Friday, March 7, 2008


I'm not sure which pattern of mine I would consider most debilitating. Is it my perfectionism? My habit of living in the past or for the future? My procrastination? Or are they all distracting enough to warrant constant vigilance? The degree of success I have in shifting my behavior in relation to these patterns definitely depends on the day.

Today was all about unprocrastinating. I realized a couple of days ago that I'd allowed a lot of paperwork and phone calls to pile up over the course of the past few months. For someone who puts considerable effort into living in the present, I'd allowed a whole whallup of past to build up until it had become a palpable burden, one that needed short-term relief and long-term realignment. I got to practice some of my recent success in mindfulness as I sorted the mail, paid bills, made phone calls, ran errands, and did laundry, which meant I had ideas bubbling up all day for what to write about, new things to try out, classes to teach. And I also had a beautiful sense of release, of being in integrity, of aligning with the order and harmony I desire to manifest in my home and my life.

While I had let things slide lately, I do have a variety of tried-and-true methods I recommend for the recovering procrastinator as you attempt to come into the present (and stay here):

* Do your least favorite thing first. Half the battle with procrastination is getting over the dread of what's to come. If you start with the thing that sounds the least fun first, you quickly realize it isn't as bad as you think and everything that follows flows freely. Sadly, I did not follow my own advice today and it was late morning before I realized that if I had just gotten the stuff I'd been dreading out of the way early, my morning would have been one heck of a lot more fun.

* Sort your mail immediately upon arrival. These days, more than half of what gets stuffed into our incredibly small mailbox makes its new home in the recycle bin. Newsprint advertisements from the local grocery store, political flyers, "you are already approved!" credit card applications. While I appreciate the validation, I definitely do not need more credit, thank you very much. These things can all be thrown out immediately. Everything else should be opened right away and filed into its proper home. I very rarely get bills any more since I pay mine online, so most of what I receive are things that can be displayed (i.e. cards), things that can be filed (i.e. insurance papers), and things I have plans to use in the relatively near future (i.e. coupons). As part of my recent organization efforts, I now have homes for all of these things, so I can quickly put them where they belong for easy access when I need them. FYI, if you're interested, there are campaigns afoot for the reduction of junk mail so it doesn't even make it into your inbox, like Sign up today and begin reaping the benefits!

* Just make the call. I don't know about you, but my cell phone is a mixed blessing. I really do not enjoy talking on the phone and never have. I tend to leave it in my car or turn the ringer off or whatnot and when I pick up the phone I've missed several calls and have many voicemail messages. Half the time a quick 5-minute call is all it would take to take care of the business at hand. When I put them off, the calls pile up until I have a whole slew of them and I am dreading them, especially when they entail anything official. Today, for example, I had to call a former insurance agent. By the time I made the call I was so full of built-up dread that I felt a little ill. However, I set my intention beforehand for a smooth transaction and had taken care of my business very pleasantly within a few minutes. If only I'd called them days ago I could have relieved myself of the stress in the first place. Now I am remembering my motto, to just make the call--it is never as bad as you think it is going to be, and instead of allowing it to gum up the works, you can be in the flow of life again before you know it.

* Take care of your priorities first thing. Many of the things that are most important to me personally have a habit of getting shifted to the bottom of my to-do list when things that appear to be more important to the rest of the world get taken care of first. Meditation, walking, stretching, journaling, meal planning--you name it. What I've learned is that if it is a personal priority then I need to take care of it first. Not only does my day go more smoothly because I've started out on the right foot for me with my spiritual practice, but I end up being a lot more productive when it comes to the rest of the list. It's a win-win for all!

