When the World Falls Apart
Selfies at the Mona Lisa
Like many of you, I watched in horror as one of the world’s greatest works of art, the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, burned to the ground this week. I find myself reeling.
The strength of my reaction surprises me. Although I’d twice visited the cathedral, and studied it in art history class, I have no special connection to Notre-Dame. I’m neither French nor Catholic. And yet I feel personally attacked, like a part of me has been torn out.
The Wisdom of Spring
Hard to believe, but here's an astounding true fact: For the vast majority of human existence, including all but the last few of the 14,000-plus years since nomadic hunter-gatherer clans coalesced into nascent human civilizations, we didn't carry a fabulous instant camera in our pockets and photograph every single moment of our existence.
The Science of De-Stressing
For folks in most of North America, this is a time of stretching, opening, and awakening. In colder states, it might mean finally putting away those winter coats. In warmer states, it might mean the return of beach weather. Wherever you are, it’s an opportunity to notice how what we think of as “I, me, and mine” is actually… not us at all.
Worry is Wasted Energy
A couple years ago I defended my dissertation. Now, as anyone who has ever defended a dissertation will tell you, the whole process is a stress-inducing imbroglio, a veritable blitzkrieg of queries and provocations hosted by a stone-faced faculty tribunal intent on punching holes in the drywall of your thesis, which you've just spent one or two or three years building up out of a combination of blood, sweat, and far too many obscure academic citations.
Don’t Just Sit There: An Introduction to Walking Meditation
Much of my energy can be drained by fear and worry. I’m not talking about big, scary fears of harm or death -- I’m actually not an especially fearful person. Some might even think I am brave. As a young woman, I traveled in foreign countries on my own. I’ve changed jobs often and started multiple careers. I do long silent meditation retreats. I’ve faced cancer three times.
If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all
When meditation is depicted visually, it’s almost always in a picture of someone sitting down, usually with eyes closed. And, it’s true, sitting and paying attention to your breath is probably the most common form of meditation today.
But sitting has a serious downside: it takes time and space to do it. Whether you’re devoting five minutes or forty-five minutes to meditation, that’s time you’ve got to carve out of your day.
What is 'Natural Awareness'?
“If you don’t have anything nice to say….”
You know the rest, right? Don’t say anything at all.
My mom used to tell me that all the time when I was a kid. I guess that’s because I was always saying things that weren’t so nice!
Relaxation is Not Enough
Awareness is a capacity of the human mind. As we ordinarily understand it, it’s the ability to directly know and to perceive, sense, feel, or be cognizant of experience. We might think of awareness simply as the state of being conscious of something.
Every sentient being is aware, in this sense of the word. But human beings (and, who knows, maybe some animals) also have an additional capacity: to be aware of awareness, or aware that they are aware.
And this is where it gets interesting, because the “awareness of awareness” has been a focus of meditation for hundreds of years.
Showing Up for Life Means Showing Up for Others
I know, I know – most people try out meditation in order to reduce stress. And that is totally fine. Meditating will help you calm down and de-stress. It does work.
But it’s the tip of the iceberg. The real point is happiness.
Meditation is the Marie Kondo of the Mind
I used to see myself as a rebel. I was into my identity as an outsider, and it was a place of safety for me for a long time. One year, however, my grandmother Mimi got sick. Her kids – my dad and his sister – wanted her to move from her home in Brooklyn to assisted living near where they lived, either in Syracuse or Atlanta. Neither option appealed to her, and so she asked if I would be willing to take care of her instead.
I remember it so clearly: we were sitting on a wooden bench on Ocean Parkway, and I was feeling these little inward contractions, like, “Oh my God, she’s asking me?” I was thinking about how taking on this responsibility might not necessarily be very convenient.
Embracing the Suck
I love that Marie Kondo – the Japanese guru of “tidying up” – is having her moment. I went through my Kon-Mari phase a few years ago, when her book came out, and now it feels like way more people are busy asking themselves, as they sift through every keepsake and pair of shoes they own: “Does it spark joy?”
Meditation is the Marie Kondo of the mind. Like the Kon-Mari method, it is a rigorous practice of calming, seeing, and sifting.
I was lifting weights recently when my left shoulder suddenly shouted at me with a sharp, shooting pain. For the next few weeks, I skipped that particular exercise, but the problem didn’t go away. My physical therapist told me it was likely a rotator cuff injury.
To address my persistent pain, he prescribed a few minutes of additional exercises. They were simple, but uncomfortable and inconvenient, and I didn’t want to do them. And yet, I knew that they would work precisely by making me uncomfortable.
Just like mindfulness practice.
Showing Up for the Hard Stuff
Vampires don’t exist, right?
Actually, they sort of do. You probably have some of them in your life. They may be co-workers, relatives, friends, or fellow parents in the PTA: they’re the people who seem to suck the life out of you, demanding more and more of your mental energy.
Unfortunately, these vampires can’t be scared off with garlic. And no, you can’t drive stakes through their hearts either. But there are mindfulness-based tools for minimizing the impact they have on your life. Here are four.
Mindful at the Gym
Just a few weeks after my thirtieth birthday, I was diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer. In an instant, I found myself catapulted into a whirlwind of medical mayhem. Since then, I’ve had major abdominal surgery, completed six rounds of chemotherapy, and spent more time in doctors’ offices in six months than I had in the rest of my life combined.
About a gazillion studies have established that a consistent regime of cardiovascular and weight-bearing exercise is good for just about everything. Weight loss? Check. Chronic health conditions? Yes. Buffering against depression? Absolutely. You may have even resolved to go to the gym more regularly in 2019.
But if you're anything like me, working out is a mixed bag.