What Do We Value?


fullsizeoutput_62dThis winter I’ve been spending some time considering the difference between the goals we set and the values we admire. As a life long goal setter and resolution maker, I’m accustomed to the rigidity of goals, the frequent concessions to failure and, when a goal is achieved, the empty sense of wondering “what next?”

I had a recent opportunity, however, to immerse myself in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is a form of therapy that seeks to increase psychological flexibility through acceptance and mindfulness strategies. The technique does not ask for us to eliminate difficult feelings, nor to simply let go of the negative. Instead, ACT supports our being present for life’s sometimes bumpy ride. With ACT we practice being open to difficulty and in that way learn to accept and to not over-react to situations that are unpleasant or emotionally painful.

In ACT, we work to move toward what provides heart and meaning. While setting finite, achievable goals is useful, having an understanding of what truly matters to us – those things that sing in our soul – requires that we have clarity about our values.

Values are about who we want to be in the world. Values are not about what we want from life but what we can offer. They are not rules but qualities that resonate from a place deep within. Knowing what our values are brings life into focus and empowers us to choose how we behave when we are witnesses to pain, injustice or bullying.

What are your values?

In 2018 what can we do to hold our values as we walk through the world? What choices will we make to honor our values?

Resolve and Forgiveness

IMG_1521I was recently asked by the Palo Alto Weekly to write an article about setting New Year’s Resolutions.  I interviewed, via email and phone, several individuals who offered lovely insights.   I want to thank them:  Professional coach Linda Furness, personal trainer Steven Rice, chef Anna Rakoczy from Homemade, Dr. Rebecca Green from Peninsula Integrative Medicine,  Dr. Fred Luskin from Stanford University and Arda, author of the book The Seeker’s Manual. You can click here to see the final piece, which appeared online yesterday and will be in the print edition this Friday.

What the article has to say is important – we can set reasonable goals and make time for home cooking with delicious local ingredients.  We can move our bodies – often and in different ways. We can improve our energy and balance our emotions by spending more time in nature.  All these things will help us achieve the resolutions we set for our physical health and wellness.

The problem is, I write for the food section of the Palo Alto Weekly.  I’m very happy and very grateful to be able to do that.  But it means that my penchant for personal reflection has to be stymied.  And despite my master’s in the subject I have to curtail my instinct to add a transpersonal twist.  These boundaries, I’m certain you can imagine, has put me on a very steep learning curve.  My editors are infinitely patient with me as I study and slowly absorb the techniques required for this type of writing.  Having the facility for putting one word in front of another in a reasonably coherent manner is one thing.  Learning the techniques for thinking and composing as a journalist – while on the job – is another.

The thing is, what I really wanted to write about for the Weekly was forgiveness.  I wanted to answer the question, “How do we, when we slip or fail, forgive ourselves and glean what we are meant to learn from the experience?”  But the article was meant to be about food.  There was no room for forgiveness.

Thank goodness for blogs.  Here’s the rest of the story.

Dr. Fred Luskin, a professor at both Sofia University and Stanford University and author of several books about forgiveness, spoke with me by phone and offered these ideas.  His words landed in my heart like a blessing.  He said, “Making your goals physical or material will never make you happy.  It is not your physical body that determines the quality of your life.” And then he clarified,  “Of course we ARE physical – we need to take care of our bodies and to earn a living.  They are good things but not THE good thing.”

He suggested that if we are going to set a resolution it should be this: Choose to be kinder to yourself and to the people around you.  When there’s a choice, choose that. 

“Give thanks more,” he said, “Rather than demanding more give thanks to people – people are precious, they are impermanent and they are flawed.”

It seems simple but as the article was taking shape and moving away from what I wanted to communicate it was difficult to be grateful.  Difficult to give thanks.  But now that I’ve seen the finished piece on line and have had a chance to reflect I’m exceedingly thankful for the time everyone willingly offered.  I’m grateful for the editing, too, and grateful that I can choose to share Dr. Luskin’s and Arda’s important message on Practically Twisted.

Arda has a coaching and healing practice in Palo Alto.  I interviewed him via email.  Rather than write a summary of that interview, here is a lightly edited transcript:

Q: How do we forgive ourselves when we fail? 

A: We can only forgive ourselves when we understand why we fail. This is a dilemma. We see failure as a negative outcome. As a result, we bash ourselves for failing. Every time we [fall into a pattern of] self-criticism, it moves us away from forgiveness.  Instead, we can use failure as an opportunity to get to know our vulnerable side. When we learn more about who we are and why we do the things the way we do we can accept our failure and forgive ourselves.

For example, if we want to quit smoking, it’s not the act of quitting that will make us achieve our goal. We need to understand that, let’s say, smoking takes away our social anxiety (our vulnerability). Without understanding the underlying reasons of our social anxiety, it will be very difficult to quit smoking. Once we understand and accept the reasons behind our social anxiety, we will be ready to take steps towards quitting. 

Q: Is there a roadmap to self-compassion? 

A: Yes.  The first step is self-awareness. Since we perceive the world through our conditioned lenses, it is important to know how our internal programming, i.e. thought patterns, beliefs, values and fears, affect our perceptions.  Then, the second step is to identify how our life experiences have affected our internal programming. The main component here is to review how our past, i.e. situations and people, has made us who we are today.

With this deeper insight of our personality and our programming, the third and final step is to embrace our life experiences as they are. This opens our hearts to ourselves without judgment and blame and brings understanding and self-compassion.

