Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘vipassana’ Category

A tiny moment of profound awakening

I possess poor skills in predicting what will alter my view, what will awaken my heart, what will touch my soul, and what will potentially transform my life. Some ‘significant’ events (such as births, deaths, marriages, divorces) have not affected me that much; whereas some ‘inconsequential’ occurrences (perhaps a bird flying overhead, or a small child smiling at me in the grocery store) have opened my eyes/mind/heart to a completely new way of understanding and relating to the world.

One of these seemingly-insignificant-yet-truly-transformative events occurred two days ago. I was on a walk, listening to a talk given by a Buddhist monk. About a quarter of the way into the talk, the monk described the subtle-yet-profound transformation a meditator undergoes when she experiences genuine impermanence (as opposed to experiencing ‘just’ rudimentary change). The monk analogized the difference this way: When a person experiences change, it’s like they are standing perpendicular to a busy road, and are watching all of the cars pass back and forth, back and forth. Rise and fall, come and go, here and not here. Comprehending this change is a critical understanding to have, but it’s incomplete. Impermanence is a deeper, more thorough experience. When a person experiences impermanence, it’s like they turn and are standing parallel to the same busy road; what they then see is traffic moving in one direction only. They see fall fall fall, go go go, not here not here not here. They don’t get the ‘comfort’ of seeing the rising, the coming, the here; they only experience the fear of the fall, the go, the not here. They don’t get to soothe themselves with the balm of arrival; instead, they have to confront the intense pain, sorrow, and terror of loss. And yet, once these individuals do fully accept and rest in the very real tragedy of impermanence, of experiencing that EVERYTHING in life is impermanent (even “me” [indeed, experiencing that there is no such thing as “me”, that “the thing that knows” is no thing at all]), they will come to find that instead of dying, they are actually more alive than they have ever been. They are liberated. They are forever free.

This portion of the monk’s talk was literally less than three minutes long (if you’d like to listen for yourself, skip to minutes 19:00-21:40 here) – and yet, it snapped me wide awake. At the end of those three minutes, something inside me truly shifted,and I felt the concepts of impermanence (‘anicca’) and no-self (‘annata’) at a much deeper level. And it was simultaneously amazing, awe-inducing, and terrifying.

This trio of altered perception stayed with me as I sat in meditation yesterday morning. For the first time ever, my meditation experience was relatively non-verbal. Instead of mentally labeling things as they occurred (“wind”, “bird”, “thought”, “pain”, “anxiety”, “back”, “breakfast”, “planning”, “returning”, etc. etc. etc.), I experienced them more at the pre-conceptual level. I heard the wind and the bird, but I didn’t need to name it as such – I just knew it. I felt the pain and the anxiety, but I didn’t need to categorize it as such – I just experienced it. I saw the mind planning and returning, but I didn’t need to call that out – I just observed it. It was a very slight shift, but it produced massive results. In being unburdened from the overlay of language, words, ideas, and concepts, and in being with only the essence of things as they were occurring, I felt a sense of true presence. I felt a sense of genuine, authentic, and profoundly honest well-being. I felt release. I felt free.

In being with things exactly as they really are, I was able to access and experience a part of my internal workings that I never even knew existed. In that awareness, I felt a deep part of me that is working and longing to let go; yet at the same time I felt myself fighting that release, because I felt a tremendous amount of fear in not knowing what would happen next if I allowed part of “me” (or all of “me”) to drop away. It was (and is) really interesting to feel so conflicted, to feel such disparate and opposing emotions literally simultaneously.

But. Yesterday morning I also got a very small taste of true liberation – and it hit me like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It was so powerful, I spent the entire day in a mild state of genuine equanimity: it felt like I was floating while still being fully grounded; like I possessed a deep and stable self-confidence partnered with a genuine and authentic caring for the happiness of everyone around me; like I had full knowledge of the tasks and chores and responsibilities in my life, minus the planning and worry and anxiety that such full awareness can invoke in me.

Part of me has a primal urge to keep things exactly as they are, to stay comfortable in the realm of the predictable and known, to keep “me” safe and whole (i.e., to keep my ego in tact); but yesterday a teeny tiny spark waaaaayyyyy deep down flickered for a millisecond – and now that it has been ignited, it simply cannot be extinguished. To live for a day in the presence of a single drop of such profound peace was more tranquility than I have ever known; I can’t even fathom what living in a state of full freedom could possibly feel like. So while I’m genuinely terrified of what the process of liberation will entail, I also now know that I simply don’t have a choice in the matter – I now “know too much”. I know what it feels like to be genuinely happy and authentically free. And I really, really WANT it.

