“Once More to the Lake” for Reflection on the Year

I am a big fan of New Year’s Eve neither for the noise nor for the celebratory streamers but as a day and night of reflection. Over the past two decades, the last day of each year has emerged as a major holiday for me.

Often, E.B. White’s essay, “Once More to the Lake,” comes to mind not because I am ever lakeside on the 31st of December but because this final day of the year has become one of “peace, jollity, and goodness” much like White’s childhood summers spent at a Maine lake in many a late August.

For me, New Year’s Eve is “infinitely precious and worth saving” no matter how I have marked the year. I flip through my memories of months as if I were watching the year as a slide presentation, images catching between ceiling and wall. Memories are often served skewed.

More than anything, remembering a year on its last day helps me “enlarge my sense of things” so that my perspective is not confined like water in a glass but broad and open like the lapping waters of a lake. In other words, I become a lake.

KMHuberImages
KMHuberImages

Remaining a lake is a lifelong process but the idea has intrigued me since I discovered the story of the Hindu master and his apprentice. Every year I re-tell the story on my blog—at least once—this year, the story seemed appropriate as my last blog post of 2013, a way to enlarge my sense of the year past and open myself to 2014.

As the story goes, a Hindu master grew weary of the constant complaints of his apprentice. No matter the day or the place, the apprentice was not satisfied with his life, how it measured up or how it did not.

One day, the master sent the apprentice to purchase salt. Dutiful but doubtful, the apprentice made the purchase and upon his return, the master told the apprentice to put a handful of salt into a glass of water and take a drink. The apprentice complained that the water tasted bitter.

This was a complaint that pleased the master. He then asked the apprentice to bring the rest of the salt and follow him. After some walking, they came to a lake.
Waverly bridge in spring 0413

At water’s edge, the master told the apprentice to throw the remaining salt into the freshwater lake. Then, the master told the apprentice to take a drink from the lake. The apprentice said the water tasted fresh. Again, the master was pleased.

The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain remains…exactly the same. But the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in. Enlarge your sense of things. Stop being a glass. Become a lake.

(Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening)

The story of the Hindu master and the apprentice frames all my New Year’s Eve reflections. Some years are larger than others, and it is true that as I age, I find life less bitter. Perhaps it is that I drink from life with less expectation and with more curiosity. I like to think so.

I do not have the opportunity to drink from a lake so I sip saltwater from a glass. The sting of the salt reminds me how easy it is to savor only the bitter. It is then that I enlarge my sense of things for the mere experience of life is “infinitely precious and worth saving.”

Thursday Tidbits: Unhooking the Pain

This week’s Thursday Tidbits considers “shenpa…the all-worked-up feeling of…getting hooked on a negative emotion” such as pain (Pema Chödrön).  In order to unhook ourselves from shenpa, we must give our full attention to our pain and that includes physical discomfort as well. We must immerse ourselves in our pain in order to release it.

KMHuberImage; oneness; St. Mark's Refuge FL
KMHuberImage

In giving our full attention to our pain, we open up to the experience of it and not the drama or storyline we have told ourselves about our pain. Our storyline is what hooks us until we sit down in the middle of what is hurting us, forsaking its interpretation for its reality.

Anyone who has ever experienced chronic pain—physical, emotional or both–knows that this kind of shenpa can easily become the only story we ever live. Yet, when we give chronic pain our full attention, we change the idea of our pain. We are no longer content to live its story.

Unhooking ourselves from shenpa does not mean that we will be completely pain-free but it does mean we give our full attention to living the lives we have as the beings we are. Being in our pain completely is where all healing begins.

KMHunerImage; McCord Park; Tallahassee
KMHuberImage

Essential to all life is water, and it has more than one form, yet it is either flowing or frozen. Mark Nepo suggests that how we deal with our pain resembles the form water takes. “For when trees fall into the ice, the river shatters. But when a large limb falls into the flowing water, the river embraces the weight and floats around it” (Book of Awakening).

If we view our pain as ice, jagged and hard, we risk living shattered lives of fear and worry, holding our shenpa close. But if we give our pain our full attention and release it branch by branch into the river of life, it becomes a burden we can bear.

We release the idea of our pain and experience it as is, moment by moment, within our flow in our own time. “Once given full attention, you will come back—one drop at a time— into the tide of the living” (Nepo).

Like the river’s path, our lives wend in ways we never imagine. It is life’s way, and pain is only one part, although it can last a lifetime. It is up to us whether pain remains sharp or a bubble in our daily flow.

