Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Just a Small Pin

Last night's dream . . . 

I am with a man walking around a brand new house. The house is empty and very spacious. The man kneels down to the floor, and using a small pin, uncovers a tiny hole right at the juncture between the wall and the carpet. The hole is covered with a metal grid. The man lifts the grid with his pin, and looking up close we can see a whole world of miniature people moving through tiny spaces. For a moment, I slip into this shrunken world, and meet familiar faces. 

I am not surprised. I have been more and more cognizant of the contractions in body and mind, and the associated long-standing tendencies I have had to live in a shrunken world. The big change has been in the recognition of my responsibility for this state of being. No longer blaming others, playing victim, or giving into stuck-ness. And at the same time, being patient, teaching the tightness to relax one moment at a time. A small pin, is all it takes. 

We tend to live within such a narrow band of experiences. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Where Do You Dwell?

How much of yourself do you use to move through the world?

Only your head, thinking about things, usually from the past or in the future?

Or your entire body, thinking yes, and also seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting, sensing? Experiencing.

I know I tend to dwell from the head mostly, and not even the whole head. Thinking brain in overdrive . . . 

The good news is, I have noticed a big shift. Thanks to daily practice, I am dwelling more and more in the entire body, and making use of all senses. 

Where do you dwell most?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

What's Up With the Bell?

Several times, I have been asked how come I don't use 'a bell' in my mindfulness work with clients.

The bell, or rather the sound of the bell, is such a part of the traditional meditative experience. As essential as cushion and timer, and noble silence. The bell invites us to step into a sacred space, where habitual ways of being dissolve, leaving room instead for awareness and experiencing of the now.  At the other end, the bell means returning to the habitual world of daily life. Such a lovely ritual . . . 

and also, something else, maybe not so useful.

I see the bell as yet another man made creation to separate practice from the rest of one's life. Another gadget to please our senses. Another potential source for trouble down the line, when there is no bell, and we are left with just ourselves.

This is why I like to encourage the ones I work with, to practice with no bell, no fancy cushion. Only oneself, and an ordinary place to sit. The main impetus for practice becomes one's intention, and sometimes the sitting together.

Practicing to practice any time, anywhere. No 'equipment' necessary. 

How is your relationship to the 'bell'?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Drinking the Bitter Brew

Sitting still,
no other choice
but to endure the truth
and drink the bitter brew.

Sitting still,
turning over the poison
in the mouth,
a thousand times.

Sitting still,
tasting the dark substance
all of it,
and watching its full effect.

Sitting still,
surrendering to the evidence
of a million thoughts
deposited before mind knew.

Sitting still,
comes the determination
of making peace
with the old witch.

Friday, February 24, 2012

"Why Are You So Sad?"

This morning, sitting at La Boulange, waiting for a friend, I must have had a melancholic look on my face. Not that I was unhappy or anything . . . 

This old man walks in with his friend, taps me on the shoulder, and with the sweetest smile, tells me, "Smile. Why are you so sad?" and heads out to the counter to order some coffee. 

We should all be tapping on each other's shoulders. And invite each other to smile. And wonder aloud, "Why are you so sad?"

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Investigating the Depression

Only one who has encountered clinical depression, can really understand the torture of living day in and day out with a a mind that has turned against itself. I endured such hell after the birth of my first daughter, many years ago. Looking back, I wish I had had the gift of mindfulness to fall back on then. Now, it is my privilege to accompany others as they go through the darkness. Almost always, our joint journey involves mindfulness. And I bring U Tejaniya along:
I began practicing at age fourteen, so long before I experienced depression I’d already devel- oped the ability to regard anything that came up in my mind and deal with it objectively, without getting involved or taking it personally when ugly stuff came up. When I became depressed I could apply all these skills. I’ve been depressed three times. The first time I made a strong effort, just snapped myself out of it. And the second time, too. But each time the depression came back, and each time it came back stronger. The first two times I overcame depression, my recovery didn’t last long. I know now that the first two times I’d used effort but no wisdom, no understanding. During the last depression, I had no energy left in me to make the effort. Depression followed me everywhere.
The key for me in dealing with my depression was right attitude. I realized I’d have to use my wisdom to learn about it, understand it. By just recognizing the depression and being present with it. I would just recognize that this was nature, that this was just a quality of mind; it was not personal. I watched it continually to learn about it. Does it go away? Increase? What is the mind thinking? How do the thoughts affect feelings? I became interested. I saw that when I’d do the work with interest, my investigation would bring some relief. Before that I’d been at the depression’s mercy, but I learned I could actually do something. I was choosing to be proactive, to find out about depression, and then it lightened. That was the main thing, complete acceptance. I saw I was helpless to do anything, so I just let it be there. But I could examine it, do something with myself. I couldn’t do anything to it, but I could investigate it and come to know it.
Bottom line is, there is hope, even for the seemingly most intractable depression. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Truth Behind Desire

