Posts Tagged ‘Susan Piver’

One of the most helpful meditation instructions I ever received was to regard thoughts the same way as I do sense perceptions such as sights and sounds. In this way, the car horn honking in the street is equivalent to a painful and emotionally loaded thought. I wouldn’t create a story associated with that horn honking 7 flights down as I sit on my cushion: Is he honking at me? But I didn’t do anything wrong! Who does he think he is? I’m going to go give him a piece of my mind. That would be weird. But the thought “What if I grow old alone” could easily provoke a long, involved narrative – I’m too difficult. No one wants to be with someone so complicated. Why can’t I be simpler? Less emotional. Less sensitive. More easy-going. It’s no wonder I’ll grow old alone… Using this instruction, however, when the thought about my fear of being alone arises, I can note it like I do the horn honking and return my awareness to the breath without attaching a story that simply has no basis.

Recently I had a massage. I don’t indulge myself this way often (enough) so when I do, I want it to be purrrrfect. After my massage therapist began to wrestle the knots in my back into submission, I heard a knock at the door. My therapist made no move to answer the knock and then I heard it again, and again. Soon I realized this was no knock but rather construction work going on in the adjacent room, unaware of the relaxing spa treatment that I was supposed to be receiving. Then came the drill. Oy! Interestingly, rather than hardening my knots with the indignation of my less-than-perfect massage, instead I found myself adjusting my attention to focus on the sensation of the massage. Every time the construction workers hammered or drilled, I noted it, and crisply shifted my awareness back to old magic fingers. I felt I was practicing in real time, not ignoring unpleasant things, but regulating just how much they affected me.

Sometimes when she begins a meditation instruction, Susan Piver will ask us to place our awareness on our left earlobes, then to move that awareness to our right kneecaps. In that moment, most of us are able to shift the object of our attention precisely, crisply, in part because we don’t have a lot of noisy narratives about our earlobes and kneecaps. But when meditating – where body parts and sense perceptions are mixed in with complex stories about who we are and who we aren’t, how we have wronged or been wronged – our awareness can become muddled, less precise.

Because all of these things exist in concert, I have found it useful (ok, let’s face it, I didn’t have much of a choice) to welcome them all, to allow all of my perceptions to come and go with a light(er) touch. I can regard what goes on in my mind on and off the cushion as a total shitstorm or I can view it as a Baz Luhrmann movie – a carnival ride of sensation and perception in which all things are welcome, none inherently better or worse than the other. Whether sense perception or difficult emotion, both help me in my endeavor to understand my mind.

image credit

Read Full Post »

Recently, as part of Susan Piver’s Open Heart Project, we learned about the lojong slogan “3 objects, 3 poisons, 3 seeds of virtue.” The three objects are things we want, things we don’t want, and things we ignore; the three poisons passion, aggression, and ignorance; and the three seeds of virtue freedom from passion, aggression, and ignorance.

In delving deeper into this slogan, contemplating it and reading Chogyam Trungpa’s and Pema Chodron’s thoughts on the topic, I recognize how my drinking covered all of these bases. I used drinking to hold on to pleasurable experiences way past their expiration date; I never wanted the party to end and I thought it couldn’t end as long as I kept drinking. Other times I used alcohol to try to change the way things were, to counteract feelings of anxiety and fear, to replace them with the joviality and good times I thought were to be found in the bottle. Last, my drinking allowed me to zone out, to disconnect from issues that needed attention – a relationship that was hurtful, an unsatisfying career.

This is not to say that alcohol is inherently poisonous; but the way I used it was problematic for me. That kind of self-awareness has helped me to see how I engage with the different aspects of my life. It’s also shown me that while all three poisons are present at different times, I tend toward one in particular: aggression, or as I think of it, resistance.

From the moment I wake up to the moment I fall asleep, my mind is constantly resisting the way things are. “I should have done this…or that,” “I shouldn’t feel this way,” “I wish I were more…,” “I wish…,” “If only…,” these are a constant refrain, like elevator muzak that has been playing in the background so long you almost don’t notice it anymore. Sometimes I even hope that things will turn out differently in a movie I’ve already seen or one in which I know the ending; I spent the majority of the film Titanic hoping there would be some twist that saved everyone.

