Tuesday, May 14, 2013


This morning I woke up already feeling behind. So much to do--so little time. I did what I usually do: walk the dog, exercise (a little!), make tea, read something that feeds the soul.

But through it all there was still a nagging sense of pressure. Too much left undone--so many worthy things. And a conviction--a  hunch--a duty--a feeling--that if I only worked smarter or faster or harder or more skillfully I'd be able to do more stuff and do it better--and get the monkey of 'things left undone' off my back.

But (probably influenced by reading something that feeds the soul) instead of simply believing the storyline in my head, I stopped. Breathed. Prayed. Listened.

And listening deeply it was pretty easy to see what a bunch of crap my sense of Optimized Living was.

I kept still for awhile. Then wrote a few things down to remind me what my saner soul was hearing. During breakfast I opened Mary Oliver's book, A Thousand Mornings (I try to read one Mary Oliver poem 3 or 4 mornings a week).

What a lovely corresponding voice in the poem whose turn it was to be read today. What a blessing. Thank God for M O.



Today I'm flying low and I'm

not saying a word.
I'm letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.

The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.

But I'm taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I'm traveling
a terrific distance.

Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Growing in Listening

Lively interactions with others is one of life's treasures. How many times a day do we find ourselves in conversations? How often in those conversations do we find ourselves completely tuned in? 

Steady listening is a rare thing. Staying tuned in to the person in front of us is really hard. But we can get better at it. And as we get better, life gets richer and richer.

The following is from Susan Chapman. Her most recent book is The Five Keys to Mindful Communication.

Learning how to switch out of defensiveness into a more humorous, receptive state of mind is a big deal.

By shutting down the channel of communication, we put up a defensive barrier that divides us from the world. In our mind, we justify our defensiveness by holding on to an unexamined opinion that we are right. We undervalue other people and put self-interest first. In short, our values shift to "me first". Closed communication patterns are controlling and mistrustful. We see others as frozen objects that have importance only if they meet our needs.

In-between is a place we normally don't want to enter. We find ourselves there when the ground falls out from beneath our feet, when we feel surprised, embarrassed, disappointed, on the verge of shutting down. At this moment, we might feel a sudden loss of trust, an unexpected flash of self-consciousness. Learning to hold steady and be curious at this point is critical to the practice of mindful conversation.

The in-between state of mind is where we gain both compassion and insight. It is not only where we witness ourselves closing down, but also where we notice the miracle of opening up again. Why and how does this happen? What exactly is it that makes us stop caring about being right and begin taking an interest in another person's point of view? Mindfulness makes us more curious about this turning point, both in our communication with others and within ourselves.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Don't Worry...

We may not have evolved to be happy. Natural selection, the process that guides our evolution, favors adaptations that help us reproduce successfully. This means surviving long enough to mate, snag a partner, and then support our children's survival. Evolutionary forces don't particularly 'care' whether we enjoy our life--unless this increases our survival for mating potential. And they really don't 'care' about what happens to us after our child-bearing and protecting years are over.

But we care. While most of us think the survival of humanity is a good idea, we would also like to be able to enjoy our lives while we're here. It doesn't seem like a lot to ask.

Thinking and planning, wonderful and useful as they are, are at the heart of our daily emotional distress because, unlike other tools, we can't seem to put these tools down when we don't need them.

They keep us worrying about the future, regretting the past, comparing ourselves to one another in thousands of ways, and forever scheming about how to make things better. This makes it very difficult to be truly satisfied for more than a brief time. Our constant thinking can make it impossible to wholeheartedly enjoy a meal, or listen to a concert, to fully listen to our child, or to fall back asleep in the middle of the night.

Mindfulness developed through thousands of years of cultural evolution as an antidote to the natural habits of our hearts and minds that make life so much more difficult than it needs to be. Mindfulness is a particular attitude toward experience, or way of relating to life, that holds the promise of both alleviating our suffering and making our lives rich and meaningful. It does this by attuning us to our moment to moment experience and giving us direct insight into how our minds create unnecessary anguish.

--Ronald Siegel, The Mindfulness Solution

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Getting to Cape Hatteras Without Taking the Ferry

Choice. Options. The freedom to pick what we want. What a blessing.

And yet...also...a bit of a curse.

We've evolved to 'love' choice. It's natural for us to 'choose' what we prefer. And what we tend to prefer is what has kept us alive across millenia. Choosing quickly, almost instantaneously, has been a key to our survival.

The curse of picking what we want (nearly instantaneously) is that in the world as it is now we often want what we don't need, even what's harmful. As Paul of Tarsus groaned, "The very thing I want I don't do. I wind up doing the very thing I don't want!"

Slowing down, sinking down, into that quieter place where we can get centered, we find a different kind of choice--an ability to choose what we really want--to prefer something other than what we have tended to prefer.

Think about that word, prefer. It comes from the root word for ferry, which is both a noun and a verb. To be ferried is to be taken across a river or a bay or even part of an ocean. Have you been ferried? It's an adventure for most of us, especially those who don't grow up on a coast or an island.

Here in North Carolina we often take a ferry from 'Down East' to Okracoke--and then from Okracoke to Cape Hatteras. Wow. I've done this maybe three times. Never been the same journey. Rained one time. Rough sea once. Calm. Windy. Gray. Blue.

The other part of prefer, pre, means before. To prefer literally means to choose before. To already like one thing, want one thing, count on one thing before we get to the thing itself--to come to something new with an old mindset, something fresh in a canned way. To pre-fer can mean something like getting to Cape Hatteras without the richness of taking the ferry. .

Try this sometime. When you're with somebody who matters to you and you're trying to decide something together and you're about to go with the same old same old: Sink down into that quieter place in you, that place where time slows down and intuition pops up.

Take a few seconds to feel what it feels like to PREfer whatever it is you often prefer. Just feel whatever it is that inclines you to stay on automatic pilot. After feeling the push of that feeling, do your best to let it relax.

Then picture yourself at a dock, a landing, a ferry port. Don't PRE the ferry. TAKE it. Walk down together to the ticket window. Look at the options--the routes--the sailing times. Take joy in considering the possibilities.

Life is full of options and routes and sailing times. We so often have choices we miss, neglect, ignore. We so often wind up doing what we want instead of what we really want.

It's not that hard to get out of this habit. Don't PRE the ferry. Take it.