In The Wisdom of No Escape, there's a chapter where Pema Chodron talks about three useful qualities for life and for meditation: precision, gentleness, and letting go.
I've been consciously living with the nine principles of Breema lately, and I've noticed how precision, gentleness, and letting go are a useful way to greet any practice, old or new.
For example, one of the Breema principles is "No Judgment."
When you begin to study and practice "No Judgment", the first thing you notice is how much judgment is in your mind already.
"No Judgment" brings your attention first to the judgment that's there. Which means, you begin to identify judgment as judgment. That's precision. You may notice as a new student of something, you like to be very precise. So every time you see your mind judging, you say to yourself, "Damn it, I'm judging again! Why am I so judgmental? I need to stop judging so much." And you feel the assault on yourself beginning to happen.
This is the moment when gentleness can enter in. You have an opportunity to practice gentleness, or to continue the assault. Gentleness gives you the opportunity to take a different attitude toward yourself, even as you see, with precision, what is going on. Gentleness encourages you to just see, without extra attacks or criticism or labeling. In other words, no need to judge your judgment. Be gentle with yourself as you begin to see clearly. Just see what is, with no extra.
Letting go is the final practice, and it is the result of practicing both precision and gentleness. Letting go is not something to achieve or do, but is a natural unfolding of both precision and gentleness practiced together. When you play with these qualities of precision and gentleness, dance with them back and forth, and then gradually see that they are both happening all at once, there is a feeling of letting go. Neither precision nor gentleness has to "win". There is no final state to achieve. There is no superior way to be.
Letting go is a sensation of relief. That it's not all such a big deal. That we definitely need to practice, but part of the practice is also to let it all go. Letting go is not a "Forget about trying, I'll just give up" kind of feeling, but rather a smiling recognition that no one needs to win or lose, not even the more or less enlightened parts of your own mind. It's a kind of relaxation into the present, a return to what is, and a feeling that our attached thoughts are not who we are. A knowing that our true essence is something much lighter, and also more timeless than any thought or practice.
Maybe it was the flyer announcing my talk at Stanford Medical School in a few weeks (finally making it feel real...and making me feel proud of the creative thinking I've been doing on this subject).
Maybe it was seeing the pile of STUFF in my house, moved out of the Cradle of Manifestation, prompting me to revisit what's really taking up the space in my drawers and closets.
Maybe it was the invitation to have dinner this Friday with a couple of doctors who have transitioned out of medicine themselves (making me feel one step closer to finding My People).
Maybe it was finally telling the truth out loud to myself and to a compassionate witness about what I feel in my heart (and experiencing the expansion that came with it).
Maybe it was all of the above.
Whatever it was, I finally know what I need to do, even though I have no idea how it's going to play out or if anyone will even care. But I know enough to trust this particular feeling of knowing. It's not a rational linear mind kind of knowing. It's a whole body energy clearing kind of knowing.
- My physician burnout and wellness resources page - I'll be adding to this, but it's a great place to start if you're curious about the problem, the stories of real physicians, and what people are doing about it. Visit the resource page here>>
- All new Name Your Price coaching - I'm most giddy and excited about this brand new experiment, launching next week. I just want to get more coaching love out there. I remember when I had no idea what coaching was, and didn't believe it could do anything for me, until I actually experienced it myself. So I want to pass on that gift to you! For two hours a week, I'll be offering my services on a first-come, first-served basis, and you get to name your own price. Perfect for those of you who are curious about coaching and open to it, but just not ready to make the commitment to one of my other individual coaching options right now. Learn more about it here>>
- The Whole Person Retreat for Women - Saturday April 9th at Stillheart Institute in Woodside, CA. I'm guest facilitating music improvisation and sound healing as part of an enriching day with the wonderful women Eliska Meyers and Johanna Beyer. Find out more details here>>
That's all for now. After some good time and space appreciating the openness, it's nice to witness the arrival of what's next. Hope to see and hear from you soon!
It's been just over a year now since I stepped with clarity into the next phase of my life by leaving a business I came to California to create, back in 2004. I've told the story so many times that it may seem like "old news" to some of you, but for me, that one decision was a *huge* step. It cleared the way for so much magic that has emerged - through effort and spontaneous creativity, guided by intention and enabled by practice - over the past year.