* Life is too short not to spend it doing the things you love. My senior year of college, I had a lot of the required courses for my major out of the way and I began to explore the rest of what my university had to offer. I took art courses, feminist political theory, African history--not necessarily things I wanted to deep dive into but things I was interested in. I had so much fun, my grades automatically improved, and I actually retained much of what I learned. Looking back, I wish I'd understood that when I went into college. Education is about more than what you major in--it's about exploration, trying things on for size and seeing how they fit, learning about who you really are when you take away the requirements and start to have fun. As adults we tend to allow our work to suck up so much of our energy we don't have enough left over for our families, let alone our hobbies and our passions. How many people do you know who talk about traveling when they retire? That is not a way to LIVE, it's a way to just get by. So start living your life today--sign up for that Greek cooking class, learn a new language, take a wildflower hike next weekend. Whatever it is you've been saying you didn't have time to do, remember that this life is yours to truly live it, and there's no time like the present to get started.

Nike's famous "Just Do It" slogan has made them millions for a reason--it is simple and effective. What is it that you are procrastinating about in your life? What action can you take today to begin moving you away from surviving towards thriving? Why are you still here reading--go do it! And then come back and share what methods have you come across that help you to act instead of avoid so we can all learn the joys of unprocrastination. Namaste.

Photo: "just-do-it-blade," originally uploaded by Brandon Baunach

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Thursday, March 6, 2008

Practicing mindfulness

"Awareness is not the same as thought. It lies beyond thinking, although it makes use of thinking, honoring its value and its power. Awareness is more like a vessel which can hold and contain our thinking, helping us to see and know our thoughts as thoughts rather than getting caught up in them as reality."
~Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are

After immersing myself in the wisdom of Eckhart Tolle for a few days, it is perhaps natural that this week I've been drawn to the concept of staying present, paying attention, being mindful. It's a concept that ties in with just about everything on the spiritual path, because it is through mindfulness that we connect with the only thing that is truly real--the present moment. Whether you're meditating, doing the dishes, having a conversation, in a meeting, practicing mindfulness enables you to actually see what is happening around you, to notice any messages that are available to you, and to experience this moment in all of its fullness and richness.

I had a wonderful experience of mindfulness yesterday that honestly could not have come at a better time. I started my day tangled up in old patterns of focusing my attention on the past and the future instead of the present. What this looks like for me is reliving conversations I've had with my husband, or one of my parents, or a friend, or possibly even inventing conversations I wished I'd had with them. Or I might try to figure out how something that is coming up is going to go, what it is going to look like, how it is going to make me feel. Often, this type of thinking leaves me agitated, with the focus being on things that have (or might) make me sad, angry, or uncomfortable.

So, of course, I sought to center myself through my morning meditation practice. The interesting thing was that my meditation kept getting interrupted. Normally, I would just ignore the phone if it rang while I was meditating, but my intuition kept telling me to go answer it. So I'd get up, talk to whoever was on the phone, maybe read something or answer an email, make the bed, and then sit back down on the couch to continue meditating. By the time I was able to complete my full meditation, it was noon, and I had spent most of the past three hours in something approaching a meditative state. Even while I was up and about, I'd managed to practice mindfulness as I went about my business. The result was that I found myself almost in an ecstatic trance, where it was like I was seeing everything around me for the first time, perceiving all five senses with an intensity I've only experienced on a handful of previous occasions. I was absolutely awestruck and felt so light and free and completely connected with Source and the world around me.

Perhaps because of the patterns of living in the past and the future, I've often struggled with truly staying present. While the trance-like state did wear off, in the hours since then I've had a lot more success with being present and I've been able to really see it for the practice that it is. While a meditation practice is often something you only engage in once a day, mindfulness can be practiced in any conscious moment. Like meditation, when you find your thoughts slipping backwards or forwards, even if it as simple as what you think you might enjoy for your next meal, move your awareness back to something that is happening for you right in this moment. An easy place to begin is with your breath, since you are always breathing. Here are a few additional examples of how to bring this practice into your daily activities, things that have worked for me in the past and that I'm really enjoying in my present:

* One of my favorite techniques is to focus on your feet when you're walking, especially if you're barefoot. Really pay attention to the way the carpet or wood or grass feels underneath your feet, the way your feet and body balance, the up-and-down movement, the forward motion, the weight of your body on your toes.

