Art of Practice
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Week 3: Exploring Your Unique Essence
I felt a lot of fear as Laura described the assignment during Thursday's session - what if I wouldn't be able to identify an essence at all? In spite of my apprehension, I found a photo and met the cushion on Friday morning. It helped to know others were doing the same. As I looked at the photo that first morning, I very unexpectedly welled up in tears and sorrow. I wanted to end the session as it was quite uncomfortable, but something told me to stick it out. Since then, each day has revealed something a bit different. Today, for example, I noticed how my three-year old self held on to her stuffed rabbit in a very nurturing way. How can I hold myself and others with nurturing tenderness today?
I avoided meditating both Friday and Saturday because I was afraid of the grief I might feel. I recently learned that my parents never wanted children, and while it explained a lot, I continue to grieve the things my parents were not able to give me as a child. It seems like maybe they knew somewhere that they were not, let’s say, well-equipped. When I finally meditated Sunday, I saw in this younger self an incisive and serious thinker. I have tried to nurtured this essence by learning, studying, exploring, researching, writing, and discovering. At present I am not very challenged intellectually, so I will give myself the gift of some meaty thinking and reading this week. I must be careful that I do not ascribe too much rigor to this essence. Also, sometimes this thinking-ness protects me from feelings, and I am here, in part, to feel.
I just finished listening again to [Laura's] guidance on spending time focusing on and being with an image of myself. It's not possible to fully articulate my experience--the feelings, primarily of the possibility of having the strength to be open to others and the potential to have much more joy in my life--are so unfamiliar that I don't feel that I can (or want to) put them in context. The picture that I chose is one of me at about six months old. My facial expression reflects a purity and unbridled joy that invite love, warmth and a desire to comfort. My arms are wide open and my posture entirely relaxed. The first word that came to mind as the meditation came to a close was "Possibilities" and, then, "Comfort...Okay...Possibilities." Similar to the experience described so well in one of the other reports, my parents were not "well equipped" to express unconditional love to their kids although from looking at this picture, they were clearly doing something right. As I continued to stay with this meditative experience, I wrote down something that feels profoundly important: "Parents didn't do it right, but that doesn't mean that I am not who I see in that picture--I feel it expanding within me and out from me and it nurtures itself." I then wrote: "Sorrow comes up as I think of being responsible for nurturing that six month old me, and I feel the unfairness of having to do it, but the big experience of feeling that joy and openness well up inside me is undeniable and gives me strength to to sense that I'm already doing it and it won't go away ."
In the picture I have chosen, I am about 3 years old, wearing a pink floral-patterned dress, while standing in the middle of a sunny garden of gladiolas. One hand is holding onto a flower stock while with the other hand I am extending another flower to the photographer and I am absolutely beaming with delight. On the first day of meditation, the quality that arose was my delight in nature, in its beauty, and in giving, in the joy that comes from sharing with others. Another day the quality that arose was that of love, the recognition that I was a very loved little child, who seems to be grounded and stable in this moment and in which I, too, am expressing love for others. Another day the quality that arose was that of “hereness” – in that moment, that little child knows in her heart who she is - “I am [name], I am happy, in the here and now.” (but without surface mind saying any of those words). Another day the quality that arose was that of sweetness, femininity, hospitality, openness and welcoming others to share a beautiful space. Usually these sessions bring me to tears because while I know these qualities to be my true essence, I have rationalized that what the world needs is bread and justice. I have finally pulled out my drawing materials again after many years and ordered a keyboard. It suddenly dawned on me today that if I ever do open that bed and breakfast, perhaps that’s what it could be called - Bread and Justice – with a big garden full of gladiolas, of course. How interesting that we call them “glads”!!!
I’m listening first, learning and practicing. Being very introspective. It’s working.
The photo I picked is a small, framed photo of me about 2 or 3. I knew immediately that the photo would be the photo I would pick for this practice. I used to sit on my Dad’s dresser and became mine after both my parents passed. Until this meditation practice I had never really looked at it, but like my meditation space, it has always been special to me. But why? In this meditation practice I found myself drawn into this image of me. At first, I couldn’t place where it was taken, but by today I realized it’s at the beach. I’m in shorts and a top and running through the dunes with the ocean in the background and dune grasses in the foreground. The quality I first saw in my 3-year-old self was sheer joy, then a playfulness. My arms are spread like I want to give the day a big hug. I would love to know what my Dad saw in that photo and why he framed it and kept it all those years. I think I could learn a lot from this younger version of myself. Get outside more, go to the beach, play, don’t be so serious, laugh, less worry, and more time with special people. I need to unearth her, she is inside me, but pushed under all this life stuff.
I was reluctant on meditating on the Photo. In fact I did have a photo readily on hand having recently moved. I contacted my daughter to text a few. For many years I have shied away from a camera and hid from a Mirror. Shame and Guilt dismantled my Self Esteem. Self forgiveness not a possibility. Meditating on the photo I rediscovered qualities for the most part I have suppressed and limited. At moments I took delight, realizing and recognizing these qualities are ever present and accessible. Other moments brought forth Sadness that I had not let these Essences shine in periods of Darkness. So many Precious moments have passed without me being Present. Awareness of these Essences will enable me to Thrive and not just Survive.
Week 4: Meditation 101
"Resistance means you're onto something" - Laura -- This week I've been flooded with resistance. First, I continue to resist meditating when I first wake up. Some of this is because I almost always snooze too long, and then decide that I don't have time to meditate. Second, I resist meditating in my chosen meditation space, instead defaulting to meditating in bed at night. Third, I resist believing that meditation is the most important thing in my life, regularly choosing Tasks of Great Importance (organizing the recycling, repotting plants, and so on. ahem.) over the Path. Finally, I resist being nice to myself when I don't meditate. Tara Brach famously calls this the second arrow, i.e. I didn't do the thing I should have done (first arrow), and now I feel shame because I didn't do the thing I should have done (second arrow). I'm still finding ways to identify the resistance and move through it. Sometimes the resistance takes the form of denial or fantasy, i.e. "Yes, I can totally respond to four emails, start the dishwasher, walk the dog, and have energy left to meditate" or "Tomorrow I'll get up to meditate but first I need to stay up too late watching The Queen's Gambit." I'm trying to welcome this resistance. By the way, I had an open mind/blue sky moment a few days ago -- it had been a long time.
Initially, I found this week's guidance to gently move away from giving attention to my breath to an more open experience of awareness to be very challenging. I felt uncomfortable giving up the anchor of having something for my mind to focus on actively. I've spent my life insisting, both internally and externally (with shockingly little success), that the world follow rules that I set up, so focusing on something seemingly concrete and orderly is a deeply ingrained habit. As I continued with the daily meditation. largely driven by the recent realization that the world is not going to "give in," I was increasingly able to give up a sense of needing to feel "purposeful" and just be, without any agenda. Not so much because I consciously remembered to take up the exercise suggested by Laura, but more spontaneously, I was bringing this sense of detachment from analysis and emotional reaction to my daily activities. Particularly, as I observed interactions with others in which I have typically found myself being subtly self-protective (and often, not so subtly), I was able to be consciously more open. This, in turn, allowed me to appreciate the positives in others. I've continued to meditate before I do anything else in the morning--this seems to be helpful in setting a foundation for the day and facilitating the shift toward greater openness.
When I started this class, I told myself I would follow the guidelines and not quit. I tend to make deals with myself and like to set challenges/rules for myself; like when I diet, when I exercise, and when I work. So, my meditation challenge is to meditate 100 days in a row, in hopes that it will become a habit. This morning was day 29 and I have to say it is getting easier. Before this week, I didn’t always practice first thing. But after this week’s assignment, I found doing it first thing in the morning, that it didn’t come to mind as something I had to do, but something I just do. My struggle/resistance is how to quiet my mind while pushing out all the noise. What if what I’m listening for is something that should be pushed out?
One of the things I have really appreciated about the pandemic is that I no longer set an alarm clock. It has been absolutely wonderful to wake up when my body is ready – whether that might be 7:30 one day, or 6:45 another day. I had a very nice routine that began with a walk of mindful awareness, then a session of meditation while breakfast was cooking, and then I would start my work day. So I was reluctant to switch that routine, but I did, and now this week I had to set the alarm again to be able to meditate every day at the same time. Thus, I began my days this week already in a state of irritation and have generally been feeling irritated all week, even asking myself the point of meditating at all, if the point is not to seek any answers, why bother? Why did I have to change what had worked for me so well? Is this resistance? I don’t know, but I laugh and tell myself that the people who thought the Kool-aid smelled funny also resisted.
