"Lotus Opening" by L. Folk

Sunday, February 20, 2011

I begin again...

February 19, 2011

Pema Chodrin says we must learn to turn arrows into flowers. When the Buddha sat under his tree, he was faced with his inner demons who continuously shot arrows at him. Theses arrows are the nasty thoughts our mind spins. The Buddha, while being bombarded with his arrows, learned to turn the arrows into flowers. Everyday I sit on the mat, I am showered with arrows. You can't expect anything less, really; this is the way our minds work. I sat there and felt the arrows of self pity and doubt and frustration poke and prod me. The only thing I could manage to do is get myself to put my face up to the sun coming in through the window and gently smile. That's it, that's all I could manage, and the energy shifted.
I think we tolerate the arrows without trying to change them into flowers. It's like watching television and being bombarded with commercials. While my husband and I are reclining in our respective places, him in his “man chair” and me on the couch, we tolerate commercials. The commercials are like flies, or arrows piercing our brains. My husband says he ignores them, says he desensitizes himself. I tell him to mute the television. When I go to bed, I feel as if I have been poisoned. I wake up feeling beaten up. I hear the cars on the road, see the crowded houses. These too are flies, as are the rejection emails I get everyday. And the health issues. The world just seems to be a shower of arrows, these days.

February 20, 2011

I sit down and I am inaccessible to God and God is inaccessible to me. I ask for grace. I say, enough of the arrows, I sit here wanting a piece of your grace, like Oliver Twist wanting his soup. I close my eyes and see a campfire. Are you the campfire? Is this supposed to be the burning bush? The campfire spreads to flames and the flames became a thousand petaled lotus. Oh that makes for good writing, ego says. Oh will you just shut the fuck up? You're always in my face with “oh that will make for good writing.” Can you just sit down for once and keep your mouth shut while I just talk to God? Fine, ego says. Have it your way. I'll just sideswipe you anyway, when you least expect it. So I sit and all I can say is God's name. God. There's no burning bush and three thousand petaled lotus, just the word, the name and the name is God. So you see, I'm pathetic. I'm supposed to prostrate myself before you; this is what the Catholics tell me to do. But I prefer to sit like the Buddha, straight up, palms up. Blaspheme! Says a voice. You, sit down. You shut the fuck up too. Enough of all this guilt. Do you hear me God, calling your name? This is all I can manage right now. I would like some grace. Do I not give you breath, someone says inside me. I don't know who this is. Yes, breath, that is a good thing. Is that a grotto I see? In the pool, is that a grotto, on a hill? Who's inside it, I ask, I can't see who's inside it.
My heart becomes light.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Meditation Installment 3

February 10, 2011

Today I get an A in the mechanics of doubt. I found no peace on the bolster on the mat. The cars whiz by to get to their destinations, my dog snoozes, a gull cries, and I sit struggling with expectation. Maybe when I sit down, the whole world will open up. That's what I was thinking. Maybe, when I sit down and close my eyes, I will get some tremendous insight that will help me though this time in my life. But I sat down and all I got was a swarm of flies.
I have always had a problem with expectation. Perhaps this is because I have always been goal oriented. I set a goal and then I go to achieve it. This was a great attitude for school, because everything was in reach of achieving. There wasn't one subject matter I couldn't master. So I set my expectations that I would master a subject or a class and I went out and did that. It was difficult, but I pushed through and I learned how to extend myself that much further into the world of learning. My grades reflected my efforts. Not so in life. The first disillusionment: the workplace is nothing like school. There may be no learning whatsoever. The point here is to get the tasks done, as menial as they may be, on time, to get paid and to not make a stir. Most of the time there is no “expansion of the mind”; that doesn't matter when you're a cog. So eventually I found my way back to the world of learning and became a teacher, and then ultimately a professor. I would like to think I solved the problem of being content in a career, but I find expectation is spoiling things. My teleological attitude is getting in the way. What's the next goal? Where do you go from here? I'm always reaching. I don't know where I go from here. It looks like I'm here for awhile. What else is there to say?
I thought I would be married at 28. That was another expectation. I thought I would fall in love at the end of my twenties and live a life of connubial bliss. I would have children in my early thirties. Everything would be super. But life didn't turn out that way. Cliché, I know. And then my Dad died. And then I thought, what the hell is the point to anything?
The mechanics of doubt, back in full force. Expectation has been blown to bits. So what do I do with the wreckage? I have no other choice but to try and feel compassion for myself. Maybe that's a goal in itself, to pick up the shards and debris with an opened heart.

February 11, 2011

Pema Chodrin says “Not harming ourselves or others is the basis for an enlightened society.” This practice of non-harming is called ahimsa. When I first discovered this word, it was quite powerful for me. I realized I was harming myself left and right by putting myself in stressful situations trying to achieve, to get somewhere. My body would react with obsessive thoughts of fear and jolts of panic. When I learned the definition of ahimsa, I realized I was really missing the boat. I was also not getting any younger and with the cancer prevalent in my family, I was headed toward illness. So I restructured my life around ahimsa.
One of the primary components to ahimsa is noticing. This is where meditation comes in. When I started this process, I thought I was successful if I reached some sort of mini nirvana on the mat. Now I realize, if I can just notice my thoughts as separate from me and label them, I'm being successful, I am accomplishing something. If they get to be too much and I can't let go, I try to melt into the sounds around me, my dog's breathing, the heater clanking, the outside bird calls, even the acceleration of the cars. Sometimes when I have melted into my surroundings, thoughts shoot up from the depths of me. These thoughts are mostly visions of objects. They are the stuff of dreams; there is no “gear turning” particular to the mode of thinking I do during the day. Today I had some thoughts I labeled ego and a column rose inside me, a large cylindrical edifice of rock. This was ego. I had realized it was the pedestal for me to put myself on. I sat up straight with the column inside me until it gradually disappeared and I moved on to other thoughts.
My ego is a major source of harming for me. But I know if I can notice it's workings, I can get myself around it and make better decisions.
The last vision I had was of a small door in my chest, left ajar for my heart. I thought of the day where the Catholics expose the sacrament; you can sit in a room with it as a sort of vigil. So I thought of exposing my heart sacrament and sitting with it and being present with God. It was a nice way to start the day.