Stef

P.S. In this post I did my best to articulate and share what can only be truly understood through one’s own experience. I’m not sure how ‘successful’ I was in conveying what occurred to me over these past few days; but I hope I did a good enough job that when I read this post months or years from now, I am reminded of my momentary encounter with amazing freedom – and that it serves as all of the encouragement I need to continue on the path.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

(Disclaimer: This blog post contains some swearing.  If you are offended by coarse language, you may want to close this web page.  I don’t use cursing flagrantly, nor as an “attention-grabber”, but rather to honestly share what I was thinking/feeling/experiencing at various points in this retreat experience. Okay, all that being said – if you are still interested in reading, I happily welcome you in.)  :)

I got out of bed at my usual 4 am wake-up time.  At 5 am I was in the shower, and by 6 am the car was packed and I was on the road.  The morning was overcast, drizzly, and cold – which made for very exhausting driving.  I felt myself fighting fatigue the entire two hours it took to get to the retreat center – ugh.  (At this point I would like the record to show that I was not fighting sleep; that’s dangerous [and in my opinion rather stupid].  Rather, I was fighting fatigue, which is unpleasant, but not unsafe.  Just so we’re all clear.  Okay, I’ll continue…)

Despite the fatigue, I arrived to the retreat center safely – only to learn that the organizers weren’t on-site yet.  Okay… Forty-five minutes later, a flustered woman entered the center, only slightly apologetic for her tardiness.  Breathe Stef…. I held my tongue, received my room assignment (and roommate), put my sleeping bag and clothes on my bed, and put my cushion and blanket in the meditation hall – just in time for the 9 am introduction session.

Only, 9 am came and went, but no teacher arrived.  9:10 am… 9:20 am… My judgmental mind grew louder, and louder; and I felt my physical boy tensing and tightening; and my mind started to question why the hell I was even here – shit, I could be at home, kicking back, enjoying a nice yoga class…or reading some fun blogs…or hell, catching up on the million chores and errands I have waiting for me when I return back home… this is bullshit!  Why the hell do I do this to myself?  That’s it, no more retreats for me.  Screw meditation.  Screw mindfulness.  Why can’t I just be an unconscious, apathetic, materialistic person like so many others in society?  Why do I f***ing care so much?!

Um, yeah – clearly I need this retreat.  It’s pretty evident that too much junk has accumulated in my mind, and my heart; time to clear some clutter.

At 9:30 am the ‘better’ (insightful, wise) part of myself finally said, “Whoa, calm down.  Let go.  Just.  Let.  Go.”  And I did.  And at 9:31 am, the two teachers entered the meditation hall.  (Literally.)  Of course they did.  HP, I swear, you are one tricky bugger…

Alright.  So 9 am was supposed to be “Introductions” – but those never happened.  When the two teachers (monks) arrived, they sat down, and told us to watch our breath – and that was it.  We then meditated for the next hour.  Flashbacks of my 10-day retreat experience flooded back to me, and I did tell myself that if this was what the weekend was going to be like, I would leave tonight – I will not repeat that experience again.  During that first hour of meditation my mind was a crazy swirl, and I mostly saw how angry, hostile, and upset it was.

It was a brutal hour of meditation.  Truly.

At 10:30 am the teacher ended the seated meditation (thank G-d!), and gave 10 minutes of instruction on walking meditation.  Then from 10:45-11 am we practiced walking meditation – and I enjoyed this a lot more.  I’m a big fan of walking meditation – I find it soothing and comforting.  The 15 minutes passed by very quickly; then from 11-11:30 am the monk answered various questions people asked.

During those 30 minutes, I finally got to witness and experience the monk’s personality – and it was terrific.  Bhante G is knowledgeable, certainly; but he’s also quite witty, and very real.  Down to earth.  And he smiles a lot.  And he seems deeply at peace.  It was lovely to be in his presence; the 30 minutes flew by.

At 11:30 am we broke for lunch – and in the dining area, everyone was talking.  A lot.  And loudly.  I was dismayed.  This retreat was supposed to be held in noble silence – but because the monks arrived late this morning and didn’t conduct a proper opening for the retreat, no common expectations were established; and so people just did what they always do, which is a lot of yammering about not much at all.  Ugh.

I ate lunch as quickly as I could, avoided eye contact with my tablemates (which is one aspect of noble silence), and answered their questions with one-word responses.  (Literally.)  I wasn’t trying to be rude; rather, I was attempting to lead by example.  But I don’t think people ‘got it’.  Oh well.

After 10 minutes of eating I went into the kitchen, and did dishes.  Alone.  In silence.  Fine.

12:30-1:30 pm was ‘private time’ – the one point in the daily schedule that is unstructured.  I went to my room, hoping to find refuge amid the noise that seemed to pervade the entire facility – and instead found my roommate talking on her damn cell phone.  Are you kidding me?!

Okay, clearly I have been put on this retreat to learn patience, tolerance, and acceptance – and seeing my internal responses to the stimuli provided to me thus far shows me certainly I have opportunity for growth and maturation in these areas.  So, I can either learn the lessons and change the way I live my life, or I can continue to receive ‘opportunities’ to practice.  Ugh.  Here’s to hoping I can be a really quick study.

At 1:30 pm we did more walking meditation, then at 2 pm we did more sitting meditation.  My mind was still crazy-scattered, and I was still extremely tired, and I still felt a lot of resistance to being on this retreat.  Grr.  At 2:45 pm we had a 15-minute tea break, where mercifully most everyone was relatively quiet.  Not silent, mind you, but at least quiet.  Then at 3 pm we had our first teaching session.  The monk explained that the basic gist of Vipassana meditation (the style of meditation I practice, and the type of meditation this retreat is based on) is to watch the arising and passing of all things; and to fully experience that all things are impermanent.  Why bother seeing/feeling/experiencing that all things are impermanent?  The logic is that we suffer because we cling; we grasp at things, and if/when we get them, we hope and pray we get to keep them – but that’s NEVER the way it actually works (because ALL things are changing constantly).  So basically, we’re playing a game we can never win: we cling with the idea/goal of permanence, in a completely impermanent world.  But.  If we can learn impermanence and truly internalize it, we will cease the clinging, which ends the whole ugly cycle, and voila – we’re free of suffering.

Another way (the more ‘formal’ Buddhist way) of saying it: The five reasons we meditate are to: (1) purify the mind; so that we may (2-4) become free of clinging, anger, and hatred; which will allow us to (5) attain enlightenment/liberation/nibbana.

I’m still very much a novice in Vipassana and Buddhism, so I need things nice and simple (especially when it comes to ancient, deep spiritual teachings); so here’s my personal short-hand version of the whole deal: Let Go. Accept. Be Friendly.

Now, if only it were that easy to actually do

After the monk’s teaching, the schedule said we would have an hour of yoga – which was a lie.  No yoga was offered; instead, we were told to do more walking meditation.  NO!  (So much for acceptance.)  I was really, really looking forward to an hour of yoga each day – and was incredibly disappointed when it didn’t happen.  Indeed, at this point I was fed up.  I went to my room, and did “stare-out-the-window-and-watch-drizzle-soak-the-ground” meditation.  And after 30 minutes of standing and staring, I did fee a little bit better.

I then engaged in about 15 minutes of walking meditation, then sat for an hour of silent meditation.  During that session I stopped fighting my mind (i.e., I let go).  Instead of engaging in battle with my lack of concentration, I just sat back and witnessed the craziness of my mind (acceptance).  I stopped beating myself up for not being perfect (more acceptance), and tried to cut myself some slack (friendliness).  This wasn’t a session of total liberation by any means, but it was progress…

At 6 pm the monk chanted for 10 minutes (the schedule indicated chanting would occur for an hour) – and then told us to take a “tea break” until 7:30 pm.  Um… that’s a long time to drink tea.  But okay, fine, I’m working on acceptance… so I went to my room, and my roommate followed.  When she closed the door she turned to me and said (loudly), “Hey, how are you doing?  How’s the day going for you?  What do you think?”  Oh hell no.  This retreat is supposed to be in noble silence – it’s one of the reasons I signed up for it!  I blinked, breathed deeply, smiled as gently as I could, then put my index finger to my lips.  My roommate looked at me sheepishly.  “Oh, okay,” she whispered.  “Sorry.  I forgot.  I’m not used to this…”  Hon, whispering is still talking!  Aaaarrrggggg!!

I picked up my tea mug, and went upstairs to the kitchen to make some tea.  When I returned to the room a few minutes later, the roommate was still there; so I walked down the hallway a bit – and saw a completely unoccupied room. Hello!  I sat in the chair of the room, and sighed.  Ah, silence, it’s nice to experience you again.  In the very next moment I made a decision: I went rogue.  I moved all of my things from my roommate’s room to this unoccupied room – and it was terrific.  Now, I know, taking this action means I did not accept the situation that was presented to me.  However, I think this may have been a case of applying wisdom (as in “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”); this was a thing I could change, and I had enough wisdom to realize it, and I applied courage to take a rogue action.  And I’m really glad I did.

7:30 pm finally came, and the teacher spoke about two topics that I swear were directed precisely at me.  The first topic was about body image – specifically, how the Buddha taught about the 32 different parts of the body, and how he (the Buddha) stressed again and again that the body is neither beautiful nor ugly, it just is.  Life isn’t beautiful nor ugly, it just is.  Once we can get past notions of like/dislike, pleasure/displeasure, beautiful/ugly, etc., and see the reality of life (specifically, to see things just as they are, and only as they are – i.e., without adding our own reactive, emotional baggage to them), we will be liberated.  [From all of the “crazy” I’ve exhibited today, clearly I’m still firmly in the ‘reactive’ stage of the noble path.]

The second topic the teacher spoke about was loving-friendliness; and about how a very good aim to have in our practice (our life) is to cultivate feelings of friendliness towards every being.  Again, from the looks of the various responses I have displayed today, I have a lot of room to grow in that department, too.

So I’m pretty much feeling like a piece-of-shit human at this point, when the teacher wraps up the evening with a story.  The basic gist of the tale is that the Buddha saw all humans as lotus blooms.  Some blooms are at the top of the pond, and only need a faint hint of sunshine before they open wide and display all of their beautiful petals.  Some blooms are in the middle of the pond, and need a bit more nudging and help to reach the surface – but once they get there, they too will open and reveal their lovely flower.  Some blooms are at the bottom of the pond, stuck in the mud – and these poor blooms have to be dug out of all the muck, then have to make it all the way to the top of the pond… and all of this can take a lot of effort, and a lot of time.  But.  Once these blooms finally do make it to the surface, they will open, and realize their lovely flower natures.

