Wednesday, December 05, 2012
Friends, I've moved my blog to a new address. If you followed this blog via email, RSS feed, Blogger, or occasional visit, then I warmly invite you to do the same at Born Joy. I would love to meet you over in my new space. Your feedback, insights, and support are important to me. This is my last post on Life of Joy. Namaste.
Posted by Joy at 10:25 AM
Saturday, December 01, 2012
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Winter slowly crept in: short days, low-angle light, cold air, leaf-less trees. All signs that typically lead me to hibernate. But yesterday, instead of hibernating, I road my bike in the crisp air--pedaled from yoga to work to massage to home. And I paused to capture the beautiful winter sky.
I thought of this simple, yet powerful poem by Hafiz:
And then thought of the love I've seen--love that doesn't say "you owe me." It's been a difficult week for my family, as we search for an out-of-the-home place for my mom to live. A place that will keep her safe and also provide her thoughtful care. I think of my dad; never in his life has he said "you owe me." He is kind, tolerant, go-with-the-flow, curious, and unwavering in his support. He is the sun in Hafiz's poem. He's the most amazing person I've ever known. And he's my dad--how cool is that?
Posted by Joy at 10:24 AM
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
I'm a 23-year-long vegetarian. True confession: Only in the last 8 years has my diet consisted largely of veggies and fruits (of all varieties). I used to be a vegetarian who ate mostly grains. Actually, I used to be a vegetarian who didn't like to cook.
The good news is now I enjoy cooking; I enjoy making tasty food from simple, yet fresh ingredients. I feel better when I eat this food--both because I slow down during the process and my body appreciates the nutrients. The key was realizing how easy it is to make tasty, healthful, interesting food. And than actually experimenting. Testing recipes, trying my own concoctions, screwing up, making changes, and realizing it was all okay (and actually fun).
My strong preference is for simple recipes that involve interesting flavors. (Thank you, Heidi Swanson.) Recently, I've made a curry-cauliflower soup, sunchoke-Swiss-chard-jalapeno gratin, and a Thai-spiced squash soup. (All complemented by our regularly baked bread--which was another seemingly too-much-to-deal-with operation, but has lead to delicious, homemade bread each week.) And during the summer I have multiple ways of getting kale (a super food!) into my diet: garlicky greens, kale pesto, and a kale salad--massage those leaves lovingly for a few minutes and they really do become tender.
Now that I've embraced cooking and embraced a wide range of veggies and flavors, I love sharing food with others. To slowly make food and then savor that food with friends, including interesting conversation and a glass of wine--this is one of my very favorite things to do. As our Penzey's bumper-sticker reads: "Love people. Cook them tasty food." Cooking brings me back to myself and back to the life-story of the ingredients. Sharing the food fills my heart with happiness.
For most of my life, Christmas trumped Thanksgiving as my favorite holiday. In the last few years, Thanksgiving has been my most special holiday. The day is centered around cooking--being in the kitchen, sharing conversation, helping each other, slowing down to chop vegetables (taking a mid-afternoon break to play flag football). And when the meal is served, I feel such gratitude. There are no presents to buy, no frenzy of wrapping or unwrapping, no feeling that we must have a certain gift to be happy. There is simply tasty food, shared experience, and deep thanks. And really, what more do we need?
Posted by Joy at 11:27 AM
Sunday, November 18, 2012
Creating tasty food from fresh ingredients;
sharing a meal and conversation with friends;
laughing from my belly;
connecting with people;
being outside; experiencing nature;
writing down my feelings and insights;
participating in group sitting meditation;
Dancing to music; moving my body;
smiling at young kids while waiting in line;
holding open the door for someone;
telling people all the reasons why I love them;
seeing the world from a new perspective;
extending real, deep thanks from my heart.
Feeling sunshine on my face;
giving and getting a heartfelt hug;
learning something new;
allowing myself to be silly;
spending leisurely weekends with Mark (doing anything);
letting someone be completely themselves;
tending to plants; digging in the dirt;
taking quiet moments with myself.
Friday, November 16, 2012
Last weekend I caught up with a close friend. We had a lovely, meandering, heartfelt conversation. During part of this discussion, I reflected on my graduate-school days in Iowa City. It's interesting for me to look back at that period of my life. As with most experiences, it's layered and not straight-forward.
