Monthly Archives: July 2013

Big and Little Self

When you are concerned with your problems, your self is very big. When you are going about your life without thinking about anything, your self is little. If you see somebody drowning in a river and jump in to save them without thinking, you have no self at all. You are one with the drowning person.

A big self can be unwieldy. When your self is big, you have to worry about how you look, what people think of you and how you will survive in the world. You worry about success and failure. You wonder if you’re good enough. When your self is big, it interferes with your enjoyment of life.

When you notice yourself lacking enjoyment in life, pay attention to what you are thinking and see how it relates to your self. You may be judging yourself, or judging others based on your idea of your self. As you practice noticing your self growing and shrinking, your self will remain a reasonable size. From time to time it will disappear as it merges with the world around you.

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Finding Balance

If you are looking for balance in your life, stand up straight and breathe deeply. You will find that you are perfectly balanced. Your life may seem more complicated. You may be looking for balance between home and work, proteins and fats, alone time and social time, worry and wonder, serotonin and cortisol, or happiness and sadness. In many of these areas you have balance, in others you may need to create balance.

Creating balance requires changing your behavior and habits. If you begin your day by standing straight and taking a deep breath, you begin your day with balance. If you sit straight for 15-20 minutes and watch your breath, you will see where in your life that you need to create balance. You shouldn’t think about where you need to create balance, you should just focus on your breath. If you do this every day, maybe twice a day, other parts of your life will find their balance.

If you are walking on a tight rope, all you focus on is the rope. There is no room for other thoughts. The rope will hold you up. In you life, your breath is your rope. In anything that you do, you can focus on your breath and you will find balance. 

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Anxiety Awareness

When you learn mindfulness, you learn to  focus on your breathing and to observe your thoughts so that you can find peace in the present moment. Breathing is the great tool of mindfulness because it is always there and it has a physiological connection with relaxation. It is beautiful and peaceful. When you are not thinking about your breathing it is still there for you, just like your essential goodness.

Anxiety is another great tool of mindfulness. It is not always there, but it is always right next door. When you are cruising along with your life and feeling peaceful, suddenly anxiety springs itself on you and breaks you out of your pleasant mood. There is nothing pleasant or welcome about anxiety. If you liked it, it wouldn’t be anxiety. Feeling anxious can bring you into the present moment as effectively as breathing. When you notice yourself feeling anxious, you are present. You are whole. You are all that you can be, and you are anxious.

When you engage with your anxiety and mix it with your breathing and observing your thoughts, you gain a sense of control. Each time you encounter your anxiety with your breath, you can observe what happens to it and to you. You will learn something each time you try this.

When your anxiety has nothing more to teach you, it will go away. That will happen every day, for the rest of your life. Over time though, anxiety will hurt much less and when it pops by for a lesson, you will be able to exhale it and return to your peace.

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Money Laundering

We have now been in our new home and life situation for a week and a day. The farm is a mercifully small operation at this time. There are two fields that are in use. One is a pumpkin patch and the other is growing our heritage pole lima beans, green peppers, tomatoes and eggplant (mostly tomatoes). There are also blackberries for people to pick.

Each morning I go to the fields for a couple of hours of work with my uncle, who has been farming here for the past 12 years since my father died. The tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are ready for light picking, which is perfect for the few people who make their way back here to pick.  The stand has an old sign that my grandfather painted, inviting people to serve themselves. There are also detailed instructions on how to pick and pay. We are still busy unpacking boxes and dealing with utility companies, so the farm business mostly runs itself. It is not making any significant profit, yet it significantly profits those who come. We are selling good karma vegetables. The payment system is an honor system, which gives people good vibes as they participate in being honest. Each customer gets an adventure and has direct access to a peaceful experience. Because, in this country, we are capitalists, we use money as a rite of passage. When people have a good experience, they feel grateful. The few dollars that they pay for vegetables is given with a sense of generosity. If they are mindful of the experience or not their souls are cleansed through their experience of gratitude, honor, and generosity.

The primary worker on this farm is a man who volunteers his time just for the love of helping out. He grows tomatoes in his own garden, although eating raw tomatoes makes him puke. He gives away most of what he grows. Our volunteer demonstrates generosity and kindness every day. He fills our fields with good karma. As people brave our rustic conditions and give a few dollars for the fruits of our combined labors, they are buying good Karma. Priceless. They also get some of the best tomatoes available on the planet. Bonus.

