Sitting on a Bench

I went for a walk with my husband earlier this week. It was a glorious blue sky July day.

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Highbanks Park, Cols. Ohio, photo by me

Sometimes my hip bothers me, and it did on this day. So, I sat on a bench in the shade, facing a small stream, eyes closed. It was very quiet. Except for the sound of gurgling water. It was very still. Except for fluttering birds and scurrying chippies.

The setting, the silence and the alone-ness were a recipe for a little meditation.

I felt my feet planted firmly on the ground. Silence and stillness. I was alone.

I opened my eyes after a little while and listened to the quiet sounds of this place. I saw in front of me the pale purple of vetch, the greenness of leaves. I could smell the earthy scent of slightly damp soil.

An emotional wave of humility and gratitude washed over me. I was so aware of the gift of sitting there, on that bench, in that spot, with the trees and flowers and a singing bird there with me. There was nothing that could have been more complete. And as I sat there in the awareness of the moment, feeling small and insignificant in a larger world, I also felt a pang. There was an out-breath that seemed to release from deep inside of me the sorrow and sadness for Others. Those struggling in poverty. Those who struggle with addiction. The incarcerated . The misunderstood. Refugees. The people in Syria and South Sudan. People we make invisible because of fear or misunderstanding. Or simply because we are unaware.

It was a profound moment. It was a bit of a confused feeling. On the one hand I was so grateful to be in this calm, serene, safe place under a blue sky, feeling the warmth of the summer sun. On the other hand I felt guilty, uncomfortable. This is where I often find myself. This weighs on my heart and my soul. Why am I blessed with all of this when so many others struggle and suffer so unimaginably?

Some folks read these blog posts and contact me with comments like, “I’m sorry you’re so sad.” These thoughts often don’t feel good and they do make me feel sad. But the feelings tell me I haven’t shut myself off to or given up on caring, on feeling, of being concerned for others, of wanting others to be lifted out of pain and suffering. I’d rather experience the sadness than have no awareness, thoughts or feelings about these things. Sometimes people say, “Just turn off the news.” Nope. I dial it back sometimes, but not off. I don’t want to be dumb and blind to the realities of the people on this planet. I want to be informed. To understand. I want to know so I know how to help. To learn. To grow. To learn what needs to be done to heal.

Healing and transformation are possible the moment we accept the actuality of things as they are—good, bad, or ugly—and then act on that understanding with imagination, kindness, and intentionality. This is not easy or painless, by any means, but it is both an embodiment of and a path toward wisdom and peace.” ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn

I do not accept that this is as good as we get as a country. There is much to be improved on. As a piece of the global puzzle and as a home land.

“What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this; what greater form of patriotism is there; than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals? ” ~Barak Obama

All kinds of people and communities have to make a choice. To decide to do, to be, something different. Or not. To respond, react and act differently. Or not. We have to be unafraid rather than afraid. Or not. We have to ask questions and listen in order to understand instead of assuming we “know”. Or not. We have to figure out how to look outside of the box for new ideas and solutions. Or not.

In among all the struggles what are the common threads? What do we share with the people we fear, disagree with, hate? There has to be engagement, generosity and community building. We have to figure out what inspires us as individuals to act from a place of integrity even when it means going contrary to the status quo. And how can these circles of compassion widen? How do we, you, I, facilitate this?

I know I do not want to be afraid of anything simply because I do not understand or agree with someone or something. I do not ever want to feel I need to distance or separate myself because something or someone is different from me. With that kind of defensive behavior I run the risk of running back to and hiding in what is familiar, what is comfortable, what I identify with. I run the risk of being closed off. Of being constricted. And, in all honesty, I do these things. I am trying so very hard to be stronger than my fears, than my anger. But it is very, very hard.

It’s a tough job reining in all our identifications with the worries, the fears and the narratives our mind creates. Our expectations, judgement and opinions create divides that we give great importance and power to. All those things come from our biases, our lack of trust, our sense of protecting what we perceive is ours.

 Nisargadatta says, “The mind creates the abyss, and the heart crosses it.

What could we be without all the crazy, worry filled, fear based ideas that come into our minds and our lives? What would it be like if we stopped separating ourselves from others and Nature? What would happened if we nurtured our fundamental awareness and being that realizes the connected-ness in life rather than the isolating, separated-ness that sometimes happens in life?

