Taking Action and Responsibility for Your Own Practice April 30, 2021 10:52
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When I was a very young kid, my family moved into an apartment complex on the far east side of Indianapolis. Braeburn Village was a brand new complex in 1970, and we were one of its earliest tenants.
I was very curious and playful as a kid (as most kids are), and I would sometimes peer into the windows of the first floor apartments to see how other families lived. I was curious about what they were doing, how they spent their time, and, most importantly, what they were having for dinner.
Often, the windows revealed dark, empty kitchens, but since then, I have always been curious about how other people lived their lives. It was important for me to feel like I belonged.... and that I fit in.
I have long since abandoned peering into my neighbors' kitchen windows :), but this need to fit in, to feel connected and understood... well, that still lingers.
Even now, I can be easily influenced (and overly curious) about what others do--to the point that I question my own judgement and whether the way I choose to do things is OK. This tendency can be a blessing... and a curse.
Comparing myself to others, and then changing or adapting in order to accommodate can be unnecessary. It often hinders learning for me and can lead to great frustration and confusion. At other times, it can enhance the learning process, accentuate curiosity and play, and lead to discovery and more creative and innovative ways of doing things.
I've been studying the Tibetan language for a little more than a year. Because of COVID, my lessons have been online. I've been working with a wonderful teacher, who is originally from Lhasa, and one other student.
We've been using a textbook that is fairly advanced and not really ideal for new language learners, so from the very beginning, the weekly lessons were challenging. As we progressed more deeply into the text, the lessons became even more overwhelming and stressful for me.
I didn't think much about it at first since everything was new in the beginning. I expected some degree of confusion. Confusion, after all, is an important aspect of the learning process, and it can often be a motivator for discovery. However, as we made our way through the chapters, my confusion and frustration escalated, rather than subsided. The information in the text was daunting to me, and it lacked clear explanations and adequate exercises for practice.
Unfortunately, my need to fit in, belong, and stay caught up pushed me to continue. It would take me hours to complete the short, weekly exercises, and, worst of all, nothing was sticking. I wasn't retaining the information from week to week. This drinking-from-a-firehose technique of learning was NOT working for me, and it was crushing my curiosity, playfulness, and motivation to learn this beautiful language.
My fellow classmate, however, LOVES this book. He enjoys sifting through mounds of information and was even pushing to move even faster through the text.
My need to keep up and my tendency to accommodate others hit a wall in the middle of Chapter 5. I reached out to two friends for additional resource suggestions. One is a professor of Tibetan Studies; the other is a translator for a Tibetan lama in Canada. Both recommended additional texts that might be helpful for me.
I also reached out to my Tibetan teacher and asked if she could work with me individually. She agreed that the book we were using was too advanced (for both me and my fellow student) and agreed to work with me on another day of the week.
By taking action and responsibility for my own learning, I have a renewed sense of commitment, curiosity, and motivation. I'm honoring what works for me, and I'm looking forward to slowing down and focusing on just a couple of concepts at a time--and taking more time to practice, play, and explore with those concepts before adding additional information.
In this case, "keeping up" was NOT helping; it was actually hindering my progress. It was also sabotaging my motivation and mental health.
The new books my friends recommended have arrived this week. I'm looking forward to diving in and exploring them on my own terms and in my own way. I'm also looking forward to the one-on-one sessions with my teacher soon.
Sometimes, however, examining a subject from a different perspective can be inspiring--and can even ENHANCE one's practice.
Recently, I've joined an online book group. We are reading Lama Rod Owens' Love and Rage: The Path of Liberation through Anger.
We meet twice a month and discuss a few chapters at a time.
Last week, we discussed Chapter 4, which includes detailed descriptions of several personal meditation practices that Lama Rod incorporates regularly in his own practice.
I appreciated that he took the time to carefully outline and explain each step of each practice.
He explained each part of the practices by including examples, and he also followed up each with a brief outline. Lama Rod carefully explained at least a dozen specific practices in this chapter.
