You are my teacher, you are my student

All life and learning is an energy of giving and receiving. We encounter others on our path to exchange this life force. In an instant, we recognize ourselves in the other; a giving reflection of a world we need to see. This is our world that we see, a creation of our thoughts and our state of being. Let’s consider and reflect on this, for a moment.

A mindful life becomes our technique. It is a tool and a strategy to size up the present moment without judgement or cloudiness. Simply, seeing. What is it that I am, through you? What is the world, we see? What is it that we are creating together, in this moment? How am I feeling? What sensation, arises as I consider this creation, that is both you and me, and the world we inhabit, right now?

You are my teacher and my student. I stand before you to listen carefully and practice my seeing, truth. I offer you my vulnerability and my willingness to bear my soul, so that you too can consider a measure of truth, that is both me and you, together. In this way, it is a precious gift to share a life with another. It is an exchange. It is a contract, in which we decide to make our way together, even for a moment, or for as long as it takes, to come to truth and understanding.

Truth and understanding coming together gives love and meaning to life. We cannot love unless we see clearly, and we cannot see clearly unless we see ourselves in another’s image. Sometimes, contemplation through relationship is painful if we are shying away from truth. But, with trust and mindfulness, we always arrive at appreciation. Let’s consider and reflect on this, for a moment.

Appreciation, acceptance and non-judgement lead to love. This can sometimes feel good or it can feel sad and lonely, especially if love requires leaving. That is where the expression originates: If you love something set it free. Love is always letting it be, as it is. Even it that means letting go and allowing. It’s not possession and it can’t survive in a container. It’s always flowing and changing. Sometimes, we let go and sometimes, we recognize an enduring love, the type of love that returns over and over again for a welcome reprise. Not all love looks or feels the same way. It is simply what it’s meant to be, like a flower or a species; with its own pattern, color and behavior. We can see ourselves in love with all shades and all varieties. We can visit each variety in wonderment. We can stay for as long as we like, and we move on when it’s time. This is nature. Let’s consider and reflect on this, for a moment.

What do we owe the person in front of us?

We owe them nothing more than being ourselves and allowing them to take in our original nature which is made up of beauty and light. On the surface, they may see contour and shadows, the struggle and the fight. That’s all a part of the learning. We are providing sun and nutrients in our observance of the goodness inside. Our light and beauty grow exponentially when we are showered with attention. All relationship is a gift.

In the book, The Myth of Normal, Dr. Gabor Maté reminds us that isolation and loneliness cause inflammation in the body and suppresses the immune system. Trauma can make us terrified of love relationships because we are afraid of losing ourselves, our freedom, of getting hurt. We hold onto the “tyranny of the past.” We think that if we are fully ourselves in front of another, we will be punished or harmed. For this reason, love requires courage. It requires that we move ourselves into the pain, in order to discover what is hidden underneath. It requires that we practice, over and over again, innocence and vulnerability. It doesn’t mean that we are stupid and naïve. It means you expose your wounds in order to teach others how you survived, how you healed, how you carry on with life. It means you recognize the suffering in others, and listen to how they are coping and living. In this exchange, we are all teaching and learning. In this way, we explore what it means to love again.  

What is the point? From Self to Others

“Our aim is to fully awaken our heart and mind, not just for our own well-being, but also to bring benefit, solace and wisdom to other living beings. What motivation could top that?”

Pema Chödrön

I woke up this morning thinking, “Why?” and “What is the point?” It is not new, this interrogation into the purpose of life.

The well known German-Austrian psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, posits that meaning comes from three sources: 1) loving a person 2) purposeful work/ project 3) surviving adverse conditions with dignity. Each of these things seem to come from both within and outside oneself, similar to Pema Chödrön’s suggestion that we awaken the heart, for ourselves and to benefit others.

In the case of Frankl, the third source of meaning, surviving adverse conditions, appears the most self-serving. However, when we survive adversity with dignity, the implication is we are leaving a trace of light for others to see, the trace of how we survive, meaning how we live, in spite of suffering.

In the ten years since I’ve started my mindfulness meditation practice, I’ve observed how my practice can feel self-serving. It is a very intimate, personal and time consuming awakening journey. This feeling of concentrating on the Self has certainly been intensified in the last five years since the trauma of the sudden death of my husband and, shortly after, my brother’s prognosis of cancer and his painful death two years later. Because these two men were emotional pillars in my life and represented everything that has to do with a sense of family, belonging and security—it is no surprise that my mindfulness meditation practice became about healing. Dr. Sameet M. Kamur, author of Mindfulness for Prolonged Grief, points out that because grief fills up all the empty spaces you have in the day and continues late into the night, healing has to be a full time job.

Now, I review my journey and ask difficult questions of myself as a natural part of my coming back to my center… such as: What is the point? These days, I spend a good deal of time considering my life moving forward. What is the purpose of my being, how has it changed and is there something inspiring me to continue on with this journey? When you see the temporal nature of all things, and experience the random and radical nature of death and dying—it is normal to consider the purpose and impact of one singular life.

Singularity, as in meditation on a pillow, alone in the early hours of the morning.

Is this enough?

Singularity is a false perspective. We are not a singularity even when we meditate alone. That would be a very lonely perspective, and filled with limitation. Nirvana, is knowing the boundless infinite nature of our energy, the I am and That is why I am here. It is not asking why? anymore. It is the knowing that in the practice of living fully and with awareness, we allow the mystery of our experience to be and, we savor the signs of awakening that continue to unravel ongoing.

