Finding Peace When Relationships Are Over

It was over 30 years ago when I sat with a priest and explained an extremely toxic relationship and why it was my responsibility to remain in the relationship. Among his many pearls of wisdom and food for thought was this… “God says to love everyone. He did not say you have to like them. And you can love others while protecting yourself from harm they want to inflict upon you.”

I didn’t understand at the time that he was teaching me about healthy boundaries but I did understand that for the first time in my life, I felt the power of freedom and choice. It was like a door cracked open and I discovered that it wasn’t my responsibility to love someone and remain in relationship with them no matter the toll on my personal being but rather to love myself and remain in only those relationships that served my highest good.

When I shared this priest’s words with my Mother, even she understood. And I say “even” because to her, this was an important relationship for me to keep. Of course I had never shared with her the extent of it’s toxic nature – the person I was in relationship with, like me, belonged to her and she just needed us to get along.

Ten years ago I ended a friendship with someone. We had been friends for most of our lives and most of the time was tumultuous at best; filled with jealousy, comparisons, hurt, and anger. While I loved my friend and understood her behaviors, I was no longer hooked and willing to engage in arguments and heated debates. I no longer experienced joy in her company and realized that energetically, we were no longer aligned. I still loved her, but I couldn’t be around her. I don’t remember exactly what I said to end the friendship. I know that my intent was to be kind and loving. But can any of us receive kindness and love when we are feeling rejected? It was a painful conversation for us both but I remember walking away from the conversation feeling lighter, freer, and grounded in the knowing that I’d made the right choice.

If it weren’t for another friend of ours, that would have been that. Chances are slim we would ever run into one another. I think of her sometimes – the good times and the bad times – and I’ve forgiven myself and her for the pain and suffering we caused one another as teenagers and adults. Since the day I ended the relationship, I’ve never experienced regret or a desire to rekindle the friendship. It hasn’t been the same for her though and through our mutual friend, she has reached out over the years; each time I’ve replied that while I wished her only love, I had no desire to develop a relationship.

She reached out again this past week through our mutual friend. She learned I was going to be in Atlanta and wanted the three of us to get together. When the idea was first presented, I replied that I didn’t want to share my time with her. I’ve missed our mutual friend a great deal and this is the first time I’ve been able to spend a few days/nights with her. I really didn’t want the distraction of the other person. But the text kept coming, “What about dinner this day?” “What if we go visit her at her house?” “What if?”

As is usual for me, I began to second guess and analyze my feelings. What if became a question I asked myself…. “What if I’m being a bad person?” “What if I’m hooked into my story and not willing to get out of the story to see the soul?” “What if this relationship can heal?” None of this felt right as I felt firmly grounded in the peace of letting go but all of these what ifs made me wonder if I was in denial…

ANALYSIS PARALYSIS!!!!

I finally “gave in” (yes, that is exactly the energy I experienced) and agreed to see this person but only on a specific day and specific time. I sent her an email and secretly hoped she would be unavailable. But she wasn’t – she agreed! She was happy and our mutual friend was happy. And I was sick to my stomach.

I began to wonder why we were visiting with one another. What was my intention  – why did I agree to do something I didn’t want to do?

I didn’t want to talk to anyone about the issue because I didn’t want to get into the story. I know what my story is and I also know that it’s no longer the story but rather my personal feeling and intuition that has surrendered and acknowledged that the relationship is not good for me – that I didn’t want it then and don’t want it now. I also knew that my truth was I did not want this visit – it’s not where I wanted to focus my energy – I had agreed to something I really didn’t want and on some level, I felt bullied into doing it. [I only just now realized I felt bullied… Our friend's best intentions can feel like bullying if we are being asked over and over to change our no to a yes. And while I know our mutual friend had no intention of bullying and even said she didn't want me to feel obligated, I felt bullied. And that was the energy I was feeling every time I was asked again to meet with the other person]….that was the lesson for me to learn.

I’ve had a horrible week of sleep – or lack of sleep – and this issue has been on my mind. The thoughts are not about the person who wants to meet with me but rather why I agreed to something that I don’t want to do. I clarify this because none of this is about the other person – it is all about me and my reaction and choices. That said, I often ask myself why she tries so hard to force a relationship with me. I doubt she does this with her former boyfriends or husbands – ten years after a relationship has ended. And it occurred to me that ten years ago, when I ended our friendship, she thought I just quit speaking to her. The way we would quit speaking to one another in junior high or high school.

With this new insight I realized that my intention to see her again was to end the relationship again. And it made no sense to me to do that. So I did what I often do when I can’t make a choice that feels right; I sat down with my Enchanted Map cards and asked the question,”How do I make the right choice for this situation?” I received the following card…

EDUCATION – “Wisdom comes from participating in life, not just reading about it. This card suggests that you might not have enough knowledge about what you seek, the direction to take, your circumstances, or the nature of your inquiry. Important information is coming. Now is the time to go to school, ask a person who might know more than you do, or find a teacher or course of study so that you can more clearly understand what the next right action must be….Sometimes life unexpectedly sends you to an unfamiliar school, and you must learn by experience. Now is a time to be teachable, open to changing your preconceived notions. Be a student and be willing to state the most powerful mantra of all: “I don’t know — yet.”

