Sit. Repeat.

A year ago November 1st I began meditating. Slowly at first, just 5 minutes a day, adding a minute at the 1st of the month. When I got to 10, I added 2. Now I’m “comfortably” at 20 minutes. The 1st of January I’ll revisit, maybe 20 minutes twice a day. We’ll see. It’s a lifelong practice after all.

I put comfortably in quotes because meditation is never comfortable. You sit and hope this time MAYBE, just maybe, you’ll get through it without having to scratch your nose, adjust your cushion, pull a wedgie out of your ass, make a grocery list in your head before bringing yourself back to the present with the word “thinking”.** This time maybe you’ll be in the now, even if it’s only for a few seconds.

It’s frustrating, but the rewards are great. And I’ve learned a few things. . .

1. It’s Okay.
The most important wisdom I’ve obtained is that it’s okay. It’s *ALL* okay. It’s okay to scratch your nose, it’s okay to think of all the things you could be doing instead of sitting. The idea of meditating is NOT to empty your mind, just the opposite. Allow those thoughts to come up. Glance at them objectively, without judgment, as if they were leaves in the wind. Then let them go. Bring yourself back to the present moment. Again, and again, and again. With practice, this becomes easier. Some days you’ll have piles of leaves, others just a few. There will always be leaves. And that’s okay. Your leaves are your practice.

What’s great is this “okay” realization translates directly into your life as well. It *IS* okay. It’s all okay. Who you are, right now, in this moment, is okay. It’s who and where you’re supposed to be. Start from where you are. Work from that. Because it’s your practice. As Pema Chödrön says:

“The desire to change is fundamentally a form of aggression toward yourself. Our hangups, unfortunately or fortunately, contain our wealth. Our neurosis and our wisdom are made out of the same material. If you throw out your neurosis, you also throw out your wisdom.”

2. Every Day.
For it to become easier, you must meditate every day. Every. Single. Day. Three times a week won’t work, twice a week, every other day. Nope. You’ve got to get on the cushion. You’ve got to sit. Then sit. Then sit again. Of course, if something comes up preventing you from sitting, that’s okay. Just get back to it tomorrow. Meditation is not about beating yourself up for missing a day. It’s about ALLOWING yourself to be yourself.

3. Self Acceptance.
The most profound change I’ve realized is true, deep love and respect for the person I am. Right now. Meditation slowly but surely removed that imaginary person with the clipboard I used to envision standing behind me and marking a big, red “X” every time I fell on my face. Sure I still beat myself up, but I’ve gained an awareness of self hatred when and as it happens. I’m sometimes, not always, able to recognize it, observe it for what it is without judgment, then let it go. Just like the leaves. I say sometimes because again, this is a practice. A lifelong practice.

Remember, all beliefs are just thoughts. 
And thoughts are not facts.

4. Awareness.
Meditating daily carries over into the rest of your life, becomes a part of who you are, and can affect how you observe and interact with the world. This is major because eventually, it’s like you’re meditating while walking around. Sometimes 🙂

Let me explain. During meditation your thoughts bubble up, swirl around like leaves. You allow it, observe it, then let it go, bringing your mind back to the now. You can do this in your life as well.

For example, I’ve found myself angry in traffic and sometimes now I’m able to catch it. I stop, observe, “Wow, you’re really pissed. What’s that about?” I allow the anger to bubble up in all its ferocity. I feel it, really feel it. Feel how sucky it makes my body and mind. Then I breathe it out, letting it dissipate. Where before I would just blindly feel rage before covering it up with either a cigarette, a loud catchy song on the radio, or a trip to Starbucks, or maybe a drink when I got home, now I’m able, sometimes, to actually feel emotions flow through me. I’m not holding onto anything.

I’m groundless and it feels great. Like those dreams where you fly. It never lasts for very long, but when it does I feel like I can conquer anything. Meditation has opened me up so rather than stuffing feelings down blindly, I can sometimes (not always) allow them to just flow through.

