Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

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Anger Leads To…

Who Am I? Still Searching

It’s Sunday! And that means a “Blast from the Past” repost from my old blog! Are you excited? I am, I think. I scrolled through old posts this morning, pulling up lots of angry words about wildfires, politics, and rants about Facebook, wanting to use my time machine to give myself a big hug. There was so much fear behind those words. Then I pulled up a post with the title, “Who Am I?” from August 3, 2015.

About halfway through reading it, I was reminded of the Zen koan, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” I had it written in my journal in bold letters just this past week, along with the words, “OH MY FREAKIN…I GET IT!” Deep stuff, you know? Full of insight, my journal is.

who am i

Something other than politics and social media angst was driving my stress train in 2015. My sons were 13 and 14 at the time, my homeschool “career” was quickly coming to a close, changes were coming, and I wasn’t sure where I’d go next. I didn’t know who I was going to be without the title “homeschool mom.”

Sidenote: I’m still working on that. It’s a big part of why I started this blog.

On with the post!

Did anyone else read that title and think it in Jean Valjean’s voice? Am I the only one?

Why am I here? Why do I post publicly instead of in a personal journal? Much of what I write on my blog is about what I’m thinking. It’s what I would talk about if I were sitting among a group of friends, but hopefully more thought out and prepared. I read a lot; books, articles, blogs, newspapers, the dreaded Facebook post. I have thoughts I would much rather process out loud but when I talk my thoughts tend to get scattered and forget the words I would most like to use. When I’m writing, I can go back and edit a thought or find a kinder way to say it. And sometimes I’m not as kind in my writing as I would be in real life. Sometimes I just want to get an angry or dissatisfied word out.

But why not just write all that in my journal, close it, and move on? Why post it here for the world to see? Connection.

Out here in the desert you are alone a lot. It’s not necessarily lonely. I have a group of friends and very dear family. But the group is small and to continue to move in social circles you need to reign in the talk of politics and religion. Also, few people in my social circles read as much as I do, and I don’t know any that read the same books. There isn’t much of an outlet for discussion. It can feel like I’m the only person out there trying to put thoughts together, trying to make sense of the world around me instead of just marching on.

I post it in the hopes that there is someone out there doing the same. My hope is that my posts aren’t just rants and raves. Someone might read it and want to chat about it, politely challenge my choice of words or point of view. I know that isn’t likely. In the current online climate, I’d expect more people at best to dismiss what I’ve written, at worst to pass it around and ridicule me personally, maybe start a protest about what kind of an awful person I am because of my post. But I will still take that chance.

This is my second blog. My first was more of an online journal of our family’s adventures in homeschooling. It was there to entertain and inform my long-distance family of what we were up to, maybe even convince them we weren’t isolated and watching TV all day. Hopefully, somewhere along the line we inspired another family to investigate homeschooling the way we did. It changed our lives for the better and I’d love to spread that around! I’m working on another blog that will do that as well but not as personally as we used to.

This blog is only a few months old. It won’t be about my family or lifestyle really, although that does come into it a bit. It’s more about my personal journey, a search for intelligent life so to speak. My hope is that through writing my ideas out and sharing them with others, I can expand my world beyond my own backyard and share that experience with my family.

So here I sit after a long hot day, re-reading and editing this post with what we might have for dinner rolling around the back of my mind. Should I wait a few hours, read it again, and then post it? Or should I just go for it and set it free?

I think I’ll let it set sail and see where it goes.

What is the sound of one hand clapping? Perpetual solitude. To me, the point of solitude is to recharge and connect with yourself so that you can come back and move in the world in magical new ways. These ways cannot be created alone. They need connection and collaboration to take off.

I’m having a hard time putting it into words. It’s too big. I’m going to have to ponder this longer. But it has to do with why I write here, instead of simply journal in a book. I set my thoughts free into the world and see where they go. The magic doesn’t work in secret, alone, locked up on a shelf in my mind.

Yeah, I’ll be driving today thinking about it.

Thoughts from the Epiphany Machine: The Shower

I heard the story of Zen Master Hakuin on the podcast Secular Buddhism a few days ago on my drive into the city. I made a note about it and moved on, not thinking much about it until around 24 hours later when “Is that so?” came to mind while I was taking a shower, you know, the epiphany machine!

Later that day, I looked up the story online so I could read it through. I found a great version on Kannon Do. I highly recommend reading it. The idea I kept going back to is accepting the curve balls that are thrown at us. It’s something I have always struggled with.

