Monthly Archives: November 2017

Awkward & Uncomfortable

The more we practice to observe, accept, and embrace discomfort, the more grounded, connected, understanding, and resilient we can become as a result. Grounded in the present moment; connected to our breath and body; understanding of our own inner and outer landscapes; and resilient amid the swells of change.

As soon as we’re born, we start acting out when we’re confronted with discomfort – and for the first few months it serves a crucial function. We cry and carry on in order to communicate that we’re hungry or tired or cold or that our diaper needs changing. But it seems this sets the stage for a lifetime of detrimental behaviors accrued for the sole purpose of avoiding or managing discomfort. We would do well as parents, family members, and caretakers of young children to work on not over-manicuring the environment and experiences of our little ones. As soon as a baby starts to develop other ways of communicating – which doesn’t take long, just a few months – we can start teaching skills of mindful speech and deep listening, tools for self-care, and coping mechanisms for weathering physical and emotional discomfort. The more meticulously we try to groom the lives of our young children, attempting to keep at bay any modicum of discomfort, the more we rob them of the opportunity to practice training in the art of building strong and healthy relationships with themselves in the present moment.

We are not taught how to interact with discomfort. We are only taught how to avoid it or cover it up. I believe that most, maybe even all, detrimental/unskillful behaviors have a root embedded in a strong desire to get out of feelings of discomfort as soon as possible, and by any means necessary. We may look to numb those feelings with drugs or alcohol; or cover them up by over-working or over-eating or over-shopping or cramming our schedule with things to keep us occupied and exhausted. We may look to sex and love as an escape; we may use Netflix or TV or gaming or pornography, the list goes on and on.

The more uncomfortable we are, the more distracted we become. And this cycle perpetuates itself. So the more we give into distraction tendencies, the more uncomfortable we find ourselves. To break this cycle we need tools and practices to lean on and utilize throughout the day. So, where do we start? Here’s what I suggest, based on my own experience of what I’ve found helpful for myself: Notice when discomfort arises, ask yourself whether it’s time to step into that particular discomfort or not, and then proceed to make a plan of action based on whatever you decide.

In order to expand our capacity for skillfully tending to feelings of discomfort, we have to first be able to recognize them when they come up. As you’re going about your day, practice to pay special attention to when you start feeling “off” or fidgety, as often this can indicate such feelings of discomfort or awkwardness. Notice how often you whip out your smartphone when you don’t really need to or when you use it to avoid doing something else more important. Identify the common and frequent triggers that cause you to feel awkward or uncomfortable or self-conscious (which involves feeling as though OTHERS are looking at/judging/critiquing you). Some common causes of discomfort are: when we’re in larger social situations, when we’re by our self somewhere out in public, when we’re not in control, when we don’t feel skilled at something, or when we experience lag time or moments of quiet/silence/inactivity.

Once we know when it is we are experiencing feelings of discomfort we can then ask ourselves this important question: Is this a moment to practice stepping into it? Allow this question to settle into your body, as this will enable you to get in touch with the clearest, least obstructed answer, verses your habitual tendency to say: Nope, this isn’t the time, I’m getting the heck out of here! It’s important to know that we all generally know what to do when it comes to matters of uncertainty in our lives. The trouble is we’re either too disconnected from being able to listen well to our inherent wisdom and/or we simply don’t want to do what our inner voice is telling us to do. It’s also important to understand that every situation is different. Whereas one day we might feel ready to step into, let’s say, a social gathering where we know very few people, the next day, when the same situation presents itself, we might not. That’s normal and super okay. What’s helpful to us here is that we’re actively engaging with what’s going on and we’re making a conscious and informed decision about what to do.

