January 2011 I learned to meditate. Many of you know the story of how I was guided to meditation through a breakdown and how it led to a breakthrough in my life. I was just chatting with a friend the other day about Angela "before meditation" and Angela "after meditation." Suffice to say, meditation has been a life-changing practice which is why I became a teacher.
For over six years I have been teaching individuals and groups how to meditate. Over the past few years something called mindfulness has become ubiquitous and I'm often asked the question, "what's the difference between mindfulness and meditation?"
Here's my take on it.
Meditation is an intentional seated practice that directs your attention inward. The practice cultivates calm, focus and emotional regulation. There are many different types of meditation but I like how Dr. Norman Rosenthal's in his book, Transcendence, boils them down to three main categories: 1) focused attention, 2) open monitoring, 3) automatic self-transcending. Some examples include:
Meditation is usually practiced for a specific amount of time while sitting comfortably with eyes closed. The mantra meditation method I teach recommends sitting for 20 minutes. But even 5 minutes will do! The point really isn't how long you meditate, but that you practice daily.
Mindfulness is a practice that you can do anytime, anywhere, with anyone. It's a way to train your attention to be in the here and now instead of wandering around in the past or the future. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” If you have a meditation practice, you're automatically practicing mindfulness. But mindfulness can also be practiced walking to the car, waiting in line at the grocery store, having a conversation, washing your hands, and eating. The ways to practice are endless because mindfulness is how you do whatever it is you're already doing.
Being mindless is the opposite of being mindful. You've probably had the experience of driving home from work and not remembering how you got there. That's mindlessness. Being mindful has tremendous benefits to health and happiness (and enjoying the drive home) but one of my favorite things about being mindful is the impact it has on relationships with others. Mindful people are kind and compassionate, fully present, reflective and in tune with their emotions.
Some examples of mindfulness practices include:
Whichever practice or set of practices you choose, the important thing is that you do it. Knowing about it won't help you, doing it will.
Questions I get asked when people learn I meditate:
Ok that last one isn’t a question but it’s one of the most common things I hear from people who don’t meditate.
My response goes something like this:
Me: Do you have time to brush your teeth?
Other person: Well, duh… of course I do… but what does brushing your teeth have to do with meditation?
Simply this. You make time for things that give you something of value in return. Having nice breath and clean teeth is important because it feels gross if you don’t brush your teeth! Would you ever give up brushing your teeth because it took a few minutes out of your day? You’ve made this a non-negotiable in your life because it feels good to have clean teeth and fresh breath. And you really notice it when you don’t do it… am I right?!
Did you know you can meditate in just a few minutes a day?
And… over time, meditation cleans out the plaque from your nervous system caused by years and years of accumulated stress so you feel more relaxed and at ease more often.
Meditation trains our brain to deliver higher quality thoughts and ideas to us from the love-based higher-mind instead of habitually feeding us the same ‘ole unhelpful stories and neurological junk in our fear-based lower-mind.
Meditation creates mental and emotional space giving us more control to choose how we want to respond instead of compulsively reacting to things like an annoying co-worker, a triggering post on Facebook, getting cut-off in traffic, when someone pays for their cart-full of groceries with all pennies. You get the picture.
And… meditation connects us to who we really are and what we really want. Like getting driving directions from our Soul.
Who wouldn’t take a few minutes a day for that?
The great news is one mindful breath a day can be where you start. Where you go from there is up to you. You can set aside a few minutes for mindful breathing and you’ll be well on your way to life-changing benefits.
Will you make it a non-negotiable part of your daily routine? My guess is yes, but it really depends on what you start noticing about yourself and your life that’s different and better because of meditation.
You can do it. And it’s totally worth it.
How to take a mindful breath: simply bring gentle attention to your breath. Become aware that you are breathing and then pay attention, noticing the sensations of the inhale and the exhale through the nose. One breath. And then another if you want to. That’s it!
Have your own questions? Ask me anything you want about meditation. I promise I'll give you a thoughtful reply.
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One year ago today I lost my job. Just shy of being with the company ten years, I was invited into an executive’s office and told, “your position has been eliminated.” They said it was not my fault and was due to a reallocation of their budget after the company was purchased by a private equity firm. They said I was being laid off, but it felt more like, “get out.” I was told to gather my things immediately and leave the building. Fighting tears, I was escorted out the front door.
Coming home early and having to tell my kids what happened was rough. Of course I assured them that everything would be ok. They were lovingly sweet to me as I tried to explain.
