Tag Archives: centered

Sacred Training Ground(lessness)

“Our discomfort arises from all of our efforts to put ground under our feet,
to realize our dream of constant okayness….
But when…we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation
and relax into its dynamic quality, that’s called enlightenment….”  

– Pema Chodron

For many years, whenever my household had a financial surplus for a moment, it seemed a law of the universe that a car would break down and use it up. It didn’t seem fair at times, when friends’ lives appeared to be much more abundant. They took vacations, they celebrated special occasions in style. The benefit, however, was that this “life close to the edge” kept me always returning to my Source for comfort.

In those days, we named our Source our “Higher Power” and we found solace, guidance, strength, and peace each time we humbly returned to this spiritual well. Sometimes we found our Source in prayer and meditation, oftentimes we found these things in the words of other people – while they lovingly advised us or as they told of their own pain, struggle, or joy.

A belief that I lived by then was to “live simply.” This elevated my lack of abundance to a more spiritual simplicity – though I was never tempted to embrace the concept of “voluntary poverty.” I was fairly certain that abundance had its place, too, alongside simplicity.

Anyway, these days in a similar pattern, I’m recognizing that each time I reach a place in which it feels like I’ve finally integrated a spiritual concept that I’ve been struggling with for years, life seems to offer a challenge to put our integrity and groundedness to the test.

In the world of “manifesting” what we focus upon, I hope I’m not somehow calling for these challenges. If so, it is time to figure that one out – and soon!

No sooner do I have the sense of “Wow! I finally understand this!” that in the next breath the challenge appears. I guess if life is really and truly our spiritual training ground, this could make sense (though it seems kind of brutal!)

Pema Chodron print Etsy
Rebecca Borrelli, artist

In the midst of our most recent crisis, on an evening in which I felt my foundation shaking, my loving daughter sent my husband some encouraging notes. The last image she sent was beautiful – like a lovely Zen tangle. I zoomed in to read the words that encircled an image of waves crashing within a turbulent sea. It read, “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.” Tears of recognition rimmed my eyes.

I read it again. This simple statement from wise woman, Pema Chodron, calmed and centered me. It reminded me that when overwhelming challenges arise, though they blow us off course and tear everything apart, they help us to grow. Though we would never knowingly wish for such chaos, they raise before us the possibility that maybe the goal is not to “have it all together.” Perhaps the goal is, when we are a shaken to pieces, to learn how to lovingly hold each tiny shard that’s been tossed, turned, broken, and tossed again. Perhaps it is also to recognize the calm, unmoving center in the storm.

So my daily practice, as we walk through this turbulent landscape together, is to ask: “Which places within need the most love and care today? And how shall I hold and honor them today – in myself and in my fellow journeyers?” In stillness, the answers arise for the moment.

Sigh. It is really pretty basic, isn’t it? And then I laugh at how complicated I make it.

Tending the Flame

candleWe are children quickly tired:
children who are up in the night and fall asleep as the rocket is fired;
and the day is long for work or play.
We tire of distraction or concentration, we sleep and are glad to sleep.
Controlled by the rhythm of blood and the day and the night and the seasons.
And we must extinguish the candle, put out the light and relight it;
Forever must quench, forever relight the flame.
Therefore we thank Thee for our little light, that is dappled with shadow.
We thank Thee who hast moved us to building, to finding,
to forming at the ends of our fingers and beams of our eyes.

– T.S. Eliot, “Choruses from the Rock”

Some seasons are about tending the flame. We want to prove to others that we are worthy – of love, attention, appreciation. Others of us need to be needed. And one way to be needed is to make oneself indispensable…which also requires a lot of activity. Historically, this is how I’ve spent my time.

I’m noticing, though, that recently things have started to change. I’m less concerned about showing my worth by doing. And, remarkably, I’m beginning to actually know that it is better for the people around me and the people I love to do their own work, whatever that may be. I don’t need to be indispensable.

When I tend my own inner flame, it means taking time – to breathe, to exercise, to create nutritious meals, to rest and play creatively. I’m finding that I’m less interested in teaching and more interested in absorbing and observing.

One part of me that I’m beginning to trust and rely on is “the Observer.” She is quiet, centered and peaceful all of the time. I can rely on her as a steady presence who isn’t swept away by mood or emotion. She notices those things, but stands outside of them trusting that “all shall indeed be well.” She seems to have one foot in this world and one in a higher realm, a place of knowing.

I was listening to a teacher last night who said, in giving advice for spiritual growth, to take some time to meditate and go outside each day, and then “be a bit lazy.” Hearing this actually affirmed what I’ve been doing lately. I’ve been trying to break the cycle of go, go, go – seeking to live a life that is more about “being” than “doing.”

Spiritually speaking, I often feel like I should be doing more – reading another book, studying another teacher, integrating another practice. Yet part of me knows that this is not the way.  Less is truly more. Simply being fully present in the moment is actually all we need to do.

