Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Week 11 - Making Room for Connection

Ah, the holiday season. Hustle and bustle abounds and the weather, at least here in the Twin Cities, is getting in on the fun. We've had nearly two feet of snow in the past 10 days and are on pace to break records for the snowiest December in recorded history. Not only has work been busy and taxing, but there's still the rest of life to tend to...right now occupied mainly by shoveling and last minute holiday preparations.

I've managed to keep up with my meditations, but only marginally. I've been taking for granted the fact that I've been doing daily meditation for nearly three months and allowing a quick five minute sit mere moments before I fall into a deep exhausted sleep to count for something. At least I'm showing up, I tell myself. But how present am I being, really? Aren't I just going through the motions? Is that OK?

But the real question that plagues me when life throws me every curve ball in the book is, "In times like this, where is the room for quiet time?"

It seems that when we need it the most, our quest for silence and reconnection gets cut. It's no problem to carve out time for meditation when life is reasonable and we have some time to spare. But how do we keep the priority intact when we can barely get the laundry done so we have something to wear to work tomorrow?

I think the answer is that we find our quiet time wherever we can get it. These are the times when we put meditation to work in our ever-chaotic, endless to-do-list, daily lives. Take a few conscious breaths while stopped at the stoplight. Offer a silent wish of loving kindness to the other people in line with you at the post office. Before pulling out the cell phone to multi-task while you drive, or turning on the radio, allow yourself to drive in silence...notice the scenery, the way the snow alights on the branches, the joy in how the dog out for a walk is wagging its tail. Find peace in the in-between moments. Let the love of life come to you.

The only way we don't have room for quiet time is if we forget that it is all around us if we open to it, if we choose it. It might come in fits and starts. It might be more challenging than we can imagine to focus on our breathing in the small moments available to us rather than turning over all our energy to our minds in hopes of keeping us on task with our duties in the world. Compassion with ourselves is key. We need to remember that connection is up to us.

Am I proud of my incredibly short and scattered meditations this week? No. I'd love to be able to sit longer and give 100% of my energy and my presence to the task at hand. But what I'm realizing is that maybe I am giving 100% -- 100% of what I have to offer in that moment. And that that's enough.

Because what about all the brief moments I remembered to stop during the day to breathe, to smile at others, to enjoy the beauty of the winter wonderland that surrounds me...even if that moment occurs while shoveling? Meditation means nothing if the practice of making room for connection doesn't spill over into our daily lives.

May your holiday be filled with the moments of peace that dance along naturally with the moments of chaos. May you make room for all that means the most to you this holiday season. And I will do the same.//

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Week 10 - Feel the Way

"Ask your question. Feel the answer.
Ask, feel. Ask, feel. Ask, feel.
~The Universe

Many months ago, I signed up to receive these little daily emails from "The Universe" (via www.tut.com). They're cute, they're quirky and most of all, they're thought-provoking. The topics cover anything from the power of attraction to developing presence -- more or less the kinds of things I think we all stand to gain from regular, daily meditation. More than anything, they're good reminders to me most days to keep up with my meditations, to keep mining my own experience, and to keep seeking to connect deeply with my own inner wisdom.

In my experience, this process of discovery called meditation comes down more to questions than answers. Now I know a thing or two about the importance of embracing the questions in life -- it's like what they say about change being the only constant, only most of the time, questions are my constant. If I didn't embrace them and the act of asking the question itself, I can't imagine where I'd be...besides in a constant state of frustration. I think that's part of what meditation does for us -- gives us an opportunity to ask what is pressing on us and see what, if any, illumination comes.

This past week when I received the above message in my email from The Universe, something clicked for me. I thought a lot about how I've been asking my questions and how I've been sitting and waiting, patiently or not, for the answers. And mostly, I realized I've been focused on listening...hoping I'd hear something. Right? Listening to the heart -- I've taken this in its most literal sense.

Well, this is great for the mind...because how can you tell whether your mind came up with the answer or whether it came from intuition? I've been so caught up in the idea of asking the question and listening for the response that I realize I have missed out on something key -- the importance of feeling the response as another means of connecting with intuition.

We grow up in a society whose belief structure is traditionally based upon the idea that something exists if and only if we can see it, if we can prove it with numbers and statistics -- only this is fact. Only this is valid. Only this is real. Feelings are intangible, they're relative and worse than that, they're messy. They can't be quantified and in this "rational" way of being in the world, feelings are not to be trusted. Most of us were taught, overtly or not, not only to set our feelings aside, that they need to be contained and controlled, but even to disregard them entirely. Why wouldn't we learn that trusting our mind is a much safer bet if this is the unspoken condition to gaining the acceptance that every child craves?

But what if our body and how it feels has more information to share with us than we realize? We sometimes forget that we are whole beings made up of a body, mind and spirit -- shouldn't we allow ourselves to be informed through all of these aspects of ourselves? If we continue to distance ourselves from our bodies and their wisdom, what is the result? Respect the mind, certainly...but not at the expense of our feeling heart.

In most of my posts I write to varying degrees about the continual discovery of what meditation is and isn't for me. It seems that the concept of feeling for the answers eluded me. What I've learned is that developing a connection with our intuition isn't only about listening. It's also about being able to sense and feel what's right for us in given situations, and to trust those feelings. I know I've spent most of my life learning to put all my trust in my mind -- through meditation, I hope to re-learn how to feel as well. And to trust the wisdom of those feelings.