* When you're showering, really feel the water flowing over your body, your head, your skin, truly notice the sensations. Smell the soap and shampoo, feel the lather under your fingers, in your hair. Maybe listen to the birds chirping outside your window, feel the warmth of the sun coming through and notice the shift as it moves behind a cloud.

* When you walk past a fan or you're out in the wind, feel the air blowing across your face and through your hair, feel the way your clothes move with it and rustle across your skin. When it rains, take a moment to stand in it and allow the drops to hit your face, feel their moisture and their coolness against your cheeks and lips.

* As you're eating, bring each forkful of food up to your lips slowly, feel the food slide off the fork, notice its texture and flavor against your tongue, the motion your jaw makes when you're chewing. Take time to appreciate all of the flavors in each bite, maybe play a game of trying to discern what spices have been used, or close your eyes so you're surprised at which thing from your plate has made its way into your mouth.

* If you have a pet, sit down with them and pet them, really feeling their fur, warming yourself with their warmth. Listen to their breathing, feel their purring or barking, breathe in their smell.

* Any time you're outside, look around you for the beauty of the place you're in. It might be easy at the beach or in a park, but take time to see the sky amongst the city's buildings, notice the birds, see the bountiful color that is everywhere regardless of where you are.

And as I write this, I am feeling the keyboard under my fingers as I'm typing, the amount of pressure it takes, the way each key gives. I hear the "click click click" as the keys are pressed, notice the type as it moves across the white background of the screen, feel the cool air as it blows in through the open window. There are always a million things to notice in any given moment. Take a deep breath now, feel the rise and fall of your body, the air as it moves across your nose and lips. Listen to the sounds around you, smell the odors in the air, feel the temperature of the room you're in. Pull yourself into this moment and see it for what it is, experience what it has to offer, and you've already begun to practice being mindful. Namaste.

Recommended Reading:
The Miracle of Mindfulness, by Thich Nhat Hahn
The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle
Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Photo: "Water Dances Through My Toes," originally uploaded by Mommy 2Lots

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I was listening to the radio in my car yesterday when I caught the lyrics "You have to leave the ground to learn the fly" in the song that was playing. This morning I looked it up and discovered it was a wonderfully simple song by a band I'm not familiar with called ZOX. I loved its imagery of releasing what you don't need any more and living in the present moment. Not to mention the power of understanding that you have to take a leap of faith before you can begin to soar. Lovely all the way around.

Artist: ZOX
Song: Goodnight
Album: Line in the Sand
More information:

To the city and the sea
To the strangers in the street
To the ghosts out in the hall
The paint peeling off the walls

Sometimes I
Stand between the sidewalk and the sky
And just stare into the clouds as they pass by
You have to leave the ground to learn to fly

To the TV and the clocks
To the rain that never stops
To everyone I know
Shut my eyes and let em go

Sometimes I
Stand between the sidewalk and the sky
And just stare into the clouds as they pass by
You have to leave the ground to learn to fly

There is something beautiful dying every day
And for the first time in my life I’m not afraid
Cause there is nothing in this world that doesn’t change

To the person I have been
To the place that I am in
Tomorrow hello to the sun
Are you ready here I come

Sometimes I
Stand between the sidewalk and the sky
And just stare into the clouds as they pass by
You have to leave the ground to learn to fly

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Shoveling Snow With Buddha

My words seem to be tied up in knots this morning, out of order, playing tricks on me instead of being the loyal friends I often depend on. I've been called to pull a handful of books off of my shelf--The Tao Te Ching, Wherever You Go, There You Are, Risking Everything--and may spend the rest of the morning wrapped up in the warmth of other people's words. As I was flipping through Risking Everything, I discovered a poem I had never read before, one that spoke to the thoughts floating through my head the past few days. I'd like to share it with you today, and hope it speaks to you as well.

Shoveling Snow with Buddha

by Billy Collins

In the usual iconography of the temple or the local Wok
you would never see him doing such a thing,
tossing the dry snow over a mountain
of his bare, round shoulder,
his hair tied in a knot,
a model of concentration.

