After 25 hours of car, Metra, walk, Amtrak, shuttle, car…this is where I will be.
I have a small bag of clothing and personal items, a pillow with a blanket stuffed into the case, a cooler of food and my work bag containing my computer and purse. It didn’t seem like too much, but looking at the pile now I feel the need to reduce my load by half—just to feel lighter.
I have started to do this with my thoughts. Our beautiful, talented brains are skilled, providing a constant flow of thoughts, ideas and emotions for our consideration. Often we don’t consider—we just accept. We take off running. We are used to our spilling over the top minds and we create days like this, so loaded with activities we forget to breathe.
Today I am leaving for a week of yoga therapy training at Svastha Institute in Taos, NM. I will be the houseguest of two dear friends. I have what I need to travel and I am leaving the rest behind.
There is no space in my suitcase for fear or worry. Burdens of past actions won’t fit on my arm with my computer bag and cooler. Undone work will remain undone until I return.
Getting clear on my commitment to travel lightly makes me feel lighter—weightless and starlight bright.
A pile of leaves is an opportunity to live joyfully.
And so is the pile of work on the desk, the laundry, and the dishes. We may choose to feel buried under all the necessary tasks of the day, or we can choose to feel joyful. It really is that simple.
The challenge comes when we attempt to change our thought patterns.
When we look at a sink full of dishes, do we feel joy? Or do we decide to avoid eating so often and thus limit the amount of dirty dishes we make each day? Or do we get pissed at our spouse for making complex meals that require the use of every pot in the house? Or do we do the dishes reluctantly while thinking about tomorrow’s work meeting we have not yet prepared for?
It is fair to say, we often let our mind run off with the moment—our moment. This practice can leave us feeling anxious and frustrated with how busy we are all the time.
Mindfulness is our way to retrain the mind.
We can learn to take each moment we feel buried and make it a moment to find joy.
Bury your body up to the chin in fallen leaves.
Take it all in.
Breathe the crisp air heavy with the smell of autumn.
Something inside needs to die.
Learn from the trees.
Just because the hill is there doesn’t mean we need to push the boulder up it.
I am generally a grateful, passionate person. I live an inspired life to the best of my ability—most days. But this week I have been angry, sad, frustrated and deflated. I had been staring at the hill and at the boulder and then back at hill.
Boulder, hill, boulder, hill, boulder, hill…
Play this game long enough with our mind and it is all we see. Then I remembered. We don’t need to be burdened by the hill or the boulder.
We are not Sisyphus.
We are not condemned by the gods to an eternity of repeating the same absurd action again and again. We can walk around the hill. Or we can climb the hill and leave the damn boulder right where it is; the boulder isn’t our business. We can stand still. We have a choice.
Take a good, honest look at the hill.
Leave the boulder alone.
Plot a course of action mindfully.
Or just stand still.
The sky is constantly changing.
Focus too long on the boulder and we might miss the blue sky, the weather-worn building left over from a simpler time, the sound of the wind whipping the long grass, the power lines scratched across the sky marking time.
I woke early to the tickle of Jack’s whiskers brushing my right eyelid; he has no respect for my personal space. Atticus’ right leg was draped across my left; the blanket wrapped around and under me was pulled over his far shoulder.
For a moment I felt trapped and had a urgent desire to free myself.
Then I remembered today is Saturday. I had nowhere else to be. I was exactly where I was needed. I exhaled and relaxed back into sleep.
Our lazy morning of responsibilities flew by, the lines between cleaning and play intentionally blurred. As we dressed for Karate Atticus announced, “Today is the best day.”
Isn’t it always?
Make today the best day.
Fall has slipped into winter. We could choose to feel cold and disappointed. Or we can light the fire within, let it burn and keep warm.
On Sunday morning I used a composting outhouse with separate heads for poo and pee. Monday I drank a Bloody Mary out of a real glass in First Class on a flight to my home in Montana.
Stepping out of our comforts and familiar environments to experience ourselves in a new place give us the opportunity to transform—to see more clearly.
We take so much for granted, moving through our days on autopilot, getting frustrated when our web browser is slow to load. We pee and poop in the same toilet, flush and forget about it. We have much more important things to worry about. Right?
My mother, Atticus and I attended a Peace Day celebration at Echo Valley Farm; it was my birthday gift to myself. We spent the weekend talking about peace, listening to music, eating delicious food and making new friends, effortlessly.
On the car ride home on Sunday morning we talked about the weekend. The discussion eventually came to this question: Why would a sane person choose to live so simply when these conveniences exist for us?
That evening my mother sent me this text, “sit down pee wipe drop paper in the water life doesn’t get any better than that.” I smiled. We all returned from the weekend a little more awake—a little more alive.
Living simply (even for the weekend) is a doorway to self awareness, if we choose to step through. Life is not the planning and the worrying or the brooding and the regrets.
When we celebrate life in the tiny moments we leave worry and fear behind. We step into the light, into lightness.
Be grateful for toilets.
We can have this experience of awakening close to home, too. We just need to slow down and pay attention.
What value can a hot meal and an evening of dignity have for a person struggling to survive?
Watch this video.
Each of us has the opportunity to change the world—one act of kindness at a time.
It maybe something small, like a kind word; it may be a grand gesture like redesigning the dining hall in a homeless shelter. It doesn’t matter. What matters is our intention to spread kindness (not hate) and treat our fellow humans with dignity.
We do this in our thoughts and our self-talk. We do this in our communication and actions. With every breath we choose—and in this way we create the world.
Narcissism is a challenge in our society, as many as 6.2% of Americans are said to meet the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. We have become so obsessed with ourselves we are loosing our ability to empathize with the experiences of others. We focus on ourselves almost exclusively and then wonder why the world is so fucked up. We pass judgment and issue blame, we rage and wage war.
