Currently On Pause

Thanks for stopping by.

I’m currently taking a pause from my regular posting here… to step back and reflect, to think about where I want to take this project, and to reconnect with why I’m doing this in the first place.

I do hope to pick back up writing here sometime in the near future. And if you want to be notified whenever I do, just subscribe using the “Get Email Updates” button on the right.

In the meantime, here are a few highlights from the archives…

A Letter to My Daughter

A Simple Practice of Compassion

Matters of Life In Death

The Legacy of Lives Affected

Practice Never Stops

Worth Remembering

Life Happens In Moments Like These

And if you want to find out more about what else I’m currently up to… visit joshuaharbert.com.

What Matters

I’m sitting on the floor. My DreamBox is packed. And I’m decorating the lid.

A group of us (many who were at Camp GLP) have gathered together for the evening to fill these small boxes with toys, school supplies, and other treasures. They’ll be sent around the world to children in foster homes and refugee camps.

On the inside of the lids we add a personal touch — crafting a fun design and including a photo of our families.

We’re having a good time.

It’s easy to see the whole project is a small thing. It’s a way for me to feel good about “helping”. All we’re doing is packing boxes. The contents are simple and inexpensive.

And yet, each box is a gift. A gift from one human being to another. A gift that tells a child, “I see you. I care about you.”

Sometimes, that’s all that matters.

The next day, I’m sitting on a chair as a little boy next to me searches through his DreamBox.

We’re having a pizza party at one of the SOS Villages (a supportive community for foster children). And we’ve personally delivered a batch of DreamBoxes.

It’s like Christmas morning with everyone opening their boxes all at once. What’s inside? Wow! Look at this! Is this for me? Oh, cooool! Check out this toy airplane. Hey, balloons too!

A few moments later, the boy finishes dumping out everything from his box and is playing with his new airplane. We chat, exchange names and share about each other.

At one point he turns to me and says, “I like you.” Simple. Matter of fact.

It’s easy to dismiss it as a small thing. It’s a simple statement.

But it’s a gift to me. To be seen. To connect however briefly… one human being to another.

Sometimes, that’s all that matters.

On the way home, I reflect on the weekend.

Perhaps it’s just another event. It happened, and now I’ll move on with life.

After all, I find it so easy to get lost in the rush of life sometimes. Working hard. Striving for goals and dreams. Growing as a person. Learning new skills. Even serving others.

I find it easy to forget that I’m serving and interacting with human beings — people who are inherently valuable, individuals with dreams, fears and hopes.

Weekends like these draw me back. They remind me how important such connections with people are…

… sharing a meal with family…
… playing with my daughter…
… giving a gift of love…
… greeting a stranger with a smile…
… offering a small act of kindness…
… serving just one person…

Life happens in these exchanges of humanity — touching another person, letting them touch you.

And sometimes, that’s all that matters.

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PS: Thank you so much Denise for putting on the weekend and Evan for inviting me.

A Practice for Facing Uncomfortable Emotions

I’m moments away from hitting publish on a post. It’s vulnerable. It’s raw. It makes me feel exposed… like I’ve got nowhere to hide.

The post is written. The final edits have been made.

My hand hovers over the publish button. One click and it’s gone… sent out to be seen. No taking it back. No hiding.

I hesitate. My stomach starts tensing. Can I really send this out? This is too risky.

Pause.

“Hello, fear. I see you.”

***

I’m lost in my work. My fingers dance across the keyboard. Words flow from my mind to the page like a rapidly-racing river.

Everything else fades away. It’s just me and my creation. Just me and what I’m here to do.

Then the door opens. My wife announces lunch time.

In a flash the flow of work disappears… my rhythm broken.

Blood rushes to my head. Why do you have to interrupt me? Don’t you know I’m working?

Pause.

“Hello, anger. I see you.”

***

I’m walking the streets of my neighborhood and pass a man who’s homeless.

He kind of stinks. His clothes are ragged from constant use and dull from layer upon layer of stains. His head bows low.

As I walk by, I cringe slightly. My nose turns up. What is he doing here? Why doesn’t he ever take a shower?

Pause.

“Hello, disgust. I see you.”

***

Every day brings a river of emotions. And many of them are “negative”. We get angry, afraid, disgusted, jealous, anxious, stressed, tired, resentful, and more.

When those emotions arise, they’re often the last thing we want. So we try to push away the fear. We try to pretend we’re not resentful. We try to put on a positive face.

Trouble is… hiding from how we really feel is actually unhelpful.

By pushing these feelings away – even uncomfortable emotions like anger or fear – we deny our own experience of life. We call ourselves liars. We make ourselves “bad” for feeling how we do.

By hiding, we amplify the suffering. We let embed it deep inside of us. We cling to it.

So often, it is our story that negative emotions are “something to be avoided” that causes the most trouble.

But what if we accepted them instead?

What if instead of seeing emotions as bad or negative, we saw them as just a part of life? What if we allowed ourselves to actually feel how we feel?

One practice I’ve found helpful is saying “hello”.

