Freedom From Suffering

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When I first starting going to a weekly Tergar meditation group, I was confused. At the beginning and end of each session, we could read an aspiration and dedication. Part of the closing dedication reads, “By the power of this compassionate practice may suffering be transformed into peace.”

That seemed like a rather lofty goal, and it seemed very esoteric. I thought that it was some kind of “woo-woo” thing that my mind in meditation would somehow change the vibration of the universe and ripple out to change the world. While that may or may not be true, there was a very practical interpretation of that phrase as to how my meditation practice could help ease the suffering of others.

As the weeks went by, I started noticing subtle changes in my own behavior. When someone would do something that used to really bother me, I found that it actually didn’t bother me anymore. I was able to respond to someone’s self-inflicted crisis in a compassionate and rational way.

Little by little, my calmer way of reacting to those around me began to generate a more peaceful environment. I wasn’t causing as much conflict. Therefore, their suffering was eased simply by me not contributing to their suffering!

While some of the phrasing still feels a little awkward to me, always talking about suffering and how all beings want to find happiness, I find it starting to become more natural. If you’re just starting formal meditation practice, please stick with it. If nothing else, you will find your own peace of mind increase. If you’re more advanced in your practice, thank you, and I hope to be more like you someday.

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Anchored to the Problem — I’m Drowning

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Imagine yourself trapped at the bottom of a body of water. You see a release valve and know that you must open the valve so that the water can drain and you will be able to breathe.

You work on turning the valve, but it is stuck. The harder you work, the more out of breath you feel. As you panic, you put even more focus on trying to turn that valve. It moves slighty, so you put even more effort into turning it. You are running out of breath and must get that valve turned to drain the water so you will live.

Now realize that you are only about 8 feet underwater. You are in a swimming pool, and all you need to do is reach the surface and take a deep breath of air. You are OK. There really was no need to drain the pool. In fact, there are many reasons to keep the water in the pool. You realize how silly it was to put in so much effort and to feel so much anxiety about opening the valve.

Focusing on draining that pool is like focusing on trying to solve whatever problem you have, especially if it involves another person. In meditation the other day, I realized how wrapped up I was in trying to “fix” another person. I could see how much suffering this person was experiencing. About 80 – 90% of my energy/life was focused on worrying about this person and trying to help solve their difficulty.

My mind was trapped, wrestling with this problem, and I could feel my heart rate increase and other symptoms of stress. The more I thought about the problem, the more critical it seemed that I should come up with a solution. It seemed that I could not experience peace of mind until I was able to “help” or change this person. In a way, it was my job. I was anchored to the problem.

Suddenly, that image of struggling to drain a pool came to me. I was entangled, chained to this problem. Yes, watching this person was painful, but that does not mean that I need to solve their problems. I don’t need to fix them.

Previously, when experiencing discomfort dealing with this person, my only thought was to make the feeling stop. Get away! Shut this situation down! That is the same as the feeling of panic at the bottom of the pool.

I do not need to solve this problem or change this person any more than I need to drain the pool. I need, instead, to learn to be comfortable with the discomfort. I needed to learn to experience those challenging emotions and thoughts without needing to escape them. As I learn to let go of those thoughts, emotions, and problems that are drowning me, my deepest wish is that you can find freedom too.

My Untrained Mind – The Crashing Car

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I’ve fallen off the wagon, so to speak. Not drinking or anything like that, but I lapsed in my meditation practice. From April until about mid-June of 2019, I was meditating every single day. Then I caught a cold, went on a trip, got back and caught another cold, and meditation was out the window.

In April I attended a Joy of Living workshop. After that, I faithfully followed the practice guide that was handed out at the end of the workshop. Through regular meditation, I was able to watch my mind and keep perspective. I was able to see some areas of my life, some of my behavior, that was causing me difficulty. Through effort, I was able to start making changes in my behavior and attitude.

Then, I quit meditating. I had lots of excuses, but the bottom line is probably just laziness. I had returned from my trip and was feeling better from the second cold, but I was still not meditating. The longer it’s been, the harder it is to begin regular meditation again.

Before the trip, I had been using the Insight Timer app,  and I had a huge motivation to keep up my consecutive streak. But once I blew that, the slightest discomfort discouraged me from meditating.

So, today was a beautiful day and I went into my backyard to meditate. I was so caught up with the swirls of thought — resentments, petty annoyances, thinking about what I wanted to do with that part of the yard — I didn’t even realize how non-present I was. Little by little, I was able to bring my awareness to these thoughts and emotions without getting lost in them.

What I realized is that an ‘untrained’ mind, my mind without regular meditation, is like a child trying to drive a car with no training. There’s this chaos of pedals and steering and radio blaring and windshield wipers and ticking turn signals. The car doesn’t actually go anywhere and ends up bumping into things and eventually crashing.

When I meditate, I am learning to bring awareness to my thoughts and emotions. The Tibetan word for meditation is ‘to become familiar with.’ Becoming familiar with the workings of my mind and learning how my mind operates is similar to learning how to operate the pedals and systems of a car. I am able to gain a measure of control and not merely be buffeted about by passing whims.

