Monday, October 10, 2011

Summit Day

October 8, 2011

           To the East of Klamath Falls a long, high wall of a mountain soars above the city.  I’m going to take a break today from all the analyzing, reporting and politicking.  In just five minutes of driving, I’m standing at the base of Hogback Mountain.  The trail is a thin brown line straggling straight up a buttress to the main ridge.  There are no trees here, or very few, so the whole stretch is visible.
            In only a few hundred yards, the car is a tiny, shiny dot in the parking lot.  My breath burns and my world contracts.  The trail is so steep, I have to carefully place each step to avoid slipping.  It’s like climbing stairs with risers that are sloping downwards, and are coated with slippery sand.  The effort of concentration pays, though.  Soon, I’m in a state so focused that I can feel the expanse of Pure Mind.
            It doesn’t matter how you get there, whether from following the breath, or washing the dishes, or following every step with perfect concentration.  The destination is the same: Bare Attention.  This mind-state carries me up, through a country turned on its side, until I’m only a few feet from the ridge-top.  But as I approach, I can tell it’s not the top.  The wind is wrong, and the slope is increasing again.  I step over the lip, and I’m greeted by another near-vertical stretch of trail, threading its way up to further height, the true ridge-top.
This is a false summit.
            More steps of expansive awareness follow, un-countable steps, each the same as the last, each unique in its infinitely careful placement.  And finally, the wind freshens, and the slope decreases.  And then, I’m standing on a wind-swept ridge, a knife-edge balancing itself at the top of this massive hill.  I’m not sure why, but every time I’ve ever approached summit, it seems quieter.  Maybe it’s a sense of reverence, or maybe the unencumbered wind drowns out all other sound.  It adds to the sense that you are in a far place.
            Now I begin to work my way up the ridge, still climbing but much less steeply. The world expands with every footstep, now on both sides of the mountain.  To the west, Klamath Falls is spread before me like a map.  The enormous lake lies silently to the north, darkened by its own private fog bank.  To the east, a sere landscape extends in rolling hills and spreading, cultivated bottomland.  Creeks and lakes decorate the arid view.
            I round some rock outcroppings, jutting high and sharp above me.   These formations are called sentinels, as if they guarded the summit from discovery by people of my ilk.  And then, almost suddenly, the wind freshens again, silence drapes me even more heavily, and I see the hill flatten out in all directions.
            I am standing on top of Hogback Mountain.  From the valley floor, at three thousand feet, I’ve climbed to six thousand, two hundred feet, gaining three thousand two hundred feet in two and a half miles.
            On the summit, I am alone.  The distance of the town far below me emphasizes the solitude here; I can look down and collectively see thousands of people, but I cannot see one individual person.  Here there is huckleberry and sage, bare earth, and horned lizards that scramble from their sunny hotspots to hide from me.
            And there is the wind, ever present, gentle but insistent.  It whispers to me: of the mystery contained here, here for the taking.  To the north, I can see the rim of Crater Lake, and, just barely, Mount Thielsen, a mountain I climbed many, many years ago.  Out there is also Mt. McGloughlin, and the long, high ridge of the Sky Lakes.  I can see in my mind’s eye, a thousand places up there, places where I slept and swam and despaired and exulted.  I can see, in my mind’s eye, the me of twenty-one years ago, standing on windy ridge top out there, and looking across the gulf of open country, to the distant town of Klamath Falls and beyond.
            The second half of the climb awaits, the most dangerous half.  I turn and begin my descent, on trembling knees and aching feet.  By the time I arrive at the rock cairns that mark my route down the buttress, every step is causing me pain, and concentrating on my foot placement is very, very difficult.  At last I feel the familiar relief of stepping onto flat ground.  My mind eases, and my attention relents.  My old, busy world of thought-stream pushes back in, startling me in its suddenness.
            But it’s changed, too.  For hours afterward, the world looks different.  Just as it would from a good long sitting meditation session.  Every sense is sharpened, every joy more joyful.  Back up the hill, the summit smiles down at me, a real place now.
            Next morning, I look out the window of my hotel room, and I see the top.  I can see the summit in my mind’s eye.  I can see the me of yesterday, up there, looking down at the town.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Commerce

