Showing posts with label Impermanence. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Impermanence. Show all posts

Friday, February 3, 2012

Looking For Solid Ground

                                                                                                                 David Johnson, Star Prairie Gallery

Sometimes I just have to laugh at myself. I literally just sit here and laugh.  It’s usually times when I am working so hard at finding something or figuring something out, only to realize it is either right in front of my face or has been blinking like a neon “sign” the entire time. This has been my week.

In defense of myself, it has been a rough week.  Last weekend, for whatever reason, my body decided to succumb to yet another virus. Barely over the holiday flu we all got in December, I acquired a nasty sinus infection, which just seems to magnify all the other “issues” I battle on a daily basis.  Then on top of things, it was already a busy week in regards to medical appointments.  One of which was my infusion, scheduled for Tuesday of this week. Upon finding out that I was sick again, they promptly canceled my infusion and set up more appointments for me to get “checked out”. Ugh. So, to make a long story even longer (it seems), it looks to be just a virus, no lung involvement and not much new on the autoimmune front; an echo cardiogram stress test next week (just to follow up on things), a new medication for some skin issues I am having and a rescheduled IVIg appointment for next Monday.  Done.

On an emotional level though, this week has felt like one of those dreams where no matter how fast you run you just can’t seem to get anywhere, or no matter how many times you dial the phone you just keep messing up…or, like the dream I had last night where I gave birth to two African American twin boys and forgot them at the hospital (I’m still trying to figure it out) – I just keep trying and for the life of me…it’s not working.  Trying to write…not working. Trying to cook…not working. Trying to paint….not working. Trying to clean up the house…not working. Trying to help the kids…not working. Trying to read…not working. Trying to regroup…not working. Trying to eat healthy…not working. Trying to stop picking at my skin…not working. Trying to find some quiet space….not working. Trying to make time so I can figure out what the hell is going on…not working. Trying to schedule time away so that I can find my balance…not working. Trying meditate so I can figure out why nothing is working… not...working

My first sign came when reading  Oriah’s wonderful post on Wednesday entitled “Getting Unhooked”.  She has been going through some personal challenges as of late that lead to her to comment to a friend, “I feel like I can’t quite get my feet on the ground. Every time I think I’m on solid ground, it disappears from beneath me.”  (Hum…sounds familiar). She then goes on to talk about her experience of taking one of Pema Chodron’s books off her shelf (When Things Fall Apart) and randomly opening the book to this piece:

“We want to have some reliable, comfortable ground under our feet, but we’ve tried a thousand ways to hide and a thousand ways to tie up all the loose ends, and the ground just keeps moving under us. Trying to get lasting security teaches us a lot, because if we never try to do it, we never notice that it can’t be done. Turning our minds toward the dharma speeds up the process of discover. At every turn we realize once again that it’s completely hopeless- we can’t get any ground under our feet.”

Just think about it…I’ll explain more later.

Second sign. In my reading this week I came upon a quote by Santideva, an 8th-century Buddhist scholar. The quote read, “We who are like senseless children shrink from suffering, but love its causes.”

Read that one a few times.

Third sign. Someone sent me a message this week on my facebook page suggesting that I listen to Pema Chodron’s interview by BillMoyer on PBS, done in 2008. It is in six, nine minute segments – completely manageable, so I decided to give it a go. Committing to only watching the first nine minutes, I quickly abandoned the next hour of my life and watched the entire interview. Simply amazing. If you have time, I recommend it with the sincerest hopes that you will be blessed as I was.

I've read many of Pema’s books, but this interview was a view into the essence of Pema Chodron that I had never really seen – or at least been ready to see.  She talked about how no one really wants to suffer, yet our means by which we try to achieve our happiness or contentment most often seem to only escalate our suffering. For example, we yell when we are angry. We think this will make us feel better (that’s why we do it…for the release), but in the end, it only makes things worse. Our means of going about getting happy are not in sync with our desire to not suffer.

