Anochi afar v’efer. In Hebrew this means, “I am but dust and ashes.”
Seems to be a less than perky reminder about the inevitable, I know, but it does offer supportive wisdom actually.
In the Jewish spiritual tradition of Mussar (the Hebrew word for ethics), the soulful human trait of humility plays a fundamental role in a life of balance. To realize that each of us no matter our accomplishments, inevitably become part of the physical earth, is humbling.
Given the truth of this ultimate reality, how can any of us believe we are inferior to others, or superior? Anochi afar v’efer, it’s a perspective grabber, and a cool equalizer.
This raises a significant question about what it means to be human in the time we have. How do we strive to fill in the time between life and, ahem, the alternative? How do we make our lives meaningful even in the mundane? How is one’s “mundane” existence actually not inferior to someone else’s life of adventure, leadership, intellectual contribution?
We think of all kinds of answers here, or maybe we don’t even know where to begin.
The ancient Mussar Rabbis taught that each human is born with a personal spiritual curriculum to fulfill, and that we are each assigned the task of mastery of something in our lives. While culturally today, we tend to think that the something should relate to professional life or contribution to world repair, the teachings here focus on a more intimate area of human life experience, one that holds true no matter the decade in which we come across the teachings.
The mastery of something refers to the inner realm, the part of us expressed through the soul traits we are all born with but that each of us have in varying degrees of development and measure: humility, patience, gratitude, compassion, order, equanimity, honor, simplicity, enthusiasm, silence, generosity, truth, moderation, loving-kindness, responsibility, trust, faith, yirah (awe of God).
Read the rest of… Lisa Miller: My Mundane Existence is an Apple to Your Orange
I continue to be awed and amazed by compassionate teen girls who support and help empower their younger "sisters".
A few years ago, some of the wise teens in Lexington wrote an inspiring book designed to empower girls and their moms. The sentiments and guidance about healthy body image, self-esteem, and mom/daughter communication continue to be a household staple of support and wisdom for many families today.
Our little grass-roots effort to help others is always blooming new little buds; we are now funding eating disorders therapy for girls whose parents can't afford it. 100% of funds collected from sales of our book this season will help makethis happen!
Please buy our book and join a community of people who also want self-esteem and health for the girls in their lives. Even if you don't know a girl to give this book to, someone you know knows one, your local library would like one, yourdentist's sister's daughter would love one!
From all of us at G.R!, Thank you!
Mail a check for $28 ($3 of this will cover the cost of shipping) to
Girls Rock! Inc c/o Jonathan Miller Lexington Financial Center, 250 West Main Street, Suite 2800, Lexington, KY 40507-1749
My last column claimed that balance is possible in the face of chaos. I promised that we are all capable of maintaining inner peace no matter the environmental stressors—that work, play, challenge and rest are healthy integrative aspects of our lives. About the complaint of not feeling vacation-peace and bliss at home, I suggested that intention is everything.
Wehhhhhhhhl, I wrote that column from the window seat of my charming straw-roof cabana in the Yukatan Peninsula just steps from the ocean as a warm breeze kissed my hair. A little voice in my consciousness said, “Writing about stress management from an emotional and geographic location that represent the opposite of stress might not be believable.” Yes, mi pequeno internal voice doesn’t use commas, but it is very wise. And it is true that faith is much easier to write about when times are good.
So today I revisit my claim from the living center of chaos. I have been home for exactly 10 days, and I have weathered exactly 6 mini crisis since my return. 6! This might be a record.
How am I managing, solving, dealing, integrating, going with the flowing now, you ask?
I am leaning on ALL of my rebalancing support strategies. It’s a lot like the saying, “Don’t wait for the fire before buying the hose.” Turns out my impressive hose collection really is useful. And because of it, I think I’m managing with more grace than I used to—it’s clear I’m not going it alone.
One significant resource I relied on this week was prayer. I sat down in a beautiful location near my house where I could feel the vibrancy of nature all around me, and I asked God for help, a lot of it. I remember specifically not knowing what the help would look like for this and that issue, and especially for my daughter Abby, struggling with a problem so deeply that she’d lost her appetite for days, but I asked for the ability to recognize the help when it showed up.
