Inner180

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Are You Savoring Your Life, or Rushing Through It?

August 1st, 2010 · 2 Comments


A few months ago, I visited my friend Anni at  her fabulous bed and breakfast in Barbados.  Her inn is renowned for her sumptuous three-course gourmet breakfasts.  During my visit, her right arm, the dominant one, was in a cast.  Most mornings, her helpers, steeped in true island spirit (or maybe a little  too much rum the night before), came late or didn’t show up at all.

I joined her in the kitchen at six every morning to help her prepare breakfast for her guests, but she wanted none of my help.  She sat me at an open window with a cup of fresh coffee and some crackers to feed the birds who perched on the sill.

Mesmerized, I watched her literally single-handedly prepare an elegant feast for six or eight people, with care, with grace, and without rushing.  While her cast iron pans warmed up, she set out her beautiful serving dishes, and chopped and sliced with precision.  She stood quietly before her giant gas stove, in constant but deliberate motion.  Soon, the counters overflowed with pancakes, eggs, fruits, breads, sauces, and puddings.  She carefully arranged everything, garnished the plates with sprigs of herbs and fresh tropical flowers, and only then allowed me to assist her by carrying the steaming dishes of edible art to the dining room.

It was an inspiration to watch.  I told her that watching her cook was like observing a moving mediation.

Since then, I’ve tried to savor food preparation and cooking.  The old me flew into the kitchen and tried to get things done as quickly as possible.   It wasn’t much fun.  As I practice what I learned from Anni, my kitchen is a quieter, happier place. I play music, stay in the moment as much as I can, and even take a look outside as I work, allowing myself to enjoy the vibrant tropical foliage just inches from my fingertips. I think my cooking has improved, too.  It tastes more like love.

And you?  Is there a place in your life that could use less rushing and more savoring?  Here are a few hints that might help:

1.  Set an intention. Before you start, remind yourself that you intend to slow down and that you want the process to be as enjoyable as the destination.

2.  Breathe. Some slow gentle breaths signal our nervous systems to re-regulate and to regain a natural pattern of speeding and slowing.  When our physiology matches our intentions, we have a much better opportunity to enjoy the experience.

3.  Align your thoughts with your actions. Let thoughts of other things go for now.  You can come back to them later.

4.  Feed your senses. Use your beautiful mixing bowls instead of the scratched up plastic ones.  Put on your favorite music and then listen to it. Smell your surroundings, and if there isn’t a smell, add one you love.

5.  Bring mindfulness into your task. Allow yourself to be aware of what you are doing, as you are doing it.  Feel your knives in your hands, your fingertips on the keyboard, your hands in the garden gloves.  Notice your feet in your shoes and how they contact the ground.  Observe what you are doing.  Watch the magic of the sharp knife as it shreds celery. Look at the water from your shower as it falls, and feel it touch your skin.

6.  Allow yourself to play. Approach your project like a small child who is learning to put clothespins into a bucket.  Don’t get hung up on judging your efforts or comparing yourself to others.  Simply notice what you are doing, stay curious, and remain open to let things happen.

So give these tips a try.  See which ones work best for you, and which tasks or projects you can try them with.

There’s a lot to be savored in our lives, wherever we are.  Let’s not miss it by hurrying to get to the end.


Tags: play

What do you do when life unfolds with ease?

June 17th, 2009 · No Comments

wave-on-beachSometimes good fortune arrives in our lives so effortlessly that we can’t believe it.  We hesitate and hold back.  Surely it can’t be this easy, we tell ourselves.  Our smaller, more painful interpretation of life is so much more familiar so it seems safer and more real.  We shrink from the beauty and magic unfolding before us.

Rumi urges us to seize life fearlessly, to let go and merge with it, and to embrace with ease the joy and opportunity as it comes to us:

The Seed Market

Can you find another market like this?
Where,
with your one rose
you can buy hundreds of rose gardens?
Where
For one seed
you get a whole wilderness?
For one weak breath,
the divine wind?
You have been fearful
of being absorbed in the ground,
or drawn up by the air.
Now, your waterbead lets go
and drops into the ocean,
where it came from.
It no longer has the form it had,
but it’s still water.
The essence is the same.
This giving up is not a repenting.
It’s a deep honoring of yourself.
When the ocean comes to you as a lover,
marry, at once, quickly,
for God’s sake!
Don’t postpone it!
Existence has no better gift.
No amount of searching
will find this.
A perfect falcon, for no reason,
has landed on your shoulder,
and become yours.

Has a perfect falcon landed on your shoulder?  What do you want to do with it?  Do you welcome it wholeheartedly?  Will you honor yourself, believe it, and allow it into your life?

Or are you thinking “this can’t be real if it comes so easily”?  Or “this can’t be valuable if it has come so easily”?  Are you believing that struggle is a necessary component of your life?

Where can you be more open to the rose gardens, the divine breezes, and the magnificent oceans which come to you?

Tags: fear · happiness · noticing · risk

Is there something you’ve been missing?

