I am never bored…??!

My sister tells me that she feel impressed and inspired, because I am never bored. I happily confirm the assessment. “You’re right, Saskia, I am never bored. Especially not since I started meditating. I have always something to do, even when I am waiting, because I can always focus on my breath and observe my thoughts, feelings, and sensations.

I feel proud, relieved, and excited that I have found something that brings me joy in every moment.

Image courtesy to WikimediaAs the days pass, I start to pay attention. To the truth of my experience. How utterly bored I feel on my meditation cushion, many, many times. Just focusing on my breath, and nothing else going on. Not enough distraction, not enough entertainment, too much antsyness. I follow Thich Nhat Hanh’s instructions:

Breathing in, I know I am breathing in.

Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.

In.

Out.

Okay, okay, I get it. Focus on your in-breath as you breathe in, and on your out-breath as you breathe out. But 20 minutes in a row???! I get the idea in two minutes, can I do something else the rest of the time?

Let’s try Pema Chodron’s advice. Sit up straight, tongue resting lightly on my palate, mouth lightly open.

Breathing in, I adjust posture.

Breathing out, I let go.

Way better. My neck needs adjustment. I need to straighten my back. Relax my belly. I have something to do, some distraction. Then there is a ring-tailed cat outside. Cool! I have to pay attention to her. You see them seldom, because they are so shy. Now I have an interesting thought. Let’s elaborate on it, it’s a perfect outline for a post.

I am never bored??!… I am bored all the time. Especially with what’s most crucial to my life: my breath.

Jack Kornfield has this story:

There once was a Zen Buddhist student monk. His teacher shared one practice with him: focus on your breath. The student practiced for years, and years, and years. Then finally he tells his teacher: “Master, I have practiced focusing on my breath for all these years. I’m getting bored. Can we add another practice?” The teacher grasps his head, pushes it down the water basin and holds it there till the student grasps for air. Then he lets him go and asks: “Are you still bored with your breath?”

That student is me. Learning to find delight in each and every breath.

—–

You want help to enjoy every breath? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary discovery session.

Home

I’m back home. In Austin. I said the same thing when I landed in the Netherlands July 12: “I’m back home.” I have two homes. Well, actually, I have many more. Or actually just one.

When I first arrived in Austin in April 2009, I was homesick for the Netherlands, my family and friends, my two cats. For many years.

blue_globeThis time before I flew out to the Netherlands, I had what you might call a little epiphany. I was driving through Texas hill country, enjoying the beauty of nature, the gorgeousness of everything G*d created and is creating, when I realized with a sudden insight “G*d created this piece of Earth, just like She did the Dutch piece of Earth. I am always home in G*d’s Earth, no matter where I am.”

Even though we, humans, establish boundaries, Immigration control, and property lines, Earth knows no such thing. Presence and energy just continuously morph from one manifestation into another. From mountain, into meadow, into river, into ridge, into cliff. There is no sign “Stop here. Go no further. Identify yourself first.”

It is not hard to understand the wisdom of the speech the Indian Chief Seattle gave in 1854 “How Can you Possess the Earth?” when you connect to your breath. Do you know who exhaled the breath you’re breathing in now? Or who will inhale your breath after you exhale? You can hate the person in front of you -or far away- and you cannot stop inhaling her out-breath. Nor can he stop inhaling your out-breath. You share the same air and ‘inter-are’, whether you like it or not. Even if you succeeded not sharing the same air, you cannot stop your dead bodies being held by the same Earth. And even if you could do that, you’ll always be part of the same Universe.

It is Thich Nhat Hanh’s simple message of interbeing.

I am home. And I have always been. Wherever I am.

—–

You want help to connect to the interbeing of all life? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary discovery session.

Am I my thoughts?

Image courtesy to Wikimedia
Image courtesy to Wikimedia

I love meditation. I love sitting on my cushion, lighting my candle, inviting the bell to sound, and bringing my attention to my in- and outbreath. And whenever a thought arises, labeling it as ‘thinking’. My meditation cushion is my sacred haven.

