Monthly Archives: April 2018

In the vortex of the Eight Worldly Winds

Whatever is going on in your life right now, if you really pay attention, you will see that it is impermanent. For added help in seeing clearly what is arising and falling away, and how to be in skillful relationship with them, the Buddha divided the experiences, these ever-changing winds, into eight categories, presented in pairs. They are pleasure & pain, gain & loss, praise & censure, status & disgrace.
Think of something going on in your life right now and see if it fits in any of these categories.8WW.jpg

These Eight Worldly Winds are naturally occurring. There’s no way to avoid their arising and falling away in our experience. But we can be more skillful in how we are in relationship to them. First we notice how we react to them. Are we caught up in the winds, welcoming some and rebelling against others? In both cases we might feel at their mercy, tossed about hither and yon, feeling broken and bruised. Is this any way to live?
When I first learned about the Eight Worldly Winds, I was reminded of a meditation technique I used to do when my mind was abuzz with planning, worrying, reliving past moments, etc. In meditation I would imagine my thoughts like a whirlwind circling around me. I would sit cultivating such stillness that the thoughts, in contrast, seemed to be whirling faster and faster until they blurred together and my mind could not latch onto any particular worry or plan or regret or desire. I sometimes actively stirred the winds, creating a vortex where I could sit in the lightness of the center. Amidst it all, I was able to be at peace. (You might think of poaching an egg, how you stir up a vortex in a pot of hot water, slip the egg in and it holds its shape. No vinegar needed in this meditation recipe, however. 😉 )
If we sit this way, either creating a vortex or simply allowing the winds to pass through our spacious field of compassionate awareness, we cultivate a space for the calm quiet voice of our own inner wisdom to be heard. If our meditation practice is regular, and especially if we give ourselves the gift of going on retreat occasionally, we empower our ability to listen in to that wisdom, and let it gently guide us to be skillful, ethical, kind and balanced. (Note: If the inner voice is strident or demanding, it’s not the wise inner voice, but a fear-based aspect trying to run the show. No need to make an enemy of it. Treat it with respect, negotiate reasonably, but don’t follow it’s instructions!)
We see the impermanence of all that arises: the pleasure and the pain, the loss and the gain, the praise and the censure, the status and disgrace. We can dance with the wind as a willow tree’s branches sway, while being deeply rooted in wisdom, instead of shallowly rooted and ultimately uprooted by the passing winds of life.
As we go about our day, if we are present and compassionate, we can see the Eight Worldly Winds more easily. When one of them blows through our field of experience, we can acknowledge it but we don’t have to chase after it or run from it.
Can we appreciate gain without fearing loss? For example, can we allow ourselves to love without holding back because we fear losing the person we love?
Can we understand loss as a natural part of the experience of being alive in this impermanent world? Can we be compassionate with ourselves in our grief, but also see it all as part of the dance of life?
Can we enjoy a pleasure as it arises in our experience without getting caught up in craving it and clinging to it?
Can we recognize pain as a bodily messenger to heed and attend? And if the pain is beyond remedy, can we be present with the many sensations within what we label ‘pain’, and recognize how they arise and fall away like parts of a symphony? Can we find other sensations that are happening in other parts of the body at the same time that are neutral or pleasant, and see that the pain is just one aspect of all that is arising in our experience?
Can we accept praise without seeking it? Can we accept praise without reacting against it? Can we accept praise without doubting the praise giver’s truthfulness or intentions?
Can we accept censure when we have done something unskillful and do what we can to make amends? Can we look within and see how this unskillfulness happened, and set the intention to be more skillful in the future? If we are blamed for something we did not do, can we handle our response with clarity and compassion, seeking solutions instead of getting caught up in the blame game.
In relationship to elevated status, can we let it be simply a byproduct of something authentic and skillful that we have done? Can we not see it as a goal or a solution to the emptiness within?
If our reputation is tarnished and we experience disgrace, can we handle it with grace? Can we make reparations? Can we take the opportunity to look within and see how we may have erred. If the accusations are false, can we be skillful in how we respond instead of making it worse or confirming opinions?
At the very core can we remember that none of these Eight Worldly Winds are who we are? When we set the intention to be present in this moment, compassionate with ourselves and others, the Eight Worldly Winds do not define our lives. We all experience gains and losses. We all experience pleasure and pain. We all experience praise and censure. We all experience status or disgrace, to varying degrees. We may experience a variety of emotions and thoughts around them. But as we rest in awareness and compassion, we are supported by a deeper understanding of the nature of our experience that comes from our wise intention and the skillful efforts that follow from it.
Coming into skillful relationship with the Eight Worldly Winds, we can use the questions we have been exploring in the previous posts.
When we ask What is my intention here? we might see that we are chasing praise, pleasure, gain or status, or fighting or fleeing from censure, pain, loss and disgrace. We can look at what we are afraid of. We can pay attention to the stories that arise out of that fear, and we can ask if it is really true.
The person seeking fame may discover the fear of disappearing, not being seen at all. Let’s say they do become famous. Now they are still afraid because they are not being seen for who they really are. Being seen can be pleasurable, but if fear of not being seen is a prime motivator, then all kinds of misery ensues.
The person seeking pleasure may be running away from the pain in their lives. But the pleasure they seek, if overindulged, may ultimately exacerbate the pain.
The person seeking praise feels lost and needs constant acknowledgement in the form of praise to help them feel like they exist at all. They prefer praise, but if it’s not available, then censure gets attention too. At least they are visible!
The person who seeks gain may need it to build their sense of self, to impress others, to prove their worth, or they have a gripping fear of scarcity from some earlier life experience. There is no amount of worldly goods that will satisfy this need. Loss then reflects poorly on them. They may have more than they need to lead a comfortable life many times over, but loss is still threatening, defining them as a ‘loser’.
But if we recognize the existence of the Eight Worldly Winds and see their impermanent nature, we can be in a more skillful in relationship with them. If we practice meditation regularly and openly explore what arises in our field of awareness, we can dance gracefully like willow branches swaying in the wind.
As you go through your day, see if you can recognize which of the Eight Worldly Winds present themselves to you. Then notice how you are in relationship to them. See if you can allow each of them to flow through without making an enemy of it, chasing it or clinging to it. It’s a challenge and a lifelong practice well worth doing.
Report back!

