Presence and Peace

5 Ways to Overcome Unworthiness (And Soften Your Heart)


Pema Chödrön tells the story of being a lonely six-year-old girl who one day walks past the house of an old woman who was sitting out in the sun.  I know it’s hard to imagine, but the young Pema was kicking anything she could find out of frustration for feeling unloved and alone.

Pema tells the end of the story, “Laughing, she said to me, ‘Little girl, don’t you go letting life harden your heart.'”

It’s quite possible that Pema’s life as a teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition began that day.  On that day, the six-year-old girl learned that she could make a choice to allow life’s events to harden her or she could  use those events to do the opposite, to soften her heart.

Buddhists call the softening bodhichitta

Pema writes, “Chitta means ‘mind’ and also ‘heart’ or ‘attitude.’ Bodhi means ‘awake, enlightened,’or ‘completely open.'”

So, what’s with the lesson in Shambhala Buddhism?

Because the character trait of unworthiness is rampant in our society.  We watch it play out every day in people who touch our lives, in the places we live, work, go to school, perhaps even worship.  Unworthiness may be hard to spot because we’re so used to seeing it every day.

Don’t you know someone who feels inferior?  Who says their work is less than adequate?  Who self-denigrates and then laughs because s/he thinks it’s acceptable to feel and believe those things?

Come on, people!  Have we forgotten who we are?

The process of remembering

We are, depending on your preference, children of a divine creator.  I sometimes call that being GUS (God-Universe-Spirit).

We are sooo much better than the untrue beliefs we hold about ourselves.  Believe me, I need to read this stuff as much as I need to write it.  My feelings of unworthiness run deep and I’ve honed them for half a century.

When we remember our true, authentic selves, we begin to unlock the habit of turning to unworthiness.

In fact, that’s the first way to overcome unworthiness.

1.  Realize that when one of your buttons gets pushed, you react out of habit. Yes, the trigger may be real, but you can change your reaction.

2.  When something happens to upset you, say a co-worker makes a hurtful, mean remark to you, do not respond.  Instead, try to find a mirror and spend a full minute looking into your own eyes.  You’ll know the truth is not what that person just said.

3.  Don’t spend time in maudlin-ville.  It’s a sure track to pity, remorse, and self-denigration.  You deserve better.

4.  Eliminate all “o-u” words from your vocabulary.  No more should (as in, “I should have . . . “), could, would or even ought.  Thou shalt not should all over thyself.

5.  Decide to begin a new spiritual practice.  It’s not hard, I promise.  If you’ve accomplished the other four, this one is a piece of cake.

Just for today–because today is all we have–I want you to feel, really feel, that you matter.  You come first, not because you’re selfish, but because if you don’t put your oxygen mask on first, how can you possibly be of any use to the rest of GUS’ kids?

I dare you to write me and tell me your heart hasn’t softened.

May your week be filled with soft landings, my friends.  Peace out.

Photo courtesy of melschmitz

Of Fire Ants and Winnie-the-Poo Characters


‘It’s snowing still,’ said Eeyore gloomily.

‘So it is.’

‘And freezing.’

‘Is it?’

‘Yes,’ said Eeyore. ‘However,’ he said, brightening up a little, ‘we haven’t had an earthquake lately.’

— A. A. Milne

Ah, Eeyore. Of all the characters in the Winnie the Poo line-up, Eeyore–the ever-glum, sarcastic and usually pessimistic donkey–is my least favorite character.

Give me ADHD Tigger, adorable-but-anxious Piglet or the obsessed-with-honey Poo any day.  Yes, I found more than one online reference for the mental disorders of the cast of The Hundred Acre Wood.

Now I’m suffering with major TMI.

Today, I am thinking of Eeyore, though, because I’m reminded that no matter what your present circumstances, there is generally something that could be worse.

Accept the things you cannot change

Eeyore couldn’t change the snowy weather conditions.  I can’t change the incessant fire ant problem in my small yard. Or the people in my life who sometimes behave like fire ants when they surprise me with unprovoked stinging bites.

I just came in from dousing a fire ant condominium complex discovered while trimming some bushes earlier today. Do I believe that eliminated my fire ant problem?  Oh, heck no, because I live in Texas and they apparently come with the territory.

Sometimes fiery people come with the territory too, but since I can’t pour 1/4 cup of granular ant killer on them, I guess I’ll have to find another solution.

Since there is nothing I can do to change them, I’ll just shrug my shoulders and walk away.