September 22, 2011

                Morning sunlight floods the Lorane valley, and I am in the little white chair out front, drinking tea.  And then the Sit begins, and it’s very good today. I slip immediately into an expansive state, following the sensation of the breath.  As thoughts and feelings recede, the first thing I notice today is the busy-ness of this little valley, a busy-ness that mostly goes un-noticed.
                A tiny spider drapes a thread of silk across the back of my ear.  I reach up to brush it away, requiring that he build his trap elsewhere.  A black and white chickadee sits in the Douglas Fir tree ten feet from me, squawks loudly and flys away, his wings making a buzzing sound this close up.  A woodpecker sits on a thick limb high in the same tree, slamming his beak down into the bark over and over again, creating a resounding “thwock” with each impact; thwock, pull back, listen, repeat.  Hawks circle above, calling to each other in shrill, far-away notes.  Larry stalks across the driveway and woofs at a passing car.
                All of this is meaningful to everyone involved, I have no doubt.  But it’s kind of distracting.  Then a hummingbird appears, off to my right.  Because I am sitting so still, he doesn’t realize I’m a person, and it doesn’t occur to him to be afraid.  He stops his flight even with my head, and pulls in for a look, hovering.  The buzzing of his wings is palpable, the feathers on his back reflect the morning sun in iridescent green and blue.  For an eternal two seconds, he is one foot away from my face, his tiny black eyes regarding me with a stark awareness un-cluttered by ego.  I remain frozen, and for a time, we share a mutual gaze that is unspeakably intimate.
                And then, he’s gone.  He leaves me with a profound taste of what I’m striving for.  A close encounter with a vast awareness that is infinitely connected, that knows no ego and no boundaries, an awareness that knows exquisite existence, un-sullied by purpose. 
                This is the spacious place I wait to enter, or to enter me, each time I take the One Seat.  After my hummingbird encounter, the state seems sweeter and more accessible today.  I pull my attention in from the intense commerce of the animal kingdom of the Lorane Valley, inward, then back out, with a spacious and unidentified awareness, recently modeled to me by the hummingbird, the spider, the woodpecker, and Larry.
                It makes me smile.  Down on the highway, a car goes by.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Autumn Sun


September 20, 2011

               Each morning as  Iay in bed right after waking, I turn and watch as the sky in the east lightens from the black of night to the whitish, eggshell blue of the pre-dawn.  This time of year, the sun has begun its trip south, rising further to the right on my horizon every morning.  This day, He sits exactly between the two big Douglas Firs that stand outside my cabin.  Weeks ago, in August, He was to the left of the first big tree.
                I can see yellow light drenching the hillside above me, out the other window, while I am still in pre-dawn darkness.  Then it reaches me, and the inside of my house is drenched in the light of another day.  I make tea and sit outside by the window box, reveling in the sunshine and the birdsong.  And when the tea is finished, it seems like I am already half way to the state of mindfulness.  So I put my cup down, sit quietly and allow the rest to happen.
                Thoughts and feelings recede.  They are back there, chattering away, but now the foreground of my attention is just the sensation of my breath.  A few minutes of this, and I am able to send my attention out, to the trees, the light, the birds.  Then I can bring it back, all the while residing in the subtle and profound sensation of the breath.  It’s as if that sensation becomes the vehicle I travel on.
                Moving within, I see there a terrible jittery feeling that wants nothing to do with this.  Get up it says, move around.  Of course, it doesn’t want me to continue.  Doing this means the annihilation of that jittery feeling, and like all other living things, it wants to survive and continue.  I negotiate, and it recedes.  And in its absence is a fresh, open space.
                 I sit for another twenty minutes in this state.   Then I pick up my tea cup and take it to the sink.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Seat, One More Time

