Thursday, December 29, 2016

Looking Back Post 2/3

(I am posting my own responses to looking back over the last year in this blog weekly for three weeks. These are unedited writings done in class, offered here for my students and readers. This is week two out of three - the last one will be next week)

“Whatever arises is fresh, the essence of realization…”
(line from Shambhala lineage chant)

I look out over the back yard from the windows above, and I see space: whiteness expanding our small urban field, melding into the white and blue garage, and blue sky beyond. It is easier from this high up to not see where rabbits have run in circles, or shat in the snow making small minefields, to not to see the still green fallen willow leaves, or patches where grass bleeds through.
And so, though I don’t mean to back into a metaphor for looking back at the end of the year, I have. It is easier now, at the end of December, either see the whole year as clear and white and clean and destined, or as muck and confusion and mud. The fact is, it was, as is life, both.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Looking Back Over the Year, Post 1/3

This is the first in a series of three year's end blog posts, in which I "practice what I preach" - going back over the year in a tender, curious way, exploring with forms like six word stories/memoirs, looking for key words in retrospect, getting a felt sense of the year that is ending.

Look for the next two in the next two weeks.

If these practices pique your interest, consider taking Return: Setting New Year's Intentions That Work class with me.

As is always the case in classes, where I wrote these, these pieces are written spontaneously and without editing. So please keep that in mind as you read.

I don’t know; that is okay
The same memoir, six different titles
Life and memoir in constant revision
Finding where I am triggered; everywhere
Family cabin finally sold; golden relief
So. I guess I really can!
Letting go of what seems known
Facing whiteness in my sangha, myself
Too much travel, even with cancellations
My body loves exercise - who knew?
Accountability in body, food, finances, love
Graduating from program no one knows
Signing up impulsively; sitting around forever

A reckoning, maybe, this year – that could be my looking back word for the year – my intention was to connect, and in order to do that, I had to reckon. Both in the simplest cowboy sense of familiarity (“I reckon!”) and in the intense, super powerful, coming home to roost sense.

Or value could be my looking back word: Value wound up being so much a part of this year: connecting with my values, and with what I value, connecting my values with what I do, enacting values, valuing my time, body, money, and more.

The more accurate word though I think is potency - discovering how rich I am, how much not just power, but effect I have on people. Owning that, noting that, gauging that: me and my sharpness, my softness, my every way I manifestness: like a potion that can poison or empower.

Potency yes more so than value is my looking back word. It feels linked to me also to the wrong kinds of richness: too many books, too much travel, too much fat intake, which makes my IBS flare up. Not just what I give out, but also what I take in, needs moderation, titrating.

“Do more dharma,” one student said.
 Teaching a week intensive is intense
 Collaborating again brings up unhealed wounds
 What other tools for trauma needed?
 Compassionate exchange: my perfect practice form
 Combining all I teach into one
 Herspiral Arts: Nurture Your Creative Nature
 Dedicating the merit to all beings
 Where there is a will, loss

So many things feel incomplete, not neat and tidy at this years’ end. And yet, why pretend otherwise? My own memoir and many others are in messy but forward progress. The deep need to coach one-on-one and grow my week-to-week online offerings have allowed my wisdom to specialize, to connect between things I’ve never connected to each other before.

So much inspiration and possibility ahead
Traveling less I am at home

Friday, December 02, 2016

"Forgetting How Easily Children Soil Clothes"

This beautiful, totally unedited fresh writing came from a student this week, Priscilla Matthews, in response to a prompt where they selected a single line of poetry from various poems by Naomi Shihab Nye. Priscilla had no idea this was what she was going to write - as is true to the practice, she simply put pen to paper, and this homage emerged.

There's not much I want to say about it, except to point out the incredible ordinary-ness of it: clothing, stains, children, laundry. And so powerful - all the details, and the way she connects it back to her mother and herself. Direct. Clear. Universal. Specific.

I will also point out that Priscilla stated some things I can relate to, having also lost my parents when I was young. I relate in particular to these lines: "If she had lived, she may have died by now," and, "Does this mean I'm finally in sync with my peers?"

Please enjoy this poignant grief and pleasure mixture.

forgetting how easily children soil clothesI just remembered that today would have been my Mom’s birthday.  She would have been 87 years old.  If she had lived, she may have died by now.  Having a parent pass at my age now is “normal.” It’s part of the process many people my age are going through.  Does this mean I’m finally in sync with my peers?  No.  I don’t understand their expressions of grief.  But I am more compassionate and patient with them than I was with myself.“forgetting how easily children soil clothes”My mom had 8 children within 9 years.  The other day I imagined how joyful it must have been for her with one child…the time she had to dress her, play in the grass, share her growth with my Dad.  And then my brother was born, and the work grew, the balancing act.  And then another, and another, and another, and another, and another, and another.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

You Fucked Up? Be kind, then, re-commit.

The more work I do with folks one-on-one and in small groups around accountability - not to mention working with myself - the more I've found this distillates slogan to be the core needed approach.

Didn't work out when you said you would? Be kind, re-commit. Haven't been meditating as often as you'd like? Be kind. Re-commit. Spent the afternoon on Facebook instead of cleaning the house? Be kind then re-commit.

If you are nice with yourself but don't recommit, you won't have accountability. If you punish yourself, then re-commit, you won't want to do it (damned if you do or don't). So both parts are needed.

