Poems In the Wake of Covid19

My morning writing today

Uncertainty

And so,
maybe we’ll see food shortages
from panicked people with ample freezer storage
and money to spare
stockpiling supplies.

Maybe in two months or three,
my husband and I will have trouble paying the mortgage.

Maybe I will lose my disability benefits
amid my current re-evaluation.

Maybe my husband will be stuck in CA
for longer than we have planned.

Maybe this social distancing
and stay-at-home approach
is only in its infancy.

Maybe it will be months
before I can hug my friends again.

Maybe my current enjoyment
of solitude and quietude on the home front
will turn sour and hellish in another 2-weeks.

Maybe our country and global landscape
will never be the same.
In fact: it won’t be. It never is.

Maybe this is what Rilke meant when he said:
you must change your life.*

Maybe this is the shaking up we need
to be shown what is most important.

 

– penned on March 24th, 2020; *I lifted this line from Mary Oliver’s poem Invitation

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The First Dharma Seal: Impermanence (1 of 2)

In this post, anything in quotation marks will be from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh, as I’ll be referencing it throughout this post and its sequel in part 2.

“The Three Dharma Seals are impermanence, nonself, and nirvana. Any teaching that does not bear these Three Seals cannot be said to be a teaching of the Buddha.”

Yesterday morning, during my Mindful Morning practice that I do each weekend on either Saturday or Sunday, my Dharma reading included passages from Interbeing and The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings. After reading parts from the chapter entitled The Three Dharma Seals in the latter book, I began writing and reflecting about my own understanding of the first two seals: impermanence and nonself, and ways in which I practice to embody these elements in my daily life, moving them from a place of intellectual understanding to direct experience.

“Impermanence is more than an idea. It is a practice to help us touch reality.”

My own definition of impermanence: All things are in an ongoing & steady state of flux.

It’s one thing to intellectually understand that everything changes. It’s a whole other thing to actually practice with what it means, how it shows up in our daily life, and to cultivate the wisdom enfolded into its teachings.

“When we study impermanence, we have to ask, “Is there anything in this teaching that has to do with my daily life, my daily difficulties, my suffering?” If we see impermanence as merely a philosophy, it is not the Buddha’s teaching.”

Spurred by my morning reading, I asked myself: how do I practice impermanence? Meaning: how do I move impermanence from a brain-based relationship to a heartfelt experience?

Here’s what I came up with.

Ways I practice impermanence:

  1. Volunteering with hospice.
  2. Actively reflecting on the inevitability of death as it pertains to my closest loved ones (not easy!).
  3. Turning towards – not away from – the nature of reality of my stepson growing up and practicing the art of letting go.
  4. Investing intentional time and energy into comfort zone expansion work.
  5. Occasionally giving away a cherished belonging.
  6. Having a collectively generated fridge collage of drawings and then burning them when the fridge is full, in order to start over with a new creation.
  7. Engaging with the ever-fluctuating mountain weather as a valuable teacher providing me with daily opportunities to practice going with (instead of against) the flow of what presents itself outside of my preferences and/or sway.

My practice verse in relation to impermanence:

Life is precious and time is short.

 

 

 

 

 

Big Limbs A’Gonna Fall

Some time on Wednesday during the day or early evening – or perhaps it was around 10pm and it was the sound I heard that prodded me to get up from my almost sleep to investigate – a widow-maker fell from one of our two slowly dying elm trees in the backyard.

As massive tangle-wall of green bramble, spindly branches, and 100-year-old heavy trunk has taken up residency in the middle of the yard, where I mow and sometimes, when the spirit calls for it, frolic.

In some respect, we saw it coming. It was only a matter of time – just like everything else. Nothing ever happens without circumstance. Nothing has ever happened for “no reason” or “out of nowhere.” Had we been wildly surprised and/or shaken up at the sight of it, it would’ve said much more about our own sad state of affairs than it would’ve the tree’s.

Still, when suddenly confronted face-to-face with such a large object that once forever held steady up above, it can make a person ponder such things as constancy, and how very many ways there are to die.

One month from turning 40

In one month from today,
I’ll turn forty.
Does that mean something?
I think it might.

I think it might mean
bidding a fond farewell to a decade of time
book-ended by zeros
and ushering in a new one,
as though it were a crisp,
unwrinkled, never worn gown
to slip into and dance on
endlessly into the night.

