Meditation Challenge: Day 8 of 28

Once a day and twice on Sundays. Yesterday I sat for 20 minutes in the morning and then 20 minutes after I got home from a visit with Mom. It was the first time I’ve done a meditation at night in this go-round. Very interesting to see the differences in the state of the mind between morning and evening. Took me longer to settle down — actually longer to sit. Part of the evening meditation was also about re-settling after a day that involved lots of driving. Re-settling myself into my home and re-sanctifying it.

This morning I began Week Two of the program, which focuses on the body. Specifically, the teaching suggests that I focus on areas of discomfort or pain within my body. Relating how I approach discomfort, pain, not getting what I what, to how I relate to my own body’s pain. It’s a very powerful association but definitely a more challenging kind of meditation. Luckily, the teaching — and my own mind and experience — remind me to continue to be gentle and open. I move back and forth between focusing on my breath and returning to the area of discomfort. First the general area, then gradually honing in on the spot that has the most intensity of pain. Or sensation. This kind of meditation can be exhausting. So I begin, again and again. Return to the breath. Return to the sensation. The teaching even suggests focusing on pleasurable sensations as well — but warns that it is easier to get lost in pleasurable sensations.

I do not think that attempting this challenge by myself would be a good idea if I did not already have some experience practicing meditation with others. It is so easy to become overwhelmed and lost in the mind. But also wonderfully rewarding to peel away the layers and find, finally, the Centered Self. The End of Desire. The bottom of the tackle box.

(Re)Commit to Sit

Right around the equinox I started the Tricycle 28-day meditation challenge. Other friends of mine might do weight-loss challenges, but this is definitely more my speed. So to speak.

As the word “challenge” might imply, the course set out by the hard-core Buddhists over at Tricycle magazine was a little too rigorous for me. But I figured it was a good opportunity to deepen my on-again off-again sort-of daily practice of mindful movement and seated meditation into something a little, um, deeper. I may not be able to commit to 20 minutes a day of sitting still for the rest of my life, but at least I could commit to 28 days.

Tricycle’s staff wanted me to sit for TWO 20-minute periods, morning and evening, and then dedicate two hours over the weekend to more sitting. Maybe that makes sense for a farmer or a delivery person, but I ALREADY spend far too much time with my butt planted in a chair. 20 minutes of doing it mindfully sounded possible, though, especially since seated meditation always inspires me to a more frequent yoga and/or tai chi practice too.

The first few days went pretty well. Then, on day 3, I started feeling like crap. Some passing physical symptoms kicked up the chronic illness and before I knew it a week had passed.

I got back to it last night. I was pretty emotionally raw and noticed that the practiced helped calm me — but not just because of the practice itself but because of all the little bits and pieces I’ve learned about mindfulness practice over the years. This morning I sat again, and for the first time I saw the sitting as a gift I was giving myself rather than something I was taking away from more meaningful pursuits.

There is a difference, after all, between focusing all of my consciousness into the screen whilst typing madly with my fingers and hunching my shoulders… and sitting quietly listening to my body.

In terms of how to count the days, I decided to consider myself pretty much at the same place I left off last week. The 28 days are divided into four weeks of practice, with a focus that shifts from breath to body to mind to etc — I’m trying not to peek ahead. So I’m still on the breath week.

We’ll see whether I want to give myself the gift of 20 minutes of seated meditation tonight, or some other gift instead. Like a hot bath. Or another form of relaxation.

For right now, at least, I’m glad to be back on the beam.

The Practice of Receiving

Receiving is a powerful—-and intimate-—practice, for we are actually inviting another person into ourselves. Rather than focusing on our own practice, or on our own virtue, we can focus on providing an opportunity for someone else to develop generosity. In spite of its complexities and entanglements, the moment of exchange is one of simple connection and opening. That moment itself is unsullied. For that reason it is said that generosity is the discipline that produces peace.

From “The Practice of Giving” by Judy Lief, Summer 2003
Tricycle’s Daily Dharma

I finally got what this was about while learning qi gong. Receiving is always going to be difficult for a trauma survivor. The important thing is recognizing that and honoring that.

My natural tendency is to try to control situations by giving — by pushing energy out. What I’m learning is how to protect my boundaries without overextending myself. And I’ve even learned how to discern situations where it is safe to receive. Army Guy’s quiet generosity, the love and support of my friends, my mother’s visits in times of need — these are all things I’ve learned how to let into my life.

The notion that receiving gives someone else an opportunity to practice generosity is a powerful revelation. Relationships are a complex dance of giving and receiving. I can’t always control the movements of my partner, or it ceases to be a dance.

Lovingkindness Is as Important as Transcendence

From the Daily Dharma. Is it possible that my early introduction to Buddhist philosophy was filtered through the lens of these American dharma teachers. As a pagan, I believe that this world, this physical existence, is a gift. I don’t long for Nirvana anymore than I long for Heaven. The idea of a rest in the Summerlands between lifetimes does appeal to me, though. And I’ve experienced myself the suffering that comes from attachment, and the serenity and joy that follows surrender and radical acceptance.

Untie the Boat

When we first brought one of our teachers to the States, we asked him what he thought of the American dharma scene. We had started these different centers and were very proud of what had happened. He said that he thought it was wonderful but that sometimes American practitioners reminded him of people sitting in a boat rowing very strenuously, with great sincerity and effort, but refusing to untie the boat from the dock. He said we reminded him of that in our fixation on transcendental experiences to the neglect of a sweeping view of how we’re behaving day to day, how we’re speaking to our family members, how we’re taking care of one another, or whatever. That’s why I think it is tremendously important to continually open and expand our understanding of where freedom is and where the dharma lies.

