Monday, August 26, 2013

Pace & Peace

Wanna find God? Simple. Drive slower--God doesn't break the speed limit unless somebody's pregnant and needs to get to the hospital.

Wanna find peace? No problem. Let the worries of your driven self race on ahead while you stay behind with what's left.

Wanna be joyful? Easy. Chew slow enough to taste your food. God prepares a table for us every day--and even though it's often in the presence of our 'enemies,' each bite of God's cooking is too good to miss.

Do these and similar things figuratively and literally.

By 'literally' I mean at least once a day drive slower than usual. Use your car as a hermitage. Be kind. Make room for others on the road. Take the scenic route.

When you feel anxiety like a squirmy bunch of catepillars in your gut, pick one, just one, and watch it until it metamorphs into a moth or butterfly and under it's own power flies away.

At 3:45 in the afternoon say to yourself, "How about a nice cuppa tea?" Then put a kettle on and call the time it takes to boil a sabbatical.

All those wise ones over the years are right, you know?

Going faster than the actual speed of life keeps us perptetually just out of reachof what life actually can be--Real, Pithy, Delightful, Full of Flavor.

Wave your wand. Take one small step...backward. Exhale. Move at the pace of Life.

(MH--re-posted from last year)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Healing: The Mind

Jesus said, "You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free." This is a favorite Wisdom saying for me these days. Only I've been adding President James Garfield's addendum to it: "But first it will make you miserable."

This isn't always true. And Garfield says it in a way that shocks for emphasis. Yet when we're on a spiritual path, and we're inspired and brave enough to stay on it, it's true enough. 

The following passage from Jack Kornfield is a good description of one of the unavoidable views we get along 'true' spiritual paths. It's the prettiest picture. Yet "True" trumps "Pretty." Doesn't it? 

Or at least, Shouldn't it?

Mindful practice trains a person to observe the mind honestly and compassionately. What follows from JK is the honesty part--a truth that steady, clear, and brave observation always reveals. As you're reading it, remember the compassion part--the combination of clear eyes and warm hearts is the very prescription for deep and lasting healing. 

('Sweeter' bits will follow soon)

Just as we heal the body and the heart though awareness, so can we heal the mind. Just as we learn about the nature and rhythm of sensations and feelings, so can we learn about the nature of thoughts. As we notice our thoughts in meditation, we discover that they are not in our control—we swim in an uninvited constant stream of memories, plans, expectations, judgments, regrets.

The mind begins to show how it contains all possibilities, often in conflict with one another—the beautiful qualities of a saint and the dark forces of a dictator and murderer. Out of these, the mind plans and imagines, creating endless struggles and scenarios for changing the world.

Yet the very root of these movements of mind is dissatisfaction. We seem to want both endless excitement and perfect peace. Instead of being served by our thinking, we are driven by it in many unconscious and unexamined ways. While thoughts can be enormously useful and creative, most often they dominate our experience with ideas of likes versus dislikes, higher versus lower, self versus other. They tell stories about our successes and failures, plan our security, and habitually remind us of who and what we think we are.

This dualistic nature of thought is a root of our suffering. Whenever we think of ourselves as separate, fear and attachment arise and we grow constricted, defensive, ambitious, and territorial. To protect the separate self, we push certain things away, while to bolster it we hold tightly to other things and identify with them. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Healing: The Art Letting Go

Richard Rohr, in the three paragraphs that follow, connects 'letting go' with forgiveness. Both these practices, Forgiveness and Letting Go, are part of the life work we do to heal ourselves and our world.

It's a beautiful teaching. Embodying it, practicing it, letting the habit of doing it become familiar (and almost delightful!) transforms us.

What does letting go on the practical level tell us? Letting go is different than denying or repressing. To let go of something is to admit it. You have to own it. Letting go is different than turning it against yourself; different than projecting it onto others. Letting go means that the denied, repressed, rejected parts of yourself, which are nonetheless true, are seen for what they are; but you refuse to turn them against yourself or against others. This is not denial or pretend, but actual transformation.

The religious word for this letting go is some form of forgiveness. You see the imperfect moment for what it is, and you hand it over to God. You refuse to let any negative storyline or self-serving agenda define your life. This is a very, very different way of living; it implies that you see your mistakes, your dark side, but you do not identify with either your superiority or your inferiority. Both are equally a problem.

Forgiveness is of one piece. Those who give it can also receive it. Those who receive it can pass forgiveness on. You are a conduit, and your only job is not to stop the flow. The art of letting go is really the secret of happiness and freedom.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Healing: The Heart

We continue the 'healing' thread. This week: healing the heart.

Following is a short and very helpful 4 lines by Thomas Keating, the godfather of a resurgence of Contemplative Prayer in North America. And a longer section from Jack Kornfield's A Path with Heart.

In this section JK quotes a wonderful poem by Windell Berry, I Go Among Trees and Sit Still. I've added a stanza that was left out.

I find all of this very helpful, but also deeply intuitive. I had to read WB's poem 5 times before I could even begin to absorb who was scared of what, etc.

Yet these re-readings were wonderfully rewarded--a growing understanding began to light up some of the typical stuff that troubles me, body and soul.

I wish the same light for you.

   The mind deceives.
   The body never lies.
   Listen to the wisdom of your body.
   Hear its truth. --Fr.Thomas Keating

Just as we open and heal the body by sensing its rhythms and touching it with a deep and kind attention, so we can open and heal other dimensions of our being. The heart and the feelings go through a similar process of healing... Most often, opening the heart begins by opening to a lifetime's accumulation of unacknowledged sorrow.

