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Posts Tagged ‘awareness’

A meditation poem

A friend introduced me to a poem that I think is wonderful for a meditator to read/hear – and a very good addition to a meditation blog.  :)  The poem is titled “A Place to Sit”, and was written by Kabir (an Indian tradesman who was also quite a contemplative fellow, who lived in the 1400s).  As Kabir didn’t write in English, the below version of the poem has been translated by Robert Bly (an American poet who is still alive today).

As poetry is intended to be shared aloud (versus read silently), I invite you to audibly read the text below; I find the words take on deeper meaning when I speak them versus see them.

And now, the poem.

.

A Place to Sit

Don’t go outside your house to see flowers.
My friend, don’t bother with that excursion.
Inside your body there are flowers.
One flower has a thousand petals.
That will do for a place to sit.
Sitting there you will have a glimpse of beauty
inside the body and out of it,
before gardens and after gardens.

~Kabir (translated by Robert Bly)

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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.

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A reminder of why I meditate

Ten months ago our 14-year-old sweetheart-of-a-puppy died.  To be more accurate (and blunt), ten months ago my husband and I made the heart-breaking decision to have our ailing, frightened, pained puppy put to sleep.  We had the vet take her life.

I don’t apologize for this, nor do I feel guilty – sometimes death really is a blessing, and a relief.  But the decision was still incredibly painful for me to come to terms with; to then put it into action literally hurt my heart.

Additionally, our dog was an animal laden with a lot of emotional baggage for both my husband and I, so her passing was even more complicated and difficult than otherwise losing a dear family member would be (which is nothing trivial by any measure).

Okay, so not a terribly bright or light start to this blog post – but I really do have a point, and I’m getting there now.  When our puppy died, my husband and I had her body cremated.  Our intention was to spread her ashes on a lake.  However, she died in November – and in the very cold northern state where I live, all of the lakes were frozen by that time.  So my husband and I waited until this summer, when the ice had melted and the warm sun shone over the fresh water, to make our final goodbye to our sweet girl.

That transition occurred a few weeks ago.  My husband and I stepped onto a small boat, and he drove it to the middle of a small-ish lake.  He opened the box that had been closed for the past ten months, and unwound the plastic bag that held the ash remains of our dog.  My husband then handed the sack to me, and proceeded to slowly drive us back towards shore while I let the ashes trickle out of the bag and into the water.

As I held the bag, I sensed the weight of it shift from heavy, to lighter, to empty.  As I literally felt the ashes move past my fingers and into the lake, I thought, “I will be the last human to ever touch our puppy.  I will be the last person to ever feel her, or sense her.”  As her ashes slipped beyond my hand, I genuinely felt her fur on my skin, my body on hers.  It was fleeting, and momentary, and powerful beyond measure.

And I noticed other things during those thirty seconds that it took for us to release the ashes into the water.  I smelled the freshness of the gentle start-stop-start-again breeze that had invited itself into the day.  I heard a chorus of sounds as well as the individual players: the boat motor hum, the lapping of water against the sides of our vessel, the ducks and loon that paddled nearby, my own breathing.  I saw bright sunshine glancing against the small waves caused by the motion of our little boat, and it truly looked like the water was dancing.  I had never noticed that before. Ever.

I wasn’t trying to make those thirty seconds ‘special’ or overly meaningful – I just showed up, open and willing and ready.  And in that space of being nothing but present, a genuine experience was, well, deeply experienced.

I know I could not have come close to arriving at a place of peace on that day without my meditation practice – much less had the clarity, patience, and ability to be in present-moment awareness and allow the beautiful power of plain ol’ every day life to occur.  To allow life to unfold, as it wanted to; and to have me simply sit back, be aware, and bear witness.

People often ask me why I meditate; they just don’t ‘get it’.  Truthfully, some days I ask myself that very same question.  Why do I make the effort to get up very early every morning and spend time alone, motionless, and completely silent?  Why do I spend what amounts to around several hours each week just sitting, breathing, bringing my mind back again and again and again and again…?

This day – this experience – was a reminder of why.  Meditation is a practice: in the sitting, and breathing, and noticing, and returning, I practice “showing up”.  I practice re-connecting from the mindless drift.  I practice re-engaging with life as it is (and not as I might want it to be).   And the practice then enables me (and supports me) to show up fully, completely, and selflessly for real life, for what really matters.

Like the passing of a good friend.