 
            Monroe park is a few blocks away from the office, just a long enough walk to help me let go of all the stuff happening in my head before I get there and take a seat on a park bench.
            The One Seat.
            My breath begins to slow as I bring my attention to it, and the thought stream, the waterfall mind, fades to the background.  I feel annoyed, briefly, that it won’t go away entirely as it used to.  I notice the annoyance and file it with the rest of the thought-stream, a minor rivulet in the cascade of thought.  And I make a negotiated peace with the thought-stream: You can stay, just don’t get in the way.
            There are kids playing on the swing and I can hear their small kid voices.  There’s a utility truck behind me, its huge diesel engine idling.  And there’s a man shooting baskets, the ball thumping and swishing.  These sounds become my mantra for the day, timed perfectly to slow my breathing down to a therapeutic level.
            In.
            Out, kid voices, truck idling, basketball sounds.
            In.
            And so on.  Lightly noting just these three things while breathing out keeps me here, keeps the waterfall of thoughts at bay, and keeps my breathing at a rate that will create a profound change, now and over time.
            Normally, in mindfulness meditation, I don’t do anything with the breath, except observe.  So this isn’t truly mindfulness meditation.  But my anxiety level lately is so high, my reactivity so intense, that I need something more concrete to hold to.  For now, this works, and I can feel the changes coming on, not the least of which is the daily urge to keep on doing this.
            And I can feel the changes tallying up.  I still have the intense reactions to the stuff that happens at work, with other people in my life, with all of it.  Still have that horrible adrenaline rush that starts in the pit of my stomach and goes all the way down, and all the way up, a terrifying body high.  But lately, it doesn’t last as long.  Lately, the reaction ends sooner and the event seems to matter less.
            Sometimes now, driving home, or walking by the river, I wonder why it all used to matter as much as it did.  As my sense of place in myself increases, I find I can let go of other things with much more readiness.  Things still matter, but they matter in the right way now.
            The practice feels like an old home, long missed and returned to at long last.  Even in this simplified version, my attention grows daily.  Even from this little taste, I find myself wanting more.  I find myself longing for tomorrow’s session.
            Long ago, when I was new to practice, I heard teachers say that no effort was ever wasted, no insight ever lost.  I did not believe them.  But now, as the practice returns, as the One Seat becomes home to me again, I realize that all the efforts I ever made are paying off now, in every session, every day.  I also realize that losing my practice was part of my practice.  Now I’ve experienced having no practice, having one, losing it, and getting it back.
            As it was many years ago, I find myself thirsting for the jhanas, the mind-states in which annihilation is experienced, or loss or awareness, in exchange for awareness of a deeper, more immediate reality.  The body, the breath, the thought stream, can and do all evaporate, in due time, with due practice, and in their place, there is a soft, brilliant whiteness, there is a place in which all things radiate their own light, a place where only joy is known, and that joy is known to be you.
            All of these states beckon to me, as they did 17 years ago, when it was all new.  The tastes of them that came to me verified what the teachers said.  They told me then not to believe them.  They told me then to sit, and experience it directly for myself.  It still works.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Finishing

            This entry isn’t about mindfulness.  It’s a little bit of the story of how I got there.  As always, my intention is that everyone who reads this will find some benefit.  But today, I am also writing directly to my lovely friend, who has just experienced a very difficult loss.
            When I was fifteen, my father became very ill, at times gravely so. At the time, his illness was a mystery.  Much later, we learned that he had been suffering from the effects of biological warfare that was waged on both sides in the Pacific Theatre of World War Two.  His illness became a backdrop to my coming of age.  At the same time that I began to taste all of the exciting, joyful and terrible things of adulthood, I watched my father gradually recede from life.
            He fought his illness with valor, suffered horribly.  By the spring of 1975, shortly after my 18th birthday, he was getting better, and we were preparing for him to come home.  My parents were estranged at that time, so his home coming would have been to a solitary home of his own.  But we were exhilarated nonetheless that he had turned a corner and my parents, I think, were negotiating some kind of peace.  I don’t’ know for sure.  My parents didn’t talk about it.  What I did know was that my dad was coming home.
            One sunny day in June, I went to visit him at the hospital.  When I got there, he was sitting on the edge of the bed.  At previous visits, he had been laying flat, lifeless almost, barely aware of me being there, unable to speak.  This day seemed like a miracle, like something stolen from destiny.  He was smiling, laughing with me, his old self.
            He talked about a simpler life, about giving up his career in Accounting and making jewelry, which he loved to do.  He had been reading Henry David Thoreau, and he recommended it to me, holding up a paperback book to show me.  Collected works.
            In my childhood, my father never said good bye to me.  Whenever we parted he always said “see you later.”  This day, I hugged him and turned to leave.  I was at the doorway when he called to me, and I turned.  I had never seen my father cry.  When I turned he was looking right into me, and his eyes were brimming.  And he said to me,
            “Good bye.”
            The next day, I was alone at home.  My mother was at the hospital, with him.  I spent the morning by the river, which was only a few feet from our house.  Mid-afternoon, I had come in to make something to eat, and the phone rang.  It was a nurse at the hospital.
            “I’m sorry to tell you,” she said, and then I was on my knees.  At 18, I had never experienced an emotion so intense it literally felt as though I had been kicked in the stomach.  Oddly, the intensity of the feeling was only half of the experience.  The other half was fear, fear that if this feeling kept going, I might not survive it.  Somehow I drove forty miles to the hospital and picked up my mother.  The only detail I really remember about that day is walking down a long, long hallway to meet my mother.  I remember white tiles on the floor, and white lights in the ceiling, passing me in rhythm.  I remember blossoms on the plum trees outside that were so brilliantly pink, they seemed un-natural.  I remember feeling insulted by their vibrancy.
            My father had an intensity, in work and play that was fun to be around, and also sometimes difficult.  He carried horror from the war, and his feelings could be explosive at times, and scary.  As I grew to adulthood while his life was ending, I began to see that soon I would experience my father as a person, not a parent.  I began to see that we would finish.  That we would process the hurt feelings and the disappointments that colored my child hood experience of him.  We were just beginning to touch that when his life here ended so suddenly, on that sunny afternoon in June of 1975.
            Had we gone forward, I’m sure I would have sat on a patio somewhere with my dad, drinking a beer and talking about work, and women, and plans, about despair and hope’s return.  About all the things friends talk about.  About past hurts, and about  forgiveness.
            I wasn’t finished with him when he left, and that seemed the cruelest part, in some ways.  In the years to come I learned that life never stops, and so when someone leaves, we are never done with them, can’t be.  But I also learned in those years that while death profoundly changes a person, it does not end a person.  I learned that we don’t have to finish.  We just continue.
            Many times, I’ve walked with my father down a busy street, or on a wooded path. The process of finishing with my father was not taken from me. I have come to know him as a person, and he is a most remarkable man.
I have also forgiven him.
Once, years after he died, I met him in a wide, flat place where lots of people were passing by, obviously on their way to somewhere, busy.  You may call it a vision if you like, but to me it seemed far more natural than that, just as if I had run into him on a street, coming out of a cafĂ©, maybe, in our hometown of Beaverton, Oregon.  Perfectly mundane.
            He was his old self, thin, medium height, jet black hair.  When he saw me, his face lit up with that smile I remember from my little-boy days.  And in the next instant, he was perplexed.  How did you get here, he said.  And I knew I had stumbled into a place that, while not forbidden, was not an easy place to get to.  I told him I didn’t know, but he didn’t seem to care.  We talked and laughed, not as father and son, but as old friends who have seen the world together, many, many times.
            Then he smiled that engaging, famous smile at me, and he said, “Bob, I’m so sorry, but I have to go.”  And then he was gone.
But he wasn’t.
            Two months later, in September of that same year, I started my freshman year of college, paid for partly by a benefit my father had earned by fighting in the Great War.  I was still stumbling through the days, grieving him, but I started college because I knew what he would have said:
            “Do what’s in front of you.”
            For five years I was immersed in studying and traveling.  I thought about my dad often.  The grief mellowed and took up a residence in my Self that added a dimension to me.  In a very different form from that day in 1975, I can still touch it.  As a man of fifty, death is now familiar to me.  Always, it’s the same.  A gut-punch that brings me to my knees, then a mellowing, then a deepening, and finally a new relationship with the one who left.  The one who, it turns out, didn’t really go anywhere.
            In 1989, I was a technical writer, just past thirty, working for a dental company.  I had fallen into a life that was not very meaningful, a life that was leaving me wanting.  One day, wandering in a used a bookstore, I saw a copy of Henry David Thoreau, collected works.  Oddly, it was the very same edition my father had held up to me that day in his hospital room, the last time I saw him alive.  Same cover, same thin pages, thin as gossamer.  I paid two dollars for it, took it home, put it on a shelf.
            Weeks later, I dove in, and barely came up for food and air until I had turned the last page.  Thoreau led to Emerson, of course.  And then there was Steven Levine, Ram Dass, and the simple, insistent D.T. Suzuki.  One day, at the dental company, before my shift started at 8am, I sat on a picnic table outside my office.  I sat, simply, put my attention on the sensation of my breath as it touched the very edge of my nose, coming in and going out.
            I did it again that night.  And my life began to transform.  Now, so much later, I’m lost again, and in such terrible pain.  But last week, I sat by the river, and watched the breath go in and come out, and I began to change again.
            And in my mind’s eye, I saw my father sitting on the edge of a hospital bed, holding up a simple paperback book, thick, with gossamer pages.  And him saying to me,
            “Have you ever read any of this?”

