What we say matters

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A running joke in our home involves how often human interest stories on the morning news bring at least one of us to tears. "Did CBS This Morning make you cry again?"

Yesterday they got us both, during an interview with two of President George H.W. Bush's 17 grandchildren. Pierce Bush shared the time he wrecked his grandfather's boat, just after graduating from college.

He recalled, "The next night I also got a lashing from my grandmother. She was always loving, but showed more of a tough love than my grandfather. I could see in his eyes, he could feel how embarrassed I was, how sensitive, my grandmother's words were kind of hitting me. That evening when I went to dinner and I came back home, there was this amazing note… It said, 'Pierce, I remember days when I could do no right, but then I would go to bed and the next day, the sun would embrace me, and all would be okay. You're a good man. You got a bad bounce. All is okay. Life goes on. I love you more than tongue can tell and Ganny does, too. Gampy.' It was just one of those notes that you're almost thankful that the boat incident happened so that you can treasure that. Because it's so valuable."

Our words create our worlds
The former president's response reminded me of Judith Hanson Lasater's What We Say Matters: Practicing Nonviolent Communication and how reading it forever changed the words in my mouth and mind. Simply put, it's about increasing our awareness and extending empathy to ourselves and those around us.

Judith writes, "Using speech as a spiritual practice is the act and art of bringing deeper awareness to our words so they not only connect us with ourselves but also reflect what is truly alive in us. When we do this, we help create the kind of world we want to live in and leave to future generations, because then our words promote life."

If you're interested in learning more about Nonviolent Communication (NVC), Judith's book is where I started. There are also lots of free resources on nonviolentcommunication.com for work and home, like the tip below from NVC's Living Compassion Series

XOm,
Jonathan

"Violent" language? Who, me?
Have you ever sat in a busy airport terminal waiting for your flight and listened to snippets of the conversations going on around you? You might have heard things like: "That's the stupidest idea I ever heard." "Sammy, sit on your bottom or I'll smack you." Or, have you said things such as: "I just hate it when he does that." "She can be such a pain in the neck!"
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Would you consider these statements "violent language"? Marshall Rosenberg writes, "While we may not consider the way we talk to be 'violent,' our words often lead to hurt and pain, whether for ourselves or others."
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Early in his career, Dr. Rosenberg asked himself the question, "What happens to disconnect us from our compassionate nature, leading us to behave violently and exploitatively?"
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It was from answering this question that he developed the Nonviolent Communication process (NVC). These language and communication skills strengthen our ability to remain "human," which Gandhi described as "our natural state of compassion when violence has subsided from the heart."
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Would you enjoy living in a world where everyone was truly human, even under trying conditions? The first step is to observe more closely how you use language.
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Practice suggestion: This week, become more aware of your choice of words and expressions. Become curious to see if there is another less violent way to express yourself.

Our words create our worlds
The former president's response reminded me of Judith Hanson Lasater's What We Say Matters: Practicing Nonviolent Communication and how reading it forever changed the words in my mouth and mind. Simply put, it's about increasing our awareness and extending empathy to ourselves and those around us.

Judith writes, "Using speech as a spiritual practice is the act and art of bringing deeper awareness to our words so they not only connect us with ourselves but also reflect what is truly alive in us. When we do this, we help create the kind of world we want to live in and leave to future generations, because then our words promote life."

If you're interested in learning more about Nonviolent Communication (NVC), Judith's book is where I started. There are also lots of free resources on nonviolentcommunication.com for work and home, like the tip below from NVC's Living Compassion Series

XOm,
Jonathan

"Violent" language? Who, me?
Have you ever sat in a busy airport terminal waiting for your flight and listened to snippets of the conversations going on around you? You might have heard things like: "That's the stupidest idea I ever heard." "Sammy, sit on your bottom or I'll smack you." Or, have you said things such as: "I just hate it when he does that." "She can be such a pain in the neck!"
⠀ 
Would you consider these statements "violent language"? Marshall Rosenberg writes, "While we may not consider the way we talk to be 'violent,' our words often lead to hurt and pain, whether for ourselves or others."
⠀ 
Early in his career, Dr. Rosenberg asked himself the question, "What happens to disconnect us from our compassionate nature, leading us to behave violently and exploitatively?"
⠀ 
It was from answering this question that he developed the Nonviolent Communication process (NVC). These language and communication skills strengthen our ability to remain "human," which Gandhi described as "our natural state of compassion when violence has subsided from the heart."
⠀ 
Would you enjoy living in a world where everyone was truly human, even under trying conditions? The first step is to observe more closely how you use language.
⠀ 
Practice suggestion: This week, become more aware of your choice of words and expressions. Become curious to see if there is another less violent way to express yourself.

Why we say grace

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The holiday season officially shifts into high gear tomorrow, and I feel the least prepared / most relaxed about it. All that savasana is really paying off. This reminder from Anne Lamott, to pause and practice giving thanks, also helps. It might be the secret to making every day the most wonderful time of year.


Counting Our Blessings: Why We Say Grace
by Anne Lamott

We didn’t say grace at our house when I was growing up because my parents were atheists. I knew even as a little girl that everyone at every table needed blessing and encouragement, but my family didn’t ask for it. Instead, my parents raised glasses of wine to the chef: Cheers. Dig in. But I had a terrible secret, which was that I believed in God, a divine presence who heard me when I prayed, who stayed close to me in the dark. So at 6 years old I began to infiltrate religious families like a spy—Mata Hari in plaid sneakers.

One of my best friends was a Catholic girl. Her boisterous family bowed its collective head and said, “Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts. …” I was so hungry for these words; it was like a cool breeze, a polite thank-you note to God, the silky magnetic energy of gratitude. I still love that line.

I believed that if your family said grace, it meant you were a happy family, all evidence to the contrary. But I saw at certain tables that an improvised grace could cause friction or discomfort. My friend Mark reports that at his big southern childhood Thanksgivings, someone always managed to say something that made poor Granny feel half dead. “It would be along the lines of ‘And Lord, we are just glad you have seen fit to keep Mama with us for one more year.’ We would all strain to see Granny giving him the fisheye.”

I noticed some families shortened the pro forma blessing so they could get right to the meal. If there were more males than females, it was a boy chant, said as one word: “GodisgreatGodisgoodletusthankHimforourfoodAmen.” I also noticed that grace usually wasn’t said if the kids were eating in front of the TV, as if God refused to listen over the sound of it.

And we’ve all been held hostage by grace sayers who use the opportunity to work the room, like the Church Lady. But more often, people simply say thank you—we understand how far short we must fall, how selfish we can be, how self-righteous, what brats. And yet God has given us this marvelous meal.

It turns out that my two brothers and I all grew up to be middle-aged believers. I’ve been a member of the same Presbyterian church for 27 years. My older brother became a born-again Christian—but don’t ask him to give the blessing, as it can last forever. I adore him, but your food will grow cold. My younger brother is an unconfirmed but freelance Catholic.

So now someone at our holiday tables always ends up saying grace. I think we’re in it for the pause, the quiet thanks for love and for our blessings, before the shoveling begins. For a minute, our stations are tuned to a broader, richer radius. We’re acknowledging that this food didn’t just magically appear: Someone grew it, ground it, bought it, baked it; wow.

We say thank you for the miracle that we have stuck together all these years, in spite of it all; that we have each other’s backs, and hilarious companionship. We say thank you for the plentiful and outrageous food: Kathy’s lox, Robby’s bûche de Noël. We pray to be mindful of the needs of others. We savor these moments out of time, when we are conscious of love’s presence, of Someone’s great abiding generosity to our dear and motley family, these holy moments of gratitude. And that is grace.

Anne Lamott’s book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, is in stores now.

Real happiness for $1.99

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The first two books I ever read about mindfulness and meditation were 10% Happier by Dan Harris (thanks for the rec, Wattsy!) and Real Happiness by Sharon Salzberg. In hindsight, I'm sensing a real theme here hehe.

Four years later, I still look to these books for advice. Like this from Sharon:


"Mindfulness isn't difficult, we just need to remember to do it."

And this:

"Meditation is like going into an old attic room and turning on the light. In that light we see everything - the beautiful treasures we're grateful to have unearthed; the dusty, neglected corners that inspire us to say, "I'd better clean that up"; the unfortunate relics of the past that we thought we had gotten rid of long ago. We acknowledge them all, with an open, spacious, and loving awareness.

"It's never too late to turn on the light. Your ability to break an unhealthy habit or turn off an old tape doesn't depend on how long it's been running; a shift in perspective doesn't depend on how long you've held the old view. When you flip the switch in that attic, it doesn't matter whether it's been dark for ten minutes, ten years, or ten decades. The light still illuminates the room and banishes the murkiness, letting you see things you couldn't see before. It's never too late to take a moment to look."

