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Be Like Pooh
At the start of every new year, I always have a goal to be more spiritual. More introspective. More Zen. I vow to do more yoga, more meditation than the previous year. The yoga is easy, but the sitting still in one place is hard. I do it, but at times it can be a struggle, and it really shouldn’t be. You are literally just sitting. But you are sitting without thoughts. Without the day’s frustrations or what didn’t get checked off the to-do list weighing on your mind.
You just be. You sit with a clear head. Maybe there’s a chant you say to yourself that helps to calm you and find your center. If I’m having a hard time settling into my meditation and letting go of invasive thoughts, I have a go-to chant that helps to reel in my wandering mind. I say with a steady inner voice, “At this moment all is well.” I repeat the mantra as many times as I need to bring me back to the present moment, where my mind is calm enough to just be.
I always start the year with a book about spirituality. This year that book is the same book I started last year off. It was worth a second read. The Tao of Pooh, by Benjamin Hoff. (Tao pronounced DAO) I bought the book at an estate sale. The title grabbed my attention because though I’ve read many books about Buddhism, I was only faintly familiar with Taosim. And also, I was a big fan of Pooh as a little girl. Who wasn’t? He was such a cute and cuddly little bear, and apparently, he knew the secret to staying “happy and calm under all circumstances.”
In this book, the author explains “the principles of Taoism through Winnie-the-Pooh…” He concentrates on the basic sentiment of Taosim that centers around “a particular way of appreciating, learning from, and working with whatever happens in everyday life.” With a simple-mind and not over-analyzing every aspect of his every day, Pooh has no expectations. He simply lives, without interference or fight, but rather by “working in harmony with life’s circumstances…”
Pooh lived by what is known as “the most characteristic element of Taoism-in-action”– Wu Wei. Wu Wei means “without doing, causing, or making.” Living life without interfering, or being contentious, or arrogant. It means “no going against the nature of things…” Like water flowing over rocks. The water just goes where the path takes it. There is no “mechanical, straight-line approach…”
We only begin to reach the state of Wu Wei “when we learn to work with our own Inner Nature, and with the natural laws operating around us…” The person who thinks too much is bound to interfere with the natural laws by trying too hard. Wu Wei is effortless. “No stress, no struggle.” The round peg goes in the round hole and the square peg goes in the square hole. Don’t make life harder than it needs to be. Sometimes highly educated minds try to find ways to force the pegs in holes they don’t belong because they want to seem cleverer than the average mind. This is not Wu Wei.
While the brainiacs spend their days struggling, while trying to be smarter than everyone else, and their frustration growing, Pooh, having simply put the round peg in the round hole, sits under the shade of a tree and happily eats a bowl of honey.
Pooh knows Wu Wei.
“Wu Wei doesn’t try. It doesn’t think about it. It just does. And when it does, it doesn’t appear to do much of anything. But Things Get Done.”
Be like Pooh.
Another Year Gone
The end of another year is only weeks away. What have you done with your time? Isn’t that the burning question we ask ourselves as we reflect on the year passed, while remembering our new year resolutions from almost a year ago and cringe as we measure ourselves up to those ambitious start-of-the-year goals?
Maybe not everyone is cringing. Maybe some, or most, accomplished everything they set out to do this year. But maybe some, or most, haven’t. Either way, the good news is another year is about to begin. If you’ve achieved all your goals then it’s time to make new ones. And if you haven’t achieved your goals then you have another new year to resolve to do everything you failed to do this year.
Isn’t it great the way the calendar works?
But no judgments passed. Life is tough and unpredictable. I think it was Jon Bon Jovi who said “have a plan, but write it in pencil.”
I personally don’t make crazy, unattainable new year resolutions, unless you consider resolving to read 52 books in a year crazy and unattainable, then yes, yes I do. Although I didn’t come close to reaching that goal this year, it will still be on my list for next year. I am determined.
I also didn’t achieve my goal of finishing the book I’m currently writing. I’ve made strides but still don’t have an ending, and it’s hard to finish a book without an ending. Sometimes I wish words would just write themselves.
I joined a gym in October. I beat the new year rush. Ha. No, I just really like to walk, and I knew it’d be getting too cold to walk outside for very long. So I joined a gym. Something I haven’t done in over ten years because I had a treadmill, but it broke.
In the two months that I’ve been going to the gym I’ve found there are two kinds of people in this world. No, not the fit and unfit, but those who wipe down a machine after use and those who keep their sweat marks there for the next person to enjoy. UGH. Don’t be that person. Wipe down your machine after use.
