Meditation has been on my mind a great deal in recent weeks - or rather the lack thereof. I confess my meditation practice is almost entirely non-existent, save for the few minutes occasionally offered by a teacher as an alternative to savasana or the spontaneous mindful pause during a busy day. These episodes are few and far between, and increasingly I find myself craving an opportunity to flex the muscles necessary to quiet my mind and be more present - whether with my daughter, my husband, my clients, or even myself.
What I am beginning to recognize in this process is that, just like so many areas of my life, my lack of a formal meditation practice stems from my propensity to make the perfect the enemy of the good. I tell myself that if I am not sitting completely still, eyes closed, in a quiet room for a minimum of 10 minutes, it doesn't "count." And in doing so, I am disregarding the rare, but real, moments of calm presence I am able to experience in the course of a day.
Beginning today, I am (slowly) allowing myself to accept that even if fleeting and infrequent, these glimpses are enough. What does "enough" look like for you today?
As I mentioned last week, being still is a highly underrated - and underutilized - tool. Not only do we rarely find (or make) time to remain in one place without an agenda or task, when we do allow ourselves an unplanned moment, our minds spiral with thoughts of what we "should" be doing instead, what we just said or did, or what we will do next.
To help you overcome the challenge of stillness, I offer a simple meditation technique you can roll out any time, any place. It can be practiced while sitting with your eyes closed, while standing on a crowded bus, or walking down the street. It requires no formal training and no particular talent. In fact, it is a great entry point for those who don't (think they) have the patience or ability to meditate.
The technique is simple. Begin by noticing your breath. Become aware of your inhale and exhale. As you draw your breath in, think or say to yourself, "one." As you exhale, think or say to your self, "two." On your next inhale, proceed with "three," and on your next exhale, proceed with "four." Continue this pattern until you reach 10.
It seems simple, and it is. But it is highly likely that sometime before you reach 10, a cloud of thought will drift across your mind. This is not a problem. You have not failed. When a thought arises, acknowledge it, set it aside, and return to the beginning, starting with "one." The goal is not to reach 10 - or even five. The goal is to practice being present and quieting the mind. And when you reach 10, or your bus arrives, or you reach your destination, you will have done just that.
Next time you find yourself struggling to quiet your body and mind, give it a try and see what happens...
The moment I read about Lauren Rubenstein's service in Haiti on a local yoga blog, I knew I wanted to learn more. Her beautiful reflection on her seven (!) service trips to the disaster-stricken nation acknowledged the seeming triviality of teaching yoga to children who do not know whether they will receive a hot meal on a given day while at the same time espousing hope in the mission and long-term benefits of her work. To learn more about what inspires Lauren and why entering a new situation before you know all the facts isn't always a bad thing, read on...
Part of my job as a teacher trainer is to be available to those who are studying - or thinking about studying - to become a teacher. Among the questions I receive most frequently is, "How do I know when I am ready to become a teacher?" A close second is related, "How do I know if I am ready to do this full time?"
When asked the first question, I usually walk people through the objective considerations of the time, energy, and resources necessary to pursue a training. When asked about making teaching a profession, I help them think through the sacrifices and rewards of life on the teaching path. Regrettably, the input most of them are seeking is something I can't provide: a glimpse into the future to see how it all comes together.
All big decisions require a certain level of comfort with uncertainty. Those who have been successful in following their dreams have to be willing to embrace risk. It is a common refrain in the Trailblazers interviews (including one coming up tomorrow!): You will never be 100 percent certain about anything. If you want something, you must choose to take the first step in faith, then the next, and the next.
Where has a lack of certainty prevented you from achieving a goal? What first step can you take today?
Generally speaking, I try to keep my weekends free to spend with my family. Of course the opportunity to lead the occasional workshop or teacher training session finds its way onto my calendar, and from time to time a client will need to move our standing session to a weekend, but my preference is to be as available and present as I can be for my husband and baby girl.
