This afternoon, a friendly, older couple came into the library with a little girl about eight years old. They asked me to help them locate a DVD and handed me a piece of paper with only the call number written on it: 792.8 COPP. I didn’t need to know the name and didn’t ask.
It ended up being a DVD of the Coppélia ballet. They were taking their granddaughter to see it later this week at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) and wanted her to know the story ahead of time.
I saw the New York City Ballet perform Coppélia at SPAC many times when I was a little girl. It was my favorite ballet aside from The Nutcracker. I told the girl I loved Coppélia when I was about her age and mentioned that the costumes are beautiful, and I think she will enjoy it.
The grandparents’ energy was lovely. Their personalities seemed a lot like my parents’. My mom always made sure I knew the story of the ballets before seeing them, and the grandmother’s excitement reminded me of her love for ballet performances at SPAC. And the little girl reminded me of little me.
My mom worked at SPAC since I was in elementary school and retired a few short years before she died five years ago. When she retired, my parents were given lifetime, complimentary tickets for the ballet and orchestra performances. They always sat in “their” seats in the amphitheater. After my mom died, I accompanied my dad and sat in her seat. Their seats have plaques, and my mom’s bears the inscription:
Nancy Meyer “The Heart of Art of SPAC” From your SPAC Family
My dad’s, on the seat next to hers, reads:
Ed Meyer Nancy’s Husband “Partner in the Arts”
I haven’t been to the ballet or orchestra since my dad passed away. However, thanks to a partnership this year between SPAC and the libraries I work at, I’m going tomorrow evening with my family. I would have loved to see Coppélia, but I’m not free that evening. But it makes me happy to think about the little girl and her grandparents going to see it.
It was a really sweet interaction. However, when I sat back down at the reference desk, my eyes teared up. It was the kind of moment that has become so much rarer than during the early years of bereavement.
Grief is so very, very different now than it was for a few years after my mom (and soon after, my dad) died. It even feels benevolent. There’s still an initial sting, but it subsides swiftly into gentle ripples of gratitude and appreciation. I’m so grateful because grief was intense and overpowering for a while, a flood tide force that knocked me down and threatened to pull me under. There were a few complicating factors that made it downright brutal and certainly the darkest, most challenging years of my life.
It’s not like that now, for I’ve become familiar with grief and have learned to co-exist peacefully with it. Although every now and then a “moment” happens, it’s so much more fleeting than it was before. The sea is quieter. More of a gentle splash than a smack-down.
Within seconds of feeling tears welling in my eyes at the library, a familiar patron approached me with a joke that made me smile. Then he showed me a very marked up book of poetry he carries with him that has some of my favorite poet’s work in it. And just like that, the “moment” had passed.
If a distraction hadn’t come along, I probably would have greeted it silently: Hello, Grief. Then I’d generate lots of self-compassion and compassion for others all around the world who are grieving. That’s what Grief seems to ask of me these days. It wouldn’t have stayed long. It comes to connect me with our common humanity and to help me cultivate lovingkindness.
The moment of grief at the library was poignant but very brief. The brevity made me aware of the contrast between the dark years and now. As soon as I got home, I sat down to write this because I want you to know, if you are grieving the loss of someone dear: It’s going to get better. Grief is impermanent. It changes. Your relationship with it will change. It won’t always feel so intense. In time, there’s even a possibility that Grief will be your friend and reveal its silver lining. Perhaps you’ll even learn to dance together.
It’s incredible out here on the dock this morning. There’s a refreshing river breeze. It’s even a little cool, which is welcome relief from the heat and humidity of the past few days. The waves are lapping against the shore, the sunlight is sparkling on the water, the warmth of the sun is caressing my skin, and the birds are singing. If the water weren’t so choppy, I’d go out in my kayak. But honestly, I’m glad to have an excuse to indulge in a different pleasure this morning: playing my singing drum on the dock.
I’ve had the drum for less than a week but have wanted one for quite a while. Actually, I wanted a hang drum, but they are very expensive and harder to come by. So I began exploring alternatives and then kind of forgot about it until a couple of weeks ago.
I love to play my singing drum. Especially on the dock on a bright and breezy, summer morning.
There’s road noise to contend with. Always is here on the busy side of the river. I hear the familiar vibration of the steel deck bridge and the cars and trucks only a few yards away from my spot on the dock. But I’m trying to keep my attention on what’s most important: what uplifts me and feels most right in this moment. Just letting all the traffic noise be and not pull me away from my own be-ing.
Making music while all this other stuff goes on is this morning’s meditation practice. Choosing to feel and express my interconnection with the sparkling sunlight on the river, the eagle flying over the island, the wind, the movement and rhythm of the water. Focusing on that. Making music with that.
I can’t control the road noise. But I can control where I put my attention and whether I am in harmony or disharmony with my surroundings. Does my music embody union with the sparkling sunlight on the water or resistance to the rumble of traffic rolling by? Am I expressing wholeness or separation?
The state of your mind and heart is an integral part of the music you offer the world, literally and figuratively.
My advice? Play what you love. Focus on what you love, what brings you joy, meaning, satisfaction, grace. Can you keep your focus on that when all the other stuff is going on around you? Can you tune the other stuff out so you can co-create with life? Or even better, can you incorporate it into the totality of what you are living and embracing this very moment and express unconditional presence?
I sense our music is of a higher quality – less fearful and more authentic – when we play (talk/listen/act/love) from a state of presence and interconnection.
It’s all part of a larger practice of being more improvisational and not relying on notes (of one kind or another) on a page. Expressing from the heart in the moment and trusting that whatever arises is what’s most needed and real and true. That’s the leading edge of my practice these days.