So, if we decide that yes, this is a time to practice stepping into discomfort then we would do well to start with small steps in this regard. For example: If we feel uncomfortable going by ourselves to certain things then we might try flying solo to a movie that we’re wanting to see – but we might also bring along our smartphone or a book to help keep us company. One thing at a time! Or if we’re more uncomfortable when hanging out with others and more prefer to go unaccompanied to things, then we can try reaching out to a friend or two and invite them to come along with us. Or maybe we find ourselves standing in a line at the grocery store and feelings of discomfort arise and in that moment we make the decision not to reach for our phone to check our texts/emails/facebook in order to occupy our time – our practice in that moment can be to simply not take out our phones. Any time we go against the grain of our less than helpful habit energies is a victory, in terms of strengthening the energy of mindfulness. So try not to underestimate the movement and progress you make when it comes to taking small steps to accept and embrace, and not run away from, feelings of discomfort.

And if we decide that no, this is not a time I choose to step into discomfort then we would do well to practice fully allowing that decision to take affect and not second guess ourselves or give ourselves a hard time about it. There will be times to step into discomfort and times not to, for a variety of reasons. So make peace with that. And maybe, if you’re up for it, you can make an agreement with yourself to work up to something in the near future, when it comes to a particular aversion you have that brings up a lot of discomfort.

Start with small, relatively easy things and then work your way up to larger things. If we attempt to take on super big matters of discomfort before training with smaller situations, we are likely to find that we do more harm than good to ourselves in this undertaking. So set yourself up for success and start small.

Utilizing moments of discomfort can be a tool to help us cultivate our mindfulness practice and build resilience. The smaller our comfort zone is, the more we suffer when things and people don’t adhere to how we think they should be (which, let’s face it, is most of the time). And, in turn, the wider we can extend our comfort zone, the happier and more at ease we’ll be in a variety of situations. So get your practice on!

You might discover, like I did, that it’s a game changer.


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Yesterday, I received an email from a local musician, who’s mailing list I subscribe to. The email was to announce upcoming shows and classes. After the greeting, the first sentence was: Now we’re officially into the holiday rush.

On Friday, I overheard a friend say to another friend: I know you’re super crazy busy but I’m wondering if you’d have time to help me with something.

The definition for ‘busy’ in my trusty Webster’s dictionary, states: adj.1. engaged in action: not idle 2. being in use 3. full of activity and 4. meddling. Personally, though, I feel as though this is yet another word we’ve collectively commandeered and re-shapened. I think the definition for ‘busywork’ is more fitting: n. work that appears productive but only keeps one occupied.

If I were to come up with my own definition for the word ‘busy’ it would go a little something like this: adj. 1. state of being frantic; most often entered by way of choice masquerading as victim-hood. 2. common statement used in order to describe one’s day/week/life so that others think you’re not being lazy 3. statement hollow of meaning that waters seeds of stress and anxiety and perpetuates suffering.

I’ve written and spoken about this subject quite a bit over the years. I try my best to not only avoid the use of the word ‘busy’ but also address it when others try to stamp its label on me, as well. Last week, I was talking with a friend and he said: “Sounds like you’re pretty busy,” and I replied: “Well, no. I practice to be a non-busy person.” And by that I mean that I practice to see everything that I do as an active choice that I make, verses an obligation or protested engagement that is heaped upon me unwillingly. Our collective understanding and use of the word ‘busy’ has a lot of negative and detrimental functions in our often fast-paced and disconnected, distracted culture.

Busyness is a state of mind and a way of engaging with ourselves and the world that involves a disassociation with personal accountability. It is a cheap, nondescript word at this point. And the more we use it – which is a lot – the more momentum it picks up. Words matter. And I think we underestimate that truth much of the time. Focusing our energy of mindfulness on the word choices we make is a valuable practice to take up in our daily lives. Especially because so many of us just talk and have very little idea of what it is we’re saying and why we’re saying it. We’re also not tuned into what we’re conveying through our tones of voice and facial expressions and how what we’re saying might impact those around us. So there are a lot of subtleties in how we communicate. And communication is huge – we are constantly communicating with others, whether we’re talking or not. There’s an exchange happening all the time.

