Monday, November 28, 2011

Find Your Sacred Place

I've been toying a lot lately with the idea of committing to a consistent meditation practice. I know I need one: a place of stillness and peace where I practice awareness and breath and just sitting and *being* for a few minutes every day. I do have a regular yoga practice, but while complementary and integrated, they are not one in the same.

I've been returning to Joseph Campbell again lately, as he is the one voice who, for me, can cut through all the clutter and noise and remind me how to return to what is highest, truest and timeless. I found this exchange in "The Power of Myth" the other day, and it has given me new motivation to find my sacred spot in the day where I can meditate and fill my cup.

Bill Moyers: You write in The Mythic Image about the center of transformation, the idea of a sacred place where the temporal walls may dissolve to reveal a wonder. What does it mean to have a sacred place? 
Joseph Campbell: This is an absolute necessity for anybody today. You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don't know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don't know who your friends are, you don't know what you owe anybody, you don't know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something will eventually happen. 
Doesn't that sound exciting?

Here's to each of us finding our sacred place, and experiencing "what you are and what you might be."


p.s. What ideas do you have for where or when your sacred place might be? How will you commit to being there each day? Since I'm serious about finding this, I'll post an update on how I've made this happen in my life.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Why We Need to Keep Asking Why

One of the most powerful practices you can enact is to simply ask “Why?” instead of giving into your most automatic impulses, thoughts and actions.

  • When someone says something hurtful to you, ask yourself why they feel the need to hurt.

  • When someone cuts you off in traffic, ask why they aren’t paying attention or why they are full of urgency or anger.

  • When someone dresses in a way you find goofy or scandalous or slovenly, ask why.

  • Then, ask why you are reacting as you are, or why you feel the need to examine others so closely. Know thyself first, right?

The thing is, we know so little, but we assume so, so much. We fill in the spaces of all we don’t know with our opinions, our emotions, our thoughts and our beliefs. We fill in the spaces with our family histories, our socioeconomic background, our race, our education, our religion. We fill in the spaces with our culture, our parents, our stories and our philosophies. We fill in the spaces with our egos.
Your curiosity is perhaps your greatest teacher, your best guide.

Your curiosity opens you up, accesses your observant awareness, closes down your impulsive, judging thoughts. Your curiosity is a path to your heart and your highest self.

My son hasn’t started asking “Why?” about the whole world yet (though he’s begun with “What’s that?” about many, many things!), but we all know the story about the child who drives his parents bonkers with asking “Why?”

When does that end? When do we stop asking why? Why do we stop asking why?

I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because we get frustrated once we realize that there are so many things we don’t know the answers to. Maybe we like living in a world of certainty more than we like having our minds and hearts challenged. To be sure, it’s exhausting to spend a lot of time in uncertainty. We don’t have answers, and we like answers, so we invent them, even if we must do so unconsciously.

I like answers. They are so satisfying. But they are not what the world and the people in it are here for. The world and people do not exist to give you answers.

We have so many answers in this world. Science and our faculties of reason and intellect have given us the path to almost as many answers as we want. Somehow, we have to reacquaint ourselves with mystery, and subsequent to that reacquaintance, we must find comfort in, or at least acceptance of, mystery.

This is one reason I love reading mythology or reading about it. Mythology is not, as is commonly explained, a way to explain a world before there was science. Mythology points directly at Mystery. Does its level best to deliver you into its midst, inasmuch as words and stories and art can deliver the ineffable.

Hmmm. How’d we get from judging less to talking about the Mystery? Are they related?

I think so. Because if we keep asking “Why?”, beginning with the most basic things – our bodies, our relationships, our world, our universe – we stay open enough to eventually arrive at the doorstep of Mystery. And there, knocking on Mystery’s door, but not really expecting an answer, content to gaze at the intricate carving of the door, the way the moon bathes the door in a bright and silver light, content to experience the profound peace that comes with accepting that the door has no key, no lock, no handle, we achieve a union with ourselves, with others, with Source, and that is the very definition of bliss as we can know it in this human lifetime.

One of the things I know now as a parent that I didn’t know before is that a newborn baby is an expression of the Mystery. Totally otherworldly, completely spellbinding. Open and beautiful and as close a window to the Mystery as we’ll ever get here on earth. Little by little, humanity overtakes them, and that is not to be mourned. But for a few brief weeks, these little sleeping, gurgling creatures are more like sprites or fairies or some other mysterious, magical being. Their peace (when not crying, of course!) is enough to move anyone curious enough to watch them to tears.

Many wiser than me have said that our spiritual journey here on earth is a process of reclaiming what we already know and have experienced – that we are one with Source, that our natural state is to be completely open and at peace and infinitely loving.

I agree, and advise that one tool we need on this journey is our curiosity. Of course, asking why can be a dangerous proposition: It can lead us to answers, and if we stop seeking, we get stuck, thinking we’ve found all we need to know. We stagnate there. We may be alive, but vitality stops. That’s why we must never stop asking why, why we must always make room for curiosity.


In what areas of your life have you stopped asking why? How could you engage your curiosity to revitalize those areas? Please share any thoughts in the comments.

Monday, November 14, 2011

How to Stop Judging Other People

Today I’m going to argue for a life of less judgment, especially of others. It’s a really strange trait, and we all do it to some extent, but I’m asserting that the less you judge others, the happier and more productive you’ll be.

It’s curious when this begins in our lives--this need to have an opinion on the goings-on of other people. In my 22-month old, I don’t yet discern any judgment of other people. He does judge food, or books or music – “Mama, turn it off” or simply “No” to an offer of a food he doesn’t want.

But somewhere along the line, we begin to watch what other people do and decide to have an opinion about it. What people are wearing. What they are reading or how they are dancing. What political party they subscribe to, or what sexual orientation they possess. How they raise their children, how they decorate their living rooms. Whatever it is other people do, we decide to pass judgment.

To some extent, I think part of this impulse is rooted in the ability of discernment—in other words, being able to differentiate objects or ideas or people for qualities. After all, at some point we must decide which of something to purchase, whom we should partner with, or what ideas or faiths or philosophies will help guide us through life. I’d argue that there is such a thing as quality, too. Some items, foods or people or ideas are better for us; are higher quality or superior to others.

What happens along the way is that we begin to care whether other people choose the same things or ideas that we do. It’s a funny thing, and I can’t say I fully understand the “why” behind this impulse. My best guess is that we are insecure about our own choice, and so we need to feel that others have chosen poorly. Another reason, I think, comes from economic impact. The argument, for example, that people who smoke cost us all money. (Of course, that’s more a problem of a socialized system. I’d argue that it’s a trade-off: If you want the “system” to pay for people’s expenses, you have to accept that people will be people and do things that are expensive, especially if they are aware that they will not bear the full cost. But that’s another topic entirely.)

In any case, I will say that I think that for whatever reason we do it, it would be in our best interest to minimize it as much as possible. Even, if in the above example, you can find a direct link to another person’s actions “costing” you somehow, or otherwise affecting you directly.

The less you judge others’ choices or actions—and most especially people you don’t even know!—the more peace you’ll find for yourself.

Lately, whenever I find myself judging someone for any reason—for hairstyle, diet, different parenting style, whatever—I just say, “No skin off my nose.”

In other words, it doesn’t hurt me that they have chosen differently. Even the most charged of decisions can be handled this way: faith, politics, child-rearing. Because you should be concerned with yourself and your family, and make decisions for yourselves.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with observing someone else and wondering if they have something to offer you. Often you can benefit from learning more about what others are up to. Say your neighbors xeriscape their yard. Watch how the plants do. See if the maintenance would lower your water bills. If so, adopt what you admire, and leave the rest. If you decide it’s not for you and you think your front yard is just fine, no big deal.

The thing is, judgment is loaded with emotion. Namely fear, I think. Discernment, which is what the above process is closer to, is far less reactive and emotional, and more based in a calm and rational action. When you judge someone’s choices or behaviors, you become more distant from that person. Less kind, less forgiving, less helpful, less human. Less loving and peaceful.

Besides repeating “No skin off my nose,” something else that helps me when I’m tempted to judge is to remind myself that every single person was once a tiny, helpless baby. This is probably more powerful for parents than non-parents, but it opens my heart every single time. I remember to breathe, and I feel compassion and space for that person.

With this simple practice, I’m a far happier, more secure person. Almost no road rage. Less confusion. Greater focus. Better relationships. More patience and tolerance. After all, I think about how to take care of my own needs and wants first, and as I don’t waste as much time worrying about what everyone else is doing, I’m far more productive.

No skin off my nose. It’s such a silly saying for such a profound idea. But with practice, it begins to take hold, and once it does, you’re that much closer to bliss.


I’m curious what you do when you find yourself judging someone else, especially when you realize you’re being quite harsh. What is your internal dialogue with yourself like when you notice you’re judging?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

How to Try on a Big Decision

All of my advice on making a big decision came from a person who didn’t have children. Now that I have a child, I can see how my decisions affect this new life that I’m responsible for, and let me tell you, it does complicate things. I don’t think my prior advice is invalid, but I feel like it doesn’t account for this feeling of responsibility for a child’s experiences and development.

