Monthly Archives: November 2014

So Grateful. This post writes itself.


Not an hour ago I received an email from our secondary school principal. The subject line was “homework over break” and I swallowed hard in apprehension that we were about to get the shot across the bow announcing a big press on the kids to get their projects started and completed over break. In the insanely high-pressure DC suburbs, it would not be unheard of.

Much to my astonishment, I read on:

Dear Parents and Guardians-

I am sending you a copy of an email I have sent to all of the Robinson Staff regarding homework and assignments over breaks.  All of us need breaks in our life and we want to honor this going forward from today.  I want to wish everyone a healthy and happy Thanksgiving.

As we reach the first quarter mark of the year and as Thanksgiving and the winter holidays approach, I would like to share some guidelines for assignments over breaks.  There is no doubt that many of you feel pressure to maintain the momentum of your curriculum by assigning homework, projects, papers, reading, and/or studying over breaks.  The pressure that you feel, often driven by standardized tests and pacing guides, translates likewise into student stress.  This stress compounds as families compete for meaningful time with their children over the holidays.  Subsequently, many students return to school after “break” with as much or more stress as when they left.

     Children and adults (You) need breaks from the many demands of school life.  Going forward, I ask that you be mindful of student stress when determining due dates for student work.  Here are a few guidelines:

•  Students should not be required to complete work over school breaks.  

•  Be reasonable with due dates.  Provide enough time for students to complete their work within the normal school calendar without the need to work over school breaks.  Though you may have a long-term assignment that spans over a school break, no work should be due immediately after a break.  

•  Pace yourself to avoid major assessments immediately upon return from breaks.

    The guidelines above are in the spirit of honoring family and family traditions as we simultaneously address issues of student stress.  These adjustments provide us another opportunity to reach out to our community with a united, student-centered philosophy.



In today’s crazy-competitive world, this note, and his stand on the state of the chaos, is refreshing, brave and so needed.

Here is my reply to him,

Dear Matt,

I hope you’re getting lots of grateful and encouraging calls and emails about your mindful and gracious letter to parents today about your email to your staff regarding overloading the kids during breaks.

As a yoga teacher, I couldn’t possibly agree more with your intention in that note. I have found that really little kids — ages 4 and 5! — tell me that doing yoga with me helps them lower their stress.

Four and five! What should they know about stress? But they do.

When our minds and bodies relax, creativity in innovation flows. We can not possibly subsist in a hyper-competitive, limbic-brained state all our lives. While academic success is important, we must remember that while we are today shaping the minds for tomorrow, we must be careful to foster growth. If being a parent has taught us anything, it’s that the human form grows when it rests. Muscles build and form after the workout. We have to look up from the grindstone in order to see how we can improve upon it.

We cannot grow in a state of hyper-vigilance and reactivity; if competing with China is what this is all about in America, we’re doomed. That country’s youth is in very fragile state. If you did not see the NYTimes report on the teens in China who are addicted to the Internet, now might be a good moment to see it; the kids there are overloaded, overtaxed and fracturing due to the nation’s aggressive growth and parental pressures to outdo the others.

I applaud you, most sincerely, for the missive you sent today. It takes guts, character and courage to do what you did. You’re on the right path.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Kinds regards and namaste,


I feel that his move to send that note was a clear and compassionate message about a tragedy which befell the school earlier in the fall.

A sophomore tragically took her own life in an apparent suicide on a railroad track not three miles from my home. Kids need to relax. Adults need to relax. The world needs to relax.

The sentiment coddled and honored in our principal’s email is exactly what the world needs more of. So tell your school administrators about what’s on your mind, catch them doing something good and praise them for it.

Thank you.

19 Things I Learned from Tara Brach #meditation


God did not give me sisters. What I got were amazing female cousins.

Yesterday, I went to a “daylong retreat” in Rockville, MD, with one of those cousins. I adore her. As is true of any worthwhile relationship, we’ve had our ups and downs, but when you’re family, when you share bloodlines and interesting aunts and uncles (or your parents are those interesting aunts and uncles), there’s a shorthand that simply can’t ever be mimicked by a non-bloodline relationship — because of the genetics, we both understand when the other is fearful of falling apart.

She gets me and I get her.

I truly don’t know what I’d do without her.

In October, she asked me if I were interested in going to hear Tara Brach speak at a daylong retreat.

Five days before Thanksgiving.

I couldn’t imagine saying no. First, I love spending time with this cousin (as I do all of them), and secondly, a day, eight hours in almost total silence without children? Without homework fights? Without laundry? Sign me up. So I did. I signed me up.

