Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Ensnared By Inner Noise

Last week I was away for a week of solitude in the wilderness. As I sat on the dock watching the reflection of the full moon on the still dark waters of the lake, I sat in the centre of a deep abiding quiet.

And then I came home. But it wasn't the noise of the city that took me by surprise. It was the inner noise that made me want to get back in the car and head north again. I was dismayed to feel my mental hamsters back in their caged wheels, racing away. While I read and replied to accumulated emails, my mind was simultaneously muttering about what else needed to be done- there were bills to be paid, appointments to be set, laundry to do, phone calls to be made. . .

It wasn’t that the list of things to do was particularly pressing- it was that my inner chatter was continually revving me up. I felt like I was getting further and further behind as the day proceeded.

Finally I asked, “What is going on?” Following my breath, I deliberately switched from cranky to curious. Yes, there were things to be done- when is that not true?- but how had I gotten so scattered so quickly? Just two days earlier I’d been writing and reading at the cabin, feeling productive but not driven, capable of making choices about what to do next.

This wasn’t simply a matter of inner noise matching the speed and volume of the outer world. I had not just lost the quiet- I had lost my sense of choice. The long and banal to-do list had somehow become the tail wagging the dog. How had that happened?

As I sat following my breath, I became aware of what almost felt like a physical hook embedded in the centre of my body, in my gut. When I softened around this hook with genuine curiosity, I discovered endless barbs of mental “shoulds.” I should read and answer every email request today; I should get all household admin stuff done before I returned to the writing I want to do; I should participate more on Facebook and check in with friends and family because I have been away. . . .

And beneath these small nattering shoulds were bigger lies about needing to earn or pay for the blessing of a week away in the wilderness, lies about unworthiness when the truth is that life is a gift to be received and appreciated not paid for, and we are all worthy be virtue of being.

The weight of semi-conscious shoulds can crush us, drive us, rob us of choice and joy. If we are feeling rushed, pushed, overwhelmed or driven- we can pretty much assume that the shoulds are leading the charge within. Just taking a moment to bring them to consciousness allowed me to say,”No thanks,” to turn the computer off and go for a slow walk around the neighbourhood before I headed to bed with a good book.

Free will choice is directly proportional to consciousness. We cannot have real choices unless we bring to awareness the unconscious beliefs and fears that often shape and colour our actions. If we can bring some gentle curiosity to those moment when we feel out of control, when we wonder how it got so noisy and busy in our inner world, we can deepen and broaden our ability to chose how to live this precious life we have been given.

Oriah © 2013

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Glimpses of Reality

(Deepest apologies dear blog friends. I was away on retreat last week but had set this blog up to post on Wed. but apparently my techno skills are lacking and it was not posted.)

 One day last week as I did my mediation practise something happened. Oh, it started off like every other morning. After my prayers, I do ten minute of alternate nostril breathing (a method that calms and resets the nervous system) and then move into twenty minutes of just following the breath, allowing thoughts to drift past. I do this twice a day, having discovered that that serves my particular body-mind-heart-spirit better than a longer once a day meditation.

Of course, no meditation is uneventful. Some days monkey mind runs rampant, reviewing the past and planning the future, list making, obsessing about old grievances or new worries, hoping, wishing, critiquing, questioning. . .  and I have to gently bring my attention back to my breath over and over.

And then there are days, moments, breaths that are soaked in grace when I live exclusively inside the sensation of being filled and emptied, when my attention is anchored in the breath. I think of this as dropping down into an inner silence, a deep well of stillness although I am aware of the movement of my body as it expands and lifts and then drops with each inhale and exhale. It is paradoxical that there is this movement at the centre of the stillness- or perhaps this stillness at the centre of the movement.

But this morning, sitting in the centre of the flow of the breath, I noticed something else. I noticed that there was another movement beneath the breath- the movement caused by the beating of my heart. Subtle but constant I could feel the soft pulsing of my heart gently moving my spine, reverberating throughout my entire body. And so there were two movements: of the breath and of the heartbeat.  Beneath this, I could sense smaller, gentler pulses- movements of fluid in the body, electromagnetic pulses of the nervous system. . .  And slowly all of these pulses, although separate, came into alignment with the powerful heart pulse.

And then. . . . there was something larger, deeper. . . . a pulse that was both within me and yet larger than myself, a pulse that was running through the earth beneath me, the trees outside my window, the air around me. I felt it more than heard it and slowly. . . . my heart beat came into alignment with this larger pulse that seemed to hold all that is. 

I sat there within the awareness of this great holy pulse without thought for what seemed simultaneously like forever and as if for a nanosecond. Time felt meaningless in this place. There were no thoughts, until I thought, “Wow, that was great!” and was once again aware of a particular inhale and exhale, of the cushion beneath me and the sound of dogs barking in the park.

There was a time when I would have berated myself for allowing thought to pull me out of this experience of the great pulse of Being, of Life. But this morning I threw back my head and laughed out loud. I have come to see the human life we are given- the one with physical limits and runaway thoughts and infinite sensations- as a gift to be embraced and not a trial to be endured. And I am filled with gratitude for both this life and for the glimpses into something I cannot name that creates all of what is in every instance, holding us, sustaining us and, by grace, giving us glimpses of another level of this reality we are.

Just as the strong pulse of my heart brings the other smaller pulses of my body into alignment, I sense (sometimes know or believe and, at moments, hope) that this larger pulse that is the heartbeat of the Sacred Wholeness that includes it all, can pull us into alignment with it if we are willing. And from that place of alignment perhaps we can find our way into living sustainably on this magnificent planet.

Oriah (c) 2013

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

"Achieving" Dreams

Last week someone sent me an interview question that left me staring blankly at the computer screen. They asked: "What's the biggest, most personally fulfilling dream you've achieved to date?"

It's not that I've never wanted to achieve things- I have and I do. I want to finish writing a book in the next ten months, spend some time in the wilderness this fall, get to bed by nine tonight.

Do I dream of bigger things? Well, I hope my writing contributes to the world- but I am aware that that dream can be fulfilled by touching one person or offering something that thousands feel is useful. I can't make either happen and I'm not at all sure that one is "better" than the other except perhaps in its capacity to pay my rent. Not that rent paying is unimportant, just that I'm not sure it is an "achievement." Furthermore, I can't really know where or with whom my writing may be helpful. I write mostly for myself and for the love of writing.

The "achievement" is in getting words onto the page, enough to fill a book that hangs together in a kind of wholeness and points to something that is true. This was and continues to be my dream, and I want to do it again and again- deepening, opening, allowing more and more to come onto the page. I did not dream of having a best selling book, and although I am deeply grateful for the opportunities this has brought, I don't think of it as an achievement as much as a blessing, a gift. Let's face it- there are many truly good books that do not sell (and a few stinkers that do.)

Perhaps my problem with the question is that my "dreams" are more about process than product, and I associate achievement with the latter. To-do list in hand, I can be as goal-oriented as the next person, but mostly I am focused on learning. Wanting to learn, I taught- creative writing, shamanic ceremonies, meditation- so I would have company on the road of exploration. I'm a good teacher mostly because I am excited to be learning in the process.

I could not have dreamt of the two wonderful men who are my sons and all that they have taught me about life and love and healing. They are gifts of grace in my life. My parenting was less an achievement than a close call with my own unhealed, unconscious self. That they turned out to be magnificent human beings is more testament to their spirits than my parenting.

None of this is false modesty. Truly. It's just that my use of the word achievement would be applied to things I doubt the interviewer would consider dream-worthy. Like, this week I did my practise of prayer and mediation each day before I did anything else. This is an achievement, something that deepens my awareness and lets me take care of my own life and the world to the best of my ability. It's the piece I can do something about. It's a one-day-at-a-time kind of achievement, difficult to see from the outside and unlikely to garner standing ovations.

I do have bigger dreams. I dream of continuing to find and practice what heals us and helps us heal the world together. These dreams aren't achieved as much as they are stirred by flashes of insight, awakened by moments of compassion, supported by a mysterious and sacred Presence within and around us. It's not that work is not involved, but mostly it's about getting out of the way so grace has a chance to touch and work through me.

And maybe that is the core of my dreams for my life: to be able to step out of the way and allow the words to flow onto the page, to let the practice bring me to stillness, to willingly follow the guiding hand of grace. But truly, these aren't dreams that are achieved as much as they are welcomed when they visit and leave me filled with awe and gratitude.

Oriah (c) 2013

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Out Of Control

Since I was in my late twenties a circle of thirteen old women I call the Grandmothers have appeared in my night dreams. Sometimes, they enter my dreams through what I call "commercial breaks"- short breaks in the flow of an otherwise movie-like dream that momentarily interrupts the story to make a seemingly unrelated and often short, pithy statement.

One night the short repeated message was: "The desire to control is a natural human response to fear."

There are infinite ways to move into unhealthy controlling behaviour. Steering your car and regulating your speed to suit road conditions are healthy actions intended to keep your vehicle under control. Reworking your household budget daily, telling other adults what they should be doing in their personal lives (particularly when they have not asked for advice,) repeatedly saying you will do something and then not doing it in an effort to exert power over another are just three examples of the infinite unhealthy controlling behaviours we can come up with. (We humans are very creative.)

It's not too hard to see how fear could be the motive behind controlling behaviour. The tricky part is that there isn't always a direct or obvious relationship between what we are afraid of and what we are trying to control. Worried about my finances I may contribute too much "wisdom" to my friend's relationship situation. Fearing for a loved one's safety we may find ourselves organizing paper clips or monitoring our own or another's food meticulously. The anxiety felt can be channelled into relatively unrelated attempts to get some aspect of life under control in a usually unconscious effort to lower our anxiety. And really- sometimes, it's okay. Organizing paper clips is not likely to do any harm.

But the point of the Grandmothers statement is to help us release judgement when we notice that we or another is moving into controlling behaviour and remember that this is probably masking fear and anxiety. Knowing this, we can respond differently. Telling someone to" stop organizing the paper clips and sit down and relax" is not likely to be very effective or welcome. Inviting them to take a walk or sit down for tea might help.

Certainly when we notice our own controlling behaviour, it's time to ask ourselves: What am I afraid of? What is creating anxiety for me? Is there a way to be with that anxiety or fear, or a way to skilfully distract myself in this moment? (Because sometimes compulsively controlling behaviour just ratchets up the anxiety so putting the paper clips down really is a good idea.)

The Grandmothers are never judgemental. When they offer me something like this it is said in a truly compassionate tone. It's just one of the many facts of being human: when we are frightened we sometimes move into (largely ineffective, often unconscious and frequently annoying) controlling behaviour.

It doesn't mean that we have to always stick around when someone else is highly controlling (particularly if they do it habitually and are invasive) but it does mean that as we take ourselves out of range we can hold them in our hearts, knowing that they are most likely in the grip of unconscious fear.

It helps. It helps me to be more compassionate with myself and others, and that compassion often allows me or the other to see what is happening and make a choice to stop, to let the anxiety catch up with us so we can hold it tenderly and sooth the frantic voice of fear. And what a relief that can be, to stop frantically trying to get control of something, to accept there are things we cannot control and learn how to be with even this.

Oriah (c) 2013