Monday, September 26, 2011

Lessons Learned from Mowing the Lawn

Lessons Learned from Mowing the Lawn
or “How to deal with shit”

Author’s note: Please excuse my heavy use of the word “shit” in this essay. When I talk to my son, I use the word poop. But poop does not convey the full meaning of what I’m trying to express. So I chose to write this using the word shit to be as accurate as I can. I know the word shit is offensive to some people, so if this includes you, I ask for your forgiveness. Or maybe you can just do the opposite substitution and read the word poop whenever you see shit. Or if it is really offensive, maybe just click away and forget I ever wrote this so it doesn't taint your image of me as a person.  You can choose whatever works best for you. Humble regards, ~ch.

This weekend I mowed the lawn. I had been away for a few weeks. We have two dogs. My four year old wanted to help, which looks like him holding on to the mower while I try to maneuver it, him, and myself through tall grass while avoiding landmines (aka: dog crap) that you can’t see due to tall grass.

So what seemed like a standard beautiful Colorado afternoon turned into an adventure; filled with excitement, quality time with my son, and a number of lessons about life. Here is what I learned:

• When you don’t keep up with shit, it can accumulate quickly.
• It is sometimes hard to see shit until it is right in front of you.
• It seems like shit is all around us, but it is only helpful to pay attention to the shit you are about to step in.
• Sometimes we can see the shit other people are near. It is only helpful to point out the shit they are just about to step in. Otherwise, we just spend all our time pointing out shit.
• Sometimes, despite your best efforts to warn them, people will still step in shit. It does not good to get disappointed, blame, or worse, say “I told you so.” All we can do is just love them and help them clean themselves up.
• We can’t get so focused on keeping others out of shit, or we’ll step in it ourselves.
• While we can just step over it, we have to clean up the shit that is in our way. Otherwise, we may step in it later when we are not paying attention.

When I talk to people or read the news, it seems like most of the shit everyone is talking about is the economy, what the government is doing (or not doing), money, or jobs. But there is plenty of other shit we deal with that is directly in our control. Lots of the shit that is right in front of us comes from our relationships with our partners, parents, kids, co-workers, and especially our relationship with ourselves.

What shit do you see and are busy pointing at that you don’t need to be right now? What shit is right in front of you that you keep stepping in because you don’t take the time to clean it up? Are you more concerned with pointing out shit in front of other people that you are not paying attention to the shit in front of you?

And of course, I can’t end this without stating the obvious. The grand-daddy of all the lessons. The universal truth. “Shit Happens.” I can’t take credit for this; I think the bumper sticker guru coined it. But what are we doing with the shit? Are we learning from it? Are we cleaning it up? Are we ignoring it and letting it pile up? Or worse, are we just pointing at all the shit and not doing anything about it?

Who knew dog shit could teach us this much? OK, enough talking about shit. I need to get back to cleaning it up.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dynamic Mindfulness

Here is an article I wrote that was published in the Yoga Connection Magazine this week.  If you are local to Fort Collins, be sure to find a copy around town and check out all the other great writing it holds!  Enjoy.

“I’m a busy person; I just can’t find the time to meditate…” Sound familiar?  It is important to have a regular sitting practice of a relatively long duration, but if you don’t, do not think the magic of mindfulness is out of your reach.  It only takes a few seconds of attention throughout the day to be able to start to reap some of the rewards of mindfulness.  That is all it takes to learn about what is happening inside, which is a big part of what mindfulness does for us.

Formal practices like meditation and yoga asana work to sharpen the tool of our mind. Then the real work comes in every moment of every day, as we go about our daily duties and interacting with the world around us.

The brain is extremely good at being efficient.  It takes in over 4 million bits of information per second, but it is only able to send 2200 bits to the cortex for processing.  The way it filters out what gets sent on is through classifying experience and creating patterns from what it has already learned.  It learns to recognize things then files them away into neuron firing patterns we call beliefs, causing most of our taking in of new information and reacting to our environment to be automatic.

This demonstrates that we don’t really see the world as it is; rather we see the world as we are. Two ways to uncover these automatic patterns and increase our ability to perceive differently are mindfulness and utilizing the reflections of other people in relationship. Mindfulness is like a zoom lens that helps us to see and examine all the layers of patterning inside us. Relationship is an external mirror that gives us a set of eyes outside of us.  When combined, we are able to truly see ourselves inside and out. 

One of my teachers is fond of saying, “life is one big long sloppy probe.” Life is constantly poking and prodding us to help us to see where we currently stand.  All day long we get a chance to look at our stories, our automatic behavior, patterning, and reactions.  This is where the magic of mindfulness is most useful, otherwise we continue on autopilot.  Some might think it is not necessary to waste any time looking at these things, we should only focus on the positive and light.  However, by looking at the things in us that we do not want to look at, our shadow can often reveal many of our automatic behaviors. I know that I have personally used the veil of calling myself a “spiritual person” as a cover for not seeing some of the things I think and do that are, let’s just say less than divine. 

I once thought we needed to just strive for purity of consciousness, to just think good thoughts and do good things,  but I have learned to do that it is necessary to look at and know all of patterns and beliefs otherwise they come out when we least want them to. It is these patterns, habits, and beliefs that we have to work with in this life and it is through knowing these things which are not us that we can start to know who we really are.  It is sort of like cleaning the mirror – you have to first know the mirror is dirty, then you need to know what kind of dirty it is in order to grab the right types of cleaners, then you have to work to clean the mirror before you can see the pure reflection underneath.  When we can look at all of our patterning, we can find all the things that are not us, in order to see what is really is us. 

So if we are going to look at ourselves through the lens of mindfulness in every moment, it is especially important to remember to be kind, gentle, and compassionate with ourselves. When we really start to look at ourselves in this way, honestly and thoroughly, it is easy to get down on ourselves.  We must remember that everything is perfect and right – there is nothing “wrong” with us.  And it is not just a good idea to be gentle with ourselves because it feels good, it is through loving the darker parts of ourselves that they lose power. When we hate them or ignore them, we just fuel them.  By choosing to look at and accept our automatic responses throughout the day, we gain more awareness of our nature which leads to more freedom and more choice in not being bound by it. 

The richest moments for us to use mindfulness are in every moment of every day when we are engaging with the world and the good news is that it doesn’t take long periods of time. Our brains are quick! It is engaging with the world and in relationship with other people that our patterns are most active.  By tuning in to what is really happening inside, we can start to recognize when we are on auto-pilot and when we are responding with conscious awareness and choice.

Through internal self-study of a regular mindfulness practice, using moments of mindfulness throughout our day, and combining that with studying our interactions with people and our world, we can get the complete view of our system.  By looking at all these layers and embracing them with love and acceptance, our patterning loses its strength.  It brings our shadow into the light, and then we are not controlled by it and we are more free to be our true selves.  By shining the light of mindfulness on all the things that are not us, we are able to see them more clearly, give them less power, and then start to see who we really are.

Chuck Hancock, M.Ed., NCC has been on his own inner life adventure his whole life, but has only started becoming more aware of it as a practitioner and student of yoga and contemplative practices for the past 8 years.  Chuck is trained in the Hakomi Method of Experiential Psychotherapy, a mindfulness based body-centered form of self exploration and he facilitates experiential groups and individual counseling.  He can be reached at