Archive | meditation

Thoughts on a Meditation Cushion

Sitting in meditation this morning
Watching my thoughts churn
Muted turbulent clouds
Barging into my head and each other
An uneasy, silent movie of a stormy sky
High school registration
March trip planning
Friday dinner
Basketball practice
My training session
The Brahmaviharas
Custody schedule
Sadness, the kids go away today
My bike, is the wheel inflated?
Perhaps I can go riding today
Stomach grumbles, what’s for breakfast?
The meditation retreat last day’s dance
A thought arises out of the mess
How confusing the world is
How confusing
And a counter thought smiles
How simple
To be sitting here
On my meditation cushion.

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Morning Dog Meditation

Clearly, the blue mat on the floor is a sign
The heavens have opened and the time has come
An opportunity unfolds that cannot be missed
An propitious moment of canine bliss.

I merely thought I would sit for a while
Let my thoughts pass me by like clouds in the sky
Instead I find myself besieged
By four chihuahuas desperate to kiss.

They come, tails a’wagging, ingratiating looks in their eyes,
Warm tongues searching for my first careless exposing of lips,
Unrolling themselves, belly up, fur inviting,
On top  of my legs and my feet and my hips.

Chico nudges up my hand, Chaim bites my nose,
Percy sits, heart in eyes, patience, gentleness and soul
Nati growls in playful tones, he doesn’t understand
Why, he wonders, am I sitting down but not petting them at all.

I think to myself, don’t be attached, let it go,
Mindfulness is the point, not stillness or eyes closed,
I reach out my hand to caress a dog
And chaos ensues till I’m bowled over, bulldozed:

So many of them, and all of them struggling
To get in the best position for loving
But I, sadly, have but two hands,
I can barely keep up with their popular demand.

Everyone wants to be loved in this family
The puppies, the kids, even the chickens and kitty
There’s no time limit, there’s never too much
Love is the reason we all are alive.

Chaim jumps right up to my face,
Licking and biting my nose and my cheeks.
Chico starts barking, a high nervous bark,
His little claws digging right into my thigh

Chaim and Nati fight for better access, the best spot,
Shoving each other’s head from under my hand,
While Percy gets shoved far to the side,
He practices his best look of pathetic and sad.

I try to stay mindful within this juggle,
As the dogs frantically up their struggle,
Finally, enough, it’s time to lay some laws
My dog meditation obviously has flaws.

I ignore them for a while as they fight and they bark.
Finally, they realize they have a better tactic
As I sit there with my eyes closed, in the back I hear
Their little nails clicking as they each pee right near.

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My Television Dukkha (Suffering)

Sometimes I look at my children, and it seems to me they lead very strange lives. They go to school for most of every weekday, leaving home at 7:30am and returning only around 4pm — almost the equivalent of a full-time adult job. Once at home, they need to manage their time between after-school activities, such as basketball and football practice or gymnastics, and their homework, which could take as much as an hour-and-a-half every day. After the homework is complete, oftentimes the kids elect to sit in front of the television, the xBox or their iPads, staring at the screens for hours at a time.

Here’s what my and my sister’s life at their age looked like:

We had school from 8am to 2pm at the longest, often coming home at noon. We had homework, and I sure read a lot, but I spent a lot of time outside, in our garden or the street, playing. I also played the piano. My sister went to jazz and aerobics classes and took karate lessons. But we often played with friends. There was only one channel on television in Israel. For some two hours each afternoon the programming was only in Arabic, and in the evening, it was more for adults. And so, though we watched some television, our life was not focused on it, except perhaps somewhat during summer vacations, when there was more programming oriented to our age. But even then we spent most of the day playing with friends outside, reading (me), or going to the beach and the pool. We did not have a computer till I was in my teens, and even then, games were limited and the internet not invented yet. Our lives were focused on friends and on being outside, and, for me, on books.

When I look at my kids, I wonder what this indoor, screen-oriented life would look like when they’re adults. I worry that they are self-numbing. That they don’t really know what to do with their time other than this digital easy choice. The fear that as a parent I ought to control this better seizes me, and I feel desperate and hopeless at the same time. Somehow, whenever I talk to other parents, they don’t have this problem at all. “We hardly watch television,” one mother told me the other day. “She’s too busy with soccer practice,” said another.

