Sunday, November 30, 2014


I didn't meditate today. Every now and then, I take a day off from practice. I want meditating to be a choice, not something I do on auto-pilot.  In this, I am practicing a little recursion, being mindful about my mindfulness.

Skipping a day here or there reminds me how much I get from practice, how much I benefit. And yes, it also reminds me how much I need it. I am not as centered on days I skip. I am, for lack of a better term, crankier. I have more hard edges. I don't move as softly or easily thru the world.

Tomorrow, I will go back to the cushion, with a renewed sense that it is what I want to do, what I need to do, what I should do.

Friday, November 28, 2014

with gratitude

Gratitude is a hard thing to talk about. Too often, it ends up sounding like bragging. You know, the whole "I'm so grateful for my wonderful husband, kids, house....perfect everything". Or it sounds like something you should be saying. "I'm so grateful for the opportunity..."  but it somehow rings hollow.

The thing is, we should be expressing gratitude. Loudly, often, repeatedly, with total sincerity. Every day we wake up, it's a gift. No bullshit. Every day, everywhere, some people DON'T wake up. You woke up, drew a breath. That is amazing. 

I'm not singing a chorus of "everything is awesome". I'm not a pollyanna. Life is full of hard things, difficult things, impossible things. But there are golden moments in every day, if you are open to them. And if you can't find them, well still, you were there, right? living, breathing, with the prospect that things could improve.

Gratitude is a way to acknowledge the importance of others; it can be an exercise in humility. You don't really accomplish anything entirely on your own. Acknowledging that can be hard -- it's so counter to the American ideal. 

Gratitude is the antidote to grasping. If I am full, content, replete in myself, I am not wanting, chafing at lack, jealous, bitter, angry. 

Gratitude is the key to empathy. It opens your heart to all the connections that exist between you and every other living thing.

I am grateful for love, for family and friends, for the world and everything in it. I am grateful for life, for death, and for everything in between.

Monday, November 24, 2014

sitting in judgement

I used to find it easy to judge people. By judge, I mean I would weigh their worth. Sum them up with a word. Asshole. Idiot. Jerk. Crook. Thief. Thug. As I practice more, I find I can do this less.

This doesn't mean I don't see the same behavior I saw before. I do. I know when someone is cheating me and I get angry about it just like anyone else. I'm not a fucking saint. I just mean that I can't DISMISS someone for it. I end up wondering what its like to be them, what happened to them that makes them the way they are. I start to see how it could happen that they ended up that way.

I can get angry when someone is an asshat. I just can't STAY angry.

Yesterday, Marion Barry died. He was the truly shitty mayor of Washington, DC. 4 TIMES. He is famous for his "the bitch set me up" line, uttered when he was caught with both crack and a woman not his wife, in a hotel room. He was a crook, a dishonest politician, a philanderer, a drug addict. But he was also reputedly a loyal friend. He worked his way up, from a boy picking cotton to a man with a masters degree in chemistry, from a tiny town in the South, to a civil rights activist, to mayor of a large city. No one is all bad, or all good.

I said as much in a FB posting and was astounded at the angry reaction. Because he was a bad man, who abused his power, most folks thought he should be written off. He was a crooked politician, and that was the sum of it.

I used to feel the same way. Sometimes I wonder if it's a bad thing that I don't anymore.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

small changes in view

I have had a love/hate relationship with my body my whole life. I don't think I am alone in this.

I love that I am fairly healthy. My legs are strong and get me where I want to go. I may need glasses, but I don't miss much. My hearing is exceptional. I struggle with my weight but truly I have no complaints. My body has been a source of incredible pleasure, for which I am very grateful. My senses have never let me down. When I clean up and dress up, I look okay.

For all that, rarely do I look in a mirror and not immediately think something critical or judgmental. My hair has never once looked like a shampoo ad. I still have acne, at 52. I've needed glasses since 2nd grade. I started wishing for boobs when I was 5 or 6, and I never quite got what I wished for.
My shape is not the shape they design clothes for, and it's not the shape I see in magazines.

