Category Archives: Mindfulness


Eric's ClownI’ve been wondering about how we mirror our inner environment, our thoughts, our relationships.  We often believe that our appearance is neutral in the sense that we can dress it up or down and make it reflect whatever mood we wish.  But it doesn’t necessarily work like that.

There is an energy within that isn’t so easily masked, that seeps through, no matter how thick the make up or how loud the laugh.  When we are all about adding to the external – even changing diets or spending hours at the gym – the inside makes itself known.  Perhaps we harbor some belief that by shifting the outer skin, that change will penetrate deep into our inner recesses and transform what lies there.

I’ve noticed during my travels on the New York City subway that no one smiles.  Sometimes kids or babies do, but adults, no.  Even abiding by the rules of subway etiquette, not making eye contact, one can see that the faces all seem to carry some degree of worry or tension.  I would even guess that most thoughts behind those expressions have to do with what lies ahead that day or what happened earlier.  You simply don’t see a look of contentment or satisfaction anywhere, let alone a hint of a smile.

I recall what riding the NYC subway was like in the late 60’s or early 70’s. You had to be alert to who was around you and what was happening as a way of protecting yourself and staying safe.  But there is much less crime now allowing for a more relaxed atmosphere.  And still no one smiles.

I’m not expecting wild grinning or raucous laughter, but what would it take to reflect more of an inner peace rather than tension or worry? I recently brought my metta (lovingkindness) practice into the NYC subway.  So now I sit (or stand) and wish for everyone in the subway car to be happy, to be healthy, to be free from harm and to live with ease.  I wish this over and over again while I ride the train. I realize that wishing doesn’t make it so, and the practice might seem simplistic, however, something interesting happened while I was practicing metta.

Here’s what I noticed:  I wasn’t making judgments about any of the people around me.  I wasn’t thinking about what I had to do the rest of the day. I wasn’t preoccupied with what had happened the day, week or month before. I wasn’t berating myself for not having done whatever I should have done or said.  I wasn’t thinking about how I looked or felt.  I was peaceful and the suggestion of a smile was spreading from the inside out.

I realized that all the while I had been wondering why no one was smiling, I wasn’t smiling either.


Filed under Meditation, Mindfulness

Comfort Zone Talk

The Path Ahead

The Path Ahead

I’ve noticed a lot more talk recently about being in your “comfort zone” or stepping out of your “comfort zone.”  I have begun to wonder if there really is such a place.  The intention behind the phrase seems to be a place that is easy, comfortable and where you are not stressed more than you can handle (whatever that means).   A place where you have the skills to meet what is asked of you or perhaps nothing challenging is asked of you.  A place of familiarity that keeps you safe in some way. Having so many ways to describe it, I admit I do know what it feels like.

Which brings me to understand it more as a feeling part of myself.  It may also be a place of numbness, grief or fear.  “Comfort zone” has often more to do with the relationship with what lies at its borders.  It isn’t necessarily a happy or contented place.  It depends on what keeps you there.  There might be a longing to move beyond the edges of this place even while appreciating the sense of safety you experience there.

Could the more important question be, “How does your comfort zone serve you?”

Is it a place of retreat?  Or a launching pad – the secure ground that propels you forward into the unknown? Perhaps it’s both.  It’s important to have access to a part of ourselves that feels safe, but it doesn’t need to be a static place.  It can shift and move – it can be carried with us as we take the next steps we need to take.

I find that the more I move beyond the edge of what feels comfortable for me, the more I experience the edge of that zone extending to meet me where I am.  Like having clothing that moves with you rather than binds.  I believe that living at this edge is possible if one has a practice that supports you there.  It might be mindfulness meditation or whatever tools you have to help create moments of nonjudgmental awareness, compassion and equanimity.  That may seem a tall order but essentially, it’s not that much more than an open, expanded “you.”  This opening is what enables us to meet what lies ahead with the fullness of who we are, no holding back.  It’s the voice inside that says, “You can so do this!”


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Reality and Relativity

You don’t have to be Einstein to understand how the concept of relativity works us in our day to day lives.  For several years I worked in Vermont during the month of January.  Often during those periods the temperature in the early morning hovered around -12 degrees Farenheit.  Even the yoga mat in the trunk of the car was frozen!  And more than once, I would get stuck attempting to drive the winding mountain road and need to have the car towed out of a snowbank.  My point about this is that when I then returned to New York City, most everyone I encountered was complaining about the unbearable cold weather when the temperature was in the mid-twenties.  I didn’t feel cold at all; as a matter of fact I think I took some pleasure in saying that I thought it was balmy!

