Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A few nights ago, I had a terrible dream. It was announced that nuclear warheads had been activated and that everyone had five minutes to say their good-byes to each other. Everyone was orderly, if not in shock. No orgies, just preparation.

How does one prepare for something like that?

I checked first to make sure that Partner was okay in that dream-like ability to see across vast distances. Then on to check in with my daughters.

One was away, so I tried to reach her by cell phone. With my aging eyes, I could not see the numbers on the keypad very well and kept mis-dialing. An ad popped up on my cell phone that wasted precious time from reaching my daughter. In frustration, I handed the phone to my other daughter so she could reach her and I took my grandson into my arms.

All that mattered was trying to make sure everyone was okay.

What was so heartbreaking was that as I was holding my grandson and thinking about how to care for him in our last moments, I knew that we would be blown into outer space. No air, no oxygen, freezing temperatures.

Grandson was a baby in this dream, not the talking, walking toddler that he has become. He was this chunky little bundle of smiles and potential. Ordinarily, holding him would have been one of my greatest joys, except for the horrifying context.

Awakening from the dream before the blast resulted in a deep sense of sadness and heartfelt pain. Usually, I can shake off dream effects by rationalizing it as a fitful night's sleep or some such thing. But this one lingered.

What kind of future are we offering our children and their babies?

In one sense, we will all pass. But those moments in the dream - when something ominous was looming, not just for myself, but everyone - left me feeling unnerved.

I shared this dream with my meditation group. Several commented on aspects of the dream that spoke to what resonated for them: a communication issue with a daughter, the Tuscon shootings and the senseless loss of a nine-year old girl and others, the constant chatter of more opinion than news in the media, the rapid change in technological advances, the immediacy of decision-making, the clarity of what is or is not important as our time runs out.

A few days ago, a Quaker luncheon was held with a group who has been meeting for the past year. This day's theme was about hope.

Lots of discussion was held about ways to focus on the positive or healing. In many ways, people tended to talk in metaphoric terms: the rising of the sun, the rhythms of the seasons, or the lenses we choose to view the world through.

What they were talking about sounded more like trying to explain their faith rather than how to offer hope. Afterwards, I was reminded of the famous scripture in Corinthians saying that faith, hope and love are crucial for one's spiritual life; and if there is a value that stands out as most important, it is love. Love points to and is at the same time the way in which we are encouraged to embrace life.

My prayer is for us elders to step up to the plate to model love and compassion so that our children and their children can share the kindness and care they have received with the world's family - so that no one is left behind or out.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

No Big Plans

Today I have no big plans. I have no major tasks to complete. Partner is away for the day. The day is my own.

This morning, I took time to set-up my meditation space - in front of a fireplace in the winter - and added flowers, a few candles, and two little books, one on zen and the other on wabi sabi. I brought out Jack Kornfield's book on Wisdom of the Heart: the psychology of Buddhism and read a section on no-self. Then I attempted to meditate.

Eyes open or eyes closed seemed to be one of the first things I got stuck on.
I learned from a Zen roshi to keep the eyes open and cast downward with a gentle gaze, neither hardened in fierce attention nor fuzzy and not aware. I also observed from attending a few Insight Meditation groups, that they tend to be more interested in the happenings of the mind and have their eyes shut.

The Zen approach makes more sense for me since I want to know how to take this work into the world with all of its textures and other sensory data. But I could see where this practice was making it harder to focus on the mind games that I was already doing. Having my eyes open also feels safer since I worry. If something is going to happen, I want to see it. Maybe I can protect myself or control the situation better.

I tried to be kind to myself and quit fighting the either/or of open/closed eyes and settle down. I wound up doing a bit of both and experimenting with what worked.

Then I remembered a quote from Pema Chodron that Kornfield offered: "Being preoccupied with self-image is like coming upon a tree of singing birds while wearing earplugs." Kornfield goes on to say that when we release our ideas about self that we relax and can experience the fullness of the world.

My eyes being open or closed has more to do with whether or not I am doing this right. With no one around, I had gotten stuck in a self-absorbed perspective of being a "good" meditator/person. The reason I want to learn this stuff is so that I can be more present to whatever is encountered. But who was here to pass judgement and label my practice besides some aspect of my "self?"

I was able to observe the judge and allowed it to become a witness. Then the witness wasn't so concerned about how or what I was doing. In fact, it was free to observe what was in front of me or hear the birds outside or feel the mountains nearby.

There is a paradox here. Of course, Awareness is tied to my body and its sensations. But if I died right now, I really don't know if it would matter. It would either exist on its own or it would be extinguished. I figure I'll deal with that when the time comes. But for now, I had revealed myself as a pretty harsh judge and taskmaster when connected to my body and my image of myself - inner life and outer life. Maybe I could lighten up a little more today.

What a relief I experienced when I stopped the struggle. What a quiet, gentle open-heartedness I felt when I realized that my consciousness seeks this kind of freedom from the tangled knots I fabricate. I took a breath and felt ease of being, on a cushion, in my living room, connected with the rest of the world.

Kornfield tells of a Buddhist elder named Dipama Barua of Calcutta. She was known for embodying whole heartedness. When asked about what was in her mind, she replied, loving kindness, concentration, and peace. He goes on to say that these are the fruits of selflessness where presence, connectedness and freedom flourish.

The encounter was hardly there before I grasped at it, wanting more, planning how to keep it, worrying if I'd really experienced it. Maybe I caught a wiff and was offered a deeper understanding of the path to selflessness, a connection to the universe and others.

Just experiencing a little of this spaciousness is sweeter than honey and nourishes the heart. How delightful! A piece of delicious ripe mango was tasted.

My own work has taken on a more open and flexible way. Working at an assisted living for the poor elderly in my community, I find that creating a simple framework of a schedule and showing up to attend to whatever comes my way keeps the work fresher, the people sweeter... And then there is the joy of being a grandmother. No plans needed here either. Just love.

This year there are no big plans. There are no New Years resolutions or platitudes for being a better person or making the world utopian.

With this, may our hearts be open to the singing and the fruits that are right in front of us.