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Fear

Fear: we all have it. Mindfulness does not make it go away. It does, however, help us recover from it.

I went to see a children’s story hour with my young daughters.  My older daughter was frightened by one of the stories. When she began to react to even very sweet moments of the story as if they were scary I knew that she was struggling with something inside of her, not outside.  She was struggling with the trance of fear.  I reassured her that it was OK to be scared and it was OK to hear the story. After the whole show was over and we were outside sitting on the grass, she crawled into my lap and said, “I still feel scared”.

I said, “I understand, I get scared sometimes too.  Actually,” I explained, “everyone in the whole wide worlds gets scared sometimes, it’s part of life.”

“But I feel really scared”, she said in reply.

“Can you give that scared feeling a hug?”  I asked her. Giving our feelings “hugs” is something we do often in our family.

“It’s not working,” said my daughter.

“Can you give your feeling a big hug full of tenderness, and then let it fly away on the breeze?”, which was blowing softly as we sat together.

“No I can’t, it wont go away.” She said

So we sat and cuddled and decided just to feel our hearts and feel our (her) fear…

My daughter is still learning the skill of being with and moving through her fear.  She is right where she needs to be—there is no rush, I remind her— and yet I want to help her with this hurdle. Whenever I realize there is something I want to teach my children, I first try to learn, or re-learn it myself.

Sitting on the grass holding my scared child as she recovered reminded me of something one of my teachers once said —Everyone gets frightened, startled, or jarred sometimes, the key to well-being is being able to return from that place of contraction, back to center. —Mindfulness helps us return from our contracted, rejecting state back to our open, receptive state.

By chance, a learning moment about my own fear occurred a week before my trip to the children’s story hour. It always amazes me how life presents lessons before I even realize I’m in need of them. I had put this one in “my pocket” for later use, and here was my opportunity to take it out.  Feeling into my own experiences with fear was one way of helping […]

Saying Yes – How to be Happier

Life has its ups and downs. We all know that. And yet many of us are habituated to saying yes to the “good” days, and no to the “bad”. Listen and watch this video for some simple tools that can help even the bad days feel good.

Take a Great Trip Without Spending a Dime

Remember snow globes? A little shake and the clear water is immediately clouded by a flurry of snow. But when held still, the water clears again and the snowman in the middle smiles at you. Meditation can have this effect on our minds, taking us from a blur of thoughts to a state of settled clarity. Most of us don’t realize how much time we live in a white out, unaware of our mind as it produces new thoughts that come on like blizzards. Sometimes, certainly not always, after meditation my mind feels like the snow storm has ceased and there is quiet—unbelievably delicious quiet. It is as if my thoughts have taken a vacation and gone somewhere else. Instead of the flurries and storms I am happy and settled right where I am, no matter where I am actually.

One of my favorite quotes from teacher and poet, Adyashanti is, “Let your mind swirl itself into blessed exhausted silence.” For most of us this inner stillness is rare and precious. I know for sure that when most of us sit to meditate, set out on a mindful walk or onto the mat for Yoga, our mind is anything but quiet. And that’s fine—minds wander. Returning to the practice is absolutely part of the practice.  I’ll never forget Jack Kornfield, one of the founding teachers of insight meditation in the west saying, “It doesn’t matter what happens while you meditate–it matters that you meditate.” The room of 400+ people laughed, and he replied simply, “I’m serious.”  I smiled and felt deeply relieved, because I am no stranger to a busy mind.  And what I understand Kornfield was saying, and other brain researchers are saying is that meditation benefits us even if we are distracted, bored, or busy thinking as we are practicing.  I suppose that is why it’s called practice, we just keep at it…. Forever. And slowly overtime the snow settles to the bottom and the water is truly clear.

Being a mother, wife, community member and working leaves me with precious little time for meditation. And while I do maintain a regular home practice, I have not attended an extended retreat since my children were born. I am relieved that many of my teachers call this period of a parent’s life an 18-year retreat. However the extended mental vacations of long meditation retreats I once relied on are not on my calendar for the next 15 years. so I’ve had to get creative.  I found that mental mini-vacations are […]

Play it again?

I have a friend who is really thoughtful. She remembers birthdays, wedding anniversaries and that you mentioned you were going to try out bread baking, so she calls to ask how it’s going and if you need any butter. Once when a few of us were discussing our new years resolutions, she said with a sigh, “Mine is always to be more thoughtful.” She was not being sarcastic.