I don’t remember to do it all the time. And with particularly intense emotions, it’s not always enough.

But often, just pausing and saying, “Hello, emotion. I see you,” disarms it’s power. You greet it as a friend… as a part of you. And you let it be as it is… without saying it’s good or bad.

And when you can fully accept it in that way… the emotion tends to flow on, drifting away into the river that is life.

Life goes on.

And you might even learn something from how you feel.

Of course, there’s something else I’ve discovered as I’ve deepened this practice. By accepting the “negative” side of life more fully… you also start embracing the goodness of life more fully as well.

Joy intensifies. Love magnifies. Gratitude washes over you.

You greet all of life.

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PS: For more on this, check out the book Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach.

A Different Sort of Summer Camp Experience

If I had to capture my dominant emotion from my experience at Camp GLP in one word it would be loneliness. And if I could add a second word, it would be sadness.

It’s always interesting what happens when you shake up your normal patterns of life… When you go to a space and environment that is totally unlike where you normally spend your days.

Such times open you to seeing things from a different perspective. They force your mind to notice in a different way.

And so it was for me when I arrived, via a yellow school bus, for four days of summer camp (a gathering of remarkable people from across the globe for a weekend of fun, workshops, connection, and an exploration of what it means to live a good life).

So much energy! So many extremely happy people. Why wasn’t I as enthusiastic?

So many new faces… Why was I resisting going up and just talking to everyone? What kept holding me back?

Old friends that I’ve lost contact with… Why I haven’t I kept up with all of them? They’re so amazing.

Such great people everywhere. Deep conversations sparked at a moments notice… Why is that so rare to my life?

Jonathan Fields speaking on the significance of connection — connection to others… Damn, that bucket is rather empty right now.

Story Circles (using art as a tool for self-inquiry) with Cassia Cogger… Haunting how that sense of being alone kept popping up — unveiled in the patterns of my pen.

Stepping into the group meditation on Saturday morning… So much peace, so much calm, so much connection… The first tears started to fall.

Walking through the cold and rain… everything in me wanting to hide, to follow my normal pattern, to deny it, to pretend that everything was OK even when it wasn’t. But I stayed with it. I allowed what came to come.

A workshop with Robin Hallett… one that I wasn’t even scheduled to be at but felt called to somehow… one that I still nearly skipped at the last minute… one where it all broke open…

Tears fall (even now a few drops bead in my eyes at the memory). That loneliness. That sadness.

The searing cost of hiding for so many years… of pushing people away… of trying to be perfect… of refusing others to see me… of refusing to let others help me… of denying it all…

It all came crashing down.

And something shifted. Something deep shifted.

Walking to the lake. Watching the mist ghost across the surface of the water. Watching the rain drops ripple. Hearing the pattering sound of droplets upon the leaves.

I find my edge…

Compassion. Full and complete openness. To speak into the pain of another and offer healing… not because I’m here to sell… but because I’m a human being and we see each other.

To be seen. To need others. To no longer walk alone.

To embody the words of the Swahili proverb, “Mtu ni watu (a person is people).”

Perhaps it’s all best captured in a blend of tea I created with Brandon Ford. It’s a green tea… inspired by the forest floor.

Grounded and rooted…

A community… not a single, solitary tree…

And beneath the open, ever-changing sky…

Thank you all for being a part of my life. You are a gift to me.

If You Want to Be Great, Get Great Sleep

For some reason this is way harder for me than it should be.

It’s not like I haven’t seen the endless research that shows how getting enough sleep improves your memory, your ability to learn, your willpower, your level of happiness, and a whole host of other things.

It’s not like I haven’t experienced what it’s like to wake up in the morning fully rested… that perfect feeling of being alive and ready to take on whatever the day may bring. When you’re completely alert. Everything just feels right in the world.

And it certainly isn’t like I have never seen what happens when I don’t get enough sleep. That heavy weight of bricks that seems to be hanging from your eyelids. The headaches. The dense fog that seems to cloud your mind, blocking your ability to perceive nearly anything positive in your life.

Getting good sleep is important.

If you want to do amazing work in the world, giving yourself permission to get enough sleep is critical.

You can’t serve people as effectively if you’re tired and grumpy. (At least I can’t.)

Yet so often I find myself struggling to go to bed on time. And I’m rarely doing anything critical either. I don’t have any real reason to stay up. But I stay up anyways…

There are some nights I choose to stay up late
I’ve yet to understand why that is so
It’s not because I craft a work so great
Or am learning of what I do not know
What makes me stare out with my sleepy face
And on that rigid chair decide to sit
What makes me to remain within that space
And read of things that matter not a bit
For right nearby my mattress rests on beams
Begging I enter to its calm delight
I could soon travel to the land of dreams
Instead of giving sleep a weary fight
And though I have not understood it yet
This morning it is something I regret?

Why exactly, I’m not entirely sure. But I have figured out three helpful rules. Maybe they’ll be useful for you too.

1) No computer after 8pm. Some research suggests that not looking at a computer screen right before bed helps your body get better and deeper sleep. That’s not why I have this rule.

