When our Mind is Clear, our Heart is Open

I’ve always wanted to know what it’s like to have a clear mind – to not feel burdened by constant thoughts running through my head. I’ve recently started an exercise that has done for me just that. I suddenly find myself in moments without anything to say. Sometimes without anything to think! I have to admit it has been somewhat uncomfortable. I have no idea how to navigate this territory. I’m so used to always having something geared up and ready to bring to the table. Now I’m sitting here quiet and solemn, feeling uncomfortable in the silence.

So what do we do when we have nothing to say? How are we supposed to feel when we aren’t reacting to something we hear or see?

I recently listened to a podcast about being a good listener. The guest explained that when we are actively listening, we free ourselves from the need to speak, and we open our hearts to empathy. I have never thought of myself as an empath. I’m happy to lend a short ear and advise, but I often find it difficult to be completely present to the feelings of others. I’ve never been brave enough for that.

My mind and all its thoughts have acted as a shield for me. If I remain lost in my own thoughts, I can feel protected from others. I’ve on occasion said that there isn’t room for more feelings. I’ve joked that I’m stone-cold and nothing can move me too deeply. I acted like this is was a badge of honor. I was stronger than emotions! Yet, lately, as my mind has become clearer, I’ve felt myself being more present to others, to their feelings – to my own feelings, and my heart is growing more capable of holding space, without it feeling like more than I can handle.

A couple of years ago I wrote about being lost in my mind. But lost is the wrong word to use. I’ve realized that a place of chaos and turning thoughts is where I go for comfort. It may not be comfortable. But it is familiar. Even the anxiety it brings is a place I know I can go for that dysfunctional solace I know so well. I can work with myself there. It’s not always easy, but it’s usual and customary.

So where do I turn now for that place of familiarity? My art and writing have been of great comfort to me. By getting my thoughts out in my writing, it’s becoming easier for me to decipher their origin. And when uncomfortable feelings arise, I know I have that safe space for expression, a place without judgment or expectations. It’s allowed me to be present and not fear the feelings of others. And when others are speaking, I’m learning to listen. To feel instead of think. And allow them to move more freely through the space I’ve chosen to hold for them.

It’s all still a work in progress, for sure. But I sense myself slowly becoming more present and aware. And I’m learning the art of expression without words. As a writer that’s a strange place to be. But I’m hopeful more meaningful work will come from it, as well as more meaningful relationships with others and the world around me. I could be wrong. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Memories that Mold the Present

A decade ago I stood in this moment, unknowing that a few hours later I would be asked to be a wife. I wonder what my thoughts were in this serene scene. Was I contemplating the mysteries of the ocean? Excited about our recent move to the Bay Area and the opening of my new business? Troubled over a matter that then seemed all consuming but I now can no longer remember? I can only hope I was simply enjoying the present.

What I am sure of is that I had no idea about the details of my life today. I didn’t know my children. I had never gazed upon my favorite tree on the hill behind our home. And today’s challenges that feel like mountains in my mind were smaller than the grains of sand on that beach.

Now, once again, embossed in the labyrinth of the internet, memories of today are recorded. As I sit here living in both the past and the present, watching my children decorate a box for their treasures, I will remind myself to tuck into the treasure box of my mind the beauty of their faces, their eagerness to explore all the wonders of life, their unconditional love. And be grateful that none of this would exist if not for that instance at the beach.

There will always be unknowns in life. Some exhilarating, some crushing, and many mostly mundane and forgettable. But each has an opportunity to become a lasting memory. To mold and shift the trajectory of our path. Will we take the time each day to give those moments a chance? Or move swiftly and carelessly as we attempt to control the uncontrollable. I think, at least for today, I will choose to be present. To set aside the unnecessary and find joy with the gifts I have been given. And I will hope that tomorrow I can remember to take time to do the same. If I forget, perhaps another memory will remind me, and I will set off to create new memories to gift upon my future self. New reminders to live today!

You Won’t Get Anywhere if You Fail to Try

Does everything need to be in-line before you act? 

Does fear hold you back?

The desire to have everything appear perfect before we take action can leave us forever waiting. Because nothing is ever going to be exactly as we want it to be. And oftentimes the path in front of us will not be clear. 

