Aim for Even: Bringing Zen Into Every Day

This is the beginning of my third year of blogging about bringing Zen, the “meditative state,” into every moment of every day. There is no one way to do this, as I have learned, but Zen is possible in any and every moment.

The meditative state is being engaged in life, immersed in it, actually. “When coming out of sitting, don’t think that you’re coming out of meditation, but that you are changing postures” (Ajahn Chah).

The act of meditating is to sit in stillness while the practice of yoga moves around the body’s fluids. In both, there is the sensation of being alive. Taking a meditative moment at the end of a yoga session allows the fluids to balance within the body. What was in motion is now in balance for the day.

The postures or positions we assume are unique to us as are our everyday responsibilities. We join with one another in many activities, especially in our work, but even our collective effort is comprised of the unique points of light that each one of us is. That is the meditative state, our own Zen, which we bring to life.

Bringing Zen into our every day may mean stops and starts for a river’s flow is not always smooth, choppy or a torrent but rather, it is steady and swirling simultaneously. Making the meditative state integral to our lives is to aim for even, to meet each moment for all that it is without looking ahead or behind.

To aim for even is to “…stop being carried away by our regrets about the past, our anger or despair in the present or our worries about the future” (Thich Nhat Hanh). Aiming for even is to maintain our balance through the rapids of our lives and to float on moments of reflection. One is not more than the other ever.

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To aim for even is to throw off emotional weight past, present or future, to “…see that the emotions themselves arise out of conditions and pass away as the conditions change, like clouds forming and dissolving in the clear open sky” (Joseph Goldstein). Emotions have the substance of a cloud and the energy of the life force, pure and wakeful.

Bringing Zen to the every day is letting the clouds of emotion delight, darken, and dissipate. Emotional balance is more than shrugging off a difficult moment. It is accepting that the dark never stays and neither does the light. Life is impermanent eternally.

“For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them” (Thich Nhat Hanh). To aim for even is to forego pre-conceived notions of what or how life should be. To meet each moment is to allow it to reveal itself in all that it is and then respond.

If we allow the meditative state to remind us that silence is always a response, we are able to immerse ourselves in all that comes to us for as long as it may take but not a moment longer for there is so much more to come.

In meditation, we watch thoughts come and go for that is the posture of the practice. In bringing Zen into the everyday, we allow moments to move through us rather than holding onto them.

These past two years of blogging have been rich years. So many of you have revealed to me perspectives I may not have otherwise considered or have ever discovered. Thank you for bringing Zen into my every day, reminding me to aim for even.

Walking Waverly in All its Wonder

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KMHuberImages

It has been twelve weeks since I added a regular yoga practice to my life and ceased my daily, morning walks. The change was a gift from lupus. There have been few days that I did not participate in a full yoga flow and only a day or two that I did not practice at least one pose.

The gifts of yoga have been many and continue to come but I miss walking Waverly, a park I have come to know in all seasons. It is a trusted place. Admittedly, during most yoga sessions memories of Waverly drop in and out.

I hoped to return and have.

It is still too soon to tell whether or not a daily walk may return to my regular regimen but that I was able to walk all around the pond means Waverly is still a possibility from time to time. As often happens at Waverly, it was a walk of wonder for the wildlife is rich and varied. I like to think my return was noticed.

As the images reveal, all of the usual suspects came out, if not to say hello at least to give me a glance. I was especially thrilled to see this creature, whom I have only glimpsed twice before. On this day, there was patience for a portrait.Fox pose 1013

Turtle Row is especially populous on this bright fall morning with all sizes welcome. Snowy egrets walk water’s edge, sampling the bounty of the pond. As I cross the bridge, the falling leaves crackle as they catch a crisp, momentary breeze.

In every direction is awe for the seeing, and I gawk. After some time I realize I have assumed Mountain Pose or Tadasana: spine straight, knees together with toes pointed in slightly to even my stance, head lifted in full appreciation of just being at Waverly.
Snowy Egret in fall 1013

Among the many gifts of yoga is learning to move mindfully, neither straining nor restraining the body but moving according to its level of flexibility.  Yoga is my dialogue with my physical self; each movement opens my body to response. I have come to recognize the sensation of the flow of my own energy, my own Waverly.

