March 28, 2013

While I'm Away

I'll be away from my blog for 5 weeks (see unplugged sabbatical). Yet this is a space to which you can return, investigate, share, and learn. While I'm away, I invite you to ponder and experiment with the following prompts. And please share your experiences. Comment and comment again (and reply to the comments of others). Or if that feels too uncomfortable, email me your experiences. (I will happily read them upon my return in 5 weeks.) I want us to feel connected during my sabbatical. I want to hear about your experiences; I want you to have a safe space to share.

1. Take a risk
To risk is to be vulnerable; to risk is to be brave. What risk has been calling to you? Something that's mildly scary, yet for which you feel ready? Is it having a particular conversation? Or showing your creative work to another person? Or letting your voice be heard? Or asking for help? Whatever the risk--small or big--take it. And tell me about it. How did it feel (before, during, and after)? Perhaps more importantly, did the sky fall? (No, it never does.) That is, it's important to notice and internalize that you took a risk and ultimately you're okay (this is a valuable felt memory to which you can return in the future). Do you recognize your okay-ness, even after taking the risk (even if there was failure)? 

2. Try a recipe at 101 cookbooks
Heidi Swanson is a talented artist--both in the kitchen and behind the camera. Her recipes are interesting and tasty. Try one of her recipes and let me know what you think. Is it a keeper? Was it too much work? Did you enjoy the process of making food? What were the flavors in the food? What was new or interesting? Did you share the food with others?

3. Dig around in my blog
Spend some time with my blog--read old posts, view the photographs, consider the format. What is inviting about my blog? What is potentially off-putting? Are there certain posts you like or dislike? Why? Is there a topic (or series of topics) on which you'd like me to write? Would you suggest a different format (additions, deletions, changes)? I'd love your thoughtful and honest feedback.

4. Write someone a letter and send it via postal mail
I'm in love with postal mail. When I decorate and hand write a card, my heart opens and I feel connected to the addressee. When I receive a letter in the mail, my heart soars. A snail-mail letter can make my day. Think of someone you want to contact--someone to whom you're grateful or you love or you've fallen out of touch. Then write your thoughts and feelings on a card (or even a piece of notebook paper). It needn't be elegant, just write. And then put that letter in the postal mail. (How do you feel as you slip the letter into the mailbox?)

5. Try something new
For some of us, it's difficult to try something new, because we put ourselves in a vulnerable position--we might not excel or we might (egads) make mistakes. (I know this position well.) But that vulnerability (scariness + exhilaration) is a juicy place to learn about ourselves and have some fun in the process. What new experience do you want to try? Dancing? Traveling? Attending an event with a new group of people? Taking a class that's out of your comfort zone? Blogging? Eating a new-to-you cuisine? Whatever strikes your fancy, try it. Just dive in. Then tell me about the experience--before, during, and after.

6. Bare a new part of your soul (to a safe person)
We all hold places of ourselves private--the soft spots that feel too tender to share. Yet holding on (in solitude) to an intense emotion can be a burden--a burden felt with all our being.   Often we feel better by speaking the words, by sharing with another. If you feel safe with a friend, mentor, or family member, share a new piece of yourself. Start small if it feels scary. But share. How do you feel afterward?

7. Declare a dream
We are wired to protect ourselves from harm. In times of real threat, this is helpful. But for the bulk of our experiences, this is limiting. We hesitate in declaring dreams, protecting ourselves in advance against failure. But there's no contract to sign; there's no promise that the dream will become a reality. Dreams are meant to be shared--to be declared in big ways. What are your dreams? Please tell me, I want to know.

8. Tell me about a book you've recently read (or a movie you've seen)
I love reading books and watching movies. I love words and visuals. What book recently caught your attention and why? Was the story intriguing? Was the writing vivid? Were the characters particularly real? And what movie recently sparked your interest? Story? Acting? Cinematography? Tell me all the rich details.

9. Write a six-word memoir
These six-word memoirs are fun. The limited word count simplifies the process. Yet each word matters. And the memoirs can be touching, funny, crass, refined, soul-baring--whatever fits your mood; because you can write many of these memoirs. It's an interesting activity and the memoirs are fun to share. (Drink coffee or wine with close friends while you write six-word memoirs--I guarantee there will be laughter and deep connection.)

