Friday, December 28, 2012

Creating boundaries: The loving practice of NO

I am on retreat. There are about 20 monastics and a handful of “regular” mindfulness practitioners living in a shared space—shared bedrooms, bathrooms, dining room, kitchen, and practice spaces. We’re very close—physically. It isn’t always fun. Creating boundaries is not only necessary here; it conveys a deep caring and respect for ourselves, each other, and the practice of mindfulness. 
Not sure how to operate the camera: brain freeze
My retreat job is to prep food for the next day’s meal. I place a piece of masking tape and write NO on the top of each container of food that I prepare. NO stands for Not Offered. In an environment where offerings are key, generosity is encouraged, and sharing is a must if everyone is to make it through each day, being extremely clear about what is NOT offered is efficient and wise. If even a few of us help ourselves to the food that isn't offered, we will not have enough to feed everyone the next day.
NO apple ginger salad with toasted pumpkin seeds for you! (until tomorrow)
Creating Not Offered boundaries is also efficient and wise in everyday life. Can you imagine how less frustrated, angry, resentful, and taken for granted we would feel could we simply place a NO label on whatever is not up for grabs in our life? What would be on your Not Offered list—the 1.5 hours you need to make it to the gym? the fresh berries you bought to pack in your lunch? your willingness to listen, when somebody calls you to gripe and complain?

Being exact about what we will not give away can actually align us more with heartful giving. In fact, when we do not give away those objects, efforts, time, and so on, that are necessary for our own health and happiness, we can use them to become healthy and happy. And a healthy, happy person gives—for no reason other than their unencumbered heart and mind truly want to make offering.
Platform from which scraps are tossed to birds that fly above the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Nova Scotia
Love After Love, by Derek Walcott

The time will come 
when, with elation 
you will greet yourself arriving 
at your own door, in your own mirror 
and each will smile at the other's welcome, 

and say, sit here. Eat. 
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart 
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you 

all your life, whom you ignored 
for another, who knows you by heart. 
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, 

the photographs, the desperate notes, 
peel your own image from the mirror. 
Sit. Feast on your life.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

An intimate tribute to my sweetheart

At the end, one didn't remember life as a whole but just a string of moments. -David Levien

I love how he thinks about money. We’d like to have a house on the beach someday, but unless it’s earned by doing what we love, we’ll be happy landlocked. I love that our money is spent on great coffee, books, music, and home and car maintenance instead of dinners out and new furniture. I love that he gives gifts to our mail carrier and to the woman who cuts his hair.

I love that neither of us wants children but that he would consider having a pig for a pet at some point, and that he gives real thought to my questions about what a pig might eat or whether a dog might pick a fight with a pig as I walk it down the street. I love that he checks the locks, the lights, the stove, and the faucets a second time before coming to bed.

I love that he says that he won’t stay up late, then I feel him snuggle in way past midnight. I love that he twitches and heats up when he’s dreaming. I love that he dreams. I love that he’s a sleepyhead in the morning and how it feels to slip out of his arms when I get out of bed to go downstairs for coffee and morning writing. I love putting a pillow beside him and tucking the blanket around his chin when I go. I love that he has the coffee beans ground and that all I have to do is add water and press the button.

I love that we pretend to punch and throw high kicks at each other. I love that he’d rather poke himself in the eye than watch the Super Bowl. I love that he reads the obituaries. I love that the TV stays off almost all the time at our house. I love that he gets excited over Apple products and puts songs that he thinks I’ll like on my iPod without asking.

I love how he enjoys working out with weights and eating ice cream and potato chips. I love that he enters all of his expenses on a spreadsheet and backs up his computer every day, sometimes more than once each day. I love that he reminds me to back up my computer so that my writing won’t be lost and asks me to email him a copy just to make sure. I love that we sometimes stay in our pajamas all day.

I love that he tells me when I poot on him during the night and how he tries not to laugh. I love that he sometimes cries when he hears about violence and war and people being mean. I love that he pretends to be my butler and bows before leaving the room. I love when he impersonates our dentist.

I love that he sent me and my sister for a spa day when she was having a rough time. I love that when I talk about a dream that I have for my life, he says, “You’ve got to do it, Sweets!” I love that we made a song in Garage Band called “Gonna Kill You.”

