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Posts Tagged ‘Joan Halifax’

The subtle suffering in our lives may seem unimportant. But if we attend to the small ways that we suffer, we create a context of greater ease, peace, and responsibility, which can make it easier to deal with the bigger difficulties when they arise.

Gil Fronsdal, “Living Two Traditions”

Have you ever listened to your thoughts?

I mean really listened?

Take 5 minutes right now and open Pages or Word and just type whatever comes to mind.

Or scroll through your wall on facebook.

Really pay attention to what’s there.

Do you see (hear) your thinking?

Do you see (hear) the suffering there?

Listen carefully. . . I’m such an idiot (because your computer and ipad weren’t on the same network and wouldn’t sync).

I’m such a loser (because I’m tired at work and bored with what I do because it seems so meaningless).

You’re welcome! (when the person you let go through the stop sign and they don’t wave to you in thanks or acknowledgment).

What the hell’s wrong with you? (when the person in the right lane moves ahead of you in your lane and never uses a signal light AND slows down).

I’m such a slacker (spending one weekend in pain from a root canal and the next two weekends out flat with a migraine).

Do you hear it?  Does it sound familiar?

Whining about the weather being too hot, too cold.

Not having enough money and wanting stuff that can really wait.

I keep crying, I’m such a baby (or one that bugs me. . . for you guys. . . when you say or think I’m crying like a little girl). . . because someone you love has died.

We bombard ourselves with stuff like this all day, all night, every day.

Would you talk to your kids this way?  Your best friend?  Would you let others talk to you this way?

There is a lot of talk today about bullying. . . and we need to talk about it.

And I think we need to first be aware of our own thinking and our own speech.

We can be pretty cruel and cause ourselves so much unnecessary suffering.

Life can be filled with pain, heartache, injustice, loss, and other tragedies. . . why do we add to all of this?

Stephen Levine, in The Grief Process, talks about the little injuries and losses that we sustain throughout our lives that we overlook and let chip away at us.

He questions, at one point, if we were able to have mercy for ourselves and acknowledge these little losses, would the losses of those we love be as big and hurt so much.

A new wound is most likely going to hurt more if it is at the point of a reopened wound.

So mindfulness helps us learn to acknowledge and bring into our full consciousness that which is usually below the surface, despite how much it can impact us.

With practice, we practice having compassion for these thoughts, feelings, and sensations.  Even if it feels rote or fake, we go through the process until our barriers begin to melt and we can hold our pain, our grief, our illness in our conscious awareness and experience patience, compassion, and equanimity.

This isn’t an easy practice but it is a life saving one.  And our very practice helps us to strengthen this life saving tool.

Listen to how you talk to yourself about your practice. . . do you make excuses for not getting on the cushion.  Do you beat up on yourself when you have a “bad session”?

Great moments to practice patience.

Maybe it will be easier to practice compassion for yourself in these moment than when you are in the midst of intense emotions or safer than situations (or people) that are really hurtful.

Life is filled with pain, danger, illness, discomfort, and other difficulties.  But it is vital to learn the difference between what is inherent because of the human condition of fragility and what is our own creation . . . our own layer of additional suffering.

And then of course, as those start to become clearer, mindfulness and lovingkindness give us the tools to transform suffering into peace.

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English: Thumbnail portrait of Atisha based on...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Your body is fragile and vulnerable.

The Sixth of the Nine Contemplations of Atisha. . . your body is fragile and vulnerable.

Think about how easily we can be overcome by something microscopic like a germ cell.  We don’t need a tiger to kill us, a few cells can do the trick.

It’s been over 90 in the Midwest for a couple of weeks and it’s been several days with temperatures above 100, without the heat index and on the news last night we heard that two elderly people in the area had died because they had stayed in their homes without air conditioning.  So even something that cannot be seen under a microscope can take these very lives of ours.

Our own bodies can turn on us, as when we have an autoimmune disease.

We grow up in this country to believe that we are rugged individualists, that we have boundless freedom and are invincible when we get good grades, get a job, marry, and raise the perfect family.  And most people can probably name at least a handful of people for whom this narrative isn’t the case.

Your body is fragile and vulnerable.

Our teeth decay.

Our muscles grow weak.

Our cells multiple, sometimes out of control and cancer grows.

Sometimes our bones break.

Our sleep gets disturbed.

We “catch” the flu.

Our muscles spasm and our arches fall.

It doesn’t take much water or ice on the floor to bring us to our knees or drop us on our heads.

Think about your mindful breathing. . .

Don’t you take for granted that as you focus on your in-breath that an out-breath will follow and then another in breath?

Would you if you had asthma?

Your body is fragile and vulnerable.

And what about our minds?  We often forget that there is interconnection between our minds and bodies and think of them as separate entities.

It doesn’t take a lot for our minds to “betray” us too.

We have afflictive emotions.  We have perceptions, sensations, feelings, emotions, and thoughts.

We can have hallucinations, dreams, and forgetfulness.

We take little pills to change our thinking and feelings.

Some of us will be born and develop depression, schizophrenia, autism, or dementia and although we see the effects of these diseases, we can only conjecture what really happens, despite our collective belief in levels of serotonin, problems with synapses, etc.

Your body is fragile and vulnerable.

Illness, like death, is an edge for us.  It is a mindfulness bell.  We usually don’t appreciate good health until we have lost it much in the same way that our love grows fonder and deeper when the object of our love has died.

A sore tooth or an aching back remind me of how fragile my physical life is.

I appreciate the rest of the teeth I have while I am sitting with the discomfort of a root canal.

When I have a migraine, I am painfully aware of the week I have had without the pain, sensitivity, nausea, etc. but that does not mean that I have been mindful to the lack of pain during that week.

So, can we use our physical presence and bodies in our meditations?

Definitely!

We cultivate awareness with meditations like body scans and progressive muscle relaxations.

Or focus on attention by practicing Yoga Nidra.

We allow our awareness to the sensation of our abdomen rise and fall with our inhalation and exhalation.

I remember a story from my first philosophy teacher. . . she was the one who introduced me to Buddhism and meditation.  I remember her telling me that her friend, during meditation, knew that there was something wrong with her kidneys and was able to get hydrated and get to the doctor before it was too late.

Our bodies may be weak, vulnerable, and fragile and we will ultimately die from something.  Not even the Buddha himself was able to avoid it.

But our cultivated aware and attention can be powerful as we practice meditation.

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“Just sitting means just that. That ‘just’ endlessly goes against the grain of our need to fix, transform, and improve ourselves. The paradox of our practice is that the most effective way of transformation is to leave ourselves alone. The more we let everything be just what it is, the more we relax into an open, attentive awareness of one moment after another.”

~~ Barry Magid, Leave Yourself Alone

I remember listening to an audiobook… I can’t remember if it was Pema Chodron or not as it was years ago, but I remember it was a female dharma teacher.  Anyway, I remember her saying that all this self-help that we do, the exercise programs, the 10 ways to be a better…, etc it all has at its root the seeds of aggression.

What???  you might ask.  What are you talking about?  Isn’t it self-love or lovingkindness that I want to better my life?  Don’t I get credit for wanting to fix things?

That inherent aggression comes from us wanting to take apart what is, in us, in our lives. . . our plans at self-help keep us from seeing that what is here, now, and softening to it with our presence.

And I believe it is when we soften to who we are in the moment, what our life circumstances are here and now, that we really do the best thing we can for ourselves.

I think this is one reason why so much grief theory frustrates me.  Go through these stages (Elisabeth Kubler-Ross).  Perform these tasks (Bill Worden, Teresa Rando).  Reconcile these needs (Alan Wolfelt).  Buy my recovery workbook. . . this one I can’t even remember because I really dislike the idea that anyone would even frame grief as something we have to recover from.

And this is also why the work of people like Stephen and Ondrea Levine, Ram Dass, and Joan Halifax has been so appealing.  They start with the basic premise that we will have pain in our lives and that isn’t wrong or bad.  We aren’t incomplete or needing fixing when our hearts are broken open with grief and mourning.

If you know someone who is grieving, the kindness thing you can do for them is to be present to them. . . listen. . . be with them. . . allow them to be exactly how they are. . .

And that might be angry, uptight, frightened, relieved, numb, sad. . . we do them the greatest gift when we can just allow what is going on and baring witness to their experience.

Maybe you can’t be the one to do that.  That’s okay.  It’s good to know that about yourself.  So help them find someone who can.

