February 26, 2015

Everyday Mindfulness: Engage the Senses

There are many ways to escape the present moment and many ways to return. Our senses give us direct access to presence. They ground us in our bodies. When we actively engage the senses, we must be here, right now. And that's a beautiful thing.

I've been practicing with the senses--using them as pauses, sprinkled throughout the day. Instead of only photographing the sunset, I watch it for five deep breaths. If I bake bread, I linger over the smell. When I put lotion on my hands, I feel the sensations. While I walk, I listen to the birds, noticing the different songs. At mealtime, I bring my full attention to the first bite and all its flavors. Aware of my senses, I can't be lost in thoughts. The senses are only alive in this moment.

An easy place to practice is the shower, a regular activity. Senses abound in the shower and it's a pleasant experience. Yet we typically spend that time lost in thoughts. Until I started my shower experiment, I didn't realize what I was missing. I was using the shower as a place to think--not in a broad, open-awareness way, but in a replaying, obsessing, planning way. Now, when thoughts arise, I bring my attention back to the senses--to the feeling of water on my skin--again and again. Now, instead of a rushed 10 minutes, my shower is a mindful experience with my whole being.

February 23, 2015

Easing into Silence

When I go on meditation retreat, I often hear some version of these words: "You don't speak for three whole days? I couldn't do that." It's interesting that not talking is the deal breaker. There are many hard parts of a meditation retreat: judging mind, fear, doubt, and physical discomfort. On retreat, there's no place to hide. I get an honest look at myself and that's difficult territory. But not speaking, that's a gift.

Silence releases me from care-taking, performing, and focusing externally. Silence gives permission to look inward; to watch potential speech arise and discern my motivation. This gives me insight into daily conversation. Am I seeking approval? Am I merely filling space? Am I trying to be right? Or am I speaking truth in a kind, helpful way?

Karen Maezen Miller says "pure silence is the ultimate kindness." I think the word "pure" is important. We've all experienced the separating coldness of impure silence. Yet pure silence is a gift. It's the ultimate kindness. We're just not used to it. Silence isn't what our culture encourages or supports. But we can choose differently. In silence, we listen, we notice, we experience, no words necessary. There's beauty in the pure silence. There's wisdom, too. 

Imagine someone you dearly love. Now imagine being with that person in silence: taking a walk or watching a sunset or eating a meal. Purposeful silence for a short period. Ease into the silence and see what happens.

February 13, 2015

Everyday Mindfulness: Hello and Goodbye

A memory of hello: I'm working upstairs on the computer, doing something that feels important, like processing my photographs or writing an article. Mark walks in the house. I yell downstairs, "Hi, baby!" Though, in truth, I barely take a moment to pause. I continue to work, to push ahead. Yet I feel disconnected and Mark feels, perhaps, unseen. (Since this event, I've changed my actions. I stop whatever I'm doing and greet him at the door.)

A memory of goodbye: I'm at Mayo clinic hospital, in a small room surrounded by tight corridors. My sisters and I must say goodbye to dad before he's wheeled off for heart surgery. I'm not worried but the moment is poignant. That hug, that "I love you," that "goodbye," I'll never forget. It makes me wonder: what if I treat each goodbye in this way?

Everyday mindfulness is buoyed by small pauses. Little breaks throughout the day. These breaks wake us from trance and bring us back to aliveness. They remind us what's most important. Saying "hello" and saying "goodbye" are natural places for pause. Thirty seconds is all it takes. Thirty seconds of eye contact, full attention, and genuine care. It's a benefit to both the giver and the receiver. Imagine all the greetings you provide in a typical day. Now imagine them as purposeful pauses, as places to slow down and make human connection.

Goodbye. Thanks for your kind attention. Thanks for your love and support. The light inside me honors the light inside you. I wish you well.

February 9, 2015


February. The month of love. I walked into Walgreens, in search of cold medicine. I was bombarded with hearts and candy. In those aisles, I realized who needed a Valentine; who most needed my love and attention: me. 

