Right Down the Middle

KMHuberImage; St. Mark's Wildlife Refuge; Florida; USA

I often think of present moment awareness as a matter of balance, and whenever I think of balance, I think of Buddha nature: “The reason everything looks beautiful is because it is out of balance, but its background is always in perfect harmony” (Shunryu Suzuki).

The background balance of Buddha nature is the source of the infinite possibilities available to us in every moment we have. Our lives are up-and-down, in and out, and all the while, the balance of Buddha nature holds it together while we try this and that.

There are many names for Buddha nature— the web that has no weaver, God, Allah, the Tao— and underlying them all is impermanence, the pain and pleasure of existence. All the great traditions offer ways to accept impermanence, for if we can wrap ourselves around the idea that change is what offers us opportunities, we can live in the moment for all that we are.

There is no one way to present moment awareness but all the great traditions encourage living life fully present.  They offer prayer and meditation as tools but only we can find our middle way for balance is uniquely personal.

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Yet, the nature of impermanence is that balance requires constant adjustment. Just when we think we have found balance, a way to live that accounts for most possibilities, something changes. Sometimes, everything changes or at least seems that way.

Those are the moments of greatest opportunity but they often require everything of us. Our emotions rage. These are not moments to be passed off in positive platitudes or repressed in any way. These are moments to explore the energy beneath the emotion. Present moment awareness plunges us into the energy without the thought.

Many of the traditions define emotion as raw energy with thought or a story attached to it. Usually, many stories emerge with our emotions. It is the stories that bubble up and we attach to them. Before we know it, our thoughts have removed us from the rawness of what is occurring.

The result is we either stuff the emotion away or devise a strategy to control what we are feeling but regardless, we do not immerse ourselves in the rawness but impermanence is the nature of existence, so we will get another opportunity. What present moment awareness offers is a way to wake up and be in the rawness.

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It is not surprising that we are resistant to being in the moment for it means accepting the unknown, yet we do not doubt that life is unpredictable.  We want a certain amount of unpredictability in our lives but we do not want to be uncomfortable.

When something outside our regular routine occurs, we get unsettled, and we struggle for balance. Whether the occurrence is as minor as not being able to get a cup of coffee or if it is life-changing, accepting impermanence as the nature of our lives gives us the power to deal with change. It is not approval of any event but acceptance of impermanence.

“So this place of meeting our edge, of accepting the present moment and the unknown, is a very powerful place for the person who wishes to awaken and open their heart and mind…it is what propels us toward transformation…the present moment is the fuel for your personal journey” (Pema Chödrön).

Meditation and prayer are two, sustainable fuel resources and always available. We begin within so that we may be all we want to be to the world. In finding our unique middle way, we awaken our hearts and minds to the ways of the world, able to adjust to its constant flux.

Finding Story Anew

My last two blog posts have been an examination of my current mind-body consciousness, specifically my meditation practice and eating habits. I share Deepak Chopra’s belief that a change in one’s consciousness or awareness affects a change in one’s physiology at the cellular level.

I don’t remember when I did not believe in the mind-body connection but I know that reading Chopra’s Quantum Healing helped me consider what quantum healing may mean for me. I first read the book in the early 1990s and again just recently.

Old Woman Tree; KMHuberImage; Tallahassee Park in Winter

Of course, my current level of awareness is quite different these twenty years later. Then, I was completely attached to outcome—clinging the Buddhists call it—meaning my attention was always focused on the end result. Mostly, I was on a pendulum, swinging back to the past and then to the future without a thought to the moment. No wonder I never felt free.

Becoming aware that the moment is where freedom resides broke me open to Chopra’s “field of infinite possibilities” both physically and spiritually. Now, every facet of my life is fluid as I focus on what is and not what might be, which takes a lot more energy but in every moment, there is more energy.

Nowhere is this more evident than in my writing. When I began blogging, my writing focus was entirely outcome based: I set myself a certain number of words per day, I joined various writing challenges, and I troubled my readers with my angst over whether to plot out a novel scene by scene or just write it out by the seat of my pants. In nine months, I produced 220,000+ words in what I have come to regard as my daily writing practice. It is as valuable as my daily meditation practice, and  I don’t regret a word.

I was so attached to the outcome of writing– was it a novel, was it a memoir, was it a compilation of essays–that I abandoned story in search of format or genre. I could not free myself of what my words might become until I settled into the moment to write. One word after another, each sentence emerged from life rather than artifice. I re-discovered how I write.

In writing from the field of infinite possibilities, format/genre didn’t matter nor did structure, which is not to say that format and structure do not matter. They do and are critical to a successful outcome but like story, they have their moments for each writer to discover. For me, that meant having to know my story first, and I wrote in a way I have never written.

Having always appreciated a good story, I was well aware that I did not know the structure of story so I found out from those who did. I read, I watched movies, I discovered scene, and I wrote every day. I began to see snatches of story and I was reminded of John Irving’s response to the question of how he writes: “I start writing my autobiography and then I begin to lie.”

Pond in Winter; KMHuberImage; Tallahasse Park in Winter

I am writing an old woman story, and I am an old woman. If one can come of age at age 60, this woman does it. I cannot say that she is sympathetic or even likable—yet—but she exists in more faces and more places than is comfortable for any of us. Age or aging is still a thorny subject, and we have many clichés and euphemisms to avoid the word old.

But what can a woman make of a life at 60, if she has just awakened? That does sound rather autobiographical but I was lying before the end of the first paragraph–such is the way of story. For all I know, the old woman story—for lack of a better title–will remain part of my writing practice, as publication is not the outcome it once was for me. It’s too soon to tell.

For now, I go to the writing every day just to see what happens  with the old woman for I have not lived her life, although an old woman myself.

