July 18, 2016

Practicing Hope

Even now, I have a hopeful view of the world. Heartbreaking violence and greed unfold every day, but still I see goodness in people. There are brave, generous, and compassionate acts that soar under the radar. These aren’t mentioned in the news, but I witness them daily. My hope isn’t based on denial. It’s based on direct experience with my best self and the best selves of others. 

I recently read wise words from Krista Tippett: “Hope is distinct, in my mind, from optimism or idealism. It has nothing to do with wishing. It references reality at every turn and reveres truth. It lives open eyed and wholehearted with the darkness that is woven ineluctably into the light of life. Hope, like every virtue, is a choice that becomes a practice that becomes spiritual muscle memory. It’s a renewable resource for moving through life as it is, not as we wish it to be.” 

Practicing hope is like practicing mindfulness: stay aware of everything; be honest and gentle; release expectation; cultivate love and acceptance. Hope applies in the larger world, yet it equally applies in our individual lives. Darkness and light are interwoven. Hope allows me to stay with difficulty and savor joy. Even as I experience grief, in deep and new ways, I have hope: I will heal. I don’t “wish” for this. I practice it every day.

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July 15, 2016

Step Forward

Mata Amritanandamay, known as Amma, is a compassionate and beloved teacher. Just as the Dalai Lama says his religion is kindness, Amma says her religion is love. One small piece of her vast wisdom: "Don't be discouraged by your incapacity to dispel darkness from the world. Light your little candle and step forward."

I love this idea. It encourages us to engage—to step outside our busy lives—yet it equally invites us to start small: light your little candle. I think small acts of kindness have a big impact. Any moment that contains compassion and generosity is a moment of hope. We can’t dispel darkness in the world, just as we can’t dispel darkness in ourselves. But we can spend more time in the light.

Our words and actions make a difference. Each one of us is part of this complicated and beautiful world. May we open our hearts and step forward.

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July 10, 2016

Navigating World News

I just viewed the New York Times website. The headlines themselves make me feel anxious, sad, and fearful. We live in a sea of information, much of which isn't helpful. There's a balance to strike: staying aware, not hiding from difficult world circumstances, but still living life, bringing love and presence to more moments. If we're mired in the news, we lose touch with the goodness around us. If we ignore the news, we lose touch with the plight of humanity. It's important to remember: we choose how to curate this sea of information.

Sylvia Boorstein says, "Sometimes the pain of the world seems incomprehensible and unbearable to me. And I think if there's anything that balances it, it's wonder at the world, the amazingness of people, how resilient they are, how people will take care of others they don't know."

I agree with Sylvia: there's wonder, amazingness, and resilience in this worldenough to balance the tragedy. Though it's not featured on evening news, there are moments of grace in everyday life, many of which involve human connection. I watch children jumping rope together, elderly people holding hands, consumers bonding with their farmers, prisoners making safe space for each other, strangers stopping to help, neighbors doing anonymous favors, and hospice nurses bearing witness in brave, compassionate ways. 

Our brains have a negativity bias, built into us through evolution, and the news enhances this negative view. I don't want to ignore acts of violence—the Charleston church shooting moved me to volunteer in prison—and I equally don't want to see the world as bad. There is a "good news" channel I can watch and it's my everyday life. When I pay attention, I see beauty, love, and grace—and I see these even when things are difficult. Ordinary moments can break my heart wide open. Fear is a story in my head; love is an embodied way to live life. Each day, I try to remember: I can choose love.

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July 3, 2016

Ignite Your Spark

I believe we have innate goodness. But as we navigate a complicated world, we amass layers of judgment, identities, and habits. We play roles, defend opinions, and stifle joy. Yet underneath everything is this: goodness, awareness, and belonging. 

We're deeply interconnected and at the same time, each of us is unique. We all have special giftsways we impact the world. In each of us is a unique spark; a spark that keeps life in our life. Karen Maezen Miller says, "When you see your life, you bring it to life. When you don't see your life, it seems lifeless."

Life moves in a flash, unless we choose differently. We ignite our spark if we slow down; notice everyday grace; listen inward. And then if we allow ourselves to grow, blossom, and move in ways that feel true. Not every moment contains awareness and spark, but more moments can. Consider your unique gifts: ways you feel most present, connected, and real. It's possible to bring these gifts alive. It's possible to see anewto see our own beauty and the beauty of others. We can light sparks. We can light sparks that fill the sky.

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June 27, 2016

Letting Go of Expectations

I volunteer at a prison, participating with inmates in meditation and mindfulness. The work is meaningful and worth the one-hour drive each way. Last month, I arrived at 8:15am, only to be told our program was cancelled. The news was disappointing—these inmates value our mindfulness group—but I wasn't angry or frustrated. My only option was to get in the car and drive home. On route, I noticed the beautiful spring landscape: trees in a variety of colors, fields of new growth, wildflowers in the ditch. I was aware enough to realize: If I'd chosen to blame someone or be angry, I wouldn't enjoy the scenery. Letting go freed my heart and mind.

Fast forward to the afternoon. I needed a battery-powered, small digital clock. I began this errand with an expectation: a simple clock should be easy to find. Yet store after store didn't have it. My frustration built, so I stopped the search and returned home. Hours later I realized how irritable and constricted I felt. I compared this constriction to the ease on my drive back from prison. These juxtaposed events were vastly different.

When I volunteer in prison, I have clear intentions with no expectations. My intentions are to be present and available; to help and heal others; to hold nothing back. If class gets cancelled, that's part of the process (and part of my mindfulness practice). Yet when I run errands, I have solid expectations: This will be quick and easy; my needs will be met. These assumptions lead to disappointment, which can morph into anger and blame.

Expectations are interesting. If something exceeds our expectations, we're happy, but only briefly, and then we move to the next thing. If something disappoints our expectations, we're frustrated, dismayed, judgmental, and often stuck. In both directions, we're not content. 

It's most helpful to drop expectations; to let go of how we think things are "supposed to be." But wait: Won't we become lazy, nondiscerning, uncaring people? I don't believe so. We can put in serious effort without expectation of a specific outcome. When I attach to outcome, I'm stuck. When I work hard from intention, I open to possibility. When I expect people to act a certain way, I'm unhappy. When I see people anew, I open to love.

Expectations are a habit, and habits can change. Often I catch myself after the fact. When I reflect on a difficult experience, I ask: How was it supposed to be? My mind floods with expectations and judgments. Bingo: there's the suffering. Noticing is the first step. And when I notice, I try to smile. Because life isn't supposed to be a certain way. Life just is. This world wasn't created to meet my whims and expectations. When I let go—bit by bit—this complicated world opens up in a beautiful way.

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June 22, 2016

The Power of Possibility

I've long believed myself incapable of enlightenment. Daily, I practice meditation, generosity, and loving-kindness, but I reserved enlightenment for monks, nuns, and "special people." Then I heard my meditation teacher say, "We all have the potential to awaken. This is an important belief: it's possible to live with an awakened, open heart; to be fully present." With these words, something inside me shifted. 

The next day, I met a recently-graduated college student. She was bright, kind, and capable. Still, her first-year advisor told her not to pursue math. Hearing this news, I sighed and said, "I'm sorry you were told what you couldn't do rather than being told what's possible. I wish I could have been there to say: You're capable of so much; believe in yourself and move forward." With these words, she began to cry long-held tears. 

I want to be clear: enlightenment requires serious effort, as does studying mathematics. This effort is persistent and honest. But we spend far too much energy resisting our own goodness, limiting our potential, and then passing this on to others.

I think life is filled with possibility. It's possible for us to be our best selves: watering seeds of love, compassion, and awareness. It's possible for us to study mathematics, awaken our hearts, change old habits, plant gardens, follow dreams, find meaning, shift careers, make art, and forgive each other. Imagine if we encouraged ourselves and each other to see what's possible; to believe in our potential. I think we could change the world.

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June 15, 2016

Choosing Compassion

Last weekend I participated in a silent meditation retreat. I returned home with my heart wide open—wide open to joy and gratitude; wide open to grief and suffering. I wasn’t sure how to navigate daily life with such an open heart. It felt both strange and fully alive. Then I heard about the mass shooting in Orlando, and I wept. I wept for humanity.

Jack Kornfield wrote a compelling, wise response and his words resonate with me:  
“I am filled with tears and an ocean of compassion for so many who have been harmed. Sitting quietly, this tragedy strengthens my resolve to not let terror and fear take over my heart. As we move through this beautiful and troubled world, may we vow to be a beacon of peace, a fearless carrier of respect and lovingkindness for all life, a teller of truth, a voice for justice, a protector of those who are vulnerable or targeted. May the power of wisdom, integrity and compassion be our guide.”

We can be paralyzed by fear and sadness. We can be engulfed with anger and blame. Or we can live fearlessly with open, compassionate hearts. The latter is possible, though it requires engaged commitment. It’s a radical act to stay present, embodied, and aware during difficult times; to move from a place of love in response to an act of hate; to see our interconnection instead of seeing “other.” I stand with Jack Kornfield. May I act from wisdom and integrity. May I bring compassion to more moments. May I continue to live with an unguarded heart.

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