My typical M.O. is to stress and freak out about whatever unexpected scenario comes my way. My initial response is usually, “Oh my! No! This is bad. What are we going to do?” And then, if no one mirrors my panic and runs with it, I usually back down from Defcon 2 to Defcon 5 fairly quickly. My next step is to pretend like I’ve always been completely at peace with the current situation but harbor a low-level state of fear just below the surface for a while just in case the sky does fall.

I’m fun. Trust me.

For the longest time, I believed this was a brilliant coping mechanism. Sure, my reactions can be a bit jarring for those that don’t know they’re coming (my poor husband), but equilibrium, forgiveness, and peace are quick to return. No harm, no foul. Right?

Yeah…not always.

Buddhist parables and stories sometimes cause me to doubt my practices. Maybe I’m doing this wrong? I try a few different tactics, fail, try again, get a little better, realize what I’m doing, accept the journey and keep going.

Two of the notes I had in my journal from that podcast I mentioned early were, “No doubt = No awakening” and “Unlearn.” I read those words, flipped through the pages in exasperation, “Seriously? That’s it? What does that even mean?” There was nothing about “Is that so?”

I went back to the podcast and skipped through it on fast forward.

“Ooooh! It’s all starting to come together!”

When the Zen Master was faced with unexpected situations, he simply said, “Is that so?” and “embraced the situation without judgement.”

When I experience an unexpected situation, I jump to conclusions about what should or will happen next. This shouldn’t have happened. It’s not what I want to happen. It’s going to end terribly for everyone. Everything is ruined. I have no doubt about it. I know.

No doubt = no awakening. My eyes and heart are closed to the world around me. I know what’s going to happen. I’m at level 49 here! I’ve learned a lot over the years!

What if, instead, I did doubt what I had learned over the years. What if I decided to let go of what I think I know, unlearn, and take a step back? Would things be harder or easier?

That’s what the Zen Master did in the story. He doubted he could know what would happen, accommodated the situation, and took care of the things and people around him. What happened, happened.

I can hear the old me in the background, “But…what about being prepared? Making things better? Fighting for what’s right?!”

The new me answers, “Has crying, yelling, and stressing about what is happening, who’s fault it is, and what we’re going to do, ever made anything better? Or did it only make it harder for you and those around you to adapt?”

Shower thoughts are so profound. The story of “Is that so?” isn’t what I made notes about. It wasn’t foremost in my mind, but it was in there. The night before, I had been stressing about some news and what my future would look like. This whole “empty nest” thing has me running in circles. We really need to change that visual, but that’s a post for another day.

My mind was blank, the morning habits had taken over, and then it came into my head, “Is that so?” A puzzle piece fell into place. What can I do when the unexpected happens? I can take a breath and relax, be kind, love on, and watch to see what happens. Stop trying to control everything.

That doesn’t mean I’ll be happy with the results. I may not get what I thought I wanted. I may be worse off than I was. But only that negative thing will be happening. I won’t be adding to it, making it worse for myself and those around me by panicking throughout the whole process.

I’ll just ask, “Hmm…interesting. What happens next?”

Log Rolling for Life

The sport of log rolling is a perfect analogy for my life. I try to stay on top as long as I can, but I inevitably fall into the water. My only solace is that I’ve gotten better at getting back up over the years. And sometimes the water is nice, so I stay down a while and enjoy that moment.

“…great adventures await you if you give yourself a little time to string moments of awareness together, breath by breath, moment to moment.” From Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn

As you probably remember, this past November and December got away from me. I ended up in the water and I wasn’t happy about it. I thrashed and screamed, instead of finding my way back on top. My struggling didn’t fix anything, it made it harder to find my footing again. And it made the lives of the people around me more stressful.

At the end of the year, I realized what had happened (somewhat) and decided to take January at home, doing nothing, to recuperate. February started to pick up, and then as March began to get planned out on the calendar, I started feeling that panic. I was losing my balance.

Yesterday was when I started feeling it in my guts. I did start to cry a little, but I didn’t lose my temper, and I didn’t call everything off. I did take a few deep breaths and let some thoughts go, and I finished the day. But in the evening, as I started to fall asleep, I started thinking…and then couldn’t sleep.

Today, the log is still floating and the only way to stay on top of it is to keep my feet moving and stay balanced. Focus is the key and I’m working on that.

I’m going to enjoy another busy day and not think about tomorrow, or the rest of the week, or the plans for the following week. Not right now. Each time I start to feel that panic, the “I’m not going to get to rest, I can’t get it all done” feeling that tightens my chest and races my heart, I’m going to take a breath. Just like when I meditate, I’ll stop a moment and feel my breath move in, fill my chest and belly, hold it a beat, and then deflate. Quietly, without drawing attention to myself. I’ll give myself one focused moment alone, and then return.

