Summertime

When I listen to Bryan Adams my ego screams, “Guilty pleasure!” at best and “Shame!” at worst. Sometimes when I’m in the car and “Summer of 69” comes on the radio, the inside of me rocks out and feels it, while to drivers around me who may be (but are probably not) looking at me, I’m totally cool—this song is nbd. Clearly I’m still in the process of embracing my love for mainstream music. I’ll get there.

So yeah, summer is here. The solstice earlier this week makes it official. This is the part of the year I love, so much that I wish I could slow down time. I see evidence of life emerging everywhere; the blooming cherry tree in front of my home; the

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Cherries

community garden on my block; blooming flowers everywhere. With friends too, we emerge from winter hibernation and enjoy summer together, in parks and on patios. SUMMER IS MY FAVORITE.

Surprisingly, I find staying in the moment during this season challenging. When I am enjoying something quintessentially summer, my brain cuts in with, “The days are only getting shorter from here on out!” What a buzz kill, right?

I decided to make an 80’s summer songs playlist. It emulates the feeling summer gives me and will help me practice owning the absolute love I have for some of the songs of my childhood. Neither childhood nor summer is meant to last forever, so I’ve resolved to savor the season and let it go when it’s time.

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Garden

Compassion is the answer

I know trauma has been normalized because I don’t remember the moment—excuse me—moments, when I heard about Sandy Hook, Aurora, and Virginia Tech. In a few years, I probably won’t remember that I heard about Orlando upon returning from a camping trip. However, I can remember the morning of September 11, 2001 like it was yesterday. Mass trauma was harder to come by back then. Even though it had only been about two years since Columbine, I remember experiencing shock when I heard what happened to the Twin Towers. I was in college and I remember going to class and everyone on campus was moving through space in a dreamlike state. My professor recapped what had happened in New York City and dismissed us early. I wandered around, not knowing exactly how to process what was happening in our country.

15 years later and I still struggle with processing the news of such violent acts. Unfortunately, I no longer experience shock when I hear about mass killings. This is a big deal. We are living in a state of ongoing trauma. And when there is trauma, there tends to be fear. And fear has the exquisite ability to disguise itself as anger and hate, begetting more violent acts. We are stuck in a cycle. It’s like we’re on the playground wheel that spins around; we want to get off because we’re starting to feel sick, but the thought of releasing our grasp from the bar summons a scary sensation.

On the wheel, we think in “us vs. them” terms; we are paralyzed by fear and stop going out; we don’t feel safe at our workplace or schools; we are filled with righteous indignation; the blame game is prevalent. So,why do we insist on staying on the wheel? Is it because the wheel is what we know? As nauseating as it may be, it’s familiar to us.

Getting everyone to jump off the wheel at once is probably impossible, so here’s what I propose: one by one, we muster up the courage to take the leap. For me, this means continuing to go out to public events, even though the possibility of a mass shooting exists. It means embracing the compassion that rises up in me after an event like Orlando and carrying it forward with me. Sogyal Rinpoche talks about what we can do when we are exposed to the suffering of the world through news outlets. I feel his advice is very much relevant to us now:

Any one of these sights could open the eyes of your heart to the fact of vast suffering in the world. Let it. Don’t waste the love and grief it arouses; in the moment you feel compassion welling up in you, don’t brush it aside, don’t shrug it off and try quickly to return to “normal,” don’t be afraid of your feeling or embarrassed by it, don’t allow yourself to be distracted from it or let it run aground in apathy. Be vulnerable: use that quick, bright uprush of compassion; focus on it, go deep into your heart and meditate on it, develop it, enhance, and deepen it. By doing this you will realize how blind you have been to suffering, how the pain that you are experiencing or seeing now is only a tiny fraction of the pain of the world. All beings, everywhere, suffer; let your heart go out to them all in spontaneous and immeasurable compassion, and direct that compassion, along with the blessing of all the Buddhas, to the alleviation of suffering everywhere. Compassion is a far greater and nobler thing than pity.

Compassion is not easy, but it’s necessary. And I think that paired with courage, it’s our ticket off this nightmare of a spinning wheel we’re on. 

Hard habit to break

For the past 10 days I’ve limited my time on Instagram and Facebook to 10 minutes total each day; I literally set an alarm and close everything out when it goes off. Limiting my time online is something I’m doing as part of the creativity challenge I’m participating in this month—the idea is that in order to make space for creativity to bloom, my day needs to be free of distractions (which abound online) and habits that eat up time that could be used creating. For the first few days of my self-inflicted limit, 10 minutes flew by and I found myself habitually reaching for my phone to check-in on what each of the apps’ feeds had to offer me.

IMG_9069My awareness of the reach made me able to stop it; almost like I was able to watch my hand reach for my phone in slow motion, and my brain redirected my hand, reminding it, “We’re replacing phone time with reflection or creation, remember?!”

I started thinking about habits in general—how pervasive and powerful they are, which makes sense because they work on a neurological level. I’ve been in awe of our human brains for as long as I can remember; I posted the John Milton quote on my bedroom door when I was in high school, “The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” It’s so expansive and complex! The reptilian part of our brain is mighty and essential—it keeps us alive, but can also hijack our thoughts, causing us to fear the simple act of being separated from our loved ones (catastrophe thoughts, anyone?). The basal ganglia is a part of the reptilian brain and stores habits. This small golf ball sized oval of cells is where my habit of reaching for my phone is stored, along with other automatic behaviors I don’t have to think about (tying my shoes, brushing my teeth, pouring water from a pitcher, etc.). I suppose I’m working on dismantling some old habits and forming new ones this month. Sure, habits are powerful, but they can also be reshaped. And I’m a firm believer that any habit that isn’t serving you is a habit worth changing.

A key to changing a habit is identifying the trigger or cue that initiates it. In the case of me reaching for my phone, the cue is a lull in activity or a transition from one activity to another. Next, replacing the habit with a more desirable behavior is needed. Instead of reaching for my phone, I reach for my journal and spend a few minutes jotting ideas down or reflecting. Lastly, the replacement activity must be satisfying to me, I must identify the benefit and view it as a reward, for the new habit to stick.

So much of our lives are made up of habits! By definition, a habit is something we don’t have to think about when we do it. What habitual thoughts or behaviors of yours are no longer serving you?

Clients: Do you have a specific habit you’d like to change? If so, bring it up during our next call or email connect.

Small talk

While the nation shakes its collective fist at TSA for failing to get passengers through security in a timely fashion, I found myself staring down one TSA man in particular during my most recent travel. In what was most likely an attempt to seem charming and personal, this TSA worker was greeting travelers as they waited for their IDs and boarding passes to be checked. “Where are you headed?” was his opener, and then small talk ensued, based on the traveler’s answer.

He asked a little girl in front of me where she was going, and when she said “Florida,” he replied, “Well then you should be smiling.” Okay, so this response might seem innocent and like no big deal (it’s just small talk, right?), but I happen to believe that nobody has the right to tell another how they SHOULD be feeling or expressing themselves.

A potential lesson the little girl learned from this interaction filled with subtle shaming (any time “should” is used, there’s a degree of shame involved):

How you actually feel doesn’t matter, it’s important to appear happy and pleasant.

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The small talk we choose can make the skies friendly for young people to soar

Many of us might be guilty of saying something similar to a young person; “Smile!”; “This is fun, stop taking yourself so seriously!”; “This is not the end of the world, get over it.”; “When I was your age, I loved making new friends,” and so on. The thing is, what seems like small talk to us has the potential to make a lasting impression on a young person. I propose we stop being lazy small talkers and take the time and energy to really see and listen to the young people in our lives. I’m confident that if we do this, it will benefit their mental health and sense of self.

What’s reincarnation?

IMG_6971We will all die. How many of us believe we’ll be reborn? I’m reading two books about death right now—Being Mortal by Atul Gawande and The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche. Both books came into my life at the same time I received news that my uncle died; some might say this is coincidental. I tend to believe there’s more to it, even though I can’t prove or define what ‘more to it’ looks like.

My mom tells me that I talked about reincarnation when I was very young, and that she was shocked to hear me use such a word. She doesn’t know where I heard it. I don’t remember thinking about it much when I was young, but I’ve been thinking about reincarnation a lot the past few days. In The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche recounts a few examples of individuals who actually remembered their past lives and suggests that if you want to come to a serious understanding of rebirth, “You investigate this open-mindedly, but with as much discrimination as possible.” Yes, there are frauds out there. But such is the case with many things.

I believe reincarnation is a possibility, not an absolute. I like how Sogyal Rinpoche explains it in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying:

Most people take the word “reincarnation” to imply there is some “thing” that reincarnates, which travels from life to life. But in Buddhism we do not believe in an independent and unchanging entity like a soul or ego that survives the death of the body. What provides the continuity between lives is not an entity, we believe, but the ultimately subtlest level of consciousness. The Dali Lama explains: According to the Buddhist explanation, the ultimate creative principle is consciousness. There are different levels of consciousness. What we call innermost subtle consciousness is always there. The continuity of that consciousness is almost like something permanent, like the space-particles. In the field of matter, that is the space-particles; in the field of consciousness, it is the Clear Light…The Clear Light, with its special energy, makes the connection with consciousness.

Regardless of whether or not you believe reincarnation exists, I know that the spirits of the departed live on through the people’s lives they touched. In a way, those who have passed on are reborn again and again when we share stories about them.

If you know of anyone who is scared of death, I highly recommend they read The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. People with different spiritual beliefs have said that the book strengthened their faith in their own tradition. For me, it has proven that one’s spirituality is central in how accepting of death they are; in today’s world, spiritual nourishment can be hard to come by.

Play more

Hide and seek will forever be fun to me. I love it because it’s a simple yet mighty game that requires absolutely no equipment and is filled with anticipation, suspense, and occasional fright. My nephews came over last weekend and we played some hide and seek in the dark after dinner. I feel like it’s easy to forget about the importance of play as an adult, seeing how K and I have never engaged in a game of hide and seek with adult guests we have over for dinner.

Why is this? If we still find playing fun, why do we do so little of it? And I’m not talking board game play. I’m not talking drinking games or yard games. I’m talking games that evoke pure emotion—so potent they allow us to remember moments from our childhood like it was just yesterday that we were terrified of getting our foot flushed down the toilet during a game of “Sneak.” What? You all didn’t play that game where your friend’s dad chased you around and if he caught you, he stuck your foot in the toilet and flushed it? I’m sorry. You missed out on quite a bit of fun.

We know from studies that if an experience is emotional, it locks into our memory; I might not be able to remember what I had for breakfast last weekend, but I can remember missing the bus when I was in the first grade—upset on my walk home from the bus stop because I felt like I failed big time. I can remember my wedding day very clearly; the day I got an acceptance letter to the college I attended; getting yelled at by the horrendous woman who “taught” music at the elementary school I attended; and learning how to drive a car with manual transmission. These moments were filled with emotion.

I wonder: is the amount of memorable experiences we’re having less than before? Are parents chasing their kids around these days, or are they on their phones while their kids play nearby? Are we fully feeling the moments we’re living, or are we distracted by the thought of how we’ll edit and present the moments on Facebook//Instagram//Twitter//Snapchat//Whateverapp?

I fully appreciate what technology has to offer me. However, I know that connecting with people online feels superficial compared to having a conversation with them in real life. None of the countless hours I’ve spent online (whether it be on Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, email) stand out to me; they tend to blend together. So if I know this, what can I do to continue having experiences that are heartfelt and memorable? Live with intention to do so.

There must be some unwritten rule that says adults aren’t allowed to play. They’re too old. They look silly running around like that. There are too many responsibilities to think about, there’s no time for ridiculousness. The adult ego says, “I am above that sort of thing.” Well ego, I think you’re wrong. I know you’re just doing your job, trying to maintain a respectable sense of self, but you worry too much. I’m not a huge fan of unwritten rules, especially ones that don’t make any sense to me. So I think it’s time to reclaim play. Simple, no electricity required.

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FYI:There’s no age limit on slip ‘n’ slides

Design your life or someone else will

My partner and I were riding our bikes through the park this past weekend when I heard someone shout, “Hey SOUNDS!” It was a friend we hadn’t seen in awhile; we stopped and got to reconnect with him and his partner. When we rode away, I felt a sense of gratitude for the life my partner and I live; the connections we have; the decisions we’re making in our lives—and I felt pride because we’re intentional about designing our partnership and marriage the way that feels right for us.

The fact that our friend was able to shout, “Hey SOUNDS,” is because that’s our last name. When we got married, we talked about how we wanted to have the same last name, as a symbol of our partnership and unity. Traditionally, I would have taken my partner’s last name, or we would have combined and hyphenated our last names. But those options weren’t right for us, because the former seemed antiquated and the latter seemed like a mouthful. I’m not a huge fan of leftovers, and to me, hyphenating our last names seemed like taking what was already made and ready to go, mixing it together and living with leftovers as my last name ‘till death do us part.

My partner and I decided to choose our own last name. Why not? I loved choose your own adventure books when I was little and I’m wired to thrive from creative challenges. We played around with the letters from our former last names and didn’t come up with anything we loved, so we decided to go the route of choosing a last name that was related to our livelihoods. My partner makes structurally sound puzzle boxes and mechanical furniture; I give sound advice to individuals so they can identify their passion and purpose. Sound felt like a name we could grow into together. And for the past three years, that’s exactly what we’ve been doing.

For me, our last name symbolizes living an examined life, whether that means examining old traditions or examining the way my day-to-day living reflects my values. Living an examined life is not fun or easy, but it’s something I feel compelled to do. Like making stovetop popcorn every night. But that’s another story.