Embrace the Closeness

This morning I awoke before dawn to my dog yelping in her sleep.  Sometimes she gets excited in her dreams. Inevitably, however, my nearly 9 month old daughter awoke as well. “Mamama” she called as she rustled in her crib.  I slid out of bed and walked the 3 feet to her crib. I picked her up, gently bounced and rocked her. She made playful airy noises through her lips, flipped her head back and forth trying to find the right position on my shoulder, looked up at me, then started to settle back into rest.

I returned her to her crib.

Immediately she rolled around.  “Mama” she called out again. I picked her up, told her it was “sleepy time” and this time offered to nurse.  She gladly latched on as we made our way to bed. She tried to convince me it was time to rise and make sweet googly eyes at each other.  I again encouraged “sleepy time” as I closed my eyes and eventually she dozed off again, unlatched and started to flail in a way that indicates “give me some space.”

Once again I returned her to her crib.  Once again she flipped over to her tummy, inch wormed forward to the edge of her crib, pulled up to stand and called out: “Muuuuuu.”20180614_063106(9)

Again I slid out of bed, picked up my precious baby girl and began to snuggle and swing her.  Her eyes closed, her body went sleepily soft, and as far as she was concerned, all was right in the world again.

One could say “that baby has got you wrapped around her fingers” and to some extent that is true.  But usually she does sleep well on her own. And on the sweet occasion when she just wants to be held, I turn to gratitude: for a child who trusts me, for someone who feels safe in my arms, and a loved one who requests a warm embrace.  In the grand scheme, these tender moments of closeness are rare.

20180307_074621I embrace the closeness and just smile.

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Taking or Giving: the earth?

We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors,

We borrow it from our children.

-Native American Proverb

Image result for world in hands

Asteya is the Sanskrit term for “non-stealing”.  I was recently invited to consider this concept.  Initially my reflection was concise: I don’t steal, that’s pretty basic.  But with more consideration and reading about world events, I started to ponder the the proverb about borrowing the earth from our children.  The question arose:

Am I borrowing or stealing the earth from future generations?

How we treat the planet today impacts what is left in 5 years and 5 millennia.  This planet has an amazing way of healing itself and on top of that, ecological change is inevitable.  A volcanic eruption will cause far more harm to the air than all the driving you could possibly do in one lifetime.  And yet, does that dismiss the part you and I play, however small, in caring for the earth and its inhabitants?

We all have a different role to play in the grand scheme.  Each person makes a difference; at least to a few people, plants, perhaps even animals, you make a difference in the lives of those around you, as well as those  influenced by the people and creatures you impact.

How do you feel inclined to impact the planet?

Have you appreciated the crisp smell of the cooling air?  

Do you conserve energy by turning out lights when you leave a room?  

Will you grow herbs, flowers or a tree to clean the air and brighten the day of someone who passes your home on a grueling commute each day?

We aren’t all meant to be global activists to the extent of Vandana Shiva, but by listening to your inner truth –you may think of this as “following your gut reaction”– can bring out a little better version of yourself and help shape a world that is a bit more welcoming than you first found it.  

Will you remove a bit of its beauty or offer a brighter planet to those yet to come?

 

Patience, Presence, and Practice

We live in a culture that values productivity, a term that seems to be defined by the rapidity in which a task is completed. As a millennial, I am a child of this ever-expediting culture, the “hit refresh if you don’t have the information in 1-2 seconds” generation. Even educations are now being offered on a “fast-track” or in “bootcamps.”

What does all this fast-paced living get you?

Recently a friend and I reflected on this culture that inspired the movie “Click” starring Adam Sandler.   The film speaks to this growing trend to be in such a hurry (to get through experiences) that we miss savoring the moment we are in. At what cost?

Are you missing all that much?

Have you ever been asked on a Monday morning “How was your weekend?” and struggled to even remember what you did?   You may be busy, but are you present and finding aspects of each moment to enjoy? In other words:

Do you satiate each moment?

Recently I have begun a more intensive yoga practice, admittedly struggling at times to find it worthwhile to pause my endless to-do list to take time for a suggested morning and evening meditation. I try to live meditatively, and yet I still find myself running around to find my cellphone or sunglasses: a tell tale sign of my lack of presence in action- and the hit it takes on my life.

Being fully present in each moment takes work, a skill, like most, that requires practice. Consider a baby learning to walk. Think of how many fallen attempts precede even the first step, let alone mastery of the new skill.

 

If you were willing to fall as many times as a baby learning to walk, what could you accomplish?

