Making a List

My Mindfulness Guide, or Why I Love Andy Puddicombe

I got into meditation because of some guy I met online.

Actually, via TED.

And, truthfully, I’ve never met the man but I was interested enough in his TED Talk to look at his website and that’s when he hooked me.

Headspace became my go-to for daily guided meditation last summer just as I was about to return to work from medical leave. Virtually every morning since I have started my day with Headspace-founder Andy Puddicombe and his everyman’s version of mindfulness.

I am a huge fan. I’m pretty sure I can take credit for hooking a half dozen other people as well. I’m not much of a product promoter, but I really think Puddicombe and his Headspace colleagues are onto something and I think it’s worth letting others know about it.

Here’s what I love:

The Vision:  Simple, really: make mindfulness accessible. No woowoo.  Just some guidance on “treating your head right,” available to anyone who wants it.

Better still: make mindfulness widely accessible – take it into the workplace, into daily lives, online, on the go, in bite-sized bits that go down easy.

Make mindfulness widely accessible and infinitely cool.  Brilliant.

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The Strategy: More simplicity: high design, strong brand, no barrier to entry, an easy app.  Start with a few entertaining online videos. Try just ten minutes. Who can’t do ten minutes? Feels good, right?  Come back tomorrow. 

He lures you in, gives you free samples, brings you back, gets you hooked. He lets you know all the other kids are doing it too.  (Each time you meditate, a display shows how many others are online meditating with you.  Another display shows your “run” – how many days straight you’ve been part of the crowd, how much you have strengthened your mind.) Every few days, he shows up in a quickie video clip to offer encouragement and affirmation.  He makes you feel good.

The Backstory: You almost have to love a Brit who faced an awful personal tragedy, lost his bearings then found them and himself by heading to a Tibetan monastery, emerged ten years later by way of Russia and finally landed in L.A., where he now surfs and maybe does something connected to circus acrobatics.  And he has an adorable baby named Harley.

The Name: To my ears, “Andy Puddicombe” is right out of Harry Potter, which pretty much makes him magical right there. Professor Puddicombe, Master of Mindfulness, purveyor of inner wisdom wizardry and meditation incantations.  I can just picture him at Hogwarts.  I mean, the man used to wear robes.

The Voice: This may have been the killer app for me. I’d always found those ultra mellow, ultra sweet, ultra cloying voices of most meditation tapes pure hell. I could not sit still and listen to them. They were a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to my meditation efforts.

Enter Andy, a guy with a working class English accent that is so disarming, so not what I’d come to expect in this context, that the whole enterprise took on an entirely different and very fresh flavor. This is a guy to have a beer with.  You think if he can do this, so can I.

I call him “my bloke from Bristol.” I confess: I’m crushing hard.

The Impact: But all the other stuff aside, what really matters is that I feel different — I feel better.  Andy Puddicombe has shown me a viable path to greater mindfulness.  Along the way, he has offered me support, encouragement and companionship. I feel greater clarity and calm. I’m more centered. I have tools and strategies to regain my equilibrium when things knock me sideways.

When I first started this journey about 10 months ago, the little counter that showed how many others were meditating at the same time generally registered about 2,000.  This morning, it was well over 6,500.  Clearly I’m not alone in my appreciation and infatuation.

Maybe what I love most about Andy Puddicombe is that he’s helping so many of us be ever-so-much-more-so the people we want to be. My kind of guy. Thanks, Andy!

Uncategorized

Nugget #2: It All Matters.

Have you ever noticed10504886_888359984522149_9077356644120980404_o that when we talk about the writing on the wall we always assume the worst? What if writing on the wall was a good thing?

For that possibility alone I would love what this bookstore in Florida did. But that they did it with the words of a dear friend makes it all the more wonderful.

Not all Nuggets are created equal. Today’s Nugget probably should have been #1 because I really do think it is the most wonderful, the most valuable.

10862514_888360004522147_7207335345864488071_oThis nugget captures a spirit so elemental, so true and good, I can say nothing to improve upon it.

