November 24, 2015

Giving Thanks

Years ago, I visited New York City. My strongest memory is this: at a busy Starbucks, I shared a genuine "thank you" with the barista; she looked up at me, wide-eyed, and said, "You’re welcome!" In those moments, I saw the power of a simple yet meaningful thank you—a pause for connection.

It's easy to rush through life, but the pauses connect us. When I pause, the quality of my heart shifts. There's time to be kind; to share a genuine thank-you or provide comfort. And there's space to be grateful. I'm grateful for big things, like a safe environment and loving friends. I’m equally grateful for little things: rays of sunshine, fresh spinach at the market, or an elongated hug.

Gratitude is a current research topic. The studies show that gratitude practice is consistently and strongly associated with happiness. There’s so much beauty and kindness in this world. It’s easy to forget, but we can remember. For what are we grateful? What small moments have changed our days and our lives? How do we give thanks?

November 20, 2015

Vulnerability as a Portal

In 2014, Pema Chodron gave a commencement address. Her topic was the importance of failure. She spoke about the raw place of failure or loss: "Out of that space comes a lot of ugly things. And yet out of that very same space of vulnerability and rawness and the feeling of failure can come our best human qualities of bravery, kindness, the ability to really care about each other, the ability to reach out to each other."

I know about ugly things. I understand self-blame, which spun me in circles of striving, overwork, and wanting to be someone other than who I was. But ugly things didn't help. What I needed to do was feel the rawness and vulnerability. To feel this over and over, until I trusted: I'm vulnerable and I'm okay. That's when I discovered the best human qualities.

I'm most connected with people when I unmask my face and my heart. Chodron describes this as the "ability to really care about each other" (to see and care with an open heart). I think vulnerability is a portal--a portal to deep connection. When we share the rawness, we allow others to do the same. If we embrace failure, we embrace truth: we're all imperfect. We're all complicated, beautiful, real, and in-process. 

My current raw places are these: sadness about my mom's death, doubt about the viability of my new career, concern for my friends' health, and compassion for the world. These run deep--they expose my heart. They awaken me in important and wondrous ways. And they remind me, daily, to be brave and to be kind. Because who knows what someone else is going through? These raw places connect us.


November 11, 2015

Meet Yourself With Kindness

Grief is rich territory for growth. We all experience loss in different ways at different times. Right now I feel withered and bare. But I also feel the sun. I hear these words from Galway Kinnell: “Sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness, to put a hand on the brow of the flower, and retell it in words and in touch, it is lovely.” Sometimes it’s necessary for me to place my hand on my own brow—on my own heart—and send blessings inward. This is the practice of loving-kindness.

Loving-kindness is open and condition-free. It's also engaged. We don't deny that life is difficult; we meet ourselves there with kindness. Instead of "I'm fine, my grief is over," I move toward my tender places. Instead of "I'll love myself after I finish the to-do list," I open my heart right now. It's a radical shift. And it's a life-changing shift. If I stay with loving-kindness practice, my heart softens and opens. From this place, I give more to the world.

The traditional teachings move outward in widening circles: ourselves, a beloved, a friend, a stranger, a difficult person, all people everywhere. It's comfortable to start with everyoneto wish the world wellbut if we don't send love inward, we're disconnected. My experience is this: when I offer myself loving-kindness, I offer it easily to others. If I send blessings inward (may I be safe, happy, and free), my circle of love widens. 

With any meditation practice, be honest yet gentle; persistent yet patient. There's no way to get this wrong. Just be. Just be with whatever arises:

Loving-Kindness Meditation

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November 4, 2015

Sun Then Cloud Then Sun

Life is difficult. It's also wondrous and beautiful.

In her poem, “Buddha’s dogs,” Susan Browne realizes, “I’ve been chasing the same thoughts like dogs around the same park most of my life.” (Profound insight. We’re addicted to thoughts, which are real but not often true.) She ends the poem with these lines: “I wake up for the forgiveness meditation, the teacher saying, never put anyone out of your heart, and the heart opens and knows it won’t last and will have to open again and again, chasing those dogs around and around in the sun then cloud then sun.”

I love the phrase “sun then cloud then sun.” This beautifully captures impermanence—the external and internal shifts in weather. Everything changes. We walk on uncertain ground, yet we crave sun and resist clouds. In this way we attempt to control life. And in this way we suffer.

But there’s great news: when clouds come, it doesn’t mean anything is wrong. We often interpret painful conditions as “something is wrong”—with ourselves, others, or the world. It's okay; we're okay. Difficult isn’t wrong, it’s part of our ordinary, precious lives. Clouds come to everyone. And if we make space for the cloud, we make space for the sun. Our hearts open in both directions.

Each day, I have a choice: contract or widen, armor or love, resist or accept. I choose how I move through the sun then cloud then sun.