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Archive for the ‘lessons’ Category

Turning towards

A few months ago I was listening to a talk where the speaker said that all emotions last no longer than 90 seconds. Period. Fact. Now, people can feel the impact of an emotion for longer than 90 seconds (sometimes minutes, hours, days, even years) for two primary reasons: 1) because people allow the mind to keep re-visiting the catalyst that initiated the emotion in the first place, or 2) because people never allow the emotion to actually move through the body and reach resolution. The first scenario is like a person picking at a scab: just as the wound finally starts to heal, and healthy skin starts to grow, the person rips away what was working, and re-exposes the original wound all over again. Do this enough times, and yes, eventually the wound will probably heal, but it will take a long time, be more painful than is necessary, and may even end in a nasty scar. The second scenario is like immediately covering a wound under heavy gauze; yes, the area will be protected from additional assaults, but the skin will also get smothered, and without allowing some fresh air onto the surface, infection is likely to take hold. Here again, healing can’t occur. A somewhere-in-between (middle-way) approach is needed: the wound has to be exposed to air, but also has to be left alone long enough to actually heal. To complete the analogy: an emotion has to be experienced and fully felt, but then it has to be let go and left alone so that it can fully resolve. Missing either half of the process renders the whole thing non-functional – and so a person ends up 1) in a perpetual state of feeling upset/unhappy/irritated/depressed/worried/anxious/pick-your-emotional-nemesis, or 2) repressing (stuffing, smashing) everything that comes and living life feeling hollow/empty/disconnected/disassociated/void. Emotions have to be seen and acknowledged,then be allowed to move, express, and emote – and then they need to be let go of, released.

This morning I had a series of occurrences of not getting what I wanted. Each instance was really minor (and, quite honestly, incredibly petty) – but they were all driving me absolutely crazy. Literally. I was in my car, driving on the freeway, fully aware that I was pissed off, and fully aware of why I was pissed off, and fully aware that I really didn’t want to be pissed off – but completely unable to get rid of the pissed off. And then the talk I heard a few months ago popped into my mind. And I realized two things: 1) I hadn’t really FULLY felt the emotions that were generated during each of the various instances that had occurred over the course of the morning, and 2) that my mind kept bouncing from one instance, to the next, to the next – and with each bounce, I would feel (literally feel in my chest and my head and stomach) an annoying flare-up of emotions.

Now, here’s an interesting/crappy/annoying/puzzling part: With each emotional flare-up, I actually wasn’t fully feeling the emotions from the instance; I was getting a small taste of the emotions, but before each one could hit me full-force I squashed it back down. I didn’t allow any of them to fully emote – and so each one went just below the surface, holding its’ breath for as long as it could; but when each emotion ran out of air, it came up again – and was allowed to stay around just long enough to gulp in more air before I pushed it back down again. And my body and mind was engaged in this up/down, emerge/submerge, conscious/unconscious struggle with my emotions – and all sides were losing. And I was going crazy in the process.

And I got to see all of this: I had a moment of awareness, of insight, of vipassana. In that moment, I was no longer a helpless pawn in some game I didn’t even know was being played; in that moment, I was given power by being given a choice: I could either continue to engage in the cycle of repress/ignore then feel/hurt, or I could actually stop the cycle by allowing the emotions to surface fully, give them the attention they needed, and then give them the space to let them leave. I had a choice now: but which option was I going to choose?

In order to be able to choose the latter option, I first had to know why I kept on choosing the former. Why wouldn’t I let myself feel the emotions that were generated from my annoying morning? It couldn’t be that I didn’t want to feel pain, could it? Because this back-and-forth, tug of war process was much more painful… After some investigation, I was kind of surprised to learn that I wasn’t allowing myself to feel the emotions because I was afraid. Of what, I’m still not entirely certain; but I do know I was surprised when, underneath it all, what was stopping me was a sense of apprehension, of fear.

