Being Free Now

When the same message arrives from two different women with pretty different world views within a few minutes of each other, it is meant to be shared, I think.

In her Sunday sermon shared via her subscriber newsletter, Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber reminds us of Doubting Thomas who questioned the rebirth of Jesus until he saw where the nails had been driven into his hands. The story, Bolz-Weber says, isn’t about not doubting; instead it is about how Jesus reacted to the doubt. He did not judge or condemn Thomas. He showed him his hands and welcomed him as he was. Jesus doesn’t wait until we are perfect to love us.

Because notice that the text doesn’t say “and when they had repented of what complete asses they had been; and when they had perfected their faith and the purity of their doctrine; and when they had achieved the right condition of personal morality THEN they were worthy of receiving Jesus.”

Sebene Selassie practices Buddhism and is one of my favorite writers and meditation teachers. Her newsletter this week was titled We Are Free. She focuses on the present moment and reminds us that we are free. We are not getting free. We are free now.

She encourages us to take a hard look at the beliefs and structures we hold around all the facets of our lives. She and her husband rethought their living space and how beliefs about the functions of certain rooms were keeping them from really using the space for their own needs. She talked about getting off social media for a few weeks and postponing her newsletter, a decision that focused on her self care rather than the needs or expectations of others.

I really needed that. By that, I mean, the autonomous decision to take care of my damn self.

It is entirely up to me to remember this fundamental truth:  I am a grown-ass adult human, and I AM FREE.

Both women, coming from different belief systems and even world views, are preaching the same message. Stop waiting for perfection, for courage, for solutions. I’ll end with Sebene:

We will not get free once everything is resolved; we ARE free, right in this moment… And this one. If we allow ourselves to feel it.

PS I hope the colorful language these women use is not offensive. I have, as I have gotten older, also begun to get a little saltier so that may be why they both speak to me.

Laundry/Not Laundry

The Laundry Worker
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
From Wikiart

Renowned meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg offers a variety of techniques for practicing meditation that focuses on the breath. One of my favorites is a very simple, nonjudgmental approach: as you practice, you identify what is the breath and what is not. The latter covers the whole range of things that happen as you practice from random, quickly passing thoughts and distractions to long, winding stories and fantasies.

The most important moment in meditation practice according to Salzberg is when you recognize those distractions and gently, without judgment, bring your focus back to the breath. You can mark that moment by mentally noting “not breath.” That’s it. Then, as you settle your attention, you note “breath.”

Salzberg often comments that you may do this thousands of times and that’s okay. I can hear her voice saying, “That’s the practice.” And, I am proof that you do get more skillful. But, as with life itself there are times when you feel very skillful and times you don’t. The beauty of breath/not breath is that it does not carry judgment. You simply identify the distraction as not breath, and then come back to breath.

Another lesson I am learning about meditation is that it isn’t just about taking a break or getting some quiet time to breathe and release. Another goal is to shift your mind so you carry meditative and practices with you throughout your day. I have been playing with the breath/not breath technique in other areas such as doing the laundry. Chores like this, I have discovered, are fertile practice ground as their familiarity means our mind can go elsewhere and while that can be good as it part of the creative process–I’ve had many an inspiration while folding the towels–we can also find ourselves revisiting our failings, rehearsing how others have failed us, rehashing old wounds or worrying about new ones, letting our mind spin tales that pull us into darker less welcoming places.

When my mind starts doing its thing while I sort the socks, I use that sorting as the focus of my attention.  I recognize that I have been led astray and think “not laundry” and go back to the socks, noting “laundry.”

Dishes are another good chore. I am the primary dishwasher as we don’t have an appliance. I sometimes listen to the news or music, but lately I have been experimenting with focus: you guessed it, dishes/not dishes. Besides a good meditative rest, I think my dishes are cleaner.

I encourage you to give this a try, perhaps as a stand alone practice but also as a first step towards a more formal meditation practice. While I used to find laundry and dishes as necessary but somewhat boring practices, I now look forward to another opportunity to tweak my consciousness and practice mindfulness throughout the day.

Happy Spring!

Silo SunsetThe signs of Spring have been around for at least a month or more if you knew what you were looking for: goldfinches starting to show color, daffodils and snowdrops emerging from dried leaves, bird songs piercing the chilly mornings. And now, Spring is officially here. Margaret Sisler introduced me to the concept of forest bathing:

While our patch of trees around the old silo at the back of the property probably don’t count as forest, they are our bit of woodsy wilderness. With the exception of cutting a few walking paths, we let it be, and it provides cover for critters including our very own MyrtleMyrtle the Turtle that we usually see once or  twice a year. For me, it provides a peaceful retreat. The dogs and I walk there almost every day and yet it never gets dull. Nature works through her cycles around us.

I think, for me, the biggest lesson during this transition has been that idea of looking deeply at familiar landscapes. It’s easy to see the daffodils with their flashy yellow blossoms, but they have been there to be seen and enjoyed for much longer, as we marvel at their strength, pushing up through soil and leaves and mulch. I am always reminded of Dylan Thomas’ poem, The force that drives the green shoot through the flower.


I have been practicing meditation for the past several years, beginning at a time when arthritis was ravaging my hip and sitting helped me be with the pain even as I was getting help. Now, it is part of what I do each day, usually first thing in the morning. I sit and know that I am sitting…at least for a few seconds at a time. While I have gotten better at focusing, I still find myself losing awareness of the present, my mind taking me to the past most often, generally reliving the negative events that have turned into stories.

Recognizing the patterns and learning to stop the stories from carrying me down the well-worn paths of critical self-talk is getting easier the more I practice. That word practice is essential. I don’t meditate. I practice meditation. That sense of working towards but never reaching whatever the end of practicing is (perfection? Please, no.) to be incredibly refreshing, a departure from my usual need to always get it right, which leads to more of that critical self-talk.

Lately, I have found myself practicing this present awareness even when I am not formally sitting. I folded the laundry with some level of mindfulness the other day. Normally, I rush through this mundane chore in order to get to the next thing. At that moment, folding the laundry was the thing and the next one could just wait its turn.

I’ve also been exploring different ways that people talk about practicing. I meant to share this interview with the Indigo Girls on Monday for International Women’s Day as their wonderful song Closer to Fine has been a part of my soundtrack since it was first published. They talk about practice and honing our skills, particularly as women.

Finding Space

Today, I announced to a large group of state leaders that I am a daily meditator and that lessons I was learning from that practice were helping me think deeper and ask different questions. I didn’t intend to do it, but I’m also not beating myself up about it. In fact, I encouraged them to read Sharon Salzberg’s book Real Change that I referenced in my previous post.

The book is a guide to making change, written almost specifically for the people in that meeting: advocates and activists who have committed to creating an equitable, accessible, innovative public education system. It is hard work, demanding, and can be all consuming. How can you take a break when you see so much need, when you feel angry and frustrated?

Salzberg argues, and I can speak from personal experience, even a few minutes of meditation each day has helped me find a space within the work where I can rest and then return refreshed. It sharpens my focus and allows me to gauge my reactions in a more thoughtful way.

When I open my eyes after practicing and look out on the world, I know it is the same broken place, I feel the familiar anger, but I also feel as though I have more courage to keep moving forward even as I accept the current circumstances.