Monday, December 21, 2009

Enough


This will come as no surprise to those who know me well, but I am an over-achiever. I don't think I'm a perfectionist per sé, but I do sometimes push myself (and others) too hard in an attempt to reach some personally defined outcome of greatness...
or satisfaction...
or success.

It was not until this year I finally came to better understand the sometimes unrealistic standard I strive to meet—and the ways in which it unfairly impacts those around me as I become overly expectant and hypercritical of their actions as well.

My lesson lately has been to find a new understanding of the term enough. One linked to a sense of contentment and fulfillment, rather than burdened with a negative connotation or preceded by "not good..."

Enough, as I am coming to reframe it, is akin to plenty. It suggests an absence of wanting; a simple stillness. Maybe even a form of emptiness, because it suggests one is no longer reaching and striving for more, but instead has come to rest in a place of peace.

And so... when my husband and I decided last minute to decorate the house and surprise our daughter with the gifts from the two of us and my parents (prior to our actual celebration of the holidays later this week with his family), it was with this new attitude I approached our task.

What would be enough? What was the amount needed to reach our goal... that of surprise, thoughtfulness, spontaneity, care, and the spirit and intention of the holiday?

Once we finished, my husband joked about our "Charlie Brown" tree and lamented the jerry-rigged and hastily assembled decorations... but I found great beauty in our efforts. They aligned nicely with the goals we've worked so hard to make a more permanent aspect of our lives: simplicity, necessity, mindful intention.

Reassurance was in our daughter's reaction the next morning, who had more than enough to feel special and loved as she gleefully celebrated an impromptu Christmas morning.

May you find satisfaction and peace in all you have. May you fairly assess your - and others' - efforts, particularly when they are guided by love.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Love


"Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive." ~ H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama

Today I've been thinking about love. It's become somewhat banal and even corny to say we all seek love, or that love makes the world a better place... more inhabitable and more meaningful. But this morning I was struck by how integral our sense of love, our capacity to love, and the meaning we make of love is to the way we experience our lives, others, and our selves.

The holidays can be a time of great stress and worry. I feel like I see more sadness around the holidays: head-down, inner-thinking turmoil; fretful and angry interactions. Certainly there is kindness too, but the holidays and our inherent attachments, expectations, and fantasies surrounding them become a time of heightened emotions - some good... some not so good.

This morning I realized many of the sadnesses I have witnessed in the last few weeks seem to stem from an issue surrounding love. And not necessarily romantic love - that's a whole other system of desires, fears, and truths. I mean instead, love that translates to acceptance, kinship, connection, belonging.

Those things, I believe, are some of what we yearn for most strongly - desire most deeply. I think this connects to Adler's emphasis of inferiority and superiority, which is ultimately an experience of "out" versus "in" - "belonging" versus "not belonging." We seek an identity straddling independent strength and interdependent interconnection. And our experience of them shapes our perception of everything around us. It impacts the narrative we weave and our concept of ourselves and our place within our multiple contexts (check out Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Systems Theory).

In a moment of clarity this morning, I realized I struggle with accepting and truly reveling in the love others show me. I struggle to consistently and freely show my love to others. And I really struggle to love myself.


This colors my perception of life. It impacts the narrative I write, the memories I collect, the thoughts I think, the actions I take, and the meaning I make of myself, my purpose, and my relationships.

Today I feel deeply loved. And I am immensely grateful. I am determined to open myself up to it, smile and glow in it, and then pass it on as best I can to everyone else.

May you feel a deep sense of love today - for yourself and others. May you remember how incredibly special and valuable you are.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sleep


Our daughter has a sleep cycle wherein her rising time in the morning vacillates between early and ridiculously early. The "good" sleep days generally last between 2 and 4 weeks long; and then the "bad" sleep cycle returns, often lasting 6 weeks to several months.

Lately, we are in a bad cycle. She rises at 4am, typically waking me up (or my husband if it's the weekend and I am sleeping in after the show) every 20 minutes.

We have contemplated systems of change... discussed ideas for delaying interruption of our sleep, deterring her from getting up and turning on the TV so soon, lengthening her sleeping hours somehow. As of yet - to no avail.

The aftermath of the current sleep cycle has been particularly evident and difficult to ignore today, as it has produced a sort of vertigo. My brain is sluggish, my body heavy and thick, and my head has been spinning as if I drank heavily last night. I sway while standing - feel the weight of my head rolling slightly as if pulled by some centrifugal force beyond the length of my shoulders.

Today I will nap. Despite the number of things requiring attention, the intentions I had for my afternoon, and the persistent nagging of my inner critic (who stridently decries such laziness and insists I do something more productive with my time).

I don't always take such good care of myself. I push too hard, challenge my limits, ignore red flags, and often end up in a place of oversensitivity, emotional flatulence, and damaging stress. When I choose this path, not only do I hurt myself, but I end up hurting those around me as well.

So... today, I will try taking care of my needs. Remove my attachment to the shoulds and oughts, let go the disappointment over what did not happen, and slip (deliciously, thankfully, restfully) into sleep.

And although a nap may not be possible for you in this moment, I invite you to check in with yourself and where you are today... and see if a little self-care might be necessary in some form.

May you remain awake to the truth of your being. May you allow yourself rest and care when you most require them.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Social Justice


"Meditation is not to escape from society, but to come back to ourselves and see what is going on. Once there is seeing, there must be acting. With mindfulness, we know what to do and what not to do to help." ~Thich Nhat Hanh

I never intended to address political issues in this blog. I'm not yet sure how my spiritual pursuit and personhood intersect with political action and social beliefs; however, I do seem to be drawn to philosophies and routes wherein some form of political discourse and social action are embraced as means to social justice.

In thinking about our current political quandaries and the several things causing upset today, I am struck by the inherent dishonesty, or at least inauthenticity, of some of the major decisions being made by those in power, which will eventually and inevitably impact the lives of so many who do not hold power.

When you add in issues of privilege and the very real existence of social, economic, and political inequality, the issues being discussed ad infinitum take on an entirely different tone. They are thrown into the arena of social justice, human rights, and the existence or nonexistence of interpersonal responsibility to one another: What is just? What is inalienable? What is moral?

Power and privilege, and their inherent effect on social constructs, economic opportunities and systems of reward, and the availability of genuine resources seem (to me) to be rather undeniable. Yet, every time I get into a major political argument, the belief of the existence of power and privilege seem to be at the heart of the issue. You see it, or you don't; you believe it exists, or you don't. And your worldview - and ability to shift your focus to someone else's set of circumstances - is tied to that belief.

In the context of the healthcare debate, ongoing financial overhaul, and decisions regarding foreign policy... I feel like I've seen a lot of hypocrisy and manipulation lately. And, being one of the many people who will soon enough be effected in very tangible, economic, and emotional ways in the aftermath of all the decision-making... it's somewhat disheartening and frustrating to think the absence of truth will influence my fate.

Too emotional, I know. Which is why I try to stay away from this kind of discourse. But I struggle in the context of an evolving Zen practice and Buddhist mindset to find a place of balance between outrage and action; peace and resolve; despair and perseverance.

What is our obligation to one another in seeing no one suffers needlessly? What promise must we make to not only those we love and care for intimately, but those in our ever-expanding contexts? Does my responsibility to right action end with me, my family, my friends, my city, my country...?

I am beginning to realize if I choose to commit myself to Buddhism not only as a form of study but a way of life (and this could be said of a full and honest commitment to nearly any religious or spiritual path), I am making a promise to everyone.

You. Your mom. Your kid. Your friend. Your co-workers. Your leaders. Your extended family. Your mechanic. Your 5th grade math teacher. Everyone in your past, everyone in your future. Everyone.

That feels big today. I feel sad today. Tired. Defeated. And though I've written my senators and signed petitions and shared information in an effort to stay active - to fight for things I believe in because I trust they benefit everyone - it still feels like standing on shore with a bucket in the wake of a tsunami.

