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 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.

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.

 

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.

Beginning the Day 092015

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.

Meditative Morning 1114

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.
Storks and Egrets Waverly 0214

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.

Anhinga Waverly 0214

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.)