Something I realized about myself recently is that I do have a fear of missing out. Not in the sense that I see something someone else is doing and want to experience that too, but in a personal way. If I don’t respond to that text, read that book, keep the house clean, make the food from scratch, go visit that person, I feel like I’ll lose them all forever.

It’s crazy making. And it needs to stop.

People love me, even when they don’t hear from me every day. If I don’t do the laundry today, it will get done tomorrow. If I don’t finish that project this week, I’ll get to it next week.

Or not. That’s ok too. I can’t do everything I want to do. I can’t have everyone I want in my life at all times. I don’t have the resources for it: time, energy, money, etc. If I am here right now, focused on what I AM doing, I’m not wasting time and missing out.

That’s my goal today. Be here right now, enjoying what I have in my hands, not worrying about what tomorrow may bring, or what’s going on with friends and family when I’m not available.

Parenting as Practice

The chapter, Parenting as Practice, that I read from Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn this morning made me cry. It was far too beautiful and rang a reminder bell in my heart. And the concept does not only apply to parents, but grandparents, and even non-parents as well.

“You could look at each baby as a little Buddha or Zen master, your own private mindfulness teacher, parachuted into your life, whose presence and actions were guaranteed to push every button and challenge every belief and limit you had, giving you continual opportunities to see where you were attached to something and to let it go.”

If you have been a parent, you know this is true. If you’ve ever told our teenage or young adult children, “Just wait till you have kids!” you know it. Children are not burdens to bear, they are tiny teachers from the universe, if you allow them to be.

Not only children can be seen as a teacher, but everyone that comes into your life, albeit on a less constant stress inducing way. What if we treated people we met in the world as if they were sent to teach us something important? That talkative grocery store worker, the fast-food cashier that can’t get your order right, the slow driver on the freeway, the co-worker that won’t leave you alone to read on your breaks, are all there to impart some lesson.

Each interaction puts up a mirror to us. How would I want to be treated in this situation? What’s my part in creating a better world?

“The deep and constantly changing needs of children are all perfect opportunities for parents to be fully present rather than to operate in the automatic pilot mode, to relate consciously rather than mechanically, to sense the being in each child and let his or her vibrancy, vitality, and purity call forth their own.”

When they are babies, one thing soothes them quickly and then suddenly doesn’t. They happily eat one food then hate it. They are growing so fast, and their tastes, needs, and wants change with them. You have to stay aware if you want to keep up. No autopilot allowed, not even cruise-control for a bit of a stretch.

When my oldest son was very young, he did not appreciate loud, sudden noises. For some strange reason he didn’t mind his own noise, just the noise of others. I learned to warn him if were going to start the vacuum near by him. One day, when he was around eight or nine years old, I brought the vacuum into the living room while he was playing a video game.

“Hey, kiddo! I’m vacuuming.”

“Yeah, I know. I can see.”

“I didn’t want to startle you.”

“Mom, I’m not two anymore. Sheesh!”

I wanted to say, “And last week you were?!” but I held my tongue. Best to meet exasperation with kindness. Instead, I replied, “You’re growing up so fast, sometimes I miss it.” He smiled in return, “Don’t blink, Mom!”

I tried not to, but the next thing I knew they were all gone out of the house and didn’t need me anymore. It’s a fascinating (and terrifying) process, if you ask me. I wasn’t always on my toes, aware of the moment, making the kinder choice. I lost my shit many times. I’ve found the trick is expressing remorse and asking for a bit more love when I failed. They have returned the favor many times.

“Parenting is a mirror that forces you to look at yourself. If you can learn from what you observe, you just may have a chance to keep growing yourself.”

Parenting in any capacity, as a parent, stepparent, grandparent, etc., teaches you something about yourself that you cannot learn anywhere else. Children are miracles, little resource sucking miracles that bring smiles and tears, joy and pain, with every waking minute.

Seeing parenting as practice is something I believe I was doing, unconsciously back then, but now I see it everywhere. In every interaction, I wonder, “How can I meet this person in a better way?”

The Way is Yours to Choose

The Way? The Path? Sound so cliché, but how else do you write about our lives? The last line I’m going to share from this book set my heart free.

the way

“To follow the Way is not what we might think; it does not mean that there is a narrow path to follow, like a little brick road leading to the end of the rainbow. Your way is the Way, and your life is the Path.” From The Path of the Human Being by Dennis Genpo Merzel

The way I think, is the way. My life, my choices, are the path. There is no set destination. There is no finish line. My only goal while I move through this existence is to experience it, learn from it, and keep going. My hope each day is that I may learn to experience all the ups and downs, lefts and rights, more peacefully. In this way, I can share this life with others, maybe pull them along with me for a part of their journey.