February 12, 2011

The Bible says God is love. The way I see it (or don't see it), as humans, we are given telescopes in our lives to look through. This is how we view the world, through small circles. We can use those telescopes to focus on aspects of the world, move them around to different things, but we never get to see the whole world at once, as God does. So we must exercise faith that God can see the whole picture. God can only be love if he is like this all-knowing parent who sees the glory in all things, who sees the glory we cannot see.
I sat today and experienced first, nothingness. Then, like a geyser, questions came from the center of me, are you love? Are you compassionate? I began to speak a language my ears knew not. I let the language flow upward. I waited. I went back to nothingness.

February 13, 2011

I want to know something else beside the mogul of ice over my head. Gray. This is the color of depression, that icy hill I writhe under. And writhe I do, at night, when my husband is in his recliner watching vacuous programs, flicking from one channel to the next, tolerating inane commercials. By this time, I have read enough and have written enough; I have done what I could to rouse this mood. Writhe, I do under the weight of still this and still that. I want to know something else besides the parked cars on the hill and the gray gulls perched on the roof, and the imperturbable houses and the ravens, a yang to the yin of snow. Something rushes up inside me and says, hey you, God. Can you be a little bit more than subtle and timeless? I want this geyser to rise up and burst through the roof and smack you in the face.

February 14, 2011

Oh just a fight this morning. No real insight, just swatting at flies and struggling to stay awake. The raging she-beast seems to have died away. After I wrote the above entry yesterday I felt like I should erase it because it could get me in trouble. But my anger at God and my frustration with God is real, so I kept it and I hope today a piano doesn't fall on my head. But this is all wrong thinking, old thinking that stems from sin and blasphemy and my Catholic upbringing. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
The other thing I realized is that I don't feel right using a pronoun for God. He doesn't seem right and She doesn't seem right. God is God, without pronouns because God is not a Him or Her, not a female or a male. This is what I've defined for myself. I think if we start to believe this, that God is more like energy that flows, is more like a shapeshifter who can be any one thing at any one time, and less the person who should give us goodies and scare away the bogey man, we might be closer to the truth.

February 15, 2011

Following the sound of the Tibetan bowl seems to cleanse my mind of its debris, random floating thoughts that belong to fear and ego and desire. The sound seems to align me somehow. I sit, with my bowl and stick and hit it in the deep, sonorous places. I listen as the sound trails off. I listen as the sound rises, blooms in the air before me. Once my mind is somewhat aligned, the visions come. The first vision I had was of a slippery slope. When I lived off Fayette Street, I used to walk my dog Ralphie to this park that was in a sort of valley. When it snowed, getting down into it was difficult because the slope often iced over. Ralphie could manipulate it fairly well because he had claws. But sometimes I couldn't even get myself down into the park. So I walked along the edge, trying to keep my balance. I think my life, with all of its unknowns, is a slippery slope. I feel as if it is treacherous sometimes, as if I walk along the rim of it, waiting to fall down the ice. I guess this is what happens when you challenge yourself, when you try new things, when you change the patterns and walk outside your comfort zone. I feel, these days, I am careful with every step I take and I can't truly relax because everything is so new...the classes I teach, the possibility of becoming a mom, my attempting to know myself through meditation. What if I fall down into a depression? What if my anxiety comes back and I must walk on eggshells again to avoid panic?
The second image that rose up was that of Treebeard. Yes, Treebeard, the talking tree in the Lord of the Rings. Treebeard can root himself whenever he needs to. He moves slowly and talks slowly and reigns high in the forest. Treebeard is a sign of mindfulness, of meditation, of learning to plant yourself where you are, even if its a slippery slope. So I shall take my slippery slope and my Treebeard and do the best I can.

February 16, 2011

I sit down and my thigh itches, so I scratch it. I'm tired, my dog had the runs last night and she woke me up four times. The night sky was lovely and in the morning, I recognized spring in the light. The second thing I realize is I'm tired from errands and demands. I could not meditate in the morning because of the momentum of things to do, so I sat down at noon. I read Pema Chodrin's “Relax As It Is.” She writes, “Milarepa, the twelfth-century Tibetan yogi who sang wonderful songs about the proper way to meditate, said that the mind has more projections than there are dust motes in a sunbeam and that even hundreds of spears couldn't put an end to that.”
My breath tends to quicken when I pay my bills or write down the errands for the day. I find this drudgery and resist doing it. So I drag myself through what I need to do. Would it be possible to relax with the resistance? To be mindful and not rush to get things over with? That's not a good way to spend your life, rushing to “get things over with,” but I do it a lot, pushing myself to where I feel more comfortable, like with my notebook in hand, writing. So the mantra for today is to Relax As It Is. The mind reacts less like a stinging bee and more like the flower who gently opens its petals.

February, 17 2011

Sometimes I can get to a place in my mind where I am literally staring into a pool, and images arise from the depths. A lot of the times the images are random and have no meaning, like a stick of butter, or the hinge on a door. Sometimes these random images have meaning and if I ponder them I can figure it out; other times they seem to be just my mind's noise. When I sat down today I reached the place of images, but I was more taken with the sounds of my dog's stomach. It gurgled and murmured and wrenched while she looked out the window to the passersby. I still felt the claws of a dream I had, as well. I was at my grandmother's house with my family and we were waiting to go to the beach. We took all day to get our things together; people were very distracted by doing their own thing. My dad decided to go for a run just before we left and we waited for him with all of our things heaped in a pile to be put in the car. When we finally got there, it was dark and the beach wasn't the beach at all, but the woods with tall pines. A boy I used to like in middle school was there and I went over to talk to him. I made sure to be eloquent when I spoke, so he could see I wasn't an idiot. We packed up to go home after a few minutes, and we all carried our belongings back up to the car and I woke up.
The feeling of this dream is that we were too late to fully enjoy the day because we all had our minds on other things. I can't remember what those things were, but that was the feeling I got. So when we got to the beach or the woods, or whatever, it was pointless, because the sun had already went down. Maybe I feel at 41, the sun has already gone down for me to have a child. It's too late. I'm too beaten down and exhausted; I've been busy with other things. Sometimes meditation gives me a renewal of sorts and most days I can feel this. But today, I didn't.

February 18, 2011

How do you know if what you feel is fear or a bona fide premonition of misfortune? I've spent a lot of time afraid, so I'm going with the fear and that what I sense is not a grim fate. Dread, you have become very familiar. I know your tricks.
Today I had an acupuncture treatment. I am hopeful, willing to try new things to find that wellspring inside me. I lay on a massage table with thin needles in my head, hands, belly, knees and feet. I went deep into a relaxed state and had many images. When I got up from that table I felt like life was possible again. I had a calm energy that propelled me forward to finish dinner and do the rest of my chores for the evening. The weight had been lifted. I had a sense of the potential of my mind, of its depth and its capabilities for rejuvenation.   

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Meditation Blog, installment 2

February 4, 2011

The Chodrin reading for this morning:

All around us the wind, the fire, the earth, the water, are always taking on different qualities; they're like magicians. We also change like the weather. We ebb and flow like the tides, we wax and wane like the moon. We fail to see that like the weather, we are fluid, not solid. And so we suffer. We make ourselves really solid. Resisting is what's called ego.

This is all well and good, but in the human world we are governed by not only ego on the inside, but ego on the outside. Take American Idol, for instance, or dancing with the stars, or even the game Rock Band. Take the Academy Awards and the red carpet. Take, please, if you will, reality shows. Take competition and ivy league schools. Taking blogging, for that matter. Take it all. This is our push, push, ego-centric, me-society. We all want to be stars. We all want to be heard. It's not so easy to be fluid, when you have everything in your face telling you you must succeed, that to be American, you should be a star. The Muslims may have Mecca, but we have Hollywood. That's where the American gods live. Even DC is joining in on the action. Newscasters don't look like newscasters anymore; they're competing as well. They look like actors and actresses. Look at me! Look at me!
So you have to shut it off. You have to come back to yourself, sit on the bolster on your mat and what are you faced with? The inside ego. Yours. Why am I not good enough? Why don't I make more money? Why don't I have a child? So what do we do, Pema, when ego in a society has gotten way out of hand? When ego has become so inflated we don't recognize that we can wax and wane? That our natures are really like the wind? Well yes, you would tell us to come back to the mat. And wait for ego to rise and set. And we do this. But then we go out into the world and we experience the same external ego bullshit as before, and it's an endless cycle of trying to curb ego.
Like a crow who flies through the icy morning air over blankets of white, I want to just be.

February 5, 2011

Mother Theresa said for many years she was filled with doubt that God existed. She went along with her great facade, aiding the poor and all the while felt nothing. She was in a desert, a spiritual desert because she saw no results. I have often thought how I sense nothing for God; I feel no presence, especially when things turn sour and I have struggled and worked and have not been rewarded, or at the very least, validated. Life feels like it has no shape; I start believing the worst, that it is all for naught, that what I presume has purpose is meaningless.
After work, I went to my sister's place and we had lunch. I brought some MacDonald's French fries and she made a salad and we ate at her counter. Afterward, we pet cats and looked at the ocean with our feet up. We talked about some people, we relaxed and looked at the birds on the water, the gulls and buffleheads bobbing up and down with the waves. There was no one on the beach and the water was a deep, deep blue. The cats lounged beneath our fingers and purred. We drank hot chocolate and had no other care in the world. I imagined we could do this together with babies in our bellies, resting and feeling our bodies change. But I also felt somewhat guilty we could do this and there were so many other people stressed out, working and pushing their way through their lives.
Afterward, I felt rejuvenated, and took Josie for a walk in the woods. The sun was setting and the sky was turning streaks of purple and pink. The light in the sky felt like promise of good. Josie and I were the only ones in the woods and I took the high road, the long way around and walked the escher along the lake, virtually walking on the top of the snow. I felt empowered and muttered, “Power to Women! Power to Women! With every step.
Sometimes I push through the walk with Josie and don't even notice the trees. I want to get it over with and get back home in the warm house. But yesterday was different, I noticed the sky, the shapes of the trees, how the snow coated the trunks, how the snow lay heavy on bowed limbs.
In meditation today, I had all sorts of buzzing thoughts about how to be great. I labeled this ego. I started to breathe deeply and watched my breath. I felt then, that God was in my breath; I felt then a deeper sense of something, and of peace.
Maybe God isn't a superhero. Maybe it's ego that expects him to be the savior of the poor and the ailing and the dead.