It just so happened that I had a new meditation class starting that night. I had a few hours to pull myself together so I could be fully present for my students. I was a bit worried about my my ability to show up and teach, but it turned out that teaching was the perfect thing for me to do. I got right into the flow of the class and poured myself into it, setting aside the shock of the day. It felt so good to be sharing something I loved with people who wanted to learn with me. Quite a contrast to being walked out of the building with my little box of belongings.
The following days were mired in solving immediate problems; figuring out insurance, finances, and paperwork. I did all the things I figured I was supposed to do when you lose your job including panic, worry, and update my resume.
But deep down I wondered if losing my job might be a gift. Even though I was not quite ready to see it that way, the truth was, this was something I’d been dreaming of for a very long time.
What I wanted most was time off. Not adequate time off - extravagant time off. I’d been suffering in a career that felt like a grind for 20-plus years. I’d been saying for at least 10 of those years how I was sick and tired of being chained to my computer all day and how I much I wanted freedom to do something I really loved.
July 12, 2018 I got what I wanted. And it was scary as hell.
Do you have the same idea I did - that when you get what you want you’ll feel amazingly great? Clouds part, angels sing, unicorns leap over rainbows? It should feel like unwrapping that highly anticipated yet totally improbable Christmas present, right? Yep. If we’re talking Atari or Air Jordans. But when it comes to being tossed something your soul wants, you might feel like ducking.
Isn’t it strange?
This past year I have had the kind of days I imagine only the luckiest people enjoy. Most days begin by waking up when my body tells me to without an alarm clock. Then easing into my morning meditation and luxuriating in it as long as feels necessary. Stroll into the kitchen, make the coffee, notice the color of the morning sky, and listen to the birds. A peaceful alertness, a hum on my lips.
Until the panic kicks in. “Holy shit I don’t have a job!”
Or well-meaning friends and family call. “Holy shit you don’t have a job!”
And then I spend the rest of the day flipping the coin of my predicament. One side is bliss. The other side is terror.
On one of my more terror-filled days, I was taking a walk and a question began to pester me.
Where is my joy?
I felt like I hadn’t smiled in days. I didn’t feel anything but anxiety in my body which is why I was walking so much; moving brought some relief and injected my mind with fresh positivity. The question was relevant at the moment but also in a larger life-purpose sense.
Where is my joy?
Now that I had the time and freedom to create my life the way I wanted it, I was either giddy and unfocused or paralyzed with fear. I started using the question, “where is my joy,” to guide my mind and choices. I sure needed something to help me - facing a future of nothing but possibilities was daunting!
So I felt my way through it. I started doing things for the joy of it. I picked up books that spoke to me and deepened my study of spirituality; reading books by authors like Richard Rohr, Adyashanti, Joel Goldsmith, Thomas Moore, and others. I opened myself up to new relationships that felt good and let go of the ones that didn’t. I gave myself permission to have unbridled fun. I learned how to slow down and savor simple things, like eating beautiful food. I invested in myself; getting coaching, taking workshops, going on retreats and gaining new skills. I baked more, laughed more, played more, rested more.
Choosing to do something for the sake of joy may seem like a radical thing to do, especially when you’re faced with a high degree of uncertainty. But what I’ve learned is that it’s smart. Joy can be trusted because joy lives at the soul level.
That doesn’t mean I don’t feel wobbly sometimes. I do! Trusting joy takes practice. Practice means doing it even when it’s scary and your mind talks you out of it, which still happens to me often.
My wise soul knows a thing or two about who I am and what I need. She’s not willing to let me settle for less, cave into fear, or retreat into the safety of the known. She shows up every day right on time showing me who I am and what I’m capable of.
Believe me, I’ve not made it easy. I’ve been wrestling with my soul for an entire year and she’s not letting me win.
And for that I am grateful because what she’s allowing is for me to become a better me. This past year has shown me that a joyful me is what I’m called to be. It’s who I naturally am but had forgotten about. Year after year of ignoring my joy left my soul no choice but to force me to dig deep, rediscover my joy and trust in living the reality of my deepest desires.
Through this struggle I received the ultimate gift. It wasn’t another well-paying job that I didn’t love, or a bailout, or anything else the world can measure. The gift was the answer to the question, "Where is my joy?”
Joy is right here. I am Joy.
Stepping out from that truth is what I’m doing now.
I’ve suspected for a while now that my life-purpose is to guide and be a messenger. My name, Angela, means messenger! Now I’m so happy and grateful to be doing what I love the most - guiding people on the same journey I’ve taken.
I’ve added more variety to the meditation classes I teach because I know from experience how life-changing meditation is. I love helping people connect to their present-moment awareness and experience what it’s like to feel their own inner peace and joy no matter what’s going on around them.
