Tag Archives: Life

Open Heart Meditation

 “I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.” — Ho’oponopono prayer

For a long time in my morning sitting meditation, I would feel spacey, and tend to fall asleep. When I tried to go inside, it felt fuzzy, ill-defined. Like I was trying really hard to look at something through wavy glasses or trying to hear something through lots of static. I felt frustrated.  I stuck with it.

Lately I noticed that my sitting meditations have become more grounded and clearer. This morning, I found my way to a very sensitive, raw, pulsating, knotted spot about a foot away from my chest, connected to my heart. It hurt, in shimmery waves of tightness down my arms. And it was angry, in big waves of gritty intensity pushing out. Most importantly, I could FEEL it – it didn’t disappear in waves of unconscious sleepiness. I stayed connected to it in meditation long after the timer went off. And then I continued to feel connected to it through my drive to work, when I suddenly had an urge to cry. Then I was crying in big sobbing tears, and yelling big yells of pain for about 15 minutes.

What did I uncover? I can only describe it as knotted-up energy of the pain of being alive. In it, there is a deep love for all the people in my life and the raw agony of all the ways in which I hold myself back from expressing that love fully in whatever form it might take (anger, compassion, joy, frustration, hurt), and instead settling for a numb niceness that denies I am feeling anything. A numb niceness that cuts me off from you. As I allowed myself to feel this agony, it would soften and turn sweet, and turn to an aching tenderness. I felt a deep forgiving towards everyone, and towards myself, because we are all undergoing this separation together and it is not our fault.

The Ho’oponopono phrase kept coming up, and touching the exact spot that hurt: “I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.” I don’t care if being alive hurts, I want to feel it ALL so that I can really love and live in truth.

Thank you for reading. Knowing that there are people out there who read this and connect with this feeling encourages me to open my heart more.

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The Truth Will Set You Free

“The minute you withhold in a relationship, it starts to deteriorate.”  -Nicole Daedone
“We use om so we can burn off the illusion of scarcity, so you can admit you’re already full.   And not just full, but *stuffed* with abundance!  Our life is a gift to start with!”  –  Nicole Daedone

I just finished a rollercoaster of a ride. I started working with a holistic personal trainer a couple of months ago. He worked with fitness and nutrition, as well as the underlying patterns showing up in your life. I felt attracted to him from the very beginning, and the work we were doing went very deep so I was emotionally very open.

For the first part of the ride, I thought he felt the same way. It was hot. And then the rollercoaster went down, and I realized what I had been interpreting as mutual flirtation was just friendly openness and support. (Or at least, he was not consciously on the same page as me.) And my attraction to him became ugly and resentful, and I felt ashamed and embarrassed about my own desire.

So then I tried to pretend that my feelings didn’t exist. That I could will myself into letting go. I told myself I was being strong and mature and level-headed. Surprisingly, this didn’t work.  I was still secretly desiring his attention and trying to manipulate him into giving it to me. Meanwhile, I was resisting the training and growing frustrated.

Finally, this week I decided I wanted off the ride. I chose truth. I ended the training. I confessed to him that I had been attracted to him and that I wanted trust and surrender, but just not in the form of motivational speeches and diet plans. He thanked me for my honesty and vulnerability. There was a full silence, and sense of resolution and clearing. I said goodbye. I felt good. I thought that was it.

And then a day later, the final piece came through. I realized that I had actually been getting the love I wanted from him this whole time, it just didn’t look like the way I thought it should. I had been subconsciously refusing it out of a limiting belief that it wasn’t enough . . . I wasn’t enough . . . I needed more. As I let go of my attachments and stories and spoke the truth, my expectations melted, and I could appreciate this support fully. This sense of being loved gained in power and intensity, and it felt full and meaningful in its own right. I felt grateful. So my final communication to him was to let him know that his energy and caring were received. Now I feel this clean flowing of energy and peace. The ride is over, but the learning and blossoming go on.


Epilogue:  I frequently find that as a learn a new life lesson, teachings pour in that confirm and solidify my insight.  This is what happened here.  Shortly after reaching this insight, someone shared with me the following “Three Levels of Truth” structure which they based on teachings from the amazing Nicole Daedone (founder of OneTaste).