As we heal through meditation, our hearts break open to feel fully. Powerful feelings, deep unspoken parts of ourselves arise, and our task in meditation is first to let them move through us, then to recognize them and allow them to speak. A poem by Windell Berry illustrates this beautifully.

   I go among trees and sit still...
   Then what is afraid of me comes
   and lives a while in my sight.
   What it fears in me leaves me,
   and the fear of me leaves it.
   It sings, and I hear its song.

   Then what I am afraid of comes.
   I live for a while in its sight.
   What I fear in it leaves it,
   and the fear of it leaves me.
   It sings, and I hear its song.

   After days of labor,
   mute in my consternations,
   I hear my song at last,
   and I sing it. As we sing,
   the day turns, the trees move.

In truly listening to our most painful songs, we can learn the divine art of forgiveness; both forgiveness and compassion arise spontaneously with the opening of the heart. Somehow, in feeling our own pain and sorrow, our own ocean of tears, we come to know that ours is a shared pain and that the mystery and beauty and pain of life cannot be separated. This universal pain, too, is part of our connection with one another, and in the face of it we cannot withhold our love any longer.  --Jack Kornfield, A Path With Heart

Monday, August 5, 2013

Healing: Suffering Is Optional

Deep in the DNA of mindfulness is the insight that suffering is optional. If you practice mindfulness, even after a few weeks, you'll likely begin to see this for yourself.

However--there's a catch. There's some playfulness here with the definitions of pain and suffering. The Buddha used an example.

You get shot in the arm with an arrow. It hurts. A lot. That's pain. It's very, very real.

Ah, but then, you react to getting shot with an arrow. Who did this! Why me? Will my arm become infected? How long will it be before I can play tennis again? Maybe the Buddha didn't actually say this last bit. But he did say that this secondary discomfort is like getting shot by a second arrow. This is Me shooting Me, and You shooting You. This second arrow is suffering.

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Mindfulness both invites us and trains us to see which is which.

We are invited to take pain for exactly what it is and to work with it skillfully. We practice giving our best attention to the first arrow and dealing with it wisely and kindly.

And we are invited to take suffering for exactly what it is and work with it skillfully as well. We train in slowing down enough to note this second arrow--and who shoots it. In doing this we see (over and over) how reactive we are to pain.

Pain is inevitable; pain visits us regularly. Suffering visits us regularly too. But it's not inevitable--in many ways it is truly optional. And we can progressively come to understand what causes suffering and what cures it.

Below is another wise and helpful teaching on this from Jack Kornfield's A Path With Heart.

We can learn to be aware of pain without creating further tension, to experience and observe pain physically as pressure, tightness, pin pricks, needles, throbbing, or burning. Then we can notice all the layers around the pain. Beyond this may be an emotional layer of aversion, anger, or fear, and a layer of thoughts and attitudes such as "I hope this will go away soon" or "I feel pain: I must be doing something wrong."

Some practices try to conquer the body. Sometimes healers will recommend consciously aggressive meditation for healing certain illnesses. For certain people this has been helpful, but for myself and others, who have worked extensively with healing meditation, we find that a deeper kind of healing takes place when instead of sending aversion and aggression to wounds and illness, we bring loving kindness. Too often we have met our pain and disease, whether a simple back ache or a grave disease, by hating it, hating the whole afflicted area of our body. In mindful healing we direct a compassionate and loving attention to touch the innermost part of our wounds--and healing occurs.

Bringing systematic attention to our body can change our whole relationship to our physical life. We can notice more clearly the rhythms and needs of our bodies. Without mindfully attending to our bodies, we may become so busy in our daily lives that we lose touch with a sense of appropriate diet, movement, and physical enjoyment. Meditation can help us find out in what ways we are neglecting the physical aspects of our lives and help us hear what our body asks of us.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Healing: We Must Study Pain.

More from Jack Kornfield on healing--specifically healing for and through the getting in better and better touch with our bodies. JK's advice "we must study pain" sounds pretty unattractive. It sure is counterintuitive for almost all of it. Funny, how helpful it turns out to be.

Thankfully, mindful practices get very specific in giving us both the why and how we do it.

Meditation practice often begins with techniques for bringing us to an awareness of our bodies. This is especially important in a culture such as ours, which has neglected physical and instinctual life.

With awareness, we can cultivate a willingness to open to physical experiences without struggling against them, to actually live in our bodies. As we do so, we feel more clearly its pleasures and its pains. Because our culture teaches us to avoid or run from pain, we do not know much about it. To heal the body we must study pain.

However, most often the kind of pains we encounter in meditative attention or not indications of physical problems. They are the painful, physical manifestations of our emotional, psychological, and spiritual holdings and contractions. The Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich called these pains our muscular armor, the areas of our body that we have tightened over and over in painful situations as a way to protect ourselves from life's inevitable difficulties. As we sit still, our shoulders, our backs, our jaws, or our necks may hurt. Accumulated knots in the fabric of our body, previously undetected, begin to reveal themselves as we open. As we become conscious of the pain they have held, we may also noticed feelings, memories, or images connected specifically to each area of tension.

As we gradually include in our awareness all that we have previously shut out and neglected, our body heals. Learning to work with this opening is part of the art of meditation. We can bring an open and respectful attention to the sensations that make up our bodily experience. In this process, we must work to develop a feeling awareness of what is actually going on in the body.

When you meditate, try to allow whatever arises to move through you as it will. Let your attention be very kind. Layers of tensions will gradually release, and energy will begin to move. Places in your body where you have held the patterns of old illness and trauma will open.