An Invitation To Retreat Into Your Experience

To be honest, my daily mindfulness practice isn’t always so mindful. Well, the actual meditation may be but I usually find myself rushing to the cushion and then hustling off immediately afterwards. I have a tendency to jam meditation into the busiest part of my day as if it was just another thing on my “to do” list. And that’s ok. Meditation is as much about what you’re not doing as what you are doing. It is nothing more than practice for the “real work” of life in the world. I certainly recognize that pausing, if only for a moment, is better than the alternative. As I speed through my day, I start to miss a beautiful image or a meaningful conversation.

Screen Shot 2019-02-22 at 8.47.33 AMWhich is why the invitation for extended practice is so valuable. By creating space and time to slowly arrive at the beginning and gently transition at the end, I offer myself care and attention. Retreats, such as A Mindful Pause: Finding Refuge and Peace in a Busy Life give you time to listen to the still, small voice that lives inside each of us but is often drowned out by the cacophony of voices our external world foists upon us. I use this time to set intentions, ask meaningful questions, and connect with others on our mindful journeys. I find myself settling into practice and letting go in a natural, organic way that doesn’t take energy, just intention.

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Listen To Your Heart by YuYu

That’s not to say that retreat are easy. Inevitably, I find a point on retreat where I’ve decided it is time to escape. Once you are just with yourself, you finally listen to what your heart really needs. And it can be overwhelming. This is also an invitation to sit with what I am experiencing. To feel my feelings as I am feeling them. And eventually, it passes. The freedom at this moment is hard to describe.

Join us on Sunday, April 28 from 9am to noon or 4pm at Bryn Mawr College. Our morning session includes teachings, discussions and guided meditations on simplicity, patience, understanding, and compassion. Then, stay with us for an afternoon of bringing these teachings into practice through sensory activities, movement, partner work and real-life application. We hope to see you there!

Meditation for Beginners: Joy

Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh

In the Buddhist tradition, there are four immeasurable qualities, four qualities of the awakened heart. They include compassion, lovingkindness, equanimity and joy. This post summarizes our final workshop this winter.

I think of myself as a compassion and kindness person, but joy, I’m not so sure it is for me. I feel happy and content, but joy feels a bit too active (and uncontrollable) for me. But joy can serve as both the input and the output of our practice as Thich Nhat Hanh describes above. I don’t have to feel it in any particular moment, but I’m always able to explore it.

As I prepared this week’s session, I gave myself time to intentionally practice joy. Joy is close cousins with gratitude so it seemed appropriate for the season. Beginning with gratitude can be an on-ramp to joy as we recognize the good things in our lives and the circumstances and people that brought them about. But it is important to specify what we mean by joy. The Pali/Sanskrit word Muditā means a certain kind of joy, an Appreciative or Empathetic Joy. One of my favorite meditations on joy comes from Brian Dean Williams and can be heard below.

Williams offers four phrases to silently repeat as we visualize someone we know who is doing really well right now:

May your happiness increase.
May your success continue to grow.
May you continue to create the conditions for peace and freedom in your life.
I see your success and I wish for it to grow. 

While meditating on joy can help settle the mind and make one feel more connected and happy, the most exciting quality to me is these empathetic qualities. Usually we think of empathy in terms of identifying and connecting with difficult emotions in others. But can it work the other way around? By finding joy in others, we can awaken the joy that lives in each of us. And there are many gates to joy including integrity, generosity, gratitude, trust, mindfulness and connection.

I’ve been practicing with an image of my son recently, who is doing really well. As I work through the practice, repeating phrases like “May you continue to create the conditions for peace and freedom in your life,” I open up a bit. I say to myself, “Wait, things are going pretty well for you as well.” Its okay to be joyful now.

How beautiful to think, “I know how you feel” when we see another person full of joy and delight! This activation carries the secret – that we hold the tools for joy inside of us. With presence, mindfulness, and of course practice, we can find joy and experience its benefits. This joy can be abundant and boundless, able to be experienced by others without limiting its effect. Jack Kornfield has a wonderful talk that you can enjoy below,


Another nourishing practice is called coherent breathing. Turns out, they’ve even patented it (how can one patent breathing?) In this practice, you balance the rhythm of breathing, allow the breath to easily flow from inhale to exhale. At its simplest, you can simply count to 5 or 6 during each in breath and begin again, counting to 5 or 6 on the out breath. This practice can take us out of our reactive, fight or flight mode, by regulating the body and calming our emotions. Try it with this great guided practice from Jonathan Foust.



