A Mindful Journey: Joyful Resilience

The word ’mindful’ appears now more than ever; mindful eating, mindful life, mindful shopping, almost 2 million hits on google alone. When I think of the word mindful- I think of awareness. A mindful moment isn’t necessarily filled with comfy zen calm, when I stub my toe I am suddenly and powerfully awake and aware of the throbbing in my foot and the immediacy of the pain. I am experiencing a definite moment of mindful awareness of my present time experience. Yow!

But then, my stress response fight or flight mechanism kicks in to ‘protect’ me, and I might spin off into reactivity, anger, fear, judgement for my ‘perceived’ clumsy movement to the ‘apparent’ negligence of street cleaners or dump trucks, who knows. I could fester on this particular event for years. Maybe.

This is mindlessness, a habitual pattern of chronic mind wandering that keeps you and I in reactivity, judgement, fear, wanting things to be different, the places most of us spend most of our time and energy. Research finds that up to 90% of our thoughts are repeats. All just as the mind was designed to do, to help us remember tasks, protect us from harm, and keep us going day to day in our stressful lives. While our ancient animal brain loves patterns and habits, and is designed to keep us alive into the next moment, it doesn’t care about our long term wellness, vitality, and joy. So, while we are marinating in our culture of stress response, increasing our overall ill health as we move about our days, how do we evolve our ancient systems to help us find wellness, avoid chronic issues like disease, addiction, discomfort in mind, body, and soul? Can we?

I believe the answer is yes. We can build our resilience, deepen our compassion for ourselves and others, and increase our confidence, hope and joy all while enjoying better health, wellness in body, mind and soul. With a deeper calm, peace and ease, our creativity blooms, our passion, joy of life and desire to serve humanity grows too. Sounds like a world I want to live in.

I created Mindful Journeys as an embodied healing practice to bring mindfulness in body, mind, and spirit with ease for everyone. There are thousands of ways to achieve a mindful, awake and aware consciousness, all designed to help us move through life with more ease, vitality and clarity, and I have tried most of them. I remember in my 40’s after a painful divorce crying in my therapist’s office and asking if my life would ever stop the roller coaster ride, and would I ever find some calm. She just nodded, sympathetically, I guess, and I went home and took my antidepressants. I started an intense yoga practice in a hot yoga studio, attempting to sweat away my misery, and it did empty me out, but I didn’t feel joy.

I tried meditation too, many kinds, and mostly felt like a failure. I couldn’t find anything that seemed to work for me, that I could stick with. I knew I needed something, desperately. I’ve done the gamut of panic attacks, mental and physical break downs, a horrible menopause, and lots of pharmaceuticals. A few years ago I met a wonderful compassionate counselor who truly understands embodied healing, and with her care I felt my body and brain reset. I can’t stress the importance of support on any wellness journey, I am so grateful to family and friends for their support in my journey.

During Covid lockdown, I learned qi gong, an ancient healing practice designed to bring health and wellness to targeted organs and systems, a sometimes strong and powerful practice, sometimes very simple movement. I gained an advanced yoga certification from a wonderful wise woman, a Buddhist teacher and master yogi who showed me the connection of mindful awareness, buddhist dharma teachings, and the purposeful movement of yoga— not the exercise-y Yoga Fit I learned years ago.

All this learning and support began to coalesce in my head. I began training in the use of energy medicine (think acupressure points) tools and techniques as well, and began to weave together a practice that is both accessible and valuable to everyone. My students are all ages, and tell me they feel empowered by this practice, just as I feel. It is an experience of building joyful resilience.

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I know that many people are intimidated by yoga— and honestly, most of us find common yoga poses like Downward Facing Dog or even a Forward Fold pretty extreme. My hubbie has been doing yoga with me for years and he still groans a bit when we do a forward fold.

But yoga is not just physical poses to put a body into, it is purposeful movement developed over thousands of years to stretch, expand and impact our subtle energy system, calming and centering our nervous system— and all the organs of the body. And stretch any tight or tense muscles and tendons! Other ancient practices like qi gong and tai chi provide similar health benefits.

Energy wants to move, and needs space to move. When we store ’stuck’ energy—anything negative really—like all that chronic stress we live with day to day, it settles in our tissues, organs, all the way to our cells. Scientists say 90% of our current health concerns come from our response to stress. If that is true, then mindful movement, woven with a purposeful breath practice, and a focused mind can literally save our lives.


Remember the light.

When I was a kid, I stood at the doorway of my bedroom, took a deep breath, flicked the light switch and leapt to my bed. To avoid the bed monster’s snatching claws, right? I lay still as the dead, listening to my own breathing, the pounding of my heart, not daring to move. 

I don’t know how long it took for sleep to take over, sometimes I lay there for hours, staring at the patterns in the wood of my bed’s headboard, or the shifting shadows on the ceiling. I lay there watching the shadows morph into devil horns, twisted trees, and hunched backs of the undead until I finally gave in to sleep. 

In my defense, we owned three cats who chased my feet from under the bed, embedding those tiny claws in whatever flesh they could snag. Some monsters are real.

I don’t leap from my doorway anymore, but I sleep curled on my side, my face to the door. Habit. I don’t analyze it, I just fall asleep that way.

I take my dog for a walk around my neighborhood in the dark early morning. Holiday lights twinkle from many houses, framing buildings in pink, red, green, blue. I love those little twinkly lights, little stars we put on strings and trundle out, winding around our homes when the skies get darker and colder. Reminding us that the light is returning, as it does. That darkness isn’t permanent. 

My heart pounds a bit as we walk into the small wooded area between homes, the young me takes a big breath with the older/wiser me as we walk confidently into the dark. Some monsters are real, so I wouldn’t take this walk without a noisy barker on the leash. And I am careful, these woods are framed with porch lights, and neighbors. Also, furry Emma would defend me to the death.  Or we would both run away, more likely.

Confidence grows with perspective, wisdom, experience, and generally I am able to breath with fear, feel it in my body, allow it to make it’s journey through me unfettered.  Mostly. When I can’t release the grip of fear, I breathe, and breathe and watch the sky.

A friend said the other day, “Have you noticed the skies are darker now? I mean, than ever?” I nodded. A collective darkness of worry, fear and anxiety about our future on this planet colors our perspective, infecting the air with fear. So much more insidious than a virus.

