Thursday, March 23, 2017

Grief Changes

I’ve been thinking about grief lately, as March 15 marked the 27th anniversary of my dad’s death. This year, though I was tender – as I often am – I didn’t shut down as strongly. And whenever I do get caught up in the intense pain of the loss, I can finally find relief in Maitri practice (loving-kindness/metta/unconditional friendliness). For many years, the practice made basic sense to me but didn’t seem to budge my most fundamental struggles. Over time, however, my heart has opened up enough to want to be relieved of the suffering of believing I am alone in my loss, and so bringing to mind others who have felt grief like this gives space around my feelings, and a salve of support.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Receiving Generosity

Over the last few months, over 100 people gave to my Karuna Training Graduate Program fund. It was an act of giving based on little received in return - literally little - a 17-syllable haiku thank you. Their generosity has been gratitude for all I have given, or for the sake of giving, rather than reward. I was – and am - grateful. But I also experienced discomfort, a revealing of my own funky ego beliefs around money, giving, and receiving.

While everyone has given to me in love-filled ways in the last few months, I have not always received with clarity. I wanted to share some of the underbelly aspects of my experience. These have nothing to do with others’ generosities and everything to do with my hyper-independent identity, difficulty in asking and receiving help, and working with entitlement and privilege.

Thursday, February 23, 2017


I've fallen behind on blogging, especially here. I started a momentum of writing about my weekly writing classes after they were done, and lost that momentum. That happens. I am working with my Return community on that a lot - coming back, returning to our intentions, even when we drift off.

I am returning. I return today with a cough.

It's not an awful cough, not by my standards. As someone who has had pleurisy, bronchitis, pretty much everything but pneumonia when it comes to viral and bacterial lung crap over the course of her young life, this is really not much. The tail end of a head cold, a bit of an itch in the back of my throat. Mostly dry, not wet, not super loud.

But any kind of cough makes people notice you.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Where I Am - Weekly Class

(I decided to start doing these again this session and see if they are of benefit to others and myself. I take bits and pieces from conversations in classes, combined with nuggets of language - removing any identifying factors and changing necessary details to preserve anonymity - from classes. I used to do this more and it's a lovely way for me to gather all I got out of the classes, and have a place for everyone to see the collective wisdom and struggle I get to see each week.)

"Where I Am" is my favorite default prompt nowadays, borrowed from Natalie Goldberg via Saundra Goldman and her #continuouspractice group on Facebook. "Where I am" is a classically good prompt - it can be answered very directly, with description of your physical location, or it can be taken many different possible directions - where you are in your life, where your mind is right now, etc. It seems boring, simple - but it is multidimensional.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

How to Feel Rich?

 This morning I woke very early, haunted by two things: the dissolve of a local sangha, partially due to financial issues, and the second, waves of jealousy toward some folks I know who just got back from a tropical vacation I could not possibly afford. Both stayed with me deeply enough that I knew I wasn't going to sleep anymore, so I got up.

If I stay in bed too long thinking about those kinds of things, my mind goes into old and intense ruts - fear, paranoia, envy, poverty mind. Poverty mind is the Buddhist understanding that regardless of how much money or how many resources you have, you feel lacking. This isn't about ignorance of one's status or privilege, though that can be a result. It's a deeper issue - Buddhist psychology says it is based in a fundamental lack of self-worth. A wrong view. If we understand that money and privilege and resources have nothing to do with our inherent value, and understand our inherent value to always be worthy, unconditionally, we never feel resource-less, even if we are poor.

That's a pretty big IF for most people, myself included. And when you are struggling financially, as we have been in the last months, those kinds of views can sound absolutist, like the rantings of privileged folks wanting to quiet the lacking masses.

