Thursday, December 17, 2009

Please, make me look good

This is Theo's artwork from a school assignment. Isn't it cool? This is some British actor I don't know. I love the closeness with which he observed the details, as with the circle of the iris cut off at the top, and the lines in the forehead (and some hairs, which he repeated as in a mirror image--a little funny in this "complete the face" project.) As my husband said, that is what an 11-year old boy will do if someone asks him to do it . . .

this, however, is what he will do if left to his 'druthers. A little levity in an otherwise rocky morning--I needed that!

I had given him the recent New Yorker issue with all the portraits of world leaders taken when they were gathered in New York for a UN meeting in September. I found these pictures fascinating. Have a look if you missed them (Dec. 7 issue). I thought Theo was going to do the half-face completion thing again; I was humorously mistaken! But Netanyahu looks much improved here, no? (no offense intended . . .) Apparently before his picture was taken, and then stopping by several times later on, he asked the photographer "Please, make me look good." Was it just coincidence that his face was one of two that Theo chose to doodle upon? Hmmm.

I felt the panic that filled me upon waking and all during meditation recede with contemplating the chuckles he must have gotten out of this. I added one too many things to my plate yesterday afternoon. Luckily, my friend Sarah understood, relieving me of the task, and even flipped what I saw as disappointing inability to help as an important communication from my heart that I must respect. Took a Deep Breath. Went to Yoga. Found my way into that crink again, felt it give just a little bit more.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What if your joy is tied up in knots?

Last week in the evenings Theo and Dora and I were sitting around the kitchen table in the warmth of the woodstove making things with wire, beads, and hemp. I was looking for a way to slow down the sense of busyness that builds up with the season. It's reliably pervasive--even though we don't watch t.v. or live in a big city somehow the intensity (I think of it as the commerciality) of the holidays seeps into our days and eats any extra minutes up for a quick snack.

I remember when Steve and I went to New Zealand years ago, um, 11 1/2 years ago, to be exact, since that is the trip on which we conceived Theo. We sold our house in Seattle and set off, first to New Zealand and then Southeast Asia, to have adventures, see some of the places I had lived growing up, and perhaps find a new place to live. For at least the first two months of the trip it felt like I had a wire pulled tight up my back and neck and through my jaw. I thought something had happened to my teeth because my bite had changed and my teeth weren't meeting in the nice point-in-the-indent way that they normally do. I believe I was internalizing so much stress from uprooting ourselves, even though it was planned, that my body couldn't relax. Almost 6 months after we left, we returned to the States and went to my parents place to pick up our car. Some providence of the universe put a book on prenatal yoga in my path on a trip to town and after Steve helped me do maybe 20 minutes of it I started to cry and cry. Pregnant! In this huge, uncontrollable world! That was the beginning of this wild ride of parenthood we've been on together.

I've had a similar knot in my shoulder and neck for the last two weeks. As before, I wouldn't have said that I was particularly stressed. But as before, I suspect my body knows better. So I've been making a special effort to say no to extra things, to focus in yoga, and to pick up hand work and slow time down. Having my children do this with me is more lovely than I can say.

This morning I did a guided meditation for pain, focusing on the crink in my shoulder. Molecules of dissolving breath were racing in the manner of ants to a picnic. 20 minutes later, instead of crying, I'm glad to say my knot of joy to the world was a smidge smaller and the day of social festivities could begin. The tightness was still there, but I could actually feel it loosening as I envisioned the edges softening. Truly, mind over matter! I've always been a sci fi fan, especially when it's a mirror for real life.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Remarkably clear to the horizon

No, I'm not in Hawaii any more. I'm trying to hang on to the feeling though. Sorting the mail, settling back into school and volunteering routines, yoga (thank goodness for yoga), the simple act of getting food into the house and onto the table has filled each day up completely, and for the past two weeks I wonder at ever having had any time to sit, think, and write about thoughts.

I do think it was easier to come back from such a supremely relaxing time away because of the routine of yoga. The way I love being in my yoga community is at least equal to one wild and dangerous memory of a slowly untwisting deliciously yellow hibiscus flower. Waking up, moving through the preparations of school lunch-making and breakfast and getting the kids to school, and then miraculously, compellingly, finding myself on my mat in Jen's studio is a recipe for a day riding with the hum of contentment.

Really, I am amazed I get to say that when I think of the disputes I had with myself over the worth of moving from bed a year ago. This is a vivid time for me, all the more intensely fertile after a fallow, barren period. As Jen says, "recover, uncover, discover something new about yourself. Be in your own good company."
So I take time for myself in spite of the struggles of the world, I attend to self care in the ways that I can, along with all the lucky and not so lucky women of the world, remembering when I felt ragged and worn, and then I allow myself to remember walking through a warm green palm tunnel as material for the glue with which I hold my family together.

I don't know what will come of it all. Sometimes it seems I could make a difference, that I'm gathering myself for something momentous. Sometimes just a glimpse of building a safe, peaceful corner of existence seems important, and sometimes the world is too big to bring into focus and there is simply the enjoyment of the textures of my life, my daughter's terrycloth hoodie moving away through the lushness, my son's voice saying "mom, I think I'm finally relaxed enough to go back to school."

Here we are once again dispersing to the four corners every morning and it's only going to ramp up from right here through the holidays. I am so glad we had a chance to be together and rest.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

An offering

I see friends shaking hands
saying "How do you do?
They're really saying "I love you..."
--Louis Armstrong, What a Wonderful World

I woke up this morning thinking about my dad. I have been thinking about him a lot lately. For a week before Thanksgiving, he was with one of his best friends, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. John Paul had been through surgery and was going to start chemotherapy, his wife Barbara, also dealing with medical issues, was in the hospital, and his son Greg is not well either. My father went to see his friend, provide support for the family, and give another family member a break from caregiving.

This family was well known to us when I was younger, although as the youngest by a few years I have perhaps fewer memories than the others. We would visit them when we came back to the U.S. from overseas for summer vacations, staying with them in their fascinating house on a hilltop in beautiful West Virginia. Shaggy, wall-to-wall carpeting, the stepped up and down style of rooms, a kitchen with a spiral curving bank of cabinets, and built-in intercoms in the bedrooms all struck me as quite exotic.

My memories of the family members have been coming back, too. Greg and Lynette were like cousins to my brother and sister and I. Greg coached me on how to throw a frisbee, and made me laugh so hard I wet my pants once when we were playing a card game that involved saying "good morning, ma'am" whenever a queen turned up and "good evening, sir" whenever a king did, inevitably as the game sped up twisting the phrases into an hilarious muddle. I loved Lynette's long hair, her glamorousness, and her snappy way of talking.

John Paul and Barb's friendship with my parents cast a new dimension onto them, I suppose our life overseas meant I didn't see my parents with their friends that much, and the idea that they had a full history complete with steadfast friends and events that happened long before I was even a figment was a new idea. John Paul was a bottomless source of pun-, slapstick-, and double-entendre-ridden jokes, riddles, and stories, with an electronic marvel of a machine that, as you spoke into a microphone, repeated your sounds back to you in delayed echo, making it impossible to keep track of what you were saying. Barb seemed quietly wise, a fragile beauty with an absolutely earthbound, practical take on life.