When I hit the record button on my phone, I noticed a subtle shift from expressing to performing. From letting the notes and rhythms flow uninhibited to wanting to sound good and be appealing. But that’s a practice, too. A continuum. My intention is to push the record button and remain in presence, whether I’m communicating through music or words. It’s the same basic practice whether it involves playing music, interacting one-on-one, leading a guided meditation, facilitating a meeting or workshop, addressing a group, or teaching a class of young children. In my case, all my early childhood teaching experience has become a foundation for the rest.
Cultivating deep authenticity and trust…in myself and the wisdom inside me. And also in the magic of connection that happens in the moment, that transcends any stories I create in my head about relationship.
I looked to others for guidance and validation my whole life. But that need comes from the false self, which is a layer I’m in the process of shedding. Because it’s time, and I have a feeling that hormones are finally on my side. Now what I want most of all – more than any kind of worldly success or status – is to trust and follow my own guidance. To be MORE present, improvisational, inner- and inter-connected, and LESS self-conscious, rehearsed, and influenced by others. To express my inner being rather than try to be who I think others want me to be. The latter has had a long enough run! It’s time for a new experiment. It’s kind of scary. But even more, it’s exciting.
So this morning, I brought my singing drum to the dock and allowed the sparkles of sunlight on the water to be the notes I played. They looked like this:
And if you’re curious, they sounded something like this:
The holistic fair had been on my calendar for months. I made sure not to schedule anything else for the day and looked forward to attending the event.
Then the day came, and I just couldn’t motivate myself to go.
I wished I had some girlfriends to go with who shared my interest in all things mind-body-spirit. No doubt I do. But nobody came to mind. If I lived in Ithaca, I could send an email to my Hidden Treasure group and go as a group. It would be fun. That kind of companionship and sense of belonging to a community is what I long for.
I thought: Maybe I should push myself to go anyway. But when I checked in with myself, I kept hearing no – and argued with it. There was a gigantic should hanging in the air.
If there’s anything I’ve learned in recent years, it’s that in moments like this, the sooner I can get out of my head, the better. The dilemma would not be solved by thinking about it. Because there was emotional energy involved. Frustration, confusion, sadness. I was in an energy funk.
Feelings are signals that are part of our inner guidance system. The energy in my body had information to offer me. If I just thought about it, I’d cut myself off from a powerful source of wisdom and guidance. The emotional imbalance in my body was a signal to tune in and be present to what was happening right now in the moment without getting caught up in mental activities like stories I have about who or how I am or theories about why.
So I sat on my meditation cushion, made some inquiries, and paid attention.
An Alchemy of Presence
First I asked: What feelings am I experiencing now? (Sadness.)
Then I did a body scan to notice where I felt it the most. (In my heart area.) I placed my hands there and let them rest gently over my heart while I tuned in to the energy of that area.
What does the feeling look like? (I saw a hunk of clay.)
What color is it? (Pink.)
Then I saw golden hands kneading the clay that had the consistency of Silly Putty. The hands kept kneading and kneading and kneading. Whereas I was eager to find out what would become of the clay, the hands seemed very patient. They just kept kneading, and as they did, I allowed impatience and sadness to be with me. I didn’t push them away.
Then a female voice (that seemed to be attached to the hands) told me that I am putting too much pressure on myself. It’s okay not to feel like striving today. It’s okay not to have a clear vision yet of what I am in the process of creating. She asked me if I trust the hands that are kneading the clay. (Yes, I do.) Then I just stayed with the pleasant sensation of kneading. I was being asked to be patient and just allow it to be what it is right now.
The voice told me THERE IS NO RUSH. Don’t worry about what it is to become. It’s all in good hands.
At one point, a worried thought arose, and it was worked into the clay. It got absorbed and became part of the substance that was being kneaded. Anything could be added to the mix, and it would help to create this substance that eventually would be formed into something.
I remained present to the kneading, and eventually the hands stretched the clay until it was very thin and transparent, allowing the light to shine through. It became so thin that it turned into a bubble. Then there were lots of bubbles. The voice explained that there are so many possibilities.
One bubble caught my attention. It tumbled along the green grass, and when it came to rest, I sat inside it. There were lots of translucent colors on the surface of the bubble. I became curious: What color did I gravitate toward? (Blue.) I allowed the blue light to shine on me as I sat inside the bubble. The blue light charged me with a different kind of energy.
Then the blue light mixed with the pink of the clay and turned purple. The purple became butterflies. So many butterflies! The purple butterfly energy filled me. It fluttered inside my body and filled me with a sense of certainty. I would just know. It was a completely different energy.
Then I saw the face that was attached to the golden hands and the voice. The face was like the sun and blew purple butterfly kisses to me. The butterflies filled me, and then there was a golden bridge that connected me with this higher being. The butterflies inside me pulled me in the direction of the golden hands and face. It was my Higher Self beckoning me.
After about 20 minutes of witnessing the story that unfolded in my heart chakra, it felt complete. The energy of sadness and confusion had shifted into peace, acceptance, and contentment. I felt calm and whole. When I returned to meditating, I experienced the sensation of a waterfall of light flowing down into my head and through my body. My energy pathways felt clear.
The confused, conflicted energy in my body was a signal that wisdom or guidance was trying to come through. It was a message of patience and not feeling like I have to strive today. Instead of going to a crowded convention center, I walked in the sunshine and fresh air, and that felt like exactly what I needed.
I’ve been no stranger to anxiety. It’s taken the form of worry, white coat hypertension in medical settings (traced back to early experiences), performance anxiety, and social anxiety. For a long time, my approach was to try to make the anxiety go away. I couldn’t accept it. It felt like a weakness or defect. If I was “spiritual” enough, I wouldn’t feel anxious. At least that’s what I told myself.
