vulnerable path

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Be at peace

“Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace.” — Buddha

Peace.  We use this word so often.  Yet peace is illusive.  Buddha’s quote makes me ask myself, “What one word brings me peace?”

The word that immediately comes to mind is forgiveness.

Eckhart Tolle, whose book The Power of Now was one of my most engrossing reads this past year, made me think about forgiveness when he talked about Resistance.  He says that all resistance is negativity.  And this, of course, leaves us sitting in suffering.  This is an inevitable part of life.  We resist the death of a parent, the betrayal of a friend, the loss of a love.  We go as far as to identify ourselves by these things:  I am the person who had her heart broken, the person who was betrayed, the person who lost a loved one.  It becomes part of our sense of self and colors how we relate to everything else going forward.

This, I’ve realized, is why we suffer.  Because we hold onto all these negative experiences and continue, everyday, generating resistance.

It’s exhausting, being so negative all the time!  Let’s be done with that!  What is it accomplishing?  What is it that I have been able to reverse because I resisted it?  Was I able to change someone’s heart? Nope.  The only heart I can change is my own.  Which brings me to forgiveness.

To let go of a grudge — to let go of anger, resentment, hostility, jealousy, guilt — is freeing.  It lifts a very heavy burden from our shoulders.  It’s the exact opposite of what we might think — to forgive is not weakness or defeat.  The act of forgiveness is the manifestation of our own inner strength and power.

Let go.  Free yourself.  Forgive yourself and others.  Be at peace.

© Vulnerable Path, 2016

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Where are you at this moment?

Sometimes the ongoing chatter in my mind is like a constant whir of a fan, a muffled, incessant hum. Like white noise, I’m used to it. It’s always there. It keeps me company when I have no other distractions. Or more aptly, it refuses to leave me alone. And sometimes, when the chatter is all about my problems or worries, it’s easy to become consumed and overwhelmed.

I had an appointment with my massage therapist yesterday. After a stressful week, I was looking forward to the chance to relax and take some much needed time for self-care. As I lay there, my thoughts wandered to all kinds of places. It raced into the future to the problems I will need to solve at work next week, and to the plans I’m making for an extended trip with my Girl Scouts. As my therapist’s hands attempted to find and relieve the tight muscles in my shoulders and neck, I realized I wasn’t present on her table. I wasn’t in the moment.

I have been using massage for more than a year to help reduce muscle tightness and pain. When I first visited Susan (who is also a wonderful yoga instructor), I had a huge knot at the top of my left shoulder. I had pain in my neck that stabbed me whenever I turned my head to the left. And I had tightness across my left pectoral muscle that caused constant discomfort. I had been ignoring all this for about six months before I decided to do something about it. That was my New Year’s Resolution in 2014.

I felt some immediate relief with a stretching exercise that Susan recommended for the pectoral muscle. Hallelujah! But the shoulder and neck were stubborn, so I decided that I should rule out any kind of injury. I visited an orthopedic doctor and had X-rays and an MRI of my neck. After examining the images, the doctor could find nothing more than minor arthritis beginning to form between the vertebrae in my neck, which is normal for someone my age. She recommended physical therapy. So I worked with a physical therapist for about six weeks. I faithfully did the exercises she gave me. I saw very little improvement.

But I kept up regular visits with my massage therapist, who was able to explain more to me about how my muscle groups are all connected and affect one another. She warned me that it can take a long time to “re-train” muscles that have spent so much time in a contracted state.  We also talked about how stress can manifest in the physical body. After ruling out everything else, it was clear that I was experiencing a physical reaction to emotional stress. This realization was part of what motivated me to take a hard look at where I am at in my life. It was also the impetus for starting my Vulnerable Path blog.

I am happy to report that, with Susan’s help, I no longer have a huge knot in my shoulder, and most days are pain free.  Yet after more than a year of serious work to improve my mind, body, and spirit, I still haven’t figured out how to just “be in the moment.” It sounds like the simplest thing, yet for me it is actually a struggle.

