Dolce Far Niente

This winter brought me a gigantic blizzard dumping upwards of 24 - 30 inches of snow in just over 24 hours.  While the storm was a bit larger than predicted, we all knew it was coming, and potentially of historic proportion.  A state of emergency was declared ahead of the storm and people were urged to stay off the roads.  Businesses closed and even professional sports games were postponed.  While many prepared and hunkered down, some just “had” to get somewhere.  Their effort was rewarded with about 500 vehicles being stranded on the turnpike for 24 hours. Yuck.

 

Less than 12 hours after the snow has ended and life moved on at a rapid pace.  I went for a little walk to go play in the snow and it was hard to find any undisturbed spots.  People were already out and about, not only digging out, but also driving on half plowed roads, rushing to get somewhere.  While walking along a road, some guy in a truck sped by me splashing my whole backside with dirty dirty slushy snow.  We’re in such a rush to get where we’re going that even 24 hours of stillness seems to be more than people can handle.  It seemed no one wanted to enjoy a bit more of undisturbed beauty and quiet.  It felt jarring to me and got me thinking...

 

Where is it we are in such a damn rush to get to?

 

Away from ourselves, that’s where.

 

We are positively frightened of stillness, of having to be our only company.  We search for entertainment, validation, and love outside of ourselves.  Child psychologist Yekaterina Murashova ran an experiment with 68 students aged 12-18 in which they were not to use the internet, or other electronic devices for means of communication or entertainment for 8 hours.  They were allowed to do things like walk, read, write, paint, etc.  Only 3 of the 68 participants finished the study. 65 participants couldn’t finish spending 8 hours alone with themselves. Some students who withdrew from the study experienced panic attacks, other physical ailments, and even suicidal thoughts during the experiment.  

 

Why are we so afraid of ourselves?

 

We are afraid of that little voice in our head and what it has to tell us. We are so disconnected to this most truthful part of us that we will distract ourselves by any means possible, keeping ourselves busy, avoiding stillness, drowning out this voice.  We are afraid that under all the “fines” that we tout daily, that things aren’t really fine at all.  When we cultivate stillness, this voice grows loud and clear, showing us the disconnect between our perceived reality and our wildest dreams.  In our attempt to drown out our innermost thoughts, they become pressurized under the weight of all the busyness we throw on top of it. The irony is, when we try and stamp out this voice altogether, it comes roaring out anyway.  Because it’s the voice of your truth, your desires, your dreams.  The reaction is in direct proportion to the pressure to keep it silenced.  The harder you push it down, the more explosive it is when released.

 

The truth comes out, it always has a way of surfacing.  But we have control of how we let it out.  Sometimes we need a big reaction to get our attention to shift gears and make changes.  And sometimes, letting our voice come out in small daily increments is the healthiest way to incorporate new truths into our existing lives.  

 

The choice is yours.

 

I’ve lived in ways where I’ve blown my life and a relationship apart precisely because I tried to stamp out the voice inside.  When the time came, it was one of the most painful experiences of my life, but absolutely necessary to spur movement.  I’ve also lived in ways where I’ve invited the voice inside to tell me what I need by cultivating stillness.  Neither is right or wrong, both can serve a purpose in your life.  But I’ve found at this point in my life, inviting stillness also invites creativity, let’s me make small course corrections on my life journey, and doesn’t propel me into states of despair.  For me, it feels like a softer expansion of self.

 

The Italians have a beautiful phrase for this stillness so many of us avoid - dolce far niente - the sweetness of doing nothing.  

 

That winter weekend was a personal invitation for me into a prolonged experience of dolce far niente.  I had a fantastic time cultivating this delicious idleness.  I stayed in my pajamas all day, cooked, read books, colored, danced and sang to beautiful music, enjoyed every bite of meals, spent long periods of time just watching the snow fall.  It was 9pm on Saturday before I even turned on my tv to watch a movie.  It is in this stillness that I made discoveries, had ideas, felt creative and just plain old felt good.  It is often in this stillness where I have my biggest creative triumphs.  It’s a time to process, to connect the dots, and just be.  

 

We are human “beings” not human “doings.”