Someone else I know is successful, and respected, but she is always looking for other people’s failures.  She seems to relish them. After seeing this behavior in her for quite a while I’ve surmised that it is fueled by an inner feeling of never measuring up. This kind of behavior is very often the result of an overactive inner critic. In her case, it seems as if she looks for opportunities to criticize others as temporary relief from taking the beating herself.

Like many personal friends of mine as well as mindfulness students I have worked with, I also grew up to have a loud and persistent inner critic. Sometimes I feel bad about it and wish it were otherwise. Sometimes I see it for what it is, a mental habit that can be changed. And sometimes it’s helpful to break a feeling of isolation around it and remember that many people experience this.  In fact it is so widespread that one of my mindfulness teachers referred to it as pandemic. Many of us just don’t seem to see ourselves accurately.

A great businessman I know is leading a thriving business (in this economy, too). Even after all his success he still keeps his business deals a secret from even his closest friends and wife until they come through. He says, for fear of jinxing them. Being afraid of jinxing oneself is the clever work of the inner critic, who is telling us that our accomplishments are not, in fact, due to our skill and experience but are just random luck. In this frame of mind we often don’t recognize our qualifications at all. Fear producing thoughts like, “our luck it probably just about to run out” can come easily and often.

There are so many ways our inner critic can rule us, so many well crafted stories the inner critic weaves into our unconscious.  Fortunately, mindfulness and meditation can weaken the power of our inner critic.  For some, including me, it can take a long time to unseat this tyrannical voice of self-doubt.  But it does happen.

You can think of it this way.  A […]

Who Wins? The good witch or the bad?

We moved here about two years ago.  Many of our neighbors are second or third generation here, others are more recent, but we are definitely the new kids on the block.  You remember what it is like to be the new kid.  When I am going into new situations I often begin with fantasies of hopeful promise that this will be a new haven….I paint pictures in my mind of a place where I’ll feel like I belong, they’ll feel like they (and I)  belong, we will all get along…Then I start to meet people….

So there we were on our new property, which has the outstanding characteristic of a creek running through it. Something else that is unusual about our new place is that there is a road both in front and in back of us.  The house came with a fence in front but not in back where the creek and the second road are. The house has a wall of windows that exposes most of the house to the street.  As we err on the modest, private side, we put a fence up.  But not for long.  The neighbors, these people who were supposed to be my new best friends, were, it turns out very entitled, nincompoops. They protested our fence!  They said it blocked “their” view of the creek (and of our back yard, living room, dining room and kitchen might I add).  The city even came out to inspect and after seeing how exposed our house was to the street Okayed the fence.  But the neighbors, who were obviously not my new best friends, kept pestering and complaining. We were forced to take our fence down.  Now everyone who walks and drives by can see what I am eating for breakfast, oh joy!

I was so mad I could spit.

And I stayed mad for a long time! I dreamt mad things about my neighbors. I told everyone I know how mad I was about it.  I could not stop thinking about it!  I felt exposed and vulnerable.  I felt like my family and I had no privacy and that everyone in our neighborhood might be looking into our yard and house all the time.

Right around Halloween time, as this whole conflict (and my anger) was at its climax, I had visions of hanging a Halloween witch in the tree, by the neck, with a sign that said, “It was the fence that led me to this.”  I know that is just crazy, but that is how […]

It feels so WRONG, when it’s not RIGHT…

Sometimes my mind loves black and white thinking.

And sometimes I hate that it does.

And no, the irony of this is not lost on me.

If I am thinking “mindlessly,” meaning without mindful awareness, my mind loves to decide right/wrong, good/bad, like/don’t like.  Not only do I gravitate to this way of thinking myself, but I also can project this on to others.  I often “return to mindfulness” only to find that I am in the middle of a story about whether “they” think I did something right or wrong…

It seemed like just another day

Late afternoon, long day, pulled up to the grocery store.  Suddenly realize I don’t have my wallet. “Did I leave it at the library yesterday?  Is it in my other bag at home?  Did I lose it? Damn, I need a few things for tonight’s dinner.”

“Okay, I have my checkbook. They don’t need ID for a check, right?  Not if it’s small.” I convince myself that I can write a check without ID and I head in.  I quickly get only what I need for that night’s dinner and go to checkout.  The feeling that I am trying to get away with something is lurking beneath the surface. I am unaware that I am slowly sinking into the world of right/wrong.  My “mindlessness” has caused me to miss that I am putting myself on trial.

