Monday, August 30, 2010

A Sweet Feeling

After a month where I felt some stability with my health, my adrenals have spiked and I’m on a roller-coaster ride of exhaustion and adrenalin. So, today I'm not feeling well.

Saying ‘yes’ to the despair, the anger, and the physical pain isn’t cutting through. I still feel totally wedded to the suffering. Lying in bed, just practicing awareness of what's happening, I start repeating a more complicated form of ‘yes’ –

‘I don’t ask of myself that I feel anything different to what I feel in this moment.’

It's  working for me because as I say it I realise that the subtext of every moment I experience is – ‘I ask of myself that I feel this differently.’ I'm  aware that I'm constantly wrestling with the moment, trying to force it to be different than it is. 

So, during the day I repeat my mantra:


‘I don’t ask of myself that I feel anything different to what I feel in this moment.’

A sense of helpless running through my bones.

‘I don’t ask of myself that I sense anything different to what I sense in this moment.’

‘I hate this pain!’

‘I don’t ask of myself that I think anything different to what I think in this moment.’


Just moment after moment, thought after thought, sensation after sensation. And my response is, ‘I don’t demand of myself that I change it.’

Finally, in the evening, I am standing at the bathroom sink brushing my teeth. I’m being mindful of the way the brush feels against my teeth and I become aware of a feeling.  What is it?  It’s tiredness and heaviness.

‘I don’t ask of myself that I sense anything different to what I sense in this moment.’

Suddenly, amazingly, I feel a sense of warmth and relaxation. Tears well up in my eyes and a voice rises up in my mind – ‘this is what I’ve been waiting to hear all my life’.

I realise in a flash that all my striving, my studying, my piano practice, my trying to be a good meditator, good daughter, good person...all of this was done with the aim of feeling what I feel in this moment. I feel acceptance. It is what I have been striving for my whole life. And I have just given it to myself. 

It's a sweet feeling. 

Friday, August 27, 2010

Congratulations Toni!

One of the nicest parts about having this blog is being able to connect with other 'travellers on the journey'.  A few months ago one of these travellers - Toni Bernhard -  contacted me through this blog to say she was about to have a book published. 
Since then, Toni and I have become e-mail buddies and I'd like to send a big 'hurray!' out to her, because her book is now available.
 Toni's book is titled 'How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers.'
I've had the privilege of reading several chapters of the book and highly recommend it.  It's wise, warm, practical - and very down-to-earth.  The chapters are short (so not too overwhelming for people energy problems), and you don't have to be a Buddhist to be able to relate to the topics she writes about.  
Toni has a website, where you can read more about her and the inspirations for her book.  You can buy her book from Amazon or the Book Depository
Congratulations Toni!
(I'm going to be giving away a copy of the book in the next few weeks, and Toni will be dropping in to write a guest post for this blog - so stay tuned!)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A morning of contrasts

It's Tuesday morning here in Australia, and I've been awake for about two hours working on a couple of different projects. 
The first is some volunteer work I'm doing for an asylum seeker from the Democratic Republic of Congo.  She has her asylum hearing in a few days, and I'm doing research into her case to try to support her claim.  My ex-partner is from the Congo, and we have a little charity that raises money for his brother who runs a medical clinic there.  So, the terrible human rights abuses and the absolutely horrific situation there - particularly for females - is not anything new to me. 
But, I'm finding this asylum research so distressing.  I don't want to go into details about it, but it involves almost every brutal element that the war in the DR Congo is known for. The other difficulty is that the asylum seeker in question is someone related to a friend of mine, and we're all very concerned about whether she'll get her refugee claim accepted. 

