreaming is the opposite of being mindful.
Sometimes people find being mindful difficult. It brings us face-to-face with the contents and energy of our daydreaming; and it can provoke a sense of agitation or sleepiness while we trying to pay attention to ourselves. Aside from the obvious lack of productivity associated with being distracted, researchers are starting to understand that daydreaming is really just another form of unhappiness. But if we start noticing, if we start learning how to be more mindful, moment to moment, something gradually happens: our abilty to focus on the present get strongers and with that, a sense of joy and fulfillment comes to light.
Being mindful, simply listening to and observing our experience, and allowing what has been accumulating in our body-mind since to rise to the top, is an uncomplicated and very natural way to regain influence over ourselves, our perspectives and the choices we make. Another more active way is to consciously bring to mind feelings and memories that we would like to explore.
Spending so much time with family these last few years, in concentrated doses, has brought up this feeling of nostalgia I mentioned above; it has also led me to experiment with using memories to reflect on what has been and what can be in the future.
Sometimes I look at pictures like the ones above of me as a boy and ask, “What did that young kid want from his life? What were his hopes? How did the people and events of his family and friends affect him and his ability to plot a course through life? Was he able to stop and listen clearly? What/who was he listening to? What did he hear? How did he get from A to B?”
Then I look for signs of suffering and/or freedom.
Suffering is when we feel something contract, an inner feeling of friction or defensiveness. Freedom is the sense of opening and compassion that can arise for myself or for the people and events of the past. Suffering is a closed state while compassion is expansive. Compassion and understanding can be foundations, we can build on them. That is why they are associated with freedom in mindfulness practices.
Considering these distinctions, I also use memory, nostalgia and the thinking mind to ask myself specific questions to see what happens. “How can I be freer? How can I not be prey to old, conditioned tendencies and habits that may no longer be appropriate or helpful for me now?” I am not looking for answers so much as to see how I feel and if the needle points to suffering or freedom.
The idea of freedom is something that people have been considering for centuries. Over the last half century, neuroscience and genetics have given us other perspectives on what it means to be free.
I find the work ofRobert Sapolsky in this area very interesting. You may find the things he discusses familiar and intuitive; maybe they are things you have learned from your own “teachers” over the years. My own sense is that mindfulness provides the direct contact necessary to furtherclarify and define some of the issues he raises and to help perceive the subtle and not so subtle layers that influence our experience and how we can change our futures for better.
In Star Trek, changing the future happens because of some fluke or a technological glitch or a gateway to change. But in this multiverse, we must stop and listen to the present. If we hope to go anywhere or develop ourselves in any way, we can only start from where we’re standing now.
We are what we eat – and see and hear and feel and think. It seems so obvious; and yet many of us don’t stop long enough to reflect on how the information we have been collecting, consciously and unconsciously, since before we were even born influences us.
Have you ever smelled something cooking and then Mom comes to mind? Or seen a shopkeeper scowl, feel uncomfortable and then realize she reminds you of your elementary school teacher? We live in a multiverse of past and present and “yet to come” that helps us navigate our world. But these many layers of our history are often unknown to us, an intricate fabric of the seen and unseen, homogenous and contrasting, pointing us “right” when we wanted to go in another direction. When I look at the 1950s Oldsmobile sedan above, I feel all the warmth and attachment of my childhood; yet it also stirs the memory of the pain and hysteria of the time that Oldsmobile car door accidentially closed a my little 4 year-old hand. Ouch!
We are what we eat – and see and hear and feel and think! We navigate our lives using these maps and they influence our ability to listen and communicate, often without us knowing.
If we hope to go anywhere or develop ourselves in any way, we can only start from knowing where we are standing (or sitting) now. Literally. Through discernment, we can observe and explore our lives without other added filters, training ourselves to be free. Be the best versions of ourselves. Use your mind.
Well, it’s another sunny day here in Italy where I live and, like most, today began with the idea to sit down in front of the PC and write. The “blog that never was” has persisted and remained empty throughout most of the Summer and Fall despite there being so much grist for the mill since March when this site got a new look.
