Friday, January 22, 2010


There is an odd and inherent contradiction to blogging. It creates a public and infinitely open forum from which to communicate, and yet the words shared are limited via the medium used and must always be funneled down to an individual perspective. It's hard to walk the fine line sometimes between personal and purposeful. Ultimately, one's intention as a writer remains helpless in meeting the perspective of the reader... and so the process ends up feeling a bit like writing a love letter to someone you know from afar - without expectation of response.

In looking back on yesterday's post, I have been thinking a lot about silence (specifically, the Buddhist take on silence), and also about suffering and compassion... and how that all blends together in the context of blogging through the process of my spiritual exploration.

One of my favorite Buddhist proverbs is:

Do not speak, unless it improves on silence.

I love the recognition of silence as something valuable, as well as the importance of thinking before speaking. Sometimes our words are like our thoughts: random, ego-driven, tangential, and disconnected from mindful awareness. Silence may afford further reflection; it may allow someone else an opportunity to provide wisdom, guidance, or strength; and it may lead to a more silent internal state... one truly centered in the now and from which we may speak and act with authenticity and humility.

How, then, does silence come to bear upon blogging? It's a rather talky activity - potentially self-important and typically one-sided in its execution. My guess: Most bloggers negotiate and utilize large periods of silence before setting out to communicate their thoughts. Posts are purposeful, the structure and tone of the blog decided in advance and carefully maintained by the author. I would also hazard a guess most bloggers are doing so because they value interpersonal connection and believe there is merit to sharing their thoughts and personal experiences while reading those of others in an effort to remember and expand upon the universality and interconnection of the human experience.

One of the things I struggle with lately, in seeking to better understand Buddhism, is in knowing how to balance an awareness of the suffering of others with an openness and honesty to my suffering - in whatever form it may take. This can be difficult because we are relativistic thinkers... and so our tendency is to compare self with other - be it for good or ill.

Halfway through my post yesterday, I started to worry my focus on boredom might seem callous in the context of the earthquake in Haiti, the health struggles of friends and their families, the financial struggle of thousands striving to make basic necessities (food, shelter, clothing) a consistent and stable reality, the disenfranchisement and discrimination faced by individuals whose rights are unjustly and consistently denied...

It is a luxury to be able to focus on an emotion such as boredom. I see it as an opportunity to practice gratitude and consider my blessings to be able to label my suffering with such a small and trivial word. And I chose to blog about it - and to keep it even when worry struck halfway through - because I hoped my words might bring a sense of connection or comfort to someone else standing under the same raincloud.

There is another proverb I found today that seems fitting:

Every path has its puddle.

Sometimes the puddle exists in the wake of a tsunami and threatens to overwhelm us, and sometimes it is merely the mirage of water we seem to be standing in - a self-propelled hallucination because we are determined to see water where there is none.

I like to think there is merit in exploring both.

May you listen, pause, and breathe today. May you answer all forms of suffering (even the imagined ones) with compassion and courage.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Today I am bored with myself. Bored with my life. Bored with routine, with the walls of my apartment, with my non-job-ness, with inhabiting the world of a almost-four year old. Bored with a dog who won't stop peeing in the apartment, with cooking three meals a day and cleaning once a week and doing laundry/changing sheets/switching towels.

Once I acknowledged my feeling-state as boredom, I quickly realized no one was responsible for it save me. I also made the connection that boredom, for me, is very closely linked to sadness and ennui. And I use ennui here not to be snooty or throw around "10 cent" words... but because it really captures the more subtle connotations of the listless, mopey, sticky place I internally reside.

My gut instinct, in thinking about how boredom might tie in to Buddhist philosophy, was it belies a sort of dissonance of self. Boredom is the symptom, not the problem. It's simply a reverberation of some wiggling, uncomfortable, niggling area of unease - most likely an area of attachment or ego left entirely unattended and therefore running amok.

I also wonder if boredom results from actively evading a feeling state or "truth" I wish to remain hidden. After all, the use of the label boredom allows me to point fingers outside myself... naming some exterior other as the source of my problem.