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Charley

I’ve forced myself into the Laundromat today.  After a week on the road, I need to wash everything.  Usually, I like it here, but today, I’m not feeling it.  Usually, I get the laundry going and go outside to juggle, but today I’m just sitting outside on the curb, watching the world go by, feeling some kind of funk that I can’t even identify.
As I walk into the building to check on the progress of my two loads of washing, I pass by a very blonde little girl.  She’s sitting  on one of the green, molded plastic chairs that grace the periphery of the Laundromat.  Playing a hand-held video game that makes very loud, very annoying electronic noises.  Across the room at the dryers, a worn looking woman of about fifty chastises her at regular intervals for no particular reason I can see.
            The little girl is heartbreakingly cute, her blonde hair in a little pony tail.  As I pass by her, she looks up at me and sticks out her tongue.  Seems about right for this day, I think, and I keep walking.  Behind me, the worn-out looking woman’s shrill, scolding voice is backdrop.  I check my laundry and exit through a doorway at the other end of the building, to avoid them both, and take up my former seat on the curb, by the traffic.
            Then I notice a tiny presence behind me, and I look over my shoulder.  And there is the cute little blonde girl, just standing there, looking at me.  Come by to stick out her tongue at me again, I assume.  She says something to me and smiles.  She doesn’t stick out her tongue, and she doesn’t go away.  And finally, I realize the sticking out of the tongue wasn’t aggression.  It was flirting.
Ah.
            Charley is four, by her own volunteered account (name changed her to protect her privacy).  I ask Charley if she likes juggling, but she doesn’t seem to know what that is.  Don’t go away, I say and I head for the car to get my juggling balls.  She follows me, close, curious.
            There follows a long session of me juggling for Charley, and Charley showing me what she can do with the balls.  She is particularly fond of the glitter balls, especially the pink one, and she really enjoys throwing them.  Every time she throws a ball across the parking lot, I praise her form and distance.  Older woman in the background chastises her every time, I’m not sure why.  Charley explains to me that the older woman is her grandmother, and that gram “took me, because my mom couldn’t do it.”  That explains a lot.
            Charley is taken with juggling, but she also finds glittery balls a lot of fun in themselves.  Grandma never does warm up.  She keeps on folding clothes, or just standing in front of the dryer, watching it go around and around and occasionally offering a scathing comment to four year old Charley,  who seems oblivious (a skill I wish I could learn, or buy, from her).
            Now grandma has all the clothes folded and it’s time for Charley to go.  Can you fall in love in twenty minutes?  My relationship with Charley is proof positive.  In parting, Charley holds the pink glitter ball up to me, an earnest and disarming smile on her face.  Then she runs away.
            Moments later, she is back, standing there, waiting for me to look in her direction.  When I do, she says to me,
            “Thank you.”

