Before We Stress about Christmas, Ask this One Question.

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“What the hell are we celebrating?”

I found this note today while preparing to cook breakfast for three children, written on a page in a tiny, handmade two-ring binder entitled, “Spirit Lifters: One for Each Day.”

Spending the next two weeks in Montana is my Christmas present to myself; being with our new, expanded family of five is Atticus’ Christmas present, too. But change, even positive change, challenges us to either grow in spirit or grow in anxiety. We have a choice, but it is not always easy to make.

Peace on Earth has a new meaning. It is no longer a matter of world peace or making everything appear peaceful on the outside. Instead my wish this season is for us to keep our peace—even in the midst of full family chaos.

This work is breath by breath—and it is the best gift we can give our children.

Mindful parenting is not a philosophy, it is a practice.  It requires us to show up every moment open and aware, ready to act rather than react. By modeling kindness and love, we teach kindness and love. And what better effort to make around the holiday season.

Our hearts are healing.
They heal every time we show love and not anger.
They heal every time we exhale deeply and begin again when we feel we can’t go on.
They heal every time we let go of expectations of perfection to embrace the beautiful chaos that family life brings.
Our hearts heal every time we let go and feel what is actually happening in and around us.

The spirit of Christmas exists. It is the awe of unknowing, the mystery of something greater and more expansive than we can comprehend. We may not choose to put Christ back in Christmas, but it would serve us to get clear what we are celebrating. Our intention this holiday season will determine how we experience the coming days.

All the details, the shopping and the trimmings, aren’t half as important as what is in our hearts and how we show up for the ones we love.

The Practice:

Ask the question: “What are we celebrating?
Let your answer guide you home.

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Be Wild. Be Free. Ride On.

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It is still the Year of the Horse for 23 more days.

This time every year I have seasonal amnesia.

I forget who I am. I forget the intentions I set back in January. I get wrapped up in the flurry to prepare for the holidays and I lose sight of what really matters—being present.

It is always about this time in December that I realize my grand plans for creating handmade gifts for all my loved ones are too grand to be accomplished in two weeks. Every year I seem to forget. Then I struggle with the decision to run around picking out odd gifts or show up empty handed. Either way I run the risk of disappointment.

This year is different. I still haven’t made all the gifts, but I am no longer struggling. I am focused on where I was and where I am now.

2014 is the year I committed to writing regularly (and letting people read what I write). I committed to my business and stopped sacrificing my dreams in the name of job security. I committed to marriage. I set an intention to live like I mean it throughout the year—especially in December—when the year’s last days often get buried beneath the “should have’s” and discarded wrapping paper.

This was the year I stopped living in fear.

I had lost a part of myself. It was buried, stuffed down and hidden in a place so dark I could no longer see it;  hidden so long I had forgotten it was once a part of me. The place I was told never to touch, buried and abandoned before I realized what it was I was losing.

As a child a fire burned in me, its force drove me on as I would run through the woods to our hideout—Scary Wheel—a grove of trees bent over and intertwined by the years. I ran hard and fast into the darkness, my heart beating in my head. I ran alone straight into those woods, and into myself. I stayed, even when my heart beat so hard it hurt. I stayed to prove to myself that I was strong. I relaxed into the nest and surrendered to the stars and the sky.

I was wild then.

For the last twenty years I struggled to find out who I was. I searched outside myself for labels and roles—masks—I hoped would help me remember. My hair, once thick and wavy, grew thin. Tiny red lines appeared on my cheeks, like something fiery and hot, exerting pressure under the surface and dying to come out.

I accepted too little, believing I didn’t need any more. I stopped listening. I stopped listening to the voices that speak through the holes in well-worn old wood, spirits locked in trees that had fallen ages before I was born.

It was summer when my wildness returned to me, in the shadows of the Montana mountains. Under the big, wide-open sky, she entered me, as the feverish July wind whipped the tall grasses in a violent dance. I shook in that wind, until the bits of my fragmented self fell back into place.

I screamed out to release the pain, to feel whole again, and the echo came back…

You are here.

I opened my heart to life again this year. This is the gift I will share this holiday season.

The Practice:

Ride on.
We are already here.
We are already whole.
Remember.
Celebrate.

 

Open up to wildness and find freedom on the wind. Giddy Up.

Photo Credit: Nick Mehmke

I Am More Than the Sum of My Pixels.

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I am flesh and blood and spirit.

As I child I loved to go to church. I was raised Catholic; we had mass every Sunday. It was all incense, Latin chants and long robes. And then we were no longer allowed to attend communion or confession because my parents got divorced. We could attend mass, but we could not participate.

I asked my father why he never attended church with us on Sunday and this is what he had to say (or what I remember)…

I was a young boy. We came out of mass (this was in Chicago, on the South side). Two grown men who had been in church with us approached the newspaper box, chatting like friends. One man opened the box and took the last newspaper. The other man got upset. They argued and their confrontation escalated to blows; this in a city with a newspaper box on almost every corner. I don’t need to find God in the Church, God exists in me.

