33 conversations: a book of poems for you

At the beginning of 2019, I gave myself a project. I intended to celebrate the blessings of this life every morning. I would take a walk in the early sun and listen in. What I understood from the young activity of the day is that every blessing wants to celebrate with me as well.

It wants to celebrate with you too.

Every moment, and everyone gathered in it, awaits us eagerly, whether we look, listen or don’t.

I started writing down these little experiences, these interactions with the morning and its friends. They turned themselves into these conversations.

I turned them into this collection. If you’d like, please have a look and celebrate with me. And if you’d care to support me by purchasing a copy, I’d like to share 75 percent of the profit (that’s $6.46 of every print book sold) with PATH, an organization helping those who are ready to find their way to a stable home.

We are all on our way home.

Thank you for sharing this world with me.

All the gifts.

Lovely friend. I wish you and your loved ones a wonderful season of sharing. May you find new and joyful ways to support, nourish and encourage one another.

Then maybe you take it all a step further. Maybe you begin exploring the various ways you and your loved ones offer gifts to one another. And the ways you might prevent yourself or each other from receiving them.

I mention this because I noticed a personal pattern in the gifts I shared this Christmas. The pattern is this: I’m pushy. I want so badly to see my friends and family deeply settled into experiences of comfort and joy that I impose a certain spin on whatever it is they might really love and I give them what I love instead.

You want a Ferragamo belt? Tough. I got you a book about freedom by Pema Chodron!

You like vape things? That’s cool. Here’s an essential oil pack for clearing your space.

This isn’t new. Decades ago, I gave my nieces and nephews, who did not want for much, a book about children around the world, who did not want for much in very different ways.

Well. I do my best. We all do. In every moment, whatever it is we do is really our best for that moment. The pinnacle of our ability just then. It doesn’t mean we can’t do better; just that the moment we have is meant for reconciling whatever we know with whatever is happening. And that’s the best we can do just then.

So here’s how I’d like to do better. I’d like to offer the best gift I know, in all moments, all year long.

I’d like to offer my loving attention. I’d like to be one in the family and a friend among friends so that whatever else is exchanged between us is always a tiding of comfort and joy. To me, this means I put aside whatever ideas I have of myself and your self and situate myself beside you as a soul with a soul.

So to all of my friends and family, please pardon my personal best and know that I promise to always do better. Let me just get on out of the way of the steady improvement we all discover when we stop trying so hard.

May you enjoy the harmony of all as we move into another year. And may we offer our loving attention to all those wonderful creatures in our lives who are the greatest gifts we’ll ever receive.

Thank you.

Recently, a new friend asked me to explain my specialty. It made me pause.

I’ve admired the process of personal inquiry as friends, students, clients learn how to slow down. I’ve celebrated as they realize their worth. I’ve cried as they discover love.

Of course, there’s also the reduction of physical and emotional pain as folks come to understand why it’s present and how it guides them. That’s a joy to observe.

I also love to witness the increased freedom of movement that folks find, whether it’s in the physical, emotional or spiritual realm.

But I don’t think these things are my specialty. I think these are the results of one consistent bit of guidance that compels me to do what I do. It’s this bit of guidance, I think, that has become my specialty.

It’s gratitude. Experiencing it. Encouraging it. Being it.

Seemingly simple, I know. And so timely for us Americans as we begin to make our Thanksgiving pies. But it’s much more than saying thank you once a year.

Being in a practice of gratitude means a commitment to reverence. Can you cherish every gift life has to offer? It demands a profound engagement with our will, our faith and our resilience because many of these gifts are challenging to bear. When we begin to develop our inner resources, we cultivate the wisdom to recognize how important these challenges are. We evolve with this acceptance. We thrive with gratitude.

So I’m grateful. Thank you to my friend for her question. And thank you to all of my guides and teachers for helping me grow strong in appreciation. Every moment is precious; thank you for guiding me toward a posture from which I can honestly give thanks for each one and share the power of that expression.

If you’re ready to learn how to say thank you, again and again, please send me a note.

For now, here’s a sweet practice to begin working with gratitude. Every morning, say thank you to three things… about you, your life, your world. Every evening, say thank you to three things you learned… about you, your life, your world. Finish by saying thank you to you, just for being. Notice how your body feels when you say these words out loud. Notice what your mind does as you begin and end the practice.

