Thursday, December 30, 2010

In This Moment

I just finished reading Ayya Khema's book, 'Be an Insland'. It took me a long while, as I took it in only a few pages at a time, usually before going to sleep. As with other great teachings, Ayya Khema's wisdom needs to be contemplated, slowly, in bit size.

I was struck by the fact that she ended on this note:
Being mindfully aware in and out of meditation is the practice that brings results. It means doing one thing at a time, attentive to mind and body. When listening to Dhamma, just listen. When sitting in meditation, just attend to the meditation subject. When planting a tree, just plant. No frills, no judgments. This habituates the mind to be in each moment. Only in such a way can a path moment occur, here and now. There is no reason why an intelligent, healthy, committed person should not be able to attain it with patience and perseverance.
So simple. 

Today, I shall strive to remind myself to focus on the task at hand, moment to moment. Driving to Zen Hospice, I shall only drive. Feeding a resident there, I shall only feed him. Taking a walk later, I shall only walk. Meeting my friend for coffee, I shall only talk, or listen to him . . . 

So simple. So difficult to sustain.

Hence practice :)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dropping the Story?

From my recent retreat with Ruth Denison at Dhamma Dena Monastery, I brought back not just many pearls of wisdom from Ruth, but also one memorable talk from Venerable Madika, one of the resident nuns there. The talk was about learning how to deal with difficult emotions, by dropping our story. 

Difficult emotions, I got recently, from one situation with someone in a position of power. Fear, anger, sadness, disappointment, outrage, a full bag of difficult emotions opened, for me to investigate. After I had a conversation with that person, and I realized I was going nowhere in terms of trying to change the outer circumstances, wise mind came to the rescue. I remembered Venerable Madika's talk. "Drop your story. Remember, no one can make you angry." As I started looking into the story I had been constructing about that person, that particular situation, I realized there were parts of the story I was not so sure about actually. Was I justified in my claims? What if I was the one who was out of line? Back and forth, I went. In the end, the jury leaned in my favor . . . The story has been playing over and over inside my head, til now.

While dropping one's story seems like the right thing to do in principle, the reality shows it is not so easy. Expectations, 'I' driven thoughts, old wounds in need of some more licking, personal baggage not yet let go of, all conspire to give the story free rein. Meanwhile, one is left with the bag of emotions to hold, and the strategic question of what to do with all that energy, all those thoughts and feelings?

Most useful has been to engage in metta practice, for the other person, and for myself. Seeing him as someone with his own wounds and limitations, and remembering all the good that has come out of our relationship also. I have got blinders, and so does he. That his happen to affect me in a major way is just a product of circumstances. It has nothing to do with me really. Silently, I repeat, "May he be well, may he be at ease, may he be at peace, may he be happy", and I imagine love pouring out of my heart in his direction. And I do the same for myself. Loving kindness, such powerful stuff . . .

Second, has been the realization of the damage done to my own mind, from hanging on to negative thoughts and emotions. Guarding the mind, like one's most precious jewel, I can see the real reason for dropping the story, regardless. In the end, it is all about keeping one's house clean, and free of filth. Forgetting about the object of one's misery, and refusing to indulge the misery itself. Polishing the mind over and over again, with warm determination.

Third, is appreciating the teaching opportunity from such experience. Like a bright mirror, situation has forced me to explore my own imperfections, the places of stuckness that keep coming up along my path. In the midst of all the unpleasantness, I walk, with gentle curiosity, taking a close look at my sores. Investigating the real source of my suffering, with the full knowledge that in the end, the problem lies within myself. Of course . . .

Fourth, is turning the anger on its head, and transforming it into the positive force I very much need to deal with the particular situation. Taking matters in my own hands. This requires the conscious decision of no longer reacting when provoked. Instead, registering the emotions, feeling the immensity of the energy being released, and enlisting it towards creative ends. I have a plan, and it's working.

Venerable Madika is right, the story needs to be dropped, but not so fast. There is much to be learned from the suffering, still.

Now, tell me, any story you need to drop?

