No Ground Beneath My Feet

I wonder how many times letting go is accepting what has already gone.

When reading a book, I have been known to pause at the end of a chapter. I like to sit with good writing and let it wash over me. Sometimes, the better the writing, the longer it takes me to finish a book, as sentence after sentence illuminates.

This past week has been one of letting go, recognizing that a beacon now shines in another direction. It no longer lights my path, and I pause in acceptance and gratitude but also in love and loss.

I change my routine and walk away from the written word. I call a good friend and say, “Let’s have coffee.”

We did, which was stimulating for my mind-body and lasted into the evening. I do not remember the last time I drank a cup of coffee, much less two.

I was awake most of the night but this brief foray into the world was not one I regret. All day long, there were smiles and no doubt a bit of giddiness. And when this moment revisits, it will wash over gently in remembrance.

Not all the week’s memories will be so kind but that is also the life experience. I continue to work with a group of women committed to a better world through the written word—we wrote a book together–through our resistance, we join a larger grassroots movement. That path is not without its obstacles.

There is so much light in this group it sometimes blinds me–I step back–before I can once again bathe in the light that is these women. Here, I know wonder again, the kindness of human beings and of what they are capable–so much good, which is so easy to forget.

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

This quotation is from a sign that Chödrön had on her wall before she embraced Buddhism in any form. She said it was her first inkling to the core of Buddhist teaching.

It hurts when things fall apart but in letting go— experiencing groundlessness–there is at the very least familiarity if not comfort. For me, the more I open myself to the impermanence that is life– exposing myself to the annihilation— the less I struggle with accepting there is no ground beneath my feet.

Groundlessness is never all dark. Always, there is light, be it a sliver or a beacon, and I immerse myself in it. I know it will not stay and that when it leaves, I will discover something I did not know previously.

And on mornings like these when I know the light is already gone— some lights are that bright— my heart is not heavy but joyful. Yes, there are tears– for light is always love–sometimes a great one. I know only gratitude in that it lit my path for a mere moment.

It will live on in the caverns of my heart, this light, for there are still shadows that reside there. Each time such a light crosses my path, my heart opens just a bit more to the world around me, no matter how difficult a moment.

I now appreciate that the bodhisattva’s greatest power is compassion. My practice is limited, of course, but I know of no other that can dismantle fear, perhaps even crack open a heart or not.

Compassion extended may be felt in days yet to come.That is not for me to know nor should it be.

Rather, I return to the wisdom of the written word. This time, May Sarton’s “loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.” Of all this past week brought me, it was not poverty of self.

As I told my friend yesterday, it is Zen that opens me to my life. I’m not afraid, which is not to say I am fearless. My knees wobble and threaten to buckle from time to time.

I anticipate less. Often, I forget about expectations altogether so when fear comes calling, I respect its appearance of power but recognize its façade. And that is the result of only a sliver of light in my heart.

Imagine a heart full of light–not a shadow to be found–when risk and grace are intertwined as one and the bud bursts into bloom–one bright, shining moment.

Getting Hooked and Giving It Up

Each of us is a unique point of light, a bright, shining moment within the eternal life force. Zen, our meditative state, is just as individualistic. Uniqueness is what we carry into our every day.

In the meditative state, we observe. Sometimes, thoughts come and go but other times, stillness suffices. In bringing Zen into our every day, we emulate the meditative state, experiencing every moment only to let it go.

We experience the physical dimension with and through a physical body, no less unique than our meditative state. Both provide sustenance for the mind-body. In meditation, there is being; in feeding and caring for the body, there is doing.  How we nourish our every day presence in life affects how we respond to the events of our lives.

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We are offered a multitude of ways to develop a daily meditative practice.  As for diet, there are billion-dollar industries offering nutrition through a series of steps, a number of days, eliminating certain foods altogether.

Just as there is no one way to meditate, neither is there one diet or food plan for everyone. Developing a diet unique to the mind-body’s nutritional requirements is as easy as walking through a minefield.

It seems safest to nibble one’s way in all the while clinging to what is sweetest. In clinging to food that comforts, it is difficult to discover our mind-body’s unique nutritional requirements.

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In the meditative state, one sits with the dark and light wolves of emotion, feeding or denying neither but rather, observing both so there is no separation of the two. Observation eliminates competition.

This is not as easy to do with food cravings—at times it is impossible–the principle is the same, however. Clinging to foods that momentarily comfort us rather than nurture our mind-body, is like keeping our light and dark wolves in constant competition.

Our thinking  becomes dualistic, either/or. We eat for comfort, unaware of our true hunger as we deny our body’s nutritional needs. Rather than feeding our mind-body, we are feeding a craving, which is only a thought, an ever empty one at that.

Feeding a craving is akin to feeding the ego. No comfort is possible for the ego always wants more. In Buddhism, such comfort food eating is a form of shenpa, often translated as “attachment.”

