Broccoli

They tell you to eat broccoli because “broccoli is good for you” because they think they know because someone told them because they read it in a book. But, maybe it’s not good for You. Maybe it’s good for them. Maybe for you it makes you feel as though you ate a rubber tire that won’t stop turning when it reaches your belly. Maybe for you peanut butter on pita is what you need (even though there’s no vitamin A). Maybe you need to hurt and toil many times to heal the wounds and actions of a million lifetimes before. Maybe pain is your way to truth. We all long to be swallowed by love. In that, there is no difference. How we arrive, stripped bare, unashamed of our imperfections – for each this path is different. And don’t be mistaken. Never think for a moment that what you see is all that there is. When the man orders his pastrami on rye and the man behind the counter makes it, a hundred songs are song, if you are really listening. When the woman who drives your bus calls out your stop, listen to the timber of her voice. You will hear a symphony in what she doesn’t say. There is a gentle sorrow in all of us. Now is now and can’t be held. It whispers gently, inviting us to be here. With this person. This sidewalk crack. Don’t doubt; especially don’t doubt the doubt. It’s all here to cradle us in the way we need in order to drop that which we aren’t. Walk your path the way your feet want to take you. It’s better to fall into ditches striving for truth than to stay in your cave eating a bowl of steamed broccoli that you don’t even like.

“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” – Carl Jung

Emptiness and Facebook

The Buddhist concept of Emptiness is a tricky concept to grasp. It doesn’t mean that things are empty. It means, rather, that things are empty from their own side. Our labels, presuppositions, feelings and stories are what bring anything meaning.

In other words, everything is how you look at it. Literally.

For instance, I am often overwhelmed by and don’t like Facebook. I argue that at times it cheapens communication, diminishes our attention span and reduces true and thoughtful conversation to trite and convenient contact. It borders on the absurd at times. Post after post displaying such varying degrees of content: In sixty seconds one will read about a friend’s new pregnancy, a strip club bachelor party, a kick starter campaign, political rant, and see a photo of someone’s first attempt at home made lasagna. I mean, really, it’s your call. It is the perfect display of emptiness, for it reflects back to us on the screen how people are viewing their world.

On the upside, however, Facebook has recently gotten me in touch with a dear, long lost friend, helped me find a job for a friend, and has been a successful marketing tool for my yoga teaching, writing and acting pursuits.

And this weekend, it really won me over.

I messaged a friend if she had any leads to teaching yoga to the elderly, a population that melts my heart.

She posted my request on her wall and within 24 hours I received many, many leads in the NYC area.

The elderly have worked hard, been through heart break, love, loss. They know letting go more than we could imagine. These are the people we can learn so much from and should respect the most, but we seem to value the least. In our young, fast airbrushed culture, they are often ignored.

And, they seldom receive touch. Touch is important. This is something a yoga teacher can bring.

The next time you are waiting in line at a bus stop, or see an old person eating alone, ask how they’re doing. They may swat their hand at you in impatience. Or they, may smile and invite you to sit with them.

I subbed a yoga class for an “over sixty” group and after the class was over, a woman came up to me and said, “Thank you for treating us like people.”

The world, from this perspective, comes not at us, but from us.

 

* If you’re interested, a simple, well-written piece about Emptiness:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lewis-richmond/emptiness-most-misunderstood-word-in-buddhism_b_2769189.html

 

 

 

Why we should meditate

“The meditator develops new paths of insight through direct communication with reality of the phenomenal world. He is able to see not only the absence of complexity, the absence of duality, but the stoneness of stone and that waterness of water. He sees things precisely as they are, not merely in the physical sense, but with awareness of their spiritual significance. Everything he sees is an expression of spiritual discovery. Whatever the situation, he no longer has to force results. Life flows around him. This is the basic mandala principle. The madala is generally depicted as a circle which revolves around a center, which signifies that everything around you becomes part of your awareness, the whole sphere expressing the vivid of life. The only way to experience things truly, fully, and properly is through the practice of meditation, creating a direct link with nature, with life, with all situations. When we speak of being highly developed spiritually, this does not mean that we float in the air. IN fact, the higher we go, the more we come down to earth. It is important to remember that the practice of meditation begins with the penetration of the neurotic thought pattern which is the fringe of ego. As we proceed further, e see through not only the complexity of thought processes but also the heavy “meaningfulness” of concepts expressed in names and theories. Then at last we create some space between this and that, which liberates us tremendously.”

- from “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism” by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

What I love about this (and what I loved when I discovered meditation) is that actually, freedom is anti-climatic. Freedom and peace are letting go of the constant attempts to solidify ourselves. With stories. With lovers. With beliefs. With agendas. With views of “why I’m right.” Initially, we adopt all these tactics to protect ourselves. Some therapists say we learn these self defending behaviors before we can speak. But, what exactly are we protecting? Ego.