What I’ve discovered is that by turning of my computer at 8pm, I remove my primary means of distraction. And by 9pm or so, I generally think to myself… Well, nothing else to do right now, I might as well go to bed. And so I do.

2) No reading fiction in bed unless my wife is awake. Fiction is like a drug to me. Get me caught up in a good story, and I’ll read until morning. Just one more chapter… I tell myself. Yeah right.

So now I make it a practice to close my book whenever my wife is ready to turn the light off. It’s a way to force myself to put the book down.

3) Remember to have my nightly cup of tea. Right before bed, I brew myself a cup of chamomile tea. I’ll sit with it for five or ten minutes, just staring out into space. Or maybe I’ll spend a moment jotting down something I’m grateful for.

The individual actions aren’t that critical. The key though is having a routine each night that informs my body that it’s time for sleep. It helps me unwind.

You should remain awake a little more
There’s much around for you to do and see
Do not elect this time to go and snore
From all the sheeted bonds of bed stay free
Go browse a while on the internet
And then to your email again go look
Read news that in the morning you’ll forget
Stay up for long with an audio book
Heed nothing that the mad voice may suggest
Saying its lies to you inside your brain
Go restore all your energy and rest
To stay up any longer is insane
I do not want to hear a single peep
Lay quiet in your bed and go to sleep

This is something I’m still working on. And I’d love to hear your thoughts too. What do you do to ensure you get a good night of sleep?

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What Jars You to Attention?

I sit silently on my meditation cushion. A pleasant breeze drifts through the window. The sun casts a soft, orange light upon the eastern sky. All is still.

Then the smoke alarm goes off. It jars me to attention.

For a moment, I’m annoyed.

I mean, what is this stupid alarm doing interrupting the silence of the morning. I can’t smell any smoke — and my wife isn’t calling me to leave because of a fire. So why does this alarm have to interrupt me. Doesn’t it know this is my time to meditate?

It doesn’t take long to realize how ridiculous I’m being.

After all, that smoke detector is really useful. Sure, this time there isn’t a fire (thankfully). But what if there had been? What if I’d left a pan on the stove and forgotten it (heaven knows how many times I’ve done that)? What if another unit in our building had gone up in flames?

You can be sure I’d want to know. I’d want that alarm to jar me to attention… to alert me of what’s important.

I wonder though…

What Other Alarms in Life Remind Me What’s Important?

It’s so easy to grow complacent. I forget that the time I have now is precious. And I lose sight of what is really important to me – gifts like friends, family, and meaningful work.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have an alarm to regularly wake me up. Something to jar me to attention. Something to remind me what’s important.

So I’ve been trying to create more of those “alarms” in my life.

Sometimes it’s people… people who care enough to check in with me and ask how I’m really doing.

Sometimes it’s a book I read… a piece of wisdom that calls me to greatness.

And sometimes… it’s simply the sight of the beautiful sunrise on a still and peaceful morning.

***

What about you? What reminds you of what’s important? Let us know in the comments.

Choose Your Life

You’re playing with your daughter, and she’s chasing you around the apartment. Her shrieks of laughter and delight fill the room.

“What a wonderful way to spend an evening,” you pause and think to yourself. “What could be better?”

Ooops, she almost catches you. You spin to “escape”.

Except your foot catches the leg of a table. Hard. With force.

Pain shoots up your leg, and you stumble backwards.

Choose.

You’ve been out running errands all day, and you just want to get home. You can’t wait to see your family. And you’re definitely ready for a hot supper.

A train pulls into the train station, and you get on. Just a short ride away now.

But the train doesn’t move. It stays standing. Minutes pass.

Eventually, the conductor announces there’s a broken train on the rail ahead. Your trip home just became a lot longer.

Choose.

You’ve been rushing to meet a last minute deadline on a project, and today’s the final day. It’s a major project, and you’re responsible for getting it done on time.

Everything is ready to go except for one final piece – a bit of work that you’ve been waiting for your coworker to complete. When you checked with him the other day, he’d assured you the work would be done on time.

A bit anxious, you give him a call.

“Oh sorry,” he says, “I’m not going to be able to get it to you for another week.”

Choose.

Life constantly offers you choices.

Sometimes you get two options, and you have to pick one. But more often than not, life simply presents one option.

Here it is. Deal with it.

So how will you respond? Will you complain, hide, or react with anger? Or will you accept the situation for what it is? Will you embrace it as part of your life? Will you choose a powerful, heroic response?

The response is always up to you. The choice is always yours.

It can be tempting to only choose the more “positive” situations. But being whole means embracing your whole life. Being fully alive means being alive in all moments. It means choosing everything – not because it’s what you prefer, but because it’s what’s offered.

In the end, everything you face is your life. The only question is, will you choose it?

You’re out for a walk in quiet of the morning. All is calm. All is peaceful.

“Can the day start any better than this?” you wonder.

Then you look up.

In the east, the sun begins to rise, igniting the distant clouds into beautiful streaks of reds and yellows.

It’s simply magnificent.

Choose.

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