KMHuberImage; McCord Park; Tallahassee; Florida
KMHuberImage

We have to show up for every moment of our lives, pain or no, giving our full attention to life, trusting that we will absorb our pain and not be shattered by it.

For the people of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, for the people of West and the state of Texas, we open ourselves to each and every one of you—victims and family members—for as long as it takes to absorb the pain. There is no limit on your courage or on our love.

Thursday Tidbits are weekly posts that offer choice bits of information to celebrate our oneness with one another through our unique perspectives. It is how we connect, how we have always connected but in the 21st century, the connection is a global one.

Humility: The Art of Being Enough

The art of being enough begins with the complete and total acceptance of ourselves (maitri), without labeling our shortcomings or our strengths. There are no credits or debits within the flow of life.

“All streams flow to the sea

because it is lower than they are.

Humility gives it its power.”

 ~Lao Tzu~

KMHuberImage
KMHuberImage

The art of being enough is accepting that we meander with the river of life on our way to the sea. Each horseshoe bend of life is the forgiveness of ourselves and others so essential to the flow of being enough. Each bend reflects a challenge met, yet another way discovered.

Bending with life rather than letting life bend us is the power of humility, a delicate balance of keeping our thinking subordinate to our heart. The strength of humility is not denying our uniqueness but in expressing it, although those waters seem murky at times. Ego will do that.

When we allow our ego to supersede our heart, we cut ourselves off from the flow of life. Essentially, we are saying we are not enough. Continuously, we add up what we are and are not—our debits and credits are never enough–and with our abacus of self, we total up the world’s worth, which also falls short. There is never enough for ego without a heart.

The art of being enough regards life as an adventure with infinite possibilities. Rather than adding up life as a positive or negative, in humility we pursue life for the pure experience of it. We are not trying to mold it to assure a certain outcome; we bend with the possibilities, trusting the flow of being enough.

KMHuberImage
KMHuberImage

How we live our lives is our unique contribution to the oneness of existence. Sooner or later, we become enough. Perhaps the best illustration of this is the story of the Hindu master and his apprentice.*

The apprentice is constantly complaining about life, how it measures up or does not. The Hindu master grows weary of the apprentice’s complaints and sends him to purchase salt.

Upon the apprentice’s return, the master tells him to put a handful of salt into a glass of water and drink it. Immediately, the apprentice pronounces the taste of the water as bitter. The master smiles and informs the apprentice they are going to the lake.

At the lake, the apprentice is told to throw a handful of salt into the lake and then take a drink from the water’s edge. The apprentice says the water tastes fresh. The master tells the apprentice:

“`The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain… remains…exactly the same. But the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in.’”

KMHuberImage
KMHuberImage

 

There is a grace in learning to bend with life, and perhaps in bending, we just may discover that our unique purpose is to do just that, express ourselves in the meandering flow of life on our way to the sea.

In the words of the Hindu master, “`…the only thing you can do is…enlarge your sense of things….Stop being a glass. Become a lake.’”  You are enough.

*The story of the Hindu master and apprentice first appeared in a January 2012 post; all citations are from Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening.

Shedding: An Act of Immortality

KMHuberImage
KMHuberImage

Spring knows many faces but regardless, it is renewal, a restoring to existence. Present moment awareness is like spring in that each moment is new, unattached to any outcome, full of the breath of infinite possibilities.

Each moment sheds itself for the next, an ongoing renewal of life, our own cycle of the seasons, our own glimpse into immortality, if we are willing to embrace the unknown and let go of the known.

Shedding is a term I learned from Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening; he is a great teller of stories for he knows their power. One of the early stories of humans shedding their skin comes from the North Borneo Dusuns who believe when “God finished creating the world, He announced that ‘Whoever is able to cast off his skin shall not die’” (Nepo).

Stories of immortality evolve around the inevitable change involved in choice.

The Melanesians of the New Hebrides offer a story of such a choice (Nepo). In the beginning, humans shed their aged skins for the new skin of youth, as is the way of immortality.

One day, as an old woman cast her skin into the river, she noticed that it caught on a branch downstream. The woman returned to her home in her new skin. Her child, however, wailed inconsolably for the mother’s old, familiar skin. The woman returned to the river to retrieve her skin and live in it, as is the way of mortality.

In the twenty-first century, we know our physical bodies undergo a lifetime of transformation, a sloughing of old cells for new, whether we are spiritual beings having a human experience or mere mortals seeking a spiritual experience.

Perhaps present moment awareness mirrors our ongoing physical shedding of our cells. Transformation, it seems, will out.
Waverly Larch Spring 0313
“In essence, shedding opens us to self transformation. Paradoxically, those of us who refuse such renewal will, sooner or later, be forced to undergo transformation anyway as a result of being broken or eroded by the world. Very often both occur at the same time: that is, we shed from within while being eroded from without” (Nepo).

Like immortality, transformation at any level exacts a choice for we are shedding the skin that has been familiar to ourselves as well as to the world. Often, the outer world reacts immediately to the loss of what was, rather than  responding to the new that is now.

There is no way that we ever prepare ourselves or anyone else for the outcome of shedding a worn skin for one that is new, unknown, and uncertain. Yet, if we do not shed what is no longer us, we lose “access to what is eternal” (Nepo). It is a choice, an immortal one, but a choice.

Shedding moment after moment to access the ever-expanding field of possibilities—the unknown—is a renewal the outer skin knows only from the inside out, as is the way of immortality.

Staying and Straying: The Tension of Two

KMHunerImage; McCord Park; Tallahassee
KMHuberImage

The fear of letting go makes staying hard and straying easy. As Mark Nepo says, it is “so hard to feel the stone and not the ripple.” It is the tension of trying to be in two places at once, resisting what is for what might be.

“The moment we stray from where we are…we [block] the sensation of being fully alive because being split in our attention prevents us from being authentic” (Mark Nepo).

When we stray to a past moment that gives us pain or joy or both–how we label it really doesn’t matter–the memory provides us with what it has always provided us, a moment that was reality but no longer exists. Yet, that memory appears in the present moment.

KMHuberImage
KMHuberImage

In staying with what each moment offers, memories bubble up—memory is the context of our mind–it is one thing to witness our memories and another to engage them. When we stray to them, we divide our attention and are no longer authentic but somewhere in between.

We can’t help but remember, yet if we allow our memories to stay as bubbles, floating up and through us, we let them go as they are, untouched and whole. As Pema Chödrön teaches, it is the energy beneath memory that is worth our attention for it is the source of the bubbles.

For each moment that we practice being present—neither running from nor holding onto—we feel the stone and not the ripple for we are not attaching or resisting. There is no tension of straying or staying. These moments seem few.

The difficult and the joyous moments we always revisit for those are bubbles we want to forget or we want to remember always. Regardless, we stray. In remembering, sometimes we try to change the outcome by daydreaming new scenarios or we just simply want to relive the moment, maybe embellishing it just a bit. Once we stray, there are no limitations.

Regardless, the memory bubbles will return and keep returning until we practice staying in each moment we have. Our practice begins with our inner resources, the “four limitless qualities [of] loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity” (Pema Chödrön). We begin with whatever quantity there is of each, no matter how shallow the pool.

We go to what we are because it is what we genuinely and completely feel. We may aspire but we begin right where we are. A well can fill, a pool can become a lake but always, there is the first drop.  For us, always there is the present.

KMHuberImage; McCord Park; Tallahassee; Florida
KMHuberImage

What we actually are–a limitless pool of inner resources–spills into our actions in everyday life. It is a pool to which we may return again and again, staying with what is genuine rather than straying into what was or might be. There is no resistance, just the feel of the stone.

“That we stray from the moment is not surprising. The more crucial thing is that we return” (Nepo).

Thursday Tidbits: Neurosis Interrupted

This week’s Thursday Tidbits post ponders neurosis or what Pema Chödrön refers to as Training in the Three Difficulties:

“The three difficulties (or the three difficult practices) are:

1. “to recognize your neurosis as neurosis,
2. “then not to do the habitual thing, but
to do something different to interrupt
the neurotic habit, and
3. “to make this practice a way of life”

(Pema Chödrön’s Quotes of the Week).

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

In light of my metaphorical faucet fixing last week, I found this examination of neurosis rather revealing. For most of my life, I have been considered anti-establishment, a deeply 60s term and apt label for my own neurotic groove, the face I show to the world.

In these last few years, my inner self has taken up its own anti-establishment banner so that within and without are the same reflection, not always true in previous decades. It is my way of saying “no” to what I have known and “why not” to what is uncertain.

As part of my “training in the three difficulties,” I am reminded of a favorite morning meditation on the true and false self from Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening:

“… It is the true self that lets us know what is authentic and what has become artificial, while the false self is a diplomat of distrust, enforcing a lifestyle of guardedness, secrecy, and complaint.” 

