The holidays are upon us. In my house, Simone is particularly excited; we’re going to do a lot of baking together, and next weekend, we’ll string up our lights in our living room.
But the holidays are also a time that bring many of us into stress—to top all the stress that so many of us are feeling in the larger world.
As an early holiday gift and a sign of my thanks for you all for being in my life and for being part of my community, I want to share a short video to help you come back to your center and get through the season—or any time that is challenging for you.
I’ve found that one of the biggest stressors in our lives is the disconnection between mind and body.
This disconnection helps explain our nation’s current health problems, our sexual abuse epidemic, and our environmental crises, to name just a few things, and it affects us both as a society and as individuals.
We live in such a segregated, siloed way that there are very few practices that help us bring mind and body back together.
But when we bring meditation, yoga and writing together, we can begin to make connections again between the different parts of ourselves.
In this video, I offer a balancing meditation, some gentle yoga to awaken the spine, and a writing prompt. Done together, the practice invites you to listen to yourself, reconnect with your integrated self, and tap into your inner knowledge and creativity.
This is a nice, gentle practice that you can do every day.
I hope that you’ll enjoy the video and the practice. As you practice more, you’ll find the experience deepens.
The poem I read in the video, Guest House, by Rumi, translated by Colin Barks, is one I often use because it’s a good reminder to be present with whatever arises and to cultivate gratefulness. And every time I read it, it brings something else up for me.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
I’d love to hear any experiences you have with the practice. And of course, please share with any friends who may be interested.
We all have stories, but how do we listen to them mindfully so that they lead us to our true purpose and we don't get overly attached to the thorny pieces?
In our complicated world, how can we calm our nervous system so that we are more available to ourselves and others?
I'm so excited to share with you my conversation with Jillian Pransky, a yoga teacher of over 20 years and the author of the newly published book Deep Listening, in which we discuss these questions.
In our conversation, we talk about:
Jillian's also a great storyteller, and she tells some memorable stories that I think you'll enjoy!
(Click above or watch here: https://youtu.be/BywY5dFjCqc)
If you want to listen to the conversation you can listen here:
You can see more about Jillian and her new book Deep Listening at her website www.jillianpransky.com.
As always, I love to hear from you. Let me know your reactions to the conversation and your own experiences with deep listening. And please share with any friends who might be interested.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
After lots of snow over the past five days, today was sunny and sparkling! What an amazing world!
In the past few weeks I’ve talked about finding both courage and comfort in finding one’s true center and self.
Writing these posts have made me think about the things that can help us get to that state of inner clarity that leads to both comfort and courage.
I believe what is most important is finding the supports that will help us become our authentic selves, and over the next weeks I’ll be talking more about this.
In the meantime, since it’s Valentine’s day, I want to take a moment to thank my husband, Eric, who has supported and continues to support me in this journey of finding my path and my center—and it is my hope that I support him in the same way.
I’m also so grateful to the teachings and therapists and coaches and teachers and physical and mental practices that have helped me find my center. We are all part of a large chain of teachers and teachings, and none of us can do this alone.
We sometimes think that we are alone with our story, but that is far from the truth. In fact, we can only really find our true story—so that we are telling stories about ourselves that support, instead of hurt us—with the help of others.
We might think that getting our story straight is no big deal, but in fact, it’s utterly crucial—and revolutionary.
Christianne Northrup, a pioneer in holistic medicine and in women’s empowerment and wellbeing, talks about the importance of story in her groundbreaking book Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom: Creating Physical and Emotional Health and Healing, (While Northrup is talking specifically to women, I think her message is helpful for everyone, men and women alike.)
Northrup lists twelve steps for healing.
The first step is: Get Your Story/History Straight.
We might want to jump over our story/history. But we can only truly move forward in the direction we want to go in if we accept our reality, and ourselves, for who we are and where we have come from. Often this work is best when we do it with the support of others. We must learn to be our own best witness, but usually we can become our best witness, if we have the help of other loving witnesses first.
The second step is: Get Your Beliefs Straight.
Included in this section Northrup asks the question, Are you following your life’s purpose? and Do you regularly acknowledge your strengths, gifts, talents, and accomplishments? If you’re not, get the support you need to pursue your own fulfillment.
If you don’t get clear on our beliefs and your own source of strength and life force, your own health may suffer, because our life force is cut off if we are not living from our authentic center.
