Wednesday, February 20, 2008


If I could distill all the great writings on suffering down to a few words, I would simply say that suffering and crisis transform us, humble us, and bring out what matters most in life.” Elizabeth Lesser

What matters most in life? That question that rages in me as I sit here, feeling blue, feeling as if the things that matter most to me right now are trivial things: getting the location of the nearest store that has a Wii in stock, figuring out how to generate income (yes, right now that seems trivial), writing this piece, and finding a way to sit still long enough to breathe…to feel joy! Ah, that’s it for me. Joy matters most.

Okay, I found the quote I referenced before: “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” Confucius

I have a Word document that’s filled with quotes. I use them as uplifting mantras when I feel the need for outside intervention. Reflecting on this piece, which could be called “Inspiration” as well as “Rising” I spent almost twenty minutes getting uplifted by what I found in that word doc.

Considering suffering I get that sense that I am just starting on my journey, I am just now learning how to learn. I remember hearing that this journey gets longer as you progress on it. The more you know the more you realize there is to know…but you shouldn’t be daunted by that. In fact you should be open to it. Being open isn’t about knowing so much as it is about experiencing things, making the connections between what you’ve been told and what you actually go through. Without processing through the litany of experiences I’ve had, I can say I have known the joys of falling and then rising.

At times, I greedily tried to hold onto joy, tried to increase it even but one begins to understand that: “Only angels know unrelieved joy-or are able to stand it.” Ernest Becker.

Okay, I’m just playing with words now, how clever? But what am I truly trying to uncover? And, just as importantly, what can I say here that would be at all meaningful?

Well, here are some more words I found in an article on Buddhist meditation, from Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, “…We might not understand that cheerfulness is in fact an inherent quality of mind. Within the meditative tradition, cheerfulness is considered to be the natural, harmonious and wholesome expression of our truest self.”


Okay, I’m equating joy with cheerfulness, gimme that for now, alright?

Recently I completed a purpose-work course with my teacher, mentor, and friend Melissa M. who has whispered wisdom to me for almost ten years now. We spent six months examining the roots of our being, the quests that each of us are on, and, happily, forming a community of both reflection and support for one another. In spite of some rather unpleasant emotional turmoil that I have been going through the entire class describes me as someone who brings joy…interestingly, after the class ended, we traded singular words among ourselves. Pardon this self-indulgence, but I was alternately described as: audacious, warm, delicious, beaming, etc.

But, back to the question: what am I trying to uncover here?

I know, me, just basic me. I don’t know if any of those words could describe me. Sometimes they are just things that ramble around in my consciousness; confusing shades of a ‘me’ that really have no definition. Rather they get in my way, my attaching to them in any way leads me away from joy, from cheerfulness.

The article on Buddhist meditation says simply that when we create space in our minds we find that natural cheerfulness. Create space, what a concept! For me this is a perpetual journey, something that requires me to be persistent in this ‘feng shui’ of my mind’s space, clearing the clutter of daily life, sweeping the insatiable desire for life’s pleasures and distractions out the door. Hiding my disappointments in the dark corners or the shadows lurking just beyond my awareness I find that which I resist the most.


What others have seen of me, what I feel in those moments of reflection and, more importantly, in those moments of picking myself up and dusting myself off-the joy in me, that’s all I need to carry. What matters most to me is me, being alive! I can’t healthfully deal with much else without an emotional enema every few days. I needed to suffer to know I was alive, to know I was human. That was what I believed. That was what I thought the world needed of me…

That and playing whatever role I needed to play at the appropriate time. Now that I think of it, playing those roles was a part of my suffering, of my falling down, regardless of whatever joy they may have brought to others. Or even to me.

"Don't ask what the world needs. Find out what makes you come alive, and go do that. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive." Howard Thurman

Quotes, exercising, writing, meditations…all good, but…

All these tools I have explored are, as a new friend wrote me, ways my soul can access and demonstrate its persistence in the face of my life’s challenges. But it’s me that rises. Grace may fill me, and hopefully it will always be there when I need it. But I can count on ‘me’, even after I’ve let myself down. I can always rise. Because, even without the exact words for it, I can tell you I know that I am alive and I don’t have to suffer to prove it.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Falling Down

For the past several years I have rejected just about everything I’ve learned about making my life less miserable. I studied yoga with the most gentle of teachers, being ushered into a practice which demonstratively eased the pains my body was experiencing as it rushed head-long in its sixth decade. After taking three, six week classes with her I not only stopped enrolling with her but stopped any semblance of yogic exercises on my own.

This in spite of knowing in my bones, tendons, and muscles as well, that it was the best thing I could do for my body’s flexibility.

I dove into Buddhist meditations, finding that the simplest of them was perfect for me…just sitting and maintaining a focus on my breath. Wow, I was hooked after the first time it took. I saw and felt the powerful truth of the Buddha’s admonition that ‘we are our thoughts’ and, more so, understood first hand how damming my ‘monkey mind’ was to my accomplishing anything of value in my life. I am the original example of attention deficit disorder in adults (self diagnosed, of course. An amazing rationale for not having accomplished much in comparison to the gifts I was born with and developed over the years!).

Ask me how often I meditated after this discovery. Okay, at first, pretty often, each day as a matter of fact. But, like the dilettante I apparently am, after awhile that beneficial practice fell by the wayside.

Then there was qui gong. Do you know this thing? It’s a gentle way of energy. You know those pictures from China (or major China Towns from around the world) where in the dawn hour there are multitudes of folks doing their Tai Chi or Kung Fu? Off in the background you can see people apparently standing very still, barely moving if at all. They are practicing Qui Gong.

For a lazy ass like me, the perfect physical practice! Especially one form called “stand like a tree”, right? I mean those suckers hardly move at all, and even then only when there’s bit of a breeze, right?

Dropped after the weather got chilly; I mean hot coffee is better than catching a cold isn’t it?

I should point out that while I am being somewhat irreverent in the retelling of these things, dear reader, I experienced some major and profound benefits from each of these things I eventually dropped. So profound, in fact, that I’d like to say right now that as I sit here and input these words into the computer I am resisting the regret of those wasted years when I wasn’t in serious practice.

Even now I am not engaged in daily practices. Sporadically I do my sitting exercise, occasionally I go out and stand with the tall pine in front of our house here, and, here’s one I haven’t mentioned, each day, or at least four to five times a week, I write.

Last summer, Chris Abani, the novelist, uttered words that struck me more deeply than any of the teachers I’ve been blessed to have (and sadly ignored). In a seminar at a writers workshop he said, “Writing is a spiritual practice.” And with those words I realized I haven’t been as lazy as I had thought. I haven’t been as neglectful as I’d thought I’d been.

I write.

But, and here’s the rub, to what purpose? Who, and what, has my writing served aside my own vanity, or more profoundly, my own relief from the pain and suffering I have endured and still carry as I go through each day?

It serves me, certainly. And, again, as I sit here and input into my word processing software I fight the regret that comes over me when I think that I have yet another gift I haven’t used to better myself or others.

Why regret? Because it is one of the primary sources of my suffering and I have come to require it so that I can know that I am human. Boy, it amuses me now, inputting these words how much that almost became my mantra…I am required to suffer to know that I am human.

My Philly personality wants to say something so profane to that but I will not write it here. Suffice it to say this, “What nonsense!” But realistically, that’s what we all do, find our way of suffering and practice it. It is hard, if not impossible, for us to break out of that cycle once we find it.

Writing has been a constant throughout my life, ever since I wrote essays and poems as a teen. But looking back on it, there are huge holes, huge gaps of time, for example, in my journals.

I’m reminded now of the statement a sage gave us, I believe it was Confucius, who said something like, “It doesn’t matter how many times we fall as long as we continue to rise.”

So, let me tell you about getting back up, about rising.

(TBC in my next post…)