Hat wearing isn’t what it used to be. Prior to the 1950s, nobody would think about going outside without a hat, no matter the season. In fact, your hat, whether you were a nurse, a white collar executive or a gas station attendant told the world a lot about your socioeconomic status and what your occupation was.

The phrase “wearing too many hats” emerged relatively recently. In the past century, the pace of our culture and the workplace evolved rapidly, women AND men are now homemakers AND marketing specialists, parents AND business owners. Of course, so much more too, we may coach a little league team and dance the two step on a Saturday night.

While much of this is good and brings meaning to our lives, it also means that we must juggle. wearing_many_hats

And anyone who has attempted to juggle knows that juggling for any length of time is hard to do! Even if you are good at it soon enough it is very tiring. And as you add more objects, it becomes more stressful. Then what can occasionally happen? It all falls down.

There is where mindfulness can be enormously helpful. When we carve out time for just being, intentional non-doing, we reconnect with who we are at our core.

No matter how we may be feeling in any given moment, we are not simply our roles or our obligations. While it is quite human to define ourselves in this way, it can often limit us, creating a growing sense of imbalance in our lives. Mindfulness widens the lens.

We are not just divorced single parent, primary care giver, one who is always putting out “fires” at work and at home, or task master. When we sit in meditation practice, we put all of that down for a bit.

I invite for the next five to ten minutes to try this: Breathe steadily and naturally, and with each out-breath put each of the “balls you are trying to keep in the air” down-one by one.    

Release the striving and to the best of your ability right now, the judging too.


Within this space, something new may arise. Perhaps it’s the knowing that we are more than the sum of our parts. We glean that truth that any given role doesn’t truly define us. What is deepest and most valuable in us can be recalled and recaptured so that we discern what to do next from that perspective.

May you approach the moments of your and those to come with a clarity of purpose and a sense of calm.


Have you got started on your New Year’s resolutions yet?

You know the list is usually the same every year for most folks.  To the gym, diet, no gossiping, budget better.

For me, it’s less sugar and alcohol.  It’s been 5 days already and I’m feeling great!  (I was being facetious right there!)  photo_3664_20090119

But have you noticed that we often start off these self improvement projects with great enthusiasm and that enthusiasm dwindles as daily life takes over and so do our habitual reactions to stress, coupled with the real hard work of substantive change sets in?

Maybe it’s because we set ourselves up to fail by announcing these sweeping changes without getting ourselves ready, really ready, in this very moment.

For instance, If we don’t like our weight and we don’t feel OK about ourselves in the body that’s here right now, we already have a level of tension in the body and mind that we are carrying around with us.  This seems like a solid impetus for change.  But actually it makes change harder.

cartoon runningWe are beginning our journey with an assumption that who and where we are right now is not acceptable.  Yet acceptance is the key.  I am not saying that you don’t have goals of better health and weight loss and work towards them.  But bring a kindness to yourself as you would to a loved one.  Being aware of what is here and accepting things as they are, because that is what is actually happening.

Then, we can begin our resolution with an open awareness and perhaps a bit more ease. If our usual course of action  when we have had a difficult day is to relieve those uncomfortable feelings by eating “comfort food,” the pull to do so will be strong.  If we “give in,” often times comes the barrage of harsh judgments (worst enemy kind of stuff), “we are weak”, “this is hopeless”, fill in the blanks, basically I am talking about unhelpful self-loathing.

But with being mindful in the moment of accepting ourselves, we go a little more gently.  We forgive ourselves and begin again.  Maybe we ask ourselves if we could see the triggers and perhaps see if we can bring a little more ease into our day and our responses so that we can make better choices towards our goal.  We make more progress with a little patience than with a boat load of enthusiasm.  At least, that’s been my experience.  Check it our for yourself.spring sunset

I included this poem as it’s apropos to this post:


How quietly I begin again

from this moment looking at the clock, I start over

so much time has passed, and is equaled by whatever split-second is present

from this moment this moment is the first


We humans have a tendency to label things as good or bad, wanting more of the former and avoiding the latter at all costs. Yet this labeling is the antithesis of mindfulness. In truth, it is the root cause of much of our suffering and stress.photo_8145_20090912

You don’t need to take my word for it. Try it for yourself. Throughout the day, see if you can notice how much of the time you are either liking or disliking almost everything that’s occurring.

For instance, you may be repulsed by the thought of mushrooms. You had mushrooms when you were eight years old and you thought they tasted awful. It might have simply been the way they were prepared or how you were feeling that day, but it doesn’t matter. You now (perhaps decades later) simply say whenever mushrooms are offered, “I hate mushrooms.”