Tara Brach is an award-winning author, a meditation specialist (that sounds weird), a practicing Buddhist, and psychotherapist with more than 35 years experience in the field of stress management, grief and loss, anxiety treatment and other issues we face as carbon-based, earth-bound creatures on this planet.

It was glorious and healing and also a fair amount of spiritual / energetic Work (with a capital W). There were 225 of us in the center hall of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Rockville and from my seat looking out the enormous windows I watched the sun begin its ascent through the trees on my left and then begin its descent set through more trees on my right. It was a special event and I encourage anyone to take advantage of Tara’s proximity to us in the DC area. We practiced seven meditations in all.

The event offered eight hours of amazing self-awareness and self-acceptance opportunities. We meditated, journaled, shared, commented, listened and rested. I took them all in. My brain and mind wandered of course, “When’s lunch?” “How long have we been at this one?” “Lots of people start coughing after the first 5 minutes…” For $75 in cash I gained peace of mind, humbling wisdom and self-love, connection with my intuition, allowance and self-forgiveness and love of The Other.

If you ever have a chance to listen Tara Brach live, do it. Just … do it. If you don’t know her, buy one of her books.

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Tara opened the event, after tuning in with the breath, with a reference to my favorite poem of all time. “The Guest House” by Rumi, a 13th century Sufi poet. This is the poem:

this being human is a guest house.
every morning a new arrival.

a joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

welcome and entertain them all!
even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
he may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

the dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

After that I knew I was “home.” I had just meditated on that poem not 24 hours beforehand.

We were off to the slow races. Who could get there last was the goal. Tara invoked the poem, specifically saying “yes” to our darker emotions, a few times throughout the day.

Here is a list of 18 things I learned from Tara Brach:

  1. We process 68,000 thoughts a day; 98% of them are from yesterday.
  2. We suffer because we forget who we are.
  3. Our strategies to promote and defend ourselves are hard-wired. This is how we identify with the world; but we needn’t stay chained to that. We take it personally during meditation that our minds wander, that we might not be “doing” it “right” — that’s ego. Let it go.
  4. Hating our ego adds more self-aggression; hating the ego adds more ego: it’s a separation, it’s a judgment. Don’t judge, just be.
  5. When you go half as fast, you experience twice as much.
  6. Self-aversion locks us in self-aversion.
  7. In meditation, the concept of observing the “breath” is just a tool, use it if it helps. If it causes self-aversion (judgement, then zero in on something else: sounds, light, shadows through closed eyes).
  8. It’s not what’s happening, it’s how you relate to it.
  9. Invite your darker emotions in.  She told a few jokes and stories, I’ll share a joke below. One story is of the Buddha who was walking through a forest and saw Marra, who is the shadow side, the darker emotions. One of Buddha’s students came up to him and said, “Master, Master! Marra is behind the tree, over there!” and instead of fighting Marra, Buddha said, “I see you Marra. Let’s have tea.” Invite your emotions in.
  10. Say “yes” even to resistance; allowing that the resistance exists is a way to reduce your anxiety about being resistant. We have our central nervous system for a reason — when the body & mind are not ready, they are not ready. Just allowing the fact that you’re not ready brings you one step closer to eventually allowing it all, whatever you’re resisting.
  11. We are at war with ourselves. When we are at ease with ourselves, we don’t act with hostility or immoral behaviors.
  12. When we judge and blame, the area in our brains which houses compassion and empathy shuts down.
  13. When a sense of unworthiness is activated in us, creativity halts.
  14. It’s not about saying yes to what feels good; it’s about saying yes to what is. You don’t have to love what’s happening, but denying its existence, saying no to it will never work.
  15. We can get confused when we think that saying “Bad! Bad! Bad!” will ever help someone. You can’t hate or judge someone into transformation, especially yourself. (Been there, tried that, failed miserably.)
  16. Separation loss of compassion, blaming others is what is makes us sick. The “I” in illness and the “We” in wellness  illustrate clearly that when we separate and think of the other as unreal, that we have illness. When we welcome others, when we see them, we have wellness.
  17. Say yes to your need for space, peace and boundaries. When others have hurt you, be OK with your feelings of anger or hurt or offense or fear. Often we think in our goals to being self-actualized and whole, that we must hold a space for that person and the hurt they have inflicted on us; that we must allow it in some energetic sense. That’s not true.
  18. Most of our exhaustion comes from saying “no”; to resisting WHAT IS happening in our lives; our muscles tense and stress because they are geared toward resistance.

The joke:

A 60-year-old man visits his new GP to go over a battery of lab tests performed the week before.