But trying to make it go away didn’t work. I tried taking deep breaths to get rid of the anxiety. That tended not to work, either. I was still stuck in my head.
This power struggle with my body and my attempts to force it into submission cut me off from its tremendous wisdom. Recommitting to mindfulness meditation practice has helped me to cultivate a different relationship with my body characterized by greater acceptance and less rejection. Hallelujah!
Recently, I discovered “The Felt Sense Poem” (author unknown) written in the voice of the symptoms and conditions that arise from having a body (meaning that I would read it as Anxiety speaking to me). It describes eloquently a different kind of relationship we can have with our bodies, by listening, allowing, and being present rather than indulging in our storylines and beliefs. Here are some excerpts:
I am your friend, not your enemy. I have no desire to bring pain and suffering into your life. I am simply tugging at your sleeve, too long immune to gentle nudges. I desire for you to allow me to speak to you in a way that enlivens your higher instincts for self-care. My charge is to energize you to listen to me with the sensitive ear and heart of a mother attending to her precious baby.
Let me be one of the harbingers that lead you to the mysterious core of your being where insight and wisdom are naturally available when called upon with a sincere heart.
Not your typical way of relating to physical or mental afflictions, huh? That’s what I’m talking about.
All the Incredible Stories
There are stories living in our body. Illuminating, healing stories. When I notice emotional energy in my body, I can’t wait to tune in to see what story will unfold. What it wants to tell me.
There was the time when a wild boar leaped out of my solar plexus chakra and ran into the woods. It was an energy that had been living in me for quite some time, and I felt so light and free when it left!
Another time, a mermaid swam around underwater and knew that the structures that seemed separate above the surface were connected underwater like the root systems of trees. When she came above the water embodying this understanding, her tears created healing rainbows.
There was the time when I felt anxious about a doctor’s appointment and saw water in the ocean pushing against a wall that kept me safe from all the water pressure. This story played out in my heart chakra. When I decided to allow the wall to dissolve, I discovered there was a magic umbrella I could hold onto that allowed me to hover over the water until it became calm. Then I enjoyed the sensation of floating on my back on the immense sea, feeling connected with it, part of it. I remembered how enjoyable it was for me to float on my back when I was young, before I became so self-conscious about my body. This was very different from the pressure of keeping that wall in place! I felt the difference and called on that imagery to relax my body when it tensed up before my appointment. The image carried the energy of safety. It was like a portal into calm.
There was the seriously EPIC story that played out in my sacral chakra. The story of the gleaming white Temple of Ascension in which trauma was transformed into transcendence through the presence of unconditional love and light from many angelic beings gathered around me. I can tap into the powerful, healing images and feelings of that story whenever I need to. It is immensely healing, especially when shame arises.
When I felt upset and experienced a desire to control and possess, there was the story in my heart chakra of a large monkey inside a cage. The monkey didn’t want to be in the cage and stomped his feet. Eventually, the monkey shrunk until it was small enough to slip between the bars and out of the cage. Then it regained its normal size and started to spin the cage like a top. It was a golden top spinning gold light. It spun faster, and it was all golden light. Eventually the monkey dissolved, and only the spinning, golden light remained. And my energy had shifted into peace and equanimity.
When I felt very introverted before a Hidden Treasure group retreat weekend began, there was a story in my throat chakra of a bird-like creature almost like a bat with its wings folded around itself, but the wings were blankets. When I rested my hands on my throat area, the shining sun warmed the little creature, and its blanket wings unfolded and became prayer flags. Then the little creature dissolved and became the wind. My energy had shifted from introversion to being ready to connect with my classmates.
And there was the time I felt negativity toward someone whose picture came up in my social media feed. This was another heart story, of a gigantic, black, iron teardrop. As I felt great sadness, the teardrop sweated. I kept my hands on my heart chakra and felt the warmth and noticed the image change. It started to become more greenish-blue and transparent. I noticed hands inside the teardrop, reaching outward. Then the greenish-blue became the ocean. The iron teardrop had dissolved and become the ocean. Then the hands put the sun into the sky. The sun was the head, and the hands were part of a gigantic, luminous body that contained the ocean and everything in it. There was nothing this luminous energy would exclude. This luminous, inclusive being was so much bigger than anything in this world and could embrace it all.
When this story ended, I felt Universal Love toward the person and no more negativity. If I find myself going back into that reaction, I can recall that luminous image at the end of the story and experience it again. It’s more effective than working with my thoughts and self-talk because that image carries healing energy that I can take refuge in.
Out of Our Head and Into the Present
Some of our thoughts are like balloons or bubbles that just float away or dissolve on their own or when they are observed. They’re not emotionally charged. Others carry an emotional charge that’s anchored in the body.
That’s where our energy stories reside. We can dissolve the energy blocks and get the energy flowing by tapping into those stories and images and bringing the energy of unconditional love to those areas. Like a mother attending to her precious baby. If you can become aware of where you feel the energy in your body, your witnessing presence can transmute uncomfortable sensations into healing wisdom.
This is different from going into our heads to try to dominate and fix the problem. Being present to energy sensations in the body is a more receptive response of connection, empathy, and care. For balance, we need both, along with an awareness of when to use them.
When we go straight to the action step and employ our thinking minds to manage an emotional uprising, the suppressed feelings might get lodged in our bodies, leaving the wisdom untapped and undermining true resolution. This approach only addresses part of the issue. In my opening example, my thoughts revealed a longing for girlfriends I can do things with. But that was only part of the solution. The energy work offered another kind of wisdom.
