My Meditation Practice

The Difference Between Moving Abroad & Traveling Abroad

November 4, 2018

I moved to Germany two years ago ‘for my job’ but in reality, at the time, I wanted an ex-pat experience. I have traveled a lot but what I wanted to do was actually set up life in another country. So, I used my connections to transition to my company’s EU headquarters in a small city in between Frankfurt and Cologne.

For an American, moving and working in another country is not easy because of the distance and visa restrictions. So I want to start this off by saying that I had it a lot easier because my company handled the visa and move and first few months ‘settling’ in. I can’t speak to the process when you don’t have a company sponsor, but as with most things, there are pluses and minuses to all scenarios.

Even after all of this time, I still marvel at the transition. It is the intricacies of ‘life’ that you take for granted when you are in familiar surroundings, when you speak the language (natively) and you understand the culture. To set up life and to conduct yourself as a professional is a completely different ball game (I wish you could underline that 2x).

Let me explain.

When you are traveling, you are interacting with other tourists or locals who are in the hospitality industry (hotels, transport, restaurants, shops). This means the people with the knowledge or support you need are committed to serving, helping or hosting. Explanations are expected and politely given. More direction is patiently provided. Time is extended to accommodate the need. This mindset and approach is definitely not shared by those who work in the post office, “Bürgeramt” (town office), government office, by parking officials or basically any other ‘life-set-up’ institutions. When you are a foreigner, you just don’t know the basics. Add the language barrier and mailing a package becomes a day-stopper. Registering your vehicle seems as complicated as explaining your thesis. And parking tickets have their own line item in your monthly budget.

When you are traveling, the experience is contained. You have an arrival date and a departure date, where everything in between is an experience, a refresher, a time to be, see or do different things. You may get outside of your comfort zone, but you know that your culture, your language (see how I keep bringing up culture/language?) and your own bed are a mere few days/weeks or maybe months away. When the experience is not bound by time, the extended time outside of your comfort zone can get just plain exhausting (WordPress, if you’re reading this, can you underline that 2x?). It is no longer an experience, it is a life you are required to navigate and the effort is ten fold.

And finally, you question your decision. I will acknowledge that questioning your decisions is part of the fabric of life. But when you sell your house, sell your car, fit your life into three boxes and move away from your friends and family, you really made a hard turn in the road of life. And even two years in, you question if it was the right thing to do.

People ask how I moved abroad. Because what is sexier than moving to Europe?

And I’m pretty honest. It’s hard. It’s lonely.

Despite the hardships, I think I made the right decision.

But I wouldn’t be able to do this, or continue this without my mediation practice. Because the extended time outside of my comfort zone, and the constant unfamiliarity was hard (underline 2x). The smallest things stressed me out (like the hair dresser – would I walk away bald?). I needed to acknowledge that I was going through something hard, which was my first step towards dealing with it. And that is the First Noble Truth which is often referred to as ‘life is suffering’.

Suffering? Was I really suffering? That seems heavy. Too heavy. I [just] have hard.

Binding the First Noble Truth to suffering prevented the connection I needed to the Noble Truth, it made it seem to….much.

But it is important to remember that this English definition is a translation – the Buddha didn’t speak English (shocker). The word used was dukkha which is often translated as suffering but can also mean stress, discomfort, or dissatisfaction.

One monk, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, used the ‘stress’ for the term dukkha offers the following translation:

“Now this, monks, is the noble truth of stress: Birth is stressful, aging is stressful, death is stressful; sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair are stressful; association with the unbeloved is stressful, separation from the loved is stressful, not getting what is wanted is stressful….”

And that sounds a bit more like daily life. Right?

It certainly sounds like my move abroad. I would not have been able to process this change without some sort of mindfulness techniques in my back pocket.

Meditate & be well.

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My Meditation Practice

Buddhism – The First Noble Truth

January 21, 2018

It has been a really long time.

A lot has happened in the last year but at the same, not a lot has happened. During these last months, regular life has just happened. And through regular life, I have gone in and out of a mediation practice. I have felt connected to my meditation practice, and I have run away from my meditation practice. I have found the space to be considerate and kind to myself and those around me. And then I have been in places where I have felt constricted and belligerent. Towards others and myself.