 So, yes, the skies are darker now. What do I do? I breathe. I feel my feet on the solid ground. Allow my own earthiness to meld with the strength and surety of muscle, bone, dirt. Just in this moment, I am ok. I remember things I love. My dog. Walking. Morning coffee. And if I am not convinced, I tap my forehead, my chest, my arms, my legs— sending a rhythm of movement through me like the morning winds.

Waking up.

 Even on a morning when the clouds are thick grey blankets squashing the light, if I really focus, I see them move. There is no solid. Not in the sky, not in me. I know there is always blue above the grey, and this perspective helps fear to move. Remembering that all weather arises, abides for a time, and dissolves is freeing. I don’t have to attach to any of it.

The dog is eating now, I am drinking tea, looking up every few moments to see the progress of the sky’s light show. In these few moments, the space out my window has changed and changed and changed again. Those first slits of grey light widened into whitish lines slicing the clouds to pieces that drift away on the winds. A flock of dark birds, backlit, flit across the horizon in a messy V. The blush of sunrise lifts, coloring the spaces a baby pink. The masses of heavy whale clouds have lumbered on, the earth warms with the light, and now the flush of morning inks the wide horizon and the blue grows intense, as if the world was blinking, stretching, sun tapping on sky’s shoulder, “Wake up.”

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I sip my tea, Emma circles the rug, sniffing, and settles into a small ball to snooze. Now the pink, orange and white light dances, showing off in a saucy firework show. There is still a stubborn grey fog settled around the land, we live in a wet place, and fog is persistent, only lifting when the earth is warmer. I busy myself with syntax and editing, a few minutes to refill my cup.

I look up, now a dark blanket is spread across the sky, skinny edges closest to the horizon silvery white. Another cloud of birds wing across my vision. Arise, abide, dissolve. Arise again. Clouds, seasons, days, lives, moments.

Emma has moved to the couch, resting her head on a cushion. In her vision, she can keep a watchful eye on me as I sit at the counter, typing. A longer walk is most likely in her future, so keeping an eye on my movements is paramount. She knows, I will stretch, move, get up, and put on my shoes. We will walk into the shifting light, maybe with rain boots, (me, not the dog) maybe not. 

And tonight, when the darkness settles, the outside lights will blink on, Emma will settle back to rug, a candle will be lit— a little bit of sun in the night— and a sigh will form as we breathe with it’s glow. 

What is yoga?

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Nearly 20 years ago, I taught creative movement at an arts focused magnet school within a public school district. While I was amazed and delighted at the creativity and openness of staff, families, and students, the place I felt resistance was when I used the dread word—- yoga.

One afternoon, after the buses left, the principal walked into my room and said, ”So, I am wondering about how you use yoga in your classes.”

”Well,” I said, wondering what was coming next, “it is part of what I do as mindfulness training. For focus, centered-ness, compassion for self and others.”

Feeling defensive, as I often did when approaching the topic of yoga with non practicing folks, I could feel the heat rising around my ears as I busied myself with organizing supplies.

“I had a parent call today, and she said her daughter told her that everyone laid down in your class, and you said to empty your mind, and she feels that is cult behavior.” She folded her arms, and my heart sank to my feet. I never told anyone to empty their minds, and I resist any teaching that sounds ’cult-like,’ so more than anything, my feelings were hurt.

“Oh, wow. We sometimes do a floor meditation, so they can watch their bellies rise and fall with the breath. I never told anyone to empty their minds. She thinks I am brainwashing her kid? For what end?”

Now a little edge crept into my Principal’s voice, a little defensiveness of her own. “I know you are doing your best, and you know that, but parents can be triggered by anything that sounds religious. We just need to be careful, can you not use the word meditation or yoga? Can we call it stretch and breathe time?”

I nodded, and she left, relieved I am sure to have that conversation over with. Mind you, this was 20 years ago, and I am happy to hear the word meditation and mindfulness as regular vocabulary in many classrooms, and in fact throughout our culture now.

And yet, I talk to so many people who say, ”Oh, I should do yoga”, or ”really, you teach yoga?” (with a glance down my body- clearly not a dancer body and probably considered too old to be a yoga teacher), or “I just can’t do that contortion stuff.”

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And yet, this woman above, is in a yogic posture. But, you say, she’s just standing there!

Exactly! The word ’yoga’ is an ancient Indian sanskrit word with multiple meanings. The definition we hear the most in the west is union- of breath, movement, intention. On the same continent, nearly 5,000 years ago, the esteemed Yellow Emperor of China recorded the use of qi gong— a union of breath, purposeful movement and focused intention to create healing in the internal systems. So many ancient peoples recorded, shared and used similar methods to align body, mind and heart, and many were recorded meticulously — we have the benefit of those records, and use many of those methods today. While yoga, Ayurveda, qi gong, wu-shu and others have a rich and varied history, things got watered down for the average American.

In the West, we love ’a brand’, and teachers and studios want to create a living doing something they love, so a simple way of teaching/learning yoga movement is shared, eager yoginis do a month of learning this fairly simple ’routine’, then start teaching ‘yoga’. That was me 20 years ago, training in gym yoga briefly, then teaching at a local gym. No one asked to see my credentials, (I didn’t have any) no one asked if I had training in anatomy, physiology, safe movement for ligaments and tendons— it was yoga, yoga is good for everything, and the active Vinyasa flow yoga I shared was all I knew.

All the people who came to my class had injured shoulders, tight necks, low back pain— and all I knew was the circular up and down movement of Sun Salutations, which we did over and over. Then a few floor asanas, and lay down for Savasana rest.

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Some in my class complained of more pain. Some came a few times and didn’t return. I never talked about mindfulness, of deep body awareness, of tuning in to what is floating around in your head or heart. We never just stood. And felt our feet on the earth.

Now I know there are plenty of wonderful yoga teachers who teach Vinyasa style flow yoga or ’yang’ yoga, with mindful intention, but I have a sneaking feeling based on classes I have taken or others have described, that mindless yoga, or— ‘general yoga’ I saw in a class schedule, whatever that is— are still happening, even with the cultural focus of presence, mindful awareness.

Yoga isn’t exercise. Yoga is meditation in action. My question during a practice might be; how can I connect more deeply with my own body sensation? Can I rest and breathe, really feel without thinking or judging? How can I connect more deeply and listen to my own heart? Can I notice where fear resides in my body, what it feels like?Can I watch thoughts, feelings, opinions, judgements float across the sky of my mind and not get snagged by them? Stay in the movement of the breath as I come to the edge of resistance? Can I ask my sweet body what is wants? What is needed for more connection, health, wellbeing?

