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Staying Open-hearted in the Face of Struggle

Staying Open-hearted in the Face of Struggle

Posted by: on Dec 10, 2014 | No Comments

In honor of Eric Garner…

When I returned home today after a long day of work the sky was black and the wind whipped cold rain around filling the slushy puddles and wetting the ice and snow banks. Before I opened my front door I could see my husband speaking crossly to my daughter. When I opened the door my son ran up to me smiling and saying, “Mama!” with pieces of rice stuck to his cheeks. I picked him up and turned to my daughter who was scowling by the kitchen table. The bath water was running and Chris told me H needed a bath to get the paper mache out of her hair and she was resisting.

I went into Mama-mode—encouraging her into the water–negotiating, pouring water over her head despite her grumpiness and scrubbing shampoo into the sticky hair. Later on when I had to pull my son out of the bath because he needed to go to bed he cried until he was red-faced and then I went back to cajole H out of the bath and into her giraffe pajamas.

Tonight I didn’t yell. Tonight I didn’t lose my temper. But it took everything I’ve learned and practiced to keep breathing and stay kind to keep things moving. In order to avoid resorting to power or force (even if only a verbal “Get OUT of the bath NOW!”).

I get angry plenty. And I wonder how many kids grow up as functional as they do being that parenthood–that LIFE–is such a challenge. And I’m a white woman with a safe, warm home and food in my fridge.

People both horrify and amaze me. The kindness and beauty of communities coming together to love and support each other. The violence, cruelty, and ignorance in the killing of an innocent man who was just saying he was fed up with being harassed by police.

I am so blessed…and life still brings me to my knees often enough.

I only know this. We all want to be happy. We act out of fear and we act out of love. We pause and we forget to pause. Many of us don’t know to pause–to take a breath. We’ve never been taught. And even when we are taught–we have to learn–again and again.

Our mind-chatter is frequently against our best interests. Our nervous systems are stuck in perpetual vigilance mode as we live so apart from the flowers, from the sky, from the feeling of rain on our cheeks.

Sometimes I hate that compassion is the tone most easily heard by others. I want to scream or yell or blame because for an instant there is relief. But a second later the pain increases. My child or husband or the person who cuts me off in traffic is further in defense–giving me the bird.

Tonight I was able to see H wrapped in a holey blue towel, her brown hair scraggling damply down her back, tears in her eyes. She was tired. She was hungry. She missed her grandparents. A bath was hard for her tonight. I was able to stay soft. But tomorrow, maybe I won’t be able to. I can’t say. But for right now, I can pause. I can breathe. I can join together with others to work for love and freedom from injustice. It comes down to each moment and each choice. Our lives depend on it.

Please Call Me by My True Names
by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow —
even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope.

The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird
that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay
his “debt of blood” to my people
dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and my laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart
can be left open,
the door of compassion.


Is It Gut-Instinct or Just a Stomach Ache?

Is It Gut-Instinct or Just a Stomach Ache?

Posted by: on Nov 21, 2014 | No Comments

As we move through the world trying to be happier, healthier, more peaceful people, the number one skill we need to develop is self-awareness.  We’ve all heard people say, “Awareness is the first step” and it’s true. How else can we make changes and grow in our lives if we don’t first recognize an unhelpful pattern, belief, or reaction? So what do we do when–in peering inside ourselves–we find we can’t tell the difference between those old patterns/reactions and our Truth?

When you feel nervous getting on an airplane, how do you know if it’s because you have flight anxiety or you’re having some kind of premonition? How do you understand your nervousness after a second date when you don’t feel as excited as you think you “should” feel despite the fact that he or she seems really great?

The longer I do this work, the more I understand that the answer lies below our necks.

Let’s call the unhelpful thoughts and uncomfortable feelings “Projection.” During projection we’re too uncomfortable experiencing the fear at the root of our experience so we blame it on something external. Usually when we’re projecting we’re not very present. We don’t have a lot of awareness of our whole embodied experience. We’re like Talking Heads–only taking in a small percentage of information from the moment. Let me give an example:

Just today I got a call from the head of my son’s childcare center. She wanted to let me know that the stye in my son’s left eye was looking more red than before and she thought I might want to take him to the doctor. I explained that we’d been in touch with his doctor and were told that it would go away by itself with the treatment we were using and she was pleasant as we said goodbye. When I hung up the phone I felt icky and uncomfortable. I was thinking that she felt I wasn’t being a very good parent for not bringing my son to the doctor despite the fact that she’d said no such thing.

In the moment I hung up the phone I was stuck in my head with my projections bouncing around off the sides of my skull. Was that just me being paranoid or did I sense that she was judging me?

Projection might feel like distaste, revulsion, or anxiety. But, then again, intuition might come with those feelings too!

The key to getting more clear on if what you’re experiencing is projection or intuition is getting quiet, going internal, relaxing, soothing yourself, and getting in touch with the felt sense of your experience.