The lessons of pain.

We’ve all suffered from pain. Sweet pain, sour pain. It arises as an alert; we’re meant to pay attention and change our behavior. Usually, once we do, it passes as we heal. Sometimes, for many, it doesn’t. And for far too many these days, management of chronic pain becomes chronic use of medication, traumatic surgeries, a bit of rehabilitation and a lifestyle that limits movement to limit compounded pain.

And yet the pain persists.

We’ve known for a while, as humans, that pain is more than a physical response. Two thousand years ago, Roman philosopher Seneca wrote ‘Pain is slight if opinion has added nothing to it; … in thinking it slight, you will make it slight. Everything depends on opinion. It is according to opinion that we suffer. A man is as wretched as he has convinced himself that he is.’ Unfortunately, our doctors sometimes forget to have this conversation with us. For a few hundred years, our culture has relegated the pain experience to something disconnected with emotion and behavior.

Pain is slight if opinion has added nothing to it; … in thinking it slight, you will make it slight. Everything depends on opinion. It is according to opinion that we suffer. A man is as wretched as he has convinced himself that he is.

Seneca

Thankfully, old knowings are finding their way back to credibility as science finds its way to proof. Any consideration of pain from a purely physical perspective misses the very important contributions of our emotions, thoughts and beliefs about pain as well as our cultural and contextual relationship with these psychological factors. In other words, pain includes a bunch of stuff that pills and surgery won’t actually address.

Which means medication and other biomedical approaches in isolation are an insufficient response to the presence of pain. We can do better.

We can work together.

The tools of yoga therapy– including gentle and appropriate movement, breathing practices, intention-setting, visualization and meditation– are effective methods for establishing a relationship with chronic pain. Chronic pain is like an alarm system that doesn’t shut off. The system itself isn’t faulty, just not working properly. We sometimes think that we are only reactive beings, constantly bouncing off one impulse toward another. The truth is, we are highly responsive. And every impulse offers an opportunity to turn toward the experience instead of bouncing away from it. To do so requires practice and patience.

We have the means to communicate directly with our own nervous system. Breathing practices provide a lovely, peaceful and efficient route to establish this connection. Cognitive reframing, or the yogic art of pratipaksha bhavanam, is another effective means of changing perspective to establish a response that nurtures our well-being. Likewise, developing careful and simple, pain-free movement sequences to develop strength and range of motion will help to rewire the patterns of physical and emotional tension that prompt the persistent alarm. As the urgency decreases and silence grows, we discover our resilience.

If you’re ready to learn more about yourself and to discover creative, effective, nurturing responses to your pain, please reach out. Let’s see what we can learn together. Likewise, if you’re a medical professional ready to collaborate, please send a note. I’m always honored to share. Let’s work together.

Come Home: a book about you.

We don’t have to suffer so much. We have our reasons for it. I’m sorry we choose to carry them. The weight can be overwhelming. Whatever the reasons may be, there’s a way to lighten the load. Even to enlighten ourselves. Slowly or quickly, depending.

You’re the condition.

The method depends on you. Which is exactly as my teachers offered it to me. And exactly the way that frustrates folks because most of us prefer to outsource our well-being. We even say, ‘I just don’t have time for myself.’ Is it any wonder we have no idea what we’re meant to do to relieve our own suffering. If we don’t know enough to prioritize ourselves, we certainly don’t know what’s going to work for us when we eventually do.

Which is probably about where you are right now.

The human story, regardless of how or where it originated, is rich with wisdom on discovering solace. Universally, it involves a journey without a geographic destination. Where we’re meant to go is within. We go inside to go home. The path to follow will depend on who we are. To understand who we are, we’ll have to inquire.

For all of this, I’ve written a book. And this is part of it.

It’s meant to offer a hand as you make your inquiries. Also to share some of my own and those of others who shared with me. I don’t really have any answers; that’s your job. I do have decent questions. I’m grateful for an opportunity to offer some of them. Your role is to proceed with compassion and honesty as you answer them. It’s your path. How you navigate is for you to decide.

Because it depends on you, you’re the one who has to pay attention. You’re the one who has to discover your methods. You’re the one who has to come home. This is your journey.

