October 28, 2015

Open Your Heart


I received a simple letter in the mail: my retirement savings will be transferred to a new company. My first reaction: fear. Fear of change and uncertainty. 

Since my mom's death I feel a heaviness in my chest--pain that feels solid; more solid than anything I've ever experienced. My first reaction: fear. What if this pain never ends?

In small and large ways, we're all impacted by uncertainty; we're all affected by loss. Our pain, as well as our happiness, connects us. Naomi Shihab Nye writes about this in her poem "Kindness" (excerpted here):

"Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore."

For me to know sorrow, I must face fear. I can't know sorrow as the deepest thing inside if I remain afraid. Each time I dip into grief, something shifts and softens. It's not as solid as fear wants me to believe. And if I don't open my heart to deep sadness, then I can't open my heart to wondrous joy. If I don't embrace uncertainty, then I never feel peace.

We humans resist pain. But in that very resistance we give up so much: compassion, kindness, presence, and ease. As we move toward pain, opening our heart to ourselves, we move toward love. The unprotected heart is vulnerable but it's also expansive and free.

I see your hardship and suffering. I see the size of the cloth. In response, I open my heart to everything--uncertainty, loss, contentment, and love. It's only kindness that makes sense anymore. Kindness inward and kindness outward.

--

October 16, 2015

Watch a Tree


It's normal for us humans to be unmindful. We carry strong habits in our bodies and minds. Patterns of distraction, busyness, and judgment. These ingrained habits feel comfortable, but they don't serve us well. They create a feeling of separation; a hum of uneasiness.

The practice of mindfulness is exactly that: a practice. An honest yet gentle practice; a persistent yet patient practice. Mindfulness moves us from the virtual reality of thoughts to the aliveness in the body; it keeps us open and aware. If we experience more mindful moments, we retrain our brains; we form new habits. 

Mother nature is a wise, beautiful teacher. In any season (or even a non-season), you can choose a tree. Choose a tree near your home or workplace; choose a plant or bush in your own yard. Then watch it change. Spend one minute with your tree each day. Notice the colors, textures, shapes. Be curious and open. For that one minute, stay present. Even if you feel impatience or doubt, stay with your experience; stay with yourself. Notice what changes in your tree and in your life.

--

October 15, 2015

Both Okay and Not Okay


The weekend before my mom died, I attended a silent meditation retreat. (Not yet knowing of mom's illness, I set an intention: bring loving-presence and compassion wherever I go. This intention serves me daily.) On the retreat-center wall was a quote from Pema Chodron: "We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It's just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy."

I'm not okay: I'm sad, vulnerable, exhausted, and raw. But I am okay: I'm awake, loving, present, and true. I can hold both of these at the same time: being okay and being not okay. I've told friends I'm riding the waves of grief, but really I'm riding the waves of life. When grief ebbs, life still provides new waves, each with its own impact. I want to allow for it all. Yet some days I resist, and in the resistance judgment appears (self-judgment, most especially). Then I remember to be gentle. To cradle myself in my own arms; to sing myself a lullaby.

--

October 12, 2015

Autumn Reflections


When a new year begins, people often reflect on their lives. But I think autumn is a rich time for reflection. Nature sends us into hibernation--in bright, beautiful, and gentle ways. It's a quiet place for self-reflection. In our culture of distraction and endless striving, I let two questions guide me: What is most important? What is enough?

When I move intentionally from these questions, I live a life true to myself. I live a life without regrets. My relationships thrive; my goodbyes--short- or long-term--embody love and gratitude. I feel connected to myself, to others, and to the earth.

---

October 8, 2015

Let the Love In


Just recently, I realized--in a visceral way--how much easier I give love than receive love; provide support than welcome support; offer help than accept help. My role as "caretaker" is both genuine and protective. When I'm the one giving, I feel in control of this uncertain, difficult world. When I receive, I'm completely vulnerable. I'm open. And in that openness, I could get hurt. But if I don't take the chance, I can't really love. To love wholly, means to accept love wholly. This is a lesson I re-learn often. And each time, my understanding deepens.

We humans have a negativity bias. It's baked into us through evolution. We scan the horizon for danger. We guard ourselves against being hurt. With quickness and ease, negative stimuli go straight to our brains--into memory. Yet we skip over multitudes of positive experiences. Why? Because we don't even notice them; we're too busy scanning the horizon or looking for the next task. Or we notice them, briefly, but don't actually take them in

Here's the great news: we can retrain our brains. In brief, regular ways, we cultivate the positive and take in the good. First we notice a positive experience, then we embody it (savor it) for three deep breaths. Thirty seconds at a time, bit by bit, we build a more contented, happy life.

This practice works in a general way. It also works as specific medicine for basic human needs: safety, satisfaction, and connection.  If you feel anxious, notice you're safe--not physically in danger--right now; stay with that feeling of safety for three breaths. If you feel frustrated or irritable, do something that brings you satisfaction; then linger in that satisfaction for three breaths. If you feel lonely or sad, hug a friend or hold hands with a loved one; soak in the connection for three breaths. (Or remember a time of satisfaction or connection, and stay with that enlivened memory.)

This practice isn't grandiose. It's completely do-able. Start by noticing the positive in your life. Then begin to stay with the positive, as it fills your whole being. Then stay longer. These are brief pauses throughout the day. Perhaps 5 minutes of your daily life. Definitely do-able. And perhaps life-changing.

If you want to try this practice, listen to my guided meditation (included below). If you want to learn more, read Hardwiring Happiness by Rick Hanson. 

May we all have more moments of happiness, ease, and connection.

---

October 7, 2015

Resilience


I've been thinking about resilience. The American Psychology Association writes:  
"[Resilience] is 'bouncing back' from difficult experiences." But the idiom "bounce back" doesn't feel right to me. To rebound, I must have a hard shell (perhaps elastic, too, but a hardened exterior). Resilience, like courage, doesn't mean being tough or hardened; it means being open, honest, gentle, and strong. Resilience means grieving my mom while living life with an open heart. It means, in the words of Rainer Maria Rilke, "Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final."

Life is an honest yet gentle practice: I need to stay with the difficult; and I need to be inwardly kind. Resilience allows for everything--even the dark places--but it requires self-compassion. I don't see myself as "bouncing back"; I see myself as feeling, learning, and growing. All the while, keeping my heart open (gently) to everybody, especially myself.

---

October 5, 2015

I'll Meet You There


From the poet Rumi:
"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn't make any sense."

When I eulogized my mom, I began with those words. She loved me unconditionally, without boundaries. She met me "beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing." Mom met me--in whatever state I arrived--with love and understanding.

Now I re-enter life with raw emotions, my tender spots revealed. And I wonder: Who else is grieving, hurting, or rejoicing? Do the strangers I pass feel lonely or anxious? What lies beneath the armor we so habitually wear? I think we're connected, deeply, as humans who navigate this difficult and wondrous world.

In times of sorrow, we have permission to drop the armor; to love and be loved; to grieve and feel. Then the rawness subsides and we return to daily life. Our armor rebuilds. Yet this armor moves us further from Rumi's field--further from acceptance and compassion.

As best I can, I hope to stay unarmored. My intention: keep this heart open to everything life offers; keep this heart open to everybody (including myself). There is a field and it's filled with love, beauty, and awareness. 

I'll meet you there.

---