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Quote: Noticing Your Life May 24, 2013

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“What you begin to see is that the place where you thought your life occurred–the cave of ruminaton and memory, the cauldron of anxiety and fear–isn’t where your life takes place at all. Those mental recesses are where pain occurs, but life occurs elsewhere, in a place we are usually too preoccupied to notice, too distracted to see:

Right in front of your eyes.

Lift your arms up to eye level, wiggle your fingers and see for yourself. That’s where your life is, that’s where your life always has been, in front of you.”

– Karen Maezen Miller, Hand Wash Cold

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Shining Awareness in the Dark Corners – A Story of Forgiveness, Part 4 May 24, 2013

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(This is part 4 of a series on how my mindfulness meditation practice helped me to find forgiveness, and how I uncovered an entire place in my awareness that had previously been completely hidden in darkness. Read part 3 here.)

Then something unexpected happened.  I had expected that letting my mother know I had forgiven her would bring a great deal of relief. I assumed I would feel better and that energy being held up inside would be freed.

Instead I felt noticeably worse for a good week or two. I was quite emotionally upset, bearing through waves of great sadness, grief, and fear. My mood was depressed, and I lacked my usual amount of energy. Seeking solitude, I stayed in my room at home to try and deal with what was coming up. I was starting to get worried about what was happening, and wanted to know what the cause was.

It didn’t take long to see that the difficult emotions were a result of opening up a part of my awareness that before had been hidden for so long. A very vivid image came to me that best illustrated how I felt. The image was of a light being turned on in a large room to reveal an entire corner of the room previously cloaked in darkness. The light was the light of my conscious awareness seeing clearly and directly. The room was my mind or my consciousness, and the hidden corner was my storehouse of memories. The sudden change in my awareness seemed to be as explicit as the switch of a lightbulb.

I now had access to an entire block of memories from very long ago that were memories of my mother. Somewhat surprisingly, these memories were pleasant memories, or if not pleasant than at least neutral. The memories were far different from the painful ones that I used to be convinced were the only memories I had of my mother.

Why had these memories come to me so suddenly? They were tied up in the pain I had felt at an earlier age, pain that had left a lasting effect on me. The anger and hatred had been keeping the pain locked in place, hidden safely in forgetfulness so I didn’t have to face the pain. As long as the pain was still there, as long as I refused to face it, the memories were invisible as well, as if they never existed.

As soon as forgiveness entered the picture, the anger and hatred could dissolve, and the pain was opened up. The sadness, grief, and fear I was feeling were from this pain being exposed.

So if these were pleasant, or at least not painful, memories, why was I still feeling such difficult emotions? It was as if I had to reprocess each one of these memories one at a time. When these memories came into my awareness, I re-experienced the pain associated with each one that I had felt at the time when the memories were locked away.

I was being healed, or perhaps more accurately, I was allowing the healing to happen on its own.

What was so absolutely amazing to me is that there actually are real happy and warm memories of my mother. A few years earlier I would have been absolutely convinced beyond a doubt that such memories weren’t possible. I couldn’t believe how much mental energy was being used to keep these memories hidden! My mind was trying so hard to tell me the memories weren’t there, and trying to prevent me from facing reality.

A huge insight from this whole process was that memories are not real. They are only constructed images of the past meant to serve a purpose at the time that they are remembered. If I am in a depressed mood when I try to remember what has happened in the past, depressed memories will be brought up. On the other hand, if in the moment I am in a happy mood when I look back on the past, happy memories will be brought up. The more time spent in one of these moods, and these memories are brought up, the more these memories begin to shape our perceptions of reality.

This insight into the non-solidity of memories has allowed me to let go of the past more and embrace being grounded in the present moment. I am also more likely to qualify what I say, as I have throughout this series of posts, with “or at least, that’s how I remember it,” because I know that my memories are not the absolute and final truth.

Shining Awareness in the Dark Corners – A Story of Forgiveness, Part 3 May 17, 2013

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(This is part 3 of a series on how my mindfulness meditation practice helped me to find forgiveness, and how I uncovered an entire place in my awareness that had previously been completely hidden in darkness. Read part 2 here.)

I will admit that it was difficult at first to open to pain and turn toward such deep anger and hatred held in my heart. The resentments that I had felt for so long were hard to let go, as if they were who I was or they were an integral part of me. Without them I might not know who I was anymore.

Nevertheless, I did a great deal of deep looking and out of understanding came forgiveness. I looked deeply into how I felt hurt and how I perceived my mom had hurt me. I could see how, much like Thay explains, my suffering was related to someone else’s suffering. My suffering was my mother’s suffering.

The harm I felt that had been done to me was a resut of my mother having depression.I could no longer hold onto anger in the face of so much pain. I saw that no one would ever consciously choose to be in that situation.