Sometimes we may think that following our purpose and our gifts is self indulgent—but if you have this belief, it may be time to change that. After all, our life strength is what keeps our energy flowing and our immune system working and allows us to help others.
To live fully is to inhabit our strength, our “courage,” the root of which comes from the French word “coeur,” or “heart.”
So on Valentine’s day, I invite you to spend some time with your own heart getting clear about what stories, teachers and teachings help you get in touch more with your own authentic center.
Because we know that we can only really love fully and fiercely if we embrace our own aliveness and come from our own place of both comfort and courage in ourselves.
As always, I’m sending love and love to hear from you. And I’m listing my calendar of events below. I have many upcoming events that I’m excited about, from afternoon workshops to in person and online classes to my first full weekend retreat that I’ll be hosting this summer at the beautiful Copper Beach Institute. I’d love to see you. Please reach out if you have any questions.
March 11: Om Namo Center, 1:30-4. Embrace and Let Go: Writing and Yoga Workshop
March 28. Inner Evolution for Women: 1:00-4:00pm with Jessica Ronalds, LMHC, Acton, MA
I'm very excited to be offering this afternoon session with therapist Jessica Ronalds to deep healing and clearing work for women to start spring with our full vitality.
Mid-April: New sessions of my online class, Align Your Story, a unique deeply integrative approach to writing with close readings, yoga and meditation.
This is my signature ten week class, and once you enroll you have access for life. I now also have a premium option for more in depth support and feedback. See more at www.alignyourstory.com
Mid April: New sessions of my in-person poetry and creative prose classes will open.
Contact me for more information and to be put on a list. These are great communities of writers and appropriate for writers at all levels. See more at www.nadiacolburn.com
April 2, 2017 2pm
Friday April 28th: Grub Street, A Larger Purpose: Why Your Writing Voice Matters. Boston. 6-9pm.
Saturday, May 13, Writing Towards Freedom: an Afternoon of Meditation and Writing 1-4:30pm.
North Shore Zen Center, Beverly MA
August 18-20 Weekend workshop/retreat Copper Beach Institute. Take a full weekend to integrate mind, body and spirit and come into your aligned center. https://www.copperbeechinstitute.org/center
Today is MLK Day. Our world is full of great injustice and suffering, and also great heroism, love and hope.
This is also inauguration week: we don't know what will come, but we do know that we will be called upon to be agents of peace and hope, that our voices will be more important than ever, and that we will need to stand up for what we believe in. We can do this work best if we clear out the pain that so many of us store in our bodies, if we can ground and come into our own stability.
A few days ago I wrote about the power of shifting our energy to joy through our bodies. Today, I want to share with you a piece I published recently in Spirituality and Health magazine about learning through my yoga practice to listen to the pain that was stored in my body, and the ways I unlocked and released that pain to clear my body so I could be more available to meet the present moment.
For much of my life, I felt as if the external toxins of the world were lodged directly into my body. But through bringing my mind and my body together in yoga and writing, I have been able to protect my physical body on a much greater basis from those external toxins.
Sometimes those toxins are chemical. Sometimes they come from direct physical contact. And sometimes, the toxins are emotional/psychological/political.
In this article I talk about the ways in which, listening to my body, I came to know my own story better, and how knowing this story better helped me live with both more ease and more agency in the world. I went through this process largely without a road map, and it's my honor now to help others with by providing more direction than I had.
This is a personal article. I’d love to hear any reactions or questions you might have, and please share it with others who might be interested or who might benefit from it.
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Finally, just a reminder. If you're interested in exploring how your story is stored in your body, please consider working with me. As always, I love to hear from you with questions or comments!
Align Your Story, my online class that brings together writing yoga and mediation begins this week. This is my signature class, and I'm excited to start it with a new group of students. I have a few more spaces. See more here: http://www.nadiacolburn.com/alignyourstory.html
A four week In-person Narrative Healing class I’ll be leading in Cambridge, MA begins January 25th. This is a new opportunity to bring embodied creativity and healing together in a small, in person group community. I’d love to see you there. See more here: http://omnamocenter.com/narrative-healing/
And I’m available for one-on-one work, either in person or over skype. Please reach out for a first exploratory session.
