Curing power of being heard

Have you ever had an experience that was so profound that you literally felt a physical shift in your body/mind/spirit that you knew was permanent? I sure did. Like three days ago. I'm still reeling.

What happened to cause a permanent change in my worldview?

People listened to me.

Really listened and then shared with me what resonated with them. Without commentary, meaning-making or qualification. Just my words and experiences reflected back to me. 

Super simple, right?

Yes, the practice is.

The work is not so simple, however. It's fucking hard.

Telling a deeply personal story to relative strangers was one of the hardest things I have ever done. The only reason I could do it was because we had come to some agreements beforehand and had a set way to resonate - like a script. That was freeing. Because I knew I wouldn't have to hear other people's stories while unburdening my own.

The basic set-up: Get a group of several people who have some relationship/common cause. Somebody tells a story based on a framework/prompts and the other folks offer resonance in response to the story. Each person tells their story. Everybody else resonates. Repeat until everyone shares. Simple.

But in that simplicity is a million little factors of healing and connection. Deep listening and resonance are healing modalities. Being heard and receiving resonance is what makes us most human. Our brains and bodies are wired for resonance and connection, we can't help it.

In our current culture of isolation and self-sufficiency. We are so lonely and disconnected. It's not the fault of social media or desk jobs (they aren't helping though). It's the culture. It's killing us.

We are taught to be self-sufficient, to take care of ourselves, take of our own. Weakness in any form is to be hidden for fear someone will take advantage of us. We must project competence and self-control at all times. We must never subvert the social norms, except in the most conformist of ways that marketers tell us are cool. We must produce to be valued. We must never be poor or sick or unsure. Keep your problems to yourself. Be ashamed of your body, of your failures, of your deficiencies, of your feelings, of your dreams and desires. Hide. Protect yourself from strangers in this dangerous world. No one is to be trusted because everyone is out for themselves. Be afraid.

Nah. 

Not me. Not anymore. 

I choose connection. I choose community. I choose interdependence. I choose living in cooperation with my fellow humans and the Earth.

I'm not sure what this looks like exactly. But I know I'm going to figure it out.

You're probably wondering how I came to this through spending a weekend listening to and sharing stories. It has everything to do with the beautiful people I met and the loving and communal space we co-created. It also has everything to do with all the work I have been doing on my inner life and aligning my life and values. But the key ingredient was radical acceptance and love. No conditions. No advice or meaning-making. Humans sharing stories and learning how to hold space for each other in ways that heal and bring people together. 

The 3 hour yurt dance party was epic.

If you want to learn, check out Relational Uprising

 

Making Lambos out of boxes

Kids love cardboard boxes. In a child's eyes, that box from Amazon is a sword and shield waiting to happen. An animal hospital is born from the new refrigerator. Or in the case of my sons, Lambos (Lamborghinis to the uninitiated).

 

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Imagination. Possibility. Resourcefulness. Creativity.

There's a lesson in here, don't you think?

Your life can appear to be a box, a limiting space with boundaries and restrictions. But could you cut here and fold there and make something entirely new with a few tools? Could we add some color or glitter (don't use glitter it's killing sea life) and make the mundane beautiful? 

The creativity is less about the tools and resources and more about the imagination. What can you make out of what you have? What skills can you transfer to some new endeavor? Who do you know that you can seek advice or some mentoring? Where do you have time to carve out for that special project or to learn that new skill? What group can you join that will introduce you to the kind of people who do the things you want to do? What are you already good at and enjoy? How can you use that to create the life you dream of?

Everyone has a calling. It might be to make cheese or teach kids or nurse the sick back to wellness or build bridges. No matter where we are born or under what circumstances, we all are born with innate abilities and talents in a special combination that has never been born before. We can see our circumstances as limitations OR we can see our lives as ripe with possibility.

I heard an interview with Shonda Rhimes yesterday that sparked all this thinking. She said that her dad told her that her success was only limited by her imagination. She was talking about her Year of Yes and how it completely changed her life. She lost over a hundred pounds, became a better mother, and felt more connected to everyone in her life and to life itself. She said Yes to everything she would have normally said no to - invitations to parties, her kids asking her to play as she was walking out the door, sitting with the Obamas at the Kennedy Center Honors.

She saw her life without the edges. The yes was her glitter and scissors. She didn't need anything new or outside herself to change her life, she chose to see life differently. She changed the No to Yes.

And so it is with kids. They choose to see that cardboard box as the Lambo of their dreams rather than recycling fodder. We don't have to lose this vision. We can always adjust our perspectacles. We can choose to say Yes. Every moment gives us a new opportunity to see things differently. 

 

It takes at least two

It's near impossible to heal yourself.

Humans need to feel safe, accepted and a deep sense of belonging in order to heal. In our world, it is getting harder and harder to find these spaces and relationships.

We spend a lot of our time in the mindset of competition, scarcity, and exhaustion. So caught up in the doing of life, we leave little time for being. Being present. Being mindful. Being kind.

We have packed agendas, full days, and booked calendars. We schedule time to play, to make love, and to laugh with friends. I mean really, that's messed up! Right?!

Other people and relationships are essential to a happy and healthy life. We need hugs, laughter, and a shoulder to cry on. We can't get by on "likes" and emojis alone.

Our deep inner pain most often comes from some deep sense of not belonging, when we really boil it down, that's what most of our childhood traumas and pain mean to us. 

I know I am not alone in feeling like my feelings were not welcome in my house growing up. I was labeled a "crybaby" when I was very young, which is unfortunate because I also grew up in a house that was scary and unpredictable. I had plenty of reasons to feel scared, unsafe, and alone.  This label of "crybaby" followed me into adulthood. It was a family "joke" that I never felt was funny. It hurt a lot. it made me feel like my pain was not something to be shared with the rest of the world, not even my closest family members. So I learned to cut myself off from my own pain. If being a "crybaby" wasn't acceptable, I could see that sucking it up and powering through were acceptable. Talking about your feelings certainly was not. Never.

And so I learned to be the person who handles her own business. The girl who doesn't cry. 

Eventually, when I was an adult and living with my former partner, he would tease me for crying in the bathroom when I got really upset. But it was the only place that felt safe enough for me to cry. It was the one place where another person wouldn't interrupt or judge me. That was 15 years ago now.

Over the last couple of years, I have done a lot of healing. I have cried a lot. Alone and with company. Mostly with my therapist and my partner. My partner has never shamed me for being sad. He has never acted annoyed or put out when I need a hug or just need to cry it out. He doesn't even mind it when I get snot on his shoulder. He loves me fully and completely. And this has allowed me to drop some of the shame and fear of being truly seen and heard. I feel like I belong. Like the world is a safer place for me to be fully human. I can be vulnerable.

I can do things like write this blog post. 

I have been able to be honest and vulnerable with other people in my life, even strangers. I have been able to feel safe and confident enough to develop new friends and relationships. I have been able to see that one of my callings is helping other people heal and connect. I'm not sure what that will look like, but I know I'll figure it out.

Love and compassion are healing. Compassion is necessary for relationships and for community.

The good news is that we can each be a beacon of love and compassion. We can start with ourselves and our closest loved ones. See them with new eyes, curious eyes. We can offer them our attention and open hearts. It's as simple and as difficult as giving our full attention

Mindfulness Diaries: Let go and begin again

You make mistakes. You disappoint yourself. You succumb to temptation. You lose your cool in frustration. You make decisions based on false stories you tell yourself. In so many other ways, you forget to live "your best life".

You're human. It happens.

Daily.

Hourly or even more often, if you're really paying attention.

 Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/3s3JPEXRzUg

Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/3s3JPEXRzUg

Each moment you discover that you are not living or being the way that truly aligns with your highest purpose, your inner Buddha, your goals, whatever way you want to frame it - you have the opportunity of letting go and beginning again. Without judgment or recrimination. Just let it go.

I first heard this life lesson on the meditation cushion, listening to Sharon Salzberg's meditation course on 10% Happier. Good for me Sharon repeats it often in a single sitting and then over multiple days in the course, because I'm resistant to simple wisdom. I want to be special, different, unique. Basically, I don't want to be human. I want to be right.

