Dead Eye

Went for a hike with a friend who has a shit storm following him. He vows to read no sad books, see no sad movies. There's plenty enough death, disease and distress in his life as it is. Why add? Yet, he listens to my tale of woe. Sympathizes. 

I tell him I like hawks. We look for them and he finds it interesting since his father was a bird expert and he misses his father. He thinks it a coincidence. Or not.

And so we look for hawks and talk about their perspective. We talk about boundaries. He has set boundaries firmly in place and I admire that. They make sense. All very logical. Where are my boundaries? Meditation provides connections but I'm afraid it's no help at all for setting up roadblocks or caution signs or borderlines. Everything becomes connected and lines of demarcation blur then disappear altogether.

He points out a hawk flying overhead. I look and look and look, but I don't see it. 

I tell him I'll send him the Jack Gilbert poem I love best, "A Brief for the Defense." He says he won't read it if it's sad. I say it is sad, but it 's important. It's about how we must risk delight in spite of it all.

We finish our hike and I walk him to his car. He shows me a plastic hawk he's bought to thwart off the robin that's left layers of bird droppings all over the hood and bumper of his station wagon. It's a sad replica of an imperial bird. There's none of the majesty you feel when you see the enormity of the real thing, the way it makes you gasp and feel as if somehow something that is this terrible and this powerful makes something worthwhile even if you don't know what that something is.

I send him the poem even though I know he won't read it and even though his car is covered in bird shit and the plastic hawk has dead vacuous eyes forever void of delight.

 

 

Dumb secrets

There are secrets and there are dumb secrets. Dumb secrets are those bits of information that are hidden because the only potential holder of the secret does not want to know. The sort of people who don't want to know are called husbands. A man can only carry so many subjects in his head at one time. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It does not occur to my husband to worry about the very thing that distracts me from my work. He has access to the information and chooses not to access. The result is that there is information being withheld from me and the not knowing sucks up all my attention and diminishes my focus. My husband, in the meantime, gets his work done. So, my choice is to ask my husband for information which will require him to think about something he does not want to think about or to make peace with the fact that whether or not I know does not change the status of the information. The facts are the facts whether or not I am aware of them.

Today's meditation was dedicated to letting go of the need to know. What has happened has happened whether or not I am aware of the results

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Access

Meditation Sticker When I sat in Lee's living room and she taught me what she knows about meditation, she insisted I not call her my teacher. She once scolded me, as only a former  high school English teacher could, for referring to her as a guru.

I used to say: Everything I know about meditation I learned from Lee.  But now I see why this is not true. Every time I sit down to meditate, it is a new meditation and new chance to find stillness, to find the way to my center. No one can really teach such a thing because it is within each of us to find our own way. But those of us who have cultivated a habit of sitting in stillness every day can encourage others that they too are able to do the same. It is not magic. It is not mysterious or esoteric or only available to those who  have scaled the mountain and sat cross-legged for day upon uncomfortable day with the guru. It is available to everyone and it is available to you.

Distractions

Sometimes meditation is about focus and sometimes it is about accepting that my life is mostly a series of distractions and sometimes distractions are  meaningful.weapons-of-mass-distraction My mother has lived long. This week, her health challenges have been more dramatic than she'd like and I have stepped up to help. This makes her angry. I understand.

My first husband, Barry, died at a young age and in the aftermath, my three young children were often preoccupied with taking care of me: fetching soup, finding me a new husband. This was an alarming and unnatural role reversal. So I recognize the place my mother comes from when she shakes her finger and sternly warns me: "I take care of you. You don't take care of me. " "Yes mama," I say, but I don't mean it.

The words parent and mother have been verbed up. These words started out as nouns, crossed the bridge into verb country, and now comfortably reside in both places. But the words child and daughter live only in noun land. Parenting advice is plentiful; childing advice, not so much. When I was a child, it was easy to figure out my role. As a grown-up child, I need to tread carefully.

It is awkward to mother my mother.  It does not feel right. It is uncomfortable and discomfort distracts.

