Salty Sweet Mitzvah

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“Let there be such oneness between us that when one cries, the other tastes salt.” –Hebrew saying

In honor of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New year, which starts tonight at sundown, I am writing about mitzvahs. A mitzvah is a good deed, and in Judaism we repair the world (“Tikkun Olam”) by performing mitzvahs.

This morning I heard a gentle voice whisper to me, “Go to where the words are.” Where the words are is where the charge is, where the power resides, and where the words come spilling forth like hot lava. I felt the words bubble up to the surface as I watched CBS Sunday Morning’s story about the Oscar winning actor, Tim Robbins, teaching acting classes to adult men in prison.

I loathe to admit it, but there have been moments when I have struggled with the notion of people spending time with inmates when they could be working with those who haven’t committed heinous crimes. It can feel unjust, and that there are more deserving populations who would benefit from this one-on-one attention.

However, my innermost self, the part of me that lives in my chest and gut, knows these inmates are people and deserve to be heard and healed just like anyone else. Before they were prisoners, they were sons and brothers and maybe husbands and fathers. Perhaps they made one terrible decision or a lifetime of them, but either way, they are still human beings.

As Robbins said in the interview, “People are going to get out of prison. I would think a smart society would want people with better tools than they had going in.” In California where 60 percent of inmates return to prison, Robbins also stated that not one person that he is aware of has been back to prison after completing the eight week workshop.

This compelling story reminds me of the most essential truth in our lives. No matter what religion or socio-economic situation we are in, we are all connected. This intricate web of interconnection and interdependence, the ebb and flow, the low tides and high tides are all part of the one constant pulse in and around us. As people we bask in the light of the waxing and waning moon just like the wandering ocean waves do. And in our essence, when one of us hurts, we all hurt.

Performing mitzvahs can be small gestures of kindness or they can be heartfelt, lifelong projects such as the work Tim Robbins is doing. Sometimes a mitzvah may take forgiveness, withholding of judgement, a leap of faith, or courage and compassion on the part of the giver, but always it is performed from a place of love. And every time we are the mitzvah maker, mitzvah receiver, or witness to the mitzvah, no matter how big or how small the deed, it serves to restore our faith in humanity and heal our own bruises as well as the wounds of the world.

When I see a humble man on a street corner with a sign plastered on his chest asking for money, I think that he has probably felt enough judgment in this life. What he needs is to be seen, and not as a man without a job or home, but as a fellow brother and human being. He deserves to be honored and held in safety and love for he too has a place in the nature of things.

We are the mitzvah makers the world needs! If we practice sincere gestures of kindness, not by being naive, but by acting, reacting, and reaching out from the depths of our souls, then we will help put tools in the hands of those who need them. It is the only way we can repair what is broken. In the spirit of new beginnings, may we all feel renewed and hopeful that we can and will make a positive difference in the oneness between us.

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Our Creative Core

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“The making of art is no different than prayer.” Rain Wilson

It is indeed true that I was often the last one to go to sleep at a slumber party. I also received checks in “self control” on my report card in elementary school. Last but not least, I was called “hyperactive” on a daily basis.

In fact, while I was home in New Jersey a couple of weeks ago, my brother, Rich, read a revealing and comical four page letter from my late father. In his own sweet and thoughtful way, he wrote about my mother “losing her head” when she agreed to host a slumber party at our home for my tenth birthday. Then he wrote in the same exact voice with which he spoke, “It actually went better than I thought it would, Lindsay was a bit hyper – that’s Lindsay.” He was right, there were times when I was like a fierce tornado of whirling energy causing a stir and leaving a trail of activity around me.

Now looking back at my youth, I prefer to use the words, enthusiastic and spirited to describe my energetic self. I also feel this tornado was really just my creativity searching for a way out!

Creativity has been a reoccurring theme in my life the past year. The other day, I listened to a TED talk about creativity by Sir Ken Robinson. In a funny and relaxed manner, he discusses the importance of creativity in our schools. He shares a story of another energetic little girl who struggled in her very mainstream school environment. Her mother had the sense that a performing arts school may be a better option for her. Once enrolled, she spent her days dancing and in turn flourished in this new, inspired surrounding. She is grown up now and is a professional and very accomplished choreographer.