This is actually a macroscopic version of what we do in meditation. In meditation, if your attention has drifted off the breath and onto a passing thought, for instance, how you decide to come back is crucial. Are you cruel to yourself, beating yourself up for making a simple mistake? Getting distracted? Are you a jerk because you can't believe you did it again? Do you have the view that when you aren't following your breath, you aren't meditating?

The view can be like this: the whole thing is meditation.
The attitude can be like this: its human to get off the track.
Your approach can be like this: Ok, that happened, now let's do it again.

It's simple, but not easy.

That's where support comes in.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Being in the Body Post-Election

Last week, I asked my students in my weekly contemplative writing classes to write about their feelings regarding the election from their bodies. The most potent pieces came Wednesday morning, as folks had either stayed up all night, most of the night, or gone to bed and woken to the news.

The fact is, the over-whelming majority of my students are liberal. But a lot of students were able to feel how human our reactions are. This anonymous piece in particular struck me with the universal human level of fear in the body. 

I offer this as a model for being present, for watching not only the body but the mind itself. Regardless of whether you are celebrating right now or in deep despair, tap into your body. Fear consumed most of us pre-election, and if the results had gone the other way, the "other side" would right now be feeling a similar way post-election.

Finally, one of my favorite parts is where this student opens up questions about neurotic smallness (childhood survival, which was useful but she now sees as disempowering) versus the kind of smallness that can open us to all of the present moment - simple actions like picking chard from the garden. These two smallnesses are often conflated with each other, but the second can offer serious liberation and deep relief in times like these.

I breathe into my body through my feet.  The sun is a vibration of continuance, the yellow leaves of a neighbor's tree shimmer and wave.  The sky lightens into a bright blue.  I find comfort in the fact that my garden is still growing, people are still walking their dogs down our street, I can still hear traffic from nearby streets; the world continues despite last night's outcome.  Or at least it seems to continue.  The world of people and politics and the world beyond people and politics.  I pick chard, red and green, my hands and cuffs soaked with morning dew.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Setting Soft Goals

Most of us find setting goals a tricky project. Immediately, structure triggers the critic, who kicks in and cuts us off at the pass. Do any of these lines ring familiar?
"Why even start when you know you can't accomplish it?"
"If I can't do x amount then I won't do it at all."
"I've tried it before this way 100 times, but THIS TIME it will work!"

A few years ago, a meditation instructor reminded me that "Good enough is basically good" - needing to remind our perfectionist parts that the world won't end if we don't do it exactly as we had hoped/envisioned/planned/determined is a crucial part of planning ahead. 

And as we head towards the new years, a time when a lot of people traditionally set goals, check in, assess, and make resolutions, I want to encourage you to make soft goals instead of hard ones, soft targets instead of hard targets, and explore what it would be like to allow for change and re-conneciton/assessment, being flexible instead of rigid. How do we do that? I have spent a lot of time in coaching and teaching gathering tools, guidelines, and teachings to help support this subtle but significant difference.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Voting and Realistic Expectations (Clinton and Haiti)

This is very likely the only time you will see me post about the election season during the election season, so I bid you to read carefully. I will tell you right off what this post is NOT about:
-One candidate versus another
-Whom I think you should vote for or not
-Demonization or blame

I don't truck in any of those, frankly, and tire of seeing them. So before you start reading this, really, please consider if you are ready to look at the election process and our expectations themselves, without details about candidates or panic or fear. If not, place a bookmark on this and come back later.

With that "trigger warning", so to speak, let's keep going.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Good Again

The prompt for my weekly contemplative writing classes a few weeks ago was on when you first knew you were good. The writings out of this prompt were powerful - as often pointing to realizing when we thought we were bad, or told we were bad, as times when we realized or heard we are good.

This writing in particular stuck out to me. Deb Lamers, one of my students, uses many lovely metaphors around goodness, and doesn't mince words about how an early sexual trauma, unfortunately quite familiar to many, changed her sense of inherent worth for a long time.
Read all the way to the end to see how she pairs Catholic School with Alice in Wonderland!

As always, student writings are unedited, presented as is, written in twenty minutes without planning.
Enjoy Deb's tenderness and kindness to herself.
Once upon a time, I thought I was good. No one ever told me I was, but the way my grandpa and grandma, aunts, and uncles, and even my mother and father treated me, I thought I was good. A good girl.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Sensitivity to Sensitivity

This week, the prompt for my weekly contemplative writing classes started "I first knew I was different when..." or "I first knew he was different when..."

The quote at the bottom of the prompt:
“But even though we may not have been fully conscious of the racism of our games, we did understand that racial stereotyping was titillating and a little bit taboo. And as a half, my understanding went deeper.” -Ruth Ozeki, The Face: A Time Code
I had considered making race the prompt - "I first became aware of race when..." and then, decided to broaden it, while still keeping it specific. Race definitely came up - currently, all of my students are caucasian, white people who can, if they choose to, ignore race. As I know working more and more with us white folks on race, though, just because someone is white doesn't mean they ignore race. So for those who wrote about race, it was powerful enough to make me want to do an entire day retreat on race. What a significant and important topic for especially white people to write spontaneously about and share - mainly with each other. If people of color choose to, they can witness it and share, too - but we can be mighty messy as we figure things out out loud.

However, because of the broadened but still specific prompt, two things came up in the majority of writings, things I hadn't expected but am not surprised by.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Six Years Later...

An amazing testimonial appeared today in my mailbox from a long-term student, with whom I am now working on - and almost done with - a book! Thank you, Jo Simons...