I found these detailed descriptions to be extremely useful, and I even had time to explore and play with a couple of them before we had our most recent book club meeting. His explanations have enhanced my own personal meditation practice.
Ironically, during our online discussion, a few members of the group found this chapter to be daunting and overwhelming: "TMI for one chapter."
They wondered if Lama Rod could have mentioned one practice at at time--maybe dedicating one chapter to each practice rather than cramming all twelve into one chapter.
This made me think of my online Tibetan class, and my classmate who loved the TMI text--but my frustration with it.
Although, compared to the Tibetan text, Chapter 4 in Lama Rod's book was nothing in terms of being too confusing or overwhelming :) !
I didn't feel compelled to try ALL of the practices, and the ones he outlined weren't linear. In other words, I didn't have to practice the first one before experimenting with the second one, etc.
I read through the chapter, picked a couple to explore, and enjoyed the practices as a result.
I may not need to take the time to explore the remaining practices. I took what I needed and moved on.
Learning has always been an important part of my life, and everyone learns in a different way. Trying to fit into someone else's learning style or educational paradigm is NOT a good thing.
Learning to honor my OWN path and to follow what fascinates and nourishes me has been a lifelong journey, too, just as honoring what fascinates and nourishes others--giving them the space to explore their own path is just as valuable and important.
At this point, I'm back on track. I'm curious, playful, and motivated about continuing to learn Tibetan in a way that resonates with me. I'm also fascinated about bringing fresh awareness into my personal meditation practice by learning more about what works for Lama Rod and the other members of my book club group.
Peering into my neighbors' kitchen windows when I was a kid has been a helpful and humorous metaphor for gauging if it's appropriate to follow along with others, abdicating my own viewpoint (and power) in the process. However, that's not always the best approach. Learning to observe, listen, and trust myself, to take responsibility and action for what fosters and nourishes my own curiosity has been an even more powerful life lesson.
This process turns the kitchen window metaphor around for me, and it involves paying closer attention to what's happening in my own "kitchen," appreciating that it, too, has value, worth, and the potential to nourish. Viewing the world through this lens (or window) allows me to acknowledge and appreciate my own perspective, and it also allows me to observe what's happening in the outer world while simultaneously maintaining a sense of connection, belonging, and understanding.
While you're here, I invite you to check out the current Middle Moon Malas online collection. Several new designs have been added to the online shop. These one-of-a-kind designs are made with love and care, and they're intended to enhance your meditation, movement, and wellness practices.
Controlled Burn: Sitting with Fear July 3, 2020 21:11
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It's early July, and I'm sitting in a lawn chair babysitting an active fire in our side yard. My fear of fire is strong, so I hate it when Jim burns shit in our yard. It ratchets up my anxiety levels, and today, the pile of wood was very high. We cleared out and cut several dead ash trees and rotted wooden beams that framed our turnaround, so the heap was a formidable one.
The good news is, it's not a windy day. The flames were quite intimidating at first, but they died down quite a bit and fairly quickly. The logs are turning ashy white on the outside and glowing bright orange at the center.
I have to admit, I feel a bit like the burning logs right now. Everything seems to be fairly calm and under control, but beneath the surface, anger, sadness, frustration, and uncertainty are blazing.
Typically, on the Summer Solstice, I am a vendor at an event in downtown Indianapolis, Monumental Yoga. This year, however, because of COVID-19, the physical event was cancelled, and, understandably so. I typically sell quite a few malas at this event, and even though I've had the opportunity to participate in a few virtual events as a vendor this season, the results have been disappointing. I didn't sell a single mala in the month of June, which is very unusual. The good news is, I've had time to catch up on my inventory, and I currently have a full collection in the online shop. However, I'm anxious for these beautiful malas to find new homes.
