Thanksgiving Meditation

May you be happy. May you be well. May you be safe. May you be peaceful.  These are the words I say every night with my family as we sit together and practice our “loving kindness meditation.” In this meditative practice we, through a series of affirmations, acknowledge and honor our connection to each other and the larger world.  The practice, in which you send your love and kindness to an ever widening circle (from yourself, to a loved one, to an acquaintance, to someone who has been unkind to you, to the whole world), opens up your awareness, calms your mind and develops empathy.

This year at Thanksgiving, I have decided to meditate on the meaning of these four affirmations for this season.

May you be Happy:  As I sit with family and friends, I am aware of the love and joy in the room.  Happiness sits in these moments of connection, not in the crazy hubbub of impending black Friday.  Happiness is something within all of our reach, if we are open to it- and choose to see and savor it, even in the briefest of moments.  Happiness can then be the taste of the stuffing, the belly laugh of a child, the beauty of the table.  Not every person’s Thanksgiving is a Hallmark card.  There are stressful relationships, histories of pain and hurt.  Sometimes the holidays bring it all up in uncomfortable ways.  But happiness is possible in the small moments, and that happiness is in our power to create, hold and nurture.

May you be Well:  At the Thanksgiving table I will be sitting, smiling, talking, laughing, listening, breathing, and eating.  All of these are things I am able to do because I am blessed this year with physical health.  It is easy to forget the importance of this gift when we are so busy in our lives.  But this year I am thankful for all the ways my body works every day and the ways in which this allows me to appreciate and experience the world.  Not everyone is in perfect health.  But each of us can be thankful for the degree of health we do have and be grateful to be able to share at least one more holiday together.

May you be Safe:  This Thanksgiving I will be snuggled in with my family and friends in a warm house- safe from the cold and rain of a New England November.  The elements will not threaten me as they do the victims of typhoon Haiyan or the homeless on the streets of our cities.  I will not fear that missiles may rain down on my home or that roving militias will enter my house- things that could not be taken for granted in other parts of the world.  In my suburban home, I will not fear random street violence as others in less safe neighborhoods do.  I often take these things for granted.  This Thanksgiving I will be thankful of all the ways I am blessed to be safe.  Perhaps if we all recognized the degree to which our safety makes our lives possible, we would have more empathy for those who do not have that luxury.  Perhaps we might be motivated to make it so that more people could live in safety.

May you be Peaceful:   Through nightly meditation this year,  I have tapped into a source of calm and tranquility in myself that I had previously never experienced.  As a coach, teacher, wife, mother, friend and daughter, I often have more on my To Do list than feels possible.   However, the calm that I have found through mindfulness and meditation has allowed me to stop and breathe.  I have found stillness in the midst of commotion.  It has allowed me to be both happier and more productive.  In an era when we are always moving, checking our cell phones, email, texts and social media, being peaceful is something for which I am deeply thankful.

Your meditations may look different than mine, but this Thanksgiving, take a moment to identify the things for which you are thankful- both big and small.

May you be happy. May you be well. May you be safe. May you be peaceful.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Time Sanctuaries

Abraham Heschel, the great Jewish philosopher and teacher, once spoke about the Sabbath as a sanctuary in time. Though not a devout Jew, I often think of his words. It is difficult to create sanctuaries in time these days because time is in such short supply. Making time requires setting limits and, as any parent knows, that is often hard to do. We are wired, our work is wired, and even our children are wired. In our era of constant connectivity, of time measured in the nanosecond and new and improved ways of breaking boundaries, we are increasingly poor at creating them.

And boundaries are important. The ability to set healthy boundaries in personal relationships allows us to know where “You” end and “I” begin, and only with that knowledge can we hope to build an “Us.” The ability to set healthy boundaries at work allows us to differentiate the office from the home- something too many of us with our smartphones on the dinner table seem to have forgotten. The ability to set boundaries in public life creates civility and the ability to self-govern.

We must erect such boundaries so that we can build our own sanctuaries in time. We need sanctuaries in time; spaces within our lives that are not overscheduled, over stimulated, drowned out by the sound of iPods, talk radio, or cluttered with twitter, Facebook or the latest social network site.

For Rabbi Heschel, the Sabbath, one of Judaism’s most sacred sanctuaries in time, was about contemplating the holy. For me, sanctuaries in time have come to be about regaining contact with what it means to be human in an increasingly computerized world. For me, sanctuaries in time are deeply connected to family.

Like any edifice of worth, my sanctuary is being built slowly. I have to fight the urge to check my phone every two minutes for an update. I have learned to sit quietly for a little while each day. I have fought against my children’s desires to be online all the time, informing them that there are hours during the day when all electronics must be off. But as I enforce the screen time rule in my house, and make the dinner table a place where technology is not welcome, we are setting up a boundary around our family. We are finding space to relate to each other as humans and we are learning to enjoy each other. My family and I are erecting something profoundly human and perhaps as close to the divine in this world as we are going to get- a Sanctuary of Together Time.

Perseverence, Change and Inspiration: Lessons from the New England Patriots and the Boston Red Sox

10/28. It was a good Sunday for New England sports fans.  Anytime two of your teams win, it’s a good day and it doesn’t hurt when one of those teams is in the World Series. But it struck me as a life coach that there were some important lessons in those games that went beyond the playing field.

Both the Patriots and Red Sox started their games with fresh memories of tough officiating calls that arguably caused them to lose their last games.  But when they got on the field, they left those distractions behind.   This is lesson number one.  Life doesn’t always go the way you would like it to go.  Sometimes the call goes your way.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  The key is learning and moving on.  There are far too many of us who, devastated by tough breaks and bad calls, are unable to keep going.  We must be able to start fresh and work on controlling the things in our lives that we can change.