I’ve become a life coach because coaching has saved my butt so many times I can’t even tell you! I absolutely love guiding people who want to get fear out of the driver’s seat and actually start living the life they dream about.
And I’ve started Joy@Work because having seen way too many unhappy, stressed out people at work (I was one of them) and unhealthy workplace cultures, I believe we can end suffering at work by bringing mindfulness training into businesses.
Am I surprised that this is where I am one year later? Heck yes. Surprised and crazy grateful for the doors that closed.
This is my life after all, and I want to ENJOY it. Every. Single. Day.
And that’s what the world needs - more people turned on by their life. More people bringing their higher selves to their life, work and relationships. More people willing to use their talents and gifts for a higher purpose. More people paying attention to the call of their soul.
This isn’t for the faint of heart. I’ve been scared a lot. But what I’ve come to know is that the call of our soul can be trusted, and for me, Joy is totally worth it.
Thanks for reading all the way to the end (or beginning!) of my story and I’d love to hear how you would answer the question, “Where is my joy?”
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A friend told me a few months ago he was broken. I responded that he was not broken. Something about this exchange has been nagging at me and I've been pondering it ever since.
I believe my friend was right. I believe I was right, too.
How can we both be right?
Many wisdom traditions teach of two selves. The false self and the true self. The false self is constructed by us, with the help of parents, friends, society, culture, and religion. Also called our ego or identity, it begins with our name given to us by our parents and we join the process as soon as we can say the word "mine." Over a lifetime we build a "me" who has a name, gender, preferences, roles, titles, style, accomplishments, degrees, jobs, bank accounts, aspirations, goals, possessions, and beliefs.
We wear this identity like a shell. It can be beautiful, impressive, heavy, complex, intricate, delicate - everyone's shell is different.
But we all - to various degrees - come to believe we are the shell. Because our world, particularly the Western world, is oriented around qualities of the shell and values the shell so much, we learn very early that this is who we are. We spend much time and energy making sure the shell is good enough.
And this is mostly ok. It's a necessary aspect of how we operate in this world.
As we travel through life our shell accumulates life's winnings but also weathers many storms. Sometimes the experiences along the way are so intense that the shell cracks. Some cracks are so big that we feel broken. And we are broken, or rather, the shell is broken.
Since we've believed for so long (our entire lives up until that point) that we are the shell, of course we suffer when it cracks and breaks! The pain of this can be so acute it feels like dying.
Experiences like serious illness, injury, losing a job, losing your money, death of a loved one, divorce, crimes, injustice, war; these are some of life's most vicious storms. And then there are the insidious storms, the ones that imprint upon us beliefs that we are unworthy and unlovable: abuse, neglect, deceit, betrayal, criticism, comparison, shaming, blaming to name a few.
Few of us come out of these storms feeling triumphant.
My friend felt broken. In the world of shells, he is.
But we are not of the world.
Who we really are, our true self, cannot be constructed, changed, improved, diminished, or broken.
Being in the world, but knowing you are not of the world, changes everything. This is where we arrive once our shells have been broken enough that we know for sure who we really are.
Who we really are is already whole, already perfected, already given. We are born into the world as this. The problem is that we forget.
Knowing this, remembering this, is the gift life is offering us. But arriving there is not usually easy.
Over the ages it’s been taught in virtually all wisdom traditions that when we push against life, we suffer, we break.
It turns out that suffering has an important role to play in our lives, although we would rather not suffer and certainly not choose suffering, it can be the door through which we find a truer us - bringing us closer to discovering our true selves.
Knowing that a gift lies on the other side of suffering and trusting that an intense, painful situation can refine us is easier to read about than actually experience. It requires risking a step of faith, a step outside the comfort of our shells, and a belief that we really aren’t going to die!
Most of us have invested decades building our shell. Even if it’s way too heavy or not a good fit or making us sick… our shells provide a great degree of security and protection - because it’s known. We like what we know. Even if we really hate what we know.
Many live their entire lives inside the fortress of their shell. Repeating the same thoughts and experiences day after day. The implications of this are profound.
It’s very difficult to be vulnerable and open our hearts to others when are are living inside a fortress. We tend to limit our experiences and who we are willing to relate to. We believe we have all the answers and aren’t willing to open our minds to new thoughts or ideas. We judge others on the state of their shells. We keep life out.
When we stay comfortable with the ever-repeating known, we lose opportunities for authenticity, compassion, connection, adventure, and joy.
But out beyond our shell is where the magic is.
It just might take going through hell to get there.
And life, because it wants you to have the gift it’s offering, will keep giving you opportunities to get there.
There’s a saying, “what you resist persists.” Resisting change, pushing against life, continuing to suffer without going through transformation will simply bring you more of the same, more urgently and probably more painfully.