A Mindful Pause:
Finding Refuge And Peace In A Busy Life
at Bryn Mawr College

Sunday, April 28
Bryn Mawr College
Half-Day and Full-Day retreat options
Join us for our for a retreat suitable for both first-time and longtime meditators. In our morning sessions, we will explore simplicity, patience, gratitude and joy with guided meditations, teachings and discussion. Then stay with us in the afternoon as we bring these teachings into practice through sensory activities, movement, partner work and real-life application.

Register here

Meditation For Beginners: Equanimity

We continued our Cultivating The Heart series with the topic of equanimity. Our work over these classes examines the Four Immeasurable Qualities of the Heart or the Brahmavihāras. The first two, compassion and lovingkindness,  are states that we can cultivate and incline our minds towards. But this isn’t to the exclusion of unpleasant qualities – the true practice of meditation is feeling what we are feeling while we are feeling it. When we are sad or grieving or frustrated or furious, it is helpful to be able to identify this so our words and actions reflect who we are and not the state that we are in.

This winter, Center For Self-Care, in conjunction with Balanced For Life Yoga Therapy, offers four stand-alone beginner’s meditation workshops in Wayne, Pennsylvania. The series is called “Cultivating The Heart.” Each week, two meditations are offered, one from the tradition of insight meditation and one from the tradition of mindfulness meditation. We’d love you to join us. But if you can’t, you can find resources and recordings to try this out yourself at home.

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And thank goodness! The day of this evening workshop, I taught seven straight classes to 7th through 11th graders, coached two sports and stayed up too late the night before. But through it all, I could find brief periods to notice and allow my experience.

Equanimity reflects a fairness and even-mindedness of the mind/heart that can be cultivated with mindfulness and meditation. Releasing the effort to make things a certain way, we instead “become aware of the waves and rest seated in the midst of them.” Below are two practices you can try to arrive at this awareness:

Here are some books that I’ve found helpful in this exploration: The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully by Frank Ostaseski and The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship by David Whyte. Among Ostaseski’s invitations are to “Find a place of rest in the midst of things” and “Welcome everything, push away nothing.” Whyte addresses the question of finding balance by reminding us that it isn’t just about “work/life” balance but is instead a delicate dance of our vocations, our relationships and our selves. When we try to compartmentalize things that aren’t going right, they infect the other arenas in life. Our task instead is to integrate these three marriages because they just can’t be separated.



Equanimity is not about ignoring what’s happening or being indifferent to it. Jack Kornfield describes how we can appear serene by standing stoically and may even find a bit of peace or relief as we withdraw or seclude. Indifference, he adds, is based on fear, “True equanimity is not a withdrawal; it is a balanced engagement with all aspects of life. It is opening to the whole of life with composure and ease of mind, accepting the beautiful and terrifying nature of all things.”

One traditional meditation comes directly from Jack Kornfield’s book The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness and Peace. Find Jack’s version here or listen below to cultivate the qualities of equanimity.

In this practice, we offer phrases that include

  • May I be balanced and at peace.
  • May I have true equanimity.
  • May I learn to see the arising an passing of all things with equanimity and balance.
  • May I bring compassion and equanimity to the events of the world.
  • May I find balance and equanimity and peace amidst it all.

As we continue through the meditation, we bring loved ones, strangers, even difficult people to our imagination, offering these wishes to them as well. We do this with a deep self-compassion as we remember, Your happiness and suffering depend on your actions and not on my wishes for you.

The practice of meditation can lead us to an experience of equanimity. But it requires work. I think to the three refugees in Buddhist tradition: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. By practicing regularly with love (Buddha), learning and inquiring (Dharma) and gathering in community (Sangha), we can deepen and reinforce a practice that can be a lifelong companion.


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Join us on Thursday, March 14 at 6:30pm for our final session of Meditation for Beginners, Cultivating the Heart. Our focus with be Joy.

