This blog post is based on a great question that came up during a PAUSE workshop. Please click the video link above to hear the question and see if you can loosen hold on your expectations without lowering your standards.
The peeling of an onion is often used as a metaphor for peeling back the layers of someone to get to know them better or peeling back our own layers to see who we are, but what is meant by our many layers? What are we learning by peeling back the layers and do we throw away the layers as we peel them somehow revealing our best layer and now not needing the others?
I actually love onions. If you cut one open and leave it on the counter it absorbs left over smells from the evenings dinner or some other possible bad smell. If we stick with ourselves being like an onion, I would like to think that when I am wide open, or should I say fully aware, I absorb so much too.
So why do we need to be open or look at our layers? Well, for me, in doing this examining I not only forgive myself when I act like an ass but I am able to look at others and see that they too are more than just one layer (the acting like an ass layer). I mean, lets face it, when someone pushes your buttons or is mean to you, it's hard not to focus on that. We have to protect ourselves of course, so that if someone is really awful we remove ourselves from that person asap, but in the case of someone you have to work with every day or a family member you have to deal with over the holidays or when your child is in their teen years, we can stay and examine ALL of their layers as a way to get past our frustrations and anger towards them. We can focus on other parts of them that ARE good and it may help us ease up and accept where they are in each moment.
When my adopted son Keydell was first with us, he was in a rough place personally. He had a lot of adjusting to do after an early childhood of trauma. He often would meltdown in raging fits for hours on end, day after day due to his attachment disorder. This was hard to take! I had never seen anyone behave in this way, didn't understand it and rarely knew how to help him calm down. I mainly had to work on myself and how I handled it all so that I wouldn't loose my sanity. So, I practiced looking at all of Keydell's layers and not just the obvious one that sat on the surface. Yes, his layer of anger was thick but as I peeled back and looked carefully at him, I also focused on his layer of kindness, innocence, pain, dis-connection, playfulness, smarts, talent and his layer of desire to belong. When I shifted my focus to those layers it enabled me to see all the good under the layer of anger and take in how amazing this young boy was underneath his outer shell. It helped me to bond with him and love him as I began to understand that he was so much more than what he was showing us. And like an onion, I did keep peeling back and got to the part of him that was open and aware and he began to absorb all the love we had for him.
During this process I too was peeling back my own layers finding ones I didn't even know I had. My outer layer ( self defined ) was one of calmness, good parenting, peace and kindness, but I began to discover layers of anger, frustration, control and extreme desire for things to change. So I had some work to do but I also knew that my thicker layers were the ones I mentioned first and I could call on them at any time. I just had to remember that I had them and not throw them in the trash once I peeled them back. I also had to let go of self judgement around the negative layers and see they were a part of me but did not define who I was. They were a part of me but not all of me and once I was aware of how those layers negatively impacted me I was able to work with them.
So we examine our layers as a way to grow. In peeling back we reveal our many parts of who we are and often find we are more capable than we thought. My layers of frustration motivated me to keep seeking help for Keydell. My layer of desire for things to change caused me a lot of suffering and I learned to loosen that grasping and understand that I had to accept my son no matter what, yet that layer also drove me to keep loving him, showing him his good sides and helping him to open up wide and absorb all of who he was in all of his amazing wonderful human self. So I needed those layers as much as the others.
We need all of our onion layers but keep working on the ones that serve you, that guide you towards peace and connection and maybe someday you CAN throw away the unwanted layers or use them in a positive way to open you up wide so you too can absorb and be in a place of greater awareness.
Enjoy this video on Mindful listening. Get ready to close your eyes for less than two minutes, so you can give yourself a meditative break in your day. Reset, recharge and enjoy the sounds of the ocean waves. Click the link below to begin.
I did two things this past weekend that awakened me to a new awareness around what I believed to be true but was in fact so much more. One was an art opening at the Jamestown Arts Center. It was an exhibition featuring artists from a few Rhode Island disability service organizations. I knew the art had been created by mentally challenged individuals but I had no idea how blown away I was going to be at the amazing work I saw the minute I walked in the room. The art was raw, from the heart and really beautiful; and why shouldn't it be? "Of course the art could be good Kim," I said to myself. "Art comes from the heart and all of these artists are full of heart." I quickly realized this by talking to some of them about their pieces. I don't think I had ever really thought about it before but now I was realizing that these beautiful artists had as much to say about their world as any non mentally challenged artist. Duh? I guess what I am trying to say is that my eyes were opened to the fact that I just hadn't thought about it before. I believed I knew who mentally challenged people were as a group. They are not a "group", they are individuals just like I am. I was disconnected from knowing anyone from Looking Upwards, for example (which is located on my street), beyond seeing them walking up and down the street once and a while with one of the staff members. I felt the desire to stop and talk with them more after seeing their art. It's not like I avoided talking with them, I just hadn't made the effort before. As an artist we had a lot in common and after seeing that show I realized we had more than just that in common. We were human beings with opinions, views on the world and a way to beautifully show it to others through our work.