I was searching for something in my stack of papers and came across my first two writing assignments in your class.  It was SO amazing to read them now with the book done!  OMG Miriam!  You really launched me!!!!!

The prompt was “what’s the secret to good writing?”  Here’s what I wrote.

The secret to good writing is in the pen.  I am celebrating pens of late since we use them so rarely.  I miss handwriting!  You can tell so much about a person by how their handwriting looks.  But technology has robbed us of that — we type notes to each other that do not give a clue as to how we feel or who we really are.  To me, this is a tragic loss — part of the dehumanization of our species. 

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Spontaneous Discipline

Sometimes, especially when I am behind on blogging, like I have been recently, I like to cheat by posting a talk I gave. That's the case today. The link leads you to soundcloud, and a recording of a talk I have tonight, at the Madison Shambhala Center, on Spontaneous Discipline.

Like most of our Thursday evening weekly dharma gathering talks, this one is based on a chapter in a collection of Chogyam Trungpa's talks. In this case, a new collection (of old talks) called Mindfulness in Action.

To tempt you to listen, and give you some framework, in the talk I cover the following:

1. How to define both spontaneity and discipline in a way that supports your practice and life.
2. How to work with obstacles as path instead of trying to get rid of them so you can keep going.
3. How to find joy in contentment - the absence of the drama of our traditional definitions of both being spontaneous and being disciplined.

Please listen in, enjoy, spread around!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Light & Shadow

This is a piece by an anonymous student, written a few months ago. Since then she has noted the person involved apologized and owned he was projecting. And still, this whole piece is not about her righteousness - rather about the layers of shadows and light and projection we work with from an early age through any level of realization in adulthood.

When she shared this freshly-written piece in class, we all had a good guffaw after she described her son's interaction with his shadow. How powerful it is to laugh at a child, then to realize we are still doing the same struggle, even if more covertly, now, as adults.

Seeing what is in the shadows - seeing the shadows themselves - is crucial for, as she describes, "not producing harm in (their) wake."

Please enjoy these reflections.

Light & Shadow

It feels so much better to shine my light than reveal my shadow.  My shadow moves with me always and yet my awareness of its presence is not so constant.  

Sometimes when out walking in the sunshine my three-year-old son, he will see his shadow following behind and try to stomp on it, yelling, “GO AWAY, SHADOW!”  He says it makes him uncomfortable that it is following him.  Until this moment, I didn’t realize how profound that was.  I didn’t see the connection between his reaction and the inner shadow – and how forcefully I sometimes wish for the very same thing.  How I want to stomp with frustration and say:  “You again?  How could you still be there following me?  Won’t you EVER go away and LEAVE ME ALONE?”

Friday, August 05, 2016

Pain of Procrastination

For a long time, I have struggled. I am not ashamed. I know I am not the only one. The fact is, procrastination in painful. Most of us do it. And most of the pain of procrastination is self-created.

Like so many things, there's no easy answer, no bypassing it. The only way is to practice, practice, practice - working with awareness, knowing your own creative ark, asking for help, and persevering.

For me, procrastination mainly appears when I am struggling through the middle of a project. It gets strongest when I reach a plateau of some sort - a sense of "Whoa. This is good. Hey. I can do this." Then I want to coast, or want it to be done with entirely. I start to doubt everything - can I really do this? Is it worth it? Am *I* worth it?

In other words, the only parts I really enjoy of a project are the beginning (Yippee! This will be fun!) and the end (Ohthankfuckinggod). Keeping going in the middle is the hardest part, and where most of us fall apart.

So why bother?

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Basic Creativity Reminders

I met with a couple of new clients this week, to see if we would match for me to help them manifest their creative practice time and/or projects. I have grown to love this work, this one-on-one (secretly my favorite way to interact in all cases) support. It keeps me on my toes, keeps me and them focused, and often makes me interpret, re-state or understanding things in a new way all the time, which is good overall for me as a practitioner and as a teacher, both.

These appointments, as beginning appointments often do, reminded me of some really basic, key things we often overlook. That, combined with having just returned from teaching a week-long contemplative writing retreat, have put the importance of structure back in the forefront of my mind. So I wanted to write a post with some of my favorite suggestions, tools, and ideas for how to make sure you do the things you want to do in your life, but can't seem to find/make time to do.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The False Immunity of Being White

A few years ago, I got a flu shot. I don't usually get one - no particular reason other than no good reason to get one. But that year, ilana was getting one and I thought, "Why not?"

We didn't have health insurance, so we got it at a pharmacy. I kind of hate getting shots (likely another reason I hadn't gotten them often) and so felt a bit woozy during and after. They had me lie down and rest, and then I could get up and move around. I felt pretty sick for a couple of days - fever and all - when we called the pharmacy they said that can happen. It passed and I didn't get the flu that year, but I don't usually get it. Ironically, I did cancel classes that week due to the severity of my reaction to the innoculation - I did understand that one week sick is better than multiple weeks.

Why do I bring this up?

I've been thinking a lot about white fragility lately, and how easy it is for those of us who are not often exposed to the pain behind racism to get overwhelmed by it. So many good fellow white people I know - dedicated, heartfelt humans and activists, everyday Janes and Joes - are simply unable to endure the log haul, emotionally and physically. Self-care, like in any area of our lives, is crucial, but I also think we whites have to accommodate for our previous lack of exposure (chosen or by-product of privilege) and lower ourselves in slowly, or we wind up leaping in and out and being inconsistent in our support of important movements.

