Monday, November 30, 2009


I really want a brownie. They sit, deliciously, on the kitchen counter. Waiting and sure like the most popular girls at the party - knowing full well their seductive perfection will eventually break even the most stalwart around them.

My husband will eat one. Heated and topped with tasty ice cream flecked with real vanilla beans. He has been planning it since dinner, which was a belated Thanksgiving meal. Bloaty and voluminous... roasted chicken, pan gravy, zucchini spinach casserole, stuffing, and rolls. Good, but all too easy to dally in a bit too long.

Food has always been an ambiguous element in my life. From an early age, I was overweight, and I spent a very long time trying to figure out how my body really wanted to eat. Coupled with that was a generationally and perhaps metaphysically (and/or environmentally) inherited tendency to connect food with emotion: comfort, ease, safety, calm... a response to depression, shame, anxiety, and fear.

It's better now; I am more aware of those inner voices and the patterned chatter of my "bad choices" mind. This does not mean I no longer overeat or choose to answer sadness with chocolate—but I do so now with increased awareness and mindfulness. Which makes it impossible to pretend it's out of my control.

This weekend, I purchased Clean Food: A Seasonal Guide to Eating Close to the Source with More Than 200 Recipes for a Healthy and Sustainable You by Terry Walters. I had read an article somewhere highlighting the season's best cookbooks, and this one grabbed me with its whole foods emphasis and sustainability ideals.

What I did not realize was the author also understands the emotional attachment we so often connect to eating... and the book begins with a very honest discussion of what one can do in the face of his or her more negative eating patterns.

Interestingly, one day before seeing the book in the store and deciding to purchase it, I had spent four hours at the temple for a Thanksgiving retreat. This entailed silence and mindful practice during eating, then stretching, and then three hours of meditation. No eye contact, no speaking, and no negative thoughts.

At first, I found it odd to be sitting at a table with several other people actively engaged in a similar spiritual pursuit without making eye contact, smiling, or speaking with anyone. It seemed rude and unnatural to me.

But as I ate my evening snack, I realized how rare it is that I truly spend time with my food. It was just me and my bowl of selected vittles, and the silence enabled me to really experience my food and the process of eating moment by moment. It was quite a gift, because in the buzz and whir of my regular day it's somewhat impractical to take such time to savor, notice, ingest, and altogether know my food.

So I carry the lesson forward, notice I am over-full, and ultimately decide to forgo the scintillating brownies with their sexy Dutch cocoa and naughty chocolate chips. Maybe this is willpower. Maybe it's mindfulness. No matter what, I know I'll feel better for it in the morning.

Maybe your downfall is food too. Maybe it's smoking, drinking, sex, drugs, shopping, lying, hiding, or hostility. When something becomes a form of running away - when it replaces an experience and becomes hollow and empty in the doing - it might be time to think about what place it has in your life, how it actually makes you feel when you engage in it, and whether it's worth continuing.

May you feel empowered to say no when you need to. May you stay awake to your self, and take care of you accordingly.

Monday, November 23, 2009


My daughter displays a strong fascination with death. She asks questions about death and dying, notes that Simon (our dog) will one day die (as well as me and my husband), and speaks often of ghosts.

Our goal thus far has been to embrace her curiosity, answer her questions thoughtfully and honestly, and remain open to anything and everything that may come—all the while offering reassurance without being false or patronizing. (For example: "Yes, mommy and daddy will die one day, but hopefully not for a long, long time. You'll be much older and you might even have a family of your own.")

I'm not sure I have ever been scared of death, per se, but I do think my understanding of death and relationship to it have changed as I've gotten older. Perhaps because I have lost several significant people; perhaps because I have had a few close calls reminding me of the always-present truth of my own mortality.

I heard a story on NPR last week... part of their StoryCorps series (which I love). The interview featured two parents talking about their son's death at age 9. What makes the story unique is how the little boy knew he was going to die and the very careful way he prepared for his death - mindfully, courageously, and lovingly.

It made me think about my grandmother's death and the way she fought against her aging and eventually her dying with fear and fury. I sometimes wonder if my daughter is my grandmother reincarnated. There have been little breadcrumbs and strange coincidental clues... but ultimately, my imagined and hoped-for connection between the two speaks more to the process of my grief than a heartfelt conviction they are the same soul.

How nice, though, if she might somehow move forward - whether it be karmically or generationally - to feel less fearful of death. To see it more as a component of life. Sad, difficult, unasked for... but inevitable and therefore unnecessary to fight against.