Wisdom is knowing we are all one.
Love is what it feels like.
Compassion is what it looks like.”
Ethan Walker III

We really need to get to the point of healing, bridging the abyss, regaining the power and force of being connected to others and other living things. Of cradling Earth in gentleness and respect.

This force of separateness grows fear. We claw at and grab in attachment, to things, ideas, places, power. We become constricted, grow defensive, ambitious, and territorial. We protect things that cause us to feel separated from, better than, more deserving of, entitled to. We work to bolster and protect these things, forgetting to look up and around. It is seen in religion, in politics, in National pride…..it manifests as jingoism, racism, intolerance, aggression, repression, oppression….

If we stop. Just stop. What whispers to us? What calls out to us? Who are we? Who do we want to be? What is our true nature…?

Do we find ourselves standing at the place that is common ground for each one of us? All of us? The shared Earth? The need for the fundamentals required for a healthy life: food, water, shelter, medicine, clothing. The human need for love, both in the giving and receiving of. Companionship. A sense of belonging. A sense of purpose.

So, how do we inspire ourselves and others to work towards this? To walk away from apathy, isolation, separateness, our sense of correctness/ superiority?

“…we must also inspire, because inspiration is how we motivate action.”  Ian Reifowitz

Please share, please tell me: What inspires you? What calls you to action? What bridges do you want to build?

**Readings from This Week
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What Grounds Me

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Over the years I have journeyed down several different paths hoping to find peace of mind and peace of heart. I have been blessed with a life that has not made too many difficult demands or presented too many roadblocks. Still, for me, it is helpful to have a “prayer” to use. In my case “prayer” as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary: “an earnest request or wish”. I try to begin each day with a centering of some kind to get the day going, and then a different focus at night to let the day go and find peaceful rest.

I grew up the daughter of an Episcopal minister. I went to church on Sundays, Sunday school classes, confirmation classes and was confirmed. I understand it is not just about comfort, but I never found comfort in any of this. There was never a stirring in my heart from any of this. No song that wanted to sing out in joy, praise, humility. Anything.

In a previous post I wrote a bit about this:
https://kathrynwonders.wordpress.com/2014/09/28/be-soft/

Over the years I have tried this and that. I’m not really able to articulate what I was looking for. It was not about a supreme Being. Maybe not even about “spirituality”. More of a path that I could walk on in kindness, compassion, empathy and love. Free from fear, hate, judgement, right or wrong, self pride. For myself and for others.

As I sit here now, if I had to, I guess I would call what I practice, the path I try to follow, Loving Compassion. It’s just about trying to be a “good” person, a caring person, a loving and compassionate person. Someone who tries to cause no harm.

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My “prayer” for many years now has been The Metta Prayer.

There are some variations, but each one has the same pattern: a prayer for yourself, a prayer for someone you love, a prayer for a mentor or someone you do not know well, but see often, a prayer for someone you struggle with and a prayer for all beings everywhere.

It is humbling to include all these people in my prayer and thoughts. It takes time to be comfortable in beginning with myself….but if I am not “taken care of” by myself, how can I take care of others?

And it helps me to ground myself in this moment. It connects me to others. It helps me embrace all others, no matter what. I can always wish for others, and myself, happiness, peace, health, love.

May I be safe.
May I be healthy.
May I be happy. 
May I be at ease.

Begin with yourself. This is often hard at first…..we tend to take care of others before ourselves. But we have to. After being offering this kindness to yourself, change the prayer to focus on someone you care about and love unconditionally. Imagine them sitting in front of you. Say their name. And then move on to someone who plays any role in your life, but you do not have a strong relationship with…maybe the cashier at the grocery, the parking lot attendant, the mail carrier….someone you see and interact with often. Or, perhaps it could be someone who is a mentor to you in some way. Someone you have regular contact with. Say their name, visualize their face. Now move on to someone you have difficulty with. To forgive, understand and accept is difficult. It may be a struggle, but don’t give up….And finally, your love flows out to the world.

May all beings be safe, healthy, happy, at ease.

When we wrap ourselves in love and care, and embrace others with the same, something changes in us.

I began this years ago before going to bed. A way of closing the the day and letting go in order to find rest and renewal in sleep. I began at a time when I was having the relatively new emotions of anger, hurt and resentment towards someone who had been an important part of my life for many years. The burden was so heavy. I had to find a way to work towards acceptance and forgiveness. I found that this worked very well, although it took time. I discovered it also changed me in other ways. As I gave directed thoughts of love and kindness to others in my daily life, I softened and found a quietness and calmness in life. It also reflected back to me in the way others interacted with me.