First impact statement: The most striking thing for me this week is having more emotions come up. My wife and I are very different personalities, and in one disagreement I became very angry - almost scary... I really felt the anger in my body, with heat in my chest and cheeks. That was the most dramatic. Other examples from my "stops" this week: Our dog was looking up, hoping to be noticed. I was about to walk by, but instead I knelt down, focusing on him, rubbing his ears, and such tenderness arose in me...other times, just looking through windows I felt a similar tenderness, as well as awe at the beauty all around. On the cushion, I've had glimpses of what Laura has called "resting in awareness" in several of my meditation periods - it seems a bit easier to let go of a thought, sensation, or emotion, allowing it just to pass. Many other times, I feel like I'm doing meditation wrong...my belly breathing doesn't come easily, my jaw is tense (a chronic issue) and very resistant to opening. Looking forward to seeing/hearing my sanghistas in this evening's session! Second impact statement: My wife and I, both retired, are co-parents of Woolrich, a lively Lab/border collie mix. He has a daily "first pee" walk every morning at 6 am and we alternate days, each of us equally. This is a longstanding agreement. Once I started this course, I returned to more frequent morning meditation, and if I have dog walk duty, I meditate as soon as I get home and shed our coats and boots. This has been working well for me...until the Session 4 assignment to meditate at the same time every single day. Somehow I felt that I had been cheating, or would be perceived as not sticking with the program. It took me until last night to realize that I *am* being consistent within the structure of my life!
Week 5: Resistance
This week I sat for meditation every morning as usual. I watched for “resistance” and followed the usual practice of returning to my breath whenever a thought would arise, but usually these thoughts were what I would describe as “harmless” – just a distraction over a sound… “hmm, wonder what that was…??” and it occurred to me that the point wasn’t to go searching for resistance. Where I encountered resistance is outside of my practice – I “resist” doing my work or my floor exercises!! But after reading the poem, I realize that “resistance” can be in the form of a mean thought, etc. I watched as these thoughts also arise during the day and tried to apply the technique but can’t say that it felt particularly applicable. I felt as if I had a hammer for something that needed a screwdriver… couldn’t really figure out how to use the tool for the “problems” at hand – for example, that of indecision – such as, should I take the early separation package or not? Surface mind is like the long-suffering spouse, who looks over to intuitive mind and sighs heavily, saying, “Yup, same old, same old. All I get is the silent treatment. Nothing changes. Everything is left up to me. All the decisions, big or small, from deciding on dinner to choosing a career…”. Or is my “resistance” in accepting the fact that whatever I decide ultimately makes no difference!! But if that is true, “I” am still left with having to make a decision.
Week 6: What Would Kindness Do?
Kindness Log (Days 1 – 5)
Day 1 - Friday, Nov 20th
1. E-mailed my cousin with additional information in response to a request he had made, even though he had not acknowledged the messages and information I had sent previously.
2. Sent a message of encouragement to a friend going on a date.
3. Joined the Friday night Zoom cocktail hour to support our little community of friends.
Day 2 – Saturday, Nov 21st
1. Donated a gift card to the building’s food drive for the community (also helped me to finally put that gift card to some good use!)
2. Made my regular weekly trip to farmer’s market to support local & donated 1 dozen eggs to community food drive.
3. Shared the produce with my neighbor who is immune-compromised.
Day 3 – Sunday, Nov 22nd
1. Spent time to write thoughtful responses to emails from 2 friends.
2. Listened with compassion in a FaceTime with an ill friend.
3. Brought my saved-up plastic bags to the recycling bin – it was reopened after being closed since pandemic began! Kindness for the earth!
Day 4 – Monday, Nov 23rd
1. Responded with courtesy to our secretary, RATHER THAN SCREAMING IN FRUSTRATION!!, and tried once again to appreciate the wonderful qualities in this person who does not have the capacity to grasp the most basic instructions, despite patient explanations, and to accept that this will not change.
2. Tried to be kind to myself over the frustration I felt in this situation.
3. Completed an online survey with care and attention.
Day 5 – Tuesday, Nov 24th
1. Sent a nice Thanksgiving e-mail to a friend.
2. Listened with compassion to a colleague about challenges with teaching online.
3. Invited a friend to meet for coffee the next time he is in the neighborhood.
Do it Anyway,
Hold your Head Up!
Hold your Head High,
Nows the Time,
Act Now in Gratitude,
Rooted in Love,
For All inclusive,
Don’t forget You!