July 31, 2012


Habits are on my mind. This summer, I joined a local team for the a 4-month bike challenge on Endomondo. The idea: to get more people on bikes for commutes, exercise, or transport. For years, Mark has encouraged me to ride everywhere possible (he commutes to work each day and longs to have our car sit idly in the garage). During the summer, I typically bike a lot, but not everywhere. So I joined this challenge and guess what? I'm biking everywhere. Most days our car sits idly in the garage-- a new (and very positive) habit formed by this challenge. 

My friend Wendy hosts a yearly February Challenge (as she says, it's only 28 days, but that's all we need to form better habits). Five years ago I took on eating 9 servings of fruits and veggies a day. It was a low-stakes challenge--I wasn't really accountable to anyone (just like the bike challenge), yet I did it. And now I never go a day without at least the minimum suggestion of 5 servings of fruit-and-veggie goodness.

Interesting how (relatively) easy it was to form and hold onto these healthful habits (and many others). Yet what about my daily meditation practice? That formed and then went away. Or the 28-day yoga challenge I joined, yet didn't follow through on? Why do some habits stick and others flutter away? Flutter away even when I know they are in my best interest? Not sure. But perhaps there are only so many habits I can hold onto; only so many changes I can make during a certain period. And perhaps soon there may be space for more. Perhaps tomorrow will begin my daily meditation habit. Or not. (The beating-myself-up habit is one I'm gradually trying to break.)

July 27, 2012

What Have I Learned?

During the last 7 weeks, I've read Inner Excavation and worked creatively with the prompts. This process is a natural extension of the inner-work I've done throughout my adult life. It's liberating, scary, creative, overwhelming, peaceful, and worthwhile. Essentially, it's life. The read-along has brought me many gifts and insights. This seems an appropriate time to reflect on what I've learned (in no particular order):

* It's both exhilarating and terrifying to share deeply from my heart. There's an initial moment of doubt (which sometimes lingers), but ultimately there's a sense of trust.

* Self-worth can be misplaced in many ways. Sometimes I place my self-worth in maintaining my blog, pushing creative boundaries, or monitoring the number of comments I receive on Flickr. When this happens, my most skillful action is to stop doing (e.g., get offline) and start being (e.g., lay on the grass in the backyard). 

* It's important to share my story, yet there are tender times when it's better for me to stay quiet.

* I must regularly revisit my authentic motivation for any activity.

* What I've heard from many teachers is true: every moment is an opportunity to change; to form a new habit; to come back to myself. Every moment.

* I'm deeply grateful for the gifts I receive from others; gifts of inspiration, vulnerability, kindness, insight, and acceptance.

* I have a new appreciation for my natural sense of wonder.

July 19, 2012


In March I wrote about craving--particularly the message I receive from Amazon boxes that appear at my door. The subject matter of the selected books lets me know what I crave. But it's not the books themselves I desire--it's the self-nurture. In March, I craved time to cook food and work on creative projects. This summer I purposefully made space for cooking, gardening, photography, and a little poetry. I've pushed my creative boundaries in exciting ways.

But ego snuck in when I wasn't looking. Ego took on the creative projects in a must-do, this-is-your-self-worth, stay-hooked-to-the-computer way. (This was a gradual process; ego is quite wily.) So what arrived on my doorstep recently? Pleasure reads. Books in which I can lose myself. Books for fun. Do I actually crave these specific books? No. I crave downtime. I crave a day where I have no plans; a day where I can start a book and perhaps finish it before bed. It's summer and my schedule is very flexible--this is precisely the time to leisurely enjoy an unstructured day. Yet I haven't. Interesting how ego works.

The good news: 1) I've made exciting creative leaps this summer, and 2) I spied ego early-ish in the process. Really, what more can I ask? This is the pathway of life. And sometimes, I receive a gift at just the right moment: yesterday I lolled at the Kohler Water Spa with two of my best friends. Any moment is an opportunity to change habits. Yesterday was a lovely reminder.

July 13, 2012

Making Friends with Drought

The title of this post makes me smile. My intention really is to make friends with the terrible drought we're currently experiencing. But it's easy to misread the title as "making friends with doubt," which is certainly a worthy effort. So really, the title could be making friends with drought or doubt or gout--essentially, making friends with difficulty.