I may be a tiny lotus bud trapped in a whole pile of muck at the bottom of a deep-ass pond, but I’m still a lotus, damn it!

Stef

(Click here to go to Day 2.  [If Day 1 didn’t scare you off, that is.])  :)

Read Full Post »

On The Road

Recently I visited my mom in northern Arkansas.  My husband and I live in a suburb of Minneapolis, so I’m able to make the trip to Arkansas in a single day – but it’s a long, draining day.  It’s a twelve hour drive door-to-door, assuming I: travel only 5 miles over the speed limit (fortunately the speed limit is 70 mph most of the way), stop for a gasoline/bathroom/stretch break no more than once every 2-3 hours, eat breakfast and lunch in the car, have good weather (moderate rain is fine, heavy storms and snow are not), and have no traffic/construction/road work issues.  I’ve made this trip three times now, and each time I make lots of CDs, have a list of friends I can call and catch up with (I wear a Bluetooth headset, and only talk when traffic is light and road conditions are fine), and reserve caffeine for the mid-afternoon portion of the trip.  The miles go by, and I arrive at each end of the trip tired and worn, but pleased to be either 1) with my family, or 2) back home.

For this most recent trip, I made a whole stack of CDs I was eager to listen to: This American Life episodes, TED talks, This I Believe essays, some Buddhist dharma talks, and some fun music that gets me dancing in my seat.  I had more than enough content to cover the 24 hours (round trip), and at 6 am when I left my house, I popped in the first CD, and settled back.

But something interesting happened.  Around 8 am, after I had eaten breakfast and was sipping tea, I became aware that I didn’t “feel like” listening to the CDs.  Hmm… I flipped my car stereo from the current CD selection to the radio, and surprisingly I found a station, but realized I didn’t want to listen to that, either.  I picked up my phone, but then hesitated.  Nope, I didn’t really want to talk to someone, either.  Well… since I was driving, I couldn’t do much more entertainment-wise than listen to something, or talk to someone (i.e. I couldn’t read, do puzzles, write a letter, crochet [these are the things I frequently do when my husband and I are on a car trip, and he’s the one driving]), so what was it that I “wanted” to do?  Surprisingly, the answer came pretty quickly: I just wanted to be present.  I just wanted to sit in the car, and hear the natural sounds of the car, and the road, and the surrounding environment.  I just wanted to feel the vibration of the engine, and the wheel in my hands, and even the minor ache that was forming in my low-back.  I just wanted to see the road as it was approaching, and the occasional informational signs I passed, and the other drivers I infrequently encountered; and I wanted to do all of these things without added distraction, with full awareness. I wanted to be fully present, even for the “mundane” repetition of driving on flat, straight, un-scenic Highway 35.

So, I did.  I turned off all of the extra stimuli, both external (CD, radio, phone), but also largely internal, too (i.e., my chattering mind).  I sat with what was: the car, the road, the experience of traveling.  Mostly fully present.  (I am by no means a “perfect” meditator; my mind still likes to go on many a tangent.)  And you know what?  It was lovely.  Truly.  Lovely!

Now, to be clear: I did not sit in silence for the next 10 hours.  After a period of time, the CDs did come back on.  But I also didn’t need to be “busy” for the entire trip, either.  I alternated between sound and silence, between entertainment and equanimity, letting my experience shift as it wanted to.  I still arrived at my destination physically tired and worn, but also internally quite still and peaceful.

It looks like meditation really is permeating my life, weaving its way into unexpected places.  It certainly isn’t “me” doing any of this (apart from getting my “tush on the cush”), and it’s interesting (and fun, and rewarding) for me to see where mindfulness, peacefulness, calm, and compassion may pop up next.

Stef

The story of Hazel

I feel like a really shitty mom.

My husband and I are parents to a 14-year-old sweetie-of-a-dog, Hazel.  I take absolutely no credit for Hazel’s docile demeanor, terrific temperament, or amazing manners; Hazel came to us this way.  Her previous owner had her for the first 10 years of her life; that previous owner raised Hazel from a tiny pound puppy, trained her, cared for her, and loved her as his child.  When Hazel’s previous owner was in the last stages of his life (dying from cancer [which he was diagnosed with at age 28]), he asked my husband and I if we would take care of Hazel once he was gone.  Up to this point, my husband and I had been quite content with our responsibility-free lifestyle (no kids, no pets, not even plants to tend); and in my past, I had failed at caring for a pet (a cat), and plants (potted herbs in my kitchen windowsill).  So I wasn’t super-gung-ho about agreeing to suddenly become the owner of a dog – a full-grown, 35 pound, needs-two-walks-a-day, active dog.  But our friend was literally dying – what could I do?  Be a huge bitch who wouldn’t agree to take care of a dog as our friend struggled to face his own mortality?  It was the least I could do, really.  So I said yes; and four years ago became a surrogate-parent to Hazel.