Consider how our experience as well as our body-mind perceptions of our circumstances contributes to this issue of relativity.  If I hadn’t spent time in Vermont, I would certainly have been one among many complaining about how cold it was.

I realize that this seems relatively simplistic – I imagine you’re thinking of course that makes sense.  But suppose you apply this concept to other aspects of how we order or relate to situations, ideas and relationships.  For instance, the where and how you grew up, the place where you lived and the people with whom you shared your early years,  are the basis for comparison later on.  Again, of course. Well it might have been that you grew up in a remote part of the rainforest in Ecuador where your day to day life is dependent on the natural environment around you.  Then you meet people who regard this environment of yours as a resource to be used but with an agenda that, relative to your way of being, is abusive and disrespectful.  At the least, it would make appreciating their point of view very difficult.  And, considering that the story they have lived by is focused on furthering technological development and doing whatever they can to support that way of life, it would be difficult for them to appreciate your perspective on the environment.  Each of you looks at the situation from a relative position.  There is a different reality for each of you.

Consider another story where you grow up in a poor urban environment with a family constellation that shifted many times during your early years.  Perhaps there were often struggles for food, shelter and education.  From this perspective, those that had a stable family and enough money to serve their needs might seem privileged in a way beyond your own options.  They might not have much awareness of the circumstances in which you are living just as you may have a sense about how they live based on assumptions about how different they seem.   Again each of you has a different reality relative to your circumstances and experience.

What I wonder is how the sense of “differentness” might be set aside to see/understand the other more clearly.   Somewhere along the way, during the development of our species, we decided that our experience is THE ONLY REALITY or THE RIGHT REALITY.  What we need to appreciate is that there are multiple realities and they are all relative to who is in it and who is outside. Perhaps the solution resides in each taking his/her own sense of reality a little more lightly so we can be more open to the reality next door.  Relatively speaking, that is.

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Filed under Evolutionary Activism, Mindfulness

The Life You Always Wanted

Have you ever been awake to a time of transition in your life?  Where your surroundings, both human and environmental, seem not quite enough to take the edge off the angst of change.  What is that?  It can be difficult to part the curtain and see clearly what this transition is all about.  So often we are caught by this emotional shift without being altogether certain what triggered it or really what it’s about.  So, there you are, wondering exactly what shifted and why.

When I have a moment of clarity (literally a moment, not more than that), I can smile and acknowledge that my concern stems basically from the mistaken assumption that my life will remain the same as it was yesterday or last week or five years ago.  And, combined with that thought is the sense of having to get to another time, place or situation where all will become clear.  As if I’m looking for some form of perfection that lies ahead of me, or is it to the side, or perhaps I passed it and left it behind me.  In any case, it’s the sense that something else is needed for it all to fall into place.

What “place” is that anyway?  Actually it’s the place where you think you have all the clothes you need for winter and then you see a jacket or boots (best if on sale), and you are tipped forward into another place – the place of wanting.  Or relationships are going well and a word or phrase or attitude interrupts and you’ve shifted to a place of hurt or anger.  Or today the job is going well, you’re feeling good about what you do and a person or situation challenges or provokes you, sending you to the place of wondering why you ever thought this work was for you.  We are, in fact, always on the point of shifting to another “place.”

So, thinking back to being in a time of transition, I wonder why it is so difficult to accept that we are always in transition. We simply fool ourselves into thinking otherwise.  With half our energy wanting things to be the way they were yesterday or last week or maybe even five years ago, we are still tipping forward, feeling out of place when a shift happens.  Most of these shifts involve creating a longing, even if we are unsure what it is we long for.  My sense is that a place inside has been touched – the place that says this isn’t the life I always wanted.  Something about what’s happening now is unsatisfactory and needs to be changed for me to have, once and for all, the life I always wanted.   Whatever that may be.

This is the path of most of us.  It takes great courage to step off the path and acknowledge that the life you have now is the life you always wanted.  Try it – you needn’t make a mantra of it, but let yourself experience the intention in these words throughout your whole body.  Feel your shoulders relax a bit, your mind clear, stand or sit a little straighter, and prepare yourself for the next shift.  It’s coming anyway – and when it does,  who knows, you may again find yourself with the life you always wanted!


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The process of Discovery – what about it makes me feel free?  What is it about swimming and flying that opens up my senses and makes me smile?  There is an energy of excitement that pulls me into the present moment with an amazing alertness.   I believe that this happens as a result of being in a whole body experience – no past or future concerns, no story happening in my head, no thought that asks me to sidestep what is happening at that moment.  This is the most refreshing wash of aliveness possible!  And, of course, it comes and then it goes.

