Thursday, June 10, 2021

Why Is It So Hard To Keep Going?

One of the biggest challenges with meditation is staying consistent with the practice. We have good intentions; we want to do it; we know it would helpful if we stayed with it, but alas, it just doesn't happen. Let's put any judgement aside because we all know meditation can be so easily put off. I'll often hear, "I can't find the time, even though I know there's no reason I can't make 5 minutes in my day." I get it. It's not so easy when our to do list is calling our name or someone else is literally calling our name. We can put our needs aside for what appears more pressing or maybe it simply calls out louder. So what helps?

There are the obvious tips:

  • Commit to the same time every day and put it in your calendar (set a gentle sounding alarm 5 minutes prior to remind you). Even if it's only a 5 minute practice, schedule it.
  • Notice the difference in the days you practice and the days you skip and which feels better? I find when I skip a day, I feel like I am missing something all day -- connection to myself.
  • Before you go to sleep, think about the time you have reserved for meditation the following day and remember the "why of it." Why do you want to meditate? Let the "why" motivate you. We often need to remind ourselves. Some of my why's are: because I want to strengthen being present; I want to practice reacting less habitually and find that space between what arises and what I do; I want to find more space between my thoughts and come back to my body; I want to savor this moment right here; I want to slow myself down; I want to remind myself that in this very moment I am enough and this moment is enough; I am kinder to myself when I pause and let whatever is alive in me just be there. I could go on. There are all kinds of reasons to practice! What is yours? Recall it and let it be the inspiration that gets you to sit down on your cushion or chair in the morning.
  • Create a space in your home, even if it is a corner of a room. Let it be your sacred space. A place where the ritual of coming to sit invites you in. Whatever cushion, chair, props, bells you need. Put a single flower there so  that it signifies this is a place where awareness, presence, compassion, peace  is possible.

AND NOW...drum roll...what I find is the most significant tip to keeping a regular meditation  practice...

Sit with a meditation group every week. Sorry if that was anti-climatic. But, really, it is no small thing and yet the commitment is no big thing either. Just show up online or  in person, however it might be  offered. When we commit to showing up to a group, we not only strengthen our practice because we have dedicated a time and place to meditate, but we also support and are supported by others who value living a mindful life. The practice matters not only to us, but to the community. That support only exists if you show up. It feeds itself. It is interdependent. We may all be in different places in our practice, but that doesn't matter. We show up to ourselves and each other. Whether we say a single word or not, our presence is felt in person or online.

Besides, the image of sitting in a cave on a mountain alone until we get enlightened...that is one way to go, but how well that prepares us to being among others and engaged in the world as it is, I am not so sure. There is no reason to do it alone. Last weekend when we were away in the country, we watched as a flock of small birds chased a hawk from tree to tree to get it to leave. We had never seen anything like it. There is strength in numbers. The same is true in mindfulness and meditation.

If you are having difficulty staying consistent with your meditation practice, know you are not alone, leave the judgement aside, and get together with others who value it, too. You will be nourished.



Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Finding Grace

A rainy Memorial Day weekend it has been! Last week I wrote about how vital it is to take pauses and how much I was looking forward to our weekend away. If you're in the northeast you know it has rained for three solid days. Not just light rain, but non-stop, bring-it-on rain. We made the best of it in our Airbnb in Accord, New York. We rested, ate yummy food, had a lot of good laughs (especially surrounding the bats in the chimney who were highly active throughout the night), enjoyed an amazing fire (no worries -- we were told the bats would leave and return and they did). I snapped this picture of the daisies, not letting rain the deter me from pulling over on the road and enjoying the fields of flox, the wild iris, the baby deer, and the awe inspiring sight of a bald eagle as we walked along the Ashokan Reservoir. Yes, despite the rain, or maybe because of the rain, we paused even further. It was a beautiful weekend. The grace was in letting go what I wanted it to be so that I could take in what it actually was. And what it was, was a gift.

