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 repeated...rest, 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 asked...so 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.