October 13, 2017

How Are You?


Within my mindfulness courses, I repeat many mantras. One of these: "It's okay to not be okay." We practice staying with what's difficult, becoming intimate with not-okayness, and applying self-compassion. It's okay to not be okay and it's okay to be happy. Most important for us is to feel what we feel. Open to our inner-experience with kindness and grace.

Many people have inquired, "Joy, I understand it's okay to not be okay, but what should I do when someone asks 'how are you?' I don't want to pretend I'm okay if I'm not, but I also know this person doesn't want a complicated answer. How do I respond in a genuine way?"

I think we can all relate to this question. As we live life more true, it no longer feels comfortable to say "I'm great!" when our internal weather is much more complicated. The day after my mom's funeral, I participated in a CROP walk that ended in the very church basement where we ate lunch after mom's service. I felt raw and vulnerable, like my insides were on my outside. Someone I knowwho attended mom's funeral—asked in an everyday way, "Hi, Joy. How are you?" Wide-eyed and stunned, I had no response. Yet in that moment I realized "How are you?" really meant "Hiya!" or "It's good to see you" or "I care about you." It's not really a question. It's become a generic greeting; an unconscious reaction.


Once I recognized this cultural habit, I began a new practice. When someone greets me with, "Hi. How are you?" I rarely answer the question (unless it comes from a friend who genuinely wants to know). Instead, I reply, "It's good to see you." On a quick pass-by, that's enough. If we linger, I might ask a question or wish the person well. No one notices when I don't answer the "how are you?" query, which gives me further evidence it's not really a question but a statement, a greeting.

I'm not sure this is the best way to handle "how are you?" but it feels true to me. I genuinely do wish people well, even if I feel crappy. So, "I hope you enjoy the day" or "It's good to see you" are truthful. And if someone doggedly asked again, "How are you?" I'd answer in a real way (though this has never happened).

I'm also more aware of my own greeting style, trying to be honest, open, and kind. If I find myself blindly asking "how are you?" or responding "fine" on autopilot, it's a chance to pause and begin again. To look someone in the eyes and say a genuine "hello" or "I wish you well." I see you and I care. At a basic level, this is enough.

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October 9, 2017

Navigating Life and Web


I started this blog years ago, while I was a statistics professor. Something deep inside me longed to share in a different way. My posts began as explorations of teaching. Gradually, they morphed into discussions of authenticity, vulnerability, and wholeness: bringing heartfulness into the heady world of academia. Perhaps some of you followed me back then as "Joy of Statistics." When I switched careers, my focus changed to mindfulness, compassion, and being with everythingthe joyous and the difficult. "Born Joy: Mindfulness" was launched. Yet at its core, this blog stays the same: writing from my heart, sharing insights and struggles, hoping to connect with anyone interested.

For you long-time blog readers, I want to provide an update. I've added pages to this blog. Everyone in marketing tells me: "You MUST have a website." Because I feel comfortable here, with the style and feeling of my blog, I decided to create a website(ish) within this space. 

My business URL, BornJoy.com, now points to my Welcome Page. Please visit if you're curious about all my offerings. In particular, you might be interested in bonus pages I created (freebies with heart): Self-Care Page, Gentle Reminders, and Guided Meditations.

I'd love to hear from you. What do you think of this space? Does it feel inviting? Is information easily accessible? Is there something additional you seek? I welcome all feedback, as well as ideas for new posts and meditations. You, my dear blog readers, are the heart of my business and my practice. Thanks for being here and thanks for being you.

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September 28, 2017

Look Inside: A Month of Mindful Healing

In the last two years, I've grieved and healed. Not just for the losses of people I love, but from long-ago wounds and limiting beliefs. In the process of sharing my stories, I realize that everyone is healing. And we all seek refuge in presence and realnessour vulnerability connects us. 

I created a new e-course, A Month of Mindful Healing, based on the awareness practices that help me grow, heal, and change. The complete course is contained within a 70-page multimedia document: written teachings, guided meditations, writing prompts, videos, reflections, mini-assignments, and photographs. Here are two sample pages from the class:




Open your heart to who you are.

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September 22, 2017

Noticing What's Underneath


This afternoon, I had a routine conversation with a potential client. I prepared my notes and readied to call, knowing I'd done this many times before. Still, I felt fear and doubt. My relationship with fear and doubt is long-term and sometimes unpredictable. I took a few deep breaths and made the call, recognizing fear but not letting it control my listening or speaking, nor my ability to stay present. The call went well: kindred spirits talking and details decided. A new opportunity to practice and teach mindfulness.

Just now, as I sliced tomatoes and peppers, I had an insight: my fear was not about the phone call; it reflected my circumstances two years ago on this day. September 23 is when my dad, sisters, and I made decisions about mom's end-of-life care. We had to decide, without consulting her, whether to extend her life via medical machines or to allow her to die. The news stunned us in its suddenness yet we all agreed, through tender, broken hearts, to let her go. We held a compassionate vigil, working closely with hospice nurses to ensure she didn't suffer. It was both deeply painful and vitally important.

This—much bigger and heartbreaking—decision is where my fear and doubt arose. The phone call was just a phone call. When I'm open and aware, I notice my internal weather. If a storm brews over a routine action, I need to look closer. On this particular day, I needed to cry and grieve. To put my hand on my heart, and bear witness to my pain. To remind myself that we made the best decision we could under terrible circumstances. I have no regrets about those last hours with mom, yet fear and doubt arose because that's what emotions do. Underneath is sadness. And deeper underneath is trust in my capacity to stay with everything.

I don't know why this anniversary resonated so deeply with me. Grief is unpredictable, just as life is unpredictable. I wonder: who else is walking around today—or any day—with a tender, vulnerable heart? This helps widen my circle of compassion, for myself and others. Life is difficult, wondrous, heartbreaking, and beautiful. How do we stay wholehearted and awake? I think we do it together, as community. Sharing what's real and true, and listening with kindness; hitting the pause button and connecting with each other; bearing collective witness to joy and sorrow and everything in between.
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September 11, 2017

Open to Possibility


The past few weeks, I've been focused and productive: revamping my website, finishing a new e-course, and teaching mindfulness workshops. Amid abundant yet busy days, I recognize my need to pause; to take a break; to gain a fresh perspective. When I don't pause—when I try to push through and work harder—my creativity wilts, my writing weakens, and my ideas stall. 

As always, the trick is to remember to remember. To prioritize short pauses: a walk around the block, a 5-minute meditation, or a heartfelt connection with another person. These ordinary actions widen my view. Instead of seeing deadlines and limits, I see possibility. I better understand when it's time to stop and when it's time to keep working. It's my own awareness calling me back: slow down and pay attention. What's the next most skillful step?

External sources rarely tell us to rest, pause, and slow down. We must do this for ourselves. It's beneficial to our health and well-being and, as importantly, it sparks creativity, compassion, and insight. We can practice together, in this very moment (our chance to remember to remember):

Open to Possibility
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September 10, 2017

Unique Expression


Some wise words from Martha Graham: "There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it."

There are many ways we block our unique expressions; ways we hide our own light. It's easy to list our faults, but difficult to see our beauty. Yet if we allow for our own goodness—if we see it, embrace it, love it—it touches everyone around us; it touches the world. When our unique expressions live and dance together, the world is bigger, brighter, and more beautiful.

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September 8, 2017

Pause and Look Inward


My friend Miriam just called. During our conversation, she asked about my day. I replied, "Lot of doings. But some days the doings just have to get done." She laughed at this, knowingly, then confessed she was grocery shopping with her one free hour of time. Though we try to cultivate our being-ness, we must finish work, run errands, and attend to others.

Much of our day is focused on externals, and it's easy to lose track of what's going on inside us. If we ignore emotions as they arise, they squeeze out in unskillful ways. At the end of a long day, I can be angry with Mark, though my frustration lies elsewherewith uncooperative technology, my own high standards, or lingering grief. If I attend inward, then I'm aware of my emotionsnot misplacing them on others. And I'm aware of my body, recognizing the need to shift positions, stretch, and move. 

Life is busy. Interruptions happen regularly. Still, it's possible to pausefor 3 breathsand check in with ourselves: notice the state of our thoughts, emotions, body, and breath. The more we practice, the more quickly we notice. Choices present themselves in the pauses. Even when life is busy, we can find a little more ease. And on those days when we think, "I can't possibly pause or attend inward," that's when we most need the practice. Give it a try now (if not now, when?):

Brief Check-In With Yourself
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August 30, 2017

Practicing Peace


I'm a pacifist with a big heart. I want peace for our communities, our country, and the world. Many of us seek more peace in life, yet peace doesn't arrive without effort. It's unrealistic to think peace will magically appear. As individuals and communities, we can actively practice peace.

This has been on my mind and in my heart. There's a note displayed in my office: "In this moment, how am I practicing peace?" It's perhaps easier to describe the ways I practice war: tightening muscles, trying to control life, judging myself and others, wanting things to be different from how they are, allowing frustration and anger to build, pushing myself too hard. All of this is resistancebeing at war not peace with life. If I let resistance run the show, then my interactions with others suffer. Peace begins within.

So, in this moment as I write, how am I practicing peace? I notice my body posture and soften my jaw and shoulders. I let go of my sense of urgency, taking pauses when needed. I feel my breath, listen to the wind, and watch the squirrels, even as they dig in my new flower bed. Letting go, opening my heart and mind. That 1-minute practice helped. These steps needn't be grand, but they do need to happen. Small, regular doses of awareness.

I cultivate peace when I sit in meditation, walk in nature, or hug a loved one. I practice peace when I pausemaking space for a considered response rather than a habituated reaction. I practice peace when I forgive myself (for all the ways I forget and distract) and then choose to begin again.

Resistance is exhausting. We might not love our current situation, but we can stop resisting, little bit by little bit. Soften our muscles, release expectations, and open our hearts. With honest and gentle effort, we can cultivate peace within ourselves. And it's from this place that we better serve the world. 

PS: We often think there's not enough time. "I don't have time to listen to a 9-minute meditation. I have important work to do!" These thoughts are forms of resistance. It can be a great relief to practice peace, even now amid the busyness:

Practicing Peace
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August 25, 2017

Connect, Listen, and Be Kind


In 2008, I was still (happily) a statistics professor at Lawrence University. During commencement weekend, I gave the baccalaureate address. Just recently, I found my speech, which was never shared on my blog. In general, these words still ring true. So, here's a blast from the past, a view from 10 years ago...

Perhaps some of you have heard of the “six-word memoir” started by SMITH Magazine. SMITH is an online magazine that celebrates storytelling. In 2006, the editors challenged their readers to write six-word memoirs—a short six words to summarize a life. The response was overwhelmingly positive and sometimes deeply personal.  The magazine published a book that includes hundreds of these memoirs. 

Some of the memoirs are humorous, for example: “One tooth, one cavity, life’s cruel.” “The psychic said I’d be richer.” “Where the hell are my keys?” “College was fun. Damn student loans.”  

Others of the memoirs describe life’s difficulties: “Learning disability, MIT. Never give up.” “Hard to write poems from prison.” “Widowed. Forging reluctantly forward with faith.” “Cursed with cancer, blessed with friends.”

This second set of memoirs addresses topics we all encounter but often don’t discuss—difficulty, death, heartbreak, disease, struggle, depression. In not having the discussion, we isolate ourselves during a time when we might desperately need connection. Life is difficult for everyone. If we struggle, it doesn’t mean we personally did something wrong—it just means we’re living life. And it’s through these difficulties that we grow stronger as a people.

In his translated Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke writes about the transformative, not necessarily negative, effect of sadness: “You have had many sadnesses, large ones, which passed. And you say that even this passing was difficult and upsetting for you. But please, ask yourself whether these large sadnesses haven’t rather gone right through you. Perhaps many things inside you have been transformed; perhaps somewhere, deep inside your being, you have undergone important changes while you were sad.” 



I encourage each of you, within your own comfort zone, to talk about the difficulties and the struggles. To know you aren’t alone. To not compare your difficulties with others. Difficulty is difficulty, and pain is pain. Sylvia Boorstein, a Buddhist teacher and author, talks of an inscription she encountered while on retreat. The words are simple, yet meaningful: “Life is so difficult. How can we be anything but kind?” Let me repeat that: “Life is so difficult. How can we be anything but kind?” Kind to others and kind to ourselves. Just a slight softening during a difficult time. Softening of words, responses, and actions at a time when hardening is often the status quo. This is not to say we should naively ignore inappropriate or damaging behavior by people (ourselves included). But it does say that as a general rule, kindness is helpful. And connection is helpful. Let's have those difficult conversations—both as a sharers and as a listeners.

Some of the other six-word memoirs are about mistakes made and experience gained: “Afraid of everything. Did it anyway.” “Most costly mistakes, learned valuable lessons.” “Happy now that I know myself.” “Learned. Forgot. Better off relearning anyway.”

Another reality of life is that failure, although sobering, is vitally important. Without taking risks, without making mistakes, without occasionally failing, we don’t push our boundaries and gain valuable insight. I know graduation is a time when we celebrate and honor people’s accomplishments, and this is important. But as you think back over your college career, weren’t there failures and mistakes made, and didn’t these make the accomplishments possible and the appreciation of the accomplishments more rich?

As with other difficult things in life, we don’t often talk about failures—we tend to shove them away, perhaps only discussing them years afterward. Yet there's richness in mistakes that can be mined for helpful insights—insights into ourselves, others, and the world. There’s a fine line, though, between learning from our mistakes and wallowing in the negativity of failure. Kindness is again the key. Can we effectively analyze our mistakes through a lens of kindness? Instead of, “Well, I screwed up again,” can we pause and gently ask, “What can I learn from this process?” Additionally, this understanding and non-judgment can be extended to others. We can give others the space to fail and grow and change. What a wonderful gift to give and receive.



Woody Allen once said, “If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.” Personally and at a societal level, we need innovation and we’re strengthened by creativity. This kind of creativity does not come from a perfect track record. Expect failures, know everyone fails, listen for the lesson or insight, be kind, and move on.

Happiness, passion, and creativity are the themes of others of the six-word memoirs: “I colored outside of the lines.” “Seventy years, few tears, hairy ears.” “Laughing until I pee my pants.” “Found great happiness in insignificant details.” “I live the perfect imperfect life.”

I encourage us all to do what we love. Spend time doing things we’re passionate about—that get our creative juices flowing. A lovely effect of human variability is that happiness and passion come in very different forms for different people. I get really excited talking with students about statistics. [This was back in 2008. Now I find contentment teaching meditation.] Others of you love playing music or making art or being with children or programming computers or reading literature or gardening. These loves might translate into a paying job or they might simply stay as cherished ways to spend free time. 

In his book Earth in Mind, David Orr writes: “The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as our culture has defined it.” 

The society in which we live typically defines success by traditional achievements and accomplishments—your grades in school, your advanced degrees, the amount of hours you work, the amount of money you make, your career advancement. Certainly, these are indications of hard and often good work, but they aren’t the only definitions of success. Advances in technology allow us to multitask and be in constant contact with others—checking things off our to-do lists and putting more items on the list. At a time when we're connected to the world through email, cell phones, text messaging, etc., we are often disconnected from ourselves—from our creative thoughts and deep emotions. 



It’s important for us all to reconnect with our hearts—how do we want to spend our precious time? Not because we have to or we should or we’re expected to, but because of a strong creative craving from inside us. Sometimes we’re so busy that we don’t even know what we truly want. So we must make some space, some quiet to reconnect and listen to ourselves. This can be difficult in our current society, but it's not impossible. And the more we pause and think and listen and be, the healthier we and our society become.

I challenge us all to redefine what is meant by success. Not to exclude traditional ideas of success, but to add to the definition. Let it also include pursuing our dreams, doing what we love, making and learning from mistakes, talking about difficult experiences, connecting with others, being kind, and really, truly listening. In the words of David Orr, be a storyteller or a healer or a peacemaker. Connect with and support your own inner longing, while also creating space for others to do the same.

So what do you think your six-word memoir is? And is it perhaps different from four years ago? Will it again be different in four more years? We all change—from year to year, and sometimes from moment to moment. I think we should embrace and celebrate these changes (what wonderful evidence of the life process). 

As I wrote this speech, I thought about and created my own six-word memoirs from various stages of my life. For example, “Love koala bears and Andy Gibb.” (In middle school, the number of koala bear stuffed animals I owned was outnumbered only by the number of Andy Gibb posters on my wall. You students probably don’t know of Andy Gibb, but I can tell you he was a dreamy teen idol who wrote wonderfully cheesy pop singles—“shadow dancing, baby you do it right.”)



A six-word memoir for me in college is “Deeply love volleyball, hate intense pressure.” (I went to Indiana on a full volleyball scholarship. My love of the game was challenged by the intense pressures of winning in the Big Ten. I learned a lot from this experience, and I treasure those memories, but it was difficult at times. Difficult, gratifying. and important.)

My early graduate school experience can be described with the memoir, “Very smart people, do I belong?” (Like most graduate students, I'd done very well in college. In graduate school, though, I felt merely average, surrounded by brilliant people. This was humbling for me, but gradually blossomed into an experience in which I learned about myself and my particular strengths. I found successes in applied coursework, creative solutions, and inspired teaching.)

There are many ways I can currently describe my life. One possible six-word memoir is “Most important thing in life? People.” (My relationships with my husband, my family, my friends, my students—these all easily trump the busyness of daily life. The people are why I love my job. You students are a pleasure to work with in so many ways. And my colleagues are equally engaged, generous, and committed. People, relationships, and connections are what I find most valuable—and this includes my relationship with myself.)



This celebratory weekend is a good time to talk with your friends and family about their six-word memoirs—about their experiences, failures, difficulties, and successes. It’s also a time for personal reflection—how have you changed and grown and what is your current six-word memoir? This is a time to share, listen, laugh, and cry. To be fully present for each of these precious moments. 

And, as you proceed with your next steps after Lawrence, I encourage you to 
Stay connected with yourself and others. 
Have difficult conversations. 
Have joyful conversations. 
Pause regularly. 
Listen intently—to yourself and others. 
Take risks. 
Do what you love. 
And be kind.

[Joy's note: Ten years later, relationships are still the most important thing in my life. Some new six-word memoirs for 2017: "Left academia. Found a different calling." "Be brave. Live wholeheartedly. Love well." "Feeling cranky? Get off the computer." "Tell people why you love them." "Sit on the cushion. Find peace."]
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August 22, 2017

Acceptance


For years, I’ve practiced letting go—letting go of old stories of shame, responsibility for the world, and wanting things to be a certain way. I’ve sat multiple silent meditation retreats, feeling sensations in my throat and heart, trying to let go, release, and receive. Just recently, I started acupuncture as a new experiment in letting go.

Last week, my acupuncturist did a front-body treatment, including a needle in my heart. She described how that heart point is where we hold our old, deep grief; grief that we think defines us. She wiggled the tip of the needle, then left the room. I cried the whole session. A good cry, where I both released and received.

Afterward, I realized that letting go has become a project for me, another way for me to push and strive: Joy, you must let go before you can be free. Yet another option—or perhaps just put a different way—is to accept. To accept my shame and grief; my vulnerability and flaws; my wanting things to be a certain way while trusting that things are just as they should be. If I accept all this, knowing that darkness helps my light shine brighter, then I’m whole. The resistance is exhausting. The acceptance opens my heart. My old stories don’t define me, but they’re part of me. They’re part of my empathy and compassion; they’re part of my bravery. I no longer want to listen to shame or fear, but I can accept they’re in the background, helping me remember what it’s like to be human.

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August 1, 2017

The Importance of Teachers

heart In 2010, I attended my first silent meditation retreat—a doorway to deeper practice and broader awareness. It was a big leap (scary at the time), which I’ve taken another 20 times since. Cheri Maples was my first teacher. She was no-nonsense, a straight shooter. Her dharma talks were clear, honest, and filled with abundant wisdom. 

I’ve sat 10 retreats led by Cheri. In that time, my practice has changed and grown immensely, and Cheri has changed, too. She transformed from a no-nonsense, former cop into a wise, kind, nurturing teacher. She applied self-compassion in her own life, leading by example. She lightened up, while still practicing with deep integrity—she lived her talk

Cheri helped me in more ways than she’ll ever know. While on her retreats, I recognized my unwholesome habit of striving (desperately “doing” to side-step my pain). I saw my identification with a victimized self—clinging to my mental story of unworthiness as an (impossible) way to control this uncontrollable life—and I began to let go; to make different choices; to be more real, vulnerable, and free. Cheri reminded us all, “If not now, when?” And she asked us to question our solid views, “Am I sure?”

Last fall, Cheri was in a horrible, life-threatening bicycle accident. For two weeks, it wasn’t clear she would live. She spent months in various kinds of rehab, where she practiced mindfulness, patience, and skillful effort. Eventually, she returned home in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down. I attended a winter meditation retreat in Madison, typically co-taught by Cheri, but in which she couldn’t participate because of her health. After a silent, mindful lunch, I walked into the meditation hall and saw Cheri, in her wheelchair, on the stage. My heart leapt with love and awe.

intrepid

Cheri spoke to us for 40 minutes, which took an amazing amount of energy given her condition. Her bottom line, after everything that happened: She’s grateful. She laughs more, accepts help, practices patience, and savors life. During an early juncture in her recovery, she clearly saw two roads she could take: depressed, victimized, suffering person or grateful, genuine, open-hearted person. She chose the latter, with dignity and grace. On that day in February, she was my teacher in new and beautiful ways.

Last week, Cheri got a systemic infection and died within hours. It shocked everyone around her, but didn’t appear to shock Cheri. She understands—in ways very few of us do—that life is fleeting, ever-changing, and not to be taken for granted, even for a moment. The day before she died, she told a friend, “I have lived such a good life.” A teacher until her last breath.

I feel deep sadness. Personal grief as well as heartbreak for the world. We’ve lost a great teacher, a mindful social activist, and a beautiful person. (For a sample of Cheri's wise, compassionate, honest teaching, look here.) A world-wide community mourns. Still, I know where Cheri would invite me to turn my attention: Gratitude. I’m grateful for each bit of wisdom I received from Cheri. I’m grateful for her example of how to live life, especially when it’s hard. I’m grateful I took a chance on that retreat in 2010. It changed my life. Cheri changed my life. I miss her steady presence in this unpredictable world. And I carry her in my heart: a reminder that steadiness is within me, too.

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July 19, 2017

Back to Basics

enlightenment

Meditation isn't just time spent on the cushion. It's equally about bringing awareness to daily life. At the Y, I bookend my meditation class with suggestions for everyday awareness. Speech and relationships are rich places to pay attention. I pose these questions about speech: Is it truthful? Helpful? Kind? (And is this the right time and am I the right person?) These are deep questions. So much of our cultural chatter is unhelpful, untrue, and unkind. It makes a difference when we attend with care to what we say. The more years I meditate, the less I speak. 

My friend Peter took these questions to heart and wrote a lovely song about skillful speech. When he shared it with a neighbor, he got this response: "Isn't that too simplistic? It sounds like kindergarten." This exchange made me wonder: perhaps all we need are basic lessons learned in elementary school.

I recently met with a group of educators of young children. The preschool director said, "Many days, we don't get into curriculum because we're helping kids resolve conflict. We let them know it's okay to disagree but they must treat each other with kindness and respect." Wisdom from preschool. If we all practiced this, our world might heal.

thyme stands still

Karen Maezen Miller is a meditation teacher who resurrected a Zen garden in her backyard years ago. Now people flock to her house for garden tours. Her basic rules: 1) Be kind; 2) Don't throw rocks; 3) No running; 4) Pay attention. Ostensibly, these rules apply to young children, but if we overlay them on our adult lives, they're wonderful instructions. 

We spend so much time in our thoughts. Thinking, judging, analyzing, planning, and replaying. In doing so, we can over-complicate life. We blame (throw rocks), busy ourselves, and speak unconsciously. We see life as a puzzle to solve rather than a mystery to be lived, moment by moment, with our whole being.  Our way back home is through simple lessons we learned as kids:

Slow down.
Pay attention.
Be kind.
Tell the truth.
Apologize.
Get outside.
Take quiet time.
Help each other. 

Back to basics. We don't need much more than this. Simplicity is a beautiful thing. We can practice awareness with the next breath:


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July 11, 2017

Wholehearted Living

imagination In my prison sangha, there are a variety of men—young and old; tough and tender; expressive and quiet. One of our quiet leaders is a burly guy with a shaved head. No one messes with him. Yet I know he’s a kind soul who had an amazingly difficult childhood. He practices meditation diligently. His heart continues to open in new ways. He shows up every week and sits in the circle.

During a one-on-one visit, another teacher and I shared with our “big, tough guy” exactly how and why we value his wisdom, presence, and practice. We let him know we care. He paused and the tears came, rolling down his cheeks. I asked, “Are these tears because no one has told you this before or because you don’t feel worthy?” He quietly nodded, “It’s both.”

This powerful interaction touched me in two ways: It was a reminder to tell people why and how I love them—to not hold back these words—because it makes a difference; it was also a reminder of our western-culture core wound: a deep-seated feeling of unworthiness.

It’s a life-long practice to build awareness, understand ourselves, and bear witness to our own pain; to apply self-compassion. It begins when others see us—really see us, as is—and accept us without conditions. It continues when we do this for ourselves.

BrenĂ© Brown writes, “Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”

May we all live and breathe in a more wholehearted way.

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June 28, 2017

Mindfulness Practices for Work

simplicity
When I teach mindfulness courses, my students often say, “I feel present and aware when I’m here with you, but I lose myself at work. How can I stay mindful in a busy work environment?” This is a great question, whether our work is done in cubicles, at home, inside classrooms, a studio, or within volunteer organizations. It’s easy to “lose ourselves”: to forget our breath, body, and awareness; to get caught in busyness. Yet we can remember in small, regular ways. With practice, we can return to mindfulness.

Change your perspective.
If you feel sluggish, scattered, stuck, or anxious, change your position. If you’re seated, stand up. If you’re standing, sit down. Take a short walk. Look out a window or, even better, get outside. Sit on a chair in a different room. Twirl or dance. Make a conscious choice to change your perspective. New ideas often arise in the shower, walking to the bathroom, or during an afternoon workout. We need breaks from the overthinking; we need space for creativity. Physically change your position, take a few deep breaths, and try to see the world anew.

Connect in person.
We’re constantly connected through technology. We ask questions via chat clients, email, or text. But complicated questions are asked and answered best in person. One email message can generate an hour’s work, when a phone call completes the task in ten minutes. The way we communicate makes a difference. Connecting in person helps reduce workload and strengthens relationships. The next time you have a non-trivial question, pick up the phone or walk to the person’s office. Engage with each other.

Do something kind.
Life can be difficult and work can be challenging. Our brains have a negativity bias that we must consciously tilt back. If you feel frustrated, disappointed, or just need a break, start looking for the good in people. Compliment a coworker. Give a genuine thank you. Tell someone’s boss what you appreciate about the person. Get coffee for your team. Write an inspirational message on a whiteboard. Listen deeply to a colleague. Do some small act of kindness.

Regular pauses throughout the day help us stay focused, aware, and more at ease. The busier we are, the harder it is to pause, yet it's vital for our well-being and our productivity. Take these pauses: notice your breath and body. And be willing to begin again and again.

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June 22, 2017

Holding Opposites Within Us

opposites Life is complex. It's not just one thing; it's many things all at once. Part of my meditation practice is making room for everything. I've noticed how opposites arise together: love and sadness; fear and freedom; grief and wonder. When I love from an unguarded heart, I open myself to loss. When I experience fear but move through it, I feel freedom and ease. When I'm cracked open with grief, I see the world anew.

Our well-grooved habit is to resist painful feelings and cling tightly to what's pleasant. This creates tension in our bodies and minds. Elizabeth Lesser wisely notes, "How strange that the nature of life is change, yet the nature of human beings is to resist change. And how ironic that the difficult times we fear might ruin us are the very ones that can break us open and help us blossom into who we were meant to be."

It's possible to hold these opposite within us. Hold them lightly, with spacious curiosity. Opening our heart-minds in both directions allows us to more fully inhabit this ever-changing life. We have far more capacity than we realize. Building awareness takes persistence and patience, but it's possible. You can start right now:



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June 15, 2017

End of the Day

found Evening comes. The day is done. If I stay aware, I do something that settles and nourishes. If I'm distracted, I often do something that overstimulates and depletes. (This is a life-long practice.) Either way, I'm met with thoughts as I lie down to bed. When I follow my thoughts in their endless loops, I stay awake. When I transform my thoughts, from blah-blah storylines to heartfelt gratitude, or when I move away from thoughts and gently into my body and breath, I fall asleep. Letting go at day's end is a powerful practice. Letting go of things undone or plans for tomorrow; letting go of tension, bit by bit; letting go of the copious methods we use to control the uncontrollable.

Short, regular pauses throughout the day—connecting with body, breath, and awareness—help us rest and sleep more easily. But we don't always remember and life interrupts. Whenever you feel anxious or unsettled at day's end, come here—to this post—and listen:

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June 4, 2017

How a Baby Raccoon Saved Me

intimacy Late Tuesday night, biking home from a friend’s house, I spotted a furry object on the sidewalk. This surprised me, as most critters flee when a person approaches, but not this one. So I stopped right there and met the eyes of a distressed baby raccoon. He looked at me, mewing and peeping. I spoke in a gentle voice: “What’s going on, little one? What do you need?” He clambered up my bike tire and clung for dear life, peeping in earnest: a direct cry for help; a situation I could not ignore.

I called my friend Miriam, whose house I’d just left, knowing she was awake and knowing she has a compassionate heart. Quickly, she researched our options and said she’d be by my side soon with a box and blankets. The raccoon retreated from my bike and laid in the grass. I sat cross-legged next to him, singing a loving-kindness chant. (A chant I’d just taught in my mindfulness class that evening.) He calmed, tucking his face into his fur, cold and scared.

Miriam constructed his evening nest, and we hoped mama would return for him that night. When we stood, about to part ways, still wide-eyed from these events, Miriam spotted a different baby raccoon in the street, recently killed by a car. A sibling of our little friend. It's no surprise he emphatically asked for help: he just witnessed a traumatic death. In life, we don’t often see the backstories of others, but they’re there and they're important, and this particular backstory was clear.

After little sleep, I awoke and readied to teach meditation at the Y, but first needed to check with my raccoon. When I approached the box, his eyes were open. He was alive and okay, but not retrieved by mama, so box and baby came home with me: sat on my back porch while I taught. 
treasure
I cleared my day to find this little raccoon a refuge, trying to embody the words of Mary Webb: “If you stop to be kind, you must swerve often from your path.”  In beautiful weather, I drove to Green Bay, where the Bay Beach wildlife refuge was teeming with kids and adults. I unloaded the box and walked inside. The setting felt strange, like a hotel lobby, people milling around while I attempted to “check in” my animal—a process I expected, somehow, to be more intimate. And in this sea of humanity, I was told, “We only take raccoons from Brown county. We don’t have room for others.” My Outagamie-county puffball was turned away—no room at the inn. Though this was disappointing, I understood the situation. My parting gift: two more numbers to call. The first shelter only accepted squirrels. A sinking feeling spread through me: what ifdue to limited resources—I must send this baby back into the wild? I tried to stay present: make the next and last available call.  

Sue, from Wildlife of Wisconsin, answered the phone and wanted to hear my story. Where did you find him? She listened with care and compassion. “Yes, we’ll take him. I can meet you at a gas station in Reedsville later this afternoon.” (By the end of this day, I’d drive 3 hours during my “swerve to be kind.”)

Late in the afternoon, on my way to meet Sue, I saw multiple dead animals on the road, including raccoons. I knew I wasn’t “saving” this one—who knows how long he’ll live—but I was answering his call for help; making a small difference. He purred, chattered, and moved around the box. I drove, feeling fear—the uncertainty of life—and also feeling focused and aware. At the gas station, Sue was in the midst of a hectic day and still attended to us with care. She transferred the animal to her car, saying, “We’re only supposed to take 60 raccoons, but I always take more.” I was teary-eyed with gratitude, thanking her both for her work and her kindness. She replied, “We need people like you who really care. Imagine how many people just walk on by.”
beauty of the soul
I returned to my van and sobbed. Big, heavy sobs of relief, love, gratitude, and grief. (My friend Miriam, who tended this raccoon with me, recently lost her husband—my dear friend—to cancer. This was all interrelated in a raw and powerful way.) Seeing more roadkill on my drive and listening to a dharma talk on death and impermanence, I knew I hadn’t done anything grand. My actions were a small drop in the kindness bucket. I can’t save all raccoons, but I could support this raccoon, who so clearly asked for my help. It seems that's the most important thing we can do: Help the person right in front of us. When someone asks for help—in either a straightforward or hesitant way—we can stop to be kind; we can swerve a little from our path.

When I got home, exhausted and relieved, I walked around my yard. The previous week, I saw only weeds in my flower beds, which reflected the resistance in my grieving heart. But on this evening, I felt joy and wonder. I saw only flowers and abundance. I felt love, gratitude, and happiness. And slowly I realized: I didn’t save that raccoon; He saved me.
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