The past weekend, however, was the exception that makes the rule. Both days I had a flurry of professional commitments that infiltrated the usual family weekend highlights of farmer's marketing, attending church, and cooking and baking for the week ahead. In an attempt to maximize the productivity of my time away from family I scheduled the obligations in back-to-back-to-back blocks. On Saturday this worked beautifully - minimizing my time away from home and staying on task while out and about. On Sunday, however, I arrived at the home of a client for my second-to-last appointment of the day only to learn something had come up, and he needed to cancel the session.
"Now what?!" I thought. I hadn't planned for any down time, and as a result, I was without a computer, notebook, or even a pen I could use to redeem the time with an impromptu work or writing session. The window of time was not wide enough to go back home, and the neighborhood in which I found myself wasn't conducive to any spontaneous errand running. Frustrated by my lack of contingency planning and inability to repurpose the time in a productive way, I began to make my way in the direction of my final appointment. When I arrived, I realized I had spent the past 15 minutes fretting about something that was essentially a gift. It occurred to me I didn't need to redeem the time or justify it through some specific accomplishment. I could instead just enjoy it.
So I found a shady spot to sit and called a dear friend with no agenda other than to hear about her weekend. When we hung up, I sat still and watched the world go by, breathing and meditating on the moment and the rarity of sitting still, without a plan.
Next time you find yourself with unexpected time on your hands, can you let go of the self-imposed need for productivity and simply observe yourself and your surroundings? Can you see a missed appointment as an asset rather than a liability?
My daughter loves to "color." She giggles when handed crayons and often travels from room to room with an etch-a-sketch in tow. Without fail, after she has scribbled by herself for a few minutes, she will ask me or my husband to draw for her. At first her requests were simple and often based on what I (given my lack of artistic talent) had previously drawn: simple shapes, letters, perhaps a cat if I were feeling ambitious. But these days her preferences have become more specific. "Mama, draw Miss Sarah." "Draw down dog." "Draw Omaha."
I first found myself trying to steer her instead toward something more befitting my stick-figure skills. "Why don't we draw a tree..." But she would not be deterred. "Sweetheart, mama is not a good artist," I heard myself say, and then I stopped. I realized I was allowing my self-consciousness to stand in the way of a bonding opportunity. My daughter was not demanding a perfect representation. She was not sharpening her art critic skills. She was asking to play together - sharing a moment and a sketchpad.
So I put crayon to paper, and I was delighted to discover a stick figure with a ponytail is a perfectly suitable rendering of her favorite teachers. A few rectangles under a blue sky pass muster for a city scape. And she has yet to complain that cats, dogs, and horses bear a striking resemblance to one another...
Where have you allowed your perfectionism to stand in the way of sharing a moment or taking a first step? What light can you let shine through the cracks in your veneer?
If we aren't intentional about counting our blessings, it can be easy to lose sight of the abundance in our lives. When something goes wrong - whether a parking ticket, less-than-glowing performance review, or getting caught in the rain without an umbrella - that event tends to dominate our thoughts and color our interactions. But if we instead focus on consciously acknowledging the many things that go right during the day - a genuine smile from a stranger, an unexpected call from an old friend, arriving at the metro station just as the our train pulls in - the abundance of our blessings is impossible to miss.
This idea is not new: everyone from church leaders to yoga teachers to motivational speakers encourages us to be recognize and give thanks for the good in our lives. But if you have yet to give it a try for yourself, let me offer another incentive: it will change your life.
Sarah Ban Breathnach, the author of Simple Abundance, says, "You simply will not be the same person two months from now after consciously giving thanks each day for the abundance that exists in your life." And she is right. When you begin to identify the positive events, people, and circumstances that surround you, they seem to multiply. It becomes impossible not to notice the small joys you encounter on a regular basis. Start small: name one thing each day for which you are grateful. I promise you will grow in awareness and appreciation of your abundant blessings.
At some point today, you will likely encounter someone who is less than gracious - even rude. You will probably find yourself on the receiving end of someone's impatience or frustration. You may even discover that someone you thought was the kindest of souls is, in fact, a deeply flawed human being. But before you shrug off this seemingly depressing observation, let me suggest it needn't get you down.
