on taking the monster’s teeth and claws

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Reading over my journal from the last couple of years has been wonderful.  I’ve always thrown away my journals at the end of the year.  I read over it, get a new one and throw it away.   I don’t know why.  Year after year I did this.  Then I had an excruciating year and couldn’t bear to read over that year.  I couldn’t throw it away if I hadn’t read over it, so it still rests in a drawer, awaiting the day I am ready to open it.  It broke the habit, so I now have the last couple of years of journals to read over.  I’m enjoying it so very much.

Looking over an entry I wrote with thoughts about panic and foreboding, I realized that I had changed my way of responding to dark thoughts since I wrote it.  I didn’t try to change, I didn’t implement a self-improvement program.  The change came naturally, organically, and so quietly I didn’t even notice it.

It used to be that when I would have a tough moment, one of those times when darkness comes like a sudden storm to overwhelm with despair, I would sink into sadness and the litany of hopelessness would begin:  There is no point to life, too much pain and suffering, too full of disappointment and dissatisfaction, no reason, no hope, no purpose, no redeeming factor.

What I would do with these thoughts is key.  I would give them significance.  It was if they held more truth, as if they had a certain heft, a bulkier weight to them.  It was as if they bore more significance, were full of more truth than ordinary thoughts and feelings.

Somewhere in there, in learning to sit in meditation and notice my thoughts, in learning to listen to my inner dialogue throughout the day, a change came.  These thoughts, which should carry no more weight or significance than any other, became just thoughts again.  Thoughts come and go, like clouds in the sky.  Giving shadow thoughts (despair, hopelessness, foreboding) extra significance and weight is like giving the monster teeth and claws.  Take away the teeth and claws and all that is left is another thought, floating by, soon gone.

teeth and claws

notes from my journal 8/27/2012

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Norman Cousins calls panic “the ultimate enemy”, explaining how intense psychological stress can damage the heart, undermine the immune system, even cause sudden death.  He said, “Nothing is more essential to the treatment of serious disease than liberating the patient from panic and foreboding.”

I can see this in my life the last several years.  So many losses and stressors, all working together to bring great psychological stress and suffering.  I have known this “panic and foreboding”.  Sometimes I wonder if my life has been shortened, I worry that I don’t have a long time left, that my future is bleak.  This is foreboding!  This is what I need liberation from!

Part of what I need to do to experience this liberation from panic and foreboding is to trust the process.  I must remind myself daily that I can’t control life with my fear, that can only find peace by leaning into life, riding life with skill like a surfer instead of being battered by the waves of samsara.

Reading Rumi last night:

Don’t let your throat tighten

with fear.  Take sips of breath

all day and all night, before death closes your mouth.

 

The first time I read this, it hit me like a punch in the gut.  Oh!

Reading it again, sitting with it a bit longer, I began to love it for the remembrance of death and the decision to be awake, coupled with the admonition to notice fear in its manifestation in the body.  The tight throat, the shallow breathing, the tenseness in my shoulders, the clenching gut.  Noticing it with the intention to NOT be afraid, remembering how ridiculous 99% of all fears are when one remembers DEATH!  As long as death has not closed my mouth – I can breathe in and breathe out.  I have choices.  I can choose life, choose while looking in death’s eyes and taking little sips of air, experiencing every little miraculous moment until death closes my mouth.

always becoming

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When I was a young woman, I had a volatile temper.  Once I was angry, it was out of my hands.  My mind would sharpen and just that right cutting response would erupt out of my mouth.  I was also a thrower.  I craved the sound of shattering glass as if it could soothe me.  I was a real bitch when angry.

I used to say that I had inherited my temper from my Dad.  “It’s just how I am” was my testimony.  I didn’t think it was an excuse.  I felt it was a part of me.  I thought I was being self-aware by owning the anger.  It took some time, but eventually I realized that saying I had a bad temper, as if it were something I had no control over, was lame.  I started to think about the anger.  I started to notice it.  I started to reflect on it.

I realized that I had made a comfy home for the anger.  I was even secretly a bit proud of how cutting I could be, how I could cow and control with my words and tones.  Until one day, thinking back on my courtship with anger, I suddenly felt a shift.  I didn’t want to cut with my anger anymore.  I didn’t want to hurt others.  I didn’t want to hurt myself.

I started to notice what was under the anger.  Once I saw my own fear and sense of vulnerability, of perceived frailty, I felt a strong compassion for myself.  I immediately stopped referring to myself as someone with a temper.  I changed.

We all change, every day.  We know this, we see it when we look back, but we forget that who we are in this moment is fluid, spacious, and ever-changing.  The next time you describe yourself as being comfortable with your lesser character traits, such as anger, fear, aggression, arrogance, inflexibility, and so on, try giving the trait some attention.  No judgment.  Just notice it.  Reflect on your emotions when it comes calling.  See if you can identify the intention behind the action.  Are you using the action to feel superior because you secretly feel inferior?  Are you trying to control because trusting is too frightening?

This has been a great help to me over the years.  It has helped me to identify parts of myself that no longer served or expressed who I was becoming.  It has also helped me to undo the knots that keep me from living from a place of freedom.  And it has sometimes surprised me by revealing a strong gift or passion, a fire that had incredible creative and transformative muscle when it was recognized and tended properly. Attending to my anger, I found the strength and courage to face my fearfulness.  Anger, turned on its back, became my strength, molding a warrior, fearless and daring in the face of the chaotic, dreadful, juicy, mysterious, fertile void at the edge of who I am becoming.

roy goodwin

notes from my journal 7/28/12

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The instant fish accept

that they have no arms

they grow fins.

 

Before we can accept what we are meant to be,  we must accept what we are not.  As Father Thomas Keating said, “Discernment is a process of letting go of what we are not.”  So, there is a letting go of grand fantasies that take us out of our true nature — that make us work to be famous instead of loving or perfect instead of compassionate.  Instead, accepting what is not in our nature, we are suddenly freed to develop what is our true nature!  The very act of acceptance is what sets us free!

I have been doing a lot of accepting lately — accepting that many, even most, of my dreams of what my life would be are probably not going to happen.  I probably won’t ever have a legit career or a college diploma.  I probably won’t be uber-successful financially or well known or do any grand work like write a book or become a shrink.  I probably won’t travel the world or maybe even this country (again).  I’ll not return to the clear, unlined skin of youth or the supple body or health or energy of the young.

But if I truly accept these things, if I let go of these expectations, I may just find resources rushing in from deep within me to sculpt what is real into being.  Like when Michelangelo sculpted and he saw a block and set free what was within by chiseling away the excess, what was not real, to release the thing of beauty within.

Let go.  Let go.  Again the mantra – let go.  Let go of dreams.  Let go of expectations.  Let go of the past.  Let go of the future.  Let go of worry, anxiety, fear, dread.  Be.  Just be.  Let go and be.

Breathe.  Let the simplicity of your life give you joy.  Little things.   You’ve already let go of so much.  Let go of it all!  Release yourself into the magic and the power of the unknown.  Let go.  Life will happen, regardless of your clinging.  Follow its siren song or be drug along anyway.

 

liminal living

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Aimless Love

This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,

I fell in love with a wren

and later in the day with a mouse

the cat had dropped under the dining room table.

 

In the shadows of an autumn evening,

I fell for a seamstress

still at her machine in the tailor’s window,

and later for a bowl of broth,

steam rising like smoke from a naval battle.

 

This is the best kind of love, I thought,

Without recompense, without gifts,

or unkind words, without suspicion,

or silence on the telephone.

 

The love of the chestnut,

the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel.

 

No lust, no slam of the door –

the love of the miniature orange tree,

the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,

the highway the cuts across Florida.