So I was receiving updates by email about how these folks are all doing, and they were full of the logistics of when people got up and how they slept, medical appointments and medications, and the ups and downs of prognoses. They had to be detailed in this way as there will be a need for accuracy and consistency through the other caregivers that come to help. And I thought to myself, this is from the left-brain of my very left-brained father, and he does it very well. Also present in the reports, though, as I read them again, were bits and pieces stolen from the feeling world, an echoing of normality--making a cup of coffee, having a meal together, and who cleans up afterward--the effort of all concerned to take in gracefully a radical new version of daily life.

Unrelated but simultaneously I had a conversation with my father's stock broker and friend, whom I have only spoken to a double handful of times, and he responded to my question of what he was looking forward to in retirement with a statement of admiration for my father and the quality of the life after retirement that he has had. He said to me, and I can't remember the exact words--your father, both your mom and dad, love you so much. And the care that your father has taken with your financial future is rare and wonderful.

So many people we meet through life have an influence that can only be measured in looking back, and then there are those who are present throughout our lives, like our parents, whose love is offered sometimes in ways that are not fully appreciated until experiences of life open a window of understanding. I think of my father taking this time to be with his friend and his friend's family, bringing a measure of order in chaotic and challenging circumstances, as an offering of love. I think of Al the stock broker, fluent in the language of long-term investment and planning for the future, parsing the many visits and deliberations my father must have made about stocks as an offering of love.

I think of these examples and many others--the packages that I received from him that came protected by seven layers of bubble wrap (perhaps I exaggerate--but only a bit), or the times we visited museums or historical sites and he elaborated at length (it seemed to me) his detailed, arcane knowledge of art, architecture, or history, which fell on my young and unappreciative ears. I see now that his language of love was one I couldn't always interpret. So often the love people have isn't offered in the way we think we want it, or can understand it. It isn't always offered as a dialogue, or with instructions on how to assemble. So here is my insight of the moment: you just have to be interested, really curious, about what people's language of love is. It's probably different for everyone you meet. I'm going to look harder for it from now on, and try not to be distracted by the package it comes in, no matter how many layers.

And here is an offering, in my language, for my father, for John Paul, Barbara, Greg and Lynette Jones, and for anyone else who wants to receive it. This offering is for peace, beauty, comfort, and of course, love.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Lomi Lomi kind of day

Lomi Lomi means loving hands, and is a massage technique whereby the muscles are "flaked" or smoothed away from the bones, and the joints are gently pulled to allow space inside of them, and generally the body is treated so as to allow it to enter a meditative state from which, said Sue Ann the therapist, it can heal itself. "It's not that I am doing something magical to you," she said, "I am simply making room for your body to align itself, and when all is aligned that is when you can make good decisions. My hands touch you without judgment, and your body senses this and therefore can relax its defenses." So true! It did feel as though she was doing something magical, though, perhaps that is what making space for healing feels like. Apparently new chieftans in old Hawaii were Lomi'd for days after taking the job so that they could approach their duties with the proper perspective. Don't you think that is a custom worth adopting? I do.

Some kind of universal Lomi was in action yesterday, making space for us to align. This graceful boat, the Trilogy,
came right up on the beach and took us out to snorkel in the clear blue-green sea, and the crew served us breakfast, lunch, and dessert (with seconds and thirds if desired, and Theo desired)

and the day was calm enough for all to enjoy the sail in a completely relaxed manner as you can see, on the boat

and in the water, and under the water (Theo and I did SNUBA--so fun, and easy enough for kids).

This, believe it or not, is at least 30 feet of water. Doesn't it look more like 5? so CLEAR! Nice!
This is a heart-stopping experience, I imagine like meeting a serene being such as the Dalai Lama. The goodwill exuded by the bottlenose dolphins that played off our bow for a short way transformed the day from your average excellent day in Hawaii to the Lomi Lomi version--open to wild, almost supernatural beings coming close enough to see the story of their lives on their gray hides. I would like to know the feeling of being so sensitive and attuned that I could read and interpret all our human equivalents of the scratches, scrapes, bites, and other marks that I could see on the skin of these dolphins.
And then if I could do that, of course, the trick still would be to respond appropriately, which is to say, do something other than run for your camera and hope from the depths of your favorite organ that you will be able to watch for just a little bit longer. Maybe in another millenium or two, gazing at enlightenment, I could learn how it's done?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Inversions everywhere

It's no surprise that we bring our baggage with us to paradise. It does seem dissonant to wake up with a terrible feeling to a beautiful day on Maui, though. Luckily we can bring our tools too, and the work goes on. In the evening we had a swim and the pool showed me a trick. The experience of swimming in the daylight is always to go down into blue shadows and to come up into the light. In the night, with the pool lit up from below, you go down into brightness and come up into black. It is a flip that plays with expectations and point of view. My impulse is to go to the light, but I can't stay down under the water--I have to come up and when I breathe I have to welcome the wide, velvety darkness.

In the morning during meditation I had a flip moment in my mind. I was sitting there with the chatter in the foreground as usual, wanting to get past it into calm. Like being in a tub of bubbles with all of them forming and bursting in cacophony. In an instant it became more of an effort to follow the chatter and its crazy, circuslike noise than it was to just be in peace. Of course! I didn't have to manage the bubble melee, I had passed through into a personal bubble, sealed in by a thin curving sheet of soap skin. Once on the other side, stillness, quiet, breathing, so easy, so smooth. Then it left me again. Pop. Flip.

Friday, November 20, 2009

My First

Theo. I haven't talked much about him here yet. What an amazing bundle of being he is. Waldorf schoolers have a saying that you are your child's first teacher. I wonder if they say you can reverse that--quite sincerely I say that this child was my first teacher. Regarding the kind of lessons that require extreme self-inspection and bare-naked honesty, he was the one, he was first and he made me a mother, which as some of you know, is a completely different kind of creature from any other.
In pouring myself so completely into him, I caught a glimpse of what I might be capable of, and simultaneously what the cost of failure might be. In seeing and hoping what he could become, I started to understand the potential I would not have so easily extended to myself. Perhaps others mature into these realizations at an earlier age (or stage) of life, but it took becoming a mother to Theo and then to Dora and then some for me to start thinking this way.

This is the boy who was so alarmed by the sensory input of being in water that we struggled to find a way to wash his hair until, at the age of 6, we found a truly superlative swimming teacher. For the first three months of swimming lessons she broke the experience down into manageable pieces: look, you are doing so well to put your shoulder in the water, and then see what happens if you bend your knees and let the water come around your neck, then don't you want to see this funny wiggly fish toy?--put your goggles on and put just your face in, and then well, this magical bell can only be heard if your ear is under the water. Thank you, thank you Marilyn. Now look!
This morning was a microcosm of his life when, after refusing to compromise on the one tortilla left (half of it? with half a piece of toast?) he said "Nope. It's all or nothing with me." Well. At least he said it with a smile on his face! He can be reasonable (he is a libra) , and heartbreakingly empathetic (because he knows what it is to feel things deeply) but his first reaction to things is often "Nope. That's not what I had in mind." For a new mother who wants to give everything to her son, this is a very demanding, exhausting, stance for a child to present. On top of my own standards, it nearly flattened me.