Thomas Edison had the perspective that each unsuccessful attempt to invent the incandescent light bulb was not failing, rather, he was learning ways that did not work.  As you learn ways that do (and don’t) work to succeed, will you have the patience to be present so you find ways to enjoy the journey of practice until you reach (or even surpass) you goal?

Learning through Loss

We all experience times of loss: when life takes an unexpected turn that throws you for a loop.  Sometimes there is no way to foresee the wrench life will throw at you, but you can decide how you handle it.  

I recently encountered some of these twists: the first one rocked my life plans and initially struck me as a very pleasant shift.  Six weeks later, another large “surprise” arrived, but one I was not so eager to welcome.  I tend to think of myself as a person who loves surprises, but Tony Robbins shed some light on this topic for me in his Ted Talk:

“You like the surprises you want. The ones you don’t want, you call problems, but you need them.”

So here I am, swimming through the “problems” Mr. Robbins says I need. I could wallow and wonder why this struggle is happening to me, but what good would that do? Following the mindful tradition, I allow myself to accept the emotions that come. There are moments of despair, times of questioning, and even occasions of recognizing the positives that exist due to recent changes as well. There are multiple ways of looking at any situation. I’m inclined to cling to ideas I like. However, to work through struggles, I have to consider multiple perspectives and try to see the big picture.

In his book, Zen Shorts, Jon J. Muth illustrates this Buddhist concept with his parable: “The Farmer’s Luck.”

There was once an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years.  One day, his horse ran away.  Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.  “Maybe,” the farmer replied.  The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it two other wild horses.  “Such good luck!” the neighbors exclaimed.  “Maybe,” replied the farmer.  The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown off, and broke his leg.  Again, the neighbors came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.  “Such bad luck,” they said.  “Maybe,” answered the farmer.  The day after that, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army to fight in a war.  Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by.  “Such good luck!” cried the neighbors.  “Maybe,” said the farmer.

I think we can all attest to similar ebbs and flows in our supposed “good luck” department.  We never can quite imagine what is around the bend, but I do find a flow of increasing positivity comes to those who focus on goodness, and downward spin for those who wallow in anger, fear, or self-care at the detriment of others.

Brazilian lyricist and novelist, Paulo  Coelho shared: “I have seen many storms in my life. Most storms have caught me by surprise, so I had to learn very quickly to look further and understand that I am not capable of controlling the weather, to exercise the art of patience and to respect the fury of nature.”

Whether stormy weather or stormy circumstances, we each get to decide how we handle the unexpected.  Will you stay weighed down in the weight of misery, or allow those painful feelings to flow through you, then allow them pass and move on?  I hope you will allow life’s clouds, at times light and in other moments dark, to cast their shadows and then blow on by.  Acknowledge the hurt, then move on and take in the moments of sunshine.  

There is always light above the clouds.

 

  1. Photo by Elijah Henderson, Clarksville, United States. https://unsplash.com/photos/DMED-sOt1Ak

 

  1.      2. The Kingdom, Sun above Clouds, 2008 © Seb Janiak

 

How Do You Embrace Today?

Image result for long lines at disney world

Carpe diem! Embrace the moment!  YOLO!

Times and phrasing may change, but the concept of being present and taking full advantage of life has long been a concept humans have pondered.  This past week was one of traveling with a group of loved ones -new and old- who had never vacationed together. It was a time of learning, exploring, and developing new perspectives.

We all have very different internal paces, curiosities and degrees of wanting to venture and learn.  Whether it is a trip, working on a team project at work , or even going out for a  a date, considering our differences can make a significant impact on the experience. Debra Paulson writes about the Zen principle of accepting rather than struggling in moments where you may find discord.  Detaching from your wants allows you to relinquish your experience of anxiety, anger, or disappointment when something feels out of sorts.

Standing in mass crowds at Disney World certainly knocked me with initial stress.  I then took a breath and started to rearrange my focus from my crowd anxiety to appreciating the hand gently holding mine, the interesting people watching opportunities, the ducks chasing each other on the grass and the immaculately tended grounds filled with luscious greenery and placid bodies of water.

We can approach each situation a little differently.  We can ask questions to help us prepare for what is to come.  We can even be honest with ourselves about our preferences in life and seek them out.  Ultimately, life will toss us armfuls of surprises and our approach, focus, and acceptance will likely have a far greater impact on our experiences than the challenges and eases that come our way.

May we appreciate the ease of the expected,

approach something new and exciting, and

find joy in the surprises we may not have wished for,

squirmy clients, crowded lines, and unforeseen smiling faces.

