Somewhere Right Now
August 2, 2012 § 24 Comments
Somewhere right now a woman is running on a mountain trail, the wind in her face, pushing herself, pressing on, alone and unwatched.
Somewhere right now a man sits on his bed, looking down at his lover still sleeping, seeking only to be close, knowing that whatever comes, he is all in.
Somewhere right now a child is walking into a school building, head up, shoulders back, striding purposefully into a cauldron of taunts and humiliations.
Strength is in the effort- not in the achievement. Achievement is an external marker. Effort comes only from within.
That runner may never win a race. That lover may have his heart shattered. That child may come undone. But each of them- in their moments of effort- is strength. Embodied.
Bone Deep Weary
July 30, 2012 § 56 Comments
Early this morning I stood in a clearing in the woods behind my house. The morning sun carved channels through the mist. The air was crisp and cool. Idyllic.
And yet while standing in that palace of nature, my tortured mind wouldn’t stop. Too much to do. Too little time. Too many failings. Negative thoughts tumbling through my head. There, in that perfect setting, I was coming undone.
I know what I believe. I know that peace is always right there for me. But knowing the way and being the way are two different things.
Sometimes I think I should just give up. Go back to living in my head. Embrace repression. Set aside this wearying quest for self-awareness. Or maybe just take a break. Just rest for a bit, I think.
I can’t know what’s ahead. So maybe I will someday give up on this. But not today. Or at least not in this moment.
This bone deep weariness that comes upon me is something I must just accept. Let it come. And after it passes, start again. That’s what I’ll do.
The Mist on the Mountain
July 27, 2012 § 22 Comments
If I believed in God, I would have felt her with me that day.
Standing alone in a mist so thick that I could see only several dozen yards ahead. I knew this mountain well so as I stood on the ridge, I could see in my mind’s eye the valley below and the peaks that ringed me- now all blocked by the liquid clouds enveloping me. A mist so thick that it created a silence beyond silence.
I struggle to find the words to describe what I felt in that place. A bit fearful at first- it was a little foolhardy to be up there- but soon I felt safe- but more than that. I felt a sense of absolute security. Nothing like fear remained. My busy mind stopped. I was just there.
Peace is a word I use a lot. That day, in that place, peace came to me like nobody’s business. Simple, undiluted. Filling me like the mist that filled up the canyons beneath me.
In what some would call my regular life, in my ordinary places, I often feel as though I am walking along the edge of a cliff. The chasm of regret and self-judgment always right there, just waiting for me to slip. In such moments, I try to recall that time when I stood on the edge of a real cliff, alone in the dense mist. I think of the peace I felt there.
I now understand that what I felt on that mountain didn’t depend on where I was, or the mist, or anything else outside me. It depended on only one thing. I needed only to be strong, open, and ready.
So that precious peace, that exquisite sanctuary, I found that day on the mountain is always there for us. Wherever we are. It’s always there.
When the Time is Right
July 24, 2012 § 40 Comments
Early in my career, I held a teaching fellowship at the Stanford Law School. One of my students gave me as a parting gift a copy of Shunryu Suzuki’s book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. I was touched by the gesture but not engaged by the book. I recall thinking mostly that the “Zen book” looked cool sitting on my bookshelf.
After Stanford, I headed east, jumped into the corporate lawyering world, and lived anything but a Zen life. A lot of time spent spent feeling frantic, unhappy, hollow and unfulfilled. Through those difficult times, as the decades rolled past, Suzuki’s book patiently tagged along on my bookshelf- never read, but never left behind.
Five or six years ago, I picked up the book again. This time I read it, really read it, again and again. I discovered the Tao te Ching. I began working with a therapist. I sought to feel and hold a strong sense of self. I began to live in a more present and centered way. I changed.
I sometimes wonder why it took so long. All that time- most of my life- I had right at my fingertips the text that would start me on the path to strength and peace. Why didn’t I pick it up sooner? So many years lost, I would think.
But that way of thinking is all wrong. What I did or didn’t do before is gone now. And that book, that amazing text, those redemptive teachings, would have meant nothing to me until I was ready. I wasn’t ready before. I am now.
Understanding and redemption come when the time is right. Don’t regret what may feel like their tardy arrival. Rejoice in the fact that they are here. Right here, right now.
July 23, 2012 § 19 Comments
When I began a meditation practice years ago, I struggled to clear my mind of the random thoughts that kept rattling around in my head. When do I have to leave for that appointment? Why haven’t I made travel plans to see my daughter? Did I buy the wrong kind of coffee pot? Thoughts banging into thoughts. The more I tried to shut them out, the more they came crashing in.
In time I came to understand that resistance was a mistake. I began to let the thoughts come- and then go- like clouds passing across the sky. This understanding changed meditation for me. The thoughts still came, of course. But I ceased resistance. I let them come; I let them go. And soon my mind cleared.
But acceptance is not just a tool for meditation. Often we find ourselves beset with grief, anger, regret, or other negative thoughts. If we try to push those thoughts out of our head, we usually fail. Worse yet, our failure to evict the negative thoughts just makes us feel weak and more unworthy.
When negativity wraps its arms around me, I try to treat those feelings like the random thoughts that interrupt my meditation. I do not try to think myself out of the darkness; I accept it. And my non-resistance seems the surest way to hasten its departure. It is as though those terrible bone-crushing feelings somehow feed on my resistance. Denied their sustenance, they slink away. Not right away, but surely and soon.
We often equate resistance with strength and acceptance with weakness. This is a mistake. It takes more strength to calmly accept what clutches at your soul than it does to thrash away in resistance.
Let them come, let them go.