10. Take a walk outside (right now)
As technology evolves, we spend more time inside on gadgets and less time outside in the fresh air. So--right now--stop reading my blog and take a walk outside. What does the air feel and smell like? What sounds do you hear? What colors and textures do you see? What does it feel like to fully inhabit your body and connect with nature?

March 25, 2013

Unplugged Sabbatical

I'm a space filler. Coming off the long hours of an academic term, it's hard for my doing-self to slow. My ego (doing-self) is uncomfortable when idle. If I'm not mindful, then my day is crammed with new things (e.g., errands, new--not necessarily well thought out--projects, list making, plans, extra correspondence). These are all efforts to prove my worth--who am I if I'm not doing or achieving? I'm always curious about the new tasks in which I place my self-worth. When I'm mindful, when I make space to just be, then I know my self-worth is inherent. It exists, always. I am always worthy, just by being me; there's no doing that changes my self-worth. But ego is wily and often circumvents my true intentions, though I'm onto ego: I recognize its machinations more quickly and when I do, I immediately pause, breathe, or meditate.

Lucky for me, I will be soon be away from all external pressures and duties. On Saturday, Mark and I leave for 5 weeks in Nevis, West Indies. While there, we rent an 800-square-foot cottage on a beautiful property--filled with gorgeous gardens and just a short walk to the beach. And we're completely unplugged: no Internet, email, television, newspaper, computer, or cell phone. It's interesting to notice my reactions when first there--I'm trained to look at the answering machine or check email. I have that reaction in Nevis and then I smile. And soon I have no expectations. That's when I'm really unplugged. And I feel so very free. So available to experience life with all my senses.

While on Nevis we don't check email, watch TV, read news, travel in a car, dine at restaurants, or surf the Internet. What do we do? Read books, cook food, take long walks, commune with the ocean, sit in silence, have deep conversation, experience the moment, do yoga, run along the beach, play scrabble, take photographs, play music, ride bikes to the market, listen to the wind, watch the hummingbirds, write, take naps, look at the stars, create, and just be. We experience life through all our senses, no distractions. Does ego still add commentary? Of course, daily commentary. But it's much easier to turn the volume dial to low or mute.

So, friends, I'll be away from this blog for a while. (Although, in some sense, I'll take you all to Nevis with me--in my heart and my experiences.)  Check back later in the week--I have some ideas for you to ponder and experiment with while I'm gone.

March 19, 2013

The Real Me

Who is the real me? It's the me that's living life right now, in this moment. Most days, it's the me you experience. It's my calm, my excitement, my love, my fear, my play, my insecurities, my sharing, my curiosity. I've been asking my best friends what they think my "one thing" is--an exercise to help me (vaguely) focus my next chapter. My friend Steph said it's my realness. I took that comment into my heart. To be real is one of the biggest compliments I can receive. Honestly, I don't always feel real. Sometimes I feel distracted or unworthy or uptight. But I suppose owning that is part of being real.

Today I went into the office. I'm gradually clearing out; filling the recycling bin each time it's emptied. On this day I decided to have some fun with my office cleaning:

As I reflect on my time at Lawrence, I honor all my experiences. I remember the multitude of occurrences in my office: interesting questions, aha moments, tears of anxiety, giddy laughter, soul sharing, deep breaths, and lots of learning--from both me and my students. Leaving this job is a loss. But it's also a huge gain. Because the real me is completely at peace:

My friend Kristin gave me a wall hanging with the following quote (source unknown): "Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart." Sometimes I wonder if people have an incorrect impression of me--that I'm put together, zen-like, balanced, and constantly happy. Indeed, the real me is happy, contented, and kind, but I can also be cranky, judgmental, and frantic. That all said, I typically have calm in my heart. I trust in my kind heart. I return there regularly. 

