Saturday, May 18, 2024

The Hard Work

 


My Mindful Pause had to go on a pause, but I am back. I'm struggling with what to say next. After those big personal losses that happen in life, there's a recalibrating that needs to happen. I'm in that place. Finding my way, there is so much I can say and nothing at all at the same time. 

Many of you know that my mom passed away a couple of weeks ago after a short illness, all of which came suddenly and chaotically. I was close to her, so the absence feels real and yet something about it doesn't feel real at all. I still expect to talk with her. This is natural, I know. I am adjusting.

In recent years, my mom would say, "I don't know how you do what you do. It seems so hard." It always took me by surprise when she said it. I didn't know how aware she was of what I did, but she was clearly following me. Moms do that. On the heels of my mom's funeral, just four days later, I was scheduled to lead a weekend retreat, which I did over this past weekend. It seemed crazy to go from such a time of turmoil and loss to facilitating a group of people in a weekend of strengthening self-kindness. Mother's Day weekend at that. And yet, it was just right. I was gifted a beautiful group of 14 people who joined me at the lovely Dharmakaya Center in upstate New York. We did just what my mom said, we did some "hard work." It's the hard work that yields so much presence, connection, growth and joy.

Though this work is not something she was inclined to do herself (she worked hard in many other significant ways), I can rest in knowing that my mom knew I was truly happy in my life. "My beautiful Jean," she would say. And that happiness I experience, which she could see, didn't just come. It has taken "work" and the fruits of it can't be bought or brought by anything else. I share this because because I just witnessed 14 people dive into the practices of stopping, being still, and listening to what arises in that stillness. They spent time exploring what their inner critics have to say and made room for the unmet needs lurking underneath. They tried being on their own side, finding what their unique voice of compassion sounds like. They tried on forgiveness and humility as they took in their ancestors and what brought them here. They shared openly and listened carefully. They practiced self-kindness and let it permeate to the whole group. It was inspiring to witness.

Why do we practice meditation? Why do we reflect and contemplate? Why do we intentionally draw our attention to what is well and good, again and again? Because it make us happier, more peaceful people. The world certainly needs more of that.

My invitation this week is simple. What makes you feel grounded, joyful, peaceful? Do more of that this week. Look at your week and see what you have planned that cultivates those qualities and what you have planned that may be doing the opposite. Is there anything you can let go or space you can open? Is there anything you can add that nourishes you? Remember, it's often not big things. It's the simple things that give us spaciousness, ease, joy, and peace. It's available. Be intentional. If it is going to bring you those things in any lasting way, there will be some effort involved. Don't be afraid of it.

Renew your commitment to yourself and have the courage to lean in so that you can be more free in life. It is short. There is no time to waste being stuck, angry, resentful, critical, worn out. You can choose something better.

Wishing you a beautiful week.


🙏
Jean

Not About Peace. Not An Escape.

 


Lately, I am hearing more people express a sense of dismay with their "progress" meditating. Honestly, when I hear this I wince inside. I can't help it. If we are thinking in terms of "progress" then we are missing it altogether and, even more, it's mean to ourselves! So, if you have this sense of not progressing or not being good at meditation, then I hope this message speaks to you and feels reaffirming.

Meditation is not something to progress at. It is simply something to do. We refer to it as a practice, but I wonder if that's in the way, too. Why? Because it is not something to master or even get good at. It is not something to win at. You'll never arrive somewhere. Why? Because you have already arrived. You are here. It's simply remembering that you are here that mindfulness meditation helps us to do. Here and not in the future, the past, or in fantasy. 

Is it a practice? Maybe we are causing ourselves some suffering by calling it that. I wonder if it would be more beneficial to say simply, "I meditate." Just like we would say, "I brush my teeth." We don't practice brushing our teeth. We just brush our teeth. We don't practice meditation, we just meditate, which means we follow our breath to stay in the present moment, we get distracted, we return to our breath again. Sometimes we can stay in the present longer, sometimes we are gone in a split second. We just do it.


You are here in this form with a brain that produces many thoughts. Endless thoughts. It is what it is made to do. We could say, "thank you, my brain." It's a good thing to have one. But I know sometimes we wish it would quiet down. Fortunately, our brain also has the capacity to let go of a thought, the next thought, and the thought after that, one at at time. This is what we are doing in mindfulness meditation.