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Unconditional

Which comes first, your internal condition or your external condition? Does what’s happening around you dictate how you feel or does how you feel determine what happens in your world? How you feel has a lot to do with what you do. What you do tends to influence how you feel. When you think about it, it is hard to tell which causes which.

We tend to think that our external condition causes our internal condition. If you walk around barefooted and step on a nail, you will feel great pain and may begin to have fears of tetanus. You are hurt, maybe bleeding and worried that you may develop a horrible disease. The external condition of the nail caused this. That is a natural reaction to the external intrusion into your foot.

The internal condition that created a situation where you were walking around without shoes where nails were and not looking where you were stepping certainly helped to bring about the nail piercing situation. The ongoing problem of the concern about tetanus and the experience of pain is an internal condition that transforms the experience of stepping on a nail into suffering.

Did the external condition of the nail cause your suffering or did the pain and your concern for tetanus cause your suffering? Watch where you step. If you step on a nail and need a booster, you should get a tetanus shot. Enjoy your bare feet. Mind your suffering, unconditionally.

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Homecoming

After nearly two years of preparation, we arrived at the farm. The farm is located on the banks of the Delaware river in New Jersey. We arrived in the middle of a heatwave with temperatures flirting with 100 degrees. The U-Haul, which made the 500 mile trip from Mississauga with little incident slowly started it’s way in the dirt lane to the farm. The first hole it hit gave the load a little shake and I had to slow the pace even more to crawl the last half mile.

Then about half way in the lane was blocked by a large transporter trailer. My sister had made arrangements for a friend of a friend to loan us a bulldozer to help clear some land. The bulldozer had made its way to the field while the trailer remained in the lane, so we walked the last few yards. My brother and sister were there to greet us, preparing to help unload the truck. My brother had the bonus experience of getting a tutorial on operating a bulldozer.

With the heavy machinery and tutorials delivered, the trailer was moved and the U-Haul made it to the house. The assembled crew of brother, sister, nieces and nephews and old friends from California, who were on their way to the airport, braved the sweltering heat and offloaded our belongings.

We filled the home, which was already filled with my ancestor’s stuff, with our stuff. Then I got to learn how to drive a bulldozer. It was a fine homecoming.

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Compelling Drama

When a movie, TV show, or play thoroughly entertains you, you might say that it is compelling drama. It sucks you right into the story. As you watch the action, you identify with the characters and live their lives and loves with them. When a drama is compelling enough, you disappear. When a movie is boring, your seat may become uncomfortable, you may get hungry, you may make comments to your friends, but when the story engages you completely, you are gone. There is only the story.

The most compelling drama there is, is your life. You were cast in the role of you and your only option is to play it brilliantly. Meryl Streep or Jonny Depp, could never play you with all the subtleties you put into the role. They are too busy being them (which probably isn’t as easy as it looks). You play you with all your soul, with incredible attention to every little detail. When you stub your toe, you care immensely about the pain and you come up with inimitable facial expressions to demonstrate your inner experience. Unlike produced dramas, the role you play is not always filled with plot moving purpose. You have to keep playing you when you’re bored, when you’re cranky, when you’re watching other dramas on television.

It is natural and unavoidable to be compelled by the drama of your own life. When big things are happening, it’s easy to get sucked into the action. The suffering that the drama creates is real suffering. It’s different from suffering along with a movie character, because you have no confidence that it will end. It is also the same suffering, its a different tune played on the same instrument that is your self.

When you are playing the role of yourself, no amount of suffering or joy will allow you to step out of character. Everywhere you step is still you. All you can do to relieve the suffering of your character is to pay attention to the drama. See what motivates your action. Marvel at your brilliance in creating an amazing, complex, unique human being. As you suffer, feel compassion for your character, for yourself. That’s all part of the drama. It’s completely compelling.

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My Problem

Last night, after a long day on the road, we checked into a hotel. It was a day filled with emotion as we said goodbye to family in Canada and drove with our belongings stuffed into a 26 foot U-Haul.  We had been anticipating this day for nearly two years. Over the past few months we have been intensely focused on making this day happen. We had to do big things like quit our jobs and sell our house. Because we were moving from Canada to the United States we had go through the laborious process of getting visas and citizenships settled. We planned to go a day earlier, but as these plans go, what’s a day?