So in my meditations this past week I've been practicing not only listening for the answers, but bringing my awareness to how I feel in response to particular questions. Still, the answers may or may not come. Or more accurately, the answers will come in their own time, in their own way -- in a way that is unique to me.

We all have our own way of connecting with our intuition, the universal wisdom within is. Our job then is to show up and notice how we each best take in information and open ourselves to receiving information in those ways. For me, remembering how to feel my way to the answers seems promising. I guess only time will tell...//

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Week 9 - Setting Myself Free

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
~Mary Oliver (excerpt from Wild Geese)

I missed meditating one day this past week and wasn't quite sure how to handle it. This Journey of the Heart project is about the impact of 40 straight weeks of daily meditation -- not eight-and-a-half weeks, minus a day, and then thirty-one-and-a-half more. It never occured to me I might have to deal with this.

Immediately upon waking the next day, I noticed something was missing. It wasn't that I knew it was the meditation at first, but I could feel that something wasn't quite right. Like how it feels to wake up and realize you forgot to floss your teeth the night before. Meditation has become that kind of a daily habit for me, something I do almost without thinking -- that part is good. But what to do when a day slips by and I forget? If it were just flossing my teeth, I'd just pick up where I left off the next day...just start again. But this is different, isn't it? To me, this project is a big deal. It's important.

In the past, I would have seen missing a day of any sort of commitment as a failure. Perhaps I would have panicked, gotten all whipped up about what I thought missing a day "meant" about me, about the commitment as a whole and my inability to keep it and seriously considered throwing the whole project -- the "baby" if you will -- out with the bathwater.

This time around, I found it interesting. I wondered if maybe there might be something to learn from it -- this is a journey of discovery, after all. How was it that I went through a whole day without carving out the time as I had successfully done every day for more than eight weeks? What made this particular day so different?

What I recognized was that this is the first holiday season for as long as I can remember that I'm actually engaged. I don't feel overwhelmed. I'm not bracing myself in rapt anticipation of the next few weeks being over so I can get on with my life. As it is, the tree is decorated, the presents wrapped, the cookies baked -- not because I have to, as in years past, but because I want to.

Something is different, and it doesn't seem to be anything I've done. Other than meditate every day for the past "almost" nine weeks. I have the energy to be out in the world without feeling the need to sequester myself later in order to recharge from it. It's as if I am now equipped with an inner buffer, a layer of insulation that is helping me maintain my focus, patience and a connection with a level of peacefulness that allows me to be satisfied more with the way of things and stressed-out less.

The truth is, I don't know why I missed my meditation that day -- other than the fact that I was engrossed in an uninterrupted day with my family settling into the holiday spirit, decorating our home, and taking the time to enjoy it. Sure, I could have had half a mind off wondering when I was going to steal away and get my meditation in. But perhaps being single-mindedly focused on the present moment is a bit of meditation in action. Or maybe it just slipped my mind.

I'll admit, it feels like a fine line. Is meditation something I now only need to do when I feel like it? When I think of it? Or worse, is it a "should" just because of this project? Of course not. But do I need to be militant about it? What good does it do to come from the mindset of "I made a commitment to meditate every day and I failed to hold up my end of the bargain. How will I make up for it?" What about the days when I meditate more than once? Do I get extra credit for those days? No. And yet when I miss a day I have to scratch eight weeks of progress and start over?

More than ever, I'm sure this project isn't about developing discipline or learning to be better about following the rules or making good on my commitments. In fact, it has become painfully clear to me how ruled my life has been by rules -- self-imposed as much as anything -- and that I am not here to repent. Or be good. Or be perfect.

What I'm realizing through my daily meditation -- and in this case, without it -- is what I am here for: to take myself lighter, to laugh more, and to allow myself the softness and ease to love what I love...and am tickled to find the item on the top of that list of loves gets to be me. I have to believe this is why we're all here.

So, I missed a day. The world will not end. The sun will rise again tomorrow. And my project of self-discovery will happily, and more joyfully, go on.//

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Week 8 - Safe Haven

If you choose to be present, then gradually the hidden treasures will be revealed. ~Leonard Jacobson

Sometimes the winds of change take us places we don't expect. Turmoil instead of safety, chaos instead of stillness. Someplace bad when we were hoping for someplace good. For all intents and purposes, I would say I had a bad morning. Yet I still abide by the belief that life is just life. Good and bad are opposite ends of a spectrum of judgment that on a spiritual plane don't hold much weight. They're easy labels, certainly, and useful in the way that we all have an idea of what they mean, how they feel. They are a common language we all can speak with one another. But what if we suspend use of those judgments? Especially in the heat of the moment when we want to strike out or close down or let our ego soothe us in our misery by recounting for us all of the ways in which we were wronged?

I'll be honest, I don't do conflict well. Really, who does? But the longer I walk this path the more I find I'm willing to step up and the less I'm willing to brush things under the rug. If something needs to be handled, I handle it. This has worked well in some cases, not so well in others, and either way is not a road without its bumps and bruises. Yet in the end, what is, is. And in my belief that life is just life, what we need to experience arrives and we either step in willingly, or turn and run the other direction only to encounter it in some other guise at some other time. Neither good nor bad.

