Friday, March 26, 2010


I had always thought of enlightenment as some sort of terminal goal... something you worked toward all your life and finally reached in later years. Mine was a glowy, far-off, romanticized notion viewed in soft focus with cherry blossoms and soft music and a gentle breeze smelling slightly of spring.

My notion of enlightenment was much like my early notions of love - untested and based largely on assumption and inference... more fluff than substance and more driven by attachments and wants than a penchant for reality or an acceptance of the non-easy.

Today I had a sort of ah ha moment... which was to realize enlightenment is just that: the myriad epiphanies we come to in the often rough-and-tumble experience of our daily living.

From this viewpoint, enlightenment is less of an endpoint or destination, and more of a process or journey. More slow build than fast bang, and typically characterized by fits and starts. We move forward on a wave of understanding... then move backward in the wake of habits, attachments, or emotions masquerading as fear.

What struck me today was how I cannot tell I was lacking in understanding in some area until I get into a new mindspace and suddenly see a much larger picture. I suppose it's a bit like the old adage about knowing you're in love when you get there. I spent years thinking my "in-love" meter was broken - then actually found the sort of love that includes loving someone beyond being "in love"... and finally had that ah ha moment everyone had been talking about.

As my spiritual and personal growth continues to evolve, I keep wondering how much more my understanding will expand in another year of living - another month, another week, another hour, another moment. It's sort of stunning sometimes how much change we can pack into even one second of our existence.

The other thing I realized today was nearly all of my sparks of enlightenment - that sense of being in a new place and knowing things in a new way - are directly linked to a person who (either intentionally or no) served as my teacher.

The young soldier who spoke of his decision to return to duty despite his misgivings about the war. The friend whose hand I held one day in class, who responded to my pained ignorance with incredible gentleness and grace. The monk whose book changed the path of my life 20 years prior to my decision to consciously embark.

My husband, my daughter, my friends, my family, my community, and all the people categorized as stranger who are separate only because I name them as so. I have been stunned lately by how many opportunities we are given - all the time - to evolve. To grow. To change and become better. Better versions of our selves.

I share all of this because I think maybe a lot of people make some of the same assumptions or have some of the same habits I do. Namely, we beat ourselves up for not being "good enough," or not moving "fast enough." Meanwhile, we look far ahead at our notion of where we need to get to, and feel it is so distant, there's no point in even trying to reach it.

Guatama Siddharta, the founder of Buddhism, said: “There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth...not going all the way, and not starting.”

I would add a third: not realizing you are already on it.

May you notice teachers all around you. May you celebrate each moment of enlightenment and trust - even in the darkest moments - you are on the road to truth.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


I have been craving something for several weeks now. It buzzes around me like an insistent gnat... bumping against me often enough to ensure I remain attuned to its presence. I have no idea how to sate it. And... because I am somewhat lost, I find I am turning to my habitual form of response for such unidentified longings: food.

So unfolds several weeks of craving-induced picking - a spectrum of nibbling to over-eating most often geared toward the categories of junk and sugar.

Trader Joe's sweet and salty mix; graham crackers with whip cream spray-can blasted in lovely swirl patterns; banana-oatmeal-coconut-chocolate chip bars with a nod toward health in my experiment to reduce the butter and sugar by substituting apple sauce and maple syrup; dark chocolate candy bars with caramel and sea salt; mounding bowls of popcorn prepared stove-top in a pool of salt-infused extra-virgin olive oil; snap pea crisps; corn chips and homemade guacamole; a handful of my daughter's "all-colors" goldfish snacks; and finally... chocolate chip cookies - in all their buttery, sugary, risque glory.

It was the cookies that finally did it. I opened the mason jar full of chocolate chips and caught a whiff of what smelled like a strange and unnatural (e.g., non-food) scent. Can chocolate chips go bad? I wondered. Shrugging, I dumped them in, cooked all the batter, and sampled my efforts.

They tasted funny. They didn't make me feel any more satisfied. I wondered if I had done something wrong or missed a step or used something funky and past-its-prime.

My husband came home and made a beeline for the container full of goodies. "Oooo! What's this? Are these for us?" "Yup," I answered. He excitedly ate one and grinned and maybe even wiggled a little bit. "They don't taste funny to you?" I asked. "Nooooooooo. They taste really good."

When we moved downstate and re-fashioned our lives into a wholly new state, one of the things my husband and I agreed to do was eat out less often, choose healthier foods, and change our eating patterns so they might include less "fake" food.

