Monday, May 31, 2010

Letting Go

I tend to be rather purposeful. I recognize a need, quickly devise a plan to address it, and move into action.

Therein lies the problem. Life appears not always to agree with my assessment of a situation nor, it would seem, my proposed intervention. Roadblocks often appear. And then I have a choice~~to doggedly push forward, or to pull back and reorient myself, accepting guidance from things as they are.

I’m currently receiving this lesson in spades. I’m recovering from my second knee surgery, which requires several weeks on crutches with my leg locked straight in a brace. Freedom of movement is severely curtailed. There is no longer a seamless connection between my wishes and my actions, as even the simplest activity becomes now a process. Dressing, bathing, getting something from the fridge, moving between rooms, climbing into and out of the car, even repositioning myself on the sofa~~none are the mindless endeavors they were two weeks ago.

This recovery will be lengthy, and there’s just no hurrying it. No matter how diligently I undertake my physical therapy, bones need a certain amount of time to knit together, and tissue heals at its speed, not mine. It’s all rather sobering. Humbling, actually. And if I’m wise, I just might learn a thing or two.

I quickly recognized that while I continue to benefit from specific periods of meditation, now more than ever, each moment is improved upon and made more manageable through a continuous meditative focus. Every movement brings a lesson, an opportunity to allow, even welcome, feedback from the world around me.

When a crutch drops to the floor, or an object is two inches beyond my reach, I need to simply be with what is~~without judgment or upset~~and choose a fitting response. The times I’ve struggled emotionally have all come when I insisted that my plan prevail, despite the fact that it didn’t seem in accordance with what was happening in real time.

I’m not always so bull~headed, though. Often, I’ve held my preferences lightly. At these times, I’ve been able to bow to the moment, abandon my plan, and be guided into my next move. It feels good to flow with things as they are. It’s actually quite freeing.

And into the midst of this steep learning curve, another gift arrived. Amid the stack of DVDs checked out of our local library was Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Franco Zeffirelli’s 1972 biopic of St. Francis of Assisi. While likely of questionable historic accuracy, I gained a needed perspective as I watched this fictionalized Francesco coming to recognize the world surrounding him as imbued by God.

Yes, I need to accept each moment as it is. If I appreciate the holiness that infuses each of those moments, though, I will also greet them gracefully and with joy. For where else would God be, after all, if not in this moment, right here, right now?

So, I seek to embrace each experience, even those my small self may not be particularly fond of, as a manifestation of the sacred. I shall also use this long recovery process to loosen a pesky inclination toward willfulness.

In the words of the real~life St. Francis, “Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self.” Overcoming self. Yes, it’s good for what ails me, now and for the rest of my life. Amen.

Be well yourselves. And here's to us all seeing the divine in even the most mundane~~or annoying~~of moments!

Loanne Marie

For an essay that addresses this issue in a different way, please click here for one of my very first posts.

And for an essay detailing the quite different lessons that arrived in December with the surgery to my other knee~~amazing to me how different the two experiences were!~~click here.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Softening the Heart

My day began with the discovery that three people had not done something each had separately agreed to do. These oversights cost me a bit of time and some inconvenience. Nothing terrible in the overall scheme of things, but they did mess with my plans for the morning.

An old tendency of mine returned. I began to stew. When someone’s lack of follow~through costs me, I often feel completely justified in grumbling. Depending on the particulars of the incident, I’ve even been known to fume.

While I took the appropriate action in each case today without behaving badly, my internal grousing continued. A waste of energy, to be sure. So as I waited for the corrections I’d put in motion to materialize, I decided instead to work on this essay. I opened my laptop, retrieved the page on which I’d made some preliminary notes, and burst out laughing.

I’d planned to explore a quote my sister~in~law, Martha, had placed on her wall. The words of the Buddhist nun and author, Pema Chodron, urged me to “Soften what is rigid in your heart.” And those words arrived now, just when I’d closed down around perceived slights.

There are many ways in which we harden our hearts~~anger, self~righteousness, a tangled knot of fear, being judgmental, perfectionistic, or willful. What good do any of these bring us? None, of course.

