There is so much heaviness in the world today. Big, sweeping suffering - from the savagery being wreaked on the people of Ukraine to the plight of the polar bears - can leave us feeling small and powerless. My tendency to believe in the power of light, love, and the general goodness of humankind can feel a little naïve in the face of it all. Could the practices, perspectives, and philosophy that I teach to so many possibly help anyone navigate the hazards of our time? Is it foolish to invest such energy seeking insight, harmony, and connection rather than answers and actions to solve hundreds of problems I can barely begin to understand? These were my thoughts this morning when I rounded a corner on my walk and received glorious affirmation in the goodness at the heart of life in a magnificent sunrise sky.
'Tis the season of traditions. Some I love and some make me feel incredibly rebellious. Some give me the urge to dig in my heels or push back against expectations. In my mind, this is exactly what sets apart traditions that add to a holiday experience from traditions that feel onerous, burdensome, and just “extra.” They feel like expectations – expectations that add effort without the payoff of meaning. These are not traditions I want to hold on to. I’d rather invest my energy in things - old and new - that bring my family together and make us happy.
As I caught up with one of my cousins, he said, "My goodness, that is a full plate." And my plate (and probably yours, too) is full. Choosing a Thanksgiving state of mind is a choice to focus on all that is OK right now. This state of mind does not pretend that everything is OK. In fact, facing and accepting the struggles, burdens, challenges, and pains that life is delivering makes each moment that we take a thankful pause vastly more meaningful. Will you join me in spending the next week refocusing (again and again and again) on all that is OK right now? If we do, together we can have a very happy Thanksgiving indeed. And if we keep it up, Thanksgiving could become more than a holiday. It could be a way of life.
One of my sweetest memories is a weekday afternoon when we should have been doing a dozen other things, but instead my kids and I decided to watch Christmas movies. Was this “the best of times?” I also have a niggling memory of how we wound up in that chair – total exhausted collapse from days of nagging, reminding, and hounding them to practice the piano, do their homework, clean their rooms, and brush their teeth. I am so glad that I am longer the drill sergeant that motherhood required me to be for almost two decades. So, was this also “the worst of times?” I am left wondering if it is possible that what makes "the best of times" is, in part, the way we handle "the worst of times."
As a recovering perfectionist, yoga and meditation have been powerfully healing. Richard Rohr writes, “If there is such a thing as human perfection, it seems to emerge precisely from how we handle the imperfection that is everywhere, especially in ourselves.” I'll confess to being a little tweaked by the idea of one day being able to handle my imperfections perfectly. Lucky for me, my practices continue to give me a zillion chances to surrender to just how out of reach even that teeny-tiny chance of perfection is.
When an old friend smiled and said, "Life is being very lifey, isn't it?" he packed loads of wisdom and mindfulness into a five letter, made-up adjective. Lifey is a skill we can practice. When we accept that life is being lifey, we are able to maintain the same even keel when when our kid is injured, or our parent is sick, or we’ve lost our job, or our partner is leaving us as when we’ve gotten the promotion at last, or when we’re head over heels in new love, or when the kids are all getting along. A perspective of life being lifey, in good times and hard times, holds life lightly; trusts that life will change; and understands that life is a series of moments – all of which can be relished.
My husband went fishing over the weekend. He loves this annual trip, and his excitement makes me happy. I will confess that just the thought of having the house to myself for two whole days also makes me happy. Or at least it used to. This time was different. Or maybe it was me that was different. Rather than relishing my time alone I was a little astonished to find I was lonely. It turns out that as my life has changed, so have I. Going forward I will change the way I approach these weekends home alone so that they are a happy break that "who I am now" rather than "who I once was" will enjoy.
Creativity focuses the mind and also releases feel-good hormones, leaving you feeling more centered and less anxious. You don't need to buy an easel or sign up for pottery classes. There are a million surprising ways that you can be creative every day - even when doing the most basic chores. Whether your practice is yoga, meditation, or something else, once you get a taste for mindfulness, a part of you – even subconsciously – will seize little opportunities all day long to recreate that stillness, silence, and spaciousness.
Fear can come upon us as suddenly and as hugely as a summer thunderstorm on a hike in the mountains. One of the gifts of mindfulness practices is that they free us to navigate fear one step at a time. We learn to recognize that most of what is upsetting us is fiction - worries and imaginings created by our mind. We learn to narrow our focus to the next necessary step. Most importantly, we learn that freedom from fear's paralyzing effects doesn't mean we won't still feel afraid. We're human after all!