Tag Archive: meditation



When last I wrote, I was embarking on the ambitious task of transforming three different areas of my life: spiritually, physically, and metaphysically.  Let’s go over how I did in all three areas.

Physically, I started off well, and was then immediately hampered by injury.  It seems my hamstring tendons in my left leg get really upset when I try to do vigorous exercise now.  I briskly walked a 5K and was in quite a bit of pain the next day.  The next week I worked out on a treadmill and had some more pain the next day.  Then I went to two karate classes in a row and could barely walk the next day.  Granted, I probably should have given myself more time after the first time I hurt myself before doing more exercise, but like most people who are gung ho to change a part of their lives, I did too much too quickly.  I haven’t done anything more vigorous than a bit of yoga since the karate classes over two months ago to give my leg a rest.  I can still feel a tiny twinge every now and then, which tells me that when I do decide to start exercising again, I’m going to have to be careful about it.  Plainly I need to do more stretching than I do, as well.

The other thing that interrupted my physical endeavours was illness.  I’ve been sick so much the last few months.  I was sick in December, then again in February with a horrible norovirus (which basically makes your body eject everything from both ends for a few days and leaves you feeling weaker than an overcooked noodle), then again in March with horrible allergies resulting in a sore throat that rivaled the pain of strep, and again in April with a hacking cough that I’m still getting over because allergy season is still in full swing down here in Central Texas.

So yeah, I didn’t get a whole lot of exercising done.  I did, however, establish the (mostly) daily habit of doing yoga every morning.  I do sun salutations, even if I only do one.  The point is to just roll out the mat and do it just for the habit.  I was up to eight before I got the cold with the hacking cough and had to lay off for a few days: I’ve only just gotten back up to that.  I’m getting a bit bored with the sun salutations, though, so I went to YogaJournal.com and used their sequence builder to make myself a routine that I should be able to do in 15 minutes or less (we’ll see: I haven’t tried it yet).  Hopefully that will give my body more of a workout and be a little less monotonous.  I’d also like to get back to yoga class at my local studio now that I’m feeling better.  I was going fairly regularly until all of the injury and sickness hit, and I haven’t been back since.  My yoga buddy is out of nursing school for the semester now, too, so maybe we can help each other get to class again.

Metaphysically, I’m doing great.  My meditation practice is going swimmingly.  I missed a few days when I was really ill, since it’s hard to meditate when you can’t breathe, but other than that, I’ve been meditating for half an hour every morning after I make my coffee/tea (lately it’s been coffee).  I have a program on my iPhone called Insight Timer that has a number of bells and chimes to start and stop my sessions, and would have interval chimes if I chose to.  It keeps track of how many days in a row I’ve meditated and gives me “milestones” when I’ve reached certain markers, which is a nice little incentive to make sure I sit every day.  There are also groups I could join if I wanted to, and I could make ‘friends’ with other meditators.  Almost like Facebook for meditators.

As far as my actual sitting sessions go, I’ve been using two different techniques to help focus my mind.  I’ll either use the Japanese Zen technique of counting my breaths (I count each inhale and exhale separately, though some count each inhale and exhale as one), one to ten in Japanese (I prefer that to English for some reason), or I’ll use the technique called labeling, where I “label” each action that I detect, including my breaths.  So it would be like this: “…rising (for the inhale)…falling (for the exhale)…rising…chirping (a bird outside)…falling…clicking (the HVAC switches on)…blowing (the air coming out of the vent)…rising…scratching (the cat uses the catbox)…falling…wetness (the cat sniffs your fingers with its wet nose)…”, so on and so forth.  The point is to give my mind something to do other than bounce around doing whatever the hell it wants to.

Some of the stuff on meditation that I’ve read seems to think that if you give your mind something to do with one of these or another technique then you’ll maintain focus since the mind can only do one thing at a time.  Bullshit.  I don’t know about you, but my mind can do several things at once.  Consequently, I sometimes have to double up on my focus techniques.  It helps a lot since I have to concentrate much more heavily on both counting and labeling at the same time.  They don’t leave room for much else other than the internal space they’re intended to create.  Which is the point.  Emptiness.  Or at the very least, mindfulness.  When everything is working right, I can get to this place where I’m not feeling, I’m not thinking, I’m not worrying or doing anything else conscious with my brain.  It’s just…quiet, and I’m perfectly aware of everything around me.  Then my thinking brain realizes I’ve achieved what I’ve been going for, and it pops like a bubble in slow motion.  These snippets of awareness are rare and fleeting, but they’re becoming somewhat more frequent and slightly longer.

As far as the rest of my life goes, I think I’ve carried that awareness practice into the rest of my day, even if I haven’t done so consciously.  I’m much more attuned to my emotional states than I was before, or at least to the negative ones, so I think I’m more likely to catch them before they turn into something ugly.  They also happen less often.  I think I’m less moody from day to day, and I feel more stable.