We start by following the breath because it is happening only in the present moment. Sensing our breathing, we are right here. Sensing anything, we are right here. If I listen to these sounds right now, I am present. If I feel my feet on the ground, or my pelvis on the chair, I am present. If I smell this flower in front of me, I am present as I draw the air in through my nose. If I feel this inhale and this exhale, I am present. I can't sense these things and be somewhere else in my thoughts. So we use the body to stay here. 

It could be that we feel like we are failing or not getting any better at it if we are holding on to some notion that we should be getting to a peaceful place, or a place where thoughts stop coming in, or a place of otherworldliness (bliss), or a place of perfection where we don't get distracted. If we have those motivations or goals we have fallen off the path. It's going to feel like we aren't very good at it.

Of course, there are different forms of meditation. Some are intended to bring us to another place, out of this body. Mindfulness is not that. Mindfulness is awareness of what's happening in the present moment. We are not trying to get to another place, a special way of being, or ongoing peacefulness. It is not an escape. It's the opposite. It helps us to be right here with what is, whether what is is pleasant, unpleasant, neutral, or anything along that spectrum. We learn that we can stay. We can observe and we don't have to react by trying to get away from it. This is where its power lies because then we can make choices. We can't do that when we are not present. And so this is why we meditate. It helps us to live aligned with what matters to us. We learn that we can be aware. We can stay. We can observe. We can make a beneficial choice from there.

Just meditate. That's it. Just meditate and let the doing of it speak for itself.  Lately, I am hearing people say that they notice as they meditate more regularly (just about daily) they find that it is easier to do -- to be still and to stay. Of course it is. Like riding a bike. It's not scary like that very first time we did it without any training wheels.

My encouragement this week is to meditate regularly without evaluation, without trying to get somewhere, or attain something. You have already arrived. Now, just meditate. 

Need any help, just reach out.


🙏🌷
Jean

Monday, March 25, 2024

No Spring Like This Spring

 


With each season, I like to remind myself that there will never be another season just like this one. We only have a given number of springs in a lifetime. And not only that, there will not be another spring like this one in 2024, at this age, with these conditions, with these particular people in my life at the ages they are, with my body just like this. When I stop and recognize this, I don't want to miss it. I don't want to get to summer quickly. I just want to be here soaking this in. And there is so much to take in.

It's spring break week here in our town and whether you are taking a break or not, I welcome you to pause and invite you to slow down and let the season register through your body with this simple exercise. Rather than roll through this time, we can remind ourselves of the gifts available to us right now.

Taking one sense at a time, either close your eyes and do this in your mind as you slow yourself down and feel yourself breathing or you can do this as a journaling exercise (if you write, still allow yourself a moment to drop inside and feel each one so it's not just in your head). With each one, name as many things to savor as come to you about spring in general and about your specific spring (specific events, activities, etc.). With each one, feel what it's like just to imagine it. A smile may come or a feeling of joy, warmth, energy, excitement, freshness, lightness, etc. Can you let yourself enjoy. Keep in mind that only you can let yourself receive it.

What do you want to savor with your eyes this spring?
What do you want to savor with your ears this spring?
What do you want to savor with your nose this spring?
What do you want to savor with your taste this spring?
What do you want to savor in your touch this spring?
What do you want to savor in your feelings this spring?


Having taken this time, how does it feel to fill yourself in this way? I wish you a beautiful week and a season full of light, energy, and renewal.


🌱
Jean

Friday, March 15, 2024

This Body

 


Happy return to light and longer days!

What I am about to say you have likely heard me say before. I say it often because I think it is such a nice gift to ourselves to remember. "We get to be here and have these experiences because of this bodyThis body that does everything it can to keep going. This body that always tries to heal. This body that puts up with our often crazy demands and criticisms." And yet, how easy it is to forget to appreciate this body! This week's practice is simple, but powerful. All you need is to stop and take a few minutes. Read the prompts and then close your eyes, follow your breathing and listen to your response. Taking the time is worth it.

Choose a part of your body. Any part. It may be your arms, feet, skin, an organ. They are all worth appreciating, so you don't have to think very hard. The parts of you that you don't think of much can be surprisingly nice for this. Or, maybe a part of you that needs healing. But really, any part will do because they all depend on each other anyway.

Name it and say it back a couple of times to slow down. For example, "these arms" and bring your awareness to that area. 

Now call up what that part of you allows you to experience, do, feel. Name one thing at time slowly. Feeling each gift it brings. No expectations because we weren't promised anything. But, tap into awe and delight at how we function. If you take your eyes, what do you get to see? Or your legs, what do they allow you to do? Your voice? What does it allow you to express. There is nothing to not consider. Stay with it for a while and enjoy the details.

