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?


Blogging as a Spiritual Practice

August 29, 2011

When I began this blog four years ago, I had no idea what it would come to mean to me. Indeed, I had no idea what a blog should be, how to do one, what I would say. Looking back on this experience, I can see now that it has been a spiritual practice for me. Sometimes, I was faithful and regular, other times erratic. I have “quit” more than once, only to find that I missed this practice.

One of the books I return to again and again is Everyday Spiritual Practice: Simple Pathways for Enriching Your Life, edited by Scott W. Alexander. There is something compelling to me about the idea of consistent practice (of anything, really), since I have always felt that my attempts at practice (whether spiritual, physical, mental or otherwise) were jerky and on-again, off-again. Just look at my previous posts about exercise and health: such good intentions, so little follow-through!

But this blog keeps on going like the Energizer bunny, if in fits and starts. And it has helped me understand at a deeper level that imperfection is our nature, that we fall down and get up again and again in this life, and that’s OK. Every day is a new opportunity to realize our vision of what living a full life can be. And every day we will get only partway there–that is,  if we have any forward movement at all. Let us practice living as though this day is our last on this earth, and as if we will live forever.


More Music, Please

February 16, 2011

We are in the process of rearranging some furniture at our house, and have brought my piano back upstairs. I want more music in my life. Today I played for about 30 minutes, and I was surprised at how much I remember. It’s not exactly like riding a bike, but a few minutes a day of practice should make a big difference.

I suppose I really should learn how to operate the machines in our house that make music. I use my iPod to shuffle songs when I walk on the treadmill, but I haven’t mastered the equipment that will play our CDs. Nor can I turn on our television. Not that I’m a technophobe (I have a blog, don’t I?), but it seems that electronics have gotten increasingly less intuitive and more complicated. Please tell me it’s not just that my brain is old! More and more, it seems that the multitude of bells and whistles (that we don’t even want) interfere with the basic operation of these gizmos. I don’t consider learning to juggle three remotes just to turn on the TV a way I want to spend my time.

Still, having more music in my life might require that I learn. Not just to play the piano, but to accept and deal with the electronics as they are (light a candle) rather than rail against the overly complicated technology and wish it were different (curse the damn darkness)!


Monday Morning Motivator

June 7, 2010

YOU’RE REALLY, REALLY GOOD, YA KNOW IT?
Actually, you don’t know it. Not really. The fact is we’re so much better, so much stronger, so much more talented – and necessary to the world – than we know. We’re so obsessed with our shortcomings, the times we missed the mark, the time someone slapped a “C” on what we thought was our best work – that we doubt ourselves and play small. So what’s the cure? Actually, it’s pretty simple: Keep a running list of the good stuff – the times you knocked it out of the park, the times you made the sale, got the vote, or just got back up after you fell down. Forget the other stuff. Hey, remember what the MGM casting director wrote about Fred Astaire? “Can’t sing; dances a little.” Thank God he didn’t stop doing either. So don’t you. Not this week; not any week.

~Gail Blanke

I first encountered Gail Blanke when I read her wonderful book, In My Wildest Dreams, which she followed up with Between Trapezes. (Come to think of it, I probably need to reread that one, since I am in an in-between space in my life at the moment!) Her most recent is Throw Out Fifty Things: Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life. It has an accompanying Web site, where you, too, can subscribe to her “Monday Morning Motivator.”

I really like getting this short, inspirational message every Monday. It reminds me to be grateful, to love myself so that I can love others, and to live life mindfully. Today’s MMM validated a practice I’ve had for a while now, and that I frivolously call my “smiley book.” Each day (as I remember to do it), I make a list of the good things I have done for myself or others: yoga, mindful eating, connections with others, meditation, appreciating nature, and so on. A focus on these positive things really seems to reinforce the behavior.

How do you motivate yourself to be the best you can be?


Seeing, Doing

January 30, 2010

What you will be is what you do. ~Buddha

Mindfulness must be engaged. Once there is seeing, there must be acting. Otherwise, what is the use of seeing? ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Today I will do yoga, engage with my husband and my life, enjoy the icy wonderland outside my window, rest, read, and write. I have resolved (again) to be more mindfully present for the unfolding of my days, to practice healthy eating and exercise, to remember that creative efforts sustain and feed me.