 

No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor –

just a twinge every now and then

 

for the wren who had built her nest

on a low branch overhanging the water

and for the dead mouse,

still dressed in its light brown suit.

 

But my heart is always propped up

in a field on its tripod,

ready for the arrow.

 

After I carried the mouse by the tail

to a pile of leaves in the woods,

I found myself standing at the bathroom sink

gazing down affectionately at the soap,

 

so patient and soluble,

so at home in its pale green soap dish.

I could feel myself falling again

as I felt its turning in my wet hands

and caught the scent of lavender and stone.

 

Billy Collins

I would like to do whatever it is that presses the essence from the hour ~ Mary Oliver

To live on the threshold between the secular and the sacred, to find joy and fullness in small things, to see the divine in nature…this is what makes the difference between living life or just existing.  Slow down.  Get in your body, in the moment.  Look, really look.  Listen, listen deeply.  This is the lesson of the small child.  This is to be awake, to be aware, to build a bridge across the abyss.  No more sleepwalking.  No more missing the mystery, the miraculous and chaotic and juicy wonder of living on the threshold.  As Sir Patrick would say, “Engage.”

 

Velocity

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In the club car that morning I had my notebook

open on my lap and my pen uncapped,

looking every inch the writer

right down to the little writer’s frown on my face,

 

but there was nothing to write about

except life and death

and the low warning wound of the train whistle.

 

I did not want to write about the scenery

that was flashing past, cows spread over a pasture,

hay rolled up meticulously –

things you see once and will never see again.

 

But I kept my pen moving by drawing

over and over again

the face of a motorcyclist in profile-

 

for no reason I can think of –

a biker with sunglasses and a weak chin,

leaning forward, helmetless,

his long thin hair trailing behind him in the wind.

 

I also drew many lines to indicate speed,

to show the air becoming visible

as it broke over the biker’s face

 

the way it was breaking over the face

of the locomotive that was pulling me

toward Omaha and whatever lay beyond Omaha

for me, all the other stops to make

 

before the time would arrive to stop for good.

We must always look at things

from the point of view of eternity,

 

the college theologians used to insist,

from which, I imagine, as we would all

appear to have speed lines trailing behind us

as we rush along the road of the world,

 

as we rush down the long tunnel of time –

the biker, of course, drunk on the wind,

but also the man reading by a fire,

 

speed lines coming off his shoulders and his book,

and the woman standing on a beach

studying the curve of the horizon,

even the child asleep on a summer night,

 

speed lines flying from the posters of her bed,

from the white tips of the pillow cases,

and from the edges of her perfectly motionless body.

Billy Collins

 

penny hardy

penny hardy

 

notes from my journal – 3/17/2012

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I have to remind myself that life is not all black and white – there’s a lot of gray.  It’s not all or nothing.  I sit in the park after walking for a half hour and I know the truth of this in my body.  In my head, I fuss about how I  “should” walk more often, walk longer, faster.  But in my body, I feel the improvement in my strength and endurance after the walks I have taken.  So.  I can rest and enjoy the fresh air without guilt.

Life is all about perspective.  Happiness is all about perspective.  How you become happy with yourself is all about perspective.  It’s a mistake to think that becoming happy with yourself requires a self-improvement plan.  The futility of looking for happiness by trying to become “better” is akin to looking for happiness in life by trying to create “perfection” in life’s events.  Ain’t gonna happen.  It’s impossible.  Life is imperfect, messy, chaotic, unpredictable.  Instead, happiness is found in a simple change of perspective – in stopping the endless striving for what isn’t and fully engaging with what is.

To make this paradigm shift in perspective, it’s helpful to have practices that ground you in your body and in your present life.  Yoga is wonderful for this, as is meditation, journaling, mindfulness practices – even a daily walk can bring you back in touch with your simple, present life.  When this shift occurs, what is really important becomes more apparent and the urgency of surface shit fades.  No pressure to be anyone other than who I am, to have any other moment than this one.  What is, is.  And that is enough to infect me with joy and happiness.