As I stepped into my situation this morning, as the emotions flooded in threatening to hijack me completely, I sought space...the space I settle into in my meditations. The buffer between the impulse and the reaction. I admit that looking for the space wasn't my first response -- on some level I had to move beyond the intensity of the interaction and choose it. My ego kept vying for my attention, poking at my sore spots and trying to get a rise out of me, to get me to defend its honor. How could someone say I was wrong? Made a poor choice, handled something badly? I kept choosing the space. To my surprise, it helped. And the ego's diatribe simply faded into background chatter instead of being the most important thing in the world.

Yes, the tears were flowing but somehow that was the beauty of what was revealing itself: this space of meditation that we tap into doesn't make the hurt go away -- riding the full wave of Experience does that -- but provides a safe container to hold it in. A safe place in which to sit with it, honor it, feel it and not figure it out, but let it be. My inner voice kept telling me to stop, to breathe into my anger and frustration and to not fix it, to surrender it, to leave it alone. Let me tell you, I'm a fixer to the nth degree so this felt like going against my very nature. But when I listened and heeded the call, when I honored the wisdom of my heart, I found peace. I may still have felt rotten and beat up -- this is sometimes just the way of things -- but the peace was like stepping into a warm embrace. That place that imbues us with the uncomplicated knowing that this too shall pass. Even if we don't fix it. Even if we let it go.

Meditation isn't meant to fix anything, but allows us access to a safe haven to be with our hurts, lick our wounds, learn our lessons and move on without accumulating the baggage that the ego means for us to attach to and carry with us indefinitely. Who knew? Not me. Not really. But now I know.

The ego can have its grudges and revenge. It can have its drama. I'll take the haven where it's safe to listen to my heart.//

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Week 7 - Gratitude

The Universe is naturally abundant. The things you truly need or want are here for the asking. ~Shakti Gawain

Preceding the season of giving is the season of giving thanks. Given that it's two days before Thanksgiving, this seems as good a time as any to shout out to my supporters, my guides, my mentors and friends and express my gratitude for your presence in my life. Anyone who takes the time to read these words, I thank you. It is such a gift to be able to muster the courage to write, to do this thing I love, and to put myself out there. And to think that someone might read the thoughts, feelings and musings I thread together -- much less get something out of it -- well, it's almost too much to ask for. I guess that takes some courage, too. Most of all, though, I'm just grateful. Wholly, humbly and profoundly grateful.

As I was meditating tonight it occurred to me that I'm still only halfway through my first "trimester". If I were really pregnant, what would it be like to be a mere seven weeks in? Man, wouldn't I just be getting used to the idea of being pregnant? The myriad ways my life was bound to change just a glimmer on the horizon?

I think about the changes I've encountered so far, and I'm amazed. The peacefulness that permeates most of what I experience in a day. Creativity that beckons me in all aspects of my life. The patience to deal with the needs of those most important to me. And gratitude -- I find myself thankful for everything...even in challenge there is some gem of a lesson to unearth to be grateful for.

Now, I like to think that I've always been a person who was quick with a thank you. To co-workers for a job well-done. To friends for their thoughtfulness. To the Universe for the sheer beauty that surrounds me daily. In fact, it was bred into me -- my mom had me and my brother writing thank you's as soon as we could write. Even Santa was in on it -- we always got thank you notes in our stockings on Christmas morning...how did he know?

Maybe now it is simply about a deepening. Maybe this daily meditation just helps me to focus more on what is good in my world, to not get caught up in what is or might go terribly wrong. And when it does, to be thankful for the inevitable blessings that come with it. Being more present surely allows us to see the beauty of what's right in front of us. To reconnect with the joyful souls we were born to be.

We don't exist here in a vacuum -- we're connected whether we realize it or not. With our fellow human beings, with Nature, with the creative Source. In partnership, by asking for what we feel would satisfy and inspire us in our lives, we give the Universe the opportunity to collaborate with us...to shower us with the abundance it has to share. But it's a team effort. We need to show interest. We need to learn how to ask. And we need to be willing to say thanks.

What amazes me more than witnessing how I've grown thus far, is to imagine what thirty-three more weeks of this may have to offer. And to know that the act of meditation itself is the asking, both for what I want and need. I am grateful to learn firsthand that nothing is as simple as that.

Happy Thanksgiving!//

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Week 6 - Cultivating Stillness

Sometimes in order to hear my intuitive voice, I have to cultivate stillness enough to experience a connection with my soul. ~Shakti Gawain

With a layer of snow now on the ground, cultivating stillness should not be so hard to do. Walking outside, any time of the day or night, there is a silence that can only be described as "winter" as the snow insulates every noise, every footfall -- even the shhh-shhh-shhh as my dog gallops across the lawn to pounce on imaginary critters is soothing as it hits the ear.

Oh, but we don't like stillness...not like that. Or at least most of us don't. We like to say we want peace and quiet but the truth is, it makes most of us uncomfortable and edgy. To be so quiet as to hear what's rattling around in our heads, witnessing the ego on some rampage about a past hurt or barking orders about what all we need to accomplish before we're allowed to rest. Or worse, to hear what remains when the ego takes a break. It can be unnerving to hear the Voice beneath the chatter. Yet it is the one that knows who we are at our core, the one who will guide us on our way if only we will listen. If only we will connect and allow ourselves to hear.