Instead of going straight to problem-solving, we can notice where the energy is in our body and be present to it. That might mean resting your hands on that spot with loving presence, simply being aware of the energy (and the act of noticing helps it to shift), or seeing if there are more visuals to work with, or even a story unfolding.
In the beginning, and especially when there is trauma involved, it’s good to have a guide for this kind of work. My spiritual director, Alice, has guided me through the process a number of times, and I’ve witnessed her guiding others during our Hidden Treasure meetings. I had a psychotherapist who used this approach, too. Eventually, I started remembering to take myself through the process when emotional stuff came up.
Experimenting with this approach has been really helpful. It gets me unstuck. It was always available, but I didn’t realize it because I was trapped in my head, convinced thinking was the answer. I’ve learned there are limitations to taking an intellectualized, rational approach and remaining in our stories, explanations, and theories about how we are and why. Especially when feelings are involved.
There is another way to work with emotions that arise, by paying attention to what is going on right now and the fresh content that is emerging. At such times, the sooner we can get out of our heads and into the present moment, the better!
Scrolling through my social media feed last night, I got the distinct impression that 2018 was a very difficult year for many in my network. I know the feeling (been there, done that!), although 2018 was quite the opposite for me. As I drove home from work last night, it occurred to me that 2018 might have been thebest year of my life thus far. I took a mental inventory of every year of my adult life and affirmed that it was. My intention for the New Year is to keep that positive momentum going, which is quite different from all the years I was grateful for the fresh, new beginning the New Year offered.
If 2018 was a real dud (or worse) for you, then I wish you a much better 2019.
New Year, New Material
I woke up this morning from a dream that revealed a couple of opportunities for growth this year. I also experienced some feelings that surprised me last night and showed me there’s opportunity for growth there, too. Then there’s my very conscious intention to feel more physically fit and comfortable in my body. In other words, I have some material to work with – which is always the case. And that is actually quite exciting.
And Old Material, Too
Feeling self-conscious about my body is really, really old stuff that has kept me from engaging more with the world. It even kept me from agreeing to be my sister’s matron of honor when she got married. (Yeah, it was that bad.) And I’ve always done my best to avoid any dancing scenarios – although I did teach aerobics many years ago. But now I feel ready to do something about this ridiculousness.
I know when body shame became activated. It was when I was ten or eleven years old, and my mom sat me down and had a little talk with me about my weight. At the time, I was an early developer going through a “filling out” stage. Until that day, I hadn’t given much thought to how I looked. But that talk rocked my world and made me feel there was something really wrong with me. I became fixated on my appearance and felt I needed to look good in order to be loved.
I never told my mom how serious an effect that talk had on me and on our relationship. She never meant to hurt me. She worked as a flight attendant recruiter, and in that world physical appearance was of the utmost importance. And I was a sensitive kid.
I’ve done some inner child work in which I imagined my current self as a loving presence in the room during that talk and assured my fifth-grade self that she was beautiful and loveable just the way she was. That was part of the healing. Now I mostly work with feelings as they arise and constrict the present moment, and send love and compassion to both my mom and my younger self.
Back to the Gym
Last winter, I walked outdoors in all kinds of weather conditions, and it was great to experience the fresh air and nature connection. However, it didn’t do much for me physically and actually left me feeling more out of shape than I’d ever felt in my life. When we had a snowstorm in November, I decided I wasn’t going to spend a long winter exercising outdoors (though I do hope for a good season of snowshoeing) and reactivated my gym membership. I’ve been working out almost every day for the past six weeks or so, and it feels awesome.
Every day, I imagine how great it will feel when I finish my workout, and that feeling motivates me to get to the gym. Focusing on positive feelings is key.
I was inspired by a few friends who’d recently committed to fitness and experienced results that included losing weight, having more energy, and feeling better emotionally. Still, I held off on reactivating my gym membership because the thought of exercising indoors around other people with lots of television screens mounted from the ceiling was entirely demotivating.
But I found a way to make it work. I have a subscription to Gaia and spend my time on the cardio machines absorbed in enlightening, inspirational content. The rest of the world melts away when I’m in my little cardio-Gaia cocoon.
So that is going well and has momentum. I do it because it feels great, and I also anticipate how I will feel even better months from now – because that’s what happened with my meditation practice.
Last spring, I recommitted to a daily habit of meditation, and after more than seven months, my practice is solid. It’s not something I feel obligated to do. There’s no dogma attached to it. I do it because it makes such a positive difference in the way I feel, and I want to feel that way more. I expect to experience the same kind of positive effects with exercise. Already, it’s something I’m motivated to do because it feels so good, instead of being something I “have to” do. It’s a subtle yet important difference.
The other part of the physical fitness equation, of course, is food intake. I have a pretty healthy diet already but can improve in terms of quantity. There’s a powerful reference experience for this, too, that gives me hope.
The weeklong vipassana meditation retreat I went on last spring and have referenced frequently (because it was so transformative!) involved sitting meditation, walking meditation, dharma talks, and EATING MEDITATION every waking moment. More than 100 of us gathered in the dining hall three times a day for completely silent meals. No eye contact or words spoken. Just mindful eating. Contemplation of what was on our plate and the sensations of tasting, chewing, swallowing, craving, fullness, etc.
During those meals, my plate was like a mandala. A complete universe. I didn’t think about second helpings, and while chewing a forkful of food, it even felt too complicated to think about the next bite or to arrange the food on my plate while still chewing. Instead, I was mindful of the taste and physical sensations and didn’t pick up my fork until I was ready for the next bite.
