I attend the Universalist Unitarian Church of Haverhill, which is right down the street from my house. I mention that it is right down the street from my house because that matters. A lot. It offers a resolution – in metaphor form - for the searching I have always done. I’ve searched for something outside of myself, something that exists in another person or another community or even another realm. For me, this comes from a deeply stored belief that that which is most important or valuable or wise or brilliant lies somewhere outside of us, or far away, or is unattainable. After a lifetime of consciously and unconsciously searching for a spiritual community, finding this church home so effortlessly located in my neighborhood, has inadvertently forced me to accept my own inimitable beauty and to pause the interminable search for what I already have. I second guessed (and still kind of do) that such a connected open church community is in MY neighborhood. Shouldn’t I have to travel to India? Or at least Boston to find what is of such deep and resonant value? To find a place where I feel accepted and seen and am put to use? Every Sunday I channel my inner (albeit middle-aged) Judy Garland as I tap my comfortable shoes together and realize that my spiritual home has never been lost and has lived within me all the time.
I give myself the magnificent gift of time to spend connecting deeply with people; old friends, new friends and strangers. In my travels this week, I was struck by the different and wonderful ways in which individuals express themselves. And how often, when given the time to share, these beloveds choose to tell the stories of how they have been hurt, or of their disappointments, or even in recounting the minutiae of doctor’s appointments, test results and bewildered sadness about the frailty of these bodies that house us.
I listen to their pain stories and I see their pain and their wish for things to be different. And I also ask myself why they choose to use their precious moments recounting the ills that are besieging them. I know they do it because these pain stories are where they live and that they make up their reality.
What if there were a way to live free from that attention to pain? What if we could live in the uncluttered space that I know exists around it and within it, before it and after it?
We are wise and intuitive beings. So why do we live so often from this suffering? I think we choose it because it is serving us deeply. It is supplying us with fuel and intention and purpose and…well, whatever we think we need.
Of course, these beloved people are my mirror and help me see how often I choose to live in this pain as well. With this insight, it was easy to see a pain story I have been living from for the last six months. That’s right: six months! I took some time to explore and write in my journal about what needs were being filled from this pain story. I realized it was offering me quite a lot: it provided drama, excitement, an opportunity to explore issues with my parents, a focal point when things got a little boring and more. It became clear to me that in order to move through my pain story I would need to not only stop dwelling on my pain story and to get these needs filled in other ways.
If you are drawn to explore this topic, I suggest the following:
Scan your life situation for something that causes suffering. Choose something small - maybe a situation with a coworker or conflict with a friend. Contemplate this situation and allow yourself to feel the suffering without judgement. Ask yourself where this suffering lives in your body and try to feel it. Try to see if this pain story is offering you something. Try to be objective as if you were looking at a box of sea shells and describing them. Try to stay open, you might be surprised at what you discover!
I have this gorgeous Tibetan singing bowl, a gift from my husband James, sitting on our pellet stove. It has been there so long that it blends into the scenery. I barely notice it and haven't touched it in quite a while. Today, it sang out to me and asked me to play it. It had been so long that I stumbled a bit in remembering how to play it. Which side of the striker do I use? Then do I run the striker along the base? The top? Inside?
When I got over my self consciousness (yeah, I was alone but that definitely doesn't rule out self consciousness.) I gave the bowl a good tap with the striker. The sound was pleasant enough, but it didn't have the resonant silkiness that I associate with the singing bowl. So I tapped it again. Then I banged it. Then I banged it again. Something wasn't right.
Suddenly I remembered that the tiny silk pillow that it sits upon is not only decorative but functional as well. I sat my lovely bowl down upon her pillow and I tapped the bowl again. Ah....yes! There it was - that ancient vibrational hum coursing through me as it sang.
I thought about that little pillow and the important role that its softness played in calling forth the resonance of the hard bowl. And because I see the world in metaphor form it reminded me of the important role that softness plays in us in general. How when we offer a tiny softness to the hard edges of our lives, it gives us more space to meet those edges and grow from them.
