May 24, 2012

Secret Lives of Professors

Some of my students think I'm always upbeat, happy, and excited. Reality: occasionally I need a serious pick-me-up before class. Once I'm in the classroom, I feed off the students young, inquisitive energy. Yet it's important I enter that space as mindfully and authentically as possible. Periodically, I need to jump around in my office as a pre-class warm-up:

May 17, 2012

Authentic Motivation

Teaching brings me creative and personal fulfillment. I reflect on the current topics and on my particular class of students, and then I piece together an activity, set of questions, helpful explanation, and/or interesting example (and perhaps some levity). 

Outside the classroom, I enjoy varied creative outlets. (These are the color in my life.)  My creativity takes many forms: photography, card making, journaling, cooking, poetry, gardening, and my blog. These are soul-filling activities for me. Yet they are also a place on which my comparing-mind latches. 

Here's an example of my comparing-mind: "Look at so-and-so's blog. She's way more creative than you are. Her pictures are more beautiful; her words are more powerful; and the layout of her blog is more interesting. She's an artist. You're a hack."

Sometimes my response is "but I'm a statistician! She's an artist by profession. That's not a fair comparison." Yet even that response is not authentic--it's defensive. It's a response meant to protect my vulnerable heart. It's a surface response and doesn't address the real issue. Here's the important question: why do I create? What is my authentic motivation?

The creative process keeps me in the moment, teaches me about myself, encourages me to experiment, and brings me joy. These reasons are my authentic motivation. When I'm centered in these motivations, then comparing-mind disappears (poof!). It's just me and the creative process (and no one else).

Comparing-mind flares not just in creative work, but in any and all places. Some varied examples of comparing-mind: "She's a more devoted mother than you." "He is much smarter than you." "She runs much faster than you." "He gets so much more done than you." "She has more publications than you." "He has more friends than you."

These are all versions of the same untrue, fear-based story: you are not okay just as you are. Yet they flare in all of us. It's us being human. When comparing-mind takes over my thoughts, I find it helpful to center myself in my authentic motivation. Why do I create? Why do I exercise? Why do I make cards for my friends? Initially, I get a defensive reaction, but if I sit still long enough, I access my genuine motivation: I create because it brings me peace and joy; I exercise because it feels good to move my body; I make cards for my friends, because I love them deeply. 

Once I reconnect with my true intention, there's an easiness and spaciousness. And with that gentleness I'm better able to serve my true self and serve others. I'm better equipped to interact with this beautiful, crazy, always-changing, awesome world.

May 15, 2012

Color in Photography & Life

The practice of photography teaches me loads about life. A sprinkling of examples: photography teaches me to be in the moment, take a different perspective, look for light, and see beauty everywhere. Photography also teaches me about color. A bold color or contrast of colors can make a photograph pop.

I've recently looked for color through my camera lens, so I naturally think about color in my life. To me, a life filled with color means a life filled with joy, authenticity, bravery, and creativity. When we live in color, we let our true selves shine; we fully participate; we enjoy ourselves (even on a weeknight!); we celebrate just because; we aren't afraid to be seen. Color is gorgeous, deep, bright, and playful. To borrow a phrase from Emile Zola, a life filled with color is "lived out loud."

Of course, real life isn't beautiful color every moment. But the pops of color are vital to our existence. The pops of color are soul filling. Without that color, our experiences become blah, tedious, and lifeless. Photography provides some important questions for me: Where is there color in my life? What are the different shades of color and what do they do for me? When do I actually prefer black and white? When do I desperately crave a splash of color? Most importantly: do I honor my needs? Do I "live out loud," regardless of the color shade? 

May 11, 2012

This Girl, She...

[The prompt for this poem, "This girl, she...", was provided by Liz Lamoreux.]

This Girl
This girl, she carries a bright light in her soul.
At times, she covers the radiance,
fearful of what it means to be seen.
Occasionally she shifts to high-beam,
boldly exposing herself.
Often she focuses the soft glow
on a person in need.

This girl, she struggles daily
with the light-stealing habits of ego;
mirrors used to deflect attention
from the truth.
The truth that she is okay.

This girl, she is beautiful.
She is complicated, compassionate,
and creative.
She is beyond words.

This girl, she must trust herself.
For everything she needs
is already inside of her.

May 10, 2012


During my walk home Monday evening, I took many dandelion pictures. In particular, I'm drawn to the delicate, soft state of dandelions when they go to seed. I want to curl up in them and take a long nap. Inside there's such tenderness--such a soft center. This softness is lovely compared to the harshness I sometimes encounter. Harshness of world realities, judgment, and overwork. Interesting to find such tenderness in dandelions--a weed with which I have a complicated relationship (some days I fully see its beauty and other days I see a group of ugly things in my yard). Perhaps it's appropriate to receive a lesson in softness from a weed. In fact, the complicated relationship I have with dandelions, I have with myself. Some days I see my beautiful soul; other days I judge myself with harshness. This dandelion photo reminds me to release the tight grasp of harshness and let go into tenderness; to embrace the soft spot in my own heart.

May 8, 2012

Peskiness of Ego

The cartoon below comes from the May issue of Shambhala Sun
In case you can't read the punch line, I'll repeat it: "Between yoga, pilates, therapy, massage, and meditation, I hardly have any time for myself." As someone who does all these things, the cartoon made me chuckle. Sometimes we make to-dos out of our spiritual practice. Or our creative practice. Or our workout practice. This is the peskiness of ego. (I use the word "ego." Others might call it gremlin voice, negative-pants voice, etc.)

For example, we might enter into a routine with very positive intentions. But at some point ego flips the intention to must-do-this-or-you-are-not-a-good-person anxiety. Meddling ego. This is the story of my life. Just when I think I know all the routes ego takes, it finds a new one. But when I notice, I try to smile and then simply ignore. (Note: This is difficult to do, but oh-so worth it.)

Recently, I've been doing a lot. It's been a great deal of creative fun (e.g., photography class, changes to my statistics course, poetry class, meeting with advisees, gardening). But it's too much doing and not enough being. Sometimes I just need to lay on the couch and check in with myself--and specifically ignore my monkey mind of new things to do. Sometimes, instead of creating (e.g. taking a photo or writing a poem), I really need to experience the moment; to watch the animals in the backyard; to simply listen to a thunderstorm; to just be with myself, no distractions needed.

May 1, 2012


Long ago, I gave up the notion of "doing it all" and being superwoman. Yes, my ego still wants me to get everything done beautifully while maintaining a calm, happy exterior, but that's not the reality. Reality: some errands don't get done, some papers get handed back late, some birthday cards are belated, and some workouts are skipped. BUT, the things I do are done with my whole heart and from my authentic self--imperfect and precious as it is.

That said, it's still fun to pretend to be a superhero--to pretend I can fly. Photography teacher, Andrea Scher, encourages us to play with the self-timer on our camera; to let our inner child/superhero fly. (I showed a few of these types of photos in a previous blog post.) After work yesterday, while there was still some light, I took 40+ superman photos in my bedroom. The lighting in that room is terrible for photos, but who cares? I had an absolute blast. And for a moment I flew:

These self-timer action photos are a blast. Even if none of them turns out as I hope, the experience is so much FUN. I experiment, laugh, and try new things. I play. And sometimes, after a long day in the office, I need to take a joyful leaping break (just 'cause it brings a smile to my face):