Well, screw that! I don’t like being ruled by fear; and I don’t like thinking of myself as a fearful person. Indeed, when I am aware that I’m feeling fear in a situation, I try and push through it, to show myself that I can do it! So now that I was aware that fear was a big driver behind this whole don’t-feel-the-emotion thing, I decided to take a deep breath, open the floodgate, and let whatever was there come on out and hit me.

And it did – but it actually wasn’t too bad. In my car, moving at a speed of 65 mph, all of the windows rolled down all the way and the sun beating on my face, I inhaled really deeply, then used the full exhale to let out a loud grunting/sighing noise. Then I did it again. Then I said aloud everything I was feeling (both physically and mentally) in that moment. {And I was kind of surprised by what I said!} And after no more than 20 seconds of talking, there were no more words to say – the feeling was gone. Done. Processed. Emoted. And I was left with a sense of genuine calm.

And my mind actually looked around the now-clear space in my head where (just seconds before) the anxious/irritated/annoyed feelings had lived – and it could find nothing. (And I have to admit, I was rather amused to see my mind grasping for something it was also so desperate to be free of just seconds before…) I continued driving down the freeway, but now feeling surprised, a little stunned, and amazed. It worked. It really worked!

For literally two hours this morning I had been a slave to irritation, annoyance, and anxiety; but after just 20 seconds of deeply honest attention aimed at my reality, I was free. Completely liberated from obsession. It was incredible. I have never experienced anything like that before – I guess maybe because I had never tried anything like that before? But wow; the experience was powerful, and incredibly effective – and I continue to be a bit stunned by it. Like I almost can’t believe it.

So I’m writing this down, with the hopes that I will remember this experience for a while; and when I forget, to have my own words be able to remind me. I was completely free once. And it was amazing, and beautiful.

Stef

P.S. If you want to listen to the talk I referenced at the beginning of this post, go to the Audio Dharma website, and download the talk titled “Exploring Emotions”, published on 2010-10-27.  It’s 11:58 minutes long, and Gil talks about the “90-second rule” for emotions around minute 4:30.

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Meditation, my employer, me, and ABC News

As I have mentioned before, I started a meditation group at my work place.  (See the January 12 entry.)  Over the past year+, the group has grown, gaining members, momentum, and attention.  That attention increased quite dramatically over the past few weeks; the long-story-short is that a reporter for ABC News with Diane Sawyer was writing a story about meditation in the workplace, and through a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend he (the reporter) heard about our meditation group.  The reporter sent an email to my employer, asking for more information and an opportunity to film; and after a flurry of emails and meetings, the reporter (along with his producer, a camera man, and a sound woman) came to my employer, and filmed me facilitating a 25-minute meditation session for a group of over 50 people.  After the meditation session, the reporter then conducted a 15-minute one-on-one interview with me, which was also filmed.  Holy crap.

To say I was “nervous” for this experience would be the understatement of the year.  My job is as a Corporate Trainer – which means I basically write, teach, and speak for a living.  Over the course of more than a decade doing this work, I’ve delivered multi-day-long training classes to rooms full of people about rather technical topics, and I’ve been able to remain calm and collected.  Further, as a frequent facilitator of the meditation group at work, I’ve had the opportunity to lead meditation sessions for groups of colleagues ranging in size from 10 people, to 70 people, to over 140 people, and I’ve been genuinely peaceful in each of those settings as well.  But to conduct a meditation session on camera, as a formal representative for my employer, and then give a one-on-one interview to a reporter from a national media outlet…. It was all certainly a big test of equanimity.

But it was all so good.  Yes, I was a nervous wreck.  (I slept like crap the night before, and barely ate anything all day, my stomach was in such knots.)  But I was also deeply, fiercely supported by people all around me – from my family, to my friends, to a vast array of colleagues at work…. And, I was gifted with an amazing opportunity to help open the possibility of meditation to who-knows-how-many people – and that, that, is profound.  And interestingly, once I actually started the meditation session, the anxiety fell away, and calm really did enter me – it felt like home.  Wow.