The doctor says, “Well, it looks by the results of all these tests, you’re in very good physical health. Everything seems to be as it should be.”

The man says, “Wow, that’s great to hear. So I’ll live another 20 years?”

The doctor says, “Well, that all depends. Do you smoke, or drink excessively?”

The man says, “No.”

The doctor asks, “Do you golf, boat, spend a lot of time in the heat, or strong sun?”

The man says, “No.”

The doctor asks, “Do you excessively gamble, have sexual relations, stay out late and party?”

The man says, “No. I don’t do drugs or play cards. Nothing.”

The doctor asks, “Do you hike, go to high elevations, perform risky behaviors, skydive?”

The man says, “No. None of that…”

The doctor asks “What about travel to exotic locations, do you fly to foreign countries? Eat foods you’re unaccustomed to?”

The man says, “No. I have a steady diet.”

The list of questions goes on in the same spirit, asking about excess and vices for about four more and the patient says no to each one.

Finally the doctor asks, “Then why do you care??”

That got a big laugh.

The final meditation was a partner exercise. Naturally, my cousin and I chose each other. It was part active listening and part being OK with what you say. It was called “What Do You Love?” Everyone faced another person, knee to knee, and one person asked of the other, “Tell me, what do you love?” and the other person was to answer the question, without self-judgment, without fear (because love is supposed to be free of all that self-aversion stuff; it’s pure: love) and nothing was off-base.

I asked first and then it was my turn to answer. I said a few things that were typical and honest.

Then, I had a moment of transformation, an Awakening. I paused (one of Tara’s favorite words is “pause”).

I said, “I love my story.” And we both got a little emotional.

For me to be not only OK with, but to say that I love my story; the story of my entire life: all the ups and downs; all the fears and triumphs… was and is a lot. But it’s true. If I abhor and regret what I came from, how can I be OK with what I’ve become? It doesn’t work that way.

A day later, I’m still riding the wave, still confident that whatever inspired me to say “I love my story” is right, because if I don’t love my story, if YOU don’t love YOUR story, you don’t accept it; we are rejecting who we are.

So one more:

19. The first step to self acceptance and self-love, is loving who we are, no matter how or what we went through to get here. I believe I am finally there.

20. That’s up to you…

So get started: Tara Brach has a bunch of guided meditations available for download on her website; some are those you can listen to while you walk. She has CDs available on Amazon. This is her author page. On iTunes, there are a couple podcasts. She also has podcasts available on her website.

Thank you.

ps — one more: When we experience emotions, synaptically and clinically, the emotion only stays in our body for 90 seconds to process and flush through. What are we saying to ourselves when we stay, cognitively, in our states of fear and shame and guilt for years? Our brain was finished with that trauma and emotional state ages ago… We can learn to let go. We must learn to let go.

Quick and Dirty: What’s Yours is Yours … Boundaries.


One of the worst things we as parents or leaders or teachers can do is foist our success (and ultimately failure) onto a child or a subordinate.

What’s yours to do is yours to do.

I was on the phone one time with my therapist years ago and he heard me say to my oldest son, “Please put your toys away, that will make Mommy so happy, when you do that…” and I think, that if my therapist were able to reach through the phone and throttle me, he would’ve.

“No. No. No. No. No.” he said, instead.

“What? Why? I want him to put away his toys. It pleases me when he does that. I’m being honest with him. I thought that’s what this is all about…” I protested.

“It’s not his JOB, EVER, to make you happy. You phrased it wrong; you phrased it in a way the creates one of the worst and most classic and textbook examples of codependence ever: that your very existence and happiness hinges on his DEVOTION to you; to your needs, to your happiness…..” He intoned.

“But…” (“Isn’t my happiness the ultimate goal here? Isn’t what I need to have happen what we’re doing this for?” is what I wanted to say, and actually meant.)

“No. He will ultimately fail. It’s in his life’s path to fail. He’s supposed to fail. Failure is what makes us win, in the end…. but that’s his. What about when you’re in a foul mood… with your programming him the way you are right now, he will take it upon himself to be the jester, the fool, the clown in order to bring you back up. So in thirty years from now, if you’re having a bad day, he will feel responsible for it. And when he fails, then what? Who’s going to pick him up? You? But he ‘lives’ for your happiness. His compliance, performance, good moods… it all has meaning –to him– only if it PLEASES you. Do you want that?”

“No. I don’t want that. My mother says stuff like that to me all the time… ‘if it weren’t for you, I don’t know what I’d do…’ and ‘you’re the reason I’m still here… ‘ and ‘You’re the mother I always wanted to be…’ shit like that. It really hurts, because I just desperately want her to be her own person; to own her stuff and make her own life better. It feels claustrophobic after awhile, all that mine and ours stuff…” I said.

