December 16, 2014

Perception


Last May, I hung an exhibit in an interactive gallery. I asked viewers to caption four of my self-portraits and caption themselves in the mirror. I'm curious about perception. How two people can experience the same moment in completely different ways.

Look at the image above. How do you caption the emotion? Some answers from the May show: sadness, leaning in, doubt, fear, anticipation, relief, concentration, humility, depression, defeat, solace, grief, joy, contemplation.

A single image, yet varied perceptions. Defeat and solace; grief and joy; fear and relief.


Into every encounter, we carry a filter. Sometimes that filter is clear, but often it's cloudy--clouded by our expectations and our history. We think someone is unkind when she's actually distracted. We assume someone is happy when he's actually in pain. We perceive chaos where there's magic or tension where there's beautiful honesty. It's difficult to see clearly.

And it's helpful to know our perceptions are not reality. They are not the truth. When we're mindful, we open ourselves and remove these filters. We understand there are many views of the same situation. We might not like it. We might really want our particular view. But that's not how life is. There's freedom in letting go. 

This holiday season, can you see someone in a new way? Can you remove an old, muddy filter? Can you view a situation differently? Can you see yourself as beautiful?

December 12, 2014

New Grooves


I like routine. I find comfort in my morning meditation, Friday yoga class, nightly hot tub, and Saturday farmer's market. Routine is soothing. And it's also rut-making. Mark likes to try new things and he easily goes with the flow. I often resist. Yet the resistance sends a veiled message: don't assume, try something new, just show up.

When I take a fresh path, even the slightest veer, it's always worthwhile. My experience changes and my mood shifts. Sometimes I resist the entire time, yet I emerge differently. I see life in a new way. Old ruts can indeed become new grooves.

December 10, 2014

Slow Down


The season is winter. Animals hibernate, conserving their energy. Plants go dormant, covered in snow. Darkness sits on the earth, asking it to sleep. There's a beautiful stillness in winter; a place for restoration. Yet we humans create bustle and doing. We actually choose the busyness--parties, shopping, gifting, scheduling.  

Mark and I did errands on Saturday and saw an interesting juxtaposition: holiday music declared "the most wonderful time of the year" while people with tense, tired faces pushed and rushed. We receive cards in the mail that contain no message, no intimacy. It's as if cards, gifts, and holiday cheer are on the very long to-do list. 

Remember: this is the season of hibernation. We can choose quiet and rest. We can slow down. I want to do less and appreciate more; to make deeper connections with fewer people; to minimize gifts and expand love; to work from my heart, not external pressure; and to listen to nature, as it gracefully rests.

November 18, 2014

How Do You Want to be Remembered?


Before dad's heart surgery, we had interesting conversations about death. Funerals, obituaries, and end-of-life care. I knew dad would survive the surgery, but it was a prompt for honest discussion of death. Thought-provoking ideas for anyone, at any time.

One of the questions I asked him: after you die, how do you hope friends and family remember you? I like this question, for all of us. How do I want to be remembered? It's helpful to ponder and feel my answer, and articulate it in detail. Then compare this answer to how I'm living life right now. Are my daily actions aligned with how I hope to be remembered? If not, what changes can I make?

We all pretend death is far in the future. A future we hope never comes. Yet being curious about death allows us to fully live life; to live life according to what we most value; to live life true to ourselves.

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November 17, 2014

What is Mindfulness?


I typed "mindfulness" into Google. There were 22,700,000 results. Mindfulness is a big hit, or maybe a buzzword? It feels intuitive, as if we know what it means yet a definition eludes us. I appreciate when someone asks me, "what is a mindfulness teacher?" Indeed, what is mindfulness, really? I'll take a crack at an answer:

Mindfulness is an embodied awareness of the present moment; an open yet focused awareness of what is--not in the past or the future, but right now. And mindfulness doesn't expect things to be a certain way. It allows for the current experience, as is. 

If this definition feels foreign, it's because we live few mindful moments. We don't know what is, because we think, judge, numb, ignore, and distract. Busyness leaves no space for what is. We don't know how to allow, because we crave what we don't have and we resist what we do have. We continually search for something else. This is human nature. So if you feel mind-less, you're not alone. Yet there are good reasons to be mindful. Neuroscientists say we can retrain and change our brains. If we practice mindfulness, we more effectively pay attention, regulate emotions, and process information. We reduce anxiety and boost immunity.


Mindfulness is a life-saving path, but it's not easy. In my experience, three pieces of wisdom light the way:

Regular meditation is necessary. Meditation is a direct lens into our minds. At first we see wild, untamed thoughts. Then we see gaps. Eventually we see connections: a thought leads to a sensation leads to an action. We also see the impermanent nature of thoughts and feelings. Nothing lasts forever. 

It's helpful to pause throughout the day. Pause and ask the question: what's going on inside of me? These pauses enhance everyday mindfulness, but they aren't meditation. Formal mediation allows for deeper inquiry. And it's a bigger commitment. There's a different quality when I set a timer and stay; stay with whatever arises--busy mind, doubt, fear--gently coming back to my breath, over and over. I stay until the bell rings. Daily meditation (even 5 minutes) is a direct route to mindfulness. 


Resistance happens. The modes of resistance are many: I don't have time, my mind is too busy, this is stupid, I feel uncomfortable, I'd rather do something else. Resistance occurs initially and it reoccurs far down the meditation path. I find this comforting: I'm not alone; my resistance is normal. A commitment to mindfulness requires both honesty and gentleness. It's an honest look at whatever arises--no turning away from unpleasant discoveries (including resistance). Yet the practice is gentle--again and again, with kindness, return to the present moment. 

You will resist. You will come back. And it's all okay.


Awareness brings freedom. Mindfulness is a practice. Results appear gradually and in surprising ways. If we meditate, work with resistance, and stay with our experience, we live more mindful moments. We see differently. We love differently. We're at peace, not war, with life.

My two most important personal insights: 1) it takes more energy to push away my pain than it does to feel it, and 2) until I love myself, as is, I can't fully love others. These insights came through years of practice. They arrived first in a heady way and then in an embodied way. I eventually trusted my ability to be present. The insights led me to intentional action and they uncovered choices. My awareness brings me freedom.

The journey inward is difficult. We resist dark places and we crave happiness. We re-learn the same lessons in different ways. But if we're patient, we come to awareness. Mindful awareness. Open awareness. Alive awareness. And that's a beautiful way to spend a life.

November 12, 2014

Urgency?


As I write this post, urgency nags me. Not an urgent need to finish my work, but a sense I should be elsewhere; that I should be doing something else, being someone else. This is one way I resist the present moment. While in the act of doing one thing, I feel I should be doing something else. It's also a strong signal: listen inward, what's happening right now?

[I just took a 10-minute break to sit quietly with myself.]

Thoughts rule our world. We construct elaborate stories in our minds. We plan, fantasize, ruminate, judge, and doubt. We're addicted to thinking. And we're trained to believe our thoughts, no matter what. Here's one of my most-believed thoughts: "There is something wrong with me." This thought drives my urgency, my pressing, my wish to be anywhere but the present moment. "There is something wrong with me." A believed thought that is completely untrue. I lost hours working from a false hypothesis. Yet this is what it means to be human: we fall into trance and then we come back. The noticing--the coming back--is a revelation. It's worthy of celebration.

My 10-minute timeout is all I needed. I sat, embodied, with myself. I saw my believed-but-false thought for what it was.  And I came back. The urgency lingers lightly in the background, but I'm myself again. 

What are your most believed thoughts? How do they drive your actions? How do they make you feel? And, most importantly, are they really true?