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THE WRONG I NEEDED TO WRITE
(published in Spirituality and Health here: http://www.spiritualityhealth.com/articles/wrong-i-needed-write)
When I think back on the first years of my yoga practice, what comes to mind first is Pigeon Pose. Actually, when I think back on my experience with Pigeon Pose, it’s remarkable that I stuck with yoga. Because in Pigeon Pose I felt as if I was being tortured. No, this is not hyperbolic speech. Each time I went into Pigeon Pose, I’d have images flash through my mind of terrible situations: women piled onto the train to Auschwitz, unable to move; women crossing illegally into the U.S., jammed together in the back of trucks with no air to breathe; women being held down, against their will.
Relax into the pose, the teacher would say, and I’d try to not to come out of the pose. I’d try to stay a little longer.
Most often, when people are in pain in a yoga pose, it’s because they are doing something their body shouldn’t do. But I was pretty sure that I wasn’t overly straining my physical body. In fact, even though I hold tension in my hips, I’m also pretty flexible in my hips and always have been. My Pigeon Pose looked pretty good from the outside. But inside, it sent me into turmoil—and that made me curious.
So I kept coming back to yoga classes, and my body became more flexible, and I became more able to focus my mind on the movements themselves—at least until we got to Pigeon Pose. And still I found I couldn’t stay with my body. The more I focused on what my body was feeling, the more I felt a kind of panic. So instead, I moved between the images in my head and some larger space, up above them, some distanced perspective from which I could come in and out of the scene.
In retrospect, it is no surprise that Pigeon Pose, which is a hip opener, triggered me. We often store our physical experiences directly in the body—and mine was childhood sexual abuse. Even when the conscious mind cannot remember, the body holds onto its own lived experiences in its cells. Yoga helped me practice coming in and out of this memory—even if I couldn’t put it into words. It taught me, if in a coded way, pieces of my own story that I had not, for a long time, been able to access.
We need to listen—and, at the same time, we need to have frameworks and stories to process what our bodies tell us. We need to be attentive and come out of the conscious mind. And then we need to make connections between the unconscious mind and the conscious mind and knit our experiences back together.
My yoga classes set the stage for me to listen to my body, but classes didn’t really prepare me or give me a real context or tools to understand the kind of triggers that might come up—or the ways really to listen to the stories as they were unfolding through my practice. Over time, I worked with many modalities. I started to practice Kundalini yoga and then, once my body was more comfortable and had cleared out a lot of the stuck energy, turned to sitting meditation and the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh. What I discovered is that I needed attention both to my body and to language; I needed both movement and stillness; I needed, ultimately, mind, body, and spirit all to come together….
At first I was writing poetry. And then I started also to write prose. No doubt, part of my turn to prose was a growing desire to knit things together, to tell a coherent story. Like Hansel and Gretel, I was able to follow the moonlit pebbles that lead back to my own early experiences and that ultimately lead me back to myself.
And when I did this, I received a great gift: I was able truly to come home.
This does not mean that home is always a warm and easy place. It’s not as if, at the end of the practice, we can turn on the lights and all the witches will be revealed as simply a bad dream, a figment of our childhood imaginations. People were brought in cattle cars to Auschwitz, and illegal immigrants continue to face unbearable situations in their search for a better and freer way of life. And women and children and men continue to be sexually assaulted and abused.
The fruit of our yoga practice and our spiritual practice is not that we can simply relax in our comfortable, safe yoga studios and drop the outside world and simply enjoy the present moment. The fruit of our practice is that we can come to better see the world as it is; that we can find peace and equanimity even amid injustice and pain; that we can discover our stories and accept them; that we can experience joy and happiness and relaxation and not turn away from our own suffering or the suffering of others.
HOW THE MIND AND BODY WORK TOGETHER
On Saturday, in the middle of a snowstorm, I led a two and a half hour yoga and writing workshop. I wanted to lead something joyful because I’ve been feeling some real heaviness in the air—especially in response to the political climate in America. And I personally was feeling like I needed a pick me up.
I think of these pick me ups as healing boosts not just for individuals but also for our whole society, because who wants to let certain unnamed people have too much control over our inner lives? Claiming our joy is also an act of resistance. And we absolutely don’t need to be in denial to experience joy. We can let our joy and our sorrow, our joy and our rage stand right next to one another.