I've been thinking much this week about why I'm really doing this meditation project, and it's this -- to foster this connection with my soul in order to more clearly hear my intuitive voice. This is accomplished by cultivating stillness, by meditation or walking in Nature or creating or even by doing the dishes. Yet I wonder: this cultivating stillness, is it a goal or an intention? An expectation or a hope? Does it matter? If not, why do I keep wanting to name it?

It seems that if I can name it, I can put it in a category that has a known outcome -- when I do x, I get y. It strikes me odd that the unknown -- especially in this case, where the unknown is my deepest wisdom -- should be so scary that I seem to want, above all else, to be able to anticipate the outcome. Why not open to what my inner voice has to share with me? Why not, indeed. What am I -- what are we -- so afraid of?

As the holidays approach and life gets busier, what I do anticipate is that I will hear more chatter and less wisdom, where working more is my x and feeling frazzled is my y. There is a certain amount of comfort in this known cause and effect, even if I truly wish for it to be different -- slower, calmer, more peaceful, more connected.

Perhaps the best we can do for ourselves this season is to cultivate stillness as often as, and in whatever ways, we can. To let our inner wisdom know that we are interested in what it has to say and to create the space it needs to shine through, in whatever way it arrives.

And to remind ourselves not to peek, because a surprise makes the best gift of all.//

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Week 5 - Good Day Sunshine

I need to laugh, and when the sun is out
I have something I can laugh about
I feel good, in a special way
I'm in love and it's a sunny day
~lyrics from The Beatles' Good Day Sunshine

My last post reflected on a supposed promise of howling winds, a turn toward winter and a most unforgiving Mother Nature to come. And yet the weather continues to be stunning. This past week has been nothing but mild temperatures and sunshine. Wait, this is Minnesota in November, right? It occurs to me that while we may intend to live in the moment, often it is our minds that take us forward into the anticipated future or back into memories of the past that keep us from enjoying the here and now. Even when it's as glorious as this.

Meditations this week have been easy, relatively short but sweet. In my fifteen minutes or so once or twice per day, I've been feeling connected and content. It doesn't seem like all that much is going on. No wild dreams while I sleep, no anxieties as I sit. All is well, just mellow and peaceful.

Surely there must be something wrong? I hear the voice in my head say. Maybe I should enlist the timer and the rule book and start making myself sit longer? Why isn't anything happening? Shouldn't something be happening??!?

I can't help but laugh now when I hear these cries for attention from the mind, the ego, whatever you want to call it. The part of us that just won't let go. Who, when everything is going swimmingly, starts looking around for signs of disaster. The one who waits anxiously for the other shoe to drop.

What good is peacefulness if we feel we have to brace ourselves for its passing? Don't we at least get to enjoy it while it's here?

Now, it's true. As the adages say, "All good things come to an end," and, in speaking of the more challenging aspects of our lives, "This too shall pass". Nothing lasts forever -- we know this. For better or worse, we are all changing all of the time and as part of this cycle of Nature and life, we are born and we die. We want so much to hold on to what is impermanent, to grasp tightly to what we love, to keep it while knowing full well that just as autumn turns to winter, what we love will fade and expire. This is human nature. The trouble is, we let the anticipation of pain and loss keep us from fully savoring the joy of presence -- being with what is. We get so distracted by impending doom that we unwittingly keep ourselves from enjoying the pleasure while it's here.

Why buffer ourselves for the fall before we even get a chance to bask in the beauty of this moment...whatever "this moment" might be?

I woke up earlier this past week with the song, "Good Day Sunshine" by the Beatles bouncing around in my head. There was no reason for it -- I hadn't heard the song recently, as often happens when I end up with a song in my head, nor could I say it was a song I had ever been particularly attached to. I couldn't figure out where it had come from. As I listened to it play on, I began singing aloud, complete with crescendos and key changes. I was swept up in the song's spirit of joy and whimsy...and I hadn't even gotten out of bed yet! From the moment my feet touched the floor, I was invigorated with the magic of simply being alive. It reminds me of the 90's television show Ally McBeal and how the characters always had "theme songs" -- depending on where they were and what they were doing, a song that echoed the mood they wanted to bring to the situation would begin playing. I couldn't imagine a better theme song for myself. What a way to start the day!

"Good Day Sunshine" has stayed with me much of the week, greeting me as I wake. Like these mild temperatures and sunshine outside, some morning I will wake up and the song won't be there. This is the way. I can think it back into being, but it won't be the same. I owe it to myself -- and the song -- to relish the magic of this moment so that I can leave space for new magic in the next moment when "Good Day Sunshine" decides it's time to move on. I would rather savor the joy while it's here than waste this time living in the idea of what it will be like to have to conjure it up once it's gone. Memory can be sweet, but being present to the moment is sweeter.

In the spirit of "Good Day Sunshine," I will appreciate the peacefulness of these gentler meditations, knowing full well that the tides will turn and that the ebb and flow that informs the ocean and the moon also informs my heart, my soul and my practice.//

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Week 4 - Surrender

"At some point, to go beyond the mind, the power of intention has to be turned to a deep abiding surrender....Pure surrender has to be living with what is, as it is, as God." ~Swami Abhayananda from The Supreme Self

What is, at the moment, is that we're dancing on the cusp of winter. Disguised in glorious sunshine and temperatures in the 50's, I see how easy it could be to be lulled into believing the next four months won't be as dark and as bone-chilling as they will.

