The Blissful Art of Being and Breathing

Be and Breathe

We must not allow the clock and the calendar to blind us to the fact
that each moment of life is a miracle and a mystery.
– H. G. Wells

One warm evening nine years ago…

After spending nearly every waking minute with Angel for eight straight days, I knew that I had to tell her just one thing.  So late at night, just before she fell asleep, I whispered it in her ear.  She smiled… the kind of smile that makes me smile back.  And she said, “When I’m seventy-five, and I think about my life and what it was like to be young, I hope that I can remember this very moment.”

A few seconds later she closed her eyes and fell asleep.  The room was peaceful… almost silent.  All I could hear was the soft purr of her breathing.  I stayed awake thinking about the time we’d spent together and all the choices in our lives that made this moment possible.  And at some point, I realized that it didn’t matter what we’d done or where we’d gone.  Nor did the future hold any significance.

All that mattered was the serenity of the moment.

Just being with her and breathing with her.

Photo by: FotoRita

A Miracle Cure for Stress

A miracle cure for stress

This guest post was written by Mary Jaksch, the author of Goodlife ZEN.

Do you feel like life is accelerating?  Maybe you look back at the last five years and wonder where time went.  It may even feel as if all that’s left is stress – without moments of joy and peace.

I must admit, I also feel like this sometimes.  But when I do, I reach for the miracle cure.  This miracle cure doesn’t come in a bottle.  We can’t buy it.

We already have the cure for stress within us.

I’m talking about the miracle of ‘Now’.  It’s quite amazing.  When we enter the ‘Now’ and become present – even just for a moment – stress dissolves.

How can we become present?

Awareness is the key to becoming present.  We often confuse awareness with concentration, but these two mind-states are very different.  Concentration is like a narrow beam of light shining on a task.

Awareness is the soft, full light of attention.

The word ‘attend’ implies that there is tenderness at work… that we are seeing with our heart.  Attention means paying tender regard to the beasts and birds, neighbors, coffee cups and pencil sharpeners.  When we pay tender regard to the dishes, even dish-washing becomes a joy.

Toni Packer, a contemporary meditation master says:

Attention comes from nowhere. It has no cause. It belongs to no-one.
When it functions effortlessly, there is no duality.

What she’s saying is that when we’re attending to the present moment, we lose the sharp distinction between the self locked in this skin-bag, and the world outside.

When we attend in this way, we feel the world open. And we make friends with our body.

Suddenly we become fully aware of the tenseness in our shoulders, the little bubble of hope in our mind, or the haze of sadness in our heart.  And with this awareness we find that people are friendlier and cats purr louder.

Paying tender regard is simple, but not easy.

We need to stay steady in the face of our changing moods and the stimuli bombarding our senses.

What’s the connection with stress?

When we are stressed, our mind is split.  One part is firmly focused on whatever is pressing in upon us, while the other part is giving minimal attention to whatever tasks need to be done quickly in the meantime.

Let me give you an example.  Imagine that you are late for work and you are rushing around your home in preparation to leave.  If a loved one starts telling you something important about what they are going to do today, how much of your attention is going to be focused on what they are telling you?  Not much, I would think.

When we become present, we stop being preoccupied.  In the space that opens for a moment, we can breathe deeply and listen deeply.  For a moment, stress slips off our shoulders.  And we can learn to have more and more moments of peacefulness in our life.

A student of mine wrote:

Each moment is a new opportunity.  The next one is as fresh and full of promise as the thousand before that you missed, and it is completely empty of any judgment whatsoever.  Nothing is carried over that you take with you.  You don’t have to pass a good-person exam before you enter, it is totally unconditional.  It’s as if it is saying… “Okay, so you missed me the last ten thousand moments, but look!  Here I am again… and again… and again!” And you are welcomed with open arms.

Here’s how to take the miracle medicine:

There is a very simple way to become present.  And the great thing is that the more you practice it, the easier it becomes.  You can try it right now.

Inhale deeply through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth.  Listen to the sounds around you and feel the ground under your feet.  As soon as you are present, gently touch your thumb and forefinger together on each hand.

This light touch is the trigger that can help you access the present moment, and escape stress.

Whenever you feel stressed, stop for a moment, take one deep breath, and touch your thumbs and forefingers together.

Mary Jaksch is an author, Zen Master, and psychotherapist.  Enjoy reading her posts on Goodlife ZEN and follow her on Twitter.

Photo by: Chris Gin

What is the Value of an Hour?

The Value of an Hour

It was almost midnight on an idle Tuesday and the hospital hallways were unusually calm.  I had just finished reading an old issue of Sports Illustrated from cover to cover.  “Waiting sucks,” I thought to myself.  “Why didn’t I bring a book?”

As I sat quietly with my eyes closed, I could vaguely hear the soft mumbles of a verbal plea going on in the hospital room beside me.  “You’ve kept him waiting long enough!  My grandson is here!  Oh please, let him in.”  More mumbling… “Please, please… nurse, bring him to me.”

A moment later the nurse stormed out of the room and looked startled to see me waiting in the hall.  “Oh, you’re here!” he yelped.  “I’m sorry.  I’m a hospice nurse and I’ve only been watching over your grandmother for the last 24 hours.  She insisted that you were coming to visit her last night too, so she had me scouring the hospital halls looking for you to no avail.  When she told me you were coming again this evening, I assumed her dementia was getting the best of her.”

“Well, I…”

He interrupted me.  “But I’m really glad you’re here.  I think she’s been holding on just so she could say goodbye to you.  It’s actually miraculous that she’s still able to speak, because her body is rapidly shutting down on her.  The doctor gave her 24 hours to live about 24 hours ago.”

“Jeez, that’s…”

He interrupted again.  “Sir, once more, I’m truly sorry.  I had no idea you were out here waiting.  Please follow me.”

I stood up and the nurse guided me into the room.  “You’re grandson is here,” he announced from the doorway.  The old woman’s eye’s lit up.  “Oh grace…  Oh joy!”  She looked right at me and smiled with all the might she had left in her weak body.  “I knew you’d come.”

I sat down at her bedside and placed my hand over hers, interlocking our fingers and squeezing ever so slightly in an attempt to show affection.  She squeezed back and tried to speak again, but she was too exhausted.  Instead, she stared directly into my eyes and held her smile for several minutes as we continued to hold hands.  Finally, she closed her eyes and rested.

For nearly an hour I didn’t move.  I sat there in silence as she maintained a soft grip on my hand.  Then slowly, her grip loosened and her breathing slowed.  For a moment I thought she was falling into a deeper sleep, but then her breathing stopped altogether.

I let go of her lifeless hand and used the emergency call button to summon the nurse.  The nurse hustled in, covered the body with a white sheet, recorded a few notes on his clipboard, and then began to offer his condolences…

“I’m really sorry for your loss,” he said.  “Have you made any funeral arrangements?”

“I don’t even know her name,” I replied.

“What do you mean?” he asked.  “She’s your grandmother.”

“No, she’s not,” I assured him.  “Prior to stepping foot in this room, I had never met her before in my life.  I’m here at the hospital waiting for my roommate who needs a few stitches on his chin.”

He looked confused.  “I don’t understand.  If you don’t know her, then why didn’t you say so?  And why did you sit beside her for the last hour?”

I smiled.  “Well, I knew immediately that she wasn’t my grandmother.  But when you informed me of her life expectancy, I also knew that her real grandson wasn’t going to make it in time.  So curiosity got the best of me and I followed you into the room.  Then when she saw me and smiled, I realized her vision was so bad that she actually thought I was her grandson.  And knowing how desperate she was to see him, I decided to play the part and spend the hour with her.”

We Determine the Value of Every Hour

Our lives are measured by the value we provide to others.  This value arises from the things we spend our time doing.  And since time is quantified in hours, the value of our lives is equivalent to the sum of every hour we spend.

Opportunities to provide value are everywhere.  Some of them are anticipated, while others blindside us at midnight on an idle Tuesday.  Whether or not we choose acknowledge these opportunities is up to us.

How have you spent the last hour of your life?

Photo by: Jah

“I Will Do One Thing Today” To-Do List

I will do one thing today

This morning I informed my colleagues that I had only one thing on my to-do list.  Two of them chuckled, a few of them rolled their eyes, but every one of them assumed I would spend most of my day slacking off.  They changed their minds, however, when our boss sent out a mass email this afternoon praising me for resolving a principal issue that my colleagues had been sidestepping all week long.

In my boss’s eyes, the one thing on my to-do list was more important than the fifty other things my colleagues had accomplished during the same timeframe.

A Commitment to One Thing a Day

Some people spend 90% of their time organizing their time.  Some tackle to-do lists peppered with insignificance that stretch a mile long.  And still, there are others who refuse to do anything at all.

As for me, I am committed to doing one thing a day, and that has made all the difference.

The One Thing To-Do List

What one thing will you do today?

Get out a blank sheet of paper and a pen.  Write “I will do one thing today!” in big letters across the page.  Then list your one thing at the bottom.  It should look something like this:

I will do one thing today

Make your own “I Will Do One Thing Today” to-do list every morning and get it done before you get sidetracked with unimportant stuff.