If reading this lights something inside you, maybe it's your time to learn more. You could start where I did. As I write to you, the Kindle edition of Real Happiness, which comes with audio files of guided meditations by Sharon, is on sale for $1.99. Did it just get a little brighter?

Here for you,
Jonathan

Be your purpose

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Marianne Williamson is my adult-life guidance counselor. In her books and weekly talks, she reminds me to be brave and kind and to relax.

I started Marianne’s new teacher training program this week, and a student asked about purpose and ambition. Only one question was asked, but many were answered. I hope this helps you too.

How did you find your greater purpose?

Marianne Williamson: "Your purpose is to be the woman that God would have you be in any moment. There is no other purpose. There is nothing greater.

"We all have the same purpose, and that is to be the faucet for the divine waters to flow through. You’re not the water. You’re the faucet.

"What is special about you doesn’t come through when you’re trying to be special. These thought forms [trying to be special or unique] are very insidious.

"And today the problem is that they’re in vogue. Find your purpose? There is nothing to find. It’s be your purpose. Because 'find' implies I don’t have it, but I will find it. It’s out there, which is just a sly way the ego has of keeping you out of the present moment.

"I know what my purpose is. Yes, it has been revealed to me. [My purpose is] talking to you in this moment. I know where I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m supposed to be here. How do I know? ‘Cause I am here. That’s how you know."

XOm,
Jonathan

Practice suggestion: Five-minute fix

Open for experience with compassionate abiding

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When my dogdaugher Rory realizes we're getting ready to leave the apartment without her, she runs to the kitchen and eats her feelings. All of them. An entire bowl of kibble. Gone in 60 seconds. She hates it when our pack parts ways. How do you handle unwanted feelings? Do you devour them too? Or drown them? Maybe you deny them altogether? Pema Chödrön offers us another option, compassionate abiding.

Pema Chödrön: "How can we start exactly where we are, with all our entanglements, and still develop unconditional acceptance of ourselves [maitri] instead of guilt and depression? One of the most helpful methods I’ve found is the practice of compassionate abiding. This is a way of bringing warmth to unwanted feelings. It is a direct method for embracing our experience rather than rejecting it. So the next time you realize that you’re hooked—that you’re stuck, finding yourself tightening, spiraling into blaming, acting out, obsessing—you could experiment with this approach.

"Contacting the experience of being hooked, you breathe in, allowing the feeling completely and opening to it. The in-breath can be deep and relaxed—anything that helps you to let the feeling be there, anything that helps you not push it away. Then, still abiding with the urge and edginess of feelings such as craving or aggression, as you breathe out you relax and give the feeling space. The outbreath is not a way of sending the discomfort away but a way of ventilating it, of loosening the tension around it, of becoming aware of the space in which the discomfort is occurring.

"This practice helps us to develop maitri because we willingly touch parts of ourselves that we’re not proud of. We touch feelings that we think we shouldn’t be having—feelings of failure, of shame, of murderous rage; all those politically incorrect feelings like racial prejudice, disdain for people we consider ugly or inferior, sexual addiction, and phobias. We contact whatever we’re experiencing and go beyond liking or disliking by breathing in and opening. Then we breathe out and relax. We continue that for a few moments or for as long as we wish, synchronizing it with the breath. This process has a leaning-in quality. Breathing in and leaning in are very much the same. We touch the experience, feeling it in the body if that helps, and we breathe it in.

"In the process of doing this, we are transmuting hard, reactive, rejecting energy into basic warmth and openness. It sounds dramatic, but really it’s very simple and direct. All we are doing is breathing in and experiencing what’s happening, then breathing out as we continue to experience what’s happening. It’s a way of working with our negativity that appreciates that the negative energy per se is not the problem. Confusion only begins when we can’t abide with the intensity of the energy and therefore spin off. Staying present with our own energy allows it to keep flowing and move on. Abiding with our own energy is the ultimate nonaggression, the ultimate maitri."

XOm, 
Jonathan

Excerpted from Unlimited Friendliness: Three steps to genuine compassion by Pema Chödrön

Savasana saved my life

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Not long ago, Ariel and I were in the car on our way to pick up the skeleton man from Washington Heights when she asked if I’d like to write an article for the Tune Up Fitness blog during “Relaxation Month.”

Without hesitating, I answered, “Yes, Savasana saved my life.”

Savasana is the “going home” pose. It’s an opportunity to practice relaxing into who you are. Looking back now, my pre-Savasana past kinda feels like an out-of-body dream.

"But it wasn't a dream," as one of my very first teachers, Dorothy Gale, says. "It was a place. And you and you and you...and you were there. I remember some of it wasn't very nice, but most of it was beautiful--but just the same all I kept saying to everybody was ‘I want to go home,’ and they sent me home! Toto, we're home! Home. And this is my room, and you're all here and I'm not going to leave here ever, ever again. Because I love you all. And... Oh Auntie Em! There's no place like home!”

XOm,
Jonathan

How Savasana Saved My Life: Relaxation Techniques to Overcome Pain

 

 Painting: Deitado by Feikehara Yantra

Love, Jonathan

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On the plane home last night, the sweet person next to me was watching Love, Simon. I couldn’t remember how it ends, so I occasionally glanced at her screen to find out who Blue was. Luckily I was also looking when Simon comes out to his mom. As I read their lips, my neighbor and I wiped our eyes, and I flashed back to a scene from my life, the time I almost came out to my mom.

It was late at night. Mom and I were sitting in the car in our driveway. In the pause between summoning my courage and the words leaving my body, she shared something personal and important to her. It was her night to speak. My time would come again soon.

Mom passed away before I got another chance. One of my first thoughts after she died was “now she knows all of me” and I felt a wave of love that almost knocked me over.

Memories are magical and mysterious and embedded with wisdom. I’m constantly amazed by how much more I understand myself when I gently ask my thoughts, “What would you have me learn?” Most of the time, it is forgiveness.

We don’t all get a coming out story like Simon, but there is healing in acknowledging we deserve it. It’s also been helpful for me to imagine the way I prayed it would go. It’s an endless opportunity to embody the experience of my mother’s love again and make it real. Now, when I give Mom and me our moving-picture-perfect moment, she says what Simon’s said:

“I need you to hear this. You are still you, Jonathan. You are still the same son I love…. You get to exhale now, Jonathan. You get to be more you than you have been in a very long time. You deserve everything you want.”

Photo by: Twentieth Century Fox/ Ben Rothstein

Living with spaciousness

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Pop quiz: If the 22 bus to Yoga Tree takes 40 minutes and Relax and Renew®️ training starts at 12:30 p.m., why did I leave the house at 11 a.m.?

Answer: Yutori!

I’ve been practicing yutori for years. But I didn’t know its name until the most recent Office Hours on Pratyahara with Judith and Lizzie Lasater. 

I love how the poet Naomi Shihab Nye describes yutori. After a recent trip to Japan, she remembers, “A girl wrote me a note in Yokohama on the day that I was leaving her school that has come to be the most significant note any student has written me in years. She said, “Well, here in Japan, we have a concept called ‘yutori.’” And it is spaciousness. It’s a kind of living with spaciousness. For example, it’s leaving early enough to get somewhere so that you know you’re going to arrive early, so when you get there, you have time to look around.”

Do yutori too? 

NYC to RLX

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Friends!

I’ve landed safely in San Francisco. I’m out here for the next week with flowers in my hair studying Restorative yoga with two of my favorite people, Judith and Lizzie Lasater. I can’t wait to share with you what I learn.

In the meantime, if you're looking for a late summer book rec, check out the ones Judith suggested we read to prepare for this training. I’ve found in their pages answers to some of the questions I’ve been searching all my life, a few I didn’t even know to ask.

Relax and Renew® Level 2 Reading List

Can I leave you with another thing to read? I promise it's real quick. My friend Jordan just sent it to me, and it's my new favorite quote. Actually, it's more than that. It's why I'm in San Francisco and why I'm writing to you right now.

Pema Chodron: “Times are difficult globally; awakening is no longer a luxury or an ideal. It's becoming critical. We don't need to add more depression, more discouragement, or more anger to what's already here. It's becoming essential that we learn how to relate sanely with difficult times. The earth seems to be beseeching us to connect with joy and discover our innermost essence. This is the best way that we can benefit others.”

I hope you feel it too.

Here for you,
Jonathan

Bikingkindness

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I’ve biked all around NYC (1636 miles at last count) on the saddle of this heavenly creature, Pietr VanMoof. And ever since Sharon Salzberg taught me how to send lovingkindness to my fellow commuters, the distances we travel are also part of my daily spiritual practice.

What’s God got to do with it? For starters, the lovingkindness prayer reminds me to see others (and myself) through eyes of love instead of fear.

May you be happy.

May you be safe.

May you be peaceful.

May you live with ease.

Try it out tomorrow! The proof is in the pedalin’.

 My first set of training wheels

My first set of training wheels