Once school is done for the day, most kids around here head to sports practices, music lessons, horseback riding lessons, and many other after-school activities. Their time is so tightly scheduled that it is impossible to make plans for playdates during the week, and even the weekend is often tough. While admittedly riding horses or playing soccer does sound much better in every way (healthier, more educational, morally more correct perhaps) than watching television, I wonder sometimes if all these activities are simply another symptom of our non-stop society that is so afraid to pause for a moment and get bored.

This morning, I went to meditation practice at Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City. I was tired, and my head kept whip-lashing as I fell asleep and woke up sitting on the pillow. I had looked forward to coming, eager for a half hour of uninterrupted quiet, a half hour of not needing to talk, not needing to do anything, a half hour of simply being in the moment, even if that moment was full of sleepiness. After the meditation, Robert Cusick spoke about the Eightfold Path and how to end suffering (dukkha in Pali). As he spoke, my listlessness transformed itself into a panic about this television issue. I was ruining the kids’ lives. I was not doing my duty by them. What kind of a parent was I? The image of my daughter staring at the television last night came to my mind, and my chest filled with such tightness, such desperation, such helplessness, that I wanted to jump out of my seat, to do anything except experience that.

In my mind, action was paramount. I was going to go back home and sit the kids down for a talk. No more television. Ever. Not on weekdays at least. I was going to talk to Dar about not getting Uri the Playstation he wanted for his birthday. That’s it. No more. I was done with screen time. I was going to be better this time. I’ll make them check-in their iPads in the kitchen. I would be on top of making sure the TV was always turned off. No computer for me either. Possibly not even for Dar. I will let them be bored. It’s better than this digitalization of our life. We’ll go to the pool instead, or I could schedule them some music lessons again. We will be a screen-free home. In my frenzy, I was no longer at the meditation hall. Instead, I was fighting the kids, fighting, in a way, against this awful sin it seemed to me that I was committing against their life.

Fortunately, Robert Cusick’s words interrupted my self-torture, bringing me back to the hall. He was telling a story about something that happened in a class he taught the other day. The class began, he said, with a guided meditation. As everyone was sitting, and he was already guiding them in the meditation, late-comers trickled in. The door opened and closed. Chairs creaked and scraped. Bags thumped down on the floor. Sound was happening, but he noticed some of the meditators were opening their eyes, glancing back. In our heads, he explained, a simple noise transforms into stories: who is coming? why are they late? don’t they know the class started already? don’t they know they’re interrupting the meditation? But it was just sound that was happening. Only sound. Nothing else. The rest were stories that were going on in people’s heads.

As Robert Cusick spoke, I suddenly understood. What was happening for me, thinking about the digital usage at home, was fear — fear that I am not a good enough mother. The rest was just stories that I was telling myself that I thought could happen in a future that hasn’t even happened yet. The need I felt to act, like the need the meditators felt to see who was coming, was a reaction to the fear, but there was no real, urgent need for me to act. If I acted now, I’d be acting from that fear and ignorance, from a place of heaviness and helplessness and despair. Instead, I can do what I’ve heard people talk about countless times in meditation: I can simply be with this fear. I can hold this fear and myself with compassion. I can experience it and see that it is just a fear, even if it does seem to me such a terrible, scary fear. And let go of the need to react.

Perhaps, once I’ve learned to hold my fear (this fear of not being a good enough mother) with compassion, I will be more capable of acting wisely with regards to the television/ipad/xbox situation at home. Right now, I realize I cannot. Right now, any action I take will not really be an action, but a REaction, and as such will probably go the way my resolutions regarding the TV had gone before: to guilt and more helplessness and fear. I have a long way to go in learning to hold this fear. It’s a big one for me. And so, for today at least, I’m not going to do anything except be kind to myself about it as much as I can. I’m going to trust that the sense of urgency I feel is a passing sensation. That this situation (which is largely in my imagination anyways) is not critical. That I cannot build or destroy anything in one day, and that the kids, god willing, will not be quite as irretrievably ruined as I fear by another digital day.