This morning I sit on my cushion again. I am so happy to have these 20 minutes to myself, to enjoy this open and loving space in which I can relax into my breath and let go of all my worries, anxieties, struggles, plans, and have-to’s. Just sitting and enjoying my breath.

“Now I understand why I felt so uncomfortable and disoriented at the retreat. That is my habitual fear of abandonment. It has nothing to do with the retreat, it has to do with an internalized pattern of fear. It is exactly the same experience I had when I was eight years old at girls scout camp.” It takes me a while, before I notice I am lost in my thoughts. I quickly label them as ‘thinking’ and bring my attention back to my breath. I relax and adjust my body as I breath in, and let go as I breath out. In, out. In, out.

“I remember how homesick I was, when my dad visited the camp. I just wanted him to take me home…” ‘Thinking!’ Bringing my attention back to my breath. In, out. In, out.

“I can talk to my empathy buddy about this. This is a rich topic to explore, and it would probably…” ‘Thinking.’

What!? Who are you to interrupt this thought process? Who are you to tell me that I should go back to my breath and let go of my thoughts? Huh?! Who do you think you are to tell me to stop this super interesting line of thought?”

And finally it dawns on me. I am attached to my thoughts. They make up my identity. I don’t know whom I would be without my thoughts. Whom would I be in this wide open space of presence. It sounds too scary. Too little me. Too little of the well-known, carefully crafted person I’ve come to identify as Elly.

Thich Nhat Hanh talks about our historical and ultimate dimension. The ultimate dimension is the shore of liberation. It is the insight of interbeing, that we consist of self and non-self elements, that we all are waves and water.

I realize I am not so sure I want to be liberated. It sounds all yummy and good, and I realize I want to linger a little longer on the shore of the historical dimension. It is a well-known place that brings me comfort and security.

Let me just breathe into that attachment for now. Let me just breathe into my fear of letting go. In, out. In, out.

—–

You want help to let go of attachments? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary, discovery session to see if and how I can help.

Generating energy

IMG_3074Life isn’t a business to be managed, it is a mystery to be lived

I breathe in

I indulge in the beauty of my view. It is like a big movie screen of nature. Trees, rocks, the hill. A blue sky, full with birds. I haven’t seen this many birds in a long time.

I breathe out

I feel so grateful. That I have this opportunity to sit and watch the trees, the sun, the birds. That I have fingers that can write. That I have friends who support and encourage me. Who see the beauty of my essential Elly-ness. “Humble and excited”, that’s what my friend saw in me as I talked about the small, successful steps I’m taking in expanding my business.

I breathe in

A bird catches a butterfly. The butterfly flies off. The bird catches up with him. It takes him a full minute to succeed eating him.

I breathe out

Such a spaciousness. Such a joy to be alive. No where to go, nothing to do. Just sitting here, and enjoying life, my breath, this moment.

I breathe in

I have finally decided to ask my Sangha if they will accept me as an aspirant member in the Order of Interbeing. I have been contemplating this choice ever since I first saw Thich Nhat Hanh. I have always postponed it. I don’t have enough time, it is too big a commitment, I am not mindful enough.

I breathe out

All of those thoughts might be true, my Sangha might not even accept my application. That is fine with me. It is not about the result, it is about the excitement of making a choice. Of freeing the energy stuck in thinking about a choice, and taking a step.

I breathe in

It might not be the right path. I might get stuck. The path might not lead anywhere. But it still is a path, and I am moving. I am creating an opportunity to learn, and get feedback for the consciousness and choices I make.

I breathe out

My dad told me to get into action. To get away from my desk, designing my business. To call anyone who might have an interest working with me. He is a wise man. It helped so much. To take a step and learn from it.

I breathe in

I am ready to climb a tree. For the fun of it. Life isn’t a business to be managed, it’s a mystery to be lived (Osho, Zen Tarot).