I don’t know when the broadcast will air, and I don’t know how much (or little) exposure the company, the meditation session, or I as an individual will have in the final cut.  But I do know that this was an experience of a lifetime, and one that I absolutely could not have predicted, expected, planned for, even manufactured.  It just shows me that when actions are performed with good intentions, clear thoughts, and strong courage, some pretty amazing results can occur.  And that knowledge is the gift I want to take with me from this experience.  I hope I ‘remember’ to act from that space of skillful intention, wise thought, and appropriate fearlessness more often than not.

Stef

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I turn the key in the car’s ignition, and though it is a hard start, mercifully the engine turns over, the car sputters, and then it comes to life.  I place the car in reverse, back up a few feet, then shift into drive – and I’m off.

And then I hit a detour. Literally.

But no problem; it’s all good.

And on my detour, guess what I see.  Just guess.

Someone seriously has a sense of humor.

Then, not even five minutes later, I see this:

And this:

These are wonderful parting reinforcements for me: namely, avoid creating polarities.  Instead, accept all of my life – ’cause it’s all intermingled, and ’cause I just never know what I might encounter where.  And that can be the wonderful fun of it all.

Be well.

Stef

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Powerful Sixty Seconds

Over the past few months I have been reading books by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana – a Buddhist monk who explains deeply complex Buddhist beliefs, structures, and practices in a very accessible, easy-to-understand way.  He is direct and honest, yet still compassionate; and he writes in a straight-forward yet engaging style I really appreciate and find very valuable.  I benefitted a lot from his first book (Mindfulness in Plain English), and am already gaining good suggestions from his second (Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness).

Gunaratana offers numerous ideas for how a person can improve their meditation practice, and for how an individual can develop further along the Buddhist path.  One seemingly “easy” suggestion he provides is to meditate for one minute every hour of every day (in addition to a formal daily seated meditation practice).  I have read in popular magazines before the suggestion that people take a small break every hour (for example, people who work on computers for hours at a time are encouraged to stand and stretch on a regular basis), so Gunaratana’s suggestion seemed to be a good idea, and something interesting to try.  So, I did.

After my regular morning seated meditation, I set an alarm on my phone to ring every hour at a set time (usually a few minutes before the hour).  When the alarm rings, I stop whatever I’m doing, close my eyes (if it’s appropriate and safe to do so [i.e., I’m not driving, or in a meeting at work, etc.]), and engage in conscious breathing for 5 breaths.  When the 5 breaths are finished, I open my eyes, and resume whatever it was I was doing.

Sounds easy, right?  Um, yeah… I was shocked (shocked!) at how much I learned about myself in just three days of this practice.  Seriously.  For example, I got to see how lost I get in whatever task I’m engaged in.  Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; psychologists are aware of this phenomenon, and call it “flow” – and the more time people spend in flow, generally the happier they are in/with life.  So, I’m not complaining; I’m just surprised at how deeply I enter this “flow” state, and how often I do so.  One “side effect” of living in a flow state for a while is that time seems to move *very* quickly; and this is absolutely true for me.  My phone alarm would ring, I would pause and engage in the 5 breaths, resume my activity, and then 10 minutes later the alarm would ding again.  What?  I’d look up, and I’ll be damned; another hour had passed.  Wow.

But not all of my learnings were the positive, happy type. I also got to see nearly immediately (by the end of the first day, for sure) how attached I am to getting what I want, and how aversive I am when I even suspect that there might be a hint that I might not get exactly what I want.  And the things I “want” can be super-trivial: wanting a cup of tea RIGHT NOW instead of waiting even 30 seconds for water to boil; wanting the television to be one click quieter than it is; wanting the cashier to smile at me as broadly as she did the previous customer… just dinky, piddly stuff.  And yet, my body doesn’t know that these things are trivial; it responds exactly the same way in every instance.  So as the meditation minute began, I felt rather intense tightness and clenching in my physical body; stress I honestly didn’t even know I was carrying.  At the end of the fifth breath, I felt a noticeable physical relaxation in my muscles, and a mental relaxation of my desires.  It’s really, really wild.  And upsetting.  I get to see everything that’s going on inside of me; and a lot of it isn’t “pretty”.