You may notice that all of that compassionate curiosity can happen on a neighborhood walk, while cooking dinner, drinking water, rocking a child. You are right. We can all do yoga everyday in small ways throughout our days, or we can go to a gym or studio, but whatever our choice, please, let’s not make this a ’oh, I need to do that,” or ”I know my chiropractor said I should do yoga’, can we agree to drop the judgement, the guilt, the self blame?

Instead, let’s find a union of focused breath— breathing in, I know I am breathing in— breathing out, I am grateful for my breath. Mindful intention, encouraging our spinning minds to rest on the sensation of the body, and slow easy movements that we bring all our focused attention, and intention. And love. First to ourselves, so we have enough for others.

Can we hold space for ourselves? And when ego mind churns things up, as it will, can we question those judgements, opinions, reactions with a little light heartedness?

It takes a mindful teacher to create a mindful class. A teacher who tunes in themselves with honesty, grace, stillness. Find those teachers that inspire you, that help open your awareness to our interconnectedness.

Thich Nhat Hanh, beloved Buddhist teacher wrote, “People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child—our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”

May we all be the teachers and students we wish the world was full of; those who tune in, over and over and over to the beat of our hearts, the flow in our brains, the stillness in our bodies. May our classes and our lives be places of gratitude and connection, to ourselves, to each other, to the world.

Dear Breather, This is easier than you think.

It was the first big family gathering for my husband and I in more than 2 years, and I escaped into a quiet hallway to breathe. For a highly sensitive introvert, these breaks from social energy is necessary. It gives me the quiet I need to relax and get back in there. To me, being in a gathering—any gathering— is like entering unmapped energetic river rapids, and sometimes—especially in family groups— I am clinging to the edge of a leaky boat with a broken paddle. 

Families have patterns of reacting and responding to each other that is sometimes predictable, sometimes not. Our families of origin settle into grooves of exchanges with each other, which may be nourishing, or may be injuring, and often it all happens without anyone’s planning— most of it ancient habits, without conscious thought that maybe there is another way. The easiest way for humans to connect is over bitching about something; weather, family, politics. Me too, we say, I think, feel, believe the same! Or maybe I don’t, and that gives us something else to bitch about. 

What if we bonded over sweet memories, loving remembrances, wonderment and joy? 

Maybe Grandma isn’t a bitch, maybe she is just reacting from ancient habits of self protection. Maybe she is saying things not from her heart, but from a deep base of fear or loss, feelings that never integrated, healed. I wonder how much of the patterns of things we say in families are exactly not who we are. 

Or they are. 

We just slide into those old grooves, too fearful of the seemingly gigantic effort it would take to change. And if you have ever confronted a family member with a boundary that you require, like “I know you have called me by this name for my whole life, but I want to be called (new name), and I am asking you to respect me in this way.” We all know there might be backlash in a scenario like this— “What? Your family given name isn’t good enough for you? Who do you think you are?” This is all so exhausting to contemplate, so we just let those ancient family records of speech and behavior play over and over, and then we go home and take a nap.

My favorite brother-in-law, another introvert, caught me in the hall and grinned, “Taking a meditation break?” I laughed, “Yep.” We have chatted about how introverts survive in family groups, and he is right, it always helps to feel you are not alone. I used to avoid gatherings as much as possible, and drink to relax. Now I am hoping to make healthier choices, and when I escape for a quiet moment, I am getting my feet on the ground, letting go of whatever records are playing in my head, and when I have that clarity, stability and strength, i am ready to return to the group. While I used to put up walls to protect myself, now I raise and lower those walls so I can connect with people within my own safe boundaries. So how do you develop the resilience, hope and patience to find that space for yourself and others?

If someone says to me, “Just BREATHE!”, it probably doesn’t calm me down, most likely I get a little pissed off.  I admit, I say this phrase to myself sometimes, in the midst of a stress tornado, as I doom-scroll about the state of the world. If you are like me, a gentle reminder to breathe mindfully maybe helps you slow down and breathe for a minute or so, but does it get you to a place of healing, where you feel the effects days or weeks later?


Patience with a simple practice like mindful breathing goes against everything we’ve been taught— that you can ‘figure it out,’ or just ‘work harder,’ or ‘stay busy,’ or ‘just don’t think about it’, and all those things can certainly keep a mind occupied. Maybe even feel soothing in the moment. 

But they do nothing to heal us. And we—irritable hurting humans that we are, need that healing, now more than ever.

So whadddya say? Ready to start a regular mindful breath practice?

Mental/emotional/spirit hygiene? Just as it wouldn’t do much good to only brush your teeth once a year before you go the dentist, occasional dips into  meditation do some good, but the high stress/PTSD world we live in requires something more. We can’t just ‘not think about it’ when it comes to world as we know it. We swim in a marinade of loss, grief, worry, negativity, and fatalism.

As Einstein so wisely shared, “the thinking that created a problem can’t be the thinking that solves a problem.” A daily meditation practice just might be the thing- no side effects, free, and no tools required. So simple it is easy to dismiss, but powerful.

According to Psychology Today, medical researcher Howard Benson found,  “individuals who practiced regular meditation had changes in 172 genes that regulate everything from inflammation and glucose metabolism to blood pressure and even circadian rhythms.”   

Breathing in a mindful way causes your genes to change. Let that sink in. The New York Times reported on Dr. Kris Streater, a neurobiologist, who ran a daily meditative breath practice study and found, “After 12 weeks of daily yoga and coherent breathing, the subjects’ depressive symptoms significantly decreased and their levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid, a brain chemical that has calming and anti-anxiety effects, had increased.” 

So a mindful breath practice can change your genes, alter your brain chemistry, build mental and emotional resilience, and promote body and mind healing. 

It can literally save your life.  

I remember a counselor years ago suggesting a daily 15 minute mindful breath practice. I was struggling with depression and anxiety, and hoping to embrace non-pharmaceutical solutions. I was raised in a conservative religion that equated daily individual and family prayer as a measure of  righteousness, so my counselor’s suggestion caused that queasy feeling in my gut, just a tad of ancient shame/blame. When you reject a religion, it’s a tough thing to accept the power of a quiet meditative turning in, and not see it as Me, The Sinner, in Need of Salvation. I realize I may have just alienated readers, so forgive me—and if you are still reading, you may agree that we all find our path to mental, physical and emotional health, in whatever way we can.