Or you may want to learn a new language. But you say to yourself, “I’m not good at languages” because in high school you struggled in a Spanish class. Once we label an experience, it colors all future experiences that even resemble it slightly. And yet is it necessarily so? Or is it just more thinking that we are inadvertently believing in any given moment?

These assessments, though occasionally conscious are more often unconscious. They are simply reflex reactions based on past experiences. Our judging mind is showing up in the habitual, predictable way as it has countless times before. This is not about fault finding or trying to control our thinking. The process happens so quickly that we are not even aware that we are unaware. These thoughts have become automatic.IMG_1057

However, we do have a choice. In fact, we have many choices. When we become present to the content of our thoughts, we gain access to our available choices-to respond rather than react to these thoughts. We open up a pause that can generate countless opportunities for new experiences.

I often share the story below with my students in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction courses. It illustrates how our interpretations of what is happening is directly linked to the level of stress we may be feeling at any given time. And how our interpretations are never the whole story.

There once was a peasant farmer who lived in a remote village in China. His only means of plowing his fields was an ox. When the ox died, he flew into a panic about how he was going to feed his family. The villagers told him to visit the old sage who lived on the outskirts of town. He would know what to do, they said.

The farmer said to the wise man, “I don’t know what to do. My ox has died and my family may starve. This is the worst thing that could ever have happened to me!”

The sage paused, looking him squarely in the eyes and said, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”

The farmer walked away in disbelief. How could he say such a thing when here he was in such distress. He told his family and neighbors that this was no wise man; he didn’t know what he was talking about.

However, the next morning the farmer discovered a strong young horse grazing in a distant field. He trained the horse and in short order, he was able to plow his fields better and faster than before. Not only that, the horse ate less feed than the ox. The farmer thought to himself, “You know, maybe that old man is wise after all. Finding this horse was a stroke of great luck.”

He decided to go the sage and thank him. “You know”, the farmer explained, “I thought you were crazy for telling me that maybe it wasn’t bad luck that my ox had died. But now I know you were right, I found this horse and he plows even better than the ox. It has been the best thing that has ever happened to me.”HPIM0699

The sage again looked into his eyes and said, “maybe yes, maybe no.”

The farmer, incredulously said, “Are you kidding me?” Shaking his head and walking away, he thought “This guy is nuts! I am not coming here again.”

A few days later, his only son was riding the horse while working and was bucked off. He broke his leg and the horse had to be put down. Inconsolable, the farmer recalled that the sage had indeed spoken wisely and decided to go back to seek advice. After sharing these latest events, he said to the wise man, “Now you have to admit, this is absolutely the worst thing that could have possibly happened to me!!”

And the old man, calmly and lovingly replied, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”

This infuriated the farmer so much, he stormed back to the village and told anyone who would listen how ridiculous the so-called wise man was.

The very next day, troops arrived in the village to take all the able-bodied young men away to fight in the on-going war. His son was the only one who was saved. His broken leg spared him from almost certain death.

IMG_2205When we can step back and pause with a mind that does not truly know the answer, we can extend our view. We can see potential in all occurrences, gaining a bird’s eye perspective, a wisdom on our own lives.


This past weekend, I attended the International Symposium for Contemplative Studies in Boston. There were lots of luminaries in the fields of neuroscience, psychology, education, philosophy, and the humanities. Counted among these were the Dalai Llama, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Daniel Goleman, Arianna Huffington, and so many more whose are well-known to those in the field, reflecting the explosion really of mindfulness into all aspects of our modern society.


Some presenters shared results of mindfulness programs they have implemented in particular clinical settings, or in business, and several neuroscientists provided the latest in their research findings on what is happening in the brain during contemplative practices and where in the brain it is happening. The goal of all this being the very mission of the conference: to “advance our understanding of the human mind, reduce human suffering, and enhance our well-being.”

Perhaps needless to say, among the 1700 participants, there was a palpable energy, an electric environment eager to engage with this multivalent subject of contemplation. As a long time student and teacher of contemplative practices, it felt akin to my all-time favorite third grade class trip where we went to a historic New England village. I remember waking up that morning excited with the sense that there would be new to things to learn, ideas and practices that made up their way of life that were ancient and those that were contemporary to them in their place and time. Contemporary and contemplation not coincidentally sharing the root, ‘contemp’, which means ‘together with time.’ This idea of being present to the current moment in ways that speak to our interior lives and the life of our communities within the wider society.


This connection is a vital one. While contemplation and contemplative practices have become synonymous with meditation and a sense of personal transformation (and in some traditions this includes prayer as well) AND this can be profoundly true; this definition is only a part of the larger living meaning of contemplation. It must begin with one’s self, but ultimately goes beyond one’s self, to serve.

