Waking up 2020

Waking up 2020

I grew up in the Bronx in the 60’s and 70’s, when the Bronx was burning and neighborhoods were changing. I grew up around racism. It was just there. It was in the conversations, in the slurs that were used, on the television, in the air that we breathed, in the water we drank…a part of society in which I lived, in which we all lived. As a little girl, I knew something was off and made a conscious decision to not follow in that path. I was not going to be a racist. I was careful to not generalize about any group of people. What I did not realize is that when racism is in the air you breathe, in the society you live in, in the conversations of your neighbors, it becomes a part of you and lives in you unconsciously, until you shine a light on it, until you wake up. I discovered this truth in 2017, when I was taking a course at the Nalanda Institute. One of the classes was on “Unconscious Bias”. The visiting professor for this class was an African-American Buddhist who shared with us her own unconscious bias towards black men. I was stunned. It never occurred to me that black people could have a bias towards other black people, but, society had also conditioned them. This professor guided us through an exercise that helped us examine our own unconscious biases. The tenet of the exercise is that you cannot heal what you are not aware of. We first have to acknowledge what is in us. Before any outer change can occur, we must go inward. This was one of the most powerful classes I had ever attended. We were given images of many different people. And then we were guided to examine what our response was to these people. As we looked at a person of color, an obese woman or an elderly man in a wheelchair, we asked ourselves what was happening within us? Are our muscles tense or relaxed? Has our breathing become shallow? What are we thinking? What are our preconceived notions? What are our knee-jerk reactions? We noticed what was happening in our bodies and in our minds. We breathed, we paused, and during that pause, we were able to shine the light on beliefs hidden in tiny crevices and choose differently. We discovered in this class, that many of us were conditioned to think the same way about various groups of people. If that is true, it is probably true for many police officers. Wouldn’t it be powerful if every police officer in this country were required to go through a program about unconscious biases and become more mindful as a result. What if they learned to pause, instead of react? How many people would be saved? What if all corporations and schools and towns and cities looked at the policies that drive them and examined it for racist ideas that laced through them? What if? 

I was sickened at the last debate to hear that the federal racial sensitivity training was being eliminated. The justification for ending it was that it is anti-American. For any elimination of racism, we must take inventory, as individuals, as schools, as corporations, as towns and villages, and certainly as a country. We cannot get better if we do not see where our problem lies. This issue has deep roots and is present every where we look. We have much to learn. Avoidance is not a political strategy. Denial is not a political strategy. We need positive change. We could all learn about positive change from Twelve Step Programs. Step Four tells us to make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. This step is crucial for any change to occur for the recovering person. Our country has hit rock bottom. America needs recovery. And it starts with each one of us. Where do I still have a blind spot where racism is concerned? Part of my own inventory was recognizing what I do not know. So, I have plunged into learning more this year, after being horrified about the killing of George Floyd. A book I highly recommend is “How to be an Anti-Racist” by Ibram X. Kendi. Mr. Kendi spoke about his own history of racist ideas, and his present anti-racist ideas. It is eye-opening and not an easy read, but it is important. America needs to take stock. It is not anti-American to look at our shortcomings. It is necessary. When I take my own inventory about ways I have been conditioned, I don’t hate myself for that conditioning. I have compassion, and I want to do better. And the good news is that I can do better. Similarly, I don’t hate our country for its conditioning, but I sure as shit (that’s my Bronx coming out) want our country to do better, to choose differently. Our power is in our choices. We have such an important choice next week! Don’t forfeit your power. VOTE!

I teach mindfulness and self-compassion and yes, this is a different blog post than most of my musings. Yet, this is all about mindfulness! When we engage in spiritual practices and we cultivate mindfulness and compassion, we come away with the knowing that we are all one, and when we KNOW that, activism follows. We will no longer walk over the homeless person and not want to help. We will not see George Floyd killed and not want to be part of the call for justice. It will no longer be happening to “them”. It is happening, and we are either part of the problem or part of the solution.

With love, Jeanette

Tapping into INNER WISDOM

I have been doing a lot of wondering lately….wondering if I am doing the right thing as a parent, wondering about the future direction of my life’s work, wondering if more humans will awaken to the ways we are destroying our planet, wondering if I will ever be a grandma, wondering when we will stop mass shootings, wondering where I will be in five years, and on and on.

Then I realize that all this preoccupation is not how I want to spend my days. It is not living in the present moment. Nevertheless, the questions keep popping into my head. So, I notice them and sometimes I pull out my journal and jot down my stream of consciousness. Sometimes, I share my ruminations with a safe person, a trusted friend. At other times, I just notice the thoughts and let them drift away like a cloud in the sky. Some of the questions will be answered as life unfolds. Some questions are mere musings. Some of the questions DEMAND answers.

Here is the quandary…from what place do you want to receive the answers? From a place of fear and dread or from a place of wisdom and love? I prefer the latter.

In order for me to tap into wisdom, I get still. I do my inner work. I turn to my contemplative practices. I meditate. I listen. I pray. I get close to nature. I journal. I read. I go for a walk. I focus on my breathing. I practice self-compassion. I stay humble, teachable, most of the time. I am a work in progress, as we all are! I know that if I do my inner work, the answers will come. I know this much….that I have life situations that do not define me. You have life situations that do not define you, either. You are not your disease, your bank account, your lack of employment, your negative conditioned thoughts. You are a beautiful essence that is so much greater than your life situations, always. I am also THAT which you are. And how do we transcend our life situations and get aligned with our true essence? Being present. Being Here, NOW. And when we can do that, together, we can shine our light for all those who feel they are nothing more than their life situations….those who are stuck in their pain, who do not have access to strategies for getting unstuck. My favorite thing in life is to teach others tools to rise above their life situations that are causing them pain, to pass on to others what has been so graciously taught to me.