 I met with this counselor weekly, we spent a few minutes breathing quietly together. During the meditation, a few times  I snuck a peek at him, to see if he was focused on breathing,  and sure enough, every time I looked up, he always had that still, still way of being, never looking up to see my peeking. I felt a little weird breathing with just one other person in the room, especially when the three ring circus in my head—“Did I lock the car? Where is the duct tape? If the garage was clean, I’d know where the duct tape was….Oh, geez, there I go again. I am a terrible meditator. Why am I here?” 

And so on and so on, so loud in my head I was afraid my counselor could hear all that racket. No still mind for me, and my body was having a hard time sitting still as well. Finally, after a painful 5 minutes, he looked up, and smiled, “Don’t worry if it seems difficult at first, everyone struggles with still meditation, that’s why there are so many guided voice and music meditations out there. This simple practice, as you increase the time each week, does more for the healing of your mind and nervous system than a bucketful of pills. Just keep turning your attention to your breath, to the center of your gut, to sensation. Trust me.” 

I wanted to trust him, but it felt really impossible.

He asked me a few questions about my week,  listened to my grievances, and as our time was up, looked me straight in the eyes and said, “no music, no candles, no incense—just focus on your breath, every day. This is the way to bring healing to your mind. You want more peace, right?” 

I nodded, who didn’t want more peace? 

“Ok, then, keep at it. Especially the days you don’t want to.” He opened the door for me, and as I headed down the stairs, I sighed, thinking, I stink at breathing, I can’t even focus  with my therapist breathing with me, how am I supposed to sit still at home with a TV in the room and ice cream in the fridge?”

If you feel like I did; that to just sit and do nothing but breathe for any length of time sounds impossible—dear, dear, reader, let me offer 3 tips to make this do-able for anyone, really, absolutely everyone. Including you.

  1. Make friends with your nervous system.

Your survival instincts, that deep instinctual part of you, wants patterns. Craves them! It demands that basically, when you are living in stress, (every day now) you keep to the same patterns all the time— less threat that way. It’s that—devil that you know is better than the devil that you don’t—mindset. In fact, as you read this, you may already have entertained a dozen thoughts of why a breath practice doesn’t work for you. Be kind to yourself, and remember, that’s your stress response talking.

Anything new, even  a healthy habit, will kick up a feeling of threat. When it does, you will feel a bit panicky, you might think—“Oh  God no, I can’t start up something else! I am so busy now, how can I? I don’t have enough (time, money, ability—fill in the blank) to do this!”

 Then we go back to our daily habits of coffee, insta-scrolling, getting booked and busy with stuff— and forget all about the breathing. The stress response quiets down, because our survival brain doesn’t give a fig about  long term health and wellbeing, it only cares that you survive the next heart beat. 

So, take a deep breath, slowly exhale, try a little acupressure to calm your nervous system. Cup one hand’s fingers around your ear, touching the sides of your head, allow your pinkie finger to rest at your temple, maybe your thumb is under your ear along your neck or jaw line. You are touching acupressure points to calm the stress response. Bring your other thumb, first, and second fingers together in a triad, and gently touch the notch at the center of your throat, where your collarbones meet. Breathe for 1-3 minutes in this gentle acupressure hold, all designed to calm your brain. Relax your hands, notice how you feel.

 If thoughts are still racing, use all four fingers of each hand to tap on your cheekbones, just under your eyes, breathe, then just below your collarbones on your upper chest, keep breathing, as you tap down your sides, all the way down the sides of your thighs. Notice if your stress feels lessened. Rub your palms together, and place your warm palms over your eyes, fingers gently resting on your forehead, thumbs at your temples, breathe, and try to keep those stressed thoughts in your brain. Chances are, as blood is attracted by your hands to your forebrain, energy to the survival brain will continue to melt away. Then, when you start to feel a bit more relaxed, commit to a daily breath practice. Be your own cheerleader. You got this!

2. Baby step it.

Habit stacking is adding a new habit into an already existing habit, to make it more acceptable and easier to integrate. Stretch a new habit too far by taking a giant step, like an unreachable, “I will meditate 3 hours a day, every day!” is destined to fail. The ego wants to achieve, to succeed, to move on to the next goal. Baby steps, like starting a daily breath practice with 5 minutes a day, maybe just as you sit up in bed each morning, then 10-12 minutes the next week, etc, invites this new habit to become an integral part of life. This slow and steady approach is also making friends with our stress response, helping us to build resilience in the face of difficulty. And difficulty will come, or sickness, or not sleeping well one night, so you decide not to get up and breathe. Remember, the stress response with its instantaneous fight/flight/freeze mechanism, in kahoots with the ego that doesn’t want to fail— are working against us. 

But your health, wellbeing, ease and peace are at stake here. More than ever. And, there is always the opportunity for a fresh start. Five minutes as you sit, spine long, belly soft, eyes softly open, gaze toward the floor, or closed eyes, hands on thighs, or heart or belly- what feels most safe, most grounding to you? 

Once you have an upright posture that works for you, take a deep breath, and let your focus keep returning to the sensations in the body. Find that space between loneliness and boredom, between wishing and wanting, between irritation and fear, and give the gift of spaciousness, grace, healing. It won’t be easy at first, a million thoughts will dive in, but we can have a refreshing attitude of patience,  and treat ourselves with kindness. That brings us to step 3.

3. Make it a ritual.

We are more likely to keep at a habit if we make it special. Whatever that is. You may create a whole altar to help you focus, or you may just sit in the same corner of the room each morning, I do suggest morning mindful breath, before starting up your cellphone or computer to build up your calm and ease before the news of the world takes it away. Maybe have a candle you light, or a cup of tea you sit down with each time. If you have something to focus your gaze, you are more likely to return to the breath and not be distracted. Some practitioners suggest eyes open, to train the mind to be centered in the world, others suggest closing the eyes. 

Sometimes I close my eyes, some times focus on the candle, I pay attention to the state of my thinking when I sit down, notice what might help me to center, and stay grounded. I get a drink of water, stretch a bit, maybe step outside for a big breath of air, then I sit. If I really have trouble returning to the feel of the breath, I might do some yoga or go for a mindful walk. Maybe fewer minutes, just for today. Tomorrow, I will resume my goal. Be kind, be patient. This is subtle but powerful work you are doing. 