We stopped going to that church and tried many others until my mother found a community she connected with and she stayed. I went off to college.

I studied philosophy. I embraced pragmatism. I embraced rationalism. I embraced Ferris…

 

I don’t have all the answers. I know this. I am more than the sum of my parts. I am more than I can share in words. I am more than I can even begin to comprehend. There is a spirit which animates me. I don’t pretend to understand it. And I am grateful for the mystery.

Babies have it going on. They are in awe. Every gesture, every shift in light, every breath is enchanting. This is why adults take drugs—to fall in awe with life again. But we don’t need drugs, we need only pause for a moment and consider the sunset or sunrise (if you can get up that early). Magic is all around us, God is that magic.

Why not?

The Practice:

Fall in awe with life.

Find God in every breath.

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We Are Family.

We Are Family.

We choose our family every time we show up.

Relationships with family are an opportunity to practice being mindful—in the present moment—in our speech and action. Often we are not. Instead of seeing the person standing before us, our perception is clouded by attachment to ideas about who that person was in the past, could be now if they only tried or should be if they listened better to our advice.

We are hard on family—like we are hard on ourselves.

The camera has the ability to capture movement and stillness simultaneously. So do we. When we get still in the body and the mind, we can feel the subtle movement of our breath rolling through us and delivering life.

We all spin constantly, twirling around the ones we love. Spinning deep into ourselves and flying to the outer edges of our own sanity. We close our eyes and hold on for dear life, wait for the ride to slow down. But during the holiday season it feels like it never does.

What will happen if we open our eyes in the storm? If we soften and release to the pull of our hearts? What if we take our tight grip off old thoughts, ideas and perceptions? What if we dance with the ones who show up?

The Practice:

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Safe and peaceful holiday to you all.
~ Jenn

 

Lifeproof your iPhone.

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And look forward when walking forward.

Today I started my car to defrost the windshield so I could see where I was going. Then I forgot about it for about an hour while I worked on the computer, warm inside my house.

When I left for my meeting I was surprised to see the puddle of melted snow under the hood; the car still wore a sharp Mohawk of ice across the roof that stood at least a foot in the air.

I am thankful for the cold wind that snapped me out of deep contemplation of this sight. I was only 15 minutes late for my meeting (sorry Amber).

A little later I bought 2 carrots, an onion and a jar of chocolate hazelnut spread at the Green Grocer. May have seemed rather an odd assembly to the woman behind me in line, but my total was under $11 (I also had a cup of soup) which seemed like a bargain. As, I walked to the car with my small package I thought nothing. My mind was blank and I felt light.

After working for the remainder of the afternoon, I left the house in a hurry to meet Atticus after school. I stepped outside the door and pulled it shut behind me. I felt it bounce in my hand, so I looked back to check that it was closed while still moving quickly forward off the porch steps. My body was on its way to the school but I left my face behind—and my eyes.

I tripped off the last step and skid across the sidewalk on my side; my Lifeproof cellphone case took the beating. Lucky for me I was bundled in down and wool. As I type now, I feel the effect of the fall on my right elbow.

Generally, I am fine. Anyone watching might have worried, though. Because I just stood up and kept walking as if nothing had occurred—there wasn’t time.

Why am I sharing all this?

At first I thought the lesson today was to slow down or look in the direction we are walking. But that was not it. Yes, we often need to slow down. And we should always look where we are stepping.

If we can Lifeproof our phones, can we Lifeproof our minds?

The Practice:
Meditate.
Every.
Day.

And if you skid across the pavement because you were looking too long at the past—know that you are not alone. Exhale, get up and keep on going.

Don’t Do Nothing.

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Begin by doing just one thing.

This morning while listening in on a conference call I was responding to emails, drinking coffee, eating a bagel and petting Jack the Cat. Then I  hear, “If you are multi-tasking right now, please stop. Exhale and give this conversation your full attention for a couple more minutes.”

I heard this because it applied to me. I was doing too many things half-ass and not giving my attention—or respect—to any of them. I stopped, but not until I had finished the email I was writing. It is like a compulsion.

For many of us, the idea of meditation and dwelling in stillness feels challenging, if not impossible. We need to start where we are and get comfortable with turning off autopilot.

Practicing awareness without self-criticism is a great first step. Begin to notice the habits we have. Then explore what it feels like when we do less. Practice doing one thing at a time and observe the sensations and state of the mind.

This is mindfulness. Simple. We all know this. But how often do we put our knowledge into practice?

The Practice:

Do one thing at a time.

Little me in the red leotard was pretty good at focusing in gymnastics. On the mat then and now I find my way to myself. Now it is time to find myself in all the other moments—at my desk, on a walk, making love, cooking dinner, talking with friends. All of these moments deserve our attention and respect.