In Start Where You Are, Pema Chodron writes “resistance to unwanted circumstances has the power to keep those circumstances alive and well for a very long time.” She also writes about how the 3 poisons provide fertile ground for change, a rich source from which we can pull self-awareness and gentleness, and can open up to the much wider possibilities life has to offer.

As I write this post, I feel immense confusion as to what to do with my life. My severance period is about to end, I’m completing a small business course that I took with the hope of starting my own nutrition counseling and writing business, I’m about two-thirds of the way through writing the Drinking to Distraction book, and I have the outline of another book I would like to write when the first is completed. I feel at once exhilarated, overwhelmed, frightened, capable, and bereft of the stamina needed to take the next step. My tendency toward aggression makes me resist this confusion; I have a strong drive to exorcise it, oust it, banish it, even if that means making a decision that I haven’t completely considered, or reverting back to a professional plan that seems more of a sure thing.

My challenge, if Piver, and Chodron, and Trungpa are right (and I know they are), is to hang out in that confusion long enough to really experience it. To drop the story about how my life will end up in the shitter if I made the wrong decision. And to feel my way toward the next step, and the next, and the next, knowing I can change course at any point. First, I must give up the fight against reality. This is the way it is, for now. Resistance is futile.

Read Full Post »

During the last week, a lot has happened. The bombings that seem so long ago occurred just 9 days back. The around-the-clock news coverage by the journalists that besieged Boston seemed to stretch out painful moments interminably. Like many people, I was glued to my television until the surreal news came through the scanners that this confused, 19-year-old man-child was wounded and captured alive.

Add to that my own confusion, stress, concern for those affected, (temporary and non-serious) illness, and several days away from my home, and it seems not so unlikely that I would fail to do one of the things that supports me through difficult times. As often happens to me during times of intense emotional stress, last week I stopped meditating.

My natural impulse is to berate myself for this illogical lapse or to force myself to sit for a long period to “make up” for lost time. But as I delve deeper into practicing imperfection, I’m exploring the effects of being gentle with myself.

Instead of flogging, I forgave. And instead of harsh self-discipline, I tried to remember the reasons I do this practice. I sat for just 5 minutes one day as a form of re-entry; the next day I sat for a longer period of time and listened to full meditation instruction. Tonight I will try to sit again, with a sense of gentleness and loving-kindness.

At times like these, being gentle with ourselves and one another may be the most important thing we can do.

Read Full Post »

For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with self-doubt. I felt there was something different about me, something not quite right. While other children seemed confident in who they were and what they wanted, I was never quite sure of myself. As a result, I became very interested in and curious about others, how they felt, how they knew what they knew.

To some extent, I still navigate the world in this way. I ask people a lot of questions about how they handle day-to-day events, relationships, and feelings. I bounce my thoughts off of trusted friends and family members, hoping to find myself somewhere on the continuum of “normalcy” and to triangulate my way toward a sense of certainty and rightness. Still, I don’t quite trust my intuition and my own goodness.

The concept of basic goodness is foundational in Buddhism. In contrast to original sin, Buddhism holds that humans are essentially good, clear-seeing, loving, and compassionate. In Ocean of Dharma, Chogyam Trungpa writes:

The Buddha discovered that there is something in us known as basic goodness. Therefore, we don’t have to condemn ourselves for being bad or naughty. The Buddha taught what he had learned to the rest of mankind. What he taught then – twenty-five hundred years ago – is still being taught and practiced. The important point for us is to realize that we are basically good. Our only problem is that sometimes we don’t actually acknowledge that goodness. We don’t see it, so we blame somebody else or we blame ourselves. That is a mistake. We don’t have to blame others, and we don’t have to feel nasty or angry. Fundamental goodness is always with us, always in us.

When I first learned about basic goodness, it was difficult to think of myself in this light. As a life-long self-doubter, it was easier to see the basic goodness in others than in myself. I still struggle with it.

