Monthly Archives: September 2017

My friend Impermanence

The good news, on a bad day, is impermanence. It is also cause, on a good day, to slow down and savor.

A few years ago I attended a Death Cafe, where a small group of people eat cake and drink tea and talk about death. Not grief, no end-of-life planning, just opening an avenue on a taboo subject. It was interesting.

But then, it got fascinating.

While most of the group shared our thoughts about death, fears, experiences around death, one attendee sat silent. Towards the end of our time the facilitator asked him how he felt.

“I was lucky, as a young person, to make friends with impermanence,” he started, going on to describe that when you recognize impermanence, you accept it, you engage with it in such a way that you believe for all of the loss it will entail it provides corresponding newness, and you agree to accept the present at the cost of the past, death is not so unnerving.

He got a little resistance, as if even at his advanced age he might not have experienced the kind of loss that is categorically devastating. That’s when he described the long process of the death of his daughter in her early 30’s with 4 young children. But his message remained clear. Every moment with her was a gift. He had no expectation that her life would be a certain way or end at a conventionally accepted time (ie., after him), so he engaged fully, accepting what was as natural.

He said even the chaplains at hospice marveled at his approach, but to him it was quite simple.

That was four years ago. I think of it quite a bit.

This gentleman got right to the core. In one attitude, he blew right through the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. This “friendship” with impermanence made him wildly present to enjoying what was alive and true in his life, and gently accepting of that which was passing.

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

Suffering is resistance to pain. Suffering is the story that our pain “should be different.” Suffering is any of the stories we get entrapped in, that the pain means something is wrong, that we are wrong, we did something wrong and are being punished, that God is wrong, that this condition is keeping me from my true destiny, the one I want, the one I deserve… the stories could go on endlessly. They typically do.

But when Impermanence is the reason, well, that changes everything! Everything alive is going through change, either growth or decay, sometimes both at the same time. Of course we will, too! This is just the natural progression of life, and nature doesn’t work in straight lines very often. It zags. It just does. We can’t control it. It is the purview of life itself.

I had been fasting for the equinox and felt pretty good. As I’ve reincorporated food, I’ve had some pain. Not terrible, but significant.  The reprieve was impermanent. My current pain is impermanent. Once again, I am trying to learn to be receptive to my body’s messages. I’m letting the pain slow me down even further, to give my body rest and to try to attune to its messages.

I get in trouble when I try to keep score. When I use this moment as the deciding factor in a win or failure that will carry the future. While it’s good for me to be aware of what activities or foods or attitudes may be a contributor to a change in pain levels, I’ve been on this road long enough to know that sometimes it just spikes, and sometimes I get lucky.

Embracing the flux, the impermanence, lets me address it completely differently, more slowly and with less at stake. This moment’s expression is not a judgment on the sum of my past actions, nor is it the authority on what is possible in the future. It is just this moment’s expression. And, when I meet it for what it is, without all of those stories, it’s never so bad.

 

 

Even Today

Some days are better than others. I guess that’s part of the human experience.

Today, I don’t feel like I have anything to say. At least nothing of any value.

Yet, even today I want to fulfill my commitment. 20 minutes, like it or not, valuable or not.

I suppose the reality of days when you just don’t feel like it is valid to chronicle.

I’ve often thought of days like this as part of my exhalation. On the inhalation I am enamored of every aspect of life, full of ideas and appreciation. On the exhalation, I am confused and tired and have a more difficult time harnessing my attitude. Both experiences have rising and falling tides.

I’ve always wanted to have just the good days. Indeed, I think the intent of my spiritual practice for the first 40 years of my life had to do with (if you consider the yin/yang symbol) just wiping over all the dark spots with white spots so that I could be exclusively a being of light. It sounded like such a nice idea. Frankly, it still doesn’t sound bad.

But the reality of my life is that there is both lightness and darkness. Good days and more challenging days. Times I feel so good about the way I behaved and times I make myself cringe. Times I am disciplined and careful in what I ingest and times I eat like a second grader. It’s all there and I am learning to encounter it without so much judgment.

