that’s why they call it practice

There are days that my practice happens on a yoga mat. Some days it exists on a meditation cushion. Some days it is simply moments of listening actively to another person who is standing right in front of me.

But every single minute of every single day, my practice is to see what is in front of me without passing declarative judgment. To see, notice, accept then make choices based on the reality of the situation, not on my judgment of what is in front of me.

 

 

2fall2016

This “resist the urge to judge” practice has been severely put to the test this week. News from many sources this week elicited responses that all reflected some sense that “this is good”, “this is bad” or “this is catastrophic”.

As soon as my judgment has been leveled and I’ve dispatched the labels “good”, “bad” or “catastrophic”, the situation in front of me now rises to the status I have given it.

And then my thoughts and emotions about it rise up alongside my judgment. And, as if from nowhere, it’s as if I’m in a blender with all aspects of the situation. No distance, no perspective and no escape.

My escalated emotional, reactional state lulls me into thinking I’m actually awake. But am I? Am I really awake?

The Taoist Farmer

A man named Sei Weng owned a beautiful mare which was praised far and wide. One day this beautiful horse disappeared. The people of his village offered sympathy to Sei Weng for his great misfortune. Sei Weng said simply, “That’s the way it is.” 

A few days later the lost mare returned, followed by a beautiful wild stallion. The village congratulated Sei Weng for his good fortune. He said, “That’s the way it is.”

Some time later, Sei Weng’s only son, while riding the stallion, fell off and broke his leg. The village people once again expressed their sympathy at Sei Weng’s misfortune. Sei Weng again said, “That’s the way it is.”

Soon thereafter, war broke out and all the young men of the village except Sei Weng’s lame son were drafted and were killed in battle. The village people were amazed as Sei Weng’s good luck. His son was the only young man left alive in the village. But Sei Weng kept his same attitude: despite all the turmoil, gains and losses, he gave the same reply, “That’s the way it is.”

Our times call for a practiced measure of relaxed alertness. Be awake. Be aware. But don’t expect that escalation and reaction is the same as being awake.

If what is happening really is what it is, now what?

 

fallgarden1

Instead of asking what my reaction to injustice will be, I could be asking, what is my response to it going to be?

Without emotional escalation and obsession with the unfairness of it all, what can I do now? On my mat? On my cushion? While listening to others?

Today, right now, can I choose tolerance, peace and resist the urge to judge beyond the usefulness of it?

Honestly? I don’t know. I really don’t know.  I’m kind of attached to my judgment of this mess.  I’m kind of attached to the rage.

But that’s why it’s a practice.

be where you are

I wish I was home already”.

This was a vague, shadow of a thought I had while walking home from yoga class one day this summer. I was not having an off-day nor did I have anything pressing at home that needed my attention. In fact, I was the right in the middle of an absolutely splendid summer of rest and rejuvenation.

At that moment, I simply wanted to be further along the path than I was.

A few weeks later, the path led me down a busy city street of colourful sights and sounds in Santiago, Chile.

SAM_3483

 

This time, the thought was a little louder and much clearer than before.

I wish I had a change of clothes”.

This, after the implementation of quickly-laid travel plans, sitting and sleeping through a smooth flight and enjoying a certain underlying thrill of an unexpected, first-time trip to South America.  I was surrounded by abundance.  But clearly abundance wasn’t enough for me.  I wanted to be on this adventurous path wearing different clothes than the ones I’d had on for three days.

SAM_3487

In each case, I was distracted from where I was and what I was doing by the thought of where I could be and what I could be doing.

Wishful thinking.

Putting the present moment on hold.

Dissatisfaction guaranteed.

The present moment is literally as close as my next inhale and exhale.  So why would I want to be anywhere else than where I am?

Even when the path underfoot is pebbled with the grayness of boredom or obstacles to step over, why choose to wish time away?

SAM_3496

Right here, right now is closer than you think.

And is not found in wishes.

And it is good.