At the same time, I understood it! I am quite particular too, and at various times run the spectrum between being overly flexible (read: trying to please) and completely self-centered (read: trying to sort out what I need to do from what the world out there is saying). Finding ways to learn to mediate between a vulnerable yet visionary child and the supersized, sense-exploding bustle of life was (is) a hauntingly steep learning curve.

And then, the JOY! when we navigate it . . . when I see him ride the boogie board with pure happiness on his face . . . when I take my newly learned meditation and awareness skills and take him through a bodyscan, as I did twice in the past two weeks when he came to me for help, and see him take deeper breaths, relax into the night, and release himself from the grip of his nightmarish thoughts to the peace of the moment.

Doing the bodyscan with myself has been to lift a massive weight off, but to do it with him was to see the unnecessary, arbitrary nature of the negative thought loop, to appreciate more fully how breaking it down into manageable pieces of inhalation, exhalation is the equivalent of turning the light on and opening the dreaded closet of monsters in a child's bedroom. Look in front of this thought, look behind it--there is nothing there! There are no shadows, no monsters, no THING except the moment, here, breathing, and look how peaceful it is.

Compared to what I used to do, which was to make all sorts of assurances about how safe he is, how comfortable, platitudes, in essence telling him what his experience ought to be, telling him to try to overlay forcefully happy thoughts over the scary ones, this opening of the closet door is like jumping on a quiet, clean, high speed train after dragging ourselves on foot through the mud. More than that, it feels true, and important, and real, because it is inside of him, it will always be there, and he can access it now. It is hard to express how powerful this is. How good.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Papaya for lunch

I'm chucking the current "ought to". I thought I ought to make an effort to make images I posted on this blog ones that I made. The black ink drawings that I'm making on this trip are fun to do, but they just don't convey the lusciousness and the color that is this experience. Thank goodness for cameras and modern technology, because there is but a moment between the decision and the sharing of these lovelies . . . Yes, I would eat papaya with lime for every meal. See those little lines of holes? Those are fork marks so that when you squeeze the lime over, it sinks into all the little holes. I remember my mother loving papaya when I was little and, having tried it, considered the possibility that she was crazy when there were such alternatives as tangerines and mangosteins. Now I get it. I get it, mom! Love it!

5 hours after rising and zipping straight to the beach we are back. Fresh food and a bit of shade. And a lettuce fan for her highness.

And here are my happy feet, slightly off balance in a one-armed downward dog while trying to take a picture with the other hand--you try it sometime!
One "ought to" down, how many more to go? Hard to say. My increasing sense is that often they are so internalized we don't have a smidge of an idea that we misguidedly live by them. Recently a friend told me that she had just discovered, in her forties and after struggling with pain and numbness in her fingers for years, that you shouldn't try to keep your shoulders way back. "I always thought that's the way you were supposed to stand!"

She's right--it's a natural mistake, and it seems a small thing, but look at the ripple effect. Forcing your shoulders back could be taken as a symbol of good posture, but not disconnected from the rest of you, right? Where is your weight carried over your feet? Where are your hips, your torso, and the gorgeous, essential, miraculous curve of your spine, not to mention all the muscles that hold your heavy head up . . . consider, and then it doesn't make sense to simply hold your shoulders back.

Everything's connected. So many things I do are "ought to's" I haven't seen clearly. Certainly there are oodles of duties that don't fall in this category, respnsibilities that must be attended to. It feels tremendously good, liberating, if that's not too obvious a word, to SEE them as choices, and then reevaluate. What a gift, hey? It's an overlooked category, this, small freedoms you can give yourself, occasional permission to do something other than you think you ought.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Papaya for breakfast

A bit of sun in winter is a magical thing. See the circle sort of tucked under the shoulder of the palm frond on the right? That was the sun yesterday afternoon, delivering a distillation of love and peace directly to me on my yoga mat on my lanai (that's Hawaiian for porch!). The afternoon clouds had been persuaded to allow the sunset to spill underneath of them and it rolled across the sea and snugged up to the land--magical.

Hawaii makes me feel round, filled out with fresh air and shorn of rough edges. I love the feel of the air, it makes me think of places I spent time growing up in Southeast Asia and I feel at home. I love the bougainvillea and the hibiscus, so prolific, the essence of the humble end of the tropical plant spectrum. I love that the first time I came to Hawaii as an adult (I came once to Maui as a child and my memories consist of muddled images of thatched roofs and standing at the edge of the volcano crater) I remembered the word frangipani, which is the flower that in Hawaii they call plumeria. But frangipani--what a lovely word. It is all that it sounds. I'm sure I hadn't opened that memory drawer or even been near it in 30 years.

At one point in my yoga practice I rested in child's pose. My focus was blurred, my eyes centimeters away from the mat and all I could see were perfect little bubbles of light, each miniature hill of foam in the pattern of the mat glowing--I was breathing, there was no distinction between my body and the air, I was a cocktail of sea salt and red sand, I was settling the cliche of blue sky and palm trees into a true apprehension of paradise...

except for the sore, itchy place on the sole of my foot where I had stepped on a bee earlier. It was an inch-long, fat, black, glorious bee that instead of burying itself in one of the vivid blossoms was lying in the thick grass, and while it hurt like calamity I'm sure the bee had the worst of it. Paradise with a bit of sting--just to keep me on my mindful toes.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Another unexpected arrival at self-knowledge

"I must be taken as I have been made. The success is not mine, the failure is not mine, but the two together make me." --Estella, in Great Expectations.

This is Elizabeth and Shannon, two of the kindest, calmest, wisest women you could ever hope to meet. Yesterday they led a group of us through a day-long meditation retreat in the spirit of Dana, which is a buddhist tradition whereby the teacher makes the teachings available and the community reciprocates and supports the teacher as it can. Don't they look like they're glowing?

With the students maintaining a "noble silence" we sat, and walked, and ate, and sat and walked again. All day long. All we had to do was concentrate on our own process and internal focus while Elizabeth and Shannon and a guest yoga teacher led us through the meditations and fed us. And the food was amazing. Sounds glorious, doesn't it?

Was I glowing after a day of silence, was I refreshed from a day without household chores, did I find some choice snippets of my true inner self after seven hours of meditation and meditative yoga and eating? Ah. No, no, and no. I couldn't wait to talk, I was glad to get home and finish some jobs, and I didn't map any new internal geography.

How could this be? This morning when I got up my first thought was that clearly I left my beginner's mind behind. Rookie mistake! I had, in fact, GREAT EXPECTATIONS. tsk tsk.

