Thursday, November 11, 2010

Cry for the good, the bad, and both together.

Your cold mornings are filled with the heartache about the fact that although we are not at ease in this world, it is all we have, that it is ours but that it is full of strife, so that all we can call our own is strife; but even that is better than nothing at all, isn't it? And as you split frost-laced wood with numb hands, rejoice that your uncertainty is God's will and His grace toward you and that that is beautiful, and part of a greater certainty, as your own father always said in his sermons and to you at home. And as the ax bites into the wood, be comforted in the fact that the ache in your heart and the confusion in your soul means that you are still alive, still human, and still open to the beauty of the world, even though you have done nothing to deserve it. And when you resent the ache in your heart, remember: You will be dead and buried soon enough.

Howard resented the ache in his heart. He resented equally the ache and the resentment itself. He resented his resentment because it was a sign of his own limitations of spirit and humility, no matter that he understood that such was each man's burden. He resented the ache because it was uninvited, seemed imposed, a sentence, and, despite the encouragement he gave himself each morning, it baffled him because it was there whether the day was good or bad, whether he witnessed major kindness or minor transgression, suffered sourceless grief or spontaneous joy.

-Paul Harding, Tinkers

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Accurate Observation and Meticulous Grace

Today i had to ask myself, "What do I really need to do right now that would bring me greater well-being?" I answered myself by drawing.

What I've learned in Botanical Drawing class:
--Botanical Drawing is a demanding form of illustration
--I'm not sure I'm up to it
--I loved drawing this artichoke.
--I cannot trust my brain! At all!

The double spiral structure of parts of many plants (like the seeds of a sunflower) results in a complex set of intersections that is extremely difficult to freehand. Every time I used my stick to measure and rough in where the artichoke leaves would be, even the outer shape of the globe of it, I was surprised. It was in fact better to turn off my brain and let the eyes and hands work unimpeded.

What I learned today while waiting to hear the results of my dad's open-heart surgery:
--cultivating well-being while anxious is a demanding way to pass a day
--I was not sure I was up to it
--Drawing is a kind of meditation for me
--I cannot trust my brain! At all!

In meditation class we talked about a variation on the 5 basic precepts of Buddhism as guidelines to rely on when you are at a moment of choice. Intoxicants were a big part of this discussion (ahem, as a topic). Is meditation an intoxicant? Have I been distancing myself from the panic I ought to be feeling about this MAJOR surgery my dad is having? I gave in to the wild feelings I'd been holding at bay for several days and told myself many stories about possible outcomes and consequences. Did I learn anything from this. I think not.

What stays with me from our discussion is that you can't always think your way to a right choice, but you can almost always feel your way there.
Integrity is not just about following guidelines for morality. On a deeper level, it's about being true to yourself. If you are in touch with your heart and your deepest impulses, you will make choices that do not harm yourself or others. --James Baraz, Awakening Joy
I don't really have a conclusion, except thank goodness for botanical drawing.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Life is Suffering...

In meditation class this week we talked about suffering. What a relief it is to let go of denial, start at the beginning with your arm around your suffering. It's kind of a bad news/good news thing, so you have to stay with it through the process.

So why are you suffering right now? (Don't forget to ask with compassion.) We listened to a recording of a poem:
Rest in natural great peace this exhausted mind,
Beaten helpless by karma and neurotic thoughts
Like the relentless fury of the pounding waves
in the infinite ocean of samsara.
Rest in natural great peace.
The poem is recited by one Sogyal Rinpoche, written by Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche. The Tibetan-accented english, the gathering force of the background music, the weight of the words sinking into the open sky of mind, the poem repeatedly, of course we want to rest! Why can't we rest? Yes, beaten, yes neurotic, yes relentless, yes pounding. And yes, peace. We can rest. You can rest! Wanted it to keep going, wanted it to stop. It stopped.

When I looked at the cardboard cover of this little 3" cd, there are the two rinpoche (what's plural for rinpoche?? is it like fish?) laughing faces, smiling eyes, inclined toward one another. Good marketing. (I've been schooled in the devil's deals of western-style advertising). I better listen to that again, so I can have what they have, right? I say that with all sincerity. I am totally open to a revelation in whatever wrapping.

So what is my suffering right now? Summer passed. I thought often about posting but made the choice to be with the moment instead of sitting writing about it.

Now everything is still passing, again. We are here, in the school routine, my kids like the superhero you only see when he stops running, the angled light meaning the end of the gardening season--I want to be creating...what am I creating? All I'm doing is watching things pass away, and feeling sadness, feeling lost.
Diagnosis: Clearly I'm feeling a foolish attachment to the time that is forever swiftly fleeting.

Remedy: A moment in the evening to savor.

A musician (favorite song: We three kings) and a scientist (Doppler effect demonstrated in your living room), just for an hour or less on a fall evening, exploring possibilities of tone, of frequency, of being.

We ended meditation class by following our teacher in yoga nidra. I felt aware of very specific parts of me. How nice to take notice of my throat when it is healthy, and not just when it starts to hurt. How fascinating to feel a vibrating energy all up and down my shoulders, arms, fingers--almost like I could regulate involuntary bodily systems. Boy if I could the first thing I'd do would be to make my hair behave.

What if I could always remember that feeling after yoga nidra--of space when I'm compressed, of time when I'm rushed? Can I be conscious, forgiving, a witness to self, expanding? Simply and only animated earth, without expectations, only awareness. So life is suffering... and awareness can be, unexpectedly, joy. That's the good news! Hope you stayed long enough to get the good news.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sound Living Sense

In a book I read over the summer I learned how to describe what it feels like I 've been missing for so much of my life. The book is "Cutting for Stone." In it a singular character is described: someone, though exceptionally dedicated, exotically beautiful, and especially lucky, who cannot progress in her field of nursing.
"She discovered that memorization ("by-hearting," as Matron called it) was of no help to her at the bedside, where she struggled to distinguish the trivial from the life-threatening. Oh yes, she could and did recite the names of the cranial nerves as a mantra to calm her own nerves. She could rattle off the composition of mistura carminativa...But what she couldn't do, and it annoyed her to see how effortlessly her fellow probationers could, was develop the one skill Matron said she lacked: Sound Nursing Sense."
Anyone might expect to be embarrassed by ways they acted as an adolescent, unsure of their social responses and unclear about who they were. Sporadically surfacing into and through my twenties and thirties I felt a vague and then increasingly sharp disappointment with choices I'd made. Who could be comfortable when a hollowness occupies your personal space, but how do you examine what is not there to see? And if it doesn't change as you get older, then you really feel stuck.

I had the perpetual feeling of coming up with a possible answer three days after the question was often simply having to cover a blank stare with some bluster or awkward silence, almost always only having a narrow literal interpretation. Why didn't I get it all the way other people did? Aha! Maybe because I lacked Sound Living Sense!

It might not seem like so much, what I was missing--but as Stephen Cope says, "a new freedom for well-considered and appropriate action is a very wonderful thing...we become free to claim actions that express who we really are." Who am I, really? When you don't have freedom to choose, the world really is a bewildering, blurry place.
Sound Nursing Sense is more important that knowledge, though knowledge only enhances it. Sound Nursing Sense is a quality that cannot be defined, yet is invaluable when present and noticeable when absent. To paraphrase Osler, a nurse with book knowledge but without Sound Nursing Sense is like a sailor at sea in a seaworthy vessel but without map, sextant, or compass.
EXACTLY SO. Parenting, of course, opened a whole new chapter of misguided responses, a whole new understanding of the words "hot button," a whole new ocean in which to be lost without navigation tools of any kind. Amazingly, now I'm finding a whole set of possible solutions. They knock me over! With their simplicity, purity, curiosity. Like the proverbial feather, they are weightless and quiet. Hear the bickering in the back seat and remember how lucky I am to have two healthy children. See three day's worth of dirty clothing on the floor and choose to feel grateful for the creativity in the incredible drawings they've made of a float plane, a vase of flowers, a bowl of fruit, a portrait of our family.