It feels like freedom.

The whole time I was reading this book, I kept thinking of The Matrix. And, no I haven’t seen the new movie yet, but I am going to this week. It’s one of my favorite stories. In the movie, Neo comes to the realization that he is inside a program and his physical self is trapped elsewhere. You know the story, right? The point of the movie is to escape the program and live real lives.

Zen Buddhism is similar, except that it seems that the point is that we realize we are living in a program and then accept it, relish it, and keep living without the drama and stress of escaping. We don’t bend the spoon to our will, we simply know there is no spoon and let it go.

Sounds crazy. In The Matrix, Neo learns to see the code behind what he is experiencing and change it. We see the code, the fact that we are all atoms arranged in different patterns and then move in it as part of it, instead of struggling against it.

Pieces cut for new table napkins.

Yesterday, I was able to see the code and move through it. It felt good to (even if fleetingly) see a feeling for what it was, passing and ephemeral. “I’m feeling a bit of sadness, anxiety, a little put out by my circumstances at the moment.” And then I sat in it for a bit, gave it some love, and then chose to let go of it. I asked my husband for a hug (and didn’t grump about having to ask) and we made some plans for the day.

The result? A peaceful day, a project I’d had on standby for a couple years got started, a chili dog dinner, and a game of Pinochle with his brother and nephew. My way. My path.

Click back to my first post on “The Path of the Human Being” for more posts inspired by this book.

Keep Moving and Let Go

Keep moving and let go are the two ideas I want to share, but I’ll keep this short and sweet this morning. I’m nursing a carb hangover! Friday nights (except when it is exceptionally cold) are spent with friends and family, shooting pool, drinking home brewed beer, and eating the delicious food we all come up with each week. Last night I made lasagna, a neighborhood favorite. My neighbor made cheese bread that slayed us all. Yeah…I’m justifying the following words.

I cannot express how much I am enjoying learning from The Path of the Human Being. These few quotes and posts don’t do it justice. If you’re exploring Zen Buddhism, I’d highly recommend reading this. It’s the most helpful book I’ve found yet.

keep moving

“We only have to remember one thing: keep moving! Never stop letting of your understandings and views.” From The Path of the Human Being by Dennis Genpo Merzel

We strive everyday to understand the world around us and our place in it. We read, we discuss, we ask questions, and then we make a model to explain our understanding. Now here comes the hard part…let it go and keep moving down the path. The moment we hold onto a point of view, we stop looking for more meaning. We can’t receive and we can’t give. Our hands are too full. Let go.

“Yet when you let go of your mind, you do function more freely. You lighten up and have more fun playing the game. Before we realize that life is a game, we take the whole thing too seriously.” From The Path of the Human Being by Dennis Genpo Merzel

I love this one. I am continually guilty of taking things way too seriously. My mind is so busy trying to work out the next best step, putting myself in the least vulnerable position, trying to get ahead. All the while, I’m missing out on what is happening. I’m not playing the game. The game is playing me. And then, to quote Curious George, “All the fun is gone.”

Instead of the Force, see Darth Vader saying, “The ego is strong in this one.”

Yeah, last night I could have had one less shot of whiskey, one less bite of cheese bread, maybe said a few less colorful words around the table, but we were having fun. I can’t tell you how many things I’ve really made a mess of by overthinking things. My typical response is, “I HAVE to overthink because no one else is thinking at all!”

Last night, I let go of the things I thought were bothering me. I sat with friends and enjoyed the evening. Today, I’m enjoying a slow start to my day, and I’ll enjoy a nap later. Life is too short to take everything too seriously.

Click back to my first post on “The Path of the Human Being” for more posts inspired by this book.

The Space Between Impulse and Choice

What do you do when you feel an impulse to act? My personal space between impulse and choice has always been pretty small. I typically feel it and immediately jump at it. If it’s a pleasurable feeling, I’m the first to run screaming into the street, “Isn’t this the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?” If it’s not pleasurable, I’ll be running to hurt you before you can hurt me more.

impulse and choice

“The moment a thought or desire pops up, we can choose to respond in a way that is different from our habitual, self-serving response. Mindfulness allows us to seize the moment between the impulse to act and the action itself.” From The Path of the Human by Dennis Genpo Merzel

The reason I was persuaded to try meditation in the first place was the hope that I could increase that space between impulse and choice. It has worked. I’m slowly (oh, so damn slowly) starting to…Oh, who am I kidding? It’s us, right? I’ll be honest. I’ve been stuck for years on simply noticing that there IS a stimulus. But that’s progress, right?

