Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Got time on your hands? Learn to meditate!


When I became trained as a meditation teacher last year, I did so because I wanted to share some of the peace and contentment I had discovered through mindfulness. I could never have imagined the situation that we are faced with today... an entire world united in fear, anxiety and isolation.  If ever there was a time to try meditation, this would be it!.

The benefits of meditation have been confirmed through rigorous scientific studies and are proven to reduce stress, control anxiety, improve sleep, decrease blood pressure, increase happiness, strengthen your immune system, improve productivity and cognition, enhance empathy… to name a few.


Right now, as we "shelter at home" because of the Corona Virus, you probably have more time on your hands than you've ever had in your life… you may even feel anxiety about how much free time is staring you in the face. So why not pause for a few minutes, and try to connect with your inner self in a way that can provide a comfort and calm you've never experienced before. 

Experts estimate that the average person thinks 60,000 - 80,000 thoughts per day. In our current situation, we can assume that many of these thoughts involve worry and fear. And worry and fear require you to visit the past or the future to access those thoughts.

Mindfulness asks you to exist in the present. 

That is where the peacefulness comes from. As you read these words you are focused in the present. You may notice you are not feeling anxiety or agitation while reading. That is because you are fully present. You are not drifting off to memories of the past that may spark fear or worrying about a future that you cannot control. Why not find ways to prolong that feeling of calm presence? 

There is so much to be gained by immersing yourself fully into the present moment… which, coincidentally, is the only real moment available to you. There is absolutely nothing productive, that comes from imagining negative outcomes in the future. “Worrying is using your imagination to create something you don’t want.” (Abraham HIcks)

My personal experiences of tragedy and loss, and the depression that followed, pushed me to look for a better way to live. I've been meditating for five years, while learning more about the philosophies of mindfulness and Buddhism. But I am no different than any of you… life brings great suffering to all of us at one time or another… and there is a path to acceptance and peace. And there is an easier way to live your life with less stress, anxiety and fear by practicing the simple steps of meditation and staying mindfully in the present.


You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. 

If are ready to accept this challenge, please set aside anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes a day to practice your meditation. You can sit or lay down. You can do it alone, or you can invite others nearby to join you. There are more online resources available to you than ever before. Many practitioners are offering free meditation sessions via Zoom or other meeting apps.

There is no wrong way to meditate. You cannot fail at this endeavor. Simply try any of the options I've listed below and see what feels right to you. It may seem a little scary at first, but over time you will discover that this is one of the most comforting and secure places you can be. Sink back into the arms of the present, and enjoy the peaceful, quiet and deep connection to your soul.

Full disclosure: I am not an expert on any of the above, and I don't have all the answers. Can I maintain my calmness all the time? Absolutely not. I would estimate that 90% of the time I'm able to experience great ease and contentment. And when faced with fear, I can often return to calm by using my deep breathing techniques learned from meditation.

Please write me here or at my email: carol@abramdesign.com if you have any questions.

Wishing a calmer, more peaceful state of being for all of you.
Carol


Resources

For all of these meditation exercises, find a quiet place in your home where you will not be disturbed. You can sit on the floor or a mat, you can sit in a chair, or you can lay down. You will breathe deeply from your belly and inhale and exhale from your nose.

Thoughts will appear in your consciousness as you meditate. Try to imagine them as clouds drifting overhead. You see them, but just acknowledge them and return to your attention to your breath. Over time you will find they become quieter and less distracting.

Option 1: App 
Download, an app such as Insight Timer. It is free and you can choose how long your meditation will be, with or without music and if you would like it to be guided by a teacher. You can also focus on a specific subject, such as “Learn to Meditate”, “Coping with Anxiety”, “Managing Stress” and many more. I suggest starting with ten minutes and continue to add time over the next few weeks. Other popular apps are Calm and Headspace.

Option 2: Counting Breaths
You can play some calming instrumental music that you can find in Spotify under meditation or access Insight Timer and use some of their sounds. Breathing deeply from your belly and as you exhale slowly say the number “one” silently. Inhale again and on exhale silently say the number “two”. 
Continue on this way until you reach 10, and then start over again.