Why was that so hard before? Why couldn't I distinguish the trivial from the life-threatening? Not to mention life-affirming? Don't think I don't still pick a fight over a sock. Maybe the day I don't even care about that I'll know I'm truly enlightened.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Happily Ever...Now

All stories that end "happily ever after" should be amended to read "...and they lived happily IN THAT MOMENT." Leave them alone after that! Who knows what comes next? Write your own story, because NOW is the only moment in which you can be happy.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Yesterday my teacher pointed out the difference between having a list of things to do and inhabiting a place where your tasks are part of a meaningful living process. For a short time I left the home I've made to spend time in the home made by my parents, left my mom/spouse list behind for the daughter one, but I almost didn't recognize it. Then I came back and once again felt myself struggling to locate myself in my life.

After 10 days in the hospital and recovering from an infection and emergency surgery my 79 year old father was hard to recognize too. He is skirting the edges, not taking life for granted. He talked about different things, and in a different way. He talked more about people and relationships, and with more emotion than I've ever seen him show. He thanked me for coming to be with him and my mom. Missing home made me want to leave, but seeing this dramatic change demanded for me to stay and witness. I felt that one other intense time, when I had to hold on to a tiny being and then choose when to let go because it would be forever. Being a parent has forever changed the way I am a daughter.

Life does not feel solid and yet it feels so heavy at times. Words are light. There is so much in them, and in a body and mind. Books full of words are available to me. Stores full of clothing, furniture, ugly and beautiful things. Take take take then throw away. Pull in muscles with or without breathing. Travel with or without enjoying. Stay at home with or without hiding. Hide with or without caring. Care with or without voting. Leave with or without knowing you can return.

The difference appeared in the threads created in the grain of the wood between the knots in the yoga studio ceiling. Where I once saw smiles and then patience (described here), now I see channels. Some ways narrow, widen, narrow, go through. Some are closed off and become islands, gathering places where the density of growth allowed for a branch to shoot off in a new direction. We can make our patterns in the world: breathing with love, moving with acceptance, seeing with appreciation, locating with gratitude. It feels good to find this again, even though I am not beyond questioning it yet.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Just BEING makes it better

The last three days have set me right up on top of my precarious mountain of things to do. Sunshine! Bulbs coming up! Back into yoga, yummy! We are back to rain today, but that is OK. The mountain is still there, but it doesn't seem like I'll get buried in an avalanche, or that I have to drag myself up it, either. Celebrating return, for sure.

I haven't been meditating, but I have been trying to stay mindful. Observing has sounded a bit like this: where did that day go? did I get the pictures to Alex? why does that hurt so much? wow, I am really tired. sweetie, you make a terrific oviraptor. i can't believe i don't square dance all the time, it is so much fun! last evening swimming class, remember goggles and shampoo. what is the right school for theo next year? be the telemark turn, Martha.

Then returning to meditation this morning we did a different kind of bodyscan. Instead of starting with our feet and working up the body we started with the skin and the energy at the edges of the body and went IN. Fascia, voluntary muscles, INvoluntary muscles (can you tell I was fascinated by that one?), viscerae, blood, cells, spaces----between----cells. It gave me that additional expansion that sitting with concepts (and the breath, always the breath) can.

There is so much room for states and beings and yes, tasks, to exist! Curiosity. Creativity. Relationship. Letting go. A little window into the source of suffering: a distorted relationship with time.

Recent question from T: Mom, what is a sixth sense? and does doing yoga give you it?

Okay, back to daily BEING.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Welcome to Villa Arbole

Experiences of the last couple of weeks are percolating. Devastation in Haiti made thoughts heavy, the good health and safety of my family and myself more precious. When not busy with something completely consuming, would try to imagine everything around me being turned upside down so violently and would hold much sadness for those afflicted. What to do? Read about it. Couldn't watch any video. Send money. How much could ever be enough. Send some each day. Clicking the button along with thousands of others must make a difference.

