August 29, 2014

Love and Let Go

I spoke at my grandma's funeral. More accurately, I spoke, cried, spoke some more, sobbed, and spoke again. Later I described the event to my therapist. She said, "You felt. You trusted your feelings, Joy." And then she gave me a hug. 

I did inhabit my feelings on that July weekend in 2010. I allowed (publicly!) for sadness, love, regret, and gratitude. I laid open my heart. 

"Don't tell me what you think. Tell me what you feel," my therapist used to say. Most of my life I'd spent in my head: thinking, planning, or judging. I could analyze an issue. I could understand the reasons for my anxiety or self-doubt. But nothing really changed until I opened my heart. I found sadness needn't overwhelm, but it longs to be felt. And I unraveled my protective armor--armor that spared me hurt yet also denied me love.

Just last night, I sat on my back porch, crying. Many of my close friends are in difficult situations. If I love completely, my heart will be broken. Yet it will also burst with joy. Things only get murky when I believe I can save people. In this mode, my sadness morphs into fear and I retreat to my mind. I try to think of an escape. 

From Mary Oliver's "In Blackwater Woods":
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let go,
to let go."

My therapist again: "Joy, your life and growth will mean continually giving up control." Let go. When I emerge from my murkiness, I find balance between loving and letting go. I feel without the delusion of control. My heart expands. A smile forms naturally. I accept all the blessings of pure, unbounded love.

August 15, 2014

Now for Something Completely Different

Where has my silliness gone? Yesterday I reread my latest posts. The topics: self-judgment, difficulty, fear, over-thinking. All important topics. All exactly where I was at the moment. Yet I've left out my happiness and childlike wonder. Life is heartbreaking, but it's also joyful.

Last night I made a different choice: take my camera, tripod, and remote shutter-release outside. Jump around. Leap, bound, play, and laugh. My first stop was the backyard--a safe place. But my neighbors were gardening or eating, and the mood felt calm not playful, so I walked to the park.

(me walking backwards, a little giddy)

The park felt festive. Families gathered. Smoke rose from grills. Children laughed. Cars drove past. I placed my tripod in a patch of sunset light next to the road. In that spot I jumped and twirled and giggled. I felt playful and free.

When we most need it--when we feel sad or angry or hurt--we forget that life is fun. We're surrounded by joy, laughter, and beauty. Sometimes we need to jump around, do the unexpected, or make our own adventures. When I'm playful, my heart opens and my thoughts subside. I see the magical world that is my life.

(me walking forwards, relaxed and happy)

August 14, 2014

Sacred Space

Meditation acts as a microscope on my mind. Certain thoughts trigger bodily tension. That tension attaches to emotion. That emotion triggers thoughts. And around we go, in mere seconds. These seconds speed by, as do my habituated reactions. In meditation, I observe this cycle, but it doesn't define me. In meditation, there's no "me" to define. 

Yet in daily life, the story of me plays loud and large, in not so pleasant ways. I'm trying to find more space. This space I seek is not grand. It's the space between moments--the gap in conversation, pause in movement, or break in workflow. Viktor Frankl describes this place: "Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."

When I allow for that space, I access and respond from my heart. When I rush through that space, I act out of habit. I'd rather choose. I'd rather be free.

July 23, 2014

Under Construction

In 2001, I created my first webpage. Unsure of my work, I included a hard-hatted man next to the words "under construction." My initial viewer was Mark. (Besides being my husband, he's a software engineer with a good eye.) He gave many suggestions, but this was his first: "Every webpage is under construction, always. You needn't make that announcement." 

Thirteen years later I see that everything is under construction. Every idea, project, and relationship. We're all works in progress. It's impossible to wrap up life with a colorful bow and say "done!" Life is continual practice, sometimes on shifting ground. Everything is under construction. But this feels vulnerable, so we protect ourselves with explanations. This is only a first version, an initial idea and I'm in the process of making changes (read: these are all the reasons my work is imperfect).

I often provide unneeded words of clarification or explanation. This habit has stumped me for years. I assumed my behavior was unconscious armor against the judgment of others. Yet when I look deeper, I see it as distraction from my own self-judgment, which is far fiercer than external criticism. With this insight, I have a new practice: each time I feel my throat tighten around words of justification, I try to come home to myself. I notice my breath. I investigate and stay with difficult emotions. I treat myself tenderly. And I do this over and over again. 