Anyway, after a yoga set and some writing and meditation, I asked the class if they were up for some dancing, and I was really happy when they said yes. So there we were, dancing to fun music on a snowy day. And the more we moved to the music, which I turned up loud, the more we shook out those toxins that were stored in us, the more I felt like we were, paradoxically, in real harmony with the snowy stillness and quiet of the day.
This is one of the things I love about bringing writing and yoga together; the practice allows us to open the door just a bit wider to the full range of our experiences and emotions. It allows our bodies, which hold so much, to open up a bit more, and to enter into a different kind of dialogue with us.
Even though we weren’t writing while we were dancing, I think we were more aware of the shifts in our energy and consciousness because we had brought our awareness into our practice and we had brought together our mind and body, our left and right brains. Indeed, most of the time when I talk about “writing” I’m not only thinking of writing on the page, but also, and perhaps more importantly, about our conscious awareness. When we direct attention to our body and energy, we can have greater access to awareness, well-being and creativity.
If you’d like to try some yoga and meditation together, I invite you to join my online course Align Your Story; we start next week. Although the course doesn’t include dancing, it invites you to enter into a more integrated relationship between the mind and body and to integrate mind and body to bring your writing—and your life—to the next level. See more here.
Here is what one past participant said about the healing she experienced through the course:
I have one functional vocal chord and one paralyzed vocal chord. There are moments in my life when energy flows freely through me, and in those moments I am able to speak without strain or pain. These moments are rare. Most of the time I have great difficulty moving my voice from my belly up to my vocal chords and through my mouth. I'm so grateful for Align Your Story. I've tried many forms of healing, and have been so stuck for a long time, but things in me are moving now. I've been working my way through the course at my own pace and have experienced a freeing up of my energy and a lot of relief in my symptoms. My voice is getting stronger. I'm finding ways to connect it to my body differently. I'm coming back to life. In the time of this course alone, I've started two new projects, two blogs that I wanted to create for a long time. –Cathy K.
I’m also hosting an in-person four week Narrative Healing Session at Om Namo Yoga Studio in Cambridge starting Wednesday January 26th. This will be a very powerful, healing class that helps us break through blocks, uplift our energy and listen to our bodies in new ways. The course will give you some tools to do that both in the studio and at home. Class size is limited to six, so there will be community and plenty of individualized attention. See more here.
And finally, I’ll be offering another yoga writing workshop at Om Namo on March 11th.
Reach out to me, as always, with any questions. I love to hear from you!
And please share this newsletter and resources with anyone who might be interested. Thank you! I’m so glad you are part of this community.
I’ll write again later this week with another story of the mind-body connection that helped me unlock some deep healing.
In this unsettling time, I want to offer something to my community: how about we come together virtually and meditate and write?
I’m going to be offering a free session in real time next Tuesday from 11:45-12:30 EST.
Starting every fifteen minutes, I’ll read a short poem, lead a short meditation and give you ten minutes to write. This will be a time to feel our collective energy and to give time to ourselves, whatever we are feeling, wherever we are.
I’ll be starting a new poem/meditation every fifteen minutes. Come for part or all of the call.
If there is interest, I’ll offer this again in December, with some time for conversation at the end.
I know that as I’m still trying to take in the results of the election (this may be a long process), there are a few things that I am certain of:
1) the need to be engaged socially and politically for the long term
2) the need to continue to nourish and feed myself and my own internal peace
3) the need to reach out to community and others with love
4) the need to keep on practicing all of the above and with my personal practices
Meditating, listening to poetry and writing in community help me engage on all of these levels.
Here is Toni Morrison on the need for art in times like this: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”
And I want to add that as we get to work, we continue to stay centered, connected to our own bodies and souls and capacity for love in the process.
Please feel free to invite friends to the call.
And if you can’t make the call, but are interested in coming to a call another time, please reach out to me and let me know and give me a sense of your schedule so I can try to include you.
How to call in: Dial-in Number:+1 (774) 220-4000
*6 mute yourself or mute your phone
On this difficult morning after the election, I want to reach out and send love.
I know many of us feel fear, grief, anger, disbelief.
I have felt very scared by the prospect of a Trump presidency—the kind of shaking in my bones fear of violence, mob rule, the overthrow of our civil society and the hard won progress we have made for minorities, women, the environment.