I am considering this metaphor when I think about “What is the point?”

I am a flower. I am unique and just being healthy in this soil is enough. I feel good and strong, not thinking my life is short and my petals are temporary. Every day, I add value to myself and the world by absorbing light, emitting oxygen into the air, and providing beauty. If I were a tree, I’d provide some shade and occasionally, I’d bear fruit.

What is my true nature and what is the fruit for humanity?

The inspiration of the spiritual teachers and writers, such as Pema Chödrön, is that they remind me that it takes time and dedicated attention to care for myself and in doing so, I show up for others in a way that is uniquely serving. I’m accepting in my practice that I can’t change the world in any other way than what I am doing right now… that I have been given, by design, a gift of this life, and that is enough, and more than enough, if it is anything like the love and beauty that I have been given by others.

It is in a flash and an instant that I am grateful for this fleeting and beautiful flower in my presence. I will take it, in spite of the petals slowly falling out, because otherwise, what is the point of now?

Sustenance: The Artist Way

“WHAT NEXT? My ‘future’ is the darkest thing in the world to me, but as there still remains a great deal for me to do, I suppose I ought rather to think of doing this than of my future, and leave the rest to THEE and the gods.”

~Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra: A book for all and none, Introduction

Many years ago, I was gifted a book called, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. This book is a guide with space for journal entries. It’s an excellent source to explore your inner world as an artist and develop creativity. At that time, I was a classroom teacher and feeling pulled away from my writing. I had become engulfed in worries and practical matters. The book became an antidote to my suffering.

The artist way is not easy especially in a society that values linear, rational ways of thinking and doing. There is a dearth of reliable opportunities for artists to make an honest living and few non-competitive spaces for artists to gather, make art, network and build community. For these reasons, many artists (like myself) neglect their craft for years to invest in a career that purportedly promises financial security.

The artist way is not for the faint of heart. At its core, it’s a philosophy, a way of living and meaning is derived from personal experience. This phenomenological stance requires a sensitive open mind, bravery, and commitment. It is very personal, very intimate. It’s a lot like the spiritual practice Zen.

“Zazen that leads to Self-realization is neither idle reverie nor vacant inaction but an intense inner struggle to gain control over the mind and then to use it, like a silent missile, to penetrate the barrier of the five senses and the discursive intellect (that is, the sixth sense). It demands energy, determination, and courage.” ~Phillip Kapleau, The Three Pillars of Zen

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been grappling with sustaining the artist way and questioning its worth, it’s validity. In response to this perennial self-interrogation, my stomach hurt and I got chronic indigestion. This should not have been a surprise. The stomach region relates to the third chakra, or the Solar Plexus. This is the center of power, self-confidence, motivation and purpose. The gut, as it were, is the body’s center for will power and agency. When we experience pain in the stomach region, we’re not free. We’re immobilized and weakened considerably. That is why in meditation, there is much attention paid to breathing and focusing on the contraction and expansion of the muscles in the abdomen.

“Mental power, or we might say, spiritual power, in the sense of this strong inward concentration, comes from tension in the tanden… The power is sustained by the stimulation coming from the tension in the respiratory muscles of the abdomen… so we may regard these muscles—or the tanden in general—as the root of spiritual power…When the respiratory muscles are set to work, mental—or spiritual—power is put into action. The effect of the activity is reported to the brain, which will then think of further orders, and cyclical chains of processes will occur… The process is the same with emotional expression: laughter, anger, and sorrow cannot  manifest themselves unless the abdominal muscles are convulsed.” ~Katsuki Sekida, Zen Training: Methods and Philosophy (pps 49-51, p. 83-84)

Like all spiritual and creative journeys, there is a process, an evolution of awareness and healing that must occur to sustain oneself. Often, we find ourselves entangled or stuck in one area in our life that demands our attention, such as my present condition. In paying attention to my stomach/ Solar Plexus/ tanden, and focusing on healing and liberating energy (which involves water, rest, healthy diet, exercise, meditation and contemplation activities), I’m regaining health and new insight into the process of self-realization.

The first insight, which is what I have just written, but essential to underscore: one must pay attention to the message of the body. The body is a feedback loop that relates to your state of mind and spiritual path. Second, there is circumstantial evidence of overlapping and compounding experiences that I believe are designed as guides or clues into which behaviors/choices/pathways lead to personal well-being and healing. Following these cues with absolute trust, is an essential part of awakening to Self-realization and Self-reliance.

In my case, I’ve become more cognizant of unaddressed or unhealed wounds from the past, including but not limited to the trauma from the sudden death of my life partner. Perhaps, in my case, with the focus generating an imbalance in my Solar Plexus—I am being asked to complete the healing of this region and move in the world with greater confidence and sense of purpose, to value that which all along has endured and inspired me and others, that which is my truth and my beauty, that which I have loved to do throughout my entire life in spite of many things lost—

And this would be the artist way.

I am stepping into a boat at night, sailing off into the darkness and finding light. This is how I might describe my current experience. And this metaphor is not unlike the dark night of the soul as described by Thomas Moore:

“Imagine that your dark mood, or the external source of your suffering, is a large, living container in which you are held captive. But this container is moving, getting somewhere, taking you to where you need to go. You may not like the situation you’re in, but it would help if you imagined it constructively. Maybe at this very minute you are on a night sea journey of your own...There may be some promise, the mere suggestion that life is going forward, even though you have no sense of where you’re headed. It’s a time of waiting and sit with these things and in due time let them be revealed for what they are.”