the mercer weave

Think. Don't Think. Breathe. Write. Roam.

Archive for the month “February, 2011”

SNOWPOCALYPSE

It only kind of snowed here in Seattle last night. But you wouldn’t know it by the media coverage. It was SNOWPOCALYPSE!! SNOWMAGGEDON!! SNOWLAPALOOZA!! It was nothing. Nothing for those of us who live in the city. Oh yes, there was a smattering of flakes that made the roads a little slippery but we’re not talking East coast blizzard. Pretty much everywhere around us got hit with significant amounts of icy precipitation but not Seattle.

It’s fun to watch the onset of panic – the need to control the weather by checking the news every half an hour, read the ‘real-time’ snow blogs and hunker down to wait for the snowy onslaught. You really have to live in this city to appreciate the level of hysteria that a hint or rumor of snow can bring. People buy shovels, boots, chains for their cars and shoes, store up wood, buy out all the top ramen, dress their dogs in embarrassing sweaters and leave work hours early because someone in Fiscal reported seeing a large, gray ‘snow’ cloud over Elliott Bay. People!! This is Seattle. Large, dark gray clouds live here. They vacation here. They send their kids to school here.

We can’t really predict the weather with pinpoint accuracy and we sure can’t control it. For me, real happiness is about being able to sit on the cushion and let go.  I actually got up this morning and didn’t run to the window like a child running to the living room at Christmas. I just knew in my bones I would be disappointed.  As much as I would love to be able to control many things in my life (including the weather), it’s actually a good lesson in mindfulness to enjoy the passing frenzy,  recognizing  the futility of trying to manage, direct or manipulate anything, really. That has been the lesson for me these past 28 days. Thank you for that, Sharon.

Another Good Walk Spoiled

Not to belabor the sports analogy, but I’ve been thinking a lot about golf lately. Perhaps that’s because the last time I played, it was unbelievably painful. I couldn’t hit a shot to save my life. I was playing in a tournament with close friends who struggled not to laugh as I swung the club like a lunatic.  Not that I play that well, but dang, I couldn’t hit anything.  I left that day feeling pretty defeated.

But through meditation, I have started to learn what makes life so complicated and yet so simple. Here is an endeavor that requires one to hit a ball that’s 1.680 inches in diameter into a hole that is 4.2 inches of same, over the course of an average of five miles. How does this relate to meditation? Well, if you’ve ever stood over a golf ball when you aren’t playing well, you might understand. Every negative thought and memory of your relationship with that ball surges through your mind. Isn’t that what sitting on cushion brings to mind? All of those moments of insecurity, of pain, of loss, of memory, of crazy-making stress related to work, life, love and everything in between. That golf ball represents that effort to pinpoint concentration, to corral that moment and breath and send it into a trajectory that satisfies the game.

Meditation is not a game of course, but there are parallels.  When I stand on that course and I look at the beauty of the grass, the trees, the sand, the sky, the wind, the endless expanse before me, that says,  “Come get me, you fool,” I know it is only one tiny fragment of what my life presents to me.

I will set out again this year as I always do, to command that swing and control that ball and I know I’m only as good as the time and effort I put into it. But I can revel in the beauty of my friends, of the landscape and the history of the sport and enjoy every moment despite my frustration.  After all, it’s only a game.

Just Do It

 

The other day, I was looking at all the crap I had stored in my desk locker in order for me to go for a ‘run’ with a couple of guys from work. Notice the qualifiers around the word ‘run.’  ‘Nuff said.  And I’m not saying that exercise doesn’t ultimately make me feel good – that alleged endorphin rush and all – but it’s not always convenient.  That’s the beauty about meditation – there’s no extra equipment necessary. At least I haven’t seen a zabuton with a Nike swoosh yet. That’s not to say that someone hasn’t thought about it but I just don’t see a lot of coin in trying to sell meditation as a competitive sport. You don’t need special shoes or clothes or implements to drive you along in your sweaty endeavor. You just need to set aside some time (and I don’t care who you are everyone has fifteen or twenty minutes to spare) and put on the brakes, settle into your breath and give yourself the gift that keeps on giving. Yes, yes – it’s not always comfortable setting up shop inside your head. There will be moments, some of them really, really long moments when you will question your decision to sit with silence. But there is nothing in this life that feels as good as even that nanosecond of peace, that sensation of weightlessness that comes with sticking with it. Just do it.

Vigilance

 

On Mondays, I have been attending a beginning meditation class with two friends. I committed to taking the class before this challenge and although I took the same class a year ago, it’s been a wonderful reminder of things too easily forgotten in the calamity of life. I feel especially blessed to be participating in Sharon’s challenge on my own while simultaneously accompanying good friends in what I hope will become a lifelong journey for them.