So, as a giver of advice on decision making, it turns out I have been a huge hypocrite for nearly two years. For two years, I have been avoiding a decision about work and staying home with my son. I have been avoiding this decision by trying to do it all: I stay home and take care of him during the day, and I do my freelance work at naptime and at night, after he’s in bed.

When my workload isn’t that heavy, this feels totally manageable. I spend a few hours each day on work, and then get to bed at a reasonable hour, with enough time to talk to my husband and even read a bit.

But when things really get rolling, burnout approaches very, very quickly, and suddenly I’m cranky, tired and just feeling overwhelmed. Then, just when I think I can’t take any more and something has to give, work slows down and I feel like I can continue on.

But even when things slow down, I recognize that I am just avoiding a decision. For our family, day care isn’t the right choice. I intend to homeschool/unschool my son, so why would I send him to preschool? He is the most amazing person on the earth in my eyes, so I find it very hard to pay other people to spend time with him, when I feel like they should be paying me for the privilege of hanging out with him! (I’m only half-joking!)

Still, with much agonizing, I’ve decided to hire a babysitter to come to the house for a few hours in the morning, starting once a week, to see how it goes. The agony is not because I worry about him: The babysitter is also a mother, a smart cookie (she was homeschooled) and is very mature and responsible, not to mention the fact that she also practices attachment parenting, as I do.

The agony comes in because I perceive time in a very expanded way, which makes the day-to-day feel more weighty, I think. I often envision myself, twenty years from now, reminiscing about my son’s adorable little hands, his enthusiasm for his trains, the particular timbre of his little baby voice, and I know that I will be so pleased that I soaked up every moment. I recognize that this is a season of my life, and that it will pass, and I will one day have all the time in the world to do freelance writing, if that’s what I should choose.

But then there’s my desire to remain engaged in my work, as it is satisfying, it certainly is a help financially (though not absolutely critical to our survival) and it is something that if I give up now, I wonder if I’ll be able to pick up again. I also think there’s the matter of my son recognizing me as someone with an identity outside of mother and wife.

All of this swirls in my head at night until I’m so confused and exhausted that I just drop off to sleep.

The point is, I’m trying on a decision. I will see how taking a few hours to do work during the day and during his waking hours will be. I’ve already envisioned everything I can envision, and I am stumped. The intellectual process I’ve described can only go so far in certain instances, and this seems like one of them.

Now, I will have to experience the decision, and, more importantly, see how my son experiences the decision. If he’s happy and there are no ill effects, I can feel more comfortable with this decision. If, on the other hand, he seems moodier, clingier or is restless in his sleep, I’ll have to reconsider. (Same goes for me: If I am moodier, clingier or restless in my sleep, it may not be right for us.)

What allowed me to try on this decision was the realization that very few decisions (though there are some, and they are biggies!) are completely irrevocable or do irrevocable harm.

If this decision to hire a babysitter and get some more daytime hours for my work doesn't feel good after a real trial period, well, then, I’ll know which decision is the best one for me and my family. Likewise if it does feel good and me and my son and husband are happy and doing well. 

It’s true that some decisions are easier to try on than others. Moving, for example, is more difficult than hiring a babysitter! Marriage is a decision, yes, but it is also (supposed to be) a lifelong commitment, and one I believe should not be approached with a “let’s see how it works out” attitude. So, there are some decisions that you can try on, and others that must be made with the intuition and leap of faith approach.

But, for those smaller decisions, or the big ones that lend themselves to a trial run, it’s so good to remember that you can take the step and see how it feels. And that it’s OK if you need to change your mind.

It’s also important to realize that, when you make a decision in good faith, there is no “wrong” decision. In any moment of deciding, you make the best decision you can at the moment you make it. Sometimes it turns out that you were missing crucial information about yourself or others, so you stop, take a deep breath, and reevaluate. And if it turns out that yes, this decision you’ve made isn’t working, you make a change and start on a new path.

Remember, your peace (and/or your child’s peace) is more important than protecting the ego that might be embarrassed at having made a human mistake.

If you are in the grips of paralyzing indecision, as I was, and you think you have a decision that is try-on-able, pick a path and start walking down it. You can always turn around and find your way back to where you are right now.

Peace to you,

p.s. I will update you all on how this decision I’ve made works for me and my family. Only the experience will settle this particular question for me, so we’ll see how it all goes!