I remember when I was thinking of starting my family and a wise older friend told me, “You are never going to feel completely ready. But everything will fall into place as you need it.” 

Of course life isn’t always going to give us everything we need at every moment. Sometimes the steps on our path will feel unsteady or broken. We may even fall back and have to start over. 
And we will never truly know where each step will lead. Like the labyrinth, we will appear closer to our goals, and at other times very far away. 

The important thing to remember is that we have the strength and knowledge to have made it this far. The lack of self-confidence that what we are doing is right is the only thing really holding us back. We can plan out our journey as much as we want but if we fail to take the first step, the destination will forever just be a very well thought out dream. 

We were made to live this life. We were created to be on this journey. Where would we be if the greats who came before us failed to try to make the world a better place for us? The choices we make are our own and we benefit from having the faith that our steps will take us closer to our victories. 

Again, that doesn’t mean we will always have everything. Maybe we are only meant to have some things. But I’ve learned that the steps we take along the path are where the most joy is found. There we find our confidence. Our self-love. And our benefits to others. But you’ll never know what you can achieve if you fail to try. 

I am rooting for you.

The Meandering Path of Life

Have you ever walked a labyrinth? Before recently I had never seen one in person, nor had I really gave them much thought. Someone would tell me, “that monastery has a labyrinth.” To which I would reply with what felt like the appropriate answer, “Ooooo.” And that answer was never completely fallacious. I have heard of the spiritual use of labyrinths and I assumed there was something wondrous and mysterious about them. So when I learned that there was one only a short drive from my home, my family and I set off on a hike to find it. The journey, while a bit of a maze itself, was relatively easy, even for our three year old, and quite lovely, much to the joy of my 7 year old. And with a little help from google maps we quickly found our destination.

As I first approached the extraterrestrial-like circle, fashioned from rocks of limestone fallen from the nearby ridges, I was transfixed on the round intricate pattern. With only one way in, I began my walk to the alluring center. I made the decision to walk slowly, silently, and mindfully. I came with no preconceived notion of what I was suppose to do or feel, but being the spiritual seeker that I am, I hoped this meandering path would share some of its infinite wisdom of life’s experience. Or if nothing else, I would feel calmed by the encounter.

While the walk was slow and mindful, it was far from silent. My two young daughters ran circles through the “maze” around me, fearing they would never find the end, shouting for assistance and jumping walls, only to find they were even further from their way out. I kept reminding them to just keep walking. Or in the words a forgetful royal blue tang, “just keep swimming.” The older one quickly understood. She continued her journey, giving me a high five as we occasionally “crossed” paths. The 3-year-old lacked such patience. She yelled that she would be lost forever. Through this all, I continued my own trek and soon understood the illusion she feared.

The irony of a labyrinth is by definition it is a complicated irregular network of passages or paths in which it is difficult to find one’s way. In other words, a maze. At first glance this labyrinth would appear that way too. But a labyrinth created for meditation or ritual is quite different. Though the path may appear confusing at first glance, there is only one way to go. No dead ends, no wrong turns. You simply continue walking forward and you eventually reach the center. There is no thinking involved. No problem solving or memory skills. You just watch your footing and stay the course.

Life goes pretty much the same way, doesn’t it? There are no dead ends. No wrong turns. There is only one beginning and one end, and everything in between is the only way to go. Sure we make mistakes, accidentally (or purposely) jump the path, or turn back out of fear. We move nearer or further from our center depending on where we are on our path, but the end is imminent, so the only choice is to keep moving. The path is the constant in our lives. It is the trajectory from birth to death. From the ideas in our dreams to accomplishing our goals. From where we begin to where we end up. In reality it is quite simple. Human nature of course complicate things. And likely so. Life in terms of our conscious existence appears quite long, much like the long meandering path from the opening of the labyrinth to the center, and it does require much decision making and thought. And how fortunate for us! That this experience of life takes us on so many twists and turns, adding so much depth and meaning. It would take mere seconds to get to the end if you just walked in a straight line. But following the labyrinth lengthens your journey and the journey is where we find our purpose. Our experiences. Our life and all of its gifts. That is the point.

