June 29, 2015

Where's the Joy?


Two weeks ago I went to a silent meditation retreat. During a group interview, one student asked the teacher, "I see all these stern faces and I wonder, where's the joy?" I loved his question. Meditation can seem so serious. Turning inward, facing our hidden places, and staying no matter what. This is serious business. And it's also a pathway to joy.

Moments of wonder, joy, and awe cannot be manufactured. They occur spontaneously. And they're easy to miss. If I'm lost in thoughts, I don't feel wonder as I view the evening sky. If my heart is armored, I don't feel joy as I witness an act of kindness. If my mind is closed, I don't feel awe when I experience something new.

To feel joy, I must be aware and non-judgmental; I must pay attention. If I cram my schedule, limit meditation, and disconnect from myself, there's no space for joy. Where's the joy? It's in little moments when I'm fully present; it's in daily life when my heart is wide open; it's in raw places when I feel the preciousness of human life.

Joy isn't forced laughter or planned fun. Joy isn't having things exactly as we want them to be. Joy happens in spacious awareness--when we're cracked open with grief or when we walk silently in nature. It's all around us, if we really pay attention; if we allow for our experience to be just as it is.
---

June 18, 2015

Learning to Stay


Our society cultivates busyness and urgency. It's easy to feel like we're "on our way" to something else, even as we do what's right in front of us. This uneasiness is baked into our DNA. We scan the horizon for predators and don't fully open to the moment. We flee the uneasiness, yet it remains. It remains until we learn to stay.

In my mind and body, there's an undercurrent of fear. It's my loyal companion. Regularly I try to escape: make to-do lists, drink wine, obsessively check Flickr, strive to improve (in every way), or sink into murky judging-mind. None of these escapes works. They feed my tension and dis-ease. So if I'm not mindful, I go through loops of empty escape.

The loop is broken once I stay. When I make the choice to pause and allow for fear, it morphs. Instead of a scream it's more like a background hum. Staying isn't easy, but it can be cultivated. And it must be re-applied again and again. Staying requires awareness, curiosity, and self-compassion. It's a way to be my own best friend. 


In meditation, I choose a posture I can maintain the entire session. If I feel the urge to move, I stay. If I get an itch, I stay. Movement isn't wrong, sometimes it's even necessary, but it's habituated; it's a reaction instead of a response. The experimental lab of meditation allows me to see all the ways I mindlessly react. If I feel an itch, I want to scratch it immediately. If I feel pain, I want it alleviated immediately. If I feel uneasy, I escape to my thoughts immediately. I notice these reactions while in meditation and, more importantly, I also notice gaps. Staying with my breath, I see space where I can make a choice; where I can respond mindfully. And this translates to my daily life.

Pushing away my uneasiness--escaping the present moment--takes more energy than actually staying with my experience, as is. Learning to stay is one of my greatest life lessons. It's allowed me to access the difficult and savor the positive. It lets me connect deeply with myself and others. And it provides real choice. I feel more present in my own life. I feel more free.
---

June 10, 2015

Practice Makes Imperfect


The title of this blog post is a purposeful exaggeration. Here's the real title: practice reveals everything. If you commit to a practice--any practice--you see all of yourself. You see resistance, curiosity, judgment, joy, freedom, and doubt. There's no escape from yourself and that's the point: you show up and you stay

I have many practices: meditation, photography, writing, gardening, and yoga. In all of these, the process itself is most important; the outcome is extraneous. What's essential is my commitment to practice, whatever the experience brings. I have long-term goals, but in the short term I have no expectations. This is when things flow. 

Yet regularly flow is interrupted by assumptions and judgments. I enter meditation expecting to feel good and then meet fear. I take photographs expecting beautiful images and then find dullness. I weed the garden expecting to finish--to wrap up life--and then spot more weeds. In these moments, things don't flow. They feel sticky and messy. And this is all part of practice. 


If I continue to show up, no matter what, then I experience flow and stuck-ness. I see the machinations of my mind yet I also see the love in my heart. Through this process, I develop trust in myself and faith in my practice.

