The Look of Failure

Failure is its own kind of boomerang, and the sooner taken in hand the better for everyone. I know this, which is not to say that is what I do.

I’ve learned that to reach for failure is to seize the spectacular. I avoid it for as long as possible. I stay in step with my ego as it tells me, quite forcefully: “Just keep at it. It will work.”

All the while my body sends signal after signal to stop: ”This is not working. Let it go.”

My heart opens to failure as my ego flashes a neon sign: “Don’t screw this up.”  Of course, I already have. I am too busy to hear the sound of failure.

Ever patient, my heart shows me a seat to the spectacular while my ego offers only the slough of despond.

Only to the extent that we expose ourselves

over and over to annihilation

can that which is indestructible

be found in us.

Pema Chödrön in When Things Fall Apart

Exactly.

This is a failure I feel in my bones, literally, and my heart oozes with pain. I did visit the shores of the slough of despond momentarily, too tired to indulge in labels and finger-pointing, mostly at myself.

After spending the last 24 hours alternating between sleep and the meditative state, I hold failure’s boomerang in hand, feeling anything but spectacular. Still, I stay in my seat.

When things fall apart, it is not an easy view. Yet, the heart is compassionate and knows nothing is revealed in angst. That is a scene best left on the cutting room floor.

Best to begin from the beginning.

This past week, I signed on for a writing gig that may have been possible back in the day–eight or nine years ago, maybe longer.

Yet even with better health and greater stamina, it would have been challenging, as I did not have sufficient background. I had to spend too much time researching, which did not leave me enough time to write.

I kept working harder but not smarter. If I had, I would have heard the sound of failure.

I was fortunate to have a thoughtful and compassionate editor who recognized my limitations and as much as she helped me, there was no meeting the deadline.

It was up to me–and no one else–to say, “I cannot do this.” I waited too long and now others must scramble to complete my work, in addition to their own. My concern for failure was greater than my consideration for my colleagues.

Therein lies most of my pain but what is done is done. To anguish over what cannot be changed benefits no one. That is not admitting failure. That is hopelessness.

KMHuberImage; Mudhen; St. Mark's Refuge; Northern FL

To admit failure is to fall apart. Only in such moments does forgiveness reveal itself. I suppose that doesn’t seem spectacular—maybe I misuse the word–yet to sit in the seat of self reveals the human drama, and I know of no more breathtaking experience.

Only the heart can put on such a spectacular show, absorbing the annihilation that failure feels without judgment or looking through the colored lens of blame.

Failure reveals more than a wrinkled reflection; it is beyond the reach of any selfie filter. It is not a gloss. A reflection ripples with the tide or the wind, never providing more than a moment’s glance.

It is the mirror of the heart that reveals all failure, each one its own crack, healed in its own time. Forgiveness is the glue and knows no deadline only the steady beat of renewal. And that is indestructible. To me, spectacular.

The Sound of Breath

Lately, the sound of my breath is interrupting my morning meditation. It’s noisy, calling attention to itself. I am not just exhaling. I am “pushing” my breath, hurrying it along.

It is as if I hear the sound of my thoughts and use my breath to expel them–emptying my mind and closing it off.

These thoughts are a part of me, words with images. With each breath, I expel a load. These days, the sound of my breath is gale force, far from mindful.

At every moment where language can’t go, that is your mind.
Bodhidharma

I guess that is where I try to go every morning for an hour or so and then take a bit of that into the rest of my day. It’s tricky, this mindfulness stuff.

I remind myself about the stories of the Buddha realizing what enlightenment means. It is a gift but the experience of it is life changing. It is not floating around in peace in a never-ending story.

Well, it is but getting there is giving up a lot like language, labels and learning to share space with all living things. The activities of daily living don’t magically stop or become unnecessary.

It’s just the perspective that changes. It’s a completely different lens.

Sogyal Rinpoche illustrates with the example of empty jar or vase. There is air inside and outside. What separates is substance, clay in this case.

Our Buddha mind is enclosed within the

walls of our ordinary mind.

But when we become enlightened,

it is as if the vase shatters into pieces. 

 Sogyal Rinpoche, Glimpse of the Day

And then the sound of breath is soundless. Until then, patience is my practice.

Marianne Williamson says “infinite patience yields immediate results.” I don’t disagree. I think there is a glimpse, a moment when there is a favorable shift in the odds. In other words, growing awareness.

No overnight enlightenment for me, and I’m okay with that.

Patience resides in the hard places, where it hurts the most to be, physically or emotionally. To sit with the pain is patience. It takes trust.

The minute the struggle to sit stops, that’s the when the odds shift from suffering to acceptance. The pain may be less or may be more but there is no more holding onto it.

Infinite patience, immediate results.

It is the “unpleasant experience” in which I hear the sound of my breath, forcing words to empty the mind, which is not to say the words will not return.

They do, in Technicolor–full image–even a movie if I allow my memory its way.