So who is the real me? The me that will look you in the eyes, regardless of the circumstances, and give you my full attention and my open heart:

March 18, 2013

New Territory

Today is the first day of my new path. It's spring break at Lawrence, but my formal commitments are over. Now I get to enjoy--enjoy the end-of-year celebrations, gradually clear out my office, ponder new professions, and let my creative juices fly. So how did my first day of freedom begin? By sleeping until 8:45. The last few days, I've been able to linger in bed, catching up on needed rest. Perhaps it's the grayness or the time change or my general exhaustion, but it feels good to sleep in. (I joked with Mark that I'm re-entering my teenage years. My new life will be sleeping until noon, hanging with friends, and sneering at chores.)

In anticipation of an open day, I made leaven last night. This morning I mixed the bread ingredients and gradually kneaded the loaf over 3 hours. And during that 3 hours I lost time--what did I actually do? I think I did some email, commented on some Flickr photos, took photographs, drank tea, ate breakfast. Wow, 3 hours goes quickly. The rest of my day: dentist appointment, walk to the Y, workout, stop at Green Gecko for groceries (oh, the leisure of not knowing what I'll cook until that very day), shovel snow (mild crankiness), bake bread, do laundry, make vacation to-do list (woe is me), welcome Mark home, make yummy pizza, share stories with Mark, and talk with my nephew about his latest volleyball games.

In reflection, it was a lovely first day of something new. And I'm glad I took time to make bread. The bread-making process is nurturing and mindful and fulfilling. The story of me is still unfolding, but here's the story of my bread:

March 17, 2013

Shiny Objects

My shiny-object theory: we humans are habituated to look for the next best thing--the next shiny object. We secretly hope this new thing (project, feeling, accomplishment, etc.) will finally give us lasting pleasure and take away our pain. Because this secret hope is actually impossible, we continue to search. So inured to our search, we rarely notice the rapid pace with which we discard the last shiny object.

Previously, I wrote about craving, and the shopping I often do at the end of a busy academic term (my version of the shiny object). But this March I inhabit a different place. I need not shore up for another busy term; I'm free. I have space to explore creative outlets and gradually find another professional path. And you know what I notice? That creative projects  are also shiny objects. If I hop from one mini-project to another, then all I manifest is busyness and avoidance. Shiny objects are everywhere. But sustained creative projects that both challenge and feed my soul are not everywhere--they take work and nurture and mindfulness. As I make choices in the next few weeks, choices about quality places to spend my time, I hope to ask: is this just another shiny object?

March 12, 2013

What is a Brave Choice?

What is a brave choice? Previously, I described a common response to my resignation from Lawrence: how very brave of you. Yet my decision to resign didn't feel courageous; it felt clear--a straight-forward choice along my path. One of my friends recently asked how I came to such peace with the decision. My answer: I accrued enough self-awareness and fully trusted myself. Indeed, that is where the bravery lies.

It took courage to explore layers of myself in therapy. It took courage to have hard conversations with people I love--to let my voice and needs be heard, when I wasn't sure of the outcome. It took courage to feel the range of my emotions and let others see all parts of me. It took courage to sit for weekends in silent meditation--alone with my thoughts and feelings. It took courage to make different life choices from my colleagues--to prioritize people (including myself) rather than to-dos and accomplishments. It took courage to say "no" to some things in order to fully say "yes" to others. It took courage to try new creative outlets--to put forth my creative work in the beginning stages when I was most vulnerable. It took courage to tell people how very much I care about them.

My bravest act was not giving up tenure or quitting my job. Those decisions came easily after years of regular self-reflection. I think my bravest act was committing to that path of self-reflection (even when the truth was difficult to hear or say). And that still takes courage--every single day. Some days I don't want to reflect; I want to distract. Yet too many days of distraction leads to disconnection not just from myself, but from all of life. So I gather my courage and plant myself back in the moment; back in life--life filled with uncertainty, love, sadness, kindness, disappointment, contentment, anxiety, and joy. And I can't imagine it any other way.