When I stop long enough to see clearly, I know what is right for me to do. Avoidance behaviors, comforting time-killers (for me, playing computer games, eating sweets, and other non-nutritive activities) are the way we keep from seeing clearly. After all, if we can hide what is needed from our conscious mind, we feel free from responsibility. I think this is true in both personal and social action. How can I change the world if my own house is not in order?


Home Ground

December 13, 2009

In dwelling, live close to the ground. ~Tao Te Ching

In the end, the final refuge is sustained practice. ~Dogen Zenji

Perhaps I am learning how to practice at long last. I spent all of last week traveling to, sitting in, and traveling home from meetings. But unlike on most of my business trips, this time I ate well and I exercised. 🙂 Instead of being exhausted and depleted when I got home, I was energetic and relaxed.

What made the difference? I believe it was a combination of greater self-awareness and mindfulness, the ability to stay present in my experience moment to moment. More and more, I feel at home with myself, regardless of where I am, who I am with, what I am doing. More and more, I live close to the ground of my being.

How about you?


Goals Are Not Intentions

November 21, 2009

In choosing to live with right intention…you are connecting to your own sense of kindness and innate dignity. Standing on this ground of intention, you are then able to participate as you choose in life’s contests, until you outgrow them. ~Phillip Moffitt

Today, this Yoga Journal article, “The Heart’s Intention”, was exactly what I needed. Moffitt draws the distinction between goals, which are oriented toward a future outcome, and intention, which is “a path or practice that is focused on how you are ‘being’ in the present moment.”

Moffitt says “You set your intentions based on understanding what matters most to you and make a commitment to align your worldly actions with your inner values.” Intention, unlike goals, results in integrity, unity, self-respect and peace of mind.

We clearly need goals to help us be effective and move forward in our endeavors. But Moffitt reminds us that goals are inadequate for measuring our success in life. Staying attuned to our heart’s intention (not that of the rational mind) is what Moffitt calls coming home to ourselves.

Of course, we can never do this perfectly. But Moffitt assures us that “each time you start over by reconnecting to your intention, you are taking one more step toward finding your own authenticity and freedom.”

And so the theme is practice, not perfection, again.


Mindful Health

November 15, 2009

Our life is what our thoughts make it. ~Marcus Aurelius

The attainment of wholeness requires one to stake one’s whole being. Nothing less will do…. ~C. G. Jung

Synchronicity again. I first ran across psychologist Ellen Langer when I was preparing for the talk on mindful management last month. Langer did early experiments in mindfulness and its effect on aging, so I hunted down her 1989 book, Mindfulness, and read it recently. Today I see that she has a new book, Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility, and that a movie with Jennifer Aniston, based on the book, will soon be coming out. No doubt, mindfulness is becoming more mainstream.

Langer says we have learned to influence health “by exchanging unhealthy mindsets for healthy ones and increasing a generally mindful state. The latter is more lasting and results in more personal control.” Jon Kabat-Zinn lists seven attitudinal factors that underlie mindfulness: (1) non-judging; (2) patience; (3) beginner’s mind; (4) trust; (5) non-striving; (6) acceptance; and (7) letting go. Cultivating these attitudes, Kabat-Zinn stresses, requires energy, motivation and commitment. May I establish daily practice in mindfulness for health.


Here I Am

November 8, 2009

You always have to be working on something because you have to trust your unconscious life, to be ready to deal with a play [poem] when it says, ‘Here I am.’ ~John Guare

This afternoon I will read, along with other Stonepile Writers Group members, at the Dahlonega Literary Festival. It would be lovely to have a new poem to read, but my last one was written several months ago. Today’s quote is a reminder to myself to get busy working on something. Nothing has said “Here I am” in some time, and I believe that is because I have not sat still enough.

Today I renew my intention to build in time for reception and gestation of images, the attunement to the senses, the mindfulness that often eludes me, crowded out by busyness. I think I will have to schedule this time, as paradoxical as that sounds, to put it on my calendar as sacred time. I am on vacation this week, so it seems like the ideal time to practice this intention.

How do you get yourself to a place where you can manifest your talents, where you are in “flow,” ready to receive that which calls to you, “Here I am?”