I wonder how many children would benefit from this kind of education…a place where art and creativity is held in the highest regard and not as an elective or weekly activity? Personally, I think we could all benefit from more creative exploration in our schools as well as in our adult lives.

While we are busy worrying about raising test scores, especially in subjects like math and science, it seems our society is forgetting about the importance of creativity in relation to personal expression and innovation. The movers and shakers are first and foremost creators. They are brilliant because they know how to channel their imaginative intelligence.

Looking back at my own childhood, I reached a point where I started equating creativity with talent. I felt unless I demonstrated extreme potential in a certain area, it wasn’t worth pursuing. I now realize creating is more about the process than the finished product.

Creativity lives in the essence of our very being. Creativity is about making things, but it’s also about living artistically. It’s about the process we use to make choices and how we design our life.

It dawned on me recently as I was driving that some of the moments when I have felt the most depressed and lethargic were moments when I wasn’t engaging as fully with my creativity. I have always craved freedom and the ability to creatively inhabit my life, and I yearned to to find an outlet to express these imaginings. I thought that not having one particular medium was synonymous with not having an outlet.

In reality, almost anything can be an outlet for our creativity to breathe. Now I practice simply doing what I love and what feels good, regardless of what my inner critic or outer critics think. And creativity begets creativity, the more we create, the more the creative juices flow!

The other day a friend of mine said she had no artistic talent. Let me tell you, I have been to her daughters birthday parties and seen firsthand her elaborate and impressive table decorations. Even if I had all day and a guide instructing me along, I would not be able to make a table look like she does. I asked her if decorating was a source of joy for her and if this could be an outward expression of her creative genius? She had never thought about her knack for decorating as something creative.

Creativity is love and joy in action. When we are in this place, creating is liberating, healing, and playful. It is good for our health. When we are engaged in creative activity, we become one with our understanding of a deeper divinity, our highest self. These little apples of creative wonderfulness are meant to be explored and enjoyed, they just need us to take the initial bite.

If you would like more inspiration about creating, check out Julia Cameron’s, The Artist’s Way or her brand new companion book called The Artists Way for Parents; Raising Creative Children. http://www.planetsark.com is a colorful website too. Have FUN!

Aging Gratefully

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The real question before our death, then, is not, How much can I still accomplish, or How much influence can I still exert? but, How can I live so that I continue to be fruitful when I am no longer here among my family and friends? That question shifts our attention from doing to being. Our doing brings success, but our being bears fruit. The great paradox of our lives is that we are concerned about what we do or still can do, but we are most likely to be remembered for who we were. If the Spirit guides our lives, the Spirit of love, joy, peace, gentleness, forgiveness, courage, perseverance, hope, and faith – then that Spirit will not die but will continue to grow from generation to generation.” – Henri J.M. Nouwen from Our Greatest Gift

On Monday, I returned from a retreat outside San Francisco for graduate school. After ten days of joyful tears and spectacular moments amidst the giant redwoods, I now feel ready to start another year of study. I am getting my degree in a spiritually-minded, soul-centered subject called Transpersonal Psychology. It has made my heart soar ever since my very first class in college about fifteen years ago. (Thank you, Michael Keenan!)

There were moments during the retreat where I would find myself marveling at the wisdom of fellow students in their early twenties as well as the youthfulness and vibrancy present in many of the older students. I felt a sense of both agelessness and ancientness at such times. It was as if age was irrelevant and only the soul of the individual was evident through the sparkle in their eyes. In a world obsessed with maintaining youth, this was a refreshing realization.

What I hope to take with me from this inspirational experience is a commitment to practice acceptance and gratitude as I age.  While I am by no means old and don’t consider myself of middle age quite yet, it’s important for me to feel thankful for where I am right now; thankful for the young child and the wise elder which resides in me and in each one of us. I also do not wish to bemoan getting older because in reality, I feel lucky I get to do so.