Want more? Register today for A Mindful Pause: Finding Refuge and Peace in a Busy Life on Sunday, April 28 at Bryn Mawr College. Choose from a morning or full-day option. This offering is by donation and is suitable to all levels of experience including brand-new beginners.

Meditation For Beginners: Loving-Kindness

Repetition of simplicity leads to insight.” – David Nichtern

This winter, Center For Self-Care, in conjunction with Balanced For Life Yoga Therapy, offers four stand-alone beginner’s meditation workshops in Wayne, Pennsylvania. The series is called “Cultivating The Heart.” Each week, two meditations are offered, one from the tradition of insight meditation and one from the tradition of mindfulness meditation. We’d love you to join us. But if you can’t, you can find resources and recordings to try this out yourself at home.

We began our second session with a simple practice from Jonathan Foust called, “Moving From Thought to Sensation.” We spend so much of our days analyzing, judging and comparing. This important function kept our ancestors alive 20,000 years ago when they were being chased by wild animals. It also serves a critical role in advances in the field of science, technology and medicine. But sometimes, a different state of mind is called for. A state where we use our sense to arrive in the present moment.

May you be seen. May you be comforted. May you be loved.

Loving-kindness takes practice. At first you might find it mechanical. Stay with it. It may transition to feeling a bit awkward and then to natural and organic!

Catch Yourself

Be Gentle

Begin Again

One way to support this is through a practice called “Name it to Tame It.” In this practice, we note or name what arises in our mind, whether it be a thought, memory, emotion or felt sensation. It can be as simple as saying, “Thinking, Thinking” and then returning to the anchor of our breath. If you’ve ever been upset and said aloud, “I’m just really frustrated right now!” you may have experienced a feeling of relief.

Author and Doctor Dan Siegel has shared research on the impact of naming our states on settling our mind. In this process, our emotional system, which senses threats for us and warns our body that something is amiss. But when we involve our thinking brain, the prefrontal cortex, we are able to soothe emotions through an integrated connection of neurons and synapses that send messages to our emotional system that the perceived threat is not quite so urgent and doesn’t require a reactive response. It is best to practice this in a quiet, calm space then use this practice to enter the world with an approach of thoughtful responses instead of habitual reactions.

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Join us on Thursday, March 7 at 6:30pm for our next session of Meditation for Beginners, Cultivating the Heart. Our focus with be Joy.

Want more? Register today for A Mindful Pause: Finding Refuge and Peace in a Busy Life on Sunday, April 28 at Bryn Mawr College. Choose from a morning or full-day option. This offering is by donation and is suitable to all levels of experience including brand-new beginners.

The recording below is the full workshop from a previous Meditation for Beginners class,

“The practice is not about mastery. It is about trying.” – Ethan Nichtern (David’s son)

Cover art from the “Be Kind” series. Please support the artist, David Gerbstadt, by visiting his Facebook or GoFundMe page and getting some for yourself. 

Meditation For Beginners: Compassion

This winter, Center For Self-Care, in conjunction with Balanced For Life Yoga Therapy, offers four beginner’s meditation workshops in Wayne, Pennsylvania. The series is called “Cultivating The Heart.” The title recognizes the practice of mindfulness and meditation as a process. There is no sudden awakening or enlightenment. Instead, by gently tending the garden of our mind and heart, we set an intention that inclines us toward kindness and compassion. It just takes regular practice. We’d love you to join us. But if you can’t, you can find resources and recordings to try this out yourself at home.

Grant yourself a moment of peace,
and you will understand
how foolishly you have scurried about.

Learn to be silent,
and you will notice that
you have talked too much.

Be kind,
and you will realize that
your judgment of others was too severe.

-from The Tao of Wealth

We spend so much of our days analyzing, judging and comparing. This important function kept our ancestors alive 20,000 years ago when they were being chased by wild animals. It also serves a critical role in advances in the field of science, technology and medicine. But sometimes, a different state of mind is called for. A state where we use our sense to arrive in the present moment. That’s what meditation and mindfulness can offer.

Catch Yourself

Be Gentle

Begin Again

Try the focused breathing practice below to get a sense of it. Just like training a puppy, our task is to pause, reset and begin again.

