Static

I’ve been having a particular kind of static operating in the back recesses of my mental landscape lately, which has been interfering with my standard modes of frequency. Sometimes it’s more subtle and quiet; and other times it’s clamor is all I can hear. I’m feeling hesitant to go into more detail here on this public platform, so I apologize for speaking in general, nondescript terms.

Really the specifics matter little, when I think about it. Regardless of what static I happen to be experiencing – anger, sorrow, guilt, confusion, anxiety, stress, jealousy, lust, heartbreak, discomfort and so on – the practice remains the same. The first step is acknowledgment, or recognition, followed by: identification, acceptance, and investigation – with the hope of being able to move eventually into the art of embracing and transformation.

There’s no fire like that of lust,
No grasping like that of hate,
No snare like that of delusion,
No river like that of craving.

– Dhammapada

Acknowledgment: This first step may seem like a no-brainer. We have to start by recognizing what it is that’s coming up and running the show – to know what it is that we’re allowing to sweep us away from living life fully, in the here and now. So often, we simply have no idea what’s leading us around and propelling our discomfort and/or discontent, in whatever flavor it presents itself in. Adding further complication to this seemingly simply step is the fact that most of us have been taught and trained into thinking that certain emotions are not acceptable or are inappropriate or make us a “bad” person. So there’s a fair amount that can get in the way of being able to truly acknowledge that we even have feelings of anger or fear or craving, and so forth. The good news is: the more we practice to acknowledge our vast range of emotions that arise, the more we are able to understand them and interweave them into our full embodied experience of being human.

Identification: Being able to simply put a name, or label, on what it is that’s coming up for us and creating this static – as I’m choosing to call it here – may seem insignificant but in reality it can be extremely helpful in regards to stepping into the role of Observer, which can support us in creating some distance from the strong emotional charge that’s kicking up. Even just a sliver of distance can be beneficial in terms of ratcheting down the immediate pull that can so often accompany strong or otherwise challenging emotions.

So we start by saying: Yes, I am experiencing static. Then we call it by its true name, whether it be: fear, anger, sorrow, confusion, aversion, heartbreak, shame, hatred, jealousy, lust, etc.

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Peace Un-conference

Flyer from the Jeannette Rankin Peace center for the Peace Un-conference

Flyer picture for the Peace Un-conference                                           Presented by the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center

Yesterday my husband and I attended an all day event entitled Rising from the Ashes: How Do We Create Peace from Chaos, Confusion, and Conflict.  It was an un-conference sponsored by our local Jeannette Rankin Peace Center (JRPC).  Designing it as an un-conference is a reference to something called Open Space.  From their website:

Open Space Technology, or Open Space, is a meeting format discovered by Harrison Owen. There is much written about Open Space available in books and on the internet, and yet often the format defies description or explanation. It is much more easily experienced that written about.

The basic process of Open Space helps those participating in the event co-create an experience based on responsibility and passion. It is a very welcoming and very frequently fun process, and also one that can be challenging in the same way a good game is challenging. Open Space invites the participants to engage to a high degree.

 

Never having attended an Open Space setting before I could only imagine what to expect in terms of format and set-up.  I was, like many others, a little nervous.  The Five Principles of Open Space set me a little more at ease:

1. Whoever comes are the right people

2. Whenever it starts is the right time

3. Wherever it is, is the right place

4. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have, be prepared to be surprised! 

5. When it’s over, it’s over

And the one law of Open Space is called the Law of Two Feet:

If at any time during our time together you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet, go someplace else.

In this way, all participants are given both the right and the responsibility to maximize their own learning and contribution, which the Law assumes only they, themselves, can ultimately judge and control. When participants lose interest and get bored in a breakout session, or accomplish and share all that they can, the charge is to move on, the “polite” thing to do is going off to do something else. In practical terms, Owen explains, the Law of Two Feet says: “Don’t waste time!”

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Good, bad…?

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Our ideas of good and bad are not factual distinctions we make.  Good and bad are subjective, fluctuating, and often illusory divisions we tend to make in order to solidify our point of view.  Lately I have been appreciating the practice of equanimity, which I’ve found to be a fruit of cultivating the art of mindfulness.  I would define equanimity as the ability to not be easily swayed by false ideas of good and bad, right and wrong.  Developing the insight of equanimity allows us to accept situations, people, and ourselves just as they are and not get caught in duality.