“Discovery” seems the most appropriate way to describe what I feel in these situations.  It’s about uncovering something new – or what feels like new.  I believe the “newness” emerges from simply being fully present to what I am doing in that moment.  Of course, if what I’m doing is something I already identify as pleasurable, then it’s easier to slip into this sense of discovery.

Suppose what I’m doing is new to me or demands something different from how I’ve involved myself before.  Then I can meet the situation with uncertainty that leads to holding back and a level of anxiety about what will happen next.  In my body, that feeling sense is then one of closing off, shutting down, with energy invested in a cautionary process as I approach what’s new.  How is it possible to switch this, to back up and choose another route?

What happens to the richness of discovery?  The openness and the quality of receiving, taking in with wide-eyed acceptance (not necessarily approval but the sense that this is what it is) or the interest and eagerness that leads to possibility.  When you consider that each moment is new – it’s never happened before – there exists the opportunity to realize that this new moment holds something to discover.  Of course, it does!  It’s not about what’s happening now – that isn’t what gets in the way for us to be open and accepting.  It’s what happened yesterday or the day or week or year upon year before that frames our present moment experience.

I would say set that baggage aside and take on a new story, one that focuses on possibility and expectation of discovery.  And if you say, “Oh no, I can’t,” then call to mind some moment when you felt that freedom in the process of discovery and locate that sense within your body.  Holding that embodied part of you as your centered self, take the next step.  That is all.

We all have a moment like that – a moment of openness and possibility – that can carry us forward.  And, like anything else, the more we make a practice of doing this, the more we can dip again and again into the free feeling of discovery.

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Beginning Again

Beginning again is like getting up in the morning.  How does it feel, really, this waking up and beginning the day?  For me, it can be different today from yesterday or any day last week or last year.  I suspect there is some part of each of us that wishes for sameness in the sense of knowing what to expect.  Perhaps we needn’t know every aspect of this new day,  just enough to be reassured that we know what we’re doing – enough so that we can rely on past experience to provide us with confidence in stepping out.




I have this sense of our bodies like trees with roots extending deep into the ground holding us firm and a trunk and branches reaching up and out to engage with whatever may come our way.  Not an unusual analogy, but if you consider it carefully, one that aptly captures the kind of balance that serves us best.  Some part grounded and some part flexible and free.  Might it be possible to wake up to a new day in this way – with both parts intact?

What gets in the way can be an imbalance – too much ground that turns into stuck-ness or too little so that what lies ahead has the potential to sweep us away.  At least this is how it can manifest when facing the new and unfamiliar, and isn’t that what “beginning again” is all about?  How to find the just right amount?

It may be also that the element of desire or motivation can be an important leveling factor.  If what lies ahead is something we want or is important to us, there can be more energy available for us in how we approach it.  If we are not so attached to it or ambivalent about what we are to do, there is less investment in getting out there to meet it.   I admit the tree metaphor doesn’t work so well here.  Trees undoubtedly don’t have the thoughts and emotions that influence us in our everyday living.  They simply have what they have and do what they do.

The question is how to rise confidently to meet a new day or begin a new project.  Instead of constructing multiple scenarios that may or may not actually happen, what would it be like to hold the present moment lightly as your feet touch the floor?  A more mindful approach allows more space for your energy to move closer to the side of excitement.  It creates an attitude of openness and a healthy intention as you face the day. Some mindful moments of meditation can assist in tapping into what’s there and seeing what you may need in order to regain your balance.  I know many feel this is what happens when you down that cup of coffee in the morning, but I’m talking about connecting with the more enduring energy that lives in each of us.   Isn’t this, after all, the force that allows us to continue to thrive?

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Filed under Mindfulness, Prose and Poetry

Non-Judgment Day

Seems the deeper I get into what feels like the core of compassion and the closer I can hold it in my everyday attitude, the greater my awareness of the judgments I encounter in others.  It isn’t from my own judgmental point of view but from a place of compassion and caring for the suffering of others.  I say that because the energy carried in the spoken words and affect of these individuals seems burdensome to them – almost as if the people and/or actions they are judging are perceived as a personal affront and hurtful to them.  As they speak their words, it is clear that they are not happy and cannot be so until all the people and situations triggering such negative evaluative emotions are put right – whatever that means…


The attitude of exclusion surrounds us and permeates our lives.  On the surface it may seem to separate and support us by emphasizing those who are different or seen as less than.  But it actually serves to isolate those who carry the judgmental perceptions as a shield that defines the speaker by default.  It might go something like this, “If I can see the faults of others, that must be because I do not have them, and my ideas/attitudes are the right ones.”