Friday, July 8, 2011

The One Seat


            Seven years ago, I lost my practice.  For all of those seven years, I’ve grieved the absence of my practice as one would grieve the departure of a dear friend.  Many times, I’ve “taken the one seat,” as one of my teachers called it, only to find I couldn’t sit still long enough to experience the magical and healing state of mind called Vipassana.  It has been very humbling to live with this loss.  And to see people seeing me as a person who is not the person I was.
            Today, I walk on the river path, in summer sun, sleep deprived, stressed out, but just a little bit okay, just for now.  My usual,for the last seven years.  And for the nth time, I decide to try a sit.  Even thinking of trying brings a tinge of desolation to my mind.  I’m afraid of failing, again, and of the humiliation and defeat that failure will bring to me, again.  It’s tantalizing, the state is so close, and so, so beautiful.  All you have to do is sit still for five minutes, bring your attention to the breath, to water, to your hands.  To anything, and just allow it to rest there.
            A narrow path leads off the wide, paved path, and down to a tiny clearing next to the water.  It’s an inviting place, whether I sit or not, and so I go down, picking my way carefully.  I find a wide, smooth stone to sit on, just inches from the water’s edge.   Get comfortable, sitting with back straight but relaxed.  And just look out at the water flowing by.
            There’s a little eddy current here, where the river seems to run backwards.  In reality, it’s running in a circle, upriver past my feet, then back down further out toward the main channel.  The water is slow here, and flat, in contrast to the rapids about a hundred yards away.  Ironically, I can hear the rapids in the background.  In the foreground of my attention, there are tiny lapping sounds, as the eddy current passes by next to me.  Brilliant yellow points of sunlight bounce off of tiny wavelets in an expanse of water spread before me.  At first glance, they appear to be static.
            But when I look closer I realize, they are constantly changing their location.  Just as the water flows and ripples, the sunlight flows and ripples on the water.  It has to, because it depends on the high points in the water for a reflection surface.  Both are in constant motion, and interdependent.
            Now I am aware of my breath, coming and going.  The rhythm is choppy, but I do not try to change it.  I just watch it come and go.  And I realize that for a few minutes, all of the discursive thought that usually plagues my mind is not sticking.  It’s still back there, chattering away, but I am not engaging it.  It is merely flowing by, as I watch.  And it has become the background.  My breath, the water, the sunlight, are now center stage.
            I’m there.  I’m in that most beneficial and joyous state of mind, where attention rests lightly and impartially on the events that are happening here and now.  A duck paddles by, a small female Mallard.  She looks like a baby, maybe only hatched this year.  I’m sitting so quietly, she doesn’t even notice me, only a few feet away from her. Oblivious, she paddles aimlessly by while she pulls bits of water plants from the river to eat.
            People go by in rafts way out in the channel, and from afar, I can hear them giggle as they fall down the rapid water.  I can hear them talking about their lives.  All in the background, all behind and beneath the sound and sensation of my breath as it comes and goes.
            My belly rises and falls, and I find I can literally taste the air, if I open my mouth a tiny bit on the in-breath.  In my nostrils, I can feel air go in, cool and smelling of summer.  And I can feel it go out, warm.  My mind wanders to a tense interaction I’m having with a friend and I begin to engage, thinking and planning… let me see, how shall I handle this…. How dare she do that to me… why can’t she just…
            I notice, and let go, return to the breath, the water, the sunlight.  It’s easy to let go, the moment is so pleasant.  The one that’s right here in front of me.
            I think it might be coming back, this thing I called a “practice.”  If there are more sits like this, it will be back.  They won’t all be pleasant of course.  I’ll have to sit with everything, so there will be hard ones, too.  Maybe it’s back though.
Maybe.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Drive Time