The second thing I did was go to the Women's March in Providence, RI. I hesitated going because large crowds can sometimes overwhelm me but I decided to bring my camera so I would concentrate on that verses being in the big crowds. What blew me away however, was that the crowd was so peaceful and thoughtful towards one another that I was not overwhelmed at all. When I hear the word protest I think of angry mobs but this was certainly not that. The women, men and children there were protesting their basic rights as human beings being taken away, with signs, speeches, standing in unity and with grace. I did not see or feel the need for any police control and enjoyed meeting new people as I photographed.
I am always glad to have my mind blown wide open with new awareness. I was reminded at the art show about how important it is talk with others who are "different" than I am whether it is because they think differently than I do or they look differently than I do. I was reminded not to make assumptions and remember to explore and get curious like I had done by going to this art opening. I learned from one of the artists that he has a studio in Pawtucket and that I am welcome there any time and I learned that two of the male artists swim at the Y with my husband sometimes and now he can say Hi to them by name. And mostly I leaned that being mentally challenged does not mean you can't make incredible art work. At the Women's March I felt that because the intention was set on the Women's March website to keep the marches peaceful that everyone did just that. Maybe we need to have a website that sets that intention for our everyday living. It certainly is my intention every day but man was it nice to see so many people from all walks of life, from so many races, religions and sexual orientations accepting one another as human beings; just as human loving beings. So it was a great weekend. I was aware of some beauty in the world for sure, through art and through peaceful self expression at the Women's March.
Get to know someone who is different than you. See what could be possible in learning about who they are and how they feel, express and live. You just might have your mind blown wide open around what you believed to be true and what is actually true.
Yesterday towards the end of the workday, I found a big error in a program I had been working on. The problem did not only effect me but many others, but I felt very responsible for fixing it. I called the programmer and began to feel myself get upset as we talked because he did not seem to think the issue was a big one and did not feel the need to fix it. I could feel myself getting more and more concerned, shaken and panicky and thought I might start yelling at the guy. I like things to be right damn it! I really needed to think about how to fix MY problem if he was not going to make the changes I wanted to the program so I said I had to go. I hung up kind of abruptly. I called my business partner and explained what was happening and she had her own reaction. An ALL CAPS EMAIL WAS SENT TO OUR PROGRAMMER from her. The tech guy we work with on our end was not as kind. He ripped the programmer a new one and said fix this issue now or we are going to have a bigger problem. So round and round all of our responses went. We had stubborn, defensive, worried, anxious, angry, reactive, threatened, fear and panic going all over the place. It was interesting to watch how we all navigated the situation. Part of the problem for me was that the programmer seemed unwilling to hear our concerns. His reaction came across as blocked, hard and closed off. Tough to work with that one!
Once we all had time to think and gather the information we needed to see the light, make a decision around our problem and find a solution, things started to unfold. I myself, took some long deep breaths, tried not to blame but find an agreeable fix. Sometimes when you have a lot of people involved in a process, communication becomes so important and somewhere along the lines, it broke down in this situation. GET THINGS IS WRITING! Our programmer, through the wisdom of one of his advisers, realized he had made a mistake. He called us back and said he would fix the problem. And he did.
I find when things get tough like this, especially when it comes to communicating, it's important to be a good listener. You have to listen to your inner voice, hear your outer voice (am I yelling?), and listen to the concerns of others. You have to let go of your ego and try to see things from all sides. Sometimes it means admitting you made a mistake and in this case we all did. We make assumptions that should not be made and in business or personally that can cause many problems. So as I continue to practice being a good communicator through my words, my photographic images or on a dance floor, I try to be fully self expressed and with kinder words, fewer, yet more impactful images and with the grace of a butterfly.
Most of all... I try to be a good listener.
Many people want to practice living in the moment yet they don't really know how. "The moment" is an ever changing thing so how can you possibly live in THE moment? Which one is THE moment? Start by practicing noticing just one of those moments a day through the use of photography. Photographs document what we see and not what we believe to be true. Our thoughts tend to project and imagine what is going on way to often vs. seeing the truth. When we stop to make an image with our camera it slows us down and gives us an opportunity to really look at something or someone. In this process maybe just for ONE moment we can see what is really there; letting go of our conditioning, our story or our thoughts about the subject and really be in THE moment. If you have a cell phone with a camera, carry it with you with the intention of taking only one photo a day. With this intention you will find that you start paying attention to your moments with less of the thinking mind and more of the seeing mind. Practice looking at things as they are and without any particular thoughts around them. See light, color, shape, form and texture and let go of your story around the subject. On a rainy day, for example, see reflections, soft light, colors, water droplets on your window or shapes umbrellas make instead of having thoughts like "it's dreary, it's dull and I hate days like this." With this practice of looking through your camera you will begin to live in THE moment even when you decide to put that camera down and really be present without having to document.
Getting Intimate with your Dentist
My Dinner Plate project is a portrait project about people who have had something to do with my one plate of dinner. It is a practice in gratitude for people in my life who have helped me in this way. Some of the people I know and some I don't. My dentist and his hygienist have been working on my teeth since I was a kid but do I really know them?
No one else goes digging around my mouth every six months! When Bruce, my dentist and Cheryl who cleans my teeth came to my studio on two separate shoot days they both talked about the intimacy of cleaning someones teeth. I had never really thought about it before but they were so right. I mean you are lying down in the chair, their face is like six inches from your face and they have their fingers or some other tool in your mouth. Very intimate. Bruce the Dentist, said he can feel when someone is looking him in the eyes but he doesn't want to look back thinking it will make the situation feel more awkward. He keeps staring at the teeth but not their eyes. Cheryl said some people get really uncomfortable and some are fine. They open wide; no problem, or it takes a bit of coaxing.
