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


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.

April 30, 2015

Guided Meditations

Meditation instructions are simple yet the practice is hard. My goal as a teacher is to make meditation and mindfulness accessible to students; to let them experience these practices in helpful and non-judgmental ways. Included below are suggestions for practice, as well as audio files that guide you through the process.

Whether sitting or standing in meditation, posture is important. My suggestion: not too tight and not too loose. If we sit ramrod straight, we invite critical mind and tense body. If we sit slouched, we invite fuzzy mind and sloth body. Experiment with your posture--first too tight, then too loose, and finally settle in-between. Your body should feel alert yet easeful. You want a position that can be held comfortably for the entire meditation. Resistance will occur: you'll want to move or shift or scratch. If possible, stay with those feelings yet don't react; don't immediately move. Bring your awareness to the discomfort and investigate. Often, these feelings evaporate, which is a powerful lesson on the workings of our minds and our habituated reactions. Meditation shines a light on our habits--habits we can change.

When you find a comfortable position, gently close your eyes (or keep them open with a soft focus). Bring your awareness into your body. Locate the place where you most connect with the breath--at the nostrils, chest, or belly. This place is your anchor for the entire meditation. You needn't change your breath, simply bring your attention to the breath, as is. When your mind wanders--which it will--gently bring your awareness back to the breath. Notice the experiential difference between lost in thought and alive in the breath--one is a dream, the other is your life. If you notice this even once in a meditation session, it's worthy of celebration.

There's no way to get this wrong. Whatever you experience in meditation--busy mind, contentment, irritation, ease, doubt, pain--is part of the practice. It's how we see the inner-workings of the mind and body. Our daily life is then informed by what we learn in meditation. It's a lifelong practice in honesty and gentleness. A beautiful practice accessible to anyone--there's no way to get this wrong.

Initially, guided meditations are helpful--a voice that reminds you to return to the breath. I've recorded guided meditations of varying lengths (included below). Click on any of these to access the present moment. I'll be your guide.

[Periodically, I'll add new recordings. You can find these meditations, always, on the left sidebar of my blog. If using a smart phone, you must select "view web version"--at the bottom of any post--to see the sidebar.]

March 19, 2015

Away and Unplugged

On Saturday Mark and I leave for Nevis, a small island in the West Indies. We rent a little cottage surrounded by beautiful gardens; a cottage by the sea. Our five weeks on Nevis are completely unplugged: no Internet, email, television, phone, or news. We're off the grid. And we're also amazingly alive.

I remember 12 years ago, Mark suggested our first long sabbatical in the Bahamas. Twelve years ago, I didn't have a meditation practice. I was addicted to busyness and achievement. I worried what people would think of me. For all these reasons my reaction was tense: can we really do this? And if we can, do I want to do this? 

My reactions came from fear. Fear of being alone with myself. Fear of losing my identities. Fear of non-doing. Fear of the unknown. I hear these same reactions when I tell people about our trip. I smile inwardly, knowing the place from which they come. And also knowing the other side.

This is our sixth long sabbatical, completely unplugged. The days are wondrously long. We read stacks of books. We meditate, do yoga, and swim in the ocean. Mark plays music. I write and photograph. We bike to the market; we cook food; we linger over dinner, talking in new ways.  For us individually and as a couple, this time is priceless. It's how we restore, reconnect, and reset. We come home more alive and aware of our choices. 

If your response to this post is "there's no way I could do that because [fill in the blank]," please think again. If there's a place in your heart that yearns to be heard and nourished, maybe you need a sabbatical. It might look different from ours, but it could restore you just the same. 

I'll be away for a while, friends. Away and unplugged. Please take very good care of your precious selves.

March 16, 2015

A Meaningful Thank You

Some years ago I spent time in New York City. One morning, I waited in a busy Starbucks while my latte was made. People rushed in and people rushed out. When the barista called my name, she quickly moved to another task. I paused and said clearly, "thank you very much." Her head shot up and she smiled, as if these words were a rare gift.

Based on this experience, I formed a new practice: look service people in the eye; really see them and genuinely thank them. It takes mere seconds, yet generates gratitude and well-being. When I pause to give a genuine thank-you, I pause to see and appreciate my life.

This process naturally extends to co-workers, neighbors, friends, and loved ones. We often say "thank you," but not in a meaningful way. The words are rushed or mumbled or automatic. Yet we can turn thank-yous into mindfulness practice. Each thank-you is a deep pause--a time to re-connect with ourselves and each other. This happens when we make space in our hearts and minds; space to feel the gratitude and to share the gratitude. It requires very little time, yet that time is meaningful. The thank-you lingers in a beautiful way.

March 13, 2015

Honest Yet Gentle, Bold Yet Patient

When I teach meditation, I describe the practice as honest yet gentle. We must take an honest look at ourselves, not turning away from difficult emotions or painful habits. We must also be gentle, returning again and again--with tenderness--to the present moment. If we bring only honesty, meditation becomes another way to criticize ourselves. If we bring only gentleness, we never see the truth of our experience.

The honest-yet-gentle approach applies to most of life: stay open, see clearly, be true; and in this process, treat yourself and others with kindness. When I feel irritable, it's because I lack gentleness. When I feel hollow, it's because I lack honesty. This balance is a practice. Honesty: I acted unkindly. Gentleness: Yes, you did; you're human; you can make amends and start over right now. Honesty: I wasn't mindful at all today. Gentleness: Okay, but you noticed; it's great that you noticed; you can sit in meditation, right now, for 5 minutes.

In my gap year between academia and mindfulness teaching, I noticed a similar balance: be bold yet be patient. It's important that I move forward, that I grow. But this forward motion can move too quickly, especially if my intentions aren't clear. At these times, my ego takes charge, and the best course of action is non-action. It's best to be patient--to pause until I find my center and my true intentions. Yet if I'm too patient, I get stuck in a rut. I don't actually get done what needs to be done. In these lulls, it's helpful to be bold; to listen inward and take the needed steps, even in the face of fear.

The more I practice, the more I trust the process: boldness will announce itself and patience will respond. The conversation is rich and interesting, but only if I pay close attention. Only if I listen deeply. 

March 6, 2015

Everyday Mindfulness

Mindfulness means being in the present moment in an open, non-judgmental way. We're not mindful when we abandon our bodies and escape into our thoughts. We're not mindful when we resist; when we want life to be different from how it actually is. Though we spend ample time in trance, we can always return to the aliveness of this moment. We can take three intentional breaths or walk while feeling the bottoms of our feet or notice--really notice--what our experience is right now. 

Regular meditation provides a path to mindfulness. But this practice is buoyed by small pauses throughout the day, what I call everyday mindfulness. There are many places to pause, so the process is personal. Each of knows best which practices will stick for us. Each of knows best where there's breathing room in our days or where we most need a mindful pause. And we know best by trying things, experimenting and paying attention.

A contented life requires both intention and attention. What are my intentions for this moment, this day, or this practice? How can I bring my full attention to my chosen purpose? I ask and answer these questions most easily when I'm mindful. Just like fear feeds fear, presence feeds presence, and I get to choose the seeds I water.

Here's a a list of everyday mindfulness practices, to which I'll add regularly:
Red lights
Hello and goodbye
Sensory experience
A Meaningful Thank You