The nice cashier asks for my ID. “I don’t have it. I left my wallet at the library, or maybe in my other bag…,” I start to ramble. Then I think, “this makes me look more suspicious, like  a fake check writer”. I blush. My black and white thinking kicks in with, “You are bad for not having your ID,… for being a fake check writer, a broccoli thief.” (I actually have money in the bank, but my unconscious good/bad thinking can convince me of almost anything if I’m not paying attention.).

The checker’s eyes are saying, “What is wrong with this person?”  She calls over the next checker, the bagger joins in, then the next bagger comes over and finally the manager… all five women staring at me and asking me questions, “Why didn’t I bring my wallet? Have I written a check here before? Do I come here often?” I am imagining all the judgments they are having about me and they are piling on all the judgments I am having about myself. I am starting to sweat. Then my feet are glued to the floor.

One of them vouches for me, “She […]

What If I Don’t Feel Nice Today?

Kindness. It sometimes feels like a “have to” or a “should.” Forced kindness can feel terrible and can evoke the thought of laying myself down at the feet of someone harsh and uncaring, and saying, “No, really. I don’t mind.  You can walk on me–I like it…..”

Mindfulness philosophy teaches a different version of kindness.  This approach to kindness is described as “one of the most beautiful aspects of our nature,” meaning it is something we all innately have and can enjoy.  It is also called a “divine abode” a.k.a “a super nice way to feel.”

To truly feel kindness in my own heart feels…well, it feels great.  “Mindful kindness” is a felt experience.  It grows from an internal connection to one’s heart rather than any external “should”.

Kindness has the potential to melt our hearts so that we can feel the connections we have in our immediate circles and beyond.

Recently I enjoyed a wave of authentic kindness while hosting a special “fairy party” for my daughter and her friends.  For lots of different reasons I was feeling tapped out as the party was beginning, yet I could still feel a true desire for my little one to feel celebrated and loved. So I dug deep and brought forth kindness from far inside myself.

As we all danced and sang fairy songs together her smile beamed with unmitigated joy. When we sat down in our circle to hear a fairy story, she leapt into my arms with a big hug and said, “I love you mama”.  This was one happy little girl! While her words were saying “I love you” I could see that she was also expressing (in three year old body language), “I feel celebrated, I feel loved… I feel the kindness”.  I felt absolute delight — another outcome of kindness practice.

However what I was happy about was not what I expected to be happy about. I wasn’t happy about the party exactly, I was happy about my daughter’s happiness. Anyone who loves another knows about this. My story is about my daughter. Yours may be about your partner, friend, parent etc.. The potential for kindness and delight to arise is in all of us.

BUT what about when I/we don’t feel kind at all?

What about when all the thoughts running through my/your head are… well, UN-kind…?

When I/you are with the kids and they have been yelling (whether in excitement or frustration), just yelling for what seems like hours on end, and we are NOT saying it, but we are thinking […]

Intimacy Near the Interstate – you can have it too!

I am running errands, driving to REI to return some uncomfortable hiking pants. It is a very average day.

I’m listening to a talk about mindful parenting with Jack Kornfield.  He is telling a story of a mother speaking very harshly to her child.  The mother in Jack’s story is threatening to “give her son something to cry about, if he doesn’t shut up…Now!”.  My eyes fill with tears as I think of that little child and his little blameless soul… Without wanting to, I picture my own children and the last time I scolded them, (my own memory is nothing like the story Jack was telling, but still… we all know sometimes we loose our patience… and I’m sure after we are calm again, we all wish we hadn’t …).

I find myself parked in front of REI fighting back tears and suddenly silently praying…. praying that my children feel loved, helped, connected and respected…. I wish for them to feel this even in the moment that their mama losses her patience over the spilled milk, the grabbing of toys, the refusing to put a sweater on, over whatever…

I take some deep breaths and remind myself of all the moments, in which I just know, they felt celebrated.  Then (because I have to, because my heart hurts for the inevitable pain they have and will experience), I remind myself of the theory that when children can experience conflict in a supportive relationship and “recover” from it with the support of a loving adult that this is actually helpful to them.