            Friday morning I’m on the road by eight am, driving out of Klamath Falls, headed for Willamette Pass, and the quirky little town I call home.  It’s been a long week, living out of a hotel room, working long hours.
            The long, blue span of Klamath Lake recedes on my left, and I am in the desert hills working my way north.  As I drive, there is only the hum of tires on pavement to keep me company.  The events of the week slip away.  I put on some music, turn it off after only a couple of minutes.  The silence is more soothing.
            Belatedly, I realize I am in a mindful state.  I am alert and aware, tracking the hazards on the road, but my mind is free of discursive thought.  I watch each mile tick by, one about every minute.  It’s almost like watching the breath come and go.  The highway is flanked on both sides by rolling hills covered in sagebrush.  Momentarily, I am startled by a deer standing on the side of the road, and I slow, my attention completely focused for just a moment.  When I’m past, the cruise control set back at 65, the mind state returns instantly, naturally.  This is where healing happens.
            I stop in a little town called Chemult and get a bottle of water, make a phone call.  And then, back to my two-lane, blacktop guru.  Up on the pass, there is a brief moment when the trees are mixed, Douglas Fir and Ponderosa pine.  And then, suddenly, they are all Douglas Fir, and the underbrush thickens steadily.  At about three thousand feet of elevation, I sight the first bracken fern by the roadside.  Internally, I cheer.
            I’m home.  The desert has its own beauty, but the ferns and high underbrush of the western valley are my home.  The air is pouring into my little world inside the car, and smells richly of wet earth.
            Home!
            Now I’m counting down the miles from Oakridge, now the short stretch of I-5, and there is exit 192, Downtown Eugene.  For thirty minutes, I can’t make myself go inside.  I wander the streets, people watching, feeling the aura of my hometown, putting it back on.  And then, suddenly, I’m so tired I can hardly stand.  I go home, nap for a couple of hours, and return to town.
            And have a beer with my lovely friend, Brittney, who regales me with tales of a summer festival here last weekend.  What a beautiful way to return to discursive thought.  If I must.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Aggregates


                This is a term that Buddhists apply to our inner environment.  Literally, it means “made up of lots  of little pieces.”  In reference to the mind and personality, it means that we humans assemble a world out of many, many thoughts and other internal events.  There are so many pieces, and they materialize so quickly, that we come to assume this isn’t happening.  We come to assume that reality is a river flowing past us.
                Today on a walk up the hill, I become acutely aware of the aggregates.   The walking is an ideal device to create some space around the steady parade of events in my head and heart.  I see there is quite a river of reflective thought about a situation at work.  There are other thoughts about getting older, my health, my social life, and more, but this one situation has taken center stage.  Belatedly, thanks to the walking, I realize that I’ve come to focus so intensely on this one thing that it’s come to define my whole life lately.
                There is also awareness of my body as another aggregate.  I experience the walking in a body that has transient pains here and there; my back is stiff, my feet hurt, I have a dry scratchy throat.  I’m also very pleasantly aware of the stretch and thrust of strong muscles in my legs, of a sense of balance finely tuned over many years of walking and climbing in precarious, windy places.  This body loves to move, and it feels so, so good.  There is an aggregate of feelings, too.  There is anxiety, about nothing in particular.  There is a celebratory sense of accomplishment about work.  There are a hundred other feelings running through me like a mountain stream cascading over cool, wet stones.
                At the top of the hill, I sit on a bench and watch the city go by.  And while sitting there, I begin to play hide and seek with the aggregates.  Now they are “out there” and I am examining them.  Now I’ve fallen in, and lost track of myself, and I am living them.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Happy

                This morning, I find Sue in the garden, weeding.  I sit with her briefly and chat while I write the monthly rent check, then I step into the car and drive off into a perfectly glorious spring day.  The greens in the Lorane valley are vibrant, a raptor wheels overhead, and bicyclists spin past me on the way, probably, to wine tastings up the valley.  This is all perfectly typical.
                Why is it then, that I feel so, so happy?  The world out there is not different, it’s been like this for weeks.  Of course, there is only one possible conclusion; my inner environment has changed.
                I find myself looking forward to every moment this day has on offer; a walk in the woods, a nice lunch, phone calls to valued friends, a cold beer on the patio.  Later, I’ll read myself to sleep.  All of it is savored today, because of how I am inside.  I find myself wishing I could live here all the time, instead of in the space I was in when I wrote my last post.  Wouldn’t that be nice, if I could be in this spacious, accepting, savoring place all the time, or even just more of the time?
                Spending time in silent contemplation certainly increases the average.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Mindfulness of Suffering


            I’ve struggled this weekend with a vast collection of emotions.  I believe everyone does this, but it’s another thing entirely to have an honest process with them.  I am not perfect at doing that, far from it.  I hide from suffering, as we all do.  In drink, in movies, books, sleep, a hundred other distractions.
            But at moments in the very difficult times, I also bring my training in mindfulness into play.  The thoughts come so fast, they are difficult to see sometimes, and when I don’t see them, then the feelings that follow are often a mystery; why is that particular feeling there, now?  The thoughts are a stream, they are driven, and a part of Self doesn’t know the difference between my dark imaginings and what is really happening.
            With perseverance, with kindness for myself, I bring my attention to bear on just the feelings.  What is the feeling that is hard, right now, in my body?  I check, and find a huge, hot presence in my chest.  It is almost sitting on me, it’s so dense.  It is also threatening, pushing its presence into my face, a thing I don’t want, a thing that scares me.  I watch, with all the equanimity I can bring to the process.  I just watch, with bare attention.  And the heat and weight subside somewhat.
            What are the thoughts that bring this terrible weight to me?  I watch the thoughts run past my point of attention, without answering any particular one, just greeting each one and letting is pass by.  Some of them are quite surprising: I’m old, I’m unattractive, no one is interested in me.
            All of these things I know to be untrue, and as I witness the thoughts, they slow down, and they become somewhat more realistic, somewhat more moderate.  Most of them are based on fear, on old habits of fear, based on things that happened long ago, or worse, things that did not happen.  As I watch, just watch, the feelings, the fear, the suffering, abate somewhat.
            I come away from the process feeling some relief, but more importantly, feeling like I want to do things that will make me feel better.  I want to go for a walk, eat something good, call a friend.  I want to proceed into the next moment and the next, to greet each one and experience it without reference to what was or what may be.  It’s difficult to focus on the now, when now is not very pleasant.  I feel an urge to rush through this unpleasant moment, to get past it, to get to something better.
            But doing that only increases the lack of attention.  Without attention, the thoughts flow unconsciously again, and then the pain increases.  The only real solution is to sit with what is, with courage, to greet it and watch it go by.
            There is still a huge, hot presence in my chest, a terrible weight.  But now the river path calls to me.  Just the walking will be good.  Then maybe a talk with a trusted friend.  Eventually, the Good World will return to me, and it will seem as if it had never been gone, but rather that I had gone away from it.
            That’s how it always is.