Maybe you can help run some errands for them so they can find a support group or a meditation group.

Maybe you could find a podcast on mindfulness for them and tape it.

Or you could share a resource with them like Grieving Mindfully by Sameet Kumar or The Grief Process by Stephen and Ondrea Levine.

Let them know that you don’t want to change them and that you do want to support them.

Remember that grief is an outward expression of love for the person who has died.

Why on earth would we want to take that from them?

Why on earth would we want them to recover from that?  Model love for them by accepting them just where they are, here and now.

Related articles

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Would love to get some feedback from readers on the recurrent series of posts I am leaving with tips for people who are new to meditation.  Please feel free to leave a comment or to drop a note on the Ask Here tab on the blog.

“Meditation teaches us safe ways to open ourselves to the full range of experience — painful, pleasurable, and neutral — so we can learn how to be a friend to ourselves in good times and bad.  During meditation sessions we practice being with difficult emotions and thoughts, even frightening ones, in an open and accepting way, without adding self-criticism to something that already hurts.”

~~ Sharon Salzberg, Happiness

Mindfulness has such huge implications for things like working with what we label mental illness — our afflictive states such as anxiety, depression, despair, angst, sadness, phobia, stagnation, boredom, false euphoria, lack of concentration and mindlessness.

It also plays a major part in everyday life-like relationship, loss, illness, dying, communication, community, family, work, and just simply living.

This quote by Sharon Salzberg reminds me of Frank Ostaseki’s and Roshi Joan Halifax‘s teachings on being with dying.

I would love to teach every therapist and every teacher out there. . . in addition to every caregiver, every doctor, every patient. . . well, that could be all of us, couldn’t it?

Imagine teaching our children how to stay with their problems without running, hiding, drinking & druging, without losing themselves in peer pressure, sex before they are ready, self-mutilation, or eating disorders.

What would it do for our self concept?

Or our ability to make choices (really informed choices?)

Or create healthy relationships. . .

work spaces

neighborhoods

families

towns

I have to believe that we would grow a different world. . .

one where people could have time and space to explore what ails them rather than push it away

one where loved ones could be present to the needs of our children, the elderly, and ill

one where we didn’t go running for the bottle or the prescription pad

but rather

moved toward the meditation cushion, using walking meditation

or held the space for people to creatively and compassionately deal with their difficulties and those of others.

or foster open-hearted communication,  group problem-solving, and nurturing for all.

So much good could come from those two minutes of breathing at your desk.

Or 10 minutes on your cushion

Or the walk where I listen to the rustling of leaves below my feet

Or that plate of food I savor and eat, bite by bite.

So what keeps us from it?

How do we teach others?

How do we model what kind of world we could have and what kind of world we want?

The answer (and the power) lies in the space between our exhale and inhale. . .

Does that sound cryptic?  It really isn’t.  Pick up a book about meditation and then try it.

You’ll get it!

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“Don’t grieve.
Anything you lose comes
round in another form.”
Rumi
 

 I would SO love to tell you, “Yeah, don’t grieve.  It’s not spiritually necessary or enlightened.  We are transcendent beings. . . ”

Whatever!

Most of us are not there and many give lip service to those kinds of messages if we are honest with ourselves.

We hurt when we lose something.

We really hurt when we lose someone.

We have deep connections with the person we loved who died.

They co-create our world with us.

Sometimes they gave life to us (or we to them) and then we created a history, a storyline, a relationship, a family, a network of friends, etc.

We derive meaning and pleasure from our connection.

We sometimes sustain wounds and hardships in those relationships as well.

But they (the person and our experiences with them) are as much a part of us as our arm or leg and there is pain when someone dies as there is when we sustain a physical injury.

What I have come to learn, through my experience and the experience of those around me, is when we acknowledge the presence of the pain, (the upheaval, and the sense of being distraught) and can hold it in our awareness, even if for moments, healing occurs.

We do more harm, expend more energy, and suffer longer when we disavow the pain.

I think we can get to a place of understanding that others really “never leave us” because we get in touch with our interconnectedness with them.  But when we don’t touch the pain and allow it to be, it is harder to connect with more transcendent concepts.

