Compassion.

St. Joseph, Michigan. July 2016.

St. Joseph, Michigan. July 2016.

“The principle of compassion is that which converts disillusionment into a participatory companionship. This is the basic love, the charity, that turns a critic into a living human being who has something to give to––as well as demand of––the world.”

-Joseph Campbell, Pathways to Bliss

I stumbled across this quote while I was reading some tributes on Facebook about a member of one of my communities that recently passed away. It’s funny, but I hadn’t talked to this man in a really long time nor had I seen him in possibly a couple of years. What I remember about him was that every time I saw him he was kind to me, compassionate, always knew what I was up to and would engage with me to find out how I was doing, all with a smile. I even had the opportunity to sit in on a couple of group coaching sessions he ran, and I found them relevant and enjoyable no matter what degree of personal growth work each person attending had already done. He also helped me in a time when I was really struggling with finding compassion and forgiveness for a person and a situation I found myself in almost a decade ago. Hearing the news of his death, brought back this  memory as I saw others writing similar stories along the lines of he helped me, he was always available, he had words of wisdom, he had compassion and friendliness.

The timing on finding this quote he had posted on his page, prior to his death, couldn’t have been more impeccable because I was sitting on my back porch yesterday explaining to someone, “Man, I really try to have kindness and compassion at all times to the best of my ability but this really pushes me to dig deeper to try to find it.”

The key to that last paragraph is the digging deeper part. In the coaching work I do in HR and the counseling work I do with individuals and couples, I advise in situations of conflict for the other person to stay curious, to ask the question of the other, “What is it like to be you?” Because what I often find is that when I can start thinking about what it’s like to be that person, I can not only begin to resolve the conflict but also come to understand myself more completely.

Sometimes it takes a loss of someone who aimed to live well and treat others well to remind us to ask ourselves if we are living well. So I do ask myself can I dig deeper, can I keep trying to understand this other, can I continue on my own path of personal growth and correction of my own intellect so that I may know a deeper peace, a deeper sense of humanity and connection?  I hope the answer continues to be yes.

 

 

Joy.

Wild Horses. Corolla, North Carolina. May 2016.

Wild Horses. Corolla, North Carolina. May 2016.

Earlier this week, I presented on Mindful Leadership to a room of about 60 people in my office. I’ve taught this curriculum in a corporate setting for about a year and a half now. Usually to smaller groups, but we opened it up to a larger audience this week. During my session, I talked about the concept of joy, and how joy can be found in the present moment.  Because in the present moment we’re neither in regret (the past) nor worry (the future). Yet somehow we can get away from joy and the moment quite easily. And how do we get back to it? By training our minds to return to it. How do we do that? A consistent practice of meditation and mindfulness.

The night before I taught my course, I was listening to Dan Harris’ podcast of a recent session in which he interviewed Chade-Meng Tan (Meng) who was Google’s former Head of Personal Growth and the creator of the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute. A friend sent me a link to the podcast two days before my course and the timing was perfect for a couple of reasons. First, I found Meng’s perspective on teaching meditation and mindfulness in the corporate realm spot on with my own. Second, because I had a laugh-out-loud moment when Dan asked him if he still had moments of feeling sadness, anger, or frustration and Meng laughed and said, “That’s life, isn’t it?” That’s not all verbatim, but I’m pretty sure Meng’s response is. 

In another portion of the interview Meng was talking about how those with a regular meditation practice begin to have fewer problems in life, the few problems that do arise can be solved and the ones that can’t be solved are manageable. I thought this was one of the most brilliant ways of putting it and it has been my own experience as well.

What I love about teaching so much is that it pushes me to keep learning and growing – find other people who know more and learn from them – and it makes me go deeper into the discipline. I can’t tell you to be in the moment or that there are no stressful situations, just stressful responses if I’m not living those things myself. Sometimes we get off the beam, all of us, and then all we have to do is make a decision to get back on it. To experience the joy of this moment which is ours for the taking if we want it.