Coming to accept the dark spots has been very, very good for me. Bearing through them feels less like failure and more like an exercise in patience. I do still spend a decent amount of time with spiritual reading or writing about things I appreciate to try to change my experience of the day. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. And that’s OK.

Slowing Down Soothes Reactivity

I remember when I was young hearing that we only use 10% of our brains, and that was a high estimate. This concept has floated around various circles and been explained various ways. What I’ve extracted from the concept, true or not, is that 90% of what we do is not conscious. This makes all kinds of sense when you consider the myriad biological processes going on in our bodies like clockwork, in which our conscious mind typically has no role.

But even where the conscious mind is in charge, really most of the stuff we do is habit. We aren’t choosing to do it so much as we know how to do it and we just keep replaying the tape. We are especially prone to just replaying the tape if we are stressed or feel attacked in any way. We go to what we know, and this tendency is called Reactivity.

Reactivity sucks. Literally. It sucks the life and choice out of situations. It condemns us to relive the past, wanted or not. It keeps us in patterns that maybe were effective once or twice, but here in its umpteenth iteration is really destructive. Reactivity is the automatic, unconsidered response that keeps us stuck and keeps the world at bay.

There is a concept here I really want to crack but haven’t exactly yet. It’s embedded in the word.

Reactivity is blind. It has jumped into action before we even see what is truly happening in a situation.  When you extract the embedded “C” and bring it to the forefront- when you are willing to see before you act- it becomes Creativity.

Isn’t that something?

The wonderful thing about slowing down is that reactivity naturally wanes, giving rise to more and more creativity. When you are actively slowing down you are actively reducing your stress level and naturally feeling more grounded. The conditions for reactivity begin to diminish, which is a huge opportunity to apply mindfulness. Mindfulness is the death knell of reactivity, although it is a feisty bugger and goes down slowly.

Still, the conditions created by slowing down are inhospitable to reactivity. When we can approach the world gently, slowly, deliberately, we can’t help but notice the reactivity in our behavior eventually. Noticing brings awareness. Awareness is the healing agent. I mean, if we notice reactivity and actively work to reduce it, that’s great. But even if we just notice it, the awareness will begin undoing it even without our conscious intent. Awareness is the healing agent.

Now, most of us, once we recognize a problem or issue, really want to get to the heart of it and fix it. This “hurry up and slow down” mentality is funny, and I often catch myself in it. But my time is up, so this will need to be another post.

Slowing Down: Imposition or Luxury?

Slowing down came upon me as an imposition. No question about it. It was nothing I wanted, it offered nothing that was appealing to me, and I never would have undertaken it if it weren’t thrust upon me. I resisted it, I tried to deny it and was certain I could overcome it.

It’s funny all of the stuff I used of which I used to be certain.

So, stillness plopped itself into my life even though I had a sign on the door saying “Stillness Not Welcome Here.” I’m a 7 on the enneagram. I like action. I am all about joy and exploration and activity.

Yeah, Stillness didn’t care.

And I fought it. I fought it hard. But, there I was still lying on the bed, or sitting in the chair. There I was, perfectly pain-free if I was still, in agony when i moved. So, eventually, I learned. I developed a saying, “When the Lord requires Stillness, the Lord gets Stillness.” And there was no denying the Lord required stillness.

Years go by, and now the Lord just requires Slowness most of the time. And I don’t resist it anymore. But when I say slowness, let’s be clear: my Tai Chi teacher tells me to pick up the pace. For the last year or so I’ve had a pretty significant limp, but now I realize I really only have a limp when I try to go at a normal pace. When I s-l-o-w i-t w-a-y d-o-w-n, I really don’t have much of a limp at all. At first I resisted, I mean, that is *ridiculously* slow. But, guess what? When I do it, moving like molasses, I’m actually much better. You’d think I’d learn. I guess I am learning.