I read a theory somewhere long ago suggesting families, and more specifically descendants along the same line in a family, undergo subtle physical changes linked to biologically-driven evolution and a strengthening of the genetic lineage of a particular group.

The author then went on to suggest a similar transformation takes place with regard to spiritual growth. Each generation inherits the lessons of the prior (blending the path of their parents, who connect back to their parents and so on) and moves forward to strengthen their spiritual core and successfully resolve issues passed along a metaphysical line of lineage and history.

I believe this to be true, having seen it in action in my own life and now watching it unfold in my daughter's. What are our lessons, then, as a family - or more specifically, as a line of women connected together and reaching back through generations? My sense, so far, is they include the following major themes:

anxiety, and

Not death, though. Which is some form of progress, I suppose.

May all stages of life feel natural to you. May you find acceptance for each new phase along the way.

Friday, November 20, 2009


My class ends next week, and I am not sure what will happen afterward. I would like to think I'll continue to integrate meditation into my life on a daily basis... maybe even attend temple services or try something out closer to home.

Yet despite how easy it is to sit down in one spot and breathe - I mean, really, what could be simpler... sitting and breathing - meditation at times feels daunting and difficult. It's common to start beating oneself up for thinking too much, to feel like a "bad meditator," or to simply decide there is not enough time to fit it in.

I have done all three of these; the last, most commonly. And it's sort of silly (and embarrassing to admit) that I actually decide on some days I cannot find even five minutes to sit down, and breathe.

I have noticed some changes, however. I am able to stop thinking more often. To bring my thoughts back to the present more quickly when my mind starts to wander away. And to experience a form of happiness - simple, calm, anchored happiness - heretofore unknown to me.

There have been many studies on the affects of meditation: its benefits and potential uses with health issues, ways it can improve mental health and functioning, even how it can increase empathy and alter one's experience of others.

My husband recently told me meditation actually alters your brain chemistry. Apparently, the book he is currently reading describes how the left and right brain become more equally balanced and cohesively aligned through meditation.

In other words, our biological dual natures (the very real split of left and right brain, which translates into yin vs. yang, ego vs. id, little "i" vs. big "I," thinking vs. feeling, logical vs. chaotic, etc.) move toward equilibrium via meditation. So much so, in fact, that our brain chemistry and physical makeup become permanently altered by the practice of sitting.

Sort of incredible to think something so simple could have such profound ramifications—scientific and physical as well as spiritual or metaphysical. Interesting, too, to note how Buddhism, being nontheistic and more of a philosophy than a proscribed dogma, works within any context of faith, religious background, or spiritual leaning.

I am unsure, at this point, whether I will continue looking into Buddhism as a spiritual home. I miss the pluralistic and all-encompassing approach of the religious education program at the Unitarian Universalist fellowship we used to attend. I think it's important to be exposed to and aware of as many different faiths and ways of interpreting our human and higher selves as possible (including atheism and agnosticism).

But something about it definitely fits so far. And the process and commitment of mindfulness has been incredibly powerful - something I intend to carry forward with me.

May you experience at least five minutes of peacefulness today. May you remember to breathe and know you are here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


I recently posted some old high school pics on Facebook. Theatre shots from some of the shows we all did. It was a tightknit group, and it's really wonderful to see those faces and think back on what was such a formative and important time in my life.

Of course, things have changed considerably since then. For all of us, I would imagine. We refashioned our love of the arts and our relationship to creativity into our lives in myriad ways. We got bigger. We expanded our families. We moved.

I can't speak for everyone in the photo, of course, but the girl in all those pictures seems so far away and distant in relation to who I am now. Not foreign or completely unknown... just long past. I am a new person. My cells have regenerated, my personality has changed, my life has taken a great many turns and twists.

So it was I reflected back on memory last night and was struck by the way in which memory can sometimes clash with change - with the ways we change over time.

It happens all the time in families. Those ingrained dynamics and patterns settle in within minutes - we don them like a pair of comfortable shoes and old, tattered bathrobe perfect for knocking about the house. And yet, who in any family is exactly the same as they were the year before? Ten years ago? Twenty?

We hold onto those conceptions of each other, and sometimes they prevent us from seeing the person actually standing in front of us in the present moment. Similarly, we can do the same to ourselves... clinging to old notions of self and getting stuck in habits or modes of thinking more connected to a former time.

For me, this often leads to a series of roadblocks or obstacles I perceive in my anticipated path. I feel thwarted by life... "unfairly" set adrift as my mind defines infinite reasons to give up, move backward, or otherwise choose the easy path (i.e., the path of least resistance).

