May 9, 2017

Tend and Befriend Yourself

eternity I'm deeply grateful for my new career: As a mindfulness teacher, I can’t escape my own crap. I’m continually called out, not by people but by awareness itself. When I prepare a class on self-compassion, I see multiple ways in which I’m harsh or judgmental, and then I choose differently: I practice forgiveness. When the topic is gratitude, I notice many ways that I protect my heart, and then I choose differently: I practice generosity.

I forget and remember hundreds of times each day. Earlier, I had three projects going and felt anxious about time. As part of my workflow, I edited a guided meditation and then listened to my own words, which returned me to awareness: What’s most important? I focused my attention and softened my heart. (I also smiled at myself: met my own crap with kindness.)

We often push ourselves, past exhaustion, when what we most need—as people, businesses, and society—is rest, creativity, compassion, awareness, and clarity. Yet to have compassion for others, we must first have it for ourselves. It’s okay to rest, laugh, and play. It’s okay to make mistakes. Life requires honest effort; it also requires gentle forgiveness.

If you want to practice a different habit—a habit of self-compassion—listen to this short guided-meditation: 


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May 4, 2017

Lessons from My Garden

closer look Yesterday, I spent two hours in my yard. I made new flower beds last fall, using compost and cardboard. I worked in one bed: digging out dandelions (how do they still exist in no-light conditions?), cleaning grass from edges, and loosening soil. It felt good to place my hands in dirt; to connect with the earth. It also felt good to be outside: to hear birdsong and talk with neighbors.

After planting groundcover in the front bed, I walked into the backyard. My intention: obtain an overview of my other garden spaces. But my “overview” turned into a focused mission: get rid of weeds. I was hijacked by some primal part of my brain, and although I was tired, I went to the garage for a trowel and began digging out weeds. Once I started looking, I saw weeds everywhere.

I credit my mindfulness practice with bringing me back—back to patience, perspective, and gratitude. I dropped the trowel, stood up, and walked slowly around the yard. Having released my grip, both literally and figuratively, I felt ease and wonder. I looked at copious plants, in different states of development. I saw possibility: open spaces where I can transplant or plant anew. I felt satisfaction with my careful work in the front bed. 

Gardening provides me important life lessons. Here are a few from yesterday:

1. When I focus on weeds, I ignore beautiful flowers. Where I regularly place my attention becomes the habit of my mind. When I cultivate peace, compassion, and generosity, I feel better. When I feed resistance, irritation, and judgment, I feel worse. Sometimes I incorrectly believe there’s no choice: I see only weeds and work angrily to get rid of them. Most times, I recognize the choice: yes, there are weeds—in the ground and in my mind—which I'll never eradicate, but I can be with them differently, and I can also consciously savor the flowers.

wait patiently

2. Everyone has weeds. When I inhabit the small-mind of ego, I take things personally. My thoughts feel real but aren’t true: “My yard is the only one with weeds—it’s a personal failing; I'm the only person who feels shame and inadequacy.” These untrue thoughts isolate me when I most need connection. We all have weeds. We all feel pain. It’s part of our shared humanity. Deep connection comes when we show each other our “weeds” and accept one another as the beautiful, imperfect creatures that we are.

3. Persistent effort is important; patience is even more important. My garden brings me satisfaction, both in short-term effort and long-term results. Still, I get tugged by impatience: I want all the weeds gone now; I want all the planting done now. These are just thoughts. And they aren’t actually true. My true intentions: to enjoy my experience; to feel satisfied but not exhausted; to work, not from fear or anger, but from love and creativity. This requires patience. I need to put in effort, but I also need the gentle reminder that everything takes time. 

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May 2, 2017

Grief and Gratitude

return Four months after mom died, I began my volunteer work in prison. During our mindfulness sessions, we sit in a circle, volunteers and inmates together. We begin with meditation and then check in. The check-in is group meditation: each person shares from the heart while the group listens, in a spacious, deep way.

My first few check-ins were raw: the relationship between meditation and grief. I didn’t hold back; I let myself be vulnerable. After everyone shares, there’s time for general discussion. One inmate (I’ll call him “R”) looked right at me and told a story from his previous incarceration.

He went to a parole hearing, not expecting much but received wonderful news: he would be released in a week. He'd be released! R was beyond happy; he was giddy. When he returned to his cell, there stood “white shirts.” (Blue shirts are guards; white shirts are administration.) R immediately thought, “Oh no, something happened and they reversed the decision. I won’t be released.” But that wasn’t the news. The two men in white shirts said, “We’re sorry son, but your mom has died.” This took his breath away. His mom was his best friend. She was the first person he wanted to tell about release. On the very same day, two extremes occurred: he received freedom and his mother lost her life. Through tears, he said—still looking right at me—that for the next week he bounced repeatedly between joy and grief. And this juxtaposition helped him heal. He hoped that I could find the beauty and growth within grief. This was his genuine wish for me.

The whole group silently bore witness to this exchange. Both me and R in tears. Vulnerable, brave, raw, and real. A group wish for growth and healing within pain. A wish for insight within grief.

Only now, a year later, do I fully understand R’s words. I understand how sadness and gratitude exist in the same space of my heart. To love fully means to grieve fully. Once the heaviness lifts, there’s spaciousness, gratitude, and even joy. When I'm tugged by heaviness, I allow for tears—for sadness—yet I also allow for ease and gratitude. I smile as I think of mom (and Patrick and Mary and Grandma). I’m deeply grateful they were in my life; that I knew and loved them for even a short time.

I’m equally grateful for the compassion, wisdom, and vulnerability I witness in prison. In an institution that actively de-humanizes people, I observe humanity and caring in unique and beautiful ways. Greg Boyle writes, “Compassion is not a relationship between healer and the wounded. It’s a covenant between equals.” My prison sangha is just that. And this would make my mom smile.

