Archive for ‘Meditation’

November 14, 2012

Dream or Reality?

Have you ever stopped to think, what makes something a dream versus a reality?  What if our dreams and reality are intertwined?  Where is the line?

But before I go any further, let me first say, “No, I’m not under the influence of anything other than a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of coffee.”

And now to my story.  A couple of months ago I started reading the book, “Start Where You Are – A Guide to Compassionate Living” by Pema Chödrön.  I picked-up the book, read a little and thought a lot.  Then I got sidetracked.  I started reading other things simultaneously and dust started to collect on her book.  This morning I dusted it off, looked at my bookmark and realized that I have no recollection of much of anything past chapter one, so I backed-up, way-up, to chapter two.  That’s where the concept of dream vs reality came into my mind.

In this chapter, Pema is setting the stage for meditation.  She describes bodhichitta (our awakened heart) and explains how to not take ourselves so seriously.  (Something I’m guilty of quite frequently.)

“Regard all dharmas as dreams.”  More simply, regard everything as a dream.  Life is a dream.  Death is also a dream, for that matter; waking is a dream and sleeping is a dream.  Another way to put this is, “Every situation is a passing memory.”

Wait, what?  That’s a lot to think about.  My initial reaction was that it’s not possible.  Thankfully, Pema gives a lot of examples to strengthen this concept:

We went for a walk this morning, but now it is a memory.  Every situation is a passing memory.  As we live our lives, there is a lot of repetition – so many mornings greeted, so many meals eaten, so many drives to work and drives home, so many times spent with our friends and family, again and again, over and over.  All of these situations bring up irritation, lust, anger, sadness, all kinds of things about people with whom we work or live or stand in line or fight traffic.  It’s all an excellent opportunity to connect with this sense of each situation being like a memory.

Just a few moments ago, you were standing in the hall, and now it is a memory.  But then it was so real.  Now I’m talking, and what I have just said has already passed.

Huh…  Most of us wouldn’t argue that something that happened in the past is now a memory.  But to think of things as they are happening as a future memory, as a dream, is a little tougher to grasp, at least for me.  I love the concept though.  Just think of the stress that could be eliminated if we could all pause and think that whatever good, bad or ugly thing is taking place right here, right now, will be a memory in just a few minutes.

If I could do this it sure would be an easy way to let things go.  But that’s where I struggle.  I want to hang onto some things.  I want to hang onto the good times, don’t I?  I want to feel those times, experience them over and over, right?  But I have this nagging feeling, knowing that I can’t, or shouldn’t.  If I’m hanging onto one moment, then I’m not experiencing the next one.  Whew, this is tough.  I don’t want to think of the good times as dreams or memories.  I want them to be a “reality”.   I just want the bad stuff to go away, to become a memory, can I do that?

At the same time, it seems that this concept of thinking of every situation as a passing memory, is an incredible way to connect with those who have died because it would allow us to experience memories of years gone past just as we do the memories of this morning, yesterday or last week.  And when we dream of a person, whether it is a friend or a loved one, that dream could have the same presence in our life, in our heart, as the memories of what we actually experienced.

My Grandfather passed away when I was in fourth grade.  I adored my Grandpa.  Quite honestly I can’t even tell you exactly why.  He and I just connected.  There was something in his eyes that sparkled, a life beyond what he lived everyday.  I loved spending time with my Grandpa.  I could run errands with him, be his shadow while he was working on something, it really didn’t matter what we did, I just enjoyed the time we had together.  When he died, I was devastated.  It was the first time in my life that I felt pain in my heart. And his death changed everything.  I used to go to my Grandma and Grandpa’s house after school.  After Grandpa died that stopped.  Grandma moved away and my Mom and Dad and I cleaned out my grandparents house.  My routine changed.  My Grandma changed.  My life changed.  No more afternoons running errands, no more trips to Sears and stopping off at their candy counter for Swedish Fish.  No more projects, no more sparkle in his eyes.

But then, I started dreaming.  I dreamt of my Grandpa.  I was elated!  He would talk to me.  His voice was so clear.  I couldn’t see him, but I could hear him.  And in my dreams he was so real I could almost touch him.  In my dreams he taught me to float.  Not in the water, but on air.  He taught me to lean back and relax, to trust.  I could feel his hands beneath my back supporting me.  Then, much like being in water, I would lift my feet off the ground and float.  We would float along the side of my house and around to the front yard.  We could go fast and I would giggle or go slow and I would just soak up the opportunity to hear his voice and be with him again.  These dreams, these moments of being with my Grandpa happened more than once.  I couldn’t make them happen, but when they did they were the happiest nights.  It was so great to have him back!  Sadly, I would wake up the next morning to find that Grandpa was still gone.  And even though that hurt, I found comfort in knowing that occasionally I would still get to be with him in my dreams.

