I Want! | I Don’t Want!

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They say finding a new home is one of life’s top stressors.

They’re right.

My partner, Kate, and I were recently told we need to move (our landlady’s selling the house we’ve been renting). And, the moment I heard the news, my mind started grappling with trying to find some semblance of solid ground. My immediate reaction was, “but I don’t want to move!…” And then all the reasons why came rushing into the courtroom of my mind—building the case for why we should stay…

YOUR HONOR, KATE AND JENNIFER HAVE LIVED IN THAT HOUSE FOR OVER TWO YEARS—HAVING ONLY RECENTLY TRAINED THEMSELVES TO TUNE-OUT THE NEIGHBORS’ BARKING DOGS AT ALL HOURS OF THE DAY AND NIGHT. THEIR POWERS OF SONIC SOMNAMBULANCE TOOK YEARS TO HONE… SO, I ASK YOU, IS THEIR BEING TOLD THEY NEED TO MOVE FAIR?….

I THINK NOT!

SECONDLY—KATE, WITH HER GIFTED GREEN THUMB AND HIPSTER-LEVEL APTITUDE FOR CRAFTINESS, BUILT AN ORGANIC VEGETABLE BED OUT OF DRIFTWOOD AND HOMEMADE SOIL. YES, YOUR HONOR, SHE. MADE. THE. SOIL. OUR FAMILY HAS PERSONALLY ROTTED TRUCKLOADS OF TABLE SCRAPS TO FEED THOSE BEDS OF BUDDING VEGGIES, AND WE NOW HAVE A LIFETIME’S SUPPLY OF RAINBOW CHARD AND BROCCOLI LEAVES (THE NEW KALE!) TO PROVE IT. OR SHOULD I SAY HAD A LIFETIME’S SUPPLY… UPON MOVING, THE POOR, DEFENSELESS PLANTS WILL BE RELEGATED TO PLAYING INNOCENT VICTIMS IN THAT BUTCHER-WITH-A-WEED-WHACKER—THE “GARDNER’S”—SICK AND TWISTED GAME OF DECIMATING ALL THAT IS ALIVE IN OUR BACKYARD. THE PLANTS WILL BE MURDERED, YOUR HONOR. DO YOU WANT THAT ON YOUR HANDS?!…

THIRDLY—DO YOU KNOW WHAT A HASSLE IT IS TRYING TO FIND A NEW PLACE TO LIVE?!… POURING OBSESSIVELY THROUGH ADS ON CRAIGSLIST, FINDING THE TIME TO GO VISIT THEM (IF THEY ACTUALLY EXIST AND AREN’T SPAM SCAMS…), AND THEN CONSTANTLY BEING DISAPPOINTED BY HOW THE PLACES DON’T LOOK ANYTHING LIKE THEIR PICTURE IN THE ADS—AND THAT THEY SMELL LIKE A NOXIOUS MIX OF CHLORINE AND TROPICAL AIR FRESHENER. IT’S LIKE INTERNET DATING. AND WE ALL KNOW INTERNET DATING SUCKS.   

I REST MY CASE.

OK… So that voice dominated my headspace for more than a few days… I saw it ever-presently lurking in the dark recesses of my mind, poised to hijack my rational thoughts at any chance it got. And, watching all of this happening was the most frustrating part… Intellectually, I knew I was causing all the angst by not accepting the situation. I also knew the only way to put a halt to this maniacal mindset meant rigorously redirecting my focus. So, I gently—but firmly—called myself out…

You’ve been doing this mindfulness thing long enough to know that nothing is permanent… Nothing. Everything changes. Your denial and attempt to push away that fact is what’s causing you so much turmoil…. But, no matter how much you wish it were different, not accepting the situation isn’t going to change the reality of it… The house needs to be sold. It’s not convenient. It’s not what you want. But it’s what’s happening. At least you’re not being pressured to move right away—the landlady said you could take your time… Sure, you’re going to miss the house. And, you don’t want things to change. But change happens. Let go of your attachment. It’s time to shift your attitude, accept your circumstances, and move on… 

A serious dose of tough self-love goes a long way with me… And, as soon as I was able to shift into acceptance, my aversion started to melt away. Of course, that’s when the sadness set in…

I spent the next few days mourning the loss of the house—and my attachment to it… As my focus shifted away from reveling in righteous aversion, it created the space for me to savor the things I’d miss about not living there anymore, instead: waking up to the sound of singing birds every morning; watching the giant banana tree’s limbering, green fronds waving to me outside the dining room window; trudging through the blanket of Jacaranda tree flowers in the front yard—like purple-candy-colored snow.

And, yes…

Even the neighbor’s damn dogs.