– Sharon Salzberg, “The Dharma of Liberation,” from the Spring 1993 Tricycle. Read the complete article.

http://www.tricycle.com/special-section/the-dharma-liberation-an-interview-with-sharon-salzberg

Right Livelihood and the Woman Warrior

From the Daily Dharma:

October 23, 2009
Tricycle’s Daily Dharma

Being a Buddhist Police Officer

For thirteen years I was a law enforcement officer. In the dark humor of that environment, we called ourselves “paid killers for the country.” No one else wanted to be in out boots. I did not identify myself as a Buddhist; I was not aware that the way I behaved and experienced the world fit squarely with the Buddha’s teachings. It is clear to me now that we could have been, and were, instruments of karma. But skillful action, discriminating awareness, karma, the law of causality were not terms in law enforcement basic training.

For a Buddhist in police work, the most important thing is to be constantly aware of ego. It is not your anger, not your revenge, not your judgment, no matter how personal the event. I was paid and trained to take spirit-bruising abuse. I endured things of which the majority of women in America will never even dream. For me it was not judgment, in the Western sense, but discernment. This kept me, and others, alive and healthy. This discernment allowed me to act skillfully in crisis. The law of causality allowed me to know that if I could not stop the perpetrator of violence or pain or loss, that some other vehicle would reach that person—karma.

– Laurel Graham, from “Vajra Gun,” Tricycle, Winter 1998

I think a lot about right livelihood. For me, it means not only not causing harm, but also finding purpose and meaning in my work. Like most challenges of this magnitude, I rarely fulfill them perfectly. But I do strive toward them.

Being in relationship with a veteran has given me a new perspective on the life of a soldier — a warrior. I’ve always had a sort of fascination with this archetype. I view the realities of being a warrior with a mixture of horror and respect. It’s a way of life, a mindset, that in some ways I wish I were more able to stomach. What I’ve realized, though, is that being a warrior — a soldier/a police officer/a litigator/a fighter — doesn’t always mean fighting.

People who have been trained in competitive conflict and who have seen “action” have about them a quiet assurance in their own abilities, as well as a healthy respect for the consequences of violence. It’s one of the things that I find so attractive and admirable in M, and it’s one of the things I wish I had more of in my own self.

Sadness Comes Apart in the Water

I met up with some of my circle sisters last Thursday night at the Forest Hills Lantern Festival. There are actually about three different events of this type in Jamaica Plain every year. It’s inspired by a Japanese Buddhist tradition that honors the spirits of the ancestors and is very well-attended. The image of hundreds of hand-decorated lanterns floating across the waters of the pond as the light leaves the sky is really magical. Lots of people bring cameras on tripods to capture the event. My friend Butterfly took a photo on her camera phone and emailed it to me, but I refrained from taking any myself, partly because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get a good shot with my camera phone, and partly because I wanted to experience the event myself without the intervention of technology. There are tons of photos of the lantern festival on the web. I found Innusa‘s and ReallyStrangeGirl‘s flickr sets to be particularly beautiful. Still, nothing captures the experience like being in the middle of it.

I took the Orange Line from Green Street to Forest Hills and followed the stream of people heading toward the festival. It was one of those hot, heavy, dreamlike evenings we get in July, and the grounds around the pond were filled with people on blankets. My circle sisters had camped out right in front of the performance space, and it was such a wonderful feeling to arrive to see a group of women holding a space for me. By the time I arrived, the festival had been going on for about an hour and a half. I attempted to get a lantern for myself, but by the time I got to the tent where you could purchase a lantern and have a calligrapher paint a word on the rice paper, there was a huge crowd. I didn’t feel like waiting in line, so I returned to the blanket to watch the tail end of the Taiko Drummers’ performance. I wish I’d gotten there earlier so I could have watched the entire thing; Japanese culture fascinates me, especially the traditional forms.

My circle sisters made beautiful drawings on their lanterns. Although this tradition is meant to honor the ancestors, people at this festival seem to use it as a way of sending out all kinds of energy and prayers. Each of my sisters has something fairly major to release right now: one of them is going through a divorce, the other just split up with her long-term fiance, one is embarking on a new romance, and the last has been recovering from cancer surgery. But for the first time in a couple of years, I have really nothing to release. I have good news. I am in love, my job is going well, and I am overall very happy. I was nice to have some good news to share with the circle and to be able to listen and give my support about my sisters’ own tragedies. The Wheel keeps turning.

When everyone walked down to the water’s edge to place their lanterns in the water, I stayed on the blanket. I watched the many kinds of people milling around and soaked in the atmosphere of Jamaica Plain. Each neighborhood and community in the Boston Metro Area has its own unique flavor. The prevailing wisdom among people who do not live in Jamaica Plain is that it’s geographically isolated and difficult to get to. There is definitely a truth to that, but in the past few months I’ve found that getting there is not nearly as difficult as people make it out to be. And the neighborhood itself is quite wonderful. I’ve been considering moving there at some point. Of course, I’d hate to give up my lovely and affordable apartment in Cambervilleton (Cambridge/Somerville/Arlington), but I find the atmosphere of the neighborhood much more appealing.

I lay back and looked up at the sky as people milled around me. It was a blue-green, tinged at the edges with the burnt orange of approaching sunset. Trees ringed the edges of my vision.

Once the sun was down completely, the crowds dissipated. The five of us made a circuit of the pond, watching the slowly changing spectacle of the lanterns on the water. They followed the invisible lines of current and wind, and as the daylight faded away they looked like a line of souls marching into the other world.

It would have been nice to paint “forgiveness” on a lantern and send that message off to my father’s spirit beyond the veil. But there will be other opportunities to do so. That night was meant for other people’s releases.

Sadness comes apart in the water. Over the course of the last two years, though, my sadness has come apart on dry land. I have no grieving left to do, and nothing to share but joy.