Monday, January 11, 2021

What If Our Motivation Was Kindness?

We mark time because it gives us a reference point. Though time is continuous and there is no true beginning or ending, we note a beginning or ending so that we can know where we are relative to a certain point. Marking time helps us to make assessments; it provides guideposts and structure. Like any label, that's all time is, a guidepost, but a necessary one. We mark the year's beginning and naturally, it presents this question, "how do I want to begin?"  

Unfortunately, this time of the year is often one when people make resolutions to "improve" themselves. I suggest that we don't try to improve ourselves but be kind to ourselves and that shift in perspective is no small thing. As we look at what we want to manifest this year, choosing kindness can be all the motivation we need. If what we choose to do for ourselves isn't motivated by kindness, then maybe we should reconsider it! Try it on in these small ways. I brush my teeth to be kind to my teeth. I eat vegetables to be kind to my digestion. I do my laundry to be kind to my belongings that keep me warm, clothed, etc. We can move from doing the "right thing" to truly wanting to take care and it feels very different. 

We don’t need improvement. We need kindness. When we are kind to ourselves, there is the added benefit that we get better at things, but not because we are trying to get better. Just like we don’t need to make our breath get deeper or longer, but just by following it, it tends to do it on its own. Another added benefit is that when we do something motivated by kindness, we generally enjoy the thing.

In my New Year's Day talk, I proposed that we make healing the theme of this year. One of the ways to heal is to bring in kindness. So I invite us all to let kindness be the motivation behind our actions. This doesn't mean it will always feel easy, but it will be driven from love, not lack or fear.


🙏🌻
Jean

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Shining The Light: The Best Gift Ever

“People shine not in the glow of your charisma. They shine in the light of your attention for them. It is from that that they can see their own brilliance. They shine when you remind them that they matter.”   -- Nancy Kline

This is the time of the year when acts of giving and receiving are pushed into the limelight. It is the time of the year when lights adorn our rooms, our houses, our trees. There is this other light that Nancy Kline speaks of in her book Time To Think that may be the biggest gift we could give. It is the “light of our attention.”  

As a shy child, the adults who stood out to me were the ones who stopped long enough to really listen and see me. The ones who gave me their undivided attention, not because it was the right thing to do, but because they were truly curious about me. They helped me to see in myself what I could not see and, in those moments, I felt my value. I remember at NYU, I had a professor who sat behind his desk, always with a folded newspaper and an unlit pipe in his mouth. He had a full beard and a voice like the late Sean Connery. I don’t remember what the theme of the class was, but he would take a headline from the paper and ramble until his attention landed on someone in the class. He would then ask their opinion based on their life experiences so far. I remember the time he picked The New Yorker magazine up off of his desk and launched into a talk on the significance of their decision to add advertising to the magazine, which had previously been one of the rare ones splendidly devoid of it. He landed on me that day, bringing up something he knew about my parents growing up around Greenwich Village and wanted to know my opinion. I don’t remember what I could have said, being as shy as I was, but what stood out was not that I said anything brilliant, but that he allowed me feel like I must have brilliance inside of me. He was one of many people throughout my life that helped me to glow. 

The beautiful thing is that we all have that potential to help other people see their brilliance simply by giving them our wholehearted, uninterrupted attention. This season, I have a gift suggestion and it is not one we can buy.

🎁 Gift Ingredients: 

~ Listen with your eyes on theirs, undivided, fully present

~ When they finish speaking, let there be silence. Allow space for their words to land.

~ Don’t offer suggestions, give advice, or fix; trust they have the answers even if they don’t know it yet.

~ Reflect back what they said using their words and ask if you got it right.

~ Give them more time to say more. 

~ Find the nugget of wisdom in what they shared and let them know.

~That’s all. Wrap the gift without becoming the center of it.

To all those people who gave me this attention, wow, am I grateful. May we all do this for each other this season and throughout the year. And when we forget, as I know I do, we simply get to begin again. 

🌻🙏

Jean

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Breathing Is Everything

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On Thanksgiving Day, my husband and I took a walk in one of our favorite local places. No one was there. We came out of the woods and stopped on the great lawn stretched before us and breathed in the descending sun. The spacious warmth of that moment is one I can easily recall days later and it brings me home to my breath as I do. Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh says the breath is like an internal massage that nourishes all our organs; the breath massages the whole body from the inside out. Of course it does and yet so much of the time it is so easy to forget that we can experience it this way - if only we pay attention. 

When I first come into meditation, following my breath often feels like I am trying to follow something elusive. I have to listen and feel carefully. It's not very deep or long. It's as though I have to catch up to it, but as I do and as I gradually let go of the effort and tension in my body, the breath becomes what it actually is...everything. I am here, in this form, because I am breathing. The more I let go of the contraction in my muscles and my mind, the more I sense the movement of the breath throughout all of me and it does feel nourishing. I feel my belly, my chest, my shoulders, my pelvis, my rib cage expand and soften back in - a beautiful rhythm of movement that is not elusive at all. It is our faithful companion, what we can return to at any moment. Learning to receive it has been the greatest gift. It is what I can come back to whenever I feel scared, separate, or weighed down. Our breath is here for us and it brings us into the present moment - the only moment we are actually alive.

This week I am making a deliberate effort to tune into my breathing more of the time - outside of meditation. As I write this, I am following my breathing; as I watched Netflix last night, I followed by breathing; as I empty the dish washer, fold clothes, walk, I can tune in. My body is thanking me. It already feels more relaxed. I may not be giving massages anymore, but I can help you to receive your own. I want everyone to be able to help themselves. It is such a powerful thing to self-soothe and to have a sense of agency about our own well-being. This week I invite you to join me and deepen your commitment throughout the day (for more on commitment, have a listen to Sunday's talk). Tune in and follow along with the song that is playing inside. It is the song of your life. 
Breathe well and be happy. 

🌻🙏

Jean

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

How Do You Want To Meet This Winter?


There has been frequent use of the phrase “the long, dark winter” in talking about what is coming next. What we think has a lot to do with what we manifest and what we experience. Do we have to have a long, dark winter ahead? Some of it is up to us. Yes, the virus in increasing here in NJ and restrictions are beginning again. Yes, the holidays for many will lack the usual gatherings and traditions. Yes, it will get colder and socializing, even out-of-doors, will get harder. I get all of that, but none of it is taking us by surprise like it did in the spring. The question is, what do we want to do with this information? Knowing what we know, how can we make something out of the conditions we have? How can we remember to see all that is beautiful and joyful just as this life is? What is possible? 

Take a moment to try this on. Read this and close your eyes and see what answer comes. Ask yourself, “what is the feeling (not the thing I do, but the feeling) I love most that comes about by the holidays and/or winter months?” See what word or phrase comes that best captures the whole of it. It might take asking the question a couple of times for the answer to arrive, but when it does, try it on to make sure it fits. If it doesn’t, stay with it and search some more. Once you know what feeling describes it best, then ask how you can create that out of the conditions that are here or might be here. Make a list of things you might do, ways of being/thinking, steps you might take, etc. Once your are done, see if contemplating the coming months feels any different. Maybe it’s not your ideal, but it can still be good. 

We can get our minds to recalibrate. When we stop resisting what is here, we can open to what else is true. We are adaptable. We can find possibilities. We are resilient. We don’t have to have a “long, dark winter.”

Wishing you all an open heart and mind that will help you enjoy these months. We don’t get them back later, so let’s savor them now while we are alive to experience them.

Monday, November 9, 2020

An Election Over: What We Can Celebrate - Talk From 11/8/20

This is the talk given at meditation on Sunday, November 8, 2020.

ll things change. After a week fraught with uncertainty, we have a new president. And though the candidate I wanted to win did, and though there is much relief inside me and Saturday night I felt a tremendous cloud lifted, there is a large part of me that is conflicted in the triumph. When the half the people lose, it feels hard for me to wholeheartedly celebrate. 