Until recently. I have been seeing small signs that maybe we are making progress on the media front. Calvin Klein has a size 10 model. Big deal, you might think -- the average woman wears a 12. But when all their previous models were size 0 or size 2, it seems revolutionary. We have Viola Davis on a hit TV series, stripping off her makeup in a scene that was powerful mostly because we got to see a woman as she REALLY is, not how 3 hours of makeup can make her look. And we have Orange is the New Black.

I practically cheered the other night, watching an episode of this show. Not for what was happening, but for this: a line of nude women, fat women, skinny women, short, tall, young and old. My god, I saw a gray haired fat old lady naked on TV! FINALLY. REAL BODIES ON TV.

It was so damn refreshing. Affirming. Yes, we actually do come in all shapes and sizes. There is an infinite variety and beauty to the human form. Maybe if we see it more often, we'll begin to believe it.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

calling in lazy

We can call in sick when we can't work. Why can't we call in lazy? My mental health should be as important as my physical health. I know that if you are lucky, you have vacation days that you can use. But those are planned in advance, scheduled. I'm talking about something more spontaneous.

There should be room in modern life for days where you don't do much of anything. As I write this, I am in my pajamas, with a nice warm fleece robe wrapped around me. I have a cup of hot tea, my feet up on the coffee table. The bright sunshine is streaming in through the windows. It's chilly, but the hiss of the radiators promises warmth to come. I've just finished a leisurely breakfast, the kind I don't get to have during the week -- perfectly fried eggs, toast, veggie sausage, more tea. I read the paper because I had the time.

I don't have to do a damn thing today. Nothing. I can take a walk if I want. Or not. Maybe read a little. If it warms up I might throw the ball for the dog. Or not. It might be a great day to make a pot of soup or bake some bread. Or not.

What lazy really means is that I have the luxury of taking the day as it comes. No goals. No agenda. I can waste time, squander opportunity, live large or small. I can allow for serendipity, for the happy accidents that normally pass by unnoticed, for chance and circumstance. There is space for life to happen in its own way, outside of time.

Would it be so bad, if we just took a lazy day when we felt the need?

Friday, November 14, 2014

so much in a cup of tea

I have been a major tea addict for many years. I usually have 3-4 cups of caffeinated black tea a day, and then several cups of green tea on top of that. I thought I was addicted to the caffeine in the tea, but now I am not sure.

For the last month, I have been caffeine-free. Because the doctor thought I had gastric reflux, she prescribed a new diet -- no caffeine, no booze, no spicy food, no citrus. My heartburn symptoms have gone away, and I have started drinking a beer or two (or shots when my trivia team is playing) during the week. Other than that, I have kept to the diet. I had crushing headaches for the first three days, but those went away as I got used to not having the caffeine.

What surprised me is that I still drink as much tea as before. I have caffeine-free black and green tea, as well as some herbals. I suppose I wasn't as addicted to the caffeine as I was to the whole process of tea.

It's the warm cup in my hands. It's the reciprocity of it -- the teacup warms my hands, and then the warmth of my hands keeps the teacup warm. It's the colors, the white cup, and the beautiful amber or black or green liquid. How each type of tea has its own beautiful shade. It's the steam and the heat rising off. It's the aroma, and how each cup is different. It's the time that it takes, the process. I have to walk to the coffee room or the kitchen. I have to make the tea. I have to take the mug or the cup back with me, holding it's warmth in my hands as I anticipate that first sip.

For the time it takes me to drink my tea, it is all that I am doing. It isn't something I can gulp down while I read that article, or work on that software issue. I can't enter numbers in a spreadsheet while mindlessly sipping. Hot tea demands attention, a certain level of care, if just to avoid spills and burns.

Tea is meditation.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

it's hard out there

We're tough on ourselves. We're tough on everyone else. We're tough on the planet. Life is rough enough without all this. You would think by now, in our evolutionary journey, we would finally have adapted to not having armor plates. You would think we would have come to terms with our softness, our relatively defenseless selves.