Maybe about the 15th time I heard it did I think about actually listening and trying it for myself. Every meditation session offers at least 37 opportunities to let go and begin again. Every time you notice that you have been swept up in some daydream or some replay of that annoying thing that happened, you get the chance to let it go and give your breath your restful attention. You don't need to think about why you daydream or how long you were off in monkey mind town, you just let it go and begin again.

It's a real-life do-over, friends!

This do-over option isn't just for the meditation cushion, It's for all time and every time. This isn't an excuse to never hold yourself or others accountable. This isn't a way to deny or repress feelings. It's more like, I realize I am in a feeling or telling myself a story, and I'm going to note that and return to the breath. I'm going to engage in the present moment, whatever that is.

As Sharon says, you really won't improve or grow through tearing yourself down. Compassion and forgiveness lead to healing and growth. And in the case of mindfulness (and everything else), you have to start with yourself. 

You, more than anyone else in the universe, deserve your love and affection. - Buddha

The moment of noticing is the point. We all have our minds wander on the cushion, or get lost in revenge fantasies from time to time. No stopping it by force. We notice, note, and let it go.  Sometimes you will notice it right away, in the first few seconds and sometimes you'll be gone for minutes. Either way, same rules apply: Let go and begin again. With compassion and gentleness.

Let's say it all together: Let go and begin again!

 

 

Love is attention

I read an article in The Atlantic a couple years ago that shared the secret to a happy marriage. I have re-read the article several times since then, which isn't really a normal thing for me. I need to inoculate myself against apathy and to assure myself that it really is as simple as I remember.

So simple and profound is the answer: pay attention. 

We all know it's true. Like proven by science true.

But we don't do it.

What keeps us from paying attention, real attention to our dearest ones? Our worries we are missing out on something better. Our selfishness. Our belief that our thing is so much more important than that other person's thing. Facebook. The game. That big client.

Really, it's bullshit.

We assign importance to things based on some labels and rules imposed on us by systems outside of our control. We are manipulated into believing that every 'like' is a check mark next to our value as a human being. We take for granted that beautiful being sitting next to us. We are blind to the impermanence of everything. 

Everything falls away. Everything ends. Everyone dies. Everyone. You even.

As scary as it is to contemplate impermanence, we must in order to be free of these delusions that there will always be time to catch up with a friend or read that book with our children. But it's more than giving time. We must give our true and whole attention to our beloveds. 

The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers. - Thich Nhat Hanh

My brother died suddenly at the age of 49. I never got to say goodbye to him. This is one of the deepest pains of my life.

In our last exchange, we promised to spend more time together. He had recently quit a job he hated that required him to be out of the country for weeks at a time. I was a working mom with young kids facing separation. We had excuses. We had reasons to postpone the phone call. To wait until Spring to visit.

I never got the chance.

It feels scary to hold all of this together in your mind. But mindfulness meditation can help. It will help. Meditation and mindfulness help us create some space and distance from our thoughts and our perceptions. Space allows for us to see things for what they are. Space allows us to see our children, our partner, our friends for who they are, not the labels we have assigned to them.

Space allows us the time to be present fully in this moment.

Not every moment. But some of them. With more practice, we can stitch more moments together. Eventually, we can be in a mindful state more than we are not. Ok, maybe not all of us. 

So I'm going to put down this laptop and go help my kids get ready for school in the most mindful way possible. Which really means I'll do my best to get through the whole thing without yelling at anyone. 

Baby steps.

Mindfulness Diaries: The Matrix

In the funny way the universe works, the universe told me to watch The Matrix. First I heard one person mention it on a podcast as an example of how mindfulness practice can help us see through delusion. Then someone else mentioned how we all must make the choice between the red pill and the blue pill. The last straw was walking into my living room on Sunday, to see Neo (Keanu Reeves) there on my television in all his expressionless wonder. My partner had decided to watch it, not knowing that The Matrix was on my mind. I'm not even going to speculate how that happened. I didn't then either. I just sat down and folded the laundry while I watched.

