Monday, December 22, 2014

Breaking free from self-aggression

I’d rather we not meditate than meditate with even subtle self-aggression. Yet self-aggression is what occurs when we sit to be kinder, calmer, more enlightened, more anything. This doesn't mean that we don’t want to apply ourselves toward change or growth, and it’s not to say that meditation doesn’t fuel change or growth, but cultivating a level of okayness with things as they are right now—with ourselves as we are—is at the heart of the practice. 

With this okayness we don’t mind looking back at how things have or haven’t changed. We don’t mind looking at the part we played or didn’t play in these changes. The review is wise and valuable. What isn’t valuable is sitting day after day with the mindset of looking ahead—at the day that we might someday be enough. Again, please, let’s not practice in that way. 
Looking back at our fire circle, aka Dick's Landing
Looking back I discovered that 3 things I had heard about meditation did not come about for me. Instead I found out what did feel true to me. This is the assignment for all meditators: what feels true for you? 

Meditation Myth 1: I will feel relaxed.
What happened instead: I felt awake.
Sitting with my thoughts, my body, and my heart rarely feels relaxing. Sometimes I zone out, which can feel relaxing, but staying present to my mind, my body, my emotions is work. The best description I have for this work is that it feels alive—that I feel alive. Relaxation has me thinking of swaying in a hammock, maybe dozing a bit. And while I’ve certainly dozed while meditating, I’ve never confused that turned down, almost-checked-out state with being fully present.

Meditation Myth 2: I will be able stop my thoughts.
What happened instead: I stopped caring so much about thoughts.
It took me about 10 minutes to realize that if I was going to continue meditating I would have to scrap the idea that I could somehow stop my thoughts. Creating an image of how I might look if I actually did stop all thoughts helped: it’s an image of a frozen-faced me with wide, faraway eyes that leaves me cold. Thoughts come and go. I stopped caring so much about them, which is the truest sense of being free that I ever experience.

Meditation Myth 3: I will feel good.
What happened instead: I felt authentic.
Yes, I hoped that meditating would help me tap into some “feel good” reservoir, at least for a while each day. And while meditation doesn’t make me feel bad, it doesn’t make me feel good either. What I do feel is authentic. So even when I’m sitting with my fear, I’ve become less afraid of my fear. I’m less anxious about my anxiety, less frustrated with my frustration, and so on. 
No. 8, just as she is this time
I can’t say for sure that it’s meditation that brought about these changes. Maybe it’s because I entered my 40s, started running, gave up cheese. But I suspect that meditation has fueled the changes at least in part. I'll keep wondering, ready to change my mind with each breath.

Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Idiot Compassion

I'm struck every holiday season by how easy it is to get caught up in the frenzy: rush around buying things, attend events out of obligation, spend money that we don't have for things that people don't need. Of course the holiday season isn't the only time we do things that move us away from peace.
Bow Head: This seems totally unnecessary
The efforts we make to keep others from being upset with us or uncomfortable is what Chögyam Trungpa calls idiot compassion, and we do this all year long. We might call these behaviors enabling. It happens when we act in a way that we know is not ultimately the best for someone, but taking the action helps us avoid our own discomfort. Idiot compassion is for us. It's the knockoff version of actual compassion, which happens when we're willing to hold our own pain, if necessary, to do what we know in our heart and mind is the "bigger kindness" to others and to ourselves. 

Life Coach Martha Beck suggests asking ourselves 2 questions (shackles on? shackles off?) to gain insight into why we accept or reject requests on our time, money, attention, and energy.

1. If I say yes, will I feel that I've placed shackles on myself? 
Do I suspect that the person will lay a guilt trip on me if I don't say yes, talk about me behind my back, get angry, and so on? Maybe their reaction will be more subtle, with the person pouting or bristling in some way. If I say yes to the request, will I dread doing it or feel that I've sold out? Am I saying yes because I'm afraid that the person won't think I'm nice, great, kind, and so on, if I refuse? If I could get through the guilt or anxiety of saying no, would I feel lighter?

2. If I say yes, will I feel "shackles off"? 
Will I feel that I've touched in on something heartfelt, or that fulfilling the request will ultimately energize me? Will I feel as though I've offered something more than a temporary fix to someone instead of simply avoiding disapproval? Would I want to do this even if I knew that it could turn out to be a lot of work and may not have the outcome that I want?
Shackles off: a precious time with my father
May we all take step after step away from what keeps our life too small for us.

Sweet Darkness, by David Whyte

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love

The dark will be your womb 

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds 
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The practice of lingering

Remember when you first fell in love and would linger on and on with a lover, no matter what needed to be done? Remember times when you acted out of pettiness at work and lingered in self-recrimination long after the damage was done? 

We’re great at hanging out in the highs and lows of strong emotion. But most of our moments are not highs or lows; they are quite ordinary and we rush right through them. In learning to linger in the complete ordinariness of our life, we may discover how very precious and satisfying ordinary can be.
Ordinary sunlight, ordinary water

How to get your linger practice in each day

The key is to choose something very ordinary—something that you’re doing anyway. Then either

  • Do that ordinary event slower than you would normally do it.
  • Pause at the beginning, middle, or end to notice and feel.

Practicing even a little throughout the day can infuse our life with a sense of “this is enough.”

Linger in the morning
*Cradle a cup of coffee or bowl of oatmeal in your hands. Maybe close your eyes as you chew or drink.
*Stay in the shower a few seconds longer than required to get clean. Feel and hear the water.

Linger in the afternoon
*Sit in your car before turning the key. Take a look at the world that exists beyond your windshield.
*Be the last one to leave a meeting. Take your time gathering your things.

Linger in the evening
*Stop before opening the door when you return home. Look up at the sky.
*Feel your feet warm as you snuggle beneath your blanket. Snuggle in even more.

May we all learn to linger in the perfect ordinariness of our life.
Brownies, blue plate, blue candle
Playthings, by Tagore

Child, how happy you are sitting in the dust, playing with a broken twig
     all the morning. 
I smile at your play with that little bit of a broken twig. 
I am busy with my accounts, adding up figures by the hour. 
Perhaps you glance at me and think, "What a stupid game to spoil
     your morning with!" 
Child, I have forgotten the art of being absorbed in sticks and mud-pies. 
I seek out costly playthings, and gather lumps of gold and silver. 
With whatever you find you create your glad games, I spend both my time
     and my strength over things I never can obtain. 
In my frail canoe I struggle to cross the sea of desire, and forget that I too
     am playing a game.