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Archive for the ‘Mindfulness’ Category

Me, the Subway, and the Universe

In Mindfulness, Self-Reflection on April 2, 2013 at 7:07 am

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I’ve had a different commute the last week or so, which has opened my eyes to new things. For instance, there’s the young man who sits in the same subway car every day. He’s always sharply dressed in a suit. I noticed him the first day as we simultaneously exited the subway. Seated, you wouldn’t think anything of him. Once he stands, you realize there is something different. He has a condition of some sort, the type that makes it difficult for him to use one of his legs and one of his arms.

Even so, he’s one of the first people to stand as we near the station. In his suit, he could be mistaken for any other office worker. The car comes to a sliding halt and the heavy metal doors slide open with a bang. He walks through, his gait uneven, his head held high, and power walks through the crowd, leaving the other commuters in his dust. He doesn’t hesitate as he reaches the stairs, taking each step with gusto, as if savoring the chance to move higher and higher.

I’ve watched this man for the last week. Every time I see this scene, I feel moved. It’s beautiful. His fearlessness and resolve, his disregard for what other people would consider a debilitating condition. His refusal to take the elevator, or stand to the back so that others can pass him. I see him and I think to myself, This is someone’s child. Someone loves this man, someone helped him grow up proud and strong. Someone taught him that the world was his for the taking, and now he’s doing precisely that. I wonder if he ever stops to think about fate, about parallel universes. Does he wonder if, somewhere out there, he’s leading a different life?

I know I do. The universe is so vast. And there’s so little that we really understand about it. My own life is less than a blip on the cosmic screen. It makes me wonder about the possibilities, about the realities that may exist out there that we’re not aware of. But that’s thinking too big. I’d go crazy if I spent all of my time thinking on that level. So I think back to that dirty subway car and I wonder to myself, Does anybody really see me? Then I realize, in a moment of quiet clarity, that before anyone can see me, I need to be able to first look at myself and recognize the beauty and purpose therein.

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Currently Reading: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. The book chronicles the year she and her family spent trying to live as locavores. This is the first non-fiction work by Kingsolver that I’ve read and it’s taken me some time to warm up to it. The message is hitting home, however. I visited a grocery store this past weekend for the first time since starting the book and nearly had an existential meltdown when I spotted the mountains of watermelons, canteloupes, and pineapples.

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On Creativity

In Mindfulness on February 15, 2013 at 12:32 pm

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“Consuming culture is never as rewarding as producing it.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Apologies for being MIA the past few weeks. I’ll be back to my regular posting soon, but in the meantime, enjoy this thought-provoking quote (above) from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book, Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. One of my favorite pieces of advice from Csikszentmihalyi’s book is to be surprised by at least one thing each day and in turn, surprise at least one person a day. It’s a good challenge and one that’s bound to lead to some interesting stories.

Coming Clean (I’m Not a Professional Tap Dancer)

In Mindfulness, Self-Reflection on January 30, 2013 at 7:22 am

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I’m afraid that I may have given the wrong impression over the last few posts. The truth is that I’m no happiness expert. I’m a regular person, one of millions on this planet, just trying to live out a peaceful life. We all like to think we’re special, and I am no exception to this rule.

If self-importance were a drug or a disease, its prevalence would easily be classified an epidemic. I’m not certain whether Washington D.C. suffers especially from this syndrome or if it just seems that way to me because I know it best. It isn’t hard to find multiple examples each day that speak to this point.

Speaking of unabashed self-importance, I wish you could see or hear the things that pass through my brain all day long. You’d possibly be shocked or at the very least would realize that I’m no model of perfection (or sanity, for that matter).

Just this morning as I was shampooing my hair in my warm shower, a thought came to my mind: “What if the world were to end today? What would I do?” I spent the next few minutes exploring possible scenarios.

Scenario #1: Go to work anyway and just pretend everything is normal. Maybe have a glass of wine or two with lunch, just for the hell of it.

