Monday, May 14, 2018

Mindfulness in action

Something was off.

At first I thought that perhaps my body was just tired from 4:15 am wake up calls and long days at work, but deep down I knew it was more than that. It was how I was living those days. My life had become one long “to do” list of classes to teach, appointments to keep and tasks to be checked off,  and even though I love my job and family very much I often felt depressed and resentful. I wanted so much more than just making it through the day.  I wanted to be present.  I wanted to be creative; to evolve and to flow.  I wanted have intelligent conversation with my clients and family, enjoying their presence.  I wanted smile lines on my cheeks instead of worry lines on my forehead. I wanted to peacefully gift my time, and to let go of thinking that my life was a burden to bear.

They say that when the student is ready the teacher will appear.  For me, that teacher was Josh.  I met Josh when I attended my first meeting on Meditation:  Practicing Mindfulness in Action.  Everyone stood with prayer hands when Josh entered the room, but he was unassuming- with a crooked smile and messy hair.  Reading the lesson, he would often burst into a goofy chuckle, reminding me of those laughing Buddha statues that you might see for sale in a Chinese restaurant.  Maybe it’s because Josh talks like a surfer, or because he’s a second grade teacher, but I found him easy to listen to, and liked what he was teaching right away.

I have been “dabbling” on and off with mediation for about 2 years now, even spending big bucks to take a course on transcendental meditation, but nothing ever seemed to really stick.  This day was different.   Josh introduced us to The New Meditation Handbook by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.  This book contains 21 Buddhist meditation practices to control our mind, and is based on the teachings of Kadampa Buddhism.  Kadampa Buddhists are encouraged to use Buddha’s teachings as practical methods for transforming daily activities into the path to enlightenment, and the method is simple.  Each of the 21 meditation practices has 5 parts; preparation, contemplation, meditation, dedication and practice.  You read a new meditation every day, prepare your mind with a prayer, think about the meditation, spend time in silence concentrating on your breath, and then with a dedicated intention put that Dharma- or teaching- into practice. I instantly knew what was missing in my life.  I was living without intention.  I took the book home with a vow to meditate and set an intention for each day, starting with the first one- to understand how precious our human life is.

That day, I concentrated on making each interaction meaningful.  When teaching classes at the gym, I stepped out of my own way, and began to really see the people I was helping.  In meetings, I leaned in a little closer to make sure that I was listening to speaker, and when my thoughts wandered to that “to do” list, I reigned myself back in.  At home, instead of being upset with the dogs for barking too loudly, I remembered that they do not have the gift of communicating, and being animals they must certainly live in fear for most of their lives.  My run that evening was less fretful as I concentrated on how awesome it is to be able to move through space on two legs, and instead of being upset that I “had to make dinner,” I felt grateful to have food to nourish this body that I get to live in. 

What if for just one day we could remember that our actions have a ripple effect?  What if we cherished the grocery store clerk as much as we cherish ourselves?  What if we acknowledged the kindness of the lady who gave our gnarly feet a pedicure, or chose to love each and every person as though they were our mom?

Bodhichitta is the “enlightenment mind.”  It’s the mind that strives toward awakening, empathy and compassion for the benefit of all sentient beings. Gyatso describes it as “precious,” and that rocks me to my soul.  It takes practice (perhaps many lives worth) to get there, but we can start by setting intentions that make our own lives meaningful way beyond just “getting things done.” 
We will die.  Our precious human lives are slipping away.  We can continue to muddle through the suffering laden cycle of Samsara, or walk the path to peace.

May my intentions turn the wheel of dharma, and be of benefit.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Next Big Thing

“And since the 1960’s, many of these women grew up with the message, ‘You can accomplish anything.’ This all adds up to a restless craving to realize their potential.” ~ Marcia Reynolds Psy.D 

Carrying this human body, with its big old brain and raging hormones can be maddening sometimes.  One day, I'm flying high on cloud 9, in love with everyone and everything; and the next I am sickened by society and self, questioning my existence.  I often wonder if this is “normal,” but it seems that when I write or post on Facebook about how I’m feeling, someone always seems to get it- so I suppose it is. 

Lately, I feel as if I am never doing enough.  When I was training for races and working all the time that was “enough”.  It’s funny how now that I have created space for reading, writing and free time, my ego doesn’t know what the hell to do.  I even thought that perhaps I was having a mid-life crisis of some sort.  Searching for answers, I found the article “What a Female Mid Life Crisis Looks Like” by Marcia Reynolds who describes it not as a mid-life crisis, but as a “mid-life quest for identity.”   She believes that for women, “it’s not about recovering lost youth, but about discovering the next application of their greatness.”  This makes sense to me, for I am always in search of “the next great thing to master,” whether it be writing, or taking a class, or getting a new certification.  There is a constant need to prove myself. 