 

I was reminded of my time spent on an 11-day meditation retreat observing “noble silence” - no talking, internet, tv, books, phone, or even journals.  Just me and my thoughts.  The entire humbling experience is a story for another time, but I learned after some practice digging deep into myself, there really is nothing to fear.  

 

The fear is a lie we tell ourselves.

 

A lie designed to keep us alive, but also limited.  Not only that, but at its core, my inner voice is actually my most powerful self.  Letting go of all the distractions of daily life rapidly accelerated my creativity and

 

I’m inviting you to explore how you can bring more delicious idleness into your life.  I can see my mama friends rolling their eyes at me and saying how easy it is for me without the responsibilities of a typical 9-5 job or children who clamor for my attention.  And they are absolutely right.  It is easier for me in some ways to create this space.  I’ve made creating space an intentional practice in my own life.  But I believe everyone can find more pockets of space in their life.  Some suggestions to play with below:

 

  1. When you’re in line somewhere, don’t bring out your phone to entertain you.  Just let your thoughts wander.

  2. When you eat, really taste each bite, savoring your meals.  I suspect this may also affect the quality of food you will consume.

  3. If you have children, start a meditation practice with them.  There are a zillion and one resources and a type of meditation to suit your preferences.  Start small, just a couple of minutes of silence.  If you help your children cultivate this space for themselves, they may respect your desire for this space as well.  I have friends that do this with their kids and love it.

  4. No smart phones in the bedroom.  Let yourself have a few minutes to wind down at the end of the day.

  5. Substitute time in front of the tv to an activity or hobby you love.

  6. Quit something!  Author Bob Goff has a practice of quitting something every Thursday.  Purging extraneous activities that no longer bring you joy is a fantastic way to bring more space into your life.  Especially if you are feeling overwhelmed and over-extended.

  7. Journal.  Having a consistent practice of writing has a way of letting your voice come to the surface.

  8. Take a yoga or Barre class.  Yoga is a personal favorite for quieting my mind all while making my body feel good.  Many Barre classes offer childcare for as little as $4 a class.  

  9. Book a babysitter once every week or two and have a date with yourself.  

  10. Dance party in the kitchen.

  11. Have specific blocks of time for internet, email, and social media and don’t check them otherwise.  This will likely take some discipline.  Even start with a 5 minute routine in the morning that doesn’t include checking your phone first thing.

  12. Take a luxurious bath.  If that’s too big a time commitment, take an extra 30 seconds in the shower after you’re clean and just FEEL the water dripping down you.

 

 

The point of these isn’t to check off as many as you can like a to do list. Just explore the ways you can slow down a bit, cut out or delegate activities that don’t bring you joy.  If you have children, can you invite them into their own stillness practice or invite them into yours?  Have fun and play with it.

 

Strip away the external entertainment, validation, and love and you’ll find a love and creative being more powerful than you ever imagined.  

 

Comment below and tell me your ideas on how to cultivate Dolce Far Niente into the pockets of your own life.  

 

 

My Wishes For You

For my sister's baby shower a couple of years ago, I found one of those “wishes for baby” cards for all the guest to fill out in hopes baby Woodruff could see throughout her life how much she was loved. I wrote this for my niece before she entered this world. Looking back at it, I realize I wrote it just as much for myself… for each and every one of us.

I hope you learn… to ask amazing questions, they are more important than answers.

I hope you aren't afraid of… vulnerability, failure, risk, love, mystery, change, the unknown, silence.

I hope you love… fiercely and fearlessly.

I hope you get… a wild, adventurous spirit.

I hope you laugh… out loud every single day.

I hope you never forget… that you are always enough, just as you are.

I hope you ignore… any doubts about living your wildest dreams.

I hope you become… the truest version of yourself.

I hope you respect… the power of imagination, it's everything.

I hope you grow…. in love, humility, wonder, curiosity, magic, courage, and joy.

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Sound Sculpture

Have you ever thought about what an incredible invention language is?  Language was invented as a way to communicate, to bridge the space between people.  We sculpt sound to make the invisible world visible.  Perhaps one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking aspects of the human condition is that we can spend a lifetime with someone, but we will never be able to experience their world from their perspective.  So we develop language for others to see a piece of us, to bring another into union with ourselves.