Steven Pressfield (author of The War of Art) might label boredom "resistance" and suggest my state of ennui directly links to a decision to run away from or avoid my true calling - to work against action connected to my higher self and soul's purpose.

William Glasser (father of Choice Theory) would suggest I am choosing boredom - accepting and continually creating/embracing this feeling-state. He might say I am placing the power of my feelings within the domain of external sources, rather than taking responsibility for that which I control: my actions and expectations.

And the Buddhists? As with many spiritual pursuits, you will find many answers along your search for capital "T" truth. I think, as with many things in life, sometimes it helps to take it all in and do your best to synthesize a response that syncs up for you.

My impression at this point in my life: The first step is noticing and naming one's boredom. As I understand it, this relates back to a common Western habit - that of disassociating ourselves from our thoughts and feelings. By naming it, I can begin the process of letting go, which then (hopefully) leads to an eventual shift away from boredom/sadness into a more productive and less painful place.

And then... I have to allow myself to be in my boredom and sadness. Rather than running away from it, or using meta-cognition (thinking about my thinking) to avoid experiencing those feelings, or trying to subvert them through mindless activities (eating, surfing the web, wandering the house)... I have to be bored; I have to feel sad. I must allow myself time and space to think the bored/sad thoughts and feel the bored/sad emotions and go wherever I may go without holding on.

It's a very uncomfortable thing. I have tried it, and I didn't like it. But I noticed fully inhabiting my bored/sad state seemed to clear away some of my self-imposed smokescreens surrounding some other emotions... which ultimately link to choices I am making, attachments I have yet to acknowledge, and a lack of openness to my true self - my Buddha nature, as it were.

We are very hard on ourselves sometimes. We often avoid the reality of the darker side of ourselves in an effort to attain some imagined ideal of perfection. I believe we are a mixture of the human and the divine. We walk a physical and spiritual existence wherein we are beings of tangible and intangible forces. And in that dichotomous paradox, we struggle to balance between frailty and grace... sometimes forgetting both are true expressions of self.

May you accept and truly inhabit your thoughts and feelings today and gain greater insight. May you allow yourself to be who you are, where you are, without judgment or disappointment.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


One of my daughter's favorite activities is watching old cartoons on YouTube. She tends to go for Disney's Silly Symphonies, Pink Panther cartoons, or even something as modern as my personal favorite: Pixar Shorts. Of course, inevitably in the course of searching, watching and getting recommendations, we eventually end up somewhere unanticipated and stumble upon items at times outlandish and at times surprisingly good.

One such example was Emily's Journey with Gaucher Disease (both Part I and Part II). For whatever reason, my inquisitive little daughter (who is equal parts artistically expressive and scientifically investigative) became obsessed with this video for over a week. She would request it, watch it multiple times in one sitting.... and eventually started to point out telltale signs she had what Emily had. "See how my belly sticking out, Mama? I can't eat... maybe me sick."

Rather than discourage her fascination with the video, I let her watch it as much as she liked and tried to address her questions and worry patiently. I figured such exploration on her part would make it easier to discuss things if and when anyone in the family became seriously ill, and it would hopefully give her a greater range of understanding/compassion/empathy any time she encountered someone struggling with an illness. Yet, I am glad the "Gaucher Disease" phase passed and we are back to The Ugly Duckling and Ferdinand the Bull.

Just the other day, we were doing our usual gallivanting around YouTube and my daughter happily poked her finger at a video we had never seen before: The Little Match Girl. I didn't realize it at the time, but it's attributed to Disney/Pixar and the version we found relies solely on animation and music.

As an education buff, this was especially interesting to me, because it required my daughter to unravel and create the narrative for herself... and it lead to many interesting questions. We discussed poverty, homelessness, orphans, fantasy/reality, and eventually... death. She didn't realize what happened in the story the first time we viewed it, but a different version with narration (requested by my daughter, of course) provided insight into the ending and gave the entire story new meaning because we have often talked about death, dying, and the many theories of what happens after death.

It was an equally moving and sobering experience because I realized how little suffering she has been exposed to in her short life. As a parent, I consider this a blessing in a way because it means we've been lucky, and it means she feels safe and protected in this family. The idea of an adult mistreating a child, of a child being alone in the world, of a child not having enough to eat - all of this is foreign to her.

