Under Deconstruction

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I’ve been feeling blue for the past few weeks. Going through yet another big shift in my life—working with a body worker to heal severe chronic neck and upper back pain that was caused by a sexual trauma 15 years ago. 

And while the physical pain has significantly subsided since I started this work—my emotional pain has skyrocketed.

The correlation is no coincidence, I’m sure.

Up until this evening, every time I’ve sat down to blog about this journey, I’ve felt blocked—an endless parade of stops and starts. Beginnings with no clear endings. Start overs.

Delete.

Repeat.

And then earlier tonight, I finally found enough clarity to finish the entire post. I felt sufficiently “good” about what I’d written, and I was ready to hit “publish.” But when I clicked “save draft,” WordPress decided to do just the opposite. The post evaporated into cyber space.

And I was left with nothing.

Of course, part of me wants to stay up all night to try and painstakingly reproduce every word. But the other part of me is telling me it’s all quite poetic, given the current state of things. This part is also telling me the compassionate thing to do for myself is to allow myself to feel the frustration/anger/sadness and then to let it go. And go to bed.

So, that’s what I’m going to do.

As is the nature of everything, I know that whatever emotional pain I’m experiencing (on all levels) will change. I don’t have “this too shall pass” tattooed on my wrist for nothing. ;)  I’m also blessed to have the world’s most compassionate and nurturing partner by my side to comfort me during this ride (seriously, she’s THE. BEST).

And I’m sure when I get back from my upcoming 7-day silent meditation retreat later this month, I’ll have loads to share. In the meantime—if the theme of pain resonates in any way, you might be interested in checking out what I wrote about my last silent meditation retreat

Onward and upward (and inward)….

BE Well,

jennifer

A Bug’s Life

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As a secular mindfulness student at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC), I often attend their Tuesday evening “community practice” facilitated by MARC’s Director of Mindfulness Education, Diana Winston. The gatherings consist of 30 minutes of group meditation, and then Diana gives a short talk and facilitates a discussion about the week’s topic. It’s a relaxing and accepting atmosphere, and I always leave feeling rejuvenated and connected with both myself—and the like-minded souls in our community.

Last week, Diana began a series on “The Five Mindfulness Ethical Trainings” or “The METs” as she calls them—and she prefaced the talk by saying the trainings are based on the five Buddhist Precepts that have been adapted in a secular context. She also made it clear that her intention for sharing these trainings was not to say that we need to follow them—but to suggest we contemplate them and see where our individual edges lie for each.

The Five Mindfulness Ethical Trainings (METs) are:

1. Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, I undertake the commitment to protect life.

2. Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, I undertake the commitment to only take what is offered to me. 

3. Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, I undertake the commitment to protect relationships and be wise with my sexuality.

4. Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, I undertake the commitment to speak wisely.

5. Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, I undertake the commitment to protect the clarity of my mind by being wise in what I consume and how I use intoxicants. 

Diana’s first talk focussed on MET #1: Protecting Life. And I found the topic serendipitous because just the night before, I’d gone to great lengths to safely capture and release a behemoth house fly that’d been buzzing around my face while I was cooking dinner that evening. But prior to sitting there listening to Diana’s talk, I hadn’t given the fact that I didn’t just automatically swat the fly much thought. Despite feeling severely annoyed by its’ presence, it just never occurred to me to try and kill it. Instead, I remember my mind reeling for ways to quickly catch and escort it safely outside before the cat got to it first—which, btw, I miraculously managed to do via a nearby mason jar.

Further contemplating the topic, I’ve also noticed that I take definite care not to step on bugs when I spot them these days (both inside and outside the house). I even let spiders “just be.” But this hasn’t always been the case. Before my mindfulness practice, I had little to no respect for insects. I never thought twice about swatting, stepping on or smooshing them when I saw one. It’s just what I did.

But as my practice has deepened over the years, my reactivity to bugs has lessened. I don’t automatically squeel or jump when I see one anymore, nor do I automatically reach out to slap ‘em with the nearest shoe. Within the spaciousness of nonreactivity, I’ve been able to observe bugs as they are—tiny little creatures who are just trying to get by doing what they do. But despite the compassion I’ve come to show bugs, I still eat meat. And, under certain circumstances, I also believe in abortion and euthanasia—so there’s that, too…

So, where does this leave my relationship with MET #1? I guess, for me, “preserving life” isn’t such a black and white issue… And, as I’m finding with most things these days—finding a middle way seems to be the answer (it’s not always easy, though).

