Practice

May 5, 2012

Whatever your path is at this moment, every single step is equal in substance. Every step actualizes the self. Every moment of practice is always the koan of having to agree to your condition, to bring unlimited friendliness to what you are, just as you are, right now. Even your obnoxiousness, your failures, your rank inadequacy is it. Your best revenge is to include it as you. ~Susan Murphy

Hello, again, Quotesqueen/Only Moment readers. I am proud and happy to say I have at long last established two practices: meditation and writing. To these two practices I am trying to bring “unlimited friendliness” to what I am, just as I am.

The writing practice is resulting in poem after poem. Not all of them are good or will ever be good, but it sure beats not writing! I hope that I will be able to maintain it when I begin writing a nonfiction book on sustainable public libraries. My plan is to write poetry in the mornings, then work in the afternoons.

One important key to practice is, I believe, self-compassion. I found a wonderful little book called Making a Change for Good: A Guide to Compassionate Self-Discipline, by Cheri Huber. In it is a 30-day program for change in small steps.

What would you like to change for the better? and for good?


Soul Time

October 24, 2009

maple leaves
This is one of the best daily meditations. Sit and allow action directives to come from the Greater Intelligence and bring them into your own lives. To maintain your own inner health, you need to become stewards of your own time.

While you have to work and earn a living and need to interact with the engine that drives commodity time, don’t take up your residence in that pressure tank.

Your home and soul time is organic, regulated by heartbeat, breath, sun, moon, the seasons, and the tides.~Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi, “Take This to Heart”(Graduation Address at the Naropa University, May 8, 2004), in Living the Questions: Essays Inspired by the Work and Life of Parker J. Palmer (Sam M. Intrator, ed.)

How many of us are even aware of our heartbeats, our breath, the sun, moon, seasons and tides? This morning I am feasting my eyes on the brilliant gold-orange maple outside my window, struck by sun rays, aflame. Sometimes these things just rise up and demand our attention. But I want to notice even the subtle shifts. To learn to be a steward of soul time. How about you?


This is My Real Life

August 15, 2009

Being Zen
Although I can try to push away my experience, the fact remains that whatever is happening right now is my genuine life. Like it or not, want it or not, this life is what is. To embrace it rather than push it away is the key to freedom. ~Ezra Bayda, from Being Zen

What a treasure this book is! Bayda helps us understand how practice can help us become free of the constriction of fear, awaken compassion, and “learn to be at home, even in the midst of the muddy water of our lives.” His prose is so clear and practical that I would not presume to paraphrase.

“The key to practice,” he says, “is not to try to change our life but to change our relationships to our expectations–to learn to see whatever is happening as our path. Our difficulties are not obstacles to the path, they are the path itself.”

“What we need is a gradual yet fundamental change in our orientation to life–toward a willingness to see, to learn, to just be with whatever we meet…To simply be with our experience–even with the heaviness and darkness that surround our suffering–engenders a sense of lightness and heart.” Learning to approach pain and suffering with “…a certain lightness of heart…is what transforms and softens our will–as ego, as striving, as struggle–into willingness.” (I love this idea…see more on will here.)

Bayda offers a lovely meditation consisting of four-line rounds that repeat several times, moving from self to others to all beings. He distinguishes this from affirmations, which he says are “like mental injections we use to change or cover over our feelings.” (I couldn’t agree more–see Positivity). “This practice is the opposite: it is not about changing or covering over our feelings, it is about experiencing whatever is present.” It focuses on the physical awareness of the heartspace, and so is not simply a mental exercise.

As Bayda’s teacher, Charlotte Joko Beck, says in her introduction, “Even though all reading is preliminary, it is a crucial first step.” Now to practice!


Meditation

August 9, 2009

036
Prayer is the voice of longing; it reaches outwards and inwards to unearth our ancient belonging. ~John O’Donohue

I can’t say that I’ve done what most people call prayer in decades. But I actually showed up on my cushion today. (Hooray!) Meditating reminded me of the beautiful string of black and white meditation beads that my friend Elaine made and gave to me a few years ago. I adapted a sort of litany to use with them, and I suppose this qualifies as prayer, really.

