December 29, 2012

Playing in the Snow

Last spring I discovered the fun of self-timer action shots. And this Christmas my brother-in-law gave me the greatest gift: a wireless remote shutter release. No longer must I run back and forth from the camera; now I can leap with abandon, simply clicking the remote to take a picture. (Thank you, Eric!) 

Today, as a soft snow fell, I jumped and laughed through a series of photos. Afterward, I was positively giddy. There's definitely no age limit on happily playing in the snow.

December 28, 2012

Not Knowing

Difficult truths: I cannot extract pain from a loved one; I can't ensure people like and understand me; I can't make people forgive or be happy or see beauty. I've spent substantial energy trying to change externals--it's a well-grooved habit. But I realize the fruitlessness of that particular journey. When I'm mindful, I accept not knowing.

Will my friend's cancer return? Will my mom surface from her depression? Will Newtown heal? Will my students learn? Will I find a meaningful job after leaving Lawrence? I don't know.

Not knowing is a place that's difficult to inhabit. We humans want ground; we want the known. It makes us feel we have control over this precious life we hold for only a short time. But recently I've sat with the unknown. In fact, I've welcomed it. Instead of filling my December with planning my next career path, I left space. Next September, I will not be employed. My ego emphatically wants me to look ahead, but I want to wait. I want to not know. And interestingly, when I don't know, many juicy things happen: creative ideas pop, authentic intentions emerge, new perspectives appear, and I truly consider options--all while still not knowing.  

Does this process terrify me at times? Yes. But more importantly, the not knowing opens my mind and heart--both for myself and others. Not knowing allows space; space for me to better understand the rich layers of life in us all.

December 19, 2012

What if?

What if our constant searching
leads to an open field
of nothingness?

No explanations,
no fixes,
no accolades.
Just open space.

Can we sit in that field,
in bare awareness,
and enjoy our own company?

December 11, 2012

Life as Paradox

I look through a magazine on blogging; articles encourage writers to be true to themselves (ignore the expectations of others), yet peppered throughout are tips to attract blog readers. Even my Shambhala Sun--a magazine about Buddhism and meditation--has a section for vendors (buy these prayer beads or this meditation cushion or attend this particular retreat). Such is the way of the world. Paradox is what it means to be human.

At a recent meditation retreat, I heard Cheri Maples thoughtfully discuss a particular paradox: take refuge in yourself while also embracing egolessness. That is, establish yourself as a safe place, yet reduce the volume of the "me" dial on the radio. Safety within yourself is healthful; making yourself a huge player in the story of life is suffering.

Regularly, I experience the paradoxes of life. In the same moment, I can feel both shame and peace; fear and love; grief and hope. I was drawn to Buddhist philosophy because it embraces paradox and encourages the middle path. When I was younger, my thinking was more black and white. There was a rigidity to some of my views. Now my thinking is much more gray. There is always some piece of the story to which I'm not privy; there's much more space around my views. I'm genuinely curious about the paradoxes of life. 

When I'm centered,  I feel relief and equanimity about my mom's transition to a nursing home. And that's precisely when ego steps in and encourages me to feel guilty. Yet when I allow myself to feel grief and sadness about my mom's situation, that's when ego chides me for continuing to feel something I've already worked through in therapy. Ego is wily. Life is interesting. We are all walking paradoxes. In the words of Pema Chodron (Start Where You Are), "None of us is okay and all of us are fine. It's not just one way." Indeed, life is not just one way. It's an ever-changing, paradoxical, difficult, and interesting ride.

December 7, 2012

11 More Things You Might Not Know About Me

Eleven more things you might not know about me (in no particular order):

1. I love garlic; when a recipe calls for a clove, I include the entire bulb.
2. I need white noise to sleep--specifically, the sound of a fan.
3. I'm not vegan because I love cheese.
4. I'm a movie snob; I won't watch a move that's not deemed fresh at Rotten Tomatoes (preferably above 80%).
5. I've always felt anxiety when stepping on a scale.
6. I get a massage every week.
7. I don't like my front teeth or my nose; I do like my eyes.
8. I sometimes don't wear my bike helmet.
9. I like to drink champagne just because (no celebratory news needed).
10. I wear the same home-from-work comfy clothes nearly every night. (I do wash them once a week.)
11. I care about my blog stats much more than I'd like to.