I experienced a huge amount of relief to let go of all of that anger I had kept inside for so long. I could now see that no one had actually deliberately or intentionally tried to hurt me or cause me suffering from depression. Instead, what had happened in the past was just what had happened. I came to a level of acceptance of my past experience.

I had inner forgiveness for my mom in that I didn’t openly acknowledge the change to anyone. Part of my reason for keeping this forgiveness to myself was that I still felt resentment for other family members who had told me I should forgive my mom. They argued it would be the right thing to do. Before, this advice had made me angry. I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of knowing I did what they told me to do! I didn’t forgive my mom because it was the right thing to do, or because I listened to anyone’s advice. Instead, I did it out of my own choice and for myself first. I did it to free myself of hatred and anger.

I kept my forgiveness to myself and my relationship with my mother improved somewhat because I no longer held such hatred and anger. But outwardly our relationship didn’t drastically change because I didn’t’ sense that much warmth or love, at least compared to other family members with whom I was close. My mother and I were still quite distant from each other.

I moved away even farther from home and for a period only saw my family twice a year, so any relationship with my mother was still distant. After a year of being far from home I began to feel quite homesick. I even felt homesick a little for my mother, which was completely unexpected. I kind of missed her, but not nearly as much as I missed other family members, and even some friends. I almost couldn’t believe I was feeling this toward my mother; I really hadn’t thought it would ever be possible.

I soon came across a dharma talk on forgiveness, which planted a seed of intention. The teacher made it clear to me what I needed to do, my next step: I had to tell my mother that I had forgiven her for anything that had happened to me. But first I had to ask for her forgiveness. I had to ask her to forgive me for all of the violence and aggression I directed toward her, and for all the blame I placed on her for what happened to me. I almost didn’t know if it was possible. But I still had to ask for it.

I phoned my mom up one day and did all of this over the phone. I tried to explain my side of the story of expressing such anger and violence because of having depression, and based on other circumstances in my life while I was a teenager. I had expected it to be an awkward, uncomfortable conversation, but it went surprisingly well. I felt such huge relief for the situation o turn out much better than I had imagined.

Then something unexpected happened…

To be continued next post

Quote: Nothing To Do May 17, 2013

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“Have confidence in the wonderful function that is present in your mind and then you will see that there is nothing to do.”

– Zen Master Linchi, in Thich Nhat Hanh, Nothing To Do, Nowhere To Go: Waking Up To Who You Are

Quote: Barriers to Love May 10, 2013

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“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

– Rumi, Sufi poet and mystic

Shining Awareness in the Dark Corners – A Story of Forgiveness, Part 2 May 10, 2013

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(This is part 2 of a series on how my mindfulness meditation practice helped me to find forgiveness, and how I uncovered an entire place in my awareness that had previously been completely hidden in darkness. Read part 1 here.)

When times were shitty, I directed all of the energy of blame for all of what I saw to be going wrong in my personal circumstances to my mother. I hated her. In fact, as far as I was concerned, she was the one person who ruined my life. Most or all of my problems were because of her, either directly or indirectly. I would fantasize about how much my life would be better if she wasn’t in it.

I disowned my mother. As far as I was concerned I had an idea or an image in my mind of what a mother was supposed to be, and she didn’t fit that image. She didn’t deserve to be called my mother. I stopped calling her mom and referred to her by her first name, not only when addressing her directly, but also when referring to her when talking to my friends and relatives.

I grew up—sorry, I mean I grew older—and moved away from home. I had a chance to, as I saw it at the time, fix my life by taking control over it myself. I distanced myself from my parents, but especially my mom, and went off on my own.

Not long after, depression revisited, and I had to do the long, hard work of pulling myself out of that big, deep, black hole of self-pity. And this time, the self-pity focused on my mental illness, or the story of it. By the story I mean that depression wasn’t just something that happened to me, I was depression. I was a depressed person, and because I had been depressed before, I must therefore be doomed to this for The Rest Of My Life.

So my self-pity turned to blame for my parents, especially my mother. It was my mother’s fault I was depressed because, among other well-validated and intelligently-argued points, my mother didn’t fix her own depression. She passed on her depression through me. She made me depressed. She did this not only because of, as I was now learning in my university psychology courses, exposing me to seeing someone else with that same illness, but also because of my genes. Depression was built into my genetic makeup. I was doomed. And it was all her fault.

As you might expect, these thoughts and feelings of self-pity only led me to further dig myself into that dark hole of despair. After some time, I was finally shocked into summoning enough energy to take charge of my own recovery. And the type of self-pity thoughts described above absolutely had to go if I wanted my well-being back. I took that approach that I could only take responsibility over what I had control. I couldn’t control my family history or any past experiences, but I could control my thoughts and how I responded to what had happened to me.

