These aren’t collards, but they were picked from my garden yesterday, which feels like pretty good luck for 2012 to me.
Along that line, all of us who have been through the School of Sesame Street can see that there’s something wrong with this to-do list:
Renew car registration
Take the dog to the vet
Get teeth cleaned
Pay the bills
Lose 15 pounds
An intention—to lose 15 pounds, to be less driven, to be more patient with our children—cannot be enacted from the usual way of thinking about our ‘to-dos’. It instead requires a framework constructed of deep values consciously fused to commitment.
What’s so important about losing 15 pounds? Why does patience with your children matter? Who cares if you’re driven or not? Keep peeling away at these questions and somewhere down deep you will find the spark for your intention. Once contacted and given words, this spark blossoms into the matrix of positive thoughts and feelings and clarity that energize the intention, and provide leadership to the subordinate characters within who are responsible to carry out the its necessities. Pass up that chocolate cake? Right away, Boss! Take a deep breath before speaking harshly to your child? Yes, M’am! Take a quiet moment before tackling your email inbox? If you say so…
Prepare to get present to what is most alive in you asking for change, or improvement, or shedding. Then plan to revisit often. Then be surprised by the gradual change in your orientation.
The mother of a friend died yesterday at age 88. She’d been having heart trouble, but was overall doing well for her age. She felt poorly Sunday. Yesterday morning, she just slipped away while her husband of 58 years was in the kitchen eating his breakfast. It’s very sad for her family, but they have a sense that it was good for her to go quickly.
Michael and I talked about it over breakfast. I commented that I think that’s the way I want to go–healthy and involved and active and traveling until I’m 88, then slip away quietly with no fuss (or hospital bill) when my heart is worn out.
Michael disagreed. “I want to have notice, so I can say goodbye,” he explained.
I’ve always thought that was the hidden blessing of cancer. Families know death is coming and can spend quality goodbye time together, making peace and coming to appreciation and generally preparing to part with each other. But what I saw for myself on this sunny spring morning over coffee on the deck, amidst blooming azaleas and busy songbirds, is that I want to live into my relationships so completely that if I were to disappear tomorrow we’d all know we’d lived it up together, as thoroughly as possible.
I don’t know if when my time comes I’ll be any less likely to want quality goodbye time. But the thought landed me in the Present, calling me to life here and now, actively related to the ones I share it with…right up until it’s over.
Spring will be official, regardless of the weather, this Sunday, March 20, 11:21 pm. That’s the Vernal equinox, the moment the sun crosses the line of the celestial equator. It means the sun will rise due east and set due west, and it makes the day and night equal. On paper.
In reality the earth’s atmosphere bends the sun’s rays so we get the light earlier than sunrise and after sunset. Because of this effect, called the equilux, the days and nights are actually equal in length a few days before the Spring equinox and a few days after the Autumn one. That happens for us here in North Carolina today. Today, March 17, light once again catches up with the dark.
What use of the light do you make today?
Here’s a good site to bookmark to help you locate your bearings in all times and astronomical phases: http://www.timeanddate.com/
Spring is upon us. The sap is rising, bursting out in bloom and bud. (Northerners, I promise—she’s headed your way). Participate! Plant a broccoli seedling, or a few spinach seeds.
Here are some good reasons:
1. These vegetable-friends are loaded with nutrients that are anticancer and antiviral and antioxidant. You can spend a lot of money at the health food store to get these qualities in pills. Wouldn’t it be nice to pick them from outside the kitchen door instead?
2. Do something for the earth. OK, imagine standing in front of the produce section choosing your broccoli. That one you have your hand on most likely grew someplace far away…maybe even on another continent…and maybe was produced in a way that is depleting to the environment. It spent a lot of time and energy getting to your store, losing its freshness and using up fossil fuels. (For more on this, see http://michaelpollan.com/) Now imagine stepping outside your kitchen door to pick it so you can eat it *really* fresh. Think of that step as one small push of the pendulum away from the devastation of industrial farming in favor of the planet. How cool is that?
