February 23, 2017

Fleeting


"A solid rock cannot be moved by the wind, the wise are not shaken by praise or blame." The Buddha spoke these words 2500 years ago. And they're still relevant today. We seek praise and resist blame. We're shaken, not unmoved. I find it interesting when we receive both praise and blame for the same action. This dissonancewhen we're "wise"tells us to take everything with a grain of salt. We grow from feedbackpositive or negativebut it doesn't define who we are. 

Social media is complex territory. It allows for connection across continents. And it also feeds into a primal part of us that seeks external approval. It magnifies our need for praise. What's popular becomes more popular, sometimes viral. And still we're not satisfied: we need the next thing to go viral and the next. This is being "shaken by praise."

I share my photographs on Flickr. Sometimes I post a photo with trepidation and everyone loves it. Other times I post an image that resonates deeply within me, yet doesn't resonate with others. There's no "blame," but the lack of praise has the same feeling. I see my craving for "favorites" or "likes," andif I'm wiseI step away, because I'm on Flickr for community: for sharing images, being inspired by others, and building relationships. When my focus moves from relationships to "favorites," I'm off track, not living by what matters most. Popularity is fleeting. Meaningful connection is lasting. When I'm not shaken by praise or blameI feel more at ease and my work rings true. 

When I gave the Lawrence baccalaureate address in 2013, I ended with words that seem appropriate to end this post: "My students will recognize this mantra: you are not your grade. You are also not your job or your title or your number of friends on Facebook. Your self-worth is not connected to these externals. You are all worthy, as is. And you decide how to live life true to yourself. You have choices—important choices. Because how you spend your moments is how you spend your days is how you spend your one precious life. Make it count; make it real; pay attention; start today, in this moment. Live your life, and know I'm living my own life right beside you."
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February 22, 2017

The Practice of Mindfulness


The practice of mindfulness has two important pieces: 1) notice when you're distracted, and 2) return to the present moment, with spaciousness and compassion. We can't stop our thoughts and judgments, but we can form new relationships with them. Noticing is the first step in any awareness practice. We can't make changes from autopilot, but if we notice, we make more conscious choices. 

Though sometimes we might notice and make judgments: "Joy, I can't believe you were lost in thoughts again. Pay attention!" Our return to presencethrough sensations of the body or sounds in the roomcan be gentle and still effective: "Joy, you've been ruminating. It's okay, come back home. Feel your breath." Letting thoughts rest, letting judgments rest, for just a few moments. This cultivates awareness and compassion.

Mindfulness is a practice, not an end result. It requires a willingness to begin again and again; to drop expectations; to pay attention in a spacious, kind way. And it's possible to do this practice in small doses. Small changes have big impact.

I encourage you to practice nowin this very moment. If you feel a tug of resistance or not-enough-time, that's a clue you might really need this pause. Give yourself permission to just be; to listen to this short audio:



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February 13, 2017

Commit to Yourself


While working as a professor, I remember telling a friend, "I'm not creative." It seems a strange statement now, but at that time it felt real. I viewed creativity in a narrow way: painting, drawing, or being crafty. Though I was a creative teacher, I didn't notice because it felt like science not art. (Upon reflection, I see art in science and science in art, but I needed a wider perspective.)

Gradually, I grew the dormant pieces of myself. I gardened, cooked, meditated, and started this blog. I took online courses: photography, poetry, and writing. This was an important leap. First, I prioritized time for myself and my personal growth; second, I tried something new: creativity.

We often put ourselves at the bottom of the list:
Work
Family
Required events
Laundry
Errands
Creative/personal practice that fills my soul

To connect with our passionsto live a meaningful lifewe must commit to ourselves. This can be in meditation, art class, a garden, a journal, the yoga mat, or a hammock in the backyard. If we don't attend to ourselves, something eventually gives. We get sick or fed up or become numb to our lives. A more wholesome path is to make time for ourselves now.

If you're like a previous version of me and think "I'm not creative," or "I'm not capable of being mindful" or "I don't have time for anything," please pause and consider your choices. Maybe you are creative, if you expand your definition. Maybe you're capable of mindfulness, if you have helpful guidance. Maybe you do have enough time, if you give up other things.

I welcome you (and a friend) into my e-course, "Coming Home to Yourself." But more importantly, I encourage you to take a leap: make one small step toward soul-filling activities. Carve out time for yourself. Commit to whatever practice feels right to you. Show up, just as you are. But show up: for yourself.