Letting go of judgments requires more than simply rejecting them as they surface in your mind.  And don’t suppose that you can get to a state where they never come up.  It’s the job of the mind to judge.  We need to be able to make judgments about situations that may be life threatening, and this kind of evaluation must be immediate, almost intuitive.  Once again, this is a way of being that developed to enable us to survive.  How is it that it spills over to our everyday living?  How does it become this familiar tool that gives us a sense of being solid and grounded?  What does it take to appreciate that this sense may be a false one?


When this way of being determines how we relate to people and situations every day then it has become part of who we are or who we believe ourselves to be.  The more I have noticed this attitude reflected in the day-to-day interactions of those around me, the more I envision proposing a Day of Non-Judgment.  It seems like a great beginning point until I realize that each of us must first be aware of when judgment is present.  I must be able to discern when what shows up is my own opinion or belief.  Then I need to be able to appreciate that this may or may not be Reality or it may be Reality as it looks through my own personal filter.  Given that our minds are constantly evaluating and critiquing, perhaps the more accurate proposal would be a Day of Non-Attachment to Judgment.


Richard Davidson in The Emotional Life of Your Brain talks about open, nonjudgmental awareness as a form of attention.  He defines this as the “capacity to remain receptive to whatever might pass into your thoughts, view, hearing, or feeling and to do so in a noncritical way.”   So, how do we take the step back that is required to have a view from a perspective that can be “noncritical?”  Perhaps it’s the quality of attention brought to our judgments.  Instead of embracing them and clothing ourselves in them automatically, perhaps there can be a moment of taking a closer look.  There might be more attention to their shape, texture, color, the energy they carry, their potential to do harm.  Consider the care and attention we generally give to how we look and how we dress.  How would it be to give that same quality of focus to what we wear on the inside?

If we can apply this kind of attention to a single judgment we are having, then we might realize we have a choice.  The choice involves examining the intention behind the judgment – Is it about life or death?  Are we determining a potential danger?  If not, then can we relax into a more open, receptive attitude?  What would it take to allow that?


I have a sense about judgments which I experience as a visceral response.  It feels like a narrowing, a posture that shields or protects me somehow.  I experience it as a tension in my muscles which separates me from the other, from whatever or whomever is the object of my judgment.  Conversely, an open receptive attitude is what compassion feels like.  It’s inclusive and the boundaries around it can soften.  It arises out of my core or center, not from the edges of me.  Having the experience of this difference in your body, the choice becomes easier and more natural.  It’s basically the choice to practice this new way of being now, today, and then again tomorrow.  Perhaps a day of non-judgment is possible after all…


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Full Moon Smiles

The Full Moon may have passed on to the next phase this month, but the experience of it lingers.   What I’ve noticed since a very young age is that the Full Moon has the capacity to elicit a particular response in me.  My first reaction to seeing it is to smile.  I don’t mean a slight upturning of the corners of my mouth but, instead, a broad, beaming smile spreads across my face.  It seems to come from somewhere deep inside and simply overflow.

Interesting that I have never really explored the feelings and thoughts associated with this Full Moon smile.  Why is it that it’s so much easier to put energy into feelings and thoughts that are unpleasant or fear-based?  Those are generally what pull our attention and take up space in our thinking/feeling lives.   They are the ones that torture us, that become the middle-of-the-night voice that keeps us awake.  And we become the loser in the fight against them, trying so hard to shut the door tight and keep them out.

As an alternative to focusing on that which is disturbing to us,  how about spending time with what makes us smile?  How would it be to explore the character and qualities of those things that bring us joy – even if that sense is fleeting?  Bringing the energy of this inquiry to my Full Moon smiles, I’d say the feelings are layered.  The sensation that seems to form the basis of my experience is one of being protected and looked after.  I remember as a child walking the short walk home from the neighbor’s house in the dark, looking up and seeing the Full Moon and feeling safe.  As long as the Full Moon was there, I didn’t need to be scared.  It wasn’t so much that it made me smile as it translated into a sense of being okay with the dark.  Of course, the bolstering of confidence came not from the Moon but from inside me – an awareness that didn’t emerge until many years later.

Since that time, the Full Moon has reappeared with some regularity, barring clouds and storms.  Always there is for me an accompanying feeling of  reassurance, like an old friend.  There is a familiarity that comes with seeing it that is a “coming home” experience for me.  I feel grounded and secure, and it matters not that the feeling may not last.  All feelings and thoughts arise and pass away no matter what we do.   What’s important is nurturing the ability to come back to the sense of smiling.  That sense can be something that is carried inside of us, kind of an anchor to our ground of being.   For me the Full Moon serves as the key to open the door and tap into the joyful energy that is there.