In all honesty, I secretly enjoy when the weather takes this turn towards winter. I love when she rages inhospitably with no apology, with the sub-zero reminder that if we don't take the utmost care of ourselves while in her clutches out in the world, all could be lost. I feel the urgency of this most simple act of survival. It clarifies things for me to know beyond a doubt that our judgments and expectations of what Mother Nature offers in her most unforgiving moments mean nothing. We are reduced to our most powerless state, just like our ancestors before us. Surrender. Nature teaches us -- be humble or perish.

In our day and age the lesson of "be humble or perish" isn't as much a matter of life and death of the body as it is of our soul. We spend so much of our lives feeling cut off from Nature, from others and consequently ourselves that our souls are literally starving to death. Until we find that way to connect with the mystery from which we all came, until we learn to surrender, we will continue to feel separate and alone.

In both cases, the lesson is the same -- communing is the key to survival.

If the past four weeks have taught me anything, it's that meditation -- or any practice for that matter -- requires this same humility. A willingness to let go and let the universal energy, the creative process, engage with us and move us to new heights, to a place not only beyond expectation, but beyond imagination. This lives in the poet who comes upon the ideal turn of phrase to best encapsulate a profound experience, the musician who hears and transcribes a song that embodies the pain of a recent loss, or the child who dances with abandon to no music whatsoever, unashamed and unafraid. This is surrender in its purest form -- an admission that we understand that our lives are an invitation to participate with Source rather than independent of it. An acknowledgement that we are not here alone to live this life, but we are one with the creative force that inspires -- literally brings breath to -- all of us.

One meditation this past week yielded the following phrase: Wise and compassionate Universe, I surrender myself here to connect with Source.

I didn't know what I was asking for when this intention came -- and stuck -- but it works for me. When I utter these words as I begin my meditation, I connect to a place of humility within myself. A place where I don't have to try. A place where I'm not looking for answers or anything in return, but simply to show up to Source and hang out a while -- to keep each other company, if you will. It helps me to see that meditation isn't about becoming disciplined or even enlightened, but is about freeing myself from my own sense of pride, my own sense of isolation, feeling like I have to live this life by my own wits and effort alone. And by doing so, it allows me to connect with all of the beauty and wonder that surrounds me and recognize myself in it.

It seems ironic that by showing up and doing nothing and expecting nothing, I receive the greatest gift of all -- connection. Yes, it's harder than it looks. But if that's all it takes, count me in.//

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Week 3 - The Opening

Sometimes to see life clearly, you need to open more than your eyes. ~from the movie Local Color

Three weeks...twenty-one days. As I sit to write, I think again about my grandma's favorite piece of wisdom about how it takes twenty-one days to get used to something new. I remarked earlier about whether I would last that long. Now that the three week mark has come and gone, I realize I've just barely scratched the surface and the promise of what's possible has got me hooked. I can't imagine stopping now.

The Great North Wind has chosen today to blow in our first taste of winter. Around me is a constant state of flux. It's getting dark about three hours earlier than it did a couple of months ago and I find myself eating dinner earlier and hunkering down for the evening to write, to read and of course, to meditate. Outside my living room window, the trees are doing the fall wind-dance that sends their remaining golden leaves flying, as the squirrels frantically stuff their faces, scrounging for errant millet and sunflower seeds under the bird feeder in some instinctual last-ditch effort to put on a little more weight. The winds of change are blowing -- ready or not, here she comes.

As it is with my meditation. Week three commenced with my trying to figure out what I could do to make sinking deeply into my meditations happen faster. What should I be doing to make this work? Assuming, of course, that somehow it's not. Digging into my treasure trove of resources, I started exploring all the different techniques I had learned or read about over the years -- mantras, visualization, chanting, pranayama (breathing) exercises, counting, noting the thoughts that come...you name it, I tried it, all in the name of research.

By Sunday I was frustrated and realized that while the variety of things I had tried were interesting, my meditations still weren't yielding the results I wanted. Aha! I thought. The results I wanted. Who knew that expectations would and could still abound after last week's post??!? Seeing that I was continuing to fall back on the old worn belief that if I just tried hard enough, if I could just find the perfect combination of things to do I'd be triumphant, made it clear I was still attached to outcome.

I never knew I believed that lying within meditation was a puzzle to be solved, a goal to be achieved. Apparently, enlightenment doesn't come cheap and somewhere in here I hold a belief that it must be earned. That I must be deserving. If only I was good enough, smart enough, and clever enough to figure it out.

It occurs to me that in pregnancy, no matter how healthy a woman eats, no matter how well she takes care of herself, even if she does everything "right" there can still be complications and unfavorable outcomes. We can't control anything and yet we still take this incredible leap of faith and hang on to the hope that all will come out OK.

But where is it written that if we are good -- in anything -- we automatically get the Good Stuff? Ah, right...the promise of eternal salvation.

Is that where all of this efforting comes from? This need to dive in and "do" this thing called meditation rather than being willing to sit in the unknown day after day and let that be enough? I can't control this either and yet still I take this leap of faith and hang on to the hope that all will come out OK...whether or not it can be tallied that I have tried hard enough or am good enough or deserve whatever good can come from the showing up.