It’s not all wonderful.  I have to make myself sit some days because I just don’t want to, though not very often.  Sometimes I get bored and have to make myself stay there until the timer goes off.  Sometimes I wonder why I’m doing it and doubt its effectiveness.  Sometimes I get angry because I can’t get my mind to be still.  Sometimes I’m tired and have to focus to keep from falling asleep (though the hypnagogic imagery is sometimes interesting).  Sometimes it takes a lot of mental effort to make myself count or label and I’ll just let my mind do whatever the hell it wants to do.  I think that’s just fine sometimes.  Sometimes I think it’s interesting and even useful to see where my mind goes when the leash is let go.

Mostly, though, meditation is helping me make friends with my mind, and that can hardly be a bad thing.

Then there was the spiritual aspect of trying to change via doing Spiritual Nomad.  If you were reading a couple of months ago, you saw that I got up to Week Three, and then there was nothing.  I actually did do the work for Week Four: I just never wrapped it up and wrote about it.  So that’s another post.  Nevertheless, I did not finish the entire six week course, which I would still like to do.  The notebook is still sitting right here on my desk.

If I want to finish it, I’m going to have to do some serious personal work to do Week Five, which is all about caring for the sacred self.  Being nice to myself or appreciating my good qualities has never been something I’m good at.  I’m highly self-critical and very quick to point out when I’ve screwed up and put myself down.  Little wonder, then, that I’m not all that great at taking good care of myself.  I’m somewhat overweight and out of shape, though I’m still pretty strong and flexible.  My diet could be better.  My personal self-care habits are a little slipshod.  I dress like a teenage slob.  I make sure I’m presentable when I leave the house, but you probably wouldn’t want to see me on my days off.

Consequently I’m a little daunted by the task of treating myself as sacred.  I definitely do not treat this body like a temple.  If I did, I would eat different food, get a lot more exercise, dress better, and do a lot more things that made me feel happy and creative.  Why I don’t do these things is a mystery I should solve immediately.  More to come on that in the Week Five post.

So that’s how I did on my threefold-attempt at changing things in my life.  If it were a three-legged stool, it wouldn’t be level and might be wobbly.  Luckily these are extendable legs, so to speak, and I can continue to work on the other two.

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Clean Slate


It’s been “make a change” week in my life.  I’ve had several changes I’ve wanted to make in my life for quite some time now.  Now that I’m in my early 40s, I’m feeling pressed for time on some of them, as though if I don’t get them implemented now, they’ll never get done.  Such as a decent exercise habit.  I know that it will just get harder and harder to establish the older I get.

In that spirit, I signed up for the Sea Change program run by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits fame.  There’s a new module each month of a habit to slowly change over the month, the idea being to very gradually introduce a change into your life so that it’s more easily integrated and accepted.  People usually try to do changes too quickly or in chunks that are too big, so they fail (I wouldn’t know anything about that).  This is supposed to mitigate a lot of that.  March’s module is meditation: I’m looking forward to that since meditation is something I’ve wanted to integrate into my life for a very long time indeed.

I also signed up for a 90-day weight loss challenge at my gym.  There’s a new thing to try out every Tuesday, as well as a chance to weigh in, so that adds a little bit of accountability and incentive to my goal of getting more exercise and losing some weight.  Altering my eating habits is also crucial to this being successful, so I’ll be doing February’s Sea Change module on healthy eating as well (I signed up halfway through the month so I decided to start at the beginning of March).  The changes are small enough that I think I can do meditation and healthy eating at the same time.

And of course, I’m also doing Spiritual Nomad.  I didn’t mean to do three things at once, but that’s just kind of how it turned out.  I’m good at following prescribed courses, though, so I don’t think it will be a problem.  These are all programs that I enjoy too, so that will help.

It also helps that I’m really wanting to make changes right now.  I’m pretty tired of some of the patterns of my life and would really like a clean slate to work from.  I have a lot of unnecessary negative thought patterns I need to shake loose from that are holding me back.  I’m hoping that a lot of them will fall by the wayside as I make my way through altering negative patterns into positive ones.

It’s going to be difficult in some ways, though.  If I want to meditate, I’m going to have to get up earlier, something that has been perennially very difficult for me.  I’m very attached to my waking time and sleeping patterns, and to a certain extent that’s very healthy for me since it’s important for bipolar people to have steady sleeping habits.