It all matters. That someone turns out the lamp, picks up the windblown wrapper, says hello to the invalid, pays at the unattended lot, listens to the repeated tale, folds the abandoned laundry, plays the game fairly, tells the story honestly, acknowledges help, gives credit, says good night, resists temptation, wipes the counter, waits at the yellow, makes the bed, tips the maid, remembers the illness, congratulates the victor, accepts the consequences, takes a stand, steps up, offers a hand, goes first, goes last, chooses the small portion, teaches the child, tends to the dying, comforts the grieving, removes the splinter, wipes the tear, directs the lost, touches the lonely, is the whole thing.

What is most beautiful, is least acknowledged.

What is worth dying for is barely noticed.

My inspiration? Laura McBride’s We Are Called to Rise, available at our local bookstore and online at IndieboundAmazon, Barnes and Noble. And if you happen to be in the DC area April 28 at 7:00 p.m., come by the Arlington Public Library to hear Laura talk.

Life Lessons

Seeking Awe in the Everyday



SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES I keep a gratitude journal. Each night (well, most nights) I take a moment to jot down at least three things for which I feel grateful. I like the opportunity to reflect on the day and end on a positive note.

Friends make the nightly list with reliable frequency. Especially friends who share their wisdom, wonder and curiosity.

Recently over lunch, friend N. mentioned a study that found experiencing awe has a strong correlation with feeling happy. She noted the study doesn’t claim that awe causes happiness, just that there is an interesting intersection.  Given that, she’s taken to looking for awe. One day she stopped short to admire the sky on a walk home from work. She’s on it.

I happen to think this is a most excellent strategy and I have adopted it as my own, with gratitude.

awe  noun (1) an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful or the like.

I love her idea of looking for awe in the everyday.

I figure awe could be anywhere: an inspired performance of artistry or athleticism, a lyrical turn of phrase at the turn of a page, a moving and memorable lecture or sermon, a quadruple rainbow in the skies above Long Island.

This time of year, the world gives us such easy places to begin. There is so much to marvel at: the riot of violets suddenly erupting in my yard, the sudden summer-like heat of the sun, the number of people on the bike path and the remarkable infrequency of collision.  Do they all count as awe? No, but I’m with N. and I’m keeping my eyes open.

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Yesterday’s awe was all about the universe. I ogled the sublime images from Hubble Space Telescope and tried to wrap my brain around the mind-blowing scale of our accelerating universe.  Truly: awe-some.

I like word play, so I like to think of awe as a concentrated version of aware (awe = aw[ar]e). We don’t get to feel awe unless we’re actually paying attention. So by really looking, really listening, really feeling what is going on around us, we can get a genuine head start on finding awe in the everyday.

Awe is also an intensifier. More than mere consciousness, it’s about depth of appreciation and engagement. We gotta be in to be in awe.

Life Lesson #11: Awe favors the mindful.

Footnote: I started the gratitude practice at the start of the year after watching Shawn Archer’s TED Talk on happiness and the workplace. To be honest, I thought it sounded a little trite initially, but I’ve come to enjoy the evening ritual and to savor the pleasure of appreciation.  I’m often amused and always delighted by what pops up.

UnComfort Zone

On Being Seen: Reflections on My Brief Career as a Model

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“I see your face in my sleep,” she said. “I know every feature by heart.” 

Not the words of a lover, or even my mother.  But from friend R. for whom I had been modeling for the a week.

And I believed her. Never had I been examined, dissected,  scrutinized so closely for so long.  And oddly enough, it wasn’t odd.

Another on my list of things I wouldn’t have done — or even remotely had time to consider doing — in my previous existence: sitting for a portrait.  But when my schedule opened up, R. saw an opportunity and jumped right in, asking if I would consider letting her paint me.

I figured I was doing her a favor. Models are expensive for artists; she wanted new material (or, maybe,  old material – many of those models are young and fit and gorgeous, but I digress); I was available.  Besides, I was curious.  What is her work day like? How does a painting come into being, really?  Could I really sit still that long?

