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28-Day Meditation Challenge

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If you’d asked me a couple of months ago, I would have told you that Jazz just wasn’t my cup of tea (or shot of bourbon or whatever the Jazz-appropriate beverage is). I would have said it was discordant and random and long and frankly, irritating.

Lately, though, Frank’s been turning on a Jazz station in the evenings. And I like it. Well, I like some of it. A lot of it. Sometimes, I slam my teeth together and a painful noise but mostly, I like the feel of the sound.

Years ago when Green Day released their first album, I had a friend who was a huge fan. When he played their music it sounded crazy and loud and indecipherable to me. He said, It’s just unfamiliar. Once you listen for a while, you’ll get it. He was right.

With that in mind, Frank and I signed up for an online Jazz Appreciation course. We’re learning about different genres, the history, the classic songs, and we’re learning (slowly) how to understand forms of jazz.

It’s like we are breaking the code of the music. We’re listening and counting and counting and listening and confused and then, Ooh, yeah! There’s the change! It’s like understanding a different language or being in on a joke. Oh yeah, I get it.


have this feeling when I count music using the 8BC system in Nia. It’s a genius system, developed by Nia co-founder Carlos Rosas, and it creates a map for any song with a beat. With the 8BCs, I can decode the rhythm and speed, the sections, and the details within a song.

But it took me a while to figure it out.

I struggled mightily (and avoided the 8BCs) for years and it wasn’t until my friend and mentor, Helen Terry, showed me the joy and play of decoding music that I started to love the system. We call in “doing the bars” and Helen got me hooked on it.

Once Helen taught a song in class – Big Lie Small World by Sting – with the most unusual choreography. The movements made sense in my body but didn’t follow any pattern I’d ever danced before. I asked her was the Sam Hill was up with it, and she said, Do the bars.

I popped that Sting CD into my car stereo and I listened dozens and dozens of times. I’d listen and get lost and get lost and listen and count and get nowhere. But then one day (and I can tell you exactly where I was when it happened), I heard it. I broke the code. I felt like an 8BC super hero.


What the jazz course and the 8BC system is to music, meditation is to the mind and emotions. If I’m feeling a whole bunch of everything and my head is a mad house and my heart is pounding, getting still, pausing to sit can help me decode what’s happening.

Meditation allows me the space to feel physical sensation, label emotions that are moving through, notice when and what I’m thinking. Sometimes I just stay confused and upset, only calmer. Other times, I break the code: Oh, right. I’m embarrassed. I’m angry. I’m afraid. That’s what’s happening.


Whether I’m decoding music or my mind, the practice is noticing the details, becoming more familiar, more intimate with what’s happening. Sometimes (like in bebop or when I unexpectedly do something ridiculous), I’m still confused. But sometimes, sometimes, I break the code.



BONUS: Some Nia routines have codes built into them: recurring patterns or movements. Kelle Rae Oien’s Pulse routine has a code that shows up in almost every song. Here’s a hint.

DOUBLE BONUS: Tomorrow is the start of the 28-Day Meditation Challenge sponsored by one of my favorite teachers, Sharon Salzberg. Whether you are brand new to meditation or you are renewing your existing practice, this is a great way to get some support and community. I’m also blogging about my experience every day (ish) with a mandala that I’ll post on my A Thousand Beautiful Things blog (and on the 28-Day blogging site, too). Join me there!

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28-Day Meditation Challenge ~ Day 28
Saturday, February 28, 2015

28 Day Challenge aspen leaf pub dom

The Three Noble Principles:
Good at the Beginning.
Good in the Middle.
Now, good at the End.

May the merit of this practice serve to benefit all beings.
May the merit this practice lead to happiness and the root of happiness
May the merit of this practice bring an end to suffering and the root of suffering
for all beings everywhere.

Dance on.
Shine on.
Sit on your cushion.
Namaste, friends.

In February, meditation teacher and author, Sharon Salzberg sponsors a 28-Day Meditation Challenge. Everybody is invited to commit to meditating every day for the month and join the mindfulness community. As part of the challenge, I’ll be blogging throughout the month (along with other meditator/bloggers) about the experience. You can find the posts on Sharon’s site and I’ll share mine on Focus Pocus.

28-Day Meditation Challenge ~ Day 27
Friday, February 27, 2015

28 Day Challenge aspen leaf pub dom

“We practice meditation in the end not to become a great meditator but to have a different life.” ~ Sharon Salzberg

Sharon’s post this week has stuck with me. I do not practice meditation to get better at meditating but to get better at living.

At meditation group last night, my friend (and Balanced Hedonism Queen) Sandra Savine said, “Unconsciousness is painful.” My unskillful words and actions have caused all kinds of suffering…and still do. I sit to be more conscious.

It’s true for other practices, too.

In Nia, I don’t practice a heel lead and outward block to get better at them. I practice the movements to pay attention to how I do what I do.

In yoga, I don’t practice Crow to get better at Crow. I practice Crow to practice doing something that scares me and that I can’t do (yet).

I don’t get on the dance floor to become a better mover. I move to notice my habits and tendencies and to approach them with curiosity and compassion.

I don’t show up on my mat every day to get better at yoga. I show up on my mat to get better at being a person.

It’s not about getting better at the practice, but about getting better at life.

In February, meditation teacher and author, Sharon Salzberg sponsors a 28-Day Meditation Challenge. Everybody is invited to commit to meditating every day for the month and join the mindfulness community. As part of the challenge, I’ll be blogging throughout the month (along with other meditator/bloggers) about the experience. You can find the posts on Sharon’s site and I’ll share mine on Focus Pocus.

28-Day Meditation Challenge ~ Day 26
Thursday, February 26, 2015

28 Day Challenge aspen leaf pub dom

I’m sure there is some evolutionary reason that we make ourselves different from other people. I’m sure in our hunter-gatherer days, it increased our survival rate to “other” the people at the next fire circle ~ to say they are different than I am and in some way not as good.

One way metta (loving kindness) helps me is to remind me that everybody, every single person and being, at an essential level is just like me. Everybody wants to be happy ~ just like me. Everybody wants to avoid suffering ~ just like me. Everybody is doing their best ~ just like me.

Even if they cause me inconvenience ~ they are just like me.
Even if they drive a car that I don’t approve of ~ they are just like me.
Even if they don’t do what I think they should do ~ they are just like me.
Even if they believe in things I don’t believe in ~ they are just like me.
Even if they break the law and cause harm ~ they are just like me.

Especially when I feel myself bristle with irritation or indignation or anger, it helps me to silently note that this irritating, infuriating person is just like me. It doesn’t mean I approve of them or forgive them or even like them. But reminding myself that they are “just like me” preserves their humanity and mine.

In February, meditation teacher and author, Sharon Salzberg sponsors a 28-Day Meditation Challenge. Everybody is invited to commit to meditating every day for the month and join the mindfulness community. As part of the challenge, I’ll be blogging throughout the month (along with other meditator/bloggers) about the experience. You can find the posts on Sharon’s site and I’ll share mine on Focus Pocus.

28-Day Meditation Challenge ~ Day 25
Wednesday, February 25, 2015

28 Day Challenge aspen leaf pub dom

Some days when I’m practicing metta, I feel expansive and radiant. I’m wishing well to friends and family, all my neighbors and co-workers, The Neutrals, the people who annoy me, the people on the other side of the aisle and the other side of the world. I’m all

May all beings everywhere be safe and well.
May all beings everywhere be happy and content.
May all beings everywhere be healthy and strong.
May all beings everywhere be peaceful and at ease.

Other days, I never get past me.

My heart might feel heavy or my head might be full of criticism. I might be cut low by an intense sadness or just nibbled to pieces by countless irritations. It might make perfect sense that I’m feeling down or it might make no sense at all.

On those days, I just give metta to me.

May I be safe and well.
May I be happy and content.
May I be healthy and strong.
May I be peaceful and at ease.

The first time I encountered metta meditation was at a silent retreat with Sharon and Sylvia Boorstein in 2008. The entire first day of the retreat, we only gave metta to ourselves. Not to benefactors or family or friends who were hurting or difficult people. Only to ourselves.

After a day of sitting and walking and sitting again ~ all the while giving loving kindness to myself ~ it was extraordinary how filled up and loved I felt. Just from wishing myself well.

So when I’m having one of those days ~ for whatever reason ~ I just give metta to me. On days like that, it’s the best I can do for all beings everywhere.

In February, meditation teacher and author, Sharon Salzberg sponsors a 28-Day Meditation Challenge. Everybody is invited to commit to meditating every day for the month and join the mindfulness community. As part of the challenge, I’ll be blogging throughout the month (along with other meditator/bloggers) about the experience. You can find the posts on Sharon’s site and I’ll share mine on Focus Pocus.

28-Day Meditation Challenge ~ Day 24
Tuesday, February 24, 2015

28 Day Challenge aspen leaf pub dom

Metta (Loving kindness) meditation is an offering of good wishes to a variety of categories of people: benefactors, teachers, friends, people who are struggling, difficult people, and neutral people. Neutral people are those we don’t know or don’t know well, who we may see or interact with glancingly in the course of our day.

Pema Chödrön calls them (dramatic pause, cue organ music) “The Neutrals.” She says it with a funny, ominous voice, like The Neutrals are aliens or some unusual species. On the contrary, even for those with wide circles of connection, The Neutrals are just about everybody in the world.

When I’m consumed with my To Do list, and my vision is narrowed to my tiny personal perspective, I paste The Neutrals into the collage of my days hastily with a sloppy slather of glue. I see the people at my periphery only as their function or their appearance or their bumper sticker.

Practicing metta opens my vision and reminds me that every single one of these people has a story, a rich life full of happiness and hardship, struggle and pleasure, delight and difficulty.

Errands are awesome for connecting with The Neutrals. Today, the woman at Staples with tired eyes and her hair in a crazy bun, the smiling lady at the dry cleaner who liked my pants, the bank teller who called me “hon”, and the bored-looking young man at CVS, all took on a three-dimensional quality as I thought, “May you be happy.” My eyes and heart softened around them all.

Metta stretches my heart. It opens me to my own humanness, to my connection to those that I love, reminds me that even the most difficult people just want to be happy and free. But one of the most profound effects of metta is that The Neutrals, the hundreds and hundreds of people I cross paths with, become more real and more whole to me.

May you be happy.

In February, meditation teacher and author, Sharon Salzberg sponsors a 28-Day Meditation Challenge. Everybody is invited to commit to meditating every day for the month and join the mindfulness community. As part of the challenge, I’ll be blogging throughout the month (along with other meditator/bloggers) about the experience. You can find the posts on Sharon’s site and I’ll share mine on Focus Pocus.

28-Day Meditation Challenge ~ Day 23
Monday, February 23, 2015

28 Day Challenge aspen leaf pub dom

My friend’s daughter just started doing homework on the computer and suddenly, this focused girl is distracted. The time she spends working is fragmented. My friend notices that the lure of email and Google searches keep pulling her out of what she’s doing. It’s just so easy to stop and ask a question or check with the teacher or simply do something else. And the poor thing hasn’t even hit Facebook and smart phones yet!

When her girl sits down to do homework, my friend tells her, “You are a solid block of cheddar cheese. You are not a wedge of Swiss with a bunch of holes in it. Be the cheddar, not the Swiss.”

I love the cheesy image. We all need it. Our devices have us talking on the phone as we walk in the snow, or texting moments after a yoga class, or interrupting a conversation to check a fact or find a picture. The electronics don’t cause the distraction, of course. It’s the distracted way we use them. The problem isn’t the unlimited access to information but our belief in the importance of that information…even to the exclusion of direct experience.

We can’t help but swim in the water of an over-scheduled, over-busy culture. It’s where we are. But we can train ourselves and our kids to focus and concentrate. We can teach ourselves and our kids to drop into the direct experience of the present moment. Meditation is one of the best ways to do that. It’s simple. It costs nothing. And it doesn’t even take much time.

Thank goodness for organizations like the Holistic Life Foundation who are going into schools and teaching kids to breathe and focus. But what if in all schools and businesses which require people to use easily-distracting devices also require concentration training.

Be the cheddar, not the Swiss. Meditate.

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