Knowing I only had so much time left to enjoy the house, I found myself feeling much more grateful for it. And then, something else deep within me shifted—I actually started feeling excited about living somewhere else…

Maybe we could find a house with a space big enough to host classes and workshops… I’d love to not have to deal with lugging groceries up a flight of stairs every week after I go grocery shopping… It’d be so nice to be able to walk to more coffee shops during the day—to feel a little less isolated… Maybe we could even find a place that’s cheaper and start saving some money…

This new way of looking at the situation alleviated the sense of loss—replacing it with hope and possibility. But, after week after week of visiting potential new homes…We just weren’t finding a good fit. And, we were starting to run ragged—feeling exhausted, discouraged, and stressed. The situation didn’t feel sustainable. Another shift needed to take place…

OK, Let’s take a breath here. Slow this process down… We have plenty of time—our landlady said we didn’t have to rush to find a new place. Why are we pushing so hard to find one?… Let’s stop all this running around and give ourselves the time and space to find the home that feels right. 

It was around this point when, in an attempt to help us find a new home, our landlady mentioned how another house she owned (and had been renting out through AirBnB) might be an option for us… It was “tiny,” but it had the same number of bedrooms and wasn’t far from where we currently resided.

Kate and I discussed the option… The thought of downsizing appealed to us—dedicating ourselves to more conscious minimalism as a family. And saving some money on monthly rent would be nice… The tiny house even had a small, finished garage that could be used as an office/class space…

We pretty much got attached to the idea right away—and we resolved to move ahead. But then our landlady changed her mind and decided she didn’t want to rent the tiny house longterm, after all.

So, here I found myself, once again…

Back in the throes of attachment—and in a refusal to accept the reality of my situation.

GOD DAMMIT! WHY DID SHE OFFER TO RENT THE HOUSE TO US IF SHE WASN’T SERIOUS?! THIS WOULD’VE BEEN THE PERFECT OPPORTUNITY TO DOWNSIZE, SAVE MONEY EACH MONTH, AND HAVE A SEPARATE WORKSPACE TO EXPAND MY TEACHING… WHAT ARE THE ODDS OF US BEING ABLE TO FIND ANOTHER HOUSE WE CAN AFFORD, WITH A SEPARATE SPACE, IN A NEIGHBORHOOD THAT WE LIKE?!…

It was easier for me to move through the refusal-to-accept phase this time around—probably because I’d literally JUST maneuvered through it… I was able to let go of my attachment to the tiny house fairly quickly. But, I chose to hold onto the clarity of now knowing exactly what we wanted.

Moving ahead, we slowed down the pace of our search, only visited homes that fit our vision of what we wanted—and within less than a week—we found another (slightly larger) tiny house—with an even bigger separate workspace, in an even more convenient location. For less money than our previous monthly rent.

We put in our application immediately.

And then…

My old frenemy, Attachment, appeared once again.

This time, coming on even stronger than before…

OH MY GOD THIS HOUSE IS SOOOO CUTE!  I WANT IT SO BADLY—I KNOW EXACTLY HOW WE CAN DECORATE IT. THE FLOW IS AMAZING. IT HAS SO MUCH LIGHT! AND NO BARKING DOGS NEXT DOOR… AND THE SEPARATE WORKSPACE IS HUGE! I CAN FINALLY HAVE AN OFFICE! THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS FOR ALL THE AMAZING THINGS WE COULD DO WITH THIS PLACE… 

This indulgent daydreaming phase now dominating, my initial fantasies had the flavor of excitement. But, as the days went by—and no word back from the potential new landlady about whether or not she was going to accept our application–excitement quickly slid into worry and anxiousness…

WHAT IF SHE DIDN’T LIKE US? I KNEW I SHOULD’VE SPENT MORE TIME TALKING WITH HER….WHAT IF WE DON’T MAKE ENOUGH MONEY? WHAT IF SHE DOESN’T WANT A TENANT WITH A KID–OR CATS?…  SOMEONE MORE QUALIFIED APPLIED FOR THE HOUSE–AND SHE’S GOING TO GIVE IT TO THEM… IS ANYTHING EVER GOING TO WORK OUT THE WAY I WANT IT TO?!… I WANT THAT PLACE SO BADLY! I WANT TO FEEL SETTLED! I CAN’T STAND NOT KNOWING WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN!!…

Over the next week, I continued to catch myself going down these dead-end roads—trying to soothe myself with lots of deep breaths, loving kindness, and Jack Kornfield’s “Don’t Know Mind” practice. I cried. I exercised. I redirected. Constantly. I noticed how much I craved junk food and bottomless glasses of wine…

Every hour of every day for the world’s longest week, I battled with accepting the unknown. Sitting with uncertainty. My soul quaked. My insides trembled. I knew everything was going to be OK if we didn’t get the house. But I couldn’t completely let go and trust it’d all work out for the best. It was  nothing but…

WHAT IF WHAT IF… WHAT IF?!

