Just Surrender…

This week I’ve been listening to Wayne Dyer’s new book, “I Can See Clearly Now.” I especially like the format he used, beginning each chapter with a memorable experience and then ending each chapter explaining how at 70 years old, he clearly sees how the experience shifted his perception, or guided him toward his life’s purpose.

I also got to see and hear an author in person this week. Breathe Bookstore Cafe hosted Judith Orloff Judith Orloff at the very beautiful St Luke’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hampden. IMG_1848

 

Like the authors, I believe in synchronicity and signs rather than coincidences. So, when Judith shared her story about letting go of her physical stuff to go write her latest book, on the same day I heard Wayne describe how he gave up his physical stuff to go write a book, I knew there was a profound message for me to hear.

I started thinking about why I so desperately want an early out. There are so many reasons why waiting until 2016 to retire is good for me. But an early out would give me a separation bonus, and a separation bonus is just what I need to move all my stuff to Asheville. Wayne and Judith had to surrender and release all of their stuff to break free of the burdens that were keeping them stuck. And I remember now that I did the same exact thing, for the same exact reason, in 2003.

To prepare for Peace Corps Service I had to let go of what was holding me back and stopping me from fulfilling my dream. I had to surrender to a higher calling and I remember just how freeing that surrender was for me. There was no doubt in my mind that it was time to get rid of treasures – clothes, books, jewelry, furniture – so I could manifest true treasure in my life.

beauty of letting goThere are times – very few but some – when I think about something I used to own. I’ll think to myself, “oh I wish I still had that!” And then just as quickly I’ll think, “I’m so glad I let that go so I could have so much more – my Peace Corps experience!” I really don’t miss anything I sold, gave away, or donated.

What occurs to me now is that I’ve recreated a life where stuff is weighing me down. It’s not the same kind of stuff – but really, stuff is stuff. It’s interesting that I believed I couldn’t move to Asheville unless a financial miracle occurred that allowed me to take all of that stuff with me, when I already know that when I follow my heart, I need do nothing more than surrender, and follow the inner guidance that always takes me to exactly where I’m supposed to be.

IMG_1832Recently I’ve thought a lot about selling my dining room table and chairs. I’m sure I’ll do it when I’m ready to place the ad. The funny thing is, I know now that my inner voice was already telling me what Judith and Wayne were reminding me and that is, I don’t need an early out or a financial miracle to move to Asheville or anywhere else. I just need to surrender….and be prepared to let go of what no longer serves me, and allow a life of grace and service. Let go and listen. Trust. And watch for signs along the way.

Speaking of signs…

When the inside handle of my car door IMG_1845broke off early this week, I knew I needed to get it fixed right away. To be honest, I did not want to spend money on my car. But without that handle, I was trapped inside. Yes, I could roll down the window and open the door from the outside – I always know a way out – but I like my life easy – I knew I had to cough up the cash and get it fixed.

There is a body shop no more than a block from my house. I was never quite sure if it was open for business or was abandoned. I looked it up and sure enough it was open for business and after a few emails I was told the car would be fixed for $118. I made the appointment for Friday and thought of all the things I was grateful for – the problem itself being small, the convenience of getting the car fixed, the finances to pay for the fix, the fix – parts and labor, being affordable, a great car that gets me where I need to be, and last but not least, a work schedule that allows me to work at home on Friday so I could easily drop the car off and pick it up with no inconvenience at all.

I dropped the car off and when I walked over to pick it up I noticed a sign in the body shop window that made me stop and pay attention… 0-BLOG Service AndersonsI gave thanks to the Universe for providing this little jewel of a business right here in my own neighborhood. I thought about how service is the heart of my business – Spa de la Paz – and how service in many different forms, is the heart of my being.

When I walked inside to pick up the key, Sue gave me the credit card slip to sign. She told me that Joe said it was so quick and easy to fix, that he couldn’t charge me for labor. My bill was only $50! I just looked at her as my eyes watered up a little and said, “Wow Sue! This place really does have service at the heart of it’s business!

My heart may have already been open, but that experience opened it even more. When I walked outside, my mail carrier was there and we chatted for a few minutes before hugging one another goodbye. We’ve seen each other so many times and never hugged. This was spontaneous joy – a meeting of hearts. I got in my car and drove home feeling so incredibly blessed and realizing that I really don’t need to move anywhere, if I surrender to my heart right where I am, I find myself in perfect bliss.

 

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Yes I love the Rainy Nights – and Days Too it’s TRUE!

IMG_1826Yesterday was perfectly lovely! And with all the things I could do, I ended up going over to the Paper Moon Diner for blueberry pancakes and spending most of the day snuggled up with my boys in front of the TV. It was sweet indulgence!

This morning it’s still raining and as I sit at my desk IMG_1840  I hear the sound of soft rain falling on the roof of the balcony. I think Jaxson has made his way back to bed, Paz found a cozy spot in the pillows on the futon, and I’m sipping my favorite Red Velvet Black tea (from David’s Tea in Canada) with cream and honey. Just being here is truly delightful!

I bought myself a honey pot photo 1 and it’s really sweet (pun intended!). I filled it full of Really Raw Honey and while I love the glass dipper with a bee on it, I still use my teak dipper. Sometimes my functional art is not as functional as I’d like it to be and the glass dipper is not only very large (and therefore provides too much honey) but I also have to take care not to drop tea or water back into the pot.

IMG_1839 This weekend I’ve returned to my Sadhana practice of morning meditation with oracle reading and journaling. When I make this a daily practice my life feels magical; calm, relaxed, confident, balanced, joy full, and radiating love. It really is amazing. So if I know it makes me feel that way, why do I stop? Because it sometimes becomes a struggle to get up at 0400 to have time for a spiritual practice before caring for the boys, preparing for work, and making the 25-30 minutes commute. That said, I am always drawn to return and every time I do, I feel refreshed and grateful.