May we learn, along the way, to recognize the guideposts that remind us to care for ourselves, to love ourselves, to realize ourselves. May we commit ourselves, moment to moment, to the wonder of being ourselves. May we realize that the journey into a grateful awareness of this precious life is the destination itself. May we free ourselves from suffering.

At this stage, I give my thanks to three friends who are taking the time to read through a working draft. And thank you to another friend guiding me toward gumption as he helps me format for the publishing process. Thank you to the friend patting me on the back. Thank you to everyone who’s trusted me so I might learn and share. And thank you to the friend who sometimes makes me dinner while I wonder at putting this out from such a great distance across such a wide world.

Couldn’t you just come over and we could talk?

I’d prefer if we could all just hang out. My friend from Australia reminds me that sometimes we have to accept that long letters will suffice and even make us happy.

Thank you to her as well.

I’ll keep you posted as I get closer to sending my long, long love letter to you. If you have space in your heart, please send good thoughts that I’ve honored my teachers and their teachers and all teachers with appropriate clarity.

Love.

Preparing yourself for meditation.

More and more often, these days, I’m hearing from folks who are trying to begin meditation practices. They’ve read a book, downloaded an app, found someone with a nice voice on youtube or they’re going it alone, just sitting there, waiting. What adventurous people!

And then I hear from people that they aren’t suited to meditation because they tried it and they failed. Aw, well. Please let it be known: meditation is accessible and meditation requires practice. We can learn how to do it and we can decide to do it with patience and compassion towards ourselves. If we expect to become enlightened unicorn guru masters at the first go, we’re in for a great big sad. So how do we approach this? With total friendship toward ourselves.

Here’s the thing. Sitting down to meditate cold is about as comfortable as doing anything else cold. Let’s face it… most cold things are uncomfortable. At first. Until we warm up. So why not cultivate warmth and comfort?

It seems that meditation is becoming pretty hip for a few reasons. Some of them are pretty awesome. These are the ones that acknowledge how unnecessary it is to remain in anxiety, to languish in sleeplessness, to suffer chronic pain, to deal with constant distraction. Sometimes, I hear meditation is used to improve a love life or advance a career. That’s all well and good, but it might be a little ridiculously tunnel-visioned. In other words, it’s pretty likely that your love life isn’t awesome for a variety of reasons that are going to require a bit of self-examination. Likewise with your business. Let’s just acknowledge the appropriate starting ground. Realize and soften the impact of you on you (be a friend!) and your world improves.

This is where the concept of meditation may be helpful to understand. In the West, a lot of folks simply think of it as ‘sitting there.’ Some folks consider it daydreaming or spacing out. The contrary is true. Meditation is the practice of cultivating a single-pointed focus so the mind’s chatter quiets down. We can call it contemplation (originally, ‘the act of looking at’) as well, acknowledging that this means a high concentration on a single object.

Over the millennia, the focus of attention may have been light, God, love, breath. Whatever it is, it is only that in meditation. The process of being in that focus, over time, cultivates a merger with that object. What begins as an inward focus develops into an absorption in the one-pointedness. This has been called emptiness by Zen practitioners and fullness in the yoga tradition. Same same.

(In fact, the word zen is the Japanese word taken from the Chinese word dzjen or chan which is taken from the Sanskrit word dhyana, or meditative state. All paths get you there.)

Patience, grasshopper. It takes practice. The practice of meditation offers an abundance of gifts in itself. As you learn how to redirect your mind again and again, you will discover that this process is also available when you are not intentionally meditating. When we develop agency over the mind’s pursuits, we learn how to direct it to our benefit or the benefit of any situation. We become calmer because we aren’t ricocheting from thought to thought to thought without relief.

The kindest thing you can do for yourself as you begin is to prepare wisely. Choose a quiet space, turn off distractions, assess the condition of your body, pay attention to the speed of your mind.

For the space, let it be clean and comfortable. Make it special for yourself so you can develop a relationship with the space that will support your endeavor. You may like to light a candle, water a plant, or gaze on a pretty picture to settle your energy as you start.