Then, finally, a week and one day after we submitted our application, Kate’s cell rang.

“It’s the woman about the house!…”

She sat down, took a deep breath and answered…

“Hello—yes, this is Kate….”

I sat next to her, holding my breath—my eyes reading every nano-centimeter of her face. The moment felt interminable.

Then her eyes widened—the slight curl of her lips…

“Wonderful! We’d would love to take it, yes! Thank you so much…”

A deep breath.

Gratitude.

Relief.

In an instant, my mind relaxed like a cramped muscle finally letting go. All the anxiety of uncertainty vanished—all the angst. Gone.

Excitement and joy pervade.

But, only for another day or two… And then it’s back to noticing how Aversion and Attachment start playing tug-of-war with my attention, once again.

It all feels much more manageable now, though—far less whiplashy.

Because noticing when I’m caught in the throes of Aversion and Attachment is half the solution to finding the balance between them…

Creating Mindful Community

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I have something to confess… I’ve been feeling lonely lately. Ever since I got back from the month I spent immersed within the mindful community at The Center for Mindful Learning in Vermont, I’ve noticed the sincere lack of community in my life…

As I contemplate it now, I recognize this as nothing new. I’ve never really felt a true sense of community—at least not a lasting one. Looking back on it, I can pinpoint several reasons why this area of my life has been lacking…

I grew up an only child with emotionally distant parents, in a relatively remote area of New Hampshire.  A shy, highly sensitive introvert with ADHD, social anxiety, and a host of other isolating symptoms—”community” was never a word that resonated with me. I mention this, not to play victim to my neurological differences from the norm—but to bring to light that my using it as an excuse to not partake in community needs to change.

I can no longer muscle through my days, pretending I’m some sort of robot who can function autonomously without a broader network of connection and support. A huge part of me has been withering, malnourished, without light. My growth has been stunted. And I’m no longer ok with just surviving. I want to flourish.

In order to do this, it’s clear I need more connection. Rich, substantive, nutritious connection. Connection that doesn’t rely solely upon extrinsic actions like what we can do with and/or for each other, but instead, relies mainly upon what we can trust each other to BE—respectful, honest, reliable, trustworthy, responsible, generous, kind…

“Sangha” is a word in Pali and Sanskrit meaning “association”, “assembly,” “company” or “community.” In Buddhist philosophy, it’s considered one of the three “jewels” or pillars that Buddhists take refuge in, and look toward for guidance. I see the importance of this communal component to my mindfulness practice. But, is there a space for sangha—for community—outside the Buddhist context, within the secular mindfulness movement?

There seems to be a rising number of secular mindfulness practitioners—but a clear lack of facilitated physical spaces for us to commune with one another outside of classes, sits, and workshops. Online mindfulness spaces abound, and I’ve found a sense of community within these spaces to a degree. But there’s a palpable depth of connection that’s lost in virtual environments. Plus, I don’t know about you…. But I spend more than enough time on my computer. Also, as a self-employed creative, I spend a great deal of time on my own at home. When I connect with people, I want face-to-face, we’re-physically-sharing-the-same-space, interaction. And, like I mentioned earlier, I don’t always want that interaction to be contingent upon DOing something together… I’m interested in participating in local, intentional, mindfulness communities where we can convene, not only for formal mindfulness practice—but to practice mindfully BEing with each other.

In searching for mindful community, I recently came across Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet, and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh’s, writings about sanghas in his “New Sangha Handbook: Nourishing Our Practice, Deepening Our Roots, Growing Our Freedom.”  I’d like to share an excerpt with you as an example of why I feel mindful community is so important (I took the liberty of secularizing some of the language he uses):

“Alone we are vulnerable, but with brothers and sisters to work with, we can support each other. We cannot go to the ocean as a drop of water—we would evaporate before reaching our destination.

But if we become a river, if we go together, as a community, we are sure to arrive at the ocean…

You need community; you need a brother or sister, or friend to remind you what you already know.

Mindfulness is within you, but it needs to be watered in order to manifest and become a reality.

A mindful community is a community of resistance, resisting the speed, violence, and unskillful ways of living that are prevalent in our society.

In society, much of our suffering comes from feeling disconnected from one another. Being with mindful community can heal these feelings of isolation and separation. We practice together, share a room together, eat side by side and socialize together. Just by participating with other practitioners in life’s daily activities, we can experience a tangible feeling of love and acceptance.

A community is a garden, full of many varieties of trees and flowers. When we can look at ourselves and at others as beautiful, unique flowers and trees we can truly grow to understand and love one another.

