Mantras & Other Foolishness

An epilogue to my post on “wrathful compassion”…

I did something very foolish.

Against the advice of my friends. Against all logic and reason. Even against my own advice, I re-opened the chapter that contained all the pain and anger from my last interaction with the boy who hurt me so badly not long ago.

I had resolved not to interact with him anymore. Promised my friends and myself.  I had learned some valuable lessons about my own fears and anger and compassion. But for some reason, the whole situation just felt so unresolved.

He reached out once and I used all my willpower to not respond. And then he reached out again on a day when he was already on my mind. For some reason. And I couldn’t resist.

See, his band was playing that night and he wanted me to come. When I told him (via text) how much he hurt me the last time I saw him, he apologized, said he never intended to make me feel the way I did, etc. I wasn’t buying it exactly, but some part of me really wanted to see him in person. I wanted resolution even though I wasn’t sure how that was even possible.

I sent an SOS signal to one of my best friends (on my “dating recovery team,” something Life Coach Katy Flatau and I talk about in our tele-course Mindfulness, Meditation & Online Dating). She asked me what I wanted to get out of this situation and I didn’t really know. She made me swear I would not to go to his show.

And then an hour later, I was in the subway on my way to see his band play. For some reason.

I didn’t know what was going to happen, or even what I wanted to happen, but I felt calm. (And I felt confident because I knew I looked beautiful.)

His band was already in the middle of their set when I arrived. I sat at the bar. The music was good. He looked hot. I was enjoying myself and suddenly realized I had absolutely no expectations whatsoever and was completely unattached to whatever else happened that night.

After the set, he immediately went over to a big group of his friends (the same friends he embarrassed me in front of previously.) I walked over and tapped him on the shoulder. He acted surprised to see me, hugged me warmly, thanked me for coming and asked me if I wanted to get together this weekend. I shrugged and said “I don’t know. Text me tomorrow and we’ll see. You guys sounded really good tonight.”

And that was it. Awkward.

I walked back to the subway, got on the train, and went home. The whole ride home, I was chanting the new kirtan song I recently posted by Sean Johnson & the Wild Lotus Band, Unity, which includes the mantra “Lokah samastha sukhino bhavantu”, may all beings everywhere experience ease of well being.* And I was smiling.

Why?

He still hadn’t introduced me to his friends, or given me the attention I would have liked. I didn’t have any new answers. But something significant had changed: I didn’t care and I wasn’t angry anymore.

In my meditation group and in our upcoming Mindful-U tele-course, Happy Camp, we talk about building a foundation of sustainable happiness that cannot be shaken no matter what obstacles, challenges, disappointments, pain and suffering life throws our way. Over and over again in my studies, tele-courses and personal practice, I come back to the concept of metta, compassion and lovingkindness toward myself and others.

I didn’t even realize I had been carrying the weight of that anger around with me this whole time despite my meditation practice. And now at last, I have relief. I didn’t need him to give me my happiness. I already have it. And that freedom means I can finally experience a true feeling of compassion toward him and myself.

What will happen next? In this moment, it doesn’t even matter. I got the resolution I was looking for. It came from inside me.

And that, dear readers, as my friend said to me on the phone that evening, is why we have mindfulness.

*In a recent post on how to have a happier, healthier sex life for the Women’s Health Foundation community blog, I write about mantras as a form of mind protection.

Kirtan makes me happy!

What makes you happy?
Raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens…?

Actually I’m talking about way down deep. So strong that it bubbles up & over like a beautiful fountain of authentic joy.

This weekend at BhaktiFest Midwest, I re-connected with one of my favorite joy-inducing drugs: kirtan.

Kirtan is a practice of devotional yoga that involves chanting mantras set to music in order to invoke a type of energetic fluidity, bond of community, connection to divine love, and clarity of mind & heart. Mantras are often done call & response style, are set in Sanskrit & involve the names of Hindu deities. But not always.