Life: A Chronic Condition

Life as a condition generally denotes the state of being human but when health is implied, the meaning involves a defective state. Thus, considering life as chronic implies a wearing away, a wearing down.

Often, I use “chronic illness” to describe my health, although it makes me wince. I am no more an illness than I am a writer, a family member, a friend or a neighbor, although I have met each of these conditions with joy and sorrow, success and failure, the usual mixed bag that is life.

Life with conditions resembles what the Buddhists call clinging, attaching ourselves to this or that. We rarely regard reliving a fond memory as clinging but it is; Michael Singer describes this fondness as “I don’t want this one to go away… I want to keep reliving that moment” forever attached, completely embedded.

Just as chronically, we eschew those memories that are less than fond, even though they are always readily available. From those moments we cannot run fast or far enough, unaware we are on a treadmill of attachment incapable of escaping what we know.

Ironically, a shift in our attention from the known to the unknown of awareness frees us. Being in the moment switches off that treadmill, shuts down that memory to experience what always is, the freedom that is in every moment we ever have. Conditions result from experience but in the moment—the state of being– there are no conditions only creations. Chronically, life is; only we attach.

The ancient traditions teach us that everlasting joy is inevitable when we stop pushing away or holding onto life. The freedom integral to peace and contentment is available in every moment. In truth, freedom requires risk and risk resides in the unknown, not exactly comfortable conditions, or has our chronic response to risk become comfortable.

Embracing risk feels as if we are opening ourselves to each and every moment changing us—we are–as if risk were a mere matter of inhaling and exhaling—it is, if we focus. In a mere matter of a breath, consider the strength of a sigh, an exhaling of what is no longer necessary.

Almost any form of meditation considers the breath. In learning to meditate, I focused on inhaling and exhaling and discovered the pause in between. As basic as the pause is, I had never considered it. Only recently did I realize my daily meditation practice has immersed itself into my daily life: inhaling and exhaling, I release all-too-familiar conditions, as if I were sweeping 10,000 rooms daily, which I do.

For me, it was chronically easy to cling to conditions in the belief they secure one’s life. Labels–gender, occupation, health, neighborhood location–categorize life, as if the familiar confines could stay the constancy of change. I spent a lot of my life that way but I admit to a fascination with risk, which has always served me.

It has taken most of my lifetime to realize that joy, love, compassion, and gratitude are chronically inherent in the risk that is life. These emotions eschew the ego and all of its conditions; these emotions launch us out of ourselves into all of life. They are worth every moment of risk.

Freedom in the Unknown

For a while I have been residing with two, well-worn nemeses, the past and the future.  I am deliberate in my use of the terms future and past rather than a specific moment, incident, or person for what keeps the past and future ever present is what Deepak Chopra calls “the conditioned response” or the known.

Each one of us has a myriad of conditioned responses for every situation that arises. Regardless of whether or not there is a replica of a particular situation, the mind enthusiastically emits a thought barrage of past experience and future possibility. Both future and past are attached to what happened or what might happen but not to the moment that is. Living in the moment is the unknown, free from past or future.

Essentially, every moment is free. We choose between the known and the unknown, between what we have always been and what we have never been. It is that basic. What is not free is the situation surrounding each and every moment.

Situations reside in the past or in the future–they have strings–and where there is attachment, there is ego, a constant chatter of what you already know. Only when we practice what Chopra calls “choice less awareness” (Moksha), are we in the unknown of the moment and truly free. It takes a lifetime of practice and ceaseless awareness.

For without awareness, we get comfortable and our practice becomes what we know and not what is. Increasingly, my enthusiasm was on the wane, whether for the revision of my novel or for my nonfiction manuscript on consciousness. While I love what I am doing, I could not deny a familiar tug of weariness. Briefly, even the malaise of lupus loomed as I turned more and more to the known of the past.

Mindless television is a tried-and-true response of mine to whenever “the world is too much with us” (William Wordsworth). Some would argue that I could not have picked a better time than the broadcasting of the two major political conventions in the United States. There may be something to that. For completely opposite reasons, both conventions made me weep but as I reached my saturation point for both weeping and politics, I discovered my enthusiasm for republic and democracy.  Both are messy, completely life-like, wherein lies the sliver that is hope.

No matter the moment of life, hope is always the light of the unknown and may be the heart of risk as well. In hope lies enthusiasm, the total immersion into life, “the ripple that follows the stone…[as] we are each faced with the endless and repeatable task of discovering or uncovering our enthusiasm, which means in essence being at one with the energy of God or the divine” (Mark Nepo). Not surprisingly, God and the divine are within the political whirlwind of the United States while the world watches.

Regardless of how we perceive our relationship to one another–Einstein’s “spooky action at a distance,” the Tao, the Universe, the Source or quantum physics–we are all connected to consciousness, which is so much more than a mere pinprick of light. Consciousness connects us to existence, transcending all we have ever known; it moves our heads under our hearts so we may hear one another. When we listen, we observe. We make a response within the moment.

In observing the political conventions I listened, dropping my decades-long conditioned response of ranting and raving. Rather, I was grateful for living in a republic brave enough to reveal the messiness of its democracy to the world, at considerable risk perhaps.  I immersed myself into the enthusiasm that is the noise of life, the unpredictable but eternal moment.

It is such a small step from the known to the unknown. In the unknown resides the “choice less” awareness that is the freedom inherent in risk, the heartbeat of hope. It is neither the past nor the future but only the moment, which is all we ever have yet is always more than enough as long as we are aware. “Despite our endless limitations, it seems that the qualities of attention, risk, and compassion allow us to be at one with the energy of the whole and the result is enthusiasm, that deep sensation of oneness” (Nepo).

(All Mark Nepo citations appear in The Book of Awakening)