Growth.

 

Paris Sketch. 2008.

Sketch: Jennifer in Paris. 2008.

I remember once about seven or eight years ago, I was sitting with one of my mentors and explaining that I felt like I would be more accepted as grown up or mature if I was married or had children. Looking back on this, I laugh, because a less true thing couldn’t have been said. I feel like it was some comedian from the 80s or 90s that quipped about how we need a license for just about anything, but almost anyone can reproduce with zero permission to do so. The topic was revisited this week when someone I mentor raised the same point to me. Noting that they’d recently seen a list produced by undergraduate students that they felt were hallmark signs of having arrived at adulthood: owning a home, having children, having a partner, a good and steady paycheck.  These are nice things, yes, but I’d be willing to argue that more is needed internally in order to successfully attain and sustain these external objectives. In my forty plus years on this planet, I’d say these have been the 10 most important things I’ve learned that lead me to feel more “grown up” (I’m still awaiting my certificate in the mail):

  1. It’s not about me. This is a mantra that could probably be repeated ad nauseam for many of us in most situations. Generally speaking, most people aren’t thinking of you 24 hours/day or even 24 seconds/day.  We’d all do much better to take a stance of service. What can I bring to this person, this situation, this place?  The receiving is not our business.
  2. Change is the only thing you can be certain of so stay nimble. Whether it is at home, work, or in general in the world…things are constantly shifting and changing. The less attached I get to timing and outcome of just about anything, the better off I am and the better off everyone else is around me.
  3. Emotional regulation and EQ. If you don’t understand the whole array of human emotions and the physical signs and sensations that go with them, here’s a chart. I’m sort of kidding, but if you don’t understand your own feelings, it’s hard to understand that of another person which won’t get you very far in any kind of relationship – work, partner, family…As for emotional regulation, well that just means I’m capable of handling my emotions when they arise and responding appropriately. Meditation is one of the best ways to gain better emotional regulation because we’re learning to sit still with what is and take it as it comes.
  4. Resilience.  Failure is pretty much part of being a human being. What’s more important is how we handle the failure and  how quickly we can bounce back from it, using what we learned to carry us forward. Time magazine had a brilliant piece on the topic in 2015 (The Science of Bouncing Back).
  5. Acting on intuition and not impulse.  There’s a reason for our “gut feeling.”  The vagus nerve travels from out belly to our brains in many different branches. When we slow down and focus on our breathing, it not only de-excites this neural pathway, but the whole body, allowing us to be more in touch with what our emotions are telling us about a situation or a decision.  When we act on impulse, we’re acting on old habits and patterns. 
  6. Giving up our childish ways. Beyond just giving up our blankie and pacifier and bad habits, we need to give up our tantrums, pouting and manipulating others into meeting our needs (see “it’s not about me”) and responding to life and its problems head on with our senses about us.
  7. Taking responsibility for our lives rather than playing the victim or blaming others.  The reality we are living in is our reality. How could it be anything else? How are we going to live it from this point forward?  Those who can stay and play rather than fight or flight have a better chance of taking on life’s challenges successfully. Do I accept the fact that I must provide for myself if I’m an able-bodied person? That I must learn to be alone from time-to-time and understand that even if I feel another person’s choice impacted me, I get to choose how I’m going to take it from here.
  8. Find a source of oneness in this ever-changing world.  Whether you find this through an organized religion, a concept of spirituality or a discipline like meditation, we all need something that reminds of this simple truth of oneness in this world that is constantly evolving.  We can begin to see and love everyone and everything around us. 
  9. Self-examination and self-awareness.  It was Socrates who said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” True words. Find a coach, mentor, or therapist to help you get under the hood and find out what it is that makes you, YOU. Not only that, it helps you understand patterns of behavior and relationships. The first place to start in making change is understanding and acceptance of yourself.
  10. Authenticity. If there is anything I believe in 100%, it’s being authentic. For women, in particular, don’t apologize for being you and make time for  you. Show up as the real and true you and you will always be on your path.