As I got older those dreams stopped happening at night but the feeling, the connection, still stayed.  After reading this part of “Start Where You Are”, I felt extreme comfort in the concept of regarding everything as a dream.  I realized that while it may make some of the things we think of as reality now, seem more distant, it can also make the distant memories of loved ones who have died, or just happy moments gone by, closer to us.

Pema explains that it is with our minds that we make a big deal out of ourselves, our problems and our pain, but if we were to regard everything as a dream, it would help us all to lighten up.  I think she might be onto something.


August 31, 2012

Lessons Learned While Preparing For The Next Challenge

The days are clicking by, summer is coming to a close and there are only two days left until the next 8 Weeks to a Better You! challenge begins.

As you might guess, I’ve been mulling it all over in my mind as to how I’m going to approach this challenge.  How can I learn from the last challenge and prepare myself for this challenge with my new perspective?

Now, as corny as this may sound, as I’ve been preparing for the new challenge, I keep thinking of the book,  “Eat, Pray, Love:One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia” by Elizabeth Gilbert.  I first read this book a few years ago, and while it may not be the deepest of books, Elizabeth’s reactions to the experiences she had throughout her journeys made me laugh out loud because I could envision myself having the same reaction in the situations she encountered.

The specific portion of the memoir that I keep thinking about is Elizabeth’s trip to India.  As I near the Day 1 of the challenge, and keep hearing the voice in the back of my mind telling me I can’t do it, I keep recalling the part of the book that Elizabeth first attempted meditation.  She had to remain still and silent for an extended period of time.  She had a hard time focusing, struggled to stay still, her mind wandered.  She wrote about her thoughts, her frustrations, the thought that went through her mind, the thoughts questioning the thoughts that went through her mind… The way she wrote it was both humorous and painful in that “experiencing something new” kind of way.  I keep telling myself that if she could travel to India by herself, sit in complete silence for hours on end and overcome her challenges then surely I can do the same at home.  (Although I do question whether it might be easier to practice without distractions.)

As I prepare myself for the next challenge I’m anticipating there will be struggles.  Even though I’ve done two 4-week challenges before, this feels like an entirely different challenge.  It seems bigger, I’m doubting myself less and feel more excitement about what I will learn.  I feel like I’m embarking on a new adventure.  The tools ( rules regarding journaling, reading, exercise, eating, sleeping, etc.) are not new, but by changing my perspective on the challenge I feel like I’ve just been given the first paragraph of the instruction manual on how to properly use them!  (The rest of the book is filled with blank pages, mind you, but right now that doesn’t bother me because I feel like I at least know how to get started.)

The mental preparation for this hasn’t been easy though.  In addition to excitement, I have also found myself getting anxious, questioning whether I’m doing the right thing by doing another challenge and broadcasting it to my blog readers (I didn’t do well on the last challenge and this one is twice as long).  I’ve been trying to figure out ways to make it better, more successful.

As part of this process I started thinking about a post that Bhavna Hinduja wrote about simplifying cooking on her blog a couple of weeks ago, step 2 was a wake-up call for me.

Set the mood before you begin: When you get home from a long day at work, take 5 to 10 minutes to settle down before throwing on that apron and grabbing the knife as if you were on a kill. Pour yourself a refreshing beverage – wine, iced tea, or just water – and keep hydrated. Get changed and play some music. I’d stay away from turning the television on to reduce distractions. Remember this is supposed to be therapeutic and enjoyable so try to be in the element as much as you can.

I can’t tell you how often I buzz from one activity to another throughout the day thinking, “Okay, that’s done.  What’s next?”  Then I start that activity without even taking a breath.  That’s the key.  Stopping.  Taking a breath between jobs, tasks and activities.  Pausing and thinking about what it is that you’re about to do.  Essentially, taking step 1 to doing that activity mindfully.  That’s when I realized… It’s not so much about what you do as how you do it.   In other words, stop focusing on “making dinner” and instead focus on how I’m making dinner.  Am I thinking about the food, where it came from and what it does for my body?  Am I thinking about what I’m doing as I prepare the food or am I just chopping and letting my mind wander?  Am I just chugging water to get my 8 glasses in a day or am I thinking about hydrating my body, thinking about the water, its source, being thankful that we have it so readily available and being mindful not to waste it?

So my personal goal for this challenge is to practice checking back.  When I find myself getting lost in the competition, lost in the points, what I’ve done or not done, I will try to remind myself of the reason I’m doing that particular part of the challenge.  Sleeping 7 hours (making sure I get enough rest).  Not eating sugar, white flour and junk food (making sure I’m giving my body the nutrients it needs each day).  Practice living mindfully.

Until next time,


August 16, 2012

Mindful Living: Inner Strength

When you dream about your future, what do you dream?  Is it about having your dream job? Traveling the world? Running a marathon?  Meeting the love of your life?  Marriage?  Kids?  Happily ever after?  Retiring in the Caribbean or in a cabin in the woods?

Or do you dream in Grimm fashion?  About being laid off, losing your house, getting divorced, losing a loved one and struggling?