I am curious how much more crowded the gym will be come January 1 when all those newly promised resolutions of getting in shape bring droves of new people through the doors and how long it will be before those ambitious new members start to disappear. Hmmm.
But I don’t feel I’ll have a problem sticking to a gym routine as long as I stay healthy and don’t over do it. (I have a condition). What I do anticipate I’ll have a problem with is sticking to my meditation routine.
I wasn’t very consistent with my resolution this year to meditate at least fifteen minutes a day, every day, and this bothers me even more than not reading 52 books or finishing my novel because I know at least I put the effort into the latter two, but I got lazy with my meditation practice. I’ve been off and on with it for years. Sitting alone with yourself and your mind for even as short of a time as fifteen minutes can be a struggle, but like last year, I am going to resolve to do it once again.
What are your resolutions and will you stick to them?
End of Year Reflections
The end of the year always comes with some form of reflection. Have I done everything I sought out the year to do? What were my achievements? Downfalls? Setbacks?
I headed into 2016 with a list of resolutions, like so many people. A lot of what I resolved to do revolved around furthering my spiritual state of mind through meditation, yoga, clean- eating, fasting, and being present.
As the year comes to an end, I have not become the meditation guru I had dreamed to be. Sitting quiet and still, in one spot, for a designated amount of time may be attainable on the occasion, but committing to a daily meditation practice fell out out of my reach.
Not that I didn’t meditate. I did. But not every day, not nearly as much as I had intended. I’m no where close to where I thought, one year ago, I’d be today. On days I meditate, I do so in thirty-minute intervals. Anything longer, my mind strays. More training will fix that problem, but I need to put in the time.
I can’t imagine anything more freeing than sitting in one place, closing your eyes so you are blind to all that is around you, with nothing but your mind, body, and soul at your disposal, and completely losing yourself to your own self, for hours at a time.
This state may not be something one can plan, but rather, is attained naturally through practice done organically. I need to stop treating yoga and meditation as words I cross off a daily “to-do” list.
If I forget to make a list, do I forget my practice?
Yoga and meditation need to be felt. Once my body grows to crave the serenity, the state of missing nothing that yoga and meditation provide, I won’t need a list to remind me to do my daily practice.
It will become who I am.
Photo courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net
Half a Year Gone. What Have you Done? ?
Today is June 1. The mark of half a year gone by. The time I usually reflect on the past six months in relation to the ambitious goals and optimistic attitude I had coming into the New Year.
I am sure I have the list of New Year intentions I resolved to accomplish written down somewhere, but have forgotten where I put it. (The list is probably in some convenient place I specifically chose so I wouldn’t forget where it is.)
Offhand, I remember the list being something like this:
Reading – Every new year begins with my resolution to read 52 books – one book per week – for an entire year. I have yet to accomplish this feat. Last year I read 34 books. The halfway point of this year finds me at a measly 9 books. Although I am currently reading two books and plan to finish them this week, I am still way off target. Whenever I fail to reach the coveted 52 books, I settle for at least doing better than the previous year. To beat even last year’s number means I gotta kick it up – big time.
My struggle isn’t for lack of books. My kindle is filled with a plethora of authors I love, as well as authors I am just discovering, and my library card is always in my wallet for constant access. I have no valid reason for falling so behind. I love to read. I’m a writer. I have no choice but to love to read. If I didn’t, I’d have no business being a writer.
Sometimes I feel guilty when I’m reading because I tell myself I should be writing. But a writer learns while he/she reads, and will better at his/her craft the more they read, so I will no longer call it reading, rather research.
The next time I spend a gorgeous afternoon under the sun engrossed in a great story, I will tell myself that what I am doing is the writer’s equivalent of a scientist conducting experiments in a lab wearing goggles and a lab coat. Research!
Blogging – I set a goal to write two blogs a week. This isn’t an overly ambitious goal. I did not set myself up to fail because this is an easily attainable feat. Yet, if you keep up with my blog even just a little bit, you know that not only am I not writing two blogs a week, but sometimes I don’t even write one.
This failure isn’t for lack of having anything to say. There is plenty happening out there I have an opinion about. Hello, this is election year. There have been an abundance of headlines that caused me to seriously rethink the level of humanity and compassion in our country’s leaders. And this is sad.
But I hesitate to write here sometimes because I question why anyone would care what I think. Am I wasting my time with this blog? I do this blogging thing because I was told authors needed it as one of their platforms. I know for certain my blog has been responsible for one book sale – one. But I don’t blog for the sales. I do it for that one person who may enjoy reading the words I write.
