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Healing Invisible Wounds through Mindfulness, Writing & Photography

This week I’ve been installing an exhibit of NC veterans’ photography and writing about their invisible wounds for a project that I created and direct called Invisible Wounds of War. During the first year that I created the exhibit, one of the veterans said to me, “You know, we all have invisible wounds.” Often our wounds, whether physical, emotional, mental, moral or spiritual, remain hidden from view. Many of us decide not to talk about them for fear of being misunderstood, judged or treated differently. We may go to a lot of effort to try to hide them, which often only serves to increase feelings of shame. Because the mind judges our internal pain as unpleasant, we may become invested in turning away or trying to escape the pain, when what is called for is turning toward it. Working on this project again this year has reminded me again of the power of mindfulness, writing and photography to support the healing of invisible wounds. When one person shares their story, it often inspires another to investigate their own invisible wounds and begin to heal them. It is human nature to feel that we are the alone in our struggle, yet by the very nature of being human, we are all struggling with something. Sometimes we stand in the same room with someone with the very same struggle and never realize it, because it goes unspoken. We can use mindfulness practice to begin to turn toward our inner pain with kindness and compassion. Just as an external injury to the body needs care and attention, so does our internal pain. With sustained effort in our mindfulness practice, we can learn how to skillfully turn toward the pain, allow the feelings to rise, crest and fall like a wave, and give the pain the kind and compassionate care that is required for healing. We can also turn toward our wounds to facilitate healing through writing and photography. What one step can you take this week to begin to turn toward your own invisible wounds with kindness and compassion and begin to heal them?

 

The only way we have of influencing the future is to own the present, however we find it. Jon Kabat-Zinn

Peace,
Jen

RESOURCES FOR FURTHER EXPLORATION:

Healing Bodies & Souls through Writing and Photography
PainPathways Magazine Fall 2016.

Invisible Wounds of War Project

 

 

Love and Light Always, johnny: notes on living well and dying a good death

I’ve been blogging about mindfulness since 2009 and have received some deeply touching comments and emails in response from people all over the world through years. I received this email in 2014 from a man named johnny:

HI ! I AM IN A HOSPICE PROGRAM AND WOULD LIKE A GOOD DEATH ! ANY WORDS TO HELP ME ??  THANK YOU !!  LOVE AND LIGHT ALWAYS…johnny

I’m posting my reply here, because I think we could all use some reminders about how to live well and die well every now and then.

 

Dear johnny,

Thank you for writing to me. 

One of my first meditation teachers used to say that in our everyday life, we die a million little deaths, and these little deaths help to prepare us for our bigger death. Know that all of the little deaths that you have handled with grace (as well as those that you have handled without grace)—the pains, heartaches, losses, and other forms of suffering—have prepared you for this moment, and trust yourself. We all want a good life and a good death. Life and the dying process both are filled with moments of meaning, connection, love, and joy as well as moments of pain and suffering. 

Know that each present moment continues to offer you an opportunity to prepare for a good death by simply being present in each moment and attempting to meet whatever arises in each passing moment with acceptance and compassion. 

A number of years ago in my daily meditation practice, I said the following intention: “I am cultivating the capacity to be present with whatever arises.” I said this several times throughout each day for days, months, years. Sometimes I still say it. I have experienced a good deal of challenges and loss in my life, and having the intention to be present with an attitude of acceptance and compassion toward whatever arises in my life has helped me to navigate the difficult moments with much greater ease and less suffering. 

Try to take your last bit of time moment by moment as much as you can. This can serve to help get you through any fear, pain, or other difficult emotions. See if you can try to focus on “This is happening, now what?” and if thoughts arise related to wanting your situation to be other than it is in this moment, see if you can practice trying to have an attitude of acceptance. Fighting what is happening only increases suffering. When we can turn toward our experience with acceptance and compassion, we may still feel physical or emotional pain, but it can ease the suffering. As the saying goes, pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. 

If there are words left unsaid, say them or write them to your loved ones, even if all you can get out it is “I love you,” or “I’m sorry.” If you hold resentment or regrets in regards to yourself or others, try to hold an intention for forgiveness toward yourself and toward those people. Know that you are a person who is worthy of love, mercy, and peace. Know that you have done the best that you could do, and like all of us, you are an imperfect being simply because you are human. This, more than ever, is a time for turning inward and trusting your own experience, letting go, and being present to each moment as it arises.  

If you are processing regrets, may you also recall the ways in which you have made meaning of your life, the ways in which you have loved well, the ways in which you have touched others’ lives and will be remembered. 

What matters most to you during your last days, hours, minutes? Whose company do you desire to keep? What do you wish to see? I like to imagine that I will die lying in bed looking out a window into nature, surrounded by a few quiet loved ones who are comfortable just being present with me and not filling the space with mindless chatter. I like to imagine that I will say, “No” to seeing the people who don’t add to my sense of peace. I like to imagine that I, along with the support of loved ones, will protect my sense of peace. This is your life and your death, and I encourage you to choose what matters most to you during this process. 

I am sending you a link to my loving-kindness meditation in hopes that you may find some comfort in listening. 

Your email is a gift and has touched me deeply. I will always remember you. I am holding you in my heart and sending wishes for peace. 

I hope that my words have brought you some comfort. May you dwell in your heart. May you find comfort in the rhythm of your own breath. May you be free from suffering. May you be healed. May you be at peace.

Love and Light Always to you as well, 

Jen

 

I don’t know johnny, how he found my blog, whether he read my reply, or how long he lived. But I’ll always remember him.

This post goes out to all of us who are trying to live intentionally and meet whatever arises in each moment with an open heart. It goes out to my students, clients and friends who are dying or who have recently passed on. Your courage continually inspires me. May we all open our hearts to more fully embrace the beauty and complexity of living and dying.

Love and Light Always,
Jen

 

 

 

Mindfulness & Creativity

 

Mindfulness practice has been shown to increase creativity, and practicing mindful photography has been shown to increase feelings of peace and happiness. Practicing mindful photography and mindful writing are two of the avenues through which I regularly expand my mindfulness practice into my everyday life. When I take my camera out, I meditate in order to prepare myself to open to a felt sense of my surroundings. I wait for an intuitive resonance with a scene or an object and then pause to experience an exchange of energy with the subject or object of my attention. Something almost indescribable happens in those moments of intuitive resonance with a subject as I prepare to make an image. Throughout this exchange, I am mindfully aware of the sensations, feelings and thoughts that arise in response to this creative experience. When we practice mindful photography, mindful writing or a mindful engagement with any other form of creative expression, we have an opportunity to practice mindfulness.

Mindfulness is awareness of present moment experience (sensations, feelings and thoughts) with an attitude of non-judgment, without clinging to it, without pushing it away or trying to escape it and without wanting it to be otherwise. Your creative expression may include cooking, parenting, formulating innovative ideas, writing, making a photograph, painting, sculpting, designing space, knitting, baking, gardening, and the list could go on and on. In what ways are you incorporating creative expression into your mindfulness practice? Comment below to let me know. I’d love to hear about your practice!

Peace,
Jen

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument. ~Rumi

UPCOMING EVENTS

Creating Mindful Intentions for the New Year. Saturday December 30, 2017 9am-12pm. McKay Healing Arts, Wilmington, NC. How long have you been taking life as it comes without considering what matters most or how you want your life to be? This workshop will guide you in the process of creating mindful intentions for your life and learning strategies for successfully following through. We will use guided meditations and journaling exercises to help you clarify your intentions and then we’ll create an Intention Board, a creative collage with words and images to serve as a visual reminder of your intentions. Make 2018 your year of lasting lifestyle changes! Email Jen to register. Cost: $50

Ghost Trees photography series will be on exhibit at Expo 216 gallery in Wilmington through the end of December 2017. Ghost Trees explores the liminal space between what was, what is and what will be in an ever-changing world. The project began in 2016 as an investigation into the dying bald cypress trees and the environmental degradation of the Cape Fear River basin. In the summer of 2017 it was discovered that at least 18 toxic chemicals are in the river and drinking water supply. It is my hope that these images that capture the beauty and loss of these dying trees and inspire people to preserve nature in their local communities. To preview the images visit jenjohnson.com/ghost-trees Please contact Expo 216 gallery to purchase. 910-769-3899. I am currently seeking gallery representation and am available to speak on photography and environmental justice concerns, clean water, and nature conservation for the wellbeing oe people and the planet.

 

 

 

How to Live a Mindful Life

Mindfulness is awareness of the present moment without clinging to it, without turning away or trying to escape it, and without wanting it to be other than it is. Living mindfully allows you to stay in the present moment without becoming entangled in worry about the future or regret about the past. Practicing mindfulness can result in increased feelings of peace, happiness and wellbeing.

Mindfulness is about practicing focusing the attention on attention focused on the present moment, both during formal meditation practice and in our everyday lives. The formal practice of mindfulness allows us an opportunity for focused practice with bringing the awareness back to the present moment again and again. The real magic happens when we begin to apply this practice in our everyday so that we’re practicing meeting whatever arises in our lives with an open heart and an attitude of curiosity and kindness.

How to apply mindfulness to your everyday life:

  1. Cultivate a formal mindfulness practice. Practice sitting still and resting your attention on the breath. Notice your experience of the breath in your body—the rise of the belly with the inhale and the fall of the belly with the exhale. When the attention wanders, and it will, practice bringing it back to the breath.
  2. Live intentionally. Become intimately familiar with your values, passions, and purpose, and design your life around what matters most to you. Create clear intentions for how you want your life to be and an overarching sense of how you want to feel in your life.
  3. Practice Mindful Self-Care. Get adequate sleep, eat mindfully, and exercise regularly. Know when your schedule is full, and practice saying no. Set healthy boundaries and limits.
  4. Practice self-compassion. Treat yourself as though you were a child for whom you care deeply. When you become aware that you’re speaking harshly to yourself, pause, remind yourself that you’re human and therefore imperfect, and direct a kind gesture or kind words toward yourself.
  5. Cultivate Joy. Slow down to notice the simple things in life that bring you a sense of joy and savor these moments—your favorite cup of tea, a brilliant blue sky, early morning birdsong. Pay attention to the sensations and feelings that arise in response to this experience. Take time to recall the experience and the good sensations and feelings several times during the day. You can cultivate joy by slowing down to cultivate it rather than waiting for it to land in your lap.
  6. Get Creative. Connecting with your creativity, through art, writing, cooking, making something with your hands, or generating creative ideas, is one way you can expand your mindfulness practice into everyday life. Don’t forget to fill your own creative well by doing things that inspire your creative energy!

Sign up for my email list to receive Mindful Moments postcards in your inbox monthly and receive access to my secret Inspiration Room, where you’ll find free downloadable guided meditation audio recordings and articles and videos on mindfulness, creativity, and living intentionally.

Enjoy your mindful life!

Namaste,
Jen

Jen Johnson is a mindfulness teacher, coach and counselor. She’s also a photographer and writer. Jen teaches people how to develop a regular mindfulness practice and integrate it into everyday life. Learn more at jenjohnson.com

 

 

Creating a Foundation for Mindfulness Practice

 

Mindfulness is awareness of the present moment, without clinging to it, without pushing it away or trying to escape it and without wanting it to be otherwise. It involves meeting whatever arises with acceptance and with an attitude of interest, curiosity, and kindness. One of the most important foundations for mindfulness practice that is often overlooked is self-compassion. How many moments during a day do we meet ourselves with acceptance and without wanting ourselves to be otherwise? How many times in a day do we meet ourselves with kindness? No one ever taught me how to treat myself with kindness and compassion. When I was in my early 20s, I became so weary of treating myself mercilessly that I committed to a yearlong practice of self-compassion, and it radically changed my life. Practicing self-compassion is one of the most significant things we can do in the interest of our own personal and spiritual growth and in the interest of realizing our personal and professional intentions and goals. Neuroscience research shows that when we treat ourselves with kindness and compassion, we feel happier and more fulfilled, we experience less suffering and we experience less anxiety and depression. Just for today, try treating yourself with kindness, and notice what arises.

“A good place to start is with yourself. See if you can give yourself gifts that may be true blessings, such as self-acceptance, or some time each day with no purpose.” –Jon Kabat-Zinn

Namaste,

Jen

 

UPCOMING EVENTS

Ghost Trees photography exhibit by Jen Johnson opening reception will be held September 22, 2017 6-9pm at Expo 216, 216 N. Front St. Wilmington, NC. Ghost Trees explores the liminal space between what was, what is and what will be in an ever-changing world. The project began as an investigation of the dying bald cypress trees and environmental degradation in the Cape Fear River basin. As the project progressed, it also became and exploration of the ways in which my vision has become both limited and expanded due to a midlife onset visual impairment. I am donating 10% of my portion of the profits to Cape Fear Riverwatch, Inc. as they are one of the leaders in advocating to get the newly discovered cocktail of perflourinated chemical compounds (including Gen-X) and other chemical toxins out of our river and drinking water supply.

I’m opening up additional hours of phone and Skype mindfulness training and coaching sessions. My coaching sessions are $125 for a 50-minute session, and I offer discounts for 3 month and six month packages. I currently have 5 spots open for 1:1 distance clients. I’m also offering photography mentoring sessions! Check out some of the new ways you can work with me.  

Embracing Impermanence

There are 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows in this life. –Chuang Tzu

When we embrace the reality that all things are impermanent, we open to a refuge of deep inner peace. The tendency of the mind is to cling to the idea that a moment of joy or a moment of suffering will last forever, and this causes us disappointment when the moment of joy fades and anxiety when we believe that the suffering will never end. Consider reflecting on the impermanent nature of all things. When you experience a moment of joy, try being fully present in the joy without clinging to it. When you experience a moment of suffering, try turning toward it and being fully present in the suffering without turning away or trying to escape. Remind yourself that the quality of the suffering will change with time, and try releasing any fixed ideas or fears that you may have about it being unchanging or unending. Try cultivating the capacity to be present with whatever arises in this moment and the next, embracing the 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows that this life brings.

Warmly,

Jen

UPCOMING EVENTS

AWAKENING THE HEART TO JOY Saturday June 24, 2017 9am – 12pm
Joy is an innate capacity that is accessible to all of us if we learn how to cultivate it. We live in a culture in which it has become the norm to feel busy, stressed, disconnected from ourselves and others, and a sense of emotional flatness. Many of us have learned to numb emotions that we judge as “difficult,” because we feel afraid of feeling them or don’t know how to deal with them. But if we numb to anger and sadness, we also numb to joy, because we can’t selectively numb our emotions. True joy involves feeling a sense of aliveness, connection, and wellbeing and a capacity for meeting whatever arises in our lives with compassion and authenticity. During this half-day retreat, we will explore practices for working with the body, breath, and mind to open the heart, meet our emotions skillfully, and cultivate joy. These practices originate from yoga, Insight meditation, and modern neuroscience.
Location: McKay Healing Arts 4916 Wrightsville Ave. Wilmington, NC
Cost: $50 Email Jen to register

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Wednesdays September 6 – October 25, 2017 6pm – 8pm and Saturday October 21 9am – 3pm.
MBSR teaches meditation and gentle yoga to cultivate awareness, reduce stress and create a  greater sense of peace and wellbeing. MBSR was created on the foundation of the ancient practice of mindfulness, which encourages being fully present in our lives with greater peace and ease. People take an MBSR course for reasons that include stress, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, GI distress, chronic illness, fatigue, heart disease, insomnia, and grief/loss. The class is a compliment to, not a substitute for, medical and psychological treatment. Location: McKay Healing Arts, Wilmington, NC.  Cost: $425. Email Jen to register.

