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Archive for the ‘meditation’ Category


 

yoga exercise abstract

     Meditation, in all its various colors, has hit the mainstream.   It used to be just the hippies and alternative people who flocked to a room somewhere back in the 60s and 70s to learn transcendental meditation. I was one of them. My friend was one of the “alternatives” and invited me to a session that he was attending. Sounded interesting. I was given a mantra and taught how to relax my mind and silently repeat that mantra over and over again. When my mind wandered, gently bring it back to that nonsensical word and continue to silently and effortless repeat it. We were taught to practice that for 20 minutes twice a day. I did, and have been for years. Now it’s 30 minutes once a day about 5 times a week. During my college years I lapsed and had intermittent on/off periods during my high driving career years. But for a number of years now it’s been a regular practice, not “TM” but rather insight meditation has taken its place. That practice has made a major impact on my patience level, sense of peace and contentedness, clarity of thought and abiding sense of internal joy. Medical research now proves the physical and mental benefits of an ongoing meditation and mindfulness practice. Dozens of articles have been written about it and books extolling its benefits include its step-by-step process. But few have the emotional impact and first person case study that prominent neurosurgeon Dr. James R. Doty’s has in his memoir Into The Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart. Wow is the superlative that comes to mind.

     Dr. Doty is now a professor of Neurosurgery at Stanford University. But, as he tells it, it’s a fluke that he actually attended college at all, not to mention become a successful and prominent neurosurgeon. He doesn’t use the word fluke he calls it magic and weaves a compelling tale of being a young boy and meeting a woman in a magic shop who seduced him by promising the ultimate magic trick that would change his life. He was to spend his 12 weeks of summer vacation with her learning the trick. And if he practiced the trick, even at home, he could have anything he wants in life. That would be truly amazing since he came from a very poor family with a drunken father who couldn’t keep a job and bedridden, clinically depressed mother who had to continually pack up the family and move when they got evicted from apartment after apartment for not paying the rent.

     The trick, as Dr. Doty relays, was learning to meditate and then manifest his dreams. With regular practice and a deep, sincere desire for those goals to materialize along with visualization and the trust that they would – his life could change. Would change. This book tells that story of how his dreams came to pass. Along the way he shares the step-by-step process that this woman, Ruth, taught him. His abiding hope is that others will learn the way too.

It’s a profound read that is hard to put down.

 

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I’ve been struggling with some newly learned information today from a close friend. It’s put me in a funk while I search my brain trying to understand her reasoning. Understanding and reconciling are different from acceptance. I accept what she’s doing but my system is out of sorts with it. To say the least. I’ve been consumed by her decision all day.

My close female friend is voting for Donald Trump. I hyperventilate typing that sentence. She’s an intelligent, kind, talented, lovely person with high emotional intelligence I’d say. I often gain a different perspective of things when we talk. But not today. Today I’m flummoxed, deflated and depressed.

She’s a devout Christian, one who participates in Bible study each week. And she believes that Jesus chooses broken people when he wants his work to be done. And that belief allows her to vote for Donald Trump to be President of the United States. Yup.

I’ve tried to counter that argument, haven’t and won’t succeed. After everything she knows about what kind of person he really is – how he cheats, scams, avoids taxes, demeans women, forces himself on women, cheats on his wives – not to mention his temperament, bullying, lying viciously, multiple bankruptcies, lawsuits, knowing absolutely nothing about economic and foreign affairs and not having the patience, or interest to learn – she’s voting for him.

So now it’s my problem to handle. I’m a person fiercely driven by principles. While I’m not sure I could ever have an abortion, I absolutely believe that others should have the right to make that choice themselves. I’m not gay or a transsexual, but that doesn’t pre-empt my feeling that those gender identity people have the same inherent rights I do. I think that’s what Jesus taught – love, compassion and forgiveness.  I know she feels differently. She’s a bible literalist I think, though I’ve never been to her bible study group. And it’s those issues and other “family values” that’s driving her vote. Never mind that Trump is not Christian and that he’s the antithesis of Jesus Christ. There’s nothing noble about that man. And yet he will get her vote.

This election season has agitated my constitution. Other than Trump’s cult members I can’t understand why anyone would think he’s fit for the highest post in the world. Donald Trump? Are you kidding me? Would the same people vote for Charles Manson if he ran on the Republican ticket? Or Hitler? Even the Republican brass is renouncing him as their choice.  Where have we gone as a country?

Alas, this is my problem, the need for people to look at the facts, objectively. Maybe if we had a less divisive opponent, someone other than Hillary, maybe it wouldn’t be so hard for people to take their heads out of the sand. I won’t go into why there’s such hatred and distrust directed at Hillary – just suffice it to say that the smear campaign lasting years and years has been effective.  Forget all her years of family and children activism, and her successful track record.  The haters hate.

I put this out to the universe from the depths of my soul….

Please let the vast majority of people and delegates elect Hillary. The planet is in peril otherwise and the rest of the world knows it.

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It’s a good thing I voted early, otherwise I’d be hobbling into the polling station with a very stiff and cranky lower back.  It’s much wiser and safer to be nursing it with some ibuprofen and a heating pad with hopes that it feels better tomorrow.

No barn duty today either although it’s my morning to help with the horses at the Rescue.  Tuesdays come quickly and they’re usually greeted with a healthy back and ambitious attitude to feed, turn out and clean stalls. That’s actually what may have aggravated my back last week during some pretty heavy lifting in some very dirty stalls.

My back has been in great shape for years, thanks to regular exercise and yoga.  But with the cooler weather here and maybe a case of nerves leading up to the election, my back has decided to take control out of my hands and leave it up to fate.

Our bodies have a way of letting us know when it’s time to let go.  To let go of controlling things over which we have no control.

Lesson of the day and I’m listening.  Finally.  It’s our jobs to discern which things we can control, and the wisdom to let go of the others.

What is control, anyway? 

Is it the need to fulfill our expectations? 

To have our lives unfold according to our plans? 

To be right?  

To continue our personal delusions?  

To assume we know best? 

Yes, I think so.

Being a Type A personality, (actually, I like to call myself a recovering Type A), I’ve always needed to control my destiny.  My career put me in constant touch with news and pop culture and my leadership roles allowed me to be the gatekeeper I needed to be.  I had influence over content, budgets, direction, staffs and the masses.

Perfect. 

As my bank account grew with my advancements, so did my sense of personal freedom.  Money has always meant freedom to me, rather than the acquisition of “stuff,” though I accrued that too.  And with that freedom came a sense of control over my destiny.  Oops, there’s that word control again.

If you think my childhood had anything to do with that, you’d be right.  But that’s another subject.  (Or, if you know anything about the Enneagram model, and my type number, you might also realize control issues are in line with that too.)

Anyway, I digress.  Back to control…

These days the issue of control is one that I’m working to live without.  I’ve consciously started to live my life without assuming leadership functions.  Passion may describe a defining personal attribute, but that doesn’t have to lead to controlling an outcome.  A Buddhist tenet is to do what you must and let go of the outcome.  To not be so attached to the activity and its motivation, but, rather to do what’s right and give the rest up to the wind.  What will be, will be.  I’ve done my part, now let it go.

That’s what I think my back has been telling me for a few days now.  I’ve voted, I’ve been an activist for principles that guide me.  Now, just relax and let it be what it will be.

Thank you, back.

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Woods hold a secret

and whisper heartfelt whimsy

while I walk her path.

Trees line her walkway

while fallen needles cushion

steps that leave no trace.

 As winds blow  her leaves

 light teases through canopy

 creating shadows.

 There’s something about

 the smell of greens in nature

that beckons spirit.

It’s fresh yet musty

a paradox in action

the very nature of life.

It’s the woods alone

that breathe life into my soul

it’s my heart, my need.