Innoculation a, by design, give us tiny exposures to a disease in order to build our immune systems to better handle them. Racism is a disease, an endemic one, and one that is in the air and water all the time. The thing is, white people, we think we are immune. But it is a false and dangerous immunity. We simply have the privilege to not be forced to be exposed as often, to choose our exposure and its effects on us. We have to choose to breathe common air, to drink common water. Even more accurately, we drink it, we breathe it and get sick - for racism injured us, too - and somehow don't feel the injuries.

Looking at the Flint water crisis is a great
Literal metaphor and example of this. Large numbers of people who are poor, and most often of color, pay the true environmental price of the computers and technologies of the privileges enjoyed by the few. When the few on top - the folks who are predominately white, and sometimes rich - hear about these prices, we are outages for a hot minute, then forget. 


Because we can. Because media encourages us to see such things as anamolies and unconnected, as if the flu were called something different each year, instead of being variations on the same strains. Because we are so unaccustomed to, so normally unexposed to just how bad - literally and psychologically metaphorically - the air and water are. Our shock is a symptom - rather than showing our righteousness, it shows our privilege. And our indignant and impatient responses are also a sign of how unaccustomed we are to the real situations.

This is not all bad. When the people on top begin to realize how bad it is for those on bottom, if they work on it and stay sympathetic, they can actually take action to help reverse the trends. If we inoculate ourselves enough (preferably with other white people so folks of color don't have to put up with our constant questions and emotions) we can actually have the benefit of having been protected from the disease, and having realized there is no protection for anyone so long as the disease persists.

The disease of racism can only be truly overcome through obliteration. This is where innoculation as metaphor falls apart. We have to be able to abide it so we can be allies in the race for the cure - to wipe it out. But that will take a long ass time. It just will. So becoming truly immune - not just above exposure but able to abide alongside those who have no choice but to drink and breathe it - helps us to truly see it, feel it, and touch the passion needed to get rid of it.

So if you are white, and curious, expose yourself. Go gently, but persistently. When you feel worn out, take a break but come back. Don't give up. Be inspired by people of color who have written about how to keep up the good fight in the long run.

And don't wait to get your shot like I did. If one wipes you out, then maybe more regular exposure is needed. Rest for a few days and try again. Keep trying.

*My back porch apologies to all the epidemiologists and other scientists I know who may cringe and my using the flu as a metaphor. I claim poet's license here!

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Practice of Returning

Today is the last day of a week-long contemplative writing retreat I've been leading on Washington Island in Door County, Wisconsin. This is the second year we have done this retreat - other than some weekend retreats and occasional four day retreats, this is our main retreat of the year.

It's a trek from Madison - five hours, with a ferry in there. The drive is northeast, far enough north that the sun sets notably later and rises notably earlier in the summer. That final journey, the stretch on the ferry over to the island, is a commitment. One woman didn't attend this year because it's at least three hours, including an emergency ferry ride, to the closest Emergency Room.

The island, in other words, is rural and secluded, surrounded on one side by the Bay of Green Bay and on the other by Lake Michigan.

We go deep. People come to write fiction, non-fiction; about their lives or nothing to do with their lives. But we all come to write - to meditate, to move, to write. And to share. The sharing helps us go deeper, allows us to open gates inside ourselves to others and to ourselves. Listening, giving feedback, holding space.

After diving so deep, it can be hard to return.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Opening and Closing in Crisis: Alton Sterling and Philando Castle

Buddhism teaches this: when tragedy strikes, there are two ways to go:
We open.
We close.

I am trying to learn to open. Everything in me, all my privilege, all my familial training - all of my protective devices from both being a victim in the past and also having not had to face as much victimhood as a lot of other folks - all of that training says CLOSE. FIND ANSWERS. GET COLD. BE PRECISE.

And all of my Buddhist training says "Soften. Open. Trust. Feel."

I make mistakes when I feel, but I make worse mistakes when I don't.

This week, I am feeling the Alton Sterling killing. Then, the completely overshadowed but far more telling, Philando Castle killing not twenty four hours later. I am trying to stay open.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Love Doesn't Always Make Things Easier

I am humbled to admit that for a long time, I held this against my mother: she struggled to raise me the rest of the way to adulthood alone. 

I have only realized this recently - meaning - I was aware I was angry with her, and upset/disturbed that some things went (on occasion, horribly) wrong in my adolescence. But recently I've come to understand I also associated those feelings with an assumption that somehow she loved me less.

Because if she had loved me more, wouldn't things have gone better?
Wouldn't it have been easier, for both of us if she had loved me more? Enough?
Luckily, just in time for me to see that these beliefs exist, I am able to let them go.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

My Orlando Post

Note: This post is primarily written for a white audience, suggesting better news connections for reading about Orlando and having a sense of "what to do".

I have been very careful with my media consumption this week. My first hit on what happened in Orlando came via Facebook, one of the first things I check when I wake. It came through a trustworthy queer friend, who is discerning about what he consumes. It was a good introduction to the basics, though, already at 7 am CDT, there was talk of Radical Islam behind all of it.

Speculation, side taking and assumptions are par for the course after a national tragedy. It is easier to say "This is the answer," or even, "This is the problem" than it is to reckon with the ultimate fact:
This situation is complex, multifaceted, and not easily addressed.