I was on to something. Usually my therapist would let me read the tea leaves, come to my own conclusions, but I think when we were dealing with an innocent three-year-old, time was of the essence.

“So instead of saying to him that it makes you so happy when he puts away his toys, you can say, ‘What a good boy you are! You’re putting away your own toys! Doesn’t that feel good when you do the right thing?'” he explained.

It was like the clouds parted. “Oh,” was likely all I could utter.

Suddenly everything seemed to make more sense. Codependence is insidious. It exists on the very basis that you somehow garner your worth based on someone else’s performance, either by implicit statements to the effect or by conditioning through manipulation. When you DON’T do the right thing by someone else, with whom you’re codependent, YIKES:  you hear about it real quick. When you do, the quiet grows to a point where all you’re doing is performing so as to NOT upset the balance; you tip-toe around, fearful of cracking the eggshells because that other person has got you exactly where he wants you: enabling him.

The cycle which inevitably develops is another equally toxic side effect. Suddenly one person is unable to meet the expectations of the other person, and then that disappoints the other person and then guilt ensues and then resentment, dysfunction and all sort of cycles take shape. One person can never be happy enough or quiet enough or sober enough. No one is ever honest.

It is impossible to live inside someone else’s head. And trying to is a shitty way to live. No one else gets blamed or credit (sometimes they’re the same thing) for your good mood or sobriety or mania or addiction. They just don’t.

Here’s one for you: “You Are My Sunshine” — read those lyrics and then tell me that’s not a steaming, heaping serving of codependence stew. Did I ruin that song for you? Did you sing it to your kid all the time? Was it sung to you constantly? Yeah. It’s subtle. Until it’s not. Then you see it everywhere.

I had a boss who did this. When I did what she wanted, she gave me tootsie rolls and called me by a nickname. When I apparently didn’t, when I chose for myself, the tootsie rolls ended and I was given the silent treatment. She was cruel. I knew something was amiss, I just couldn’t put my finger on it. Being raised the way I was meant I was a prime candidate for further ruin, but I eventually figured it out, thanks to neutral third parties.

Our intentions to get people to know how much we value them can be misinterpreted all the time. When we place ourselves in a position of self-worth and self-value, the sense of contentment and satisfaction, at putting away our own toys, will speak for itself. Don’t ever tell anyone your happiness, survival, endurance, humor has anything to do with that person. Because it doesn’t. Their presence might make life easier for you, or more enjoyable, or their perspective might help you see the sun in a different way, but it’s your eyes that you choose to open, it’s your feet you choose to move.

Because here’s the alternative: what about the people who choose to not progress, who choose self-harm, who choose to stay where they are? Is that your doing too?

No. Get yourself out of the way. The goal, my friends, is to have you be your person and the other person be its person and then you have two distinct and perhaps close-to-whole people walking in the same direction.

What’s yours is yours.

Thank you.

Glutton for Masochism and When It Ends


It takes a lot for me to quit anyone as a friend. I have realized that I put up with a lot, mostly because of how I grew up as a child. “You are terrifically loyal” (to a fault) my mother would say, in praise, either in an effort to deepen and reinforce my loyalty to her and her tribulations, or to inspire it from the ether.

I learned this about myself this week. I’ve been sick with bronchitis and a sinus infection and the growth of these maladies was so subtle that I didn’t notice it was happening until I was prone on my bed murmuring, “Oh my God… Oh my God…Oh my God… Oh my God…Oh my God… Oh my God…” through the pain. Through the pressure.

I have often said that of sinus infections (of which I have endured my share), that the time to call in the professionals is when I repeat “Oh my God… Oh my God…” a thousand times (and it ends up sounding like “obygaht… obygaht….” as well as utter the following novel concept of facial reconstruction:

“I want to take a zipper around my face, from below my chin, along my jawline, along my hairline and to the other side to meet at the chin again and unzip my face from my skull. Then, I want to take my face and shake it out and then zip it back up, just so.” (I’ll leave the nasal translation to your imagination: “N” becomes “B,” “D” becomes “HT” and “S” sounds like “Zn.”)

I got so sick I turned into a man.

I got so sick I turned into a man.

This one came out of nowhere, I think. The symptoms in my face were not so horrid until I admitted defeat and said to my husband, “I neeb do zee uh dogtoh.”

“Do you want me to take you?” he asked (he’s awesome).

“Yezdh.” And I barely walked to the car.