I’m quite certain that I could come up with more if asked, but these have been some of my biggest learning lessons in the last decade of my life and they have served me well. Meditation can help us in all of these ambitions and having a teacher even more so. While I may want some of those external things like a nice job, house, and a family…they won’t do me much good if I haven’t found my own internal compass and sense of stability and direction.  I’d welcome your thoughts on what you feel have been your biggest lessons in growing up.

 

 

Wait.

564036_10150679707159286_46746104_nI’m not sure who wrote that post-it note and I’m not sure whose hand that is, but I enjoy the sentiment. Especially during a winter week like this in Chicago when perhaps life doesn’t appear as beautiful as it does in the summer.  Personally I’m a fan of the winter –  I see it as a time of rest, reflection, organizing and planning. I’m quite alright being warm and snuggled up inside because that doesn’t last long for me and I don’t wait around for spring to get moving.

My grandmother died in 2007. I still have her bible – always will – and this was a prized possession of hers. She wrote throughout it and made notations of things or wrote down favorite quotes. We had a special relationship and her Catholic faith moved beyond the boundaries of religion and influenced me from my earliest years. She wrote a quote:   “Waiting is often a providential discipline for those to whom exceptional work has been given.” I’ve since Googled the quote and found it was worded a little differently, but it still carries the same meaning. Originally from a man named James Stalker whom I know nothing about. I enjoy the words more than anything.

Sometimes we do we have to wait. The question then becomes more about our ability to enjoy the waiting and to see that life is beautiful even without knowing the true outcome or timing of our desire arriving on the scene. In 2009, I went back to graduate school to get my master’s degree in Clinical Psychology/Counseling. Now, if you’d told me then that I wouldn’t sit for my final licensing exam in the state of Illinois until 2016, I’m not sure I would have been too thrilled about that. I might have given you some incredulous look and said, “Seven years? It’s going to take seven years before I can practice independently? The program itself is only two years!” 

In retrospect I can tell you that those seven years have made me an even better psychotherapist as I prepare to take that final exam. I lived in New York and India for a period of time, traveled the world more, became a meditation teacher, fell in love and moved in with my partner and his two kids, worked with clients to get my hours, taught meditation, and further sharpened my HR expertise and skill set in a new industry.  All the while continuing to laugh, love, breathe, and enjoy my life. I’ve had some bumps here and there, as anybody might, but it’s been a fun seven years and I’m glad I had no idea it would take that long as I set out on the journey. More importantly, that desire to become a fully licensed psychotherapist led me to all the places my consciousness, and my fulfillment, needed to be while headed in the direction of that desire. In some ways the desire became secondary to the direction in which I was moving and all that I was learning along the way.

As always, it’s not about the final destination…it’s about what happens along the way. Enjoy the “wait.”

 

Choice.

South Africa. September 2015.

South Africa. September 2015.

The topic of choice has come up a lot this week – in conversation with others and in my own thoughts. Ultimately, even our own happiness comes down to a matter of choice. You may argue that there are chemical challenges for some when it comes to happiness, but I’d say then that there is still a choice to change that, take care of it, make shifts in whatever needs to be shifted.

This week we lost a great artist – David Bowie.  When anyone dies – particularly those close to us or those who have effected us with their art, their words, or their presence in our world, it naturally brings up reflection on life. What are we doing here? Are we living the life we want to live? Who am I?

My favorite quote about David Bowie came in an article by Cameron Crowe where he said, “What is his brand? His brand is change. That’s such an inspiring thing for artists. And it’s an inspiring time for music, really. He curated his life from beginning to end with no commitment to changing trends, but rather just to being authentic. If authenticity is the god you serve, it doesn’t matter if somebody crapped on your last record or not. You’re always on a journey that’s a journey for truth.”