What is your favorite tool to get yourself unstuck? Do you have a repertoire of contemplative practices which help you get aligned to your true nature? Comment below:

The Anguish and Joy of Parenting

The Anguish and Joy of Parenting

In any given day,  I experience the highs and lows of being a mother of four children.  The lows come in the form of heartache, worry and fear and the highs are felt in the happiness I feel as I witness my kids experience the joys of life. The highs are also generated from just appreciating them exactly as they are.  I know when I am worrying about them, and I do from time to time, I am not loving them. Worry and Love cannot exist in the same space at the same time. When I am worrying, I am not trusting in their journey. I am not giving them the benefit of the doubt. I want to fix them. But they are not broken and I know that. Deep inside, I know that. My higher self knows that. My gut knows that. However, I am not always seeing the world from this wise, elevated place. When the lens I see my children with is clouded by fear,  my thoughts go to the worst case scenario. I become critical of them and myself. But, here is the good news! Through my mindfulness practice, I can stop myself….stop the runaway train of doom-and-gloom thoughts, stop myself before I open my big fat mouth and say something I don’t want to say, stop myself before I start lecturing, nagging, and projecting. Sometimes, I can stop myself. And sometimes, I am aware I should stop myself, but I don’t. I am a work in progress, after all. And so is every other parent. We are never going to arrive at some high place where we wipe the dust off and say, “We’re done, now THAT was easy.” Hell, no! This parenting thing is damn hard, and amazingly wonderful, and pushes us to become the best selves we can be. And even when we are doing our best, we are going to question ourselves if we could have done better. And that is our cue to be kind to ourselves, to be our own best friend, to give ourselves a freaking break. And that process of leaning into our own anguish with kindness is what builds our resilience to wake up the next morning and drag our tired butt out of bed and do it again. My intention today is to stay neutral about any outcomes for my kids. Hope and fear both exist in the future and are attached to a certain outcome. “I hope my kid gets into a top college” is just the inverse of “I am afraid that my kid won’t get into a top college”. Instead, we can stay where our feet are and empower our kids to do the same. In the present moment, our best selves have the opportunity to emerge. There is such freedom in focusing on the present moment and doing our best work and letting go of any attachment to a certain outcome. Today, I salute all my fellow parents in your quest to be your best self. I wish you less worry and more joy and freedom. And so that I practice what I teach, I wish the same for myself!

On Forgiveness

On Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a topic that has shown up a lot in the past couple of weeks. I listened to a mother who lost her son during 9/11. She spoke about the importance of forgiveness and yet, reserved the right not to forgive the terrorist organization as they showed no remorse for what they did. I listened to a holocaust survivor talk about how she forgave the Nazis and that it helped her live a more peaceful life. She went on to share that there are many fellow survivors who are angry at her for publicly forgiving the Nazis for their wrongdoing.

Forgiving is not the same as condoning. We think we are punishing others when we don’t forgive. The only people we are punishing is ourselves when we don’t forgive others for the wrongdoing that caused us harm. It is the act of holding onto our past hurts that cause us to continually re-live them. What we resist persists. The person who harmed us goes about their life with remorse, or not. Our lack of forgiveness affects us, not them. Bitterness is a terrible thing to live with. We can hold people accountable for their wrongdoing at the same time we forgive them.

What happens then if the person we need to forgive is ourselves? I work with parents, especially mothers, who beat themselves up for messing up on-the-job. If the kid gets a bad grade, we parents ask ourselves where we went wrong. Worse yet, if our child is using drugs or depressed, we blame ourselves. We think we must have done something desperately wrong to have that outcome. I know. I am a mother of four. I, myself, have wished I would have been wiser, more evolved, handled situations differently, been more skilled, over and over and over again. At the root of all this beating myself up is shame. Shame is rooted in the belief that I am not good enough.

So, if shame is the obstacle to self-forgiveness, what is the solution? The first thing to do is to see the story that we are not good enough as just that…a story. Acceptance of ourselves as the flawed humans we are is paramount to having any peace. Next, I have incorporated the idea presented by Brene Brown, author of Rising Strong, that everyone is  doing the best they can given the conditions they were brought up in and the resources or limitations they have. Many of us instantly protest this idea, claiming that people are not doing the best they can. Whether that is true or not, imagine how much less you would suffer if you adopted this belief as well. Try it out for a day.  See what it feels like to give yourself and others the benefit of the doubt.

If I am still having a hard time forgiving myself or others, I practice lovingkindness meditation. This is a process that really opens your heart with compassion for others. For free monthly meditations, click the link below and sign up for monthly newsletters. https://westchestercenterformindfulnessandwellbeing.com  September’s newsletter featured the lovingkindness meditation. I encourage everyone to do this meditation every day for a couple of weeks and see what happens. When we  practice lovingkindness we are actually re-wiring our brain and opening our hearts.

May you be happy. May you be well. May you abide in peace. May you feel safe and secure. May you feel loved and cared for. (And May I feel all those things as well!)