Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Weeks 24 & 25 - The Meditating Dog

Just when I thought I had this meditation thing all figured out (famous last words...), a few weeks ago, I began to have company in my twice-daily forays into stillness. One morning, as I situated myself for my morning meditation, my dog, Trooper, decided she was going to sit as well...on the same cushion I sit on.

This cushion, called a zabuton, is a futon-like pad maybe three feet square, that takes up one corner of the soul cave. If I sit with my back crowded into the corner there is almost enough room for the both of us -- if she curls up into the tightest ball possible, nestled into the crook of my folded legs. This is a trick for a 60 pound dog, but she does it remarkably well and she's getting better with practice.

The first time she did this, I just laughed and moved around in any way I could to make room for her and we settled in. I figured, if she wanted to give it a go, who was I to stop her? I was sure it would be a one time deal. Then over days, morning and evening, she continued on and I took up my new position at the back of the mat.

In the beginning, I kept wondering if she was just there to sleep while I did my work, to rub it in. But the more I experience it, the less I think so. For one, there isn't all the twitching and kicking and whimpering that goes on when she sleeps and dreams. She's generally a big snorer...and she's never snored during our sessions. She lays as still as can be and breathes her smoothly connected breath, slowly in, slowly out, equally timed and never rushing. I aspire to meditation breathing that effortless and beautiful, I assure you.

For two, she lets out a plaintive whine every once in a while like she's waiting to be done and is struggling with how long it's taking. Does this sound familiar? Maybe she's even asking, as I have, "my god, are you sure you set the timer? This is taking forever!" It's a nearly silent whine, just enough to let out some pent up energy -- probably the very same kind of energy that makes my legs twitch, or makes me want to shift around because I'm antsy or impatient, unable to silence my mind and relax into things as they are.

It's as if by sitting with me she's given herself a task, too -- perhaps not meditation per se, but a practice in patience maybe? Either way, we both have our work and we do the best we can with what that day has to offer us. Some days I twitch and she whines...some days we both sit peacefully through until the buzzer releases us. Like me, some days she does better than others. We're a work in progress. The fact is, she's trying...or so it seems. I like to think we're in this, growing and changing, together.

Now you may remember, almost ten weeks ago I wrote about Trooper's crazy antics and how distracted and frustrated I was that she wouldn't leave me alone while I sat. And now here she is, participating in the process -- a kind of, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em mentality. It is certainly something I never, in a million years, would have imagined.

The more we think we know, the more life reveals to us that we don't. To this, I say, halleluja! I'm finding the longer I do this, the more surprised I am -- daily -- by the capacity of all of us to develop new ways of being in the world. I wonder if we're traditionally so busy grasping at how we expect things to be or trying to make things stay predictable that we almost can't notice the incremental changes that occur in us and our lives with every new thing we -- or those around us -- are willing to try...no matter how small. Me? I want to notice.

Perhaps this is what presence is all about.

It is said that change is the only constant. And yet we are creatures of habit and routine. This meditation project itself is about developing a new routine! And yet even the routines need to change. We need to ride the edge of what's comfortable, of what's expected in order to keep moving, to keep making progress, to keep our minds open and free from fixating on the idea that we think we know. Inviting change, welcoming it rather than resisting it, keeps us in the present moment, aware of these small shifts that occur, connected to Life.

Where would I be in my practice if Trooper hadn't comandeered my cushion those weeks ago? I'm not sure. But perhaps by experiencing this meditation partnership Trooper and I are currently engaged in -- the fact that she tried something new and I've made space for it -- I can be more present and pay more attention to the wonder of what I don't know, rather than the flat, static, safe monotony of what I think I do. This new way feels surprisingly more natural.

And I can say, "Yeah, my dog taught me that."//

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Week 23 - Getting Over Myself

How nice to be inconsequential. How pleasant to know that there is nothing to be done. ~from the novel Little Bee by Chris Cleave

After our walk the other evening, as we prepared for dinner, I looked out and saw the ducks had returned to the feeder after five long months away. "They're back! They're back!" I called to my husband and ran to get my camera to document their arrival. "It means Spring is here!"

There was plenty of food for them, for which I was grateful, but I regretted there was no fresh water -- in fact, the water tray was still buried under a foot of crusty old snow. I wanted things to be perfect for them, to be exceedingly hospitable to ensure they stayed. As it turned out, the moment I took the first picture, they flew off.

Later that evening as I sat in the soul cave meditating, there was a familiar noise I hadn't heard since the previous Spring. Whoo-hoo-hoo. The owls were back, too? I could hardly contain myself -- we had had owls in the woods behind our house the whole previous winter yet they had left last Spring. I hadn't heard them for a year and I missed their hooting and being able to watch them dart through the trees. The instant the timer went off signaling the end of my meditation, I ran downstairs and into the backyard to listen, just to be sure I hadn't been hearing things. They were still there, by the light of the moon, calling off into the night.

The arrival of both the ducks and owls brought me such joy, omens of Spring...finally! And all in one evening, no less! Yet I began to realize I was taking their returns personally, as if they had come back just for me. Was it really the same ducks? The same owls? Not likely. But the story in my head told me they were -- that I had fed them so well and had created such a nice atmosphere that they rewarded me by coming back after their own long, arduous winter travels.

Really? Am I the center of the Universe?