Lastly, wish this place health, ease, and say a simple thank you with the desire to want to take care of this place that gives to you, (even if it gives imperfectly).

How does it feel to pause and take the time to do this? Feel free to let me know! Each day we can do this. Choose another area of you and tap into the enormous well of goodness we have. 


🌱
Jean

Monday, February 26, 2024

"Yes, but..."

 


I have noticed that there is something particular that happens when we are not in the best frame of mind. We become disagreeable! I know that sounds too obvious. For anyone who has experience with teenagers, you know what this looks like. Some adults live constantly in this state. Whether our negative mind state is due to stress, low self esteem, exhaustion, fear, or some other unpleasant source, we can easily fall into playing the antagonist, even inadvertently. We can take the opposite side of whatever is being offered, even if it is something pleasant, benign, or neutral. It comes in the form of, "yes, but..."  

I'm sure you have been on the receiving end of this before when you called someone to share something and what you got back is unexpectedly antagonistic? It can be subtle as if the person is just offering another perspective, but then you notice that the person does this often, even to things that we weren't trying to provoke, get their opinion on, or put forward as controversial. 

The unfortunate result can be that the one who shares regrets doing it. It's a drag and when I am aware that I have done it -- when I get enough perspective to see what I was doing, I feel silly and I ask myself, why didn't I just take in what they said and allow it to have its own value without adding my thoughts on top? (I could go down the shame route from there, but I know that will only make my behavior even more unpleasant. What's really needed is some care. There's something that needs attention in me and it likely has nothing to do with what this person just shared. I can take care of myself and start again).

I know there is something to be said for "healthy" questioning. Teachers do it. Parents do it. Think tanks or brainstorming meetings are good places for it. Great teachers remind us to question what are taught and to discover the truth for ourselves through experience rather than rattling off some knowledge we were taught. But there is a big difference between trying something on to uncover what is true for ourselves and always looking to argue, prove a point, show off knowledge, or play devil's advocate without the "play" element. It's actually much more pleasant and interesting when I take someone's thought and give it space, see its value or the possibility in it, or what I can take from it that is good. The other person lights up, too, when they feel regarded, which is beautiful to see and experience. If I do have some hesitation, I can give the benefit of the doubt rather than knock it down. What if everything didn't have to be a fight or something to prove, but something that has potential and useful information? Why not be open to what can come?

My invitation this week is to be more welcoming, open, receptive to what is being offered. To look for the goodness, the possibility, the potential in what someone is sharing or asking, even if at first it comes in some odd form. Even the worst ideas or requests have something worth being genuinely and positively curious about. See if it feels different to be open to possibility. Brother David Steindl-Rast describes hope as "openness to surprise." What if we were to have more hope in people? The only way to know is to give them a chance.

If you came from a place where there was great distrust in others, or where you had to defend, or prove yourself, this will likely be a harder practice, so be gentle with yourself. It takes time to undo these patterns that we didn't choose. The peace and delight that comes from it is worth the work.

🕊
Jean

Letting Go of Controlling

 


We logically know that when we try to control what we can't, we increase our and other's suffering. In my experience, that hasn't stopped me from trying anyway. My awareness and my intellectual understanding alone, don't often translate into helpful action. That's because I get tricked into thinking that to let go requires me to be different. I'll say things like...

If I could just go with the flow.
If I could just let it unfold.
If I could just trust.

(Notice the word just in all of those!)

But, there is a major step that has to happen to let go and it isn't about changing. It's the opposite. To let go, we have to let ourselves feel (as we are). We have to let go of doing or fixing. 

My invitation this week is to work with this simple prompt:

If I let go around _______ (pick your subject), I would have to allow for _______ (whatever is here to be here), and I would have to feel ________ (an actual feeling).

And then, the instruction is simple. We let ourselves feel. Not do anything, not add on, not analyze, but experience the feeling. What does the feeling actually feel like? Where do you sense it in your body? What posture do you take? What sensations go with the feeling and can you breathe with all of that as an experience without judgment, without making it bad or wrong. Stay with it while it's there. It will change, as all things change.

The short of it is that to let go is to be willing to face the discomfort that is inevitably there. The discomfort we are avoiding by trying to control. That's it. That's my tip. I'm keeping it short and sweet today. What are you trying to avoid by controlling and if you let that go, what would you have to feel and what if you let yourself feel and not judge it, fix it, or blame someone for it? It is surprisingly liberating. And as I often say, we won't explode from letting ourselves feel a feeling. We only explode (or implode) if we don't.