Again, I say sometimes because like life meditation is a PRACTICE. If you rage and head for a double cinnamon dolce, it’s okay. Because maybe next time you’ll be more aware. Every single minute you are is a victory. But if you don’t, that’s not defeat. Just another opportunity to practice.

5. Slow Down The Car.
Meditation awakens you to positive, joyful moments as well. Where before I might inhale a piece of cake, now, SOMETIMES, I’m really awake to how it tastes. I savor the moment rather than living in fast forward.

Most of my life has been spent in fast forward: what will I do this weekend; where will we spend the holidays; where do I see myself in five years; what do you want for your birthday; where should we go on vacation? Always looking ahead so you’re blind to what’s in front of you.

Meditation can’t slow down time, but it has slowed my sense of time. It’s made me more aware of the now. This moment. Right now. I’m typing these words, right now, and hopefully, you’re reading them. Not to get too “Cosmos” on your ass, but that’s all we have. The right now. Meditation, sitting, has helped me to appreciate the precious gift of that.

6. Warriors Come Out and Play.
You’d think with a year of meditating under my belt I’d be this free and easy floaty hippy guru. Nope. Here’s the hard truth: meditation isn’t easy. It’s built for true spiritual warriors, beings with the courage to tackle all the shit from their past they’ve been previously too fearful, unwilling, or unable to face.

Of course every person’s life journey is different, but for me, meditation brought up a ton of crap I’d been ignoring. I’d been stuffing memories, feelings, raw emotions, so far down into myself for so long. By just sitting and getting quiet, after a while my psyche realized it was okay to open that door, release that seal, turn that key. All these horrible feelings decided it would finally be okay to unravel themselves and come to the surface. Like a space bag with the vacuum released. Or a stuffed closet that someone opens by mistake. A real shitstorm.

At first, there were a few weeks of calm, but then the real work began. All that old stuff came up and I had to feel it all over again before letting it go. And it really sucked. I had nightmares. I got physically sick. Some nights it felt like the flu, vomiting up all these old feelings and memories I’d buried. I cried some nights and some nights punched the cushion I was so pissed off. It totally, completely, sucked. I wanted to give up, and did for a few nights. But I always came back. Because in the end, feeling emotions FEELS better than stuffing them. It really does. If you have the balls to do it.

Again, meditation is not about changing who you are, but about becoming more awake to ALL life’s experiences big or small, positive or negative. It’s about being able to face and handle all of life with a peaceful smile and a warm heart.

I sit here 1 year later profoundly changed. I’m still the same person, but I see things differently. What I know is no matter what, I will continue to sit. For a very long time. Every day. No matter what. Namaste.

**  There are many methods of meditation. I used Pema Chödrön’s, When Things Fall Apart. Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn is another great resource.

Gratitude 9/25/12

I’m grateful for music which can lift me when nothing else on Earth can even come close. I let it take me away and for just a moment I surrender and am no longer groundless but am clinging to the notes, and not beating myself up for clinging, just enjoying, laughing, floating, and reveling in the happiness it brings me. Whether it’s STAX, Leonard Cohen, Francis Dunnery, bad House Music, ’80’s New Wave, ’70’s Soul, ’90’s Quiet Storm, or any of the other thousands of kinds of notes I let sink in my ears, it’s all good. All of it heals. It makes the groundlessness easier.

I’m grateful for another good Lois day, her laughing face giving me kisses, urging me outside, reminding me that there’s much to be learned…..outside.
I’m grateful for friends calling from afar, just to say hi and remind me I’m not alone in this unpredictable, crazy atmosphere and existence. We’ve all got our life to breathe through and even when I feel alone, I’m really not.
I’m grateful for unexpected kindness. You brace yourself for a lashing and instead receive goodness and generosity and kindness. So grateful and so much more valuable because you guessed wrong.
I’m grateful for birdsong. Just that. Trilling, rolling, lilting birdsong. Precious and beautiful. I want to hold onto it for the days in our winter woods when it’s completely silent. Too damn silent. For when I long for the song of birds. I take it in and hold it, before letting it float back onto the fall breeze. Surrendering it for someone else’s ears to cherish.

My Girl.

On August 27th, my doggie daughter Lois was diagnosed with colon cancer.