Pacing

March 2, 2009

Success is the sum of small efforts–repeated day in and day out. ~Robert Collier

One of the striking differences between my husband and me has always been his ability to pace himself and my tendency to rush headlong into every endeavor. Yet I am most satisfied with my life when I move more slowly, give myself time to experience each moment, to reflect on where I’ve been and envision where I’m going.

I suppose this lesson is one blessing of age, at least for me. My body will simply no longer support my impulsive activity in the same way it did when I was younger! Of course, with the spiral nature of life, I have to learn this lesson over and over, each time in a slightly different way, from a slightly different place.

I have found it hard to restrain myself when I can see so many things I want to do. Patience has never, after all, been my strong suit–or even an acquaintance, really. That’s why I think a practice, such as this blog, is so important for me. It reinforces that idea of the cumulative effect of small things. Intention is also a critical element–imagining who I want to become, then giving myself permission to take only one mindful step at a time.

What is your secret for proper pacing in your life?


New Year’s Challenges

December 29, 2008

If I leave my writing for one day, it leaves me for three. ~Madeleine L’Engle

The creative process is a process of surrender, not control. ~Julia Cameron

Despite Julia Cameron’s words, I have decided to participate in the somewhat controlled Creative Every Day Challenge for 2009. Within this very loose framework (the creator gives full permission to participate stress-free–that is, however and whenever you like), I hope to enter that process of creative surrender more often in the coming year.

My first act in the CED challenge will be to create a list on this blog of as many possible creative activities I can think of that I might like to try this year. I hope you’ll add your creative ideas to the list when it’s posted in early January.

In addition, I’ve signed up for The Power of Less New Year’s Challenge at Zen Habits. This requires a pledge to practice something, anything, but only one thing, 10 minutes a day for 30 days. I figure surely I can work in 10 minutes of yoga every single day during January. Don’tcha think?

So rather than resolutions for the new year, I am giving myself two challenges. No one has asked, but I’ll confess to having fallen off the strength training wagon I committed to here. It seems like a great program, but it’s just not right for me, I discovered. So I am going to call that not failure, but learning!

Will you set challenges for yourself in 2009?


Thank You

November 24, 2008

If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you,’ it will be enough. ~Meister Eckhart

My friend Claudia gave me a gratitude journal for my birthday. Although for a while I had a gratitude practice with an e-mail buddy, I wasn’t sure I would use the journal. There’s something inhibiting about writing on a bound blank page…But I tried it, and now I am hooked!

I like the design because each double-page spread has a place for “gratitude now” on the left, and “gratitude intentions” on the right. I am writing about things I wish to see on the right side, as though they have already happened. For example, right after the presidential election I wrote, “I am grateful for living in a country that is once again a model of peace, democracy, and the best in human relationships.” When I was thankful that my missing cat had come home, she did. When I was thankful that my mother-in-law had come to accept her life in the nursing home, she had. So although I’m not sure I completely believe in this magic, there is something about articulating what we want that seems to have power.

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, I am thankful to have this gratitude journal that prompts me to write about all the large and small blessings and joys in my life, and to visualize the good that can be. For what will you say “thank you” this holiday season? Don’t forget to also state your gratitude intentions!


Challenge to Myself

November 7, 2008

It is not enough to find a purpose that unifies one’s goals; one must also carry through and meet its challenges…intent has to be translated into action…Few things are sadder than encountering a person who knows exactly what he should do, yet cannot muster enough energy to do it. ~Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, from Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Commitment to healthy living has been a theme in several previous posts (Commitment, Focus, Healthy Habits, Health, Healthy Habits Redux), and I am returning to it today. I am so good at planning, but so often fall down in the follow-through. I’m banking on the fact that posting my intention here–once again–will help, as it gets more embarrassing each time I proclaim an intention and fail to live up to it!

There have been times in my life when healthy routines were habitual and I couldn’t imagine going a day without them, so I know I can get there again. This morning I discovered Growing Stronger, an online book that I hope will help me get motivated and stay with a fitness program long enough to get back into a positive cycle.  It is incremental, gentle (for older adults, after all!), and includes a 12-week workbook to chart progress.

