Friday, June 1, 2018

A Letter to A Contemplative Leader

Dear Friend, Dear Contemplative Leader:

Join me in a new way of being: being up for a very bright future full of possibility and miracles. Join me in this moment. The one you imagined in the moment before. Because here we are. Together.

There is power in silence. It is the place leaders find peace. And discernment. This spacious place we all know, yet forget to seek. It is always with us on the inside. As constant as our breath. If you are breathing you can also be meditating. The tool is in you.

Silence can give us the words we need and at the time when we need them. We can respond from a place of emotional fortitude. Not reaction. Interpretation. We can fact check our own stories. We have time for this.

There is power in togetherness. We are stronger together. I need you and you need me. I see you in the elevator and I say little prayers for your children, and your mothers. And the beautiful work you create every day. I see you. Ask me for the cup of sugar. It’s waiting in my cupboard. Ask for what you need. 

There is power in understanding. Contemplation opens up skills for deep listening and loving speech. We need this. Our children need this. Urgently. You, dear contemplative leader, can show them a different way to respond. A kinder, gentler way. We were born to love each other.

There is power in awareness. I want to be awake and alive with you in this moment and the next. I want to practice and grow and practice and grow some more. I want to fail and succeed and be present for my heart in both of those spaces. Contemplative Leaders leave lots of space to fail. You do, too, contemplative leader, because you know that in failure there is truth. And in truth we grow the most. Through practice we learn to be okay with uncertainty. You are perfect in your imperfection. More vulnerable in your truth.

Dear contemplative leader, we want the same things. We share these values: we—balanced and gracious are up for something greater than ourselves: mindful, compassionate, fearless and so devoted to leadership we look to the next generation to teach us because we know where brilliance lives. It lives in all of us. Contemplative Leaders help other contemplative leaders lead.

Dear Contemplative Leader, don’t forget to breathe. The breath is a rhythm. Rhythm leads to pattern…pattern leads to practice. And don’t forget to write. To be curious about where compassion is sourced in the world. And Dear Leader, read lots of poetry by Mary Oliver, David Whyte and John O’Donohue. And so I leave you with the words of Mary Oliver:

Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Periphery of Practice

If only I spent the hours thinking...doing. So many times I think of this space, my blog space, and the lack of writing I am giving this space.

It nags at me like a homework assignment unfinished.

I even made up a story: that it has been over six months since my last post.

It's actually been just over 2 months.

The stories I tell myself!

I want to tell myself new stories.

That writing is a joyful place for me. And I'm good at it.

And people listen to what I have to say. And if I find myself just here for a few minutes every day, the writing and the joy will follow.

It isn't the writing I escape, it's the practice: the discipline of doing: saying I will do something and then doing it. I make big declarations: even in the sentence above: "few minutes every day" and then I fall short. My intention is there: it's the follow through where I stumble.

My intention is always there: wanting to be, do, help, create it all; all the time: pleasing, achieving. But the real opportunity is to be in the next breath, too: present, helping, being after the bold offer of help and ideas.

My practice is to stick the landing: stay present and calm enough for the next moment and the one after that. To love and jump to the "shiny" but to love it enough to sustain what magic, real magic happens, when I watch the shiny object pass, and have the courage to be alone with the silence.

Just write: unconcerned with looking good, saying the right thing, but let me just write from this precious heart I've been given and say the things I believe to be true. Chances are the practice will follow where the heart goes and the mind chooses to stay. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

I Need You, Friend

Ask for what you need. Knowing that I need to know what I need is part of the clarity I'm experiencing in this Year of Courage.

This morning I needed to see the news: too many CNN alerts in too many days. A beloved city, state and country in peril. Fear creeping into the cracks of our most mindless moments: the salesperson selling unusual items to a young man, the Fed Ex driver, the security guards, the moment of seeing an unexpected package on a porch...and opening it, mindlessly. These are our most human moments: the innocent things we do every day. And we are at our most vulnerable.

Being awake is not just seeing the need but knowing the need.

What I notice about myself reading the news that the Austin Bomber is dead? I find myself thinking of the mothers. Where, this cold, dark morning is the mother who mourns this loss more greatly than any other human on earth. Does she even know yet? And the other mothers, of the victims. They know. They are already inside of their mourning. Is God speaking to them and telling them they are loved and everything will be alright?

What is missing that creates such hate: a will to kill and be the boy all fear, and no one understands? What awareness would make the difference? We hear a lot of stories about the moment of positive impact in one's life: meeting a mentor, being inspired, seeing an opportunity and taking it: humans create that moment.  If humans can inspire futures in a moment they can also destroy futures in a moment: little moments that change a life.

How do we change how we respond to bullying, to bad news, to hate?