I breathe out

—–

You want help to take your next step? Contact me for a complimentary, discovery session 512-589-0482

Four steps from anger to reconnection

http://www.parallax.org/books/anger/front.jpg

Angry? Focus on your breath

Thich Nhat Hanh has a simple four step process to support connection when we are angry.

The first is to bring our attention back to our breath; to notice where it is in our body, how it rises and falls. To continue doing this as long as anger is grasping us and to embrace the anger as if it is a crying baby that needs holding.

Hum. I can stop right here. I have failed this first step often enough. Yep. Sneaky moments where my mind told me Thich Nhat Hanh was wrong. That it was much better to slash out, yell, blame, disconnect.

Ànd I have had times when I followed Thich Nhat Hanh’s invitation and focused on my breath first. Then I was ready for the second step. Breathing in, breathing out, “Darling, I suffer, I am angry.”

Express your pain

‘What?! Darling?! Thich Nhat Hanh got thàt all wrong! My husband is a jerk, hè caused my anger, and he needs to be punished for my pain.’ No matter how much Nonviolent Communication I have under my belt, and how aware I am of emotional liberation, and the difference between cause and trigger of my feelings, this is thè exception. ‘My husband is not a darling, he is a jerk, and I a saint, and we need to be treated accordingly.’

So another breathe. In. Out. Looking him in the eye. Seeing a glimpse of a human being. A hunch of someone who loves me. Cares for me. Wants to support me. Breathing in. Feeling my anger. Breathing out. Feeling my suffering.

Applause for your failed efforts

Step three. I breathe in. I breathe out. “I’m trying, I’m really trying.”

Something softens in me. I feel my anger towards myself. That I screwed up my mindfulness practice, that I failed. And I feel compassion that I try, that I really try. To dissolve the habit energy of my anger, the years of practice slashing out. I do fall off the ‘mindfulness bike’ a lot. Like, rèally, a lot. And I get back up. After every failure. Trying loving speech when I am angry, again, and again, and again.

Courage to ask for help

Now I am ready for the last step. Breathing in, breathing out. “I need your help and support.”

I feel vulnerable. To own up to my pain. To acknowledge I am struggling. To tremble in that nakedness. Will he help? Or will he retaliate? Will he blame mè for yelling, slamming doors, running away? I want to be held. Seen for my humanity. For my struggles. And for my longing to connect.

I feel scared. And proud that I dare to ask for help.

Success guaranteed

Sometimes these four steps take a while. Often it takes my husband’s generous and empathic heart. And the process always works.

Thich Nhat Hanh is right. Just four steps to get us from anger to reconnection. Isn’t it fantastic?

Our breath, our soul

Breathe

In the last Kabbalah class our rabbi, Monty Eliasov, talked about the five levels of soul in Biblical Hebrew. The third level is the breath-soul. The soul of our breath, the breath of our soul.

Isn’t that interesting? I practice with my Buddhist community for years now, sitting in meditation and bringing my attention back to my breath, over and over again. In Hebrew terms I am connecting to my soul, again and again.

Whom would have thought that something so basic and simple as our breath is so profound and unique at the same time?

Connecting to our breath, and being inspired

My meditation has become more sacred now that I realize I am actually connecting to my soul. It is more than bringing my focus to the here and now. It is about listening to what my spirit is telling me in the quiet of the moment. It helps me to be inspired.

Did you know that spirit and soul are etymologically related? Spirit stems from the Latin “spiritus”, which actually means breath, soul. Just like the Hebrew Neshamah. The Romans must have learned with the Jews.

I always thought of inspiration as being full with the Spirit, being full with something outside myself. Now I understand inspiration is being full of me, of my breath, of my soul, of my spirit. My assignment in life is to connect to my breath, nourish my soul, and trust my own inspiration.

Even as I sit here, I have no clue what to write next. I just sit, and feel my belly rise. And fall. And rise again. I put down my pen. I look out the window. I see the trees. I feel the sun, and bring my attention back to my breath. And whatever thoughts come up (and there are many, many!!) I label them as ‘thinking’ and bring my attention back to my breath. To my soul, my spirit. Till I feel inspired and know what to write again.

