Art Balances Us


Rise and shine art lovers! 

There’s still time to register for my class on Saturday at the Art Institute of Chicago, in which we might figure out how this piece of art, this lovely painting of a young woman with a book, sitting quietly might help us ourselves to find a way to be rebalanced from the stresses of everyday life. 

Perhaps she reminds us that it’s good to sit down and step away from the news, to turn off our digital media. 

The directness of her gaze might indicate that she’s speaking straight to us, inviting us to enjoy even a moment of solitary contemplation perhaps with a good book. 

Because certainly with the work schedules that we all keep, the challenges of trying to strike a work/life balance, we could use a little help seeking balance. Couldn’t we? 

I hope you’ll join us. 

Here’s the link for tickets.

 #artastherapy #artforintroverts #artinstituteofchicago #ArtInChicago #ArtAsTherapeuticExperience #learningtosee #alaindebotton #chicago #LadyBoss #entrepreneur #carpediem #ilovemuseums #chicagocreatives #artbalances

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Daily Practice is Never a Waste of Time


“Daily practice is never a waste of time.” (Sharon Salzberg)

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Even though we might not see the fruits of our practice right away (like, while we are actually DOING our formal practice, while our butts are on the cushion or bench or whatever), we CAN have confidence that the fruits WILL come.

Sometimes the effects might be very subtle or we might not feel it or notice it, but then something HAPPENS! (Cuz you KNOW life is ALWAYS going to give us opportunities) And then – BOOM! We suddenly notice that the way we are reacting is DIFFERENT than it was before.

This weekend at Kripalu, while I was on retreat with Sharon Salzberg and Stephen Cope, Sharon told a funny story about one of the first weeks she ever sat and did Metta practice all alone. She spent the week focusing on her self, using Metta phrases like, May I be happy, may I be safe, may I be strong, may I have ease of well-being. She said the whole week felt sort of dull and boring; nothing interesting happening at all and that she was sort of wondering if she hadn’t wasted a week because she didn’t feel anything special while she was sitting and practicing.

But then life intervened. A friend got sick and a bunch of the folks sitting had to leave the retreat center to go help them. In the rushing around of getting ready to leave the center, she dropped a big glass jar of some kind, sending shards of glass all over the place. A real mess. She noticed that her first thoughts were, God, you’re a clutz but I love you. She realized in that moment, that in the past she would have really been angry at herself and that clearly something had in fact been happening during her week of  Metta practice toward herself.

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Perhaps we are calm when we might’ve flown off the handle. We don’t holler like we would have done just last week or last year. (Like when the cats woke you up at four a.m., hollering for food even though you just got home from an intense weekend. AND, even though you did just feed them a few short hours ago… Don’t they KNOW you need some sleep for God’s sake!) In fact, this did happen to me this morning and I know I handled it totally differently than I have in the past.

In the past, I’ve experienced the rapid heartbeat of being startled awake and muttering under my breath or even actually hollering at the cats. A lot of  God damn it, why can’t they just shut up or be more like a dog and wait for the freaking food to arrive when I get up! A spray bottle of water has been involved many times. In the process, I’ve awakened my sleeping husband, who has the amazing capacity to sleep through absolutely anything! And how does he sleep like that? Why doesn’t he wake up and feed them? I got these cats FOR HIM after all. Shouldn’t he be taking care of them not me! Doesn’t anyone see the terrible injustice which I am now suffering!? ARGH!

I have stormed down the stairs fuming and slammed food into their dishes and wondered in my raging head, how  much longer will the darn beasts actually LIVE! (They are now 18 years old, heading toward 19 with no obvious sense of physical decline.) And in case you think I’m a cat hater, know this: I am not a cat hater. New to living with cats, yes. But I love them and for proof, feel free to check my Facebook or Instagram feeds for copious evidence. Pinky, who adopted me with a fierce and adoring intensity after my dog Tiger, died, has been renamed by me, AKA The Assistant. He actually has his own hashtag. He’s a happy part of my daily writing life. He tells me when it’s time for a break by jumping up and laying across my arm so I can do nothing other than pat him. Put down that pen Mom. And I listen to his furry feline wisdom.