But today, with September quickly coming to a close, I would like to share a few things before going off to the gym now.
If you’ve been following me on social media, you know that I spent six weeks this summer in the US with family. Yes, part of it for 3 gen: three generations (my 95 year old father, my son and I) kicking back and enjoying time together; but there was more.
In the language of Japanese management and organization philosophy, it was also a time for 3 Gen: time for me to go to the Gemba (my home), observe the Gembutsu (see and experience how my father is settling into his 90s after his short illness a couple of years back), obtain Genjitsu (facts about how he lives and is being supported) and for my brothers and I to all share our insights and solutions together for his ongoing care into his 100s.
It was an invaluable time for all of us and for me a concrete example of how listening is a fundamental skill for living happy lives. Mindfulness is an one of the most important tools we can develop for learning how to listen to ourselves and others, and it plays a vital role in nurturing and sustaining the relationships we have.
With the Labor Day weekend signaling the end of summer in America, it was time to get back to Italy and my life there.
Stepping out into the airport at Fiumicino is always the first reminder of being in the place that has been home for me for almost 30 years now. The sites, smells and sounds are so familiar, as well as, how my mind moves toward “liking” or “not liking” what I see and feel. Of course, everything is slightly off after a “red eye flight” across the Atlantic. Nevertheless, the stark contrast of the countryside along the Pontina going south is always another reminder that I am back.
These are not the rolling Tuscan hills one might think of when conjuring up images of Italy. Gone is the lush green of my hometown north of the New York City. In its place is the brown of summer droughts, overgrown grass and patches of scorched earth from the roadside fires I missed those past weeks. But being back holds the promise of other familiar things, like being with my wife and son, and revisiting the sea.
The sea is one of the greatest blessings of my life here, just a short bike ride away from my home. And it’s still a pleasure walking along the beach and even going for a swim in September. It is also a time of reconnecting, meeting people, hearing their stories, planning and dreaming a bit. September has been all of that for me, and shortly the sense of beginning again will be there too, and of settling back into the familiar rhythms of seeing students and teaching.
In October there will be a modest reboot at S4BT. For ten years, I enjoyed coaching and developing personnel there and I am very grateful for the opportunity to contribute there again. October will also be a time to launch live Facebook events, to meet people on-line who have been reading my posts and using my YouTube videos to explore practice. And a colleague and I will also introduce the Mindfulness protocol to a new group at Ospedale dei Castelli.
For now, the month of October is scheduled to come to a close with my participation at a Mindfulness Forum in association with the HRCI group in Rome. I will do a segment on “Mindfulness and language learning” at Bosch in Milan and hopefully have time to meet some old friends who live in the area. Phonemic awareness is into something I have been teaching for most of my professional life here in Italy and it is one of the things I mean when I talk about “applied Mindfulness” and Mindfulness “cross training.” I am looking forward to it.
And yet, through it all, looking back on these past few weeks and looking into the future, the in and out of our breath, and the expanding and contracting of our bodies are constant reminders of our changing natures and of the comings and goings of thoughts, feelings and experiences. Enjoy the show. This is really what it means to have our feet planting firmly on the ground.
So may this short sharing find you all well. And may there be occasions each day for gratitude and joy.
This site is being renovated. (And maybe you’ve noticed, I’m going slow. It’s June now!)
Hello. My name is John and I am a Mindfulness meditation teacher. I started in the US in clinical settings the 1980s. I began teaching in Europe after coming to Italy to help set-up the Buddhist monastery Santacittarama in 1991.
After more than 20 years at Centro Sati and teaching and consulting for innovative local businesses and multinationals, I am now exploring the on-line space for new opportunities to share Mindfulness and meditation. You can find out more about me here.
Thanks for visiting. Go to the contacts page, leave me your email and share with others on any platform you use. I will send you a short meditation handbook (anche in Italiano), and write you when I am doing real time events like webinars, on-line guided meditations and Facebook “live” videos.