Perhaps this is the heart of surrender -- letting go not only of the compulsive need to "try" to make things happen, but also of the belief that there is some possibility that we don't deserve to connect with the divine. We are the divine. The only thing that keeps us from communing with it is us. We need to take the same blind faith we have that the sun will rise again tomorrow, that the winds of change will blow in the next season, and apply it to our own lives -- for it is our own lives. We need to trust that there's nothing we need to do in order to connect with the divine but to show up and be present with ourselves and trust that all will come out OK.

Maybe these old beliefs are surfacing because I need to see what barrier lies between me and really knowing and accepting my heart. And in opening my eyes to the truth that there is no such measure as "good enough", I can surrender to this journey of the heart and, like the leaves, go wherever the winds of change might take me.//

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Week 2 - Expectations

Anytime you pursue a meditative practice, you are making a commitment to understand yourself more fully as a spiritual being. This takes time. Be patient with your practice. ~James van Praag

This past Saturday afternoon, I put my garden to bed for the season. It has served me so well for many months, producing a seemingly endless supply of whatever I planted, and I had the sense of wanting to nourish it and put my energy and love into it to tide it over until next Spring when I could do it again. I dug up the old spent plants, raked in a layer of manure to replenish the soil and had the neighbor kids help dump leaves by the armful over the fence for a good layer of insulation. As I finished spraying the garden with water to help it all soak in, I savored how good it felt to let go of the old and make room for the new.

As it is with gardens, the new can't and won't even be available until a whole winter of frigid days and nights from now. Nothing I can do can speed things along. I need to be patient and to wait. If I expect it any sooner than it arrives -- in its own time -- I will be frustrated, disappointed and angry.

After I cleaned up from my outdoor chores, I sat down to meditate. Even after a beautiful day of fresh air and hard work, I was restless. Thinking more about the garden, I was distracted by what I might plant next year. Back to the breath, I reminded myself. A nice slow in and out breath and my mind was off to the races again. Had I given the soil enough of what it needed for the winter? Back to the breath, I reminded again. Frustrated and antsy, a thought showed up that has dominated every meditation session since:

Am I wasting my time?

Hmmm. Good question. Am I?

Anything's possible. But come on, it's only been two weeks. As my grandma likes to tell me, it takes at least 21 days to get used to something new. I have abided by this wisdom so many times in my life to my benefit that it is clear I have to give this at least three weeks.

That aside, it occurs to me that as a product of my culture, I want to see results now. Not a week from now, not nine months from now, but NOW. I want to know that all this time and energy is worth it. Instant gratification is the name of the game. We expect it. And if what we're doing comes up short, forget it. It's not worth our time. We are justified in jumping right into the next thing that promises a quick fix and instant results. We figure, the problem has to be with what we're trying and not with our mindset going into it, right?

Nothing can be considered a waste of time unless we're measuring some outcome -- or lack thereof -- against some expectation and it fails to measure up. So doesn't it follows that the problem isn't with what is, but with the fact that it may be different than what we want it to be? If I deem this meditation project a waste then maybe the failure is with me. Not because I haven't tried hard enough or haven't shown up every day...but because I've neglected to open to the possibility of what could be if I would slow down, be patient and suspend my idea of how this all is "supposed" to turn out.

What would happen if I brought that same hurried mentality to the garden? I would have thrown out the shoots before they had a chance to flower and bear fruit...and would have bought my produce from the grocery store so I wouldn't have to wait. What fun is that?

That, to me, is the waste...to be in such a hurry that we can't appreciate the creative process that allows Nature -- and us -- to change and grow and unfold to reveal who we are meant to become. There's beauty in the surprise of not knowing what's next. I don't ever want to miss that. Ever. That's the Good Stuff.

No one said it would be easy. Or fast. This path is certainly not about the quick fix. But it will happen...if we have faith and allow what will be to arrive. In its own way. According to its own schedule. And it will be imbued with beauty and wonder all its own.

So if I need to endure some restlessness and distraction, if I need to suspend my expectations and ideas of what and when and how, so be it. Thanks for the reminder. We'll call it part of the process...and wait and see.//

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Week One - A Tale of Woe and Connection

You must do the thing you think you cannot do. ~Eleanor Roosevelt

One week down...39 to go??

Actually, it's been a good week...and thirty-nine more of them doesn't seem too big a bite to have taken. Unless I remember that forty weeks will essentially take me until next July. Ooof! Then it sounds positively over-the-top. Especially for one who craves flexibility and freedom the way I do!

Surprisingly, showing up to the cushion every day has been a relief. Turning down the lights, lighting a candle, the incense, pulling the down blanket up over my shoulders as I settle in cross-legged on the edge of my meditation cushion. Deep breath in, deep breath out. In, out. Connect the breath in the belly. Still the mind. It's been welcome...a bit like coming home. Even if my mind is unruly and racing, even if it shows no signs of calming down. I wonder if maybe I'm not working hard enough to reign it in. If maybe I've almost fallen asleep way too many times to count as having shown up. Or maybe none of that matters and the concentration will come in time. With practice. With experience.

Isn't this true for all things? We don't step in as an expert. We need to allow ourselves time and space to flounder, to explore, to grow and sometimes to fail. And we must also allow ourselves the opportunity to succeed.

My meditation Sunday night was especially peaceful...which I am happy to count as a small victory. But along with that success came greater challenge because as it was, I had settled in deeply enough to actually hear my inner voice tell me something. It went a bit like this...