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The Rainbow on the Turkey’s Tail

Spirit Rock Meditation Center is at once removed and far too close to civilization. It sits close enough to Sir Francis Drake Blvd that traffic always hums, but is also nestled into hills from which several rough trails are cut, climbing out to the ridges around. Perhaps it was leaving my cell phone in the car, the vow of silence, or just the isolation inside the community, but home seemed many thousand miles away, and not a ninety-minute drive across the bay.

Wild turkey dawdled along the road leading from the dining hall to the dorms, seeming not to care about the yogis staring at them. Lizards, less enlightened maybe, skittered in and out of the road, nearly causing accidents that could be fatal only to themselves. These last, especially, were everywhere, either streaking from the bushes or performing their daily dose of push-ups on a sunny surface. They seemed to watch us yogis without much curiosity, as though once they’ve seen one of us, we are all pretty much the same.

Before coming to the retreat, I’d been worried about my ability to sit and meditate for a whole day. I wasn’t sure how I would handle the silence, or the accommodations. And I was worried about breaks for peeing, most specifically because we were going to spend quite a lot of time in nature, and I wasn’t sure if the question would even be addressed.

My worries about the retreat, however, were not more numerous than my expectations. I had noticed, watching people who had come back from retreats or hearing them talk, that participants tend to become a bit addicted to the experience, going back again and again, year after year. I had heard that while the first couple of days were hard, the rest of the retreat seems to pass in a rosy haze of concentration and presence. I also heard that people have all kinds of mystic experiences, such as clearing of past burdens, moments of understanding of past dilemmas or conflicts, and other forms of enlightenment. That all sounded deliciously good to me.

So here I was, in this far-away, humming-with-echoing-traffic retreat center, worrying about details and expecting miracles. Perhaps you can already imagine what happened in the week I was there.

Nothing.

Yes. Exactly, perfectly, nothing.

Turns out, I did not have trouble sitting or walking in meditation. The occasional restlessness, sure, and the occasional sleepiness. Peeing was less complicated than I feared. The silence was softer, less harsh and all-encompassing than I expected (and I may have even enjoyed it as a relief). The accommodations, the bathroom most especially, were clean and comfortable. Sure, I was not crazy about sharing bathrooms with 11 other women anymore, but it was really fine, and everyone was considerate and clean.

I was able to be present some of the time, but presence, or concentration, never became easy, not after two days and not after three days, not for a whole sit or even part of a sit. Throughout the week, I experienced the usual struggle to stay present that I experience at home when I meditate. Some fears plagued me (the most annoying ones being the not being able to go pee fear and the fear that I’ll never hike the PCT, both of which seemed to me huge and petty at the same time), and they stayed on, at some level, throughout the retreat. No really big moments of enlightenment there, or in any of the other dramas of my life.

Quite simply, I just sat there. Or just walked. And that was all.

Toward the last day of the retreat, I started feeling a bit upset. Was I a failure at this too? Did I do something wrong? Perhaps I don’t know how to meditate, after all? Maybe I’m not supposed to just sit here and struggle to be present. Maybe there’s a secret ingredient I’m missing. I grew more and more irritable — no rosy haze for me. The end of the retreat was a relief. I really wanted to come back home.

Safe in the comfort of home, I happened to listen to a Jack Kornfield podcast talk about what inspires us in spirituality. I had watched him every day during the retreat as he was getting lunch. He’d walk mindfully from bowl to bowl, and as mindfully serve himself. He looked shorter than I expected, more Jewish somehow. The noble silence edict, unfortunately, made it impossible for me to go all mushy and tell him how much I admire him and how his books have helped me shift my life. But I sent him thoughts of it, hoping they’d somehow invade his presence of mind.

In the podcast talk, Jack Kornfield told a story about a friend of his who has been meditating for 30 or more years with nothing much happening. The friend had confessed that after a while (the first 10 years especially were hard), he had to come to terms with the fact that nothing was going to happen to him while meditating. No mystic experiences. No enlightenment. After thirty years, however, and reflecting back on his practice, the friend noticed that he had become kinder, more present, and a better listener. More, he said, like himself.

