Tuesday, December 11, 2012

afraid of fear?

I wonder if its possible to be afraid of fear? I have always thought I wasn't afraid of much. Lately, though, it has occurred to me that I do a lot of things to avoid fear. It occurs to me that my love of planning is just a mask for fear of  the uncontrolled. My nice stable job -- much less scary than going out on my own as a consultant. Even my lists are at heart a fear of being imperfect.

In meditating of late, I have seen thoughts arise over and over again. Worries about my child, worries about finances, worries about the future. I watch the thoughts bubble up and watch the bubbles pop.. Worry is all fear, wearing one mask or another. And it occurred to me this morning that this kind of fear, well it's just a thought. It isn't any bigger than a thought that my nose itches, or that I need to take out the trash. It isn't something that requires a response or an action. For whatever reason, this was incredibly freeing, and relaxing.

Friday, December 07, 2012

how did I get here?

This week marks my one year anniversary as a Buddhist. I was recently asked what made me become a Buddhist. The question got me thinking -- how did I get here?

I think it goes back a bit. Around five or six years ago, I was a bit of a mess. I was stressed out, amd short tempered. I was gaining weight. My cholesterol was high. My blood pressure was going up. I had headaches all the time. I clearly needed a change.

So I went back to school. I felt energized and my world seemed to expand. I was meeting new people, and seeing a lot of divergent viewpoints on practically everything. As I learned, I found myself opening up to new ideas. And I was forced to take a hard look at myself. I felt a renewed sense of self, but with a strong desire to be a better person. I started a mindfulness practice. I wanted to be more aware and not sleep walk through my life. I made some small steps, and felt improvement. I also felt I wasn't as far as I wanted to go.

I had friends who meditated, and it seemed to work for them. And I had friends who were Buddhist and that seemed to work too. So I began reading about Buddhism, and trying to meditate. It didn't seem to work well for me. I was frustrated. At that time, I saw an ad for a research study. It coupled meditation instruction with psilocybin. I contacted the research folks the same day. I hoped it would lead to a habit of meditation, or show me what I was doing wrong. And I had always, always been intrigued by hallucinogenics, but had been too afraid to try them on my own. I figured it was a huge opportunity.

It was that, and more. The meditation turned out to be easier than I had thought, and being required to do it daily turned it into a habit. The one on one sessions with the meditation guide turned out to be therapeutic for me. It was a mixture of talk therapy, a discussion of beliefs, and instruction. And the psilocybin was life-altering. It seems stupid that two 8 hour sessions could change my life, but I can only say that it really and truly did. I am still me, but I am MORE me than I ever thought possible. I can't put it into words. I can only say that I have more joy, more compassion, more life than I ever thought possible.

When the study was over, I continued my meditation. I added readings from Buddhist thought. I discovered that everything I read, and heard, was familiar -- like it was all things I already knew. And I also had come to a point where I felt quite strongly that I couldn't get any farther on my path alone. I would need something outside myself. A friend and I started going to the Shambhala Buddhist center in town. I took my refuge vow, formally  committing to Buddhism.

I have not once regretted my decision.

Friday, November 30, 2012

letting go

I know my son's life is his own. I know he has to make his own mistakes, and learn his own lessons. But it is painful to watch. And it is agonizing to be useless. In some ways, I long for the days when I could pick him up when he falls, brush of his knee, kiss his bruise, and make everything okay. At least I felt like I could help back then. Now, I can't do a damned thing. Even if he wanted my advice, or my help -- which he most emphatically does not. 

It's his life. These are his lessons. He can't learn from my experience. I can sit back and be here. I can love him and let him know it. I guess that's enough.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

empty nest

Thursday, we dropped our son off at Temple University, for his freshman year of college. It might have been the shortest drop off in history. Prior to going, our son made it clear that he didn't want us hanging around his dorm room, or taking him out once we arrived. At this point in his life, we are a major embarassment to him, despite being perfectly nice people (take my word for it). I really struggled with this, but in the end decided that if that's what it took to make him comfortable in his new digs, so be it.

We arrived on campus a couple of minutes early. Our son actually knew where his dorm was and how to get there. We pulled up to the 15 minute unloading zone, unloaded the car, and I went to park in the visitors lot. I got back to our spot on the curb, made chit chat with other parents for a few minutes. We noted that the freshman girls had all packed enough for 3 dorm rooms, and the boys had packed very little. The woman next to us was dropping her 5th child off, and said it was a universal truth. Boys just don't pack much. Our son had checked in, gotten a cart and ambled down the sidewalk with it by that time. We loaded everything into one bin (with room left over) and made our way up to the 2nd floor. We found his room, took everything out of the bin, hugged goodbye and took the bin back downstairs. We annoyed the boy by waiting until he turned in the bin and got his ID card back before departing. Another hug for each of us and we took off for home. Total time on campus was roughly 20 minutes.