I forget my own changes - refusing to acknowledge the hard work, concerted effort, and mindful practice committed to and completed so far. And it is easy, at times, to disregard the differences forged successfully because there are still so many changes yet to be made.

What I need to remember, I've decided, is that change alters us in an intrinsic and undeniable way. We are new; always new. And whether we choose to return to our former selves or not, the option exists to live life under a new set of circumstances... to see with a new perspective separate from our prior filters in each unfolding instant.

That possibility - infinite and powerful - exists in each moment. It's sometimes ridiculously hard to seize upon such limitless potential, but it is there. And that should be at least some source of inspiration and comfort in times of stuck-ness and despair.

May you see yourself without a filter from the past or pressure-filled expectations of the future. May you always feel empowered to change.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


After over three years in a counselor training program and four weeks of meditation class, I came to a new realization/understanding last night about memory.

It was connected, in large part, to something I wrote about on Monday - an idea our teacher had shared in class. Last night, when she went over the concept again, I realized I had remembered it (and internalized it) totally incorrectly, and so had sort of traveled down this tangential and theoretically erroneous path in processing the information.

To clarify and correct my earlier post... the three pillars are teaching, practice, and enlightenment (connected, predominantly, to the Japanese tradition of Zen - assuming I'm remembering that correctly!). The three stones referred to in class are related to the Korean tradition, and are peace of mind, happiness/contentment, and gratitude.

This little ah ha moment in the midst of class led me to thinking about memory and how we tend to define ourselves by our memories. They are our anchor to our past, and because we are so often attached to thought and our mind in terms of our self-definition, I think sometimes we are prone to relying solely on our memories as a basis of truth for our experience.

The difficulty in this is how subjective (and potentially faulty) memory can be. We need only ask a family member or friend for their version of events on a particularly important day to see there is no such thing as objective truth. Experience is defined by the narrative we weave, the meaning we make, the memory we hold and define as real.

Yet, if we honor each person's experience as valid and authentic, then we must accept multiple renditions of reality and embrace the very scary notion that objective truth simply does not exist. Or rather, our version of "objective" truth can be objective for no one other than ourselves.

This is important in two ways, I believe. The first echoes back to something one of my professors said with regard to working with younger clients: it doesn't matter how you meant something or what your intention might be, it matters how it has been perceived by the client and what meaning he/she makes of it.

In other words, whether I intended offense or hurt through my words or not - if someone has told me that's how they experienced what I said, then the truth (and validity) of their perception of the interaction between us must be acknowledged. This is especially important in the realm of multicultural awareness and sensitivity, but is a great lesson to carry forth into all interactions.

Similarly, whether my recollection of events jibes with those of someone else or not, we are equally invested in our remembering. We hold onto those memories like a safety line in the tumultuous sea of chronology and biology - both of which tear asunder our minds as we grow older.

What this all leads to, I think, is the necessity for an increased capacity to forgive ourselves and others when our versions of history chafe against each other or we realize we have muddled something previously thought stable and irrefutable due to the limitations inherent in our thinking selves.

I am more aware of the importance of forgiving and accepting my husband, friends, or family their memories - much as I must accept and forgive my own. So many of us are quick to speak sharply, exhale loudly, or react negatively when someone has forgotten something important to us, retold a story we've already heard a dozen times, or made a mistake based on (to our thinking) an erroneous recollection.

Pretty unfair when you remember the mind is merely one small part of us... not our selves. It makes no more sense to punish someone for a glitch in their thinking than it would to get angry for the ramifications of a missing limb, a genetic propensity for high cholesterol, or the extra care taken with something like asthma.

And yet, we do it all the time. I do it all the time; showing frustration and impatience instead of compassion and calm. Harder on others than I am on myself, because I control the remembering of my own inadequacies (and we all know how that goes).

May you distinguish your self from your mind. May your memories provide a source of perspective - without claiming infallibility.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


My daughter is a funny girl. Silly and playful - she loves to make others laugh and she's got a pretty sly and witty sense of humor for one so young.

One thing I admire about her and my husband is their willingness to be ridiculous in their play. They don't mind looking crazy or acting dopey - particularly if it's funny and is going to get the desired response of laughter they may be seeking via their antics.

I have always struggled with appearing foolish. I equated silly with stupid, and I feared appearing stupid. Here I am in my late 30s, and life looks very different in this decade. So it is my concept of foolish has begun to change.