In the real Waverly, my steps are deliberate—once I would have characterized them as slow—sinew connects muscle to bone in simultaneous stride, a mind-body connection. There is a light awareness of sensation with every breath, with every step.
Turtle Row in fall 1013

It is a familiar, meditative energy that I have come to appreciate for it is present in a moment of monkey mind or one of being with nature. Such a meditative state always serves, highlighting the sensation of the physical self as the mind drops in thought after thought.

Walking Waverly, I open to its energy, swinging my arms and flexing my fingers just because I can. Images of past yoga sessions drop in and out of my walk, as if to remind me of the first time I felt warmth coursing up and down my legs. It is the energy of life.

I remember that I have not always acknowledged the energy of my life. Just because I was able to walk did not mean I was mindful of my body movement in any regard. It is possible I am receiving another chance despite decades of inattention to my physical self other than to constantly demand of it.

So on this morning as I walk Waverly again, I am mindful of the wonder in every step.
Waverly shade 1013

When Dreams Speak Mindfully

Bunny Left side 072813In all the ways I have considered present moment awareness, I do not remember wondering whether or not my dreams were mindful. In fact, dream speak has never been on any kind of awareness meter for me, until recently.

“The moment is all you ever have and it is enough” is what I heard myself say in a dream. It brought me right into the present for immediately, I was awake. Certainly, I am familiar with that sentence as it has appeared in a number of blog posts and is the second sentence of my Twitter bio as well.

Thoughts may not be tangible but they are powerful, although like bubbles, they float to the surface and burst—every time. Maybe the closest we come to reality is being in the moment. While I am somewhat curious about what I was dreaming—I have never remembered–I am more curious about being jolted into mindfulness.

For a few months now, I have been sitting meditation through two flares, which has made the entire experience—physically and emotionally–different from any previous. Meditation helps me distinguish between qualifying the flares and immersing myself in them.

In other words, it is not a matter of how I am feeling but that I am feeling what is occurring in each moment. The idea that the moment is the only reality that I am experiencing opened up possibility after possibility for me, and eventually, found its way into my dreams.

There is a lojong slogan in meditation instruction that says, “regard all dharmas as dreams,” which Pema Chödrön explains as “regard all thoughts as being the same as a dream [for]…as we sit in meditation, we could begin to realize that we create everything, all our thoughts, with our mind” (Chödrön).
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In meditation, rather than letting the thoughts trample all over me, I try to witness them for the transient dreams they are, first flaring and then, fleeing. If I do anything more than witness what is occurring, I attach to the thought, giving it life. This is when the “what ifs” and thus, the story, begin. When we attach to the drama of any thought, we have completely left the moment.

Pema Chödrön advises using the word “thinking” whenever we find ourselves attaching to a thought during meditation. As we utter the word in our mind, the story that once gave life to that thought vanishes. Immediately, we are present, as if awakening from a dream. With the thought gone, we return to a light emphasis on the breath and resume our role as witness.

As this exercise works so well for me during meditation, I use it post meditation as well. The practice is the same, including the breath. Regardless of what is occurring, no-thing is bigger than the moment; I find this particularly helpful in moments of physical and emotional discomfort.

“In our everyday lives, we are run around by these thoughts that we make so solid with our mind and our thinking. So when we say, ‘regard it all as a dream,’ we lead ourselves toward something that many people have discovered throughout the ages about the nature of reality: it’s not as solid as we think” (Chödrön).

More and more, I stay with what is occurring in the moment rather than going off with a thought. It is a shorter and more scenic trip. Also, impermanence seems more a friend than I ever thought possible.

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KMHuberImages

All quotes are from How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends With Your Mind by Pema Chödrön, Kindle version, May 2013.