Just as we go to the gym to build physical strength, we practice in meditation to build mental strength. And it ain’t easy. It’s basically “failing practice,” right? We intentionally sit and allow ourselves to become distracted so that we can practice returning. So it will require one more thing: compassion. Without compassion, we may turn this work into a grim duty, a mechanical act that mimics all the other things we are trying to perfect about our life despite the utter impossibility of arriving at that state.

We worked with a traditional compassion practice that you can try out yourself. In this practice, we combine an image, a wish and repeated phrases to soften and open our heart to a deep compassion for ourselves and others. As we repeat these phrases silently, we slowly expand the circle of our care to include others, even all beings.

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Join us on Thursday, February 28 at 6:30pm for our next session of Meditation for Beginners, Cultivating the Heart. Our focus with be Lovingkindness.

Want more? Register today for A Mindful Pause: Finding Refuge and Peace in a Busy Life on Sunday, April 28 at Bryn Mawr College. Choose from a morning or full-day option. This offering is by donation and is suitable to all levels of experience including brand-new beginners.

The recording below is the full workshop from a previous Meditation for Beginners class,

Showing Up for Our Lives

“One life on this earth is all that we get, whether it is enough or not enough, and the obvious conclusion would seem to be that at the very least we are fools if we do not live it as fully and bravely and beautifully as we can.”

-Frederick Buechner

How do we truly show up for our lives? Show up for ourselves? Show up for each other? Show up for our kids?

How do we make the most of our time while we are here? Having a meaningful life, being present and living life to the fullest moment to moment, right here-right now? Feeling connection with what’s here-ourselves and each other.

I believe the first step is, we have to show up for ourselves, take care of ourselves. If we do this, we are more able to show up and be present for each other.

Here’s the other part, showing up can be difficult. Being present can be difficult. There are things that get in the way and prevent us from being right here. They get in the way of our ability to show up, care for ourselves, and each other.

Things like stress, worry, fear, shame, judgment, insecurity, doubt, pain, and struggle. The constant to do list, being pulled in a million different directions-all things we have to get done in this hour, this day. Sometimes when I am feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and worried my thoughts of judgment can take over. Here are a few: I am not good enough; I can’t handle this; I am the only one going through this. Let’s not forget about the blame, the finger pointing, or the complaining about others.

And then when this all takes over, there can be a resisting, when things don’t feel good, uncomfortable, or unpleasant. Things like avoidance, pushing away, and ignoring can happen. Striving and grasping can also appear. If only I had this or this was this way or I liked that way better. Sometimes I want to run as away from it as possible or hide for that matter.

What I realized is that this gets exhausting. When this happens, I disconnect from what is right here, myself and the people around me because I am stuck in my head.

So perhaps a shift. Instead of pushing away or being alone. All of this is what makes us human. We are all imperfectly human. This is when we need each other most, to offer care to ourselves and each other.

How can we start our day in a way where we welcome everything and show up for our lives?

Each morning we wake up what are we paying attention to? There are many mornings I wake up and I am focused on what is wrong and what needs to be fixed. The what ifs and coulda shouldas take over, living in the past and the future. I would be happier if this happened or it was still this way or if only these things were occurring.

These things take me away from what is right here in front of me. I am swept away from this present moment. The moment I notice that this is happening it is an opportunity for me to pause and acknowledge what is here. This act of paying attention is a choice. We can choose what we pay attention to and how we pay attention to it each and every day.

Once I have acknowledged and allowed myself to feel and take in my experience, I can make a choice to begin my day with gratitude, appreciation, joy, and well-being. There are so many wonderful things going on around us. It can be an essential part of our day to ask ourselves this questions, what is most important and matters most? We can then take as much time as we have an need to pause, reflect, and notice what arises when we ask ourselves this important questions. This isn’t about forcing feelings it is a chance for awareness and perspective.

At some point, each of us has been sent the message to enjoy the simple things in life. When I used to hear this I would brush it off and say to myself this is cheesy or too cliché. As I began to ask myself-what is most important and matters most, I realized that it is the simple things that are most meaningful and precious. I have so much to be grateful for and appreciate.

