Thoughts Like Cashmere

Open to the MysteryEarly morning.  I plug in my twinkle lights and turn James Taylor on low.  Henry crunches kibble in the bathroom; Emmet reclaims the bed’s warm spot.

So good to feel this peace, to come back from the edges and settle into this nest.  For awhile it will be easy.  This life.  I’ll glide through the pool in the mornings with no thorny thoughts, laugh with the others in the class, get witty again.  I’ll sit with my Skinny Peppermint Mocha and get out of the way as my novel writes itself.  I’ll take my therapist’s advice and go back to the Y when I’m done writing, find another class to keep the endorphins flowing.

Now when I come back to the apartment, it welcomes me, feels like home.  I putter in my kitchen, throw together soups and sauces full of nutrition.  I work on Christmas cards after a long spell of not caring about my art.  Sitting Buddha-like at my work table, my fingers remember.  I sing along with Annie Lennox and The Dixie Chicks, talk to the boys whenever they wander by between naps, watch magic happen.

In this gentle place, thoughts feel like cashmere.  I go to the laundromat and breathe in the clean, warm smell.  I open a new book on the brain and make room for Henry, who is just learning to claim space on me.  My thoughts echo his purring.

In a minute, I’ll prepare for our meditation group.  We’re sharing leadership now, which feels expansive.  Like a summer lake gently lapping the shore.  My turn today.  A piece, I think, from Pema Chodron:

[The paramita] of exertion has a journey quality, a process quality.  When we begin to practice exertion, we see that sometimes we can do it and sometimes we can’t.  The question becomes, How do we connect with inspiration?  How do we connect with the spark and joy that’s available in every moment?  Exertion is not like pushing ourselves.  It’s not a project to complete or a race we have to win.  It’s like waking up on a cold, snowy day in a mountain cabin ready to go for a walk but knowing that first you have to get out of bed and make a fire.  You’d rather stay in that cozy bed, but you jump out and make the fire because the brightness of the day in front of you is bigger than staying in bed.

The more we connect with a bigger perspective, the more we connect with energetic joy.  Exertion is touching in to our appetite for enlightenment.  It allows us to act, to give, to work appreciatively with whatever comes our way.

Meditation allows us to continue this journey.  When we sit down to meditate, we can connect with something unconditional—a state of mind, a basic environment that does not grasp or reject anything.  Meditation is probably the only activity that doesn’t add anything to the picture.  All that is necessary then is to rest undistractedly in the immediate present, in this very instant in time.  And if we become drawn away by thoughts, by longings, by hopes and fears, again and again we can return to this present moment.  We are here.

I am here.

Radical Acceptance

handmade greeting cards, collage artI knew I’d come to the right place when my new therapist went to her stuffed bookshelf and pulled down When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron.

“That’s one of my favorite books,” I told her, craning my neck to see what other jewels she had.

Unphased, she rifled through a few more.  “Then, you’ll like this one, I think,” she said.

I stuffed it in my bag and forgot about it in the wake of bronchitis and $500 spend on medicines that didn’t help much.  Yesterday, I decided I was done being sick—not physically, I’m a long way from well, but mentally.  I threw my book bag over my shoulder, took a slow stroll over the railroad yard to the Starbucks at HyVee, and settled into a cafe booth to journal.  And I found the book Megan loaned me.  Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach.

By the end of Chapter 2, I had to close my eyes and sit quietly while all the doors inside opened.

I could see how my fear of repeating last year (bronchitis—depression—hospitalization) pushed me into going to the doctor and obscured what I knew to be true.  Medicine has never helped me recover from my chronic respiratory infections and only drains my resources.  But Fear drowned out that quiet voice, the one that understands it just takes time, patience and healthy practices to get well.

radicalRadical Acceptance talks about waking up from the trance of unworthiness and accepting all our immediate experience offers.  From that perspective, I could see how I might work with my fear differently next time.  There’s nothing new in this approach—it’s as old as Buddhism—but coming face-to-face with the perfect example always slams home the Teaching.

To simply see that fear is in play is the first and hardest hurdle.  It acts as an underground driver, pushing, directing, demanding action.  So to be able to wake up in that agitation and See what stirs it takes practice.  Then, the task is to observe the fear, hold it gently, watch the stories it generates, feel the push and pull, and listen carefully to the quiet voice on the other side of it.  That quiet voice is my own Wisdom, something I don’t trust anymore, something that got lost in the sea of delusion my bipolar disorder created.  But, in accepting my fear I begin to Remember.  I remember that I do have a wiser self that isn’t delusional or lying.  I’ve ignored it a long time.  I’m out of practice finding it.

I sat in my booth and listened.  This wise part of me is so quiet, so gentle.  It offers suggestions that are kind and sensible, not the wild plans of my delusions.

I smiled, grateful for the doors opening, grateful for a new way to Practice, grateful for finding my new therapist and her glorious bookshelf.

I have enough.

I am enough.

All will be well.

Things Falling Apart

handmade greeting card, collage art“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” ~ Pema Chodron

Reblogged from Flowers, Trees and Other Such Gifts of Nature

Not Underestimating

Never underestimate our inclination to bolt.—Pema Chodron

Every fiber in my being tells me to run.  Don’t stop to pack a bag.  Don’t leave a note.  Just throw on some shoes, grab the keys and get out of Dodge.  All this end-of-life business with my dad shouts Danger!  Land mines and razor wire ahead!  I’d Turn Back If I Were You!

They’re coming.  The old family issues are working their way up to the surface like shrapnel.  And along with that itchy, fevered momentum, I feel myself assuming my usual role in the family—the Baby.  As the Baby in the Family, I do what I’m told, can’t be held responsible, and toddle off to stay out of the way.  But, I’m not the only one tying on my old mantle.  My sister is Cleaning.  My brother is Absent.  Mom is Fretting.  We’re like retired superheroes pulling on Spandex that holds our younger shape, but doesn’t quite fit anymore.

What’s a girl to do except beat feet?

First, I’ll try to stay awake and not slide into the comfort of oblivion.  If I can identify the old shards as they pimple my psychic flesh, I can extract them before they fester.  If I can recognize old patterns of thinking, I can challenge them before they turn into old patterns of behavior.

Second, I will practice Will.  So, while my body tells me to run, I will stay.  My intention is to visit my dad every day.  Not entertain him, not fix him, just visit him.  I will be available to my family.  I will take initiative.

And my ability to do these things will wax and wane.  As my friend Lily says, I will do the best I can, and that will be enough.

Just wrap my car keys in this old Spandex and put them where I can’t find them, would you?

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