Meditation Practice

Groundhog Day -- Letting Go of Hope and Staying With It

Groundhog Day, it is the point where the winter begins to stretch out into a seemingly interminable future.   The overcast skies, the cabin fever, and the mushy winter stews blur the pale horizon.

Revulsion Is the Foot of Meditation

Take a 2,600-year-old spiritual tradition from Asia and drop it into the blender of postmodern American consumer culture. Add science and multiculturalism to taste, and mix at Internet speed. This is 21st-Century Buddhism -- a weekly blog for the Interdependence Project. In this space, I'll talk about the issues that Buddhists and other spiritual practitioners face in our time and our place. I'll also bring in occasional posts from other guest bloggers who are contemplating these issues. If you have something to say, write to me at dhblogfeedback (at) gmail (dot) com.

The Art of Surrender: Even When it Hurts

“Each of us must make his own path through life.  There are no self-help manuals, no easy answers.  The journey of life…is not brightly lit and it has no road signs. It is a rocky path through the wilderness.”                                                                                                             

                                                                                                                            —M. Scott Peck

November was a sad month for me.  No, that’s not true.  I was more than sad.  For weeks last fall, I struggled to find a word to express how I felt and eventually realized that “grief” rather than “sadness” fit the bill.  The trouble with the word “grief” is its unique association with devastating loss.  And, in the fall of 2010, I couldn’t pinpoint any meaningful deficits in my life—no deaths in the family, or major break-ups, foreclosures or job losses.  Nothing to rationally justify my grief.

But there are some life lessons that you simply can’t absorb until you’ve lived them.  And learning to explore, and surrender to, our darkest—and often most confusing—feelings is one of them.   Even if you don’t understand the source of your depression, grief or fear, sometimes we human beings just need to feel them, and to trust that they have something to teach us.

In October, when the grief first appeared, my instinct was to resist it—to push it aside in favor of ruminations about my daughter, my next meal, my work.  But the grief stretched itself long and wide, until it seemed to fill every cell in my body.  By month-end, I had mounted a full-scale retaliation—thinking happy thoughts and actively socializing my sadness away.  And then, just when I thought I was in control, my grief reappeared in physical form—brutal skin rashes and outbreaks of hives.  They appeared not on my elbows nor between my toes but on my face and neck—the most public parts of my body.   Every time I looked in the mirror, I literally had to face my losing battle with grief.  Then, one weekend in late November, I had the house to myself and decided to sit with my grief for a few days to see what happened.  I happened to be reading Elizabeth Lesser’s Broken Open—a book that encouraged me to surrender and assured me that I would come out the other side.

Parker Palmer has written about depression being a great teacher in his life.  He writes that the root of the word means “to come down” or to paraphrase, to become grounded.  As I surrendered to my grief, I too experienced the sensation of falling down.  It was highly unpleasant to say the least—for days I was alternately sobbing and shaking with grief—but eventually the flood of tears began to subside.  

As I regained coherence, I began to see myself, and my life, with unusual clarity.  I was in fact grieving—not a recent loss—but one that had occurred several years prior.  I had lost my partner and left my home—shortly after giving birth to my daughter—yet another massive, transformational event.  All of this transpired in the space of a few months—and with a newborn to love and nurture, I had scarcely any time to eat or pee, let alone to process what had been lost.  Last fall, I realized that I couldn’t move forward until I held those losses up into the light and learned something about myself—about life—from them.

I have come to believe that grieving the life we wished to live and learning to live the life we have is a critical milestone in human development. We all create, and hold onto, a vision of how our lives ought to turn out.  But our egos create these ideas early in life—before we are fully formed—so we are bound to outgrow them.  And at some point, we need to replace those visions with an acceptance of life as it is and a commitment to respond to our unfolding triumphs and tragedies from the heart.

As it turns out, my grief was a great teacher.  I learned to surrender into my own pain.  In doing so, I finally let go of the life I was supposed to live—the book deals, the global speaking tours, the winsome husband, and yes, even the old farmhouse in southern France that my spouse and I were supposed to renovate in our golden years.  I hurled all of my painstakingly inspired life delusions out the door. 