Last week I went through the embodied steps of letting go - moving all the physical items out of the Cradle of Manifestation after acknowledging that a 1,800-square-foot facility no longer matched the life I am creating. In the process, I've come face-to-face with so many of my deeply held beliefs and default patterns.
I believed that being a "responsible" person - a piece of my identity I held tightly as a symbol of my worthiness to occupy space on this planet - meant putting other people's needs ahead of my own, no matter what the cost.
In my work, this was expressed as taking full responsibility for all outcomes associated with the people I was involved with - which translated into poor delegation, inability to trust other people's skills and ways of doing things, and the result of preferring to do everything on my own, so it would be perfect. Ultimately, I experienced exhaustion and burnout as the destination on this path.
After I crossed the hurdle of actually setting a boundary, saying "no more" to my own business (which, at the time, was the only path I felt drawn to), and risking the disappointment of other people (which, at the time, was my greatest and most paralyzing fear), the same belief expressed itself as a firm resolve in my mind to continue paying rent on my office space simply because I had signed a lease, and that was that. An agreement was an agreement, with no room for discussion. I was a person who kept my word. But living by those old rules under the new circumstance of starting a business from scratch in a new industry translated to prioritizing my landlords' needs over my own, which I did for an entire year. I dutifully and silently wrote each check and made sure it arrived before the first of every month. For an entire year.
I was silently proving to myself my own worth as a "responsible" person (daughter, girl), but in fact I was not honoring myself or my fledgling business fully.
It took me all those months to finally realize it. In the meantime, I learned and practiced other valuable skills - like making up a new offering each month, playing and experimenting without needing to be perfect, and learning to teach from a place of total peace. My default pattern gave me the gift of valuable practice in honing my craft, and discovering more of what I have to offer.
And now I realize that I do not need those particular four walls in order to be who I am or share what I have to give. In fact, I'm excited about the possibilities of teaching in retreat settings and other community spaces.
I'm writing this as I am going through one of those very courageous times - a time when I am sometimes confused, sometimes at peace, sometimes wanting to jump out of my skin, and sometimes wanting to just walk away from it all. And by being in it, staying with it more deeply than perhaps ever before in my life, I see that I never learned how to take things apart. I learned a lot and focused a lot of my attention on how to build things. How to start things. How to keep them going consistently and steadily.
But I never saw a graceful possibility for finishing things. It was always with regret or disappointment or reluctance that I saw the adults in my life let go, move on, or stop doing things. In my mind, I made it mean that these things - letting go, moving on, or stopping - were bad, or at least to be avoided at all costs.
What I'm choosing to teach myself through this experience is that loss doesn't have to be tragic. Loss can be embraced and walked through with the same energy of acceptance and welcoming as that with which we greet our gains. I'm asking and living the question, "What would it be like to walk through loss with the same welcoming smile, to approach it with the same intention of gaining familiarity, to extend it the hospitality we offer so willingly to what we consider the "good" things?" And by "good", I usually mean the things I wanted or believed were supposed to happen, of course.
I am walking through that loss right now, opening up space and freeing myself to serve and share more. But I notice that the opening only happens by being willing to learn. In other words, to do that whole "celebrate your failures", "be prepared to be surprised", "be curious about everything", improvisation thing. And you thought I had already learned this stuff so it should be easy now? Ha! My rational mind would like to avoid discomfort just as much as it always has. Parts of my brain will always be wired to avoid the unknown. The difference now is that I have a deeper awareness to guide me toward those things I once avoided, in spite of what my mind has to say. And I recognize the tiny moments where I get to practice letting go, taking things apart, moving on. I embrace them as gifts to get better at the things I never knew how to do before, and to grow into more of the person I can become.
These videos capture snapshots of the journey I took during the physical part of the process. I could think of these as the final gestures in a year of events I could not have planned, predicted, or even known to ask for. I simply held a vision of what my inner life would feel like, and practiced emptying space in my mind to allow that life to enter, moment by moment.
Or I could think of these as the first tiny expressions of a whole new way of relating to my stuff - the furniture, the obligations, the way my business needs to operate. After a year of practice, I am developing a whole new way of using my precious attention.
And so what once seemed unimaginable, or impossibly hard, I finally completed last week. I did the thing I thought I could not do.
And now I am resting. I am allowing myself to just sit with myself. To remember to breathe for myself and be thankful for every single sweet drink of fresh air I inhale.