Shenpa is in all areas of life for old behaviors die hard, if they die at all. Pema Chodron refers to shenpa as “biting the hook.” As comfort food eating has been a lifelong issue for me, I prefer this translation.

Whether or not we bite the hook is not the issue— it is human nature that we will—it is in the awareness of our attachment that we spit out the hook and begin anew.  Each moment offers that opportunity.

This has certainly been true for me in my comfort food sessions, which are infrequent but still happen. There are no more binges. Honestly, I do not know that I would survive one.

EmmaRose does not have comfort food issues.

EmmaRose does not have comfort food issues.

Because these comfort food moments are much fewer and far between, my mind-body is not as forgiving. I can feel it struggle with food that does not support its nutritional needs.

There is a sense of frustration in processing empty calories that offer sluggish and stiff body movement, muddled thinking, zigzagging emotions ranging from euphoria to the blues.

Overall, there is fatigue, enough to scare me into thinking the mind-body might want to quit. But that is only my attaching to a thought that has not been fed as it soars on empty emotion.

To live, thrive, is the nature of the mind-body–all unique points of human light coming together as one–to experience life in the physical dimension, including biting the hook.

Seems I am on the Right Planet After All

I have never been fond of the practice of finishing someone else’s sentences. Memory reminds I am guilty of it but Just beginning 1014less so in later years. Of course, it depends on who’s having the conversation and the nature of their relationship.

Certainly, some topics lend themselves to a cooperative effort in constructing a conversation, sentence by sentence. Consider the combined effort of Pema Chödrön and Oprah Winfrey regarding suffering and impermanence:

Chödrön: “If you’re invested in security and certainty—

Winfrey: “Then you’re on the wrong planet.”*

Yes, indeed.

For me, in this sentence of combined effort is the essence of suffering. We invest in what is no longer possible, seeking a security in what once was. Pain, physical or emotional, comes, goes and will come again only to leave once more.

That we all know pain in our lives is part of the human experience but whether or not we suffer is up to us. In suffering, we hang onto a discontent, staying with a storyline because it is what we know, a trusted buffer.

Such buffers may just as easily blind rather than reveal. In these last two months, I have removed many blinders and buffers, once trusted tools, as I perceive physical pain with a perspective more consistent with the planet on which I live.

The needles of acupuncture, intent in balancing my Qi (energy), present my physical pain to me. Like the crescendo of a wave, the pain intensifies only to even out on the shore that awaits all waves.

These past eight weeks my physical pain has been high as my body awakens, attempting to return to a balance it has not known in decades.  The pain does not stay and it does return but each time the pain is its own new wave, and I, its waiting shore.

It is no longer a battle as I allow my body to do what it does best, repair itself. In fighting my pain I was fighting my body, trapped in the drama of battle, masking my pain as suffering.

on the right planet 1014More and more, I am convinced that all physical pain has an emotional component. It is not that the pain is emotionally created but emotion becomes the storyline of physical pain. Humans tend to respond to stories. We suffer if we stay with them rather than feel the pain.

It is the hardest thing I have ever done, and I don’t know where it will lead. I can tell you where I am right now–living a kind of health that I thought no longer possible. Some days feel like a setback but that is an old storyline of a moment past.

Whatever else, traditional Chinese medicine is affording me an opportunity, challenging as it is. It is not a panacea but hard work. This medicine–herbs, acupuncture and whole food—is helping me remove the ring of fear that surrounds my pain. I just do not suffer as I once did.

It feels as if I am completely rebalancing my life, emotionally and physically. Well, I am, at 62 after nearly four decades of disease. It is balance by moment.  I am definitely on the right planet.

Note: My dear readers, posts may continue to be a bit irregular for a while. To my fellow bloggers, I am quite behind in my reading but I am beginning to catch up. Thanks, everyone.

*Conversation on Super Soul Sunday, aired October 19, 2014.

 

A Life of One’s Own

Wood Stork 0214The life we have is a singular strand in the undulating web of existence. Each life has its own tensile strength, the maximum stress point before it is pulled apart. The actual experience of living stretches us into a life of our own.

Yet, to live the life we are given is more than undulating with the ebb and flow of existence. It means remembering each experience is unique, even if the situation seems familiar. No two moments in existence are exactly the same. We have not “been there, done that.” Not precisely.

In fact, lulling ourselves into the familiarity of a situation may just get us to the maximum stress point for we are not meeting the moment but escaping it. We believe there is nothing new in a situation that is so familiar and the tension grows.

At some point we release the familiar, put down the past for the present, drop the known for the unknown. We take “refuge in the Buddha”:

Every time we feel like taking refuge in a habitual means of escape, we take off more armor, undoing all the stuff that covers over our wisdom and our gentleness and our awake quality. We’re not trying to be something we aren’t; rather, we’re reconnecting with who we are.