At the same time, this morning, I’m also flooded with a kind of love and clarity; the certainty that, to use Auden’s words from his poem September 1, 1939, “we must love one another.”
In the face of violence and hatred, we must show more love to our neighbors, to our families, to ourselves.
Now, when we are shaken, but when we are not necessarily in immediate danger, is the perfect time to practice love: we can remember to come into the now, to breathe, to look at this day that here in Cambridge is another perfect fall day. Find something beautiful and admire it. Appreciate a friend. Appreciate yourself; appreciate your body that can support you in this moment.
To appreciate these things is not spiritual avoidance. Instead it is spiritual nourishment; we are made stronger by connecting with the positive, because, after all, that is what we want to protect.
And we will need this nourishment: one thing that is clear about this election is that there is much work to do: We will need to come together in love and solidarity. We will need to raise our voices for what we believe in. We will need to come out of our own comfort zones and be the change we want to see in the world.
And we will need stamina to do this.
So I hope we can all give ourselves some time today and this week to connect with loved ones, to take breaks from the media and do some things that we love. I hope we can also give ourselves the freedom to feel our fear and anger and sadness and meet those feelings with gentleness. And as we’re doing this, we can commit to becoming more involved in the next weeks and months and years.
I’m going to be holding a pop-up meditation and writing workshop in the next weeks to respond to the election and to look together for what communal actions we can take.
For now, though, I want to send love. Because this is what I feel I need to receive at this moment. And I am sending these reminders that we can practice because I, too, need reminders; we can all send reminders to one another and be our beacons and supports.
This feels like a perfect time to practice metta. Metta is a prayer for protection happiness and ease, and I’ve added a prayer for radiance and expression. Metta starts with offering these conditions for oneself and then to one’s loved ones and gradually extends to the whole world. (Here, again is my metta meditation and accompanying writing prompts: http://www.nadiacolburn.com/welcome-and-meditation.html)
May we all be protected and safe
May we all be contented and pleased.
May all our physical bodies protect us with ease.
May all our lives unfold smoothly with ease.
May we all shine our lights, unobstructed, with ease.
with love and solidarity,
With a week to go before official election day, I've been doing what I can to remain active (I went to New Hampshire again this past weekend) and also trying to step back a bit and see the larger picture of what's happening.
I know many of us feel scared, angered and even overwhelmed by this election season. And very ready for it to be over.
It's really important to take breaks from the news and to do things we love, remembering all the very decent and very normal ways we can interact with one another.
And it's also important to continue to trust in and raise our voices for what we know is right.
So much of the work I do with clients and students, helping them trust and cultivate their voices, is work that I also try to do myself. My own journey has been one of integrating my own voice and vision, becoming clearer, more direct, more willing to put myself out there and more able, as a result (at least I hope), to be of service to others.
I want to share with you an article I wrote recently that ties together the abuse of women and the abuse of our earth. I argue that a mentality of ownership is a dangerous one and it's time that we put it behind us. Trump's run for presidency highlights the ways in which this dangerous mentality works. And while Clinton may (with any luck at all) be our first woman president, it's up to all of us to keep working for the future we want, by raising our voices for a future of respect instead of ownership, a future in which we'll stop building pipelines and keep fossil fuels in the ground.
I'd be honored if you read the article (I've pasted a link in below and also the article below that)
And please share my article and my course information with anyone you think may be interested.
with thanks, love and hope,
Read the original article here
FROM ABUSE TO RESPECT: RASING OUR VOICES THIS ELECTION
I work as a writing coach for women; whether my client is a beginner or a respected published writer, at a certain point she’ll come against a block.“What is this block,” I ask, and inevitably my client follows it back to a voice telling her that her ideas don’t really matter. “Where does that dismissive voice come from?” I ask, and the writer gets a far off look on her face. It comes from so many old sources that she stops writing, overwhelmed.
Trump’s campaign showcases some of these sources and the ways women have been treated for centuries. And it showcases not just a mentality about women, but also a mentality about money, power, our human relationships and our fundamental place on this Earth.
Trump’s campaign slogan, Make American Great Again, clearly looks back to the past. This was a past in which the dominant narrative was one of men, power and money—that is, men with power and money got to have a voice and tell the story. And if that is still sometimes (too often) the case today, there is also a new narrative that has been emerging that questions, resists and re-writes the old narrative and instead gives everyone a voice and gives everyone respect.