For the body, ask yourself and answer honestly your ability to sit with an upright, extended spine for more than 5 minutes. If this is an impossibility, you’ll simply work your way up! Though it seems like yoga asana may be strictly for the purpose of instagram, the truth is, most of the poses are meant to prepare your body, energy and mind for the rigors of sitting still over extended periods. A simple sequence of gentle forward folds and simple spine extensions will increase your body’s acceptance of the position you will take. You may be interested in doing the simple, short practice here to prepare.

As you begin, please consider sitting just on the edge of a chair with your feet firmly resting on the ground so that you can lengthen your spine comfortably. If you insist on sitting on the ground, please lift your bum onto a bolster so that your knees are lower than your hips. Most importantly, be gentle with yourself. If you need to move, do so mindfully to relieve whatever ache is developing. As you continue in your practice, over time, these instincts to fidget will diminish.

For your mind, as you get started, simply listen to the burbling brook of babble in your mind. There’s no need to judge it. Sometimes, I like to thank it when it’s particularly raucous. ‘Thank you, wonderful mind, for all of this amazing activity.’ That way, I remember that mind is a treasure that like a pile of gold coins with a tendency to scatter itself all over the place. It’s also nice at the start to simply notice the patterns of thought. I like to say, ‘Oh, you again. I hear you but now we’re focusing on …’ Sometimes, my mind will offer up a series of startling images or ideas. I say the same thing. ‘Oh, I hear you. Right now, let’s focus on …’ Constant redirection. And if I get lost in one of those images, it’s no problem. As soon as I realize I’m lost, I say, ‘Oh dear, we’ve wandered. Let’s get back to our focus on…’

Over time, with practice, the thoughts start to come more slowly because the mind has become more adept at remaining with its focus.

It’s not unlike strengthening muscles. At first, it seems impossible to lift a certain weight or run a certain distance. Over time, with training, it’s not only possible but pleasant. We learn about our capacity and the obstacles we put in place to enhancing it.

Most importantly, and I know I’m repeating myself, always remain friendly with yourself. That means all parts of you. A meditation practice does no good if we push and punish ourselves. I always loved when my teacher would remind us, ‘if you insist on being an asshole when you meditate, meditation will make you a bigger asshole.’

The best preparation is choosing how to be kind to yourself, to be comfortable, to be a friend. Please don’t be an asshole.

 

 

What’s right and what’s wrong?

If you’re hanging out with me, here or elsewhere, you’re likely someone with a decent curiosity about life. It’s a precious gift, this life. The world we live in as well. The creation and development of both you and the world were so absolutely unlikely and yet, here we all are. We’re anomalies per se. And each one of us is completely unique. Within this menagerie of misfits, we all fit. We all have potential to share and we all have access to our potential.

Funny that most of us have no idea how that works.

Funnier that we aren’t taught much about it until we get to to one of those phases of life when everything seems dire and we sign up for the weird self-help, self-improvement, manifestation, claim your power, you can do it workshops facebook starts offering you when it notices you’re down. Maybe we stay for half of it.

So what’s wrong? And what’s right? And… what’s wrong?

At certain points in our life, we suffer. It’s part of life. Buddha nailed it. Jesus got it. Lao Tsu, MLK, Jr., George Harrison… a bunch of greats and lesser knowns from all time. They shared with us their compassion because they knew: we all suffer sometimes. We also have ways to understand our suffering and how to relieve it.

We have to understand the source. This is when what’s wrong can be replaced by what’s right. In order to do so, we have to remember that we each are idiosyncratic beings with our own set of funny habits responsive to our own set of history books. The way that I deal with a headache, for example, may not be the same as the way you deal with a headache. The way your friend tolerates muscle pain will be different from the way you tolerate muscle pain. We each have our ways and our way out of them is as unique as the way we got there.

When we set about trying to feel better, we first have to understand why we feel bad. People don’t like this part. It requires a commitment to recognize patterns that don’t work well for us. Then we have to inquire into the source of them. May we be grateful for every experience that brought us to the present moment. We’ve made it. Please know this.

The adventure into ourselves must be navigated with a deep commitment to personal honesty. This means that we listen carefully to ourselves first and hear what we have to say. Often, I hear clients asking for evidence that the experience they had is legitimate. Here we have a fine example of placing our own subjective experience lower on the dais than some attempt to define an objective reality.

