May 25, 2016

The Possibility of Forgiveness

This world contains greed and violence. It also holds hope and healing. I've come to believe that our deepest wound is the harm we do to ourselves. This includes negative self-talk, but it's much wider. We hurt ourselves when we live life that's untrue; when we punish ourselves with self-improvement; when we refuse to see choices; or when we limit ourselves to certain roles and identities. There are so many ways we unconsciously harm ourselves. And these little hurts build up over years. At some point, we must acknowledge the ways we mistreat ourselves, but acknowledge this with an open heart. Yes, I've hurt myself. Yes, I can begin again. I'm sorry. I forgive you. It's an odd inner-dialogue, but it works. Forgiving ourselves is a brave act of healing. It might begin in a heady way, then the real healing happens when we forgive from our heart; forgive in an embodied way. But the starting place is more basic: the recognition that forgiveness is possible.

Here's the third in my video series, "Healing with Self-Compassion": 
Laughter and Forgiveness.

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May 23, 2016

Living Life True to Ourselves

Uneasiness appears in different ways. There’s an uneasy feeling of “being on our way” while we’re doing the thing right in front of us. There’s a steady, low-level fear that something’s wrong. There’s an uneasiness about time: a perception that we never have enough time. And there’s a nagging dis-ease that we’re not living life true to ourselves. I think the latter is our deepest discomfort. When daily life consistently betrays our core values—when we play roles that feel false, take actions that feel untrue, and ignore our heart’s intention—we’re divided and this division exhausts us. So we’re vulnerable to fear, stress, and distraction. 

The cycle continues until we pause and listen inward: What are my core values? What matters most? And how can I re-align my actions with these true-to-me intentions? Small steps have a big impact. Bit by bit, we move toward wholeness.

Yesterday I felt pervasive unease. It was a day filled with doing. The doing consisted of activities that bring me satisfaction (gardening, helping friends, taking photographs). My uneasiness didn’t come from the activities themselves, it came from the urgency with which I acted. I felt an uneasiness of “being on my way”, “not enough time”, and “something’s wrong.” These appeared not out of nowhere, but because I was separated from what I most value: presence, kindness, integrity, love, and awareness. I felt distracted and lost. My internal messages were unkind. I wasn't living life true to myself. 

Meditation reconnects me with my bigger intentions and awareness. Yet in some moments meditation feels out of reach. So I plunked down in my grassy backyard. I closed my eyes and listened to the sounds around me: birds, cars, wind, laughter, lawn mowers, and squirrels. This brought me home to my senses, my aliveness, and my place in a larger world. It was a small opening—a small connectionbut it helped.

Living life true to ourselves doesn’t have to mean sweeping changes and radical shifts; it can be done in small, meaningful ways. Each time we move past fear and uncover another layer of ourselves, we make a leap toward freedom. The reality is this: We have but one precious life. How do we want to live it? Let's be fearless. Let's be true. Let's start now.

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May 18, 2016

Bringing Awareness to Our Stories

Some of our most-believed thoughts aren't actually true. They're old tapes playing in our heads. We get used to these tapes. The message might even go unnoticed, but it stays in our psyche. We can't heal if we continue to harm ourselves with untrue, unkind words.

My old tape: "There's something wrong with me; it's my fault; I'm unworthy." For years, I let this tape play. But eventually, I realized: it doesn't ring true. It was a story needed at a very different time in my life. It's no longer necessary or helpfuland it's not true. Letting go of this story is part of my healing. But first, I must bring awareness to the story. I must place it out in the open and investigate with curiosity and kindness. This takes presence, compassion, courage, wisdom, and patience.

I've started a weekly video series on "Healing with Self-Compassion." Here's the second video: Bringing Awareness to Our Stories.

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May 17, 2016

It's Not About the Equipment

We all want to be seen, heard, and loved. But sometimes we look outwardly for that which is only found inwardly. We seek contentment, yet we use temporary Band-Aids: new gadgets, self-improvement projects, and distractions. Contentment comes when we slow down and inhabit our lives.

If this resonates for you, read on. The Bella Grace blog, Grace Notes, just published my post: It's Not About the Equipment.