What I was left with this week was the feeling, once again, that no side has been listening very well. Each side makes their demands; thinks they’re right; thinks their values are better.


This week I came to the realization that if half the people voted differently than me, then I need to reconsider how I am thinking about all of it. Half the people can’t be wrong or bad or have values that don’t align with mine. What it does mean is that half the people have different experiences, different stories, histories, and their perceptions are different than mine because of them. AND they matter. They’re going to have different fears. Some may be the same, but some may be opposing. What I am taking in more fully than ever before is that if I don’t give consideration to these differences, I will start believing half the people in this country are “bad.” In my heart, I know that is not true. We are all unique individuals with specific experiences that shaped who we are and how we think. What if we gave everyone not our judgement, not our opinions, but consideration? What if we valued all beings as thinking/feeling vulnerable beings - and that means even if they are waving flags and guns. What if we could be steady and listen even then with wonder about what they are needing to feel safe and take it seriously?


What does seem true from this election is the presence of a whole lot of fear, all of which is valid. We fear terrorists. We fear freedom being taken away. We fear diversity. We fear racism. We fear the police. We fear the lack of policing. We fear restrictions. We fear the lack of restrictions. We fear the faltering economy. We fear greed. We fear climate change. We fear making sacrifices. Ultimately, we fear change and the evolution of humanity - the unknown of it. How can we reach greater understanding and unity if we don’t tend to all of the fears on both sides and not berate the other for having them but get truly interested in the what and the why underneath them? I suggest an even bigger inquiry is here…are we willing to hold the opposing views, fears, feelings that exist inside ourselves. We are all complicated.   


If we are really on a path of awareness, we must learn to hold greater and greater complexity and change judgement to curiosity. This week, a shift has taken root in me. It is a move away from us vs them thinking, seeing in black and white, moving away from right/wrong; good/bad. Those concepts won’t bring peace or understanding. We know from our own experience that they don’t work within ourselves…when we fail to hear and be with all the parts of ourselves and make room for the complexity within us, we suffer. When we judge ourselves, when we make ourselves good/bad, right/wrong, we suffer.  


We have a fresh start before us as a country. We can also have a fresh start with ourselves. I’ve said it before but if we can work with “the impossible” in ourselves, we can work with what seems impossible in others because we have developed that muscle that can hold opposing sides, that listens, that makes room for and tends to both. We can be with all of ourselves. When we do this, all of us feels heard. This is the only way to dissolve fear. And when we dissolve fear, our actions are open, generous, loving. We can approach everything outside of us in the same way. We can strengthen this muscle.


This is a whole other way of being. When I try it on, it feels like the embodiment of equanimity. I invite you to try it on as well. What if we embodied equanimity? This would mean that instead of reacting in judgement we would lean into the complexity and nuances of the other’s story. What if we got curious about them, trusted their experiences, their histories because that’s what is true for them. What if I don’t try to change them, but be with them. We can’t convince people to think like we do. It doesn’t work. What has greater impact is when we are truly present, listening, bringing in compassion, holding their truths even if they are different than ours.


I know this won’t happen overnight for me, but this is the next place I want to nurture in me. What it means is that I need to be able to be steady, because I will have to face the forces in me that want to resort to the old way of thinking that I am right. The image that comes is in the story of the Buddha on the night of his enlightenment with Mara shooting arrows at him to distract him and when they struck him, they turned to flowers. What if, we could be like that? What if we trusted ourselves enough to have the strength, the courage, the wherewithal to be that?


The country is ushering in change and growth. We know that growth or the birth of something is rarely easy or elegant. If you are celebrating, please enjoy it. But, let’s also know half of the country is not and we can’t disregard that. We have work to do inside ourselves. We can choose to see it as the work of enlightenment. The opportunity is exciting because winning an election is not the final accomplishment. There is no real winning. Becoming a more aware, loving, compassionate person with all living things - well now, that is something to truly celebrate. We can do that. 


