On Expedition….

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It is time for me to explore the latest results of impermanence–physically and emotionally–so there will be a pause in posts. It really is an expedition, of sorts, this exploration of my mind and body as one.

The two are a single continent now, although once I saw them as separate countries, accessible only at certain times and tides.

What you are is what you have been.

What you’ll be is what you do now.

Buddha

So, my expedition begins.

(Regular posts will resume May 31)

Stay Open to Life: It is Rigged

Sometimes, life feels pre-determined, pre-destined even. I do not believe that it is but this past week had me wondering—at least for a while. Nothing in my world was as it appeared. I was stuck in some kind of state.

There was the appointment I missed by arriving too early.  I arrived at the time I was told, but that was not the time scheduled for the appointment.

My pot of vegetables—a staple of mine—soured as if it had been in the refrigerator for a week rather than two days.

A quick glance at the calendar revealed the number of days remaining in the month had no working relationship with the amount in my bank account, even if I remained in a meditative state until May 1.

Physically, there were issues beyond my usual lupus symptoms. These my body had kept all to itself. Until now.

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Ultimately, of course, each was a moment for me to broaden my perspective, to view life through a different lens. Always, I am reminded of the Buddha’s belief that pain is part of life but suffering is optional.

That was my state of mind when I came across this quote from Rumi–“Live life as if everything is rigged in your favor”—well, why not? It would change the view, if nothing else.

And how else does the tide turn other than with a view change?

A missed appointment freed up some cash as well as time to explore some options I had not considered.

There was no saving the pot of vegetables, of course. I suspect a couple of days really had turned into a week. Some part of my mind knew this for in the crisper I found fresh vegetables.

And then there was a visit with a good friend. Nothing rigs life in your favor quite like that. In the space of a couple of hours, our conversation ranged from Harper Lee to “branding” in social media. We have yet to meet a topic we would not attempt.

Most of our obstacles would melt away if,

instead of cowering before them,

we should make up our minds to walk boldly through them.

Orison Swett Marsden

And while we are walking through them, we may realize life really is rigged in our favor for the view always changes.

Have a good week. Stay open to life’s rigging.

In Stillness, the World Awakens

It is still dark on this new day but what was night—despair–gives way to the light that is the hope of the new.

In some parts of the world, this particular day has already spent its light but where I live, the light only now gently overtakes the dark. It is my first moment of a day, fresh and unique.

I press the button to adjust the bed to a sitting position to begin meditating.  On more days than not, feline EmmaRose, all 5.5 pounds of her, makes herself comfortable on my soft belly.

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We begin together. She purrs, kneads my stomach, and then lies down to sleep or to stare out the bedroom window. I focus on my breath–in and out, in and out–I stare into the darkness as it becomes light.

I breathe my way into stillness as the world around me awakens. My body recognizes the opening of our daily dialogue.

A mind scan of my body reveals the concrete block stiffness from the previous day but as yet no pain stirs only tingling and numbness in my thumbs and index fingers. I begin there.

Tingling turns into the familiar electrical “bzzt” in the tip of my right thumb, then the left as well. Another “bzzt” charges through my right thumb and then through both index fingers.

I take a deep breath in an attempt to release my thumbs and fingers from the buzzing but the breath seems off, stale. My focus is on thought and not on breathing. Quickly, I attempt to exhale what I have not yet breathed in.

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For a while now I have been aware of this futile attempt to suppress a breath, as if I could. I breathe in fully this time so I may release completely  the fear that it is: my doubt of regaining the full strength of my thumbs and fingers.

As the fear breath goes through my upper body, its weakness seems to increase as does the stiffness in my legs. Only when it has traveled my body am I able to exhale fully what has no substance ever, fear.

Once again, I am one with my breath—in and out–as I sense each finger and then my thumbs until warmth flows through both hands releasing the  electrical “bzzt.” Stillness softens the stiffness of my upper body as it warms to the day.

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The pain in my right leg announces itself. It is a frequent caller so there is no fear as I focus on the pain, searching it out with my breath—in and out—until I reach its core.

We “sit” together for as long as it takes for the stillness to make its way through every cell of my body. I never know the precise moment that it stills, only that it does.

Now, it is the mind’s turn, a movie all its own.

A fragment of a Louise Erdrich quote is first to float through, something about  sitting under an apple tree to “listen to the apples falling all around…in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself that you tasted as many as you could.”

In the stillness, an entire world awakens around me in this day that is now bursting with light, inviting me to partake in all I can as I am able. It is a gift to taste the sweetness of a new breath and in gratitude, let it go as it must.

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Feline EmmaRose decides to stir, sometimes to bathe but other times, just to get on with her day. And as happens more often than not, her movement coincides with the ding of the timer silencing the stillness.

I try to hold it, of course, but like the breath, it, too, must leave. And in response, my body sends signals from everywhere, announcing this issue or that. I am ready to taste the apples of this day, to savor as much sweetness as I am able.

As long as you are breathing, there is more right with

you than wrong with you no matter what is wrong.