I love that when I challenged him to a race in the long corridor of a hotel, he took off at breakneck speed, leaving me laughing so hard that I had to stop. I love that he must have time alone every day, sometimes much time, sometimes for many days. I love that when I leave for days or weeks that he loves his life, and that we sing a song called Male Independence before I go (there’s a Female Independence version for when he leaves).

I love how we sleep. Sometimes I awake underneath his shoulder or breathing in his face. Sometimes I am holding his hand. I love that when I asked him if he’d be angry if I burned down the house by accident that he said Yes. I love that I do the grocery shopping and the cooking, and that he comes downstairs saying, “Mmmmmm, that smells amazing-amazing” and makes me say that I’m a food genius.

I love that we respect the feelings that we have and hold the space for all of them, even when it’s not comfortable. Once when I was going through a few weeks of depression, he didn’t try to fix it, figure out what was wrong, or cajole. He put an extra blanket on me and rubbed my head. When he is deep and dark and brooding, I trust that he can hold the tension and that it will pass when it’s supposed to. I scratch his head, rub his shoulders, and make him grits for breakfast. I love that we meditate together and that he sometimes says “Man, I’m messed up” when we’re finished.

I love that when I’m channeling the brusque speaking mannerisms of my grandmother who sometimes cooked squirrel for dinner, he tells me that my delivery is lacking. I love that he corrects the pronunciation of some of my words and lazy speech habits. I love that he knows more than I about American history and politics, despite his having been raised in another country. I love that he loves to try different foods, and that a bottle of booze will go unopened for months at our house while a carton of chocolate milk won’t last a week. 

I love that we’ve declared that if one of us ever wants out of the relationship that the other will help with packing. I love that I can’t imagine the sadness that we’d have were our relationship to end but that the sadness would be tinged with the joy that runs through all of our todays. I love that with our sad-joy we’d keep our hearts open to loving again.  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Practicing mindfulness in times of tragedy

Children were killed in their Connecticut classroom yesterday. There is no way to process this easily, if at all. But today, even if you don’t consider yourself a meditator, perhaps you will devote a period of time to holding the children and adults who were killed, and all those who are left bewildered and heartbroken, including yourself, in the natural open quality of your body, heart, mind, and breath. Here’s what I did during my morning meditation:
I sat down and closed my eyes. I let my mind say “those precious children” slowly, as though the words could ride out on one full exhalation to find more space and be liberated. Then I breathed normally for a few cycles, releasing the tension in my eyes, my jaw, my belly, and my chest. I noticed that I was holding a great deal of tension in the back of my tongue, as though I wanted to say something that I couldn’t speak and that language couldn’t hold. I released the tension in my tongue. It came back. I kept going anyway. “Those precious children....” Breathe.... Release....
Sitting, breathing makes sense when the world doesn't
In this way I connected with a small bit of my own pain, confusion, anger, and powerlessness, at least for a while. In the aftermath of tragedy it’s easier than usual to spin off into story lines about gun control, security in schools, good and evil, and so on. But spinning off can ultimately shut us down, leaving us feeling disconnected from our own hearts and, therefore, unable to fully connect on a heart level with others. 

This is not to say that we shouldn’t think about and address the many issues surrounding a tragedy. But maybe the moments that follow soon after a tragedy are better suited for just feeling. Right now I hear the caw-caw of crows in the trees and the rumble of far-off traffic, and my listening is intent. The world outside my window seems so normal and reliable, yet today it is hard to believe even in bird calls. So for now I sit with the simple breath of my body and listen to the world without, and to the world within.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

New Year’s resolutions: BAH!

As December ticks down, many of us reflect on the year that is ending. I’ve even made a list of contemplation points to help me do this (email me if you'd like to receive this reflection list: But while deliberate, compassionate reflection can be healthy and helpful, when it comes to making resolutions for the coming year, only one word comes to mind: BAH!
I feel this way because New Year’s resolutions often smack of reprimand—I'm fat: I will eat less chocolate and more broccoli. These almost always sound eerily similar to statements that "naughty" students are made to write again and again as punishment: I will be better. I will be better

Javier told me that when he entered 4th grade and was allowed to participate in his first Confession, that a checklist of childhood “sins" was supplied to him—sins such as "I was mean to my sister." It’s no wonder that on a little Valentine made for his parents are written the words “I will try to be a better boy.” The feelings of inadequacy that we carry around usually have early origins. Why establish resolutions as adults that stoke those feelings?
What if we made a resolution not to make resolutions—deciding not to impose on our bodies, our minds, and our hearts even more messages of not being good enough, worthy enough, and so on (women can pick up any magazine in the checkout line for those messages; men, I assume the same for you).