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March 24, 2017

Where in the World is Joy?

farewell friends...

Tomorrow, Mark and I leave for 5 weeks away, completely unplugged. We travel to Nevis, West Indies and stay in a small cottage by the sea. We're "off grid": no Internet, television, email, social media, news, or screens. And we're also deeply plugged in: to ourselves, each other, and nature. Our days are filled with books, yoga, music, writing, meditation, cooking, long walks, ocean swims, and just being. This fills our spirits in inexpressible ways. We spend copious time cultivating our “doing” selves. It’s nice to nourish the being.

If you landed on my website looking for mindfulness opportunitiesclasses, presentations, or something elseyou came to the right place. Please contact me now, while your question is percolating, and I'll respond to you on May 1.

Time is a "thing" in our culture: not having enough time. But in this moment—when we pause—there's enough time. There's space. It's all okay. If you need a gentle reminder, listen to this short guided meditation:



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March 22, 2017

Opening to Vulnerability

be who you are

Earlier this month, Mark and I traveled to the Porcupine Mountains where we spent 3 nights in a rustic yurt on the Lake Superior shore. We hoped to snowshoe during the day, but the conditions changed rapidly. During our long hikes through the woods, the ground was unsteady: snow then ice then slush then flowing water then snow. This kept us focused on each step. When we reached solid ground, I noticed palpable relief: Ahh, I can walk naturally and easily. Immediately, I saw this as a metaphor for life. We seek solid ground; we crave certainty. Instead of viewing ground as a relief, ebb, or oasis, we start to expect it all the time. And this creates suffering.

It’s helpful to realize that life is always uncertain, though we pretend otherwise. We often feel alarmed—like something is “wrong” or a “problem” —when it’s just life. A different route is to flow with life, whatever arises. Life isn’t a problem to solve, it’s an experience to be lived.

Pema Chödrön writes: “We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

Walking on uncertain ground—letting things fall apart and come together—is a brave path. It requires honesty and gentleness. It asks us to remove our armor and feel the raw vulnerability that is life. This doesn’t happen all at once—it happens gradually with patient and persistent practice. Peace doesn’t just arrive: It’s cultivated. Small steps have big impact.

You can begin right now. Listen to this short guided meditation:



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March 17, 2017

Our Core Wound

fragments

Over the years, I've interacted with diverse groups of people: accomplished academics, endurance athletes, prison inmates, college students, service workers, recovering addicts, and meditation teachers.  Within all these groupswithin methere's a core wound: an underlying feeling of "not good enough." Our mental narratives come in different flavors, but the wound is similar. It's a soft spot of vulnerability; a place where we wonder: "If people see this part of me, will they still love me?"

To protect these soft spots, we use varied strategies: achievement, judgment, busyness, blame, and fierce independence. These strategies work for a while, but eventually they exhaust us. In our own time, we realize: it's easier to feel vulnerability than to resist it.

Though we're all connected by this core wound, we apply strategies that make us feel more alone. The healing comes when we unveil our soft spots, and this takes bravery. We live in a culture that values mental toughness and individual accomplishment. Yet our healing asks for a vulnerable team effort.

As part of our global team, I'll begin. My wound calls to me through outward signs: striving to be perfect and save the world. These actions make me feel "good enough" for a while, but they don't cover my deeper ache: what if I'm really not good enough? What if I'm unlovable? This is a painful, lonely feeling. Through practice, I've learned to stay in meditation with the pain and notice how it changes. Gradually I apply self-compassion and restore my perspective. Yet I realize this medicine, though helpful and necessary, doesn't connect me to others. It keeps my story hidden.

So, if you feel alone and caught in some version of "not enough," please know I'm beside you. Daily, I feel this same uneasiness. We're connected in far more ways than we realize. Most of us feel like we're not enough, but the truth is: we are enough, as is; we're perfectly imperfect; we're flawed and lovable.

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March 3, 2017

It's Okay to be Happy


Two months ago, I wrote a post entitled, "It's Okay to not be Okay." This seemed an important recognition both for me and the world. We needn't pretend we're okay when we're not. Be messy, real, raw, vulnerable, lonely, or sad. Be however you are. And try to meet others there, too.

Now it feels important to share another message: It's okay to be happy. Life is complicated, heartbreaking, and uncertain. If I'm not careful, I'm pulled into heaviness. Though outwardly I exude light and compassion, my heart gets heavy. At a recent meditation retreat, I felt—in a visceral way—the holding back of my heart: there was a tug, a slight tightening, in my chest if I allowed for happiness and ease. My mental chatter created tension: "Joy, you shouldn't be happy, because Patrick just died," or "Joy, you shouldn't feel ease, because our country is in crisis." 

By staying open and aware during that 3-day silent meditation retreat, I rediscovered lightness. I could feel a pull toward darkness (blame, anger, grief) and chose a different path. The red string around my wrist reminds me daily: enjoy my practice; lighten up; laugh and sing. It's helpful to realize that things change. For months, I felt heavy. Now I feel lighter. It's okay to not be okay, and it's equally okay to be happy (or to flow between the two).

In difficult times, it's a radical act to be creative and happy; to step away from darkness and move into the light. That's the kind of radical I'm trying to be: a superhero of kindness, joy, presence, and light. There's plenty of kryptonite in my path, but I have hope. Not blind hope, but hope as described by Rebecca Solnit: "We don't know what's going to happen next, and that gives us room to act. Hope is active engagement with uncertainty and the possibility that it holds."

Active engagement with uncertainty. Room for anything to happen. Allowing for pain while equally allowing for joy. It's okay to be happy.

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