I mentioned to someone this week that I am thoroughly anti-gun.
Just don't like em.
It's pretty personal, more emotional than logical, though I have my logical reasons.
I never had them around as a kid, other than my brothers using our grandfather's rifle to shoot cans.
I don't feel comfortable around violence, and definitely think semiautomatics are way beyond necessary in any instance, even war.

That having been said, the tendency to jump to anti-gun/pro-gun control rhetoric tires me. So does the knee jerk tendency to jump to allyship for queer folks.
All stances, so sudden, so strong, exhaust me - even the ones I agree with wholeheartedly.

The point is not that I disagree. The point is that taking a tough stance, even if it is just on social media, exhausts me. Speaking only to one aspect - mental health, gun control, islamophobia - discounts the many other aspects (including, but not limited to) the actual presence of anti-gay sentiments in some Muslim communities, the incredible origins of violence and perpetuation of violence against particularly queer people of color in this day and age, and the lack of even an operational mental health system to actually address the core causes and issues of people who struggle with serious challenges.

This is a place where Buddhism comes through for me. When I feel helpless, I do Tonglen or Maitri/Metta to work with my own mind, but that is not even what I am talking about. What I am talking about is responses that respect the whole, like these from well-known Buddhist teachers. And this is also where listening carefully to queer and/or people of color leaders really comes through. I generally - and yes, this is a generalization - find that white thought leaders (and yes, I am white, and don't hate myself for it) don't speak to nuance. We don't have to. We aren't accustomed to it, we aren't sensitized to intersectionality.

So who are some of those folks? My personal favorites - some friends, some thought leaders I follow - by no means an exhaustive list, but a good pinhole into resources from mostly queer and mostly people of color thought leaders I have been following:
Angel Kyodo Williams (who also has an amazing co-authored title out THIS WEEK called Radical Dharma which faces the intersectionality of Buddhism and Race and Liberation with:)
Lama Rod Owens
Zaynab Shahar
Not1story on Twitter
Jay, Brown Menace on Twitter

If you are only following white media, and white thought leaders, please tune in to some of these or other folks who actually meet the demographics of those killed in this horrific tragedy. When people need your help, you need to ask: what help do they want from me? If they are asking for anti-gun legislation, then help support them in that. If they are asking for support in fighting homophobia, go for it - by supporting their causes.

Luckily, quite a bit of mainstream or side-mainstream media is picking up on the issues these folks are pointing to: 
Queer Muslims speak to what they need in these times.
And some more of that - so important - what Queer Muslims need in terms of support.
Undocumented folks have extra concerns post-Orlando.
Noting that the focus should be on Latinx LGBTQ survival for this event.
Forgotten and unmentioned in mainstream media major killing of LGBTQ at a bar years ago.
A queer Muslim writing about what it is like to not be welcome at an anti-racism pro-gay protest.

Diversifying your media input is always, always helpful, but especially in instances like this. 

Side benefit: instead of getting caught up in politicking and slogans and quick reactions of white media, you can relax into the depth of suffering going on. Though that may sound less pleasant, in general queer people of color have known for a long time this is a battle that won't end soon. They are more patient and have more stay power than the fragile whites among us. 

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Relentless Gentleness

It may seem funny to pair the word "relentless" with the word "gentleness", but this is what I am working with more and more. I can be a somewhat relentless person - relentless in business (note I did not say ruthless), in personal relationships, in working on/with myself. However, that relentlessness can be quite tiring, has been exhausting, in fact. And so I am learning that my gentleness needs to be as relentless as the more common things associated with relentlessness:

What does relentless gentleness look like?
For me it looks like

1. Holding space in my schedule for resting, protecting time with cats, meditation, exercise.
2. Standing my ground against my own self-hating tendencies, the ones that push me too hard to work.
3. Leveraging the same pushy bits of myself that force me to work, to criticize and instead use those forces to force myself to rest, relax, just hang out.

It's a ground teaching in Vajrayana Buddhism that the place from where our confusion arises is also from where our wisdom is born. This relentlessness in myself is not inherently bad - it's strength, resilience and dedication. How I apply it, on the other hand, changes everything. Learning to direct the need to be committed and clear towards kindness is key; changing the tack of the sail of "get it done" to "make sure I sleep a full nine hours" is tricky but rewarding. And slowly but surely, the strengthened gentleness takes over more easily when the seemingly more powerful self-critic tries to take the reins.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Calm Mind During Crisis

It's been a rough couple of weeks around here, struggling with depression and anxiety for us both, as well as some potentially difficult changes in income and schedule. But I have found something very interesting out about my own mind. When I am in an actual crisis - a chance of physical damage or threat, possibility of life or limb lost, I am very clear about my choices. I can choose clearly what is needed for the situation, and separate out emotional needs from physical ones, prioritizing both, holding the paradox when they come into conflict with each other.

However, when the crisis is more emotional or mental, when it is a mental health challenge of either mine or my wife's, I lose a lot of that clarity. I know this likely doesn't sound that surprising, but it's been powerful to observe how that happens - when there is an external threat or cause, I can see clearly. When it is more internal or relational, things get foggy.

In particular, when I am struggling with my own depression or anxiety, I don't reach out for help. I don't value the need for self-care as much as I do when the cause seems immediate and obvious. It's not even that I resist being vulnerable - I am pretty ok with that. This all happens at a much deeper, less obvious level, wherein I don't even consider contacting anyone. It only becomes obvious to me I am avoiding getting support when I begin to avoid incoming calls, texts or emails asking how I am.