The journey of knowing who we really are, our true self, is where we are arriving - and we always are arriving. We never fully arrive because while we are still in the world we will always carry our shells.
We arrive at knowing who we really are with shells broken open.
This is good news because the more broken we are, the more the light of our true self shines through, helping others, blessing others. That same favor is returned to us; we can be blessed from the light that can find its way to us through the broken places.
Our true self is something beyond words but has been described as our soul, love, truth, light, home. Qualities of our true self are unbreakable, unshakable, indestructible, infinite, boundless, unified, already perfect.
Arriving there is heaven while we’re still on earth. It’s coming back to, remembering, who we really are. A homecoming.
Yet it’s not a place or a thing at all. It’s a state of being. One you can keep arriving to through receiving and experiencing all life is offering, going all the way through hell when you find yourself suffering, letting the shell of you crack and loving it as it is. And perhaps even resting in knowing you - the real you - cannot be broken.
I struggle with the word God. But I don’t care for any of the other words that you can use in place of it. Like Universe, Source, Divine, Life Force, Energy Field, Collective Conscious, Creative Intelligence, Big Guy.
Words are limiting. In his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman points out that the verbal brain processes 40 bits of information per second while the non-verbal brain processes 11 million bits per second.
That which exists as Seen and Unseen, Creator and Creation, the Sum of All Totality, the Source of All that Is, can’t be funneled into a word much less contained there.
That would be like putting a hurricane in a teacup.
As I lay in bed this morning listening to the rain and wondering why I was awake at 3:38am, I took advantage of the quiet time and did the things I do as my personal devotion and daily practice. I meditated, checked off my gratitude list, repeated my affirmations and then in the warmth of the silence I said, “Thank you, God.”
And it felt right. It felt good.
Because God is good.
It does not matter what word you use. What matters is that you sip the raindrops from the teacup and know there is always more.
We are works in progress. All of us. There is no perfection, only impact and progression. Life is the most precious gift we have been given so it behooves us to make the most out it. Having said that, if our health is out of whack due to our lifestyle choices, it is difficult to live our lives to the fullest. We have the resources and the power to take care of ourselves and it begins with the awareness that we are worthy of this gift called life.
If you don't believe you are worthy please trust me - YOU ARE WORTHY of living a wonderful, magical, beautiful life. And you can. I know sometimes dreams seem unreachable. If you have dreams that your current path is not taking you towards, might I suggest something? Work on your inner eco-system. Learn to meditate and begin a daily meditation practice, start eating foods that feel nourishing, check your self-talk and practice saying kind things to yourself. All will reset, rebalance and restore you from the inside out. When the inner world transforms, everything - EVERYTHING - changes. Dreams look doable. Life gets exciting. Everything gets better.
The only way I can claim this with confidence is that I have done the work myself. It took patience and a lot of kindness towards myself. And a hearty dose of faith. It took taking a risk (or three) and it took support from family and friends. Mostly, it took time. I'm glad I did it when I did rather than waiting for "someday." Each day now is a new day to enjoy my life and share my love of life with others. I am not perfect, my life isn't perfect, but it's perfect enough - and I've got to admit it's getting better all the time.
I've also got to admit that I am one who kind of cringes when I see people constantly posting on social media about how great their life is... "look at me, look at me, look at me... my life is so great... blah-blah-blah." But the great thing about that is when I see others living an awesome life it makes me feel like I can do it, too. So... what does YOUR awesome look like? Treasure that dream and then dive inside and start working on it from the inside out.
On Episode 31 of the Mama Bear Dares Podcast, Tesi and Leslie interview meditation coach and mother of two, Angie Sands. Angie delights the co-hosts with her calm spirit and incredible bank of knowledge about the age-old practice of meditation. The women discuss how the act of meditating has impacted their emotional lives and the way in which meditation impacts the development and maturation of the human brain. It's a fascinating conversation about a topic of curiosity for more and more moms in the trenches of parenthood.
Also on this episode, Leslie and Tesi have fun exploring a new segment inspired by Angie called MAYBE IT'S MEDITATION during which they discuss the impact of meditation on their every day lives. Am I calmer in line at the grocery store? Are the clouds really that beautiful? Does meditation literally make my skin glow? The co-hosts wonder just how far meditation can take a person, and they want to hear from you about your own experiences or apprehensions! Finally, after a fruitful conversation with Angie, we hear about her current obsessions in the OBSESS SESH. For complete show notes, visit www.mamabeardarespodcast.com/daretolisten.
