Monday, June 20, 2011

Summer Pleasures

Window treatments.

Baggett. Pizza Dough. Whole wheat bread loaf. Rizing in the summer heat.

Cardamom-spiced peach & apricot jam.
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Beginning Again

I've been working at creating a firm foundation for meditation practice for roughly seven years now. Of course, this has been speckled time -- on again, off again. That isn't of much matter.

Over the last year I have discovered a secret. Perhaps is has taken me these seven years to realize what blocked my path. Meditation is not something to do. It's not a duty, or a doing, or an action. We call it a practice, but that's because it takes time and patience and consistent repetition. It's a practice in that it is a way of life, something on-going, ever unfolding.

Once I began to realize that it wasn't something I sat and "did," the practice really began to open up for me. As much as I had read and heard that buddhism directs us towards a letting go of the self, I also began to not distance myself so much from the self. We do have a self, perhaps two of them. One is made of personality, and dies when the body dies. Another is made of energy, is without masks, and is always present, though often covered over and unnoticed. This is what meditation is for -- seeing the gap between the two, and spending more time with the faceless self. In meditation, I cultivate a place for that self to expand and breath.

Sitting again regularly now, I am reminded at how much persistance we need in the beginning. I am able to find that space where my real self sits, but that space is unsteady still. I flicker in and out of it as my mindfulness waxes and wanes. It makes me think of a flame flickering, sometimes steady, full and bright, sometimes wavering and blowing about. I enjoy the challenge of holding it steady. When it flickers in and out, as soon as I realize the shift I simply begin again.

When you find yourself wandering, simply hit the restart button. I've found that it is something which I only need to do in a subtle, soft way. I can't overthink it, or overdo it. It's nothing that requires great effort at all. Maybe I simply need to relax my face more, or shift my butt slightly on the pillow. Sometimes I take in a bigger breath and breath it out nice and slow, or roll my shoulders back. These small movements can help bring you back and settle in more comfortably. Do it as often as you need to -- even if it's a hundred times in a twenty minute session. Slowly, the space you are creating becomes broader, more still, and even.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Your Life is Your Practice

The three fireplaces are my favorite attributes of our new home. I'm still working on the living room fireplace, so I've yet to post photos of it. The living room is the one place we're still waiting to put together. Our new couch is on its way and once it arrives everything should come together nicely.

This is the bedroom fireplace. Our bed faces this mantel, and I've kept the decorating to a minimum. The colors in here are keeping with black and white, and darker woods. On the walls near the bed I've put up two large Ansel Adams photographs in black and white, and a local artist's black and white framed photo of the weeping bride in Savannah's historic graveyard.

I read a wonderful article in Tricycle yesterday about how to incorporate your meditation practice into everything you do. It's a great reminder that we are never too busy to bring mindfulness into our lives.

I really like the idea that Thich Nhat Hahn puts forth in his book The Miracle of Mindfulness. He suggests picking one day a week to make your own day of mindfulness. It's a day in which from the moment you wake up you follow a set intention to watch the breath and to be fully engaged in everything you do. You wake in the morning and the first thought should be "waking in the morning, I take a deep breath in and a deep breath out." Something along those lines in whatever way works for you. Then you go throughout the day alternating meditation times with work tasks. When you do the dishes, or make the bed, you only do the dishes and you only make the bed. Your thoughts and your awareness is fully with each thing you do while you do it, and also on your breath.

I'd like to consider over the course of the next week when a a day might be which I can give to this practice. The women's retreat in West Viriginia is coming up in just a few short weeks, when I will spend five days in silence, meditating most hours of the day, waking at 5am with the monks and nuns, eating very little, and practicing austerities. It's become my priority to prepare myself now by making my life my practice.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Leaving the Self in order to Love the Self

I've been re-reading Thich Nhat Hanh's The Miracle of Mindfulness today, and turning once again back to my practice, which has long been neglected. Final exams + three week illness + moving = easy distractions. It's important not to "punish" ourselves for dropping our committment to the practice. What is important is maintaining the will and earnst desire to return to it.

Compassion for ourselves is a topic hanging around in my mind for well over a year now. It's a captivating idea for most of us. It immediately draws our attention and creates that pulling feeling in our hearts and stomachs. It has this power because we know it is something which is literally dying to be cultivated more.