This morning, when they woke me, I was really tired from a day of traveling back from retreat, but I could just empathize with the reality that they were hungry and needed food. They have the communication skills they do (meowing, box and paper shredding Very Loudly for a few examples) and use them well. I was able to have a feeling of tender appreciation of their plight rather than anger. The weekend of Metta practice definitely is already making a HUGE difference. Sharon, my cats thank you deeply for your teachings. 

I tiptoed down the stairs, picked Pinky up and cuddled him and quietly opened the can of food and plopped some into their dish and actually enjoyed the funny sounds they make while eating. It’s like a super yummy sound (think Young Frankenstein) with lots of lip smacking and purring. How wonderful to do something which created so much kitty happiness so easily. Then I crawled back into bed for a little extra R&R. Shortly after, I had two furry cuddle buddies. It doesn’t get much better than that.

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Though our formal practice might have felt kind of boring, or uninteresting, under the surface we were changing and it just took having an opportunity (something life will ALWAYS give us) to see that change become manifest.

So have courage yogis! Have some faith.

Look closely at your thoughts, the things you say and things you do.

I bet if you look with a close attention, you will notice that you’re changing slowly, bit by bit.

Your daily practice is NEVER a waste of time.

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May all be happy. May all be peaceful.

Crying on the Yoga Mat


“Mr. Duffy lived a short distance form his body.” – James Joyce

Lying on my yoga mat last night in class, between poses,  just grateful to be there even though I’m sweating like crazy and thinking I must really stink when the teacher, Jessica Young of Tejas Yoga in Chicago (also a friend and killer human being, writer, defender of rights of all beings) comes to adjust my posture. 

Jess is calling out the cues for postures and I’m following along like a dog, a grateful yoga dog, breathing (ok sometimes it sounds like feels more like panting,) and stretching as much as I can.

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I’m beginning to stop being such a border collie and going full out into what could be way too much for me on a given day and accepting the body as it is, day by day.

Striking that blessed balance between effort and ease.

I just love that I can come here and someone else will tell me what to do to help me heal my body and my spirit, my heart and my mind. An hour or more of asanas, one after the next after the next. Lots of sweating.

Finally, the rest pose, corpse pose, savasana. And I love that Jess clicks on the AC , “to take the edge off.” I pull a blanket over my body with deep gratitude. Savasana is often an emotional time for me. Whatever has been under the surface comes bubbling up.

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I love that yoga class ends with this. Well it doesn’t “End” with it but it does marks the beginning of the end of each and every class.

Corpse pose, letting everything fall away and down, the brain resting in the back of the head, the eyeballs falling into the little craters in my face, the occipital orbits.

And the breath just happening on its own, letting go of all effort-fulness.

So last night, I’m lying there, suddenly my husband’s words about gentleness and living gently come to me and I’m crying; the tears leaking out of eyes and running into my ears. I don’t move but let them come. I let go even of worry and analysis.

I’m feeling grateful for his presence and what feels like a total softening of our whole thing together. I wonder if it’s all the Metta practice I’ve been up to lately or all the shit that’s come down in the last weeks or so, but I guess I don’t really have to know. I can tell you this: We have both lived our lives util we knew each other, under a great deal of duress and extremes which are next to the words in the dictionary: not gentle living. (if that was a real entry)

It feels good this gentleness. Like crazy good. Like we are finally relaxing into who we really are, deep inside. Healing the wounds. Developing the gifts. But that’s another idea for later.

After corpse pose, there’s the rolling over to the side into a fetal position and taking breaths there and when ready, allowing yourself to be born again, using the strength of the arms and the breath to press yourself up into a sitting posture. Then Om Shanti Shanti Shanti, and final gratitude and wishes for all beings to find peace. 

I love being reborn every time I unroll my mat. Where else can I get that?

I end class with this. So simple yet challenging to live out fully: Committing to being here each moment as it is, but really being here instead of a short distance away.

I wish you well.

Thank you so much for stopping by.