Other topics discussed:
How do you live from the heart? I have been practicing this way of living for several years and can tell you that it’s an ongoing process filled with trial and error. Sometimes it’s like walking through a dark room with your hands stretched out in front of you doing their best to feel their way around. It takes a healthy dose of curiosity, courage, and faith. Living from the heart has terrified me and led me to places I never imagined I would go. Today I find myself experiencing new levels of awe and wonder, and have arrived in a place where life has become an ever-unfolding gift full of surprises. For me, this is the greatest reward of living from the heart. It is never boring. And, in my experience, my heart has never led me astray.
My initiation into heart-centered living started with a fully ensconced mind. Oh, the mind! It is a clever thing. Our minds are data centers that have been capturing and cataloging information since the day we were born. Our minds are as knowledgeable as the data that feeds it, so when it comes to designing a life the mind prefers to work with what it already knows. It has a tendency to affirm itself over and over and to lead us into cycles of the ever-repeating known. This is safe and comfortable. It’s a good system for getting things done. However, it can drown out the voice of the heart. The mind’s voice is loud. The heart’s voice, at least for me, is very quiet.
A few years ago, in a moment of stillness brought on by pure dysfunction, my heart got through to me. “Learn to meditate,” I heard it say. I scoffed at the idea. The voice was a whisper and it again urged me. “Learn to meditate.” Still scoffing, and with an added dose of self-righteous disdain, I Googled the word “meditation” in order to prove that what I was hearing was indeed a ridiculous idea.
It turns out that my heart was leading me to a tool that has completely transformed my life. The key for me was getting quiet. My dysfunction was a blessing in disguise. Without it I don’t know that I would have heard my heart leading me to what it knew I needed. Now that I meditate, I am quiet every day on purpose. In that quiet I hear the voice of my heart and move my awareness from my mind, which is focused externally, to my heart, which is focused inward. Inside is where wisdom lies. It’s where love and compassion come from and it’s where inspiration ignites. It is the place from which we can create an extraordinary life by making decisions that resonate with who we intend to be rather than being defined by our mind’s limited understanding. It’s the place where you feel your way through and, with practice, patience, and trust, prove to the mind that everything is going to be just fine.
~ this article appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of Yoga Iowa.
I am a sucker for those “regrets of the dying” lists that circle the Internet. Imminent death has a way of revealing precious jewels of wisdom, and I always love to hear what wisdom has to say. It turns out the regrets of the dying revolve around one thing: relationships. Whether it’s not honoring their own personal dreams or wishing they spent more time with their kids, the regrets of the dying reveal that relationship with self and others is what matters most.
So why are relationships so difficult to master?
I am not a psychotherapist, counselor, social worker, doctor of any kind, or self-professed relationship expert. I am a meditation teacher who knows a little bit about big subject called Mindfulness.
Mindfulness is paying attention to what is actually happening without labels, stories or judgment. Mindfulness is easy to understand but not so easy to do for more than a few moments, especially in relationships. If we can employ mindfulness within our relationships, we have a shot at mastering them.
The most fundamental and sacred relationship we have is the one with our self. Unfortunately our self is the first person we tend to fail in terms of a mindful relationship. We are quick to judge our self, talk negatively to our self, and withhold love and acceptance from our self. Our attention is everywhere but in the present moment. We are busy grieving over the past or speculating about the future to the point that we aren’t experiencing our life, but rather a story about our life. We have disconnected from our true self and feel lost. This makes us sad, anxious, and unhappy, so we go looking elsewhere for our true self.
One of the places we can look is in relationship with others.
Relationship with others can be the perfect playground for personal growth and discovery. In my experience, bringing mindfulness into relationships fosters rich and meaningful connections and allows space for amazing experiences to unfold naturally. It has the added benefit of reminding me of who I am and what I really want. I get to know all kinds of people, including myself, while having a great time! Sign me up!
But before I practiced mindfulness, I was often triggered by the behavior of others. A relationship that isn’t employing mindfulness is often filled with battles between what is actually happening and what we wish was happening, filled with stories about how things “should” be instead of noticing how things are, filled with scorecards and blaming, and filled with a lack of attention for the other person. These kinds of relationships can result in resentment, anger and victimization and are destined for the regret list.
Putting mindfulness to work in a relationship with our self and others requires three main ingredients: 1) paying non-judgmental attention, 2) communicating desires, and 3) being open to receiving but not attached to outcome. Mindfulness doesn’t eliminate challenges that will inevitably show up. It keeps us from being swept away in the heat of the moment and gives us space to make nourishing choices, not knee-jerk reactions that take us off course.
The mindful relationship mines what is already here in the present moment. It reveals what is most precious to us, so we don’t have to wait until we are dying to discover it.
~ this article appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Yoga Iowa.