To this end I’ve created an anti-resolution: it goes by the acronym BAH. In 2013 when I’m feeling inadequate, anxious, angry, shut down, puffed up, and so on, the only thing that I resolve to do, for myself, is to practice BAH:
1. Breathe.
(Big, full breaths that soften the face, shoulders, and belly)
2. Ask So what?
("So what that I'm feeling _______ right now?")
3. Hold off on answering.
(I don't need to have an answer for why I'm feeling what I'm feeling. I can let feeling it be okay for now.)

I can imagine how the practice of BAH might play out: I’ll be grocery shopping (I love to grocery shop), and will have dark chocolate, coffee, fresh cilantro, and other goodies in my cart. I’ll get in line to pay. The line will be long, and I don’t mind long lines. That’s when it will happen: a new line will open and people behind me will dash over to it. 

Line-dashing is one of my hangups. It bugs me. A lot. It bugs me so much that I once lunged out of line and held my arms out to block the people who were dashing from the back to get to the new line (this was many years ago, but I can’t swear that I will never do it again). 

Have I told you that I once worked at Trader Joe’s? It was clear to me that I could work there when I saw that the training included how to open a new line: we were to walk to the person who had been waiting in line for the longest period of time and invite him or her to the newly opened line, helping them with their cart.
After my last day at TJ's. I got to keep the box cutter.
Can you hear how my thinking is totally loaded regarding this grocery line-dashing issue? I’ve written too much about it already but I’m still typing. That’s what happens when we talk, write, or think about a hangup (you’ll know your own hangups because they come with complete mental dialogues that you know by heart and play over and over and over, often at 2am).

While resolving to directly oppose our "flaws," such as deciding to “show more patience," makes intellectual sense, hangups don’t respond to intellect. Remembering that back in January we promised to be more patient will likely do little more than leave us feeling like failures when on August 17 the old desire arises to leap out of line to set the world back on its axis. We need something simple and real in the crazy moments. 

It’s interesting that one definition for resolve is “to break a complex notion into simpler ones.” We might consider “I will be more patient” as a complex notion, and BAH as steps of a simpler notion: to stand honestly in the moment. So in the line when Mr. or Ms. “Gotta Be First” makes the mad dash, the simplicity of BAH may just help restore my sanity. There will be no evaluation required as to whether or not I’m being patient, if I could be more patient, what being patient should look like, and so on. I will be left standing in linebreathing, feeling

Practicing BAH actually mirrors what occurs when we meditate: During meditation we 1) sit and breathe, then 2) when we realize that instead of being aware of our breath, we’ve been carried off into thought, we 3) return our awareness back to the breath. 

With BAH, similarly, we 1) Breathe, 2) Ask "So what that I'm feeling _____ right now?" (this helps us connect with what we’re feeling and makes space for the story line that’s going to come up anyway), then 3) Hold off on answering the So what? question (this lands us right back at simply breathing, accepting the moment and our feelings). If we decide to take action from this vantage point, the action will be a response instead of a reaction.

An interesting note: While writing this post, I learned that BAH is also a texting acronym for Bored As Hell. Sometimes our hangups are perpetuated because of the rush that we get from being hung up: we act on them with fervor, hoping that our actions will prove how right we are, how good we are, how smart we are, and so on. When we stop perpetuating our hangups, it's true—we may find ourselves Bored As Hell. (Feeling bored? Breathe. So what that you're feeling bored? No need to answer that. Just breathe.)

So if you decide to practice BAH when the SHTF, and you find yourself BAH...DWAI. AAMOF, I’d be surprised if that didn’t happen. THNQ!

Guest House, by Rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent 
as a guide from beyond.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

In the service of love: What brings you alive?

May this season's gift-giving include the most simple, ordinary acts of loving service that we can imagine.