For me, in the example above, this is what I did:

I became aware of my discomfort after a minute or two…for the first couple minutes I’d just been self-consciously uncomfortable but I had a thought “Why do I feel so icky about that conversation?” I took a breath and brought my awareness more fully into my body and I found a subtle feeling of fear. As I stayed with that I realized that it felt much more true that I was nervous about my son’s eye and about possibly being judged than that there was anything really wrong or that I actually had been judged.

This isn’t always easy or clear.

It’s a practice to get to know your own knowing. As Madeleine L’Engle wrote in A Wrinkle in Time, “Don’t try to comprehend with your mind. Your minds are very limited. Use your intuition.”

Sometimes we need to gather more experiences or information. But we need to live into those experiences and information with our whole selves.

Intuition has a rooted foundation that exists under the static of projection.

Practice getting to that root.


Conquering the Green-Eyed Monster: A How-to On Jealousy

Conquering the Green-Eyed Monster: A How-to On Jealousy

Posted by: on Nov 8, 2014 | No Comments
This article was originally published on Digital Romance and MeetMindful..Check out their great sites to read more!

In this age of Facebook, it’s impossible to be in the ocean of information without getting caught by the Green-Eyed-Monster that is jealousy.

We are constantly confronted daily with a zillion images and information bites about what other people are doing, getting, having, and loving.

There are two types of jealousy:

- One in which you want something other people have

- Another in which you fear that someone you love or care about prefers someone else.

Either of these can come up in our friendships and love relationships but the second type of jealous insecurity can really interfere in our ability to open up, connect, and enjoy our relationships.

The first step to dealing with jealousy is to ask yourself about the facts:

Is your partner or the person you’re dating doing something you feel is not in line with your expectations of the relationship?

Is the person connecting with someone else in a way that you feel jeopardizes the safety of an agreed upon commitment?

If the answer to either of these questions is “yes,” then you probably have to have a conversation about the status of your commitment. If you were hoping for monogamy and she’s not ready for that it’s probably time for a talk. If you had agreed you weren’t going to see other people and he’s chatting a lot with his pretty co-worker it’s also time for a talk. 

Clarifying commitment can help you figure out how to handle your jealous feelings because you have a chance to move the relationship in a direction that increases your sense of security or at least lets you know where you stand. Then you can decide what you want to do next and if you can get what you need from the other person…(Click here to read the rest)

photo credit: zabethanne via photopin cc



Posted by: on Oct 20, 2014 | No Comments

Like most folks, I have a love/hate relationship with the internet. But something I truly love is the ability it gives us to welcome some of the top spiritual leaders of our world into our living rooms via YouTube.  I’ve been listening to many talks by Tara Brach.  She’s a leading western teacher of Buddhist meditation, emotional healing and spiritual awakening. She’s the senior teacher and founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington and is a practicing clinical psychologist.

In one of the talks, she introduced the concept of R.A.I.N. This stands for Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Natural Opening. It’s a beautiful way to remember how to settle into the moment and reconnect with our intrinsic ability to be present and compassionate.

Next time you find yourself upon a challenging moment: RAIN.

And for those of you who might want to listen to Tara Brach share her wisdom and gentleness in her mellow voice (complete with silly jokes and stories) here’s a link to one of her talks…

I hope you have a chance to listen…even if it’s while you’re working out or driving or scrubbing dishes. Enjoy!


You’re Not Weak

You’re Not Weak

Posted by: on Oct 5, 2014 | No Comments

I was in a yoga class a few weeks ago sitting on my knees on my mat as people around me jumped their feet up to the wall for handstands. It’s a pose I’ve never been able to get anywhere near. My elbows always bow out to the sides and I feel like I’m going to crash down on my head if my feet leave the ground.

After class ended, I asked the instructor why it was so hard for me to even come close to doing a successful handstand. Eric pointed out how my upper arms needed to spin outwards to keep my arms from bowing out. I lamented the fact that my arms must be so weak compared to all the students who were popping up to the walls on their hands. And then he said something awesome:

“I don’t like to think of it as weakness. I think of it as a misappropriation of strength. “

He described these bench-pressing muscle guys who come into yoga class and have a really hard time holding some of the poses that much slighter folks can easily hold. It’s not because they’re weak of course…it’s because all of their strength is built up in certain muscles and not balanced around their bodies.

Eric put so simply and kindly, something that we all encounter all the time–we think of ourselves as weak or insufficient in some way when really we are just encountering an imbalance of strength. Sometimes we have built up a strength in self-protection and our work is to rebalance that with strengthening our ability to be open-hearted and vulnerable. Sometimes we’ve built up a strength of problem-solving, anticipation of situations, and planning and we need to practice getting out of our heads and into our bodies and letting the moment unfold organically.

So next time you start to think about something you’re “not good at” or some way of being that doesn’t come easily to you, ask yourself: “Where is my misappropriation of strength?” What have you become just a little too good at and what quality or practice would help you achieve balance? What is the yin to your yang or the yang to your yin?

(Namaste to Eric Newton from Greener Postures Yoga Studio)