Monday, December 27, 2010

In Her Skin

Overheard, this conversation between one of the residents and her son, at assisted living community I visited recently:

Son: "Mom, so are you going to shower today?"
Resident: "No, I don't want to."
Son: "Why not? Are you embarrassed?"
Resident: "No, I am not embarrassed."
Son: "I meant are you embarrassed that somebody is with you while you shower?"
Resident: "Yes, I am, wouldn't you?"
Son: "Well, I understand, but they have rules here"
Resident stares at her son
Son: "Would it help if someone was in the room with you but they put a towel in front of you?"
Resident: "Yes, it would."

Not just relating to the person as a fall risk. Approaching her instead as a whole person whose intimacy is at risk of being violated.

Being in her skin, not just her shoes.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Presents From Those Who Have Little Left

On this Christmas day, my heart goes to those who have been deprived of what most of us take for granted. Abilities as basic as thinking clearly, or walking, or holding one's head up, or breathing without pain . . . For that gift of recognition, I am indebted to all the beautiful souls I met this week at a memory care community, and also at  Zen Hospice Project:

Betsy, in the late stages of MS requires three people to feed her, two to hold her head, and the third one to place food in her mouth. She used to be an artist and make sculptures. Now her hands lay limp by her side. Betsy's body is betraying her, and yet her spirit is still very much intact. She smiles and grunts a resolute yes when I ask if she would like some more pureed squash soup.

Mimi is Japanese and 'total care' . . . She does not understand a word of English. It takes two aides to clean her, dress her and transfer her to her wheelchair.  I am told she can be quite combative some times. That morning she obliges. Later, I see her sitting alone in one corner of the dining room, she smiles and tries to engage whoever comes close. I wonder, what must she feels? When offered some crackers, she first pushes them on the side, then ends up eating her entire snack. 

Kate thought she could beat her leukemia but the latest news are not good. Down the drain, her dreams of a sweet retirement after a distinguished career as a scientist. Down the drain, the possibility of seeing her grandchildren grow up. Down the drain, the expectation she had of a longer life. She is pissed, and so would I.

Bob has stopped eating, and presents the emaciated corpse of one whose days are numbered, literally. There is little left for him to enjoy. Ice chips to cool his mouth, and the warm hand of a volunteer to hold, that's it. Lung cancer will do that to you.

Alice is 97 and wakes up with lots of fears, that someone has been taking advantage of her. Her favorite aide reassures her, and directs her attention to the task at hand. How about getting ready for her shower? The aide tapes a plastic bag around her ulcerated leg. "That's good, less work for you." Alice still has it  in her to care for the one who cares for her. 

Bill was a fighter pilot during World War II, and a damn good one. On one of the walls, I read that he flew over fifty missions. After she is done washing and dressing him, the aide gives him a thumbs up, and he responds in kind. Top Gun is still living in the old man. Later I see him slumped over his chair, drooling in the common room. 

Kate just arrived at hospice. She's got Alzheimer's and gets confused sometimes. Her daughter tells me she likes beautiful things and still enjoys painting. When I come to wake her up for lunch, I see her stare at the ceiling. I look up and notice for the first time a gorgeous fresco around the light fixture. She knows that I see what she sees, and smiles. I smile back.

The human psyche is funny that way. It often takes coming close to the reality of an existence without, to fully appreciate that which we have. 

Friday, December 24, 2010

What's Up With Christmas?

Each year, same thing, the C word stresses me out. Tense body, reluctance in the heart, annoyed thoughts . . . I can't help it. And then the guilt from not joining the revelers' ranks. Shouldn't I rejoice? and be happy according to the numerous reminders in the ads, the aisles at the CVS drugstore, the blessings from my email contacts, the Christmas Carols on the radio? The forced joy of Christmas can be hard on the heart.

I tried to ignore the whole thing at first. No tree, no presents, no party planned. That was three weeks ago. Then, my oldest daughter asked if I had thought about the menu for Christmas Eve. The youngest one wanted to know what I wanted. Husband wondered about the guests list. Needless, to say, I gave in. Last Sunday, we drove around to several lots, in search of a not too tall tree, that could accommodate our living room and found out we were not the only ones to favor small specimens. A solution was found at the lot near our house, where attendant cut down a tree to fit our requirements. And gifted us with his sweet words: "My job is to make everyone happy". 