So, I woke up today. I was able to stand on my own two feet. I was breathing. I was able to take a hot shower and put clothes on my back. I kissed my wife goodbye and saw my kids sleeping safely in their beds. I make a cup of coffee and this was just the first thirty minutes of my day.

What a wonderful life I have. We can have it all, the pain, the joy, the love, and the fear. Each morning we can make a choice of how we go into our day, how we want be with ourselves and the people in our lives. We can all make a choice of how we want to live our lives. When we take care of ourselves, we are showing up for our lives, and each other.

 

 

Let The Breath Come To You

The Buddha solved the Buddha’s problem, now solve yours.” – Sharon Salzberg

From time to time, my meditation practice gets bumpy. What usually works stops working as thoughts and emotions invade and I find myself fighting, trying to eliminate these distractions. In times like these, sometimes the best I can do is just put my body there. My instinct is to try harder, read more or complicate my technique. Even focused breathing is an adventure in hold off an inevitable invasion. That’s more of a battle than a meditation. Fortunately, meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg has a different solution, let the breath come to you. This concept is somewhat alien to me, a problem-solver, a fixer, a controller. But it has a way of carving out space and inviting stillness to my experience. As one of our group participants declared, it is a way “to allow the moment to have its way with me.” Sharon has a wonderful way of introducing meditation in the podcast episode below,

As Sharon says in the opening to the talk, learning to meditate by reading about it is, “like trying to scratch an itch through your shoe.” So practice is critical. In the guided meditation below, the listener is taken through the process of arriving in space, sensing the body, becoming aware of the breathing body and letting the breath come to you. Enjoy!

Would you like to practice with others? Then join C4SC for Meditation for Beginners, starting Thursday, February 21 in Devon. Register at Balanced For Life Yoga Therapy.

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Just Put Your Body There

download (2)I just can’t do it. I just can’t meditate today. Or can I? My typical meditation practice involves bringing my attention to the sensation of breathing in my body. I’m constantly distracted and my task is to come back to the breath over and over again. Some days, I really, really don’t want to do it. Who would? Time passes and before I know it, it is nearly time for bed. If I’m lucky, I’ll remember this advice,

Just Put Your Body There

All the books, magazine articles and television profiles of mindfulness and meditation are a bit too prescriptive. They often suggest a “right” way to practice, either in a particular tradition, in a particular position or for a particular time. There is a misperception that the point of meditation is to relax, empty the mind, come to bliss. But that isn’t it at all.

Most of what we “do” in meditation will be non-doing! We aren’t playing with our phone, crossing things off our to-do list, or driving around while doing several other things at the same time. We may have given ourselves lots of process steps to arrive at a state of awareness and attention, but if we never get to the seat, what does it matter? Somedays won’t call for the deepest practice but instead one that keeps a routine, however clumsy.

Fortunately, these difficult days don’t happen too often for me. I have found “Just Put Your Body There” to be helpful when my normal meditation practice just isn’t happening. Instead of repeatedly returning my attention to my breath, I just let things flow as they are. This can be torturous but it helps me identify what is really happening. What’s bothering me. What’s keeping me from my intention to practice.

The two guided meditations below don’t ask much of you as a meditator. You might try them out when you don’t want to meditate but feel like you should,


This winter, join C4SC for Meditation for Beginners, starting Thursday, February 21 in Devon. Register at Balanced For Life Yoga Therapy.

Meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg often urges her student to “just put your body there.” Her simple practices offer an on-ramp to a deeper practice. Each February, she offers a 28-Day Meditation Challenge that you can join for free and practice with a large community of aspiring practitioners. Its great!
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The Power of a Question

excitedWhat are you most excited about in your life right now?  This is a question I often ask when I meet someone for the first time. It usually comes as a surprise. Most of us have well-practiced monologues for that first impression, “I work at such and such company” or “I have such and such people in my family.” I marvel at the change in body language and long pause that usually accompanies the response to “What are you most excited about?” Questions such as these invite a different kind of conversation.