December 4, 2012

Working with Sadness

My body feels creaky. My lower back aches. Yet my osteopath and massage therapist find no structural or muscular issues. This doesn't surprise me. My sacrum and belly are reacting to strong emotions--to deep-seated sadness. Sadness I've held all my life.

When I was five, my mom was diagnosed with bi-polar condition. When I reached high school, mom additionally struggled with severe anxiety and worry. Now, my mom struggles to walk. All my life I've wanted to save her--to take away her pain; allow her to see and embrace her beautiful soul; to give her strength and tools to cope. All my life. 

Through therapy, writing, and meditation, I arrived at a place of peace with my mom. I knew I couldn't change her, affect her actions, or save her, but I could love her, treat her with patience and compassion, and listen. Yet even in this place of peace, my insides feel torn apart again. All the sadness comes back as we place my mom in a nursing home. It feels like the final frontier--this could be my last chance to save her, but indeed I cannot. And that makes me sad.

As I make my transition from safe career to soul-filling (unknown) career--as my heart sings and I see the beauty in myself--my mom transitions to a nursing home; her final stop in a life filled with difficulty. Is this juxtaposition ironic or meaningless or telling? I don't know. But it has a powerful pull on my emotions. Does it honor my mom that I'm spreading my wings in a way she never could? Or is that question just another route through which I hope to save her? 

I often think about choices--the choices we all have, even in times when we feel boxed-in. I think of the choices my mom never made. I think of the choices I have made. Perhaps there's nothing here to ponder. I know she loves me unconditionally; she's unwavering in her support of her daughters. I know I love her; I see her kind heart. And, really, that's all I need. So why is this so hard? Why do I feel such strong sadness and pain? Perhaps precisely because of that love. And the complicated nature of relationships and life (and death). No easy answers when working with sadness. The sadness will stay for a while; I'll work with it; eventually my insides will feel less raw.

And, in the meantime, I'm beginning a new path. My mom can't walk, yet I feel like I can fly. And such is the circle of life.

December 2, 2012

Important Choices in my Life

  • Tirelessly practicing (not just playing) sports in my youth
  • Trusting, loving, and committing to Mark
  • Adding Pilates and yoga to my exercise routine
  • Being a teacher, aunt, and mentor, instead of a parent
  • Purposefully surrounding myself with a tribe of loving, supportive, soul-filling, yet truth-telling people
  • Getting rid of cable TV (and any TV reception at all)
  • Creating a peaceful bedtime ritual
  • Practicing meditation
  • Giving a sustained effort to cooking and gardening 
  • Going back to therapy after I thought I'd figured everything out
  • Re-envisioning my photography 
  • Regularly taking a 5-week sabbatical with Mark (no Internet, phone, news--just Caribbean beauty and each other)
  • Trusting in myself that I can change my professional path

December 1, 2012

Born Joy

This year I transition from college statistics professor to who knows? No longer is JoyOfStatistics an apt URL. Welcome to my new URL: BornJoy. I'll only be in statistics for another six months, but I'll always be born joy.

Recently, I've thought through my journey to statistics professor. In college, my major was math (emphasis in statistics). I chose that major not because I loved it, but because I was good at math and it felt comfortable to me. I enjoyed it, but it didn't bring me alive inside. In my last year of college, I didn't know what I wanted as a career, but I did know I enjoyed school--I liked to learn; I felt comfortable in school. (Notice I've used the word "comfortable" twice; this is a purposeful choice.) In what area would I get my PhD? Statistics, of course, because that's what I knew and what felt safe.

Looking back, I enjoyed most of my stats courses in graduate school, but I didn't love them. Yet something magical did happen in graduate school: I fell in love with teaching. I relished both my interactions with students and my preparations for class. At statistics conferences, I gravitated toward the education sessions, where creative teaching ideas were shared. I realized a completed PhD was my ticket to a job at a small liberal arts college, where teaching is revered. That's how I found the discipline to finish my PhD. My love was always for teaching, with a strong like of statistics.

So it's not so surprising I find myself looking for a new career path--one that makes my heart sing. One that is not the safe road. And I realize there are many and varied ways to teach. Regardless of my new professional chapter, I will continue to write, photograph, connect, share, and live life with an open heart. I was indeed born with the name Joy. And I think I was also born filled with joy. And that joy spills out more and more each day.