Q: Is it better to not set goals and never fail, or to have those goals, slip along the way and then pick ourselves up and try again?

A: Setting goals is natural. When we believe that reaching a goal will save us from misery and suffering, the attachment it creates sets false expectations and disappointments.  Setting goals without attachment can only be done when we can connect with our values. As a result, we can focus on the process of achieving a certain goal, instead of viewing goals as end results.  Failing to reach a goal is a valuable experience and growth oriented action and not a reason to avoid goal setting.

And I, for one, am not shy about setting goals.  So here they are: 

In 2016 I’m going practice kindness.  I’m going to be kind to myself, to my partner Ben, to my co-workers.  I’ll even be kind to the guy who cuts me off when I’m driving down Alma Street.  In 2016 I’m going to grateful for every opportunity I have to be more of who I am and for all the opportunities I have to grow, to be humbled and to learn.  I’ll move more in 2016, too.  And I’ll cook nutritious meals at home with local ingredients (I’ve already dusted off the slow cooker for some hearty winter dishes…black eye-pea and kale stew anyone?). 

My biggest goal for 2016?  To be a better writer.  To think like a journalist when that’s what the job requires.  To not be a ‘lazy writer’ – simply throwing words together because I know I can.  To commit myself to the process and to what is being asked of me.

Wishing everyone a joyful, safe and loving New Year.

The One Best Thing

Photo 195I made a mess of this new year. No – I didn’t insist on a long list of resolutions that now lay in shards at my feet. Instead, I overwhelmed myself with good intentions.

Yes, I can see you shaking your heads mournfully and yes, I can even hear a few “tsk tsk’s” and YES, over the past ten days I have realized that setting a course of good intentions is really no different than writing a list of resolutions. And, no, it doesn’t shame me to admit that I have been duped by my very own linguistic chicanery. Am I the only one who has fumbled and fallen? No. I am not.

But I should know by now that racing into any new year with my heart and mind overflowing with promises of change that can’t possibly be kept is a bit like giving me carte blanche at a buffet table. In the same way that I have difficulty controlling my feast or famine impulses when food is involved, it’s challenging at best for me to display any sense of restraint when I begin to write the list of goals I convince myself I need to achieve in order to be the new and improved Mimm OSx55.

We were only nine days into this new year when the unraveling began. The ‘new’ Mimm – the Mimm who rises each morning an hour early to write; the Mimm who keeps a clean diet and has a morning routine that would make the most experienced Ayurveda devotee proud; the Mimm whose asana and meditation practice takes Surya Namaskar to great heights – that new Mimm was frayed and fading fast.

I couldn’t decide which felt worse – knowing I would never be able to sustain the pace I had set for myself (I forgot to mention the neurobiology course that I was enrolled in. Note the past tense.) or knowing that, yet again, I had fooled myself into setting those pesky resolutions in the first place.

But here’s the proof that maybe – just maybe – I’m learning. Yes, I had a minor meltdown and no it didn’t feel great. I wallowed around for an hour or so and then stepped back and took a good look at what I had done.

And smiled.

In my push to be a different version of who I am I’d forgotten that this version really isn’t so bad. While it’s true I struggle with envy, I suck at math and I’ve gained back half of the twenty pounds I lost last summer – I also have some admirable redeeming features. For one – I’m plucky. I have no doubt whatsoever that Chumbawumba wrote the chorus of Tubthumping with me in mind.

And so, embracing my inner pluckiness I asked myself this:

“What is the one best thing I could add to my life this year that would make my spirit sing?”

Just one best thing.

I know my answer but I’m not telling.

And now I’m asking you:

What is your one best thing?











Twelve Months

CIMG2733I didn’t see that one coming.  Looking back over my posts and reading what I was up to twelve months ago I discovered that I failed to write a final farewell to 2012. Not only that, but my last entry for the year espoused the benefits of eating meat.

Really? Seriously. Did not see that one coming.

It just goes to show you. Things change.

Three months later I wrote about my life as the accidental vegan.

By autumn I was a happy vegetarian 98% of the time. And that’s where I’ve settled. For now.

Like I said. Things change.

The year we say goodbye to this week is the year I began graduate school. Graduate school is challenging and I yearn for the day that I will once again read for pleasure.  But I love it.  It’s the year Samyama Yoga Center opened. Teaching at Samyama has changed my practice. Teaching there encourages me to try harder. To be better.

And yet, this was the year I gained and lost twenty pounds. It was the year I broke promises to myself, made new ones to replace the ones I allowed to slide and then broke those promises, too. I didn’t break every promise. But I broke enough of them to notice.

This was, then, the year I tried too hard and didn’t try hard enough. It was the year I found out I can juggle an amazing amount of metaphorical balls and it was the year I found out that sometimes when you drop a few of those balls the world keeps spinning.

In these twelve months I directed a fundraiser and produced a book. I raised money for two local charities. I didn’t do it alone and the process taught me important lessons about community and coöperation.

But at the end of the day, 2013 was a year like any other year. It brought joy and sadness. Excitement and disappointment. Hope and worry. I was fiercely loyal to friends and sometimes mean to acquaintances. I discovered my sense of humor was, on occasion, less funny and more hurtful. But I also discovered that I have a deep well of compassion.

I believe that in a decade’s time when I look back on this year I will say that 2013 was the year I finally had a clear vision of the woman I am meant to be (better late than never). I will say that it was the year I found the path that led me to her and that it was the year I realized it was the path I’d been walking on all along.

Many blessing to you all for a wondrous 2014.