As a novice Buddhist and lifelong spiritual spelunker, it also struck me as a crossroads in her development as a human being and increased an awareness of my responsibility to her in way of tangible and intangible guidance.

Were she to continue living in ignorance of the suffering of others, she might become less able to respond with gratitude to her numerous blessings. She might assume everyone has an equal experience and live her life in blindness to the reality and effect of privilege and power across societies. She might never learn the importance of donating her time, resources, or energy to causes of compassion or justice.

And in the wake of that afternoon, my mind has continued to race over possible ways to help her gain knowledge and experience in this area of life without creating undue psychological or emotional hardship. Empathy is an integral skill and, I believe, a foundational building block in learning to effectively navigate interpersonal relationships with respect and kindness through one's entire life. I want my daughter to be able to empathize with others because I know it will help her become a considerate, responsible, and generous adult.

Again I continue my tightrope walk along the middle way... seeking balance in an effort to discover the blemishes of my little "i" self while pursuing a course of right action for the benefit of my and my family's growth. Not too fast, not too slow. Not too much, not too little. Honest, but gentle. Firm, but malleable. Strong, but always openly human.

May you notice someone invisible to you up until today. May you respond with empathy to the experience of others.

Friday, January 15, 2010


Being in the middle of a natural disaster can feel not only frightening, but also paradoxical. I think, particularly in Western culture, there is a tendency to view nature as benign and loving; however, nature can also be highly dangerous, unpredictable, and seemingly cruel.

I say seemingly because ascribing human emotion to natural phenomena seems somewhat counterproductive. Maybe it's helpful to have someone or something to lash out against... fight can be a form of survival, and sometimes manufacturing a fight can provide the catalyst we need for decisive response. But, ultimately, the motives of the natural world cannot truly be divined and most likely have nothing to do with us on an individual or ego-based level.

But disasters do sometimes feel cruel, or unfair. Natural disasters, like any crisis, are what psychologists or counselors would call an unanticipated (or unexpected) adverse event. We didn't plan for it, didn't see it coming, and don't want it in our lives. It creates stress, engenders fear, and may shake our resolve because it challenges the religious, spiritual, or other meaning we have made of our lives.

Our safety and stability are questioned; the truth of our lack of control is brought into stark and startling focus. And often, in the midst of so much emotional, physical, and mental difficulty... we are left to question everything we knew before the crisis occurred.

I have been through only one natural disaster in my life, and it was rather minor compared to the many disasters experienced by so many others. We lost power, but it was restored in less than a week. There were downed trees, blocked roadways, flooded areas, and exposed power lines everywhere, but our house was untouched and still inhabitable. We had no cooking gas, but we had running water, plenty of ice, and access to grocery stores and restaurants scrambling to stay open and provide resources. There were few deaths or injuries, and everyone in the region rallied together to provide assistance, food, shelter, friendship, and compassion in the aftermath of the storm.

It is difficult to fully comprehend the devastation those in Haiti are now facing. The images and stories being shared via international news agencies provides an opportunity to show compassion and provide assistance in whatever way we are able, while also taking stock of our blessings and practicing gratitude.

To suggest the earthquake is anything other than a natural disaster - an unanticipated adverse event that took place in the natural course of life - seems to me both unjustified and inhumane. It's akin to seeing someone suffering before you and choosing to increase their pain rather than seeking to relieve it. In essence, "kicking someone while they're down" - both cowardly and malevolent.

Perhaps you have already found ways to offer assistance. Perhaps you are already holding those affected in your prayers and meditations. Should you be seeking information on how to help, CNN has an excellent site with multiple links.

If you feel uncomfortable sending money, perhaps you can consider others ways to show compassion and be a source of assistance, comfort, or peace. I encourage you to reach out, to empathize, and to consider the words of Thich Nhat Hahn: "Compassion is a verb."

May you ease the suffering of others as you are able. May you practice gratitude, compassion, and love with mindful awareness.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


My husband and I were channel surfing the other night (something Bo Lozoff sagely recommends NOT doing) and caught an excellent documentary on WTTW's Independent Lens series. It focused on the Young@Heart Chorus from Northampton, MA.