As you build this practice, you will find ways to deepen your awareness, and let go of judgement. This is not about getting rid of thoughts, it is about changing our relationship to our thoughts, reactions and feelings.

There is no perfect or right way to mindfully breathe, and remembering that each time you notice your wandering mind has gone off again, and with gentle patience return your focus to your breath, feeling the rise and fall of your body, you are creating healing conditions in your mind, body, and heart.

This resilience training teaches the brain new rhythms, so when we encounter a new rock in the road of life, it isn’t a catastrophe, its just a rock, and we begin to feel, more and more, the ease, peace and space to respond mindfully.  

Thich Nhat Hanh, beloved writer and Buddhist teacher wrote,  “Gather those mindful healing moments drop by drop, building a sea of loving compassion for ourselves, flowing with greater health, vitality, and peace.”

We are in this boat of life together, we can help each other respond to life with grace, breath by breath.

Excuse me, is this kale on my pizza?

I didn’t actually ask the waiter that, because I knew there were would be kale on my pizza.  I ordered it anyway. 

Photo by Mikhail Nilov on Pexels.com

So, as I munch a slice of vegan kale mushroom pizza— which tastes better than it sounds, at least it isn’t gluten free—I ponder the strange relationship I have with this tenacious vegetable. 

I kind of hate the 90’s nutritionist who decided this tough, stringy, bitter leaf was a grand way to pump up iron, calcium, fiber, and some other important minerals, like spinach, only better, so the health blogs write— and besides, no one every gets E. coli from kale, do they? 

At one point, my husband ate kale smoothies for days, then got diverticulitis and blamed the kale. You know, that logic where A, and B, so therefore C. Now he says he is preserving the health of his gut by avoiding kale, unless I sneak it in without him knowing. I do, because, well, green stuff.

Sometimes I love it, eating bowls of massaged kale leaves with gusto, or polishing off an expensive bag of kale chips smothered in ground sunflower seeds, oil, and salt. Yum. I throw a handful in a nice minestrone, and sometimes green up our morning smoothies with a leaf or two. And, order in up on pizza. Not bad, actually, crispy.

The only vegetable that grows with stubborn resilience in my tiny potted garden is, you guessed it, kale. I think there may be a plant or two out there that is older than my dog. I just keep yanking off leaves and the ever present kale pops out another leaf, no matter how many slugs or birds yank chunks away. I wonder if kale will be the post apocalyptic veg of choice. Little ground roasted cockroach on your artisanal kale chips, my dear?

I searched kale recipes on Elephant Journal, and the most popular did not include the word kale until the end — starting with the words ‘vegan’ and ‘kale’ is death to a recipe apparently. It’s like a nice mom offering you an ugly casserole, with a shrug saying, “Well, at least it’s healthy!” The most popular recipes start with the word, “Delicious” and “Quinoa”. That made my husband laugh— “Really?” He shook his head, “How can anyone use the word delicious and kale in the same breath? Is that like saying “Arnold Schwarzennegar” and ‘tender” in the same sentence?” 

Sorry, I shuddered a little bit too. Back to kale.

Indulging in a $7 dollar bag of kale chips hurts my heart, so I have decided to give making my own kale chips a try. I buy a bunch of organic kale at the neighborhood co op, since I only have about 10 holey leaves out in my winter garden. I pick up bulk sunflower seeds, almond meal, olive oil, garlic and salt. That’s it. Massage those leaves with all the strength I can muster,  dust with the seeds, nuts, garlic, salt, (grind up the seeds with the garlic and salt) roast 40 minutes at 325, and voila, chips! Ok, that’s stretching it. Crunchy slightly nutty leaves! Not bad. And I only spent about $10.00. Upside, this pan of roasted vegetable matter will last 2-3 days.

 I will eat all of it to protect my husband from diverticulitis. I’m just that kind of gal.

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Go gentle.

The first time I watched the movie, My Octopus Teacher, I admit I made fun of it. Called it—The Octopus Lover— and turned it off. I realize now I was uncomfortable with male gentleness with a marine creature. Instead of investigating my reaction/opinion, and wondering why I felt this way when I watched  obvious and pervasive male tenderness—  I just forgot about it.

Then a friend told me how much she loved the movie, and we watched part of it together. I began to truly see, which is what happens when we approach subjects with openness and willingness to stop cherishing our opinions, no matter how strongly we thought we held those ideas. I found myself mesmerized by the mystery, the beauty, and drama of the relationship between man and animal. 

To feel gentle and tender requires being in awe, wonderment, appreciation, for the transitory nature of things, inviting a sense of soft delight at the events of this moment, and no other.

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 To be truly tender, I understand at a deep spiritual level that this event, relationship, person, or animal will not always be here and neither will I. Can I bring this gentleness to myself? Will it change how I see tenderness in others?

Elvis crooned it sweetly, “Love me tender….love me sweet…” What if instead of imagining a thirst trap sexypants man singing, I imagine singing this in the mirror. To myself. About myself. 

Geez. That sounds so weird and silly. 

 I found Elvis and his guitar gently singing online and I stood in front of a mirror, hands on my heart. Swaying, in my slightly off key voice, I sang away. It felt silly at first, uncomfortable, but then, I felt a surprising tingle down my spine, a little tear forming in my eye, lump in my throat, and the sweet slipped down to my bones.

I totally see why all those women in the 60s screamed, sobbed, and tossed panties at Elvis. Tender is powerful.

I pause.

The next singer in the playlist slides into another version and I sway, hugging my sides, feeling self conscious even though I am alone at home— but now also writing so you can see me too, maybe, swaying all alone in my room. I try not to think about that, and instead, I listen, and I notice, every tiny and exquisite detail in the mirror, the curve of my jaw, the deep dimple in my cheek. I see with new eyes, like I have never seen this human before, been here before, and perhaps never will be again. This only a second or two, then the song fades, and I go check the screen, curious about the singer. There are so many renditions of this sweet lullaby, and this songwriter, a bilingual, pansexual activist, recorded this version just five years ago. We still need us some Love Me Tender.

