Who Is Bothering Who?

When we sit down to meditate, we assume, implicitly, that everything around us will take note and stay quiet. When it doesn’t we may find ourselves irritated or agitated. “How can that dog be barking now?” we might ask ourselves. “How is it that a neighbor is cutting down that tree with a noisy chain saw right now? Doesn’t he know I am meditating?” 

The dog is just following his nature. The neighbor is just cutting down the tree because it needs cutting down. It is our mind that is reacting to the dog’s bark and the the noise of the chain saw.  We are the ones that are going out and bothering the dog or the neighbor with the chain saw.

Where is our attention? Our attention has wandered off to out there and grasped onto the noise of the barking or the whine of the chain saw. When we are mindful, our attention is even, neutral and friendly.  From this space we can relate to what arises no matter whether it is pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral in the same even way. We don’t push it away, grab hold and cling to it, or judge it.  We are aware of the dog barking or the chain saw cutting down the tree and we can be with each phenomenon in a friendly neutral way.

So often we react to outside situations by building defensive fortifications as though there is a war going on. This is a creation of our own mind. Suddenly, the noise of the dog’s bark sparks a reaction. Perhaps a memory rushes in to assail us. Maybe we have been bitten by a dog, approached by a large dog which scared us when we were a toddler, or confronted by a dog’s snarl. Or, perhaps the neighbor’s chain saw jettisons us off to reacting anew to the neighbor’s past actions that we found hurtful or discourteous. Maybe we feel our shoulders or some other place in the body tense in reaction to the noise. Or, it may be that the noise sets off a pervading vague feeling of irritation that has no noticeable correspondence in the body or in conscious memory. 

Mindfulness invites us to release our reactions by bringing our mind to a neutral space. When we do so, we can be with an experience without suffering. We are aware of the dog’s bark or the whirl of the chain saw, but we are not triggered. By being with what arises, we release stuck energy. No longer does the memory of the long ago dog bite carry an emotional charge or a threat to our safety. We remember it as as something that happened but without the suffering attached to it.

Our perspective changes. We understand that it is not the dog’s bark that bothers; it is our mind’s reaction to it that bothers. By changing our perspective, we change our mind and open our mindfulness.

* See Jack Kornfield, ed., The Buddha Is Still Teaching: Contemporary Buddhist Wisdom, Shamble Publications, Inc., 2010, p. 76  

And, Epstein, Mark, The Trauma of Everyday Life, Penguin group (USA) LLC, 2013, p. 183

Going Through Anger to Sweetness

There is nothing intrinsically harmful about anger. Anger is a natural emotion that moves us to action. As with all emotions, it rises and falls away.  So why do we often feel that we can’t shake anger? Why does it stick to us however hard we try to push it away? 

The answers are many. Perhaps this stickiness comes from how our culture teaches us not to show anger or how as children we protected ourselves in difficult and dangerous situations by not showing it. The truth is, though, the cause is not what matters. What matters is how we are with it; how we respond to it.

In my life experience, anger has been a great teacher. A person very close to me had for many years been caught in the throws of addiction hurting herself, her family—all her relationships and endeavors. Her suffering was palpable.  At first, when the call would come that she was in a desperate situation, I would run to her side with the belief that I could set everything right. Once the appearance of balance and health emerged I assumed all was right and would leave triumphantly. Of course, this was a delusion. I had accomplished nothing and failed to notice this for the longest time. 

Over time my anger grew becoming a constant irritating companion. Then, fortuitously, as my mindfulness practice developed, I noticed and sat down with my anger.  This starting where I was, was crucial in my journey of awakening to my anger and my true nature.

At first I sat with it in the same way I might sit by a roaring campfire. Giving it space, I sat a little bit away from its heat while watching intently its flames flicker and dance. I sat with it for a long time in this way noticing, acknowledging, and watching.  When it felt right, I invited it to,open to me from its perspective by asking, “What’s the worst part of the situation?” It let me know. 

It showed me what lay beneath. First, there was hurt ego desperately playing the savior, believing that it could control and fix everything. There was resentment that this person had spoiled our relationship.  There was paralyzing fear that this person would be arrested, thrown into jail, or die.  There was recognition that this suffering was arising from my response to the situation. Finally and surprisingly, my anger released.