Option 3: Mantras
This method involves the reputation of a word or group of words. It is helpful in keeping your mind focused. Some common ones are “Om" (the sound of universal vibration)” or “So Hum” (translates to “I am”). Repeat the mantra continuously to yourself while breathing deeply.


Here are some books that can provide more basic information, and are easy to absorb:

10% Happier by Dan Harris

Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn

How to Meditate by Pema Chodron


Online meditation groups can provide a great synergy and sense of community. Please check my Facebook page as I will be updating links to online meditation events there: Carol Abram Facebook





Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2020: A Time to Look Inward

This new year, 2020, is loaded with meaning for me. 20/20 is the well-known designation for normal eye vision, but it suggests something much deeper to me. As my body declines with age, my optical system joins in the downward spiral. Once blessed with stellar vision, it has been a long road to acceptance of these new weaknesses. But beyond the interventions offered up by modern medicine, there is no way for me to stop the process. I have made peace with aging and that has pushed me to focus inward to find a much more powerful vision that resides within me.

My blog, Lookology, allows me to observe and share the myriad of visual delights I see in the world around me. The images I view daily will always captivate me... from a delicate sleeve of ice on a winter branch to a breathtaking piece of art. But the truest place of observation, for me, is within my soul. It is here that I find stillness and contentment that was not available to me when most of my time was spent gazing outward.

Without practicing awareness, our brain is largely dominated by egoic thought, which flourishes easily in the unconscious mind. The ego causes us to be laser-beam focused on how we are perceived by others.  Am I smarter? Richer? Thinner? More athletic? Our society reinforces this system of comparison and often our daily lives are fully controlled by these thoughts... although we are usually unaware.

These non-productive thoughts and feelings that dominate our daily lives leave little space for the introspection that might lead us to self-awareness. In order to access the authentic self that lies dormant within most of us, we need to shift our perception from the loud, frenetic, external world to the calm, quiet, inner landscape within ourselves. This is not an easy task, but it is obtainable for everyone with effort. The most accessible pathway to this authentic place within yourself is through the practice of meditation.

Meditation has been touted for thousands of years as a powerful and productive technique for accessing inner peace. It has endured because it is effective and has guided millions of people to a more peaceful way of living their lives. When you meditate, you bring yourself to the present moment. Most of us live anywhere but the present. Unknowingly, we are immersed in the mire of the past... reliving anger, feeling regret, replaying the stories over and over and over. And, at the same time we dwell in the future, perseverating about the unknown. One of my teachers once asked if I was a fortune-teller, and was I able to predict the future. Clearly I am not, and I laugh now when I think of the wasted hours I spent predicting the greatest and worst outcomes for my destiny. The future is largely out of our control and will only reveal itself when it arrives here, in the present.

In a universe where reality is constantly being questioned, the undeniable truth is that you only have one moment that is real. And that is the present. The past does not exist, except for the importance you allow it within your mind. Memories are also notoriously inaccurate as the ego often adjusts the recollections according to its own agenda. And the future, of course, hasn't even arrived. Still, many people focus solely on what they plan for and hope to achieve in this unknown space we call the future.

Either way, the only moment that is authentically here to be lived, is in the present. Please take a chance in this new year and stop to experience the present moment. You may surprised at the simple, sweet joy you will find there.

To learn more, please feel free to come visit the Foxboro Mindfulness Meetup Group that meets every Wednesday night, 6:30-8:00pm in the basement of the Foxboro Universalist Church, 6 Bird Street,  Foxboro, MA. Join us under the fairy lights and see what you discover.  
https://www.meetup.com/foxboromindfulness/events/hmgzhrybccbcb/

Disclaimer: I am not an expert on any of the above, I just read and listen to a lot of Buddhist and mindfulness teachers and practice daily. This process has helped me in my quest to find a happier life... and I want to share my experience with you.




Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Puppy Love


Every time I draw or paint a dog portrait, I fall a little bit in love with my subject. Dogs intrigue me as they are the true embodiment of mindfulness. They are always fully present in whatever it is they engage in and they bring a wholeheartedness to everything they do.

Unlike people, canines don't hold grudges and even dogs that may have had an abusive past are able to bring their hopefulness into the present moment and attach to a new owner. Their love is unconditional and their loyalty is unparalleled. Carrying no self-consciousness, they live from their gut without the restraint of self-doubt and judgement.

