There is a story about a girl who got a rock for Christmas from her parents, instead of the Barbie Doll she wanted. She was hurt, disappointed, angry. But she decided to keep it, as a reminder of all the things she never got as a child, and how dysfunctional her family had been. Then, as she grew up, she discovered that it was actually a magic rock. Every time she had a disappointment, or got hurt, or rejected, the rock grew larger. It grew when she was frightened, it even grew when she found workarounds to deal with her fears. She became fascinated by the rock, which carried with it the story of her life. It was cumbersome to carry around, and sometimes she was ashamed or embarrassed about how big it was, but she was also secretly proud of it, because it represented all that she’d been through. She felt it defined her so accurately that when she went on a date, or met with a therapist, she felt all she really needed to do was show them the rock, and they’d know all there was to know about her.
One day she had been invited by friends to [...]
This week I’m preparing to go into a week of solo retreat in the wilderness hermitage deep in the Tusas Mountains west of Taos. The retreat cabin is a good hike from the ranch at Vallecitos, nestled in one of the most magnificent and remote landscapes of northern New Mexico where I’ve been teaching summer retreats for fifteen years. And this is the year the dream of doing a personal retreat before teaching comes true.
All this week I feel an undercurrent of anticipation, for even after 40 years, you don’t know how a retreat will be. Years ago I was relieved to encounter this teaching of 13th c. Zen master Dogen Zenji:
That you carry yourself forward and experience the myriad things is delusion. That the myriad things come forward and experience themselves is awakening.
Years ago, I was hiking and sitting on retreat alone in the mountains. When I sat down on a rock off the trail to meditate, mountain goats quietly gathered around me, one by one. At first the goats scared me – unexpected apparitions with sharp curved horns. After a few minutes, the me who opened her eyes and immediately imagined being gored by wild goats stepped back [...]
Last week I was invited to a gathering of accomplished healers living in community not too far from LA. You know how it is to want to check out a party, music, an art opening, a screening, a play, something — anything — interesting.
How do you know when it’s nourishment? Or when it’s a distraction from quiet time with yourself? There are endless invitations to go out and enjoy the richness of this effervescent urban environment — things to do, people to see, places to go and countless beings needing help. How do you decide?
One meditator said recently, “When I make time for myself to do formal mindfulness practice, sitting and walking meditation, the world is just better.” Everything looks ‘better’ to him – and I bet he’s ‘better’ for the world when he’s seeing other people and his whole life that way.
There are so many beautiful things the world ‘out there’ has to offer. We succumb to trying to do everything. Then it’s harder to hear the big invitation — to be where we are and deeply connect with ourselves. This is an inner invite, an Ivite!
Even if you can’t go on retreat or create quiet time at home, [...]
The ocean is a wilderness — so easy to forget when we’re looking across the blue surface. We enter the unknown each time we step into the everchanging waves almost naked, mostly unaware of the creatures who live there.
I love open water swimming, especially in the ocean, and this day the water is cold and surprisingly clear. Half way out to the buoy, past the breakwater, I can see through the glassy swells, clear green all the way down to the rippled sand at the bottom. I believe I’m alone when a couple of dolphins pass by 15 feet away. Pelicans stream past me in a long low line right above the water.
In meditation we enter another set of waves. As we become attentive, we learn of the creatures, the ‘wild things’ who inhabit our depths, what Emily Dickinson called “the mob within the heart.” Like deep water swimming, with practice we grow in courage to enter our own wildness, to trust ourselves. And the urge to find the yet unknown grows, too.
But can our minds actually seek the unknown? If I enter the water seeking, I only know how to look for what I expect. How can I be [...]
Tuesday at our Fearless Compassionate Care training for clinicians working at the beside of critically ill and dying children and adults, a seasoned pediatric intensive care unit nurse spoke about a difficult moment with the parents of a dying son. She said, “I didn’t know what to say. My mind was blank, so I took a deep breath and fell into my heart.”
This is the gift of her mindfulness practice; she knew to stop for a moment, take a breath, and listen. When the mind goes blank in a moment of fear, courage is calling us, “Open your heart! You can be with this!” Fear calls for compassionate awareness, asks us to trust that our loving quiet presence may be the most healing thing we can offer to ourselves and to another human being.
When we’re willing to feel our life fully instead of thinking about it, this is the power of mindfulness in action. Sometimes we don’t know what else to do but sit and walk and feel our way in to our deep heart of hearts. And in the midst of not-knowing, we can then know — know what to say or what needs to be done — or [...]