Bird Contemplations 10

IMG_6946 I don’t like to imply that any day is particularly better or worse than another. Yet my experience is that days like this are glorious!

It’s raining. And it’s been raining most of the day. Distant thunder travels through the air. It’s what I consider a spring rain; slow and steady with the air chilly and damp. It’s a day for tea and books and quiet contemplation. No other sounds required or desired. No TV. No Radio or iTunes. I don’t even want to hear the sound of my own voice with Paz or Buddha Baby.

I remember another day like this – almost 20 years ago. It was the same kind of weather. I worked in a cubicle farm and lived only a mile or so from the office. I was standing at the window, dreamily contemplating what I would be doing if I were at home when my boss came over and said something like, “Always on days like this Sharon, you stand morosely by the window.”

She didn’t mean it in a negative way. Nothing like, “Quit wasting time looking out the window.” And I wondered if my face gave her the impression that my thoughts were morose. Maybe they were as I remember part of my job at the time was something to do with Y2K and the truth was, that was the part of my job I liked least. I dreamed of being retired…being at home…reading books and sipping tea… I sometimes wonder if my mindfulness practice had been stronger throughout my career, would I have enjoyed my work more? Or was it a lifetime of wanting something different that makes my current life so much sweeter and so much easier to experience moment to moment. It’s not a question for answers…just another observation to contemplate desire, clinging, attachment, aversion, and delusion.

Today I’m preparing for a talk I’m giving Thursday evening, “Compassion in Troubled Times.” I’ve pulled out the appropriate books, contemplated my own personal experiences with the topic, and meditated. It’s an excellent way to spend this glorious day. And I am so incredibly grateful…not at all morose.

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Bird Contemplations 9

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Clearing, by Martha Postlewaite

Do not try to save
the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
Instead, create
a clearing
in the dense forest
of your life
and wait there
patiently,
until the song
that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know
how to give yourself
to this world
so worth of rescue.

As I near the end of my third month of sabbatical, I look back at how I have spent my time…what habits or routines I’ve started, stopped, or cultivated…and what challenges I’ve faced. Sometimes I’m able to identify a challenge as life-long. And other times it is a new challenge, but usually rooted in something life-long. It is an interesting process that is not exactly appealing to some people but many of you will totally understand. It’s the process of continual exploration into who I am.

Many contemplative practices encourage us to sit with the question, “Who am I?” There is no goal or expectation to come up with a “right” answer. There is no right answer or even an answer. By exhausting the mind to come up with answers the meditator comes to the realization that there is only the question. And usually determines that the question is not important. I often say that questions are more important than the answers and what I mean by that is that the question isn’t important but the asking of the question is important. Because it’s in the questioning that we see life as it really is.

I have always been a deep thinker. And over my lifetime I’ve learned to take nothing and everything personally. Everything I come across is an opportunity for inquiry of the big questions…who am I? Why am I here? For some, religion answers those questions and they need no further understanding. I respect that. It just doesn’t work for me.

My life experience is one big metaphor. For example, my struggle with finding just the right prescription of contact lenses…at one point I realized that I could see the big beautiful world clearly and in sharp focus, but it was difficult to read without the help of reading glasses. I saw this experience as a great metaphor of my life/sabbatical because I can clearly see the big picture of what I’m doing but I tend to get lost on the details.

I sometimes question what I’m doing this year. I continue to should on myself too much. I should meditate more. I should read more. I should exercise more. I should eat better. I should volunteer more. I should engage with the sangha more. And then a voice deep within says, “There is nothing you should do.” And I’m reminded that I entered this year with a sense of, “Leap and the net will appear.” Perhaps I’m waiting for something to appear; to show up. Maybe I’m looking for that ever precious “Ah Ha!” moment that proves my decision to go forth into contemplation has significance and meaning. But maybe just showing up and staying with it is all that’s called for.

Maybe, as Martha Postlewaite so elegantly put it, (oh how I wish I had the rhythm of a poet!) this is my “clearing in the dense forest of your life.”

And so I will continue to wait patiently and trust that even at the end of this year if no questions are answered, it will be enough to have asked the questions, so that I may fully and without question, give myself, “to this world so worth of rescue.”