I easily forget at times that anyone, in any country with internet, has access to everything I write. A few of my friends read my blog and occasionally they’ll comment on something I’ve written, and I’ll stop whatever I’m doing, and think, “Oh yeah. I wrote that and you can read everything I write.”
Sometimes it’s a little awkward when I’m scrambling to remember if I revealed anything too personal. I will put some of my self-consciousness aside and just write about whatever I want – no matter how opinionated I may get.
Yoga and Meditation – I started doing yoga consistently about two years ago. I still practice, but I’m not where I thought I would be by this time. My dedication to the spiritual journey I set on a few years back has been interrupted. I used to practice yoga everyday, meditate nightly, and read spiritual passages.
I allowed myself to get distracted. It became too difficult to keep my mind at the steady pace and concentration meditation requires. The external noise around me got too loud, and I began to listen too intently. I let myself get upset about things I know aren’t important. I tried to control too much, forgetting the impermanence of life.
I can feel in my body and soul, in my self, where I lost the calming benefit, and clarity, daily yoga and meditation had once given me. I will get back to yoga with more consistency. I will slow my mind and remind myself that at this moment, all is well. I will read and retain passages that enhance my spiritual journey.
Writing – I am happy I have at least kept up with my writing. I have just completed an 80,000 word novel, the longest story I’ve ever written called A Penny on the Tracks. This feat alone makes falling behind on most everything else somewhat bearable.
A writer writes.
Never forget that, writers.
Here’s to Another Clean Slate
Here’s to another New Year. Another clean slate. A time to put the bad, the regrettable, and all we may want to forget to the side and start anew. Fresh. A rebirth, if you will.
Although I’m not sure all those sentiments are possible, I think people need to believe that at the stroke of midnight on a specific night changes everything. When we pop the champagne, put on glitzy hats, blow our paper horns, kiss strangers, and celebrate into the wee hours of the next morning, we are toasting to an end.
Maybe the year concluded on a high-note for you and you salute good luck’s continuation. Or, possibly, you’re crossing your fingers for a shift in the universe that will be more favorable to you and the path 2016 sets you on.
Either case, each scenario comes with hope. That’s what the New Year does. It gives us hope.
“Here’s to a year of better health!”
“Here’s to a year of much happiness and success!”
The month of January is the beginning of a new you, if you want it. A month filled with promises to ourselves. For the next few weeks, gyms across the country will be crowded with new faces, forcing not-so-subtle grumbles from regulars who now have to wait to use their favorite machine.
But no worries, regulars. Statistics show crowds will taper off after a couple weeks as the thrill of setting promising resolutions mixed with the excitement of a “new you” to go along with the “new year” meets reality.
And most of the time reality bites (one of my fave movies!).
The simple fact may be if you hated going to the gym in 2015, you will most likely hate going just as much in 2016.
And that’s okay.
I hate the gym, too. I’m a homebody who prefers to do as many activities as I can without leaving my house. This includes exercising. I have workout tapes, a yoga mat, a treadmill I resolve to fix some time this year, and a stationary bike I sometimes use.
I won’t make a resolution to go to a place I hate, but rather, I’ll change my intentions in the areas of my life that may need more dedication. I’ll ease myself gradually toward the changes in my life that need improving. But I’ll do it through meditation, not by guilt or external pressures.
It’s okay if on this third day of the new year resolutions may have already been broken.
The truth is, we can give ourselves a clean slate any day we want. Every morning we wake we can sit silently with ourselves, and still our minds, and set goals, intentions, for each day.
We should celebrate each new day the way we do each new year.
Photo courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net
At the beginning of the new year I made a commitment to daily yoga practice and meditation. Like an excited new student eager to learn, I dove in the uncharted waters of Buddhism with the hope that this spiritual journey would help answer all of life’s mysteries.
It went well for a while, but soon my devotion drifted as the snowy weather transformed to sunny skies, and distraction got the best of me. Daily practice turned into three times a week. I let myself get lost, but if I have not yet found my compass, I may at least know which direction to look for it.
I’m meditating again. I’m training my mind to be still. This isn’t easy, but it wasn’t meant to be. To help me from losing my way, I recite my favorite verses taught by the Buddha.
“Don’t try to build your happiness on the unhappiness of others. You will be enmeshed in a net of hatred.”
“Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Joy follows a pure thought like a shadow that never leaves.”
“As an archer aims an arrow, the wise ail their restless thoughts, hard to aim, hard to restrain.”
“A trained mind brings health and happiness. The wise can direct their thoughts…wherever they choose.”
“Do not give attention to what others do or fail to do; give it to what you do or fail to do.”