Intimacy is so different for everyone. The dictionary definition that comes up first is:
1. a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group. (and I will add with ones self)The second:
2. a close association with or detailed knowledge or deep understanding of a place, subject, period of history (and I will add with ones self again.)
I believe that when we are more intimate with others, things, places or subjects we will have a richer experience with them. This kind of intimacy can make our lives more full and alive because we are taking the time to get close, see clearly and gain wisdom about something or someone. We aren't just skating through life with a dull sense of being or a lack of a deep connection to people and experiences. Who wants a dull life? This does not mean we have to be all touchy feely by the way. Not everyone is comfortable with that but it means finding a way to connect and be present to what is in front of you and in that moment. It means letting go of what is expected from yourself or from others and just letting your mind be clear and your body be in a place of feeling.
Today I was teaching mindful photography to a woman and we were at the beach photographing for our session. I talked about how we often come down to beach and notice the beauty in the big picture; in the grand landscape. " But," I asked her, "what do you really see? What details make up the scene?" We started to look at color, textures, shapes and light and got intimate with the rocks, sand and seaweed. We noticed the way the shadows played on the shells and the light on the water. We had a great time. We got to know the beach and each other in a richer and fuller way by getting to know the details and getting to know what each of us found important to photograph. We let go of what we "normally" expect from a visit to the beach and were just with what was there at that moment. If we went again in an hour our experience would be different and just as amazing. When we can do this kind of practice it allows us to see the beauty in more things. We are not going in with expectations about how something "should" be but going in with what is.
Next time you are angry, see if you can get intimate with that feeling. See where you feel it in your body and notice the thoughts around the anger. What are you actually angry at? Can you look at it from another perspective and shift the anger in to curiosity? I have heard that our emotions change every 15 seconds so we can actually shift fairly quickly from a negative feeling to a positive one. When we start to get intimate with our emotions we can better control them and have a more positive response to situations or people verses reacting all the time. We know how that can turn out. So if you know what anger feels like; tension, tightness or heat, then you might notice it when you feel those sensations coming on and say "Oh, Hi Anger, I know you," and decide to calm down and have a more positive experience.
Getting to know your body is important and can be learned through sitting really still or through movement like dance or yoga. Getting to know your thoughts can come through slowing down, sitting in meditation or by reflecting on past experiences and how you reacted. Next time you are in the dentists chair, see if how you feel about what is happening and if you are nervous, uncomfortable with the closeness or freaked out, see if you can look at the positive. Having healthy teeth allows you to eat and that is why I am grateful for Bruce and Cheryl and asked them to be a part of my Dinner Plate project. Not many people would dig around in my mouth for a living. Thanks for getting intimate with me guys.
Passion may be a friendly or eager interest in or admiration for a proposal, cause, discovery, or activity or love – to a feeling of unusual excitement, enthusiasm or compelling emotion, a positive affinity or love, towards a subject.
This comes straight from Wikipedia so it must be true. Ha Ha.
I love passionate people. I love how deeply they feel and how they often show it in their own special way. It may be through tears, through speaking up when needed or taking action to help someone or a cause. I have always felt that when I have a passion for something it makes me feel more alive and excited about life. I want to wake up and take on the day with vigor. It gives me something to look forward to in a way.
These two women who are part of "My Dinner Plate" series are two very passionate people to me. Mary, who I met a long time ago when she was pregnant and I was doing a photo series on pregnant women, came to my studio for a portrait. She was so filled with joy and laughter as we took images of her giant belly while her lazy dog lay at her feet. I was struck by her effortless joy even in her state of pre-motherhood. I think she laughed through the whole shoot. She now has four grown children and we remain friends. She also hires me for photography work so it helps pay for my dinner food. One of her daughters did a service trip with my daughter to Guatemala and India to help in some villages with water supplies and house building. When the girls were getting on the bus to leave for the airport for India, Mary was a bag of teary water works. She was so honestly beautiful and emotional about her daughter leaving and it was so moving to see. I think she was crying for joy, worry about her daughter and the rest of the group and moved by the whole idea of what the kids would be doing for the small village in India. Her tears were honest and pure. I loved it and I love her for her vulnerability. She seems very in touch with her feelings and not afraid to show them. She is real.
Rachel has been a dear friend since our kids were very young. I so admire the passion she has for life in general but mostly for her passion for movement. She is a dancer and an avid swimmer. She keeps trying to get me to be a fish with her but I am all about legs on the ground. She swims in the ocean and in the pool all year round. I photographed her for my project because she has been swimming for the annual Save the Bay swim for over 27 years. Her fundraising efforts have helped with the bay clean up which of course keeps the seafood in the bay healthy and edible. She is dedicated to the efforts in preserving nature and even drives a Prius to help keep our air clean. Her passion for movement extends to teaching dance to people with Parkinson's disease so whether she is swimming or dancing her movement helps in some way. I know her passion for movement brings pure joy to herself and those around her because there is always a huge Cheshire Cat smile on her face and on those who come in contact with her.