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May 12, 2016

An Invitation to Heal

Each year, I choose a word: an umbrella-intention to guide my actions. I wrote about this process in December: Guiding Word for 2016. But now it's May and things have shifted. Back in December, I chose the word love. Even then, it felt a bit forced—I wanted love to surround me as I grieved. Now I realize love is just one piece of a bigger intention: Heal. Forgive yourself, Joy. Allow yourself to heal—this is my new word for 2016. Which prompted me to write the following on Facebook:
I’ve had these words going through my mind: How do we heal? How do we heal as individuals and as a society? We’re in serious need of healing and wholeness. Self-kindness is part of this process. My own experience has shown me: when I genuinely send love inward, love naturally radiates outward. Compassion is part of the healing. Yet the first step is noticing—slowing down enough to see our own pain and the pain of others; slowing down enough to be present.

Presence, patience, rest, kindness, play, and love. These are pieces of healing. But this is still an untold story. I imagine a series of posts or videos on healing: How do we heal? As I heal myself, perhaps I can help others. Would you like to hear more?

The post resonated with people. I think we're all in need of healing. We all want wholeness and well-being. Yet sometimes the path is blurry and lonely. This is an invitation to heal, together. Here's the first in a series of video posts:

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May 9, 2016

Embrace the "Mother" in You

Mother’s Day is a big deal in our culture. Brunch, gifts, cards, flowers. I’m glad mothers are honored; the celebration is important. (I remember you, Mom, with love and gratitude.) I also feel there are many ways to be a “mother”:

Tend a garden. Mentor a child. Give a hug. Stay, even when—especially when—it’s difficult. Smile at strangers. Carry snacks. Listen with attention and care. Love generously. Show compassion. Be strong when needed and vulnerable when needed. Sing gently. Dance freely. Live, laugh, and cry from an abundant heart.

Imagine if we all embraced these pieces of mother within us. If we did, I think the world would change in amazing, radical, and beautiful ways. 

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May 4, 2016

How Are You Shaping Your Brain?

Human nature is interesting: we receive both praise and blame for the same action. If an idea becomes popular, there's often a backlash. Last fall, Adam Grant wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times: "Can We End the Meditation Madness?" [It's an interesting read, even for this mindfulness teacher.] Grant notes the lack of rigorous studies on meditation, quoting Richie Davidson—a leading neuroscientist and meditation researcher.

Just recently, I watched an interview with Davidson, where he responded to the NYT article. His response: "Here's what I can say with total confidence: our brains are constantly being shaped—wittingly or unwittingly. Most of the time, our brains are being shaped unwittingly." There you have it: most of the time, our brains are being shaped unwittingly

There's a sea of information in our culture. There's external cues: conversation, news, social media, magazines, entertainment, workplace activity, home environment, and the natural world. There's internal cues: physical sensations, emotions, ideas, judgments, opinions, and thoughts. We get to choose how this information impacts our minds.

I'll give two (extreme) examples of shaping our brains:
1. Get up; check Facebook; watch a few cat videos on YouTube; eat breakfast while reading the paper; say a cursory goodbye to family; drive to work while checking the phone at each red light; work all day, distracted by texts, FB updates, and thoughts of the past or future; get take-out on the way home; eat dinner, where the whole family is on devices; check email one more time; turn on the television and fall asleep on the couch.

2. Get up; meditate; eat breakfast in a non-rushed way, perhaps catching up with family members; drive to work in silence, no radio; work all day, motivated by the most important tasks; take a walk outside during the lunch hour, noticing sights and sounds; make a homemade, simple dinner; hug someone; while eating, share the ups and downs of the day; intentionally use social media; take another walk outside; choose an activity for the evening that fills instead of depletes; take quiet time before bed.

I'm not a neuroscientist, but the first scenario shapes the brain to be distracted, separated, and anxious. The second scenario shapes the brain to be aware, connected, and content. Most of us exist somewhere between these two examples. But it's helpful to ask: How am I shaping my brain in this moment? What seeds am I cultivating? 

Our brains are plastic. We can allow them to be shaped unconsciously or consciously. If we identify our core values—that which matters most to us—we can use this to shape our brains. Perhaps not constantly, but regularly. And small changes can have a big impact.

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