Mindful Reflection Tip #2

As you settle into your meditation seat, ask yourself why you’re there. It may seem obvious but, like everything else about the mind, motivation shifts constantly and subtly, so check it out. Depending on how you’re feeling right now, you may be trying to prove one thing, escape another or to just drift into a familiar pattern and zone out.

The point of meditation is to understand the mind and how it works, and the point of Mindful Reflection is to bring that understanding to all of life, not just cushion time.

Mahayana Buddhists make much of dedications (left): declaring that the merit of their actions will contribute to the awakening of all beings. Trouble is, dedications tend to take on a prayer-like flavor that quickly turns into rote. You can be mouthing the most wonderful expressions of love and universal compassion, but if your mind’s not there … well, it’s just not there, is it?

So instead of trying to turn your meditation into what you think it should be, ask yourself with all the naked honesty you can muster why you’re there at that particular moment in your life. What do you want? If you find your motivation’s flimsy or lacking in any way, you’ll see it right away and pull yourself together.

In what way? You don’t need me to tell you that. Just pay attention; you’ll know what to do.


Mindful Reflection Tip #1

The state of mind you’re in when you begin meditating — whether it’s for two minutes or an hour – establishes the quality of that time spent. My teachers emphasized the importance of preparation so much that they often spent more time on that than on the ‘actual’ meditation. This entailed sweeping the room, dusting and arranging the seat, setting up props (candle, incense, statues, chime) and settling themselves down comfortably.

We usually disdain household tasks like this. When you consider them a waste of time and hurry you end up with a huffy and dissatisfied state of mind. “I should be meditating, dammit!”

The point of meditation is to understand the mind and how it works. It doesn’t matter whether you’re sitting like a perfect Buddha or down on your hands and knees reaching for a cobweb; what matters is clarity and focus. Take the time to wash and brush your teeth as well as to prepare the room. Anticipating what you’re preparing for turns those activities into meditations in their own right.

Cultivating this attitude also has profound long-term benefits: when you’re scattered, angry or anxious, meditation is a very distant option; you can’t just turn on sustained mindfulness. Being able to deal with strong emotions in a real-life situation depends on the way you’ve prepared your mind in advance. Watching your breath doesn’t directly help calm emotions, but it does strengthen your meditative core, enabling you to withstand the onslaught of unexpected feelings when they actually arise.

The Terrible News that Isn’t

What with the recent Royal Wedding, the General Election and the dramatic assassination of Osama bin Laden, the banal reality is that Japan’s earthquake, tsunami and subsequent aftershocks two months  ago are no longer breaking news, and attention has shifted from the plight of those struggling to put their lives back together.

It will take victims years to recover; any aid they receive will be put to good use. Toyoda Yutaka of Tao Sangha Montreal has helped organize shipments of food, refrigerators and industrial size rice cookers to Japan in recent  weeks. He and his shiatsu massage students offered massages on May 1st in NDG, all proceeds going to their relief efforts, and will do a repeat performance in May at H~OM Yoga Fitness in Promenades Hudson, the exact date to be announced this Saturday May 7th.

On that day, Saturday  May 7th at 1:00 pm, I’ll  be giving a one-hour talk entitled, Helping People in Difficulty: giving without interfering; supporting without enabling. This will be followed by a book signing as well as information tables about ongoing events at H~OM, including a parenting workshop by Caroline, my wife and director of New Way, the upcoming Awakening Festival by organizer Lianne Bridges and an appearance by Toyoda Yutaka. All revenue and donations will go Canadian Red Cross Japan Relief.

We all benefit by working for and contributing to fundraisers like this. It’s a reminder of the extraordinary safe haven called Canada. Here we’re free not only of the starvation and ongoing wars that plague too much of the world, but also of the tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes that disrupt even our powerful neighbors to the south. Counting our blessings puts our daily troubles into manageable proportions and knits the global village that bit closer together.

Please support the H~OM Day of Learning & Giving on May  7th, starting at 1:00 pm at H~OM Yoga Fitness in Promenades Hudson, 3187 Harwood Boulevard.

A New Way for Parents & Children

Parenting is hard. The consequences are monumental and often irreversible. It’s been rightly described as life’s most important job, and yet we’re expected to wing it. You’re not the only influence in your child’s life. Still, it’s your job and you can’t leave it to chance. In these days when parents spend less time home with the kids, it’s more important than ever for us to come together, compare notes and learn from one another.

There are less productive ways of sharing. I hear parents commiserating — especially about teenagers; they exchange anecdotes about their alien behaviour, nod in agreement and throw up their hands in defeat. Kids obviously pay a price for this; so, in the long term, do parents. In reality, of course, they’re not that different. Like us they have lazy sides, insensitivities and minor obsessions. Unlike us, they’re enormously pliable and, despite appearances to the contrary, very unsure of themselves. They need you.

Remember when your parents tried to make you conform and you ended up rebellious? Have you ever seen yourself doing the same to your own children? Even when they really do seem like aliens, you know they’re intelligent and highly observant ones.

All of which is why I propose sitting with me — a life coach — and your peers to explore the full challenge of parenting. Starting May 16th, join us in a comfortable, non-judgemental and thoughtful workshop environment to broaden your perspectives and explore new ways.