If you've never heard of this group, not only is it worth googling them to find more information, but I highly recommend you find some means of watching the documentary by Walker George. Both the group and the film are life-affirming, humbling, and inspiring.

I have been thinking about the film for several days now, and different elements keep echoing back to me, offering insight and sparking further contemplation. It is easy, while watching the film, to meet each member of the chorus and think, "I want to be like that when I'm 80!" (or 90 as the case may be). The vitality of each member is striking - an unmistakable joie de vivre - expressed in myriad ways: biking, driving, exercising, flirting, performing, loving, surviving.

A message of passion dominates the film. Parallel to purpose, but more joyous in its expression, passion seems to be the overriding message dominating my thoughts. And so, the reverberation of this theme offers an opportunity for reflection and potential clarification... both of which might lead to positive change.

My issues of stuckness and control are linked to a lack of passion in my life. Rather, I seem to hold myself back from exploring or expressing my passions. They are there... and in my quieter and more honest moments, I know exactly what they are... but I remain too cowed, too stifled, or too afraid to unchain whatever part of me remains bound so I may fully express them.

And I know it is easy an easy switching of perspective to flick between yes and no, go or stop, nothing or something. But as with so many elements of Zen, there is knowing... and then there is knowing. Understanding. Grokking. Practicing. The span between the two can sometimes feel immense.

I'm not sure many Buddhist texts or teachings address passion, nor is it clear how the two intersect. Buddhism advocates letting go of attachment, and to some passion may seem like a form of attachment. Perhaps it is.

And yet, I do believe such focus and mindful attention is integral to fulfillment and personal peace. Ideally, in its best moments and truest form, passion is an authentic expression of self in the absence of ego.

Ultimately, the middle way provides guidance. Be passionate... but don't let your passions blind you to the wellbeing of yourself or others. Devote yourself... but not so much as to lose sight of who you are or the importance of those around you. Pursue your joy... but not at the expense of another's happiness or peace.

May you know your passion and pursue it freely. May your passion inspire others and bring joy.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


I was crashing through the underbrush of the internet yesterday when I came upon a video of Ajahn Chah, a Buddhist monk from Thailand who studied in the Forest Tradition. One of the things he spoke of in the video was harmony with nature, which struck me as being especially apropos as we begin to reach the heart of winter here in the Midwest.

As someone who hates cold, wet, icy, and otherwise unpleasant weather conditions... winter can feel a bit difficult sometimes. It tests my patience and tries my mood. It saps my color and ratchets up the tension in my shoulders and neck. This is particularly true now as my body attempts to reacclimate to temperatures a good twenty to thirty degrees below my winter experience of the last four years.

Chah's message about nature led me to thinking about the expectations I place upon myself and the resulting tension, disappointment, and/or anger I feel when I have "fallen short." This week, I noticed this pattern seems to become heightened in the winter... my lethargy increases, and my frustration at myself mounts because I am not doing enough.

But winter is all about slowing down. When we look to nature for a clue as to how to respond to the elements around us, we see increased sleep, a slower pace, and a greater sense of patience as life curls up around itself and calmly waits for the cold to pass.

Rather than fight my tiredness or rage against my body's failure to keep up with the tempo of summer, perhaps it is wiser to listen to the messages of my joints and head: Lie down. Be still. Stop rushing. Let go. Practice acceptance.

Rather than steep myself in guilt and berate the cravings of my stomach, perhaps it would be more useful to listen to the message from my gut: Eat more vegetables. Drink warm fluids. Don't underfeed yourself. Practice mindful eating.

And, rather than labeling myself a "bad mother," "terrible housewife," or "lazy, old good-for-nuthin," maybe I should take a lesson from the life around me: Prioritize the things that really need to get done. Focus on people, not things. Slow down and be patient; this too shall pass.

Mind you, I'm not suggesting I heard Ajahn Chah's message and decided it meant I could be sleepy, fat, and lazy. But I do think there is honesty in all three because each is anchored in a natural reaction to the order of things and the world around me in this moment. Each is an authentic response to life. And so, in moderation and with mindful awareness, each contains the possibility of a true expression of my Buddha nature within the context of winter.