Thanks reverberated in my head for those who make it their business to be there or go there, and I wondered at all the different paths our lives take when you consider the tangible outcome of a person who builds a dense skillset like doctoring or organizing in disasters like that. Is what I do really as valuable? Am I falling as short of some universal expectation as I am of a personal one to make life better. Inevitable questions.

And then our long-planned trip was upon us. Leaving Theo and Dora seemed impossible logistically and emotionally and so even as I crossed out each logistic and emotional task in preparation to leave I thought of myself in a weird alternative world in which I wouldn't actually leave. Then we went.

Yoga twice a day. Surfing if you dared. Early morning meditation, ears filled with the constant roar of the ocean. A group of 20 or so, every different kind of person, joining together for 6 days in Sayulita, Mexico. Patterns everywhere. At first we seized and appreciated the cultural, culinary, physical, environmental differences. Some had interesting bacteriological experiences. I think we all realized some pacing was required. When I was still home it was easy to imagine doing everything I wanted to do there in a day, it was a vacation from regular home duties and therefore I had boundless energy for it.

In practice my body got tired. Confused. Scared, even. I had a heady first day of surfing during which I caught many waves and vaulted like a tiger to stand solidly on my board as it swished effortlessly to shore. On a following day after ditching on the face of a wave I could barely keep from unraveling as the rest of the set seemed to try to pummel me endlessly into the rockiest place under the water on this otherwise unthreatening beach.

Yoga was good but required reassessing: being outside, being with new people, being with a body that doesn't seem to progress evenly or steadily in one direction--too much else going on. Yoga became something I was able to consider skipping, which here at home simply doesn't occur, if I am going, it's because I want to be there--being already there, I had to say at times: rest. I needed to rest and to guard my moments of appreciation. I needed to ask myself if I'm brave. If I'm strong.

Meditation was hit or miss, dominated by that floating feeling that eludes the simultaneous need for grounding and opening of space--if I'm not connected to anything; your words, my thoughts, this body--what is all of this about?

So lots of topsy turveying, and of course that is what travel is all about, that is as it should be. I didn't really get enough time to make sense of it while away, so I'm still doing that now.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Posting from the dig

My meditation teacher said these words to close our sitting session today:

May all be happy
May all be free from pain
May all live with love and compassion
May all awaken, and be free

All those who are being born and those who are dying
Those who are peaceful and those who are violent
Those who are poor, and those who have great wealth.

And sitting there I felt the compression of those intentions into the very small space of my heart, which in the wrong conditions would be unspeakably depressing: they cannot all occur, and we are immobilized right here with our human misery. Luckily all the conditions were right: I was sitting with like-minded people in a quiet room, the clocks echoing each other in a perfectly syncopated drumbeat like musician's hearts, having delivered my children to their safe, welcoming, sweet teachers and friends, with the memory of a good day yesterday and the prospect of a good day ahead. I could take it in, and make space. Perhaps it is more accurate to say make time?

How to do this when feeling pressed? When conditions aren't ideal?

It seems to be all about time, and timing. It is not always the right time to claim my needs, my wants, my view of the way things should be. There will be time for it, though. Meanwhile there is an opportunity for there to be other ways, other's needs, other's gifts. Open, open, says my heart (and you have to do it right when you are asking your son for the three-thousandth time to hang up his clothes instead of dumping them on the floor, it adds) and allow the time for the process. The trick is knowing when the right time for the right point of connection is in relationship, isn't it? Like knowing when is the right time to swing the bat to connect with the ball. Too early or too late and I get nothin'.

That moment in meditation class was full of both sadness and joy at the same time, evenly matched. Everyone is being born, everyone is dying, everyone is peaceful and everyone is violent, everyone is poor and everyone has great wealth.

In my mind I saw the sound of the bell aerobatically leaving the metal cylinder like a stunt plane doing a sixteen point roll, and leveling out as it flew by, crossing my face at lip-level and lifting the corners of my mouth into an involuntary smile. As the bell sounded again to end the session I saw all those intentions dissolve into a fine mist that expanded in all directions, swelling my boundaries and saturating my cells.

