Finding Words and Answers Amidst Darkness

white-roseI originally wrote this post in December 2012 after a school shooting in Connecticut. Ouch, it hurts still to say those words. And I came back here today after yet another mass shooting in Florida to see how it might help me and others face this roller-coaster of emotions.

As I have questioned my emotional ups and downs this week, wondering why I can’t think straight sometimes, I’m reminding myself right now that this is normal and healthy. I’m so grateful a dear friend reminded me it’s not depression, it’s just a brain rewiring in process, and the message is “Please stand by. Upgrade in process.” Haha, that rings a bell. Allowing. Allowing.

I offer this earlier post to you and myself once again, because it still feels right, on this day in June 2016. Here it is from 2012:


The hard-to-talk-about dark side needs a voice today.

I want to honor what is present, and hopefully offer something helpful.

We struggle to talk about the dark side. And I believe we must visit it sometimes—in small doses—if we want to live fully and heal what needs healing.

Today, I’m thinking of the heart-breaking school tragedy on Dec. 14th, the unfathomable destruction of Hurricane Sandy, ongoing wars that we hardly discuss, and the countless losses people are carrying during the holidays.

I see people searching for answers and connection online. Or running from loss because it’s too big.

A friend who lost her son this year told me that it’s hard to know when to mention her son’s name to others, but he’s always on her mind and the weight is heavy as the family gathers for the holidays. Wondering whether to hang his Christmas stocking… is one of many unanswerable questions. My heart sinks as I imagine each question unfolding.

I don’t pretend to have the answers. But I will share what words I am finding helpful. Continue reading

The Joy of Silence… Even If It Makes You Squirm At First

Many people knew I went on a 5-day silent meditation retreat last month and have asked me “How was it!?” I think this captures the range of thoughts behind that question, and perhaps you’ll recognize your own reaction in here:

  • “I don’t know if I could handle that. That’s not for me.”
  • “Hmm, that could be nice but I don’t have time for that. Maybe one day.”
  • “Oh wow, silence for 5 days sounds great.”

When I heard others going away on these retreats over the years, I had that same range of reactions, first starting with the most resistance to gradually more intrigue. Mostly I thought it was for other people.

As my meditation practice has grown more easeful and rewarding over the last few years, I found myself curious if a retreat was for me after all. Something in me felt ready, partly to take on a new challenge, but maybe more so because of an ache in me to hit a reset button.

On the surface my desire for the retreat looked like a simple desire to escape the email inbox for a few days. That alone was starting to sound like nirvana. And I knew it was more than that.

It was a deeper knowing that I was being pulled too far into the sped-up, digital-driven lifestyle. It wasn’t feeling like the true me. I knew I needed to power down and find my true center. Don’t you crave that sometimes too?

Finding Center

 

It was time. I signed up (at Insight Meditation Society) and the sweet anticipation began, for a noticeable wait of 4 weeks.

Now that I’m back, I want to answer “How was it?” but it’s hard to put the power of silence into words. It was profound for me, in fact. I am tearing up as I write this.

I’ll do my best to share my discoveries. In this Western culture, we have such discomfort with silence and stillness… and we have a simultaneous deep need for it. I want to give you a window into the power of it.

I’ll start with this. Let’s take a pause, right here in this moment.

Inhale. Exhale.
Oh, that is kinda nice.
Maybe another inhale, exhale.
The inbox can wait.

Here’s what happened when I hit the giant pause button for 5 days.

Continue reading

The Productivity We Crave Starts with Taking Breaks

Often the topic for a new piece of writing like this is something that I’m working on in my own life. Let’s see if this rings a bell for you too.

Lately my personal stretch zone is about the need to take better care of my focus energy for projects that require individual concentration. I’m good at focusing in meetings, but when it comes to individual time on my own projects, I can get so scattered and it feels like those projects never get done. Plus, those days are not fun! Something is off.

This treehouse gives me a soothing reminder of the joy of taking a break.

This treehouse gives me a soothing reminder of the joy of taking a break.

So I’ve been renewing my interest in making conscious choices about my focused creative time. There are a zillion tips out there for being more productive, but for now, let’s just focus in on what’s probably a cornerstone of it all: the importance of rest and taking breaks.

I just heard one study that said the most productive employees in a company took the most breaks. Take that in! (I heard about this study from a new book, 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management.)

I know that our brains can only take so much and we are pushing it past its limits in this screen-focused culture. Umm, taking a “break” to go check email or Facebook is not a refreshing break.

I’m talking about real breaks for our brains — like breathing, stepping outdoors, or sitting with a cup of tea. Simple things! But we sure do resist.

I gotta admit, I’m resisting break time right this minute! I know I need a break because I keep getting the itch to go check email. OK Val, go eat lunch and come back to finish. Continue reading

Stress-free Sustainable Self-employment: Possible?

stress

Do you think self-employment HAS to be crazy stressful?

I’m noticing a common thread about people’s perspective on self-employment, including within the responses to a survey I ran. People make a direct association between self-employment and stress… particularly stress about time, money, and life balance.

People talk as if stress and self-employment must go together, more than with regular employment. As if they just have to live with high stress, no matter how much it is draining them. Sacrificing a part of themselves for the money, for their art, or for helping others. I hear lots of “have to” messages.

How can that stress level really work long term? It can’t. I’ve seen it fail too many times.

Do you think the words self-employed and ease are allowed together in the same sentence? Please say yes. Please shoot for that. Continue reading

The Wisdom of Winter for Everyday Shadows

winter shadowsDo these everyday shadows sound familiar? Plaguing self-criticism; wondering if you’ll ever reach your dreams; spiritual angst; loneliness; winter blues; or plain ol’ stuck-on-the-couch days?

We each have our internal or hidden struggles — our shadows. Of course there are also the big tragedies in life (which I responded to in last week’s post), but today I’m talking about the internal stuff.

On a recent stuck-on-the-couch day, I drew an angel card that said, “What you perceive to be your dark side holds a hidden treasure.” Hmmm. It rang true.

After sitting with that message, it led to a major breakthrough because I looked closer at the shadow and saw the amazing gifts there that I needed to bring to my work. The light returned. What a release! (FYI, Your “Worst” Trait Could Be Your Superpower.)

What does this mean, in a practical sense, for coping with our shadow side?  Continue reading