The Impermanence of Clean Dishes

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I am a terrible housekeeper. I just don’t like cleaning. Among my many faults, people-pleasing is not one of them. This is unfortunate, because my primary role for the last 15 years or so has been that of the stay-at-home mom.

This is an issue I’ve addressed over and over and over. I’ve written about it in 4th steps, I’ve talked to therapists, I’ve tried different methods such as Fly Lady and hired a personal organizer (who helped phenomenally). Whatever I did, that underlying (and sometimes overwhelming) dread of having to do housework never left.

I recently saw a meme that said, “I’ve always loved butterflies because they remind us that it’s never too late to transform ourselves.” Perhaps something might shift.

In my meditation practice this morning, I recited, one more time, “Like waves in the ocean all things are impermanent. I will accept whatever happens and make it my friend.

It suddenly struck me, my false belief is that the dishes will magically stay clean! I will go a while, keeping up with this ever-so-mundane chore, then get frustrated that, no matter how hard I work, everything just gets dirty again. I have this ridiculous expectation that there will be a point where I will be “Done.”

But, the impermanence of the clean dish defies my desperate wishes. Perhaps a slight attitude shift will help me. I’ve been stuck in this pointless grasping at the idea that housework is a one-and-done situation.

Perhaps if I can view the mounting dirty dishes as just a wave in the ocean and make it my friend, my stress, agitation, frustration, and anger about constantly doing dishes will abate. I could approach this chore like greeting a dear person I hadn’t seen in a while….

Or, at least maybe I won’t be so snappish when I leave the kitchen spotless only to return less than an hour later and find five plates, two bowls, countless silverware and cups and empty cereal boxes and yogurt containers and massive piles of god-knows-what spread out all over the counter, stove, top of microwave, and any other flat surface.

Image by pignuna from Pixabay

Grab the Rope

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I just finished day 2 of a four-day Buddhist retreat. It has been joyous, frustrating, boring, and hysterical. So many things were affirmed for me. Perhaps mostly, once again, I see the root of all spiritual paths to be the same. The more I learn about Buddhism, the deeper my understanding of the 12-steps gets.

Yesterday, we had a teaching from Khenpo Kunga. He was talking about how we take refuge. He likened it to being in rough water. There are other people there, but when we try to grab onto others who are also struggling in the water, it can make it worse.

We see the shore. The shore is safe haven. One could call it Buddha, or God, or Higher Power. But just seeing it does not help.

Then we see someone is standing on the shore. They see us, but they cannot reach us. How can they help?

The person on shore can throw us the rope. The rope is a method to reach the shore. You could call this the Dharma or you could call it the 12 steps. But just seeing the rope, having it thrown at us, does not help.

We must each grab the rope to pull ourselves to safety. That is how the others around us can help. The can give us directions. When someone makes it to shore, they have a clearer understanding to guide us to where the rope is and teach us how to haul ourselves out of the suffering.

Those who call to us to grab the rope, who show us that it can be done, to show us how they did it, could be called the sangha, or the congregation, or the Fellowship of a 12-step program. The person who made it to shore and can better guide us to the rope could be called a sponsor.

No matter how strong the rope, how firm the shore, or how many people have made it out, the bottom line is, I must grab the rope. I must make the effort. I must put in motion the causes to bring about my own recovery.

There are so many out there drowning. If I throw you a rope, would you grab it?

Ready to Retreat

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I’m nervous. I’m entering a four-day meditation retreat in the morning. I’ve never done anything like this before.

I’ve been practicing a style of Tibetan Buddhism for about a year and a half. Before that, with 30 years sober in a 12-step program, I’ve had periods of doing a bunch of different meditation styles. But I had never been able to establish a regular daily practice.

Then I attended a Tergar Joy of Living workshop in early 2019. That changed everything for me.

Isn’t that what are lives are? A series of ‘events’ that change everything?

Anyway, Tergar usually has annual summer retreats in Minnesota. Of course, this year, the year of The Virus, that’s not possible. So, they decided to make the retreats online. My husband and I were excited about that because it would be so much cheaper (and more convenient) to do a retreat without having to travel.

