Monthly Archives: June 2015

Tigers Above, Tigers Below

“A woman is running from tigers. She runs and she runs, and the tigers are getting closer and closer. She comes to the edge of a cliff. She sees a vine there, so she climbs down and holds on to it. Then she looks down and sees that there are tigers below her as well. At the same time, she notices a little mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries emerging from a nearby clump of grass. She looks up, she looks down, and she looks at the mouse. Then she picks a strawberry, pops it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.” – Pema Chodron, Comfortable with Uncertainty.

The perfect strawberryThis is such a perfect example of a Zen teaching in its simplicity and its subtle potency. It is my meditation for today.

In all of our lives, there come pockets of time when we are experiencing tigers above and tigers below. I am in one right now. A series of revelations has brought me face to face with the hard, clinging nature of my ego, this fist of self-protection that has cramped into a knot and won’t seem to let go. I feel it in my mind, but I also feel it in my neck and chest and belly.

One of the many lessons I have learned in meditation is that emotions can have long life-spans if they are not allowed to be experienced.  I don’t even know what the rational circumstances are behind this fist of fear that has arisen and made itself known. I only know how primal and shameful and terrifying it feels. The meditative path instructs us to simply feel the feeling; drop the storyline and feel the feeling. So that is what I am attempting to do. No commentary, no analysis, no finger-pointing inwardly or outwardly, just experience the emotion. Most of the time when I have done this, the process moves rather quickly, but this particular fist is quite tenacious. I have faith that it will open, though, and I’m practicing the lessons I’ve been taught. I’m breathing with it,  and I’m offering myself as much  patience in this place as possible.

The challenge today is to seek and enjoy the strawberry, to be with the joy that is also available in the midst of all these raging tigers. This itself is a huge teaching, for instantly we experience just how strong the pull of problem-focus can be! When we are able to turn our attention from the tiger to the strawberry, however, we reconnect with a force within us that is far more potent than any challenge!  And we discover that right in front of us, in the very now of life, there is always something sweet to experience – a piece of fruit, a smile, our own continued pulse. When I think of this…as I write this to you…I find that I can breathe a little better.

If you, too, are experiencing tigers above and tigers below, take some comfort in knowing you are not alone! I am right there with you! One of the greatest gifts the tigers have to offer is an expanding compassion for others who are caught in a similar struggle. That compassion flows both ways. As I think about all those around the globe who might be suffering in this emotional way or in another form – as I offer my prayer that your pain be lifted, whatever it may be – my own challenges seem less isolating and more useful, more bearable. This is how we touch.

Blessings.

Why I Love Pema Chodron

Pema Chodron 2A friend suggested I write a post on what it is about Pema Chodron’s work that I love so much.  I have read all her books, and as you can see from the photo attached, I don’t just read them, I dig in!  I have learned from many wonderful teachers, but there is something about Pema’s communication style that cuts through my resistance. The question my friend asked was, “Why Pema?”Taking the Leap pages

My answer is a two-parter, I guess.  The first part is about Buddhism itself.  The second part is Pema’s personal style.

That old adage, “When the student is ready, the teacher will come,” is certainly true, in this case.  Though I am not a Buddhist, I became deeply immersed in the teachings of Buddhism through Pema’s eyes, and one of the first things I came to see was that through meditation and Buddhist teachings I was becoming more deeply attuned to the teachings of Jesus as well.

Love is ultimately the main message in Buddhism, as in Christianity.  The thing that makes Buddhism so valuable to me, though, is that it teaches HOW to love when love doesn’t simply bubble up, or when love is blocked by anger, judgment, fear, etc.  Buddhism is a methodology, a deep and detailed methodology on how to open ourselves to love.

The idea of practice came to life for me in studying Pema’s works.  We don’t just throw a switch and become better people.  As a child in a fundamentalist Christian culture, I was confused by this because I was taught that accepting Christ would change my heart on the spot.  But that wasn’t my experience.  I accepted Jesus, but my heart still held judgment, anger, fear, jealousy, deceit, sorrow, loneliness.

In Buddhism, though, detailed instructions are given as to how to practice changing our hearts, how to work with and accept our human characteristics, (both negative and positive aspects), without being slaves to them.  If I can recognize and accept my anger, for example, and if I develop the muscle to catch myself in a flare of anger BEFORE it has manifested into a reaction from me, then in that pause, I can choose what to do that is best for all concerned, rather than striking out in knee-jerk fashion.

So that is what drew me to Buddhism…the detailed instructions that would, with a committed practice, move me toward the person that I wanted to be in my heart…and in my case, that was to be more like Jesus!  One of the things often said in Buddhist studies is not to take any of this information at face value.  Try it out.  See how it works for you.  I have done that.  And it has indeed worked for me.  I have grown from this work.