My biggest challenge will be in not trying to make too many changes at one time, which I’m already in danger of violating.  I tend to get all fired up about making changes in my life and then sputter out after a while.  However, some spark of what I was doing usually remains, and I’ve slowly built on desired changes over the years.  I do some yoga, not none, and I managed to quit smoking a couple of years ago.  I also exercise more today than I did a few years ago and I eat healthier.  Overall I’ve effected some pretty positive changes in my life over the last few years.  All I want to do is keep that going, and perhaps speed up the pace a bit.

So here’s to change!  And all the new and wonderful things it can bring.


Today was the first day back to school for us here in Austin.  We’ve all been looking forward to it.  Just as everyone groans for the end of the school year, so it is at the end of the summer, when we’re all sick of each other and the child is booooooored.  Even of her favorite video game, Minecraft.

Once again, I’m trying to use the beginning of the school year’s schedule shift as an opportunity to get a new routine going.  I’ve tried this for the last four years, heh.  As I was detailing in my recent post Patterns, I have a vision of how I would like my day to go.  Get up, make tea, get the family off to work and school, then meditate, or at least have some quiet time.

Well, I managed to have at least that part of the day go as planned.  After they left, I turned off the lights, lit a candle on the table in front of Buddha, sat down with my tea, turned on some calming music, and had some quiet time.  I did a little meditation to get a handle on the day’s energy.

After that, the plan was to get cleaned up for the day, but I headed back to bed for a while instead.  We’ll work on that part tomorrow, seeing as how I have to go to work at ten.

Regardless of that disruption in plans, my morning quiet time does seem to have set the tone for the day.  I feel quieter and calmer (although that may also have something to do with have the house to myself for the first time in three months).  I feel more positive.

One thing I’ll definitely be doing right away when I get up in the morning is turning on that soothing music.  I’m a huge fan of Pandora, and their Yoga station plays all kinds of ambient music that is just the sort of thing to have running in the background.  Music can set the tone of my mood instantaneously, so if I can set it first thing in the morning, that can only be a good thing.  I’ll probably light the candle next: it’s something else that can set my mood right away.

Eventually I’ll move up to an actual floor sitting session for meditating, but for now, just sitting at the table enjoying my tea is a good start.

Patterns


My good friend B has been helping me with my memoir.  She was telling me that I need to make it more personal in places, and suggested there needs to be a section where I talk about myself and how I deal with the world: what my patterns are that help me cope with things.

Well, I have a pattern of retreating when things get too intense.  I had too much input when I was growing up, and now I just can’t tolerate too much of it.  I don’t do well in large crowds unless it’s something I’m really into, like a Rush show or a fireworks display.  Even then I might need pharmaceutical assistance to deal with the intensity of it all.  If life in general is stressing me out, bed is my retreat.  I’ll head there as soon as I can to read or watch television, and have a hard time getting out of it in the morning.

Another part of retreating is getting angry, because it pushes people away, increasing the space around me.  Sometimes that’s the only way to get the space I need.  I suffer from the strange dichotomy of being a lovable hermit, which means people like me and want to be around me a lot, but I don’t necessarily reciprocate the feeling.  Not as often as they do, anyway.  I can tell my nine-year-old daughter that I need space to myself, but since she’s nine, she’s self-centered and doesn’t always listen.  Sometimes the only way I can get what I need is to get angry with her when she’s not respecting my boundaries.

Another pattern I have is being controlling of my environment.  I need things to be particular ways in order to feel comfortable and happy.  Things need to be in certain places.  Things need to be organized in specific ways.  Calendars have to be kept certain ways.  I have my systems, and they must be followed.  It’s the only way I feel like I have some sort of control over my world, even if that control is an illusion.

That’s another coping pattern: I’m totally willing to submit to a fantasy or an illusion to maintain my sanity.  I may know intellectually that what I’m doing is ridiculous or pointless, but if it’s serving some purpose in the moment and isn’t hurting anyone, I’m down with it.

Perhaps my biggest coping pattern, or tool, is music.  I would have gone insane long ago without music.  I cannot work in silence, and if forced to do so will quickly get wired up into a ball so tense I can’t do anything.  Every tiny tic of noise will stand out in my ears, distracting me from my work.  Music can distract me from any mood I’m in except for the very darkest, which nothing will quell.

There are other patterns I would like to instill into my life that would make me a happier person.  Exercise is one.  Exercise and sleep are the two things a bipolar sufferer can do that will do the most to mitigate their illness without the use of medication.  I’ll always need the latter, but it won’t be as effective without the first two things.  Fortunately, better exercise leads to better sleep, so I really only need to work on one of those things.  Like most people, though, I find it extraordinarily difficult to get any kind of exercise routine going.  I enjoy it (mostly) while I’m doing it, but making the time to do it seems to be a huge problem I can never get around.  If I knew why, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing about it and would be making millions of dollars getting lazy Americans off their asses.