Personally, I have noticed as I age everything seems to be getting bigger, on my body that is (and not in the places I wished to be bigger when I was 16.) This can be annoying. However, along with my muffin top, my heart is bigger too. Feeling the bittersweet tingle of tears, the nervousness of my pounding heart, the blush of embarrassment and the rush of chills under my skin isn’t always easy but is a most amazing gift. It quite simply means, I am alive! 

As I turn 37, the same age my grandfather was when he died, and three years older than an incredibly giving and brilliant friend who died of cancer, I think of the generous gift they gave in their parting. It is a reminder to live life to the fullest and to not take a single moment for granted.

Below is a working list of what I think (at this stage in the game anyway) may be the secret to keeping us youngish at heart and fruitful in our lives regardless of our age.

1) Step out of our comfort zones by being in situations that scare us while staying open and receptive to new ideas and adventures.

2) Continue to do what we LOVE and what “lights us up.”

3) Express our love and gratitude to those around us.

4) Live Creatively…continue to “make” things whether we are “good” at it or not.

5) Offer our hands and hearts in service.

6) Have friends of all ages who we can connect with deeply and soulfully.

7) Do not take life too seriously…laugh a lot, be ridiculous, and wear costumes from time to time.

8) Seek help from a therapist, coach, or spiritual teacher when we feel depressed, scared, or hopeless.

9) Spend time outside and enjoy the outrageous beauty of nature.

10) Find meaning in our suffering and practice letting go…of control, regrets, perfection, and expectations.

The poet, Mary Oliver said, “Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one precious life?” I realize no matter what changes occur as I age, living vibrantly from my heart and soul with family and friends of all ages, is the icing on the birthday cake.

Fly, Birdie, Fly!

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“Clearing out all your misery gets you out of the way. You cease being an obstacle, not only to yourself but to anyone else. Only then are you free to serve and enjoy other people.”  Elizabeth Gilbert from Eat, Pray, Love

As a mother, I am amazed at the moments when my three-year-old daughter eagerly jumps out of my arms into a room full of little girls she has never met. I am shocked when my six-year-old son actually likes the teacher I find to be cold and distant.

In these glaringly obvious moments, I realize as silly as this may sound, that my children and I are different entities. Inherent in this fact is that we have unique emotions and reactions to the world around us. Although, I use the example of mother and child, it is true with any relationship.

How we perceive our world has to do with any number of factors; our cultural environments, how we were raised, innate personality traits, etc. When it comes to perceptions and our subsequent emotions, we must allow others to experience their unique emotions and maybe even harder, we must experience ours too.

Emotion is simply feeling in motion. I believe allowing our feelings the freedom to express themselves is as vital to our health as anything else we do. If we are always stopping our tears as they flow, not letting our anger do its angry dance or shunning our fear for peaking out from under the covers, we stop these creative expressions midstream, stunting a therapeutic release. (If you have ever urinated somewhere you maybe weren’t supposed to, and had to stop “midstream,” then you understand this feeling very well. It’s unnatural and it hurts!)

When we grant our emotions the freedom to be felt, we usually feel magically better. It is when we stop them “midstream” that we get stuck. Then our emotions get really pissed off because we didn’t allow them to do what they are here to do. These stuck emotions can turn into more complicated variations of themselves or worst-case scenario,  unfelt emotions can manifest as illness. It’s like Woody Allen said, “I don’t get mad, I grow a tumor.”

I am telling myself this because I am wondering if unsavory displays of emotion like tantrums (my own as well as others around me) are probably best dealt with by allowing them to just have their way with us and then leave our bodies. It’s like a trapped bird frantically caught in a house desperately seeking a window or door so it can escape to return to the openness and possibility of blue sky.

Whether its your own emotion or someone else’s, be like a bird watcher. Sit back and watch the bird spread its wings and fly.

Feeling is healing and by addressing our own individual boo-boos and the emotions swelling up around them, we will help ourselves and also in the most authentic way possible, help others heal as well.

Below is a poem that brings to mind the idea of taking care of our own internal wounds, allowing others to experience theirs and then letting them go. It’s from the very informative book, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom by Christine Northrup, M.D. Whether you are a mother, or have a mother, we can all relate.

Mothering the Mother by Nancy McBride Sheehan

In a society preoccupied with how best to raise a child
I’m finding a need to mesh what’s best for my children with what’s necessary for a well balanced mother.
I’m recognizing that ceaseless giving translates into giving yourself away.
And, when you give yourself away, you’re not a healthy mother and you’re not a healthy self.

So, now I’m learning to be a woman first and a mother second.
I’m learning to just experience my own emotions
Without robbing my children of their individual dignity by feeling their emotions too.
I’m learning that a healthy child will have his own set of emotions and characteristics that are his alone.
And, very different from mine.
I’m learning the importance of honest exchanges of feelings because pretenses don’t fool children,
They know their mother better than she knows herself.

I’m learning that no one overcomes her past unless she confronts it.
Otherwise, her children will absorb exactly what she’s attempting to overcome.
I’m learning that words of wisdom fall on deaf ears if my actions contradict my deeds.
Children tend to be better impersonators than listeners.
I’m learning that life is meant to be filled with as much sadness and pain as happiness and pleasure.
And allowing ourselves to feel everything life has to offer is an indicator of fulfillment.
I’m learning that fulfillment can’t be attained through giving myself away
But, through giving to myself and sharing with others,
I’m learning that the best way to teach my children to live a fulfilling life is not by sacrificing my life.
It’s through living a fulfilling life myself.
I’m trying to teach my children that I have a lot to learn
Because I’m learning that letting go of them
Is the best way of holding on.

Perfection

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“Perfection is inhuman. Human beings are not perfect. What evokes our love — and I mean love, not lust — is the imperfection of the human being. So, when the imperfection of the real person peaks through, say, ‘This is a challenge to my compassion.’ Then make a try, and something might begin to get going.”

Joseph Campbell from Pathways to Bliss

Sometimes I really want my daughter, Phoebe, to wear one of the cute new dresses one of her grandmothers has given her. Her sense of style, however, does not permit this. She prefers leotards, bathing suits, leg warmers and shoes too big for her little feet (like a pair of my red Toms wedges she sauntered around in recently.) Today at breakfast she wore one flip-flop and one gold ballet flat (also way too big) with her brother’s Rays baseball cap to top it all off.

While I have never thought of myself as a perfectionist – and any of you who have seen my house, my handwriting, or what I wear all week – know this. I have my moments. And it’s usually when I venture out of my comfort zone.

It’s ironic striving for perfection because perfection, of course, does not exist. It’s an illusion. We are all imperfect beings, and we are perfect because of this! And thank goodness we are imperfect because it makes us far more interesting.

I’ll never forget my first lunch as a junior in high school after just moving from Arizona to New Jersey. I can’t remember exactly what was being discussed, but I was having a conversation with some girls when a perky pony-tailed girl across from me said sarcastically, “Oh, so you’re normal!” Ha! I wanted to stand on the table in that depressing cafeteria and shout, “NO, AS A MATTER OF FACT, I AM FAR FROM NORMAL AND THANK GOODNESS FOR THIS.” I didn’t do that, I just continued on with my pork roll (those unfamiliar with this delicacy, please see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pork_roll) sandwich and giant ass cookie. (And yes, I’m trying to make up for some of these food choices now by drinking kale smoothies in the morning.)

The problem with striving for perfection is that usually in the midst of such tomfoolery, we aren’t being very kind or compassionate to ourselves. I’ve heard it said many times before, “Perfection is the antithesis of compassion.” 

If I’m having a day where I’m feeling bombarded by my imperfectness (and these days happen often,) it helps me to remember this: Often our imperfections are tied to our greatest gifts. (Thank you Michael Mervosh with the Hero’s Journey Foundation for sharing this insight.) And people are drawn to us because of these imperfections. Furthermore, these are the people we really want in our lives because they love of us and appreciate us for who we really are, right down to our very core.

While reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, I was reminded of a deeply touching story I heard on Oprah years ago where the great author, Toni Morrison, speaks to the price of perfection. Below is an excerpt from her book talking about letting go of the critic and instead allowing love to shine through.

