July 29, 2013

11 More Things You Might Not Know About Me

This is a continuation to a series of posts (here and here). Eleven more things you might not know about me (in no particular order):

1. I saw eight Grateful Dead shows.
2. My favorite ice cream is chocolate-chip cookie dough.
3. But I rarely eat ice cream, except for really hot summer days. 
4. My body temperature is always low--I can be freezing cold (e.g., after eating ice cream) even when it's 80 degrees.
5. I talk to my plants.
6. I drink a gallon+ of water each day.
7. We have an outdoor hot tub (kept at 103 degrees), which gets me through the Wisconsin winters.
8. In seventh grade, my best friends and I performed as the Go Go's in a talent show; during our yearly get-together, we--me and my 3 best friends from middle school--saw the Go Go's perform at Ravinia (they still have the beat, and how).
9. Chardonnay is my drink of choice.
10. At our outdoor wedding, Mark surprised me: he took my hands and sang me a modified version of Calico Skies (by Paul McCartney); everyone--especially me--was in joyful tears.
11. My life path regularly asks for release of (perceived) control; and this is really, really hard for me (even though I know it's the path to freedom).

July 27, 2013

The Story of my Blog

What is the story of my blog? It's a good time to answer frequently asked questions.

It seems your blog has changed over the years. Can you explain the evolution of this space?
My blog originated (in 2008) as a place to document my teaching experiences, but quickly morphed into out-of-the-classroom observations. Yet I couldn't find my authentic voice. It felt like I was giving advice rather than sharing in a natural way. So I stepped away from the blog for years. When I became a student of photography, my images led me back to this blog. Pairing words with photos feels creative and genuine. And I've found an authentic voice.

Why is your blog named Born Joy?
Truth: it was the name I liked best with an available URL. But it's grown on me--there are layers to the name. Most obviously, I was born with the name Joy. And birthing joy in our lives is a wonderful mission. How is joy born? Sometimes it's innate,  sometimes it's grown with care, and other times it's fiercely forged from the difficult moments.

Some bloggers prompt readers for comments. Do you welcome reader feedback?
I love to hear from readers, whether a post resonates with them, makes them laugh, or disagrees with them. In the comments, readers can share whatever is on their minds or in their hearts. And if commenting feels too public, I welcome email from readers. (I don't include question prompts because that doesn't fit with my particular voice; but I value feedback.)

Do you take all the photographs included on this blog?
Every single one. 

What's the deal with the self-portraits?
Initially, self-portraits were difficult for me; they tapped into a vulnerability with which I wasn't yet comfortable. But embracing the self-portrait--and truly embracing myself--has made a big difference in my life. Self-portraiture is a rich learning environment. I learn much about photography and about myself.

Other bloggers are on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, why aren't you?
My plate is already full with email, Flickr, and blogging. If I joined Facebook and Twitter, I would fall into an abyss of attention-grabbing activity that would disconnect me from creativity. (I just know this about myself. I need to abstain.) With regard to Instagram, I own a flip-phone used sparingly. My Nikon is what I use for photography.  

Do you think this decision affects the ability to spread your message?
Perhaps. But here's the more important issue: my message is only authentic if I'm connected with myself. I'm at capacity in terms of social media. If I do more, I'll be too distracted to be authentic. I'd rather my message be genuine than widely heard (if there must be a choice).

How does Buddhism fit with your blog?
The Buddhist philosophy resonates with me. I read the dharma. I sit in meditation. I attend silent retreats. But I don't expect my readers to know anything about Buddhism. The Buddhist teachings come through in my writing simply because that's how I live my life. Yet there's no need for me to use Buddhist-specific language. In the words of the Dalai Lama: "My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness." Kindness, mindfulness, curiosity--these are all themes in my blog, because they are themes in my life.

What is the creative mechanism behind your posts?
My blog is an interplay between words and photographs. And it's an honest look at my life--the ups and downs and in-betweens. Typically a post germinates from an issue or insight I've recently experienced. Sometimes my photographs generate an idea for a post. What's most important to me is that my voice sound genuine. Occasionally I write a post that feels forced (e.g., telling not sharing, or writing about a topic that doesn't capture my heart). Those I try to delete before publishing.

What do you hope for the readers of your blog?
I try to create community by sharing honestly. This includes baring difficult truths about myself. I'd love for us, as a culture, to feel comfortable sharing not only the happy emotions, but also the difficult emotions. And for that sharing to occur without judgment. So I include the joys and the sorrows; the light and the dark (and the playfulness). My hope is this makes readers feel less alone and more understood, even if in a small way.

July 26, 2013

More Thoughts on Compliments

Compliments are on my mind. I've written previously about taking in the good--the tension between accepting the good yet doubting our worthiness. In The Story of You e-course, Jen & Ria posed an interesting question: what kinds of compliments do you readily accept and what compliments do you quickly deflect? This was a revealing exercise for me. And I'm still thinking about it.

In general, I try to graciously accept compliments (regardless of my internal struggle). Kind words are gifts offered by others--gifts I don't want to diminish. And mostly my outward acceptance mimics my internal process. Except for two types of compliments: 1) kind words about something I've done (e.g., food, photo, writing), but I don't feel is my best work; and 2) kind words about something with which I have a complicated relationship.

I know people have different perceptions about the exact same event. We all see things through our particular lens. (Sometimes my lens feels clear and other times it feels cloudy--tainted by my internal stories.) So back to the first compliment type: isn't it possible that someone genuinely enjoys a piece of my work that I don't feel is my best? Of course, it's possible. In fact, it's likely. Yet I doubt the sincerity--I assume the person must be offering a compliment just to be nice. This is a reaction from a place of unworthiness. Re-framing the situation: I can accept the compliment and ask what, in particular, the person likes. Maybe I'll learn something about my own work; something to which I was previously blinded. 

