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Tag Archives: Pema Chodron

I've always loved Disney's Little Mermaid!

I've always loved Disney's Little Mermaid!

I’ve been doing a fair amount of reflecting on the role of social media in the lives of mid-life adults—the age group of my coaching clients. Though there are multiple online networking sites, the two biggest ones being Facebook and MySpace, I’m focusing on Facebook because “older people” are the fastest growing users of this particular social medium, whereas MySpace continues to be dominated by teens.

According to online journal, ITbusiness, in the first few months of 2009, “Facebook gained more Gen Xers and Baby Boomers to its membership ranks with working aged adults (26-59) seeing the biggest age demographic boost of any in North America….” And, according to Paul Briand of The National Examiner, even more staggering is that since the first of the year, “the 35-44 category grew by 51 percent and 45-54 grew by 47 percent.” Wasn’t this medium something that teens lived on like we use to live on the telephone? What could adults possibly want from this vehicle? Do we use it to monitor what our kids are doing or to make sure none of their Facebook “friends” look older than 16?

A complaint issued to me by email from one of my coaching clients was this, she writes, “My friends never share themselves on Facebook, they simply take those inane quizzes and invite me to do the same. I mean, don’t they have lives anymore, don’t they have something to share with me that’s relevant or at least personal?”

Taking these inane Facebook Quizzes – some created by FB members themselves – may be nothing more than a search for identity in a way that’s more fun than some traditional personality profiler like The Meyers-Briggs or the 1930’s mental health test The MMPI. From my experience, there’s nothing a midlifer wants more than a combination of more fun and more clarity about what’s to come in this next phase of life. It’s no wonder Facebook has so many people taking these quizzes; many of us are as unclear about what’s next as we were when we were teenagers.

The difference is that now we have so many more experiences to draw upon when deciding “what we might be when we grow up.”

If my hunch is right, these quizzes may not just be a fun way to “share” yourself on FB, they may be an impish way of inventing who you might be in a free-for-all forum where nobody gets hurt.

What I’ve discovered is that re-inventing yourself in a playful way has great appeal after a loss of some kind, i.e., the kids have left you with an empty nest, you’ve been asked for a divorce, were fired or are in desperate need for a different kind of work.

I’ve found there are at least seven key things that help you uncover “what’s next” in the second half of life and goofy Facebook quizzes can be an off-beat way to let your soulfulness guide you.

Lesson #1: Listen to Your Inner Guide. Take the quiz: “What are your five favorite ways to relax when you’re alone?”

My experiment with meditation began just after my husband left me, a doctoral student living in Princeton, in his newfound commitment to “find himself” on the other coast. I kept hearing this little voice inside my head say, “slow down and listen to what you really want.” Like most people, I ignored this seemingly impractical request. After all, I had five jobs and was trying to graduate with my doctorate by May—just four months away.

As that voice grew louder, it became clear that I was feeling depleted of having anything creative to say and I didn’t know how I was going to pull off my commitments with integrity. I eventually became willing to take a free introductory course in Mindfulness Meditation—a Buddhist practice that simply fosters insight and compassion for self and others.

Lesson #2: Put Your Wildest Desires Out There. Take the quiz: “If I could switch lives with any famous person, I’d pick these top five.”

Some people know what they’d love to do with their lives when in midlife transition but many more of us are afraid we’ll be a laughing stock if we share this with loved ones and friends. This may be hard to believe but the biggest naysayers in are lives are often those closest to us. They don’t even have to be jealous or mean spirited, they just have to care for us in an unhelpful way, the way that conveys, “I just don’t want you to humiliate yourself and then live a life of regret.”

When you take these little quizzes on Facebook, they can be one way, a harmless way, to “get out there.” As Opera Diva Beverly Sills warns us, “You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.”

Lesson #3: Be Selective When Sharing Your Desires. Take the quiz: “If I could ask advice of famous experts, I’d pick these top five.”

Picking people who will join you in seeing your greatness can be tricky. As I said above, don’t look to your inner circle—they’re way too close to you and your own self-doubt and may even have contributed to it, indirectly, due to their desires for security.

Take my ex-husband (please!): a superbly brilliant professor of International Relations, speaks four languages, publishes about a book a year, but tends to avoid risks that might make him “look foolish”—any sport, dancing or other form of playing in public or alone. When I told him that I wanted a to be an inspirational columnist and life coach like Martha Beck, a monthly essayist for Oprah Magazine, he said, “Oh my God, Jenn, you have got to be kidding me! You will never get another job in academia if you do that!”

Your experiences may be much different than mine—and I hope they are—but if not, reach for a mentor or life direction coach (like myself) if you want to really hear and follow your desires. Go to those who see your essence and believe in your ability to try, fail, try, fail and get up and try again. As the Japanese phrase nanakorobiyaoki says, “Fall down seven times, get up eight.”