With meditation, I am learning how these thoughts, which often have actually nothing to do with what is happening in the present moment, color my experience of life. By becoming aware of this, I am better able to clearly act in a manner appropriate with the current circumstances. Having a painful memory does not have to cause me pain in the moment. I can realize that it is just a passing memory and then bring my awareness back to what is actually happening in the moment.

So, yet again, I remember how important meditation is to my on-going peace of mind. It is a journey full of ups and downs. May you also find peace of mind for today.

Fixed Mindset vs Growth Mindset

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I just watched an incredible TED talk that spoke to my under-achiever tendency  and gave me hope that I can change. Eduardo Briceno’s “The Power of Belief — Mindset and Success” used social science research to show how a fixed mindset (“I’m smart” or “I’m not good at sports” or “I’m talented at X, Y, or Z”) contributes to lower performance, while a growth mindset (“I can learn” or “I will practice”) can help catapult one toward success.

The good news is that he talks about how to change this mindset in ourselves and others. Focusing on the process rather than the result can help change a fixed mindset, which in turns helps instill traits such as grit or persistence.

This talk really challenged me to look at some of my core beliefs about myself and how those core beliefs actually prevent me from reaching my potential.

Taking Time to Play

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Your life is like a tapestry, made more beautiful with a rich variety of colors and hues, lights and shadows. This weekend, I got to remember how important it is to play. I can be so serious about meditation, recovery, and all the day-to-day drama and problems of the world and my family. Taking time to do things that bring me joy give me a fresh prospective on what it means to be ‘in the moment.’

I do medieval reenactment with an organization called the Society for Creative Anachronism. It’s a worldwide organization involved with many aspects of life pre-17th century (primarily Europe). Playing with this group is stimulating both intellectually and creatively. I can study and research different aspects, as well as let my creativity out with costuming, painting, and any number of other crafts.

I hadn’t been able to play for a while because of injuries and ‘real life’ problems. I kinda forgot how much fun I can have and how much I enjoy the company of others in the SCA. The weekend was a mix of feeling awkward and invisible, inspired and excited, and thoroughly entertained. I feel refreshed and ready to tackle the more serious aspects of my life.

My question to you is: what do you do for fun? Find something you love, that gives you joy, and soothes your soul. Hobbies can be active or sedate. By taking time to do things you truly love to do, you may find other aspects of your life become more enjoyable as well.

Easier Together: Group Meditation

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Why do I find it so much easier to meditate in a group setting? I recently visited a local branch of Tergar: The Meditation Community of Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. This group is from a Tibetan Buddhism tradition, yet is also heavily influenced by mindfulness meditation research.   I’ve only gone twice, but am excited about the teaching and practice I am finding there.

I frequently lapse in my regular meditation practice. Weeks (months?) go by with no ‘formal’ meditation, but merely moments throughout the day when I pause and take a quiet, reflective moment. When I do set actual time to meditate, sometimes even 15 minutes can feel like an eternity. I was using a meditation app for a while, but soon after was feeling constrained by the guidance.

When I joined the group in meditation, it felt like almost no time went by before he rang the bell at 20 minutes. I felt so refreshed. This group also has a discussion period focused on different themes. There is so much to learn! I’m looking forward to learning more, meditating more, and experiencing more joy in my life.

Oh No! I’m One of *Those*

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Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, I was a gym rat. While some who know me now might not believe it, I used to be in shape and eat healthy. That was before kids and all those other life things settled in.

I’ve been meaning to join a gym for a couple of years now. My plans always got derailed by things like car accidents, having to move, or admission to the hospital. However, for a few months I was, seriously, going to join a gym. I wanted to join the Y, but then the holidays came. Having been a gym rat, I always hated going to the gym in January because it was full of those New Years Resolution folks who join the gym in January and disappear by February. I did not want to be one, so decided I would wait until at least February.

Then one day, about a week ago, my husband and I were watching TV. A silly, fun commercial came on for Planet Fitness. It was ridiculously affordable, and that gym was actually the closest one to our house.

My husband says, “Hey, let’s go ahead and join… today!”

I groan, stating how I don’t want to join in January of all months!

But he convinced me (it’s better to start in January than not start at all) and signed us up online right then. I’m so glad he did. It’s only been a week, but it does feel so good to be exercising again.

Being healthy is a lifestyle choice. All I have is today, and I can choose to make good choices. I’ll still play Assassin’s Creed on the XBox and eat chocolate, but I can be in better shape at my next birthday than I was at the last.

When I Follow My Intuition… and When I Don’t

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Alternative title:  How I Create My Own Problems

When I contrast yesterday with today, it is crystal clear how I create my own problems by not following my intuition. Yesterday, I ignored it, and the day was painful. Today, I listened, and experienced a miracle.

Yesterday, I went grocery shopping. Simple enough, but the complicating factor was that I had lost my debit card a little while ago. I got my new card on Christmas Eve, but they assigned a new PIN and I didn’t have that yet. As I prepared to go shopping, my thought was, “Oh, I have my card so I can finally go grocery shopping.” I forgot about the fact that I didn’t have my pin.