This, my dear friends, makes very little sense when it comes to our own inner explorations. I won’t say it’s wrong, but maybe you can discover how to make your investigations a little more right. If you want science-backed data, be the scientist of you. Who knows you better than you? Who is better positioned to listen to your body and train your mind? Who has direct access to your spirit?

It’s you, my friend. What’s right is you. What’s wrong is thinking you’re anything less than perfect. What’s right is an instinct to explore yourself with wonder. What’s wrong is believing you’re not worth your awe.

 

Savor this moment.

It’s not every day that folks chitchat about yoga philosophy. It’s not everyday that folks even bother to associate yoga with philosophy.

It’s just a bunch of stretching! It’s just a lot of tricks! It’s awesome pants and playlists.

Well, fine. It’s a good way to start. Get your stretch on and groove. And fine, fine, fine to enjoy a moment on your head if you can do it safely and well.

And if you’d prefer to proceed from that position, please do. It’s a good metaphor – an upside down stance – from which to consider the following: are you capable of savoring every moment?

For example, let’s say you’re behind a slow car on the freeway. What would it be like for you to offer a word of thanks instead of scorn to Slowbie McSlowberson? You may think you’re in a rush and you may think your tasks are very important but maybe Mr. McSlowberson is offering you a much needed moment to take a breath and enjoy a shift of pace. Maybe Mr. McSlowberson is saving you from a high-speed chase down the road. Maybe Mr. McSlow is reminding you that someday you too may need to be slow, for whatever reason, and this little experience is a teacher in patience. Wow. Thank you, Slowbie! That was a good moment.

In the Yoga literature, the guidance to shift your perspective comes in various forms. The Yoga Sutra recommends that we learn to cultivate the opposite of any arising negative emotion. It also recommends that develop an attitude of friendliness toward those who are doing well, compassion toward those who suffer, forgiveness toward those who wrong us and ambivalence toward those who just don’t get it right. In the Chandogya Upanishad, we’re reminded that we become the reflection of our deepest desire. If your deepest desire is tethered to some future longing or past correction, you won’t savor this moment. If your deepest desire is to appreciate what you are, you will celebrate the abundance of right now. It’s all you ever have.

See what happens if you look around for a moment. From whatever position you’d like to take. Look around and savor this very moment. Notice everything here for you now. Not just your loved ones and shelter and food. Not just the earth and sky. Notice every breath. This is the culmination of your life and it comes and goes with every moment. Savor it!

 

 

 

The Science of You.

Hi you! Wonderful you. Magical thing. You!

Remember back when someone in your life reminded you that you were one of a kind? Or maybe you’re lucky enough to have that now. If not, let me refresh your memory: You are unique; a right bit of you without equal. Maybe you can share that bit of information with someone close to you. Another unmatched wonder.

I tell you not to cheerlead but to lay a bit of foundation. We live in this world where we want someone to tell us what’s going on. We look at our phones to find out the weather. We wait for science to tell us what’s good for us. We refuse to believe until someone convinces us.

Unfortunately, that someone isn’t always aware of who and how we are.

A magazine article says breathing is good, meditation is good, movement is good. And pretty soon, people are doing some technique that a magazine says is good but it doesn’t feel good. Still, they do it. They try for a while. And then they start to lose interest because it sucks. The experience is frustrating. Nothing happens. Maybe meditation is good, and breathing is good, and movement too. But the article didn’t take into account the condition of the reader. Poor, gentle reader—stressed beyond belief, chronically anxious, shallow of breath with back pain. The article didn’t realize that the reader has fear of sitting still.

Now, the reader is also afraid of movement, breathing and meditation. May the reader find an invitation somewhere to try again. In the meantime, more suffering.

Which is why we might consider supplementing our dependence on external sources of information with steady inquiry into ourselves. There is information in there. About you. The information is compelling, if you are patient enough to discover it.

This is the process of self-realization. It’s simple inquiry. Introspection. Discovering your habits and patterns so you can discern appropriate means of working with them or modifying them.

There is no one better placed than you to consider you. I submit: your weather is what you see and feel when you step outside. Bring a jacket. And what’s good for you is what provides you a lasting sense of well-being and ease. Notice: lasting. Notice: ease. Who can determine what lasts and what feels like ease? That would be you.

So how do you do it? Pay attention. In all the seeking we do outside of ourselves, we neglect the potential of what’s inside. You are the wonder. You are the joy. You won’t understand the cause of you until you start to consider you. You must experience it for yourself.

See what it’s like to ask yourself the question: what do I feel right now? And wait for a moment to hear the answer. Then ask again. And wait. Gather your data and respond appropriately. Maybe it’s time to change your diet. Maybe you want to resolve your stress. Discover what your being is seeking. And consider how you might find it.

Good teachers are out there to help you but they will never replace the wisdom of you. The best teachers will guide you toward a systematic process of self-discovery. They won’t fix you or change you. That’s for you to do. The best teachers will guide you toward a loving appreciation of yourself. Toward direct experience. So you can remember your wonder. Just as the best scientists do.

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead —his eyes are closed.

-Albert Einstein.

Pause, open your eyes and experience your mysterious self for yourself.

Why the movement?

Know this: you don’t have to do a single thing to find calm. Just decide. From now on, be calm.

It could be that easy. Read some Zen koans, some Osho, some Tao and see how crafty the sages have been with their recommendations. Find simplicity; find peace. There you are.

And I absolutely believe it. I absolutely know this is possible and our shared potential.

But first, with respect to Jack Kornfield, the laundry. And then the commute. The work. The kids. The meetings. The mortgage. The retirement gone dry. The agony. The grief. The fear. And what’s for dinner, anyway?

Finding calm within the storm isn’t our bailiwick. If the storm has arrived, we’re better trained to freak first, curse the weather second and then discover our better selves in the recovery effort. Hooray for the storm. Like all catalysts, it’s a gift.

Which is why Yoga, with its kind (occasionally disdainful) acknowledgement of our body and its energies, is such a special offering to humans. Especially these days. If I asked you to sit still for five minutes, without your phone, how would you do? Maybe you’d fidget? You’d itch? Would your back hurt? How many times do you think you’d check the time?

If you try it, notice. You’ll make it. Just notice what you discover. The foot sleeping. The mind shouting. The thoughts that concern you so much you open your eyes. The trash truck rattling the house.

We all have a dependency on distraction these days. It’s the nature of the world we’ve created for ourselves, in our technology, our cars, our jobs with their fun committees, our homes with their smart appliances and toys. In a strange way, it keeps us in a certain communion with each other. It’s a ‘misery loves company’ thing. Unfortunately, we don’t enjoy it. We suffer together because we don’t want to suffer a moment alone.

Which is the big charade. Whoever said the moment alone would bring suffering? The answer to that, broadly and somewhat metaphorically, is the distraction itself. We’ve been told that happiness is somewhere and we’ve all accepted that it must be out there because it’s the out there world that pays to get into your mind. You getting into your mind is free. But no one is advertising to promote this adventure. And it’s way easier, sadly, to just accept someone else in your mind than to do the work to get there yourself.

Though, that’s not actually true, if you decide. And commit to a bit of work. The advertisers do their work. Why can’t you?

The true purpose of Yoga is to calm the mind but to get there, it offers a sweet bit of guidance and preparation. First, you got to get yourself right with the world. Figure out a relationship with kindness and honesty, with moderation and generosity. Then, know that you’re going to have to make a commitment that will require a little introspection. This usually follows that revelation we all have… the one that sounds like this, ‘I don’t know what’s up with me but I’m tired of it.’

At this point, if you’re willing to pay attention, Yoga can give you a few tools to put your body in a state of stability and ease. The most introductory of these is all those poses. They are diagnostic and therapeutic. They can kick your ass and help you spend the energy of pent-up anxiety or they can encourage you to rely and rest on the ground beneath you. They can give you more than good deltoids and bulbous asses. They give you information about the state of you. Your physical condition, your nervous system, your resilience, your ability to focus, your balance, your breathing, your pride, your acceptance, your patterns. It just takes a moment to recognize that the inquiry is worth it. A reminder that you’re in the right place to observe you. The teacher, well, she’s cool. But observe yourself.

The next time you do a movement, any movement, do it consciously. Ask yourself: what is my body doing to get me from here to there? And how does it feel? And where is my weight? And do I always move this way?

Your asana can be this thoughtful. In fact, it’s just exercise if it isn’t. And what does exercise really mean if it doesn’t find some integration in your actual life?

Please let me know if you have questions. You’re a wonder.