My nature is to wonder. About things, phenomenon, and people. I come from a long line of teachers who taught me well about the importance of reflection. From a young age, I was intensely curious about how what is happening now is a reflection of the big picture. Whether it’s by communing with others in deep conversation, a vigorous work out, playing with children, doing yoga, taking a walk in the forest, dancing, chanting, singing, reading or writing, playing with color in fabric, fiber or paint, I have long known that we encourage the presence of our best selves when we purposefully stop the whir of life regularly. I’ve listed some of my favorites, but there really are endless ways to open our hearts and mind to experience.
Being open is one of the best habits we can develop to start off the new year. The idea of being open often refers to being able to accept new ideas. But, to me, it means being able to accept a new state of consciousness. One way to practice this is by paying attention to the most basic activity that sustains us everyday — the breath. You can profoundly affect the quality of your life by noticing the breath, and simply changing where your 'in-breath' lands.
In my interactions with students and seekers, I have found that people often don’t realize when intuition is knocking on their door. They expect awareness to come as a bolt of lightning, when in actuality, it most often comes as a whisper!
Putting a positive spin on winter in Michigan is a bit of a hard sell. Our winters can be bleak, what with the gray skies and long nights. And I've got the audacity to suggest that you greet winter by slowing down and engaging in solitary reflection—at what is arguably the busiest time of the year. What was I thinking?
One of the biggest changes on the Camino in the 13 years between my first journey and the one this past summer is an increased danger to women pilgrims, and not just the young ones. Even on that first trip, I heard reports about women being harassed by men who would expose themselves or urinate in public. But they were few and far between, and none resulted in any physical injuries.
In my recent interview about Nonviolent Communication, I shared the importance of empathy as a key factor in effective Nonviolent Communication (NVC). It makes sense: if we want to create connection between ourselves and others with whom we have conflict or disagreement, or deepen our connection with family and friends, understanding their experience and view of the world is imperative, yet often deeply challenging.
Can we repeat meaningful experiences? Is it possible to recapture strong emotions? And should we even try? These questions came up for me when I thought about returning to the Camino de Santiago this past summer to celebrate my seventieth birthday. What better way to mark a milestone birthday than to return to a place that has been central to my life in so many ways?
A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit the University of Michigan anatomy lab to see a dissected human heart. As I studied the intricacy of the heart, a flood of emotions hit me that was so intense I had to sit down quickly or I would have fainted.
A psychotherapist’s “bag of tricks”/toolbox/medicine bag consists of various modalities and techniques that we’ve learned over the years. After years of formal training and countless workshops, one tool/way/concept has infiltrated everything I do as a therapist, and shapes and informs how I work and live — mindfulness.
One of my practices as an elder-in-training is choosing how I focus my attention. As the saying goes, "What we give attention to, we give life to." Since I tend toward a "glass-half-empty" view of life, I like to remind myself now and then of what gives me pleasure. So here they are — a few of my favorite things, in no particular order . . .
I’ve never really considered myself a musician or a singer. I even got kicked out my seventh grade choir for swaying in the front row. I also think the music teacher, who was a very stern guy, thought I smiled too much. He gave me a B+ in the class, saying I had a nice voice but that my behavior was dreadful.
Picture this: Your nutrition practitioner can be criminally prosecuted for offering their services, just because they aren’t licensed by the state. This situation was nearly a reality in Michigan. In a historic vote (July 1, 2014), the Michigan legislature repealed the Dietitians Licensure Law, and is the only state ever to have done so. Registered Dietitians (RD) would have had automatic licensure as Dietitians/Nutritionists. The licensure law would have prohibited non-RD nutrition practitioners from providing dietary and nutritional counseling.
Burnout is a popular topic of discussion among healthcare professionals, but preventing it often eludes us. While burnout is common in many professions, it is particularly present in healthcare. Some estimates put the rates of burnout as high as 75-80 percent among physicians-in-training. Even after a potential grueling training is done, burnout rates remain high. This burnout is associated with detachment from those around them and feelings of isolation.
Instead of sitting, we paint; instead of coming back to the breath, we come back to what our hands want to do from moment to moment. The nature of the mind doesn't change with the activity itself; we still get hijacked by thoughts of the past or future, or are influenced by critical inner voices, such as, It’s supposed to look like something by now, or What everyone else is doing is so much cooler, or I can’t really change it in the last week …
Have you ever attempted to create a self-portrait? I was required to do just this in a number of fine art college classes, from figure drawing to figure sculpting. I recall it being an uncomfortable experience to spend that much time looking at myself in the mirror. The point of the assignment was to learn to draw or sculpt using the available model — myself. The unexpected benefit was that, in addition to improving my skills as an artist, it led me to a new level of self-acceptance.
The compelling sound of the wooden mok’tak pierces the early morning silence as the wake-up person heartily chants the “Great Compassion Dharani” to the drumbeat of this traditional wooden instrument. She makes slow rounds of our Temple building and even crosses the back garden to the Hermitage, to rouse residents there. Each one of us washes up, then joins with others in rooms next to our seonbang (meditation hall) to stretch a little - some with yoga, some with tai chi.
One cannot compare or try to match some other creative work with one’s own work; one needs to allow creative energy to blossom from within. I did not know how to do this. I had not been to art school nor studied art history. But I loved art: in museums, in nature’s unique and unsurpassable expression . . . in all manifestations.
Change in every moment is a given. It is empowering to set conscious intentions around what changes will support your growth, health, and long-term goals. However, knowing what you’d like to have in place “someday” is very different from the day-to-day process of making that happen. The latter is usually much harder! Using an alphabet analogy, it can feel overwhelming to set an intention to change at point “A” knowing that all the steps between “B” and “Y” are needed to finally have the new change at point “Z” fully integrated in our lives. The brain gets exhausted just imagining all those steps that might be needed -- and the initial spark from the intention quickly burns out if motivation is missing to start the action steps.
Part of the curriculum in Integrative Medicine at the University of Michigan is to get students to think beyond the paradigm of making a diagnosis and then matching the right drug or surgery to the problem. Unfortunately, many physicians, as well as many medical consumers, have fallen into this trap. With medical visits crunched by time and society trained to look for the quick fix, using pharmaceuticals is often the go-to treatment for a particular condition.
There is an important lesson in these lyrics that goes beyond growing healthy veggies. It also applies to our spiritual growth. In Buddhism we believe that each person is a piece of fertile ground that can be cultivated to produce the fruits of joy, equanimity, love, and compassion.