Thanks to both of you for being such awesome and inspiring, passionate women.
Do you have a passion? Do you have something that you do that is true to your heart and fills you with joy, tears, laughter or creativity? We all have a gift to share with the world and it often starts from a passion we have about something. So find your gift, your passion and share it with others. Let them see your light even if it feels small. It is valuable if it is honest and from the heart. If I were going to add to the definition of passion it would be the emotions or feelings that come straight from the heart, not from the head. They are raw, strong and moving feelings that you can't just sit on or push down. They move us to do something wonderful.
There are a lot of people I admire in the world, who motivate me, inspire me and whom I am grateful to also call a friend. My friend Kristine, who I photographed for "My Dinner Plate" project is one of those people. We met through work. She is someone who has hired me to do photography work for several years which enables me to buy the food I eat for dinner. After a few years working together, I asked a big favor of her with the idea that she might just say no. I was involved in a fashion show fundraiser for an arts organization in town and we needed some last minute models for some pretty amazing and unique clothes. Kristine is attractive and tall so I thought of her. During her work day she is a very put together and professional woman. She is smart and on the ball. I was not sure she would be in to something "like this." Something artsy and funky.
She said yes right away!
The designers ended up putting her in a knit wear outfit that was quite sexy and unusual. I think there were knitted holes in various places. Kristine rocked that outfit and was amazing on the runway. She was as professional as a model as she was at work. I instantly loved her for her courage and willingness to jump right in. I felt a bit guilty for judging who I thought she was. I pegged her as conservative and perhaps not in to that kind of thing. I was wrong. I did not know Kristine very well at the time on a friendly level so it's my fault for making those kinds of assumptions. I think we do that way too often. We decide how we feel about someone before we have the facts about them. Kristine is someone who lives life fully, likes to try new things and take on new things. I love that about her and it inspires me to do the same. When I asked her to be a subject for my project her response was "sure, it can't be any worse than what I did for you last time." She was of course referring to the fashion show.
Kristine and I have had lots of great conversations over the years about work, love and adopting children. She has a beautiful boy now and is a great mother. She made the decision to adopt and did it! I have huge respect for her undertaking because as an adoptive parent myself, I know what that takes and she did it alone. Good job Kristine.
I practice everyday to not judge or assume things about people before I get to know them. Even then I try to let go of judgement. We are all out in the world trying to find happiness and have some fun along the way. We never really know what someones struggles, dreams or hopes are until we take the time to get to know them. Maybe sometimes its none of our business either so be kind and if anything, assume they need love just like you. Thanks Kristine for helping with my plate of dinner and so much more.
It has been a while since I have written a post. Sometimes I just get blocked when it comes to writing.
My communication strength definitely comes in the form of images. I love to tell a story with photos which is why Instagram sucks up my time. All those images just ready for me to make up stories about. It's like a mini gallery where I pick all the artists. Anyway....
I have started a new project that will share my journey of gratitude for all the people connected to my one plate of dinner. I wanted to do a new portrait series but needed a theme or motivation for myself in picking the people. I remembered a practice I do before dinner sometimes where I think about what went in to my dinner that evening and all the people who helped make it possible. So this is my motivation. Here are some of the first images starting right in my own home. My son Keydell eats with me and often sets the table. Jim, my husband cooks a lot of the time and man am I grateful for that. I have decided to photograph everyone very simply with nothing on up top. I am hoping to show that we are all the same in our human-ness yet so unique in our expression. I am looking for a connection in the shots. Working with each subject, I am trying to find that look they give me as we both realize how we are connected in the simplest way.
Sometimes that takes a while. I mean when was the last time you took your shirt off for a photographer and felt instantly comfortable and connected to them. At least my first two subjects know me well.
Its not often that we really look at and appreciate others. I know that when I am talking to someone, I see them but am often so wrapped up in what they are saying and what I am thinking that I don't really see them. This will give you and me the opportunity to really look at other humans and all their unique qualities that make them so special. We are connected to so many people that we don't even realize who or how sometimes. Who knows how many people I will end up photographing but I think it could be endless. Stay tuned as I keep going and may you too find gratitude for all who help you in your day. Be kind to everyone and be helpful yourself. You just never know. You could end up in a portrait series.
I first began designing the Year In Gratitude photography class back in the summer. I realized I have many things to be grateful for in my life but some things slip through my awareness crack. (Not to be confused with other cracks.) It is easy to find gratitude for sunsets, my dog, good food and my family but what about all the people in my life that I interact with daily or just once and then never see again? I have often thought it so interesting to meet someone on a plane, for example, have a really cool conversation with them and then boom.... never see them again. I remember some people from airplane rides that had a big effect on me or got me thinking about something differently. I really appreciated that time with them. I also met some really helpful airline stewardesses and stewards who I may never see again. How do I tell them I am grateful for their patience dealing with all the cranky, farting travelers who need to sneak by them in the narrow isle to go to the bathroom. "OH, and can I get another soda when you get a chance?"
Showing gratitude is basically giving a big thank you to someone. I know that when someone takes time to thank me, I get all warm and fuzzy inside. I know it sounds corny but it is true. I love knowing that someone appreciates me or my efforts. I don't strive for the thank you in my helping someone but it sure is nice when you get it. If you thank with sincerity the person feels it even more. So, I decided to thank people by taking their photo.
