February 13, 2017

Commit to Yourself


While working as a professor, I remember telling a friend, "I'm not creative." It seems a strange statement now, but at that time it felt real. I viewed creativity in a narrow way: painting, drawing, or being crafty. Though I was a creative teacher, I didn't notice because it felt like science not art. (Upon reflection, I see art in science and science in art, but I needed a wider perspective.)

Gradually, I grew the dormant pieces of myself. I gardened, cooked, meditated, and started this blog. I took online courses: photography, poetry, and writing. This was an important leap. First, I prioritized time for myself and my personal growth; second, I tried something new: creativity.

We often put ourselves at the bottom of the list:
Work
Family
Required events
Laundry
Errands
Creative/personal practice that fills my soul

To connect with our passionsto live a meaningful lifewe must commit to ourselves. This can be in meditation, art class, a garden, a journal, the yoga mat, or a hammock in the backyard. If we don't attend to ourselves, something eventually gives. We get sick or fed up or become numb to our lives. A more wholesome path is to make time for ourselves now.

If you're like a previous version of me and think "I'm not creative," or "I'm not capable of being mindful" or "I don't have time for anything," please pause and consider your choices. Maybe you are creative, if you expand your definition. Maybe you're capable of mindfulness, if you have helpful guidance. Maybe you do have enough time, if you give up other things.

I welcome you (and a friend) into my e-course, "Coming Home to Yourself." But more importantly, I encourage you to take a leap: make one small step toward soul-filling activities. Carve out time for yourself. Commit to whatever practice feels right to you. Show up, just as you are. But show up: for yourself.

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January 25, 2017

Staying Awake


My last post was about staying put: sitting on the meditation cushion, staying with whatever arises. This is an important practice, worthy of a lifetime. Equally important is taking mindfulness into daily life. 

In 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. gave a commencement address at Oberlin College. It's called "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution." Fifty years have passed, yet his words still resonate: "Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals. Without this hard work, time becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. We must realize that the time is always right to do right."

I meditate so I can better understand myself: the relationship between thoughts, emotions, and sensations. I meditate so I can cultivate awareness and compassion. And I meditate so I can move through this complex world in more skillful, kind ways. It's not only about staying put on the cushion. It's about staying awake during a great revolution. It's about "doing right."

We are interconnected, all of us. Fear and blame constrict us—they clip our wings and close our hearts. Each day, I ask myself: How can I stay present, discerning, and compassionate in this complicated world? What’s the next skillful action to take?

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January 18, 2017

Staying Put


In order to grow, I need to stay put. I taste freedom not by flying, but by sitting down. Meditation trains my brain and opens my heart. Still, I sometimes resist. I find other things to do. I push away what I most need: staying put, with awareness and love.

Human nature is curious. We resist activities that cultivate well-being, while we hone habits around short-term comfort. And then (perhaps unconsciously) we berate ourselves for not being better people. This loop continues until we invest again in well-being; in becoming more aware and whole. Until we forgive ourselves and begin again.

Deeper wisdom: Time to meditate.
Distracted self: Nope.
Deeper wisdom: When you meditate, you're more kind and open.
Distracted self: You're bugging me. Go away.

If this inner-conversation resonates for you, try my new guided meditation:



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January 10, 2017

Resolutions and Self-Acceptance


A new year means different things to different people. Often, we reflect on our lives: how we've grown and how we want to change. Lasting change, though, comes through self-acceptance. It's a strange paradox: until we accept ourselves as we are, we can't make the changes we seek. If we reject whole parts of ourselves, these pieces never heal. 

Earlier in my life, I confused self-acceptance with self-care. The latter involves externals; the former involves internal intimacy. I was good at self-care: I got pedicures, took yoga, and made lunch dates. Still, I had a nagging feeling of not enough. Years of meditation have taught me to sit with my uncertainty and self-judgment. I see the places I reject in myself. And it's these very places where I remain stuck. I won't become unstuck with a good glass of chardonnay and new yoga clothes (if only it were so). Bit by bit, I move forward by meeting myself right where I am. Even if I repeat the same negative habit a thousand times, I can begin again: notice the habit, forgive myself, and move forward with compassion.

We receive so many messages of "more," "better," "different," or "improved." Rarely are we told we're okay just as we are. Yet it's from this place of self-acceptance that we genuinely grow. If you want a different, you're-enough-as-is New Year's message, here's a short video:

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January 6, 2017

Wisdom from the Woods


Mark and I spent three nights in a rustic cabin in Hiawatha National Forest, just after a fresh snowfall. Our tiny cabin had no running water or heat. We relied on a trusty wood-burning stove and camping equipment. Getting to the cabin entailed a 1-mile snowshoe, carrying everything on our backs and a sled. Carry in, carry out. The forest was calm, quiet, and welcoming, both in sun and moonlight.

