Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Week 20 - Hidden Away

I want to free your heart. I want to see your heart. Please don't keep your heart hidden away. ~Josh Groban, from the song Hidden Away

I heard this new song by Josh Groban for the first time last fall and it struck me so poignantly. Picking up his new CD a few days ago, I have had the opportunity to listen to it even more closely. What a precious gift this is -- this invitation to step into the truth and beauty of our hearts and allow them to illumine our lives. It encapsulates why I've undertaken this meditation project that I've been calling Journey of the Heart -- none of us is meant to hide, but to live with the fullness of our being. My intention has been to find out what that means in my own life. And perhaps to inspire others to wonder what it could mean for theirs.

But not all of our journeys are the same. We each need to find what brings us to our most loving, joyful and authentic selves.

Yes, I am the girl who has lived since day one with her heart on her sleeve. As I became more of this world I found it vital to develop a hefty suit of armor to simply exist and function. Like lots of us, I grew into an overachiever and once on-task, have some difficulty not taking things to the extreme. Case in point, I have excelled in armor production.

This suit of armor I so excellently developed was my mind. I learned without consciously knowing how that my mind could keep me safely disconnected from the "fancies" of my heart. Feeling became the most undesired of the undesirables. By holding my heart down, my mind enabled me to play nice, to get along well, to do as I was told. Don't rock the boat, baby. This square peg became quite adept at fitting into round holes. And if any wiley feeling got loose and bubbled to the surface? My mind drowned out the heart attempting to making itself known by telling me, "It just doesn't matter".

This way of being in the world seemed to serve me well for many years...until it didn't. Until it didn't and the feelings had to go somewhere. As early as high school, my body became the vehicle for getting rid of these emotions. I joined the swim team where I could pound out my frustration and anger, slapping the water, kicking into flip turns harder and harder until I exhausted myself. It worked. The feelings went away, at least for the time being. Some would call this constructive -- and maybe it started out that way. A productive outlet. But it began a cycle that in the end, wasn't at all constructive because it missed the point: My heart still wanted to be heard.

I had become so disconnected from how I felt emotionally that when that wasn't enough, I disconnected physically as well.

With the ante upped, my body began rebelling against being used and abused to further the cause of the mind. So I tried harder to honor the will of the mind, which only made my body rebel more intently. During my first year of college I landed in the hospital for debilitating chest pains that seemed to have neither cause nor cure. There was the three-week-long backpacking trip with insufficient food that I gutted through unnecessarily that yielded a bum ankle, numbness and bruising from an ill-fitted pack that didn't heal for months and a most horrendous case of hives when I began eating again. I suffered a case of mono that I pushed through for five months until the relapses broke me down to the point where I was forced to take several weeks off of work so I could begin the slow recovery process, which took more than three years. And most recently I herniated two discs pulling buckthorn that laid me up for the better part of the past year.

At least no one's ever called me stubborn.

This has been my journey...maybe a little similar in ways to yours. In contemplating how to rediscover my own authenticity, creating space to listen to, feel and trust my heart is my answer. Meditation, my most recent path to get there, my newest tool in my toolbox. I like to think that's what we do -- collect tools from our life experience for the toolbox that is in service of our lives. What's in my toolbox? What works for me? Gratefully, this meditation project is allowing me to wend my way through what all of this means, by feeling it.

Don't get me wrong, there is something to be said about "mind over matter" -- the mind as its own entity makes the body capable of many amazing feats. But I now choose to let that be the exception rather than the rule -- I don't need to be Wonder Woman anymore (although I'd still like a pair of those kick a** bracelets).

So, at the halfway point of this 40 week meditation adventure, I take stock: I will no longer allow my heart to be hidden away, my body and I have a new understanding, and although from time to time my mind still likes to pretend it's in charge, with each passing week, it seems to loosen its grip and become more friend than foe.

What I don't know is where this journey called my life goes from here. The beauty is, I don't have to. And to my surprise, I'm finding an inordinate amount of joy in that.//

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Week 19 - Surrender, reprise

As I sit to write, another winter storm rolls in. The mild temperatures and melting snow of the past week or so, the patches of grass that were lusciously beginning to reveal themselves, are again a thing of the past. At least for now. Inevitably, the snow will indeed melt and the sun will reign supreme once again. But not nearly soon enough. I want it now.

I'd be lying if I said it didn't matter. It does and I'm antsy. The warmer, sunnier days helped, but Mother Nature is a tease. She tempts us and then when we put away our heaviest winter gear, whomps us again. I like lazy Sunday afternoons like the best of them. I especially like snow days. But not now. Not like this. Why is she doing this to me?!?