With concerted effort, we've actually done a pretty good job. We went from eating out nearly every night of the week to once a week on average (twice if we're being really naughty). We buy whole foods and organic as often as possible; I cook three meals a day most days; and we try not to buy junk food or super fatty/sugary dessert items to reduce temptation and help Ari set food habits heavier on fruit and vegetables than chips and soda.

And while we do indulge in the occasional gelato or sticky rice with mango, for the most part, we are careful in our "treat" consumption. So it's been incredibly fascinating to become more alert to my cravings for unnatural foods - and to wander through some musings on what it all really means.

What am I really craving? I thought it was sugar, salt, and fat (and all manner of man-made concoctions based on processes of refinement and chemical tomfoolery) - but lately I've noticed, just as I had years ago with smoking, that whenever I do indulge the seeming ache for such foods, I wind up feeling worse. The aftermath of such eating is more yuck than yum... and the craving persists, unsatisfied and unmet.

So I have decided to meditate upon my actions and try to pinpoint the message I am sending myself. Clearly, some form of misinterpretation is present. Something is lost in translation... and so I must move toward a clearer form of communication - seek out a process of understanding untied to my habits and long-time associations.

In the meantime, I still feel a strong urge to stuff a cookie into my mouth whenever I walk past them in the kitchen. But so far, remembering how it feels to eat said cookie has enabled me to maintain mountain mind and stand fast. Wandering mind is always close behind though... waiting for the chance to dart through and race after the sugary illusion of comfort.

May you separate your habits from your true desires. May you find satisfaction in all you do.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


I sprained my foot over the weekend and finally got to the doctor today. She wants me to get an x-ray and follow up with a specialist; and there is a part of me that feels very impatient about that.

The foot, the ankle, and the calf have begun to hurt more today, which has led me to think about rest, and relaxation, and the push of my usual quick quick hurry hurry get more done now now now sort of mindset.

American society feeds on alacrity and expedience. There is cache in zoom and zip... thrill in speed and danger... and a bankable credibility in pushing slightly beyond one's limits. Or perhaps the nagging of time is more linked to my personality (Type A struggling to land more Type B) and an internal pressure I exert based on expectations and attachment to what might be most accurately qualified as shoulds.

My shoulds are like a prodding finger, jabbing me roughly in the back and wagging furiously at any sign of repose or cessation. They creep into my neck and shoulder muscles, strain my vocal chords as my heartbeat increases, and sometimes even result in clenched teeth and exasperated brow-furrowing - typically directed toward someone else who has chosen to no longer move at the breakneck pace my shoulds so ardently wish to demand.

The ankle injury (and its resultant hurtiness) has reminded me to slow down. It's my body's not-so-gentle way of taking charge and insisting upon a reduced pace... one that might actually allow for breathing, contemplation, or inescapably being in the present.

Each little twinge approximates the corrective rap of a Zen master - carrying a sharp reminder to practice patience and embrace a more realistic and mindful tempo.

Slow down. Sit still. Be.

May you hear your body's subtle and insistent messages. May you move through your day with patience and purpose.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Gifts (Part II)

So as I was thinking about gifts, gift-giving, and an awareness of abundance last week, my husband made a comment one night about gifts we, as individuals, bring with us or cultivate during our lives.

It's a concept I had encountered many times before, but had never thought about in quite the way he put it. He said he was thinking about people who are born into money... specifically, the ones who seem to squander it or do nothing of meaning or purpose with it. The folks born with a silver spoon who never give anything of meaning back and therefore just move through life like bloated and entitled blemishes upon the body of humanity.

We loathe those people, generally. We see in them a selfishness and lack of compassion both startling and disheartening... and they tend to carry after them legacies of infamy, ill-repute, or at least deep sighs and shaking heads.

The point he made is that we are all born with gifts: things we do really well or seem to excel at in a way that sets us apart from those around us. Everyone has something like this. Maybe it's artistic, maybe it's organizational, or interpersonal, or physical... whatever. You've got some prowess and ability that is unique to you and undeniably special.

(Pressfield touches on this in The War of Art; he links it to God and the divine... but I think it's less important where it comes from and more important that you notice your strengths/blessings with honesty and gratitude.)

My husband (who has been navigating his own path of self-identity, career, and life-purpose) said he realized refusing to make use of one's gift, or find ways to share it with others in some fashion, was akin to being a myopic, avaricious rich kid who was blessed with unasked-for rewards and consumed them all without ever looking up to see who else might benefit from such wealth.

And when he told me this, I chewed on it for days... all weekend, in fact. I thought about seeing Ani DiFranco in concert and being blown away by her talent and hit with this indelible sense of "this woman is doing what she was put on this earth to do." And then I thought about the people I've met - teachers, counselors, artists, doctors, psychics, engineers, ministers - who called forth in me that same recognition... and awe... and envy.

