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.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

A Mindful Life for High School Students

3 years ago, I offered my first and only meditation and mindfulness workshop for teenagers. While I had a lot to learn from that experience and would approach it differently now, there are two moments that stand out when I revisit it. 

The first was a loving-kindness exercise where I asked the students to write down three loving-kindness phrases for themselves based on what they listed as stressors in their lives. For example: 

May I have peace of mind

May I feel more ease in my days

May I be free of worry.

I then asked them partner up and do a meditation where they exchange what they wrote and offer the phrases to their partner. When we regrouped what was expressed was how nice it was to wish their partner something they needed. It was a surprising and beautiful moment and the feeling was palpable. 

At the end of the workshop, when I asked what they wanted to see more of in their world of friends, family, society they all had very meaningful shares. I am reminded why I want to offer this again, but in a different format. For this reason, I am calling on all high school aged students who want to learn how to manage their stress and connect more deeply with other students in a safe space. 

Understandably, you might be thinking students already have too much time looking at a screen in the day, especially if their schooling is virtual, but this will be a different experience. It will be a place where they can:

  • Feel grounded in the present moment through meditation and mindfulness practices
  • Let go of the pressure to perform and let go of others' expectations
  • Have a place where they can be themselves, share meaningfully, and interact with other teenagers 
  • Train their minds to lean toward what is well/positive and not get lost in worry and fear
  • Gain self-awareness around their feelings and what's going on inside

Stress is high for students today. Let’s create a safe, peaceful place for teenagers in the midst of some challenging years.

Join me for A MINDFUL LIFE FOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS starting October 8th. This four-week Zoom group will be a safe place for high school students to gain tools to manage stress and feel supported. Please share this with your high school student. They might want to gather a friend or two, or come alone. Either way, they will have a chance to make new friends. 


P.S. Heads up to parents! Encouragement may be needed, but pushing a student to do it won't help them. This works best if a student wants to help themselves or wants greater connection with others.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Forget Me Not

Why is it so easy to forget? We watch the news and forget. Our child says or does something we don’t agree with and we forget. We mess something up and we forget. Whenever fear takes over, we forget. A great deal of of what any contemplative practice does is to help people to remember. We already know; we already have the wisdom we need. We simply lose it temporarily. It’s true of all of us. We are of the nature to forget and we need tools to remember to bring us back. And the coming back almost always means getting out of fear.

So, what do we need to remember and to get out of fear? 

  • We can remember that we can slow down and in the slowing down find insight. 
  • We can remember that we can allow and accept what is presenting itself and take the next right action once we stop resisting it. Stopping resisting needs to happen first. 
  • We can remember that we are all connected. What seems separate from us, isn't. 
  • We can remember that love, compassion, generosity, and kindness trump everything. 
  • We can remember that if we follow a fear down its rabbit hole, what we find is that it’s ok, even at the bottom - that even in our worst case scenario, it's just an experience. We are still connected because we are made up of everything that is not us and we are part of everything else. We can still breathe, even there at the bottom, knowing it, too, is temporary.

What fear, in you, needs reminding that what is here has come about for many reasons, many of which we cannot possibly fathom, and that we needto be here. We may not know why yet, but the conditions are like this right now. How do you want to meet it? If you slow down, what do you know about love, compassion and kindness that will help you navigate these waters? Can you breathe with this fear and know it is not all of you. You are much bigger, more complex than any fear. Remind yourself who you really are. We all forget and that's ok because we will remember again.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Acknowledging Where We Have Been

I was walking through the grocery store this week and had one of those moments of awe, looking at everyone with masks on doing their shopping, at how we have adjusted to this way of living for now. It is amazing what we have come through and yet, it is so easy to not see what we have managed.