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Posted by on November 26, 2017 in Everyday Practice


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The four aspects of the Plum Village Tradition (Thich Nhat Hanh’s practice) are: study, practice, work, and play.


Let us study our relationships with one another.

Let us practice to enfold the quality of mindfulness into as many of our daily activities as we can.

Let us work to be fully present in the here and now.

And let us play in the fluid motion of joy, as we train in the art of not taking ourselves so seriously.

Having a sense of humor, being able to delight in simple pleasures, and not taking oneself so seriously is of great benefit. Here’s a 1-minute video I took yesterday – may it help you to train in the fluid art of cultivating joy.

P.S. In case you’re wondering, the little toy in this video is solar powered. Prior to yesterday, I had no idea it could dance with such vigor!

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Posted by on November 25, 2017 in Everyday Practice, Fun, video


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Divine Goodness

In my Webster’s dictionary, circa the year I graduated from high school: 1997, under the word Thanksgiving it states: 1. The act of giving thanks 2. A prayer expressing gratitude and 3. The fourth Thursday in November observed as a legal holiday for giving thanks for divine goodness. That last one is my favorite. I love that it stipulates how Thanksgiving is a legal holiday for the express purpose to give thanks for divine goodness.

Not only is Thanksgiving my favorite holiday but it’s also the only holiday I choose to celebrate throughout the year. And a big part of that has to do with how Thanksgiving focuses on togetherness and gratitude. There’s of course a feast we share as well, which helps to celebrate the bounty of the seasons but there’s no other consumeristic focus, and I really resonate with that aspect of things.

Last night, I was invited to take part in a Thanksgiving eve interfaith prayer service at First Presbyterian Church here in town, as a faith leader and Buddhist representative, and I was asked to do a reading with Father Rich Perry from St. Francis Xavier Church. In the interest of brevity, I’d like to share the portions that I read:

We give thanks for this world created in beauty even as we remember how fires, floods, earthquakes and hurricanes cause devastation and destruction. We give thanks for those who first respond: medical personnel, fire fighters, volunteers, neighbors and strangers even as we remember the work of rebuilding and restoration continues. Open our eyes to care for this world created in beauty.

We give thanks for strangers who became lifesavers even as we remember all who carry the scars of terror, violence and assault. We give thanks for the all who welcome strangers with gracious hospitality even as we remember the many refugees who are fleeing for their lives. Make a way, where there seems to be no way.

We give thanks for this Thanksgiving Eve where people of faith have gathered to pray and remember those who this day are searching for food, or housing, or friendship, or hope. Spur our grateful hearts to share our resources and hope with others.


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Being Peace

To listen to this post in audio on my podcast:

The practice of cultivating joy – and its companion practice of smiling – are largely misunderstood. So often, people remark about the perils of discrediting their feelings of anger or sorrow for the false pursuit of pretending to be happy when they aren’t. But practicing joy and practice to smile have nothing at all to do with covering up or disregarding painful experiences. We get so caught in dualistic ways of thinking that we are unable to appreciate the nature of how both things can happen and often are happening simultaneously. So it’s not that we’re picking up one and putting down the other, it’s that we’re holding both at the same time.

Another pitfall here, too, involves our habit energies and the momentum we’ve built up over a lifetime of not knowing how to experience suffering in a skillful way. We have a tendency to either sit and stew and marinate in our hardships when they arise or we cover them up and distract or numb ourselves in regards to them. Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) talks about how we prefer the suffering we’re used to and most familiar with. And along those lines, on a large level, we take comfort in our feelings of woe and struggle, regardless of what our approach is.

We have been practicing to suffer for a long time and not only that but we’ve been practicing in ways that keep us stuck and spinning in the same old stories. We all know how to suffer. What we don’t know how to do is be happy. We need to practice watering our seeds of joy and lessening the amount of water that we give to our seeds of suffering.