While taking action when things go awry is often necessary, I suspect that the tone underlying our actions may count the most. I can “do the right thing”, but if I do so with an attitude that bleeds negativity into the world, my right action seems, at the very least, diminished.

So how do we deal with our heart’s rigidity when it arises? First, we stop feeding our upset. I’d been fueling mine through my choice of thoughts. No matter another’s actions, my response is solely my responsibility.

Second, while distracting ourselves might work temporarily, if this issue is a recurrent pattern in our lives, more will be needed. At some point, rather than avoiding this tendency of ours, we must turn toward it. We do this, though, in a very specific way. We neither abandon ourselves to the disturbance through giving it full sway, nor do we attempt to beat it into submission. Neither choice is effective long~term.

In his book, Anger, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, suggests that we tend our discomfort by calmly holding it in our awareness. Just like a parent soothing a distraught infant, a gentle and kindly attitude will begin to transform our distress. While the effect is not always immediate, with the clear and focused attention of our wisest self, our difficulty will ease.

Once quieted, we can unearth the true basis of our upset. “The main cause of our misery,” writes Nhat Hanh, “is not the other person~~it is the seed of anger (or other emotion) in us.” Some folks, for example, would not have become agitated as I had earlier today. The morning’s events merely activated something that already existed within me.

With my upset soothed, I was able to learn more about the inner workings of my psyche. This increased understanding allowed me to deepen a bit and to become more conscious of how I am~~and how I wish to be~~in the world.

In other words, I softened a bit more what was rigid in my heart. Not bad for a morning’s work, eh?


Loanne Marie

Monday, May 3, 2010

In what will you clothe your spirit today?

I’m not the world’s most focused meditator.

Today, for example. I was sitting with my weekly meditation group, eyes closed, posture upright, body still. Internally, though, I was critiquing a movie I’d recently seen.

Of course, when I realized I’d strayed, I brought my awareness back to the present moment.

Soon, though, I found myself amused that I’d fallen under the illusion that I was a movie critic, behaving as though an audience awaited my cogent analysis of character and plot development.

Oops! Back to stillness.

Next thing I knew, I was ruminating on how this is the human way. So often, we undertake one activity while imagining ourselves engaged in another. Driving alone, we play out an anticipated conversation with our partner. Washing dishes, we travel back in time to relive an experience from last week or a year ago, perhaps playing out other possible scenarios.

Or while meditating, we begin work on an essay about how attention wanders while meditating! I quieted my rambling mind once more.

The act of returning, again and again, to simple and open awareness, or to a specific focus point, is the practice of meditation. Slowly we drop into a deeper reality, an experience which teaches us to place within a larger context those stories woven by mind and heart. Gradually, the experience of that Essence begins to infuse the rest of our lives. We may come to hold our views more lightly, and question the way we perceive ourselves and others.

Many spiritual traditions teach that the concept of an individual self, separate and distinct from all else, is an illusion. Certainly, we each have a disposition, a personality created in large part by a combination of genetics and life experience. But aren’t each one of us also an expression of that unfathomable force that vivifies and shines through us, just as light filters through panes of colored glass?

I don various guises to clothe my spirit, yet often mistake my current outfit for who I truly am. There are the roles I claim in this life—woman, family member, friend, psychotherapist, neighbor, citizen. But there are also more transitory costumes.

On any given day, I might shine out as angry, kind, tired, playful, petty, enthusiastic, sarcastic, loving, pessimistic, generous, worried, clever, tearful, or joyous. None of these is me. They are each merely a form, a casing I create for the energy that is given me.

At the heart of spiritual practice is the recognition that we are individually responsible for the forms we create. Although it may not always feel this way, it is ours to determine the expression our energy will take, ours to choose the color of glass through which our spirit will stream forth. With conscious intent and much practice, we can learn to choose more wisely.

During my meditation period today, I did eventually settle down. By the time the bell chimed to conclude our hour together, I had nestled into that peace “which passeth all understanding”. That peace, which exists in its purest and most accessible form in the here and now, spoke to me again of what is true and enduring.

And I vowed once again to remember that as my ground of being and to choose wisely how to express it in my world.

May we all shine out with a richness and vibrancy worthy of that which is given us.

Loanne Marie