July 21, 2014

Life Interrupts

I hit a wall yesterday. Life didn't cooperate with my plan. I felt like Lord Business in The Lego Movie: "You're ruining my perfection!" Desperately, I held tight control. Not real control, just perceived control. That's my habituated reaction to fear, shame, and uncertainty. And I'm sitting in a pile of uncertainty.

I often relearn this lesson: life isn't tidy; life interrupts. Sometimes I move with the flow. Other times I meet my edge. Meeting my edge yesterday was helpful. It exposed my soft spots. I can't fix the world, but I can attend to myself. I can pay attention through all the interruptions: electricity not working, friends' cancer diagnoses, unexpected car repairs, peddling a new business, and my father's heart surgery. I either stay with my edge or abandon myself. I'd rather stay. In these raw, vulnerable moments, I most clearly see my heart--my beautiful, tender heart. These are not interruptions, they are life itself.

July 14, 2014

Lost in Thoughts

Yesterday I went for a run and was completely lost in thoughts. A small dog, tied up in a yard, barked at me. I jumped out of my skin. Then I laughed and reflected. The stories we construct in our minds can consume us. I was running outside, yet I didn't experience my body or nature, only my thoughts. I was living in another world--in my head--where I was disconnected from everything, including myself.

Thinking is good. It helps us process and understand. Yet if our thoughts consume us, the understanding weakens. When do you receive your best insights and ideas? Possible answers: the shower, while gardening, on a walk, brushing my teeth, a quiet moment sitting on the couch. 

Often, we box ourselves in. We overthink a problem or situation. Indeed, our culture reveres intellectual hard work. But we can't solve all problems just by thinking. It's also important to process emotionally, let an idea sit, and gain larger perspective. The spaces that naturally happen in life--showering, walking--provide a break from the thinking and often allow for insight. Imagine if we purposefully created more space.

When I'm lost in thoughts--and I notice--I use a variety of techniques: nature walk, yoga, weeding my garden, breath awareness, meditation. My best strategy, though, is simply lying on the couch. Non-doing. I don't necessarily meditate, but I scan my body. I feel my emotions. I notice my thoughts but I don't follow them. I don't jump from the couch to do the next thing that pops into my mind. I lie on the couch for a while--longer than I think I can. And I settle. I stop believing the stories in my mind. I find a bit of clarity and perhaps a new perspective. Just by lying on the couch, intentionally doing nothing.

July 2, 2014

True Confessions

I slowly looked through a women's magazine. I sat with the images, the perfect images. Everyone's skin was flawless--no scars, wrinkles, or spots. Page after page of glowing, perfect skin. Impossibly perfect skin. 

As a photographer, I understand the importance of light. If only our lives were bathed in golden light. Instead, we see ourselves in varied light with unflattering views. So what is real? What is real in a culture of photoshopped models and my-life-is-beautiful social media? 

What's real for me is when I get offline--when I walk outside, hug a friend, savor a meal, share from the heart, or laugh with Mark. Life is messy. And I'm grateful for every messy moment. As a counterweight to all the impossibly perfect skin in magazines, I share with you some true confessions:

I'm not a natural blonde. Every six weeks I receive highlights from my stylist, Sarah. Here you can see my roots just before an update:

I delete 90% of the photographs I take. I shoot hundreds of images a day in order to get one I really like. I take many bad photographs.

I get frustrated by piles of dishes stacked in our drying rack. On occasion I start throwing the non-breakables around, to which Mark responds, "Yeah, take that!" And I smile.

If two words sound alike, I sometimes misuse one for the other, with the incorrect meaning. Me, the writer. 

Our lawn is one-half grass and one-half weeds. My flower beds are dense and wild (with fewer weeds).

I regularly have a good cry. Sometimes for a specific reason and other times because I feel generalized sadness. I always feel better after I cry.

I have no good reason, but I dislike crows. [Later: My friend Amy convinced me that crows are immensely likable. I'm sure there's something else I dislike for no good reason.]

I am both grateful for and horrified by the attention I get on Flickr

I have very deep laugh lines. And red, broken blood vessels all around my nose. 

I sometimes take inauthentic actions because I want someone to like me.

I'm a mindfulness teacher and some days I don't feel very mindful.

Sitting too much makes my lower back hurt. Stretching, yoga, and pilates make my back feel better. Some days I sit too much at the computer and don't stretch. Other days I stand at the computer and take yoga breaks. Life isn't perfect. And I'm grateful for every messy, imperfect, real moment. I'm grateful for it all.