Enjoy the silence

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Yesterday I went to my third-ever all day meditation retreat. I have to admit, I was little anxious about going a few days before I went. And if I was being really honest with myself, I was a little cranky about going. The thought of spending an entire day doing nothing but sitting and breathing and not talking to anyone sounded excruciatingly boring. I could think of a million other things I wanted to do. I could think of a million things I probably should otherwise be doing on one of my days of the weekend.

But I went because I knew that I needed to go.

I practice Buddhism in the Sōtō Zen tradition, which focuses on zazen (sitting meditation). And this is what we did for most of the day. We sat for 20 minutes, and then we would do something else to break up the zazen, like walking meditation, or work practice (cleaning, gardening, etc). We had a formal lunch, and we even did a form of meditation called Mondo (which is really cool). These extra things broke up the day in-between periods of sitting. We were not to speak to each other the entire day unless it was to give very brief instructions during the periods between zazen.

It seems weird to not talk to other people, almost rude actually. However, once you are in this kind of setting you realize that you can communicate with other beings without words. No I don’t mean telepathic mind-meld. I am just saying that words are only one way we communicate. Maybe we don’t need to  constantly be speaking to one another.  It’s ok to explore not speaking to other humans who are in the same room with you. You know?

The first 20 minutes of meditation first thing in the morning I almost panicked because I sat there, bored and wondered if this is what I was going to be dealing with all day. Not a great way to start things off.

But then my mind settled and I fell into a groove of watching my breath and my thoughts.

At some point in the afternoon I realized that I was, very much, enjoying the silence. My life is full of chatter and noise. I work in a public library and noise comes at me from so many directions. And I am an introvert – so this chatter tends to tire me out. I have gotten used to living with this constant chatter that I don’t even notice it anymore. Until it isn’t there. So I was really grateful for the lack of chatter yesterday. It allowed me to really follow what was going on inside my head, and it allowed me to put  some space around all of the thoughts so I could watch them arise and fall as they drifted through my mind.

Interesting thing that happened: all of those things that I felt like “I should otherwise be doing” didn’t matter at the end of the day. And they still don’t matter.

Self On Lake Shore

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self on lake shore (pinhole)

Today’s photoblog is a pinhole self portrait I took a few weeks ago at Trillium Lake. It is my first paper negative. I have since made several more images using photographic paper and I’m really enjoying learning how to do this. I will post more about this in a future blog post.

I might have mentioned that I really love doing pinhole self portraits. I don’t know why, but the why is not really important I guess.* The point is that I am drawn to this kind of photography.

I have been reading The Diary Of Anaïs Nin and am very much inspired by it. It reminds me that I used to write more about myself and my life on this blog and I miss it. I might return to that kind of writing here (in addition to the photography, of course).

And, while we are on the subject of self reflection, I think that this will be the first of a series of pinhole self portraits for awhile on my photo blog.

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Geeky bits
Camera: Zero Image 4×5 25mm configuration
Paper: Illford RC glossy (I think?)
Development: Illford multigrade developer 1 minute 20 seconds.

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Give it away, Now.

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A few days ago someone shared an article at The Onion about a Buddhist extremist cell threatening to unleash peace and tranquility on the West.  Being both Buddhist and a fan of satire, I thought it was hilarious.

Then I thought, “you know, this isn’t a bad idea.”

I am weary of all the hate and violence in the world, especially at the moment. I am tired of us hating each other and killing each other.

You can’t fight hate with more hate.

So I am going to unleash a torrent of love on the world.

The month of December will be a meditation on love.

I am going to start here, with this thought:

In Zen Buddhism, when we come together as a group and meditate we “give away” our merit at the end by dedicating our meditation to those that we know (or don’t know) who are sick and those who have passed on. This idea of giving away merit is an interesting idea. I have been doing this not really knowing what it means until very recently. I always thought it was a beautiful part of our meditation session, but now that I know what we are doing I really like it all the more.