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one,
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

      -John Lennon (1940-1980)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What does my nervous system have to do with meditation? Or “Get this monkey off my back.”

Do you replay things in your mind that happened yesterday, last week, years ago? Or maybe you awaken in the night to rehearse what you will do if such-and-such happens in the future? If so, you know the effects of thoughts-gone-wild: muscle tension, headache, stomachache, anxiety, sleep disturbance, increased blood pressure, and more. The fight-or-flight chemicals that allowed cavemen to outrun saber-toothed tigers still surge today, with many of us able to do little more than hold on for dear life in the midst of our incessant mind chatter (aka “monkey mind”).
This is not helping.
Mindfulness practice involves dropping beneath monkey mind to simply be with things as they are; it’s a practice of “coming back” to what the moment actually entails. Do you remember home base in the game of hide-and-seek? “Coming back” during the practice of mindfulness is like making it to home base: we’re still in the game, but we’re relating to it from a totally different vantage point than from when we were hiding or running around trying to avoid being caught.

And avoiding being caught is so very natural for us; we’re hardwired to scan the environment for threats, and the nervous system supports us in this. When an event is perceived as a threat (whether that event is, say, being followed by someone in a dark alley or being belittled by someone in a business meeting), the autonomic nervous system (ANS) kicks it up a notch, releasing stress hormones into the bloodstream. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) then responds by preparing us to fight, flee, or freeze. 

This is a brilliant system. If we are in fact being followed in a dark alley, we need increased heart rate, rapid breathing, more blood flow to the muscles, adrenaline rush, and so on; it’s time to run away! But in a business meeting? There’s the rub. We’re almost never in imminent danger, yet many of us are in a state of autonomic dysregulation, feeling as though our SNS switch is stuck in the “powered up” position. This can make it feel as though even when things are going okay, it’s certainly only a matter of time before the ball drops again.
I've lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened. 
                                                                                                            -Mark Twain
Enter mindfulness practice, which, again, allows us to return to the present moment. One practice of mindfulness involves coming back, again and again and again, to the sensation of breathing as a way to be present. This repeated coming back can be about as exciting as brushing our teeth at times. But just as our desire for good dental health keeps us brushing, the desire for good mind-body health can keep us practicing mindfulness meditation. With this return to the breath, we learn to return to the present moment, without the accompanying pain, anger, anxiety, depression, and myriad of other monkey mind outcomes. The parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) can serve to return us to a sense of calm. 
A favorite "coming back" spot at Karme Choling, Vermont
Without this ability to come back, we have no choice but to continue to spin our story lines until we pop back to the moment by happenstance. Mindfulness meditation is the practice of attending to the moment fully and intentionally, not by happenstance. Unlimited choice exists in the little gap of clear-headedness that comes from realizing that we’re lost in thought, at which point we’re no longer lost at all. Of course we also have the choice to go right back to letting our story lines about past and future spin themselves and pull us around like puppets, but ideally we choose to stop thinking our life and get back to living it. 

Between stimulus and response there is a space. 
In that space is our power to choose our response. 
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
-Viktor Frankl
This 12-minute video features a BBC correspondent who describes his initial skepticism at being asked to participate in an 8-week mindfulness course: “I was totally phobic about beards, sandals, incense, and anything to do with Eastern mysticism.” Hear how once he understands that these things have nothing to do with taking a mindfulness course (and that even Marines practice mindfulness), he takes the course and finds himself quite transformed (also see what his brain scan shows after he participates in the course). And hear a woman with chronic pain talk about what the practice of mindfulness does for her.

Challenge: See if you can identify the female reporter’s misunderstanding of what occurs during mindfulness practice (listen to what she says beginning at the 9:13 mark).

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A meditation for loving-kindness

Click the link below to hear an 18-minute audio for practicing loving-kindness; pass it on.

Loving-kindness meditation

A practice of loving-kindness can certainly have physiological effects—lowering our cortisol level and increasing oxytocin, which can improve our ability to give love and to receive love. But it also softens the relationship to mind states that feel toxic—mind states that sideswipe us, or keep us stuck, such as rage, jealousy, and so on. 

