Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Beautiful Bones

In winter, the bones of things are exposed.  Trees without leaves, fields without crops, stark and foreboding.  It looks drab and dreary and uninviting.  I love walking out into it.  I love wrapping up warm and stepping into what seems inhospitable - dull at best; demanding and scary cold at worst.  I love the crunch of the frozen ground under my feet.  I love the texture of the different fallen things lying askew on the path.  I love the monochrome shades that come alive only if you are out there in it. Through a window, from a car, it can demoralize.  Crunching along, wrapped in the crisp air, seeing the occasional flash of bright blue jay or red cardinal with the crazy shapes and shades, it invigorates.  I love to find beauty outside this time of year.  It's far less abundant than in the extravagant times, but it is good.  So good.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The art of seeing what is in front of us

We usually need novelty to really appreciate something we see.  Usually we are out of our routine, on vacation in a beautiful place when we open ourselves to new experience.  We expect new then.  And seeing the many exotic, interesting things other places and people offer is a great plan.  It helps us grow.
But it is not necessary to go someplace else to find new and beautiful.  You see what you believe.

Our brains habituate to usual.  The people, things, landscapes of our every day lives become habit, background.  Invisible.  We mechanically follow our routine, tend to our responsibilities, work towards a future that isn't this, and then wonder why things are tedious and boring.  We feel like we will blow a gasket if something doesn't change soon.  We plan for a vacation or scheme ways to meet a new milestone.  If only I could get this new job, make that amount of money, move to this new place, have that great car.  So we press on towards that goal,  spending all our now on hopes for what is to come.

Believing that now is all we've got for sure, taking time to breathe it in, coming to our senses - all of them - now - is how we see and choose to appreciate what is in front of us.  It's possible to take a shower in the same amount of time you use daily with a focus on the full experience of it.  It's the same shower, in the same house just like it was yesterday and will be tomorrow.  Why not savor it?  Experience each aspect with relish?  If we are right here, now, doing exactly what we are doing with all our selves fully engaged, grateful and open, instead of borrowing trouble with worry or negating now with anticipation, we feel so much more alive.  We're free to see the beauty and newness that is in front of our noses but invisible.  It buys us time.  It gives us the only thing we can really count on for sure.  Now.  Experienced like we're on vacation.  Wide open and wondering.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

I love the way words sound when I come in from exercise in the cold. And my mouth doesn't quite work because the muscles have stiffened with chill.  I love to feel warm and toasty, energized at my core, muscles loose, strong and efficient, but my lower lip won't move quite right to shape the words. It's helps the experience linger when you step back into a warm shelter, drink some hot tea and feel the tips of your fingers and your chin and lips and ears go back to normal.  I feel vigorous and virtuous and lucky that I could do it again today. The exact same way skiers feel when they stop on the mountainside for a break and crowd around for the bathroom, shedding layers of equipment, ordering refreshment, laughing about the look on someone's face when she hit a surprise bump.  No kidding. Out here on a little farm in the prairie, all by my lonesome.  Just me and the dog on a dreary winter day.

 If anybody had told my eighteen year old self that one of my favorite things to do as a mom and grandmother would be outdoor exercise around the perimeter of my own little ten acres - especially during winter -  I'd have laughed them out of town.  I hated being cold.  My eighteen year old self was so keen to get out of the boring small town and landscape of the midwest to see more world. Any other part of the world.  I'd seen all the midwest and winters I wanted by eighteen.  I knew I'd never appreciate anything about the midwest ever again.  And here I am, traveling this same path day after day - not along a mountainside but around a plowed, frozen empty field passing a rag tag pond and ditches, silly with glee to have the time and health and privilege to do it.

It took a while and a lot of travel for my young self to learn that inhabiting any body on this living blue planet in this moment in time is quite the privilege. Because of these filters and experiences, limits and gifts this body gives us, we live for a bit exactly our way. And it's new every day, always full of surprises if we keep our attitude open to now.  My bright, ambitious eighteen year old self wouldn't have believed I would be back on the prairie and loving it after living in other countries, getting decades worth of advanced education at impressive schools in big cities and working at important jobs. I doubt I could have explained it to her. Still, I know she'd be glad to hear it was all good.

The older I get, the less I worry about the accomplishments, the way I look, the places I haven't yet seen. While I'm still able, I'm still eager to go see a new, beautiful place. Just, I also do see the beauty that's right in front of my face right now, every day. So I will try to stay as fit and strong as I can inside this frail, temporary frame. Something new is bound to go wrong sometime with this equipment. Happens to all of us.  So I intend to appreciate what is right up to that moment.  You'll rust out before you wear out.  Not much rust here.  But rust can make things beautiful too.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A day of wind and moon

I've mentioned before that I'm pretty bad at doing nothing.  I try, just like I try to keep my spirit child- like.  But trying and striving are kind of the opposite of that state of being that is described by some as "flow". We've all seen and admired it in a gorgeous dance production or an incredible athletic performance. Paradoxically, most humans get to that place of flow by methodical practice, striving, effort.  They become so accomplished that they make it look easy - because it finally comes together in this magical, unselfconscious 'being in this moment doing exactly what flows'.  Others, like the very young and the very old and wise, just live in that state of wonder.  I get glimpses of it.  Once in a while. For a few moments.  Wouldn't it be swell to just BE it?  Just fully experience a whole entire day of wind and moon?