I can be lulled into thinking I'm doing just fine. That I know exactly how to nurture myself. But then I'm surprised. Tears arise unexpectedly or sickness seeps in. And I must listen anew. Some of my recent discoveries:

Photography feeds my soul, but sometimes the best therapy is a long walk without my camera. It's possible, and quite helpful, to meditate in the middle of a busy farmer's market. Dancing to Bruno Mars "Just the Way you Are" while looking in the mirror melts my heart. A cold is just a cold (not a judgment from the universe), and is nursed well by 12 hours of sleep. Taking a hot shower and putting on clean clothes can shift my mood. Patience is a beautiful form of kindness. Love-filled hugs work every time.

January 29, 2015

Everyday Mindfulness: Put Down the Silverware

There are many ways to rush through our days. And there are many choices for small yet substantial pauses. Spread throughout the day, purposeful pauses can shift our landscape. One of these places is mealtime. Food nourishes us and, in community, it nourishes connection. It's an important time to be fully present. Yet we seldom are.

While in academia, I ate at my desk facing the computer, barely chewing my food nor tasting the flavors. Everything seemed so important and pressing. If I made time to experience lunch, I wouldn't get everything done. Yet I was perpetuating my own busyness, removing my choices. And in that process, I lost connection with myself.

It's common to feel we're "on our way" to something else, even as we're in the here and now. Eating a meal can feel this way. But meals provide a gentle and needed space. Here's a counter-culture approach to food: close your eyes for 30 seconds, pay attention to your breath, be in your body; look at your food, take in the colors; smell your food, breathe in the aroma; taste and fully chew your food. I know this might sound radical. (I don't have time for this nonsense, there's more important things to do.). Here's a key ingredient: put down your silverware (or your food), let go, between bites; between every bite. This act, in itself, will slow your pace. Even if your mind races and you quickly anticipate the next bite, there's a bit of space. You can notice your reactions. If you're with other people, you can give them your full attention. Look them in the eye. (Or, if alone, look inward at yourself.) 

Give yourself this gift: put down the silverware, release your grip. Make space to savor your meal--even if in small ways. It helps your digestion, but more importantly it helps you connect with others and reconnect with yourself. (I'm with you on this journey, still practicing and starting anew each day.)

January 21, 2015


I read an interview in a magazine. "I don't meditate. It just doesn't work for me," quickly followed by "I don't understand when someone says, 'I don't do yoga, I'm not flexible.'" The interviewee accepts his own unwillingness to meditate yet judges another's resistance to yoga. A contradiction. 

I smiled when I read this. We all hold contradictions inside us. I judge myself far more harshly than I judge others. I practice the Buddhist precepts yet I drink wine, regularly. I don't want fame yet I daydream of having a book published. I'm a pacifist yet I'm often at war with myself, or at war with the present moment. 

We're human. We're complicated paradoxes. We needn't be shocked by these contradictions. They're in everybody in every form we can imagine. But neither should we ignore the contradictions. They hold wisdom. They show us where we're stuck; where we're blind or resistant or ignorant. Paradox is a rich place for growth. But bring these tools: curiosity, gentleness, tolerance, honesty, and kindness. See what shifts; see what grows.

January 16, 2015

Everyday Mindfulness: Red Lights

Daily life can feel hectic. We cram our schedules full, leaving no space for surprises and interruptions, both of which we can depend on regularly. This feeds our irritation and separates us from joy. Yet it's possible to make breathing room in the tightest of schedules. Momentary pauses abound. 

Red lights and stop signs are beacons of stillness. It takes this subtle shift: I'm stopped from moving forward (argh!); I'm allowed to pause and be, to relax for a few breaths. This practice has buoyed me. I now welcome red lights. I don't look in my purse or at my phone or obsess in my mind, I bring my awareness back to my breath and my body. I rest at the red light.

I also do this as a pedestrian. When crossing a busy street, I must wait for traffic. I wait and breathe deeply. Or I repeat loving-kindness phrases to myself: may I be safe, may I be happy, may I live with ease. Whatever the practice, it creates a break in the busyness. It gives me access to the present moment. It moves me toward both stillness and aliveness.