One flower may bloom early in the spring and another flower may bloom in late summer. One tree may bear many fruits and another tree may offer cool shade. No one plant is greater, or lesser, or the same as any other plant in the garden. Each member of the community has unique gifts to offer.

We each have areas that need attention. When we can appreciate each member’s contribution and see our weaknesses as potential for growth, we can learn to live together harmoniously. Our practice is to see that we are a flower or a tree, and we are the whole garden as well, all interconnected.

Supported by mindful community, my practice flows easier,

Allowing me to swiftly realize

My great determination to love and understand all beings.”

I want to find/build/receive mindful community, and I’m ready to add this much-needed dimension to my life. So, this is a shout out to all you dedicated mindfulness practitioners out there—I think it’s time for us to find one another and make time for BEing together.

Don’t you agree?…

Do you want to participate in a mindful community? Do you have suggestions about how to build one?… If so, I’d love to hear from you. Please share your thoughts/ideas/suggestions in the comments section below.

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Mindfulness is meant to be shared. Please join me and a growing number of like-hearted souls in celebrating mindfulness as a way of life. Share this post with your friends. And share YOUR personal journey with mindfulness in the comments below.

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ARE YOU A STRONG DOMINO?

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Happy New Year, friends!

‘Tis the season for personal resolutions. For setting intentions for the purpose of bettering our lives in some way…. But, as time drifts further away from that fresh, new year energy—we might start feeling a nagging tug toward our “old,” pre-resolution ways.

I know I’m starting to feel that tug. Are you?…

This year, my partner, Kate, and I resolved to eat healthier. Specifically, we decided to give up sugar, cow dairy, and all grains, except quinoa for (at least) the next 40 days (if you’re curious about what it’s been like—you can check out Kate’s amazing blog detailing her experiences, here).

The reason Kate and I resolved to eat healthier is because we want to feel healthier. Sugar, in particular, isn’t good for our physical—or mental health. It gives us both mood swings and varying levels of anxiety. And, we’re nicer people to ourselves, to each other—and to the rest of the world—when we don’t eat it.

Now, I haven’t eaten sugar, cow dairy, or grains in over ten days. And, it’s been challenging…. But, having eliminated these foods from my diet, I feel much more clear-headed. And my anxiety levels have been, literally, non-existent. However…. I’m starting to get bored with the limited flavor profiles and textures of the foods I’m eating. I’m yearning for more variety. And I’ve been craving bread.

Like, big time.

I went to a baby shower this past weekend and, literally, salivated at the sea of homemade pupusas waving around in front of me. I had to physically block my mouth with my hand to keep myself from eating one of these things. Just look at this picture, people…

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I wanted to shove ten of these puppies into my mouth and then make a beeline for the layer cake.

But I didn’t.

Because I kept hearing this phrase in my mind that they say at my son’s school, “Be the strong domino…”

Like, “Remember the force, Luke….”

But different.

Being the strong domino is about standing in your power. It’s about going against the stream. And, I managed to stand tall within the current of pupusa eaters at that shower. Kate and I both managed to stand tall. We didn’t succumb to our old eating ways. We ate the raw nuts and salads that we brought from home. We were strong dominos. Jedi dominos. Powerful, against-the-stream-swimming dominos!

And, of course, people at the shower asked us why we weren’t eating what everyone else was eating… So, we shared our resolutions to eat healthier. Most of them said how they admired our resolve and revealed how they wanted to eat healthier, too—but that they just couldn’t manage to do it… How every time they went out with their friends to parties and restaurants and bars, the temptations were just too much for them.

All this got me thinking… Kate and I made the commitment to eat healthier for ourselves. But, would we like to see our friends eat healthier, too?… Absolutely. And, would the world be a kinder, gentler place if everyone universally stopped eating just one harmful food, like, say sugar?… Probably—although, not for the first few days because DANG those withdrawal symptoms can be heinous, people…

Beyond the benefits of sticking to our personal resolutions to eat healthier for ourselves—and based on the feedback from those around us at the shower—I started wondering if we also had a social responsibility to follow-through with our personal resolutions. Coincidentally (or not…), just a few days prior to the shower, I’d heard some information that lead me to believe the answer to that question might be a resounding, YES….

I mentioned in last month’s post that I recently got back from a month-long coworking program at a modern monastery in Northern Vermont (The Center for Mindful Learning or “CML”).

One of the monastics at CML named Daniel Thorson hosts a podcast entitled, Emerge, in which he talks with thought leaders about ways to build a more beautiful future. Daniel’s latest episode, “Planetary Transformation through Culture Design,” features a conversation with guest, Joe Brewer, who has a unique background in physics, math, philosophy, atmospheric science, complexity research, and cognitive linguistics. Basically, he’s super smart.