It began, I believe, when my daughter was very young. She liked to go to the mall and ride the electronic doodads and geegaws all clumped together in the small, tyke-friendly playland outside the arcade and across from the food court.

One day I watched my husband do a series of clown routines for her as she rode a series of objects. Horse. Ice cream truck. Car with tongue-wagging dog. He threw himself into it completely - without regard for passers-by, mall staff, or other children milling about.

I saw him do this many times. In many malls. And each time, he unflinchingly chose to be as foolish as possible in the most public of places... all so his daughter would giggle in the way that makes his heart giddy.

And here we are in toddlerhood. Moving away from the rides and into new territory filled with preschool, friend-making, and an increased curiosity about the world and its many inhabitants. I see my daughter choosing to be silly and playful at home... reveling in the genuine laughter she can produce from her oft-too-serious parents. And I have seen her shy away from being anything that might get her noticed in any way when at school or meeting new people.

She is caught between two models... two modes of interaction offered by her parents: 1) abandon and 2) hiding. Perhaps it is this observation, above any other, leading me to question my relationship with silliness.

I have begun to notice great strength in the foolishness of others. My envy of others' ability to dive head-long into goofy behavior has morphed into admiration... something to be inspired by. Something to aspire to.

Back in October, I did a run of five weeks in Too Much Light... and challenged myself to be silly. To be laughed at. To be ridiculous or large or clownish. And... in some ways... I was successful in my pursuit. In fact, one ensemble member actually used the word clown (which made my day).

My hope is to become sillier with age... to grow increasingly willing to engage in antics and goofiness for the benefit of others and to care less about what it means or what it looks like or what so-and-so thinks of my behavior.

Silliness is ego-less. It is without attachment and often without expectation. In its best sense, it's the embodiment of compassion and joy - an authentic response to the humor and playful wonder available in so many small moments and details of life. Just as it is.

May you abandon your ego in pursuit of silliness today. May you refuse to self-edit yourself out of goofy, grinny, foolish fun.

Monday, November 16, 2009


My meditation instructor at the temple has mentioned, on several occasions, the three pillars of Buddhism. But they are somewhat different from the three pillars in the Japanese Zen tradition. This temple practices Korean Zen Buddhism, and so their take on it seems to be a bit different.

The way she describes the three pillars are: 1) compassion, 2) peace of mind, and 3) happiness.

I totally get the first two. I have been altered through the compassion of others, offered compassion to loved ones and strangers, and I am profoundly sure of its necessity and purpose in this journey we so simply call life.

As for peace of mind... while I may not always have it, I can at least say I have experienced it periodically - and I'm increasing my ability to be present and maintain a state of peace through meditation and mindful practice.

Where I seem to get stuck (still) on most days is happiness. Happy. Happiness. Joy. Contentment. They are words I attach to fleeting moments and a broad brush-stroked sense of the other side or what other people have.

Which is not in the least bit enlightened, peaceful, or even compassionate. Sometimes I feel there is a piece of me that holds onto my heart and squeezes it tight so it can only feel so much. As if too much of a good thing might somehow lead to disaster or brokenness or a safety-net-less world.

A weight. A stone. A rope. A gremlin. A cloud. Plenty of metaphors and none quite right. But perhaps you get a sense of what I'm attempting to describe.

My un-happiness feels like a thing, carried along through my days and hoisted - unnaturally - through each experience... marring a potentially unfiltered sense of life with blurry, hazy, soupy disconnection.

I have noticed lately I am quite able to be peaceful most of the time. I am able to be calm, to circumvent some of my pre-worry and be present - truly present - in a moment of time with others I love. I am able to speak and act compassionately, to use care with my words and hands and emotions.

And sometimes... in little, sparkling moments, I have very recently begun to notice a sense of happy. A state of joy. Quick. Surprising. Bubbling and gleeful. I feel it warm and full and wonderful in my entire being and think: Oh... this is it. This is it!

I can tell, at this point along my path, my greatest lesson is going to be one of happiness. I notice more clearly the joy and ease in others and have begun to replace envy and longing with admiration and curious, close study.

It is an expedition... exciting and alluring. This shift from set-upon to setting off feels like a good next step. This sense of alert, watchful observation rather than defeated disassociation - a more active, and ultimately "happy" stance.

May you feel joy today. Strong, unflinching, soaring, and wonderful.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


There are people, places, and things in our lives for whom we willingly do all we can with kindness and love. Maybe it's an organization you work for. Maybe it's your dog. Maybe your child, parent, friend, or partner.