Be grateful for the things that haven’t happened

Like Eeyore who occasionally looks on the bright side, I can practice gratitude for the things I can change. Like my own attitude about fire ants.

Let’s face it.  We all have fire ants in our lives. But it could be worse, right?

They could be a daily, instead of an every-now-and-then nuisance. They could be inside my house, where I can’t close the door on them.

They could take over my entire yard, instead of a little bit of space at a time.

In the big scheme of things, fire ants really mean nothing. In fact, I’ve decided to quit letting them get under my skin by avoiding them altogether.

They’re just not worth the effort that goes into figuring out how to co-exist with them. Better to just walk away.

And should I stumble into a nest–which given where I live–is likely, I’ll deal with it then.

Until then, I’m going to keep doing my Tigger thing. I’ll keep bouncing through life, enjoying my now moments instead of fretting about fire ants.

I’ll leave the fretting to Eeyore.

Photo courtesy of mantasmagorical


Mindfulness and the Modern Woman


This is a guest post written by Emma Haylett.

During my time as an undergraduate, I remember staring at the early morning yoga-doers as I burned time on my elliptical. I knew that my body didn’t bend this way or that, and as I yearned for the clock to tick faster, faster, until my workout was done, I thought I’d never be brave enough to try yoga.

And I wasn’t, for a long time. I should pause to note that I am not a coward—in my life, I’ve watched my father struggle with (and overcome) a meth addiction, I’ve learned to manage life with two alcoholic parents and I am the older sibling of two sisters who gave birth in their teens. I’ve been a kind of parent, a 40-hour-workweek, full-time-first generation college student, and a writer. These, I think, are brave things.

But yoga—well, it was another thing entirely. When I finally decided to give it a go, it was because I knew that I was lacking something in my life. While I’d worked to overcome many obstacles, or so I thought, I’d neglected to develop and maintain a sense of self. I’m not an addict, but I come from a family of them. My mind and body were functional and (mostly) healthy. My spirit was not.

I’ve never been a particularly religious person, so I found little solace in church or youth groups. I don’t exactly pray and I’m not particularly interested in religion, except as a course of study. So, in graduate school, I found myself neglecting my spirit, and deeply depressed because of it.

As a student, I got a free subscription to Amazon Prime, which offered a lot of instant videos. In my studio apartment, I did some basic yoga. I found myself struggling because it lacked any sense of community and left me sweaty and sore in my home. Was I performing the moves correctly? The absence of another person (or even a person-sized mirror) made it impossible to tell.

So, I wandered into a class called “Yum Yum Stretch.” I was a little hesitant. My yoga pants were too tight. My shirt was too loose. My toenails were unpainted. But I found a group of woman and men who were extremely varied—in age, body type, and flexibility. I sighed in relief. We stretched.

What I loved about Yum Yum Stretch was the soothing voice of the instructor, the guided stretches, and the snacks afterword. Maybe it isn’t even yoga, exactly—but the opportunity to join a like-minded group of individuals devoting time to themselves in such a tangible way was exhilarating. We stretched and strengthened our bodies, and (at least for me) our minds. Our mindfulness.

For me, yoga provided a way to deal with my anxiety, depression, and feelings about the behaviors present in my family, perhaps lying dormant in me. For me, this sort of “treatment” is more about prevention of addiction than the treatment for addiction—insurance, you could call it. For others, it is just another piece in the puzzle of addiction treatment.

Running, Pilates, hard-core yoga aren’t for everyone—they certainly aren’t for me. But they represent a dedication that is both selfish and selfless that has nothing to do with any substances, except maybe adrenaline.

Emma Haylett grew up in a state with no sports teams so she picked her own. This is and isn’t a metaphor. Now, she helps treat addicts and families of addicts with non 12 step rehab programs as a graduate student and Certified Prevention Specialist Intern. You can reach her on Google+.

Photo courtesy of kakisky.

Feeling Like a Bratty Two-Year-Old? Take a Nap!


“I don’t want to take a nap!” I said, hands on hips and stomping my two-year-old foot.

Oh wait, I’m no longer two; I’m 52–and apparently still throwing temper tantrums.  I just don’t stomp my foot quite as hard because it invariably hurts my back.

I was work-weary and project-stressed and I had far too much to do when it was suggested last weekend that I take a nap.

But I did it anyway.

What if I miss something?

As a child, my parents used to tease me that I didn’t want to go to sleep because I was afraid I’d miss something.  I think that is still the case.  Something could happen, something important, that might need my attention while I’m frittering away my time in, heaven forbid, napping.

