What Blocks the Way

We tend to make the thing in the way the way.” – Mark Nepo

In The Book of Awakening, Mark Nepo tells the story of the time he and his friend, Robert, drove 400 miles to visit the Botanical Gardens of Montreal to visit the largest bonsai collection in the world outside of Asia.

“We strolled toward the Chinese Temple Garden, a lush yet simple retreat from the streets that covers acres, a place of renewal originally constructed in the 1600’s in China and moved stone by stone to Montreal in 1990.”

The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo

Only to find it locked. Mark feels grumpy as he follows his friend as he starts to walk the perimeter.

“Suddenly, when we had walked farther than was originally in our view, the walls disappeared. It turned out that the Garden had no walls, save for the façade at its entrance. So we simply walked through the open grass to a path that welcomed us.”

The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo

That lesson in having enough resilience and belief to find the way around what seems locked resonates with me. In fact, it’s the topic of my post for The Heart of the Matter today: Stuck on the Path to Freedom.

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(featured photo from Pexels)

Authentic Pride

Doing stuff is hard, shout-out to anyone doing anything.” – unknown

Last night as I was taking out the food scraps to the compost bin, I saw a bunny nestled by a tree. I got down low in the evening light to try to get a closer look. It was the same color as the bunny I saved when my cat brought a baby bunny in the house a couple of months ago. I started to feel some kinship and pride with this little creature – maybe this was the bunny I rescued from the jaws of my cat.

And as soon as I did that, I felt the reflex to believe pride was a bad thing. You know, one of the seven deadly sins and all that. Perhaps I shouldn’t personalize this bunny at all because its survival was 99% not about me.

Here’s the thing that I’m thinking as I type this. Is there a middle ground? Because on the morning the cat brought a baby bunny in, I managed to get the cat put away downstairs and shooed the bunny safely away. ALL without waking my kids and I got a video so I could show them.

No, I’m not responsible for the survival of the bunny in the big picture. But I did step in for a moment when the bunny’s life teetered between chaos and freedom. I got my butt off the meditation cushion for long enough to feel the pulse of life and opted for action. Which is a great of why I bother to meditate – to pay attention to the sacred moments as I described in my post Sacred Time.

If we can’t feel the reward for moments when we do act well because pride is a sin, do we undercut our own feedback cycle? And I’m not talking about a conscious decision not to celebrate the win – I’m talking about generations upon generations of family tradition to endeavor to be humble, maybe even falsely humble.

So I checked Brené Brown’s definition of pride from Atlas of the Heart. “Pride is a feeling of pleasure or celebration related to our accomplishments.” She added that pride related to an accomplishment has a positive connotation and is differentiated from hubris. Sometimes we refer to this authentic pride.  

I officially write this post feeling proud. I saved a bunny and maybe I even saw that bunny again last night. I think celebrating our good moments is worth mentioning. Don’t you?

Universal Timing

Many of us have been running for all our lives. Practice stopping.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

When I returned from my business trip three weeks ago, my nanny had left the extra garage door opener on the counter. I saw it and somewhere in the mix of putting things back where they belonged, I misplaced it.

Normally I’d spend hours looking for it. Because my default in life is doing. I’d much rather be driving action than just waiting for things to appear. I’m not good at being. Or unsolved mysteries.

But I don’t really need that extra remote. Sure, it helps when we go biking. However I think the practice of just being is worth the hassle.

It seems silly to make an object lesson out of the extra garage door remote but for me it’s all about the feeling underneath the drive to push. I have a million examples of things I want to steamroll with action instead of finding the flow of when the time is right: responses about the new work project, for my friend to return from her trip so we can talk, for fall to come before I put away the outdoor rug, to know what’s worth writing about instead of just what’s top of mind and on and on.

I spend a lot of time working and willing to happen. This will not be one of them. The more that I can put things in that category, the better I get at feeling the Universal timing. With more experience, I start to appreciate The Flow of Life.

So I resolved not to look for the garage door remote. Yesterday as I was preparing my kids to go a playground, I had a feeling I was going to find it. Sure enough, it was in the backpack of playground supplies – sitting right on the top. I laughed in appreciation and understood it was waiting for me to swallow my lesson to learn to go with the flow and stop forcing action.

Do you have a preference between doing or being? Do you practice the other?

The Whisper of My Failures

Never let your failures go to your heart or your successes go to your head.” – unknown

Last Friday, as I sat at my desk trying to will my way through a client problem where my solution wasn’t working (see featured photo), I felt a heaviness settle over me. It was more than a week work of trying to solve a troublesome technical problem, it was the pounding of my sore heart worried about others and the physical discomfort in my body from a UTI and the feeling like everything was stacking up.

I was in a funk. A funk as I typically do them, is usually not observable on the surface but is roiling around just below, making steadiness harder to come by.

As an inveterate “try-er,” I often work right at the edge of my abilities, both personal and professional and say “yes” to whatever comes. While that works for me a lot of the time, I also have to get used to failure and psyching myself up to try again. Sometimes, as was the case last week, multiple failures stack up at the same time and then I feel the gut punch.

My go-to mantra has always been to work harder and try again. I come from a long line of people who jump right up after falling off the horse, ready to get back on. Wallowing about falling off the horse, reviewing the best way to ride the horse or talking about which horse to ride are not allowed – we just jump right back on.

But the older I get, the more I realize that pushing through isn’t always either smart or effective. If I don’t acknowledge the failure or maybe even better said, listen to the learning, before moving on, then I wake at 3am and then watch the highlight reel of my recent failures stream through my head.

Then I have to make peace. I repeat a mantra I learned from a very smart pastor, “My God is bigger than my worries” until my heart settles and I can breathe again. And when calm, I have to find the source of which failure I haven’t yet come to terms with. I lie on my back and focus on the seven Chakras, the Sanskrit word for “disc” or “wheel” which line up with energy centers in our bodies. Starting with the red chakra of my tailbone, I try to identify if I feel safe, then I move to the orange chakra of my pelvis to scan for creativity. Next yellow – solar plexus – power, green – heart – love, blue – throat – communication, indigo – third eye – awareness, purple – top of the head – spirituality.

Somewhere in that scan, I find where exactly I am most troubled and then I can sit with that lesson for enough moments to truly hold it. Even when I don’t yet understand what I’m supposed to learn, I can appreciate that I know where I’m growing.

The pain of failure is not always comfortable. But it’s always instructive and if I don’t want to have to learn the lesson twice, I find I need to sit with it. It’s often kinder than I thought, a signal trying to break through my stubborn insistence to keep moving, trying and problem solving so that it can whisper it’s message, “Listen down deep to where you’ve been opened and find how you can see things differently through the crack. That’s all you have to do and then leave the rest to Me.”

After I spent a few hours with my failures in the middle of Saturday night, I’m happy to report, I solved the client’s problem. More than that, my body is all better too and I lifted the heaviness of heart that came with not spending the time to look.

What do you do when you wake up at 3am?

A Better Perspective On The Glass

Be confident, not certain.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

When looking through the profiles of the potential donors that I had to choose from for my kids, the sperm bank provided very thorough profiles of the candidates. The one I chose had rated every one in his direct family and extended family except one aunt as an optimist. I thought that would fit perfectly with my family history.

But the older I get and the more that I practice meditation, I’m realizing that optimism is a trait with a downside. In fact, the most common suffering I experience these days is when I let my optimism go unchecked. This is the topic of my latest Wise and Shine blog post: The Glass is Refillable

(quote from David Folstad of the Life and Random Thinking blog and featured photo is from Pexels)

Our Relationship With Pain

These pains you feel are messengers. Listen to them.” – Rumi

About 15 years ago I was climbing Mt. Whitney in the winter with my friend Jill and about 7 other climbers and 2 guides. Though Mt Whitney claims the prize as the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states at 14,505 feet, by reputation it isn’t a hard climb in the summer.

But in the winter, our approach was a couple of miles longer because the parking lot was snowed in, we had to carry heavy 55 pound packs with all the gear we needed and the route was deep with crappy snow so that even in snowshoes, we were regularly sinking in to our thighs.

I started out feeling fine but by the time we were at about 10,000 feet, my left ear was incredibly painful. I kept trudging along, not listening to the pain because I figured there wasn’t anything I could do about it. By the time we made camp at 12,000 feet I was in tears. Fortunately I didn’t impact the teams plans to climb because a storm with 60 mile per hour winds came through and we all had to go back down the next morning.

Mountaineering books are filled with stories about people who ignored their pain – usually with more dire consequences than my ear on Mt. Whitney. And of course this seems to be a universal human experience to not listen to the signals we are receiving. It’s the topic of my latest Wise and Shine (formerly Pointless Overthinking) blog post: Do You Listen To Your Pain?

(featured photo from Pexels)

Called Out

May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” – Nelson Mandela

The other day I received a message from Mr. D’s preschool, “Good afternoon families. Since we have several new families who have recently joined us, I thought it might be a good time to remind everyone that our classrooms are parent free zones.”

Even though this message was sent to the about 45 families in the school and I’m not a new parent to the school, I knew this message was aimed at me. Because I love going in the classroom and getting to know the teachers, especially in the last couple weeks as Mr. D has moved up to a new classroom. These COVID years as a preschool parent have been tough and the drop-off at the door is the worst. Mr. D does fine but I suffer from lack of community and continuity when it comes to my darling son and the people important to him.

I could feel the shame creeping up my cheeks as I read the message. It was like I imagined they all got together and cooked up a message to nicely keep me out. Which is very ego-centric of me but I think not uncommon when we feel called out.

I think staying open to feedback is one of the biggest growth areas for me. Not shutting down with shame or defensiveness. Sitting openly long enough to feel the meaning and intent and then react. It’s a very meditative response to life for me instead of reactive.

As Victor Frankl said, “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 freedom.

Freedom to find what need I was trying to meet, growth to expand into other ways to meet it, power to find my center and respond from that true space.

What I really want is to show affection and interest for the amazing people who are caring for and teaching my son. So I’ve written them all cards and put chocolate bars inside. It’s not perfect, but I find if I don’t wither from the shame of being called out then I can still engage and get to know them from afar.

How do you react when you feel called out? Any thoughts on the situations in which we can take our loved ones only so far and the rest they have to go on their own?

(featured photo from Pexels)

The Journey Is The Destination

Tell me and I will forget, teach me and I will remember, involve me and I will learn.” – Benjamin Franklin

I took the kids out hiking last weekend. Before I had kids, I used to hike every Saturday morning starting in the years one of my friends was preparing to climb Everest (the trick of hiking with someone in that good of shape – make her talk all the way up and you talk all the way down). So hiking with my kids feels like going back to my roots.

But instead of hiking up Tiger Mountain as I would if it was just me, I choose a flat trail to Tradition Lake that the sign says is 1.5 miles away. As we head out with high energy, I had great hopes that we’d actually GET to the lake this time. Because we’ve tried this before and about a half mile in, after we’ve looked at countless sticks, rocks, bugs and slugs, Mr. D gets tired of “hiking.” I put him on my shoulders and carry him back to the parking lot.

I consider not making the goal to be good practice for me. I love finishing and as I wrote in the messy middle post, I find myself often rushing to the end. To enjoy the process of getting there, and to enjoy all the slugs along the way, is a way of slowing down my adult brain that is so intent on goals. It’s another opportunity to immerse myself in my kids lantern awareness, to use the term from researcher Dr. Alison Gopnik.

Of course I could carry Mr. D farther and get to the lake even if my knees, hips and shoulders might disagree. I think Miss O could do the trail all the way no problem. But I think developing the endurance to get there himself is something that is worth leaving it to Mr. D to do.

What I’m learning about accomplishments is not only to be flexible about what the end-point is but also to value the progression along the way. “Hiking” with my kids is like a walking meditation for me, another chance to learn that sometimes the goal isn’t what the sign says. It’s a practice of learning when to say we’ve gone far enough instead of pushing through. It’s honoring the deep knowing that comes with celebrating the beauty of the journey.

And sure enough, at about half mile in, we reached the end of Mr. D’s desire to hike. My reward for being willing to turn around was that we laughed the whole way back.

How do you feel about not reaching the end-point on the sign? Do/did you hike with your kids?

How Not To Be Mean

Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” – Lao Tzu

The other night my seven-year-old was being short-tempered with her younger brother and snippy with me. I asked her not to take out her mood on others and she replied “I don’t know what to do with the meanness!”

Wow, that stopped me in my tracks! It left me trying to tease apart all the ways we can quell our inner meanness and became the topic of my Pointless Overthinking blog today, What to Do With Our Inner Meanness.

Carrying Stuff for Others

I am becoming water; I let everything rinse its grief in me and reflect as much light as I can.” – Mark Nepo

Last week there was an open house at school so all the kids could meet the new principal and find out their teachers. Before we had a chance to check the official list, the 2nd grade teacher that Miss O wanted to have saw her and said, “Yay, you are in my class!”

This was great news – two of her best school friends were also on the list and she was thrilled. Except as we walked away, a dad of one of her good friends gently said to me, “There are two O’s this year and I think your daughter is in the other class.”

Devastating! We checked the official list and he was right, she was not in the class she preferred. Her body mirrored her mood as she went from elated to deflated. I watched in horror as she crumpled even as she tried to hold it together in the crowd.

Just bearing witness to this made me feel terrible. It was as if had taken on the disappointment for my daughter’s 2nd grade hopes dying. And this happens not just with my kids but in other relationships too – I feel the heart ache of my friend going through relationships troubles. Or the exhaustion of another friend who didn’t get the job she wanted.

I suspect I’m not alone in taking on the feelings of others that I care about. As I listen to their experience, I can feel myself take on the rise and fall of their journey. Long after I’ve left them or hung up the phone, I carry the echo of their experience. It goes beyond being an empathetic listener because I’m carrying an emotion that isn’t mine to carry.

Which is a bit ridiculous because it’s a feeling of how I would react to having the same experience which is more or less meaningless. That is to say, my feelings may or may not match those of the person who is actually going through it.

So, I don’t think this makes me a better parent of friend. In fact, I suspect it diminishes my effectiveness. Thinking about the Buddhist Tonglen practice where you imagine a specific suffering in the world and you breathe it in, there is also the completion of the practice where you breathe out relief for everyone experiencing that suffering. It’s a full circle practice. Looking at it another way, the river doesn’t hold on to the water that flows through it.

This reminds me of every mountain guide I’ve climbed with. First, their stuff is well-organized so that they can be efficient and also carry a lot of gear for the group. They don’t often carry stuff for the climbers but when someone is really struggling, they will take part of their load for a time. However, they always give it back when we get to camp. They don’t keep carrying it on top of their own load.

At the school event, Miss O was upset and her first reflex was to go back to that teacher she wanted to tell her that she wasn’t in her class. Once she did that, she was able to move on and meet the teacher she’s assigned to for 2nd grade. Her new teacher is also lovely and nice.

Miss O moved on much more quickly than I did as I still feel echoes of that disappointment. I’m trying to learn from her example and shake off the feelings that I don’t need to carry for those I love.

Do you take on the feelings of loved ones? How do you shake them off?