Saturday, December 31, 2011

My letter to 2011

For today’s blog, I write a letter to 2011 – since it has no physical address, I’ll share my letter with you here :)

“No mud, no lotus.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear 2011,

You were the best of times, you were the worst of times. You were a rollercoaster year more than any other in recent memory. Personally and globally, you were tumultuous, full of challenges as well as much celebration and joy, and much to be grateful for.

I can’t say I’m sorry to see you go. The last few months you really dealt me some blows, and all I can really say is that I got through them. I am getting through them. And certainly, the blows could always be bigger. They could always be harder. But I didn’t receive anything I couldn’t handle.

The highlights of 2011 were really the most simple things, and perhaps you reminded me that this is what life is really about – being reunited with my husband after long months of separation, being able to celebrate our marriage with loved ones, receiving many visitors to our new home in San Diego. After living abroad for many years, 2011 was full or reconnection with friends and family – both in physical time and space, and also through this project (My Year of Letters). I cherish these moments and hope that 2012 brings many more.

In the challenges, you reminded me that everything changes – that nothing is stable, nothing is to be taken for granted, and that anything can be taken away in a moment. I lost my job, and we were frighteningly close to losing my dad. You reminded me of the everchanging fragility of life, of impermanence. Through these challenges, you reminded me to surrender, to accept what is. I will try to remember this as I move into 2012.

I read a quote recently, something like “Life doesn’t get easier, we just get stronger.” Looking back, if some of the things that happened this year had happened 5 years ago, I don’t know how well I would have handled them. But I feel like I have the tools to deal with what is happening now – and to not just deal with it, but to make something great come out of it. Remembering that everything ultimately happens for our upliftment.

One of the other highlights of 2011 was having the opportunity to study with the great spiritual teacher and peacemaker Thich Naht Hanh. Thay says, “no mud, no lotus,” meaning that without the darker, challenging aspects of life, we would not be able to have the beauty and the joy. This year was definitely a muddy year, but I see a lotus blooming for 2012. If 2011 was year of mud, let 2012 be the year of the lotus. 2011 has definitely provided much fodder for 2012 to bloom.

Thank you, 2011, for all of the challenges and joy that you brought, for the opportunities for growth, and for the opportunities to really challenge myself to be a better person. I dedicate 2012 to being the best person I can be, and for all of my actions to contribute to a more peaceful world.

With love,

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Practicing Mindfulness with Holiday Cards

'Tis the season to send holiday greeting cards - and this is a great opportunity to practice mindfulness! Writing holiday cards can be a marathon, and can be a source of joy or annoyance, depending on how we approach it. In today's blog I'd like to talk about how we can practice mindfulness as we write holiday cards.

First, check the intention and sentiment behind the cards. Do you find yourself dreading them, or excited about sending them? If you're dreading it, then maybe it's best not to send them. There's no point in sending happy holiday greetings if it's going to make you miserable! Remember your intention, which may have to do with reconnecting with loved ones and wishing them well. Come back to this intention if you find yourself becoming bored, distracted or rushed.

Once you get started, are you feeling like a robot, or are you present in the moment as you write your cards? As I was writing mine, I noticed this was a tremendously powerful way to practice mindfulness. When I write one letter, it's pretty easy to stay mindful. When you're sitting down to write 10 or 20 cards with similar things written inside, it's easy to become a robot. Rather than becoming a Christmas card machine, though, you can use this opportunity to practice mindfulness with each card. There's no need to rush through it. Take a deep breath as you begin each card. Feel the pen connect to the paper. Notice your handwriting. Take your time. If you find yourself becoming a robot, take a deep breath and remember your intention.

Most likely you are writing things about peace, joy, health, prosperity - all positive qualities that we try to nurture through a mindfulness practice. As you write these words, try to feel the words - feel love, feel peace, feel joy. Try to imagine the people who you are sending the card to, and imagine sending these feelings to them. This is much like the meditation practice of metta, or lovingkindness, which is one of my favorite practices (You can read about metta meditation here:; I also recommend checking out the work of Sharon Salzberg, who wrote a book called Lovingkindness, and she has a new book coming out in the new year called Real Happiness;

If you write your cards in this manner, something that otherwise could be a chore becomes very enjoyable. And such is the practice of mindfulness - when we do everything this way, everything becomes interesting, and we are better able to experience our lives with joy, peace and equanimity. We can use this practice throughout the holiday season: while wrapping presents, while cooking food, while sitting in holiday traffic, while doing last-minute gift shopping.

On that note, I wish you a wonderful holiday season filled with good food, much laughter, and precious time with loved ones. May you find peace, joy, love, happiness and health in the new year - and in this moment, right here, right now :-)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mailing My Hair

Today I sent an unusual letter - a padded envelope filled with my hair! I sent it to the Pantene Beautiful Lengths campaign, which collects donated hair to make wigs for women with cancer.

I donated my hair for the first time in June 2010, (12 inches!) and that time I sent it to Locks of Love. They said that they would send a written confirmation that they received my hair, but they didn't, so this time I decided to go with the Pantene campaign.