Lately, as part of my Return course, I've been practicing Maitri more, and so I took this struggle to my practice. I began with this wish: "May I feel rich and resourced." It was a spontaneous phrasing, but inside I know "rich" means more than financially salient, it means feeling full and with plenty to spare. The fact is, I AM rich, even with debt, because I live in the richest country in the world and wale to warm water at my command and plenty of food and books. So, on a relative level, I am rich, compared to most of the world, AND have access to amazing teachings and community and teachers. So on both a relative and slightly more absolute scale, I am rich. And resourced, which, for me, is the less charged version of rich. It is easy to see how many resources I have, but also important for me to consider that those are a form of richness. 

Overall, I like to combine words that are easy to believe with ones I have a harder time accepting. They break open each others' meanings and leverage open my mind.

Then I moved on to my best friend, for whom it is easy to wish these things - "May she feel rich and resourced." Note I am NOT wishing she be these things - though there's nothing wrong with that - I am wishing she feel them, and under that is the belief that she fundamentally has the ability to feel them. This, too, can sound tricky, "If she only believed in herself she would have a better life." Once we start thinking such conditional things in loving-kindness practice, we need to do a high horse ego check. This is NOT about me knowing what that looks like for her, nor about her being any different than she is. It is a wish, and implicit under that wish is the unconditional belief that we all already have, if not in financial form, the richness and resources we need.

Then on to those Pema Chodron calls "the neutrals" - in this case, the barista who helped me yesterday whom I see pretty often but whose name I don't know. 

The next person is the hard part. The most obvious candidate for "someone you have a hard time imagining this for" is Donald Trump. He often arises at this point in my practice, whether I am wishing for happiness and the root of happiness, or ease, or wellness, or richness. But of all the ironies! To wish HIM richness and resources?! My first gut reaction is "HELL NO. He has way too many riches and resources!"

Or does he? Part of what makes this a contemplative practice is to contemplate the true meaning behind certain words and beliefs.

I believe when we feel rich and resourced, we don't take from others. We aren't paranoid. We are less reactive. We are generous. Frankly, I don't see him exhibit any of these characteristics. I don't think he feels rich, not in the more ultimate sense, and I don't think he is aware of the resources available to him to help him really be human. 

What if he did? It's easy to again get on my righteous horse and believe all of his politics would agree with mine, etc, etc. Instead, I kept coming back to an unconditional level - if I would be a better person feeling rich and resources, he would, too. If i have room to grow, he does, too. I have to wish it unconditionally or not at all. I can't decide what that would mean for him, or even for me. And I can't do it thinking I am better than he is.

After a few stretches in that direction, opening up my understanding of richness and resources, I could open all the way to all beings. This usually feels lighter for me, with a spontaneous highlight reel of various beings appearing, sometimes comically: may all cats (including ours, who woke me two hours before feeding time, insisting they were starving), all president-elects, All Buddhist teachers who covet other Buddhist teachers, All folks facing the death penalty...all beings already rich or not, really feel and know their richness and resources. Really. No conditions.

Most people find loving-kindness practice to be more powerful when done on the spot, and/or applied to a current struggle (like this, as an antidote to a feeling you are trying to work with). I have suggested to the Return participants to use it with their intentions for the year in mind - "May all beings feel free, May all beings feel rested," etc. 

Make it your own. Let it stretch you. Compassion takes work, like any muscles we are trying to build. 

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Looking Back (Week 3/3)

I am posting my own responses to looking back over the last year in this blog weekly for three weeks. These are unedited writings done in class, offered here for my students and readers. This is week three out of three. The door is closing soon on Return: Setting New Year's Intentions That Stick, so sign up now if you are interested!

Note the photo above showing the conversation between my dominant and non-dominant hand. This is an especially powerful way to have an exchange with yourself about tender or complex topics.

(dominant hand)
Each time I write this prompt I think it will be dead for me, having done it three times already. I've explored my word in retrospect, looking at my intention word for 2016: connect. I've discovered lightly neglected feelings, and looked at all the interlocking growth and happenings. So what could possibly be left?

(non-dominant hand)
All the tiny specifics details and the endless moments of inspiration and desperation are left.