I have gotten so much more out of the process than I ever thought I would.
I was walking at a golf course and saw a grounds guy spraying the lawn. The water was making such a beautiful fan in the morning light. I watched for a bit and was glad he was there to show me that. As I got closer to him I told him what I saw and thanked him for keeping the grass in such great shape. "Can I take your photo?" He did not really speak much English but he saw I had my phone camera out. After some pointing and saying louder (as if that makes him understand English better) "I want to photograph you for doing a good job," he finally understood and let me take this image of him. Back to work he went. I wonder what he thought of all that.
The next guy was the cable repair guy. I don't know about you but I rely a lot on my internet service so I was grateful he was there to fix our problem. I told him about my year in gratitude practice and he thought it was pretty cool. He totally got why we should practice gratitude and we ended up having a really great conversation about it. Have not seen him since.
So... how many times have you gone to the grocery store and seen the blank glazed over look of the checkout people. I sometimes stare at them just to see if they will look up at me at all. On one particular day I had a lot of veggies in my cart, which are hard to run through the self check out so I was in the line with two cashiers I see a lot. It was a fairly slow day at the grocery store so I thought it was a good time to thank them for their service with a photo. Well, let me tell you... the guy turned all red and smiled the biggest smile. He was so happy to let me take his picture and told me how much he loves photography and proceeded to tell me about a cool image he just captured in the snow. Not only do I know something about him now but I got a bit of insight to what makes him tick. Who knew? The woman, I found out, after opening up a bit of conversation around my project, told me she liked to drum and was involved with a local Indian tribe where she visited and practiced her drumming. Again... who knew?
I now feel like these people are not just random encounters. I have made a connection with them in a deeper way. (Not too deep. That would just be weird.) Normally I would have just given a quick "Hi" or glance. The act of stopping, thanking them and asking them if I can take their photo has been so fun and given me a new awareness about how quickly we judge others too. Everyone has something to offer us but if we do not stay open to the possibility of learning from every encounter, we will miss it.
Thank you, all you people in my life, who I was once very neutral towards for everything you have done for me. You have bagged my groceries for very little pay, you have fixed what I could not and you spoke to me without the use of language but through your smile you gave me as I snapped your photo.
This might seem odd but I have been practicing a year in gratitude through the use of photography. I take an image a day of something I am grateful for. So when I met this man today who helped me I included him in my project.
I try to give blood every 8 weeks and today was my day. Afterwards, I always go for the pack of Oreos as my recovery snack. I do love Oreos. Anyway, today there was an older gentleman who was mentally challenged, helping in that area of the blood center. As I approached the table of snacks he asked if I wanted a drink. "Yes, I would love a cranberry juice please." He smiled, so happy to help, and said, "Do you want two?" I said no thank you and then said, "but I would love a pack of Oreos." And so he found a pack for me even though I could have very well gotten it for myself. I could tell he enjoyed his work helping others. I asked him if he was a volunteer for the day and he said he came every week for two hours. His aid sat next to him and listened to him as he spoke with me. When I finished my cookies and juice I asked him if I could take his photo? He had that confused look on his face that most people get when I first ask this question so I explained my project. He happily agreed afterwards. I asked his aid to be in the photo too. She most likely loves her work but does not get paid much and man do I have gratitude for people like that.
What I love about taking the photo of these two people is that I won't forget them now. I will look at that photo and it will remind me of the good in the world. We so often remember the bad before the good and this helps bring the good more to the forefront of my thinking.
So even though giving blood is not my favorite thing, it's not bad. When I meet people like "Frank" it makes it a little bit better. Here's to all the volunteers in the world who give their time to others. And donate blood. Many need that too.
If you want to practice your own year of gratitude, please join me at amindfulphotographer.com. Happy Photographing.
I love hugging. I hug at almost every greeting I have (outside of business meetings) with friends, family, my pets and people I have recently met and am saying goodbye to. Not everyone is a hugger of course, so I try to get a read off people before I go in for the big squeeze.
It's kind of funny actually to watch the body language of others before, during and after the hug. As I am leaning in I might see a leaning out! Then I know to just do the light and spacious hug. A little pat on the back is usually included. No mid section touching what so ever. If I see them coming towards me with open arms in a receptive manner, I go in for the full wrap and squeeze. You have to watch some people though, they might also have the open mouth to go with the open arms. Then it's my turn to lean out. "I did not say I wanted a kiss too, ya creep." Kidding. Some people get the kiss too but mainly reserved for family and hot guys.
Then there are those who hold on during the hug. I personally love the teddy bear body type so if one of my pals wants to hang out in the hug for a bit and has that body type going on, then I kind of like hanging in the hug for a bit too. It just feels nice. Some people who are not so in to hugging, give you the push me pull you hug. One hand is kind of hugging and the other is kind of pushing your arm away. Very confusing but I get it. They WANT to hug but on their terms. No problem. If you are one of those people, I have news for you. Hugging for extended periods of time lifts your serotonin levels which can elevate your mood and increase happiness so bring in it guys. Let the hug last. No pushing away. We all want more happiness. Then their is the lift and twirl hug. I used to love that but as I get older, it hurts and most people I know don't really want to hurt their back at this stage in the game.
Hugs can instantly boost oxytocin levels too which help heal feelings of anger, isolation or loneliness. You can even hug yourself sometimes and get this effect. Hugs can strengthen your immune system, give a sense of safety and usually put us right in the present moment. We are feeling in the moment of the hug, noticing our body and others.
Now sometimes I wonder if the other person is thinking "oh man, here she comes with the hug" as I am leaning in so I am guessing they are in the moment too but in a not so positive way. Can we give in to others when they want to hug us. We of course need to feel safe and not creepy so its always best to assess the situation but for the most part I feel like hugs are a big THANK YOU. Thank you for visiting with me, thank you for being who you are, thank you for receiving my gift of a hug, you get the drift.
I spent a weekend in New York many years ago (pre 9/11) on a hugging experiment. I told my girlfriends who I was there with, that I was going to hug anyone who did something nice for me over the weekend. ANYONE... so, after our safe cab ride, I hugged the cabbie. He was so happy and surprised. I hugged our waiter and said thank you for your great service tonight. He called his boss over so he would know that a customer appreciated him. I asked a young and tiny woman if she wanted a hug as we stood in line to get in to a club. It was freezing and she had on a tank top. She accepted. It was a funny weekend and I got a variety of responses but mostly positive. I hope I lifted a few immune systems and increased some happiness and most of all I hope all who I hugged then went and hugged someone else to say thank you.
Give it a try today. Let someone know you appreciate them. No words needed. And watch out; the next time I see you, you might get a big hug.
Give your time
Give away something you love
Wait, what? ..... give away something I love? Yes, it is possible and I promise you will love it.
The practice of giving is one of the best practices you can have. It sets the stage for everything else good in your life. It starts a habit of kindness, awareness of others, non-attachment and a wisdom around how others live. It opens you to looking outside of yourself and you begin to realize how connected and alike we all really are.
Have you ever given your time at a soup kitchen? There are a lot of hungry people out there and I know for me, if I am hungry, I am not happy. I know one thing for sure is that everyone wants to be happy and that makes me the same as the person who I am serving soup to. It is our basic human desire to want to be happy and we look for it where ever we can find it. We want it to last and last. Have you ever really thought about what happy feels like? The practice of giving has a very similar feeling. It feels warm, light and open because your heart is acting out of kindness and love. Like any other emotion, happiness comes and goes but if I know how to get it, I am going to go for it.
When you give it should be done without expecting anything in return. It should be like the way you give love to your children. Of course our children come from us and they are cute and cuddly and we are bonded to them. The other kind of giving is when you give to those whom you don't know but you know will benefit just the same. When you do this, you don't always know what the rewards are or the thanks are but know in your heart that it IS making a difference. Giving is not something we think about all the time but I know I am trying to do more of it. When I keep my awareness open to it I find myself feeling less tuned in to my own woes. I feel more compassionate to those who might be in need, knowing that I have been in need at times and am so grateful when others have helped me unconditionally. If I give away something that I love, I try not to think about what I might be losing but what someone else might be gaining. I actually am gaining as well.
I was at a meditation retreat once and our guide was discussing the practice of non-attachment. How we can gain much more peace by not grasping so tightly emotionally to our "things." All week another student had been commenting on my Mala beads. They were kind of unique dark beads; almost black. She really liked them. I started thinking, as the instructor was talking, about these beads and how much I loved them too. Then I thought, "OK Kim, let's see what you are made of. Give the beads to that woman even though she didn't ask for them but just because she likes them and give this non-attachment thing a try." She was about to be a Grandmother so I thought it would be a nice thing to honor her new title. I was getting all crazy about it. I thought, "I love these beads, they have been to see the Dalai Lama and everything, they are so cool, I wear them all the time." Yadda yadda yadda. So, towards the end of the retreat, I went over and told her I wanted to give them to her. I told her I had loved them and enjoyed them for a while now and it was time to pass them on for good luck in her new role as a Grandmother. She was thrilled and damn it, so was I. It was nice. I felt good, happy and more happy. Then.... I went right down to the gift shop and got myself a new set of Mala beads. Hey, I am only human.
My point is, it's a practice. Like anything, it's about opening your awareness to others and being a kind person. It is about seeing if you can make someone happy or relieve a hunger or need in them, it is about finding compassion for all human beings and their desire to be happy; just like your desire to be happy. So give it away... whatever that is for you. Everything you have in this life is precious; your time, your body, your energy, but I guarantee that when you share it with an open heart it will double. So give what you can, whenever you can and that happiness with keep coming your way. Besides, if you give something away, it is a good reason to go shopping for something new.
The grass and weeds that creep in over the edge of my gravel driveway were making me nuts. I would pull in to park and it was the first thing I would see. It's almost impossible for the weeds not to do that without using some icky chemical spray to kill them or having me down on my hands and knees pulling the weeds out. They are freakin' glued down I swear.