There was one, not inconsequential, catch. I’m not a big fan of being the center of attention. I don’t really like to be looked at. I’m kind of a behind-the-scenes sort of girl, a little camera shy. I built a career in that all-important but slightly mysterious #2 role.  As a kindergartner I once burst into tears when I was cast as the lead in a little performance in which I desperately wanted to play a part, just not that part.

So deciding to be seen, really seen, was an interesting and very intentional choice for me, another plunge into the UnComfort Zone.  In Daring Greatly, Brene Brown writes, “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” I think she means that courage is about getting past our fears of revealing our authentic selves, but I also think there is a literal interpretation that is equally important. So, despite past preferences, I decided I wanted to show up for this gig and be seen. I would sit and be looked at and interpreted and captured in whatever way R. wanted.

The truth is, we’re all looked at and interpreted and captured all the time, often in significantly less friendly circumstances. But this felt more concrete.

This is the model’s job: you sit for 20 minutes in pose, not moving, braced (if you are lucky and the artist is your friend) and supported in hidden ways that don’t show up in the painting. Then you get a five minute break. Then you get back in that chair and you pose for another 20 minutes. Lather, rinse, repeat. From 9:00 to noon, and then back again from 1:00 – 4:00, until the light starts to fade and you’re both hungry and a little punchy.

For six hours a day for days on end, R. stared at me. She peered from around the canvas, squinted from several paces back, studied every inch of me. She used binoculars and mirrors to look at me even more closely, to catch every illusive feature. Her teachers came in and joined her in the squinting and staring.

I expected to feel exposed, revealed, unmasked. I expected to feel naked, even though I was fully clothed.

I believe as a species we don’t typically reveal ourselves fully.  There are things we do that we don’t let others see (surely I’m not the only one who steals bites of forbidden fruit when no one is looking?), but I don’t subscribe to the idea that we are more truly ourselves out of the view of others. There are just things we choose to show – and things we don’t.  But what happens when you are watched all day, every day, for days on end?

What happens is … you’re seen. Simply seen.

It was both more and less intimate than I anticipated. More, because no one has ever looked at me that intently over so many days, ever. Less, because all that staring still just scratches the surface. Surely, some facets of “inner me” were visible, but I didn’t feel invaded or trespassed upon. Rather, I felt deeply appreciated.

And in a society that is so often framed by the “male gaze”, in which women are scrutinized and mercilessly judged, I felt seen for who I am  and valued just for that.  R. and her teachers and colleagues stared at me – and they murmured about the beauty of what they were seeing, and wondered aloud about how to reflect what they saw as grace and warmth and radiance. They smiled back at me and spent hours working to capture what they were seeing.

Being seen in that way is really quite lovely.

p.s. When the portrait is complete, I will share!

Life Lessons, Making a List

Walking, The Wonder Cure

This was one of those mornings that almost throbs with potential. The sun shone, the air was warm and silken, the birds a cacophony of avian merriment, trees in various and vibrant shades of electric green or a riotous mix of pinks and purples, the earth’s fecundity on opulent display.  The kind of day that makes anything and everything feel possible.

This is the kind of day when I could walk forever.  My daily perambulation can and often does get extended by miles on such occasions. It feels indulgent, luxurious. And thanks to recent research, it feels virtuous as well.  Turns out walking is really, really good health insurance. It could be the best medicine around.

I love it when science catches up with me.

For years I walked to work, regardless of weather (and there was some weather; see January 2011, below), and swore by the salutary effects of the 167610_10150392987640302_6580887_nramping up and cooling down that bookended my work day. Every step was a literal move into or away from whatever the day brought. Walking gave me time to plan effectively, to focus on interestingchallenges, to rehearse difficult conversations and to reflect on the lessons of the day. It provided a literal airing out of whatever I might be carrying into or out of home and office, keeping those domains clear of foreign detritus that might otherwise have drifted across critical borders. I have no doubt I was a better colleague and boss for it, a better wife, mother and friend.

And when the going got tough, I got going — for a walk.  That safety valve protected me and countless others in ways too numerous (and potentially too mortifying) to count.