I appreciated the sensation of comfortable fullness and noticed the pull between that lovely satisfaction and craving more. Resting in satisfaction and choosing to stay with that instead of longing for more is what I remember most about mindful meals at the retreat center. When the retreat was over, I set an intention to eat mindfully one meal a day. But I didn’t follow through on that. Life got in the way, and meals were often rushed. Stress-eating happened.
When I got home from the gym today, I had a homemade buddha bowl for lunch and became aware of thinking about what I’d have after finishing the bowl. Then I remembered my retreat experience and tried to be present to the sensation of enoughness. And it worked. I didn’t have the rice cake with peanut butter afterwards. Didn’t give it any attention. Instead, I lingered in satisfaction. It was a sprawling, spacious sensation, a sense of fullness. It felt really good. Just like a good workout or meditation session.
So mindful eating is a new frontier I want to focus my attention on. Not in a dogmatic way. No shoulds. Better to remember the delicious sensation of one-plate satisfaction from the vipassana retreat and my intention to bring that awareness into my daily life because it feels so good, in itself. Add another healthy habit to my life as a gesture of self-love and lovingkindness, rather than focus on dissatisfaction.
A Path of Kindfulness
We all have our areas for improvement, but what a difference it makes to set intentions based on self-compassion rather than on self-loathing. Focusing on how we want to feel rather than on a current, unsatisfactory condition that brings us down. Imagine it alreadyso, as Adriene Mishler from Yoga with Adriene encouraged in her kickoff email for Dedicate, a 30-day yoga journey to start the New Year that I’m doing for the fourth year in a row. 2018 was my best year yet because I learned the value of focusing on the positive and not giving attention to negative, disempowering thought patterns.
We have a choice about where we put our attention. Choosing presence and satisfaction over craving is a lovely experiment. When you experience the loveliness of it, it can motivate you to do it more. To make it a habit for all the right reasons.
In addition to being aware of satisfaction and craving through mindful eating, you also can be mindful of your thoughts and realize when self-consciousness about body image creeps in and let it just pass without clinging. Then your thoughts about your body become an opportunity for awakening and practicing lovingkindness, tenderness, and acceptance. Through kindfulness, you can appreciate and accept your body now, even as you envision feeling even better about it in the future.
Gratitude is another friend when you’re working with body shame. It is a blessing to have a body that is healthy and not in pain. So many people in this world would give anything to have a healthy, pain-free body. Being able to exercise is a blessing. So is having food to eat.
I absolutely did not intend to write today about the cliché New Year’s topics of diet and exercise. I didn’t intend to write at all. But as I sat in satisfaction after finishing the last, nourishing bite of my buddha bowl, it’s what arose. (I love the inspiration that comes from Presence, and writing was more satisfying than more food would have been.)
At this time of year, when the sun sets early and the warmth of the wood stove and lighting in my home are so cozy and inviting, I turn my attention to a delicious December ritual of reviewing the entire year and setting intentions for the New Year. 2018 was my third consecutive year of being really intentional about goals and doing monthly reviews to reflect on successes, challenges, what I’m grateful for, and what I’ve learned.
For the past three years, I’ve used Leonie Dawson’s My Shining Year Life Goals Workbook to set and review intentions. I’ve always kept my workbook really close, carrying it in a tote bag that accompanied me everywhere. However, at the end of April I went on a seven-day, silent vipassana meditation retreat that changed everything and completely reset my mind. Most of my goals no longer resonated. They didn’t feel deeply inspired and lacked momentum and oomph.
For a while, it felt like I didn’t really have any goals or desires, other than to maintain a daily meditation practice. Through that practice, new and deeper aspirations arose in time and inspired action. It was a time of presence, trusting, patience, and not-pushing that basically reset my life!
A year ago, I never would have imagined I’d be running a preschool program. But one step at a time, I followed what felt right, and here I am back in teacher mode part-time, loving it and feeling enriched by the presence of young children and a wonderfully supportive work environment.
I also never would have imagined that I’d complete Reiki Master training this year. That was another path that gained momentum as I put one foot in front of the other, following what resonated and lit me up. These were probably the two biggest surprises of the year.
It was a year of deep shifts, soul lessons, and transformation. I learned how to send healing energy of Universal Love to people instead of getting pulled into their dramas or trying to save them. I shifted from grief to appreciation and integration, and from wanting to be loved and taken care of to tapping into a higher source of love and support from which I can nurture others and myself. I’ve shifted from being concerned about what others think of me to focusing on how I can be of service. And from thinking about what I could or should do, to discerning what feels deeply right.
Those closest to me say they’ve never seen me so happy. I feel peaceful and satisfied, even as I work on new goals.
How did these shifts come about? One lesson and revelation at a time.
*Note: I use the terms true self, true nature, higher self, and inner being interchangeably.
♥ I am not an orphan. I am a matriarch.
♥ When you spend more time attuned to positive energy, you lose interest in what doesn’t resonate with that. You set your joy thermostat higher.
♥ We don’t have to become more to improve ourselves. We just have to get back in alignment with our true nature.
♥ Perhaps those who hurt me most were planted in my path to help me separate from my false self and align with my true self. Perhaps it was necessary for me to hit an all-time vibrational low in order to apply so much effort in the direction of positive growth and bounce back this much. The past few years have brought me into greater alignment with my true self, by going out of alignment for a while so I could experience the contrast and realize how important it is to be in alignment and let go of what doesn’t serve that harmony.
♥ My parents may not have understood me, but they loved me, and that’s what matters.
♥ Choosing your thoughts first thing in the morning is much like deciding what you want to wear. You could even set out a go-to positive thought the night before.