Bring your attention back to your breath, to your soul

Traffic, of course, provides a perfect opportunity to connect to your breath. Someone cuts me off. I startle. I get angry. I blame. I yell. ‘You idiot!’ I want to slash back. I catch myself. I drop the accusations and retaliations, and feel my breath. I feel it stuck in my chest. I feel it relax with my attention. My breath goes slower, deeper, and I notice how scared I was. The anger is just a cover up for my fear. I get that. Instead of blame, I need to comfort myself. ‘Gosh, sweetie, that was scary. You almost got hurt in a car accident. Thank goodness, you are safe.’ And instead of tailgating, I slow down, and pay attention to traffic.

It was just a little moment of disconnection with my soul. Let’s bring her back in.

Being inspired

LifestylesPlaying hide and seek

My niece and I used to play hide and seek. She would hide behind the curtain, and I would open a drawer and ask out loud “Is Floor here?”, then exclaim “No, she isn’t!”. Then open another drawer and ask the same question, and of course, give the same answer. Till I had opened all drawers and cabinet doors, and finally looked behind the curtains: “Oh, there she is!”. With surprise and delight, of course.

Floor loved it. As soon as she was found, she would tell me to hide behind the curtain, and open all drawers and cabinet doors. “Is Elly here? No, she isn’t!” Till she found me, with as much surprise and delight as I had done, of course. I loved it too.

Hiding behind a curtain of fear

As adults we often play this game too. Usually with less delight.

We hide behind a curtain of fear, self-doubt, resentment, negativity and despair. Then we complain that God isn’t here. (or our husband, friend, mom, sibling, colleague for that matter), because we can’t see Him. And whén the Spirit finds us, we pull the curtain closer, because we are too scared to be seen for whom we really are. We are sure that our nakedness will reveal our basic flaws. We cannot believe that our vulnerability shows only beauty and basic goodness.

Being our best self

Inspiration means to be filled with Spirit. To be filled with a sense of purpose, passion and presence. It means nothing more than letting God do Her part, let Her do what she does best: carry our worries, concerns, insecurity and anger. So that we can do our part: bringing our soul to life. We relax into the sense of support our breath gives us, and feel into what we truly want. We breath in, and listen to our heart. We hear her tell us what brings us alive. Even if this is a so-called “have to”, we can still feel with how much joy and gratitude we can do our task. Because we celebrate that we are alive, that we have this opportunity to contribute, that we have legs that carry us, and hands that touch. Because we can be the best street-sweeper to be found.

You can be your best self in any situation. Thàt’s being inspired.

Still saying God doesn’t exist? Drop your curtain, get into the arena of life, and show up as your vulnerable, authentic, beautiful self.

And feel inspiration take you to the next level.

I wish you a happy new year!

Self-compassion, day 9: Stand your feelings

Smile at Fear, Pema ChodronI wake up and I feel heavy with fear. Literally heavy. It seems almost impossible to move this heavy weight out of bed.

I remember Pema Chodrön‘s invitation to lean into heavy feelings, to lean into the sharp points, and feel the groundlessness of our existence.

This seems a perfect moment to accept the invitation and lean into my fear.

I breathe in, and bring my attention to this dread, this apprehension, this fear. I let it cycle through me, and scrupulously observe it’s different aspects.

It turns into terror, then blind panic, then an overwhelming blackness and feverish nightmare. It grasps me, chokes me, I can’t wake up from it. I sweat and tremble.

Which idiot ever thought this was a good practice? Which imbecile ever thought that leaning into your fear was a good idea? Pema Chödron probably never experienced such consuming feelings. Never experienced the certainty of going crazy and lose your mind. Like forever. Like really forever being stuck in that nightmare.

I feel my breath go faster. I feel my body tighten. I am noticing I am bringing my attention to my breath. To my body. To my feelings. I feel into my experience. It doesn’t get much more comfortable, ànd it stabilizes. I’m getting calmer, more solid.