May 26th, 2009 · No Comments

mango-tree1There’s an ancient mango tree next to my cottage; it’s magnificent, with a thick, gnarled brown trunk and long glossy leaves.  How many hurricanes it’s withstood is anybody’s guess.  It’s been barren for at least 35 years, which is how long I’ve had this place.  This year, inexplicably, it flowered, and then, magically, massive clusters of fruit appeared.

A few weeks ago, its mangoes began falling.  I sampled one, but it was tasteless.  The fruit drops day and night, thudding on the roof and plopping to the ground, but I’ve ignored it, except to gather it up from time to time and bury it, to keep it from attracting insects.  I have two other trees providing fruit, so I gave it no further thought, except at midnight whenever a hard, green mango smacks onto the roof and rolls to the ground.

As I cleaned up the fruit this morning, I spotted a couple of really pretty, golden specimens.  Curious, I took them in to sample, and they were an extraordinary surprise–sweet, tender, and delicious.

I think the tree is telling me that we can always regenerate,  sweeten, and offer the best of ourselves to the world.  And that sometimes, our assumptions may not be true, even when we think we’ve investigated them.

Aren’t those messages we can always take to heart?  No matter how many times we’ve told ourselves we couldn’t do something, no matter how many times our creative mind seemed barren, no matter how many times we’ve failed to seize the opportunities that come to us, we can always regenerate and bloom and sweeten.  And even when we’ve told ourselves the same old story, over and over, we can look inside again, and find liberating new truth.

The mango tree is just outside my bedroom window, and late at night, as I’m drifting off to sleep, I hear it out there, releasing it’s sweet golden offerings.  I hear them rustling through the palm fronds as they descend, then landing in the thick jungle of vines below.  Each time I hear it, I remember all of the regeneration and opportunity and sweetness and truth in the world.  And that whether I pay attention or not, they’re there–delicious surprises,  just waiting for me to notice.

mangos1

Tags: desire · happiness · laughter · noticing · risk · stillness · thinking · treats · Uncategorized

How to Beautify the New York Subway

September 24th, 2008 · No Comments

Unless you’re a bazillionairre, if you live in New York City, you ride the subway. Suzanne, New Yorker I coach, absolutely despised her commute.  She complained bitterly about the griminess, the overcrowding, the behavior of the other riders.  It was absolutely intolerable, she told me.

Her commute took 45 minutes each way.  That’s more than 32 hours every month, a long stretch of misery in a life. She considered moving closer to work, even changing jobs, but couldn’t come up with a practical solution to the problem.

I had an idea.  “Begin looking for beauty on the subway,” I suggested.  Suzanne laughed cynically and patiently explained to me—a non-New Yorker—what was patently obvious to anyone with two eyes, a nose, and a brain: the New York subway is a human cesspool during weekday rush hour.  It was impossible to appreciate anything about it, and there was certainly no beauty to be found there, she assured me.

But I insisted. “Send me an email every day, telling me of the glorious, beautiful, amazing things you find on the subway.”  Suzanne left our session muttering that I’d given her an impossible assignment.

But she gamely began looking.  With Suzanne’s permission, here are some of the things she found in the next few days:

“We went over the Manhattan Bridge, over the East River. Out in the distance,  beyond the Brooklyn Bridge, three aircraft were buzzing around each other in the air. They were blimps, and they looked like giant honeybees drunk on pollen, bobbling to and fro over the water.”

“A kid had a little glass jar between his feet. It was strangely shaped, like it had contained an exotic food item purchased at an ethnic market in Brooklyn. It was filled with beautiful, thick, cloudy pink juice. Guava? Papaya-passion fruit?”

“The woman across the train had enormous boobs and beautiful deep black skin. The whites of her eyes were so bright in comparison to her skin they looked like keyholes of light in the door of a dark room.”

“This morning I couldn’t count the people wearing shades on the train! I guess when you’re cool you’ve always got the sun in your face.”

“A garish McDonald’s ad greets me and encourages me to ‘Think Good Thoughts….’”

“Ikea’s yellow flags wave in the distance on the waterfront. I bought a carpet there on Saturday night, and the water this morning is the exact same color of that carpet, gorgeous peacock blue.”

“There is a comfy, casual feeling on the train this morning… many wearing their Friday office attire. One woman looks so comfortable in her outfit I want her to take it off and let me put it on!”

“The faces of buildings and all of the bridges, walls, boats, water, cable lines, roads, signs are layered upon each other like a box of toys thrown around a room during a child’s tantrum.”

“Without anyone speaking, I know I am in the midst of various exotic tongues; Spanish, Polish, Korean, Russian, Israeli, Vietnamese, Czech, Yiddish, Mandarin, Hebrew.…”

“What a gift to be able to look at humanity up close and personal, to look at all of our differences, beauty, ethnicities, blemishes, scars… where else would I be able to notice the super-fine quality of a stranger’s hair follicles, the way his hair grows out of his head in the same direction, the tone of the skin on his scalp, eight inches from my face on this packed train?”

Within two weeks, the subway had transformed.  Suzanne no longer rides in a cesspool teeming with the worst examples of humanity.  Her last email about the subway ended with these words, “Everywhere I turn, there is opportunity for joy.”