I was so glad I went to IMC on Monday. Gil gave a great talk on 'desire'.

Here are my notes:
Desire is not to be rid of. Rather, we need to have a wise relationship with it. Some desires are worth having, others are not. Each time, we need to carefully evaluate, is this wise or not? is this helpful or not? Sometimes compulsion makes it impossible to have that reflection. To evaluate, we need to look at the consequences for ourselves, and also for others. 
Desires are layered. We need to look at the surface desire, and what is the motivation underneath the desire. The quality of our intention has a big impact on the overall quality of our life. Are we motivated primarily by love or hostility, generosity or greed? We need to ask what is the the main purpose for our life, and then evaluate each of our desires against that purpose. 
We need to understand who is in charge? Us, or the desire? Are we in such a state of calm, contentment, and clarity, that we can see the desire and then have no need to pick it up? 
Simple guidelines. Important wisdom. Not taking desire at face value.

I know for myself, there has been many times when seemingly 'good' desire was in fact rooted in greed. And while I had a subconscious, intuitive sense of the truth, I chose to ignore it, not realizing the ultimate price. Conversely, I have also noticed how 'bad' impulses often arise out of a hurt place. Next time ill will arises, I will not be so quick to judge and feel even worse for it. There is a loving path to take there, that leads to a place of non reactivity and self-compassion. 

How do you relate to desire?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Not Falling Into the Traps

Many times, I feel like Alice (in Wonderland):
In a moment, down went Alice after it [the rabbit], never once considering how in the world she was to get out again. The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly, that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself, before she found herself falling down what seemed a deep well. Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her, and to wonder what would happen next. First, she tried to look down and make out what she was coming to, but it was too dark to see anything [...] Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to and end? "I wonder how many miles I've fallen by this time?" said she aloud, "I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth [...] she looked up, but it was all dark overhead [...] There were doors all round the hall, but they were all locked, and when Alice had been all round it, and tried them all, she walked sadly down the middle, wondering how she was ever to get out again. 
Every moment, the danger if one is not careful, of stepping into a trap, just like Alice. Actually, not just one, but many possible traps. We each have our own lot.

[...] suddenly she came upon a little three-legged table, all made of solid glass; there was nothing lying upon it, but a tiny golden key, and Alice's first ideas was that it might belong to one of the doors of the hall, but alas! either the locks were too large, or the key too small, but at any rate it would open none of them. However, on the second time round, she came to a low curtain, behind which was a door about eighteen inches high: she tried the little key in the keyhole, and it fitted! Alice opened the door, and looked down a small passage, not larger than a rat-hole, into the loveliest garden you ever say. How she longed to get out of that dark hall, and wander about among those beds of bright flowers and those cool fountains, but she could not even get her head through the doorway, "and even if my head would go through", thought poor Alice, "it would be very little use without my shoulders. Oh, how I wish I could shut up like a telescope! I think I could, if I only knew how to begin." [...] 
Once down at the bottom, it is no easy feat to surface again in the bright light . . . It can take years, a whole lifetime, and even that may not be enough. 

Every moment, an opportunity to pay attention, and to realize one is about to step into another dark pit. Saying a vigorous 'no, not going there'. And using the breath or the safety of a kind thought, to retreat and go around. 

That's just the way the mind is!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Glimpse of Emptiness

I did not want to miss the viewing of Our Life is Like Our Breath, yesterday at IMC. And I was not disappointed. We were treated to a peak into the life of the monks at the  international forest monastery, Wat Pah Nanachat in Thailand, and also the presence of Ajahn Gunavuddho, a theravadan monk. 

I asked myself, could I live in the monastery depicted in the movie, and the answer was, probably not. They don't welcome women anyway . . . 

I also came away with a temporary calmness, a joy, as is always the case after being in the presence of those whose quasi-emptiness come through. It gave me hope, particularly during this phase of my journey, when the pain from the hindrances is making itself felt so strongly. I have this image of a house needing to be cleaned. Sweeping, vacuuming don't take too much effort at first, but then, very quickly the grime underneath the surface dust gets exposed, and one has no choice but working at it patiently to finish the job. Un travail de longue haleine, as we say in French . . . Requiring patience, self-compassion, determination, and faith. This is why the monks play such an important role, as holders of the possibility within. Yes, the big chunks of caked up dirt can fall off eventually, making it possible for the natural calmness to be felt. Yes, there is no need getting too caught up in one's thoughts. Yes, practice is worth all the effort. Yes, it is possible to free the mind from its own trappings. Yes, unconditioned happiness is attainable. 
Having tasted sa degree of peace early on, which came from the simple practice of present-moment awareness, I took up intensive Zen training. But I soon found that this peace was elusive, as I encountered deep guilt, insecurity and suffering. I was shocked at how self-centered I was and how painful that self-centeredness could be. Because the only practice I knew was to be mindfully present, I spent a lot of time, both in formal practice and in my daily life, trying to have a settled presence with my suffering. Years later, I realized that in doing this I was slowly being "compassioned". My resistances and defenses gradually relaxed, and in their place grew tenderness and kindness. It was a process that seemed to soften a crust around my heart. 
~Gil Fronsdal, The Bodhisattva & the Arhat, Fall 2011, Inquiring Mind~ 

It has taken years for the crust to form. And it will take time, mindfulness, and loving kindness to release it. 

Meanwhile, I shall rejoice in the company of the monks and nuns whenever the opportunity arises. Getting a glimpse . . . 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Color of My Mom's Eyes

While preparing training materials for the first full Presence Care training, I have been spending some time with Charlotte Selver, the grande dame of sensory awareness. Through reading her,  I become aware more and more of the deadness that permeates most of the moments in my life. I can see how the thinking mind keeps interceding to deaden the full impact of raw experience, resulting in a never ending string of missed opportunities to live life fully. And with that dim realization, a subtle sadness, a subconscious longing for what is so close, and yet not taken. 

