Archive for April 12th, 2012

What Inspires Us

Sometimes inspiration seems like it’s around every corner… just breathing in and breathing out, there is an inspired-ness… as sense of breathing in something that is holy, to enliven you.

And I don’t mean holy as in religious… but you know, don’t you ever get that feeling… it’s like electricity… it’s like listening to an incredible piece of music, reading the best part of a book, a really cool breeze when it’s least expected, the touch of a new love…

There is an excitement, a freshness or newness. . . there is definitely a positive charge to it. When we’re hooked up, hooked in, wired, stuck in our habitualness, it’s hard to feel these moments.

I know at work, there is little space for magic or awe as I crunch behavioral data, update Excel spreadsheets, and print out graphs to chart behavior for psychiatric medication reviews.

But there are ways to get out of your everyday headedness… no, that’s probably not a word, but I’ve just crafted it…

I find little things break up my day and break me out of the sleep walking.. wearing shoes I can slip in and out of and in the morning hours, when I need to wake up at work, I take a quick walk outside and find some cool damp grass to walk through. This wakes up my senses and reminds me to be present.

Later in the day, between meetings, I shut my door and will get into a meditation pose such as warrior or downward facing dog… The later is particularly effective because it improves my circulation and gets the cobwebs out after hours of sitting in front of the computer.

There are small ways to bring mindfulness or awakening into your day, no matter where you are.

A few years ago, when they still had it, I was part of Upaya Zen Prison Outreach Program. I was always so filled with awe to write with someone who had a small space, no privacy, and in such a difficult spiritual and psychological space. . . and yet this one person to whom I wrote with for awhile was really a teacher for me.

He taught me that even in hell one can be mindful, one can keep a practice. I may have shared resources with, books, etc but it was indeed he who taught me just where a bodhisattva can dwell.

What a valuable lesson to learn because there are times that we can be sitting in the most lovely meadow or hiking the most lush path and we are in hell. We bring it there with us, on our shoulders, in our hearts and heads. . . by our deeds, thoughts, and intentions.

Holiness and inspiration can come in simple places, in brief moments when we set our attention for living in heaven… that is to say, here and now. . .

We don’t have to fix our eyes ahead for a time that may or may not ever come when we have this breath, this moment that we can tap into our breath and be one with the touchstone of our true experience.

Written on the way out to Upaya….

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Here is the last post from Deeper into the Soul, a book on looking at Alzheimer’s & Dementia Care.  Take a look. . . .

“According to Arnold Mindell and many spiritual traditions, we can talk about three levels of reality, or realms of perception:


This is the root of all things, the oneness where everything is interconnected.  Essence is the source of subtle tendencies that occur before they can be verbalized, such as a tendency to move before moving.  Experiences here are the seed, or core, of an experience from which the other realms of consensus reality and Dreamland arise.  Arnold Mindell talks about it in terms of energetic tendencies that dream everyday life to existence  Essence has may names, such as Great Spirit, God, Yahweh, Allah, Void, Quantum Wave function, and the Tao that cannot be spoken.  Sometimes it happens through deep altered states of consciousness.  Coma, near-death experiences, certain meditations, as well as forgetfulness may open pathways to this Essence.”

From:  Deeper into the Soul:  Beyond Dementia & Alzheimer’s Toward Forgetfulness Care by Nader R. Shbanhangi & Bogna Szymkiewicz

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Upaya Institute and Zen Center

ThiUpaya Institute and Zen Center (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m going to try to replicate it, but well, I was in the zone… who could replicate that?


It’s been a beautiful morning.  It seems like it is many things… crisp, cool, sunny and overcast… go figure…

4 am came way too early… but that’s okay, I would not change how I spent my evening before my trip.  I got to “chat” with two good friends… one old and one knew and that felt like such a blessing… Maybe it’s just that my heart is really open, as I head off to retreat.

My first long retreat was in 2003, in Spring Green, WI… the regional sangha in Thich Nhat Hanh‘s tradition brought Thay and 150 monastics to the area.  It was so magical.

(okay, this is already NOT the last post I wrote and lost… sorry…. )

I remember sitting on my cushion and seeing Thay come out… I just started to cry… it was like years of hardening of the heart just started to melt.  And that was him just coming out on stage, in front of all of us… it wasn’t like he sat down with me for a chat.

It made me realize, not matter how open-hearted one tries to be, there are still places of armoring, years of nicks in the heart that one protects oneself from and on that retreat, I was so sadly happy… it was like I was able to touch that soft, raw place that Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche talks about in The Path of the Spiritual Warrior.  I felt it in those moments.