I wrote a previous blog post about Pema Chodron’s advice to take three breaths. This basic principle of meditation, to focus on your breathing, is a tool to use whenever we feel overwhelmed, stressed-out, worried, or scared. It’s a way to push out the clutter in your mind. It helps to even visualize it, imagining all the junk being blown away with your exhales.

I have read and re-read Brene’ Brown’s book about wholehearted living. I connected with her guideposts about cultivating calm and stillness, authenticity, self-compassion. Yet it is an ongoing process to let go of perfectionism, to be slow to judge myself and others, and to choose a mind-set of sufficiency.

So there I was, physically on that massage table, but my mind wasn’t even in the building, let alone the room. The good news is that I realized it. And I immediately shut down the chatter. I took a few deep breaths. I focused on the soft music playing and the physical feeling of the massage. And I also realized one other thing in that moment. I couldn’t remember the last time I was bothered by that stabbing pain in my neck. A second Hallelujah!

I’m making progress. I feel more in touch than ever with my own consciousness and the way I want to grow and transform. I want to work harder at being in the moment, to appreciate fully the here and now, rather than waste any more time worrying about the past or the future. I’ve had a book on my shelf that I’ve intended to read for many months: Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. In the introduction, Tolle says that people come up to him and say, “I want what you have. Can you give it to me, or show me how to get it?”  And his response is, “You have it already. You just can’t feel it because your mind is making too much noise.”

I think Tolle and I are going to become good friends.

© Vulnerable Path, 2015


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Use Resources Wisely

What is our most precious resource?  Many would say it’s water, or clean air.  One might argue that it’s our farmland.  Some might say oil.  My daughter would say it’s the sun.  She is fascinated by science and found a You Tube video about what would happen if we lost our sun.  She has told me all about it more than once.  It’s scary stuff!  There is no doubt that all of these natural resources are very important to our well-being.

If you are familiar with the Girl Scout Law, you know that one of the commitments we make in the Law is to use resources wisely.  We teach our girls to care about this and take action by conserving water and paper, by not wasting food, and by practicing the guidelines of “Leave No Trace” when we spend time in the forest.

But there is one resource that’s been on my mind a lot lately.  It’s time.  No matter how hard we try, many of us find it very difficult to save time.  We certainly can’t slow it down.  It just keeps going like that Energizer Bunny.  The older we get, the more important time becomes to us.  As kids, we have no concept of it.  Oh, those were the days!  Now I find that it’s December, and another year is almost over, and I’m still wondering what happened to summer!?!?

I mull over the list of all the things I wish I had time to do.  Remember my earlier blog post when I talked about the “have to do” and “want to do” lists?  Now that it’s the holidays, those lists are longer than ever.  I have a Christmas shopping list with 15 people on it.  It’s important to me to wish everyone a Merry Christmas by giving them some sort of present.  There are cards to write out and send.  There are cookies to bake.  There are craft projects to finish.  There are charity events and volunteer activities to plan and attend.  There are additional responsibilities at work.  And all of that is on my “have to do” list!

What do I want to do, you ask?  I want to go for a run on the trail.  I don’t care how cold it is.  I want to go to a yoga class — at least once a week.  I want to begin a consistent home yoga practice.  I want to set time aside each day for meditation.  These things are on the “want to do” list.  But I think they are things that I NEED to do, just like eating a healthy diet every day, or getting enough sleep.  I am not taking care of myself if I am not creating time in each day for rest, play, calm, and stillness.

Two of Brene’ Brown’s Guideposts are:  Cultivating Play and Rest and Cultivating Calm and Stillness.  Reading her arguments for the importance of these elements in our lives validated what I knew in my heart.  But seeing them on the page also made me feel better about raising them up to the top my personal priority list.  If the things we “want to do” are stressing us out, maybe it’s time for an adjustment.  It’s OK to question whether or not the things on your list are actually adding joy and meaning to your life or simply overwhelming you.  Her advice?  Take something off the list; add “take a nap” instead!

Brown explains that some of us respond to anxiety by “over- functioning.”  Hello!  That’s my middle name!  These people will advise, rescue, take over, micromanage, and get into everything rather than look inward.  She points out that, “If we stop long enough to create a quiet emotional clearing, the truth of our lives will invariably catch up with us.”