So I hereby congratulate myself for being willing to get up, recommit, and start over. I know exactly what I should do, and the time has come to muster enough energy to do it! I ask for your expressions of support for my efforts–whether you wish to just whisper your encouragement to the universe, leave comments on this blog, or join me in my challenge.

Namaste, and with gratitude.


Simplify! 10 Tips

September 16, 2008

In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Does it seem to you as though everything is getting faster, more frenzied, and less personal? I am convinced that the frenetic pace and complexity of our modern lives detract from its quality. I want to remove unnecessary complications in my life, to single-task with focused attention, and to pace myself on a human time scale, with plenty of time for rest and reflection.

Suggestions for simplifying one’s life pop up everywhere these days. Here are a few of my own ideas. Note that I don’t come anywhere near practicing all of these, but they sound good! Perhaps I’ll adopt one at a time for the next several months.

1. Register at Catalog Choice and “opt out” of all the catalogs you no longer want to receive through the mail. This is something I actually have begun doing. It works like a charm, is good for the environment, and reduces the temptation to buy things you don’t need.

2. For every item you buy and bring into your house, move two items out. I confess I stole this excellent twist on the one-in, one-out idea from Leo over at Zen Habits, where you’ll find a myriad of organizational tips and ways to reduce clutter (as well as some very cool quotations!). Bought a new belt? Discard or donate two old belts or other accessories that you rarely wear.

3. Keep only one calendar for all activities (work, family, and leisure), and write everything in pencil. Make this a calendar you can carry with you at all times. If it will accommodate a to-do list, even better. That’s a good place for your list/log of activities. Keep your current address/telephone directory in your calendar also, and you’ll have it with you when you need it.

4. Buy greeting cards and even gifts ahead of time and keep them on hand, so there is no last-minute rush when you suddenly remember that a friend’s birthday is this week. I love pottery, and when I see something I like, instead of buying it for myself, I buy it to have in reserve when I need a gift for someone. I have the fun of buying it, but I’m not wondering what to do with it later!

5. Use your public library instead of buying the books you want to read. If you have the money and believe that buying the books is simpler (since you don’t have to remember to return them on time), donate them to the library after you’ve read them.

6. Develop a wardrobe of simple basics and invest in a few highlighting accessories to change your look. Gray is a good foundation color, and I don’t think you can go wrong with black and white, either. I read somewhere that Jamie Lee Curtis is wearing only black and white these days. Simple, huh?

7. Cancel your cable or satellite contract. We recently did this, and now use Netflix to get the movies and TV shows we particularly like. Not only are we no longer subjected to annoying commercials, we save a lot of time we used to spend channel surfing dozens of channels with nothing worth watching! Think you’d miss your local weather? Explore the National Weather Service, the Weather Channel, or your local TV channel online.

8. When you get gifts or chachkas you don’t want or need, see how quickly you can pass them on to others. Keep these potential giveaways in a special place and raid your stash as often as you can. People will love to see you coming with their latest “prizes!”

9. Be very, very selective about what you collect and choose to keep. I am getting better all the time at appreciating things without having to own them. How many shells do you really need from your beach trip? I have some shallow shelves above my desk where I keep a few (small) items that are meaningful to me. Otherwise, I try not to collect things (of course I can say this only if we don’t count books and music!).

10. Keep a “tangent journal.” This is an idea I (again, shamelessly) lifted from another of my favorite blogs, Write to Done. But it doesn’t have to apply just to writing. Use it for reminders to yourself, to capture great ideas you hear about, or to record interesting things you’d like to know more about. Or better yet, instead of creating another journal, use that to-do list in your calendar!

How have you simplified your life? What are your techniques for keeping your composure in this whirling dervish of a world?


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…


Renewal

August 30, 2008

The wave always returns and always returns as a different wave. ~Marina Tsvetaeva

Jekyll Island, 2007

These words are from the Russian poet’s essay on lyric poetry. According to Tsvetaeva, renewal is the “pivot of lyricism.” Edward Hirsch writes about this idea here, and I love what he says about poetry causing us to “deepen our breathing, our mindfulness to being, our spiritual alertness.” Geez, no wonder I love poetry!

There’s something lovely and hopeful about this line. I’m reminded of new mornings that bring a fresh perspective, rain that clears the air. Today, I have practiced an old yoga routine, one that my body remembers from long ago–so long ago, in fact, that I practiced to a Richard Hittleman LP (that’s long-playing 33rpm record, for those who aren’t sure!). A returning wave, but a different one as well, rolling through this 54-year-old body.