Hillary

6 Steps to De-Stress During High Stress Times


One of my students is going through a very high stress time right now. She’s a college student preparing for the MCAT test. A grueling seven-hour monster that a pre-requisite for getting into medical school (The Medical College Admission Test® (MCAT®), developed and administered by the AAMC, is a standardized, multiple-choice examination created to help medical school admissions offices assess your problem solving, critical thinking, and knowledge of natural, behavioral, and social science concepts and principles …) – Just reading this is enough to give a person a stress headache!
So, maybe you ‘re not taking a test like that but you have your own stressful stuff unfolding. The transition form spring into summer can do that. Kids getting out of school, work seasons change, job hunting, dealing with illnesses, etc. etc. I thought that it might be helpful for you all for me to share what I taught her today: Six Steps to De-Stressing During High Stress Times
So this week, try these out and please, let me know how it goes if you like. What questions come up? I’m happy to support you any way I can.
1. Journal about what you ingest, food, drink, friends, entertainments etc. What we put into the mind, body and spirit is what we become. Put another way, what we surround ourselves with is what we become. So it makes sense to really pay attention to what all that stuff is and examine it for ourselves, asking the question of each thing: Is this beneficial or wholesome for me or not? I encourage you to keep the log first and then examine it all for patterns and benefits or detriments.
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2. Meditate on a regular schedule. It’s can also be quite beneficial to do a brief bit of journal writing before and after you practice. This doesn’t have to go on for long, even a few minutes of writing can provide a great deal of insight when paired with meditation.  It’s not unusual to have a hard time creating a regular schedule but, boy, is it ever good for you. Your heart and mind like the rhythm of regularity and the discipline of sticking to something good for you.
3. Regulate your sleep, food and exercise as much as you can. You are in charge of making choices about what you do. Ask your friends to support you in this. So if you say no to some activity like a party that will go too late or be a little too crazy for you right now, for example, they shouldn’t beg you to come along but trust your discernment and support you. Also see number 2.
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4. Do walking meditation before sitting practice. This helps energize, stabilize and focus your mind and body for sitting meditation.
5. Try the PRO technique: Pause, Relax, Open offered by mindfulness expert Elisha Goldstein
6. If you like, comment here when you practice meditation and I’ll send you a hi-five in return and a meditation tip!
May you be well, safe, happy, may you live with ease.
With Metta,
Hillary
Metta

Mindful Metta Mondays In Evanston


So excited, humbled, honored to announce that I’ll be teaching at this amazing place, The Heartwood Center, in Evanston.


Mindful Metta Mondays start Monday June 6th, 7-8pm at the Heartwood Center!
Four-week sessions in June, July and August. $72 for the month or $20 drop in. Registration will open in the next day or so. Each session will integrate meditation and writing to help us cultivate Metta or loving kindness for ourselves and each other.

Take a break to make your writing better


Maybe you’re working on some content marketing, a press release, blog, white paper, or that piece which is finally thank God, your big break at The New Yorker, an essay for your favorite journal, your novel or short story. We all know the feeling. There is a deadline. It looms. The clock ticks louder and louder. Emails arrive from the boss, the client, the agent, asking when you’ll be delivering the work.

You look back at the computer. The empty white screen glares, mocking you. You wonder, with a sinking feeling in your gut and perhaps a racing of your heart,where’s that go-getter, that deadline meeting genius you told them you were?

At times like this, we tend to stay glued to the desk, keep longer hours, drink more caffeine, energy drinks, work harder to make something, anything out of our fingertips, our keyboard. We believe that if we just keep our butts glued to the chair that we can somehow force what is needed out onto the page.

And maybe, sometimes, that could be true. Maybe we can get something out. But really, how good is it? Work made this way doesn’t come from fire in the belly or a passionate heart. It gets born but feels dead. And the process is no fun. At. All.

And worse still, this kind of brain-freeze and forced march reaction can become a pattern. It’s a sort crazed, creative death-spiral. We think perhaps being an accountant might be more fun.

At this point you may need a major intervention. A real break. Some way to break up the rocks and crust of bad habitual patterns and rediscover the real beating life buried under all that frustration.

