My Body, My Friend: Finding the Spiritual in my Toes

two friends having teaThis article also appears on the Huffington Post.

“Is it possible to find the spiritual in the body?” a reader of my blog asked in response to a post on body image. My first reaction was, “No way. There’s nothing spiritual about my toes.”

However, I continued to explore this: Could it be that the spiritual is in this body? There were a lot of thoughts in my mind that disagreed with this, e.g.: “The body is of this earth. It’s banal, temporary, and dirty. It’s a vessel for the soul which is all that is spiritual. It serves a purpose and is not spiritual. It gets old, it dies and therefore cannot be spiritual.”

These thoughts went on and on and were reinforced by some things I was reading. For instance, there is a school of thought in the self-help community that “the body keeps score.” This is meant to be helpful in terms of letting people know that, or become aware of, how you live your life and the thoughts that you have are impacting your body and your body can tell you a lot about the life of your mind.

Though when I reflected on this – the body as a referee of my life – it felt incredibly negative and dualistic. My body vs. my mind and my body is the judge and jury and will sentence me to . . . illness and, of course, death at some previously undisclosed point.

So none of this was entirely ringing true: the body as a vessel or the body as a referee. Could I find in my body, even in my toes, the spiritual?

What if my body is spirit in the same way as my soul? Why do I cling to this dualism (tri-ism?) of mind-body-soul?

The truly troubling trend in all these thoughts seemed to be an antagonism toward my body. Then I had a thought: What if I befriended my body? What if, rather than seeing her as a scowling referee, I saw her as a friend (an old friend in my case) who wants to tell me something?

Perhaps she’s that very dear friend who wants to have tea with me and tell me something true. Perhaps she wants to speak to me with deep honesty. It may not be easy to hear. These truths she holds and wants to share with me may be surprising or difficult to accept and, yet, I must hear them.

Maybe she wants to tell me that those work choices that I continue to make, the ones that round my shoulders and hang my head, are not the right ones for me. Maybe this will be difficult to hear, but she is a dear friend who is on my side, who wants to share with me the truth of what is.

Perhaps rather than thinking of her as a means to end, I can see how she makes “it” all possible. She makes this life possible. She makes the joy of being here with others, of being in a conversation and relationship with others, sharing my gifts, writing these words, eating beautiful food, and connecting with nature, she makes it all possible.

I was in a meeting one day at work, and a colleague was speaking with such honesty and kindness and as I listened to him and watched his face move, I thought about how his spirit was being expressed by his body. How the reason he was able to share that truth and beauty was because his body was there and allowing / facilitating the expression of his words and soul.

So I offer to you this approach in this journey to the spiritual in the body: think of your body as a friend. She is here for you and makes this complicated, beautiful life happen. Be kind to her, offer her tea and biscuits, and listen carefully to her wisdom. She has a beautiful story to share with you.

Wishing for you a deep spiritual friendship with every aspect of who you are.

A Photo-a-Day

In January, I set an intention for myself to take one photo per day. It was a gentle intention. Some days I remembered and some days I didn’t. Some days I took multiple photos. No big deal, I just did what I could.

The ideas was to see the beauty around me each day and stop and appreciate it. The drive for this intention came from two places. 1. After a conversation with a colleague who has a highly developed analytical mind, I realized that the visual in general and, visual beauty, really matters to me. 2. Many years ago I was a fine art photographer. I loved making images, especially in the darkroom. I miss that activity and these iPhone photos allow me to touch that place in my heart at least a little each day.

Hope you enjoy the results of my month’s intention.

Wishing you abundant love, light, and beauty.

photo collage by Janice E. Lodato

 

 

photo collage by Janice E. Lodato

 

 

photo collage by Janice E. Lodato
Photo collages by Janice E. Lodato

Just One Thing

This article also appears on the Huffington Post.

Hope is the sparkPerhaps you’re like me. It’s mid-January, you’ve made big plans and set sincere intentions for this bright, shiny new year and . . . you’re stuck. It’s like you’re in a hole and you can’t find your way out. Any spark of action or glimmer of hope is lacking and you find yourself overwhelmed by the day-to-day needs of your life, unable to start even one change.

That thought is what brought me here today: “start with one change.” What if I changed just one thing today?