In the podcast, Joe says:

“These two men, Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler did a longitudinal study in the United States in which they asked a group of people about their behaviors over a period of 40 years. But they also asked them questions about their peers. They basically built a very unusual data set. And what they found was that people were more likely to stop smoking if the people around them stopped smoking. They were more likely to have healthy diets if people around them had healthy diets.

And, as they looked across this data set, as well as others they conducted—they found that 80% of our behavior is basically imitation of our peers, of the people who are around us. So, if you want to change your behavior. You don’t go through this deep, internal, self-help process. You change who you’re around…

If you’re around a bunch of people who are negative and complain. You’re going to be prone to being negative and to complain. If you’re around a bunch of people who are couch potatoes, eat fast food and are obese. Then you’re likely to sit around, eat fast food, and be obese. Recognizing the fundamental unit is not the individual, but the social group—the best way to act out your intentions, is to change who you associate with […].

You don’t have to go to the extreme of joining a commune—although plenty of people are doing that. It can be much more informal than that. It could be… there’s this person who I hang around who’s kind of a jerk. Maybe they’re sexist. And I don’t like being around sexist people. I’m just going to stop hanging around them. In these little ways, we’re being culture designers. “

A lot was said there, yes? But what caught my attention were two things:

1) “80% of our behavior is basically imitation of the people’s behaviors who we’re around.”

And….

2) “If you want to change your behavior. You don’t go through this deep, internal, self-help process. You change who you’re around.”

Now, the first statement isn’t a new idea. But now there’s scientific evidence that proves it.

The second statement, however, caught my attention for another reason… Because, you might not know this about me—but I’m the type of person who goes through deep, internal self-help processes… In fact—I’ve pretty much devoted my life to these types of processes. And, I’ve not only seen significant results in my own life from committing to these processes—but I’ve also seen significant results in the lives of those around me because I’ve committed to these processes. I’ve witnessed the very effect of what Joe mentioned—that 80%—but from the standpoint that I’ve seen the changes I’ve made in my own life ripple outward to effect my immediate family and close friends. 

Case in point—a few years ago, I was the only person who meditated in my family regularly. Today, both Kate AND our 8 year old son meditate regularly, too.

I’m a strong domino. 😉

To me, all this points to Gandhi’s quote,“Be the change you want to see in the world. Because the change we’re being in OUR worlds effects 80% of the people we’re around—and that 80% continues to ripple out and out….

In the episode of Emerge that I mentioned, Joe talked about the insights of science relating to contemplative practices—and how they’re in a powerful marriage that’s greater than either of the parts are on their own.  So, I don’t think he meant to suggest deep, internal processes aren’t beneficial.

As I see it, there are actually two stages for creating success when we’re looking to foster sustainable change in both ourselves, and in society…. One nodding to the science of networks, as Joe mentioned. And the other nodding to the wisdom of contemplative practices.

1) Stop hanging out with the people who are displaying the behaviors we don’t want, and seek out friendships with those who are displaying the behaviors we do want to adopt. This helps us gain the strength needed to change our behaviors and create new ones.

And….

2) Once we have the strength to stand tall in our new behaviors, we must personally resolve to stay committed to our intention to continue these new behaviors. One way to help ourselves do this is by undertaking a dedicated deep, internal, practice—such as meditation and mindfulness. These practices help us to “be the strong domino” when we’re in challenging environments (like pupusa-laden baby showers, bars, etc.).

So, I say, YES, we have a social responsibility to follow through with our personal resolutions! Because science is now proving that our personal resolutions aren’t just about us, personally, anymore.

Be a strong domino.

And be the change YOU want to see in your world.

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Mindfulness is meant to be shared. Please join me and a growing number of like-hearted souls in celebrating mindfulness as a way of life. Share this post with your friends. Participate in The Mindfulness Diaries’ growing Facebook and Google+ communities. And share YOUR personal journey with mindfulness in the comments below.

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Back from the Monastery!…

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(the view from the dorm room I shared at CML – simply gorgeous…)

Greetings, Friends! I’ve just emerged from an amazing, month-long co-working program at a “modern monastery” in Vermont (The Center for Mindful Learning), where I both meditated and worked alongside some truly incredible humans… My time at CML was a one-of-a-kind experience, for which I’m incredibly grateful—and I can’t wait to share what I’ve learned with you!

During my month at CML, I woke up at 4:10am almost every day, ate only two meals per day (the last of which ended around 2pm), logged approximately 150 hours of meditation, and upped my meditation practice to a whole new level.