A place was made for the tree in the usual corner. Husband and I bickered some as we strived for the perfect straightness . . . Awareness guarded against lingering effects from our exchange, and I found joy in stringing the trees with a plain strand of lights. No clutter of ornaments this year. I aimed for pared down simplicity. The rustic Nativity scene made it on the hallway table, under Buddha's watchful gaze. And I remembered to hide the baby Jesus that was to be born at midnight exactly on the night of Christmas Eve. 

Nativity Scene and Buddha
Down the Christmas to-do list, I went. Making more lists, of gifts to be bought, or made, of guests to invite for Christmas Eve dinner, of dishes to be made, and groceries to be bought, of messes to be cleaned up, of linens to be laundered, of helpers to be enlisted in the kitchen . . . I figured, the more organized, the more chances for a peaceful event. This morning, the tree is lit up, Christmas music is playing, husband and daughter are cooking, many dishes already populate the counter, and ironed out tablecloths and napkins await on the dining room table. Getting ready for twenty two guests.

Sitting earlier this morning, I came home to the steady flow of breath, and the reassuring feel of the earth against feet, and blood coursing through joined hands. And felt immense gratitude for the gift of mindfulness.

What is your Christmas like? happy, sad, lonely, crowded, tense, calm, angry, reluctant, wishful . . . So many possible variations.

Being with the reality of Christmas.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Not Just a Walking Head

Cold wind meeting left cheek
interrupts train of thoughts
and takes me out of mind.
Walking, walking, I feel
the burn of muscles working hard
and one tear sliding down
from corner of right eye.
Breath comes in also -
chest rising and falling,
rising and falling
in between steps.
Oh! and the roaring sound
of truck, already gone.
Inside the mouth, 
the lingering taste 
of early morning tea, still.
And then up, seeing sky,
a glimpse of sun trying to pierce
through grey wintery clouds.

Early morning California winter sky

Nose tickled happy 
with gasoline smell from leaf blower
and sound again, overpowering that one. 
Gladness of walking, fully awakened.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Without Thorns

I dreamed that all access points to someone very dear to me, were blocked by thorny stems such as this one:

What to do when dear one is not well, and there seems to be no other recourse but to just be present and not react? I have been trying to stay calm and not give into worries. I have been meditating. I have looked up to wise ones for guidance, teachers such as the Tibetan master, Tulku Thondup:
"Any situation can be a source of growth. This is difficult, but it is a teaching, a training, a blessing. And so you should try to use it as much as you can. You should feel very fortunate for what you have; feel gratitude for all the blessings of your life. See them. Feel them. Then this whole situation becomes a healing process. Why worry? Whatever we do for each other and for others will be an improvement, will be a healing for life . . .
Remember, we can reframe our attitude toward pain. It can even be good, because whenever you are in pain, you know you are burning past bad karmas. When problems come to you, try not to see them as negative. They are a part of life, like day and night, day and night. It's not day, day, day. Use negative situations positively, and they can all become a helpful source of benefit-even if they are painful. Pain is the most powerful tool of meditation. In the human plane there is so much turmoil, and that means this is a place for practice. Use the problems in life as incentives for growth; then, they become a blessing, not a curse. Human life is so blessed. We are so blessed because we know of so many ways to deal with these challenges.  Our experiences are always teaching us. You can be tortured or worshiped or peaceful - all in one life . . .
So problems remind us to practice. And the most important thing is to prepare for our death. All of our practices, especially meditation, are a preparation for death. So you end up turning life into practice-that is what we want to do. With meditation, you develop peace and strength; if you have strength, you have peace. True strength is when someone is calm, peaceful, without worries. Acknowledge the peacefulness in yourself-see it, feel it, believe in it. By cultivating a positive quality like peace, compassion, or any other quality, you use the power of belief to enhance that quality in you. These positive qualities are always present. You realize them by recollection, by remembering, by waking up.
~ in Olivia Ames Hoblitzelle, 10,000 Joys and 10,000 Sorrows
Sitting, I find I still have a long way to go towards the kind of peace suggested by Tulku Thondup. Past the worries, the tightness in the throat, the butterflies in the stomach, the sadness in the heart, and the weariness, deep aversion lies, and a strong wish for the whole situation to go away. Aversion, thorns . . . The meaning behind my earlier dream finally becomes clear. I cannot change dear one's mental state. I can change the way I feel about it however. Moving from a place of hate and resistance, to a new vantage point of love, compassion, and acceptance. Thorns taken out, with warm understanding. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Truth About Suffering

(Back from two and a half week retreat with Ruth Denison, at Dhamma Dena Desert Vipassana Center, I am devoting the next few weeks to sharing Ruth's wonderful teachings.)