No longer regularly making my three-mile round trip “commute” to work, I am attentive to making up those miles in other ways.  I don’t use an odometer, Fit Bit or a Jawbone Up (although I know some folks who worked on these fine instruments and many others who love their reassuring presence). I just count on myself to cover the requisite ground. My feet/head/heart seem to know when I’ve hit my targets and when I haven’t.

For all that, I’ve been trying to dissect it: what exactly makes a Good Walk?

  1. Proper Shoes. They don’t need to be fancy, expensive or anything, really, other than comfortable for getting from where you are to where you want to be, along a path of your choosing. After 9/11 I swore I would never wear shoes I couldn’t walk home in, no matter where I or home was. Nothing kills a walk faster than sore feet.
  2. Looking up.  Sidewalks all look pretty much alike so I don’t spend any more time than absolutely necessary looking down. I look up.  I check out the roof lines, the tree lines, the power lines, the clouds. Even very familiar routes become endlessly interesting if I actually look at them, observing their daily routines and inevitable gradual evolution. And a corollary: listening up. I like to really hear what is going on around me. I try to distinguish and spot the sources of as many distinct sounds as I can. I marvel at how far some of those noises have traveled, wonder about how much further they will go.
  3. Change of Scenery. Getting out the door and ’round about provides a change of scenery, de facto, which seems to me me a good thing, also de facto.  Better still, mixing up my route introduces easy and delightful diversity in a regular routine. Walk to work every day? Take a detour, even if just a block off the beaten path, and see what I find. Have just ten extra minutes? Choose the festive route home, the pretty street, the path less traveled. Amazing what a little change of scenery can do. In surrounding myself with one sort of novelty, I find new ways of viewing the old stuff I need to be thinking about.
  4. Conversation. K. and I have walked two or three times every week for more than a dozen years. Our walks are great times to hear about one anothers’ lives, to problem solve and share confidences. I cherish our morning constitutionals and the friendship built upon innumerable shared steps. Walking meetings pretty much guarantee focused time  and discussion that no office setting can match. The hardest conversations are somehow easier when I’m walking alongside someone, literally undertaking the difficult journey with them.  Walking, like conversation, takes you places. They go well together.
  5. Meditation in motion. Nothing away from #4,  but I still really need and love my solitary walks as well. The rhythmic stride, the chance for quiet in my head, the feel of air moving through and around me, the opportunity to just be.  Long before I took up formal mediation, walking was meditation in motion for me. I know flow best when I am walking. I suspect there is something ancient and physiological in all of this. I like to think walking has served a restorative function for our species since time immemorial.

What all of these elements have in common is mindfulness, an attention to where I am, what I am doing or thinking or seeing or hearing.  A good walk is a mindful walk, a passage through time and space that is duly and truly noted and valued.

Life Lesson #9: A good walk is a very good thing.

Back Story

Backstory

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

Where does any story begin? Few have the definitive arc of Genesis — especially those stories of our own telling. Where we choose to start a story seems part art, part editorial license, part lack of imagination. Does it matter?

On the 100th day of my new life I’m unsure where my stories of this “new normal” actually kick in. So much goes so far back. Today is as much the 10,000th day as the 100th. Doesn’t all of that deserve some discussion as well? Aren’t all decisions grounded in years of experience and hopes and fears? Who am I to say why I make any choice now, outside the choices I have already made? Isn’t all of that part of the story too?

Imagining this blog, I thought I might create a “Backstory” category for those momemts and reflection (not to mention those Life Lessons) that came before January 1, 2015. And since I’m busily cleaning and purging files, revisiting material I have not seen in years, I even pictured including previously-unpublished writing. (We’ll see about that. Stay tuned.)

As I began to draft new blog content, I realized that much of what I am doing and thinking now has as much claim to “backstory” as anything penned prior to the new year. And so my idea about the category grew and morphed. I thought, That is as it should be. Where are our outcomes written except in our own minds?

So, see what you think: the Context, the Land Before Time, the Backstory.  [You can see the “Backstory”  category in the menu hidden on the left (click on the three parellel bars at the top left of each page)].

As I so often said in work, there is always backstory. Myself included.

