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Last year, I went directly from a meditation retreat in Burma to selling at the New York Gift Show, jet lag, bronchitis and all. Talk about a rough re-entry!

This month history repeated itself, though not so intensely. I returned from a week at the Providence Zen Center and immediately had to set up for the Boston Gift Show. It’s hard to go from sitting in silence to high-energy selling, but in many ways a Zen retreat is great preparation for any demanding life situation.

Just do it!  A lot of Zen practice is about showing up, paying attention, meeting the unexpected, and doing what needs to be done. Lots of opportunity to do that at a show!

Don’t know mind. I packed for the show with no idea of how our booth was going to come together. The organizers had just informed us that the booth drapes were going to be black instead of white, and I feared it would be weird and Goth and definitely un-Summer-House-y. There was no time to arrange alternate drapes…what to do? No choice but to figure it out once I got there.

Don’t make good and bad. As it turned out, our colors just popped on the black background – especially the turquoise banners — and the yellow daffodils and summery linens looked elegant. I was quite surprised.

Follow your situation. I was also surprised to find myself with a 10 x 35 ft. space to fill instead of our usual 10 x 10 booth. (There were a number of no-shows among the vendors.) I wrangled some piping for extra lights and spread our stuff out  and it turned out great.

Everything is no problem! All in all, I appreciated my new-found ability to chill when tensions were high and curve balls were flying. And during the long stretches where nothing much was happening? No problem when you’ve just spent a week sitting and staring at the floor for eight hours a day!

Don’t get me wrong…I don’t recommend this schedule if you have an alternative. But if you don’t? Just do it!









10,000 mind-moments:
trying too hard

10,000 mind-moments:
cool breeze, warm sun
roosters crowing
the smell of wood smoke
slow boats on the river
my feet touching cool brick
monastery bells tolling
deep contentment


The other day, I was chatting with a customer in the shop about her life since her recent move to the Cape. One the things she said was, “I must like being busy, because I’m very busy all the time.”

A bell rang in my head, and I thought, yeah, me too.

I write a lot about being busy, about the anxious, stressful side of having too much to do and not enough time. What I rarely look at are the ways I like being busy.

But I can honestly say that I often enjoy having a big list of things to prioritize, juggle, and check off.  It makes me feel competent and effective, and gives some focus and structure to life.

And the to-do list this past month was vast. Not only was it our first real holiday season at Summer House Soaps (with all its decor, product ordering, and staffing tasks), but there were lots of other things to organize as well.

# 1… in a little over a week I’m flying to Bangkok, and then on to Mandalay in Burma for a three week meditation retreat. Besides preparations for the trip, there are many things that need to be in place so the business can run in my absence.

#2….At the same time, we’ve been packing our gear for the NY NOW Gift Show, which starts on February 2nd. I’m flying 29 hours back from Asia and going directly to the show. (Talk about whiplash!) Fortunately Sarah and Chelsea will set up and work it for the most part…I’m just making a brief appearance.

With all this stuff to think about over the last couple of months, I kept waiting for the anxiety to kick in, for the sleepless nights.  But it hasn’t happened. I’ve been sleeping like a baby.

Which maybe is the real reasons I like being busy – it gives me no time to be scared, or depressed, or whatever else is lurking around. Is this a healthy strategy? Probably not. But it’s been working for me, so far.

Eight days to go.

summerhouse_go_10_cookies summerhouse_go_1

I lay in bed Sunday morning basking in a warm feeling of gratitude. Our Summer House Soaps Grand Opening yesterday was truly grand, in the British sense of “A cup of tea? That would be grand.”

I’m grateful for all the people who emailed or turned out to wish us well. I’m grateful to my husband, John, for all his support, including racing around with me at the last minute finding rugs for the showroom. (Rain was expected, and we visualized people toppling like bowling pins on the wet, slippery floor.)

I’m grateful to Debbie and Priscilla and Jill for helping out at the checkout area, and for the forbearance of customers who waited because our system was a little rough around the edges (it was our first day, after all). I’m grateful to Bill, our landlord, for his help and creative carpentry, to Joslyn for her beautiful cookies, and to so many others, including many who offered help but I was too overwhelmed to articulate what might be helpful.