Sometimes when life feels out of control, ( as if I ever really have control ) doing things like mowing the lawn have a real sense of satisfaction when the job is done. It just looks so nice. Kind of like vacuuming. But lately when I finish all I can see are those dang weeds along the driveway. "OK, so I am obsessing," I think to myself. I am a visual person though so stuff like that is an eye sore. I was locked in to thinking a certain way about these stupid weeds. Like weeds can actually be stupid. As if they are actually out to get ME. Me me ME. They are just doing what they do... growing. That is what they are supposed to do. They are not over thinking like I am, they are just BEING weeds. But I want to control them. Ha Ha Ha.
Then one evening, my daughter Ella and I took a nice summer walk. It was warm and the sun was getting low. As we got back to the house she says, "Don't you just love the front of our house. It feels so homey especially in the summer. I love how the weeds come up in the driveway." SAY WHAT? I laughed to myself and thought, "Well there you go, a new perspective on the weeds." I was delighted to hear her say that home felt homey for one thing, because I always want her to come home and feel welcome and cozy here, but to hear her say how the weeds in the driveway made her feel that way (along with other things) was just perfect. Her statement shook me out of my one track mind thinking. I started to look at the weeds in a whole new light. Did the weeds change? Did they all of a sudden decide they would do something nice for me by being "homey?" NO... I just saw them through the eyes of Ella. My perspective had changed knowing that those dang weeds were a part of what made my daughter feel warm and fuzzy about her house. In a split second, the weeds were something I adored when not a second ago they were like a constant reminder that I was "out of control." Life was messy and I was in it. Hmmmm.
So maybe there are other things I can practice looking at that make me nuts and see if I can see them differently. Maybe I can see them through NEW eyes and find delight or at least not waste negative energy thinking about them in a bad way. Those weeds are just weeds. I obviously can't control them but I can work with them and find ways to think about them that is more productive and positive. It is my mind and thoughts that make the weeds annoying and ugly. Obviously, Ella sees them in a whole other way. "Let the weeds be," I say to myself. "Then you will have more time to take nice long walks with your daughter than spending time swearing at the ground pulling weeds from a driveway for goodness sakes. I mean really." The weeds are awesome, they feel like home!
I live on a highly traveled road that cuts through two main roads leading in and out of town. It's an unusual street because it has a retirement community, a trailer home section, a church, a gas station, a school, office buildings, an airport and private homes all on it. The funny part is that the whole street is only a mile long. The not so funny part is that is has been under construction since last fall!
It started with underground work so lots of holes begin dug. The work stopped for the winter and then this May it started up again. We are almost to the paving part so it is really torn up now in preparation. To say the least it has been a practice in patience. Every day I leave our driveway I have to look left then right to see which end of the street I will be able to leave from. Sometimes I can't get back in the way I left so I end up driving all the way around to the other end which adds about 5-10 minutes to my driving time. I have heard myself actually grunt with annoyance. It's pretty funny.
This situation is just one of many that has tried my patience throughout life. These kinds of things come up all the time. Mostly it involves other people don't ya think? My kids try my patience, people in traffic try my patience and having to wait for something that is not so pleasant to change, can really try my patience. I look at this construction on the road as a metaphor for my life really. It's a short road with lots of diversity and bumps and I have to navigate it carefully everyday. Do I want to be annoyed, impatient or angry all the time or can I find some peace in all the chaos and change? My biggest pot hole recently was hearing about my husband Jim's cancer diagnosis. I fell hard into that hole with the news and I think it cracked my suspension. But three months later, he is cancer free and recovering slowly but surely. Each day throughout his treatment we looked left and right or straight ahead and proceeded in the direction we were able to, we navigated all the smooth and rough pavement by being present to each moment and not worrying about the next bump until it came. We both decided very early on that we would not let ourselves think too much about what COULD happen (negatively) and just drove out the driveway each day to see what was at the end; no expectations of what would be there. Jim was amazing through it all. He was the driver and I was the navigator. He never complained but kept me informed of his condition or feelings and I acted in each moment depending on his requests and needs. He did what he needed to in rest and with his medications and I did what I needed to with taking care of our son, myself and the house. Did we get impatient sometimes? You bet. Impatient with not feeling better sooner, impatient with the prednisone mood swings, impatient with the side effects like constant coughing that annoyed both of us and just wanting it all to be over. This is where the practice came in. I had to remember that this too would pass just like the construction on the road. We would get through the six treatments and begin to recover. For Jim it will be quite a practice as he is sooo ready to feel better. He is in the third week after his last treatment and usually he would be getting anxious about going back for another but he instead gets to keep on healing. Then he gets a cold! More practice. Colds last about ten days right? Breathe.
Everyday is your birthday but yesterday I turned 50.
Each day, and really in each moment, we have an opportunity to be born again. My belief is that my birth was simply a passing from one moment to the next for me. I was in the womb, then I was not. My mother may have a different opinion about it only being a moment but you get my point. I did not breathe on my own and then I did. That is a pretty drastic change within a moment. Then we have subtler changes that happen throughout our lives as well as the continued sudden changes. All changes effect us its how we process those changes that gives us the opportunity to be "reborn."
Some people do not like their birthdays. I guess it reminds them that they are aging. How come we liked our birthday so much as a kid? We were aging then too. When do we go from being excited about our aging selves to not liking our aging selves? Is it when we have our fourteenth birthday, our twentieth birthday or our fiftieth? I think my 93 year old grandfather is happy again when he has a birthday. He is just glad to be alive. Screw the aging issue; he is happy to be breathing and thinking clearly. We tend to go from not liking our body to being grateful for the vessel that it is, that has allowed us to live in this world.