It take a different moment: being aware in present moment. It takes courage. Real courage: not fake courage or half-courage: real full-hearted fearlessness. Ceiling-breaking courage.

I am going to ask for what I need.


If there was one thing _____________ needs from___________ what would it be?

Needing is saying.

Saying is declaring.

Declaring is courage.

We are afraid to need: afraid to say "that package, that boy, that situation looks suspicious". Afraid to pick up the young, white homeless girl on the corner. "Where would I take her?" I queried just day before yesterday. "Am I safe?"

Fearlessness takes us out self-concern and puts us in a new space of seeing that we're all just humans on  a journey needing each other.

"It is beyond comprehension how infinitely small the effort is that a man makes in really asking for what he wants. The Bible very simply states, "Ask and you shall receive." Like all simple things, it is extraordinarily difficult for people to understand the basic principle because of their tensions and complexities. You can be in the arms of somebody you love for three hours and they can suddenly turn to you and say, "Do you love me?" If somebody in that type of situation needs reassurance, can you imagine how much others need it in everyday living? There are people who have lived together for fifty years and are never sure that they are wanted. It is because of their inability to ask." —Rudi.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

A Long December: Mindfulness in the "Busy" Season

I decided yesterday was going to be a very long day. On purpose.

What if I can create a Long December--and yes, that song has been in my head, too.

Advent and the cherished days of Hanukkah stretch before us. We can see them: 25 and 8 days we know are coming.

How quiet is our waiting?

It occurs to me that this "design" of Advent: the wonderful calendars with pop-out windows and unexpected treasures beyond, Elf on the Shelf and a menorah are tools for mindfulness. These tools call for presence, asking us to look and linger in a place we are not. Be, here, now in this moment.

If I want to, I can listen to these days in December differently. I can actually listen.

I thought about the day many times yesterday, and it did seem longer. I sat with what December the First meant to me: November over: a new existence in a season I love, a reason to sit and listen for the "where" that I want to be.

What will it take to make this month stretch out both before us but also all around us?

I think we have to be a contemplation nation: a community of gatherers taking time with us in a new way. As one scholar of religions said this week: we have to slow down if we want to go fast.

Slow down if we want to go fast? There's no question we need to go fast. But what if, in this haste of helping, loving and caring for the world around us, slowing down gets us to those suffering sooner? What if the Long December changes everything?

The Art of Attention:

Our lives are the Advent Calendar. Each morning a sky opens up to us with a promise to grow our food and help us flourish. This happens to us every day. But what we do in that flourishing is ours. We get to sit with this opening, with the Pocketsunrise that is just for us. We get to be "there". If we take just the sunrise every day (cloudy or not) and look, the possibility for what we might see is limitless. The art of attention and the joy of inquiry give us all we need to know.

Better Together:

If there is a month to practice togetherness it is easily December. I am going to re-frame the moments in these days that stretch before me and plan how I want to be in every encounter I have: from the elevator at work to the holiday parties I love every year. I am going to practice the joy of giving myself: interested, curious and deeply listening to those I see. Each morning during my reflection time I will write outcomes for these events with intention for stretching this time together into new places of love and connection.

Understanding the Why

Somewhere buried in the noise of our Christmas decorations is a tiny baby Jesus. It's about 1/2 of an inch long, likely the remnant of a dollhouse manger scene that I turned into an ornament for a dollhouse Christmas tree too many moons ago. I can't find the Elf on the Shelf but I did sit with this found-preciousness for a few minutes in the flurry of unpacking Christmas with a ten year-old. Advent was designed to help us stay present for this mystery. And it takes work well beyond the moment of an advent calendar: daily reflections, timers set on my phone and visits to the sacred spaces I love around the Dallas Arts District are just three ways I will stretch the day to be present to that baby. 

Knowing the outcome: what we want and up to in the world helps us understand the why. And helps us understand.

Which brings me to Silence.

Where will I find the silence in these twenty-five precious days? Or any of the precious days in your own spiritual tradition?

Everywhere. When you start to look for something: beauty, connection, meaning, it is everywhere.

This is true for silence, too.

In my house it happens at 5 am. But it also happens in moments in my car, walking to a meeting, breathing on an elevator. In a Long December every breath, every capsule of five or sixty-seconds is the window of an Advent Calendar, waiting to be opened up and felt more deeply than ever before.

I learned recently that when you begin a new practice of mindfulness, you feel everything more. I want this: more feeling in this moment and in the next moment, and the next. I want the long days that last forever: steeping in the mystery of what it means to be alive. If ever there is a time to slow down, to experience a wealth of time and a scarcity of busy, it is now.

