January 27, 2013


I notice a pattern in my blog posts. Sometimes I share a tender piece of me; I expose my interactions with difficult emotions (e.g., sadness, shame, doubt, fear). This is my path: telling my story as authentically as possible; creating community through vulnerability. Yet after each of these vulnerability posts, there is ego backlash. Ego harshly whispers in my ear: people will think you're depressing; people won't like you anymore; people will see something is really wrong with you.

I recognize the ego-driven doubt cycle; I see it clearly. And I try to sit with it. I allow the fear to enter my body; I send myself loving-kindness; I notice the fear doesn't overwhelm me, in fact it dissipates; and I do this over and over again. I try not to act from a place of fear. But I recognize something else: I'm always relieved when I have an idea for my next blog post, especially if the post is more upbeat. That is, I don't take action out of fear--I don't purposefully create a deflection post--but I'm relieved when the (upbeat, creative) deflection post arises naturally.

Yesterday I wrote about shame. Today I feel fear and doubt. But this is not a deflection post. This is the truth about my internal backlash on sharing my shame. And I'll let both these posts sit for a while--no deflection needed (only trust).

January 26, 2013

Acceptance and Shame

In a recent blog post, Brene Brown defines shame as "the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging." Yes, it is intense and painful. I know shame well. When I was at the tender age of 5, my mother met mental illness. She was hospitalized for bi-polar disease. These were the events: mom acting strangely, mom gone, mom back. This was the narrative I chose to explain these events: something is deeply wrong with me; I am unworthy. This explanation seemed logical to 5-year-old me, and more importantly, it provided me a semblance of control--if I try harder, act kindly, don't upset anyone, get good grades, and excel, then maybe my mom will get better. The reality is my mom still has bi-polar disease, which is completely out of my control. And another reality is that I've always been worthy of love and belonging.

Years of self-reflection and therapy helped me realize my habit of shame. Not only notice it, but make forward progress. When I feel shame (my gut reaction to many events), I pause and tend to myself. I don't move forward until I'm centered enough to see the truth: I am worthy, just as I am.

I understand shame; I know it intimately--an emotion that feels isolating  and embarrassing and not-appropriate-to-talk-about. Sometimes I want to yell from the rooftops: I feel shame every day. If I declare it and expose it, then it loses power. And I connect with others on a deeper level--we honor both the darkness and the light in each other. 

Sometimes I don't detect my shame habit and I spend hours or days in a funk--in the distorted darkness. But then I remember. I remember my worthiness and basic goodness; I find my center and see my choices. Because just as I know shame, I also know acceptance. I've felt my heart open with acceptance of others, life difficulties, and of myself. Acceptance is the expansive antidote to shame's shrinking darkness. And it's a daily practice.

Shame sprawls as heavy sludge,
attached to all.
It crouches in dark corners, shuts the blinds,
and steals my light.
Shame plunders my energy.
It distorts the world into fun-house mirrors.
Shame sits thickly on my throat;
and changes my words.
Shame locks me in a dark, cold,
mold-covered basement.
Until I awake,
ascend those basement steps,
and set myself free.

Acceptance embraces and warms all my heart;
even the most tender pieces.
It softens sharp edges, expands constriction,
and radiates trust.
Acceptance invites friends to the party: 
It slows the pace, listens, and offers choices;
it offers love.
Acceptance places me in a vast meadow of wildflowers 
on a warm spring day.

January 21, 2013

Be Yourself

My friend Steph gave me a lovely pocket mirror whose backside contains a classic Oscar Wilde quote: "Be yourself; everyone else is already taken." I placed this mirror in a compartment of my purse and then completely forgot about it. Last Friday, as I walked home from work--after a long day and a long week--I searched for something in my purse and happened upon this little treasure. Of course! Be yourself. This was a much-needed reminder.

The quotation can be applied in many situations: when imitating someone else's work (instead of finding your own path), when acting like someone else (in hopes of being liked and admired), or when assuming certain roles (rather than trusting yourself). The latter is where I firmly stood while digging in my purse last Friday. So when I saw the words "be yourself," I immediately smiled. 

