August 27th, 2014
As Join Didion writes in her book, The Year of Magical Thinking, “Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe their husband is about to return and need his shoes.”
After the recent death of my mother-in-law, the memory of wearing grief returned. My wardrobe of grief is not only the memory of the clothes I wore for the wake and funeral services. The wardrobe is the grief worn the days, weeks, and months after all the services have finished and the return to daily living begins. It is the one not many people see because it is worn on the inside.
The wardrobe of grief is the memories that keep us going when the tears flow down our face. It is the senses that hold the memories. The wardrobe is filled with the recollections of the favorite clothes worn by those who have passed away: My mother’s sweaters. My father-in-law’s boat shoes. My mother-in-law’s well-worn slippers. It’s the inner and outer garments that often carry the memories for those we love.
Didion writes, “Grief is different. Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life. Virtually everyone who has ever experienced grief mentions this phenomenon of waves.” All it takes is a song, a place, or just seeing my mother’s blue bathrobe hanging up, and I am filled with immediate waves of emotion. Fourteen years after my mother’s passing, I still have a closet full of grief.
Grief turns out to be an experience of memories – both painful and joyful. Grief is a uniquely transformative experience and takes us to surprising places and unearths responses we could never imagine, like talking to an American flag, or a candle, or a set of rosary beads.
Over time, the wardrobe changes and new styles are worn. The wardrobe is comforting. And when it no longer serves its purpose, it will go back on the hanger.
August 6th, 2014
In the article, How to Sustain Your Meditation Practice, Sharon Salzberg writes:
I used to feel, very early in my practice, that mindfulness was awaiting me somewhere out there; that it was going to take a lot of effort and determination, but somehow, someday, after a great deal of struggle, I was going to claim my moment of mindfulness— sort of like planting a flag at the top of a mountain.
My view of the matter was expanded and my understanding transformed when I realized that mindfulness wasn’t inaccessible or remote; it was always right there with me. The moment I remembered it—the moment I noticed that I was forgetting to practice it—there it was! My mindfulness didn’t need to get better, or be as good as somebody else’s. It was already perfect. So is yours. But that truth is easily forgotten in the midst of our busy lives and complicated relationships. One reason we practice is to recall that truth, so that we can remember to be mindful more and more often throughout the day. Regular practice makes mindfulness a part of us.
Meditation is never one thing; you’ll experience moments of peace, moments of sadness, moments of joy, moments of anger, moments of sleepiness. The terrain changes constantly, but we tend to solidify it around the negative: “This painful experience is going to last the rest of my life.” The tendency to fixate on the negative is something we can approach mindfully; we can notice it, name it, observe it, test it, and dispel it, using the skills we learn in practice.
Find a practice that works for you. It may mean trying different methods and seeing what you like and adapting it. The important thing is to keep the practice going. See your meditation practice like the greeting of a newborn baby – exciting, new, embracing, and with so much love and kindness. Greet yourself and your thoughts with kindness. You deserve it. We all do.
July 14th, 2014
I met Mike Robbins, author and speaker, in 2004. I had invited him to give a workshop about appreciation to a group of youth development staff in the South Bronx. He lit up the room as soon as he started speaking. Mike gave an inspiring talk on appreciation and really paid attention to the dynamics of the youth staff. His talk inspired me to create a (physical) gratitude container where I save notes of kindness and inspiration. I still collect notes and cards of gratitude to this day. I also made a gratitude folder for emails. It is so helpful to read them on days I need a reminder of all the good stuff in my life. When his new book, Nothing Changes Unitl You Do, came out last month, I wrote to Mike for a copy. After it arrived in the mail, I put it on bookshelf and left it there. Deep down I must have known the book would hit a few chords. I opened to the first few pages where Mike spoke about being with his mom during the last few days of her life and what that taught him. I was crying though the first few pages. This resonated with me because my mother-in-law is on hospice. The waves of grief and gratitude flow daily – as do the tears.