Last Question in Our Series

Indra’s Net of Infinite Interconnection

Safety, Satisfaction and Connection
The other day I heard an interview with Dr. Rick Hanson, in which he said that there are three central needs humans have: safety, satisfaction and connection, in that order. It struck me that the series of six questions we have been working with here address these three issues in that same order.

The first three questions address issues of safety. What is my intention here? is a question we can ask when we are about to do or say something that might make things worse. If I see that my intention is to get back at someone for something, I can recognize the unskillfulness there, and reset my intention to be present and compassionate.

What am I afraid of? allows us to see our fears and explore them in a safe way. Our minds are programmed to operate from fear, but our health suffers if we are in constant state of high alert, so some self-awareness and discernment is valuable.

Are the stories I am telling myself true? is a question that can play an essential role of keeping us safe, not escalating a potentially dangerous situation.

While a certain degree of safety planning is wise, living constantly on high alert actually puts us in more jeopardy. So these first three questions are valuable. Instead of believing everything we tell ourselves, thus defining all that arises in our experience as ‘enemy’, we learn to see with more clarity and compassion for ourselves and others. This enables us to respond skillfully rather than react in ways that activate fear in others, putting all in danger.

Once we feel safe, finding meaning and happiness in life becomes central. This can be a tricky transition when coming off the adrenaline high of fear. We may need to make sense of the trauma of a scary and perhaps scarring experience. Or we may be bored because that intense focus on survival was exhilarating. It’s easy to get stuck in this post-survival mode and not know how to proceed. Instead of succumbing to listlessness or restlessness, and all the unskillful activities and diversions that might seem like a good idea at the time, we can continue to work with those first three questions: What is my intention here? What am I afraid of? Are the stories I am telling myself true? to help create space in the tangle of thoughts and emotions that keep us feeling trapped.

