fellow traveller

The Hardship of Caring - MiniPost

I recently came across this quote by Normal Fischer:

We become numb and isolated because we want to avoid the suffering, but it’s the

numbness and isolation that feel the worst. When we break through the unnecessary

suffering and connect with others, it’s hard and it’s painful, but it’s also better. When we

open up to the real pain of caring for others, we do feel better

This speaks volumes about how I once dealt with close relationships. I had become quite proficient at distancing in order to maintain my own sense of “safety.” By avoiding the suffering of friendship and caring for others (particularly new people) I had learned how to be able to avoid the potential hurt of caring for others.

This has changed for me in the past few years, but it takes a lot of work (and is on-going). I find myself often overwhelmed (when I am not doing my own self-care) by the sheer pain/dissatisfaction/sadness of other people. This is a gentle reminder that it is through facing this vulnerability we build stronger connective tissue. Strong connections take work. They involve suffering, and they are not pleasant. It is, however, in moving through this unpleasantness that we can build the safety nets of true community participation that I think we all really crave.

Be well, friends

Jesse

***As an aside, “suffering” here denotes a personal uncomfortability and emotional turmoil/unpleasantness. If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship that is something to correct/leave/ find support for as soon as is safely possible. Look out for one another. ***

90 Day Commit-to-Sit: Week 13 - 90 Days of Sitting

This is the thirteenth (and final) in a series of blog posts aimed at capturing my experience following the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care’s 90 Day Commit-to-Sit challenge.  Each day, I have been sent an email that contains an excerpt from Maezumi’s Appreciate Your Life with a brief reflection afterwards.  My intention is to share my experience each week to foster discussion, illuminate the process of working on a practice, and reflecting on an excerpt that stuck with me from the week.

The end, my friends!  It has been 90 days.  I was asked recently by a student who knew I was undertaking this challenge, whether I had “stuck with it.” I had to answer honestly: for the most part, yes.  Did I miss some days? Yes.  Did I meditate when I really didn’t feel like it? Also yes.  Do I regret committing publicly to meditating for 90 days? Not in the slightest. 

It has been over a week since the 90 days officially ended.  I have had a hard time sitting down to write this, the final post in this series.  It has felt like I have been doing this for a long time. Perhaps it’s ending has put off my writing.

Hopefully, I have begun the process of charting a path for some of you through the murky waters of engaging in a meditation practice.  I know I have begun that process myself.  I am still unclear where I am going, but I am at least a little more familiar with what the journey feels like.

As a way of bookending this little experiment, I would like to offer a few of the things that I learned along the way.  This list is personal, so your experience may (will) vary.

1)      Consistency is Key. I obviously missed some days.  What I found was that this was more likely to happen when I got out of the practice of practice.  As I have stated in a previous post, I like to meditate in the morning, after a few sips of coffee, before doing anything else.  For a while, I got into the habit of telling myself that I would meditate later in the day, or that evening.  While I sometimes would follow through, I was much more likely to skip these days if I broke up my routine.  My word of advice here is to sit, even if it is only for a few minutes (instead of the length of your regular practice) just to keep the mind and body on a schedule it can grow into.

2)      Presence is Passing. I very rarely found myself in the state that one might consider “present.”  My mind was a chaotic mess most of the time.  Thoughts about the day, my family, my work, the news, it all became a constant parade behind my closed lids.  Much of the “work” was just becoming aware that this was happening.  I would re-center, focus on the breath, relax my clenched jaw, and sink into an exhale. For that moment, I really felt lighter, and at rest. Then I would think about feeling that way, and off I would go again!  I really think this is a “enjoy the journey, not the destination” type of activity.  My insights came from doing the practice, not getting to any sort of enlightened state.  My advice here is to be okay with the process.  Be process-oriented and sit and watch and learn and breathe.

3)      The Body Speaks.  Sitting still for 10-30 minutes can be a strain on the body.  Even if one has mastered the art of aligning the body in a way that this is less of an issue, my experience is that when you aim to quiet the mind, the body’s voice can be heard.  In sitting, I became aware of imbalances in my flexibility, aches that didn’t exist previously, the internal sounds that are usually drown out by living and I found places that were doing just fine.  Our minds and our bodies are often seen as separate.   I found that sitting helped the process of reintegration of mind and body.  Emotional thoughts brought tensions in different places.  Relaxation was as much held in my hips as in my head.  On the days that frustration grew, it was often because I was nurturing a disdain for the body – feeling like the soreness of the knees or back or jaw was a betrayal.  It is no surprise that when one demonizes their own flesh, they end up in a foul mood.  My advice here is simply to listen.  In the same way we should listen to the other people in our lives with compassion and openness, we can extend this practice to our bones, our blood, our joints and our scars. 