The tricky thing about having compassion for ourselves is that it's not as straight-forward or easy as it at first appears. When I first began to truly come face to face with the notion of self compassion as a necessary ingredient to growing loving-kindness for others, there was a sort of niave decision that declared "Yes, I am going to do this! I am going to be heedful of forgiving myself and being kind and gentle." The thing is, situations come up which make this simple task incredibly complicated and, at times, even seemingly impossible.

I don't have all of the answers for you on how to shine right through all of the complexities and difficulties of loving ourselves. I can, however, share this one small nugget of a lesson hard-earned this past weekend.

The details are not that important, but here is the brief of it: I found myself in the excitement of a moment, became totally heedless, drank far more than my reasonable share of wine, and without thinking twice wound up accidently causing another person great embarassment. Now that's an excruciating one, isn't it? The mistake of such carelessness, in its aftermath, burns like full sun into a tunnel of once safe and quiet darkness.

It begs the question of forgiveness. How do we forgive ourselves for harming another? Of course it was never my intention to cause someone else suffering. There was absolutely no ill-will involved. It was simple carelessness. But what's truly hard, for myself, is to find a way to forgive myself and move forward.

Coming back to the meditation path is one step in the right direction. I resolved that I would need to sit with it, literally, and really look deeply into the source of anguish now lingering heavily over me. This is one tool which I've taken from various sources of spiritual wisdom. When something is painful, go right into the searing heart of it. Look directly into what's really hurting. What I found surprised me.

What was causing so much residual pain was not actually the knowledge that I had hurt someone else by embarassing them, it wasn't actually about the other person at all. It was about me. It hurt to be a person who had caused another embarassment. It had everything to do with self and becoming and nothing to do with real or genuine remorse. This first deep realization was the epitome of staring straight into the painful heart of the matter -- it hurt even more. This is the exact place where the healing becomes possible. This is the precise point where we need to dig our hearts and minds deeper and stretch ourselves creatively.

I found in this moment what needed to be done in order to stop the terrible pain, the self-loathing, and the vicious cycle which often sours into self-hatred and self-anger, and robs us of real growth with compassion.

What I needed to do was move my attention from this point of self and turn it towards the person who I'd embarassed. I asked myself, "what do you want to say or do for this person?" I spoke to the person in my mind, felt what they felt, offered them consolation, comfort, and love. What's more, and an interesting point to make I believe, is that in talking to them in my mind I did not apologize. Apologizing would have been about me, and perhaps for me. What really healed this moment was to reach out to the other and be fully there for them, offering endless love and care and good wishes.

After spending a good deal of time with these thoughts and wishes, I returned to my normal breath meditation. I checked in with how I felt about myself and I found that the tightness, the anguish and the pain that had been there before was now replaced with warmth and gentleness.

Sometimes, in order to find self compassion and self forgiveness, we have to leave the self behind and reach further, reach way out, touch others, touch the world around us, so that we may come back to the self fuller, softer, melted, and purified.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Keep it simple

The dining room. From afar, it appears as though the windows here are in need of linen treatments! Hmm... what color should I choose? Minty sage, cream, or tope?

As a thank you for the delicious brownies, yesterday I made stawberry-papaya hot pepper jam and delivered jars to each of our neighbors. Along with loaves of freshly baked homemade bread.

{The fireplace in my study} I've decided to keep my decorating simple and clean for the first time in my life. The mirror above the mantel here was my grandmother's and is of course very special to me. Inside the glass jars are all of my little rocks and sea shell collections, neatly contained rather than spread around on shelves to collect dust as I've done in the past. I'd like simple black frames for these photographs on either side of the mirror. They're old finds from the CARE archive that neighbor Jenn brought home one day.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Come and give me your hand

My first new friend: a baby praying mantis. They're so elegant!

Our sweet little front porch coming together.

Naturally, this was the first room I unpacked and organized. My study and mediation area.

So far, both of our neighbors have come over to introduce themselves and welcome us to the neighborhood. I missed the couple who came over and brought us brownies yesterday. I came out on the porch for coffee this morning and spotted them on their porch. Of course, it didn't occur to me that I should wave and say hello until after I'd sat in the rocker with my back to them. The mornings are slow and hard on my brain. I hope they do not take it as a poor first impression of me.

I love our new home! It feels as though something big is changing. It feels as though it is whispering inspiration to me. Will my poetry come back? Will I grow more? In what ways will I grow?
Posted by Picasa