Over the coming months, you’ll be hearing a range of stories about the things I’ve learned from my time at CML—everything from my own, inner struggles, growth and insights in my personal practice—to the heart-warming and heroic tales of the young monastics living at the monastery. You’ll also hear about the pioneering work that CML founder and guiding teacher, Soryu Forrall is doing to merge mindfulness with responsibility in our society. You’re in for a treat, indeed! 🙂

Invigorated and inspired by my time at CML, I’m also excited to kick-up my efforts to help facilitate more mindfulness in our communities. Sound appealing?… If so, keep an eye out for announcements about how to get involved with mindful community-building activities and opportunities (both virtually—and locally in the Los Angeles area).

Onward and upward (and inward)!
+ jennifer

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Mindfulness is meant to be shared. Please join me and a growing number of like-hearted souls in celebrating mindfulness as a way of life. Share this post with your friends. Participate in The Mindfulness Diaries’ growing Facebook and Google+ communities. And share YOUR personal journey with mindfulness in the comments below.

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Nourishing & Flourishing

 

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After my big “come to mindfulness moment” back in 2010, I recognized that I needed to take some serious action to extricate myself from the toxic behaviors/habits, people, and activities that were taking up way too much of my precious energy and time (most of which had been a large part of my life for decades). And, although this realization felt painfully scary at the time, I knew that, if I ever wanted to feel any true sense of contentment and wellbeing—it needed to be done.

Letting go of the toxic elements of my life was far from easy—in fact, there were moments where the process felt more painful than keeping them around… But, just like removing a splinter often hurts more than living with it—I knew the temporary pain I was feeling would eventually lead to healing. And, letting go of the pieces of my life that weren’t serving me would, eventually, make space for the things that would help me flourish.

As my mindfulness practice continues to expand, I find myself becoming more and more aware of what feels healthy and unhealthy. I’m far more drawn toward things/people/behaviors that nourish me. And, I’m far less inclined to let the toxic things/people/behaviors stick around for very long. Sure, “splinters” still happen… But I’m much quicker to pluck them now. I’m also much more resilient in recovering from them. 🙂

Like tending a garden, the process of tending to ourselves is ongoing. There will always be weeds that pop up and need to be pulled in order to allow enough space for the plants in our garden to grow. And, although the process might not always be fun, it’s essential if we ever want to flourish.

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for some flourishing in my life.

Join me?…

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Mindfulness is meant to be shared. Please join me and a growing number of like-hearted souls in celebrating mindfulness as a way of life. Share this post with your friends. Participate in The Mindfulness Diaries’ growing Facebook and Google+ communities. And share YOUR personal journey with mindfulness in the comments below.

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Managing Mental Habits

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Eckhart Tolle asks, “Can you look without the voice in your head commenting, drawing conclusions, comparing, or trying to figure something out?”

I don’t know about you, but most of the time I can’t.

That little voice in my head comments, draws conclusion, compares, and tries to figure out pretty much everything. ALL. THE. TIME.

It’s relentless.

It’s exhausting.

And (more often than not) it’s completely unnecessary

But I’ve come to see how commenting, drawing conclusions, comparing, and trying to figure things out are all just mental habits—processes that my mind puts into action (largely without my consciously thinking about them). And I’ve come to learn that I have the power to disengage from these mental habits, as long as I’m aware they’re happening. <—- that last part is key!

You might be asking, “how exactly do we do this?”… Good question!  Follow me here for a second, and I’ll explain…

With mindfulness meditation, we notice when a thought has arisen. Once we’ve noticed the thought, we can then, consciously, disengage from the thought and redirect our attention back to our meditation anchor point.

You with me so far?… 🙂

Well, interrupting a mental habit (like needlessly commenting, drawing conclusions, comparing, and trying to figure things out) is exactly the same process!

Noticing when we’re caught in the midst of a mental habit that’s not serving us gives us the ability to consciously let go of and “reset” the flow of our thoughts, creating a sense of mental spaciousness that then allows us to skillfully—not habitually—choose how we’d like to proceed.

Sure, it ain’t always easy. But, it’s possible!

For me, when I’m going about my daily life and find myself caught in a mental habit that’s causing me suffering to some extent—I pause, do my best to let go of whatever mental process is happening, and then gently guide my attention toward something more neutral that will help me recalibrate. Like the sensation of the breath in my body. Or maybe the subtle tingling in my feet.

It might take a few moments to successfully “reset” in these instances. But, as I practice becoming more aware of my mental habits, I can see how it’s becoming easier to break free from them whenever they do appear.

And, as I shared earlier—they appear often!

Why?… Because I live in a society that conditions me to think I “need” to comment, draw conclusions, compare and try to figure things out. ALL. THE. TIME. The media is over-saturated with folks who are constantly role-modeling these types of behaviors. And it makes sense that I might easily fall into this “main stream” of thought, getting swept away by the strength of its’ current, and believing this is the way I “need” to be behaving, as well.