I don’t know what’s happening. I don’t know how it’s happening. But after five minutes I get up. I feel light, relax, open. I made it. Leaning into your feelings might be a good idea after all.

If you want my help to deepen your self-compassion, healing and integration, contact me for a complimentary, discovery session.

My trees, my business

Trees
Trees (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

I venture out in the woods. I walk slowly. Carefully. Joyfully. I feel my feet touch the earth, and let the energy arise through me. Every step a connection to the earth. I enjoy the sun. The bright colors of the leaves: red, green, orange, yellow. My friend told me how rich she feels this time of year. The golden leaves fall on her, fill the streets with it’s riches. It’s golden abundance is available to everyone. I feel cherished and welcomed in the woods. Nurtured.

I have no plan. Just to spend 30 minutes in nature. I see a little creek I have never seen before. The heavy rains created it on the rocky path. Small, tenderly dripping away. It is quiet. Just the sounds of my breath, my footsteps, the breeze.

I hear a tree. It calls out to me. A juniper. It’s branches spread out wide and evenly. Inviting.

I hear my heart. Climb!

I hear my mind. NO!

I climb. One branch. Looping to the other side for the next branch. Avoiding getting stuck in the twigs. A next step. Taking a break.

My heart starts racing. I’m scared. I’m here on my own. I have no belay. If I fall, it might take hours before I’m found. I can’t afford a broken leg. I hug the tree. Lean into it. I feel how solid I am, how strong. I trust my body, myself. I take a next step. I feel fear. I rest, connect to my belly, to my heart. I respect my fear. I treat it with great reverence. It takes minutes. Then I take a next step. I see out over the tree tops. I see the valley, and all the autumn trees celebrating fall in splendid colors.

I rest. I celebrate. My agility. My trust. My strength. My fear. My steps.

This is how I run my business. One step. Feeling my fear. Leaning into life. Finding my balance. My solidity. My trust. Then a next step. Let fear arise, loneliness. Worries. Give them space to talk. Listen. With empathy and compassion. No fixing, reassuring, arguing. Just listen. Listen to life and how it supports me. Then a next step. No fighting the branches for being to far apart. No impatience with my fear. No comparing myself with other, faster climbers. That’s not my path.

My path is to experience what it is like to be me. My path is to experience which conditions support me. Take a step. Connect to what’s alive in me. And then a next step.

Playing mindfulness

She sits quietly, reverently. Almost solemnly. She picks up the mallet to invite the bell to ring. As she gently strikes the bell, I giggle. Out of the blue. I am tickled by the thought that we are playing mindfulness. Our playground is the Sangha, and sitting meditation is the game. We take our game seriously. When kids play hide and seek, they try to be super quiet, so that no one can find them. If they are discovered, they run as fast as they can back to base, before the seeker can tap them. And then they play again. And again. And again. There is no winning and losing, there is just playing.

We adults play mindfulness. We bow when we enter the room. We bow when we sit down, we bow when we get up. We bow when we serve tea. We bow when we drink tea. We bow to our teachers. We bow before we go home. We bow to our thoughts and label them “thinking”. We bow to our attention as we go back to our breath. We sit on a cushion and bow to everything that arises. To our entanglement in our thoughts, our presence, our breath. We bow in gratitude, and start over again when we’re lost. There is no winning and losing, there is just playing.

We once did a variation on this game. We were offered pen and paper and invited to write down our thoughts as they arose. I scribbled non-stop. “How much money do I have left?” “What is 38°F in Celsius?” “What should I write in my next blog?” Habitual thoughts, important thoughts, irrelevant thoughts.

My neighbor didn’t write down anything. I got anxious. Scribbling “I’m not mindful enough.” I got envious. Scribbling “My neighbor has a calm mind, and mine is stuffed with thoughts.” I got confused. Scribbling “Which game are we playing? Being mindful of whatever is present, or wining the competition of having the emptiest mind?” I giggle. There is something funny when games turn into competition. The fun is lost, there is just striving for winning. Scribbling “I rather have fun playing mindfulness, than be the best of my Sangha.”