This week, join me in contemplating MET #1. What are your thoughts on undertaking the commitment to preserving life?

Finding Faith In-Between

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I recently finished reading a memoir that struck a pretty big chord. It’s about an early 40-something year old woman who’s filled with questions about life and is searching for a sense of faith amidst them all. Perhaps you can relate to this, too?

The memoir I’m referring to is titled, Devotion, and it’s written by Dani Shapiro. Here’s a particularly resonant paragraph:

“My various rituals—the yoga, meditation, thinking, reading, Torah study—these were disciplines. They had become, to some degree, habit. But it was in the space around these rituals that Faith resided. It was in the emptiness, the pause between actions, the stillness when one thing was finished but the next had not yet begun. Paradoxically, this is where effort came in, because it was so hard to be empty. To pause. To be still—not leaning forward, not falling back. Steady in the present—not even waiting. Just being. Could I just drive the car? Just cook dinner? Just walk the dogs in the front meadow and take in the rustling trees, the chirping critters in the distance? Why was it so difficult? So scary? Why does something that should be effortless require so much effort?”

That last line really sums it up for me… And it might seem like an oxymoron, but doing nothing is one of the hardest things for me to “do.” The pauses between actions often seem interminable. Relaxing in the lulls—a gargantuan feat. My mind always wants me to be doing doing doing. And it’s exhausting.

Contemplating this, I can see how it’s hard for me to trust that things are going to work out the way I intend them to work out without constantly doing something to try and ensure that they do. But I’ve come to realize that there’s no real way I can ensure every outcome of my efforts—no matter how much I do to try (which is related to the post I wrote last month about “stirring the pot“). And I’m guessing this is where “faith” comes in…

Because learning how to relax in the lulls involves having faith that things will unfold the way I intend—and (more importantly) it also means having faith in myself that I’ll be able to handle it if (or when) they don’t.

Tranquility du Jour!

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I recently had the pleasure of being a guest on Kimberly Wilson’s “Tranquility du Jour” podcast, where we chatted about mindfulness, meditation, retreat experiences—and of course, tranquility! Click on the image above for a link to the podcast online. Enjoy! :)

The Courage to be Gentle

Armor

I was flipping through some old “draft” blog entries I’d written a few months ago that I half-wrote and never published—just keeping them for a day like today when I didn’t feel like starting a new blog post from scratch… And I came across an entry I’d saved back in March entitled “The Courage to be Gentle” that contained the poem below. I have absolutely no idea who wrote the poem (I’m fairly certain it wasn’t me)—but I think it’s beautiful, so I’m sharing it here with you today.

THE COURAGE TO BE GENTLE

It takes a lot of courage to be gentle in the face of things I find challenging…

Embarrassing…

Humiliating…

I want to harden

When I’ve made a mistake…

All I want to do is ROAR…

It takes a lot of courage to be gentle.

To admit my shortcomings.

Now I soften.

I can certainly identify with wanting to harden when life feels difficult, or when I’ve made a mistake or feel embarrassed in some way…. My body automatically tenses in these situations—and so do my emotions.

Hardening feels like my body’s way of creating a protective shell—or armor, if you will. And, I can see how, in some circumstances, it can be beneficial (setting boundaries to protect myself from toxic people, for instance). But, for the most part, I’ve come to understand that hardening in order to protect my ego from getting hurt just cuts me off from receiving the love and acceptance I usually need (from both myself and others) in order to truly learn and/or heal from the situation.

Softening, instead of hardening, might feel counterintuitive (and uncomfortable) when our egos get bruised. But doing so is an act of courage that just might benefit both ourselves—and those around us—in the long run.

(Re)defining Success

Success

I mentioned a few weeks ago how things seem to be flowing for me these days. It feels like I’m heading in a positive direction with my mindfulness efforts, and I’m doing my best to be as present and grateful for what’s unfolding as I can without allowing myself to get too attached to any future outcome.

But this hasn’t been easy.

I’ve been witnessing my mind getting swept up in—and wanting to attach to—the “successes” that I’ve been experiencing.