I’m beyond this already.  I have the truth of my life nagging at me internally almost every minute of the day.  And I must heed to it soon.  I need time in each day to listen to that inner voice and nourish my soul.  The over-functioner in me needs to step aside.

So I am making “Time” my most important resource.  That’s my New Year’s resolution.  To use my time more wisely.  To make an effort to create space in my daily life for the things that will nourish my soul and to remove from the lists some things that just stress me out.  I am going to take some of that over-functioner’ s spirit and direct it at ways to cut down on the items on my lists.

But first, I’m going to take a nap.  Please, wish me luck!


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Defying Gravity

Today started like most workdays. I rolled out of bed at 5am and headed for the coffee pot.  I packed a lunch, watched the weather report, and hit the shower.  I dropped my daughter at school and reached my desk by 7:15am.  Another workday filled with lots of “have-to-dos” and not nearly enough “want-to-dos.”

At my workplace, we begin every day with a stand-up meeting. We gather in the reception area and chit chat about last night’s football game or our kids’ antics.  Then the gathering is called to order by our boss who leads us in prayer.  This practice goes back years and is rooted in our boss’ deep faith in God.  We pray for guidance in the decisions we make throughout our day.  And we pray for a list of people who may be sick or burdened in some way.  Some people have been on this list for years.  It’s always changing and growing.

Today’s meeting was interrupted by a phone call from a co-worker. His son had stopped breathing in school and needed to be revived with an AED device.  The gravity of it weighed on us.  We stared silently at each other.  Suddenly the work that had brought us together seemed inconsequential.  We paused again in prayer for this child and his parents.

It was a smack in the face, a jarring moment of realization when we were forced to stop ignoring our humanity and mortality. It brought a screeching halt to the constant rush-hour pace of our to-do list-driven lives.  Wait a minute.  What am I doing?  Am I focusing my life on what’s really important?

Pema Chodron writes, “Since death is certain, but the time of death is uncertain, what is the most important thing? You know you will die, but you really don’t know how long you have to wake up from the cocoon of your habitual patterns. You don’t know how much time you have left to fulfill the potential of your precious human birth. Given this, what is the most important thing?”

Her answer to this question is simple but not always easy for us to put into practice. She says we need to leave a gap.  Take a pause in your day.  Do it frequently.  Take three breathes.  Consciously stop the cluttered discourse going on in your brain.  It gives you a chance to re-assess what’s really important to you.  You can take these pauses by the coffee pot, or in the car, or by the copy machine.   Stop thinking about what has to happen ten minutes, ten hours, or ten days from now, and bring your full attention to this minute.

IMG_0404This is, of course, the most basic of meditation practice. To breathe, empty the mind, and pause in stillness.  Feel the sensation of your breathe going in and out of your nose or throat.  Listen and focus on a sound or a smell.  Step out the door and look up at the sky.  Perhaps choose a mantra to repeat to yourself that helps you clear away all other thoughts.

Meditation and prayer make good partners and are a part of many faiths. In one of her Super Soul Sunday interviews, Oprah Winfrey asked Deepak Chopra to explain the difference between meditation and prayer.  He said, “Prayer is your speaking to God and meditation is allowing the Spirit to speak to you.”  He went on to explain that, through an ongoing meditation practice, the Spirit’s words will come to us through our intuition and manifest as inspiration.  I think, in many ways, this is exactly how the Spirit answers our prayers.

Taking time throughout your day to pray or meditate can reduce anxiety and stress can bring perspective to those questions of “what am I doing and what is really important.” It’s an anti-gravity device, lifting the weight off your shoulders.  It may inspire you to change the balance between those “have-to-dos” and “want-to-dos.”

It creates the opportunity for you to remember the blessings and beauty of your surroundings. It’s a time to perhaps express gratitude for having enough.  It may inspire you to hug your kid and tell her she’s your favorite person.   It may remind you to call a friend who is suffering and tell her she is loved.  At the end of the day, you might look back and realize that was the most important thing you did today.

© Vulnerable Path, 2014

To read Pema Chodron’s entire essay, click here.