But our home is not very conducive to quiet retreat. Several different retreats will take place consecutively. So, my husband had the idea that we take turns and stay at a hotel to

get as immersive an experience as possible. He did his a couple weeks ago. Now it’s my turn.

While I was packing a few things, I realized I was nervous. It’s going to be a lot of meditation. I typically do 20-30 minutes of meditation daily. The retreat will be several hours of meditation each day. Can I do it?

Then I realized there was something else going on. I was nervous about checking into a hotel and staying locked in the room for four days. For this addict, that feels like old behavior; the only reason to stay inside a hotel room for four days without leaving would be to have a cocaine, alcohol, and/other substance binge.

The thought of checking into the hotel brought up that old insanity, the ceaseless cycle of craving. It reminded me of the grinding pain that active addiction brings. I could feel the jones.

Tonight, tucked into this little room, I participated in our group’s meditation practice via Zoom. We did a thing of deconstructing emotions. I was able to look at all the different physical sensations this anxiety was creating, and that made the anxiety seem much less solid. After feeling like i couldn’t breathe all day, I’m finally relaxed.

The retreat starts at 7 a.m. so for now, I can just chill and enjoy eating the snacks I brought. Until tomorrow….

Faith: Crutch or Walking Stick?

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They say that religion is the opiate of the masses. Ernest Hemingway said that “All thinking men are atheists.” Friedrich Nietzsche says, “Faith means not wanting to know what is true.” *

I’ve also heard it said that faith is like a crutch for people who are weak. Some might see faith and religion as something that defines and limits you. But I believe that it can empower you.

As a member of a 12-step program, relying on my Higher Power is critical to my survival. And it is so much more than that. It has given me the direction and courage to go places and do things I had never dreamed possible.

A friend of mine and I were reading “The Pagan in Recovery: The Twelve Steps from a Pagan Perspective” by Deirdre A. Hebert. There, she talks about seeing Faith as a walking stick, and not a crutch. Faith can be the tool to help you go out into the world, to find adventure. It helps you find balance. It can add to your strength, not because you don’t have your own power, but so that you can go farther.

I really like this analogy. Some people might not want to try to get sober or become involved in a 12-step program because they think it will limit them. But the opposite is true. By not drinking or using drugs, I am free to travel anywhere and to see my dreams and aspirations come true.

In sobriety, I have gone to Grateful Dead shows (yes, I got sober before Jerry Garcia died). I have traveled in Australia by myself. I have deep and meaningful friendships. I am free to learn and grow and change.

So I ask, what is limiting you today?

*Quotes from Top 15 Quotes By Famous Atheists.

Imagine if ALL Lives Really Did Matter

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Try to imagine a world where all lives really did matter. All lives, regardless of skin color, religion, country of origin, immigration status, gender identity, sexual preference, age, socio-economic class, what language you speak and how well you speak it, your physical or intellectual or mental or emotional ability, how much money you have, who your parents or grandparents or any other family members or friends are, what you look like, your weight, how many children you have and when you had them, marital status, how many people you love and have as partners, your job, your criminal record…. The list could go on. Imagine the humanity of it.

If all lives really did matter:

  • We would not stand by and watch when someone says “I can’t breathe”
  • We would not have to watch them die
  • We would not have militarized police in any neighborhoods
  • Everyone would have a place to call home if they wanted it
  • Everyone would have a job if they wanted one
  • No one would  die of cold or heat in their own home because they couldn’t pay the bill
  • We would have good schools everywhere, including poor neighborhoods, in rural areas, and the inner-city
  • There would be equity in the law and about which laws were enforced and on whom who they were enforced and how punishment was doled out
  • Prosecution would depend solely on the merits of the individual case
  • Plainly speaking, there would be no mass incarceration
  • People who made mistakes in the past would be allowed to change and grow and find meaningful employment and have the right to vote
  • Everyone would have access to healthy and nutritious food to eat and the ability to get it
  • No children would be in cages at the border
  • Refugees would be taken care of
  • We would not have pollution because every place would be the backyard of someone who mattered
  • Everyone would have physical and mental health care and substance abuse treatment immediately when needed

Everytime you use the words “us” or “them,” examine who you are referring to. Are you vilifying a group of people, lumping vastly different individuals into a single category? Can you listen deeply to opinions and about experiences that differ from your own? Would you try to understand? I have to ask myself these questions as well.