In these last months, suffering has happened around me. Real deal suffering, violence and heartache has been happening in this world. I write this because I have struggled to acknowledge that even in normal life, in a life filled with quality and comfort, there can be suffering. It’s the first noble truth of Buddhism – life inevitably contains unavoidable suffering. The definition of suffering is broad and all encompassing. It all counts – discomfort, unease, dissatisfaction, stress and all the other undesirables. This brings me comfort. It all counts. Ash Beckham says it best – “there is no harder. There is only hard”.

The above is pretty bleak. Life = suffering. Everyone has hard.

So what has been hard?

I’ve been lonely. I moved to Germany almost 18 months ago and I’m still adjusting. I did not move to an international city, I moved to a small city. I moved to real-deal Germany. Its cute. It’s classic. There is beautiful scenery. It’s perfect for a weekend get-away but not an easy place to build a life. My suffering has been loneliness. And that counts. It all counts.

For the most part, I have been able to lean into the loneliness and acknowledge it. Turn towards it and stand my ground. But there have been times when the loneliness has been overwhelming and crushing. It’s these times where meditation is rocky, hard and scary. My self-righteous side says that suffering is our best teacher and when I suffer the most is when I need meditation the most. But screw that. In this place, the last thing I need is the ‘shoulds’. And if I can’t meditate in this place, then I can’t meditate in this place. I may need time. I may need a break. I may need to stand down to my suffering before I can  stand back up. The strength isn’t always in powering through. Sometimes the strength knowing when to back off.

This is where a practice helps. It helps to realize what I truly need as opposed to powering through what I should do. In actuality, what I should do, is a type of avoidance. My meditation practice has brought me closer to the RDM and this has taught me the importance of respecting my true needs. Kindness towards myself is going to get me a lot farther than any other approaches. It’s easy for our ego to cling to the accomplishment of every-damn-day standards. But meditation is always there. You can come back to it whenever you want. Right/wrong/better/worse leads to judgement and shame and that has gotten me nowhere closer to kindness and peace.

And there it is. What hard is. Where suffering comes from.

Right/wrong/better/worse assigns an expectation. If that expectations doesn’t align with our should, suffering happens. But it doesn’t have to. Suffering can be there. Without assignment. Without expectation. And you can let yourself have a natural reaction to it. The honest reaction you need to have. Again, without assignment. Without expectation.

Thich Nhat Hanh says:

“Recognizing and identifying our suffering is like the work of a doctor diagnosing an illness. He or she says, ‘If I press here, does it hurt?’ and we say, ‘Yes, this is my suffering. This has come to be.’ The wounds in our heart become the object of our meditation. We show them to the doctor, and we show them to the Buddha, which means we show them to ourselves.” [From The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching (Parallax Press, 1998) page 28]

All of this is to say – my journey is my journey and this is where I’ve been. Meditation is always there. Use meditation to understand what and when you need it.

Meditate & be well.

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My Meditation Practice

Meditation Can Relieve The Need for Self Distraction

May 10, 2017
I use to have a very hard time with me.

For many years, I did a lot of things.
I ran a lot of miles.
I did a lot of exercise classes.
I was very competitive in all of my hobbies.
I worked very hard at my job.
I drank a lot of wine.

This is what I thought I liked at the time:
The structure and cadence of working towards a goal.
The long hours it took training or practicing for the goal.

This is what it looked like on the outside:
I was goal oriented and focused!
I was committed!
I was an overachiever!
I was a fun!

2014 Boston Marathon. Goal accomplished through an internal struggle.

This is what others said they thought of me:
You’re such a fast runner!
You’re so fit!
You’re so balanced with your health and profession!

This is what was going on inside:
I can’t take a day off from running or I will have to face myself all day with energy.
I can only face myself if I’m tried, worn out or buzzed on wine.
I already achieved some goals, now I have to keep achieving goals because that is what others expect.
I know my flaws so if others know them, they won’t like me.

This is a pretty raw and honest post. Stay with me, I have a point.

All of these things were distraction tactics. I needed to distract myself from me (Real-Deal-Me) and my flaws. I had built up my small flaws to the point that they completely overshadowed everything else. The more I distracted and separated myself from RDM, the bigger my flaws were and the more I needed the distraction. So the distraction itself fed the need for even greater distraction.