I have to figure out a way, though.  I’m at the end of where pharmaceuticals will help my disease.  If I want it to get any better, and it still needs help, I have to get it the rest of the way myself.

Meditation is another pattern that would do me a world of good, although the thought of sitting alone with my thoughts makes me want to crawl out of my skin.  That doesn’t sound peaceful or calming at all.  I keep getting it from all sides, though: meditate and you’ll feel better.  There must be some truth to it, too, because my mind resists meditating more than it resists exercising.  Anything I resist must be good for me, it seems.

The third pattern I’d like to instill is yoga.  It’s a combination of exercise and meditation, and I suppose if I were to pick just one thing to work on, it would be this since it encompasses everything.  Yoga doesn’t give me hard exercise, though, and that’s what I need: an hour or more of breathing hard and sweating hard.  There are types of yoga that will give me that, but I’m not balanced or coordinated enough for them yet.  Still, a good yoga practice would be awesome.  The times that I’ve managed to go to yoga even twice a week have been peaceful times in my life.  I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I went every day.

If I imagined my ideal life, it would be like this.  I’d get up at 6:30 every day with my family and get my daughter off to school, and then I’d spend the first part of the morning in meditation and enjoying tea.  Afterwards I’d either exercise or do yoga, then get myself cleaned up for the day.  The middle part of the day would be spent working, either at my job at the dojo, or at home on my book or other project.  In the afternoon, I’d pick up my daughter from school, then prep for dinner while she did her homework.

Here’s where the day gets tricky and always gets screwed up.  Both of our karate classes are in the late afternoon and early evening, but that’s smack in the middle of dinnertime.  The only way I can think of to work things is for me to prep dinner things, take us to class while my husband makes dinner, and then have him come to pick up our daughter from class so I can go to mine.  That means the two of us have to eat a snack or drink smoothies before our classes.  It also means they don’t eat until at least 7pm and I don’t eat until at least 8pm, which I suppose is fine as long as everyone has had a snack beforehand to prevent The Crankies, which will ruin a nice day faster than anything.

After dinner would have to be kitchen cleanup, which is another area where we always fail.  We both detest washing dishes, and we don’t have a dishwasher so it all has to be done by hand.  No one wants to do chores after dinner, either, so it sits there until the next day, ruining the next day’s dinnertime because we can’t cook in our tiny, dirty kitchen.  So we eat out, which ruins the budget.  All of these little things connect to one another to either make a well-run machine, or a freaking mess.  So far, we’re a freaking mess, and I can’t seem to get the well-run machine going.

I worry about this not just because of my own life, but because we’re teaching our daughter to be an undisciplined slob.  She has no routines of her own and I know it’s our fault: she has none to emulate.

I’m worried I’m too old to instill new patterns into my life.  I’m worried I’ll be stuck in these unsatisfying patterns for the rest of my life, or that it will take something potentially life-threatening to make me change them.  Of course, I worry about a lot of things these days.  That would probably be the best pattern of all to instill into my life: stop worrying so much.

Openness


As I was saying in a post last Saturday, there’s been a lot of crying lately, either out of frustration or out of sadness or out of whatever.  Crying requires openness.  I can’t be tightened up and still cry.  Being sad about the cats lately has taught me that I have to open up and let go in front of other people, which is something that I have an extremely difficult time with.  Most of the people who know me have known me for quite a long time, but in all likelihood have never seen me cry.  I will engineer my life so that I express my sadness alone.

That’s not always possible, though, and it’s not always healthy.  People need each other’s kindness when they’re sad.  My daughter has seen me when I’m overcome with tears over the cats and she comes over and puts her arms around me, and it makes me feel better.  I’m sure the reverse would be true if our roles were also reversed.

This all reminds me of something I read either in a Buddhist or a yoga magazine sometime recently about meditation and how it opens you up.  Someone had written in confused about the sad and even angry feelings their meditation practice had brought up in addition to the peace and calm.  The answer was that meditation opened a person up to all of the sensitivities of emotion, not just the so-called positive ones.  Meditation puts us in touch with all of the emotions that we’re sitting on, even the yucky ones that make us feel bad.

Sometimes, though, I feel those are the ones that have to be processed the  most in order to let the ones that feel better to us, flourish and grow.*  The former have been sat on for a reason: they don’t feel good!  They just have to be dealt with, which means addressing how they got there in the first place.  Depending on what it is, that might mean a whole host of difficulties ranging from the very minor to the life changing.  No wonder we just push these things down and don’t want to meditate or do anything else that lets them bubble up.  It’s hard to stay open.  It feels vulnerable and dangerous.

