Mindfulness & Wellbeing

Blog

An Authentic Life

This week I’ve been reading a book by Mark Nepo  titled The Exquisite Risk: Daring to Live an Authentic Life. He speaks of the struggle to be real, to live our life with a deeply felt sense of authenticity. What a yearning I have to feel connected to that inner sense of meaning. How easy it is for me to lose that connection.

I was talking with a friend this morning about the desire she has to move out of her current job into something that seems more in line with what she really yearns to do with her life. Yet the realities of life, of needing a full time job given the necessity to put food on the table, pay the mortgage and keep the heat on keeps her anchored where she is. I felt her stuckness very powerfully. She has such a gift to give the world and yet the realities of life intrude.

“Before stories were recorded, what happened to the living was told and retold around fires, on cliffs, and in the shade of enormous trees. And it is said that somewhere on the edge of what was known and unknown, a man and a woman paused in their struggles to survive and faced each other. One asked the other, “Is there more to this than hauling wood?” The older of the two sighed, “Yes…and no.”

My challenges are different than my friend’s yet somehow similar. My thoughts seem to focus on limitations, barriers, if only the world were different, if only I were a better person, if I meditate long enough I’ll be a better person and on and on. Always something to accomplish, always some time in the future that things will be better.

“They say that, after a time, the two who paused on the edge of what was known and unknown stumbled into humility. ‘Please tell me, is there more to this than hauling wood?’ the one would ask again. And the more tired of the two replied, ‘No, no. It is all in the hauling, all in the wood, all in how we face each other around the small fires we build.’ ”

What does this mean “it’s all in the hauling”? It’s so easy for me to lose the essence of who I am in the midst of day-to-day life. How can I both survive and thrive?

“It was then they rested, as we rest, when accepting the grace of our humanness. You see, we’ve always been on a journey, like it or not, aware of it or not, struggling to enter and embrace things as they are. And when we can accept our small part in the way of things, when we can build a small fire and gather, it opens us to joy.”

Embrace things as they are? So I never get to live my dream job? Where is the essence of who I am in that?

I stop and breathe. I remember times when I have inhabited completely whatever I was doing, right in the moment with whatever life brought, giving every bit of myself to it. Yes, there is some sense of thriving in those moments, even when the moments are not what I might have wanted.

In my practice I’m present with my breath, I lose it, I come back. That’s just the way it is. My breath is always there, always keeping me alive. It just waits for me to notice. Sometimes I seem to lose touch with the essence of who I am and what I care about most deeply yet it also seems to always be there, just waiting for me to notice.

Sometimes daring to live an authentic life means changing jobs.  Sometimes not. The challenge, it seems to me, is to live that authenticity right here, right now in whatever life brings and in so doing allow space for new pathways to open up, sometimes in strange and unexpected ways.

Mindful

Last weekend when I was picking my husband up at the hospital and trying to find a parking space, I missed the aisle I wanted to turn on and backed up (unfortunately without looking carefully in my rearview mirror) and promptly backed into the car behind me. Fortunately he was very kind (a doctor) especially after hearing I was picking up my husband.  After exchanging information about our insurance, etc. and driving out of the parking lot into the sunshine, I noticed the sunshine, blue sky and how the sun was reflecting off the snow around the hospital entrance…I felt more peaceful and grateful it was just the car and that everyone was safe and OK.

A poem by Mary Oliver, “Mindful”

Every day
I see or I hear
something
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the hay stack
of light.
It is what I was born for –
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world –
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant –
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these –
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

MARY OLIVER from “Why I Wake Early”, Beacon Press, 2002

Befriending Self-Doubt

Alone

An “off trail” hike over gargantuan red boulders
dropped in the desert as if by some God.
Filled with trepidation at the suggestion to stray…
yet, afraid to say, “no”.
Scrambling over, under & around smooth edged rocks,
rough & warm in the sun…
trying to keep up…fears of being left behind…
hardly able to take in the surrounding, abundant beauty.
Common street sneakers, like their wearer, not up to the task.
Panic rising, a fist tightening in the gut,
a knot in the throat, dry mouth… dread deepening as dusk approaches,
shadows looming across the boulders.
They seem to delight like young children frolicking…
astounding…and oh, the deep yearning to feel that too.
Alone, terrors haunt.
The fear and the shame of it…keep me silent…
isolated as a desert butte.
And then, around another rock…a sign…the trail.
The safety of stories shared.