I tell myself that sadhana will be routine in my retirement years; when my work schedule is less rigid and the sadhana is actually part of the work. Just like daily walking, cooking more and eating out less, and participating in my community, my life will be different when I live a different lifestyle (i.e. after my federal career). I know better than to live in the realm of “some day,” and I also know better than to place guilt on myself for not doing enough or being enough. It’s all about balance, now and when I move to my next chapter. So for now, I enjoy the pleasure of the daily sadhana and I commit to mindful behaviors that support my 0400 wake up – winding down an hour before bed, going to bed early, eating properly, and getting daily exercise.

This morning I cooked a delightful Chick Pea & Lentil Stew. photo 2 Most people are familiar with musical mash ups – blending two or more songs together to create one. I often cook recipe mash ups and this morning I found a basic stew recipe in my Middle Eastern/North African cookbook and the perfect compliment of spices in one of my Ayurvedic Cookbooks. I also looked in the fridge to see what I might add – carrots, jalepeno, and cauliflower. Wow! I cooked the chickpeas yesterday and soaked the lentils last night. I don’t normally soak lentils. I added a can of fire roasted tomatoes since I didn’t have fresh tomatoes. The house smells so good that I’m not burning incense and several taste tests have promised a scrumptious rainy afternoon meal.

I’m fascinated by all the talk on FB about what a horrible winter it was. Too much snow…too cold…and now too much rain. I laugh because it’s been perfectly cozy to me! And because I know when everyone is tickled pink about the hot days of summer, I’ll be whining then like they are now; too hot, too humid, too sunny! With that in mind I’m leaving you with this…

ENJOY!!

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Pity or Compassion?

01bThis morning I was playing with Paz and twisted my neck. It hurts to sit at the computer. But I want to post today. So I decided to post something a little different – something I wrote 10 years ago that is very relevant to my thoughts and feelings right now.

I posted some photos on Facebook this week to honor my move to Botswana as a Peace Corps Volunteer ten years ago this month. 30I think the actual anniversary day is next week. Given my recent Metta retreat and my reflections on my Peace Corps Service, I decided to post the following email that I sent in October, 2004. I never think about compassion without also thinking of Maipelo. Of course some of you have read this before, but long ago. I hope you enjoy…

A few years ago I was scheduled to go to Kripalu for the East Meets East Yoga/Buddhism retreat.  I was going to North Carolina first to spend Thanksgiving on the beach and then to Kripalu.  However, on the drive down I began thinking about my Dad. Daddy80Daddy was in the hospital and I wasn’t sure if he would be coming home.

As I was thinking about Daddy it occurred to me how ironic it was that I was going to a spiritual retreat when spiritual work was right there waiting for me.  At that point I called Mom and told her I would be coming home right after the holiday.

While I believe that retreats are important for my well-being, I imagine I learned more in the 13 days I spent with Daddy and my family than I will learn in a lifetime of retreats.  I felt the same way spending 7 months with Mom.  And I am finding the same to be true here in Botswana.  Although I’ve recently realized that what I miss most about my life in the states are the retreats I used to go on; Omega workshops in New York, meditation and yoga retreats around DC, and international yoga retreats with Jane.  Burma 009I miss the discipline of meditation and yoga with a group.  I miss dedicating myself to a week or so of being with guides and teachers who so very generously share their own wisdom with me.  I really miss my teachers.

But this morning I realize (once again) that we are all teachers.  And I also realize (once again) that many of my most significant lessons are taught by those who are suffering, when I no longer fear the suffering.  Yesterday I met just such a teacher and this is what happened…

20 October 2004

Mma Ooke (my counterpart/boss) took me to meet her cousin, Maipelo Rampesu.  Maipelo is 34 years old.  She was diagnosed with tuberculosis just a few weeks ago.  She has also been diagnosed HIV+ and may very well have full blown AIDS.  She is weak, feels dizzy, and almost skeleton thin because she can’t digest the food she eats.

When we first walked into her bedroom I wondered how Maipelo felt about my being there; a white stranger looking down at her lying on her bed.  Her Mother and Father were there and most of the conversation was in Setswana which I didn’t understand.  Mma Ooke told Maipelo who I was.  They talked a little bit and then Mma shared with me that Maipelo had gone to the clinic to have her blood taken to test her CD4 count.  I don’t really remember what the CD4 count is.  I fumble along through this, the way I fumbled through Mom’s chemotherapy; at some point I could talk about platelet counts as well as any nurse.  I imagine in time I’ll know as much about CD4 counts.

Maipelo gave Mma Ooke her record from the clinic and motioned she wanted me to look at it as well.  The CD4 test results won’t be back for another two weeks. Until the clinic has the results, they won’t put Maipelo on ARV’s.  She is on no medication or under any special treatment for HIV.  However, she is taking medication for her TB.  At this point she is too weak to walk to the clinic to be seen by a nurse, although it is at most only a couple of kilometers away.  Her family doesn’t have a car.  I just heard that her Mother will walk to the clinic tomorrow to pick up her TB medication.

There is a can of Ensure near her bed, milk, fruit juice, & a jar of Vaseline.  I look around the room and notice the poverty.  Bed linens are old and torn.  They are not very clean.  The cement walls are barren.   Her mattress lies on the floor.  Her bedroom door opens to the outside but there is no air circulation.  There is a bug on the floor.  I look at Maipelo and notice how thin her face is.  I begin to feel pity for her.

I don’t like the feeling of pity.  Like so many feelings, I believe it comes from a place of fear.  I usually feel emotions in my body… and this time the pity was located in my solar plexus as a dull ache.  I felt tears welling in my eyes.  I thought to myself, “Be strong!  Maipelo doesn’t want my pity.  I can’t let her see what I am feeling.” So I began to think about what she might want me to feel.  I looked into her eyes and opened my heart and silently asked the question, “What do you want from me?”  And after a few moments I noticed that I was feeling enormous compassion.  Compassion!

With compassion the poverty disappeared.  I suddenly saw only a woman; frail, hot, sick.  What had been fearful (a sunken face) was now a beautiful face with an exquisite bone structure.  I began to notice a great deal of beauty in her… her left brown breast was exposed and I noticed the stretch marks left from giving life to her two children.  I thought of how those marks tell part of her story.  And then I noticed her slender arms and hands; her eyes.

I immediately thought, “I want to do something for Maipelo, but what?”  I can’t make her well.  I can’t save the world.  But I can create a moment.  And didn’t someone say that life is just a series of moments?

I thought about my new flavored lip balm from Shirley A.  It is a very nice Bath & Body Shop lip balm.  She sent me two flavors and I just love both.  I remembered I had a tube in my purse.  And I began to think how nice that lip balm would be for Maipelo.  And then I began a dialog in my head…

Damn!  It’s my favorite lip balm.  In fact, (I was thinking) I put three tubes of Chapstick in a drawer, only to use if no one sent the good stuff.  So there are three tubes of chapstick and a tube of the Bath & Body stuff at home – four tubes of lip balm plus the tube in my purse!… but should I really give this woman the tube in my purse?  And that was the thought that stopped my breath and my thinking.

I decided to just breathe in compassion.  I breathed in Maipelo’s essence.  I breathed in the love I feel for every living being.  And then I let my body move with feeling, rather than thought.  I pulled out my lip balm and said, “I want to give you something.”  I gave her the tube and she smiled.  I showed her how to open it and told her I wanted her to have it.

Maipelo opened the tube (she was having difficulty but didn’t want my help).  She put it on her lips, licked them, and a beautiful smile appeared, “It taste sweet like tea.”  “It does taste good and it will keep your lips moist,” I said.  We began speaking to one another in English.  She told me a little about herself and introduced me to her parents.  A little later her Mother left the room and then returned with some corn in a traditional basket.  She handed the corn to Mma Ooke who was delighted and said she would also cook some for me.  But Maipelo wouldn’t hear of it.  She demanded the basket of corn be given to her so she could hand it to me, her new friend.  There was after all, plenty of corn for both myself and Mma Ooke.

We left shortly after we were presented this very generous gift.  As we walked away I thought about how one moment creates a series of moments.  In the book Conversations with God we are reminded that, “What we conceive we create, what we create we experience, what we experience we conceive.”  And on that day with Maipelo, I witnessed again that I create my own reality – pity or compassion is my choice – changing a moment is my choice – what I conceive, create, experience, and conceive are all my choice!

I told Mma Ooke that I would like to go back often, whenever she visits.  Who knows, maybe I’ll eventually go by myself.  I want so much to watch Maipelo’s condition improve.  I know she will never be well but I also know that with the right care, treatment, and lifestyle, Maipelo may live to watch her babies grow into adults.  And that is my prayer for Maipelo.  My prayer and my blessing.  And Maipelo herself, my new teacher, is her blessing to me.

Love & Peace,

Kate

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The Sounds of Silence – My Metta Retreat at IMS

IMG_1766It’s been a week since I returned home from a most amazing, 7 day silent Metta Meditation Retreat. As with all retreats, I came home feeling refreshed and renewed. This time I also feel amazingly clear, calm, and content, as if I’ve come to a deeper understanding of myself.

IMG_1760I’d heard of the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) but always believed it to be too hard to get to. I don’t like to drive long distances and there are no train stations or airports close to the town of Barre, MA. One must take a taxi or some other form of transportation after arriving by train in Worcester or landing at Logon airport in Boston. I don’t remember how the February Metta retreat came into consciousness but the moment it did, I knew I was ready to make the trip no matter how challenging it might be.

The transportation schedule didn’t sync with the retreat schedule so I packed my bags for an extra two days IMG_1773 and stayed the night before and night after retreat at a sweet B&B, The Wholesome Hearth. IMG_1752 The Wholesome Hearth B&B was built in the mid 1800′s. It’s owned and operated by Lisa, who also works at the Forest Refuge – part of the IMS. I was happy to have travel days on both ends of the retreat and the B&B was a nice, cozy place to relax and prepare for silence, and then relax and prepare for reentering the world.

I’ve shared that before going on retreat I was experiencing a great deal of fear. For some reason I had begun watching the nightly news. If that wasn’t bad enough, one way or another, I heard the murder count in Baltimore – every single day at the beginning of the year, there was a murder in Baltimore. I’m not sure what the current count is. I also watched a video about the Knock-out game, and heard that a woman walking alone was the victim of the game, right here in Baltimore. I began feeding on the negativity found on Facebook…I usually focus on the fun and happiness found on Facebook but in past months I began noticing that even on a happy post, someone had something mean or negative to say. I was finding people to be especially angry and fearful, and downright nasty.

On top of it all, there’s the big game of politics. Like many others, I’ve become wary of President Obama’s Administration and fearful that the next election will bring an onslaught of the religious right, in an attempt to tilt the scales of government away from what has become a very ineffective government. Maybe most of all I’d developed this odd feeling of fear, no matter where I went, of crazy people with guns. The workplace, movie theaters, and shopping malls.

To avoid the craziness I was distracting myself with craziness – mainly, watching television shows like Breaking Bad, Scandal, House of Cards and The Borgias. I binge-watched entire series and began eating sugar again. I was addicted and felt like my mind was going crazy! It was all getting to be too much for me and I knew I needed help. Intuitively I knew the help I needed could only be found in my own silence, facing the fears that had paralyzed my mind and driven me to destructive distractions. I signed up for this retreat in September or October. I didn’t stop meditating, but admittedly, I only meditated for 10 minutes a day.