The nice thing about meditation is that you don’t really have to DO anything with them.  You just let them BE.  You don’t have to judge them.  You don’t have to judge yourself.  Just simple acknowledgement is all that’s necessary, and the depth of that is up to you.  A full analysis of the situation might be useful, or a simple, “Yep, that came up, it can go now, too,” might suffice as well.  What happens next, remember: no judgment.  That’s crucial and can be a huge stumbling block  that can lead back to being closed.

My mantra at times like that is typically, “No one is judging me but myself.”  Judgment is me trying to close myself back up, and I have to stay open if I want to grow.  I also have to stay patient.  It took a while to push some of that stuff down, it’s going to take a while to let it bubble back out.  Those bubbles usually take the form of more tears, but that’s why I keep kleenex around when I’m doing deep spiritual or meditative work.  I know I’ll be releasing a lot of stuff up from the muck, of which I’ll just have to be accepting, non-judgmental, and open to.

*the rest of this presumes you already have a steady meditation practice


It seems to me that there are probably as many ways to pray as there are people on the Earth.  We also seem to group together according to how similarly we pray, I’ve noticed.

When first I asked the question of myself, “How do I pray?”, the answer was, “I don’t.”  Immediately followed by, “Bullshit.”  I don’t think it’s possible for someone who proclaims to feel spiritual energy as readily as I claim to, not to pray.  There must be some way that I pray, however subconsciously.  I need to expand my definition of what “pray” means.

At its most basic, “praying” is whatever method I choose at that particular moment to try to speak to God.  I have used many methods of prayer over the years.  There’s the regular verbal kind that most people think of, of course, though I don’t see that as the most fulfilling, personally.  There’s the musical kind of prayer, with which I am the most familiar.  I can play saxophone, flute, and a variety of hand drums, and any of them has felt more like praying than any words than I have ever used.  There’s the artistic form of prayer, with which I was intimately familiar for several years until I tried to mix prayer with business and turn my art into a way of living.  That turned out badly on both fronts and I have only recently begun to use art as prayer again (due in no small part to Spiritual Nomad).

Gardening is a form of prayer to me, as well as a form of meditation (so is fishkeeping).  In fact, music and art are also forms of meditation to me.  Maybe that’s why I have found both meditation and prayer so difficult whenever I have tried to pursue each one individually.  I think something needs to serve both roles in order to be a truly fulfilling exercise.  In any case, yes to gardening and fishkeeping as forms of prayer and meditation.  They’re also the things that put me into closest touch with my primary aspect of God, which is Nature itself.

I also pray like a scientist, which is something of a paradoxical notion in our society.  Science and God seem to be mutually exclusive in America, and perhaps the Western World in general.  I see no difference between the two, though, and am constantly frustrated by the world’s attempts to keep the two separate.  We could do even more amazing things if we stopped trying to keep the two things apart.  To me, a tornado is not just a series of mathematical equations that describe atmospheric shear, turbulence, potential energy, and wind speed.  It’s one of the most powerful forces on the face of the planet and almost certainly ranks up there with the other great meteorological forces of the solar system.  Yes, it may just be an artifact of rising and sinking airmasses combined with the Coriolis effect, but that does not diminish its power or beauty nor the feeling in my heart when I see one (though to date I’ve never seen one in person: I’m not sure I need to to appreciate its grandeur).  If I had to call a single place on Earth my temple, it would be The Sky.

Two other forms of prayer and meditation: cooking and baking.  Each is slightly different.  Cooking is more intuitive and is open to the “dash of this, bit of that” method of kitchen things.  Baking is less forgiving and is more like chemistry to me (probably because it is).  Both demand healthy helpings of love for optimum taste.  If you can’t taste the love, I didn’t do it right (read Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel for an excellent fictional treatise on the magic of food).  There’s a great deal of peace and calm that come from slowing down enough to really enjoy the processes of cooking and baking.  If they’re hurried and are done only for the purpose of physical nourishment, there’s not so much energy in that.  We don’t usually enjoy those meals very much.

A form of prayer and meditation that I am remiss in not mentioning yet is karate.  It’s difficult to describe the seemingly conflicting energies of force and calm, but there’s a push/pull kind of thing going on that is like waves lapping on a shore.  There’s a rhythm at work that will break me if I work against it, but propels me if I don’t.  Karate’s very much like yoga in that way, which is yet another form of meditation and prayer that I very much enjoy.  It even involves a bit of prostration, which feels a lot like bowing in karate and is calming to me.  It is enjoying these two very physical forms of prayer that makes me want to explore yet another physical way of praying and meditating: dancing.

Dancing scares me in much the same way that singing does, though even moreso.  If I am frozen into silence by the sound of my own voice, I am petrified to stone by the thought of moving my body in a rhythmic way.  I’m not sure what about dancing is different from karate and yoga, though I’m guessing the former is much more freeform and less rigid than yoga and karate forms.  And I do have trouble operating without guidelines, which is what dancing seems to demand.  Rules and dancing seem diametrically opposed, even though I don’t dance (yet).