It showed me that the way to freedom from my suffering, lay in going through the anger. Not skirting it, not attacking it, not pushing it away. By being fully present with it and immersing my full attention in it in a neutral yet friendly way it  both dissolved and led me to appropriate actions. 

In my case the appropriate actions were the setting of appropriate boundaries which led to the further action of changing my behavior. I acknowledged that  I had no control over the situation but I did have a choice in how I responded to it. In this process, my love and compassion grew stronger.

My experience led me to understand that noticing, acknowledging, and being present with anger are the first steps to allowing anger to do its job, to move me to action. So now when anger arises, I turn to it and invite it to let me know what it is wanting while knowing that its wanting will unwind like the layers of a juicy onion. At first as we cut the onion, it brings tears to our eyes. Then as we slowly cook it,  it releases its sweetness. So, too, with anger. 

Go ahead. Experience your anger.

Mending The Breach

A couple of weeks ago, on an incredibly warm, blue-sky day, as the snow pack melted into torrents of water, my neighbor stopped by to tell me that my irrigation canal had breached its banks. I pulled on my Wellingtons and followed her down to have a look. The swiftly moving water was eddying around fallen branches and banging into the sides of the canal at each turn as it made its way from the head gate at the creek, through the woods, to the hillside pasture. 

There in three places, the rushing water had eaten away the bank and was gushing into the woods and down the hill. As we opened our senses to what was right there, our plan of action emerged. We set to work. Collecting the flattest rocks from a nearby pile, scooping up mats of last autumn’s leaves from underfoot, and collecting rich mud from the earthen banks that had given way, we began building retainer walls.

We felt the texture of cold, rough stone, dried, brittle plant, and mucky earth. We watched the water curl, swirl and race and felt its brilliant coldness as we placed a rock, applied our handmade mortar of leaves and mud, and then placed another rock. Presence, a tender calmness, our open senses, and a wondrous sense of spaciousness guided our movements.

The trickster water changed course, seeping not here now, but over there. We placed a rock there. We patched with mud here. Rhythmically, moving as in a dance along the narrow path at the canal’s edge, we didn’t need words or feel the hurly-burly of emotions. Our work carried us. Time passed. Birds flitted above. Sunlight filtered down in glistening waves. The walls held. 

This experience is with me as I ponder. How often do we push others away when discord happens? How vigorously do we find fault or blame when something goes awry or someone hurts us? How disheartened do we feel when something breaks? How often do we approach the every day stuff of life with our full presence and open heart? This is our choice.  

How we perceive a situation is everything. In an instant a reaction might burst in us and in another instant, as we notice this eruption, we can pause and bring our full awareness and compassionate heart on line.

This coming into kind presence as we mended the breach in the canal bank, is the same kind presence we can call upon in ourselves when we perceive someone or something has wronged us.

Imagine that when seeing the water flooding over the banks of the canal, we had become angry, blamed the weather, or the neighbor further up the mountain who hadn’t opened his canal to relieve the volume of water coming down, or we had reacted with fear and anguish that the erosion would destroy the pasture. Certainly we would have suffered and quite possibly not have had the wits to look around to see that the materials for mending the breach were right there at our feet.

Noticing our reaction, we can choose to come into tender presence and by giving our full attention, listen deeply to what is needed and receive the wisdom that allows us to mend the breach.

On Being Authentic

Everyone is talking about being authentic, of being our authentic selves, and of leading authentic lives. The talk grabs our attention. It feels right to say, “I want to be authentic.” But, exactly what is authenticity? And, how do we know when we truly are?

When we are authentic, the dictionary says, we are genuine, real, true, and honest. These qualities feel right. Most of us want these attributes for ourselves and others. Once we move from the abstract to our daily lives, however, exactly how these operate in us can be much harder to pin down.

What does it mean to be genuine in our words and actions? How do we know if we are being true? True to what? And, are we really honest? Authenticity is an inside job and there s a lot going on in there.

We ask ourselves what is authentic for us. An answer comes. How do we know the answer is authentic?  One way is to look at inner and outer drivers.

Inner drivers include what feels right or what feels true in the moment absent of any interference from our environment. Inner drivers include understanding our reasons for acting in a certain way, acting from our own bodily wisdom, and living courageously allowing our creativity to flow. When we are authentic we decide for ourselves without intervention from external authorities or events. But, the inside is a complicated place. Much of what is happening interiorly is due to externalities that we have taken onboard. Traumas, hurts, slights, and misconceptions have dug deep into the very sinews of our bodies, minds, and souls.

Outer drivers include cultural norms, and/or peer, social, and religious pressures to appear a certain way. Our actions, behaviors and outward manifestation can be driven from external forces.  When what drives us is something bound up inside of us as a result of  our environment, experiences, or traumas then it is these externalities that are driving us. Even external events experienced by our forebears such as famine, war, prejudice, or enslavement can be passed down epigenetically and drive our living experience.

When we feel pressured to adhere to a certain way of living, dressing, or acting or we ignore our own inner objections (such as ‘this doesn’t feel right’) but we do it anyway because we believe we will fit in better or be able to live more comfortably in our surroundings we are living from outer drivers and not our authentic selves.

Authenticity isn’t about being nice. Authenticity is about being true to our inner knowing about what right for us.

Authenticity isn’t about removing ourselves from our environment or our connections. It is about being creative and courageous to act in a way that is being true to who we are as we also live in our environment and nurture our connections.

Sometimes it is useful to sit with ourselves and ask the question? How does this feel inside? Suppose a friend asks you to do something. You immediately say, “Yes, of course I’ll do it,” because this is your friend asking and you want to please your friend. You don’t want your friends, family, society, or culture labeling you as bad, unkind, or selfish.

But inside something doesn’t feel right about it. This thing that your friend has asked you to do doesn’t align with your inner knowing of who you are, your core values, and what feels right. Realizing this you let your friend know, “This doesn’t feel right for me, so, no, not this time.” This is your authentic self shining through.

So what’s authentic? Acting to please your friend even though the action doesn’t align with your core values is not authentic. Letting your friend know that this action doesn’t feel right for you and so you won’t do it is authentic.

Take note here. It is not about your friend, it is about you. When we are authentic, we are not judging others, we are being true to ourselves.

We want to please our friends, our families, and our colleagues. We are compassionate and want others to rely on us. We want to feel included in our environment, community, and among our networks of friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances. Something in us believes because we have been told this that this is the way to feeling whole, creative,and full of forward moving energy. But it isn’t. This is what ties us up in knots inside, binds our energy, and dampens our creativity. This is not the path to authenticity.

The process of discovering our authentic selves can have big consequences. It can take a long time and much effort.

So, it was with my own journey to authenticity. As a woman I felt a strong need to be able to make it in life with my own smarts and to depend on no one. After getting an MBA I began working in high tech. I got promotions and made a lot of money but was miserable. I was always trying to fit in, to prove myself, and to succeed according to what my environment defined as succeeding. I had the education, capability, and work ethic.  Those were all there. But, something was missing. It had to do with truth, the truth of who I am and the misalignment between my essential true self and the expectations of the environment of my profession. It was all very subtle.

Years went by. Then it happened. On a business trip, my left foot began hurting so badly I could hardly walk. Getting to and from meetings was agonizing. I felt cut off and physically, emotionally, and spiritually drained. Finally the meetings were over and I boarded my cross country flight, slumped into a window seat and fell asleep. On waking, I  looked out the window. There, thirty-three thousand feet below, the sparse and rugged southwestern desert was lit in golden light. In a flash, like a pop,  it was clear.  High tech is not for me. Immediately, I felt energy flowing and the pain subside in my foot. Two days later I quit my job and the unwinding began. My life began opening to me.

About Eating

How does it feel to eat? Someone once told me, “When I eat I sense something grasping and gnawing inside of me. It feels like there is something desperate in there!”

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This person was really in touch with how it felt to eat for her. Eating is a complicated activity working at many different levels of our experience. It can tell us a lot about how things are going for us in that particular moment. When we are eating, it is a good time to pause and check inside to see how it is for us right then and there.

Eating is so basic and so complicated. It often brings forth in us something that is wanting our attention; something that is wanting us to deeply listen in a curious and respectful way. But, this something wanting our attention often goes unnoticed as our attention is elsewhere. Perhaps it is on the TV, on the phone, on the computer, in a book, in conversation with another. Or, maybe we are “zoned” out somewhere far from what we are doing in the moment, eating!

Pausing is a good idea. Some people say grace or a few words of remembrance before eating. Growing up, the custom in our family was to say grace. Even as a kid, there was something about that moment of being together in thanks that felt really right, a sense of appreciation for the food on the plate and being together.

Now when I pause in thanks before eating, I do it from the inside out. I bring my awareness inside to that whole middle space that will receive this food, the throat, stomach, and belly and check what’s alive for me in this moment of eating. Perhaps something is wanting my attention right now. It may need just a moment of respectful acknowledgement or perhaps it is something that is wanting of bigger chunk of my time and space. In that case, I say hello to it and let it know I am willing to come back to it when it is needing my attention.

Pausing in this way changes my eating. It slows me down. It increases my enjoyment of the food. And, it brings me in touch with situations, feelings, and emotions, triggered by food and eating, that are wanting my attention. This is a gift for which I am grateful.

Presence

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Presence is the natural state of Self. Presence is simple, open, spacious, and alive. And, yet many of us are baffled by it. “How do I get it? we ask.” How can it be natural when I’ve spent my whole life wrapped up in my emotions, stories, and thoughts that keep me busy all day and, sometimes, all night, too?”

I invite you to view Eckhart Tolle  giving us his simple, lively, funny, and deep teaching about Presence at the Wisdom 2.0 Conference held February 14 – 16, 2014 in San Francisco. Click here for Presence with Eckhart Tolle

Enjoy!

The Body — A Different View

In my professional healing and wellness work, I use body-based modalities. But what do we mean when we say body? Do we share a common definition? Experience tells us that we do not.

To some the body is just a thing, “an object in a world of objects.” (Cornell, 2005, p. 221) It is that physical structure, the bones, flesh, and organs. Others acknowledge that the body is alive; it has processes, but it is not all of us. They acknowledge that the body breathes, taking in air containing oxygen and exhaling air containing carbon dioxide; that cells divide and create new cells through meiosis and mitosis; that cells and organs make new substances from other substances through chemical reactions; and that sensory information from the environment is captured and transmitted to the brain where it is assembled into an experience or a situation. But, they maintain the mind, the Self, memory, emotions, knowledge and wisdom is somehow separate from the body.

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At the same time, most of us would acknowledge that we have experienced a bodily sensation that carries with it meaning. We say things like, “I had a gut feeling this would work out.” Or, ,”I had a gut feeling to stay away from that.” Or, ” My stomach is tied in knots; I’m so worried.” No one asks, “How did the gut know?” “How did the stomach know about worry?” By which mechanism does the gut and stomach have this knowledge?

When questioned the response might be, “It’s just a saying.” But is it? We’ve felt something.  The stomach tied in knots. The queasy feeling in the abdomen. The tightness in the chest. The clenching in the throat. We have felt it. Then we let it go.

Something in the consciousness of our culture keeps us from talking about something so natural. Perhaps because the process is not analytical or rational, we shy away. And yet, we acknowledge these feelings in our everyday communication, “Something in my gut told me to call you.”  And, we make good use of what they tells us.

This is our body talking; not in a physical but in a subtle way, delicately yet precisely. This body, this interconnected process, interacting with the environment, has wisdom that it shares with us all the time. We can learn to pay attention to it in a special way so that we can fully partake of what it has to share.

When we pay attention with focused yet open awareness, moment to moment, and non-judgmentally, we are in Presence. When we are present the whole of us, the whole the body, can sense what wants our attention now. We make contact; we say hello. We listen and acknowledge from that neutral but compassionate Presence. We feel a body sensation, sense an emotional quality or mood, see imagery, and connect to a story.  By doing so, by entering into this respectful relationship with our body, we can heal, grow, and receive that life-forward energy that allows us to achieve that which we desire.

Reference: The Radical Acceptance of Everything by Ann Weiser Cornell
Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Venus de Milo, The Louvre, Jastrow 2007