As I was leaving the house, I had the thought, “I should stop by the Post Office before going shopping.” (Long story about how there is no home delivery of mail where I live.) But I ignored that still, small voice.

There were two grocery stores I could have gone to. I chose to go to the less expensive one. What I ‘forgot,” is that the cheaper store only accepts debit card (with PIN), or cash, or check. So, I racked up almost $100 in groceries, including lots of frozen food, and when I tried to use my card it didn’t work. The internal rage was… uncomfortable, to say the least.

If I had decided to go to the other store, I could have run as credit. If I had stopped by the post office, I would have gotten the letter containing my new PIN. But, I did neither. I raged, with my son beside me. I called my husband and arranged to go by his work and get his card. All the while, so angry, and my son thinks I am angry with him and he didn’t do anything and he is getting more and more upset. I’m too angry to be sensitive to what he is experiencing and get madder. It was a mess.

I got my husband’s card, paid for my groceries, apologized to my son, dropped him off at a friend’s house, and went home. I could feel my blood pressure up and the bile in my stomach rising. The physical effects of stress are quite palpable to me and felt immediately.

So, jump to today. I’m giving my son a ride to a different friend’s house. We actually pass the street, and it took a bit to turn around and pull up the address. When we get to the apartment complex, we turn in to the wrong driveway. However, there is a woman sitting at the end of the drive smoking a cigarette. I swear it looks like a friend I had been worried about for several month who pretty much disappeared. She was bundled up, and I was still a short distance away, but I ‘knew’ it was her. But I would have felt stupid driving all the way up for it to not be her, so I pulled out of the driveway.

We found the right driveway, my son got out, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that WAS my long-lost friend. I decided to risk looking stupid and went back to the other driveway. I pulled all the way up, looked, and it was in fact my friend.

I was overjoyed to see that she was alive and safe. When a lot of your friend are recovering addicts and alcoholics, it is not uncommon for people to relapse and die. We hugged and talked and talked and hugged. I felt such joy knowing that she was OK. She had gotten really sick again, but was doing well and had not relapsed.

Driving home, I reveled in what a miraculous reunion that was. If we had left 10 minutes earlier or later…. If we had driven straight to the right street and not arrived several minutes later… If we had pulled into the correct driveway the first time. Millions of ways for us not to have been reunited, not to mention if I had ignored my intuition with the rational thought, “That’s too much of a coincidence. It can’t be her.”

So many times I ignore my intuition. All the times I’m inspired to write but am too lazy, have ‘important’ things to do, say I’ll do it later but never quite get around to it.

Today, being New Year’s Day, I can make a decision to pay more attention to my intuition. I can re-dedicate myself to finding that time to commune with Spirit so my intuition is stronger and clearer. With so much to be grateful for, I know that the closer I follow my Higher Power’s will via my intuition, the more joy I get to experience. I hope today is a day that you also follow your intuition for a blissful day.

Brene Brown TED Talk “Listening To Shame”

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I’ve been struggling with not being who I want to be. It’s been exacerbated by being physically unwell for what feels like a month or more. So, I decided to do something to help myself feel better, more accepting, and inspired.

My go to? Find a TED talk.

This talk by Brene Brown about vulnerability and shame sheds light on how that can be the entry way towards greater innovation, creativity, and change.

Brené Brown: Listening to shame
http://go.ted.com/jrRz_Q

Learn more about watching TED Talks on all of your favorite platforms: https://www.ted.com/about/programs-initiatives/ted-talks/ways-to-get-ted-talks

Feeling Safe In an Unsafe World

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It’s easy to feel unsafe in today’s world. This week’s events remind me again how dangerous it is to be certain things in America: black, Jewish, critical of the President. But more than that, it is dangerous to go to school, go to a concert, or fly in a plane. Yet, to stay sane, I have to find a way to still function despite such frightening times. The kids need dinner, bills need to be paid, and the dogs need to go outside

I was reminded yesterday that, even in my little bubble-world of privilege, life is dangerous. At a meeting about my son, the topic came up of the car accident he and I were in. I had done everything right, but someone else ran a red light. Flash memories of the pain and the long convalescence came back. Even though many have suffered far greater, I felt panic and was fighting the urge to flee the room.

The truth is, being alive is an inherently dangerous task. It will always end in death. And while it seems that today’s world is scarier than ever, is it really more tenuous than during historical times? I don’t fear plagues wiping out half the population or marauding bands raping and pillaging their way through the countryside. A saber-toothed cat or dire wolf won’t be wandering into my campsite.

But the daily news brings fresh grief for those who lost their lives while shopping and praying. I cannot afford to live in fear and despair, yet in truth, I am afraid and sad.

Searching for a solution, I find the ‘tender reed’ that has become my bedrock. I have to turn my thoughts to a spiritual purpose. I have to keep things simple and do what is right in front of me. I can do my small part to try to make the world a better place. I can vote, give words of encouragement to a friend, or write an essay. Today I can choose to walk in the sunlight of the spirit and pray that you do as well.