Grace. It was the theme of last week's A Mindful Life groups and I am enamored with it. Fortunately, I don't have a negative religious association with the word that gets in the way of my being able to appreciate it. I know some do. In my groups, I heard so many wonderful descriptions about what it would be like to meet something with grace. What words/feelings/images capture it for you? Someone said the word "mature" came to mind and the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to me. I don't think I could say I handled things with grace in my 20's or even in my 30's. I'm only just now starting to get it. I think it often comes with age and it makes sense that it would. We stop fighting (with ourselves, with others, with the way we want life to be) and realize the fight is within and there is another way. To handle myself and what arises with grace is to let go, to receive, to flow, to open, to welcome, to trust and be fearless, to be grateful, to be present and generous. Grace is not hurried. Grace does not require me to be "right." Grace is not submissive, but is not forceful. Grace has clarity and intention. Grace is soft and quietly, humbly powerful. When I think of powerful leaders I admire, they all led and dealt with hardships with grace. 
These days, I find myself asking: how might I meet this issue before me with grace (this problem, confusion, obstacle, decision, relationship, etc.). The question brings me back to my highest intentions. My invitation this week is to imagine some situation you are facing and see  yourself approaching it with grace. How do you hold yourself differently, respond differently? What is the felt sense as you call it up?

When we are in the middle of a hard moment, we can't call it up instantly from imagining it once, but we can strengthen that seed in us. In listening to the people who shared in my groups, I noticed that sometimes we first need to meet ourselves with grace before we can meet a situation with it. See if that applies to you if you get stuck.

I hope you all found some ways to enjoy pausing over this long weekend. I am reminded to take one now, on this Memorial Day, to honor all of the men and women who sacrificed their lives on our behalf. Join me in honoring them with gratefulness. 


Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Working With Fear

What's on my mind this week is fear and how it gets in the way of generosity. When we are fearful we can't be generous. Fear causes contraction. We can't give away, or make room (for differing opinions/needs) when we are pulling in to protect. They simply don't go together.

Fear rears its face everywhere and yet so often we don't recognize our behavior as coming from fear. It's also hard to admit we are afraid so we call it all kinds of others things. It comes out deceptively as anger, aggression, defensiveness, denial, false positivity, busyness, sleepiness, among others. Fear pushes away, runs away, fights, immobilizes. It's reactive. We need a certain amount of it to stay safe, but so much of the time we could choose to let it go by slowing down and looking more deeply. 

The pressing question is: how do we become less fearful? I wish there was a simple answer, but the only one that makes sense to me is to find some peace with the fact that I am mortal and am going to leave this all behind. It appears to me that death and the possibility of being separated is the fear behind all fears. So what greater way to find peace than to reconcile with this truth? I find the more I can make small strides in this area, the more free I am here. When I am free, I am more willing to give things away, make allowances for other people's needs, let go of my righteousness if it helps another to feel safe. All kinds of things. But, like forgiveness, this isn't a one time thing. I need to keep remembering that it's really okay that I am going to die.

How do we get okay with death? I wish I could answer that, too, but it's personal for everyone. What I can say is that it is worth our deep looking until we find some way of accepting this temporary experience we have been gifted and even be able to enjoy its temporariness. If you’re wondering what works for me, I'll share it knowing that it might not suit you and that's okay. What makes most sense to me I learned from Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. His book No Death, No Fear explains it much more eloquently than I can, but this is how I translate it...

When I recognize that I am not just this body or this mind because everything I might consider "me" is made of things that are not me - my thoughts, me behaviors, my physical body is made up of everything else (water, minerals, plants, the sun, the rain, my parents, my ancestors, my society, my teachers, people I don't know, etc.). I often get caught in the illusion that I am an independent Jean, but I can't be. I know that I can't be separate from anything. What's great about this is that I can't be separated from my kids, my husband, my friends, the animals I love, the flowers, all the beauty and all love that exists. This alone helps me drop my fear of death. It also connects me to everything that is difficult in life, too. The mud. I’m not separate from that either. Can you see the relief in that! If I am the mud, I don't have to be afraid of the mud.