I savor every quiet moment with my girl, the good as well as the not so good. She roams our woods searching for a good place to do her business, walking through our forest floor, ferns brushing our legs, mushrooms of every size and shape and color dotting the leaves. Brown tiny-tree like stalks peeping out, and huge white mounds the size of bread loaves or flat like dinner plates. Tiny red umbrellas, and lacy orange fluttering down the side of a stump. Once a tiny pink elfin mushroom, and once, even a magical blue too bright to be real.

She hunts for the perfect spot and I breathe through the fact this might be one of our last days together. I hope we get to roll in the snow one more time. She so loves the snow. My beautiful girl.

My favorite moments of all are when she sleeps by my side early in the morning after The Hubby has gone to work. On her back with her legs splayed out snoring softly. I lie there and listen to the birds and breathe and try to hold onto it, to remember what it feels like to hear crickets chirping, dogs barking in the distance, their echoes calling for my girl to come play, to actually hear the sun rising and to hold onto and remember what it feels like to be loved by Lois. Her gentle eyes telling you everything will be okay Mommy, I’m here, everything will be okay.

Her koala smile tucked into her closed mouth, turned up ever so slightly at the corners, such a small grin conveying such huge happiness. Her soft snore, the way she softly barks in her sleep, her paws tap-tap-tapping on the sides of her crate in the night as she chases rabbits or deer or runs with the direwolves chasing shadowcats. I read, listening to her and The Hubby snore in tandem, each one on either side of me and I am content.

When I first read “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” many years ago and Tereza described to Tomas her love for the dog Karenin, how she might just love Karenin more than she loved him, I rolled my eyes and wrote her off. She’s just a dog. Tomas is your husband.

Then I fell for Lois and my whole world changed. I understand how a dog can make you see the world differently, can make you see yourself differently and teach you things about yourself you never knew. They look at you in such a simple, pure way, with such a clean love and never, ever do they expect anything back. What little you have to give them they will take gratefully and never begrudge you a single thing in return. They never resent you or feel threatened by you. You can hate them and even beat them and they will still crave your love.

It is such a purity of spirit, such a generosity, love at its essence. It makes all other forms pale in comparison. You give them love and they give you the world.

You have so many things in your life, your family, your job, vacations, cars, hopes, dreams, goals, anxieties, fears. All they have is you. And that’s all they need.

You never see a dog with self esteem problems. Sure they might be afraid or shy, but a dog never goes around hating herself. Lois just smiles, wags her tail, and looks at you with those big dark eyes as if to say, “Aren’t I cute? Aren’t I just the greatest? Don’t you love me? I sure love me. I sure do. You do too, right? I can see it. You’re DYING to give me a pet. And a treat. And a belly rub. You loooooooove me. You really do. I can tell. Who wouldn’t love me?”

Lois has taught me more about life than any person ever did or will. Dogs have the uncanny ability to act as a mirror. We look into their eyes and they reflect back onto us that which we love most about ourselves. And for most of us, it’s a shocking sight, one we’ve never seen before. For many, including me, it’s the first time we haven’t felt indelible self hatred from reflected images.

Instead of walking around this planet beating ourselves up, dogs remind us why we should love ourselves and each other. I feel better about myself knowing Lois. And by being her Mom, she has taught me to finally get rid of the self-hatred I’ve been carrying around since I was a child.

Taking care of her has been my greatest honor. Loving her my finest gift. And each day I have left with her will be my best.

Gratitude 9/12/12

Today I am grateful for the late summer sun warming my face as I take my girl out for her afternoon constitutional. The crickets sigh their end of summer song longingly, drawing out their notes in hopes to make it last. The air is still and quiet, holding its breath, waiting for that moment that change in the air when you wake up and notice the leaves have started to turn.

I’m grateful for words and the trickle of them that have started to drip through my fingers after so long a drought.

I’m grateful for photographs and the very few I take where I can say to myself, “Yes, that’s it. In that photo my eyes were open and I really captured what I saw. I was able to look beyond the immediate to something more.”

I’m grateful for the people who care about me in this world, who check in, ask how I’m doing, and really make an effort. Because it can be a big, ugly world at times and friends very often are more family to me than family. I’m grateful for their love, and for their complete and utter acceptance of the flake I can be. It makes me feel like I can handle anything.

I’m grateful for wonderful morning dreams, the kind that take you outside yourself to a better, dreamier place. Would be so easy for me to cling to such dreams in times of trouble but I must remember like everything they are only air, just a mist that drifts away.

Gratitude 9/11/12

Today I am grateful the blanket of summer has been lifted….the air has come rushing in and the day is so bright and sunny the very air is edgy with relief and joy….it feels like a little girl squealing with delight on a carousel and sounds like a whisper of silence and crickets. I am grateful my girl Lois remains asymptomatic and a reflection of the joyful weather, her bedtime bodyslams are forceful and committed, utter bliss and ecstatic doggie laughter behind every one. I’m grateful for hot coffee milky and warm smiling to itself and saying, “Remember me?”. I’m grateful for the need to somehow capture this gratitude in words. Every moment is fleeting and yes, one day far in the future perhaps I’ll read this again and remember, but I know the memory will be soft-edged and fuzzy like the inside of a sweatshirt. It won’t have the clarity, the committment, the prismatic light that this very moment has. I have to breathe it in and let it go, breathe it in, and let it go. And I am grateful for the courage to do that. Lastly I’m grateful to have traveled here today to find 2 quotes from strangers, wonderful, uplifting quotes that made me feel buoyant, lifted, full of light. Much like the weather. Namaste.

Listening. And Melancholia.

When I started my writing life almost 2 years ago, I charged forth, eager to create “WRITING” in all its artistic glory, in all capital letters each and every day. I said yes to every opportunity that came my way and ran like hell at every chance that presented itself. I was going to be the best, the biggest, the brightest. Basically, I attempted writing as a job. With every job I’ve had since I was fifteen, I charged forth and swore I would be the best and outshine everyone else. The first to get promoted, the first to get accolades. In development, as a teacher, office manager, even a bartender. I charged forth, got there early and eager and excited. I finished projects, or got the biggest tips, or earned gold stars before going on to the next challenge.

But writing isn’t about product, it’s about process. In most jobs you’re working towards a finished goal, it’s linear, you have an endpoint in mind, whether that’s making a drink, raising a certain amount of funding, or getting a student’s SOL scores up, that goal is always at the forefront of your brain. With writing, there is no endpoint. Sure you have projects, but writing is circular, amoeba-like. You write a little here, snatch some time for a journal entry or vignette there, come back to your main project here, post a blog there. It’s like raindrops of paint falling on a Pollack canvas, where my other jobs were linear, concrete shapes like Miro or Calder. Point A to B. Writing is point A to Z to G to H and every point in between.

In my eagerness to get to point Z, I forgot to get quiet and listen. But my muse, the lady with her hair up in a bun who wears overalls and paints pictures in the basement of my mind reminded me that to create you have to listen. And if you’re charging and achieving like some AP high school student with an Ivy League in mind, it’s hard to listen. It’s much easier when your neck is injured and you can’t move. When you can’t move, all you can do is listen. So that’s what happened.

My body broke. I hurt my neck and it felt as if somehow I’d been broken right down the middle, like a tree that’s been struck by lightning. My insides charred and died. The bolt tore through the middle of me, tearing away the old as it went. And from the smoldering ashes a new me has gradually begun to grow. My neck injury was just a physical manifestation of what I’m feeling emotionally and creatively.

The lightning struck and my body broke and it was all I could do to sit or sleep or lie or do much of anything EXCEPT listen. My body broke which felt physically terrible, but even more awful emotionally. I felt like a job failure. I canceled engagements, stopped writing, and was convinced that while I had been successful at every other job known to man, in this one I would fail. I just didn’t have the discipline.