To give example of this, she tells the story of working on a project that she was very excited about.  She was writing an article that was taking an unusually long time to write. The adrenalin from the excitement she felt was allowing her to devote more hours to the project that what was sensible.  She eventually began to get physically sick.  When she began to realize the cycle she was in, she stopped and asked herself, “Why am I doing this?” Her first response, “I’m doing this because I equate it with satisfaction. I’ll finish the article and it will feel good to be finished. ” The dialogue continued. “So if I start writing again - right now, will I feel better?” She sat there and thought a bit. “No, I won’t, because my health is starting to go.” “So, why are you doing it?”At this point, instead of answering right back, she sat there until the real answer came out, “Because I WANT TO.” She was doing it for the imagined satisfaction. Her desire for satisfaction was not in sync with her methods of attaining it.

So, how does this all make sense in my world? This was the deal.  When my week began to fall apart, I did two things. One, I imagined what I thought would bring me satisfaction. Two, when it failed to work (because my desire for satisfaction was not in sync with my methods of attaining it), I made the incorrect assumption that what I needed to do was to get my shit together and find solid ground. Even if it was in the most well meaning and mindfully zen way, it was still grasping at something that simply does not exist. There is no such thing as solid ground. Everything is impermanent. Plans get canceled, meditation becomes distracted, positive thinking techniques fall short, time gets interrupted, people get sick, promises get broken, relationships fail...Life. Is. Groundless.  

What if, instead of running around pretending there is ground when there isn’t, we could just learn to not be afraid of groundlessness, not be afraid of insecurity and uncertainty? As Pema says, “it would be a calling on an inner strength that would allow us to be open and free and loving and compassionate in any situation.” And I would add…especially with ourselves. The Buddha gives the analogy of being barefoot and walking across blazing hot sand and cut glass. Or in a field with thorns. And your feet are bare and it is terribly painful. You say to yourself, “This is really hurting; this is terrible, the glass is too sharp, it’s too painful for me, it’s too hot to stay here.” Then you think, “Ah ha! I have an idea! I’m going to cover the ground with leather! Then it won’t hurt my feet anymore!” That’s like saying, “I’m going to get rid of this person in my life that causes me pain, I’m going to get rid of loud noises and bugs and barking dogs and things that interrupt me and schedules and ticking clocks and…everything that causes me pain…and THEN I will be happy and content!” Sounds ridiculous, but that’s exactly what I do…what we do! If we could just cover everything with leather we wouldn’t be hurting our feet anymore! Or…we could simply wrap the leather around our shoes.  So the analogy is, if you work with your mind instead of trying to change everything on the outside, then contentment or peace can be possible no matter what the situation.

Trying to find comfortable, reliable solid ground in this world is an effort that will undoubtedly leave you unsatisfied and exhausted.  It sure did me.  Learning how to make space and find rest within your our own mind, letting go of attachments and illusions of control, understanding that life is less about getting rid of all the bad stuff and more about wearing a good pair of leather shoes...well, this works

Now, if I can just remember!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A January Walk To Remember

Yesterday was such a gift. Not that every day is not a gift, but yesterday was especially wonderful. Last year on this date we had already had 30+ inches of snow and it was a whopping 10°. Yesterday was 53° and sunny, completely still and nothing but a trace of snow on the ground. But before I tell you about my day, a little bit of an update on the health
front first...

The miserable flu that took up residence in my body has finally started to loosen its grip. My lungs are clearing up and most of my misery is now located in my sinuses. It's snotty business, to say the least. This is a fairly significant success because I have done so without the use of any antibiotics! Good news on two fronts - one, my immune system was able to kick in where needed, despite the fact that I have added yet another immune suppressing medication to my daily regimen; two, antibiotics do not mix well with my current medications, either making them toxic or causing me to flare miserably. So, hurrah for this old body!! Right now...just a bothersome cold.

So back to my day yesterday...
I could tell, from the inside looking out, that yesterday was indeed a beautiful day. Around noon, my husband called, as he generally does at lunch time to check up on me, and asked me if I had been outside at all. He then stated that if at all possible, I should at least step out into the yard as it was "absolutely beautiful out". Being that my cold was lifting and the day had presented with limited fatigue and pain...I thought, what the heck! So I bundled myself up, smothered on the sun block, grabbed my camera and decided to walk. Having no idea how far I could get, I merely made my way down the driveway. (Yes, I brought my cell phone in case of an emergency!!)

