Present Tense

Mindfulness vs. Restlessness….

I haven’t posted for a couple of weeks.  I apologize; I’ve been ‘working on myself’.  Okay, not exactly.   I just didn’t have anything to say, until now.

I’ve been trying to incorporate meditation into my daily routine, hoping to find something to calm my fretful mind.  It’s a practice that I’ve tried to get into for years, but have never really been able to stick with it.  This time I seem to be getting the hang of it, with the help of some guided meditation podcasts that I found on itunes.

The idea is to sit quietly and clear one’s mind of all of the clutter, chatter, junk, worries, etc. that can keep us from achieving focus and clarity.  I was having  a bit of success and feeling much calmer and more focused, until I decided to begin a mindfulness meditation instruction podcast that was offered in 6 segments.  The class is taught by a wonderful, patient man who was or is, a Buddhist monk.

So, I’m sitting with my Ipod all fired up, listening to him welcome the class and explain who he is (this is a live recording of the actual class).  He’s going through a quick overview of the benefits and goals of mindful meditation.  Okay, I’ll admit that I got a little impatient and fast forwarded to the good stuff, like how to do it.  Here’s where it got sticky for me: all of the rules!

Sit on the floor on a cushion.  Check.  But, I’m not quite flexible enough to sit cross-legged, with my knees touching the ground.  Straighten your spine. Check.  But, I can only do that for a short time, before I slump.  Try kneeling  and sitting back on your ankles.  OUCH!  Ankles hurt!  You can sit in a chair, but you must be on the edge, with your thighs parallel to the floor and NO sitting back against the back of the chair.  Geez, okay.  Place your hands on your thighs, but DON’T pull your shoulders forward.  Check.  Hands carefully placed, on my thighs, which are parallel to the floor, on the edge of my seat.

Okay.  I’ve found my official meditating ‘posture’ as he called it.  So, now we get to the good stuff that will actually lead me to enlightenment.  I learn that once you’re settled, close your eyes and breathe. Well, I’m an expert at that!  I’ve been breathing for about 50 years, now.  However, I find that once you start paying attention to your breath, you start to kind of, well, panic. ” Am I breathing too fast? Too slow?  Too shallow?  Wow, what’s with my chest tightening up? Am I doing this right?  I thought this was supposed to be relaxing!  I think I’m hyper-ventilating……plus, I’m slumping.  Crap!”

And on it went for what seemed like hours, but was really only about 20 minutes.  My serene instructor then spoke for a little bit and opened it up to questions from the assembled serene wanna-be’s.

“I couldn’t get comfortable.”  “I was slumping”.  “How fast should I breathe?” “I could hear cars outside”.  “I think I ate too much before class, because I almost fell asleep”.   “How long should I meditate?” and on and on.  Apparently, my issues were their issues, which was comforting to me.

We all had something in common:  our restless minds and bodies.  Which is why we were all gathered, either live or via podcast, to learn from this man.  Buddhism teaches that we ALL suffer from this restlessness and dissatisfaction to a certain extent and that meditation is one practice that can settle the mind a bit.   However, one certainly doesn’t have to follow the teachings of Buddha to get something out of meditation; I know PLENTY of agitated people who might want to check out the websites below.

I will say that the second time I listened, the meditation went much more smoothly.  It’s like the first time you watch an exercise or yoga DVD and you can’t quite keep up, but  by the second and third viewing, you’re a pro.

If you’re interested, search for “zencast meditation” on itunes or check out their website here.

March 28, 2010 Posted by | Musings | , , | 10 Comments

Taming the ‘inner smart ass”

I struggle with my ‘inner smart ass”.  She lives very comfortably in the attic of my psyche and has been known to escape for hours at time, mostly weekdays from 5-9:30 a.m. when I’m on the radio.  She’s snarky and always on the lookout for a cheap shot at some unsuspecting person, who happens to wander into her path.  She will gladly deliver a drive-by beat down and go merrily on her way, leaving me to deal with the guilt and bad feelings she leaves in her wake.   She has no conscience; that’s left to the rest of my personality to deal with and with the help of a good therapist and lots of introspection, I’m making some progress.

Oh, I know that my ‘sense of humor’ is a big, fat defensive mechanism developed at some point in my childhood.  Who knows when, why or how, but it became bigger and nastier, like an aggressive tumor over the years.  It didn’t help to be voted class clown in high school; after that I HAD to be funny.  So, that’s me:  ‘the funny one’.  You may have been ‘the smart one’ or ‘the pretty one’ or ‘the slow one’ or ‘the prissy one’ or ‘the mean one’ or ‘the popular one’, etc.   Here’s the thing: I’ll bet you still are, and it injects itself into your thoughts, behavior and self-image.  I tend to do what’s expected of me as ‘the funny one’.  Sometimes, it can be a lot of pressure and I may find myself saying something that I KNOW will result in pain for me  and whoever gets caught in the blowback from my ‘humor’.

