Even bodhisattvas have breakdowns.

While I claim the identity of a bodhisattva, someone who takes on suffering in life as a choice to help others find freedom, but there are days when even I have breakdowns.

Like many people, sometimes I just can’t even.

I can’t be perfectly patient.

I can’t be in ten places at once.

I can’t be fully prepared.

I can’t be supremely compassionate and calm.

I can’t be all things to all people every moment of my life.

And even though my soul chose the bodhisattva identity, there are times where I’d like to opt out. I’d like to feel less responsible for people waking up to make things better in the world. I’d like to feel less struggle with a simultaneous responsibility to do something with it for the benefit of others. I’d like to have been born into the world with more resources and a better head-start in life. I’d like to feel more brave and bold like I used to be, before my own trauma when my eyes were really opened to the tremendous state of human suffering and how we are all struggling to find some air and room for ourselves.

I’d like to just be a human being and not a superhuman bodhisattva. And whether you choose that identity for yourself, Buddhist or not, maybe you can relate to that feeling of breakdown. When you put your face in your hands and shake your head. When you take a knee. When you want to give the burden on your shoulders to another person for a minute, even if it’s one you’ve chosen for yourself.

The beauty of breakdowns is that they lead to breakthroughs, if we can find a wider perspective.

So I do that. I give myself permission to take a moment and find that perspective. When we make space for ourselves, we allow the breakdown to be what is it for the moment. When we allow the breakdown, we generate the process of the breakthrough.

So for the moment, I just decide that I’m tired or overwhelmed or just don’t have it in me that day. I decide to give myself permission for taking on a big task and doing it to the best of my ability on any given day. I choose to say, “this is what I’ve got to give” instead of trying to pour from an empty cup. The moment of self-compassion and reality check leads to more clarity to move forward. That’s the breakthrough to the next moment of being more fully human, imperfectly.

I just hung up from coaching some new health coach students and we all talked about surrender. And surrender feels like freedom, they said. It’s not about pushing but it’s about allowing.

So we can apply the word surrender to this process. Surrendering to the stuff on our shoulders and giving ourselves a chance to rest. Seeing what we’ve taken on and whether it’s serving us. Selectively choosing what we keep for the next part of our path.

Bodhisattvas are often activists. And activism can kill or cure the very purpose or people we’re trying to serve. If we’ve reached the place where it’s the former more than the latter, choosing to have a breakdown helps us break through to our real, actual intentions to make the world a better place.

As this time of year rolls around and the pressure mounts to be in a million places and buy a million things, we can lose sight of the meaning of the holiday season.

A momentary breakdown may lead you back to why it’s meaningful for you.

Happy Holidays!

The best way to beat a craving.

I didn’t know I was a sugar addict until it was too late.

Well, I guess it’s never too late but I used that phrase to catch your attention (which I’m supposed to do, according to marketers) and also as a confession to let you know about my addiction to sugar. And this is my Halloween-themed post for you. Kind of about sugar, mostly about cravings and how to beat them.

Sugar is one of my two main addictions. The other addiction I struggle with is critical mind. I’ve made major strides with that this year and I’m SO HAPPY! Critical mind is the tendency to mercilessly judge oneself and others. It often comes out as gossip and complaint but I’ve worked for years to the point that it’s mostly happening in my mind right now, not coming out as words very often at all. Not that it makes it OK! It’s just less…harmful. And that’s my work as a bodhisattva. To bring LESS HARM to myself and the world.

So what’s worked? What’s worked to help me do this and make kind of progress to beat my craving to use my killer insight and judgement to slay others down with one spiteful strike of my intellect?

What’s worked to help me refrain from lashing out and saying things I don’t mean (ok, maybe I mean them a little—or A LOT) to take back later (see previous parenthesis)?

What’s worked to stop engaging with people on Facebook when they’re saying things that make me want to bang my head against a wall or Google their address to go tell them off in person?

Well, it’s the same thing that helps me beat my cravings for sugar. I didn’t know I had a sugar problem until I became a health coach. I didn’t know when my liver got so toxic from sugar addiction to assuage my grief in my mid-20s. I didn’t know when I’d pass out comatose on Sundays mornings from eating sugar to recover from a week’s worth of teaching (betcha didn’t know I was a teacher back in the day).

I didn’t know I was addicted to sugar when I gained a ton of weight after moving away from home in New Jersey to Boston in 2006 and getting a full time job that felt fun and also f*^&ed up in more than a few ways and I used my addiction to sugar to compensate and got chronic colds and sinus infections month after month.

But after becoming a health coach I DID know I was addicted to sugar. So when I found myself wandering around the country last year as a major part or phase of my own healing process and I used sugar, I did it less. I was more mindful of it. I still eat sugar to feel better. It’s probably never going to NOT be part of my life because I refuse to quit it because my relationship to it has changed, for the better.

Because I’ve found the best way to beat a craving is by using a skill I learned as a health coach: give into it. Turns out you CAN have your cake and eat it, too. Someone I met this week told me we all have that saying all wrong, but I used my mindfulness of critical mind to embrace his opinion and be curious instead of think he was mansplaining. See! It’s awesome!

Yes, giving into a craving is indeed the best way to beat it. Whether it’s sugar or critical mind or coffee or other things. I suppose some hard drugs don’t really count, but I don’t know from my own experience but only from losing a dear friend to suicide two years ago.

I suppose if folks like him who USE those hard drugs allowed themselves less harmful substances in moderate amounts instead, they might not have the cravings for those really harmful things. Buddhism says the suffering that causes addiction of any kind is caused by a craving of a much deeper nature. Perhaps people could find how to alleviate that suffering caused by craving such severe substances by using gentler substances and it might help to wean them. I’ll probably get myself in a lot of trouble for saying that. I’m saying it anyway.

The fundamental source of craving is a feeling of lack. It’s part of being human. Because Western society (a.k.a. THE UNITED STATES—and anyone else?) makes us feel really bad about being human beings in general, we’re set up to feel lacking most of the time. Marketing is really good at capitalizing on this so it sells anything and everything to us all day long we never have to feel lack.

We get really bad at embracing lack of loneliness or low vibe feelings in general. We can just buy something to make it better. But is that always bad? Might it be part of the solution?

I say YES! But it all depends on your mindfulness and awareness of it. If you’re not behind the wheel and just buying and giving into your craving from impulse on auto-pilot, you have no mastery over yourself. The craving HAS YOU.

For example, like last month, I bought two bags of candy corn. One for me and one for my colleagues.

They destroyed the one I bought in less than a week. And it was a 3 pound bag!

My 1 pound bag lasted several weeks, and in fact I think it got stale and I threw the rest away. How did I do that? Because I let myself buy the candy corn, the first time I bought it in many many years, and I let myself have it. I let myself have a few pieces when I got the craving and I stopped with that small handful.

It’s the same technique I use every single day. And there are probably plenty of health coaches who think I still eat too much sugar to be a good role model for my clients. And to those people, I try not to give into my addiction of my critical mind and judge them and their opinions of me based on their own insecurities about themselves. Whoops. Did I just think that out loud?

OK! See how it works?

The best way to beat a craving is just a constant process of seeing the craving, knowing what’s happening and using our minds and our decisions to give into the craving consciously.

Happy Halloween!

The way meditation works.

I’ve been meditating since 2001 or so. So about 17 years.

It’s been a long journey figuring out what I needed to really understand about meditation. One of the biggest misconceptions I had, and I hear other people having, is how meditation is actually supposed to work.

I was at a wellness event last week and met person after person who, when I asked if they meditated, responded with, “oh no way. I can’t make my mind that still. It just never stops. I’m too busy to sit and do nothing like that.”

Then there was the person who scoffed a bit and said, “well, I pray. Which is…more important.”

Listen, in America we get to have different opinions. We get to choose our religious path or spirituality that serves us. We also get to decide what works and doesn’t work for us. But I think it’s unfortunate when people make assumptions about something or form fixed opinions based on misinformation.

Meditation isn’t about turning off your brain. It doesn’t work like that. Our brains are designed to process information to keep us breathing and keep us alive. So if you’re brain stopped, that would be a bad sign. I told those people last week, “if your brain stopped, you’d be dead."

Meditation isn’t about being dead. It isn’t about being numbed out. It isn’t at all about shutting down the constant stream of thoughts that run through your mind. It doesn’t work like that at all and isn’t meant to. But perhaps people think that because they desperately crave that kind of feeling to escape the prisons of their minds, which never stop and hold them hostage and cause a lot of fear and suffering.

I can see why people would want to shut that shit down. I KNOW why, because my mind can be a dangerous place to wander around. I am extremely intelligent from a lifetime of wonderful education and I also pursue information like it’s my job, because it IS my job. I am an overthinker by nature and an over-analyzer from a tumultuous childhood. I learned from an early age to strategize and sort things out to survive.

It’s taken some hard lessons and a lot of discipline to figure out how to turn the machine of my mind to a different setting. Meditation helps. That’s how it works, actually.

Meditation doesn’t work overnight. It takes practice. It’s meant to help us actually understand what we’re thinking about, not to stop the thoughts. It works by helping us see the way we get hooked on a thought and get carried away by it. It works by seeing how we live our lives in reaction to people or events instead of responding from a place of power and balance.

That’s the way meditation works.

When we sit on a cushion or a chair for one minute or five or an hour, we are practicing how to sit still and watch our thoughts like our favorite Netflix show. We learn to watch the thoughts like they are a sitcom or crime drama and not what we think they are, which is REALITY.

Still with me?

Our thoughts are not REALITY. They are like a tv show, created from our fears and perceptions and the stories we tell ourselves—not necessarily what’s really happening.

Meditation helps us practice this so when things happen to us in real life, when we aren’t sitting still on a chair or cushion, we apply that same awareness.

What’s the point? Well, when we start to see that our reactions to life cause us stress or unhappiness, we want that to end. We want to change things. We want to think differently to feel differently. We want to learn how to have a more loving and fearless approach to life.

That’s the way meditation works. It actually helps us do that to feel better.

But only when we stop saying things like, “I could never just sit there and turn my mind off, it’s too busy.”

Meditation isn’t meant to turn you off, it’s meant to turn you ON to what you’re doing that’s keeping you struggling and feeling stressed out.

So when you’re ready to sit yourself down and be brave enough to do something different, that’s the way meditation works.