It was a pretty brutal cycle and it caused me a tremendous amount of suffering. I felt like I was fighting a battle, my RDM wanted to be acknowledged and honored, but I kept pushing away. I felt that if I honored my RDM, the ‘me’ that the outside world perceived would crumble. The ‘outside’ had a very strong and controlling grip on me.

Meditation is the practice of going within. It was my meditation practice that gave me a means to start to pay attention to the RDM. Going within started really simple for me. I found the edges of my form and focused on keeping my awareness within that form. So the minutes spent in meditation became my time to spend with RDM. I had to meet her. And I had to get to know her. And then eventually, I could pay attention to her.

Over time, the cycle changed. It has come the point where not listening to RDM is what causes me stress and anxiety. Feeling separated from her, or too tired to listen to her, is now my uncomfortable place. I’m ok with saying no to the things I honestly don’t want to do. The self-imposed pressure to maintain the ‘outside-me’ has lessened, to the the point where I would say that it no longer has a controlling grip on me. The ‘outside-me’ no longer controls my thoughts or my actions.

I noticed this last weekend when I went to a wine festival with a friend. I remember a time where I didn’t think I could ever go to something like that without getting sucked into the need to dampen my thoughts or my internal connection with a glass or two of alcohol. But when I was there, I didn’t want to remove myself from me. I wanted to be me the entire time.

Wine Fest-ing: Featured Guest: Real-Deal-Me!

In my meditation journey, the question of ‘how do I know if it is working’ often comes up. It can be hard to allow mediation to take it’s due time, so I wanted to share this experience that was apparent last weekend during the wine festival. It wasn’t a quick switch, but over time, meditation has really helped me with self-honesty and to be comfortable in my own skin. I am more comfortable with me than I have been in a very long time, flaws and all. For me, this is a true sign that meditation is working.

Meditate & be well.

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My Meditation Practice

Meditation & Mindfulness Readings On The Internet

April 28, 2017

Here are some interesting reads gathered from around the interwebz that strummed something in my body, mind or soul so I thought I would share.

Meditate & be well.

What if All I Want is A Mediocre Life? By Krista O’Reilly
Self honesty in the midst of external messages. I come back to this concept a lot because we are constantly bombarded with messages.

5 Hidden Blessings in Failure by Constantina Koutsoupia
Trying to learn and grow through all of our tribulations.

My journey with ambression (ambition + depression) by Samanee Mahbub
How we distract ourselves to numb our feelings – such an interesting piece.

The Art of Enough by Elizabeth Millard
Contentment, connection, presence.

Overwhelmed? 10 Ways to Feel Less Busy by Oliver Burkeman
There are some really blunt points in here and it was nice to read them succinctly explained. I recognize the ‘busyness epidemic’ and the expectations it sets in my surroundings and it is always nice to have the language to identify what you are observing.

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My Meditation Practice

Am I Meditating?

April 23, 2017

Is it working?

This is one of the biggest questions that comes up before, during and after meditation. This is something that really struggled with in the beginning.

Am I doing it?

Is it working?

What am I supposed to feel?

I found meditation to be really illusive, especially when I first began my practice. I asked myself these questions over and over. I asked others who had a mature practice these questions. I asked Google these questions.

These questions did not yield direct or consistent answers. So the illusiveness not only continued, but it became a pervasive. This was a particularly hard because I tied the results of these questions to the worthiness of meditation. And this makes logical sense because it is really hard to stick with something unless you see, feel or perceive results.

This concept is pretty foundational to the neurological pattern that governs habit in our brain. To keep something up, the brain must realize a ‘reward’ or benefit as a result of the effort or actions. This is something that Charles Duhigg clearly articulates in his book The Power of Habit. And lets be honest – meditation is hard so why would you do it if not for the benefits?

I now realize that this phase, this questioning period, was actually more perilous than I realized at the time. I was attaching a defined and obvious result or reward to the effort of my meditation practice. I didn’t understand the nature of meditation and this confusion and ignorance lead to dissatisfaction.

Did you notice something about that last sentence?

Attachment. Confusion. Dissatisfaction. These states, together, are the inputs to suffering. According to the 2nd Noble Truth of Buddhism,  the cause of suffering is attachment.

Don’t stop reading now, because if you do, this post leaves you thinking that meditation causes suffering. Please keep reading.

Confusion, ignorance and attachment can have a very strong grip on our thought patterns. They can direct them. They can control them. Meditation is a time to pause, a time to create some distance between the real-deal-you (RDM) and the grip of ignorance, confusion and attachment.

So the more meditated, the less I needed to answer these questions. My reward became a sense of peace when it came to the illusiveness of meditation. I still find meditation to be profoundly personal, so I wouldn’t feel equipped to be able to answer those questions if asked. My answer would be this post. Meditation feels like the need for answers is absent. The confusion is absent. The dissatisfaction is absent.

I knew I was meditating because there was no need for answers.

Meditation is a practice. It is a time to practice being in a state where things may not have clarity, definition and controllable outcomes. When you are sitting you are preparing for times when ignorance, discomfort, suffering and attachment come up. Maybe they come up suddenly, or maybe they gradually grow around you. With this practice, the grip of ignorance, discomfort and suffering is no longer so harsh. It’s not as tight. You can pause and create space. And things have the potential to become OK.

Meditate & be well.

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My Meditation Practice

Meditation = Connecting to RDM

April 19, 2017

My recent ass-kicking move abroad has taught me a thing or two (or one-hundred) about connection.

I left a wonderful (wonderful) network of friends behind and moved to a country, city and company where I didn’t know anyone. And I didn’t know the language but that’s another post all on its own.

To go from a body, heart and mind full of connection to a body, heart and mind with no connection has been the hardest aspect of this move. Absolutely, completely, without question for realz. Realz. My reactions have gone from ‘this sucks’, to ‘this is kind of boring’ to ‘AHHHHH!!’ to ‘HELP!! Really! I need HELP!”

For the last eight months, I have basically oscillated round and round through these reactions.

This emotional rollercoaster has actually been a raw, face-the-music journey to realizing that there is nobody here but me.

Nobody but real-deal-me (RDM).

I have a point here, an actual learning. A big-ass learning.

Just like you need to connect with others (because we are tribal), we need to connect with ourselves. This is what meditation does. It is a way to connect with our true-self (RDM), by going  within the edges of our form. It’s here where we find our true-selves.

Meditation is the practice of connecting with your true-self.

When is the last time you had a heart-to-heart with your RDM? Not the ‘self’ you think you should be. Not the ‘self’ you try to be. Not the ‘self’ that you think everyone else sees.

Your true self. The one inside the edges. The real deal. Your real-deal-me.

My RDM has been buried pretty deep. I could not hear a thing from her. All I heard was the noise of who I thought she should be. The noise from trying to make her something she was not.

This noise was deafening.

The farther away RDM was, the less I connected with her, the more I suffered.

The learning is that meditation gives you a way to connect and listen to the real you. The real-deal you.

Jack Kornfield articulately says ‘Deep meditation can untangle the sense of identity.’

It has taken me a long time, and a big-ass-kicking to hear and find RDM. I couldn’t here her until there was nobody else.

And there was nobody else in Germany. Just her – the RDM.

Someone I am very grateful I met here (in Germany) said ‘Life tells you. You just have to listen.’

I love that. I’ve known that. That’s why this blog is called My Meditation Journey.

Maybe I needed this move to be so hard so I HAD to hear RDM.  Stripping it all away so all that was left was RDM.

And this is what meditation has brought me. A way to connect with and listen to RDM.

The more I am with RDM, the better things are. They’re not perfect. But they are better.

Meditate & be well.

 

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    My Meditation Practice

    I am here now.

    April 17, 2017

    It has been a while.

    It has been a very long while.

    To be honest and transparent, I’ve been going through a big change.

    Last autumn, I sold my house, sold my car and almost everything I owned. When I only had three boxes left of  ‘things’, I shipped them to another country and started a new job with a sister company.

    This change has been immense to say the least. Immense in good ways, hard ways and of course unexpected ways. The thing is, this change has provided so much fodder for this little space in the interwebz. But I just couldn’t. Yet.

    My meditation practice has come and gone through the last 8 months. I’m not here to be the meditation example to aspire to. I’m here to share my journey into meditation, the ups and the downs.