Sitting With the Wolf in Stillness

Every morning, I spend an hour in meditation followed by an hour that includes exercise, shower, and breakfast preparation. It is this mind-body connection that begins my day. While I will revisit physical exercise and food preparation, no day opens without meditation.

Empty yourself of everything. Let the mind become still. The ten thousand things rise and fall, while the Self watches their return. They grow and flourish and then Return to the Source. Returning to the Source is stillness, which is the Way of Nature.”
~ Lao Tsu ~
Tao Te Ching

During my recent lupus flare, it was meditation that allowed me to empty and renew myself for the rise and fall of the ten thousand things. It was meditation that allowed me to explore the energy underlying every form of discomfort, the internal investigation as Devaji refers to it.

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When there is internal investigation as opposed to following the external movement,
it is possible to recognize that every form of
discomfort, every problem that is experienced, is happening inside of you.
If you do not have a problem inside, you do not have a problem. The mind will say that it is due to something out there, but where you experience the problem is inside
.”
~Devaji~

It is a familiar pattern of mine this looking to the outside for what may only be discovered on the inside. I have done it for almost all of my life but this past year of daily meditation has been a discovery of stillness, which is not to say the mind is ever quiet.

In meditation, which many teachers referred to as “taming of the mind,” there is no effort to reshape or redefine any of our thoughts. In meditation, we observe our thoughts, allowing them to bubble up and away from us without interference, without creating yet another thought.

Rather, we go into the stillness, to the energy producing our thoughts. Always, in meditation there is “light emphasis” on the breath (Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche) to sustain us as we sit in the stillness of our internal investigation, emptying ourselves.

As I understand mindfulness, it is bringing this technique to our day-to-day lives as they play out among the ten thousand things. For me, that means letting one storyline after another blow right past for I am interested in the energy supporting those thoughts. I am seeking the source.

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In this lupus flare, rather than pursuing my usual cause-effect-solution approach—another way of describing this is replacing one storyline with another, albeit a new and untried solution—I sought the source, the stillness, with my breath.

Stillness or “nowness” is placing our awareness on our breath as the thoughts bubble up. The breath is no more manipulated than are the thoughts. The more the breath and mind are observed, the more there is just being, no judgment, just stillness.

Internally investigating my lupus flare allowed me to sit in the energy of the ten thousand things of which my life is just one.  Rather than trying to starve or manipulate the lupus–the wolf–that is also of the ten thousand things, I just sat down with it in relationship.

Flares are never without their gifts nor is it surprising that those flares that burn brightest are always the most generous. This time, the gift of sitting meditation with the wolf has opened the door to a lifetime exploration of the rise and fall of the ten thousand things from the inside out.

Thanks to all of you for your generosity and kindness during this recent flare.

Thursday Tidbits: The Zen of Kitchen Tasks and Meditating Cats

This week’s Thursday Tidbits post considers Zen as revealed through meditating cats and kitchen tasks, the everyday of  Zen spirituality.

“Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.”

Alan Watts

Perhaps more than I should admit, Zen spirituality is a constant in my kitchen, which is not to say that I am able to tend to the task at hand completely, far too often not. Rather, as I am chopping onion I consider what the next moment might offer. Rarely, do I consider the onion.

EmmaRose in MeditationKMHuberImage
EmmaRose in Meditation
KMHuberImage

Often my musing ranges far beyond the physical plane–my own private “soaring with the over-soul*–rather than considering the outcome for the onion, usually mere mush.

At best, I might be considering whether I will scramble eggs or shred lettuce for a salad; both are dictated by the state of the onion and just how far my thoughts have strayed.

It is scrambled eggs if I am envisioning the next scene in my old woman novel but the salad may be saved if I have only strayed to whether or not laundry needs to be done. The answer to that is always the same, a crisp, clear “no.”

Every time I immerse myself in the Zen spirituality of the mundane, I discover something new. It never fails. To be fair, when my thoughts are anywhere but the task at hand, there are also discoveries, including the best tasting cup of coffee is made from the proper proportions of both water and coffee.