February 6, 2011

Doubt is real. Case in point: you go to see a movie, maybe it's a lovestory or an adventure packed thriller. You come home all gushy or all pumped up. You go to church, you come back and feel holy. Do we just throw out this emotion on response? Is ritual sacred, or is it just a conditioning of the mind? Our minds are very good at conjuring things up. Did we make up God too? We made up religion, sure; mind made up religion just mind made up the space shuttle.
Maybe the mystics were schizophrenics. But maybe schizophrenia is an aberration of the normal responses; a medium that makes communing with God most available.
Doubt argues for an external response. Sort of like Newton's Second Law. At some point, at some time there must be an external response that pushes your life in a different direction and wakes you up. The religious argue faith, but faith is only relevant if something at some point happens to bring awakening so that the faithful recognizes God. You can't manufacture your own love for God and then go your whole life on faith and nothing wakens you. Then, as far as the mechanics of doubt are concerned, you have every right to be an atheist.
One might argue that mind, stuck in its groove, would not allow for awakening. Sort of like my walking in the woods without really seeing the trees. This is why I believe in meditation. I must believe in meditation. Maybe it can bring you to that place beneath ritual, beneath breath where there is the stunning ecstasy of life. Maybe God resides there.

February 7, 2011

Well, the stunning ecstasy of life was surely not available to me this morning. All I wanted to do was go back to bed. My mind wriggled in and out of thoughts; it all felt quite useless, to sit on a bolster on a mat and try and meditate. But I did remember something to add to yesterday's entry: Mount Paul.
Mount Paul was a novitiate for Paulist priests in the woods of New Jersey where we used to live. The novitiate had a chapel, was located in the mountains near a lake and if ever there was a place for God's spirit, it was there. There was a long windy road you had to take to get there and I remember the cold winter mornings we all piled in the truck to go and hear mass in the chapel which only fit about fifty or so people. Worshipping in the middle of the woods with no sound of civilization near by, with wonderful guitar song filled with spirit and homemade baked bread that tasted like wheat and honey, I felt the presence of God. During the wishing of peace, people got out of their pews and walked over to one another and hugged. The young men were often kind, some wayward drifters, some devoted to God, some just experimenting. Some we got to know, would have over the house for dinner. Others made our acquaintance and then disappeared and were never to be seen again. But they all seemed human in their endeavors. Searchers. Real.
Mount Paul called to mind what Christ said, “when two or more of you gather in my name, I will be there as well.” I don't feel this way in the mass for the masses. I just want to get it over with because my back aches, or the strangers around me make me anxious. I just feel like a nameless person in a sea of other nameless people trying to tie one on with God. One might say, well, you need to get involved to know the people, but I have tried this as well, and it is simply not as easy to find the Spirit as it was at Mount Paul.
I don't know where my Mount Paul is these days, but I do know you can find God in other people in the form of love. There is that saying “when two or more of you...” I believe it. So what I said about feeling holy when coming out of church yesterday, perhaps I was oversimplifying things.

February 8, 2011

Lessons in Virtuosity
My dog catches
a scent as we go
walking amidst
the tall firs.
Snow, pure and lightening
has buried these woods
in a sacred shroud.

Here, mind recoils
a creature who's just been stung.

I wait while it waits
for instructions
on manipulating silence.

But the firs,
they know
and my dog, she follows.

They are confident
in this wide Earth's ways

in the rising of the sun
and the setting of the moon
and the bow and curtsy
with the wind.

Mind listens
but we are not privy
to lessons in virtuosity.

There is elation
in movement only
in a landscape balanced
by cold.

February 9, 2011

The Child Behind the Wall

So let's tell it straight.
They send him into a room
to do his thing,
grab his weight in cash.
I've got my legs spread
for a gelled dildo and plastic
umbilical chords.
The monitor displays screens
of pixeled shadows.

Optimistic folk
tell me about a 45 first,
the blessing of twins
and Baby Jay,
but their stories are as stale
as a decade's crumbs.

They told me you would come
two years ago now
An herbalist's tricks might
prod this old fruit.
But I've drawn no door
in the wall through which
to call you home.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Meditation Blog First Installment

One paragraph
No complaining/pity
No stress
Minimal Editing/the spirit of Jack Kerouac

January 19, 2011

Today I sat down and meditated. It has been awhile since I've done this and I've always found it difficult. But I've made a New Year's Resolution to do this, to meditate once a day, to sit down with my mind, my rambling, squirreling mind and find some sort of compassion for myself. I have this little mantra, compassion is always the answer, and I write it in different places where I might stumble upon it later when I need to see it. So I sat down today, the very first day and all I could think of was what are people going to say about this? Ego stepped in, and offered how I must have control, must have perfection, must have profundity. Isn't this a way for you to put your name out there? Right away, ego started organizing things. I said, I will give you four rules, which I have placed at the top. That's it, now go away. But ego didn't go away. It sort of just sat down in the corner of my mind and watched.
So, already I am breaking a rule, because here is another paragraph. My English professor side cannot be obliterated. So be it. The first thing I did was feel my back ache. I pushed it aside and stretched forward. The second thing I did was read the first entry to Pema Chodron's book Comfortable with Uncertainty. The entry spoke about climbing a mountain and how we relate this to spiritual enlightenment. We climb over rocks and precipices and roots and we feel the gravity groan in our bones. We break into a sweat. We struggle and gasp for air. When we reach the top, we have passed all of our loved ones, who still grovel with the climbing. We look and see the tops of mountains the shimmer of lakes. This is supposedly enlightenment. But Chodrin says to find the bruised, softened heart, we are not climbing a mountain, we are descending it. I am looking for my softened heart and the compassion that accompanies it, shrouds it, like soft linen.