I am not convinced that her lawyers are going to put effort into researching her case (she is only meeting them for the first time today, and her hearing is on Friday). So, I'm worried that my very amateur volunteer efforts at research will be the only supporting evidence she has.   I'm finding that pressure very stressful.  I know I can only do my best, but I'm worried my best won't be good enough. 
In complete contrast, the other little project I've been working on is a portrait of a couple of boys from rural Queensland (in Australia).  The boys live on a farm, and are real 'farm blokes', so I'm trying to incorporate this part of their personality into the portrait. It's a lot of fun working on something like this, particularly as the boy's mother is a real pleasure to work with. 
Going back and forward between writing about brutalities in the Congo, and drawing wheat fields in the background of a portrait is doing my head in. The contrast between something that is sweet but ultimately not important, and a situation where a person's life may be in the balance, is just too much. 
And, that's all I really have to say.  I just wanted to write a post to say, 'this is doing my head in.' (And, if you are into prayer or sending metta...I wanted to ask if you could please spare a few moments for my Congolese friend.)

Friday, August 20, 2010

At two with nature

I’ve signed up for a daily ‘Peace Quote’ from a group called Living Compassion.  Every evening at around 8pm, a quote about meditation, mindfulness or peace drops into my in-box.
Tonight’s quote:
Barn's burned down, now I can see the moon. - Masahide

Usually I slide my Peace Quotes over into a little folder and save them. Tonight, with a flash of irritation, I immediately hit ‘delete.’

A few seconds later I paused.  I thought of the quote again – ‘barn’s burned down, now I can see the moon.’ What did it mean? Why did I delete it?

Well, I thought the meaning was fairly obvious. The guy was saying that everything material, everything he thought he needed and had built around him – had gone, and now he could...what?  Hear the birds singing in the trees?  Feel the breeze on his face?  See the flippin’ moon?

I started noting and naming my emotions.  ‘I feel angry.  I feel frustrated.’ Then it became clear, I felt pissed off and guilty. My barn had burnt down; my health had gone, fallen away around me leaving me exposed to the world.  There is no job, no husband, no child - just me. 

And, can I see the moon?  Do I pay extra attention to the kookaburra in the tree outside my window? No. I just feel angry and sad at what I’ve lost – and guilty that I can’t report that I’m a ‘better person’ because of it.

I sense that as a sick person I am somehow meant to find delight in the birds, or the way the sun makes dappled patterns on the wall.  I feel an enormous obligation  to report that, ‘I’m not well...but I appreciate the littlest things so much more because of this!’  I feel pressure to have ‘learnt’ from my situation.

And that’s why I felt frustration and anger at the quote.  I am not here to be inspiring to well people. I am here, for the moment, to be angry and sad that I am sick. Tonight, I cannot see the moon. I am, like Woody Allen, ‘At two with nature.’

Me being 'at two' with nature in a mountain 
village near the Thai/Burma border.

(The photo below shows the huts where I was staying.)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Where's the war?

During my meditation over the last few days I've started a little practice where I gently ask myself, 'where's the war?' and I'm finding it very enlightening. 
I've found that, almost always, there will be a war.  There will be somewhere where inside myself where I'm struggling, disagreeing, criticizing, or talking my way out of thoughts or feelings I am having.  Sometimes the 'war' appears as words and sometimes as a crunching feeling in my stomach, or a clenching feeling throughout my body. 
For example, I might notice that I have a pain in my back.  'Is there any war here?' I ask myself.  Then I notice a cramping feeling around the pain. It's a feeling that I don't want this pain but also feel like it's my fault that it's there. The text of the 'war' goes: 'If I was a better meditator I wouldn't have this pain. What am I doing wrong in my meditation?  Why can't I just get it?'
'Oh, OK,' I note to myself.  'There's the war.  I have this pain - I don't want it, and I blame myself for having it.'
Then, I try to bring some loving kindness to this war.  Not to make the war go away, but just to extend some compassion towards myself for having it.  ' sure is hard having this war going on.  I don't think this is my fault.  It's just hard - to see it, to feel it, to notice it.'
And I keep going like this - gently asking myself where the war is, and when I see it, bringing some loving kindness to it.
Bringing the loving kindness often attracts its own little war.  This little battle goes: 'You idiot!  You shouldn't be showing yourself kindness for having all these terrible, warring, criticizing feelings! You soft need to FIX this...'
If I notice this war, I just bring attention to it in the same way, 'Oh...a little war saying I shouldn't be feeling kindness towards myself. can be tough having these wars.  I'm sure this isn't my fault...'
And on it goes...I just follow the trail of thoughts and feelings.  Noticing the war...feeling lovingkindness...noticing the battle...bringing compassion. 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Always we hope...