 

It’s far from a perfect system and as language has evolved it sometimes becomes thin and only skims the surface of what we wish to convey.  

 

But when we dig a little deeper, we find words contain worlds within themselves, rich with meaning.  

 

We typically think of the word “amateur” as inexperienced or unskilled and by extension it’s often used negatively.  “Oh, I’m just an amateur ______ .”  Did you know amateur actually stems from the Latin word “amare” which means “to love”?  Why then would we be ashamed to be an amateur at anything?  To love is the root of all of life.  We instinctively know this as children.  We learn through that which we love.  As children, we learn at a rate unparalleled in our adult life.  To be inexperienced at something gives you a tabula rasa - a blank slate.  In Zen Buddhism, they call this beginner’s mind “shoshin.”  It’s characterized by openness, eagerness, a lack of preconceptions.  A way to look at something with fresh eyes.  

 

By comparison, “mastery” is defined as superiority or victory.”  Mastery implies that there is nothing left to be learned, which is dangerous.  When we think we have mastered something, we get comfortable and stop looking to learn.  Habits become harder to break or even see.  In mastery, we become vulnerable to running on autopilot.  But when we bring shoshin to any circumstance, we are more flexible, open to more possibilities, and frankly feel more alive.  Mindfulness is bringing this beginner’s mind to all we do, even in what we think we are masters of.


True mastery begins when we become amateurs all over again.


Fuck New Year's Resolutions

How does the phrase “New Year’s Resolution” feel in your body?  What images does it conjure in your mind?  My guess is mostly unpleasant images and feelings arise.  Most of us have a slew of resolutions from years past that we broke in just a few short weeks and it leaves us feeling worse than before we even made them.  A quick search on wikipedia shows a study conducted that finds an 88% failure rate on these resolutions.  88%!  The odds seem stacked against us.  So why do we still make them?

 

There is a gap between the person we see ourselves as currently versus the person we imagine ourselves to be, our best self, who lives in this abstract future that never seems to arrive.  So, we set lofty goals in hopes of becoming this person.  We chase these goals in hopes of achieving some feeling we associate with it’s accomplishment.  The feeling you get “after.” But mostly, even if we do achieve these goals, that feeling is transient and we set new goals to get that feeling back again.

 

This is a conditional way of living.  A reactive way of living.  Feelings based completely on our circumstances.  It leaves us often feeling like the victim of our own life.  One of the definitions of the word “reactive” is “to act in opposition.” That is a life of resistance, a life of effort, a life of struggle.  We are then at the mercy of the world around us.

 

What would happen if our feelings were a deliberate creation, rather than being a reaction to outside circumstances?  What if we resolved to feel good now, not later, not after we achieved something?  It would expand the possibilities of our achievements.  And we would feel good while we did it, not just after for a fleeting moment.

 

The horizon we chase journeys with us as we run towards it. We will never arrive at the end of the horizon.  

 

Our success is measured by the degree of joy in our lives.  So why postpone our joy when we live in an eternal now?

Back to the business of New Year’s resolutions...

What is the feeling you want to bring about with the accomplishment of your goal?  Let’s say your original resolution was to lose 10 pounds.  How would losing 10 pounds make you feel?  It would make me feel vibrant.  It would make me feel light.  It would make me feel energetic.  It would make me feel… Fill in the blank with the feelings you think would come.  Then start searching your mind for images in your life that make you feel the same way.  What already makes me feel vibrant?   A full body laugh, the sun on my bare shoulders, my boyfriend looking at me with a sexy smile, dancing, music I feel in my bones… Picture these images in your mind, imagine how they feel in your whole body and soon enough, you feel vibrant, without having taken any external action. You just conjured it up with your imagination.

 

You always have access to these feelings you want.  You are that powerful. You make them more powerful by combining action while feeling them.  What if you moved your body while feeling vibrant?  You build momentum. You’d likely move your body more because it feels damn good.  Then losing that 10 pounds becomes easier, and more joyful.  It becomes a byproduct of your joy, not the source of it.

 

You are the source of your joy.

 

The only New Year’s resolution I need is… feel good, now.