Lesson #4: Have Faith or Find Someone Who Does. Take the quiz: “Among the super powers in Marvel Comic Books, which one are you?”

Henry Ford once said, “If you think you can, or if you think you can’t, you’re right.” I believe you can, of course, but if you don’t believe this, please find someone who does and borrow their faith in your capacity for self-invention. My mentors, authors Valerie Young, Barbara Winter and Barbara Sher, all believe that isolation is a dream killer.

Barbara Sher in her recent book, Refuse to Choose!, believes we can simply guess what we want to be and feel it out in practice. She says, be an investigator. Dream of at least 10 possible ways of earning a living, gather more information at a library, volunteer, check out any profession by interviewing others.

Sher was speaking at a workshop recently and saying how deep down inside we all know what we want. “When someone says they don’t know what they want,” she said, “what they really mean is they don’t think that what they want is possible.” We all need allies who believe in us.

Lesson #5: Never Give Up! Take the Quiz: “Which Greek Mythical Hero/Heroine Would You Be?”

Malcolm Gladwell’s most recent book, Outliers, speaks of people who by a crystallization of circumstances became movers and shakers during their particular moment in history—people like Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Rosa Parks, Yo Yo Ma, and Tiger Woods. One thing these people have in common is their passion for mastery and, according to Gladwell’s findings, have given their particular love at least 10,000 hours of attention before they became famously proficient.

So where would you rather be, in your rut or onto what’s next? To step into the unknown it requires that you step outside your comfort zone. As my friend Patrick Snow says, “If you want what others have, you must do what others have done to get where they are.” Praying or believing in the “Law of Attraction” is fine but action is also necessary. If you are willing to take small steps, even try a new behavior that challenges you by just one degree, you’ll be building up what you want to see complete some day. I say, “Do things the way ants do things, one small gesture at a time.” Which leads us to our next lesson…

Lesson #6: Start Where You Are. Take the quiz: “What Does Your Birth Date and Time Say About You?”

My favorite teacher and Buddhist Abbess Pema Chodron wrote a book about 15 years ago called, Start Where You Are. After raising her kids, she felt bereft of purpose and confused by her husband’s newfound hobbies that often took him away from home. On one weekend, she came home only to find him in bed with a female friend of theirs. In shock and full of rage, Chodron threw a very expensive 14th-century Ming vase on the floor.

Within a few months she started studying with a Tibetan Lama Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. He gave her techniques for cultivating compassion for herself and for her (now former) mate. He told her, “There is nowhere to go, nothing to do, nowhere to hide. Simply start where you are.” She responded by saying, “I just can’t wait for this transition period to pass!” He said with authority, “My dear, all life is transition.”

All compassion-centered meditation begins with the present—we breathe in that very thing we wish were not so. Befriending ourselves and actually feeling our emotions, versus just analyzing them, is the way through. Difficult or delightful emotions are always passing through us.

Finally, and perhaps said another way…

Lesson #7: Receive the Gift of the Present. Take the quiz: “If the end of the world were near, which five things would you appreciate the most?”

In 2005, when I was in between jobs and without the label of “professor” or “psychologist,” I was bereft of purpose and felt like an oyster without a shell. I had no idea just how reliant I was on my “white collar” title until I was without it. I suffered many sleepless nights worsened by isolation and self-pity. One night, I sat straight up around 2:00 a.m. with the gift of this particular awareness: “Jennifer, unless you can be grateful for the first half of life, the second half will not be an improvement.”

Sometimes gratitude is difficult to feel, but the good news is, it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to feel grateful, you just need to practice appreciating what you have: life, friends, family, a working body, a roof and daily nourishment, etc. Gratitude is the gift that keeps on giving. Tallying up the gifts within your present experience will make any future success all the more profound.

These seven habits are core practices I use myself and share with others. If you have ones you’d like to share with readers, pass them along to me through this blog.

About the Author

Jennifer Manlowe is a speaker and an award winning author of seven helpful books—all available on her website. She is also a life direction counselor and certified book publishing coach working with individuals and groups online and in person. Become her fan on Facebook or follow her on Twitter!

To read more articles about how to find work that you love, go to Manlowe’s website.


When I cannot help but catch the scarcity tension in the air born of real events like: the worst market crash since 1929, the most constitutionally abhorrent form of leadership since I don’t know when, the denial of death in the form of global eco-irresponsibility, and the grossest form of greed that now expects to be bailed out (something for which I’ve been guilty by the way, “So sorry, Dad”), I try to practice what I call, The Four A’s: Awakeness, Awareness, Acceptance and Acting skillfully.   

What helps a great deal is the guidance of Pema Chodron, author of Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living and The Wisdom of No Escape: A Path to Loving Kindness. Chodron is a Tibetan Buddhist Abbess at Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia and her titles’ say exactly what she means. Though she’s a rigorously-trained Buddhist practitioner and teacher, she offers the rest of us (non-Buddhists, presumedly) a very basic philosophy that claims, “the emotions you resist persist.”

But the good news is that there’s a practice one can begin that fosters working “with” what arises without shellacking it. The Tibetan Buddhist method is called Lojong (“taking and sending”). How you cultivate this practice amidst the storms (in you and all around you) goes like this: “breathe in” the fear and release through exhaling “not fighting fear.”

“Breathe in” allows or “takes in” the fact that we are all feeling fear; and, through exhaling we “send out” to all (including your perceived enemies and yourself) a wish that may go something like this: “May we all find a peace and water the roots of peace in our hearts and minds.”

Again, the aim is peace and this is won by NOT fighting. Not fighting my feelings, not denying the emptiness or hopelessness of the perceived state of the world nor denying the “vibes”of what feels like MY current experience in this cultural context. It helps me to know that what I’m experiencing feels real but, this pinched reality of greed, ignorance, and aggression, like all reality in the cycle of living and dying, will not last.

I’m sure some of my readers may think this is gobbly gook and others may believe this cultural moment is “God’s way of humbling us.” Maybe that’s how it is for her/him. I find life includes me but is not all about me; it’s not happening TO me but FOR us to be with in a skillful, non-ego-grasping (or controlling) way.

That skillful way might include an attitude that arises quite naturally when I’m with a friend in hospice.

On such a shared vulnerable occasion, I would not pretend “it’s all groovy,” “let’s focus on the positive,” nor would I say, “you’re totally screwed, my friend!” Rather, I might just BE with my friend, hold his hand, wish her well and, if I had to speak at all, perhaps I would say, “I’m here with you, wide awake and aware, not denying anything that comes up in me or in you [acceptance]. Let’s work with IT [action] until there’s no IT to work with.”

This Four A’s approach need not be the way but may simply be a way to practice living with what some people call mindful compassion–a way that excludes nothing and is touched by everything without getting overwhelmed.

NOTE: Don’t hesitate to checkout my book, Loving Life As It Is. It’s full of meditation techniques to work with whatever arises in your life (bringing calm to your particular storms).



Since about 1990, as a practitioner of meditation and in service of people in tough transitions (i.e., midlife career loss, surviving war or domestic violence, or negotiating a life-threatening illness, like HIV/AIDS), I have been studying different ways to dial down mental static — stress, obsessive worry and anxiety. I do this in service of fostering clarity and to make “what’s next in life” become more apparent.

My methods draw largely from what I have learned from Insight Meditation or Mindfulness Meditation techniques.

Insight Meditation [known as Vipassana in Pali] is a comprehensive approach to awakening of the heart and mind. This method of awareness training has been practiced in parts of Asia for over 2,500 years and, because of its simplicity and power, is now being embraced by people from diverse spiritual orientations and locations around the world.

Insight Meditation cultivates our natural wisdom and compassion. The practice develops concentration, or “steadiness” of mind. The subject of concentration is usually the movement of the breath, or the appearing and disappearing of sound. As the mind quiets down, it is possible to experience whatever arises in the present moment in an accepting, relaxed and open way. And, I can’t think of anything that is improved through my greater and greater tension.

Mindfulness can be maintained throughout our daily activities. We can be mindful of the movement of our body, the sensations in walking, the sounds around us, or the thoughts and feelings that come into the mind. As mindfulness deepens, there is increased capacity for intimacy with the life within and around us. We are able to see through our socially- and mentally-conditioned behaviors and thoughts. We come to discover qualities buried within us, perhaps, i.e., empathy, equanimity and ease in our lives. These tips below are compiled, in part, from the Seattle Insight Meditation website.

How Do I Meditate By Myself?

As with all things, start where you are. You have everything you need right now. First, decide to sit each day. Next, plan the time, place and duration for your sitting meditation.

Choose a time

Morning is often best because the mind is calmer than it is later in the day. However, the best time is the time that you can commit to on a regular basis.

Choose a space

There is no perfect place. If possible, dedicate a space exclusively to your daily sitting. Choose a relatively quiet space where you can leave your cushion (or chair) so that it is always there to return to.

Choose a duration

As long as is comfortable, plus 5 minutes. This is a general guide, not a rule. Even fifteen or twenty minutes will seem an eternity in the beginning, but that impression will change with time. If you sit each day, you will experience noticeable benefits (e.g., less reactivity, more calm) and be able to increase your sitting time if you so choose. And, every time you sit:

Set your intention

It’s helpful to recall at the start of each sitting meditation why you are doing it. Remember that your purpose, to become more open and free, will benefit you and those around you.

