On Surrender

Illustration by  Ömer .

Illustration by Ömer.

There’s a quietly potent thing that happens in stillness. An absorption. A settling. An enigmatic connection through breath.

On the opposite end of the spectrum from stillness lies momentum. Acceleration. That thing you learn about in physics that makes it easier to keep going once you’ve started, or harder and more jolting to stop. It's an equally powerful and important force. Momentum is often imperative in getting shit done, whether it’s a responsibility you’ve been dragging your feet to accomplish or a personal project that becomes ever easier and more exciting once your creativity begins to flow.

The catch with momentum is that, in excess, it can become an overwhelming state of being. It can leave us lost, rattled and threadbare. Going, going, going all the time, with no space or time to process the daily whirlwind of our lives. There is a delicate balance between motion and stillness that must be struck. A give and take that is necessary if we are to not only prevent burnout but also show up in our lives from a place of alignment, authenticity and love.

Why? Because it is within quiet, solitary being-ness that the space for self-connection is born. In attuning to our internal rhythms and our breath, we are better able to notice the state of our bodies and our hearts. From this awareness stems an invaluable capacity for reflection and processing. Absorbing and rebuilding. Moving forward with concerted awareness rather than the gravitational pull of perpetual motion.

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Lately, as I have been sitting with my breath, I have been working to exhale into surrender. I would have historically thought this to be a ridiculous state of being to choose to cultivate (and you very well may too), but hear me out.

I’m not sure if this is the universal experience, but I certainly learned about what it means to surrender from Captain Hook and movies with saloon hold-ups and history lessons about soldiers who dejectedly laid down their axes, guns, or swords. It was a relinquishing, a white flag, a giving up. Nothing positive—nor of any strength—was to be found in the act of surrendering.

Five years ago, deep in the midst of the most emotionally and existentially trying period of my life, I sat in an Airbnb in Barcelona with my oldest friend. She had brought with her a box of Angel cards—spiritual “guides” that I had unabashedly rolled my eyes at when she first shared them with me a year or so before. But life was different now—I was different now—and I felt a fissure inside myself that urged me to be open to the possibility of their power.

Closing my eyes and taking a deep breath, I asked the wisdom of the cards to give me guidance about a job in London that I had just applied for and wanted with all my heart. The card I pulled read, “Surrender.”

You can imagine how I felt about that.

The gentle offering of a different perspective that flowed from my friend’s mouth changed my life in a most unexpected and profound way. Surrender, she suggested, was not a resigned giving up but a courageous letting go. It embodied a state of knowing that I had done my part, shown up in the best ways I knew how, and then stepped away with faith that the rest would play out in the way it was meant to—even if it was not the way I wanted. Surrender as a state of release rather than grasping; a state of trust rather than fear.

There is a beautiful surrendering that happens in stillness. The kind of surrendering that simply means being with what is. Not only accepting all the realities of the present moment in your life, but leaning into them. Allowing them to be what they are without any resistance. And trusting that the universe will catch you; that you are exactly where you are meant to be.

It’s not easy. But, like most things, it becomes easier with practice. The more frequently you choose to be in relationship with yourself, your life, and the world or realms beyond you from a place of trust, the more easily you will be able to surrender when things are hard or feel misaligned with what your heart wants. Knowing that you’ve shown up as best as you could in any given moment. Knowing that you have not been left behind. Knowing that there is so much still unknown, still unfolding, still to be revealed.

On Healing

Illustration by Heo Jiseon

Illustration by Heo Jiseon

Patience is a virtue is probably one of the best known axioms, one that we’re directly taught or absorb through any number of spheres—familial, educational, social—at a very young age. As with many modes of behavior, including kindness, generosity, honesty, and attentiveness, we’re taught to cultivate patience in relation to other people. To be patient with our siblings, our classmates, people who operate differently than we do. If we're lucky, we're taught to be patient with ourselves in times of frustration, particularly when developing a new skill, like learning how to divide fractions (super frustrating) or play trombone (probably super frustrating?). Yet the patience with self generally stops there. Which, I've learned as I've grown older, is highly problematic. Because as sentient humans, we don't just feel stuck or frustrated with ourselves in regard to activities; we often feel it in regard to habits, emotions, and our deeper ways of being.

I've been sitting with waves of processing in the past few months, simultaneously fluid and disarming states of centeredness and grief. Noticing the ways in which I am fine and not fine all at once. The ways in which emotions can feel addressed and released, only to suddenly resurface and be exhumed out of nowhere, rising and falling like the tides.

It is easy to feel frustrated with this process, especially if it is in regard to emotions you've been experiencing for a long time. This is where the vitality of deeper patience with self comes in.

The long and short of it is this: healing takes time. And it's allowed to.

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Grief is such a complicated beast. Mourning. It can be intense and overwhelming, sad or angry, resigned or numb. It can be completely enveloping or sit quietly with you, humming in the background as you gather yourself together and go about your days. It can slip so far into your bones that you have moments, perhaps many, where you lose sight of it completely, until something comes out of nowhere and triggers the pain all over again—and suddenly, you are overcome.