Case in point—when I ran my free ebook promotion on Amazon earlier this month, I assumed I would give away a few hundred ebooks, and that would be that. But then, quite unexpectedly, the ebook started flying off the virtual shelves. And, sure—this is thrilling news. It’s perfectly “normal” to be excited when something you’ve put a great deal of energy into does well. But, this “excitement” felt different…. Almost immediately, I watched my mind diverting away from my initial intention of casually being engaged in monitoring the promotion—to reactively (and compulsively) obsessing over how many thousands of books I could giveaway before the promo ended.

And it didn’t stop there… When I saw that I’d entered Amazon’s Top 100 free ebooks list, I started obsessing over getting to #1 in my book’s category. And then, once I reached #1—I started obsessing about staying there.

Hour-by-hour (and sometimes minute-by-minute), I watched myself hitting the refresh button on my browser while I held my breath and waited to see how many more books I’d given away—and if my book’s ranking was holding at #1. My body felt anxious, excited, speedy. My mind and heart racing…. Thinking about it now as I write this, I see the image of a woman perched on the edge of her seat, compulsively feeding quarters into a slot machine in Vegas—and holding her breath as she waits to see if she’s hit the jackpot. This image, of course, was me during the promo. I was, essentially, riding an adrenaline rush—driven by my ambition to hit the jackpot of “success.”

But as exciting as it all felt, getting so caught up in trying to achieve—and maintain—”success” felt unhealthy (and downright icky). It took a good solid day before I was able to fully step back and see how entangled I’d become in the whole game.

And that’s when I recognized that I’d lost track of why it was so exciting that I was giving away so many books…. I’d been so busy tying my feelings of self-worth to the promotion’s “success”—that I’d lost touch with the whole reason I decided to do the promo in the first place: to share something of value with others.

On a related note…

Shortly after the promo ended, I happened to catch the documentary, “Decoding Deepak” on netflix, and I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself. If you haven’t seen the flick, Deepak Chopra’s son follows Deepak around with a video camera as he flies around the world promoting his new book.

And guess what happens?….

(SPOILER ALERT) Deepak spends most of the movie obsessively checking his blackberry and talking about being on The New York Times Best Sellers List.

Ah, “success….”

Spreading the Words

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As I mentioned, last week, it’s been a fun (and productive) few weeks. I’ll be writing more about what I’ve learned from a mindfulness perspective in posts to come here on this blog—I’m sure. But today, I’m pleased to be sharing a couple of posts of mine that were recently published on other blogs:

The Huffington Post, “20 Tips to Help You Survive Your First Silent Meditation Retreat”

Elephant Journal, “The Moment I Chose Mindfulness”

Happy reading—and please help pass these posts along to other folks who might be interested!

Thanks so much and BE well….

jennifer

Stirring the Pot

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It’s been an interesting couple of weeks since I finished my mindful eating exploration. I’m more conscious of the foods I’m consuming now (and where they’re coming from)—I’ve even eliminated a few from my diet altogether (like white rice and red meat). And, I’m not sure if this is a direct correlation to my having just cleansed my body or not—but I’m feeling more focussed and aligned with my purpose than I think I ever have….

In the past week, I’ve managed to give away more than 3,200 free The Mindfulness Diaries: How I Survived My First Nine-Day Silent Meditation Retreat ebooks; the ebook made Amazon’s top 100 free ebooks list and landed #1 on both the free Memoir and the free Meditation ebooks list; I found out that two major internet publications will be publishing my writing about mindfulness (one actually just ran here); and I’ve started facilitating.

I’ve been contemplating everything that’s been happening lately—and as much as my ego would love to believe “I” was the “one” who MADE all these things happen, there’s a deeper part of me that knows it wasn’t about me somehow willing these results into existence. A constellation of circumstances, people, and occurrences contributed to all the positive outcomes mentioned above. And sure, I can take credit for bringing the elements together, but each element played its own significant part in the process—and the outcomes were never in my control.

In keeping within the recent food-related themes I’ve been writing about lately, it feels like I’m in the midst of “cooking” something new in my life—the circumstances, people and occurrences I mentioned above, acting like ingredients in a new recipe of sorts.