Ms. Morrison asked, “Does your face light up?” She went on to explain, “When my children used to walk in the room when they were little, I looked at them to see if they had buckled their trousers or if their hair was combed or if their socks were up…You think your affection and your deep love is on display because you’re caring for them. It’s not. When they see you, they see the critical face and say ‘What’s wrong now?'” Ms. Morrison goes on to say, “Let your face speak what’s in your heart. When they walk in the room my face says I’m glad to see them. It’s just as small as that, you see?”

So this morning as Phoebe danced out of the restaurant, I smiled to see her presence making so many others smile. People were actually looking up from their cell phones and tapping one another on the shoulder to get a good look at the little girl with the mismatched shoes. She was so happy, free, and completely unaware that people were watching her. And for the first time, I truly understood the greater purpose for her wacky fashion choices and why I should never let it bother me again. Imperfection is far more fun for everyone!

Get a Peace

ImagePraise and blame, gain and loss, pleasure and sorrow come and go like the wind. To be happy rest like a giant tree in the midst of them all.” – Buddha

“Everything we do is infused with the energy in which we do it. If we’re frantic, life will be frantic. If we’re peaceful, life will be peaceful. And so our goal in any situation becomes inner peace. Our internal state determines our experience of our lives; our experiences do not determine our internal state.” Marianne Williamson from Return to Love

This past weekend I took a yoga class and in the middle of it, I had an epiphany about practicing peace. In between the postures on the floor, we laid still in corpse pose, also known as savasana. With feet flopped out to the side and palms facing up to the sky, I smiled deeply when I heard the teacher say, “Get into savasana quickly because it’s only twenty seconds long.”

Although I was attempting to still my thoughts in addition to my body, a golden realization sprung to mind about what a great metaphor for living this was. Life is short and goes fast so we need to find our sweet, soft spots quickly.

This morning while I was walking my wildly energetic puppy, I took her off leash when she saw her best puppy friend, Maggie. Maggie’s owner and I watched on the sidelines as the two puppies frolicked happily on the grass of a yard they play in often. Next door is a sprawling yellow house where a man I have never laid eyes on stepped out to pick up his newspaper. He resembled Mr. Clean and looked pissed.

He kept his door wide open and before I knew what was happening, my well meaning albeit crazy puppy took off and went right through his door. I should not have taken Poppy off of her leash and I understood why he was mad. I ran up to the house as he yelled at me to get my “f’in dog” (He used the real word and repeatedly I might add) out of his house. He was big and angry with smoke spiraling out of his nostrils screaming, “Do you think this is o.k?” Do you think this is o.k.?”

Of course I knew it was not o.k. I desperately wanted to spit at him and yell back but I knew it would only make matters worse. I also knew it was my ego that wanted me to act in a manner equally abhorrent as his. Egos don’t like to get hurt or humiliated. Thank goodness, the wiser and bigger me found my voice and apologized. A lot. As we were walking out of his house (both the dog and I with our heads down), I was completely shocked when Mr. Clean said, “If your dog ever does that again, I will shoot her.”

Maggie’s owner stood in disbelief. As the incident unfolded he also had the peace of mind to refrain from reacting with violence, either with fiery words or a fist. Maggie’s owner, shaking, walked me home as I burst into tears. I hate witnessing cruelty in fellow human beings. It’s scary and makes me very, very sad. My hopeful heart felt a little broken.

However, in this same heart, I also know we cannot fight fire with fire. I cringe to imagine what could have happened if I had allowed my anger to spiral out of control like he so effortlessly did. Right now I am honoring my sensitive soul and allowing my feelings to be felt. I will not let that curmudgeon ruin my day. Life is too short and I work too hard to be peaceful to just throw it away in an instant.

This is precisely why I meditate and practice mindfulness. The neutral awareness we find when practicing mindfulness helps anchor me in the moment and also to the stillness in my core. I still get upset, overly dramatic and highly irritable as evidenced by how I’m feeling now. I’m sure I always will since I’m only human and a highly sensitive one at that. However, I do believe with consistent practice, when I feel thrown off from this center by turbulent situations, maybe I will arrive more quickly back to the heart of my soul.