I am inspired by the calmness of my mind when things are externally rough. I am inspired to apply that, to find ways to engage it - through mediation, breathing, loving kindness and tonglen - knowing it is there helps me to trust I can build it for more difficult emotional times.

And at times like this, when I can get some clarity and relief - like I have today - I am grateful. So grateful for the teachings, my teachers, my students. So grateful for practice. I can feel how lucky I am - to have a loving partner, a good community and amazing opportunity to access teachings that help me not just survive but thrive. Wow. Yes.

PS Extra gratitude for the GoFundMe campaign, which reached our goal of $5000 by June 1 for the next volume of the Way of Seeing: Heart of Perception by John McQuade and myself. Double wow!

Friday, May 20, 2016

High Stakes Practice - Between Mother's Day and My Birthday

Here's my talk from last night's weekly Dharma Gathering at the Madison Shambhala Center. In it I discuss the idea that everyone may have been your mother (and what that might mean for your practice if you and your mom don't get along, or, for instance, if your mom is dead, like mine). As well, we weave in the slogan "Self Hatred Never Helps," plus seeing the enemy that is us as the friend that is us, and more.

40 minutes.
Listen here.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Feminist Buddhism and Interdependent Liberation

"How was your weekend with Pema Chodron?" many people asked me coming home from Awaken Chicago last weekend. It is true, I was very excited to be in the same room (mind you, large chapel) as Pema Chodron for the first, and likely only, time in my life. I have long loved her books, her talks, her retreats. Like many people (women, especially) she has saved my life and heart many times. And because she is the name most people know, I told people about seeing her ahead of time.

But the fact is I also knew that Angel Kyodo Williams would be there, and I was excited to see her. I had no idea how much she was going to be involved - it turned out, a lot, giving the very first keynote talk - and how powerful she was going to be. She was uber in her element - completely riveting and engaging, encouraging us to disrupt via our meditation practice and life, as much as finding peace and spreading equality in more calm and traditionally meditative manners. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Money and Shame

For most of us, money and shame are a lot closer to each other than we'd like to admit.

I am really feeling this one recently. It's not like I haven't known I had shame about money, but it's coming up in an irrefutable way. My desire to not discuss it. The tears or anger when I do. All of my family's history in talking about it in odd ways or not talking about it.

When I struggle with it, I try to remember how universal it is, and how immediately sweeping away powerful it is for so many people. So easy to get on that ride of money shame and ride it all day long and all night long. I am interested in renunciation - not renunciating spending or material goods, which, while budgeting is important, totally reducing spending to nothing won't help. I am ready to renunciate samsara - the ultimate repulsive shame cycle carnival ride. But I know from experience that has to happen over time, bit-by-bit, again and again. These habits are deep and well-worn.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Simple and Profound

Sometimes I have an idea for a post that seems too simple. Part of me thinks it needs to have multiple paragraphs, a story, etc. but the fact is, so much of what I practice, study and teach is the kind of simple profundity that merits a single paragraph of reading - and a lifetime of constant contemplation. I don't always trust I can communicate the simple profundity, even though I know full well I've experienced it many times in something as small as a haiku. Or simply lying in bed, or meditating.

What is my post today? Lying in bed this morning, I heard the Wisconsin April birds chirping: Robins, Cardinals, Finches, Sparrows, Black-Capped Chickadees. Because we live less than a block from a major street and a busy intersection, in less than a breath the bird sounds were covered by trucks and traffic. And it hit me: some part of me believes the birds stops singing when the trucks go by. But they don't. I just stop hearing them.

This may sound obvious, but that's how simple profundity works. More and more I think it is about the gap between our conscious knowing, which says: of course I know I just don't hear the birds at that point, just like I know the sun hasn't gone away when the clouds cover it from my view; and our child mind, our unconscious and naive perception, which isn't so sure. 

We like to think our conscious mind and beliefs are what drive us: rational, logical, adult. But the fact is, they don't. So many of our decisions and opinions are shaped not by what we know in a conscious sense, but by our unconscious beliefs. 

That's what I have to say. Almost scoffable in its simplicity. Scoff if you want. But I am going to keep paying attention. These moments pop open my perception and give me a glimpse of the complexity and richness of my mind and the world around me, if I let them. This morning, right now, I am letting them. I invite you to, too.

Thursday, March 31, 2016


It's been awhile since I posted on either blog. Life got quick and compacted - travel, sickness and even lots of inspiration all vying for my attention. I got off rhythm with posting, which happens, like so many aspects of our lives.

But the big thing has been resolving, finally, or so it seems, my twenty plus year struggle with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I was diagnosed in my twenties, but have had symptoms since I was thirteen. At the time, a doctor simply told me not to eat what bothered my digestive system. Basically the diagnosis was a default - since I didn't have cancer or Crohn's, or other possible severe diagnoses, IBS was what they called it. I cut out gluten and dairy, known culprits. What threw me off, however, for years after, ever since, is that sometimes when stressed or at other untraceable times, I get sick anyway: constipation, painful trapped gas, stabbing pains.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Intersectionality and Interdependence

This International Women's Day, I celebrated the fact that I am re-engaging with activism. This time, my focus is on racial justice, and in particular, working with white people on their own racism. Mindfully.

