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.

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.

June 18, 2014

Misplaced Self-Worth

While in Europe, my experiences were vivid--I was fully present. I stayed true to my intention of just show up, no expectations. My eyes opened in wonder; my thoughts stayed in the moment; my heart expanded. (Oh, how I love my dad. I not only love him, but I really, really like him.) 

Back home, I noticed the beauty in my own backyard. I savored time with Mark and my friends. And I watched my ego quickly, sharply place itself on my lap. What are you doing with your life? What value do you add? Why are you so imperfect?

Our first glimpse of Prague's magnificence. A morning spent in the woods, listening to bird songs. Then we walked the cobblestone streets, letting our curiosity guide us.

It was striking to me how quickly my judging, doing mind returned. I threw myself into gardening. It was the grounding I needed. Yet it also became my self-worth. What have I done today in the yard? Is it enough? When it wasn't my garden, it was my photographs. I spent hours on the computer processing pictures. And taking new photos, hoping for something spectacular. Am I my yard? Am I my images? Clearly not. But what am I?

While in Vienna, the weather was cold and rainy, yet the city hummed. We explored gardens, watched a live-streamed aria, and savored glasses of Gruner Veltliner while people-watching.

In everyday life, it's easy to misplace our self-worth. Our culture values achievement, busyness, and money. An attachment to our identities is natural. I am a teacher, wife, friend, gardener, aunt, photographer, athlete, writer. But when I cling tightly to these identities--when I believe they define my essence--I work from a place of fear. I work to not lose these identities; I seek external approval. And I feel disconnected from myself.

In Maribor, we stood atop a hill with a breathtaking 360-view. We sampled wines in the company of passionate wine maker, Mihaela. We took in the good, talked about big life questions, and laughed about silly things. 

The Five Remembrances are Buddhist teachings on impermanence and the fragile nature of life. The conclusion of these teachings resonates for me: "My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand." My identities are not my true belongings. My material goods are not my true belongings. The people I love are not my true belongings. My actions are my only true belongings.

We had a lovely day in Rovinj, where we walked the streets, took breaks by the sea, and enjoyed a leisurely meal.

When I lose myself in doing and judging, I'm not mindful of my actions. In that space, my behaviors often spring from fear. I do my best to remember: my actions are my only true belongings. I want to act from a place of love. And that's where I find my real self-worth: actions based on love, kindness, and wisdom. Intentional actions. Open-hearted actions. Indeed, I am not my garden, my job, my blog, or my body shape. I am my actions. May they be helpful, truthful, and kind.

As we walked the maze of Venice, we imagined the 1400s--what happened in these very alleyways? We emerged at the Piazza San Marco and my eyes opened wide. The meeting of current-day people and old-world history was stunning.

June 3, 2014

Writing Process

My friend Bella writes honest, heartfelt words at She Told Stories. Last week she invited me to her writing-process blog tour. When I researched the tour, I saw it began with published authors--a look inside the minds of successful writers. Now its taken hold among bloggers; among those of us non-traditional writers. And I think that's a good thing. Sharing a writing process helps both the writer and the reader. 

What am I currently working on?
My long-term project is a book that relates life and photography. Each chapter focuses on a theme in photography that can be applied more broadly--to life experience and personal insight. Since I don't yet have my over-arching conceit, that project simmers in the background. In the meantime, I post regularly on this blog. And I carefully choose the words describing my Flickr photostream

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I blend words and images. And I work really hard at each craft. My blog is not stunning photos absent of interesting ideas. Nor is it great writing with no visuals. I love the interplay between images and words. Individually, they convey a message. Yet together they weave a rich, textured story.

Another difference is that I share hard truths. I bare myself to the reader. My blog is about real life, which can be mundane, difficult, and beautiful.

Why do I write what I do?
I write to both understand and connect. Ideas come in and out of my mind. If one sticks, then I must write. Through the writing process I better understand the idea. If my writing stagnates, then I know the concept (or my explanation) is incomplete. When I finish a piece, I've gained insight I won't soon forget. 

The other reason I write is to connect. The most important part of my life is connection--to people, nature, and myself. Thoughtful expression from my heart is a gift I can give the world and it's also a gift to myself. I think openness begets openness. Bravery begets bravery. Joy begets joy. 

How does my writing process work?
My daily intention is to live mindfully; to notice beauty, act kindly, be present. Both writing and photography are about noticing--noticing details often overlooked. So part of my writing process is my mindfulness practice: meditation, walks in nature, listening. I often let an idea float around for weeks until its ready for the page. That said, it's important that I write every day, even if I have nothing special to say. I'm a firm believer in what Anne Lamott calls "shitty first drafts." In her words, "Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something--anything--down on paper" (Bird by Bird, p. 25). This is my tenth re-write of this simple blog post.

Now I introduce two talented, thoughtful, funny writers: Cyndi Briggs and Joanna Dane. I'm not sure if they'll answer these writing-process questions, but their blogs are worthwhile reading. I guarantee they'll make you think and make you laugh.

May 28, 2014

Jet Lag

Europe feels like a dream. A lovely, awe-inspiring, beautiful dream. A fully-awake dream. I loved every city, every space, every experience. I loved them differently yet fully. I took books, but required no reading. The scenery provided a rich and unforgettable story. 

Jet lag is a strange feeling. It doesn't impede my sleep, but something feels off--like I've lost track of time and place. I feel in-between lives and cultures. And this liminal space allows me to not know; to let things be fuzzy. While inhabiting the in-between, I judge less. I feel embodied. I go with the flow. I feel weird, yet connected to others (don't we all feel strange at times?).

Within the fuzziness of jet lag there's a rich learning environment: space to be more and do less; to accept more and judge less; space to see through the old stories. Sometimes fuzzy can be beautiful.

May 12, 2014

Just Show Up

Expectations are like invasive weeds in our lives--they choke out surprise, curiosity, and joy; they feed disappointment. If we create a story about how things are supposed to be, we lose connection with our actual experience. Expectations trigger judging mind, which constricts life.

Today I leave for Europe. Eleven days and five cities: Prague, Vienna, Maribor, Rovinj, Venice. The trip is a gift from my dad, to be experienced with my dad--the person I most admire in this world. We're travelling with a group, so the itinerary is set. Nothing for me to do but show up.

My intention for the trip: have few expectations and many alive moments. I've not researched must-sees. I hope to view whatever is in front of me with curiosity and wonder. 

This Europe adventure feels unique, so it's easier to drop expectations. In my everyday life, it's a harder process. Yet in most situations, the just-show-up mantra works. Just show up, as I am in this moment, and let life unfold.