Archive for February, 2010

Meditation, spiritual growth, life in general is a messy process.

Andrew Cohen wrote: If not failing is more important to you than genuinely succeeding, you’re never going to make it. If you really want to succeed, then you have to have the big heart, heroic will, tenacity, courage, and commitment to fearlessly engage with the evolutionary process until something profound, mysterious, and extraordinary happens that cannot be undone. After that Cohen wrote wrote about never giving up.

So I am good. I failed, and I haven’t given up.

The failure: I have not made the post-a-day goal for a number of weeks, and I don’t seem to be returning to it. When I first broke the streak, I dutifully noted the failure and its associated emotions. I accepted what had happened with compassion, but at some level I still intended to return to the goal. Now I accept that I don’t seem to be returning.

The not giving up: where the strucuture had originally created a focus that was comforting and facinating, trying to go back to every day felt draining and potentially counterproductive. So I continued to group days.

Maybe I had gone from embracing the goal to being attached to the goal. Where it had been easy to write one for each day before, I found that I couldn’t settle on a subject for the day and couldn’t concentrate long enough to form a coherent snippet. I worried about the snippets that relied on other days snippets for context. I worried about new readers not being able to accumulate context because blogs get read backwards in time. I worried about what new readers would think of me. I worried about worrying. These thoughts and the family of negataive emotions that rallied around them in the cold, dark, flu-ridden weeks, well maybe they were blocking me from my goals. Maybe I had to fight through them. Or maybe they were just signaling change.

So I tried to be a good meditator. I tried to just accept and watch the barriers, the lack of focus, the lack of execution. It occured to me that instead of dealing with a barrier to my original goal, I may be dealing with trying to execute the goal’s near enemy. I love the concept of the near enemy. The near enemy looks, for all intents and purposes, just like the right and noble word, action, thought, post, but it is done for the wrong reason, a corrupted intention. It is good to notice when the near enemy arises, for anything done from the wrong intention will eventually end badly. Intention is everything.

On the mat or off the mat, we can get lost, lose focus, lose time. A meditation teacher who has led a number of retreats talks about losing focus by freaking out, zoning out, or blissing out. All are losing focus. We can lose focus for day, months, weeks, years. We can lose focus over one subject, one part of our lives, or we can devolve into the chaos where all that is unfocused reaches out and brings in whatever it can touch. The focus can come and go in waves. It can switch from viscous to virtuous cycles, then back. It can move what seems to be far away, then snap back with unexpected force and clarity. Our job is to watch it.

I am struggling with focus, but I am committed to keep posting on this project. I have strayed away from the post-a-day, but I am committed to stay engaged with the process until something profound, mysterious, and extraordinary happens that cannot be undone. Should be good, huh?. For right now, I am in the mess of the unfocused middle, and I can’t see anything. Not anything. Really.


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Aside from a few hours at my first caucus (I live in a caucus state), and the wonderful chance meeting at the French coffee shop, this past week has been slow, heavy, and unbalanced. Meditation has taught me to tell myself that these days and tears, like all days and tears end. It has taught me to remind myself that not all thoughts are true. And it has taught me that I do not need to know at every moment, which thoughts may be  true and which thoughts are, as my friend katnap says, the source of simple falsehood. I feel lucky that I can tell myself these things while the slow days are happening. It helps the stepping through. 

While it was happening, I didn’t write about the slowing. Writing about it felt boring, painful, redundant and potentially reinforcing the wrong thing. I was at a dangerous tipping place. As Thich Nat Hahn teaches, during such times we influence our outcome by choosing what we water with our attention. Today, it feels as if the blanket of darkened closeness is lifting. Boris and I have gently and quietly waited it out. We may have new ground beneath our feet.

On the other hand, the caucus was a hoot, although clearly not an extended game for hard-core introverts. The process seems to attract a certain number of entertaining, yet boundaryless folks who simply have to process every thought out loud. Be that as it may, for the short time of a few hours, the dynamics were worth watching. For to wait through the huffing and puffing, there were some very interesting and extremely smart things said.

For the first time, I get why a caucus. Any person could put forward any resolution, and if more people sitting in that little room raised their hand in favor than people raised their hand against, the resolution went to the state party convention for platform consideration. Anybody. Anything. Very cool.  There were 78 of us. We unanamously passed forward a resolution for single payor health care for the state. Very, very cool.

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Travel and meditation 

Mid afternoon, I was in a local coffee shop. The shop is attached to a gourmet French restaurant and a wine bar. Three small store fronts in a row—one formal, one intoxicating, the third casual and take out. All three are attached to a kitchen and bakery that spills out a splendid explosion of culinary choices for any time of the day or evening. I went for lunch after a trip to the bookstore, mistakenly sure that I was late enough to miss the crowd. I got a bowl of beef tenderloin and mushroom stroganoff and sat at a table next to the cashier, the last open table in the shop.

The table was a four top, and I felt self-conscious for taking up so much space. As more people came in, I tried to signal to a man standing next to the coffee and silverware. He bent his head down and would not meet my eye. Two women would not turn toward me. The cashier routed them and more into a hallway with a small ledge and a few bar stools.

A tall gray haired man saw my efforts to share, and asked if he and his friend could sit with me. My day was made. The friend, a dark haired man with dark eyes was not only the largest spark of life that I have seen so far in this very cold winter, but he was delightful in the way he momentarily stopped all conversation so he could concentrate completely on the first bite of his sea salt chocolate cookie (a house specialty).

We talked about traveling for work. They both said that they traveled too much. The gray haired man said that while traveling, the strange physical surroundings caused him to look only at what was in front of him. He said his travel caused him to disconnect, dissociate from his home. He stood, paused and looked up and to his left as he spoke. He said that the extent of his travel caused him to lose social contacts. He momentarily surrounded himself with melancholy, then turned and refilled his coffee.  The dark haired man nodded in agreement. He said that he traveled even more than the gray haired man.

The three of us covered graduate programs in poetry, Theater de la Jeune Lune, Carmina Burana at Carnegie Hall, and making up for a missed birthday with good scotch. The dark haired man pulled out a business card. He was the head of a world relief organization. No one had to mention the earthquake in Haiti. I asked him if he was exhausted.

The dark haired man was not from here. He had traveled here for weekend business meetings. His friend wanted to bring him to a coffee shop that was uniquely local. So we had the good fortune to sit at the French coffee shop and laugh.

I have not traveled in a long time. My overly familiar physical surroundings can constantly remind me of what I have and have not done, of what I want or need to do. Even with a meditation practice, I can spend days caught in the ever growing lists of wants. Never completely being in the moment. I look around. I had planned on reading that entire stack of books. I had planned on doing that laundry, mending that coat, painting those chairs, sorting those papers, and those papers, and those papers over there. The list just swirls and collects more of its same kind. Can I do that and that and that tomorrow? Even though I vaguely remember moments where I knew better, there is currently very little successful wheat from chaff sorting going on here.

In the right amount, travel brings us home to beneficial dissociation. After time in Colorado or Duluth or the French coffee shop, I walk into the living room and the expectations and regrets are silent. The unread books are content to be unread. Those that have been read are content with their status. Everything on the list has stopped talking. At least for a while. Ahh, the silence. 

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