Uncategorized

Nugget #1

Preemptive Disclaimer: This is coming to you as #1 simply because something has to be first, not because I think it is most meaningful, important or worthy. It’s good, but it’s not that good. Sometimes an ordinal is just an ordinal.

As a little girl and diminutive child, I was always fond of the expression good things come in small packages. I loved the promise of something being more than what meets the eye; more than its size seemed to connote. More recently, I’ve been appreciating the tremendous potential of very small actions to have very large impacts.  I don’t mean the much-ballyhooed butterfly effect. I’m thinking more along the lines of Stephen Guise and his  mini habits.

Nuggets. Kernels, Morsels. Pearls. Whatever we call them, these little gems can show up in the most unlikely places.  They can fly past. You have to keep your eyes and ears open. The art is in catching them as they go by, then stringing them together in your own way, making something beautiful or interesting or simply useful.

I’ve been watching for these stray gifts more and more. I cup them in my palms, put them in my pockets for future use. Since I remember everything better if I keep notes, I’m hereby creating a record of my quarry. A Nugget Necklace, if you will. My Little Ideas That Could. Here’s one that caught my eye recently:

Have fruit or vegetables every time you eat.  I love this for so many reasons: so simple, so actionable — and so much more powerful than it seems at first blush.  Of course I include fruits and veggies at meals. (I get to feel virtuous and a step-ahead already.) And then I think about the impact this could have on my in-between eating. I wonder: if every snack or bite on the go always included –or just was — fruit or veggies, how different would my intake be? As a step toward overall health and well-being this could be huge, even for someone with fairly good eating habits already.

My inspiration?  Presentation by Center for the Advancement of Well-Being  at George Mason University

Got nuggets?

Back Story, Life Lessons, UnComfort Zone

Taking the Plunge, or The Back Story on Lynn’s UnComfort Zone

No cold feet, I declared with vehemence.

It was mid-December. I was weeks away from leaving work, but mentally miles from it.  I’d told everyone my plan was to get a plan, that I wanted to test other waters, get outside my comfort zone. I had no earthly idea what form(s) that might actually take.

Idly paging through an events calendar for Rehoboth, I came upon the Delaware Special Olympics’ Polar Bear Plunge announcement — a fund raiser anchored by a dip in the frigid Atlantic on the first Sunday in February. I’d seen posters for this event before and thought Are you kidding? Why would anyone do such a thing?

And thus I sealed my own fate. Having committed to an enterprise that was all about pushing past the internal censors, all about not stopping at “Why would anyone do such a thing?” I honestly didn’t think I had a choice but to sign up, to commit to going past my very literal comfort zone and plunge right in.

So I did. I made up a team name and logo, you know, in case I wanted to make sweatshirts.

And just to be sure I wouldn’t back down, I announced it on Facebook and tried to persuade any of the 450 10830693_10154925874765302_1812755659785998645_oremarkable women with whom I graduated from Girls High and the 50 fab folks in my Leadership Arlington class to join me. Clearly I’m no marketer, because no one took the bait, although a few hardy souls gave it gracious consideration.

No matter. I was in.

My parents were alarmed — and not without reason. I’ve had body temperature regulation issues for much of my life. Dropped in a dead faint upon walking into an air conditioned bank from a warm May day. Spent a day in the first aid lodge at a ski resort recovering from hypothermia. They called to ask me to reconsider. (Oops – that was a mistake. I don’t think of myself as much of a combatant, but even I get my dander up when people try to walk me away from something I’ve decided I need to do.)

I promised myself: No Cold Feet.

As the day approached and the temperatures stayed cold (this was a cold winter, remember??) and the winds howled, I confess I wondered what I had gotten myself into. My husband D. reminded me I could always change my mind and he would still love me. My niece R. offered a warm hat that she wouldn’t mind me wearing into the water.

Day-of dawned overcast and chilly, mercifully less windy.  Air temperatures in the mid 30s; water temperature, 37′. But the crowd was hot: jazzed and communally conscious that we were all about to do something that was patently ridiculous, but for a good cause, and we were pumped.

