January 31, 2016

Heart Hunger

Last summer, I read Mindful Eating by Jan Chozen Bays. These words—her words—stayed with me: "Most unbalanced relationships with food are caused by being unaware of heart hunger. No food can ever satisfy this form of hunger. To satisfy it, we must learn how to nourish our hearts." The word "food" is easily replaced by others: work, social media, news, shopping, exercise. (We have many unbalanced relationships.) There's much that consumes us and that we consume. But what do we really seek? What are the whispers of our hearts?

When I was in academia—unsatisfied but unaware—I bought myself books, clothes, and housewares. I didn't look at price tags nor did I consciously choose. It was an unskilled version of self-care: consumption that didn't nourish my heart. From this same place, I hosted parties and filled my social calendar. I was consumed by what people thought of me. My worthiness came from externals. Eventually, my freedom came from within: The connection I craved most was connection with myself.

Yesterday, I found 3-year-old notebook scribblings (a page entitled "Funk Freedom"):
Talk about the difficult stuff. Get outside. Create. Move my body. Meditate. Listen. Open my heart. Hug. Take a break. Smile. Meditate. Be kind. Have lunch with a friend. Dig in the dirt. Chop vegetables. Dance. Cry. Meditate. Donate my time. Watch the light. Photograph. Laugh.

These were (still are) ways for me to nourish my heart. True medicine, not band-aids. When I lapse into craving-mindthat uneasy feeling of not-enough—I try to pause. When I remember to pause, breathe, and be, I better access my basic-goodness; I better access wisdom and awareness, and these lead to conscious choices. Choices that fill my heart.

Guided Meditations|Everyday Mindfulness|Photography|Facebook Page

January 26, 2016

Waiting Practice

In daily life, we spend a lot of time waiting: waiting in line, waiting to meet a friend, waiting at the doctor, waiting in traffic. Pieced together, we can wait 30 minutes in a day. Often, there's an underlying annoyance with waitingit can feel like we're missing out on life. But here's a radical re-frame: waiting as a mindfulness practice; as an intentional time to check in with ourselves. 

The next time you're waiting, try something different. Close your eyes, breathe, and look inward. I try to regularly ask the question: What's happening inside me right now? What needs my attention? If you want guidance with this practice, listen to the audio below. 

And if waiting-as-mindfulness is difficult, try something else: Anytime you're waiting, notice the ways you distract yourself. Just notice. And notice how you feel.

Guided Meditations|Everyday Mindfulness|Photography|Facebook Page

January 13, 2016

Blind Spots

Since mom died, I've tried to practice self-compassion. I need gentleness as I move through grief. I need gentleness as I navigate this unpredictable life. And I thought I was doing just that. Then I attended a 3-day silent meditation retreat and received a clear message: I need sincere love and kindness from within. This insight brought me to tears. I thought I was giving self-kindness, but it was on the surface, going through the motions. During the retreat I went deeper: I felt love and gratitude within my body and heart. My practice was sincere.

We all have these inner blind spots--places where our actions are not aligned with our intentions. Sometimes it's obvious: we feel a disconnection and make a change. Often it's not obvious. Our minds are wily. We trick ourselves in complex and varied ways. It's important to regularly check in. Not in a heady way, but in a full-being way. This requires space, stillness, and quiet. Space to sit with the question: What is most important? Then sit with the question: Are my daily actions or non-actions aligned with my values?

Judgment can sneak in, telling us we've failed or we should be different or we should give up. But judgment is not helpful. Honesty, kindness, and awareness are helpful. Judgment closes our heart; awareness opens us. When we find a blind spot, it's a moment of awakening. We can now make conscious choices. Small steps toward wholeness.

But first, we must make space. Instead of packing our schedules and distracting in every free moment, we can choose a different path. A regular check-in can happen through meditation, walking in nature, or savoring a cup of tea. I often ask myself: Am I moving toward or away from wholeness? Do my choices lead to openness or constriction? I'm most present in my own life--and most present to others--when I'm open and aware; when my intentions and actions are aligned; when I feel my interconnection with all beings.

Guided Meditations|Everyday Mindfulness|Photography|Facebook Page

December 31, 2015

Guiding Word for 2016

Winter is a natural time for reflection. The days become slightly longer and the calendar turns. I ask myself: What did I learn in 2015 and how can I move forward? To me, resolutions feel rigid. They feel like black-and-white solutions in a gray world. I try to move from intention. How do I want to live my moments, my days? What word or words can guide my actions? In practice, I must do the work, but it helps to have a guiding intention, expressed in a single word.

