Building community in a changing world

October 21, 2020

I want to know it’s safe to be a child again.

The lyrics from this song really stuck in my craw this week – so I spent some time noodling upon what it means. My gut instinct told me that it was probably some idealized version of what childhood is like. So my noodling consisted of tapping into that sense of idolized childhood. Not having to worry about shelter, food. Not reading the newspaper. Yes, that’s something I can get on board with!

For me, the “adult” version of that might be is the non-judgmental listening practice that I share with my mindfulness friends. Being there to simply listen – no matter what the other person says – not offering any advice (even subtly) unless expressly asked to do so. That is a safe environment in which one can share literally anything. Which is a great release – the ability to unburden oneself by just naming it. Which in my experience goes a long way towards producing a desired shift in direction…

October 14, 2020

A “Gratitude” Journal

As our “Year of Living Mindfully” program came to a close this past weekend – in a sweet-connected & compassionate virtual lovefest – we were reminded by our teacher, Jonathan Foust, about the power of a gratitude journal. I’ve already blogged about the power of gratitude as a way to help change your way of thinking, your attitude. By focusing on neural pathways that give you pleasure rather than reinforce those that bring you pain & anxiety, you can retrain yourself physiologically.

There’s a lot of resources about the science of all this – and I’m sure I’ll get around to blogging about the books that bear this out because when you read them, they read true – but for now, I’ll just highlight the simple suggestion that you keep a “gratitude” journal if you’re looking to feel better about things. All you do is write something each day that you feel grateful for. If you’re really down and struggling to come up with something, Jonathan recommended that you just list parts of your body that don’t hurt (eg. a finger, a toe) – so that you start somewhere…

October 6, 2020

“Every Time I Pass, Every Time I Think of You, I Love You”

I was fortunate to attend my baby sister’s wedding this weekend – a small intimate affair – and it was so wonderful to participate in a joyous occasion. My new brother-in-law is fabulous – and the vows that were exchanged were truly special. One line from my brother-in-law really grabbed my attention: “every time I pass, every time I think of you, I love you.” Wow, man, wow!

I’m so lucky to be married myself to such a special person. I’m in love with her each & every day. Writing those words is such an easy thing to do. But how am I capable of so much love? A good question.

And from what I’ve learned, it starts with loving yourself first. I spent some time with my mindfulness group a few days ago – and wound up uttering “I love myself, and I always have” to the group. It was such an odd thing to say, I know, but it felt profound to share it, to fully realize it. It’s at my core. Something that I don’t think can be taken away from me. Reflecting on that makes that love grow only stronger – for myself, for my loved ones, for the world, for anyone I’ve ever known…

September 30, 2020

The Beauty of “Feeling Grounded” (Feeling “Normal” Again)

My favorite part of yoga is at the end, you typically will go into “corpse” pose – savasana. You’re just laying there in silence, feeling the ground beneath you. And if you’re mindful about it, you really do feel that ground. And you feel grounded.

In these crazy times, I find it difficult to feel grounded. In fact, I think I had forgotten that feeling. But over the past few months, I have been gathering with some mindfulness friends in socially distanced circumstances and meditating together. Sharing. Laughing. Crying. These “in person” meetings always leave me with a taste of feeling grounded because they are “normal.” And it’s so interesting how rare it is these days to feel just that – “normal.” Because “normal” isn’t that anymore, it’s rare. So I treasure it – it truly is a gift – the new joy of “normal”…

September 23, 2020

I am here for my purpose.

I thought I’d share this wonderful quote from Brene Brown that a friend recently posted on Facebook:

“I am here for my purpose.
I’m not here to make people comfortable or to be liked. My purpose is to know and experience love. This means excavating the unsaid. In the world and in me.
Knowing and experiencing love means calling shame, fear, dehumanization, and injustice by their birth name: Lovelessness.
It means finding love in beauty, art, music, and nature.
It means not turning away from pain or working pain out on other people.
Knowing and experiencing love requires making connections between experiences and emotions that often feel a million miles apart.
And, for me, love always requires living into courage and faith.”

September 15, 2020

Dealing With the Small Stuff (With “Shenpa”)…

I was talking with some of my mindfulness friends recently – and one of them talked about “shenpa,” those small moments in life that trigger you into a cycle downward. The true small disappointments that seem so big in the moment. A fellow driver on the road doing something careless. The awkward way a co-worker words something. What if we could minimize the impact of those? Wouldn’t life be a wee bit more grand?

Here’s an excerpt from a piece by Pema Chodron on just that topic:

Someone looks at us in a certain way, or we hear a certain song, we smell a certain smell, we walk into a certain room and boom. The feeling has nothing to do with the present, and nevertheless, there it is. When we were practicing recognizing shenpa at Gampo Abbey, we discovered that some of us could feel it even when a particular person simply sat down next to us at the dining table.