Talking about students, the poet David Whyte has said, “If you construct a question that is beautiful, it is something that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.” Beautiful questions challenge us to shift out of the mindset of problem-solving, thinking, comparing and judging that characterizes most of our everyday experience. We often have a narrative of “how things are” that may have gone unquestioned for quite some time. We might find responding to such questions difficult because they remind us of what’s not quite right yet. But it also opens the possibility for growth, meaning and understanding.

A perfect example of how questions open our minds and hearts comes from StoryCorps, whose mission is “to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.” You may have heard these stories on National Public Radio. Check out this list of list of wonderful questions for just about any questions that are sure to get right to the heart of the matter in almost any situation.


This winter, we have two great offerings that harness the power of questions to address challenges you are facing or build practices to support well-being. They include Mindful Problem Solving on Sunday, January 27 at 7pm and Meditation for Beginners, starting Thursday, February 21 in Devon. Register at Balanced For Life Yoga Therapy.
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Here are just a few of the qualities that inquiry and questions can generate:

  • Reframing – Questions allow us look at our experience from a different angle. Approaching an issue with a different kind of question shifts our perception and our attitude.
  • Softening – They can bring a compassion, an appreciation and even a forgiveness for difficulty, confusion and uncertainty we face.
  • Opening – How many ways could I describe the situation? What are the new ways?
  • reframe-nlp-frameClarifying – What is really happening right now? Can I be with it? What is important to me? What will I do next?
  • Identifying habit patterns that aren’t supportive of wholehearted living, happiness and resilience. We begin to recognize our reactivity and how it may harm us.
  • Connection with our passion, our values, and our heart to create purpose and meaning.

At its heart, the practice of mindfulness asks two questions, “What is happening?” and “Can I be with it?” These two questions represent the two wings of the metaphorical bird. Wisdom to see clearly with awareness and compassion to nonjudgmentally be with our experience. In a sense, these are the questions that characterize the experience of mindfulness. As we practice mindfulness, we step out of the story we’ve created in our minds and into the genuine experience of being alive, with its joy, its sorrow, its uncertainty, its faith.


If you can’t make our Mindful Problem Solving workshop on January 27, I welcome you to explore questions further by listening to Inquiry as Mindfulness Practice here or via iTunesSoundcloud or Stitcher.

This episode includes a meditative inquiry practice called The Five Problem Solving Questions which I think you’ll enjoy experimenting with. You also might enjoy a visit to jonathanfoust.com or focusing.com to learn more about the tools of meditative inquiry.

Seeking Progress, Not Perfection

Last year, a foolish monk;
This year, no change!
-Ryokan

Last winter, I shared 10 Questions To Ask Yourself In 2018. These questions included “How do I want to feel?” and ” How can I simplify this?” One of the most powerful tools I’ve practiced to keep these questions on the top of my mind is Atomic Habits. Atomic Habits are those small, simple, everyday habits, that form the basis for a life well-lived. It may be quietly enjoying a cup of tea each morning or greeting everyone you meet with a smile.

We all know the lifespan of a New Year’s Resolution averages a week or two. Oftentimes, this is because they are difficult to sustain because they are time consuming and so different from what we have been doing. But when we start small and build systems instead of focusing on a singular goal, change happens naturally. In the video below, James Clear describes How to Get 1% Better Every Day,

In 2019, I’ve been thinking about three systems. A system for learning, a system for connecting and a system for practicing. And I’m going to start small. Learning begins with reading 5 minutes of Lojong trainings each day. Connecting begins with reaching out to one old friend each week. Practicing begins with meditating for 15 minutes every day in the morning (I already do this and more but occasionally skip a day). By starting small,  I’ll have space to grow and expand my habits based on the early results without being encumbered by a goal that is too specific.iStock-513882695-Systems.jpgWorking on your own new (and old) habits? We are proud of the resources we have created based on our fall class on Positive Habit Change. Check out the links below to learn and grow with us:

Identifying Habit Patterns Article
Accountability & Reminders Recorded Talk Article
Patience & Self-Compassion Recorded Talk Article
Sustainable Change Recorded Talk Article

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Click here for eight great guided meditations and abbreviated talks. And be sure to check out Mindful Problem Solving, a workshop I am offering on Sunday, January 27 at 7PM. Register today to build another simple tool for seeking progress, not perfection.