Trump is the candidate of the old narrative: we should vote for him because he’s a white man who is “really rich.” He’s built luxury buildings, top end hotels, golf clubs and resorts. It’s a campaign about power. And he makes it clear, too, that he thinks he can do whatever he wants with that power.
We’ve all heard him brag to Billy Bush about sexually assaulting women: “When you’re a star they let you do it….Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” Trump felt entitled to go into the dressing rooms when women were changing because he was the “owner of the pageant.”
Karena Virginia, the 13th woman to come forward accusing Trump of sexual assault put it simply: he treated me, she said, “as if I were an object.”
What Trump is doing in this election is putting on display a dangerous and outdated idea about ownership, and it’s worth paying even more attention to this because it affects not just women, but all of us. Indeed, this idea of ownership might just end our civilization if we don’t come together and do something about it. Simply put, we can no longer afford to treat other people like objects. And we can no longer afford to treat the earth as an object to be owned and endlessly to be extracted for our own enrichment.
Indeed, if Trump showcases the way of the past, climate change more than any other issue showcases what the future demands: that we treat the earth with respect; that we come together and not build walls; and that we collectively combat the urgent crisis of climate change and environmental devastation.
Once again, however, Trump is in the past: he professes not to believe in climate change; he wants more fracking, more coal production. And he wants to appoint a major climate change denier, Myron Ebell, who is in the pay of big oil companies, to head the EPA.
Asked about the environment, Trump said: “We’ll be fine with the environment. We can leave a little bit, but you can’t destroy businesses.”But business won’t survive without an ecosystem that supports life. We can’t just leave a little bit of the environment. We’ve already done that. A new study shows that the world is set to lose two-thirds of its wild animals by 2020.
20 years ago in China, Hillary Clinton bravely said, Women’s Rights are Human Rights. I think it’s time for us all now to say that Women’s Rights are Human Rights, and Human Rights are Earth Rights.
So how do we as women find our voices? First we must break down the centuries of ownership and the internalization of that history. That’s not easy, but more and more people are doing it. After my clients get over that far away look, they get a different look: they’re ready to dissolve internal and external walls of disrespect, and have their voices heard and work to approach the world differently.
And when that happens, we unleash an amazing other kind of power: not the power of money but the power of respect and belonging and truth and determination to speak up for what we know is right. As more and more women share their stories, we are also sharing a larger story about what it means to be human, and what it means to be member of this planet, the only planet that can support life.
This next week, I’m using my voice to talk with voters in swing states to make sure that we put candidates into office who act with respect for humans and for the Earth, who don’t think that money is an entitlement to to do whatever one wants.
I’m raising my voice to support the Sioux and their allies at Standing Rock who are doing the brave and necessary work for all of our future, trying to stop yet more degradation of our water, our land and our home.
I’m committing to continuing to work with urgency after the election to reduce our abuse of the planet and to stop our addiction to fossil fuel power.
And I’m continuing to help women find their voices. Because as more and more women, and more and more men, find their authentic voices, rooted in claiming our individual stories, and questioning much of what we’ve inherited from the past, more and more of us will come to a place not of ownership with respect for one another and for the Earth itself.
Here are a few things we can all do:
1) Consider trusting your voice as a form of activism.
2) Use your voices for what you believe in.
3) Get engaged in the political system.
4) Help save our environment and address climate change in every way you can—with your actions and with your voice, so that we as a society can take collective action.
5) Advocate for working together so that we can come into the future that we need and move away from a divisive, disrespectful past.
6) Take small steps. No one is going to make radical change alone. Everything we do, even if it’s a small gesture, matters.
7) Occasionally challenge yourself to go outside of your comfort zone, wherever that is, and do something on a bigger scale.
8) Share your story and your beliefs and encourage others to do the same.
It's another beautiful day; as always, I am struck by the amazing contrasts and multiplicity of our human experience. There is so much of wonder and so much goodness in our world, and at the same time, so much divisiveness and danger.
How do we stay engaged as we also practice peace? How do we take very seriously the very real threats that Trump poses to all of us, and not get sucked into a vortex of negativity? How do we act in the outer world— and I encourage everyone to please pick up the phone and make calls for Hillary and knock on doors in swing states—and still stay whole and nourish our inner world?