This is one of the reasons why practices like mindfulness are beneficial to our “grief work.”  The practice teaches us to be present, moment to moment, and to accept rather than to fight off.

We then have the energy to live with what “is” and to have compassion for the situation as it presents itself.

So, I don’t think we need to throw ideas like Rumi’s out altogether.  I think we just need to practice a lot of compassion on the way to having a lived-bodily experience of what it truly means.

And without that experience, those words can be hurtful and harmful to someone who is still defending from their pain.

~~As a side note, today is my dad’s birthday!  I can’t be with him today but I am NEVER far away from my thoughts and heart.  Happy Birthday Daddy!  Thank you for all of these decades of love, support, and lessons.

 

~~~~~~~

For more information about learning to allow pain and sorrow, check out Stephen Levine‘s work Unattended Sorrow or The Grief Process CD/Audio.

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Atisha with Twenty-eight of the Eighty-four Ma...

Atisha with Twenty-eight of the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Your life span, like that of all living beings, is not fixed

Your life span, like that of all living beings, is not fixed

I had a client that had major complications after a surgery that was supposed to be “routine”.  Multiple systems shutting down and getting restored which shut down other systems, etc.  It was like a negative feedback loop for a while.

We were sure that she was going to die.  I was totally convinced.  I was the hospice expert, I knew these things.

Well, not really.

I just am more okay with dying taken place when it may be the ultimate healing experience for that person.

But with today’s medical technology, we can sometimes sustain someone well beyond what nature may have had in mind and give them a chance they would have never had before now.

That, however, is not my experience, but it does happen.

My “for sure” was no match for crazy (or what I thought was crazy) medical and scientific intervention.  And she lived on.

Your life span, like that of all living beings, is not fixed

Yet, I remember someone I knew telling me that his mother had gone into the hospital for something acute and the family was told that she was riddled with cancer.

There was an emergency that sent her to the hospital.

She was diagnosed.

The family was trying to make sense out of what was happening that night; trying to wrap their minds around it.

She died the next morning… not from the cancer and not from the acute crisis.

As one of the other Contemplations states, we do not have control over when and how our death will ultimately come.

How many times have you heard, “She was the picture of health”?  That was the case with my mentor who died.  Running 5 miles every morning, yoga, healthy eating, great relationships, ideal jobs for her, etc.

Or how many times have you heard, “He smoked cigars since the age of 12 and his mom fed him lard” and he died when he was 97?

We have no fixed time or fixed amount of breaths that we will take.

We do not know if it will be right now, tonight, tomorrow, or in ten years.

And yet, we live like it we have been granted this fragile life forever.

Everyone we have ever known to die, whether a beloved grandfather or a teen idol, has not lived forever and has had that unexpected time come.

Why do we think that we are exempt and will be the one person to make it out of life alive?

And how many of us take so much for granted because deep down inside, we really believe that we’ll be that one?

How long will you suffer with what is before you create the life you want before it’s too late?

How many times will you walk away angry and not say I love you before you are left with the guilt of having not done that very thing?

I ask these questions, not just of you, but of myself?

Will I learn this time?

Will I be more present, more proactive, more loving, more compassionate, etc?

Your life span, (and my life span) like that of all living beings, is not fixed.

With that knowledge, can we learn to embrace it, in a lived, total way, and create the life that we want because we became active agents during the moments we do have here on earth?

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By Doug Smith, MDiv.

“When we label some deaths right,

and other deaths become wrong.

When we label some deaths good,

and other deaths become bad.

Living and dying create each other.

The easy way and the difficult way are

interdependent.

The long life and the short life are relative.

The first days and the last days accompany each other.

Therefore, the true caregiver of the dying does all

that needs to be done without asserting herself,

and saying all that needs to be said without

saying anything.

Things happen, and she allows them to happen.

Things fail to happen, and she allows them to fail

to happen.

She is always there, but it is as though she is not there.

She realizes that she does nothing,

yet all that needs to be done is done.

In letting go,

there is gain.

In giving up,

there is advancement.

Don’t practice controlling.

Practice allowing.

Such is the mystery of happiness.

Such is the mystery of wealth.

Such is the mystery of power.

Such is the mystery of living and dying.

Excerpt from:  Caregiving:  Hospice-proven Techniques for Healing Body and Soul.

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