March 10, 2013

The Truth of the Moment

We view all interactions and experiences through a filter. Sometimes our filter is clear--like crystalline, still water, where it’s easy to see all the way to the bottom. Often our filter is clouded, and occasionally it's completely covered in black slime. In those moments, we can't see the truth of the moment. We're too involved in rumination, planning, anxiety, or old stories that we can't stay present; we can't hear the words of the other person; we can't see through the old movies playing in our heads. 

The Buddha gave analogies on how mind states hinder clear seeing: craving is like water filled with beautiful colors; aversion is like boiling water; sloth is like water covered in algae; restlessness is like wind-churned water; and doubt is like muddy, unsettled, cloudy water (lots of layers to doubt).

Craving (read: wanting) and aversion (read: fear, anger, anxiety) are human habits--habits to avoid difficult feelings. The craving typically comes from a feeling of lack. I want this do-dad, cookie, compliment, or change of scenery, because deep in myself I don't feel enough. Rather than sit with that pain, I feed my cravings. Although aversion is a different hook, it also comes from a place of dis-ease: something is wrong. When we experience the something-is-wrong feeling, we typically direct it in one of three places: something is wrong with me (self-judgment), something is wrong with you (anger), or something is wrong with the world (not fair!). Again, aversion arises when we avoid the dis-ease--instead of exploring the something-is-wrong feeling, we leap to anxiety or anger or judgment. If we miss craving or aversion completely, then we can fall into restlessness or sloth. And doubt is the mother of all hindrances--it weaves a nasty web of cloudy filters that are hard to detect (doubt is wily).

So many potential obstructions to clear seeing--no wonder there is war, oppression, and everyday misunderstanding. Seems hopeless, huh? Actually, it's not. Because the simple act of noticing can make a big difference. If we notice a not-enough feeling and sit with it (just for a moment), then we move forward on the clear-seeing path. One of the most powerful realizations I've gained from meditation is that I am not my mind state. I am not fear or sadness or excitement or crankiness or contentment. I experience these emotions, but they do not define me, and they always pass. Sometimes it feels like the fear will last forever, but it never does. And if I notice when the emotional weather changes, then I trust it will pass the next time, too.

Moving away from the present moment is a human habit--it happens to us all. (I could write an entire blog post on the multitude of ways I distract from difficult emotions.) We move away because of dis-ease. It's a well-grooved habit, but interestingly it doesn't take away the dis-ease; it's an avoidance path (which is sometimes quite necessary). The paradox is that moving into the truth of the moment (into the dis-ease) is the path to freedom. The more we trust in the present moment--whatever it brings--the more alive we are. And it's these moments that we can string together (bit by bit) to make a more contented life.

March 8, 2013

Human Connection

Today is my last official day in the classroom at Lawrence. (I'm here spring term, but on sabbatical--a lovely, low-key way to transition.) This is an emotional day--more emotional than I expected. Not because I doubt my decision; because I deeply care for my students. My interactions with students (in and out of the classroom) are what fill my heart and lift my spirit. I enjoy talking with students about statistics, but enjoy even more talking about life. I see the creativity, strength, and light in all my students. When possible, I try to reflect my view back to them. The stories that play in our own minds are often distorted; the inner-critic wants to squash our light. It's a gift to see ourselves through the eyes of another. In Lawrence students I see kindness, creativity, emotion, intelligence, vulnerability, and light--in a variety of ways.

Recently I wrote some six-word memoirs, concisely summarizing where I am right now. Here's one  of my memoirs: achievements fade away; people matter most. Indeed, people matter the most to me. Thanks to the whole Lawrence community for making me feel so connected.

March 7, 2013

Gratitude Letter to my Students

To my 1663 students, 
thank you.
Thanks for your curiosity, diligence, excitement, and honesty;
for making me laugh and asking me hard questions;
for your unwavering kindness.

Thanks for trusting me;
for sharing your joys and difficulties;
for letting me witness your growth--as students and as people.

Thanks for experiences I treasure (always);
relationships I continue to cultivate;
and memories I hold close to my heart 
(these tears I shed are not of sadness, but of deep gratitude).

Thanks for living your lives out loud (even if it feels like a whisper right now);
thanks for changing the world, just by being you;
thanks for everything.
After 14 years, I leave with a grateful heart and a smile on my face.