How Contrast Creates Clarity

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My first two years of college at Rutgers in NJ were marked by severe winter weather; so severe that, for the first time in its 200+ year history, the school shut down due to the copious amounts of snow on the ground!

That was when I decided I was outta there, and wouldn’t wait till after graduation to fulfill my dream of moving to California. All I wanted was to be warm. So after my sophomore year, I packed my bags and headed to San Diego. I anticipated endless days of 75 degree temps and sun, sun, sun.
 
Except it wasn’t really like that. Oh yes, it was warm and lovely much of the time. But there was also something called “early morning low clouds and fog” that sometimes didn’t burn off till noon or after. And there were those infamous Southern California winter rains, where temps in the low 50’s could feel as rough as those 30-something Jersey days. (OK, no snow, but still not exactly shorts weather.)
 
I had yearned for days of ease and flow — perhaps you can you relate? Have you ever looked forward to a time in your life when the sun will always shine or the stars will finally align and you’ll get to hang out in a blessed-out state after years of work and struggle?
 
I hate to tell you this, but that’s just not how it goes.
 
And you wouldn’t really want it that way, no matter how seductive it sounds.
 
Careful What You Wish For
 
So no, San Diego wasn’t endless sun, though it was pretty darn nice. Even in winter, the lower temps didn’t last for months, and the early morning fog could be eerie and interesting. 
 
It was also kind of…I have to admit…boring.
 
With no real winter, there was no passionate burst of life in spring. Things could get quite brown and dry during drought periods, and there were no deciduous trees turning crimson and orange and gold in the fall. With some variations, it was still a lot of sameness. I would long for the drama of a thunderstorm instead of the quiet, grey, cool rain. 
 
This was when I learned the importance of contrast. The world is full of opposites — no light without dark, no up without down, no joy without sorrow — just like the lighter colored flowers in the photo above pop more clearly from the black background. Lord knows I still don’t love winter; but it makes what comes after it feel like total rebirth. Every…single…time.
 
How will you use the gift of contrast this week to build resilience and clarify your truest desires? I’d love to hear about it here. 
 

What freedom smells like

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The smell of fresh brewed coffee…the warmth of a bowl of soup…the rich flavor of dark chocolate melting on your tongue.

Could you feel into each of the above descriptions as you read them? Or were they simply words on the screen? If the latter, try going back and reading them one at a time, connecting to your sense-memories of each unique sensual pleasure.
 
Anchoring into the now can be as simple and of-the-moment as this. When your mind feels like it’s just too busy and noisy {what I have lately referred to in my own mind as The Land of 1,000 Chattering Monkeys}, call a time out. 
 
Literally, tell yourself “Whoa, I need to shift gears” or “Stop! I need some peace now.” 
 
Let those monkeys be a little confused, and purposefully stop listening to them by placing your awareness in the physical. 
  • Notice your feet…feel them on the floor, wiggle your toes against the edges of your shoes.
  • Focus on the rise and fall of your belly as your breath moves in and out. (Or notice if it’s not moving much and consciously relax your abdomen so the breath has more room to expand.)
  • Feel into your hands, from the inside out. Are you aware of pressure, coolness, warmth, nothing?
It can be so simple and so hard to remember that you are more than a walking, talking head. Especially from behind your screen or phone. How often do you fully, consciously inhabit your body — and how often do you do it with even a modicum of love and respect?
 
This is just one path to freedom that we will explore in depth during the Four Weeks to Freedom tele class. And what, truly, does freedom mean to you? That’s the most important definition you will be guided to clarify and turn your compass towards.
 
*Join me for a free sampler class on Tuesday February 18th at 7:30 ET*
{More info to come. Already know that it’s for you? Mark your calendar now!}
 
Until next time, check in with your senses as often as you can. Live fully in your beautiful body, a wonderful vehicle to carry you to freedom.

 

Fresh blossoms for you

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We used to have a pear tree in our yard. It didn’t bear edible fruit, but the blossoms in early spring were incredible, as you can see. So much promise, yet those first couple of seasons without any pears to eat were disappointing.

I find life is a lot like this. We get some of what we want, but not all, and somehow that makes us discount what we did receive. 

  • Someone gives you a gift but it’s not exactly what you were hoping for. (Especially frustrating from a significant other, who really ought at know you better, right?!?) 
  • Yes, you got to the gym, yet that 20 minutes on the elliptical just doesn’t seem like it was enough. 
  • The food at that hot new restaurant was delicious but the service was less than stellar. And the bathroom was cold and scattered with used paper towels.
  • You are moved by images of native elders’ lined and weathered faces, yet cringe at the laugh lines and crows feet reflected back in your own mirror. 

Life is full of magnificent imperfections. In the Japanese tradition there is a term for this: Wabi sabi. It is a way of looking at the world that rings deep and true. Wabi means genteel poverty, where simplicity and detachment from the trappings of wealth preside; it carries a sense of quiet nobility in the simplest cup of tea or broth. Sabi first came to use to describe the melancholy ache associated with twelfth century Japanese poetry; it conjures fallow fields, wobbly fences and a somber mood.

Taken together, wabi sabi stands for more than the sum of its parts. It allows everything to be exactly as it is, and invites us to revel in the beauty of imperfection. When we do this, we see that while fruit is good, the blossoms alone offer unique sustenance. And the lack of fruit cannot take away from that.

Where, my friend, are you struggling with ideas of perfection? What might you gain by allowing things to be as they are, finding ways to bring gratitude to every misstep, every melancholy mood, every misshapen pancake or loose strand of hair? 

This week, I invite you to practice holding the awareness spoken of so beautifully in these lines by Zen student and musical poet Leonard Cohen:

The birds they sang 
at the break of day 
Start again 
I heard them say 
Don’t dwell on what 
has passed away 
or what is yet to be.
 
Ring the bells that still can ring 
Forget your perfect offering 
There is a crack in everything 
That’s how the light gets in.

Happy Begin Again Day!

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Happy 2014! Even though every day — every moment, really — is a chance to begin again, there is something uniquely auspicious about the first day of the first month of a new year. Don’t know about you, but I’m even more inspired by a particular affinity for even-numbered years (maybe because I was born in one?!).

I do not, however, have an affinity for the tradition of New Year’s resolutions. There is something so final and permanent sounding about “making a resolution,” which is probably what creates a set-up for always eventually falling short. I prefer to look at intentions, which feel more fluid and open-ended, or simply envision how I want to feel as I move through my days.

I wrote last time about that — discerning some core desired feelings to help guide us into creating how we want our life to feel and be. I also have heard quite a few people talk about choosing one or two themes for the year ahead, another great option for feeling your way into how you want to experience your year.

What themes would serve best as your compass for the coming year?

Mine are being bold and taking actionBeing bold because my natural desire to understate and never want to seem pushy does not always support my mission to connect with and serve more people. And, in service of taking action, I went to the gym today for the first time in a month! Not because of any resolution, but because my unusually aching back and hip told me that I was sitting behind this computer too much. 

For me, taking action is about literal physical activity as well as stepping out of my comfort zone — here at home, living my quiet life — and getting out into the world in varying ways. I’m a hermit who loves connecting (go figure!), and deeply desire a better balance of inward and outward.

So I invite you to choose your theme. Keep it in your mind and heart as you begin another journey through the calendar. 

May the new year bring you endless opportunities to practice beginning again. As one of my favorite Hebrew prayers says: “Thank You for mercifully reawakening my soul within me. Great is Your trust.” 

Here’s to waking up…and waking up…and waking up, in as many moments as we can!