I haven't heard from him since. I know, it's only been 3 days and change, but I was still surprised. No panicked calls about stuff forgotten. No emails or texts. I guess he can manage okay.

As for us empty nesters, we went out for a nice lunch, played a couple of hours of pinball. We've eaten on our own schedule. I have revelled in stupid small things, like being able to walk down the hall to the bathroom in my underwear. I bought groceries and didn't have a separate list of stuff for the boy. I don't have a ton of laundry to do. We had actual leftovers from dinner last night. I can go out on a weeknight and not feel guilty for leaving the kid to forage for himself. I did not get woken up by the sound of size 12 sneakers in the rooms above ours.

And yet. There is a sadness too. I feel like there is something important that is missing. I feel an absence. I think about the kid multiple times a day, and wonder if he is okay. Is he eating? sleeping? has he made some friends? I have checked his dining hall account to make sure he has gotten a few meals. And his paypal account to see if he is running through his cash. I am like a virtual stalker, seeking clues to a life I am now not involved with in any major way.  I hope this is a phase, and I will learn to let it go.

Friday, August 17, 2012

the pain of others

I am dealing with a hard truth these days. Sometimes, the pain of others is harder to bear than your own. When you love someone and you see them suffer, it hurts you. And you are helpless. When you yourself are hurt, you have the activity of dealing with the pain. You contain it, you manage it, you feel it, you deal with it. When someone else is suffering, you are separate from it. Oh, you offer to help. You experience some pain of your own. But you don't reduce their pain, you don't really experience their pain, and in the end, you can't END their pain. And that is just really really hard.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

filthy lucre

I am screwed up about money. It has taken me a while to figure this out. Most of my fears are about money, or the lack of it. The solutions I spin out in my head are almost always about money. Finding more, making more, winning some. I think that it's not important to me -- that family, friends, experiences are more important. And it's true that that is what I value most. But money is what controls my thoughts.

I had a terrible couple of weeks. What happened? Absolutely nothing, except that we had no money on hand. I was healthy. My loved ones were healthy. We had food, a roof over our heads. We laughed, ate, had fun. And I was miserable. Flooded with anxiety and worry about money.

I make decisions based on beliefs about money. I should be able to afford this, because I make a good living. So I buy it, even though really, I absolutely cannot afford it. I should be able to have a nice vacation, because people in my bracket take nice vacations. I earned it. That I really truly can't afford it is immaterial. The calculus in my head is not interested in reality. It is interested in perception. I feel really good about my job, my position. Is it because of status? Nope. It's about income. I could do the exact same job, with the exact same title. If I made half as much, I would feel embarrassed about myself and my job. It's ugly, but I've come to see that is how I truly think.

It's a habit, that way of thinking. It has deep roots going all the way back to my childhood. I see that now. I felt money could solve all problems. Money was freedom. Money was control. It was what everyone wanted. I am not sure someone who has always had enough of it would understand how it could become like a god, but it did.

Now I am trying to break that habit, that thought pattern. I am working on it, struggling with it. Trying to break the hold. Have less. Want less. I need to break the tie in my mind between wealth and worth. I need to stop thinking of financial security as control. It's not. I could be rich as Croesus and just as subject to the whims of fate.

We'll see how I do.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

ruminations on 50


It is hard for me to wrap my head around it, but I am now 50. If I am really fortunate, this is the halfway point. If I'm not, then I am on the downward slide. It's okay either way. I am very happy with where I am right this minute. I feel better than I felt at 40. I am thinner, fitter, healthier. I am happier with work, happier with home, happier in general. In the last 10 years I have seen my child go from a difficult 8 to a pretty great 18. I've moved to a city I love. We got a dog, who has been a joy more often than not. We've been to Nova Scotia, Belize, Paris, and Rome. We've hiked in the Smokies and gone tubing down a jungle river. We've spent far more than we earned, and enjoyed all of it. I've met some wonderful people, and made some terrific friends. I've lost some people I loved, and some I didn't. I've had a concussion, had my gall bladder out, gotten bifocals, developed arthritis in my hands. I took psilocybin, learned to meditate, committed to Buddhism. I've almost doubled my income. I've worked too much overtime, too many evenings and weekends. I got better at what I do. I've learned to make some great food, and made some whopping kitchen disasters, too. I listened to great music. I've been through two new cameras and two laptops. I have the same car, with more scratches than before. I went up to a size 14 and down to a size 6, before settling at 8. I still can't carry a tune.