So those are more hidden forms of prayer for me.  Dancing is also there, but I haven’t used it yet.  Unlike the form I am currently using: writing.  If writing is prayer, I pray at least every other day, if not more.  The more I write, the more I want to write, and the more I like what I write.  I use it so often that it now defies description, unlike other more obscure forms of prayer that aren’t hidden to me, but are less well-used: exercising and running.  When I do those things, I can feel the rusty bits fall off the cogs and can see down the path to where they can take me, but I do them so infrequently that they never gain any momentum.  That’s going to be one of my goals this year: practicing my more physical forms of prayer as often as I can.  Of all of them, I feel they’re the best for me in all aspects.

Other ways that I have prayed before are by using mudras in yoga and meditation.  Mudras are essentially meditative or prayerful hand gestures.  There are tomes filled with the different ways the Hindu deities as well as Buddha will hold their hands, each signifying something different.  I’ve also read Tarot cards, though that is another method that doesn’t get used very often and probably should.  It’s not such a hard thing to draw a card a day to meditate upon.  Along those lines, astrology can be a form of prayer for me if it’s done as a daily reading.  It’s a way of opening myself to whatever the energies of the day might bring.  Over time, it’s just a generally good method of keeping myself “open”.  Which is a good thing for someone who gets really rigid sometimes.  I also very much enjoy walking meditating/praying.  I can do this with or without a labyrinth.  It’s all about putting one foot in front of the other and nothing more.

Perhaps my most powerful method of prayer in the past, has been to do nothing.  Others would call it meditation, but either the descriptions I have read of meditation fall as short as my own do, or I’m getting to a place that neither meditation nor prayer can reach by themselves.  I have to be in the right space to do this, and when I am in that right space, it happens automatically.  I have experienced this in fleeting moments, all in Nature, but every one of them perfect wells of peace, calm, and oneness.  I have wished I could bottle those moments and take them with me, they are so perfect.  And they are why I yearn to travel to the distant and isolated corners of the world, because that is where those moments happen.  In a Texas field devoid of sound save for the blowing wind.  In a car bespying distant, purple-hued mountains for the first time.  On a plane to a new place and seeing a lightning bolt jag from the sky to a spot on the shore left blazing by the light.  Driving through ancient, wet, green forests, or the endless expanse of the desert.  They just happen, like striking the edge of a singing bowl and reverberating for days past their experience.

Perhaps I have not been as bad at praying as I thought I was.  🙂


When we last left our intrepid spiritual traveler, her altars had just reassembled themselves. Since then, I’ve just been letting them occupy their space and sink their energy tendrils into the house. I’ve also continued to work on my spiritual scrapbook like a madwoman. I don’t know what it is about that particular project that I find so appealing, but I really like it. My first scrapbook is over 75% full already: about 60 pages. I have another designated exclusively for a set of Buddhist and Hindu greeting cards I bought at Half Price Books a few years ago but have never used. I’ve sliced them in half for easy gluing and saved the backs for their descriptions.

There’s still a table full of altar-y stuff in the yoga room. It’s everything that hasn’t yet found a home elsewhere in the house. I’m leaving it there so my husband can pick through it and find things for his own altar space. I also wasn’t entirely sure what to do with it all. I can identify a few things that I don’t want any more, but most of it I like and want to keep. Most of it will go into a big plastic bin except for a few things that just really want to be out.

As usual, I’ve gotten stuck on another bit of the Spiritual Nomad instructions. Since the first week, I’m supposed to have been doing breathing exercises/meditations for a few minutes each day in front of my altar spaces, whether empty or full. I haven’t done any yet. I think it’s because the word “meditation” or the phrase “breathing exercise” instills anxiety in me as I remember past attempts to do these things and how frustrating it was. I’m bipolar. It’s a daily effort to keep the inner dialogue quiet enough so that I can function in the rest of my life. Sitting down to do nothing but listen to my breath is akin to putting a megaphone from that dialogue’s mouth to the rest of my mind: it’s deafening.

So I’m trying to abandon the whole “listen to my breath” thing since that clearly doesn’t work for me. I’m going for a quiet conversation, instead, since shutting everyone up isn’t really an option. Not for now, anyway (I can see how it could be possible after a very long time of increasingly quiet mental conversations, though). Seeing the exercise in that way lessens the meditative anxiety, but not completely. There’s still that whole sitting still thing. I’m currently a bit of a large girl: sitting still for a long time isn’t very comfortable for me. I guess I could always sit in a chair instead of on the floor, or arrange myself differently on the floor. Laying down is always nice.

