How to Calm Your Mind, Part 1

(video: 9:44min) “I can’t stop thinking!” is the number 1 complaint I hear when people start practicing mindfulness.

We’re stressed! We want the madness to stop! Doesn’t mindfulness help us calm our minds and let go of thoughts?!

Well yes, and no… Mindfulness helps you change your relationship with your thoughts. It does NOT make them go away. This new relationship is less stressful and more calm.

For most of us, this new relationship takes a bit of explanation to understand. Most instructors know it’s actually more comprehensive for you to experience it than try to explain it to you… which means that before you experience it you’re confused about your goal during practice. You think you’re supposed to stop thinking.


So what are you supposed to be doing? And how will it help? Here are two videos to help you unravel this mystery.

Sensational Awareness – Guided Meditation

MME Album Art(meditation: 8:51 min)

Ever thought, “Uh! I wish I hadn’t said that!!”

Americans like to call this putting your foot in your mouth. Sometimes I put my whole leg in! Open mouth, insert leg. Yikes!

One of the beauties of meditation is that I don’t do this so often anymore. Meditation helps me be more aware of what I’m thinking and feeling… so that I have a moment to decide whether to say something before it pops out of my mouth.

Instead of being lost in my thoughts or overwhelmed by my feelings, I cultivate a perspective (called presence) that lets me see the difference between me and them. I stay aware that I am bigger than my thoughts. I am like a container for them. They are still very much here in me, they are just a PART of me versus taking over me.

This subtle and powerful change in perspective makes all the difference.

I do not get so overwhelmed because they do not fill my entire world. I do not get so lost in them because I see the whole map now.

Make sense? Probably not. If you are like most people this is at best a crazy sounding conceptual theory that doesn’t realate to your experience of reality. I clearly remember thinking this myself. “What the heck does that mean, ‘I am not my thoughts’?

So, how to go from wacky sounding theory to part of your reality?

Experience it yourself!

Below is a practice to help you experience this with sensation, the easiest of the three (thoughts, emotions, sensations). You will happily discover that you do this already (you are present quite often), quite naturally… And now you know how to cultivate it.

Note that if this is the first time you’ve experienced meditation, this isn’t the easiest place to start! I recommend starting with something simple to get the mechanics down first like 3 Breaths.

Happy sensing!

Mindfulness Practice: Sensational Awareness

  1. Start by becoming present to the location you are in: look around at what you can see right now.
  2. Close your eyes and gently shift your attention to your breathing. Notice your breath moving in and out of your body right now. Be curious about your breath. “How am I breathing right now?”
  3. Find a place in your body that has a strong sensation to focus on. Often it is easiest to feel a place that is painful or stiff, or chose a place that feels very fluid and nice. Anywhere is fine, as long as there is sensation that is easy to feel there.
    1. Shift your attention away from your breath and to the area you have chosen with the strong sensation.
    2. Remembering that you are the one feeling the sensation (“I am feeling/sensing.”), be curious about the qualities of the sensation. Notice as much as you can about how it feels. (You can notice qualities like: big/small, intense/soft, rough/smooth, sharp/dull, pulsing/constant, dense/open, etc.)
    3. As much as you can feel it and don’t go into the story about why you are sensing it. Cultivate being curious about feeling the sensations versus thinking about why you feel this way and what you can do to avoid (or repeat) it in the future.
  4. When you feel complete, shift your attention back to your breath. Notice your breath moving in and out of your body.
  5. When you’re ready, open your eyes to end the practice, noticing the space that you’re in right now.

When your mind wanders, as it inevitably will, gently bring it back first to presence by noticing your breath and the quiet between thoughts, and then re-focus on the heart of the practice.


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Getting Out of Your Head and Into Your Heart

getting out of your head and into your heart{This article first appeared here, on, Tues, 1 July 2014.}

For the last decade people have been telling me that I live too much in my head and that I should live more in my heart. That idea of going from my head to my heart was really confusing at first. I thought people were suggesting that I stop thinking and focus only on my emotions, or suddenly fall in love with everything and everyone. That all seemed pretty difficult to do, and thankfully as I began to figure out this head to heart business, I realized that none of that had to happen.