Yesterday my thoughts were running more like this: Okay, I was late, couldn't be helped, don't judge it, now you are here sitting so the good stuff is on its way. Curiosity . . . Elizabeth, kindly trying to reassure me that my lateness wasn't important, said the day had already gotten off to a strange start. What could that mean . . . there are many people here I don't know but I can't talk to them and this house, very interesting, look at that art, and those statues, just breathe, in, out, 1, in, out, 2, in out and back to 1 . . . wow this is not going well

now for some yoga, this will be good, and stop. I. have. never. done. yoga. so. slowly. Not even when I first started 17 years ago with Iyengar yoga, which is quite slow and methodical and particular about placement of everything from your mat on the floor to each finger and toe. What a lesson! There are tremendous amounts of information between the individual movements that are sandwiched together to make a single yoga pose. However I was clearly not in the frame of mind to appreciate this lesson.

What did I like? I liked eating in silence. It allows for so much more attention to be paid the quality of the food and the physical motions of eating, among other things. Pressure to be communicating with others was removed, so we were there simply being in each other's presence, which was strange and took some adjustment, and started to become beautiful.

I liked going for a fast walk after lunch. I liked wearing the blanket my mother-in-law gave us ages ago after her trip to Ireland--soft, warm, dark blue and green plaid. I liked finally being allowed to hear some thoughts and share some thoughts at the end of the day. For all the emphasis I've put on accepting my introversion lately, I sure was eager to connect with these folks through words. In a weird way I liked that it was a safe place to feel frustrated and impatient, and that I just sat with that feeling all day, unable to do anything about it but finding that it didn't have to make me unhappy or unpleasant to others.

What didn't I like? Being in someone else's house. So distracting! Their cookbooks on the shelf, stack of papers in the in-box, a single light bulb out in one of the fascinating mosaic fixtures festooning the extremely high, wood paneled ceiling. My instincts were to sniff out every corner and I didn't make sure I was early enough to do that even if it would have been acceptable.

PMS? Sub-consciously feeling I had a lot to do before leaving for our trip on Monday? Perhaps. Also possible that it is just like that sometimes. You can't settle in, the inner world stays tightly closed, and the time passes without progress. The judge holds court.

What are you doing?
What are you thinking?
What are you feeling?
What are you perceiving?

Now, on three, make them all line up! 1-2-3-GO!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Planetary dust bunny graduate speaks

I was too quick to say the tiny movement exploration I did this morning was so different from what I do in yoga. In class today Jen started us standing, "feel your feet more like sponges" she said (love that), and we shifted our weight quietly from foot to foot and then made subtle circles. Connections pop up when you look for them, of course, but this extension from my solitary impulse to the beginning of class was unlooked for, and welcome.

I think it is a kind of meditation, a slowing down and focusing in of awareness, mindfulness. I have no idea what my breath was doing though! But I did gain some insight, so I'll call it passing for vipassana . . .

I noticed too that Jen's studio ceiling looks different to me than it used to. It is a knotty wood paneled ceiling, and when I was having such a dark time for the past two winters it appeared to be covered with smiles. This sounds a bit unhinged, I admit it! The knots, the swirls and connecting grain marks in the wood formed themselves into smiling, sometimes winking faces wherever I looked, whichever part of the room I happened to be in. Lying in savasana I would feel the breath roll back in forth in me like a lava lamp and wonder how I could possibly find a way out of the deep hole I felt stuck in. I would feel the warmth of the heat lamps and take in the crooked yet graceful smiles of the inanimate yoga room and wonder what it said about me that I needed to see smiles in the ceiling.

Now the ceiling is calm. I don't see the smiling faces anymore, even when I look for them. It still strangely feels like a presence to me, but it is neutral, waiting, obliging, listening even. hmmm . . .

I heard Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer on the radio this morning, he's the Flotsametrics guy, saying that the gyres in the ocean occur beneath high air pressure areas, which are pretty constant. So there is the place, the doldrums, where there is very little wind and the gyres buoy up there, and the garbage collects there, like a "planetary dust bunny." Oh my. How many of us feel that, for whatever reason, for stretches of time in our lives, we have been riding around in a slow-moving gyre, part of an accumulation of lost and seemingly worthless junk? But this Dr. Ebbesmeyer, is he cool! He knows all that junk has a story to tell.

Can I have a side of sunrise with that?

Jumpy jumpy. This morning sitting still seemed impossible, and somehow, not right. I was sitting at my bedroom window, facing east into darkness but there was a thin crescent moon and I couldn't take my eyes off of it. When I tried to close them, it was that clenched closed, when the lids quiver with effort. Not very restful. So I left them open.

The movement that came was from some part of me that knew exactly what to do. I felt my spine, the sticky places in my neck, the morning stiffness in my back. In the first meditation class back in September my teacher spent time describing the physical process of preparing to sit and included the feeling of moving back and forth, just slightly, till you felt that place where your head was perfectly balanced on top of your stacked vertebrae. I was circling that this morning.

I loved this sensation of so many small motions--so different from the yoga I've been doing, but similarly joyful. To sway side to side, front to back, to follow the gathering weight and kindly bend over, dripping the springy tension from sleep-tightened muscles. My head made gentle figure eights, reminding me of the book "Smart Moves," that my mother gave me when we were working with Theo's sensory issues. The figure eight aids your mind to process stimuli from both sides of the body as you cross the midline, both hemispheres of the brain working together. Integrating, transitioning.

As it got light the tree that fills the eastern view from my window grew distinct, the pearly light picking out each needle. Shifted into slow motion, it felt like the time when I was in third grade and, sitting in the car beside my mother's bag, picked out and put on her glasses for fun, and then, shocked, said "I can see every leaf on that tree!" (Glasses for me followed.) As the tree, backlit, became clearer and distinguished from the sky I felt the world moving forward and away at the same time, sliding into 3 dimensions.

Was that meditation? I don't know but it's time to get going. After many long days of rain, yesterday was stunning blue and this early light bodes well for today.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Engine swamp

I think I was holding my breath most of today. Not so as to turn blue, but definitely enough to feel that tight, irritated, impatience return and, as the day wore on, that feeling of losing certainty of bearing--whether I was tired, hungry, dangerous, whether in the next moment I would be able to imagine something I would actually want to do--I couldn't tell. In the relative peace after dinner I sat and breathed. I needed to be upstairs with the door shut so the cats wouldn't find me, no stereo up there, so I sat with myself for the first time since meditation class started. No cd, no teacher present.

After 15 minutes I realized I had been starved for oxygen and breathing felt so good. Every inhalation an exponential increase in possibility, I am ready for anything, every exhalation a smoothing, a preparation, I am not in control. So funny to think the first few times I sat I had the feeling of not being able to breathe. I started to lose my despair in the kid's bickering and the reasons that Steve had been in the wrong and the feeling that perhaps I didn't so detest having to find new ways to eat the most expensively procured many vacuum sealed packs of fish Steve and Theo brought back from their little jaunt to Alaska last summer . . .

Yesterday at the end of yoga while we were still in savasana Jen opened the door to the studio and we heard the rain. It was so beautiful. I would be oversimplifying my emotional reaction to write briefly about it here. But I collected that appreciation together (as Steve says, I instinctively group like objects) with the visual memory from a few days before of light streaky marks of rain falling in a wash of low-angled sunlight as I drove home, also completely, well, convincing, if you know what I mean. I haven't felt this positive about rain since I was in elementary school and living in the tropics, ready to strip to my underwear and run or ride my bike through deep inches of standing, flowing, and pooling water.