(You can see the photos of today's cut on my facebook profile here).

I had been wanting to donate again, and decided that the end of the year was the perfect time to do it. It resonates with the spirit of giving that permeates the holiday season, and also connects with my desire to reinvent myself in the new year and let go of anything that's dragging me down or not serving me. Not that my hair was doing that, necessarily - but I do feel a LOT lighter after the cut!

To make the cut, you need the ponytail to be at least 8 inches - mine was about 9. The stylist Andrea did a great job of turning my cut into a nice short bob. She did a great job - and it was the first time she cut my hair!

I went straight from the salon (Charmed on Cedros, Solana Beach) to the post office. I stood in a long line, lots of people sending packages for the holidays - I bet I was the only one mailing an envelope full of hair! :-) It makes for an interesting "My Year of Letters" post - mailing a letter to Pantene with my hair (there was actually a letter too - I had to include my mailing address in order to receive a written confirmation that they received it. I also wrote "Here's my hair - I hope it makes a nice wig!").

I realize that the donation is a very small contribution - it takes about 6 ponytails to make one wig - but it's at least something I can do for a worthy cause. And something that is personally satisfying - I got a nice new cut out of it, which I wouldn't have done if I hadn't had the inspiration from the campaign.

If you have long hair, I recommend giving it a try - it's liberating!

Monday, December 12, 2011

My Prison Pen Pal

One of my regular pen pals is in prison.

Prior to my year of letters, I had started a pen pal friendship with a prisoner. The friendship is facilitated through a meditation program that I participate in called the Winter Feast for the Soul. The program matches meditation practitioners with inmates in the hopes of fostering spiritual mentorship and connection.

Herman* lives in Texas. I don't know why he's in prison. What I do know is that he doesn't have any family, as his parents are dead, and he feels very much alone in this world. He writes about the conditions in the prison, which sound abysmal. He spends a lot of time in solitary confinement, does not have many opportunities for exercise, and has to purchase basic necessities like toothpaste, although he doesn't have any money to make these purchases. He always sends warm wishes to me and my husband.

Our exchange is usually short, but I think we are both getting a lot out of it. We've both made a new friend. I'm learning about the conditions in prison, which seem worse than I'd imagined. Herman knows that someone out there is thinking of him, and I think that might be helpful to him. I hope it makes him feel less alone. I also share some things from yoga and meditation - I told him I am a yoga teacher, and he expressed interest in learning. I'm very much a proponent of using yoga anywhere, and especially in a place like prison where people are in a constant state of stress. Even if he's in his cell, he can do some yoga poses or even just sit and focus on his breath.

If you're interested in participating in a prisoner pen pal program, you can try the Winter Feast for the Soul program.

*his name has been changed to protect his privacy.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Gracias + Hope

It's been a while since I've blogged so I just wanted to give a little update on My Year of Letters!

November was a crazy month on many levels. My dad was recovering from his neck injury, I lost my full-time job, and we had a celebration to celebrate our marriage and were graced with the presence of 75 friends and family. We also celebrated Thanksgiving with 14 loved ones. Thus it was a challenging but beautiful month, and I'm excited for the month of December and all the possibilities that it brings (including healing for my dad, whose neck brace could come off in less than 2 weeks if all goes well!; possibilities to do peace education in ways I hadn't yet considered; more time with loved ones).

The letter project has been coming along - as November was a bit crazy, I didn't write everyday, necessarily, but have still been averaging at least 7 letters a week. I now also have a shoe box full of responses, of beautiful notes from around the world (some of which are decorating our apartment!). I treasure these precious gifts of friends' time and energy, and the friendships that have been rekindled as a result of this project.

My letter writing project for December has me focusing on two things: Thank You cards and Holiday Cards! I'm excited for both. I've been writing thank you notes for the many gifts we received for our celebration, which were so beautiful and thoughtful. I have a great Karma (reusable) "Gracias" card that I've been using (see photo).

I also love sending holiday cards. The one featured in the photo is the "Hope" card. I bought them about a month ago, which seemed a bit early to be thinking of Christmas, but I couldn't resist as they seemed like just the cards I wanted to be sending! I also have a "Live Peace on Earth" card from the Peace Alliance, the proceeds of which go to the organization, and a Trader Joes card, which is just funny because we love shopping at Trader Joe's :-)

The themes of Gracias and Hope seem very appropriate for this month. In November I celebrated a month of gratitude of posting something each day that I'm thankful for. I continue to be thankful that my dad's accident wasn't worse and that he is healing well, and I'm so thankful for all the people who came to visit us last month. I'm thankful for the opportunities that my job afforded me and the work I've been able to do, which I'll hopefully be able to do in a new capacity (again, with the hope!). I'm continually thankful for the wonderful family and friends I have, and especially the most supportive and loving husband I could dream of and our beautiful, funny, loving dog.

And I hold a lot of hope for December and the new year. Hope for new beginnings, hope for possibilities that I cannot yet imagine.

Here's to gracias and hope as we start this new month!