September 30, 2016


Each week, I volunteer in prison. I teach and practice meditation and mindfulness with inmates and other volunteers. Last July, we talked about freedom: what does "freedom" mean to us? (An interesting question to pose within prison walls.) One inmate shared these wise words, "When I was on the outside, I was 'free,' but not really free. I did drugs. I felt strong anger and acted out in violence. To me, freedom means being free of those toxic things. Being free of my anger."

It's possible to be free while in prison. It's also possible to be imprisoned while walking the streets freely. I can be boxed-in by old tapes in my head: stories of a wounded, unlovable self. Letting go is part of my healing. Letting go of perceived control ("If only I was more perfect, bad things wouldn't happen"). Letting go of judgment and expectations. Letting go of the need to know. Letting go of the need to be right. All of these lead to freedom: to ease, contentment, and love.

Years ago, when I was in academia, striving and performing,  I would say to Mark, "I must do this work tonight." He'd respond, "Do you really? Is there no other choice?" It was a marked change in path when my answer shifted from, "No other choice, " to "Yes, there probably is another way." Even micro-choices feel like big steps toward freedom.

We don't control the bulk of life. We don't control external circumstances. But we have copious choice of how to build inner awareness and wisdom. Freedom doesn't exist outside us, it lives within us. How do we respond when things don't go our way? How do we cultivate seeds of compassion, hope, and happiness? 

In each of us, there's spaciousness. There's awareness as big as the sky or the ocean. It takes practicehonest, gentle, persistent, patient practiceto access this spaciousness, but it's possible. Any time we think or say "I must," "I have to," or "there's no other way," this is an important place to pause—to pause and stay for a few breaths. Maybe there's another way. Maybe there's a small opening toward freedom.

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September 25, 2016

Truth and Beauty

My recent posts have been raw: practicing in the midst. And this rawness prompted a long-distance friend to inquire about my well-being. Truth: I'm grieving. Beauty: I'm awake. One year ago, my mom died. Though her death was not shocking, it was sudden. There was a great deal to processhead and heartwithin a short week. I've considered this past year my "year of healing" from the primal loss of my mother. And in the midst of healing, a close friendliving with stage-4 cancertook a turn for the worse, not in a sudden way, but in a prolonged way. He died three weeks ago. He was one of my best spiritual friends.

Grief is an interesting place. It's raw, tender, and strange: like my insides are on my outside. It's also vivid, poignant, and alive: like my heart-mind is open and awake. There's truth and beauty in grief. As much as I want it to go away (right now!), I understand that resistance doesn't lead to true healing. To heal, I must feel everything, not all at once, but in consistent, compassionate ways. I must allow for heartbreak, foggy mind, and vulnerability. I must meet myself and others with kindness.

These last few weeks, I realized something anew: we're all in the midst. In the midst of wonder and sadness; gain and loss; healing and pain; truth and beauty. Whether "in the midst" because of world circumstances or daily life, we all experience grief, just as we all feel love and joy. And we have a choice: we can numb, distract, and resist; or we can inhabit our lives fully, with honesty and gentleness. We can join hands, again and again, especially in the midst. We can live, love, and grieve as a caring and compassionate community.
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September 15, 2016

If Not Now, When?

At my last meditation retreat, I received a piece of purple string, which Mark tied around my wrist. It's a reminder of these important words: If not now, when? If I don't practice mindfulness now, when will I practice? If I don't cultivate compassion now, when will it appear?

In the busyness of life, we can lose touch with what we value most. In the difficulty of life, we can lose touch with our goodness and our light. Or we can practice in the midst of everything. This practice needn't be grand. It can be a 3-breath pause, a genuine laugh, a cleansing cry, a small forgiveness, an act of kindness, or a big letting go. 

If not now, when? If we delay what's most meaningful until "later," it may never arrive. The good news: it's always close by. There are many (small) ways to be aware and present right now: making friends with and inhabiting our imperfect, messy, and beautiful lives.

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September 12, 2016

Gratitude Surprise

In research studies, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. If we reflect on what's good in our lives, we start to look for and see goodness in others, ourselves, and the world. Though I've practiced gratitude in different ways, there's one practice I resisted: choose a gratitude buddy and share every day. I resisted for varied and unimportant reasons: I wasn't sure who to ask; I was leery of creating another to-do; it felt forced. But one morning I realized a gratitude buddy might be good medicine. Especially now, in my current circumstances, which are difficult, heartbreaking, and raw, as well as beautiful and life-affirming. 

