Thursday, September 20, 2012

Brain chatter

Yesterday afternoon I sat in meditation with my wonderful group that meets weekly. It was a beautiful fall day, the first to be cool and crisp in the morning, warming as the day moved on. I felt happy as I padded into the space in my bare feet and sat on the floor at the front. Enjoying myself, I sank into meditation.

About ten minutes into the sit, a man came in late and sat behind me. And then he started to cough intermittently. Out of peace my judgmental mind jumped into action: really? You’re going to come in late, walk down to the front, and then start coughing? Where is your ricola?

And here I was, confronted with a “difficult” person and having to deal, right in my meditation practice, with my own judgmental mind. What I wanted was release from this judgment. I often long for release from this judging mind, especially while driving. When driving it can show up in a firestorm, tormenting me as I judge bad drivers making similar bad choices to ones which I have, at times, made while driving.

As I sat there on my cushion yesterday with all of this chatter going on, I realized that what I want even more than release from the judgmental mind is to have a compassionate heart. And at that moment, I began to find relief from the brain chatter. I turned a heart of compassion on coughing-man and began to practice loving-kindness meditation toward him. When I did that, the judgment ceased.

Loving-kindness meditation is a simple practice. It begins with self, moves to someone I care for, and then moves toward someone I may find difficult. It goes like this:

May I be safe from internal and external harm.
May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I be at ease and know peace.

Yesterday, I began to use this practice with coughing-man. May he be safe, may he be happy, may he be healthy, may he know peace. And, as these things work, I was the one who began to find some peace.

As the meditation practice came to a close and Kathy began her talk, she announced that the title of her talk was “Living skillfully in the difficult.” All I could do with that was quietly chuckle to myself.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


I had a wonderful trip to Seattle last week. The weather was perfect: in the 70s, bright sunshine, a crisp blue sky. I was able to take advantage of some of the walking trails the city has to offer, many beside water. And, of course, I drank copious amounts of coffee, brewed by hand by the cute barista at the local café a few blocks from where I was staying. What could be happier than taking an early morning stroll through a charming neighborhood to enjoy fresh, hot coffee and a good book?

As happy-making as all of that was, the highlight of the trip was the evening I spent with my friends, Lee and Lisa. I’ve known them for more than 25 years and it has been fascinating to follow their journey over that time. Lee and Lisa have two biological children. It is these sons who led Lisa to the path that would be their “great” journey. It was in their younger son’s school that Lisa first met Siobhan. This little girl was in trouble, her home life filled with chaos and neglect. Over time, seeing the need, Lisa and Lee felt moved to take her in, to foster Siobhan and to eventually adopt her. Now grown and a marine, Siobhan was married this summer.

Through this one little girl, Lisa and Lee found what I think of as their true calling. They have gone on to adopt two more children and are fostering another (and hope to adopt him), nurturing them and advocating on their behalf to see them each begin to emerge and thrive for themselves. As I listen to Lisa, I hear that she is fully herself in this parenthood work. And Lee, my poet friend, also expresses himself fully through parenthood, poetry, and a unique ability to be fiercely present in this world.

They have come fully into themselves, their true selves. I don’t want to imply that they don’t have challenges or pain in this life but I think that, even when faced with challenges, they are able to stay centered in themselves.

I am not advocating for all of us to go out and start fostering needy children today. What I am suggesting is that our job in this life is to be the best version of ourself, our truest self, we can be.

For Lee and Lisa that has come in loving six amazing children, as well as writing and gardening and child advocacy work.

For others of us it may be working with the homeless or creating a beautiful work of art. Or being the best soldier you can be. Or the best employee. I know people who are dog people, they rescue them and make a place for them in this world. Your particular gift may be the gift of stillness and you are your best self when sitting in silence.

Whoever you are, be the very best Amy, Paul, or George you can be. That is your job. No one else can do it for you. And doing that, being yourself fully, being the best at being you, will bring you joy, just as it has my dear friends, Lee and Lisa.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Beautiful wreck

‘Cause we’re only human,
Oh yes we are, only human
If it’s our only excuse, do you think we’ll
Keep on being only human?
Oh yes, we are, only human…
--Jason Mraz

This idea that we are “only” human is powerful. I’ve heard it used as an excuse to explain natural limitations as in, “but I’m only human.” At its most hurtful this is wielded as a weapon and spat out as in, “well what do you expect, I’m only human!” Used as either weapon or excuse, this keeps the person claiming to be “only human” from recognizing their limits and taking responsibility for them. And to view being “only human” in this way seems to me shortsighted.

I actually think our humanity, our naturally limited nature, is one of our greatest gifts. It is our limitations that allow us to learn and grow, it lets grace in, and it causes us to need others. My own limitations have brought me pain, it is true, but they have also been the path I walked to grace, gratitude and joy. Without my faults, I could hardly know any of these God-given wonders.

But this grace I have experienced didn’t just wash over me due to my shortcomings. I had to own up to them, take responsibility for my mistakes and limitations; I had to embrace them in a way. If I had pushed them away or denied them, I wouldn’t have been able to learn. It was in moving toward my faults that I found freedom in them. I really see limitations as a wonderful opportunity.

For without my limitations, how would I ever need anyone else? Where would there be room in me for relationships with other people or with the divine? How would I ever be able to let anyone else in?

It is my humanity that opens the door to compassion, for self and others. It turns out that I’m just a beautiful wreck. And so are you. What can I learn from this, how can I grow, and how can I serve other beautiful wrecks that I encounter along the way?

Okay people! I don’t want to hear any more of this “but I’m only human” stuff. Let’s have some “I’m human! Thank God, I’m human! Now what shall I do with that today?”

Today I’m sending you love, from one beautiful wreck to another.