(Pema Chodron)

Often, denial runs parallel to the ego-mind and around certain bends they dump into one another before separating into their own meanders. Both are rivers I traverse frequently.

A few months ago, I volunteered with a professional team, offering work that once defined me. It did not seem like I was escaping but rather, opening to a new moment—which it was—yet I opened to the new day clad in ancient armor.
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My administrative abilities were essentially intact but I was heavy with haze, out of sync. I persevered, taxing my physical strength as I have done for decades in order to escape the life that is mine for a life that is not. My body responded with a resounding “no.”

Give your real being

a chance

to shape your life.

~ Nisargadatta Maharaj~

It is the tensile strength of a life to stretch without snapping. In these last few months of working with the team there was a niggling, an actual yearning to be somewhere else. I wanted to walk away—leave the armor to a life past–but doing so felt like fear so I lived in-between.

Nobody else can take [our armor] off because nobody else knows where all the little locks are, nobody else knows where it’s sewed up tight, where it’s going to take a lot of work to get that particular iron thread untied. You have to do it alone.

(Pema Chodron)

It is in vulnerability that we trust completely for all armor is removed, and what is left is who we actually are. It is then one claims a life of one’s own.

I began by cleaning some of my neglected writing tools. All the ink cartridges in my fountain pens were empty, and the nibs were clogged with dried ink. My writing bag was in total disarray–I had not even replaced my daily journal—I tossed memos, meeting notes and added a soft, Virginia Woolf journal embellished with notes from “A Room of One’s Own.” The journal is a gift from a thoughtful friend.

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On an overcast, humid morning I went to Waverly, welcomed by a noisy chorus of snowy egrets, wood storks, and anhinga. There was much flapping about as a lone hawk swooped and circled even alighting for a moment. Having thought better of it, the hawk had somewhere else to be. I understood.

That I am able to hold my own physically again in a relatively short period of time indicates the incredible progress my body and I continue to make together. That some joints are too well-worn for some activities does not mean there are not other ways to live.

All was as had always been, and all was as had never been. Such is living the life that is one’s own.

(Regular blog posts will resume by March 2, 2014; recovery is assured but always at a pace of its own.)

Rather Than Resolutions, Consider Laziness

I am not much on making resolutions for any period of time. My mostly Buddhist self knows that each moment is its own clean slate. Rather than becoming anything or anyone, I just need to meet each moment I am given and aim for even.

Some may consider that laziness, and I accept that label in any year, moment, hour, or nanosecond. As with any feeling or emotion, all we have to do is accept that each emotion has its own drama and demon players. Ours is to experience but not to become.Laziness 010514

Once we have named the emotion—“this is laziness”–we strip away the drama that has kept us from continuing the story that is our life. Laziness is not “…particularly terrible or wonderful…it has a basic living quality that deserves to be experienced just as it is” (Pema Chödrön).

There is no reason to run away or hide from any emotion. Removing the drama reminds us the duty of being alive requires us to experience our emotions, laziness among them.

If we enlarge our sense of what it is to live, we realize events and emotions are mere scenes in a daily drama, each replaced by the next experience. We are moved by the emotion of each experience but sometimes, we get caught.

“Whatever we discover, as we explore it further, we find nothing to hold onto, nothing solid, only groundless, wakeful energy” (Pema Chödrön). Our discovery that we have experienced laziness and that it is no longer worthy of our rapt attention is the dawning of a new day, a new moment or a new year. Transformation occurs when we no longer disguise or repress what our experience is.

“When we stop resisting laziness, our identity as the one who is lazy begins to fall apart completely” (Pema Chödrön). We have named it so that it becomes nameless and no-thing. The ego is revealed for the groundless dramatist that it is.

What remains is the wakeful energy that allows us a fresh look at ourselves and the world around us. We open to the experience of being alive as the drama unfolds yet again. All we need to do is show up and experience.

Walking the Walk of Friendship With Pema Chödrön

Recently, I “Walked the Walk” with Pema Chödrön at an online seminar offered by the Omega Institute. Chödrön has the ability to make you feel that she is speaking only with you; I have found the same in reading her books. In my mind, she and I converse frequently.

Chödrön is anything but pretentious—no transcendental soaring with Emerson’s oversoul or escaping into the ether—she is often pithy, adept with any koan, softening much of what she says with anecdote. Frequently, humor is the connection with her audience.

Warning us to beware of “spiritual people” dressed in special clothes to draw attention to their spirituality, she directed our gaze to her own Buddhist nun clothing of burgundy and yellow. Then, she looked up and smiled, eyes twinkling. Laughter filled the room. When all was quiet, the two-day retreat began.
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In walking with Chödrön we explored “making friends with ourselves” unconditionally. Kindness, compassion, and a deep love are what true friendship offers. Why not become friends with the one we know best?