I listened to this story and felt a burden shift. If this is all I can expect to receive from meditation, then it is already more than the whole world. Kindness alone would be enough. Presence alone would be enough. The ability to listen to another fully would be enough. Becoming more myself would be enough. Perhaps, after all, I was not such a failure as a meditator. Perhaps, I was exactly where I most wanted to be: sitting and trying to still the mind into presence, being in the meadow surrounded by other people, all of whom, too, probably just yearn to be kinder, better listeners, more like themselves.

One of the days of the retreat, as the sun was rising above the hills, the turkeys were walking by the road. I paused in my walk down to breakfast to watch them. They walked on the grass, nodding to themselves wisely, pecking mindfully at the ground to search for food. As I watched, a ray of sunshine hit a turkey’s tail and a rainbow formed, flickering, glittering on the feathers in bright colors, as luminous as emeralds, rubies, and sapphires, as soft as just-fallen snow. My heart stopped with wonder. The turkey ambled along, oblivious to the miracle on its tail.

It seemed to me, at that moment, to be the culmination of my life’s work, as though my whole life I had been waiting only for that, the appearance (and then the disappearance) of the rainbow on one turkey’s tail.

One moment it was there, gleaming in the sunlight. Then next, I blinked, and it was gone.

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The Tooth’s Way

I don’t know if any of you have ever had a tooth extracted, but man, does it hurt! It’s been almost a week now, and my tooth — I mean, the space where my tooth used to live — is still throbbing worse than labor pains. I don’t particularly care to take pain meds, and when the oral surgeon prescribed codeine, I blithely (and blindly) refused to take the prescription. I’ve had wisdom teeth taken out before, I declared, and that wasn’t too bad. So how bad could just one tooth be? Famous last words, right?

Instead of the rejected codeine I’ve been using a mixture of tylenol, advil, Reiki, and prayer (to all the different gods I can think of), all of it without much obvious result. I am embarrassed to admit that I also tried crankiness, anger, frustration and self pity. Those, sadly, did not work either. The oral surgeon, on a return visit, was even less helpful, claiming he’d known it would be like this, that my tooth had been badly inflamed, and that it will take at least another week. He proposed the codeine again, which I scornfully declined. No way am I taking codeine now, after a week of pain. I can do this. Sooner or later, surely, this pain must go away.

The most frustrating part of this experiment in pain management turned out to be my expectation that Reiki would help me bear the pain, or rather (in the way my mind figured this) that the Reiki would make the pain disappear. So many people have miraculous Reiki healing stories! Why can’t I be one of them? I wanted the Reiki to close the open wound, heal the sutures, heal the issues beneath, relieve the pain, clear up the inflammation, and make everything all better right away. And when I say right away, I do not under any circumstance mean within a week, and definitely not two.

I was listening the other day to Gil Fronsdal, meditation teacher and the founder of Insight Meditation Center. Appropriately enough, he was explaining sickness and well-being and the way Buddhism views the metaphysics of health. What he said struck me strongly, because I had always assumed that if I got sick then it was my fault somehow — I had failed to deal with some issue, I failed to talk about something which bothered me, or I failed to take care of myself. But Gil Fronsdal said that the Buddha encouraged his disciples not to worry or ruminate about why they were sick or why some trouble has befallen them. According to the Buddha, illness or painful situations come from one of three reasons (and I hope I’m not massacring his exact words or meaning here):

1. Free will, or situations/conditions which we invite into our lives because we want to learn from them. Karma.
2. Accidents which are unrelated to us or to our karma and simply happen in the world (I guess without rhyme or reason).
3. The body’s own function and use (and it sure gets used a lot).

My late tooth, though it did get used quite a bit in 42 years, had an issue behind it, I’m pretty sure. It really didn’t want to leave my mouth. The oral surgeon had to fight to dislodge it. As for me, while he was struggling with the tooth, I called upon the Reiki to help me continue to feel happy and safe during the extraction, and I continue to call upon it to help me heal, not just the tooth, but also the problem behind it. A lot of love is required for this particular one. Inside this tooth were lodged, I think, all my hopes and dreams about having a whole, normal family, about having the kids at home every day, about having the marriage I had wanted. I’ve been divorced nine years, and it has not been easy for me to adjust to many parts of the divorce. I can see how it would really be time for me to release, to let go, to accept, even. Still, the Buddha’s words make me wonder if ruminating on the problem is the way to go. What if I don’t need to worry about the reason? What if I can just let go?