Adjusting to Hazel in our lives went quite smoothly; actually.  I got used to taking her for a walk every day, in every weather condition (pouring rain, scorching heat, freezing cold, drastic wind).  I remembered to feed her (and on the few times when I kind-of forgot, she reminded me just a short while after her regularly scheduled meal time had passed, so not too much harm was done).  I checked her water bowls every morning, and filled them when they were low.  I took her to the vet, gave her medicine, worked with my husband to trim her nails.  I did everything one would expect a person to do in tending to an animal.  But in those first few years, my actions were just behaviors, just “tasks” to do for the dog.  The one element of “taking care of” Hazel I neglected to do was to love her.

And I am SO not happy to admit that.  But.  I was in a much different place mentally, and emotionally, and spiritually 4 years ago than I am today; and that is just how it was.  How I was.  I was responsible, to be certain; but I was distant and cold.  I did what I had to do; but I experienced very little joy with life.  I was just a closed, sad person.  I didn’t really “get” what it meant to be truly ALIVE; I was surviving, not living.

But I finally took different actions in my life; and over the course of the past three years have been learning what it means to really live.  How people are more important than schedules or tasks or possessions.  How anger directed at others is really just a disguise for fear within myself.  How letting go of perfection and admitting ignorance can be truly freeing.  And how making mistakes (past, present, and future) doesn’t make me permanently “bad”, or irreparably damaged, or forever screwed; just human.

Anyway, back to Hazel.  Over the past year, Hazel’s health has started to decline, both physically and mentally.  Arthritis set in to her bones, and anxiety began to take hold of her mind.  We treated the physical pain with puppy aspirin, easy enough.  But the mental pain was more difficult to address.  We tried giving and withholding attention; we tried praising good behaviors and ignoring undesired ones; we tried adjusting schedules (both hers and ours), and moving beds, and introducing different toys.  We tried leaving lights on in the middle of the night.  We tried medication.  And nothing we did seemed to help.  Hazel’s anxiety grew more intense, more persistent, and more insistent.

Last weekend, I was at my wit’s end.  Hazel had just experienced an “episode” that lasted 24-hours.  Literally.  From 4 am Sunday until 4 am Monday, Hazel was inconsolable.  During that 24 hour period, there were probably ten 5-minute-long breaks in the action, where Hazel was somewhat calm.  But as soon as she caught her breath, she was right back at it, shaking and panting and begging for us to do something to help.  And there wasn’t a damn thing I knew to do.

So on Monday morning, I called the vet, and scheduled an appointment for the end of the week.  I had no idea what the vet would be able to do for us, but something had to give.  I just couldn’t keep on this way.  Hazel’s anxiety was fueling MY anxiety.  I felt like a shitty mom for not being able to help, and I felt like shitty human for getting frustrated with her.  I began to consider the idea of euthanasia; and the mere act of simply contemplating that action brought me immediately to tears.  (And still does.)  Could I really *kill* something, just because it was “annoying” to me?  My god, what a crappy-ass-person am I?

At the vet’s office, the doctor found a few issues, the most notable being a “very significant” bladder infection.  Oh, poor honey… could all of this apparent “anxiety” really be Hazel trying to tell us something was physically wrong with her?  How quick I had been to feel frustration instead of compassion, to dismiss behaviors as mental instead of physical.  Granted, the fact that Hazel is non-verbal doesn’t really help us much; but still, shouldn’t I be better able to read her signs?  The vet did console us by telling us that apart from blood work, there isn’t really any way to diagnose a bladder infection; and since Hazel wasn’t being incontinent, or giving us any other “pee-related” indicators, we really had no reason to suspect that she was having physical problems.  She is 14, after all.

Okay.  So how the heck does all of this tie in to meditation?  This is a meditation blog, after all.  Here’s the connection: This morning I was reading “Mindfulness in Plain English”, a fabulous Vipassana text by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana.  The author was discussing how our true nature is good, and explained that sometimes people who seem to be “bad”, or who do hurtful things, are really just reacting to their past and present conditioning.  “For every one of us… there are countless causes and conditions – both wholesome and unwholesome – that make us act as we do.” (p. 183)  To address this, Gunaratana instructs us: “Be full of kindness toward yourself.  Accept yourself just as you are.  Make peace with your shortcomings.  Embrace even your weaknesses.  Be gentle and forgiving with yourself as you are at this very moment.  If thoughts arise as to how you should be such and such a way, let them go.  Establish fully the depth of these feelings of goodwill and kindness. … Relax in its warmth and radiance.”  (p. 186)

Hazel gave me the opportunity to see and experience all of my human failings, all of my shitty shortcomings.  How quickly I get frustrated.  How immediately I want resolution.  How readily I am willing to give up on someone, even as they need me the most – and how scared I am that people will give up on me.  But Hazel also provided me chances to see how well I can respond.  How I can breathe through one of her episodes, and not yell at her or react negatively to her.  How I can slow down when she’s terribly pokey on a walk, and recognize that she has needs, too.  How I can step up, and do things for her that I may not necessarily want to do – but still do those things with sincere peace in my heart, because I know they are improving her life and experiences.