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My friend and I talked about gentleness, about how strange it is to see this in public— what seems such a private thing, something reserved for caring for the very young or the very old. And yet, so many philosophers and poets write about the power and strength required for gentleness, the active cousin of compassion. I looked at poetry on the subject of gentleness, and while there were so many— most of them talked of gentleness toward others. Just when I was about to give up my google search for gentleness for self, there it was, a quote from my beloved writer/teacher Pema Chodron. 

“There’s nothing more important on our spiritual path than developing gentleness to oneself.” – Pema Chodron

Nothing more important. Whew. So how do I develop this tenderness that Pema says is so important? Self love and self care are becoming ubiquitously meaningless online, synonymous with bubble baths and breakfast wine. Maybe we confuse soothing or addictive behaviors with deep care, true gentleness and kindness for ourselves because it makes us uncomfortable. Like me turning away from the gently caressing of man and octopus.

Nothing wrong with a little chocolate ice cream, but the path to spiritual growth, authenticity, and conscious compassion isn’t paved with bubbles—alcoholic or bath variety.

So its about to get real down here. 

If I want to open myself to more gentle tenderness, maybe I investigate how I am not gentle?

I scratch my side while I think about this, and touch a roll of fat above my waist. “Yuck.You should work out more, lazy.” Yep, that was the voice in my head. She could bitch slap the tender right out of you. 

I start wondering how many negative/judgey thoughts zip through my head on a daily basis. I starting keeping track and lost count after about 50 judgey thoughts. That was before lunch.

The voice in my head uses the words—-should, need, must, all the time. Always and never are huge in her vocabulary too. Why can’t you, and You Used to be able to… also fairly constant in her stream. Name calling too. I would be astounded and horrified if this shit stream was out loud to friends and family. 

I realize all of this negative, judgey language colors everything I do and makes real change— real tenderness— beyond my reach. That old nugget, “love all as you love yourself, treat others as you treat yourself” never really got me in the gut. Nice platitude, but really?

I believe Pema— that true love starts with my own dear heart. So if I truly challenge all this negative judging as poison to my soul, body and heart, and demand a new path for myself, I deserve it, so can you.

I can alter the course of my life. So can you.

I can, as Pema says, deepen my spiritual path— and no app, guru or religious structure can do it for me. 

So, I put one hand on the back of my head, cradling it, belovedly, and one palm on my forehead, warm and tender. And I breathe. I imagine the energy flowing through my head, sweeping the nasty voice along in the current, right out to sea. 

And whenever she manages to swim back and whisper mean things in my ear, I will channel a little Elvis, and dance around the living room.

Love me tender

Love me sweet

Never let me go

You have made my life complete

And I love you so.

Love me tender

Love me true

All my dreams fulfill.

For my darling,

I love you.

And I always will.

Coach Lasso and Buddhist Pema Chodron Agree: Be a Goldfish.

In one of the first episodes of Ted Lasso, Coach Lasso takes aside a despondent player —who just missed a great shot—and says, “Do you know what the happiest animal is?” 

The player looks perplexed, “No.” 

Coach says, “The goldfish. Wanna know why?” The player stares at him. Coach smiles, “Cuz goldfish have a ten second memory,” he winks, leans in and pats the player’s shoulder, “Be a goldfish.” The player stands there, nonplussed, but Coach just pats him, and says, “Yah, he’ll get it.” Coach keeps smiling, as he does, throughout, and off this Emmy nominated  series goes, weaving comedy, yearning, kindness and heartbreak in my new favorite show. 

The main character, Ted, is set up to fail. He  is doing an impossible job— asked to coach a B league soccer team in England, when all he has ever coached—or played, for that matter, is American junior college football. He isn’t dull or incompetent, he is bravely making a choice to keep his positive outlook. This is no Pollyanna, this is a brave man that is humiliated publicly over and over and over, who could easily  slide into murderous mayhem and we might have expected his snap to violence. It doesn’t happen, and while you might think this is a recipe for pablum— a boring show about boring, smiley caricatures, it grows on you slowly, choice by brave choice. 

In Ted Lasso’s hate filled world, he resists— not with stubbornness, meanness or by reigning down revenge (like one character does), he resists with kindness. To himself, to others, friends and enemies. Ted shows the real toll this ever-present-kindness-in-the- face -of-hate takes on his soul. We see just how deep his bravery goes, and how much he must find  the support of others to keep navigating the raging rivers of his world where all the rocks are stacked in his path and his oar is broken.  Be a goldfish, the same player later tells others. Those words caught me, maybe they will catch you.

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Life right now seems like an impossible job IRL. I am so bone tired, how are you holding up? Tired of wishing everyone would just do the kind thing, say the kind thing, get together and stop hating and judging? Whew. Life now in the second half of 2021 is an angry river, and with this second wave or twelfth wave of Covid, who can keep track anymore, we need help, support, a kind shoulder to lean on. How do we navigate this mean, angry world and find joy? Hope? Peace? Are those still a thing?

The quiet news is— what Resistance fighters in WWII knew, that every activist against hate and division throughout history knows, is this;  we are more resilient than we know. Let that deep historical truth sink into your bones.

They whisper to us; we were born for this time, and the resilience and kindness we can stitch together will be, can be, must be— powerful. 

Please forgive my not giving credit, a wise writer wrote that kindness is an act of resistance. So how do we ‘be like that goldfish’, when everything around us is shit that hit the fan and just keeps flying,  and it gets shittier every day? We are all living in 24/7 fight or flight mode, our stress responding sympathetic nervous system on high alert. We may look like we are moving through our lives with some degree of normalcy, but maybe we find ourselves multitasking into brain oblivion, tossing and turning at night, healthy habits becoming obsessive, we might snap at our kids out of the blue, scroll Instagram/YouTube/Tiktok  for hours, or maybe just never put the phone down, sharing dog dancing videos late into the night, (this is sounding very personal isn’t it?) A little forgiveness for me and you, please. 

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We participate in whatever addictive patterns help us not deal with life, because our survival brain says so. When we are stressed, we can’t help but listen to this ancient animal brain; it has been doing that survival thing for millenia. It takes a commitment to be a goldfish, to let go, and let go, and let go again. It takes a determination to come back to what Pema Chodron, American Buddhist leader and author writes, is our warrior commitment. She writes, 

  “It is only to the degree that we become willing to face our own feelings that we can really help others. So we make a commitment that for the rest of our lives, we’ll train in freeing ourselves form the tyranny of our own reactivity, our own survival mechanisms, our own propensities to be hooked.” 