Now that I’ve been attuned (or should I say, ignited) to Holy Fire Reiki®, calling on the energy is much easier than it’s been. Before, I did not quite understand what my teacher, William Lee Rand, meant when he recommended calling on the Reiki for answers. I knew the Reiki came when I placed my hands on someone or on myself — I could feel the heat of it, the prickling of it in my palms — but I could not understand how to call on it for guidance. Now, however, with Holy Fire, the energy comes easily to me. My hands fill with the flame of it, and my heart and abdomen turn warm and safe. In a way, I finally understand that Reiki is not outside of me or inside of me. It simply is me.

Buddhists believe that Ki is the energy of the pool of creation. If so, then we are all made of it. I am Reiki, you are Reiki. Even my cellphone is Reiki (though that does require a leap of faith, seeing as how it seems so radioactive and unhealthy). And if I am Reiki, then all I need is to let go of my beliefs or needs for the healing of my tooth to happen a specific way or in a specified amount of time. I can support the healing by taking some pain meds (or at least support peace at my house by taking the pain meds, which will then probably lead to better healing opportunities). I can support the healing by giving Reiki to myself. But most of all, I can step out of my own way, and allow my tooth (I mean the space where my tooth used to be) to heal the way it needs to happen. Not my way. The tooth’s way. The best way.

2

A Single Breath

At age 42,
I feel the need to
Slow down,
My day filled with
An empty busyness.

I read a page in my book and
Already my hand is reaching for the
Next page.
I take a bite of food, and
Already I heap more on my fork.
I drive to pick up the kids from school,
Already planning the rest of the week, not just
This one, unique, unrepeatable afternoon.

Rush, rush rush
More, more, more.
No more.

Instead,
I want to be aware of
One full breath from
Start to finish.
Inhale
Inhale
Inhale
Deep into the unused recesses of
My unhurried lungs.
Then, exhale
Exhale
Exhale
Stale air I’ve carried with me
And had expected to carry
Still.

Inhale
Inhale
Inhale
Belly rising, expanding, making room for
Life to happen.
Exhale
Exhale
Exhale
Letting go of what is past,
What is no longer needed,
Burdens released with the lightness of
A single breath.

I may have grown up thinking
That having no time to breathe
Is an asset
A proof of living to the utmost,
But now I’m all grown up
I find
That not breathing has
Been equivalent, in my case,
With inaction, depression, indecision, anxiety,
With the empty busyness with which so far
I spent my life.

So now,
Instead of getting cracking on my second half of life,
My next 42 years,
If they be granted,
I have begun to
Not rush rush rush.

I pause
And
Breathe.
Inhale
Inhale
Inhale
Cells brimming with oxygen,
Exhale
Exhale
Exhale
Letting go of inaction, depression, indecision, anxiety.
Letting go of empty busyness.

I pause and breathe,
And the expansion of this one, unique, unrepeatable breath is
Making that most amazing of
Differences,
Because,
With the expansion of my breath
With the release of stale air
With that oh-so-sacred pause,
I finally realize that, deep inside,

I
Feel
Happy.

0

Touching the Divine

I am scratching my head in front of the computer. Taking a sip of water. Writing three words and then deleting them. Writing them again. Ugh, no. All wrong. More scratching. More writing and deleting. Finally, a thump. I’ve closed my laptop. My morning’s writing session is done.

In order to write, I need my groove, my muse, my connection to the divine. Call it, if you like, the elusive god of Creativity. As Mrs. Windermere, the playwright from Gary D. Schmidt’s fabulous Okay For Now, says: “Creativity is a god who comes only when he pleases, and it isn’t very often. But when he does come, he sits beside my desk and folds his wings and I offer him whatever he wants, and in exchange he lets me type all sorts of things….” But how do I get the god to come?

