Thursday, July 28, 2011

Where Am I?

Emerald Bay

(Written Wednesday, July 27))

I'm sitting at the kitchen table of my cousin's cabin in South Lake Tahoe. I'm alone. Like, very alone. My nearest husband and children are 600 miles away. And I feel fine about that.

OK, that's a lie. The first two days of my vacation I felt like crap about that. Not like guilt crap but like actual "I miss you" crap. Which is so unlike me. Maybe all this meditation mumbo jumbo is backfiring and my raisin heart is graduating to prune status. I don't think I'm ready for that.

But I digress. I'm sitting at the kitchen table on the last of my four days here. I stink from beach, suntan oil and sweat. I'm procrastinating filling the bathtub mostly because I'm so tired. And I'm reflective. So I write.

In the cold of Utah winter I started hatching plans for this vacation. My cousin David and his wife Amy had bought a cabin here and generously offered it as a place to get away. At first I modestly declined but as the winter grew longer and longer (and longer and longer), a warm place to go seemed like a good idea. Originally it was going to be a family vacation but I had a sudden change of heart a few weeks ago and decided to come by myself. We all went to Legoland together in April and had a good time, Brooks had suggested I might need a vacation (that may be his way of saying he needs a vacation, if you know what I mean) so plans were revised and here I am.

I haven't had so much solitude since, well, I actually can't remember when the last time I spent four days by myself. In fact, have I ever done this? No. Therefore, I had a long list of things I wanted to do with my alone time. I anticipated going out into the woods all day long and being deeply spiritual. You know, profound meditation with short snack breaks. Well, on Monday I sat around all day in my pajamas, cried while watching Legends of the Fall, and alternately ate from five different flavors of ice cream in between dread-grooming sessions. That's spiritual. Kind of. Keep reading if you are curious as to what kind of discovery and enlightenment the getaway did, in fact, bestow.

• Silence is rejuvenating. I don't think I need to say much more than that.

• In a true mosquito crisis, I will quickly abandon my homemade essential oil formula for good old-fashioned DDT.

• I pack around too much stuff in life, literally and figuratively speaking. What am I saving up for? I don't need that much to be happy.

• Brooks is my best friend. I take his companionship for granted. I take a lot of things for granted.

• Contrary to what I have often believed over the years, a life of care-free bliss would not make me happy. It would be oppressive, if it existed at all.

• I need to drive at least 500 miles to truly get away. This is essential, psychologically-speaking. I do not need to drive that far, however, to enjoy many of the things I have been doing out here. There are so many mountain lakes and trails (both hiking and mountain biking) in my own backyard that I've never explored. What am I waiting for?

• I do not need to go to the gym in order to get exercise.

• Speaking in terms of garbage, I create a lot of waste. I'm pretty sure I can 1) back on consumption in general and 2) minimize what I personally put into the landfill by more carefully selecting what kind of products I buy. I notice that this is something I'd like to change because I desire it, not because I think I should.

• I am easily distracted in my everyday life with things that are ultimately of little consequence.

• I want to try extending the garden season using hoop houses and row covers. Don't ask me how that factored in.

• The night sky here is so black that the stars shine all the brighter. Lying on my back looking up, I see God there.

• Nature is enduring. It kind of feels like when all is said and done, She's probably going to have the last word.

• I need to get out more.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

In Praise of Meditation

I started meditating as a daily practice almost a year and a half ago. For me this consists of sitting in silence for twenty minutes in the morning and twenty minutes at night (sometimes more but rarely less). I'm usually on the floor mattress in my "office", propped up by the wall and a bunch of throw pillows. At first I followed the Christian Contemplative model of letting the mind go blank, allowing the layers of my ego to dissolve in order to commune with God from my core. Then I realized this style was too advanced for me. The Zen Buddhist tradition of mindfulness has become the way I "sit". It simply involves paying attention in a non-judgmental way to whatever comes up in the moment. When my mind begins to wander into the past or future I can use my breath (or any of my five senses) to bring me back into the present. The non-judgmental part can say, "Oh, look - my mind has drifted" without getting frustrated that I am not "doing it right". In fact, non-striving is a key element of mindfulness. The Taoists say that by not striving to achieve anything, everything is achieved.

Many people who mediate in earnest call it a “practice”. I have come to understand it in the way that we say “I will practice the piano” or “I’m going to a dance practice”. For me, being mindful in my daily activities does not come naturally – it takes practice. So I do.

Maybe I will write another day about how I came to meditation or how unfamiliar it seemed at first. Today I am thinking of how the quality of my life is different all these hours of practice later. Take the present moment, for example.

I’m sitting at the computer journaling this and Oliver comes in and points a homemade Lego gun in my face. I stop what I am doing and give him my attention simply by looking down the barrel into his eyes. I see mischief. Normally I would be irritated by this “intrusion” but in this moment I feel curious. I feel mindful.

“I am going to attack the Jennicita,” he informs me in an alien voice. 

I continue my gaze.

“Do you think this can really shoot you?” he asks, pressing the gun a little closer to my face. I admit aloud that, indeed, I am wondering that very thing. He pulls the trigger. The bullet misses and lands somewhere in my hair.

“Oh, no!” he shrieks. “Now I’ll never find it!”

Meditation has enlarged my capacity to connect to moments like these. In this moment with Oliver, my heart feels at home, I feel an eternal connection to my child. I am not worried about how we are supposed to be packing the car right now to head out of town for the Fourth. There is more stillness, less angst.

The angst and irritation still happen but I am a hostage to them less and less. Mindfulness acknowledges heartbreak, sadness, fear, and anger – they don’t just magically disappear because I meditate. It’s that somehow the container that holds them is larger so they occupy less of the space. I have been able to sit with them and acknowledge them as guests – I know they will not stay forever. With no small measure of grace I can even wonder what I can learn from them, tune into what they are teaching me and be the wiser for it.

Let’s be clear here: the inner Godzilla is alive and well. I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon. I think the difference is that now I can make room for that part of me as well. I know that it’s there (and still makes plenty of messes) but I also know that it doesn’t have to run the show all the time.  Practice has cultivated an ability to say, “Hmm, look at that. Godzilla just showed up” and trust that Tokyo will still be there in the morning.

Friday, July 1, 2011