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
“Each Person’s life is like a mandala—a vast limitless circle. We stand in the center of our own circle, and everything we see, hear, and think, forms the mandala of our life. We enter a room, and the room is our mandala. We get on the subway, and the subway car is our mandala, down to the teenager checking messages on her i-phone, and the homeless man slumped in the corner. We go for a hike in the mountains and everything as far as we can see is our mandala: the clouds, the trees, the snow on the peaks, even the rattlesnake coiled.”
~Pema Chodron, Living Life Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change
Standing in the center of our own lives is a powerful place to be. If life is in fact a vast limitless circle, it means that not only are all our experiences meaningful and brimming with potential, it also means that our loved ones have their own mandalas to create—even if that means they must make mistakes and experience painful struggle at times.
This was, is still sometimes, a tough concept for me as a mother. I want to prevent problems before they occur especially because my acute foresight spots a snag just as it begins to unravel. And why should it have to unravel if it doesn’t have to? Unraveling is bad. Bad unraveling, bad!
I have lost many nights of sleep and found many a pizza and pint of ice cream in my fretful worrying about unraveling. There are so many people in my life for who my help, if only they would follow it exactly as directed, could be spared struggle, disappointment, anguish, a sore throat, even.
But the truth is that considering the magnitude and mystery of the grand scheme of things here, there’s no way to tell if someone else’s experience is actually an unraveling. Chances are quite good in fact that one’s perception of another’s pitfall is really an incomplete view. You can only stand in the center of your own mandala, not someone else’s. What if their struggles, disappointments, anguish and re occurrent sore throat are meant to lead them to more deeply intricate aspects of personal mandala design?
This realization could unburden many a Catholic and Jewish mother.
What’s more, Pema Chodron goes on to say, “But it’s up to you whether your life is a mandala of neurosis or a mandala of sanity.”
If I habitually lose sleep and gain pizza because of someone else’s problem, I have carefully created a new problem where none existed, and, am choosing to live it as I decide to create a life of neurosis for myself.
Phew. Well, when I put it that way…
Conversely and coincidentally, as I sit down to edit this article this morning—waiting for my computer to boot up—I glance at Facebook on another device and see right there in my news feed the proof that this is all true: “My happiness depends on me, so you are off the hook.”
This realization could unburden many a spouse, parent, friend, employee, parent, grocery checker, teacher, aunt, and parent.
Dear loved ones, you are officially off the hook. And, I will officially really, really try to stop worrying about you—I know I’m off the hook. See you from the center.
I used to ask myself how I could become part of a world of solutions that create peace, if I as an individual, did not really feel peaceful most of the time. How could I have happy peaceful relationships if I knew that my own happiness and sense of peace was dependent on external factors that were fleeting at best: new jobs, latest diet, purchases, trips.
This was a distressing awareness, especially because I was professionally drawn to the fields of family counseling, social work, rehabilitation, motherhood! How could I represent health and vitality without living it in the way of enduring longevity?
To live at a heart-aware level of consciousness, where taking the deep breath that integrates head and heart can create profound changes, is really a simple process actually.
We begin with ourselves, with self-care strategies, and they become not only magical remedies for daily stress-reduction, but they serve as the foundation of how we extend ourselves forward into our personal and professional relationships, into the community, into the world.
Simply, meditation and deep breathing as regular practices can do it for you. There is no club to have to join, no equipment to have to buy, no complicated process to learn; it involves just sitting quietly and allowing yourself to clear your mind and in effect, to strengthen your heart, immune system, spiritual life.
By sitting in silence and really breathing for just 20-30 minutes out of 24 hours in the day, compelling scientific evidence shows the effects of decreased fight/flight response by way of lowered blood pressure, reduced production of stress hormones (like cortisol), and reduced anxiety.
But most compelling is how we feel in the remaining 23.5 hours of the day. There is no separation between our minds and bodies; when the mind is relaxed, physiology relaxes, rebalances, and can respond rather than react to the environment. Responding to the external world of chaos and change from a heart-head integrated place, can only come from an internal world of restful awareness.
This was an amazing realization for me and brought on some profound changes that I could never dream possible for myself. And the realization didn’t come from the data and information about how reactive, restless, and irritable I tended to be; it came as I began to feel the results of the actual practice of sitting in silence and breathing for at least 20 minutes a day.
Meditation and deep breathing are tools for rediscovering the body’s own inner intelligence. Practiced for thousands of years, it’s not about forcing the mind to be quiet; it’s about finding the silence that’s already there and letting it lead the way through your life.
Here are brief instructions for a personal meditation and deep breathing practice. If you are interested in personal coaching or in having me lead a workshop in your community, get in touch. For today, this can be a first step into this amazing realm of mind-body-soul medicine that reduces stress, strengthens immunity, and begins to open that space in yourself that transcends space and time.
Read the rest of… Lisa Miller: Meditation — A How-to Guide for Beginners
Happy happy happy new year! What a great time to think about what we want for ourselves.