This has particular meaning for me lately. In the months following the election and the inauguration, anxiety has often felt like a constant companion to me. Sometimes I feel it like a physical pain in my gut or excessive tension in my shoulders. Sometimes, my mind runs amok with stories and down paths of fear. Today my singing bowl reminded me of the importance of offering a deep softness and acceptance for those parts of me - the parts that are hurt and in pain. When experiencing anxiety and pain, my first thought has often been, "Go Away! I don't want you." But I am done pushing parts of myself away. Instead, when I cushion these hard edges with softness, remembering to whisper "you belong here" to my stomach pain, and "thank you" to my monkey mind, it gives them the acceptance they need to do the work that they are here to do for me.
Together, hard and soft, I make up this complex being. Accepting every part of me, makes it possible for me to sing the true song the world needs to hear from me.
A couple of years ago, I attended an event at my yoga center. It was a talk given by a venerated Tibetan monk, whose smile made us all felt like we were being hugged. During the Q & A, a women raised her hand and said, "My husband tells me I am never going to achieve enlightenment, but I think I can. What do you think?" This question has amused and haunted me since.
My initial response regarded that rake husband of hers. I thought, "Lose that zero and get yourself a hero!" But honestly that was my second or third response. My first was more like, "How ballsy! You think you are going to achieve enlightenment? You? In your yoga pants, driving your Toyota, paying your bills, fixing your hair in the mirror, caring immensely about what others think, YOU think you are going to get there?" (Insert photo of me here, by the way.) I was surprised at how quickly I found myself secretly scoffing at her aspirations. And a part of me was embarrassed for her willingness to ask such a question. "Why is she looking outside of herself for such an answer? What guru or master or monk can know anything more than what we know of ourselves?" Sigh.
It's been more than two years since I watched my thoughts churn that day. And I have changed a lot. Now, it is easier for me to think, "Who else if not her?" Indeed, "Who else if not me?" Didn't the Buddha tell us, "I wouldn't teach you of this, if you could not achieve it."
This very morning at yoga, our instructor had us do some tapping and energy work. We tapped all of our chakras for quite a long time. But after just a moment of tapping my heart chakra, I felt an openness in my heart. My heart needed no more tapping. Clear light was coming from and through my heart chakra. it was pouring out of me, into my open palms, spilling out into the room. i experienced such pure openness and such a sacred quiet. And a power too. i knew in that moment that I could share this with everyone I touched. That i owned this. I thought, "Holy crap - I think I just achieved enlightenment!" And, my human mind - also known as my problem maker - jumped in and went to work with this new information, reconciling, planning, extrapolating and organizing - and asking questions. How long will this last? What will happen if it goes away? Is this real?
Somewhere between my overflowing heart and my problem-seeking mind, I exist. I have a new idea: maybe enlightenment isn't an end product, but a moment. Maybe it occurs only right here and right now and does not reference time whatsoever. Maybe, it is a simple answer like the one the venerated monk with the beautiful smile gave the woman at my yoga studio years ago, "Yes. Yes, you can achieve enlightenment."
I am a true perfectionist. and I say that from the singular, steely perspective of a true perfectionist. I need the words to be true before I can say them. Perfectly true. You get my meaning, right? As a perfectionist, I sometimes demand so much from myself, from others and from the situation that I can become semi-paralyzed, frozen, by my own impossible demands. This is limiting to say the least.
Part of my journey in this lifetime has been to release this perfectionism. I want more ease! I want more lightness! And it has come to me. It's come through forcing myself to play more, through adopting dogs and doing yoga and spending time with people who encourage me to give myself a break.
I'm proud of the strides I've made toward imperfection. And I am not without moments of that steely grip that wants to hold me back from letting this very moment be ok as it is. (Yeah, my perfectionist self, wants me to do imperfection better.)
On that note, I am launching this blog in a very imperfect state. Because I am never going to get it all done, Because my words are never going to come out perfectly, And because typos are a part of life. Enjoy!