 

this too

During episodes of confusion, overwhelm or distress, you have likely been consoled with the phrase “this too shall pass” by a sincere friend sporting a sympathetic head tilt and concerned eyebrows. But what your friend may have failed to tell you is that it all passes. No matter how you label your experience, what positive, negative or neutral descriptors you use, it will all pass.

ecstasy
disbelief
numbness
bliss
isolation
clarity
confusion
anticipation
disgust
grief
wonder
intoxication
malaise
hope

 

All will pass.

serenity

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the risk of sounding uber-positive (gasp) or mindlessly optimistic, there is nothing that will happen today that you cannot handle even if your feelings tell you a tall tale of woe.

 

Feelings are not fixed or infallible.

Feelings exist to be felt but can also be based primarily on distorted thought processes. Distorted thoughts take us down a long and winding road that is littered with brightly coloured signage of what is good and bad, right and wrong, positive or negative. Why do we develop amazing stories around some experiences that we deem to be so utterly exasperating or unmanageable?  We learn from all of them.

 

Thoughts are like teenagers.

What they say to us needs to be trusted but also verified. For details on how distorted thought patterns clutter our path with distracting signs, see my previous post on “Distorted Thoughts”

What if you opened your door, whether your house is in order or disarray, and accepted all guests, invited or otherwise?  Once you let interesting characters inside, perhaps they won’t seem so uninvited-a-la-Alanis-Morissette as you first feared.

Listen to the ramblings of your assorted guests without judgement and learn from them. But for heaven’s sake, don’t feed them until you know you want them around for good.

 

 

look then look away

Frankie’s Fixation

My sister’s dog is a Dorkie. A Dorkie is a cross between the Dachshund and the Yorkshire Terrier not a dog who is slow-witted or socially inept although this dog does have some interesting quirks.

Frankie the Dorkie

During our recent family gathering, Frankie the Dorkie would sit beside the refrigerator with his glance fixed firmly on a bright green frog-like fridge magnet. Despite the constant, buzzing activity and social antics of the dozen or so adults, children and four other dogs all around him, Frankie’s gaze remained steady.

But then looking was no longer enough for him. He would then begin to whimper with only the occasional glance away from his beloved magnet to see if anyone would come and lower the magnet on the fridge so he could get a closer look.  When the whimpering didn’t work, he tried barking.

For some reason, we were all quite amused at this fixation and would lower the magnet to see what would happen next. Frankie would get visibly excited as the magnet made its way down to where he could reach it. He would sniff it and then he’d take it gently in his mouth and run away.

Laughing, we’d retrieve the magnet and put it back on the fridge to only start the sitting, staring and whimpering process all over again.

The humour wore off much sooner than Frankie’s steely resolve and we finally hid the magnet on top of the fridge. Frankie was not to be deterred and he just kept staring at the top of the fridge where he thought the magnet was.

Days later now, an email from my mother, who is babysitting Frankie for the week, explained that he is still obsessed with the magnet even though it is no longer even on top of the fridge. To prove that to Frankie, she put him on top of the fridge to show him that there was nothing up there.

It was no use. He is a dog obsessed. Holding on to something that is not his and never will be. Waiting impatiently and expectantly for something even with clear evidence that it may not even exist anymore.

It may be easy to write off Frankie as a canine oddity but those of us who walk on two feet instead of four still struggle with fixations and obsessions.

 

“It has to happen exactly this way or it’s not right”

“I need more…. time, money, friends, support, hope… then everything will be fine”

“He hurt me and I will never be able to forgive him. Ever.”

 

Resolve, Resolutions and Acceptance
In this season of goal setting, can we all find space to accept all of it?

All aspects of ourselves and our lives. Get up on top of the fridge and see that we may be fixated on an empty space and then accept that. The fixation and the empty space.

Then look away and accept that, too.

To what do you cling?  Can you accept the clinging?  Can you accept the letting go?

Be well, be happy and be at peace this coming year.

