the mercer weave

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Archive for the category “Real Happiness 2012”

Peace and Sleep

I woke up this morning, rolled over and came face to face with a puppy nose and my first thought was, “It doesn’t really get any better than this.” I hope that when I sit, the look upon my face is as placid and peaceful as that of a sleeping person or animal. It is the most vulnerable we can be – no opportunity for pretense or posturing – just pure innocence. Whenever I start to become irritated by someone, I try and imagine them in one of two states; as an infant or asleep. In those incarnations, there is no room for animosity and I can easily find compassion if needed or indifference if necessary.

If we look at the faces of those deep in meditation, there is a profound grace and contentment despite what may be swirling below the surface. What a wonderful state to aspire to and what an incredible journey to get there.sleepingpups

We Should All Be So Easily Amused

This is what I love about dogs. Well, one of the many things I love about them.  Pure, unadulterated joy. Curiosity that knows no bounds. Like children, but without the potential for purposeful heartache.

 

We should aspire to be more like these lovely souls.

Victim of Routine

I had every intention to sit this morning and then I did something I never do; I forgot to set my alarm. Aside from being annoying and jarring, forgetting to do something I routinely do every night before I get into bed, had the potential to set my day off on the wrong foot. Routine saves me. It gives me a sense of control over those things that we do mindlessly every day. I put my keys, my watch, my badge, my ID card, my gun, in the same place every day. Nothing is going to move without human intervention. And in the morning, I pick them up like I do every day and head to work. But I often find that if I leave one little thing out of the order of things, something else will fall out.

The lesson I take from this is that I have replaced mindfulness with routine. Instead of being present when I set down my keys or set my alarm, I’ve counted on my subconscious to kick in and do it for me. It’s a little daunting to step outside that frame of reference, to thumb my nose at doing things the same way day in and day out. But it’s necessary. Without mindfulness, our lives become mindless. We become complacent and lose the ability to find joy in the uncommon place. I’m going to try and be less routine and more spontaneous. Let’s see where that takes me.

What do you do ‘routinely’ that you can try to change and replace with mindful action?

 

Happy for a Reason

I’ve been pondering the whole idea of working with difficult emotions over the last couple of days. I guess I’m a little behind the curve with the book but that’s how I roll…

I am one of those people who have always managed to distract myself from difficult feelings and emotions. Not that I don’t acknowledge them – I just don’t dwell on them.  And I think that’s a good thing to a certain extent except if the ‘not dwelling’ part is really more about trying to ignore them. That’s not so good.

I’ve been trying to practice just being with feelings and not working hard to replace that sensation with something that feels good. Every now and then (and thankfully it really is very rare that I feel this way), I will just wake up on the wrong side of the bed. It’s like I should know why I’m pissed off but I don’t even know what I’m angry about. And nothing makes me madder than not knowing why I’m mad.

I used to spend a lot of time pushing the nagging feeling away, trying to think of something that made me feel better.  Now, I try to stay with the emotion, roll around in it and not fight it. It’s not as fun as being ‘happy’ all of the time, but I’ve developed the mantra “resistance it futile” and it seems to be working for me.

Happy is great. Happy for a reason is even better.

 

Taking A Moment

There is a story in Sharon Salzberg’s book Real Happiness about children learning about the importance about ‘taking a moment’ before acting on difficult emotions. How wonderful would it be if this became a part of the curriculum in every school in this nation. It seems we value ‘quick thinking and action’ and we celebrate people who can counter criticism deftly with a witty comeback. But we rarely celebrate the person who can turn away and deflect harsh words with kindness. And teaching children how to know the difference “suggests the possibility of finding the gap between a trigger event and our usual conditioned response to it, and of using that pause to collect ourselves and change our response.” *

In my line of work, I see the results of ‘not taking a moment’ all of the time. It can be as (relatively) benign as someone flipping the bird to another driver on the freeway or as  horrible as the violence of a homicide. And in almost all of those situations, the moment was there to be taken but the opportunity was lost.

We only have a limited amount of time on this earth but we have a limitless ability to pause. I think that’s what we are learning here.

*Sharon Salzberg Real Happiness pg 107

 

 

Turbo the Wonder Cat…Pausing

Truth and Consequence

I’ve become a little obsessed lately with the whole concept of ‘truth.’ In part, it is because I am constantly surprised at what some people define as ‘truthful’ speech. Not right speech, although truth should certainly be a part of that, but speech that is genuinely truthful. I’ve noticed it mostly around politics and politicians. In this age of 24-hour media, there is no paucity of video and audio evidence of practically everything said or done in the presence of a camera. And yet, faced with that evidence many people will shrug and smile, knowing that someone, somewhere will still believe the lie. There doesn’t even seem to be any shame about the fact that the veracity of any claim can easily be tested. I mean, even my dogs seem to show at least a modicum of shame when I come home and they’ve ‘accidently’ eaten all of the cat food or pooped by the door.

I’m not speaking about shame in the negative context that so many of us have learned from society. In my opinion, that’s not shame as much as it is non-conformity to some bizarre and unrealistic standard. I’m talking about standing in front of a microphone and making statements that are just completely untrue even despite evidence to the contrary.

There was an article recently in the New York Times about whether or not reporters have an ethical obligation to not only report what is said, but to fact check that statement and correct it. Oftentimes, papers run a side bar as a fact checking function. I just wish those who handle talking points for politicians would stop trying to shade the truth and just give their bosses the truth. And if the truth hurts your candidate, talk about something that doesn’t.

Being truthful about everything and practicing right speech is harder than you think. Is it always advisable to tell your best friend that her pants make her butt look big?  Everytime?  Some of the time? When is it ok to skirt around the truth? Can we possibly know the infinite number of reverberations that extend from telling a lie?

I always come back to my dogs. They are incapable of lying. Of course, they are incapable of talking, too.  But when I look into their eyes, I see only innocence, presence and the truth.

On this day, I strive to be truthful to myself first and foremost.  A true self can never be fact checked.

 

Peace and Quiet

I made the mistake of watching TV this past weekend. I generally watch too much television but I think it’s mostly as an element of distraction. I often read while it’s on or I sometimes write. But this weekend, after the death of Whitney Houston, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the fact that no matter what I put on (except for some cable movie station) there were sad-faced reporters relaying a series of speculations about the singer’s death. It got me to thinking about our obsession with popular culture and I suppose, about my own.  These people we elevate to such heights of perfection have nowhere to go but down. And then we engage in a collective tongue clucking over their downfall.

It seems as though we as a country spend so much time seeking things to distract us.  We have a twenty-four hour news cycle, restaurants that never close and an entertainment media complex that churns out drivel by the boat load. There is never a moment when I cannot get access to the latest news whether it’s on the TV, my phone or a computer. Helicopters flying overhead? Jump on the iPhone. Someone famous dies? Turn on the TV and you can be guaranteed to find non-stop coverage. And if the circumstances of that person’s death are ‘mysterious’, expect to hear from experts who appear to have been dragged from some ‘expert warehouse’ and propped in front of a camera. And many of us take what these people say at face value and repeat it to our friends or via social media as though it is fact. It is relentless.

Sitting in silence at the beginning of my day has given me tremendous gratitude for the moments in my busy life when there is nothing turned on or turned up and competing for my attention. And even then, it’s so hard to concentrate on, well, nothing. Because even that nothingness can have an infinite amount of junk attached to it.

It’s all about finding a place for peace and quiet. I don’t hear people saying that very often anymore.

I just want some peace and quiet.

 It’s a lot harder to come by these days.

Faith and Reason

One of the first books I read about Buddhism was Sharon Salzberg’s book Faith. It is a wonderfully reasoned book about her transformation and journey that has ultimately brought us all here for this challenge. I have to say that I was intrigued by the title of the book because the word ‘faith’ is not one that I normally associated with Buddhism. And in fact, faith has always held more of a mystical and certainly Christian connotation for me. And I’m not a very ‘mystical’ person. I’m very pragmatic and practical, perhaps to a fault. To me, having faith in something meant believing in something you couldn’t prove.

When Sharon writes, “Faith is the animation of the heart that says, `I choose life.’ This spark of faith is ignited the moment we think, `I’m going to go for it. I’m going to try.’ “, I think to myself, ‘That’s it. That’s what faith means to me, too.’

So where am I going with this? On Saturday, the Westboro Baptist Church is going to travel to the Pacific Northwest and picket at the memorial service for the two little boys killed by their father, Josh Powell last Sunday. This ‘church’ is pretty much just one family headed by Fred Phelps and his daughter Margie. The reason they are going to picket is because Washington Governor Christine Gregoire has pledge to sign the bill to legalize same sex marriage in Washington state passed by our legislature two days ago. Their reasoning?  God was punishing those two little boys for the actions of the legislature and the governor. Make sense now? I didn’t think so.