Catching up on a few seasons of recorded television programs this winter break, I watched another Oprah’s Next Chapter and found some intriguing inspiration from her interviews with former Olympians: Carl Lewis, Bruce Jenner, Mary Lou Retton, (and my childhood gymnastics idol) Nadia Comaneci.
Despite having quit a promising career in ballet myself by age 6, despite having only ever hit foul balls in all my 4 years of girls’ softball, and having always been too afraid to kick my legs straight up from a bridge into an actual back-walk-over, I still recognize in myself some Olympic-status qualities.
Yes! I rock, it is true!
But really, we all have it. It’s woven into our DNA, and we see it even in new babies born too early, fighting to survive. Simply, it is one of the most basic of human qualities: Perseverance, and with a capital P.
While I have not persevered toward excellence in athletics, these Oprah interviews triggered my realization that I absolutely deserve some serious gold, or at least a bronze here and there, in a few significant areas of my life.
None of these athletes medaled before YEARS of training. Bruce talked about his 6 years of daily dedication, Mary Lou described her single-pointed focus, Carl said that he was never competing against people as much as he was competing against perfection itself.
Well I computed my own personal stats and it seems that I too have quite a record here. I’ve been a dedicated, focused, striving toward excellence mother for nearly 19 years. 19! My kids are in pretty good shape, so this is some measure of success.
Read the rest of… Lisa Miller: The New Year, Olympians & Perseverance
“Yes, how did we get here? It behooves us to remember that others had to come before us slowly, slowly, slowly, each one living her life within the parameters of her era, painfully inching forward. “
I love the contribution of women in the arts! I watched an interview of Kerry Washington and Shanda Rhimes with Oprah yesterday, and I was inspired. What phenomenal women.
Kerry Washington is the first black woman to star in her own television drama in 40 years; only one other woman held this T.V-first before her. It was the 70’s in a show called, Get Christie Love!, starring Teresa Graves. This is surprising but as I think about all the shows I have loved, not one has featured an African American woman in a leading role.
In her ABC drama, Scandal, Kerry is a kick-ass “fixer”: part lawyer, part P.R expert, part White House crisis manager, and part clean-up-the-dead-bodies-mess go-to-person.
It turns out that art imitates life here fantastically! Finally, a black woman playing the dynamic role typically represented by men in our culture; but it’s Judy Smith, the real life former White House staffer on whom this character is based that makes this depiction special. Now in private practice, Smith is a crisis manager handling high profile cases that never seem to end. (see JudySmith.com and the recent Petraus case among many. She rocks.)
Struggling toward freedom in the movie Djengo Unchained, in theatres just this week, Kerry Washington takes women back a 150 years as she plays a supporting role as an American slave. While we might be used to the fact that actors have depicted the era of slavery for decades on the screen, what we tend to forget I think, is that African Americans were considered by constitutional standards at that time, to be just 3/5’s human.
This is a hard pill to swallow. And so, this historical truth juxtasposed with the accomplishments of North American women today, like Judy Smith, is astounding.
I was moved during Washington’s interview when she said that the character she plays in Scandal: respected, empowered, intuitive, brilliant, stands on the shoulders of the profoundly oppressed women who came before.
Yes, how did we get here? It behooves us to remember that others had to come before us slowly, slowly, slowly, each one living her life within the parameters of her era, painfully inching forward.
I think about this a lot, but I also forget this truth when I get wrapped up in all my first-world problems that seem so profound in the moment.
And of course I gain perspective as I think about what it means for my daughters to grow up with first-world problems. Compared to what our foremothers endured, and in the general context of how far women have come, I thank God for these first-world problems!
Finally, an additional snippet of conversation from this interview that resonates in my heart is about abundance. Oprah asked Kerry what it means to her to be one of the first to represent black women on network television in this way especially when so many others vied for the coveted role. Her answer: “If I succeed, I create the opportunity for more people to succeed. I am honored to rise to this challenge.” Her competitors’ responded, “Do us proud.”
I am white, educated, middle-aged, and this forward motion, shoulder-standing celebration represents me too—represents all of us.
Thank you grandmothers, great-grandmothers, great-great-great grandmothers, we are all honored and blessed that you have cleared a path for us.
I hosted a women’s mini-retreat at my house on Saturday, and it was everything I’d hoped it would be — with terrific women ranging in age from 34 to 61. Many of them were strangers to one another when they arrived, a couple having travelled 80 miles to be here; but in just 3 hours, the group had become what many women’s groups become after any heartfelt period of shared time: a sisterhood.
Yes, whether its 30 minutes or 3 hours, when it comes to heart, women of diverse backgrounds inevitably relate to one other, empathize, laugh with, support, and encourage each other, because we share an emotional language of understanding what it means to be this gender. Our stories and contexts of experience might be different, but what’s the same is perceiving life through female eyes and spirit, and extending forward from a long line of female ancestors.
Women like and need time to gather for the purpose of healing. I remember the light-bulb moment of this realization 15 years ago when I read Anita Diamnont’s historically accurate, Red Tent, in which the women of the village lived together according to the moon cycle, about 7 days of each month.
A get-away every 4 weeks? Yes, please.
