Clouds In My Coffee

IMG_0098It’s already December, the final month of 2013.  It’s been a wild ride:  completing the Martha Beck Life Coach Training Program and setting up my practice; creating the Wise Owl Book Club; traveling to San Diego, Pismo Beach, Lake Tahoe and Napa…  Well, let’s just say that I am very grateful for the shorter, cooler days (even here in the desert) and to turn my focus toward my home and loved ones.

Of course, there’s still plenty to keep me busy–holiday events and shopping, work to do, knitting projects to finish–but during this time of year I find myself a bit more comfortable taking a moment to sit by the fire, drink a cup of tea and enjoy the time I have with my family.  And that means that I can also do something incredibly valuable:  dream.

When I take the time to dream, I get in touch with myself.  I listen to the small still voice inside that reminds me what’s most important, and what I should be focusing on now, in this moment.  I relax.  I play.  I listen.  And I remember to pay attention to my nightly dreams as well, which often hold messages from my soul about the way to go.

I’ll be writing more soon about methods of dream analysis that I find particularly useful and enlightening but, in the meantime, let me just recommend this:  take the time to dream while you’re awake.  Look for those clouds in your coffee, and open your imagination to what you find there.  Not only is dreaming a good way to get in touch with a peaceful, joyful part of yourself, but it just may suggest possibilities you haven’t yet dared to imagine.

Turtle Steps

IMG_1059I always swore that I wouldn’t be one of those blog-creators who mysteriously disappear and then return a month or so later full of apologies and promises to be more consistent in the future…  But here I am.  Luckily, I believe in the philosophy of wabi sabi–that nothing is perfect, nothing is permanent and nothing is finished.  That most certainly includes this website.

But I have exciting news to share–this year, I am fulfilling a long-standing dream to become a Martha Beck trained life coach.  The program begins in 2 weeks, and is a 9 month, intensive training of Martha Beck’s life design methods.  As you may have noticed from reading these posts, I am a huge fan of Martha Beck and her work, and I recommend her writing very strongly.

One practice that she advocates is “turtle steps,” that is, taking goals and breaking them into small pieces until they are so simple you just can’t help but accomplish them.  Most people tend to set huge goals, particularly at this time of the year–to lose so many pounds, to begin a massive workout program or to achieve some other high and lofty goal.  These goals, while commendable, are also daunting.  They tend to scare us out of accomplishing anything.  It is far preferable to set a smaller, reachable goal, and then continue to build on it.

For the past several years, I have kept my New Year’s resolutions small and interesting, rather than large and frightening, and I am happy to say that I have had a lot of success with them.  Last year, for example, my goal was to scatter light.  I wasn’t sure what that meant, all I knew was that I had been reading and studying wonderful ideas, and I was ready to share them, in one form or another, with the world.  In March, I created this website; in July, I published my e-book; in September, the book came out in print.  None of that was a stated part of my goal, but it all came naturally and organically from the desire to simply scatter light.  If my goal had been “to publish a book,” I’m not sure I would have accomplished anything.

So this year, I am interested in deepening my meditation practice, but setting any kind of specific meditation goal feels too daunting.  Instead, I have determined to read A Year with Hafiz: Daily Contemplations by Daniel Ladinsky.  Hafiz was a Persian poet who wrote about the sacred–something that can slowly and surely encourage and deepen my own meditation practice.  Who knows where these turtle steps will lead, but I know I’ll be further down this path a year from now than I am today.  Of course, by the end of the year, I’ll also be a trained life coach, but that feels less like a resolution and more like the beginning of an adventure!

Wishing you your own turtle steps,

Jennifer

P.S.  If you’re interested in the science behind using turtle steps to achieve goals, check out Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live or The Four-Day Win: End Your Diet War and Achieve Thinner Peace, both by Martha Beck.

Awakening

These pages are, as Emily Dickinson once said, my “letters to the world.”  But although Emily felt that her letters were to a world that “never wrote to me,” I feel instead that the world is constantly writing to me, with every flower that blooms, every breeze that touches my face, every moonrise and sunset.  With so many letters written across each moment, I want only to write back.  To answer in some way the messages of Love that surround me.

Do I always see the world this way?  Of course not.  My true self, or buddha-nature (“buddha” means “awakened one”), is often sleeping and forgetful.  I am often caught up in fear or desire, asleep to the beauty and abundance that surround me.  But each day, I try to remember.  Each day, I strive to wake up, even if only for a moment.

There is an old saying about enlightenment.  Reaching enlightenment is like throwing a ball into the air, over and over again.  It goes up; it comes down.  But one day, when you toss the ball into the air, it stays there.  The secret is only this:  keep tossing.  Each moment you wake up is a moment transformed.

Wishing you wakefulness,

Jennifer

Music For A Windy Day

Recently I’ve discovered a new path to peace:  the musical creations of Dr. Jeffrey Thompson.  Dr. Thompson is a scientist and musician who experiments with sound and its effect upon the body–particularly the ways in which sound frequencies, built into musical soundtracks, can entrain brainwaves and trigger various health benefits.  By using certain frequencies, often combined with beautiful music and soothing sounds from nature, we can encourage our minds, and then our bodies, to enter into deeper states of peace and connection.  I have found that this music creates a lovely atmosphere when used as background music, but it is even more effective upon one’s mental, physical and emotional state when played through headphones and used during meditation or even sleep.

Here are a few of my favorites:


I hope you will enjoy this music as much as I do!  And if you’d like, please leave any comments or musical suggestions of your own below.

*These CDs (and many others by Dr. Thompson) are also available on iTunes.

Journey Into Stillness: Beginnings & Endings

It has been 40 days since the beginning of our journey into stillness.  Whether you sat beneath a bodhi tree, welcomed the dawn with a favorite mantra, or simply contemplated the idea of meditation, you are welcome here, at the place where one ending and a new beginning meet.

