Sunday, December 29, 2013

3 obstacles to meditation (with inspiration from Dr Seuss)

Meditation changes things. It changes the body, it changes the brain, it changes the heart. Most people relish the possibility of a change, but when that change occurs, it can be terrifying.

You see, there are no hiding places when we get silent and still. We must be willing to face everything when we meditate—relationships that aren’t healthy, habits that are keeping us sick and confused, attitudes deemed admirable at work yet obnoxious at home. It's brave to sit in silence all alone with the only expert in your life: you.

You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And you are the one who’ll decide where to go. -Dr Seuss

Besides letting fear keep us off the cushion, I was taught of 3 other obstacles that we allow to sideline our practice. Here they are—

1. Forgetting the instruction
Basic meditation instruction is that when we realize we’ve been highjacked by runaway mind, we gently return awareness back to the present moment. I usually do this by coming back to sensations of breath or body first; you may have your own way to come back. But the instruction is always, When you’re lost, come back. When we’re lost in thoughts about a situation that seems very serious, puzzling, and complex, the answer is, Come back. When the mind is running after thoughts that are delicious and seductive, and we don't want to come back, the answer is Come back anyway
Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple. -Dr. Seuss

2. Too much laxity or too much elation
Not only is the answer always Come back—it’s Come back without making a big deal out of thoughts, our practice, our life (too much elation). But make no mistake: the coming back is firm and definite; we do not wallow in runaway mind (too much laxity). Nor do we get too lax about what we consider a meditation practice—rationalize that the 30 minutes we were passively quiet while watching TV is equivalent to the 30 minutes we were actively silent while watching our mind. When we practice without making too big or too little a deal out of practicing, we cultivate the ability to see things as they actually are. And there’s so much to see.

You’ll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut. -Dr. Seuss
What Deb saw after retreat, fall 2013
3. Laziness
Keeping our lives so jam packed and then convincing ourselves that we can't possibly let anything go is the 3rd obstacle to meditation. It's not a stretch to understand that if we keep our lives extremely busy that our minds will be that way too. While we certainly get applause for doing-doing-doing, it is through the discipline of simply beinging that we bring a different energy to our efforts. Maybe when we care enough to honor the space and time that it takes to practice stillness and peace within ourselves, we can create a world that is still and peaceful too.

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not. -Dr Seuss
The flower Daniel sees on his way to/from work: Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan
Thank you for caring, Daniel

The Journey, by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do, 
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations, 
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen 
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do 
the only thing you could do
determined to save 
the only life you could save.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Get tough and meditate. Meditate and get tough.

We meditate even on days when it hurts to meditate. Maybe it’s the body that hurts. Maybe it’s the mind or the heart. This sitting still and welcoming pain goes against what we have been taught—to distract ourselves from discomfort, find a way around it, or just muscle our way through. The bravest thing that I know to do when I experience pain is to go ahead and allow myself to hurt, be scared, be sad, and so on, without either reaching for the quick fix, calling up a friend who will tell me that it’s okay, or throwing myself a pity party. Some days we just need to get tough and meditate.
So what that you're scared? Meditate!
This moving up close to pain isn’t so different from training a puppy to stay. I once had a pug who loved mandarin orange slices. When I held one in front of his nose, his body quivered and he whimpered. But he stayed with all this discomfort until he heard “Okay." We’re not trying to be martyrs when we sit in meditation, but we are cultivating a strong sense of being with ourselves in every moment of our life, not just the ones that feel happy and easy. How can we expect to be with others who are in pain if we haven't learned to hold that space for ourselves?

The practice of being with pain, heartache, loneliness, and so on, is why I became a hospice volunteer—not because I’m so kind and loving, or because I thought that I could fix anything at all. Being with the dying has allowed me to be a student of mindfulness in a way that nothing else has. Someone dying is either lying down or sitting (prime positions for meditation). They are aware of most every breath (the instruction for meditation). And they live moment to moment to moment (bingo). As much as we may try to “live like we’re dying,” I can’t imagine that we will actually do that until we actually are. So for now, as we celebrate our life, maybe we can include even those moments when we quiver and whimper.
Sit, stay, quiver all you want
One day as I was telling my meditation instructor why I hadn’t been able to work on a writing project, she interrupted me with “Stop making excuses.” It stung to hear those words, and it helped. Staying present to what scares and hurts us can foster courage, confidence, and kindness. Bravo to the brave counselors, dear friends, and glorious teachers who are practiced enough to speak the truth in whatever way our ears can hear it.