Mindfully, because I am now a Buddhist, unlike ten or so years ago when I was last directly active in any kind of movement. Mindfully, because I watched people burn out so badly and I have faith now that compassion is fierce and needed. Mindfully, because hell hath no fury like white people dissing other white people for their racism in order to distance themselves from their own tendencies.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Even Light Can Get Trapped

A couple of weeks ago, I gave a prompt in my weekly writing classes about light and shadow. I was pleased and surprised to have a few folks write about hiding their own light - a powerful counterpoint to hiding our shadows.

This is one piece about hiding one's own light, by a student named Silas Day. Silas is transgender, and while his description of hiding his own light has its particular attributes to his struggle, I think his way of being with himself in this regard is also universal.

Please enjoy this rough, raw and very real writing.

My strengths have never included taking compliments.
I have recently had two very different kinds of relationships that have tested this. One, romantic, this person was very infatuated with my patience and kindness and yes, my good looks, too. I noticed how uncomfortable it made me to be frequently shown or told about these attributes of myself. 

Was it because I don't like to feel the spotlight or because I don't believe them to be true? Probably both. 
As a result of transitioning, I think that part of me has worsened.
Casting a perpetual shadow over myself so I could sneak by unnoticed. If no one notices me, they wont mis-gender me.
I think that shadow has carried over into my self worth. I care so much for others, I want to highlight them and stay safely in the dark. Being so familiar with my faults and flaws I pushed away the sunny days when I could gently remind myself you are good.

That feeling you get when the clouds break and the sunlight sneaks out to cast the warmth across your face. It lights up your skin and seeps through to warm your insides. You take a deep breath and smile and in that moment without realizing it... you feel good. Because you are. 

That moment or feeling of light and love come together to fill all the empty spaces and no one has to convince you that you are kind or patient or beautiful because the warmth and the light let you feel it. 
If even just for a moment.
Even if it goes unnoticed.

I hope one day I can bottle that feeling and use it in times of need. Or perhaps recognize other opportunities for the warmth to settle in and remind me to step out from the shadows.

If I spend this much time showing compassion to others… perhaps, there’s room in there for me to share the love with myself.

Love and Light

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Importance of Risk

By the time word got out about today's "Day Without Latinos" protest, I already had a very full day scheduled. Clients, calls, attending a class, giving a talk.

On the one hand, being self-employed can give me a lot of flexibility. On the other hand, I seem to always have to be working to make ends meet.

But then one client canceled and another moved her appointment back. A larger time gap opened. I looked out my window at the students and families streaming down my street to East Washington Avenue and quickly got some supplies together - camera, water, snack. I joined the crowd, shocked at how many were walking over a mile to get to the Capitol.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Liberating Inheritances

When people die, they always leave something.  Plenty of people lose parents and were left with, say, thousands of dollars of hospital bills instead of thousands of dollars of bonus inheritance. That is still  something. Whether we are left with negative or positive, there's an inheritance.

I have privilege. My parents didn't leave behind as much money, but their parents did. And likely because my parents died so young - in their fifties, and while I was a teen - the money from their parents, who were all gone by the time I was twenty-two - came to me and my brothers. Enough to help me get a house, help out with some debts and investments. Enough to give me security for my future as a self-employed contemplative arts instructor. That's a definite positive inheritance I wanted to acknowledge before I point out some less positive gifts.

I also inherited a strong sense of needing to blame: blame someone, find fault, or, if no one else can be pinned for it, blame myself. I know this is societal as much as it is personal - find someone in the Midwestern, middle class, liberal white world who doesn't either struggle with blame or shame or both, and you've found an exception, not a rule. However, the flavor of it in my family, when tied to severe illnesses - both physical and mental - and sudden or early deaths, took on a sense of importance above and beyond the usual.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Self Hatred Never Helps

I recently went to my annual physical. I knew going in that the painfully accurate scale would show me I have gained some weight, since pants have been tighter and my second chin a bit more prominent. Most of the time, I don't struggle too hard with this - I am as active as I can be, and eat relatively healthy.

I don't believe, not rationally, that fat=unhealthy, and have worked hard to get over early prejudices against myself and others in regards to body shape and size.

But beliefs run deep. Especially when it comes to our own bodies.

So when the scale showed me I weigh more than I hoped but less than I feared, I could feel the self-hatred start to creep in. Walking from the weight and height room to the examining room, even as I joked with the nurse about not putting my shoes back on, in my head I was making plans:
-Do Whole 30
-Get gym membership and go 3 times a week

The messages behind these - eat better and exercise more - are not problematic. 
But the tone was. Even if Whole 30 would be good for my body, or more exercise, they will not be helpful - or sustainable - if I take this attitude towards myself --

The tone was something more like this:
-You cannot be trusted to take care of yourself without structure. Restrict your diet and stick to it.
-You must push a lot harder on exercise. You resist it too much. Just fucking do it.

I wish I could say that's when I knew I was in trouble. Instead, behind the scenes a quiet and familiar war waged. I didn't even notice it until I was out of the appointment and at home, feeling shitty. The more sensitive and human aspect of myself put up weak arguments to be kind to myself, and the more aggressive and fearful part put up far too forceful arguments to be mean to myself.

Recently, my best friend has come up with a slogan that I love (this is my phrasing of it):
"Self hatred never helps."

After my appointment, as I cried on her proverbial phone shoulder (she lives in Portland), I came back to this phrase on my own. I asked of both of us - if self hatred, which is so deep, so default and habitual, doesn't work - which I believe it doesn't - what does?

Rebecca went on to describe attentiveness, kindness, curiosity. An ongoing, everyday engagement. We discussed the habitual patterns that seem to attract self-hatred: overly regulated systems like strict diets, as well as the polar opposite: spacing out and providing no structure at all. Then we engaged the mindsets that create so much space around the hatred that it loses its power, like asking what my body wants right now.