So while this one-minute-every-hour practice is quite rich, and is showing me brand new things I honestly never knew before (and so this exercise is intensely valuable), it’s also a painful practice at times.  Do I want to see all of my clinging, and grasping, and aversion, and stress, and pain, and unease, and suffering?  Or do I want to live “blissfully ignorant “ to it all?

Well… it’s happening, whether I’m aware of it or not.  It’s all real, whether I acknowledge it or not.  If I bury my head in the sand, I might avoid a sunburn on my scalp, but I also won’t be able to breathe.

I think the latter consequence is a lot more dire than the former.

Stef

Emotional Progress

I had a situation occur today where I could have gotten very “justifiably” angry.  My initial reaction to the situation was one of mild shock; then confusion; then disbelief.  I reached out to the person who initiated the action-in-question, and delivered a firm message directly and honestly – but also compassionately, and without attachment to the message or the potential result.  Once I had done what I could (by taking appropriate action), I let the whole situation go. The duration of the entire incident, from start to finish, was less than 5 minutes.

This may seem somewhat “underwhelming” when it is shared here as written text, but this example is truly monumental to me.  I was able to address a volatile situation immediately (instead of ruminating on it for hours/days/weeks), by delivering an appropriate response (instead of an intensely emotional/hostile reaction). I was able to state my truth directly (instead of sugar-coating it, or avoiding it altogether), and then let go of the emotions connected to the situation right then and there (instead of holding on to them or having them gnaw at me for hours/days/weeks/months/years).  Even when I shared details of the incident later with my supervisor and my spouse, I didn’t have an emotional reaction; indeed, it was difficult for me to even access any “righteous indignation” around this situation.

A year ago, this situation likely would have played out much differently.  I probably would have responded with strong aggression, and certainly would have held internal anger and frustration for at least a day or two, if not longer.  The incident would have affected my entire weekend, and perhaps even the next work week.  I might have lost sleep over fretting and stewing about the ordeal, and certainly would have lost contentment and equanimity.

And while several of those above emotional states did still occur, they were very brief (i.e., elapsed in the span of a few minutes instead of a few weeks).  So while I’m still not “enlightened” (not by a long shot!), I am progressing.  Meditation is “working”.  : )

Stef

Let the energy flow

(This morning’s meditation session was inspired by an event that happened in yoga; you can read more yoga stuff here.)

Yoga can be about lots of things, I suppose; but my current yoga teachers focus largely on energy flow.  The flow of energy all around the physical body, and up and down the physical spine; and the flow of spiritual/universal/”cosmic” energy, all around all of us.

In a yoga session I had last week, the teacher asked all of us to not cross our arms, or clasp our hands together; but instead, to keep the center line of our bodies completely unblocked and open.  Cool, got it; no problem.  However, not five minutes later, the teacher approached me, and gently pulled my hands apart, placing them at my sides.  I was unconsciously holding my hands together at my core, just like I do when I’m sitting in meditation.  Oh.

A week between then and now has passed.  But for whatever reason this morning, a thought came to me: “Hey, what if I didn’t connect my hands during meditation?  What if I didn’t sit using a ‘meditation’ mudra, but instead let my hands rest by my sides?”  So, I tried it.  I sat down on my meditation bench, then separated my hands, and placed each one on either side of my rear.

And today, I had a VERY effective meditation session.  My mind was focused, concentrated, and very aware – much more so than it has been in a long time. (Definitely weeks, if not months.)  Then, about 5 minutes into the session, I could feel energy moving up and down my spine, and in and out of my body, all strong and steady.

It all made for a very powerful sit.  I’m curious to see if I get similar results tomorrow.  But more than anything, I recognize (and appreciate) how the different factors currently at play in my life are all coming together, reinforcing one another, and supporting me on my current path.  It’s very, very cool.

Stef

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Mistakes

Last week, I made a very public mistake.

Uh oh.

I sent what was supposed to be a helpful email to many, many people at work (upwards of 400 people)  – and the email included an error.  The email said we were meeting in one location, when in fact we were actually scheduled to meet in an entirely different location.  (As in, not only a different room, but a different building altogether.)  And when the meeting day and time arrived, I went to the correct location – but not many people were there.

