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.