 Neo (Keanu Reeves) in his kung-fu inspired Matrix attire that I adore

Neo (Keanu Reeves) in his kung-fu inspired Matrix attire that I adore

The Matrix is a wonderful piece of comic book camp. If you don't think so you probably haven't watched it in a while. The intervening decades have been pretty kind. Stopping bullets with your mind is still pretty cool. Mostly I love Neo's costume - all that fabric flowing slowly as he jumps and swirls around like a dancer. 

But seriously folks....

Faith is a key theme in The Matrix, especially in The Matrix Reloaded (which I watched later the same day). Is Neo the One? Who is the Oracle? Can she be trusted? Will the prophecy come true and Zion will be saved by Neo and friends? Morpheus believes so. Neo believes it eventually. Thousands of people in Zion believe it. Is their faith enough to make it true?

Faith and trust go hand in hand. Both are required for any human cooperative endeavor, especially true of saving the world. Can we trust those who tell us they know our destiny? Are we the makers of our own destiny? Do we really have free will? Is there ever really a choice? Are we victim to our feelings, our patterns?

So many questions!

Maybe we aren't going to be asked to save all of humankind. But we do have the choice whether we save ourselves from The Matrix - from the delusions of our minds and the rantings of our passions. We can save ourselves from the toxic society that tells us all our wildest dreams can come true if only we lose that 15 pounds, get the new car, win the prettiest girl, or scrabbled our way to the top. The Matrix tells us everything we need is outside of us. The Matrix is everything we need. But this is a lie, a program built by people without our best interests at heart, in order to keep us a slave to Capitalism, the Patriarchy, and White Supremacy. Mindfulness can bring us liberation. 

We are the droid we looking for. Wait, wrong Sci fi movie classic. 

What role does faith have in mindfulness? A lot. Faith in yourself to keep going, to keep letting go and beginning again. Faith that this practice is worth all the effort, that we will reach liberation, however fleeting. 

We also have to divest ourselves from The Matrix. It isn't real. The limitations it applies to us based on our gender, race, geography, class, etc. are false. We don't have to believe them. We can stop the metaphorical bullets with our mindfulness. Ok, maybe that one goes a little far. But you get the idea. Our mindfulness will allow us the eyes to see clearly. See our thoughts, our feelings, the reality of our situations, sometimes even the path before us. 

"There's a difference between knowing the path and walking the path."                     - Morpheus

That line right there is the thing from the Matrix that I will carry with me. There's a difference between the intellectual pursuits of mindfulness and the practice of sitting on the cushion and bringing these ideas into life. There's a difference between being aware of the toxins of our society and then doing something about it. There is a difference between understanding the systematic oppression and liberating ourselves and others. 

Walk the path. 

 

 

 

Mindfulness Diary: Sitting is hard

I will start by warning you of the proselytizing that is about to happen. I can't help myself. It's that good.

 Source: https://pixabay.com/en/china-buddha-statues-religion-god-1177009/

Source: https://pixabay.com/en/china-buddha-statues-religion-god-1177009/

 About a year ago I started meditating once a day using the Headspace app. You should go watch this before we go any further. You will love Andy's voice. His soothing voice is probably why I stuck to meditation in the beginning.

 His voice is awesome, right!? My cats agree.

So I did that for a while and then I stopped doing it for a while and then started and then stopped. You know the drill as well as I do, I bet. Habit formation is hard. You really can't will yourself into it, unless you are one of those Obligers who can.

About a month ago, I realized one of the reasons I wasn't consistent was because I didn't have a place that was the meditation zone. I was meditating in the living room or my bed, and often got interrupted by a family member with some urgent whatever. I felt like I was occupying their space and I needed a space of my own. A space just for meditation and contemplation. So I made one. I have a tiny little cabinet that houses some treasures. I threw some orange fabric on it and collected my Buddhas from around the house, made me an altar. I found a sitting cushion/ottoman we had down in the basement. Voila, meditation zone

Having this dedicated space has helped me so much. I wake up. I walk ten steps to my cushion and sit for 10-20 minutes, depending on the day. At the end of the day, I go up to my room, brush my teeth, and sit for 5-10 minutes. Getting to the cushion hasn't been hard. The sitting has been really hard.