Regardless of the outcome, discovery expands the moment to its brim. There was a time that a burnt coffee carafe or hot, coffee-colored water dismayed me, and although I may greet those moments in resignation, I am able to see them in their own Zen spirituality.

Living with animals has taught me more about Zen spirituality than any other resource, including kitchen tasks. This week’s video, courtesy of ZenFlash, features just over a minute of cats meditating, which I found illustrative of Zen but not the kind of meditation that feline EmmaRose has taught me.

EmmaRose has always been a meditating cat but not with any kind of object, especially round and especially large, as she tops the scale at five-and-one-half pounds. For EmmaRose, small, round objects are for batting and chasing into obscure areas invisible to human eyes. She prefers meditating at the window, which she does daily, and she considers the panes carefully.

Choosing Her PaneKMHuberImage
Choosing Her Pane
KMHuberImage

Often, squirrels are visible from the right pane while the left side might offer a darting, lime-green lizard–EmmaRose seems to sense the season for lizard viewing–the middle pane offers the most sun on any day. Whatever these moments provide EmmaRose, she is at her window to discover anew each day.

Who is to say whether or not she “soars with the over-soul”* for she has the light of day, which may offer a squirrel or the infrequent lizard as well.

I and my onion can only aspire.

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.

*Soaring with the over-soul” is from a satirical essay Louisa May Alcott wrote regarding her father’s involvement with 19th century transcendentalism. 

In the Gap

It is not exaggeration that for almost 60 years I have been a woman who lived outside of herself, meaning whatever I could not “fix” I suppressed, as if a reckoning would never come but, of course, it did.  Fiscally, physically, and spiritually bankrupt, life as I had known it ended, which really was a good thing.

It did mean I had to “go wild into my life” but as freeing as that is, it is not without its pitfalls. The discovery of my story revealed a raw power but knowing my story is only freeing if I am not attached to its outcome. If I am, I am doomed to repeat my own history. I am not without my moments of reliving past behavior but they are fewer.

Two weeks ago, I began accessing what Deepak Chopra calls the “gap between our thoughts” through meditation. Chopra says that in meditation, we access our baseline state of consciousness, in essence where we began. For years, I have touted meditation while my actual practice of it was not an actuality. When the Chopra Center offered a free, 21 day meditation challenge, I was not without my skepticism yet I knew I was ready to begin meditation.

No doubt that makes a difference but I am amazed at what meditation has provided me over these past two weeks. They have not been easy weeks for my lupus has been quite active but meditation has provided me another way to be with lupus. In accessing the gap between my thoughts, I am in the stillness, where my physical body connects with my consciousness.

“In the gap” is a tempting place to stay but the pull of physical existence is stronger. For me, meditation is not a ‘60s “trip” nor am I in some sort of trance. I am, however, in a place where my physical presence is lighter. Upon my return–and this happens every time–there is a physiological change in me, a release of tension that pervades my life more and more. Whatever physical discomfort I have been feeling, it is less.

Here’s what I think is happening: my pain is less because more and more I accept it as a part of my physical presence. I do not know that I have ever accepted lupus or any of the other names my dis-ease has accumulated. While it is taking me some time to realize fully that acceptance, the coincidence of reading Cheryl Strayed’s book as I began meditating with the Chopra Center is not lost on me. Both are tools for releasing the past and accepting what is by choosing to be present in each moment. When I am, there is a physiological change in me.

After 35 years of chronic illness, I am surprised but I also know that when I went knocking on the doors of the ancient traditions this time, I surrendered. That is an admission I never thought I would make much less post on the Internet but in accepting all of my story, lupus included, I surrendered to all I have been and all I have done, freeing me from the responses I have always made.

When I am present, the physiology of my body responds differently. I am not pulling from the past or tugging from the future for a response. My moment is not attached to any past baggage or any future “what ifs.” Situations are not free but my response to any of them, including lupus, is.

Being present is to reside in the unknown, “where the wild things are,” where creativity connects with consciousness. It takes practice, requires patience, its paths are many yet the moment is all we ever have, and it is enough.

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