"Well, if you're really going to treat this like a true pregnancy, don't drink for nine months."

Pardon me?! Has my heart forgotten that my husband is a wine distributor??

My eyes popped open and my mind started calculating all the possible loopholes that would enable me to pretend that I didn't hear what I heard. Except that I did. Every shocking last word. The kicker was that I realized that if I was really serious about this, if I truly wanted to develop this relationship with my higher self like I've said I do, then I need to honor what was being asked of me. Even this (sniff, sniff).

It could be that this ends up being the hardest thing I ever do...and I've done a lot of hard things over the course of my 40 years. But then I think, really? Women have been getting pregnant and not drinking for nine months at a time forever and it doesn't kill them -- or at least I've never heard of any casualties. It doesn't make it any less hard, but at least I have leagues of women who have forged a path before me showing me it's possible.

Granted, I'm not pregnant which brings up issues all its own. "Why should I?" my small self cries. But if this were truly another life I was fostering and growing within me, I would treat my body as the true temple it is and would surely make room for this aspect of the overall experience. Why should my life be worth any less? We're so used to sacrificing for others, especially as women, and we've been taught -- wittingly or not -- that to focus on ourselves is selfish. Maybe this is my heart's way of getting me to clear out the distractions so I can open up to all the next eight months and three weeks have to offer me. Perhaps I'm simply being asked to sacrifice for my Self.

I might not like the idea of giving up my favorite vice, but I'm willing to suspend my disbelief in the spirit of exploration and discovery. In the spirit of connection. It's as if my heart has reached out and made the first attempt at contact. The least I can do is pick up my end of the line and say "hello".

With one week down, big adventures are already brewing, fermenting, gestating...in the way that in all process we are shown how much time and attention it takes to create something magnificent. Like a life. Someone else's or my own, I guess is irrelevent. And so I keep holding the space...//

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A New Sort of Pregnancy

For my niece Maggie's fourth birthday last month I wrote her a book called The Book of the Heart, all about how important it is to be connected to your heart, to listen deeply, to know your heart as your friend, to learn its language and to trust what it tells you. It occurred to me once I finished that perhaps I had written it for myself as much as for her. All good life lessons for a four-year-old. But what about for a forty-year-old? Do I know my heart's language? Do I trust what it tells me? Certainly our minds are important but often they think they're in charge. What would the world be like -- what would my world be like -- if I learned, once and for all, to trust my heart?

Those of you who humor me and read my posts know that I talk about meditation often as a doorway into our inner sanctum -- the key to the kingdom so-to-speak. I know this is true, both with my mind and my heart, and yet after years of searching, of "trying" to start a regular meditation practice, I still haven't arrived. And because of it, I can't help but wonder what might be available to me if I learned to show up for myself in that way, dare I say it...EVERY DAY?

Somehow over the course of the past two years I have managed to complete a 10-day-long silent mindfulness meditation retreat and, through my yoga study, a solid 40-days of daily meditation. But in both of those there was some structure, a goal of sorts, to help keep me focused. Through experience, I know that without any container to put it in, my attempts at establishing a regular checking-in-with-myself falls by the wayside.

If I pulled off 40 days, why not 40 weeks??

In doing the math it occurs to me that 40 weeks is the gestation period for a human female to give birth to their young. I never had the opportunity to do that in the traditional sense this time around. Perhaps this is my biological clock's way of getting in on the scene? In looking for a container in which to hold this project, perhaps it helps to view it as my own version of the ultimate creative journey -- giving birth, as it were, to my Self.

What does this mean? Is daily meditation that powerful? Is tuning into your own heart all that I said it was in my advice to my four-year-old niece? Can it really transform lives? I won't know for sure until I give it the chance and see what it will do with mine.

Today, my fortieth birthday, I offer up the blank canvas that is the next nine months of my life to this endeavor. And humbly await who arrives on the other side...//

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

First Harvest

Ah, the beauty of summer! It is in the garden, for sure. A new venture for us, growing veggies, and it is already proving to be a most exciting responsibility. Exciting responsibility? Really? It struck me today as I crawled around on my hands and knees between the rows, picking fists-full of cilantro and fragrant basil, a shiny red pepper, a few gorgeous yellow pear tomatoes, and some pungent radishes -- every creation, every new endeavor is ripe with responsibility. But it is also abundant in its rewards.

With the new house last fall came the delicious opportunity for my inaugural vegetable garden this summer. Now I've been known to let the daily maintenance of things fall by the wayside if I have other, more intriguing interests to pursue. So as the cool of the spring gave way to longer days and a warmer sun, I wasn't thinking about responsibility. I was thinking about creating a masterpiece and getting those cute little seedlings into the ground. Weeding? Watering? And eventually harvesting and processing the garden's bounty?

Well, I figured, there had to be a garden before there could be a bounty to worry about. First things first. I managed to get most of the plants in the ground fairly early in the season. Gratefully, Mother Nature has lent me a helping hand in the watering department...thank you! But weeding and harvesting is another story.

I could have been meticulous with keeping the weeds down, bringing my inner perfectionist into play. After all, it was my first garden...shouldn't it look pretty? I must admit, I did go into this adventure with that fantasy. I imagined myself out in the garden every afternoon, putzing around, pulling weeds, whistling while I worked. Of course, I didn't realize I had this expectation about the garden until my back went out shortly after waging war on the buckthorn starts in our newly acquired woods. As I lay resting and healing, as days turned to weeks, the weeds in the garden got thick and unruly.

