Tuesday, November 11, 2014

An unusually strong cold front is coming this way.  Temperatures below 20 degrees are predicted, brrrr!  The winds have already begun to tear off the last of the crimson maple leaves and send the golden larch needles spinning in the twilight sky.  Autumn lasted long and lovely over the past couple of months.  Now winter is flying in with snow, short dark days, and a soon to be frozen landscape.  
Seems to me this time of year invites us deeper into Stillness.  
     Before I started waking up and learning to just "be" in the present moment,  I would bemoan the loss of sunshine, time in the garden, the sound of crickets and frogs, etc.  Before I realized that "now" is all one can ever truly know (and even that is tricky business), I used to begrudgingly put on my fleece and down and feel put upon by the ceiling of clouds.  
     These days I have an acceptance of the season of dirty snow and slushy sidewalks.  Not love, but tolerance and even acceptance!  How did this happen?  What would I say to reorient my 14 year old self who slid into depression with the onset of winter?
     No quick fix.  I would probably validate her sensory conclusions about the dark and cold, and then ask her to notice her internal world...breath, body, thoughts.  Ask her if she had internal seasons and how did she feel about that?   I remember back to my candle meditations which I started when I was about 18 years old.  I began to see then the impermanence and fluctuations of that simple reality of the flame.  The seasons give one a larger illustration of that same changeability of all things.  
     My meditation practice awakened me to the changeability of the inner world of my moods and ideas.  Slowly it dawned on me that I didn't have to listen to the mind drama!  As my attention moved away from monkey mind and returned to breath and body over and over again, the mental script began to soften and even fade.  Like a snowflake in my palm.
      But then, my teenage self would have been more moved by this poem by Wu Men:

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.

 from The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry, by Stephen Mitchell

Friday, April 4, 2014

Barre Retreat, part 1

 The first two weeks of March this year I went on a silent retreat at Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, Mass.  Not my typical vacation to sunny Mexico or sea kayaking in Canada or skiing in Utah powder; this was a drop into doing nothing.  Really...nothing.

  Just sitting, walking, no talking or socializing, minimal reading and writing (related to the intention of my retreat), simple meals -- basically, no escape from the monkey-like antics of mind.  This was to be a tough trek into the terrain of emptiness. 

  My path was to deepen my understanding via the teachings of Buddha and non-dualism on anatta, non-self.  My guide was Rodney Smith, a Seattle teacher whom I have studied with for well over a decade.  Rodney is practical and poetic and although trained as a monk, he steers clear of making Buddhism a religious institution.  I had a 15 minute interview each week with him and a few dharma talks in the evening for support.  I chose the Forest Refuge at IMS to avoid the scheduled format of typical retreats.  My "sits" and "walks" were at my own discretion.

  As I turned off my android phone I felt relief tinged with the anxiety of being out of touch.  No calls, no email, virtually no communication for 15 days!  Outside the ground was covered with snow and more was in the forecast, increasing the sense of isolation. 

  Hours passed, days passed and I relaxed into a routine:

-awaken about 5am, shower, sip a cup of tea in the rocking chair in the dining room while witnessing the tawny peach light of pre-dawn silhouette the trees.

-dawn meditation in the quiet and cozy sitting hall.  Wake up!  Some hauntingly beautiful chanting.

-breakfast of hot cereal or grains piled with raisins, nuts and yogurt.  More tea.

-cleaning the bathroom with three toilet stalls, three  shower stalls , and a bathtub and laundry room.  This was my community chore which took a minimum of 45 minutes. Noticed myself thinking I should keep my house this clean!

-short brisk walk down and back up the hill, greeted by bird-call and breeze.

-mid-morning meditation.  Attention to breath and attention to body, while letting memories of cleaning toilets, or hilarious chipmunk behavior during my walk, drop away.