If I am not afraid of dying, then who or what is there to be afraid of in this life? When someone unfamiliar approaches me defensively or accusingly, or asks something of me, I do not have to be afraid. When I feel uncertain about how things will work out, I do not have to be afraid. Don't get me wrong, I don't have this down yet. But, this is the path I choose to be more free while I am here. It takes practice. The only way I can use this practically in the moment with someone is to slow down and talk myself through it. Another reason to meditate. If I’m all caught up in myself, it’s hard to see clearly. It’s hard not to react habitually. It may sound a bit funny, but if I slow down and remember death, I’ll handle things a whole lot better. And I’ll be more generous, too because I’m not caught. 

This week’s invitation:
Reflect on how you make peace with your mortality. What way of viewing this life feels like an opening to something bigger, not a closing? If you don't have to be afraid of dying, how might life feel different? How might you behave differently in situations that at first seem threatening? 

Wishing you all a beautiful week of being alive. 


Tuesday, May 11, 2021

This One Question Can Liberate Us

In my 20's as I struggled to get by as a modern dancer in NYC, I worked in arts administration writing grants, managing a dance studio, and anything else that was needed. On my desk I had the words "is it true?" and "are you sure?" printed on one of those P-Touch label makers (which I still use). I had read them in one of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh's books. These days I am coming to value them even more. 

BrenΓ© Brown, among others, talks about questioning "the story we tell ourselves." We have ideas about ourselves, often from past experiences, that then come to define us because we let them. Questioning our perceptions is one of the essential components to living a mindful life. When we slow ourselves down, we can see what we have been believing about ourselves, a particular subject, a relationship, really anything. We can then ask, "is it true? Am I sure?" When we do that, we take a step back from it and have an opportunity to see more clearly. Byron Katie has created an entire process she calls The Work which gracefully dives into a line of questioning ourselves that starts with this very concept, "is it true?" It's a great question and when asked with genuine curiosity and care, it can free us. 

So often when I am struggling with something and I ask that question around whatever it is I am believing or saying to myself, I know the true answer is, "no." It's always helpful when I get real with myself. Once I admit to that, then I can see what's really there and what's really there usually needs acknowledgment, care and compassion. It doesn't need to be fixed; it just needs my presence to start. Occasionally my answer is, "yes, it is true." In that case, I can ask "am I sure" and if I am still sure, then I can take it a step further and ask, "if it is true, then what?" I can see what comes and follow that line of thought until I get to the real fear. Once I find the real fear (mine is always the same -- then everyone will leave and I'll be separate from everything and, inevitably, I will die). That might seem dreadful to some, but I find it liberating. I am going to die and the more peace I can make with it, the more free I will be while I am here. But even if you don't go that far, you can still get more clarity, honesty, and your actions will be less habitually reactive and more intentional because you understand where you are coming from. 

My invitation this week is whenever you experience something difficult, or you notice that there is some story you are telling yourself, to ask, "is it true and am I sure" and get compassionately curious about yourself. We have all the wisdom we need. What do we really know if we lean in enough to listen with an open heart and mind? Does he really not care about me if he didn't check in today? Does it really mean I am not good at what I do because I didn't fill that workshop? Will my kids really have no future if their only real interest is playing Minecraft these days? No. So what is it, Jean, that's really eating at you (what else is true)? Oh that! Well that I can have compassion for; let's be with that.

May your week be full of truths that lead you to compassion and love.

Be Santa Claus All Year

My teenage daughter and I took a walk the other day. She stopped at a beautifully full cherry blossom tree, pulled off a few blossoms and handed them to me. In the same week, a friend's husband offered his time and insight in an area where I could use some direction. Another friend is excited to help me launch a project that feels far-fetched to me, but she has complete confidence I can do it.

What keeps coming to the forefront of my attention these days is generosity. When I think of the word, some part of me associates it with money. I'm not sure why. The most generous acts I have been the recipient of in my life were not made with money. They were made by someone's presence, words, gestures, touch. The impact of these often simple acts was profound.

I think of my 8th grade English teacher responding to some painful words I shared about myself in the weekly journal he asked us to keep after getting our class pictures back. His words changed that year for me. I think of getting cut from an audition from a dance company I so desperately wanted to be in. I was walking through Union Square to the subway in the rain crying when a stranger stopped me to let me know that the sash to my raincoat was dragging on the ground and then asked if I was okay. I think of people who take the time to write back to me and thank me for something I said that touched them. These are acts of generosity. When people offer their presence, love, support, even a simple smile, its worth is much greater than any dollar value I can give it. The number of generous acts I receive would be impossible for me to count. They happen everyday.

This week I find myself asking why I don't practice simple acts of generosity even more. It is so easy to give and so enjoyable to do. Giving can be as simple as recognizing and appreciating another’s qualities, talents, goodness. To simply say, “wow, you’re really skilled at that," or "wow, that must have taken a lot of effort" is to see in another what they might not see in themselves because we tend not to see ourselves so clearly. Why not offer whatever we can to bring joy, reassurance, confidence, care, inspiration to another? A better question might be -- what fear gets in the way of our doing that? If we can tend to that fear, we will be much more free to give.

This isn't the reason to be generous...but, it is so rewarding! Simply said, it feels good to give because it takes us out of self-centeredness and into our inter-connection with all things. We can train ourselves in doing this -- to see the goodness in others more often than not and make note of it. Seeing through this lens is a choice. It may take some re-learning how to see and some undoing of the protective armor that gets built up in a competitive culture and a false belief in scarcity over abundance. But, we can and the process alone can be so liberating. We don't have to give away all our possessions to be generous. We don't have to give away money to be generous. We can be generous in ways much more profound and it may be as simple as a word or a gesture. Some people I know have this down and to them I am grateful as they show me the way again and again.

A simple practice for this week:
In the morning, think through who you will come in contact with that day and for each person, stranger or not, what can you say or what gesture can you make that will brighten that person's day, even just a little. What might you see and acknowledge in them that they might otherwise miss? And be sure to carry it out -- say the words, make the gesture without anything expected in return. Enjoy being "Santa Claus" every day because we can. We have a bottomless satchel of gifts we can hand out.

This week, I welcome you to join me in deepening generosity as yet another practice that can be a gateway to living a joyful, connected, and meaningful life.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Finding Center

This week's theme has everything to do with turning toward ourselves to feel grounded, solid, and centered. How do we get to that place where, despite what might be swirling in our personal or universal orbit, we feel steady in ourselves? What things can we do that will remind us of what really matters and that we can connect to right now? 

In those moments when the ground starts to feel shaky underneath us, here's a simple exercise you can take yourself through. I encourage you to try it on for size now so that you can remember to use it later. Or maybe today is the perfect time to use it.

  1. Start by listing what you value (compassion, kindness, acceptance, fairness, honesty, equality, etc.). You might keep this list somewhere you can refer to.
  2. Ask yourself if you are applying those values toward yourself right now. "Am I being compassionate with myself? Kind to myself? Fair to myself?" Notice if there is anywhere you are not applying your own values toward yourself and let yourself apply them now. Bring in compassion or bring in fairness, etc. (Walk the walk.)
  3. Take the challenge that is before you which is causing your earth to tremble and ask, "If I come back to what I value (what I know to be fundamentally true and important) and remember that it is resides inside me, not without, can I ground myself there?" Can I trust these values are what brings stability, centeredness, fearlessness?
  4. If you find it hard to feel grounded in your values, see which ones you might not be applying toward yourself that need strengthening. For example, if I value fairness, but I am holding myself up to impossibly high standards I wouldn't hold others up to, can I adjust the bar and be fair to myself? Where is the weak link that we need to nurture so that when the ground is quaking, we can rest in ourselves and "remember who we are."