Always we hope someone else has the answer, some other place will be better, some other time it will all turn out.

This is it; no one else has the answer, no other place will be better, and it has already turned out.
- Lao tzu

Plum Blossoms at Noon - Original Painting by Plastic Pumpkin

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Inner-Dictator

In my last post I wrote a little bit about my relationship with my mother, and this post is going to be a bit of a follow-on from that one.

I'm living with my mother at the moment, and my parents are separating.  My mum is upset about the separation; she's anxious, she's angry - and she's not talking about it. Her behaviour over the past few months has been difficult to deal with, but it's also been really helpful to my meditation practice because I've been able to see that her behaviour is like an exaggerated version of what goes on in my mind. 

My mother has always been a controlling person. My projection of her is that she sees life  in terms of control and power.  She's not a bad person, and she doesn't mean to be like this but...she is.  (Well, to me, anyway!)

I've done a lot of volunteer work with refugees in the past, and am still involved in researching refugee claims.  This kind of work means that I listen to asylum seekers stories about what happened in their home country (usually a country we wouldn't be holidaying in, like Iraq, or the Congo), and then I try to find supporting information to corroborate their claims. 

I end up reading a lot about life under dictatorships.  It struck me this week, while I was meditating, that I've always had a natural affinity and empathy towards the stories of people who've lived under a dictatorship.  I then realised that this affinity resulted from the feelings I felt growing up.

If I had to put this feeling into a few short phrases, it was the feeling that it didn't matter what I felt, it didn't matter what I did - there was some authority figure standing above me that was going to control what happened.  It was the feeling of complete powerlessness, a 'knowing' that there was no use resisting and no use hoping for something different becuase I had no control over what would happen.

Like a row of dominos falling, all the bits started falling into place - I realised I connected with refugees becuase I could empathise with their feelings of powerlessness. In my mind's eye, I saw the figure of my mother towering over me, like some enormous state of Saddam Hussein, or Stalin - looming and ever present. 

I saw that in my family, my mother was like a dictator. But, I also saw that I had internalized this dictator within my own mind and used it to rule my own life. I force and bully and critisize myself constantly. I try to dominate and control my own thoughts and feelings, with the intention of turning myself into a 'well' person. 

I also realised that, of course, my mother does this to herself in her mind.  She bullies herself.  She gives herself no rest and no space to just be an ordinary human being. It gave me some compassion for her when I saw that we can't put something out into the world without that same thing being our inner world as well. I might have to deal with my mother a few hours a day, but she has to deal with her own mind 24 hours a day, and it's my projection that my mother's inner world isn't such a wonderful place to live.

Thinking about this, I just felt so grateful that I'd discovered meditation, have an awesome psychologist, and have access to wonderful teachers like Tara Brach and Cheri Huber. My siblings have talked about trying to get my mother to see a counselor so she can talk through some of her feelings and try to get some support.  I hope she does go to see someone, but I am not so hopeful it will result in much change. 

I hope I'm wrong, but, knowing my mother, and knowing how much rigorous committment goes into making therapy 'work' - I feel doubtful that much will change for her.  Which makes me feel sad.  I was half- asleep the other morning and I was half-dreaming about my mother's funeral.  In the dream I was out the front of the church, and the funeral had just been held.  One of my mother's friends came up to me and asked, 'Are you sad?'.  'Yes,' I said, 'But, actually, not so much becuase she's gone.  I'm sad because I don't think she had even one moment of true peace in her life.'

I feel like my work at the moment (apart from lying in bed with an ice-pack on my head) is to try to break this generational cycle, and learn some self-compassion and self-care.  I can't change my mother's life, and I might not even be able to change the anger I feel towards her, but very slowly, I am changing the way I relate to myself.  And, when it all comes down to it - I think that's probably the only thing I can change. 

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