“One who conquers himself is greater than another who conquers a thousand times a thousand men on the battlefield.”
“Be victorious over yourself and not over others. When you attain victory over yourself, not even the gods can turn it into defeat.”
“Wake up! Don’t be lazy. Follow the right path, avoid the wrong. You will be happy here as well as hereafter.”
“Give up anger, give up pride, and free yourself from worldly bondage. No sorrow can befall those who never try to possess people and things as their own.”
“Refrain from evil deeds, which cause suffering later. Perform good deeds, which can cause no suffering.”
Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
I’ve been practicing yoga consistently for two years and each pose gets a little easier after months of repetition. Standing forward-bends used to strain my back, and even with my knees bent, my fingertips barely brushed the ground.
But after years of practice, standing forward-bends are one my favorite asanas. I can lay the palms of my hands flat against the floor, with straight legs, and the sensation that runs through my body is no longer straining, but rather soothing and relaxing.
It took time to get here, and even after two years of practice, six to seven days a week, I still have to do the modified version of many of the poses. I’m not yet strong enough to carry the weight of my entire body on my hands — but I will be — with more practice.
Aside from practicing yoga daily, I also meditate, and study and learn from books how I can deepen the spiritual impact yoga has had on my body and mind. I have altered my eating habits to fit a more compassionate diet because plant-based foods complement yoga better than any other diet.
Yoga has become such an integral part of my life, I was not surprised when I woke up this morning having dreamed of doing yoga.
In my dream, I was sitting on the floor with my legs spread apart. A man, who I assume was my teacher, sat across from me.
“Fold your body over your leg,” he said.
I lowered my body over my leg until my forehead rested effortlessly against my thigh, and my arms stretched forward and my hands bound evenly around my foot.
“I didn’t know I could do that,” I said to my teacher.
“That’s because you never tried.”
I opened my eyes this morning to the most powerful dream I have ever dreamed.
Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
I Ain’t Sinatra
Unlike Sinatra, I have more than a few regrets. Enough to mention, but I won’t in detail. Not here. My regrets stay locked tightly inside me and I fear if I accumulate any more, my insides will burst like the overflow of a shaken carbonated bottle. But my lid sits securely in its place–for now.
Some of my regrets I couldn’t control, but most, however, were of my own-doing. My past is filled with chances I didn’t take when I should have and chances I did take when I shouldn’t have. I quit when I was meant to fight and acted brave when it was best to walk away.
Live and Learn.
I meditate. Being still helps calm most of my mind’s chaos, while teaching me to accept my past knowing that I can’t change it. The part of my life already lived will not be given back to me. I’m tilting toward the brink of forty. If I’m lucky to live to see eighty, my life is already half-over. Half-lived.
Time may minimally ease the sting in the cuts of a person’s deepest regrets, but the guilt and shame in not feeling any sense of accomplishment in one’s life is a heavy burden to carry.
Luckily, that burden was lifted from me the moment I signed my first publishing contract. I waited twenty years and I would have waited twenty more because getting published is the validation most writers seek, and I was no exception to that need of validity.
In 1999, I was fresh out of college — an English major who didn’t want to teach. I want to be a writer, I’d say, and being a teacher sounded too permanent. So I took a job selling cellphones. I sold cellphones before I even owned one. I didn’t know how to power-on most of the phones I was meant to sell, let alone answer technically-specific questions about them.
“Is this a NiMH (nickel-metal hydride) battery or a lithium-ion?”
“Um…let me check on that for you, sir,” I’d say, and sneak behind a front display and whisper to my manager, “What the #uck is a nickel metal something battery and lithium something another?”
These exchanges happened often. I’ll never forget the $hit I caught from a customer when I told him a charger he wanted to buy was an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) Motorola product when it was actually an after-market brand. It was an honest mistake, but because he owned stock in Motorola, he was furious. And he let me know it.
I was a terrible salesperson, but that was the appeal. The only job I wanted to be good at was writing. The downtime waiting for customers was spent writing. But I didn’t yet know how to write and my first rejection letter proved this. I was around twenty-three years old and all I wanted was to be a published writer. I took the rejection well. I didn’t expect it to be easy, but I also didn’t know it was going to be so hard.
But the hard is what makes the moment so sweet when you finally get it right.
I signed my first publishing contract early last year and my book came out the following summer. Though I may have felt validation as a writer, that moment, a year later, has created one of the biggest regrets in my life, and that’s saying a lot. I know I can’t bring back the past, no matter how far I reach back. Like all my other regrets, this one has to live through its course, and will be felt every inch of the way.
Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
A Time to Reflect
Today is Ash Wednesday. The first day of the forty days (not including Sundays) of Lent. Lent is a time to reflect on the days that led to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. We fast. We refrain from meat on both Ash Wednesday and Fridays. Fish isn’t considered meat. Only flesh from warm-blooded animals are off-limits. Sorry tuna but you don’t get a reprieve, in fact, your death rate probably spikes during this time. It’s true. Baked tuna casserole with crumbled potato chips on top will always make me think of Fridays during Lent.
Catholics are also required to give up something they really, really like because this isn’t a time to be festive. It’s a time to reflect on suffering. It is a somber time. Fast food, diet coke, potato chips, alcohol, candy, porn, whatever your guilty pleasure, you give it up. Except on Sundays. All bets are off on Sundays because Sundays are festive days. Sundays are the Lord’s day and we celebrate the Lord. Every Sunday. No matter what. Even during Lent. Meat may be eaten, as well as that favorite thing we gave up.
Truly. The rules aren’t so hard when we consider Jesus had nails driven through his hands and feet on a cross he would later die. All for our sins, AFTER he was brutally, nearly whipped to death, yet still, some idiot will complain about that ONE day during the week he or she can’t put pepperoni on their pizza or eat bacon with their eggs.
Hey, idiot, try some tuna instead.
Having said all this, I didn’t get my ashes today. I haven’t gotten ashes in over a decade because I don’t go to church. Aside from Baptisms, Communions, Weddings, and Funerals, I haven’t attended a regular mass in close to fifteen years…not even on Christmas. Even though I attended Catholic school from kindergarten through high school, my family wasn’t “strict” Catholics by any means.
Still, weekly church attendance was expected when I was a child and Christmas mornings were the worst. I’d beg and plead to stay home in my pajamas and play with my new toys. But that never happened. We attempted Midnight Mass one year to forgo the morning chaos, but there was so much singing and I was way too tired for all of that. I fell asleep against my grandmother’s snugly arm.
I’m not sure the exact moment I decided to stop going to church, but I do remember the Sunday morning when I listened to a priest preach the Homily. This was around 1998. A young man named Mathew Shepard had recently been beaten and left to die in a field, presumably, because he was gay. The priest condemned the act because the Church did not condone violence, and then he told the people sitting before him that if they knew someone who was gay to not hurt them, but instead, help them. Yes. Help them find their way because gay people were clearly lost souls. A little direction was all they needed. A compass, if you will.
The town I grew up in was home to about 18,000 people. We had two Catholic schools and two Catholic churches. Divide up two churches of the same religion in a not-so-big town, and that isn’t a lot of people attending each church, especially given not everyone in town was Catholic. This meant you prayed among a lot of familiar faces during Sunday mass. After the priest instructed his congregation to lead gay people from the everlasting damnation that was surely awaiting them, I looked around me. With those familiar faces came a lot of knowledge of who these people were and I was mostly unimpressed. Small towns talk and it scared the $hit out of me that my salvation depended on those @ssholes.
I had only been out a couple years to select friends and family. I was young, twenty, and very nervous about who knew I was a lesbian, so I did nothing as the priest spoke his words. I obediently sat still in my place in the pew and listened. But if that would happen today, I’d stand up and leave through the side door, (not the back) and let the door slam behind me so the entire congregation, including the priest…wait...especially the priest, knew somebody had just left. And that somebody didn’t agree with the bull$hit he was spewing.
But I wasn’t so bold back then.
This is the first Lent in years that I am taking part in. For a long time, I would intentionally eat meat on those forbidden days. Disobeying the rules made me feel good. I held a grudge against a religion I called my own for a long time. I know now that I wasn’t holding a grudge against God, but a grudge against the people who worshiped Him, because they hardly ever practiced what He preached. But through all the time neglecting His service, I never stopped believing in Him and had always felt (still do) that a higher power was watching me.
This keeps my conscience on high-alert.
By nature I’m a spiritual person. I recently started meditating twice a day. I sit still, cross-legged, on my bedroom floor. I close my eyes and repeat mantras over and over in my head. I do this while fingering yoga beads in my hands. The first time I did this I felt guilty because the beads reminded me of the Rosary. I can’t honestly remember the last time I prayed to the Rosary. I apologized to God that night while assuring Him that He wasn’t being replaced.
This is just something I need to do.I hope the clarity I gain through meditation will help strengthen the absent connection I’ve had with my former religion.
I’ve asked God to give me time. I’m still alive. So I think He’s okay with it.
Photo Courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net