Trust your goodness

I listened to a refreshing interview with meditation teacher Tara Brach today, and she mentioned this in passing.

Trust your goodness.

Do you??

If you’re interested in Buddhist psychology, Tara’s work is a perfect place to start. This year is the 20th anniversary of her book Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With The Heart Of A Buddha, and it’s a game-changer.

I’m always amazed by how revelatory and mind-blowing a statement like this feels for folks who grew up in religious traditions that emphasize original sin.

Trust your goodness.

It’ll change your life.

A quiet corner of Chicago O’Hare

I had a six-hour layover in Chicago, so did what any yoga teacher would do: wandered the terminal until I found a deserted corner and then plopped my ass on the floor for a few surreptitious stretches. Ahhh. A necessary balm for the 21-hour journey.

Des Moines International was quieter. The tiny airport felt like all sky, and old carpet, and silence.

I was in Iowa last weekend, unexpectedly, for a heartbreaking family funeral. There is immeasurable suffering in the world right now — Gaza, Israel, Maine — but this slice of heartbreak was particularly tragic, for its youth. I was so grateful to be able to make the trip, and to spend hours in community and conversation with my family — in the same time zone, for once.

Distance from loved ones is one of the hardest parts about living abroad. I think there’s a perception that expat life is all roses, all the time; so many people have casually remarked about our “life in paradise” over the years. It is often wonderful, yes. And I know I’ve subconsciously not shared a lot about our life here in Switzerland out of fear of people resenting me, especially in those first few years when Trump was still President and we had managed to escape, when so many others wished for the same and couldn’t.

But this is one hard thing. Wanting to be with your people when they’re suffering, and being so damn far away. I was fortunate to be able to return this time around. But I feel increasingly aware of those inevitable realities of life that Buddhist teachings highlight so clearly: illness, aging, and death. They come for all of us. And they are as much a part of life as the highlight-reel moments.

Yoga and meditation are practices designed to work with suffering, both in body and mind. They’ve been largely co-opted by Shiny Happy People wearing stretchy workout gear and spouting bullshit about abundance and manifestation. But thankfully, these practices go so much deeper than that.

I love how portable they are. A towel on the hotel room floor for a yoga mat. Legs up the wall in Terminal 5. Box breathing on the plane.

Atha yoga anusasanam. Now is (always) the time for the yoga to begin.

Be like water

My favorite mantra of the last few years. We can thank Taoism for this one. ✨

Be like water. 💧

Go with the flow.

Don’t get attached to one place, or state. 🌊

When you bump into something hard (say, a rock mid-river) stay malleable, take a deep breath, and just flow amiably around it. 🪵

Pour your whole self into the space you’re in, whatever the size. ☕️

Stay soft.

Shapeshift to suit the season (ice, water, steam) — but always stay elementally the same. 🧊

Bend, don’t break.

Rinse off the dust. 🚿

Nurture the living. 🌻

Stay close to things that grow. 🌱

Everything is temporary

This is the most bittersweet time of year to be an expat. 🥺 Jobs change, contracts end, and people pack their families up to leave as soon as the school year ends.

Over the last few years, we’ve sent dear friends off to Ghana, Dubai, Singapore, England, Spain, France, Canada, Malaysia, Sweden, and more. Our little village just keeps churning.

Right now, folks are frantically selling off their cars and sofas and lighting fixtures — getting as physically light as possible so that they can return less expensively to their home countries, or move on to the next job somewhere else.

Being an expat means that your life abroad is tied to a job — and when that job ends, so does your permission to stay. But the folks you meet along the way become your immediate family, since none of you have blood family within hundreds (or thousands) of miles.

So living in an international community, you get really good at sad goodbyes, and super quick with warm hellos, and plan your life in weeks or months instead of years, as you all constantly hover in that liminal space of wondering: when will it be our turn? Should we bother hanging art on the walls?

The truth is, though, of course: everything is temporary. Living an expat life, this reality is exacerbated every single day. You know it won’t last forever. So you try to enjoy it while you can.