This is the idea behind what the founders of Simple Green Smoothies did. Unhealthy, broke, de-energized, and not sure where to go next, Jadah decided to change just one thing. She decided to have a green smoothie every day. With that change, she started losing weight and had more energy; then she started working out and the momentum continued to grow. She changed one thing and the rest followed.

So I started to think of the 10s or 100s of things I’d like to change, what is one thing I can do to get to “better”? What is one thing that can help me out of the hole and lead me toward hope?

The first thing that came to mind was going for a lunchtime walk each day. For my project management work, my office is located two blocks from Lake Michigan. Can I steal away for 20-30 minutes each day to connect with a little nature and gently move my body? Can I do this one thing every day for a week?

Will there be barriers and excuses? Oh, yes. An overly packed meeting schedule is sure to be a hurdle. What if I put it on my calendar to make sure it’s prioritized? Will the weather be cold and nasty? Hey, this is Chicago, you can guarantee it will be. But I commute by public transit so I already have all my gear with me. I can handle the weather.

Then my mind chimed in some more: But, wait. Does this make sense? How does this get you any closer to those lofty and important goals and intentions of the new year?

Honestly, I have no idea, but I stopped the analysis. It’s just one thing. It is a change. It breaks a pattern. It facilitates a shift. It changes a behavior of overwork, under-thinking, and under-breathing.

Perhaps it will be the spark that leads to something else. Perhaps it will provide me with the mental space to make a bigger change. I’m not sure, but it’s just one thing, that I’ll do for one week.

Will you join me? What’s your Just One Thing that you’ll do for a week to ignite a spark in your heart? Let us know in the comments below.

 

~Wishing for you the spark that lights up your heart with hope.

Non-doing: Can I do it?

This article also appears on the Huffington Post

Photo by Janice E. LodatoI knew I was in real trouble when I was at the dentist this month for a cleaning and check-up and I was giddy about the prospect of having my feet up and being able to close my eyes for 40 minutes in the middle of my day. Sure, there was someone poking around with a metal object at my teeth and gums, but, hey, if you can get to your relaxed state (thanks Reiki/yoga/meditation), then it’s an excellent spa moment.

Relaying my glee about chilling at the dentist to my husband revealed that something was wrong, very wrong. Why do I have to go to the dentist to relax in the middle of the day?

Hi, my name is Janice and I’m addicted to busyness. Perhaps you are too. Do you have an unrealistic to-do list in your mind, on a piece of paper, on your computer, or smartphone each day? Do you shift constantly from one task to another — perhaps mindless shifting from one to the other? Do you suffer from what Jonathan Fields calls “Reactive Life Syndrome”? If you’re like me, you’re nodding your head, “yes”.

I guess we could spend some time today figuring out how we got here. What life demand or crisis brought us to this place of reaction and constant doing? Part of it is probably cultural. Part of it is probably a coping technique to avoid deeper issues. But how do we break free?

Last week, my life coach, Mary Ann Johnstone, directed me / challenged me to do less. To start taking things off my to-do list – not by working constantly so I could cross them off, but by opting not to do them.

I’m doing miserably at non-doing.

My to-do list is relentless. Though as my 12-year-old daughter noted the other day, “We’re never really doing nothing. We’re always breathing, thinking, meditating, sleeping . . . “ So true, there is always something.

But how can I move to a place of spaciousness? Where is the ability for spontaneity? For choice? For intention?

Here’s a super-simple example. I like to start the week with the laundry done and put away. It seems to make my Mondays easier when I’m not digging through a hamper or staring at my closet trying to decide what to wear. However, sometimes the busyness of doing the laundry takes away from a more soul-fulfilling activity.

So, if I approached my day with greater intention and made a deliberate choice about what I’m doing – one that chooses my higher self – my best self – my highest intention, instead of a preset expectation around clean clothes, then maybe, just maybe, I would feel better about my day and my life. Maybe some stress would drop away. Maybe greater connections would happen; more creativity would manifest; or maybe nothing would happen at all. Remember I’m not doing, right?

So, maybe it’s a feeling or a place of meaningfulness that I’m seeking. Perhaps that is where I would be if I chose intention over reaction.

We are not our actions. We are not what we do. So, I’ve heard people say. There is an essence self outside of our actions. But how do we know it and express it? I think it’s through actions, words, and thoughts. Am I missing something here?

So I’m seeking a place of essence, of intention, of expression of my true self. Of the “me” that is meant to be.

