November 18, 2014

How Do You Want to be Remembered?

Before dad's heart surgery, we had interesting conversations about death. Funerals, obituaries, and end-of-life care. I knew dad would survive the surgery, but it was a prompt for honest discussion of death. Thought-provoking ideas for anyone, at any time.

One of the questions I asked him: after you die, how do you hope friends and family remember you? I like this question, for all of us. How do I want to be remembered? It's helpful to ponder and feel my answer; to articulate it in detail. Then compare this answer to how I'm living life right now. Are my daily actions aligned with how I hope to be remembered? If not, what changes can I make?

We all pretend death is far in the future. A future we hope never comes. Yet being curious about death allows us to fully live life; to live life according to what we most value; to live life true to ourselves.

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Our current culture of busyness, distraction, and urgency leaves us feeling hollow and uneasy—like we’re constantly “on our way” someplace else. Though this mode isn’t sustainable, there is another path: mindfulness. Mindfulness is being in the present moment in an open, non-judgmental way. When we’re mindful, we listen, notice, focus, and create. More importantly, we’re present in our own lives.

I teach to individuals in small classes, e-courses, and one-on-one sessions. I also work with businesses. I try to be flexible and offer people the practices they most need. Please contact me if you have questions or want more information. (I'm based in Appleton, WI, but I also offer e-courses and Skype sessions.)

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November 17, 2014

What is Mindfulness?

[This post was originally written in November 2014, but I've updated it many times since then, because my understanding of mindfulness continues to change and grow.]

When I typed "mindfulness" into Google there were 40,600,000 results. Mindfulness is a big hit, or maybe a buzzword? It feels intuitive, as if we know what it means, yet a clear definition eludes us. I appreciate when someone asks me, "What is a mindfulness teacher?" Indeed, what is mindfulness, really? I'll take a crack at an answer:

Mindfulness is an embodied awareness of the present moment; an open yet focused awareness of what is--not in the past or the future, but right now. And mindfulness doesn't expect things to be a certain way. It allows for the current experience, as is. 

If this definition feels foreign, it's because we live few mindful moments. We don't know what is, because we think, judge, numb, ignore, and distract. Busyness leaves no space for what is. And we don't know how to allow, because we crave what we don't have and we resist what we do have. We continually search for something else. This is human nature. If you feel mind-less, you're not alone. Yet there are good reasons to be mindful. Neuroscientists say we can retrain and change our brains. If we practice mindfulness, we more effectively pay attention, regulate emotions, and process information. We reduce anxiety and boost immunity.

Mindfulness is a life-saving path, but it's not easy. In my experience, three pieces of wisdom light the way:

Regular meditation is necessary. Meditation is a direct lens into our mind. At first we see wild, untamed thoughts. Then we see gaps. Eventually we see connections: a thought leads to a sensation leads to an action. We also see the impermanent nature of thoughts and feelings. Nothing lasts forever. 

It's helpful to pause throughout the day. Pause and ask the question: what's going on inside me right now? These pauses enhance everyday mindfulness, but they aren't meditation. Formal meditation allows for deeper inquiry. And it's a bigger commitment. There's a different quality when I set a timer and stay: stay with whatever arises—busy mind, doubt, fear—gently coming back to my breath, over and over. I stay until the bell rings. Daily meditation (even 5 minutes) is a direct route to awareness. 

Resistance happens. The modes of resistance are many: I don't have time, my mind is too busy, this is stupid, I feel uncomfortable, I'd rather do something else. Resistance occurs initially and it reoccurs far down the path. I find this comforting: I'm not alone; my resistance is normal. A commitment to mindfulness requires both honesty and gentleness. It's an honest look at whatever arises—no turning away from unpleasant discoveries (including resistance). Yet the practice is gentle—again and again, with kindness, return to the present moment. 

You will resist. You will come back. And it's all okay.

Awareness brings freedom. Mindfulness is a practice. Results appear gradually and in surprising ways. If we meditate, work with resistance, and stay with our experience, we live more mindful moments. We see differently. We love differently. We're at peace, not war, with life.

My two most important personal insights: 1) it takes more energy to push away my pain than it does to feel it, and 2) until I love myself—as is—I can't fully love others. These insights came through years of practice. They arrived first in a heady way and then in an embodied way. I eventually trusted my ability to be present. The insights uncovered choices and led me to intentional action. My awareness brings me freedom.

The journey inward is difficult. We resist dark places and we crave happiness. We re-learn the same lessons in different ways. But if we're patient, we arrive (and re-arrive) at awareness. Mindful awareness. Open awareness. Alive awareness. And that's a beautiful way to spend a life.

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November 12, 2014


As I write this post, urgency nags me. Not an urgent need to finish my work, but a sense I should be elsewhere; that I should be doing something else, being someone else. This is one way I resist the present moment. While in the act of doing one thing, I feel I should be doing something else. It's also a strong signal: listen inward, what's happening right now?

[I just took a 10-minute break to sit quietly with myself.]

Thoughts rule our world. We construct elaborate stories in our minds. We plan, fantasize, ruminate, judge, and doubt. We're addicted to thinking. And we're trained to believe our thoughts, no matter what. Here's one of my most-believed thoughts: "There is something wrong with me." This thought drives my urgency, my pressing, my wish to be anywhere but the present moment. "There is something wrong with me." A believed thought that is completely untrue. I lost hours working from a false hypothesis. Yet this is what it means to be human: we fall into trance and then we come back. The noticing--the coming back--is a revelation. It's worthy of celebration.

My 10-minute timeout is all I needed. I sat, embodied, with myself. I saw my believed-but-false thought for what it was.  And I came back. The urgency lingers lightly in the background, but I'm myself again. 

What are your most believed thoughts? How do they drive your actions? How do they make you feel? And, most importantly, are they really true?