I’m still moved by the image of women washing the feet of their “sisters” and massaging the abdominal pain away as they convalesce. That’s what I’m talkin ‘bout.
I’m going into my 9th year of coordinating and facilitating women’s gatherings, and what never fails to happen in the first hour, is a collective settling into togetherness. It’s very much like coming home; and if the facilitator’s agenda is to focus on emotional strength instead of failure, these homefolks become the functional, happy family we always wanted but didn’t know could exist, at least for the duration of the gathering. Even if participants never see one another again, what was shared becomes a sacred experience of connectedness that fostered self-reflection.
I find this incredibly interesting, and though it’s not new (women’s circles go back 1000’s of years), it might be news to some that we do have an unconscious understanding of our feminine-divine need to have sisters. On her way out the door on Saturday, one participant commented, “I really needed to be with other women like these; I’ve been so tired of being with people who complain, but I didn’t realize there was another option. “
After all the gatherings goings-on I’ve observed, what I continue to find special is articulated beautifully by another participant who e-mailed me later saying, “We uplift each other simply by being there. Yet, as each person enters the group with an honest intention of her own forward motion, the whole group moves forward.”
Read the rest of… Lisa Miller: The Healing of Sisterhood
“I’m not eating this weekend because the girls at school want to be skinny.” Emily, 9.
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 compliment 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 Hillary Clinton talked about in, It Takes a Village, where everyone helps raise healthy children.
Click on image to purchase book
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 when she says, “Adolescence is when girls experience social pressure to put aside their authentic selves and to display only a small portion of their gifts.”
Read the rest of… Lisa Miller: Empowering Your Daughters…And You
In 2005, after reading yet another inspiring book by Deepak Chopra, I gave myself a birthday present and attended my first Chopra Center weeklong class called, SynchroDestiny.
The title still excites me and I can tell you that it was fantastic. Dr. Deepak is a terrific presenter with a peaceful, engaging presence, and when he signed my book he was warm and present. At our farewell dinner we chatted about a mutual acquaintance and I felt, and do still, that he is swell guy and one of the most influential leaders of mind-body medicine in our modern world today.
It was at this Chopra Center class that I was introduced to meditation for the first time, and it was there that I thought meditation was baloney the first time, the second time, the third, and twice a day for the entire week.
I really did want the promised health benefits of optimum blood pressure, deeper mental and emotional stability, and a state of “restful awareness” that would ensure a stressless existence, but my struggle to sit still in silence seemed to indicate I was wasting my time. I could NOT calm my mind, I could not focus, I could not enjoy it and I certainly did not see a future in meditation for myself.
As you gain experience with meditation, you’ll begin to feel the reappearance of youthful energy and vitality that is being released from the deeper level of the nervous system. This is a very profound change and the real fountain of youth.
Perfect Health: The Complete Mind Body Guide, Deepak Chopra, M. D.
But I persevered along with the other 50 or so attendees because it was part of the deal and because I had paid for the entire Chopra Center experience with my birthday savings. And because I was loving the rest of the SynchroDestiny intensive.
So I returned home and went about life as usual and felt pretty good. For me, there’s nothing like a vacation that includes learning, great food, AND massage. And because I hate to give up before the promised results, I continued to try to meditate daily despite feeling I was getting nowhere.
And then something happened two weeks later, the day my handyman Elvis, worked in my attic.
CRAAAAAAAAASH! I looked up from my computer to see Elvis’s feet dangling through a hole in my second story hallway ceiling as huge pieces of paint and dry wall and ceiling continued to break off to expose his entire lower body.
I should add here that because we have vaulted ceilings from the living-room up, the distance to the closest floor is 40 feet.
Yes, a man was falling and holding on for his life, in my home, no joke. And he was screaming, and kicking his legs around in panic, just the way it looks in movies. The fear was palpable.
But I felt completely and genuinely calm, “Hey Elvis, don’t worry, you’ll be ok—just hoist yourself back up slowly and come on downstairs—I’ll make you some tea.”
What? Who was this strangely calm and reassuring being that had taken over my senses, my spirit, my own vocal chords?
Read the rest of… Lisa Miller: Adventures and Fun with Deepak Chopra & My Handy Man Elvis
Mrs. RP — the distinguished Lisa Miller — was featured in Monday’s Louisville Courier-Journal in an article about a yoga and meditation workshop she led at Louisville’s Festival of Faiths convention.
Here’s an excerpt:
A large crowd turned out Sunday for an Ayurveda yoga workshop, part of the 17th annual Festival of Faiths at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage on Muhammad Ali Boulevard.
The workshop was led by Lisa Miller, an instructor with certifications from the Chopra Center.
Ayurveda is a health and wellness practice that considers all five senses as being necessary for good health and well-being, Miller said. The practice is a 5,000-year-old Indian system that translates from Sanskrit to “life” and “wisdom.”
The event consisted of a lecture on Ayurveda as well as instruction on meditation and breathing techniques. “If you take care of your self, mind, body and spirit, you can walk through life with balance,” Miller said.
“I’m here because I’m curious to see the differences between the yoga I’ve been doing previously,” Joy Raatz said.