I’ve done a fair amount of grieving in my time. Mourning the loss of love, of friendships, of places I called home. Mourning the loss of futures I envisioned for myself that disappeared when those things tied to them did. And of course, mourning the loss of life. Of family I held so dear. And now, of friends.

//

Sitting alongside Patience is a virtue in the neatly packaged axiom box is Time heals all wounds, which I think, to a large extent, is true. But time itself is not a cure-all; it must be lived through with attention if true healing is sought. And with a particular type of attention, too: attention that is kind, compassionate and non-judgmental. Attention that is simply present with what is. Healing will occur, albeit sometimes quite slowly, through processing. Tenderness. Patience. Loving care—even amidst fits of rage. Space for the wounds to be, to breathe. 

When we meet anger, frustration or pain with anger, frustration or pain, it cannot heal. It cannot be moved. We resist ourselves, we feel agitated for still feeling what we feel, and we stay stuck in that place. It is only through compassion for ourselves in whatever mental and emotional state we’re in—for however long we are in it—that we will be able to process those feelings, wrestle with them, feel them fully, and over time, begin to let them go.

The Personal is Political | On Showing Up for Yourself

Collage by Rozenn Le Gall.

Collage by Rozenn Le Gall.

I think it's fair to say that America is pretty unrecognizable right now. We see the reality of this moment mirrored in history books, familiar to us through stories we’ve learned about America’s less than commendable past. But this is not—surely cannot be—our America. 2017 America. Except each day we wake to find that it is. And that the America that many of us embraced in the past eight years, celebrated even, we now know that we’ve also taken for granted.

As the baffling, fear and hate based edicts continue to pour in, we are being mobilized into action because we must be. This is not a time for complacency.

I often feel conflicted about how much I should or even want to talk about politics here, because this is not a space designated for political analysis or commentary. Rather, it is a space that is dedicated to the vulnerable, courageous discussion and generation of personal wellness, in myself and hopefully those of you reading. But here's the thing: valuing wellness in a culture that predominantly values consumerism and professional success is, in fact, political. 

This blog is implicitly political because it is personal. And yes—the personal is political. As a woman who refuses to be a doormat, I am inherently political (even in 2017). As a person with a uterus, I am inherently political. As people who fundamentally believe in equality, we are inherently political. It is time that we all acknowledge the magnitude of this fact and, like thousands of Americans are doing each day, start to show up. We must begin to show up for our country, for our inhabitants who are being put in positions that resemble those that many of our ancestors were horrifically subjected to, and we must begin to show up for ourselves. Believing in and valuing equality is not enough today. We must put our money, our phone calls, our bodies, our emails, our art and our writings where our mouths are.

 

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I’m interested in this act of Showing Up on a deep level, far beyond its relation to politics. I'm interested in what it means and looks like for each of us to show up for ourselves in the smallest and most profound ways, every day.

Showing Up is an act that becomes a mode of being. In America, we are often taught to show up for other people: to be generous, kind, caring, reliable, and honest in our relationships, whether they are personal or professional. But rarely, if ever, are we taught to show up for ourselves. When was the last time you got home, sat on your bed, took a deep breath and said yourself, “Hey self, whom I love so deeply, how was your day?” How frequently do you take a deliberate moment to tune into the communication from your muscles and organs to see how they’re doing and what they need; to notice the state of your mind and see if it's yearning for some meditation, poetry or journaling to help it relax and reset; to check in with your heart and receive the information it has ready for you as soon as you’re willing to listen?

This, my friends, is self-care. This is Showing Up. Placing deliberate attention onto your mind, body and emotional states to ask, with curiosity and tenderness and without judgment, how you are doing and what you need. Showing Up means slowing down enough to make choices that align with your best interests and your truest expression of self rather than choices that align with the ways you have historically operated. It means asking yourself if you're doing something out of habit or conscious awareness; out of fear or trust. 

I will be the first to admit that pausing to take a deliberate breath and directly addressing yourself can feel anywhere from mildly awkward to downright ridiculous, especially if you've never done it before. But you know what? Its impact is huge. Saying a wholehearted "Good morning!" to yourself upon waking makes you feel acknowledged as a being and sets a distinct tone for your day. Taking a deep breath and a moment to tune into your levels of hunger before you nose dive into a bag of chips or cookies at the end of a stressful day at work, only to realize what you really need is a warm bath or some serious sleep, is a giant expression of self-love and care. Placing a hand over your heart and gently saying, "I love you, it's okay" after a perceived failure or argument can make all the difference in the world. We are conditioned to seek care and support from others, but this is the most incredible, most resourceful thing: What we need is ultimately ours to give ourselves.

There's a poet named nayyirah waheed whose writings routinely stop me in my tracks. She has an unbelievable way of expressing the deepest truths of life in the most raw yet gentile ways. In one of my favorite poems, she writes:

there is you and you.
this is a relationship.
this is the most important relationship.

