As I listen to the guided meditation, “Finding Ease in the Moment,” Sam shifts in his bed behind me. I feel a surge of anxiety in my body, the cold tingle of fear, the rush of panic, the burning ache in my throat and chest and stomach. I breath in deep and then out, trying my best as instructed to find the “okayness of this moment.”
I had planned to do a bit of gardening this weekend. I’d noticed last week that some of my irises were starting to send out tiny green shoots, and I hadn’t yet cleaned out remnants of last year’s plants. I was going to clear some space, give Spring some room. Then Winter decided to make a comeback, bring snow for the third time this week, even more than we got before. There would be no gardening today.
There are at least two other blog posts insisting on being written right now. One I already started last night, but I “ran out of gas” and left it unpublished. There’s also an ecourse I’m supposed to be developing, a checkbook that needs balanced and laundry that should be put away. I am getting better and better at doing this, leaving things undone when it’s clear that there is something else I hunger for, letting go of the “shoulds,” focusing more on my experience than on my output, lowering the bar, trusting myself.
Last week was rough. I wasn’t sleeping very well, was worried about both dogs, had this awful feeling of not being able to keep those I love safe, of not being safe, and it wore me down. It was a horrible feeling of anxiety and dread, and I was stuck in it. At night, I would wake up if Dexter got up and worry about him, and after a few nights of that and a nervous system that was completely raw, I resorted to sleeping with earplugs, completely surrendering to sleep which I so desperately needed, trusting that Dexter would be okay and knowing that if I didn’t get some rest, I wouldn’t be able to help him if he wasn’t.
Then finally, there came a day when I didn’t feel so rough. I let myself be touched, moved. I was weepy and open. Watching Ben and Leslie’s wedding on Parks and Recreation, I cried during their vows, (they said “I love you, and I like you”). I asked my friend Pam, who gives me super quick “drive by hugs” at work, to give me a right proper hug because I’d had a tough week. I relaxed as I watched Dexter and Sam cuddled next to each other on the dog bed next to me on the floor, each playing with their own toy, eventually falling into a shared nap.
I relaxed the tight ball in my chest that morning, first when my Sam leaned his head into mine and let out a deep sigh, and later in yoga, taking deep breaths, stretching and sinking into each pose. When my friend Mitch said goodbye to me after yoga class, leaned in and play punched my arm, I let myself feel that he loves me, that people can genuinely love each other and that doesn’t have to be weird. All of the anxiety and awfulness of the past week broke me open, left me raw and vulnerable, and because of that I was able to be present.
So today, when some plans got changed due to the weather, I was fine with it. I love the snow here, and today it allowed me to snuggle up, sink in, slow down, relax. It makes everything quiet, fills it with light. I knew that what I most needed was to read some Pema Chödrön, specifically her new book Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change. Clearly, I wasn’t wrong about this book, her gentle wisdom was exactly what I needed right now.
My word for this year is Freedom. It is a quality, an experience that I am trying to cultivate in my life. This past week, when I was stuck in a spiral of anxiety and despair, I was not free. I wish for suffering to ease, in myself and in the world, and for love to grow in its place, but instead I trapped myself in my own confusion and grief. In Pema’s book, she says,
But it’s not impermanence per se, or even knowing we’re going to die, that is the cause of our suffering, the Buddha taught. Rather, it’s our resistance to the fundamental uncertainty of our situation. Our discomfort arises from all of our efforts to put ground under our feet, to realize our dream of constant okayness. When we resist change, it’s called suffering. But when we can completely leg go and not struggle against it, when we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation and relax into its dynamic quality, that’s called enlightenment, or awakening to our true nature, to our fundamental goodness. Another word for that is freedom–freedom from struggling against the fundamental ambiguity of being human.
This is where I’m at, what I’m working with. At times, it’s incredibly uncomfortable and I don’t think I’ll be able to stand it for another moment, but then the next moment comes, and I’m able to start again. Rest in this sense means trusting that “this too shall pass,” that nothing is permanent, and that’s okay. Rest means allowing what is to be as it is, rather than rushing to change it or escape it. Rest even means taking the Bodhisattva vow, which as Pema describes is “a commitment to dedicate our lives to keeping our hearts and minds open and to nurturing our compassion with the longing to ease the suffering of the world.” I am filled with this longing, along with gratitude for the wise and compassionate help that is available to me as I continue to try.
1. Truth: Being highly sensitive is both a blessing and a curse. I was born completely porous, raw and naked and open wide. I had no defense, no barrier between myself and the world, myself and others. What you felt, I felt, and I felt it deeply. For years, I wore heavy armor (invisible yes, but heavy and hard nonetheless) and masks, cocooned myself, padded my body with extra weight, distracted with smoke and mirrors, hid myself away, anything I could to do to protect myself.
What I didn’t understand yet is that this sensitivity, this keen emotion, acute intuition, deep knowing, this tenderness was something that others spent their lives trying to achieve, that there were many ancient practices to teach one to be so openhearted, so present, spacious and awake. I had what others wanted, what they worked so hard to experience. I have slowly allowed my gentle self to peek out, have been working with being vulnerable and brave, keeping my heart open, but it’s so hard sometimes–the beauty and the brutality, the tenderness and the terror can be so overwhelming.
2. Truth: “You should put on your own oxygen mask before attempting to help someone else with theirs.” I was chanting this silently last night as I tried to fall asleep. My worrying about Dexter wasn’t letting me rest, mind or body, and I was exhausted. That phrase was the thing that kept coming back to me, the only thing that was helping. No “he’s fine” or “everything’s going to be okay” or general allowing or accepting of reality or releasing of attachment would work, but the awareness that I needed to take care of myself or I wouldn’t be of any help to him did.
3. Truth: I can’t control everything, and perfection is impossible. I know this, deep down know it, and yet I keep acting as if it’s not true. I keep Dexter home from hiking, thinking I can keep him safe, and he hurts himself chasing after a squirrel in our backyard. I feed my dogs the best possible food, provide the best health care, give them tons of exercise and affection, take better care of them sometimes than I do myself, and still two of them have been diagnosed with fatal cancers. I obsess about Dexter’s physical therapy and medications and various appointments, thinking I can fix him, keep him safe, when no matter what I do, he will eventually die, as all mortal things do. I try to be so careful and prepared and diligent and alert, but bad things still happen. Things break, feelings get hurt, mistakes are made. I am not always responsible, and even when I am, I am forgivable, still loveable. I am trying to do as Karen Salmansoh suggests and, “Let go of what you can’t control. Channel all that energy into living fully in the now.”
One Wish: That we can approach our experience, our struggle and suffering, with great gentleness and a loving presence. That when we despair, are afraid and sad, we can experience some ease, remember our innate strength, have confidence and find comfort in our fundamental wisdom and compassion. And as Hafiz says, “I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in the darkness, the astonishing light of your own being.”
1. If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out: Poetry for Visionary Thinking. I have brilliant friends. This is the sort of thing they do when they follow their dreams, when they heed the call of their longing.
2. 3-year-old recites poem, “Litany” by Billy Collins. This kind of thing is an argument for reincarnation, divine nature, or something just as as brilliant and mysterious. Here’s a follow up story on NPR, Love Of Words Brings Child, Poet Together.
3. 17 Essays by Female Writers That Everyone Should Read on Flavorwire. I am working on it.
4. The question underneath every other question, another powerful post by Andrea Scher on Superhero Life.
7. This quote, “Little by little, one travels far,” J.R.R. Tolkien. And similarly, “Our way to practice is one step at a time, one breath at a time,” Shunryu Suzuki.
8. One of my favorite quotes from William Gibson, “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.”
9. And this one, “If you subdue the hatred within, you will discover that there is not a single enemy left outside,” Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.
10. C the G TV. Catherine Just only started the project last week, but already so many good interviews.
11. This is always a good reminder, “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it,” ~Rumi. This too, “I want to sing like the birds sing, not worrying about who hears or what they think.” ~Rumi.
13. Open, Generous, and Connected by Seth Godin. Yes, please.
14. The Willard Asylum Suitcases on Lisa Congdon’s blog. Heartbreaking, fascinating, and slightly creepy.
15. Free ebook: Living from the Heart: Volume 1 from Louise Gale, and many other brilliant souls.
16. A Leap of Faith from Sas Petherick. “I feel like I have gone from playing ping-pong with my bare hands, to using a smart red paddle.”
17. Want More Love In Your Life? by Thomas Dunleavy on Your Heart Makes a Difference.
18. Swap True for Original from Jennifer Louden.
19. More than one thing from the brilliant Alexandra Franzen, 5 ways to write a blow-your-mind manifesto and Want folks to act / click / share / buy now? Screw the sales pitch. Write a Love Letter.
20. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others…(BE Your OWN Love Valentine) from Kute Blackson. “To succeed at being somebody that you are not (but think you need to be) is still a failure. But to love who you are and courageously be that fully is a life well lived.”
21. 5 Reasons to Simplify Your Life from The Spacious Life.
22. “Our sorrows and wounds are healed only when we touch them with compassion.” ~Buddha
23. “For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.” ~Carl Sagan
25. Safe & Sound Taylor Swift (ft.The Civil Wars) – Brittni Paiva ukulele cover. Beautiful music, beautiful instrument.
26. My beautiful, brilliant friend Jessica Patterson said this week, “whatever reminds you that you are whole, perfect, and holy…start there,” (to which I responded “stay there”).