Recently, I was reminded of the feelings of being lost in the desert and once again experienced feelings of anxiety and inadequacy as I was moving out professionally into some ‘unfamiliar territory’.  A part of the ‘fruit’ of mindfulness practice in my life is that I am able to recognize these familiar feelings of anxiety and inadequacy and the bodily sensations that accompany them as they arise and bring a more curious and friendly attention to them.  With a gentle inquiry, “What is this?”, and turning toward my body to feel the sensations and where they are arising, I say to myself, “I see you…It’s OK…I’m here”. What arose was a quality of spaciousness within myself to embrace the feelings of anxiety and inadequacy as well as the willingness to share what I was experiencing with my colleague and friend.  The result has been an ongoing creative collaboration on our shared dream filled with joy and more resilience in the face of challenge.

When we learn to  hold the stories we tell about ourselves with more curiosity and kindness, we can begin to touch and remember the wholeness of who we already are.

Stand Within the Chaos

Can you bring to mind a time when someone gave you the precious gift of truly listening to you? Deep into your heart? Maybe it was a moment of deep despair, or just a moment of confusion. Beneath everything, all the storms you carry around on the surface, they saw you. They knew you. They touched your humanity.

Recently I came across this video of Carolyn Mabry. Here’s one experience she describes in the video. It’s a cold, snowy night. She’s standing on a bridge. There’s confusion, people are standing around. Her focus has narrowed to nothing more and nothing less than one person, a person threatening to jump.

I imagine myself on that bridge with her. I feel the cold seeping into my body. I’ve worked on a crisis hotline. I know a little of what it takes to talk to people who are actively contemplating suicide. Yet somehow this seems much more real than anything I experienced in a warm room and a telephone distance away.

I wonder, what would it take to engage with that person on the bridge, at that moment to really, fully, be there with that person?

Here’s what she says about what it takes:

“…this is an example of partnership. We worked together here. He told me. I asked him… We exchanged ideas. I want him to realize I’m on his side… I don’t want to get over this moment as quick as possible at your expense. I want it to come from your inner knowing which I know will come out if I make space for it. ..I think anyone in touch with their own heart and intuition can do it but they must have so much confidence in the person and the fact that there is a place in that person that knows, and respect that place…Respect everything that person has been through, that  brought them to this moment, to believe that they can lead to a  solution, because it’s much easier than struggling with the person. It’s nurturing…It’s the attitude and belief system that have to go with it. The words don’t count unless they do…That’s the thing. be able to stand right within all the chaos and see the stillness of that person and know the answer is there, know there is meaning to it.”

 

Mindfulness and Dementia

I see the tall pine trees, the fleck of color, a cardinal. It makes me think of my aunt, a bird watcher all her life. I remember the simple things. I remember sitting by her kitchen window with the bird feeder right outside. She knew all their names. I never paid close attention. I knew the common ones, sure, but not much more.

Read More

Being in the Now

To experience the world in the present moment, we need to step out of our mental concepts and use all our senses to directly experience life as it unfolds moment by moment.

Be Still


In a moment of deep despair
In a moment of conflict
In a moment of joy and celebration
In a moment of frustration
In a moment of anxiety

Read More

Transformation

Does a caterpillar look at a butterfly and say: “What’s wrong with me?” or “I’m so ugly, I wish I could look like that.” I doubt it. A caterpillar lives his caterpillar life moment-by-moment allowing the transformation to happen from within.  Life force simply unfolds naturally, expressing the beauty that has been there all along.

M & W

Mindfulness is 
the art of paying attention,
of listening to your heart.

Mindfulness helps us embody
the values we hold deeply
and express them in the world.

Quote

Between stimulus and response
there is a space.

In that space is our power
to choose our response.

In our response lies
our growth and our freedom.

Victor Frankl