Compassion starts at home.

 

 

no chance of rain

 

You know that rare, unexpected moment when you look around you and notice that there are no major crises swallowing up your attention? You know the kind of event that seemingly hijacks your life and derails even your daily plans?  None.

In that rare moment, even if you’re experiencing some confusion, minor loss, life dis-order or chronic busyness, the things you’re facing apparently do not qualify for the master list of significant life stressors so should be more or less manageable according to the creators of the master list.

Quite recently, I realized that over a few weeks surrounded by the unremarkable stress of being a living, breathing conscious person, I became increasingly agitated.   And as my general uber-vigilant disposition was not picking up any external signs of an intense struggle to engage or an insurmountable obstacle to overcome, it seemed that I needed to create some concrete struggle internally.

Suddenly my own arbitrary deadlines rose to commandment status with the added pressure of “someone will be waiting on me for this”.  In my own gospel, Never Leave Anyone Waiting is the second commandment after Do Everything Correctly and followed by Everything Matters. My inclination to set regular goals and write lists became a firm attachment to perfectly imagined outcomes followed by an out-of-balance disappointment when they were not realized. My growing acceptance of “this is the way life is” was recklessly abandoned on the meditation cushion with my settled breathing and mind. Slow, mindful movements were replaced with jittery legs and fidgety fingers. Sleep was rest-less and stillness disappeared.

Remember, there was no genuine crisis. Bounty was all around me.  Relationships, life’s work, passions and creative outlets were all within much more-than-rich and satisfying range. Life, as they say, was and is good.

SAM_2124

On a clear, breezy day with no clouds or chances of rain, am I addicted to the chaos of panic and pressure? Do I need to create drama where there is none in order to feel engaged, relevant and meaningful? Does dis-ease become my default position especially when things are going well?

I don’t know.  Now comes the sitting and listening with a curiosity for what comes up and with no predetermined outcome.  If panic asks to take over, I’ll re-read “the “3 steps to pacify the panic” blog I wrote a few years ago and get un-stuck (again!) from this familiar place.

May your summer be full of self-accepting moments where you never give up on the places where you get repeatedly stuck!

 

 

 

 

life is not messy

Life is straightforward; a continuous cycle of beginnings and endings.

That’s it.   It’s not messy.  It’s not neat.  It’s not complicated or controllable.  It just is.

We’re fond of saying “life is messy” when we forget that.

We show that we have forgotten it when we concretely label the ups and downs of life as good and bad, when we react to situations with disbelief that something like this could happen to us, when we are frequently overcome by heavy emotions that are weighted down with distorted thoughts or even when we are running high on ecstatic thoughts at finding “it”, the answer to our problem.

porch solitude

In any moment when life seems particularly messy, pause, breathe and dig deep to find out what your underlying expectation or unspoken belief is for that particular moment. Then challenge it, exhale it and remember that the cycle is beyond good and bad.

It is just what it is.

If you don’t become the ocean, you’ll be seasick every day.

Leonard Cohen

moaning michael stops by with clarity

 

It wasn’t serious.

Just a whopping sinus cold that kept whispering ominously in my ear “I think you’re getting sick” for a day or two until it cold-cocked me, knocking me down and out, and almost immobile for three solid days.

Sound sleep eluded me. Eating was entirely optional. And all the liquid in the form of tea and soup I had didn’t make even a dent in my hydration levels. My head felt as it if weighed more than the rest of my body and my teeth hurt. It hurt just to be awake.

And there was nothing to do. All my favourite distractions, in my condition, turned out to be only irritating. Books required too much focus. The computer screen light was too bright. Even watching Olympic events, as they happened instead of the replay, was less than satisfying and a good sleep would have been preferable.  But, as I said, blessed sleep was nowhere to be found.

Then came the stories.

I can’t afford to be sick. (How is my need for rest connected to a financial term?) 

I hate feeling bad. (Was I feeling bad about not working?  Or was it that the distractions weren’t enough to cover up the discomfort as usual?)