So, think about it. Do all lives really matter to you?

Buddhists, Take Action

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I have heard criticism about the lack of social action often found in Buddhist communities. While not unwarrented, I believe that if you truly follow that path, you naturally awaken to your innate love and compassion. At that point, you have no choice but to engage in compassionate action to help alleviate suffering in whatever capacity you have.

I do not say this to make anyone feel guilty or inadequate. We are not all born to be on the front lines, but we each have our own abilities, skills, and talents. We can each start where we are. In the words of the Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, from The Heart Is Noble: Changing the World from the Inside Out, “Our inclinations will guide our actions, and our abilities will also place limits on what we are able to do at any given point in our development of compassion.”

I often wish I was the kind of person who would travel to protests and use my white body in defence of black bodies. I wish I was the kind of person who dug deep into history and law to be a catalyst for positive change in our society. That is not my path, but I do have an obligation to act in whatever way possible.

I was encouraged to receive an email that was sent out from the head of the Tergar Meditation Community, Mingyur Rinpoche. The overall message is copywrighted and intended for Tergar members, but I wanted to share a short excerpt:

“Our response to suffering is often to meditate…. But prayers and meditation are not enough, especially in times like this. Meditation must be accompanied by wise, compassionate action.” –Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

Even small actions add up. Whatever your spiritual (or not) path, I hope that you are open to learning, to expand your view, and to seek positive change. The statement “All Lives Matter” is not true until, in fact, black lives matter. Until the lives of people of color are protected, valued, and honored, and until their voices are heard, then we are in fact living in a society that not all lives matter.

I am committed to examining my own ideas, beliefs, and prejudices. I will not be perfect, but I can be open to learning and identifying my own false beliefs. I hope you join me on that journey.

There are many reading lists out to educate yourself about racism, the history of it in America, and paths toward making social change. Here is one list, Do the work: an anti-racist reading list, put out by The Guardian. I would also add the book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.

Rediscovering My Love of Fiction

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It had been a long time since I enjoyed reading a novel. I mean really enjoyed, like completely enveloped in the story and having no sense of time and not able to put the book down.

I’ve been reading for Purpose. I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction (usually meditation-related) books. Although I enjoyed the reading, it could not be classified as “pleasure reading.” I was studying the text, underlining, and contemplating. The purpose was Learning.

The novels I had been reading were also for a Purpose. I was reading as a writer, meaning that I was studying the craft the author was using. I’ve also been reading novels for the content. I chose books because the viewpoint or environment was something I wanted to learn about for my own current writing project. Some in the latter category were not particularly well-written, so I had to force myself to get through them.

Then, one night, I was feeling like I needed to escape. I had just finished yet another Netflix binge and was sick of that form of entertainment. I wanted to read something fun.

I have an Amazon Fire tablet and a Prime account. So, I opened it up and looked at what free reading I could take advantage of. I’m kindof a snob when it comes to Literature. I often choose literary novels or works from cultures outside my own (I especially love Cuban and African literature). While I enjoy reading those, it’s not always the complete escape I was yearning for.

I chose the selection in the “Contemporary Fiction” category. Not where I usually go, but hey, it was free, so why not. I downloaded and started reading “If You Must Know: A Novel (Potomac Point Book 1) by Jamie Beck.

I flew through the pages. I was incredibly annoyed when anyone interrupted me. I could not put the book down. Uncharacteristic of me, I finished the 300+ page novel in 2 days. I was engrossed in the story, the characters, the place. I had forgotten how much I love reading.