Jon Kabat-Zinn

The Highest Good: No Fight, No Blame

Without a fight, there is no blame. This basic truth can be found in the Tao te Ching—no fight: no blame—as well as in the major texts of many spiritual traditions. Blame seems that integral to the human experience.

In last week’s post I chose the phrase aflame with blame as a reference to its incendiary nature. It is quick to flame, this blame, although it is not a trait with any substance.

Whatever person or event we blame is not what causes us to suffer (Byron Katie). Blame is a distraction, and it is easy to get caught up in its mindset.

We suffer when we hold onto a mindset; in a blind stance, we dig in for a last stand. Mindset is a misguided attempt to avoid the inevitable.

Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us

what we need to know

Pema Chödrön

 Turtle Row in fall 1013

It would be hard, maybe impossible, to provide an example of a life experience that does not teach us for in every moment there is something to be learned. At a certain point in life, each of us becomes aware that what breaks us open is what we need to make us whole again.

It is how we learn. It is hard to accept, at least for me.

But time and again, I have realized this one lesson: when I open myself to learning rather than blaming and struggling against, I find the highest good in any situation. The flames of blame and the smoke of striving fade away.

Often, I turn to the teachings of the Tao (in translation) for I treasure its basic truths. Such reflections soothe and instruct every time I return. I am refreshed.

Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive

(Tao, Verse 8)

And like water, the highest good is life-giving, “flowing in places men reject and so is like the Tao”  (Verse 8). All we need to remember is that water will flow—even through rock–rather than reject the route.

The highest good never rejects us, either, even when we do our best to shape what will not be shaped. There is no blame, no fight, no mindset.

Chronic illness is my greatest teacher, as I have mentioned many times. Even in my more difficult moments, I am more aligned with learning than striving, which is not to say I do not have some fiery moments of blame throwing. They are not as frequent.

I find it easier to recognize and to dismantle a mindset, and to do it with self-care and love. After all, a mindset deflates quickly for it is only made of air. And once I breathe it in, I can breathe it out.

Mindset is only a thought no matter how often it may appear. In my experience, mindsets return for they have unimaginable power IF they are allowed to attach and become unassailable belief.

We can learn from observing a mindset if we let it go for what it is. That is the way to keep learning rather than to continue struggling. I find hope in impermanence no matter how many times I meet similar situations. It makes the highest good in any situation seem not only possible but realistic.

We are more like water, wanting life for all and strife for no one. It is ours to flow, like water through rock if we must, open to the ten thousand things and like the Tao rejecting none.

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Unplugged to Get Rewired

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This image is of EmmaRose in her favorite place—in her plush and if necessary, heated bed–practicing her favorite pastime. If you live with a feline, you are constantly reminded how integral sleep is to life.

It is the way sentient beings unplug and get rewired, which is what EmmaRose and I have been doing for almost a fortnight. It is her daily way to unplug regularly.

I am, however, a slow learner yet I have another constant teacher, just as dedicated—autoimmune disease, lupus in particular and in a lesser role, Sjogren’s syndrome.  This is my sea to sail.

Not too long ago, I wrote a post about not unplugging, not ever coming to shore. I believed I could bully my way through any tempest—I was that kind of sailor–but that is not the law of the sea nor is it true self care. It is dangerous sailing, selfish and thoughtless.

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Self care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship

of the only gift I have,

the gift I was put on earth to offer others.

Parker Palmer

Good stewardship requires a daily course adjustment of how to offer my gift without the dualistic thinking of there is only one way. Dualism exacts quite a price for in choosing one way, another way is excluded. Better to steer between the two for balance. They are within the same sea, co-existing with one another.

I was reminded of the inherent imbalance in dualistic thinking as I came across a lively Facebook group discussion on healthcare, specifically alternative versus traditional medicine. Here healthcare is a civil war with both groups firmly entrenched in their respective camps.

There is no one and only one way to health for all but for each of us there is a way to our best health. It may be a balance of both camps or it may lie more within traditional rather than alternative medicine or vice versa.

But without the benefit of learning what each camp offers, there is no balanced approach to one’s best health. In balance is wholeness and without it, we are aflame with blame. Our essence is diminished.

I do not haunt these discussion healthcare boards as I once did but I am reminded of my own imbalance in my approach to my best health. I am fortunate in having experienced the benefits of both camps but I do not know that I have expressed that in a broader perspective.

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And while my preference for traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) remains the course I steer, it is not without the benefits of traditional medicine. For traditional medicine continues to teach me about the western perspective on autoimmune disease. In turn, that perspective broadens my TCM options.

Wholehearted living is not a onetime choice.

It is a process. In fact, I believe it

is the journey of a lifetime.

Brene Brown

Good stewardship just may the journey of a lifetime, easy to drift off course or become becalmed. And then, there are the storms of life, much like the one I am in now, tossed about, swamped from time to time, but not run aground or sunk.

Some who read this blog also know chronic illness. We sail a similar sea as we chart our course anew for storm or to catch the wind for full sail. When we dock for a rest, we learn from our days at sea. We share our catch.

We know what we offer is the best we have to give, and that it only lasts a short time. We also know the impermanence of the sea requires we open our sails to the wind when and as it is given, and when it is denied to rest with a steady hand on the tiller.

Here are some of my favorite resources: Toni Bernhard’s How to Be Sick seems a guide for any storm as is Jan Chozen Bays, M.D.’s Mindful Eating. And through every storm I practice meditation and a gentle yoga flow.

Till we meet again.

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Looking into Nature’s Mirror and Finding Grace

Waverly Larch Spring Nubs 0313The cycle of seasons is nature’s mirror, ours for the viewing. Mostly, we celebrate a new season but not always the length of time nature takes to make the change.

We assign spring a date, anticipating an event that may or may not arrive as assigned. Arrival is always a mystery. In a moment of grace, nature unfolds in its own time, in its own way.

“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace—only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.” Anne Lamott

I do not understand the mystery, either, but I am content for the experience of it. All I do know is that grace transforms. And like spring, it is its own mystery.

Grace flows with the majesty of a meandering river. Part of its mystery is the gradual eroding of its course, without beginning or end. We do not know the precise moment we are transformed. We only know that we are.

In grace, we do not wallow or stagnate but discover and re-discover the spring of our lives not so much as to re-live but to be reborn in yet another season.

Spring is not a one-time event.

Grace moves us to deeds we once thought impossible. In each spring of our life, we emerge anew. Grace allows us to bare ourselves as we are—to take the risk again—to meet each new spring we are allowed.

We are given only one body to grow but we have the gift of grace to transform, to meet yet another spring. Our seasons cycle within our hearts, bold with the opportunity each affords.

We need not remain wrapped in winter, blanketed in its protective shell. Like nature, ours is not to stagnate or to wallow but to transform from a winter’s day into a spring’s blossom. It is the way of grace.

The bud opens, and life begins anew, yet again. There is grace in this falling away of one season for another, a radical change replete with uncertainty.

As we are revealed so are we seen. Grace unlocks our softness.

A Day in Search of the Theory of Everything

I am at the point in my life where I can appreciate every day of the week as just another day.  I keep plans to a minimum. It keeps me open to just what any day can bring.

Every once in a while, a day does take on a life of its own. Often, when there is a plan involved. So it was with last Monday and my plan to see the movie, The Theory of Everything.

The day began like any other Monday as I perused my WordPress reader for a #MondayMusing post to share on my Twitter feed. The first post I read–Core Spirit–made an indirect reference to the Theory of Everything.

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It is a thoughtful essay on consciousness, in particular the differences between the scientific perspective and the spiritual experience. These differences are centuries old.

To me, science confines itself to the natural world, what it can prove/observe.  Those in the spiritual community—poets, philosophers, religions—confine themselves to the experience of just being alive.

In the Core Spirit essay, scientists seek to define the natural world; the spiritual seek “communion” with it. Yet, it is a world we all share. That we have unique and different perspectives should serve to broaden understanding—fuel curiosity—ultimately, it still divides rather than informs.

As for the Theory of Everything explaining all the laws of nature and accounting for all that has ever happened? The essay ends with: “Einstein said that knowing this equation would be reading the mind of God” (Core Spirit).

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To my mind, agreement upon that equation will not come readily but then I am one who immerses herself in the wonder of the moment. Science may  find the equation; some say it already has. For me, science only adds to the awe.

I was pleased at the coincidence of coming across the post on the day I planned to see the movie about the Theory of Everything.

I checked the movie’s show time once more before leaving but paid no attention to the movie theatre location. That, I was sure I knew.

When I arrived at the third movie theatre location, I was told the movie is now out on DVD. The movie theatre employee looked at me askance, of course, but she did have to make a phone call to discover that information. We both learned something.

If I had read the complete movie listing, I would have discovered the fourth location where the movie was, indeed, playing at that specific time, out on DVD or no.

Of course, it was too late to drive to that location. I was not dismayed. There might be a day to see the movie but it was not that day.

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Once home, I checked my email. Within the last twenty minutes, I had received an email from the Washington Post, asking to re-publish “Learning Zen from a Beagle,” my post about a blind beagle showing me the way.

Had I gone to see The Theory of Everything, I would have missed being available for a back and forth email session with the Post editor. I would have missed this moment in my life. Maybe, I would have missed everything now unfolding.  Maybe not.

As for my next plan to see The Theory of Everything, my name is in the local library queue. On another day, my name will come up. Who knows what will unfold.

 * * *

For a thoughtful and concise post on the equation and the Theory of Everything, here is Matthew Wright’s “How Stephen Hawking Reconciled the Irreconcilable.”

For a considered discussion on consciousness, here is “The Akashic Field and Consciousness.”

If you are interested, here is the link to the Washington Post’s republication of “How My Blind Beagle Taught Me Zen.”