As  Marcel Proust wrote, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in seeing with new eyes.”

How about you?  Is there anything ugly, disgusting, intolerable in your life?  Can you see it with new eyes?

Tags: creating your reality · happiness

Can You Be Smart AND Happy?

September 18th, 2008 · No Comments

This morning, I was coaching very smart client.  She’s an academic at a renowned university, and feeling a little sheepish about the possibility that she could actually be happy.  She has a brilliant, highly-trained mind, and like so many in academia, tends to be suspicious of mooshy concepts like joy and happiness.  Especially her personal joy and happiness.

Another client, a genius with two PhDs, spent years as an academic.  For a while, he resisted some of the more imaginative exercises I gave him.  Even when they helped him stop procrastinating, the issue he’d been paralyzed by and sought coaching for, he feared that, without empirical proof that the techniques worked, he was somehow being stupid for relying on them.   It seemed better to hang onto his dysfunction than to risk doing something that was potentially hocus-pocus. Better to be a brilliant procrastinator than a productive dupe, I guess.

I’ve done my own time in academia, as a law professor, which carries not only the general fear of academia (the worst fate in life is that others will find out I’m not smart), but also the pessimism of legal thinking (if something can go wrong, it probably will, so I have to be prepared for every possible negative contingency).  I spent a long time rejecting the possibility that I could be happy, even when I began to feel happy. I felt sheepish about it.  It seemed so, well, unlikely and foolish.

Ultimately, I got over it.  With practice and a bit of self-compassion my client can, too.

With The Joy Diet Group Dieting Adventure telecourse coming up, I’m thinking a lot about happiness and our resistance to it.  Isn’t is crazy?  A smart person can  justify staying miserable or dysfunctional, because if others find out we’re happy, they might think we’re not so smart.  Sometimes the smartest people do the silliest things, in the name of intelligence.

Tags: happiness · joy diet

Roller Coaster

August 20th, 2008 · No Comments

When you’re disappointed, does your mood plunge downward like it’s on a roller coaster?  Yesterday, my new client, let’s call her Susan, had plummeted like she was on the Coney Island Cyclone. She’d sought coaching after a string of business failures.  She suspected she might be doing something to attract this pattern into her life.

In a voice awash with misery and despair, she told me how she’d been incredibly happy this morning at the prospect of landing a fat new contract for her business, but a half-hour before our appointment, she received an email that the deal had fallen through. She was crushed and depressed.

“So what changed the way you feel?” I asked.

“The company changed its mind,” she stated dully.

“How would you feel right this minute if the email had gotten lost in the internet’s parallel universe, and you didn’t know about it?” I asked her.

“I’d feel great,” she said glumly, “at least until I found out.”

“So what really changed?” I asked.

With some coaching, Susan realized that her thoughts about herself had changed. When she believed she had the contract, she thought she was smart and competent and valued and felt energetic and excited about life. When she got the email, she told herself the company had rejected her and she was incompetent and useless. She became listless and empty.

As Susan discovered first-hand this morning, if we attach our happiness and self-worth to external circumstances, like a big contract, a promotion, or our children’s grades, we climb aboard life’s roller coaster. When circumstances are favorable, we are high, excited, exhilarated; when things change, we nose-dive to the bottom.

We hop on a roller coaster to take this ride when we lose touch with our true nature, what Martha Beck calls our essential self. Our essential self knows that we are always sparkling jewels, treasures of infinite value and worth. This has nothing to do with success in any external form–contracts or promotions or our kids’ grades or any other person or circumstance outside of us.

When we lose touch with that part of us, that all-knowing, peaceful, secure place deep in our hearts, we are at the mercy of life’s roller coaster. Our essential self gets buried by an avalanche of neediness and insatiable hunger for positive attention and rewards from others.

People change their minds, contracts fall through, kids fail courses, and others get selected for promotions and awards. That is the nature of life—change and unexpected circumstances are the only constants we can count on.

When we are in deep touch with our value, our worth, and the joy that lives deep inside us, we survive setbacks and challenges with peace and security. A contract can fall through, and we can put it into perspective. We remain positive and hopeful, and don’t slide into abusive or self-defeating thought patterns.

Sure, it feels good to land a big contract. But when we are in deep contact with our essential self, we never lose touch with our worth and our value, and we remain energized and hopeful. We understand that the loss of the contract could, in some as yet unfathomable way, be in our best interests. We save the roller coaster ride for fun and games at an amusement park. And, we realize that the next gift from life may be just an email away.

Questions to Ask Yourself When You’re on the Roller Coaster

1. Are you having any negative thoughts about yourself?

2. Is this an honest, factual assessment of this situation?

3. What happens to you when you hold on to these negative thoughts?

4. Imagine being in the present situation without the negative thoughts and judgments. Does anything shift for you?

5. Is there a stress-free reason to keep the negative thoughts about yourself?

6. What is an honest assessment of the situation that doesn’t include any negative or abusive thoughts about yourself or others?

7. Does this change the way you feel?

Tags: self-love