Last spring I went to a monoprinting workshop that gave me so much hope. The workshop instructor, a printmaker named Kevin Fletcher, talked about staying in the abstract, working with the grid, leaving ideas of images you wanted to appear to be hypothetical conceits, locked in a safe. In a way, he was saying that coming to creativity the back way can hold you, can find you while you are humming a few rhymes and dibbling your toes in the water . . . every line, every mark you make is still true, isn't it, it's just that you are letting it tell it's own story, instead of making something up for it to be. Make yourself available.

Anyway what I'm trying to convey is my great relief and astonishment when I heard someone (successful and interesting) saying "don't have a goal. Just make the motions." Now to be sure, it was clear he had an immense catalog of images in his head, just stacks and stacks of memories and references to architectural, natural, and every other kind of shape or structure. That must be very helpful. When he saw the print above, which I had in spite of his directives to resist naming or identifying any part of our work before it was done started thinking of as a reedy swamp, he said "fabulous! (that's a good teacher, eh? first thing he says is encouraging) that makes me think of the engine block of a Chevy Impala." My college literature professor said memory was a useful critical tool . . . what an understatement. Its a creative tool as well.

I hope that I can start returning to art in this way, around the back, not with an irrational goal or self-conscious expectations but with a few hummable riffs and some water on the way.

Friday, November 6, 2009

What if I can learn what the lion has to teach us?

At a yoga class I missed recently my teacher read this poem, and two different people told me about it, saying they thought of me.

Sweet Darkness

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.
Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.
The dark will be your womb tonight.
The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.
You must learn one thing:
the world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness to learn
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
--David Whyte

They know me well, the two who thought of me. These are the kind of words that are hard to read if your heart feels empty and your mind is dark. I was getting pretty sure I was beyond love, and if you haven't been there, living and breathing and everything in between is painful.

I haven't written much about yoga here yet but be sure it is a big part of my life. I try to do it three to five times a week, and on the days I get to go I just can't wait to get there. This morning I realized that my experience of it has changed recently. Up to now the experience has been physical, and often (in the last three years) emotional. These are my natural first reactions to anything, I think, physical and emotional--that's what you get from 5 water signs and a moon in cancer, apparently. I'm attached to how my body feels while I practice, if I can get to a place of mastery of any part of it, and how I feel after I am done. If emotions came, grief or bewilderment, contentment or joy would sweep through me without leaving a clue as to why. I could sense no end, or even release in these emotions, but at lease the yoga mat was a contained, safe place in which to have them. If I didn't have to pack up at the end of class and be back in the day's routine who knows what would happen.

The yoga teacher I found two years ago is gifted in her ability to bring your mind into the practice. Last summer she finished up a day long yoga retreat with a sitting meditation on the Open Sky of Mind from Jack Kornfield, and it was the first time I glimpsed with all my senses that a world in which I belonged was inside and outside of me (Thank you, thank you, and thank you Jen.) I'm sure I will be talking about her and what I'm learning from her more in this space.

With starting a meditation practice in addition to a mental aspect to the yoga it is like phosphorescence on top of moonlight--slowly I've begun to feel my mind expanding to hold my whole self and the darkness and the aloneness. It's not perfect all the time, certainly. But it means my days are more full of those moments when I see that in a given situation there is a way to become all outcomes, to move within it to a positive choice. So different from feeling pushed, driven, corralled into acting or reacting in defense.

It means turning towards things that I would have dreaded: the darkness. It means welcoming things I would have avoided: responsibility. It means loving things I would have felt alienated from: singing or dancing or communicating with others. So many levels are affected by these changes!

As if I needed another example, my daughter gave me another reason why she is easy to love. She naturally, effortlessly moves through her days setting herself up for positive outcomes. She lost a tooth yesterday at school. This morning she came downstairs smiling and she said "mommy, do you want to come and watch me look under my pillow?" The answer, of course, is yes, complicated by the fact that I forgot to be the fairy last night and I am pretty near 99% certain Steve did too. So I say: "Yes! Go ask pop if he wants to come too." Exit Dora. Run upstairs with two quarters, grope under pillow, where is that tooth ag! she's got three pillows and a pile of covers . . . ah, get tooth, leave money, come downstairs . . . Dora coming out of back room saying Pop's not quite ready because he's shaving, "Theo's not awake yet," I say as a reason for having been upstairs. The three of us go up, and . . . smiling gap toothed sweet girl has two new quarters for her flower bank.

That whole experience is literally money in the flower bank of life. Same thing that Jill Taylor is doing with her fascination and openness to the experience of recovering from her stroke. Same thing Edward Abbey is describing when he writes about meeting a mountain lion, standing still and staring at him, on an Arizona wilderness trail, and realizes even if the mountain lion is ready to meet him, he is not yet ready to meet the lion. Same thing everywhere you look. You can fear or you can love. Incredibly complicated, and incredibly simple.

Yesterday in yoga my teacher said "every exhalation is an opportunity to let something go." With three deep breaths at the end of yoga practice I lift my arms and lower them, and a beautiful, blue bowl opens above my head, without moving I am floating in the center of light without an ominous vibration in sight. Here the emotion is connected to an identifiable center, now I cry and know why.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The benefits of a stroke

"The limbic system functions by placing an affect, or emotion, on information streaming through our senses. Because we share these structures with other creatures, the limbic system cells are often referred to as the "reptilian brain" or the "emotional brain." When we are newborns, theses cells become wired together in response to sensory stimulation. It is interesting to note that although our limbic system functions throughout our lifetime, it does not mature. As a result, when our emotional "buttons" are pushed, we retain the ability to react to incoming stimulation as though we were a two year old, even when we are adults." --Jill Bolte Taylor, My Stroke of Insight

Two things I love about this: the science that allows us to separate the making and existing of "cells" and "brains" and "senses" from the experience of having them, and the positivity with which she speaks of having the ability to react like a child. And a third: that a friend coincidentally passed this book on to me just a few weeks ago.

This book My Stroke of Insight is fitting neatly into conversations started in meditation class . . . people craving the equanimity and calm they get from meditating but not able to let themselves sit. When Jill Taylor had her left brain capacity removed by brain hemorrhage she was forcibly placed in just the position my classmates desire: floating, without a sense of time, in a world defined by perceiving rather than judging. When we want to suspend or slow down physical activity we are all fighting our own personal and our culture's left brain directives to be DOING no matter what.

In school each day my children are asked to move cognitively through hoop after hoop in training to be DOING for the rest of their lives. Ag! It's enough to make me move them to a freeschool! A friend's son told him about having an experience of being there (in the classroom, trying to attend) and then not there (for an unknown amount of time) and then there again (when asked to attend by the teacher). "Well we call that daydreaming," Says dad. "I think that's what I'm doing" says son, in quiet awe.