For most of us, our compassion flows freely and easily with a select group of priorities in our lives. Sacrifice comes willingly; selflessness is not even labeled as such - it feels so natural.

Today it is my daughter, sicker than she has been so far in her brief life and desperately craving care, love, and strength. No question, no hesitation; she gets all I have. I wait (and write) in her small moments of sleeping, hoping for better news with the next thermometer read.

These easy acts of compassion are important, I believe, because they offer greater insight into our capacity to love something in the absence (or at least forgetting) of self. There is no longer separation between "me" and the object of my compassion because I am already such a decided part of it, and vice versa.

So, these loves of ours provide windows into the majesty of our souls. Becoming mindful of the compassionate acts, words, and thoughts we commit without hesitation provides occasion to look more honestly at the opportunities we miss or ignore.

I happened upon Speaking of Faith this weekend, and caught an interview with Karen Armstrong, who has dedicated her life to the study of spirituality and religion in multiple forms. Many of her ideas gibe with others I've encountered lately:

  • The concept of right action as a conscious choice and form of ethical behavior and moral comportment more linked to the person we decide to be than a religious concept of God or specific dogma.
  • The overriding concept among a multitude of faiths (monotheistic, creedal, covenantal, fundamentalist, philosophic, etc.) uniting each, which boils down to how we treat one another and make our way through the world.
These ideas led her to create the Charter for Compassion, which is a stunning concept and uplifting and inspiring project. It unites people of all faiths, mindsets, and beliefs to commit to loving action and greater empathy. Just imagine, if we could all commit to this level of compassion in all aspects of our lives: no cruelty, no violence, no conscious infliction of pain upon another... any other. What might we accomplish?

Compassion has the potential to unite us all. It has the power to change the world - and not in a Pollyanna-ish, pie-in-the-sky kind of way. I mean really change it... on small and large levels. Someone lets you into merging traffic; someone holds the door for you because your hands are full; someone tells you they believe in you and gives you hope in a dark time; someone holds your hand in the hospital before surgery, providing an anchor in a storm of crisis; someone says something kind in the midst of your mourning and it allows you to push forward one more time.

Compassion for ourselves, compassion for others. It indelibly alters our world experience and worldview in a way that is positive and productive. Bound to authenticity, honesty, kindness, and empathy - it is the opposite of control, the antithesis of judgment, and the impossibility of hatred.

May you hold another in your heart today and treat them with compassion. May you honor yourself with love and kindness. And may the objects of your compassion increase daily.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


To my surprise and chagrin, I just realized today there were comments left by readers - all of which had gone unanswered due to my forgetting to set up an auto-email type thing to send them my way any time one was left!

To those of you who have written... I am so sorry! Normally I try to be very good about responding quickly and thoughtfully to whatever is shared; it is, in fact, one of the great joys of writing a blog - seeing what clicks for certain people, being able to gain greater insight and understanding from the thoughts of others. Such a gift.

And it relates to something I have been thinking about a lot in the last few days: connection. Or perhaps interconnectedness. There are so many words, all of them just-quite-almost-there in describing that sense of one-ness we can sometimes achieve. The sense that we are actually all linked together in some way along a web of intricate and often shocking interlacing... so that we end up closer than anticipated. See the overlapping in striking, beautiful bold brushstrokes that have the power to encircle us in a way that reminds us we are protected, loved, and known.

One of the darkest feelings states I have known (continue to know and struggle against) is alone-ness. Not just solitude, or singlehood, or even being solo. No... I mean alone-ness. Cold and bleak and seemingly infinite - like snaky icicle fingers wrapped around your chest, squeezing and wringing until all your breath is replaced by an insidious yet undefined panic.

This is a place of lost-ness. Of inertia. Self-doubt and self-loathing and self-defeat. This is a place of paranoid questions and insecure inner monologues... of misplaced exhaustion and displaced fear. This is the place you can be in a roomful of people, in the middle of family dinner, in the arms of your lover... because it has nothing to do with anyone but you. A lone you.

Maybe you know this place. Maybe yours has a slightly different color scheme or internal temperature. But chances are, you have been here too. Second-guessing yourself and pushing everyone away in an effort to circumvent the inevitable rejection you are convinced awaits your next utterance.

For me, this place is dark and ugly. It brings out a side of myself (an aspect of my dual nature) I sometimes have difficulty embracing and accepting. It brings out my deepest fear, I think, which is being unloved, unaccepted, and un-valued.