It was not until very recently the envy started fading. An unflinching awareness of the ways in which I hold myself back has served to erase those displaced emotions. My joy remains my responsibility. My willingness to embrace the talents I possess - to see them as a compassionate response and fortunate opportunity - directly impacts my experience within the world and my level of happiness, peace, and personal fulfillment.

I have been better, lately, about sharing my gifts and utilizing my strengths in a mindful and compassionate manner. And - bit by bit - I am creating cracks in the self-imposed barriers I see between myself and the realization of various inner callings. I notice a greater sense of connection to those around me, and I feel more comfortable in my day-to-day being.

I think Buddha probably summed it up best: "Meditate. Live purely. Be quiet. Do your work with mastery. Like the moon, come out from behind the clouds! Shine."

May you discover and celebrate your singular talents. May your gifts bring you - and those around you - closer to something wonderful.

*Special thanks to Melinda Evans for taking this photo - from the booth! - during Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. You rock, girl!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Gifts (Part I)

I was driving home from my daughter's daycare today with the windows down and the cool air blowing from our vents, marveling at the glory of sunshine and birdsong and peeking green everywhere.

Such gifts! Sunshine and driving and daughter singing songs and neighborhood I love and warmth on my arms and breezy heads of hair and the intoxicating scent of spring all around. Powerful stuff.

I had been in a conversation earlier with another mother and one of the room teachers about houses and possessions and the habit of wanting more. It was nice to realize I don't want more house, more space, or more things. I don't covet bigger/better... I have noticed I don't take care of stuff so well and it makes more sense given my focus, priorities, inclinations, and level of patience to keep things on the smaller side. Less is more.

This is not to say I don't covet other things... I certainly do. I am future-focused and slow to let go and crave control in areas of my life best left easily adrift. My wanting has become less materially-aimed... but it is still there: The aching of emptiness blind to abundance.

Which was the lesson staring me in the face today, patiently waiting to be acknowledged as I reveled in the happy of spring and consciously made an effort not to allow my buzzing gratitude to be undone by thoughts of coming snow.

I am surrounded by abundance. At times miraculous, sometimes unexpected and unbidden, maybe even so simple as to be nearly unnoticed without mindful awareness... the process of living provides infinite opportunities to practice gratitude and choose joy.

This remains a difficult lesson to remember and embrace in times of depression, fear, anxiety, loneliness, crisis, etc. But today I realized it's all a matter of perspective in terms of how I weave the narrative of my experience, how I make meaning of the things I cannot control, of how I reconcile the things I do control... how I own my mistakes, accept misfortunes, and keep letting go so that I am less and less burdened in each moment.

Doing this with books, photos, papers, movies, clothing, furniture, etc., etc. etc. has been a trying yet rewarding process. Doing so with the less tangible aspects of my life is an ongoing experiment... to which I must continually recommit and doggedly reengage.

Here's my suspicion: The more tangibly and intangibly unencumbered I can become, the more aware I will become of the multitudinous gifts available to me in every moment - ready and waiting to be noticed.

Such a path of gratitude and awareness of plenty seems a more joyful type of existence. More loving. More awake. More conscious and intentional.

It is an aspiration upon which I gratefully cast my gaze.

May you notice the simplest of gifts today. May you find joy and fullness in your living.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


My daughter began her day with her favorite blocks and two Boston Terrier stuffed dogs. She created an elaborate two-story house for the dogs - complete with staircase and turret - and proudly showed her efforts to me and my husband as soon as we arose.

She told me she wanted to leave it up, and I complied... warily watching her colt-like movements as she danced, kicked, and flitted around the building (already leaning precariously to one side).

And then the not-so-inevitable occurred. Around 1pm, she unintentionally smacked into the structure... and down it toppled. At which point she began sobbing, in earnest, with very large tears rolling down her pain-contorted cheeks.

I held her and rocked her and kissed her tears... and after a while she calmed down - and then let go and moved on to something else, leaving behind her woeful protestations and her fervent wish to have it all back the way it was before.

Mirror. Mirror. Mirror.

It's been startling to me lately how many things in life provide opportunity for reflection if I am aware enough to notice something is very politely staring me in the face and patiently waiting for the epiphany of recognition.

Impermanence had already been in my thoughts. A possible post for yesterday, the unfinished page sat waiting in queue when I logged in, and so the event of the blocks, the crash, and the aching sadness seemed all too apropos to ignore.