So here’s some advice that I’d like to pass on: “Be a bit lazy.” Take the time to breathe and be aware. Here. Now. That’s it. Relax and enjoy the ride. Allow beauty to draw you in, and joy to touch your heart. Let your rest be peaceful and luxurious. Soak in the splendor of this moment. And again, just breathe. That’s what I plan to be doing.mandala

Ari Bhöd

It is hard to describe my visits to Ari Bhöd*. It is a bit of an adventure just bumping up the winding dirt road to get there. But it is hard to encapsulate the experience. I can tell you what I’ve done when up there…

On my first visit:

  • Watched four Tibetan lamas create a sand mandala & listened to them chant a prayer and blessing

And as a volunteer:

  • Cleaned bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen of winter dust and mouse droppings
  • organized a couple of freezers
  • organized closets and bedding into categories – family guests, lamas, and rimpoche
  • climbed up the hillside to cut fir branches for the smoke offering
  • ate wonderful food
  • learned to clean and fill butter lamps

The activities have been oddly fun and invigorating but fairly mundane on the surface. Each time I go up there I lose track of time, feel peaceful, and as my friend, Marilyn, puts it, “experience of sense of spaciousness.” Good, sustaining energy.

I am not sure of a purpose for my time there, but I feel strongly drawn. Images that remain:

  • White smoke above snowy ground billowing out of the outdoor fireplace chimney (Joey told me the name for this stove, but I’ve forgotten)
  • Prayer flags blowing in the strong mountain wind with crisp blue sky as a backdrop
  • Evergreen boughs on the ground and the sound of the machete as branches are trimmed and cut
  • Linnea (and Yeshe) in the kitchen brewing up nourishing and enlightening foods
  • The 3-D mandala, Zangdok Palri
  • The wonderful scent in the empty temple
  • Radiant faces and smiles

And each time I visit, the lingering sense of peace. The soul-support for just being.

* Ari Bhod is a Tibetan Buddhist retreat center that hosts guests, visiting monks, lamas, and rimpoches. They host a summer camp for Tools for Peace. They are home to several stunning and unique mandalas, including at least two three dimensional mandalas. The center has many volunteers and a small group of residents. It was founded by the Venerable Lama Chödak Gyatso Nubpa.

Savoring the Sweet Life

Big SurIt is interesting that staying grounded, and not living inside my head too much for the past week and a half has meant not writing. Hmmmmm… What’s that about? I’ve been on many little adventures and celebrated another year of life. What a lovely little chapter it has been.

On my birthday, a friend celebrated with John and me. Gifts of music, beauty and art seem to have come my way from friends and loved ones: a CD of a favorite group (Wailin’ Jennys) and a soft t-shirt, a bottle of sparkling water, a yummy bar of dark chocolate, pens, pencil, pretty journal and drawing paper, watercolor pencils (fun!), and a GUITAR (and folk music books to go with it)! Everyone seems to see this as a creative year ahead.

I packed all of my goodies in my car the day after my birthday and headed up to a time of silent retreat with my friend. We talked all the way up there – catching up on what we’ve each been doing and getting the words out of our system. We shared where the Sacred has been nudging us both.

Okay, so Big Sur is a pretty fabulous place to go for a silent retreat. Who needs words there? Upon our arrival at the top of a small mountain looking out over the sea, we popped out of the car. Inside the small office/bookshop, we discovered: a lack of silence, slight disorganization, a delightfully flaky woman, some monastic granola and fruitcake and everything from rosaries and Thomas Merton books to incense, sage and wooden prayer beads. I had to get myself a little stretchy bracelet full of wooden prayer beads. Awesome!

Then each of our super cool little rooms were more spacious and comfy than we had expected – with a wall of windows at one end looking out at the view and our own little backyard complete with a plastic chair, flowers, birds and a spectacular view. We bowed, “goodbye and Namaste” and each took to our rooms – both happy campers.

So much happens when you are in silence. I tried to write down all I had done in that first half day (including taking a nap) and the list was long. Reading a memoir and some sacred writing, lighting a candle, trying out my prayer beads, sitting in the sun and watching the world, just BEING. Sigh. Soaking in the peace.

San SimeonA highlight for me was that this retreat (unlike my last one) actually brought me back to my home practice of yoga. The last one shook me up, showed me my vulnerabilities, threw me off balance. This one nurtured me and helped me live in my yogi skin up there on the mountain. At sunset the first night, I cleared a little desk and covered it with a scarf, placing a glass candle holder in the center. I lit it. I unrolled my purple yoga mat and pulled out my little list for home practice. I found my center and felt the energy streaming through as the sun got lower and the sky turned pink and orange over the water. Whew! Just awesome.

I could go on for pages about just those three days.

A few other highlights include: Both of us realizing that (though we had some trepidation upon arrival) we could have done several more days of silence; the good feeling of hiking up and down the two mile driveway until our calves ached and looking at the turquoise water and ocean of fog below us, alternately. Also, on the drive home, in addition to laughter and good music, we shared a terrific meal in the sun and a carefree hike along the bluffs before San Simeon. Then home to my sweet husband and a fun evening laughing and sharing the “good vibrations” from Big Sur.

Sunset on retreatMore about the rest of the week later. Right now, I’m just basking in joy, gratitude and savoring the sweetness of life. Hope you are too!