Mirror Images

Synchronicity is the flipped around backwards mirror image of déjà vu. With déjà vu, you have a familiar experience that seems to have happened before. With synchronicity, a person you haven’t seen in ages pops into your thoughts and a moment later this very same person telephones you or you run into her at the park or in the grocery store. I used to call this sort of thing coincidence, but since I began my meditation practice about a year and a half ago, I call it synchronicity. This is a powerful concept that can be delightful and entertaining, as in the time my husband Joe mentioned his old college buddy as we walked by the Russian Tea Room. We were visiting New York City and the memory inspired Joe to call up his old friend only to learn that his friend was also visiting New York City and had lunch that very day at the Russian Tea Room.

But synchronicity can also be disturbing and it can lead to more questions than answers. When there are no coincidences, meaning resonates everywhere and sometimes that echo can be deafening. The most mundane patterns are disturbing.  I have an unfortunate habit of turning in too sharply when I pull into my garage and denting the front bumper of my car.  I wonder: does this mean something more than the fact that I have some peripheral vision issues and I'm in too much of a hurry too much of the time?

Meditation leads to questions. Many have no answers, but some lead to discovery. I celebrate the underlying and inexplicable connections between what goes on inside my head and what goes on in the concrete outside world even when it all looks upside down and backwards.

The Synchronicity of Catastrophe

This is how it goes if you're my son Adam. It's the weekend and you play in a softball game. You're with your girlfriend and you both have a great time. The two of you walk home from the game along the lake path thinking about the plans you have for the rest of the day - lunch, a shopping trip. You happen to look up across the highway and see a man fly off of his motorcycle and land on the highway. There's no one else around and you dash towards him, scale the separation barrier and boost your girlfriend over as well. The man wasn't wearing a helmet and his arm is dislocated from his shoulder. You stop the traffic, try to drag the motorcycle out of the way. It's hard to budge. You give the man water and call 911. The man is in shock.He doesn't know what happened. You finally drag the motorcycle from the middle of the highway to the side. The police come. They tell you he was lucky you happened to be there. No one takes your name. Disasters and catastrophes wait for Adam to arrive. He can make the decision to come to someone's rescue faster than I can say Gesundheit after someone sneezes. He's rescued strangers and friends and family members. He seems to be getting used to it.

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Is there any way I can help?

After Barry died, there was nothing that torqued me off more than the kind of question that made me work harder than the person who wanted to help me. Some people were demanding. Tell me what you need. I want to help! This was no help. I'd wrack my brain. Do my laundry? Clean up the dog poop in my back yard? Sure, I was more hostile than your average widow, but I vowed I'd never ask the question of someone drowning in a tsunami of grief and so far I've kept my promise. I was surprised when Murray's widow, Sheryl, took me up on an offer to teach her to meditate. We were having lunch in the aptly named town of Chagrin Falls and afterwards took a walk. She'd been suffering from a headache all day and popped a couple of Advils. Nothing seemed to help.

In the village of Chagrin Falls, Ohio

We walked past the little shops and along the trail that winds between the River and the playground. We sat at a quiet picnic table and Sheryl said she'd like to take me up on my offer to show her how to meditate. It's something she'd tried before. The few minutes in shavasana at the end of a yoga class were excruciating for her, but nevertheless, she was willing to give it a try.

I promised we wouldn't go over 5 minutes of silence. I showed her the diaphragmatic breathing and talked us through a head to toe total body relaxation. I explained the concept (just like my teacher, Lee, did for me) of how to be kind to yourself, to encourage yourself as you would a small child. That's okay. You're going to get it. Try again. I explained that a mantra was a tool to coax your thoughts from your head to your heart, to help bring the light from your third eye to the cavern we imagined in our chest.

We sat in our quiet surrounded by the whisper and the rush of the Chagrin River. I was careful not to go over 5 minutes. Sheryl's headache was gone.

 

Reprieve

My friend Murray, a generous, gentle spirit, light of heart and full of heart. At least that's what I thought. He liked me to recommend books for him even though it made him nervous because I'd always recommend something edgy. The last book I recommended was Bonnie Nazdam's Lamb, a compelling and complex story with a protagonist on shaky moral ground. Murray told me he was disturbed at the sympathy he mustered for David Lamb, a middle-aged man who convinces an awkward girl to road trip with him. I know, I'd told Murray. Isn't that cool? He laughed his easy laugh, the one that always made me laugh and always made me love him.

Murray was a friend I took completely for granted. I'd see him mostly when I ran into him unexpectedly or when we were at each other's family celebrations. The last time I saw him, he came to an open house to meet my baby granddaughter. It was one of those gatherings where the host never gets to speak to any one person for more than a few minutes. I don't even remember talking to Murray, but I remember thinking he looked good, lost that extra bit of weight he was always trying to shed. I don't think he said goodbye to me.

After his funeral, my life resumed. I ran errands, attended meetings, took the dog to the vet. And I looked for that pause in my day when I coax my mind and my heart to be on reprieve.

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Synch and You Shall Find

The other day, I was traveling with my son, Jesse. We had just landed at the Ft. Lauderdale airport and it was March 14, the day his father had celebrated as a re-birthday in honor of the bone marrow transplant he had received. For many years after Barry died, we delivered cookies to the oncology floor on March 14 for the nurses to distribute to children who had parents on the floor. Jesse had mentioned it was Pi Day and that's when I reminded him of Barry's re-birthday. Jesse was only 7 when his father died and lots of memories slip through to wherever memories go when they slip through, so he was surprised to hear this story. He smiled and pointed. I looked up to see only the chest of a man wearing a tee shirt that looked like this:

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The recap

I honest to God don’t know. Can one say what one is? How does one define one’s own sense of being alive? I think it is this hum, or buzz, blah blah blah blah blah blah, that keeps on talking inside one’s head. A stream of babble. The inner voice that never, never, never shuts up. Never. What is it saying? One can’t listen; if one listened, it would be, I think, the moment just before death. Cynthia Ozick from an interview in The Paris Review.

photo-5A year of meditating, for the most part. I can't help myself: I look for accomplishment and what it's all meant. I give myself a good talking to. If you're looking to accomplish something, Lori, you're not really meditating. Life isn't easy, but meditation is simple.

Here's the recap of my first year of meditating:

February 18, 2012 Soon after moving into her new house, Lee (the woman who taught me to meditate) found a telephone propped on a couple of phone books sitting in the middle of the attic. Wedged between the two phone books, was an old journal. The first page of the journal said:  “The most important thing any person can do is meditate.”

And so, my journey begins.

February 25, 2012 Thoughts creep. Lee says that meditation lets you be more aware of the synchronicities of life. I wonder if I am afraid to be even more aware than I already am. Ever since Barry, my first husband, died, I have been suspect of coincidence and accident. I certainly don’t believe that everything happens for a reason. Stupid crap happens. But I see connections and gaps where most people do not. This is never particularly convenient.

March 1, 2012 Lee told me that the stillness allows one to see others more clearly because one sees oneself more clearly. I await clarity. I look at myself and see the same person I have always seen. That person who struggles and lacks the ability to live up to her own standards, as a writer, as a friend, as a carnivore without much of a food conscience. But, I have been successful at preserving twenty minutes each day (oops, yesterday was only ten) and trying my best to halt thoughts.

March 2, 2012 I told Lee about the wonderful night’s sleep I had after the first time I meditated.  The restful sleep has not returned and I’m disappointed about that. Beginners’ luck? Lee told me the first time she ever went bowling, she scored 175. That was her all time high and was before she understood how difficult it was for a woman to bowl a 175. What can we accomplish when we are not dictated to by our failures?

March 3, 2012 I have clumsinesses. There are awkward untoward comments that replay in my mind over and over. There are dropped coffee cups and broken glasses, and once there was a dumped  pan of lasagna at a dinner party. There are forgotten birthdays, sympathy cards unsent, sarcastic emails mistakenly dispatched to a stepson’s teacher.

I had an expectation that meditation would make me more gracious.  A person who didn’t do so many boneheaded things.  It would make me aware of stuff going on around me that I’d never quite tuned into before, things that other people seemed to manage so effortlessly. Meditation would clear my mind and I would be able to slow down my words and my actions.

I am meditating and I am still me.

March 6, 2012 I have much to think about, but I need to think about nothing.

March 20, 2012 Last week, Lee told me a story of a seeker who set out with a shaman. They walked for many miles in a desert surrounded by mountains. The shaman had the seeker carry a card table. In the middle of the desert, the seeker set up the card table and put certain objects on the table, objects that represented his life. The two walked out of the desert and stood on the mountain. The shaman asked the seeker to look for the table. The seeker could no longer see the table, but he knew it was there, somewhere in the middle of the desert. The next task was to retrieve the table.

March 21, 2012 Because I’m a writer, and have always had a dramatic flair for a story, I very much relate to something Lee explained to me about the difference selves within each of us.  There are three parts to me:  me the actor, me the narrator, me the witness.  The actor is the person who goes about the daily business of life, doing the things I do and even thinking the thoughts.  But the narrator in me is the person who judges (and harshly, I might add) everything I do and don’t accomplish.  She provides the running commentary in my head.  The witness is someone I’ve only recently become acquainted with.  The witness is the  the calm, non-reactive meditant who only appears for twenty minutes a day and to give her those twenty minutes is the actor’s duty. Sat, chit, ananda.

March 23, 2012 Yet to accomplish nothing is to accomplish everything.

March 31, 2012 If I counted the number of people I’ve pissed off or let down today, I would need to use two hands.

April 4, 2012 Oh! Dried egg and flax seed on unwashed breakfast dishes. This annoyed me and I’d hoped today’s meditation today would wring that twisty angry feeling out of my insides.  But the act of meditation is not one that takes kindly to commands.  Not to mention that the perpetrator of the icky dishes decided to work at home today and was talking on the phone to a client (loudly) the entire time I was trying to meditate.  What would the Dalai Lama do in a case like this?  Oh yeah, the DL isn’t married.

April 12, 2012 It’s difficult to say anything that would shock Roxanne, but when I told her meditation was a practice where the goal was to have no goals, she couldn’t believe it.  ”Not even to make you more aware?”  Nope, not even that.

May 14, 2012 At the top of my swing there’s a millisecond where the club head is at a dead halt before gravity takes over and the club swings down toward the ball.  It’s an inexplicable pause, a natural timing device that sets up the tempo of my swing.  Blank time. This unstructured time is what the other players notice and admire.  ”What are you thinking about when the club is up there?” they ask.  I can’t answer. I don’t know.  My mind is somewhere, but in a place I can’t identify. It’s an inexplicable pause, a little rift of time. That’s some sacred stuff.

May 30, 2012 Yesterday, I awoke from a thumping and pounding on top of my roof. I mean loud thumps and pounds, as if a guy with a hammer was up there, banging away. Then, thwoosh. Outside of the bathroom window, a gigantic set of wings, brown and black striped, rush by over and over again. Then, I see the wings glide past the high window over my bed.

A hawk has taken up residence very close to my home, probably on top of it. This is a big bird, a beautiful bird, but a large animal. My first thought is that I want it gone. I have a little dog, I have a head. Every time I go outside, I see this bird and it sees me. We stare at each other and the hawk is much less perturbed than I. He knows where he belongs.

June 14, 2012 I talk about a lot of things with my friend Roxanne. I was friends with her before she became a doctor and I’m friends with her still. She listens more than she talks.

A couple of weeks ago we sat together in the hospital room of a very sick friend. She was mostly there to support me. Our friend was sick, really sick, and I was nervous about seeing him. We talked, the three of us, about the things we cannot control and how the simplest things might be overwhelming and insurmountable.

Roxanne said the only thing to do was to breathe. She said: I say the serenity prayer all the time. All the time. And it helps. She said: Lori writes a blog on meditation.

I do. I told them that even though the blog is about meditation, I write about a lot of things because meditation is about everything.

Roxanne asked me what I meant by that and I really couldn’t answer. I do know that meditation, like breathing, makes everything else possible.  It connects my breath with my life with my goals with my passions with my anxieties.

We sat there for a long while, the three of us, breathing.

July 31, 2012 The whole process takes me twenty minutes. I use the first five minutes to breathe and relax my body, then I spend fifteen minutes encouraging myself to meditate. I say I encourage myself to meditate because even though I have been steadily sitting down in this practice for at least three or four times a week for the past five months, I still think that one day I’ll figure out how to do this thing right. That belief is not rational. No matter.   still wonder:  Do I meditate?  I’m not sure.

September 21, 2013 I’ve never been one to believe that everything happens for a reason. Stupid things happen and stupid things happen often. I try to figure out how to derive meaning from the meaningless; sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t.

But ever since I began to meditate, I do detect a thrum beneath the surface of my everyday life. There are connections between things that should, by all logic, be disconnected. I don’t believe everything happens for a reason, but I do believe in synchronicity, not coincidence. When I’m most in need of a new perspective, the hawk flies across my path. One flew right in front of my car the other day, its wings just about grazing my windshield.

What’s going on out there is connected to what’s going on in here. Whatever it is, it’s pretty wonderful.

October 10, 2013 Meditatus Interruptus. Sometimes it goes like this: sit in my chair. Five or six diaphragmatic breaths. Imagine a light shining out from behind my eyes, my sinus cavity, my ears, my mouth. Relax my jaw, my neck, my shoulders and arms and hands, my chest, stomach, spine, both legs, and feet. Hear my mantra in my head and start to bring thoughts to my heart. See the light that is between my eyes and start to imagine that flowing down to my heart.  Hear the phone ring. Take the call. Sit down again in my chair. Three diaphragmatic breaths, a quick body scan to re-relax, search for the light between my eyes. Remember the mantra. Back in. Dog barks. Dog continues to bark. Convince myself that outside noises can happen and I can still stay inside my meditation. Supreme concentration on bringing the light towards my heart. The dog barks. The door, next to my chair, that opens to the outside rattles.  I open my eyes. A repairman is standing at the door and looking at me. I think he is more startled than I am. He apologizes for disturbing me and I let him in. I move to another room. I sit down on the couch. I take one breath, see the light that is my third eye, find my mantra, and sit. The dog barks. I sit.

October 20, 2013 From a meditator‘s perspective: thoughts don’t pop into one’s head for no reason.

October 24, 2013 I confess. Something about meditation disappoints me. Eight months ago, when I first started to meditate, I was thrilled to experience burst after burst of awareness, change, revelation.  Trippy. Synapses were firing and connecting all over the place. Clarity was mine. No way in the world I would ever give up this process that unmuddled the muddle of my mind.

I’m still a believer. Meditation is a powerful tool. It has changed the way I look at the world and it has changed the way I look at myself. But, there have been no lightning bolt moments for many months. My meditation and I have settled into a comfortable relationship. I sit for twenty minutes daily and I find a level of contentment and satisfaction that inexplicably encourages me to try new things and be open to possibility.

October 27, 2013 Gentle Failures. I repeat my mantra in my head. Over and over, Who Am I, Who Am I. But the thoughts in my head cycle around the mantra and pay it no attention. The thoughts form a new mantra. Fail gently, fail gently. I like the way the words sound; I am drawn to them. Gentle failures, fail gently. It goes round like that and I push the words out, but back they come, again and again.

November 10, 2013 As Lee likes to say, she has been doing this for forty years, but every time she sits down to meditate, it is a new beginning. The beginning, or as I like to call it pre-failure, is the place of perfection.

December 25, 2013 Rainbow within, The beauty is in the blur.

January 27, 2013 I often wonder, do I really meditate? I never wonder, do I really levitate? If I did, I'd know. Floating up in the air, defying gravity with my mind: that there, boys and girls, would be a definitive answer.