Just like Dora with her moments of wondering about non-existence. Given the choice, many kids would rather jump on a trampoline for 5 hours than sit in a classroom. They are all about living in the moment and experiencing the right brain. 30 years later, we struggle to allow ourselves 5 minutes of that kind of experience. My personal experience with that: it bites! I know the sparks of my creativity come from that place and it is SO dang hard to guard the space for it. Like speaking to a domineering partner, I have to say
That's the only way I'm going to be able to appreciate that you can do amazing things as well.

And a last cautionary tale for parents from Jill Taylor: "As a society we do not teach our children that they need to tend carefully the garden of their minds. Without structure, censorship, or discipline, our thoughts run rampant on automatic. Because we have not learned how to more carefully manage what goes on inside our brains, we remain vulnerable to not only what other people think about us, but also to advertising and/or political manipulation." Now that sinister spin makes it seem essential, doesn't it?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What if I can't hang on to it?

I was thinking the next post would happen sooner and be more about loving-kindness meditation because there's much more to say and I basically side-stepped that last time. But right now I am investigating what I am currently experiencing like a good student of vipassana: two things I bring home tonight from our last meeting of meditation class.

One from our handout:
"Celebrate returning. Meditation practice is about returning again and again. Sometimes it's about returning to the next breath, sometimes it's about returning to meditation after a lapse. We can learn to recognize our lapses and return to our breath or our practice--not with condemnation--but celebration."

One a little personal insight:
Instinctively when time is pressing and lists are growing I think moving faster is the way through. If I can really convince myself this instinct is misguided and slow down enough to regain clarity, simplifying is a natural outcome. Believe it.

I had a mystical window there for a month or so. I had time to pour myself into this class and regular practice of what I was learning, almost every day. I was more aware of myself and others moving through the day. I had time to spend with Theo and Dora. I had time to make sure there wasn't anything rotting in the fridge, I had time to see a good friend once a week or maybe every two weeks, I had time to create some paper and textile things I almost caught up on reconciling our bank account I had time to take on a new project designing interior space I adjusted to the new online signup routine for my lifeline of yoga I started working on halloween costumes way early so that I'd have plenty of time to finish them carefully I have to remember to write a note to my father's close friend diagnosed with a brain tumor I want to stay involved with the art class and the library at school but it's so much time

what has happened everything has sped up and is running together and I am right back to that struggle of how to find time to take care of everything and everyone much less to make time for the thinking and not-thinking of meditation.
what can I do to bolster up my friend who is in the middle of a terrible divorce
what about the friends I haven't had time to call or see
what was I thinking saying I could do this design work everything is needed yesterday and I am so rusty
the build up of cat hair is making my eyes itch
one of the cats has an abscess and requires antibiotics and swabbing twice a day and being enclosed in a place where she won't ooze on the furniture until she heals who bit her?
the halloween costumes--how do I make this wire-frame felt-covered pumpkin head with eyes that glow??
oh my god the floors, the toilets, the litter boxes, the laundry
what shall I plan for the next meal to nourish my family so we stay healthy
how is dora's cold she is still blowing out gobs of snot is she getting better or worse?
my wrist is so sore and does not seem to be getting stronger will it ever not hurt?
will the kids get the flu? I didn't get them to the clinic last week now they are out of vaccine again . . .
I can't stay up to work on any of this stuff now I need to go to sleep

I am definitely lapsing. I look forward to celebrating my return.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

It takes a membrane

From The Lives of a Cell
Viewed from the distance of the moon, the astonishing thing about the earth, catching the breath, is that it is alive. The photographs show the dry, pounded surface of the moon in the foreground, dead as an old bone. Aloft, floating free beneath the moist, gleaming membrane of the bright blue sky, is the rising earth, the only exuberant thing in this part of the cosmos. If you could look long enough, you would see the swirling of the great drifts of white cloud, covering and uncovering the half-hidden masses of land. If you had been looking for a very long, geologic time, you could have seen the continents themselves in motion, drifting apart on their crustal plates, held afloat by the fire beneath. It has the organized, self-contained look of a live creature, full of information, marvelously skilled in handling the sun.
It takes a membrane to make sense out of disorder in biology. You have to be able to catch energy and hold it, storing precisely the needed amount and releasing it in measured shares. A cell does this, and so do the organelles inside. Each assemblage is poised in the flow of solar energy, tapping off energy from the metabolic surrogates of the sun. To stay alive, you have to be able to hold out against equilibrium, maintain imbalance, bank against entropy, and you can only transact this business with membranes in our kind of world.
--Lewis Thomas

My daughter said"I've been feeling kind of weird lately. Not in my tummy," she said, looking at me, anticipating my concern, "but in my mind. I have all these questions in my head . . . what would it be like to not exist, or to not have a friend? I mean, how can my body even hear, or taste?" Wowza. I remember having those thoughts too. If I had to guess I was a little older though, maybe third grade instead of first. "Who IS Martha?" Yes indeedy. The big questions resonate from a young age I think. What to make of them? There you are, in your body, going through each day sleeping, eating, walking and talking, and then one day for the first time your mind expands into a silent endlessness for a moment or two.

What is the world, really? How is it possible to understand what it is from a different place than inside my mind?

One thing I am loving about meditation is feeling eager to return to those questions--like a roomful of friends, all gently jostling elbows and waiting, getting to know each other. I have renewed belief that the questions, the possibility of answers, and the thinking process itself matters.

But I haven't been making time this past week. Feeling a bit tired and like the dark morning comes too soon. Part of me wants to mark the days I meditate on the calendar with a yellow circle but I am resisting, I guess because I want the emphasis to be on whenever and however I make it happen it will make itself felt, and I don't need the left brain recordkeeper to put its stamp of approval on the process.

Anyway if I were marking the calendar the last week and a half would be blank until this morning. I keep thinking that I can get to a place where I've built up some reserve, banked against entropy, where the daily facts of not being able to work through to the end of a thought without being interrupted or where children bickering will not pierce the softness, acceptance, and deep calm I've cultivated for the past month. HA!

I'd like for this process to allow me to put permanent distance between myself and the defensive, truculent aspect of myself that has seemed more and more to replace the flexible, empathetic person I thought I was. But it's all in response to life being out of my control. I can't stop life and the reality is that it will be the daily practice of making time for yoga and meditation that will repair the membrane that filters my experience.

I think it is allowing me to laugh and be happy with small things more. I have noticed on at least three occasions in the last month that I have laughed in a true, deep, involuntary way, that I thought something was so perfectly turned on its head as to be funny, that I wasn't making the motion of a laugh with a shadow of judgment across it. Now that is a feeling I want to remember. Slightly hysterical, but with a connectedness, a freshness, a center that held. It didn't cost me anything. I felt bouyed up by it.

Last week we learned about loving-kindness meditation in class. One of the class members described practicing this towards George W. during his presidency, and how difficult it was. The man sitting next to her, whom we were all so glad to see because he has been dealing with extreme pain and does not always make it to class, said "As long as you didn't vote for him!" He said it with such a warm, smiling tone that we all understood--and it was so TRUE. It was so funny. Many class members had interesting and thoughtful things to say about their good experiences or challenges with loving-kindness meditation. I listened. I tried to understand what I understood about it, if anything.

I had started with directing the mantra towards my daughter, who is so easy to love so much of the time. And then I had fallen forward into a big pool of blackness, sleepy yet riding a wave of breathing energy. In the end what came to mind is I felt like Pooh. My classmates were discussing some deep and lively points, and I felt that I was sitting by their river of thoughts, not really getting it, dabbling my toes in the water and humming, trying out some tentative rhymes . . . this thought made me laugh too, in a helpless, uninhibited way, and cover my face with a need to show humility to myself. Going in circles, looking bravely for a woozle! I really don't understand. I hope that's okay and I hope to someday. One of the yoga greats, Sri K. Patabhi Jois, who just died in May, would say "Practice and all is coming." Alrighty then.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I Am The One Who

The Guest House

This being human is a guest-house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
Who violently sweep your house
Empty of its furniture.

Still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you
Out for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
Meet them at the door laughing,
And invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
Because each has been sent
As a guide from beyond.

Tonight in meditation class we practiced working with emotions that come up in during meditation.
• You allow the feeling to be in your body. Be open, curious.
• You see if you can find where in the body you feel it.
• You give the feeling space.
• You see if you can find a name or names for the emotion/s.
• Tell all the stories that go with the emotions, and let them go.
• Try not to judge.

I had tried this already on Monday morning, after I woke up with the thought "what would I do if Dora died?" Nice one, that. Very juicy. There were some visuals, too. Not surprised, but somewhat heavily baffled by my mind's popping it up now, I thought at first "woah. time to go meditate." I think I meant to try escaping it. I'm sure if Steve hadn't happened to still be in bed and available to talk I wouldn't have pieced together that it was probably a tangled mess of reactions to just recently learning that a woman I'm acquainted with lost a daughter several years ago, and anxiety about the fact that Steve and I were supposed to be leaving Dora to go with Theo's class on a fun field trip for three days.

When I did sit down to meditate and the teacher's voice on this new audio track suggested exploring a strong emotion that is with you now, I chose something else. I couldn't think about Dora dying. But later, I thought the meditation had probably helped me resolve some of the less extreme emotions connected with a certain social situation. So I got that going for me, which is nice.

So then tonight when we did it in class, I couldn't do it at all. ? I don't even have a guess. But. I was so happy. I told the class. I have had an energetically uneven time with my mind during my practice sessions, but one thing that has been consistent is that I am so happy to be sitting. Just like the poem. I am unambitiously enjoying this and I have no idea why. The only thing about that which bothers me is that the other feeling I have had without knowing why was depression.

The image at the top of this post is the other one I made at the SoulCollage workshop. I didn't get time to go into it that day, but I'll do a brief gathering of my thoughts about it in the manner of this sentence (method approved and certified by SoulCollage tm): I am the one who wants to believe that the beauty and richness and safety in life that I felt as a girl still exists; who can leave the drama and skip lightly ahead.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

What if I were a deck of cards?

Yesterday I took part in a SoulCollage workshop. The term "SoulCollage" is trademarked and there is a whole book about it and the skeptic in me feels a bit, um, skeptical. It's all a bit woo-woo, referenced to the tradition of tarot and its unnameable, intangible life energies and spiritual mythologies. However. I had complete beginner's mind, as I do anytime I'm starting something new, and enjoyed the process of sorting through images, cutting, and gluing to make a collage mounted to matt board, in a short amount of time, that feels very solid and finished. I felt a lot of freedom in being asked simply to choose from a big messy pile of cut and ripped out magazine pages. So much easier than creating my own images on a blank surface. It's not a work of art! Nothing to lose! It's just a collage. Much easier to pick up momentum and get into the zone, and hard to stop!

Meditation on the finished cards was the extra component that I found unexpectedly interesting. Holding and looking at a finished card we imagined it being the size of a doorway. Step in and engage all our senses. What is it like there? Know we can return any time. Ask for a message or a gift. Say thank you. Come back through. Then write.

Here's what I wrote about this card:

I feel sleepy but there is a lot of movement. The spiral is changing shape and color above me. It is my life, myself within life, and I'll never be able to predict or contain it. I'll see if I can make a comfortable place for myself, and there will be places I'm not comfortable, but all around me are the textures and the food of life. The chair, an anchor, a haven, a place that's clean and well-lit-- is big enough for others to join me. An egg, the beginnings of pattern or design printed on nubby linen and sketched on old stone . . . grain? flower? insect? prehistoric elements of life that I can watch and that even cast light and perspective on my own small corner of life. I didn't get a gift or message but realize afterward that I couldn't tell the passage of time. I was a bit cold.

Hmmm. Kinda interesting considering I pretty carelessly selected a bunch of magazine images and slapped them down together with glue. Considering I have spent much of the past three years feeling stuck (as an artist, wondering if I am indeed even an artist). Feeling like I am trapped in my role of safe haven and food provider for my family, feeling called by but far away from hints of big ideas about pattern and design. Considering I have felt the drag of days, passing so excruciatingly slowly, filled with menial chores while others pursue lives of meaning and creativity.

Well. Maybe it's all so obvious. But when I looked at what I had made, and what I had written, both without much forethought or planning, it looked so much more like a life over which I have some control. About which I may decide to change some things. Through which I may allow myself to find the connection and meaning I feel I've been missing.

When I meditated this morning I used a new cd track that asked me to imagine my mind reaching in succession to the limits of the room, beyond the room, to the clouds, to the sun, and finally to the stars. I tried this, mmm, perhaps with a bit of feeling like I was in a movie instead of really imagining the molecules of my body connected somehow to the molecules of the stars. When I was done I felt expanded, though, which was cool. Even better was the moment when the cd player changed over to the next cd and what came on was . . . Star Wars. No kidding.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What if I could become the awareness behind my thoughts?

Nothing brings suffering as does
the untamed, uncontrolled, unattended and unrestrained mind.
That mind brings suffering.
Nothing brings joy as does a
tamed, controlled, attended and restrained mind.
This mind brings joy.
----The Buddha

While I was sitting this morning I heard some whispering. "Don't ask mommy any questions!" "Move over." "Shh!" My son and daughter have caught up with the shift to an earlier schedule, and this morning they were watching me. I felt my breathing slow. Model the perfect meditating mommy, if you can. It was very sweet of them to tip toe round me so. Perhaps because I was discovered near the end of the window, I allowed myself to enjoy it instead of tensing up with anticipation of what interruption would come despite their best intentions. Could it be I was aware of my thoughts about them instead of being my thoughts about them? Yesterday I asked them what they thought the difference was between "hope" and "expectation." My son thought that the difference was that with hope, you know there might be a chance it won't happen. "So you're more flexible about the outcome?" I asked. Yeah, he said, there might be a million in one chance that you won't get what you want. Which tells you a little bit about how often he is disappointed, hoping for (or expecting) odds like that!