If I were to pray…

If I were to pray,
I would ask the life energy that buzzes inside to grow.
I would feel it as it touches each molecule and vibrates on,
out beyond the boundary of my skin…
Life, vibrancy,
At the heart of every moment
Light that erases angerdoubtjealousydepressionresentmentandonandonandon
Light that burns my universe clean and opens my heart.
Breathe in this moment.
Greet the breeze, the blossom, the birds,
Greet the motorcycle, the leaf blower, the truck turning too close to where you stand.
Send your fear down into the earth where it may be healed and transformed.
Bring it back up as a spring bubbling up with new life.
If I were to pray,
I would feel the light, the energy that holds you and holds me in one embrace
and I would know that you are held by a beauty, a force, so vast
that nothing could ever do anything but
multiply
our joy.

Amen.

– Karen Gatlin, February 2014

Down-shifting (and shifting Up)

Reaching out to other people carries a Divine power,
whether recognized as such or not.
Divine power isn’t metaphorical but literal,
actually releasing calming chemicals in your brain.
…Spirit does more than calm you; it heals you.
It reverses entrenched patterns.
It is nothing short of miraculous.
– Marianne Williamson, A Course in Weight Loss

Stuck in inertia again. How does this happen???

One Day: Sailing along on the wind of spirit, I am open to the universe and its revelations. I am motivated and moving. Finding my true Center, nothing can throw me off balance.
The Next: I have trouble getting out of bed.

OR alternately:

One Moment: Plans, great ideas and goals for the day.
The Next: Two hours have gone by and I’m still scrolling through Facebook, feeling the big Blah.

The thing I love about Byron Katie and Eckhart Tolle is that they have both had their big “aha” moments while in their sluggish, dark and depressed modes. They were not practitioners of some big system or followers of a certain way. Each had a simple shift in perception and awoke to reality – which was more wonderful and simple than they had ever imagined.

I believe one of the messages the universe has been trying to send me lately is that what I need for peace of mind is not about doing more. It is about the shift in perception and knowing I have already done enough. More doing is not going to help it now.

Part of my problem, is that my pattern when I am alone and not “doing” is to sink down low. If I’m not busy and productive, then I kind of submerge into isolation and negativity rather than resting in tranquility. That may be why yoga or a morning walk turn the key for me – they literally move me out of inertia and help me find balance. If I don’t have a group or a friend to hang out with, this is crucial for me.

Yesterday, meeting with a friend and chatting one-on-one brought me to life, group discussion later gave me insight and serenity, but later on in the day, individual dynamics within a group sent my head to swirling. When faced with some tricky social waters to navigate, I decided to bail. In that particular situation, maybe it was a good decision.

Allowing myself these occasional ungraceful moves – kind of ungainly and not totally open and honest – is the beginning of a shift in perception for me. It is okay. I’m doing my best to be loving and compassionate with all – including myself. It is no longer my expectation that I have to do things perfectly or take care of everyone around me. That’s a new one, and I’m still learning.

I’m also learning that solitude and isolation are two distinctly different things. Solitude is the time we take for self-nurture, rest and reflection. Isolation is when we seek to escape from those who love us, when we mentally and physically punish ourselves, and when we’re most at risk for addictive behaviors (for me today, that means over-eating, not exercising, and too much “screen time”).

So, being gentle with ourselves, the solution is awareness. Breathing, stretching, doing any small constructive activity (taking a shower, doing the dishes, putting in a load of laundry) when I get into this place is a good start. My spiritual counselor even talks about “shaking it off” like dogs and other animals do. Get up and shake that negative energy off! Put on some music, perhaps, and move around. Dance a bit! And reach out to others – whether to offer help, to snuggle up, or just for a chat – any breaking of isolation is a start.

This simple stuff shifts our perception within the moment and breaks the energetic barriers we  build. Ahhhhh…what a relief! Everything I’m seeking is available to me here and NOW. Who knew?

Fresh Start

photo 2On the other hand, I think it is possible that Lent isn’t something I need to revive for myself these days. Instead, I just need to get out of my head and into my body.

I re-read my morning pages and came across these two poems which applied again today.

CHOICES
“To yoga or to walk?” that is the question.
Either will do.
The point is to allow the incessant indecision
of chatter in my head –
the inertia –
to settle or unravel or leave.
Thoughts circle round in slower, tighter patterns;
stuck in a circular maze that turns in on itself
and halts
to a standstill.
Putting on my shoes,
opening the door,
words and sentences spray like droplets from a sprinkler
scattered on the earth
in glorious motion.
The toxic muck of stagnancy becomes fertilizer
mixing with air, dirt, and green.
The poison is diluted and transformed,
becoming energy and breath in the wind.

MORNING

The morning sounds begin…
Rumbling of dreams and whispers of ghosts
clog my arteries
like bacon fat.
I invite these phantoms to speak and have their say,
then wash them away with soap and hot water.
The slate wiped clean,
I tie my worn shoes, put on my hat,
and turn the temperamental lock,
opening to a new adventure.

(-K. Gatlin, February 2014)