♥ It’s empowering to stop blaming and accept the invitation to take responsibility for your own patterns. If you can be honest with yourself about your patterns, you have the choice to work on clearing them (or not). If you don’t clear them, you’ll continue to attract more of the same.
♥ The patterns of fantasy, dwelling on the past, and focusing on what’s missing have caused me much unnecessary suffering! My higher self isn’t interested in the past and isn’t served by focusing on what’s missing. I connect with it by putting attention on what lights me up and inspires me.
♥ I intensify feeling bad about myself by fanning the flames with fantasy and thought.
♥ So much of my mental activity is not useful or necessary. It just fills the spaces.
♥ I learned the distinction between the compulsive need to achieve something versus a deep inspiration to pursue something. I need to rest in this spacious awareness and wait for deeper inspiration to arise without rushing it.
♥ Surrender to the lull because it’s an important season. Trust it, and don’t force anything. Just notice what arises and feels important. Lull times are opportunities to practice patience and equanimity.
♥ On grief: When I was able to name it, allow it, and observe it, it subsided quickly. The waves are sharp, but they don’t last unless you feed them with emotion.
♥ At the end of the retreat, the retreat guides told us we were really deep in stillness and probably didn’t realize how deep, and we were also very sensitive. It’s that way with grief, too. You might not realize how vulnerable and sensitive you are.
♥ It’s easier to ride the waves when you’re not upset at the “inconsiderate” boaters who caused them. You accept that there will be waves and ride them with equanimity.
♥ As I become more conscious of my thoughts, I can choose which ones to give attention to and which ones to release.
♥ A regular meditation practice helps to separate truth from delusion.
♥ Don’t give myself away! It’s important to have people pay for a service so they will be more fully invested in it and get more out of it.
♥ Absence of inspiration or even financial prosperity is no excuse to believe erroneous thoughts. It is an invitation to practice a higher vibration. It doesn’t have to be specific and focused on a certain outcome and simply can be appreciation, love, and trust. When I catch myself thinking about needing to generate more income, I can notice I’m thinking and remember to focus on a deeper, perhaps more general aspiration instead of a worrisome sense of lack.
♥ Inspiration arrives when you are present to the here and now, not absorbed in the past or thinking forward to the future. It is an energy of the present moment and spaciousness. There is so much wisdom, insight, and energy available if we can stay in the present and not get pulled back into the past or projected into the future.
♥ There are moments when I feel grateful for all the choices I’ve made that have brought me to where I am, doing exactly what I’m doing. Moments when I’m not in pursuit because I realize I’ve already arrived (in my own way, not anyone else’s). Moments that are free from any concerns of measuring up. It seems that feeling this way is great practice for a fulfilling life.
♥ Spacious awareness is very different from analytical and logical thinking. It takes you completely out of the well-worn neural grooves of habit and thought. There is so much more wisdom and healing energy available beyond the thinking mind.
♥ When I noticed myself being drawn to a “seductive little thought”, putting space around it brought the realization that there are so many other choices in this moment. When I noticed my mind gravitating toward the seductive thought, it was like it was a toddler getting too close to the fire and a loving adult gently picking her up and bringing her back to safety. Whenever my little mind starts wandering towards seductive and unhealthy beliefs, Big Mind can gently but firmly lead it away. Seductive thoughts, challenging conditions, and temptations are the most powerful invitations to presence. They ultimately offer the realization that you don’t need the condition you are craving in order to be satisfied, fulfilled, content, happy, and peaceful.
♥ The way I feel towards my body is a tremendous opportunity for awakening and practicing loving-kindness and acceptance. Mindfulness replaces self-consciousness with spaciousness that gives rise to tenderness and compassion. Our challenging qualities and emotions are actually our greatest teachers once we stop being at war with them (and with ourselves).
♥ Compulsive beliefs are like weeds, and you have to continuously weed your garden of what is not desired or healthy so you can cultivate what you desire.
♥ Exploring and sorting through inherited stuff has been an incredible experience of discovering where the personalities and relationships fit into a larger context of both family and broader society/history. Holding a person‘s birth and death certificates in my hands at the same time is a powerful reflection on the brevity of life and how we are all links in a chain. Also, noticing what’s left behind from all these ancestral lives puts my own life story into perspective and inspires me to reflect on what is most important.
♥ Don’t be unkind to yourself to be kind to others. Be sure to include yourself in your circle of kindness.
♥ Even though they are no longer physically present, my parents and grandparents are still very much alive and able to give me their loving presence stripped of all personality quirks. They are with me now more than ever. It doesn’t matter whether I am calling their spirits to me or am calling upon memories of them and their finest qualities. Either way, their love is real and enduring.
♥ Spiritual expansion is such a delicious experience, whether it’s feeling your heart expand to love a brand new baby when you thought it was already full, expanding beyond the well-worn groove of thought during meditation and identifying with the larger screen of consciousness, or expanding beyond habitual behaviors, activities, responses, etc. to try something new that feels more aligned with your true self.
♥ Unkind thoughts about myself and others are opportunities and cues for loving-kindness.
♥ Times of waiting – in line, at a traffic light, waiting for a website to load, waiting for someone to move out of the scene I want to photograph, etc. – are opportunities for mindful presence and cues for dropping out of thought and into my body or heart. The result is that I don’t live in my head as much as I used to and have more control over that. Presence takes me out of my thoughts. The more I can get out of my head and into the present moment, the better!
♥ The biggest impediment to me being of service to the world is my own self-consciousness and self-doubt.