 

 

 

 

 

 

River of Expectations

Do you value being…..

“Careful as someone crossing an iced-over stream.

Alert as a warrior in enemy territory.

Courteous as a guest.

Fluid as melting ice.

Shapable as a block of wood.

Receptive as a valley.

Clear as a glass of water.”?

(Tao Te Ching.15)

I am often drawn to exploring unfamiliar cultures, mindsets and expectations.  On a daily basis, I am surrounded with generosity, care, and plenty.  Yet somehow I suffer from a sense of feeling let down.  This weekend, as I pondered new ideas and experiences, I had to confront the propaganda that I discovered have largely shaped my expectations.  They have also led to a series of disappointments on those less-infrequent-than-I’d-like occasions when expectations have proved unmet.

Eventually this contemplative journey led me to the gate of my disappointment.  Self-imposed priorities were damning the joyful river of life I usually ride.  I’m still asking myself if I can release these holds, or if whether I can find ways to meet them.  The sense of urgency to resolve this discomfort is tangible.  However, some processes take time, and I own that expectations are one part of my life that require patient formation, reshaping, and at times even dissolving.

It is through considering what truly makes us happy that we can determine what our priorities and expectations would most productively be invested in.  Yoga Blogger Amanda Christian embraces the go-getter approach.  She writes:

The first thing I do when I feel any disturbance to my peace of mind is say to myself, “I am determined to see this person/situation differently.” This is how you step into your power. Everything happens for you, not to you.

An alternative viewpoint comes from the Tao Te Ching (# 15):

          “Do you have the patience to wait

           till your mud settles and the water is clear?

          Can you remain unmoving

          till the right action arises by itself?”

Is it possible that there is a middle ground?  I tend to find myself somewhere between these two stances.  I acknowledge discomfort, consider the root causes, not just surface instigators.  I’m interested in remedies more than band aids.  Life’s impressions on my pensive soul have left a high regard for allowing time to settle many momentary concerns.  Yet, time does not heal all wounds.  A look at the conflicts of racism and religion that have continued for millennia are testaments of that.  However, there is something to be said for allowing time rather than rushing situations or remediation, for acting deliberately more often than reacting, and giving others the respect to work through matters at their own pace.

We are all like flowing bodies of water, sharing this life-giving orb.  Some may be broad, others narrow, some deep while some are shallow.  May we honestly reflect on the breadth, depth, and pace at which our lives bring us the most fulfillment.  And may we honor the differences in one another’s flow.

Plethora of Perspectives

Do you ever find yourself analyzing a situation, resolving it in your mind, and growing emotional about how someone’s choice that impacts you in the situation is clearly “wrong”?  Whether it’s with politics, work, your friends or family, we all run into moments of disliking the choices another makes that impact us in some way.

Why are we so convinced that our own perspective is right?

I recently read an adaptation of Rumi’s poem “Elephant in the Dark” and found it eye opening on this matter.  A group of people, curious about what creature has be placed in a dark room, decide they cannot wait, but must reveal the room’s contents.  One by one they enter, each eager to uncover the mystery, each sure of what she has found.  One feels the ear- like a large fan.  Another feels its long, curving trunk-it must be like a snake.  Someone else encounters one of its thick, strong legs-it is solid and wide like a tree trunk.  Each person  is sure he leaves the darkness with a firm understanding of what the creature is.  Yet with their limited perspectives, none grasp the full measure of the elephant.

This past weekend, I found myself in several situations in which the involved parties grew emotionally charged and all had their own perspectives: with colleagues reflecting on a workshop, my partner as we discussed communication styles, even my dog as we walked. 

A small illustration: Last night, Naya, my dear canine companion, was absolutely convinced that she needed to lick whatever was stuck to the street.  I had no idea what the substance was, but a) I was sure I didn’t want her tongue running along the foreign substance and we had somewhere else to go –right then– as I saw it.  I called.  She tried to hold her stance.  I started to walk away, she continued anxiously licking.  What was more important in that moment: moving on or embracing what I perceived as appalling and perhaps sickness inducing, or what Naya thought was an absolutely delectable road treat?  She licked and scraped.  I walked forward.  Eventually she followed and fortunately no sign of sickness has appeared- at least yet.  We certainly saw things differently.

I often present my  challenges to one or two people to hear their opinions when I’m upset about something, just to get some alternate views.  Like looking through a fly’s eye.  Consider how many different angles and slightly different views a fly perceives when looking at a given image. If we’re being “open minded,” we may consider more than one side of any situation, but how many opinions and perspectives are we actually willing to consider?