My previous words: trust, choice, allow, possibility. Each word was an umbrella for the year. None of these words told me what to do. They served as reminders of what was most important to me. Looking back, I see how they led me through a career change. I did the hard work, but reminders are helpful. Because I make mistakes; I forget and then I remember.

This year I choose "love." My creative work is most alive when it comes from love. My teaching is most effective when it comes from love. My connectionswith myself and othersare most genuine when they come from love.

If a word-of-the-year intrigues you, try this guided reflection (there's no way to get it wrong):

Guided Meditations|Everyday Mindfulness|Photography|Facebook Page

December 29, 2015

The Intentional Break

This year, Mark and I celebrated winter solstice in a new way: unplugged from work, electricity, phones, and clocks. We only made exceptions for heat, stove, and fridge. Otherwise, we experienced the day as is. The weather was gray and misty, yet I saw subtle changes in light. Without electricity, a peaceful feeling—free of noise and unnatural light—filled our house. It was a reflective day for both of us. Our actions were intentional; our conversations relaxed; our senses awake.

The quiet and calm were made more obvious when I re-entered “normal” life. There’s excess, bustle, and separation in daily life. But there’s also choice. A pause is powerful. A purposeful break from technology and busyness has a big impact. The break could last an entire day or a few minutes. It's the intention that matters. (As I finished that sentence, the bell on my computer rang. At the hourly chime, I step away and take 3 deep breaths.)  These intentional breaksfrom screens, to-dos, and distractionallow for connection with ourselves and with others. Pieced together, these pauses create a more mindful day.
Guided Meditations|Everyday Mindfulness|Photography|Facebook Page

December 11, 2015

Navigating Social Media

This American Life did a show on "Status Update." In the first act we hear high school girls discuss, in a dramatic way, the process of posting selfies to Instagram. It's easy to dismiss this as immature high school behavior, but it rings true for anyone. These girls want to be "relevant." They want to be seen and heard, liked and admired. Social media is the platform, for high-school girls or middle-aged men.

When I post to Facebook or Flickr, I think carefully about my words. And I match these words with a photograph. Sometimes the image speaks, sometimes the words resonate. My intention is this: spread beauty, kindness, and wisdom; be real and true.

Still, I relate to the high school girls--how they monitor comments and likes. I don't want to crave that external validation. But it happens. Some days I post and let go. Other days I monitor. Because there's an addictive component to social media. David Foster Wallace said, "There's part of you that wants to do it over and over to get the food pellets of praise. It's one more way this stuff is toxic." Those food pellets of praise--likes, views, favorites, "great post"--either disappointment us (too few) or stoke us (plenty, but we want more next time). For others, it's not the pellets of praise that are addictive; instead it's the need to know, at all times, what's happening--the fear of missing out. 

All of this can be toxic. It can also be meaningful: I connect with long-distance friends; I bare myself and within that vulnerability gain strength and invite stories from others; I set an intention and step away if I'm off course. The toxicity comes from unconscious action. Living in habitual reaction doesn't feel good. It might feel comfortable--what we're used to--but it's not wholesome. It separates us from others and from ourselves. 

Sometimes social media connects us; sometimes it isolates us. If we stay in touch with our direct experience, we notice the difference. And from this place of understanding, we make more conscious, filling, and alive choices.

Guided Meditations|Everyday Mindfulness|Photography|Facebook Page

December 6, 2015

Different Views

I'm fascinated by perception. People leave a conversation or an event with radically different perceptions. Our mental filters--clear or cloudy--impact how we see.

It's important that I remember these differences; honor these differences. When I don't, I'm shocked or offended unnecessarily. Both shock and offense make an assumption: my view is the truth (your view is wrong). This assumption constricts my mind and separates me from others. If my filter is clear, I might experience surprise or hurt, but not shock and offense. I see most clearly when I'm connected to myself and others; I see most clearly when my heart is open.

These photographs are the same yet different. Same dormant plant in a roadside ditch at sunset. Different point of view; different color, different feeling. Just as I shift my camera angle, I can shift my internal view. A slight change in perspective allows a wider understanding. Because there's not one right way to view the world. There are many interesting, varied, and beautiful ways to see.