Meditation is one way of earning merit in Buddhism. I guess you can look it as earning good karma points, or something sort of along those lines.  when we earn this merit we don’t hold onto it. We give it away. The idea is that it is unleashed into the world and relieves it of suffering.

I like this idea of giving away these things once you have them. This is love, don’t you think? When you have it unleash it out into the world. Don’t hold onto it.

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“The most dangerous distractions are the ones you love, but that don’t love you back.”

James shared a really great article with me in the comments of my post from yesterday.  It has me thinking about my list.

The idea from the article is to limit yourself to 5  goals. Anything else is a waste of time. I think the first thing I need to do is make some goals. So what are my goals regarding the things listed? Let’s see…

  1. write – Goal: I don’t know. Become a published Poet? Become a published short story writer? I know I don’t want to write novels. I don’t have a novel in me.
  2. Read – Goal: I have lots of reading goals. One of them is to read through all of the Pulitzer Prize winners. Another is to read through the Graphic Novel canon. I have some work-related goals as well (get caught up on newly published kid’s books so I can do book talks on them).
  3. Practice ukulele- Goal: go through that Bluegrass Ukulele book I bought 3 years ago. But why do I want to do this? I don’t have any aspirations to be a ukulele performer. I just like to play the ukulele. It that ok? To just play it because it makes me happy? Is that a good enough goal? Or do I need to attain higher aspirations?
  4. Draw – Goal: go through the “Drawing on the Right Side Of The Brain” workbook I bought 4 months ago. Again, I don’t have any aspirations to be a great artist. I want to learn to draw for my own edification.
  5. Knit – Goal: Finish a Dr. Who scarf I am making for a Twitter friend.
  6. Photography – Goal: I don’t really know what my goals are for photography! I know that I enjoy it. I know that I love Pinhole Photography. I have a blog about Pinhole Photography that I’ve been neglecting. Perhaps I should make some kind of goal relating to my blog? I have some ideas for some projects, maybe I should clarify what those ideas are and set some goals.
  7. Running/yoga – Goal: I have a goal to run a half marathon next summer. I am planning on running the Huckleberry Half.
  8. Meditate – This is just something that I need to because of my spiritual practice. There are no goals in Buddhism.

This was actually kind of an interesting exercise. It makes me realize that I am generally not very goal oriented when it comes to creative pursuits. I wonder if that is ok? I wonder if those things that I don’t have goals for are the things I should cut out?

And as I was doing this I realized that there are some things I am more passionate about than others. Photography pulled more on my heart strings than writing. The goal of becoming a published poet didn’t really do much for me. Maybe that is something I can and should  let go of.

I have some other thoughts, I will continue to think out loud on this. It’s kind of helping me. :) Maybe in a future post I will break down each of these things to see what exactly I want to do with them and why I am drawn to them.

You can stand under my umbrella

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I don’t know about you but the news from the past week and a half has really gotten to me. The day Robin Williams committed suicide seems to have started a downward spiral of terrible news all over the world. I am  disturbed by all of it.

I am especially saddened by the death of Robin Williams. The sadness has crept up on me slowly. When I see videos of him and stories about him it breaks my heart all over again. I grew up with him and his crazy sense of humor. I see these videos of him being funny and, like others, I am shocked that this person decided to end his own life.

Suicide is a very touchy subject for me. It has affected my life in many ways. When the subject comes up in the news it stirs up thoughts of my own struggles with depression.

In an odd turn of events, I was called upon this week to attend a Mental Health First Aid training workshop.  I was a little hesitant to go because I was personally feeling a little fragile, but I went anyway. It was really good training, though very intense. I went away from it feeling good about helping someone through a mental health crisis should the need arise. It also helped me realize that I am not alone in my struggles, which helps me feel better.