Often in my A Mindful Life groups and workshops I will have us do an exercise that asks us to reflect on what has already gone on in a day/week/season/year. These exercises seem like the antithesis of mindfulness meditation which asks us to stay in the present moment. But, there’s a purpose to these specific tasks of reflection - it’s not just ruminating or rehashing. We can so easily roll through our accomplishments, events, small and major moments, and move onto the next without pausing to realize - wow, I actually got tenure, or I opened a business, or I survived a critical moment, or I moved somewhere and started a new path, or I received all that goodness! The very thing we were moving toward arrives and when we get there, out of fear of what’s next, we often don’t stop long enough to savor it. The problem with this is that we never feel full because we haven’t taken in what we have done, what we have received, where we have landed, what goodness has already arrived. 

The same is true not just of what we have done and what we have received, but also of our resilience. Resilience is only useful when we recognize that we have been resilient. And we weren’t just resilient once, but many times. In fact, every day we are resilient. But we need to acknowledge where we have been to be able to see how we have grown. 

I invite us all, right now, to take such a moment. Think back to March when this pandemic hit and lockdown took hold. Think of the fear, the unknown, the uncertainty we all faced. We listened to the news of death tolls rising. We watched our kids struggle with roughly orchestrated online schooling and we struggled with them in our homes. We didn’t get haircuts or go to the dentist; our businesses closed (temporarily or permanently); we  struggled to figure out the best way to get groceries; we saw empty shelves of toilet paper and soap. We went on unemployment, applied for PPP loans, and we figured out how to work just as efficiently online. We did amazing things. We got creative and resourceful; we supported others; we meditated more; we walked more and dogs were - oh so happy! We found new ways. And though it is not over yet, we could do the kind and generous thing - we could, in this moment, stop and take in how resilient we have been. And maybe, with a bow of gratitude, we can acknowledge that, “yes, we pulled through.” We are no longer in the same place. Everything changes. 

There are more trials to come, but for right now, why not take a moment, even just a few minutes to rest, truly rest, in your own strength, power, and resilience. Look at what you have done. I invite you to make a list of all that you went through since March. All that you made possible since then, all the obstacles overcome, and all the connections, joys, possibilities you discovered. This is no small thing. You have grown. Like the flower growing through the concrete. If you are an artist, you can draw/paint it all out on one big piece of paper.

Now you can use this. The next time you notice a wave of anxiety about the future, you might call up this resilience and realize there is more in you. You’re not just resilient, but you have grown and are stronger from this past wave. You have it inside you to meet whatever challenge comes next.


P.S. This is the kind of work we do regularly in A Mindful Life. Click the link to find out more.

Friday, April 24, 2020

A Simpler Life

I’ve been sitting with a growing feeling. My beloved, enthusiastic nutritionist gave a lesson in growing micro greens yesterday. I have the image of this feeling sprouting and spreading much like those micro greens will if I ever get around to planting them. I know what’s growing and it feels wrong to admit it. It is a fear of this time ending. Who wouldn’t want a pandemic to end? Of course I do because I don’t want to see any more suffering or dying, or our economy in shambles. But, there is this other side of me that has some dread about life retuning to the way it was. I think to myself, my gosh Jean, how bad was it? I used to feel a similar dread when I lived in the city and we would go to the country for a retreat. On the last day I would cry not wanting to return to the life I had. It wasn’t that I didn’t like my life either! Then it was a mixture of the pace of city life, pressure to produce, and the lack of nature that I didn’t want to return to. What is this dread now? It has something important for me to know. It’s telling me that it’s time to pay attention. As much as I am resisting leaning into what is there, I must. The hesitation is that it will ask something of me that will scare me. That’s what dread is, isn’t it? It will ask me to take a risk or to step up in a way that frightens me. It’s almost easier to stay in the dread than to see clearly what is being laid at my feet. Once I look, the path will be cleared before me and I will have no choice but to follow it. Of course I do have a choice, but I know myself well enough to say that if there is an opening I will have to see where it leads, scary or not.

What do I not want to return to? The busyness. The running around. The setting up of everything. So much setting up!  The effort. In these pandemic weeks of lockdown, I don’t feel as though I am working less. In fact, my work feels more involved, more challenging. But there is a simplicity to the way it is right now - the way life is right now that I am deeply appreciating. Simplicity. As I typed the word, it resonated through me. Yes, it is simplicity I am wanting to hold on to. Maybe wording it in the affirmative rather than the negative would be more useful…not focusing on the dread, but what I am drawn to. A simpler life. 

Outside of lockdown, what makes this a simpler life? Grocery shopping only once a week for starters. That’s easy enough. Small in actuality, but huge in its impact. Working from home. Who knew I would like it so much? No rooms to set up, no big transitions to make, no place to drive to. More spaciousness in the day. Having more meals as a family. I love making the kids warm lunches and having them sit at the table to eat, all of us taking a break from our work. Seeing people walking and knowing people are in their homes. Less honking horns and speeding cars down our residential streets. More quiet. Less pressure to do, to be, to get somewhere, to move ahead. We have no where to go right now and what a relief that is. A simpler life indeed.

So I think to myself, how do I maintain simplicity post-pandemic? The grocery shopping shift is easy enough, but the rest? That I am not so sure. It feels like a bigger shift is in the works, one I can’t yet imagine. So many things I could never have imagined have happened in my life. I need to remember that. Then, I need to get some clarity over what I really want my life to look like, unabashedly admit to what I truly desire, which feels different than it did back in January when I wrote my yearly intentions. Everything has changed. Can I say what I want in this new place and not hold back from it because I “don’t deserve it” or because I am “not good enough” to do it, or because of financial fear. I do trust that if the changes I make come from a good motivation; if they bring more goodness to the world, then they are possible. They need to be honored. 

What has this time inspired in you? By the time it is over we will have gone through a process.  It will be different for all of us depending on what we witnessed, what we were asked to let go of, what we made of it, how we grieved, what we learned. We can return to life as it was - just move on with business as usual, which might be good enough. Or, we can lean in to this place that is not the same and invite ourselves to meet what is here with an open, courageous, loving heart and be curious what the universe is asking of us all now.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Circling Back Around

It has been a while since I have blogged or blogged steadily. A conversation with a dear friend on a recent morning reminded me of a post I wrote 7 years ago. I went back, read it, and heard the very thing I needed to hear. After that post, I looked at another and another from years past. Besides getting the message I needed, what also struck me was the judgement that I can’t write like that anymore. “You’ve lost it” is what she says. “Maybe I have,” I say. But, there was something so fulfilling about reading those posts that even if, now, I can’t write so articulately, with such intentionality, my will has been fired up. She is determined to make a go of it. It feels, suddenly, necessary.

I wrote then because I had to. It was life or death at the time. It kept me alive and not just alive, but growing and moving in ways I didn’t even know. Maybe I am at that point again. Not life or death, at all, but maybe I am, once again, at a place of growing into knowing myself. Maybe the words that need to be said will come again. What I can see, in how I used to write, is the very thing I was speaking about in Sunday night meditation. That in “naming” what was alive in me at the time, I got some space from it and could see more clearly what was there. I could make explicit what I knew about it, what was true for me. I could make sense of it. I never thought about it before, but writing can be another another tool of mindfulness.

I am in new place, yet certain themes circle around, like the planets around the sun. “Yup, this one’s back…” There is that annoying saying that we get presented with the same life lesson until we learn from it. It circles around and around, not at a dizzying speed because each visit needs time to digest. But come around…it will. This is what I am getting to understand…each time it comes, it is different. A little less painful (emphasis on “liitle”). A little more interesting. Just as perplexing. Of course it is. It’s perplexing because we are exploring another aspect of it, another nook and cranny we didn’t know was even there. That’s exciting, really. Another opportunity. Why else are we here if we are not learning and growing more into who we really are and sharing from this place, from our true selves - even if the whole process is painful.

A pandemic will set into motion all kinds of ripples. Waves more likely. I am letting it move me. Do we have any choice? I suppose I could drop the anchors and try to stay in place, but how dull would that be? Besides, my ship will only get battered and no distance will have been made. Why not let my ship get battered, but arrive somewhere new?

“Here we go,” I say to myself. Write I will. See you soon.