My deep love and admiration for dogs is hardwired into my genetics dating back generations in my family. As an infant, my mother was saved by the family German Shepherd, Lux, while sunning outside on a winter's day. My grandmother had left my 5 month-old mother in a carriage out in front of the house, just at the edge of a portico (this was not unusual behavior back in the day). A large chunk of snow melted off the roof of the overhang and landed on top of the carriage and my mother. The dog barked persistently until my grandmother came out and rescued my mom. And so began our family legacy of dog worshipping.

As a shout out to the many people I love, who also love cats, I respect and honor their affection and devotion to felines. I have never been able to crack the cat's code and while I admire their beauty, I don't understand their behavior... but I am open to learning. In terms of painting cats, I am confused by their eyes which have a complex diamond-shaped iris. Dogs eyes are much simpler, comprised of an iris and pupil round and similar to ours Yet, I know I will be attempting to overcome this unknown and capture the essence of the cat in a drawing some time soon. 

Ideally, the reference photo I work from has the eyes well-lighted and sharply focused. Like any portrait, all the features need to bear a likeness to the subject. But for me to capture the essence of my canine models, I start with the eyes as they will ultimately determine the success of the painting. When photographing your dog, try holding a treat or favorite toy near the camera/phone. This will bring their gaze toward you. If shooting outdoors, you will find early morning or late afternoon provide the best light for creating shadows and highlights.

Over time I have observed that the default mode for most dogs is happy and content. Perhaps this is derived from their ability to live simply in the moment, without the advanced thought processes that keep us humans lost in our patterns of thought. Through mindfulness, I can bring myself closer to that state and experience the sweet contentment that I see on my own sweet Molly's face.





Sunday, April 21, 2019

Distorted Reflections


Water distorts everything it reflects to some degree. On a calm, windless day the differences may be almost imperceptible. On wavy days the water creates a mashup of light, motion and shadow, jumbling the reflected visuals into something unrecognizable. Then there are days like the one above, when my shadow image reflected from the dock is clear, but gently retooled into something mystical.

This image could be a metaphor for the distortion we carry in our deeply-held concept of ourselves. Throughout our lives we create a narrative of who we are. Much of that story is based on past experience, conjecture into the future, and is not an accurate rendering of who you are in this moment. When we live within that constructed version of the self, we work hard to manipulate the world around us to maintain that concept of the self. But it is a hopeless endeavor as we cannot control anything beyond ourselves. Letting go of the facade of self opens you up to vast opportunity to live differently... to allow yourself to evolve naturally, without restriction.
 
The book "The Untethered Soul, by Michael Singer, offers a deeper look into this phenomenon. Singer discusses the role of ego in driving our thoughts and behavior. Once you have an awareness of this dynamic, you can see the power ego has over how you live your life. With awareness comes the chance to move away from the narrative of who you are, and open yourself up to who you might become.

https://untetheredsoul.com/untethered-soul

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Why write?

That is the question I have asked myself for the past two years when I have chosen not to. Is there anything I might say that will help to improve someone's life? Can I plant the seeds of curiosity in a person's soul that will cause them to explore ways to exist more peacefully within themselves? Will talking about my personal struggle with art inspire someone to persevere when they come face to face with the blank canvas and an empty mind?

Although I may never know the answer to those questions, I am compelled from somewhere deep within to write about the intersection of my two passions, art and mindfulness.

Both mindfulness and creating art (or music, or any creative endeavor) offer the opportunity to drill down into personal authenticity, which is both frightening and exhilarating. This journey into mindfulness is an ongoing adventure which offers many gifts along the way... the greatest one for me being the discovery of contentment. In our society, happiness is the implied goal, with the concept of contentment being overlooked as a less-worthy objective. But happiness and joy are only momentary spikes in the duality of our emotions and will alternate with disappointment and despair. Contentment rides quietly in the middle, offering a comforting sense of calm and gratitude, which is available to us all.

This sustained calm within the soul opens up many new channels within us... including self-awareness, compassion and creativity. When we exist mindfully in the present, we are not defined by our past (which is often recalled inaccurately) or limited by our worry and fear of the future (which is completely unknown and beyond our control). In this state of equanimity the mind is able to see a spaciousness of unlimited possibility.

