A hand-washing meditation for healthy minds and bodies

My first meditation breakthrough came while washing dishes at a Zen retreat nearly 15 years ago. Before this brief glimpse of enlightenment, dish washing and breath counting were chores: necessary, but not exactly joy-inducing. Today, my dishwasher is typically empty and unused; I prefer to wash dishes by hand, creating the opportunity to quiet my mind and be fully present.

I still vividly recall that long-ago moment in the Zen center kitchen: my senses became heightened. I felt warm water flowing over my hands like silk, the rough texture of the sponge pressing against my fingers. The scent of soap mingled with incense and the lingering aroma of vegetable stew. Sunlight shimmered off the water and steel, and the ting-ting clink of silverware echoed over the hushed whisper of the work leader. It was as if a veil had been lifted, and I was experiencing the world as it was for the first time. It was magical.

Thanks to coronavirus, I’ve applied the same mindful approach to hand-washing: no longer a chore, but a gentle, regular check-in with my mind, heart and body. Done at regular intervals throughout the day, hand-washing can be a marvelously efficient way to keep both our minds and bodies healthy during this challenging time.

Hand-washing meditation how-to’s:

  • As you stand in front of the sink, take a deep breath. Feel the coolness of the air touching your nostrils, observe the air entering your lungs, and then pull it even deeper: into your gut, your legs, your feet. Feel the breath go down into the floor, grounding you in this present moment. Exhale. One more time… good.
  • Now turn on the water and bring on the soap, liquid or bar. Pay attention to how the soap feels in your hands: is it cool or warm? What does it smell like? What texture does it have?
  • As you wash your hands, count your breaths: inhale/exhale “one,” inhale/exhale “two,” and so on, until you reach ten.
  • Notice the quality of your breaths: are they fast or slow? Shallow or deep? Fast, shallow breaths indicate stress and anxiety; don’t try to push this away, but simply accept that this is your physical response to the events in this present moment. See if you can gently slow and deepen your breathing without forcing it. Relax into the breath.
  • Rinse off the soap after ten breaths, being sure to pay attention to the feeling of water flowing over your hands. When you dry them, notice the texture of the towel.
  • As you bring this short meditation session to a close, tap into a sense of gratitude to yourself for this moment of self-care. What does gratitude feel like in your body? Notice and acknowledge this feeling.

Bonus step: After you develop a sense of mastery with counting the breath while washing your hands, add in an awareness of your body: are your stomach and lungs tense or relaxed? Simply observe without judgment and continue counting the breath. Allow the breath to move into your belly, inhaling peace and releasing any tension it may find there.

This process resulted in a handwashing time of nearly 50 seconds on my timer with calm, slow breaths. Healthcare professionals call for 20 – 30 seconds, so you should be well over the limit even if you’re stressed out.

Please let me know about your hand-washing meditation experience in the comments. I’d love to know if this helps make hand-washing less of a chore and more of a gift to yourself.

The top four movies for finding your authentic self — part 1

I was stuck for decades. Years and years of writing the same thing in my journals, suffering through jobs that didn’t feel like they fit me, relationships that weren’t working, trying on different identities in search of myself… all in search of making whatever felt wrong go away, and start feeling right.

Things finally started coming together when I recognized that everything and everyone that pushed a button in me, positively or negatively, were mirrors of myself. They reflected parts of me that I couldn’t or wouldn’t see. While the clearest mirrors were relationships, they also included certain movies I watched compulsively. And by studying what I saw in those mirrors, I could either find my authentic self or understand the process to do so.

I started looking for the common denominators in The Matrix, Wanted, Divergent, and, more recently, Unbreakable. These were the movies that captivated me, and I wanted to know what I was trying to tell myself through compulsively rewatching these movies.

Bottom line, they are all based on the same plot line: the hero’s journey. The next few posts will outline what they have in common that guided me in my own path to finding my authentic self. The first two:

Honor the splinter in your mind. 

In all four movies, the heroes struggle with the sense that something isn’t right with their lives. The mind splinter drives us mad for a reason; it’s telling us that we aren’t where we’re supposed to be… that we are settling for less, or missing our mark completely. Ignoring the splinter doesn’t make it go away; we just cover it up with distractions like overwork, overplay, busyness, alcohol, and other addictions. Or we continue trying to be someone we’re not because it’s familiar, it’s rewarded by those close to us, or it’s what the world tells us we should be.

Society (family, friends, region, religion, etc.) dictates an endless list of expectations about how we’re supposed to look, who we’re supposed to love, what kind of risks to take, what career we should have. And we end up with a society of sheep instead of the wonderfully diverse tapestry of individuality that make up this country. Because we’re biologically wired to fit in for safety, we buy into these stories.

I believe that our desire to fit in is quite possibly the #1 reason for depression, suicide, and substance abuse in this country… because we have abandoned our true selves in favor of belonging to the wrong tribe through either birth or choice. And that self-abandonment is more than most people can handle.

If your splinter shows up as a fear of abandonment, start here: with all the ways you’ve abandoned your authentic self, and start reclaiming and owning who you really are. Find a new tribe in which your unique individuality is celebrated. You might find that fear of abandonment magically eliminated, as I did. Which leads to the second lesson:

Own it all, even what seems crazy. 

Neo rejected Morpheus’ belief that he was the one. David in Unbreakable rejected the notion that he had superpowers (BTW: we all have superpowers). Wesley in Wanted thought it was ludicrous that he could be part of the Fraternity.