Two days later when she finally felt hungry, Abby had me google the new Dominos in our Andover neighborhood. I dialed and we huddled together over the speaker-phone conveying our dreams of extra toppings. But when it came time for the phone number, pizza boy could not make sense of my cell number. Again and again we repeated it as he typed away on his Dominos Pizza computer, but politely he kept apologizing that there were too many digits.
After several minutes of this, puzzled and losing patience, we told him we’d call back. Was this some sort of joke? As I clicked “end” on my I-phone, the phone number I had dialed popped up on my screen before shutting off: +44 1264 363333.
Yes, it was a very good joke! I had accidentally tried to order a pizza from Dominos in Andover, in the United Kingdom!
We looked at each other and then at the phone, and then at each other. The swirling confusion around us dissolved into laughter, “Haahaah, the most expensive pizza on the planet, haha haha haha!”
Laughing harder, “After this phone call, we can’t afford pizza, hah hah hah hah hah!”
Stomach hurting and tears streaming, “I hope we’re still hungry next week when it gets here! Hahahahahahaha haahaahaa haaahaaahaahahahahahahahahaha!
We laughed at ourselves for about 10 minutes and then for 20 more as we called our family members to share what we had stupidly, hilariously tried to do.
Finally, with ribs and face hurting we slowed down, exhausted. Abby looked at me calmly and with a new light in her eyes, she said, “I feel so much better.”
Miraculously, what changed for my girl most in those minutes was her own sense of perspective. While the details of her week of struggle remained, suddenly her world felt much bigger than the confine of her problem—what better way to have the point illustrated than to order a pizza from overseas?
But what’s more, when 16 year-old Abby saw that her problem wasn’t her entire life, just merely a part of it, I knew that my prayer had been answered. God comes through every time, and has a most excellent sense of humor, because we want to laugh.
Read the rest of… Lisa Miller: God & Pizza are the Best Medicine
I’ve been lulled to sleep for two nights by the constant thrum of the sea meeting shoreline outside my cabana. This morning when my daughter Abby awoke after 11 hours of sleep, she said, “How is it only 6:30am?”
Welcome to vacation where time expands!
I think that “vacation” is misunderstood. There is typically no more obvious time in life when we are more present, aware, and happy. It’s here, away from the rigors of usual demands (and ironically the reliable comforts of home) that we come home to ourselves–act in accordance with the natural rhythm of our internal needs and desires.
Vacation implies that everything is left behind: work, school, bills, responsibilities, relationships, routine. But, is all that stuff really the everything of our lives, or is it just the stuff we’re in the habit of thinking of as everything?
Abby is nearly 17, a junior in high school and feeling the pressure of looming AP finals, end of year exams, and ACT testing (dinosaurs, the ACT is the new SAT). So stressed and controlled by these things, she believed she didn’t have “enough time” for spring break this year.
So one of us kept a clear head and here we are. We’re just over two days into our beachside vacation and she has easily retained more study knowledge than she usually manages (painfully) in three days. And, she’s most definitely taking breaks to sun herself, swim, shop, swing in the hammock, walk along the beach, eat, read fiction, and nap.
This excursion to Mexico with said previously stressed teenager was actually a little experiment in faith, for me. I knew in my heart that if she could study at home, she could do so here while drinking from a coconut and looking at the water each time she lifts her head. I wanted her to experience this combination of daily integrated, rest/play/work, because this stress-less integration is what I want for her for the rest of her life.
Read the rest of… Lisa Miller: It Turns out that Vacation is not Just a State in Mexico
“Shit happens. I realized then that we always have the choice to either let it remain on the dung heap, or allow it to transform.”
I’m still celebrating International Women’s Day, but I’m calling it Fantastic InterGenerational Women in my Life Month.