As mindfulness guides the creative process, art can flow organically, suspending the harsh filter of self-judgement. The process of disengaging with self critique is challenging for most artists, but is possible. Focusing on being fully present in creative process, as opposed to obsessive judgement of the final product, helps to shift this dynamic over time.

With my reincarnated blog, Lookology, I hope to provide thought-provoking imagery and words that will engage those who are interested in developing a more peaceful way of living through mindfulness. With the focus on mindfulness comes a natural connection to the creative process and I will explore how it can enhance the art making experience. Writing this blog will also serve as an important reminder to me to stay anchored in the present, which is in fact, the only moment that we actually have.

For those who would like to take a first step into finding awareness, please check out this weekly meditation and discussion group: https://www.meetup.com/foxboromindfulness/


Full disclaimer:
I am not an authority on any of the above. Regarding mindfulness, I have spent the last four years delving into Buddhist concepts, attending "sanghas" (Buddhist prayer groups), and meeting with like-minded souls. I am also about to embark on meditation teacher training in hopes of sharing the benefits of mindfulness with others.

The study of Buddhism stretches back thousands of years, and many wise people have written words of guidance. Yet, it is only necessary to scratch the surface of these ancient and modern teachings to begin finding the deep peacefulness within. In future posts I will be suggesting some books that can provide comprehensive understanding and simple steps to embark on this journey.  

Namaste.










Wednesday, March 1, 2017

My First Art Acquisition



What art does an artist want on the walls their own home? 

That is a something I have thought about over the years. The question is even more important to me now, because I have minimal wall space in my home and I have to choose very carefully. My own art is already hanging in a few spots, but I also want to surround myself with works of art that inspire and move me in some way. To own a work of art by someone I know and respect adds an extra dimension of pleasure to my experience.

So, I am happy to start my art collection with an original pastel painting by my teacher, Jeanne Rosier Smith. I heard of Jeanne a few years ago, when my first pastel teacher described her technique and beautiful paintings of waves. Eventually, I made my way into her classes (which wasn't easy!) and when I viewed her seascapes up close I was stunned. I didn't know it was possible for pastels to capture the translucent quality of waves with such painterly strokes. 

When viewing the new painting from 8 or 10 feet back I see color and light dancing across the crashing wave to create an image that could almost be a photograph. But as I move closer, I understand that Jeanne has created an illusion for the viewer through perfectly planned strokes and blocks of color. 

The new piece, "I Can See Clearly Now", is the start of what I hope will be a well-planned collection of my favorite artists. And I can't think of a better beginning.

You can view more of Jeanne Rosier Smith's gorgeous pastel art at: www.jeannerosiersmith.com

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Painting a Memory




















In 2013 I was fortunate to travel to India for a wedding and spend ten days exploring this remarkable country. The trip was memorable on many levels, especially sharing in the joyous wedding of people we love and seeing the country through their eyes.

From an artist's perspective, India is undoubtedly one of the most visually compelling places you could ever hope to see. Once you are able to turn down the volume, aromas and chaos you can focus on the ultra-vibrant colors that populate this region.

In the photograph (on the right) we had stopped for lunch during our camel ride adventure at a location in Rohet. While we enjoyed icy cold drinks and catered lunch I was fascinated by the women working busily at the water's edge. At first I felt guilty under the luxurious shade of the tent, but as I watched the women I could see the playful interactions between them and the laughter from them was refreshing.

Even on this steaming hot day, they were layered in gorgeous, patterned clothing. The silky head wraps were nearly transparent and cast a soft, tinted glow over the other layers adding to the complexity of colors. In my pastel painting (on the left) I worked to capture the vibrancy of the fabrics as they appeared against the neutral foreground of the dust and dirt. What was most fulfilling about this process was the opportunity to use pastel colors that generally don't see alot of action. Especially in this combination. While creating this artwork I found myself sinking back into the memory of that day and enjoyed reliving the unique experiences we had in India.

Got time on your hands? Learn to meditate!

When I became trained as a meditation teacher last year, I did so because I wanted to share some of the peace and contentment I had d...