Somewhere along the line I believe I turned my perceived negativity around napping into a self judgment.  For me, taking a nap tarnishes my work ethic; it causes me to think I’m sloughing off on my work.

I have noticed that as I get busier in my self-employed world, I’m having trouble putting down the pen and shutting off the electronics because “I don’t want to miss anything.”

My God, it’s a wonder I ever sleep with that mindset.  Once again, I’ve managed to make everything about me!  Please tell me I’m not the only one!

Practicing good self-care

Sometimes, after several nights in a row with very little sleep, as I’m stumbling and mumbling in a zombie-like state, I catch myself going round in circles.

When that happened recently, I thought, okay, FINE, I’ll take a nap.

Then it hit me–and I really felt this truth–I have to find a way to release myself from my own pressure cooker.

So I took a nap. Tucked under my blanket, I took a few deep, long breaths and tried to exhale the built-up steam of my projects.  Then I fell asleep, mercifully.

Nearly two hours later, I woke feeling refreshed, more open (when I’m super-tired I tend to draw into myself) and lighter.  I could definitely feel a weight change in my sternum.

Looking back on that feeling–both pre-nap and after–I have a couple of thoughts.  First, ingrained characteristics of my childhood tend to bubble and splash to the surface when I’m stressed and exhausted.

The second thought is I can take care of both my childlike responses and my adult needs by making a decision to take a break.  It doesn’t matter how I get away so much as just doing it–and doing it mindfully.

Maybe it’s a nap; maybe it’s a walk; maybe it’s a guided meditation.  But regular breaks are invaluable.  Let’s make a pact:  I will if you will!

Here’s the bigger picture issue to address:  While it’s true that both the two-year-old me and the 52-year-old me is afraid of missing something, what might I miss if I don’t give in?

Photo courtesy of idahoeditor

Tim McGraw’s Live Like You Were Dying



“Someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying.” ~ Tim McGraw in Live Like You Were Dying

I love most music genres and like a lot of people, appreciate music in different ways depending on my emotions or my mood.

The sweetest music to me, though, is the song that no matter how many hundreds of times I’ve heard it, causes me to stop whatever I’m doing, turn it up and feel emotions coursing through me.

Goose bumps and choked tears

My Top 10 list of tunes contains songs like Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You and Mercy Me’s I Can Only Imagine.  Each causes my breath to hitch and my eyes to leak a bit.

There’s one song, though, that always makes time slow down as each word of the lyrics resonates through inevitable thoughts about the passage of time.

I thought of this song–Tim McGraw’s Live Like You Were Dying–a couple of days ago when I read on Facebook about a high school friend who attended a co-worker’s retirement party one day and the colleague dropped dead the next day.  My heart went out to Michael and I wrote this to him:  “We go from feeling invincible as teenagers to knowing that as middle-agers, each day is precious and rare.”

The words from Live Like You Were Dying pelted me again today as it played on the radio while I drove home from the grocery store.  The story, of course, is of a man talking about his experience of being in his early 40s and receiving, presumably, grim X-ray results.  He tells his adult son that he spent days trying to absorb the news, talking about his options, and “talking about sweet time.”

Man, what’d you do?

His son asked the most incredible question.  He said, Man, what did you do when you got the news?

The response is a composite of some of the most beautiful words I’ve ever read:

“I went sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,
“I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
“And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,
“And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying.”
An’ he said: “Some day, I hope you get the chance,
“To live like you were dyin’.”

Tim’s song is written in memory of his dad, Major League Baseball relief pitcher Tug McGraw who died in 2004 after battling brain tumors for nearly 20 years.

I believe McGraw’s point–and the point of the song–is Why wait?  While I’m not looking to climb on a bull, especially one named Fu Man Chu, there are many, many things that I intend to do before I leave this earth.  Some–like strolling on a black sandy beach or watch an eagle as it’s flying–may have to wait but there are others I can do today, without a moment’s hesitation.

I can love deeper, speak sweeter and give forgiveness I haven’t wanted to give.  I can slow down, fill my lungs with air and breathe into all that is good about these precious moments in time.  Then I can thank God for one more glorious breath.

This post is dedicated to my friend Michael Barnes, to our former classmate Erik Zobrist (both HUGE baseball fans!) who died earlier this year, and to all of us who’ve known both the gut-wrenching loss of someone dear and the exquisite exhilaration of living like we’re dying. 

If you’d like to see the entire video, including the famous winning picture of Tug as a Philadelphia Philly, click Live Like You Were Dying.

Photo courtesy of orchid