At 5 in the morning, the sky is dark and the air outside is bone-shivering cold, even in Sunny California. Every morning, I pull out my blue yoga mat, set it facing east, and practice qigong and meditate. With my mind seeking peace and rest, oftentimes my best ideas arise. Behold, the god of Creativity hovers before my eyes, his wings tipped invitingly toward the computer. And the question arises, do I stay and finish my practice, or do I charge at the computer and write? Will he get bored watching me if I continue to sit motionless on a pillow? Will he stay awhile or fly away?

Tom Leichardt of Inner Alchemy Center once said to me (and I am paraphrasing his wisdom): We practice qigong and meditate in order to open our connection to the divine, but if you’re already connected, instead of sticking to a rigid practice, be flexible and follow your heart. Flexibility in a spiritual practice! Can you imagine? I love my morning qigong practice, my Reiki self care, sitting on my meditation pillow. I want to be consistent in my practice and do it, all parts of it, every day. And yet, despite my need to cling to the morning qigong, Reiki, meditation routine, I see the wisdom of what Tom says. I see the wisdom in accepting the invitation of the god when he shows up on my desk. I see the wisdom in gratefully accepting right away the touch of the divine.

I believe it was the Dalai Lama who once responded to a man’s complaint that he had no time to meditate by asking: Do you have time to breathe? In Hebrew, the saying, “I have no time to breathe,” is often used to express how busy we are. An exaggeration, one can only hope. If we have time to breathe, we do, in fact, have time to meditate, to do what Tara Brach calls the Sacred Pause. Writing this blog, I find myself often pausing and reconnecting to the divine. Closing my eyes, I ask myself: what is happening in my body now? I can feel the weight near my heart that comes of writing to you my personal story, born of the fears I still have of acceptance, of rejection. I can feel the sizzle at the end of my fingertips, the eagerness to write. The tension in my jaw: “Why are you pausing?” My inner critic asks, “Just write!”

Acknowledging everything that is happening in my body gives me a greater connection to the god with his folded wings as he sits right here at the edge of my desk. The god doesn’t mind the mess on on my desk. He doesn’t mind the critic or the fears. He is a pure and objective flow of words and ideas. When he is here, he is generosity incarnate.

Here are some of my ways of touching the divine:

Meditation. I’ve written about meditation in a previous blog post. Any place, any time is good. Pausing in the midst of the day to check how I’m feeling, what is happening inside me, is great. Allowing the body to rest in stillness for a little while, even if the mind is restless, is as worthy of the exercise as if I’ve reached nirvana every time. Allowing the connection to the divine to form effortlessly, not really seeking, just resting in the body, letting go of the chaos of the mind.

Walking in the woods. As John Muir said: “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” I often get my best ideas when hugging a tree or looking at a gorgeous landscape. My words flow effortlessly in heavens like the Hawaiian Islands, little points of joy like the bay at Los Osos, or majestic parks such as Yosemite or the Smokies. Bring a little notebook along so you can jot down ideas and remember them. I can’t tell you how often I wished for one when I left it at home! Simply spending time outside (or getting up from the computer and moving to a more splendid scenery like my backyard) can also reconnect me to the divine. Even something as small as watering the potted plants!

 

Thank you to Zest Bakery, for allowing me to use their photo!

Thank you to Zest Bakery, for allowing me to use their photo!

A chocolate donut. Ok, so I admit that I’ve been craving one of Zest’s gluten free and dairy free chocolate donuts for a few weeks now. I do, however, really believe that food is one way of connecting to the divine. Eat something you love and enjoy it whole-heartedly before, during AND after. Food tastes so much better with love! Appreciating the food we eat, the creativity and love put into cooking it, and the people who made it (whether I cooked or someone else) is a way to reconnect to the god with his folded wings. While eating the donut, taste that molten chocolate and imagine the cocoa tree growing in Hawaii, the cocoa pods hanging close to the trunk. Imagine the vanilla orchid climbing elegantly, twisting around the cocoa plant, or the wheat (or rice, if you’re gluten free), waving its gold-tipped crown in the breeze. For Mrs. Windermere, the food of creativity is probably ice cream: lemon, peppermint, mint chocolate chip, raspberry sherbet. For me ice cream is a little cold, but with a huge splash of chocolate fudge on top, I’ll accept any non-dairy kind.

Talking. Talking over my ideas I find to be a tough one. Sometimes I develop my ideas more fully by speaking about them to others, and they get more grounded in my mind, more memorable. But sometimes by talking about my ideas, they lose their urgency, and I end up never using them in my blog or book, almost as though I’ve used them up, a one-chance shot. Pay attention to what happens when you talk over your ideas with a friend — is it useful or not? — this is another time you can use that ever-useful tool, the Sacred Pause.

Do you have ways of touching the divine? Please share them with me in the comments below! I love your comments!

0

Intention to Change

changephotoIn my latest audio CD, Jack Kornfield told this story. A meditation teacher met with a student who complained about some issue in his life. The teacher gave the student some suggestions on how meditation might help, but the student answered each suggestion explaining why it wouldn’t work or saying he had already tried that. Finally, the teacher sat back, looked at the student for a long moment, and said: “You know, I think your intention to stay the same is stronger than your intention to change.”

Oh dear. I couldn’t help but remember my conversation with my therapist, Jeanne, earlier that day. I had recounted a problem I was having, but when Jeanne suggested a possible way of handling it, I responded exactly as the student in the story. “I already tried it,” I said more than once. I never really listened to her. I was caught up in my intention to stay the same.

I wonder why I cling to staying the same even when the promise of better things shines before my eyes. I hang on to the lip of the waterfall with bleeding fingernails, resisting the flow of the river that is my life. The water rushes past me, throwing me against rocks and thorny bushes. I am scratched and exhausted, and yet I cannot release the edge no matter how much pain I’m in. There is nothing for me up there, and I can see the clear blue pool below, but I’m too afraid of the turbulent waterfall to let go.

As a Reiki practitioner, I often remind myself to release my need for specific results when I treat a client. I know that though I am the one channeling the energy, it is really the client who heals himself or herself. The healing that happens and the way it manifests are always in the client’s highest good, and they depend (among other factors) on the strength of his/her intention or willingness to change.

Interestingly, since we have free will, we can refuse the flow of Reiki into the body. This may sound strange. Why would anyone refuse well-being? But remember all the times you procrastinated going to the doctor or refused to take the medicine prescribed? Choosing health is not always the easiest path. A student can even refuse an attunement. It happened to me in a class once when I was feeling particularly ornery. Fortunately, by the time the second attunement came around, I had made my peace with receiving its gift, and I could feel the energy flowing into my body.

I’ve discovered that my immediate “No” almost always ought to be a YES. YES to letting go and going down the waterfall. YES to trying something new. YES to listening to my therapist’s suggestion. YES to an offer that might scare me. I have found that no matter how big the waterfall, life is always better in the clear blue pool below.

These days, when I am feeling sick or unhappy, I ask myself the question: is my intention to stay the same stronger than my intention to change? Sometimes just noticing how much I resist change is enough to give me the boost to let go my resistance. Sometimes we all need to take a step into the unknown. I hope, perhaps, I’ve inspired you to leap into the clear blue waters of the pool, too.

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Time to Pause

My cousin Iris, who is also a life coach, recently recommended a book on her blog, The In Between, by Jeff Goins. The book blurb reads: “The In-Between is a call to accept the importance that waiting plays in our lives. Can we embrace the extraordinary nature of the ordinary and enjoy the daily mundane — what lies in between the ‘major’ moments?” I have only just began reading the book, but I’m already curious: What do I do in my moments In Between?

I spend a lot of time driving. On Wednesday, for example, I first drove my daughter to camp, 50 minutes. Next I drove my son to his swim lesson, 30 minutes. Later we drove to his dentist and back home, one hour. Finally, I drove to camp to pick up my daughter and then to her Hebrew lesson, 75 minutes. All together, I spent nearly four hours in the car. That’s a lot of In Between time.

When I made the decision to live outside the city, I knew that my kids will be staying in the same school as before. To my surprise, I discovered that the drives back and forth are not all bad. We often sebutteflye deer, jackrabbits, and even the odd coyote crossing the road while we drive past the preserve near my house. I enjoy listening to audio books with the kids or by myself and have managed to listen to some books I probably would not have read on paper (War and Peace for example). Best of all, the drive turned out to be a good time to have family talks in which the kids tell me about their day and their dreams or ask me life questions without distractions. The In Between hours of driving, while not easy, have become meaningful and even important parts of my day.