This past weekend I took the refuge vow to formalize my commitment to the Buddhist path. I took refuge in the Buddha as an example of a human being who attained enlightenment. I took refuge in the dharma – the truth – the teachings of the Buddha on the nature of reality. And I took refuge in the sangha, the community of practitioners who are all on their own lonely paths but who are also there to support one another.

As part of the ceremony I was given a Tibetan name – Champa Wangmo – which can be roughly translated as “maitri (or loving-kindness) lady.” The Acharya who named me explained to those of us taking the vow that in his experience, we grow to embody our refuge names over the course of a lifetime. While I am sure I will be figuring out the meaning of this new name for many years to come, I have some initial thoughts.

Maitri has been described by Chogyam Trungpa and other Buddhist teachers as an unconditional friendliness, toward others and especially toward oneself. Maitri has also been described, most recently by the wonderful Susan Piver, as an antidote to self-doubt. This is not about countering doubt by beating my breast and proclaiming all my wonderful, lovable qualities. And it’s not about “managing” or forgiving myself for being scared or petty or small-minded. I’m beginning to see it’s about opening to myself with the same sense of love and welcome that I have for others.

Since taking the refuge vow, my thoughts and emotions have gone technicolor. My doubts and fears feel magnified, and I have an increasing sense of groundlessness. I have reached out to friends and family to talk through my concerns, for some consolation, for someone to confirm me, but the feelings haven’t changed. After a few days of confusion, I realized this is exactly what I signed up for.

In practicing maitri or loving-kindness, I am practicing turning toward all of the scary, uncomfortable feelings with softness and a sense of welcome. I think this is the practice of my lifetime. And it’s all good, basically.

Read Full Post »

“The bad news is you’re falling through the air, nothing to hang on to, no parachute. The good news is there’s no ground.” ~Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche


It’s been two months since my job ended. Since then I have tried to bring the structure of my working life into the vast abyss of my unemployment. Somehow I fill my days with errands and small tasks that must have gone uncompleted when I was working. That and I watch a lot of bad TV. I’ve become mildly obsessed with doing everything right – working out 5 times a week, cooking a variety of nutritious meals, using up all the produce in the fridge before it goes bad, getting the best price on bananas. At the end of the day I’m often not sure what happened. But I feel exhausted.

By filling in the time, I haven’t really been dealing with the fact that I’m confused and uncertain and scared. I guess I have felt this way for much of my life. Like a lot of people, I want to understand the meaning of life, the meaning of my life. To find a way to live that makes me relatively happy and also makes the world a little better when I leave it. I have tried on different personas to see how they fit. One of those personas involved drinking – the wine-savvy dietitian, the friend who was always ready for a cocktail. Before I quit drinking more than 5 years ago, it seemed that alcohol had become so intertwined with my very personality, I wasn’t sure what would remain in its absence. As it turned out, that wasn’t who I was at all.

Since then, and especially since I began to practice meditation, the question of who I am has become all the more poignant, scary, and unclear. As I unraveled the layers of behaviors and habits, there seemed to be less and less there. And yet I have felt more and more myself.

The other day I was standing on the corner of 60th and Lex waiting to go down into the subway. It was raining and I was on the phone with my meditation instructor, who was telling me not to be afraid of my confusion and lack of ground. As often happens when I hear something that feels purely true, I had tears in my eyes.

During the next few days, I realized that the things I’ve done in my life that have felt the most important – falling in love, working on myself in therapy, rebuilding a once-shaky relationship with my parents, quitting drinking, even writing this blog – I’ve done from a place of utter vulnerability. In each instance, I felt I had bottomed out, in a good way. That I was out of rationalizations, that I could only listen to my heart, take a risk, drop expectations, and see what came of it. I never knew how these things would turn out. It’s only in retrospect that each feels momentous.

So perhaps my confusion now is not something to shake or beat into submission. Perhaps, if I allow myself to feel its full weight, its bottomless-seeming depth, it will allow me to see what I need to see.



Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 678 other followers

Powered by WordPress.com
%d bloggers like this: