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Listening to My Heart , Surrendering to Pain – Part 3 June 28, 2013

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(This is part 3 of a series entitled “Listening to My Heart, Surrendering to Pain,” continued from my last post, part 2. The theme of the series is learning to listen to my heart by turning toward fear and trusting that I am aligned with the force of love.)

I gave into the pain that was building for so many months. I surrendered to it and decided to leave the cycles of suffering caused by my separation from our Earth. In a way, the decision had already been made long before, I was just making it official by consciously acknowledging it. The decision was made each time I felt the pain of being separated from wilderness and desparately wished to be free from that suffering. When I saw the way out of not living in the city, I took it.

I made up my mind to listen to my heart. What for so long had been felt as a wall of building fear and pain was now transformed into incredible relief and peace. Tears were streaming down my face and I let out sobs of relief. I still felt fear, but it wasn’t as paralyzing as what I had felt before. Now it was simply the fear of the unknown and wondering how the details would turn out.

I knew that I was listening to my heart by simply accepting what was being told to me. I knew that the force that was driving me to make my decision was the force of love. I was learning that this force is the most powerful force in the universe. As long as I am guided by it and aligned with it, as long as I am letting it push me downstream like someone being pushed in the currents of the river, everything would work out just fine.

My decision to leave the city wasn’t something I was about to do right away. I let any thoughts or fears about how I would make it happen drop away. It wasn’t necessary to do it right now. I would keep my intention and let things unfold as they would. I had absolute faith that the right opportunity would arise at the time I needed it.

My decision to leave the city did end up killing the professional self. I had to let Andrea the researcher die. All of the stories I had made up about her, all of the roles I would play, the accomplishments I would have, were now not going to come true. I let them unravel and fall away. A great deal of confusion was happening during this process. It seemed that I was mourning or grieving a lost self, a self that had once been carefully created but was now withering and dying. Strong emotions of grief and disappointment were coming up for me for quite some time during the period of grieving.

Since that day I have experienced a great deal of doubt and isolation because I feel that I am distancing myself from so many people I know. Because I believe myself to be “going against the stream” or in opposition to the widely-held values in my current wider society, I fear people would label me as weird or crazy. I haven’t told anyone about my decision except one person close to me when I wanted to express my doubts. As for anyone else, I’ve kind of hinted at the possibility and left it at that. I have only merely stated, “I’m not sure if I want to live in the big city in the long run,” and let people use their own definition of big city (which I’m sure is much different than mine!).

I feel isolated and facing some doubt because I don’t have a way to express myself in my need to be in wilderness. This article certainly helps. But the fact remains that wilderness, outdoors, and connection to our Earth and plant and animal sisters and brothers are not widely held values in my mainstream society. There is no language for me to speak about these values that are more real for me. So I am silenced until the time I can find a way to speak my own truth.

In the months since I made my decision, I have felt the doubt and isolation dissipate a little bit. I have come to see from conversations with my fellow urban-dwellers that these people probably want to live outside of the city as much as I do. Unfortunately, there are likely many reasons holding them back: commitments to partners, children, or aging parents; having to work in a certain job to pay off debts including student loans; less education or training and therefore fewer options for earning money; or just perhaps lacking the courage to make the decision to leave behind the luxuries and conveniences of the city. I have to feel compassion for the people who desparately wish to be closer to wilderness, but don’t have the options and freedom that I currently enjoy.

As I write this post, too, I have to remember the wisdom teachings of impermanence. Just because I have an intention to do something in the future, and even if my current circumstances are pointing in a certain direction, impermanence tells me that anything could happen to intervene with my plans. Life happens, circumstances arise, and perhaps I may have to let go of this idea once again. Who knows, maybe I will leave the city and find out that there was too much here that I would miss, but I wouldn’t know until I do without. Only time will tell, and the only way I find the answer is by doing it.

Be Still and Heal June 9, 2013

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I have experienced incredible healing from deep suffering in my meditation practice, and the healing process is a challenging one to handle skilfully. First, I have to create an environment of stillness and stability in order for past pain to arise on its own. Then I have to turn toward difficult emotions in compassion. Perhaps the healing happens on its own, its not really me, Andrea, doing it. I just create the conditions for it to happen.

In my last post I described how I experienced a great deal of healing from past suffering using my mindfulness practice. When I wrote that post, the section describing how I experienced the healing process had become quite long, so I decided to write it as a separate post.

calligraphy

At the moment, my meditation “altar” consists of a paper copy of the above calligraphy by Thay taped to my bedroom wall. I truly treasure this calligraphy as an altarpiece because I do believe my meditation practice is the work of healing. Healing is making whole, as the word heal comes from the root word meaning restoring to wholeness. I am restored to wholeness when I can transform past suffering into peace and freedom.

The first part of these instructions is to be still, and stillness needs to happen first before healing can take place. I need to be still in body by sitting and not moving around. I stop interacting with and reacting to stimuli in my environment. I need to be still in mind by considerably slowing down the endless tracks of discursive thought that keeps me going around in circles, accumulating anxiety and tension along the way.

When I am still, my mind-body-heart knows that I am safe. I am free from potential dangers, free from self-judgement, self-criticism, and harshness. I am in a place where I feel supported and protected. In this safe place, I can truly rest, and my guard is let down.

These are the conditions I create in order for the healing to take place on its own time. It isn’t really me doing the healing, but I let it happen on its own accord. When my guard is let down, suffering that has been accumulating will suddenly resurface, out of nowhere and without warning.

This suffering has been accumulating from past circumstances when I didn’t have enough awareness or resources to take the time to deal with the suffering. Past suffering have could been caused by an experience where I was overwhelmed in despair or confusion.

In a safe place of grounded mindfulness, I can see that a moment of despair is not the whole truth. It was just a moment, and I can take refuge in a place of clarity and stability. I rest in a new moment where despair or confusion is no longer present.

The suffering resurfaces because it needs to have new meaning made out of it. It needs to be expressed in at atmosphere of mindfulness and compassion. Past suffering resurfaces in the form of difficult emotions so that it can express itself and be released.

Emotions of fear, grief, sadness, or despair will arise, sometimes with a past memory attached to it, sometimes not. When these emotions arise, the real work of meditation practice takes place. Usually, when a difficult emotion arises, my first instinct is to run away or close down. “It hurts, its too painful, I want it to stop, it feels wrong.”

On the contrary, the solution lies in turning toward a difficult emotion. I move toward it, open up my awareness in interest and curiosity: “Oh, fear is arising. Fear is present. What’s this like? What’s happening here?”

A very important ingredient, perhaps the most important ingredient, is compassion. I have to make very sure that turning toward difficult emotions is done out of love and compassion, not out of sadistic self-torture or to fix my broken self. It is very challenging to skilfully make this distinction. I have to make sure that I do it because I love myself and I don’t want to be in unnecessary suffering. I care about myself and I take good care of the difficult emotion.

To skilfully handle difficult emotions, I have to stay grounded in the present moment. I try to only handle one moment at a time, to slice up the stream of experience into a razor-thin slice of moment by moment experience. This is what is happening now. I try to steer clear of adding the dimension of time to what happens, which only adds fear and exacerbates the hurt. I try to avoid thinking about how this emotion has happened before or has been with me for so long. I try to avoid thinking about how the emotion will stay with me “forever” or at least a long time into the future.

To me, healing is real, I have experienced it as a reality. Interestingly, images can come to me that perfectly illustrate the healing that I feel is happening internally. I’ve had images come to me of a closed lock being opened by a key, or of jammed gears loosening up and turning. I will state what I have been taught and now accept as true for me: suffering can be transformed into freedom, liberation, happiness, and peace.

My meditation practice has offered me the opportunity heal a great deal of past suffering. But before healing can take place, I need to be still in order to have a sense of stability and security. Stillness is a condition I create in my meditation practice, and once difficult emotions arise, I have to know how to handle them with great compassion and care.