What touched me the most about David Bowie and what I admired greatly was exactly that, his authenticity.  Authenticity is a key theme in my work with psychotherapy clients and meditation students. And, when it comes right down to it, authenticity is about choice. It’s also about happiness. Who am I? Who do I want to be?  For me – the answer is myself. When I recognize that I only get to be in this particular body once – experiencing life in this way, I know I want to make the most of the experience. I don’t want to live a life that someone else thought I should live or make choices just because other people think that’s the way to do something.

When I or anyone else meditates, we touch that part of ourselves that is never-changing (an at-one-ness), we reach our authenticity. We see beyond the objects, people, or things around us that we often tell ourselves are “me.” This helps us go out into the world to make choices – choices that are right for ourselves and choices that can inspire others to reach for their own dreams and their own authentic truth. We begin to love the cashmere because we love cashmere – this version of us in this body loves the cashmere – not because we think the cashmere makes us a better person or that others will view us more favorably for owning the cashmere.

Sometimes I’ll hear people say they wish they’d made other choices in their lives. What I say to that is…don’t beat yourself up for who you were then. You made the choices you made on the information you had then and at that particular point in your evolution. Or perhaps you felt that someone made a choice for you that you might not have made. Instead of spending valuable time and energy flogging yourself, get grounded in where you are now – accept this place – and choose forward, with love, from here.

 

 

Commit.

Hains-7758It’s the start of a new year. A time when many people decide to make resolutions. I’m more inclined to commit to my evolution.

I’m wrapping up training to run a half marathon this weekend. As someone who has run a couple of full marathons and many half marathons, I know the commitment it takes to training in order to be successful, conquer endurance, and not feel too much pain after it’s over. I always remind myself that if I hadn’t trained so well, the pain could be worse.

Yesterday I went to the gym to run one of my last short runs on the treadmill. It was my usual time to be there. But, this time there were more people than usual. My initial thought was that these New Years resolutionists taking up my treadmill space would be gone in about two weeks. Then I stopped and thought to myself that I hope these people stick around. I hope they make it. I hope they choose to commit to themselves.

How might this relate to meditation?  In so many ways. I teach people to meditate individually and I’ve also taught in corporate settings. On the whole, I find that people enjoy the course, soak up the knowledge and the material, and walk away feeling empowered. Every so often I get emails with questions along these lines: Can I do this just once per day? How about five minutes? In others words, they are looking for a loophole. It’s not anyone’s fault. We live in a fast-paced world where shortcuts abound.  In this instance though, it’s a little like someone resolving to lose weight who asks if they can still get away with eating that pint of Ben and Jerry’s at night if they eat their veggies. I suppose that depends, but probably not.

What I remind people is that creating a discipline for meditation is like creating a discipline for good health and fitness. No one gets six-pack abs unless they’re working out regularly and eating well. No one gets sustainable inner contentment the majority of the time – in the midst of activity and chaos – without finding some means of regularly going within and sitting quietly – that’s right, meditating. Not to mention the many other benefits of a regular practice.

Here’s the deal. I can teach you to meditate. And you can walk away an expert at meditation after doing a weekend course with me. But, I can’t make you meditate. That part is up to you. Just like your nutritionist can’t make you eat more plants and your personal trainer can’t make you workout without him or her standing beside you. I can support you, answers your questions, encourage you, tell you about my experience, but I can’t do it for you. So please don’t tell me this meditation thing isn’t working out for you until you’ve had a regular practice in place.

What most people don’t realize is that the good feeling that comes along after one meditates (the surge in bliss chemistry and the reduction of stress chemistry happening in the body) begins to last longer and longer the more disciplined and regular one is in their practice. Just like running three miles becomes easier the more I do it. The one hitch – you have to try it to find out.

What are you committed to this year? Whether you are a Vedic Meditator or any other type of meditator, I encourage you to commit to your practice. If you don’t know how to meditate, come sit in on one of my free intro talks. For yourself, for your health, for your family, and everyone around you – the world.

I can tell you that I’m committed to many things in 2016 – one of them is writing here and teaching more regularly because I’m in this with you.