February 28, 2014

Saying Yes, Saying No

This has been my year of YES. Yes to new experiences, small adventures, and nudging my edges. Quite a contrast to my years of no, while working at an unsustainable pace. I've seen both views: the constricted view of no and the expansive view of yes. 

I hope to never again need a year of no, yet I recognize the luxury of my year of yes. Typical life is a careful balance. We need self-care, which often means clearing space; and we need growth, which often means facing fear. If we don't take good enough care, we say yes when our spirit whispers please no. If we don't expand our inner horizons, we say no when our heart whispers please yes. (Sometimes my first reaction is fear, yet underneath bubbles excitement. That's the moment I know to say yes.)

It's easy to get caught in both directions--too much no or too much yes. As I build my self-awareness, I notice my habits and my energy. I change course when needed. Or sometimes I don't notice and one of my wise, kind friends (or husband) asks a spot-on question that either brings me to tears or makes me smile big. These are the waters of no and yes. Drive your own boat, but surround yourself with a good crew.

February 26, 2014

What is Enough?

At a recent meditation retreat, the dharma teachers were asked: "How can I align my inner and outer lives? How did you know when to make the career leap?" Having just taken this plunge, I listened attentively to the answers. David Haskin said his journey was guided by two questions: What is most important? What is enough?

These questions boil down life. And they've stayed with me. Rarely do these enter our cultural conversation. Our culture pleads that doing is most important and there's never enough. It's a challenge to ponder these questions and live by our own answers.

Years before my resignation, I sat with the what's-most-important question. To me, people are most important. My relationships--connections with others, myself, and nature--are most important. 

In this transition year, I better understand the what-is-enough query. I've simplified my schedule and reduced my spending. I can better discern my wants from needs. And I know what it feels like to have extra capacity; to not be exhausted at the end of a day. 

For years I thought I had to be an academic my whole life. With that barrier broken, I more openly view the system of work. If I put in fewer hours, make less money, yet I'm content--if I have energy to pursue the things I love and spend quality time with the people I love--then that's sustainable. I might work longer into my life, but that's okay if I'm happy. I don't have to labor long, tiring hours in order to enjoy myself later--to put off contentment until retirement. That's not the only available path.

These are interesting questions that apply broadly and can be revisited. How do I live a meaningful, contented life? Decide what's most important and how much is enough. And let my daily actions align with my answers.

February 14, 2014

Love Yourself, Love Others

Love is a gift--a beautiful and complex gift. For many years, I withheld this gift from myself. I felt unworthy of my own love and compassion. I pushed and accomplished; I judged myself harshly. But then--after much life experience--there was a shift, a softening. I made space for myself in my own heart. And I realize: 1) I couldn't fully open my heart to another until I opened it to myself, and 2) I couldn't fully accept love from another until I accepted it from myself. Once I made space for myself in my own heart, there was endless space; space for everyone.

On this Valentine's Day, I encourage you to tell people what they mean to you. Express your love. And I also encourage you to love yourself. Not the superficial love of indulgence in sweets, shopping, or avoidance, but real love: What do you need most in this moment? What piece of you needs attention? Give yourself that love. And then pass it on to another.

February 12, 2014

Parking Meters + Kindness

I can see the end of winter, in the distance, but within view. The February light--extended and brighter--saves me, daily. And I read another article about acts of kindness. How kindness, to loved ones or strangers, makes us happier. We're content when we gift in a genuine way.

So I took 20 quarters from our change jar, walked downtown, and fed meters. Any expired meter received a quarter. I felt a bit subversive (especially when I saw the guy giving tickets), but I also felt open-hearted. Open-hearted in a different way. In a way where my actions weren't the centerpiece. Where a "thank you" was not expected. I felt great knowing that someone might step outside and think: "huh, I really thought I would get a ticket" and then smile at her luck. 

There are endless opportunities for kindness. And this gives me faith in the world. Kindness matters, big or small. (And feeding meters can put a smile on your face and a skip in your step.)

February 4, 2014

Vulnerability Hangover

Last week I shared a lot, publicly. On Flickr I paired self-portrait with poem; on my blog I published an honest essay and new plans for the uncertain future. These felt natural; they weren't forced. It was a push I needed at this particular time. But I was bare. Publicly bare.

I recall Brene Brown naming a "vulnerability hangover" after millions watched her first TED talk. That's how I felt last week. Hungover from the rawness and vulnerability. I realized this not through meditation or writing. I saw it in my actions. I was strangely drawn to Flickr and my blog in an obsessed way--checking for comments and external strokes. And when those came, I still wasn't satisfied. I wanted more. Because those comments weren't true refuge. My true refuge: feeling the rawness--the vulnerability--and tending to myself.

It was then (after days of painful online checking) that I realized: I laid myself bare, in multiple ways, in public. That's okay and I'm okay, but I need some self-care. I need to hold my own hand. To honor my tenderness. 

I think about social media and its impact on our cultural psyche. There are many positive connections made. Yet we've become a society of likes and re-tweets, as if this defines our value. It's a tricky path to navigate. For me, last week, I fell into my-worth-is-measured-by-externals mode. Not surprising given my rawness and my well-grooved habits of protection. Yet that isn't a place I want to inhabit. My intention is to make art, share stories, and be real--as a way of life. My intention is to know my basic goodness, as is. To not look elsewhere for something that's always inside. And when that's my intention, I'm more content, spacious, and genuine. 

Friends, thank you for your kindness. I appreciate this support, deeply. But with or without the comments, I'll keep writing and taking photographs. I'll keep sharing my wide swath of life experiences.  And I'll keep re-remembering that everything I need is already inside of me.