Your inheritance

Jon’s sweet family sketch in his post last week has stayed with me for days. Even yesterday, as I prepared for a day on the shore with part of my own vast and varied family, his words lingered.

It’s a strange thing, waxing deep over the potato salad. That was my assignment for yesterday’s picnic lunch. In my family, someone is going to make potato salad, it’s just a matter of who. Making the potato salad is, in it’s own small way, an honor and a responsibility. The way I like to make it is, basically, to make it taste as close to my mother’s as I can, while still making it my own. The art is really in the dressing. There needs to be just the right blend of rich, tang, sweet, salt and spice. I’ve studied off and on how my mom makes hers, and have a pretty good feel for my own, having learned at her knee.

Thanks, Mom!

This dressing recipe is part of my inheritance. And as I was preparing it yesterday morning, it got me thinking about the inherited blend of rich and bitter, sweet and salt that is family culture. In very large part we pick up thoughts, moods, our ways of relating to the good and the difficult from each other. You could say our communication patterns get handed down to us, starting with our earliest days. You may have inherited entire thought constructs, such as political beliefs or philosophical leanings. Even if you rejected the concrete constructs outright, your way of debating stridently, deciphering with curiosity, or backing away from discussing them might be of the given family form.

My husband Bill always chuckles at me when our family gets together. He says he likes watching me turn into the little sister, the 5th out of six. I guess it must bring out my family inheritance in a very particular way. I will admit to hearing some baudy, naughty, even feisty statements come out of my mouth not infrequently. And I take great pleasure in giving my older siblings, kids, nieces and nephews charge of various life elements for a time, even if it’s just for an afternoon. This can be a meditation form in its own right: noticing the arising of inherited patterns, the good, the bad and the ugly, right out of my own silent or squawking mouth, right from my intermittently helpful and lazy hands.

Some family bequests are of the roughest sort. In our clearest moments I think we all agree that the worst ones, such as physical or verbal abusiveness, have no rightful place in a nurturing culture. And yet, these inheritances continue to be handed on, generation to generation. Where does such an inheritance originate? With everyone agreeing it’s unacceptable, who chose it in the first place? It would be arguably easier to document the provenance of a Dark Ages mallet than it would be to find the origin of vindictiveness in a family, say.

There are all manner of inherited family patterns. Sunniness, strong work ethic, pessimism,  intellectualism: you can find things you love about yourself and inherited bits you’d just as soon get rid of, if you could. I’d say it’s a critical part of the art of being you, determining what parts of the overall mix really serve, what heirlooms should be preciously maintained, and which parts you’d do better walking away from or even dismantling with courageous self-discipline.

What are your heirlooms? Are their inheritances you’d like to stop handing down?

~ Margaret


Could I have a moment?

If there’s one thing I love, it’s a guarantee. So I want to offer you one of my all-time favorite, virtually guaranteed Microwave Meditations. It exists in the form of a simple question. It’s  useful in a multitude of situations. You can use it by yourself or in interaction. And it goes like this:

Could I have a moment?

Thanks to Flickr for the photo

Now, precisely what this meditation guarantees you is something you’ll have to find out for yourself. Still, I want to offer you my guarantee, as the purveyor of this particular practice. I hereby guarantee you that the answer, one way or another, is always “yes.” You can always have every moment you’re willing to actually have, every one that you’d really like to have. Asking yourself this question gives you the real chance to have the moment. Asking someone else the question performs the same function. All we have is moments, after all, so why not go about actually HAVING them.

And, once you are actually having your moments, what you can and will discover through this practice, within it, is boundless.

3-Center Check In

When it shows up in Harvard Business Review, maybe there’s something to this…

I’m referring to a recent article outlining the potential made available in the workplace through the practice of mindfulness. Genentech began this effort more than 6 years ago, and they report the benefits continuing to grow. I’ve left you a link to an HBR article about this below, and encourage you to read further there. And, just having spent 5 days at the Scientific Conference at the Center for Mindfulness, UMass Medical School, I can tell you that interest in mindfulness in the workplace is HOT. Because one way or another, we all have work to do.  So what better place to develop clarity, emotional intelligence, focus, inner fortitude, and compassion?

Here’s one of Genentech’s gems. It’s called the 3-Center Check In. It’s based on the fact that most of us are operating under the incomplete assumption that thought alone will get us through. To get all of your resources in play, there’s a lot more information you need access to. Put simply, you’ll need to invite body sensations and feelings into the picture. For many of you, that’s going to sound strange, maybe off-putting. Still, try the following 3-Center exercise a few times this week and see what comes of it. Here’s how:

Beginning with thought, ask yourself, What am I thinking right now? and pause, letting yourself become aware of the content, message, tone without engaging with any of it. Stay with this for a few breaths. Maintain an allowing attitude, with no need to judge or manage anything you observe. Next, ask, What am I feeling right now?, and pause, letting yourself feel what’s in your heart. Stay with this for a few breaths, as a companion to whatever you find. Now, ask, What am I feeling right now? and open your awareness to your whole body, all the physical sensations, surface and interior. Pause, letting yourself be aware without needing to change or fix anything.