When I wish all others safety, good health, love, happiness and peace, it helps me find the bond with all others….every person, everywhere, hopes for and deserves these things by virtue of our shared humanness. They are no different from me.

There are many variations of the words and if this is of interest to you I encourage you to do some research and find the version that speaks to you.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjfCS88Gc7Q

Happy New Year

Happy New Year

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“I think over again my small adventures
My fears, those small ones that seemed so big
For all the vital things I had to get and reach
And yet there is only one great thing
The only thing
To live to see the great day that dawns
And the light that fills the world.”

– Unknown Inuit

Another year on the calendar has cycled through. Many of us make New Year’s resolutions….a commitment to starting the New Year fresh and with purpose. Sometimes we say these hopes out loud, sometimes not. Many of us joke, wondering how long before we break the promises we have made to ourselves.

I’ll make mine again…..

This year my resolution is to be present in the moment. As in the poem above, I want to be aware of and attentive to the blessing of life, the wonder of the rising sun, of light filling the world and of each and every moment. I want these things to be the stepping stones for each day. The path that guides me.

I will remind myself when I become worried and anxious, that the fears that may seem so huge and painful now, may not still feel that way after some time has passed.

I will put into perspective the things I hope to attain and achieve and put effort into remembering what is important at the end of the day.

Somewhere along the way, over the years, it’s been easy to fall into the habit of thinking right now is not enough. I’m not saying it is not important to work towards some things, but rather to put thought into what is important. Each of us measure success and happiness in different ways. On occasion, we may find ourselves wondering, after having reached the thing or event that we thought would make us happy, why that sense of happiness seemed so fleeting, so short lived. We find ourselves planning to attain some other milestone we believe will be the key to true, long lasting happiness.

At the end of the day I want to be able to look back on the day and to see that I was truthful, kind, compassionate, of service to someone, contributed something to a larger group/society. I hope to be able to say I was patient, gentle, a good listener. Add to that gratitude that my body was nourished with food and water. I will remember I have shelter and clothing to protect me. I will be thankful that my mind was engaged and active, and hopefully I learned something new. At the end of the day as I take inventory I know my family will be first on the list of people to rejoice having in my life.

Someone asked the other day if I was happy. I was a little taken aback. Not because I wasn’t happy, but because what I was experiencing was contentment, peacefulness. I was fulfilled in the heart, grateful, healthy. Maybe those are the ingredients to happiness…. What does happiness mean to you? What is “happiness”? How do you define it? Attain it? Measure it?

I’ve shed a lot of anger and resentment over the years. I just became tired of the burden of carrying them around. I owned up to my feelings, expressing them all. Then I said good bye to them and pushed them out the door and shut it. I feel lighter. I don’t miss the weight, the emotions, the hurt. It was a lot of work. I had to give up falling into the trap of dwelling in the darkness of old memories, emotions, hurt and anger. I had to work at knowing it was ok, for me, to let them go. Those things would no longer define me. They would no longer hold me captive. I still work on this…

Now I really try to be in this moment. To be attentive to what is happening. Trying not to place labels on those experiences…just letting them be. Good or bad, happy or sad, relaxed or anxious. It just is what it is. When it passes, which it will, it will be over and gone. Done. Anything that remains or lingers is of my own doing. Anticipation and effort towards something is often exhilarating and I embrace that. Memories are what they are, but for me I find they tend to morph one way or the other. They either become more significant than the real event, or more distorted and painful as my ego creates an ever expanding fictional interpretation of the story it is currently reliving. What is real at the moment is THIS moment. Not the moment before, or the moment coming next. Only this one moment.

I know this isn’t for everyone. We all have our own paths to walk on. We all struggle to make past, present and future have meaning and purpose. Some of us have hurt, pain and anger that are very strong. Others don’t even think like this.

I’m on a journey towards awareness, an adventure to being attentive to the present moment. This year my morning meditation will be based on this quote from John O’Donohue’s “Connemara Blues”:

“I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.”

To awaken and unfold afresh each day and to live in moments filled with surprise and wonder sounds pretty extraordinary to me.

Peace to you all. And Happy New Year.