Here's a mantra I repeat to my students: the most helpful practice is the one you'll actually use. The imaginary--often extravagant--practice does nothing; it sits on a shelf. (I can't meditate unless I have 30 minutes. I can't photograph unless the light is gorgeous. I can't write unless I have a clear idea.) We sabotage ourselves by not starting. Then self-judgment seeps in and things get ugly. Better to actually start an intentional practice. Dive in, see what happens (meet the ugliness).

So what is a helpful practice? That's up to you. Get quiet, listen inward, and set an intention--a realistic intention. Then make a commitment to show up no matter what. Show up even if you're busy or tired or cranky. Stay with the practice, pay attention, and get curious. Stay with your experience, whatever arises. Because practice reveals everything.
---

June 4, 2015

Happiness


When I ask myself, "Am I happy?" it's not related to my particular mood or situation. It's an over-arching question about contentment, ease, and well-being. Happy moods pass, just as fearful moods pass. My brain--the human brain--is not structured to be continuously happy. And that's a freeing realization. I can stop chasing happiness. Society might tell me, "put on a happy face!" but I don't have to.  

There are different ways to work with the mind: let be, let go, or let in. I "let be" when I meditate--I don't change my experience; I watch it, as is. I "let go" when I allow for difficult emotions--when I form a new relationship with these feelings, I drop old story lines. I "let in" when I embody kindness, gratitude, and wonder. All these practices are essential to my well-being. And they're interrelated: if I can't open my heart to sadness, then I can't open my heart to love.

But my route to happiness is not the only path. And, interestingly, when I judge others--question their choices or actions--I decrease my own happiness. Rather than judge, it's best for me to "let be." Live my intentional life and let others do the same, even when their choices are far different from mine.

I've noticed happiness paradoxes: Initially a practice might be difficult, yet it brings immense well-being in the long term. A person might be miserable yet wear a smile. Another might be content yet show no facial expression. A certain experience might be life-changing for one person yet lifeless for another. There's no one path to happiness. But there's good news: we can change our brains; we can experience more well-being and ease. (If you need a starting place, visit Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life.) 

We each have a unique path to walk, yet it's nice to have company along the way. So I'll share with you my laughter experiment, based on the premise that laughing out loud can shift your mood. I recorded the whole thing. Enjoy:


---

May 27, 2015

Making Space


Yesterday I looked at my daily planner--crammed with tasks in small font--and felt my anxiety rise. We just returned from a weekend of travel and heavy socialization. I was in busyness mindset--a view that limits my choices. I thought I should push through my exhaustion. But instead of pushing, I decided to pause. Once I slow my pace, I see more clearly: What really needs to be done and what can wait? What is most important? How can I honor my own needs while getting things done?

I love these wise words from Jon Kabat-Zinn: "Simplifying our lives in even little ways can make a big difference. If you fill up all your time, you won't have any. And you probably won't even be aware of why you don't. Simplifying may mean prioritizing the things that you have to and want to do and, at the same time, consciously choosing to give certain things up."

Such an obvious yet profound statement: if you fill up all your time, you won't have any. We convince ourselves we don't have choices; that our time is actually not our own. We lament that we have no freedom--I'm crazy busy right now--yet we continue to over-schedule ourselves (or we lose our free time in mindless activity). There's seldom space for life to organically unfold, because we don't allow for it. We're part of this process.


I remember my first glimpse of freedom at work. I was asked to do something that wasn't an integral part of my job. With kindness and firmness, I said "no." It was an experiment. I feared the worst--loss of admiration and respect--yet my fear wasn't valid.  Everything was okay. So I said "no" in a different situation and noticed what happened. Again, it was all okay. At the time, my plate was too full. I had to consciously give up certain things. In this process, I made space--space for what I value most.

Not every request must be met with "yes." Not every family event must be attended. Not every errand must be run. Not every post, comment, video, or news story must be viewed. We have choice in our lives and that's a wonderful thing. 

The first step is to notice--notice what's happening in your life. The next step is to prioritize: what do I most value? What is most important? This is where we can make intentional choices (do my actions align with what I most value?). From Kabat-Zinn: "It may mean learning to say no sometimes, even to things you want to do or to people you care about and want to help so that you are protecting and preserving some space for silence, for non-doing." There's great freedom when we consciously make space. This freedom comes from knowing and trusting ourselves. Busyness is a band-aid. The real medicine comes when we pause and look inward; when we make space and live intentionally; when we genuinely connect with ourselves and each other.