— home

If America is ever going to change—which I believe it will—it is imperative that we start with ourselves. We cannot authentically teach trust, love, kindness and acceptance if we are not actively trusting, loving, kind and accepting of ourselves. Our energies vibrate, our opinions of self are palpable, we teach by example. The road ahead is long. It is going to be trying and surely disheartening. But we are resourceful and we are many. If we begin to truly value and tend to ourselves, we will be so much better equipped to show up in this world as beings to be reckoned with.

On Discipline vs. Devotion & the Deterministic Power of Language

In 2016, I learned and thought a lot about language. Which is funny, because I figured that after 17 years of formal education plus grad school, I knew pretty much everything I would need to know about language in this life. Like many of us who were privileged to learn from excellent educators in the humanities or the arts, I was taught how to write properly and how to write persuasively. I was taught how to write poetically too, but that one didn't go as well. After I was taught how to write, I was taught how to think. Not in the brainwashed sort of way; rather, how to think critically and creatively. I was taught these skills, which are essential for success in many of our current professional realms and imperative for verbal self-expression, dissention, innovation and the creation and preservation of certain forms of culture.

But in 2016, I learned something different about language: The direct role that it plays in personal wellness, health and growth, both mentally and physiologically. It's fascinating and is a theme I intend to talk about in varying capacities in this space as it grows. Now over halfway through January, many of us having formed and some still carrying resolutions or intentions for the year ahead, the time feels ripe to begin the conversation.

I am proposing a small yet mighty task for you. You, who seeks to do something differently this year, to support yourself in a new way, to build a new habit or mode of being that is more aligned with your true self. Whether that's drinking more water or emphasizing balance in your life, increasing the amount of time you exercise, speaking up for yourself more often or shifting your relationship with money; I have an invitation for you.

The invitation is this: choose determination over discipline.

Here's the low down. The thoughts we have and the ways we speak to ourselves directly impact the things of which we believe ourselves to be capable, the decisions we make and actions we take, and our bodies' physiological responses to those ideas and actions. Our thoughts feel so ingrained and automatic that we fail to notice the authority—the choice—we have over them. In failing to notice our agency over our thoughts, we are unable to recognize how framing their language or content differently might change our lives. It is this recognition that I yearn for you to crack open.

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In the pursuit of achievement, "discipline" is a word that comes up a lot. This year, I am going to be more disciplined and get to the gym five times a week. If only I had more discipline, a.k.a. self-control, I wouldn't eat that second piece of cake. I know I possess the discipline to sit through this 30 minute meditation without flinching. I need to have the discipline to practice my musical instrument every single day if I am going to nail that audition. None of these are invalid or unimportant ambitions or pursuits. But is discipline the kind of motivation that will make you feel excited, empowered and capable of getting there?

Think, for a moment, of a goal you've set for yourself this year. It can be large or small. Close your eyes, take a deep breath in followed by a slow exhale, and say to yourself, "I have the discipline to ________." Good. Now, using that same goal, close your eyes, take a deep breath in followed by a slow exhale, and say to yourself, "I have the determination to ________." Did that feel different in your body? In your heart?

Discipline, as a word, has a connotation of rigidity, sacrifice, something achieved through contracted and imposed efforts rather than ease. Determination, on the other hand, rings of purpose, positive energy motivated by a belief in the value of that which you are pursuing and an earnest drive to succeed. 

And so, I invite you to show up to that which you desire for yourself with determination rather than discipline. Set goals that hover in the sweet spot of realistic, achievable growth, so when you do fulfill them, you will feel motivated to continue recommitting to that practice. And when you slip or miss an opportunity to enact your goal, approach yourself with compassionate understanding, then gently reset your determination. There is no space for shame or guilt here; that mindset is not warranted, productive, nor kind.

I was recently discussing this linguistic distinction with a dear friend of mine, Briana, who also practices healing work. In her infinite wisdom, she extended the linguistic and energetic re-framing even further: to devotion. It's a place I'm still working towards, and I admire the heart in it. If you can show up to yourself, your intentions, and your new year's resolutions with devotion, with deep reverence for the ways in which they will enrich your life, then the energy to make them a reality is sure to materialize in ways you've never experienced before.

Language has power. Why not wield it to support ourselves in being the selves we wish to be?

On Turning 30 | Wisdom, Ritual & Grief

Mer_30th_bday.jpg

Last night, as I slept, I turned 30.

Beginning in my late teens, whenever anyone asked me my age, I would follow the number with the essential addendum, "...but I feel like I'm 30." It wasn't that I was a particularly old soul or anything, I have just always possessed a certain level of maturity that made me feel ready for all the things I imagined adulthood would be. No drama, stable relationships, a fulfilling career, self-assuredness. You know, the simple things. 

As far back as I can remember, I have been eager for the ways of being that filled my heart to match my reality, to have my life catch up with my desires for myself. 