Uh oh.

I’m a pretty “Type A” kind of personality, and am generally on my game at work.  I’m detailed, organized, fast, and sharp, so as a general rule I don’t often make many mistakes.  On the occasions when I do make mistakes, I can usually catch-and-correct them before they spread too broadly, before too many other people find out (if even at all).

But not this time.

This time, I had over 400 witnesses to my error.  And while only one person even said anything to me about it, I honestly don’t know how many people were affected by it, and are either 1) too polite, or 2) too irritated/angry to approach me about it.  But I know many, many people were potentially impacted by the mistake; and by the time I became aware of my error, it was too late to fix it.  No “catch-and-correct” this time.  Uh oh.

What to do?

When I found out about the mistake, my head immediately dropped, and my mind said, “Oh no.  Oh no.  Oh NO!  Oh, this is bad.  Quite bad.  Very bad.  Yikes.  Bad.  BAD.”

But not even a full two seconds later, my chin lifted, and my heart said, “Well, hon, this is unfortunate, isn’t it?  But, you know what?  You made a simple mistake.  And yeah, it probably would have been better if the mistake hadn’t been made; but it has been made, and you can’t change that at this point.  So, just do what you can: apologize.  Then let it go.  You did your best.  Your intentions were good.  Your heart was in the right place.  These are the things that really matter.  Yes, recognize that a mistake was made; and course-correct as much as you can; and then let it go.”

These two fraction-of-a-second mental exchanges may not sound like a lot, but they represent the entire spectrum of my meditation practice.  My habitual mind is one of self-irritation at best, self-flagellation at worst.  My habitual mind is never quite satisfied, thinking I could always do more, do better.  But.  My meditative mind is one of mere self-acknowledgment at the smallest end of the continuum, and pure self-adoration at the largest end.  My meditative mind accepts everything exactly as it is, including me; with all of my gifts, and all of my flaws.

As I continue on my path of meditation, I am finding more and more that I am faster to smile, quicker to laugh, and more difficult to upset.  I’m finding I am more relaxed in more situations and settings, and more aware of the times when I am uncomfortable or stressed.  I’m finding that when I do make mistakes, I can see them as errors, not fatalities.

Meditation isn’t a panacea, it isn’t a “cure all”, and clearly it isn’t making me perfect.  What it is doing is helping me gain more perspective, and be more balanced.  More understanding.  More realistic.

Mistakes are going to happen.  Life is going to happen.  And instead of being driven crazy by it all, I’m learning about compassion.

And, I’m learning to avoid writing emails when I’m rushed.  : )

Stef

Gratitude

My husband and I know a person who has a 20-year anniversary with our company coming up, and to celebrate, that person is taking a handful of people out to lunch.  I began to think about my own number of years with the company, and thought that if I arrive at 20 years, it would be a cool idea to invite one influential/important person from each year to a common meal.  I shared this idea with my husband, and he asked me the natural question, “Who would you invite?”  I began to reflect on my progression with the company thus far, and fairly quickly identified one key person from each year that played a particularly meaningful role in my career (which often impacted not only my job, but also my broader/larger life). As I shared each name with my husband, I gave a 1-2 sentence summary as to why I selected that individual.  The entire conversation was less than 5 minutes long, but at the end of it, I sat back, and couldn’t help but smile.  In that moment, I realized I was feeling genuine joy.  In the process of identifying people who have positively influenced me, I re-experienced some of the kindness, compassion, care, and helpfulness that those individuals had shown me many years before.

Often times I view meditation as a seated, silent, stationary, stoic process.   And that style of meditation certainly has a positive, helpful role to play in my life.  However, today I got to remember that meditative concepts can be applied to any (every) moment in any (every) situation.  I don’t have to be sitting on my meditation cushion in order to engage in mindfulness; and I don’t have to be still with eyes closed in order to realize the benefits of meditation practice.  Gratitude is a beautiful expression of a still, peaceful, meditative heart – and this is what I experienced today in my conversation with my husband.