Wishing everyone a lot of love this week. 

💝
Jean

Monday, January 29, 2024

Seeing The "Us"

 


It was early in the morning. I had just dropped my son off at the train station and as I was driving home there was a car coming in the opposite direction appearing to slow down. It seemed like it might make a left turn, but it didn't have a signal on. This is one of my pet peeves in driving. I slowed down in case the person suddenly turned in front of me. He did and as I drove on, I watched the usual murmurings of judgment in me arise. Then I thought about the exercise I was sharing in my groups for the week and asked myself, "how can I see the "us" in driving?" Staying with the question, I was amazed at the fact that we all navigate these roads together and when I thought of it that way, my irritation changed. 

When I ask myself to see the “us” in a situation, it inevitably softens my stance. I get a greater perspective which doesn't separate me from the other. I see the larger picture which allows for more acceptance, compassion, and understanding. My righteous self gets humbled. As someone shared in a group, I could ask, "what if that was my elderly mom driving in front of me, would I get so angry?"

When we  practice with the concepts of inter-being, interconnection, and interdependence, we see clearly that there is no separation between us and anything else. We are physically, mentally, and emotionally made of everything that is outside of us. Our bodies are made of all the elements (air, earth, water, sun, people) and our ways of thinking and feeling are effected by numerous people and forces outside of us. 

The driving example is just a minor one, but we can do it anytime we start to feel on the opposite side of someone, an issue, stuck in a project, caught in comparing, feeling judged or doing the judging, anytime we see suffering and don't feel compassion. My invitation this week is to keep asking the question, "how can I see the 'us' here?" See what happens if you stay with it. Does it soften your stance, your vision? Does it bring you into more gratitude and awe?

Whether it's personal, societal, or global, we can step back and recognize that we are connected and that the better outcome will arrive if  we see our interconnection and move onto the side of wanting it to work out for all us. We can come back to the notion that “just like me, this person wants to be happy, healthy, safe.” We can recognize that “just like me,” this other person/group wants to get through this, or is having just as frustrating a time as me, or they want to achieve the same goal, even if our ways of achieving it don’t seem aligned. "Just like me," this person has feelings, needs, fears. This perspective of seeing our common humanity brings us back to wanting to collaborate and find a way together, rather than be reactive or right. We need each other.

Because it is not always easy to do, we need to remember "the why."  And the why is that we are connected. What happens to me, happens to you, even if we can’t see exactly how in the moment. That ripple effect is always there. We can take refuge in the “we” because we can't do this life alone and we can't make positive change  alone. There is always a “we” and it can help us when we get caught in ourselves.

Wishing you a week feeling held in connection and embracing, rather than pushing away, the complexity it can add.

🙏
Jean

Saturday, January 20, 2024

The "Why" Underneath

 


For many years now, no matter how much sleep I get, I awake feeling groggy from a night full of dreaming. I don't drink or take anything. I just dream a ton. Apparently, I am working stuff out overnight, but the residual feeling is not the one I'd like to awaken with. I'm not grumpy. I simply don't feel the kind of freshness that I would like to start the day with. Though this was not on my intentions list for 2024, I realized that I could probably change this morning routine to one that feels better and so I am embarking on a series of habit changes and it has me reflecting on how we change. If you prefer to listen, rather than read, I shared a version of this in Sunday night's talk which you can access below. 

When we practice living mindfully, we accept that so much in life is out of our control and we gradually learn to have greater humility as we work on letting go. We understand that we often cause ourselves and others more suffering by trying to control what we can't and what isn't ours to control. At the same time though, when we are mindful, we see how much choice we have in every moment if we are present. We have choices in the kinds of thoughts we facilitate (not what thoughts arise, but the kinds of thoughts we nourish and what we do with them) and in what we say and do. Of course, these choices ripple out and affect what happens next.

Some things we think, say, and do become habits and some stick around for a very long time. They could be habits of thinking, speaking, ways of behaving that were passed on by our parents, our ancestors, our culture. Habits are harder to change and sometimes so hard that the habitual action doesn't seem like a choice at all. What we do can feel like it's set in concrete -– this is how it’s done; this is just the way it is. But, once we realize that the habit is getting in the way of our happiness, this is a wonderful place to bring in curiosity. Is there something I can do differently? What am I believing is fixed? If I don’t like how something feels or how something is going, do I have to stay stuck in the repetitive action/reaction? No, but then we have to face the reality that changing habits is not easy.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been proactive about trying on different approaches in order to create a new habit upon waking. Inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh’s morning gatha which goes like this…"Waking up this morning I smile. Knowing there are 24 brand new hours before me, I vow to live fully in each moment, and look at beings with eyes of compassion," I decided to write my own with words that remind me of how I want to greet the day and connect with my intention on moving through it.

