December 13, 2017

Chant of Good Will

I first heard the "Chant of Good Will" at a meditation retreat. Each night, a hundred of us chanted the loving-kindness phrases. The simplicity and repetition of these words allowed me to quickly take them into my heart. The practice came home with me. I sing the chant while driving, doing household chores, or setting up chairs for meditation class. And if I'm feeling frustrated or judgmental, I chant. It brings me back to love and intention.

There's a lot of noise in our world: righteousness and self-promotion; angry chants at peace rallies; loud music filled with empty words. The good-will chant provides a different avenue. It expresses wishes of loving-kindness, peace, and happiness for ourselves and others. Not as a way to ignore what's difficult, but as a way to wholeheartedly live in this complex world.

One of my meditation students asked me to record this chant, so she could know it in her bones. My initial reaction was fear: I don't have a nice singing voice; I can't stay on pitch. But my final response was "yes, I'll record it." The process itself a practice in humility and loving-kindness. Imagine if this chantimperfect and wholeheartedwere sung by 1000s of people. It begins with just one of us. Play my recording and sing along. Let it be messy, real, and from your heart.

May I be filled with loving-kindness, 
May I be well. 
May I be peaceful and at ease, 
May I be happy.

May you be filled with loving-kindness, 
May you be well. 
May you be peaceful and at ease, 
May you be happy.

May we be filled with loving-kindness, 
May we be well. 
May we be peaceful and at ease, 
May we be happy.

The Chant of Good Will:

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December 7, 2017

The 3-Breath Pause

It's an interesting human habit: when we most need a pause—a little room to breathe—we're hesitant to take it; we keep pushing forward in a haze of busyness and distraction. A cycle that's magnified during the holidays, as we're encouraged to celebrate, spend, and consume. Yet what we really crave is space, ease, and connection.

If you're reading this post, some part of you already knows what you need. This is our deeper awareness calling us back. When I'm lost in busyness, moving too quickly, there's a voice inside me (kinder and gentler than my pushy inner-critic) that says, "Slow down. Take a few breaths. Open to possibility." 

I've learned two things about the pause:
1. "Not enough time" is the voice of fear. There's time for a 3-breath pause. 
2. Even if it feels edgy and uncomfortable, a pause resets our system. The pause works.

One of my mindfulness students confessed, "Joy, when you first talked about a 3-breath pause, I thought the '3' was arbitrary and the idea too simple. But then I started taking these 3-breath pauses and they work. I feel better." In awareness practice, it's not the amount of time that matters most, it's the regularity. Taking breaks throughout the day. Pausing to notice all aspects of our life, in small, ordinary ways. These make a difference. Little bit by little bit we cultivate more mindfulness, compassion, and ease. And we live life more true to ourselves.

There's time for a short pause: Take three intentional, embodied breaths. Or stay longer and listen to this short meditation:

Short Pause: Rest and Reset

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November 21, 2017

This Precious Life

[This is part of my Truth Tuesday series, which you can find each week on Facebook.]

An outline of my Mondays in prison: three 30-minute visits (“pastorals”) with individuals, lunch break, 90-minute meditation group, then drive from Oshkosh to Fond du lac for three pastorals at a different correctional facility. It’s a long, meaningful day.

Yesterday after group session, R looked me in the eyes and said, “Joy, you seemed sad today. Is everything okay?” I smiled with gratitude about his care and concern, but assured him I was fine. When I got in the car at day’s end, I cried and cried. R's intuition was correct: sadness. I’m sad for T, who expressed he has no safe space in prison to really feel what he feels—to feel the vulnerability of being abused and being an abuser; to feel helpless yet responsible for changing the horrible language heard among other inmates about women and sexual acts.

I’m sad B has been told his entire life that he’s worthless and never good enough, so that he still questions himself and his beautiful meditation practice. I’m sad that S hasn’t heard anything from her daughter, even though she sent stamped, self-addressed envelopes. And I’m sad that M now mistrusts her beloved brother because he hasn’t sent money (her money) while she’s locked up.

As I sobbed in the parking lot, I realized how much easier it would be to ignore these stories. If I stopped volunteering in prison, I wouldn’t have to face this much suffering and sadness. But those initial thoughts quickly passed, because these aren’t only prison stories—they’re human stories. Life is filled with sadness and pain, just as it’s filled with love and ease. I don’t want to separate myself from life or from others. Instead of “us” and “them,” I believe in “we”: our shared humanity.

I’m inspired that D sees his time in prison as a chance to become more awake, compassionate, and calm. He hopes to counsel recovering addicts when he’s released. I’m touched by heartfelt support I received in my prison meditation group while grieving the loss of a close friend. I’m stunned by the beauty and wisdom L conveys through his poetry.

Life isn’t just one way. It’s many things all at once. Yesterday, I was both sad and grateful, honored to bear witness to inmates. Tomorrow, I travel to Iowa, celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends. These are not separate events. They’re each part of our diverse, complicated, and beautiful soup of humanity.

May we all bring presence and compassion to more moments.  
May we actively practice peace, patience, and love.
May we all be grateful for small, ordinary things.
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November 15, 2017

Investigating our Beliefs

As young children, we inhabit our bodies and breathe naturally. We’re open, present, curious, and real. Slowly and steadily, we receive messages that we should be better or different, conditions on our acceptance, so we stop being real and begin to protect our hearts. Most of us experience hurt, loss, or trauma, and to cope with these unpredictable circumstances, we unconsciously build more layers of armor. We find strategies that help us survive. These strategies work for a while, but they’re not true medicine. To heal, we must—in small, safe ways—remove the layers and investigate what’s underneath. With awareness, we investigate thoughts, beliefs, and judgments that protect our hearts and limit our choices. With compassion, we heal our soft, tender places—the places underneath—and we become more alive, real, and whole. Eventually, we return to the presence, wonder, and curiosity of childhood. We trust, again, in our innate goodness: we are lovable because we exist—no extra conditions.

Some of our most-believed thoughts aren't actually true. They're old tapes playing in our heads. We get used to these tapes. The message might even go unnoticed, but it stays in our psyche. We can't heal if we continue to harm ourselves with untrue, unkind words.

I have many ongoing open wounds. One is an old (untrue) shame story: I’m unlovable and not enough. Another is an old (untrue) control story: I’m responsible for the world. My relationship to these stories has changed. For years, I unconsciously lived through these tainted filters. Then I spent years healing with writing, therapy, meditation, awareness, and self-compassion. I allowed (and still allow) myself to feel what I feel. Now I see limiting beliefs sooner. If I recognize them soon enough, I don’t listen to the voices. If they slip past me, I correct my course more quickly. This takes presence, compassion, and patience.

Interestingly, we can witness our self-judgment and then judge ourselves for judging, which causes more suffering. We heal by investigating beliefs from a larger, kinder awareness. Noticing our inner speech, asking if it's true, and letting go—little bit by little bit—of limiting beliefs while opening to possibility.

It's helpful to have gentle guidance in this process. Here's a short meditation:

Investigating our Beliefs
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November 3, 2017

Embodied Awareness

We spend most of the day in our minds: thinking, analyzing, judging, remembering, planning. Thinking is helpful. Our human brains can solve complicated problems in creative ways. Thinking holds an important place in our lives. Yet most of our lost-in-thought time is not spent with creative problem solving. It's spent in the past or the future, ruminating or worrying, daydreaming or over-planning. This kind of thinking exhausts us. And it removes us from our bodies—bodies that are rich in wisdom and insight. As John O'Donohue wrote, "Our bodies know they belong; it is our minds that make our lives so homeless."

As you read this post, notice your body. We often hold tension in our shoulders, jaw, neck, and belly. Be aware of your body and send internal messages of release, melt, and soften. Allow yourself a long exhalation. 

The body-scan technique is used to reconnect with our bodies—to see where we readily feel sensation and where we feel numbness or judgment. It's a chance to relax—the practice is done lying down—while also being awake. Our bodies are wise. They can provide insight and deeper awareness. We only need to look inward, let the thinking-mind rest, and re-engage our alive, beautiful, wise bodies.

Perhaps not in this moment, but sometime soon come back here, create comfortable lying-down conditions, and listen to this guided meditation:

Body Scan --
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October 24, 2017

Look for the Good

A quick glance at the news tells us what’s wrong with the world: political wars, violent acts, and natural disasters. These are not to be ignored. We live in a complicated world and to make a difference we must face hard truths. But if we focus solely on what's wrong, we become scared, frustrated, and hopeless.

There’s a negativity bias in our brains. We come by this honestly, through evolution. Negative news, which seems to “sell”, feeds directly into fearful, primal parts of our brain. Yet our more evolved brain allows for awareness, discernment, focus, and compassion. And it's important to recognize: where we regularly rest our attention becomes the habit of our mind. Our thoughts reinforce fear or love, greed or generosity, anger or peace.

We can choose to rest in love, generosity, and peace. Not as a way to ignore injustice in the world, but as a way to more skillfully act and contently live. When we look for the good and stay for 3 breaths, embodied, we build new awareness, and we begin to see more good. This brings more ease to daily life and provides renewed hope in the world.

Looking for the good can occur in small, ordinary ways: notice when someone smiles, pause after completing an important task, watch a sunset, accept a compliment, look for kind acts, or feel the sun's warmth on your face. It's okay to pause and take in the good. It's okay to slow down and enjoy life. You can begin right now with this short meditation:

Short Gratitude Pause

October 13, 2017

How Are You?

Within my mindfulness courses, I repeat many mantras. One of these: "It's okay to not be okay." We practice staying with what's difficult, becoming intimate with not-okayness, and applying self-compassion. It's okay to not be okay and it's okay to be happy. Most important for us is to feel what we feel. Open to our inner-experience with kindness and grace.

Many people have inquired, "Joy, I understand it's okay to not be okay, but what should I do when someone asks 'how are you?' I don't want to pretend I'm okay if I'm not, but I also know this person doesn't want a complicated answer. How do I respond in a genuine way?"

I think we can all relate to this question. As we live life more true, it no longer feels comfortable to say "I'm great!" when our internal weather is much more complicated. The day after my mom's funeral, I participated in a CROP walk that ended in the very church basement where we ate lunch after mom's service. I felt raw and vulnerable, like my insides were on my outside. Someone I knowwho attended mom's funeral—asked in an everyday way, "Hi, Joy. How are you?" Wide-eyed and stunned, I had no response. Yet in that moment I realized "How are you?" really meant "Hiya!" or "It's good to see you" or "I care about you." It's not really a question. It's become a generic greeting; an unconscious reaction.

Once I recognized this cultural habit, I began a new practice. When someone greets me with, "Hi. How are you?" I rarely answer the question (unless it comes from a friend who genuinely wants to know). Instead, I reply, "It's good to see you." On a quick pass-by, that's enough. If we linger, I might ask a question or wish the person well. No one notices when I don't answer the "how are you?" query, which gives me further evidence it's not really a question but a statement, a greeting.

I'm not sure this is the best way to handle "how are you?" but it feels true to me. I genuinely do wish people well, even if I feel crappy. So, "I hope you enjoy the day" or "It's good to see you" are truthful. And if someone doggedly asked again, "How are you?" I'd answer in a real way (though this has never happened).

I'm also more aware of my own greeting style, trying to be honest, open, and kind. If I find myself blindly asking "how are you?" or responding "fine" on autopilot, it's a chance to pause and begin again. To look someone in the eyes and say a genuine "hello" or "I wish you well." I see you and I care. At a basic level, this is enough.

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