Centering (large center bead)
Breathe in and out several times, quieting body and mind

Warm-up (four small beads)
Let me open my mind and heart
To the place of quiet,
To the silent prayer for the healing of pain,
And the soft, gentle coming of love.

Naming (first medium bead)
Count the miracles and blessings in your life.

Breath (five small beads)
Breathing in,
I calm body and mind.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is the only moment.

Listening (second medium bead)
Feeling what comes
Self-appraisal
Places that call for reconciliation and atonement

Breath (five small beads)

Letting Go (third medium bead)
Empty the mind

Breath (five small beads)

Loving (fourth medium bead)
Lift up those in pain or need

Cool-down (four small beads)
May the courage of the early morning’s dawning,
And the strength of the eternal hills,
And the peace of the evening’s ending,
And the love of god, be in my heart.


Happy Wise

March 8, 2009

Be happy. It’s one way of being wise. ~Sidonie Gabrielle Colette

Thanks to Pat Wagner for this quote and the lovely photo of her bathtub full of catnip that accompanies it on her post card. In times of depression, of course, the exhortation to be happy can be a mockery. But I like the implication that for most of us, most of the time, if we have a few tools and techniques at our disposal, happiness is a choice, and a wise one.

This must be true, if we take into account the many who are in suffering and need much greater than our own, but are still able to maintain this state. Consider this quote: “Don’t be concerned about being disloyal to your pain by being joyous.” ~Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan

Here are some of the ways I encourage myself to be happy:
practice yoga
go outdoors, especially in the sunshine
pet my cat
make love
learn something new
keep a gratitude journal
share with others in a variety of ways
visit with close friends
blog
keep track of the good things I do for myself each day
read
write poetry
make a donation to a cause I believe in
meditate
draw
organize and simplify
crochet or knit
smile

What are the ways you practice being happy?


Change and Growth

January 4, 2009

Change is inevitable; growth is optional. ~Tavis Smiley

Thanks to Carol for passing on this great quote. There are many people talking these days about change, the pace of change, the disorienting effects of change, “change management.” (Now there’s an oxymoron!) But I don’t hear much about growth within change, rather more about just keeping up, staying sane, not falling farther behind. There is something lost in this discussion. I don’t want to spend my energy just treading water; I want to swim into new water! Remembering what Marcel Proust said: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

I think the first step for growth is embracing (or at least shaking hands with) the change itself, accepting it as a condition of modern life. Why struggle against the inevitable? But beyond that, I have found stillness and mindfulness useful for getting in touch with the part of me that hungers for learning and growth. It is easy to be overwhelmed with the plethora of choices today, and this stillness helps us hear what we need above the din.

How have you approached change? Growth? How do we not only stay sane in this crazy-making proliferation of options, but expend our energy wisely for both our own development and a better world?


Senior

October 26, 2008

How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were? ~Satchel Paige

Today I turned 55. Officially senior by many definitions. I’ve always welcomed getting older, because it has brought equanimity and a better understanding of myself and others. But somehow this birthday makes me feel as though time is running out. For one thing, I still don’t have a consistent exercise and meditation practice after decades of trying. If not now, when?

When I contemplate Satchel Paige’s profound question, I’m concerned that I would feel older than I am in years! Yikes!!! Maybe it’s just been a hard year, or maybe my bad habits are just catching up with me. I want to think of 55 as my health watershed, to get younger by taking better care of myself.

So I am promising myself during the upcoming year to do these ten things:
1. slow down and pay attention
2. remember to take deep breaths
3. remain curious
4. practice gratitude
5. observe my experiences rather than trying to control or judge them
6. minimize sugar, alcohol and bad fats in my diet
7. do yoga as much as I can
8. get outside more
9. notice what feeds me, find flow
10. be gentle with myself

Learning has always been important to me also, and I believe it’s an age-busting practice. I didn’t list it, because it is already so much a part of me that I would have to try NOT to learn!

What are the things that make you younger?


