Finding Quiet, With Yourself, With Others

Young woman in hammockWhen I tell people that I meditate I get different responses. One of the most common ones is that they have tried to meditate but it is too hard. When I ask what they find hard about it, they usually say that their mind is all over the place and they can’t sit still for anything more than a few minutes. They can’t keep their mind quiet. Yes, that is true for most everyone. Monkey mind, thoughts racing here and there, is part of meditation. I meditate with the understanding that in all likelihood my mind will wander and I will bring it back to some anchor like breathing or mantra or whatever technique I am practicing that day. I am practicing finding quiet.

Finding quiet is a powerful experience. And yet it can be a scary journey. When you are quiet you are alone with your own thoughts. What if those thoughts are uncomfortable, painful, scary or sad? That’s enough reason for many people to avoid finding quiet. Better to rush around and ignore the bad thoughts, you might think. When, contrarily, being quiet and allowing thoughts to rise without attachment to them is one technique through those painful thoughts. At the other side, when you reach quiet, there is a stillness that I find is intoxicating and calming.

I have wanted to do a silent retreat for a long time. And yet I have not followed through because I fear spending a lot of time with quiet. It seems easy enough for me to make quiet time daily for meditation. But the thought of silence for a full day, or several days in a row, sounds unimaginable. I am in the process of studying the Brahma Viharas: The Buddha’s Teachings on Loving-kindness, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity (or Peace). I am reminded that one of the tenderest things you can give to yourself is quiet time. And I know through experience that being quiet and giving oneself time to just be with whatever arises is a tremendous gift. It is a loving and kind way to treat oneself. It is a wonderful place to start the cycle of openhearted living. And it needn’t be for a full day or week—though I still aspire to do that. Even a short time of finding quiet will do wonders. And it needn’t stop with just you.

One of the tenderest things you can give to another is quiet time in their presence. When you are quiet sitting next to another person there is a calmness and stillness that surrounds you both. Finding quiet with another being honors the trust between you. Finding quiet with another being opens your heart to compassion for one another. I think that is one reason why I find sitting next to a resting cat or dog so precious. They are so quiet and they are completely fine with being in silent in your presence. There is a naturalness and peacefulness to quiet that animals know much better than we humans.

And so I offer you this wish of finding quiet today. Allow yourself to experience a moment or two or more of silence. Allow the sounds of birds chirping to be the backdrop for treating yourself to some loving-kindness and heart-felt quiet. May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you free from suffering, and may you live life with ease.

xoxo Rachel

Designing Your Next Chapter

Pretty smiling woman drawing at studioI am enjoying reading Designing Your Life by Burnett & Evans. A friend who is between jobs told me how much the book is helping her to explore what she wants to do next. To me it’s a life coaching book that is reframed through engineering and design lenses. I particularly like that they suggest you enlist help along your way that they call Radical collaboration. It is a cool way to approach the concept that even though you are the driver of your life design, building a joyful life is a result of your ideas combined with contributions from others in the form of brainstorming, advice and mentoring. Teams really do outperform individuals.

One of the tales we believe when we are young is that people have a clear and straight path throughout their life. In school at a young age you start to see which areas of study you like and are good at and that starts you in a certain direction. You are told to choose your major in college as if that will singularly determine which career you will embark on after school. However, that is setting you up for some rough patches when you learn quite quickly that knowing what you like in school doesn’t capture the breadth of your life work endeavors. Not to mention that besides work, there is a whole lot more to life including relationships, health, play, spiritual and personal growth and more.

I like the sentence, “This is what I am doing…for now.” “For now” gives greater flexibility and quite honestly allows for corrections and revisions and obstacles that you will encounter along the trail of your lifetime. Changing direction will and should happen many times over your life. But that is a rare conversation had with most people under the age of 40 and may be hard to grasp if you have felt caught in a certain path at any age.

When you change your direction you are simply creating a new chapter in your life. How lucky that you get to do something that will expose you to new things, grow you in new ways and perhaps increase your joy factor. I hope you find that a relief. I know that whenever I made major changes to my life path I felt like I was doing something wrong, or that I was a failure for not pushing through on the track I was “supposed” to go on. In truth there is no “supposed to go path” no matter what you made up in your mind or heard your parents say. So on this May Day, I say time to design your next chapter…for now. Because today is as good as any day to design the life you want to live.