Now the Westboro folks are notorious. I won’t link to their site because frankly it is repulsive, but if you want to see for yourself, have at it. A few years ago, they came to Seattle to protest several synagogues and a high school. I had to work a plainclothes detail essentially to protect their First Amendment right to free speech and assembly. Suffice it to say, it was not a pleasant experience. However, I was so proud of our local high school kids who came out en masse to protest the protesters. And there was no violence despite the very heated rhetoric.

This is where I come back to faith and why this word really needs to be re-acquired by the good and compassionate followers of all religious traditions. The Phelps family uses the word faith as a weapon. They believe in a wrathful and vengeful God who compels them to compound the misery and sadness that so many feel in the name of ‘faith.’

As I sat this morning, I struggled mightily to put into some sort of context a world that rushes by us day after day bringing us everything from the joy of a new life to the sadness at the end of another. My faith will not be defined by anger. It will be defined by ‘the animation of the heart.’

High Anxiety

Today I read a wonderful post by Marguerite Manteau-Rao at her blog MindDeep about the nature of anxiety. She quoted and linked to an interview on NPR with teacher Sylvia Boorstein. This really resonated with me:

Actually, the Buddha said we have one of five genetic fallback glitches when we’re challenged. He said some people fret, some people get angry, some people lose heart and all their energy goes and they don’t know what to do with themselves, some people think, “Uh-oh, it’s me. I didn’t do things right. It’s always my fault. I messed things up.” And some people need to be sensually soothed. They think, “Where’s a donut shop? Where’s the pizza?” People have different tendencies. It was very, very helpful for me as an adult to learn that because it completely comes without a judgment. I don’t have to say I am a chronic fretter. I could say, you know, when I’m challenged, fretting arises in my mind and it’s not a moral flaw. It’s very good for people who have a short fuse to be able to think, “You know, I have this unusual neurological glitch.

I tell it to people that my glitch is that “when in doubt, worry.” It came with the equipment. I’m also short and I have brown eyes. If I could see that in the same neutral, it just came with the equipment, then I don’t have to feel bad about it, but I can work with it wisely. That’s really the important part, when we see as adults what it is that our fallback glitch is. You can say, “Uh-oh.” And I think, in a certain way, that’s a sign of wisdom when a person begins to be able to delineate this is what happens to me under tension.”

I’m a master fretter. I own it. The interesting thing for me is that I don’t always know when I’m fretting and I don’t generally talk about what is vexing me. My anxiety comes out in a habit I have had since I was a child – I bite my cuticles (or what is left of them.) It is such an unconscious behavior that most of time, I’m not even aware that I am doing it until my partner (invariably) says, “Stop eating your fingers!”  I always thought this was just an annoying habit until a doctor friend pointed out years ago that it was related to anxiety and I was incredulous. I was incredulous because I didn’t feel anxious. I tried putting awful tasting stuff on my nails as a way to deter the behavior. That just meant I had an awful taste in my mouth most of the time, because I didn’t know I was doing it. I would bet that most of my friends wouldn’t describe me as an anxious person. But that’s a testament to how good I’ve become at masking it.

Learning to sit with silence and in the moment has allowed me to connect with that feeling of anxiety. It has given me the chance to be more mindful about what I do in response to anxiety even when I don’t feel anxious. Slowly but surely I am learning to ‘work with it wisely.’

Wobbly but True

Week two is settling in for me and as such, my meditation seems to be coming around, too.  I was a little worried at the beginning of the challenge because I’d been quite remiss about keeping a consistent practice and the first few days I felt like I’d just gotten back on a unicycle after many years away. I felt wobbly, off kilter, a little afraid and slightly self-conscience. But now the pups settle in on the couch next to me and our ancient, grand kitty wanders around the kitchen waiting patiently for me to finish. There is less anxiety for everyone, including me.

I have written before about meditating with animals but it really is fascinating to me how much respect they show to my practice. Whether or not they ‘know’ what I’m doing, I sense they ‘understand’ that I’m doing my best to be present for the few minutes I sit near them. The younger of two, Bella occasionally jumps in my lap and licks every finger for good measure. She then usually joins her sister Lucy on the couch, curling up in front of her older sister. Lucy rests her head on Bella’s back. They lie quietly, waiting for the timer to chime.

These are the moments that I cherish. They are not the only moments, but they are the first to grace my day. I am a very lucky woman.

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