May you honor your truth today and commit to right action.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Awareness


I checked the calendar today and realized I have been sitting regularly for about six weeks now, which is really not that long. And yet, it feels like I've been at it for a long time when I consider its impact within my life. The process of entering a meditative state feels easier and seems to have gotten a bit faster, and I typically look forward to my daily practice with happiness and sometimes even excitement.

A while back, I wrote about some of the changes that often come with regular meditative practice. It's been very interesting to note some of those same shifts in myself, as well as ways in which a commitment to regular practice has increased my awareness and mindfulness in multiple areas of my life.

You see, I began practice in search of a panacea; something to settle my soul, ease my heart, answer all questions, and finally ground me in a profound sense of knowing. And, of course, it's not really like that at all.

My experience thus far has not been such that all unhappiness, uncertainty, insecurity, or bad habits have magically and immediately been erased—replaced with calm, peaceful, enlightened perception through which I may encounter the world and never be hurt, hurtful, or lost.

Silly to think there would be no work involved. Instead, my suspicions have been raised. Ah ha... I think. This is not THE ANSWER I was seeking. At least, not in the immediate sense.

And yet, it is an answer of sorts because it helps me define my questions and note areas of concern, disconnect, or damage much more quickly and honestly. The work and commitment seems to be as much an aspect of the practice and all that comes with it as what I had hoped would be my automatic and fruitful reward. Peacefulness. Awareness. Acceptance. Happiness.

One of the greatest changes I have noticed thus far has been increased awareness. This often translates to being less able to ignore certain things and more cognizant of the impact my thinking/speaking/doing have upon myself and others.

In other words, it's harder to bullshit myself. It's harder to run away from things in an effort to pretend they do not exist. It's harder to fake it. Harder to stay in one spot or be stuck. Harder to give up, not try, or half-ass it.

It's as if all the work I need to do to reach those longed-for emotional states and places of contentment got kicked up to a level of obviousness I simply cannot laugh off. And, wonderfully, at the same time, it's been coupled with increased reserves of patience, acceptance, and the ability to reset... which seem to be necessary for growth.

So... I am at this interesting point that reminds me of those months preceding an eventual decision to stop smoking. Have you been there? You still reach for the cigarettes, still crave them with a palpable ache, but when you light up and begin to suck it all in, it feels hollow. Maybe even distasteful. You feel sick. It stinks. Your body doesn't respond the way it used to. Something is missing. And there is this increasingly powerful nagging thought in the back of your mind, stomping its way expectantly to the forefront, that maybe you don't really enjoy it anymore. Maybe it's time to quit.

(Relationships can feel this way too; particularly those that are not "good" for you.)

This awareness - this mindfulness - seems to accompany active practice and becomes similarly demanding. Lately, these are my realizations requiring action because they are increasingly impossible to ignore:

  • I don't feel well when I yell or lose my temper.
  • I don't feel well when I eat red meat. Possibly all meat.
  • I don't feel well when I drink or do drugs.
  • I don't feel well when I speak ill of another person or say hurtful things; this is especially true if I have said things in the person's absence.
  • I feel a persistent emotional need to be acknowledged, and then feel embarrassed or shy or ego-heavy when I do get noticed.
  • Getting hurt, physically or emotionally, does not really last very long. The actual hurt is often sharp, but brief - like a bee sting. Yet, I seem to have some form of influence over how long the feeling of being hurt persists.
  • There is very little, if anything, so important from my past that it must be carried with me into the present. This is particularly true of regret, guilt, injuries, or harm.
  • I am not perfect. I will never be perfect. But a part of me still wishes to be. This is not helpful.
  • Patience and acceptance seem to assist in all situations. Every single one. Being something other than patient or accepting seems to produce some form of pain: sadness, anger, frustration, loneliness.
  • I smile more when my mind is quiet.

I don't know what path you walk, or where this finds you today, but I hope you find connection, assistance, or reassurance somewhere so that you may keep going, buoyed by an alert awareness of your multiplicity and capacity for change.

May your awareness of self be a source of light and hope. May you remain mindful of others in all you do.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Perspective


So... my car was towed this weekend. I was doing the first week of anniversary shows for Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind and when I tried to start my car to head home, it wouldn't start. I caught up with some ensemble members and Tim offered to help jump the car.

And then we realized I had locked my keys in. So... 30 minutes up to Evanston to get my husband's keys... but he was fast asleep (which was totally fair since it was about 2:30am at this point). So... I knocked on the front windows while Tim banged on the bedroom windows and we finally got Andy up. Poor guy. Bleary-eyed, totally confused, and still sleepy he handed over his keys, gave me lots of kisses... and I went back to the theatre to get the car.

The jump did not work, and since it was 3am at this point, Tim offered to call 311 to see if the car was in a tow zone. We told them where it was. They said it would only be towed if there was 2 or more inches of snow (which there was not). So... I decided to leave it there and deal with it in the morning.

Tim drove all the way back to Evanston one more time, and I got in bed next to my still-awake husband around 3:30am. Our daughter woke up at 4am, and came in each half hour. Andy got up at 6am, and I slept until 8am. We headed out for breakfast and then took the train down to Andersonville to get the car.

Which was gone. Gone gone gone. I tracked it down, went to the impound lot, and paid the $160 to get it out. Then called AAA to have it towed. Then waited for 4 hours; yes... 4 hours. Ari missed her nap. Then she missed lunch. Then it was closing in on dinner time. Finally, someone from AAA showed up and said they couldn't come in to get the car. We had to have someone else tow it to the gate.

We found someone who would tow it out, but the AAA guy left and said he would come back in half an hour... maybe. Thankfully, the private towing guy agreed to drive us all the way to the service station we had found in Evanston for $100 (it's $60 just to get it to the gate of the lot, so this seemed like a good deal).

We got home around 6pm, I ate, slept a bit, and then went back to the theatre, this time catching a ride with Greg from the el. Meanwhile, I looked at the ticket we also were given on top of the towing expense and saw it was another $60. Lovely.

So... the car was ready Sunday afternoon. We picked it up. $147. And all three of us spent the day in a sort of daze. Andy and I shellshocked by the expense of my decision not to call AAA in those wee hours of Sunday morning BEFORE the car was towed... Ari still talking about the "mean" people who took our car away and the "stinky place" we spent our whole Saturday.

My husband asked this morning if I was going to blog about this today. And I really hadn't intended to. He was right in suggesting it was an incredible test of spiritual reserve and opportunity for growth (kind of a practice in action thing). And it really did shake all three of us up. Ari is still talking about it and acting it out in play. I keep getting hit by random waves of panic and have a pretty strong twinge of anxiety every time I start the car.

But mostly, I felt okay about it. I mean... I have been very mad at myself for not calling that night instead of leaving the car behind. Very mad at the woman who said I would not be towed. And very, very mad at the city for not posting adequate signage and for creating a system wherein you cannot contest what has happened without endangering yourself financially—which means anyone who gets towed ultimately has to end up paying. Because no one can afford to take the risk of keeping the car in the lot while they wait for the hearing to happen and find out if the charges will be dropped.

So. The unfairness is upsetting. The inherent possibility and almost-definite existence of corruption within the system angers and saddens me. But I was mostly able to let go of even that. I pretty much forgave myself all my crying during our ordeal on Saturday. Was grateful I kept my cool the whole time and did not lose my temper. Was extremely grateful to Tim and Greg for their help.

It is what it is. It is done.

And then I heard a story on NPR this morning about a woman who crossed from Egypt into Israel with her children, seeking asylum. That's when I decided I would blog about this. Because her story, and of other refugees like her, put all the little emotional loose ends I might have been feeling to rest as soon as I heard it.

I encourage you to listen to it when you have time.

My car being towed was such a small thing. As my husband noted on the day we waited so long to get our car: the only thing it was costing us in the end was money and time. Both of which, at this time in our lives, we were able to spare—a significant thing to note.