This whole exercise can take about a minute, or less if that’s all you have. Genentech’s meditation teacher/consultant calls this the “gateway drug” to mindfulness, without having to call it meditation at all. It’s a simple, efficient way to call all your resources together, for the work ahead. Check in to the three centers–mind, heart, body–as often as possible. You can do it multiple times a day. You can do it anytime, anywhere. You can try it to see what effect it has on your day, your week. Try it!

Now, here’s the link to the Genentech story. Enjoy!

One Attribute Re-Heat

This week Jon asked us to observe the initial moment of perception impact, when taking in another person and also when assessing yourself. Did you notice what your own way with this is? His post asks us to see if one attribute dominates or even reigns supreme in your opinion. Maybe it’s the initial impression, or maybe one particular element that sticks out. Maybe you’ve found that you constantly lead in one direction with this; maybe everybody seems smarter, or grouchy. Maybe there’s a particular attribute that instantly pushes a button.

I want to thank this week’s followers for the honest, heartfelt comments.

And, I want to tell you a story about Jill. Jill was a new hire at a company I had just joined. She came in as an accounting assistant just before I was hired as the Cost Manager for a large back-office banking operation. And Jill, as it turned out, did not have basic math in her skill set. It took me a little while to decipher this, and that whole process was pretty rotten for both of us. The longer I spent adding yet another basic math function to the list of those Jill needed training with, the more steamed I got. Pretty soon, all that Jill was to me was the accounting assistant who couldn’t retain that 1/2 was the same as 50%. This was not okay, and I made sure she knew it.

With gratitude and chagrin I can give you the upshot now: I came to the plain-and-simple agreement one day that Jill was math-challenged and I was being a Class-A jerk about it. No problem, just, this is how it is. And, when this happened, an entirely different dynamic opened up for us. I started working with Jill to recognize when this was going to be an issue, and identifying the many supports she had around her to resolve any sticking points. Turns out, there weren’t that many with this job. Turns out, Jill was one of the most eager, generous, diligent people I ever worked with. Turns out, it was my one-attribute sticking point that was pretty much our only sticking point. Once I was able to see my one-attribute (anger) bumping up against the one attribute I was mesmerized by in her  (math-challenged ) our world opened up. I got bigger, finding patience and my inner-trainer. I saw how she was much bigger, showing me her enthusiasm for good work and desire to learn.

I would have missed all of that without the moment of acceptance. And, that’s acceptance of ME we’re talking about, in case you missed that. I had to accept myself entirely as the Jerk. Without making it a problem. Really, without making it into my own one-and-only attribute that day. Why is this the hardest part, friends?


Oh, say can you see?

Are you aware of your sense of sight?

Something lovely to gaze at, in case you need an extra incentive to answer this week's question.

This seems like a strange question, perhaps. The answer can feel like, well, of course I’m aware. But stay with this. Read the following three-part experiment, then try each part before proceeding to the next.

Find something to lay your eyes on. Let it be something rather benign, not too compelling. Now, as you take this view in, bring awareness to your sense of vision. Notice that you are in the process of seeing. Take this notion in. (Stop here and do this.)

Now begin to notice how seeing can actually have a variety of qualities. There is depth of field, and a range of focus from wide to pinpoint, as with a camera. There is direction and speed. There is the very musculature responsible for these capabilities. And beyond the simple mechanical functions that a camera possesses, there are conscious characteristics. There is a range of intensity with seeing. There is energy, a little or a lot, going into the very act. What else? (Stop again, and do this. Look around, try a few of these out to see what they are like.)

Can you notice, continuing this exploration for a bit, whether this all is taking place independent of anything cognitive happening, prior to analyzing, deciphering, labeling or evaluating?

What is seeing, and why bother noticing it like this? What is it like to pay attention to it as described, for a little while?


A Very Social Mirror

Family members we can’t pick, but friends, we can.  And if we choose them, they must reflect something about us.  So ask yourself this:  What quality do all my good friends have in common?

Thanks to Paul Keller, via Flickr Creative commons .

See what this says about you, and friendship.

~ Jon

Inner Commentator Re-Heat

“Men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds” Franklin D. Roosevelt

Thanks to Arther Partridge at his AyPeeCO blog,, for this great quote. I find that’s one of the fortunate things about practicing mindfulness: discovering that you don’t have to be imprisoned by the thinking mind. It’s a simple matter of recognizing the mind for what it is, moment-by moment, and seeing its’ place in the overall picture.

So, what’s it like to have an off-screen color commentator whispering in your ear all the time?  Do you curse that voice, struggling mightily to find the longed-for mute button? Or believe every word that’s said? What happens when you make friends with the inner commentator?