Sitting for 10 minutes at a time and not fidgeting is enough of a challenge for me. But to sit and note the breath for more than like 3-5 breaths is almost impossible. I got to 10 breaths this week (I rarely count but that was the task that day), well I didn't know what to do. I didn't want to start over at 1 and erase all my hard work. But the most important work of meditation is letting go

Over and over and over again. 

Letting go with compassion and forgiveness? A herculean task. I know I'm not supposed to be allowing these thoughts to take control and occupy my attention when I sit. So every time that happens, about once every 6 seconds, I have to realize it, let go of the thought with kindness and forgiveness, and go back to mindfulness. I'm getting better at realizing my attention has drifted and getting back to resting my attention somewhere in my body, but the forgiveness and compassion part can get tricky for me. This morning I was using a guided meditation by Sharon Salzberg (thanks 10% Happier app - more about them another day) and she said something that was like a giant searchlight in the darkness of my self-loathing -- paraphrasing here:

You will experience more growth with compassion than condemnation.

Funny thing is, I already know that. Intellectually I understand that part of human behavior change. But applied to the dark circus that goes on inside my head 24/7? Crazy talk. Self-compassion is something my therapist has been working with me on for a year. I'm pretty self-aware most of the time (ok, some of the time). I know when I am being a jerk or jumping to conclusions, etc. I can call myself on it. But forgive myself for it? Not so fast there, Pollyanna. I need to spend at least a few minutes (hours, days) berating myself, just to make sure I understand what a terrible person I am.

Not nice. I know.

So that's why I meditate. To quiet the mean jerk who lives in my head (my roommate, as Michael Singer says in Untethered Soul) who tells me no one likes me and I'm never enough. For at least a few minutes, sometimes only seconds, my spirit gets a rest. And then when I'm out in the world walking around and talking to people, I am more able to pause and reflect before reacting to the situation. Those dark feelings don't have quite as much power over my speech, my thoughts, or my conduct. There's like a 15% greater chance I will react with lovingkindness. That 15% is worth my time sitting. I hear that percentage will grow the longer I practice. 

Who knew sitting and resting was such hard work?

What we pay attention to grows

I read a lovely book over the weekend that you should read right now - Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown. I have so much to explore.  I started a virtual study group to process it with others, see where we go together. I'm drawn to many ideas she shares, but this one - what we pay attention to grows - is one that has been reverberating with me over the last 48 hours. It's Truth.

I see it in my children. If I comment on the annoying behavior, it continues or pops back up an hour later (or less). When I sit with my youngest as he works on his comic book series, he is more likely to keep working at it, even when he gets up before everyone else and works by the light streaming from the window because he can't reach the light switch. If I praise my oldest for persisting through a problem, he persists. 

I see it in myself. When I put energy into taking care of myself I have more energy and motivation to take care of myself. (You can't escape paradox when you get deep.) When I put energy into my relationship with my partner, our communication and ease together grows and makes it possible to have those deeper, sometimes more challenging conversations. When I focus on loving my mom and appreciating her best qualities, well I don't see those other qualities so much. When I put energy into the healthy and healing things in my life, wonderful things come into my life: new friendships, opportunities, peace, and clarity. When I focus on all the things I cannot control or the terrible actions of people in power, I feel helpless and out of control.

What we pay attention to grows.

The Buddha taught that we create our reality with our thoughts. And maybe that's part of what is going on when we see these phenomena in action.  Or as one of my other wisdom teachers, Kurt Vonnegut shared, "We are what we pretend to be, so be careful what you pretend to be." We are the stories we tell ourselves. 

So for today, I am taking this wisdom as a call to bring love, peace, and healing into my life and my work. Starting with myself. We have to be on the interpersonal, micro level what we want to manifest in the macro level. Peace really starts within. Like for real. I know how cliche it sounds. Don't believe me, how about His Holiness the Dalai Lama?

