Tuesday, 23 January 2018

How to Use Social Media Wisely and Mindfully

It was no one other than Facebook’s former vice president for user growth, Chamath Palihapitiya, who advised people to take a “hard break” from social media. “We have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works,” he said recently.

His comments echoed those of Facebook founding president Sean Parker. Social media provides a “social validation feedback loop (‘a little dopamine hit…because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post’),” he said. “That’s exactly the thing a hacker like myself would come up with because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”

Are their fears overblown? What is social media doing to us as individuals and as a society?

Since over 70 percent of American teens and adults are on Facebook and over 1.2 billion users visit the site daily—with the average person spending over 90 minutes a day on all social media platforms combined—it’s vital that we gain wisdom about the social media genie, because it’s not going back into the bottle. Our wish to connect with others and express ourselves may indeed come with unwanted side effects.

The problems with social media

Social media is, of course, far from being all bad. There are often tangible benefits that follow from social media use. Many of us log on to social media for a sense of belonging, self-expression, curiosity, or a desire to connect. Apps like Facebook and Twitter allow us to stay in touch with geographically dispersed family and friends, communicate with like-minded others around our interests, and join with an online community to advocate for causes dear to our hearts.

Honestly sharing about ourselves online can enhance our feelings of well-being and online social support, at least in the short term. Facebook communities can help break down the stigma and negative stereotypes of illness, while social media, in general, can “serve as a spring board” for the “more reclusive…into greater social integration,” one study suggested.

But Parker and Palihapitiya are on to something when they talk about the addictive and socially corrosive qualities of social media. Facebook “addiction” (yes, there’s a test for this) looks similar on an MRI scan in some ways to substance abuse and gambling addictions. Some users even go to extremes to chase the highs of likes and followers. Twenty-six-year-old Wu Yongning recently fell to his death in pursuit of selfies precariously taken atop skyscrapers.

Facebook can also exacerbate envy. Envy is nothing if not corrosive of the social fabric, turning friendship into rivalry, hostility, and grudges. Social media tugs at us to view each other’s “highlight reels,” and all too often, we feel ourselves lacking by comparison. This can fuel personal growth, if we can turn envy into admiration, inspiration, and self-compassion; but, instead, it often causes us to feel dissatisfied with ourselves and others.

For example, a 2013 study by Ethan Kross and colleagues showed quite definitively that the more time young adults spent on Facebook, the worse off they felt. Participants were texted five times daily for two weeks to answer questions about their well-being, direct social contact, and Facebook use. The people who spent more time on Facebook felt significantly worse later on, even after controlling for other factors such as depression and loneliness.

Interestingly, those spending significant time on Facebook, but also engaging in moderate or high levels of direct social contact, still reported worsening well-being. The authors hypothesized that the comparisons and negative emotions triggered by Facebook were carried into real-world contact, perhaps damaging the healing power of in-person relationships.

More recently, Holly Shakya and Nicholas Christakis studied 5,208 adult Facebook users over two years, measuring life satisfaction and mental and physical health over time. All these outcomes were worse with greater Facebook use, and the way people used Facebook (e.g., passive or active use, liking, clicking, or posting) didn’t seem to matter.

“Exposure to the carefully curated images from others’ lives leads to negative self-comparison, and the sheer quantity of social media interaction may detract from more meaningful real-life experiences,” the researchers concluded.

How to rein in social media overuse

So, what can we do to manage the downsides of social media? One idea is to log out of Facebook completely and take that “hard break.” Researcher Morten Tromholt of Denmark found that after taking a one-week break from Facebook, people had higher life satisfaction and positive emotions compared to people who stayed connected. The effect was especially pronounced for “heavy Facebook users, passive Facebook users, and users who tend to envy others on Facebook.”

Some people I’ve spoken with find ways of cleaning up their newsfeeds—from hiding everyone but their closest friends to “liking” only reputable news, information, and entertainment sources.