If you are maybe interested in meditation, but aren’t sure about trying out the process in a “traditional” sense (i.e., seated, silent, still, etc.), consider engaging in a gratitude practice for a few minutes, and see what results for you.  Sometimes I will actively engage in a gratitude practice by mentally create a “gratitude alphabet”: I think of a word for each letter of the alphabet that represents something I am truly grateful for right now, no matter how “trivial” each item may seem.  (Example: A: aster [flowers from our new garden]; B: Big Bowl [where the conversation in the above paragraph took place; and where I enjoyed quick-yet-tasty food]; C: computers [man, they make life easier!]; D: Drano [no more standing water in our shower]; etc…)

There are many, many ways to meditate; today I got to remember that I don’t always have to do adhere to a structured, set routine; I can mix things up a bit, and sometimes be pleasantly surprised as to what I find along the way.

Stef

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Monday, June 21, 2010: Interconnected joy

After two yoga classes on Sunday, I felt elated, delighted, and sincerely joyful. Joy-ful. My soul truly felt brimming with joy.  It was amazing, and wonderful, and cool.  Very, very cool.

When I woke up this morning, my soul had retained the joy from yesterday, and I felt so bright, and positive, and truly happy.  It was beautiful!

I completed my morning routine (yoga, meditation, shower), joy still in tact.  I drove to work in a rainstorm, and arrived to the parking garage still happy.  I walked from the garage to my office building, genuinely smiling the whole way.  Good, good stuff.

I got to my desk at work.  Slowly, over the course of the day, I interacted with people.  Some expressed frustration with others.  Some made negative comments about various situations and circumstances.  Some “joked about” (mocked) other humans.  Some shared events from the weekend with a “yeah, but…” attitude.  (As in, “yeah, the sunshine was nice; but it was too hot…”; and other similar ways of expressing a negative sentiment with every statement offered.)  And while I refrained from engaging in these behaviors (i.e., I didn’t get frustrated, I didn’t critique, I didn’t mock, I didn’t complain), with each interaction I experienced, I felt a tiny little morsel of joy slip away, leave my presence, leave me, leave my soul.

By the end of the day I was still “happy”, still positive, still pleasant in my mood; but not ecstatically, jubilantly, wildly JOYFUL like I had been 8 hours earlier.

Interestingly, over the course of the day, I was really aware of what was happening.  With each interaction, I sincerely, truly witnessed another small drop of joy leaving the reservoir I had inside of me.  I really did see the impact of these seemingly “small” comments, and how they affected me.  None of the statements others made were about me – but that didn’t matter.  The comments were about people, and the tenor was about negativity; and my sensitive soul picked up on those two things, and I was impacted.

Today, I received a lesson in interconnection; specifically, in how deeply we all really *are* connected.  If I make a flip comment about another person, and even if that other person is not around, and even if that other person never finds out about the comment, my action has caused harm.  The negativity of the comment has spread to anyone who may have heard the comment.  And even if no one is around (i.e., I’m talking to myself), I have still caused harm with the comment – I have fed a seed of negativity inside of myself, which will be spread to others in the world at some point in time (likely in the near-immediate future) via negative thoughts, negative mood, and ultimately negative actions and behaviors.

There is no such thing as a “victimless crime”; even if I am by myself, if I am feeding seeds of negativity, judgment, criticism, hardness, harshness, or worse, I *am* hurting the world.  I am hurting myself, and in hurting myself, I will hurt others.  A person in pain has no choice but to share pain (even if it’s just a teeny, tiny bit); a person in fear has no choice but to share fear (even if it’s just an itty-bitty morsel); a person in self-criticism has no choice but to share criticism (even if it’s just an itsy-bitsy drop); and all of these minuscule amounts take at least the equivalent amount of joy from others, if not more.

And I got to experience all of this today; really, deeply experience it.  It was an amazingly powerful lesson; and it makes me want to do all I can to love myself and accept myself and treasure myself – ALL of myself – as much as I absolutely can.  By becoming the most exuberant, delighted, accepting, joyful person possible, I have a small chance at truly helping the world; and perhaps even changing it.  Wow.