So if I acknowledge my many triggers, stay present with my own discomfort, return to my commitment to my values, develops my friendliness toward myself. No judging, I just keep pivoting like the wise goldfish, breathing big bubbles, and letting go. 

What I do want to remember is that humans developed a fabulous frontal brain/the prefrontal cortex designed for insight, creativity, compassion, resilience, confidence, and hope. Bring your fingers to your forehead, gently rest there. Know that this is the human brain that built Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa, add your favorite activist to the list. Awareness is the first step! I want my thinking brain, full of compassion, creativity, and drive to be in charge.

Our stress response brain has a negativity bias. Its a survival instinct, with a good intention, to remember the bad things that happen so we can respond differently, but we are charting new scary waters every day, aren’t we? Raise your hand if you survived a global pandemic at some other time in your life? Global climate crisis? Anyone?

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Ok, so instead of flapping fins in place, gasping and twirling in the murky deep, if I can choose to breathe, return to my vision, my values, resist the urge to hang out in the muddy waters of blame, shame, victimhood, and ask myself a question or two about what I am actually feeling.  “Thanks for asking, I’m feeling desperate because the world is ending!” 

Next question for my inner self; “Is that absolutely true?” 

A pause. 

Let my own sweet goodness deeply assess my feelings; finding fears, sadness, grief, anger, a little shame hiding down there. Ok. 

Pema writes, that we will be triggered again, we will fall into self judgement and anger  again, but we can bring awareness to that with these simple goldfishey steps:

1. Come into the present. Quick and gentle, notice what’s happening with you right now. Avoid the narrative if possible, rest in sensation.

2. Hands to your heart, for a little self care, coming home, take a lovely big breath and lift your eyebrows (try it, see what happens). This simple movement quickly brings us out of survival brain, rests our fears for a moment. It is a moment of acceptance. We can’t love what we don’t first accept and respect.

3. Maybe saying words in your mind to deepen that acceptance, “This is my experience right now, and it is okay. I am safe, in this moment.” Breathe. 

We can swim into clear waters of our authentic, true, selves where we don’t have to create or maintain empathy, it just naturally lives there. In the water. Where we are all goldfish, breathing together, choosing to keep swimming, to pivot in our swim, letting go of our attachment to The Yuck, every 10 seconds or so, remembering that we are swirling around in the reverie and ecstasy of our own loving warrior lives.

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A Space of Maybe: Lifting the chokehold of ‘othering’.

We talk now of the word other as a verb; othering–used to define treating people as different or inferior based on personal opinion, belief, or culture.  It is that judgey social media voice that you find everywhere; from cooking blogs to twitter feeds; keeping the narrative all about who is  right and who is wrong, what is good, what is bad, and then  deepening the destruction of this mindset with the widening spiral of social media amplification. 

We now feel the need to share our opinions as if they were deep knowledge, even if we just read this opinion from some reddit post of  j_man32. If I see it online, it must be true, which we know isn’t true, but if it agrees with my predisposition, I feel totally  justified somehow in judging whoever or whatever: black, white, men, women, nonbinary, conservatives, liberals,  right wingers, whatever whatever, whatever. 

Can we acknowledge that this othering can be  the voice of collective trauma and the only way to heal is to turn towards each other, not away, and turn in with kindness, to really deeply listen to each other, making space for all of us?

Turning in, not turning away is the action of courage. It is needed, it is necessary, it is the only way to heal collectively.

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Maybe this othering happens closer to home. In what ways am I, are we, othering ourselves? I would venture to say there are ways we do this othering that seem ok, like self-deprecating humor. Like the tik tok vid of the white middle aged woman in her car telling us she is having fruit salad: actually she is having wine for lunch, in her car. LOL!! But isn’t this disguised othering? Isn’t othering another way to say suffering? I read a phrase from Jack Kornfied: Can we learn to be kind to our suffering? Can we offer these words in our meditation; “May all beings be kind to their suffering, may all beings (including myself) accept and free ourselves from our suffering?” 

Can I open to the possibility of a less grasping chokehold on the parts of myself I don’t want to see, don’t want to remember, wish weren’t, wasn’t, didn’t. The blame and shame that surrounds  traumatic experiences act like a dark suffocating fog. I need the fog to clear. So can I be kind? Breathe? Accept? Then maybe the silent fog lifts and I can be in a space of maybe. A space of letting go of othering, finding room for collective, interconnected healing. Grace.

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I walked toward the beach this morning, and as I descended the wooden steps, I noticed a large male bald eagle on the post at the end of the stairs. He fixed one golden eye on my progress. I slowed, respectful of the power of his talons and slicing beak. Actually, I don’t know that it was a male. Female bald eagles have the same qualities, same talons and beak, same strong wings, same instincts, the same calm awareness of their surroundings, all in their golden eyed radius. The eagle stayed as I slowly walked down, longer than usual, when I get too close to a wild animal. I was only 3 or so yards away when it finally lifted its large wings and flapped toward the beach. I wondered at its tenacity. What was protecting from this guarding perch? 

 I reached the beach, and there, half way between the waves and the cliff side was a brown, furry carcass and two bald eagles  pulling up pieces of meat. I wondered, horse? Goat? Deer? As I slowly walked diagonally up the beach, careful about getting to close to those ripping beaks, I noticed a couple of crows holding vigil a few feet away.   Ten yards up the beach, on a skeleton of a tree,  seven eagles perched. Seven! Spotty young teenagers, maybe a year or two old, two adults with fully white heads, maybe a couple. Another eagle on a rock 20 or so yards up the beach. I was getting a little creeped out. My curiosity was stronger than my fear, though, because the situation was so calm.

Who were the ones eating? The elder couple? All was still and silent, no cawing, no chittering, just holding space. There was no urgency, no sense of scarcity, just waiting. Being. Watching and listening. A sense of order and respect amongst these beings. A sense of interconnectedness in earth, sky, water, and wind.

The eagle guarding the space flew in a large looping circle over our heads as I continued slowly on my way, stopping occasionally to look around for other birds. I might have felt a bit of Hitchcock inspired fear, but I didn’t. All I felt was a sense of reverence, as if I had stumbled upon a holy place. My heartbeat slowed, my footsteps matched the rhythm of the surf, and I made my way up the beach.

