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Where Did My Breath Go? July 19, 2013

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These past few weeks have given me a few challenges to continuing my mindfulness practice, and I am able to see what these challenges are. As a result, my mindfulness practice isn’t coming as easily to me lately, and I feel that I have lost my breath and my present moment awareness. I am trying to motivate myself skillfully to restore my mindfulness without shame or fear or guilt.

I lost my breath. While it seemed not so long ago my awareness of my breath came so much more easily to me, recently it seems that awareness is largely gone. I’m going through my days these past couple of weeks almost completely in my mind, lost in thought, oblivious to my experience of the present moment within and around me.

I suspect losing my breath may have happened as a result of recently spending five full days out of town visiting relatives. Also, I’m sure my preparations for my upcoming trip are contributing to the tendency to be lost in planning thoughts. Finally, an important factor is that I’m working a new part time job that requires me to be rushing and keeping track of multiple objects of attention at once. I find it difficult to get out of these tendencies even after I’m off work.

I have been paying attention to what it is like to have less awareness of my breath, and I am finding that the state of mind in which I have been lately is not all that enjoyable. I feel that I am just rushing or moving from one task or duty to another. I can’t really sit still or be really comfortable with not doing anything but just being. I feel like I am missing out on life, the life that can be deeply experienced and enjoyed. I feel quite agitated and restless, and like I am mostly up in my head and disconnected from my body.

I can go great lengths of time without remembering to return to my breath. When I am rarely able to return to my breath, my mind is soon off wandering to thoughts and plans. My sitting practice sessions have been difficult when I see my mind wander off so easily and so often. It requires a great deal of effort not only to return to the breath but to stay there.

Unfortunately, I’ve also been making up a story about what this means for myself as a practitioner, including details about what I think has happened in the past and will happen in the future. I’m using my mindfulness practice as a criteria for self-judgement and applying labels of lazy and bad. This story only adds to the difficulty and the challenges posed by my present circumstances.

As an experienced practitioner, I know that motivating myself through shame and far is a very negative and unskillful way to be diligent in my practice. Instead, what I want to do is motivate myself positively and skilfully using confidence, faith, and patience. I want to get out of the story I’ve created in my mind about what a bad practitioner I am. I’m remembering a joke my dharma teacher said at a recent retreat: “I’m a little piece of shit and I’m the centre of the universe.” Its exactly that type of thinking that I would like to avoid.

The fact is, losing my breath or my present moment awareness has happened before. This is not the first time. All it means is that different conditions have arisen that do not support my mindfulness practice. And I’m able to see what some of these conditions are.

Therefore, I have been putting quite a bit of effort lately into restoring my mindfulness, my breath, and my present moment awareness. In my sitting practice especially, I have been trying so hard lately to be really interested in my breath. What’s breathing in? What’s it really like, not just my idea of what its like? What does it feel like? Where exactly do I feel it in my whole body?

I’m also reminded continually of some meditation instructions given to my by a recent dharma teacher on retreat: “Be present for this moment. Not regretting how much you weren’t present in a past moment, or plans for how much you will be present in this moment, but completely present, right here, right now.” When I heard my teacher say this, I thought to myself, “Oh my gosh! She’s reading my mind! How did she know that those are the exact thoughts going through my mind when I am practicing mindfulness!”  Her instructions are a helpful reminder to just be in the present moment without the added stories I contribute.

But I know that I’ll regain my present moment awareness, and I will reconnect with my breath and my body. I know I will because I have absolute faith in the three jewels. I know that when I sit on my cushion and I return to my breath and my body, centered in my safe island of mindfulness, that I am home. I have felt that feeling of groundedness and at-home-ness enough times that it has become internalized.

These past few weeks have offered a few conditions that aren’t supportive of my mindfulness practice, and I’ve noticed my breath and my present moment awareness is not as strong as it has been previously. Nevertheless, I am continuing to practice in order to cultivate and restore my awareness, but I need to remind myself to do it skillfully without shame and fear.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go practice sitting meditation!

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: 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

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.

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

Wilderness Dharma: Living in Harmony With the Seasons April 19, 2013

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Here is another post to follow up my last post on seasonal food that is also on the theme of living in harmony with the seasons. In many ways, I live in direct contact with the living world, and by extension the changing seasons. I have had the opportunity to notice how the seasons influence me. I notice both the teachings of dualism, and—somewhat contradictory, perhaps—of dualism, as well as the teaching of impermanence. I can also recognize the seasons of my life as part of the greater rhythms of the living world of which I am a part.

Because I have such a strong need to be outdoors and spend so much of my time in the living world, my personal circumstances are directly affected by the seasons. The time of year determines how I get around because I lack a vehicle, whether this is walking, biking, or taking the bus. My leisure activities are determined by the seasons when it affects whether I’m able to be biking, canoeing, camping, fishing, and picking berries, or whether I can be skating, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing. Finally, how I stay active depends on the type of year, or if I’m able to be running, biking, walking, or practicing yoga. As a result of my personal circumstances affected directly by changes in seasons, I have had opportunity to notice my reactions to changes in these natural rhythms.

When living closely with the seasons, I see the lesson of dualism: this is because that is. There is summer because there is winter. We define something in terms of its opposite. We know what summer is because we contrast it with winter. And I will love summer because I don’t love winter, or rather, the more I love summer, the more I hate winter.

However, I think that getting attached to one or another season can be problematic when we base our happiness on external conditions. In fact, buying a plane ticket to “escape” winter for two weeks in the Caribbean would make me hate winter to a more extreme! I would hate winter before I leave when I daydream and crave the warm tropical weather I expect to go to in the future. While I am there, because I just dropped hundreds of dollars just to be there, I would make darned sure I really enjoy the conditions: the exhausting heat and the hot blistering sun. I would hate winter when I got back when I would contrast my past memories of the paradise I was just at with being at home.

The trick is to love every season, or to at least love something or some aspects of every season. At any time of year, I can enjoy the lush green vitality of summer, the beautiful fall colours, gorgeous winter hoarfrost, or baby calves born in the spring.

Another dharma teaching I’ve noticed clearly in the seasons is nondualism. Nondualism states that we can’t draw a clear line to separate two objects or concepts when in fact they are both one. Both objects we try to label as separate are just two parts of a bigger whole, so “summer” and “winter” are two words used to describe the whole, which is “seasons.”

I notice nondualism in the changing seasons when I see that there isn’t a clear way to draw a line between the two seasons. It\s not the case that one day I wake up and one season is completely over, and the other season is completely here. They blend and blur into each other. Moving to another season isn’t like the way I would pull a new page open on a calendar to move from one month to the next.

Which leads me to my next observation, that living directly with the seasons teaches me the dharma teaching of impermanence. The seasons are always impermanent, changing, shifting, moving from one into the other. Each new day of one season is one step away from the past season, and one step closer to the next. We can never capture one season completely by stopping time, but instead they are always in constant flux. Also, when one season ends when we move into the next season, that past season isn’t permanently over. It will be back next year as the rhythms and cycles of the living world continue.

I also can apply my experience of the seasons to my own personal circumstances when I recognize the “seasons of my life.” I see that my personal circumstances and the situations in which I find myself are constantly and continually shifting, moving, and fluctuating. Over the few decades I’ve been alive, I’ve moved through the stages of “good” and “bad” of happiness and depression, of sickness and health, of success and failure, of doubt and faith, and of light and darkness. What’s more, I know that if I live long enough I will see the movement of this human life through more seasons of birth and death, of youth and old age, and of maturing and decaying.

I am able to see more and more each day Thay’s teaching that my joy and pain are one. I only know one side of these shifting seasons when I have already experienced the other. As just an example, I can only truly appreciate my health when I have directly experienced sickness. This gives me more confidence and encouragement to work with my suffering, to embrace it in order to transform it and be healed.

Living in direct contact with the living world allows me to notice very clearly and vividly both the teachings of dualism and nondualism, as well as the teaching of impermanence. I have also been able to notice the teachings of our Earth in my own personal circumstances of this human life when I reflect on the changing “seasons” I’ve lived. Hopefully by being able to accept the changing seasons of the living world as just the way things are, I can accept the changing seasons of my human life as gracefully and humbly.

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.

Quote: Living in the Present Moment March 15, 2013

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The measuring of worth and success in terms of time, and the insistent demand for assurances of a promising future, make it impossible to live freely both in the present and in the ‘promising’ future when it arrives.  For there is never anything but the present, and if one cannot live there, one cannot live anywhere.

– Alan Watts, in The Way of Zen

Wilderness Dharma: The Weather as My Teacher March 8, 2013

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The weather is one of the best teachers I have for showing me the dharma, the true nature of reality. Weather is an excellent teacher for me personally because I spend so much time outdoors and come into direct contact with the elements. Here are some of the ways I have realized the meaning behind the dharma while experiencing the weather. The weather teaches me that conditions I experience are unpredictable ,impermanent, happening in the present moment, and without a solid reality. I also learn from the weather how to be grateful for what I do have, and how to recognize what’s here while it is manifesting.

The weather teaches me how to experience the present moment. The weather is completely, 100% absolutely unpredictable. Sure, a forecaster can say with some percentage of certainty what conditions might be like, but she can never know for sure. There are too many unknown causes and conditions.

Exactly like all of the conditions I experience are unpredictable. All I can say with absolute certainty is what is happening this instant. As soon as I leave the razor’s edge of this moment, I am in unknown territory.

So there is no security in any forecast or prediction into any part of the future. There is no security, no solid ground on which to stand. All I have to do is learn to swim in the river.

Weather teaches me impermanence. Just because conditions are a certain way right now doesn’t mean they cant change in an instant. Patterns are always shifting, systems are always moving, and different conditions are all interacting with each other in unknown ways.

Impermanence is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned when current circumstances aren’t going the way I would like. The message would be summed up as: Wait it out. Just wait, wait a second, wait a minute, wait as long as I need until its bearable. Sometimes the waiting is longer than I’d like, and compassion is key here.

Knowing that impermanence exists allows me to try to patiently bear the storm. I remind myself nothing lasts forever, no conditions last, however unbearable they may be.

An experience I’ve had over and over again, enough that the message is starting to really sink in, is a beautiful bright morning after a long dark night of struggling with my own challenges. So many times now I have walked outside, marvelled at the fresh, clear, blue morning sky, and said out loud: “And the day will dawn clear and bright.” Oh right, now I remember.

The weather teaches me how to savour wonderful conditions when they are present. As the song goes, the sun can’t shine every day. Knowing that weather includes the possibility for storms and clouds means I can recognize what’s enjoyable and appreciate it. I try to recognize the presence of good conditions because I know they’ll eventually fade.

This also makes many weather conditions more enjoyable because I try to see how even the “bad” conditions have some positives: the sound of spruce trees breathing during a windy day; the glint of sunshine on wet grass; the peaceful quiet of snow falling; or even an excuse to stay inside, feeling safe and warm during a terrible storm.

In my own personal circumstances I try to apply the same approach by recognizing as many nourishing conditions as I can. I know that all conditions I ever encounter will eventually fade: My health, a good meal, an inviting, safe home, the company of wonderful friends.

The weather teaches me gratitude. Even in less than ideal conditions, I can catch myself asking the question, “Why the heck do I live here? Its so _____ (cold, hot, windy, dry, etc.), its not even meant for human habitation.”

Aaah, but there it is: a lack of appreciation for where I live. I live in Canada, a place for which an endless amount of my fellow global citizens would risk their lives in an instant to trade places with me.

I’d like to quote my father here for one of his lessons: “We don’t have to live here, ya know? No one’s holding a gun to our head.” (His way of saying I’m not being forced to do anything against my will). Thanks for the reminder that of all of the places in the world and in the country to live, I made a conscious and voluntary decision to live where I am now. And for good reasons, so its great to remember those reasons.

The weather teaches me not to make real passing conditions, or not to give patterns and fluctuating rhythms a solid reality.  Sure, its raining or hailing or blowing wind right now, but that doesn’t mean these conditions have any lasting permanent reality. There isn’t a “wind” essence that’s suddenly appeared and will stay forever to characterize the air. Its just the wind blowing itself. The rain is just the rain raining itself.

It offers me an example for my own internal weather that I need not take any passing inner states as real, or as solid and permanent. According to the teachings, these states are just arising in response to various conditions and will eventually pass. I remind myself I am not my thoughts, my feelings, my sensations. The thoughts are just thinking themselves.

To paraphrase Pema Chodron, I am the sky. Everything else is just the weather. I try to relax and sit back and watch it all happen without trying to make up a story about who “I” am.

These are some of the ways I have seen the Buddha’s teachings expressed perfectly in the weather. As someone who spends time in direct contact with the elements in the living world that are clear, concrete reality, I have learned in a more profound way how conditions are impermanent, unpredictable, and without a “self”. Gratitude and savoring the present moment are also excellent lessons I’ve received from the weather. Because I won’t be spending any less time outdoors as I am used to, I expect many more wonderful and hard-earned lessons are to come.

Leaving Facebook to be More Loving February 22, 2013

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After years of dedicated use, I recently got rid of my facebook account because I noticed that it was negatively affecting my relationships. Being off of facebook means I am more able to pay attention and offer my true presence to someone. And offering my attention is a form of love.

A few months ago, in the midst of a big transition of a new job and new place, I got off of facebook. For good. It was a decision I had been considering for some time, because I could see many advantages and disadvantages of my account.

Facebook was great to have for keeping in touch with friends and relatives, especially while I was living so far from home. In fact, I told myself that the only reason I kept it was to message my relatives who lived so far away, and who I only saw once per few years at best.

The disadvantages were numerous as well, and I’ll only talk about a few of them. A big disadvantage was that it was a huge source of distraction. At any time while logged in, I was likely to go off on what I call an “online tangent,” or clicking on one link after another for large amounts of time, despite alternative intentions.

Another disadvantage was that while I did have access to people’s accounts, my attention was dispersed when I tried to interact with multiple people at once.

And a final disadvantage was I ended up focusing on quantity over quality of friends. I had so many “friends” on my account, but most of them were not my true friends because I didn’t really care about them all that much.

I got off facebook in order to exchange one form of communication for another. Facebook is not the only way to communicate with the people I love—just as my prairie grandmothers! (Another form of communication I prefer is phoning, when I can actually interact with a live person in a give-and-take conversation and hear their voice.)

I wanted a more real form of communication: to be in the real presence of a person, to see a living, breathing human being in front of me. Real communication is more loving because I am able to pay attention to the person. In fact, when you get right down to it, attention is love: (to quote Karen Maezen Miller) what we pay attention to grows and thrives, while what we neglect withers and dies.

Thay teaches that the most loving thing we can do for another person is to be able to say, “I am here with you,” (no, you don’t actually have to say it out loud!). We have to be completely with someone in the present moment, body mind and heart.

Attention is related to meditation because meditation is the practice of cultivating the ability to pay attention. The less time I spend on facebook, the less distracted I ams, the stronger my ability to attend, and therefore the move loving I become.

So I decided to trade up numerous micro-instances of internet attention for rare periods of intense attention in the real presence of someone.

I think by being off facebook altogether, I am not only encouraging love to grow in others, but I am able to receive love more from my friends and family. If being with me in person is the only or best way someone is able to get in touch with me, then they are going to make sure to pay attention to me while they have the chance. Also, my facebook absence means that I can attract my true friends, thus gaining “quality over quantity.” My true friends want to be with me and will be willing to take the time to meet with me in person.

It was a difficult decision to make, but getting off facebook was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I have no regrets! I find that I can be a more loving person when I am able to devote all of my attention to someone when I am really with them. Being able to give my full attention in the present moment is, I believe, one of the most loving things I can do.