Stef

Friday, June 11, 2010: Membership, belonging, longning

This morning I met with the guiding teacher at a local meditation center, to get advice on some challenges I have recently become aware of in my practice.  It felt wonderful to talk with someone who not only “gets it” (i.e., who [through personal, direct experience] truly understands and appreciates both the struggles and the amazing goodness that can come out of a consistent meditation practice), but who is also more experienced than I am, and further along the path than I am; and so can help me as I progress in this journey, pointing out spots that may be tricky or potentially problematic, and also alerting me to really cool things that might be ahead – so that I can be on the lookout for all of these things as I approach the various areas along the path.  And I appreciate the “trustworthiness” of this individual, as he has not only read about the terrain of this path and studied various maps, but has actually physically walked down a section of the path before – so he can draw on his own personal, direct, real experience (and not be solely dependent on intellectual, conceptual understandings [which may or may not accurately reflect the true reality of the situation]).

In having this one-on-one time with the teacher, I became aware of how much I miss being a member of a group of like-minded people, who willingly and happily invest time, energy and effort practicing (living) the same “values” (for lack of a better term) that I also hold, who attempt to direct their minds and their hearts in the areas that I also believe are positive, constructive, worthwhile, important.  Meeting with the teacher today reminded me of how powerful interpersonal connection can be in supporting what can be challenging (yet positive and life-enhancing) efforts, and how important being an active member of a community can be, and how lonely and discouraging it can feel to not be “a part of”.  Hmm…

I guess I have some things to reflect on.  I’m curious to see what the “next phase of my development” may yield.

Stef

Saturday, June 5, 2010: A meditation “break through” – kind of

For the past week or so, I have been struggling in my meditation practice.  The “concentration” part of the Vipassana mindfulness-concentration combination has been quite weak; and as a result, my meditation sessions have amounted to little more than games of fetch with my mind.  (I.e.: My brain throws out a toy [a thought], and my mind chases after it; but then my mind sees a squirrel and gets SUPER excited and runs into the woods chasing after that; but then my mind notices a scent on the tree that the squirrel ran up, so my mind needs to obsessively investigate that… and so I then walk into the woods, find my mind, and gently bring it back to the open field where we were initially practicing how to “sit”.  I’ve almost gotten the mind to the edge of the woods and we are approaching the clearing, but then my brain tosses out another toy [thought], and my mind wriggles out from beneath my hands, and BAM – is off into another part of the surrounding wilderness again, chasing ever-elusive toys.  And this scenario is repeated again and again, my brain never ending with the supply of “toys” [thoughts] to throw my mind, and my mind never failing to find yet another space to get lost into…and me finding my mind in a myriad variety of lakes/ravines/forests/back yards/etc., and walking it back to the clearing where it and I are “supposed” to be learning how to sit.)

I’ve been trying to work with this situation just as it is, and have been really trying to notice precisely when/under what conditions my mind is most likely to make a break for it and run; and after several days of dedicated observation, I have found that my mind is getting lost most often in the spaces between breaths.  As I am inhaling, my mind can stay with the sensation of air hitting my nostril; but in the pause between inhale and exhale, when no external sensation is palpable, my mind somehow thinks the lack of sensation is a cue to take a break; but because my mind is still a puppy in this whole process, it’s bouncy and peppy and BURSTING with energy – and so a micro-second break is all it needs to run off completely wild.  Once I am able to find the mind, and together we find the exhale, I’m good to go for a small bit, feeling the exhale on the nostril.  But again, once the pause between exhale and inhale takes place, the “void” of sensation, of activity, tells my mind “break time!”, and we repeat this drifting/running/chasing process again, and again, and again…

I am told that meditation is simply a controlled environment for “real” life; that whatever happens in meditation occurs in the broader life as well; so skilled meditators take advantage of the “laboratory” of meditation, and see what findings in the meditation setting can be applied to the broader life.  As I reflect on the awareness gained in my meditation practice from this past week, I see corollaries between my mind going wild in the pause between breaths, and my head going a bit crazy in the pause between larger daily activities (i.e., in the transition between home and work/work and home), and between even more subtle transitions (like from one work task to another, or one home activity and another); and even in the larger scale transitions (between one day and another, one month and another, one holiday and another, one season and another, one year and another…).

