Thursday, March 26, 2015

Learning to Not Feed the Emotions

Several days have passed since my group meditation experience, but I keep returning to the two hours I spent sitting cross-legged in a yoga studio. A couple of ideas Bhante Sujatha offered continue to resonate with me, specifically that the sitting and looking inward, breathing in and breathing out, is practice, while the moment I walk out the door of the yoga studio is when meditation truly begins. This makes complete sense to me, for it's all well and good to sit, relax, repeat a mantra, and listen to my breathing, but if I only practice in the confines of a building, with the mindset that when I leave I'm done, then what's the point? Sure, I could find calm and quiet for an hour every day, and there definitely is something to be said for this given the chaotic world we live in, but to go out, face people and situations I might not necessarily want to face, and do so feeling calm and quiet despite the people and situations, is, I think, the real fruit being cultivated through the practice.

And it was a second idea Bhante Sujatha suggested that makes the calm and quiet possible despite the people and situations: recognizing the people and situations as my teacher. What can I embrace and use as a learning opportunity? To illustrate his point, when a student at the session asked how to answer a person who might not be supportive of meditation, Bhante Sujatha said, "Say thank you." Most of us laughed at this as saying thank you to a negative response isn't the usual recourse. The usual for many, and I will definitely admit I am like this more often than not, is to go on the defensive, perhaps flip up the middle finger. When the laughter subsided, the monk continued, saying that in offering a thank you, we are allowing ourselves the opportunity in a calm and quiet way to acknowledge the reaction/emotion we are feeling, observe it, then move on. The more we acknowledge and observe, the less we feed the emotion, thus allowing the emotion less control over us. The person or situation that instigated the reaction/emotion, in this sense, is the teacher helping me grow.

This week, I had the opportunity to grow. Though I didn't tell the individual responsible for my growth thank you during our discussion, I did so the next day, after I had processed the exchange. We were at odds over an issue, and while we didn't reach the point of raising our voices or making each other mad, the other person was visibly upset. I thought through what had happened, came to the conclusion that I still harbor frustration and even a bit of resentment over the issue, and because I do, I responded the way I did. I thought through the issue further, coming to the conclusion that in the end, I needed to let go of the frustration and resentment. Both were doing nothing positive for me, and thanks to the other individual, I was able to recognize this and make a change. So the next morning, I went to the individual and said, "Thank you for helping me recognize I was harboring frustration and resentment." We talked a bit further, both of us able to move on to trying to find possible answers to the issue.

Just thinking back over this week makes me smile; so much good happened. So much.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Meditation in Blue Jeans

 Spring

I cycle the trail,
into the breeze raising up
the red-winged blackbird.

***

Recently, I participated in my first guided meditation session. I've been wanting to go beyond my own space and take part in a group meditation session for some time, so when the opportunity arose last week, I signed up. What I found at the end of the two hours was 1) I truly enjoyed being guided, listening to the soothing monk voice; 2) I'm pretty sure I nearly fell asleep as I vividly remember dreaming of a low-flying helicopter (so perhaps I was asleep); and 3) sitting in a crossed-legged position for an extended time makes the ankle against the floor hurt.

When I arrived at Main Street Yoga, I was directed to the front of the room, towards Sassy Sister-in-Law who was already there, sitting on a pillow, her yoga mat stretched out in front of her. I made my way to the pillow next to her and settled in. Immediately, I thought I should have worn yoga pants as I was, after all, in a yoga studio, but more so to just be a bit more comfortable for the next two hours. With a little shifting of one jean-clad leg, then the other, I was able to get myself situated nicely on the pillow (many thanks to the person who decided spandex should be a part of jeans!). Sassy Sister-in-Law and I whispered back and forth, but then I thought perhaps our whispering was rude. The two monks just a few feet in front of us were sitting quietly. They weren't whispering. They weren't talking. They were just sitting. So that's what I did.

At precisely 1:00 pm, Bhante Sujatha, a monk and the creator of the Blue Lotus Buddhist Temple,  began the session. He explained his journey, telling us he knew at 11 years old that he wanted to be a monk. I truly admire people like Bhante Sujatha. While I'm happy with what I do as a career, to some degree I still don't know what I truly want to do or be in this life. I know I'm happiest when I'm creating, be it a short story or a photograph or a wind chime from bicycle parts or a garden with veggies and flowers, but I can only do these things as long as I have that job that pays to support them. I'd love to be able to do all of these things and make a living doing them. I wished I'd known this a long time ago. Maybe things would be different if I'd realized then what I've come to understand now.

After Bhante Sujatha finished telling us about his journey, he led us into the meditation exercise. We were instructed to think, "I am well. I am happy. I am peaceful." Repeat. As we repeated this, Bhante Sujatha talked soothingly, easing us along. I could feel myself becoming deeply relaxed. We were then instructed to pay attention to our breathing. In. Out. In. What does it feel like? Out. What does it feel like? Then I was standing on a rural road I cycle often during the summer. It wasn't summer, though, as there were no crops growing in the fields on either side of the road. The sky was clear and blue. A white helicopter came from the left, flying across my field of vision and I watched it until it passed in front of a house. The next second, I found myself back in the yoga studio, wondering what in the world had just happened. Why was I standing in the middle of nowhere, watching a helicopter of all things?

I brought myself back to repeating "I am well. I am happy. I am peaceful" and listened as the second monk began a chant. During the chant, Bhante Sujatha circulated throughout the studio, laying his hands on each participant's head in blessing. When he reached me, I was wondering how I could shift my right leg to ease the pressure on my ankle without my movement being noticeable. I decided to not move, but rather sit through the pain long enough for the monk to offer his blessing. When he placed his hands on my head, my first thought was "I'm glad I washed my hair this morning." My second thought was "I want this man's kindness to be the kindness I show others." After another 15 or 20 seconds, Bhante Sujatha moved on. I felt such appreciation for his blessing. Then I felt the ankle pain again and slowly removed my right foot from beneath my left calf. The relief I felt in my ankle was heavenly, but I was also kind of pleased that the blessing overshadowed the pain.

For the rest of the meditation, I focused on the manta and my breathing, and by the end of the session, I did feel well, happy, and peaceful. These feelings stayed with me for a long time afterwards, right through the evening. Even several days later, I'm still thinking back to the session, mulling over the words of Bhante Sujatha, the tranquil tone of the chant, and the idea of loving kindness that was the underpinning of the session. What kind of world would we have if every single one of us went through our days with the intention of loving kindness? Hmmmmmmm. Imagine.

Friday, March 13, 2015

In Praise of a Vanilla, Cream-Filled Cupcake with Lovely, Vanilla Frosting

Here it is Friday, and I'm thinking three days ahead, when I'll have to return to work. Sigh. I truly love being home. Being able to do whatever I want. Whenever I want. With no one else here, asking for something. Knowing my days are numbered has sent me into mourning.

So I figured the best way to deal with mourning was to eat a vanilla cupcake with cream filling and lovely, swirled vanilla frosting for breakfast.

I have never eaten a vanilla cupcake with cream filling and lovely, swirled vanilla frosting (or any other kind of cupcake or cake for that matter) for breakfast. Not ever. Rather, breakfast has always been oatmeal, eggs (more recently egg whites only), bacon (more recently turkey bacon, though I just can't get past the limpy nature of it and decided to eat pork bacon as long as it comes from pastured pigs), and yogurt. Along with what I eat, I make sure to drink water, lemon water, or more recently, kombucha. The most daring I get on occasion is to have half an asiago bagel with cream cheese. Breakfast has always been sensible.

This morning, when the idea of eating a cupcake occurred to me, I backed away, thinking no, it's forbidden fruit. But the temptation only grew. Then I thought why the hell do I always do what's sensible? Surely one cupcake was not going to add on 5 pounds. Surely one cupcake was not going to raise my cholesterol levels. Surely one cupcake was not going to send my blood sugar spiking past the point of no return. 

So I embraced being impractical. I embraced eating that vanilla cupcake with cream filling and lovely, swirled frosting to ease my mourning. Not only did that cupcake ease my mourning, but it also immeasurably improved my morning.


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Loss

My bees are dead. What I have feared since last fall happened.

I don't even know where to start. And, really, I can barely see the monitor because of the tears that keep blurring my eyes. I know they're "just" bees to a lot of people, but to me, they are creatures that play a very important role in the cycle of life.

I was supposed to help them. I was a "beekeeper," but I feel like I totally failed them.

My heart is broken right now.
One group of the mass of bees I found dead in the hive. 









Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Lion Yawns






Winter Slumber
 
Snow floats down,blankets
the ground with its magic and
asks us all to dream.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Finding Comfort Through Writing

One way I cope with stress/distress/anger/frustration/sadness is to write. Feeling crushed by every single one of these emotions the last few days, I found myself going full tilt into a short piece that is part of the longer collection, a piece I've not been fully satisfied with from the get-go. While I'm happy with one very basic idea offered in the story, I'm not at all happy with most of the other aspects of it. So I made some changes.

The first major change was to make the main character a woman rather than a man. While several of the stories within the collection are told from a man's point of view, I just wasn't feeling confident that this particular story's male pov was working. Once I had finished going through the entire story to change every he to she, every his to her, and every male character's name to the new female character's name, the fingers started flying on the keyboard. I kept a few minor details along the way, but for the most part, the story reshaped itself without me having to think too much.

The second major change was to add in another character, a son. Where the previous male main character didn't have any children, the new female main character does, just this one. Once I made this addition to the story, the details about this guy seemed to shoot from my fingers as if he actually is a real somebody. Who knows, maybe there is a young man out there who does resemble this guy. All I know at this point about him, though, is he made a decision that has caused great sadness for his mother.

I've reached the point in the story where I'm not quite sure where it's going to go. I have some ideas, but I want to mull each over before making a decision. I'll most likely write each possibility out to get a feel for how each could take shape, but for now, I'm feeling much more confident in the story. It has a much truer ring rising to the surface, I think.

After spending the last two days working on this story along with responding to student work, I feel much less stress/distress/anger/frustration/sadness. In a way, I guess I've transferred what I was feeling to the characters in the story, which is what makes writing probably the best medicine a person can take for some ills.