And it's been a long December and there's reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can't remember all the times I tried to tell myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass

Read more:  Counting Crows - A Long December Lyrics | MetroLyrics 

There is reason to believe. I believe that whatever you believe, new traditions for mindfulness can bring a human right to the place where they are: beautiful and present in the world. Awake and alive to the longest day ever. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Family Meeting and the Art of Being Together

The First Day in a New School

Five weeks ago school started for us and for so many families. For our family, we crossed the threshold to a new school: Lakewood Elementary in the Dallas Independent School District. After five wonderful years at the nearby Episcopal School, our family made a decision to "Go Public".

This transition was a hard one for me, and unknowingly I pulled my own experience from 1983 forward 34 years: my experience leaving a private school in the middle of the sixth grade and moving into the Highland Park School System. I realized--through Baker's fourth grade graduation ceremony (titled Rite of Passage), the last day of school and buying uniforms for the new school, that the rite of passage was mine. The heartbreak I was creating all around us was just my story. My story that I was bringing to the boys unnecessarily.

As the antidote to this sadness, I meditated and prayed. A lot. I wrote about it. And I called us to our first official Family Meeting of the academic year. It started with a bell. Now, five weeks into this new practice, I share this offering with you of five ways to create the meaningful, mindful Family Meeting:

1. Start with the Bell. The bell, whether one you have in the home or a bell from your smart phone, can herald attention, create silence and invite a centering space around it. This practice can become the literal, and figurative, mindfulness bell. Invite others to manage the bell: anytime you can create participation, do. This is the gift of the family meeting.

2. Enjoy the Silence. Offer the bell both as a start to the meeting but also the bookends to a period of silence. Start with 30 seconds or a minute. The Insight Meditation Timer is a wonderful app with easy-to-use settings for short (and longer) meditations). We usually sit for three minutes. I invite our boys to settle in, close their eyes and follow their breath.. It's that simple. If you are breathing you are meditating.

3. Write. At our first meeting we wrote for 3 minutes with hopes and wishes for the year. At our second, we wrote about how the second week could be better than the first. We followed that exercise with offers to each other around how that second week was going to be better. We've also written appreciations for each other. (We call it Watering the Flowers: a tradition I learned from Thich Nhat Hanh's teachers at Plum Village). Once a family member reads aloud, the person to their right or left will "recall" a sentence or two from the other person's reading. This supports deeper listening and acknowledgement.

4. Talk. Ask a "more beautiful question" that everyone can respond to. Share moods and experiences. Say a prayer or meditation together. Invite others to lead this "circle time". Listen for loving speech and awareness. You will be amazed.

5. Close with a plan for being together again soon. Set the next meeting (and the intention for the next meeting) and close with the bell. Create the bookend to this sacred time together. We had a couple of meetings where we didn't have a closure and it really does make the difference. Invite one of your children to host the closing. You might ask them to bring a quote or a prayer to send the family off into the next space. Don't forget to breathe.

Our Family Meetings are usually 15-30 minutes. The length of time matters: stay present with what your family is up for taking into the context of this time: how awake or tired, interested or bored. I try to pull forward some of the work of the last meeting into the present one: little dotted lines of connection and attention. We usually have our family meetings just after dinner on Sundays.

The Mindful Practice is working because of the Mindful Family Meeting. This is our precious time in this wild and precious life (*Summer Day, Mary Oliver). Our meetings are creating more connection, awareness and love every time we ring the bell.

Gratitude to Nancy Dorrier for first teaching me about the beautiful, Mindful Meeting. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Mindful Family: Just Take Three

Three breaths can make any situation better. 

Today we accomplished something amazing as a mindful family. It wasn't the seventeen miles cycling down the Virginia Creeper Trail in Southwest Virginia. This trail, once a train track pulling logs off the mountains is an active, easy and beautiful breezeway past old towns and rivers overlapping each other on the mountainside. 

It wasn't the easy way we worked together as a team of three families: one took the post of lead, one took the rear and a third, nearly an Eagle Scout, swept up and down if we lost our rhythms and found ourselves separated. In our line of nine, there was room for experiment (a wheelie or two), easy, loving conversations and varied paces. It was a natural, lovely union to experience. 

It wasn't the perfect canopy of tree and vine and rocks on both sides of the trail peppered with falls every so many miles. Five of our nine are boys under the age of sixteen, so the falls lured their dipped toes, brazen jumps and "accidental" splashes. This wilderness, part Appalachian Trail, part Mount Rogers National Park is pretty amazing: protected and preserved: a quiet thoroughfare for those choosing the path less traveled. 

Yes, pretty amazing but not as amazing as when an insect stung my child. 

I saw him stopped on the trail a few hundred feet ahead of me. He was still. When we pulled up, Baker, age 10 was holding back huge tears. He collapsed into Scott's arms. Stung. Maybe a bee, maybe a yellow jacket: likely an insect as surprised by Baker as Baker was by him. A whelp rose up quickly on the back of his neck and he was overwhelmed with pain. I looked at him and said: breathe with me: three times. He held it together with something new to focus on. 

We washed his neck and he kept breathing. I heard him counting, one...two...three. Within minutes he was back on the trail making up for lost time. Yellow jackets, beware. His amazing space for meditating through a bee sting, without a baking soda paste for miles was amazing to watch. Three cycles of three breaths and he was back on the bike. 

Once home, our nine year-old Edward complained of a splinter. First attempts with tweezers failed and the serious invasive needle technique was our only option. Ice pack, light and needle in hand, I went for it. And this time, without suggesting it, I watched this boy start breathing rhythmically instead of crying. He by round two he was calmer and much relieved to find the splinter gone. Three breaths and a whole new world. 

The boys weren't together when these two events happened, but somewhere along the way--maybe it was learning Flower Power with the Yoginos: Yoga for Youth Program, meditating at home or practicing mindful breath on the pitcher's mound--somewhere along the way they picked up this tool we all need: just three breaths. 

Sharon Salzburg says that if you are breathing you are meditating. Three breaths take you away from the place that you aren't to the place that you are: mindful, aware and ok. 

So the next time I get stung by a bee, or stung by anything: a friend's harsh comment, unexpected traffic or stress at work: I hope I can remember to just take three: three breaths into the present moment. If a nine year old can do it, so can I. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Mindful Family: How Hungry Are You?

I met him on Facebook. Samuel Chu. A few days before we left for this grand adventure, I asked for recommendations for hotels in Little Rock. Samuel wrote enthusiastically: "I will be there! with my truck. Come visit!!!".  

I didn't know Samuel had a truck--I didn't know very much about Samuel at all, except that two years ago I "liked" a post he'd made on a mutual friend's wall about his father, one of the founders of the Occupy Central movement. I admire people who take stands, and Samuel and his family are worthy of admiration, and prayers. 

After a quick check-in with my co-captain Scott I signed up for four free passes to this mysterious, immersive experience about hunger, held in an expanded 18-wheeler outside of the Clinton School of Public Service, next door to the Clinton Library. We found ourselves with 30 minutes to eat lunch in the Clinton Library before the program started at 1. All of us felt the uncomfortable tug of irony: with limited time we couldn't finish our meal. 

Outside we walked toward the This Is Hunger truck and I considered the potential of a museum on wheels. Is this a museum? I wondered to myself. We climbed up and in after being greeting warmly by two volunteers and the driver. 

Inside, cool air enveloped us and we were invited to sit at a long farmhouse-style table. There were about 20 other participants at the table with us: from age 70-something to 5 months. The room was quiet, each of us filled with the promise that something special was about to happen. Projections of light from the ceiling of the room created circles, like dinner plates at each person's spot at the table. 

Samuel gave us a brief orientation, connecting us to his journey with the truck across the country. Now we twenty humans are part of the This is Hunger initiative. We are part of the story. For the next 14 minutes we were surrounded by stories, some humbling, some hard to listen to. At each end of the table, a projected image of a real human with food insecurity made two rows of people a circle. We were sharing a common human experience, but the plates were empty. We could just as easily be the human in the photograph: no one believed hunger could or would ever happen to them. 

It was powerful. When the lights came up at the end of the presentation Edward our nine year-old sat with his head down on the table, the literal expression of the weight of the world on his shoulders. Samuel broke the silence with an invitation to work together to create a meal plan from the S.N.A.P. (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). SNAP (perhaps more familiar to you as the Food Stamp Program) allows $1.40 per meal: just sit with that for a moment. Edward and I calculated and re-calculated: being hungry in America in 2017 is hard. 42 million Americans know this. 1 in 4 Veterans: once noble servants to our country are now hungry. 

Phil Snyder, a Deacon at Trinity Episcopal Church in Dallas, Texas, once taught me that evangelism is one hungry person telling another hungry person where the food is. When was the last time you or I told another hungry person where the food is? Created by Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger: the This is Hunger Experience is a classroom for the best, most necessary kind of evangelism. Samuel Chu has committed his life to telling people across the nation where the food is, and how we can tell others, too. This is compassion in action, and an intention for mindfulness led us here. 

Once we got in the car to head on to Nashville for the continuation of our Mindful Family Road Trip, Edward sat quietly in the back seat: big tears rolling down his face. His sweet compassionate heart broke a little in the This is Hunger truck. And I wonder, who will he tell when he grows up where to find the food?