practicing wellbeing

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The Practice of Wellbeing

Living Well

The practice of living well is simple.  Choose the actions that sustain physical health and joy.  Engage in the activities that are useful and beneficial to ourselves and others.  Adjust and adapt when conditions change and those activities are no longer useful or beneficial.  When we are on autopilot and catch ourselves hopping on a train, we can remember our intention to practice wellbeing and return to that station with ease.

The practice of living well is not easy.  We tend to be distracted or hyper-focused, demanding or disconnected, clinging or disinterested.  We hold beliefs that we are entitled to certain things in our life that are also a measure of our acceptability or success.  And often the actions that grant us those things have a cost.  We feel off kilter, off center, tipping too far over into distress and ill health.  We become reactive and forget our skillfulness in living well.  Our lives are filled with trains that take us nowhere or to destinations that are unpleasant.

Wellbeing is not the absence of illness or distress.  It is the recognition that we are tipping over, remembering where we felt balanced, and returning that center point.  When we engage in our actions with awareness of what is useful, beneficial and the cost of our choices, we are practicing a skillful way to return to the center.  The stronger the skill in remembering and recovering that center, the more skillful we become in at practicing wellbeing.

That process of noticing, remembering, and recovering embody the practice of mindfulness.  We pay attention, become aware, recall past consequences and skillful actions, and make choices in this moment that are based in our belief that living well is the only act of kindness possible for ourselves and others.

A poem by Naomi Shihab Nye:


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth
What you held in you hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.

You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night the plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Naomi Shihab Nye

Thank you for practicing,


transparency of water, part II

Previous: trains to nowhere


The Transparency of Water

Water is fascinating in its qualities.  It is unconstrained yet containable.  It exerts power yet can be held in our cupped hands.  It never actually separates from the mud but is not attached to it.  It is transparent yet reflects everything in its environment.  It holds all manner of flora and fauna yet does not take on the nature of what it carries.  It can be cloud, rain, fog, steam, ice, and liquid.  It nourishes and is crucial for life.

And so is our true nature.

To each thing its own
True deepest inner nature:

Water does not think
Of itself as the consort
Of the bright moonlight it hosts.


When we see only the muddiness in the glass, we forget that the turmoil, the setbacks, the feelings of loss and rejection are being held in the liquid of our true self.  We identify with the turmoil and become fearful that it will define who we are.  Our tendency is to try and break through, move past, look beyond the confusing mess in front of us.  So often, participants tell us, “This is not me.  Before the depression (anxiety, cancer), I was not like this.”  We become distressed because we believe we have lost the purity of water (the real “me”).  We lose our sense of direction and purpose because there is no clarity.

In reality, the clarity is still there.  The nature of our true self, like the water that holds the mud, is transparent so that we can see clearly what is ailing us. The water itself, our true nature, doesn’t become opaque.  It remains clear in order for us to look deeply into what we are actually experiencing.  Its transparency allows us to recognize the nature of the mud and to investigate it carefully.  What ever our pain, our true nature is not tainted by it.  When we can learn to hold the pain we feel the way water contains the mud and not being afraid of what it means about us, we are able to peel away the assumptions and the fears it generates.  What are the real issues of this illness, lost job, or relationship?  What is within my control and what is not?  What am I really feeling: is it anger, withdrawal or disconnection; or is it hurt, rejection or loss?

Our ultimate aspiration is to realize our true nature is constant and not tainted by the pleasant, neutral, and unpleasant life experiences.   To do that, we learn how to look deeply into our experiences so that we can develop clarity and steadiness in the face of turmoil.  We start by learning different mindfulness skills such as meditation which help us calm and settle our body and mind. As we become skillful, we see the ways in which we live distracted and disconnected from our body, feelings, and thinking.  We begin to reconnect body and mind so that we are in an appreciative partnership again.  We remember our true self.

Next: Practicing wellbeing