Mindful Health

November 15, 2009

Our life is what our thoughts make it. ~Marcus Aurelius

The attainment of wholeness requires one to stake one’s whole being. Nothing less will do…. ~C. G. Jung

Synchronicity again. I first ran across psychologist Ellen Langer when I was preparing for the talk on mindful management last month. Langer did early experiments in mindfulness and its effect on aging, so I hunted down her 1989 book, Mindfulness, and read it recently. Today I see that she has a new book, Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility, and that a movie with Jennifer Aniston, based on the book, will soon be coming out. No doubt, mindfulness is becoming more mainstream.

Langer says we have learned to influence health “by exchanging unhealthy mindsets for healthy ones and increasing a generally mindful state. The latter is more lasting and results in more personal control.” Jon Kabat-Zinn lists seven attitudinal factors that underlie mindfulness: (1) non-judging; (2) patience; (3) beginner’s mind; (4) trust; (5) non-striving; (6) acceptance; and (7) letting go. Cultivating these attitudes, Kabat-Zinn stresses, requires energy, motivation and commitment. May I establish daily practice in mindfulness for health.


This is My Real Life

August 15, 2009

Being Zen
Although I can try to push away my experience, the fact remains that whatever is happening right now is my genuine life. Like it or not, want it or not, this life is what is. To embrace it rather than push it away is the key to freedom. ~Ezra Bayda, from Being Zen

What a treasure this book is! Bayda helps us understand how practice can help us become free of the constriction of fear, awaken compassion, and “learn to be at home, even in the midst of the muddy water of our lives.” His prose is so clear and practical that I would not presume to paraphrase.

“The key to practice,” he says, “is not to try to change our life but to change our relationships to our expectations–to learn to see whatever is happening as our path. Our difficulties are not obstacles to the path, they are the path itself.”

“What we need is a gradual yet fundamental change in our orientation to life–toward a willingness to see, to learn, to just be with whatever we meet…To simply be with our experience–even with the heaviness and darkness that surround our suffering–engenders a sense of lightness and heart.” Learning to approach pain and suffering with “…a certain lightness of heart…is what transforms and softens our will–as ego, as striving, as struggle–into willingness.” (I love this idea…see more on will here.)

Bayda offers a lovely meditation consisting of four-line rounds that repeat several times, moving from self to others to all beings. He distinguishes this from affirmations, which he says are “like mental injections we use to change or cover over our feelings.” (I couldn’t agree more–see Positivity). “This practice is the opposite: it is not about changing or covering over our feelings, it is about experiencing whatever is present.” It focuses on the physical awareness of the heartspace, and so is not simply a mental exercise.

As Bayda’s teacher, Charlotte Joko Beck, says in her introduction, “Even though all reading is preliminary, it is a crucial first step.” Now to practice!


From the Archives: May

May 2, 2009

pen

Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go. ~E. L. Doctorow

Selected posts from last May:

Radical Acceptance
This is a transformative practice.

Life is Now
Tolle exhorts us to pay less attention to our life situations, and more attention to life itself.

Faults-Image
Do we place greater value on projecting a positive image or accepting reality (in which we are all flawed)?

The Soul at Work
….or, as Parker J. Palmer calls it, the integration of soul and role


Flowing Water

April 6, 2009

There is guidance for each of us and by lowly listening, we shall hear the right word. Certainly there is a right for you that needs no choice on your part. Place yourself in the middle of the stream of power and wisdom which flows into your life. Then, without effort, you are impelled to truth and to perfect contentment. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today I said to Terry that I want to be flowing water. Maybe becoming flowing water is the way to be on one’s true path. (I almost said “the first step on the path”–oh, my ingrained habit of linear thought!)

I see this process of becoming flowing water as acceptance, letting go of resistance, and dwelling–as Thoreau advises–“as near as possible to the channel in which your life flows.”

What does this mean in practical, day-to-day terms? I think it means deep listening, stillness (ironically), and shedding the illusion of control. We have control over very little in this life, and yet we behave as though the world cannot turn without our efforts.