If you could use some help designing your life, check out this free guide: Free Guide For Dreaming

xoxo Rachel

The Need To Feel Productive

Depositphotos_158513282_l-2015I guess it is due to how I was socialized—how most of us were socialized—that I have the need to feel productive all the time. It is very difficult for me to just be. This is particularly the case if I have already set a specific goal for myself. For instance, I have a goal to publish a blog every Tuesday. If I haven’t determined what I am going to be blogging about I can get very frustrated. I sometimes feel like I am wasting my time if I don’t sit down and write. And I feel like my lack of productivity is somehow a sign of being less than, being sloth-like or some other horrible statement of low self-worth. I have the time and space to produce, so produce already!

That’s the inner gremlin shouting at me. It shouts a lot during the week, less so on weekends when I am “allowed” to just hang out. And though at some level I know that “being” is as important as “doing” I still struggle with pushing myself to be productive. We all seem to have clear ideas as to what constitutes productivity. Most often productivity means there must be some tangible output. Creating a blog, baking a cake, making dinner, balancing my finances, finishing a project, clearing the yard, cleaning the house are all examples that fall into my productivity bucket. You probably have a similar list.

Most activities fit pretty tidily into the “doing” or “being” list. There is one activity for me that straddles the doing/being dichotomy because it feels more like “being” but is productive. Meditating, which is a kind of “being” exercise, I consider in the productivity pile because it is a task I have assigned to do and it takes up space and time and serves a purpose for me. That is somehow different in my mind from hanging around, reading the paper or magazines or staring into space and just “being.” I have assigned importance to one and not to the other. When truly, just hanging out is important too and does serve a purpose of relaxation.

The bottom line is that I judge the importance of what I do. We all judge so much. We are such wonderful little judgment machines. The value judgments I have around what is a good use of time and what is not a good use of time seems to come down to productivity. Is there output? If the output is concrete, it is easily established as productive. But if the outcome has a positive impact on my well being, shouldn’t it count too? Ah ha! There’s that nasty judger again. I can feel pretty awesome when I read a good magazine so by my own definition it is productive. But I judge enjoyment of a magazine as less important than, say, having a nice dinner prepared or meditating for 30 minutes. What a big hindrance that has on doing anything! Not only must I have some kind of outcome, but also the quality of the outcome better be good, important, tangible, moral or meaningful. No wonder life feels hard so much of the time.

Well, not all the time. I can feel the energy calming inside of me just by recognizing that this is a human problem. Consciousness about our own reactions and feelings about experiences goes a long way towards lessening the negative internal voices we create in relation to those reactions. I am sure you have experienced self-judgment around productivity. It might look a little different but I bet you judge whether you are using your time “appropriately.” I have heard so many of my clients use variations on these expressions: “Just get off your butt and do something already.” “Get over it already.” “Just do it.” “Why do I waste so much time?” “Fun isn’t productive and I don’t have time for it anyway.” “If I am not creating something, I am wasting my time.” “This counts, but that doesn’t.” You get the idea.

Let yourself off the hook. Give yourself permission to just be. If you are hard on yourself because of what you do or do not create, and how important the stuff is, you are holding yourself back from living authentically. Recognize that your body and soul needs a whole spectrum of experiences. Some experiences might be uplifting or energizing, some might be slow and calming, some might have an end game in mind, some might be planned and others unplanned, some might be creating things, and some might be simply navel-gazing. All of these make up the richness and complexity of living. And even beyond that, all of these are needed in order to feel balanced and completely human.

xoxo Rachel

Battling Transitions With Kindness

Beautiful Girl in Fantasy Mystical and Magical Spring GardenIt is that time of year again when it isn’t quite spring yet, not really winter, and you may feel like you are stuck in the middle of nothing. I won’t go as far as to call it purgatory, but there is that sense of neither here nor there. Mother Nature always reminds me at the end of March and into April that transitions aren’t smooth. There are a few days of warmth, followed by a few days of cold. You cling on to the warm days and then recoil when the cold reappears. It can seem like a battle, even though you know that the new season will win out—eventually.