-lunch, the main meal of the day.  Eating mindfully and recognizing the remarkable inter-connections between plants, farmers, roads and trains and planes, grocery stores and the myriad beings involved in each fork load of food into my mouth!

-naptime, meditative rest which allowed me to enjoy a floating state of openness.  Highly recommended.

-long walk.  Every day I walked three miles along back-country roads.  Ice, snow, and early spring hints -- the walk was an acceptance of the Eden this Earth offers us just for slowing down to watch and listen.  The way childhood was (for some of us).

-afternoon meditation.  Wake up!  Mind usually most active during this time of day.

-yoga.  Slow mindful movement priming the mind to release and relax.

-late afternoon meditation.  Wake up!

-light supper.  Crackers and nut butters,  sometimes soup.

-standing meditation outside watching the moon wax or the clouds fly by.

-evening meditation, maybe a dharma talk.  Wake up!

-spiritual reading before going to bed.  Used my mala beads as I fell asleep.  Deep dreams.  Dying dreams.  OK.

  My steady intention with this routine was to release the thinking mind.  Drop the musings on this and that of the past and all my planning for the future.   Be in the present, here and now.  Much like mud that settles to the bottom of the rain puddle after being stirred, revealing the clarity that is reflecting the world;  I could see the cloudy nature of my views and opinions, my ideas about myself and my "should's" about so many things.

  The delight of moving slowly in silence increased each day.  Thoughts, feelings, body sensations would appear and disappear.  A deeper silence between those blips would reveal itself, a silence that held everything within its very emptiness.  Unable to describe those glimpses in words, I remember some lines from a William Stafford poem:

  "...But it is Now;
  It is what happens, the moment,
  the stare of the moon, an
  opening birds call out of,
  anything true.  We have it."

  This retreat gave me a refuge for exploring and letting go the strongholds of my identity and my mind.  A great gift.  Perhaps more reminiscing on my experience there will happen in future posts...

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

To love is to listen

  So many legends about how St. Valentine got hooked up with lovers, the one I like best being that he "secretly married couples so that the husbands wouldn’t have to go to war." (Wikipedia)  Regardless, the wonderful result has been the celebration of love, the quality that makes the world go round.  If we bypass the commercialization of this holiday (as we try to do for all the other holidays that  the consumption model of economics has tried to undermine with monetary meaning), we can actually enjoy a day when we stop to honor love, in and of itself.  Love is here right now if we listen carefully, watch without judgment and comparison.  Even if a person is alone, by quiet listening to the beating of the heart, feeling the whisper of the breath, one can tune into the infinite connections between the body and the earth.   Air, food, clothes, shelter, fuel...these components of life hook us into the larger picture of other human beings and our planet no matter how "local" we may try to be.  Our necessities make us necessary to each other.  Love is this web of conditions which inextricably link every molecule. We are in relationship every moment.  So, let's relax into the celebration.  Love the one you're with, even if it's just you, or the birds in the yard, or the clerk at the store, or your significant other, or the unlimited number of beings who make your life possible in this very moment.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me...
Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan was a lovely Sufi teacher who once said the most important thing we can do  to create peace on earth in times of trouble is to uncover the peace within each of us. 
These days of dark and cold seem to foster that inward journey.  All that remains is for us to prioritize the time to sit in the stillness and just watch how our mind and body keep moving.  No evaluation, "I should be better at this by now!"  No comparison, "If I did this as much as Jane Doe, I would be enlightened by now."  Just enjoy the quiet, the light in a crystalline snowflake, the chatter of chickadees at the suet, the heater kicking in when it's zero outside, the feel and heft of your wool sweater.  Give egoic striving some breathing room, relax all the contractions.  There's a wonderful meditation about seeing yourself deep underwater in the ocean looking up.  You are just floating pleasantly along deep down in the sea.  The surface far above is full of the waves and wind from the storms of time.  You can see the turbulence but it does not affect your peaceful state. 
As a householder, as one who is on the path of awakening without living in a monastery, I find the more often I "go deep," the easier it is to remember how to let peace begin within me and in my daily encounters with challenges.  That much sooner I catch my reactive, conditioned, small self trying to be in the driver's seat of my life.  No thank you.  Habits take the back seat.  Open hearted awareness is my driver.  Many of you have heard me say the 3 minute meditation is one of the best tools of consciousness ever invented.  I wish you many moments (at least 3 minutes long) of this precious silence in the next few weeks!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

  I forget each year how cold cold is!  Today in Bend the temperature is in the low 30's and the sky is gray.  Autumn colors offset the somber skies.  Crabapples litter the lawn and their tart odor carries me back to childhood.  Memories of Dad raking leaves and us kids leaping into the huge pile and burying ourselves in the rich smell of Fall. 
  My Dad died a couple of months ago.  Vascular dementia shut his systems down very slowly.  It felt like watching a giant redwood leaning its weight toward the earth until finally the momentum has its way and the tree thuds to the ground.  The sound resonates through the woods just as my Dad's death physically resonated in my own body.  A slow heavy sensation, not uncomfortable, but noticeable in the impact on my speed of doing, like moving through thick mud.  I appreciate the timelessness of those weeks following his passing.
  Losing a parent, no matter what the relationship, because of the biological inheritance, offers a unique experience of loss.  We all have so many losses any given day, small or sharp, significant or bittersweet.  Watching the loss of my father's stern dignity in the last few years of his dementia was a reminder of the impermanence of the identity I easily take for granted.  But when Awareness looks through my eyes in the deep silence of stillness, it becomes easier to realize the ultimate impossibility of this separate self of me.  The connection to the falling leaves, to other beings, to the cold, to the light, feels tangible and true.  Death and loss lose their boundaries and can be seen as integral to life.  If I look closely, carefully and truthfully, I can see how "I" am embedded in everything around me, and vice versa.  May we all sit quietly with our losses, breathe deeply the pungent air, and relax into the only reality we ever have, NOW!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Lost my android phone during a gorgeous bike ride around Crater Lake yesterday.  What a great opportunity to watch monkey mind go wild.  Watching criticism, fear, and worry jump about the synapses.  Will anyone find it and return it?  Why did I carry it in an open pocket?  Is it broken, did it bounce off into the woods?  Etc.  So I breathe, smile softly, and allow for the mind to relax from the tight constriction of such thoughts.  My attachment to my predictable patterns of wanting life to be different than what happens is laid bare.  In order to remain open to each moment and not get lost in judgment about the past or concern about the future I use "RAIN."  Recognize the grab of emotion and mental noise when it arises,  Allow for the natural tendency of such a reaction in the techno world we live in,  Investigate what is real about the emotions and thoughts and what is only story that I am spinning about the loss.  Finally, the fourth step is to Not-identify with the swirl of obsessive thinking.  RAIN was developed by the teachers at Spirit Rock, www.spiritrock.org/
May you all be blessed the the soft wash of RAIN whenever you need it.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

     A couple of days ago the blasts went off at the Boston Marathon.  How does one maintain equanimity in the face of fear and evil? Not so easy, unless we are practicing concentration and mindfulness with skillful balance of effort and ease on a regular basis.  Then we actually might remember to breathe, really sense our body in contact with Mother Earth, and close our eyes for just a moment to reconnect with our deepest values.  Truth, peace, love, kindness, open heartedness, reverence.  Do you know what you value when faced with mindless, heartless behavior?  We need inner stillness to know where wise action begins.  Life is precious and must be protected.   Can we protect each other without falling into the endless cycle of retributive anger and violence? 
     The poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling begins, "If you can keep your head when all about you, Are losing theirs and blaming it on you," and goes on to give advice to a son about how to be wise in this wild world.  May we all "keep our head" as we contemplate the right response to terror.  May we step out of blame and into reconciliation.