Earlier today, I worked on my journal project. I am culling things I want to keep from old journals and destroying the rest. Things I want to keep are generally quotations (are you surprised?), ideas about writing, poems, titles of book I’ve read, and major events of my life. I am almost caught up to the present and can certainly say that renewal has been a theme. Although these journals may read over time like the same old same old (and are often quite boring!), I can see from a longer perspective and condensed view that each time I wrote about a returning wave, it was also a new wave. 

What does renewal mean to you?


Health

July 27, 2008

Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open. ~B. K. S. Iyengar

If I’d known I was going to live so long, I’d have taken better care of myself. ~Leon Eldred

When I was very young (no older than 5, I’m sure), I spent one afternoon learning to ride a bicycle–under conditions that were hardly ideal. At that time, I didn’t have a bike of my own, so I learned on a 26″ model that belonged to my older sister. Luckily, I was a long-legged kid, so I could (just barely) reach the pedals. But I had no access to pavement, only a grassy slope on which to practice. Over and over, I fell, I got up, I walked to the top of the gentle hill, got back on, and tried again. I wanted to ride that bicycle more than I wanted anything that day.

An alarming thing happened at Pilates class last Thursday. I began sweating and shaking, turned pale as a ghost, and thought I would either throw up or faint, I wasn’t sure which. I know blood sugar dips, since I have had to pay attention to those for many years, and it wasn’t that. I attributed it to overdoing when I was depleted already, possible mild dehydration, and forgetting I was out of shape and no longer 18 years old. But the more disturbing thing was that it happened again Friday night, when I awoke from sleep in that condition. I am feeling much sturdier today, but am resolved to see my doctor.

There is a rash of health-related problems in my family at the moment. Stroke, dementia, and pancreatic cancer, to name a few. And it makes sense that illness in those close to us (and especially those close to our own age) can make us feel vulnerable and anxious about our own well-being. It feels impossible to separate the effects of the mental state, the worry about health, from those of the physical condition itself.

I have practiced healthy living only sporadically at best, and it is not for lack of information. I know what eating plan works for me, what things I should avoid (sugar, alcohol, the high-fat foods I love so much), what exercise I enjoy and am most likely to stick with (yoga), and what helps in controlling stress (mindfulness, connection to others). Yet I have fallen down on this grassy slope over and over, and I have to think it is because of some inability to fully commit, to want health more than anything. Though what could be more important in this life than what opens the gates of the soul?


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!


Life is Now

May 9, 2008

Forget about your life situation for a while and pay attention to your life.  ~Eckhart Tolle

I am rereading The Power of Now. I realized this time that while I agree with almost everything Tolle says, I am reluctant to experience it. His story of losing everything on the physical plane (relationships, home, job, socially defined identity) terrifies me, even though he reports being in a state of indescribable bliss at the time. How many of us can afford to go there, and would eventually come out on the other side as a famous spiritual teacher?

This resistance is identification with my mind, Tolle might say, which comes between me and myself, between me and others, between me and nature, between me and God. I can’t use thinking to experience Being. Tolle suggests focusing attention on the inner energy field of the body, that is, feeling the body from within. That, he says, puts us in touch with our emotions, which is a good place to start.

May I put aside past and future when they are not useful in the present moment. May I feel the body from within, be in touch with my emotions, and let go of my mind-identification. May I focus more on my life and not my life situation, which is illusory and exists in time, whereas my life is now and real. May I trust that the universe will hold me up as I find my true path.


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.


Vitality, Beauty, Community

March 19, 2008

The three components of human happiness are vitality, beauty, and a sheltering sense of community. We always start by relying on ourselves and looking for these three things in power, order, and fellowship as the world understands them. Failing to find them there, we eventually seek them in the only way that makes sense–in Being, which transforms, fulfills and brings us to new life.  ~Karlfried Graf Dürckheim, Zen and Us

I am so happy to find the source of this idea! For years, I have had it written down as “vitality, beauty, and a sheltering sense of community, rather than power, order, and fellowship,” without attribution. As I was rereading Dürckheim last night, there it was!