I called my friend Steph and pitched the idea. She was game. We established guidelines: share gratitude daily via text; no expectation of response; try it for a month. We've been doing this for a mere two weeks and I notice a positive change. Two things surprised me: 1) having a gratitude buddy keeps me accountable (though I imagine myself practicing gratitude each day, that's not realityhaving Steph on the other end keeps me focused on this practice); and 2) each day, I receive a message about something good in Steph's lifeI enjoy the receiving as much as the sending.

Some days I hear the text-message sound and think, "What now? Who needs me?" or "What's wrong?" It's a wonderful re-frame to open my phone and see a simple message from Steph, sharing something positive about her life. Likewise, it's helpful for me to get off autopilot and send a text with intention, care, and gratitude.

As with all practices, the process is personalwhat works for me might not work for you. But I know this: I resisted for a long while something that now brings me ordinary and profound joy, and this feels worthy of sharing. I'm grateful to be in this world with so many wise, interesting, and beautiful people. Thanks for being you!

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August 29, 2016

Practicing in the Midst

I met meditation during a difficult time in my life. A time filled with fear, grief, anxiety, and shame. Meditation was true medicine. It reconnected me with myself and reawakened my life. The changes were gradual but important. Yet when I felt better, I stopped my daily practice, thinking, "I'll be fine." Of course, I wasn't. Life again became complicated (life was life), and I returned to daily meditation. Now I clearly see the evidence: If I practice every daywhether life is great or difficultI cultivate awareness, clarity, and love. Some days, I feel ease. Other days, I feel doubt. Regardless, I sit and stay with what is.

Meditation is an experimental lab. It's a way to watch and experience the mind; to form new relationships with thoughts and feelings; to reconnect with embodied sensation; to cultivate love and awareness. But it's not done in a vacuum. I sit in meditation for two reasons: 1) to benefit myself, and 2) to benefit others. When I'm mindful, I more skillfully interact with others. The greatest teachings on a meditation path are out in the world, not on the cushion. We need both: we need to sit and stay with ourselves; and we need to sit and stay with others. Plus we need courage to do this with an open heart. A heart open to joy, play, and wonder; a heart open to pain, loss, and difficulty. 

It's hard to stay with big emotions. They can feel overwhelming. Still, what we resist persists. To practice in the midst, we must ease our way in: establish safety, connect with breath, and open just a littleopen to what's there, with kindness and compassion. This is an honest and gentle practice; a patient and persistent practice. The next time you experience complicated emotions, come here, sit with me, and listen:

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August 16, 2016

Being with What Is

There are days when I wish life was different; when I wish it was somehow easier. Days when I feel overwhelmed, not sure if I can handle another death or injustice or even everyday bad news. Then I remember: resistance causes me pain; loving-presence brings me peace. So I sit down, feel my breath, and stay. I allow for the raw, vulnerable places, and gradually shift from resistance to acceptance. Instead of wanting things to be different, I experience what is. Within each of us, there is an awareness that's like the ocean. It's spacious and wise; it's brave and kind. And it's accessed in a simple way: staying with one breath and then another.

My overwhelm doesn't come from the circumstances of life. It comes from my own actions. When I resist or judge my experience; when I distract from my experience; when I numb my experience, I separate from what I most value: love, presence, compassion, connection, integrity, and wisdom. Staying awake is a brave path. Sometimes I want to go back to sleep. But the more days I show up for life, as is, the more I touch freedom. The more I let things be messy, real, and raw, the more I experience connection. The more I stay with myself and otherseven when, especially when, it's hardthe more I cultivate compassion. I'm trying to be both brave and kind; I'm trying to be with what is.

PS: This is me, real and open to what is:

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August 14, 2016

Embodied Gratitude

Before bed, as I reflect on the day, my mind wanders to the negative: undone tasks, mistakes made, or ways to improve. These thoughts aren't personal to me, they're habit of the human mind. Our brains have a negativity bias. This fearful view is helpful for immediate survival, but it's detrimental to long-term health, well-being, and connection. The good news is we can tilt our brains back toward the positive. And we can do so with small, intentional steps. 

Gratitude is an empowering, positive practice. It's even more powerful when we embody the experience: move it from positive thinking to deeper awareness in the body. With regular 3-breath pausestaking in the good—we re-train our brains. We shift our outlook: instead of fear, we see hope.

Like anything, it's helpful to actively practice rather than just read or study. I created this short video, so we can practice together:

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