We can also step into an active exploration of satisfaction in our lives. Instead of looking at our external situation and thinking that others are to blame for any lack of happiness or meaning, we ask our question What am I cultivating here? This question allows us to see how our thoughts, words, actions or lack of action are creating the life we are living. We can look at the various beneficial qualities that we could cultivate within us to bring about a positive difference in our lives. Beyond those universally shared qualities, we each have inherent gifts and interests that, when cultivated and engaged in make us feel more fully alive, authentic and joyful. We find satisfaction.

Finding Friends
Once we feel safe and satisfied, we are able to make wholesome connections. This might mean finding others who share our interests and enthusiasms. The internet and apps like Meetup have made this much easier to do. But there are also local colleges, adult education programs and community centers. There is no reason for anyone to be isolated. Once we find a group, it’s skillful to develop friends within that group with whom the sense of connection goes beyond just a single shared interest. In later life sometimes we have to give up certain activities. Having friends whose connection is deeper than just a shared enjoyment of a particular activity then becomes more valuable.

Connecting with Family
Deepening existing connections or reconnecting with family members who have been estranged, can become a rich source of joy. Once we are not operating out of fear, it can be surprising how deep friendships can develop between family members. If not, too bad, but it’s definitely worth questioning outdated assumptions and giving connection a try.

Howdy Neighbors
Connecting with neighbors is not just convenient and enjoyable, but creates greater safety. Don’t wait for a crisis to get to know your neighbors. You may not share ideologies or interests, but you do have shared concerns about your immediate surroundings. Back in the day neighbors knew each other because there was no television, no air conditioning and people typically sat out on the front stoop or porch, or hung out at the local park or pub, creating true community. Now most of us retreat indoors, and while there are certainly pleasures there, a lot of sense of connection has been lost. The app Nextdoor has become a big boon to developing neighborly connection, but nothing beats getting together occasionally for a block party or other community gathering.

How can I help?
Connection is also finding how the qualities and talents that we have been cultivating can benefit not just us, but family, friends, community, the earth and ultimately all beings. So our final question of the series is How can I help?

Mr. Rogers is famous for saying in a crisis ‘look for the helpers.’ The helpers are not necessarily specially qualified people like police, firefighters, teachers or nurses. Helpers are simply people who understand that we are all in this together, that we are all connected.

Inseparable
Skin is not a boundary but a porous surface. Where is the true edge of ‘me’? The air we breathe in and out is shared by all beings alive today and throughout history. We are intrinsic fleeting expressions of ever-changing electrical impulses and chemicals combining and recombining; complex systems, networks and processes generating and regenerating — birth, growth, death, decay, and new life, arising and falling away.

Our differences are relatively recent man-made distinctions for purposes of learning and examining, grouping shared characteristics into categories and divisions like phylum, class, family, genus, and species. This is a convenience for study but an inconvenience for in-depth perception of being.  The more we are able to sense that simple but powerful truth, the more we can rest in the gift of being alive in this moment, just as it is.

A sense of connection is central to our deepest feeling of safety and understanding the nature of existence. If we cling to the idea of a separate self, we feel unsafe. We defend this separate-seeming fortress of self. If we do try to help someone else, it is from a finite depletable source, and our intention is to be seen as a good person, a nice person to gain approval, love, power and safety. But that’s not the way it works, and we are left feeling more isolated and afraid.  Trying to be a ‘nice person’ we give ourselves away in the process of helping. That’s not helpful! Nobody is asking for sacrifice. Instead, if everyone shared from that undepletable source, how joyously we all would live.