I feel so lucky to know some really compassionate, hilarious, brave, nutty, wise, strong women, and they come in an array of decades. I often wish I could gather all of them into one room so that they could know one another. (Hmmmmmmmmmm! What are all y’all doing on my birthday this summer?)
This March 2013, I want to celebrate one Fantastic in particular, but I’m not sure of how she’d feel about the personal publicity, so I’ll use The Fake Name Generator here and henceforth refer to my friend by her alias.
Delvonia Fansmetonopolis is a dedicated rehabilitation therapist. In her 70′s she is beautiful and hip, and people feel they can tell her anything because she has such a welcoming way about her. She laughs with you when you laugh, and cries with you when you cry. Her heart is bigger than she is tall, and she truly wants healing for everyone—this is her mission.
While this mission may be true for most service professionals and healers, what’s unique about D is her dedication to her own personal healing. In her seventh decade, she is truly a role model who LIVES the healing she recommends to everyone. She’s not shy to confide that she is always learning, growing, finding new inspiration—that her health depends on physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. She teaches that here is no one magic pill, and having survived her own debilitating years of despair, D’s courage and commitment to a life of balance gently but surely precede her when she enters a room.
It’s this vital energy that is a gift to anyone seeking his/her own courage and balance. Because recovery is such a raw and painful process, the promise of healing carried in the aura of the facilitator means everything, even before a word is spoken, and certainly in the spaces between words.
Nearly three weeks ago, my friend needed an unexpected surgery on her spine. She was told that without it she would lose the ability to walk. No picnic either way—she felt she had no choice.
Though nervous, as anybody would be, D faced her surgery bravely and gets high marks for recovery to this point (though she was calling patients from her bed despite the fact that she barely had a voice in the days after surgery.) But it is something else entirely that inspires and moves me each time I talk to her.
Simply, my friend D is FULL of grace, love, patience, and gratitude.
How easy it would be to feel sorry for one’s self—the pain, the genetic misfortune, the inconvenience, the terror associated with this type of diagnosis. But instead, she has chosen to move with the very flow of her life; she is present in the now and she is finding a way to smell the flowers (well, she’s not bending down but she’s enjoying them symbolically)!
I wouldn’t have guessed that each of my “consoling” post-surgery calls to her would leave ME inspired and reassured, but they have, each and every one. D’s ability to see her situation as an opportunity for deeper healing is transforming her very situation.
“I’m not eating this weekend because the girls at school want to be skinny.” Emily, 9.
Click here to review/purchase.
In 2004, after years of processing my own body image issues, and with a determination to have things be different for my daughters, I didn’t expect my own child to begin that steep slide into dieting misery so soon, if at all.
I took a few hours to recover from my little girl’s statement of deprivation, and then I came to the conclusion that if I really wanted things to be different, I would need to take action myself, and fast.
The conversation and research that followed opened my eyes to several truths:
Kids talk. And they are all affected by media messages (billboards, commercials, print ads, Hollywood glamour) about protruding stomachs, fat thighs, and jiggly arms.
Women talk. We do, and it’s a lot of self-criticism about protruding stomachs, fat thighs, and jiggly arms. And, we talk about other women in relationship to all those things, and about how she looked in that outfit. Constantly, constantly, constantly.
Conversations overheard about appearance become messages about what is acceptable, desirable, worthy of love, and they are more potent than any billboard costing 1,000’s of dollars to print, because they are personal—about real people we know—about ourselves. And, our girls are listening closely, all the time.
The seeds of self-esteem and self-image are planted long before girls approach puberty. Though criticism may be directed at others, and even if we only ever complement our little girls, they grow on the reality that criticism is just around corner if they grow into women of stomachs, thighs, and arms, of any type.
So what’s a mother to do? I wasn’t certain, but I was sure that I wouldn’t allow one more generation of women in my family to struggle with the self-hatred that comes from a legacy of criticism, peer pressure, never ending dieting, and debilitating low self-esteem.
I did have a hunch that in order to help make changes for my daughter and her friends, I needed to help make cognitive and emotional changes for moms, too. Because after all, we were all once girls who grew on those very messages. No one ever told us to stop listening.