Which is ego, yes? At least connected to ego and to my little "i" self, because the ego-less aspect of me... the self who thinks of others first... that side knows we are already connected. You and I. We are always connected. My movements move your web, yours move mine. And although that interconnectedness can be quite scary sometimes (mostly when we don't want our stuff to "move" in any way, shape, or form), it can also be immensely comforting.

One of the greatest lessons I am learning is to love myself. Not in a Hallmark-y cheesy kind of way or a Lifetime movie-of-the-week way. I mean in the way that stops the unending litany of internal insults. The way that removes the blocks I impose upon myself (paralyzing and creating doubt and confusion to such a degree I cannot make a decision as to what to do). The way that quiets the voice who uses words like ugly, fat, untalented, and fake.

Remembering I am connected to you helps me in establishing a sense of love for myself. When I notice there is no other, find a place of compassion, listen with my whole being, find a state of peace because I believe it is as much for you as it is for me... literally, figuratively, together, alone, yesterday, today, tomorrow.

Connection is a source of strength. Interconnectedness is an aspect of our wholeness. Somewhere you and I are not distinct or separate from one another... and when I remember that, I remember that to love you I have to love me - and vice versa.

May you love and celebrate you today. May you feel at one with everything around you - if only for a shining, happy moment!

Monday, November 9, 2009


When I met my husband, I was a smoker. Probably what you might call a medium smoker. I think I went through a pack in a week - maybe more... and I sometimes hit long stretches where I'd just have one or two per day.

I was out of my cloves stage at this point, and the Marlboro Reds (which may have led to my asthma in my late 20s - who knows). I had very few drug-type vices at this point, and I was loathe to give up smoking entirely... particularly social smoking which often happened in tandem with dinners out or drinks after the show, etc.

My husband, however, was a staunch no-smoker when we began dating. My habit was not a deal-breaker for him, but it was something that stood in the way of our having a child - because he felt very strongly he didn't want his child to grow up around cigarette smoke.

I agreed. I quit (pretty much cold turkey), and I have a new conception of myself as a non-smoker. It is difficult, in fact, to remember what it was like to be a smoker... even harder to remember what I enjoyed about it.

"Such an easy thing to change!" I think, in retrospect. It's remembered with a sense of distance and a feeling of separate-ness because the current "I" and past "I" are so different in this regard.

I have been taking a look at many of my habits lately... ones that are more subtle and insidious than chemical addictions or the tendency to eat lots of sugar when depressed or rely on soda for caffeine. No... the habits I now investigate are the ones connected to behavior - actions and choices seemingly ingrained in my arsenal of "involuntary" responses so that they become unthought/unthinking echoes of rut-like conduct.

Bossiness; attempts to control circumstances or others; a pessimistic perspective; impatience; self-doubt. All seemingly inherent aspects of my personality and self as I currently define it; and yet, every single one is a choice. All are habits I choose knowingly (or unknowingly, which makes it no less of a choice), and all are within my power to alter.

We see habits, I believe, as something generated or existing outside ourselves... dictated by external events or influenced by circumstances - people, places, things. It's so easy to assign the blame to an other of some kind; to engage in self-medication, self-denial, or self-soothing without truly acknowledging the impact of our decisions upon ourselves or others.

They seem so difficult to change; and yet, time and again, we remake ourselves in an effort to please someone else. Maybe a spouse or partner, maybe a mother or sibling, maybe a boss or mentor. And sometimes those changes are great and wonderful things (and sometimes, as you well know, they are not).

The trick is knowing why you are choosing to be who you are. Why you are holding onto the patterns, habits, yens, and ruts in which you currently find yourself... and to embrace - and truly own - the knowledge that you can change any single aspect of who you are at any moment.

Habits are the result of being human; we crave predictability at times. But they should not be an excuse for unhappiness. They should never feel like an anchor or prison. And... if they do... then perhaps it's time to remake yourself - for no one other than yourself.

I have been reminding myself of this - attempting to relearn a lesson I have long forgotten from the carefree and entirely transmutable days of infancy. It's frightening, sometimes, to admit I have the power to define myself every second... it makes my frailties and failings so much more crushing at times. And yet, even choosing to forgive... to answer my weaknesses with compassion and love as I would a dearest friend - even that is a choice I may make.

So much power, and still... I wrestle to pull my habits close to my chest. Enclose them and claim them as my own so I may honestly assess what best defines the person I wish to be. Keep what works, discard the rest. And make no judgments in between.

May you recognize the person you wish to be in each moment; may you feel empowered to choose the habits that fit you best.