Ego is the construct of who we think we are. It’s compromised of layers of ideas, names and definitions. Thoughts.

Here’s the rub:  If we make the villain the ego, then we still haven’t gotten it. The ego is what it is. Instead, we can learn to watch it in meditation. We can learn to notice and maybe even laugh at the stories, fantasies and fears it concocts.

In meditation, we learn that the constant, never-ending, rushing, discursive chatter, is, in fact, just that. But, how we love to slide around in that warm, slippery mud of thought, thought, thought. Thoughts fuel emotion and oh don’t we love drama?

What I’ve come to learn is that drama, the real kind, comes anyway. People leave us, get sick, die. We see suffering of such great magnitude around us everyday.

Finding peace in ourselves, we will find peace in the world.

For everything we see is a projection of how we see ourselves.

Awareness is everything. We come to realize that the treasure isn’t found “when I get there.” The treasure is found now.

Jung said, “Enlightenment is not imagining figures of light but making the darkness conscious.”

Let us look inside.

* The Shambhala Center (Chelsea) is an amazing resource offering free meditation classes. My particular favorites are the weekly Tuesday night dharma gathering with a talk given by different Buddhist scholars. http://ny.shambhala.org/

* The Interdependence Project (lower east side) is full of awesome classes, guest speakers, etc: http://theidproject.org/

Fear of Death

We are all broken.

We are taught to never show our broken parts, though. Taught that we are not loveable if we reveal too much. It is often ourselves who love ourselves the least.

We can hurt only for so long in our brokenness. Before we must find a new way.

I suffer from anxiety and depression. I’m not “supposed” to, because I’m a yoga teacher. But, I do. For a long time I’ve felt like a fraud. A hypocrite. How dare I preach things I have not yet mastered? But, I’m growing to realize that it is BECAUSE of my wounds and imperfections, that I’m a good teacher. That the spiritual and psychological lessons I teach spring from the deepest parts of me; parts that intellect and cerebral understanding can’t touch.

When I step into a room to teach, my voice gets quiet and grounded. I know if emotional tides can take me so swiftly, they must take my students quickly, too. I start with breathing and often a silent meditation, because I know silence heals. That there is power in less. That through trusting and listening more and surrendering our need to defend, we start to integrate and become whole. That from sitting with whatever arises in the meditation, we cultivate self-acceptance and feel God within. It is this that will bring us peace and nothing else.

I teach what I need to learn. I think all good teachers do.

There’s a Rumi quote I love: “The wound is the place The Light enters you.”

Perhaps we never master depression and anxiety. Perhaps instead we learn to have compassion for the fluctuating ebbs and flows. Have compassion for the fact that it is all so fleeting. What can possibly cause more ache than knowing we are here so temporarily? That everything we love is not guaranteed to be here tomorrow?

The ego loves to battle. To win, fight and defend. But, time is one thing that cannot be won. It won’t be tied down and thrown to the floor.

In the ancient Upanishads, we are told that humans have five afflictions, or “sorrows” known as kleshas. They are:

1. avidya – ignorance

2. asmita – sense of individuality

3. Raga – passion

4. Dvesha – hatred

5. Abhinivesa- clinging to life, or fear of death

One day this heart will no longer beat, this breath will stop.

Perhaps we can stop clinging to life with ego and start getting in touch with that which does not die within?

Stop wishing we were different and instead, let go.

Pain

Our pain is our gift. If we don’t run, it will transform us. Because of pain, we seek. Because of pain, we find.

The Profile of her Face

I saw the back of her neck, first. And then just a brushstroke of her face. Her profile.

She stood in front of me in Starbucks this morning. (The one on Columbus and 66th Street, where skinny, manicured white people walk in with Hermes bags over their shoulders, holding the ever present identifier of the rich and important: blackberrys).

By contrast, she wore a wrinkled, linen skirt. I loved that it was wrinkled. Her light blue tank top was covered with pink rose buds. The profile of her face revealed an unplucked, full and uneven brow. When I saw that brow, I started to remember. Tiny white flower earrings adorned her ears. Here was a woman who did not exist on salad alone. Among all the shiny, unreal-looking toe nails, hers were unpainted.

Quicker than time, she caused a memory to flood me; one I didn’t know I’d forgotten: Being in the car with my parents, age 11, seeing white sheets blow on a clothesline in a town whose name wasn’t even on the map. My dog, who’d just jumped in the river, wet, sat in my lap in the back seat of the car, her tongue sticking out. I wore jean shorts and a polka dot bathing suit.

My father loved to drive my mother and I to different towns when I was a kid living in upstate New York. We’d get in the car, not knowing where we were going. We just drove. We stumbled upon wrap-around porches with people rocking, sipping ice tea, old covered bridges, teenagers swinging on tire swings, ice cream stands run by families who we laughed with and traded stories.