I had been stuck in my own writing project, plagued by the “who cares”  and “why bother” demons. I had been reading so many works that had a Purpose, that I forgot about the purpose that ordinary fiction had.

I was reminded of a quote by Gabrielle Bellot:  “Books, even when we do not realize it, can save us.” Reading gave me a chance to see the world through someone else’s eyes, gave me a little tilt of the head that refreshed the entire scene.

I’m hoping that rediscovering my love of reading novels will inspire me to finish my own novel. It is a book that only I can write, from my perspective, with the characters I create. Regardless of what happens with the finished product, I remembered how much I love getting lost in my own story. I again yearn to visit that world and discover what will happen next.

I almost titled this post “How Amazon Prime Saved My Life.” It gave me the opportunity at just the right time to take a chance on a novel I knew nothing about. I hope I remember to give myself the privilege of reading fiction for no greater purpose than to enjoy reading a good story. May you find those things you enjoy,  and do them just because you enjoy them.

(Image by Comfreak  from Pixabay“>Pixabay)

Shoulda Been Home 2 Hours Ago

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I was blessed to be in a Zoom 12-step meeting tonight with some amazing ladies from Guam. We were talking about Step 1, powerlessness. Someone mentioned how, when actively drinking or using, the obsession and compulsion would take control. She talked about being out, knowing she should have been home hours before, but not being able to leave.

It took me right back to that feeling. That internal anguish, just intolerable. I haven’t taken a drink or drug for over 30 years, but I still have to remember that, if I do, I will lose all control. I just needed to sit in that feeling for a moment and remember what absolute powerlessness felt like. When I was out there, I had no choice but to do what I was doing even though I did not want to.

Of course, these meager words here can’t possibly convey the depth of that feeling. What it left me with was profound gratitude for my life today. I don’t have to do anything against my will. I have freedom of choice.

Now, I don’t always make the best choices, like when I scream so that my kids KNOW that I am right. But as long as I don’t pick up, I have a chance to keep getting better.

That’s it. If you’re out there and cannot stop drinking or using, please know that I was in that place, too. There is a way out. It may seem impossible, but you only have to try it, just for a day, just for a few hours, just for a few minutes. You are not alone.

Spiritual Practice: Now More Than Ever

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Why do I, when things go bad, stop doing the things that help me the most? I can think of my time in college. When I got the most stressed and needed clear thinking so badly, like around mid-terms and finals, that was always when I would let my spiritual practice falter.

Through this difficult time of The Pandemic 2020, I need to constantly be reminded to dedicate time to my spiritual practice. I keep track of my meditation time through the app for Insight Timer. One feature I like is that, when I finish a meditation, I can see other people who were meditating at the same time. If you want, you can send a message “Thanks for meditating with me.” You can “friend” people, join different groups, or just see others who were also meditating in your area.

I’ve noticed that there seem to be fewer people meditating at the same time as me. It may be that I’m just meditating at different times of the day, but it reminds me of my own tendency to stop doing what works.

I wanted to share a talk that I listened to on March 26, 2020, from Cortland Dahl, one of the teachers for Tergar Meditation Community. At about 9 minutes in, he leads a basic Buddhist meditation. After the meditation, he has some wonderful, insightful comments and suggestions for dealing with this unique time in our collective history.

Whatever your practice, may you find some Grace to bring you comfort, and may you feel safe and happy.

It Doesn’t Make Sense… Until It Does

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As a relative newcomer to formal meditation practice — about 1 year of daily, formal meditation — I have a lot of moments when those phrases I’ve heard tossed around, such as “causes and conditions ” or “spaciousness,” suddenly make sense. Of course, I thought it made sense before, but you don’t know what you don’t know.

Perhaps that is what is most exciting about the phrase from the AA Big Book, “continued to grow along spiritual lines.” As I delve deeper into my own mind, everything around me seems to become fresh and new again.

Now, tomorrow I may completely disagree with these thoughts, but I just hope that you are continuing to seek your own truth and see the world open around you. Keep it interesting.