And yet -- we posture, we strut, we bare our teeth. Snarling, growling, nipping at each others heels, just to show we aren't easy prey.

We could do better. Once in awhile I even believe we WILL do better. We could be gentle with ourselves, kind to others, and walk softly on this earth. 

I think that's the real display of strength.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

bringing talents to bear

 For all of my life, I have been about me first. Then family and friends. And everything else a distant third. My career has been about making the most money that I can with the least discomfort for myself. This means working in an industry that I think is doing some sort of good, because that makes my conscience happy. It means doing something that I am good at, because I don't like to do things where I fail. It means being where I have some input into decisions and operations, because I like the illusion of control and it feeds my self respect. I have done well, and have been pretty smug about it.

My meditation lately has brought up all sorts of thoughts. A recurring theme, on the cushion and off, is entirely new to me. How can I serve? What should I be doing that would be of help? And when I say new, I mean I have never ever given it a moments thought. I didn't grow up with a tradition of service. We didn't do volunteer work, we didn't have vocations. You worked for a paycheck, unless you lucked into winning the lottery.

I have no idea what to do. What are my talents? my abilities? is there something unique that I could bring to bear to make positive changes in the world? I have a feeling that these are questions I probably should have asked at 18 or 20.

I guess better late than never....

Monday, November 03, 2014

open book without a cover

Raw. Exposed. Vulnerable. This seems to be this month's mantra. Events seem to conspire to make sure that I am off-balance, uncomfortable, to shake me up and pop my illusions like balloons.

I have always felt that I could counter uncertainty with preparation; if I do the right things at the right time, I am safe from the upheavals that seem to knock others for a loop. I'll never be the last lamp-lighter or even the last of the layoffs. I observe, I anticipate, I prep and I move before things happen to me. I'm in control, master of my fate.

So when the ceiling fell in, quite literally, I was knocked for a loop. I was at the office! I was doing exactly the right thing, at exactly the right time. And I still had to run for my safety, to avoid being doused in boiling water from the steam pipes. A little slower and things could have been devastating. I got out and that's good. But I had a sudden kick in the pants -- hey, I'm as mortal as the next person. I can't prepare or plan my way out of the fact that someday, I'm gonna die. And I have no idea when and where.

I've always been smug about my good health. I eat a healthy diet, watch my weight, get moderate exercise. I meditate. I almost never get ill because I do all the right things, or so I like to think. But the stress of having to bolt from my chair, the adrenaline and nerves and everything else caused a couple of very bad weeks. My feet broke out where the filthy water had soaked into my socks. I had a few small burns. I started having a burning in my chest. I ended up at the doctor, with echocardiograms, stress tests, blood tests, ultrasounds -- like a sick person. Ultimately, I was fine. I had a little gastric reflux, that has since gone away. But it scared me, and reminded me that health isn't a given. Just because I am healthy today doesn't mean I will stay that way. Even if I do all the right things. It is another thing outside my control. I am vulnerable to the same diseases and disorders, to the same accidents of timing, as everyone else.

 I've always been a sort of open book, what you see is what you get, kind of person. But there is a difference between that and being truly exposed and vulnerable.It's still a narrative of sorts -- I show only what I've chosen to reveal, in the way I choose to present it.  I've had moments lately when I have been defenseless, when my carefully constructed walls have come down, when my public face has cracked, and I've been out there, raw,  in a very real and authentic way. It's terrifying, but also freeing. There is a a weightlessness, as if you are in zero gravity, or as if all the layers of protection had a heaviness to them. Stripped away, I begin to see the cost of keeping all that stuff in place.

I'd like to say that now that I've experienced all this, I will just choose to be open and vulnerable all the time. But there is a lifetime of habit attached to my "armor". I doubt very much that I can muster that much bravery on a day in, day out basis. But I can make strides in that direction, a little at a time.