We are surrounded by endings and beginnings, some obvious, some not.  In a world that is constantly shifting, constantly changing, constantly evolving, it is important to mark the transitions, to notice when the gate swings open and we walk into a new life, a new day, or simply a new moment in time.

Breathe into the changes.  Find your sea legs; let yourself bend with the curves.  It is all a dance, and you were born to be a dancer.

Wherever you find yourself in your own journey to stillness, I hope it brings you joy and peace.  As for me, I will continue practicing the ways of stillness.  I will continue watching how one ending flows into a new beginning.  I will continue to fall deeper in love with the moments that hold me, and to share with you what I find along the way.

Namaste.

Journey Into Stillness: Meditation & Wabi Sabi

I have practiced meditation for years, for many reasons.  Most often because I am tired, or anxious, or because it seems like the right thing to do after yoga.  Most of the time, it feels good.  Afterwards, I am calmer, more centered, more balanced.  And besides, all the wisdom traditions of the world counsel us to practice meditation–they must be on to something.

But because I have devoted these 40 days to a more intense meditation practice, I have begun to ask myself:  why meditate?  Because it feels good and makes me kinder and calmer are all good answers, sufficient on their own, and yet because it is the focus of so many different religions and spiritual practices, I want more than that.

So this morning, as I meditated over a hot cup of coffee, I asked the wind:  why meditate?  And heard this answer:  Because it is an opportunity to stop and see, feel and hear a moment that will never come again.  Because it allows you to embrace the wabi sabi nature of the world and your life.

Meditation is not another project for your to-do list.  It is not something else you need to do or obtain to prove yourself spiritual.  Many people meditate to be calmer, more patient, more enlightened–and this may be the result–but the real reason to meditate is simply to allow what is to be.  To allow yourself to be.  To rest in the now.  Not so that you can check “enlightenment” off your list.  Not so that you can achieve some standard of perfection you have set for yourself.  But rather, so that you can learn to embrace imperfection.

Wabi Sabi teaches us that everything is imperfect, impermanent, unfinished.  We spend most of our time ignoring or denying that fact.  We either cling to what is before us–our relationships, our possessions, those things we think we want–or we push it all away, hold it at arm’s length, because we know it cannot last.  Meditation is an opportunity to practice a different way, a way that neither clings to what is nor denies it.

When we meditate (which is to say, when we are firmly rooted in the present moment), we allow ourselves to experience what is before us.  We really hear the birds sing; we feel the wind through our hair.  We taste the blackberry melting on our tongues; we allow the colors of the grass and flowers to flood our eyes.  No moment will ever come again in quite the same way, but when you allow a moment to fill your senses, when you experience it fully, it becomes a part of you.  You may not remember it later, but you don’t need to.  It is you, and you are it, forever.

This is why it is not important how you meditate.  How long, where, with what tools–those are all just guides to lead you into the here and now.  What matters is that you open, and open again, and again.

We forget, in the rush of our lives, to be present.  We fall back into our old habits of clinging and pushing, clinging and pushing.  With meditation, we practice being, accepting, allowing.  We train ourselves to see the world differently, to experience our lives differently.  We learn to delight in the changes, rather than fear them.  We learn to love what is, even as it moves and transforms.  And finally, we allow ourselves to merge with time and space, forever entwined, a dance without beginning or end.

Journey Into Stillness: Books On Meditation

“[M]editation is like any other intimate relationship:  it requires patience, commitment, and deep tolerance.  Just as our encounters with others can be baffling, scary, and even irritating, our encounters with the self have their own moods and flavors.  Like any other relationship, this one changes over time.  And it is best undertaken with love.”  -Sally Kempton

My 40 day journey into stillness begins today.  Have you decided to join me?  Are you still not sure?  There is no right answer and no right way to do this.  Start now or catch up later–the path will always be there, waiting for you to explore it.  Try it now or try it later, but know always that the journey is your own.

Whether you are committed to your practice or only mildly intrigued, you may be looking for more guidance about how to begin.  I gave you some of my ideas about meditation here; here are a few of my favorite books on meditation:

Meditation Made Easy, by Lorin Roche.  This is “come as you are” meditation.  It is an excellent introduction to the simplicity of meditation, and demonstrates how easy and enjoyable it can be.

Meditation Secrets for Women: Discovering Your Passion, Pleasure, and Inner Peace, by Camille Maurine and Lorin Roche.  Roche teamed up with his wife, Camille Maurine, to write a book specifically geared towards women.  Throughout history, most formal meditation practices have been practiced and taught by men, to men.  This book takes a unique approach to meditation from a feminine perspective.

Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn.  A landmark book on meditation.  Kabat-Zinn discussed different meditative practices in small, poetically written chapters.  This book is both clear and inspirational.

Meditation for the Love of It: Enjoying Your Own Deepest Experience, by Sally Kempton.  Sally Kempton is a frequent contributor to Yoga Journal.  When you are ready to dive deeper into the many facets of meditation, particularly those arising from yogic wisdom, this is a lovely place to go.

The finger that points at the moon is not the moon, Zen and Buddhist sages tell us.  To understand meditation and, more importantly, ourselves, we must not only think and study–we must also practice.  We must explore.  And we must be patient with the process, for meditation is a path different from that of our daily lives.  Going inward is foreign territory for most of us.  The roads are not always clear; our journeys are not always what we expect.

Although no one can take the journey for us, we can learn from those who have gone before.  May you find the teachers you need, but always remember that your best teacher lives within your own heart.

“Give up to grace.  The ocean takes care of each wave ‘til it gets to shore.  You need more help than you know.”  ~Rumi

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