In the first year of my PhD program, I waffled between feeling like the biggest idiot in the world and feeling completely capable and talented. Some days I sobbed after class; other days I walked home with a huge smile on my face. These complicated feelings stayed with me even as I finished my dissertation. Part of me doubted my ability; the other part felt confident and strong. (Lucky for me, I had advisors who believed in me even when I didn't believe in myself.)
I also struggled in my relationship to food (very restrictive) and exercise (too much). Yet at the same time I played doubles volleyball twice a week, which was the most positive, enjoyable athletic experience of my life. I worked with therapists to understand and heal old, painful wounds. Through this process I found my own strength and beauty. I met Mark in my second year of graduate school. I learned what unconditional love really meant.
Here's how I summarized things to my friend: I wouldn't want to go back to that time, but it was really important for me to go through it.
My seven years in Iowa City were part of my life path. A path of learning and growing that will continue until I die. Today I trust in my gifts, believe in myself and my abilities, savor really tasty food, work out in a way that's comfortable for my body, honor and move past my emotional scars, let go more often, and open my heart regularly.
Struggle has been an important teacher in my life. It's uncomfortable in the moment, yet incredibly helpful in the end. Most importantly, I know I'm okay even in the struggle. I trust. I experience. In my early years, I deeply feared struggle (in a fear-of-death sort of way). But once I emerged from challenge after challenge, I began to relax. This is one of the many reasons why I LOVE getting older. Each year brings more experience, more perspective, more understanding, and more love.
Posted by Joy at 10:05 AM
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
My photography often connects with my life. The art of photography parallels the philosophy of life. When we illuminate a subject, we brighten with light. And sometimes we also enlighten with knowledge and insight.
When I take self-portraits, I illuminate a physical part of me; and sometimes I connect to an unexplored piece of my inner-self. I've bared myself on this blog (e.g., body, poetry, trust). This is part of the illumination process: exposure. Although I expose myself via words (often with an after-the-fact doubt attack), I haven't shown my difficulty through a self-portrait.
Do I feel pain? Yes. Do I feel peace? Yes. Do I feel fear? Yes. Do I feel joy? Yes. And yet I've only taken self-portraits that show neutral to positive emotions. I've stayed away from the pain. Yet I do feel pain--sadness, hurt, vulnerability:
Last night I watched "Spirited Away." It's an artful, gorgeous, meaningful movie. And one scene, in particular, resonated with me: Chihiro ate food from a friend in order to regain her strength, and once she regained her strength, she cried tears of sadness. We need strength to feel difficult emotions. Indeed, we all have this strength, yet we often distract and avoid. On Monday night I let the tears of overwhelm come. And I was okay.
A friend recently remarked that I seem happy (in a general sense). Yet that doesn't mean the difficult goes away. I still have dark days. I still have sadness. I still suffer. But I feel and experience those times, and ultimately know I'm okay. Just as importantly, I feel joy and gratitude. I laugh and dance. I love with my whole heart. And I take refuge in myself--my true self (not the negative ego chatter). Is life easy? Nope. Am I happy? You bet.
Posted by Joy at 7:11 AM
Sunday, November 11, 2012
It's mid-November in Wisconsin--cue the gray skies and short days. On Wednesday morning, I awoke from a dream. I dream for which I didn't remember the details, but had strong feelings--feelings of inadequacy and shame. On auto-pilot, I slid from bed and into my busy work day. Without mindfulness, the not-enough feeling stayed with me the whole day. And it was a gray day. Gray winter days feel surreal to me; I can't quite tell the difference between night and day; dreams and life. I easily carry with me any negative emotions formed in those early morning hours, not able to shake them without a purposeful pause or meditation sit.
On Thursday, I awoke from a different dream. A dream that gave me neutral to positive feelings. I went to early-morning yoga class, the sun showed its face, and my mood was remarkably different. I was enough, just as is. Such is the emotional weather of my mind and body. This is an apt reminder of what I know experientially from meditation: emotions change, bodies change, thoughts change. Nothing is concrete--not the blah of gray days or the burst of energy from sunny days; not the sorrows or joys of life; not the feelings of fear or gratitude. The weather--both in the natural world and inside our own minds--changes.
This is both good news (e.g., challenging things don't last forever) and difficult news (e.g., things can change--devastatingly--in an instant; and we have no control). We might get a phone call that changes our life; we might make a connection that fills our heart; we might feel the weight of depression; or we might be buoyed by unexpected sunshine that illuminates a bee balm seed pod:
Saturday, November 10, 2012
A few years ago, I took myself out of the news world--no longer read newspapers, limit my intake of web articles, and don't follow social media. This was a purposeful choice. After reading the news, I physically and emotionally felt worse. Now I don't. This doesn't mean I'm separated from the world; I feel deep in my bones the joys and sorrows that happen daily. Plus, Mark is a wonderful filter for information (as are my friends and family).
Because of my news freeze, I was unaware of Ann Coulter's post-presidential-debate tweet: "I highly approve of Romney's decision to be kind and gentle to the retard." I only heard about this Tuesday night, while at our friends' house. Andrew & Jen are the closest of friends and their home is warm, cozy, and a lovely gathering spot. Their daughter, Madeline, is a gift. She's 16 months old and filled with spirit. She loves music and has a repertoire of dance moves. She's curious and smiles easily. She gives me hugs when I need them the most. And she also happens to have Down Syndrome.
When I heard about Ann Coulter's tweet, I immediately filled with anger; but this was only a temporary cover for my sadness and hurt. I felt hurt. As if Madeline, whom I hold so dear in my heart, had been insulted. But then I softened and realized the painful place from which such mean-spirited comments originate. Ann Coulter's life must be filled with suffering. Otherwise, she wouldn't use (and defend) such unskillful speech.
These are times when I'm not sure how to work with the world in which I live. How can I make sense of fear-based media, mean-spirited comments, and intolerance? Then Andrew showed me a response written to Coulter; a response from John Franklin Stephens. I read this letter and cried. I cried tears of sadness, but also of relief. What if we, as a community, interacted in the way of John Franklin Stephens? What if we invited questions and friendships from those different from us? What if we responded to intolerance with tolerance? What if we kept our hearts open--risking being hurt, but making space for acceptance?
Ultimately, I realize I can't control the community in which I live. But I can change how I live. John Franklin Stephens is a wonderful role model. As is Madeline:
Posted by Joy at 12:29 PM
Tuesday, November 06, 2012
The rain barrel is drained;
the hot tub filled.
(lovingly placed in paper bags)
line the basement steps.
(lovingly placed in paper bags)
line the basement steps.
Coat hooks fully occupied.
Carpet of leaves raked to the curb.
Salads swapped for soups;
assorted squash baked
(still more decorate the counter).
Tomato pots and red wheel barrel
take shelter in the garage.
Tomato pots and red wheel barrel
take shelter in the garage.
Darkness drops before the workday ends.
Posted by Joy at 5:56 PM
Sunday, November 04, 2012
I enjoy the experience of taking photographs It's both a mindful and fun activity. Yet sometimes I feel stilted; like I'm taking the same photos of the same subjects. This kind of stuck-ness happens not only in photography, but in many facets of life (e.g., work, cooking, thinking, relationships, identity). Life is filled with ruts, and it's also filled with new paths.
The term "Beginner's Mind" comes from Zen Buddhism. Beginner's mind is spacious and fresh. No matter what the subject matter (no matter how complex or how routine), beginner's mind looks with a fresh set of eyes; with an openness to new experience, new feeling, new perspective.
Sometimes it's scary to look at something anew. Old ruts can create suffering, yet they also feel familiar. And familiarity often trumps new experience, because of this underlying fear. What if I make a mistake? What if I've been wrong in the past? What if people don't like me anymore? What if I take a risk and then people laugh?
Beginner's mind asks us to strip away these old stories and old fears. Asks us to look at the world without the old tapes and baggage. What do we see? Of what do we get the smallest glimpse? And does that new look allow for some loosening? Some freedom?
Perhaps we can shed a box we've put around ourselves or around another person. Maybe I don't have to work this weekend--perhaps I can rearrange and re-envision (and spend more quality time with myself and my family). Maybe I don't have to say "yes" when I feel like saying "no" (yet, I can say "no" with an open heart). Maybe I don't have to play a particular role with my family, friends, or co-workers. Maybe I can see the perspective--some piece of the story--of someone with whom I find difficult.
This morning, I walked around our house with photographer's beginner-mind. I looked around each room, laid on the floor, and saw from new angles. I looked more closely at objects that I have long taken for granted. I saw light, pattern, texture, and life. I re-introduced myself to my lovely house.
