Our Bodies—A Foreign Language

handmade greeting cards, collage artTara Brach’s book, Radical Acceptance, has offered me a treasure trove of learning and tools.  There’s so much, and the lessons run so deep, that I’m digesting it slowly.

Today I started the chapter on Desire and Wanting—what I’ve considered my biggest nemesis and Fatal Flaw.  Wanting turns me into someone else—ravenous, obsessive, and ultimately unworthy.  I’ve tried sitting quietly with it, holding it with curious compassion, but usually end up drowning it in whatever will make it shut up.  Of course, nothing does that for long.

Tara tells about a time when she was at the beginning of a new relationship.  She went off to a meditation retreat, looking forward to peace and rejuvenation, but all she could do was fantasize about her new boyfriend.  Here’s what she says about it:

After several days, I had a pivotal interview with my teacher.  When I described how I’d become so overwhelmed, she asked, “How are you relating to the presence of desire?”  I was startled into understanding.   For me, desire had become the enemy, and I was losing the battle.  Her questions pointed me back to the essence of mindfulness practice:  It doesn’t matter what is happening. What matters is how we are relating to our experience.  She advised me to stop fighting my experience and instead investigate the nature of wanting mind.  I could accept whatever was going on, she reminded me, but without getting lost in it.

While often uncomfortable, desire is not bad—it is natural.  The pull of desire is part of our survival equipment.  It keeps us eating, having sex, going to work, doing what we do to thrive.  Desire also motivates us to read books, listen to talks and explore spiritual practices that help us realize and inhabit loving awareness.  The same life energy that leads to suffering also provides the fuel for profound awakening.  Desire becomes a problem only when it takes over our sense of who we are.

We are mindful of desire when we experience it with an embodied awareness, recognizing the sensations and thoughts of wanting as arising and passing phenomena.  While this is not easy, as we cultivate the clear seeing and compassion of Radical Acceptance, we discover we can open fully to this natural force and remain free in its midst.

Feeling my emotions in my body is something I’ve been practicing for only a short time.  I’m more used to sitting in meditation and simply noting my physical state, not pausing in the midst of emotional pain to find it in my body.  Frankly, it’s frightening.  But the more I do it, the more I can accept whatever my body feels.  It’s hard not to jump ahead and wonder if this might be another piece in the puzzle of how to deal with my compulsive symptoms (There’s Wanting, again).  So, I just note that—feel the jittery, acid-burn of Wanting in my belly; the buzzy energy lighting up my arms and back—and breathe into the experience.

This is new, and exciting, and scary.  I want more.  But not today.  Today I’ll just stick to paying attention to what this experience feels like in my body.  That’s enough foreign language to digest for one day.

Sand

Better now.  There’s a familiar, bittersweet sense of starting over—relief in being able to return to simple, daily activities; sorrow in seeing all my little ant-hills of effort scattered.  A collective sigh heaves out of my body.

This is the Work.  To keep coming back.  To pick up one grain of sand and start building again.

I take inspiration from the monks who build their beautiful mandalas in the sand and, when they finish, sweep them up.  The juice is in the process, not the product.

I want results.  I want to change my life.  I want.

But, wanting is tangent to the door before me.  I walk through.  I squat.  I look for the sand.  My finger reaches for a grain.  I start again.

A Small Life

handmade greeting card, collage artI met a friend the other day for coffee.  It’s a rare occurrence these days what with my Zero Money Initiative.  I felt rather posh, actually, pumping the Sugar Free Vanilla Syrup.  Simple pleasures.

My friend was in town with the sad task of attending to his late mother’s estate, so we talked about executor duties and sorting through a lifetime of accumulated stuff.  But, he needed distraction from all that, so we quickly moved on to other topics.

What I discovered while talking to him is that I don’t know much about the wide world anymore.  I don’t read the newspaper or watch TV.  The only news I see is what zips by on Yahoo as I scroll through to my email.  To keep my stress low, I avoid unpleasantness such as last week’s discussion topic at our Unitarian Universalist gathering on Human Trafficking.  I have enough horror in my life as it is.

As my friend and I talked about Illegal Immigration and The Economy, I wondered for a bit if I was failing in my duty as a citizen, if I should try harder to keep up with current events.  But, really, does anything change that much?  There’s a war somewhere—probably more than one.  There are groups and individuals doing horrific things to other groups and individuals.  Congress must be fighting over something or other.  And I’m sure we’ve discovered new and exciting things in space and in scientific research.  People carry out kind and inspirational acts in obscurity.  The environment is still threatened.  Babies still get themselves born.  I don’t think I’m missing all that much.

Talking with my friend did show me how the parameters of my life have shrunk.  I move mostly within a few blocks of my apartment, with occasional excursions farther afield, and the now-rare trek to The Big City.  I spend most of my time alone, with a daily dose of polite chit-chat at the Y or the library.  I facilitate my two meditation groups and plan one or two deeper interactions with friends or family a week.

I exercise, eat, write, make a little art, watch some DVDs from the library, and read.  I talk to my cats.  I put gas in my truck and get groceries.  I look at the stars at night, and I listen to the rain on the sidewalk.  I don’t really go anywhere or do anything.  And that’s just fine.

I used to miss doing stuff—going to concerts and plays, eating at interesting restaurants, taking classes.  I used to worry about being “productive,” about contributing to society and finding meaningful work.  I used to gobble up information.  I used to crave interesting people with views and lifestyles different from mine.  I used to want a lot more.

With a small life, much of the wanting falls away.  At least it has lately.  And without the wanting or the stress of a larger life, my rapid cycling seems to find equilibrium a little easier.  The cycles still happen, and the symptoms are just as rabid, but I’m granted a little more time to breathe between swings.  Who knew that simplifying to the point of nothing might be the best strategy?

Well, I guess those Zen monks knew.  But, who wanted to listen to them?

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