Quote: Stressing Ourselves Out April 19, 2013

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Nature equipped you with buttons intended for emergency use only, which were supposed to be pressed maybe ten or fifteen times throughout your life, yet some of us are mashing down on these buttons every single day. Why? Because its exciting! And, admit it, one of the main reasons we get so stressed out in life is because we’d rather be stressed out than—god forbid!—bored.

– Brad Warner, in Sit Down and Shut Up

Wilderness Dharma: Snow as Peace March 30, 2013

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After a long Canadian prairie winter, the snow is finally starting to melt. I thought I would write a few of my thoughts on how much I appreciate the beauty of the snow, as well as its teachings of the dharma. The snow embodies the Buddha’s teachings because it is a symbol of peace. The snow is silent, colourless, still, and pure, and I see myself in the snow’s delicateness and impermanence. Falling snow reveals wisdom to me and hints at the ultimate reality.

The snow is peace because the snow is silent. The snow is the epitome of silence, where it is so silent it is loud. I know of little else that is as quiet as waking outside on a calm winter day amidst freshly falling snow. It’s as if the snow on the ground, above in the sky, and in the air is absorbing all possible sounds.

The snow is peace because the snow is colourless. Snow has no colour of its own, but reflects back the full spectrum of white. It looks white, but on a sunny winter day, it reflects the colour of the sky as blue. The winter sun low in the horizon is reflected in the golden yellow brightness that sparkles and shimmers like an ocean of a million diamonds.

The snow is peace because it is stillness. On a calm winter day, a field of snow just lies there, calm, still, and unmoving, covering everything underneath it. The snow is blank, it has nothing in it. It is not busy when it doesn’t contain anything to tarnish it. It can look “boring,” but at the same time beautiful in its simplicity.

The snow is peace because it is pure. A field of perfect colourless snow is as pure as the purity of a peaceful heart. It is a symbol of the pure goodness that is present in all beings and all life.

I see myself in snow because in it I see that I, too, am delicate. I am fragile as a precious living being. Just like a soft layer of freshly fallen snowflakes is fragile and easily crushed by the lightest weight touching it. I see my vulnerability as a human being who constantly depends on so many conditions to be a live and well in each moment.

I see myself in snow because in it I see that I, too, am impermanent. While it may be hard to believe for us prairie folk, with five months of it in a year, the snow won’t always be here. It will melt.

I see my impermanence when I see that I, too, will eventually fade away. But, just like me, the snow doesn’t cease to exist, it simply manifests in a different form. The snow becomes the runoff of spring and the water I drink all through the hot summer months.

When I see snow I see wisdom because the snow falls where it lands. There is no “snow-self,” no snow director who controls where each and every snowflake lands. The snow just falls from the sky and falls where it lands. Any number of infinite causes could make each flake land in a certain place.

The snow is wiggly and random, it has li. Li is the Chinese word describing the organic pattern present in all natural things, such as falling snow, waves on an ocean, and markings in stone. To me, things that exhibit li are themselves alive.

Falling snow is precious to me because it is a portal, a gateway to the ultimate reality. I urge you to step outside on a calm winter day when the huge, fat flakes are falling from the sky. Make yourself still and stand amidst the activity all around you. Feel the presence of the snow, feel all of the space filled with it. Maybe you’ll feel yourself slip away, get lost, swept up in the movement.

Or maybe you won’t.

Insights From Washing Dishes February 1, 2013

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At the last sangha meeting I facilitated, I read the chapter “Washing Dishes” from the book Peace is Every Step. I had the chance to listen to great perspectives from others on the topic. I also was able to share some of my insights, including a reflection on the non-dual nature of dishes and the miracle of being alive in our day to day circumstances.

 

The Non-Dual Nature of Dishes

When I returned from a recent retreat, I took the opportunity to look for the dharma in as many different and new aspects of my everyday situations. I spent some effort trying to find some lessons in washing dishes, as I felt Thay put a strong emphasis on these and other daily activities. I really tried to pay close attention to my experience of the present moment with a very curious attitude. After a long period of time, I had a realization that I felt was the meaning behind what Thay was trying to teach.