We were all safe. We all stayed warm. My friends helped me out, they made me smile and laugh, and we are with vehicle again. Something that, in this economy especially, is a blessing all by itself.

It took me a very long time - very long - to stop comparing my suffering to that of other people. And sometimes, I still find I get wrapped up in my private, inner emotional tailspins and have to remind myself to stop. Mindfully cease the litany of sorrow and shift instead to seeing with eyes aware of the many good things I call my own... to look around and notice so many other people much more in need of compassion and empathy than I.

I actually feel very lucky today. And so much more aware of how small this event was in the grand scheme of things. My energies are much better spent focusing on the suffering of others, the injustices of the world, and opportunities for action and compassion and giving back.

Listen to that story.
Consider your blessings.
And don't leave your car overnight on the corner of Ashland and Foster - no matter how much snow is on the ground.

May you see the positives in your life today. May you reach out to help someone in whatever way you can.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Pretty


My daughter has an interesting idea of pretty. She adorns the house with toys, jewelry, scarves... even the bright green plastic tweezers from her Animal Hospital kit. I find little items strewn along the windowsill, draped from doorknobs and closet doors, and sprinkled across the floor.

Genuinely giggle-inducing is the fact that these actions are accompanied by a sort of hopping, skip-like, bouncy dance set to a repetitive chant of "Christmas is coming!" Bright eyes, big smile, and an air of importance and urgency. She must get the house ready, after all.

I have not decorated this year. Our apartment is tiny and we are out of town very soon, and so we opted not to do a Christmas tree or to unpack the "holiday" boxes currently stuffed into our tiny storage locker in the shared garage. I say "we" meaning me and my husband; clearly, our daughter has other intentions.

What interests me most is seeing how she connects the season with the act of adornment - as if festooning the house with some form of celebratory chachki ensures Santa will come and merriment ensue. "Isn't it pretty?" she asks, beaming because she already has the answer firm in her mind. Yes. It's beautiful!

Today I began thinking about how "pretty" will change as she gets older. She will begin to decorate herself, rather than the house. Adorn her skin with makeup, her ears with jewelry... carefully consider the clothes she wears, the hairstyle she sports.

Just as her concept of "Christmas pretty" and its attendant display across the house was shaped, in large part, by my decorating sensibilities and that of her relatives... so too will her concept of her own prettiness and what it means to be beautiful be shaped by all manner of outside influences. Movies, television, magazines, friends, significant others, and the multiple contexts within which she will travel: school, extracurriculars, work, etc.

And so it was in all this contemplation of my daughter I smacked right into my own concept of beauty and all my attachments to pretty. I think nearly all of us struggle with some form of insecurity about our physical appearance. We all yearn to be pretty. Desirable. Collectively labeled and culturally agreed-upon as beautiful.

I think my daughter is beautiful. Cute and magnetic; charming and powerful. She knocks my socks off daily, and I marvel at the way her insides transform her outsides so that she is lovely - through and through.

I'm not sure she'll be a conventional beauty though. I think her prettiness will be unique, distinct, unusual. And probably something only noticed by some people - not universally agreed upon or heralded the way some folks may be.

And that's ok with me. It took me a long time to accept that about myself, but I finally got to it. No matter the size of my body, the shape of my hair, the smoothness or lack thereof in my skin. I am who I am. Most days now, I can honestly accept that - some days I even wholeheartedly embrace it. (And in the last year or so I have realized the great secret of life is: Everyone is beautiful. Truly.)

But as I watch my daughter and ponder the future, I mentally cross my fingers and hope like mad she will figure all of it out sooner than I. It would save her a lot of heartache. Head off a lot of bad decisions, misguided loyalties, and deeply hurt feelings. And it would fill my heart with joy to have her come to me, adorned with all manner of outward decoration, and ask, "Don't I look pretty?" "Yes," I will say happily. "You are beautiful."

May you feel attractive today - inside and out. May the beauty of others surprise and delight you.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Chaos


Today I received a great lesson from one of my friends. I don't think she realizes she was being a teacher, nor do I think her actions were linked to any urge to impart wisdom, spur an epiphany, or suggest alteration was needed.

But lately I've noticed opportunities arise, or are given/created daily that offer a chance for reflection and - when I'm paying attention and remain open to the lesson - help me learn a little something about my thinking/feeling/deciding/attaching that might lead to positive change.

My friend invited me over so our kids could play together and we could visit. I was feeling down and worried I would not be good company. I thought about saying "no" even though I knew my daughter would desperately want to go so she could see her best friend.

I do this sometimes - isolate myself when I hit a rough spot or feel generally negative about things... figuring it best not to spread my lack of cheer all over everyone else. Of course, the paradoxical truth of things is those times are often when I need intimacy and connection the most. And so, by shutting myself off from the outside world, I'm actually doing the exact opposite of what would be most helpful.

Aware of this pattern and committed to being more mindful about my self-defeating choices, I said "yes," bundled us both up to stave off the cold for the 20 foot walk to their building, and away we went.

And we had a great time. It was wonderful to talk to someone and share some of my frustrations, to check in with another parent about the crazy phases kids go through and whether or not concern is warranted, and to hear another woman express so many things I too have combated: lack of sleep and the inevitable resulting impatience, worry over doctor visits and the health of our kids, frustration about needles and blood draws that do more harm than good, and the habit of not inviting people over because we worry our home is not ready for visitors.

Not ready, for me at least, translates into a number of things. It's like coded language for a tangle of emotions knotted up with elements of my self-worth and sense of value as a woman, wife, mother, etc. Not ready means chaotic, messy, cluttered, unfinished. It means dust bunnies in the corners, pee under the toilet seat, boxes stacked against furniture, and items everywhere.

Not ready means I haven't cleaned enough, haven't made my daughter pick up her toys or room enough, haven't managed to tackle the unending list of things-to-do... and so our house is in a state of undeniable chaos: unkempt, disheveled, and harried.

The lesson today, however, came when my friend said she experiences the exact same worries, with the exact same attachments and self-admonishments, and today decided to just say "so what" and have us over anyway. Because our being there was more important than all the fretting and self-recrimination potentially accompanying our visit.

And I realized... of course! There is no ready. There is no done. Our house carries with it an element of chaos - because it is lived in, because we are not perfect nor do we strive to be (at least not in a Homes & Garden/Family Circle kind of way), and it has nothing to do with my worth, value, or success as a mother, wife, woman, or human being.

That's what I've decided anyway. Maybe someday I'll decide I'm wrong, but today I think maybe those things are determined by the safety and love my child feels, the level of commitment I choose to make to my family, and the amount of compassion I am able to maintain in all my actions - be they at home or elsewhere.

Today I strive to embrace the chaos... maybe even love it a little. Because it's here to stay, and fighting it will only bring disappointment and sadness. Instead, I want to open my home and share that chaos with everyone I love. The richness they bring to my life is much more important than my self-imposed prison of imagined expectations and baseless shortcomings.

May you embrace your chaos and find peace within the storm. May you free yourself from confinement of your own making.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Winter


One of the things I enjoy most about living in Illinois is the change of seasons. Four distinct intervals repeating reliably to create a sense of stability, natural rhythm, and satisfying sway through each three-month cycle.

When I was younger, I remember loving the snow. I reveled in my snow pants, relished each day off from school. I built ice forts and made snowmen... stamped the yard with snow angel patterns and happily ran inside after what felt like hours of play to shed my wet and frigid outerwear. Skin bright pink. Eyes watering. Glasses fogging like crazy.

Hot chocolate. Fires in the fireplace. Warm blankets and the quiet, peaceful hush of a late night snowfall, blanketing the world with a glittering gown. I remember icicled trees lining the roads like glass sculptures and the bright, beautiful clarity of a winter sky way out in the country... stars strewn across the midnight blue like glass beads. The moon so bright the ground was painted with shadows.