Through some miscommunication with my ride to the Center, I arrived much later than I had planned but early enough to go on a tour of the facility, register, find out what my daily work schedule would be, take my luggage to my room, and have a quick dinner. I didn’t meet any of my fellow participants prior to entering silence around 6:30 or 7pm on Friday.

To keep cost down, all participants have a job to do while on retreat. My job was to clean two bathrooms and three shower stalls every morning between 0730 and 0830. My cleaning partner was Jennie and after the first cleaning, we broke silence to agree we would take turns and do the cleaning alone. This gave us both free mornings and I used mine to walk the three mile loop that consisted of paved and dirt roads. IMG_1753 Roads were treacherous as there was several feet of snow on the ground and the dirt road that was part of the loop was as slick as icicles. It was also bitter cold and over the course of seven days, I only walked the full loop three times. I really needed to be outside so on the other days I stayed on the pavement which wasn’t quite so treacherous.

When I was given my work assignment I felt like, “Great…..cleaning bathrooms!” But I have to say that it wasn’t long before I was very grateful for that job. I looked at how much time it took others to work in the kitchen or cleaning the coat room and I felt blessed to have a job I could complete in less than an hour and do only every other day. I also felt honored to do the job. With my Virgo desire for cleanliness and sanitation, I thought I was the perfect person to have the responsibility of making those rooms clean and disinfected!

In a typical day, we would wake up at 0515 and meet in the Meditation Hall at 0600 for our first sitting. There were 93 participants and the furthest traveler arrived from United Arab Emirates. Our teachers were Sharon SalzbergLarry Yang, and Winnie Nazarko.

After our morning sit, we would have breakfast in the dining hall IMG_1764 and then perform our morning work. Then, we went back to sit, and afterwards did walking meditation in one of many rooms set up for indoor walking IMG_1763 or, we joined a very gentle yoga class led by the NY instructor, Booker. While I sat in a chair for most of the time in the meditation hall, I had some issues with my back for the first few days and I was extremely grateful for the yoga sessions that began Monday morning. Between the yoga, walking outside, and sitting in my room with my legs up the wall, my back relaxed and the pain subsided.

After yoga we had more sitting, walking, lunch, walking, sitting, walking, sitting with Q&A, walking, a light dinner, sitting, walking, and at 7:30 pm, Dharma talks. All three teachers were fantastic in their presentations and understanding of the Buddha’s teachings. I always went to bed after the Dharma talks but there was another walking and sitting meditation on the schedule for those who were interested. Except for Sunday when I met in a small group with Sharon and Monday when I had an interview with Winnie, my schedule was the same. IMG_1767

I should say something about the type of meditation we practiced. Metta is the Pali word for Loving Kindness. To practice Metta is to practice the act of loving kindness towards oneself and all beings. My explanation is simplistic and for a deeper explanation, click on the word Metta above.

We start the practice by concentrating on statements such as, “May I be happy” “May I be healthy” “May I be safe.” We start with ourselves as it might be easier to send loving thoughts to our own selves. We progress to a benefactor; someone who supports us and only wants our well-being. We think of that person and concentrate on, “May you be happy” “May you be healthy” “May you be safe.” Next we concentrate on a friend; someone who makes us smile. Next, a neutral person; someone we see every day but really don’t know anything about – a bus driver, school crossing guard, Starbucks barista. “May you be happy” “May you be healthy” “May you be safe.”

The next person we focus on is a difficult person. During retreat we were guided to think of someone who is not too difficult; just someone who may be difficult in the way we relate to one another. There was a participant who had never meditated in her life and well-seasoned participants. The teachers took us through the process gently to accommodate everyone.

Eventually the meditation goes out to everyone – all beings in the retreat center, all beings in Massachusetts, all beings in North America, and so on and so on…..my Metta usually ends with, “May all beings in every Universe….”

IMG_1768I think Monday was the day we were on the Neutral person. What I’m about to share may be upsetting to some. I share it now because the experience I’m about to describe was so unexpected to me and at the same time, it’s such a perfect example of what this practice can do. It is also why I’m willing to do the work it takes to heal old wounds.

I was in my room, on my bed with my legs up the wall, stretching out my back. I was concentrating on an individual I thought of as neutral, when someone else came into my awareness; someone from my past.

When I was twelve years old I often walked alone, two blocks from home to the convenience store for chips or candy. One summer day I was walking to the store and a boy or man (I don’t really remember) stopped and asked me if I wanted a ride. I loved motorcycles and couldn’t say no to such an offer. I hopped on back and he turned the bike around in the direction of the store. However, he didn’t stop at the store. Instead, he drove past the store and towards the woods. He stopped the bike, pulled out a knife, and I was sexually assaulted. I was not raped.

I didn’t tell anyone about my experience for fear of being blamed – I was either dressed inappropriately or stupid for getting on the back of a stranger’s bike. So I buried it deep in my subconscious and never thought of it again until sometime in my 30′s when a friend gave me a craniosacral session for my birthday. During the session the memory came flooding back and it was like watching a movie of the experience in my mind. I shared what happened with the therapist and my friend. I may have also shared later with one of my sisters. I did the work….allowing myself to feel all the anger that I had suppressed for so many years and eventually forgiving not only the man who committed the crime but members of my family who unknowingly created an unsafe environment for a very young girl who had no one to turn to.

So during my retreat when I was concentrating on my neutral person I was very surprised that this man showed up. While his face isn’t clear in my memory, I turned to him and asked, “The two of us are the only two people who were in that experience. Have you ever thought about it since then? Are you remorseful? Do you consider it just a part of your youth? Do you have daughters now? Do you think of what you did and get off on it?”