You know what it feels like when you go someplace for the very first time? Everything new, your senses heightened, the world seems as if it were on steroids. Colors are brighter, sounds are clearer, air is fresher... you get the picture. This was my world yesterday. I somehow managed to let go of everything else - sickness, pain, worry, time... it all eluded me the minute I stepped outside. Out of the 190 pictures I took along my path, here are a few...

These are my feet, in real shoes, outside on the driveway. Seems like no big deal, but let me tell you, I felt pretty dang excited about the whole situation! For the longest time, after getting sick, I could not bear the thought of wearing my running shoes. As a runner, these shoes are only to be worn for running. There is a practical reason for this - they're expensive and you want to get the most miles out of your buck. There is also an emotional/psychological reason for this - a particular frame of mind that accompanies the wearing of these shoes. All business. Somewhere in time, I transitioned. I let go. Today, it felt really good to have them on my feet.

These are a couple of trees at the end of my driveway. The sun sits so low in the sky this time of year, at noon it bounces off the trees like a sunset. The shadows cast on the branches up against the clear blue sky were breathtakingly stark to me. The contrast of heaven and earth on canvas in my mind.

Before leaving our property, off to the right, there is a small forest, just big enough for a fort. Hardly even a grove to the average adult, a mystical land of make believe to the average human under ten. This fortress is appropriately christened Fort Awesome - so titled by my brother's three youngest boys. This fort was erected by the three (with the help of Uncle Dave) in the summer of 2010 during one of their visits here from Louisiana. It's been over a year since I had been out there. I'm happy to report the magic still resides.   

I plopped down for a bit to rest. The ground dry and soft, layers of pine needles make natures bed inviting. I think of all the animals in the woods that survive our bitter winters. How winds can make it seem as though it's -50° at times. How piles upon piles of snow can blow and create fortresses of flakes. I think to myself how wonderful this spot would be to find. How awesome. 

From my plopped position I look up and see the January sun through the trees. I think about everything that comes between this sun and I. Nothing...and everything. For a moment, I bask in the nothing.

As I made my way off our property and down the hill I was immersed in the symphony of sounds that made their way through the silence. Birds chirping, a chainsaw running off in the distance, this plane overhead. The sky was so bright I had no idea where my camera was pointing or if I would even come close to capturing this spec of wonder in the sky. As it flew by, I watched and pondered what it must be like - up there, in the blue. I smiled and raised my hand as if to touch the wing. United in our journey, we flew, if only for a moment, together across the sky.

There is a piece of land at the bottom of the hill where rows of hand planted pines stand tall like pencils in a box. It's a place we drive by to get to our house. One of those places too close to home, where the daily routine of coming and going creates a space hundreds of miles long - or so it seems. The summer before last, "they" cleared this swath for some reason. A chunk right out of the middle.

I understand there are often times good reasons why this needs to happen. Not sure if this is one of them or not. In any case, there is a mourning - a recognition of the holy - an honoring that begs of me some sort of acknowledgement. Even in complete stillness I could hear the souls of each tree whispering...whispering...whispering...."We are still here".  As I stood there, feet planted on the stump of what was, engulfed by what is, I found myself in the story.

It was a sacred moment for me. As I sat and rested, anointed by the sun, I listened to the telling. A story without words, a song without notes, a canvas of color beyond the rainbows edge...simply filled every fiber of my being. I took the picture below to remember.

Another spot close to home that I always wonder about is this little cemetery that sits up on the hill. I can see it from my bedroom window so it's quite often the object of both my meditation and my curiosity! Yesterday seemed a good day to visit.

It's a very old cemetery. Many of the stones date back to the early 1800's. Barely legible, worn by nature's rough hand, often in pieces...these stones also tell a story. Again, one to be felt, not heard. It sits on a hill, so many of the monuments have given way to gravity, much like we all do...eventually.

It's more walking than I have done in some time. So I sat under this tree for a bit and took in all I could see from this small ledge.

Sitting there, looking out from where I just came, is this field. Living in the Midwest, I have the privilege of experiencing the seasons to the fullest. Each season paints a different picture - each picture a different story. I like the fact that I can see the pattern left from harvest. When the fall is wet, and the farmers can't get out, it makes us all anxious. There's a sadness when seeing a half plowed field in January. In this field there is a sense of completion, a neatness - like I feel after the last dish is washed or when I tuck in clean sheets. Where the end of something prepares for the beginning of something else. A readying of sorts.

As I sit there, I notice off in a distance what looks like a bench. As I get closer I realize that it's also a headstone. I still don't quite know what I feel as I read these words. There is this odd mixture of things that swirl around in me and I still haven't quite landed on one. It's safe to say that it poked me a little bit. There's a sting when I read it. At first I felt as though there was this harshness..."Like it or not, you'll be here one day, just you wait!" But then it softened as I read it over a few times. In fact, I like that it says, "Seek your Truth, then follow me." No claims here. No corner market on the way. Just your Truth. The only assumption being the impermanence of it all. Of you and I. So I took this friend up on their offer, and paused to rest.

Sitting still, I was received into yet another story. Having accepted the offer, I found my part. Connected, I could feel my feet against the stone, the energy of the earth holding me tight, flowing through me. It didn't feel like a place of death or of ending at all. In that moment there was so much life around me that it was almost more than I could sit with. But I did. And I just continued to listen...

It would have been a bit silly for me to take pictures of every stone that moved me. Although, I did take quite a few. Some broken and propped up against themselves, some adorned in the most intricate of lichens and moss. So ornate in their patterns it looks as though they have been covered in the finest of tapestries. I'll let them tell their own story...

I eventually made my way down the hill and headed back toward home. To be honest, I wondered if I had gone out farther than what I could manage to walk back. It didn't matter though. For some reason I just knew everything would be okay. My job was to put one foot in front of the other and the rest would find me. As I walked, there was a point at which I almost felt like I was in a dream - completely awake, yet completely removed. The sun was in front of me the whole way home. It seemed surreal. So like the plane in sky, I just lifted up my camera and clicked, with the hope that I could capture the moment. When I looked at my pictures later that day, I was surprised to see this one. As if pulled from my is exactly as I remember it.

Today...well, its 20° and falling, the wind is blowing and the snow is piling up on my deck as I type. My hips feel as if they have both been dislocated and turning my neck is like trying to twist a rusty cap off a mason jar! It might have been just a little too far. But it was worth it - completely worth it. The experience filled me way more than anything the pain of today could take away. It was as if I opened a magical book and walked my way through the chapters that filled each page. From mystical fortresses, to bright yellow planes, to enchanted forests and legends of lives lived long ago - I listened to the stories without words. Yesterday truly was a gift, in more ways than I can even comprehend. But this I do know - our lives are what we make them. We can choose to live at a level that keeps us numb, that allows us to skim the surface, being pushed and pulled by what car we drive, how much money we have, how clean our homes are...Or, we can live life on a deeper level - open and vulnerable, full of courage, awake - allowing the experiences of our lives to soften us, make as a kinder more compassionate being, connecting with others and with our universe. This has nothing to do with health or capability, and has everything to do with our minds.
It's simply our choice.

I leave you with a quote from Albert Einstein,

“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
Peace to you as you embrace your journey,


Monday, October 10, 2011

Impermanent Things

Impermanent Things 

Peter Himmelman

All these impermanent things
Oh how they fool me
Dominate and rule me
They keep me waiting here forever
All these impermanent things
Well their beauty's never aging
But their worthlessness's enraging
You know we all stand alone when we're together
Why keep hanging on
To things that never stay
Things that just keep stringin' us along
From day to day
All these impermanent things
Present yet elusive
Passive yet abusive
Tearing out the heart in utter silence
All these impermanent things
Well they point in all directions
Like secondhand reflections
And they're leading us to subtle shades of violence
Why keep hanging on
To things that never stay
Things that just keep stringin' us along
From day to day
All these impermanent things
Well they're trying to convince me
Baptize my soul and rinse me
Purge my mind of honesty and fire
All these impermanent things
Well they all add up to zero
They make-believe that they're my hero
Then they fill my mind with doubt and false desires
Why keep hanging on
To things that never stay
Things that just keep stringin' us along
From day to day