In places like where I grew up — Nebraska — a lot of people are born, stay for high school and college, settle in as adults, and spend their whole lives in the same community. It can be easy to forget, there amidst the illusion of permanence and safety, that even this is all temporary, too.

I like to think that, as bittersweet as this expat churn is, the “loving and leaving” that is our regular experience is just living deeply in relationship with the Buddhist and yogic teachings of impermanence.

That all things arise, change, and fade away.

Like an ocean wave. 

And when you know this, you become still. 

Let’s weave it together, breath by breath, pose by pose

I hope my yoga and meditation classes might bring you back home to the truth that your childhood religious experiences may have taken from you: that, at heart,

🪷 You are whole.

🪷 Your body is good.

🪷 You can trust it.

🪷 Your spirit is wise.

🪷 Your heart is vast and spacious, far beyond any particular tradition.

🪷 Our lives are impermanent and fleeting, and we’re all gonna die, so we might as well cut the crap and learn how to really do this thing well while we’re here.

🪷 You and I and all of us are caught up in an interconnected interfaith web of being that no toxic patriarchal theology can take away.

Let’s weave it together, breath by breath, pose by pose.

Start from the belief that you are good

There’s a great new series of interviews this week on parenting (and re-parenting ourselves) with clinical psychologist @drbeckyatgoodinside over on Glennon Doyle’s podcast. I listened and nodded my head throughout.

For anyone who’s interested in raising well-adjusted children who don’t have to unlearn toxic theology later on, it’s full of gems. 

When you were a little kid growing up in the church, did you learn that you were broken and a sinner? Destined to be separate from God because you kept falling short? Yeah, that’s lots of us. 🙋‍♀️ Hashtag #christianity. Even with very loving and well-intended parents, toxic Christian theology subtly infused the idea that we were naturally depraved, our flesh was sinful, and our desires were not to be trusted.

I love Dr. Becky‘s core emphasis that children are naturally GOOD, and we should treat them as though they are good inside, even when they’re having a hard time (aka what some people like to call “misbehaving” — btw, I hate this word.). The same assumption of goodness goes for you and me, and even that co-worker who drives you mad, or the ex who broke your heart.

This spirit, of course, aligns with the fundamental Buddhist notion of basic goodness. And, as Glennon mentions in the interview, it completely contradicts the Christian notion of original sin many of us church kids have had to unlearn over the years.

Give it a listen. 🎧 I’m a big fan of this wholehearted parenting approach and love how it dovetails with Buddhist and yoga philosophy.

It’s all connected, folks. ✨

What is the shape of your suffering?

The thing that first drew me to Buddhism was its honesty about the fact that sometimes, well, life just sucks. And that’s how it is. For everyone.

It was so refreshing. 🌱

Eighteen years ago today I sat in the front pew with my family for my dad’s funeral. It was a grand and sweeping celebration of life that he had planned out himself, complete with soaring hymns and a sanctuary full of kind, devoted Lutherans who’d been like family to us throughout his years of campus ministry.

To be honest, I don’t remember much of the wake the day before, or the lunch afterward, or any of that week — it’s all a smoky haze of grief.

But I do remember, very clearly, the Christian platitudes that came our way, about how he “was in a better place” and “God had a new angel” and “it was part of God’s plan,” and how they all felt supremely spiritual bypass-y, as well-intentioned as they were.

That spring, I was taking a course in my graduate program on Buddhism in Contemporary America. It became a beacon; a solace.

The Buddhist teaching that “Life is suffering” (aka the First Noble Truth) felt like the only honest thing in that season of grief.

It gave me such quiet comfort to know that even this most unfair of losses — my young father, lost to cancer at age 58; me only 26, witnessing my peers cherish decades with their not-dead parents — was in fact just a part of being alive. A normal, universal aspect of this whole being human and having a body thing.

So that was the shape of my suffering back in May 2005, which, of course, brought me to yoga, and to meditation, and a life devoted to living and sharing these practices. 

What’s the shape of yours? It ebbs and flows over time, of course — from loss and death to aging and disappointment, uncertainty and malaise, the job you wanted and didn’t get, the love you found and lost, the child you wanted and never got, or the being you adore whose own suffering breaks your heart.