Sitting is more his speed, if that is the word
for what he does, or does not do.

Even the season is wrong for him.
In all his manifestations, is it not warm or slightly humid?
Is this not implied by his serene expression,
that smile so wide it wraps itself around the waist of the universe?

But here we are, working our way down the driveway,
one shovelful at a time.
We toss the light powder into the clear air.
We feel the cold mist on our faces.
And with every heave we disappear
and become lost to each other
in these sudden clouds of our own making,
these fountain-bursts of snow.

This is so much better than a sermon in church,
I say out loud, but Buddha keeps on shoveling.
This is the true religion, the religion of snow,
and sunlight and winter geese barking in the sky,
I say, but he is too busy to hear me.

He has thrown himself into shoveling snow
as if it were the purpose of existence,
as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway
you could back the car down easily
and drive off into the vanities of the world
with a broken heater fan and a song on the radio.

All morning long we work side by side,
me with my commentary
and he inside his generous pocket of silence,
until the hour is nearly noon
and the snow is piled high all around us;
then, I hear him speak.

After this, he asks,
can we go inside and play cards?

Certainly, I reply, and I will heat some milk
and bring cups of hot chocolate to the table
while you shuffle the deck,
and our boots stand dripping by the door.

Aaah, says the Buddha, lifting his eyes
and leaning for a moment on his shovel
before he drives the thin blade again
deep into the glittering white snow.

Photo: "Snow Stair Tools, Lake Tahoe," originally uploaded by Dana Graves

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A New Earth: The Flowering of Human Consciousness

Jenn's thoughts and learnings from the first week of A New Earth: The Oprah Web Event.

I just want to start by saying how awesome I think it is that over half a million people turned out for last night's A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose web event, where Oprah and Eckhart Tolle spoke with each other and several participants about the background of this book and the contents of the first chapter. Wow! What an incredibly exciting time to be awake and aware on this planet. From my perspective, even if only a small percentage really get this book, it will still be revolutionary in terms of a consciousness shift on our planet. That said, I was disappointed I didn't get to watch it "live." The huge turnout affected some people's ability to watch the webcast live, including mine--about 18 minutes into the 90-minute event, my viewer crashed completely and I wasn't able to get back in, so I downloaded it today to catch back up again.

While there is nothing new under the sun, getting a new perspective always brings new Aha! moments to light for me, and this was no exception. In addition to just enjoying Eckhart's gentle presence, I was pleased to feel a shift in me in watching this program even after having already read the first chapter twice through. Plus, the power of knowing how you are part of a global consciousness is simply amazing. Overall, I would say participating in this process is well worth just about anyone's time and attention. Here are the highlights from my perspective:

What does life want from me? So much of our energy gets focused on what it is that we want from life. When you're awakening to your life's purpose, a better question might be what does life want from me? Eckhart talked about asking this question everyday for years without an answer. When it finally came, he had an impulse, a feeling like something wanted to be born. Instead of coming to a place where he wanted to write a book, he realized that a book wanted to be written. I loved this concept of allowing your purpose to come through you in such a conscious manner. As much as I know in my head that life is answering your prayers through you, this concept opened up expansively for me with this slightly different way of looking at things. I will be interested to see how this affects the way that I view the messages I receive moving forward from here.

Global change begins within. This is one that I've known for years but always appreciate a deepening understanding. It is essentially Ghandi's thoughts on being the change you want to see in the world. If you look around you and see a world in need of a consciousness shift, then begin that consciousness shift in the only way you can--within yourself. In the case of A New Earth, it's about breaking down the dysfunction of the ego, the thing in your head that is constantly chattering, constantly throwing up thoughts and fears to distract you from being aware of who you really are. At a global level, this egoic dysfunction is the source of warfare, oppression, poverty, disease. If you want to be a part of mining this dysfunction from the world, begin by mining it within you, on the scale that is appropriate to you, which mostly means your negative, pessimistic, fear-based thoughts and patterns. Start by becoming aware and begin to shift yourself, and you will ultimately affect the world.

All you need is now. While our thought processes have evolved through thousands of years of conditioning, it doesn't take years and years to reverse. All you need is the present moment. Take a moment right now to breathe and notice the breath--that was you shifting your consciousness into the present, even if it was just for a second. It's the kind of exercise that can be practiced throughout the day. For me, appreciation of beauty is a huge way for me to connect with the oneness and return to the present moment. Driving, walking, looking out the window--take a moment to really soak up the beauty around you, to really see it and appreciate it. You will instantly feel the shift in your body, in your mind as you open up to this awareness. The more we can find these moments throughout the day, the more we are shifting our thought processes away from the old patterns and habits that our ego is holding onto into the awareness of who we really are. Eckhart suggests any time you do a simple action, like washing your hands or walking up the stairs, pull your consciousness fully into that action. When you're on your way to work, really be on your way to work, not there already in your head. Now is the only moment you have--make sure you are experiencing it.

Towards the end of the program an email came in about whether or not the world is ready for this type of shift. The answer lies in a different question, the only question any of us can really answer--am I ready? When I ask this question of myself, I know for sure that I am ready (and now doubly motivated) to take time each day to pay attention, to experience the stillness in the present moment, to ask life what it wants from me. What about you, are you ready?

Photo: "lotus-blooming," originally uploaded by Jun

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Monday, March 3, 2008

Notes from Jenn's World

Just a quick check-in about a few things going on in my world.

A New Earth: The Oprah Web Event

Has anyone else signed up for the A New Earth web event that begins tonight? Apparently hundreds of thousands of people (and even groups of people) will be tuning in to this web class based on the eye-opening, awareness-inducing book by Eckhart Tolle. I honestly do not know what to expect, but I am definitely looking forward to it! I finished my Chapter 1 homework this morning and I'm all set to get started. My plan is to do a post on what I learn each week on Tuesdays, so look for more on this tomorrow.

Avon Walk for Breast Cancer

As you may be aware, I am committed to walking in the San Francisco Avon Walk for Breast Cancer this July. I am absolutely in awe of how generous everyone is being in terms of donations. As of 10:00 this morning, just one week into my fundraising, I am at $895, which is 25% of my personal goal and 50% of my committed goal. Thank you for all of your marvelous support! I am also hard at work on the training front, walking over 18 miles last week with a plan of about 17 miles for this week. I'm sore but I'm loving it and can already feel my body responding positively. Yahoo!

Dreams are being realized as we speak!

Technically this is only affecting me peripherally, but I am very excited to be witnessing the universe conspiring to bring dreams into fruition in such a way that the same situation is mutually benefiting both my mother and a good friend of ours. This is such a wonderful example of synchronicity at work. Very long story short, a friend just "happened" to meet a woman with a ranch in Australia at the same time as she was looking for a ranch to go live and work on for a month this spring. Of course, the woman invited her, and everything fell into place for her to go from the support of the organization where she works to free airline tickets to finding someone to stay at her place with her doggie and kitty. In the meantime, my mother is in the process of moving to the Bay Area and she was looking for a way to live here for a little while so she could scope out neighborhoods and begin to explore her new home from the perspective of someone who lives here, so she is, of course, the person staying at our friend's condo. I just love the way things fall into place!

What's happening in your world? Anything new that you're exploring? Do you have any synchronicity to share? Any events coming up on your horizon that you're excited about? Please share!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

W.H. Murray Quote

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness concerning all acts of initiative and creation. There is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans; that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen events, meetings and material assistance which no one could have dreamed would have come their way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now!”

~W.H. Murray

Step 7: Follow Your Bliss

From the Steps to Learning How to Fly series.

BILL MOYERS: Do you ever have the sense of . . . being helped by hidden hands?

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: All the time. It is miraculous. I even have a superstition that has grown on me as a result of invisible hands coming all the time—namely, that if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be.

