A woman in one of the mindfulness classes shared her appreciation of a book called, “THE COW IN THE PARKING LOT/A Zen Approach to Overcoming Anger” written by Leonard Scheff and Susan Edmiston. She explained how it got its name: Imagine you live in a rural area with no shopping mall. Recently one was built and there’s a grand opening. You’re in the parking area next to a field and there’s hardly a spot to be found. Finally, you see one, set yourself into position to take the spot, and a cow comes from the nearby meadow, walks into the spot and lies down. You tap on your horn as if to say “that was my spot”. The cow moos but does not move. Perhaps you’re chuckling to yourself. New scenario: You’re back in position to take the empty spot and another driver zips in and takes it. You tap on your horn and the driver gives you the finger. How do you feel now?
With the woman’s accolades about the book, I decided to buy it. I was clear that anger was not one of my issues but thought I might learn something and have it to recommend. Maybe you’re already laughing. I found myself reading the book, enjoying and appreciating a lot, and then came to the area called, “WHAT ARE YOUR BUTTONS?” What came up first was, as a single, older woman living alone, it infuriates me when I can’t open a jar, lift a box to bring it in or adjust the stupid sprinkler. Next was when I’m in a big rush (often), and the driver in front of me is making a left but doesn’t even pull forward when the light turns green. He’s just sitting there, signaling and then the light turns red again. Smoke is coming out of my ears.
So I’m trying to remind myself that I may not be that darn perfect after all.
I recently came across this from one of my journals:
“Remember how you wish to be. Listen. Pause. Don’t jump in. Let the other person’s words echo through the air. Pause.”
As Director of Volunteers for Mid-Fairfield Hospice, I taught listening. The Mindfulness Program I’ve taught for 10 years includes a lesson on listening. One would think that would be enough to practice what I preach. Yet, I can still find it difficult when a compelling story comes to mind. I keep working on it. My sense is the most precious gift we can give each other is our attention.
One of my graduates of the mindfulness program sent me a Ted Talk on Self Compassion by Kristen Neff. Click here to view it.
The need for it feels urgent! Myself included, we are often merciless to ourselves. I am reminded of an experience when I was driving home from Brooklyn. It was torrential rain and nearby trucks were splashing over my windshield. I became aware of how tense I was. My hands were gripping the steering wheel and my shoulders were up near my ears. Remembering the Ted Talk, I said to myself, “You’re doing a great job!” This brought me to tears. I realized that what I say to myself is more important than anyone else’s words.
I’m experiencing mild dizziness now. I found myself doing lots of inner whining, worrying and catastrophizing. Not surprisingly, that didn’t help much.
Then I remembered Pema Chodron saying that her pain has been one of her most profound teachers. I’m doing my best to see this as my healing journey.
Gratefully, I am enjoying my teaching, using humor, hiking every day and loving that crazy dog you see above.
And it does fit under the category I often refer to:
“Another joy of aging!”
Life begins with our first breath in and ends with our first breath out. You can’t get much more crucial than that. When we’re anxious and afraid we breath quickly and shallowly. When we’re comfortable and feeling good, we breathe deeply and slowly. The great thing is that if we can change our breathing; that might be all it takes for us to feel safe and at home in our bodies.
Years ago, I was on a ferry to Montauk that should never have left the dock. A storm was brewing and we were rocking all over the place. One by one, people were getting sick. I stayed out in the fresh air and used every bit of my concentration to do my yoga breathing. It was extremely difficult to sustain but I managed. I made it to Montauk without getting sick but it literally took hours for my body to stop its inner turmoil.
Basic comforting breathing is to sit at ease or lie down and rest your hands on your belly. Feel the belly rise as you breathe in and fall as you breathe out. Just like a balloon, we need to expand on the in breath and deflate on the out breath. Practice often! You’ll be glad you did.
Think about that: Patience Equals Non Aggression. When I first heard it, I could feel it was true. I learned that wisdom from Pema Chodron, one of my favorite Buddhist teachers. And the message came to me when I was not honoring it.
In July, I adopted a dear, sweet and wonderful, young rescue dog, Betty. She’s been fine on the leash when in the neighborhood. However, my favorite hikes are mostly in the woods and there, it has been feeling impossible to teach her not to pull. Betty is so entranced by the smells and sights of nature that I can see no instruction entering her brain. She’s in a kind of LaLa land. After I told her politely, “No Pull”, say 48 times, I began to lose my friendly attitude. My instruction was getting louder, less friendly and clearly cranky. At times I yanked back which was surely not teaching her anything. And then the time I kind of, well, shook her and raised my voice. Pema’s words came back to me so clearly; I knew I needed a new plan. Gratefully, a few days ago, I was finally able to teach her to come back when off leash. Now we’re both pretty happy campers!!
I’ve been walking around for the last few weeks feeling overdue for a good cry. I see how easy it is to get caught in the “stiff upper lip”; “you have so much to be grateful for” or “what’s your problem?” kind of arguments.
But today I had enough. I knew I had to let myself wallow in all the losses that want my attention. So I did. Sitting here at my table I began each sentence with “I’m sad because…” and brought up all the disappointments, grief, worries and heartbreaks I could think of. Some were very old and some quite new. I cried easily and my dog began to wonder about me but I kept on. I’m feeling better now and have a sense of honoring my wholeness.
As I “published” this blog entry and reviewed it, I was deeply struck by today’s date even though it was brought to my attention earlier.
I always thought it was just me. But I remember taking my first yoga class and my wonderful teacher, Marleen, was speaking of the self critical thoughts that plague us all. I felt so relieved; I wasn’t the only one.
Since then, as I’ve gotten more into mindfulness, I can sometimes even laugh at the ridiculous things my mind is telling me.
My students love the story I tell about when I had a new client to my house for a private mindfulness session. I had no heat so the fireplace was ablaze. While he was here, I realized I needed to keep tending the fire and began to second guess myself about whether I should have cancelled instead. After he left, my mind kept going over the story about what a bad choice that was and I’d probably never see him again (he was my client for years after that). And I can see myself at the top of the stairs after my mind was pretty quiet for a while. It started gearing up and was about to start that dumb story again. So I said out loud: “I HEARD YOU!” Then I laughed and the story was done.
Here’s a wonderful little video about the benefits of meditation:
When we’re new to meditation we all think we’re doing it wrong. “My mind won’t get quiet.” “I can’t push my thoughts away.” “I have a loud brain; this won’t work for me.” “I’m supposed to get peaceful and compassionate.”
Pema Chodron, a beloved Buddhist nun, says that when we see a group sitting in meditation, we think everyone is in lala land, peaceful and mellow. If only there were “thought balloons” above their heads, we’d be in hysterics.
The instruction is simple. Focus on your object of awareness (breath, body, sounds, etc.) and when your mind wanders away, bring it back. That’s it. AND YOUR MIND WILL WANDER AWAY. Don’t be discouraged; it’s true for all of us. Bringing it back is the practice.
Chris is a lovely gentleman in the current mindfulness program. He seemed to take to the meditation readily.
Here’s the story he shared with us: A client called in to report that he had changed his mind about the money he had promised to lend. Chris was furious but said to himself: “Don’t say anything you’ll regret. No ‘F’ or ‘S’ words!” But he did feel it was necessary to inform the client that he was quite disappointed in this decision.
When the call ended Chris sat down and typed out an email to the client. Before pressing “send” he showed the letter to a colleague. The staff member responded, “Whoa! What do you think he’s going to feel when he gets this!?!” Chris decided to use the 24 hour rule and not send the email just yet.
The following morning the client called Chris and said, “You were right and I changed my mind. I will make the loan after all.”