3. Take a couple of seeds on your fingertip. Press them gently into embracing contact with the moist molecules of some soil. Sprinkle with water and watch for the shoots that will become your dinner.
Connect with life! It’s the most antidepressant thing going.
“Thus far, we have managed to restrain Ezra’s intake of sweets to reasonable levels. But there are times when to deny him sugar would just be cruel. Like on his birthday, for instance. He ate his first mini-cupcake and then politely asked Will if he could have another. It’s your birthday, why not? A few minutes later he circled back around to the box for a third and, feeling indulgent, I let him. He popped the whole thing in his mouth at once and reached for another, at which point I drew the line and removed the box from his reach.
Indignant, he threw himself to the ground and wailed at the injustice. Uncle Av tried to point out to him that he had a whole, unchewed cupcake in his mouth, just waiting to be enjoyed. But he didn’t want to hear it. This meltdown and the ensuing oversensitivity about an hour later gave me a fresh appreciation of what people mean when they talk about a sugar crash. I get it now.
This week I’ve noticed myself feeling anxiety that we’re not going to have enough time on our upcoming vacation… That we should have gone in a day early… And wait! What’s this about it taking forever and a day to get out of the city? That means we’re going to have to leave 6 hours earlier than I planned!… We should have planned to stay another day!… I am already bummed out that I’m. Not. Going. To. Get. Enough. And then what will I do? What if I can never get any more?
And then I hear myself thinking about this and I have to remind myself… I still have the cupcake in my mouth. I haven’t even chewed it yet. And I’m already worried about it being gone.
Just chew the cupcake.
That’s our Buddhist teaching of the day.”
I have two large dogs. A central and cherished component of my self-care plan, and my care of each of them, is to take long walks with them daily. In my ideal vision for these outings a passerby would note my dignified and upright carriage and the attention and alertness of the splendid canine traveling at my side at a pace perfectly matched to mine. A particularly astute observer would appreciate the slack leash. Now it needs to be said of my dogs that they are bossy and, well, dogged in the pursuit of their agenda. As a result my ideal is rarely achieved. Over the years I’ve worked on various training and dog-whispering methods, with limited success. By and large our walks are a somewhat chaotic jumble of my pace interrupted by shoulder-jarring lunges to smell and pee, and ear-pounding outbursts of barking at other dogs on the path. Not always a zen experience.
Today I did two 30-minute practices of Awareness of Breath meditation, aka AOB. On the CD, Dr. Jeff Brantley soothingly guides a practice of calming and centering by bringing gentle awareness to the sensation of the breath. When your attention wanders down some path of thought, as it inevitably does, you first congratulate yourself for noticing, and then kindly and cordially invite your attention back to the breath. In so doing you cultivate a non-judging, non-striving, patient attitude. For 60 minutes I observed with bemusement this shuttle of my attention back and forth between my breath and the many interesting thoughts it provoked. And in the end I was calmed by it.
Tonight as my dogs and I set out on our evening ramble under the nearly-full Autumn equinox moon I explained to them that we would be walking together mindfully, at my pace. (This would be informal practice, as distinguished from formal practice, where you aren’t doing anything else at the same time.) Each time the inevitable yank occurred toward some smell or object of irresistible fascination, I kindly and cordially invited the attention of the yanker back to MY pace and attention. “Come on back, boy…good boy…right here by my side…attention on the sensation of our breath (I didn’t know how to translate that concept to dog language but decided with the dogs, it’s the sense of it that counts). I thought of Dr. Brantley’s statement “that’s why we call it ‘training the mind’” and considered this an apt real-world parallel.
I’m gratefully learning that there is no ‘perfect’ meditation of complete quiet focused attention. There will always be thoughts to find a way to be friendly but firm with. That’s just how our walk went tonight. Still the many pulls and yanks, but always a return, which was certainly more supportive of my sense of peace than the usual clash of wills.
I’m not sure what Jon Kabat-Zinn (Full Catastrophe Living and Wherever You Go, There You Are) would say about this dragging of wildly distracted attention back to the breath, but I do hope that if you drive down my street some nice evening it will be at a moment when my dog is striding mindingly– er– mindfully with me at my side.