And so, with mother-bear determination, I called health and wellness professionals in my Lexington community who seemed to carry some authority: pediatrician; nutritionist; psychotherapist; police-officer. And I asked them to become a part of the community that would influence and help raise healthy girls.
With professionals on board, Girls Rock!: Workshops for Girls and Moms, was born. We would all come together, pre-teen girls, mothers, and professionals, for a big empowering day of programming that would make all of us responsible for healthier language, relationship to self and friends, and habits at home.
But still, the kids in attendance would need real, up-close and personal role models to emulate—people they could think of as big sisters—the ultimate role models of omniscient authority to a girl.
So I recruited a diverse team of teenagers with leadership potential who seemed to defy what Mary Pipher identifies as one of our culture’s greatest tragedies, “Adolescence is when girls experience social pressure to put aside their authentic selves and to display only a small portion of their gifts.”
Something profound happened in our very first workshops when the Girls Rock! Teen Mentors spoke. They stood with confidence in front of girls, mothers, and professionals and said, “We are all different sizes, shapes, and ethnicities—this is what normal looks like—this is what pretty looks like”.
The young audience of girls listened closely, but the mothers and professionals were moved to tears.
And then it was clear. Hearing for the first time from people who represented our own youth, that beauty was never meant to be one-size-fits-all, opened the blinds and let the sun shine on the truth that we always were, and are right now, pretty enough and good enough, and that we are so much more.
Isn’t that what we really want for ourselves?
It is exactly what we want for our daughters.
One workshop led to another, and another, and we became a non-profit and published a book (Click here to order), and I can report that my daughters now teens themselves, are Girls Rock! Mentors, today. Hallelujah.
Looking back now, it’s amazing to me that I could have pulled this off—recruiting and training teen leaders, finding passionate professionals and generous keynote speakers, and reaching out to other mothers and girls who would attend.
Technically, I didn’t know anything about running this kind of thing—I was driven intuitively, and I found that women both young and old could relate, so I kept going. I prayed that my daughters and their friends would benefit, and that I could send my girls to sleepovers knowing they would be influenced in positive ways.
Year after year, Girls Rock! continues to be one big community of volunteers and families showing up just because we have all been affected, are still affected by a ridiculously unfair standard. But most of all, we gather because we care about the development of self-esteem in girls.
Though there is undeniable power in pervasive cultural messages especially saturated by media today, there is something more powerful about women coming together to educate, heal, and find inspiration together. As girls and women we are a part of something that is much bigger—it’s called Sisterhood, The Women’s Lodge, the Feminine Divine.
This is a place anywhere and everywhere on this planet where females of every age, status, and background can gather to nurture one another with acceptance. It’s simple and it’s a magical thing to be a part of. It makes us grateful to have been born as girls.
So, it turns out that my years of healing before motherhood were just the very beginning for me. My young daughter’s fateful entry into self-doubt felt like familiar territory—I couldn’t have imagined it would provide me the drive to heal more deeply, nor to help find a solution for my community.
While the distance travelled to arrive to a place of peace is never easy with these issues, I’m feeling it’s been worth the journey so far.
Most of all, as my daughters grow into adulthood with perspective, confidence, self-esteem, I will say that I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Prayer has helped a lot too.
To invite Lisa to speak at your gathering, contact her directly:
It’s so easy to forget that we are so powerful, but it is the truth and it is an inherent quality of the human spirit. I was a walking, breathing example of a girl, who out of trauma and struggle dreamed a different life for herself, and made it happen. Today I understand the grace and the quantum mechanics behind this, but living it came first—it always does.
A funny thing happened yesterday. Funny interesting, and strange, that is. And, kind of awesome (an experience leading to awe).
After planning for months that several days at the end of February would be dedicated to the specific and serious de-cluttering of my home space, and after very painful procrastination during designated well-planned days, I unexpectedly ran into a colleague who offered up an identical story, strangely.
While waiting in line for our lattes, he recounted his story of scheduled organizing, in the final week of February, and a lack of giddy-up in the GO.