Chances are you don’t dream about the latter.  But sometimes, in the game of life, we get thrown a curve ball.  I grew up Catholic, and when things got tough, I often heard people say, “God doesn’t give you anything He thinks you can’t handle.”  For a long time I believed this.  I thought, “Okay, this stinks, but pick yourself up and move on.”  But a few years ago I heard a twist on this, “God gives you things you think you can’t handle to bring you back to Him.”  And while my beliefs are no longer solely embedded in Catholicism, that makes more sense to me.  Whether you’re Catholic, Lutheran, Jewish or Buddhist, I think the message is the same:  we aren’t meant to deal with life on our own.  When things get hard, its okay to lean on friends, family and whatever higher being you believe in.

When I began meditation, one of the most impactful moments was the very beginning.  We sat still.  We checked in with ourselves and essentially said, “Self, how are you doing today?  How are you feeling?”.  After our check-in, we were to acknowledge our feelings and move on.  We weren’t to beat ourselves up for feeling one way or another, but just acknowledge them.

This really resonated with me.  I’d never checked in with myself like that before.  And although it felt a little awkward at first, I realized that it’s really important to ask ourselves how we are doing.  And more importantly, accept those feelings and not judge them.  If you’ve never thought this way before, it can be very freeing.  It brought me a lot of peace and taught me that it’s okay to feel whatever it is that I’m feeling.  It’s a part of being human.

A key part of mindful living is being present in everything you do.  Not just being present as in being in the room, but truly being present.  Truly listening to others instead of letting our minds wander.  Driving, focusing on traffic, not the radio or our phone.  Petting our dog or cat and truly being with them while we do it rather than just patting them on the head.  But equally important is to truly be with our own emotions.  If we are going through good times, absorb it, enjoy it, let it all in and savor it.  And when we are going through tough times, again, be with our emotions, experience them.  It’s okay to be sad, it’s okay to feel disappointment or anger.  It’s okay to have days where you just want to cry.  It’s okay to truly “be”.  I realize the sadness and disappointment doesn’t feel as good as joyful moments, but they are equally important in our life.  And putting off those emotions for a later day really only makes it worse later.

I used to think the term “inner strength” meant “power through”, for me that meant stop crying, chin up and pretend it didn’t happen.  Now I think “inner strength” means “have the courage to be with your feelings”.

Inner strength is that part of us that pushes us to do things when we think we can’t.  It can give us courage to feel pain when we’re afraid we can’t handle it.  It will tell us to rest when we don’t want to acknowledge that we’re tired.  It will tell us to reach out and lean on our friends, family and higher being when we just want to hibernate.  It will also tell us when we’re strong enough to move forward.

To me, inner strength is no longer “powering through”, but having the courage to be present in every part of life because being present is what has truly made me a stronger person.


April 19, 2012

Q is for Quiet

As I tried to figure out what I would write about for Q, I ran through and mentally crossed-off a number of words.

Quercus alba, the mighty White Oak.  Love that tree.  Love the shape, the branching habit, the shade, the security and protection it provides.  But what else?

What about Quaking Aspen?  Another tree.  I think of this as a fun tree.  Quaking Aspens remind me of camping.  I love how their leaves rustle in the wind because of their flat petioles.  They make me smile.  But not inspiring enough to write much about, at least not today.

Quince.  Quince starts with Q.  Don’t grow it.  Wrong climate.  Have never even eaten it.  Note to self: Need to try quince.  Move on.

What else could I write about?  What other Q is there?  I gaze out the window.  I start to drift off, daydream.  It’s overcast and in the upper 40s today, not exactly tropical, although they say those days are coming our way again next week.  There’s something about cool days, particularly in the spring, that I find calming.  There’s so much energy in the spring.  So much activity in plants and trees, animals and people.  Spring is the beginning of so many things.  There’s so much going on that I sometimes find myself getting agitated from all of the energy.  I feel like a circuit that gets overloaded.  At some point it’s just too much and a fuse blows.  But the weather today changed all of that.  Something got unplugged, everything is calm. The cool, overcast weather slowed the energy, providing calm in the midst of a surge.  This gray day is providing quiet.  And sometimes quiet is the best gift we can receive.

Quiet.  Tranquility. Peacefulness.

As I sit, at this moment, heat is blowing on my feet, my shoulders are wrapped in an afghan and a cup of tea warms my hands.  And I hear nothing.  A clock ticking, the furnace running, the house creaking.  Small comforting sounds, but mostly I hear nothing, just quiet.

Out the window the branches of the trees gently sway in the breeze.  Slow, peaceful movements.  I’m relaxed.

I meditate on quiet.  I close my eyes, and breathe.  Slow, deep breaths.  I’m warm.  I’m comfortable.  All of the tension and agitation float away.  Everything is okay.  I’m okay.  I find peace… and quiet.  And I’m blessed.  Today I’ve been given the gift of quiet.