I woke up with my words on my nightstand, but quickly found that changing the feeling is not as easy as saying some words. It became clear that it’s a habit that’s going to take time to reprogram and will take multiple approaches until I find the one that sticks. Probably more than one change will be necessary. And then, it registered that it is going to take diligence, patience, adaptability, and steadfastness. 

How do we stick to behaviors we want to change after they have become so ingrained as to be habitual? I find that I can do this more easily when I can see the “why” underneath. This is the motivation behind any change. Why do I want to wake up differently? What would it give me if I did? If I want to exercise 4 days a week, until it becomes a habit, I need to remember why I do it. And the why has to be connected to something I value, something meaningful. If I remember that I exercise because when I do I feel capable, strong, centered, and my mind feels more clear, I am more likely to do it. I value being here in this form and I want to take care of my body. But if I exercise because other people say I should, or for some more superficial reason, or because I am told I need to lose weight and that’s all I can think about, then it feels like a chore, a demand, a should. It’s not motivated by something deeper that I value. 

Remembering the why underneath helps drive our actions in ways that we want. When we take something like the 5 Mindfulness Trainings or the The Noble Eightfold Path, rather than see them as a set of rules, we could see them as reminders to come back to the “why.” Why would I choose to develop Right Speech (which is really humbling and challenging to change), Right View, Right Livelihood, etc.? Why would I choose to practice mindful consumption, or be conscious of my sexual conduct, or choose not to condone acts of violence? 

I find that keeping a list of what I value close at hand so I can remember whenever I feel dread, face a difficulty, or when I need to show up to something hard, it can be helpful in motivating me to stay with it. Rather than not show up, we can because we feel connected to and inspired by what matters to us. It may very well be hard, but we see something greater than the difficulty.

My invitation this week is to pause and think of something you do that you don’t really like, a habit you want to change, or something you are asked to show up for that you don’t want to show up for, and what would be the “why” underneath doing it that feels more motivating? What feeling/value does it connect you to? Can you get in touch with the feeling in your body, the felt sense of it? What changes in you as you feel what it will bring you? How does it shift the your motivation?

We can do this throughout the day. We may not have control over a whole lot, but we have a great deal of choice within the constantly changing, impermanent life we live. It's not necessarily easy, but it is empowering.

I wish you a week motivated by your choices and nourished by what you can create.


❄️
Jean

Saturday, January 6, 2024

A Talk For A New Year

 


2024 New Year’s Day Talk

 

On Christmas Eve, we watched A Charlie Brown Christmas and following it the next film that came up on my sister’s TV feed was a movie of the classic children’s story, The Velveteen Rabbit. While we didn’t watch it, I was reminded of the well known passage in the book by Author Margery Williams. I shared this last spring as part of a talk on becoming and I’d like to share it again. The conversation takes place between an old toy horse and a new stuffed rabbit.

“Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'

'Does it hurt?' asked the Rabbit.

'Sometimes,' said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. 'When you are Real you don't mind being hurt.'

'Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,' he asked, 'or bit by bit?'

'It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.” 
    
Becoming real. I found, as the year went on, more people in my groups expressing the desire to be more genuine and authentic in their interactions and way of being. It speaks to the desire we have to cut through what isn’t necessary and get to what really matters.

It makes sense to me that the more we practice living mindfully, the more real we become and the more real we want to become. This is because by paying attention and being aware, we…

  • See through the illusions of things. 

  • See behind our perceptions. 

  • See through how we get activated and reactive and righteous. 

  • See our fears clearly and learn to be uncomfortable, how to take care of our fear, and, in the process, accept that all things change and are impermanent. 

  • See how we get caught in desire and consumption. 

  • See through the conversations we don’t need to have and we strive to have more clarity and presence in the ones we do, because choosing curiosity and seeking understanding becomes more important. 

  • See through our feelings of separation and remember that separation is an illusion because we are aligned with the truth of our interconnection and interdependence. 

  • See through identifying ourselves and situations in very binary ways and can allow for more complexity. 

  • Naturally become more quiet. We listen better. 

  • Value presence. We value life. 

  • Value what we have and feel appreciation for what we have. 

  • When we are real, we can accept that there is suffering and we can face it while also seeing there is beauty and joy at the same time. 