"Peace starts within each one of us. When we have inner peace, we can be at peace with those around us. When our community is in a state of peace, it can share peace with neighboring communities, and so on. When we feel love and kindness towards others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace." - H.H., the Dalai Lama

How can I help to make peaceful and just community when there are discord and unease in my own spirit? In my own home? Focusing on the micro is not an excuse to ignore or abandon our work outside of ourselves, not even a little. But that outside work should not take the place of our much needed inner work. Burn out and apathy are the children of self-neglect and busyness. Make time and space for peace and community. So often folks, mostly white folks, rush into the doing of life. We forget to connect, to share our stories. To be silent. To be alone.

Busyness is the opposite of liberation. There is a lot of work to do to get everybody free. A lot. Infinite amounts of work. Almost. But running away from our human spirit through heartless activity isn't going to get us there.

Sit. Be still. Be present. Feel your breath. Be present in your body.

Pay attention to the breath. Pay attention to the silence between words. Pay attention to the moments of connection and laughter and ease. Pay attention to the yearnings. Feel your feelings. Practice letting go. Listen. 

What we pay attention to grows.

Notice spirit. Notice love.  Notice abundance. Notice healing. Notice connection. Notice ease. Notice silence. Listen. Listen within. Listen to stories. Listen to the wisdom of nature and children and elders. Listen.

42 things I know about life

In honor of my 42nd birthday, I felt compelled to write a list of things I know to be true. Some are silly, some ideas are borrowed from those wiser than me, some are so obvious as to seem ridiculous, and some are just things that sounded good to me today.

  1. There are a lot of wrong ways to live but no right way.
  2. Sometimes it really is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. And more fun.
  3. Nachos are the perfect food for any occasion.
  4. Nobody knows what they are doing. We are all making it up as we go along.
  5. ‘Fake it til you make it’ works.
  6. If you count how many hours of sleep you’ll get, you’re guaranteed to sleep less than that.
  7. Living your life for good stories to tell at parties is not a bad plan.
  8. Fear keeps life small.
  9. People will try to get away with whatever you allow them to.
  10. Manners grease a lot of wheels.
  11. Don’t mess with the Philadelphia Parking Authority. When in doubt, you will get a ticket.
  12. Changing the size or shape of your body will not make you happy.  
  13. Tequila shots are a bad idea. Every time.
  14. If everybody is doing it it’s probably terrible or boring.
  15. You don't need "just one more". You just don't. Except for maybe hugs. Hugs are the exception.
  16. Giving other people the benefit of the doubt costs nothing and can save you a lot of trouble.
  17. Cats ruin furniture, break things, and vomit a lot but they make the cuddliest bed mates.
  18. No one else disappoints you. You allow yourself to be disappointed.
  19. Hurt people, hurt people.
  20. Getting lost is sometimes the best part of the trip.
  21. Walks in the rain are one of the greatest pleasures of life.
  22. Taking notes is a good idea. You won’t remember half of what you think you will.
  23. Kids will tell you all kinds of things if you are quiet long enough.
  24. Surprising the people you love is a wonderful way to make love a verb.
  25. Nobody is a mind reader. We rarely guess right and make all kinds of terrible choices based on these false ideas.
  26. Every relationship is its own beautiful struggle.
  27. Vulnerability is an act of courage. 
  28. Thoughts create reality.
  29. Liberation is taken. It’s never given.
  30. People spend a lot of time thinking about what they don't want to happen.
  31. The sea holds magical healing properties.
  32. People are good and want to help. They often don’t know how.
  33. Accidental naps are the best kind of sleep.
  34. Bringing someone their coffee just how they like it is a sign of true love.
  35. Politicians will always disappoint. People who go into politics have egos to serve. This doesn't make them bad. It makes them human.
  36. If you want someone else to change, start with yourself.
  37. An apology should never contain ‘but…’
  38. The news is harmful. Its purpose is to keep us afraid.
  39. ‘I don’t know’ are 3 very important words we don't use enough.
  40. The more embarrassing the experience, the longer you have to wait for it to be a good story for parties. 
  41. Small talk is boring. 
  42. Lists are fun to make although a pointless exercise.