View To A Meditation

Some people get all squirmy and nervous when you talk about meditation. There’s concern it’s not Christian, it’s cult-ish, it’s hippy, it’s New Age, prayer gone astray, it’s drug related, it’s ….whatever.

So, I thought I’d do a pictorial post on what meditation means to me.

First of all, I am not trained in any specific method of meditation. I have no teacher.

I meditate in order to be present and at peace with this one moment. Not looking backwards or forwards, but being here now. I do this because it quiets my mind from the internal dialogue which makes up crazy stories filled with drama and unreal worries and anxieties. I get tired of thinking ten steps ahead of myself, worrying, planning, anticipating. I get lost in the past, I miss my mother, my father, what if I had done something differently, regretting a choice or decision, feeling disappointment and hurt.

I meditate to become grounded, centered. To focus on what I feel is important and worth pausing to recognize and to give thanks for those things. By expressing gratitude I am warmed and softened. I become open and giving. I am humbled and reminded of how many blessings are in my life. Every single moment.

I do, on occasion go to a retreat center. I do, once a week participate in a meditation group. I do, at night in bed, often listen to a guided meditation. I do, with effort and deep conviction try to bring mindfulness into moments of my day. I do read books from a broad spectrum of authors on meditation, religion and spirituality.

Here’s a sampling.

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Sometimes I sit here, in a small bedroom upstairs. It is Evan’s old bedroom and it is full of tender memories of childhood and love. When I sit Bruce is often sitting near me. I close my eyes, breathe in and out to quiet myself. To stop the beginnings of “mind chatter” I silently say, as I breathe in and out, “I am breathing in. I am breathing out.” This leaves no room for those thoughts to have a voice. Sometimes this is all I do. Sometimes I just take in all the sounds and sights….just letting them be. Sometimes I let thoughts bubble up, but place no judgement, value or comment on them.

 

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Yoga as meditation. I do Svaroopa yoga which is a specific style of yoga. No pretzel poses. It helps ground me. Literally. My body becomes one of the focuses of this practice. My mind the other. Rather, the quieting of the mind.

 

community as meditation

The children I work with are often my meditation. Here we are a community being gentle and loving with each other. Learning to be soft and trusting. Learning to give and receive.

 

eating as meditation

Cooking and eating as meditation. Slowing down enough to appreciate and have gratitude for the food we eat. And not just for the food, but for all the people and all the work other people do so that I can buy, prepare and eat the food. Gratitude and respect for the planet Earth which is after all, what allows any of this and us to even be. Gratitude.

 

gratitude as meditation

Meditation as in pausing and looking up, down, around. Being aware and being grateful.

 

meditation is about being present for someone

Meditation as in being fully present for someone else. Looking into their face and eyes and loosing awareness of anything else.

 

meditation is about being still

Meditation is about being still. Unmoving. Silent. Being where you are.

 

meditation seeing beiaty in all things

Meditation is about seeing beauty in all things. A friend commented she had never noticed the heart shape inside a walnut shell.

 

meditation path

Walking as meditation. “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” Thich Nhat Hanh

 

springwater view meditation

Meditation is sometimes deeper in a place that nurtures your heart and soul.  Springwater provides a place to focus on awareness. Time slows down here. Noise disappears.

 

evan

Meditation is about understanding that you are one small part of something significantly larger than yourself. And finding beauty and peace in that.

 

peace candle

Meditation is about creating a sense of and a commitment to peace and sharing it. Peace candle.

 

evan humor

Meditation is about having a sense of humor and being able to laugh.

 

kb wedding

Meditation is about trusting in love and working to grow love.

For me it is about learning how to never take anything for granted. To be planted in the moment and alive and aware. It is about separating from things, thoughts, fears and worries that are done, over with, or not even real. Meditation is about opening, allowing, inviting, accepting, experiencing. It shines light on life and the moment at hand. It fills me up and warms me deep inside.

I Am Not Beautiful

Ah Saturday. This morning was yoga and meditation group. I never really know what to expect from myself. Sometimes yoga feels great. Sometimes it “hurts” my hip or shoulder. Some days the meditation is quiet and calm, not too many thoughts drifting by. Other days I cannot stop the endless ribbon of ego wanting to chat about something or analyze something else. I just never really know what will surface until I get started.

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(Sept. 18 sunrise looking south east, photo by me)

Today the yoga part was especially nice. The breathing sequence was balanced and fluid. The poses all kind of melted into one another without too many little rebellion attempts from my hip or shoulder. I felt the little tension and stress I had wash itself out and a physical, mental and emotional sense of presence and ease flowed in.

