the holiness of ordinary life


The first two verses of the Dhammapada (translated by Gil Fronsdal):

All experience is preceded by mind,
Led by mind,
Made by mind.
Speak or act with a corrupted mind,
And suffering follows
As the wagon wheel follows the hoof of the ox.

All experience is preceded by mind,
Led by mind,
Made by mind.
Speak or act with a peaceful mind,
And happiness follows,
Like a never-departing shadow.

These two verses are rich with meaning for me when I consider how we experience life. With each experience, two things happen. There is the actual experience and then there is all we add to it because of habitual responses developed over a lifetime.

This is one of the things that makes mindfulness so helpful, this giving attention to the moment: we are in a position to notice. We have an opportunity to experience life for what it is, in this moment. Without the story-lines, we can respond more wisely to the experience rather than react in an habitual way.

When the mind is peaceful, alert, and watching with a nonjudgmental awareness, something wondrous occurs. Each moment begins to shine with a sort of holiness: ordinary events become sacred, pregnant with meaning and flush with significance. This is why I trust the process. I’ve learned that all that is required of me is to cultivate a peaceful mind, receiving each experience without judging it “good” or “bad”. All of life is there to be experienced fully if only I take the time to notice and engage as fully as I am able with what is actually happening, in that moment. The darkness taught me this and very well.

Notes from my journal – July 29, 2013


Continuing through last year’s journal, finding thoughts I am happy to be reminded of.

You see, I want a lot

You see, I want a lot.
Perhaps I want everything.
The darkness that comes with every infinite fall
and the shivering blaze of every step up.

So many live on and want nothing
and are raised to the rank of prince
by the slippery ease of their light judgments.

But what you love to see are faces
that do work and feel thirst.
You love most of all those who need you
as they need a crowbar or a hoe.

You have not grown old, and it is not too late
to dive into your increasing depths
where life calmly gives out its own secret.

~Rainer Maria Rilke (trans.Robert Bly)

When I read this poem, I can’t help but wonder how the poet managed to travel through time and space to read my deepest heart. I do want a lot. I do want everything – the darkness, the shivering blaze. All of it. And I love the affirmation and reassurance that somehow this messy, crazy, glorious struggle has value. But what I love the best are the last lines: dive into your increasing depths where life calmly gives out its own secret. Dive, not dip my toe. Increasing depths, always increasing. And the idea of life itself disclosing its secret, calmly. Love it.

And this, from Yoga and the Quest for the True Self: “It is right to trust the relentless, puzzling, beguiling, troubling call of the unknown.”

The process of “waking up” to our true nature involves: an unrelenting call to an interior life, haunting suspicions of inauthenticity, a longing to hear the true voice of the true Self, the renunciation of extrinsic sources of satisfaction, the call to the kinds of contemplation that allow us to subtly examine our cognitive and perceptual capacities so that we may transcend them.

Elvin Semrad said of the process of individuation that it consists of acknowledging, experiencing and bearing the reality of your life. To “bear” life is to create the capacity in the self to tolerate the experience of life. Once we decide to stop hiding, to stop numbing ourselves and engage fully with life, we quickly learn that life is intense and frightening and wondrous, so much so that it is like standing on top of a mountain. The vista is amazing, but we are also exposed to the elements and they hammer against us if we stand unprotected. To create the capacity to bear the experience of life, we must fashion a container to hold life in such a way that we are not shattered by it. It is important to develop a calmly abiding center as a continuous home base from which it is possible to range freely through our entire experience of life.

on fearing death


I’m afraid of dying.

There. I’ve said it.

I have these recurring times of fearful freezing up where I am convinced that death is coming for me. It doesn’t have to make sense, but there are reasons I can check off during these anxious times. Crohn’s disease that is resistant to treatment. Check. Arthritis that is worsening at such a fast pace that the six weeks I’ve been waiting for a doctor’s appointment at the clinic has seen me progress from being concerned about pain and stiffness to becoming a hobbling hag who can barely do yoga anymore. COPD, which frightens me because I don’t seem to be able to quit smoking. Blood pressure that refuses to get under control and sometimes spikes into stroke-worthy territory. Periodic pounding of my heart and chest pain that scare the shit out of me.

All of these things together conspire to frighten and sadden me. I spend most of my days at home, rarely venturing out. I try to stay faithful to meditate and do the little bit of yoga I can. But the stress of living on the edge of homelessness, of abject poverty with no end in sight…it wears on me.

I worry about leaving Matt too soon. He needs me! I worry about leaving Rae and the kids too soon. They need me! I worry about leaving this earth with too little to show for having been here. What have I done with this one precious life? The walls close in. It becomes hard to breathe.

It all boils down to fear. I fear death. I fear dying. I fear lingering without full mental capacity. I fear letting down those who love me. How did I get this old and this sick so soon? Will I ever recover any semblance of health and vitality? Will I continue to be an ever-increasing burden on Matt and Rae?

I don’t fear what comes after death. I am curious, that is all. But I fear coming to the end of this life. I fear the event of death itself. I don’t want to be there for it.

There now. I’ve spewed all of my fear out. Now I am waiting to feel better.

Still waiting.

living instructions


Jotted down on the inside cover of my journal — 6 thoughts to help me stay the course. Any one of them can change my day, together they can change my life.


1. Life isn’t perfect, but it IS amazing. Don’t strive for a “perfect” life…it doesn’t exist. Instead, look around you, see and remember that life is an extraordinary gift. Live in radical amazement.

2. It’s okay to have down days. Expecting life to be wonderful all the time isn’t reasonable. Instead, strive to let go and be at peace with the reality of life’s ups and downs.

3. Every experience holds an important lesson. Don’t push disappointment, tragedies, and mistakes aside. They are stepping stones.

4. Change happens.It can be terrifying, but all growth and healing require change. Learn to trust the journey, even when you don’t understand it.

5. My happiness today is simply a matter of perspective. Regardless of the situation, you have a choice in perspective, and consequently, attitude.

6. The work is worth it. Lose the expectation that things in life should be easy. Enjoy the challenge. Celebrate your achievements.

broken open

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Kahil Gibran
Dance, when you’re broken open.
Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off.

Dance in the middle of fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance, when you’re perfectly free.

dive deep


You have to keep asking yourself this, over and over again,
“What is reality?
What is consciousness?
What am I doing here?”
Find out.
Spend periods in the silence,
where you observe your breath,
where you watch your thoughts,
do this as often as you can.
Never react to the world no matter what it shows you.
Dive deep within the Self.

Robert Adams