With practice, may we always dwell in our natural ability to love.
I believe in love.
The Love Religion, by Ibn Arabi

The inner space inside
that we call the heart
has become many different
living scenes and stories.

A pasture for sleek gazelles,
a monastery for Christian monks,
a temple with Shiva dancing,
a kaaba for pilgrimage.

The tablets of Moses are there,
the Qur’an, the Vedas, 
the sutras, and the gospels.

Love is the religion in me.
Whichever way love’s camel goes,
that way becomes my faith,
the source of beauty, and a light
of sacredness over everything.

Monday, November 12, 2012

What draws us to meditation? Or "Cut it out or I'll bean you with a rock."

Nobody comes to meditation because they have it all together. Nobody comes thinking, My life, my body, my marriage—perfect. I have no money concerns, can’t wait for Monday mornings, my sciatica is a beautiful reminder that I’m alive, and, hey, I think I’ll learn to meditate.

We all come to meditation feeling that our lives could be better somehow—that we could be better. We all come feeling, to some degree, not okay. Within the last month, the last week, maybe the last 15 minutes, we’ve likely felt impatient, angry, phony, petty, judgmental, vengeful, apathetic, or something else that doesn't mesh with who we want to be. 

Not every moment is like this, of course. Sometimes we feel lovely. We sit on a bench to enjoy a quiet lunch. The sun shines on us at precisely the right angle. Our shoulders relax and so does our breathing. Then a car trawls by, stereo booming its bass into our very heart center. In 2 seconds flat we go from being at one with nature to wanting to run after the car and hurl a large rock.
I would have turned it down!
Of course we’d never actually throw a rock, on most days, but thinking about lobbing a hefty one at the dolt who isn’t nearly as enlightened as we are really gets the adrenaline pumping. But in our mind we do throw rocks, and those mental rocks pile up. They form walls that fortify our neuroses and cut us off from our highest self, from one another, and from the phenomenal world. 

Suddenly we snap back to awareness that we are still sitting on the bench. The sandwich wrapper is empty but we don’t remember chewing, tasting, swallowing. And when did those clouds roll in? Why does something always happen to mess things up, dammit? Most of us come to meditation at the dammit point. 

But we need not get stuck there. Through the practice of mindfulness meditation we can get unstuck: stop being swept away by emotion and yanked from thought to thought to thought. This all starts with accessing the stillness that already exists within each of us. Through this stillness we discipline the mind for clearer seeing so that perspective is restored and wise decisions can be made; we relearn respect for the body's abilities as well as for its limitations; we keep the heart moist and open. We wake up. 

I remember the phrase "If I should die before I wake" from a childhood prayer. Back then I thought that just by my falling asleep that I was somehow increasing my chance of dying—of not ever waking up again. 

Some semblance of that prayer still lives inside of me: May I not fall asleep. May I, and may all beings, awaken now.
I'm awake and very sweet.
Awakening Now, by Danna Faulds

Why wait for your awakening?
The moment your eyes are open, seize the day.
Would you hold back when the Beloved beckons?
Would you deliver your litany of sins
like a child's collection of sea shells, prized and labeled?
"No, I can't step across the threshold," you say, eyes downcast.
"I'm not worthy, I'm afraid, and my motives aren't pure.
I'm not perfect, and surely I haven't practiced nearly enough.
My meditation isn't deep, and my prayers are sometimes insincere.
I still chew my fingernails, and the refrigerator isn't clean."
Do you value your reasons for staying small
more than the light shining through the open door?
Forgive yourself.
Now is the only time you have to be whole.
Now is the sole moment that exists to live in the light of your true Self.
Perfection is not a prerequisite to anything but pain.
Please, oh please, don't continue to believe in your disbelief.
This is the day of your awakening.

Monday, November 5, 2012

When we can’t feel love: Or “Meditation for a Squirrel”

So far in my life I’ve meditated for a squirrel twice. Both times were during periods of feeling numbed out on the love front. It wasn’t that I didn’t love people during this period; I did. I just couldn’t quite feel love—delight in its tender quality. We all have these lack-of-love power outages, even in regard to our children, partners, best friends—people we’d give our life for, but who, on some days, occupy the “I’m just not that into you at the moment” space.