Now that I am older, my relationship with winter has changed. Somewhere in my adulthood, the appreciation for nature, love of the season, and joy of play was replaced with grumpy resentment, wind-induced headaches, and hunched-up, frustrated seething amidst shovel/brushing/scraping.

One of the reasons my husband and I were so eager to leave Chicago four years ago was because of the winters. This also was one of the reasons we were so reluctant to return. And yet we came... warily waiting for the first snowfall, the first freezing day, the first taste of icy, blustery cold. Could we do it again?

And so, here we are. Dipping down to zero tonight, wind chills in the negatives, and the world around us covered in white - with chunks of grey and brown. Sludgy, wet, and cold. Colder than I remembered.

But for some reason, I am really enjoying it so far. The winter weather so familiar from my childhood has set off waves of nostalgia carrying forth memories long outdone by my negative mindset and deadlocked clench against the cold.

Lately I am filled with gratitude, warmth, and happiness when hit by these seasonally induced recollections. It has reframed my perspective and allowed a new relationship to form.

I still sometimes notice I am tightened up and gritting my teeth when walking against the wind. My shoulders reach for my ears and my hands clasp tight across my stomach as if I could prevent all my body heat from leaving if I just squeeze hard enough.

But I am also more thankful for the season. The clear demarcation of passing time, the earth's rotation, and my connection to the cycle of life all around. And, even more importantly perhaps, I remember all things pass... remind myself it will change soon enough. My appreciation grows. My frustration ebbs. And I am left to hold hands with winter - creating a new relationship with a beginner's mind.

May you take comfort in the season that surrounds you. May you see with fresh eyes and appreciate with a fresh heart each new moment.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Forgiveness


Forgiveness is a funny word. One that starts sounding strange and made-up when you say it often enough... rolling around in the mouth like a coin with a tinny, sharp taste.

I looked it up - on a lark - which led me to look up forgive instead. (Dictionaries should not be allowed to define a word using a variation of said word in the definition!) Of the several definitions, this is the one I liked best:

4. to cease to feel resentment against

Ah. I know resentment. I spend a lot of time in that feeling state... and it's something I've struggled to become increasingly aware of so I may decrease the number of times I end up in that cul-du-sac of an emotion.

And so, when I think of it this way - the relinquishing of resentment - it seems like a form of letting go. Releasing an attachment to the past in order to make clear-headed and open-hearted decisions about the present. After all, if someone has hurt you in the past and still continues to do so... you may be able to forgive them, but you probably want to let go in other ways as well.

I think it takes me a long time to forgive. Perhaps a little too long. I think it goes back to the difficulty of really letting go and allowing myself to be empty... which requires freedom from the past and the future.

The more I attempt to stay in the now, the greater my awareness of the incredible amount of time I spend somewhere else throughout my day. Imagining conversations with people who are not present. Re-living events or circumstances so I may re-experience certain emotions or write new endings in order to manufacture an emotional response absent in the initial encounter. Thinking about dinner, or what to do once Ari is in bed, or the weekend, or my career five years from now, or a trillion what-ifs that careen off in infinite directions - spiraling outward like a big, crazy, spider web. And there I am, caught right in the middle of it all, stuck without even realizing it.

I sometimes wonder if being more present in my life would allow a greater capacity to forgive. Would it really make all the small stuff smaller? Would more things roll off and recede faster and more easily? Would I be more patient? Less angry? More calm? Less anxious?

The true test of forgiveness for me, however, is not in forgiving others. I get to it eventually - sometimes after a few minutes, sometimes a few days, sometimes several years. But I do get there. I find a place of compassion and emptiness (a good kind of emptiness) wherein there is no past, and no future... just now. And that's a great place to be.

Where I get stuck, again and again, is in forgiving myself. This has become especially true now that I am a parent. My child has an incredible capacity for forgiveness. I see her wake up each day with a clean slate, holding onto to none of the mistakes of the previous day. Happy, open, trusting, and brave - she leaps into each new morning with exuberance. And each night, she kisses with commitment and care and deep sincerity... already letting go and looking into my eyes in the now.

I aspire to be as forgiving as she. I yearn to emulate her easy intimacy, trusting heart, and endless ability to let go and move on. It's truly amazing.

The last few days, I have been a mommy I do not want to be. Quick to lose patience, nit-picking and negative, always ready with a direction, correction, or strong suggestion... all of which nearly always sound like some form of reproach or distinct form of dislike.

And in the aftermath of this behavior, I feel guilty; I feel sad; I feel ashamed; I feel tired. I feel deeply disappointed with myself and so confused as to why I can reach a state of peace so easily in some areas of my life and yet - particularly in this one - continuously come to a grinding halt with my daughter: clenched up, unhappy, frustrated, and less than kind.

I know I am stuck... and I know I must forgive myself and let go in order to move. But the cyclical nature of self-recrimination and inner disappointment sometimes creates a little vortex within which I seem to start drowning all over again.

But I am committed to changing it... to seeing it through to a new place that feels so different, this place will seem distant.

One of my favorite quotes, which found me a few months ago, is based on a Japanese Proverb:

Fall seven times. Stand up eight.

And so... I will sit. I will be mindful of my actions in the moment. I will reset... allow myself a clean slate. And I will fully commit to each new moment, because each one offers a new chance to become exactly who I wish to be (for myself, for my husband, for my daughter, for my family, for my friends...).

May you reach a place of emptiness with a hurt you have been holding. May you let go of your past mistakes and walk a new path within the present.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Loss


I read a beautiful quote this morning on the blog of a local Zen center down the street. I'm still trying to figure out where to practice, whether to practice, etc. and so I was checking them out and stumbled upon a new entry by their Sensei.

The quote was attributed to Yasutani Roshi, who said:

The fundamental problem for all humanity is that you believe that you are there and I am here.

Although the writer (the center's Sensei) was using this quote to illustrate a point about right action and economic compensation, it led me to think about something I've been mulling over ever since writing my post Death.

I was worried in the aftermath of posting, readers might find it cavalier or insensitive to those who have lost loved ones very close to them. I thought maybe my discussion about moving away from fear of my mortality might inadvertently suggest I fear death in no form... which is not actually true.

While I may be able to accept my death (my entirely hypothetical death - perhaps it would be different were it more near), I greatly fear the loss of my loved ones in death. Not only do I struggle with the thought of leaving them behind, but also with the prospect of losing those closest to me before I am ready to let them go.

Because we are never ready to let them go, are we? The Buddha is said to have communicated:

We must be diligent today.
To wait until tomorrow is too late.

Death comes unexpectedly.


The lesson he wished to convey through these words - it is thought - was the importance of dwelling in the now... being fully present in the current moment, rather than squandering the preciousness of life by remaining in the past or keeping one's mind on the future.

When I read it, the final line rang out to me like a small, clear bell: Death comes unexpectedly.

And so it does. Whether we have prepared for it or not. Whether we were given timelines, knew about the course of the sickness involved, or saw it inevitably looming ahead as age and frailty calmly and ceaselessly took their toll.

When I struggle with Buddhism, this is where I get stuck. The big, unyielding, and undeniably painful aspects of life from which no one is immune. How do I find inner peace when someone I love has died? How do I maintain calm, choose to be happy, or eliminate suffering when I am first-hand to the pain and suffering of someone I love? How do I stave off the fear that the people I value most will be lost... that I might be left to live without them?

My guess... it is as much a commitment and process as anything else in Zen or in life. Your grief is. Your pain is. Your fear is. And when it is not, it is not.

It took a long time for the chest-clenching sadness of my grandmother's death to subside. Several years. And looking back, I do wonder if perhaps I held onto it a bit longer than I truly needed to. I wonder if I carried it with me (that sadness and lonely longing linked to outrage and despair over her ending) longer than necessary because it was a way to stay connected to her. A way to hold on without letting go.

I find letting go very difficult. In many aspects of life. And so lately, I have started to turn my awareness to the times I am holding on. I try to ask myself: Does this help me or anyone else? Is this making my life richer, happier, or more fulfilled? Is this necessary for my growth or the benefit of another person?

And I'm sure you can guess the usual (quiet) response to those questions. No.

To circle back to the initial quote I mentioned... Yasutani Roshi points out that our thinking tends to separate self from other. We see ourselves and those around us as distinct and disconnected, which can allow for all number of cruelties should we fail to be mindful of our actions.

In truth, we are all connected. By our common humanity, by our shared biology and planetary ancestry, and by the infinitesimal atoms, strings, and hums through which our world is constructed.

On some level, there is no other. And so the reality of death is, we lose a part of ourselves. The me that is created in the combined presence of myself with my grandmother is no longer. That piece of me is gone and will never again be experienced.

The memories aren't gone; the lessons and gifts and heredity and jokes and unconsciously echoed aspects of her personality are all still with me. But the here-and-now experience of being with her... that is what I have lost. That is what I mourn, I believe, when I am in mourning.

And that is what I fear, I think, when I think of the loss that will inevitably reach other areas of my life.

May those grieving find peace with their loss over time. May we always remember to be present with all that is here, now.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Commitment


One of the biggest life lessons my husband and I both seem to face involves commitment. Paradoxically enough, committing to each other seems to be the one area in which we are able to commit most successfully!

Instead, we struggle with commitment in many other forms: work, friendships, parenting, exercise, healthy eating, art-making, inhabiting our home...

I'm not entirely sure why this is or from where it stems. We have separate histories with long stretches of restlessness and ennui - escapist tendencies and neurotic, emotional longing coupled with sometimes paralyzing self-doubt and continual existential questioning.

The good news: we seem to be moving in a positive direction. We each seem to be finding our way through our individual morass of wishy-washy, noncomittal leanings - and we work well as a team to mindfully notice and work to undo the collective apathy or downright stubborn opposition that can sometimes result in our combined indifference and/or doubt.

This issue of commitment has become especially highlighted this past week via two paths: 1) my role as a novice and my noncommital pursuit of Buddhist study and regular daily meditation practice, and 2) my tumultuous attempts to be an ideal parent (and yes - I am aware of the inherent contradiction and unhealthy attachment present in such terminology).

My little ah ha moment this week came when I connected my former practice of yoga (again, rather sporadic and casual) to both of these processes. You see... one thing I both loved and hated about yoga was the fact that there is no end point. No final destination whereupon you can deem your work successfully concluded or perfectly executed and happily check it off your list with a happy coo of accomplishment.

No... yoga is all about imperfection. The process of yoga - the commitment involved - is in recognizing you will never get it just right, but rather must wholeheartedly accept the task of pushing yourself to forever move infinitely closer to a perfect pose. Like those mathematical equations where the line moves toward the axis in incremental amounts, but will never actually intersect. Infinite striving toward an unreachable goal.

Such is the way of mindful practice, I am beginning to think. There is no right, or perfect, or done in meditation or Zen study. I may reach toward enlightenment with all my being and purpose - I may even reach it... touching briefly upon awareness like a dragonfly alighting upon a stone. But I will not stay there. I will not exist within that simple yet complex balance forever.

It's as if it just dawned on me that mistakes and failure are as much a part of life and authentic living as triumphs and success. I will not be a perfect parent. I will make errors of judgment; I will lose my temper and yell too loud; I will forget to be consistent; I will try too hard or not hard enough; I will forget myself and my love and my respect for the gift that is my child. I will forget she is a gift.

But perhaps the necessity in such a situation is committing to the journey rather than the destination. Accepting and embracing the futility and transience of "ideal," while mindfully and passionately committing to the pursuit of such an ending.

After all, perfection, happiness, and enlightenment are attainable. I think most of us experience these things more than we think... but because they are fleeting and impermanent we decide they must have been false, or they do not count because they did not last.

There is a beautiful teaching I recently read that essentially says: On a cloudy day, you may not see the sun. You may feel enveloped by the grey and gloomy sky and forget the warmth and light of a bright, clear day. But once the clouds clear, the sun is there. It has always been there... has always been shining - whether it was part of your awareness or not.

The perfection (the Buddha nature) of you is like that. It's always there. Sometimes we feel it, sometimes we do not. Sometimes we express it, and sometimes we fail miserably to be authentic, compassionate, and courageous. But it is always there. Always shining.

This week I realized I must commit to myself - to my possibility of an ideal me... my Buddha nature realized and lived: my ability to parent wisely and lovingly; my compassion as a wife, friend, relative, or stranger; my work and my art and my everything in between. But not as a goal... not in reaching a finish line or declaring myself done.

I must commit to the journey. The imperfect, rocky, mistake-laden journey with bright sunny days of hope and laughter... and dark, lonely times of fear and sadness. And one day, when I really understand this form of commitment, I will no longer attach my failures to my ability, thereby eliminating guilt, shame, and the desire to give up.

Instead, I will re-commit with an open heart and keep a form of faith, because I will understand the promise I make to myself to walk an endless path is the key to the truest expression of success.

May you commit to all stages of your journey. May your success lie in your courage to persist.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Suffering


Suffering is a word laden with personal meanings, semantic preferences, and emotional connection. Everyone has their own idea - their own understanding - of the term. And everyone could tell you a personal story or share an event in their lives they might label as suffering.

The Buddhist discussion of suffering often emphasizes that all beings suffer. Suffering is an inherent and undeniable aspect of living and being human. Not because we are meant to suffer, or deserve to suffer, or even because it's impossible not to suffer. Rather, because the source of suffering is something with which we all must grapple - because we are human.

What is the source? Attachment.

Many Buddhists from many traditions define suffering as attachment. Attachment to form. Attachment to word. Attachment to what we thought would be, should be, will be - but isn't.

I've seen it defined as desire, craving, expectation. And all those things are accurate and yet somehow not quite accurate and capturing all that may be felt/known/understood. I suppose it's unavoidable, because language is an imperfect form of communication for many things. But in the process of seeking to better know suffering, I still yearn to have a greater grasp on the concept of attachment.

Lately, I see it most strongly in myself as an attempt to live life along an imagined, anticipated, or deeply wanted path - rather than the one that actually exists. This leads to pessimistic emotional states and often-lengthy patterns of negative thoughts when what I wish to be and what is do not align.

Sleep, food, work, play, down time, motherhood, housework, relationships, my body... all offer an opportunity to notice how, where, and why I cling to certain things - and the ways that leads to suffering.

I experience suffering in many forms. Loneliness. Despair. Restlessness. Anger. Impatience. Guilt. Negativity. Oddly enough, this type of suffering so often springs from the silliest and most trivial of things. Seeing no one has responded to something I've posted on Facebook. Noticing all the boxes and jetsom still sitting in our apartment while continuing to leave them untouched. Watching TV instead of reading a book, writing, or working. A night of interrupted sleep after deciding I need 8 hours to feel rested. Music that is too loud in the restaurant. Imagined conversations played out in cyclical detail in my head.

This type of suffering - the self-inflicted, ego-driven, little "i" suffering - is well within my control and directly related to my emotional and cognitive attachments. I so often define myself and my experience though the minute details of my life... particularly the ones that are emotionally charged or involve much thinking. And yet, those aspects of self are but tiny sections of the whole me.

I sometimes wonder, if I allowed myself to experience more of the whole me - unfiltered through attachment and even attachment to suffering - would I enjoy myself more?

Suffering is real. There is real suffering in the world. Plenty of it. One need only read the news or watch and listen to others to know there is great pain in the world. Legitimate and, at times, overwhelming.

What I have begun to glimpse just this week is how to start discerning my true suffering (true sadness, legitimate and authentic pain) from the suffering I have chosen for myself. It's the suffering to which I am attached - perhaps because it is familiar, or because it's been a part of my identity for so long I can no longer distinguish the boundaries. Maybe because it is easier to hurt sometimes than to let go. Strange, but honest.