And in the process, I accessed a fresh part of myself:
Posted by Joy at 10:54 AM
Saturday, November 03, 2012
Last weekend I sat & walked in silent meditation. In this setting, it's very easy (and often unpleasant) to see the judging mind. My thoughts are filled with judgment--of me, of others, of the world. An example:
You're not very good at meditating.
Why is that person making so much noise?
My back hurts; maybe something is really wrong with me.
Judging mind is part of being human. It's the fabric with which we work, but it need not consume us. On retreat, it's easy for me to notice the judging mind, smile, and come back to the breath. In daily life, with all the busyness, it's difficult to see the seeds of judgment. Then they sprout into crankiness or unskillful speech or punishment of myself.
Election season is prime time for us-and-them thinking. Yard signs signal sides. Media discourse is telling with no listening. Hallway conversations include criticisms of the other side. Emotion--fear, sadness, hurt--underlies these actions. Fear of change; hurt if someone challenges a cause we hold dear; sadness for the state of the world. These emotions are difficult. Our judging mind would rather us draw lines in the sand. Yet our hearts would rather us open to the emotion, see the middle ground, and work more skillfully. Vote for the candidate you think is best; do good work for causes you hold dear; yet see the human-ness in everyone, especially those on the other side.
Recently, I watched a movie about World War II. Afterwards I sobbed. I cried for the state of the world--for the horrific things we do to each other. Then I realized these horrific things start very small--as seeds of judgment. And then they build.
How do I live in a world where people kill other people? By getting more in touch with my kind heart. By setting my own intention to be mindful, tolerant, and kind. By holding the killers and victims closely in my heart.
Posted by Joy at 9:52 AM
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Last weekend I participated in a silent meditation retreat led by teachers Cheri Maples and Jack Lawlor. The theme was Experiencing True Freedom. During the first sit of Friday night, I realized I was far from true freedom. My breath was short, my body tight, and my mind agitated. Yet I hadn't noticed any of these things until I finally sat; until I got quiet.
I went to my yoga and Pilates classes last week; I moved my body. Yet I was still somehow disconnected from it. It took the meditation retreat--the space, the quiet--for me to realize how much tension I held in my muscles, in my heart, and in my mind.
The wonderful thing about these retreats is that I remember. I remember my breath; I remember to pause; I remember to slow down; I remember the landscape--of life, of emotions, of thoughts--always changes; I remember that each moment is a moment in which I can make a different choice.
Many meditation teachers discuss the impact of habits. A good question for any moment: what qualities of mind and heart am I sowing? Doing begets more doing; judging begets more judging; love begets more love; understanding begets more understanding. And attention, space, and mindfulness allows me to see these habits.
Often I forget these important teachings. But then I attend a retreat, and I remember. And that makes me smile.
When I'm mindful, I notice the light on the flowering grass. I notice the texture and the color. And I don't want more and I don't want different. I allow space for what is.
Posted by Joy at 3:09 PM
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Life is busy: work, home, relationships, appointments, creative activities, errands, exercise, etc. Most days there is too much busyness and not enough space. We tightly cram our days and there isn't space for life to happen (e.g., helping a friend in need, spontaneous fun). And there's little space to simply be--to do nothing.
I've recently made a career-changing decision that has no detailed what's-next plan. Yet my ego desperately wants that plan. Ego wants me to do and plan. One of my recent ego stories: there's no space for you to let this process unfold; you must know right now what you'll do for money in September; without money you are not enough; without a job you are not enough; if you really think your creative path might make you money, then you must start writing a book right now; you must blog interesting material every day; you must do more to be enough.
Hmmmm. Let's do a fact check on this ego story: the entire story is lies. These fear-based lies are how ego and doubt thrive; if I ignore the lies, then ego is weakened (and my true, wholehearted self is strengthened). Yet my habituated pattern is to listen to the doubt. So my current life path is to plaster that particular habituated groove and re-groove new paths.
Right now I want to groove a path of doing nothing. Well, still serve my students and carry on with life, but allow space to do nothing. I'm tired. At the end of a long day, I can simply enjoy a nice meal, share stories with Mark, and then sit in my big, comfy chair. Just sit. Maybe write in my journal or read a book. Or maybe just sit. Sit and watch my list-making mind think of all the things I could do and purposefully not do those things. My priority for right now: doing nothing. It's what my heart and soul need.
Posted by Joy at 8:13 AM