The past few days, my husband Andy and I’ve been working in the garden, prepping the soil for the emerging spring growth. Yesterday we spent some time spreading mulch over our flower gardens and we definitely had a battle. Although it was warmer outside than it had been for some time, the bags of mulch were partially frozen. Apparently, they had not yet made the transition to spring. We did what we could and used what wasn’t frozen and left the rest to thaw. Although we were frustrated, I found myself realizing that I was pushing for spring even though the mulch wasn’t quite ready. The nights have been below freezing, I reminded myself. Perhaps we started this project too soon?

I know that the answer is that we hadn’t started too soon. The early bird catches the worm. Being physical outside in nature, even with the frustrating solid mulch, gave me such joy and is helping me to move my spirit into early spring. It’s a good first step of the transformation to a flower garden.

You may curse Mother Nature for taking so long to make the transition, yet at some level you understand that she is giving you an opportunity to recalibrate. Not charging in too quickly, making a transition slowly with a few steps forward and then a few back peddles is a way to ease into the new. In these times of transition, I find it useful to think about what you are letting go of, and what you are welcoming in. By recognizing that a transition requires not just going after what’s new and wanted, but releasing what’s old and no longer needed, the process feels kinder.

In the early spring, you are shedding layers slowly, emerging from the comfort of inside. You might want to thank your home for sheltering you. You might want to do some more deep thinking and journaling about what you have learned this winter. You are prepping for all the abundance and bright display of spring that will happen in good time. Taken too quickly, you can feel overwhelmed. Instead, you can enjoy the anticipation of what will emerge once you get to the other side.

xoxo Rachel

Finding And Nurturing Your Creativity

Hands in paintFor many people, the topic of creativity is very scary. There is so much judgment, internal and external, around whether you are creative or not. So many of us spend too much energy worrying that we aren’t creative or creative enough that we don’t pursue our talents. I am from the school of thought that everyone is creative. Creativity isn’t only about being an excellent artist or someone who knows how to draw. The key to creativity is finding what unlocks your creative spirit. For some it is easy to know what activities or areas of study bring out their creativity. For many it is unknown. Depending on what you were exposed to as a child and throughout your life you may have stumbled upon your creative area. But you may not have found your creativity yet. It’s not too late.

That’s’ right, it is never too late to go searching for what pulls out your creativity. And for that matter your creative outlet may have changed over time. Perhaps it is drawing but you never tried it before. And perhaps the type of drawing is the key component—maybe you are more of a graphics artist or maybe you are more of a geometric shapes drawer, or maybe still life is your calling. Perhaps your medium is oil, watercolor, charcoal, collage, clay or metal. Maybe it’s not arts or crafts per se but creative thinking. Designing crosswords or other word puzzles might be your skill. Writing is another creative area where there are many different avenues from short stories to memoir to blogging to explore.

I’ve read a lot of books on the creative writing process by authors of all kinds. They mostly convey that rain or shine, ups or downs, you should write every day. Stick to a schedule and before you know it, you’ll have written a novel or completed your book. And it is true that when I sit down and “just begin” to write, words flow quite easily. But I find that when I am having a hard day that I have the greatest difficulty just sitting down to write. That is the practice, it is to almost force yourself to sit down and write whether or not you create garbage or something wonderful.

You may feel like creativity comes and goes in waves or sparks or not at all. But really how creativity comes about is by allowing for stuff to happen. And one of the best ways to allow for stuff to happen is to put time into your schedule to do something that draws creativity from you. Whatever that is—writing, painting, drawing, beading, choreography, math problems or photography—if you don’t make time in your life to do these things, then you are missing out on chances for creativity.

Be kind to yourself. Don’t pre-judge whether you are creative or not. Go on a journey to explore different ways into creativity. Don’t rule out anything and also look for clues from your life when you tried activities and thought they were fun or exciting or challenging in a good way. Then once you have found something that stirs you, make time in your life on a regular basis to allow for the creativity energy to flow by doing your creative activity regularly. You don’t need to every share your output if you don’t want to. Being creative is about nourishing your soul, not necessarily about producing creative works for the public. No matter what anyone has ever said to you in the past, you are a wondrous creative human.

Xoxo Rachel