    So here I am, up and down with meditation.

    There have been times where I have been so.over.whelmed with this change that I have not been able to face my meditation practice. At all.

    And when I say I haven’t been able to face my meditation practice, what I mean is that I have not been able to face myself. The feelings that this change has stirred. I just couldn’t sometimes.

    But….

    While I may not have been able to actually sit down with my legs crossed, my hands on my thighs and my spine perfectly strait with closed eyes actually meditating, I do have to say that my meditation practice has been there in some capacity throughout out everything.

    What I realized that the simple awareness that I couldn’t sit down and meditate was what meditation has brought me. I couldn’t address the grip. But I knew the grip was there. And that is a small separation, a small pause which brought small peace.

    My meditation practice is here now. I can sit with myself and the grip.

    I don’t feel as though I can only share my meditation practice when I’m actually meditating. But this blog is a form of facing meditation. And like I mentioned above, I just couldn’t. Yet. But I’m here now.

    My intent is to be transparent and honest. I’m back to do that.

    Join me.

    Meditate & be well.

    2 Comments

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    • Reply Erin May 10, 2017 at 7:32 am

      Thank you! I am going to post as much as the space in my head and my heart allow. I appreciate your message. Be Well.

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    My Meditation Practice

    Meditation – What Has Been Working

    August 20, 2016

    Patanjali says that yoga* is the calming of the fluctuations of the mind.

    But I have to be honest and say that I am finding fluctuations in my meditation practice, not just my mind. While this blog is an evolving medium, it’s intent is to share just this – the ebb and flow of my practice. What I’m noticing, what I am struggling with, where I’m finding benefits, etc. I have also shared and will continue to share what I find to be working during my actual practice.

    This is one of those posts where I share what is working for me now.

    My meditation practice is truly just sitting with my breath. Complete and total breath awareness. Nothing else. And this is hard.

    In-and-out of my head flow the thoughts (just to describe a few):

    My grocery list….
    What I have to do once I stand up….
    The comment that recently annoyed me….
    If I’m hungry or not…
    Wow I’m doing it!!!! I’m meditating!!!!
    Oops, now I’m not….

    And this is how I (usually) practice:

    My grocery list….
    Back to the breath.
    What I have to do once I stand up….
    Back to the breath.
    What recently annoyed me….
    Back to the breath.
    If I’m hungry or not…
    Back to the breath.
    Wow I’m doing it!!!! I’m meditating!!!!
    Back to the breath.
    Oops, now I’m not….
    Back to the breath.

    Back to the breath’ is what ebbs and flows right now in this stage of my meditation ‘maturity’.

    What does ‘back to the breath’ mean? Is it a breathing pattern? Usually. It’s anything that brings my awareness within the edges of my form.

    As of late, ‘back to the breath’ has been the act of focusing on the moment when I feel the back of my lower lungs stretch.

    Try it finding this spot. Right now. The lower part of your lungs are below the shoulder blades and just above your navel.

    Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 9.18.45 AM

    If you observe your un-altered breath, you’ll notice that it stays in a certain area of your torso – the area under your sternum.

    If you have some experience with, or a regular pranayama practice, you may have a more developed breathing pattern where your navel moves in and out. Try to do this type of three part breathing first.

    Once you have the breath moving in and out using your navel (which is engaging more of your diaphragm), try to move the breath so it stretches out the back of your lungs. This take immense internal concentration.

    Even if you don’t feel the back of your lungs inflate and deflate, keep picturing it. Keep sending your awareness there. Eventually you will start to turn this mind-body connection on. In time, you will be able to tap into this special inside spot.

    I’m sharing this because I’ve found this ‘special inside spot’ to be truly centering in my mediation practice. This ‘back to the breath’ practice is what is working for me now and truth be told, it feels really, really good. So I wanted to share.

    Meditate & be well.

    *References to yoga on this blog are towards the meditative practice as opposed to the physical asana practice which is often connected with the term.

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    Meditation & Minfulness

    Meditation & Impermanence

    August 13, 2016

    I keep a personal journal (that my sister made me) and along with documenting my random musings, I also collect quotes in it. I also randomly flip back through my journal to see where my mind has been. A few days ago, I was doing just that – opening random pages of my journal and reading my thought-history.