Most times this is nothing to worry about. Our partner shows up in the kitchen with sleepy morning hair, and we pick up the thread of affection. Our child comes out to the car to help us bring in a bag of groceries, and suddenly we’re back on the loving track. But there’s never a guarantee that a felt sense of love will arise again, so it makes sense that we might put forth intentional effort to keep our heart tuned to love.

It was during a loving-kindness meditation, which involves bringing to mind someone for whom we can easily feel love, that I realized that I couldn’t easily feel love for anyone in that particular moment. I ran down my list of usual people, checking in with my heart to see if a feeling of tenderness arose. Nada. I couldn’t even tap into a feeling of love for myself on this morning, which, of course, is precisely why I couldn’t tap into feeling love beyond myself, so I just continued to sit and focus on my breath. Some days this is simply what happens, and I reminded myself that during these “beige” times that a meditation practice supports our best intention of just extending a sense of friendliness to ourselves...period. 
Sometimes I don't
But suddenly I saw a squirrel walk across my deck rail and stop at a flower pot. I had noticed him weeks before and had named him Mr. White Chest, watching him return again and again to bury nuts. This day I watched him dig up a nut and stand on his hind legs to crack it with his teeth. I felt a tenderness. It wasn’t a tears-rolling-down-the-cheeks tenderness, but there was a softness that hadn’t come from thinking of, say, even my mother, whom I love dearly. On this morning, tapping into how I felt about Mr. White Chest had allowed me to reconnect with the tender heart that I knew was there all along, but that I just couldn’t find my way back to.

The second time that a squirrel brought me back to feeling love was while I was on a solo retreat. I had traveled from my Virginia home to spend 5 weeks alone in a remote area of Pennsylvania. It was solidly winter when I arrived, and my days consisted of meditating, building fires, meditating, preparing and eating meals, meditating, sleeping, meditating, and more meditating. The morning after I arrived I awoke to the sound of frantic scratching coming from inside the wall behind my head. I grabbed my phone and called Javier back home in Virginia. And while it felt oh-so-soothing to hear his voice, when I hung up, I was still alone, and the scratching was still there. 
Frozen: February 2009, Nuangola, PA

The scratcher had fallen down an old chimney that had no escape route. The exterminator said that it was likely a squirrel that was doing the scratching, probably being kept alive by snow and the nuts that had fallen from trees, and that it could go on for a bit, but that it wouldn’t be permanent. As l heard him say that it was likely a squirrel, my mind went to a weird place—that maybe it wasn't a squirrel at all, that maybe it was some creepy person who was watching me sleep at night and trying to scratch its way through the wall during the day. 

I continued to meditate, ending each meditation with the usual dedication that we all stop suffering (by now I really meant that for myself in a big way). Eventually I was able to genuinely include even “the scratcher.” During one of my meditations the scratching got so loud that I yelled, “May you be free from suffering, you little bastard.” Later that day I looked up to see a tiny hole in the wall. It was trying to enter my space; I wanted the bastard to suffer a lot. I grabbed the phone and called Javier again, who advised me to push a piece of furniture against the wall. I was sleep-deprived and weepy, but I was determined not to go home because of a maybe squirrel.

Later that day the scratching got less and less, like something done out of sheer habit in the absence of actual hope. I cried like a baby for the poor thing that was stuck. It was alone. So was I. It was frantic. So was I. It was dying. So was I. In that moment the love that I felt for the squirrel, and for myself, was full and honest; in fact (and it feels silly to even say this), I still have a deepened feeling for squirrels. I write about this because I see that, once again, the squirrels are visiting the flower pots on the back deck. Each year this opens my heart in a way that many other things don’t. 

May my heart continue to be touched in unexpected ways, and may the genuine heart of love expand to all living beings. Squirrels included.

Spring works miracles on the heart
I Know the Way You Can Get

I know the way you can get
When you have not had a drink of Love:

Your face hardens,
Your sweet muscles cramp.
Children become concerned
About a strange look that appears in your eyes
Which even begins to worry your own mirror
And nose.

Squirrels and birds sense your sadness
And call an important conference in a tall tree.
They decide which secret code to chant
To help your mind and soul.

Even angels fear that brand of madness
That arrays itself against the world
And throws sharp stones and spears into
The innocent
And into one’s self.