Tired of Speaking Sweetly, by Hafez (translated by Daniel Ladinsky)

Love wants to reach out and manhandle us,
Break all our teacup talk of God.

If you had the courage and
Could give the Beloved His choice, some nights,
He would just drag you around the room
By your hair,
Ripping from your grip all those toys in the world
That bring you no joy.

Love sometimes gets tired of speaking sweetly
And wants to rip to shreds
All your erroneous notions of truth

That make you fight within yourself, dear one,
And with others,

Causing the world to weep
On too many fine days.

God wants to manhandle us,
Lock us inside of a tiny room with Himself
And practice His dropkick.

The Beloved sometimes wants
To do us a great favor:

Hold us upside down
And shake all the nonsense out.

But when we hear
He is in such a "playful drunken mood"
Most everyone I know
Quickly packs their bags and hightails it
Out of town.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Big Mind, Little Mind, Like Mind

I'm all for hanging out with like-minded people, unless there is only 1 piece of cake left. Then I'd prefer the company of those who like pie or maybe a nice piece of fruit instead. I wonder if what we really mean when we say that it's great to be with like-minded people is that we prefer to be with people who agree with us or, at the least, don't prompt us to face certain things that we don't like about ourselves.

Maybe we're all of "like mind." Maybe this is due to the clear, spacious, able-to-hold the good, the bad, and the ugly ability of mind that each of us has. We might call this Big Mind. Maybe it's also because of the puny, scared, hiding out experiences of mind that we have. We could call this Little Mind. We are alike in both this Big and Little Mind way, with much to learn and teach according to everything that we are.

I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet strange, I am ungrateful for these teachers. -Kahlil Gibran

It was confusion about like-mindedness that caused me to wait years before taking the refuge vow. I could commit easily to 2 parts of the 3-part vow. I could take refuge in the belief that Buddha was a man who became enlightened by working with his mind, and that I can do that too. And I could take refuge in the teachings that point me back to myself to work at ending the suffering that I cause in the first place. What I couldn't take refuge in was other people who had also vowed to work with mind. What if those people turned out to be weird? What if they were needy? irritable? selfish? What if they learned that I am all these things? What if they ate my cake?

Thank you for loving me and my mind
Committing not only to live respectfully with others who vow to work with both Big and Little Mind, but also to be seen up close by those people, requires courage. It requires letting community hold up a mirror so that we might see ourselves clearly. There are moments each day when I'm not even like-minded with myself. How could I ever find a community of like-minded individuals? It turns out that such people exist as far as my Big Mind can see. It's only when I look with Small Mind that I live alone.

I was given a new name when I finally took the vow. Some think that a refuge name captures the essence of the initiate; some feel that it points to where the person needs work. My first name translates as Liberation, my last name as Happiness. In the middle is the word Dharma—truth. Liberation, truth, and happiness. When I lose my mind, those names point me back to the path and to the goal. So do all the other brave warriors of like mind. May we all learn from one another the truth of who we really are. 

I am not I, by Juan Ramon Jiminez (translated by Robert Bly)

I am this one
Walking beside me whom I do not see, 
Whom at times I manage to visit,
And whom at other times I forget;
The one who remains silent when I talk,
The one who forgives, sweet, when I hate,
The one who takes a walk where I am not,
The one who will remain standing when I die.

Friday, September 6, 2013

7 questions about giving

May these questions promote generosity.

What do I give to my people?
Who are “my people”? Am I giving them the respect, gratitude, patience, and kindness that helps them realize how important they are to me? Do I tell them that I'm proud of them, that I love them, and so on? Do I look them in the eye and smile? 

Am I spending time or money in ways that no longer promote wisdom, kindness, and good health in my life?
What changes can I make to release myself from the hold of defunct habits, belongings, obligations, and so on?
Thank you for making a new habit of watching an old show with me
Do my finances reflect a heartful life?
Do I give from a heart space, or do I give because I feel obligated? Life Coach Martha Beck says that before doing or giving something, we might check our motives by asking a question: When I imagine doing or giving such-and-such, would I call the feeling that I get “shackles on” or “shackles off”? If the answer is "shackles on,” maybe I shouldn't push forward to give or do—perhaps I could wait and reconsider.