Using a technique taught by Debbie Ford, I asked myself, “Who would do something like that? What kind of person would do something like that to a child?” And I thought, “A tormented person. A person who was in pain and who was suffering.” The answer to this question brought understanding.

At that point I realized that the questions I asked of him really didn’t matter to me. While I felt no great rush of love, I also felt no aversion towards him. I thought, “If I ran into him on the street and knew it was him, I would feel completely neutral towards him.” And with that, he became my neutral person for that sitting. And in that neutrality, I eventually felt deep compassion.

Now I want to say that I immediately thought of others who I might consider neutral and they were not. I wasn’t ready. And I’m not suggesting that anyone needs to feel this way toward their oppressors or those who have endangered them in one way or another. I’m just sharing that I was not at all expecting to feel this way or have this experience while sitting and yet it happened, and after that sitting I felt lighter and more compassionate to all people in the world.

I also remembered later in the week that when I left Atlanta and moved to Baltimore, I was practicing Metta meditation if not daily, then at least several times a week. I wondered if that’s why, when so many people warned me about living in the City of Baltimore, I felt no fear. I believe so and have recommitted to the daily practice. I’m back to meditating 20-30 minutes every day and at least a portion of that time is dedicated to Metta.

While many shifts in my perceptions and consciousness occurred on this retreat, there is one other I would like to share…

Our teachers shared how the mind will grasp at what feels good, resist what feels bad, and get bored with what’s neutral. That is how we make decisions when aren’t aware of our thoughts and how (or why) we experience suffering – we are always dissatisfied with what is.

Of course I’ve heard this teaching many times and over the years have become much more mindful of my thoughts and choices. But now I see clearly and understand my life based on this experience of my mind. It occurred to me that I have no drama in my life at all – there is nothing super great or super bad going on in my life. Right now, I’m living in the neutral zone. I have a good job, cozy home, good health, happy pets, and really, everything I need. So I’m bored. And because I’m bored I look around at others, friends who are teaching meditation in their home, walking the Appalachian Trail, buying a new house, or going back to school. Rather than remain satisfied with where I am and what I’m doing, I focus much of my attention on retirement and when I’ll be able to do those kinds of exciting things. And by focusing on what might be, rather than what is, I’m not happy….I am a victim of my own suffering.

Since I’ve returned from IMS I’ve made different choices. I only worked a few days this past week but while I was at work, I chose to enjoy what I was doing. I noticed that there is no drama in my office – no horrible thing that makes me miserable and nothing that makes me especially excited to be there. It’s just neutral and neutral is not a bad place to be. In fact, neutral can be quite comforting and enjoyable when I choose to remain engaged, rather than bored.

Once we broke silence and I was back in my room I turned on my phone for the first time in a week. The most challenging thing for me was to stay off my phone/Facebook/email. But I did it and it felt great. The first thing I did when I turned on my phone was take a picture of the view outside my window. IMG_1757 I didn’t write much about the actual silence. I loved every minute of it. And I suspect I will write something about it soon. I also suspect this retreat will become an annual event for me.

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I am not fearless, although, I am not fear full.

As a teenager I hitch-hiked around town, praying no one who knew my Mother would see me. By 16 years old, I had graduated from high school and took hitch-hiking to a new level; first, hitch-hiking throughout Florida and next, throughout the United States.

I’ve always had what I called street smarts (but now acknowledge as intuition and awareness) when it came to personal safety. When I heard stories of girls who had been molested, raped, or murdered, I paid special attention to any details that might keep me safe. I prayed for the where withal to remember those things if I found myself in a dangerous situation. And honestly, I did find myself in some dangerous situations.

I am not fearless, although, I am not fear full. I have a realistic and pragmatic approach to safety and well being. After all, I am a Virgo and I’ve worked in DoD for most of my life. At one time in my life I was a card carrying member of the NRA and married to a man who had more than a few guns in the house. We made our own bullets and saved bottles and cans for Saturday target shooting. I wasn’t afraid of guns then, but I clearly had a healthy respect for the destruction they were capable of when in the wrong hands. When my husband shot a jack rabbit for no other reason than he could, my relationship with guns – and my husband, changed.

I often hear people defend the right to carry concealed weapons and I can’t support any aspect of that idea.

I remember how my boyfriend (when I was 16, he was 21) had a license to carry a concealed weapon. And so did his brother. They had no reason to carry a gun (if there is a valid reason). They just wanted the power that came with carrying the gun. I remember once, going into a 7-11 with my boyfriend and his six-shooter by his side. The clerk saw the gun and his entire demeanor changed. Fear.

I remember working at a clothing store and noticing a man with a gun under his coat. I didn’t know he was an off duty policeman. I didn’t know any reason at all why he needed to carry a gun while shopping.

Beyond concealed weapons, my first experience with someone dying innocently by gunshot was within the congregation of my church. If I remember correctly, two brothers were playing with their father’s gun and one boy ended up dead.

It appears to me that today we resolve problems – the problem of people who irritate us – by shooting them dead. If they are walking in a neighborhood that they may not live in, texting in a theater, or playing loud music in their car, we just shoot them dead. Problem solved. And then claim self defense.

Many people state that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Yes, people kill people with guns…and yes, other weapons. Those same people argue that performing background checks and regulating the types of gun one is permitted to own is unconstitutional. They say that any laws regulating gun ownership will only stop law abiding citizens from owning guns. I can’t help but shake my head and think of the law abiding citizens who have legally obtained guns of all types, and who have murdered. Even the most conservative statistics point to the dangers of having a gun in the house – the accidental and tragic deaths caused by someone who is quick to call on a gun to save their home and family (mistakingly killing a family member)….or to end a disagreement with a loved one.

As I said, I am not fear full, but neither am I fearless. And I’ve observed lately that when I go to a movie theater or really, anywhere in public, I am sometimes keenly aware of what might happen. More so than during my hitch-hiking days. I’m a little more suspicious and a little more observant. I’m not looking for criminals (if law-abiding citizens don’t have guns, only criminals will have guns) because my experience is that it is much more likely a law abiding citizen will whip out a gun and start shooting, whether s/he is emotionally disturbed or just momentarily disturbed. No, I’m not looking for criminals. I’m keeping my eye on the so-called sane and normal people.

Whenever I hear about an active shooter situation – the Navy Yard, a mall, a Sikh temple, or a grocery store, I wonder how I would react to the incident. Would I pray for a law-abiding citizen to step up and save us all from the shooter? Would I wish I had a gun to kill him/her before I am killed? Would I change my mind about what I believe regarding guns and gun ownership in America?

I believe I know the answers to those questions but of course I will never really know unless it happens to me, which of course I pray it does not. But acknowledging the fear I carry with me and the questions I sometimes ask myself is one reason why I meditate and practice stillness.

I’m not afraid of dying.

I used to say that I’m not afraid of dying but I’m afraid of the pain that might come with the process of dying. However, through my practice, I know that even that pain will diminish. I can trust my body to react to the pain and hopefully decrease my suffering. And at some point if the pain is too unbearable, my body may shut down so that I don’t feel the pain at all.

I believe that there is more to life than what I know through my five senses and while I believe that Kate will one day die, the essence of what I am will never die. And I pray that if I am ever met with a situation that puts me face-to-face with an active shooter, I call on that essence, rather than a gun.

This week I am going to the Insight Meditation Society Retreat Center in Barre, MA for a seven day, silent Metta Meditation Retreat.

Honestly, my mind is exhausted with thoughts about guns and murders, the knock-out game, shady politics, government spying, financial debt, unsatisfying work, GMO’s, and human rights atrocities in the world. I seem addicted to it all, binging on The House of Cards and enjoying what I wonder might be more truth than fiction. I’m tired of reading comments on Facebook that are filled with fear, anger, and hatred. And honestly, I’m tired of everyone having the answer to everyone else’s spiritual path. I need to sit with that essence that you know only as Sharon or Kate. I need to sit with what I am and return to the very core of my being which is love.

Some people have shared with me, their experiences of week long silent retreats and some have said they can’t imagine sitting for even half a day. This will be the longest retreat I’ve experienced in silence and I am feeling fearful and fearless; ready to experience the noise of my mind to reach its silence; ready to sit and experience being human, trusting the experience will give me the relief of a mind sick with the fears of the society in which I live. And to this end, I surrender!

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Change is Good!

IMG_1667What a difference a new location makes!

I decided to cancel my float on Friday because I felt I was coming down with something. The symptoms have been on and off and I didn’t want to take the chance of needing to cancel at the last minute. Once I canceled, it was like a world of opportunity opened up and I had one thing in mind – rearranging furniture!

It was going to be a big job. I needed to clean (as in scrub the floor too) the third floor (my bedroom) and I decided that I just had to get the TV out of the living room (first floor) and moved to the guest room (second floor). I signed a lease renewal because I’m not in the mood to move and because there are a lot of good things about living in this house. But I wasn’t loving my home and that is critically important to me. Even in my most impoverished homes, I’ve created a functional space of serenity and beauty. I thought that was going to be easy in this house but over the past year, I’ve found it increasingly difficult.

In addition to moving the TV, I wanted my desk back. For the past year I’ve had the TV sitting on top of the desk and I’ve sat at my laptop at the dining room table. Now that isn’t really that bad but it just felt like it was time to change. It could very well be that I’ve just felt out of control regarding my work and retirement. I felt like I had to change something!

And now? I absolutely L-O-V-E my home again!!! My living room is the perfect space for a sound concert, with lots of seats and an open floor for singing bowls. It’s a great place to meditate, read, journal, and just BE. IMG_1673 And the TV room is warm and cozy…the perfect place for me and the boys to snuggle up for a movie, check Facebook, or blog. IMG_1663 As simple as this sounds, my most favorite thing about the move is I can finally enjoy my Daddy’s African Violet. That violet loves the light in this room but it’s a room I rarely used before the switch. Now I sit in it’s beauty every day, which means I have more opportunities to give it love and care.

After all of the moving and cleaning, I felt a distinct shift in the energy of the home. But more importantly, I felt less constricted, calmer, organized, and healthier than when I started the project. Sitting felt easy in the living room and I felt inspired to cook so I could dine in the dining room.IMG_1670 I made some changes in the kitchen too, and Saturday morning I bought a cart full of nutritious ingredients for yummy meals.

The weather has been been beautiful with temperatures in the 40′s and 50′s. I’ve promised Paz a walk and finally kept my promise today. He was ecstatic to get out of the house and stretch his legs and smell the ground, the fence posts, the side walk, and any thing else he could get his nose on. IMG_1676 I asked him to pose for a selfie but he was too interested in another dog who was walking across the street.

During the past week I’ve written several blog posts in my mind. Unfortunately, I did not commit those post to WordPress, paper, or voice recording. I kept saying to myself, “I’ll wait until Sunday.” And now I’ve come to realize that’s not a good approach for me. I believe having a dedicated work desk will go a long way in supporting my writing and developing a discipline of writing those things down when a stream of consciousness graces my mind with it’s presence (or my mind slows down and is present for a stream of consciousness).

People often tell me how much they love my home and how peaceful it feels. Even maintenance guys comment on how they feel when they come in the house! I think people often set up a home or a room (or even an office or cubicle) and then forget about it. They commence with the activities of living life and when they think about changing their environment, the thought is too overwhelming – it’s too hard to paint, too expensive to buy new curtains, or it takes too much time to make any real changes. They think about how they would like to rearrange the furniture but there really is no other way to make it fit – because they follow conventional ideas about home decorating.

When a home feels that way the people who live there almost always say they also feel stuck in their job, their relationships, or their financial state. They need a change to be happy but they don’t know exactly what that change is. Or they know what the change is but there is nothing they can do about. They feel out of control. Just as I did. And they end up on the couch in front of the TV with a bag of chips, or they become a social butterfly, spending as much time away from home as possible because home doesn’t feel good any more.

I say when you feel bad about your living or work space,  MAKE A CHANGE! If a whole house is too much at once, change one room, change one thing in one room – just make a change that you can control and will make your life feel better. Sometimes it’s as simple as buying flowers to put on the table. It doesn’t really matter what we do as long as we do something. Just like an Oprah make-over, changes on the outside are good for inspiring changes on the inside. Just remember that when all is said and done, it’s really all about the inside. If you feel stuck, bored, heavy, or chaotic, in your home, check in to see how you are feeling about your life in general. It’s likely your feelings will match, and in my experience, making internal or external changes, almost always lead to positive external or internal changes.

 

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Sensory Deprivation ~~ Second Float ~~ Awakening

IMG_1655Yesterday I experienced my second float. Again, I got there early and this time the previous floater left early. Twig set a full two hours on the timer.

I felt very calm this time. Having floated before, I now understood the mechanics of the room, what I was supposed to do, and how the float felt. I wouldn’t say I was determined to float the entire two hours but rather I was ready for the experience.

Once again, I inspected the cocoon that would hold my body to free my mind. This exercise is demanded by my mind – to look around the tank, feel the floor and sides with my hands, and this time I laid back while the door was still open so I could see/feel/experience the float before the experience of total darkness. After reading my last post, a friend shared that she experienced a float with the door open. It had never occurred to me to even float for a moment with the door open, and when I read about her experience I decided it was a great idea to begin my process. The whole preparation process probably took less than a minute for me to feel comfortable and ready to begin.

IMG_1659Expecting to fall into my meditation mantras, I instead entered a period of questions and answers. It’s interesting when my mind considers two hours of just being. And fascinating to observe it’s process! Why would I want to get naked and float in salt water in complete darkness and silence? What do I get from the experience? If nothing mystical occurs, what’s the point? And then answers… It gives me two whole hours to release, let go, and be fully present. The epsom salts (magnesium) is so good for my body – I can even feel a difference in my shoulder’s range of motion and reduced pain. (At some point during the float I stretched my left arm/shoulder to prove to myself that the experience was making a difference.) And more questions… what is mysticism really? Do I want an experience I can brag (I mean blog) about? Is that what this experience is about – am I proving something to myself and others – how I don’t need outside gurus or expensive therapists and coaches when I am the Guru?

The conversation continues… I remembered to lock the door to the float room this time. There have been a lot of fires in Baltimore lately. What if this place catches on fire? Will I hear Twig banging on the door? I’m floating in ten inches of water, I don’t have to worry about fire. If I stay in here, I don’t have to worry about smoke……..what if the water begins to boil? …….Surely I will hear something and oh yeah, the door has glass, Twig can break through it and open the door…… Seriously? This is how I’m spending my time in here? Thinking about the possibility of fire? I am safe…. I am perfectly safe.

Occasionally my mind drifts away – for a minute or second or maybe a millisecond – I don’t know because the moment I realize it’s gone, I’m back in my body completely aware of the experience I just had but couldn’t hold onto.

I wonder if I’m going to freak out. The sound I heard during my last float – the sound that I mistakenly took for the filtration/times up signal, began rather early in the process. I still don’t know what that sound is. I heard my heart beat. I heard my digestion. I heard my muscles stretch as I moved my arm. The most amazing thing that I was aware of was how often my body jumped.

I’m sure you’ve experienced this. Sometimes at night when I lie in bed and my body reaches a deep level of relaxation, there is a sudden jerk in my leg or arm or foot, indicating a deep release of tension. That often happens to a client during sound massage or Reiki. This release happened over and over again while on this float and I realized just how tense my body is! I haven’t walked nearly as much since the weather turned bitter cold and while I planned to get back to yoga, that was a plan without action. All I want is comfort food – warm, savory, and sweet. IMG_1645I’ve given several sound massages but I haven’t had any body work for myself. But is that it? Do I just need to work my body harder? Or… is the release of tension in my body telling me something deeper and much more important about what is going on with me?

When I reflect upon that question I immediately feel like I’m working too hard to hold it all together until I retire. I mean, if I’m honest with you and let go of the ego that wants to appear to have it all together, I really feel like I just need to make it through the next 27 months – I just need to survive this time the best I can – the way so many others have done it.

I haven’t given up on an early retirement IMG_1629and I feel like I need that opportunity to execute the plan I’ve created in my mind’s eye, but I haven’t found the sign that indicates that dream will come true. For the first time I am asking myself the question, “If I don’t get an early out with it’s separation bonus and full benefits, how will I begin my next journey?” Just trusting is one thing but just like a plan without action, trust without action will take me nowhere.

While I’m in the tank I sometimes begin to process my experience. I catch myself writing my blog and when that happens, I realize my mind has found something it really doesn’t want to admit or delve into. I discover that I’m focusing on the future and external factors (your reactions). I’m considering what I want the experience to be, rather than what the experience is. So rather than continue processing, I set that aside and bring myself back to my breath and the present. I tell myself that I don’t want to process in the tank. It is here that I want to discover. And as it was with my first float, I found it hard to talk about my experience right after the float, and easy to write about the next day.

This morning I am very aware that every single day of my life, I’m focused on paying off debt, maintaining good health for me, Paz, and Jaxson, and finding at least one thing in the office to hold on to – something that allows me to be a productive member of the team while enjoying my time rather than wishing it away. I pray and affirm that I will get through one more payday without an emergency that I’m not prepared to address.