The Great Death

October 25, 2008

We have to face the pain we have been running from. In fact, we need to learn to rest in it and let its searing power transform us. ~Charlotte Joko Beck

Avoidance of pain can take tremendous energy. I don’t know if I am ready or able to rest in it as Beck suggests, but I do believe that letting it in, rather than running from it, is (paradoxically) a way to release energy. I have just read Larry Rosenberg’s Living in the Light of Death: On the Art of Being Truly Alive. The author has spent years practicing and teaching death awareness, and he shares the Buddha’s five contemplations on this topic:
1. I am subject to aging. Aging is unavoidable.
2. I am subject to illness. Illness is unavoidable.
3. I am subject to death. Death is unavoidable.
4. I will grow different, separate from all that is dear and appealing to me.
5. I am the owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and live dependent on my actions. Whatever I do, for good or ill, to that will I fall heir.

This last reflection shows us what is in our control, that is our thoughts and intentions. Rosenberg says, “Going along with the strongly conditioned habit of grasping or aversion is its own karma, a mind-state that feels constricted, narrow and cloudy. The choice to observe rather than react, on the other hand, brings more immediate results, a more open, clear, and spacious state of mind.”

Mindfulness again! Being with experience as it is, watching it, rather than judging it. A few years ago I posted this reminder of my intention on my bulletin board: open, curious, grateful.

May I let go of attachments (grasping and aversion) so I can die the great death. Rosenberg says we can do that at any time: “It is what Krishnamurti was pointing toward when he said we must die day to day, moment to moment. It is the death of the ego. Once this death has taken place, there is none other to worry about. There is nothing but the body that is left to die.” I am certain there is restfulness and energy release in this practice. What do you think?


Just Do It

September 15, 2008

The way we spend our days is the way we spend our lives. ~Annie Dillard

After two days of moping around the house and playing computer games, I am sick of myself! Today I will practice yoga, mindfulness meditation, and writing. I am trying to come up with a sign for my office with the sentiment, “Just Do It!” only using different words, so I am not reminded of an advertising slogan. I endlessly read about my passions–mindfulness, soulwork, writing, exercise, simplifying, poetry, yoga, creativity, meditation–rather than practicing them! It is (past) time to move from learning to doing, from watching to engaging.

Here it is appropriate to recall the famous lines that were probably from a translation of Faust by John Anster (more here), but were attributed to Goethe by Scottish mountaineer W. H. Murray, “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”

How do you move from intention to action? Hey, send me your suggestions for wording for my sign…


Rain

September 9, 2008

Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.  ~Bob Dylan

We have had lovely rain today, and this time not because of any tropical storms threatening others. There is something about rain, this gentle kind of rain, that is soothing and beautiful. Mist hangs between the hills, and things are still and quiet now except for an occasional rumble of thunder. The trees and plants are rejoicing, and there will be more grass to mow this year. I am grateful for this rain.

How often have I thought of rain as that inconvenience that makes me wet, that I don’t like to drive in, that ruins an outing? More times than I’d care to remember. I want a rhythm in my life that allows for being with rain. I think it would be heaven to awaken each morning and tune in to what the day will bring, adjusting one’s activities accordingly, rather than forcing our artificial routines on the day.

There is so much beauty in the sound of rain, as much as in the sound of poetry to me. Gentle or torrential, on the grass or a tin roof, rain can have a mesmerizing, meditative effect. May I listen to, feel, and be with the rain as often and completely as I can.


From the Archives: September

August 31, 2008

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.  ~William Wordsworth

September begins tomorrow. Now that this blog is a year old (and then some), I have decided to honor the first day of each month (or in this case, the day before the first day of the month) by bringing back a few posts from the previous year. Here are some from last September.

Expanding Time
Time expands when we are present in the moment.

Economic Equality
With our presidential election looming, consider the concept of raising all boats.

Letting Go
I’m convinced this is one of the keys to happiness.

Discourse
How can we heal our fractured society by coming together?

Happy Labor Day Holiday, everyone!


Healthy Habits

May 17, 2008

Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over.  ~F. Scott Fitzgerald

This is the weekend of the public declaration of my recommitment to taking good care of myself. Starting over. Again. I have just returned from a public library directors’ meeting, where I ate a pecan-studded brownie chock full of chocolate chips the size of Manhattan. Not to mention the wine, lasagna, key lime pie, and other assorted deadly comestibles I consumed during the trip. And of course no exercise beyond bending my elbow to eat all this great stuff.