My antennae picked up the signal with maximum alarm.
Inside my head it sounded like this: What?! Beeeeeep! Beeeeeep! Beeeeep! What?!
I knew immediately that this encounter wasn’t just about the random coincidence of a mirrored situation from someone I rarely see and who never discloses information about his personal life. Nor was it about the unbelievable story of what was happening in the latte line.
Nope, much bigger, much, much bigger, and I became consciously, thrillingly aware of it in its unfolding this time. Right there, in that informal setting surrounded by average people and beverages, I recognized the inter-relativity of everything, and, that I create my own reality whether I realize it or NOT.
And this is what it look like:
Read the rest of… Lisa Miller: Synchronicity & Intention
My dog is snoring beside me as I write this. She looks adorable sprawled out on my bed—she likes to put her head on my pillow. When animals do things that look human, we always think it’s great. I’m looking at her innocent sweet face, and I’m tempted to kiss her head.
But I won’t wake her up; she is very tired. She didn’t get as much sleep as usual because for some period of time over the course of the night, she helped herself to a leftover chicken. Or maybe it only actually took 5 minutes and then she enjoyed a deeply replenishing tryptophan induced slumber for 8.75 hours. I’ll never know.
I walked into the kitchen this morning, and the evidence was everywhere—the trash can tipped over, assorted garbage, mango skins, and the empty very clean roasted chicken containers were sprawled across the room—the cleanest garbage a person could ask for.
But I couldn’t believe it. Our dog is 10 or 11 (the family of a rescue never knows for sure) and has been with us 7 or 8 years (a middle-aged-woman never remembers for sure), and I don’t think there has ever been an incident of kitchen trash trespass. This was a little shocking—I stood staring for half a minute. For 10 of those seconds I actually even surmised that it was a raccoon who had done it. They have opposable thumbs you know.
So I tested my hypothesis by calling my pup to the crime scene. I didn’t warn her with my tone that this was a test (and may I just say that this was very canny and professional behavior on my part, very, very canny and professional at 6:47 A.M after staggering out of bed with my dream all around me still. I have had no formal crime scene training).
So she came wagging toward the kitchen but stopped on the threshold, head down, tail disappearing. Aha! She had done it. It was not a raccoon. Mystery solved. She slinked away to hide on my bed.
In this 8 minute video, people of varying faiths discuss forgiveness. I’m drawn to The Dalai Lama in the final 40 seconds who says, “Anger [doesn’t] help—only destroy[s] your own peace of mind. Deliberately, try to keep your mind more calm.”
Herein people are discussing forgiveness in far more serious terms than the sins of a beloved pet, but I feel it’s worth saying here that we practice first at home. What an opportunity to check-in with ourselves about our reactions. I ask myself here if I can respond rather than react in general, to perceived slights from others. What about when I’m kept waiting and it’s no one’s fault but a “stupid system” like traffic that has inconvenienced me AND caused me to be late? What about later today when I have to deal with roasted-chicken-carcass-dog-vomit in my carpet?
Read the rest of… Lisa Miller: Forgiveness and Triggers after Chicken
My friends, family, and students are used to my repeated profession of love for modern technology. They laugh when I pledge adoration for my camera, washing machine, air travel, television, teleconferences, the iron lung (I just watched The Sessions with Helen Hunt and John Hawkes—great movie by the way), movies, my blender, power-point projectors, computers and the web, and, my iPhone!
This is an amazing time to be alive; I feel deeply, deeply, deeply fortunate to live in this part of the world today. I have such gratitude for these intelligent inventions that make my life easier and bigger (consider the amount of time it used to take our great grand-mothers just to wash family laundry. I don’t know about you but I don’t have time to beat my husband’s shirts and underwear against the rocks at the local stream). And I love my automatic garage-door opener so much.
BUT, no matter how terrifically these things enhance, ease, and upgrade my life, they take up but a speck of space in my heart compared to what I feel for the essential celebration-worthy, beauty of interaction between human beings.
I’m talking about friendship here. Today I profess my love and adoration for this. It’s fitting for valentine week, too.