Breathe deep, sit silent

as the secret whistles through

the sounds are revealed.


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I walk along the beach where the vast Atlantic ocean slaps the shoreline with cresting waves whose spent power trickles under my feet and tickles my toes with each step.  Ocean sovereignty untamed by humans ends at this boundary.  Perhaps that’s the magnetism that draws the land species to the edge of two worlds both vibrant with life, neither can subsist in the other.

I hear the ocean yell with roars louder than my thoughts.  Its domination drowns any quiet solitude simmering within.

It demands to be noticed,

to be admired,

to be respected,

to be awed.

And we land people yield to that force.

Why do you come? it booms in my ears, penetrating every cell in my body. You land people flock to my shores.  Stare at my waves for hours on end.  Walk along my borders where children dig into my sand and dogs romp through my swells.  Some of you try to ride me but never succeed in conquering me.  Some of you hunt my people to eat and become the occasional hunted for our sustenance. You explore my depths but can’t penetrate my soul.  You can’t live here but continually need to explore here.  You need me. You need us. You are me.  You are us.

We land people go to the ocean to be swept up beyond ourselves where thoughts don’t reside.  The roar is too loud for problems.  Too mighty for anything but complete submission.  Quietude comes later.

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People are usually wowed by my revelation that I’m a hospice volunteer, more than likely following that reaction with “boy I could never do that.”   They ascribe all sorts of saintly attributes to me which is uncomfortable, because they’re not true (ask my husband).  What is true is the following list … in no particular order … at this time of lists.

I receive much more than I give.

Time and receptivity is all that’s required and in return I learn about life and what it means to be human.  There is no other time in a person’s life when the need for true connection is greater.  To be invited into someone’s ultimate personal journey is a gift not to be taken lightly.  It holds great responsibility for truthfulness and vulnerability with its attending need for confidentiality.  Life’s lessons can be transmitted in just a few final months and I’m awed by the opportunity.

Hospice care givers are selfless heroes.

After a certain point a person in hospice care can no longer go and do.  All that’s available is to Be.  It’s the caregiver who is their loved one’s wheels, hands, utensils, hygienist, eyes, ears and task accomplishers.  They become housebound, leaving only when someone’s there to sit vigilance in their stead.  Life can exist that way for months, depending on the nature of the illness.  And it’s they who experience the deterioration of the person they knew and loved who’s no longer the person they remember.  They give selflessly without complaint – the greatest gift of love.  They lead invisible lives until theirs can once again resume.

Live life the way you’d like to be remembered.

This lesson can be sobering for someone on a deathbed.  One of my patients was postponing her death as long as possible even though its extension caused her suffering to be prolonged.  When we learned that she was afraid to die because of her shame about the pain she had caused others in her life, and her subsequent fear of retribution after death,  we called in her pastor to pray with her, allowing her to ask for the forgiveness she believed she needed.  And that included a necessary plea to her husband.  The next day she died.  No-one wants to be haunted on their deathbed.

Two friends

Authentic relationships are the only kind to have.

Once I experienced a true human connection I realized that it’s the only type I want.  Life is so short, putting on airs and pretending to be someone you’re not is foolhardy and a waste of precious time.  Being invited to peer into someone’s soul can be profound.

Friendship

It’s gratifying and enriching to be of service.

My time, until now, has been paid for by a number of companies who determined the value I brought to their organizations.  Doing what I did had market value and its commensurate performance standards. So most of my waking hours were spent performing to expectations – theirs and mine, tying my definition of value to size of paycheck.  Today I know differently and it’s had a profound effect on my life.

Day Hospice

Love comes in many flavors…

and romantic love might be the most shallow.  Relying on a family member to perform hygiene needs can force the final release of dignity.  And yet it’s part of the dying process.  Attending to people during their greatest time of need requires true unconditional love.

Friendship, Göteborg, Sweden

Image via Wikipedia

Shedding a facade makes room for intimate connection.

