The Wanting and the Long List

Who among us hasn’t had this experience? There is something we really want to do—perhaps in our careers, family, or creative lives. We see it clearly and then the long list of all the ways things might go wrong, all the obstacles that might arise, and all the negative opinions or judgments that others might make arises. We are left feeling that this is not meant to be. 

The glass is definitely half empty, if not fully empty, and yet, the wanting to do this particular thing keeps returning to us. 

We, humans, are especially good at getting in our own way. Our brains have been wired from the beginning to get us out of the way of danger and threats—real or perceived. Danger arises and we run for cover, fight like crazy, or freeze into frozen statues.

But, this doesn’t mean that we are victims of evolution; it simply means that to do what we want, what is important, and feels true sometimes requires us to do some skillful work inside. By paying full attention and being alert to our own nature—and being present with what arises we come to know what is true for us.

First, we recognize what’s happening in the moment. Perhaps it is self-talk making a list of all the bad and ugly things that might happen if we attempt to do what we are wanting, or it might be a never-ending movie showing us the same. Whatever arises, the first step is to become aware of it. We might say to ourselves something like, “I’m sensing there is a long list of reasons I shouldn’t do this and I’m saying hello to it.”

This kind of acknowledging is very important. It is not a judgement.  It is simply a recognition that we are aware it is here and are acknowledging its presence.

Now, invite in an attitude of interest and curiosity. Curiosity is so helpful! When we are curious we are not pushing anything away; and we are not grasping either. Curiosity is a soft, open, and interested attitude. Sometimes it helps to say, “Oh, I’m sensing I’m curious about this.” 

And, if something arises letting us know that it doesn’t feel curious and doesn’t like what is arising, we can acknowledge that too, and be curious about that.

And, sometimes when we do this we feel a settling and flow; or we may feel another quality. It could be something like tensing, contracting, or an emotion like fear. Or, perhaps what is here, let’s say the scary list, may grow bigger! Or, something else entirely. Whatever comes next is OK. We acknowledge that, too. 

If what has arisen is strong or grows stronger, we might put some space between us and it. Just visualizing space can be helpful. Or sometimes, instead of having direct laser focus on it, allowing our attention to be soft, and fuzzy and a little to the side–as though we are sitting beside it rather than in front of it. This soft attention also creates space.

We might also invite it to let us know how it would like us to be with it. This allows us to be with it in a way that is comfortable to it. This is the beginning of enquiry. Asking questions is a skillful means to bringing ourselves into relationship with what is arising and from there into wholeness.

Yes! We are building a relationship with what is needing our attention. When we think about it, it makes sense to do this. We build relationships all the time, with friends, family, colleagues. This is how strangers become friends.

Now is a good time to sense which other questions might feel appropriate. Perhaps some of these. 

Inviting what is here to let you know what is the worst part of it…

Or, inviting it to let you know what it is not wanting to have happened to you…

Or, in a similarly, inviting it to let you know what it is not wanting you to feel…

After asking… just waiting for what comes… and acknowledging by repeating or reflecting back. 

And, repeating the sequence for as many times as feels right.

This might go something like this…

Enquiry: I’m inviting it to let me know what it is not wanting to have happen to me…

Deep attention ((what comes will be different for each person): What comes is a sense of failure and an image, quality, or words of being ridiculed 

Reflection (Reflecting back): It’s letting me know it doesn’t want me to be ridiculed if I fail…

This sequence of enquiry might repeat several times. Perhaps, then, an openness, flowing, lightness, expansiveness, or calm and ease will arise…

This is the moment to allow this change, this open space, this ease and calm to be here as fully as it wants and an opportunity to give thanks to all that has arisen…

And, then what feels right… the right attitude, the right actions will occur naturally… 

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.

About The Plate

Everything is always changing. And how we eat is changing too. During the day grabbing something on the run, on our way from here to there, is common. It didn’t used to be that way. There was a time when the mid-day meal was a time to stop, eat, and rest. It was a time for the parasympathetic nervous system to do its thing: Rest and digest. Often people would go home to lunch. The table would be set. The meal would be served and enjoyed. Then after eating and clearing, everyone would take a rest before heading back to work or school.

Now, we run and eat, and eat and run and wonder why we feel hyped-up, stressed, and burnt-out. It doesn’t have to be that way. Even if lunch is brown bag, take-out or cafeteria fare, we can still make a moment of celebration and rest. It is all about the plate.

Use a plate. Stash plate and utensils in your desk at work, in your locker, or in your car or truck. Wash and dry it in the restroom. Who’s looking. Who cares.

Take a moment to unwrap and place your food on the plate. Ah, you are already slowing down. Now sit down with the plate and food.

Take a moment to take in what’s on the plate.

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Notice the textures. The rough edges, the frond-like surfaces, and the smooth and round skin.

See the colors. The orangey red, the shiny black, and the palest green.

Now smell. Perhaps something sweet and acidy will rise up through your nostrils, hit the receptors there beginning a process that generates an electrical signal that travels to the brain receptor cells and then to the primary olfactory cortex. But enough of that. Just smell the food. Oh, by the way, you may not smell much. That’s OK. Just take a moment and smell. The more you focus your smelling, the better it becomes.

Bringing your awareness to the food on the plate now, just rest your eyes there. Take it all in. Now, breathe in slowly and gently following the breath down into the belly. Pause. Breathe out slowly. Do this a few times. Now, that’s good.

You are ready to eat. Enjoy.

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.

On Autopilot?

Mostly, we go about our day on autopilot. It makes sense that we do not consciously have to decide moment-by-moment, what next. We just do what we do. Every day, we get up, get dressed, brush our teeth, wash our faces, get our kids off to school, go to work, eat, drive, and so on without thinking about what we are doing.

This is not a bad thing. Imagine the effort we would expend to consciously and repeatedly make the same decisions and navigate the same minutia of the same activities day after day. Perhaps exhausting.

On the other hand, when on autopilot we cannot savor what is right here, right now for us; we are not fully present and alive. We might be missing feeling the joy of even the simplest activity. Or, we might be missing something that some part of us might be trying to tell or show us.

What? you might be asking. Who cares!  And, you might also be sensing some budding curiosity in discovering what might come forward by spending a little time with something that doesn’t seem to need any attention at all.

How about bringing your full attention to some routine activity: Brushing your teeth, drinking a coffee or eating a doughnut or bowl of cereal, getting dressed, or driving to work?

Exploring bringing your awareness to something simple that we all do, like brushing our teeth, is a good place to start. Let’s do it.

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Notice how you pick up the brush, apply the toothpaste, and turn on the water. Really pay attention as you hold the brush. Be aware of which hand and kind of grip you use.  Sense how it feels to hold the brush. Now, squeeze the toothpaste onto the brush. What do you see? How would you describe the toothpaste going onto to the brush? And, the water? What do you notice?

Now bring your attention to brushing your teeth. Notice your stroke. Maybe you go up-and-down, side-to-side, round-and-round or some other combination of moves. Sense what it feels like as the brush contacts the the teeth and gums. Notice the texture of the toothpaste mixing with your saliva and how it tastes. What’s your tongue doing?  Do you swallow? Tune into how it feels inside, in your body.  Be aware of looking in the mirror and how that is. Notice when you decide to stop brushing and how that feels.

Be aware of how you finish up.  Perhaps you rinse your mouth, or not. Notice each step you take to clean and put away the brush. Notice your hands and how they feel as you do this.

Perhaps take a moment now and reflect. How was this different from brushing on autopilot? You might be surprised. Welcome whatever comes to you.

Perhaps your senses of taste, sight, touch, hearing, and smell have woken up. How was that? Maybe you noticed something you enjoyed or something that felt unpleasant. Take a few moments to describe what has come for you.

If something pleasurable is there, take your time and let it be there as fully as it wants to be. Now sense how that feels inside, in your body, having done that.

Perhaps it has brought forward something that is wanting your attention, something that doesn’t feel quite right, stuck, painful, or out-of-place.  It might have come as a feeling, a memory, an image, or a story. Check that out and see if something like that is there for you. If it is, you might say hello to it and let it know that you are willing to come back to it and spend time with it. Now notice how doing that feels inside.

This is it. Even the simplest, most routine and mundane activity is alive for us when we pay attention. And, by paying attention what springs forward may be pleasant and flowing and/or open us to something in us that given our compassionate attention and active listening moves us forward in our lives with just rightness.