But, my mindfulness practice has proven this isn’t actually the case. I have a choice!

It’s been said that the path of mindfulness flows “against the stream.” It takes a great deal of fortitude, persistence, and conviction to keep moving in a direction counter to most.  But, if enough folks start swimming in the opposite direction from the mainstream, and start becoming mindful of their mental habits, maybe the tides might turn someday…

What do you think?

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Mindfulness is meant to be shared. Please join me and a growing number of like-hearted souls in celebrating mindfulness as a way of life. Share this post with your friends. Participate in The Mindfulness Diaries’ growing Facebook and Google+ communities. And share YOUR personal journey with mindfulness in the comments below.

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Getting Lost

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My family and I recently returned from a road trip up to southern Oregon and back. And I’ve noticed I’ve been feeling somewhat lost ever since we got home.

For me “lost” feels angsty—an unquenchable, restless seeking. That feeling I get in-between destinations. That desire for something more significant to be here. Now.

But, perhaps I’m confusing “in-between” with “lost.” The visual markers of having “arrived” as I’ve defined them might not be visible. But that doesn’t mean I’m not getting anywhere.

Life is moving.

Life is always moving.

I’m starting to see these in-between moments as a continuous flow of mini-destinations, unto themselves—and I’m starting to trust that the more “significant” destinations will appear whenever they arrive…

Maybe getting lost every once and a while is key in helping me find my way.

Have you ever felt “lost” in your life? Did you find these times helped you find yourself in some way?… Please share your story in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

And, if you’re a fan of podcasts, I invite you to check out About Meditation’s OneMind podcast, where I recently had the pleasure of sharing stories and tips with host, Morgan Dix, about my own personal journey with mindfulness. Take a listen and let us know what you think!

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Mindfulness is meant to be shared. Please join me and a growing number of like-hearted souls in celebrating mindfulness as a way of life. Share this post with your friends. Participate in The Mindfulness Diaries’ growing Facebook and Google+ communities. And share YOUR personal journey with mindfulness in the comments below.

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Time to Reframe?…

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As a multi-disciplinary artist who’s constantly in one phase or another of the creative process, I’m used to the point at which fear rears it’s gnarly head and roars ferociously in my face. It tends to show up right before I’m about to share a new creation with someone outside my inner circle. And, in the past (prior to my regular mindfulness practice…) this more often than not would halt any further forward momentum. I’d either stop working on the particular project, or I’d end up sabotaging it in someway.

Thankfully, I’ve learned how to mindfully persevere through challenges and keep marching my projects forward. My meditation practice has helped me build the necessary “muscles” to sit through the soul quaking fears that arise—riding them out and letting them move through me without destroying my work or myself in the process. And I’ve made it through this phase in my creative process enough times now that I didn’t think it was possible it could stop me again.

But the second I start getting cocky and stop paying close attention—I always get knocked on my ass.

Which is exactly what happened a few weeks ago…

I was deep into preparations for my solo show debut in the Hollywood Fringe Festival – 10 days away from opening night, when the fear kicked in. But this time, it wasn’t just fear. It was soul-quaking, debilitating terror. Nightmares for a week straight—all about loss of control and not knowing how to get myself out of life-threateningly dangerous situations. I’d wake up with crippling anxiety every morning, petrified of a judging audience doing nothing but seeing my every mistake and ripping both me and my show to shreds. No matter what I did, I wasn’t able to shake my fear.

And then, I had a dream in which I was faced (once again…) with the eminent threat of death. In the dream, an omniscient voice said to me “you have the power to change the way you’re experiencing what’s happening that will change everything for you.” Still panicked, I shouted back to the voice, “But I don’t know HOW!…”

When I woke up, the voice stayed with me—its’ words resonating throughout my day. Maybe there’s a way I can shift my point of view and reframe the way I’ve been seeing this upcoming solo show performance…

Later that day, I was chatting with a dear friend and fellow mindfulness geek, and it occurred to me that, instead of seeing the audience as a group of critics out to judge and scrutinize every mistake I make—I could choose to see them as a benign group of supporters happily cheering me on and wishing me success, instead.

As soon as I saw the choice I had in the situation, something immediately opened up for me. I was able to connect to my role as a creator and reframe my experience from the point of view of sharing the gift of my story—a gift the audience wants to receive.

My fear then shifted to excitement and joy. And it happened in an instant.

From that point forward—my anxiety evaporated, the nightmares ceased, and I felt genuinely excited about sharing myself and my work with the world.