This video is by one of my FAVORITE kirtan bands: Sean Johnson & the Wild Lotus Band. Based out of New Orleans, they offer an eclectic blend of devotional truth through song and poetry.

Inspired by the Sufi poetry of Rumi…

Out beyond
ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing
There is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

When the soul
lies in that grass,
All thoughts shall pass.

And the mantra meaning “May all beings in all realms experience joy and ease of well being.”

Lokha samasta sukhino bhavantu

This song is pure happiness to me.

After the success of MMOD: Meditation, Mindfulness & Online Dating, my favorite Life Coach, Katy Flatau, and I are researching our next collaboration: Happy Camp!

Details are coming soon on that. But in the meantime, we want to know: What makes YOU happy? Way down deep.

Is online dating like buying cereal?

Sometimes we feel like there’s no one out there for us. Like we haven’t been on a date in months. Like we will end up old and alone with many many cats. And if we do happen to find a guy who is relatively attractive, intelligent and interesting, we hang on for dear life lest he vanish into thin air!

But lately I’ve been experiencing something quite different: a haste to disqualify.

Or at the very least, a strong desire to “keep my options open” and “see what else is out there.”

This shows up in 2 ways:

1) I go on a first date with someone who is great! Friendly, funny, attractive, smart… and yet, if I am not immediately swept away with desire, passion, and intense chemical attraction, I am ready to write it off within the first 10minutes and move on. I mean, because I should definitely be able to find someone who as all the qualities I require AND with whom I have immediate fireworks, right?

or…

2) I go on several dates with someone who is great! Friendly, funny, attractive, smart AND with whom I have both an intellectual and physical connection. But the next day, I’m back online, seeing what other matches okcupid may have for me.

A friend once forwarded me this fascinating nerdy blog post from “Ask a Mathematician” wherein a mathematician answers the question: How do I find the love of my life?

The response is quite lengthy but really stuck out for me was:

…In any event, I am sad to report that when applying the above definition for “the love of your life”, finding “the one” is essentially impossible. I strongly urge you not to try it. The probability that you meet the single person that would make you happiest of all is extremely small. There are about 7 billion people on earth, and (let’s say) more than a billion within a reasonable dating age range of you. That implies that there are at least 500 million people of the appropriate gender (a bit more if you are bisexual). Even if it is the case that you are rather narrow minded, and just 1 in 200 people are culturally similar enough to you for you to even consider a romantic relationship (e.g. you are a Baptist American, who would only ever be willing to date another Baptist American), that still leaves at least 2.5 million people to search through. To meet just half of those people (and therefore have anywhere close to a 50% chance of meeting the “love of your life”) you would have to be meeting, on average, more than 40 potential mates each day over a period of 80 years…

He positioned this tidbit as BAD news because it would be overwhelming to sift through 2.5 million possible matches to find the ONE, but I saw it as GRRRREAT news because it meant there were at least 2.5 million possible matches for me in the world!!!

With so many options, how can a girl possibly choose just one? The best possible one? The right one?

One of my favorite books I read in the last year was “How We Decide” by Jonah Lehrer, a book reports on what neuroscientists, with the help of brain imaging, are learning about how the human mind makes decisions.

In a 2009 interview on npr’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Mr. Lehrer gave the following account of how the idea for the book came into being:

Mr. LEHRER: The revelation occurred in the cereal aisle of the supermarket. I was sent to the supermarket with what seemed like simple instructions, which was buy a box of Cheerios. And it wasn’t until I got the supermarket that I realized that there were 20 different kinds of Cheerios. There were original Cheerios. There were honey-nut Cheerios, apple-cinnamon, multigrain, the yogurt-with-the-berry thing, and then of course there are all the generic varieties of Cheerios.

And so I found myself spending literally a half an hour, 30 minutes, in the cereal aisle of the supermarket, trying to choose between boxes of Cheerios. And that’s when I realized I had a problem, and I became really curious as to what was actually happening inside my head while I was struggling to make a decision…

So this is something I struggle with every day. It’s a classic case of paralysis by analysis.

GROSS: Which means what?