Daily, I try to live a mindful life, paying attention to what's most important. Yet at the cabin I realized busyness still fills my days. In the woods, I slowly made coffee, savored a cup, watched the fire, and eventually cleaned dishes. No rush. No calling to do anything except what's right in front of me. I brought books to read, but they were unnecessary. I didn't need distraction. Hours went by without boredom. (Such a contrast to my typical day filled with doing.)

We snowshoed each afternoon. It felt good to move our bodies yet have no goal or expected result. When snow fell from the trees or birds flew overhead, we paused. We walked in silence; we walked in deep conversation. We returned to the cabin whenever it felt right. And our return was met not with email, phone, or text messages, but with quiet and simplicity. Being unplugged brought freedom.

On the third morning, I awoke with craving mind: I want to go home, sleep in my own bed, and be warm. But there are important lessons in being uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable allows me to see new parts of myself. It lets me see I'm capable of far more than I realize. So I got out of bed, made coffee, and let go into rustic-ness. That day—one day past my comfort zone—was our most satisfying. I want to remember this as regular practice: become more comfortable with being uncomfortable.

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January 3, 2017

Truth Tuesday


I began my “Truth Tuesday” series as an antidote to on-the-surface sharing within social media. If we only see people’s public faces—faces that appear happy, well-adjusted, and successful—we miss the real story, because we all struggle. Just as we feel love, happiness, and excitement, we equally feel sadness, doubt, and fear. None of us has all our sh&t together, and it’s helpful to hear this from other people. Our imperfections connect us as much as our successes.

While in academia, I often felt inadequate. I thought I failed my PhD comprehensive exams. After receiving a formal letter saying I passed (which is a big, awesome deal), I immediately wondered if they made a mistake. When I got tenure, instead of focusing on the positive, amazing student and colleague comments, I chewed on the few minor criticisms. I had earned tenure, but was I legitimate? This is the all-too-common “impostor syndrome.” Many of my colleagues felt the same way, though we didn’t talk about it. But here’s the deal: It’s helpful to talk about it. Not to ruminate on it or believe it, but to openly share doubts and fears. This connects us in important ways.

Just recently, I gathered with a group of talented, hard-working, gifted women. All of us in service careers, trying to help others. Through honest conversation we admitted how, at times, we feel like frauds. Who am I to teach mindfulness? I sometimes yell at my computer. I spend entire meditation sessions lost in thought. I still judge myself harshly. Academics or service workers, we all experience doubt. None of us has all our sh&t together.


I’ve learned something about doubt: If it speaks in an unkind way, it’s not to be listened to. There’s wise discernment: “This isn’t my strength, but it’s important for my career, so I’ll ask for help.” And there’s unhelpful, untrue doubt: “I’m a fraud and should quit.” When I feel safe to speak aloud my doubts, it’s easy to see whether they’re helpful or silly. If we share honestly, we feel less alone and better able to see our gifts or ask for help.

Who am I to teach mindfulness? I’m exactly the person, because I practice every day. When I scream at the computer, I step away and reconnect with myself. When I have busy mind, I still make time to meditate. When I judge myself, I try to apply self-compassion. I’m imperfect and in-process, and from this place, I connect more deeply with students, friends, and strangers.

PS: You can follow my "Truth Tuesday" series on Facebook.

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December 20, 2016

It's Okay to not be Okay


I try to pay attention to my surroundings. When someone cries, I notice that either 1) the person apologizes immediately, or 2) the listener quickly says "everything will be okay." Or these both happen simultaneously. We have a strong need for things to be okay. Okay-ness provides comfort and perceived control, but it doesn't match reality. Sometimes we're okay, sometimes we're not.

It's important for us to know: it's okay to not be okay. If we make room for the not-okay places, we feel better. It takes more energy to resist fear than it does to feel it. Similarly, it's more spacious to listen with compassion than to interrupt with advice. 

Life is complicated. We can cultivate gratitude, love, and playfulness, but this doesn't mean we're always okay. Sometimes we feel sad, lonely, or ashamed. Sometimes the people we love go through tremendous difficulty. How do we experience this without being overwhelmed? For me, it's helpful to be aware and honest: Notice what's happening inside me, don't pretend I'm okay when I'm not. (And make room for others to feel whatever they're feeling, too.) Then it's important to stay with myself and allow for what's painful. My habit is to get lost in thoughts and judgments (especially self-judgment), but if I stay directly with the pain, it shifts, and I feel better. Even the slightest opening helps me remember: things change. 

If we reject the painful places within ourselves, we reject those places in others, too. Yet if we accept the dark places, we allow ourselves and others to change. We are mirrors for each other. When we're real, brave, open, and compassionate, we invite others to be the same. It's okay to not be okay. It's also okay to be happy or hopeful in a complicated world. There's no one way to live this life.

PS: If you want to practice staying with not-okayness, listen here...


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