As I settled into meditation later, still feeling light, I heard thoughts begin to chirp not unlike the birds at my birdfeeders….First sing songy, then agitated, then ceaseless, then snappy. Oh boy.

When I meditate it is the same as yoga, I never know what it will be like. Every single sitting is different. Some days the mind is quiet, thoughts and emotions are few and drift past quickly. Other days they rain on my meditation and I have to remember the storm clouds will pass on the breeze too, and be gone.

So, I settled in. Breathing softly and stilling everything. Then, it came. Like a megaphone cheer: “You’re not beautiful.” Well.

I listened to the rhythm of the words, the song it became.  While the words may seem rather harsh and perhaps mean, they did not hurt or really fluster me very much.

I am not beautiful.

Later, as I had coffee with Bruce, I thought about the words. As I walked through Lowes, I thought about the words. As I was in the grocery and later cooking, I thought about the words.

They were actually liberating.

Searching on line, I found this blog, and this post was just what I was feeling: http://feministsatlarge.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/you-dont-need-to-call-me-beautiful/

I gave up trying to conform to someone else’s idea of physical beauty a long time ago. I was seen as too thin, then not thin enough, not tall enough, not short enough, not dressed right, or styled correctly. Media’s image of beauty and the fashion industry’s idea of trendy never “fit” me. It has taken me 50 years to love myself without the label of beautiful or pretty or anything else. I am just me. I am healthy. I am happy. I am content. Whether or not I am seen as beautiful matters not to me. I feel that when we say what matters is that someone is beautiful on the inside, it is like giving everyone a trophy for trying. It is more important to me what kind of person I am. It matters to me that when others look at me they feel I am approachable, present, open. It matters more to me that when someone gets to know me that they think of me with words like kind, compassionate, intelligent, thoughtful, helpful, supportive, loving, generous.

I’m not looking for sympathy, or reminders that “of course” I am beautiful.

I am not beautiful. I am me. And I’m okay with that.

 

Going Away Is Like Going Nowhere

We just returned home from a wondrous vacation in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan along the shores of Lake Superior. Nothing could have prepared me for the experience.  It gave new meaning to “going away”.

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(Miner’s Castle, Munising, MI. Photo by me)

Sometimes when my husband and I talk about meditation we use the words “going away”. We each approach our practice of meditation from slightly different paths…but both involve inquiry and mindfulness. “Going away” refers to sensations of time, anxiety, thoughts/mind chatter fading from prominence. It is as if we stop paying attention to the part (ego) of ourselves that occupies day to day life. Sensations, momentary life experiences go back to something simpler…..almost to a  pre-language level. There is no need to know anything. Sense of self becomes something curious instead of something important. Yet, it also approaches something much bigger….pure no separation, constantly changing existence……

I recently had a very profound experience during meditation….something that really changed my thinking, my awareness, expectations, my “goals”, my desires for what I hoped meditation would bring to me. It took me by surprise. I wondered if  I would ever have that experience again. I wanted to. Shortly after that experience I had a kind of opening up and realized I did not have to long for the recreation of that one experience, I could in fact have that awareness all the time….now, in two minutes, during bouts of doubt and frustration, in the middle of deep joy and moments of peacefulness. It was all the same.

This vacation to Lake Superior was similar. Up there it is remote, slow moving, quiet, wild…..leaving nothing to do or process, only to experience. To be with what was. The experience was more along the lines of “going nowhere”.  Just being.  Just being mindful of the one moment. I was where I was, and that was what I tried to present with. As Joan Tollifson says, “the boundary-line between “meditation” and “the rest of our lives” dissolves. We discover that aware presence is actually what Here / Now is, the ever-present ground.”

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(Grand Marias, MI. Photo by me)

The experience of being in the UP allowed for me to surrender to the simplicity of undiluted sensory experience. Not so unlike the experience I had during meditation. It was being present in the here and now. Awake. No divisions created by words, labels, ideas, interpretations….only what is. The mental realm gave way to the non conceptual realm.

“This kind of wakefulness isn’t something apart from the rest of your life that you just do once a day while sitting on a cushion in the lotus position.  It is your whole life.”

Joan Tollifson

Going away to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan was like going nowhere. It just was. I just was. In that place and time, in that moment, the present moment. It was all about the here/now. It was about being awake.