We can also become more mindful and curious about social media’s effects on our minds and hearts, weighing the good and bad. We should ask ourselves how social media makes us feel and behave, and decide whether we need to limit our exposure to social media altogether (by logging out or deactivating our accounts) or simply modify our social media environment. Some people I’ve spoken with find ways of cleaning up their newsfeeds—from hiding everyone but their closest friends to “liking” only reputable news, information, and entertainment sources.

Knowing how social media affects our relationships, we might limit social media interactions to those that support real-world relationships. Instead of lurking or passively scrolling through a never-ending bevy of posts, we can stop to ask ourselves important questions, like What are my intentions? and What is this online realm doing to me and my relationships?

We each have to come to our own individual decisions about social media use, based on our own personal experience. Grounding ourselves in the research helps us weigh the good and bad and make those decisions. Though the genie is out of the bottle, we may find, as Shakya and Christakis put it, that “online social interactions are no substitute for the real thing,” and that in-person, healthy relationships are vital to society and our own individual well-being. We would do well to remember that truth and not put all our eggs in the social media basket.

This article is adapted from Facebuddha: Transcendence in the Age of Social Networks (Pacific Heart Books, 2017, 412 pages). This article originally appeared on Greater Good, the online magazine of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, one of Mindful’s partners. View the original article.

The Hidden Cost of Phone Addiction

Take Control of Your Tech Habits

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Monday, 22 January 2018

When the News Makes Us Miserable: Remembering a Fuller Presence and Larger Truth - Tara Brach


When the News Makes Us Miserable:
Remembering a Fuller Presence and Larger Truth

People ask me regularly about how spiritual practice can guide us in responding to the state of our society. They tell me that while the teachings of compassion are alive and helpful in other parts of their lives, they seem out of reach when they read the headlines each day. In a recent e-mail from one of our DC community Spiritual Friends groups, members asked:

  • How do we stay compassionate when it feels like so much harm is being caused to vulnerable people?
  • Isn’t acceptance a kind of complacency? Isn’t “letting go” like condoning?
  • How do we call on meditation practice when we’ve become fearful, angry and disheartened at the hatefulness and viciousness that is so evident in our society?

I’ve had many waves of anger, fear and aversion in reaction to the harm being perpetrated in our society. In my own practice, it helps to keep starting right where I am, not judging my own reactions, thinking “I shouldn’t feel this.” Rather than trying to let go of these feelings, I often reflect that “this belongs,” it’s the inner weather of the moment. Then I can feel the fear or aversion with acceptance and kindness.

This also allows me to listen to the message of the emotions. Reactions of horror and outrage can be healthy and intelligent. They alert us to the very real suffering around us and they help move us toward action. When we accept and mindfully open to these emotions, they unfold to reveal the deep caring that is underneath. But this doesn’t happen if our minds fixate on stories of bad other. If we are lost in our stories, we are lost in our own egoic reactivity. To listen to the emotions and respond from our most awake heart, we need to make the U-Turn, coming out of stories and back to our vulnerability and our tender heart.

I often tell the story of a person walking in the woods and coming upon a little dog. The dog seems harmless enough, but when they reach out to pet the dog, it growls and lunges at them. The immediate response is fear and anger, but then they notice that the dog has its leg caught in a trap and compassion begins to rise up in the place of the anger. Once we see how our own leg is in a trap and hold our experience with self-compassion, it becomes easier to see how others might be caught, too – causing suffering, because they are suffering.

One misunderstanding is that acceptance and compassion amount to condoning, complacency, or resignation. On the contrary, true acceptance is a courageous willingness to face reality as it is right now, and compassion brings tenderness to the life of the moment. Only with this radically allowing and tender presence can we respond from our full intelligence and heart.

Of course, in the darkest of days, it is often not possible to open to what’s going on inside us with a compassionate presence. Again, we simply start where we are, bringing mindful recognition and acceptance to our closed hearts—this, too, belongs. Our intention to pay attention, our intention to be kind, will eventually allow our heart to relax open.

Consciousness is evolving. Even amidst the great limbic outbreak of our current times, we can also witness a growing interest in awakening awareness, in spiritual practice and in living aligned with our hearts. There is a dialectic at work: Suffering is necessary to fuel transformation.