Stef

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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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Aka, “What I learned”:

  • Loving-friendliness is the key to happiness.  When I am friendly, when my heart is open and caring, loving and compassionate, I am happy – regardless of any other person’s response.
  • The present moment is the key to true freedom, to liberation.  When I project into the future or ruminate about the past, I suffer.  Big time.  But when I just stay right here, right now, right in this present moment, life is just fine.  Perception is most people’s reality; I would like to make reality my reality.
  • I like yoga more than I like sitting meditation; and I am more present for more time during yoga than during seated meditation.  And I do get good awarenesses and learnings via both methods.  That being said, up to this point in my meditation and yoga path, I have received deeper, more ‘transformational’ insights in my sitting meditation practice than via yoga.  As much as I wish that weren’t the case (because I ‘like’ yoga more than I ‘like’ meditation), it is my current reality.
  • I’m not sure that I’m willing to do the work required to attain genuine, full liberation.  And that’s really difficult for me to admit.  I never thought of myself as ‘lazy’, or unaccommodating – but at multiple points in this retreat, when push came to shove, I opted for the ‘easy’ way instead of the growth-producing (freedom-yielding) way.  And it hurts me to admit that (and it really hurts me to observe that within myself), but it’s the truth.
  • Still, while my mind may be overly-active in thinking, and while my ego may be unruly and make judgments, my heart is still a lotus flower – and I need to never forget that.  No matter how deep I am in the muck, I am still a beautiful flower, striving to bloom.

So, where to go from here?  I really don’t know.  But I do know I’ll still meditate tomorrow; because really, what else can I do?

Stef

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4 am: I woke up – and the very first thought that entered my consciousness was ‘mindful’. I blinked my eyes open, and the next thought that I had was ‘breath’. Then ‘lungs’, then ‘present moment’, then ‘mindful’.  Holy crap, my attempt to establish mindfulness last night actually worked!  I woke this morning with mindfulness!

4:01 am: And then my mind wandered on to thoughts of packing, and a to-do list quickly formed in my consciousness.  But for a good minute, at the very beginning of my day, I was totally mindful.  It’s a decent start.

5:45 am: I was at my car, placing my suitcase in the trunk, and about to make my way back to the meditation hall for our 6 am sitting, when I saw Bhante approach from his hermitage.  Wrapped up in a big brown coat over his maroon robe, wearing a maroon stocking cap and scarf, he struck me as a tiny, spry, wise old man – full of peace, but also common (worldly) sense.  I love it.

6 am: Sitting meditation.  This session was rocky for me as far as concentration was concerned, but beautiful as far as decreased self-judgment, and increased acceptance of what is.  It’s not complacency, but instead a simultaneous non-judgmental acceptance of the present state of affairs, coupled with an earnest, wholesome desire to want to do better, get better, be better.

7 am: Breakfast.  The sun came out for the first time since we arrived at the retreat; and before he walked upstairs to the kitchen, Bhante stood at the big bay window overlooking the lake where I had stood yesterday, and gazed at the sunshine, enjoying the view.  I agree.

8 am: Schedule change.  Originally we were supposed to have a teaching at this time, but it got moved to 9 am – and we weren’t given any explicit instructions for how to spend our hour from 8-9 am.  The most obvious choice would be to meditate (either sitting, walking, or doing yoga); but I had done about all of the meditation my mind could handle these past two days – so I engaged in stare-out-the-bay-window-and-watch-birds meditation.  (And I thought of my mother-in-law while I did this [as I nearly always do every time a bird catches my eye], and sent her well-wishes while I gazed.)  During the 45 minutes I was at the window I saw a very red robin, a very blue jay, a small black-and-white spotted fellow, and a tiny brown sparrow.  I also heard a woodpecker intermittently, but I never was able to see him.

9 am: Teaching.  The theme of this session was metta (loving-friendliness) and mindfulness, and the relationship between the two.  During this talk Bhante made three key points:
1) A meditator should not practice metta without also being mindful as well, lest the wholesome friendliness of metta turn into an unwholesome state of clinging.
2) Metta/loving-friendliness practice is a practice – so this state should be cultivated in our thoughts (meditation) as well as in our spoken/written words and our physical actions.  Metta should be cultivated both on our cushion, as well as out in the world as we live our lives.
3) Metta should be practiced for our own benefit, not for anyone else’s.  Other people will be just as they are; the world will be just as it is; and we can’t change every single person, nor can we change every single factor in the world.  What we can do is change ourselves – and in changing ourselves, we will certainly benefit, but we will also slowly change the world.  Now how’s that for a terrific koan?  : )

9:30 am: Meditation.  I felt restless and antsy, yet also focused and committed to practice.  I want to go home, but I also want to maintain the deeper meditative states I have experienced/cultivated while here on retreat; and I’m not confident that I will be able to do that (or, perhaps more accurately, remain willing to do the very hard work it takes to maintain them) once I return to my busy, everyday, householder life.  I felt conflicted, and vacillated between relief and anxiety, calm and fear.

10 am: Q&A.  I asked Bhante, “You’ve told us so many good things these past thee days.  But if we are feeble-minded and can only remember one of them, what is the one thing you would have us do when we leave here and return to our everyday lives?”  Bhante’s answer: “Be mindful.”

It couldn’t be any clearer, or simpler.  Certainly not easy – but I shall do my best.

With that, I picked up my meditation cushion and blanket, walked to my car, started it up, and drove down the unpaved driveway, headed for home.

Stef

(Click here to go to the afterward – if you are so inclined.)

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