I've also been dealing with waves of sadness throughout this past month as well. My friend Michelle died on June 16. She'd been battling terminal cancer for the past three years. A few months ago, she was doing quite well, and I was really hopeful that she might have more time. She was a kind, generous spirit, and I will miss her dearly.
The first of July was the tenth anniversary of my friend Larry's death. Larry was an amazing art teacher at the high school where I used to teach English. His partner had shared an online interview that Larry gave with a former art student just a week before he died. It was wonderful to hear his voice again, but it was also agonizingly sad. Larry was an excellent educator, and he encouraged his students not only to create meaningful art, but to maintain a sense of curiosity and wonder with the world. Listening to this interview ten years after his death was inspiring, but also bittersweet.
I'm still struggling through weekly Tibetan language lessons. Currently, I'm taking two classes a week on Zoom with two different tutors. I have moments of clarity and understanding, but many more moments of feeling totally lost and frustrated.
Our class on Saturday went over by 45 minutes. I had literally been tethered to my computer for over two hours, and another student asked a question that required a lengthy, complicated answer--and it was material that was totally new to me. At that time, I was too tired to process any more information (Zoom fatigue is no joke, people!).
I tried to remain patient, polite, and engaged, but I'm sure my frustration showed through in my body language and audible sighing.
The Tibetan language is very subtle, and correct pronunciation is extremely important. Unfortunately, I have significant hearing loss in one ear, and after two hours of intently listening, I'd reached my limit. I want to understand; I want to get it right, but it was not happening at that moment.
As an educator, I understand that confusion is an important aspect of the learning process. Sometimes you have to stir things up in order to see the truth and then make sense of it. It's one thing to understand this on a conceptual level; it's quite another to experience it and process it with dignity and grace in real time, especially when you're tired and cranky.
I've had enough of Zoom, really. Don't get me wrong; I'm extremely grateful to have the option to connect with others virtually online. It has been a crucial link in many ways; however, it's also a poor substitute for face-to-face communication with people, and I really miss that right now.
So, this is where the anger shows up for me. Honestly, I feel a little like Samuel L. Jackson in the last 20 minutes of Snakes on a Plane. (If you're not familiar with this film...or THE quintessential line in this film, click here).
I have had ENOUGH of COVID-19!
I have had ENOUGH of Donald Trump!
I have had ENOUGH of police brutality!
I have had ENOUGH of systemic racism and racial inequality!
I have had ENOUGH of ridiculous conspiracy theories and manipulative propaganda on social media!
I have had ENOUGH of crybabies complaining about having to wear masks in public!
I have had ENOUGH of people suffering and dying needlessly from this terrifying new virus!
Before I can be grateful and understand the blessings of big things, I have to acknowledge and sit with their shadow sides first. I can't attach, contract, grab, cling, or wallow in them.
First and foremost, I have to sit with these strong feelings...let them burn brightly, then smolder, stirring the ashes until they cool. This process enables me to allow whatever it is to be, to open and expand in order to see the benefit...and take necessary actions to realize it.
So, I sit with these feelings, letting them burn...and then smolder.
I stir their ashes until they cool.
I witness them, with gentle attention, and without judgment.
I see you, Anger.
I see you, Inadequacy.
I see you, Anxiety.
I see you, Grief.
I see you, Frustration.
Right now, blue smoke is rising from the much smaller burn pile. The popping and cracking of blazing wood has subsided. The warm ash flakes are drifting and falling less frequently.
It is in this moment that I notice birdsong. I hear children laughing in a neighbor's yard. I take comfort in knowing that a young fawn is curled up in the brush near our home. Even though I can't see her spotted coat, I know she's there, and that mama doe is somewhere nearby.
Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, and I have reason to celebrate. I will be celebrating my temporary freedom from fear, hopelessness, anger, grief, and frustration.
These feelings will no doubt return, but for now, they have settled, eased, burned to the ground along with this giant pile of ash.
If you haven't had a chance to visit the updated Middle Moon Malas collection in a while, please click here. Perhaps one of these beautiful designs will find a new home with you.