But my body breaking was the best thing that could have happened. Because I began to listen. It was the only thing I could do. And when I listened, I discovered my muse. I began to meditate, to get really quiet, to simplify, and I discovered that in fact, I was stronger than I had ever been. My body healed and as it did, the gash created by that lightning bolt remained open rather than healing over like a scar. It remained open allowing the light to come in. It kept me awake. Where before I traveled through life covered in blankets of junk food, liquor, video games, and shopping, now I was able to stay awake and aware and really HEAR what life had to offer. I have a strong flow of creative river that runs through my soul, and if I had never injured myself, I never would have realized it.

Now I know that to write, all you have to do is listen. You are not creating anything. The life force, your muse, has the creations. You only have to take dictation, to listen for her, for it, and to write down what is said. I sensed this so strongly after my injury, and when I by chance happened to read it in Julia Cameron’s book, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. It resonated so much in me. And it was so validating because my gut knew this all along.

As I healed, and listened, I also discovered life presents things to you only when you’re ready for them. You only have to listen. I read books about meditation and Buddhism, about getting quiet and as I did, I discovered friends who meditated but had never told me. Kismet. I read books on writing that so closely paralleled my study of meditation, books that talked about writing as prayer, writing as play, writing as no big deal, that it made me stop and say, “WHOA”. As my dad always says, it’s all too random to be random.

These books, these moments came to me now, in this time, because only now did I have the ears to hear them. Only now did I understand what to do with the information.

For so long I’ve looked for comfort in outside things to quell my anxiety and sense of doom and fear that constantly permeates my every cell every time I walk out the door. I put on a shell of courage and pretend I’m all right. But by getting injured, being forced into retreat and solitude I was able to get quiet and learn you only have to listen. Listening give you strength. Listening to the world, it will tell you what you need.

By listening I was finally able to give up the notion that I’m a bad person. That little voice inside me was silenced. I always compare her to a woman standing there with a clipboard, checking a big red “X” every time I do something wrong. For the first time in 40 years she was silenced. I’ve stopped looking for validation from my family and friends. Or learned to stop looking, can’t say I’m there yet. But of course if I was, I’d probably be enlightened. We all look to others for validation. But I swear, I’m learning that just by getting quiet, by listening, we will hear all we ever need to hear.

All those criticisms and suggestions people give you that make you feel bad about yourself? They are only beliefs. Beliefs are not facts. They. Are. Not. Facts. To finally realize this was huge.

The BIGGEST obstacle I’ve overcome by listening is finally becoming comfortable with groundlessness. I hate it, as we all do, but now, if I can remember to be aware, when I confront a situation where I feel uncomfortable, where I feel groundless, I say to myself, “This is the perfect moment,” even if I don’t believe it. Then I just listen. I listen to what my gut is telling me to do about it. And usually it’s to do nothing. What will be will be. All I have to do is breathe.

Today I watched the Lars Von Trier movie, “Melancholia”. Talk about being groundless! A planet is careening toward Earth. What do you do? There is nowhere to hide. The only thing you can do is gaze at the sky and watch as this big blue ball gets larger and larger with each passing day. Your breath becomes struggled and shallow as the interfering planet takes your atmosphere. Hail falls at odd times, snow in the middle of summer. Birds freak out then go deathly quiet. Electricity emerges from your fingertips. And you know you’re going to die.

The dynamic of how the characters react was fascinating. Where the most melancholic, “crazy” (note the quotes) sister turns out to be the most steadfast, the most comfortable with this most groundless and uncomfortable of situations, the calm, collected scientist is the one who goes mad and kills himself before the big event. The “fixer” character, the sister who’s always in control and making sure everyone is having a good time, ends up being hysterical, and the roles are reversed with the crazy sister taking care of her at the end. Only the child and the melancholy sister are able to breathe through the groundlessness. This most ultimate of fates.

I won’t lie, the movie gave me the creeps. It freaked the hell outta me. I’m learning to get comfortable with uncertainty, to listen. To breathe. But I ain’t quite THERE yet, and I don’t honestly know how I would react to something like this. Something tells me I’ll be up many many nights thinking about this movie. And listening. I’d love to talk about it with someone, but then I ask myself, what would that accomplish? You already know what would happen, how you would react. You deep down already know, and you don’t need to validate your actions and reactions by discussing it with another person. That’s just security blanket talk. That’s something to grasp, something to hold onto in the event a planet is somehow whirling you toward your ultimate demise. In the end you know what happens. You only need to get quiet to find out what that is. To listen. You know in your heart that’s the case. Right?

Tower of Security.

I had the most vivid dream recently. Actually, it’s been one of several. Since I’ve started meditating, all sorts of weird matter is vomiting itself out of my subconscious almost nightly. All with a good dose of Dada weirdness of course, and every single one highly charged emotionally. I awake feeling exhausted, yet refreshed. Like I’ve just run 10 miles. Or taken a gigantic shit.

In the latest one I’m in a room, faced with a gigantic tower of boxes. And when I say gigantic I’m talking “Martin Scorcese’s-Hugo-in-3D-materialized-in-a-CGI-Lab” huge. Not occurring anywhere in nature. Willy Wonka huge. Only occurs in dreams huge. I can’t even see the top of this box tower. But I know at the bottom, under all that brown cardboard, there is a trap door. Under that trap door is the secret I’ve been protecting all of these years. Under a mountain of boxes, under lock and key, is either a situation I can’t yet face, an emotion I won’t even attempt to fathom, or a painful memory I’m blocking. And the only thing to do is start unpacking.

So I do. Methodically, agonizingly slowly, I begin picking up boxes and unloading their contents, placing them off to the side. No matter how many boxes I remove, the tower never shrinks. But I plod on confident that someday, I will unlock that trap door.

Each box is labeled, things like: “Alcohol” or “Drugs” or “Music” or “Sex” or “Shopping”. These are the boxes at the bottom. Ones at the top are labeled with things like “Momma” and “Lois” and “Family” and “Career” and “Video Games” and “Chocolate”. There are multiple boxes all over the tower labeled “Sleep”.

What does it all mean? When I awoke, I knew instantly. Here, vividly depicted for my understanding (I am a visual learner after all), was every single security blanket I’ve ever used to avoid feeling groundless. To avoid pain. As Pema Chödrön says in her book, “When Things Fall Apart”: 

“The most precious opportunity presents itself when we come to the place where we think we can’t handle whatever is happening. It’s too much. It’s gone too far. We feel bad about ourselves. There’s no way we can manipulate the situation to make ourselves come out looking good. No matter how hard we try, it just won’t work. Basically, life has just nailed us. . . . . Most of us do not take these situations as teachings. We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape—all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain.” 

This is me all over. Depending on whatever period in my life I happened to be in, I was always addicted to something. Early on it was the obvious stuff, the contraband, the liquor. Then it became my mother after her accident. By focusing on her care I could avoid facing my own problems. That turned into saving EVERYONE I knew. Whether family member or friend, if you had a problem, I would listen, then lie in bed and worry how I could help. Spend money and time I didn’t have just to have something real to grab onto.

Then it was my job, I piled on the hours, worked three jobs at one point, all just so I could avoid facing that trap door. And the boxes kept on piling. Sleep? I’ve always dove into bed at any hour of the day to avoid pain. The bed is my ultimate “blanky”.

All these boxes are real, all of them my way to grab something. When you feel pain, when you face your fears, when you come face to face with something uncomfortable or fear-inducing you are groundless. You feel the breath rush out of you, you feel light-headed, your emotions start to run rampant. It truly feels as if you’re going to fall off a cliff. The wind is knocked out of you. You’re looking around for something to grab, a branch, anything. Anything at all. And nothing is there. Well, there’s these boxes…

Those boxes were and are my security. Now that I’m becoming more comfortable with that groundless feeling through meditation, I’m ready to unpack. To travel lighter. What’s under the trapdoor? I’ve got some idea, but right now it only remains in shadow, a dark, fearful, horrific vision. Those are the nightmares I’ve been having. I’m not even sure it happened, but my gut tells me it did. And my gut is never wrong. I’m just grateful I didn’t come to the end of my life without trying to become comfortable with groundlessness. I may never finish unpacking this tower of “blankys”. But I’ll sure as hell try.