The Moment Before
July 18, 2012 § 29 Comments
Michelangelo’s sculpture, the David, stands in the Galleria Dell’ Accademia in Florence. I cannot find the words to describe its magnificence. David stands with a far off gaze, his sling over his shoulder, frozen forever in that moment before his great triumph. There can be no doubt about his intentions. He knows what he must and will do.
Our challenges seem less dramatic, less momentous, than the one David faced so long ago that day in the Valley of Elah. But we face our challenges every day in a myriad of contexts. And each of our challenges, like David’s, begins with the moment before. The moment before we step into that tough conversation, the moment before we choose to do that task that we have resisted for so long, the moment before we open ourselves to the great loss we have sought to repress.
The moment before is the moment we must choose- this way or that- evade or confront. Our question is the same one that David faced. Who shall I choose to be in this moment?
We best live in our moments before if we know who we are and let that sense of self drive our choice. It is not a moment for analysis; it is a moment to let our actions flow from the core of our being.
This is how I imagine David lived in the moment that Michelangelo so preciously captured for eternity. This is how I would hope to live in each of my moments before- an aspiration I live out imperfectly but ceaselessly.
July 16, 2012 § 6 Comments
I am feeling shaky, a bit unsteady, these days. My busy mind beckons. Come join me, it says, in the brilliant analysis of your own failings. Why didn’t you do X? Why can’t you do Y? Overwhelmed. Undeserving. Alone. Falling.
In my struggles, I returned, as I often do, to this passage from Suzuki’s great work, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.
One of my students wrote to me saying, “You sent me a calendar, and I am trying to follow the good mottoes which appear on each page. But the year has hardly begun, and already I have failed!” Dogen-zenji [a great 13th century Zen master] said, “Shoshaku jushaku.” Shaku generally means “mistake” or “wrong.” Shoshaku jushaku means “to succeed wrong with wrong,” or one continuous mistake. According to Dogen, one continuous mistake can also be Zen. A Zen master’s life could be said to be so many years of shoshaku jushaku. This means so many years of one single-minded effort.
A single-minded effort in each moment. That’s all. It sounds so small but within this conception a world of great wonder and possibility resides. Within this conception, each moment becomes a fresh start.
It is a ladder out of the pit of corrosive self-judgment.
July 13, 2012 § 27 Comments
I’m driving into town for an early morning breakfast with my friend. Traffic is thick. I see an opening in the lane next to me and start to accelerate into the space but then see that the car directly in front of me has simply stopped. I’m able to brake and avoid the collision. I travel on.
At breakfast a drop of syrup falls from my fork, landing exactly in the center of my wrist and not in my lap. With my finger I bring the spilled syrup to my lips.
I’m writing now in my friend’s offices in the midst of the city. The sky is gray, the air is cool. The window beside me is open to the urban landscape. I am surrounded by old buildings, rust and weeds, wildflowers and gardens. I hear the symphony of sounds- dripping water, traffic humming, the quiet murmurs of the people at their desks. All so evocative, so beautiful.
We hear so often that we should feel gratitude for each precious moment and for all the great blessings we have received. But too often, this conception exists for us only in the abstract. Worse yet, we often feel as though we are somehow obliged to possess this feeling and so, when we inevitably fall into some negative place, we feel guilty.
Appreciating the wonder and goodness of life is not an obligation. And it’s not just an abstraction. All that it requires is to be present in your moment- open and ready to feel and see what is right there. The lucky fortuity of an accident averted or a drop of syrup falling in just the right way or the stunning imagery that’s just outside your window.
I am beyond blessed. And even in those moments of struggle, I possess the capacity to struggle. Lucky me.
The Peace That is Always There
July 12, 2012 § 10 Comments
I am heading back from a trail run. It’s a gray and cold fall day. As I cross a bridge, I can see my destination in the distance and the wind picks up, dead on and strong, lashing my face and making it feel as though I’m running through mush. My legs are tired. It’s getting late.
Someone I love is in pain. I want to make it go away. I can’t. I can only be with her and try to stay present, letting her pain wash over me.
Often the world sets a stage upon which it is easy to stay strong and centered. A deserted beach in the early morning as the first colors of the sunrise paint the horizon. All around is calm and beauty.
Much more often it seems the world around us is frantic and fretful. A thousand things to do. A thousand reasons to crank up the anxiety machine. Pain and loss, wherever we turn.
When the wind turns around into our face, when we are confronted with pain that we can only accept, those are our testing moments. Testing all that we believe. Challenging our capacity to stay strong and centered. Pushing us to the brink.
Standing on that beach as the sun rises, I just feel the peace. In the presence of pain and loss, I must find and hold the peace. Each moment though, whether amidst calm or storm, is precious.
The peace is there always. We need only the strength to receive it.
July 10, 2012 § 31 Comments
The one goeth to his neighbor because he seeketh himself, and the other because he would fain lose himself. Your bad love to yourselves maketh solitude a prison to you.
I am a child. We are at a park and a group of boys are playing baseball. My father commands me to go ask the boys if I may join them. I do and they simply ignore me and carry on their game.
I am a young University professor at my first academic conference. I seek to join a conversation but as I see the other academics glance at my nametag, there’s no mistaking the disinterest expressed in their body language.
I am sitting across from someone I love. Without words, I can sense the distance between us- the discomfort that person feels being in my presence.
We each want to be chosen. We need to be the one that others want. When we are not the chosen one, we lament. Why not me?
Looking for ourselves in the response of others is our great and terrible affliction. It is just another way of giving others the power to determine our self-worth. Just another passage to the inauthentic life that ceaselessly dogs us.
Do not seek yourself in others. Do not seek to be chosen. Choose.
It is your choices- not theirs- that embody who you are.