Contemplation, our modern definition stemming from the Latin ‘contemplatio.’ translates with broad concepts: thinking deeply and at length, examining, meditating, or looking thoughtfully. Yet these roots grow from another word, ‘templum’, which is a piece of ground consecrated for a building or space for worship. These ideas are both prisms of the diamond of contemplation, containing a process personal and worthy, that touches in to our deepest core and brings us together in community for a higher purpose.


Taking this language further back even still we discover that the Proto-Indo-European base ‘tem’ means ‘to cut’ and the base ‘temp’ means to stretch and often referred to a “place reserved or cut out” as a cleared space in front of an altar.

We are cutting down and reshaping ourselves as the early pioneers at that long ago field trip depicted and as a society we continue to cut down and to stretch ourselves and make for us individually and collectively a clearing space.

In the process of observing IN THE MOMENT, whether that be thoughts, feelings, sounds, our breath, not adding any judgment to these observations, we too are paring down and making room for what is worthwhile. As the early pioneers who learned to thrive depicted on that long ago field trip, we too are stretching the limits of what is possible in our human experience.

“The ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival.”- Artistotle


wendyAs far back as I can remember, I’ve wore rose-colored glasses.  This tendency to see the best in people and life in general is not something I particularly worked at or read how-to books about. I guess you could just say it’s in my nature.  It’s part of my genetic makeup. And I do believe that my positive energy has attracted a lot of good people and situations in my life.

Globally we know hundreds of research studies have confirmed that optimistic leads to greater health and better outcomes after illness, bereavement, and other major life changes. Not surprisingly what has followed is a plethora of books about how to raise optimistic children, pets, or even your own positivity IQ. Everybody, it seems, wants to ride on the sunny side of the train.

image014This all sounds good, right?  Well, the answer to that is yes and no. We are steeped in a culture that touts but does not practice moderation in almost everything. Over the years, I have come to learn that there is such a thing as too much optimism.  Moderation and realistic expectations have a vital balancing role to play in our lives as well. Personally, there have been occasions when I have not read the warning signs of people who didn’t have the best intentions and I have been hurt and duped.  Naively, I would take on tasks with unbridled enthusiasm that I wasn’t quite prepared for and felt not surprisingly overwhelmed.  The list could go on and I’m sure friends and family could surely chime in with a story or two.

What has stopped (or more accurately curbed) these errors in judgment or naivety (depending on your perspective) has been a long standing practice of mindfulness meditation.  With mindfulness, you focus only on what is actually going on in this moment.  It slows down the chatter in your mind and brings a heightened awareness of what is going on around you and how that is reflected back in your body.  For me, this clear sense of the present has led to increasing insight in my daily life and dare I say it- a modicum of wisdom. 

Water liliesOne of my greatest teachers in mindfulness described ardent optimism in this sage way: “It is always a lot more fun and enjoyable to be around someone with a sunny disposition rather than one who is always pessimistic and complaining.  However, they both can be equally delusional.”   

Famously, the Stockdale paradox demonstrates this concept. Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale was routinely tortured, beaten, and kept in solitary confinement in a Vietnam prison as a POW for seven years.  When asked what his coping strategy was Stockdale replied: “I never lost faith in the end of the story, I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which in retrospect, I would not trade.”

When asked about fellow prisoners who didn’t make it, Stockdale replied: “Oh, that’s easy, the optimists.  Oh, they were the ones who said: “We’re going to be out by Christmas. And Christmas would come, and go. Then they’d say: “We’re going to be out by Easter. And Easter would come and go. And then Thanksgiving, and by the next Christmas they died of a broken heart.  

Sandune2This is a very important lesson.  You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end-which you can never afford to lose-with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality whatever that might be.”               

Odds are most of us can name someone in our lives who despite daunting, perhaps even dire circumstances appears perpetually upbeat and their outlook doesn’t appear to be feigned.  They inspire us and fill us with awe by their positive outlook and courage.  

A quiet, persistent optimism that is based solidly in reality without losing hope provides more ease, wellness, and better decision making than a bucket load of wishful thinking while denying what’s here right now.   



For some time now, my three children (20-somethings) share this little mantra with me, often accompanied by a big grin. It goes like this: “Just do you, Mom!”

Whether that means wearing a funky flowered hat, leading a guided meditation on the quad of a local campus, or making friends in line at the RMV, I find this call to just be myself a lovely affirmation every time I hear it.