Although I have started over many times in this attempt to take better care of myself, I now believe I can succeed in sustaining this effort. I have a better understanding of the reasons I indulge, I have more resources than ever to draw on, and I know firsthand the benefits of being fit. In addition, I understand–with my whole being, not just my brain–that health and fitness (like life) is the result of a series of moment-by-moment choices.

So, in order to hold myself accountable, I have set some goals. By the next public library directors’ meeting in September (seems as good a target as any), I will have lost 15 pounds, will be practicing yoga and meditation, and will be habitually exercising (at least 4 times a week).

How do you maintain healthy habits? Let’s support each other!


Trust

March 22, 2008

The key is to get to know people and trust them to be who they are. Instead, we trust people to be who we want them to be, and when they’re not, we cry.  ~from Thinkexist.com (unattributed)

Because I learned not to trust at an early age, perhaps I have been too eager to trust people in my adulthood, because I have often made the mistake of trusting people before I really know them. Really getting to know someone requires time, shared experience, patience, full awareness in their presence. In some cases, my instincts were dead on, and I developed a satisfying relationship in spite of my tendency to trust too soon. At other times, when someone turned out to be other than who I wanted them to be, I cried.

The foundation for those satisfying relationships is, of course, knowing and trusting one’s self. Getting to know ourselves (which also requires time, patience and full awareness) and trusting our lives to unfold as they should is a lifelong process, in my view. My friend Gloria once said, “Life can be quite radically trusted.” At the time, I had no idea what she meant. Now I want to rest in the lap of the universe, trust that it will hold me, and experience myself and others with crystal clarity. Although I’ve resisted it for years, the time has come for a mindfulness meditation practice.

May I learn the discipline of practice, the mindfulness to be fully present with myself and others, and the discernment to know when and whom to trust.


Flow

March 8, 2008

Life is a series of natural spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them–that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. ~Lao Tzu

Flow with whatever is happening and let your mind be free. Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate. ~Chuang Tzu

Boy, do I need these quotations this morning! I am feeling battered by my situation, and it is so tempting to sink into bitterness or depression. I have just reread The Not So Big Life, and although I intellectually understand the concept of not “pushing the rope,” I find myself doing it over and over.

My whole orientation as a manager is to work toward positive results, so how do I let go of the results, “let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like”? I think one reason I long for retirement is to escape this conflict in me, but I do understand that is not the right reason to retire.

May I center myself by just sitting with things today, letting my mind be free. May I learn to let go of resistance, making way for acceptance of whatever I am doing.


Walking in the World

March 3, 2008

The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth in the present moment. ~Thich Nhat Hanh

What?

I can find stillness,
walking?
Heel, then toes.
I count,
solve problems,
talk to myself.
I hum, anything
to avoid presence
in my heel,
then toes. Heel,
then toes, relentless
practice. Where
are we going?
No matter. Heel,
it is all the same. Toes,
I stretch apart
as though mud
would ooze through.
Heel, going nowhere
slowly,
toes, walking
to awareness.

In addition to the quote, this poem is inspired today by Mad Kane’s poetry prompt, Julia Cameron’s Walking in This World, and writings of Thich Nhat Hanh and others on walking meditation.

Now here are a limerick and a haiku for good measure!

Sunday Lament for Gasoline Prices

Pedestrian thoughts in my head,
I travel from kitchen to bed,
It’s not very far,
So I don’t need a car,
One more day I stay out of the red!

Walking in Spring

Driving by the bed
I see a blur, but walking,
Snow-drops hang their heads.


Free Time

February 24, 2008

…the Chinese pictograph for busyness is “heart killing.” ~from Sue Monk Kidd’s Firstlight

Whenever we have a little free time, most of us seek some form of amusement. We pick up a serious book, a novel, or a magazine. If we are in America, we turn on the radio or the television, or we indulge in incessant talk. There is a constant demand to be amused, to be entertained, to be taken away from ourselves….Very few of us ever walk in the fields and the woods, not talking or singing songs, but just walking quietly and observing things about us and within ourselves.  ~J. Krishnamurti

Today I celebrate space, free time. In addition to my work, which includes a lot of travel and a 3-hour commute 3 days a week, I am taking two post-Master’s classes this semester. So it is rare these days to have hours without busyness and obligations, but today I have virtually nothing I have to do. No “heart-killing” for me today.