I'm a caretaker; a giver of open-hearted love. Connection to other people is an essential part of my life path. But if I'm not careful, my authentic action can morph into must-dos. When I receive a compliment about a care-taking action, I drink it in (for a moment). But then I'm filled with doubt: now I must keep doing this particular action for the rest of my life (or I'm not a good person). Doubt is such a nasty mind state. It casts a strong shadow on our basic goodness--our worthiness, as is. With this second compliment type, perhaps I can just rest in the acknowledgment of my heartfelt work. Just rest there, no future action required. 

Oh, compliments. They seem so simple, yet can be complicated. It's interesting for me to view both sides of compliments--to be authentic in giving compliments and to be mindful in receiving them. I think both ends reveal much about our inner-dialogues. Dialogues that include voices we want to nurture and voices it's best we ignore. 

July 23, 2013

You Never Know

Black-eyed Susan is my favorite flower. It captured my heart long ago, when I saw masses of its blooms in the wild. Once I chose to garden, I knew what I wanted: a huge patch of black-eyed Susans. I began with transplants from a friend--the bunnies mowed them down. Then I tried native wildflower seeds. For one summer, they blossomed, yet were soon crowded out by the daisies. Last year, I planted more, but they didn't withstand the drought.

As part of my equanimity practice, I decided my yard wasn't long for these expressive flowers. And that's okay. I'd appreciate what I have and admire the black-eyed Susans in other people's yards.

And then, just days ago, I noticed a rogue flower stem among my ground cover. Yes, it was an intrepid black-eyed Susan. Probably around for this summer only, but a wonder nonetheless. Each time I look at it, I'm filled with joy and gratitude. You just never know what might happen.

July 21, 2013

Being Seen

Some days I want to boldly be me--share my words, feelings, photos, and truths. Other days I want to quietly be me--hide my tender spots and avoid possible judgment. Mark Nepo (The Book of Awakening) describes this tension beautifully: "In effect, the cost of being who you are is that you can't possibly meet everyone's expectations, and so, there will, inevitably, be external conflict to deal with--the friction of being visible. Still, the cost of not being who you are is that while you are busy pleasing everyone around you, a precious part of you is dying inside; in this case, there will be internal conflict to deal with--the friction of being invisible."

In the last few years, I've comfortably grown into being who I am--as is. But there are times when I care too much about pleasing others (or receiving external validation). The latter is exhausting and moves me away from authentic motivation. So I balance being visible and being invisible, erring on the side of visibility. Each day I'm more vulnerable (and more courageous); more exposed (and more truly me).

July 14, 2013

Out of Focus

My last few weeks have been fuzzy. I'm ready to start new adventures, yet had to finish previous commitments. I have many ideas, yet no focus. I drew a mind-map, yet haven't followed any path. I want this freedom, yet feel naked without old identities. This is exactly the place in which I wanted to sit--to not know. But it's not a place I want to nest. 

I long for a routine--writing sessions all morning, with short breaks for meditation or yoga. Yet my day skitters away from me. Not in a purposeful lolling way, but in a boldly doing (nothing) way--doing without heart. Too much time online; too many to-dos driven by ego, not my authentic voice; too much pressing, not enough openness.

Yet none of this surprises me. My ego is strong and can jab me from multiple directions. It keeps me on the attention-grabbing doing path and keeps me away from the soul-filling path. And ego can't wait for me to fail at writing, so it can steer me back to safer waters. (Or if I'm going to succeed at writing, ego wants me to do it really, really fast.)


I'm out of focus, but I noticed; that's always the first step. And the illusion of a perfect morning routine is quite off-putting. I just need to dive in. Flail or hover or flop or soar, I just need to start something and stay with it (even when it's hard). I need to find a path with heart. As I write this, I know I'm not far from that path. I'm connected with people, often connected with myself, and I'm engaged in creative endeavors. It's really a change in habit around work (and what "work" is). 

The focus is there, if only I turn the lens a few notches. Then the white blobs might turn into an actual daisy:

July 3, 2013

Saying Goodbye

For months I've purged the innards of my Lawrence office. Each time the recycling bin is emptied, I throw in more paper. It's a cleansing process (with occasional nostalgia). But outwardly my office didn't change--until last week. In just 20 short minutes, Mark and I dismantled the feng shui I had carefully cultivated. The lamps, throws, photographs, water fountain, rugs--all purposeful choices to create a relaxed, living-room feel--were packed in mere minutes. And I felt verklempt. I took a moment to process the change and grieve the space. This space that made students feel safe; this space that witnessed much learning--about statistics and life. It was an unexpected wave of emotion. And then it passed. (Of course, spaces can be cultivated throughout our lives in many different environments.) 

Initially my sadness about leaving Lawrence focused on students. I care deeply about the students--not just as learners, but as people. Then the sadness extended to my amazing colleagues. Yet I've had closure in these areas--end-of-year parties filled with both emotion and celebration. I thought I'd processed it all. But when I left my office for good, Keith and Mike--the custodians in my building--expressed sadness. They told me how much they'd miss me ("miss seeing my smiling face"). Indeed, I'll  miss not only my students and my colleagues. I'll miss the custodians, administrative assistants, admissions counselors, career advisors, and on down the line. Lawrence is a special community. I feel blessed to have touched many different lives and to have them touch me back. Saying goodbye was a great lesson in saying hello. It made me realize the importance of everyday interactions--a smile, a patient ear, an act of kindness. These simple, yet intentional actions build community. And I'll carry that with me wherever I go. Whether for a friend, coworker, stranger, or myself, a genuine smile goes a long way; it has a ripple effect.