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Ah, but did you know the rain does not know that it is rain? And that the birds do not know that they are birds? And where does the rain end and the birds begin? And my pain, is it really mine? Does it have the beginning? The end?
From “Kabbalah, a Love Story” by Rabbi Kushner, “we have a word for leaf, twig, branch, trunk, roots. The words make it easier for us to categorize and comprehend reality. But we must not think that just because we have words for all parts of a tree, a tree really has all those parts. The leaf does not know, for instance, when it stops being a leaf and becomes a twig. And the trunk is not aware that it has stopped being a trunk and has become the roots. Indeed, the roots do not know when they stop being roots and become soil, nor the soil the moisture, not the moisture the atmosphere, not the atmosphere the sunlight. All our names are arbitrarily superimposed on what is, in truth, the seamless unity of all being”.
Once in a while, you read something so precious, so delicious, so inspiring, that you must share it with others. As I watch this gorgeous morning take hold outside my window, I feel the breeze enter my breathing passages and caress my skin, the birdsongs echo each other in the tippy tops of the trees, the rain cool and nourishing, a cacophony of joy, beauty, awakening. Grateful to give up control, to not resist, to lose over and over again, self, inside this magnificent unity.
For a mom who never really stayed home during the day (I worked full time corporate then ran our family retail business), my ME time went away almost entirely when my first child was born, and disappeared completely when the other two came about. There simply wasn’t any! Every minute was filled with caring, working, producing, assisting, and with great pleasure. I knew that was what I chose and that was my life now. I did not know that one day I would miss ME and no longer recognize ME inside this stressed, busy, not present, aging woman that I have become. And that finding ME again would be an option once I recognized that ME was gone, or hiding for that matter. To discover ME again, I started a morning routine. I know, I know, you already don’t get enough rest, you are not a morning person, you have too much to do in the morning, you need to give that time to your kids, you significant other, your pets, your hair, your job, the gym…but really, do this for you. I started getting up one hour earlier than usual. Make it 5:30, sometimes 6 AM. My daughter needs to be up between 6:30-7AM for middle school so I based my time off her schedule. Was it hard? Yes, it was, especially in the winter when I started this, and the darkness outside made it seem like I was getting up in the middle of the night. But I did it and I am so, so grateful for that choice. The very first part of my routine is Meditation. After listening to many different choices available, I have settled on one that Maria Popova recommended in one of her interviews, Tara Brach, a wonderful soothing spiritual teacher, who provides mutliple wonderful guided meditations on her website http://www.tarabrach.com/audioarchives-guided-meditations.html. She always invites you to smile from the inside of your mouth and to continue your silence with a smile, which feels really amazing and fills your entire being with light and joy. I have to admit sometimes I feel sleepy and sort of doze off during this, but forcing myself to sit upright and straighten my spine usually helps matters. Tara Brach has meditations from 10 to over 40 minutes so you can pick whatever your heart desires. Of course, there are many other great guided programs available on youtube. After meditation, I most often do my affirmations. These are very personal of course, but for me they have to do with self-esteem, independence, writing, and fearlessness. I believe your affirmations can be chosen based on your goals and also where you feel your weaknesses are in achieving them. I loved Lawrence Block’s book on writing, which was actually a writer’s seminar made into a book, and he has many wonderful affirmations that will suit anyone, not just writers or aspiring authors. Such as, “I am perfect the way I am right here, right now”, or “I now receive full assistance and cooperation from all forces and persons necessary for my success”. After affirmations, I do some sort of exercise, like a 10 min pilates video or a pop sugar fitness workout, or I just do some squats, leg lifts and arms raises with free weights. After that, I sit down and do my writing. It is usually either a blog post, an extra paragraph or two added to the novel I am working on, or perhaps a few pages of my upcoming non-fiction book. This is the time to do what you love, and if writing isn’t your thing, perhaps you can read or just keep a journal where you can set your goals for the day or the week. Then I go and make our morning coffee and let the day begin. I find that my days are now much smoother, I accomplish more, I worry less, and I feel more fulfilled and joyful as an individual. When I miss my morning routine for a day or two, I can clearly tell the difference and it isn’t a positive one.
When a dear friend first told me about Tonglen meditation I frowned. So counterintuitive. You breathe in darkness, consisting of others’ pain and suffering, and you breathe out light onto them. Why would I want to do that, I questioned? Why inhale negativity and allow what we are used to calling “bad energy” to enter my body? Wouldn’t it stay there? Affect me? My desire to remain “whole” and “positive” was strong and I was certain that allowing in “evil things” would damage my haughty aspirations. In Tonglen you essentially serve as a filter for all which you see as unwanted and use your body to purify it and release it back as joy and kindness. You can apply it to people suffering as a result of natural disaster, domestic abuse, disease, fear, neglect, you can even apply it to animals experiencing pain for any reason.
Pema Chodrin writes that “Tonglen puts us in touch with all the others who are just like us, who feel the way we do. We all experience pain and pleasure. We all gravitate to what’s comfortable and have an aversion to what’s not.” As I began to practice Tonglen against my wishes, just to give it a try, I found myself experiencing the most profound revelations that meditation ever brought to me. Now I am only beginning this journey and have much much to learn, and most certainly always will. What I came to realize is that Tonglen is ultimate compassion. Tonglen brings us back to where we are one, before we were separated by birth, by rules, by countries, by race, by gender, by class, by politics, by opinions… While you visualize the dark cloud of suffering, you feel the pain of others’ and identify with it, you own it, because you understand what it is like to be there, you are there. It brings you as close it can to standing in “someone else’s shoes”, because “someone else” is a human construct, a synthesis, our own creation of separateness that pulls us further away from each other and cuts the cords by which we are all connected.
Tonglen Meditation is a solution not just when you have a specific situation or person (s) in mind, but also when you feel helpless, when you want to help but time and distance separates you, when you cannot give physically or financially, because all you need is your mind. Once again, Chodrin affirms that “Tonglen goes against the grain of how we usually deal with the world: wanting life on our own terms, wanting things to work out for our own benefit, no matter what happens to others. The practice begins to break down the walls we’ve built around ourselves, begins to liberate us from the prison of self. As this protective shield starts to come apart, we naturally feel a wish to reach out. People need help, and we can provide it – both literally and at the level of aspiration for their well-being”. For me, Tonglen is also about giving up control, letting go of the persistent thinking that I must avoid all pain and suffering and not letting it into my mind and body. When I feel the pain of others, I am much less likely to become the one that causes it, thus revealing my most intimate humanity, and what is more potent than that?
What is perfection? We seek it as something unattainable, yet it is achieved simply in observing this moment. Perfection is not a state of being at the top of all creation and possibilities, but a condition which accepts things as they are.
Perfect is the whole moment of rising with the birds and seeing the moon, still there full and fiery, and feeling the body’s aches, and smiling at spring’s colors. Perfect is the whole moment of sadness and tears when our lover is gone and the place feels enormous and empty and so does the heart. And the droopy eyes of the grey wood on the walls of your dwelling watch sadly as you collapse on the floor trembling with pain.
Each instant is perfect because it is human nature, ebb and flow, ups and downs, all ever changing and impermanent, therefore not striving to achieve unattainable but simply happening, again and then again, putting together a movie we call life. Taking in whole breaths and observing the perfection of the moment is the teaching, simple when things are good, challenging when we suffer.
Look inside to see that suffering is perfection as much as other states of mind, Love yourself in every state that arises.
Random acts of kindness are a beautiful thing. They get shared widely and we rejoice in power of humanity.
Random however implies seldom, accidental, non-intentional, irregular, infrequent. It also implies certain egolessness as there is no expectation of any return. Though when I repeatedly added coins to someone’s expiring meter this past weekend, that happened to be right next to ours, I did hope deep down that I would get caught in the act and showered with gratitude. Not that I would ever reveal that…in public. Human.
Unrandom kindness, kindness that is constant and unassuming, that flows naturally and starts with a smile, a friendliness within, to our own thoughts, actions, bodies, inefficiencies, and expands out to others with soft eye contact, a smile to a stranger in traffic, sometimes silence when unkind words are dying to come out or unkind self critical thoughts flood the gates of our minds. Outcomes of kindness are more kindness and gratitude, because kindness is contagious. “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”, Ian Maclaren
When studying many buddhist texts, I tried thinking of self as river, as water, gracefully flowing through life, gentle and non-forceful, yet powerful in breaking down boundaries and obstacles; the river that accepts things as they are and just continues on flowing and moving. Water is soft but how persistent, with time dissolving the strongest of elements.
In my morning meditation today I listened to Tara Brach, who suggests thinking of life flowing through you, while you stay there and observe. So the self is not a river, but life is a river. It flows through the self, it is connected with the self, and it passes through the self. Perhaps I can think of self as a twig floating in the river and going with the flow of it.
Somehow being a river is more in line with what my ego wants. I am more in control, I am in charge, I flow through things and direct my flow and conquer. Having life be a river that flows though me leaves me groundless and out of control, just being there and accepting and coming to peace with the energy that presents itself. I love these morning revelations and I am wide open to receive more.
Learning today is easier than ever! We have access to the world’s greatest teachers, gurus, and all sorts of experts at our fingertips. You think you have no time, but I bet you can easily pass a college course’s curriculum while driving the kids to and from afterschool activities or during your commute to and from work. You can subscribe to the podcasts of individuals that you respect, or simply search by what you are interested in. Podcasts and free and informative. The ones I recommend for everyone are Achieve Your Goals with Hal Erlod (the author of Miracle Morning), The Tim Ferris Show (Choose interviews with the guests you admire), Operation Self Reset, Tara Brach (for meditations), The Startup School with Seth Godin, these are just a few I follow on my phone and I have to say they keep me inspired and on my “high flying disk” of being aligned with universe and promote the flow of creative juices. Morning meditations are a breeze as you can look up and find any type of guided meditation and music on youtube. My kindle gives me samples of books I want to explore and purchase if I like what I read. If a choice is between playing candy crush which teaches nothing and is a complete waste of time using the same technology in my pocket and learning something new which in turn stimulates thinking and creating, I choose the latter.
“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.” Henry Ford
At the start of this year I made a decision that I want to commit to myself to a pursuit of intellect. I’m already a bit of a nerd, so this wasn’t really an alien concept for me, however I quickly realized that in order for me to make educating myself a priority in my life – I would have to make it into a daily habit. Here is a list of some suggestions for small practices you could implement into your lifestyle. I would not expect anybody to do all of these things every single day, but you can choose a few, and keep your learning varied and fun! At first it may seem overwhelming, but after a few months of…
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