Archive | May, 2014

Longing for Simplicity

31 May

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Last week I spent time in Lancaster, PA, home of the Amish and much beautiful farmland. What drew my attention wasn’t the attire of the Amish or the sight of horse drawn buggies chugging along the shoulder of the road. Instead, I was struck by the beauty of the landscape and the image of families working together in the fields.

I spent my childhood summers in Wisconsin so this terrain is not entirely unfamiliar. While staying with my grandparents, I had the opportunity to visit many a farm and sung songs to myself while playing in cornfields. Witnessing the Amish tend their farms reminded me of this and left me with a haunting longing for a life more attuned by nature and its rhythms. Looking at a group of cows sitting in a field of yellow flowers, I thought, “Wow. What a nice life.”

This morning while reading the Twitter and FB feed, I stopped for a moment and said to myself, “What the hell? What the hell is this all about? This constant need to press myself into the world all in the effort of building a platform? My only intention with these efforts is that perhaps one day my voice will be loud enough for a publisher to notice me and to bet on an unknown horse. But to what avail and at what cost? On my deathbed will I care how many followers I have on Twitter? Or will I instead be glad that I produced quality work even if it never gets recognized and out into the world? I have no answers because as much as I longed for simplicity as a child, I also longed to be recognized and to influence. But I wonder if ambition causes us to miss the mark all together.

This week the gifted Maya Angelou passed away – a woman of remarkable talent and endurance. How did this woman live her life and how did she generate her influence? When I think of famous people of dimension, integrity and talent, I wonder if they longed to be players on the world stage, or if simply living their truths led to this phenomenon. Is it possible that if we embody the vision, visibility follows organically?

And in the end, what is it that we’re living for anyway?

The Art of Practice

15 May

When I used to teach mindfulness meditation in the hospital where I worked, I candidly told people that they would feel no benefit from sitting once. To experience a shift, they needed to “practice” mindfulness.

Most people try meditation once, get frustrated that they feel no change, and then never try again. I find this curious as we would never expect to become a concert pianist without practicing our scales. Yet when it comes to wellness, and stress management in particular, most of us want a quick fix. We want to feel good, yesterday!

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I remember a yoga teacher once saying that in order to relax, one had to invest a certain degree of effort. I was struck by his comment because he was right. I found it a chore to go to his Friday night restorative yoga class. Inevitably, I just wanted to go home and have a glass of wine. To switch into yoga clothes and drive to a busy part of town was the last thing I felt like doing. What I discovered though was that after an hour and a half of lying in various poses, I felt as if I had been drugged. I actually couldn’t stop myself from falling asleep by 9:00 pm and sleeping ten hours straight.

All a mindfulness practice requires of us is that we be willing to sit on a cushion. And yet for a number of us, this can create tremendous resistance. To stop and pause in the midst of our busy day can seem both a waste of time and even silly. But if we want to develop the ability to be present with anything and everything that is happening within and around us, it is a practice worth cultivating.

Mindfulness is both a philosophy and a practice in which there is no goal. One doesn’t try to relax, to empty the mind, or to achieve a perfectionist blissed out state of being. The only objective is to observe one’s thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations with curiosity and compassion vs. judgment.

This is actually really hard to do at first. When I’ve taught mindfulness I have experienced people’s resistance in the form of coughing, shifting in their seats, fidgeting, and even getting up and leaving the room because they couldn’t tolerate sitting for fifteen to twenty minutes in relative silence. Yet inevitably, if we offered the mindfulness class a few times a week, which meant that individuals had more mindfulness exposure, and a structure to practice it, they began to actually look forward to the experience and to request it more often. As they practiced, they began to feel the comfort that  sitting with one’s breath can bring – even if comfort isn’t the objective. Once again, the only task is to just “be” in a state of curiosity and compassion vs. judgment.

I too have gotten out of practice. I have no idea why but after years of an active sitting practice, I simply stopped doing it. Getting back to sitting has taken some “practice.” I’ve had to develop a routine: ten minutes in the morning, ten minutes at noon, and ten minutes before bed. To enforce this schedule, I’ve had to leave my cushion out where I can see it as a reminder and sometimes I have to set an alarm. Mindfulness doesn’t come automatically. One actually has to be mindful about mindfulness.

I started sitting while living in NYC . I was overwhelmed by the onslaught of stimuli there coupled with my own emotional experience. I no longer live in NYC but now there is a different onslaught of stimuli that overwhelms me. While I enjoy the benefits of modern technology, the constant barrage of information makes me spin. I also find the pressure to respond to constant messages, whether they be texts, emails, or phone calls, exhausting.

The outside world isn’t going away. It’s here to stay. My inner world and physical body are the only things I have some measure of control over. I can take a few minutes to sit while the world runs around doing its thing. I can make a choice to be still and to enjoy a few breaths. Before the moment is gone. I can make living a practice and that practice an art.

 

 

 

Why Waiting Is Worth It

8 May

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As a never been married woman about to turn 45, I have heard it all. If you want to know what NOT to say to someone in this situation, take note. I’ve been told that if I really wanted love that I would have manifested it (subtext = you’re either ambivalent or not working hard enough). I’ve been told that if I put as much effort into finding a partner as I did my carer or studies, I easily would have found someone by now. I’ve been told I need to get out more (the assumption being that I am shy wallflower, which I’m not). I’ve been told to not be so picky.

It has been suggested that maybe I need to work through my “issues”… Do you know how many people are in relationships who haven’t worked out theirs?

It has been insinuated that because I am thought to be pretty, there must be some great mystery as to why haven’t I gotten hitched. I’ve been called “catwoman” and also accused of being married to my work, which is definitely not the case. (But I have to support myself. After all, I’m single).

No one has ever questioned my sexual orientation, although I think this once crossed my mother’s mind, and I’m sure it has others as well. I’ve seen the pitying looks as well as the patronizing or fearful ones. I’ve also seen the “don’t you dare talk to my husband!” dagger eyes and jealous, longing stares from men and women alike wishing they too could go off to a yoga class or to surf but can’t because their lives are tied down with domestic commitments.

And through it all, I’ve stubbornly held out knowing that I had not quite found long term partnership. There have been dalliances, close calls, genuine love, plus many opportunities to learn. But I have never felt what I am feeling right now.

God does not leave us in the desert forever.

Yet one can no more look for love than try to make it rain. Instead is something that simply finds you. Yes, when you least expect it. And when you’ve come to doubt it may ever happen and you’ve even made peace with that.

I remember someone once saying that I would find love simply by doing my own thing and that one day, there would be someone walking a similar path that would simply come up beside me. Tell that to anyone today. That you’re just going to do your own thing and that love will find you. Individuals will look at you like you’re off your rocker. But ultimately, that is what I said I’d do. I was tired of trying to make things happen.

For years nothing happened.

And then suddenly, the wait was worth it.

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