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...//