Mr. LEHRER: Which means I’m simply thinking too much in the supermarket. I come up with long lists of reasons to prefer honey-nut Cheerios, and then I look at the apple-cinnamon Cheerios, and then I come up with long lists of reasons to prefer apple-cinnamon Cheerios, and it goes on and on like that. I’m stuck in this loop of self-consciousness where I come up with reason after reason after reason.

And so it was really that very basic, everyday failure that really first got me interested in the subject of decision-making.

GROSS: Now, one of the things you learned for sure from writing your book is that sometimes too much information is a really bad thing when it comes to making a decision, and that’s part of the predicament you were in. You had all these different brands, and they each have a certain, like, topping and a certain amount of sugar, and…

Mr. LEHRER: And there’s price. I mean there are so many variables to consider.

GROSS: Right, right, yeah. So is that – was that part of your problem in the supermarket aisle, and why is too much information so paralyzing?

Mr. LEHRER: Yeah, that was definitely, I think, a big part of my problem. And I think the reason too much information is paralyzing ultimately gets back to the brain and the way the brain is built and the fact that our prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that’s responsible for these kinds of deliberate, rational decisions – when we try to think through our breakfast options -that’s a pretty feeble part of the brain.

It’s kind of depressing to hear that, but it’s actually a relatively limited and bounded part of the brain. It can only hold about seven pieces of information in the prefrontal cortex at any given moment.

So when you try to think through, even a decision as banal as choosing a breakfast cereal, you can very quickly overwhelm your prefrontal cortex.

Okay, granted, choosing people to spend your time with on dates and in romantic encounters is perhaps a little less banal than choosing your breakfast cereal (I suppose), but honestly isn’t scrolling through lists of “matches” with various characteristics a lot like scanning the grocery shelf? One good friend likened browsing an online dating site to online shopping… something you do late at night because you’re bored and then you choose the best of the bunch to “save to favorites” for later, just in case.

OR… you’re desperately searching for the one little black dress (male profile) that will fit you like a glove (meet all your qualifications) AND be the right price (be drop-dead gorgeous) AND will ship to you in time (will message you back — or better yet, notice you were viewing his profile & message you first), but then fighting off utter despair when this perfect dress (dream man) never magically appears.

I am starting to suspect that the problem is there are so many choices laid out there for us, that the brain gets confused and can no longer make a good decision. So we choose nothing (One thing I’ve heard a lot in sales training is: A confused mind says “no”), which is ultimately dissatisfying.

So, what’s the remedy? Let’s see what Jonah Lehrer says:

GROSS: Wow. Now let me just ask you, before we get to other things that you report on in your book, if you were making that decision in that same supermarket aisle now, knowing what you know now about the brain and decision-making, how would you do it differently?

Mr. LEHRER: I still take a little too long in the cereal aisle, to be perfectly honest. But now what I try to do is I try to honestly pay attention to what I refer to in the book as the emotional brain, that part of my brain that has a better understanding of what I actually want to eat for breakfast.

So I try to really pay close attention to that, and you know, and eavesdrop on my, you know, on my own brain and try not to pay so much attention to the reasons I’m generating, on the fly, and actually listen closer to my feelings.

Translated to my online dating experience, I am trying the following plan of action:

1) Fewer first dates in a short window of time. Limiting myself to 1 new option every 1-2 weeks (or 2-3/month). This may or may not seem like a “few” but since I am not one to spend a lot of time messaging back and forth before meeting, it is.

2) Less time online. If I am only looking for 2-3 new dates per month, I don’t need to be checking out who was checking out my profile every single day.

3) Being more present with person I’m dating. Accessing my curiosity to take the time to dig deeper than the surface level stats. Asking more questions, not about what he does, but who he is and what he wants from life. Seeing if there are more connections than might be initially obvious. Another friend who is happily married suggested “the 3-date rule” today. She said she may never have given her husband a real chance based on dates 1 & 2. Now this doesn’t mean everyone will get 3 dates. It’s important to acknowledge when there really isn’t a connection at all. But, if there was reasonable enjoyment on date one, why not?