During this past week and a half one of the things that has come up (and was completely validated when I took this class) is the idea that we need to reach out to others who are suffering. It is a hard thing to do. I admit to not doing it as often as I should. I would even go as far as to say it is a very brave thing to do.

When a person is in a deep depression they are incapable of helping themselves. Much of the advice I have heard on social media about this is something like, “If you are depressed, don’t be afraid to reach out to others.” Unfortunately, this is very hard to do. Sometimes it is impossible. When a person is in that place of darkness it can be hard to find the way out. It becomes very important for others to  help them by leading the way out.

A Polish proverb came up over and over again about a month ago in very disparate places. It was very odd and made me wonder if the Universe was trying to tell me something. The proverb is:

Not my circus. Not my monkeys.

when I first saw it I embraced the idea. I tend to easily get sucked into other people’s drama and it affects me in negative ways, at times. However, after giving it some thought I have to really disagree with it.  I realized that we are all in this together. We are rowing the same boat. If you are suffering, I am suffering too. Your suffering is my suffering. So it benefits me to reach out and help.

I am so very grateful to those of you (you know who you are) who have helped me through some of those darker times. Thank you very much.

On happiness

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Things for me, lately, have been overwhelming. I am going through some stress and, unfortunately, I don’t do stress very well. I have recently learned that I am a Highly Sensitive Person. Actually, this is something that I’ve known about myself all of my life, I am just finding out that there is a name for it. And that I’m not alone (which is great!). But more on this in another blog post. What I want to talk about today is happiness.

I am finding myself lately trying to fit into that box that society calls “normal.” Frankly, I am not really sure what that is. In my head I think it is being happy. Society says that we should be happy. That if we aren’t happy something is wrong with us.  I find myself falling easily into this thought groove. Then someone or something comes along and reminds me that happiness isn’t the be all and end all.

There is something very freeing about this thought. I don’t have to always be happy. Wow. That takes a load off. There is a lot of pressure and work in  being happy all of the time.

I think for me the best thing is to focus on what is right in front of me at any given moment. I can do that. Sometimes, anything beyond  the given moment can be overwhelming. Today is one of those days. Today I need to just focus on what is right in front of me.

I find that when I do that I can be content. Content is good. In many ways I think I’d rather be content than happy.

 

Day two of being complaint free

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Ok I’ll admit that I have already failed at being complaint free in the past 24 hours. I have had to start over countless times. I made the unfortunate decision to embark on this adventure the week I did my taxes. So…. yeah.

I am not going to beat myself up. This is all part of the process. Noticing that you are complaining is the important thing.

However, day two of this and I have had some empowering insights on happiness.

I had a conversation with a friend yesterday that led to the realization that we can choose to have a good day. I wondered, “can it really be that easy? Is it as easy as just making a choice? What about our emotions? What about how we are feeling? How do you get over negative feelings?”

As I thought I about this idea I realized that it’s true. It really is that simple. We can choose which path to take.

It’s not like I haven’t had this insight before.  I shared my thoughts  last summer in this blog post. This idea of choosing love is still a very powerful insight for me. However, when I had this insight last summer I attached feeling with it. I am a very emotional person by nature and I tend to easily get caught up in my emotions and the path that I choose is usually determined by my emotions. This idea that I can ignore my emotional state and just choose to “have a good day” is a new idea for me. It is an idea that empowers me and gives me hope that I can move beyond negativity and, generally, be a happier person.

I am reminded of the story of Buddha when he faces Mara. I am not an expert on Buddhist folklore but when the story was told to me I remembered it something like this: Buddha is sitting still and he is tempted by Mara (kind of the buddhist equivalent of the devil). Mara attacks him with arrows but the arrows are turned into flowers by Buddha and they don’t bother him.

There is more to the story but this part is the one that is very powerful for me and always sticks with me. Buddha changing the arrows into flowers represents the fact that we have a choice. We can choose to be hurt by the arrows or we can choose to not be hurt by the arrows.