The day actually came a little too soon. Because of visa issues, we could not guarantee that we would be allowed across the border with our belongings or family intact. We had enlisted the help of our congressman and had been calling the visa center, almost daily, hoping to hear signs of progress. Although we would be traveling within our rights, with stacks of paperwork to demonstrate our pure intentions, we knew it was up to border services to allow us into the country.

In the morning we said tearful goodbyes to parents, siblings, cousins and neighbors. Then we got into our car and truck and set off on the road. Although it is only a nine hour drive in the best conditions, with a full moving truck, it is more like twelve hours. The trip to the border is about an hour and a half. As we set off, it was hard to imagine anything beyond the border.

As it happened, there was no issue. We sailed through, and all of our worries, fears and tears about that moment evaporated. Suddenly we were back to plan A, moving on schedule. You would think that clearing such a hurdle would leave us on cloud nine. It was a relief, but life went on. I was still driving a beastly U-Haul for another 10 hours. Life was feeling good though.

When we got to Clark’s Summit PA, where the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpikes begins (or ends), we stopped for dinner and called it a day. We were tired. As we rolled our suitcases into the hotel, Abby took on the biggest suitcase saying, “this is my problem”. It was a problem for her to move smoothly. She made a big production of hauling the suitcase and enjoyed herself thoroughly. She wrangled her “problem” into the elevator calling, “Look out for my problem, step aside.”

Today, we get back into our car-truck-convoy and drag all of our problems the rest of the way to New Jersey. There, we will say hello to all of the people on that end preparing to help us deal with them.

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A Good Day to Move

Today is our last day in our house, where we have lived for eight years. It’s the only home my daughter Abby knows. This weekend, we packed all of our belongings into a U-Haul and left a pile of extra stuff on the curb for collection. I hope they take it all.

It is an interesting process leaving a house. It’s a lot of work. We had many people in to help us move on Saturday and more on Sunday. It made the whole process go smoothly. I was honored by their help. Like weddings and funerals, helping people move is a functional ceremony. It helps us all come to terms with what is happening.

We spent our last night with on a futon mattress in the living room. Abby and her cousins, Hannah and Sam, had their final sleep over on blow-up cots.

The house is echoey without any furniture. It’s ready for the next occupants. It will go about its business of being a house. We will go about our business of being a family.

It’s a beautiful day outside. Abby is bickering with Hannah, as usual. I can hear the trickle of the back yard fountain. The Sun is shining. A mourning dove is cooing. This is a good day to move.

ps – They took the trash.

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Getting Annoyed

The purpose of meditation is relieve the world of suffering. The relief usually begins with your own suffering and then it spreads to others. When you find and create peace and harmony in your life, it naturally helps others. When we don’t have peace and harmony in your life, others are also affected by your condition. When you are at peace, things don’t annoy you. When you are annoyed it’s helpful to take note of your condition, because you are beginning to suffer.

When you meditate, you observe your thoughts. You have a point of focus, which may be your breath or a koan, and you notice as your thoughts move by that point of focus. It’s like looking out of the window of a train as it starts to move. The objects in the window start to move, but the inside of the train remains still. You see the things in the window move and you know you are moving, you are not concerned with the things outside of the window, they just remind you that you are moving. Often in meditation, thoughts carry you away from your point of focus. You start making lists, or doing math, or having conversations with people who are not there. When you remember that you’re trying to focus, you come back to center.

Sitting meditation is a small part of a meditation practice. If you sit for half an hour two times a day, you have a significant practice. That still leaves 23 hours a day to work with your mind in a less controlled environment. To carry your focus from meditation into the rest of your life, you can use your annoyances to help you. When you are not annoyed, you are centered and absorbed with the general goodness of life. Something will distract you from that peaceful state and you will suddenly find yourself annoyed. That something could be a thought, a friend, a family member, a stranger, or a pebble in your shoe. The thing that actually annoys you is always the thought about the annoying situation. Your peace is disturbed. Just like when you meditate, when you notice that you are annoyed, you remember who you are, refocus and try to bring peace to the situation.

Like your breath, annoyances are always there. You can use them in your practice to relieve suffering in the world.

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