In a small group meeting at a recent meditation retreat, some women shared their stories of pain and trauma caused by sexual harassment. One male who was participating said sadly, “When are these guys going to wake up and stop hurting people?” A few days later, after listening to Oprah give her speech at the Golden Globes, he had a rush of realization: “This is the turning point. We’re in a defining moment, and need to pay attention! The victims are speaking out and allies are awakening. There is hope for today and, perhaps, tomorrow.”

There is hope. Ultimately, the sacred feminine—the wisdom and love that cherishes life—is unfolding and flowering in our collective awareness. Compassion and forgiveness are increasingly researched, trained in, practiced. There’s no turning back this awakening. In time, the shadow emotions will transmute into an increasingly pure expression of our wise hearts.

Finally, it’s essential to respond actively whenever possible and to stay in good touch with others who care. Our shared caring is what keeps hope alive in difficult times—it’s the strongest medicine. Here’s a quote from contemporary Bodhisattva, Fred Rogers:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.

We are not alone. People all over the globe share the same longing for a more loving, just, and peaceful world. People everywhere are opening to the sense of our true belonging with each other and all of life.

May the suffering of our times awaken our deepest understanding and compassion;
and may we respond in a way that serves healing and freedom.

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Gratitude For a Fresh Start

We’re here, it’s the beginning of 2018, and, somehow, it feels like a fresh start. Funny how an artificial construct like the calendar can help us refresh our outlook. That’s also a key element in mindfulness practice. Awareness of breathing makes a fresh start available in every moment. Seems pretty simple but I’m finding it particularly uplifting when all around are invitations to old habits, especially acrimony and blame.

Before launching into what we can look for in 2018, I want to start the year by specifically thanking all of you who helped make our end of 2017 funding campaign a success. As a nonprofit, your support is both critical and inspiring. Not only does a successful funding campaign mean that 2017 ended on a high note, but it importantly sets us up to be strong and energized to expand our efforts in 2018. Fresh start. Thank you all!

As for 2018, If you thought the popularity of mindfulness entering the mainstream reached its peak, just wait. The pace is quickening, and the signs are that it’s normalizing, meaning it’s not just the early adopters anymore. It’s January and I’ve already heard from many places where the work is expanding, including Nashville KY schools and major institutions within both the US and Canadian governments (more on those in the future). And on Thursday of this week, I’ll be at Ivy Child International on a panel discussing how to make Boston a Mindful City. (somebody please tell those drivers!)

All of these give us an indication of how mindfulness is shaping up in 2018, and what to look for. Mindfulness training is reaching deeper into the community, and its applications are more focused on addressing social challenges. We’ll see innovative offerings that weave mindfulness practices into our lives in novel ways that can address deep habit change.

These are critical areas of society where mindfulness has taken root and where mindfulness-based interventions have been shown to produce scalable benefits.

How will Mindful fit into that? One way is that we will expand and deepen our content, consulting, and support for those bringing the wide variety of mindfulness practices into education and healthcare. These are critical areas of society where mindfulness has taken root and where mindfulness-based interventions have been shown to produce scalable benefits.

We plan on supporting this momentum by creating Mindful content specifically for these communities and finding ways to make it more widely available to those working in the front-lines in our schools and healthcare facilities.

In the world of education, that means creating more, and more advanced, mindfulness content for teachers, and making it available to them for free. Teachers are the driving force in bringing mindfulness into education, and they need our support. I recently heard from a leading mindfulness advocate in one of the US’s largest education systems that mindfulness is in 1 out of 4 of their classrooms but there’s no centralized mindfulness program. It’s all coming from the teachers (and principals) who’ve initiative their own training through programs like Mindful Schools, the Momentous Institute, or CARE for Teachers, among others, and then brought mindfulness into their classroom.

Part of their challenge is that there’s no money in the school systems for new programs. Schools are under tremendous financial pressure, and when something happens in our schools everyone wants a part of it. We want our initiatives to sidestep these obstacles to bringing benefit to teachers and their classrooms.

