Present Tense with Jen Lee

Today I am delighted to welcome Jen Lee to Present Tense. Jen was one of the first bloggers I read regularly, and it is a distinct honor to have her words here in my humble space.

Jen is a storyteller, a writer, a photographer, and, in my opinion, an all-around exemplar of a life thoughtfully and beautifully lived. Her writing glows with truth and her photographs capture the beauty in the everyday life of her neighborhood and city. Jen starts from the premise that we all have a story to tell, and this inclusive, supportive attitude towards other people emanates from everything she shares.

Through Jen’s photographs, and through her words, I have the wonderful sensation of seeing the world through her eyes. And what eyes! She seems to see things through a lens of compassion and faith, of patience and trust. It is such a gift to be exposed to this world view, at least for me, who tends towards anxiety and fear so much of the time. In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to say that just spending time in Jen’s space is healing for me.

Jen hosts retreats and teaches workshops where she shares her warmth and brilliance. Her stories of her retreats, and the way she shares what she learns both from those who are formally the students and those who are formally the teachers moves me deeply. It is this interplay between teacher and student that Jen seems to understand intimately: she impresses me with the way she seems open to insight, and wisdom, no matter what the source.

Please go check Jen’s work at at her blog. You can also check out the books she has published and the upcoming opportunities to meet her in person. You won’t be disappointed: her space is warm and welcoming, calm and creative, and is simply one of my favorite places to go read and think.  There is something about Jen’s presence that is steadfast, patient, supportive.  Jen speaks the language of the soul.   In the embrace of her words and images, I begin to trust that I might learn that language someday too. What a gift.

1. When have you felt most present? Are there specific memories that stand out for you?

When I’m playing with my children on the floor or eating lunch with them on the kitchen windowsill. When I’m spending time with people I love, especially those I don’t see often. When I’m in a conversation that someone is bringing 100% of their listening and attention to. In the bath tub. Over a cup of tea.

2. Do you have rituals or patterns that you use to remind you to Be Here Now?

Sensory cues are good for me–things that involve my body are really helpful at pulling me out of my head. In addition to those I mentioned earlier, washing the dishes in a sink of warm water and cooking are high-immediacy activities for me. Running and yoga are helpful for me, but I also like to walk down any street in the city and really see and notice all the sights, sounds and smells around me while the ground below me meets every step.
3. Do you have specific places or people that you associate with being particularly present? Who? Where? Any idea why?
I think young children live relatively free from the mental preoccupations that keep adults out of the moment, so when I think of being present, I think of the little masters all around me. And I think of Central Park, which always captures my attention and roots me in an unusual way.
4. Have you ever meditated? How did that go?
It was easier to practice meditation before my kids were born, simply because quiet was easier to find. I’ve been thinking of trying an open-eye meditation practice, since I so easily fall asleep if I sit still and close my eyes. But some would argue that we are always meditating on something. I like to practice listening to my body, just checking in to see how it’s feeling or what it’s carrying. Solitude and silence, in chunks of time big or small, keep me feeling connected to myself, anchored from being swept away by the currents of life.
5. Has having children changed how you think about the effort to be present?
There’s this ache you get when you become a parent, and you want to capture and hold a moment or a million moments and you know you can’t. When you love the current version of the child so much, and you wish you could slow down time or step outside of it and be together forever. I’m up against this all the time, and all I can do is to be as present as I can, when I can, and let each moment change me somehow. I keep telling myself that I’m doing the best I can, and when I look back, I shouldn’t ask for anything more.
6. And just cause I’m curious, what books and songs do you love?
I love “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak, and today I’m listening to Winter Song by Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson on repeat.
So much of what Jen says resonates with me, in that powerful way that is almost beyond words.  It just echoes like a quiet bell in my chest, in that space reserved for things that are just plain true.  In particular the way she describes the ache of being a parent, the bittersweet awareness of the impermanence of it all makes my heart feel heavy and light at the same time.  Heavy because it is just so unavoidable, this speedy passage of time, the inevitable grief for a moment’s death even as we live it.  But light because I am not alone in these feelings, and knowing there is a kindred spirit out there is hugely reassuring.
Thank you, Jen, a million times over for your thoughtful participation in Present Tense.  I hope to meet you someday in person!

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  1. Posted April 21, 2010 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    “An effort to be present with our kids” – so true. What an awesome post and I’m sure it was fun for you (and quite an honor) to interview a person who really inspires you! I look forward to checking out her place!

  2. Posted April 21, 2010 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    “…while the ground below me meets my every step…” I love this thought, not only because it’s both wonderful and gracious, but because it reminds me of exactly where I’m trying to be right now…

    “echoes like a quiet bell in my chest, in that space reserved for things that are just plain true”–lovely, lyrical, poignant.

    Thank you, Lindsey, for introducing us. I can’t wait to check out Jen’s site.

  3. Posted April 21, 2010 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Beautiful post on the wonder that is Jen Lee. I am a fan as well. (Loving your blog too — a new discovery for me.)

  4. Posted April 21, 2010 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Jen is the real deal — grounded, funny, deep, giving, and the most loving mom you’ll ever want to meet. I love reading her — and especially loved finding her here! Thanks, Lindsey.

  5. Posted April 21, 2010 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    I love this, re being present with our children: “I keep telling myself that I’m doing the best I can, and when I look back, I shouldn’t ask for anything more.” I WANT THAT. To live meaningfully in the present, to enjoy the moment, and then to be satisfied with that. To be able to hold on and to let go at the same time. To not ask for more. Such beautiful words from such a beautiful lady! Lovin the pic. Can’t wait to read more from Jen. Thanks so much for hosting, Lindsey!

  6. Posted April 21, 2010 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for bringing Jen here today. There is such peace in her words. I read them and think, man I wish I sounded like that more often. My perspective on life changes daily. My perspective on myself changes daily. There are moments of clarity, and moments of peace, but I can’t seem to find a way to string enough of them together to make it feel lasting. This is what I imagine people who can say “they have arrived” are able to do. I don’t know if Jen is one such person, but her answers to your thoughtful questions would certainly point me to believing as such.

  7. Posted April 21, 2010 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    I keep thinking about how important this being here now thing is, and how hard it is to consistently live. Thanks for hosting this spirit that sychronistically tracks with the lovely sort of day I managed to have today. I’m starting to think that it’s not just being here now, it’s being here now TOGETHER. Our kids open the door, but we all meet in that vast and animate middle, be it central park or this virtual space.


  8. Ramona
    Posted April 22, 2010 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    I am fond of Jen myself.
    I am thinking next spring I will aim for the writers’ weekend in Brooklyn.

    my life sits on the edge of a big change. I am really struggling with leaving behind what I had/ where I was and embracing the move forward.

    thanks for your words.

  9. Posted April 22, 2010 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    Jen is the real deal — grounded, funny, deep, giving, and the most loving mom you’ll ever want to meet. I love reading her — and especially loved finding her here! Thanks, Lindsey.