How will I get there? Will it be from a place of relentless doing? Or will it happen in the place between actions? Or is it the type of actions that make the difference? The ones that serve the highest self? Or do even the banal actions serve it? Even the doing the laundry matters . . . done with intention.

What do you think? Are you able to live in a place of non-doing? How do you express your essence-self? Please leave a comment below and join the conversation.

Wishing you abundant spaciousness.

 

 

 

Surfing with Grief

This article also appears in the Huffington Post.

IMG_0582The ground shifted underneath me. November 2016 was a month of grief and shock for me. The loss of the election by way of the Electoral College to a man who brings darkness and hatred with his words and actions shook me to the core. Then, on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, one of my colleagues took his own life in our office suite. I’m still reeling from it all.

On the one hand I’m doing ok. Still doing all my self-care: Reiki and meditation every day, eating nutritious foods, and exercising. I’m also focusing on talking with others about these losses. Sleep has been a mixed bag and, honestly, the darkness of this time of year creates an extra weight.

I’ve always been interested in the mind-body connection. When I was a philosophy student, “The Body in the Mind” by Mark Johnson was very influential to me. During this grieving-time I’m paying attention to the signs in my body.

“I’m doing ok,” I tell everyone and yet my head is pounding. I catch my reflection in a window, and I see my body slumped forward. It is difficult to sit up straight. I eat well and then suddenly intense nausea grips me. I sleep very little or a lot or I wake with a fright during the night.

Work is very difficult. Each day I dread going back to the office. I was not there when Sergey’s body was discovered so I don’t carry that pain, but I feel the grief of my colleagues. I see their swollen faces, their gaze that is focused on the floor, and I hear them saying, “I’m ok.”

I’m pushing on at work. Trying to be strong for myself and others. This is the job that I wanted, that I have been seeking. I have a wonderful set of colleagues, the work is meaningful, and a great institution supports us.

However, as things return to normal: an 8-hour day with 10 meetings; demands to meet unrealistic schedules; and difficult problems to solve technically and interpersonally; I feel myself recoiling from it all.

This grief is significant. These dark days are difficult. It’s all a familiar feeling – not sure if that helps or not that I’ve felt this before. I keep coming back to this metaphor:

The “lifeboat” has taken me out to sea. It dropped me off with my surfboard in my regular clothes, no fancy wetsuit or bathing suit. Only thing is, I don’t know how to surf.

Maybe I knew once – in a previous life? Who knows? Anyway, I recall seeing what others do at these times.

They lie down on the surfboard and start paddling with their arms.

So I start to do that. I see a wave form and know that I’m supposed to stand up on the board, balance, and ride the wave. I attempt to do this, but I’m smacked down by the wave and it pushes me to shore.

I stand up with my surfboard in one hand, soaked, sand inside my clothes, salt water in my nose and mouth.

Stinking eyes see people waving to me from the lifeboat – they’re telling me to ride the waves again.

And so I swim out to where the waves are breaking. I don’t know how to do this surfing thing, of that I’m sure, but I see a wave coming and try to stand on the surfboard. I do stand for a tenuous moment with fingertips still clinging to the board and then I fall again.

Back on shore, I sit in the sand exhausted and sore – knowing I’ll need to ride the waves again and again until I’m an expert at this thing I never wanted to know how to do.

That’s what grief is like for me right now.

I don’t know how this will all work out. I do know this is a very difficult time for myself and others and so my intention is: self-care and care for others.

As we navigate grief, I want to offer to you a helpful thought – a practice. When we’re grieving I know these things are helpful:

  • Reiki
  • Meditation
  • Time in nature
  • Talking with friends
  • Physical movement
  • Creativity

That last one is particularly powerful. One doesn’t have to be a skilled artist or even produce work that you share with others, it is the act of creating that breaks down the bonds of grief. Some helpful resources can be found here.

So, I invite you to a place of self-care and creativity. Care of yourself through mindful practices of Reiki, meditation, journaling, connecting with like-minded people, being in nature, moving your body, and creating.

These things will build you up and support your heart in its journey. They will also point to the actions that will align with your values and intentions.

Wishing for us all healing of body, mind, and spirit.

I teach Reiki and mindfulness and I’m operating on autopilot

awareness
Photo by Janice E. Lodato

This article also appears on the Huffington Post.