As to Pema’s personal style (for there are lots of wonderful Buddhist teachers)…I think it is because she not only teaches the undoing of shame through compassionate self-acceptance, but she exhibits it in her own personal examples.  She is a world-renowned nun, but she makes mistakes, even to this day, and instead of hiding them or downplaying them, she highlights them as examples of the teachings she offers.  I find this incredibly helpful.  She displays non-shame! Not only does it take the theoretical and bring it into practical, every-day experience, but it also creates a human link, a way for me to relax and breathe with my own faltering “becoming.”  If Pema Chodron still has to work with anger, or depression, or aging, or any other of ego’s illusions, maybe it is okay if I still have to work with them too! I don’t have to deny them.  I don’t have to bury them under a false smile.  Nor do I have to give in to the outward aggression that ego so often tries to trigger. I can simply be with myself, without judgment. I can breathe in and out.  I can learn.  I can witness emotions, thoughts, and physical challenges shift, change and dissolve. By simply being compassionately present with ourselves, we can learn to experience the fullness, the totality of our lives.

Comfortable with UncertaintyThere is much more I could say on this subject!  I love her humor, her light-heartedness, her practicality, her succinctness, her wisdom. But the blog-gods are shouting, “Wrap it up! Not another paragraph!” So I will close with simply expressing gratitude for Ani Pema and encouraging you to read one of her many wonderful books.  See if she speaks to your soul the way she does to me!   The first of her books I read was Comfortable with Uncertainty.  The title alone pulled me in!  Check it out!

Happy reading!

Father’s Day Poem

Daddys HandsMy father died when I was in my 20’s and he in his early 50’s. Way too young! So I have lived without him for a very long time.  He comes to me occasionally in dreams, though, and I am always amazed how full of life he remains there on that alternate plane. Here is a poem I wrote a few years back about a dream encounter that woke me in the middle of the night and made me weep with longing.

Happy Father’s Day to all Dads everywhere.  You are loved.

DADDY’S HANDS

Shooting stars in the night, Daddy’s hands
burst through my dreams,
waking me up, igniting my girlhood.
I can smell his skin, though fresh from the netherworld,
still flesh and full of memory: Pall Malls, perspiration,
Old Spice.
I can conjure his grin and that froggy voice calling me,
“Angeler.”

We used to meet more often. It’s been awhile.
As a rule there’s detachment in his face;
I’ll dream him at the mall, for instance,
in a brand new suit, in a brand new crowd,
everyone shiny, and he’ll pass by without seeing me.
I don’t take it personally. These are the veils,
I guess.
He can cross over;
he just can’t quite reach me.

Tonight, though, his hands make it through,
freckled and rough and smelling like the man I knew.
The nails are buffed (he always tried so hard),
but there’s no mistaking their earthly stuff,
the masculine brand of my own,
piercing the veils, tapping me awake, then
dissolving into stardust.
I sniff my own palms for connection,
place them on my face,

and a canopy of mourning flutters down and around.
Suspended in time,
I float in a gossamer bubble of goodbye,
having outlived him by years now,
forever his little girl.

©2008 Angela Hite. All Rights Reserved.

Choose Life!

Freedom of ChoiceThis morning I woke up with lower back pain.  I do quite often. This is one of the challenges of getting older…managing pain, and managing our attitude about life in the midst of pain. Mine is nothing compared to so many, but it is still mine, and it still asks something of me. As I lay there in that semi-conscious state before getting up and going, I heard this choice in my mind, “Life or Death?” Hearing that question helped me reach to my better self, who instantly said, “I choose life!”

So I sat up. I put my feet on the floor. And I came straight to the computer to get this simple point down. How many times during the day do we have that very choice to make, in one of its many subtle forms? Love or hate? Courage or fear? Forgiveness or punishment? Smile or smirk? Embrace or reject? Lift up or beat down?

Seriously, how many times a day are we given the ultimate privilege of choosing the emotional quality of our existence? Thousands, at least! AWAKENING is all about that – becoming conscious of those thousands of moments… and choosing life. It’s not rocket science. It’s not new news.  But in the midst of all the conflict the world throws at us each day – innocent loss of life, obnoxious political posturing, wars, environmental disasters, sickness, financial challenges, pain, loss –  it’s so easy to forget that we have this basic premise constantly being asked of us. Life or Death?  Do we live like zombies in a state of walking death long before the body gives out?  Or do we choose the more abundant (and more demanding) path, despite the circumstances of the moment?

What Does Resistance Look Like?

PIC BY MICK GALLAGHER / CATERS NEWS - (Pictured A Wild Burro in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area) Whats so funny? This mule clearly found something hilari-ASS when he got up close to one photographer. The wild burro - which bears a striking similarity to Donkey from the Shrek movies - was captured on camera by wildlife photographer Mick Gallagher - who spent months trying to get close to the group. And when one animal finally decided to pose for the camera, it seems he found something to smile about - with hilarious results. Mick, 42, who has been working as a professional photographer after he was made redundant from his marketing job during the economic downturn, has tried to build a bond with the animals, which roam in the Red Rock Conservation Area, Nevada. SEE CATERS COPY.