Dr. Reynolds suggests that we ask ourselves the following questions:
-What do I feel I should have done by this time in my life? 
-Is there something more important and fulfilling that I can focus on now?
-What do I want more of in life?  What have I imprisoned that is crying to be free?
-How can I ensure my commitment to living a significant life?

I found in asking myself these questions, I was able to understand that my ego is doing all of the talking for me, and that I’ve been searching for worth outside of myself.  I also know deep down that in my current job, I have been caught up on my “to do” lists, and not focusing on others with the true intention of supporting them with love. 

 We are not our identity, for our stories can change in an instant.  Through mindfulness we can discover a new thought, person or soul in each and every moment of our lives.  The "next great thing" is happening right now.  Go and get it.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Peace, Gratitude, and Tight Hamstrings

As I settle onto the yoga mat in child’s pose, my back aches and my knee revolts.  “Just breathe,” I tell myself, noticeably pissed at my body.  I pull up into down dog and my calves are tight, and through each sun salutation I find myself growing angrier and angrier as I discover new aches and pains.

And then, through grace, I begin to laugh. 
“This is ridiculous,” I think to myself.  “You’re here to feel better and get stronger, not to beat the shit out of yourself with every pose. Either be grateful, or have compassion.”

As I moved through each pose I became more intentional with my thoughts. When I felt tightness, or pain, or if I was unable to complete the pose; my mantra became “find compassion.”  If I felt strong and capable in a pose; my thoughts were “be grateful.”  Acceptance overtook frustration, and I was able to flow through the practice calmly. 

I think sometimes life is like that, we feel anger or frustration and we tense up and make it worse.  Perhaps we yell or scream. Maybe we want to fight or run away.  What if we were to look at the situation with compassion, and stretch our way gently through it?    

It’s time for me to get back on the mat.  I’m pretty convinced this is the only way that my mind and body will be able to shake hands in a truce, and for my soul to rediscover peace. 

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Sexy Project

"Intelligence is the ultimate aphrodisiac." ~unknown

18 months.
Apparently that’s the turning point in the relationship when the texts go from “Hi beautiful.  Sushi date tonight -just me and you?” to “Kid #3 is throwing up,  and by the way I have to catch an earlier flight this evening, so good luck with that.” 

This conversation plays on like a broken record in my memory, and I believe the cause of my divorce was that we truly let ourselves lose that loving feeling to work, kids and all things mundane.  
How is it that we go from “There’s my beautiful bride” to “You left your socks on the floor again,” in a few short years, forgetting that at one time he was the one that gave you butterflies?

One day last week I was going to text my love about all my woes- all the shit I had formulated that was going on that day, but I realized that I hadn’t heard from him in a while, and that he probably was working his ass off too. Instead I texted, “Miss you handsome, can’t wait to see you tonight.”

I call it- The Sexy Project. 
Because here’s the thing, how sexy is it if I complain all the time?  How alluring am I if I just rant about that trash that no one took out?  
You have to admit, it's pretty hard to switch our brains from “the toilet is clogged” to “I want to be naked with you.”

So I’ve developed a 50/50 rule.  50% of the time that I want to text something negative or mundane, I will evaluate its truth or worthiness and try to send a complement instead.
Because I love him, and if we stroke each other’s ego a little bit…
well, you know. ;)   
It's worth a shot.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Pura Vida! What I learned from the Ticos on Living a Joyful Life

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach eagerly without fear for newer and richer experiences.”  ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

A bright orange sun rises at 5:30 am, but instead of being annoyed, the sweet siren call of rolling waves and Magpie Jays gently nudge me out of bed.  (The promise of strong local coffee and sweet, tropical fruit for breakfast doesn’t hurt).  Costa Rica feels like heaven, and I don’t want to go home. 

Returning from a vacation and getting back to the grind can be tough, but this time I am making the mindful decision to take what I’ve learned from the Ticos and apply it to my everyday life here in the states.  Here’s what the locals taught me:

1.       Enjoy.  In restaurants, in the market, from our tour guides; the consistent advice was to enjoy.  As amazing as everything was, I found this hard to do at first.  I found myself feeling guilty for not attending to work or to the kids.  It took a full day of encouragement from the locals, but soon I was able to breathe and truly see, hear, taste and smell this gifted experience. 