♥ Certain thoughts fall into the category of “The Forbidden Forest”. I can’t go there for a moment, can’t even stick a toe in that forest. It’s a line you just don’t cross. There’s no need to analyze or reflect. It’s forbidden because I’ve learned from experience not to go there, not to invite in that energy because it doesn’t serve me in any way and can be quite destructive. When one of those thoughts arises, I can acknowledge and choose not to indulge. Basically say, “I see you, and no, thank you.” It takes discipline and willpower, but it’s worth it.
♥ Instead of saying, “I have a problem with this,” reframe it as, “I have an opportunity for healing.” Bless it. It’s an opportunity to rewrite your programming, insert a new line of code into the existing script, or remove a bit of faulty code. You can allow the old, negative thoughts or behaviors to serve as a trigger for something new. Maybe for an affirmation or a more positive thought or response. You might not notice the problematic code until you upgrade your intentions. But it can be removed. You don’t have to blame anyone else or blame yourself. Recognizing it allows you to fix it.
♥ I can send love, light, and Reiki rather than worry about people I can’t help or situations I can’t do anything about.
♥ I am the one who needs to accept me.
♥ Instead of feeling bad about myself, affirm: May this, too, serve my awakening.
♥ No matter what you’ve done in the past or how you feel about it, you can choose love, and that transforms everything. You can choose to forgive yourself and have compassion for yourself. Don’t waste a moment depriving yourself of that love.
♥ To forgive does not mean to condone. To accept does not mean to enable someone else or to disempower yourself. Forgiveness and acceptance are qualities of the heart. They are not a checklist of behaviors. The same is true of love. It’s not unloving to hurt someone when your heart is tuned to love. Their reaction is not your responsibility. It’s not your responsibility to make things right for everyone, but to live with a loving heart. Sometimes the most loving response brings pain to another, though you neither intend nor want to hurt them. The pain is not your fault. You did not cause it. It is their opportunity to grow, to dispel delusion, to gain wisdom, to love more. That’s what you can wish for them. You can’t take away someone’s pain. You can’t source their inner peace. Rather than spin your wheels trying to do that, aspire to be a better version of yourself. Put effort into cultivating your own inner peace so you can be an example of how to break free from suffering and live with love. Doing that can empower others by giving them hope.
♥ It’s not about trying to get rid of the ego, but balancing it so it can work in harmony with spirit.
♥ Sometimes the missing piece is hidden in plain sight, but we don’t recognize it because we don’t see it from the right angle. You can just turn something a little bit and see it from a completely different angle, and that changes everything. Clarity dawns, and then you’re different. New possibilities emerge as if out of nowhere.
♥ The most important thing is to be in alignment with who I am and what I want. Caring what people think about me and doing what they want me to do because I want them to feel good doesn’t benefit anyone if it takes me out of alignment with my inner being.
♥ When you get still and quiet, a deeper wisdom emerges that cuts out so much busywork that was neither necessary nor useful. When you take time to tap into deeper wisdom, life has greater ease to it.
♥ New ideas flow to me constantly and create new possibilities. Insight and inspiration flow to me in abundance and enrich my life. If it’s hard to feel good about financial prosperity, focus on that.
♥ It was never my job to excavate another person’s heart. That’s messy business, and it takes too much energy and attention away from what’s most important: being in harmony with my inner being.
♥ May the enjoyment of doing something I love, rather than perfectionism, guide my work.
♥ Insight, inspiration, and intuition create new possibilities that didn’t exist previously. Trust that they will come when the time is right and that I will be led to the best paths by following intuition, by making time for stillness, and listening and acting on what arises.
♥ There is light in me that needs to shine. It can’t wait until I think I’m more ready or perfect. Let it shine now!
♥ You can be inspired by others, or you can learn from them how you don’t want to be. But don’t compare yourself to anyone!
♥ There’s a difference between wholeness and expansion. You can feel whole and complete and still seek expansion. Expansion brings you to new levels of awareness and possibilities. Expansion isn’t just about goals. It’s about what happens to you on the inside as you live from day-to-day.
♥ The dark times can be useful for growing your soul even when it feels like you’re doing the opposite. It might compel you to ask questions and look at things in ways you’ve never considered them before. It might push you to your breaking point, which is the point at which everything you thought to be true about your life breaks down and new truth emerges like a shoot from a seed whose shell has broken open. And you’re never the same again. You’ve grown.
♥ Having so many challenging personalities in my life must be part of my path and serve my growth. Playing the victim inhibits expansion. I’ve done that. I’ve cloistered myself out of shame. But that was then, and it’s a whole new ballgame now. I can look at the conditions of my life and the people in it as material for alignment and expansion. They help me to cultivate unconditional love and boundaries. It all serves my awakening and further growth.
♥ If someone seems harmful or hurtful or has really bad energy, I can see them through the eyes of unconditional love from a distance. It doesn’t mean trying to save them or change them in any way. It means seeing their infinite radiance even if they don’t let it show. We have to remember to see ourselves through that lens, as well.
♥ There are unresolved stories that live in our body. We can release energy blocks and get the energy flowing by giving attention to those stories and images and bringing unconditional love to those areas – and watching them transform.
♥ I have a new relationship with money now because it’s not tangled up in my relationship with my dad and what he could or couldn’t give me that I really wanted. As I heal my relationship with my dad, I heal my relationship with money.
♥ Unconditional love is different from enabling. It’s about seeing someone’s perfection and loving them completely without wanting to change them or their circumstances because I acknowledge that I do not understand the reasons behind them. My mantra: I see your divinity.I love you unconditionally. I trust your path and honor your free will.
♥ The goal isn’t to get people to listen to me, buy what I’m selling, or look at the world the way I do. Let them be who they are. I just need to focus on moving towards satisfaction. Don’t look outside of myself and blame other people for what I feel insecure about. Stay focused on what inspires me and feels good.