I like this article from Charlotte, on Learning Through Sensing
When I meet a person I can just look at her or him, but I can also see this person. That means my ability to react can be aroused by what I see or meet or do or whatever, or it can also stay sleeping and stay on the surface. [...] Let's say a massage therapist comes to our course and she thinks: "This is now a work in which we go further into touching, and that's another kind of skill which I'm interested in." She is mistaken. Everything we do is being in touch or coming in touch, be it massage or speaking or solving a difficult problem or having a great deal of fun. The question is to which degree I am burning for something, so to say. Am I there for this very situation or person and what are the consequences of this encounter? 
The more you build on repetition and division of different fields, the more you misunderstand the work which we are doing. Whatever we do embraces the whole universe, if you want so. The question is how we do it. If it is poor, it's poor. You will feel it, and it will guide you to fuller participation. Because in the moment you feel it is not quite satisfying to you, you are already on the way to more contact. So anything which you would feel is not quite it, leads you more to it. […] Every moment offers itself in its own way, and the question is how I answer it. In any given situation we can learn how to come more full-hearted and more open into contact, answering in the way we can already answer. If this isn't understood, the work isn't understood. It doesn't matter whether the situation is easy or difficult. Whatever is coming about needs to be met with the possibilities you have at the moment to greet it. Then you can learn. If you are not present nobody can help you. But if you feel it, then the next move would be to allow that which would make more contact possible. However, very often we are too lazy to allow that or we are too vain; or we have to do it correct in the first place, so we insist that this is right no matter what we feel. When you learn to let go of these old patterns and meet what you feel now, perfectly new, you will be grateful to feel where you hold yourself back. When you permit a pure heart and don't reproach yourself in any way, then you can learn through sensing. You will feel, "Here I am not open." And you would then allow little changes. And you would feel then, "It's still not open enough," and you would again allow a change, and then you would feel, "My, it's too open now." Then you would go a little bit back. It's a delightful way of learning. 
This is not about modifying or controlling yourself. You are already beautifully created. Only you can live so that the creation which you are is recognizable. One doesn't know who you are, and you don't know who you are, because you are so full of habits and what other people have told you. There's a certain relationship which we have to have with our inner functioning. That of respect and that of wonder. When we are quiet enough and positive enough that we can follow these fine indications inside which lead us to more functioning, we will find out what precious abilities we have which we usually don't use. The organism has these innate possibilities of renewing relationships, of balancing out, of healing, of recreating. This is not what we do, but these are properties of the organism since birth - they are inborn, inbuilt. Only we push them down as though they don't exist. We cover them by layers of habits and ideas, and spoil these very beautiful capacities. On top of that we learn new things which drive us even further away from our nature.
You have to come into a state of curiosity and deep interest for that which gradually may emerge out of the sum of many conditionings. It needs no criticism. It needs willingness to allow changes. It needs respect for something which is your nature but which you have not yet permitted it entirely. You may then feel that you don't want to repeat what somebody else told you to be right. You will know that, "this is what I really have to say." "This is what I really have to do." "This is how I connect with another person." "This is how I approach my task." 
No matter how difficult it is you can be present for something and learn from that - all day long, from morning 'til evening. Even when you go to the bathroom you can be fully present for what is happening. Each of your cells could be participating in what you happen to do or whom you happen to meet in the moment, if you really understand the organism as a living entity that is you, if you understand that every cell has mind. Every cell is sensitive. You could say you are all mind. You are all intelligent. (Well, not quite yet but maybe soon.) Even your teeth are mind. Even your rectum is mind. Everything's mind. Wouldn't that be a more animated life? Do you realize it's right next door? From one moment to the other it can happen, you can wake up more. You can allow a new connection. You can try again and again. Persistence is very important. Each time you come a little closer. What we do is not important in a way, although it is very important. But it is important that you see it as an example for everything you do. And as such it is important how you do it.
This morning, wiping my hands with a towel, I realized I had never really felt what it's like to have one's fingers rubbed with a piece of cloth. Not a big deal by itself, but an indicator of a much larger problem, including what happens when in relationships with other people. Relating to my children, relating to a girlfriend, relating to a client, the brain mind at its best gets fully engaged, and also the heart sometimes when the emotion come rushing. But the rest of the senses gets brushed aside.

A mindful touch practitioner once told me the story of a woman she had been working with, and whose Mom was close to dying. Her client had never really noticed the color of her mom's eyes until that one time she was guided in a mindful touch practice with her Mom. And the daughter all of a sudden realized "My mom's eyes are green! I never knew." What color is your mom's eyes? Do you know?

I am afraid to admit that I have never really looked into my mother's eyes.  Next time I fly over to visit her, I want to bring all of myself. I want to know the color of her eyes.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Way I Was Born

It's there, almost always. And I especially notice whenever I am sitting still.

'It' is an habitual state of fear that keeps on sticking and causing much unpleasantness. I used to think, if only I practiced long enough, maybe it would go away, for good. After all, Mingyur Rinpoche rid himself of a crippling panic disorder after three years going away on a retreat . . . 

More and more, I am inclined to give up that fantasy. Rather, I have come to see 'it' as part of the deal, a genetically inherited condition of semi-permanent anxiety, wired into me from birth and amply nurtured by a mother also dealt a similar card. My daughter, upon whom I can always count to tell me the truth, said to me the other day, "You are one of the most anxious persons I know!" She is right.

I had reasons to be anxious as a child. My mother did have what they called in those days a weak heart. She'd had rheumatic fever as a child and she had, as a consequence, she lived with a chronic coronary insufficiency and I worried about that. She actually died when I was in my very early 20s, so I've passed more than 50 years now without a mother. I wish I'd had one longer, but when I was a child, I worried about it a lot. But you know what I've found, Krista? There are people who are given to fretting without a fretful environment. I think it's actually — it's a — it's a genetic glitch of neurology and that it happens to some people and not for other people.
Actually, the Buddha said we have one of five genetic fallback glitches when we're challenged. He said some people fret, some people get angry, some people lose heart and all their energy goes and they don't know what to do with themselves, some people think, "Uh-oh, it's me. I didn't do things right. It's always my fault. I messed things up." And some people need to be sensually soothed. They think, "Where's a donut shop? Where's the pizza?" People have different tendencies. It was very, very helpful for me as an adult to learn that because it completely comes without a judgment. I don't have to say I am a chronic fretter. I could say, you know, when I'm challenged, fretting arises in my mind and it's not a moral flaw. It's very good for people who have a short fuse to be able to think, "You know, I have this unusual neurological glitch."
I tell it to people that my glitch is that "when in doubt, worry." It came with the equipment. I'm also short and I have brown eyes. If I could see that in the same neutral, it just came with the equipment, then I don't have to feel bad about it, but I can work with it wisely. That's really the important part, when we see as adults what it is that our fallback glitch is. You can say, "Uh-oh." And I think, in a certain way, that's a sign of wisdom when a person begins to be able to delineate this is what happens to me under tension.
As a piece of self-knowledge that makes a break in between a certain next step and that next step and say, "Whoa." So when I'm in an airport, for instance, or if I come to a place where I've agreed to meet my husband on a corner of a certain street at 5:00 and I come there at 5:00 and he's not there and it's five past five and he's not there, I could start to think maybe this, maybe that, maybe this, maybe that.
But I think to myself, wait a minute. That is just my peculiar neurological glitch kicking in. Probably not, you know, I could just wait here quietly. I could look in the windows. I could look at the people. I could say relaxing phrases to my own mind. I could wish well to the passersby. There are just lots of other things I can do.
Sylvia and I, and million others . . .

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Million Reasons To Not Go On Retreat

A year ago exactly, I was getting ready for a one week retreat with Jon Kabat-Zinn. I came home so jazzed up, I promised myself it would not be long before I would go again. Ruth Denison's Spring Retreat was only a few months away, and I called to save a spot. Then came a new work assignment that was simply too good to ignore, and the retreat with Ruth had to go. Same thing happened in the Fall with Gil Fronsdal's retreat. All my good intentions vanished with yet more work that could not wait. That's it, I swore, no more letting other worldly concerns get in the way. 

Next opportunity was the end-of-year retreat with Ruth. I had planned to go after our family Christmas. As time came near, a string of emails from Ruth's sangha sisters made it clear that the conditions for the retreat would not be optimal. Plus, I had not gone away with my husband for more than a year, and we were overdue for a trip, just the two of us. Off, I went with him to Hawaii. 

A whole year has passed, without any retreat. A few weeks ago, I took the bold step of signing up for a 13-day retreat with Leigh Brasington at Cloud Mountain. To solidify my commitment, I even paid the whole nine hundred some dollars. This time, there is no way, I am going to cancel! 

It is good that I am so determined. My resolution has already been tested twice. My husband is making some noise and wondering, why do you need to go on such a long retreat, and in Oregon? The kids will be all home at that time . . . Then there is the new work opportunity that just came up, that would require me to miss the first day of the retreat.  Such an exciting project!

The point is, there will never be a good time for a retreat. And yet, I also know the opportunity to dedicate an extended period of time to intensive mindfulness practice is one of life's most precious gifts, not just to oneself, but also the world around us.

How do you make the time for retreats? What are some of the challenges? Please share.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

In the Way

Walking up in the hills behind the Stanford campus, sitting still in the quietness of my office, running fast on the treadmill, inevitably, the same obstacle rises over and over again.

What is it that stands in the way of peace, right there, right now?

Certainly nothing to be found on the outside, but rather certain thoughts, all to do with 'I'. Mind-made constructs with the potency of obscuring the happiness of just being. Ideas that find fault with just walking or just sitting. Mind's compulsion to constantly build up the ego with plans about the future and roles to play. In all cases, shrinkage felt in the heart, and with it, suffering.

For now, nothing to do but be aware. At some point, maybe the mind will get tired?