Thursday, October 15, 2020

It's Like This Right Now

I returned from my workout on a beautiful fall morning and sat on my back steps for a few minutes to meditate. My breathing was still fast from having exercised. I found myself saying the words to my Zoom meditation which was planned for an hour later. I said, "my breathing is like this right now." My feeling was slightly anxious because my kids had braces put on and tightened the day before. They were both uncomfortable and one was particularly grouchy about it because she didn't sleep. The energy in the house was rocky. I took a breath and very neutrally said, "my feelings are like this right now," followed by, "and my kids are like this right now." The fresh, fall air felt good on my skin and I said, "the sensation is like this right now." No fight. No fixing. No expectation that anything should be other than it is. What a relief.

So much of the time we fight what is. It's not the kind of fight that accomplishes anything. It's more like a resistance to what's here and it ends up causing us more suffering. It pervades our body with tension, with the effort of armoring up and closing off. We can do it with simple things like not liking that's a rainy day or larger things like losing a job. We can even do it around things that aren't happening to us, but to those around us. But thankfully, there is another way. How different it feels when we can let go of the fight or resistance and be present to what is here! Remembering that all things change is what allows us to do that. It's not always going to be this way. The leaves are falling now; they won't always be. It's like this right now. (If a part of you resists this idea by saying, "but some things we need to resist like racial injustice, abuse, a threat to democracy," whatever it might be...know that this isn't about not taking action, but it is about being real and present to what is here right now. To really feel and experience without layering on more than what is here. The next right action will come, but not out of pushing away what is here now).

I invite you to try it on for a day. Whatever arises, simply take a breath and observe with equanimity, "it's just like this right now." Find that space to notice without judging and without adding more onto what's there (like saying it's cooler today, that means it's going to be cold soon). Simply let yourself be with what is and notice how it feels different. Life is just like this right now. Please let me know if this simple mantra brings some ease. 

Thursday, October 1, 2020

The Power of Trying Something On

This weekend, we went to the mall to pick up the jeans my daughter ordered that I thought were being delivered. I am learning that nothing operates quite the same way these days, so I am practicing going with the flow. Since I was there, I figured I might as well look in a department store to find pajamas. My attempt to purchase some online reminded me that while online shopping is great, some things you need to try on. Searching the racks in Macy's for pj's that don't look like I am trying to be 25 years old or that make me look 80 years old, I found a couple to try and then discovered that the fitting room was closed. Sigh. Going with the flow. We need fitting rooms. We need to try things on. And not just clothes...


The power of trying on a thought, an action, or visualizing something going well is no small thing. Athletes and performers, of all types, know this power well. I remember auditioning for a dance company that I so desperately wanted to get in. It was my dream for years and I finally had my chance. The movement fit me like a glove and so I went on that first day and for whatever reason, I couldn't learn the movement phrase the choreographer created. I just wasn't picking it up. Years of training with him and his dancers and suddenly I felt like a fish out of water. Somehow, I didn't get cut and they invited me back for the 2nd day. I remember sitting on the subway, on the way to the studio the next day, closing my eyes and taking myself through the phrase, feeling myself do all the parts smoothly. That day went great. I had it down. This is the power of trying something on and we can all do it for all kinds of things.


In my groups and workshops over the past two weeks we delved into setting ourselves up for the fall. What I loved was hearing participants share how they wanted to enter the season. I asked them to imagine how they wanted to meet the fall, how they wanted to be in themselves, with what kind of energy did they want to approach their everyday lives. The answers were inspiring to hear. They included wanting to be flexible, in the moment/savoring, feeling confident or having courage, feeling light/palyful, being steady, being quiet, accepting, being more real. I then asked them to try it on in their bodies, to visualize themselves moving through the day with that specific energy.


I know if I imagine myself meeting my daily moments with an energy that is slower and goes with the flow (the words that came to me), I have a greater chance of doing it that way...or at least somewhat. Every time I imagine myself with that intention, I am strengthening that part of me. And, because I can imagine it and really sense what it would be like in my body, that means I already know how to do it. It is already possible. It's in me. So what is possible in you this fall? How do you want to meet it? Can you take a moment to try it on? Bring forth what you want to bring forth. Your fitting room is not closed.