I cannot just sit there and breathe. My thoughts come in like a swarm of flies. I must think of someone and feel what they are feeling. This is my exercise in compassion. I thought of my brother-in-law Dennis's uncle, who had just lost his wife. I met him on Tuesday when we drove up to Rockport on a cold night when the snow was still covering the trees and the stars were glistening. We entered the solemn place, took off our coats. Christine, Dennis's sister, introduced us to Dave, the uncle. He looked at us with hound dog eyes, grasping on to the arm of a chair, slightly hunched over. He may have nodded his head. Then he said to Christine, “this is our song”. There was some soft music in the background, it was a familiar song, but the name eludes me. I saw him there, huddled by the chair, listening to the song. I felt we had intruded in a moment, but then, I thought no. Here is where compassion comes in. Sitting in meditation, I thought of Dave, I thought of Dave listening to the song and expanded my heart. I have lost many; I know the piercing, bleeding pain of grief. Dave had felt this, I had felt this. I sat with this grief with Dave. That's the only thing I could do. I thought of Dave lying in bed this morning looking up at the ceiling, thinking of his wife, the memories, like butterflies.
From Dave, I went to the snow banks. The crystalized, less than beautiful hunks outside that are melting in this 40 degree weather. This is how my mind is, most of the time, great hunks of ugly ice with shit stuck in it. Then I thought of the flowing water underneath, delicate and cool, spring water. 

This is what I know my mind is as well.

January 20, 2011

I didn't want to do this today; I just wanted to lie in my soft, warm bed with my husband. I got up because commitment is important to me. I got up because of ego, who wants the credit for the blog. I want to say I got up for bodhichitta, the awakened heart, but I'm not sure if that's true. Chodrin talks about bodhichitta as a jewel deep in side us, buried under the fear, the prejudices, the anger, the opinions we learn to live by. It is a glistening jewel we have to dig for. I dug for it today.
First, I sat down and felt the tiredness in my eyes. I just wanted to look at the trees glisten and the fresh snow of morning. The artist in me thought this a better scene than yesterday's fog and gloom. Out there, a kingdom of ice, treacherous no doubt, for walking, but glistening. Inside, me wrestling with my mind. I was hung up on a dream. The dream was about my childhood home in New Hampshire. I was in the small kitchen entertaining guests- my neighbors Christi and Josh stopped by for a visit. I knew Christi just had a baby and she was very animated, happy to get out of the house. Josh was quiet. We talked for awhile and then they went back to their children. As they walked outside, I noticed an exterminator's truck parked in front of my house. I thought the truck was theirs, but it turned out it wasn't. After this, the actor who played that creepy murderer in No Country For Old Men (can't remember his name) opened the basement door and stood in the hallway looking at me. How did you get in, I asked. He didn't answer. I was alone in the house, expecting my husband, but enchanted and terrified by this strange man. I didn't know whether he would kill me or make love to me. He walked around the house as I shouted for him to leave. It became quite obvious he would leave on his own time. I could still see his face: handsome, as he was in Eat, Pray, Love. After awhile he left and Richard came home. I told him that a stranger got in, that we needed to make sure the house was locked. The dream rambled on, and I remembered the different rooms in my childhood home, the windows in the living room, the stairway up to the second floor, my parents bedroom with the garish wall paper. After awhile, Javier Bardem came back, only this time he had hoodlums with him and they were carrying knives. I went to my father's garage and got the chainsaw (I'm not kidding) and went in for them. We fought and there was blood, but on them, not me. I felt excited, terrified, and ridiculously attracted to Javier Bardem. The dream ended and I woke disturbed.

So I sat cross legged filled with the dream, wondering what it meant. I breathed and then there appeared a swirling nebula. I felt sadness when I observed it. I sat with the nebula and let it swirl. These were my thoughts and emotions, a tumult of elements. After awhile the word settle appeared in my mind. Settle, as the snow had delicately settled last night on the stairs, on the old snow, on the wood of the deck, on the hood of the car. I waited and breathed. Then I heard a crow, and my husband in the next room groan and the sound of a passing car. The nebula had disappeared and I opened my eyes.

January 21, 2011

The word of the day is equanimity. This is my mantra. Equanimity is the flowing water under the icebergs, the flowing water under the tumultuous waves. I envisioned putting my hand in this flowing water; I envisioned it flowing delicately from the wound of Christ. This water flows with gentleness; I felt it cool and tickling on my hands. 

I sat down to meditate on my yoga mat, put a bolster under me to save my back. I closed my eyes and heard the sounds in the house, the classical music from downstairs, the cars crawling slowly on the snowy road. I remembered my dream, another weird conglomeration of symbols and emotion. Again, the anger, I remember becoming frustrated with my mother because she decided to move out of her condominium and into a house on a flood plain. The house was attached to a prison. She told me, now I have a place to stay and a job; I can push the food trays under the door to the prisoners and I don't even have to see them. I thought it completely absurd she would want to leave her condo to go to the house attached to the prison. We argued on the phone, as I paced a friend's living room in my robe. There were two women there, my friend and her lover, another woman. The lover started to call me names. She lounged on the couch with her cropped blond hair and shouted insults at me. I was furious with both my mother and her. I remember there was also a Playgirl magazine on the coffee table (should I be committed, geez this stuff is weird). I wanted to look at it, at the men, but I didn't want to embarrass myself in front of my friends. The lesbian lover had posed for Playgirl (obviously the subconscious is not ruled by logic); she continued to shout insults at me and I picked her up by the neck and said something like, will you please shut up! I sensed the embarrassment of my friend sitting opposite her lover on the couch. I was sorry to have upset her.

