Friday, June 14, 2019
Saturday, June 8, 2019
At a meditation class last week, I was paired up with a young man for a time of sharing reflections. He told me this story.
When he was 19, he joined the army. During basic training, the drill sergeant would find some mistake every day and make his group do push ups as a consequence. Maybe a bed was not made properly, or shoes were not polished, or someone was a a nanosecond too slow in obeying an order. Every day they would strive mightily for perfection. Every day they would fail, and drop to the ground in frustration and despair to perform their punishment.
Finally, he realized that the point of this pattern was not the daily mistake; the point was the daily push ups. The drill sergeant was always going to find some excuse for push ups. He accepted the inevitable. There will be push ups. Every day. No matter what they did or didn’t do. He began to view the push ups not as punishment but as exercise. Difficult exercise, yes. But exercise that was a required part of their training.
The push ups were the same, but his experience of the push ups changed. He said that he suffered less than others in his group who continued to struggle to attain that magic perfection that would avoid the ordered push ups.
Our conversation generalized to life’s basic training. We strive for an ever elusive perfection that will avoid challenge, disappointment, distress, heartache. If I learn to meditate better, I will always be peaceful. If I practice martial arts long enough, I will never be afraid. If I pray hard enough, my prayers will be answered according to my wishes. If I love strongly enough, my heart will never be broken.
But here is life’s reality. There will be push ups. I will be fidgety during meditation. I will be frustrated when I don’t handle situations as well as I would like. I will be embarrassed by something that was misunderstood. I will be disappointed when I hoped for something different. I will be sad when I lose something important to me. I will be angry when I perceive being wronged.
Yes, there will be push ups. I can struggle to avoid them but I will fail. Or I can see them as a part of life, weaving them into a tapestry full of experiences and opportunities. I can embrace all that life brings me.
A moment of radical acceptance is a moment of genuine freedom. ~Tara Brach
Monday, June 3, 2019
When my phone rang this morning, the caller ID showed my daughter’s name. I answered with a “Good morning, sweetie.”
But the caller was my 7 year old grandson, who exclaimed, “Nana, how did you know it was me?!”
“I just knew,” I fibbed.
Even though my usual nickname for him is Honey Bunny, he responded to the generic term of endearment with the assumption that it was meant for him. How marvelous.
When he was a baby, I made up a song for him to the tune of Jesus Loves Me. I would sing the song over and over, each time substituting the name of someone who loved him. For example,
[Nana] loves me
This I know
Because she always tells me so
She loves me more than the stars above
I am blessed to be so loved
Yes, [Nana] loves me
Yes, [Nana] loves me
Yes, [Nana] loves me
She always tells me so
As he got older, I would start the ritual with the question “Who loves you?” He would name someone. After the first verse, I would ask “Who else loves you?” And so on. Depending on my patience, he would go through family members, pets, stuffed animals, friends at school, things in the house, favorite super heroes. To my delight, he would often name himself as someone who loved him.
As he got older still, he sang along with me. Now that he has a baby sister, I enlist his help in singing the song to her, although he is sure to get his own turn.
His quick and unquestioning assumption this morning that “sweetie” referred to him tells me that somehow, in his childhood world of scary things that go bump in the night, despite all the mistakes that we make as parents and grandparents, somehow he has absorbed the certainty that he is loved.
May we all feel so cherished.
Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you .... ~Isaiah 43:4
Friday, May 31, 2019
Monday, May 27, 2019
A few weeks ago, I started practicing taiji (tai chi) at a different martial arts school. I’m not new to taiji, but I’m new to this school, so I am sort of a beginner and not a beginner at the same time. Some things are familiar to me, but every school, and even every teacher, has their own way of doing things, so there is always a steep learning curve at the outset.
The students begin class as a whole doing qigong or other warm up exercises, and then break into small groups according to their level. I thought I was moving through the preliminary stuff pretty quickly, and I was eager to get to the more advanced material. But after several classes, the teacher placed me in a beginner group with people who had not done any taiji at all, ever. The instruction was at the most basic introductory level.
It didn’t take me long to start feeling impatient, chafing at the slow pace, wishing to be in the group I could see in my peripheral vision that was working on material more suited to my level, at least in my not-so-humble opinion. I felt frustrated that the teacher couldn’t immediately see that a mistake had been made and didn’t move me to the other group.
Wow, I caught myself. What the heck is going on with me? My ego knickers were in a knot. I was violating every basic principle of taiji and everything I’ve learned from the Tao Te Ching. I was not being present. I was distracted and judgmental. I was wanting reality to be different and trying to make it conform to my desire. I was being disrespectful (at least in my thoughts) to the teacher. I was caught up in my mind’s narrative and missing the opportunity to practice in the situation I was in, which is really the only practice there is.
One of the slogans I’ve trained with for years is “Don’t insist. Don’t resist.” I was doing both, unlike my other beginning group mates who were fully engaged with what was happening in our group.
Hmm, so apparently the beginning group was right where I belonged. I clearly have a lot to learn. As I said to a friend after recounting my story, I might not learn a lot about taiji in this class, but I’m going to learn a lot about myself! And perhaps that is the same thing after all.
In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few. ~Shunryu Suzuki
Thursday, May 23, 2019
When I moved to Portland, my son was just shy of his fourth birthday. It was a sudden move, necessary for many reasons. We arrived without much advance planning, and we were both disoriented and reeling. I rented a room in an extended stay hotel, and started to get my bearings.
My son has autism, so in addition to the upheaval that any three year old would experience in those circumstances, he had an added layer of struggle trying to cope with disruption and uncertainty.
Within a few days, he came up with his own way of navigating these scary seas of change. He made up a game, a variation of hide and seek. I would close my eyes and he would run and hide. He would call out “I’m lost,” and I would set out to find him.
I went through the usual search game that all adults play with children, speaking aloud as I walked around. Is he behind the door? No. Is he in the closet? No. And on until I found him (not too hard considering the tiny space we occupied and the fact that he always hid in the same spot).
Like all kids, he squealed with delight when discovered. But I understood that for him, this was different. I would gather him up on my lap and wrap my arms around him, looking him in the face as I assured him.
“You were never lost. I will always find you. You are safe and loved. And everything is all right.” And just to make sure, I would repeat, “I will always find you. Every time. You are never lost to me.”
I could feel his body relax. At least for a few seconds. Then he would slide off my lap and run off to hide again. Lost. Found. Repeat. Repeat as many times as it took for him to get the reassurance he needed. Some days that was five times. Other days it was twenty five times. I didn’t really count. The number of times didn’t matter.
Such a simple game. One that reassured me as much as it did him. It reassures me even now. We are never too old to remember that we are never lost. We are safe and loved. And everything is all right.
I once was lost but now I’m found
Was blind but now I see