Book Review: Best Practices for Yoga with Veterans

Best Practices for Yoga With Veterans is a must read for all yoga teachers. It offers a skillful and comprehensive approach to teaching yoga classes to veterans. Before you stop and think to yourself, “This doesn’t apply to me, because I don’t teach any veterans,” I invite you to reconsider. In 2014, the VA indicated that there were 22 million veterans in the US population. Veterans may or may not self-identify in a yoga class or elsewhere, so veterans and/or active duty military personnel may be attending your classes without you being aware that they are there. Veterans have given a lot to our country. Offering trauma sensitive yoga classes is one way that we as yoga teachers can give something back.

Best Practices for Yoga with Veterans offers clear guidelines for teaching yoga classes to veterans in a manner that is safe, effective and trauma sensitive along with excellent guidelines for self-care for the yoga teacher. The book is comprehensive and offers information related to understanding military culture, working with trauma, yoga instruction, gender specific considerations, relationship building, working with military families, and more. It is very well written and organized, thorough, and easy to comprehend.

Yoga is an excellent resource for cultivating physical, emotional and mental health, resilience and wellbeing in our veterans (and for anyone else, for that matter). Best Practices for Yoga With Veterans offers clear instruction on matters that must be considered when teaching trauma sensitive yoga classes. The book is the result of a collaboration of experts in yoga, mindfulness, meditation, veterans affairs, military culture, medicine, journalism, mental health and trauma therapy, social research, and more. A number of the contributors are veterans.

I have been working with people with trauma since the late 80s and have been working with veterans since the early 90s. When I finished reading Best Practices for Yoga with Veterans, I honestly could not think of a single consideration that this book left out! I can’t say enough great things about this outstanding resource. Please use the book as a springboard to pursue advanced training in teaching yoga to veterans. Again, this book is a must read for all yoga teachers.

Jen Johnson, MS, MS, MFA, LPC, E-RYT
mindfulness teacher. counselor. yoga teacher.

www.jenjohnson.com
www.invisiblewoundsnc.com
www.meditatecreate.com

Mindfulness & Self-Compassion

One of the best kept secrets about being human is that most of our suffering is not personal. Even though much of the time we compare our insides to other people’s outsides and often conclude that everyone else is ok and we are not, it’s not personal. Most of our suffering is simply a part of our human nature. That feisty inner critic in your mind? Most of us wrestle with it until we learn skillful means for making peace with it, which is entirely possible, by the way. One of the things the mind does when we don’t give it a task to do is that it makes commentary about the present moment. The commentary is often critical, and much of the time it’s directed inward toward ourselves. Regular mindfulness practice has been shown to increase grey matter in the area of the brain that relates to empathy and compassion, so just meditating regularly will grow your self-compassion, as will bringing mindful awareness to the moments in which you’re being unkind to yourself, pausing, and engaging in a merciful act of kindness toward yourself. And just in case your mind is telling you that self-compassion equals self-indulgence, it’s not true. There is a skillful way to develop self-compassion and still hold ourselves accountable.
 If your compassion does not include yourself, it’s incomplete. –Jack Kornfield
Warmly,
Jen

Staying Calm in the Chaos

In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity. –Sun Tzu

These are uncertain and chaotic times in the U.S. and globally. The creation of chaos is an age-old tactic used for distraction. While you’re busy reacting to the chaos, you may miss what comes next. Become intent on letting the chaos be your opportunity rather than an opportunity for your adversary. A calm, centered approach grounded in kindness is required in order to stand up for what you truly believe and make long term progress. Crisis is an opportunity to deepen the practices that support you best in relating with your own sensations, feelings and thoughts most skillfully. When we relate skillfully with our own sensations, feelings and thoughts, we are better able to take wise action. What practice can you do today, the next day and the day after that will heal and awaken your body, heart and mind and connect you most deeply with your own inner wisdom and wise action?