There are moments now, sometimes a beautiful and robust string of them, when I feel wise. But it is an entirely different wisdom than I had imagined adulthood would bring. I don't feel wise because I have all my shit together or because I embody all the qualities and circumstances that I assumed come neatly packaged with 30 years on this Earth (which I definitely don't). I feel wise because I have begun to understand and accept the uncertainty of life. I lean into what feels right without knowing or having grand expectations of where it will lead. My life looks absolutely nothing like I imagined it would at this stage. Nothing. But instead of the deep distress, depression and resistance I responded to that with in my mid-20s, I have come to a place of trust in and patience with the unfolding. It's a kind of wisdom I couldn't have comprehended when I previously dreamed of 30 because I hadn't yet lived enough to know it would be necessary.

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I have been feeling an internal storminess the past few weeks, waves of deep grief crashing against the yearning to acknowledge and celebrate personal milestones. A significant birthday. The one year anniversary of this blog. Holding that, while consciously and purposefully sinking into a space of darkness. Honoring the lives of the 36 people who died in the horrific Ghost Ship fire in Oakland on December 2, two of whom were my friends. Grieving, sometimes deeply and sometimes shallowly yet always presently, over the incomprehensible travesty and unfairness of their loss of life and our world's loss of their presence in it. 

I feel my breaths differently since they died. 

Em and Donna were such beacons of light. They were unfailingly warm and vibrant people. Genuine and generous, inquisitive and unassuming. A poet and a healer. It is still so incomprehensible that they are gone. The fire took the lives of college students and elementary school teachers, musicians and publishers, activists and filmmakers. People devoted to our communities, to showing up in our world as their authentic selves. There is no sense to be made of it. My heart breaks every single day. 

As people gathered across the Bay to grieve and honor the lives of Donna, Em, Johnny, Kiyomi, Griffin, Hanna, Vanessa, Benjamin, Edmond, Micah, Nicole, Alex, Michela, Ara, Jennifer, Jason, Draven, Joseph, Peter, Barrett, Jonathan, Billy, Alex, David, Travis, Sara, Brandon, Cash, Nicolas, Riley, Chelsea, Jennifer, Amanda, Wolfgang, Michele, and Nicholas, I began to think about ritual. As I began to think about celebrating the 1 year anniversary of this blog in this space and celebrating my 30th birthday in physical space, I thought about ritual even more. The reasons why we gather and commemorate. Honor and draw particular attention to a thing. To acknowledge. To create meaning. To remember. To cherish. To heal. 

It's important. It makes us feel connected, feel valued. It helps us articulate our humanness, together. 

These are my favorite chocolate chip cookies. Share them with people you love and tell the people you love that you love them. Breathe deeply. Be kind. Create beauty in the world, whatever that looks like to you. It's been a hard year. We all need it.

On Becoming 'A Mindful Nation'

Carissa Potter, “Hope is Radical”.

Carissa Potter, “Hope is Radical”.

I've been pretty quiet since Tuesday. Not quiet with friends or in my physical, "real life" interactions, but in the digital space. I've been doing a lot of listening. Reading. Absorbing. Questioning and contemplating. Empathizing. Picking up the pieces of a heart that feels so, so broken.

Late Tuesday night, my body tense and nauseous as the final four "too close to call" states slowly turned to red, I felt overcome by disbelief, confusion and anger. How could this even be? How is this the reality of 2016 America?

Wednesday morning, the sun came up, just as we all knew it would. The sky shone blue in Northern California. People got out of bed, got dressed, got in their cars, got themselves to work. On the outside, our world looked just the same as it had 24 hours before.

Wednesday morning, I woke up early. Showered before the sun fully showed itself in the sky. Got dressed, ate and headed out earlier than usual for my Mindful Health class at the California Institute of Integral Studies. It wasn't until I was firmly planted on the subway for my 30 minute ride into San Francisco that I checked social media and the news. And the fact of what half of America had done to our entire country began to actually feel real.

My Facebook feed had transformed into a space of vulnerability and power. So many beautiful and brilliant friends expressing their deep sadness, their entirely substantiated fears, their anger at the system, their unwavering love for and commitment to the diversity of all the inhabitants of our country. My brother, who lives in Germany, turned his profile picture to a block of solid black. I struggled to fight back tears. Standing on the crowded BART train, I became keenly aware of the dichotomy between physical and digital space. All around me people sat and stood, glances cast towards phones and books and the vibrating walls, faces blank or calm as any other day. But in the digital world, it was anything but any other day. People were angry. Dumbfounded. Distraught. Fearful. Hopeful. Having trouble feeling hopeful. Vocal. Reaching out. For the first time, maybe ever, I felt grateful for that digital space. Felt like it was a facilitator for vital expression, for support, for coalition and for action. 

I eventually got off the train, emerged with the hurried masses from the depths of the city's underground passageways back into the light of the sun. Traffic lights changed, fathers pushed strollers, crumpled bills were exchanged for cups of caffeine. The world looked just has it had the day before, but inside I felt so sharply like it was crumbling.

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The past three days, I have been more attentively tuned into the digital space—both in news articles and on Facebook—than ever before. It has been comforting, humbling and activating to see millions of people from across America voicing their concerns and their strength. Lifting each other up. Beginning to build a movement. And it was equally heartening on Wednesday to witness so many people, friends of mine and complete strangers, articulating the need to allow ourselves to grieve. Not to wallow, not to concede, but to create space to truly feel the shattering disappointment, fear, sadness and anger that pierced our hearts and coursed through our veins, penetrating to the bone. That in the gift of space for these feelings to be and to breathe, they would ultimately be better processed and transformed into energy for action.

I have read many words over the past three days and a handful have struck a deep chord, dug into the philosophies and approaches in which I believe wholeheartedly and do my best to embody every day. Compassion. Mindfulness. Hope. These things can feel small and personal, can feel vague and inconsequential, but they must be pillars for all of us moving forward.

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As 15 distraught and powerful women sat in a circle in my Mindful Health class on Wednesday morning, our wise and grounded teacher Megan shared with us an excerpt from congressman Tim Ryan's book A Mindful Nation. It felt like a gift on that dark morning; I now wish to extend that to you. Ryan writes:

In a mindful nation, we will still misplace our keys. We still still forget people's names. We will still say and do things that may hurt others, including those we love. We will say the exact wrong thing at exactly the wrong time. But in each of these instances, with mindfulness we may do it just a bit less. We may see the humor in our mistakes and be able to laugh at ourselves more. We may be just a little less critical of others, and of ourselves. We may deal with our mistakes more quickly and with a more sincere and kind heart. We may more easily forgive the people who have hurt us. We may sit down and have civil political conversations with those who strongly disagree with us. My goal is not that America will become a perfect nation. My goal is that America will be a kinder, more compassionate nation, because I know down deep in my heart that we are a kinder, more compassionate country than is evident today. Reviving our compassionate spirit will allow us to listen carefully to each other, find points of agreement, and recapture the unity of purpose that made America great.

A mindful nation is about recognizing that we are all connected: we are in this together. At present, we feel divided and scared, and have been made to believe that independence means we are totally on our own. But our experiences—as individuals and as a country— tell a different story. We know that when we join together, work together, and care about each other, our freedom actually increases. Real independence emerges when we know how to support each other. The Declaration of Independence was a communal act.

...One of my favorite lines from the Art of War by Sun Tzu, an ancient manual for dealing effectively with conflict in war, business, and throughout life, is "Attain both hard and soft." To me, this means that in any given moment we need the ability to be firm and simultaneously the ability to be gentle. This can be challenging, but Martin Luther King, Jr., offered us an example of holding hard and soft together. He pointed out that love without power is ineffectual, and power without love is destructive.

When human beings combine these qualities, they're drawing on their innate mindfulness, awareness, and kindness. And neuroscience is starting to prove that all of these can be cultivated in grater measure, giving us an increased capability to approach our problems and challenges with nuance and awareness of the whole picture, the perspectives of other people, and the unfolding patterns that allow us to be insightful about dangers and opportunities that lie ahead—what the innovative thinker Thomas Homer-Dixon calls "prospective mind." In this way, we can hep re-establish our collective mindfulness and regain our sense of balance, which is what it means to be resilient. We can't determine exactly what the future will be, what tomorrow will bring, what the next moment will bring, but we can determine how we will be in our body and mind, whatever may come.

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It feels a little ridiculous to post photos of food on Instagram right now, to share recipes, to have conversations that are about anything other than the political, social, economic and emotional state of America. But we need to eat. And we need to create. As people mobilize and artists of all kinds use their uniquely magical expressions to make sense of and shape our world, I am continuing to do what I do. Because the world keeps spinning and every act of generosity, thoughtfulness and nourishment counts. So here are some seasonal, mildly wacky, California style tacos. Beans from scratch that are infused with flavor by boiling them with spices and plant based aromatics. Sweet winter persimmons turned into tart pickled bursts of flavor. Food transformed through ingenuity, patience, care, attention, time. We will get there, America. There are too many of us with abundant love, compassion and power for it not to be so.

 

On Cultivating Trust & Intuition

Collage by Cosmic Collage / Lori Menna

Collage by Cosmic Collage / Lori Menna

There's this great website that I was introduced to earlier this year called Mystic Mamma. It's a wellspring of wisdom, housing resources for reflection, reverence, healing, and tuning into our interconnectedness with our incomprehensibly expansive world. At the start of each month, the site offers insights about the month's energetic theme. I'm still on the fence about how deeply I believe that the themes presented—which are based on celestial phases and other such scientific/mystical readings—are actually true, but I do find them to be provocative food for thought. 

October's theme of balance does indeed feel appropriate for this time of the year, as we teeter through the seasonal shift that I was bemoaning in my last post. It's interesting to think about the myriad physical/mental/emotional/temporal/behavioral states that pepper our days, which can all be in or out of balance at any given point in time. We can easily assess our personal balance of work and play, activity and rest, social and solo time. Our energy levels and mental states send us clear signals letting us know if and when these need some adjusting. But there was one particular commentary in Lena Stevens' writing about this month's theme that really gave me pause. She shared:

Another area of balance is the relationship you have with trust and intuition vs. needing to know. The need to know can cause severe anxiety when the information simply is not available yet.

As a recovering control freak/perfectionist with a highly active brain and a lot of question marks in my life, I suddenly felt like Stevens was talking directly to me. Like, Hey, Meredith, I know what's been going on in that noggin of yours and you really just need to LET IT GO. Sit with the uncertainty. Continue to trust your intuition and deep knowingness that all will be revealed and work out in time. Relax. "You will sleep better," Stevens wrote at the end of the paragraph. So damn pragmatic. After taking a deep breath and letting the all too resonant advice sink in, I couldn't help but smile.

Finding patience in the unfolding of my life and sitting comfortably with uncertainty are two of the biggest psychological shifts that I've been working on strengthening throughout the latter half of my 20s (which are, needless to say, nearing a close). Residing hand in hand with those two mental/emotional states is a strengthened trust in my intuition. The more you learn to tune into, trust and operate from the truth of your intuition, the more you will be both challenged and able to sit comfortably with uncertainty—especially if your intuition is guiding you along a path that is not what is expected (by you, your family, society, or whomever), traditionally respected, or "safe".

So how does one cultivate this trust, this radar for noticing and identifying one's intuition? And then have the courage to operate from within it? It's like a muscle. The more you flex it, the stronger it becomes. 

//

My personal journey with noticing my intuition started out unconsciously—compulsively, even. I found myself making choices that were potentially risky but that I absolutely had to pursue if I wanted to do more than simply survive. Moving from Los Angeles to the Bay without a job or a home and only a tiny network of friends was one such choice. That choice, that gut feeling of needing to get the hell out of LA to try and create a better situation for myself, I suppose sprung from the deep and difficult work of learning to love and value myself, even in the worst of times. It was a decision that seemed completely nonsensical—irresponsible, even—to some people in my life, but I didn't feel like I even had a choice in the matter. I trusted it. I knew it had to be done. And here I am, over two years later, making it work. Still striving for more but also so much more myself.

Another one of those "this is probably irresponsible but my gut is telling me I have to do it" decisions I made just over a year ago when I chose to leave a job at an incredible non-profit because my role and responsibilities didn't align with what I knew I truly wanted to be doing professionally. I left behind the very real possibility of a full-time job with benefits and a decent salary at an organization whose work I deeply believed in to nanny part-time (while relying on the savings I had built up to cover the balance of my expenses), practice yoga, and regroup. To figure out what it is I am truly passionate about. Reading over that sentence, I am struck by how charmed that situation sounds. Let me assure you, though: it was fucking hard. I felt so lost for the first few months. I set unrealistic goals for myself (practice yoga five times a week! eat healthily all the time! become a self-educated holistic nutrition expert!) and was unreasonably hard on myself when I wasn't able to realize them on a daily basis.

But you know what happened? With patience, self-compassion and self-awareness, things began to fall into place. That fall, I started this blog. That winter, I found out about and enrolled in an entrepreneurship course for wellness practitioners. I began to practice meditation on my own for the first time. I slowly developed some clarity around the content that I want to engage with personally and offer to the world. I met the friend with whom I devised and facilitated my first food and wellness workshop this past August. I am woefully strapped for cash but I am discovering how resourceful and resilient I am. Above all, I am becoming ever more grateful for all of the things that make my life full, in spite of its hardships, and trusting of the way the details unfold.

Ultimately, that's one of the most valuable qualities that I have cultivated throughout this journey, and that I wish for all of you: trust. That's not to say that I don't feel disappointment or frustration or anxiety, or that I don't obsess about the outcomes of any variety of efforts I make, whether personal or professional. But that's where the balance comes in. Knowing when to push for something and when to let go. Trusting that, if I've acted in ways that are aligned with my intuition and my true self, the outcomes will be in service of me and my wellbeing, even if I can't immediately see how. And in the meantime, practicing being fully present and accepting of things as they are. Trusting that they will change or reveal themselves when they are ready, when I am ready. When the intentions and efforts that I have put forth and the mysterious flows of the Universe synchronistically collide. 

On Mindful Eating

©Carolyn Mason, “Pink Frosting,” 2004.

©Carolyn Mason, “Pink Frosting,” 2004.

In one segment of her book Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert recounts an experience she had in a busy office building in New York. Upon rushing into an elevator, she caught a glimpse of herself in the security mirror. Processing the familiar face, her brain registered her own reflection as a friend of hers; Gilbert reacted, for a fleeting moment, with surprise and joy. As quickly as this happened, she realized her mistake and laughed it off in embarrassment.

Gilbert reflects back on this moment in the midst of a night in Rome—where she has been living most vivaciously—when she finds herself suddenly overcome with depression and loneliness. Turning to her own self for support, Gilbert remembers this incident in the elevator. She scrawls in her journal: "Never forget that once upon a time, in an unguarded moment, you recognized yourself as a friend."

What a revolutionary concept: that we can be our own friend. That we can offer our own selves compassion and solace, even in the depths of despair. I would argue that this—this befriending of ourselves, this treating ourselves as we would our nearest and dearest—is one of the most vital practices in which we can actively engage. (And I say “practices” because it truly is evolving; truly takes repeated effort; truly takes disciplined attention.) A practice that makes life easier. Healthier. More fulfilling. And it is not just vital in moments of depression, strife or despair. It is work we can weave into each moment of our lives. What we allow ourselves to do with our time. How we approach our aspirations; our creativity; our play. How and when we work. How we judge and speak to our own selves.

So where does this process of self-befriending begin? There are many points of entry. Combating negative self-talk. Expressing gratitude. Giving ourselves credit for our achievements. Operating from a place of trust rather than fear. But those are not what we're going to talk about today. Today, we're going to talk about the point of entry that sparked the journey of self-befriending, in truth, for me. We're going to talk about food. 

Or, rather, the way we eat our food.

Mindful Eating or The Gateway Art of Attentiveness

I first encountered the concept of mindful eating in Michael Pollan's book In Defense of Food, which I highly recommend. He espouses this simple yet somehow radical belief that when you eat you should just eat. Don't eat and scroll through any media or communications on your phone. Don't eat and read the newspaper or even Bon Appetit magazine. Don't eat while driving. Don't eat straight out of the fridge while making your ritual boredom lap through the kitchen. Don't eat standing up, rushing out the door. Don't eat at your desk, working through your lunch break. Don't eat while watching TV or Netflix in bed.

So what, just…eat? Yes, just eat. Eat and give your full attention to your meal (and your present company, if you are sharing the meal with others). Eat and relish the colors, textures, scents and tastes of your food. Take your time. Put your utensil down between bites. Chew thoroughly. Savor the flavors. Take deep breaths and feel the reactions of your body to your meal. Appreciate the care that you put into preparing your meal, or that someone else put into preparing it. Acknowledge and appreciate the hands that nurtured and harvested the raw ingredients and the wonders of our earth that enabled them to grow. And, while we're at it, also be sure to eat off of proper dish ware, treating yourself like the deserving human that you are. You wouldn't serve your guest a meal straight out of a jar, wrapper or tupperware, would you?

These propositions in and of themselves have the capacity to trigger all kinds of resistance—let alone what might come up in the actual act of trying them. Our internal monologue, that voice of defense, has its lines firing. I don’t have time for that! I won’t get to read the paper if I don’t do it over breakfast. I can’t get my work done if I don’t eat at my desk. What, I’m supposed to sit at home alone, at the actual dining table, and have a meal with myself as company? I could never have a meal out in public and not be on my phone—that is way too awkward! Why dirty a dish when I can eat right out of the jar?

These are all valid concerns, but hear me out. Mindful eating has incredible physiological, psychological and emotional effects. For starters, when we take the time to slow our eating and chew more fully, our bodies actually have greater access to the nutritional benefits of our food. Believe it or not, chewing is the first step in the digestive process. When we chew completely, our teeth essentially liquidize our food, which enables our bodies to digest it more easily and frees up internal resources to focus on nutrient absorption. Our saliva also contains digestive enzymes that are necessary to break down the food for optimum conversion into energy. Slowing down and chewing fully means we physically gain more benefit from the food we eat and help our digestive systems do their job with more ease and effectiveness.

These aren’t the only ways that mindful eating benefits our physical health. When we actually pay attention to (or dare even savor!) the process of eating, we are better able to tune in to our levels of hunger and satiety. This helps us avoid overeating and feelings of post-meal discomfort, which in turn helps prevent unwanted weight gain and chronic stress on our digestive systems. Additionally, as our minds and bodies are constantly in relationship, eating with attentiveness helps us remember the experience of having eaten, which actually keeps us feeling fuller longer. 

And then there's the joy bit. The benefit of pure pleasure that comes from truly noticing and appreciating how delicious your food is, how curious of a sound it makes, how many hands it took to get from the field onto your plate, or how wonderful that even amongst your hectic/frustrating/disappointing/exhausting day, you took time to create something for yourself. By making an effort to eat away from your desk, away from your phone or television, off of real dish ware at the dining room table—even if you're by yourself—you are actively showing yourself that you're worth caring for. That, in itself, is something to be practiced and celebrated.

Words really cannot express how radically the practice of mindful eating has changed my life. It has so many benefits and an incredible ripple effect. Start paying more attention to your food and your eating and suddenly everything in your life will seem deserving of increased attention, care and even reverence. The mundane made magnificent. Trust me. You'll see.

On Coming Home to Yourself

© Collage by Nathalia Greghi

© Collage by Nathalia Greghi

I went back home to Los Angeles last week. The home of my past selves. The home of my elementary and middle school self, who was joyous and carefree and destined for greatness. The home of my high school self, whose mind was ever expanding and whose heart felt perpetually bruised. The home of my post-college self, who had a burgeoning career she loved and a boyfriend she loved and friends she loved in a city she loved. So many selves contained in photos and diaries, coursework and notes passed in class. Selves written into the bed sheets, into the rough and fading dusty rose carpet that has forever cradled that floor, into the piles upon piles of mementos that I can't seem to throw away. So many selves that are intimately familiar, yet so far gone.

It's hard to go back to that house in Los Angeles. To enjoy the things I still love deeply about the city without free falling down the rabbit hole of my past. At 24, I left all that history behind and made a new home for myself in London. The city magnetized me, drew me to it and activated me in ways I could never have dreamed. At times, those two years in London were devastating and inconceivably challenging, yet I somehow managed to show up for myself like I never had before. I built the most incredible home, fell in love with a city, fell in love with food, fell in love with amazing friends and communities and conversations. And then, because of a situation well beyond my control, I had to leave. 

In the two years following my move back to the States, I would often tell people that I left my heart in London. But if home is where the heart is and my heart was 5,500 miles away, where did that leave me? 

There are so many things that can make a place feel like home. Comfort, familiarity, community, ease. Home can smell like pine trees or eucalyptus or mothballs or ocean air. Home can feel like a lover's embrace or the squeeze of a mother's hand. It can be the taste of empanadas or matzo ball soup. It can be the sinking into a well worn armchair or sitting atop a vista overlooking the city where you grew into you. It's strange now to say I'm going home when I take a trip down to LA and then to again say I'm going home when I get into the car to drive back up to the Bay. But that's another thing about home: it is multiplicity, evolving, physical and emotional, transient and eternal all at the same time.

The making and leaving and re-making of homes is one aspect of adulthood that I was definitively unprepared for. No one tells you how challenging and joyous and heartbreaking and perpetual it is. 

Through all of this, I'm coming to learn one essential and not often discussed thing: at the end of the day, the most important home I can make and return to is within myself. Which often feels impossible. To feel at home in my own self. Comforted, happy, at peace in my own company, irrespective of anything else.

But that’s part of the work. This life work. Can we learn to sit with ourselves, be with our breath, hold ourselves tenderly and still feel at home—even when everything else is in chaos or falls away?

On Repairing the World

About a year ago, while searching for things to listen to on my impending drive from the Bay down to LA, I happened upon a podcast called On Being. Oh my...this podcast. It is the stuff of life. The bafflingly well read and ever thoughtful host, Krista Tippett, speaks with a variety of thinkers—including philosophers, artists, activists, religious figures, poets, scientists and social researchers—about the things that make us human, that shape our world. I've been slowly working my way through her new book, Becoming Wise, and was struck by a parable she shared that was originally from her recorded conversation with physician Rachel Naomi Remen.

Remen, who recognized and integrated the power of personal story into her approach of cancer treatment with patients, recounted for Tippett a tale of one of the fundamental ethics of Judaism: to "repair the world". Her Orthodox rabbi grandfather told her this story as her fourth birthday present. She shared:

In the beginning there was only the holy darkness, the Ein Sof, the source of life. In the course of history, at a moment in time, this world, the world of a thousand thousand things, emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light. And then, perhaps because this is a Jewish story, there was an accident, and the vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke. The wholeness of the world, the light of the world, was scattered into a thousand thousand fragments of light. And they fell into all events and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day.

Now, according to my grandfather, the whole human race is a response to this accident. We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people; to lift it up and make it visible once again and, thereby, to restore the innate wholeness of the world. This is a very important story for our times — that we heal the world one heart at a time. This task is called “tikkun olam” in Hebrew, “restoring the world.”

Tikkun olam is the restoration of the world. And this is, of course, a collective task. It involves all people who have ever been born, all people presently alive, all people yet to be born. We are all healers of the world.

And that story opens a sense of possibility. It’s not about healing the world by making a huge difference. It’s about healing the world that touches you, that’s around you. That’s where our power is. 


In my years and years of Jewish education, I had never heard this story before. It baffled me and it touched me deeply. The idea that we all of us are healers. And when everyone does small things to make the world as they experience it better, more just, more connected, more curious, more generous, more equitable, more thoughtful and more human, the entire world is transformed.

//

As I let the message of this parable sink in, I couldn’t help but frame it within the context of my own personal healing, the avenues through which I aim to help heal the world, and the truths that I have come to take as fundamental. One such truth is this: While we certainly have a responsibility to be good to one another and to care for the earth as well, our foremost responsibility is to our own selves. To acknowledge and tend to the light within each of us. We must treat ourselves—mind, body and spirit—with curiosity, tenderness, non-judgment, generosity, and care. This was not something I remember being taught as a child, but is something I now believe to be of utmost importance.

In her talk, “The Power of Vulnerability,” Brène Brown makes a bold assertion that we can only love others as much as we love ourselves. I believe this to be true. And so: in order to see and bolster the light in others, we must tend to the light within ourselves. We must meet our struggles with compassion. See the opportunity in our failures. The gifts in our imperfections. The cumulative transformation in our slow growth. The strength in our vulnerability. The perspective derived from our wounds. The absolute necessity of our unique offerings to the world.

We can only begin to attend to our responsibility and power to heal the world by first attending to our responsibility and power to heal our own selves.

By living in ways that bolster our own light, we are poised to genuinely champion the light within others. And. By living each day in our light, we create an energy and model of behavior that imprints itself onto the world. That allows others to step into their own light. And in our wake, the world changes—becomes, increment by increment, more repaired.