Sometimes I find it easier to slip into hurting than to truly put in the effort and commitment required to release my attachments and allow myself to become empty. I find emptiness a bit scary. But it might also mean that what fills me next is a genuine response to life - and as life continually changes and moves... so does my knowing of me.

May you separate your true suffering from that which is chosen. May you remove unnecessary burdens from your heart.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Willpower


I really want a brownie. They sit, deliciously, on the kitchen counter. Waiting and sure like the most popular girls at the party - knowing full well their seductive perfection will eventually break even the most stalwart around them.

My husband will eat one. Heated and topped with tasty ice cream flecked with real vanilla beans. He has been planning it since dinner, which was a belated Thanksgiving meal. Bloaty and voluminous... roasted chicken, pan gravy, zucchini spinach casserole, stuffing, and rolls. Good, but all too easy to dally in a bit too long.

Food has always been an ambiguous element in my life. From an early age, I was overweight, and I spent a very long time trying to figure out how my body really wanted to eat. Coupled with that was a generationally and perhaps metaphysically (and/or environmentally) inherited tendency to connect food with emotion: comfort, ease, safety, calm... a response to depression, shame, anxiety, and fear.

It's better now; I am more aware of those inner voices and the patterned chatter of my "bad choices" mind. This does not mean I no longer overeat or choose to answer sadness with chocolate—but I do so now with increased awareness and mindfulness. Which makes it impossible to pretend it's out of my control.

This weekend, I purchased Clean Food: A Seasonal Guide to Eating Close to the Source with More Than 200 Recipes for a Healthy and Sustainable You by Terry Walters. I had read an article somewhere highlighting the season's best cookbooks, and this one grabbed me with its whole foods emphasis and sustainability ideals.

What I did not realize was the author also understands the emotional attachment we so often connect to eating... and the book begins with a very honest discussion of what one can do in the face of his or her more negative eating patterns.

Interestingly, one day before seeing the book in the store and deciding to purchase it, I had spent four hours at the temple for a Thanksgiving retreat. This entailed silence and mindful practice during eating, then stretching, and then three hours of meditation. No eye contact, no speaking, and no negative thoughts.

At first, I found it odd to be sitting at a table with several other people actively engaged in a similar spiritual pursuit without making eye contact, smiling, or speaking with anyone. It seemed rude and unnatural to me.

But as I ate my evening snack, I realized how rare it is that I truly spend time with my food. It was just me and my bowl of selected vittles, and the silence enabled me to really experience my food and the process of eating moment by moment. It was quite a gift, because in the buzz and whir of my regular day it's somewhat impractical to take such time to savor, notice, ingest, and altogether know my food.

So I carry the lesson forward, notice I am over-full, and ultimately decide to forgo the scintillating brownies with their sexy Dutch cocoa and naughty chocolate chips. Maybe this is willpower. Maybe it's mindfulness. No matter what, I know I'll feel better for it in the morning.

Maybe your downfall is food too. Maybe it's smoking, drinking, sex, drugs, shopping, lying, hiding, or hostility. When something becomes a form of running away - when it replaces an experience and becomes hollow and empty in the doing - it might be time to think about what place it has in your life, how it actually makes you feel when you engage in it, and whether it's worth continuing.

May you feel empowered to say no when you need to. May you stay awake to your self, and take care of you accordingly.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Death


My daughter displays a strong fascination with death. She asks questions about death and dying, notes that Simon (our dog) will one day die (as well as me and my husband), and speaks often of ghosts.

Our goal thus far has been to embrace her curiosity, answer her questions thoughtfully and honestly, and remain open to anything and everything that may come—all the while offering reassurance without being false or patronizing. (For example: "Yes, mommy and daddy will die one day, but hopefully not for a long, long time. You'll be much older and you might even have a family of your own.")

I'm not sure I have ever been scared of death, per se, but I do think my understanding of death and relationship to it have changed as I've gotten older. Perhaps because I have lost several significant people; perhaps because I have had a few close calls reminding me of the always-present truth of my own mortality.

I heard a story on NPR last week... part of their StoryCorps series (which I love). The interview featured two parents talking about their son's death at age 9. What makes the story unique is how the little boy knew he was going to die and the very careful way he prepared for his death - mindfully, courageously, and lovingly.

It made me think about my grandmother's death and the way she fought against her aging and eventually her dying with fear and fury. I sometimes wonder if my daughter is my grandmother reincarnated. There have been little breadcrumbs and strange coincidental clues... but ultimately, my imagined and hoped-for connection between the two speaks more to the process of my grief than a heartfelt conviction they are the same soul.

How nice, though, if she might somehow move forward - whether it be karmically or generationally - to feel less fearful of death. To see it more as a component of life. Sad, difficult, unasked for... but inevitable and therefore unnecessary to fight against.

I read a theory somewhere long ago suggesting families, and more specifically descendants along the same line in a family, undergo subtle physical changes linked to biologically-driven evolution and a strengthening of the genetic lineage of a particular group.

The author then went on to suggest a similar transformation takes place with regard to spiritual growth. Each generation inherits the lessons of the prior (blending the path of their parents, who connect back to their parents and so on) and moves forward to strengthen their spiritual core and successfully resolve issues passed along a metaphysical line of lineage and history.

I believe this to be true, having seen it in action in my own life and now watching it unfold in my daughter's. What are our lessons, then, as a family - or more specifically, as a line of women connected together and reaching back through generations? My sense, so far, is they include the following major themes:

Self-esteem,
intimacy,
vulnerability,
commitment,
anger,
anxiety, and
loneliness.

Not death, though. Which is some form of progress, I suppose.

May all stages of life feel natural to you. May you find acceptance for each new phase along the way.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Meditation


My class ends next week, and I am not sure what will happen afterward. I would like to think I'll continue to integrate meditation into my life on a daily basis... maybe even attend temple services or try something out closer to home.

Yet despite how easy it is to sit down in one spot and breathe - I mean, really, what could be simpler... sitting and breathing - meditation at times feels daunting and difficult. It's common to start beating oneself up for thinking too much, to feel like a "bad meditator," or to simply decide there is not enough time to fit it in.

I have done all three of these; the last, most commonly. And it's sort of silly (and embarrassing to admit) that I actually decide on some days I cannot find even five minutes to sit down, and breathe.

I have noticed some changes, however. I am able to stop thinking more often. To bring my thoughts back to the present more quickly when my mind starts to wander away. And to experience a form of happiness - simple, calm, anchored happiness - heretofore unknown to me.

There have been many studies on the affects of meditation: its benefits and potential uses with health issues, ways it can improve mental health and functioning, even how it can increase empathy and alter one's experience of others.

My husband recently told me meditation actually alters your brain chemistry. Apparently, the book he is currently reading describes how the left and right brain become more equally balanced and cohesively aligned through meditation.

In other words, our biological dual natures (the very real split of left and right brain, which translates into yin vs. yang, ego vs. id, little "i" vs. big "I," thinking vs. feeling, logical vs. chaotic, etc.) move toward equilibrium via meditation. So much so, in fact, that our brain chemistry and physical makeup become permanently altered by the practice of sitting.

Sort of incredible to think something so simple could have such profound ramifications—scientific and physical as well as spiritual or metaphysical. Interesting, too, to note how Buddhism, being nontheistic and more of a philosophy than a proscribed dogma, works within any context of faith, religious background, or spiritual leaning.

I am unsure, at this point, whether I will continue looking into Buddhism as a spiritual home. I miss the pluralistic and all-encompassing approach of the religious education program at the Unitarian Universalist fellowship we used to attend. I think it's important to be exposed to and aware of as many different faiths and ways of interpreting our human and higher selves as possible (including atheism and agnosticism).

But something about it definitely fits so far. And the process and commitment of mindfulness has been incredibly powerful - something I intend to carry forward with me.

May you experience at least five minutes of peacefulness today. May you remember to breathe and know you are here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Change


I recently posted some old high school pics on Facebook. Theatre shots from some of the shows we all did. It was a tightknit group, and it's really wonderful to see those faces and think back on what was such a formative and important time in my life.

Of course, things have changed considerably since then. For all of us, I would imagine. We refashioned our love of the arts and our relationship to creativity into our lives in myriad ways. We got bigger. We expanded our families. We moved.

I can't speak for everyone in the photo, of course, but the girl in all those pictures seems so far away and distant in relation to who I am now. Not foreign or completely unknown... just long past. I am a new person. My cells have regenerated, my personality has changed, my life has taken a great many turns and twists.

So it was I reflected back on memory last night and was struck by the way in which memory can sometimes clash with change - with the ways we change over time.

It happens all the time in families. Those ingrained dynamics and patterns settle in within minutes - we don them like a pair of comfortable shoes and old, tattered bathrobe perfect for knocking about the house. And yet, who in any family is exactly the same as they were the year before? Ten years ago? Twenty?

We hold onto those conceptions of each other, and sometimes they prevent us from seeing the person actually standing in front of us in the present moment. Similarly, we can do the same to ourselves... clinging to old notions of self and getting stuck in habits or modes of thinking more connected to a former time.

For me, this often leads to a series of roadblocks or obstacles I perceive in my anticipated path. I feel thwarted by life... "unfairly" set adrift as my mind defines infinite reasons to give up, move backward, or otherwise choose the easy path (i.e., the path of least resistance).

I forget my own changes - refusing to acknowledge the hard work, concerted effort, and mindful practice committed to and completed so far. And it is easy, at times, to disregard the differences forged successfully because there are still so many changes yet to be made.

What I need to remember, I've decided, is that change alters us in an intrinsic and undeniable way. We are new; always new. And whether we choose to return to our former selves or not, the option exists to live life under a new set of circumstances... to see with a new perspective separate from our prior filters in each unfolding instant.

That possibility - infinite and powerful - exists in each moment. It's sometimes ridiculously hard to seize upon such limitless potential, but it is there. And that should be at least some source of inspiration and comfort in times of stuck-ness and despair.

May you see yourself without a filter from the past or pressure-filled expectations of the future. May you always feel empowered to change.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Memory


After over three years in a counselor training program and four weeks of meditation class, I came to a new realization/understanding last night about memory.

It was connected, in large part, to something I wrote about on Monday - an idea our teacher had shared in class. Last night, when she went over the concept again, I realized I had remembered it (and internalized it) totally incorrectly, and so had sort of traveled down this tangential and theoretically erroneous path in processing the information.

To clarify and correct my earlier post... the three pillars are teaching, practice, and enlightenment (connected, predominantly, to the Japanese tradition of Zen - assuming I'm remembering that correctly!). The three stones referred to in class are related to the Korean tradition, and are peace of mind, happiness/contentment, and gratitude.

This little ah ha moment in the midst of class led me to thinking about memory and how we tend to define ourselves by our memories. They are our anchor to our past, and because we are so often attached to thought and our mind in terms of our self-definition, I think sometimes we are prone to relying solely on our memories as a basis of truth for our experience.

The difficulty in this is how subjective (and potentially faulty) memory can be. We need only ask a family member or friend for their version of events on a particularly important day to see there is no such thing as objective truth. Experience is defined by the narrative we weave, the meaning we make, the memory we hold and define as real.

Yet, if we honor each person's experience as valid and authentic, then we must accept multiple renditions of reality and embrace the very scary notion that objective truth simply does not exist. Or rather, our version of "objective" truth can be objective for no one other than ourselves.

This is important in two ways, I believe. The first echoes back to something one of my professors said with regard to working with younger clients: it doesn't matter how you meant something or what your intention might be, it matters how it has been perceived by the client and what meaning he/she makes of it.

In other words, whether I intended offense or hurt through my words or not - if someone has told me that's how they experienced what I said, then the truth (and validity) of their perception of the interaction between us must be acknowledged. This is especially important in the realm of multicultural awareness and sensitivity, but is a great lesson to carry forth into all interactions.

Similarly, whether my recollection of events jibes with those of someone else or not, we are equally invested in our remembering. We hold onto those memories like a safety line in the tumultuous sea of chronology and biology - both of which tear asunder our minds as we grow older.

What this all leads to, I think, is the necessity for an increased capacity to forgive ourselves and others when our versions of history chafe against each other or we realize we have muddled something previously thought stable and irrefutable due to the limitations inherent in our thinking selves.

I am more aware of the importance of forgiving and accepting my husband, friends, or family their memories - much as I must accept and forgive my own. So many of us are quick to speak sharply, exhale loudly, or react negatively when someone has forgotten something important to us, retold a story we've already heard a dozen times, or made a mistake based on (to our thinking) an erroneous recollection.

Pretty unfair when you remember the mind is merely one small part of us... not our selves. It makes no more sense to punish someone for a glitch in their thinking than it would to get angry for the ramifications of a missing limb, a genetic propensity for high cholesterol, or the extra care taken with something like asthma.

And yet, we do it all the time. I do it all the time; showing frustration and impatience instead of compassion and calm. Harder on others than I am on myself, because I control the remembering of my own inadequacies (and we all know how that goes).

May you distinguish your self from your mind. May your memories provide a source of perspective - without claiming infallibility.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Silliness


My daughter is a funny girl. Silly and playful - she loves to make others laugh and she's got a pretty sly and witty sense of humor for one so young.

One thing I admire about her and my husband is their willingness to be ridiculous in their play. They don't mind looking crazy or acting dopey - particularly if it's funny and is going to get the desired response of laughter they may be seeking via their antics.

I have always struggled with appearing foolish. I equated silly with stupid, and I feared appearing stupid. Here I am in my late 30s, and life looks very different in this decade. So it is my concept of foolish has begun to change.

It began, I believe, when my daughter was very young. She liked to go to the mall and ride the electronic doodads and geegaws all clumped together in the small, tyke-friendly playland outside the arcade and across from the food court.

One day I watched my husband do a series of clown routines for her as she rode a series of objects. Horse. Ice cream truck. Car with tongue-wagging dog. He threw himself into it completely - without regard for passers-by, mall staff, or other children milling about.

I saw him do this many times. In many malls. And each time, he unflinchingly chose to be as foolish as possible in the most public of places... all so his daughter would giggle in the way that makes his heart giddy.

And here we are in toddlerhood. Moving away from the rides and into new territory filled with preschool, friend-making, and an increased curiosity about the world and its many inhabitants. I see my daughter choosing to be silly and playful at home... reveling in the genuine laughter she can produce from her oft-too-serious parents. And I have seen her shy away from being anything that might get her noticed in any way when at school or meeting new people.

She is caught between two models... two modes of interaction offered by her parents: 1) abandon and 2) hiding. Perhaps it is this observation, above any other, leading me to question my relationship with silliness.

I have begun to notice great strength in the foolishness of others. My envy of others' ability to dive head-long into goofy behavior has morphed into admiration... something to be inspired by. Something to aspire to.

Back in October, I did a run of five weeks in Too Much Light... and challenged myself to be silly. To be laughed at. To be ridiculous or large or clownish. And... in some ways... I was successful in my pursuit. In fact, one ensemble member actually used the word clown (which made my day).

My hope is to become sillier with age... to grow increasingly willing to engage in antics and goofiness for the benefit of others and to care less about what it means or what it looks like or what so-and-so thinks of my behavior.

Silliness is ego-less. It is without attachment and often without expectation. In its best sense, it's the embodiment of compassion and joy - an authentic response to the humor and playful wonder available in so many small moments and details of life. Just as it is.

May you abandon your ego in pursuit of silliness today. May you refuse to self-edit yourself out of goofy, grinny, foolish fun.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Happiness


My meditation instructor at the temple has mentioned, on several occasions, the three pillars of Buddhism. But they are somewhat different from the three pillars in the Japanese Zen tradition. This temple practices Korean Zen Buddhism, and so their take on it seems to be a bit different.

The way she describes the three pillars are: 1) compassion, 2) peace of mind, and 3) happiness.

I totally get the first two. I have been altered through the compassion of others, offered compassion to loved ones and strangers, and I am profoundly sure of its necessity and purpose in this journey we so simply call life.

As for peace of mind... while I may not always have it, I can at least say I have experienced it periodically - and I'm increasing my ability to be present and maintain a state of peace through meditation and mindful practice.

Where I seem to get stuck (still) on most days is happiness. Happy. Happiness. Joy. Contentment. They are words I attach to fleeting moments and a broad brush-stroked sense of the other side or what other people have.

Which is not in the least bit enlightened, peaceful, or even compassionate. Sometimes I feel there is a piece of me that holds onto my heart and squeezes it tight so it can only feel so much. As if too much of a good thing might somehow lead to disaster or brokenness or a safety-net-less world.

A weight. A stone. A rope. A gremlin. A cloud. Plenty of metaphors and none quite right. But perhaps you get a sense of what I'm attempting to describe.

My un-happiness feels like a thing, carried along through my days and hoisted - unnaturally - through each experience... marring a potentially unfiltered sense of life with blurry, hazy, soupy disconnection.

I have noticed lately I am quite able to be peaceful most of the time. I am able to be calm, to circumvent some of my pre-worry and be present - truly present - in a moment of time with others I love. I am able to speak and act compassionately, to use care with my words and hands and emotions.

And sometimes... in little, sparkling moments, I have very recently begun to notice a sense of happy. A state of joy. Quick. Surprising. Bubbling and gleeful. I feel it warm and full and wonderful in my entire being and think: Oh... this is it. This is it!

I can tell, at this point along my path, my greatest lesson is going to be one of happiness. I notice more clearly the joy and ease in others and have begun to replace envy and longing with admiration and curious, close study.

It is an expedition... exciting and alluring. This shift from set-upon to setting off feels like a good next step. This sense of alert, watchful observation rather than defeated disassociation - a more active, and ultimately "happy" stance.

May you feel joy today. Strong, unflinching, soaring, and wonderful.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Compassion


There are people, places, and things in our lives for whom we willingly do all we can with kindness and love. Maybe it's an organization you work for. Maybe it's your dog. Maybe your child, parent, friend, or partner.

For most of us, our compassion flows freely and easily with a select group of priorities in our lives. Sacrifice comes willingly; selflessness is not even labeled as such - it feels so natural.

Today it is my daughter, sicker than she has been so far in her brief life and desperately craving care, love, and strength. No question, no hesitation; she gets all I have. I wait (and write) in her small moments of sleeping, hoping for better news with the next thermometer read.

These easy acts of compassion are important, I believe, because they offer greater insight into our capacity to love something in the absence (or at least forgetting) of self. There is no longer separation between "me" and the object of my compassion because I am already such a decided part of it, and vice versa.

So, these loves of ours provide windows into the majesty of our souls. Becoming mindful of the compassionate acts, words, and thoughts we commit without hesitation provides occasion to look more honestly at the opportunities we miss or ignore.

I happened upon Speaking of Faith this weekend, and caught an interview with Karen Armstrong, who has dedicated her life to the study of spirituality and religion in multiple forms. Many of her ideas gibe with others I've encountered lately:

  • The concept of right action as a conscious choice and form of ethical behavior and moral comportment more linked to the person we decide to be than a religious concept of God or specific dogma.
  • The overriding concept among a multitude of faiths (monotheistic, creedal, covenantal, fundamentalist, philosophic, etc.) uniting each, which boils down to how we treat one another and make our way through the world.
These ideas led her to create the Charter for Compassion, which is a stunning concept and uplifting and inspiring project. It unites people of all faiths, mindsets, and beliefs to commit to loving action and greater empathy. Just imagine, if we could all commit to this level of compassion in all aspects of our lives: no cruelty, no violence, no conscious infliction of pain upon another... any other. What might we accomplish?

Compassion has the potential to unite us all. It has the power to change the world - and not in a Pollyanna-ish, pie-in-the-sky kind of way. I mean really change it... on small and large levels. Someone lets you into merging traffic; someone holds the door for you because your hands are full; someone tells you they believe in you and gives you hope in a dark time; someone holds your hand in the hospital before surgery, providing an anchor in a storm of crisis; someone says something kind in the midst of your mourning and it allows you to push forward one more time.

Compassion for ourselves, compassion for others. It indelibly alters our world experience and worldview in a way that is positive and productive. Bound to authenticity, honesty, kindness, and empathy - it is the opposite of control, the antithesis of judgment, and the impossibility of hatred.

May you hold another in your heart today and treat them with compassion. May you honor yourself with love and kindness. And may the objects of your compassion increase daily.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Connection


To my surprise and chagrin, I just realized today there were comments left by readers - all of which had gone unanswered due to my forgetting to set up an auto-email type thing to send them my way any time one was left!

To those of you who have written... I am so sorry! Normally I try to be very good about responding quickly and thoughtfully to whatever is shared; it is, in fact, one of the great joys of writing a blog - seeing what clicks for certain people, being able to gain greater insight and understanding from the thoughts of others. Such a gift.

And it relates to something I have been thinking about a lot in the last few days: connection. Or perhaps interconnectedness. There are so many words, all of them just-quite-almost-there in describing that sense of one-ness we can sometimes achieve. The sense that we are actually all linked together in some way along a web of intricate and often shocking interlacing... so that we end up closer than anticipated. See the overlapping in striking, beautiful bold brushstrokes that have the power to encircle us in a way that reminds us we are protected, loved, and known.

One of the darkest feelings states I have known (continue to know and struggle against) is alone-ness. Not just solitude, or singlehood, or even being solo. No... I mean alone-ness. Cold and bleak and seemingly infinite - like snaky icicle fingers wrapped around your chest, squeezing and wringing until all your breath is replaced by an insidious yet undefined panic.

This is a place of lost-ness. Of inertia. Self-doubt and self-loathing and self-defeat. This is a place of paranoid questions and insecure inner monologues... of misplaced exhaustion and displaced fear. This is the place you can be in a roomful of people, in the middle of family dinner, in the arms of your lover... because it has nothing to do with anyone but you. A lone you.

Maybe you know this place. Maybe yours has a slightly different color scheme or internal temperature. But chances are, you have been here too. Second-guessing yourself and pushing everyone away in an effort to circumvent the inevitable rejection you are convinced awaits your next utterance.

For me, this place is dark and ugly. It brings out a side of myself (an aspect of my dual nature) I sometimes have difficulty embracing and accepting. It brings out my deepest fear, I think, which is being unloved, unaccepted, and un-valued.

Which is ego, yes? At least connected to ego and to my little "i" self, because the ego-less aspect of me... the self who thinks of others first... that side knows we are already connected. You and I. We are always connected. My movements move your web, yours move mine. And although that interconnectedness can be quite scary sometimes (mostly when we don't want our stuff to "move" in any way, shape, or form), it can also be immensely comforting.

One of the greatest lessons I am learning is to love myself. Not in a Hallmark-y cheesy kind of way or a Lifetime movie-of-the-week way. I mean in the way that stops the unending litany of internal insults. The way that removes the blocks I impose upon myself (paralyzing and creating doubt and confusion to such a degree I cannot make a decision as to what to do). The way that quiets the voice who uses words like ugly, fat, untalented, and fake.

Remembering I am connected to you helps me in establishing a sense of love for myself. When I notice there is no other, find a place of compassion, listen with my whole being, find a state of peace because I believe it is as much for you as it is for me... literally, figuratively, together, alone, yesterday, today, tomorrow.

Connection is a source of strength. Interconnectedness is an aspect of our wholeness. Somewhere you and I are not distinct or separate from one another... and when I remember that, I remember that to love you I have to love me - and vice versa.

May you love and celebrate you today. May you feel at one with everything around you - if only for a shining, happy moment!