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Bird Contemplations 8

IMG_6874  IMG_6873It’s been a couple of weeks since I shared my contemplations and there are good reasons for it. For one, I suffer from a serious health issue that I call Scarlett Ohara disease. Its symptoms show up as a constant state of, “After all, tomorrow is another day!” I also call this laziness and I recognize laziness and sloth & torpor (in Buddhism, one of the five hindrances) as lifelong challenges of mine. But there was also a day (and a day of recovery) that I had the most intense vertigo I have ever experienced. It was so bad that I spent several hours in bed, afraid to open my eyes. Of course I’m still playing Goldilocks to contact lenses and there was one pair that I wore for a week and was never able to read a menu or type on the laptop without the addition of reading glasses. And there was a good 48 hours in which I attended to Paz who suffered from a severe reaction to Advantage flea/heart worm medication. The poor guy couldn’t walk across the room without his legs falling out from under him. He also had seizures and hallucinations! Paz will never be subjected to that poison again so I have to work with his vet to find something that will help protect him while being as safe as possible and non-allergenic. The only perfectly healthy one lately is Buddha Baby. And I admit, he brings indiscriminate joy to my heart. In the midst of all of this, I’ve participated in more than my fair share of activities and gatherings. Which on the one hand is wonderful (to have so many wonderful, kind, and loving friends) and on the other…a distraction from my commitment to solitude and contemplation.

I am enrolled in an online course about Going Forth. In the time of the Buddha and for many reasons, householders (your average person) would give up their typical life to go forth as a monastic and sometimes, as a spiritual wanderer. I was thrilled when I stumbled upon the course considering that my plan for 2017 was to do exactly that. Evidently our experience of aging hasn’t necessarily changed over the last couple of thousand years and for many of us in retirement, spiritual exploration on our own without work, family, and daily life to interfere with the exploration is quite attractive.

In one of the lessons Andrew spoke of isolation and how many of us have a sense of being more alone as we age; as people we know and love move away, die, or relationships just change. With the intention of going forth, we can explore what is gained and lost with relationships with other people and in being alone.

Back in the day, the whole point of going forth was to extract oneself from social context and define oneself freely. That description clearly articulates my own desire to go forth. I have found (and as described in the course) “…In solitude you can define yourself as you wish. In relationship you can’t because you are actually defined by the relationship – you are someone’s friend, wife, boss, etc.” By stepping outside those relationships and stepping into solitude there can be a perceived loss of connection with others, but one may also find a very valuable connection with self by being aware of one’s inner life and stepping outside of conventional roles.

In solitude, loneliness can be assessed. Does it feel like an affliction or as a valuable benefit? The answer is a matter of perspective as loneliness in and of itself is not automatically terrible or wonderful. My own experience has shown that it can be both. I rarely find myself lonely although my old friend does show up once in awhile. I’ve learned to welcome the feeling when it comes and turn towards the loneliness rather than away from it. Through this practice, I’m no longer afraid of being lonely and I trust that even if at the time it feels like an affliction, it will pass. It is at those times when I observe if I can be lonely without eating chocolate cake, watching TV when I’m not even interested in the show, or turning to Facebook.

I watched as one by one, many of my Mom’s closest friends and relatives died. Mom was an extreme extrovert and lived a life surrounded by people. She told me once that she got terribly lonely at times; especially on Sundays when she was no longer able to go to church or cook breakfast at the church. As I get closer to 60, I’ve already outlived some friends and family. What is it like for those who live to be in their 90’s or older? Everything I’ve ever read about living a long healthy life included accepting loss and being content with solitude…

IMG_6875It’s going up to 71 degrees today and there is 2″ to 3″ of snow in Sunday’s forecast. I am anticipating the loss of flowers and tree buds.The camellia in the backyard might be close to bloomed out. My love of snow has a lot to do with my love of solitude. Another indication of solitude’s relationship to loss.

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Bird Contemplations 7

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You are your own master,
you make your future.
Therefore discipline yourself
as a horse-dealer trains a thoroughbred.
Dhammapada 25.380

Needing some discipline this week so I’m turning off Facebook, the news,  and taking a break from the West Wing binge I’ve been on.

Looking forward to more time in nature…cooking whole foods…journaling… and meditating without interruption.

[Picture taken at Mokolodi Preserve, Botswana] 2005

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Bird Contemplations 6

img_6393There is a mindfulness exercise that I practice almost, if not every day. When I awake in the morning, I notice if I woke up thinking…mind chatter…or if I was aware of being awake before the chatter began. I also like to notice what the mind is focused on if its full of chatter. Sometimes the thoughts are just bizarre, with no logical (at least to me) reason for existence. And sometimes the chatter is about what’s going on in the world with politics or friends or family. Sometimes its just about what’s going on within. And sometimes it’s a song playing in my head. It’s difficult to tell if a ten minute meditation just before sleep the night before changes the habit of mind in the morning. Usually, I’m so interested in the present moment that I forget to check in with myself about the night before. And by the time I think about it, I’m out of bed and that moment and the moments before that moment are lost to space and time.

My 48 year old cousin died unexpectedly of a heart attack this week. 48 years old. We were not close. We didn’t even know one another until sometime in the 90’s. But we liked one another and were Facebook friends. He unfriended me when I explained why I didn’t agree with all the hoopla around Hillary’s use of a private email server. I wish more people were willing to engage in political dialog (not hyperbole). I never felt like cousin wanted to have a dialog with me. It always felt like he wanted to tell me I was wrong. I wonder what he thought about me. I wonder if others think that I only want to tell them they are wrong. Since he unfriended me with no conversation, I will surely never know. I’ve never understood people on FB who have real relationships and end it by unfriending with no conversation. I also have real relationships with people who haven’t unfriended me – as I haven’t unfriended them – but we haven’t spoken in a few years. Two come to mind…with both, our relationship was uncomfortable the last we spoke.

One of my Facebook friends posted that her son was missing. A few days later she posted that he passed away. It happened this week.

A very dear friend had brain surgery yesterday. Again. She has been in and out of hospital with brain surgeries for a couple years now. This time they put a steel plate in her head with the hope that it will keep her cerebellum from crushing her spine. It happened yesterday. Happy Valentine’s Day.

There are Russian spy ships off the coast and a lunatic in the White House.

And all of this is why I practice. It’s so easy to push away what we feel. We can eat, watch TV, read, enjoy a hobby, or call a friend. And none of those things are necessarily bad. But when we use them as distraction or as a means to not feel, we create unacknowledged suffering. I do it. I’m not perfect. The first step was being aware of when I do it. And the more I am aware, the less I get stuck in emotions that serve as a catalyst to those things that aren’t good for me.

Wayne Dyer once suggested that we look at the swans who meet in the pond and have a big fight. When the fight is over, they swim away. And you’ll notice that both of them shake it out just moments after they leave the scene. They don’t carry their anger around with them. They shake it out of their bodies…and swim serenely for the rest of the day. When I heard the story I thought, “I want to be like a swan.”

Today is a retreat day…normally a time to completely unplug. But when the call to write comes, I write. I think that’s a good practice for emotions…when the call to sadness comes, I’m sad…when the call for anger comes, I’m angry…when the call for joy comes, I’m joyful…when doubt comes, I’m doubtful. And I let it pass. At the very end, I might shake it out like a swan. Just letting go of the energy of one emotion as I move to another.

This morning I awoke to a quiet mind. The quiet only lasted a moment before mind realized it was awake and began thinking. It thought about my cousin and my friend with brain surgery. And it thought about what I wanted to write, even though I’m unplugged today.

 

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Bird Contemplations 5

00-new-passages-cover There is a book that sits on my shelf, waiting for me to pick it up every 8-10 years. I bought it when I was 38. The title is, “New Passages; Mapping Your Life Across Time,” written by Gail Sheehy. Gail describes the aging process of our lives into three adulthoods, Provisional Adulthood (18-30), First Adulthood (30-45), and Second Adulthood (45-85+). 00-passages-mapWithin the passages from one adulthood to the next are the Tryout Twenties, Turbulent Thirties, Flourishing Forties, Flaming Fifties, and Serene Sixties. Having enjoyed the comfort and wisdom of Gail’s explanation of my thirties and guidance through my forties and fifties, I’ve recently returned to seek understanding of my own Passage to the Age of Integrity as I enter the Serene Sixties.00-new-passages-integrity

I’ve never been one to give much thought to aging, other than acknowledging that the older I get, the more peaceful, content, and happy I’ve become. I don’t give into a lot of the core beliefs I hear from others…how everything begins to hurt, we can’t lose weight, we have no desire for intimacy or sex. I just haven’t found any of that to be true. And when people have marveled at how much younger I look when my hair is colored, I’m always taken aback that they would think my playing with color had anything to do with denying my age. The truth is, if I had the money I once I had to waste on color and cuts and painted nails, I’d still do it because it was fun…never as an attempt to look young. If a man is looking for a woman younger than me I prefer that he find her…I won’t waste my precious time and energy or give into social stereotypes of needing to look 30 when my body is twice that age.

I began this sabbatical with a desire to go deeper into my practice of mindfulness. I wanted a better understanding of Buddha’s Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path. I was looking for time to get physically healthy again, having put on 40 pounds of excess weight over the last few years – maybe 15 of which came with retirement. I wanted serenity and time for contemplation; an opportunity to turn inward with little distraction from friends or family or the external world in general. I wanted to sit and observe the birds, not as a retiree with nothing better to do but as a fully present human being with a wildly curious imagination and thirst for a deeper and more fulfilling spiritual life.

My friends have been incredibly supportive and their question of, “How will you do it?” has become, “How is it going?” It’s incredible to have that kind of support and at the same time, while I have often answered with long and thoughtful insights – gifts from time spent alone – the real answer is… “I don’t know.

In preparation for the year I purchased at least enough books to read one per week…something I’ve been unable to do with my eyeglasses and now my introduction to contacts. Those challenges have also impacted my time on the laptop. I’m going through the Goldilocks syndrome with a reading eye lens that was at first too weak, now seems to be too strong, and I’m curious if it’s time for a lower prescription to finally get vision that is just right.

I scheduled a wellness retreat the end of January for reflection and course correction. And I welcomed February with a new sense of motivation and determination to clean up my diet and get more exercise. I’ve enjoyed six days of February, one walk and a couple of healthy meals. My meditation practice continues but hasn’t necessarily improved (an odd way to think of my practice and I want to reflect on what I mean by improve). I’ve maintained an awareness of politics and turned on the TV at least once each day to see what’s going on and I’ve made a few calls to my Senators and Representatives. I’m enrolled in a marvelous Tricycle online course titled, “Going Forth” but honestly, I don’t do so well with online courses – or is it my eyesight?

One thing has become very clear… I don’t know what I’m doing.

My mind is filled on a daily basis by voices telling me all the things I should have… a teacher to guide me, an exercise routine, an action plan, a realistic vision. I should be engaged politically (more than just phone calls, emails, petitions, and Facebook.) I’ve even come up with a way in which I believe I can help – offering my facilitation skills to activists groups – but I’m not excited enough to take that to fruition even though my friends who hear my idea encourage me to reach out to local groups. Beyond the should’s is a litany of what ifs… what if this is it, what if I need to go back to work, what if I can’t buy a house, what if I need to move again, what if I’m really not the writer I believe myself to be, what if I’m a sham, what if no one cares?

I share these deeply personal thoughts not for your wisdom or advice or guidance. Certainly not for explanation or judgment. I only share them to say this is where I’m at in my process…I don’t know what I’m doing and every time I try to figure out what I’m doing and what my sabbatical should look like, I realize that I am an adolescent in the process of Second Adulthood. I’m figuring it out step by step. I’ve never been retired before and just as I had to learn and adjust to going to school or entering the workforce, I’m learning what it’s like to not have a job, not go to school, and not know exactly what to expect day to day.

Leap and the net will appear…

Some days are really uncomfortable and others are quite peaceful. Unhappiness and discontent comes when I judge and compare myself and that’s why I’ve retreated from those who want to compare their level of enlightenment to my own…those who believe that happiness can only come from one way of living…and those who pride themselves on being so empathetic and compassionate that they can no longer function in a dysfunctional world.

I’ve also retreated from my old way of being in the world. What does that mean? It seems to mean I’m experiencing a grand shift in perception and wisdom. Letting go of the need to be seen and admired by others and embracing a confident self-assurance that even when things feel totally f@cked up and confusing, they are exactly as they need to be. Like boarding a plane just days after 9/11 so I could be with my father on his last birthday, this sabbatical appears to be about going places where I didn’t want to go before. It’s not all romance and peace and contentment. It’s scary, dark, and sometimes feels dangerous. And at the same time it beckons me and rewards me and comforts me.

Some days I want to stay in bed to read, write, and watch some TV. I judge myself on those days, believing there is some standard I need to adhere to. I seem to have concluded that what other people do, whether it’s their career, dedication to meditation and study, or healthy hobbies are far superior than my desire to stay in bed and explore my own inner world. Maybe the questions for me to explore are…when did I become so judgmental of my own desires? And what makes me think that anyone is any more or less happy doing what they do?

This post is much longer than my previous contemplations. Perhaps it’s a reflection of where this experience is leading me. Maybe it’s just a needed conversation with myself. With my new contacts I’ve looked into a mirror and really seen myself for the first time in 20 or 30 years. Maybe this sabbatical is a lens for me to see even deeper…who I really am.

 

 

 

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Bird Contemplations 4

eyes I SEE YOU! Oh happy day! I am sitting at my laptop typing and I am not wearing glasses. This is huge for me! I started wearing reading glasses in my thirties. In my forties I moved to progressive, full time glasses and never minded wearing an accessory (I’ve had some cool (and not so cool) glasses!) but just dealing with a required accessory could be a pain in the a$$. Once in Costa Rica I left my glasses on a rock where I had been sitting and by the time I went back for them, they were ruined. I had no backups for the rest of the trip or to get me home. More importantly, to see my face unencumbered and clearly was something I haven’t experienced in over 20 years. The first time I looked in the mirror with contacts on my eyes my heart swelled with emotion – in a good way – to see my almost 60 year old face and realize that for several years now, I have not wanted to be seen.

I could call this week’s (actually this is for last week) blog, Goat Contemplations…I spent the weekend at Bend of Ivy on a Winter Wellness Detox Retreat. BOI is one of my favorite retreat centers here in WNC. napoleon And one reason for that is the goat herd. This big guy is Napoleon. I scheduled myself for the retreat so I could take some time at the end of January for reflection and course correction. I’ve enjoyed my first month of sabbatical and there were things that worked really well and others that I can do differently in February. I was scheduled to give a dharma talk the night before the Inauguration so I made a point of allowing myself to watch the news and experience the myriad of emotions that I know my sangha is also experiencing. It was a great exercise for me…it’s not easy…I’m still triggered…but I’m also moving through the emotions rather than getting stuck. I want to know what’s going on and I’m finding that acceptance of the way things are actually helps me engage with those who disagree with me and allows me to hear what’s going on without feeling like the world is coming to an end or the sky is falling. Never have I been so grateful for mindfulness practice and meditation!

Much of the weekend was a reminder for me…how bad sugar is for our bodies and how important color is in my diet. But I also learned some new things and this morning I’m drinking an oat straw infusion. It’s not bad tasting…like an herbal tea, and has important vitamins and it calms the nervous system. I’m drinking lemon water in the morning again for its ph and cleansing value. basketofgreensWe had a cooking class and I picked up a few tips. And a friend is coming over this afternoon for a walk in the woods. All in all the weekend was exactly what I needed and other than preparing taxes and finally getting my laptop/website together, February should be much more contemplative. I’m ready for solitude again and once my contacts are adjusted I will finally get to read a book again!

On the way home I stopped to visit a friend and meet her new puppy, Evie. Evie is part chihuahua and part dachshund. Otherwise known as a chiweenie. And I leave you with this picture of her just because she is so freakin’ adorable! This by the way was taken after we had been playing and she was completely worn out!evie

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