January 10, 2018

Spread the Love

When I volunteer in prison, it includes both group and individual sessions. The pastorals are rich, meaningful, and sometimes difficult. The stories I hear—real stories from real people—are heartbreaking. I try to be a mirror for the inmates. I let them know where they’ve grown and changed and how their meditation practice inspires me. I look them in the eyes and speak this from my heart. Almost always, it brings an inmate to tears, even the biggest, toughest guys. Seeing his own goodness reflected back at him is a revelation. Rarely is he told the ways he’s good, wise, and inspiring.

Like these inmates, I need my own mirrors: friends who support me when I’m caught in fear or doubt. People who reflect back to me the big leaps I’ve taken, the lives I’ve impacted, and the special qualities of my work. Like many, I judge myself most harshly, so it’s helpful when others send a softer, more truthful message. A reality check, not from an effusive place but from a heartfelt place.

We can all look more closely at the people in our lives. They have goodness and light inside them. It radiates in different (sometimes surprising) ways, but it’s there in everyone. What is this person’s special quality? What do I really appreciate about him? How does her unique light shine? These are things we can share with each other. Our lives are wondrous, short, and precious. There’s no reason to hold back: Tell people why and how you love them; spread gratitude and appreciation; share from an open heart.

[This post is part of my Truth Tuesday series, which appears weekly on Facebook.]
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December 28, 2017

Forgiving Ourselves

Recently, I perused old journals. It was painful to read the vicious words I wrote about myself. Pages and pages of self-judgment (at times, self-hatred) followed by pages of halfhearted self-encouragement, all of this on a repetitive loop. I longed for something different yet wasn't sure how to proceed. In the 20 years since those journal entries, I became unstuck, moving from self-hatred to self-compassion. This process was (and is) complex, effortful, and individual. There's no magic potion that heals our wounds, but I've noticed patterns, essential ingredients in moving forward:

1. Start with self-kindness.
In my 20s, during the heavy self-hatred days, I felt far removed from self-love or self-compassion. They were ridiculous to consider. I read books about loving myself yet never believed it was possible. And this blocked my growth. For most of us, it's hard to make huge internal leaps, but we can take small, ordinary steps. Kindness is accessible. We offer kindness to strangers as well as friends. It's a place to begin with ourselves: How can I be kind to myself in moments of pain? How can I be kind to myself when life is difficult or when I make a mistake? Basic kindness is the starting place.

2. Make well-being a priority.
People ask me, "How did you become so wholehearted, brave, and intentional?" The short answer is this: I committed to myself and my well-being. I just kept showing up as-is (messy, crabby, peaceful, anxious, or happy) and practiced mindfulness in a variety of ways. Instead of looking outward, I began to look inward. Before I could prioritize well-being, I had to understand it: What activities (and people) nourish me and what activities (and people) deplete me? The things that nourish memeditation, nature, intimate gatherings, photography, gardening, and yogamay not nourish you. These are individual choices.

Consider the important elements of your own well-being. Make these a priority. There are copious distractions in this world and it takes effort to sustain well-beingPeople often respond "but there's not enough time!" Indeed, life is full, but if there's time to check a smartphone, "like" things on Facebook, or unnecessarily overwork, then there's time for well-being. Choose with intention.

3. Continue for life.
This is not a one-shot deal, it's a life-long practice. I still experience fear and self-judgment, often daily. I resist uncomfortable circumstances. I get crabby. But I notice these unhelpful habits and redirect my energy. I smile at myself more easily. I practice self-compassion. There's never a time where everything is wrapped up: all neuroses gone, bliss every day. A vital part of mindfulness (of life!) is remembering we can begin again in any moment. We can begin again with self-kindness and prioritize well-being. We can forgive ourselves and trust thatin this momentwe're okay. 

If we accept ourselves as-is, we can finally make the changes we seek. Here's a meditation to get you started:

Forgiving Ourselves

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A Month of Mindful Healing

My e-course, A Month of Mindful Healing, comes straight from my tender, brave, vulnerable heart. Throughout the course, I share personal stories of loss, hurt, shame, growth, happiness, and healing. I've lived and tested all the practices (meditations + writing + daily awareness exercises). If you choose to join me, here's a weekly outline of our journey:

WEEK 1: Healing What's on the Surface
~Small, doable mindfulness exercises 
~Guided meditation on opening to vulnerability
~Writing prompts on vulnerability, feelings, and unmet needs
~Awareness practices to create more nourishment in daily life
~Daily inspirations + meditations + writing prompts

WEEK 2: Healing What's Under the Surface
~Short, encouraging video
~Investigation (meditation + writing) of internal beliefs and letting go of limitations
~Description and guided application of self-compassion
~Awareness practices to create more freedom and choice in daily life
~Daily inspirations + meditations + writing prompts

WEEK 3: Healing What's Around Us
~Guided reflection + writing prompts to discover core values and what matters most
~Four-step process to get unstuck and move forward with intention (includes guided meditation)
~Guidance on healing and changing relationships
~Awareness practices to create more intention in daily life
~Daily inspirations + meditations + writing prompts

WEEK 4: Healing Our Hearts
~Guided meditation on opening the heart
~Writing prompts on joy, happiness, and creativity
~Description and guided application of loving-kindness
~Awareness practices to create more play and happiness in daily life
~Daily inspirations + meditations + writing prompts

EPILOGUE: Meet Yourself Where You Are
~Guided reflection + writing prompts on change, growth, and healing
~Suggestions for moving forward
~Short, encouraging video (includes a loving-kindness chant)
~Additional daily awareness practices
~Short meditation on beginning again

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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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