There was another component to my grief.  Of the many life changes I experienced in a short period of time, I had invited some, but others I had not.  For someone accustomed to believing herself “in control” of her life, I struggled to accept the uninvited changes too.  Were they my fault?  How could I have made such colossal mistakes?  How could a competent, functional person let her life fall apart?

It took many hours of reflection to see that if life turned out the way I planned, it would erase all the fun and mystery of being alive. Rilke’s quote, “In the difficult are the friendly forces, the hands that work on us,” served as a reminder that the unexpected twists and turns are expressions of life “working on me.”

When you view life from that vantage point, you can also see that our worst moments are not directly correlated to our inherent goodness, state of spiritual growth or work ethic.  We can be good people and try hard and still have to face horrible realities.  We are not here to live unblemished lives.  In the future, I want to give myself permission to be sad when I stumble and fall, and to have compassion for myself on the way down. 

We all expect unconditional love from one source or another in our lifetimes.  But we so rarely give ourselves the love we desperately need.  Next time I experience unexpected change or loss, I want to be the first person to gently say, “This hurts so much, but remember, you really are an exquisite human being.”

 

To learn more about Taz Tagore or to read other posts, visit Labor of Love.

Going From the Inside Out, Instead of the Outside In

I have spent the better my life reacting to my life, instead of living my life.  It wasn’t until I started practicing meditation that I even realized most of my decisions were from a reactionary position instead of from my higher self.  Although I thought I was the captain of my ship, steering it in the direction that I wanted to go and had control of, in reality all I did was change the rutters and the sails every time a wave hit.  Only when some outside influence was nearing my ship would I then run around the boat controlling my course against that wave to come to an outcome that I desired.   

Daily Connect: Is Subway Reading Escapist?

"..books can become merely a means to escape from reality...an excuse for not really making an effort to examine things in detail for oneself."

Daily Connect: Mindfulness, Buddhism and the 8-Week Brain Change

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A new Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction study coming out based on shows very promising results for changes to brain structure from a simple 8 week course. This is very encouraging - even more so given that MBSR really only presents a very small slice of the various mindfulness techqiques that derive from the Buddhist tradition, never mind teachings on compassion, the nature of mind or ethical conduct throughout the day. If we made equivalence with yoga, a study like this is saying something like "Downward Dog has now been proven to be really good for you." Hearing any study like this, a yoga teacher would say "yes it is - imagine what might happen if you committed to a complete practice."

Focus on Who I Am, Not on Who I Think I Should Be

For the last decade or so I have been trying to get to a place “where I had it all”.   As a woman from this generation I thought “to have it all” all I needed was a husband, a career, a couple of children, and a body like a twenty-five year old well into my forties.  The women’s movement of the 70’s was trying to give us freedom of choice, but in some way it has warped into this fantastical view of what would make a woman happy.  This freedom of choice hasn’t given us any real type of freedom instead it has put us on a constant treadmill of striving to reach this idealized goal that has slowly crept into the mainstay of American culture.  I feel now as women, we are fighting within ourselves to reach some unattainable outside goal that few ever achieve, or even hold onto forever.  As women, I feel the true voice within us has been lost in our struggle to reach this goal.  Unlike the women who fought to give us this freedom, we struggle to achieve and maintain it instead of creating a female dialogue that would only continue the growth of women.   

Boredom and Getting Fed -- Lovely Peanut Greens

"If we are to save ourselves from spiritual materialism ...  the introduction of boredom and repetitiousness is extremely important.  Without it we have no hope."   - Trungpa Rinpoche from "The Myth of Freedom"

Daily Connect: Frozen Yoga and McMindfulness

Dr. Miles Neale, IDP Psychology Mentor, psychotherapist, and Buddhist teacher recently engaged in this great interview over at Shambhala Sun about "Frozen Yoga and McMindfulness."

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