Do my physical surroundings promote an attitude of generosity? 
Is there clutter that keeps me busy and preoccupied? Is there better use for some of my "things"? Do I honor possessions by keeping them clean, maintained, organized, and so on? Are there areas in my life where I skimp or do without, when being more generous with myself would provide resources and tools that could bring about ease? Are there areas where I go overboard or waste?
Thank you for organizing storm supplies (and camping out on the floor)
Can I give more respect to my body?
Are there changes that I can make to become physically stronger and more flexible? In what ways could I be kinder to my skin, teeth, and so on?

What am I afraid of that keeps me holding on to items that no longer fit my life?
Are there gentle but direct ways to address that fear? 

Does a particular person or group make my heart sing?
What “small” or “big” something can I offer to make their work and life more effective, simple, and happy?
Thank you for making me happy
May we always give from the very best of who we are. 

Happiness is not so much in having as sharing. 
We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. 
-Norman MacEwan

Monday, August 26, 2013

Celebrate your seasons

There are times to create, to grow, to nourish; these times feel full, rich, and expansive. Other times are concentrated and small, and it feels best to clear out, condense, reduce. In moments that are cold and stark, we may doubt that anything will ever spark for us again. Silent, still times allow for deep listening to inner landscapes. 
Landscape, by Renee
Just as nature has seasons, so do we. Throughout each day, each week, and into the months and years that we call our life, each of us has rhythms that are uniquely our own. It is honorable to recognize these rhythms and to live them as they arise. We can then stop looking for anything beyond ourselves to let us know whether or not we’re okay, if we’re good, and so on. We can stop being embarrassed about who we are.
Good egg, bad egg
It is brave to allow ourselves to be seen throughout the seasons of our life; it may be even more brave to see ourselves. This bravery is something to celebrate. We can celebrate stillness. Celebrate vitality and color. Celebrate having just enough and not one drop more. Such celebration is dignified, simple, without fanfare. We might drink tea from a good cup on the darkest cold day of our soul’s winter. We might raise our face to the sun and breathe in the sky. We might curl our body in on itself on a random afternoon and drift in and out of sleep.
Driveway vacation
Recognizing and meeting our rhythms in a way that is straightforward may be what is meant by living each moment of life. And that’s really something to celebrate. 
Keely rides winter, courtesy of Sam and Murphy

Stream of Life, by Rabindranath Tagore

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day 
runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures. 

It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth 
in numberless blades of grass 
and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers. 

It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth 
and of death, in ebb and in flow. 

I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life. 
And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Mother Love: A practice in opening to others

There is a practice of considering each person we meet as someone who has been a mother to us at some point: someone who grew us inside her body; sang lullabies; experienced the physical pain of giving birth; fed us, clothed us, taught us the best she knew how; dried our tears; stood over our crib and delighted in our gibberish; watched us make poor choices, and loved us anyway. 
A face only a mother could love
This isn’t a practice of treating others as we would like to be treated. Nor is it a practice of trying to figure out how people want to be treated, and then acting in a way that pleases them. It’s a practice of cultivating an unwavering attitude of unconditional respect and deep gratitude for everyone.
Thank you for loving me when I was lovable, Mom
Have you ever known someone who meets new people with a very guarded mindset? Maybe you do this. The “mother” practice provides an opportunity to meet our fellow human beings with less apprehension, less sizing up. It doesn’t mean that we suddenly act all gushy or become doormats. It is simply a practice that allows us to work on our own attitude so that we might be more pliable, more open in our encounters with others, less quick to dismiss those who don’t act as we think they should. 
And when I wasn't
It can also be fun to do this practice. One evening as I was leaving work, I looked out the window and saw a teen-aged boy riding a bike down the street. I said, “Thank you, Mom.” I didn’t try to figure out how a young boy could possibly be my mother, and I didn’t go out and try to do something for him. I simply took the opportunity to recognize that in his humanness, he possesses a potential for the deep caring and intelligence that we associate with motherhood.

Sometimes I can’t recognize even the smallest bit of “mother” in someone, and in those times I try to imagine the person asleep. Sometimes I even shrink them down to their little baby self, and place myself beside their crib to imagine the rise and fall of their belly as they breathe themselves through the night. 

May we all find ways to care for and respect one another.

When They Sleep, by Rolf Jacobsen

All people are children when they sleep.
There's no war in them then.
They open their hands and breathe
in that quiet rhythm heaven has given them.

They pucker their lips like small children
and open their hands halfway,
soldiers and statesmen, servants and masters.
The stars stand guard
and a haze veils the sky,
a few hours when no one will do anybody harm.

If only we could speak to one another then
when our hearts are half-open flowers.
Words like golden bees would drift in.
God, teach me the language of sleep.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

When pain becomes suffering

We each have a go-to reaction when we don’t get our way. Maybe yours is to flash anger. Maybe it’s to shut down and harbor a grudge. Maybe you pout, feel shame, lay guilt trips. Whatever your version of emotional reactivity, when in these moments, you stand at the juncture where our highest work begins—the juncture between pain and suffering.

How many times have you heard of someone “coming out” of hardship with new understanding; appreciation for life; efforts that have a tremendous impact on those around them, their community, the world? How many times have you heard the opposite: of someone spiraling from hardship into destruction of self, others, the world? Different stories. Same juncture. One person’s pain leads to liberation. Another's to suffering and harm.
Path back to my cabin in NY at night. Scared.
It is up to each of us to work with our own reactive tendencies. To do this, of course we must see them. We must acknowledge that they exist and stop rationalizing. Nobody can hold your own pain but you, and nobody can alleviate your own suffering but you. (But oh boy, much gratitude to those of you willing to hold the space for others as they grow through these intense periods of pain and suffering. You are the ones changing the world.)
Same path in the light. No fear.
To work at this juncture requires an encounter with pain. This really stinks, and no sane person would intentionally invite pain into their life. But nobody has to; we live in a hurting world. On any given day we can have our feelings hurt, panic, get sick, and so on. But we don't have to confuse the situations or people who trigger pain in us as the reason for our suffering. (If only such-and-such would stop, go away, change, I could be happy!) Situations and people don’t cause us to suffer; we do a fine job of that on our own.

And here comes something very cliché: to work on alleviating suffering, we need only 1 thing: kindness. Call it love. Call it caring. Call it, at the least, civil respect. Call it whatever you like. But until we make friends with our reactive tendencies, we’re going to remain on some level an enemy with ourselves and the world. We will continue to suffer.
Kindness when we're hurting always leads us back home.
I remember as a child when my favorite blue dress with white daisies began to cut me under the arms. I wiggled and pulled at the sleeves, which made the cutting and chafing worse. I tugged at it from the bottom, which popped the hem. The more I pulled, the more I hurt. Finally I didn’t just stop pulling; I took off the dress and didn’t wear it again. 

There is likely suffering that it’s time for each of us to stop wearing. If it helps to try it on to convince yourself that it no longer fits, do that for as long as it's necessary. Pull and wiggle all you want. When it's obvious that you've outgrown it, may you put it aside and see once again how lovely you are without it. May you live at ease. 

Saint Francis and the Sow, by Galway Kinnell

The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don't flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead 
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessing of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Be brave: Try

Some of the smallest acts require the biggest efforts: writing the first words on a blank page, stepping up to a microphone, walking onto a dance floor. We could live our whole lives without doing most things that both intrigue and terrify us, and nobody would ever be the wiser. But we’d know. And that’s the kicker.

Longing to try something, while avoiding it like hell, keeps us emotionally stuck: we can’t hold back in one area of our life and not be holding back in others. So today, what would you like to try? If thinking of a sentence helps, try this one:

I would like to ________, but ________.

I met a champion extreme snow skier one winter in Vermont. The mountains were covered with snow and ice, and I asked him to be my walk buddy whenever we went outside. He explained how while he's skiing at breakneck speed, he looks only at the open space on a path, not at objects that might cause him to crash, and that as long as he moves toward space, he doesn’t crash. I spent every walk we took stepping exactly wherever he stepped.

A similar shift in focus might work when we lose sight of space and, instead, can see only what might, maybe, could (but probably won’t) block the path. It doesn’t matter if we’re scared. It doesn’t matter if we’re not a champion at what we’re trying to do. It matters only that we try. One little step. Then another. 
First time clipped into the pedals.
It’s strange to think that taking even a little step toward having a new experience can make us healthier in all areas of our life, but it can. We get braver with each step that we take. And when we’re braver, we’re better able to see the open space that is always so much bigger than what scares us. 
I can't stop staring at what scares me!
This past winter while a group of us were giving timed presentations at a retreat, one presenter froze. He was going along fine, when he suddenly stopped mid-sentence. He turned to the teacher, Pema Chödrön, and said, “I need to stop. I can’t go on.” Her response was soft and her voice was low: She said, “Try.” He took a big breath and spoke a sentence, then another, until he finished his talk. It's a lovely thing to be in the presence of someone willing to try.

Is there something that you want to try, but you can't see beyond what seems to be blocking the way? May you step out into space anyway. May you take a big breath and do something extremely brave: just try.

On Commitment

Until one is committed, there is always hesitancy,
the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.
Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation),
there is one elementary truth,
the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans:
that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.
All sorts of things occur to help that would never otherwise have occurred.
A whole stream of events issues from the decision,
raising to one's favor all manner of unforeseen accidents and meetings
and material assistance which no man could have dreamed
would come his way.
Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Saying YES

I once applied for a job that didn’t interest me all that much. With that “nothing to lose” attitude, I asked for an inflated salary, to work only 30 hours each week but to receive full benefits, and to have an extra week of paid vacation tacked on each year. The representative kept responding that the answer from “above” would certainly be no, but that she would ask anyway. She did ask. The answer was yes. I took the job. 

That was years ago, but I still smile when I remember how lovely it felt to hear Yes. It feels even lovelier when I can provide that answer for myself, in regard to things that actually do interest me. Hearing Yes in the mind can feel so spacious. I don’t know why we accustom ourselves to hearing no instead. 

When I feel stuck in my own no-ness, I sometimes ask: What questions can I actually answer with Yes right now? Can I really just turn off my computer and take a walk?...Can I really ask somebody to help me with a chore that I’ve been dreading?...Can I say yes to saying no when asked to volunteer, simply because I don't want to volunteer right now?
Can I really have 2 carbs at 1 meal?
I’ve decided right here, right now, sitting on the deck with a glass of wine, to continue with this practice of yes-ness. If it makes you smile inside to think of saying Yes, will you actually join me? And then, without giving ourselves time to change our mind, may we get quiet enough to hear ourselves say YES.

God Says Yes to Me, by Kaylin Haught

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
She said, you can do just exactly 
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph 
my letters
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
What I’m telling you is
Yes Yes Yes

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Meditation: Don't take it personally

I swept the deck this morning. By afternoon it was covered over again with pollen. I didn’t take it personally. Our mind works in a similar clear-then-covered-over-again way. We need not take this personally either.

Practicing mindfulness can help us respond to each other and to life situations in a way that feels clear, even when our mind seems anything but. This is because mindfulness is not about finding a fixed state of clear mind; it’s about responding clearly to ever-changing states of mind. (Think Stepford Wives to get a glimpse of what living in a fixed state of mind might look like...scary).

By mindful response I don’t mean deciding not to complain, faking anything, or sucking it up when we’re in pain. Those responses are fueled by suppression (and are also annoying as all get out). I’m talking about a way of responding that is fueled by the clarity that is present even in tough times.
Palmyra Inn, Wakefield, VA: Built 1745. Still needs sweeping today.
I don’t want to make this way of responding sound easy. It’s often not easy. But it can be made easier by an intentional, regular meditation practice. Each time that we get still and quiet, we practice being with ourselves in a very ordinary way. This ordinariness is a key component of the clarity that is always there, with or without us.

Through regular practice we become keenly aware that the practice of mindfulness is personal—that it involves working with our unique situations—but that we need not take the practice personally. The practice is just the practice. Sweeping the deck is just sweeping the deck. And even though we know that the pollen will appear again and again, we continue to get out the broom and sweep.

The Hippo, by Steven Hickman

The hippo floats in swamp serene,
some emerged, but most unseen.

Seeing all and only blinking,
Who knows what this beast is thinking.

Gliding, and of judgment clear,
Letting go and being here.

Seeing all, both guilt and glory,
Only noting. But that’s MY story.

I sit here hippo-like and breathe,
While inside I storm and seethe.

Would that I were half equanimous
As that placid hippopotamus. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

4 gates of speech

There is a meditation practice that involves contemplating slogans to train the mind and wake up the heart. One of the slogans is “Don’t Malign Others.” This means what it sounds like it means: not to speak degradingly about others.

I can’t imagine someone proposing the opposite—that we speak to degrade othersyet sometimes we do speak in a way that degrades. Gossiping certainly does this. So does nitpicking about, or making fun of, the way someone eats, walks, speaks, thinks, lives their life, and so on. This sort of talk usually comes from a desire to highlight ourselveshow clever we are, how right we are, how virtuous we are. 

Even if what we say sounds like helpful advice, words spoken to show off something about ourselves can short-circuit another person's opportunity to come to an even fuller understanding than our words might point them toward. If we're talking in a way that would bring pain to the heart of even one person, we can benefit from examining our speech. 

One practice that might help is called the Four Gates of Speech. It works like this: Before speaking to others, or even to ourselves, we pass through the following 4 “gates” in the order that they are listed below.  

Are the words that I’m about to speak...

1) True?
2) Necessary? 
3) Spoken at the right time? 
4) Spoken in kindness?

If we come upon a NO answer at any of the gates, may we stop there and find peace in silence. If we come upon an I’M NOT CERTAIN answer, may we return to the first gate later on and start over. If the answer is YES at each gate, may we speak with the confidence and clarity of one who is brave enough to love.
Simon guards the gate at Rancho De La Osa, Sasabe, AZ

Ode 314, Rumi

Those who don't feel this Love
pulling them like a river,
those who don't drink dawn
like a cup of spring water
or take in sunset like supper,
those who don't want to change,

let them sleep.

This Love is beyond the study of theology,
that old trickery and hypocrisy.
If you want to improve your mind that way

sleep on.

I've given up on my brain.
I've torn the cloth to shreds
and thrown it away.

If you're not completely naked,
wrap your beautiful robe of words
around you,

and sleep.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

2 responses to impermanence

An elderly woman kept repeating Things change as she told me about things that used to be true for her: I used to like french fries, but now I don't have a taste for them...Things changeI used to have coffee every morning, but after my husband died, I stopped that...Things changeI used to be able to drink water whenever I wanted—now I have to wait for someone to come by and fill my cup. Things change.

Her words convey more than an intellectual knowing of impermanence; she now lives this knowing in a way that makes even a drink of water something to be savored.

Nothing in the world is permanent, and we're foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we're still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it-W Somerset Maugham

We know that impermanence is the nature of life: things arise, they remain for a time, they dissolve. There is never a moment when anything stops. We can have one of two responses to this ongoing cycle: we can 1) appreciate and maybe even find preciousness in the temporary nature of all things, or we can 2) fear change and struggle against it. 

There is a question that I ask myself when I'm fearful and struggling: What most wants to be lived through me in this moment? By asking this question instead of asking "What do I want to happen right now," I can sometimes realign my mind with the dynamic nature of things. Of course this doesn't always work, and even when it does, it doesn't ensure that I won't feel fear. But if I can lean into the fear even a little, I often see that fear too is impermanent—that it also remains only for a time before dissolving.

We all have to decide if we would rather live closely aligned with impermanence, which means experiencing both the sadness and the joy inherent in change, or whether we would rather live in a more controlled, measured way. Perhaps today you can try to notice the three qualities of impermanence—arising, remaining for a time, dissolving—in the spaces of your own life, body, emotions, and so on. 
A precious sad-joy moment for Pat and her father
There is a koan that points to impermanence: What was your face before your parents were born? Contemplating koans can open the mind in ways that conventional thinking usually doesn't. So, what was your face before your parents' birth? What will your face be 300 years from now? What is it right now? And what most wants to be lived through you in this very moment?
Between Going and Staying, by Octavio Paz

Between going and staying the day wavers,
in love with its own transparency.
The circular afternoon is now a bay
where the world in stillness rocks.
All is visible and all elusive,
all is near and can't be touched.
Paper, book, pencil, glass,
rest in the shade of their names.
Time throbbing in my temples repeats
the same unchanging syllable of blood.
The light turns the indifferent wall
into a ghostly theater of reflections.
I find myself in the middle of an eye,
watching myself in its blank stare.
The moment scatters. Motionless,
I stay and go: I am a pause.