Part 1 was shot just after the furniture consignment center came to pick up my piano, desk, credenza, chairs, and file cabinets - the pieces I once picked out by hand and then dreaded having to figure out how to move.
Part 2 was shot after clearing out my two-drawer lateral file cabinet, filled with all the pieces of paper I created during the five and half years of my school. After more than a year of not looking at these, it was amazing (and shocking) to see how much mental energy went into my planning and controlling and accounting for every single detail of every concert my students presented. What looked like a "tightly run ship" or "extremely organized" or "perfection" on the outside, I now recognize as the anatomy of a burnout for me.
Part 3 shows my progress of sorting things into "piles" on the end of day 1:
Part 4 was shot on the morning of day 2:
Part 5 shows the final empty space I left behind:
And finally, a shot of the pile I brought into my home...and am tackling a little bit each day:
Even though I have found a place to store and/or organize many items in my home, I have noticed that so many of these items are ones I don't need or love anymore. At one time, they held an important place in my life. At one time, they were useful to me. At one time, they were needed on a regular basis.
But how about now? I have undergone three major career changes in my life, and have lived in five different cities over the past twelve years. I have had an underlying assumption that my life "should" be constantly expanding in size. An unexamined belief that progress and growth means accumulation of things. I have full closets that I haven't touched in several years. And while my mind and body and spirit are trying to move in a new direction, the weight of these untouched contents is becoming palpable.
For most of my life, I've had no model for how to eliminate things gracefully, naturally, and without guilt. Growing up, everything my family ever lost in life - whether it was a person, an opportunity, or a possession - was greeted with some degree of regret and disappointment. I was never taught to see the gift of loss.
Well, as part of my current learning and playing and exploring the realm of creativity, I am discovering that elimination is a necessary part of the cycle of creativity and life. I am learning to embrace the universal law of nature that life is cyclical, not linear. We are taught how to "move up" and "push forward", but we are seldom taught how to rest, renew, and eliminate....in effect, how to create space for the arrival of what's ready to come.
I've experienced this metaphorically in several arenas - letting go of a professional path, letting go of a certain geography, letting go of owning a home, letting go of a wardrobe, letting go of a business I created, letting go of my need to tell other people what to do, letting go of my need to know the answer all the time.
My life keeps teaching me that it's OK - necessary, actually - to keep letting go, because each time I do, more peace and more freedom are revealed to me.
Right now? The lesson is letting go of a lease obligation. Letting go of furniture I chose personally and bought brand new, things I loved at the time but no longer need.
It's huge. So huge that I can't articulate all the lessons I'm learning. To do so would block me from fully experiencing what I'm living through right now.
Someday I"ll have more to say, but for now here are 3 short videos from a recent visit to one of my closets at home.
Part 1 of 3:
I've never been a New Year's Resolution person, but every year on December 31, I take time to reflect on the previous year and write down what I remember. I focus on things like what I learned, how I grew, and the events that were most meaningful for me.
This past year was a particularly abundant year of growth and change for me. Last December 31, I finally felt clear and took the step of writing a letter to the thirty families in my violin school, announcing to them that within two weeks, the school would come to an end. While I had no idea what would unfold as a result of that action, I was absolutely clear about my intention of letting go in order to move into the next phase of my life and accept whatever it would bring me.
It was an act of trust. My self-proclaimed commitment, or theme, for 2010, was to live from my Core of Peace. To experience life, perhaps for the first time, from a new, unfamiliar place called Peace.
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This year, as the end of 2010 approaches, I face another opportunity to grow in my trust. I realized, slowly over the past several months, that it was time to face letting go again. This time it was letting go of a lease that no longer makes sense for the business and life I am creating. It took me an entire year of holding on, experimenting and playing, believing that I would "make it work", and avoiding the dread of everything I was making it mean to let go.
And now I am in a place of clarity again. The feeling in my body is freedom, expansiveness, lightness. The energy in my body is purposeful and focused. And from this place, I am taking the actions - those mundane steps that my mind had made to be so unpleasant through its thoughts - that are necessary to create the physical space that is reflected in my mind and body.
After months of dragging, feeling heavy, dreading what I had to do, I have spent the past two days steadily working my way through those previously dreaded actions.
And you know what? They are not so dreadful after all!
In fact, when approached with clear energy and a feeling of purpose, they have no negative or positive charge whatsoever. They are just items that get done. And what remains is the pure joy of SPACE.
Letting go of material items has always been a challenge for me. It's beyond my current comfort zone. It doesn't energize me to clean or organize or think about the arrangement of physical items. But in the past year, life has handed me these opportunities to exercise that muscle, little by little. And to experience the reward of the empty space left behind...a reward I had never truly experienced before, because I was simply too afraid to allow it.
So as the current year comes to a close, and I watch items move out of my life and into the hands of those who joyfully accept them and need them in theirs, I am able to create a vision for my new year.
In 2011, my theme is Creativity and Expression. I took some time to create the following vision board for Who I Am and How I Feel While I Express My Creativity in 2011.
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While I was previously skeptical of the vision board process, I now cherish the opportunity to take in these images and read the affirmations each time I turn on my computer. I recognize the value of small, frequent doses of inspiration as I create my life one step at a time.
So, do you have a theme for 2011? Are you curious what would happen if you created one?
Here are some great resources for creating your own vision board, not just for the new year, but any time you're in the mood for taking a look at a new horizon.
For most of the years of my adult life, the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas has felt like a race.
"A race to where?" you might ask.
Instead of racing through your list of "to do"s, try something new this holiday. Try adding some restorative practices to your days, and checking in with yourself to ensure that you are sharing and giving your best self to the people you care most about.
Don't know what restores you?
Well, here's a great place to start: STOP.
Yes, that's right. STOP doing for even one whole minute each day. For those of us who thrive on the thrill of accomplishment, fitting in, doing more, working harder, and making things look good, this might be as big of a challenge as anything you've put on your "to do" list.
That's why you need to do it now. STOP.
Just sit still with yourself for ONE ENTIRE MINUTE each day, and watch what happens. Feel everything that comes up. Feel your resistance. Feel your annoyance. Feel your jitters. Feel your desire to be anywhere but right here, right now.
Give yourself this gift every day during the month of December, and you'll be on your way to being able to give to others what they truly desire - your full presence and peace with yourself.
Want more inspiration and instructions on how to create restorative practices and restore sanity to your holiday season? Enroll in my online course starting December 13th. Register here>>
Waiting to act, waiting for the right time, waiting for the perfect conditions, waiting for a reason, waiting for more money, waiting for someone else to finish, before you begin?
The difference between creativity and productivity is the energybehind our actions. Our society has conditioned us to be driven by measures of productivity. This means we have been conditioned to run our lives based on what to do next. We wrack our brains making "to do" lists, we pack our schedules full of "things to do", we commute, we rush, we move constantly in our effort to achieve more productivity.
What we have not been taught - and what is not valued as publicly - is how to act from the energy of creativity. I have learned from my own deep practice that the energy of creativity is openness, space, and peace. The act of creativity is allowing.
All of that may sound way too passive to you, if you, like me, are a product of this culture we live in.
But if you are willing to explore your true nature, the source of the energy behind your actions, and to take the time to become familiar with peace, with openness, with space, then you are going to come face to face with your own creativity. And it might feel foreign to you. (Meaning, easy!) It might feel impossibly difficult to allow yourself to calm down, slow down, and even stop doing some of the things that have become so familiar to you.
It requires a certain trust in order to allow.
So many of us have been systematically reminded not to trust our core of peace, but to look outwards for evidence - a "reason" to trust. We want to know what it is that we need to do in order to be able to trust. The reality is that we must first trust in our completeness as we are, and learn to rest in that emptiness - that feeling of space and freedom that we may have been taught to fear, and to try to fill up immediately. We must practice the trust of watching the emptiness, and feeling the spontaneous positive qualities of joy, peace, enthusiasm, love, and compassion arise within us. From that energy of spontaneous positive feelings come our greatest acts of creativity.
So yes, creativity involves actions. However, the energy behind these actions is the focus of the effort and attention. We dedicate ourselves to a practice of cultivating peace, openness, space, and allowing. We don't think first, "What should I do?" We simply learn to recognize and rest in an energy of completeness, as we are, in this moment. And the actions of creativity spontaneously arise, without the kind of effort and struggle that we had been taught to believe was necessary.
This kind of learning cannot be given to a person. It has to be practiced. It has to be experienced and explored in one's own life.
And it is what each of us already has the ability to do, if we are willing to trust.
Copyright Lisa Chu, The Music Within Us, 2009-2019.