Set your posture

Alertness is one of the two essential ingredients in every meditation. Sit on a chair or cushion as straight and tall as comfortably-possible. Around this straight-back position, let the rest of your skeleton and muscles hang freely. Let the hands rest comfortably on your knees or lap. Let the eyes close, bringing the attention inward.

Relax deeply

Openness is the second essential ingredient in every meditation. Once you feel your spine is erect, let everything else relax, hang loose, and soften. Consciously releasing body tension will help you open to whatever arises during your meditation.

Choose an object of meditation

Once you’ve established this alert and open posture, you are ready to decide where you’ll place your attention. A useful object for beginners is the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils.

Whatever object you select, stay with it for at least ten breaths. Even with this effort, your mind will insist on going to its usual places. Make note of this when it happens, and gently lead your attention back to the chosen object of meditation. Your intention and persistence are the key ingredients for cultivating awareness, not the number of times your mind wanders. As often as you need to, check yourself — Alert and erect? Relaxed and open?” — and begin again.

I recommend sitting with others because the point of meditation is, in part, to see clearly how interdependent every single one of us is with all others. But, it’s up to you. If you want to sit with others, please see Seattle Insight for more details.

Mindfulness, (or one-pointed), meditation—as described above—is one method of “working with what arises” and the Tibetan [or Vajrayana] Buddhist tradition that is called Lojong or Tonglen practice is another technique.

Tibetan teacher and head Abbess in Nova Scotia’s Gampo Abbey—Pema Chodron—offers a simple breathing exercise that includes “mindful” or “relaxed attention” given to the feelings that arise during meditation without getting overwhelmed by the feelings.

It is precisely through working with this feeling-filled, mindfulness practice—carried on the wings of the “in” and “out” breath—that many of my clients and students have found the greatest comfort and relief. No need to rush out of uncomfortable feelings into anesthetizing with food, alcohol, spending, or hyper-fixating to find relief from an anxious mind.

You can go into the abject feeling and witness its mutability and transience. You might find that the completion you are searching for is already within you. No drug, perfect mate, or financial windfall can provide the calm you can create via mindful breathing.

Breathing mindfully is like listening to waves on an ocean, always available to attend to. This practice takes practice. It’s like training a skittish, stray cat to “stay still” and trust that today will take care of itself.

Chodron educates readers on the practice of Tonglen in her book When Things Fall Apart (excerpted below) and in every other book she’s written, see: Powell’s Books.

Tonglen is a Tibetan word that literally means “sending and taking.” The practice originated in India and came to Tibet in the 11th-century. In tonglen practice, when we see or feel suffering, we breathe in with the notion of completely feeling it, accepting it and owning it. Then we breathe out, radiating compassion, loving-kindness, freshness; anything that encourages relaxation and openness.

When you do tonglen on the spot, you simply breathe in and breathe out, taking in pain and sending out spaciousness and relief. When you do tonglen as a formal practice, it has four stages:

Rest: Relax your mind briefly in a state of openness or stillness.

Work with texture: Breathe in a feeling of hot, dark, and heavy, and breathe out a feeling of cool, bright, and light. Breathe in and radiate completely, through all the pores of your body, until it feels synchronized with your in-and out-breath.

Work with emotion: Breathe in any painful personal situation that is real to you. Traditionally, you begin by doing tonglen for someone you care about. However, if you are stuck, see the extending practice (below).

Extending: Finally, make the “taking in” and the “sending out” larger. Whether your doing tonglen for someone you love or for someone you see on television, do it for all the others in the same boat. You could even do tonglen for people you consider your enemies—those who have hurt you or others. Do tonglen for them, thinking of them as having the same confusion and stuckness as you find or yourself.

As you do the practice, gradually, over time, your compassion naturally expands—and so does your realization that things are not as solid as you thought. As you do this practice, at your own pace, you’ll be surprised to find yourself more and more able to be there for others, even in what seemed like impossible situations.

My favorite meditation teachers of Western descent include: Jack Kornfield, Pema Chodron, and Jon Kabat Zinn. If you want a YouTube video to “walk” you through the first three times of sitting. Try this one by Kabat-Zinn on YouTube.


I would love to hear what this practice is like for you. Why would (or wouldn’t) you consider doing this for yourself? What would be the pros and cons of this practice for you or for others?

If you want any one of my own books to give you support in these endeavors, order them here: At Powell’s. After reading them, you might want to add your review to this helpful books blog!

Jennifer Manlowe
Life Design Unlimited