O I know the way you can get
If you have not been drinking Love:

You might rip apart
Every sentence your friends and teachers say,
Looking for hidden clauses.

You might weigh every word on a scale
Like a dead fish.

You might pull out a ruler to measure
From every angle in your darkness
The beautiful dimensions of a heart you once

I know the way you can get
If you have not had a drink from Love’s

That is why all the Great Ones speak of
The vital need
To keep remembering God,
So you will come to know and see Him
As being so Playful
And Wanting,
Just Wanting to help.

That is why Hafiz says:
Bring your cup near me.
For all I care about
Is Quenching your thirst for freedom!

All a Sane man can ever care about
Is giving Love!

Monday, October 29, 2012

What if this is all there is?

What if you never meet your soulmate, find your life’s calling, lose the extra weight, and pay off the bills? What if this is all there is?

Don’t get me wrong; I believe in dreams. Emerson got it right when he wrote, “Hitch your wagon to a star.” But if our “someday” dreams overshadow our “this day” life, the result is always sad: we miss out on the moments that matter, and they all matter. 

Of course it makes sense that we would consider happiness as some future event. From the time we’re young we’re encouraged to put it off—to get through school first, find a good job, meet somebody who will love us, have children, work hard, retire, and then, maybe, we’ll realize that we’ve somehow earned our way to happiness. 
Dad, it all sounds too difficult!
It’s a funny thing—this putting off happiness. It’s like putting off exercise; suddenly we have a paunch and want to take a lot of naps. Without becoming intimately familiar with happiness now—learning how it feels in our body and in our mind and in our heart—can we really expect that, poof, it will just show up for us someday (I could tell you stories of hospice patients who have shared with me about how they “missed it”“it” being their actual life—in their imperfect relationships, in their imperfect bodies, in this imperfect world). 

And this futuristic mindset that we have regarding happiness not only diminishes our ability to feel happiness; it also shrink-wraps the belief that we’re somehow not okay right now (the future us that we imagine probably wouldn’t even want to hang out with the likes of who we walk around as today). 

Something interesting happens when we get this—I mean REALLY get it, not just get it theoretically. We start living. Right here. Right now. Happily ever after can finally begin—maybe while we’re washing dishes or paying bills or taking a walk. Happiness might start out as just a sense of contentment for a moment here and there, or even as moments where we realize that at least we’re not unhappy. We might reconnect with a sense of curiosity or a sense of playfulness. The world touches us, and we let ourselves be touched.
Sweet Penny Dog: Play with me! 
We might even find that contentment in these ordinary moments can be a great fuel for our wonderful, amazing dreams. It was 6 years ago that I began dreaming about creating a business out of 2 of my loves: hypnosis & meditation. This idea woke me at night in a good way. I could close my eyes and see it happening. And then I’d take walks—go around the neighborhood, feed the ducks, ride my bike. I wasn’t necessarily thinking about starting a business while I did these ordinary things; I was just living the moments of my life while they were actually occurring.

I'd like to tell you that I have lived my entire life in this way; I haven't. It took me almost 40 years to realize that I could actually embody my own life and allow myself to be okay with things as they are (knowing that things are usually plain, old ordinary). In fact it was during an ordinary walk that I looked up to see a For Rent sign in a business park (you know where this is headed). I remember that walk. It was chilly and I was heading toward a bridge. The next week I was knocking down walls, putting in flooring, getting a business license, and hanging a sign out front.
The making of a dream: Hampton Roads Hypnosis & Meditation
Since then the dreams that I have for my business and for my life have changed, which is what dreams do when, while we cherish them, we don't depend on them for our happiness. And when I grasp at dreams instead of letting them be the backdrop for the everyday moments of my life, I stumble. I get scared. I convince myself that I can't just stop, breathe, and wash the dishes in the sink—even when I know that this is exactly the way back to clear seeing. But eventually I come back—we all do. 

Through the ordinary I tap back into the vast heart space of my life that has been there all along—the same heart space that you and everyone else possesses. While I no longer have the physical space that I created, I will always have my heart space. 

Tonight I will eat soup, listen to the rain, maybe read a little. This really is all there is. And all there is is always enough.

Enough, by David Whyte

Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.

This opening to the life
we have refused 
again and again
until now. 

Until now.