In the middle of the process of converting a dirty dish into a clean dish, I realized that “dirty” and “clean” are just labels and concepts I apply to some experience of reality, when the ultimate reality is that they are just dishes. Also, my preference for clean dishes is only in reference to their opposite. I only want clean dishes because I don’t want dirty dishes; I want the opposite of dirty, which is clean.

This preference for “good” over “bad” can extend to so much of my experience. I want “happiness” without “suffering” and “pleasure” without “pain,” but the definition of happiness necessarily involves its opposite, the absence of suffering. Happiness and suffering are just two ends of a spectrum when the reality is the whole thing, the bigger picture.

I know that I can’t have happiness without suffering, just like I can’t have clean dishes without dirty ones. They go together. Unfortunately, I was told and believed the societal message that I can have one without the other. I can have happiness without suffering.

Applied to the example of dishes, I can put my dirty dishes in the dishwasher, and it will clean them for me. Thus I am absolved and avoid the “messy” task of cleaning dirty dishes. But as soon as I do that, I don’t appreciate having clean dishes, and I don’t know how to clean dirty ones! Which is a metaphor for so much of society and many of the problems that we collectively face today.

I don’t appreciate the conditions for my well being that are present in every moment: clean dishes; a meal of fresh healthy food; a strong, vital body; a safe, inviting home; a family that supports and looks out for me. All of these wonderful conditions take time and attention in order to enjoy their nourishment.

As a result of my insight into the interrelatedness of dirty and clean wishes, I was much more happy to wash dishes (at least for a short period of time!). I recognized that without the task of washing dirty dishes, I would have to be deprived of the pleasure of eating a meal. So when I was washing dishes, I was also eating, because washing dishes and eating inter-are. And because the meal I eat inter-is with everything I do with my energy from the food, washing dishes is also doing everything else.

Thus, I found a similarity to Thay’s story about his attendant fetching him to give the dharma talk and found Thay planting seeds. Thay was in no rush to hurry to the meditation hall, because he explained that if he can’t plant the seeds, he wouldn’t be able to give the dharma talk.

 

Washing Dishes As A Miracle

In the chapter, Thay says that washing dishes is a miracle. Unfortunately, I have usually found that my experience of reality does not fit with this statement from Thay. Nevertheless, now I am able to recognize that Thay is a poet, and much of what he writes is in poetic language for the purposes of sounding lovely.

In contrast, my experience of washing dishes usually couldn’t be farther from what Thay is telling us. To me, it usually feels like I am just washing dishes. No miraculous feeling here. Nothing more. Nothing special. It feels “blah,” boring, mundane, and unsatisfying.

More and more I am trying to see how the discrepancy is due to my idea of what a miracle or satisfaction or happiness should feel like. I am caught in craving for something other than my mundane, everyday circumstances. Or, as one author puts it, in wanting “a bright and shining moment.”

My idea of happiness is that it should be a lights-flashing, bells-ringing moment of “HAPPINESS!” This idea is what has been sold to me by my culture that happiness is excitement, as energetic and stimulating.

I am craving the excitement to overcome the dullness of my everyday circumstances. I have to remember that when this time of craving is indulged, it can never be fully satisfied but only keeps me searching for more, leaving me finally collapsed in exhaustion, my senses frayed and my mood sullied.

On the other hand, Zen teachings explain that happiness is peace, ease and contentment. My experience coincides with this, because the moments when I have felt that life—being alive—truly is a miracle has come from a place of deep stillness, silence, and peace. Moments when my present moment awareness was so strong that it spread out to encompass everything around me.

I will close with a confession that I continue to struggle with my dissatisfaction with the dull mundane feeing of my everyday circumstances. I realize that trying to ‘get away’ from these moments has actually already resulted in missing out on a great deal of my life.

Oh, and I still don’t really like washing dishes…

Reflections from Weekend Mindfulness Retreat January 18, 2013

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Recently I had the opportunity to organize and attend a weekend mindfulness retreat where I am living. It was a wonderful experience overall, and I wanted to share just a few of many reflections from the weekend, including opening my heart, restoring my confidence, and hugging meditation.
Opening My Heart
On the retreat I was able to enjoy many periods of dwelling in an open heart. Numerous times I would be making my way around the retreat, as well as during walking and eating meditation, and I would notice or see my fellow retreat attendees, some of whom were complete strangers to me. I would feel an immense sense of gratitude and appreciation for these wonderful living beings directly in front of me, simply for their presence. I also experienced a softening in compassion at the same time of their vulnerability to suffering.
This sense of dwelling in an open heart felt amazing: very warm, peaceful, natural, satisfying, spacious and expansive. It is only recently in the past few months since my weekend lovingkindness retreat that I have been able to recognize when my heart is open to others.
I think that an important factor to help these feelings arise might be the incredible safety and comfort I usually feel on retreat of being in a safe, quiet place, surrounded by fellow practitioners, and watched over by a dharma teacher. I am grateful that I was able to get a glimpse of that place of open-heartedness. I hope that I can use it as an experience to remember, and to which I can refer later: Oh right, this is what an open heart feels like.
Restoring My Confidence
The teacher asked us at the start of the retreat to really take some time to consider our intention for coming. To ask ourselves: Why am I here? What do I hope to get out of this? I spent some time trying to narrow down and clarify a few thoughts or themes going through my mind up until that point. One intention that came out that really spoke to me was my intention to strengthen and restore my faith in the practice.
I had a difficult time over the winter holidays sustaining my practice, to which I’m sure many people can relate, and I returned feeling quite depleted in my typical trust and confidence in practicing mindfulness. Specifically, I felt that maintaining my mindfulness practice was taking more effort than it was “worth”, or that I was putting more into it than I was getting out of it. Looking back now, I think I can see that I may have been lost in confusion and despair.
Regardless, I remembered from past retreats that these weekends usually left me with a stronger sense of faith and confidence that I am on the right path. I will say that my faith and trust was completely restore as soon  as I had the chance to practice mindful breathing and walking in a supportive environment. A large part of this restored faith also was due, I think, to sharing or enjoying the expressions of deep faith and heartfelt aspirations of others, especially of those who were new to the practice. I felt genuinely moved and touched by the sincerity of other people’s aspirations and the bare honesty of what people shared during dharma discussion and question & answer sessions. Maybe it reminded me that I, too, have turned to the three jewels in deep humility of not knowing all of the answers and turning to something outside of myself for help and refuge.
Enjoying Hugging Meditation
One part of the retreat I especially enjoyed was hugging meditation. I had the sense that I was really able to grasp the full meaning behind Thay’s instruction on the purpose of hugging meditation. This wasn’t my first opportunity to enjoy hugging meditation on retreat, but it was one time I felt deeply moved by it.
From my understanding, hugging meditation can be an opportunity to enjoy sharing the presence of another person. When we practice hugging meditation, we can be completely present for that person and recognize that they are here with us. I was able to relate to Thay’s connection of impermanence to the practice of being able to say, I know that you are here and I am so happy. Realizing that every moment of our and another’s life is precious, and all we really have is the present moment.
I try to really appreciate and savour every moment I share together with my loved ones. It is a chance to recognize that all of the infinite causes and conditions that had to come together for ourself and the other person to be here, alive and well, in this moment. I really was able to get a good sense of all of these teachings during hugging meditation. Perhaps it helped that I was so moved by the deep aspirations of others who took the Five Mindfulness Trainings and knowing that many more were considering taking the trainings. I was really able to see the good heart of everyone shining through and reflecting in their eyes.
Something I have been trying hard to do is to practice this with my family, and to not take for granted as much that my family members will always be here with me when I spend time with them, but that every moment I have with them is precious simply because we are able to be together. This intention is something I continue to explore and practice.
These are just a few reflections from my experience of a great weekend retreat. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to take part and to help organize the retreat. My task now is to integrate these experiences and insights into my everyday situations. Wish me luck!

Winter Solstice December 20, 2012

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The darkest night of the year.

Lighting a candle, a light in the deep darkness.

As I wait for the sun to rise in the morning, I create my own tiny flickering light.

The light gives me peace, comfort in the cold winter night.

Each day the darkness grows longer, deeper.

Patiently, I wait.

I wait for the sun to return, for the light to return.

I have faith that the light will come back once again.

I feel the turning of our Earth with each passing day, each time I raise my head to gaze at the pale winter sun.

In the morning I will feel the shift of our planet, the beginning of the new cycle.

Touching our Earth.

Taking refuge in our Earth.

Taking refuge in what is real, what is true.

Giving trust to our Earth that provides for me at the times of most need.

When I needed it, she was there for me, providing relief, soothing deep suffering, returning me back on the right path.

She has always been here for me, my entire life.

Now I am seeing it more and more.

Now I see it when I remember places I once visited.

Bowing deep down in humility.

I trust in our Earth’s great power, the power that shifts planets and begins new cycles of life.

I am of our Earth.

I come from our Earth.

One day I will return to our Earth.

Staying True to My Inner Purpose November 30, 2012

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Recently I had to make a difficult decision, and I was incredibly grateful for my sense of my own inner direction that has been cultivated through my mindfulness practice. At the same time, I am finding it challenging to stay the course of the values and priorities that are important for myself, when it seems I am contradicting what is expected of me.

It happened last week when I had a meeting with a researcher with whom I had previously made arrangements to do some part time work. The hours I was anticipating I would work for her would be an addition to my current part time job. Nevertheless, when I showed up for the meeting, she told me that she didn’t have any extra hours for me to work, but instead she wanted to offer me a job. She explained that one of her staff members had just quit, and she wanted to give me the chance to consider and accept it.

The whole situation was a complete surprise, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to tell her yes or no on the spot. Any difficult decisions I have made lately have always been slow and deliberate. I knew I would need to take the time to think it over and decide what I really wanted to do. I was incredibly grateful that I could rely on my practice to be able to clarify what exactly my inner purpose is and how to make the right decision.

I knew that I needed to go home, away from work and the office, and spend some time letting it all sink in without trying to think about it too hard (I was going to do be doing that anyway without trying). I needed to see the situation for my whole self, not just my professional or work self. I needed to clarify just how exactly this decision would fit in with the rest of my life situation and the commitments in which I am involved.

I was quite torn when trying to make a decision, because there were great reasons to accept the offer, but also some important reasons to decline. I wanted to accept the offer to get more hours and more money, and also because I could see it leading to a career path I wanted to go down. At the same time, accepting the offer would mean there would be other things that I would have to give up in order to work the job.

After some time, I connected with my inner self and found the answer I was looking for. I knew that at the times when I was really still, calm, and quiet, that a tiny voice had been speaking up and telling me ideas about what I should do that were completely different than where I am now, and where this job would take me. I still felt quite scared because I felt an major conflict in the decision. I knew what I wanted, but what I wanted seemed to be in direct contradiction of what I thought I should do or what was expected of me (by society and by those closest to me).

In the end, I came up with my answer: No, I wouldn’t take the job. Declining the job felt like a failure, and at times I ended up feeling ashamed and that I had lost a valuable opportunity. I felt quite sad because it seemed that other people wouldn’t be able to understand where I was coming from, even though I knew that I understood for myself what I needed to do. There was some reassurance, though, for me because I had a strong sense that another opportunity would fall into place and come to me without me trying too hard. I just had to be patient and it would eventually all work out just fine.

After spending so much time worrying about my decision, and dealing with the feelings that came up after, I finally remembered an insight I had months earlier while job searching. It happened at a recent meditation retreat I was on, which was the canoe trip this past summer. On the retreat, I spent the first full day in complete silence, and at the end of the day we had a chance to share anything with the group. I expressed to the group a thought that had come to me out of the silence not long before:

“Maybe the world just wants me to be happy and at peace.”

A statement that was quite radical for me, as it seems to be quite different from the way I have been living for as long as I can remember. But now I can look back at that statement and still put importance on it.

I try to take pride in the fact that it takes a lot of courage to stay true to my own inner purpose when it seems that I am going “against the stream,” so to speak, or against the cultural and societal values and norms I perceive around me. The reality of my current consumer capitalist culture and society is that the most important values that are promoted are money, achievement, career, status, and the future. My values are in many ways the opposite of these, and it takes a strong will to stay true to them.

While trying to make my decision, I felt reassured that another opportunity would come my way eventually, though I can’t exactly say why. On the very morning that I contacted the researcher to decline the job, I received an e-mail from an previous professor offering me a short job and a promise of more work to come if I need it. The timing couldn’t have been better. Yep, I think this is all going to work out just fine. Just as long as I continue to rely on my practice to help me tackle these difficult decisions.

Being in Conflict With Myself November 12, 2012

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I had a very challenging experience last week that left me feeling quite upset for a while. It happened during the weekend where I sat down to do my formal sitting practice in the morning. As I sat, I became more aware of a general feeling that had been building up throughout the previous day. The entire practice session seemed to be quite difficult to get through, and I had a vague sense of some unpleasant feelings happening in the background. By the end of the session, the full force of these emotions hit me and I was left feeling quite rotten.

It seemed that I was feeling the full, burdensome, and heavy weight of a force trying to push myself to get a lot of tasks done (clean, organize, exercise, write, etc.). I felt impatient and rushed to be busy, so sitting still was in direct defiance of that drive, and therefore quite uncomfortable. It seemed I was holding onto a whole set of rigid expectations of what I “should do” and was “supposed to do.” But at the same time, there was another part of me that didn’t want to do any of the tasks out of a forced, almost violent, obligation.

It was as if there were two parts of me in conflict. The practice session felt difficult because these two strong energies were constantly battling each other out, dragging me along with them. The feeling of a forced compulsion to do did not feel wholesome, but instead felt rigid and forced, with negative motivations behind it (namely fear or anxiety and unworthiness). On the other hand, the other part of me wanted to be free of the constant burden of self consciousness. I wanted to be free of the weight of someone monitoring my behaviour to see if I measure up to my ideal self-image. In opposition to the need to do was the knowledge and wish that I am happiest when I have nothing in particular I “have to do” at any specific time. Instead I can just enjoy being in the moment, free from any rigid obligations.

I should mention that a difficulty I have had for some time now is this unwholesome compulsion to do as much as possible in a set amount of time. It seems this habit was continually reinforced in the six straight years I was enrolled as a full time university student. That environment required me to set my own schedule and plean ahead for deadlines in the far-off future, months in advance. I had to hold myself accountable for my own behaviour whether I accomplished tasks or not, so it was all very self-directed. …But that was then and this is now.

So how do I resolve this conflict? What I have been relying on as guidance for some time now, at least as often as possible, is a quote from a dharma talk by Gil Fronsdal on lovingkindness. First, the teacher revealed that in order to be kind to others, we have to have the time. Gil described how many people used a lack of time as an excuse not to be kind, or not to cultivate lovingkindness. The teacher countered that excuse by posing this question:

“Do you want to be really productive and get lots of stuff done, or do you want to be a more loving person?”

This way of posing the conflict really hit home for me. Even if I put happier or more free in place of more loving, I find that all of these qualities are what I really desire. This perspective allows me to let go of the desire to get lots of stuff done, and remember my deeper aspirations for my spiritual practice. Then letting tasks go undone and being less productive are worthy sacrifices in exchange for peace, happiness, love, and freedom.

Poem: Into the Forest I Go November 5, 2012

Posted by Living Abundance in poetry.
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into the forest I go

for answers

to burning questions

and I walk

and walk

and stop

and listen

I look around

I enter this deep space

sensitively

graciously

humbly

The answers come

eventually

the answers to just some

of my questions

answers to ones

I was asking

and some answers

to questions

I never knew

I had

and for the rest

for the questions

that don’t seem

to get answers

all I get is this

the mystery that

I awake to

and the silence

that holds it all

the pause between breaths

the life waiting

to awaken

the silence that waits for me

waits to find

my own silence

for only out of here

can any answers

ever come