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Tag Archives: impermanence

Time

Last week I turned 38 years old. On the eve of my birthday, a sangha friend passed away. Alison Matthews, age 63.

63 is an age generally considered to be on the younger side of someone passing away. 63 is not old age. I am continually reminded about the preciousness of life, especially in the wake of others who have passed on. Earlier today, I was visiting with a hospice patient. During our weekly visits, I’ve taken to bringing a newspaper with me and reading aloud the news. As I was reading the Today In History section I came across this: In 1937, American composer and pianist George Gershwin died at a Los Angeles hospital of a brain tumor; he was 38.

One never knows when our time will expire. So often, we live as though we have a limitless supply of time. In reading world news and local obituaries, however, I routinely come across people who’ve died at all ages and stages in their life. For me, this serves as an important reminder: there’s no guarantee that we will see old age. And that applies to myself, as well as my beloved family and friends.

Being in touch with death and dying keeps me in close contact with my gratitude for life. Volunteering with hospice affords me the opportunity to train in the art of living life well, with however much time I have. And I am deeply touched and nourished by all of the patients I have the honor and privilege to meet with, who serve as my teachers in this regard.

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Posted by on July 11, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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Childhood Cornerstones

Today, in my early morning writing session, I stumbled upon two particularly crucial elements of my childhood, which serve as vital cornerstones of my spiritual life now, as an adult.

The first of which is my having been raised in the rooms of recovery, as the only child of a single mother who committed to getting clean and sober when I was 3-years-old. Growing up going to AA and NA meetings alongside my mom, hearing hundreds of personal, hard, heart-wrenching, and inspiring stories trained me in developing a deepened sense of empathy, compassion, understanding, connection, openness, and authenticity. It also taught me how to be a good listener and afforded me a different perspective and a more genuine way of seeing the world.

The second one has to do with what may sound like an unlikely and strange catalyst for creating a positive foundation for a spiritual life: acne. Here’s what I wrote this morning in my journal:

I have a weathered face from so many tortured years plagued with acne – a scourge which still continues, albeit with less vigor and frequency – and I think, though it somewhat pains me to say (given how much torment it put me through), that it made me a better person. Sure, my ego could get embroiled by my long hair, but it was always cooled right down when I looked in the    mirror – it’s difficult to feel vain and over-inflated when the face you greet the world with is riddled with red swollen peaks and distressed pits and valleys, ravaging you in despair. But now, looking back, I think it may have been a good thing that my formative years were spent under such facial duress, as it put me in touch with something…more, something…greater.

Accruing acne so early in life (around age 11), and maintaining it steadily through early-adulthood, trained me in the art of developing humility. And it gave me countless lessons in looking beneath the surface, in relation to both myself and others, to find what cannot be ascertained by one’s deceptive outward appearance. It also taught me about impermanence. And the importance of cultivating a rich, full, and joyful inner landscape.

Thinking about these two elements in this specific context just arose for me this morning, so I look forward to further processing this new insight.

Thank you for reading, as it inspires me to continue on the path of writing – which is the best internal processing agent I know of.

 

 
 

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A Certain Kind of Insanity

A light breeze blows,
showering me with creme-colored, circular elm seeds,
littering my outdoor work-space with debris.

I huff at my freshly cleared-off tablecloth becoming strewn with seed pods…again.

But, what am I expecting to have happen here? I’m sitting outside under a freakin’ elm tree, after all.

_______________

There’s a certain kind of learned, common human insanity that plagues our patterns of thought in detrimental, destructive ways.

I think it’s worth asking ourselves this question: What percentage of my day is spent wishing something was other than as it is?

I wish I were more _____ and less _____. I wish so-and-so was less of a jerk, for that dude to drive better, and for that lady to pipe down. I wish I had a cup of coffee or a brownie or a stiff drink. I wish it was warmer out or cooler out or dryer out or wetter out. I wish I didn’t have to go to work or do the laundry or haul the kids all over town or make dinner….

Not to sound harsh or anything, but, if you really want to be happy, you’re gonna need to stop trying so hard.

There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way.

 

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My Practice Today

My practice today is to remember:

I can’t do everything.

I cannot “save” anyone else.

I practice for myself, not to affect change in others.

I need to keep my own tanks full (mental, emotional, spiritual, physical) in order to be of support to others.

I can take refuge in the island of myself – and I can sing this lovely practice song, as an added support: “Breathing in I go back to the island within myself, there are beautiful trees within the island, there are clear streams of water, there are birds, sunshine, and fresh air, breathing out I feel safe, I enjoy going back to my island.”

Breathing in, I come back to my own practice

Breathing out, I let go of my feelings of needing to fix someone else’s difficult situation

 
 

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Seeds of the past

I’ve sifted through time,
right here to this spot,
influenced by every drop of sound
that has hummed itself in range of my countenance.

I am the manifestation of my mother’s walk to sobriety, and subsequent hard work,
my father’s grounded nature and integrity,
my best friends growing up,
like Jamie, who I lost over a boy,
and all the boys I crushed on and left for other boys;
my paternal grandmother’s adoration of babies
and my maternal grandfather’s sense of placement and orderliness;
and Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California” song,
which served as my personal anthem, drumming me on my journey west away from home,
days before I would turn 19.

This one life, amid all my musings and ramblings and incoherent tangles of thought,
has been so artfully crafted and groomed by an endless sea of moments and influences
that it becomes impossible to discern where “I” begin and end –
as with any minor adjustment to my life,
I would be someone altogether different.

 
 

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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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Going as a River

In our local meditation center, we have a large calligraphy done by Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) that reminds us to: Go as a river, which is a common teaching in our tradition. These few simple words have a depth of wisdom instilled within them, and can be translated in a few different ways. To me, Go as a river speaks to two main key components of our practice tradition: impermanence and brotherhood/sisterhood.

In regards to impermanence, Go as a river speaks to the ever-changing flow of life. Suffering, in large part, develops when we’re fighting against what is unfolding in the present moment, as though we’re trying to walk upstream amid a fast-moving river. To Go as a river means to go with the flow of life, to learn how to accept its non-permanent state and not get stuck in our own preferences and thoughts about how things should be. Despite our best laid plans and ideas, life can oftentimes twist and turn in unexpected ways. To Go as a river means to cultivate resiliency, inclusiveness, solidity, and ease, with the deepening understanding that things/people/situations are of the nature to change.

In regards to brotherhood & sisterhood, Go as a river means to recognize the importance and cultivation of community and interconnection. On a more intimate level, it means: to root ourselves in a loving, supportive, healthy sangha. On a larger level, it means: to see all the ways in which we depend on one another as a global family. Brotherhood and sisterhood are about discovering ways to actively connect and engage with our friends, family, local community, and the world in such a way that compassion and understanding are generated. Read the rest of this entry »

 
 

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