Friday, August 12, 2016

A Mindfulness Meditation

Because today it is almost too hot to think (whenever I try, I feel brain cells melting), I am doing a very short post, a poem I wrote an introduction to a seminar I led on mindfulness. Re-reading it has reminded me to be mindful and to look for those aspects of the present moment that I can enjoy.

I have an appointment with life.

It is here,

It is now.

I free myself from the stale air of the past.

I smile at the imaginary darkness of the future.

Breathing in,

Breathing out,

I open my heart to the miracle of the present moment.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

6 Mindful Ways To Survive the Electoral Season

Although this post is specifically directed to U.S. readers, the suggestions can help in any potentially confrontational situation.

After the Republican and Democratic conventions, I realized that I wasn’t looking forward to the coming three months. Some very sharp divisions had emerged, and I had feelings about the candidates that differed from those of close friends.

I didn’t want to argue. I didn’t want to prove that I was right. With peace in mind, I set out to determine how I could survive August, September, and October. Here’s my list of tools.

1. My Friends are More Important Than My Opinions.

I treasure my friendships. I do not treasure my political opinions. In the end, no matter who wins the election, I will need my friends.

2. I Don’t Want My Ego to Be Running This Show.

In the final analysis, my political opinions are no more than an extension of my ego. My ego is the one who has to be right and who has to have agreement that it’s right. I want to live outside that constricting space.

3. Kindness is More Important Than Correctness.

I may disagree with people, but it’s more important to care about them.

4. It’s Helpful to Spend Less Time on Facebook.

There are many, many opinions on Facebook. I am tempted to respond to the absolutely ridiculous things that some people are saying. Such temptations should be resisted. One way to avoid temptation is to listen to a guided meditation instead of reading an idiotic post.

5. Life Goes On.

Unless it doesn’t, in which case it was really a waste of time and energy to get aggravated about political issues.

6. The Present Moment Is What Matters.

In the present moment, there are no ballots, political debates, or disagreements. There is only the spacious Now, and how I live it will determine how all following moments unfold.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Time Out

This week I took a break from blogging to watch highlights of the Democratic Convention. As this isn't a political blog, I won't make any comments. Later this week, blogging will resume.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Mindfulness and Pardoning

This morning I thought about St. Francis of Assisi’s prayer:

“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love;

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

It is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”

Each line in this prayer might form the basis for meditation. This one most affected me.

“It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.”

I Only Meet Myself

I have been doing a method called shadow work, which involves deeply exploring those aspects of self that we learned as children to name wrong. We bury these thoughts and behaviors deep within ourselves, hidden from even our own awareness.

I, for example, was told that it was wrong to talk about myself by naming either my accomplishments or my problems. I made successful efforts to suppress such temptations.

That doesn’t mean they dissolved. The desire, though concealed, had an energetic charge that attracted lots of people who had no problem talking about themselves. I disliked them for their selfish and WRONG demands to be noticed.

Shadow work revealed that beneath my disapproval lay envy. Why did I have to bury my desire to express myself when they didn’t?

The more honestly I examined this discovery the more fully my judgment released. It took some time, but I learned to forgive those bad people for getting away with it.

Hidden Gold

In the foreword to The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, by Debbie Ford, Neale Donald Walsch speaks of learning that his “faults” were simply assets that he’d exaggerated. His bragging was overamplified confidence. His recklessness was exaggerated spontaneity and enthusiasm. He only needed to practice dialing down the volume of self-expression.

Herein lies the beauty and power of pardoning. If I can hear people going on about themselves without judgment, my act of pardoning them also pardons me for that disowned aspect of myself. I can look at it as a gift to be used wisely.

I am learning to balance talking about myself with thoughtful and caring listening to others. I may say, “I think I know how you feel because I have had this experience” and find other ways to build bridges instead of isolating ego towers.

With this and other suppressed aspects of myself, I am learning to uncover the gifts that have remained hidden for so many years.

Truly, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned—and set free.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Mindfulness and the Bodhisattva

In Mahayana Buddhism (practiced in Tibet, China, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, and Indonesia), a bodhisattva is someone who intends to become awake in order to liberate others. While most of us wake up wondering, “What can I do to make myself happy?”, the bodhisattva begins each day wondering what he or she can do to make others happy.

To do so, they don’t sink into self-hood (or ego), which they recognize as a false creation of the mind. It’s a state of “me-ness” that goes against the natural condition of oneness. Trying to hold the self apart and protected causes tension and pain. When threatened, the “me” gets angry. Observing “me’s who present more successful fa├žades causes envy.

I was sure that this “me” obstacle would disqualify me for even baby bodhisattva status. Like many people working on spiritual awareness, I was always bumping into a stubborn ego. In the midst of wondering, I came across this quote by Thich Nhat Hanh:

“A bodhisattva doesn't have to be perfect. Anyone who is aware of what is happening and who tries to wake up other people is a bodhisattva. We are all bodhisattvas, doing our best.”

That opened new possibilities. I recognized that being mindful of my habitual negative (ego-driven) thoughts ultimately means accepting them instead of trying to bury them. The way to selflessness is not around the troublesome self but through it.

Developing deeper self-esteem satisfies the need for attention of an entity I have come to see as a lonely and generally unhappy three-year-old who built an ego to clothe her naked needs.

Self-acceptance provides a better wardrobe. The warmly dressed and deeply loved child who has assumed ego form can retreat to become the inner child who supports one’s joy, creativity, and faith. With that foundation, it becomes possible to turn one’s attention to the needs of others.

When we clear out space to accept ourselves as we are, we learn to accept others as they are. That kind of acceptance teaches us kindness and generosity.

We can say, “Just like me, this person suffers, feels guilty, has made mistakes, and wants to experience love.” Every time we recognize ourselves in another, we expand our capacity for mindful compassion.

This is surely the path of a bodhisattva.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Mindfulness Matters

This is not a political blog, but, in the aftermath of the police murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, I have decided that I have to speak out here.

Several years ago, a state trooper pulled my car over because he didn’t like the way I paused before pulling onto the highway (which, by the way, was not illegal). He asked to see my driver’s license.

My bag was on the back seat of the car, and I could only reach it by getting out of the car. I opened the door. (This was a BIG mistake.)

The cop pulled a gun on me.

I am a small-sized, white senior citizen woman. If I’d been a young black man, I probably wouldn’t have survived the incident. As it was, I believed (and believe) that a cop who pulled a gun on a little old lady could go further. The wrong move on my part could have been fatal.

Doing my best to be calm and mindful (and still, very still), I said,” Officer, if you want to see my driver’s license, I have to get it out of my purse, which is in the back seat.”

The danger switch in his brain suddenly turned off. He asked me why I took so long to get onto the highway, and I explained that the habitually heavy traffic on that part of the road made it necessary. He looked at my driver’s license; he told me I could go. I drove very carefully.

“First, they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.”

This line begins a famous poem by Pastor Martin Neimoller about the cowardly behavior of German intellectuals after Hitler’s rise to power. In the poem they take the trade unionists and the Jews. It ends:

“Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

The message of the poem fully applies to the present. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayer, in a recent dissent in Utah vs. Strieff ( a Fourth Amendment case regarding whether an otherwise illegal police stop could be justified by an outstanding arrest warrant) describes those regularly targeted by the police as “the canaries in the coal mines, whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere.”

Girls and women know they may be sexually harassed, molested, raped, or otherwise attacked for being female. In 2013 more than 1600 women were killed by men. (That's reported deaths.) The Orlando massacre represented the greatest number of LGBTQ people killed in one incident but not the first.

Neimoller and Sotomayer point out that as long as any group can be violently targeted, no one is ultimately safe. To me, this means that when you stand up for the rights of others, you stand up for your own rights.

This is true not only politically but spiritually. Many religions share the theme that to relieve suffering is a spiritual obligation. Buddhism teaches us that all of life is interconnected.

This means that even if we can’t directly experience the suffering caused by a particular injustice, we share it. When we acknowledge that sharing, we are moved to relieve the suffering. This is not white or male or heterosexual guilt, it’s the understanding that what happens to one happens to all.

What action stems from that awareness? I’m seeing that question asked more and more on social media lately. I’ve seen some answers, too. For me the only answer is a question.

That question is: “What does love ask me to do?” Everyone must find their own answers, and those answers can only be discovered through mindfulness.

For tomorrow, Monday, July 11, my answer is to attend a march and rally in Springfield, MA to protest the recent killings.

If you find an answer or answers to direct your life, please let me know by posting.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Mindfulness and Independence

On this weekend that celebrates U.S. independence, I’m thinking about the foundation for true independence, a condition of much deeper freedom.

Mindfulness, I believe, is that foundation. When we allow ourselves to be mindful, to observe what goes on both within and without, we declare independence from the ego, who wants to tell us what we should notice.

The ego has a declaration of dependence in that its survival depends on noticing only what threatens or enhances its survival. It filters its observations through a thick veil of fear: that it won’t win, won't come out at top. It fears that it will land at the bottom. It fears its extinction.

Some observe that the ego acts like a child, a child who has lost its innocence, who has learned the adults it counted on for survival are also vulnerable and fearful. This child has also learned that to relax, to be in the present, to see without survival filters, is dangerous.

As a result, early attempts at reaching a state of mindfulness may, instead, bring up resistance from the ego, who doesn’t want us to see beyond it to the childhood experiences and decisions that created it.

Thich Nhat Hanh often says to smile at negative emotions. “I smile to my anger. I embrace my anger as if it were a crying baby.”

The first step in a declaration of independence from the past is to smile to our resistance. When we do this, it softens, little by little, and when we are ready to know the answers about how we became who we are, our deepest truth will speak.

The practice of mindfulness is a journey, and each step gives us a greater level of independence. This is true cause for fireworks.