So that’s one major part of our fresh start in 2018: to expand our mindfulness in education initiative to create more free content for teachers and educators, to provide them with mindfulness practices that are easy to integrate into their already busy lives, and material they can use in their classrooms. And we’ll do it by partnering and collaborating with many other for- and nonprofit organizations who share this vision and are doing wonderful work in the field.

We’re energized by and committed to this vision. If you’ve got any fresh ideas about how we can work together to help make this happen, let me hear from you.

 

Mindfulness Feeds the Roots

 

Leaning Into the Mindfulness Momentum

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Friday, 19 January 2018

Freedom from Othering: Undoing the Myths that Imprison Us – Part 1 - Tara Brach


Freedom from Othering: Undoing the Myths that Imprison Us – Part 1 ~

A primary source of our suffering is the conditioning to create “bad other,” or “inferior other.” This same conditioning leads us to creating a bad self and turn on ourselves. These two talks explore how we subscribe to societal myths and beliefs that perpetuate this “bad othering,” and “bad selfing.” They then guide us in bring a healing attention that can reveal the goodness that lives through all beings, and our innate connectedness. A core teaching is, “the boundary to who we include in our hearts is the boundary to our freedom.”

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Why Loving-Kindness Takes Time: Sharon Salzberg

Sharon Salzberg, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society, offers a “Guided Lovingkindness Meditation” — Sending loving-kindess to people we feel neutral towards as well as those we have difficult feelings towards. 

The Path to Loving-Kindness: Choose Your Phrases

Loving-kindness is meant to be done in the easiest way possible so that the experience springs forth most gently, most naturally. To do it in the most easiest way possible means first to use phrases that are personally meaningful. The traditional phrases as are taught, at least this one classical translation of them, begins with oneself:

May I be free from danger, may I know safety. Danger in that sense is both inner danger from the force of certain mind states, and outer danger. So, May I be free from danger. May I have mental happiness. May I have physical happiness. May I have ease of well-being—which means may I not have to struggle terribly, day by day, with livelihood, with family issues.

Let your mind rest in the phrases. You can be aware of the phrases either with the breath or just in themselves—the focus of the attention is the phrases. Let your mind rest within them. The feelings will come and go.

May I be free from danger, may I have mental happiness, but really, you should use any phrases that are powerful for you. They need to be meaningful not just in a very temporary way—May I get to this course okay—but something profound that you would wish for yourself and wish for others. Thoughts are very important in doing loving-kindness—not to struggle to get a certain kind of feeling. Let your mind rest in the phrases. You can be aware of the phrases either with the breath or just in themselves—the focus of the attention is the phrases. Let your mind rest within them. The feelings will come and go.

Sometimes it will feel quite glorious, it will be extraordinary.

Sometimes, many times, it will be very very ordinary, very dry or very mechanical—but it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean that nothing is happening or that it’s not working. What’s important is to do it, is to form that intention in the mind because we’re uniting the power of loving-kindness and the power of intention and that is what will produce the effect of that free flow of loving-kindness.

Loving-Kindness Takes Time

The first time that I ever did loving-kindness practice was without a teacher. We first opened up the center; a group of us decided to do a self retreat here for a month and I had never done loving-kindness before although I had heard about it. I thought it was a perfect opportunity to do it.

I sat up in my room and I knew that it was done in successive stages and I began by dedicating a week of sending myself loving-kindness. All day long, I would go around the building—sitting in my room, sitting in the hall—saying the whole thing, may I be happy, may I be peaceful, may I be liberated, and I felt absolutely nothing.

At the end of the week, something happened to someone in the community and a number of us, quite unexpectedly, had to leave the retreat. Then I felt doubly bad—not only did nothing happen but I never even got beyond myself, which was really selfish.

I was running around upstairs in the flurry of having to leave. I was standing in one of the bathrooms and I dropped a jar of something, which shattered into a thousand pieces. The very first thought that came up in my mind was: “You are really a klutz, but I love you.” And I thought, “Oh wow! Look at that.” All those hours, all those phrases where I was just dry and mechanical and I felt like nothing was happening. It was happening. It just took a while for me to sense the flowering of that and it was so spontaneous that it was quite wonderful. So: Not to struggle, to try to make something happen. Let it happen. It will happen.

Our job, so to speak, is just to say those phrases, to say them knowing what they mean but without trying to fabricate a feeling, without putting that overlay on top of it, of stress. Let your mind rest in the phrases, and let the phrases be meaningful to you.

I’d like to talk about sending a loving-kindness to the neutral person and a little bit about sending loving-kindness to somebody who we have difficulty with as we send a message to a neutral person.

Sending Loving-Kindness to the Neutral Party

The first task of course is to find one—sometimes that’s very interesting. I find that very often as soon as we either meet somebody or even think about them, if we haven’t met them, we have a judgment about them: I like them I don’t like them.

If you can find a neutral person, sometimes there’s a great refreshment in sending them loving-kindness because there’s no story about them.

See if you can understand that this person wants to be happy just as each one of us wants to be happy and open, extend that force of loving-kindness towards them.

Sending Loving-Kindness to the Difficult Party

After we do that for a little while, move on, just briefly, to sending loving-kindness to somebody that we have difficulty with. This is a very interesting place because it’s very difficult. It’s a very powerful place because that person, in some ways, symbolizes the difference between love or loving-kindness, which is conditional, and that which is on uncondition that which goes beyond having our desires met, having affection returned, having people treat us well. It is that person that defines the line between that which is finite and that which is infinite. Yet it’s not easy. Very often to think of this person and you enmity, or anger, or fear, whatever. As a suggestion, when we begin that part of the practice, in the spirit of doing it in the easiest way possible, it’s probably better to start with somebody where there’s mild irritation rather than the person who has hurt you most in your life.

And slowly begin to open in levels of difficulty. Sometimes when we send loving-kindness to a difficult person, we do feel all of these other feelings, like anger. If possible, see if you can let go of it. Return the recitation of the phrases. If it’s too strong, then you can drop the loving-kindness. Pay careful attention to the feeling until it begins to subside some, very much with the sense of compassion for oneself: You don’t need to judge it. Now when you can you can pick up the loving-kindness again, perhaps with an easier person.

Guided Loving-Kindness Practice

To begin, take a comfortable seated position. Let’s begin by sitting comfortably, closing your eyes.

Find phrases you’d like to use to offer good wishes. Taking a few deep breaths, relaxing the body, finding the phrases that reflect what you wish most deeply for yourself. Very gently repeat them.

Bring someone to mind who’s been kind to you. If you have someone come to mind who has been a benefactor to help in some way, for whom you feel respect or gratitude, either hold an image of that person, or say their names in your mind. Direct that force of loving-kindness towards them, wishing them safety, happiness, and peace. Very gently, one phrase at a time, let the mind rest in the phrase.

And if a good friend comes to mind, someone who you care about, there’s mutual caring, hold a sense of this person, direct the phrases towards them, wishing for their happiness and their well-being.

Bring a neutral person to mind. Ideally it would be somebody here of course because you have an opportunity to run into them, to observe how a feeling of loving-kindness develops over the course of time. If someone here of if not here then someone in your life who you don’t have a strong sense of liking or disliking. See if you can bring that person to mind. Extend the feeling of loving-kindness towards them— just as we all want to be happy, so this person also wants to be happy. If nobody comes to mind in this category, then you can just stay with a good friend.

If it feels workable, bring to mind someone with whom you experience difficulty. If there’s somebody that you have difficulty with, perhaps not very grave difficulty at this point—someone with whom there’s conflict, there’s tension. There’s unease, there’s dislike. Remembering that his person, too, just wants to happy—that out of ignorance, we all make mistakes that create harm or suffering, and that causing suffering inevitably will bring suffering to that person. See if you can extend that force of loving-kindness towards them. To send loving-kindness does not mean that we approve or condone all actions, it means that we can see clearly actions that are incorrect or unskillful and still not lose the connection.

To send loving-kindness does not mean that we approve or condone all actions, it means that we can see clearly actions that are incorrect or unskillful and still not lose the connection.

Calling someone to mind with whom there’s difficulty, repeating the phrases towards them. If you can find one good thing about this person, in the midst of everything else, if you focus on that one good thing, just reflect on it for a moment, you’ll find that there’s a feeling of drawing closer, opening up, and all the rest can be seen in that light.

If you can’t find even one good thing about this person, you can reflect on their wish to be happy.

Expand your awareness to all beings, everywhere, without distinction, without exclusion. May all beings be free from danger, may they have mental happiness, may they have physical happiness, may they have ease of well-being.

All living beings: may they be free from danger, may they have mental happiness, may they have physical happiness, may they have ease of well-being.

All creatures, known or unknown, near or far, some we like, some we don’t like, some we’re neutral towards.

All individuals… happy, suffering, causing suffering. Still they have this wish to be happy, to be free. May it be so. And all those in existence. Every being, all places, may they be able to realize the fruits of just what it is that we wish for ourselves.

 

 

Adapted from a talk from Sharon Salzberg at the Insight Meditation Society. Listen to the full talk.

 

 

A Loving-Kindness Meditation to Boost Compassion

Don’t Fall into the Self-Esteem Trap: Try a Little Self-Kindness

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Associate Web Editor

Mindful magazine and its digital equivalent, mindful.org, are looking for an Associate Web Editor to join their digital team. The organization’s mission is to support the work being done in the field of mindfulness, creating new opportunities by telling stories, connecting people, providing vital information, and catalyzing key events and initiatives, and making mindfulness and its practice a routine part of North American society. The Associate Web Editor, working with a small team of digital professionals in the area of editorial, will help serve this goal by creating content posts for Mindful.org, overseeing newsletter production, and scheduling social media posts. This is a permanent full-time position.

Working under the direction of the Editor, Mindful Digital, the Associate Web Editor will broadly be responsible for:

  • Building and scheduling article posts
  • Formatting posts for SEO
  • Searching for and formatting images
  • Participate in production of special projects with other departments
  • Writing articles for the website
  • Regularly feeding website with content from the latest issue of the print magazine
  • Writing and scheduling all social media posts
  • Overseeing and contributing to production of email newsletter campaigns
  • Assist with production of mobile edition

The Associate Web Editor will report to the Editor, Mindful Digital and work under the direction of the Deputy Editor, Mindful Digital.

Specific Qualifications, Skills and Experience:

  • Bachelor’s degree in English, Journalism, or Communications
  • Strong writing skills — able to write for daily deadlines
  • Content management system experience; specifically WordPress and mobile platform MAZ
  • Experience and enthusiasm for posting to social media platforms including: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google-Plus
  • Knowledge of HTML and experience with image editing, Photoshop preferred
  • Knowledge of SEO and  social media best practices, including calls to action, hashtags, and tagging as well as experience using social media management platforms such as Hootsuite and Buffer
  • Facility with email and newsletter tool Mailchimp
  • Familiarity with web and social analytics

The Foundation for a Mindful Society (Mindful), an independent non-profit located in Halifax, Nova Scotia, is dedicated to inspiring, guiding and connecting anyone who wants to explore mindfulness—to enjoy better health, more caring relationships, and a more compassionate society. We use our media and community building expertise as the publishers of Mindful magazine and mindful.org to accomplish this.

Salary is $27,000 to 30,000 (CAD). Candidates must be eligible to work in Canada.

Deadline for Applications: February 9, 2018.

Apply by email with “Associate Web Editor” in the subject line and attaching covering letter and resume to Cindy Littlefair at cindy@mindful.org

 

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Thursday, 18 January 2018

Meditation: Receiving Life with an Open Awareness (20:45 min.) - Tara Brach


Meditation: Receiving Life with an Open Awareness ~

We begin with listening and then bring a receptive attention to experience the life of the body. We then open the attention to the whole field of sensations and sound, and rest in the openness and presence that includes all the changing currents of experience.

 

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