The two birds feasting slowly took flight, circling high above me toward the cliff side as I meandered. I wondered how close I would get to the bird family in the tree, before I spooked them to action. I got closer, they stared at me. I walked, slow but steady, they just kept staring at me. I stepped closer, now about 10 yards away,  and crossed that invisible border of too close; with an easy grace, they all rose as one. The youngest chittered, complaining the loudest. I smiled, thinking of trips with my young, whining teenagers.

The carcass now 10 feet behind me, the birds began to settle back, the guard at the post, the crows a few feet from the dead sea lion, as it turned out to be. The birds landed back in the tree. The two eagles who were eating the seal meat did not return. All was silent as I kept walking, just the lullaby of the surf.  Every 3 or 4 yards I turned back to see who was eating. No one. They waited. Respectfully, maybe waiting for the elders to return. Or not.

What I saw was not the “survival of the fittest”; a dramatic and violent patriarchal narrative. What I saw was not the feeding frenzy that is social media. Destroy or be destroyed seems to be the online motto now. Not just online; at a busy intersection in a very white, upper middle class town in the Pacific Northwest, with PCC (expensive organic food store) on the right, and equally expensive restaurants on the left, where all the housing prices are over a million, on one corner– one group of white haired liberals had signs that read, “Black Lives Matter!”, and on the opposite corner, another white haired group screamed back, “All Lives Matter!” while they waved their huge flags. All the screaming was accomplishing nothing; useless othering creating noise and more rage. I would say they were cawing like crows, fighting over trash, but now I feel differently about crows.

What I saw on the beach was a family and community, taking care of each other in a spirit of abundance and respect. The dead, the living, the waves, the wind, and me.  All holding space for this wonder, this dance of life,

Now, I am completely aware that I could have told this story as a terrifying, bloody narrative. My perspective is beginning to shift; leaning away from that place. “There is no good nor bad, only thinking makes it so,” Shakespeare wrote five hundred years ago. I know, you may be thinking– but what about all the problems of the world? If we don’t hold people accountable, then how do things change?

What if we begin to ask: How can we heal together?

Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King, Desmund Tutu, all men who witnessed great suffering for themselves, their people, their cultures, walked paths of compassion for all. Speak honestly of suffering, they said, then choose forgiveness. In Desmund Tutu’s book, The Book of Forgiving, he speaks about the seeming unending ability of humans toward creating ways to cause pain for themselves and others, but also, “There is an innate ability to create joy out of suffering, to find hope in the most hopeless of situations, and to heal any relationships in need of healing.” 

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Shouting into the void doesn’t do anything but create endless raging reverberations. Watching, listening, honestly holding and caring for our own emotions, then using the space created to solve our problems creatively together. Suffering, death, life, hope and healing are all entwined endlessly like a beautiful DNA spiral. We can turn together towards the light, we can heal collectively, it is our birthright.

100 minutes.

If we are awake 14-16 hours a day, then hypothetically this means we are getting a healthy 6-8 hours of sleep, then doing the math to really figure out what “I’m too busy, I don’t have time for that” really means in a daily life may be pretty revealing. Are we too busy for wellness? To be our authentic, messy, creative human selves?

I realize I am writing from a place of privilege, I don’t work 2 or 3 jobs trying to provide for my large family. I don’t have to take buses or public transportation across a city in order to work minimum wage, or hustle kids to daycare, school, or activities. I realize that my calculations of the time in my day is very different for others. With all respect, I would venture to say, even if the available minutes are less, there is room in a day for mental health, body/mind wellness, joyful creativity, and healing. Maybe just a few. Maybe that’s enough.

So here’s my thinking. In my scenario, I am awake about 15 hours on average– let’s say 2-3 hours for feeding myself throughout the day, cleaning, dressing, tidying up. That sounds like a lot, but now I have 13 hours in my daily time budget. If I spend an average of 4-6 hours a day working on my business, networking, creating content, learning, practicing, writing, I am down to about 7 hours. A couple of hours a day to care for the household, plan menus, clean, etc. Now 5 hours– 2 hours to walk the dog a few times, down to 3 hours. Let’s say I need to add an hour to some of all the above, so maybe I have 2 hours left in my time budget. This is 120 minutes. Hence my estimation of having at least 100 minutes a day for: resting, meditating, doing yoga, staring at a flower, creating something silly, pretty, or ugly. Sending a handwritten note. Giving my hubby a back massage. Harvesting a luscious ripe strawberry and gleefully eating it. Joy stuff.

Truth bomb: I really looked at the settings of my phone today. Usually I swipe through it, not wanting to know the truth. Here it is, in black and white. Today, a light day phone wise, since I have been writing most of the day, I have picked up my phone 15 times. 15 times! First pickup: 3:52AM. Yep. Total time (and it’s only 2 in the afternoon) 2 hours and 43 minutes. That’s 163 minutes. In case you think I could have been reading important email or getting directions, my phone breaks it down into categories. Yesterday in Social: 1 hour and 11 minutes, most of it was Instagram. Hundreds of minutes just in the last two days. My daily average in the last week was 3 hours and 21 minutes. DAILY. I picked up my phone 160 times in 5 days time. I dare you to do the same fact finding. Then give yourself a little hug. Some kindness. Judgement just makes addiction stronger.

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Now, it is time not for judgement, but for compassion. This little handy machine was designed for addiction. For dependence. The sole purpose of my tiny hand computer is to be absolutely necessary in my life in nearly every moment of my 24 hours of existence. Everything in our culture now is connected to this interweb of necessity, for getting and keeping my virtual attention. Want a reservation or order take-out? Directions? Quick messages? Pay a bill? Checking on friends posts, so you can heart or emoji it up? Does anyone use a cell phone to actually call anyone?

It is the system and culture that created this, and we won’t know for years and years what the actual cost to our humanity might be. At the very least, it is a mindless time suck. A habitual pattern to soothe my nerves, but not to heal. It keeps me in this pattern of addiction, and creates that justifying voice that says, “I don’t have time for meditation! I’m too busy!”

Unfortunately it is me that has to put the damn thing down. Big sigh.

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Time to look at the sky. Time to walk outside and remember to breathe deeply. Time to be accountable to my own lovely, joyful self. 100 minutes. Those minutes are mine to squander or to celebrate. My choice.

How will you spend your 100 minutes today?