Hmm.  So, I guess my meditation practice from this past week was actually more beneficial and “productive” than I initially thought.  But I still feel like the concentration side of the mindfulness-concentration pairing is in need of “more”.  But I guess I get to sit with that, and wait for “more” to be revealed to me.

Stef

P.S. To fellow Buddhists: I realize the futility of claiming the mind as “mine”; in this blog I use the terms “I”, “me”, and “mine” for the sake of clarity via written language.  In my practice, and in my daily life, I try to recognize and remember the futility of clinging to anything as “mine”, especially this impermanent, always-changing mind.

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Afterward

People have been very interested in hearing about my retreat (honestly, much more so than I anticipated), and once I share some of the basics of the experience, many people ask, “So, what did you learn?”

Many of my learnings have been interspersed throughout the day-by-day descriptions; but here are some additional things I learned as a result of my active participation in this retreat.  In no particular order, I learned:

  • what real desperation feels like.
  • that I am not “damaged” or “bad”; that so many things I thought were significant issues or flaws inherent in me are actually just part of the overall human condition.  And that there is comfort in knowing I am not so “special” in this regard; that ALL people struggle.  People before me have struggled, and people after me will struggle; it’s all just part of being alive.
  • that I don’t have to be perfect; that my best effort really IS “good enough”– and that I can be comfortable, and peaceful, and happy being imperfect, and being “just good enough”.  That it’s actually a relief to be “just good enough”.
  • that my ego-mind is very, very strong and powerful; and will not go down without one helluva fight.  BUT – my ego-mind can also be re-trained to be more helpful versus hurtful; but that the training takes a lot of active, patient, persistent work on my end.
  • that I have inner resources I honestly did not know I possessed.
  • just how influenced I am – especially at an unconscious level – by so many subtle, nuanced things in my life.  And that I need to be very strategic, conscious, and vigilant about what I choose to allow into my life (i.e., food I eat, media messages I consume, where/how I spend my free time, the attitudes of the people around me…).
  • the value of snuggling under a warm, heavy blanket in the dark, and being completely still.
  • that I CAN sit for one hour, motionless, and be focused for most of that time on the present moment.  That meditation really IS possible for me – and that it is a helpful, and even enjoyable, activity.
  • that I really am beautiful, inside and out. That my soul is a “good” one; and that my physical body, while impermanent and ever-changing, is currently vibrant and alive and gorgeous.
  • that multitasking is VERY harmful to me (even “just a little bit”) – that I am much happier, peaceful, and content when I focus on literally one thing at any given moment.
  • that true “uni-tasking” is really, really, REALLY difficult.
  • that I can be a force of positive change in the world through very simple actions (e.g., smiling at people; being joyous in my speech; being helpful in my actions; being calm and peaceful in my soul – and being unafraid to emit this essence wherever I am); and that I really like this.
  • that I can be VERY weak, and VERY lazy; but I can also be ridiculously strong and resilient.
  • that I DO have true, sincere peace within myself: that my peace is not dependent on any external forces, situations, people, or conditions; that peace really does reside within my soul.  I just needed to learn how to look for it to really experience it.
  • that I can talk myself into – and out of – darn near anything.  And this can be helpful, but it can also be scary.
  • the power and beauty of being human; we are amazing, amazing creatures.
  • the power of being in the presence of a fellow human – even in silence, even in darkness, such comfort can be felt simply by being in the same physical space with another human.
  • what real joy feels like.

While this is a decent list, I suspect more will be revealed as the days and weeks continue to unfold.  So, I will update this page as I see more, and as I learn more.  Bye for now.

(Click here to return to the Table of Contents to view the “Extras”.)

(Click here to read about how life unfolded after the retreat.) [Or use the links contained in the “Archives” section on the right side of the page.]

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