International Peace Day is September 21, 2014, founded by The United Nations as an annual day of non-violence and cease-fire. The theme this year is “Right of Peoples to Peace.” We have the right to be treated with dignity.
Selfless service is an excellent practice for healing the spirit of the planet—and for healing ourselves.
Act kind intentionally.
Expect nothing in return.
Celebrate Peace Day every day with every breath. Start now.
Thank you MJ for sharing this video and inspiring me with your constant warmth and kindness. We are all students. We are all teachers.
School started this week and I am working on reviving my daily routine.
I was onto something by the end of last spring; I had found my rhythm. The three months of summer were full and productive but I lost a bit of my personal practice and never really fell into a routine.
The last few days I paid attention to what I found myself doing throughout the day. I chose those words intentionally—found myself doing. Without starting the day with a centering practice, I often drift in and out of activities without ever completing anything.
This floating can be good on a nature walk but it is not very productive in the office. And if you work from home like me, entire days can pass as we stand before a table of undone projects wearing only underwear and yesterday’s dirty shirt.
Start each day with an activity that centers us.
Yoga, meditation, a walk outside—any activity that leads to a clearer mind. When we get clear, we experience time in a new way. There is enough time to take care of ourselves. Some days that’s all we really need to do.
Thanks to the generous feeding schedule of a few local humans, we now have a resident gang of wild turkeys in our small town. And their numbers (and bodies) keep growing.
I am taking daily walks outside. This requires me to wear pants (a motivational bonus). On my walks I watch for the wild turkey gang. We can learn a bit from these birds; they have mastered the art of single-pointed focus. Spring is for sex and fall is for feeding.
I may not be ready to get that simple with my life, but I am open to see where their influence leads me.
This is Munchism #1: Dreams Become Goals Become Reality.
The Munch is my father (short for Munchkin, a nickname he has both embraced and exploited). He looks a bit like Einstein, only Irish. I am a proud spawn of the Munch.
My father is my first and greatest teacher. Words shared when I was a young child continue to resurface in my mind; their inherent wisdom unfolding with my years.
A thought arises that resonates deep within us as something to be created. We imagine what the world would be like—what we would be like—if this dream became reality. These thoughts bring us feelings of lightness and joy.
We set an intention to make our dream real. We take mindful action. We are determined and we never give up. We work hard—and smart.
When we stop running around long enough we observe that the dream is now what is real. It happens while we are so busy creating and working that we sometimes fail to see that it has taken on a life of its own. Then we pause…
Two years ago I sat on the beach at PIER 290 and dreamed up a yoga program. I yearned for a community to practice with and an opportunity to make a difference in my community. Last Saturday after our class on the beach, my students and teachers gave me an unexpected gift—a beautiful dress I had playfully tried on in the PIER 290 Boutique earlier in the summer.
I remember feeling light and playful in that dress; I made a comment about feeling childlike again. The gift I received is not simply a dress—I got my fearlessness back. I believe again.
Planning is underway for Yoga on the Beach Lake Geneva 2015.
Imagine what the world would be like it we all switched off autopilot and started believing in dreams again—fearlessly.
And it helps if we don’t take ourselves (and our thoughts) too seriously.
If we do we suffer.
If we take others too seriously we suffer. We also suffer if we take everything personally. Yet we have created a culture where we celebrate taking ourselves and each other very seriously, and everything is personal. Just look at all the expressions on our selfies. I would like to see more selfies that show how we really feel when we are not trying to act cool, sexy or aloof. What if we share what we look like when we are sad and confused, or perplexed by how complicated we have made our otherwise very simple life?
If we are able to share the real without taking ourselves too seriously, we may find the comedy in our collective narrative.
Comedy illuminates the universal. Comedians hold a mirror up to society so that we may see ourselves clearly, be entertained and maybe even healed. But for some, it is a heavy mirror to bear especially in quiet moments of solitude when the audience has gone home.
Many of us are suffering silently and we just don’t talk about it. We keep the ache and the hurt hidden and instead post pictures of ourselves appearing to have it all together. We are our own loyal audience, after all. And when we see these images over and over we create a disconnect between how we feel and how we think we should appear to feel. We look around (virtually) and see that everyone else is looking like they have it together too and we buy into the fiction.
Social media and selfies are not the stage for us to come together, be real and heal. We need to do this in the flesh. We have work to do. The only life we can ever save is our own.
I have moments when I am perplexed and I look like this:
This is not a new face for me; this first picture of me is from over 30 years ago—same face. I have many faces; you might even say I wear my heart on my face. I believe in honesty so deeply I cannot lie, even on my face.
I believe in living our truth and sharing what is real. I believe in keeping it positive.
Sometimes these beliefs conflict.
I am a warrior for peace. I choose to be with every breath. I am not a victim. I choose not to be with every breath. It is a practice. I used to practice seeing what was wrong in every situation, what needed to be fixed or changed, and I got very good at this. I also became very depressed.
I have changed my practice. Now I focus on seeing all that is right, all that is as it should be. I practice seeing what is—with gratitude. I practice even when I am sad or overwhelmed. This is not an easy practice, but neither is the alternative.
I don’t try anymore to bury these negative feelings, I feel them and then I let them go. I pay attention to the way the feelings shift and change in me. Just as physical sensations shift and change, our emotions are constantly changing—and so are our thoughts.
We are not our thoughts, our emotions or our masks. We are something magical and awesome. Somehow our trillions of cells come together to animate us. I don’t pretend to understand it. I don’t need to. I get to ride the wave of each breath.
I am grateful.
Breathe it all in.
Breathe it all out.
“Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”
~ William Saroyan
RIP Robin Williams. Thank you for holding our mirror for so long.