How do we look at this rape culture that we live in and not become traumatized or re-traumatized?
These are a lot of questions. I have to say that I felt spun around by questions much of my life. And then I found the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh and something very deep inside of me began to quiet down. I had found my teacher. He helped me find both inner peace and even more commitment to outward activism.
And today Thich Nhat Hanh turns 90!!
I am so grateful for his teachings and his life example.
I want to share with you an article I wrote about him, published in the most recent issue of Spirituality and Health Magazine.
Wishing you all peace and love,
Why Thich Nhat Hanh is my Spiritual Teacher“
All religions and spiritual traditions,” William James famously wrote, “begin with the cry ‘Help!’” Like so many, I began my spiritual quest in earnest when I began to heal consciously from an instance of violence in my early childhood and the pain and confusion around it. Why, I wanted—I needed—to know, did bad things happen, not only on the personal level, but all around us in the world? The world is full of injustice and destruction: how are we to understand our present moment and transform it? I needed a larger frame.
I had read the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s work before, and I knew to go back to his writing and teachings. When Thay teaches that the present moment is a wonderful moment, he is not speaking from a position of naïve privilege.
Thay lived through the Vietnam War and saw immense pain, violence, suffering, and tragedy firsthand. He broke with the established Buddhist leaders and urged greater engagement; together with other young activists, Thay went into the countryside, where the fighting was worst, and provided support—rebuilding towns, schools, villages. He risked his own life many times, and many of his close friends and colleagues were killed.
Exiled from Vietnam in 1968 because of his peace work, Thay settled in France and continued to work steadfastly for peace and to help those displaced and suffering from the war and its aftermath. I find his early journals especially moving: we see him, confronted with the violence of the war, time and again overcome his own despair. We see him, in his early exile, far from the country and people he loves, feeling homesick, unable to sleep, and learning to make a new home in his new surroundings, keeping his spirits up.
At the heart of his teachings is the insight that peace starts from within. In the face of the self-righteous conviction of each side in the civil war, in the face of people so sure they are right they are willing to kill or be killed for their ideals, Thay realizes that the only true path to peace is to find and grow peace within each of us, to cultivate compassion and understanding, and to understand how we all are interconnected.
Many of Thay’s most moving teachings come in the form of poems. In his poem “Call Me by My True Name,” written in 1978, he remembers with sorrow the many Vietnamese who died trying to escape their country on boats—in a situation not dissimilar from that of many Syrian refugees today. In this poem, Thay explores entering into the experiences of many different beings: I am, he writes, “a bud on a spring branch,” a “frog swimming happily,” a “child in Uganda all skin and bones.” In perhaps the most powerful stanza he assumes the roles of both victim and perpetrator:
I am the twelve year old girl
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.
Thay tries to see every side, every being, with understanding and compassion. He continues:
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
At the heart of Buddhist teaching is the idea of non-self. And Thay emphasizes this: we inter-are. We are the cloud whose rain falls into the earth and helps grow the food that we eat. We are our joys and our pains, our mothers and fathers, our teachers and everything that we ever come into contact with.
I had originally been asking the question “Why?” But Thay taught me to come out of my head and into my heart. How do I show compassion, first to myself for my own suffering, and then to all others? Through his own example of coming to a place of peace and joy from suffering, I trusted his directions.
How do you cultivate peace and happiness? His answer is to meditate: practice; breathe; pay attention to your breath; pay attention to the present moment; pay attention to the miracle of being alive; wake up; and again come back to your breath. This practice calms the mind and body and develops concentration. And from this concentration, one has the insight to see into suffering and cultivate wise compassion and understanding and appreciation.
In Thay’s engaged Buddhism, meditation is not only what we do in silence on our cushion, but what we attempt to do all day long, with every step and every breath: we come back into awareness, and from this awareness we come to be the peace:
Breathing in, I calm my body,
Breathing out, I smile,
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is a wonderful moment.In a time of such violence on a global scale, such insecurity and such devastation to the environment, I think it’s important that we all learn to practice peace. We practice not only to eliminate suffering, but to transform on the personal and the social levels, and to wake up so that we are capable of really celebrating the great miracle of life.
