hope vs. expectation

hope_by_iskander1989-d5rtxuw

Hope is essential. It’s an attitude of heart and mind that trusts in life, that refuses to quit. Hope that is active has an adventurous, open-heartedness and an enthusiasm that helps us move forward into the Mystery with an energetic buoyancy. This kind of hope doesn’t come from the outside, but is a well-spring hidden within us. This version of hope is a basic human need.

But this isn’t how we often think of hope. Our usual way of thinking of hope is tied together with a specific outcome. It’s little more than wishful thinking. This kind of hope looks to something outside of us to make us happy, rejecting what is present in the here and now. It’s the flip-side of fear. When the outcome isn’t achieved, our hopes are dashed.

I learned this recently when I realized my surgery didn’t provide the remission I had set my hopes on. I fell into darkness and distress. I lost my hard-won ability to be at home with Crohn’s disease. My anxiety and anger covered over the inner resources of objectivity and wisdom and I suffered for several weeks with deep disappointment and despair.

I denied my heartache for as long as I could, until I thought I would break open. When I turned to my sorrow and let myself fully inhabit the storms of suffering, I began to rest in the calmness beyond the struggles. My perception shifted and I realized that I had pinned my happiness on remission. I began to look again for the hope that takes me inside myself and points to the good to be found in my experience. I stopped suffering over symptoms I didn’t choose and couldn’t keep from returning and instead began the journey toward discovering the value of living fully given my current condition.

This kind of hope requires a clear intention and a letting go. Releasing what used to be and the craving for what I imagined should be freed me to embrace the truth of what is, in this moment. I stepped back into the grace of remembering that wholeness is possible even if a cure is not. Full of gratitude for this precious life, I turn to step back into the flowing, unpredictable, and wondrous river of Mystery and find I never left it and this, too, was grace.

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Change happens – notes from my journal 1/31/2016

An observation about the process of self-transformation (through reflection, contemplation, mindfulness, spiritual practices, etc): Hang on tight! Change happens.

It can seem a very slow process. I think of the time between the initial spark of insight and the realization in day to day life as feeling sometimes interminable. It feels like a long trudge up a steep hill. Not impossible, but trying. And tiring.

But there comes a day when all of the neurons have been re-wired and you notice that you’re motoring down a new neural pathway with no effort – this is now a default road! Yay! It can then seem as if you’re on a zip-line, racing through effortlessly.

zip-line-photo

I’ve just had a zip-line moment and it is wonderful and also tough to describe. I would like to note that I had observed myself feeling a bit raw, emotions on the surface, tears flowing, circumstances aligning to tenderize my heart. I think there is a connection there that I want to remember. Perhaps in the future I could notice when I’m feeling this tenderness and upheaval in my emotions and consider that perhaps a knot is being loosened and coming (finally) untied. Perhaps inner liberation is at work.

“To be born in soul again and again is a positive experience, but it also involves pain. It means entering a new kind of life just when the old one might have grown comfortable. Familiarity can bring you tranquility, but you also need the sting and chaos of the new. To be alive entails both of these qualities, the yin and yang of peace and pain.

To be a person means to be faced every minute with the decision to live or to die, to accept the invitations for yet more vitality or to decline them out of fear or lethargy.” ~Thomas Merton

And from the Tao Te Ching 15 ~ Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear?

notes from my journal ~ January 18, 2016

My focus for this year is equanimity. I’ve been reading about the bodhichitta practices (awakening and nurturing open-heartedness). One of the teachings is of the “Four Limitless Qualities”. These are: loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity.

The last line of my metta practice is “may my life flow smoothly, with ease”. It is slowly dawning on me that this is a prayer for equanimity and that it has little to do with the circumstances – rather it is about coming to a place of rest and ease in all circumstances. Asking for ease isn’t about asking for a break from the unrelenting challenges but rather asking for the expansion of my heart-mind that allows all things with the same open heart and peaceful mind. It is saying an unconditional “yes” to all of life as it unfolds. It is learning to surf the waves of Samara.

