Day Four: Metta

Loving kindness…what a concept. The practice of Metta in meditation has been my undoing. Metta is basically positive affirmations with a Buddhist twist. It is all about internalizing positive thinking and learning to project it back out into the world. It is about learning to love yourself and all your short comings, accept the parts of you that are not so becoming and learning to live in a positive space. We end everyday with this practice and teaching.

Last night I cried so hard during the Metta meditation. It was a deep sobbing cry. We were asked to think about all the people in our lives that were instrumental in teaching us, loving us and inspirational. At first I felt lost, unsettled and empty. Who in my life has picked me up and carried me when I couldn’t do it for myself? Who has been my confidant? Who have I shared my deepest fears, aspirations and joy with? Who has loved me and accepted me for who I was at the moment without judgment or scolding? Unconditionally…living or passed on. Who has been my teachers? Not out of obligation as in immediate family…

Once the flurry of anxiety had cleared and I began to think a bit more clearly, I thought of Chris, Faye and Sylvia, church members from my childhood, speakers at rallys, singers and song writers perhaps I’d never met but were inspirational. I thought about how I treasured bits and pieces of all of them. I began to understand that I am not alone in my life, and even though I have felt deeply alone, that if I let down my guard and was honest, people were always there for me.

In the past, and even now, there were people I opened up to that were not so positive and supportive. Sometimes they were judgmental, sometimes they would tell me to suck it up, tell me I was silly and sometimes I was told to “grow up”. It was those times that I remember and stopped reaching out. I learned that I had to carefully choose who I shared myself with, who I could let into my “space”.

Last night I summoned the positive back and dismissed the negative. I surrounded the negative in a pink bubble and set it off into the universe. The sadness flowed out of me in rivers of tears. I felt such deep emotions that had been buried deep under piles and piles of shit. On day one I had spoken one to one with one of the teachers here when I became afraid that I would not be able to control the explosion of anger, tears and whatever emotional upheaval might occur. I was assured I was not alone. I was also told that anger and depression is manifested from deep sadness and it is often a way of coping. He shared last night about his own sadness and bouts of depression and how when he started his journey he found that he could never fill the void he discovered inside his being but had to embrace it as part of him and surround it with good and nurture it, giving it its space to be. I get it…and cried myself to sleep.

This morning I struggled to get out of bed for the 6:15 meditation but I forced myself awake. The pain my body was in all day yesterday was gone and the anguish I felt last night too was gone. I sat in meditation this morning and thanked the universe for taking care of me through the night and for the clarity I feel this morning. I feel very raw and emotional. This is the beginning. I am now an empty vessel. From here it is my choice to let go and let myself heal…to listen deeply and with an open mind and heart. Let the day begin.

P.S., the sun is out…

Everything is Uphill

“You park here”, the lady said, “and the check in is up there.” I gazed up the hill at the beauty of this place and realized this entire week was gonna be uphill. I never really imagined what I was thinking and the depths of how real it was. Everything is uphill.

From my first step I was beginning the journey of a lifetime. I looked around at the steep grassy hills, dotted with groves of brilliant green trees. I looked at the buildings set against this stunning backdrop and noticed how each one blended in and was accented by the grassy hills. There was a peacefulness here and it was evident that this was a powerful land and this was a powerful place.

I walked slowly uphill to the retreat site and through the gate that had a large prayer wheel…what the heck, I gave it a spin and said a silent prayer as I walked through the gate. I could feel the energy emanating from all around me. At first it was intimidating but soon it washed over me in a wave of warmth and a peaceful feeling came over me. I continued uphill till I came to the first building, a sign said “Start Here”.

That was the beginning of it all. From that moment forward everything was gonna be uphill. My cabin, the main meditation hall, the dinning hall and the path that took you to the top of the beautiful hills. Even my spiritual growth would be an uphill climb. There wasn’t much further down I was willing to go, so I welcomed the energy and settled in.

That was four days ago. I have surmounted more hills both metaphysically and physically. We do a walking meditation eight times a day. At least one of those meditations I take the path to the top of the hill and explore. It is breathtakingly beautiful and in a meditative state you don’t even feel the gravity or your heart beating in your chest. Your breathing is slow and steady and with each slow methodical step you climb further up.

Scattered at the top are more trails leading off to glorious views of the surrounding countryside. Each trail has benches with makeshift alters and colorfully adorned Buddhas with prayer beads and chakra stones. The energy radiates clear up to the top of the hill from the valley below and you can gaze out and soar with the birds gliding on the air currents. Since this is a silent retreat there is no human sound short of footsteps. The deer walk right out onto the fields as you stand there. The lizards scurry around at your feet. Bees buzz as they do their busy work. The trees whisper their stories for anyone willing to listen.

I’ve learned this week that uphill can be hard and it can also be rewarding. Uphill isn’t so bad after all.

Day Three: Mindful Awareness

Each day starts out before the dawn. The sound of bells, deep, low gongs. I awoke in a great deal of pain today. Perhaps from sitting and walking…or maybe it was the bed? No matter, just one more hurdle in my day. It could be pain caused by emotional upheaval manifesting itself in physical pain. The things we put ourselves through to achieve peace of mind, body and spirit.

I roll out of bed and head to morning meditation, 6:15 sharp. The first few meditations were guided, the last few however, have been left to us and our personal practice. After sitting for forty five minutes we have walking meditation and then breakfast. Today I had a special awareness on my walking meditation. I heard a small bird calling in the morning light, hidden away inside a tree. I paused and listened to its tiny calls and finally found it amongst the tangle of branches…it was the smallest hummingbird sitting on a branch singing away. It sat and watched me as I listened. Nothing else around was present, just me and this small bird. I thanked it for its early morning song, and continued on my walk. It is this awareness, this awakening that can only be achieved in a silent meditation.

Have I told you how loud silence is? Silence is very loud at times and very calming others. I can hear the pounding of my heart, the rush of blood through my head, my belly is always making very loud noises since I am eating delicious food that is totally foreign to its system. In silence you can here the wind, you can here the rustling of the trees, every sound you normally wouldn’t even notice is ten times louder when no one is speaking. You can hear birds feathers on the wind as they glide by. In silence I have come to appreciate all that goes unnoticed. You can hear distant buzzing from the bees collecting nectar. The world is silent when we are making sounds and full of incredible sounds when we are quiet.

I have also noticed, when silent, all other senses are heightened. Like I said earlier, I hear even the smallest sound. I wish I could bottle the smell of the air here. My eyes see colors more vividly. My mind thinks clearer. I just want to touch everything as if it were for the first time. A heightened awareness of all my surroundings. The world is alive an vibrant and I have only to be silent to take it all in.

Day Two: The Road to Change

I just completed my first full day at Spirit Rock Meditaion Retreat Center in Woodacre, California. I have run the entire gambit of emotions in the last fifteen hours. I have cried silently, laughed silently and waged battle, silently, with acceptance. I have sat in meditation for eight long hours. I have walked slowly, silently for another eight. I have listened to the teachers as they have reached inside of me, grabbed hold of all my fears and opened the flood gates. I was brought face to face with my darkest demons and tried to make some peace.

Today has been a whirlwind ride into a place I haven’t been in a long time, myself. Here at the retreat we are devoid from outside interference. We all have entered into “noble silence”. We have a life line available to us at anytime if the experience gets to intense, to decompress and seek clarity and direction. This is no cake walk and these teachers are here to guide us and lift us up. It is up to me to decide what I get from this. Trust me, the last three sitting meditations were tough to attend.

This retreat is about Mindfulness. It’s about learning to love all parts of you. To embrace all you fears and felt inadequacies with kindness and acknowledging short comings. It’s about generating a compassionate inner being. Compassion for oneself is needed in order to give it. Love is needed for oneself in order to give it. Understanding how to internalize the good even in a messed up world. This retreat is about me and whatever I choose to take from it. Breakdown the walls, embracing whatever comes up, owning it and embracing it with love and compassion.

Day One: Finding Oneself

It’s my fifty fifth birthday. Life has been good to me without a doubt. Hard work and perseverance have paid off… but at what price? I have money, love, a great life partner, my own business, a beautiful house and means. Lately however I have lost something more important than all of those things… ME.

Sure I am happy and content on the outside, but the inside is a jumble of confusion, sadness and spiritual decay. This has led to depression and anger. So much so that those around me the most are often times the recipients or at least the observers of my unintentional and uncontrolled outbursts. It’s hard to accept, admit and own up to this. It’s harder still to accept it as a dark part of me and seek out ways to change.

Well change is exactly what I must do before all that lies behind me is a path of destruction… before I find myself alone. I know from my past lessons learned that inside of me is a constant battle. I’ve learned that when an imbalance occurs I must take a step back and gain equilibrium…I must put myself and my well-being above all else, or there will be nothing else.

This coming week I have chosen to attend a silent residential meditation retreat. I have chosen to place myself in the middle of nowhere, to disconnect from the outside world, to turn inside to my world and do some renovations. I have chosen to put my life and well-being in the hands of the teachers. I have chosen to be torn down and built back up. I have chosen to face my demons and fight the battle waging within. It is quite literally my life on the line. Not physically, but spiritually and emotionally. My foundation is not as strong as it once was.

This weeks goal is to root out the anger, frustration, sadness and whatever other little monsters I find lurking, and face them head on. To make peace with those demons. To find balance once again. I accept, acknowledge and own them. To find the spiritual tools to once again feel whole and grounded. It’s a path of enlightenment and peace. I will listen to the Buddha’s teachings and embrace the dharma. I will listen to, and take direction from the teachers and learn to live in spiritual harmony with all the good and bad within me. This is my path and mine alone.

On Becoming a Native American Buddhist: Step One

I recently realized I was in a bout with anger and depression. This is something I deal with on a daily basis and accept that it is part of who I am. In my years I’ve always sought out alternatives to antidepressants through meditation and writing. Years later, nothing has changed. OK well lots has changed. I am a grown up with too many responsibilities and way too much stress. I am caught up in the whirlwind of the life I’ve chosen. The thing that has slipped away, correction…what I thought had slipped away, was my peace and serenity. The tools I need to stay balanced. Today the teacher told us that “all we seek is already within us.” It just takes desire and practice to find it again.

Back up three weeks…

When my depression and anger became too much for those around me to handle, so much a part of my daily life that I didn’t even see it, it became a serious issue and I was “called on the carpet.” No one ever wants to admit they have a problem. No one wants to burden anyone with our issues. I did… and I was… and I don’t. I chose to turn back inward. I first sought out a “getaway”, somewhere I could go and get away from my stresses. Escape. Guess what? Where ever you go… there you are. There’s no running away. I knew that I really needed to dig down deep. To pull out the coping toolbox. Unfortunately I found it quite empty. Somewhere along the last 30 years or so I neglected it and have slowly lost the tools. Good thing though, I knew what used to be in there. I know what made me feel better, what simple principles applied to daily life kept me sane all these years. Physical tools need to be kept clean and well oiled. Spiritual tools need to be practiced, looked after and used often. Other tools include my Native American flute and music. When one finds anger a ruling force in their life, music soothes. When I studied with a shaman, back in 1987, he made me sit in silence with myself until I learned how to calm down, relax and connect with the pure primal-ness of my very being. I learned native songs and chants. I learned how to listen to myself and express what I heard with my flute. I learned to sit in silence and take a tour inside of my soul. The essence of my being. So knowing what “used to be there” I began to seek out that spiritual connection again. This time I found it in Tibetan meditation and mantra. I am still drawn to native flutes and drums. I found Urgyen Samten Ling Meditation in Salt Lake City, not too far from where I live.

 

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It’s not sweat lodges and drums, but the meditation and teachings are very similar. Today I attended my first Puja. It was centered around love and compassion for oneself and others. I listened intently and cried often. After the Puja I was singled out and blessed by the resident Lama/Rinpoche. What an honor since he spoke to my heart during his session. So I am here to tell you that I don’t know the first thing about practicing Buddhism or the Buddha dharma. It is a path I am drawn to though. Step one is letting go and listening,keeping an open mind and heart and letting it all flow.

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A Warm Summers Day

The dog fought me for my foot space. My partner lay beside me snoring. The pale morning light turned the blinds a rosy pink color. I turned over to see the blurry clock 12 feet away… 6:54am. Sigh…

I rolled over and kicked one leg out from under the covers. The air was cool, both from the AC and ceiling fan. Gandaulf lay horizontal across the end of the bed having little fits as he dreamed whatever dogs dream about. I listened to the crickets and birds from my iPads white noise app that I’ve listened to every night for over 5 years. I slid out of bed and made my way upstairs.

The day was splendidly blue and cloudless. The shadows grew shorter and exposed the vibrant greens of the aspens. I rubbed my eyes and went about making coffee. I opened the back door to free the stagnant night air and let in the cool morning. Coffee ready and I moved to the deck to begin my morning.

Welcome to July and a new start to my life.

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I sat on the edge of my chair and pulled the foot stool closer and crossed my legs, turned on some meditation music and began to breathe. With each breath I could feel a wave of calm come over me. I noticed all the tiny butterflies, the chickadees playing in the woods, the lazy lizards basking in the sun, warming their bodies from the night chill. The world around me felt a little more alive than I had noticed previously.

This is it. This is my new morning ritual. A daily awakening of the mind, body and spirit. It’s only one tool in my otherwise empty coping tool box. It’s about me and has to be. I’ve been down this road before. I know what needs to be done.

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I am beginning a new path of spiritual and mental healing. All that I took for granted, all I assumed would just be there, was gone but now is coming back and more real than ever. Like riding a bike, once I began to quiet my mind and began practicing meditation again, the peace began to flood back into me little waves at a time.

Zen on the River

The day started out cloudy with a slight hint of rain floating on the soft breezes. We went about our morning ritual of making coffee and playing with the dog around camp. The day was planned out to the very last detail. We were to blow up the raft, set up camp, get together food for lunch on the river, and get on the river by noon. The coolness of the morning made all these tasks easy and time flew by.

Our rig is set up so that two women can load and unload our 14 foot Hyside raft, with frame attached, onto the roof of our trailer. There is a winch attached to the tongue of the trailer with a long, flat strap and hook. This extends over the trailers roof and to the back where we then hook it to the raft. One of us guides the raft and retrieval of the strap while the other helps the raft up and onto the rollers on the roof.  It is quite ingenious and we have done it hundreds of times. The guys are always amazed when they watch us heave the big blue boat from the river and up onto the trailer at the take out.

Chris was going to be trying something that we had never done before. Normally this trip requires two vehicles to shuttle the bus and trailer to the take out, then a ride back to the top and a short hike down to the river. Over the last months, she has been training to ride her bike from take out to put in. This is a nine and a half mile ride, most of which is uphill. Neither of us had a doubt, that we were willing to give any acknowledgment to, that she and her bike could make the return trip.

We left camp at 11:00 and made the 5 minute drive to the boat ramp. Being a Saturday morning and school out, the ramp was a zoo. There were people in their own worlds rigging their rafts right on the ramp, others who don’t know how to back up a trailer, skeewampus all over the ramp. My task was to thread this maze of boats and trailers and get down the ramp without taking anyone out, as quickly as possible. No problem, even with the van and trailer. Five minutes later Gandaulf and I were on the river moving down to a quieter beach to wait for Chris.

Once free of the mayhem of the ramp, screaming children and bumper boats, the true serenity of this canyon can be absorbed. The shear red cliff walls shoot up from the cold green river. Majestic Douglas firs cling to their small purchase of land, soaring up to the brilliant blue sky. Poison ivy clings to the banks as well as red and yellow willows. Today the colors are a bit muted with the cloud cover but the grandure cannot be stolen nor the enormity of the canyon.

I set up the raft, put together one fishing pole and played with Gandaulf until Chris arrived. The skies broke loose a few times with little spritzes of cool rain, enough for me to breakout the rain poncho and long sleeve guide shirt. I spoke with the creator for a moment and asked that this day not be a total washout, not to get hailed on, and mostly not get a huge thunderstorm. We shoved off and began our float.

 

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It has been two weeks since I came to grips with my depression. Two weeks since I had to face the reality that something in my life just wasn’t right. Those two weeks have been spent  contemplating my life. I have been enjoying time to work on the van and planning for a spiritual and mental reboot of my life. I have worked only as needed, reducing the stress in my daily life to a more managable level. I have been tapping into my creative juices with design and build on the van and writing. I can feel the anguish and anger subsiding, perhaps with both the time and the little blue pill I swallow every morning so I can be “normal”. It is travel and being in the great outdoors though, that feeds my soul…the disconnect from the outside world…the silence.

This float will be a great escape.

There is a certain rhythm that you get into when at the oars of a boat. The water moving under the boat, the ripples around the rocks, the current as it flows down the path of least resistance. The sound of the Canyon Wren’s shrill calls, the walls of the red rock canyon kissing the sky, the verdant greens and yellows of the foliage, all combine in this harsh high desert environment to form a beauty that comes out of the struggle to just survive in this canyon. The cold green water that flows out of the depths of the resevoir gives the very life that can survive here hope. Off the front of the boat, the gental rhythm of the flyfishing line gracefully floating back and forth and lighting down on the surface of the water trying to entice the rise of a fish. The sound of the oars as they cut through the surface of the water. All this becomes a mantra for the day ahead.

Today, I found myself in a particularly strong bond with this environment. I found myself “one” with the rhythms of the canyon. I could feel the river’s flow and the calmness that it has as it moves through the channel it has carved over a millenium. I can feel the power and strength of the giant fir trees as they become the skyscrapers of the natural world around me. Each oar stroke makes me part of the waters life. I found that I was in a trance like state that was so calming it was bliss. Not only could I read this river but I had become part of it. I felt as if this canyon and all its life forces were welcoming me, holding me in it’s comforting arms and making me stronger and gentiler. It was food for my soul and Zen on the river.

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A Time of Change

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As my silent inner war rages, I am forced to put on a happy face and try to blend in. The struggle inside is exacerbated by daily stresses I am trying to control. My little blue helper has finally quit making me sick… is it working? The fact that I have to take any chemicals in order to keep on an even keel haunts me everyday as I screw off the bottle’s cap and swallow the blue pill inside. Why have I lost the ability to control my outbursts? Why am I so angry inside? My life is good yet these demons rage on inside in the recesses of my brain… my very soul.

I studied with a shaman last time things got this out of control. For a year we met 3 days a week. For the first six months he never spoke to me. We would walk through the woods in silence. We would sit in silence in the sweat lodge, the only sound was him singing and playing his hypnotic drum. We would sit around the fire at night and stare into the flames, not making a sound. Little did I know, this was all part of my healing. Sitting in silence makes you face your demons head on, with no human outside influences. Finally, one Saturday evening around the fire, he spoke in the softest voice… “you are no longer angry, now we can begin.” Six more months he taught me all he could.

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That was back in 1987/8. Today I remember the feelings I felt, the inner struggles that waged on. I remember the serenity I finally achieved after months of hard work and those weekends in the woods. In the end he gave me a native flute and told me that this would be my avenue to sooth the angry beast inside. Even though I long for that serenity again, I can no seem to find those tools I learned. I find myself seeking out guidance in the form of meditation, Thai chi, maybe I should just become a Buddhist. There are people out there that feed on people’s longings, but only for profit. Then there are places that really do sincerely cater to the desire to become whole again, to find peace, to nourish the tired, battered soul. I have determined that this is what I must do.

I spoke of my struggles with depression in my last post. I hate being so selfish and dragging those around me into my torment. I wish that this would just all go away and I could just go back to being happy go lucky, not a care in the world. I am caught between a rock and a hard space. The more I feed into this, the more out of control I feel. When I was younger, and not as responsible as I am today, it was easy to just blow off things in the pursuit of eternal happiness…if there really is such an animal. I did find a moment in time of devine serenity and having tasted it once, I am in search of this elusive butterfly again.

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When Life Deals You Lemons

In the last six months life hasn’t been exactly easy. The stresses of being a business owner for 16 years have taken its toll on me both mentally and physically. My dream of being retired and traveling died out in flames as the buyer for our business fell through. Shame on me for wanting to believe until the end.

So let’s fast forward to June. I have been battling with bouts of depression, I believe is mostly stress related. I found it increasingly difficult to control emotional outbursts. I became increasingly more angry at everything it seemed. I was caught in a spiral that I no longer had control over. I no longer had the tools in my life to deal with any of this. To say I was a ticking time bomb is to put it mildly.

We worked it out that I would go to part time. Only work in the back with the new cars coming in. Not dealing with customers that I hate. I found that the very lifeblood of our business, people buying cars, was sending me into fits of rage. Some of my employees were constantly pissing me off and when I came down on them, they would run to my partner and exaggerate what happened, making it all my issues and none of theirs. It was time for me to step aside.

My life is needing an overhaul. I sat down and wrote two lists: one of tasks around the house that had been neglected and the other what I was gonna do for Me to change my life. The second list was the most vital. In order for me to climb out of this deep dark, lonely hole I find myself in, I have to develop tools that will balance my core, my very soul. I am sick, emotionally and spiritually. I have given up every ounce of my being to survive day to day. Over kill? Trust me… I am on some serious shaky ground that scares even myself.

The week all this came to a head, two prominent figures committed suicide. Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. Both, like myself, have it made. They have all the money one could wish for. Fame and notoriety didn’t buy them happiness. They died slow painful deaths emotionally then ended their torture by taking their physical lives. It saddens me that an act so permanent… so selfish… was their only way out of the silent, torturous lives they were living. So I reached out for help.

Admitting that your life is out of control to those around you is tough. Some look on you as flawed. Others avoid you. Some tell you it’s all in your head, you have a great life. Perhaps this is why we suffer in silence. Being pushed aside, avoided, told to get over it, is not helpful. It drives us deeper into our own silence and demons. At wits end we seek out medication to hopefully balance out our “chemical imbalance”. Some little pill that will stop our uncontrolled outbursts. I’ll be the first to admit that I need a little help in the meantime, while I find myself again. While I find the balance in my life.

So my life has dealt me lemons… right now I want to squish them and throw them at all the people I blame for my feeling this way. Hopefully, in the near future, I will be able to make lemonade and sit back and slowly enjoy it.