I wish someone would help me. (Seriously?  What did I want them to do? Chopping off my head to stop the pain would’ve been a long-term solution for a temporary problem but it did cross my mind.)

I hope nobody stops by, I don’t want to see anyone. (Yes, that’s more like it.)

Despite the epic whine-fest, being sick was extremely clarifying for me. As the brain-fog cleared, so did my mind mess.

The work to-do list now seemed more manageable. Concerns about family and friends fell into perspective. The free-floating anxiety about long-term options and plans seemed out of proportion and settled into an odd form of acceptance.

The time that I was forced to stop moving/ producing/ earning/ evaluating/ progressing/ teaching/ learning turned out to be a great way for me to realize how fast I had been going and that where I was going was nowhere important.

While I was sick, I was in touch with my body’s sensations; all things achy and phlegmy. I was aware of the self-absorbed stories that my mind was creating.  And there was no escaping the feelings that were coming directly from the plot lines I’d created.

Isn’t that presence? Mindful awareness? Isn’t that I want or say that I want? I guess.

Adam Cohen, in his song, Cry Ophelia writes “Pray for rain, but you don’t want it from a storm”.

Mindfulness doesn’t differentiate between comfort or discomfort.  Through both, it sits and notices without evaluating.

Mindfulness; the gift of illness.

 

 

 

you are everyone


You are every parent you will ever have.
You are every child you will ever parent.
You are every student you will every teach.
You are every teacher you will ever have.
You are every brother, sister, friend, lover you will ever know.
You are every person you will ever meet.

How does it change things to know that you are not separate from others? And that, in fact, there are no “others” because you are everyone.

How does it feel knowing that, at any moment, you could react as they do, reflect their level of distorted thinking or reflect their incredible clarity, calmness and wisdom?

Would that impact your ability to understand and even tolerate one you have previously thought of as the insufferable “other”?

The fact that you recognize another’s intolerable characteristics suggests that those very traits are currently alive and well in you.  Can you accept those traits in yourself?

 

We are one, after all, you and I, together we suffer, together exist and forever will recreate each other.  

~Pierre Teilhard de Chardin~

Acceptance means that you are not better than, worse than and not even equal to.

You. Are. Everyone.

the myth of living in the moment

There was time when I would easily fall into a stony-eyed stare around people who used the language of ‘living in the moment‘. Even as someone who had been meditating for many years, I would secretly rebel with thoughts like

“if you only knew what I was going through right now

or

if you could just spend one day at my job and with all my responsibilities, you would see that I don’t have time to live in the moment”.

Eventually, the chronic irritability, stress-aches, frequent illnesses and general dis-ease of my life led to me to question whether or not I was missing something.

Through continued meditation, yoga, the reading of wisdom literature from many traditions and conversations with others who were walking with the same questions and resistances, I found a place where I could consider releasing my cold, judgmental stare.  It was a micro-start.  A work in progress, to be sure.

The place I found was one where I realized that ‘living in the moment‘ does not mean bearing witness to every single moment as free of stress and discomfort. It does not mean a constant evaluation, categorizing, dissecting and cataloging of my moments to see how they could be made more livable, more acceptable and even easier to manage then share with others.

Attending to this moment means that I see it with soft eyes, not searchlight eyes. Receptive eyes to what is really in front of me and to sit with whatever response comes from it.

But living in each moment is not really reasonable. There are simply too many of them. They come too quickly and leap frog over each other as we tumble and stumble through our days. This reality calls for a bit of intention.  We can select a few moments each day when we choose to stop, sit, soften, notice and receive the moment just as it is.

Maybe the first moments of wakefulness in the morning. Or just before falling asleep. Or at a stop light. Or doing the dishes. Sitting quietly on a porch with a cup of coffee. Choosing to add some moments of meditation to your day.

This is as close to ‘living in the moment’ as I can get. Some moments. Some days. It is what it is.