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.

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.

 

 

 

 

Not Returning To My Regularly Scheduled Program

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Feels like my life just took a break for a special announcement. When I got home from the hospital, I was thinking about how on TV, when there’s an interruption in programming for a special announcement, when it’s done they have the canned “We now return you to your regularly scheduled program.” I thought, yeah, now I can get back to my routine.” Then I realized that may not be the best idea.

Went in to the hospital for chest and left arm pain. I had also been throwing up, so after G-I tract meds did not relieve the pain, they tried nitro. When that removed the pain, they decided to keep me for more testing. The good news was that all the blood test showed no heart attack. They did a chemical stress test, and the next day a resting stress test. While waiting for those results, they gave me Prilosec to see if the pain was simply referred pain from a G-I issue.

The Prilosec actually helped quite a bit. Everyone expected the stress test would come back completely normal and I would go home and follow-up with my primary. But the stress test had an “irregularity.” They could not definitively say if there was a problem with the heart or not, so we decided to do an angiogram to make sure.

The good news is that, structurally, everything looked really good with the heart and nothing was clogged. As a side note, however, there were indications that I’ve had high blood pressure for a while and should start treating that with my primary doctor.

That all started Monday night, and I came home on Friday. I have started on blood pressure medication, but I’m thinking there needs to be more changes. Making that decision is the easy part, but where to start?

Obviously, I need to up the meditation to reduce stress, as that has lagged quite a bit. We’re also going to join the YMCA. But there’s more I need to do.

My house stresses me out. So, I hired professional to help, and this week she is coming to the house to help me start decluttering . Circumstances (two moves and a car accident that had me sidelined for several months) contributed to my home being out of control. I’ve tried on my own, but I need help.

I have visions of a clutter-free home where I can sew medieval garb, paint with watercolors, and bake fresh bread  at will. I can imagine all the family members helping with the upkeep and care of the home, dishes, and day-to-day cleaning. Then we’ll all be smiling and sitting around a table playing games to all hours of the night and life happily ever after. Right?

Well, one little step at a time. My heart is strong, and I want to keep it that way for many, many years to come. It’s never to late to try something different. Today I’ll make one small step towards a healthier me.

End of the World… or Just Under the Weather?

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It’s never when I’m feeling the worst, but it seems that when I start feeling better after being sick (cold, flu, middle-ear infection with vertigo), I often go through this period of feeling hopeless and helpless. It goes something like, “I haven’t been doing anything. I never do anything. I will never do anything. I’m a terrible person.”

It’s a feeling of impending doom. It’s that middle space between being so sick that I can barely move (and therefore am kind and forgiving of myself) to feeling well and charging ahead. I want to get stuff done, but just don’t quite have the energy to get going and get caught up with all I missed.

Anyway, that’s where I’ve been. Sometimes just acknowledging where I’m at helps. So, I’m getting back to it, all the daily stuff that keeps me going. I may not get caught up today, but at least I can stop myself from falling further behind.