These are all excuses flung up by some even farther corner of my mind that really does NOT want me to do anything even remotely resembling meditation. It gets really angry when I try to come up with ways to get around these excuses, essentially poisoning my meditation practice with a lot of inwardly directed hostility. After a few sessions of that, I give up. Seriously, who the fuck wants to sit down with themselves and end up feeling like they’ve just had a horrible fight with someone? Which in essence, you did?

Little wonder, then, that I don’t think too highly of meditation. Monkey mind, my ass. More like an 800-pound gorilla running amok in my head. Plus my authority-driven mind is yammering at me that I’ve ruined the whole thing by skipping parts or doing them out of order. “You idiot, you’ve reassembled the altars before meditating in front of them for exactly seven days while standing on one foot and bleeding out a chicken! You’ve got the mixture all WRONG! The fabric of life itself is torn asunder!”

*sighs at self*

If I get nothing else out of Spiritual Nomad, it’s to lighten the fuck up and be more accepting of my particular bizarre flavor of Otherness Acknowledgement, which doesn’t like words and in general regards them to be flimsy human constructs that always fall short of truly describing their subject, as though they were mere shadows projected upon a wall, a la Plato. Which is an odd perspective to have as a writer. As such, it is the rare mantra that doesn’t feel completely forced (Sheila Chandra‘s “Om Namaha Shiva” is just such a mantra) and it’s difficult for me to come up with words to go along with a spiritual activity that don’t sound completely silly to me.

I know I’m just trying too hard. All of the non-verbal exercises have been extraordinarily helpful: I should give the others more of a chance instead of subverting them before I even try. All I have to do is sit down and light a candle and some incense, for heaven’s sake. Those are things I *like* doing! I should stop trying to ruin them with a lot of overanalysis. Then maybe it wouldn’t make part of me so angry to try to meditate or pray.

Naked


I’ve been doing this groovy “make your own spiritual path” thing put together by Dianne Sylvan called Spiritual Nomad. I’m way behind, still on week one (everyone else is on week three). It took me a really long time to do the first exercise. I probably over thought it, or at least tried to be too inclusive, although my life really has been peppered by a long string of fairly significant incidents, which I put in a meandering time line with my various spiritual paths over the years marked on the path. It’s very busy.

Now I’m stuck on the second exercise: strip my altar bare. Well, I have five altars and at least three more spaces in the house that contain items nice enough to be considered altar fare (not to mention stuff in the garage that rotates in and out of ‘service’, so to speak, depending on my spiritual whim). I can’t decide which one is most important that I should strip down, or if I should strip ALL of them and put all of the doodads in one place to be reconsidered for placement, which has the most appeal but would take a lot of time and energy.

I’m probably over thinking again. If I were to pick one to bare, it would be the big one in the yoga room (bit of a misnomer now that it’s too cramped to do yoga in), which is essentially a very old vanity with a big mirror and a couple of drawers. It currently keeps my favorite Buddha, an 8-armed statue of Kali, a Tibetan bowl tuned to the 2nd chakra, things that hold incense, an incense burner, and a variety of candle holders and oil lamps, because I like fire. Other Hindu holy images are stuck to the mirror along with a yoga chant. Other altars are similarly themed: patron deity/entity, plus fire and air and any other pertinent items. I should keep water and earth too: it would make me pay more attention to my altars. As it is, they probably get cleaned and tended once or twice a year. I’m not terribly devout. 🙂

Stripping all of them would certainly be in keeping with the flensing I’ve been doing around the house the last few weeks, though. I’ve gotten rid of a lot of stuff and reorganized most of the rest. This would be a good opportunity to make the yoga room a more sacred space instead of a place to hold books and sewing stuff, and talk and read. Not that those are bad things by any stretch. They’re just not what the room was originally intended for. I might have room to do a sun salutation in there and other linear poses, but nothing that requires side-to-side space. Though now that I think about it, that still leaves room for a whole lot of yoga poses. Besides, there’s nowhere else in the house to put the sewing machines. I still need to get rid of the 1953 White sewing machine with the outer belt drive. Not exactly safe by modern standards, but I’m sure some sewing machine nut would want it.

See? This is why some projects just never get done. The curse of Jupiter in Sagittarius: just how expansive CAN I make a project?

I think I’ve sold myself on “strip them all”. It won’t take as long as I think it will, I’m betting. It’s a good opportunity to survey all of my Important Things.


The spectre of anger has hung over my family for at least five generations.  Reading our genealogical history is like walking through a museum of dysfunction.  Alcoholism, drug abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, domestic abuse, emotional abuse, etc.  So much abuse that the word ‘abuse’ becomes non-sensical when I say or think it.  I think often about the nature of anger and how and why it manifests.

Whilst perusing Facebook today, I ran across a link to this short video by Mingyur Rinpoche entitled “What Meditation Really Is”, which you can watch here.

In five minutes, he was able to slice through all of the conflicting notions I have had regarding meditation, notions that have kept me from establishing a meditation practice.  YouTube is always helpful in guiding its viewers to similar videos, so I clicked on the one entitled “Transforming Anger Into Loving-Kindness”, yet another Buddhist concept that I struggle mightily with.  Again, in five minutes, he was able to clarify how anger relates to the rest of our emotions in an amazingly clear way.  Trying to fight with anger using compassion is futile, because the compassion comes through the anger.  Dig beneath the surface of anger deeply enough, and you will find compassion.  Anger is often the result of stymied compassion.  Seeing how anger and compassion are interrelated helped me see the true nature of my own anger and where it comes from.

In the midst of that clarity, I remembered something that my grandmother said to me during one of my all-too-few visits to her before she died.  I was asking her about her family and about some of the things my mother had told me regarding their own abusive relationship.  And she said, “I don’t think I was  so much angry as I was afraid.”  Like a bell ringing in a temple to awaken and clear the mind, all of the aspects of dysfunction in my family and the generations before us became so much clearer.  Today, as I still struggle with anger, I strive to remember what Gram said.  Anger I have trouble with, but fear I can handle.  Fear is greatly quelled by logic and rationality, two things I pride myself of having a good grasp upon.  Whenever I am angry, I try to ask myself if I’m angry, or if I’m afraid.  Nine times out of ten, I’m afraid of something, usually the future and the unknown.  Once I identify my fear, I can find reasons for it to back off.

I feel I am much closer to achieving my goal of establishing a good meditation practice now that these things have been clarified for me.  I feel like I have been looking through a dirty window that has just been cleaned, and now the light can get in and I can see things for what they really are.  Now I won’t have to waste my meditation time worrying that I’m not doing it right, an attitude that has killed nearly every attempt at meditation I have made.  Now I don’t need to fear or fight with my anger.  What I seek is inside my anger and fear, and if I make friends with them and direct their energies more positively, I will find my compassion and my loving-kindness.  My metta.  In that way I feel I will be much more successful in my goal of sharing my bodhicitta, my awakened mind, with others.  I have always felt that I have something very important to do while I walk this Earth.  Perhaps I am a little bit closer to figuring out what that might be.

Breathe


Breaaaaaathe.  Seems simple until you can’t.  About a week ago, I started having trouble taking a deep breath.  I could take one about every 15 breaths or so, but the rest of the time, forget it.  Coincidentally, it was the day after a great deal of smoke descended upon our fair city.  Suddenly a problem that was restricted to the nighttime hours began bothering me in the daytime and did not respond to my usual methods of relieving it.  Annoying does not cover it.

I went to one of the many urgent care centers that have popped up to relieve pressure on the emergency rooms and had a chest x-ray, a nebulizer treatment, and many questions asked of me.  They said “reactive airway”.  No, really?  They also gave me a prescription for an albuterol inhaler, which does help, but only when I’m taking my usual anti-anxiety agent.  Three days later, I went to an actual emergency room and got another x-ray which was as perfect as the first one.  The doctor took note of my ease when taking an anti-anxiety agent and diagnosed dyspnea (shortness of breath: no, really?) and anxiety.  The anxiolytic I take isn’t really good to take on a constant basis so I called my usual doc to get something else.  All it does make it hard for me to work.  Today I went for my third doctor visit, which wasn’t much more productive than the others.  They did give me another albuterol prescription since the other one didn’t have any refills.

About $500 and none of them really had any answers.  The best I can do is take an addictive anxiolytic and walk around the house in as meditative a manner as possible.  That and use my inhaler.  I don’t know what I’m going to do when I run out of my anxiolytic.  I’ve missed 12 hours of work this week, important hours at that, which stresses me out.  Stress and anxiety really do worsen my breathing, but I’m not really sure what to do about that.

Is this my final ringing bell to alert me that I’m way more tense than I need to be?  It must be, because I want to burst into tears just thinking about these things.  Am I really way more stressed out than I think I am?  I must be, because my body is disrupting one of its primary functions.  Breathing’s kind of important, y’know.  We only get to live for about 5 minutes without air.

So I spent some time making a schedule of my regular life and then I added yoga classes to it, ones that are really close to my karate dojo.  Like *really* close: in the same building and across from it.  I can’t have any excuse for missing one now.

It’s more than yoga, though.  It has to be an internal change.  It doesn’t matter how much smoke is billowing out of Bastrop County (though that doesn’t do my lungs any good, that’s for sure).  If I’m all tight, then the air won’t get it.  This is a frightening process.  Have you ever been without air?  I want mine back.  Right now.

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