I’ve recently started corresponding with an old acquaintance who is currently in the county detention center.  He’s awaiting trial and wrote me a letter a few days ago.  In his letter he stated that while he sees there are two sides of him, one that seeks goodness and one who is, in his words, evil, he will probably always be on the dark side of life.  He wanted me to know what I was getting myself into before corresponding further, for the sake of my own well-being.

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Life & Death

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“Sharing” by Juan’s Photography, Seeley Lake, Montana

When I saw this card at a local artist’s shop downtown I was drawn to it right away.  I wandered into the shop having some time to spare before attending a community conversation on death and dying a couple of weeks ago, a monthly event hosted by one of our three hospice groups in town.  Each month there’s a different topic along the theme of death and dying.  Two weeks ago the subject matter involved end-of-life decisions and how and why they differ greatly between doctors and the rest of us.

I’ve been a hospice volunteer for almost 12 years and in that time I’ve learned a great deal about living and gratitude and acceptance through my visits with those at the end of life.  In our society it is common to shun aging and death.  It’s common to think of death as a morbid topic.  But death is part of life, not separate, and not optional.  When I look at the photo on the card, pictured above, I see the circle of life.  To me the dead pig head is not gross or repulsive, it simply is what it is.  On the back of the card it reads: “Shot from our bedroom closet in Seeley Lake.  The good Momma Raven shared this feast with her babies that were waiting in the nest just a few trees away.”  As one life ends, another begins.  This is the way of life.

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Bad Days Happen

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Yesterday was one of those days where I spoke out loud to myself and asked the jokingly rhetorical question, “Is this day over yet?!”  By 4:00pm I was ready for the day to be done, which wasn’t a good sign seeings as light lingers until around 9:30pm here this time of year.  I don’t feel as though I need to go into details about my bad day, we’ve all had them and we will all continue to have them.  There’s nothing especially unique about having a bad day.  They are, despite what we may like to think, part of life.

This acceptance that in life there will be not so fabulous days is actually a very deep practice that can benefit us in many ways.  When we practice embracing acceptance we also practice letting go of the fight we put up against such things as an occasional bad day and our ability to look deeply and develop understanding is nourished.  This acceptance might not transform our bad day into a good day but it will allow us to stop struggling with those detrimental inner voices that say bad days aren’t supposed to happen or questions what the hell is wrong with us that we can’t snap out of it.  And it’s this struggle with how we think things are “supposed” to be and not “supposed” to be that really makes for a bad day.

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Tolerance vs. Acceptance

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Recently on my post entitled Half Full I spoke about self-acceptance and how our local dharma teacher offered his experience of how the best way he knew to practice self-acceptance was to practice acceptance of others.  When we’re practicing one, we’re practicing the other at the same time.  Self-acceptance and acceptance of others cannot be separated – they are interrelated.

As I’ve been thinking more about this teaching some thoughts have arisen.  Tolerance is not the same thing as acceptance.  I remember when I used to consider myself an accepting person when really what I did was tolerate people on the outside and judge them on the inside.  For me this took shape in the form of irritation as well.  I was constantly irritated by others, sometimes at really slight things.  What I’m realizing now is that I had genuine acceptance at times for some folks but most of the time my acceptance hinged on whether they were acting in a way that I approved of or made sense to me.  I had acceptance for others when things were easy and I didn’t have acceptance for others when things were hard.

And so it went: Acceptance of a friend who’s struggling, sure!  Acceptance of a driver who just cut me off, nope!  Acceptance of my husband who’s just washed the dishes, sure!  Acceptance of my husband who’s left all of his dirty clothes under the bed for the thousandth time, nope!  Acceptance of someone who I have loads in common with, sure!  Acceptance of someone who I have very little in common with, nope!  This type of system of separation is very common, albeit subconsciously.  Sure it’s easy to accept what we agree with but how well do we accept what we don’t agree with?

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I’ve often heard that a very good indicator of the strength of our practice can be seen through our interactions with our family.  If we consider ourselves to be generally accepting let us go and spend some time with our family and see what happens!  I don’t know about you (although I suspect most of us share this) but up until only very recently whenever I spent time with my family I became internally pretty unglued fairly quickly.  I was consumed in judgement, irritation, and stress.  Thank goodness for impermanence, eh?  Things change!  And with the intention of self-understanding and diligent practice transformation is not just a possibility, it’s inevitable.

It’s important to keep in mind that acceptance is not a destination to be reached.  If we think we’ve gotten to the point where we have any teaching down and think there’s no work left we’ve missed something along the way.  Acceptance, like life, is a practice, an ongoing, unfolding journey.