Mindfulness Meditation Erases Worries

Middleburg Life Magazine, Jan. 2019, by Joanne Maisano

Our lives today often seem to be more chaotic and stressful, and with that can come the loss of simple joy. If you want to alleviate stress, go to yoga or Pilates, or for a run, or to the bar. But if you want something that will reach down into your soul and bring back your joy, then take a look at Mindfulness Meditation.

Shell Fischer, the founder and guiding teacher of Mindful Shenandoah Valley, offers 30 years of extensive mindfulness practice and study. Upon meeting her, you feel calmer. Her presence displays all the things she teaches: kindness, joy, and a sense of well-being.

David Greve, a participant of Mindful Shenandoah Valley, raved about her as a teacher. “Shell is exceptional. She has a gentle spirit and provides an atmosphere of mindfulness. Healing comes with gentle meditation and being mindful. She helped me find a path to a better life,” Greve said.

The type of meditation she teaches (Insight Meditation) is designed to help one see more clearly, and to live more in the present moment. It revolves around the idea that increased clarity and compassion brings less fear, anxiety, and stress, and ushers more joy, ease, and balance into our lives.

In her teachings, Fischer places a great emphasis on the metta, the first of four sublime states. The metta (loving-kindness) practices are designed to help participants discover and cultivate more kindness and compassion for ourselves and others.

“I feel like it’s something we all need these days,” she said. “Whenever I ask for a show of hands to see how many people are hard on themselves, there has never been a time, in all my years of teaching, that someone has not raised their hand. We all do it, and in my experience, meditation practice is one of the best antidotes for this … it can really open our hearts – especially to ourselves.”

Fischer offers these teachings in a variety of ways: at workshops, daylong retreats, and residential meditation retreats in various locations in Virginia, MD, West Virginia. The retreats can be anywhere from three to five days in length.

All of these events include talks, and guided and silent meditations. Throughout the retreats, people are asked to enter an extended period of what is called Noble Silence, which is multi-faceted. It’s not simply about being quiet; it involves consciously eliminating distractions so that a person can focus more clearly on the present moment, and learn how to calm both the mind and body to discover more joy and ease.

“Most of our expectations tend to be wrapped up in ‘should,’ thoughts, which are almost always toxic, and can actually hinder our discovery and healing,” she explains. So it is suggested that when attending any meditation retreat or class, participants release any expectations, and simply become curious. While her background is based in the Buddhist tradition, classes are open to anyone of any religion, and all are welcome.

It’s also important to remember that each person in attendance is coming for their own reasons, but that all are searching for more happiness, peace, and freedom in their lives. Newbies are welcome. The vast majority of those who attend retreats tend to be newcomers, so she assures newcomers they will not be alone.

It is something that should be experienced.


The Silent Treatmentby Sandra Shelley  Virginia Living Magazine,
July 5, 2018

STEPHENS CITY — Chances are, as you read this, you have a lot on your mind. Worries about tomorrow, regrets over something you said yesterday, and thoughts about what you’ll cook for dinner tonight are starting to float through. Your mind is full — and it’s likely that these constant thoughts and worries are preventing you from being present in the moment. One thing that may help is practicing mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the goal of insight meditation, also known as Vipassana. Through spending quiet time with yourself, you can ultimately live more freely in the present moment.

“It’s sitting down with yourself and attempting to calm the mind and body so that you can be more in the present moment, however it is, non-judgmentally,” explained Shell Fischer, founder and guiding teacher of Mindful Shenandoah Valley. The form of meditation she leads is rooted in Buddhist teachings, but is applicable to anyone from any background or religion.

Fischer said once you calm the mind and body, you are able to see more clearly into the nature of your own mind, and understand what your mind is saying to itself all day.

“Then you’re able to see what is causing you suffering, what is causing you happiness, and be able to learn through the practice, how to change that — to bring more joy and happiness into your life.”

People are drawn to meditation practice for many reasons — one of which is to relax and calm down, said Fischer. But once they continue their practice, they discover that there is more to gain.

Take Paul Kisak, for example. The Middletown resident experienced much trauma throughout his career and has found solace in meditation, which he started doing in 2014.

“In my mind, I sleep at night and I always see these things. After 40 years of it, that’s all you have, these images,” he said.

He feels that men in particular can benefit from meditating.

“If you don’t grow up with a mother that’s loving, or you’re adopted, or you’re from a broken home like I was, you never get a mother who says you deserve to be cherished, you deserve to be loved you deserve to be at peace, you deserve to be nurtured, things like that. Men don’t get that. If you complain and say ‘I’m hurt, I’m tired, I’m sorry,’ I had to learn how to deal… It doesn’t make me not a man, it makes me human. And that’s what I think is revolutionary about all of it.”

Kisak likes to make copies of Fischer’s meditation recordings and distribute them to friends.

“They say wow. She’s explaining the things I think of in my head, and telling me this is how you deal with it,” he said.

“And we all have the same thoughts. Whether it’s dealing with insults, or greed, grieving or shame, all these things.”

Judy Schroer, of Frederick County, had a meditation practice in the 1990s but fell out of it when she had her first child in the early 2000s. She rediscovered meditation a couple of years ago, something she said has helped her after experiencing the death of one child and having twins.

“The stress is still there, but the way I handle it is so much different. I’ve got teenage boys and they are both a real pleasure, and I don’t think I’d enjoy them as much if I wasn’t living presently. The guilt and grief of having a child that died, it helped me view that experience as well,” she said.

Cathy Wolfe-Heberle of Front Royal discovered meditation five years ago after feeling a disconnection with herself.

“That internal search, there’s got to be something more. Being completely disconnected from myself. Meditation has put all of those pieces back together again so that I’m not disconnected from this body we’ve been given to live in. It just kind of made sense — the first time I meditated, I felt like I was back home,” she said.

Meditation has existed for centuries, but has become more mainstream in recent years. Fischer feels this is in large part to the busyness of our modern lives, with so many things competing for our attention from kids’ schedules to social media and beyond. People are searching for something to slow them down and help them become more present in their lives. The recent research about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness has also played a large part in introducing new people to the practice.

“There’s a lot of science around it these days. There didn’t used to be. I used to teach mindfulness-based stress reduction workshops, which are very popular in the hospital here. They let me teach in the hospital because the science around it is pretty overwhelming and outstanding now.”

One of the most common misconceptions about meditation is that one’s mind must be empty of thought.

“It’s very important to be able to see your thoughts, because you want to see what you’re saying to yourself all day, and what you’re believing, and how that’s contributing to your happiness or unhappiness,” she said. Instead of striving for a blank mind, when a thought pops up, detach yourself from it. Instead of getting caught up in it, visualize watching it float away like a cloud or a balloon.

Fischer said that separating yourself from your thoughts and realizing that your thoughts are not you, is a groundbreaking realization for many people.

“Most of those beliefs and thoughts, if you really start to investigate it, they are conditioned — they are things that we were told when were young, the way we were brought up, the culture that we live in, things we’ve learned through politics… All of it, we tend to believe what we’re thinking and automatically react and behave out of those beliefs. Meditation helps us to stop and actually investigate what we’re believing, and question it.

That’s the most important part — question what you’re believing.”

Kisak said this has helped him most.

“Whenever I come to a bad spot in my head, when I’m feeling down or remembering a bad thing, I think of Shell and being here with the group, and I think of things they said. A lot of it is based on sharing your joy and recognizing little things and living in the here and now. So I get better and better at doing that,” he said.