Friday, November 6, 2009


I tend to be very careful with my words. I have always been a fan of language - reading, writing, speaking, performing... words

I love talking and relish in the art of communication (it is important to note I attach "art" to speaking... telling, in fact).

I am attached to language. Sometimes to the detriment of my understanding others. Of course, this can sometimes mean I am also too attached to words as well. My husband has a somewhat different approach to communication and often has to remind me to listen to what he has actually said and not what I infer from his speaking.

I am a user of subtext, I have come to realize. I look for the message beneath the words... which, in some cases, helps me understand and empathize a bit better. It also means I sometimes overlay my own interpretation and assumptions onto someone's hoped-for and intended message. That can be messy or even embarrassing.

My communication style - and more importantly the way I communicate - has become more noticeable and on display since having a child. She mirrors my speech patterns and habits, echoes my sighs and phrasings... even - at times - reflects my cycles of impatience or anger, my tendency to forget communication must still contain compassion if we are to be mindful of the receiver.

The great book I am reading (I will mention it again: Momma Zen...) has a beautiful chapter on this very exchange process. She has a great suggestion, which really rang like a wake-up bell for me, which is essentially... when you notice your child starting to forget their manners or speak to you in ways that don't fit with how we talk to each other in this family - listen to yourself.

See if you have forgotten some of those shared rules... children reflect what they see. They mimic what they experience. In terms of our evolution and growth, they can be amazing mirrors wherein we see all our blemishes, deserving of attention and focus.

This week, I have been very mindful of my communicating. Mindful of my choice of words, mindful of my tone, mindful of the ways I do and do not use please and thank you - despite my faith in their necessity and usefulness. Mindful of my bossy-ness... echoed by my daughter like a little babbling brook providing me the chance to see (and hear) my reflection.

Most importantly, and with all people, I've striven to be more mindful of ulterior motives, hidden questions, or ego-driven reaching in my conversations. I have been practicing direct communication - saying what I mean, meaning what I say - which is sometimes quite scary and often yields unexpected results.

It is a constant practice, this act of simple speaking. How funny that the mind, ego, and heart (full of insecurities and dreams and expectations) could take something so potentially direct and sure... and instead tangle it all up in a tightly wound ball of half-spoken, half-honest, half-meant, half-minded prattle.

And so I re-learn what I hope my daughter will learn for the first time: There is strength in stating your feelings directly and honestly. I'm upset. I'm scared. I'm sorry. I love you. There is love in using words of kindness. Please. Thank you. I'm listening. I'm watching. And in order to be a good communicator, we must listen as well as we speak - perhaps even better.

May you choose your words with care. May you listen to others with a full and open heart. May your communication be mindful, honest, and simple today.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Life is in the details keeps dancing around my head today. And when I used my trusty Google search to find out who said it... I came up short.

Instead... I found a beautiful quote that is even more eloquent on the matter (and may actually be where the shorter version came from):

"A mountain is composed of tiny grains of earth. The ocean is made up of tiny drops of water. Even so, life is but an endless series of little details, actions, speeches, and thoughts. And the consequences whether good or bad of even the least of them are far-reaching."

It's attributed to Sivananda (Google search...), a Hindu swami and spiritual leader. Oddly enough (or perhaps not so oddly), it ties in not only to the post I intended to write today, but also to a blog post shared on Facebook by a friend of mine discussing morality as separate from religion. (Perhaps for another time!)

The reason I've been thinking about details is twofold. The first connects to something our instructor emphasized last week at the introductory meditation course I am taking. The second has to do with parenting a toddler.

For the former: Our teacher was talking about how one aspect of Zen relates to paying more attention to the little details of life. Straightening your cushion and mat for the next person who may come to the space. Making sure the faucet is completely turned off in the bathroom so as not to waste water. Placing your shoelaces inside your shoes when you put them on the shelf near the door. Listening - really listening - when another person is speaking.

This sort of list is rather infinite. And her suggestion that we pay attention (really pay attention) to the details in our life this week was an opportunity for daily reflection and an increased awareness of the many details I take for granted or allow to become a sort of impressionistic blur in the background of what I deem most pressing.

She said there is an idea in Zen Buddhism to leave it as you found it. In other words... your footprint in any given place - on any given spot - should be a rather small one. Difficult to discern and created with a sort of careful neutrality that is neither overly sentimental nor crassly indifferent.

It reminded me of camping and Smokey the Bear. The concept of leaving no trace when you enter some lovely spot of nature so that the next person who comes through can discover it just as you did. Unspoiled... authentic... perfect in its simplicity.