I monitor the amount of heat I’m using and how it affects my budget plan with BG&E. I thank my car every single time I get inside, for providing safe travels. I just spent $1000 on some work on my car and when the weather is bad I refuse to drive to work or anywhere else for fear that something might happen.

Every time I pet Paz I feel massive tumors in his body and wonder if I’m really a good dog Mom by not putting him through surgery and if I really trust the doctors and friends who tell me this happens to ten year old dogs, or am I just afraid I can’t afford to take care of him properly. When I feel Jaxson’s bony little body and realize his hearing is not what it used to be, I pray he doesn’t need a trip to the vet; yes, because I don’t want to put him through that or lose him, but really because I am just afraid I can’t afford it.

And the weight I’ve lost… How can I keep it off if I’m not moving my body and I’m back to eating unmindfully? I so love wearing clothes I couldn’t fit into six months ago and excited to continue releasing weight so I can fit into spring clothes that I haven’t worn since 2010. So why aren’t my actions in alignment with my desires?

In December I had a moment when I thought I might have a second shingles outbreak. Fortunately, I was wrong. Last Friday I had a client who was in a full shingles outbreak and I went to my trusted copy of IMG_1658 to remind myself what I discovered the first time I had an outbreak. According to Louise, shingles appear when one is, “Waiting for the other shoe to drop. Fear and tension. Too sensitive.” And shoulder problems (listed right under shingles by the way), “Are meant to carry joy, not burdens.” Is that what my life has become….a burden that I carry as I wait for the next shoe to drop…fearful of what might happen that I can’t control…anxious for the manifestation of a better, easier, more joyous life?! I sit with this possibility…

I’ve spent a lifetime doing what felt good in the moment and trusting that everything would turn out just fine. Or have I? Did I do what felt good, or what felt safe? Did I trust that everything would turn out just fine, or did I worry about who I might hurt, who might hurt me, was I good enough, was I worthy enough, would I have enough, give enough, be ENOUGH? 

When was the last time in my life that I did not worry about having enough money, losing enough weight, giving enough to my relationships, or being happy enough? After years of self-help books, seminars, and workshops, spiritual retreats and religious doctrine, do I worry less and trust more or have I fallen into the trap of Spiritual_Bypassing, knowing the right phrase to use, the right tool to depend upon, the right justification for my feelings and experiences?

It might be easy to relate to my process of self-inquiry and one might feel the need to reach out and let me know that everything will be all right. All I can say right now is that for me, everything is all right!

My life is not perfect and easy – it’s messy and complicated – in the same way that everyone’s life is messy and complicated. That doesn’t justify my experience but instead, provides a means to embrace and relax into my experience. 

Ego is not the devil on my shoulder who is arguing with the angel on my other shoulder. Ego is what supports my human experience and my ability to maneuver in the physical world. When Ego leads to worry or despair, those aren’t feelings I would never feel if I was more spiritual or healthy, those are human feelings that drive me to take action.

I believe that the mind-body relationship is what creates harmony or dis-ease in my body. And floating is a tool that allows my body to express the condition of my mind. It does this by relaxing my body and mind from outside stimuli. It is deeply meditative and no matter what I read, see, hear, experience, or learn, I always come back to that most basic understanding that meditation is as fundamental to my well-being as air, food, water, shelter, and love.

Last night I thought that maybe two hours was too long; that maybe 90 minutes was too long. I even thought of recommending to people that they really only need an hour in the tank. And maybe they do. But I’m grateful my next float (and the last float of my introductory offer) is a full 90 minutes. And who knows, maybe it will turn into 120 minutes. The time in the chamber no longer matters to me. While I suspect I will investigate the tank before closing the door during my next visit, I find myself free of fear. I know that I am physically safe in the chamber and in fact now find it a very safe, sacred, and healing space.

I’m not processing all of my discoveries here on the blog; those things about myself that I discovered while floating. I am aware how delightfully synchronistic my life is. I’m reading a new book by Sharon Salzberg, IMG_1657 and attending Sharon’s talk regarding her book at an event less than a mile from my home and sponsored by Breathe Bookstore Cafe. Having no idea this event was coming, I registered for a seven day silent meditation retreat taught by Sharon at IMS. The retreat is described as, “Metta is the Pali word for friendship or lovingkindness. It is taught as a meditation that cultivates our natural capacity for an open and loving heart. With its roots in practices said to have been taught by the Buddha himself, metta is traditionally offered along with meditations that enrich compassion, joy in the happiness of others and equanimity. These practices lead to the development of concentration, fearlessness, happiness and a greater ability to love.”

My sense of self and spirituality has shifted over the years and going deeper into my practice and thereby deeper into my soul without judgment of what I feel or fear of what I might discover is what inspires me now.  I am so very grateful to all my teachers – formal and informal, past and present, human and non-human, observations and experiences.

Right now, as I sit at my laptop, I feel the existence of my body more than ever before. I observe the tightness in my shoulders and coolness of breath as it enters my nostrils. I feel the hardness of the chair I’ve sat on for the past two hours. I acknowledge that the awareness of my body provides insight to the condition of my mind and I give myself permission to return to that awareness the next time I worry about Paz or Jax, the car, the office, or my health. I don’t ignore fear or cover it up. I don’t replace worrying about with being concerned about, as if concerned about is more acceptable than worrying. I touch it, feel it, ease into it and release it.

As if this post isn’t long enough, I want to offer a link to a great NPR Fresh Air interview I listened to this week. It is an interview with Jessica Lamb, author of Promise Land: My Journey Through America’s Self-Help Culture. I know that like me, some of you will relate to the observations, questions, and discoveries Jessica shares with NPR’s Terry Gross.

 

 

 

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