I believe wholeheartedly that the process of achieving our goals, the steps we take towards happiness, the knowledge we acquire as we venture towards mastery, THAT is the value we look back on at the end of our days and say, “YES! I did it!” Sure the successes are important. They are part of what makes the process worth it. But the bread and butter are the experiences we get to live along the way. The relationships we form. The places we see. The art we create. The wellness we cultivate.

No matter where we are on our journey, it’s all still just the same path. It may at times seem like we are so far from our destination and at times we will feel like we can almost touch it. But no matter the distance, we will inevitably reach an end. So move forward thoughtfully. Lean into the experiences, and do it with mindfulness. Not because we have to figure out each step in front of us at every moment, but because life is an adventure. It is the greatest meandering labyrinth.

Bake the World a Better Place

I had the pleasure of chatting with NYC native, Toni-Ann Gardiner, who is using the pandemic as an opportunity to create, enhance her skills, and give back to the community that she loves…by baking pies!

Before the pandemic Toni-Ann was already working on her pie-making skills. It was around her wedding in 2019 that she received her first pie dish and she decided to teach herself this old world craft. She grew up in an Italian family where food was always shared with love but dessert was never as much of a staple. She began making pies for friends and co-workers and they were received with a very positive response. “People love a homemade pie,” she said. “It was bringing so many people joy that I just started baking more!”

Toni-Ann works for a Digital Marketing company in Manhattan but has been working remotely since March. “It’s freed up so much time,” she said. She’s no longer commuting long hours from Brooklyn to Manhattan which has given her the opportunity to enhance her cooking skills even more. “Getting good in the kitchen just helps in life,” she said.

It was in November that she decided not only could her cooking skills help her in life, but they could help others as well. “It probably came out of boredom honestly,” she said. “We thought, well, we have nothing to do, and we have a car. We can make pies and deliver them and do something good.” She positioned it as, if you want to buy a pie, I’m going to donate the money. “And people were so into it! It’s a heart warming experience because of the reaction I got from everyone. I can tell that people feel the amount of love that goes into it.”

People really are into it! The first pie was a traditional apple pie in honor of Thanksgiving. She managed to sell 30 and donated $900 to the Red Hook Initiative, a really great non-profit that gives so much back to the neighborhood she loves so much.

Those she donates to are not the only ones benefiting from her new philanthropic endeavor. This has forced her to practice more and be less of a stressful baker. “Things that I would get so worked up about are not such a big deal anymore,” she told me.

In the beginning of her pie making process, just rolling out the dough was stressful. But because people were ordering pies and she was basically forced to bake them, she had to let that worry go, and her confidence grew along with her skills. Now people are asking her to create and share new recipes! The fact that she was donating the proceeds took even more of the pressure off. “Even if they really didn’t like the pie, it was for a good cause so hopefully they wouldn’t complain.” But folks didn’t complain. They really like them and keep coming back for more! What she loves most of all is the happiness the pies seem to bring. When she arrives at the door of a smiling pie lover it makes her really happy too. “It’s such a dark time right now, and it just felt like a light moment to be able to do something, to make something, and give money somewhere that I think is an important organization,” she said. “It’s really just fun and heartwarming.” 

In December the proceeds from a delicious key lime pie went to Barc, who provide a safe haven for abandoned animals and work to find permanent loving homes for them. “The money went to fix a leak in the cat shelter,” she told me. “It warmed my heart to know that.”

She’ll be making chocolate cream pie for Valentine’s Day. If you are in the NYC area, she’s taking orders until February 1st. Visit @Piesbytoni on Instagram and DM her. All proceeds in February will be donated to Win NYC. Win is the largest provider of family shelter in New York City. They provide safe housing and critical services to help homeless women and their children rebuild their lives and break the cycle of homelessness.

And in case you miss February, keep an eye out on instagram for her March pie. She’s thinking savory. All I can say is “mmmm.” 

It’s just so great to hear the good gossip like this. That there are a lot folks out there that are really taking the lemons of this pandemic and making some delicious lemonade, or in this case, PIES!

If you’d like to give to any of these great organizations, visit the links below:

Red Hook Initiative https://rhicenter.org/

Barc Shelter https://www.barcshelter.org/

Win https://winnyc.org/

All photos by @piesbytoni.