To my great relief, it’s just a simple shift of focus.

Thinking, Thinking, Thinking

If you’re like most people, you spend a lot of time thinking: thinking about what has happened in the past and what will happen in the future. All day, every day, you’re doing pretty much the same thing: living in your head.

This is such an ingrained habit that most of us don’t even realize that there is anything else that we could be doing.

The thing about always thinking about the past and the future is that we miss what’s actually happening right now, where we actually live. We’re so busy paying attention to the past and future that we miss the present, where the action is going on, where the juice is, where all the things that we’re thinking about really exist, where life is really happening.

What do I mean when I say that we’re not really here?

An Experiment in Living

Try this little experiment and see what you can discover for yourself.

Stop for a moment and notice your body. Notice little things like your feet or thighs pressing down onto the ground or seat. Notice how the fabric of your clothing feels on your legs, your belly, your back, your shoulders, your arms. Notice as many sensations as you can: air moving over your skin, tension and softness in your muscles… anything and everything you can feel.

Pay attention to how long you can notice your sensations before going off into stories about them. How long before a twinge in your knee sends you thinking about how far you ran yesterday, and did you remember to start the washing machine after your run, and don’t forget to buy more laundry detergent, and did you put that on the grocery list? And you keep going, on and on, one thought after another, until pretty soon you’ve totally forgotten that you’re sitting there because your mind is somewhere else!

We miss a lot, because we spend so much of our time thinking about living and so little of our time actually focusing on living as it’s happening. We’ve all had those timeless moments where we really noticed the full depth of the moment: rocking a baby, at the crest of a high dive, taking in a fantastic view, looking deeply into the eyes of a lover… These are those moments when we get a glimpse of what we’re missing, a glimpse of being fully aware of what’s happening in the moment, the richness and depth of living.

Shifting From Head to Heart

The nice thing is that this is really simple to change.All that is needed is to shift your attention to where you are and what’s happening here. The challenge is that your habit of thinking is probably pretty strong, so you will need to keep re-focusing your attention on what’s happening until this new habit is formed.

Another nice thing is that there are lots of things that you can do to facilitate this new habit. Focusing on the body moving through space is often a good practice because the body is always doing something right here and right now. Anytime you want to shift your focus to living your life, check out what your body is doing. Notice where your body is contacting the ground or chair or bed. Notice what that feels like and immediately you are focused on living your life as it’s happening.

As I got out of my head and dropped into my heart, into myself, an amazing thing started to happen. I started to slowly notice how deep my inner landscape is, and how rich and full life is when I can actually be here in it. Everything is much more pleasurable. Now, I spend all day, every day doing pretty much the same thing: practicing this awareness of my life as it’s happening. When I realize I’m lost in my head, I simply shift my focus back into my self, where the juice is, where it’s all happening, where I live my life.

This process could really be called moving from Head to Self.

Head to Heart just sounds a lot sexier.

Elena has been practicing awareness since 2005 and has recorded seven of her favorite practices at They’re quick and easy, 10-second meditations, that you can do anywhere and anytime you want to focus on living your life.

Why Fixing Things Doesn’t Work

why fixing things doesn't workDon’t you just love it when you realize something? Like a suddenly you understand something that has never made much sense to you no matter how many times you’ve heard it before? I love that!

Today, I accidentally realized why working on things can be a big waste of time. I had a terrible, melt-down kind of day today. I went to bed exhausted, and when I woke up I didn’t get out of bed for three hours. I laid there feeling into how bad I felt, and inviting it to express itself and move on. As I drifted in and out of sleep, I had crazy dreams that didn’t seem to help much other than make me realize that I was still feeling terrible. Finally, I gave in and got up.

Then I had a business meeting with my husband. Well, tried to. He gently and adroitly asked if I felt like “we” were in any state to have this meeting? He was very calm, as I first baited him and then he just listened as I described how I was feeling. We just sat there in the light of what I just shared.

I didn’t try to fix it. I was just miserable. I didn’t try to make it bigger or wallow in it. I just felt it.