4)      Complexity is Compassion.  I am reminded of something a teacher of mine once said (paraphrased): Becoming intimate with anything makes it less personal.  My practice opened my awareness to the complexity of my inner life.  The dialogues always running in the background, layer upon layer until it all just felt like white noise.  By really seeing the depth of that conversation with myself, I gained a much greater appreciation for the dialogue that must be going on in others.  If I am this way, then it is difficult to imagine that anyone else is less so.  This has allowed me to become more compassionate in my living.  Each person I meet has this same cacophony of voices all wanting to be heard.  They are complex constructs of experience and feeling and competing desires.  Knowing that, makes it all less personal.  It reminds me that I am not the center of anyone else’s actions, decisions, and needs.  A slight I might feel is more about me than them, and it is my job to remind myself of this reality.  My advice here is to be intimate with the world.  Know that very little is ever personal.  Most people are just trying to navigate their own way, just as you are.

This is it! As far as writing on this experience is concerned anyways.  It has truly been an honor to share a piece of me with those of you who have followed me on this path.  I will continue to sit, to reflect and to share.  I hope you find the time to do the same.

 

Be well, friends.

 

J

90 Day Commit-to-Sit: Week 8 - Prioritizing this Moment

This is the eighth in a series of blog posts aimed at capturing my experience following the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care’s 90 Day Commit-to-Sit challenge.  Each day, I have been sent an email that contains an excerpt from Maezumi’s Appreciate Your Life with a brief reflection afterwards.  My intention is to share my experience each week to foster discussion, illuminate the process of working on a practice, and reflecting on an excerpt that stuck with me from the week.

Writing this blog has made meditation a big part of my life.  I read, I sit and I write.  It’s a sort of rhythm that runs in the background of my normal daily routines, a rhythm that pervades my interactions, my choices and my internal dialogue. It has made me more aware of the thinking me and is, slowly but surely, helping me prioritize my thoughts and time.

There is a common instruction for meditation:  If you choose to keep your eyes open during the practice, choose a spot just a little in front of you, on the floor and focus on that spot. Your gaze should not be too far, nor too near, when you are practicing.  This instruction is designed to place your focus on what is right in front of you, as you breathe and move with your breath. Too often, both our minds and our thoughts are so far ahead of us they are distorted by the curvature of the earth.  When we focus too much on the future, we stop living right now – we live in a distorted possible future instead of an experiential present.

My experience is no exception.  In the same way that I have found a meditation rhythm that gently plays in the background of my life, I have also found a future-focused rhythm that dominates my weeks.  I start Sunday nights thinking about all the work I must do the coming week.  I am focused on the classes I’m teaching and the clients I’m seeing, I think about my schedule and the work that needs to be done and all my deadlines.  I wonder if I’ve forgotten to schedule or plan for something the following week. I begin to plan my “free time” so as to not lose out on an opportunity for maximizing the space between work and sleep.  Even writing it all down is exhausting.

But then, every week, it all passes and I wonder where it went.  Sometimes on Friday afternoons, I step out of my office and I’m suddenly aware of the present moment.  I have the conscious thought that it is all done, that I have a brief reprieve from the things that I was so worried about.  There is a sense of relief, like a light switch being clicked off.   The difference now is that my meditation practice  has added another thought to this process: “Where was I during the last week?  How did it all go by so fast?  Why does it feel like I was just going through the motions while worrying about getting it all done the whole time?”

This same mindset can be applied to the practice itself.  We can sit down at our practice thinking: When am I going to get it? Am I doing this right?  Did I think too much?  What is enlightenment, anyways?  Maezumi states that this kind of far-gazing is really doing us no favors:

The awakening experience is important, but relatively speaking, it is rather minor. What is more important? This life that we are constantly living minute after minute is most important. Our practice is here! Now! How to do it? In fact, you are doing it.

 He reminds us not to completely abandon our “important” things, but rather see them as a part of a whole.  That the week to come is not to be ignored, but perhaps put into perspective.  The things we feel are of huge importance on Sunday night come and go in the same way as every other moment leading up to and following them comes and goes.

 It is easy, and natural, to get lost in the far-off horizon.  To look for what is to come in order to prepare, worry about, and try to get ahead of it.  However, being in the moment is also important, and you are right here right now.  This coming week, invite yourself to prioritize your moments, giving the present moment the top spot.  How does that change your week?  Is there something to be gained from letting go of the distant future?  What does this minute have to offer, and what are you doing with it?

 

Be well, friends.

 

J