I have been lucky to have a blessed life with a kind family and friends. My birthdays have always been a happy time. I know for some maybe not. But I think, what a birthday can be for everyone, is a reminder that we can make changes by choice and embrace the ones that happen naturally through aging. At any time, we can re-define ourselves if we are not happy. We have a choice to think about things in a new way, a choice to react to things in a more positive way and a choice to be kinder, more compassionate and more of service to those who are less fortunate. Birthdays are a time to celebrate all that is good in your life. All that is good in you. I would say that most people want to be happy and kind but often have many factors that lead them to forget how to be. We have stress, we feel hurt or damaged, we feel ugly or unlovable or unworthy of a celebration of self. But my belief is that everyone has something to offer the world and even if it is only one thing, it is valuable. It might just be a cracker.Today on my first day of year 51 (because actually, when I turned 50 yesterday I had already lived that 50th year), I meditated on non-violence or non-harm for this year. I hoped for that around the world and for myself and those I love. It is an intention to live with kindness towards others and myself. I also want to keep trying new things and challenge my creativity. I have started to play with refurbishing furniture and making old pieces into new pieces of furniture. My husband and I rode our scooter 30 miles to the Block Island Ferry instead of driving and it was scary for me but really really fun. I am running again after years of not. I decided to give it a go after becoming much more flexible through doing hot yoga. I am not running fast but it feels good to be moving like that again. Who knew? So each morning see what you want to be born again in you. Maybe you want to birth something new! Look at each day as an opportunity to wake up and make new choices, think more positively or love yourself just as you are: PERFECT. We all change and so do the conditions around us but I say embrace life, make adjustments, adapt and live with as much ease as your mind will allow. Ask for help if you need to or offer help when it is needed. Choose to be kind and have a happy birthday everyone. Every day.
Here's to 50 more!
This morning's meditation practice was full. Not in that it was rich with wisdom or enlightenment but the room I sit in was full. Joining me on this fine rainy morning were my three cats and Border Collie, Edo. Normally, when I go in the room to sit, I look at the dog sitting outside the door as I slowly close it making sure he does not want to come in. He usually prefers guarding it from the outside while I am in there. He came in today because he was following one of the cats who dashed in all frisky like. Already in the room was my oldest cat, who is a big yellow tabby. He was ahead of me in starting meditation and all curled up in the easy chair. I proceeded to sit down on my cushion and begin when in came the third cat. "This ought to be interesting" I thought. I do love a challenge in my practice of sitting with chaos going on around me, so here it was.
My cat Percy, who is only 6 months old and his sister Phillis were tooling around the room as I began focusing on my breath. My practice today was going to be one of concentration and stilling the body, visualizing it as a light white body as I imagined the Buddha in front of me. Concentration practices are tough for me so adding the distraction of silly kittens, a curious dog and an old purring tiger (sounds like the name for an old Asian folk tale character) I had my work cut out for me. I love a challenge.
I am breathing, I am breathing, I am saying my mantra, I am becoming still, I hear loud purring and scuffling around behind the chair. I think Phillis is attacking the old tiger. Ra is his name. He gives a hiss, then I hear nothing. I am breathing, visualizing the light in my body, becoming still. Edo flops down next to me as Percy treads the blanket I have on my lap. Tread, tread, purr, purr, I am breathing, focusing on the stillness. I begin to visualize sending white light to the animals. I breath in, I breath out white light to them. Calming, becoming still. Phillis has quieted down. I can't help but peek to see if she was able to lay next to Ra. The kittens always try but he is too grumpy to be bothered. She has ended up on the back of the big easy chair and he is in the seat. Close enough. Percy has settled down in my lap and Edo is snoring beside me. Ah, we have calm. We are breathing, we are breathing. It was so interesting that when I just sat there very still, the beasts around me (and in me) began to calm down too.
Isn't that just a great metaphor for life? Am I using that word right? Anyway, it just got me thinking about how if I tried that more often when I am off the cushion too, than maybe all things would calm down around me. I mean let's face it; half the chaos is in our own mind anyway. We could be sitting still and something as simple as a car horn beeps and we go off on a thinking tangent. "Wow, that was loud! I wonder who did that? Probably some jerk who is annoyed at the world. They probably have some fancy car. I need a new car. My car is so crappy, I hate it. Man I am broke. Maybe I need a new job.... ALL FROM A CAR HORN!
So, as I get up from my cushion this morning with a feeling of stillness within me and lightness in my body, I try to carry it in to my day. When I hear a noise that is alarming, I just call it noise. I try not to let myself get carried away with thoughts and just hear the noise. I try not to react but just be with what is happening. I can do this if I stay still inside even when there is chaos around me. Maybe if the cats and dog continue to meditate with me, they will be able to see the vacuum as just the vacuum and not as a big noisy beast that is coming to eat them. They will be able to be one with the vacuum. Or in the dog's case, he will stop biting it as the vacuum comes towards and away from him in such a playful manner. I doubt it! He is a dog. Sheesh. No peace.... unless I stay calm and still and see the dog as being a dog. That's just what he does. Good luck and give it a try. Just you and all your pets.