So, where is it that you find your Full Moon smiles?





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Earth, Sky, Heart = Peace

Consider the quality of being present in your body right now.  What is the quality or character of that sensation?  Is it in fact a sensation – or something else?  Maybe you’re curled up in a chair, computer in your lap, maybe sitting on a train reading the screen on your cell phone, or sneaking a moment for yourself while at work – notice whatever posture you find your body in right now.  Take a moment, this moment, and focus your whole attention on what is happening in your body.  Don’t wait for the instructor in yoga class to coach you there or the teacher at the meditation center to offer guidance, you can take this trip yourself any time you want.

Sometime the simplest action can generate the deepest awareness.  It doesn’t always require special equipment and herculean effort.  You are, after all, in your body.   Should it be a big leap then to inhabit it fully, to be totally there?  If you are caught up in thoughts, don’t be thinking that you are in your mind and not in your body, because, as my former teacher used to say, “Your mind is part of your body, isn’t it?”  Perhaps you can be in your mind and body at the same time, fully present to both.

Usually the act of bringing focus to the body means noticing the purely physical sensations that are happening.  Pain, constriction, fatigue, hunger or sometimes what seems to be neutral or without clearly articulated qualities.  I often wonder that what draws our attention are the primarily negative or neutral characteristics, not the energized or “feeling good” ones.  Don’t these last speak loud enough to be heard?  What might be the quietest sense you can tune into?

Now make the shift to notice what kind of feeling state is inhabiting your body in this moment.  We don’t often acknowledge that feeling states are in our bodies, but they are also physical sensations and certainly manifest in the body.  We don’t simply walk around with concepts of anger, sadness or joy in our minds.  We experience them in a physical way.  The heart can seem to be the locus of feeling for us, but is it a source or a container for what’s circulating through our bodies?  Perhaps it simply feels like the center of who we are.

Imagine your heart is this center and holds you in the space between being grounded in the earth and reaching for the sky.  Stand with your feet hip distance apart, your spine long and arms stretched down, held away from your sides with palms facing forward.  Inhale and slowly bring your arms overhead so that your palms touch.  Exhale and bring your hands down to the level of your heart, palms still together.  Stay for a moment and receive another breath.  Then give your breath away and stretch your arms down and away from your sides again.  Breathe in and continue to bring them overhead so that palms touch each other.  Repeat this sequence a few times and see where your attention goes.  Does it seem that it fills your entire body?

Notice that with these movements you have created the peace sign with your body.  Rest in that awareness.


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My Body’s Changing so Who Am I?

Welcome change!  Where would I be without you?  Well, think about it – I wouldn’t be alive, that’s for sure.  Yet looking in the mirror, I find myself wondering who this is looking back at me.   There is some part of me that must have expected that I would continue to look the same.  It would be the familiar face of me, the one I’ve become used to over my adult life, always.   Interesting that now I think back to adolescence, which was certainly a time for changes in my body and appearance.  But not the same as now.  I believe the difference then was the sense of excitement that accompanied what was happening.  Even if I wasn’t pleased with a particular change, the overall sense of it was looking forward to what was to come.  There were plans and goals and new experiences to be met.  Changes then may not always have been greeted with open arms, but the energy in them was about moving forward.  Why is it that, in the later years of life, what lies ahead can often feel more like sliding down a slippery slope than rising to meet challenges?

There seems to be more attachment at this point to what was.  And perhaps years of perfecting the voice of judgment within.  This voice is the one that is not liking what’s happening, wanting the body to stay the same, considering desperate measures or placing blame for what’s changed.  All as if these shifts in one’s body could be avoided.  

Where are our role models for growing old, for aching joints and sagging skin?  Even if a role model exists for us it isn’t his/her body that is the focus of inspiration.  It is more likely what he or she is accomplishing in spite of the physical body.  Maybe the bigger question is how to show up fully human with all that’s shifting and changing and be ok with that.  We are a culture that relies on reflection – not the inward kind but the mirrored image of who we think we should be.  It’s generally a full screen representation of who we want to be or the image we desire to project to others that drives the ability to accept changes in our bodies.

So how do we turn the mirror back on itself?  Would it even work?  Imagine a world without mirrors – where the only option to “see” oneself is in someone else’s eyes.  We might then have to accept a new level of vulnerability – the reality of being seen by another.  Mask – less.  It may seem more difficult than what we do now, but somehow I think not.    This could be a practice that leads us to the wonder of feeling connected to other human beings in a way that doesn’t easily happen now.  It might help us realize that we are all the same, we all change and that change has the capacity to reveal to us who we truly are.  How bad can that be?

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