Well the Universe and these cards surely have a sense of humor! I was grounded in not discussing this with anyone and here I’m being guided to seek a teacher outside myself. I thought about a couple of people I could talk to and then one of those people texted to see if I wanted company. Friends are like that…they just show up!

In sharing the situation with my friend it became clear that I was second-guessing my clear intentions and intuition. She was able to point out the palpable shift in my energy when I talked about what I knew for sure and what I was doubting. We stayed out of the story of the past and focused only on my present feelings. She was nonjudgmental, compassionate, and supportive. She held space for me to reach my own conclusion and when I told her I needed to send an email right that moment to take back my agreement, she totally understood.

I wrote an email and stated I couldn’t meet the person after all. I gave no explanation – no apology. I wasn’t engaging in further discussion. I had made a decision. And when I clicked on send, I felt relief in my whole body.

I shared that I haven’t slept well this past week. Well last night I couldn’t stay awake and I slept for over 11 hours. I had a lot of dreams and I woke up feeling refreshed and excited about my upcoming trip. The weight of my experience showed up in a two pound weight gain. But today I feel lighter. I am at peace.

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When People Get on My Nerves…

0 - Petty OfficerI joined the Navy in 1982 and since then have navigated my way within the Dept of Defense as an Active Duty Petty Officer, Reserve Petty Officer, Government Contractor, and Government Civilian. I achieved the rank of GS-14 and gave it up when I felt like my values and the current actions of our military were out of sync. I eventually returned to a civilian position at a lower grade to complete my Federal Career and Service.  During my career I have worked one-on-one with high-ranking officials including Admirals, RADM JD BulkelyGenerals, and Assistant Deputy Secretaries. I share all of this to offer insight as to how comfortable I am within the culture. After 32 years of exposure – not including life with family members who were at sometime in their lives Enlisted or Officers – I understand the military psyche and its protocol. That is my story.

I understand that when a military person demands respect, as with any human being who demands respect, it is usually indicative of low self-esteem. I know this first hand as I myself have demanded respect when I felt I wasn’t receiving it, only to discover that I felt insecure about something I was doing, my place within a group, or an assignment I felt was beyond my capabilities. I’ve learned to have compassion for myself and others when my – or their – hurt and confused child surfaces to the top and bubbles out into an explosion of, “You need to listen to me” or “You will treat me the way I want to be treated.” [Please don't mistake this second sentence as a healthy boundary - that's another topic!]

One thing meditation 0 - Meditate Timer has offered me is an opportunity to be kind and gentle with myself; to observe when I’m in my practice day-dreaming rather than focusing on my breath, and then just return to my breath without beating myself up for being a bad meditator. This practice of observing what at first might feel like a failure and then starting over with no judgment toward myself for screwing up, is one gift of my meditation practice. Because it has allowed me to understand that in my daily life, I’m going to screw up, allow ego to take over, and react to a situation unskillfully, rather than respond mindfully. And that’s okay…

Beyond observing my reaction, my practice provides a skillful path to make another choice – to respond from my heart rather than my ego. I often believe the people who most get on my nerves are angels who offer me this opportunity – to see myself for who I really am and what I am really capable of.

So last week when I found myself in an uncomfortable situation with a military person, I went for a walk. I needed to get away from my desk, take a few breaths, and clear my head. As I walked I asked myself what this person was showing me about myself – was I feeling disrespected and unappreciated? If so, in what ways? I also started thinking about my history with the military and working in a Defense organization. I thought about all the military people I’ve met – friends I’ve made and continue to make. I reminded myself that try as we might to be different, we are all human and we all experience the same range of emotions, only in different ways. The person who annoyed me does not mean to be annoying. My reaction to our encounter was probably hurtful to both of us and that’s not the person I want to be. I acknowledged that I had screwed-up and allowed ego to take over, and fell back into my heart with love towards everyone, especially my military brothers and sisters.

As I contemplated all of this, a military person passed me on the steps. We greeted one another and once past one another he stopped, looked at me and said, “I really like that shirt you’re wearing!” He had no idea what that kind gesture did for me. I accepted it as a message from the Universe that I was in complete harmony with those around me; that it was my own insecurity and feelings I sometimes have of not belonging in that culture that  caused my ego and inner child to act out rather than skillfully respond to the situation. Just as I do when on the cushion, I forgave myself and gave gratitude for the opportunity and honestly the where-withal to see my Self in every situation.

There was a time in my life when I could only get through a similar situation by deciding the other person was all screwed up. Now I’ve come to understand that we are all screwed up – as in beautifully and magically imperfect and perfect. I’m grateful to my meditation practice and the concept of mindfulness for this shift in how I live my life which has become so much easier and so very filled with love, peace, and harmony. It doesn’t matter where I am, who I am with, or what I am doing; every opportunity is an opportunity for me to choose whether that means to begin again or let go, to stay on course or make a shift.

This weekend I attended a mindfulness workshop. I met the founder of the Center for Mindful Awareness at Sharon Salzberg’s talk this past Tuesday. She shared that she was facilitating a workshop based on her Shine model – Keys to Mindfulness, and invited me to participate. 0 - SHINEI’d seen the tool she created to support the methodology and was excited for an opportunity to check it out. So on Saturday I attended the workshop and really, all I can say is, “Wow!” I love the model, the methodology, and the work CMA is doing. Check out the website. I hope to have more to share on this topic very soon!

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“No” is a Complete Sentence

BLOG-No Explanation I rarely feel the need to explain yes. But I almost always explain no. Why?

Where and how did the belief that I had to explain anything to anyone come into my consciousness? I suppose like most false beliefs, in childhood. Now I’m not saying that all the beliefs I picked up in childhood were false but let’s face it, many were!

I’m remembering a time I received something in the mail while a friend was visiting. My friend wanted some of what I received and asked for it. When I said no, I received her explanation as to why I didn’t need them all. I was uncomfortable and we dropped it but ultimately, I shared what I had because it was just easier. But easier than what?

I know that I’m very generous. I know that I’m kind. I know that I’m a good friend. I also know that if my friend got angry because I was unwilling to share with her, that was her issue – her burden to bare or issue to confront. The easy part was we didn’t have to talk about it. By giving her what she asked for, I didn’t have to face my fear (she won’t love me or think me good enough if I don’t comply) and she didn’t have to face her issues (why am I so angry that Kate won’t share something with me?). We didn’t have to talk about it. We avoided drama. But what did all that avoidance really get either of us?

I did something I never want to do; I gave something with resentful intention. My gift, no matter how hard I intellectualized it, was given with resentment, anger, and a feeling of defeat. Moreover, the experience took away the joy I held from receiving the items in the first place. Why didn’t I just say, “No”?

The dilemma had nothing to do with the things I received and she asked for. Those things were simply providing an opportunity for me to stand in integrity and say no when I was feeling no. The opportunity was there to be unafraid of the consequences or judgments my friend may have had toward me. The opportunity was there for me to experience and expand my awareness of Self and the conflict between Self and the ego. And through that experience was an opportunity to heal wounds and grow into a deeper love for myself and for my friend.

That experience was a long time ago. Lately I’ve had several opportunities to say no and I’ve  done so with no explanation of why my answer was no. My answer was simply, “No.” While I found the courage to say no, I still had voices in my head, telling me that to be a good friend I really needed to explain why I couldn’t help or join the person asking me for help or companionship. I wondered with some level of fear, what I would say if I was asked why my answer was no – not because I had anything to hide but because it’s time for me to stop explaining and expecting my friends or family to explain to me.

In each of those recent experiences, I haven’t lost any friendships… I wasn’t accused of being unkind, less than generous, or a bad friend. In every circumstance the receiver of my no simply said, “Okay.” Okay…

Most of us who study self improvement, at some point, reach an understanding of how our own actions cause our own suffering. I remember when I first began to understand how my thoughts and actions contributed to my having migraines. I discovered that as outspoken as I thought I was, I often held what I thought and felt inside, afraid of the consequences of speaking my mind. So one day in the office I was with my team and I made the announcement I would no longer hold back what I was really feeling because by doing so, I was avoiding their feelings but hurting my body. I took that philosophy into my private life as well.

Discovering and acknowledging how my actions created migraines was a tremendous breakthrough. But announcing my discovery and plans to move forward was a bit unskillful. Okay…very unskillful.

I’ve noticed that explaining ourselves is a trap many of us fall into. A friend will call and instead of just telling me she needs to reschedule, I receive an explanation of the circumstances that require her to reschedule or the awareness she’s had that requires her to reschedule. And I ask myself, “are those explanations at all necessary?” Would I get angry that she was rescheduling with me? Will I think more or less of her if I know what she’s doing instead of sticking to our plan, or what discovery she’s had regarding her old patterns? No. Probably not. In fact, introvert that I am, I’m often thankful when plans fall through. Honestly. And besides, the truth of the matter is, an explanation is only required where judgment is required.

BLOG-SpringAny need to explain one’s self is a fear of judgment from one’s self or the other. When our friends know us to be loving, generous people and then judge us as greedy or unloving because we don’t share something, meet at our agreed-to time, or be there in every single time of need, that is their burden to bare or issue to resolve, not ours. But for me, it’s not always easy to respond with no explanation. So I’m working on it. It’s not something I’m doing to others but something I am being for myself; unafraid that you won’t love me, will look down on me, betray me, or abandon me simply because I said, “No.” And with no explanation…

 

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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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