At that time, I did not not know that people plucked their eyebrows or got manicures. Did not know what botox was. My mother’s daily moisturizer was 99cent vaseline from the dollar store.

I loved these drives where we rolled down the windows and let the summer in. Where my father sang Louis Armstrong tunes and reached back to tickle me. Turned my mother’s face towards his to kiss him.

But, of course, I couldn’t wait to “get to New York City.”

And I did. I’ve been here fourteen years. I now stop and pause at the beauty of what is not airbrushed.

The wisps of her imperfect ponytail framing her neck this morning reminded me.

The “prey of memory”

I have my coat on. Three bags on my shoulders. Note to Self: Don’t forget to stop at the Post Office for stamps. I reach for my keys, when something tells me to call my mother. I don’t want to call, but I now know that scream inside a whisper that won’t be ignored.

I pick up the phone and dial.

A strange voice I don’t recognize answers.

“Hello, I’m looking for Shaunna.”

“This is Shaunna.”

“Mom, it’s me. You don’t sound like yourself. I didn’t recognize your voice.”

“That’s because I’m not myself. Don’t hang up, Rachel. Don’t hang up!” she screams into the telephone.

“What’s the matter?”

“Everything’s the matter. Everything. They’re putting me downstairs.”

The dreaded downstairs. The Dementia unit.

“Who told you that?” I ask. I am never sure if she speaks the truth or if it’s her paranoia.

“That lady! That big lady. You know..oh what’s her name?”

“Carol?”

“Yes, Carol. And that other lady. G-something. They told me I have to go downstairs. Everyone is treating me different now. Nathan used to be my friend, but he is making fun of me now because of my fingers.”

She sounds like 5-year old child.

“What’s wrong with your fingers?” I ask, bracing myself for the response which I don’t get, because she starts screaming instead.

“I can’t see the table! I can’t see it. Oh, God what is happening to me?” she yells to no one in particular.

I sit there on my wooden chair in my coat silent. Because from where I sit on 196th and Broadway I can do nothing to help my mother facing Alzherimer’s at her assisted living home in central Jersey. I am met again by helplessness. I must instead  hold the space. Be silent. Bear it.

“Rachel, nobody wants me here. Antonia today told me I am too much maintenance.”

Antonia is one of the aides.

Of course, I know this. I’ve just picked my mom up from a week stay at a psychiatric hospital where doctors have tried different meds for her screaming and sobbing episodes and the perpetual panic she lives in. She can do nothing by herself. I must move her to a nursing home at 63. I’ve already started looking and calling. Have started filling out the applications.

“I have to go.” she tells me.

“Mom, listen to me. You are beautiful and brave and don’t pay anybody any attention to whoever makes fun of you.  You are perfect and you just need more help and I’m helping you get it. Do you hear me?” I ask her.

“I have to go!” she screams at me.

“Ok, Mom. I love you. I’ll call you tonight.”

“Wait, what are you doing?!” she screams again.

“I’m hanging up, Mom.”

“No! Why? Why are you hanging up on me? Can’t you stay on the phone with me for a bit longer?” my chid-mother pleads.

“Mother, you just told me you have to go.”

“I did?”

“Yes.. I love you. You are fine.”

I hear her call out to what to her must be an abyss, “Hello! Is anybody here? Can anybody help me find the table? Where am I?”

Then my phone goes to dial tone.

I continue to sit.

I feel the same bulldozer knock me to the ground.

I pray for her peace and when I finish praying I leave my apartment and walk to the A train. From time to time I open my eyes which drift over the other faces. I wonder silently how many others carry the pain that nobody will ever see.

Rilke is in my purse. I pull him out when I get to the coffee shop I write at because on mornings like this, only the sad, wise, dead poets can comfort me. I open randomly to a page:

“Yet, watchful and warmblooded as they are, those animals know all the weight, the sadness, of a heavy heart. For, just like us, they are the prey of memory…as if all we strive for now had, once upon a time, been closer and more intimately ours: more faithful to us. As if all things now abandoned us-which once lived close as breath. To any who have known a better World, our own feels windswept and ambivalent.”

Rilke speaks of what I don’t want to admit. That it’s my mother’s memory that is causing her anxiety. The memory of when she could write a sentence. Stand up by herself. Teach a classroom of college freshman. Reading him, I’m reminded the monstrosity of her panic will diminish when she can no longer remember anything. That in some ways, this will be a gift. And that she will love me, no matter that she doesn’t know me some day because we love not from our neurons but from the deepest places memory cannot touch.

Rilke closes his Eighth Elegy with,

“All overwhelms us. We set all in order, All falls apart. We order it once more and fall, collapse, disintegrate ourselves. How were we first persuaded to perform our every act as though it were our last? As one might halt upon the last high ground, which shows him his own valley one last time, and turn; and linger; and hang back..so we dwell here, forever taking leave.”



Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 49 other followers