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.

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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.

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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.

Island Life: Days 3-5

There’s something to say about island life. It’s kicked back pace. Long hours of scraping out a living… or doing absolutely nothing but digging your toes in the sand and sucking up some rays. That soon can growing quite boring, at least for Chris and I.

Day three started quite early. We had to catch the 7am ferry back to Belize City in order to catch a taxi and get to our meeting place by 8:30. Of course all of this is in Island time which means, a fifteen minute of error has come to be expected.

We had a golf cart taxi waiting for us at 6:30am. Chris was getting off at the Amore Cafe for some coffee and I was to go the rest of the way with our backpacks, check our luggage and wait for Chris. I began to worry when it was 6:55 and Chris was still no where in sight. There are times when that fifteen minutes comes in handy. She finally showed after walking all the way to The Split and realizing she had missed the docks somehow.

The ferry ride was uneventful, we gathered our backpacks and a taxi and met up with our group, with plenty of time to spare. We soon found out that the group had just come off the Glover’s Reef trip and were now known as the double atollers. For once it appeared we wouldn’t be the oldest in the group… as a matter of fact the group was an average of 55 years old, all professionals, all trying to get to a place in their lives where they can “retire”. We were on the perfect trip!

Most of the third day was spent on boats, getting from one island to another at the furthest eastern land mass in Belize. Arriving at our tent camp on the small island of Half Moon Caye, we were broken into our groups, the double atollers and the newbies… Our tents assigned and lunch served, our day could finally begin…nine hours after we awoke.

Impressions of Half Moon Caye:

Unlike many islands were have been on, these Belizeans care about the cleanliness of their little piece of sand. There was very little garbage littering the sandy white beaches and the windward side of the island, that would normally collect what the tides bring in was also devoid of all ocean trash. This is the rest spot for divers of The Blue Hole. This is also the furthest Belizean outpost for The Autobahn Society. They patrol the waters of The Blue Hole for illegal fisherman, help educate the visitors to this island and keep this turtle hatchery pristine.

Half Moon Caye is also a bird sanctuary. There are nesting colonies of Red Footed Boobies, Frigate Birds and Osprey. There are three predominant species of lizards and an exorbitant amount of Hermit Crabs. The camp actually uses the crabs as a form of composting. All the food scraps are put into a bin and the hermit crabs swarm the pile and become a moving, crunching mass of bioengineering, turning these piles into nothing overnight. Remember anything we create (trash wise) on this island must be disposed of, either by burning, hauled off on boats, or organically disposed of.

The air on the island is thick with salt, humidity and birds. It’s like a kite festival with thirty or fourth birds souring on the ocean breezes…silently swooping and diving, gliding effortlessly. On the windward side the breezes keep the humidity to a manageable level, although everything is soaked and wet in the mornings. The further you get away from the ocean breezes, the humidity gets quite unbearable and the turquoise blue lagoon becomes very inviting.

The frigate birds have huge thin wings and forked tail. They glide stealthy on the wind and watch for the boobies or osprey to catch a fish. In a second, the frigates go into action, diving in long swoops, weaving and turning gracefully in the air as they begin their assault on the fish bearing sea bird. They grab hold of the fish, lock talons and spiral towards earth. Eventually they hit the water or until one of the seabirds releases and flies off to hunt again.

At night the hermit crabs come out by the hundreds. The path ways from area to area become a seething river of these creatures. It kinda creeps you out at night when your flashlight accentuates the size of these crabs when walking to the restroom or shower. It reminds me of some alien organism out to snatch you in your sleep and carry you off. With no real predators on the island they thrive!

Most every activity has been centered around water. There is something calming about water. Whether submersed in it or floating on top, it has a magic over me that rocks to my soul. It can be gentle and calm or a raging surf. It has the ability to shape and reshape with little that can stand in its way. I feel fortunate to be able to see below its surface to its undersea world of bright colors. The fragile world that hangs in the balance yet is abundant with life.