I normally sit alone in the early morning darkness with just a hint of light in the room. On Mondays though, the room is full of (mostly) strangers who sit in silence for thirty minutes at the beginning of class.  Last week, I noticed some anxiety upon trying to settle in. It wasn’t the first time. In fact, it happens pretty consistently when I find myself sitting with others.  At first, I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t relax into the rhythm of my breathing.  I found myself taking deeper and deeper breaths, feeling as though I couldn’t catch it. It felt as though I had traveled to a higher altitude, that unsettling place of breathlessness.

Then I realized it was because I was still in ‘cop mode,’ hyper vigilant and still coming down from my day.  I wasn’t sitting with my back to the wall with the door in sight, scanning the room every few minutes.  I was sitting with my eyes closed in a room full of people I didn’t know and asking myself to let go of years of training and trust the space around me filled with unfamiliar faces. It’s a downside to the job, learning to read people at a distance and making quick judgments as to their intention and character. After a while, you get really good at it. Sometimes you are just flat wrong.

I work pretty hard at trying to separate my work from my life but the two are often inextricably intertwined. For some people, that intersection is the site of unending collisions that leave emotional debris everywhere.  Learning to meditate, to lean into the calmness of mindful meditation has given me access to an internal GPS. It has allowed me to set a ‘home’ button, one that is accessed in the simple act of breathing.

Focus

Early in her book, Sharon Salzberg talks about the slippery slope of multitasking. It wasn’t until I started sitting that I realized how addictive the ability to do numerous things at once could be. Sometimes when I’m on a roll, I almost feel a rush, an inexplicable high that I’m getting so much accomplished in a short time.

One of the things you are expected to be able to do efficiently when you become a police officer is to multitask. New officers will wash out if they can’t drive, listen to the radio, look for suspects, witnesses, complainants, victims, criminal activity, monitor the mobile data computer, look for addresses, figure out where they are going and a myriad of other things that can compete for one’s attention. And that doesn’t take into consideration the millions of thoughts flying through your brain about the job, the spouse, the house, the family, the friends, the community, what’s for lunch, dinner, does my trainer like me/hate me and am I’m going to screw this whole thing up and end up flipping burgers at Billy Bob’s. So, you train and train at the academy and then hit the street and it can all go horribly awry if you can’t multitask.  And by ‘awry’, I mean ‘in death.’ And like so many things in this career, it is difficult to give up those habits/skills when you take off the uniform.  The challenge for me (and I suppose others in law enforcement) is learning to let go and focus on one thing at a time when not on the job.

What learning to meditate has done for me is allow me to re-capture that childlike quality of concentrating on one thing at a time.  Rodney Smith, a teacher with the Seattle Insight Meditation Society, spoke recently about how children can look at something for the first time and just appreciate it for what it is – not bring to the experience a story from the past associated with the object. I try to do that as often as I can by looking at something as though it has never been defined for me before.

I can’t promise to forsake Twitter, Facebook, email, Words with Friends and Angry Birds (wow, that’s an embarrassing list…) but I can start to be more mindful about when I do use them. This daily exercise I am establishing has become less about pushing beyond my limits and more about accepting those limits one task at a time.

Bichon Buddhas

This may be a relative statement for some people, but 4:50 AM seems really early. That’s when I rise to settle into my meditation practice. There is something about that hour in the morning that holds a peace I never find at any other time of the day. My youngest dog Bella follows me downstairs, watches as I lay out my zafu and then methodically licks every one of the fingernails of my hands that rest upon my knees before curling into a ball in front of me. Her sister Lucy generally joins us a couple of minutes later, sitting patiently in front of me, her brown eyes blinking in the dark as she studies my position on the floor. She too will settle on the blanket covering my legs.

We sit for our time. The soft padding of the cat’s paws pacing the hardwood floors in the kitchen provides a metronome counter to my breath. There is a peace in silence, in sharing a space with life different from your own yet reliant on so much similarity of process. I am humbled that they respect those moments with me despite a perceived inability to truly conceptualize my effort. This is what defines me now and it is good.

Clown Car Mind

So, as I understand it, it is not uncommon for beginners to experience a virtual twister of thoughts when sitting to meditate for the first (or second, third etc.) time. I’ve heard it described as ‘monkey mind.’ As I sat for the first of my 28 days this morning, I decided my mind is less like a bunch of monkeys and more like a clown car.

Since I actually starting meditating last year, the vehicle has downsized from a fire truck to more of a Mini Cooper.  And I’m not talking about clowns in the John Wayne Gacy or Killer Clowns from Outer Space meme – I’m thinking more along the lines of maybe Enrico Caruso as Canio in Pagliacci. Full Disclosure: I think I have a mild case of coulrophobia so that’s a whole other issue.

So beginning today, I’m going to befriend my clowns, turn them into monkeys and then find a nice sanctuary for them to live in while I learn to navigate this vast and endless planetarium in my head.

I am honored to be sharing this challenge with my fellow travelers and bloggers on Sharon’s Real Happiness site. This should be a wild and wonderful ride.

To follow along with the bloggers and challengees for 28 days, please visit Sharon’s site here: http://www.sharonsalzberg.com/realhappiness

 

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