Now that I think of it, Smokey was really more for forest fires... so perhaps the "no trace" idea was connected to some other remnant of 70s educational programming. But whatever the source, it's an idea I've sought to embrace in my adult life. (Not always easy, of course, nor practical... but certainly something to aspire to.)

I make my bed every morning. For a while it was because my mother told me to... because not to do so resulted in negative consequences and disliked ramifications. But now, at age 36, I make it because I want to. I like having a nice, unspoiled surface to enter into at night. I love the little thrill of peeling back the covers... slipping my feet and legs in... and melting into the bed that has been waiting for me - in a state of wonderful readiness - all day. It's delicious.

Let's skip back to the second reason I am thinking about details today: my daughter. My daughter does not yet make her own bed. She likes to keep her room in a state of chaos... a sort of scattershot bedlam that leaks out into the other living spaces of our tiny apartment.

Now - don't get me wrong - I love our tiny apartment. We are enjoying our smaller space and are eager to embrace the possibilities of further simplification as we commit to life on a more realistic and manageable scale. BUT... the clutter connected to the playful wanderings of a three year old can sometimes be astounding.

And so... I have been wrestling, of late, with an interconnected tangle of lessons and opportunities that now present themselves. How much do I clean up without her? What should be expected of her? Where is the line between my expectation of clean and the agreed upon definition of clean we all must share as a family? How does motherhood and childhood intersect with simplicity and responsibility to leave us all following a path of right action that is equal parts respectful and unattached?

That last one's the real kicker. I started reading a book today that ties in quite strongly with this aspect of my contemplation of detail. It's called Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood, and I already love it. I want to write the author and give it to every parent I know.

Anyway... I am still seeking the balance between being too attached to a particular expectation of how the many details of my life (our lives) should look... while remaining mindful of their importance and committing to careful consideration of how I can move through each day with a greater awareness of the details by which I am surrounded.

I might add to those earlier quotes in this way. Life is the details... the details you miss, the ones you forget, the ones that change everything, and the ones that are downright miraculous. To be truly present is to experience and attend to as many as you can without holding on so tightly you miss the next one.

May you notice a little detail today that used to be invisible to you. May you embrace your life - in its variegated, infinitesimal form - as it unfolds beneath all that is.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Today I am thinking about hope. I'm not sure why. Perhaps because it's been a difficult week. Maybe because I am starting to look for work and feeling a bit bewildered due to all the variables we must consider with regard to our daughter, our residence, our income, our tax bracket, etc.

It could also be due to the several stories I heard this morning on NPR that make my concerns look tiny and more-than-manageable in comparison with the difficulties faced by so many others throughout the world.

The older I have gotten, the more I've come to understand the importance and impact of hope. It's the thing that keeps us feeling connected, the thing that keeps us from going under or spiraling downward beyond articulating, past reaching out... locked in paralyzed hiding.

Hope reminds us we are beautiful - in a divine and valuable way. It tells us we are strong. It whispers possible connections between ourselves and everyone around us... weaving safety nets along our support systems so that even the slightest waver catches someone's attention - and they answer our call before we even knew we needed assistance.

Hope is tied to compassion. Our capacity to be compassionate with ourselves and to be open to the imperfections and potential challenges contained in others. Hope allows failure. Hope allows forgiveness. Because it sees neither as a finite answer and believes new questions can always be asked.

One of my assignments this week was to meditate for 5 minutes each day. Such a seemingly small thing, and yet - as our teacher knew it would - it can pose a challenge for those of us unused to making time for such things.

A remarkable aspect of these daily sittings has been the discovery of a deep-seated and very powerful force of hope within. I am still in the process of fully uncovering it... like a deep-sea diver carefully removing wreckage around a sunken treasure. I catch it gleaming... get a sharp sense of how valuable this finding will be... and then my awareness shifts to the hulking metal, the rusty, barnacled shell of some long-forgotten mishap.

It's hard work, clearing away our internal rubble. Painful and murky... with long spans of being left alone in the dark to wonder if the debris we've stirred up will clear enough to see again.

Hope is that shiny little sparkle you catch out of the corner of your eye. The one that makes your heart quicken and your mouth open just slightly so that the corners begin to inch toward smiling.

It's worth it. For those of you reading this and questioning whether to keep going, whether to allow hope a larger space in your heart, whether to continue digging through the remains so you may finally let go... the answer is yes.

May you allow hope to reside within you. May it spur you on to greater action.