Most of all I’m grateful to Julie and Betsy for moving the whole operation and getting it set up in less than a week, all the while keeping the orders flowing with barely a hiccup. Amazing.

The morning of the opening I was really, really tired and achy, and wondered how I would get through the day. It was helpful to reflect on the grand wave of collaborative energy that has gotten the project to this point, and to realize that I might trust in it.

This is a shift in perspective for me, who tends to think that everything depends on me all the time. It’s not true of course, and what’s more, it’s a burden to carry around the idea that you have to make things happen. I have to do my part, of course. But from a Buddhist perspective, things arise out of conditions, not from my efforts.

This morning on the online Tricycle email, there was this fitting quote from Stephen Batchelor:

Every moment of experience is contingent on a vast complex of myriad conditions…To recognize this emptiness is not to negate things but to glimpse what enables anything to happen at all.

Three beautiful places at the Insight Meditation Society

“Everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing,” from St. Francis and the Sow by Galway Kinnell.

I’m off to a meditation retreat tomorrow…nine days at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts.

On the one hand, I feel irresponsible taking off again so soon after returning from Ohio. I’ve been away three times this month already.

On the other hand, this retreat is paid for, non-refundable, and I REALLY NEED IT!  It will give me a chance to see how I’m digesting all the impermanence that’s showing up in my life right now. There’s been so much going on that it’s hard to know what I’m feeling other than exhaustion and a painful shoulder/neck spasm.

Of course, retreats are not all bliss and relaxation, notwithstanding all the ads showing serene women meditating in yoga togs in gorgeous locations. NO…when you actually quiet down enough to discover what’s actually going on inside your mind/body, you can find some unpleasant surprises.

Yes, of course, there’s the occasional bit of bliss, but more likely (especially in the beginning) you’ll discover restlessness, agitation, boredom, fear, and an unbelievable amount of thinking. Typically, by the second day, you’ll be thinking, GAHHH! How can I stand this for six more days???

This happens even if you’ve been attending retreats for decades. The difference is that you expect it. And you know it will eventually settle down. Maybe.

In the last eight days, since forgoing all sleep aids, I’ve had (not in this particular order):

        1 night of no sleep


        3 nights of 3 – 4 hours of sleep


        2 nights of 5 – 6 hours of sleep


      1 night of 9 hours of sleep

It’s an effort to report this without judgment. Originally I wrote, 1 horrible night, 3 so-so nights, one fabulous night, etc. but then I went back and removed the adjectives. I’m trying to treat insomnia as a neutral situation.

This I can say: a sleepless night has a lot in common with a meditation retreat. There’s very little stimulation, nothing much to do in the quiet hours around 3 a.m. It’s just you and your mind. And without the demands and distractions of daytime, the machinations of your mind are much easier to see and work with.

During a sleepless night, all the “afflictions” known to meditators come up: restlessness, boredom, aversion, and anxiety. (Unfortunately, not the one that would be really useful: sleepiness, otherwise known in The Buddhist trade as sloth and torpor.)

When the mind goes off into the future and starts worrying, you can come back to the present. When it falls into self-pity – I’m going to be a basket case tomorrow! It’s probably damaging my health to get so little sleep! – you bring it back. Just you, lying there, awake. No problem.

Let me be clear – none of this meditation stuff may actually make you sleep better! You have to let go of that agenda. If you’re following the rising and falling of your breath as a way of tricking your mind into falling asleep, it doesn’t work. At least not for me. After a few minutes, I’ll be thinking, Damn! Still awake! And off I go. This isn’t about changing the situation (being awake), it’s about cultivating acceptance.

For instance, I had a huge rebound of anxiety for the first few days after stopping the medication that was helping me sleep. I’d lie awake, hour after hour, with a volcano of anxiety burning in my solar plexus. Nothing I could do about the state of my body, but I could at least work with my mind. I’d think of the words of Pema Chodron, “Feel the feeling, drop the storyline.” I’d try to hold the feeling in my solar plexus with kindly attention. When it got too wearing, I’d think of all the other people who were awake at that hour, feeling anxious about their lives, and wish us all well. I can testify, it’s possible to have an anxious body without an anxious mind!

My sleep schedule may be getting back to normal, or maybe it’s not. Maybe I’ll even miss my insomnia a little when it’s gone.

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