Through Their Eyes

A few weeks ago, Lian (my 2.5 year-old son) and I were getting ready for his nap. Lian picked a favorite book for us to read together, a story about a boy who befriends a porcupine, and carried it off to bed. By the time I got there, he was already reading the story to himself. What happened next was a magical experience.

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When Pain Becomes Suffering (aka “Pain is Not the Problem”)

This post is part of a series about “should“: How “should” is often the source of our suffering, how we make ourselves feel worse by telling ourselves we should be feeling better, and how acceptance is the key to dismantling our internal “should”. Here is the short version: An unwanted event (let’s say, being cut off in traffic) doesn’t usually make us upset for very long. What makes us upset is our insistence that things should be different (“that person shouldn’t have cut me off!”). We often make ourselves feel even worse by having reactions to our reactions, which I call “stacking” (for example, feeling stupid about feeling angry about being cut off in traffic). We can escape this cycle of suffering by accepting reality (“I feel stupid about feeling angry about being cut off, and I really do feel angry right now, and that’s the reality”). Accepting reality is not the same thing as becoming passive or fatalistic. We can still strive for a better future while accepting the present reality.

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Listening Is Applied Meditation

Sitting with my eyes closed and trying to focus on my breathing is an opportunity for me to practice acceptance, because I will become distracted. Whenever I realize I’ve become distracted, I bring my attention back to my breathing. I used to give myself a hard time whenever this would happen – I would judge myself pretty harshly for being unable to maintain my concentration on my breath. These days I realize that catching myself when I’ve become distracted is a success – to know that I’ve become distracted is to become aware of myself. I can’t know that I’m distracted while I’m distracted. So that very moment of realizing “Oh! I’m thinking about groceries again!” is the moment that I stopped thinking about groceries, and became aware of myself. And that is success. Not only did I become aware, but I was also able to accept reality without being harsh toward myself. Just noting that I was distracted, and bringing my attention back, that’s all. As I do this again and again, focusing on my breath and waking up to realize I’ve become distracted and bringing my awareness back to my breath without judging myself, I am practicing acceptance.

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Drain Less, Replenish More: Staving off Compassion Fatigue

You open yourself up to the pain of others, in order to be a true companion for them, a comforting presence in the middle of a terrible experience. You can tell it helps them, sometimes, to share their pain with you – someone who understands and cares. And as you share of yourself so generously with more and more people, you find that it is taking a toll on you. It is exhausting to experience so much secondhand suffering. It is draining. It sucks the color out of your own life, leaves you depleted, less able to connect with the next person and to enjoy your own life.

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Natural Causes

falconMeandering in my neighborhood park, I notice a bird flapping around a squirrel that is clinging to a tree trunk . The bird is about the same size as the squirrel, maybe a little smaller, so at first it seems like an unlikely cross-species game of tag. The bird swoops around the squirrel, who darts around the trunk. The bird settles on a branch of the same tree, and the two stare at each other, unmoving. Then the dance repeats. I have seen squirrels chase one another–sometimes it feels like play, sometimes like aggressive territoriality–but this has an altogether different feel. There is a sense of urgency here, of desperation. And suddenly I realize that the bird is a falcon. It wants to eat the squirrel.

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