When I was finally seen (note to self: wait until AFTER the NFL game kickoff before going to see a doc-in-a-box), the doctor asked me, “Why are you here?”

“Beguzdh I veal lyghe crahb.”

He took one look at my right ear and said, “Feelled all de waiy. Dat ear ees feelled. Oh my. You cahn’t hold anymoh fluid…” (He was a lovely man from a part of the world with lots of consonants and only a few vowels in the last name.) So he went to the other ear and said the same thing. Then said, “Let’s juss looook aht dat sinus, jusss to be shure.”

And then, “Yup.”

So then he did the stethoscope and nodded. “How long you feel like deese? Why you wait sooo long?”

And I said, “Zogger games. I hud du go du my zon’s zogger games.”

“In dis weathuh? No. Not like this.”

I tried to sound convincingly happy… “I made hod cocoah. It’s gud. I drank dat… a lod….”

“Not good enough to beat dhis…” he said, standing up and reaching for his prescription pad. I left that office with three prescriptions. One for antibiotics. One for a nasal steroid and another for sleeping through a cyclone so I don’t cough.

It’s all working magically, this prescription stew. And can I give a shout-out my homie Mucinex D? Holla!!!

So what’s the corollary between a sinus infection & bronchitis and the demise of a friendship / relationship for me? It’s this: I sometimes take a lot of shit from people. I sometimes put up with a lot. And it’s not until the end, when I’m on my face saying “obygaht… obygaht….” that I am ready to admit dysfunction, that the law of diminishing returns is indeed at play in my psychic world. That no amount of GIVING and PATIENCE with people is going to be the salve. That when the proper definition of “compassion” is at play, that we also have compassion for ourselves enough to remove ourselves from the chaos, as well has have compassion enough for the other person to show them what shrews they are being.

And then… when the actions have been verified by a neutral third party as being obscene and horrid (such as in the case of the multiple infections) that I am liberated and allowed to say, “Duh hell wid dhat.” I put up with a lot.

I tried to express this schematic to a person today. A person who grew up in a normal world. A person who didn’t put up with the “let’s make a bull’s eye on your chest” -forming existence that created me today, and she tilted her head and said, “I guess so. I just know that when I feel like crap that I need to rest and take it easy. Or if I have someone in my life who’s treating me like garbage, that I need to take a break or leave.”

“NOT ME!!” I wanted to shout back. “I was one of those people, trained to put up with garbage and crap and stink and then shower and then go back at it again and again… that’s how I ROLL…” but I realized how insane that was. How insane that I ignore my own stink and that I allow the bull’s eye and that I put up with the nonsensical madness of abuse and the small daggers that eventually lead up to my being stabbed or clotheslined.

When I used to hit my threshold, it would just kept inching along, to the point of utter desensitization and then I’d miss all the cues. And then, later, when I’d sit up after being broadsided by the (betrayal / dysfunction / bronchitis) bus I shake my head like Shaggy or Scooby-Doo and say, “Was it something I said?” Still not seeing the damage as not being my fault, or simply as a symptom of taking too much crap.

So it’s like that. That’s the corollary. That’s the allowance we need to give ourselves. I’ve been in a few amazing situations where I’ve hurt people and they’ve welcomed me back. That does not come without a sincere heaping of “I’velearnedmylesson” and a realization that I must be my own person in order to be a good person to someone else. Lots of my actions and biases were fed to me, so it’s no surprise that my tolerance would also be fed to me.

Sometimes, in order to get back to our base, to come back to ourselves, we need to be broadsided after putting up with chronic weirdness due to the thickening of our skin (or our skulls). We need to have sense shaken back INTO ourselves in order to see where we’ve been abused. We need to have a neutral third party look at us and say, “You’re filled all the way. You can’t take anymore. How long have you felt like this? Why do you wait so long?”

Because you think it will get better? Because you hope your friend / S.O. will change?

Screw that. Be the change. I have realized after many years of therapy (oh! the boots I could have instead of the relative sanity!) that when you change yourself in a system, the system inevitably changes. Sometimes we stick around and things improve. Sometimes we stick around and things don’t change at all. Then we know. As long as we’ve changed, as long as we’ve done what we can to improve ourselves, then that’s how the healing begins. We can’t change what isn’t ours.

I’m proof that when you change yourself, the changes happen. When you go to the doctor, when you get the antibiotics, the healing begins. The friendships I had before I got “healthy” emotionally, almost all of them are toast. The ones that changed along with me (my marriage), they’re still around and I’m so glad of it. The ones that stayed where they were despite my changing for the better (for myself), they are in the rearview mirror.

We can only put up with so much for so long.

Thank you.