Last night my daughter said "when I have a tooth under my pillow and I lay back on it, I feel like my pillow is magic." It seems that losing teeth is a good time for memorable life lessons from Dora, as I wrote about another one here! What's this one?-- about waiting for the right time, and not knowing when that will be, and relating in the moment as well as you can, letting rigidity go.

Good grief! It's the same, it's the same lessons over and over, yet always I feel like an archeologist unearthing something buried by hundreds of feet of lava.

And so much for facebook. That lasted about one week. I gotta connect with faces, with voices, with energy. Excuse me for being an old fart, but Facebook is indifferently crazy and crazy-making.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The way I see it today

The removal of routine caused by the holidays means I haven't been meditating much. When there's no plan and the movement of the family is determined by the moment, I guess the idea of sitting felt sort of outside of the flow. I did some yoga, and some staring into the fire, and some knitting though--activities that tolerate interruption--all very enjoyable. Still, it was not surprising to find a modicum of melancholy in myself. I wonder if that's just the way it is.

And here we are in a new year. Regardless of the exact moment of greeting (I am not attached to the clock's demarcation of the actual minute, and usually prefer to greet the new year with daylight), gradually the new year brings with it a sense of a clearing of the decks, doesn't it?

Part of my experience of being an introvert is a feeling that if I spend this time or this energy there won't be any more available, which results in an unfortunate behavioral by-product: hoarding. Too much guarding of self and space can be isolating, and maybe warping. It's one of the things I hope meditation is slowly changing in me. When I feel the full calm of it, somehow I generate an expansion of interior space and a solid feeling of time for my needs to be met.

In response to a suggestion by a friend, I have chosen a word to guide me through the year. The word is CONNECTION. I don't think the idea is to live by it, necessarily, but to come back to it occasionally, like we do with an intention at the beginning and during a single yoga class, and contemplate your reality through that filter, and see what you get. Could be a little bit of insight, a little bit of magic. A bit of surprise probably.

At a New Year's meditation gathering a few days ago I sat with maybe 25 or 30 other folks for an hour. We meditated on loving-kindness, and on forgiveness. I thought, as I sat there with all the built up and expended frenetic energy of the holidays over, that in the aftermath of Christmas spirit wreckage I might actually have a context for forgiveness. It started with forgiving myself for some of my many shortcomings. Now that was an expansive feeling--the edges of my personal envelope, for a moment, reached out to pioneer new territory. I wanted to laugh, cry, sew myself onto a star and hide myself underground all at the same time.

There is definitely something different and well, bigger, I guess, about meditating in a group. I'll have to think more before I can put words to it. Something about all of us tragically separate people sitting, breathing, forgiving together gave me permission to acknowledge my individual quirks. There is often an image in my mental perambulations--I often see images in my mind, and not timid or dainty ones, but ones that are strong and color saturated and exactly how they ought to be.

Due to the action-packed nature of our days, I don't see them clearly most of the time, or they are couched in the moment and forgotten because I move on to what I ought to be doing. But they come right out and sparkle, like Edward the vampire in a sunlit clearing (shriek! shriek!), when I meditate, and I have time to look at them. Which is not to say I'll be able to make them to suit my mind's picture, but it is a good place to start (note to self: remember to let beginner's mind take over!)

While sitting in that group with the fluidity and focus of forgiveness running throughout, the image I got was of a pair, perhaps more, of hands loosely holding a package. It was something like a christmas gift the size of a small pillow, with a wide ribbon, which instead of being solid was the incarnation, magnification, figuration of JOY, COMPASSION, FORGIVENESS. It wasn't glowing, but it was so rich in its presence that it made everything else seem dim. How to render this . . . how to give it . . . how to receive it?

Well here I go: this year I'm looking for connection with all the joy, compassion and forgiveness I can find. You with me? My first step, totally on impulse (hold on to your hats . . .) I joined Facebook! I don't get it at all and not sure how it figures in with my daily life if at all; I'm in the adding friends-frenzy and it seems a bit, um, artificial. But maybe later if I have something really important to say and I want to do it quickly, there it will be, the network of digitally-linked friends. See you here or there or somewhere, I'm sure.