Oh, G.I. Joe. You taught me so much, so young.

And this past year, I have found another gem. I can see where I dropped the ball, after the fact. I’ve been working hard at forgiving myself when I screw up but it’s coming even slower than my last small insight. Will it ever get there?

I’m starting to learn that I won’t. There is nowhere to get. This is life. All connected, circling back on itself and out again. I’m born, I live, and I die.

Jalapeno…in your taco…

“We can choose to respond in a new and creative way, or we can choose to simply watch as the impulse fades away. Either way, we have claimed our freedom.” From The Path of the Human by Dennis Genpo Merzel

impulse and choice

Choice. That’s what we think we lack, but it’s illusion. We CAN chose how we react to things once we realize there are things we are reacting to. I used to think that my reactiveness (positive and negative) was who I was, part of my personality. Some past trauma has taught me to behave this way and now I can’t help it, so you just deal with it or move on, buddy!

I’m starting to see that is an identity I created. If I created it, I can also be the one to let it go. The connections make letting my identity go slightly easier. It’s like…we’re all molecules in this universe and I’m only one of them. I’m over here shaking and crying, “I’m important! An individual! Respect me!” When I really should be relaxing and going with the flow.

Sorry, I’m a tad all over the place today. I’m feeling distracted. We’re having a potluck tonight and there is so much to do. The weather is nice though, no more freezing cold wind. What gets done, gets done. The point is to enjoy the time with friends and family. Can’t lose sight of that.

One thing before I go. There’s something making me sad on social media. I know. Big surprise. Since no one is actually READING anything there, I’ll throw out my thoughts here, real quick, and then let it go.

Every year since I’ve been on Facebook, January comes around and we get all the posts about how much the previous year sucked and how much the new year will suck in new ways. Occasionally there is a post about planting seeds of positivity. But I have an idea.

The moment you are in is the only one you get. We don’t get to relive the past. We don’t get to save up and spend our joy in a better year. That saying, “You only live once.” That’s some serious shit. Don’t waste it waiting for better times. Live well right now.

Click back to my first post on “The Path of the Human Being” for more posts inspired by this book.

Slow to Wake, Like my Journey to Zen

Strange…I was thinking about how to start this post. How do I title it and flow from there? That’s when it jumped out at me. You can title my whole journey to Zen, “Slow to Wake.”

Have you ever slept so deeply, so soundly, that you feel like it takes forever to wake up? That’s how I’m feeling this morning. I’m typically a light sleeper, always waking up and going back to sleep. I dream a lot. But it usually takes me only a few minutes to really hit the ground. This morning…I’ve been awake for two and half hours and I still feel groggy, not hung-over, just fuzzy in the head. I’ve been physically busy the last two days though, mudding drywall and sanding. I’m taking today off from that. My arms need the break!

This morning I have two quotes for you. I hope you like them as much as I do.

“The answer is simple, but the most difficult thing to do: cease seeking; stop looking for a solution. The truth is, there is no problem. There never was!” From The Path of the Human Being by Dennis Genpo Merzel

journey to zen

Being on this planet is not a problem. Having feelings is not a problem. Thinking is not a problem. Nothing is. We’re simply here. Things come and go. People live and die. The seasons change. And it goes on and on. Float with it.

This video from Thich Nhat Hanh summed it up nicely. We are not our ups and downs.

“It is not easy to let go of our perspective, the way we view ourselves, our self-identity. When we drop our perspective, we also lose our identity – at least the identity we know – and this is something we’re not eager to do.” From The Path of the Human Being by Dennis Genpo Merzel

Oh, that identity thing again. So often we hear, “You just need to find out who you are?” or “I’m searching for myself.” I’ve said them myself, among other gems.

A daughter, student, employee, cast member, girlfriend, wife, mother. A Christian, homeschooler, UNschooler, reader, American, Californian, moto-mom. The list goes on and on, changing every day. And each time we feel a change begin, we fight it with our whole being or move toward it with our whole being. Sometimes we’re devastated when the results don’t match our expectations.

What if we didn’t? What if we simply had no identity? Terrifying thought, right? What do we hold on to? Nothing. Like Princess Leia said, “The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.” And the more will fly right by you.

While we are here grasping our identity, the rest of the world floats on by us and we miss it. Experiences, opportunities, growth, it all passes us by while we white knuckle our grip on what we believe we already have or want.

My practice today includes letting go and remembering who I really am. Nothing and everything at the same time. It feels free.

To read more posts inspired by this book, start at “The Path of the Human Being.”

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