When stuck in traffic, I often tell myself this is a great time to practice patience. This past Wednesday, the thought occurred to me that being stuck in traffic is also an opportunity to pause in the middle of my busy day and examine how I am doing and feeling and what it is that I need. It is an opportunity to find myself in my own body, settle in, and explore all of my emotions (including frustration, impatience, irritation, anger, boredom, or any other unpleasant sensation that traffic might make me feel). In answer to the claim, “I have no time to meditate,” the Dalai Lama (at least, I think it was him) responded: “Do you have time to breathe?” The In Between moments of waiting in traffic just happen to be a window in the midst of busyness in which I can breathe.

Tara Brach talks in her books about our tendency to run away from unpleasant emotions. While pausing, breathing and noticing where I am in my body might involve suffering an emotion I had rather ignore, I hope to remember how often those In Between moments really do turn out, in the end, to be moments of gratitude, restfulness and joy. I hope to remember to pause. In fact, I am going to do that right now. Pause. Breathe. Pause.

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Gift of Love

In elementary school, I was a social outcast. I was not alone, of course. I was the bespectacled, nose-dripping outcast, but there were also the fat outcast, the too-tall outcast, the too-short outcast, and a boy and a girl who were outcasts apparently only because of their race. My class was extremely hierarchical, with three class queens and three kings, and we stayed the same group for five years, with the same kings and queens and the same outcasts.

A few days ago I was listening to Tara Brach’s True Refuge. The author was telling the story of Amy, who had a difficult childhood with a mother who neglected and rejected her. In her sessions with Tara, Amy managed to experience the anger which she had kept in check for years and to express the fears beneath: of never finding love, of not being worthy of love, of being alone in the world. Tara called it experiencing soul sadness.

In that moment, for a split second, I saw myself as a bleeding, mucusy, open wound, a whole-body sore. And I realized: This is how I walk around. This is what I am hiding. In my mind’s eye, I instantly knew when it started. Elementary school.

We switched seats that day, and the teacher partnered me with Matat, one of the class queens. In front of the class, Matat said: “I don’t want to sit next to her.”  But the teacher insisted, and as Matat slid into the seat next to mine, she whispered: “Stop sneezing and wiping your nose like that.”

Other than that split-second knowledge that I was a trembling, bleeding, mucusy, open wound, I had not been able to feel any emotion about this event. It was as though I had no feelings about it at all. I knew I needed to heal the wounded body and clear the hurt from my heart by forgiving Matat, but I could feel no real hurt and no compassion for her, and without any emotions, I didn’t know if it was possible to forgive at all.

I decided to try a forgiveness meditation (also from Tara Brach’s book). I settled myself into my cushion and slipped into my body thirty years ago: thick glasses covering half of my face, light brown hair twisted into two long but messy braids, a drippy, red nose, and a skinny body. And there was Matat, refusing to sit next to me, and a heaviness choked my throat.

All I wanted was to be loved, to be appreciated. Scooting down in the chair, I held the sneezes back and tried hard not to wipe my nose before absolutely necessary. There was no room for me to exist. I could feel the weight on my back (ah, said a voice in my grown-up head, that’s when you became a turtle), in my throat, in my heart.

Holding that little girl with compassion, sending her love, I began to murmur a lovingkindness meditation. May you be happy, may you be well, may you be filled with lovingkindness and joy. Then, realizing turtlethat she is me, I started anew: may I be happy, may I be well; may I be filled with compassion for myself and others.

Matat means gift in Hebrew. As I went through the meditation, I realized that by forgiving her, I am giving myself a gift. A gift of love.

I hug to my heart the wounded little girl I was thirty years ago and begin to let go of rejection and shame. As space clears in my heart, and I allow myself to expand into it, healing all hurt. I hold myself as a child and whisper: I am here; I love you; I appreciate your wisdom and originality, your quirky sense of humor, the doodles on your notebook, and the used tissues thrown about everywhere.

Then, I am ready:

I feel the harm that has been caused, Matat, and to the extent that I am able, I forgive you.

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Sigal Tzoore (650) 815-5109