gratitude

My mom and me.

“Will you send that to me? It’s one of the best pictures of me since I don’t remember when.” 

My mom said this today. This is us smiling. She came to visit me for the first time since I moved back home to New Jersey a year ago today. It’s one of two pictures we’ve taken together in almost a decade. It was a great day.


For most of my life, my mom and I had a very difficult relationship. I never understood why but she said today, “we are more alike than different, I think that’s why we butt heads.” She’s probably quite right. Our sensitivity and empathy run deep as does our impatience. It’s the Irish maybe. 


My father left her with my sister, who was a toddler about to turn 3 years old, and me when I was 3 months old. He left his wedding ring in the dresser during a business trip. My mom found it and called him out while home alone with us. Then he left for good. My mother never went to college. She didn’t have a safe or comfortable home life. She hauled us both in her car and got food stamps until she could figure out another plan. That is her version of the story. I’m sure my dad has his. I may never hear it because he’s been pretty M.I.A. except for a few years when he really was great.

My mom is the one who fought through her pain and confusion and grief to make peace with my decision to transition my gender identity in 2012. It’s taken us six years to be able to hang out and smile like this together. Six years and a lot of work and growth on both sides. During brunch today, I saw my mother as a completely new and different person for the first time in my 40 years on this planet. It felt like time stopped.

This post is a short version of the long story of my mom and me.

This picture exposes the tenacious love and compassion we have for ourselves and each other. All I am I learned from this woman. I’m the mirror that reflects her. She’s so afraid of life but she’s a warrior. She’s the inspiration for all I do in my own life, leaving nothing unexplored and being brave beyond all limits. She conquered a big fear coming to visit me today. I’m fearless from her example.

This is my mom and I’m who I am because she’s who she is. Perfectly her.

How Bliss Feels

photo-2

I surround myself with a lot of folks who are into health, wellness and spirituality so I see a lot of people talk about bliss. They mention being "blissed out" or "in the flow".

I've known bliss a few times in my life. It is fleeting, not the kind of thing that is a permanent feeling. I don't know that humans can achieve a constant state of bliss--maybe it's possible, but I haven't had it happen to me. But it is pretty awesome when it does happen.

Now that I've experienced it more often recently, I want to tell you how bliss feels. Or how it feels to me.

You may have read my post about meeting Pema Chödrön last year. It was a life-changing moment for me, one of those, "I can die happy now" experiences. Sitting in the same room with her was already cool enough but I actually got to stand at the microphone and engage in conversation with her. Truly extraordinary. And I have it recorded on DVD to watch whenever I want to remind myself of that moment! If you want to buy that retreat on MP3 or DVD, you can click here.

Well, I decided to return to the Pema Osel Do Ngak Choling in Vershire, VT, this year for some much-needed time away. It wasn't enough time, I can tell you that much, but it was valuable for what it was.

I got to see people I had met last year and felt the feelings of overwhelm and pure gratitude when they recognized me. It was equally weird and comforting. I have this weird story in my head that I move through the world relatively invisible--and if I wasn't already addressing the origins of that silly myth, I am doing so more deliberately now. These people remembered me as much as I remembered them. It was intimate and beautiful.

We were led in teaching and conversation by the Buddhist author and teacher, Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel on the topic of the Middle Way. We began the instruction each day by sitting for 30 minutes in silent meditation. I was really looking forward to this because I have hard time making time for this each day in my own life--I find it easier when people structure it for me.

I can't speak about the sitting part without talking about my hips. Of late, I've noticed a growing tension and inflexibility in my hips and legs. I desperately need to address it because it is affecting movement and sitting for meditation. I've tried stretching but need to do more of it more often, I think. Is there an area on your body causing this sort of experience for you?

After the second painful sitting experience, I moved to a chair. I was tired, no doubt about it. I've been burning the candle at both ends and it was catching up to me as I sat there. My eyes began to get very heavy but rather than fight and try to keep my eyes open, I let the sleepy be a part of my sitting. It was part of it, not wrong or unwelcome or bad but just there.

But I didn't fall asleep. I sort of dozed or drifted in and out. I wasn't blaming myself or feeling  badly about my eyes being closed. I was present to those thoughts but didn't get consumed by them.

And then, I decided to open my eyes for a second.

It felt like someone poured soothing hot water through my veins. Every muscle was relaxed. My stomach, which is often clenched, was soft. My throat was loose. I could feel every muscle in my face had softened. My heart was beating slowly, but my mind was clear and then I had this thought, "oh my goodness. This feels sublime."

I don't do drugs--is this maybe what it feels like? I'm not sure. But if I can achieve that with nothing but my own breathing and mindfulness and some sleepiness--sign me up for more!

The only other time I felt this way was when I fell in love for the first time. I don't think my feet touched the ground for a few weeks back then.

This time it was a minute of total bliss, physically and then mentally once I was aware of it. And just like that, in one second, it was gone. I tried to cling to it and make it last and then closed my eyes again because I realized I was grasping.

I drifted in and out like this a few more times to recapture that mellow, blissed-out feeling. It worked and amazed me.

And it's powerful and wonderful to know I can achieve it anytime I want!

You can listen to more about how to get to this state ("shamatha") by clicking here.

More and more I am finding I can achieve moments of bliss off the cushion, too. I find it harder to do now than when I was younger. Life stressors have increased and self-consciousness is more present some days more than others, but I know it's possible. I find that same feeling of bliss in the company of friends, doing work I love and those precious moments when I am about to fall asleep after a long, amazing day.

 

Is this something you want to try or experience? Is it something you know well?

Share your thoughts below. :)

 

 

 

An Attitude of Gratitude

Want to hear my best antidote for being in a funk? Gratitude.

I learned this lesson a while ago but, like all the good ones, it keeps coming around because I still have more work to do on it.

Whenever life gets you down and you feel bummed, confused, perplexed---you know, all those fun experiences that make you ask the really big questions about life---try this simple exercise.

Sit yourself down, get out some paper and a pen (markers, crayons, and colored pencils work well too) and make a list. Make this list all the way down the paper, like they used to have us do in school for spelling tests. I love spelling tests! I went to the state finals when I was in 8th grade but was eliminated on the word VESTIGE. Who the heck knows that word in 8th grade?

Anyway...

Make that list. Numbers down the margin. And beside each number, name something your grateful for. Like this,

1. My girlfriend 2. My strong body 3. My education 4. My friends 5. Diesel cafe mochas 6. My iPhone

Wow! That was awesome!

This really works best when you're feeling like crap. Total and complete utter crap. When you feel like nothing is going right and you can't win and you want to throw in the towel and give up the ship and join Cap'n Jack Sparrow's crew.

Those days.

Get the HECK outta that negative space with this simple exercise. Notice how your perspective changes when you realize how much abundance you have in your life.

Want to know the best part? You can do this as many times as you want. As often as you need to get out of a funk. A life well-lived is not easy. There seems to be no limit to the challenges and problems we come up against. It's easy to lose perspective and feel pessimistic, frustrated and discouraged. I feel this way often because I'm going for the Gold in my own life---and that comes with alot of moments when I feel scared, incompetent and intimidated. Did you catch my thoughts about discouragement?

No matter what's going on, no matter the uphill climb, the annoying people, the mixed messages and miscommunication, restlessness and big questions of life, you can find comfort in this:

an attitude of gratitude is always here, waiting for you----a constant reminder that you can come back to your breath and remember: "oh yes, I am blessed."