A Love Lesson From A Monk

blog pic1-1“Love in such a way that the person you love feels free.”

I read this beautifully simple and profound quote by the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh this morning, repeating it over and over in my mind.

Love in such a way that the person you love feels free. Sounds simple, right?
But how many of us are really capable of loving in this way?

Let’s face it, most of us love with conditions, expectations, spoken or unspoken contracts we’ve assigned to our loved ones. Sometimes they’re gender based, sometimes not.

But to love in such a way that the other person feels free? How rare, how holy is that?

I’ve been mulling this over all morning, letting it sink in and settle into my bones because I believe there is a sacred message there for all of us.

Love in such a way that the person you love feels free.

What does that mean?

Does it mean I have the freedom to come and go at my will without taking my partner’s needs into consideration? Does it mean I am free to speak my mind without choosing my words carefully or taking responsibility for the effect they might have on another?

I don’t think so. At least that’s not how I choose to interpret Hahn’s words.

I believe loving another–be it your partner, your friend, your child, your family member–in a way in which the person you love feels free is more about loving them kindly. Respectfully.

It’s about loving them enough to leave them alone, to let them be who they are, to be true to their nature. In Taoism, being true to one’s nature is an important principle by which to live.

But this is a tough one, folks. How often do we try to change others to fit our preferences, thinking our roadmap is the only one that leads to hallowed ground? Or to the best outcome? I’ll raise my hand here.

Free, free, free at last.

In the West, we are accustomed to many freedoms, so much so that many of us don’t even think about the word “free” unless it is associated with a bargain. We think of freedom in the literal (and important) sense: Being free to come and go, to choose our religion, to vote, to forge our own path.

So maybe the subtleness of Hanh’s quote could be lost ….“love in such a way that the person you love feels free.”

He speaks to the kind of freedom one feels  internally when they are blessed by non-judgmental love. The kind of love that is freeing, the kind that comes from having someone love you kindly, encouragingly, in a way that lets you be seen. In a way that gives you permission to be your authentic self.

That kind of love, the kind where you don’t feel guilted or obligated to regularly meet someone else’s expectations for your life, or even for how you spend your day–is a gift.

And I believe it sets the giver and the receiver free to love themselves and the other more fully, with wide-eyed optimism and grace.

(Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh is a spiritual leader and writer, revered for his exquisite teachings on mindfulness and peace. He suffered a brain hemorrhage this week…so let us keep him in our hearts.)

If you’re interested in more thoughts on integrity, compassion and grace, particularly at midlife, read my book Tao Flashes. Or visit me at http://www.facebook.com/taoflashes or on twitter @taoflashes.

A Conscious Cleanse To End the Year

blog pic1-1It’s the end of the year. But before we shutter the past and usher in the new and the shiny and the sequined, it’s important to take time to reflect.

At least I think so. I like to end my year consciously, reflecting on what I’ve gained and what I’ve lost, what I’ve let into my life, what I’ve closed the door on. I think of the ending of a year as a symbolic closing of sorts.

And I ask myself: what in my life is ending, or what needs to end, for my growth and my highest good?

For me, I want to say good-bye to a mindset of fear, both the learned fear and the psychic DNA of fear passed on from my ancestors. I’m not a pack mule and I’m tired of carrying it.

I’m also saying good-bye to tracking my value based on other people’s input or opinions of me. That goes for blog comments, twitter followers and facebook likes, too.  Focusing on this makes me feel anxious, worried, competitive. Enough. I’ve grown enough this year to finally get comfortable with the spiritual notion that I am enough.

I appreciate what I’ve built this last year with my book, Tao Flashes, and my blog. And I greatly appreciate the support of others. But I am no longer seeking it.  I am more clearly focused on providing value than feeling of value.  I’m not in the chase mode anymore. I’ll continue to promote myself, but I will quit running after numbers and trust that the people who need my brand of encouragement will find me. Radical? Maybe. But radical faith is sometimes needed in life.

This is some of what I am saying good-bye to in 2013. So, I encourage you to ask what needs to end. And if you want to go deeper, ask yourself this: what wounds in my life are asking to be healed so I can have a new start in the new year?

Are you a perfectionist, always trying to please others at the cost of your time or self-esteem? This is familiar territory for many of us women. Maybe you’re an organizer/controller who believes you need to run everything, because in reality, you feel unsafe or powerless in some area of your life. Check.

Maybe you’re a peacemaker like me, always looking to soothe things over, fluff up the pillows and pretty things up, when in reality, there are times when it might be more healing to let the fur fly?

So as you close out the year, consider what needs to heal, and set you New Year’s resolutions accordingly and mindfully. From there, you can give thought to what you wish to  say yes to, what you wish to birth and create space for in the coming year.