Have you ever had a feeling of complete self-awareness where you recognize that what is happening right now could only be happening to you, and the events of the past hours, days, months, even years have all come together to produce this very moment? August Gold talks about the work that we alone can do, that we were born to do, and the feeling of resonance that happens when we stand in that place that only we can stand in. In The Alchemist, Paolo Coehlo explores the idea of the universe conspiring to help bring your dreams to fruition. Joseph Campbell discusses how when you follow your bliss, invisible hands come out to help you along your path.

This concept of "following your bliss" is the culmination of the ideas we have been discussing over the course of this series. It is about what happens when we begin to shift, to get clear, to take time to be still and listen, to follow our intuitive guidance, to allow our real selves to come out into the world, and to take steps, however small, in the direction of our dreams. It is about how doors begin to open for us, how people begin to show up seemingly accidentally with access to different pieces of the puzzle, how things we were led to do years ago suddenly begin to make sense within this new framework, and how our dreams begin to take shape.

There is a lot of misconception surrounding this topic. Critics talk about how if we all followed our bliss, there would be tons of starving artists in the world and no janitors. Or people will say, what I'd really like to do is not to work, so I'm going to pursue that goal and the money will still follow, right? This isn't about imagining a life that sounds glamorous or exciting and doing that. And it definitely isn't some spiritually couched permission to be lazy. It is about finding your place in the world, your passion, your divine birthright, and throwing yourself into it, taking the leap of faith with full knowledge that the universe will provide you solid ground to step on, or at the very least a soft place to fall.

Finding your place in the world is neither as difficult nor as easy as it sounds. As we've touched on previously, life is always giving us messages, showing us the next step we need to take. We don't go out for our first run today and finish a marathon tomorrow--we take steps that enable us to reach that ultimate goal. It isn't a matter of instant gratification, it's about laying a solid foundation and creating the building blocks you need in order to get there. And the best part? You aren't doing this alone, you do not need to have the full blueprint in your head in order to have it all come together beautifully. Your job is to be aware, to notice what resonates and what doesn't, to trust in yourself and the universe, to listen to the messages you receive and follow their guidance.

One of the reasons I love Wonderfalls, the short-lived TV series starring Caroline Dhavernas, is that it explores this concept in a more obvious and direct way. The main character, Jaye, literally receives messages from the universe--normally inanimate objects begin to speak to her. Their somewhat enigmatic messages lead her to do things that set whole courses of events in motion with often humorous and always miraculous results. The show explores how seemingly small circumstances become snowballs that nudge (or knock) us into living our destiny. One of my favorite episodes (spoiler alert) includes the phrase "Bring Her Back To Him." Jaye interprets this to mean that she should try to reconcile the nun hiding out at the local bar with the priest who has come to town looking for her. At one point she and the nun have an argument in a parking lot--Jaye gets upset and drives away, backing into a car and breaking its taillight in the process. It turns out to be the priest's car; when the police pull him over for the broken taillight, they discover a warrant out for his arrest. His last girlfriend before he had entered the priesthood had been looking for him for almost ten years, and he gets to meet the daughter he never knew he had for the first time. By the end of the episode many "hers" have been brought back to many "hims," including, and resulting in, the nun's faith in God being restored.

While our messages are not usually so literal, nor the steps to get from taillight to reunion so clearly painted, they are always happening for us too. Once you really get this, you come to understand that coincidences are really incidences of synchronicity, showing us the way. Start saying "Yes!" to the universe, stepping through the doors that open up for you along the way. Pay attention to the messages you receive each day and follow where they lead. Uncover your passion and immerse yourself in it. My guess is that you will be following your bliss before you know, benefiting from the invisible hands helping you along the way, spreading your wings and soaring to new heights, loving the feeling of resonance that comes with standing in your right place in the world. Namaste.

Recommended Reading:
The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron
The Celestine Prophecy, by James Redfield
Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow, by Marsha Sinetar
Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Power of Myth, by Joseph Campbell
The Witch of Portobello, by Paolo Coehlo

Photo: "follow your bliss," by irene suchocki

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