Nothing Changes Until You Do is filled with Mike’s stories about his journey and what he has learned and is still learning. Many of us may be familiar with the lessons Mike writes about, but the book invites us to take a deeper dive into how we can live with more compassion, forgiveness, and acceptance. He explores the bigger questions and invites reader to explore various topics such as being gentle with ourselves, trusting our gut, loving ourselves, and giving ourselves permission to make mistakes. As Mike writes in his book, “Sadly, many of us don’t have a very healthy or empowering internal relationship and there seems to be an epidemic in our culture of self-criticism, self-doubt, and thinking that our inherent value is directly connected to what we do, the status of our relationships and family, the money we have, our appearance, or any other number of external factors. None of which is true.”
As someone who reads a lot of personal development books, what I really appreciated was listening to a voice that felt real, honest, and vulnerable. We need more books that celebrate vulnerability – and Mike Robbins does that with his stories about himself, his family, and his work.
My take-away from the book is to remind myself that life isn’t a race to the finish line or to the top of the mountain. It’s a journey – and interconnected journey. As Mike says, “The important thing to remember is that when we’re willing to be real about the tough stuff that happens, we give ourselves the opportunity to learn, heal, grow, and connect—fundamentally important to the journey of life.”
One thing I found helpful was making each chapter heading a journal entry and spend time with each topic. I highly recommend this book and listening to Mike Robbins.
July 2nd, 2014
When I met with my spiritual teacher, she started our conversation with, “How are you?” (You would think after many years of hearing this question I would be prepared with a brilliant answer) The question was not meant to be the generic one – the one we say to a co-worker while riding on the elevator or passing someone in the hallway.
Rather, her question was meant to be a deep dive into my essence: How Are You? How is your heart? How is your soul? The question silenced me mostly because it felt so huge.
I usually asked her to change the question. Sometimes the question changed to: How are you feeling in this moment?
After many years of being asked the ‘how are you question’ my teacher decided to shape-shift the question to: You are how?
And at our closing session in April my teacher offered the phrase, you are.
It’s easy to stay at the surface in our conversations, but I have found transformation happens when I am willing to sit in mystery, uncertainty, and deep-rooted emotions.
Sit in the questions: How Are You? You Are How?
June 26th, 2014
Sunny hot vibrant energy! In some parts of the world, warm summer weather starts in June, stretches through July, and winds down in August. In other parts of the world, the heat is on all of the time! But summer is not only about hot temperatures and school vacations. It’s a season of fun and joyous experiences.
As the heat allows you to slow down, notice the summer light. Take time for a good nap or go for long walks or enjoy time in nature (or perhaps watch a good soccer game!). See what new experiences are awaiting you!
And as someone who skipped every required summer reading book, I can now share that I savor books and have been known to give many away.
Looking for some good summer reading? Here are a few suggestions. Feel free to send me your recommendations!
The Possibilities by Kaui Hart Hemmings
The Gravity of Birds by Tracy Guzeman
Euphoria by Lily King
The Vacationers by Emily Straub
The Year Without Pants by Scott Berkun
I Can See Clearly Now
by Dr. Wayne Dyer
The Empathy Exams: Essays
by Leslie Jamison
The Shambhala Principle
by Sakyong Mipham
Nothing Changes Until You Do
by Mike Robbins
Between Earth and Sky
by Joseph Bruchac and Thomas Locker
The Secret of Saying Thanks by Douglas Wood
Enjoy and Happy Summer!
June 18th, 2014
One of my favorite, and consistent, mantras for the past year has been: “Be Just This Moment.” It is a constant reminder that this moment is all that I need. That “Be Just This Moment” is always enough. David Whyte has simply and elegantly expressed this mantra in his poem
Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.
This opening to the life
we have refused again and again
by David Whyte, from the book Where Many Rivers Meet
June 10th, 2014
I thought of all the reasons not to attend my meditation class: I’m tired. It’s hot out. I don’t think I can concentrate. I have too much to do.
Of course I knew I was making up excuses.