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January 25, 2017

Staying Awake


My last post was about staying put: sitting on the meditation cushion, staying with whatever arises. This is an important practice, worthy of a lifetime. Equally important is taking mindfulness into daily life. 

In 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. gave a commencement address at Oberlin College. It's called "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution." Fifty years have passed, yet his words still resonate: "Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals. Without this hard work, time becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. We must realize that the time is always right to do right."

I meditate so I can better understand myself: the relationship between thoughts, emotions, and sensations. I meditate so I can cultivate awareness and compassion. And I meditate so I can move through this complex world in more skillful, kind ways. It's not only about staying put on the cushion. It's about staying awake during a great revolution. It's about "doing right."

We are interconnected, all of us. Fear and blame constrict us—they clip our wings and close our hearts. Each day, I ask myself: How can I stay present, discerning, and compassionate in this complicated world? What’s the next skillful action to take?

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January 18, 2017

Staying Put


In order to grow, I need to stay put. I taste freedom not by flying, but by sitting down. Meditation trains my brain and opens my heart. Still, I sometimes resist. I find other things to do. I push away what I most need: staying put, with awareness and love.

Human nature is curious. We resist activities that cultivate well-being, while we hone habits around short-term comfort. And then (perhaps unconsciously) we berate ourselves for not being better people. This loop continues until we invest again in well-being; in becoming more aware and whole. Until we forgive ourselves and begin again.

Deeper wisdom: Time to meditate.
Distracted self: Nope.
Deeper wisdom: When you meditate, you're more kind and open.
Distracted self: You're bugging me. Go away.

If this inner-conversation resonates for you, try my new guided meditation:



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January 10, 2017

Resolutions and Self-Acceptance


A new year means different things to different people. Often, we reflect on our lives: how we've grown and how we want to change. Lasting change, though, comes through self-acceptance. It's a strange paradox: until we accept ourselves as we are, we can't make the changes we seek. If we reject whole parts of ourselves, these pieces never heal. 

Earlier in my life, I confused self-acceptance with self-care. The latter involves externals; the former involves internal intimacy. I was good at self-care: I got pedicures, took yoga, and made lunch dates. Still, I had a nagging feeling of not enough. Years of meditation have taught me to sit with my uncertainty and self-judgment. I see the places I reject in myself. And it's these very places where I remain stuck. I won't become unstuck with a good glass of chardonnay and new yoga clothes (if only it were so). Bit by bit, I move forward by meeting myself right where I am. Even if I repeat the same negative habit a thousand times, I can begin again: notice the habit, forgive myself, and move forward with compassion.

We receive so many messages of "more," "better," "different," or "improved." Rarely are we told we're okay just as we are. Yet it's from this place of self-acceptance that we genuinely grow. If you want a different, you're-enough-as-is New Year's message, here's a short video:

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January 6, 2017

Wisdom from the Woods


Mark and I spent three nights in a rustic cabin in Hiawatha National Forest, just after a fresh snowfall. Our tiny cabin had no running water or heat. We relied on a trusty wood-burning stove and camping equipment. Getting to the cabin entailed a 1-mile snowshoe, carrying everything on our backs and a sled. Carry in, carry out. The forest was calm, quiet, and welcoming, both in sun and moonlight.

Daily, I try to live a mindful life, paying attention to what's most important. Yet at the cabin I realized busyness still fills my days. In the woods, I slowly made coffee, savored a cup, watched the fire, and eventually cleaned dishes. No rush. No calling to do anything except what's right in front of me. I brought books to read, but they were unnecessary. I didn't need distraction. Hours went by without boredom. (Such a contrast to my typical day filled with doing.)

We snowshoed each afternoon. It felt good to move our bodies yet have no goal or expected result. When snow fell from the trees or birds flew overhead, we paused. We walked in silence; we walked in deep conversation. We returned to the cabin whenever it felt right. And our return was met not with email, phone, or text messages, but with quiet and simplicity. Being unplugged brought freedom.

On the third morning, I awoke with craving mind: I want to go home, sleep in my own bed, and be warm. But there are important lessons in being uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable allows me to see new parts of myself. It lets me see I'm capable of far more than I realize. So I got out of bed, made coffee, and let go into rustic-ness. That day—one day past my comfort zone—was our most satisfying. I want to remember this as regular practice: become more comfortable with being uncomfortable.

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