When I began to practice meditation regularly and learn the dharma, I was able to take care of the pain leftover from my episode of depression. I was encouraged by the open acknowledgement of the first noble truth that suffering (or dissatisfaction or unease) exists. I was also comforted by the confirmation that suffering can be transformed into understanding and happiness. Strengthened by the practice, I could turn toward the leftover pain of depression and heal myself, and transform the suffering transmitted to me by previous generations.

In transforming some of this pain, I became more aware and understanding of the pain of having a mental illness, and this gave me a great deal of compassion for myself and others in this same situation. I was completely able to deeply feel the pain of mental illness and depression, and have profound compassion in response to that type of pain.

Therefore, when I was eventually exposed to forgiveness in the context of an actual meditation practice, my path to forgiveness was understanding. I took on the forgiveness practice because I decided I needed to forgive my mother. Part of it was a motivation to simply grow up. I wanted to stop being the whiny teenager who had such a sense of entitlement for what people were supposed to do for me. I wanted to be responsible for my own life and happiness.

Continue to part 3 here.

Shining Awareness in the Dark Corners – A Story of Forgiveness, Part 1 May 3, 2013

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This a story of how my mindfulness meditation practice helped me to find forgiveness, and how I uncovered an entire place in my awareness that had previously been completely hidden in darkness. You might not think it is a particularly unique story. In fact, you might even be able to guess how it unfolds. But its my story, and that’s all that matters. And its my story, so I get to tell it.

My relationship with my mother has changed dramatically over my life, but perhaps the most dramatic change has occurred at the same time as—like many of my other relationships—beginning my meditation practice. To tell this story, I’ll start at the beginning.

My relationship with my mother was quite good when I was younger—or so at least I remember, and so I was told by many people around me. My mom stayed home on the farm to raise me and my sibling, so I got plenty of attention. I was looked after and taken care of. I had homemade clothes, home-cooked meals from the garden (including home-canned fruits and wild berries, and homemade bread), and a home that was kept mostly tidy and well decorated. I also had many family camping trips, and was taken to activities and to visit friends. These early years would become the standard or ideal to which I would later compare my circumstances.

By the time I was in middle childhood, many of the attention and duties provided to me were taken away. It was then that I started to notice and be told that my mom was suffering from the mental illness of depression. It followed that many of the circumstances I had enjoyed at an earlier age started to slip away, and some of them disappeared altogether. The activities mom used to do were more and more replaced by her lying in bed, sleeping.

Consequently, the lack of attention affected our relationship, and I became more distant from her. I had to start making my own school lunch, and cooking my own meals. I had to clean up after myself and my family, and the pantry wasn’t as well stocked with fresh food from the garden or groceries anymore.

As a child, I adapted to the changing circumstances. I made do with what I had. I still had my dad looking after me as best he could, and grandparents next door on the farm to which I could go for lots of attention and support, not to mention other relatives. I had other ways of coping. What’s more, I learned the valuable lesson that would become deeply instilled in me for many, many years:

If I want something done right, I have do it myself.

I seemed to be making out just fine. And then I became a teenager. Ah, yes, those oh-so-fun times of adolescence. And with adolescence comes the ability to think more abstractly beyond my immediate experience of childhood awareness into ideas of what my circumstances could be. As I said earlier, my memories of my early childhood with my mother became the ideal with which I would compare my current circumstances.

And also coming with adolescence is a great deal of idealism of thinking how things could be in a better version of my reality. So thinking idealistically was what I did—and oh, how I did it. So my relationship with my mother became idealized into how it should be, and my personal circumstances at home and my mother’s role in creating those circumstances became idealized. I wanted the good times back, or at least my memories of the good times.

But I didn’t get the good times back. I wasn’t about to any time soon, by all signs. And so we know that another characteristic of adolescence is anger. Anger, aggression, and violence when their idealized versions of reality don’t match up with their actual immediate reality. Plus, although I’m simplifying the story a bit here, there were other aspects of my overall personal circumstances that weren’t working out well for me (school, friends, etc.), so I felt that I had other reasons to be angry. But, not surprisingly, my anger and blame was directed at my parents, and my mother in particular because she was an easy target, and partly because that’s what I was learning to do from others.

(Continue to part 2)

Quote: Inner Purpose May 3, 2013

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Inner purpose has nothing to do with where you’re going or what you’re doing, but everything to do with how. It has nothing to do with future but everything to do with the quality of your consciousness at this moment. It concerns the deepening of your Being in the timeless now. Your journey only has one step: the step you are taking right now.

After you realize your inner purpose, the outer purpose is just a game you may continue to play because you enjoy it. Every outer purpose is doomed to ultimately fail sooner or later, of course, simply because it is subject to the law of impermanence of all things. The sooner you realize that your outer purpose cannot give you lasting fulfillment, the better.

– Eckhart Tolle, in The Power of Now