“I’m not the One, Trinity. I’m just an average guy.” — Neo, The Matrix

These movies show that even if your truth is staring you in the face, you might be blind to it or simply reject it out of hand. Not only will our truths not appear self-evident, it’s often the last thing we want to consider because we’ve bought into other conflicting stories about how life should be. And when we’re married to our stories, we can’t see other possibilities.

So how do we know what to own? In the movies, an outside Teacher magically appeared to inform our heroes of their potential and truth, and train them in the new way. Wouldn’t that be nice? Alas, in reality, we usually have to be our own teachers, and we only find clues if we’re paying attention. These clues nearly always reflect what is already true for you.

One essential clue is the word “should,” particularly as it relates to identity. Most of us “should” ourselves constantly, which is great if we’re paying attention. It’s a dead giveaway of the stories we’ve bought into that are actually not true for us. It helps us juggle our sense of reality so we feel better. Should provides a great starting place for surfacing and owning what is. Make a list of all your should’s, and next to it write what is actually true. Now embrace and own that second list.

Our greatest potential is being more of who we already are. The more we embrace, even the parts that we don’t particularly like, the less of a struggle we’ll have fighting our own natures. And this ownership, this grasp on reality, provides a firm foundation for evolution and growth. Now we know what we’re working with, hairy warts and superpowers and all, and we can find where we really belong.

That wraps up part 1. Stay tuned for Part 2. I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Do you have any good go-to movies for self-improvement that I’m missing? Any parts that aren’t clear?

Guest Post: How I fell in love with my life

This is a guest post on personal transformation by Jennifer Pomo from Santa Fe, New Mexico. We were going through our phase of radical releasing around the same time, and it was such a joy for me to hear how this process has born fruit in her life over the past year.

“Goodness this full moon is a potent one. Last night I drove home from dinner and dancing with friends. We danced in the living room until midnight, music loud enough to wake the neighbors but lucky to have the closest neighbors a few acres away.

I’ve danced more in the last three months than I’ve danced 30 years. Last night the full moon lit up the Santa Fe winter sky so bright I could have easily made the drive home without my lights on. There I stood in the middle of the street I live on, staring at the full moon staring back at me. I didn’t want the dance to end and so I kept on dancing. I’ve always wanted to dance like no one is watching and truly, no one was watching.

Memories of this time last year came flooding back. Nothing in my life is the same. This time last year I had begun the process of dissolving, of coming completely undone. This time last year I had no idea where I was headed, I only knew I was following a longing, a pull that required total trust on my part.

I had made a commitment to stop the fast track I was on and become still. In June of 2018 I left my marriage, the gated house on five and half acres of pinons and juniper trees, dirt roads and stunning mountain views. I was supposed to be living the quintessential, charming Santa Fe life. It was all smoke and mirrors. I moved into a tiny casita in town which became my cocoon. By the end of October 2018, I had quit my job and let go of everything I had built that I thought meant safety and security.

This time last year I didn’t recognize the woman in the mirror, didn’t recognize my life, my clothes, my hair, my thoughts. This time last year I went dark, went deep into the dark night of my soul, cradled by the long winter months. I had a few close friends I saw, but other than that, the life I created and built in the public eye, a community I had grown to know and love had come to an end.

I’ll never forget the day I was walking through the restaurant I helped build looking down at one of my signature dress pieces and thinking “Who even wears this??” I sent a message to my friend right away telling her I felt like an imposter in my life and in my work. She wrote back asking if what I was experiencing was actually my inner shero coming to rescue me, asking me to trust her and to follow her lead. A life I had built in service to others had run its course. The only person I wanted to serve was myself. In choosing to serve me, to commit to serving my longing, my hearts desire, whatever that was, my entire life changed.

I can’t tell you the number of people who have recently come to me saying how happy I look and that I am glowing. I have even been asked if I am in love. Yes, I am in love. I’m in love with my life. I’m in love with myself for the first time in my life. I’m in love with my courage and my commitment to keep traveling the path into the unknown. I’m in love with my willingness to trust.

My happiness has been born from countless tears, from being brought to my knees. My happiness has come from getting honest and holding myself accountable for my actions and how I was living. My happiness has come from refusing to blame anyone or be a victim of my life. My happiness has come from letting go. My happiness has come from ending the chase of trying to dictate what I thought my life should look like and instead letting life have its way with me.

I lost the ability to write for nearly eight months. Yes, I filled volumes of journals but my story had no words to it. This was unnerving for me. I would start a sentence and that was as far as my writing would go. Instead I wanted to be on the mountain and I wanted to dance. I wanted to seek out what other writers had to say and read poetry. I’ve devoured more poetry in the last year than I have my entire life.

It’s only been recently that my words are making their way back to me. I feel vulnerable but I’m no longer afraid to put myself back out into the world. This time last year there was no way I was comfortable enough in my skin to even make an appearance that felt authentic. This is something that happens when we unravel, when we come undone. It requires time alone. It requires going in and remaining present with ourselves until we are damn good and ready to resurface again.

Last night I danced in the middle of my street recalling my favorite movie of all time, Moonstruck. I saw Cher walking dreamily down the street of her Brooklyn neighborhood, kicking a tin can, forever changed and in love. Has this always been a clue from my past? Did I know at the tender age of 17 I was leaving a clue for my future self to remember this moment in time? Me dancing in the street in my long black winter coat, completely changed and in love?

I’m going to go with yes.”

How are you responding to Jen’s story, dear reader? Have you gone through your own dark night of the soul, or do you feel it calling to you? Where does your happiness come from?

Image by Michael Gaida from Pixabay