How often do we remember to consider and look through others’ lenses?

While perusing some of photographer Jon Sanwell’s recent work from Myanmar, I encountered a series of photographs of betel leaves in baskets, including the one below.  Just from my own lens, I initially thought about the beautiful shades of jade green, the eye-catching angle of the shot, the juxtaposed glossy leaves and natural matte finish of the wicker baskets.  I wondered why someone would so carefully stack all the leaves in spirals around the containers.  But perhaps some people look at these leaves as the means to fitting in (chewing betel is a popular social practice in the region), the destroyer of their loved one’s health (betel is carcinogenic), or maybe just a really unique way to capture a part of Southeast Asia.  That’s just some of what I considered.  What are your thoughts looking at this photograph?

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So the next time you find yourself frustrated, hurt, confused, or even elated, consider how others are impacted by the situation and your actions.  Perhaps you will listen and learn a thing or two from someone with a different take.  Remember, everyone’s lens is unique.

 

Dare to Dream

 This week my partner and I walked our dog down the dimly lit streets of our neighborhood, bantering about what we might do had we won this week’s Powerball.  He encouraged: “Everyone has to dream.”

Sometimes it takes an opportunity to utilize one’s imagination.  There are those dreams that we can and some of which we ought to fulfill, like building a dream career, falling in love with a wonderful person who treats you the way you deserve, or developing a hobby that interests you.  Then there are those dreams, like holding a family gathering without awkward drama, living in a nation free of political corruption, or raising your child in a world in which there are no longer religious wars.  These loftier dreams may not actualize in your lifetime, but how energizing to the human spirit is it to hope, imagine and ponder?

What do you believe is possible?  

This past week I read to my students Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Doreen Rappaport and Bryan Collier.  The book was thought provoking even for a group of 3-5 year olds who are just starting to grasp the concept of inequality.  But even with such deep-rooted societal problems that racism causes, these young children grasped the heart of Dr. King’s dream.  As one of my students shared with her family over breakfast the next day: ”Love is the key and it doesn’t matter what your skin looks like.”

What do you value?

Imagine how Dr. King would feel hearing those words today from such a young child?  Our world still has a long way to go, no doubt, before racism is completely eradicated, recent Oscar nominations attest to that.  However, a world in which a mixed-race man can be elected president of the USA, or where people from any ethnic background can legally marry, when we see people of all colors in every stratum, it shows that some people’s dreams, through working together, can and do shape the world.

What changes do you see?

It is not always easy to go after our dreams.  We only reach them if we dare to stretch beyond our comfort zone.

So whether you want to become a writer or find a cure for AIDS, I hope you will ask yourself:

What do I dare to dream?

Living Life Fully: Today and Every Day

As I sat in a leadership session at work about 16 months ago, my boss dispersed gifts to each staff member: copies of Daniel Rechtschaffen’s book: The Way of Mindful Education.  Gradually, I’ve dabbled in it for over a year, but the last few weeks have been a time of stepping into a life more cognizant of and aligned with my goals and what truly brings me joy.  One of my great loves is uplifting, contemplative reading.  So the Mindfulness book has become a frequented part of my daily quiet time.

In a culture that focuses on multi-tasking and increasing productivity, slowing down to focus on the present moment and surroundings seems  counter-intuitive.  But research is picking up on this concept and finding that it actually develops greater focus and productivity, on top of some other spiffy perks including lowering blood pressure and decreasing anxiety.

“Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future (Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life).”  

Recently I found a quote on a friends FB page that really hit home the importance of fully embracing the moment.

“Oh my God, what if you wake up someday, and you’re 65,or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written: or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy: and you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid?  It’s going to break your heart.  Don’t let this happen.”  -Anne Lamott

So what are you wanting to try that you haven’t yet?  What have you put off or been too afraid to attempt?  If it’s laughing more often, pick up a funny book (I recommend my recent gem of a find, Parenting is Easy: You’re Probably Just Doing It Wrong by: Sara Given).  Want to try your hand at poetry, take 15 minutes and just try to write a haiku verse about whatever is outside your window.  Plan on your attempts being full of flaws initially, but if you don’t try, you will never master something, let along know if you even enjoy it.  So embrace the moment, listen to the sounds, smell the surrounding aroma, acknowledge how you feel, and take in the view before your eyes.  Now is the time to enjoy your life.  So consider how you want to spend your time and go for it.  What have you got to lose?

For some great illustrations and a simple step-by-step mindfulness exercise, I really like the blogpost by hworsham: Mindfulness: An Excuse to Eat Asian Food .