Monday, March 30, 2020

Shine Like Venus

Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point. ~C. S. Lewis

When my dog Rosie was a puppy, she was so terrified of other dogs that I could not take her for a walk. So I went to a wonderful trainer for help. We were in a big empty room. The trainer brought in an old collie. The dog didn’t care doodley squat about Rosie and just lay down, completely ignoring Rosie. 

Rosie circled around, alert and anxious, but gradually approached the collie. As she got closer, the trainer kept praising her in a high baby voice. “So brave, Rosie. So brave.”  

Rosie was indeed being brave. Not Lassie running into a burning building to save Timmy brave, but taking one timid tiny step closer to what scared her brave. That collie was her testing point.

Some of us do not recognize the courage it takes to see things as they are, to see ourselves as we are. We are brave when we admit we are afraid, when we offer compassion to a stranger, when we are generous with our time, when we give ourselves permission to have healthy boundaries, when we stay with our practice in challenging times, when we forgive ourselves and others, when we pause to take a breath before reacting, when we trust in the basic goodness of the universe. 

We can be the heroes of our own lives when we realize that we are at a testing point and that we are doing the best we can. “So brave, so brave.” 

I have seen everything
I have no fear
I have the heart of a lion
I shine like Venus

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Now Is the Time

If it weren’t for my mind, my meditation would be excellent. ~Pema Chodron

You’ve heard me frequently emphasize and encourage practice. I’ve talked about the “razor’s edge” of practice, that place where we are challenged to release, expand, embrace, accept, forgive. The place where we meet fear on the battlefield and bow in respect. The place where we experience the distress of not knowing. The place where we come face to face with reality and find that it looks Not the us that we tell ourselves about, not the us that we hide from others, not the us that we want others to see – no, the us as we are, just as we are, right now in this moment.

How do we practice when, well, when things are like they are? Especially like they are these days? How do we practice when everything from viruses to earthquakes to politics to not enough toilet paper threatens our equanimity? When our routines are disrupted, our expectations disregarded, our assumptions revealed and proven false? When fear runs rampant in our minds and our hearts are shattered in grief?

This is precisely the time to practice, to practice, as Pema Chodron says, like our hair is on fire. (That always makes me laugh...and motivates me!) This is when the practice we do when things are easy, shows up to support us and sustain us when things are hard. This is when the trust we have built up in our practice is put to the test and carries us steady on the course.

And what is it exactly that we are practicing? What we can. Awareness. Loving kindness. Meditation. Too much? That’s okay. Practice mindful breathing. Start with this breath. Now this one. It is enough.

The point is not to add more to our to do lists, or to reach some self-imposed standard, but to permeate our lives with compassion, beginning with ourselves. How many times have I heard someone say recently, “I have to,” or “I should have,” or some version of self demand or self failure. When I hear this, I just want to say, “It’s okay. We are all muddling through as best we can, learning and adapting as we go. It’s okay.”

Bring awareness and compassion to the muddling. It is enough.

Now is the time, not to be perfect, not to know everything. Now is the time to practice, to practice being here, now. Take another breath. It is enough.

If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath. ~Amit Ray

Note: The photo above is one of my statues of Kuan Yin, the Chinese goddess of mercy and compassion. I love this statue because she is surrounded by coiling dragons with water churning beneath her. Yet she remains serene, pouring the nectar of compassion right into the dragon's mouth.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Lion's Paw

A lion came for me
I did not fear
I saw not its entire form
But only its vast and powerful paw
That pierced my chest 
And grasped my heart
Softly crushing crushing
Until the blood poured out
Like water over parched and barren earth
Bringing forth all life

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 68

This chapter is about power and the use of power. It starts out with four lines, each beginning with the character for “good.”

A good warrior is not violent
A good fighter is not enraged
A good conqueror does not engage the enemy
A good leader humbles himself

The ancient treatise The Art of War counsels that the highest victory is won without engaging in battle. This reminds me of lessons in tai chi. Tai chi “sparring” usually begins with two people facing each other and lightly touching one or both forearms. A master I studied with said that the instant he came in contact with an opponent, he “knew” everything about the other person and basically took all his energy away from him.

This would sound crazy if I hadn’t witnessed this tiny 80 year old man easily deflecting attacks by younger, bigger, stronger, skilled martial artists. He never moved very much, never broke a sweat, and had a twinkle in his eye.

I know I do best in martial arts when I remain relaxed, neutral, neither afraid nor aggressive. And, as I’ve said before, what I love about martial arts is that what I learn there applies so well to life in general.

One of Aesop’s Fables tells the story of the wind and the sun, competing to see who is stronger by seeing who can remove a man’s coat. The wind blows strong and cold, but the man just pulls the coat around him more tightly. Finally the wind is exhausted. The sun takes his turn and simply shines warmly. The man is soon too hot and removes his coat.

This fable is one of my favorites because it teaches us not only that force is not as effective as gentleness, but also that force exhausts the one expending it. Consider this next time you are trying to get a two year old to do anything.

The chapter ends by relating this nonviolent approach to De (the “de” or “te” of the Tao Te Ching). De does not strive, and this is the source of its power, which effortlessly manifests in  perfect harmony with heaven.

This chapter invites us to contemplate our relationship to power. When do we feel powerful? Powerless? How do we try to gain power? How do we use it? With what results? We are invited to watch ourselves and learn how power operates in our lives. Let’s see what we discover!

The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.  ~Gandhi

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Eye of the Beholder (II)

I guess beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder. While walking across the street this morning, I saw what I thought was a beautiful round white stone shining in the sun. I walked towards it, wanting to pick it up and hold it, maybe even keep it. I had a feeling of peace, gratitude, joy at finding such a lovely object on a sunny spring morning.

As I got closer, I felt confusion as my brain scrambled to recalculate what my eyes were looking at. It was not a beautiful round white stone. It was a round white plastic cap.

Oh. Now it did not seem beautiful. It was ugly. It was not a treasure I wanted. It was trash to be disposed of. I did not feel peace and gratitude and joy. I felt irritated at the person who littered the street with this plastic cap. I felt dismay at all the plastic congesting our beleaguered planet.

That poor little cap was just sitting there in the street minding its own business and I managed in the span of ten seconds to go from loving and wanting it, to disliking and rejecting it. I had two completely different reactions to this single little item that remained unchanged by what was happening in my mind. Wow.

What a simple and revealing example of how we engage with the world around us. There is a stimulus of some kind. I label it, correctly or incorrectly. Based on the label, I have an emotional reaction to it, positive or negative. I might tell myself a story about it. Now I am engaged with my story. I am living in my story. The original stimulus is long forgotten.

Something to think about....

Note: I wrote a similar post a while back about thinking that a rat was a squirrel. Apparently this is a lesson that needs repeating.

Friday, March 6, 2020

New Beginnings

New beginnings
Yet still I like the term
A double dose of freshness
Hints of endless possibility
And hope
And courage
This moment unchained
Liberated from the past
Uncontainable by one word alone