Last year my new year’s resolution was this: To live and love in truth. This meant that I was committed to being authentic, living and acting and speaking truthfully, with integrity, even when pressures dictated otherwise.

Like many resolutions, I broke this once or twice (or more). The truth is, living with integrity means analyzing every single thought and action in your daily life to ensure you are congruent, integrious. It’s a tall order for the average bear, like me.

In retrospect, I see now that this resolution is more of an intention, an act of empowerment and grace to seek out on my never-ending spiritual journey. So, I won’t count it as a resolution this year. I’ll make it a daily intention for the rest of my years.

As for my new resolutions? I’m working on a list right now. I’ve been reading material from a book called The Desire Map, by Danielle LaPorte. She talks about setting goals/resolutions from a different, more mindful perspective. LaPorte believes in setting goals that are focused on achieving the core “feelings” you wish to feel in your life. She believes that our search for accolades, money, fame, recognition, security, are really about our quest to achieve the feelings these accomplishments bring to us.

With this in mind, I know this year I want to feel more communion, more connection. I want to feel more creative, more purposeful, more peaceful and more passionate.

My resolutions, in all areas of my life–work, relationships, health and well-being, community and spirituality–will center around these five core feelings.

It’s a tall order for me. But I’m not afraid. I’ve said good-bye to fear. That was sooooooo last year.

If you’re interested in more thoughts on integrity, compassion and grace, particularly at midlife, read my book Tao Flashes.  Or visit me at www.facebook.com/taoflashes or on twitter @taoflashes.

What Winnie the Pooh Can Teach Us

DCF 1.0When I was a child, I loved Winnie the Pooh. He was a sweet, chubby, simple-minded bear that seemd to spend his days in the pursuit of two things: fun and honey. Pooh didn’t seem to be too stressed about where his next meal was coming from, or the fact that his friends considered him to be a bit of a simpleton. He just lived his life joyfully, staying in the present, and always, always trusting that somehow things would turn out right.

Pooh, unbeknown to me at the time, was living some of the basic tenets of Taoism. Simplicity. Humility. Peacefulness.

Just recently I re-discovered Benjamin Hoff’s The Tao of Pooh, and have delighted in reading it with a new understanding. Now, with many more years (and yes, sigh, maybe a few extra pounds) tucked under my belt, I understand Pooh was not so simple…he was actually wise, and what the Taoists would call an Uncarved Block.  He was living a life free of worry, free of arrogance, free of complexitiy…in other words, Pooh had discovered the path to a joyful, simple life.

This made me think about how we women spend so much of our lives in fast-motion, running, doing, tending to other people’s needs. Many of us lead lives that are far south of simple. And sometimes in the process of daily living, we lose track, we lose ourselves, we lose our way… and we trade our authentic needs to keep pace.

Other times we get caught in the trap of more, letting “stuff” substitute for spiritual or emotional substanence. In the process we exhaust our spirits and we become disconnected emotionally, physically, to the little joys that surround us. Life then becomes about the next task, the next project, the next errand, the next demand.

I believe by midlife, we deserve more. As females, we tend to be the caretakers, the wish-granters for everyone else’s joy, often prioritizing the happiness of other people before our own.

It’s time to re-calibrate. Pull the plug on your perfectionism, tear up the to-do-list, and head out in search of your joy. Your bliss. Your honey.

How do you do this? You start by saying Noooooooooooooo. As much as you want. As much as you need. And then you start investigating what makes you happy, even joyful. Maybe it’s curling up with a good book (or a naughty one like 50 Shades of Grey). Maybe it’s playing King of the Hill in your backyard with your children (or  grandkids) while dinner waits. Or maybe it’s just enjoying the simple joy of silence, the chaotic-free sound of quiet time. All to yourself. 

Trust me, the world won’t fall apart when you step forward and demand your right to bliss. (Though you might upset someone else’s applecart when you say NO, remember, it’s okay to prioritize your happiness.) The laundry can wait, but your authentic happiness can’t. For if not now, when?

In the Tao Te Ching, a basic guideline on the principles of Taoism, its author Lao Tzu talks about tempering a busy life. In his profoundly simple and yet complex verse he says, “By not doing, everything is done.”

Pooh seemed to understand this basic philosophy.

How do you do it, Pooh?”

“Do What?” asked Pooh.

“Become so effortless.”

“I don’t do much of anything,” he said.

“But all those things of yours get done.”

“They just sort of happen,” he said. –The Tao of Pooh

Looks like that silly bear wasn’t so silly, after all.

If you’d like a different view of the Tao Te Ching, from the point of view of a midlife woman, check out my book Tao Flashes.  Or visit me at www.facebook.com/taoflashes.