Ah, but perhaps we get attached to these encounters because we, too, are animals. We're fascinated because we've lost touch with our wildness, our instinct. We've forgotten that as animals, we, too, need the earth. We no longer recognize how we move to the energetic rhythms of nature and her cycles. Perhaps to witness the authentic being of other animals we are humbled. Perhaps to attract them into our circle helps us to feel more connected to them, to who we are and to the land we've all but left behind.

Personally, I love these humblings...to be reminded that in the scheme of things, I'm inconsequential. To connect with nature in such a way that I know in my heart I'm not in control and there is nothing to be done but be in the experience and be moved. The ducks come, the owls go -- my only job is to witness and allow myself to remember who I really am.

The trouble seems to be that our mind, who thinks it's in charge, needs to concoct stories that keep us removed from the wonder of this humbling in order to feel important. Inconsequential? Never! It couldn't be that the ducks and owls were simply passing through -- that wasn't enough. They were back because of me. Ho, ho!

But what happens if we remember that we're "just" animals?

Maybe we wouldn't need to keep ourselves so busy, full of made-up stories and judgments and demands, to keep us from remembering our roots. This isn't a bad thing to remember. Yes, our industriousness has created civilizations and all our busyness keeps our societies -- and our families -- humming. This is important work...we have the capacities and abilities we have for a reason.

But isn't it exhausting to have to do so much to prove our importance to ourselves all the time? When in the end, what a relief it is to remember our animal nature -- that sometimes, all that's required is a good, nourishing meal and a soak in a sunbeam. Even animals know when it's time to rest. We would learn much from remembering how to trust our animal instincts.

I often think that the purpose of meditation is nothing more than to invite us to get over ourselves. The ducks and owls passed through the other night, not because of me, as the all-important part of me would love to believe, but because Nature and their instincts told them it was the right time to return. We get so caught up in our own perceived importance that we forget we are the same and have the same cues to guide our choices as they do.

Meditation reveals to me time and time again that in order to do, we need only rely on our mind. But in order to truly be -- to flourish in our authenticity as human beings -- we need to rely on our heart as well. This is where our intuition resides, the still small voice that is connected to the animal we still are. I may not be the center of the Universe, but with awareness and attention and a little humility, I can remember that I am a part of it. I can remember, as my fowl friends, to listen to my instincts, to trust them and live from there.//

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Weeks 21 & 22 - Inner Gardening

One of the things I loved most about our new house when we bought it 18 months ago was that there were no existing gardens. The previous owners had dug up all of their flowers and transplanted them to their new digs. Which was perfect as it left me with half an acre of blank canvas to play with.

Since we moved here from a townhouse where I had gardened illegally for ten years, I did the same as the previous owners and brought my flowers with me. Moving in late September, there wasn't enough time to plan that first flower bed, so I simply dug up an area by the house to get my rag-tag collection of irises in the ground before the first winter. I wouldn't exactly call them a garden. A holding pen maybe, but not a garden. Functional but not at all what it could be. If only I knew what I wanted to create!

Let the absence of actual paintings and the plethora of painting paraphernalia in my soul cave be a testament to how much I enjoy blank canvas. I have spent the better part of my life desperate for open space to garden, soil to sink my hands into and cultivate, sacred ground in which to pour my passion for fostering growth. And yet ever since my wish was granted, I've wondered...what will be my first broad stroke across this wide expanse of green?
Sometimes we just don't know what we're looking for until we dare to ask the question.

Last week, my husband and I went to a workshop sponsored by our city about how to build a rain garden. Along with a date to the Home & Patio Show, it seemed as good a place as any to start exploring. Besides, what more perfect time is there than pre-spring to decide on the projects that will dot the landscape of our summer?

At the workshop, I came face-to-face with what I didn't know I had been looking for. The organizers of the workshop, a trio of self-proclaimed native plant geeks, did a presentation on the local flora and fauna, past and present. We were shown a map from 200 years ago that laid out our county in its natural state -- what the plant composition consisted of around the time it was settled. Prairie flowers and grasses, and stands of woods consumed every square inch. Then we were shown the same map today stripped of nearly 99% of that original vegetation. I wasn't the only one in the room who audibly gasped.

Of course they were preaching to the choir, right? A room full of nature lovers, of course we would be horrified. They went for the wow-factor and got it. But they weren't simply telling tales of woe, they were giving solutions. We were the solution. Nothing fires me up more than being invited to find my place in the way of things. There was no guilt...just common sense solutions. Connection and responsibility. Lessen the affect of the runoff from my house? Improve the quality of the local watershed? Reintroduce native plants that will provide a respite for migrating Monarchs and songbirds? Create natural spaces that allow our land to heal and return to the self-sustaining splendor of what it once was? All by planting native gardens? You betcha! I'm in.

This past week has found me reading up and drawing maps and choosing plants. In doing so, it has occurred to me that in gardening and meditation our intent can be one and the same: to gently reestablish the natural order of things. In the garden, by investing in what supports the local ecosystem as it was meant to be, we enable the plants and all manner of wildlife to flourish. In meditation, by creating space for our true nature to reveal itself and take hold once again, and by letting go of the invasive beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that keep us from remembering who we are, we reconnect with what is essential to our authentic growth. In both, we can take responsibility for our place in the way of things and do our part. Gardening, meditation...meditation, gardening...same thing.

We create space, we show up, we do the work, we enjoy the process. Had I known I had all the open ground I needed inside of me, I would have started gardening much sooner.

While I can hardly wait for a fresh cutting of garden flowers on my kitchen counter, I'll keep working on the inner garden for now...the rewards of both are sweet enough.//