I believe their call to me is an echo back from my daily attempts to encourage their discoveries about themselves ever since they began that discernment process.  Of course, like all of us, they have shifted and morphed as they “tried on” various versions of jock, artist, rock star, philanthropist, hipster, and general badass.  Some they have tossed out of hand.  While others have become integral pieces of who they are.

be yourself

And of course, like all of us, they have suffered. There have been grave losses, illness, dark times, and broken dreams.  Yet, I have seen these unwanted crucibles, time and again, transform them and others in miraculous ways to live life fully present.  There seems to be no profound personal or spiritual advancement without them.

However, these are the places where we can get stuck.

The journey of who we are and why we are is a life-long one. The task is made more difficult when we hold on to identities about ourselves that don’t tell the whole story.

Often, in my classes, when I ask people what they would like us to know about them, their first identifier may be, “I am a recovering alcoholic” or “I am a survivor of abuse.” These are hugely important facts.  It is vital to share these parts of ourselves. They demonstrate strength, resilience, and a tenacity to rise above.  They are living proof to yourself and others that you have been through the worst and have come out the other side.

These experiences help to shape us, AND THEY ARE NOT US. Each of us is much more than even the sum of all our stories.

Clinging to your personal history as it is you, is still living in the past.    121

Transforming your past into a happier today includes sharing your experiences with others, whether they be hard tales of abuse, addiction, neglect, or poverty. Both speaker and listener heal, grow, and connect deeply with one other.

Embracing your past from this perspective, you can honor and accept where you have been, utilizing it in the present where need be. But releasing the attachment to these stories.  They will not disappear. Nothing gets lost.

Just doing you is a call to the present…

In fact, this release allows us to live in the only time there is: now.

There is no need to put labels on who we are.  Living unencumbered by our own or other’s definition of who we are: we see things with fresh eyes.

nompondo dp“Just do you” is the vibrancy of noticing what’s around you right now: a smooth pottery coffee mug, cloud formations or rain at the windows.  People and creatures, landscape and cityscape, offering themselves for enjoyment.  The authentic you arises naturally from this place.

There is a lightness and rightness about being you in this moment.


When my three children were very young, they had the great privilege of sharing tea with their maternal great-grandmother twice a month.  Grannie was a force of nature, wearing pumps and skirts well into her 80’s and she could deftly navigate the rickety basement stairs in her 1920’s bungalow.  She and my grandfather raised their five children here (with one bathroom I might add), my father being the eldest.photo_15279_20100421

“Oh, I just have to pop downstairs to get one more thing”, she would say. The kids would always be curious as to what Grannie would emerge with. There was an endless array of “stuff” packed away down there. The eaves too were a walk through the American decades.  Having survived the depression, nothing was getting thrown away and everything had three or twelve purposes. And shelf life was not in my grandmother’s vocabulary.

Yet, with all this clutter below the surface, every room in her home was always tidy. And her values were clear water clean. She valued children, and the raising of them.

And you would see this, always, in afternoon tea.

Grannie would lay out the table lovingly.  If it were around Valentine’s, the kids were treated to a lace tablecloth and pink napkins, heart-shaped cookies with red sugar crystals.  If it were September, she would set out linens in brown and orange and serve soft ginger cookies. Every sweet homemade from scratch.  Oh, and always more than one kind. There were bone china cups, dainty and different, that would always match the theme. Even the pin on her sweater would reflect the season or occasion.

080322a8447Young as they were, I sensed their anticipation when I would tell them we were going to Grannie’s house.  It could be “just” a Tuesday at 3 o’clock, but there was nothing just about it. There was celebration and presence in every moment.

They listened intently as my grandmother taught them how to play Pinochle, an old-fashioned card game. They would sit at the table for an hour or more, sipping tea and munching on cookies, being listened to and heard while sorting out their hand.  Grannie, offering suggestions on a card, asking lots of questions.

The kids were learning the art of conversation and the richness of time that we have all but forgotten. Some of us, I’m afraid, have never had the grace to learn, yet.

It is simple really.  This being present.  But it takes practice.  Kids get it and so do the elderly.  The wisdom of knowing that the most important person is the one that is in front of you right now. That love and connection can only be cultivated in the here and now.

The sacredness of that time.  And I the fortunate bystander. My children telling their great-grandmother about their friends and school and what they like to do and what their favorite color was.  Grannie sharing about how she liked to swim and grow roses and read.  The four of them laughing while she regaled them with what their mother was like when she was little or the kinds of shenanigans their grandfather would get himself into.

iStock_000012366100XSmallThis memory a reminder, a pointer, that ordinariness and specialness are always both, depending on what you bring to the party.

“We come to realize that daily life is a theater of grace with continuous performances.  The sacred is here and there and everywhere. – Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat