12 days of holiday meditation

Many of us have the same guilty little secret: we look forward to holidays with just as much dread as with joyful anticipation. Yes, we love the parties, the decorations, the food, the family — but it’s such an overload that it’s not uncommon to wake up each morning with just a little bit of anxiety.

What’s on the to-do list today? What problems are unresolved? How many more hours do I have? What’s expected of me? Will everyone get along? Can I accept things as they are?

Wait a second! Where’s the joy?

To stay calm and to help me keep my eye on the goal — a happy holiday — I’ve been starting each morning with 5-10 minutes of meditation this week. I’m four days into it, and maybe, just maybe, I’m starting to feel just a little more centered.seesaw_balance

Day one: My guided Yogaglo meditation with Giselle Mari focused on relaxing the struggle and embracing the resistance I feel. Negative emotions are a valid part of my experience. I visualized being rooted to something bigger than myself, but staying “buoyant on the breath.”

Day two: While the coffee was brewing, I sat for 10 minutes and listened to the sounds coming from outdoors and within my home. I set an intention to stay present with the day and accept what it brought me.

Day three: Another morning meditation on Yogaglo, this time with Tiffany Cruikshank. This one was about noticing the sensations in my body. A great way for me to send some attention and breath to the achy places where I hold tension.

Day three bonus: An evening yoga class full of shoulder and heart openers. Heart-opening is not just a metaphor. Think about how your chest tenses up when you’re worried about someone you love; these postures help release that stress and make us more receptive and free to give and receive love.

Day four: Ten minutes with a Sally Kempton practice that had some similarities to day one. I worked with the idea of the “upward shift” of energy from the deeply rooted part of myself up through the heart and head. “Watching” the breath move up and down in a shower of energy helped me practice staying firmly rooted while still allowing my love and energy to flow up and out for myself and others.

What will the next 8 mornings bring? Perhaps sitting with the ideas of loving kindness, trust or grace. Maybe considering how attachment to certain ideas or outcomes sets us up for disappointment. I just want to take one more step each day toward the place in the center where life feels balanced and harmonious.

I’ve been reading Baron Baptiste’s book, “perfectly imperfect,” in which he talks about the emotional energy attached to the words “yes” and “no”. Yes offers possibility while no bears the weight of resistance. Holidays carry the risk that while we’re saying “yes” on the outside, our inner voice is saying “no.” But that resistant energy can affect our actions no matter what words we say, which is why it’s so important to be a “yes” to the experience at hand. As Baptiste writes, “The energetic vibration of yes carries the emotional energy of enthusiasm, which translates into action…yes allows for a sense of timelessness and the joy of being fully in my experience.”

I wish myself and all of you joy and peace this holiday season. Can you be a “yes” for that?

She rises still

I rose today and found out that Maya Angelou had died, but in her beautiful words I found inspiration and an intention for my days:

My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return.

Maya Angelou wrote frequently about courage. She realized that it takes courage to love and be loved, it takes courage to express empathy, it takes courage to avoid making the same mistakes twice, and it takes courage to see ourselves for who we are. Like Aristotle, she thought that courage was “the most important of all virtues. Because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtues consistently.”

600full-maya-angelouWithout courage, it is difficult to have faith in the unseen and unknown; without courage, hope becomes a struggle; and without courage, it is nearly impossible to fight for justice. For most of us, courage is a word that we use to describe other people, not ourselves. We think that someone who is courageous faces danger all the time without any fear. But Maya Angelou seemed to know that being courageous is about embracing fear with resolution, and acting in spite of it. A courageous person has the self-possession that allows her to live life fully. Courage can be quiet too.

To be courageous is to accept risk and uncertainty. In the absence of such courage, we often resist, as Sally Kempton says, “not only life’s difficulties but also life’s potential sweetness.” We deny ourselves the pleasure of opening to love or to personal growth because it might upset the delicate balance of life as we know it.  But Maya Angelou was not afraid to disturb or to change. She experienced abuse, poverty and segregation, and still embodied hope, faith and courage. She was a dancer, poet, author, actor, mother, and activist. She was not caged by any label, any role or any experience.

How do we become courageous? Eleanor Roosevelt said that, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face…we must do that which we think we cannot.” We become brave by practicing courage one day at a time; by saying “Yes, I can”; by letting go of fear, and moving toward love.

Spacious hearts in a big country

Generosity has been an important presence in my life this month. So I looked up the definition of the word, and I saw that two of its meanings are “readiness or liberality in giving” and “largeness or fullness”. I like those definitions, because truly, being ready and willing to give to others enlarges us beyond measure.

I’ve spent the past 2-1/2 weeks traveling in Australia, and I have been the beneficiary of countless acts of generosity. In Sydney, a business acquaintance invited us to his home for a relaxed and convivial family meal, because he knew that eating in restaurants night after night gets old. In Brisbane, a woman I met at dinner one night offered to drive me to the koala sanctuary I wanted to visit — and then paid for my entry once we got there. Volunteer guides at botanic gardens and art museums freely and pleasantly shared their knowledge and their passion for the treasures they oversee. The cheery people in the many small cafés and B&Bs always greeted us with a smile and an eagerness to talk about what they had to offer us.image

Sally Kempton writes that practicing generosity challenges “our trust in abundance” as well as “our ability to empathize with others”. Believing that we have enough for ourselves makes it easier to give to others, as does the perception that the person to whom we are giving has the same needs and desires as we do. The great gift of the people I met was their willingness to share, whether it was information, food or friendliness, without reservation or frugality. They acted on the assumption that our commonalities were greater than our differences, and didn’t hold back.

The connection that occurs between people when we are generous with each other is what brings fullness to us. The more we give, the more we have. It’s an expansion of the social network that takes us out of our narrow perspective and allows us to glimpse the web of possible interrelationships in the world. It enlarges our potential at the same time that it makes the world seem incredibly small and intimate.

Acts of generosity color our view of life, whether they are the kindnesses of strangers when we travel or the simple things we do for our friends and family every day. When we receive generosity, the view is as bright as a rainbow; and when we don’t, it can be as dark as a storm cloud. I saw a real rainbow one day during my trip, but I also like to think of it as a symbol of what I received.