Metta
If you have been reading this blog or doing Buddhist practice for long, you recognize that this kind of help is based in metta, infinite loving kindness. Just as when we do metta practice, we always begin with ourselves. We say ‘May I be well. May I be at ease. May I be at peace. May I be happy.’ or other general blessings of that nature. Once we feel the infinite quality of metta rising within us, we naturally share it. We think of someone in particular need of loving kindness, or with whom we have a challenging relationship, and we say ‘May you be well.’ Because metta is infinite in nature, it grows and glows to encircle the whole planet and beyond, and we say ‘May all beings be well.’

Only when we are able to hold ourselves in loving kindness are we able to radiate it. In giving, it grows stronger with use, like a muscle. As we do this (and regular meditation practice), we grow in our ability to be present and compassionate. We don’t feel separate, so ‘we have nothing to defend, nothing to fear, nothing to prove. But we have something to give.’

If that last phrase sounds familiar, it is because I have shared it before in my teaching and in this blog. It is an insight I had on a retreat, and it became my mantra for the past many years whenever I find myself caught up in fear-based patterns. Feel free to use it if it helps you.

When we sense our intrinsic connection to all life, fear dissolves. Whether we come to our understanding through studying science — the microbial nature of being and how we are all stardust — or we feel it intuitively, it’s an understanding that makes a huge difference in our lives and in the lives of those around us. It’s not just a piece of knowledge but a way of life.

See for yourself! Notice how someone’s authentic smile or words of kindness affect your whole day. Notice how critical, angry fear-based words or harsh looks affect you. Can you recognize that your looks, words and actions are equally powerful? Without realizing it, you are impacting all lives around you because you are intrinsically connected. Just by living we make a difference. The question is what kind of difference are we making?

Coming full circle
In moments of danger, often our deep understanding of inherent oneness brings out our instinct to help. Probably you have seen at least some of the many Youtube videos of humans helping to save animals. Whenever there is a crisis, people surprise themselves with the physical strength to lift a vehicle off a trapped passenger or the stamina to stay up all night to help rescue fleeing fire victims.

These moments have a powerful sense of purpose. All of which can make us adrenaline junkies. Because we like the person we become in a moment of crisis. But we don’t need crisis to be a helper. There is always someone in need. We may not believe that is true because we compare our messy insides with others’ polished outsides and can’t imagine that they need help or that we have something of value to offer them. But we are all the same stardust after all. If we can reveal a little of our own feelings of vulnerability, then we find deeper connection and understanding.

We also can expand our idea of what helping is. In a crisis it is so clear, but once the crisis has passed, what do we have to offer? What about entertainment, inspiration, education, beauty, humor? If you have eased someone’s mind for a time by sharing an enjoyable, funny or uplifting experience in any way, that’s helping! If others have benefited from your skillful sharing of knowledge and experience, that’s helping! If you are part of a support team for the care of family members or friends, that’s helping! If you clean up litter, if you make wise environmental choices, if you turn the lights off when you leave a room, that’s helping! If you donate to caring causes, that’s helping! If you vote, that’s helping! If you take good care of your body so that you will stay healthy, that’s helping!

Chances are you are probably already helping; you just might not be seeing it that way. So much depends on your intention, which brings us back to the first question in this series: What is my intention here? Whatever way you make a living, spend your time and engage with the world, when you question your intention, you may discover that you are indeed a helper.

Where are you in exploring these six valuable life questions? Spend time with one that is meaningful for you right now. And use them all whenever you feel unsafe, unsatisfied or disconnected.

Your feedback please!
Please let me know if this series of questions has been meaningful for you. I am considering putting it into at least a PDF downloadable form, if not a book. Let me know if that would be of interest to you.

Meditation: Chore or Pleasure?

sweeping.jpgDeveloping a meditation practice may feel like another chore to do, like taking out the garbage or cleaning the kitchen. Both require wise intention and skillful effort to do, and afterward there’s a noticeable positive difference in our lives.