I find that order, space, and free time are helpful in stimulating my creative impulses. So I will first tidy my office and then surround myself with the tools of creativity: paper and pencil, my favorite books, art supplies, and other familiar playthings. Even the computer is a tool for creative work if I refuse to be seduced by stumbling upon new Web sites, playing computer Scrabble or checking e-mail.

Later, I may “walk in the fields and woods…observing things.”  Or practice yoga and mindfulness meditation. How do you use free time?

P. S. This is a quote that belongs with my previous post on the ineffable creative process:  Art criticism is to the artist as ornithology is to the birds. ~Barnett Newman


Speech

December 2, 2007

Before you speak ask yourself–is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve the silence?  ~Sai Baba

The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you, the better you will hear what is sounding outside. Only he who listens can speak.  ~Dag Hammarskjold

My friends remind me that speech is powerful and that I should consider its necessity carefully as well as its truth. I have to confess that after my post yesterday, I didn’t sit on the zafu, as I had planned, but rather continued to stew about things.

Today I must go to a funeral and shop for Christmas, but I resolve to find some time (if only 10 minutes) to listen to the “voice within” in order to better “hear what is sounding outside.” I am so good at planning and resolving, and it is so difficult to practice. But I am aware of my aspiration to right action, right speech. And so, so grateful for my friends.


Silence & Healing

December 1, 2007

Silence means you are under complete control of all your emotional reactions, which are conquered in silence. Everything that happens in our bodies happens in complete silence. And when you start hearing from it, then you know something is wrong! The principle of healing is to invoke silence–going into the silence.  ~Mother Serena

Both concepts–silence and healing–resonate for me today. So I will sit on my zafu and be silent, as I need emotional healing. I am weary of the world this morning, so I will think on all the things for which I am grateful. I will listen to the inner voice for clarity. And I will do nothing today out of anger, will not express my frustration and disappointment while I am weary, as all may look different on the other side of sitting.


Stillness

September 24, 2007

Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.  ~Herman Hesse

In sitting meditation, focusing on the breath, I reach occasional fleeting moments of what seems like stillness of the mind.  I believe this stillness is the place where illusions disappear.  I can’t say how this helps me, but I know it does–not only in the moment, but beyond.

I don’t want to say a lot “publicly” about my work, but I went into it a year ago with a lot of illusions.  Long ago, Terry noted that I find my wisdom in stillness.  And the more I have been able to be still, the more these illusions have dropped away.  In their place I find clarity, the ability to see a situation as it really is, not colored by what it purports to be, what I want it to be, or by my will to shape it.  What is, is.  And that is liberating!


Expanding Time

September 23, 2007

Life is so short we must move very slowly.  ~Saying in Thailand

My recent week at the beach felt like expanded time.  That is what going slowly and mindfully seems to do for us.  We realize simultaneously that we have only this moment, and we have all the time in the world. 

Steve Hagen, in his book, Meditation Now or Never, expresses this idea, too:  “If you feel you’re being rushed at work, just bring your mind into the moment–into the task at hand–and you won’t feel rushed, even if you’ve got to work fast.”  He notes that people who are in accidents report that the crash seems to unfold in slow motion, and attributes it to the person being really there, and not distracted by thought.  He says, “The more present we are, the bigger picture we see. The bigger picture we see, the more things seem to slow down. And when the Whole is seen, all is utterly still.”


Sitting

September 10, 2007

Breathe in,
breathe out,
Thay says Calming,
Smiling,

Present moment,
Only moment.

In, out,
as though it is you
breathing,
and not the world
breathing you.


Discourse

September 3, 2007

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.  ~Rumi

How polarized the human family seems to me. Where are the places we can come together to talk as living, loving beings, transcending the IDEAS of wrong and right? Public libraries could be one of those places; liberal religious communities could be another. Privately, meditation helps us connect with all that is, to sense our place in the interdependent web of all existence. And I am convinced it is only this awareness that will save the world. If  we know the world is us, we are less likely to participate in harmful practices.

Is it enough to radiate peace as individuals, or must we work toward peace with others? How do we best create or discover fields in which to meet?