The title of this post is 100% accurate at times. This is a difficult thing to admit but it’s true: sometimes I’m on autopilot and walk around with an almost complete lack of awareness of my thoughts and of the present moment.

Awareness of my lack of awareness came about in the following way: I have a new, highly demanding job that calls for lots of my attention and time. When I finally carved out some time for writing, an activity that brings me joy and fulfillment, I found I had nothing to say.

My thoughts were not clear, my intention was lost, and the voice in my head that creates a narrative was silent.

There are so many reasons for this situation. First, there is the lack of time spent reflecting on ideas. I haven’t been participating in one of my other favorite activities: staring out a window and just thinking. It may look like I’m doing nothing or that I’m not in the present moment, but I’m in a very present place of engaging with an idea, only in my mind and nowhere else. This feeds my writing.

Second, there is the lack of time spent taking in ideas. Oh, there are plenty of ideas at work that swirl around all day about technology and process issues, but I’m talking about, what are for me, the big ideas. The ideas about what it means to live a meaningful life; what it means to be human; and what it means to be kind and loving. One of the things that feed my writing is reading articles and books that explore these big ideas.

In all honesty, I haven’t been doing those two things and it’s creating a void in my ability to write and think creatively.

Now things aren’t all bad, I’ve been maintaining my self-Reiki practice and I meditate, eat well, and exercise regularly. I spend time with friends and connect with my family, but let’s be honest here, I’m on autopilot.

I stick to my routine like a drill sergeant and have no wiggle room for a healthy, long-term gaze out the window. So, I’m re-evaluating my workdays and my schedule in general to make sure there is open time for reading enriching materials and thinking, just thinking.

Perhaps I’m more mindful than I give myself credit for – I became aware of my lack of day-to-day, moment-to-moment awareness of my thoughts and I’m making changes to come back to that place of mindfulness.

And as I finished writing that, the previously silent wind chimes in my backyard, sang out – affirming my intention and awareness of the present moment.

Sat nam. I am. I am here now.

Wishing for you an abundance of loving awareness.

I Boycott the NFL and I Support Free Speech

This article also appears on the Huffington Post

footballLast night I walked by a sports bar on my way home from work and thought, “Oh, it’s Monday night. There’s football on!” For a moment I was gleeful, my mood lifted and then I remembered – I don’t watch the NFL anymore and feelings of sadness and loss came over me.

Sports were a central part of my upbringing. They were the activities that we did together as a family, they were our shared entertainment, and they were a point of conversation and of income and a reason to travel. Indeed one of my fond childhood memories is of sitting on the sofa with my father and watching football on a Sunday afternoon in the fall.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a zealot about my boycott, I will still gladly sit on the sofa on a Sunday afternoon and watch football with my father. However, outside of that I will not engage in following, cheering, or watching the NFL.

I know my boycott means nothing to the NFL and its franchises, but it is meaningful to me. I do not want my time and actions to promote an activity that knowingly harms another human being’s life. The NFL has long been aware of the seriousness of head injuries and has actively sought to cover up this topic. I’m not an expert in this area, but have found these credible sources:

Also, this beloved game is full of sexism. We can start with the most obvious: the cheerleaders who dance on the sidelines in revealing outfits for the entertainment of the fans. Many have been paid below the minimum wage in stark contrast to the riches the men in the organization receive.

I’m not writing this to try and convince you to participate in this boycott. Though I think it is worthwhile, I recognize how deeply engrained this sport is in our culture and how it is a lifeline for so many.

I’m writing this because I want you to know that I love football and I miss it, but I’m voting with my time and money by not participating in it as a fan. If you join me in this, I thank you. If you don’t, I completely understand.

Perhaps, someday, our entertainment and the long-term health of the athletes, and respect and equity for all individuals, can exist in harmony.

Until then, you’ll find me outside raking leaves and hiking this autumn.

 

Note: I do not support the boycott of the NFL because players want to point out racism in their country. I support all people’s right to peaceful protest as outlined by the constitution.

 

 

 

Let it go

This post also appears on The Huffington Post.

let it go
Photo by Janice E. Lodato

“I have something to let go of,” I said out loud in my sleep waking myself up from the most intriguing dream. As I laid still in the dark, under the covers but wide-awake, I wondered at the statement I heard so clearly. What was it that I need to let go of?

As I reflected on this the possibilities seemed endless. Here are just a few of the ideas that first came to mind.