I had 6 hours in the car Tuesday. My driving time is typically spent in silence or listening to dharma talks by meditation teachers. Although the teachers focus on different topics, certain themes emerge from all. In particular, I pondered our human nature to always want something different from what is. Usually we have a low-level feeling of uneasiness--that something is not quite right (with ourselves, someone else, or the world). Rather than experiencing this uneasiness--staying with it, being curious, and noticing the underlying feelings--we typically distract ourselves. Or we long for some set of conditions (e.g., destination, completion of a project), and then move immediately to something else once those conditions are met.

Back to my 6-hour car trip... I don't often sit for hours at a time and my body hurts during extended car trips. As I listened to a dharma talk, where the teacher encouraged me to stay in this very moment, I longed to be home--out of the car and in the comfort of my nest. (I fully realized the irony.) I did actually stay with many moments, but I noticed my natural tendency to long for home; long for the end of the trip. Of course, I did arrive home--the place I painfully longed for during most of the trip. Then what? Did I enter my house with gratitude and slowly stretch on my living room floor? Nope. I took a tour of my yard, watered my plants, and was saddened by the toll taken by the hot, dry weather. Then I unloaded the car, unpacked everything, and drove back to the rental-car company. (At this point I was quite hungry, but I told myself I could eat when I got home--I can enjoy life later.)

On my run home from the rental-car drop off, I eventually found my breath and my mindfulness. Per usual, the breath is always there--we just need to notice. So I chuckled and allowed myself to look around and experience the run. I noticed that the brown grass actually looks quite beautiful in the evening light. Perhaps there are lessons in the drought. Perhaps there is beauty in the drought. (In fact, there is.)

Here's a pattern I notice: I rush to get somewhere; I arrive at my destination; my mind starts thinking about the next destination or the next thing I must do that day. Without mindfulness and intention, an entire day zooms past with very few lived moments. Part of this is my discomfort with being with what is--whatever happens. So my practice is to spend more and more mindful moments, which means more lived life--more real, connected experiences. It's a practice because it actually goes against my human nature, so I make mistakes, notice, and being again. (See the story above.) Yet I know firsthand it brings me great peace.

An apropos (and beautiful) poem by Galway Kinnell:

Whatever happens. Whatever
what is is is what
I want. Only that. But that.

July 5, 2012

My Body (It's Complicated)

What is my relationship with my own body? Honest answer: it's complicated. Sometimes I'm gentle with and nurturing of my body. Other times I punish my body with workouts. Sometimes I truly listen to my body and take a break. Other times I send loathsome messages to my belly. It's back and forth and day to day. But there are many more days when I'm gentle and kind. And every night, without fail, I massage my feet (with deep gratitude) before bed. I'm exceptionally thankful for everything my body does for me. And yet (sigh).

During this week's Inner-Excavation read-along, Liz encourages us to take self-portraits, and to be especially present with our bodies; see our bodies, write about our bodies, BE in our bodies. I've done much self-portraiture in the last 6 months. After some initial discomfort, I now find it a freeing, creative process. So I mindlessly dove into this week's activity: "I can do self portraits; this doesn't scare me; I've confronted all my demons; let's take some backyard snaps right now!"

I charged into the backyard, and was immediately self-conscious; my neighbor was outside doing yard work. But an answer quickly formed in my head: "You're beyond that, Joy. You're free. Just do your thing." (At this point I did not recognize the voice was ego, not authentic Joy. In fact, Joy was in a very tender space.) I took many self-timer photos and thought I enjoyed myself. Yet there was a nagging feeling of doubt. When I came inside to view the pictures, I saw myself as flabby, awkward, not attractive, and silly. I felt shame. I sobbed. Such is the complicated nature of my relationship with my body. I feel strong one day, and the next I feel like a bulging fake.

After the insights (and the crying), I felt much relief. And, once I became mindful, I was able to access gentleness and love for my body; and love for the core me (which is not my body). I set aside my inner-critic. I put on my favorite summer dress and my "Be Brave" necklace, and I went back outside. This time I let my inner-spirit guide the session. And in the post-processing I cropped the photos to show only parts of my body--and I made peace with them. In fact, I saw their deep beauty.

So what a wonderful reminder that we never wrap up all our issues; we never face all our demons. Actually, life is a spiral of inner-work, where we often revisit the same issues, but from a different perspective. And it's all okay.