August 16, 2016

Being with What Is

There are days when I wish life was different; when I wish it was somehow easier. Days when I feel overwhelmed, not sure if I can handle another death or injustice or even everyday bad news. Then I remember: resistance causes me pain; loving-presence brings me peace. So I sit down, feel my breath, and stay. I allow for the raw, vulnerable places, and gradually shift from resistance to acceptance. Instead of wanting things to be different, I experience what is. Within each of us, there is an awareness that's like the ocean. It's spacious and wise; it's brave and kind. And it's accessed in a simple way: staying with one breath and then another.

My overwhelm doesn't come from the circumstances of life. It comes from my own actions. When I resist or judge my experience; when I distract from my experience; when I numb my experience, I separate from what I most value: love, presence, compassion, connection, integrity, and wisdom. Staying awake is a brave path. Sometimes I want to go back to sleep. But the more days I show up for life, as is, the more I touch freedom. The more I let things be messy, real, and raw, the more I experience connection. The more I stay with myself and otherseven when, especially when, it's hardthe more I cultivate compassion. I'm trying to be both brave and kind; I'm trying to be with what is.

PS: This is me, real and open to what is:

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August 14, 2016

Embodied Gratitude

Before bed, as I reflect on the day, my mind wanders to the negative: undone tasks, mistakes made, or ways to improve. These thoughts aren't personal to me, they're habit of the human mind. Our brains have a negativity bias. This fearful view is helpful for immediate survival, but it's detrimental to long-term health, well-being, and connection. The good news is we can tilt our brains back toward the positive. And we can do so with small, intentional steps. 

Gratitude is an empowering, positive practice. It's even more powerful when we embody the experience: move it from positive thinking to deeper awareness in the body. With regular 3-breath pausestaking in the good—we re-train our brains. We shift our outlook: instead of fear, we see hope.

Like anything, it's helpful to actively practice rather than just read or study. I created this short video, so we can practice together:

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July 28, 2016

Small Steps

Author and mindfulness pioneer, Jon Kabat-Zinn, recently wrote these powerful words: “It strikes me at this particular moment on the planet that the well-being of the world itself depends on our willingness—each and every one of us—to tap into our capacity for embodied wisdom… The tiniest offering of your full presence, kindness, or generosity to others—as well as to yourself, of course—and a willingness to see your own tacit assumptions and biases about those who are not like you, and not be ruled by those biases, is the beginning of real freedom and compassion.”

I agree: tiny offerings can have big impact. We often sabotage ourselves by thinking effort must be big and grand. In doing so, we remain stagnant. My experience tells me real change happens with small steps. For example, regular three-breath pauses; smiles at strangers; tech-free space to connect with and listen to people; heartfelt thank-yous; and permission to fill our own wonder/playfulness/joy jars, so we can serve others from an abundant heart. Whenever we slow the pace—even for a brief while—we notice more, feel more, and love more. And this is the beginning of real freedom and compassion.

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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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