First published here: https://spiritualityhealth.com/articles/why-im-student-thich-nhat-hanh
It's another beautiful day in Cambridge. I woke early and meditated and did a home yoga practice.
Later, I looked at the news: In the wake of more shootings of unarmed black men, and a Presidential candidate—Trump— who says in response that "maybe" officers who "choke" in their job (i.e. murder people) should be doing something else, I've been thinking again about violence, our responses to violence, and about how important it is to stay centered, whole and engaged and working towards positive change.
This past weekend I went to New Hampshire to canvass for Hillary Clinton.
It was a good experience and eye opening.
We were supposed to be talking to Hillary supporters, but most of the people we talked to turned out to be undecided. They wanted change, and Trump, for that reason, seemed appealing.
It was a beautiful day like today: a blue sky and still quite warm for September. Many of the people we talked to were quite friendly. They were self respecting people who were happy to talk. They had their own opinions. They cared about their families, their neighbors. They wanted to live a good life. In many ways, it was a pleasant day.
But when I got home, I was exhausted.
I was tired not only because I had been on my feet for much of the day, but also because I was emotionally tired. I’ve seen images of the Trump rallies and know what violence and hatred Trump is unleashing. I’ve seen the way he manipulates the media with lies. I’ve heard his hate, and have read his platform, whose policies would make the world a more dangerous, unequal, environmentally devastated place.
I’m scared of what a Trump presidency would look like and what Trump would enable both home and abroad.
I also felt sad, because I know that good people can do bad things, and it seemed sad that from so much that is positive, we can create so much negativity.
But I also know that a good system can bring out the best in people, so while I came home feeling tired, I also committed to doing more and asking my friends to do more in these next few weeks.It really is up to us to take responsibility for the direction we want to see our country go and the message we want to send both at home and abroad, and this is such a pivotal moment!
That said, I also came home wondering both how I can step up my own engagement in the next eight weeks and how doing what I'm already doing can make a difference and be worthwhile in a world potentially on the brink of yet more violence and hatred and divisiveness.
I found myself asking the question that I've often asked: what is an appropriate response? What is enough? Am I living in sync with the requirements and challenges of our contemporary world? Am I doing the right work?
I've felt these questions acutely a few times before in times of big potential change (elections, the run up to the war, when global environmental decisions are about to be made).
But if I'm honest, to some extent I live with that question all the time: we know that there is the threat of violence all the time; we know that there is violence and injustice all the time; that dozens of species are going extinct every single day.
In the face of this, what can we do?
I sometimes worry that when I talk about these things, I'm just being a downer, farther depressing people who are already stressed out. And I don't want to play that role. I want to be a force of positivity and healing in the world. But deep down I also believe that our positivity and healing, for it to be real and effective, cannot come from denial, from turning away. Instead it comes from looking with wide open eyes at our whole world. True transformation comes from a state of awareness; from being able to find and act from our own balanced center even in that state of awareness and to choose to be open to sorrow and happiness, anger and wonder.
Finding a strong center and voice in a state of awareness is what I hope to do through my writing and spiritual practices, and it is what I help my students and clients do in their writing, their practices and their lives.
We need to learn to quiet, to calm down, to come out of a state of horror, to find our centers and our voices.
This is a life-long practice. It's never finished, and life will continue to throw curves so that it's a practice we need to return to again and again.
But when we do not do this, when we don't know how to come into a state of quiet or center, and when we suppress our voices, we lose ourselves.
And yet, these essential tools are ones that almost none of us have been taught. So perhaps it is no surprise that the world is so often out of balance, that voters can't really quite see what is in front of their own eyes, that messages of fear lead to acts of violence.
When I reflect in this way, it seems to me that the work I do, helping others stay find their own path to say centered and to speak from their true selves and visions is necessary work. It might not change the world overnight, but if each of us can be the change we want to see in the world, we will have a better world.
And while none of us alone can change the world, each of us can work to make ourselves as whole as possible, and give voice to our unique vision with conviction and clarity and even joy.
Please reach out to me if you'd like to get more engaged and want some guidance about how to do that. I'm happy to try to hook people up with volunteer opportunities, share my experiences, etc.
And please, also, reach out to me if you have other ideas about how to stay engaged and what else I can be doing--I think it's so important to build community and to work together.
I blog about creativity, writing, yoga, meditation, justice, women, the environment and integrated well being for the individual and society