Perhaps most importantly, Hazel provided me a catalyst for change.  How it’s NOT too late for me to change my attitudes and behaviors towards her.  How I can reflect on the things I don’t like about my past self, and use those negative states as a stimulus to cultivate better states, helpful states, skillful states, positive states.  And how I can forgive myself my past, and do my very best in the present.

So I can be there for Hazel, as she heals, as she lives, and as she dies.  So that when her time does come, I will be able to say goodbye with only peace in my heart.  So that I won’t consider myself a shitty mom, but a splendid mom.  Or at least a suitable one.

Stef

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

May 2010 Posts

Thursday, May 20, 2010: Lesson from a nightmare

I’m a “vivid dreamer”, both in my conscious life, and in my sleeping hours.  Ninety-five percent of the time my dreams are exciting and fun, sometimes humorous, often unexpected, and usually remembered.

Infrequently, I will have a “bad” dream: a dream that feels uncomfortable, or sad, or embarrassing.  And perhaps once a year, I will have a nightmare: a dream that fills me with fear, or that I wake from in tears.

Last night, I had a nightmare.

I won’t share details here (I don’t want to put negativity out into the world); suffice to say, the dream was graphically violent, and sufficiently “scary”.  (And for any narcissists out there, no, the dream did NOT involve anyone I know in real life [except for me].)  However, last night in the deepest, darkest, most upsetting part of the dream, my mind had an epiphany: This is just a thought.

My mind looked at the scene being played out before my eyes, and said to me: This is just a thought.  It’s not real; it is just a thought.  And in that microsecond, an insight came to me: I have a choice.  I don’t have to participate in this horrible scene any longer; I don’t even have to witness it.  I can just let go of it, and be released from it.  It’s not real; it’s just a thought.

So with that, I let go.  I simply dropped the thought, the dream ended mid-action, and my mind went to a completely new, unrelated space.  With one shift in awareness, my life literally changed: thoughts are just thoughts.  They have no power.  They are not real, they contain no action, they can’t cause anything; they are just, well, thoughts.

Now, this isn’t to say that I’m “cured” from thoughts.  My mind generates multiple thoughts every nanosecond, probably tallying millions of thoughts every day.  But now, at least once in my life – for the very first time in my life – I got to experience how a thought can’t bully me, can’t compel me to do anything, unless I choose to let it do so.  Sometimes this “choice” is the result of literally decades of habitual reinforcement, so please don’t misunderstand – I’m not saying it’s easy to not react to thoughts.  Someone asks me a question, for example, and my mind immediately says, “Oh, say this!” – and before I know it, I’m talking.

The choice of letting my mind tell me what to do can serve me very well – being able to engage in conversation, for example, is generally a helpful skill.  But. Last night I got to see how often the thoughts that pop into my mind are not helpful; AND I have a choice in how they impact my life.  I can’t stop unwanted thoughts from popping up; but I can recognize them as unhelpful, and see them as just thoughts, nothing more.  Not facts, not truths about who I am, not reality, just thoughts.  Transient, powerless bubbles of mental air that I can pop – and then poof, instantly, they can be gone.

Talk about an amazing benefit from Vipassana.  A true insight, indeed.

Stef

Tuesday, May 18, 2010: Oh ego!

Two opportunities surfaced at work today that let me notice my ego: namely, that I have one, and that it gets scared very easily.  And when it gets scared, it gets impatient, indignant, frustrated, annoyed, angry… and all of this blustering is simply to hide the real emotion it feels, which is – yup, you guessed it – fear.

Opportunity #1: Remember that cool, successful, well-being fair I mentioned last week? (See the post below if you need a reminder.)  The upside is that lots of new people have expressed interest in the meditation group I started at work (which is cool!); the downside is that these new people have lots of opinions about how the group “should” be run – and some people even want to do things with the group that are different from what I think should be done.  And boy oh boy, does this ever threaten my ego!  A few people have been especially persistent and vocal (and they have been super-polite and respectful, so this is in NO way a negative reflection on them, this is 100% all about me and my insecure ego), and as these folks shared their ideas with me, I could feel myself bristling, and closing in on myself, and getting tense, and starting to put distance between myself and them… and it was really, really interesting to observe.  I consciously made efforts to remain as open, and calm, and patient as I could, but I’ll be honest, it was a real struggle trying to rein in and calm down and soothe the indignant (read: scared) ego.  But at the same time, wow!  What an amazing opportunity.