27. “Our ‘originality’ is nothing more than our unique response to everyone we ever wanted to imitate or seduce.” ~Susie Bright
28. “Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.” ~Herman Hesse
29. your daily rock : live mindfully, on 37 Days which begins with this brilliant quote, “Mindfulness meditation doesn’t change life. Life remains as fragile and unpredictable as ever. Meditation changes the heart’s capacity to accept life as it is.” ~Sylvia Boorstein
31. A Pebble for Your Pocket on A Design So Vast. Such a beautiful post, which Lindsey ends with the question “what is there to do but to keep my eyes open, to take a deep breath, to love this life of mine, in all its flawed, real, glittering beauty?”
1. This from Oriah Mountain Dreamer:
Considering Old Habits With New Eyes: It always amazes me how quickly we develop habitual routines. In some ways, it makes sense. Day to day life is filled with a plethora of executive decisions: what to eat; what to wear; what to read, listen to, or watch; how to spend our time, money and energy, prioritizing tasks at work or at home. Routines can free us up to focus on bigger or deeper questions. And, once we’ve found something that works for us- whether it’s a daily meditation or nap (and I admit one sometimes leads to the other)- a routine helps us establish and maintain these practices.
Of course, the strength of routines is also a weakness: habits aren’t decided from present-moment awareness. This of course, side-steps the but-I-don’t-feel-like. . .(exercising, writing, meditating, eating vegetables etc.) pitfall of resisting what we know generally supports our body, mind, and spirit. But it also side-steps considerations of how things may have changed and what our or others’ present-moment needs really are. And, of course, the ease of perpetuating habits is as true of those that are not good for us as they are for those that are beneficial.
2. New Trampled Snow Art from Simon Beck. I love impermanent art.
3. A Buddhist Practice for Your New Year Resolution on Huffington Post from Lodro Rinzler.
4. How To Make Next Year Your Best Year Yet, a vision board practice from Liv Lane. I’ve been collecting images, will hopefully find a moment to put mine together tomorrow.
6. A Danielle LaPorte TruthBombs: “We all require heaping doses of tenderness whether we realize it or not,” and “Leave room for mystery. It doesn’t all need to make sense.”
7. Anxiety and Depression Together on Psychology Today makes some really good arguments about the conditions (or condition, as the argument goes), ones that make real sense to me, as someone who has dealt with both, (it does however gloss over the fact that there can also be chemical, body issues involved as well). These two parts especially made sense to me:
“Depression seems to be a shutdown,” explains Barlow. “Anxiety is a kind of looking to the future, seeing dangerous things that might happen in the next hour, day or weeks. Depression is all that with the addition of ‘I really don’t think I’m going to be able to cope with this, maybe I’ll just give up.’ It’s shutdown marked by mental, cognitive or behavioral slowing.”
“The shared cornerstone of anxiety and depression is the perceptual process of overestimating the risk in a situation and underestimating personal resources for coping.” Those vulnerable see lots of risk in everyday things-applying for a job, asking for a favor, asking for a date.
Further, anxiety and depression share an avoidant coping style. Sufferers avoid what they fear instead of developing the skills to handle the kinds of situations that make them uncomfortable.
8. Stand out: Meet Kerilyn Russo and see the power of stepping into your true role. Kerilyn has joined the Roots of She tribe, and it’s her birthday today. She is a gift, and I predict she is going to do such good things this year. Keep an eye on her.
9. Five Minutes for Simplicity from Courtney Carver on Be More With Less. Let’s be honest, we’ve all got five minutes.
10. A Mala of Mindfulness (108 insights from 2012) from Sandi Amorim at Deva Coaching. So much wisdom here, the kind of list you’ll want to print out and post on your fridge. Also on Deva Coaching, a guest post by Sandra Pawula, Meditate Right Now.
11. Meditation, Creativity & Fearlessness, a podcast of one of my favorite teachers (Susan Piver) speaking at the New York City Shambhala Center.
12. From Patti Digh’s Thinking Thursday list this past week, 6 Simple Rituals To Reach Your Potential Every Day.
13. 8 Things You Must Give Up to Find Peace from Marc and Angel Hack Life.
14. Becoming Friends With Yourself: You Deserve Your Love on Tiny Buddha.
16. This quote from Sas Petherick, which sums up my “new deal” very nicely: “These days I find it much more appealing to consider how I want to feel and who I want to be, rather than what I want to do.”
17. My word for 2013 is Freedom. In talking about it the other day with someone who selected Free, I was joking that we should have a theme song. That made me start with the first one that came to mind, Freebird, and I found this lovely cover.
18. John Cleese on the 5 Factors to Make Your Life More Creative on Brain Pickings. They are “space, time, time, confidence, and humor.” I couldn’t agree more.