But they are also very different, probably in many ways, but here’s at least one: Chores are things that someone else could do for us if we didn’t want to do them and money was no object. But no one can meditate for us. Just as no one can attend a concert for us or eat a meal for us. No one can enjoy a good book for us or go on a life-transforming trip for us. These kinds of things no one could do for us because they are not chores, but experiences that directly provide us with pleasure, nourishment, insight and edification.

Meditation is a pleasure! This might not be immediately apparent because like many pleasures, we develop our deep appreciation of it through practice and exposure. Though some people find meditating easy from the start, for most it is an acquired delight.

It is similar to acquiring a taste for walking in the woods if we’ve never done it and have only watched scary movies and the woods is where the bodies get buried. We may be afraid of what’s behind a tree or around the next curve on the trail. Just so, someone who has never meditated may fear what might be lurking within their minds. But, as with the new hiker in the woods, practice grows awareness and understanding. The new meditator discovers that simply being present with the senses in silence is a safe place to be. They increasingly find comfort in their growing ability to stay present with all the physical sensations, emotions and thoughts that naturally arise in their field of awareness. They develop the skills to greet all that arises with friendliness, to trust their own inner wisdom to help them see more clearly and experience more expansively being fully alive in each moment.

When it comes to chores, a regular meditation practice helps us to discover that even these tasks can be pleasurable. The pleasure isn’t just the satisfaction of a job well done, but in the doing itself, living life just as it is in this moment with appreciation.

In class, students shared some of their experiences with last week’s exercise working with the question: What are your inherent gifts, interests and skills? It made for an interesting discussion. If you did the exercise, what came up for you? Looking over your list, is there anything you noticed during the week? Did any moments from the past jump out as reminders of something that you could add to that list? Did any of the things you wrote down surprise you? Do any two or more of the skills or interest potentially combine in a satisfying way?

These are ongoing questions. If you didn’t do the exercise, you might want to go back to the previous post and give it a try. If you did it but it feels a little scary or troubling, then go back to the first few questions in this series and work with them around what comes up: What is my intention here? What am I afraid of? and whatever answers come up, look at them with fresh eyes and ask Is this true?

You might notice a harsh inner voice that devalues the gifts you name. There are often more than just one of these expressions of our fears, whose intentions are to keep us ‘safe’. They can be thanked for their intentions, treated with respect and kindness, but not given the run of the place, because operating from fear is unskillful and potentially dangerous.

In meditation we are tuning in to the still quiet voice of infinite loving kindness and wisdom. It has no sense of urgency. It never dictates. It simply offers guidance in the form of options. When a harried inner voice is sending us with a sense of urgency to the refrigerator for a treat, the wise inner voice might be quietly saying ‘Or, you could notice that you’re not hungry but bored and head out to the garden instead.’  But it takes practice to hear that quiet wisdom speaking amidst the cacophony of all those fear-based thought patterns going on in our brain. The more we listen, the more we recognize that wisdom, the more we operate from it, and though the other voices are present, we don’t feel compelled to act on what they say. (Or at least not all the time!) As we anchor into awareness and compassion, we can even ‘interview’ them, discover their needs, and wisely negotiate some skillful solution that would satisfy them without sabotaging our well being.

I remember my discovery of that wise inner voice in my meditation. It felt like dancing on the head of a pin. I fell off so many times, and the moments when I was there were so fleeting. But over time, with consistent practice, that pinhead grew larger and larger until I was able to be there most of the time, and I was very aware if I was no longer there, and knew how to get back in balance.

It may seem impossible at first. All those inner voices screaming and carrying on and laughing their heads off at the very idea that you could find wisdom within yourself. But the Buddha said ‘Be a lamp unto yourself’. He knew that each of us has the capacity to deepen in our experience, to cultivate presence, and to find that core of wisdom within. One of my students shared an insight she had, but she called it a ‘Stephanie moment’. I called her on that. It was not my moment, it was her moment. Her attendance in class has helped her find her own inner wisdom, but it is absolutely hers. She is learning how to be a lamp unto herself.

But it is challenging! It reminds me a bit of my aunt’s experience with macular degeneration. She had adapted to seeing through just one eye, but suddenly that eye also went blind. She freaked out. But she attended a class, and she was encouraged to really look and to notice that there was a pinprick-size window of sight in the lower right side of her vision. She was trained to see through that tiny window. Over time it felt to her as if the tiny window must have grown larger, but it was her capacity to focus there that had strengthened. That’s the same with the practice of meditation: We grow in our capacity to pay attention, to be aware and to be compassionate with ourselves and others. And to recognize the access to infinite wisdom we each have within us.

In the next post we will look at the final question in this series, and I am very excited about sharing it. Stay tuned!

Inquiry Series: Question #5

tool-collection.jpgIn this inquiry series, we’ve practiced using questions that help us deal skillfully with what arises in our experience: What is my intention here? What am I afraid of? Is this true? We then looked at our inner landscape and asked: What am I cultivating here?  To the degree we incorporate these questions into our lives, they continue to be useful tools to find greater peace of mind, strength and equanimity.

Beyond the shared beneficial qualities we cultivate, we each have other gifts as well: The particular skills and interests that activate wholesome energy, aliveness, meaning and purpose.

What are these gifts? There is something inherent in each of us that draws us to different things. We can observe this in very small children. Beyond the fun things most children enjoy, any individual child will be more excited about spending time in one or more activities and less interested in others: Drawing, writing, cooking, doing math, solving puzzles, singing, playing instruments, listening to music, attending performances, taking things apart to see how they work, playacting, taking photos, doing science experiments, inventing things or walking in nature, for example.

But even though the adults around them may notice children’s natural bents, gifts and interests, often the children themselves do not see them or do not understand that all kids aren’t equally as interested in these things. Especially in decades past, the adults around them were likely a little blind to these gifts as well. And so the child grew up feeling a little lost, wondering where they fit in.

I was a shy little girl who had a spiritual bent that manifested in little chants I would make up to feel my connection with the divine. (“I am in God and God is in me” over and over again until I would fall down on the lawn laughing, because what made no sense at all suddenly made all the sense in the world to me.) I also loved to write poems and short stories. And I enjoyed making dollhouses and drawing floor plans. Bringing that little girl to mind now, if I were her parent, I would encourage all of those things, and maybe make sure she had access to materials, classes and kind mentors.

But instead of wishing I’d had different kinds of parents (my parents were wonderful, thank you very much!) I only need to remind myself that as an adult, I can parent myself in whatever way I need. I can provide whatever encouragement and guidance I may have craved growing up. Perhaps you have some dormant, underappreciated or hidden interests or skills that might be brought into the light of your increasing compassionate awareness. No matter what our age or situation, we can actualize all of the gifts we’ve been given in this fleeting experience of being alive in this oh-so impermanent body-mind.

EXERCISE

After meditation or after a few minutes of quieting the mind, ask yourself these questions and write down the answers that arise — as many as come up. Take your time. The first answer may be the best answer, or it may be a toss off answer and there’s a deeper, shyer, truer answer waiting to be heard. All are fine. Bring them on.

Notice any resistance that comes up, either in the exercise or in anticipation of an exercise. You can use our core questions then: What is my intention here? What am I afraid of? And, when stories arise about why you can’t pursue a certain interest, look more closely at those stories and question them: Is this true? It may seem true, and it may seem important to hold onto the story, but look at every aspect with a kind but inquiring mind.

Okay, ready? Here we go:

  1. Think of moments during your day, week and life when you were filled with delight, contentment, purpose, enthusiasm — a sense of being in the right place, doing something satisfying. These will probably be very small seeming things but try not to judge them, just note them. List as many as come naturally to you.
  2. Look over your list of moments of delight and think of them as belonging to someone else. Bring your most compassionate, least judgy self to this task. By observing the list as someone else’s we are generally clearer and kinder, more willing to see latent gifts we might deny in ourselves.) Then ask, what interests this person? What does this person love to do? If a clear picture comes to mind, write it down as a little summary.
  3. Acknowledging that this is your list, not someone else’s, notice any emotions arising around this list as you read it. Notice any resistance to anything you have discovered. Notice any stories that come up to explain why, even if true, these interests and skills are for whatever reason not sufficient or not useful. Several people in class felt they probably weren’t doing this exercise ‘right’. A couple thought their moments weren’t sufficiently ‘lofty’. This is not about being lofty! And it is not about defining yourself and presenting yourself to the world. It’s more like the way a cat or dog might circle around to that just right spot of perfect contentment. Trust that whatever comes up is right for you in this moment.
  4. If you are judging yourself, finding fault or feeling resistance, ask ‘What am I afraid of?’ This is not a challenge, not a dare, but a heartfelt compassionate investigation. 
  5. Send metta, infinite loving-kindness to any fearful aspect that speaks up or hides out within you. The inner critic may be powerful and cruel, but it is not your enemy. It is only afraid and unskillful in the ways it tries to protect you.
  6. Looking at the summary you’ve made, do you feel that you are living your deepest most heartfelt interests?
  7. If not, set the intention to give more time to them, incorporate them more fully into your life and whenever you are in such a moment, to not feel rushed but really allow yourself to experience it fully with deep appreciation.
  8. Underline, circle, star or rewrite any core interests that you would like to explore more fully. This is not about ‘becoming’ something new. This is not a makeover. It’s recognizing what is already central to your way of being in this life, yet for whatever reason not actualized fully.
  9. Set the intention to be compassionate with those aspects of self that are fearful, but don’t let them run the show!
  10. Save and revisit this list, try the exercise again another time, and consider rewriting it as a note to yourself to keep close as a reminder.

If you do this exploration multiple times, you may find different answers each time, but a pattern will arise that will hopefully inspire you to honor your natural gifts, interests and skills.

If you discover powerful resistance, that is definitely worth exploring and challenging. I am reminded of the Marianne Williamson quote:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” — Marianne Williamson

Like many, I suffered from great doubts about my abilities. I kept my writing very private and never thought to share it with anyone. If I did share them, any compliments were like water off a duck’s back. I have no memory of them. But even the slightest suggestion or critique cut me to the core and the scars were a constant reminder of my lack of talent. It’s amazing I kept writing, but my writing was for me, and it was safe as long as I kept it private. And that’s fine. Writing and all the arts — music, visual arts, drama, crafts — all have the capacity to be cathartic. We each have our way of processing the traumas of our lives. I imagine that working out mathematical equations might be cathartic, too. Can we find our way of skillfully processing and coping with all that arises in our lives? Hint: It will never be a distraction from what we are going through. It will not make an enemy of it that we push away. There’s that old hymn: ‘It’s so high you can’t get over it, so low you can’t get under it, so wide you can’t get around it, you’ve gotta go in through the door.’ The door is being fully present and compassionate with ourselves and others, finding that inner wisdom that is within each of us, by whatever name we might call it. But each of us also has one or more very personal ways of savoring life and processing what arises. And that’s what we’re exploring through this exercise.

Allowing ourselves our fullest expression is not a big ask. It is our birthright. It is our place at the table of life. That is such a hard lesson to learn, especially for women raised to always put others’ needs first and to be ‘demure’.

I will leave you with a personal experience: I had been teaching for a number of years and then writing blog posts from my dharma talks. After a year of teaching the Buddha’s Four Foundations of Mindfulness, my students asked me to compile those posts and publish them in book form. I mentioned this to my teaching mentor and she said there are more than enough books in the world. (There were no comparable books on that subject at the time, and even still none that addresses women’s specific challenges, but that’s beside the point.) After I left our meeting, I felt like a daisy bush being told not to bloom, to stifle myself, because there are already too many daisies in the world.

Please, please, please, whatever kind of plant you are, feel free to bloom fully and radiantly! And don’t waste your time envying the rose or the lilac. You do YOU!