I love this book. Originally published in West Germany in 1961, it discusses what Zen has to offer the rational West. Dürckheim emphasizes that Zen is Being, is experience, and experience only. He says, “This doctrine is not a philosophical theory of being, and has nothing to do with metaphysical inquiry, but expresses an inner experience–the experience of Being, which we ourselves are, in our true nature.” I thought of Bill’s wonderful haiku in response to a recent post: reading about Zen, grasping it intellectually, is not Zen.

Anyway, the notion of “vitality, beauty, and a sheltering sense of community” as components of happiness seems right to me, and also the idea that they are often sought, but not to be found in the usual power, order, and fellowship that society offers. What do you think?


Focus

March 16, 2008

All that we are is the result of what we have thought. ~Buddha

I am inspired today by the March 12 post on zen habits, one of the few blogs to which I subscribe by e-mail, entitled The Magical Power of Focus. In the last few days, I have noticed a backsliding from my healthy habits of the last several months. So I am renewing my commitment to focus on health. 

My frequent job-related travel presents a challenge, as does my too-full schedule, so an important health practice for me is to create buffers of space and downtime around those activities. In particular, as an introvert, when I have periods involving intense interaction with others, I need times of quiet reflection to replenish my energy. Another important practice is mindful attention to the task at hand, being in the flow, and avoiding the temptation to multitask. 

Having tried in the past to focus on more than one goal at a time, I can testify that it only made me feel overwhelmed and ineffectual. Although it may seem as though I am trying to focus on several things at once (healthy eating, increased exercise, stress reduction techniques, etc.), I will really be focusing on one aim of health and well-being, with individual practices subordinate to that goal. Evaluating each activity against that overarching objective will, I believe, result in my becoming healthier.

What are you becoming as a result of your thoughts or focus?


Questions

March 11, 2008

It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.  ~James Thurber

It’s not the answer that enlightens, but the question.  ~Eugene Ionesco

There are surely many more quotations on this theme! Rilke, in his Letters to a Young Poet, advises, “…have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

And the point is, to live everything. Cease struggling against what is, worrying about what might be, regretting what has been. That is my intention, difficult as it sometimes is in practice. These quotes remind me, though, that engagement with the questions themselves gives my mind something to do. Clarifying, articulating, and posing those questions to myself might be the practice.

What do you think?


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.


Ego

February 17, 2008

We’re swallowed up only when we are willing for it to happen.  ~Nathalie Sarraute

A number of forces combined yesterday to overwhelm my best intentions. As my last few posts have attested, I have been immersed over the past few days in the work of Eckhart Tolle on the power of living in the present. Yesterday, it felt as though my ego, or will, was so threatened by the prospect of  annihilation (through living in the now, surrender to what is) that it reared up and demanded my attention. It is a greedy beast! 

Though I tried to be the “watcher” in the throes of this experience, as Tolle recommends, I was unsuccessful at taming the unruly will.  My mindfulness muscles are not yet strong enough, perhaps. Today I hope to practice that mindful presence and surrender as I go about my day.

Do you have a practice that helps keep you mindful, that connects you with all that is, or that helps you avoid being “swallowed up?”


Slowing Down?

January 15, 2008

You ask me how I can remain calm and not become upset when those around me are all bustling about. What can I say to you? I did not come into the world to agitate it. Is it not sufficiently agitated already?  ~St. Francois de Sales

My day yesterday started out to be relatively peaceful (one 3-hour meeting in a town 2 hours away), even though I forgot my intention to slow down for Slow Down Week.  Then I remembered (around 7:30 p.m.) that I had a weekly online chat from 8 to 10 p.m. for the class I am taking from FSU. My normal bedtime is between 9 and 9:30, since on the days I commute to Atlanta (like today), I get up at 4. And of course, at 10 p.m., following my class, I was wound up and had to spend at least a half hour unwinding before sleep.  Incidentally, my favorite way to do that is New York Times Sunday Crosswords.

Today consisted of one meeting after another–after my 1.5-hour commute, I did manage to have 7 to 8:30 a.m. to unpack my bag, clean out my inbox, and check my e-mail, but then the meetings began: one from 8:30 to 9, one from 9 to 10, one from 10:30 to 11, one from 11 to 2 (which went until 2:30) and one from 2:30 to 3:00 (my normal quitting time). Only at the end of the day did I remember it is Slow Down Week!