While my little bunny struggles with the unpredictability of toys and the loss of things we love, I have been watching her race ahead into developmental territory so much more aptly described as "little girl" than "toddler." She gallops into greater physical, mental, and emotional dexterity... and then crashes back past her theoretically current state to stand startled and upset within the supposedly abandoned land of "baby."

This wave-like motion behind and beyond her present age has been a great reminder of the cyclical and ceaseless process of growth and personal evolution. Even more surprising is to step back a bit and realize the tidal flow of identity, maturity, and stability hardly remains confined to children and adolescents.

My career process has been a rolling ebb and wane of decision-making, hesitation, redirection, self-efficacy, values clarification, trust, and all manner of psychosocial minutia... as has my growth in the areas of intimacy, self-concept, spirituality, and intellect.

And while the impermanence of life skips across our path infinitely (seasons, emotions, friendships, finances, beliefs, bodies, feelings...), we sometimes have the tendency to forget (or perhaps deny) a few very important things:

  • Life does not stand still; change unfolds before us in nearly all moments.
  • There is no forever. Sometimes this is wonderful. Sometimes this is painful.
  • We move back and forth across the spot we think we should be; every place we inhabit is.

I make the mistake of holding on too tightly sometimes, I think, to what I want instead of what is. And I get especially tense and clamped up when what is refuses to be still long enough for me to decide I want it.

Not so different, really, from sitting in the middle of the floor lamenting my disappeared building... insistent in my pain because my love feels greater than my loss - and neither were supposed to move without my approval.

I take a lesson from my daughter, who dives into her sadness with full-throated commitment and later emerges without looking back... pouncing on a new moment with present-focused gusto and a willingness to let go of the illusion of always.

May the ceaseless flow of your life bring you comfort and provide numerous opportunities to practice acceptance and release. May the folly of forever be met with humor and patience.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


The achingly-awaited arrival of spring in our area has been an interesting lesson in patience and letting go. The warm weather has inched forward into March with a creeping steadiness, and today's undeniable warmth and sunniness actually made my heart quicken like a teenager attending her first unchaperoned co-ed party. Weird.

The tulips in front of our friends' building have begun to poke up through the ground, and the twitterpated activities of squirrels, birds, and college students reminds me why we get so giddy around this season: rebirth.

We get to slough off the old and emerge into a brighter and sweeter-smelling world with less clothing, greater promise, and the limitless possibility of longer daylight hours and the thrumming pulse of "now, now, now" surging through every living thing around us.

And why shouldn't we awaken from the quiet, cold resting of winter to pounce with readiness onto the earth unfolding and flowering before us? There's something inherently natural in our lust to rush forward and crash upon the world.

Yet, the irony of spring also lies in our attachment to its fairytale-like magic. The thrill of rejuvenation and rebirth feels palpable and intoxicating... and so it is somewhat humbling to remember it is less connected to the sun or the season than to our willingness to embrace such feelings of awake and alive.

I noticed in myself today an incredible sense of yes. Of now and possibility and I will. And then I realized I could have accessed those feelings - that sense of promise and power - at any time. Why not awaken to such an alert sense in February? Why not imagine myself capable of all changes I might wish to make in a landscape of snow and ice and barren branches?

Prince Gautama Siddharta (the founder of Buddhism) said:

"In the sky; there is no distinction between east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true."

So it is with Winter. Spring. Autumn. Summer. We attach meaning and myth to the rhythms of our world... and while we are impacted by the natural living of the planet we inhabit, we are also capable of so much more.

May you spring forward with a sense of energy and renewal. May you remember to do so (again and again) at any time.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Since making the transition from graduate student to stay-at-home mom, I have noticed an increased sense of loneliness. While I have enjoyed the time with my daughter and have seen our relationship strengthen, I have felt a widening gap between myself and others. Adults. Friends. Colleagues.

There is a sense of isolation—perhaps tied, in part, to the fact I have no job at present that takes me outside the home and encompasses a purpose beyond self or family; perhaps related to the monetary and logistical realities of finding a sitter whenever I want to attend a show, go out with friends, or enjoy a date-night with my husband; maybe even somewhat self-inflicted and tied more to my state of mind and chosen perspective than anything else.

Perhaps entirely self-inflicted. Loneliness is, after all, a state of mind. It is a perspective... a narrative based on my perception of the elements of my life... a chosen label affixed by no one other than me to a series of emotions and thoughts I experience and then refuse to let go.

Author Dr. Brenda Shoshanna is credit with this quote: "When a sense of hunger, loneliness, dissatisfaction and craving comes, don’t blame it on others, or on circumstances. Instead, stop and look within."

So what is it then? Why the dissatisfaction, the tension, the sadness, the restlessness, the worry, the exhaustion? What is in between this state of blech and the simple joy of peaceful alertness and presence?