Shenpa thrives on the underlying insecurity of living in a world that is always changing. We experience this insecurity as a background of slight unease or restlessness. We all want some kind of relief from that unease, so we turn to what we enjoy—food, alcohol, drugs, sex, work or shopping. In moderation what we enjoy might be very delightful. We can appreciate its taste and its presence in our life. But when we empower it with the idea that it will bring us comfort, that it will remove our unease, we get hooked.

So we could also call shenpa “the urge”—the urge to smoke that cigarette, to overeat, to have another drink, to indulge our addiction whatever it is. Sometimes shenpa is so strong that we’re willing to die getting this short-term symptomatic relief. The momentum behind the urge is so strong that we never pull out of the habitual pattern of turning to poison for comfort. It doesn’t necessarily have to involve a substance; it can be saying mean things, or approaching everything with a critical mind. That’s a major hook. Something triggers an old pattern we’d rather not feel, and we tighten up and hook into criticizing or complaining. It gives us a puffed-up satisfaction and a feeling of control that provides short-term relief from uneasiness.

September 10, 2020

The 3000-Year Perspective

Here is an excerpt from the monthly newsletter penned by Jonathan Foust:

It’s one thing to recognize I’m stressed.

It’s another to find a way to be with it.

A poet once wrote that sometimes

“It’s helpful to take the 3,000 year view.”

That does open more space.

But it’s not just space we need.

I think it’s only when we can sense the vastness of space and infuse it with some kind of loving presence that we can step forward – informed by both wisdom and compassion.

September 1, 2020

People on the Verge

We’ve got a free year’s worth of Apple TV streaming – so we’re watching “The Morning Show” right now. Fantastic show. Reminds me of “The West Wing,” except it’s set on the set of a network morning television show. Anyway, the episode last night involved a scene where Reese Witherspoon’s character tells Mark Duplass that she can go into Jennifer Anniston’s trailer to calm her down because she has a lot of experience with “people on the verge.”

It got me thinking how so many of us are on the verge – what with the pandemic, the election, you name it. So we’re all getting a lot of experience – including being on the verge ourselves. And in my experience, if someone is on the verge, the best thing you can do for them is what Reese did – just be there for them physically, hold them, invite them to just breathe. It’s not the time for unsolicited advice, for much talking, for doing anything that doesn’t “feel right.”

It’s the equivalent of letting them “take a moment” or “take a beat.” And they may well need that “moment” to last days, weeks or months. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do but just to be there to and provide unconditional support. You’re not there to be the person that helps “fix” them. You leave that to others, whether they be professionals or other people in their lives. At that point, your loved one just needs someone to be in their corner, no matter what the circumstances. But I’m not an expert – so I’m open to your suggestions or recommendations on this (or any) topic…

August 25, 2020

Don’t Worry, Be Happy (To the Extent Possible)

With the election looming – and a pandemic raging – it’s so hard to even consider being happy. But recently, a friend mentioned a book called “The Happiness Project.” The author – Gretchen Rubin – dedicated a year of her life to becoming happy. I still haven’t read it but it’s a bestseller and apparently there is a “movement” where people meet in groups all over the world to discuss their progress in their happiness journey. Becoming happy is big business as it should be. For my sons, all I’ve ever asked of them is to strive to be as happy as they can. So it makes sense that there would be guidance out there about how to achieve that goal.

My friend also recommended “The Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Achor and “Authentic Happiness” by Martin Seligman. “Stumbling on Happiness” by Daniel Gilbert is also supposed to be good if you want to learn about the science behind happiness. The one book I have read is “The Art of Happiness” by the Dalia Lama. It’s been a while since I read that and I should give it a re-read. The book explores the notion that the purpose of life is happiness – and that happiness is determined more by the state of our mind than by our external conditions & circumstance (once our basic survival needs are met). Meaning that happiness can be achieved through the systematic training of our hearts & minds…

August 18, 2020

The Power of Gratitude

In the self-help community, there’s been a lot written about the power of gratitude in recent years. The notion is that you can’t be angry when you’re being appreciative.

Personally, I use this concept in two ways. First, when my wife & I take part in our regularly “check-in” exercise, we start by expressing what we’re grateful for (not necessarily in the relationship, but in general). That helps to take the edge off before we get into a deeper discussion. More about this “couples check-in” in another blog. By I also try to remember gratitude when I’m nearing the “red level” in my anger over something. I’m not always successful but when I stop myself from going over the cliff, I’m grateful for having been grateful about something.

Regardless of how you feel about Tony Robbins, he does have some pretty good “gratitude exercises.” If you do a Google search of “Tony Robbins gratitude,” you’ll find all sorts of resources. Here’s one video of him doing his thing live that is 7-minutes long.