Opportunity #2: My workplace has an open online platform where anyone can write an article and contribute to the collective company knowledge.  (Think Wikipedia.)  At the end of each article, there is a line that states “This article is based on the work of Person ABC.”  I have been writing many articles over the past few weeks, and a few people have been making some minor edits to them as I’ve been going along (style tweaks, formatting adjustments, etc.  Nothing big, no significant changes in content, just some online “cleanup”.).  Today, I noticed that on the pages I wrote, credit is being given to the individuals who have been tweaking the articles, and not to me.  What the hell?!  *I* am the one who has spent literally DAYS crafting these things, and *other* people are the ones who get the credit?!  Talk about a slap across the face of my ego – it was pissed!  And why did it have such a strong, immediate reaction?  Because it’s afraid people won’t know how good it is, how smart it is, what a hard-worker it is, how smart it is (intelligence is a big trigger for this ego)…and again, this was a powerful opportunity for me to observe exactly how the ego reacts to perceived “threats”.  I got to see the arising of fear, and the unfolding reaction of anger and righteous indignation; and then I got to experience how this chain of events felt both psychologically and physiologically… it was interesting, and uncomfortable, and humorous, and quite wild.  Again, another amazing opportunity.

As I continue to engage in meditation, I’m becoming more and more aware of the very, very subtle thoughts, feelings, and processes that take place inside of “me”.  And while this awareness can be uncomfortable, even scary sometimes, ultimately it is incredibly helpful.  When I’m aware, I no longer have to be the “bitch” to my emotions, to my irrational concerns, to my ego fears.  Instead, I can realize, “Oh, hey!  That’s just my crazy little ego; I can soothe that little guy, and let this go, and continue along a happy, contented path…”  The “trick” is to be aware in the moment the perceived “issue” is happening; today, I got two of those chances to practice in-the-moment awareness – and I think I did pretty good.  : )

Stef

Wednesday, May 12, 2010: Meditation is catching on…

Yesterday, the meditation group I started at work (see the Jan 12, 2010 post) participated in a company-wide well-being fair.  (Basically, different groups that integrate into and/or support well-being initiatives [from Wii Fit, to saving for retirement, to healthy eating, to meditation…] each got a booth in a big conference room, and company employees could walk through the conference room, pick up any info from any of the groups present, ask any questions they wanted, etc.)  At our booth, I offered two handouts (one on the logistics of the group, and one of a “30-second meditation”), and provided a place for people to write their name if they would like to be added to my group’s email distribution list.  At the end of the fair, approximately 1750 people had walked through the conference room at some point during the 4-hour event; and guess how many people had signed up for the distribution list?  Oh, go ahead, guess.  It’s fun to guess…

Got a number in your head?

Here’s the answer – ready?

One hundred twelve.

One hundred twelve people signed up to (at the very least) receive a weekly email about the group’s comings and goings!  One hundred twelve!  Over 6% of the total event attendees expressed interest in my meditation group!  One hundred twelve!  That is freaking fantastic!

I couldn’t believe it; this interest truly knocked my socks off.  When I started the group back in January, I honestly, truly, sincerely thought that it might just be me sitting in a conference room by myself, meditating all alone.  With these newly added 112 people, the number of group members is now around 325 people.  Three hundred twenty five people!  Shut up!  Who woulda thunk?

Certainly not me.  But man, it makes me super, super happy. It delights me, actually. Meditation is cool.  I’m not a freak for having an interest in it, for wanting to do it, for wanting to share it with others.  Other people have at least a tiny bit of interest in it, too.  And that totally makes me smile.

One hundred twelve.  Rock on!

Stef

Read Full Post »

April 2010 Posts

Sunday, April 18, 2010: Why meditate?

When people learn that I mediate every day, I am frequently asked questions about my practice.  I am usually asked how long I meditate for, and what style of meditation I do; and sometimes I am asked, “Umm… but why?  Why do you meditate?”  To some people, meditation seems so…boring.  And pointless.  Almost wasteful. I mean, sit still with your eyes closed – and then what?  What are you supposed to do?  Just sit there?  Just. Sit?  Really??  What’s the point?  Aren’t you too busy to spend a full 20-30 minutes in your day doing nothing?  Don’t you have better things to do with that time?

In response to these questions, I usually say that meditation is best understood by actually experiencing it, by doing it, rather than thinking about it or discussing it.  To offer encouragement, I share examples of some of the benefits I have received from meditation: clarity, acceptance, contentment, peace, compassion.  But often, I feel like the other person leaves the conversation wanting something different, something more; some really compelling explanation as to why they should try meditation.

Yesterday, I heard a teacher offer one of the best analogies of meditation I have encountered; so to all of the people who ask, “But why?”, I offer this illustration.*

“Imagine you are in a room with a huge, state of the art television.  It has the latest-and-greatest everything: flat screen, plasma, high-definition, surround sound, 54”, the works.  Everything you could possibly want from the very best TV, this one has.  And you love it.  You sit in a big, comfy, overstuffed recliner, and surf from channel to channel to channel, completely entertained.  And when you get bored with one channel, you just click to the next one – and you watch, and you click, and you surf, and you think you are really happy with your TV.