Because, as much as I resisted, as much as I *did. not. want.* to be slow, I now recognize it as a gift. And, my former self cannot believe I’m saying this, but I see it as a full-on luxury. No one in this world gets to move this slowly. People are running from thing to thing to thing with barely enough time to catch their breath. I am sitting here taking my time in virtually every pursuit. I get to smell the flowers. I get to notice the stuff that quite frankly just passed in a blur before. I do not, I cannot, overschedule myself. I used to delight in my overscheduled self, and now I delight in my underscheduled self. Was it the Birds who sang about seasons?

One thing about slowing down, about this luxury that keeps you forcibly from FOMO (which, I understand, is quite the epidemic) is that it requires you deal with your shit. Now, this is typically pretty low on most people’s list, but when slowing down overtakes you, you don’t get a choice. But, what I’ve learned is that slowing down sortof serves up the shit to be dealt with in very manageable chunks. You see, slowing down, or perhaps slowness itself, isn’t afraid of anything. It’s got all the time in the world. This is such a brain shift from my typical prior mentality, but to bring me into the fold Slowness keeps putting little flowers on the path. Just one at a time, and it colors them in such a way that I really have to pick them up and examine them. Just flowers, nothing to fear. Sometimes weird, sometimes not quite pretty… Slowness isn’t afraid of looking at itself and it certainly isn’t trying to create some picture, meeting some “out there” requirement. It’s willing to take the time to let me weep. It’s willing to take the time to let me fail. It’s still sitting there when I do something stupid, and it’s exactly as comforting when I finally did something right. Slowness isn’t invested in the value structure of proving myself. Slowness, when accepted and met, is about savoring.

And thus it is a luxury. It is certainly exclusive. There are not many of us that have this privilege of experiencing life without the rush. It is expensive. It is financially costly on many levels, but because of the riches it brings, it is worth every penny.  It is rare and worthy of savoring, and it provides for great comfort and the rest to fully embrace it, to “luxuriate in it.”  One definition I found was “expensive and not necessary.” I guess that’s where I have to get off the bus, though, because it is more than necessary for me. It is essential. Like it or not. But, truly, these days I quite like it.

Here’s a good example

So, today has been a busy day. Busy days, I’ve learned, can catch you up in a whirlwind and if a person with any of the many diseases exacerbated by whirlwinds just sorta goes with it- running along from commitment to errand to obligation- tomorrow’s probably going to be an incredibly NOT busy day because you may not be able to lift your head. So what to do? Because all those things need to get done!

Well, the first hurdle is mental. That mental sense of rushing and being behind. There is stress there. Now, this was my natural state for a very long time. Actually, and I blame being a Gemini for this, I was *either* late (with the accompanying mental stress) or sitting leisurely refusing to be controlled by time (which would then lead to being late and the accompanying mental stress). While I sortof believed that style indicated some weird sort of “balance” it’s pretty obvious there was no balance there, simply two opposed unbalanced states.

So today included the regular chores of cooking, cleaning, laundry, meditation, exercise, self-care, dog-care and our new 25 minute commute each way to school, plus kid #1’s job, kid #2’s first activity, kid#1’s practice, kid #2’s second activity, kid #1’s feeling sick and wanting to leave practice, the due library books, a return at a local store, kid#1’s gym calling *needing* me to come in and sign some stuff (really?), the post office, Trader Joe’s, and the bank. I almost got caught up in the whirlwind.

Luckily, this is Durga Puja, which is a week-long celebration of the Hindu Mother Goddess and so I’m wearing a little mantra counter reminding me to praise the Mother many times a day. That really helped.

Stoplights also helped. I’ve trained myself over these years to take deep, deep breaths at the stoplight, counting down from 10 to 0. This is because a stoplight to a late person is like lemon on a cut. Unless you change it. And I changed it for me by using it as a cue for breathing (this is taken from Thich Nhat Hanh’s invitation of any time you hear a bell ring to come back to your breath, which is also a helpful practice. Really, anytime you use something that used to disrupt your calm as a cue to come back to calm, that’s a really good idea).  There are a few super long lights where we live, but still I rarely make it to 0. But those breaths? That breathing makes a big difference.

I did, however, make a mistake in timing and had to eat my lunch quickly. Eating quickly is really unfair to your digestion. Digestion, really getting the nutrients out of your food, depends on a stream of chemicals released in the mouth and in the stomach that can only be released if you’re relaxed. This is part of the beauty of prayer before meals. Done with sincerity and presence, it puts your body in the position not only of acknowledgment and gratitude but of calm and preparation for optimum digestion. Prayer before meals is gonna get its own post one day because it is powerful in deep and surprising (to me) ways.

So, I’m off again (to go to kid#1’s gym and finally pick up kid#2 before coming home to make dinner), but the kerfluffledness that had started to overcome my body has settled some more, and so I have probably not endangered my tomorrow. That’s part of the commitment to this daily writing. Writing about slowing down keeps slowing down present in my psyche. It helps me remember. It reminds me that I have all of these tools and techniques and wouldn’t it be a fine idea to *employ them* (I know I’m dating myself with the asterisks for emphasis instead of say, bold or italics. ah, well). I often marvel that I forget to use the wonderful and full toolbox I carry around. But, today? Today I am remembering. Thank you, Mother!

Going Slow

Going slowly does not come naturally to me. I was born 18 minutes after my mother’s water broke. I would get up 15 minutes before I had to be out the door for most of my life. I prided myself on my ability to multi-task, and do all of it efficiently. Efficiency, that’s something that came naturally. I made my living helping other people be efficient. Why couldn’t efficiency be “what the doctor ordered?”

I do think efficiency is going to resurface as being of primary import in my journey, but not until  I get this Slowing Down thing under control.

Control. Now there’s another subject. And it relates to Slowing Down, especially as an efficiency-junkie. I would look at people going slowly or leisurely or inefficiently in any way with such contempt as a young woman. Why couldn’t they speed up, do it well, and do it right the first time? If I could just have controlled everyone and everything, the world would have been a smooth-running machine, producing God-knows-what, but it would’ve been efficient.

I can remember distinctly as a child thinking that school was teaching us to do everything right, because grown-ups and institutions did everything right already, so we had to learn to do it that way to fit in. If we didn’t do everything right, I guess I thought we’d fall off a cliff. I also remember wishing for a watch that played The Flintstones.

Boy, was adulthood a shock. Grown-ups and institutions that “did everything right” had apparently gone extinct, and the world was just a hodgepodge of mediocrity. You were lucky if you got what you ordered in a restaurant. All those things my high school teachers told me I couldn’t get away with in college? I got away with that and more. So did everyone else. There was no smooth-running machine. It was all a myth.

It was a myth that stuck with me, though, even after I learned that it wasn’t true. Even as I embraced the concept of slowing down, those drives and values were so deeply embedded in my being that slowing down itself became a sign of defeat. Yeah, it was good for me, but it also means I lost. Yeah, it would have benefits, but it also robbed me of what made me special and what gave me any chance in the world of achieving anything I’d be really proud of. I fought this mentality in deep mind-to-mind combat for years. I’m still fighting it, albeit more and more subtly. The tools that got me through the most intense aspects of that transition will be detailed here as the writing goes on.

 

Waking Up by Slowing Down

About a decade ago, a doctor told me I needed to slow down.

I didn’t even know what he meant.

Indeed, I was pretty sure he had it backwards. What I *really* needed was doublespeed. What I really needed was to figure out how to do the things I needed to do in such a way that I was more efficient and effective.  *That* is what would make me better.

So, I ignored him.

Well, it wasn’t really ignoring because, as I said, I really had no idea what he meant. I had two small children, two startup companies, a house in the midst of renovation and all this potential. I could taste my own potential, and seemingly no matter how hard I tried, I could not realize it.