Somewhere deep inside I knew that if I went to my meditation class I would get in touch with my feelings, my doubts, my worries, and most of all, my fears. If I was willing to be really honest, I wanted the courage to show up for myself.
I was able to step out of the shadows of fear and doubt and into the experience of kindness and the vastness of my own mind.
There may be many reasons to not go to a meditation class, but I have found there are many more reasons to show up.
June 3rd, 2014
Life is about living in uncertainty.
Life happens in the in-between moments.
Life asks us to make a journey with ourself.
Life happens in ordinary moments – washing the dishes, sitting with our loved ones, driving in traffic with a friend and good music.
When we live with uncertainty, there is room to explore everything.
Maybe the map we really need to follow is one that makes us lost. In that space we find our way. By being lost, we can find our life moment by moment.
Perhaps that’s the real meaning of lost and found. By being lost, and abiding there, we are truly found.
May 29th, 2014
“Regardless of how much money you have, your race, where you live, what religion you follow, you are going through something. Or you already have or you will. As momma always said, “Everybody’s got something.”
It was just over a year ago that I was diagnosed with Relapsing/Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (MS). When I left the doctor’s office, my wife and I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. I needed to have a sense of crossing over into something new. I remember being both sad and relieved at the same time. It had taken many months and a lot of tests to finally know what I was dealing with and how to treat it.
During the past year, I took time to slow down, enjoy life, connect more deeply with friends and relatives, and do an inner inventory of priorities. I noticed that friends often found it difficult to ask how I was feeling or respond when I did tell them. As Robin Roberts says in her book, Everybody’s Got Something, “And I think it’s often very hard for close friends to understand that sometimes you want them to be there but you don’t have to say anything, that their presence is as powerful as anything else.” Presence matters. Listening matters. Showing up matters.
My willingness to show up vulnerable has given friends and clients permission to do the same. Being vulnerable with MS has taught me a lot. It has taught me to advocate for myself and how to live with wholeheartedness. It taught me to ask for help and receive. MS has taught me to allow serendipity to replace certainty.
We have all been devastated by something. We have all been taken over and have had to trust others and ourselves to recover.
Yes, everybody’s got something.
As I reflect back on living with MS this past year, I have come to realize that we are all connected. And that really means that we are all interconnected.
If you can take a moment to reflect on what you are going to do with that ‘something’, it really helps. I have found it helpful with giving me perspective. This past year has reminded me that:
- in the end, life is about being vulnerable with ourselves and one another;
- staying connected keeps me grounded;
- listening to and being in nature brings me closer to God/Spirit/Divine;
- asking for help makes life easier;
- time heals pain and remembering good memories brings comfort;
- everything flows — in its own time;
As Roberts says, “Thank God I could say that I had truly enjoyed the journey, because if I had saved all of my joy for the destination, I would have missed it. We are all so focused on getting “there,” but you have to be careful. Sometimes, I sense a lot of times, “there” ends up feeling different that you expected.”
Enjoy every moment, every breath, every journey, and every something.
May 23rd, 2014
I am sitting across from my spiritual teacher. We are reflecting about our journey together and giving space for a proper ending. I hand her a booklet of blog posts as well as a collage that reflects our sacred journey.
My teacher, GH, asks me when I created all of the gifts and I explain that I made everything on Easter.
GH: “Resurrection day.”
GH: “Do you feel resurrected?”
I pause for a moment to take in the question.
ME: “I’m off the cross.”
GH: “You’re off the cross!”
With that, we exchange a big hug.
My teacher said, “I’m going to miss you. You’re off the cross.”
Our closure and proper ending gave me the chance to honor our journey and reflect that I am not suffering my suffering anymore.
What if instead of finding pain in all the suffering, we found grace in each breath?
What if we were like Buddha when they asked him the question, “Who are you?” Buddha’s answer: “I am awake.”
I am off the cross. I am awake. How about you?
Dedicated to my teacher, sage, and healer, GH.