The problem, if it is a problem, is that self-hatred is easier, more convenient, habitual. 

Most of us crave easy answers - a prescripted diet or exercise plan, for instance. And for some of us, those work. Some of us respond well to regulated, even tight structure.

But in my experience coaching, teaching and human beinging, I find that most of us struggle, push back, and fight that tight of a structure. Self-hatred easily coopts whatever it can for it's own purposes, so that even if we enjoy a cleanse once, and decide we'd like to do it more regularly, behind the scenes, self hatred makes it into a project, tries to use it to punish us and prove a point.

So the answer might be diet and exercise, might even be a prescribed diet and exercise plan, but it must be flexible. Kind.

Body and diet, exercise and weight are such incredibly loaded, often poisonous waters for all of us, especially women. The last refuge of self hatred, a deeply culturally and personally embedded dark alley in the back of our minds and hearts. Coming to really feel and notice that self hatred never helps, is never a useful view or motivation, is essential. And it is a bottom line, a definite statement that underlines lots of quite less definite but strongly intuitive understandings about kindness and flexibility with ourselves and others.

These are the questions I will be contemplating around this:
-What kinds of structures seem to magnetize self-hatred?
-What kinds of structures seem to magnetize flexibility, space and understanding?
-Which causes lead to which effects? When I self hate, do I really feel better? 
-Balance is flexibility - not rigidity. Where is the balance? And it is not one point, so what does it feel like when I am stressed? Traveling? Alone? With others? 

It's crucial for each of us to truly feel that self hatred never helps, otherwise it is an empty adage. 
Simple answers are not the mostly likely to be true when it comes to human psyche.  
Self-hatred is an easy answer, a short-cut habit. It's ready availability makes it feel like truth, but it is only so accessible because it is a well-worn path, not because it is true. 
Relaxing back into the complexity and feeling what is true right now needs to be paired with a deeper, more compassionate ongoing view.  
For eating, for work, for life, for everything.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Doing Nothing Versus Not Doing Something

The other day, consoling a struggling Ilana, I fought off a part of me that said, as per usual, "Do something!"

It didn't say this directly, it said it via the ideas and judgments and assessments that flooded my mind, facing the space of her sadness. They take the common critic line of things like:
-you should have done something to prevent this
-she should have done something to prevent this
-she is going to feel this way forever
-you need to get her out of this...

When, if, I follow these and more, I am "doing something". But it is often the something she does not need. She needs something, but she needs space. Warmth. Trust. Holding. Silence without recrimination, even if it is me simply judging myself.


Meditation is like this for me, too, like it is for so many people. Though I have plenty of personal and direct evidence with some fifteen years of sitting that it is "not doing nothing", I still believe that's the case at times.

How do I know that? Because thoughts flood my mind and I follow them pretty far before dropping them and coming back to the space of now. There's nothing wrong with that. There's nothing wrong with thoughts. But on the frequent occasions where my meditation is more focusing on thinking than letting it co-exist with space, I get evidence of how little I trust yet that meditation is in fact doing something. 

Even that practice, just seeing how much I am not trusting space, that it is something and not nothing, is worth it. I know that. No judgments here. Just curiousity about the beliefs that underlie my relationship to doing and being.

I know that it takes a lot of space to even see how I struggle with space. And still, even writing this, part of me wants to say: "Wrap it up with wisdom. Fix it."

And I refuse. I refuse to do that to you or to me. Instead I will do a something that seems like nothing: I will leave this contemplation open-ended, knowing I will return to it again and again, and hoping you will, too.

Friday, January 08, 2016

All Good Options

(One of my favorite signs this week, by Jeff Hanson - my error!:

I am wrapping up a week at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. I was invited here by Katey Schultz, to join what turned out to be nine other writers - and 70 other artists in varying media: ceramics, textiles, 2D, metalworking, sign painting (more on that in a moment), photography and more.

The event is a now annual-gathering of artists called The Pentaculum. It's the brainchild of Jason Burnett, and it's a brilliant idea: for a single flash-in-a-pan but profound week, hand-selected groups of artists arrive, make bunches of art (as collaborative or as isolated as you wish) and then leave. This is the second official year, and the first time ever in Arrowmont's 100 year history that writers have been here.

The first day I was shocked to see how busy Gatlinburg is - I had no idea it is a wild tourist haven on the edge of the Smokies. And the shock continued. A gaggle of richly diverse writers brand new to me, and dozens of other artists in all those media I mentioned plus people who don't fit into any category.

There were sort of unofficially two tracks I saw to take: go really deep with the writers and my own work, or really wide and explore with all the others. I spent four days going deep, one connecting with others, and one just trying to take a break from it all.

I got to where I wanted to get to in my memoir. I had lots of great supportive networking but also personal and deep conversations with the writers.

I also got to photograph a lot of great artists in action. I learned a ton about sign painting (first of all, that hand painter sign makers still exist!). I connected with a couple of key artists whose work I love.

And most importantly, though now, at the end, I wish I had spread out and met more artists in other media, I got to sink deeply and lovingly into an extraordinarily rare hand picked group of writers. This was not your average retreat/residency. Katey picked a few really good folks - not just good writers but great humans - and we made exceptional space for each other all week.

You can't have it all. I got a lot.
I am trading in any regret for gratitude.