Being friends with ourselves does not mean that we will not know disappointment or concern for in all relationships there are times of confusion. Yet, at some fundamental level we trust the confusion will pass for deep friendship is worthy of unconditional reflection.

Reflection—specifically self-reflection—is found in all of the great spiritual traditions for it is in reflection that there is transformation. In making friends with ourselves, we learn who we are. The transformation comes with accepting who we are unconditionally. As our biggest supporter and ally, we show up for life.
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“Don’t speak, don’t act” is what Chödrön offers as a way of meeting the moments of every day. It means we embrace the feelings we have about what is occurring—we receive what we are given–without the reaction of a label, judgment or opinion. We experience the rawness of the moment.

In embracing the emotion of each experience without acting or speaking, we are practicing what Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche calls the “reference points of nowness,” gaps between experiences that allow us to strengthen our minds as we meet the moments of life.

The reference points are the practice, and the attitude is one of developing an unconditional friendship with ourselves. With gentleness and kindness we become fully aware of all of our traits. The key is to accept them–give ourselves a break— for that is what we do for friends.
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Chödrön suggests dissecting F-E-A-R as a specific way to examine those darker characteristics that are in all of us. In revealing them, awareness begins and transformation is possible.

F— find it in your body

E— embrace it

A—allow the thoughts to dissolve; abide with the feeling

R–remember or recall that other people are also feeling it (Pema Chödrön , “Walk the Walk” seminar).

Pulling apart fear creates an atmosphere of kindness and compassion. Unconditional means that no matter what we are there for ourselves.  It is not a matter of condoning behavior but viewing it with an open heart. We see and feel with our heart; we listen and experience with our head. It is our heart that leads.

We make choices to cease our suffering. We remember that temporary gratification is unconscious thought, a repetition of old behaviors, following old patterns with the same results. “We do not have to bite that hook” (Pema Chödrön).

It takes courage to be vigilant, to live with an open heart, but the reward is a life of compassion and kindness with ourselves and thus, with the world. It is experiencing life as friends. “Show up for life as it is and drop your preconceptions of how it should be” (Pema Chödrön).

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Life Churns for Everyone so Why Swirl With the I?

As Pema Chodron says, “there is no way to make a dreadful situation pretty.” Often, I find myself searching for language that removes the dualistic labels of good or bad, happy or sad. For me, writing makes this somewhat easier for it affords a pause, whereas in conversation, I tend to forget the gap between thoughts and even my breathing is shallow.

These past few weeks have been full of opportunities for me to “make a big deal” out of situations or to remember that the underlying emotion of my experience is what every other human being feels at one time or another. Remembering that we are all in this together reminds me of what I have in common with all sentient beings.

My specific moments are unique to me yet woven into the undulating life “web that has no weaver.”* One week it was a car mishap and the next moment it was a family member facing a life-threatening situation. The illness was not entirely unexpected, unlike the car incident, yet both provided a life-changing moment. Life churned.

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The car is repaired but the loved one’s recovery remains uncertain. The human body, our personal vehicle, endures a life of dents, and occasionally, broken parts. We heal or get replacements but I suspect the heart and mind–and in that order–have more to do with longevity than repairs to the physical body.

Regardless of the wearing out/replacing of parts, all are allowed a life, a length of time known to none but allotted to each. The not knowing churns the emotional pool within each of us. Whether we choose to immerse ourselves in the eddies of emotion or await the stillness that comes with reflection is the ongoing dilemma.

“Like water which can clearly mirror the sky and the trees only so long as its surface is undisturbed, the mind can only reflect the true image of the Self when it is tranquil and wholly relaxed” (Indira Devi).

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Initially, I swirl within the emotional eddies more than I sit in reflective pause yet I know it is the motion that separates me from everyone else. The swirling, downward spiral isolates me in my own pain, unaware that my pain is what connects me to humanity.

“Shantideva said that since all sentient beings suffer from strong, conflicting emotions, and all sentient beings get what they don’t want and can’t hold on to what they do want, and all sentient beings have physical distress, why am I making such a big deal about just me? Since we’re all in this together, why am I making such a big deal about myself?” (Pema Chodron).**

Until we see in ourselves those emotions that we so readily assign to everyone else, we cannot pull ourselves out of our own pain to reflect on the pain that connects us all. In recognizing the human bond, we come to reflect on what is common to all.

We must dive deep to sit at the still waters of our own existence to reflect upon the life force that binds us all.

A personal note: As of this writing, my family member’s recovery continues to be remarkable as well as inspirational.

Text Notes:

*This phrase is from the title of Ted Kaptchuk’s thorough book, The Web That Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine. I highly recommend it.

**Omega Institute is offering another online workshop with Pema Chodron on October 25-27 with early bird pricing. The event is sold out for anyone wishing to attend in person. Click here for more information.