2.       Lose Your Ego.   During my whole stay in Costa Rica, my hair was windblown and messy, and not once did I pull out the straightener. I was way too busy trying to stand on the paddleboard to worry about what I looked like in a swimsuit, and sunscreen replaced makeup so we could play in the sun all day.  While searching for sea life on a shoreline hike it occurred to me the world is so much bigger than I am.  Costa Ricans know this; their world is casual and carefree.  Their body is just a vessel so they can live life to its fullest potential.

3.       Pay Attention.  Anne Lamott wrote “There is ecstasy in paying attention.”  This is certainly true in Costa Rica. From the howler monkeys in the trees to the spotted stingrays in the ocean this world is pregnant with wonder, but you must take the time to explore it.   

4.       Be Kind.  Costa Rica is a welcoming country.  Instead of saying “you’re welcome” the fervent reply is always “con mucho gusto” which translates as “my pleasure.”  What if we acted because it was our pleasure to help people instead of our duty? 

5.       Breathe.  Stop. Be still. Just be. 
Ticos take in these moments daily, and live a fearless life. 

On the day after I returned to the states I attended not one, but two funerals. 
Life is short.
Pura Vida baby……. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

It is what it is

Acceptance doesn't mean resignation; it means understanding that something is what it is and that there's got to be a way through it."
Michael J Fox

She is stunning.
Curly brown hair coils perfectly on her shoulders, her makeup meticulous.  Tall and lean, she walks with an air of confidence; yet she doesn’t know how beautiful she is because she is partially blind. 
Born with a genetic vision disorder, Cathy’s eyes started failing her at age 21.  Now at age 53, she speaks rather matter of factly about her disease.  “Yeah, I quit driving about 22 years ago when I was involved in a car accident that I knew it was due to my vision.  It was tough, but it is what it is.”

Funny- I’ve been telling myself those same words a lot lately.  (It is what it is.)
Things didn’t go as I expected at today’s work meeting.  (It is what it is.) 
My teenagers don’t really want to hang out with me anymore.   (It is what it is.)
Greg travels a lot for work.  (It is what it is.)
It's damn cold out.  (It is what it is).
The pork chops I made taste like shoe leather.  (It is what it is)
The alpha dog always steels the bone despite the grumblings of his brother.  (It is what it is.)

And guess what?  When we let go of expectations- life becomes easier!
It's pretty much like saying "fuck it," because whether we like it or not, control is an illusion.

As I discuss my current knee surgery with Cathy and how I haven’t run in a while, she laughs.
“Yeah- I used to like to run, but now I have to run on a track or treadmill, because I fall a lot.  Once I even ran into a hurdle at the middle school because I couldn’t see it!  How funny I must have looked to the outside world!”
And I am humbled. 

George Orwell said “happiness can only exist in acceptance.”  
My friend Cathy has figured this out. When we stop struggling, we float. 

What a beautiful light my new friend is.  It may be dark- but she can see.  

Friday, January 5, 2018

You are Responsible For Your Own Happiness

 “On a deeper level you are already complete.  When you realize that, there is a playful, joyous energy behind what you do.”  Eckhart Tolle

Woe is me. 
Between my knee surgery and a nasty sinus infection that followed I’ve been stuck in bed way more than I ever care to be, and because Greg has been gone for work all week I’m feeling lonely.  My first instinct is to be pissed, both at Greg for missing his flight home and at my knee for no rational reason at all, but I know deep down that I am just playing the victim.  

Marianne Williams tells us in A Return to Love that “the ego argues that the love we need must come from someone or something else, and that there is someone or something out there that can fill that hole.  The reason that anger is so often aroused in our closest relationships is because we are projecting on to someone else the rage we feel against ourselves for cutting off our own love. The pain we feel is actually our own denial of love.”

So tonight I decided instead to take ownership of my own happiness as I am today.  I shopped a little, had a nutritious dinner and took a warm bath.  I’ll write and meditate and read a bit before getting a good night’s sleep.  There may or may not be chocolate and wine. I’ll remember that this feeling of loneliness and sadness is only temporary, and that tomorrow is a new day.  I'll say thank you.  

Feeling depressed, unsure or lonely?  Step away from blaming your past, your relationships, or your job and take the bull by the horns.  Call your friend, punch the shit out of a boxing bag, read trashy novels, or watch Eddie Murphy movies until you pee your pants.  Whatever makes you happy, find that thing and do it. 
You are whole as you are.  Shed the ego and love yourself.