My resistance sometimes looks like this.

There is a great little book by Steven Pressfield called The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. I’m reading it again, because I have a lot of projects in the works, and I’m being pummeled by resistance. If we are going to do anything creatively, if we are going to move deeper along our spiritual path, we are going to have to come to terms in some way with resistence, that counter-force inside that seems hellbent on tripping us up when we are committed to moving forward. Pressfield’s book is chock-full of good advice on how to move past resistance in the world of writing, and the title is very clever, turning the title of the classic Sun Tzu work, The Art of War upside down.

But here’s the thing I’ve been wrestling with.  Is resistance some outside force that we must conquer, (as comedian Flip Wilson used to say, “The devil made me do it!”) or is it a natural part of our human nature, which, instead of battling, we’d be better off “tending and befriending?” (Now that women have been included in the previously male-oriented studies of stress responses, behaviorists have come to recognize, in addition to the well-established fight/flight/freeze response, another, healthier method of coping with stress the feminine way – tending and befriending.  Click here if you’d like to read more about this).

Personally, I don’t like being at war with myself.  It is exhausting!  And that “house divided will not stand” quote is true. Many a project of mine has been derailed by my war with resistance.  I’ve had victories, too, of course, but the notion of war, especially inside my own skin, is one I’d prefer to let go.

Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh recommends engaging our resistance (fear) like a loving mother engages a wayward child.  Correction must be made, obviously.  We can’t let the child call the shots, but perhaps the correction can be done with tenderness, with kindness, with respect. The tone of our interaction could be, “Ok, my darling, let’s take a look at this,” instead of, “I will kill you, you f’ing mule!” 🙂

Either way – whether we choose the warring or the tending paradigm regarding resistance, the first step is to get to know it.  What does it look like? What are its characteristics? What are its tactics? When does it strike?  What specifically does it whisper? How has it tripped me up in the past?

There may not be a more important “persona” we need to get to know!

 

Self-Kindness

MISTAKESThis is still one my all-time favorite passages:
” I had the same dream each night – that I had a child,
and even in the dream I saw that the child was my life;
and it was an idiot, and I ran away.
Until I thought, if I could kiss it…
perhaps I could rest.
And I bent to its broken face, and it was horrible…
but I kissed it.
I think one must finally take one’s life in one’s arms.” 
–  Arthur Miller, After the Fall

Our Prayers to the Bidens

Here is President Obama’s eulogy for Beau Biden.  The Biden family has our heartfelt prayers.

 

Just As I Am

Woman working in a coffee shop

As I wrote in my journal this morning, I found myself thinking about the old invitational Christian hymn of my childhood, “Just As I Am.”  For those of you unfamiliar with what an invitational hymn is, let me explain. At the end of the church service, the pastor offered an invitation to anyone in the congregation who might be “lost” to come forward and give themselves to God. This invitation was accompanied by the choir singing an “invitational” song, one that pulled at the heartstrings.  As a child, I loved those songs so much. After all these years and the widening of my spiritual horizons, the feeling tone of those songs is still deep within.

“Just as I am, I come” is such a powerful teaching.  Can you feel it?  It is a lesson beyond the confines of Christianity, and has at its core a humble stance of self-acceptance in all our marvelous and messy humanity.  Each morning, as I go through my surrender process into meditation, into the inner realm where creativity and connection abide, I am frequently tripped up by one of the many whispers of Resistance:  “You are not good enough.”  Resistance is quite clever and adaptable, but as I awaken more and more to its subtle language, I am able to respond with a counter-message.  I am good enough!  Just as I am!

And so are you.  Right in the cross-hairs of that spiritual decision between the Voice that says no, and the Voice that says yes, is the uncomfortable but glorious opportunity for transformation.

Here is a beautiful passage by Sufi poet  Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, that sums it up nicely:

“Come, come, whoever you are.
Wanderer, worshiper,
lover of leaving.
It doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have
broken your vows
a thousand times.
Come, yet again,
come, come.”

 – RUMI

The Fashion of Grace and Frankie

The Fashion of Grace and FrankieAre you watching Grace and Frankie on Netflix?  It took me a couple of episodes to sink into the story and embrace the characters, but I am hooked now.  And I’m having this epiphany.  It is so GOOD to watch people over 50 on television!  OMG!  They are me! Not in their situation, but in their wrinkles and aging joints while still having lots of life, lots of desire, lots of discovery.  It is just so wonderful to be represented!

I am particularly enjoying the wardrobe choices.  That may sound superficial, but I have to tell you, we “vintage women” don’t have a lot of representation in the fashion world. I don’t know a single woman over 50 who says shopping is a delight.  Age-appropriate and body-appropriate are questions we wrestle with, but hey, we still want to look good!  We still want to look like the sensual, passionate, colorful, unique women that we are!  Grace and Frankie are quite different from each other in persona, and this is represented in their clothing choices. But they are dressed with a flair and vibrancy that I definitely want to emulate.

I’m taking note!