I could spend hours trying to analyze the dream. The point is, there is no equanimity. I am burning with emotion, anxiety, tension. These waves roll inside me. These waves roll inside everyone. The awakened heart, bodhichitta knows the flowing water in the crease of the earth. We need to come back to this water. The last image I had was the nebula of emotion floating above me. I sat below it, cross legged with my eyes closed.

January 22, 2011

It's a cold Saturday morning. I sat on my mat and listened to subtle noises, my stomach growling, my dog's stomach growling, my husband yawning in the other room, cars turning up the hill, my own breathing. I did not have any fear. This is unusual for me because I always have fear. Pema Chodrin says to sit with the disturbing emotions, to let the lightning strike and the rain pour down and maintain equanimity. I find this impossible. My fear comes in torrents. It usually happens when I've got to be present for someone else or I am limited in my freedom. Trapped. The fear I have is irrational and if I claim what it is, you will probably think it is childish. But it is real to me. My fear is related to losing control, as is most people's fear, I guess. It boils up in my body and sends out rushes. I sit there twitching, trying to put on an act that everything is normal. But inside I am saying, oh no, here we go again. I tense up and fight. It pummels me.  It's been a long time since I've felt completely free.

I have long analyzed this process and know the contributing factors: stress, ennui, exhaustion, insecurity. I can hold my ground with fear only when I know it is limited in its power. This is because something else in more important, like my writing, or a task I am interested in. The other way to limit fear is to hold compassion close. This is usually difficult to do for oneself. I've often run to someone else. But there is danger in that too, the danger of dependency.

Sit with the uncertainty, sit with the fear. I suppose an experienced warrior botisattva could do this, but I can't. I can only hope meditation will help me find a way.

January 23, 2011

I sounded the Tibetan bowl this morning and put my face up to the light coming in through the ficus tree. I wanted to talk to God. I wanted to be bathed in the radiance and take it with me for the rest of the day. I read this from Mechtild of Magdeburg in The Flowing Light of the Godhead:

God compares the Soul to Four Things:
You taste sweet as grapes.
Your fragrance is as intoxicating as balsam.
Your radiance is like the brightness of the sun.
And you're the maturity of my most sublime love.
The soul always follows a rare and excellent path, and she draws the senses after her in joyful obedience.

The complexity of the mind can shift you from the soul. I get tangled in mind's wanderings and worries. The soul part is what I wish to be bathed in. Meditation is a good start in preparing a path to God, learning to put your face in the radiance. I can't sit in a Catholic Church and pretend I'm pious, and yet I feel I am missing something from my life. I want to know the living Christ and not the mythical Christ. The living Christ begins with an awakened heart.

January 24, 2011

Oh God, screw this. That's how I feel right now. Being awake is such a chore. Sleeping is heavy, so are dreams. I feel blanketed by emotion, by winter. My husband and I sleep like bears in our bed. We've entered another place and somehow it is heavy, but not entirely restful. I supposed we are hibernating, but yet, there is this feeling of disturbance, as if it is not particularly safe to let it all go even though our bodies want to in the warmth, aware that outside is nothing but a cold, frozen world. 

I get up and make myself some tea and sit on the mat. I think about the literature classes I will be teaching tomorrow. I come up with a definition of literature, how it is an iceberg. The top part, the smaller part, the above water part is decorum. The bottom looming part is all the emotion we feel. Anger, frustration, fear, anguish, passion, lust, joy. That's where the world of literature is, right there with all that stuff in the dark, sunless water. We read literature to have a deeper understanding of the human experience. 

Well here's my experience: I don't want to sit on the mat and read about loving kindness. I don't feel that right now; it's not available. An image rises in my mind and it is of a laceration, the skin grated, intermixed with blood. That's how my heart feels now. Depression is readily available. Stay with this, a voice says. It comes from the iceberg deep. I picture the Buddha, the cartoon Buddha I saw on the WGBH documentary, sitting under the tree, meditating, allowing his demons to rise. The demon was desire for him. For me, it's insecurity, depression, fear. The cartoon demon of desire grew large for the Buddha, sent out his sexy daughters to tempt him. The Buddha continued to sit and breathe. When Desire and its daughters where especially strong, the Buddha touched the Earth. A very simple act. Seeing the Buddha touch the Earth gave me peace. I too touched the Earth. I said it aloud, Touch the Earth. Stay connected to God's world; Be grounded. My earth was the floor of my house, but it served its purpose. Touch the Earth is the mantra for today.

January 25, 2011

I went away yesterday wondering why the Buddha touching the Earth is so comforting to me. Despite the fact that the Buddha was meditating, he was connected to the Earth. When the demons were strong and he was witnessing them, he needed that extra sensation to remind him he wasn't alone. He was a part of the Earth, the soil, the trees, the birds, the deer. I've been noticing the ravens in the snow as of late. The black of their feathers is such a strong contrast to the pure white of freshly fallen snow. They squawk, touch down, fly up, commune with one another. They have an intrinsic knowledge of what to do and how to conduct their lives, as do the patient bulbs in the frozen ground, the meditation of the naked trees. Nature knows just what to do, is a mechanism in itself. When I observe that mechanism, walk in the woods, watch the birds at the bird feeder, I have a sense of certainty. The Buddha touches the Earth to remind himself he is a part of the natural world, the mechanism of change and beauty, life and death. He is a part of a bigger thing and not alone with his demons.