Suffering . . . Not a day goes by without it raising its ugly head. I see it in my life, I also see it in others' lives. It comes in the form of moods, destructive behaviors, depression, anxiety, frustration, heart aches and various other afflictions of the mind. Ruth gave a great Dharma talk on the topic:

Even more powerful than listening to Ruth's words, was witnessing her attitude towards her own life. Never once complaining, or feeling sorry for herself, despite the heavy toll of old age on her body. I saw Ruth exhausted from a heavy course of antibiotics, 'shlepping' herself around as she called it. I saw her show up for our early morning meditation, despite crippling arthritis. "I could not move when I woke up, but I forced myself to do 30' of exercises, and I was able to finally get up."I saw her sit with throbbing pain in her leg from a nasty infection, and marvel with us at the gift of life:

"Life, we can live it, or we can miss it."

I remember Ruth, and I tell myself I've got to have the right attitude. Not wishing for another life, other circumstances, as I so often do despite all I already know. This moment is perfect, indeed, with all its imperfections. I also realize, that I shall soon forget again . . .

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Guarding the Mind

A few unkind words from loved one, that's all it had taken for me to go down the unhappy path, again.

In my head, I knew better than to blame, and complain. The last round had me convinced, the real problem was inside.

Why then the mind's reluctance to actually forgive, and forego? Thoughts about the offense, and lingering pain in the heart, kept on spoiling new moments.

Old habits die hard, it is said. Once deluded mind had been programmed to hang on to the suffering of bruised ego. 

But wait, this did not make any sense. Why be so unkind, to myself? Loved one had long forgotten about our exchange. I, on the other hand, continued to stir the wound. 

Reading Ayya Khema, I found the words I had been looking for:

"We let the mind get burned, scratched, and abraded by its ego assertions and reactions, and afflicted with worldly considerations of like and dislike, anger and rejection. These ideas scratch at the pure texture of the mind. If we wound the mind often enough - and nobody's immune from that - scratches become deep scars, difficult to heal. These scars are our limitations. The mind is a jewel, beautiful in its purity. Scarring and scratching brings unhappiness. Only we can protect the mind. Only we can prevent the negative thoughts that scratch the jewel of the mind. When we truly work for our inner purification, we need no longer blame outside conditions for our reactions. We are the guardians and cultivators of the mind." ~ from, Be an Island ~

With even greater clarity, I could see: to restore pure mind, or to continue the scratching, the choice was up to me. I loved myself too much to suffer any longer.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Vow Hour

(Back from two and a half week retreat with Ruth Denison, at Dhamma Dena Desert Vipassana Center, I am devoting the next few weeks to sharing Ruth's wonderful teachings.)

This morning, sitting in the quiet house, I remembered Ruth's 'Vow Hour' instruction that she got from her zen training. 

It's very simple. You vow to sit perfectly still for the whole duration of the meditation. If one hour seems too daunting, you can shorten the duration. The main thing is to commit to the stillness for however long you chose to sit.

30', I sat, not moving at all. Body freed from the possibility of nervous restlessness, there was ample space for breath to come and go, and physical sensations to be felt, and sounds to be heard, and thoughts to be noticed.

Small vow, big reward . . . 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

No Blind Faith Here

(Back from two and a half week retreat with Ruth Denison, at Dhamma Dena Desert Vipassana Center, I am devoting the next few weeks to sharing Ruth's wonderful teachings.)

Finding Out For Ourselves, According to the Buddha, and Ruth . . .

That morning, Ruth was not feeling well. Still, she had made herself come to the zendo and teach to us. I am so glad she did. Here is part of her talk, on investigation:

"No belief,
nothing to follow.
It is a process of investigation
and observing . . ."

This aspect of the Buddhist teachings pleases my Western mind, that needs to understand before it is to cooperate.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

7 Villains of Buddhist Blogging

While there are many reasons to blog about one's mindfulness practice, the activity carries within itself all the potential dangers of wrongful communication, and more. Whenever blogging, I try to stay clear of the following seven villains:
Blogging becomes a diversion from practice - writing about practice becomes a substitute for real practice. 
Blogging becomes food for the hungry ego - letting greed have a field day, in pursuit of unique visitors, comments, backlinks, and other goodies that make bloggers smile. 
Blogging becomes a platform for self-righteousness - lecturing and  trying to convince the world to rally to one's opinions. 
Blogging becomes an outlet for aggression - engaging in Dharma wars, and getting upset when others don't subscribe to one's views.
Blogging becomes a mindless life filler - blogging out of habit, one post a day because it's good for Google rankings, or just because.
Blogging becomes a dead end exercise in superfluous concept making - blogging out of the head only, with little input from the heart, and the body. 
Blogging becomes another trap for the rigid self - bringing the Buddhist blogger me to all aspects of our life, even when clearly not relevant.
Can you think of more ways to get in trouble?
Of course, mindfulness and right understanding can go a long way towards avoiding those pitfalls.  May you blog away, now, about practice, and mindfulness . . .

Monday, December 13, 2010

6 Reasons to Keep a Mindfulness Practice Blog

Today, I was most grateful to receive the 2010 Blogisattva Award for 'Best Buddhist Practice Blog'. My immediate thoughts went to the other very talented bloggers whose names I had submitted in that same category. A small consolation was seeing three of them in the finalists' list: Digital Zendo, ZenDotStudio, and Peace Ground Zero

In the Awards announcement's post, I was moved by Kyle Lovett's thoughtful appreciation of all Buddhist bloggers:
. . . all of these people that have had the heart, the guts and the determination to come online and share their thoughts and their practice with the world, cannot win or lose. What they do, what you do, day after day is immeasurably beyond the realm of relative winners and losers. YOU together are all the voices and the spirit that is moving and shaping the future of Buddhism, the future of an ancient tradition that points to a way beyond winners and losers, a way beyond suffering, a way beyond doubt. 
Collectively, all of our words, which are linked together by print or by digital media or by podcasts, is far greater than one lone voice could ever be; and its real power and influence is beyond the poor abilities of human vocabulary to describe. However if I had to choose, I would say this community is the embodiment of Prajñā, Dāna and Śīla. We are all Sangha; Perhaps not in the traditional meaning of the word, but nevertheless a Sangha that I am most humbly overjoyed to be a part of.
Kyle's tribute got me thinking about the interrelatedness of blogging and mindfulness practice. How can mindfulness practice inform one's blogging? How can blogging sustain one's practice? What are some of the potential pitfalls?

The first question, I covered in an earlier post, in the form of  '7 Tips for Buddhist Bloggers'

Next comes an exploration of the many benefits of blogging for one's mindfulness practice. Come to think of it, maintaining a mindfulness practice blog is seeded in a long standing tradition of spiritual sharing, dating as far back as the Buddha's and Christ's times. It springs from the same need to share what is both a very personal and transpersonal experience. Only now, with the advent of the Internet, that sharing is enriched by the possibility of asynchronous and synchronous responses from a world wide community of spiritual friends. 

Here are '6  Reasons Why I keep Blogging About my Mindfulness Practice':
1) Blogging about practice keeps me honest - it is akin to interviewing with a teacher, only the accountability is to the ones that read me.
2) Blogging about practice takes care of an often neglected part of practice that is reflection - harvesting the fruit from mindful investigation, and transforming them into enduring insights.
3) Blogging about practice helps seal those same insights - anchoring them in the mind through the careful selection and articulation of words to describe them.
4) Blogging about practice helps make the connection between one's direct experience and the wealth of Dharma teachings available on the Web - Access to Insight and Buddhanet are two of my favorite sites.
5) Blogging about practice is the opportunity to join the worldwide sangha of other bloggers and readers - through my blog, I have formed many enduring and deep dharma friendships.
6) Blogging about practice, is an integral part of practice - following the 7 tips suggested above, one turns the blogging activities of writing, sharing, commenting, and responding into yet other mindfulness practice opportunities.
Tomorrow, I shall cover some of the potential pitfalls to guard against when blogging about one's mindfulness practice . . . 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Selflessness in Action

(Back from two and a half week retreat with Ruth Denison, at Dhamma Dena Desert Vipassana Center, I am devoting the next few weeks to sharing Ruth's wonderful teachings.)

Often in the midst of a Dharma talk, Ruth's eyes would water with deep joy, as here:

Being in the presence of one who is completely empty. Such a rare gift, and an inspiration that I am happy to share.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Two Mirrors

What Others' Imperfections Can Teach Us.

One of my Buddhist friends, a long time meditator has the annoying habit of talking too much about herself. Unresolved problems from her childhood, complaints about her health, blow by blow account of her daily activities . . . I get to hear it all. She does it not just with me, but anybody who is willing to lend an ear. It has gotten to the point where I dread being in situations where  I know I will have to interact with her.

Visiting my mother last week, I experienced much joy, and also annoyance. Alzheimer's erases parts of one's personality and magnifies others. In my mother's case, her excessive attachment to material things has been let loose. In the nursing home where she lives, she is known as the lady who "owns a big house, with two cellars, and three gardens". When I saw her, she repeated often, "I am very rich, you know". While I knew how to be patient and validate her sense of worth, I really cringed inside.

My friend, my mother, two people who can get under my skin, real fast.

Of course, such irritation deserves some investigation. While I have been trying hard to keep the self-making mind in check, I also know I am no different from my Buddhist friend. The need to tell my story, to complain, to blab away, to be seen, is there still, and surfaces when I let my attention wander. Same with my mother. I have had a complicated relationship with money. While not a material person, per say, I also suffer from insecurities in that area. Envious of the nuns' detached existence, and fearful of the homeless life, that's me!

My friend, my mother, two mirrors for which I am extremely grateful.

Who are your mirrors?

Friday, December 10, 2010

For One's Own Good

(Back from two and a half week retreat with Ruth Denison, at Dhamma Dena Desert Vipassana Center, I am devoting the next few weeks to sharing Ruth's wonderful teachings.)

I used to look down on the precepts, so seemingly simple, and close to the canned morality from my Catholic upbringing.  During the retreat with Ruth, two things happened that made me change my mind. 

First, was Ruth's insistence that we make room in our lives for taking the precepts often. I remember entire evenings devoted to reciting the five precepts, over and over again, and Ruth smiling while we all dozed off and secretly begged to be freed. "Now, one more time . . . " Ruth's favorite version of the precepts is borrowed from Thich Nhat Hanh's 'Five Mindfulness Trainings'. Here it is, in abbreviated version:

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, plants, animals, and minerals.

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to cultivating loving kindness and learning ways to work for the well-being of people, plants, animals, and minerals.

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society.

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relive others of their suffering. I am determined to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope.

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, consuming. 

Second, was my own concurrent experience throughout the retreat. Sitting, walking, in silence for extended periods, brought me face to face with the hindrances, and more importantly, the fuel that kept them going. At the root of troublesome mind states, I often found a prior failure to follow one of the precepts. Words wrongly spoken and coming back to haunt me with their possible karmic consequences. Or wrongful actions taken out of anger or excessive self-preoccupation . . . Fueling the fire of anxiety.

I came to seeing the precepts as a necessary safeguard against the mind's natural tendency to stray and produce unnecessary suffering for oneself, and others. Ruth was making sense, once more. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Awards

This morning surprised me with a few tweets announcing that Mind Deep had made it to the final round for the 2010 Blogisattva Awards. I could pretend that I don't care, that awards are just lollipops for the ego, not fit for someone like me who is trying so hard to not give into the 'I'. I could, and I would be lying. The truth is I got giddy visiting the Blogisattva site, and seeing my name mentioned not just once, but a whole bunch of times, including at the bottom, where it 'matters' most. Husband, daughter, close friends got promptly informed . . . I did not dare overtly brag on Twitter or Facebook, but the impulse was there. 

Later, sitting, I was met early in the meditation with a knot in the throat, right in the midst of the excitement. Persistent, begging to be examined. Thoughts made it clear where the unpleasantness came from. 'Awards', 'nominated', 'finalists', 'best' . . . a few enticing words,  that's all the self-making mind had needed to take me for a wild spin. Gone the calmness, gone the joy, gone the freedom. The pain ain't worth it, whispered the knot, and heart in unison. And the knot let go of itself.