The holidays are such a busy time.  Throwing parties, wrapping presents, being jolly while still managing to keep up with all the daily demands like cleaning toilets, shopping, cooking, working. Sometimes, to add insult to injury, the weather dumps on us or someone gets really sick and there's that extra to slog through. Usually in response to a crowded schedule, I speed up, add more to my own plate and just rush around like a complete ninny.  It makes the time zip by, I get a lot done, and wonder where it all went. Remember being a kid and waiting and waiting and waiting for Christmas to get here?  Yeah.  As a grown up, it often feels like just the opposite.  How can it be December 15th already?  Wasn't it just July a minute ago?  So, mostly I'm a human doing instead of a human being. Oh well.

Exercise is the trick for me.  Moving hard enough to get tired, then doing something like Yoga to be still.  If I do that right, I drop my expectations and schedules and judgements and striving and be for a bit.  Being is trickier than it sounds.  For this holiday preparation time, I wish for myself and you a path to drop all that, do exactly what you are doing this minute, fully engaged in the moment. And I wish for you to keep that for a whole day.  A whole day of wind and moon.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

I wonder about nothing all the time.  Mindful practices are about coming to your senses - being here. Now.  Feeling what you feel.  Seeing what you see for a few heart beats and breaths before you insert judgement.  It's something I've worked at since I was in a meditation study that measured alpha waves back in college in the 70's.  According to the data, my efforts at listening to my own breath did cause my brain to make alpha waves, which are associated with enlightenment and calm.  I felt calm.  But I did not think nothing, which was what I thought I was supposed to accomplish to create that state.  My brain never shut up.

I still can't think nothing.  I have a serious case of monkey mind; thoughts jumping all over the place.  I keep steering my thoughts back to the present, then I get squirrely and think about goofy stuff, then steer back. And repeat. My practice is pretty fractured, especially when I sit.  I do better with walking meditation, yoga, and sincere noticing.   But it all makes me wonder about nothing.  That's why I love it.  Wonder.  About nothing/everything, all alive and shining out here in the universe.  About as important as a gnat, which is pretty important, I guess, in the big scheme.

I did stop wondering if I'll ever feel enlightened.  I don't know what that is - though I think it might be a little more than thinking nothing - and I don't care.  I eat when I'm hungry, exercise often, sleep when I'm tired, create when I can, do what needs to be done.  All with as much presence, loving kindness and gratitude as possible.  So, even though I'm a little old lady out in the prairie on a winter night, nothing much going on, here in fly over land, it ain't nothing.  It's a beautiful thing.  Being here.  Being human. Being alive in a vast, living blue world inside a giant universe.  Doing nothing.  What a wonder.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Misery is optional

Misery in the face of suffering is always an option, but not necessary.  When we recognize it, we must step back, seductive as it can be to wallow in the importance of such a massive experience.  We can feed it by believing in our right not to suffer, in the indignity of it, the unfairness.  And that will not right things or make them less miserable, but more.  Misery prolongs the suffering and magnifies the problems by capturing our energy and focus.

We must open fully to suffering if we are to fully experience our lives.  It's part of the human condition. It is temporary, like all the rest of being human.  But it's also a necessary, unavoidable ingredient of living on this amazing blue planet.  We need to meet it with acceptance, compassion and loving kindness.  We must be present enough to see and experience it, but human and humble enough to never pretend to be it's master.

Doing right by ourselves and others in the face of it is the honorable intention that feeds right action. That can get messy, but fortunately, being human, we will get plenty of practice. It's the best any of us can do to formulate the intention of responding to deep suffering with loving kindness, compassion and acceptance, then to do the next right thing, and the next.  The suffering shall pass, and then always, the breathtaking pulse of joy is revealed by the very existence of suffering.

Acceptance of the inevitability of suffering is not passive.  It's only possible when we are strong and vital.  Like in the action movies, when our heroine is injured and time slows, then she accurately assesses her situation, and battles evil with precision and supernatural abilities.  Mere mortals living on prairies in the dreary wintertime can meet suffering like that too.  Maybe it's not as action packed as the movies, but it can be truly remarkable. The ingredients are presence, acceptance, intention and effort to make the next right choice.  We either get good at that or we get good at misery and self pity.   Personally, I'm practicing the ninja option.


THREE RAVENS GRAPHICS image, illustrating the beauty of change, rusting out, growing old.