Moving forward does not however, mean ignoring the past.  Perseverance is hugely important, but to pursue a bad plan does not serve anyone particularly well.  The Patriots demonstrated the ability to recognize the problem and the skills to change.  Going in to the second half, the Patriots were down 17-3 after two quarters in which everything they tried failed.  But Coach Bill Belichick and Tom Brady know when to adjust the strategy.  The team that showed up in the second half was a different group altogether.  They were focused and disciplined as they pursued a hurry up offense and strong defense.  Their efforts were rewarded with a 27-17 victory (with the help of a call that *did* go their way).

The Pats were able to win because they didn’t feel the need to pursue a strategy that wasn’t working.  Many of us need to take note.  In our lives we continually make the same mistakes and expect different results.  We work, relax and love in the same patterns we have always used and are then surprised that we remain unhappy.  The second lesson from yesterday:  when your strategy isn’t working, change it.  Momentum can shift by making small alterations.

Sometimes, however, it isn’t easy to self-motivate.  Sometimes we need someone to inspire us.  The third lesson from yesterday comes to us courtesy of David Ortiz.  Tied at one in the top of the sixth, Big Papi gathered his teammates in the dugout and gave them a pep talk that according to the players, spurred them to their 4-2 victory over the Cardinals.  As was the case last night for the Sox, sometimes what we need is a person who believes in us and calls us to the best versions ourselves.  Ortiz fulfilled that role last night for his teammates.  In our own lives, it is important to find someone, a friend, a coach, a teacher, a boss, a clergyperson, someone to inspire us to go further than we thought we could go;  Someone who sees in us the potential that we are temporarily unable to see.

So what did our Boston teams teach us? One, life doesn’t always go your way, learn to keep going.  Two, when the plan isn’t working, try something else.  Three, find someone to inspire you.  These lessons are good ones- on and off the field.

Through the Eyes of the Freshman

This time of year always reminds me of why I like to teach freshmen. A room full of college freshmen is full of apprehension and excitement, nervousness and potential. It is a room full of possibilities and new worlds. When I teach freshman I am always acutely aware of the differences in our perspectives (something that each passing year only heightens). There is an energy however, in the meeting of such different perspectives.

I like watching new worlds open up for my students. It is a privilege to be a part of their learning experience- to see my field through their eyes. I love the moments when I can see it “click” for them and the ways in which that shift changes how they think about so many other things in their lives.

I love that for freshmen everything is new. They truly embrace the unknown- from the ideas of long dead philosophers to the innovation of cutting edge science to the novelty of living on a hall with 30+ people. They embrace each new experience or piece of information as an opportunity.

I admire the way in which freshmen are not busy defending their egos (at least in the academic setting). They do not spend a lot of time trying to convince others of the depth of their knowledge in a particular field. They are, at times, painfully aware of how little they know- but it spurs them to learn and learn fast.

9/15 I think we would all be happier in our daily lives if we could emulate the freshman. What might be available to us as adults if we saw every meeting as an opportunity to learn? If each new idea we encountered had the possibility to open the world to us and not close it off? If we saw each new challenge not as a threat, but as an opportunity to grow? If we saw the world through the eyes of the hopeful freshman and not the jaded adult?

There are, of course, many things to be said for sophomores, juniors, seniors, graduate students and adults in general. The depth of conversation, the broadening of experience and understanding, the wisdom of years – the things that come after freshman year, are delightful and meaningful. If all goes well, today’s freshmen will be tomorrow’s sophomores, juniors, seniors, graduate students and adults. But if we are lucky, they will retain some of the excitement, hope and openness that mark their first year of school. If we are really lucky- some of it might rub off on us.

The Home Depot Proposal: Creativity, Community & Connection

 9/16. On Friday my Facebook feed was dominated by one particular video.  Everyone was sharing it.  (And today George Takei has shared it so you know it will be everywhere).  The video shows a beautiful proposal in a Home Depot in Salt Lake City.  Friends and family dance a choreographed routine as Spencer proposes to Dustin.  It reminded me of another video that went viral last year of a lip-sync and dancing rendition of Bruno Mars’ “Marry You” where Isaac proposes to Amy. Each has millions of views on Youtube.

It made me wonder what it was about these videos that make them so popular (especially when there are hundreds of other proposals and even flash mob proposals on youtube.) Of course, as viewers we marvel at the creativity of the proposals as well as the genuine reactions and the obvious love.  But what sticks out to me about these videos is the way in which friends and family have been enrolled as actors in this deeply personal moment in a couple’s life.

Much has been written about the isolating features of the internet and of our society as a whole.  But what I see in these videos is connection: connection between the two people, connection between the couple and their friends, connection between families and the couple, and the connection that they all have with each other.

In a world in which we are so often isolated and alone, in which technology separates us into digital silos, these videos show real human connection.  They show people using technology to connect not disconnect (note the ways in both videos in which friends and relative who are far away appear on ipads and laptops to share in the moment).  These videos invite us to connect with someone else’s community and joy.

What we see in these videos are functioning communities.  We see vibrant support networks.  Facebook- a virtual community- lit up with a real one.  Perhaps these videos can ignite something in each of us- not just a desire to dance with or hug our loved ones, but to expand the boundaries of our love.  Perhaps these videos can inspire us to reach out to friends and relatives thereby lessening our isolation and connecting us to one another.