Then one day the electricity goes out.  As you get up off the recliner to investigate the problem, you notice that the room you are in has a door.  Since the TV is out, you decide to go ahead and open the door and see what’s going on there.  You discover that the door opens to the outside world – so you decide to step outside.  As you take a few steps outside, you see the sun that you know so well from your TV viewing experience; only now, you not only see the sun, but you actually feel the warmth of it on your skin – something you simply couldn’t experience by watching your TV.  You take a few more steps, and you encounter a beehive.  You remember seeing on TV that some people put the goop from a beehive into their mouths, and they seem to like it – but you could never understand why, it looked kind of gross.  But you are curious, so you take advantage of this opportunity, and you taste some honey – again, something you couldn’t do in your TV room.  You keep walking, and you see a person mowing their yard – and a strange, fresh smell enters your nose; you realize that the grass being cut smells like something different from the scents that were in your TV room.  You saw grass, and honey, and the sun all on your TV, but you never had the experience of actually smelling the grass, of tasting the honey, of feeling the sun; in fact, you weren’t even aware of what you were missing until you got to experience these things for yourself.

Life as most people know it is like living in the two-dimensional world of the TV room.  Beginning meditation is like opening the door to the outside; and living a life mindfully is like living in the three-dimensional world with the sun, and the honey, and the grass.  But each person has to experience the 3-D world for him/herself; as much as people may try to explain what a warm sun feels like, what honey tastes like, what cut grass smells like, a person can only really understand these things by fully experiencing them.  This is the gift of meditation.”

So.  To the people in my life who wonder why I “like” meditation; and to anyone who may be curious about what meditation has to offer, I hope this example helps.  If you have experiences with meditation you would like to share, or other analogies that resonate with you, I’d love to hear them – feel free to comment below!

* This illustration has been paraphrased and expanded by me, based on a talk given by Gil Fronsdal of the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, CA.

Saturday, April 3, 2010: Unexpected meditation

I’ve not been sleeping very well for the past few weeks.  My husband and I have a dog who is nearly 14 years old – and who is beginning to show signs of senility.  As a result, our puppy will frequently become very frightened without provocation; she literally will be lying down in the room with me, gently dozing or just hanging out, and seconds later will stand up and start panting and shaking uncontrollably, doing whatever she can to get as physically close to me as possible. Sometimes these “episodes” last for a few seconds, sometimes they linger for 5-15 minutes, and occasionally they last for several hours.

Last week our dog became fearful around 1:30 am, and spent the next two hours panting, pacing the bedroom, shaking, and doing her best to physically climb into the bed.  My husband and I tried everything we could think of to console our poor pup, from petting her and talking to her gently, to turning on the radio and the hallway light, to ignoring her hoping if we “lost interest” in the behavior then she would, too; but nothing worked.  She finally fell asleep around 4 am from pure exhaustion.

Suffice to say, I didn’t get much quality sleep that night.  And I’m a gal who gets pretty cranky when she is sleep-deprived.  So as 1:30 am turned to 2 am, to 3 am, I was forced to face a situation I didn’t like.  What to do?

After I did what I could to try and change the situation by attempting (and failing) to help our pet, I realized that this situation (i.e., the “disturbance” of our dog) was not going to change.  At that point, I had a few different options.

  1. I could worry: about how tired I might feel in the morning, how exhausted I might be at work later in the day, how I might get a headache because of the lack of sleep, etc.
  2. I could get angry: curse our dog for getting old, get mad at myself that I was so stupid I couldn’t figure out how to make things better for her, resent the vet for not “fixing” our pet, etc.
  3. I could be fearful: about the harm being done to our dog (physically and psychologically), that the situation would repeat itself and I would never have peace in my home again, etc.
  4. I could try avoidance: clamp a pillow over my head and try to shut everything out; lock the dog out of the room; make my husband deal with the pup and let me sleep in peace; etc.

And so on.

Much to my surprise, I found myself meditating.  The type of meditation I practice is all about noting what is going on in the present moment, and then simply accepting it exactly as it is.  No fixing, no changing, no reacting – simply notice, and accept.  Notice, and accept.  Notice, and accept.  Without even “choosing” to meditate, at 2 am I found myself breathing calmly, saying to myself, “Hmm, the puppy is really shaking.  But I’ve done what I can, so just breathe. But man, I’m going to be so tired tomorrow!  But tomorrow isn’t here yet, so just relax and breathe.  But when will this dog stop already?  I suppose she will stop whenever she stops; clearly I can’t make her stop, so just breathe.  But the vet should be able to fix this!  But the vet is asleep right now, so just let go and breathe.  But what if the dog behaves like this again tomorrow night?  I’ll never have another full night of sleep in my life!  But this is tonight, not tomorrow night, so just come back to now and breathe.  But this dog is driving me insane!  But she’s not doing any of this to be annoying, she’s just old and scared, so have compassion and just breathe.”  And on, and on; having thoughts (because the mind always thinks), but letting go of those thoughts as best I could, and returning to the present moment of my breath, over, and over, and over, and over, and over again.

Interestingly, I didn’t consciously choose to do any of this.  After six months of daily meditation practice, apparently my mind is slowly integrating the habits I am forming “on the cushion” into other areas of my every day life.  It was only after several minutes in bed, releasing thoughts and breathing, that I noticed, “Hey, I’m meditating!  How cool is that?!”

If you have any experience with “unexpected meditation”, or dogs who are fearful, or older dogs, or just want to say “hello” and/or offer encouragement, feel free to leave a comment.  : )

Stef

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »