Dead Eye

Went for a hike with a friend who has a shit storm following him. He vows to read no sad books, see no sad movies. There's plenty enough death, disease and distress in his life as it is. Why add? Yet, he listens to my tale of woe. Sympathizes. 

I tell him I like hawks. We look for them and he finds it interesting since his father was a bird expert and he misses his father. He thinks it a coincidence. Or not.

And so we look for hawks and talk about their perspective. We talk about boundaries. He has set boundaries firmly in place and I admire that. They make sense. All very logical. Where are my boundaries? Meditation provides connections but I'm afraid it's no help at all for setting up roadblocks or caution signs or borderlines. Everything becomes connected and lines of demarcation blur then disappear altogether.

He points out a hawk flying overhead. I look and look and look, but I don't see it. 

I tell him I'll send him the Jack Gilbert poem I love best, "A Brief for the Defense." He says he won't read it if it's sad. I say it is sad, but it 's important. It's about how we must risk delight in spite of it all.

We finish our hike and I walk him to his car. He shows me a plastic hawk he's bought to thwart off the robin that's left layers of bird droppings all over the hood and bumper of his station wagon. It's a sad replica of an imperial bird. There's none of the majesty you feel when you see the enormity of the real thing, the way it makes you gasp and feel as if somehow something that is this terrible and this powerful makes something worthwhile even if you don't know what that something is.

I send him the poem even though I know he won't read it and even though his car is covered in bird shit and the plastic hawk has dead vacuous eyes forever void of delight.

 

 

A Perfect Practice

Roxanne says: Perfection is the enemy of progress. She's a doc and so she tells her patients this in order to encourage them. She says if you can exercise for ten a minutes a day, do that. 

stock-photography-perfection-25594652.jpg

The message is the same in the practice of meditation. There is no goal here, no right way to do it, no prizes, no winner. Sit in stillness as best you can and possibilities appear. What is possible is far from perfect and what is perfect is far from possible. 


Hoarder Heart

My husband, a friend recently told me, is a hoarder. He keeps everything. Little appliances, lamps, tools. In my minds eye, I see the land of clutter. The broken things are the worst, she says. He thinks he's going to fix these things one day, but he never will.

I understand the challenge. Broken things call to me too. Fragmented ideas, shredded relationships, missions missing pieces and parts. 

Photo by Robert Daly/OJO Images / Getty Images
Photo by Robert Daly/OJO Images / Getty Images

When things are  broken, it's difficult to know what to save-- what to discard. Easier to stick with the status quo. Leave it there. Store it and get to it later. Store it and maybe it will fix itself. A little super glue here, an epoxy there. I'm tenacious and haven't yet tried everything. 

Letting go takes effort, sometimes tremendous effort. It takes courage to jettison the junk so carefully preserved in my heart and in my brain. There will be a void and it is terrifying to trust in a negative space. 

Nature abhors a vacuum, said Aristotle. The void will fill. Just be brave enough to breath and let it go.

Begin Again

It was an accomplishment for me to meditate once daily. I've been doing it for the past three years. But life only gets more convoluted and more complicated. Don't ask. So it's time for me to meditate twice daily. It's like starting over again from the beginning. 

So this seems as good a time as any to begin again. A new blog. An additional dose of meditation. Let's start again from the beginning.

What I do: 

  1. Take several diaphramatic breaths. On the inhale, puff your belly out. Do this slowly. Think of a water mill turning up on the inhale, down on the exhale. Go slow. Do as many breaths as you need to start to slow your breathing.
  2. Imagine a bright light shining out of your eyes, then your nose, then your ears, then your mouth and let the light relax each of those parts. It helps me to think of the back of my eyes as they sink deeper into my head. Be sure to relax your jaw.
  3. Imagine the light as it travels up and down your neck, your arms (both sides), your fingers, chest and stomach. I may roll my neck from side to side to help it relax.
  4. The light travels up a down your spine, a perfect metaphor for your life. The spine is flexible and allows you to be upright.
  5. Imagine a colorless shapeless void in your chest. Of course that's impossible. Never mind. 
  6. Let the light continue to travel into your hips, legs and toes.
  7. The first six steps take me about five of the twenty minutes I spend in meditation. The next part of the process is where I coax my thoughts to the hollow in my chest. I may imagine a magnet in my chest drawing down the thoughts.
  8. Or I may imagine a light between my eyes (the third eye) and bring that to my heart.

Now's the hard part. Find someone or something to support you in your practice. I'm here.

Me Me Me

It rains for me. IMG_1773I love a bleak muted sky and the way dead leaves cling to patient trees. I love that some raindrops slant sharp and some fall soft. I love when the weather matches my mood. The birds concur. For all these long winter months, there have been no bird sounds other than the caw of a crow. But today, finally, there are trills and warbles, chirps and cheeps. The birds call to each other and they call to me.

Meditation may encourage empathy and strike up an awareness for others but mostly it creates a cascade of connections that ultimately connect me to everything around me. So, when it rains, it rains for me.

I Support Nothing

There are people who meditate and there are people who are impressed with people who meditate. If you fall into the second category, take a breath. It's simple to switch categories. Meditation is an easily learned skill. I could teach you to do it in five minutes. Slow breaths, relax, coax your thoughts from your head to your heart. Repeat. The difficulty is not in pUnknown-1erforming the task; the difficulty is incorporating the practice into your daily routine.

Take a solitary activity that will not earn you any fame or fortune and figure out how to get yourself to do it. It's not guaranteed to result in weight loss or financial success. It's not about improving your romantic relationship or your confidence, or selling more crap to more people, or winning friends and influencing people. In fact, meditation is not about any goal at all. That's right. As they say, if you have a goal, you're not meditating. So, no wonder there's no incentive to sit yourself down and not do anything. You could do it, but why should you?

The real key to learning to meditate is not about the learning, it's about finding the support to keep sitting still and doing nothing.

Imperative Voice

Be still, I order myself. Still, I do not like to follow orders. Today I choose a mantra in the imperative. A command.

Be still. I say it again in my head, but this time I add a little coddle: You can do it. Try again.

I resist. That’s who I am. I like to do the opposite of what I’ve been ordered to do.You’ve always been that way, my big brother told me. It’s why I went to law school Why don’t you become a secretary or a nurse? my guidance teacher suggested. You’ll never get into law school. Admittedly, some ideas were better than others.

Contrariness suits me. Contradiction adds dimension. I test out one way, then I seek out the opposite  and try that one on.

Be still, I suggest. Or not.

Imperative Voice

Be still, I order myself. Still, I do not like to follow orders. Today I choose a mantra in the imperative. A command.Unknown Be still. I say it again in my head, but this time I add a little coddle: You can do it. Try again.

I resist. That's who I am. I like to do the opposite of what I've been ordered to do. You've always been that way, my big brother told me. It's why I went to law school Why don't you become a secretary or a nurse? my guidance teacher suggested. You'll never get into law school. Admittedly, some ideas were better than others.

Contrariness suits me. Contradiction adds dimension. I test out one way, then I seek out the opposite  and try that one on.

Be still, I suggest. Or not.

Sweet Dreams (are Made of this)

UnknownYes, Annie Lennox. Everybody is looking for something. When I'm searching for answers, I often ask my questions before I meditate. I  ask: how do I find focus in chaos? Or-- how do I let something go? It's a kind of show-me-the -way question. I ask gently, or at least as patiently and gently as I can. Generally, my questions are for guidance. How do I focus on this and not that? How do I get that toxic thought to stop nagging me? The questions are soft, not probing. I'm not always that deep. I've asked: how can I lose weight? I went for several months with eating dinner just every other night. It didn't work. Oh well. I don't demand or expect an answer, but nevertheless the answer often arrives. This doesn't happen like   a bolt of lightning. I'll  notice months after I've begun asking the question, hey- I've somehow completed a draft of my novel despite the disruptions and chaos in my life. I have accomplished something significant. Or the thought that has been circling around in my head for so many months in a row has been absent for a long time.

Hold your head up, movin' on

 

 

 

An Inconvenient Enlightenment

Most every day, there's a new study to show how meditation lowers blood pressure and decreases anxiety, not to mention the intangible benefits of increased happiness and greater compassion. This Harvard study says "meditation literally rebuilds the brain's grey matter in just eight weeks."

Yay meditation! But there's another side to meditation you're not likely to read about in a study. A prolonged  practice brings increased awareness about yourself and others. I don't know how to say this, but with increased awareness comes increased awareness. Sometimes reality is not all that. Sometimes clarity is uncomfortable. Twenty minutes of stillness once or twice a day changes the way you process the world and when the truth of your brain and your heart converge, what follows may be awkward and inconvenient.

No one ever said enlightenment would be easy.

Kaddish

UnknownWhen all else fails, I go to evening minyan. We are a group of at least nine people and a Torah  (the Torah counts as a person) who gather at dusk to recite the evening prayers. The mourners say Kaddish; the rest of us respond Amen. Every line of Kaddish finishes angry, finishes sad, finishes strong. Technically this is because every line ends  with a beat. Mystically this is because the prayer is written in a language that has long been lost. It is an insistent repetition of meaninglessness  over and over.

Listening to the mourners speak the words is humbling. This is a prayer about mortality despite the fact there is no reference to death and it has been said for thousands of years in the most excruciating of situations. The saying of the words is life-affirming. The saying of the words is meditation.

Mantra Shmantra

This never happened: I hike for miles up to the top of a mountain where I am granted an audience with a wizened and wise guru. He whispers  a secret Sankskrit word into my ear and tells me to never speak my mantra out loud to another human being. ???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

The first mantra I ever used was At Ease. Two syllables seemed right. The message seemed right. I had come to meditation, after all, to find focus. If I could get rid of some of that free floating anxiety, certainly I'd be able to complete the manuscript of my novel. The words got the job done, the job being to brush the thought chatter aside for a moment and then to do it again. The novel manuscript is another issue completely.

A few months later I changed my mantra to Who Am I? It wasn't the cocktail party question.  That question is more about what you do professionally, how many kids you have, what their ages are, and if you don't have a good answer to the first question about what you do professionally, there are more questions about what your kids do. Who Am I refers to something deeper. The answer is not: I'm a mother, a lawyer, a writer. The answer is more like a question than an answer. For the record, neither the question or the answer work well at cocktail parties.

My next mantra was in Sanskrit. I had signed on for a free online meditation course with Deepak Chopra. He had a few suggestions and I chose Satcitānanda. According to Wikipedia, this translates as being, consciousness, bliss. I liked the sound of the word and also the fact I didn't really understand what it meant. This mantra turns out to be the most comforting of all my mantras.

Most recently I use Let Go and Peace and Be Here Now.

I have always been in search of the right words to build the right sentence to build the right story. Words are scaffolding. Words are sacred. The word I repeat to myself as I try to stop the chatter and be comfortable with what I feel and who I am, that word is my mantra, and that word, that perfect secret word that may only exist in the rarified air of nowhere, can only be given to me by me.

Hawk Man

IMG_1722 Whenever I see a hawk, I stop and think about perspective. Somehow, I'm always in need of new perspective. Every day. I seek out hawks. Scan the sky for them. Not this time. This hawk sculpture composed of shells, coconuts husks and withered palm branches stretches just above a sand shelf alongside the ocean. He is magnificent and powerful and unexpected. I met his creator - The Hawk Man of Iowa. Hawk Man has devoted his life to studying and understanding these raptors. He was shy to disclose he has studied the language of hawks, uses their spirituality to enhance his spirituality. He composed this sculpture as a way to deal with grief.

It was my honor to have a chance to meditate soon after I came upon this hawk outline in the sand. Grief is an aerial acrobat. It soars, dives, and circles at dizzying heights. The talons of grief are strong.

Breathe.

so simple, a child could do it

Last night, I sat on Donald and Maleia's porch and sipped wine. Maleia  mentioned she had read my blog and was surprised to learn I meditated. Years ago, she cautiously admitted, she had studied Transcendental Meditation. I think she worried I would think it hokey. I did not and besides, I had just managed to extricate myself from a conversation about high speed internet and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to talk about something I was passionate about.images Maleia and Donald met each other in a leadership class  that used meditation. She remembered something else. "When I was in the first grade, I taught myself to meditate. I hated being in that classroom and I didn't want to be there. So I repeated a word over and over until I brought myself to another place. I repeated the word until it lost its meaning."

I was drinking wine, so perhaps this story has veered slightly  over into fiction, but Maleia hadn't thought about that time in her life for a long time. She had never really thought about it that way before and only as we sat on her porch and drank wine and talked did she realize she had taught herself to meditate.

Over the years, the practice has slipped away from her and she doesn't meditate anymore.  I thought she seemed regretful. "You might do it again. It's always there for you. My friend's son, Billy, says that meditation is like finding a room in your house that you never knew existed."

"But that's my recurring dream," said Maleia. "Over and over, I find a room I never knew was there."

I just love when that happens.

 

Meditation Run

The last time I went for a  run was a couple of decades before the swoosh was invented.  For me, running was always a solitary and silent activity. I never listened to music or ran with a buddy. But that was a long time ago and my running routine dissolved around the time I started to do group exercise classes and work out in a gym.  Then last week, I was inspired to go out and run. I had nervous energy and it was a blue sky day, so I laced up my shoes and left my phone in the house. I clipped along (a very slow clip) for just one-half mile with an intermittent walk/run walk/run. Thoughts drifted in, then drifted right on out. My head cleared. My anxiety dissipated. Unknown The next day was drizzly. No matter.  Something pulled at me and outside I went.  I ran for a mile and once again, my head was able to clear. I remembered something about why I used to like to go for a run. With some focus, my mind and my body will partner up, unified by my breath.

Sitting in stillness is powerful. But moving with a calm and tranquil mind can also get the job done.

 

 

If Hamlet meditated

Plagued by anxiety and  his father's ghost (not to mention his creepy uncle), the Prince of Denmark pondered the most famous mantra of all time: To be or not to be. That was and always will be the question. Hamlet did not meditate and his anxiety  has entertained for centuries. Anxiety ratchets up drama. See for yourself.

To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep; No more; and by a sleep to say we end The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep; To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub; For in that sleep of death what dreams may come When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause: there’s the respect That makes calamity of so long life; For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely, The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay, The insolence of office and the spurns That patient merit of the unworthy takes, When he himself might his quietus make With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear, To grunt and sweat under a weary life, But that the dread of something after death, The undiscover’d country from whose bourn No traveller returns, puzzles the will And makes us rather bear those ills we have Than fly to others that we know not of? Thus conscience does make cowards of us all; And thus the native hue of resolution Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought, And enterprises of great pith and moment With this regard their currents turn awry, And lose the name of action.–Soft you now! The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons