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.

Enjoying the Sun Melt

I’m sitting on my back deck, a warm breeze full of hot earth and warm leaves awakens my senses. I watch as the dragon flies dart about doing their acrobatics in the evening sky. I am counting my breaths in and out as I sit in silence with only the sounds of the river and rustling of the tiny aspen tree leaves.

My mind wanders off on empty thoughts, then no thoughts at all. I sit up straighter and soften my gaze into the slowly melting sun.

The sky fills with bright oranges, fiery reds and the truest purples. The crimson and gold silhouette the mountains on the horizon and reflect back up to the heavens on the water.

A blanket of blue creeps up from behind slowly consuming the brilliant colors. A breeze rustles the aspens again and I am brought back from my infinite gaze into the melting day, welcoming the night and all it’s calmness.

The crickets and tree frogs begin their symphony welcoming the cool stillness of night. The melting sun gives off one last burst of intense color and surrenders to the approaching night. She reaches up from below the horizon with her thin light fingers and pulls the night across the sky. Good night All… sleep well until morning.

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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