The typical starter in blooming friendship is life-commonality—resonating with the experiences, views, needs, interests, and dreams that others also hold dear.
“We know this, we know this—we’ve had friendships since kindergarden—they come and go, some last, there will be more where that came from.” For many people the commonality of friendship has become so expected that its essential value to human happiness is enormously undervalued.
Have you ever observed the way that 10 year olds appreciate their new friends, or on the flip-side, teenagers who don’t have any? What about Facebook—I know a lot of people who spend some good amount of time there, making friends and keeping them, in space, ahem.
From a human-development hierarchy-of-needs perspective, friendship is to the human spirit as manna was to the Hebrews.
Watch this terrific video about the blooming of friendship—it’s just 4 minutes and 53 seconds long—your heart will like it and you will observe human spirit in action as time and place seem to recede (and that’s not an easy set-up for grown-ups sittin in a ball-pit on a busy urban side-walk), and complete strangers become important and personal to one another:
(This video created by Soul Pancake by the way, a fabulous site that captures art, philosophy, science, spirituality and humor, and serves it up all warm and (ful)filling.)
Now I ask myself what it is that I look for in friendship today. Have you deliberately thought about this lately? Me thinks this an important question. As adults we’re no longer really limited in our choices for the most part—we’re out there in the world with options greater than who lives next door or who sits next to us in classroom alphabet seating.
I loved that the question from the ball-pit was “who inspires you?” not, who pisses you off that you want to complain and gossip about? We absolutely have choice when it comes to whom we want to spend time with. And time is definitely a “spending”—there’s no reason to waste it in depleting relationships with “friends” who remind us of our worst qualities.
So I’m making this a valentine week of heartfull thought about what I most appreciate about my loved-ones (you know who you are! Mu-ah!), all those I’ve loved in friendship but who are no longer in my life, and the type of friend I want to continue to grow into.
And finally, with this brilliant invention called YouTube, applaud with me here as I sit in awe as two of my favorite things come together in this video: the seeds of unexpected spontaneous friendship, and the technology that allows us a ringside seat at the beauty of it.
“There’s nothing “wrong” with needing more sleep, or letting ideas rest this season—it’s only natural. It’s permission to revel in the easier pace. Go on, revel!”
A psychologist in town asked me to help her plan a healthy body image workshop for girls and their mothers. So we met today at her home office on her horse farm, which if you ask me is a pretty great place to hold a meeting.
In addition to the many reasons I enjoyed this meeting, I benefited deeply from the beauty of Kentucky nature that surrounds her little farm. Even in the middle of winter, the natural flow of the life-cycle is easy to feel there. I’m talking about the hibernating trees, the water eroded spots in the grass, the dormant gardens, and the thick soft coats that the horses grow. I felt the beauty in these predictable, natural aspects of nature despite having become an outspoken professional whiner about the winter season in recent years.
I’m writing about this because going with the flow of the four seasons—understanding that we humans are designed to take cues from the symbolic and environmental qualities of each season in particular—can be a powerful and nourishing way to maintain emotional and physical health throughout the entire year.
This truth is evident from many of the wisdom traditions around the world. In particular, Native American tradition teaches that winter is THE time to slow down, sleep a little more, sit with projects. In Ayurvedic medicine from India, the circadian rhythm is an internal 24 hour clock that measures the slower and heightened energy hours of each day, even.
But I read an FB post this week that said, “I have so much energy when the moon is full, I’ll know I’ve arrived when I can maintain that zing during the rest of the month.”
The truth is that living in rhythm with nature means that there are times in the day, the month, and the year that are naturally slower and less energetic. We need them because we are not machines—we are supposed to notice when personal energy feels slower, lazier, less exhuberent. And then we’re supposed to go with it—lean into it, ENJOY it. It’s each body’s internal system of need that determines health, not external, intellectual rules. What makes sense for one body, may not, for another.
Read the rest of… Lisa Miller: Winter’s Rhythm is Right On, Right On, RIGHT ON, Baby