Suffering is baked-in to the human experience. The sooner we can be real about that, and connect on that level, dropping the bullshit small talk and really diving in together, the sooner we’ll find a flash of peace amidst the shadows. 

Chop wood, carry water

Wash the dishes, fold the laundry, clean the toilets, make the bed: all of those unsexy, stereotypically “women’s work” kinds of household chores. Ugh, right?

Well, Zen Buddhism says: f*ck yeah!! Scrub the toilets! That’s what it’s all about!! Enlightenment is never anywhere but right here, in our breathing, heaving, sweating, scrubbing bodies.

These menial tasks can be a pain in the ass, or they can be moving meditations. You decide.

Most importantly: our bodies are central to the whole deal. White patriarchal Christianity encourages us to leave them by the wayside. Don’t.

Let these Zen perspectives remind you that embodiment resides at the heart of everything holy — where everything sacred begins.

Gentle

And I don’t mean gentle yoga. (Love me an athletic, ass-kicking vinyasa class.) Gentle with your body. Gentle with your heart. Gentle every time you blow it or run into that meeting sweaty and late or fall out of the pose or say that super awkward thing that makes you cringe every time you think of it for the next ten years.

Gentle with your whole self. Gentle with the world around you. Gentle with not knowing what comes next.

Buddhism gave me this word. As an early twentysomething, I was very good at being hard on myself; most of us are. Especially when you grow up in a religion that proclaims you destined to fall short of the glory of God, sinful and unworthy, broken, “a wretch like me” (thanks, Amazing Grace. You kinda suck.)

In such stark contrast — compassion lies at the heart of meditation and yoga practices. Compassion for self; compassion for your suffering, very human body; compassion for all beings; compassion for the world.

And when your heart begins to spin on the axis of compassion instead of confession, gentleness instead of guilt, everything softens; everything opens.

Try it. Just try being gentle with yourself. Nobody ever got where they wanted to by beating themself up. I promise.

Maybe, just maybe, compassion will get you there instead. 

(PS — if you want to dive further into this, check out the wonderful work on self-compassion being done by Kristin Neff. She’s setting the standard in so many graceful, life-giving ways.)

Spare

I just finished reading Prince Harry’s autobiography.  (This is the German version in a bookstore downtown — note the Deutsch name.)

It was fascinating, and heartbreaking, and overwhelmingly human, and full of death. In spite of all the very-real spoils of wealth and empire and colonialism and blue-blood privilege, the guy has suffered massively.

Reading his story reminded me of the Buddhist teaching of the First Noble Truth, that quiet, frank reality that life is full of suffering, and our response to that pervasive suffering (or our resistance to it) is what determines the quality of our days.

I remember playing with Princess Di Barbie dolls as a little girl, and watching the news of her tragic death on TV in late August 1997, as I moved into my first college dorm. I remember reading People Magazine stories as a teen, gossipy profiles characterizing Harry as the wild one, the naughty one, the one who couldn’t seem to get his shit together. So it was fascinating to see him debunk so many of the supposed truths of his childhood — “truths” that the media had literally created out of thin air. The poor guy has been chased his whole life; treated like an animal in the zoo, a cash cow for paparazzi and shady journalists alike. 

These days, our house is blessedly-free of princess culture; I’m grateful to have a son who doesn’t give a shit about royalty or princess stories or any of that fairy tale hoo-ha. The way American culture saturates children (girls, in particular) with cringeworthy princess mythology makes me nauseous. It’s no wonder everyone assumes “royalty” live a perfect, pain-free existence. It’s aspirational bullshit. This guy certainly hasn’t.

Since Harry’s book release, I’ve so enjoyed seeing this embodied, grounded, warm adult version of himself moving through the world. His The Late Show with Stephen Colbert interview was especially poignant; knowing that Colbert also lost a parent young in a tragic plane crash gave their easy conversation a bittersweet undertone.

Cheers to this dude.  It hasn’t been all roses — but he seems to have really done the work. I hope he and his little family find room to breathe in the years to come.