---

May 21, 2015

My Facebook Dilemma


Years ago, I made choices that improved my quality of life: no TV reception; no newspapers; minimal Internet news; no Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram; no smart phone; daily meditation; weekly connection with friends; increased time outdoors; morning and bedtime routines. These purposeful choices mirror what I value most: awareness, connection, curiosity, integrity, and kindness.

Still, I feel the tug of social media. I post my photography on Flickr. When I'm intentional, my use of Flickr fills and inspires me; when I'm mindless, my use depletes me. I've stayed away from Facebook because I know myself well: I could get lost in externals. I hold many identities, some of them too tightly. One of these identities is thoughtful-and-caring-friend. In person, this flows naturally. In the stories of my mind or in the online world, this takes a different path: Joy, you must attend to everyone and comment on all posts; if you don't respond, people will think you're unkind;  you should check regularly if people still love ("like") you.

These thoughts feel real, but they're not true. Anytime I search externally for validation, the search never ends. This search is a band-aid that covers my uneasiness. The real medicine is looking inward--giving myself the attention and love I seek.


Social media is interesting and fun. Yet it can separate me from what I most value. And there's a fuzzy line in between. For me, there are two rabbit holes: confusing likes, shares, comments, and favorites with my own self-worth; and feeling a strong pull to keep up-to-date, to not miss out. The latter leaves me anxious. The former leaves me hollow. 

When wise friends told me I needed a Facebook page for my business, I cringed. But I listened and eventually agreed. Because I always have choices. I come to Facebook in my own way, with my heart and eyes wide open. I needn't publish a personal page. I come to Facebook not as Joy Jordan "this is my daily life, let's catch up" but as Joy Jordan, both a student and teacher of mindfulness; a person trying to be mindful on social media; a person who needs to hear and share this message:

You have permission to just be; to be and breathe.
You have permission to attend to yourself; look inward.
You have permission to disconnect from the online world
You are so much more than your popularity on social media.
You are unique and beautiful; be you.
You are worthy, as is.

May 11, 2015

Single-Tasking


The verdict is in: humans cannot multitask--we task switch--and if we task switch, we're less productive, more anxious, and more mistake-prone. Switching tasks drains our brains. But we're not always self-aware--people who claim they're good at multitasking actually perform the worst. 

Many of us understand multitasking is not ideal. When we attempt simultaneous projects, we feel stressed and distracted; we feel our work is sub-par. Yet in the face of scientific research and our own experience, we still try to multitask. We think if we do many things at once, life might be easier.

But this constant state of distraction doesn't make life easier. Distraction leaves us empty--unhappy at work, unfulfilled in relationships, and disconnected from ourselves. The good news is we have a choice. We can change habits; we can choose mindfulness--choose one thing at a time.

Before I began this blog post--an important task for today--I shut down my email, closed other tabs in my browser, and set a timer. For 45 minutes, my attention is on this article. When I feel the tug of distraction, I stay here. When I struggle for the right words, I stay here. When the timer sounds, I'll take a break. Breaks are important; breaks help overall focus. Yet until then, I stay. 


Shut down email, phone, chat, and social media? I know this sounds radical. There are endless "yes, buts": What if my boss needs to reach me? Or my child? What if my colleagues judge me? What if I miss out on something online? What if someone "unfriends" me?

These reactions are natural, especially in our current culture. Yet consider two additional "yes, buts": What if you spend the rest of your life addicted to distraction? What if you never fully experience your life?

I think single-tasking is worth a try. Shut off the distractions--physically shut them down. See what happens. Notice your reactions. Ease into the space. Focus on one project and bring your whole self to the work. Over time, you might feel more fulfilled, less anxious, and reconnected with life. And if you bring this focus to people--if you actively listen, pay attention, and notice small changes--your relationships might deepen. 

With any mindfulness practice the trick is this: remember to remember. It's so easy to forget. The more we practice, though, the more we remember. Because the habits we strengthen are the habits we practice. I try to ask myself each day: Do I want to strengthen distraction or awareness? Judgment or kindness? Rigidness or curiosity? What choices lie in front of me? When I forget and then remember, I try to smile and kindly bring myself back to awareness.