♥ My creativity offers opportunities to transcend the need to be approved and accepted by others or to compare myself to others. Create for the joy of it rather than being concerned about any kind of reaction, response, or result. Just create – and share what I create with the world. Maybe even teach it. But don’t keep it to myself.
♥ Competition and comparison are the kiss of death for creatives.
♥ Don’t put attention on what makes me feel bad. Instead, focus on what I feel really good about. If it’s something that needs my attention, find a way to reframe something negative into something positive.
My friend, Colleen’s 18-year-old son, Isaac, is an amazing wildlife and landscape photographer. Last summer, his shot of the solar eclipse made National Geographic’s “Daily Dozen.” I have to admit, I was a little jealous.
Okay, more than a little. It wasn’t just the shot itself. It was the killer lens he used to capture it and the resources he has access to, including epic landscapes. And he was only 17 at the time.
Today I learned Isaac was named Young Photographer of the Year through the prestigious Windland Smith Rice Awards for nature and wildlife photography, and his winning shot, “Battle of the Bulls,” will be in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
There are moments when you realize how much you’ve grown and that the work you do on a daily basis really does make a difference. Learning of Isaac’s latest accomplishment was one such moment…because I didn’t feel jealous or envious as much as I felt truly happy for him. And that’s a big deal for an Enneagram “Four” like me because we tend to default into envy, comparing ourselves to others and feeling bad because we convince ourselves that we don’t measure up and lack any kind of personal significance and existential worth.
In the past year, I’ve done a lot of inner work – more than I can remember ever doing in a year. Diving into Enneagram work has made a huge difference in my life. It’s a powerful combination along with daily mindfulness meditation practice. Finally, I can catch myself when I start to go into “Enneagram Four negative thoughts” and label them as such…and transform them or let them go.
Noticing and labeling are important. You can think of a thought as a bus with a sign lit up that shows where it’s headed: “The Dark Side of Enneagram Four”. Seeing that sign, I realize it’s not a bus I want to get on. It’s one of the usual routes I’ve taken all my adult life, but now I can see it for what it is and where it goes to and can let it pass. It stops in front of me, and I hear the sound of the door opening and the bus driver inviting me to get on…and then choose to continue sitting right where I am.
As the bus pulls away, I go back to noticing the sights and sounds around me, the sensation of breathing, the areas of tension in my body, and don’t give that bus a second thought. Eventually, another bus comes along with either another or the same destination sign lit up, and again I can make a conscious choice about whether or not to get on and go for a ride.
This is kind of amazing! It’s like the bumper sticker slogan: You don’t have to believe every thought you think. Freedom from thought. Yes, we do have a choice! Why don’t they teach us that in school?? What a difference it would make in our personal lives and in society.
So instead of wasting time and energy wishing I had that sweet glass and 12,000 Instagram followers, instead of getting on that thought-bus that travels down dismal streets like “I really screwed up my life” and “There must be something seriously wrong with me”…
I allowed Isaac’s success to inspire me and to help me clarify what is most important to me. Because that’s what you can do when you don’t get on the bus that takes you to places that suck the life out of you.
Truth is, I’ve been focusing on a lot of other things lately. Building infrastructure for photography and other endeavors. Decluttering across the board – emails, Pinterest boards, all kinds of stuff that has accumulated but no longer fits with who I have become and what I want to move toward. I’ve been doing portrait shoots, but because I’ve been so busy, I haven’t taken my camera out as much as usual to photograph nature, which is my true passion. I haven’t even left the area in the past year except to go on spiritual retreats at two retreat centers.
Isaac’s photography reminded me that I have a photography bucket list. It reminded me that the Adirondacks and New England (for fall foliage) are close by. Even Maine isn’t too far away for photographing northern lights. His photography reminded me of the importance of having a work schedule that offers flexibility to travel for photography. And this is good because I nearly interviewed this week for a position that would have made that much more difficult – and doesn’t fit with who I am now, anyway!
Isaac’s photography reminded me that there are beautiful places near and far. Just as with meditation, healing, and spiritual growth, you start where you are right now. That’s what you work with. There’s no need to wait until conditions are better or different – until I can travel out of the area or until fall or until I’m awake for a really nice sunrise on the river. Right now, there is a garden full of morning glories just outside my door. Start there. Photograph them…because that’s what’s available to me right now.
Isaac’s photography reminded me that having my camera in hand makes me more aware of the beauty around me, and that is a big part of my spiritual practice. It re-inspired me to take out my camera every day because it adds so much meaning and joy to my life.
And so I did. I photographed the morning glories outside my door. I didn’t capture any National Geographic worthy images, but I fell in love all over again with the anatomy of morning glories, how they look dappled with raindrops, and the way their petals roll up when they’re ready to call it a day. Feeling appreciation, awe, fascination, wonder, and connection with nature feels so good and allows me to be my best self much more than wallowing in disempowering envy, self-pity, and shame. Neuroplasticity is for real! I am creating new mental habits!
So thank you, Isaac, for your passion for photography, and congratulations on yet another success! Thank you, too, for the inspiration and reminders about who I am and what’s most important. Isn’t it wild that by doing what we love, we can affect others in ways we’d never imagine?
Of course, that could go either way. Witnessing accomplishments like Isaac’s could lift a person up or bring a person down depending on that person’s own level of mindfulness and self-esteem. It’s useful to keep in mind that when you are in the spotlight (or even when you’re not) and receive unflattering comments or unsolicited advice, they often are more about the person commenting/advising than the quality of your work!
And of course, shooting in Wyoming with Isaac is one of the items on my photography bucket list!