Now I am sipping red wine in honor of the week (a good excuse, don’t you think?) instead of walking on the treadmill (isn’t there something weird about that activity?) I used to go to a gym, where at some point I was really struck by all the simulations of natural activity–pretending to row, pretending to walk, pretending to bicycle. How bizarre.

I have another chance to observe this special week tomorrow–I am working from home, which means I can sleep an extra two hours. I’ll bet I can be more mindful, not cause much ‘agitation,’ and actually be more productive and centered.  So, tell me, friends…have you done anything differently for Slow Down Week?


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.


Practicing Joy

October 24, 2007

We vow to bring joy to one person in the morning, and to ease the pain of one person in the afternoon. We know that the happiness of others is indeed our own happiness, and we vow to practice joy on the path of service. We know that every word, every look, every smile can bring happiness to another person. We know that if we practice wholeheartedly, then we ourselves may become an inexhaustible source of peace and joy for our clients, our customers, our coworkers, our family, and our friends.  ~Thich Nhat Hanh

How little we know about our effects on others.  No doubt we’ve all had experiences where someone thanked us later for something we didn’t even remember doing or saying. And times when a scowl or smile from another could profoundly affect our moods.

I like this idea of practicing joy on the path of service. Some people do it naturally, or at least it seems effortless. I’m especially thinking of my friend Silvia. And I like the idea that it adds to, rather than depleting, our energy–that “practicing wholeheartedly” keeps us available to others.

Only now am I beginning to understand that life is a series of choices, steps in a particular direction, and that every step (and every smile) matters.


Commitment

September 17, 2007

Until one is committed, there is always hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.  Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans:  the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.  All sort of things occur to help that would never otherwise have occurred.  ~Goethe

Using this blog software, I can find the blogs of others who post on the same topics (assign the same tags).  Yesterday, I was browsing the entries on mindfulness, and came across the idea of a 30-day yoga challenge for reestablishing practice.  I had forgotten this idea, but was exposed to it long ago, when I practiced yoga faithfully. 

I remember that when I practiced every day for at least 2 weeks, I would feel hooked and would miss the practice when I had to skip.  So I have issued myself a 30-day yoga challenge.  Now I am waiting to see what Providence has in store. 

Anyone care to join me in 30 days of the practice of your choice–or to be my accountability partner?  Two down, 28 to go!


Spaces

September 9, 2007

Drop the question what tomorrow may bring, and count as profit every day that fate allows you.  ~Horace

What a wonderful week of space I have had to rest in!  Time to do as I pleased–indeed, time even to ask the question, “What do I please?” What is it that I need right now?  Claudia says I worry too much about my future (she’s absolutely right), and it keeps me from being present in the moment.

I have resolved to give myself one full hour a day (space) between work and dinner, to ask my mind and body what they need and to nourish myself with that–yoga, meditation, sitting quietly, reading, counting things to be grateful for, writing. 

 Do you have planned space? How do you nourish your body, mind, and spirit?


Starting Over

August 22, 2007

You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing that we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down. ~Mary Pickford

This quote seems particularly appropriate today, since I have missed a couple of days of posting (travel to Savannah and back to do a library board training session).  I am getting better at “starting over;” that is, identifying those practices that are important to health and happiness and, without chastising myself for NOT doing them (“I will not should on myself today!”), simply begin again another day. I have always made a lot of resolutions, and have (without fail) failed to live up to them. But I’ve learned that I can fall down today and get up again tomorrow.  And some of those things I’ve resolved (flossing, for example) have since become daily habits…so there!


Writer’s Block

August 19, 2007

When a man does not write his poetry, it escapes by other vents through him.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

And perhaps that’s what this blog is about, after all.  No poetry to speak of for many years. Natalie Goldberg and many others talk about how much bad poetry you have to write, as writing practice, before a good poem arises. Banish the critic and just write.

Time seems short, and yet I know I make time for things that really matter. Is poetry one of those things? I’ve never felt more alive than when completing a poem, so it must be. To have a writing practice–that seems a worthy aim. Can it be done by refusing to expend so much energy on my day job?