Wishing you all the faith and trust in yourself you need to flourish through the week. 


Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Do You Have Permission?

The nature of our wanting-mind or desiring-mind is that it is never full. Its hunger is never satiated. The illusion it creates is that we need something more and once we get it, then we will be full. A part of us really believes it, too. Unfortunately, that satiation is temporary. We will crave again. This isn't good or bad, it's just what is and when we can recognize it, we can help ourselves avoid suffering. 

To recognize desiring-mind doesn't mean that we deprive ourselves of what we want or that we don't get to enjoy whatever it might be. But if we can understand its changing nature and we can then lean into what we are looking to fill underneath that one desire. We can still choose to go after what we want, but we can do it with the awareness that it won't be the end and that what we really want, we already have access to inside of us.

Does this sound familiar? "If I only arrive at that place where… 
…my career is just the way I want it.
…my children are happy and on a 'good' path. 
…my house is orderly, comfortable, and forever clean. 
…my body is strong, lean, and pain free. 
…or my finances are what I think they should be...well then I will be content." 
That's the illusion and it feels so tempting to believe. But, like you, my higher self knows differently. She has seen, time and time again, just how unhappy people are with all of those things in place. So. what do we do when we hear the Sirens call -- those magical women in Ulysses who would lure men to steer their ships into rocks? Do we strap ourselves down as Ulysses did to avoid the temptation? 
We could and often we try with diets, budgets, periods of abstinence (from drinking, social media, sex, shopping, etc.), resolutions, only to find that we can't keep it up. Of course we can't. We are human. It's not a "bad" thing. That same wanting-mind can get us out of unhealthy situations, can create much needed change, can be the motivator for action and movement. But, if wanting to feel whole, complete, satisfied, full, is what we ultimately want, is there another way? How about having your own permission to receive?

I invite you to try this on... When someone compliments you, are you able to receive it without justifying it, downplaying what they noticed, passing credit on to something/someone else, disbelieving it? When you are offered an opportunity, do you take it or turn it down and keep going (out of fear) without pausing to take in all of what made the opportunity possible? Do you receive a degree, complete a project, get a promotion, start a new venture and forget to stop and appreciate what you accomplished and all that brought it to fruition (the people, conditions, efforts of others)? Do you awake and forget that the rising sun is a gift we get to let in? This struggle is a gift waiting to be understood? 

I know I have done all of these things. One of the many blessings of maturing is that I am steadily remembering what I think we are born knowing (until fear sets in). I am whole already. The gifts are constantly coming. I get in my own way by not receiving them. It's not because I am not grateful, but because I have contracted out of fear. 
To receive we need our own permission and it requires that we are open. If you throw a ball at a concrete wall, it will bounce back with force. The wall can't receive it. But if we throw a ball into an open glove, into a soft pillow, it will be received. We are no different. To feel full, we need to let ourselves receive. The gifts are already here. Abundance is already here. Fear keeps us from it and causes a self-perpetuating story of "not enough." We can start by receiving ourselves -- our own gifts, our talents, our resiliency, our creativity, our bodies. Then we can receive what is around us in all its forms. They didn't just get there. So much made this moment possible. 

When we love what's already here, we find there is an endless supply of what we need. We can give ourselves permission to receive and slow down to take it in -- all of what brought it to be.

Will desiring-mind go away? Probably not for me. But that's okay because I know that I can return, as many times as I need, to the present moment and reconnect to what's here. I can work through the fear and re-open. Receiving is a practice. In every moment we are receiving (this breath, this sound, this feeling, this sensation, this thought, this experience of being alive).

Wishing you a full week and all the permission you need to receive it.


P.S.  Meditation gives us that training to stop and feel full from what's here. The trick is to practice when you feel good and when you don't. Drop-in meditations on Zoom continue every Tuesday & Friday morning and every Sunday evening. Be a part of a community that values the present moment.