I then consciously chose to focus my attention on this excitement (that part was key). Sure, my mind darted back to the terror and fear every once in a while. But I was able to catch myself, let the fear move through me—and then bring my attention back to the joy and my intention of creating a positive relationship with the audience, instead.

Looking back on it now, I can see how what I did was simply apply a variation of the mindfulness meditation “technique” to my difficult situation—consciously disengaging from the challenging thought (or negative mindset, in this case…), letting the thought/mindset dissipate, and then redirecting my attention back to a more helpful anchor (the idea of giving the gift of my story to the audience).

The voice in my dream was right. I really do have the power to change my experiences. Now the real trick is remembering I have the power!… 😉

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Mindfulness is meant to be shared. Please join me and a growing number of other like-hearted souls in celebrating mindfulness as a way of life. Share this post with your friends. Participate in The Mindfulness Diaries’ growing Facebook and Google+ communities. And share YOUR personal journey with mindfulness in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

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The Hidden Power of Words (Why Being Aware of What We Say Is Important)

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On May 7th, my family conducted an experiment to see how words might physically effect our bodies. Our 7 year old son had recently started developing a habit of saying mean things to himself when feeling down – like, “I’m stupid.” And “I’m the worst.” My partner and I had been trying to get through to him that saying unkind things to ourselves (as well as to others) leaves a damaging impact. But, he just wasn’t “getting it.”

And then I remembered having seen the amazing results of a fascinating experiment Danielle LaPorte conducted with her family—where they talked smack to one half of an apple for a certain period of days, and loved up the other half. Admittedly, I felt somewhat skeptical about whether or not we could achieve the same results. But we decided to go ahead and give it a try.

To start the experiment, we took a fresh apple, cut it in half, and placed each half in a separate, airtight jar. We labeled one of the halves “Good Apple” and the other “Bad Apple,” and we left both sealed jars on a dark shelf in the corner of the kitchen.

Every day we said kind, loving, encouraging things to Good Apple—and mean, nasty, discouraging things to Bad Apple.

And 20 days later…

Bad Apple was rotten.

And Good Apple was still good enough to eat.

WOW, right?!

Sticks and stones might break bones, but words can definitely hurt…

We generally don’t see the negative results of our language choices manifested in overt, physical ways—so it can be challenging to be aware of their consequences (especially when they’re directed inward)… As a mindfulness geek—and someone with a loud inner-critic—I can’t help but wonder what type of damage we must be doing to ourselves when we fall into the unconscious habitual patterns of criticizing and berating ourselves regularly, instead of loving ourselves up.

After seeing the physical results of his negative words and energy revealed in this experiment, our son is finally starting to “get it.”

I hope we all do…

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Mindfulness is meant to be shared. Please join me and a growing number of other like-hearted souls in celebrating mindfulness as a way of life. Share this post with your friends. Participate in The Mindfulness Diaries’ growing Facebook and Google+ communities. And share YOUR personal journey with mindfulness in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

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Shifting My Relationship to Pain

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As you might already know from reading this blog (and my memoir…), managing intense pain of some sort—both physical and psychological—is a reoccurring theme in my mindfulness practice.  I generally manage pain to some degree daily. And, based on my past experiences, when I go on silent meditation retreats—I expect to find myself managing MUCH more.

But I recently came back from a 5 day retreat (with Trudy Goodman), and something felt different this time. Sure, pain showed up (both types I mentioned above). But my relationship to pain seems to be shifting.

Up until very recently, I never understood the saying “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” It didn’t make any sense to me because I always collapsed pain and suffering to mean the same thing. Any time pain showed up, my knee-jerk reactions was to do one or more of the following:

  • Clamp down and wallow in it because I needed to prove to myself (and others…) that I was tough
  • Resist it (this shouldn’t be happening!)
  • Avoid it altogether by distracting and/or numbing myself in some way (drinking, eating junk food, over-working, etc)

Spoiler alert! None of the above “coping methods” ever helped me alleviate pain in the long run… In fact, they only ever lead to MORE pain and discomfort on top of the original amount I was feeling.

In other words: my automatic reaction to pain was to make it worse by creating suffering on top of it.

But, as I mentioned earlier, something seems to be shifting. My meditation practice is helping me notice when I’m slipping into old, unhelpful patterns that cause suffering—and I’m learning how to mindfully manage pain when it arises. To hold space around it. To allow it to move through me and run its natural course with kindness and compassion—no matter how difficult that course might be…

In the container of my retreat experience, I was able to see how far my relationship to pain has evolved since I started practicing regularly back in 2010—the spotlight of my experience shining brightly on my forward progress along my path. It felt quite satisfying. Nourishing.

Healing.

What’s your relationship with pain? Do you have any mindfulness tips for managing pain? Share your comments below. I’d love to hear from you!