  • The more real we are, the more humble we are.

Of course, not everyone is interested in becoming more real because it takes vulnerability which is often uncomfortable. Go into most dermatologist offices and you will see advertisements on how to make yourself less real, not droopy and shabby like a well loved stuffed animal. It takes courage to accept ourselves and others, and life as it is, and to allow for change. It takes courage to live mindfully and be genuine. This is why having the support of a mindful community helps because there are so many many ways we can get caught and pulled away from our genuine selves. The community brings us back.

In 2023, there were two occasions that made my practice more real. We were on vacation in Maine. It was the first year we rented a cabin on a lake so we didn't have to go anywhere to swim. We could just stay at the cabin, relax and swim whenever we wanted to; everyone could be on their own schedules. It added an element of more ease and rest to the yearly trip. In having this gift, the insight I had was that relaxation alone without embodied presence in the moment, doesn’t produce the same centering, peaceful presence that I have come to so appreciate in meditation. To have a calm, grounded presence is a distinct feeling that takes consciousness of the mind in the mind, of the body in the body. When I am connected to my breath, my body, my heart, and mind, I am present and really there.

This was made even more real when a couple of months later, I held my first weekend retreat in upstate New York for members of my A Mindful Life groups. A weekend without our phones and digital distractions. A weekend of going slowly and being more aware of walking, eating, bathing, talking. A weekend of noble silence and quiet. A weekend of being in community, deep listening and genuine sharing, trusting and connecting. What came from this, for many of us when we returned, was that the practices we do, the tools we use, were more embodied, more deeply ingrained. In my daily life, I became more aware of my movements, of my touch, of how much effort and force I use to do simple things. This awareness changes everything. It is the practice of embodied mindfulness in everyday life. In each and every moment, we have a choice in how we move and react. It’s very powerful because we see that we can choose to be gentle, bring care, move with grace, nourish calm and more peace. It’s very practical, very concrete, real.

I invite you to ask yourself, “if I were more real, more genuine in my life, what would it entail? How might I be different?” Is there something about how you live, talk, what you do or wouldn’t do? How would it feel in your body if you could be more real in your interactions and movements? Would you hold yourself differently? Would you see differently? What would you need to remember to stay real? 

We want peace in the world. That peace starts with us in every moment. How I touch this bell. How I breathe. How I see you. How I take my next step. I can meet everything with reverence. In 2024, I invite you to embody your mindfulness practice in such a way that everything becomes more real and more sacred. We treat ourselves and each other better when we do this. It’s not for later when we “have more time,” when there is “less on our plate,” when there’s less going on, when we are not in a rush. It’s available right now. Thich Nhat Hanh would always say, “peace is available in the here and now.” This is what he meant. And when we forget, we just begin again, right away. It’s simple, easy. Not hard work. It’s delightful really. If I pick up my phone roughly, I realize it and switch gears and change the way I’m holding it because it is not disposable. Nothing is. If I am rough with myself, I realize it and I bring more care because my body matters. We can have reverence for all things, animate or inanimate. It does not matter. 

Interestingly, the Skin Horse in the story says that it’s when you are really loved that you become real. Love is an essential ingredient. It’s not just the love of another, but the love of ourselves. When we learn to love ourselves and treat ourselves with genuine appreciation and care, when we have reverence for our own life, we become more real because that is the hardest work and once we know what that is, there’s no going back to the old way of being harsh with ourselves. No one else, nothing outside of us can give us that. And when we experience this for ourselves, we bring it to others in a deeper way than we did before. We become even more real and help others to feel seen, heard, and valued.

In 2024, let us help each other stay grounded and connected. Let us stay real by remembering what matters. We can choose love and care because, in the end, we are part of the same universe, all connected, changing, and impermanent.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Being Right

 


It's hard to believe that I am writing the last A Mindful Pause of this year. I am ready to get quiet. The leaves are now down, fallen into their own state of quiet, temporarily replaced by the lights so generously put up. I am thankful to all of you who put in that effort to brighten the end of the year. It is a time we can choose to pause, reflect, and be awed by all that has gone on in our lives in 365 days. I know that I feel ready for some closure and to begin anew.

Last week, in A Mindful Life, we were working with the practice of forgiveness. One wise member at the end of our discussion said, “it begs the question, what is it with humans and our need to be right?” This is a deliciously rich question. It feels especially relevant right now in a world where there are a lot of conversations and arguments on what is right and what is wrong. 

In response to the question, I asked, “and if we are told we are ‘right’ then what?” To be right implies that someone else is wrong. And herein lies a problem. Our assumed “rightness” is formed by our perceptions which have been created by our experiences, our history, our ancestral history, what we've been taught by many people who have been taught by many people all with their own complex histories, by our cultures, our religions, by advertisers. We are influenced beyond our knowing who is doing it. This is true of everybody. When we really grasp this, is it possible for concepts like right and wrong to hold much weight? How can I, in good conscience, say I am right and they are wrong? We are all going to perceive differently. The more relevant task at hand is to find ways to get along.

When I ask myself, honestly, what matters more to me? Being right or getting along? I know my answer. I grew up with people who insisted on being right and I would sit there as a child watching the impossibility of the situation play out. If I was on my deathbed and someone I had a long standing disagreement with said, “oh, Jean, I want you to know that you were right.” What would I feel? Probably a sense of validation. I suppose I would feel seen and understood and as though the world is as it should be now that I put that last puzzle piece in place. But, will I feel better in my relationship and rest in peace with the other person who now feels wrong? It seems that it would bring me just a little relief. More superficial than anything. What is validation other than being told we are good, we’re okay; the world is in order. What is our need to be right other than our need to feel steady in an unsteady world?

What if, instead, I could be okay in an unsteady world? What if I could let myself be uncomfortable in not knowing and let the puzzle be incomplete? What if I could let there be multiple viewpoints, keeping a reverence for life and the desire to not cause harm closest to my heart? The practice of meditation teaches us how to do this. We learn that we can stay with difficult feelings and not react. We learn that we can be still and wait until the sediment drops to the bottom so that we can have clarity. In stopping and resting our bodies and minds we remember what we can so easily get pulled away from, that life is short, that we let go of everything, that we are not separate, but intricately connected, that feelings and thoughts come and go, and that there is so much beauty and love to enjoy right here, right now. 

These conversations and arguments that are going on in all facets of organized people – our universities, government, towns, corporations, governing boards, religious institutions, news outlets, anywhere groups of humans have to work together and communicate, are stuck in a right/wrong way of thinking that will not arrive at greater peace or understanding. I watch it and am brought back to being that little girl at the dining room table feeling helpless at witnessing something that can’t end well. 

What if we, with our advanced human intelligence, were willing to choose to not be right or wrong, rather to be curious and to act motivated, first and foremost, from care and kindness? I am so dismayed by the current conversations, that I want to set my intention to practice this more and I invite you to join me if it speaks to you. Whenever I feel strongly about my view being the right one, I want to smile with some humility, step back, and ask, “what don’t I know here?” How can I allow myself to open to greater complexity around this subject? Can I let myself feel that shaky ground and let it be? Rather than take a binary stance on something, I can reflect on a more useful question like, “if I came from love, what would I think, say, or do here?” I have a feeling this will be a lot more productive than my wanting to be right about something. Let me know what you find if you try it on.

Thank you for being part of this community, for reflecting with me over these emails throughout the year. Wishing you all warm holidays and much peace as the year winds down. 


Jean

Monday, December 4, 2023

Getting Quiet In A Loud Season

 

After any big holiday, event, project, accomplishment, trip, or whenever there is significant tumult among living beings, what I need the most is to get quiet, to come home to myself and get centered again. It's not always easy to do because the impulse is to keep going, keep talking, doing, planning, thinking, analyzing. I have to be intentional about getting quiet. Given that we are in the midst of what I would call a "loud season," not bad, just loud, I thought I would make this A Mindful Pause about quiet.

Though I do love this time of the year, I know I can get caught up in the noise. I'm not talking about the perpetual leaf blowers, though I could add that in, rather the hype that comes with the year's end. Our mind and our senses get bombarded with advertising that awakens desire, consumption, expectation, pressure. We get inundated with holiday music. We receive daily requests to give money for year end appeals (for many good causes). Even if we don't get holiday invitations, we feel the hectic nature of things wrapping up (literally and figuratively). Kids come home from college; there's added busyness in preparation for any trips; there's decorating, shopping, and an emphasis on food. And all of that on top of working, home and family life, and sometimes sickness and death are in the mix (because it's on its own timeframe). The good news is, even with all of that, quiet within is possible.

During the weekend retreat I held this fall, we spent some time reflecting on quiet and specifically what quiet allows us. You might try it now and if you were on the retreat, you might refresh yourself, because we forget. You can start with the prompt: 

When there is quiet and when I am quiet, I... 