This week, I want to hold an image of flowing water, to be as close as possible to the channel in which my life flows, and to notice how that feels.


Making Our World

March 28, 2009

If we want to make something spectacular out of our world, there is nothing whatsoever that can stop us. ~Maria Ranier

Make or find? In a previous post, I grappled with Eric Maisel’s concept of making (as opposed to finding) meaning in our lives. How does that jibe with Byron Katie’s concept of loving what is or Eckhart Tolle’s encouragement to live in the Now? If we are attempting to make our worlds, our lives, our meaning, are we pushing the rope?

Right effort is part of the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism. As with other things, perhaps it’s finding (or is it making?!) a balance between effort and surrender. Changing what we can and accepting the rest, as the first part of the serenity prayer teaches. This prayer goes on to refer to a deity, but I think surrender can also be to life and the natural world.

How do you reconcile right effort and surrender? To whom or what do you surrender (if you do)?


Loving the World

January 9, 2009

There is only one heroism in the world: to see the world as it is, and to love it. ~Romaine Rolland

Acceptance is coming up for me again today. When I can see the world as it is, and can also see how it could be so much better, how do I accept what I can’t change, change what I can, and have the wisdom to know the difference? I believe it takes intention and attention.

That old serenity prayer really says it well! It’s a good way to remember my intentions. I want to accept the world just as it is, and still love it (like Richard Nixon, maybe–we luv you, cuz you need it*). I want to discern the places where I can make it better, and to have the courage to foster change. As Donna said in the comments to another post, “Sure, the world is perfect as it is–but it could be better.” I just love that!

So I want to turn my attention to the things I can change, the places where I can make a difference, and stop spinning my wheels in futile endeavors. I want to keep my eyes open to the truth of the world, and at the same time, open my heart to it as well.

How do you do this?

*from Steve Miller Number 5


Change and Growth

January 4, 2009

Change is inevitable; growth is optional. ~Tavis Smiley

Thanks to Carol for passing on this great quote. There are many people talking these days about change, the pace of change, the disorienting effects of change, “change management.” (Now there’s an oxymoron!) But I don’t hear much about growth within change, rather more about just keeping up, staying sane, not falling farther behind. There is something lost in this discussion. I don’t want to spend my energy just treading water; I want to swim into new water! Remembering what Marcel Proust said: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

I think the first step for growth is embracing (or at least shaking hands with) the change itself, accepting it as a condition of modern life. Why struggle against the inevitable? But beyond that, I have found stillness and mindfulness useful for getting in touch with the part of me that hungers for learning and growth. It is easy to be overwhelmed with the plethora of choices today, and this stillness helps us hear what we need above the din.

How have you approached change? Growth? How do we not only stay sane in this crazy-making proliferation of options, but expend our energy wisely for both our own development and a better world?


Engage

December 19, 2008

How long will you keep pounding on an open door, begging for someone to open it? ~Rabi’a al-‘Adawiyya

What a great reminder that (as my friend Shirley used to say) “I have everything I need to be happy here and now.” Don’t we all sometimes just want to be rescued? How tempting it can be to be the damsel in distress, the victim, waiting for the white knight (read: lover, father, boss, president, savior) to come along. It is seductive to feel absolved of responsibility for our own lives. But in the process we are turning our power (and our joy) over to others.

How much more satisfying to engage in our lives, be mindful, celebrate all that is–the universe in its infinite wisdom; our friends, relations, and coworkers who are who they are; our life situation, which is no doubt perfect for the lessons we need to learn. Who are we, after all, to question the design of goddess/nature/god/spirit/life?

Yesterday I had a moment of profound gratitude for life, for breath, for the world just as it is. Today, I bow to the mystery and to you. Namaste.


We’re All In It Together

October 12, 2008

Yes, ‘n’ how many times can a man turn his head, pretending he just doesn’t see? ~Bob Dylan

Tara Brach, in her powerful and important book, Radical Acceptance, says, “Our capacity to look away from the realness and suffering of others has horrendous consequences.” She contends that we look away because we are focused on the differences, holding tightly to our views of right and wrong, of self and other, of “good” and “bad” guys. “Once someone is an unreal other,” she continues, “we lose sight of how they hurt…All the enormous suffering of violence and war [and I would add poverty and hunger] comes from our basic failure to see that others are real.”