There were 3,500 of us signed up for the plunge. Another 7,000, easy, on the beach to offer emotional support, warm beverages and dry towels.   Music blared. People walked by in funny costumes with mittens and hats, chatting with others around them, laughing.

And then the whistle blew and we all ran, screaming, into the surf.  Which. Was. Cold. But also invigorating, and wonderful, and so much fun, and over so soon it was hard to remember having been wet.

I ran into the water, determined to go as far out as drysuit-clad emergency personnel would allow. I got in up to my chest and turned around. Just short of the beach I stumbled and went in up to my ears. Mission Accomplished: no toe dipping for me!

And mission accomplished: anticipation is so much worse than the actual doing.

And mission accomplished: sometimes the things that seem the most scary, the most outlandish, are actually the most fun, the most empowering.

I opted for the Plunge because it was a concrete way to act on a promise I had made for myself, a way to make literal a figurative commitment.  I’m so glad I did: having done that, what can’t I try?  I’m actually contemplating Plunging again next year — and, in delightful validation of the whole escapade and clear proof of my infectious enthusiasm, R. thinks she might join me.  🙂

Life Lesson #8: Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. ~ Neale Donald Walsch1017748_10155154378250302_607677819232542539_n

Back Story, Life Lessons, Making a List

Five Days, Five Photos: A Challenge in Black & White

I was not immune to last fall’s Facebook “Black and White Challenge” – to take and share five black and white photographs over five consecutive days.

This is what I came up in those five days and what I had to say after. I’ll count them as Life Lessons #7.

Day 6, the After Party: more from the collection and reflections on the exercise. Thanks again to N. for the invitation to share 5 black and white images in 5 days.

  1. I really appreciate opportunities to see things through a different lens (literal and figurative).

  2. Not all days or images lend themselves as readily to the task.

  3. Not everything proves interesting, but it is all worth considering.

  4. This is like soccer: you have to keep shooting to score.

Life Lessons

stillness

Stillness.

It’s almost onomatopoeic,  isn’t it?

Elongate the Ss. Exhale at the close. Like meditation, an om.

I’ve been thinking a lot about stillness and the almost countercultural rebellion that seems embodied in the quiet act of slowing down and sitting still amidst the frenzy of American daily life.  A few months in to this new normal outside the regular workaday world and everyone asks, “How’s it going? What are you doing?”, eager to know that I am doing exciting things, doing new things, doing anything other than what I was doing. I try not to disappoint them with my answers: spending time with family and friends, doing things my previous life didn’t allow for. That’s all been wonderful and much of that is documented here.

But the greater–and more interesting– challenge for me has been in the not doing. I was always busy, busy, busy. What does it look like to be me not busy? What’s in my head when I allow the dust to settle, when the snow globe of my existence just sits on the shelf a bit?  I took up meditation. I walk daily. I’m getting reacquainted with the quieted me.

As a wise friend recently observed, stillness is not nothingness. With so much stimulation so readily at hand, I think we’re no longer familiar with stillness, perhaps lost our taste for it, maybe a bit fearful of what comes with it. I find it rich, textured, redolent. Elusive, like a cat that will join you only if you settle first. But then, like that cat, it curls against you, warm, purring.  I like stillness.

When I was a kid, I used to sit next to my grandmother in Quaker meeting and try to sit still longer than she could. It was without question a one-way contest, but I took tremendous satisfaction in honing my skill alongside hers. Recently, I modeled for a friend in art school and drew on those hours next to my grandmother, holding my pose for 20 minutes at a time, across six hours each day, for five days.  Sit still that long and you can’t help but notice things about yourself and everything around you.

And that’s what I like most about stillness, the noticing. The layers and finer notes, the whiff of something so light you can hardly tell it is there. The feel of your own breath in your belly. The sound of an old house settling. The smell of the radiators warming up each morning. The slink of shadows moving across a room.  These are things that you miss entirely when you are anything but still.

I also like the opportunity of it. Stillness opens space and time. It offers the chance to consider and weigh alternatives. It strips away the rush to judgment, the hasty decision, the desperate urge to act regardless. It says, Don’t just do something, sit there.

Life Lesson #6: Don’t just do something. Sit there.