I’ve been on a few retreats over the years, usually 5-7 days but they were not happy… I severely injured my back on one, in the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in the world… Boulder Creek, CA, at Vajrapani Institute.  I fell in love with the place, despite “walking” away, barely being able to walk for almost two years…  Despite that, I remember the break taking grounds, the first banana slug I saw and was mesmerized by, and the warmth and compassion of the staff who were there…. as well as the beautiful peers and teacher I was with for those trips.

I had several back to back trips out there and I have to admit, I remember so little of them because of the amount of pain medicine I was on at the time.  It gave me a great appreciation for the experience of the dying person who wants to be present to their dying, to the people around them and yet having something like needed medication cloud EVERYTHING…

But that was several years ago, I’ve had some other pretty bad pain issues but am so happy to say that life is pretty good at the moment and I am walking and talking and doing life every day, every moment.

I am headed out to New Mexico, to the Upaya Zen Center for a retreat on Being With Dying… how extraordinary!  I have not worked for hospice for 3 years now and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t mourn that loss.  I loved the work.  And I can’t wait until I am in the position to get back into thanatology as a practice and not just a research and academic endeavor.

One of the friends I was speaking to last night was a friend that I met while doing hospice.  She was a great CNA.  Truly loving, spontaneous, and present to her patients.  It saddens me that she is no longer working at hospice though I understand her decisions.  My hope, for some day in the future, would be to have my own retreat center for the dying and the bereaved to come, be present, and heal…

I am lucky that although my current job is not the most optimal for my heart, I have an incredible group of people who are helping me this week while I am away so I can go to NM and be where my heart is.  I value their skills, their teamwork, and their endless help.

For now, I continue my own practices.  I lend an ear to the grieving passerby that I meet.  I write.  I try to stay present and be.

May you find safety and comfort.

May you have health and stay free from pain.

May you experience great love.

May you give deep compassion.

Metta, Jennifer

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“Until our attitude toward life changes; until we are able to make a new and stringent commitment to the quality of life; until we practice what so many only give lip service to, and we redefine our concepts of life and love, our society’s problems will not be solved.”

~~ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, On Children and Death: A Touching and Inspired Work about How Children and Their Parents can Cope with Death.

A lot of people want to throw everything that Elisabeth Kubrler-Ross did out, like the baby with the bath water.  I think that’s pretty ignorant.  Especially after I’ve gone back and re-read some of her books … not articles about her work, not critiques of her work, but the actual writing.

I don’t care who she was as a person.  We all have our demons.  We all have our angelic side.  As professionals, it’s hard to be human and be in the public eye.

But, I look at it this way… the woman bought a farm for children with AIDS to live so that they could be safe and well cared for at the end of their life.  Really?  Could a person be that bad if they were willing to do this in a time (though not that different than today) when there was so much stigma and hatred around the disease?

I would like to say that I never experienced the stigma.  I told anyone who asked what my red ribbon was for and never blinked.  And I was living in Nashville, TN.  But, I tend to say things that other’s don’t want to hear.

But I did see the stigma, how people looked at my brother when we took him to the store.. he just wanted to get out of the house because he had been too sick to leave for 2-3 weeks.  And people would turn around and go down another isle.

I heard from patients that their parents left them food on the step of a mobile home, on a farm, where animals would scurry around the disposable plates.  Why were they in a mobile home?  The parents didn’t want them in the house.

But I think that Elisabeth was brilliant in some ways and I think we have to take what she gave the world and accept the things that weren’t as brilliant or that were misunderstood.

In the quote above, I see such wisdom.  So much hinges on how we see the world, what we think about the ill, the aging, what dying should be about, and what healthcare and the government’s role is in our lives.

Our fear of death and talking about it, like we’re going to make it happen quicker if we talk about it, is why the APA can get away with their crazy diagnosis, why we don’t have more funding for palliative care separate from hospice care, and why when Universal Health Care was in the works people could be duped into thinking that there would be death panels.

We have an obligation to ourselves, our loved ones, our society, and future generations to look at our fear of dying, of illness, of difficult discussions and tough-to-deal with feelings.  But what’s the price we pay for turning a blind eye to these situations?

The health and stability of our planet.

Note:  I will be away on retreat for the next week.  I wish you all well and I hope you enjoy the articles that I have left in my stead.

May sorrow show us the way to compassion

May I realize grace in the midst of suffering

May I be peaceful and let go of expectations.

May I receive the love and compassion of others.

With love and deep gratitude, Jennifer

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