Boo hoo! Of course that's what I'd like to believe -- that this is personal. That on some level the Universe and Mother Nature have conspired to torture me. But the truth is, what happens, happens. What is, is. We are not victims, but simply here in this experience. It's winter in Minnesota -- what do I expect? It's up to us to respond to what is before us, not react to the perceived injustice of the situation because it doesn't match what we want it to be.

Outside the window, the squirrels and birds will not be deterred. The cardinals that began singing in earnest from the treetops a week ago in the warmth, continue. The squirrels never cease their pillaging of the feeders. The weather is the weather and they live their lives, doing what they do, being who they are, one song and one snack at a time. Why should we be any different?

I haven't written on time these past few weeks, frankly because the weather warmed up and I was out in the world more. Life called for me to be more active and I responded to the call, which left less time to sit and contemplate and write. Understandable and in being with what is. But I'm uncomfortable with that. I made a commitment to write every Tuesday and with the past few weeks being busier, I haven't held up my end of the bargain...even if no one notices but me. It feels like a slippery slope -- if I'm not writing now, if I'm willing to let part of the commitment go, will the whole project fall apart? Or am I just being dramatic because it fuels the desire to react rather than respond...to force rather than surrender?

More likely, I'm moving into another phase of the process. Life has been pretty mellow the past month or so and I've gotten used to it, gotten used to the routine. Then things begin to change...the weather became warmer, I became more comfortable stretching my wings and getting out in the world more. Like the pendulum ride I mentioned over the holidays, there is a time for activity and a time for solitude and contemplation. When we force one or the other we get antsy. When we're present, there is room for what is needed. And consequently, because we are in flow with what is called for, there is peace.

When we allow ourselves to surrender to what is, we aren't giving up...we are simply letting go of the need to fight, to control and to be right. It occurs to me that this, above all, may be the true reason I've undertaken this journey to invite meditation into my day-to-day: I've spent the better part of my life at war with myself either expecting circumstances to be different, or worse, myself. I'm happy to make the space to let that go...and to let acceptance and compassion and love take its place.

The tricky part is remembering all over again, how to surrender. Gratefully, this experience is yet another reminder.

Today, if I go with what is, is easy...a fire in the fireplace, a steaming cup of tea and a write of this blog. And so I respond accordingly. I'll save the song and the snack for later...//

Friday, February 11, 2011

Week 18 - Being Witnessed

Sometimes I see myself fine, sometimes I need a witness.
~Dar Williams, from the song My Friends

A funny thing happened to me this week. A friend at work came up to me one morning and said, "Are you doing something new? You look different...you look happier."

"Really?" I asked.

But I didn't really need his acknowledgement at that point, though it was good to hear it. I didn't need him to confirm it because every fiber of my being resonated with what he said. It wasn't just that I believed him. It was that I felt in my body that what he said, the change he was recognizing in me, was true. What surprised me was that someone else could see it. And that I hadn't yet put words to it myself.

Sometimes we do indeed need a witness. I've been feeling things shift over time, especially in the last few weeks, and I know I've posted a bit about it. But it's hard to put a quality of being into words as it morphs into something new, something I'm not used to. The best way I can describe it is that I'm fighting within myself less and things around me are simply less of a struggle.

What things? Daily things, for one. Running errands, keeping up the house, going to work, staying motivated, getting things done...not much of a problem, even in the midst of a very long, particularly brutal Minnesota winter. I've found myself humming, singing, whistling throughout the day. While not completely unheard of, it's not overly common for me either. I find I'm worrying less about what people think, about what I can't get done in a day. I guess I'm taking myself lighter. I'm taking others lighter. Perhaps I'm just taking life lighter.

For the nearly 20 years since I graduated college, I have either been in school or taking workshops or working towards certifications or reading non-fiction books that more often than not fall into the self-help genre. I have long accepted that I'm a perpetual student and have an absolute passion for learning new things. It's how I'm wired. However, I hadn't recognized until recently what was truly driving this desire. In thinking about how I'm viewing life these days I recalled a time not too long ago when I told another friend that I had a firm belief that if I wasn't constantly bettering myself, I was wasting my life. My friend was shocked -- I know this only by the look she gave me...one of utter disbelief. I never said anything and the conversation continued in some benign way, but that look registered.

Maybe I've been riding myself a bit too hard?