No matter how much negativity you experience in the course of a given day, you can choose to be a positive force. You can greet adversity with encouragement, anger with gentleness, and indifference with love. Your gestures may go unappreciated, even unacknowledged, but the choice - and the power - is yours.
What can you do today to transcend circumstances and let your light shine?
Last month I lost my wedding ring. It didn't slip down the drain while washing my hands, or slide off unnoticed while waterskiing, or disappear under any other forgivable, accidental scenario. I lost the ring I have worn every day for the past 10 and a half years - the symbol of love and commitment that has accompanied me around the globe and through the ups and downs of a decade of marriage - and I had no one to blame but myself.
When I recognized the ring was missing, I immediately began retracing the previous day's steps, searching for a clue to its whereabouts. As I mentally revisited the regular routine of classes, clients, and errands, one minute came into clear focus. I saw myself sitting in a treatment room at my acupuncturist's office with my ring balanced on my knee as I put lotion on my cracked hands. I observed myself leaning forward to toss the empty lotion bottle in the trash can and settling back into the chair as she entered. I watched the scene unfold, helpless to change the past, with a sinking sense that I would never see the ring again.
I calculated the time lapse between loss and discovery: 13 hours. Perhaps there was cause for hope. When I called the office to explain the situation, the office manager assured me she would search the room thoroughly, but it was to no avail. I immediately made my way there to scour the room personally, but no amount of crawling around the floor willing the ring to appear produced it. I tracked down the manager of the building's overnight cleaning crew, and while she was sympathetic, she wasn't able to help. Disappointed by the loss and in myself for the carelessness that brought it about, I slumped home.
Seemingly out of options and in need of encouragement, I picked up the phone and dialed my mom. She reminded me that the ring was simply a possession like any other, and its loss would be just one of many I would undoubtedly encounter in the years to come. And then she asked, "Have you prayed about it?"
I couldn't bring myself to ask for a miracle for something as trivial as a piece of jewelry - even one with great sentimental value, but I couldn't shake the advice. I prayed instead for peace of mind and gave myself permission to surrender the search and accept the loss.
A week later, while folding laundry, I caught sight of what appeared to be a button resting on a cabinet in our bedroom. As I approached the table to pick it up, my heart stopped: it was not a button, but my ring. I immediately began inventing scenarios that would explain its presence there. It must have been caught in the cuff of my pants and somehow survived the bike ride back home... Or maybe it fell from my knee into my purse and then back out... But no explanation seemed quite right - or relevant.
As I reflected on the disappearance and reappearance, I recognized that the relief I felt upon finding the ring was no greater than the peace I experienced when I stopped striving and embraced my inability to control the outcome.
This type of surrender has applications far beyond material possessions. So many of the challenges we face are out of our control: the end of a relationship, a missed opportunity, the inability to start a family. When our own efforts and resources fail to deliver the results we desire, we can find healing in surrendering our attachment to a specific outcome and accepting what comes next.
Have you made a mistake - small or large - you can't reverse? Are you facing a burden greater than your abilities? Consider surrendering your desires and allowing life to unfold. It just may surprise you...
This weekend, families across the country will gather to celebrate the women who nurtured, loved, and inspired them. But for the 7.3 million women in the United States struggling with infertility, Mother’s Day is another reminder of the challenges they face.
As someone who struggled to become pregnant, I can attest to the inner turmoil brought about by a day that honors and celebrates the thing you want most but are unable to bring about. The temptation to isolate yourself far from anyone or anything that reminds you of your powerlessness is profound. But it is also a time when support from those who love you matters most.
If you know a woman struggling to become pregnant or carry a baby to term, this Sunday is a great opportunity to let her know you are thinking of her and there to support her if and when she is comfortable sharing. What you say is less important than the act of opening the door to a safe space. Ask how she is doing, and really listen to the answers. Most importantly, let her know you are grieving with her and there for her. She may not take you up on your invitation, but the offer will go a long way toward helping her feel less alone.
Thank you for visiting the Starting Over blog. Stop by anytime for a dose of inspiration, tools to help you achieve your goals, and a community of fellow travelers. I hope to see you often!