Knowing weeding was out of the question and that I didn't want the garden I had hoped for for so many years to go to seed, I got creative...I cut up big paper sacks to lay between the rows. Pretty? Not so much. But it got the job done. With my new endeavor came the responsibility to keep it up. There was no rule book that said how it needed to happen. Left to my own devices, I was my own expert, my own teacher. To maintain my creation in my partnership with Mother Nature, I needed to do my part...however I could.

So today, with a healthier back, I reap the first of many harvests from our backyard oasis and look forward to homemade pizza with pesto and tomatoes and peppers for dinner. As I create anew in my kitchen from the bounty of the garden, I can't help but wonder -- how often do we set aside the risk of a new undertaking because we are afraid it will be too much work? Because we aren't sure where to begin, or worse yet, how to maintain our vision?

What I know for sure is that the responsibility inherent in living a creative life full of risks and new adventures never tasted so good!//

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sitting With Myself

Today, a friend and I were talking about meditation. He said he never meditates and really didn't know what it was for, what it was all about. Of course I first thought to tell him that meditation is meant to quiet the mind. It acts as a means of disciplining the mind, allowing you to tune into and work with your thoughts, with the added benefit of increasing your sense of peacefulness and reducing stress. All very rudimentary. All very practical.

Yet there's so much more to meditation than that. Something that I haven't been able to put my finger on...until now. Yes, working with the mind is all well and good and if I reap that benefit for my efforts, all the better. But I've come to realize that it's not all work -- there's a soul component, too. It is the part of me that gets fed by the simple act of turning my attention on myself with no other purpose than to be present, to sit with myself.

Talk about rudimentary! Now I don't just mean sitting with myself physically, but sitting with myself on any level...on every level. I think of it as investing the kind of time and energy I would with a good friend. Someone I would sit down with, be present with, no matter what her attitude or mood, how she was feeling physically, whether she wanted to talk or not. Someone I would invest in because I regard them that much. Someone whom I felt was unequivocally worth my time, my attention, my love.

Are you worth your own time? Or are you like me and sometimes feel like you are only worth being cared for that much if you can put on your happy face and be positive and pleasant and energetic? Like you have to put on some dog-and-pony-show in order to be accepted and loved or to be worth the time and effort of someone's undivided attention and presence?

Who wants the "phony" show?

There are times I avoid meditation because I don't feel like I'm able to do it "right". I'm not in a good enough mood or don't have enough energy or don't feel I can "do" what I'm "supposed" to. All this thought-watching and training myself to come back to the breath can be tough stuff! Yet if my intention is simply to sit with myself -- to regard myself -- and nothing else, all I need to do is show up and open the door. Spirit will do the rest.

It's about creating intimacy with ourselves. Sitting with ourselves no matter what our frame of mind. Regardless of whether we're peaceful and serene or whether we're the tired and crabby child exploring revenge fantasies for having to work so hard and play so little. We are wherever we are. That's what's Real. And wherever we are, we deserve to be regarded. We may not experience the external world this way, but there's no reason we can't create our own inner world through meditation as one of acceptance and respect for ourselves.

The added benefit of meditation from this perspective is unconditional love. The best part about it is that I find once I'm able to experience unconditional love for myself, I'm able to experience it everywhere -- with my husband, my family and friends, my co-workers, the stranger in line at the bank. Tapping into this wellspring of possibility makes anything and everything available. This is meditation to me -- increasing my sense of harmony with myself and with the world so I am able to open my heart and live from a place of love. Which is also no small task, but in my opinion, much more satisfying a journey.

What if you give yourself five minutes of your time every day? Not out of obligation or to cross another item off your to-do list, but because you deserve it. What if?//

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Journey Never Ends

Once again, it's been a while. Not by choice, really. Not an intended break but a break nonetheless. And suddenly I feel the urge to write again, and I accept it willingly. I don't ask where it's been or why now or even how it could leave me for so long. The fact is, it has arrived -- like the mysterious appearance of a pheasant at our bird-feeder last night -- and I will not question it, but enjoy it while it's here. Who knows how long it will stay before it runs off across the yard and down the block or whether (or when) it will return again.

In each moment, secrets are revealed. New aspects of our journey begin and yet the Journey itself never ends. Education is an ongoing process and the lessons, always. Who are we? Why are we here? What is my path, my purpose? It is natural to ask the questions...and yet, do the answers matter? Is it OK to admit we don't know and humbly continue on with our daily lives?

As cliche as it sounds, I know one thing for sure...change is the only constant. Anyone trying to grasp and cling to things as they are (or actually, to the way we think they should be) surely knows the truth of this. It is like water that runs through our fingers. Beyond this, the other things I choose to believe don't really matter. I like to think that the sun will continue to rise and set, that gravity will continue to keep my feet on the ground, and that this moment -- and what arrives in it -- is what is most worthy of my attention. But in the end, life continues to be life, independent of our expectations or goals or plans; certainly independent of how much we try to control the outcome.

What if we focus on what is here right now? The cloudy day is just a cloudy day. If it rains, it rains. If the sun breaks through, it breaks through. Why waste the energy wishing it were otherwise?

What is available to us in this moment? I say, enjoy it...//