There are no more airs during the dying process, only naked humanity.  When I walk through the doors of a patient’s home I leave my defensive walls behind and open my heart to anything that might transpire for the next few hours.  I was privileged to attend to one elderly patient during her active dying phase with her equally elderly husband by her side, over wrought with grief.  With fever raging and her husband helplessly watching, I applied cool, damp wash cloths to her head, chest and arms, speaking soothing words as her breathing changed.  I witnessed her husband’s tears and last words of love and kiss goodbye – an unparalleled moment of intimacy that I’ll never forget.  Even her children didn’t experience this exchange between their parents; by the time they arrived she’d lost consciousness.

Change is the only constant.

Spending time with the dying certainly drives this point home.  Photo albums, pictures on the walls, stories from family members – those are the only ties to who this person was – his likes, her dislikes, their careers, their passions. This new person only shares the same name.  Most of the time I’ve never met the person they describe.  Life represents one changing moment after the next.  Might as well embrace it and enjoy it.

Patient

Trust defines our human-ness.

When you’re dying all there is is trust.  Trust that those who are there will do what’s right and take no advantage.  The dying slowly lose all control over their lives, leaving it in the hands of those around them, trusting that their wishes will be honored.  It’s heartwarming to watch adult children assume the role of parents and caretakers.  And the process reveals the true character of people.

Original caption: Ne ties a friendship bracele...

Image via Wikipedia

Listening without judgement is vital.

My role as a hospice volunteer is to do whatever the patient needs at the time.  Some like to be read to, others enjoy playing games.  One patient just wanted to watch old movies.  And one gentleman waited until his wife left to break down and grieve that he wouldn’t be around to counsel his grandson into manhood.  This man’s son died the year before and now his son’s son wouldn’t have a grandfather.  It was more than he could bear and it took all his energy to stand strong in front of his family.  Many patients need the ears and hearts of people who come with no family baggage.  Holding hands and simply nodding provides comfort.

Hospice

Friends show their true colors in time of need.

And many walk away, never to be heard from again.  It’s easy to be friends when life is humming along; it requires much more mettle when there’s nothing to be gained in return.

Mother and Child watching each other

Image via Wikipedia

Recognizing mortality energizes living.

Working in hospice is not depressing.  It’s not morose.  It’s not morbid.  It ends in sadness but inspires vitality.  When we recognize that life will end – for all of us – then we’re compelled by an urgency to appreciate each day and be aware of it.  Awareness of the present is a Buddhist tenet and that lesson stands front and center in hospice.

Hospice

Hospice is a gift.

It offers the dying a chance to end their days in comfort.  Without pain.  Without tubes attached.  Outside the beeping noise of an ICU with its antiseptic smell and sterile walls.   And it teaches the greatest lesson to accept that which you can’t control.

Yes, hospice inspires living.  May be we all be so inspired.

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During meditation this morning I started to focus on what it feels like to meditate.  How the process starts, progresses up to that point where I’ve quieted down enough to lessen my loss of focus and just be there.  Then, where is there?

As I start the process of slowing down I notice my mind racing with a million images and thoughts that accompany them, as though I’m in the middle of a collage as it’s being constructed.  It takes effort to focus on the breath – starting with my nose and then migrating to the abdomen where I can feel breathing in and breathing out.  Immediately, an image catches my attention and steals focus until I’m aware of gently re-guiding awareness back to the breath.  Then to hearing.  Then to breath and hearing as those two senses start to dominate.

Notice the blood coursing through my hands and now my feet.  Listen to my heartbeat while I become comfortable residing inside the body and not out.

Outside starts to drift away while the world inside looms large, growing more peaceful with each breath.  I notice a slight smile on my face while my tongue hugs the roof of my mouth.  Distraction comes and goes, more going than coming.  Peace settles within and my body rests contentedly.

And then I’m there.  Here.  Aware of the quiet.  Aware of sounds.  Aware of breath.  Aware of spaciousness.  Inside.  Not at all outside.

And your meditation experience?

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