We have to practice what we want. If we want more love, kindness and peace, we need to be more loving, kind and peaceful. It’s like my daughter says, “The best way to make a friend is to be a friend.” (I must admit this lovely saying came from something she heard on T.V.)

If we are having an ugly or a lonely moment and feel there is nowhere to go, we can always turn inward and focus on the still center star within us. Peace is always here for us to be with.

At the end of my yoga class last weekend, the wonderful and prophetic teacher said, “Don’t let anyone or anything steal your peace.” Whether its is my daughter screaming at the top of her lungs madly trying to open the dryer which hold the black leotard she so desperately needs, or Mean Mr. Clean acting badly, I will remember these wise words.

I hope every day, little by little, I become more peaceful. I know forgiveness sets us free so I will forgive Mr. Clean and maybe even thank him for giving me the opportunity to practice what I preach. I also truly hope Mr. Clean learns how to get a peace. We would all benefit if he did.

We Accept the Love We Think We Deserve

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We accept the love we think we deserve.

“What we are teaches the child more than what we say, so we must be what we want our children to become.” Joseph Chilton Pearce

“We accept the love we think we deserve” is from the book and movie, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It struck a chord deep within me when I heard Paul Rudd deliver the line. And it’s not just because of his puppy dog eyes. There is so much truth in this simple sentence.

Now this is nothing new and we have heard it before, but I think it bears repeating. (If you are anything like me, sometimes it takes a few hundred times to really let a message sink in.)

A big part of this seemingly simple equation is taking care of ourselves. Treating ourselves with brave kindness, unconditional compassion, and authentic love is an essential piece to our overall happiness.

If we want others to love us, we have to love ourselves exactly for who we are in this moment, supposed flaws and all.

When I share this message with a friend, a family member, or in a yoga class, I sometimes get the feeling there is a bit of eye rolling going on, or worse, I hear the voice of the Stuart Smalley character from Saturday Night Live. I see him looking in the mirror declaring, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”

Speaking to ourselves gently is just one way to be kind to ourselves. Sometimes it means taking time off, saying no to an invitation to go out, taking medication, seeing a therapist, exercising, going to a sacred place like church or temple, getting fresh air, eating healthy, not over drinking, etc. It always means listening and honoring our intuition.

The other day, I read an article posted on Facebook by a friend, called, How to Talk to Little Girls by Lisa Bloom. It’s about opening conversations with girls about topics other than their appearance. The author talks of refraining from commenting on girls’ looks and instead choosing to discuss books and other worthy subjects. If a child believes their worth is all about appearance, it could be detrimental to their developing self esteem. This hit home for me as I often talk to my daughter about how adorable she looks. Oops.

This article was really insightful. I also think while it is hugely important how we speak to our daughters, and children on a whole, it is crucial, as well, how we speak to ourselves. Trust me this is not easy for me, but when our little ones witness us smiling at the reflection in the mirror, treating our own bodies with respect, they in turn will do the same.

Much of a young girl’s self esteem comes from her mother’s self esteem. We can teach our children how important loving oneself is, but practicing this yourself will reach them in a way preaching never will.

This brings to mind a recent story. At the end of the school year, Will, my six year old son, was working on a writing assignment. I was sitting with him completing my own assignment for school when I noticed the tears in his eyes. He was beyond frustrated with how messy his handwriting was.

I casually told Will to pause, put his pencil down, and take a deep breath. I then pointed to the center of the collage I was making. There sat a picture of the Buddha. I pleaded with Will to remember this very important message. Buddha said, “You, more than anyone else in the world, deserves your love and affection”. To that, Will turned and said, “Now why don’t they teach that in school?”

It is true, we accept the love we think we deserve, and each and every one of us deserves a whole lot of extraordinary, life affirming, sunbeam bursting, unconditional LOVE!  Love is not reserved for a handful of lucky people, we all possess this brilliant love within us. It’s where we come from, and it ‘s where we go back to.

One more thing…We are smart enough, we are good enough and doggone it, people not only like us, they love us!