My ego has superstar status when I lack compassion, refuse to listen to a point of view so opposite from mine. It is unpleasant, at times frightening, and every time I turn away from “the enemy,” I turn away from myself.

I hide in the jar of my “ordinary” mind, seeking solace but staying separate from my “Buddha” mind. In frustration, I breathe and the words keep coming.

I know of no Zen or Buddhist teacher that does not advise both patience and tolerance as well as interaction with our enemies. Not on a full-time basis but to seek what separates us.

Break through the clay, completely cast it aside.

It’s not about changing anyone into what they are not.  It is about breathing the same air with everyone else, soundlessly.

A Place Not Far Away At All

I once believed peace a place far away, a land I would never know. I had too many bad habits, too many questions. How could I find time for peace?

Turns out peace is available in every moment, always an option. My choice. No two moments are alike so accepting and accessing peace lasts a lifetime.

I choose Zen as my practice but peace is not picky. There is no one way to peace and for every way there is an open shore.

Initially, I thought if I meditated every day for five minutes, 15 minutes, or an hour I would know stillness. Not exactly. I was still assigning peace a label.

Sometimes, I sit in stillness but the whir of thought–chaos–is more my meditative state. Mine is mindfulness meditation rather than transcendental. I meditate in the moment just as it is.

Remnants of that meditative state are what I bring into my day, sitting in the seat of self, as the emotion of the day–the chaos–plays out. Rather than judging, I find strength, something I once sought outside myself.

There is peace in such trust of the self. It takes the fear out of emotions. Within, I let them rage until I discover what it is they are really about. They are remarkable tools, emotions.

To let the storm rage is to sit in the safety of the self. Then and only then am I able to make a mindful response rather than getting tangled up in self-righteousness. The world does not need any more of that.

I have an increasing appreciation for the singularity of the candle, its flame stands brightly no matter the odds. At some point every wick gives way to a puddle of wax.

That doesn’t sound very reassuring or peaceful but it is, I suspect. To find stillness in the middle of chaos–to sit in the eye of the storm–is to know peace.

It’s the hardest thing I ever do, living in the present moment. Maybe it’s the only worthwhile thing I’ve ever tried.

Fear gives way to mindfulness. It puddles up. It simply is no match for mindfulness. I am not sure what is.

From what I know of history, worldwide mindfulness is one weapon we have not leashed upon the world. If we had, we would know.

Albert Schweitzer wrote, ”We cannot continue in this paralyzing mistrust…another spirit must enter into the people….” Exactly.

Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön said if we ”want to effect change it is not through self-righteous anger.” No, it is not.

What might this other spirit look like? How else to navigate the chaos that is the life experience?

It is not as if the demands of the day line up neatly. They sail in from everywhere. Some are arrows that wound deep. Others are boomerangs, visits from previous poor choices, demanding yet another decision.

It is up to me decide every day, confining myself to what is and not what might be or is no more. That is the focus of trust–peace–perhaps lasting no longer than my next breath.

It’s not how long it lasts but that it is always available. For me, that is Zen—easy, uneasy.

The Energy of Being in the Moment

I found a way of walking on air with prednisone this past week. It has been more mindful than you might think. And groundlessness was the key.

I would not have suspected that prednisone would provide yet another perspective on Pema Chödrön’s teaching of groundlessness.

In other words, work with the reality I have–be and stay present. Not something I had ever tried with a prednisone increase to reset rather than rejuvenate my body.

Initially, being present seemed counterintuitive. Why not go with the energy and have a few days of doing things like everyone else? Was that not being in the moment?

Not a one of us gets life full-blown forever. No one light shines without going dark. And even if it did, our appreciation would go blind.

Life is never about going back. It turns on a dime. Whether it stays on edge or lands on heads/tails, it is a new tale to tell every turn.

I remembered why I finally turned to meditation as a serious practice. I had no place else to go, nothing else to try. I wanted meditation to be a panacea but nothing is in isolation.

Some days, there is a clarity in meditation for which I have only the experience–no words. Other days, the thought chatter reduces me to tears.

I no longer show up with expectations.

It is the only way to wake up in a dark night of the soul and find a sliver of light. What else is the present moment other than a single sliver, just enough to light the night.

Some days stay all but dark. In this world, to get up in the morning is an act of courage for anyone. Life is not a Pollyanna prance.

What is more frightening than being in the moment? In other words, what I feared most about being in the moment was being in the moment.

But each day is all I ever have. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow a mere maybe. Both are mucky lands of “what if.”

It is only in the present that I settle into groundlessness. No thing and no one stays. The fabric of life–of what we take hold–is its impermanent experience. Maybe that is magic. I don’t know.

I once believed there to be a bit of magic in prednisone. After all, its possibilities seemed endless because energy is just that—endless. But I am finite.

This past week’s increase in prednisone has been unlike any other for me. It did not start out that way.

Old behaviors kicked in immediately. Within hours, I was anywhere but the present, my thoughts spinning with the possibilities of a six-day energy spree.