19. OMG, it’s a hobbit house! I want it…
20. Sunday Sounds from Patti Digh.
21. 10 Really Lame Ideas & Beliefs To Let Go Of from Danielle LaPorte.
22. Some really good things are happening in January:
23. WTF Interview with Judd Apatow. This is actually old, but heard it just this morning and LOVED it.
Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to.
Don’t try to see through the distances.
That’s not for human beings. Move within,
but don’t move the way fear makes you move.
Walk to the well.
Turn as the earth and the moon turn,
circling what they love.
Whatever circles comes from the center.
25. The WORLD OF POSSIBILITY Card. (Copy, paste & send to someone you love.) from Alexandra Franzen.
26. “Creating a beautiful life is your highest calling. It is in the ordinary and overlooked details of the everyday that beauty is revealed, sustained, and nurtured.” ~Sarah Ban Breathnach
27. “The thing that is really hard and really amazing is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” ~Anna Quindlen
28. From Dudjom Rinpoche, Wisdom Nectar: Dudjom Rinpoche’s Heart Advice:
At all times, do not lose courage in your inner awareness; uplift yourself, while assuming a humble position in your outer demeanor. Follow the example of the life and complete liberation of previous accomplished masters (siddha). Do not blame your past karma; instead, be someone who purely and flawlessly practices the Dharma. Do not blame temporary negative circumstances; instead, be someone who remains steadfast in the face of whatever circumstances may arise.
In brief, taking your own mind as witness, make your life and practice one, and at the time of death, with no thought of anything left undone, do not be ashamed of yourself. This itself is the pith instruction of all practices.
29. What Are You Doing New Years Eve? by Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Happiest of New Years to you, kind and gentle reader. I am so grateful that you are here, and wish you all the best.
1. Message from my Inner Pilot Light:
In case you forgot, my love, The Universe doesn’t need you to be in control. I swear. It’s handled. All is well. You can relax now. Stop wrangling your life like it’s an unruly animal. Life doesn’t have to be that hard. Instead, set goals but release attachment to outcomes. Trust the process. Let go of the handle. Surrender to the river of life. Watch for signs. Let yourself be guided. Know that everything is a gift, every crossroads is divinely placed in your path, and the way will be made apparent, if only you pay attention.
2. Wisdom Notes for a Well-Fed Holiday from Rachel Cole. I signed up because as I’ve said before I love everything Rachel does. Meeting her, working with her was a pivotal moment in my life, and she’s creating some especially powerful stuff right now.
3. This poem says everything you need to know.
Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.
This opening to the life
we have refused
again and again
5. The Willingness to Think Differently from Leo Babauta on Zen Habits.
7. Positively Present’s 30 day gratitude photo challenge. I’m not doing it, but I wish I had time to because it looks really fun.
8. The Power of the Pause by Courtney Carver on Be More With Less. She really is one of my favorite bloggers. I want to grow up to be just like her.
9. 3 Destructive Work Habits That Can Drain the Energy Right Out of You on the Positivity Blog. I am guilty of all three in my paid work, even sometimes in my heart’s work.
10. Ethiopian kids hack OLPCs in 5 months with zero instruction. This is so cool. Just another reason why you should help me raise $1000 dollars for Charity:Water. These kids could save us, but first we might need to save them = clean drinking water.
Because it is who we are, spirituality is not something that we need to seek outside of ourselves. In a way, it is not even something that we can gain or attain. Rather, it is the depth and subtlety of our person and of our experience that we gradually uncover. Religious traditions are usually necessary for providing an understanding of our inborn potential and for showing us how to realize it. But when they claim proprietary ownership of that which we seek, they betray themselves and get in our way.
12. All. In. This. Together. Sandy, The Elections, and Everything After. by Ethen Nichtern.
13. I told you last week how much I love the blog 3x3x365. This post, all three of the entries, is/are so beautiful, each in their own distinct way.
14. Three amazing women, generously and bravely sharing their stories: In Praise of Zoloft by Rachel Cole, On anxiety, panic attacks and being brave by Andrea Scher, and this is my anxiety story by Kelly Rae Roberts.
15. 12 Unconventional Habits of Highly Productive People on Marc and Angel Hack Life. I’m not sure if this is a very good title, or maybe it’s just me–even the word “productive” makes me tired. I almost didn’t read it, but it’s such a good list. #1 is Meditate.
16. finding beauty amidst disaster from Positively Present. She ends with a really good list of beautiful things you can do.
1. Truth: Nervous anticipation, anxiety and worry is always worse than the actual thing that you are waiting on, fearing. When it comes, you will know what to do. Your heart might break, but you will survive it.
One wish: That we can, with wisdom and compassion, be where we are, fully open and awake, engaged and connected with all that is. That we remember we are not alone. That we can turn the poison into medicine.