So, a couple of years later my shoulders stopped working. Just for a few days, and it wasn’t painful. I simply couldn’t move my shoulders. I could use my elbows and hands so the inconvenience was minor. Then it happened a couple of months later. Then a month later.

Then, I got a filling. You know, at the dentist. Never thought a thing of it. [You can just feel the foreshadowing here, can’t you? This will be a post in the future, but for now we will just say, “Choose your dentist wisely. Oral wellness is surprisingly important.”]

In July of 2010 my hands stopped working. It was weird. My nephew’s wife was expecting a baby and I was knitting a cool little Buddhist monk-style romper. I thought maybe I had “knit too hard” or some such rot. The next day it was worse.

By August, I was in real trouble. I had tried to meditate it away (surely, if I was spiritual enough, I could overcome any condition). I tried energy healers. I tried all sorts of different things. By the time I finally went to the doctor, I was in significant pain every day. My joints bilaterally failed in a cascading sequence up and down my body randomly – each joint set had a 5 day cycle, peaking with agony and immobility on day 3, the next set having its Day One on that day 3. It was awful.

Plus, I had a 3 year old who was a cuddler. I couldn’t cuddle, and most of the time when he tried I would scream in pain, catch my breath, apologize, cry and just wallow in sadness. Not the best time for me. It went on until late October, when I had my first agony-free day.

But here we are with the benefit of retrospect, and I know that because I didn’t slow down when I didn’t know what it meant, my body decided to stop me cold.

I’d had a little experience with this: About 5 years before, I realized my shoulders were almost always up around my ears and I almost always squinched my toes when standing. I resolved to relax my body more, but by this point, even with 5 years of “every time I noticed” relaxing, I was still tense about 80% of the time. I am a slow learner.

So, this was the start of my mandatory class in Slowing Down. It has been extremely difficult on every level, but also the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I am still learning what slowing down even means, and it has required a pretty significant rewrite on who I thought I needed to/wanted to be in this life. I am grateful for this rewrite in every way, and this transition is really what this writing is all about.

Committing

Taking journaling from the page to the pixel is a tough transition for me. Bad as my handwriting is, moving a good pen across a blank page is therapeutic to me. The process ignites my inner processing, making things clearer in a way that typing never has. I rarely read old journals, and I can’t imagine anyone will read this blog, but publically documenting a life that is dedicated to evolving feels like what’s next for me.

I am dedicated, thoroughly and totally, to evolving my life and being to express more love in more ways more frequently. Evolving to recognize God Everywhere. Everywhere, everywhere and everywhere, always and in all ways. Tall order. I’m not so great at it, but the better I get at it the better life is. This, I know, deeply and experientially, hence the total dedication. I have always played with it, thought myself a loving (enough) being, and gave good lip service, but age and circumstances have brought me to a place where I recognize both the value and the evolving nature of being a person dedicated to love.

Maybe part of today should be a sort of manifesto.

I will be writing 20-30 minutes per day, as a journal, unedited, to as authentically as possible chronicle the evolution of my thoughts and abilities in caring for myself, others and the earth to the best of my ever-evolving abilities. No polishing. I think in today’s sparkly yet so often destructive world, this is important, even though I also think it will be somewhat embarrassing, especially with the passage of time. Oh well.

The theme is “Slowing Down: Waking Up” dealing with everything from health and wellness to philosophy and practices towards expressing more love, including things like “Every Dollar Votes” – requiring me to not just randomly buy stuff, but actually look at the footprint of options each time. I’ve been doing all of this for some time and I wish I had more to show for it, but, better is better.

From a manifesto point of view, I should probably mention this: I believe God is Everywhere and Everything, Omnisicent, Omnibenevolent, Omnipresent. I believe all religions are right in philosophy even when the practices may not resonate with me. I believe that any road to God through your heart is a good road, and any road external is dangerous business indeed. This blog is me, taking that internal road. It is not a guidebook, because I have no clue of anyone else’s heart. Good Lord, with all these years of care I still barely know my own.

And that’s my time for today…