Scenario #2: Grab my partner and head for the hills – neither one of us is much of a survivalist, but we’ve got a lifetime supply of granola bars, which has to count for something. When considering this scenario, I rued my recent crossfit flunk-out (yes, it’s possible, but that’s a different story), thinking it would have been helpful to have serious muscles for end-of-the-world survival.

Scenario #3: Run out into the streets and begin a spontaneous tap dancing flash mob. I’ve wanted to do this ever since the urge came to me one rainy Friday morning a month or two ago. I should note that my tap dancing credentials are woefully lacking, but in the event of imminent apocalypse, I’m pretty certain that no one would bother to judge. Well, maybe a few people, but it’d be on them if they chose to spend their last few hours of existence judging mad tap dancers.

I probably could have spent all morning coming up with similar scenarios, but the fact is that the shower started running cold and after all, I had a bus to catch and memos to write. Oh, and it turns out that world isn’t ending today anyway, so it probably wasn’t the most useful exercise to begin with.

But enough of that. What I’m trying to say here is that if sometimes, in the course of these posts, I wax a bit too rosy or project an all-knowing aura, please forgive me. I’m just an imperfect person. I’m an idealist, an incurable optimist, and a quirky thinker (witness my end-of-the-world plans), but I’m certainly not a saint or guru.

Every once in a while when I start feeling a little too smug, I have to take myself down a notch (or else life gladly does it for me). In these moments, I remind myself of how little I know and of how much I have yet to learn. It’s a comforting, yet terrifying realization, knowing that the world can and will go on without you.

Love, Here and Now

In Friendship, Mindfulness, Relationships on January 28, 2013 at 7:44 am
Love hieroglyphics. When word's can't quite capture the moment...

Love hieroglyphics. When words can’t quite capture the moment…

Most mornings, the feeling of my partner’s warm, sleepy body curled next to mine is enough to fill me with an indescribable sense of peace and gratitude. There are, of course, exceptions. Sometimes, I wake up cranky and grumble my way out the door without giving him so much as a peck on the cheek. Other times, when we’ve fought the night before, I painstakingly avoid touching him (not even a toe is allowed to break rank), thinking to prove my point. Never mind that he is sleeping blissfully beside me, having already put the whole thing behind him.

In the past year, the experiences of people close to me have been a poignant reminder of the importance of treasuring these quiet, beautiful moments. Their experiences have reinforced the necessity of strengthening our relationships each and every day. It’s easy to get caught up in the motion of the days and weeks, without ever stopping to be mindful about the people who make our lives worthwhile. Career-building, work travel, bills, family, children, social obligations, digital distractions – they all take their toll.

I’m reminded of Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages. Chapman’s theory is that humans “speak” five love languages – words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, gifts, and physical touch – and that among these, we each have a “primary” language. When our partners “speak” our primary love languages, we feel content and our “love tank” is full, but when they don’t, we are more likely to feel unhappy. It’s a simple but useful lens for promoting mindfulness in relationships.

Skeptical? I would be too, especially since we know that relationships are never simple. Humor me, though, and push that skepticism aside. Take a moment to reflect: what’s your primary love language? What are the things that make you/your partner/family feel most loved? Think you’ve figured it out? Try a little experiment. If you think your partner thrives off of words of affirmation, write them a series of love notes. If you think they prefer physical touch, take Gretchen Rubin’s advice and give them “a kiss in the morning, a kiss at night.”

There’s no guarantee, of course, that this experiment will succeed. If it works, it’ll take time to fine-tune and will require concerted effort from the both of you. Even if it fails, however, you’ll have accomplished three things. First, you’ll have done something special for someone else. Consider it your good deed of the week. Secondly, and perhaps unexpectedly, you’ll have learned more about your own needs, as well those of your partner. Finally, you’ll have cultivated mindfulness in your relationships, which if sustained over time, will bring positive dividends of its own.