I could let go of the:

  • Need to be right
  • Expectation that I’m interested in everything
  • Drive to try to be good at everything
  • Expectation that I have to do things by myself

“Wow,” I thought to myself, “that would be a lot. That would be so liberating. But would I still be me?”

I started from the bottom of my list and worked up. “Let go of the expectation that I have do things by myself.” I developed a simple intention: Ask for help.

Now this may sound simple if this is not something that you carry with you – if you naturally ask for help and rally others around you, but, honestly, for me this is difficult. Often when I ask for help I do so in an incredibly awkward way. With people I don’t know very well I may appear overly eager or overly aloof. With my family members I often only ask for help when I’m at the end of my rope. Sometimes literally crying and crazed for someone to dig me out of the hole I’ve gotten myself into. Here’s an ugly example:

It’s Sunday afternoon on a hot and humid summer day, I’ve worked a full week at a new job with a long commute. I’m exhausted and overwhelmed by my weekend to-do list. I feel the list of responsibilities is all mine. I’m kneeling in our backyard pulling weeds that seem endless. Pulling, pulling, until my hand hurts and I start lashing out at my family. “How can you do this to me? If you loved me, you wouldn’t let this happen!” I literally cry out to them. They rally to help me, but I’m left feeling incredibly guilty about my outburst and my lack of ability to ask for help to begin with.

Where did this drive to be so independent come from? Is it something innate in my introverted personality? Was it fostered by birth order? Or did it stem from those elementary school teachers who poured accolades on me for my independent project work? To me, it really doesn’t matter where it came from. I’m here now and this is how I act and react. Now, how do I change it?

Because I’m not proud of any of these incidents of crazed independence and isolation and the results are often filled with regret and guilt that lingers over days. I ask myself, “How can I head this off before it happens?”

I repeat my intention: Ask for help. And, I add: Do it now, do it often.

The other three ideas to let go of seem closely related to each other. Of course, the one at the top of the list: the need to be right is a big one. It is so wrapped up in my ego. My sense of self sometimes seems to hinge on it. However, when I let it go. When I don’t need to be right. When instead I focus on my relationship with the other person – on the love and kindness and a being of light that I am and they are and that I want to nurture in the world, the need to be right drops away.

A few weeks ago, Carl Richards wrote in the New York Times about “The Cost of Holding On”. He noted:

‘The faster we learn to drop our emotional dead weight, the more room we create for something better. I’m talking about everything from stewing about the guy who cut you off in traffic this morning to still refusing to forgive an old friend for an event 20 years ago. …

My question for you is, “What’s one thing you can set down this week?”’

I’ve been working on this lately – the letting go, the liberating myself from these restricting and toxic approaches to life. I’m replacing them with the following:

  • Ask for help right now.
  • Focus on my true interests and skills.
  • Love

It’s a practice and sometimes I fail at it. I am hoping that the more I follow these the better I’ll get at it and the more I’ll be liberated from the grips of false expectations.

Wishing the same for you: abundant freedom, love, and light.

If these thoughts resonated with you, please join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook!

The Suffering of the World

suffering of the worldOne morning while reading the news on my way to work, I felt overwhelmed by the suffering of the world. I arrived at my stop, exited the L, and walked the streets of Chicago and saw suffering all around me: the homeless man with the deep, open gash in his leg; the elderly woman limping slowly along the sidewalk; the child crying and clinging to her mother’s leg; the frowns on faces of my fellow walkers – stressed about the day.

Sometimes I feel the suffering of the world so fully that it stops me in my tracks. As a Reiki practitioner, one of the things I hope to do is help people decrease their own suffering. However, sometimes it feels impossible.

I help one person only to turn around and hear the story of another person’s suffering, and another, and another.

I feel it and it nearly overwhelms me.

How can this be? I’m a Reiki Master of Masters. I help people. I offer up the universe’s energy through my hands and I can even do this without directly touching someone. So, how can it be that I feel so overwhelmed and helpless?

I really did not know how to address this or what would be helpful and then, this thought came to mind: “You made a difference for this one and that one. It’s the most you can do. You must keep doing it and you must include yourself in this healing.”

And then, of course, I remembered the story about the starfish, which I’ll share with you here:

“Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said,
“It made a difference for that one.”
Loren Eiseley

Go out there today and make a difference, even if it’s just for one person. It matters.