I remind myself of all the things I/we all know about mindful parenting.  And yet my heart still aches for this little boy in Jack’s story and for the moments when my own children seem sadden by their mama’s words or tone.  And my heart aches for all the children who need more kindness in their lives. And I recommit to being as kind as I can…

I remember a quote Sylvia Boorstein often shares, “Life is so difficult, how can we be anything but kind”.  And I cry in the parking lot for all the times I wasn’t… And I cry a little to for all the time I was.  Then I recommit to trying again and again to be kind, to be the kindness I seek.

And there I am, having a moment with my children, my own childhood, the other young one in my life now and those yet to come into it. I’m just off the interstate, in the […]

Stare Down That Dog

I overheard some women talking in a café. They were swapping stories about their neighbors. Apparently one of the women has a neighbor, as she described it, with “a slight case of obsessive-compulsive disorder”… “She keeps her yard immaculate”.  She continued to say.  “I actually like her obsessiveness though, I mean her yard is perfect… while my other neighbor never tends to her yard at all, I wish she were a little more obsessive.” Her café friend responded, “ Yes I wish I had a little OCD myself, think of all I would accomplish”.

My heart sank a little at the familiar perspective that being obsessive and compulsive is actually something we WANT for ourselves (and our neighbors) because it motivates us to do a really REALLY good job at…. whatever we have on our to do lists.

Do we have to be obsessive and compulsive in order to…..-take care of our yard, -clean our house, -complete our projects at work, -find the right mate, -eat well, -be on time, -return emails, -xyz….. fill in your own blank_____.

Do we really have to watch ourselves like a guard dog who is ready to bite? Do we have to note our every move, waiting for our next screw up so that we can pounce on ourselves?

When I heard these women wishing for obsessive-compulsive disorder for themselves (and their neighbors) I began thinking, “Is it compulsion and guard dogs that we really need to keep us in line? Or is there a deeper motivation that comes from something else?  Like maybe our own true desire and basic goodness?”

What I have seen is that for most of us, the growl of the guard dog or the repetition of our obsession is so loud and constant that we can’t really hear the calling of our basic goodness.

I am certainly no stranger to guard dogs, in fact I’ve know these so called “ motivational tools” in just about every shape and size.  I’ve stayed up all night obsessing and trying to appease that dog. Searching for scraps of meat to toss his/her way, anything to placate him/her so I can just GO BACK TO SLEEP!  I’ve spent entire days (really fun days, with really fun things happening) in negotiations with that guard dog.

Luckily this story has a happy ending.  Well mostly happy (mindfulness is NOT a miracle cure for all that ails us). But mindfulness sure did come through for me where this guard dog is concerned.  It was through the process of watching my mind, sensing […]

Tug of War for Peace

I spent “a week in paradise” over the winter holidays… you might think, as I did, that this would be a week full of relaxation and Peace and a general feeling of “everything is great”.  Well it was… some of the time… other times it was a tug of war in my mind and the question for me was who will win, Discontentment or Peace?

Day One: The warm air is like medicine, I am intoxicated and everything feels great!

Day Two: The game of tug of war begins and as I walk down the beach it feels like negative thoughts are pulling at my happiness, trying to yank this happy carpet out from underneath me (…Maybe I should be staying at this hotel instead of the one I am staying in;  Oh god look at all this beauty I have been missing, I can’t believe it has been so many years since I have come; Hey that is a nice sun dress, I would like one of those…)  As I watch the sun set over the ocean I am catching onto this mental game. I am able to remind myself of what I know to be true about the mind:

Science shows that evolutionarily our brains are programmed to scan for danger or problems. Think of yourself living on the plains, and you need to be constantly vigilant to look out for a lion in the distance coming to eat you.  Our brains (thousands of years ago) had to get very good at looking out for trouble. And here we are today with a lean mean trouble seeking machine in our heads.

As I walk down the beach I see what is happening in my mind. I recognize this mental habit and see it for what it is, an evolutionary habit. Once I am aware, it loses its power over my mind and I am able to once again settle into the truth of the moment, which is, there is no lion approaching, nor a modern day problem either (hotels, frequency of visits, dresses to be had…).  Everything is really fine. Better than fine. Everything is great and ahhh… now I feel in touch with that truth again.

Day Two: Yay. 1 point for Peace

Day Three: Cruising along in “my happy place” taking in the sights and sounds, feeling very alive and aware of my experience. I notice each juicy bite as I have my lunch from “taco trucks” on the street. I feel the glorious, warm ocean on my skin as I […]

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