And it is not just for the “other” that we should care about economic injustice, but also for ourselves. The division of the world into haves and have-nots creates suffering and fear, not just in the poor, but in the rich. When it is possible for all to have enough, our having too much not only does not make us happy, it corrupts us at the core, creating in us fear of loss, suspicion of others, and greed for more.

How do we stop perpetuating this inequality? What can one person do? Here are some of my ideas:

1. Volunteer at or donate to a social service agency.
2. Get to know someone better who seems different from you in some way (socioeconomic status, disability, age, race, educational level). Learn to see them as real.
3. Live small. Conserve, recycle, and donate what you don’t really need. Expand your definition of what you don’t really need.
4. Educate yourself about economic disparity and its consequences. A good place to start is the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), and their Agenda for Shared Prosperity.
5. Practice opening your heart and widening your circle of compassion for others, and developing an abundance (rather than a scarcity) mentality.

We’re all in it together.


Interbeing

September 21, 2008

In one sheet of paper, we see everything else, the cloud, the forest, the logger. I am, therefore you are. You are, therefore I am. That is the meaning of the word ‘interbeing.’ We interare. ~Thich Nhat Hanh, from Being Peace

I have just read the book Radical Acceptance, by Tara Brach. Before I read this wonderful book, I had a post by this title. I’m sure it was Brach’s book that was referenced by the authors I quoted in that earlier post. All that to say that this idea of radical acceptance is one that echoes for me as something I need to embrace.

Letting go of the idea of control allows us to better see and be receptive to the gifts that come to us. Brach says, “When we put down ideas of what life should be like, we are free to wholeheartedly say yes to our life as it is.” When I cease to struggle with the life I have, I see the beauty of the hills across the valley, feel the cool air of fall streaming in the window, hear the quiet on this Sunday morning, and know the peace of feeling safe and loved. Only when I can understand the great grace that has fallen on me can I feel true compassion for others. And that understanding is not with the head, but with the heart.

May I understand from the heart that we are all interconnected, worthy of grace, and responsible for each other. May I live my life as though I am no more or less than any other in the universe, and as though every breath I take ripples through all.

Breathing in, I calm body and mind.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is the only moment.

~Thich Nhat Hanh


The Tyranny of Expectations

September 17, 2008

The unexpected will certainly happen, while the anticipated may never come. ~Nisargadatta Maharaj

…you cannot control the result of your actions. As painful as it is to admit, oftentimes you cannot even know if the results are truly positive or negative just because initially they appear to be one or the other. ~Phillip Moffitt, “The Tyranny of Expectations”

The title of Moffitt’s piece from Yoga Journal says it all. We can create a lot of suffering for ourselves with our desire for a particular outcome. Focusing on right effort is the key. Moffitt says, “The Buddha continually warned us not to be attached to any specific outcome, yet he also stressed the importance of making an effort and sacrifices, of living a life of moral discipline…The difference is in what you control. You have the power to choose your level of effort, you can learn from experience how to improve it and how to be balanced in what is skillful and what is not. But you cannot control the result of your actions.”

Part of this art, I think, is accepting and loving what is (including our imperfections in doing so). As Tolle reminds us (see Denial and Surrender), that doesn’t mean accepting the status quo, the whole situation, but rather embracing the present moment as it is. I am reminded today to turn my attention to right effort, to let go of expectations of results, and to rest in the present moment without dwelling on past or future.  

See also Expectations


Pushing the Rope

September 7, 2008

The Sun Never Says
Even
After
All this time,
The sun never says to the earth,
“You owe
Me.”
Look
What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the
Whole sky.
~Hafiz

Dang! I am pushing the rope again.* Making life harder than it has to be. I need to remember that this day, my life, the universe will be what it is. I am not in control, nor am I owed anything. I can radiate love and light only when I am shining from my center, and not by willing myself to do so. On rereading a previous post (The Case Against Will), I am resolved to spend the day “moodling” in dreamy idleness.

Learning is hard! When the same lesson comes around again and again (there’s that spiral again), it must be important, eh? Today I am reminded to cease struggling and to listen for clarity.

*a concept described by Sarah Susanka in The Not So Big Life


Denial and Surrender

August 10, 2008

When you deny emotional pain, everything you do or think as well as your relationships become contaminated with it. You broadcast it, so to speak, as the energy you emanate, and others will pick it up subliminally…You attract and manifest whatever corresponds to your inner state.

Surrender is the simple but profound wisdom of yielding to rather than opposing the flow of life…It does not mean that on the outer level you cannot take action and change the situation. In fact, it is not the overall situation that you need to accept when you surrender, but just the tiny segment called the Now.

~Eckhart Tolle

The heartbreakthroughs continue, and they are good and cleansing–the opposite of the denial Tolle speaks of. I am somewhat astonished by the body-centeredness of emotion. As someone who has no doubt relied too heavily on intellectual solutions in the past, I am learning that there is no “figuring out” one’s emotional response, there is only being with it, feeling it.

For so long, my difficulty with surrender had to do with thinking of it as “giving up” while wanting to change things for the better. But Tolle reconciles these ideas in his quote above: Acceptance of the moment, presence in the Now, does not require being satisfied with the overall situation. In fact Tolle says, “…to surrender is the most important thing you can do to bring about positive change. Any action you take is secondary. No truly positive action can arise out of an unsurrendered state of consciousness.”

What do you feel or think?


No Regrets

July 20, 2008

Make it a rule of life never to regret and never look back. Regret is an appalling waste of energy; you can’t build on it; it is good only for wallowing in. ~Katherine Mansfield

Amen, Ms. Mansfield! I wish I had a nickel for every time I have wallowed in regret. It is tempting to think one’s sins or shortcomings are somehow more numerous or egregious than others’, that we are special in some way. Some of mine are sins of omission, some commission, but in the end, we all have them. While confession may be good for the soul, there are some I still can’t confess to even my closest friends, and I think the better route is to forgive myself and let go of the past, to stop wasting energy on embarrassment and regret.

After all, it was I who in the spring of 2004 wrote the lines, “I unfold my failures like old clothes/hug them to me, then let go,/watch them sail away on the wind.” I find that writing is so often prophetic, that it gets at truths long before I can understand them fully. Which is one reason this blog is so important to me: Even if I am not living my professions here, they are pointing in the direction I want to go, helping establish and explore my intentions. For example, way back in a January post I wrote, “More and more of being here now, and less and less of dwelling on past mistakes or future possibilities, is liberating and exhilirating.” Life is a spiral.

Have you found freedom from regret? What helps you to forgive yourself for your transgressions?


Finding Flow

July 19, 2008

The real challenge, however, is to reduce entropy in one’s surroundings without increasing it in one’s consciousness. The Buddhists have a good piece of advice as to how this can be done: “Act always as if the future of the Universe depended on what you did, while laughing at yourself for thinking that whatever you do makes any difference.” ~from Finding Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

I finished reading Finding Flow* last night. It was very different from what I expected, but interesting! The subtitle is “The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life,” and the book reads more like a science-meets-religion treatise than a self-help book. In the end, I found myself thinking optimistically of the “new earth” that Eckhart Tolle talks about.

In Finding Flow, the author encourages us to engage mindfully, to take ownership of our actions, rather than spending our leisure in passive entertainment. This, he says, will create flow as well as increase happiness. I have certainly found this to be true in my experience. It’s easier to work a crossword puzzle than to stare down a blank page and write a poem, less effort to watch TV than to call a friend, but I know which of these feeds me and leads to greater happiness.

And again the idea of loving what is pops up–what Nietzsche called amor fati–“the love of fate.”  Csikszentmihalyi warns us that people can also learn to love what is destructive, so we must choose our goals wisely. Science has helped us to understand what promotes and sustains growth, life, and order, and to understand the uniqueness of each of us. He says “each one of us is responsible for our particular point in space and time in which our body and mind forms a link within the total network of existence.” Being virtuous (that is, acting to preserve order, taking into account the common good, the emotional well-being of others) is not the easy path, but the satisfying one, and connects one to the flow of all that was, is, and ever shall be.

*Finding Flow was previously mentioned here.


Conformity

June 2, 2008

We forfeit three-fourths of ourselves, in order to be like other people.  ~Arthur Schopenhauer

My mother used to tell a story she found amusing. It was about coming to fetch me from school in the first grade. I was standing in front of the class when she arrived, pretending not to know my colors. I don’t remember this event, but this is one of the saddest stories I’ve ever heard.

For I had been happily reading at least since age 5, had known my colors for far longer, and was academically way ahead of most of my first-grade class when I began school. But I had been admonished so strongly not to “show off,” to be like others so I would be liked, that I had hidden my abilities in the quest for acceptance.

It was many years before I was aware of my conditioning, and many more before I could move beyond it. Even still, I find myself thinking, “How will this look to others?” when I decide on a course of action. This is actually a skill that has served me well in career and political situations, but I have had to come to an understanding about the limits on its value. And I have suffered from applying it in situations where it is not needed.

I think this explains why authenticity is so very important to me now. I cannot bear to pretend any longer that I am something I am not. I actually think age is helpful in this regard, as we who are in public service approach retirement and can be whoever we are. How do you deal with this dilemma, in a political world?


Radical Acceptance

May 3, 2008

Radical acceptance can keep us from becoming progressively constricted and diminished in the face of painful experiences.  ~from The Mindful Way Through Depression, by Williams, Teasdale, Segal & Kabat-Zinn

You may note that I have changed the tagline of this blog to “words that illuminate the path to understanding.” Still way too many syllables for my taste, but more descriptive of what this blog has turned out to be. How would you say it more concisely?–send suggestions!

I have found so many of those illuminating words lately. It is great to be in a May-long break (is that at all like a bee-loud glade?) from my formal studies, so I can read other things!

I love this book from which today’s words come, in part of course because it validates what I have come to discover over the years and wrote about in my very first post to this blog (that mindfulness is key to God, the universe and everything). I read the research version a while back, and I am glad that the authors have now published a popular edition.

It includes one of my favorite Rumi works, “The Guest House,” translated by Coleman Barks:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.


Community

April 19, 2008

Once we become relatively independent, our challenge is to become effectively interdependent with others. ~Stephen Covey

Woke to gentle rain
Mist obscures the distant hills
Funeral today

We have lost something in our movement away from communal living. A lone city dweller might argue that the extended family brings too much closeness, calls for too much conformity, but (paradoxically), through it we may actually learn to be more tolerant of differences. Take the “crazy aunt” or that “funny cousin”–yes, they were labeled and talked about, but were still accepted as part of the family, and could count on the support of the group in times of crisis. Robert Frost said it well: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

I have had a love-hate relationship with community and family all my life. Because I felt like the “different one” in my immediate family, and because we had no extended family in our town, I have always had a certain craving to live anonymously, to be left alone, or at least not discouraged in becoming who I was to be. It is probably a big reason I didn’t have children of my own.

I am grateful, though, for my socialization, my ability to “look like” part of a group, to fit in where I can without self-betrayal. And I am so very thankful for my husband and close friends, who serve as my chosen community/family. May I continue to nurture my close relationships, and also be more open to the larger community around me.


Clarity

April 10, 2008

If you do not express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself.  ~Rollo May

Note that May talks about expressing and also listening. How do I know my own original ideas without listening to my own being? My new word is clarity. Years ago it was acceptance, but now I need to know what my original ideas are. I need to sit and listen to the voice inside. There are things/ideas/yearnings that I return to again and again. I want to notice those things, but with stillness and openness, and without feeling an urgency to act.

I spent the first few decades of my life betraying myself; I don’t want to do it ever again. To live authentically requires clarity. I am on an edge, a cusp, the dawn of a new period of life, so grateful to have survived until now. Silvia says we won’t die until we have finished our work here. What is my work? What is this next phase supposed to be about?


Questions

March 11, 2008

It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.  ~James Thurber

It’s not the answer that enlightens, but the question.  ~Eugene Ionesco

There are surely many more quotations on this theme! Rilke, in his Letters to a Young Poet, advises, “…have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

And the point is, to live everything. Cease struggling against what is, worrying about what might be, regretting what has been. That is my intention, difficult as it sometimes is in practice. These quotes remind me, though, that engagement with the questions themselves gives my mind something to do. Clarifying, articulating, and posing those questions to myself might be the practice.

What do you think?


Flow

March 8, 2008

Life is a series of natural spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them–that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. ~Lao Tzu

Flow with whatever is happening and let your mind be free. Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate. ~Chuang Tzu

Boy, do I need these quotations this morning! I am feeling battered by my situation, and it is so tempting to sink into bitterness or depression. I have just reread The Not So Big Life, and although I intellectually understand the concept of not “pushing the rope,” I find myself doing it over and over.

My whole orientation as a manager is to work toward positive results, so how do I let go of the results, “let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like”? I think one reason I long for retirement is to escape this conflict in me, but I do understand that is not the right reason to retire.

May I center myself by just sitting with things today, letting my mind be free. May I learn to let go of resistance, making way for acceptance of whatever I am doing.


Change

February 22, 2008

Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are.  ~Bertolt Brecht

Daffodils are blooming, and my boss is leaving for another state. My mother-in-law is anticipating having to move out of the house in which she grew up because she is no longer able to live alone. It won’t be long before we have a new president.

Change is just change. The attachment we feel to this or that is what causes suffering in the change. We can never know ahead of time what the outcome of change will be. So it seems to me that the right response to change (and certainly the least stressful) is acceptance and curiosity. If we are living in each moment, I believe that will occur naturally.

May I roll with these changes, loving what is. May I respond from a grounded awareness of the present moment, accepting that the next present moment will bring something different.


Now

February 14, 2008

When you have a disease, do not try to cure it–find your center and you will be healed.  ~Tao proverb

I can now highly recommend Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. I have listened to about 3/4 of the audiobook, and now I am planning to buy the print edition.  Read it and learn why humankind is insane, and why we must individually and collectively save ourselves by learning to be present in the now. Instead of talking about how when we come to die, we need to have lived, Tolle talks about the importance of having already “died” (as an ego, a form), so that we understand that there is no death.

It is the wisdom of the ages, if only we could hear and practice it. There is no present or future, only now. It doesn’t mean we cease to plan or set goals, it just means we fully experience the present as it occurs, without mental reference to past or future.  We step out of time and do not resist what is.

I started this blog on August 12, 2007, by speculating that mindfulness was the key to “God, the universe and everything.” Now I am convinced of that. It is no coincidence that mindfulness is the largest tag on my tag cloud!

Mindfulness may be the antithesis of thinking, however; it is awareness of being in the body, of the emotions as manifestations of thought. Transformation is through the body, not away from it, says Tolle. Going within and focusing on the inner energy field of your body helps you stay grounded, still and rooted.


Flying

January 26, 2008

Wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.  ~Toni Morrison

Birds and flying figured in all the poems I wrote for several years. I used to dream about plane crashes regularly. And I carried excess weight in my body, even though I am not a naturally heavy person. Perhaps these things are related.

Now I feel lighter, literally and figuratively. What are the things I have let go? The over-reliance on the opinions of others; unnecessary striving when waiting would do; and struggling to live each day without the understanding that the day will be what it is, with or without that struggling.

What is the shit that weighs you down? What could you jettison that would allow you to fly?


Expectations

January 25, 2008

My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance and in inverse proportion to my expectations.  ~Michael J. Fox

I have missed blogging the past few days! It has become a habit, a practice, that helps ground me. In one 48-hour period this week, I drove 600 miles, or about 9 hours, for a 7-hour meeting. That just seems crazier than ever to me. Not to  mention the impact on the environment of that kind of living. I want to work toward a quieter, simpler life. I don’t mean to fight with the life I have, but as I said to David this week, I’m learning to completely let go of attachment to the outcome (expectations), while moving in what I think is a good and right direction.

I don’t think much about expectations these days. I am much more focused on day-to-day intention, action, reflection on what is (acceptance). And that is radical and wonderful. More and more of being here now, and less and less of dwelling on past mistakes or future possibilities, is liberating and exhilirating. What can I do in this moment to express my values, tune in to the rhythms of nature, be one with all, and honor the gift that is my “one wild and precious life”?*

Who am I really in this moment? It doesn’t matter who I have been, who I will be, who others think I am. What matters is living authentically now. And beginning again (and again, and again…). So…your turn: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”*

*from Mary Oliver’s extraordinary poem, “The Summer Day.”


Sweet Forgiveness

January 20, 2008

When you get down to it, Lily, that’s the only purpose grand enough for a human life–not just to love, but to persist in love.  ~August, in The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd

Sweet forgiveness, dear God above
I say we all deserve
A taste of this kind of love
Someone who’ll hold our hand
And whisper: ‘I understand,
And I still love you.’
~Iris DeMent

Write the wrongs that are done to you in sand,  but write the good things that happen to you on a piece of marble. Let go of all emotions, such as resentment and retaliation, which diminish you, and hold onto the emotions, such as joy and gratitude, which increase you.  ~Arabic proverb

I finally read The Secret Life of Bees, which has been on my reading list for some time now. It’s a good story, and I enjoyed the singular voice of the protagonist and narrator, Lily. I found the themes echoing around my head and heart afterwards–love, empathy, parenting, faith, acceptance, forgiveness.

Forgiveness is sweet on the receiving end, as Iris DeMent poignantly sings, but it is also one of those things that benefits the giver as much as (often more than) the receiver. There is nothing more stunting to our growth than holding a grudge, nursing a hurt, or keeping account of times we’ve been wronged. But so many are unable to “persist in love” in that way. And so we have war, and conflict, and separation from one another.

I think our ability to forgive others, as in Lily’s case, is in part dependent upon our ability to forgive ourselves. Setting high standards for ourselves gives us something to strive toward, but can be a trap for self-denial as well. I am getting better at forgiving myself for all the stupid, thoughtless, unkind, and self-destructive things I’ve done. I want to be completely free to forgive and feel compassion for all.

Do you give yourself the benefit of the doubt as often as you give it to others? Can you think about failures or mistakes you’ve made in the past without a trace of angst?


Becoming

December 19, 2007

The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.  ~Anna Quindlen

I have just completed the year-end ritual described in The Not So Big Life by Sarah Susanka. One of the questions (perhaps the most provocative and important one for me) is “What am I becoming?” The answer to this question, in my view, incorporates all one’s desires, longings, previous experiences, conditioned behaviors, reflections, and aspirations. What are you becoming?

Another question involves summing up all one’s desires and longings into one simple statement. My response at the moment is “I embody loving acceptance of what is, without fear or anger.”

And finally, I have once again confirmed my love of learning for its own sake.  I want to learn whatever is available to learn in a situation–inquisitively, not acquisitively. 

The Year-End Ritual instructions can be found at http://www.notsobiglife.com/resources/documents/TheYearEndRitual.pdf. Consider sharing your results!


Acceptance

October 1, 2007

There are only two possible responses to every challenge–balanced acceptance or embittered resistance. Acceptance is freedom. Resistance is suffering.  ~Sylvia Boorstein, in Pay Attention, for Goodness’ Sake

I’m not sure I agree with any statement limiting possible responses to two.  However, the point is a good one: We can struggle or we can go with the flow. And in my experience, struggling usually makes things worse. I have wasted a lot of energy resisting. I don’t think this means we can’t work to make the world a better place; I just think that we must wholeheartedly accept what is and start there.

Boorstein’s choice of adjective is interesting–not just (blind) acceptance, but balanced acceptance. Both feet on the ground, a steady equanimity, makes this complete acceptance possible. And vice versa!