Last week I was trying to be the-best-teacher-in-the-world and a social director and a counselor and the-person-who-dreams-up-the-most-creative-photograph-ever. And in the process, I lost touch with myself--just briefly. Indeed, I'm at my best in the classroom when I'm myself; when I'm mindful; when I create from my heart, not from my desire for students to think I'm a great teacher. And my photography is most true when I listen to and trust myself. But sometimes I forget. 

I can be pulled from the mindfulness path; lured into playing habituated roles or inhabiting comparing-mind (where I'm never as good as anyone else). This often happens when some strong emotion (e.g., fear, sadness, shame, hurt) is not given the care and attention it needs. Instead of feeling, I distract and busy myself, and then my ego is off to the races--do, achieve, run from your true self. But when I make time for myself--just sit and listen and feel and cry and love--then there's just enough softening that I return to my true intentions. I return to being me. And that makes me happy.

January 9, 2013

Praise and Blame

The Buddha said, "Just as a solid rock is not shaken by the storm, even so the wise are not affected by praise and blame." But I'm not always wise. 

Recounting the many Buddhist stories that describe praise and blame is unnecessary. Let's face it: we all know the feeling of praise and the feeling of blame; and we've all faced these seemingly opposite responses to a single action. Perhaps words we spoke resonated with some yet lit anger in others. Or a decision we made received both high-fives and sour looks. As a teacher, I regularly see this paradox--a classroom experience can generate compliments from some students and grumbles from others. Indeed, the paradoxical nature of the reactions is precisely what we must notice; once we see this clearly, we no longer believe either extreme. Attachment to either praise or blame is a cause of suffering.

Sometimes I'm wise; other times I suffer. Recently I noticed my attachment to praise via my blog and Flickr posts. These are places where I grow creatively; I feel both excited and vulnerable. Lucky for me (?), I've received no open blame through these outlets, but I sometimes feel a lack of praise. Occasionally I take a photograph that I love, post it to Flickr with bated breath, not a single person comments, and I fill with great doubt. But that's precisely when I know I've attached to praise in an unhealthy way. I've made my art about the reaction of others rather than my own creative intentions.

With art as with speech as with choices, there will always be praise and blame--always. If I receive 50 effusive comments on Flickr or my blog, does this indicate my work is meaningful? Nope. My work is meaningful when it comes authentically from my heart--a heart unattached to the reactions of others. If I create for myself, based on genuine motivation, with skillful action, then I'm fulfilled. Nothing else needed. Yet I find this a fine line to walk. It's easy for my ego to latch onto praise or to blame: I long for positive strokes, yet they don't actually fill my need for self-love; or I ruminate on a negative encounter to the exclusion of the positives and the bigger perspective. When I'm centered, I walk the middle path.

Some days I am more wise than others. Today I write this post from my heart. No comments required. :)

January 1, 2013

My Word for 2013: Choices

The turn of the calendar from 2012 to 2013 evokes different reactions. Some people make resolutions. Others reflect on the past year and set an intention for the next. Still others flip the calendar without fanfare. Most importantly, the new-year process should be personal, authentic, and sustainable. 

Two years ago I tried a different entry into the new year: thoughtful selection of a word. The idea was first introduced to me by Christine Kane. But this year Susannah Conway's "Unravelling the Year Ahead" was my guide. Yesterday and today, I've seriously reflected on the last year, while also bursting into 2013. This is my year of choices.

Choice certainly applies to my new professional path, but it also applies to all of life, big and small. What roles do I play? To what identities do I closely cling? Do these feed me? Do these hold me back?  What assumptions do I make about myself? Do these stop me from seeing myself in new ways or stop me from trying new things? Some of my well-grooved habits, roles, identities, assumptions no longer feed me, yet it takes mindfulness to recognize when this happens, and it's vital for me to understand I have a choice. I can choose to stop playing a certain role; I can choose to view myself in new ways; I can choose to walk different paths. Even in the face of external expectations to the contrary.

And at a bare-bones level, choice impacts me daily. A good reminder: my life is a compilation of my days. Where do I put my limited time and energy? What projects do I embrace? What projects can I release? When is non-doing the answer? What sets of choices make me feel energized, happy, and fulfilled as I lay down to sleep? I hope to ask these questions more often in my year of choices.