For a major re-boot, I recommend a creative retreat of some kind; one that will allow you to let go of all the stress to which you’ve become addicted against your better judgement and which will help you rekindle that flame of creativity and joy, releasing the inner creative genius which always knows how to play, experiment, dance with a devil may care, throw caution to the winds zest for being alive.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to hop a plane for 16 hours to an exotic locale (though if you have the time, go ahead on and enjoy). There’s a number of things you can do other than that.

Here’s a few ideas.

Some are in the moment things you can do and others involve a greater commitment of time. Each is fundamentally based on the idea that stepping away from the task at hand is the best medicine and further, that you engage in something which occupies the mind in a manner both relaxed yet focused.

You’ll note that none of these involves technology or media of any kin,d as they tend to create more stress and increase distractibility. I mean, for goodness sake, think of how fast your Twitter feed spits out new stuff at you. All those banner notifications.

  • Go for a nice mindful walk in which you completely and luxuriously immerse yourself and your senses in connecting to your moment by moment experiences. (One of my favorite writers who I am told, goes on a walk daily, is Paul Auster. It certainly seems to work for him.)
  • Do some exercise. Maybe you’re a runner or like to do yoga or swim. It doesn’t matter so much what it is you do, but that you fully engage in what you are doing.
  • Do as author Dani Shapiro suggests and fill your ears with beautiful language by reading something truly magnificent. I also advocate reading aloud and really letting that gorgeous language soak in. Roll around in all that amazing sound. I like to read things which may be related even slightly by subject matter to what I’m working on, but sometimes letting go completely and just reading some poetry can be a powerful way to throw the switches. Get some Rumi. Hafiz. Robert Frost. Mary Oliver. Connect with your spiritual side even for a few verses.

There is a channel between voice and presence,
a way where information flows.

In disciplined silence the channel opens.
With wandering talk, it closes. 
-Rumi

For something which will offer you a more profound opportunity for change try a local retreat of some kind where you can unplug from your devices, relax, retrain your mind, and open the heart, creating space for compassion and creativity.

Check out what might be offered near where you live and work. You may find options that extend from anywhere from a few hours to a whole weekend or even a week. I recently attended an amazing retreat at Kripalu  for a weekend of writing and meditation with Dani Shapiro. I came back a changed woman.

If you’re in Chicago or thereabouts, you might want to come to one of these.

What works for you when you’re feeling stuck? Love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

Write on.

Hillary

Spring Mini-Retreats


Mindfulness Meditation, Movement and Writing!
MINI-RETREAT SPRING DATES:
4/21 (6-8pm)
5/15 (12-2pm)
6/16 (6-8pm)

$30 each
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Let’s start spring with a spiritual clean out. After a long winter it’s good to cleanse not only the body but the heart and mind too. Get ready to move closer to finding your own unique gifts and the capacity to share them with the world.

Discover how you can compassionately transform your heart and mind for greater peace and happiness.
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You will learn:

  • to cultivate gentle yet sharp and clear awareness of the body and mind
  • how to apply the lessons of your newly developing awareness from formal practice to your every day life 
  • how to hold yourself with greater compassion and acceptance
  • how to work with “negative” emotions
  • how to create greater sense of flow in your life
  • how to find your own happiness right here and now

The best attitude to come to the class with is this: simply open curiosity to see what will happen. I can’t tell you what will change for you, but I can promise you that if you come, something will indeed change.
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Sound good? Sign up now!
Registration and payment required  to reserve your spot.

What to bring:

  • wear soft, comfy clothes- layers are good
  • journal or notebook
  • something to write with
  • yoga mat

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Other Details:

Where: 1839 S Halsted St (just south of 18th St.)
When: 4/21 (6-8pm), 5/15 (12-2pm), 6/16 (6-8pm)
Tuition: $30 per session

Sign up now. Shoot me a line and I’ll be glad to help you out.

WE ARE EASILY ACCESSED VIA PUBLIC TRANSIT
FREE STREET PARKING IS AVAILABLE