The Christian belief is that God gave Man dominion over all of the animals and plants. They are there for his use. The soullessness of slaughterhouses and depleted soil and mechanized farming is obvious. This mass production separates us from touching the Earth, because we're not touching it anymore, we're grinding it and pounding it and stomping all over it. Localized farming seems to be an answer to this, but I often wonder if it's feasible. It's just too easy to go to Shaw's or Stop and Shop and get exactly what you need. But you pay in other ways. I would much rather go to a farm than stand anxious and dizzy in the overstocked shelves of a super store. That place is soulless as well.

January 26, 2011

I don't want dogma, I don't want doctrine; I want spirit. I sat down under the ficus tree on my bolster and I started talking to God. When I did this, it seemed I was not alone. And yet, I don't know how to pray. I didn't know what to say to God; I just rambled on. Once again, I got tangled in the snare of my thoughts. Of my insecurities, desires, of ego. I asked God what I should say and tried to meditate on that. It seemed to satisfy my soul to just open up the space. I felt the exposure of my heart. Maybe I didn't need to come up with something brutally profound. Maybe I needed to only ask for a blessing.

January 27, 2011

The truth of the matter is I believe God isn't on my team. I started to believe this after my father died. This belief is reinforced with every rejection I get, with my infertility, with the struggle to avoid depression and anxiety. My faith is nil. I have carried this around inside me for years. And yet, there are moments where my sheltered soul rises up like a baby bird looking for its mother God. This happens when I hear a certain musical piece or a sermon. And then I go back to not believing, to drudgery and failure. I push harder to create, to learn, to teach because without God on my team, I've got a bigger burden to carry. Today I realized this. So I ask God, how can I change this? How does one let go after grasping for so many years? I feel like an oxen with its yoke, pulling a house from Derby to Federal street (ever see that on historical houses, “this house was pulled from Derby to Federal in 1811 by 40 oxen”). And then there's Job. And Charlie Brown. What do you do if you are one of these people? 

Faith is a strange thing. It is part hope, part relinquishment, part hard work. I got the hard work down pat. It's the hope and the relinquishment I'm having trouble with. Let go and let God. I hate that saying. I don't know how to let go and let God. 

I meditate on the rising oxalis. In the deep winter, we are blanketed in white. Mounds of it, everywhere. The sky is gray. My spirit lusts for lavender, for moist rain and mud. But I must continue to wait. I've cut down the diseased oxalis plant in the window. I've thrown away the brown leaves. There was nothing in the pot save roots. It has begun to spring up again, green clovers and delicate white flowers. I confess, I thought of throwing that plant away.

I meditate on Gabrielle Gifford's arm; the picture of her husband staring at the television with tears in his eyes. They won't show us her face, just her arm, because to show us her face would be too much. I wonder where Gabrielle is, if she is aware of her state, if she is at peace, if she is worried, if she is terribly afraid. But something tells me God is in the room. God is in the breathing tubes, the blip of the machines. 

God is like the daffodil bulb, patient.

I think of my sister's unborn child. She's worried she may miscarriage because of the blood. We're all worried she may miscarriage because of the blood. She told me of the flashing heart on the ultrasound. I think about that heart, of that little thing buried in her, as we are buried in snow.

January 28, 2011

My sister miscarried. There's nothing more to say today.

January 29, 2011

I have discovered I stow away my joy. The tip off to this came in dreams. I have been dreaming of having these little feelings of joy for other people. I look in their eyes and they tell me how much they like me, how they desire me. It is a surprise to me and after their confession, I feel this magic, this adolescent magic, like a crush. In the dream we exchange numbers or email addresses. I want to find them again so I can experience that joy. The dream ends with me looking for them.

I have been stowing away my joy for years. I tell myself, “not until this happens <publication, baby, move to the country, find a spiritual community> will I be fulfilled, will I have my joy.” So I keep it in a box inside me, while the rest of me is anxious, teetering on depression, tired, achy, restless. I read this poem this morning:

As another new year begins for us,
we're already looking forward to spring's
green mountains and fields and blooming flowers
We're already looking forward to that beautiful time,
even though the landscape is still winter-brown.

That's exactly how it is for anyone who gives
their all for Love's good-looking promises,
before measuring Love's immeasureableness.

Their joy isn't ripe yet,
but it will be.

-Hadewijch, Poems in Stanzas

But what if my joy is overripe, ready to burst? I sat on my mat, put my face up to the sun coming in through the ficus tree and allowed myself to open that box of joy. Immediately a vision came, of ranunculus and roses bursting and blooming vermillion, peach, pink, out of my heart. They filled up my space with colorful petals. I breathed and puffed out this chest of joy, as a rooster would his breast of feathers.