And as we sat there for a few minutes in silence, I shed a few silent tears and started feeling better.

Nothing was fixed. Nothing was solved. Nothing had changed as far as my mind was concerned. And I felt better.

I still feel like I need to really cry and other than that it has passed.

As I was walking up the hill on my way home this evening, I reflected that just shining light on the situation, just sharing it openly and having it witnessed by another was enough. It didn’t need fixing this time.

It just needed to be exposed. Outed.

Like so many secrets or dark things, shining the light on them can be enough.

Walking up, I realized why people say that sometimes fixing things doesn’t work. Sometimes if we jump into fix it mode we miss the opportunity for the problem to go away on its own. We miss the opportunity for it to fix itself. We might even be holding it in place sometimes when we do this, because we move the much needed light of focus away from the problem and shine it on “the solutions” instead.

So, I ask pardon for all of those times I tried to fix anyone! Please forgive me. I am sorry. Sometimes we want solutions, and sometimes it’s better to just give the thing the breathing room to heal itself. Voila! It passes.

Judging Judgements

IMG_2642Oh ho! how fun it is to play with all the poo in my head… and to notice how is plays with me.

I’ve been looking at the all of those things that I think about others and keep to myself… that constant stream of criticisms that form in an instant, come with resentment, anger, sadness, fear, pain, etc., and never get spoken. I keep them in because I think that other people won’t like me if I tell them these thoughts. And I don’t really feel the feelings either because I feel so guilty about feeling them in the first place.

It happened because I was, stuck in my own mud, full to the brim with all of this undigested crud, and someone pointed out that I was full of unspoken judgements! Eek! No one was supposed to know!

Haha. Everyone knows. First of all, many of us do this very same thing, and secondly we feel it when someone is being critical, even if it’s silent and we don’t really know what we’re feeling.

After a week or so of looking at this, this is what is working so far to move the muck.

First, I notice when I’m being critical. “Wow, that’s me thinking that she’s a pain in my bum, again. Oh! And here’s me judging myself for being judgmental again!”

Second, I’ve been feeling the feeling that is behind the criticism. This part is pretty interesting, because I try not to think about it, I try to just feel it, thanks to this interview Benoit Foucher did with Paul Cooper, and what a difference that makes! As he points out, once we really feel it, the reason behind it will surface naturally. And, of course, it turns out that my criticisms are because I’m feeling bad about myself. What a surprise. Haha.

Once I can feel the feeling, things get softer. Whether the reason surfaces or not, just digesting the emotion, just letting the emotion express itself, is making a huge difference.

I’m still judgmental. I’m just much more aware as I’m doing it, so I don’t unconsciously direct the emotion at the other. I stop and feel the emotion and that feels much better. Whew!

All in all, a much nicer place to be!

3 Steps to Empowerment, Step 3: Empowerment

Once we can see and accept ourselves, we begin to have choices about where to put our energy. Do we keep doing what we’re doing, or do we focus our energy on something else?
The empowerment to make this choice comes from the clarity of awareness: knowing what we’re doing, and the openness of acceptance: allowing whatever we’re thinking, feeling, doing to be here.  Because we’re open to our thoughts, feelings and actions (and not denying, resisting, and contracting around them) they can shift and change and thus we are in an empowered space… we have choices about where to focus our energy.
There are many ways to reach this stage of empowerment, of being in a space to make real choices about what we’re doing… to go from fine to fantastic…
I’d love to know what you’ve done in your life to get to this place of fully aware choices?

Speaking From the Heart: Accepting Emotions 7 Day Challenge

(video) Most of us are uncomfortable with some of our emotions… to the point that we try to deny or ignore them.

It can be challenging to try to feel all of them! Take this 7 day challenge and see for yourself!

Are you comfortable with ALL of your emotions?


Your Questions: Why Isn't This Meditation Practice Working?!

(video) What happens when you have been diligently doing a meditation practice and you feel like it isn’t helping? If it works for other’s shouldn’t it work for you? Is there something wrong with me, how I’m doing the practice, or is this just the wrong practice for me right now?

How do you know when a practice is working for you?