That look was a gift...the gift of being witnessed. Not because it's so important what others think, but because it gave me some perspective. She didn't have to say anything -- it was the look that opened a willingness in me to listen within to my own wisdom. Take it easy, honey! Unconsciously, perhaps that's what meditating is helping me do...take it easy. I'm still a voracious reader and an eager student but these past few months I'm more apt to be reading a novel than some tome, and happily -- not guiltily -- doing so. Whatever I am diving into, I'm doing so because I want to, not out of some deep-seated fear that to not do it, I'm somehow wasting my life.

So am I happier? Who's to say what "happiness" really is, anyway?

Whatever shift is happening is taking place without any effort on my part beyond showing up to sit consistently. Maybe that's the magic of a regular meditation practice, the alchemy. If we are willing to show up the work is done in us and not through us trying to make it happen. I've given up wondering what I'm getting out of it, worrying if I'm doing it right, hoping I'll have some amazing experience of expanded awareness. And somehow without that efforting, something is happening. Something I can't quite name and sometimes need a witness to reflect back to me.

Interestingly, it doesn't mean that my meditations are necessarily any easier or yielding any mindblowing insights. My mind is still wild and I continue to guide it day after day, moment after moment, back to the breath while I sit. I continue to wonder at times whether I actually pushed "Start" on the timer because oh-my-god-these-fifteen-minutes-are-dragging-on-forever! Life still doles out whatever it doles out and I still have to deal with it. The difference, it seems, is in how I'm responding...by taking things lighter. By surrendering control more. By fighting circumstances less.

Part of me wishes I could say it was a conscious trying rather than some natural evolution -- that I was making these changes happen, that they were measurable and repeatable. Because that would make it easier for all of us, wouldn't it? We wouldn't have to learn to sit, breathe, listen within, be patient, commit to consistency, embrace the mystery of what we don't understand. Instead, we could continue to force our timetable and our expectations on this life we're living. Bend it and twist it into what we think it should be rather than making space for it to unfold, revealing what it already is.

I don't know about you, but I've tried the forcing part. I'll be the first to admit I'm not sure how this unfolding part will turn out, but so far so good. I guess I'd say I'm pretty happy about that. I'll keep meditating and let you know how it goes...//

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Week 17 - Honoring the Light of Love

Nothing is ever so bad that you can never come home.

The world lost a great one last Thursday afternoon, in the form of a dear friend's mother, at the ripe young age of 88, after 63 years of marriage. The light that was Dorothy is the light that is all of us...not just in us, but is us. Our source is one and the same.

I was reminded of this yesterday as we huddled together graveside at the culmination of services, thirty or more, under a tent against the January cold and said our good-bye's. Each of us alone with our own thoughts of her, our own memories, our own ways in which she touched our lives. And yet each of us brought together in that place by her, to remember and honor her light.

I had the privilege of helping put together pictures for those who came to pay their respects to enjoy. Pictures peopled with the family and friends she shared her life with. Pictures full of faces brimming with smiles that she helped put there. Snapshots of her life, a life well-lived and more than that, well-loved. She raised her family of four children, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild in tandem with her husband in the spirit of that love and it shows.

One grandson said it best in his eulogy -- that they were all raised with the knowledge that no matter what happened in their lives, nothing was ever so bad that they couldn't come home. It occurs to me that this is more than a mental "knowing", but a knowing in their hearts based on connection, based on love. Love as the answer to every problem, every triumph, every question...to everything. Love wielded in life as a means of actively honoring of the light in each of us. Love as a guide that enables us to see beyond our earthly circumstances and witness one another as we really are -- part of the same source.

Meditation, to me, is an honoring of that light -- not only in me, but in all of us. It ushers in a time each morning and evening to connect with the breath that connects every living being, regardless of what form that respiration occurs. It helps me to know that with every in-breath and out-breath, I am never alone. It creates the space to connect with the source of Love that permeates all, the love we know by heart, the love that is our collective light and available for us to live our lives by, if we only remember how. By the simple act of focusing my attention on my breath, a door is opened through which this remembering is possible.

It brings me peace to know that in honoring Dorothy's light, I am able to honor the light that is each one of us. It helps me tap into the potential we all have in this life to live with heart, provided we can remember the light we all share and to love each other well. It comforts me to know that, no matter what, we can always come home -- to ourselves, to each other, to our source.

If we're lucky, this can be the legacy our light leaves on the world as well.

My husband and I are grateful beyond measure to have been touched by this love and to be included as part of her family. Thank you, Dorothy, for the reminder.//