January 30, 2011

I asked God where he was in my life and questioned myself whether I could recognize him/her. It's easy to turn poetic about God and spin metaphors. As I sat on the mat, I wanted to know from the deepest part of myself. Who, What, Where are you in my life. Enough of the mystery.
I work fairly hard for everything I achieve (or don't achieve). Life can feel like drudgery. I know what work is, in the physical and emotional perspectives. In Physics, work is W=Fd or work is equal to a force applied through a distance. For instance if you push or pull a box across the floor. Emotionally, we can feel the exertion work has upon us. We push through our chores, through getting up in the morning; we push to do things we don't necessarily want to do. Work is a human thing; it comes from us and the forces around us. Grace is something different. You don't have to exert with Grace; it just happens. Grace comes from God. I'm trying to think of the last time I experienced Grace. I think it was the time a man walked in front of my car while I was stopped at a stop sign and I didn't see him. I was looking to the left for cars coming and I put my foot on the gas before looking to the right. The man had just cleared my car when I started to move. I saw him and shivers went through my body and all I thought was thank God. My whole body was filled with thank God. 

I guess this could be interpreted as luck, but I see it as Grace. By the Grace of God I didn't hit that man.

I wish I could wax poetic about other instances of Grace in my life, but nothing comes to mind. Maybe when I step away from the computer, they will fill my head. Then again, I suppose meeting my husband was an act of Grace; we have a good marriage and are intrinsically right for one another. It was by the Grace of God I met him after dating so many people not right for me. But I put myself out there to find him. I guess this is an instance of God helps those who help themselves.
But the daffodils. Always the daffodils. Again, I forget God's Grace is patience as well, when there is no work to be done at all.

January 31, 2011

I feel weakened and vulnerable. Depression is very available to me and I fear it will take me under. Yesterday I couldn't shrug it off; it is a force that pulls me inward, down into myself, and into the scary vault of my thoughts. I think I am worried about this semester, worried it will turn into last semester, a stress-fest, where I felt everything was pointless and it was a struggle to teach class and be present for people. But Pema Chodrin tells us our moods are just story lines. She writes, “we habitually string our thoughts together into a story that tricks us into believing that our identity, our happiness, our pain, and our problems are all solid and separate entities.” We believe these entities have power over us, as I believe my depression and anxiety has power over me. If I could visualize my depression, I would see it as a flesh eating black ooze. I remember once, when my grandparents were watching us while my parents went to a wedding, we watched this movie about a black ooze that overtook an island. Our eyes were glued to the television as the ooze moved in on a grassy hut were there was a parrot and the colorful parrot was chirping and talking until the ooze covered the cage and then he was silent. I went to bed, obsessed and terrified of the black ooze, of how it devoured living things and left nothing but bones.

So my story line is the black ooze of my depression and I spend my life trying to run from it. I have my armory of weapons against it, but sometimes these just don't work. I think, on some level, this ooze has to do with failure and grief and how no matter what I do I can't change my place in life; I can't reach that plateau where the ooze is no longer a threat. Chodrin says trying to hold on to the storyline “blocks our wisdom”. I pray I come to believe this.

February 1, 2011

Sat down on the mat, wanted to sleep. Had stomach issues. Got up, went to make myself some tea. Sat and watched Sunrise Earth while the tea warmed. Body relaxed while being present with Svalbard, Norway and the snow covered plateaus and a trail of footprints into the highlands. There were birds flying up into the sun and their bodies disappeared and then reappeared. The clouds passed in front of the sun like spirits. I wondered who those footprints belonged to, who would go to the rock temples and witness the sun descend to 6 degrees above the horizon. Sunset turns to sunrise and the sun begins its ascent. Could I go to such a place, where everything is nothing I know, where the sun doesn't set?
Pema Chodrin tells us to lighten up during meditation. She says we are witnessing “only thinking”. The black ooze doesn't eat bones. It is only thinking. My anxiety does not have a mind of its own; I give it one. It is only thinking. So I must be as light as the midnight sun in Svalbard, who sinks only to 6 degrees above the horizon and bounces back up.

February 2, 2011

Pain can be very grounding. I notice when I am in pain, I don't have as many thoughts. It is almost like a meditation in itself. I sat on my bolster with my pain and labeled my thoughts as they came into my mind. Ego. Job. Fear. Stress. Observations of the outside world. I noticed, however, I always went back to the pain, to the center of the pain in my body. It was like calling up a candle's flame and being present with it, or being present with the breath. I am reluctant to keep popping drugs, so I bear as much as I can. I think many people go around bearing things, little packages of discomfort, mostly emotional because we have all the remedies for the physical. That's not true; we have all the “remedies” for the emotional as well, in the escapism our culture preaches. If we could only learn to see discomfort as part of our nature, something we are allowed to have instead of something we must shrug off, we might learn how to be human.

February 3, 2011

Pema Chodrin says:

Our mind is always seeking zones of safety. We're in this zone of safety and that's what we consider life, getting it all together, security. Death is losing that. We fear losing our illusion of security – that's what makes us anxious. We fear being confused and not knowing which way to turn. We want to know what's happening. The mind is always seeking zones of safety, and these zones of safety are continually falling apart.

I have been moving from one change to the next for the past four years. I don't feel stable, I don't feel secure in my bones. Ego is pushing for confidence and praise, for stature. I am restless during the day, I am restless in my dreams. The time my body is supposed to be rejuvenating is just another mode for searching and it's the most disconcerting type of searching because it deals with the subconscious and images I don't rightly understand. I feel like a Greek hero working my way through a labyrinth in an epic poem. My point is, yes, our safety zones are continually dissolving and yes, we must come to expect this, but there should be rest. Peaceful, rejuvenating rest where we find compassion for ourselves and let ourselves just be. Gibran said rest in reason, move in passion. I say push with ego, rest in compassion. We must learn to create our own safety zones amidst all this dissolving and we must allow ourselves to rejuvenate there in a our own coppice of peace. Only then can we handle the instability of life and have it not tear us apart.