My mantra for this year is “this too”. It is from this statement: “I accept unconditionally the unfolding of this present moment in whatever form it takes – this too is allowed and accepted”. To dwell in equanimity is to be free from attachment and aversion. This too. This small happiness, this moment of sorrow, this anxiety, this gratitude. All of it . All of life with its sorrows and joys, rowing towards that wonderful shore of “no preference”, where each moment is welcomed and cherished equally.

It came home to me strongly when I learned of my old blog/facebook friend and ally Nicholas Temple’s diagnosis of prostrate cancer. I began to speak metta over Nick. He was struggling to receive the meds he needed and that the VA wouldn’t pay for until April. Then he found a doctor to provide the meds! I rejoiced – this was an answer for his life to unfold with ease, surely! Then, yesterday he fell, couldn’t get up, was taken to the hospital where they did emergency surgery to remove a tumor from his spine. He won’t walk again.

I faltered. It woke me this morning just after 4:00 a.m. Suddenly, I realized that receiving the meds and losing his ability to walk had little to do with the metta. The smooth unfolding had to do instead with receiving each moment with equanimity. The joy and the happiness, but also the suffering and the tragedy.

We all – each one of us – will encounter illness, old age, loss, and death. Equanimity isn’t about escaping the difficulties in our lives. It’s about opening our hearts to them with equal measure to the joys of this precious life.

notes from my journal July 6, 2016

This sentence flew up at me this morning, “Whether we remain ash or become the phoenix is up to us.”

When disaster falls, unexpectedly as it often does, or when some part of me is burned away by others or by my own hand throwing the match, when all of who I am is burned away and I stand uncertain in the smoldering ruins…here, right here, is the place of beginning. Always, always there is the choice. Do I try to resurrect the putrid corpse of who I was or do I rise into change with courage and even reckless abandon?

This life, this human life, will never stop granting me the grace of pain. Will I stop resisting the sweeping away of what no longer serves? Will I turn into the pain and discover new life?

Will I remain ash or will I become the phoenix? Become the phoenix. There is a becoming, a season of formation. It isn’t automatic and it isn’t instantaneous. It takes effort, daily effort in big and small ways. Mostly small, everyday effort that one day rewards with an effortless rising into the wind to soar and drift high above former obstacles to happiness and equanimity. Like a river daily working its way around and through and over obstacles, until one day they are worn away by the flowing water and the river glides serenely by, unencumbered on its journey to the ocean.

So, today then. What of today? Will I remain ash or become the phoenix?

 

Each new day is a fresh start.
But, you don’t really have to wait.
Because each new moment,
each second, each millisecond
is a chance for you to start living
the life you’ve always imagined.
Don’t keep putting it off until
tomorrow or the next day.
Why wait a second more
when you have this fresh, new,
exciting moment standing
right in front of you,
waiting for you to notice it?

 

Notes from my journal 3/30/16

5:00 a.m.
I’ve been waking early, sometimes as early as 3:00 or 4:00, most days before the sun rises. I enjoy these early morning hours when it feels like all the world sleeps and I alone bear witness to the farewell of the moon and stars as the grey sky lightens. This morning as I sat at my desk I caught a movement from the edge of my vision and turned to watch a rat sliding silently around the kitchen floor, looking for openings. Oddly, I didn’t squeal or flail in fear. No sense waking the entire house. Just moments before I had stood in the kitchen making coffee, unaware that I shared the room with a watching rodent. Now I keep turning to check – has it come back to investigate the closed cabinet doors? Will it silently slither over to my desk? I feel a bit jumpy.

This is what my life has been like for the last several months (years?). I go about my way, looking for small comforts in the midst of severe hardship, taking small breaths, while a rat runs around the edges, gnawing away at my serenity, keeping me off balance when I notice its quiet movements.

This long season of abject poverty has taught me many wonderful lessons. Things I thought I knew but had only heard tell of are now my very own. Learning to rest in uncertainty and to glory in small pleasures are what has sustained me and kept me sane.

So I’m not screaming for help as the rat silently shares my morning, but I’m not going into the kitchen either. Not until the daylight and activity chase it back through its secret hole into the neighboring field.

“We must risk delight. We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world”. ~ Walt Whitman

Notes from my journal 3/13/16

For awhile now, I’ve been doing a quick morning practice. When I awaken, before my mind runs off willy-nilly, I take a few moments. I breathe slowly and begin the day by reminding myself how precious and transient this life is. I think of this marvelous quote:

When you arise in the morning,
think of what a precious
privilege it is to be alive,
to breathe, to think,
to enjoy, to love.
~Marcus Aurelius

This has been so helpful in starting my day with an alert, awakened awareness. I added a couple of new practices recently. Throughout the day, I practice the “art of the pause”. When I remember to do this simple practice (remembering is the key, lol), it greatly enriches my day. The art of the pause practice is simple: when I think of it, I take one moment and pause. I still myself and take a few slow breaths. I return to my body and to the present moment. I listen to the sounds, feel what it is I am feeling, look at where my mind has been. For example, a few minutes ago, I paused. I am sitting at the table on my front porch, journal sitting open in front of me. I pause, breathing with awareness. I feel the gentle, cool breeze on my skin and suddenly hear birdsong. I gaze at the sky, taking in the fluffy balls of clouds drifting across an impossibly blue sky. I notice tension in my belly and look at where my mind has been, lost on a train of thought full of worry and anxiety about the future. I take a few more steady, calming breaths, feel my belly soften. I relax into the beautiful morning and pick up my pen to write.

This simple mindfulness practice is so precious to me. It not only returns me to the present, allowing me to be more aware and in tune with the world around and within me, it also teaches me about my habits of mind when I am not so aware and engaged. I’m beginning to have a more clear understanding of my own habitual narratives. I can bring that understanding with me when I am in a reflective or contemplative space, tracing these habitual mind wanderings, examining them with curiosity and compassion. The slow, steady process of rewiring my brain and rerouting my thoughts, building new neural pathways, is greatly aided by this simple practice.

The other practice I began recently is to take a few moments when I lie down at night to reflect on the day. How did the day go? How did I live today? Did I live with joy, loving-kindness, and peace? Was it a happy day? Did I live in fear, turmoil, anger, or worry? This isn’t done as a form of judgment, just as a way to be aware if I got lost and suffered that day. This awareness helps me to recognize how I am living every day. I begin to gain a deeper understanding of my own mind and my own ability to live each moment. I gain clarity and I grow in my commitment to live the next day with even more loving-kindness, clarity, courage, and joy.

As these three practices are becoming more habitual, I find I would like to add another. This is an extension to my morning practice – to set an intention for the day. First thing, while I am still and my heart is full of gratitude for another precious day to live, I will listen to my heart’s desire for that day. It may be an intention to live more kindly that day or to look for small wonders or to cultivate patience. This morning, my heart led me to set the intention to be kind to myself in my limitations, to find joy in my quiet life.

Its-Ok-to-be-Happy-with-a-Quiet-Life

notes from my journal December 2013 – (on groundlessness)

“Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

leap before you look

I keep coming back to this quote. Under every deep another deep opens. This is a truth I have experienced in my own life. And yet, there is such a tendency towards comfort and safety. When the dust settles from the latest shaking, the ego stamps its feet, feeling for solid ground.  Then the next shaking comes.

My aspiration is to come to a place of living comfortably with groundlessness. This feels to me like the truth of the journey — the ground is an illusion. Let go of the need for the ground to be there and endless possibility erupts in its place.

Instead, I seem to find a new truth…polish it…study it…make it the new ground. This seems to be the way of the world, always looking for safety and certainty.

So I continue to ponder, to sit, to cultivate self-reflection, to seek to understand myself. I continue to tug at the edge of the veil – what lies beyond? Can I know it, can I taste it, be taken by it as I release my fear and need for certainty? This isn’t just a metaphysical exercise, it’s a way of being in the world, a way of living with an open heart. This aspiration to befriend groundlessness is the container whose spaciousness makes it possible to welcome my life, regardless of the circumstances.