March 28, 2012


Fear travels with me every day. On some days it screams--when I try something new, make a mistake, allow myself to be vulnerable, speak a minority opinion, disappoint someone, or feel threatened. Other days it quietly chatters in my ear, but I don't listen. One of my greatest insights: fully feeling the fear is so much easier than constantly avoiding or fighting the fear. Fighting the fear (or avoiding it via distractions) exhausts me mentally and emotionally. Feeling the fear--while in the presence of loving-kindness for myself--actually softens the emotion. It takes the edge off the fear, and I can peer into vulnerability or sadness. Regardless, I FEEL and it's all okay (this flies in the face of what my ego tells me: don't feel anything, just busy yourself all the time, doing very important things--ah, the chatter of ego). The reality is that feeling difficult emotions actually softens them (eventually).

I know fear will travel with me all my life. I have no illusion that fear will disappear. That's not how life works or how the human brain works. But I'm listening to fear less and less. When I'm mindful, I hear the trigger thoughts or physical sensations, and then just sit with them. Underneath the fear is typically a message--for example, that I feel vulnerable or I'm tired or I need more self-care. In that sense, fear is a lovely travel companion; the scream of fear is an excellent indicator for me to do less and be more; to love more; to experiment more; to take better care of my precious self.

Mark recently showed me a YouTube video of a 4th grader before, during, and after her first ski jump. It's a short video (just under 2 minutes), but it's really powerful. Anytime I need inspiration to listen to my authentic self (which might be the whisper of a child), ignore the fear, and plunge into something new, I will watch this video. It's a lovely reminder that everyone feels fear, yet when we overcome fear the ride can be exhilarating.

March 23, 2012


After a busy academic term, it's interesting to see what comes in the mail. The Amazon-box contents are often an indicator of what I crave. Sometimes I crave peace & meditation; sometimes nourishing, homemade food; sometimes creative projects; sometimes new plants & flowers. Sometimes everything! But I often place an order at Amazon during the 10th week of the term--desperately awaiting a mini-break where I might have space to meditate, cook, plant, and create.
But it's not the books I really need. It's the space and time to practice what's in the books. What I really need: to make myself a priority; to do soul-filling activities; or to just be. The books can't do any of this for me. 

At a meditation retreat, teachers often tell stories about the ways in which our active mind captures us during a meditation sit. One example is this: "Oh, I'm so glad I'm at this meditation retreat. I really want to make more time to meditate. Maybe I can plan my next retreat..." This is an example of craving the very thing that's happening. That is, sitting in meditation while craving more meditation. It's just another mechanism for ego to take over the process. Our minds are so very interesting.

So this spring break I got some lovely new books in the mail. But, more importantly, I made space to meditate, create homemade cards, take photos, cook food, and plant some lilac cuttings. It's the self-nurture I really craved. What a nice reminder that what I wanted was really always here. Just like Dorothy's ruby slippers--at any point they could have taken her home. Or in the words of meditation teacher Thich Nhat Hanh: "Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and in everything we do and see. Every breath we take, every step we take, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity. The question is whether or not we are in touch with it. We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment."

March 21, 2012

In the Moment

Monday & Tuesday, I made a quick trip to Mt. Vernon, IA (my hometown). It was wonderful to visit with my parents and my sister's family. There was lots of fun (e.g., laughter, meals, round-table ping pong, sharing stories), yet my main intention for the trip was to help my dad. My parents recently moved from the house I grew up in to a new condo in the same town. This is a positive move, but the process of cleaning out a house filled with 40 years of memories (and stuff) is daunting. So I wanted to help; and I wanted to spend time with my dad.

Over a short period of time, dad and I accomplished many meaningful tasks at both the old house and the new house. Yesterday afternoon, we made one last trip to the old house (dad wanted  juice glasses, the hose, a lamp, and I wanted  clippings from the lilac bush--a bush that originally came from a cutting of my grandma's lilac bush back on my dad's childhood farm in Michigan). 

It was a beautiful day, and dad wanted to clean the hose before we returned to the new house. I was tired and felt a little tug of impatience, since I wanted to get back to Appleton at a reasonable hour. Luckily, I had the clarity to see this impatience for what it was: a fleeting thought from ego that was obstructing my enjoyment of the present moment.

Here was the reality: It was a gorgeous day; I was in the presence of my dad, whom I love unconditionally with my whole heart, respect deeply, and like immensely; and, really, we had all the time in the world. So I relaxed into the moment. I drank in the sunlight and the connection with my dad--now I'll always remember the time we cleaned the hose in March 2012. And I took some photographs. (Thanks, Cococita, for the "beauty in the everyday" prompt!) 

It doesn't get much better than a beautiful spring day spent with someone you love.

March 15, 2012

Jury-duty Money

In August I spent 50 hours on jury duty. Typically, cases are settled out of court, and many jury-duty dates are cancelled. But for two of my show-up dates, the civil suit went to trial, and each time I was chosen for the jury. (Statistician's note: this is a small chance occurrence.)
After the first case, I was exhausted, but felt good about the legal process and the outcome. During the second case, I came undone at the seams. I felt like a prisoner to the case, which was laden with financial information and emotional difficulty. I worked 10-hour days, with only a 30-minute lunch break. My mind and body were exhausted, and emotionally I was all over the map. August was my time to rejuvenate before the start of a new academic year; August was my time to care for a friend recently diagnosed with cancer; August was my time to coo over the new baby of dear friends. August was NOT my time to be imprisoned listening to a civil case that had no good answers and yet endless amounts of exhibits. 

That was a lot of yuck. BUT, I survived the second trial (and did due-diligence as a juror), and I learned some very good lessons in the process: 1) I have no control over externals--only what happens in my mind & heart, 2) the worst prison is the one I create in my own mind when I listen to nasty ego voice, and 3) I always have more choices than I first think.

Jury duty was difficult, but I believe in the legal process, and I learned some valuable life lessons. To honor my hard work and to remind myself of the lessons learned, I decided to use my jury-duty pay (almost $200) in purposeful ways. When the check arrived at my house, I cashed it and put that cash in a little tin--a tin filled with special money meant for special things (not, say, to pay for the groceries).
The jury-duty money sat quietly in the bottom of my purse for months. Then I had an aha moment while out for lunch with a friend--I could use my jury-duty money to treat us to lunch! Then another aha: I could use the money to buy roller derby tickets, so Mark and I could happily support PachaMama. That is, I could use the money to fund experiences that fill my heart & soul. So now the money is slowly draining from the tin. And each time I use it, I smile with gratitude.

March 7, 2012

Different Viewpoint

I've written before about the Astronomy Picture of the Day. It's such a lovely way to gain perspective. I'm captivated by the above photo of the earth. Sometimes I try to hold the whole world in my heart. And it's just too much. I want to save my loved ones from pain; I want to make everything okay for my students (and for them to learn and retain everything I teach them); I want people to love and not hate each other. 

When I reach this state of too much holding & clinging, I'm no good for anyone. I lose my perspective. If I'm aware enough, I can cultivate a different viewpoint. In the words of Sharon Salzberg (Loving-Kindness): "It is a state of peace to be able to accept things as they are. This is to be at home in our own lives. We see that this universe is much too big to hold on to, but it is the perfect size for letting go."

Of course--it's absolutely the perfect size for letting go. Trust and let go. This then re-opens the ability to truly love, accept, and be present. To know we are enough (and the world is enough) just as it is.

Both photos come from the website: Astronomy Picture of the Day