Everything that meant anything important
I’ve learned so far,
I’ve learned from unlearning something else.

Like how love means letting go
not holding on,
and a life filled with meaning
has little to do with money.
Or how kindness is a superpower
not a weakness,
and angling towards joy
doesn’t mean to ignore the darkness,
it means to not ignore the light.

I have inherited a body of knowledge
not my own –
a body of paper skin and earthen bones, too.
Flawed, perfect,
scarred, broken, perfect.
Did I mention perfect?

There is nothing on this splendid,
spinning, blue-green marble planet,
strung like a pearl on its cosmic necklace,
that wasn’t supposed to happen,
simply for the fact that it did.

If my years so far could be distilled
into one sentiment worth mentioning,
it would be this:
To live a well-contented life,
it’s crucial to stop fighting.

To stop fighting:
Sickness
Aging
Death.

To stop fighting with the truth of how every single thing –
and every single one of us, our self included –
is of the nature to change.

Sometimes, Things are Just Hard

It’s easy to sometimes regard the practice of mindfulness and/or meditation as being some kind of magical elixir (especially by new practitioners), as though we could (and should) use them to cure us of our woes and ailments – that somehow if we are mindful enough and meditate enough, we’ll be able to fix whatever it is we feel needs fixing. But, the truth is, sometimes, things are just hard. Having a mindfulness practice and sitting in meditation can strengthen our ability to stay present, balanced, and well-grounded in our own experience of whatever is unfolding – which can be invaluably beneficial – but, in the end, neither mindfulness or meditation can alleviate the causes and conditions of struggle, pain, sorrow, and so on. Our relationship with life can change, but life itself will always entail a certain degree of suffering, difficulty, challenge, and heartache.

What I’m trying to highlight here, is that it’s important not to use the practices of mindfulness and meditation to form some kind of emotional smoke-screen to hide or otherwise distort the simple and very real truth that sometimes life is just hard. And, in my experience, there is a strange and great relief in coming to this understanding. There is a powerful release in being able to simply state, with clear intent, that things are just hard sometimes – without trying to explain further or apologize or rationalize or sugar-coat something for someone else’s perceived benefit. Sometimes, things are just hard. End of sentence.

I recently watched a TED talk given by Susan Kaiser Greenland on the ABC’s of Attention, Balance, and Compassion. In her talk she stated that mindfulness isn’t about changing or fixing, it’s about understanding and being aware. And on one of her slides, it stated: Wisdom comes not from being perfect but from being present. I think we can get carried away and swept up in the false notion of perfection when it comes to a lot of things. But perfection is a relative construct – and I would go so far as to call it a farce.

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Transitions

IMG_7444Sunset last Friday night in Missoula

With the beauty of autumn unfolding here in the Rocky Mountains of Montana I’ve been thinking about the fertile opportunities  that transitions offer us.  I was imagining what it would be like if there were no autumn season here.  What if we jumped overnight from summer to winter?  Yikes!  Or what if babies grew up in a matter of days rather than a matter of years?  Double yikes!

Sometimes transitions can allow us the chance to ease into the impermanent nature of things.  They can be a time of richness and spaciousness.  They can also be challenging and at times very difficult.  Moving from one thing to another thing often takes a period of transition time in between.  And this in-between time can often involve inner feelings of both harmony and dis-harmony happening together at the same time.

Whether we’re going from summer to fall, moving from one town to another, parenting an ever-changing, growing child, entering a new phase of adulthood, or starting over in a new job or relationship things take time to adjust to.  We are not static beings living in a fixed environment.  We are always changing.  Our surroundings are always changing.  Our loved ones are always changing.

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Everything Changes

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As summer slowly turns to fall with the setting sun edging towards the horizon noticeably earlier each day, my stepson becomes a freshman in high school, and I begin my first job search in 6-7 years (since my health has been improving) I am put in touch with the nature of impermanence.  Everything changes!

Hand in hand with the practice of embracing impermanence is the practice of letting go.  Oftentimes in order to embrace one thing we must be able to let something else go.  In order to embrace fall we must let go of the summer.  To embrace our children as they grow and mature we must be able to let go of who they once were and how we, as parents, once treated them.  Everything and everyone are of the nature to change.  The more we expect things and people and ourselves to stay the same the more we will continue to be disappointed when the opposite inevitably happens.

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