Tonight in class we talked about skills to use with the "monkey mind." If simply meditating on the breath is blocked by too many thoughts or one that that is too big you can make them, or it, the object of the meditation. How much the actual practice of this would be different from just flat out having the thought might well depend on how much you love, or how badly you want off, the roller coaster. You can count, or name, or observe thoughts. "You don't get more points for having fewer thoughts," my teacher said. Competitive types are crestfallen, while I sigh with relief. "Although that is a very nice place to be," she added. Hmm.

Some of the other suggestions have to do with visualizing moving receptacles for thoughts that float (like clouds in the sky, or leaves on a river) or trundle (like cars on a train) away from you. You can imagine you are a cat, waiting at a mouse hole, and hope that your thoughts are as wise as a mouse would be in this scenario. If you are waiting, the reasoning goes, perhaps the thoughts will find somewhere else to play. Or at least, if they make a break for it, you will not be surprised or disturbed? With feline grace, you deal them summary blows and silence ensues? Not sure about this.

We practiced twice in class. I love this! Several of us commented on the power of meditating in the group. I could hear others breathing, I felt the ease of concentration for just a bit, I settled right down into my bones. I went through the list. Counting: not so good. Made me want a thought for each breath, to keep rhythm. Naming: okay, I've sort of been doing this already, it's pretty useful and I'll practice it more . . . planning, gardening, judging. Clouds felt too wispy--if I set my thoughts on clouds it would be like Wiley Coyote's anvil falling from the sky. Boxcars worked okay, but I really didn't want to let all of my thoughts go off down the track forever . . . I just wanted a break from them right now.

What ended up happening was pretty cool. I just listened for a little bit and looked around behind my eyelids. I saw that reddish blackness that is the back of your eyelid. A small shaped appeared and swelled into a ball. I could put my thoughts in the ball, where they would ricochet around like children in a bouncy house. I could keep an eye on them. I could step away, watch from over here. And if I needed any of them I could call them. Those were the thoughts I had about it, anyway. I may have done it a bit. I may have nodded a bit, too. I was super relaxed and peaceful. Very different from when I have been sitting in the mornings.

It made me think of the reading I did about Sensory Integration when Theo was diagnosed, and how one book said that true happiness is receiving all the information from your senses and being able to process it and respond appropriately in real time. Just think! Physically, it is the equivalent of being Philip Petit, that serenely crazy high wire walker, who is one of the few people, by the way, who have rendered Stephen Colbert speechless. SO living in the moment. SO in tune with every nuance of balance. HUGELY egocentric, of course, which must be what stumped S.C., because his persona on that show is all about eclipsing any piddling news item or famous guest with the self-perceived luminosity of his being, right?

So. Integrating. Physical and mental, internal and external, awareness and serenity, all bundled up into a little person sitting on a stool. Luminous. That's what I'm aiming for. (hoping, not expecting.)

Monday, October 5, 2009

"Are you waiting for time to show you some better thoughts?"

You Reading This, Be Ready

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life -

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

--William Stafford

My husband calls me the "what-if kid." I tend to think of all the possibilities, many of them disastrous of course, before starting something. Talk about a recipe for stalling forward motion. I hope meditation will allow me to sort out those things I need to preview and perhaps avoid, and those with which I can confidently move ahead. Right now it still feels a lot like shooting in the dark, with maybe a pause for "oh, what if I had a bit of light, wouldn't that be nice, well, here I go." I wasn't this way as a child, so it is frustrating to be immobilized by it now. I need a bit of this poem's feeling, that feeling of when I turn around being the right time for what's in my heart.

A bit of success this morning. I got up for sitting meditation at 6 and didn't feel quite so out of breath. I think my body is a bit shocked by moving directly from being the apple butter in a sheepskin-and-down sandwich to propping myself upright on a bolster at that hour. I allowed the emphasis on good posture to slide a bit. We were told that posture gives instant feedback to the psyche, and feeling like I'm trying to breathe through a straw from underwater is my psyche crying for a bit of transition time to grow some gills. After setting up my blankets and candle I rested in child's pose a bit, then slowly raised up to somewhere between a crescent moon's curve and a melting ice cream cone. By the time the bells chimed at the end I was pretty much straight up, and breathing more easily. That said, I feel far less successful with a meditation using simply the breath rather than, say, the bodyscan. There is still quite a clamor going on in there without the presence of a constant guided visualization. The handout says consider your mind as an untrained puppy and that is right on. I am out sniffing, peeing, and chewing on everything in sight.

A bit of success with finding a quiet way to ask Theo to consider his first interaction with us in the morning as well. Nice to feel that a piece of parenting work is a way to converse and bond rather than a gauntlet to be fought over.

A few months ago I found a book which is fundamentally changing the way I look at myself and my challenges in the world. It is called The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World. I have had raging fantasies of this book taking the western world, or at the very least the U.S., by storm and everyone from President Obama to the supermarket cashier talking about how it has completely altered all their social interactions, and I have had small fantasies simply that everyone who knows me would read it and finally understand. Ah. So much for fantasies. I can share a bit, though, of what began a resonating glow in me.

"Introverts like depth and will limit their experiences but feel each of them deeply. Often, they have fewer friends but more intimacy. They like to delve deeply into topics and look for richness more than muchness. This is why it's necessary to limit their topics to one or two, or they can become overwhelmed. Their minds absorb information from the outside environment and then reflect on it and expand it. And long after they have taken in the information, they are still munching and crunching it--a little like cows chewing their cud."

Big clues, there, in relation to my feeling pressed for time to fully complete doing or processing something. There's more, too, about introverts using long-term memory and needing time for ideas and solutions to pop into their heads--we may take longer to remember something but we'll remember it for longer, apparently. "Introverts are in a constant distilling process that requires lots of "innergy." And pressurized situations simply make our minds shut down and go blank. Oh yes, I can relate to that. I know I have a lot of, um, thoughts in here somewhere…just a moment…oh, you're going, oh never mind. More on that later.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

What if I could change my harmful reactions?

Today on awakening I tried to meditate to ease the dread. It was terrible! It wasn't working and I could feel my sense of humor about it slipping away. Steve was restless next to me. It was nice when he was away last week and I had the bed all to myself. Why was I thinking that I could do this? How silly to think I could keep the warmth and comfort of being in bed and satisfy the meditation requirement at the same time. The. discipline. of. commitment. means. getting. up. even. when. it. is. uncomfortable. Ha. Now I am feeling the embarrassment of putting these words out into the world. So obvious! So foolish.

Time to put advice of class handout into practice:
PRACTICE your skills as you learn them until they become part of you, where you use them without self-consciousness. PRACTICE:
1. Changing harmful situations.
2. Changing your harmful reactions to situations.
3. Accepting yourself and the situation as they are.

Finished up after he got up. A bit better. Could follow the bodyscan instead of writing a litany over it. First time to get to the face and head!

That tromping means Theo is up. The noise and the knowledge of the frustration behind it can pull my relaxation right out through the walls of my intestine and leave it tied in knots. Step back. Think about how to convey the message of a better choice to him. Wait for a quiet moment instead of storming straight out to confront. Try.