Our seeds of suffering are so strong and dominant in our mental/emotional landscape that they overshadow seeds which are more beneficial for us to grow. And these seeds are so used to getting our attention that they put up a fight when threatened with the possibility of losing their edge. So when we hear teachings on cultivating joy or the importance of smiling, our seeds of suffering throw a fit right away – they kick on their honey toned words and attempt to woo us back into relationship with them. And we tend to be persuaded by them. We buy into their argument of how joy and smiling are mere platitudes and how our struggles and anger and sorrow are somehow more “real” than that of generating peace and happiness. And this cycle will continue until we break it by learning how to practice joy and practice smiling and strengthening those seeds within ourselves.

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12-Hour Day

On Friday, in rare form, I inadvertently scheduled myself into a 12-hour day of plans. It started with an appointment with a friend to look at an old RV he’s getting rid of, which my husband and I would use as a backyard bedroom for a family member who might come and stay with us for a while, and ended with helping at a bake sale table at Big Sky High School’s cabaret show, which my stepson Jaden was in as part of the drama department. I left the house around 9:45am and returned just after 10:00pm.

Upon realizing that I had set myself up for such a full day, I thought about whether it would behoove me to reschedule a thing or two and I decided it was all either important, time-sensitive stuff or stuff I really wanted to do and was looking forward to so I chose to take on the 12-hour day to the best of my ability. And this is an important distinction to pause and highlight here – the fact that I chose how my day would unfold verses what many of us so often do which is to feel as though we’re victims of our schedule or victims of circumstances. One of the biggest transformations for me in the quality of life department was when I started taking responsibility for all the aspects of my attitude, my emotions, my thoughts, my actions, and how my life was playing out. It was a huge realization for me when I discovered the truth of how my quality of life is based solely on the choices I make. Everything is a choice. Nothing is heaped upon me that doesn’t involve a choice that I make in regards to whatever it is that’s happened. No matter what, I always have a choice. And it’s those choices that determine how I spend my time and also the quality of my own well-being.

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Posted by on November 19, 2017 in Everyday Practice


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On The Fence

Every month, for the past 4-5 years now, the same Jehovah’s Witness lady has been coming to visit me. Yes, it’s been that long. It may even be longer, as I can’t recall exactly when she started coming by. It’s worth mentioning, right off the bat, that I genuinely like this woman. She’s around my age and is very friendly and warm and kind. And, in the interest of expanding my own perspective and understanding of people with different views, I do read the publications that she drops off each month, namely: The Watchtower. She knows full well that I’m a spiritual leader in a Buddhist tradition and very invested in my particular community, and still she chooses to continue her visits.

For the past 2 years or so now, I’ve been on the fence as to what the best course of action was to take, in regards to her monthly visits. Part of me wanted to muster up the courage to ask her to stop coming, in light of it being sort of a waste of both my time and hers, and also that of the rotating friend that accompanies her. But the polite and friendly part of me that genuinely likes her, and appreciates her incredible diligence – even if I don’t subscribe to what she’s being diligent about – felt uncomfortable asking her to stop coming after all these years. So I’ve been teeter tottering on the fence of indecision about what to do.

Finally, about a month or so ago, I stopped hemming and hauling over what to do and made a decision. After contemplating the matter further and inquiring with myself about what was in the mix, mentally & emotionally, I decided I did not feel right in asking her to stop coming, and I also didn’t want to be on guard anymore either, not knowing when she’d be happening by while I sat writing or working on the computer – so the only other possibility I could realistically think to implement was to stop half-assing our limited time together at the door every month, which is what I had been doing. I decided to start practicing not being on guard; and instead of being wary of her intentions or frustrated by the interruption in my day or be relatively closed off during our interactions, I would invest my energy into opening my heart-space a little more and being more friendly when she came by. So, simply put, I committed myself to the practice of no longer looking at her visits as an intrusion on my day and time and see them instead as opportunities for me to engage more with someone with whom I judge to have little in common with.

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Posted by on November 18, 2017 in Everyday Practice


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