These workshops are about parents, not children. Regardless of their age, what we’ll work on is your openness, your effectiveness, your willingness to accept, learn and change. Most importantly, you’ll become more aware of your approach and where it leads; that in itself has the power to change your relationship with them. It’s not easy to second-guess yourself, but there’s no better way to strengthen mutual respect and improve communication.

This are not lectures. You’ll practice self-observation exercises to make you more mindful, more clear-headed and more able to change long-standing habits. The goal is to develop real-time awareness that leads to change.

We’ll get to the nitty-gritty too: from busy schedules, the pressures of peer-pressure, acting out and bullying all the way to lying, sex and drugs; and then there’s divorce, single-parenting, step-parenting and the great dangers of non-parenting at the moments when it’s most important for you to step in.

The point is to improve your children’s chances in life by deepening your relationship with them. It’s the best thing you could possibly do for them. It’s the one thing they can’t get for themselves.

Caroline Courey is director of New Way Personal Life Coaching, co-founder and associate Director of Quiet Mind Seminars and a mother of four. Visit

What’s Your Story?

My dad grew up in the south of Italy between the two world wars. After his father died prematurely, he slipped through the competing clutches of the Church and the Mafia and ran off to South America with his cousin Blacaman. The two of them spent the nineteen-thirties careening around the continent, carting lions, snakes and alligators and setting up their animal hypnotizing show wherever they could find an audience. Later on, Dad joined the circus and did pretty well for himself, but in those early days they were just a couple of hustlers living from hand to mouth and associating with disreputable people. Unsavory? Probably. Fascinating? You bet!

If your appetite is whetted, so was mine as a boy; trouble is, that’s all I know. Rummaging through a suitcase full of monochrome photographs, I found evidence of this man who resembled Dad, minus a few decades, but didn’t seem anything like the respectable family man I knew. I pestered him for his stories, but he kept a steadfast silence. I assumed he was protecting my innocence — that once I grew up he’d relent — but it wasn’t that simple. He insisted that no one cared (even though I swore I did), and he took his memories uncompromisingly to his grave. I’m still mad at him.

Everyone has a story; every story is important — not just to your loved ones, but perhaps to a whole generation inspired by you. If you’ve promised yourself (or them) that you’ll write it one day, there’s never been a better time for biography.

True, writing’s tough to begin with — and I say that as someone who loves writing and does it every day — but writing a book is uniquely rewarding. I’ve written several, and have helped others by editing, typesetting, illustrating, designing covers and preparing both paper and digital formats. Seems like a lot, but in the end it’s great to hold up the finished product and send out links to it.

Still, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Finding your personal voice brings a story to life and satisfies the reader — but it also brings you the author special, personal clarity. Piecing facts into a narrative gives shape to your life and, by deepening your self-knowledge, bring great peace of mind and self-confidence. I accompany my clients through that process, not just with writing and editing, but also by creating a website or blog that supports the creative process as it happens and sells the book once it’s ready.

It’s been very hard to get a book published in recent years, but today there are more options, not fewer. The Amazon Kindle and other eBook readers make self-publishing easier than ever. You can actually publish with little risk and turn a profit more easily. Electronic books cost nothing to print and can be updated at any time. You never have left-over inventory, pay distributor’s storage fees or get unwanted returns.

Selling through Amazon requires no up-front investment; advertising’s being supplanted by inbound marketing, which costs nothing. Once I’ve helped my clients write, format, illustrate and copyright the book, I help them with this technical stuff and provide moral support.

Writing a book’s like burying yourself in a mass of details; from time to time you lose track of the big picture. That’s why professional help — or a very devoted friend — is indispensible. I’m often the one who tells writers what they don’t really want to hear; they thank me later. I’ve both edited others’ work and been edited myself; it’s a challenge at both ends. The idea is to keep the story within bounds while letting it unfold at its own pace.

What bugs me most about my father’s silence is that it did no one any good. Sharing those stories would have helped him face his demons and brought us closer. Today, we recognize the importance and healing potential of self-knowledge. The important thing is not what you experience in life but how you pass on those experiences. Putting down your own story is a process of integration and then some. In writing your life, you express your wisdom. Find out, and share it.

As well as hosting this blog, Stephen is director of QM Graphics, specializing in the editing, design and publishing of books, eBooks and websites.


The Meaning of Mindfulness (overview)

Quiet Mind Seminars introduces a new workshop series beginning this Thursday January 13th (details here) entitled The Meaning of Mindfulness.

Mindfulness is in fashion. It’s a great way to savor the present moment and enjoy life to the full. That’s good, but it barely touches on the huge potential of the mindful lifestyle. As a way of life, mindfulness is just one component of the continual effort to wake up and remain attentive. When paired with critical reflection it increases insight and focus in everything you do, creating an effective gap between stimulus and response, leading you away from stressful automaticity and towards intuition and creativity. Mindfulness makes you think of freedom in a completely new way.    Register here for this eight-week workshop.


Week Topic
1 The mechanics of mindfulness:
— what it is & how it works
2 Motivating mindfulness:
— seeing the double-bind
3 Refuge & the pursuit of satisfaction
— freedom & discipline in the wired world
4 The erosion of self-esteem
— understanding and building true confidence
5 Anxiety & peace
— how the fear of death robs you of life
6 Craving, karma & samsara
— ancient philosophy as a diagnostic tool
7 Anger, forgiveness & love
— finding heart in a heartless world
8 Being alone with others
— the one and only way