    I came across this quote the day after I wrote a post about our attachment to impermanence as a source of suffering or discontent.

    “Nothing in this world is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – William Shakespeare

    I’ve always believed that the universe sends us little messages and I can’t help but think this is just that. A little message from the universe saying ‘good on ya Erin.’

    I also can’t help but think how beautifully Shakespeare speaks to our potential ability to manage our attachment. Oh, and how easy he makes it sound.

    But here is the thing, there are times when it is easy, and times when it’s really (maybe really really) hard. We can all look back on times when we’ve managed well. We’re all more competent than we give ourselves credit for. But then there are times when managing our attachment to the impermanent nature or life has been a significant challenge.

    We all go through these phases. Highs and lows. Ups and downs. Good times and bad times. There are seasons in nature and seasons in life.

    But here is the thing that I’ve been thinking about. The highs shouldn’t be too high and lows shouldn’t be too low. The pendulum shouldn’t swing too far to one side only, nor should it swing too far on either side.

    One of the laws of physics says that for every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction. One way to look at this is that higher the high, the farther you have to fall. I realize that is a pessimistic view, but it’s also illustrates an important perspective – we need to be able to weather the good and the bad without sacrificing the balance of our body, mind and soul. And to do this, we can’t go too high and we can’t go too low on the pendulum. And managing our attachment to life’s impermanency is what manages the swing of the pendulum.

    We need to pause before we get too high and before we get too low. And this is what meditation is. We practice and observe what it is to pause when we are sitting in meditation. We spend time in this pause. We give our mind, body and soul some time in this pause. This pause creates space between our true selves and the good or the bad. Here we can rationalize, process and manage.

    When things go from looking like this:

    Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 9.04.21 AM

    To looking like this:

    Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 9.05.55 AM

    We know we are managing our attachment to impermanence. This management is one of meditation’s gifts.

    Meditate & be well.

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    Meditation & Minfulness

    Change, Attachment, and Impermanence

    August 7, 2016

    I am going through a big change.

    I am leaving beautiful Vermont and moving to Germany for my job. The chance to live and work abroad has been a significant goal of mine for a very long time. I want to connect and set up roots in a completely different community. I want to figure out how to be successful in my career under completely different circumstances. I’ve been itching to get outside my comfort zone.

    And I did it. I made this happen. I am going to work for a company that I am ecstatic about, doing a job that I have experience and success in. And I am definitely outside of my comfort zone.

    Even though I know I want this, and this decision feels so right, it’s still hard.

    I am leaving a pretty good life.
    I am leaving everything I know.
    I sold my lovely little home.
    I left a job I was successful at.
    I said goodbye to my family & friends.
    I said goodbye to my family & friends.
    I said goodbye to my family & friends.

    Needless to say, the concept of impermanence and attachment have been on my mind as of late.

    The notion that our attachment to life’s impermanency causes suffering is a foundational concept in Buddhism. The stronger the attachment, the greater the suffering.

    That being said, there is good news.

    Buddhism also teaches us that suffering and attachment have a causal and direct relationship. So the less we attach to life’s impermanency, the less we suffer.

    But let’s be honest – we can’t rid ourselves of all attachments. Nor should we.

    Our human connections, the pursuit of our passions and our love for life itself are potential sources of suffering but they are also the substance of humanity and the ingredients for a fulfilling life.

    And this is where I am. I can either attach & suffer or accept that the suffering I have felt from all the goodbyes is actually beautiful. It’s beautiful because it means I have built a life filled with people I care about.

    The sorrow I am feeling doesn’t have to consume me or govern my actions and this is what meditation has helped me learn. 

    Life is ever-changing. It’s a continuous flow of moments weaved together creating a wealth of experiences. The potential in these experiences arises from their dynamic nature; day-to-day, minute-to-minute and breath-to-breath.

    If I accept and go with the current of life, I can weather the suffering that comes along with desires and attachments. I can pause and realize that I am the same person through the ups and the downs, the good and the bad, the easy and the hard.

    And this is what I want. I want to go into this next chapter with all of my heart, all of my mind, and all of my soul.

    Meditate & be well.

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