Give the Gift of Simplicity

Our friend Kit over at Pretty Bitter has taken the idea of a “one thing” to-do list a step further.  He has created 2×3 sticky notepads with the phrase “I will do one thing today.” pre-printed on each note.  Even better yet, they’re only $1.99.  They make great gifts for colleagues and friends.  Check them out!

One Thing Sticky Notes

Top 40 Ways to Take Notes Online

Ways to take notes online

Regular note-taking is one of the most productive habits a person can practice.  The ability to take notes online and access them anytime, from any location is priceless.  Over the last few years, I have personally tested nearly 100 different ways to do this.  Some of these note-taking systems are worth mentioning, and some are worth forgetting.

Here are the systems worth mentioning… a list of 40 useful online note-taking techniques and web applications, categorized and listed in no particular order:

Casual Online Note-Taking

When your note-taking requirements call for speed and simplicity…

  • Gmail Yourself a Note – I used to do this several times a day.  If you have a smartphone with email access, this is one of the quickest and most basic ways to create an online note on the fly.  I setup a special “to-do list” Gmail label (folder) for storing and processing all of my notes.
  • Delicious-Tag a Note – Quite frequently we find articles online that remind us to do something, or inspire us to try something.  Tagging these articles with a “personal note” tag and entering an insightful comment in each bookmark’s “notes” area turns Delicious into a productive note-taking (and collaboration) tool.
  • Tweet a Note via Twitter – Create yourself a separate, private twitter account with protected updates strictly for note-taking purposes.  Direct-message notes to this private note-taking account from any Twitter client (via web, iPhone, etc.).
  • Use Dropbox to Sync a Note Across Multiple Computers – Dropbox is a web-based file hosting service that uses networked storage to enable users to store and share files across the Internet using file synchronization.  So imagine creating a note-taking or to-do list document that was synchronized across all of your computes (work, home, etc.)  Every time you modify the note on one computer, the changes are instantly accessible elsewhere on your other computers.
  • Luminotes – This is one of my favorites.  It’s a simple and efficient personal wiki notebook.  The key feature of Luminotes is its ability to easily link one note or notebook to the next.  You can also attach small files to notes and share them with your friends.
  • Notefish – If you’re doing a lot of online research, Notefish is for you.  It’s a web application that allows you to take notes from portions of web pages by copying and pasting content into one handy online note page.  You can then organize the notes by moving them around, changing their colors and breaking them down into categories and titled subsections.
  • – A pet project of MIT CSAIL researchers, is a Firefox browser plug-in designed for simple, efficient online note-keeping.  Its key focus is on speed and simplicity.  If you register for their free sync service, your notes will be securely backed up online.  Also, if you install on multiple computers, your notes will be mirrored to all of them.
  • Yahoo! Notepad – If you already have a Yahoo! account, you can give Yahoo! Notepad a try with your current login credentials.  It’s a very basic, straightforward online note-taking application.  Yahoo! also provides a widget front-end for Yahoo! Notepad.  This widget allows you to add, edit, organize and delete contacts from your Yahoo! Notepad directly from the widget.
  • 3tags – A simple online note manager that provides web users with a secure way to store and manage their personal information online.  Data security and user privacy are the key features.  In short, user data is encrypted before it is sent to and stored on 3tags’ servers.
  • WebNotes – With WebNotes you can highlight text and stick customized notes onto any web page.  All highlights and notes are cataloged and organized in folders within your WebNotes account.  Pages you take notes on can be shared through email or via online links.
  • TiddlyWiki – If you already run a web server and prefer to host your own note-taking service, TiddlyWiki is for you.  It’s a reusable non-linear personal web notebook that can be run locally or hosted on a web server.  It creates a single html file which has all the characteristics of a wiki, including all of the content, the functionality (editing, saving, tagging and searching).  My company used it as an online collaboration notebook for about 6 months during a product launch, and it worked well.
  • Mojonote – A simple online interface for storing and managing your ideas, goals, recipes, contacts, memos, notes, schedules, wishlists, playlists, etc.  Mojonote has a pretty decent calendar and ‘to-do list’ reminder system.  It can send you reminders via text message or email.
  • MyStickies – Great for online research, it allows you to place little yellow digital notes anywhere on any website.  MyStickies also offers a powerful interface to browse, search, sort, and edit your notes from any computer that has internet access.
  • Diigo – Also great for online research, it’s basically a combination of MyStickies and Delicious.  Diigo combines online sticky notes, website highlighting, and social bookmarking in one convenient package.
  • Fruitnotes – Allows you to create and organize notes online.  Fruitnotes’ key feature is it’s ability to accept voice notes by calling a specific phone number, though currently this feature is only available in the US and UK.  It also allows you to create a blog for sharing your notes and collaborating with other users.

Quick Online Notes for Public Sharing

When you need a quick, temporary online repository for notes and data that can be shared with others…

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