Sleepy. Fat. Lazy.
Restful. Hearty. Calm.

May you embrace the lessons of the season. May you find harmony with the natural world and enjoy peace.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


I have sat and stared at the screen for approximately one hour determining what, if anything, to write today. Oh. Funny how long it sometimes takes me to wake up to the present moment.

My persistent cycle of stuckness has been lengthy and sometimes painful. Getting less painful lately, as I shift my perception and change my knowing of self, mind, emotion, peace, etc. - but the tendency to get frozen within a cage of indecisive hesitation has become a pattern worth investigating.

It has become particularly relevant lately because I have more time and freedom available to me than ever before in my life. Theoretically, the open-ended and unfettered potential of now might lead to amazing creative expressions, the fulfillment of long-held dreams, and a joyous exuberance borne of limitless capacity and unchained time.

Quite the opposite. I have noticed I am more apt to be idle and lost, less focused, less ambitious, and more susceptible to emotional downward spirals when my datebook is unblemished and my dance card empty.

At first I was frustrated by my inaction, then ashamed, then angry, then depressed, then quietly submissive... and finally, after a stretch of concerted mindfulness and an attempt to strip away any ego-based illusions or smoke screens, I again sit down to stare into the abyss of stubborn inaction to see what realizations may come.

  1. I stop myself. I like to blame others for my stuckness, but the tendency to look outward for rationalization is unfair and a bit cowardly.
  2. I am afraid to fail. For a very long time, I pushed this truth away because it seemed so predictably banal and textbook psych-y, but I hate to err because I still hold attachments to right and wrong. I tend toward perfectionism (an impossible paradox) and fear looking foolish - all of which leads to a personality trait loathe to take risks. I am so worried about missteps, I never start walking. This, of course, is both foolish and counterproductive.
  3. Even though I believe in change, the inevitability of life's natural impossibility toward immobility, and the power of anyone to choose anew in any given moment... I hold onto a belief that saying yes to something means I have said no to something else - and then there is no going back. I fear limiting my options... so much so I often choose nothing in an effort to thwart the anticipated loss of a future "what if." Bottom line: I must not actually believe change is always possible, because I don't yet live it.

In my procrastinated surfing prior to writing this post, I stumbled on a quote that addresses all three of the above understandings with disarming simplicity; I like this translation best:

"Traveler, there is no path, the path is made by walking." ~ Antonio Machado

Again I am reminded the choice to take action is more important than the anticipated outcome. Action is now; worrying about the future is not now. Action is here; worrying about how it will be received, how it will make others feel, or how others see me in light of my action is not here. Failure is a construct; stuck is a construct. There is no failure if I always choose to learn and accept what is. There is no stuck when I remember life is never static.

May you feel energized toward action in your living. May you never hold yourself back needlessly.

Monday, January 11, 2010


I have come to believe control is an illusion. At least, my previously held notion of control. The one seemingly anchored in emotional wellbeing and inextricably linked to perception, mood, and all matter of day-altering filters. Control as will. Control as attachment. Control as power over other.

This type of control, I have noticed, is a means by which I experience failure repeatedly. It's a set-up for disappointment... because events, nature, others, whathaveyou don't tend to actually be swayed by my whims, whines, or wishing. Nor are these things impressed by my knowledge, intelligence, dedication, or effort.

It's like the concept of variables in statistics and research. Typically, in stating whether one's research has yielded a result or finding that is statistically significant, one aspect to address are the variables over which one had no control... the extraneous variables that might have influenced the process in such a way that the findings are a bit muddied and therefore must be interpreted within a larger context (with room for error).

Within this error lies chaos. The very heart of life. We use the name chaos for things we cannot control. We ascribe chaos with negative connotations and anthropomorphize potential error as horned or fangy, dark and sinister, snakelike and lascivious with ill-intentioned lips curling below smoky, piercing eyes filled with mean naughtiness.

My little epiphany today was the culmination of a slow awakening to the fact that, for 37 years, I felt able (even entitled) to exert my will - and actually believed this had some sort of effect on the world around me. But it does not. The exertion is important, because it is an aspect of my experience I do control. My view of the world is important for the same reason. But my actual ability to control any aspect of my life save my own perception and making of meaning is pretty nonexistent.

It's those extraneous variables. Too many to number and downright infinite when you think about all the possible iterations involved in any given human interaction or decision you might make. It's like stepping into a quickly moving stream and expecting you will be able to force the water to move against its nature.

Rather than being a depressing realization, or something to lament, I find this new understanding of control somewhat freeing. I am/have been quite a control freak thus far, which means I spend a lot of time falling apart when things don't go my way and even more time beating myself up when what I want is not what is.

It's a big thing to let go of though... and I notice myself reluctant to truly relinquish the illusion in times of stress or difficulty. I notice I hold on even tighter - as if clenching my will around a desired outcome will somehow ensure its success. Lately, I try to laugh at myself when I do that... think about how silly I am being and use humor to gently pry myself away from a myopic insistence on an as-of-yet indeterminate conclusion.

Today, there is stillness and freedom in relinquishing control.

May you see through the facades of control and discover that which is yours to alter. May you experience freedom in letting go and letting be.

Friday, January 8, 2010


"Fill your bowl to the brim and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security and your heart will never unclench.
Care about other people's approval and you will be their prisoner.
Do your work, then step back. The only path to serenity."
~ Lao-Tzu

I hate money. Probably as much as I desire it. In fact, my abhorrence likely arises from my desire and attachment. More than anything else, money worries can shake my core so strongly my insides wind up quivering with anxiety and my worldview goes from relatively calm and hopeful to deeply panicked and a mite conspiratorial.

An insurance bill arrives. Panic. The car needs repair. Panic. The dog is sick. Panic. The taxes are soon due. Panic. There are a veritable dearth of jobs posted in my field and we're not even sure I can work full-time yet without all of us careening into rudderless thrashing as we seek to balance preschool/housework/homecare/lifestuff with the practicalities of a toddler how may not yet be ready for a full schedule and two parents working their butts off. Yes, panic.

In my calmer moments, I remember to be grateful. I recognize the blessings of my situation and consider all those in even less secure states than that of my family. We are very, very lucky.

So why, then, this constant buzz of worry? Why do I create a self-imposed tug-of-war between using time heretofore unavailable to pursue something intangible, unpaid, fulfilling, or otherwise un-monied... versus filling each spare moment with a frantic and downhearted search for some kind of income stream that miraculously snuggles into our three lives with perfect conformity?

The conscious inner scrutiny of the last year or so has uncovered some less-than-attractive traits. My tendency toward immobility despite high potential. Persistent ennui borne of low self-esteem and too-often lack of motivation. A pessimistic attitude worsened by emotional bouts of fruitless anxiety. And a nagging belief that even if such things as finding the job you love, working and then concerning yourself with the outcome, or living without concern for financial stability were possible... they are not possible for me.

Oh this is a whiny post. Sorry about that! So... the point. The spiritual lesson and potential opportunity of my awareness in this moment:

I think what Lao-Tzu is emphasizing in the above, is the hungry aspect of acquiring certain things in one's life. There is danger in seeking so blindly we overlook the purpose behind our search, or fail to question the rightness of our actions (like a hungry ghost).

When I read his words, I think about how my attachment to security (be it financial, emotional, or otherwise) has more to do with the outer nature of things than my inner experience. I name security through what I possess, rather than what I do. I attach it to how I feel, rather than how I behave. I seek it from outside - from others - rather than remembering it is ultimately inside, within my control and solely my responsibility for maintaining.

Today I think money is a food that does not fill, an activity that does not sate. Because even when I have enough, I am always worried I need more. This knowing of money addresses my own emptiness and refuses to look away when I see fear.

It is sugar. Or cigarettes. Or sex. Compliments, trappings, extravagance and desserts piled high atop over-caloric meals on sauce-strewn plates.

Empty echoing emptiness.

May you awake to your emptiness and embrace it without actions of fear. May you fill yourself in serenity.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


For some reason, I am periodically hit by phases of blurriness. Not so much visually - though acuity is sometimes an issue due to changing prescriptions and whatnot. Not... this is more of an emotional and mental haziness. A kind of soupy, pokey, obscurity that seeps into my everyday living until it feels like my pores are inhabited by an ethereal and intangible sludge.

Being a bit of a control freak by nature, these states of foggy personhood tend to unnerve me. I start to panic when my mind won't focus clearly or my memory shows signs of serious deterioration. Anxiety overtakes me when I feel less alert... when my usual, wakeful and sharp sense of awareness becomes replaced by what feels like someone else's sluggish and all-too-lazy brain.

Perhaps it's a biological holdover of some kind, brought on by snowy winter weather and a primordial desire to fall into a dreamy, warm sleep - letting the ice and wind talk itself into spring. Maybe it's some emotional stuckness linked to the affective quicksand of February - a month predicated on the notion that time really can feel infinite while life subsists in a sort of dark, interminable stasis.

Whatever the reason... today I have decided to reframe my relationship to this lack of focus. Heretofore rattled by such a mental shift, I have decided instead to embrace the loopy-ness. My agitation, I would guess, stems from an attachment to my (erroneously) perceived sense of in control and my inability to allow multiple definitions or styles of focus.

My little "i" self says: Hazy is not okay. Foggy is right out. Down with blurry wishing. Out, out with forgetting and dropping and missing and mistaking! Distraction is failure.

And today big "I" glanced up from its peacefulness, laughed a little and said, But why? Why assign the label of failure to a natural and uncontrollable state? Why worry so much? Why punish yourself? Who are you failing? What have you truly forgotten? Fog and clarity: they are ultimately one.

Sometimes the beautiful balance of life hits me, and I am humbled by the innate paradox of complexity and simplicity contained in even the smallest of moments. There is peaceful being made possible when I no longer impose a hierarchical categorization to the many-ness that may be. In other words... my tendency to order, to label, to assign along a spectrum and wield some internal pendulum of judgment actually limits my experience by cutting me off to the possibility that any point along whatever aspect of duality I travel is no more good than it is bad. It just is.

And so today I am hazy. My mind feels like the turtle in Aesop's fable, and my heart feels thick. Life is moving at a slower pace right now - or at least, my experience of it remains snail-like and deliberate. Maybe for good reason.

May you allow yourself to slow down when needed. May you embrace whatever pace you now travel without judgment or self-recrimination.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Right Action

It has been a difficult week. Mild panicky feelings, nearly daily headaches, the kind of flashing in my eyes that is supposed to be normal now but never fails to make me feel nervous, strange tightness in my chest cropping up randomly, and a wonderfully painful cold sore that has erupted on my top lip.

A lot of this, I think, has been connected to an internal struggle I've been embroiled in relating to two separate and distinct parts of my life. It has been difficult to untie the tangled health issues, emotions, and stress-induced flotsam from my decision-making process and a continual and concerted effort to choose right action and make good choices.

This process of reflection and untangling has echoed back to some earlier thoughts regarding spiritual paths and the presence of responsibility within one's living.

Over the holidays, I had a very interested and unexpected conversation about religion with two old friends. The end result led me to thinking about the faiths I am most drawn to, and why. It also got me thinking about the purpose of faith and whether its presence in human life is a positive and/or necessary thing.

I miss Unitarian Universalism sometimes. I miss the humanist aspect and the opening, accepting viewpoint. I miss the plurality of spiritual exploration and the active and socially-minded nature of its core principles. Being a covenantal faith, rather than creedal, the basis of collective practice of said faith rests in the promises each person makes to themselves and others as to how they choose to behave in the world. So... one's beliefs are not as important as one's actions.

The other faith or spiritual pursuit I feel most strongly drawn toward at present is Buddhism. This is neither convenantal nor creedal, and practitioners would most likely tell you it is more a philosophy than a religion; yet, much like UUism and similarly covenantal faiths, one of the core foundations of Buddhism lies in the choices you make about your behavior and actions in the world. Buddhism teaches the responsibility for improvement, evolution, spiritual enlightenment, etc. rests with you. There is no outside force that will bring salvation or comfort or wisdom... there is no other to relieve suffering. Rather, you are responsible for your own suffering and you are the sole source of power enabled to end it.

My daughter has begun asking questions about death, what comes after death, and the stuff that souls are made of. It's new territory, and I want to honestly convey my beliefs about such matters while leaving things open enough she feels empowered to make her own decisions and choose her own path of belief.

As with so many other aspects of motherhood, her questions elicit a new kind of learning and relearning for me. I cannot make assumptions about who I am, what I believe, or what I know if I am to respond honestly and in the moment. She requires a level of authenticity and self-knowing within which I cannot hide or be lazy or claim ignorance. Which is quite a gift, in the end.

Within all this rumination, I have sought to make several important decisions that affect not only myself, but others as well. Sometimes it is difficult to balance selfless and selfish aspects of oneself, while remaining as truthful as possible, as present at possible. Human interaction so often includes emotions we cannot control, and so we are left to ponder the rightness of our actions, the genuineness of our words, and the effect our choices make upon others - all balanced together delicately like a very precious paper house.

Whether from within our without, I do believe life is communicating with us all the time. Our bodies are telling us something. Our feelings are telling us something. The words and actions of others are telling us something. Life sends us little missives with which we may redirect our fates continually.

In my case, it's the chest pains and eye strain and cold sore and pinched heart. Your language - your message - may come in different forms. The tricky part (the important part) is to figure out what it means and act accordingly... to apply your faith, your compass, your way of knowing the world and courageously setting forth on the best course you can manage for today.

May you catch the messages your life is offering. May you choose the direction best suited to your happy and healthy growth.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


So when did religion become a bad word? As someone who grew up without any specific tradition or religious teaching, it has always carried a slightly nuanced connotation for me rife with mistaken assumptions, personal indecision, and culturally and familially-influenced bias.

But even then, despite my heretofore predominant apathy and clear lack of knowledge it was never - for me or the people with whom I came into contact - something to be embarrassed of or hidden from others. You attended church or you didn't. You affiliated yourself with a certain faith or not. Someone might ask, you might answer... and that was that.

Not so any longer. I have noticed, in the last several years, an increasing hesitance from those around me (and seemingly society in general) to engage in discussions of spirituality, divinity, or religious leanings. People seem ashamed to admit they believe in God (or any form of higher power/force/etc.). They seem reluctant to use the word... as if somehow speaking the language of faith might thrust them into a spotlight glowing with social ostracization. Bringing up the concept of the sacred, or linking the human experience to something beyond a tangible and physical realm often produces uncomfortable silence with averted eyes and nervous smiles.

This has made my current quest a somewhat lonely and awkward journey at times. I find fewer avenues for open conversation about multiple faiths, the presence of the sacred in everyday life, the purpose of art and similarly divine expressions, and the purpose of belief and spiritual responsibility on an individual and societal level.

I have decided to be mindful of my emerging discomfort in the wake of so much silence from those with whom I am most intimate. I seek to be increasingly aware of how my journey and exploration becomes impacted by the responses I receive (or don't receive) to new language or a different perspective... specifically impacted by a conscious and self-reflective process of spiritual or religious awakening.

I am also trying to do less self-editing borne of social self-preservation. Rather than moving away from religions or shielding myself in faiths more covenantal or philosophical in execution; I find myself instead lately motivated to learn more about all faiths. To dive into greater study and gain more knowledge so I can see the similarities and distinctions among them... and hone an ability to speak in many languages guided by faith because I truly believe in the fundamental cohesion of the human spirit.

These two goals are linked to a recent realization that I have been somewhat remiss in my treatment of those who practice religion and/or consider themselves religious rather than spiritual. Although I have long been aware of the overlap among multiple faiths and expressions of belief and the inherent importance of many viewpoints, including agnosticism and atheism... it was only recently I understood how my capacity for tolerance differed greatly from a genuine sense of respect for beliefs differing from mine.

Within that gap - tolerance vs. respect - lies the development of compassion, mindfulness, humility, and authenticity. These ideas share emphasis among many paths, many forms of belief (be they faith based or no), and many people. That somehow seems extremely significant and something worth pursuing as 2010 begins to unfold.

May you speak a language and find expression genuine to your feelings and beliefs. May you listen to others with compassion and openness.