4) When I am tempted to give in to temptation or laziness or doubt on any of the above, spend some time & energy in meditation or journaling about my vision for what I am looking for in my relationships right now and gratitude for the abundance I already have. Balancing my rational brain with my emotional brain so that I can take my next actions from a position of power and clarity.

*****

For more tools and techniques to approach online dating with humor & grace from the foundation of being 
a grounded, confident, 
whole woman, check out Meditation, Mindfulness and… Online Dating, a 4-week tele-class with me & Life Coach Katy Flatau. Starts June 4, 2012.

Mindfulness & Online Dating (or profiles are people too)

So I finally joined the world of online dating about a month ago and entered one of the craziest “communities” I’ve ever been a part of… yep… okcupid. Why crazy? Over 100 messages from random strangers within 3 days, pics of naked body parts sent to me, a flurry of coffee dates, the distraction of checking my iPhone over & over again wondering who’s checking out my profile & who’s going to message me back…

But here I am. Despite my original disdain for the site and the whole idea of finding a “match” online based upon random information about each other. Despite the fact that MOST of my friends have had mediocre to horrible experiences. Despite the fact that I don’t really even totally have time for dating in my schedule right now… or maybe I’m doing it BECAUSE of all that.

Life Coach, Katy Flatau, often says that online dating is not always about hoping to find Mr. Right with each and every new date, but just shifting some energy into that sector of your life. And in a way, this can be a somewhat efficient way of achieving just that especially for the busy professional.

I could go on at length about my experiences so far ranging from mediocre to AMAZING. (Yep, I have met some AMAZING people. Lord knows most of my friends, including Coach Katy, have heard plenty of gory details.) But I won’t.

Instead I’ll give you the top 3 things I’ve learned so far:

1) Profiles are people too! It is bizarre to me how I start to think about the boys I check out (or who check me out) or who are on my “Favorites” list or in my “Quiver” by their profile name, not their real name… sometimes even AFTER I’ve met them. “Oh look, my friend ChiHotGuy2  is online right now.” (Username changed to protect the innocent.)

Or how I get nervous about messaging someone based on some silly things they’ve written about themselves in their profile.

Or just how many guys have messaged me that I have not messaged back (in some cases just because I wasn’t interested, not because anything was wrong with them.)

But truthfully, on the other side of that profile is a real human being likely with the same fears, desires, and right to happiness as me. And so even when I do not respond to someone, I like to extend a general feeling of respect & metta (lovingkindness) to each of them.

2) Clear, direct, open communication is key to a successful encounter. Be clear about your expectations and your boundaries. With yourself AND your date. It is okay to say you don’t do bars, or drink on the first date. It is okay NOT to exchange contact information ahead of time. It is okay to say, you’re not looking for anything serious, or that you’re not looking for anything casual. And yet, there is always room to be open minded and go with the flow. If both of you are on the same page from the beginning, it saves you from a whole lot of awkwardness, pain, and disappointment.

3) Yes, there really are cool people to meet on okcupid. So not every date is a complete success and there’s not always that special spark. So what?

I have had several enjoyable dates with men I did not totally connect with and yet still had a good conversation, or enjoyed some music/coffeee/etc. And some that may not have been the best romantic match, but that I will likely see again and be able to count in my circle of friends.

Also the less good dates help me to clarify what it is I am actually looking for and refine my desires and boundaries so that when a great match does come along I can recognize and make the most of him!

Overall, I think the key is to go into it with a sense of adventure & confidence. If you are looking for a way to build your self-esteem, this is probably not it. If you are feeling desperate to find your perfect mate, this may not be the route. If you are looking to meet new people, have fun, and explore possibilities… then dive right in!

Incidentally, Katy and I are offering an Adventures in Online Dating telecourse to help you do exactly that. We’ll give you the goods on how to navigate profiles, expectations, safety and more. You can jump onto one of our upcoming free calls… details coming soon!