“…Each time we experience a change in reality as we know it, we must choose whether to declare or hide what we know to be true. At such moments, we either need to bring the way we have been living into accord with that shift of reality, or we need to resist the change.…

 “Whether we live in our true or false self depends on our willingness to stay real.… Staying real becomes the work of keeping our actions in the world connected to the truth of our inner being, allowing our true self to see the light of day” (Mark Nepo).

It is the “staying real” that reveals our every day practice, how much we actually train, how much we exercise our resolve and whether or not we leave it on the training mat, a hard habit to break….

One way to keep the training fresh and the resolve intact is in hearing new voices. This past week, I learned about Jeff Foster on Tomas’s blog where I discovered the following quote that originally appeared on Foster’s Facebook page:

“I don’t want to fix you. I don’t want to give you answers. I don’t want to impress you. I don’t want you to change. I only want to meet you, exactly as you are, beyond your stories, your hopes and dreams, your games, your masks, here and now.

“If you feel confused, feel confused now. If you feel frightened, feel frightened now. If you are bored, let’s get bored together. If you are burning with rage, let’s burn together awhile and see what happens. I want to meet what’s really here. Perhaps then, great change is possible” (Jeff Foster).

If our training on the inside is reflected in the face we reveal to the world, then our daily practice is who we are. Why not, then, a change of habit, a foregoing of neurosis, even great change?

Finally, I include  a 1960s blurry, black and white video of Simon and Garfunkel singing, “I Am a Rock.” Before the song, however, Paul Simon offers a comment on neurosis.

Thursday Tidbits are weekly posts that offer choice bits of information to celebrate our oneness with one another through our unique perspectives. It is how we connect, how we have always connected but in the 21st century, the connection is a global one.

Thursday Tidbits: I’ll Take the Unknown

KMHuberImage; McCord Park; Tallahassee FLToday’s Thursday Tidbits swirls around the unknown, where creativity and courage reside, and where we humans fear to tread with any kind of regular practice.

For me, it has been a week that has offered one unknown after another; new perspectives on the known is one way I consider them.

I am getting used to the experience of what I know, or thought I knew, becoming something else. Yet, it is challenging when the present offers an array of unexpected moments, one after another.

It is a lot to breathe in and out but breathe I do; so far, breathing is a constant known, or is it.

“Breathing is the fundamental unit of risk, the atom of inner courage that leads us into authentic living. With each breath, we practice opening, taking in, and releasing. Literally, the teacher is under our nose. When anxious, we simply have to remember to breathe” (Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening)

Yes, the teacher and I have been close this past week; perhaps you, too, have had such a week. Just about the time I was wondering how much more creativity I could appreciate in any moment, I came across a quote from David Deida:

“Right now, and in every now-moment, you are either closing or opening. You are either stressfully waiting for something-–more money, security, affection-–or you are living from your deep heart, opening as the entire moment, and giving what you most deeply desire to give, without waiting”  (David Deida).

The quote opens a fascinating article by Gail Brenner, “The Wisdom of Forgetting Everything You Know.” It was just the kind of wisdom that allowed me some easy breaths so I am sharing an excerpt with you:

Here is what not knowing looks like:

“You wake up on a weekend morning without any plans, and you let your day unfold.

“You stop saying the same unproductive statement to your partner and let yourself not know what will happen next.

 “You sit and take a breath rather than propelling yourself forward into the next activity.

 “You press pause on a habit without knowing what you will do or say next.

“You let your routine fall away so you can be guided by the natural flow of things.

“You let go of, `I have to…’ and let yourself rest for a moment.

 ”You tell yourself the truth about the motivation behind the things you do, and surrender to not knowing.

 ”You forget who you think you are. Instead of same old, same old, you show up fresh, new, and unencumbered.

 ”Just contemplating any of the examples on this list may make you gasp for air. How could you have no plans for a whole day or stop carrying out familiar routines?

 Center yourself in the wisdom of not knowing:

“You are aligned with the truth of things as they are.

 “You open to the possibility of freedom from habits that are limiting and painful.

 “You live in reality and not in your mind-constructed version of a false reality.

 “You are here, alive, embodied, available.

“It is natural to be afraid to let go of the known. Remember that life wants you to live fully and to express yourself in beautiful and amazing ways. But you can’t know what they are” (“The Wisdom of Forgetting Everything You Know” at www. dailygood.org)

Thank you, Gail Brenner; I’ll take the unknown. As for breathing, here is Faith Hill:

Thursday Tidbits are weekly posts that offer choice bits of information to celebrate our oneness with one another through our unique perspectives. It is how we connect, how we have always connected but in the 21st century, the connection is immediately global.