I think I'll like my 50s, but I know I love right now.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

shifting sands

I feel like this is a summer of shifting sands. Our son is turning 18 in a couple of weeks. He no longer needs me the way he once did. This is the way it should be, and in many ways I am relieved. I want him to be independent, to stand on his own two feet. But I have a habit, the habit of taking care of him, that will take some time to break. And I have loved the role of mom. I know I will always be his mom, but it won't be on the same footing as before. We are shifting, moving toward becoming two adults in independent orbits. One of my oldest and dearest friends is prepping to move across the country. We have never lived more than 10 minutes from each other in our 30 plus year friendship. We will always be friends. I know this. But it will change, the landscape will shift. My husband and I are approaching our 30th wedding anniversary. We are about to be empty-nesters, a couple again, instead of a family of three. I am excited, but nervous too. I have seen so many couples get to this point and falter. My Buddhist practice is deepening, and that too is a change. I have never had a spiritual dimension in my life. I have been very into self-control, and control in general. I thought that through planning, thinking ahead, handling things, I could control the outcomes of things. I realize now that that is illusion, wrought by fear. What comes next will be whatever it is going to be. I am putting my trust in the path, and that is a huge scary leap for me, but a necessary one. And I am turning 50 in less than a month. I don't fear aging like I did. I am actually enjoying it, mostly. But it is a milestone, and a time of reflection. Not "get a makeover, buy a red convertible" time, but just a middle of the road "hmmmmmm?" sort of reflection. Like I said, it's the summer of shifting sands.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


We went to NYC a few weeks ago. I enjoyed it, loved all the things there are to do and see there. I loved the art and the food. But I felt like I had been at an all you can eat buffet, and felt a little queasy and bloated on a surfeit of experience. It really is an adult disneyland, and it really is too too much. I also didn't really like the "me" that the city brings out. Too many people, focused far too much on themselves, treating each other as if they were invisible. I kept thinking "what an asshole!", "what a jerk", etc. My sense of connection to others seemed to become stretched thin and then it seemed to just break. I was so relieved to get home and find "myself" again. Reflection 1 - maybe it is easier to be compassionate when there is more space I had an interesting conversation with a colleague today. My friend is a devout Christian. He saw a copy of the 10 precepts on my office wall, and asked me about it. I told him I was a Buddhist, and he asked quite a few questions. He wanted to know what was up with the "fat guy", did I worship him? We had a nice conversation, even though neither of us could really accept the other's views. I have never had a more relaxed religious conversation... Reflection 2 - it is much easier to deal with opposing viewpoints when you don't have to be right

Monday, February 27, 2012


I think I've finally reached a point where I realize I have too much stuff. I was looking at my bookshelves the other day, thinking there are books here that I have not touched in years. Heretical thought, but it actually occurred to me that I don't need to keep them all. Maybe I could pare it down to one bookshelf of books -- books I received as gifts, books that I have a deep connection to. And why do I have over 100 CDs on a shelf? I haven't touched a CD since I got my first iPod, over 3 years ago. I have dishes I don't use, clothes I don't wear, movies I don't watch. Why?

I just don't need all this, and I don't even know how I reached a point that I have all of it. Maybe I have just developed the opposite of hoarding -- the sudden realization that all this stuff has a psychic weight. I'm not ready to strip my life down to some cushions on the floor in an empty room. I'm not going to give away all my possessions and live like a hermit in a cell. I like comfort far too much.

But I can finally look at the things in my house, and just see stuff.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

still changing

It's been a few months since I last posted, so I thought I'd do a quick update.

I am still sorting through my psilocybin experiences, finding that I am still unpacking and learning from it.

I have become more serious about my Buddhist path. I am still meditating daily and try to get to the Center once a week for an hourly sitting session. I've added a beautiful candle from my sister in law, a buddha from my son, and other personal items to the altar in my sitting room. this room has now become my meditation/sitting room.

Oddly, I almost never listen to music at work any more. I used to be addicted to it, for lack of a better word. I needed it to function, to get through the day. That's no longer the case. I find I am fine with silence now. If I play music, I enjoy it immensely. I just don't need it.

I am still walking 5 days a week, for 40 minutes or so. It appears to be the only exercise routine I can do with any regularity. I just can't seem to make myself do anything else.

I have kept the weight off. I lost 20 pounds last year, and it's still lost.

My struggle with kindess and gentleness continues. Under great stress, I still get snappish. It lasts for a shorter time, and is less severe, I think. I still get angry, but it seems to dissipate into nothing very very quickly.

I am enjoying life more. I think it's because I spend more time being present and aware. I don't really need to know the reason, though -- it's enough that it is.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

kind, helpful, true

It's a brand new year. I am not making resolutions, but I do have some intentions for the year. I intend to do just a bit more than last year. Give a bit more, exercise a bit more, meditate a bit more, be greatful a bit more, love a bit more. And i am going to try to practice "right speech". "Right Speech" is the buddhist principle that one should say only what is kind, helpful and true. It is very difficult for me, but I think worth the effort.