And contemplating this, it occurs to me that a cook doesn’t actually make the food she cooks. She collects all the elements needed to make a dish—the pots/pans, the individual ingredients, the stove, the utensils, the seasoning; she places them together in an orchestrated and (at least somewhat) deliberate dance—and then she steps back to let the magic happen. The chemical reactions that occur during the process of cooking actually create the dish. They’re a direct result of the cook’s actions to set them up. But the cook doesn’t actually make the chemical reactions happen by willing them to react.

When I cook a new dish, I tend to read a bunch of different recipes and then put the cookbooks away—borrowing what speaks to me from each separate recipe, maybe adding a few of my own touches into the mix—and then stepping aside and letting the magic happen. As long as I’m mindful about the process, adjusting the heat and adding a dash of this or a pinch of that as needed—I usually end up with something satisfying. And what’s happening in my life right now feels like a similar process.

One of the beautiful things about mindfulness, beyond helping me become more focussed, is that it’s helping me build an overall appreciation for (and feeling of satisfaction from) the process of life—and my place within that process. So, right now, I’m just doing my best to only add the ingredients that I’m clear I want in my life, to keep a watchful eye on everything—and then to step aside and let the magic happen.

And so far, it’s looking like the recipe I’m in the midst of concocting is going to churn out a satisfying meal (or at least a tasty side dish). But, even if it doesn’t—that’s ok, too. My life feels like a grand experiment these days. And I’m finally accepting that not everything I “cook” is going to be Michelin star worthy. Sometimes it might even end up being a recipe for disaster…But I’m cool with that—because there’s always something to be learned along the way (especially from the disasters).

I’m not exactly sure how this new “dish” of mine is going to turn out just yet. But I can tell you this much—something smells good….

Food for Thought

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A few weeks ago, I mentioned I was starting an elimination diet to help me get some clarity about how my body reacts to certain foods—and to give myself the opportunity to be more mindful about eating, in general.

The elimination diet has proven elucidating. I still have a few foods left on the list to test. But here’s where I’ve landed thus far:

White rice causes body anxiety almost immediately after eating it. I even tested this on two separate occasions to be sure. And, Yup. Me and white rice don’t seem to be compatible. (MERP)

Brown rice seems ok, though… (YAY)

And, although dairy doesn’t cause stomach pain or anxiety, it definitely seems to effect my sinuses. Within hours of re-introducing it into my diet, I started experiencing minor post nasal drip and sinus cavity pressure/headaches. During my fast/juice cleanse, I experienced zero sinus issues—which was unusual for me (I’ve always had chronic sinus inflammation that neither I nor any doctor was ever able to diagnose). I’m not sure if I’m willing to give up dairy completely….But now that I’m clear that it’s the cause of my sinus symptoms, I’m definitely going to start cutting significantly back.

I also discovered corn doesn’t seem to be one of my best friends, either. While I can’t say I had pain when I ate it—my stomach didn’t quite feel “right” afterward (lasting for two days)…

As for meat, I’ve never been much of a red meat eater (I’ve always noticed stomach pain after eating it in the past). But I do love fish. And chicken and pork are also foods that I typically eat once and a while. Since fish and chicken have both been tested and seem to be in the “OK” column, I’m going to continue eating them for now (pork has yet to be tested). It’s possible that I might end up eliminating meat from my diet altogether at some point—but I’m still contemplating this.

Another thing I noted during this whole mindful eating experiment is how, prior to taking an intentional look at the food I’ve been eating, I spent zero time thinking about where the food came from—and if it came from an animal, if that animal had been ethically raised (including whether or not it was “humanely” slaughtered). I just ate what was available and wasn’t mindful about anything except the price.

Chatting with one of my mindfulness mentors about all this, she suggested I consider investigating sustainably farmed food. I didn’t even know what this term meant before this whole experience (sure, I’d heard of it—but I never bothered to actually look into what it entailed).

So, I made some time to sit down and do some research. I’m still going through all this info and am doing my best to educate myself (there’s a lot of info out there—and it’s not as black and white as one would hope). But, from what I can currently assess, eating organic, sustainably farmed food whenever possible seems to align with who I know myself to be—and how I want to show up in the world.

Maybe it appeals to you, too?….

Here are some resources to help you decide for yourself:

Sustainable Food Resources:

Farmer’s Markets Locator:

CSA Locator (Community Supported Agriculture):