Warmly,
Jen

 

Mindfully Creating Clear Intentions

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Mindfully creating clear intentions is one of the most powerful things we can do to create change in our lives. I’ve been devoted to this practice for a number of years, and it’s one of the practices that supports me in creating an intentional life. It’s easy to go through life meeting whatever demands arise day to day, putting out the fires and feel exhausted at the end of the day, wondering where the time went. It’s painful to watch the years go by and try to ignore that nagging feeling that we’re just not being who we want to be in the world or doing what we secretly dream of doing. Many years ago, I realized that life doesn’t have to be that way. Creating clear intentions takes willingness to sit with the grief of a life unlived. It takes courage to dream big, and it takes perseverance to see our intentions through. The result of that conscious effort is a life that feels more congruent with who we are and what we value, which means that we feel like we’re living in integrity, and that leads to a greater sense of peace and happiness. It really is possible to live the life that we imagine. This is one of many reasons that my life and all of my work is grounded in creating clear intentions. As we approach the holiday season and the end of the year, I encourage you to make the time to create clear intentions for your coming year. Each intentional choice you make takes you one step closer to the life you imagine.

Remember that treating ourselves with kindness and compassion is one of the most effective things that we can do to support ourselves in following through with intentions. So please treat yourselves with the same kindness and compassion with which you would treat your only child today and every day.

Sending you love and gratitude for being a part of the Everyday Mindful community and warm wishes for a peaceful holiday season and a Happy New Year.

Your intentions have more impact than your actions.
―Dabasish Mridha, MD

May all of your intentions come to fruition in 2017,
Jen

UPCOMING EVENTSMindfully Creating Intentions for the New Year  ***ONLY TWO SPOTS OPEN*** Saturday December 31, 2016 9am – 12pm in Wilmington, NC. Start your year off well with a workshop to support you in creating clear intentions for your year ahead. We’ll review what neuroscience says about willpower and creating lasting changes. We’ll use guided meditation and Mindful Writing, a contemplative practice that explores the heart and mind through deep writing. Then we’ll create an Intention Board, a creative collage with words and images, for you to take home as a visual reminder of your intentions. Make 2017 your year of lasting lifestyle changes!
Cost: $50
Registration is limited and required. Email Jen or call 910-208-0518 to register.

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) 8-week course in Wilmington, NC. Free orientation Wednesday January 4, 2017 6-8pm. Class will meet Wednesdays 6-8pm January 11 – March 1, 2017 6-8pm and Saturday Feb 18 9-3pm. Participation in an MBSR course has been shown to decrease stress, anxiety and depression and increase a sense of peace, happiness and well-being. For more information click here. Registration is limited and required. Contact Jen for more information or to register. Location: McKay Healing Arts. Cost: $425.

I currently have openings for a few new coaching clients, mindfulness students and Mindful Writing for Transformation practice students. I have 2 slots open for new coaching clients and 1 slot open for individual mindfulness study and 2 slots open for Mindful Writing for Transformation online practice students. I am not taking any new psychotherapy clients at this time. Contact me for details if you’re interested. These slots go quickly these days!

Foundations of Wellbeing Program by Rick Hanson, PhD begins January 2017 (SIGN UP BY DECEMBER 23, 2016 and receive a $170 discount!!) 
I am an enthusiastic affiliate for The Foundations of Well-Being Program, a yearlong program offered by Rick Hanson, PhD, neuropsychologist and author of Buddha’s Brain, Just One Thing, and Hardwiring Happiness. In this guided, step-by-step program, Dr. Hanson shows you how to use the science of positive neuroplasticity to turn ordinary experiences into powerful inner strengths, including kindness toward yourself, insight into others, grit, gratitude, and self-worth. Beginning in January 2016, Rick will use the 12 Pillars of Well-Being to teach you practical, effective ways to see more of the good in your life, and grow greater calm, contentment, and confidence from the inside out.
It’s thorough, it’s deep, and it works. I have studied with Rick and highly recommend his work. If you register through one of my links, drop me a note to let me know, and you will receive a FREE copy of my e-book, 10 Ways to Wake Up Your Life. Click here for more information and to register using my affiliate link to ensure that you receive your free e-book. Just drop me an email to let me know you’ve registered.

Jen Johnson, MS, MS, MFA, LPC is a meditation teacher, personal coach, & photographer supporting people in mindfully designing their lives to align with their heart’s desire and soul’s purpose.

www.jenjohnson.com
www.meditatecreate.com
910.208.0518