'I' cast aside, there was much gratitude left for the all folks who make these awards possible. The organizers, Kyle Lovett from The Reformed Buddhist Blog, Nate de Montigny from Precious Metal Blog, and Anoki Casey from Buddha Badges and Dharma Dots. The judges, Rev. Danny Fisher, Barbara Hoetsu O'Brien from The Mahablog, Philip Ryan from Tricycle, and Tanya McGinnity from Full Contact Enlightenment Blog. And all the readers who took the time to nominate their favorite blogs, just because. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Humanitarian Organization

On our last night together, my mother surprised us once more. In a good way.

Five days in a row, many times over, she had asked my daughter about her career plan after college. Each time, she was proud to hear her: "Je veux travailler pour une organisation humanitaire, pour aider les pays pauvres comme l' Afrique."  Tonight, my mother stopped my daughter's midstream and finished the sentence for her. 'humanitaire' is a big word to remember especially after having lived with Alzheimer's for six plus years. 

This is what happened after five days of spending three hours daily with my mother, being (almost) perfectly attuned to her reality, and helping her make connections with this world we live in. A perfect case of neuroplasticity in action, and the brain responding positively to a cocktail of just plain love, emptathy, and mindfulness.  

* "I want to work for a humanitarian organization, you know the kind that helps poor countries like Africa."

Monday, December 6, 2010

Sleepless in France

4 am, French time, I woke up. Mixed up internal clock acted as if body was still in California . . .

I could have gotten up and worked on the computer. I could have laid restless and upset about not getting enough sleep. I could have tried to force myself back to sleep.

Instead, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to practice lying down meditation. Mind awake could focus on the myriad of sensations throughout the body, with breath stepping in between, begging to be noticed also. One hand on belly, the other on the heart. Being breathed. There was ease, watching thoughts streaming in, then getting lost often until an opening between two thoughts gave space enough for the attention to catch on. Returning to body, and breath. Starting again where awareness had left off, part by part, with a definite pull towards the feet and legs. And the movement of breath again. All happening within a general atmosphere of pleasant warmth and intimacy, mixed in with the not so pleasant tiredness, and pain from achy body. 

Without noticing, the sleepiness must have come. 8.50 am, eyes opened to bright day light. 

I have practiced lying down meditation before during sleepless nights on other international trips. Each time, same result. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

My Mother's Purse

At first, I discouraged my mother to take her purse with her. 'Don't bother, you don't need it.' That was until I realized there was more to the purse than just the physical object. 

Maman walking to the dining room
at her assisted living community.
Going out with her purse, even to the dining room within her assisted living community, means being in a world still where she is self-sufficient. 

The old brown purse that used to hold her driver's license, wallet, checkbook, debit card, and small address book, is now filled with an assortment of odd papers, but it doesn't matter. My mother never opens her purse anymore. 

"Ou est mon sac?" She does not want to lose sight of her most precious belonging. And I understand.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

What's the Big Deal About Death?

(Back from two and a half week retreat with Ruth Denison, at Dhamma Dena Desert Vipassana Center, I am devoting the next few weeks to sharing Ruth's wonderful teachings.)

88 years. My mother and Ruth are the same age.  

Both are mothers to me, although in very different ways. One gave me this physical life and nurtured me during my younger years. The other gave me the gift of a new life, based on a deeper understanding of the truth within.  

Both are equally unfazed by the prospect of death approaching. In my mother's case, her inability to remember is to receive most of  the credit. With Ruth, it is her profound realization of the nature of the living process that got her to that point.

After 40 years of shepherding the Dhamma Dena community, Ruth has decided to slowly ease out, and has asked two Theravada nuns to slowly step in. One evening during the retreat, Ruth discussed how she felt about the transition, and how old age and death are shaping the way she lives her life now:   

Do I have to wait that long to be so wise? :)

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Wisdom of Forgetfulness

My mother lives with Alzheimer's in an assisted living community in a small town in the Southwest of France. My daughter and I are visiting her right now. Last night at dinner she surprised us with another pearl of wisdom:

"Il faut prendre les choses comme elles viennent. Il n' y a rien d' autre a faire."
You've got to take things as they come. There is nothing else to do.

While the illness has taken away my mother's ability to function in the so-called normal world, it has also blessed her with the gift of forgetfulness. No longer remembering to be anxious as she used to. No longer fretting about small things. No longer forgetting to live in the present moment.