Let your answers to the prompt remind you what good comes from quiet. Quiet can bring other feelings, too. So, next, lean into the fear that lies behind not allowing quiet. Ask, "if I am in the quiet and allow myself to be quiet, what am I afraid might happen? Why do I need the distraction that keeps me from being quiet (checking my phone, turning on TV, podcast, radio, playing a game, making a call to fill the space, consuming, etc.). If I didn't do this and let there be more quiet, what might happen?" Some interesting insights come if you take the time to ask. You get to see what your are believing that might not actually be true, but could use some care and compassion and that opens the door to what might be possible.

To be quiet within is a powerful place to live from. In order to be comfortable there, we do need to practice. We don't have to be afraid of the quiet, of meeting ourselves, of feeling and just being.  And, whatever is whirling around us need not impede our inner peace. 

"Realize that silence comes from your heart and not the absence of talk ." ~Thich Nhat Hanh

You don't have to go to a cave in a mountain to find silence; it's found inside every time you let a thought go and come back to the present. It's found every time you pause before you reply. It's found every time you don't add onto a feeling, sensation with reactions to them. Thich Nhat Hanh says, "Mindfulness is the practice that quiets the noise inside us." To be mindful takes a certain kind of intention and effort. Our habitual instincts are to react, but we can water the seeds that help us to stop, settle and digest so that we can then act (or not act) from a clear, more aware place.  What if we don't give our opinion to everything? What if we don't berate ourselves when we do? What if we didn't add to the noise, but bring calm, in our presence alone, which will speak volumes.

My invitation this week, and in these closing weeks of the year, is to be more intentional about going inside and getting quiet between the holidays, trips, gatherings, between taking in the news and sharing your opinion on it. Take a pause, get grounded, let go of contracting or pushing forward and let yourself get quiet. Commit to your meditation practice; take a solitary walk without headphones; eat a meal without doing something else at the same time; choose to listen rather than talk.

Let your whole body slow down and let your breath deepen. Find space between your thoughts by letting them go as they arise. You can always pick them up later, but you can take a break from the noise, inside and out. Most likely, you will emerge more connected, more present, more compassionate and loving.

Wishing you a peaceful week celebrating quiet.

Monday, November 13, 2023

We Are All Made Of This

 


As we move closer to Thanksgiving, a holiday I truly enjoy, rather than ask us to reflect on the individual gifts we are grateful for, I invite us instead to touch the feeling of gratefulness that comes when we connect to all of life around us, to remember our interconnected nature with everything. We are in a time when separation and division, feelings of belonging or not belonging, ideas of us vs. them are heightened and palpable. Connection and separation wax and wane in life -- in our personal lives, in our relationship with ourself, in our community, country, world. Sometimes we feel more connected and at other times, less. Those tend to be the more painful times. This Thanksgiving, placing the emphasis on the larger picture of our interconnectedness can help nurture us out of our more self centered ideas of what we personally have to be grateful for and into our collective gratitude that recognizes that we are part of a whole, all connected, and appreciative of this larger web of life which we could not exist apart from.

Why does that matter? Because we can forget. We, by no fault of our own, can get wrapped up in our tasks, in our needs and wants, in our pleasure, pain, fear and confusion, and forget to see that there is much more to what is going on. What feels so personal is not. Everything comes to be because of causes and conditions, many of which we can't see and we don't know. Many of which were set in action way before we came around. When we step back a bit, we realize that we are part of it all -- what happens that is favorable, what happens that is not so favorable, and everything in between. When we can do that, we end up feeling much more connected and full of gratefulness because we don't see things as "my fortune" or "not my fortune," we see things as related and that our gifts (and struggles) are everyone's. 

When we are aware of our connection, we know that what we do (our thoughts, words, actions) matters. Then, we make choices that benefit the world, not just us. We won't do this 100% of the time. I can speak for myself and say, I am far from that. But when we start to feel separate; when we get caught up in worry, wants, fears, mired in binaries of right/wrong, good/bad, enough/not enough, we can return. It's a relief to step back and remember, very simply, I am made of water, minerals, the sun, the air, of all people past and present. All of us are made of these things. We can pause and get our perspective back. We can be thankful to this life that was made possible by so many other lives; that is made possible by this earth, sun, air, and water. To support you in this practice, I welcome you to listen to my meditation on Remembering Our Connection. You can find it on the Insight Timer or here on my website (scroll down to the title). Remembering our connection naturally brings gratefulness.

May your days leading up to Thanksgiving be full of the insight of interconnection and the love, compassion and openness it brings.


Jean