That kind of energy is so seductive, rather like chocolate. And too much of a good thing is just that. If meditation has taught me anything, it has taught me the power of pause.

I could exhaust myself with energy and at the end of six days, be in worse shape than when I started. Just a mere sliver of light that moment but it seemed a beacon.

That is how mindfulness rolls, a singular sweep of the scene, weaving one moment into another. An undulating tapestry. A web without a weaver.

It Was Always a Love Story

Usually, I publish my longer pieces on this blog, a bit of a #LongerView. I link to them on Aim for Even where I provide a swinging bench and invite the reader to sit a moment, if the topic suits.

Today, I offer you the same as I say a final goodbye to feline EmmaRose in The Roses of Our Lives. About eight months ago, I wrote about her leaving for an animal sanctuary.

I never doubted my decision but I never lost the ache in my heart, either. Love is what is best in us.  For me, EmmaRose was always a love story, and as you will discover, that never changed.

Safe for Anyone?

Why not be content with a slice of life? Why is a moment not a sufficient feast?

Experience has taught me the moment is all I have, and it is more than enough. Yet, my ego remains suspicious. It believes there is more.

Byron Katie said, “when you want nothing from anyone else, you’re safe for anyone to be with, including yourself.”

Michael A Singer wrote that when we understand the world is merely something of which to be aware, then “the world will let us be who we are.”

In other words, go groundless, as Pema Chödrön calls it. Trust in myself and get comfortable with “getting tossed around with right and wrong.” Sit down in the “seat of self” (Singer).

I do manage to do that, from time to time, and when I do, my view of the world is completely changed. Whether in or out of the meditative state, in these moments I am who I am, and the world responds in kind.

It’s not pure, this awareness, just an evenness of mind. The banquet laid before me is more than I could ever imagine. This state stays until I try to hold onto it. The mere attempt at attachment and it evaporates.

My mind returns to ping-pong between the future and past regarding this and that. It whirs, images blur. What was clear and calm is chaos. And I begin to want, again.

Trusting in groundlessness seems impossible, yet how can I not?

Experience has taught me there is a point of balance in each day, no matter how pervasive the impossible. It is mine to find the fulcrum and respond with adjustments.

I have a greater appreciation of the unique, accepting that no day ever repeats. I’m grateful for that. Somehow, it lessens my fear that I am not enough.

With that confidence, I sit in the seat of self and open my laptop to Facebook for uniqueness in both the moment and in human beings.

We are born to difference, related to the stars by dust.

Some of the best Facebook threads are missed by those who comment without regard for reading. Often, that’s a source of irritation, resulting in much asserting of who is lacking. Soon, the original context is completely lost. So many are found wanting, and some demand it.

Social media context is easily misread yet what better opportunity to practice awareness, to get comfortable with “tossing around right and wrong.” It seems impossible, increasingly.

Sometimes, silence is the point of balance in my social media moments. The seat of self offers observation– allowing me to read—to listen hard for the tone. Selecting an emoji signals that I heard.

Sometimes, that is all I have.

 

Mom’s Last Door

Today, the Memorial Mass celebrating my mother’s life is being said.

I am over 2000 miles away. Ours has been a long-distance relationship for almost two decades.

The last time I saw my mother was four years ago. Increasingly, we shared physical disability. Soon, neither was able to travel.

Most Sundays, I wrote a weekly letter to her, just a page or two. She was no longer able to send email so for the last 2 ½ years of her life, I wrote her a letter.

She did not write back. The give-and-take of regular correspondence was not the purpose of the letters. Mom wanted to know about my life, the day-to-day of it, and so I told her.

Some weeks I wrote her about Zen Buddhism within the context of her own devout Catholicism.  It pleased her that I practiced a kind of “faith,” even if that is not how I would have described my practice.

Once that distinction would have mattered but in writing the letters, the word faith fit. Mom had a deeply personal relationship with God, an unwavering faith and trust in His grace. She believed “Let go and let God.”

Mom respected people’s beliefs; they need not mirror her own. She knew how to listen and many turned to her. She showed me I do not have to agree with people but I do have to hear them.

It took me decades to appreciate that in my mother but when I did, it opened so many doors for me.

I think it always opened doors for her, too:

Let my last door open into the light of late spring.

May it be shadowed with the announcements of those who walked

into darkness before me—right foot disappearing first,

body leaning into the unknown, trailing hand making mostly

mysterious gestures: I’m all right or come along; it’s what I thought

or it’s not what I thought.” *

Mom died in winter–in Wyoming–her memorial service is in late spring. Just two days ago it snowed.

Spring still lags. I know she would appreciate that.

An avid gardener, Mom knew late spring better than most. She accepted its elusiveness and never doubted it.

I have no doubt its light opened her last door.

*Wendy Bishop, “My Last Door” excerpt from My Last Door, Anhinga Press, Tallahassee, FL 2007.