It's a stuckness I have encountered so many times its akin to a recurring dream. Sometimes that's how it feels. As if I have gotten trapped in a labyrinth of my mind and hazily look around for the exit while knowing full well the exit is simply to wake up and stop being there.

One of the greatest lessons I hope to learn in this lifetime is the ability to maintain peace. To be at peace and find a sense of grounding and ease that remains somewhat steady and stable. A sort of calm interlacing with my core. I don't think you can be lonely if you are truly at peace... probably because you not only value your own company, but also because you never forget there is no such thing as separation on a spiritual (and perhaps even scientific) level.

So I must look within. Continue meditating, utilizing my dharma buddy/husband, recognizing my daughter as another teacher and incredible gift, and loosening my grip on an attachment I have yet to fully recognize with alertness and accept with intention.

May you regain a sense of connection in spans of drifting. May you look within with bravery and persistence.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


I finally called a realtor today. This was something I had been putting off under the guise of busy-ness, sickness, late nights and overtiredness, and all manner of ness that might make my feet-dragging seem justifiably plausible.

The truth, however, lies closer to my heart and has more to do with my emotional and physical attachments than anything else.

My grandmother had asked me, at one point, to keep her house "safe." It was a conversation from long ago during a time of greater lucidity than the drawn-out, lazy, spiral of her dying (which lasted several months and included long stretches of what might best be described as a sort of emptiness).

What she meant by safe was that she didn't want to see it sold to anyone. She wanted the home to stay in the family, and she wanted one of us to live in it - continuing a life and link to the place she had called home for over 80 years.

She was afraid it would become rental property, afraid someone might move in and change everything (which to her was another sort of death), afraid my mother might sell it immediately and never look back.

There was a certain desperation to her request, and I remember at the time being highly aware of my inability to make any such promise. And I still remember the look of sadness, panic, and fear on her face when it became clear her fervent hope might get crushed in the shuffle of her passing.

In part because of this conversation, and in part because it was the best thing for my new family (e.g., myself, my husband, and our intended daughter-to-be), as well as being helpful for my family as a whole, we moved into her home upon her death and began what soon felt like an impossible task: restoration and renovation with the focused task of bringing the home solidly back to an historic and beautiful single-family dwelling.

I'm not sure how successful we were, ultimately, in our task. So much remains undone on our wish list of projects and grand plans. But we did make some headway, and the home is undeniably special... particularly for the area within which it sits.

So here we are... nearly five years beyond her death and about to embark upon listing and selling the house because we cannot afford to hold onto it, and it does not make sense to do so given our goals, philosophies, and circumstances.

And I am feeling immense guilt. Heavy and pinching in my chest. Smashing my breath to the point of being noticeable but not unbearable. Racing through my head like a dog in the spring, crashing into things I thought safely sorted through and tucked away.

Which has led me to ponder the nature of guilt... and to consider what might be the Buddhist approach to such a feeling state. When I really think about it, it's clear I am holding onto something out of sync with the present—carrying something forward as a burden and taking its weight through my current moment.

I suspect it has to do with her disappointment at my initial response during that first conversation about the house long ago. I was not wholly honest; not in a way that was clear and unambiguous. I think I tried to straddle comforting and vague... which left us both feeling worse.

And so, if I am to examine the aspect of my action and its presence in my mind despite tangible absence, I must acknowledge and accept the mis-step of my ambiguity and cowardice. Right action might have been speaking the truth more clearly, or sharing greater insight as to why I could not make such a promise, or being brave enough to name and focus on the emotions I read so clearly in her face... instead of avoiding her palpable pain.

One of the most challenging aspects of Buddhist study, I think - or really any dedicated spiritual practice - is in learning to embrace one's mistakes without creating a pitfall within which to become paralyzed, or stuck, or hidden, or ignored.

Imperfections are a necessary and sometimes strikingly beautiful and important part of life, because they inspire our growth and refine our understanding of ourselves and others. Getting caught in guilt, regret, or any other form of self-denial prevents me from being fully present and focused in the now, which means I am at even greater risk of causing suffering or doing harm to others. And so the cycle continues.

I can no longer apologize to my grandmother, or choose a course of right action wherein I set aside all artifice and carefulness in order to speak plainly and from the heart. That moment has passed. This moment provides an opportunity to acknowledge and accept my actions, to dedicate thought and mindfulness to the situation in order to evolve my understanding, and to move forward with as much right action as possible... whatever that may be.

May you accept and own your imperfections to stand, unburdened, in the present moment. May you embrace all aspects of self to move forward in freedom and clarity.