I’m reading a book by a Buddhist nun, named Pema Chodron (oh, I’m a barrel of laughs, alright) and in her book, “Taking the Leap”, she suggests that when you feel yourself falling into those lifelong habits, stop and take 3 breaths.  For me, when I have the desire to say or write a smart ass comment, that is mean and I’ll regret, I must stop and breeeeeaaaaaaathe before I blurt.  Holy crap, is it hard!  I dare you to try it.  Maybe your problem is that you CAN’T SAY NO, for fear that you’ll be perceived as negative or uncooperative or whatever.  You are ‘the helpful one’.  Before you agree to shuttle 16 kids to the movies, when you had other plans (like some ice cream on the couch), stop, take the 3 breaths and THEN give your reply.

Who we might think we are, isn’t necessarily who we always have to be.  Most of us are comfortable in the cocoon we’ve lived in for years and years.  Having said that, I will never lose my sense of humor, but I am trying to lean toward funny and witty, rather than bitchy and mocking.  A little fine-tuning is in order, rather than attempting a wholesale personality transformation. The point is that many of us default into who we and others think we are, or who we have always been and if that is causing pain or angst for you, maybe it’s time to tweak your internal barometer.   BREEEEEAAAAATHE!

March 14, 2010 Posted by | Musings | , , | 5 Comments

Choosing my religion……

I’m not a religious person, although I think that I might like to be. That is why I’ve been doing a lot of reading and studying, primarily about Christianity and Buddhism.  I’m exploring and asking questions of the people I know and I’m a little confused when I hear “I’m not religious, but I’m very spiritual”.  What?  So, basically, you can’t quite make up your mind?  I used to smoke a lot of pot back in my wild youth and it was certainly a ‘spiritual’ experience to sit in a beanbag chair, listening to Pink Floyd in the dark.  Wooooooowwwwwwww…….

If I’ve offended any of you ‘not religious, but spiritual’ types,  I hope you’ll forgive me.  I know that when I offend my Christian friends, they’re pretty forgiving; in fact, to all of my Christian friends, thank you for your patience with me.  I don’t really have any Buddhist friends (yet), but from what I’ve read, I suspect they would calmly tell me to quit striving, let go and accept that we all suffer together. Either way is cool with me.

I wasn’t raised with much of a religious education or background, although within my nuclear family we have a Catholic, an evangelical, a Baptist, a former Presbyterian and me, adrift and shopping.  Oh, yeah;  my husband and I were married in the Greek Orthodox Church.  So, when the urge to explore religion hit me recently, I automatically turned to Christianity with a touch of Judaism tossed in, thanks to the Old Testament.  I read a “bible for dummies” book to help me along, since I’m sadly ignorant when it comes to The Bible.  I also read some historical explorations about the stories in The Bible, along with archeological studies of  places mentioned in the Old Testament and it was really interesting.  I am hardly a biblical scholar, but now that I’ve read it, I do feel as if I have some idea what it’s all about.  I will be the first to admit that I need many more hours of study and guidance, before I can opine with even the tiniest bit of credibility about Christianity.

As I was browsing the religious section at the library recently, I came across the books about other religions and a powerful realization hit me:  I am a religious free agent.  Just because I live in a predominantly Judeo-Christian culture, doesn’t mean that’s what I have to be.  I know a bit more about Christianity thanks to growing up here and taking part in the religious holidays, although mostly from a secular perspective, but I’m really kind of a clean slate when it comes to religious beliefs.  I’m all grown up and I can read and study and pick the religion that speaks to me, personally.  That awakening was spectacularly powerful to me; I’ve always tried to embrace Christianity, but have never really ‘felt’ it like my friends or family who are devoted to Christ.

I’ve read several books about Buddhism and want to explore it further.  Buddhism does not worship God or a creator and one could make the argument that it’s more of a philosophy or spiritual practice, than a religion.  This means that before I even get very far in my quest, I’m already a religious hypocrite.  See above:  “not religious, but spiritual”.  It’s starting to dawn on me that this whole faith thing is harder than it looks!

So, I guess my question is this:  Do we choose our religion or does it choose us? My theory is that we gravitate toward the one that is most prevalent in our culture, but I would love to hear your thoughts as I continue my personal wrestling match with faith, religion, and spirituality.

March 6, 2010 Posted by | Musings | , , , | 37 Comments


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