  • The truth about circumstances: who, what, when, how.
  • The truth about your internal self – the emotional reactions and feelings, the hurts and the joys, the resentments – that allows others to see you.  This kind of truth sets you free, though it might hurt other people.
  • Then there is what seems to be the deepest level of truth – the one that sets the other person free.  At this level, it’s not about what you want for yourself but about their freedom – their freedom to be who they are at their best, to live out their purpose.  It’s a place where your attachment to them is secondary to their freedom, and it might mean that you won’t get what you want from them in the short term.  Although of course, this is the only level where you yourself are truly free.  When you’re playing at this deep level, this is pure love.
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Turning Practice into Play


Over the last month I have been taking a Pilates reformer class.  It is a killer workout, and requires a lot of focus on the poses to reap the max benefit and not throw out your back.  So I make an effort to concentrate on my form.  I noticed this morning that I can have two kinds of concentration. 

The first kind wonders if I am doing it “right.”  When I feel that I am doing it right, it loses interest and wanders away, until it notices that I am no longer doing it right.  Then it jumps back in and says: “You are going backwards! Not acceptable!  You should be steadily improving!”  And with this shot of discipline and back-talk, I pay attention again.  Not too fun. 

The second kind of concentration is not so concerned with the final goal of perfection.  Instead, it just notes, moment by moment, how the practice feels in my body.  It feels when things feel aligned and powerful.  And when they fall out of alignment, it feels that too, and naturally moves back toward a position of greater strength.  This inner awareness isn’t hovering over my shoulder with a ruler, waiting to strike.  Instead, it is  . . . playing!  It is curious and having fun being alive and getting to move.  It’s still paying close attention to my inner experience (I am not just bopping my head along to the music), but it is doing so from a place of openness. 

You can bring these two types of concentration to any practice.  

The quality of your awareness determines your experience, not the other way around.   

Take meditation, as another example.  Many people bring the first kind to meditation.  They unconsciously approach it as something to be endured, that they must get right.  They then decide that meditation is boring, that they are not good at it, that it is too difficult.  

When you slip into the second type of awareness, you realize that these judgments were a reflection of your own headspace.  If you can keep an open and curious mind, the practice reflects itself back to you as alive, shifting, juicy, interesting, and fun.  The bits were you pull away, were you go spacey, where you feel heavy and dull are not wrong or bad.  They are just sensations guiding you to greater openness and depth.  You are not looking for a final moment where meditation becomes easy and a big light goes off saying “YOU WON.  YOU ARE ENLIGHTENED”  (funny enough, you don’t get any such sign in your workout practice either).

So when doing Pilates, or meditation, don’t focus on “getting it right.”  Focus on keeping an open, playful awareness that is genuinely interested in what you feel.   

I will say that an open and playful awareness has its own difficulties.  Mainly, it is hard to stay so CONNECTED for a long time because the sensation is so great and complex and shifting.  I often experience a sense of being overwhelmed, and a loss of control.  Sometimes, I escape the intensity by going back into my head.  But that is what practice is for. 🙂    

How does this translate into your life in general?  Where do you hold tight?  Where do you approach your life with play and curiosity?  Can you experiment with changing the quality of your concentration?       






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Find Small Ways to Practice Growth

In one sense, meditation is like practice for life.  It is a chance to take a “time-out” from the normal rush of sensations, impressions, interactions, and connect with your still center.  It is easier to find this place when you are not busy navigating the world.  As your practice deepens, it becomes easier to return to this place during the rest of your day.  Gradually, you realize that there is an abundant amount of space and grace available to you that you had previously overlooked.  The small practice of sitting for 20 minutes a day snowballs into a deeper shift.

I love to take this same concept of “practice” and apply it off the cushion, in daily life.  To practice an inner quality, there are generally four parts: identifying an area for growth, affirming your commitment to growth, recognizing small, manageable opportunities to practice, and then actually doin’ the good work.

Let’s take an example.  I recently realized that I sometimes have a tough time receiving from other people.  This issue comes up in various ways.  Maybe I do not feel safe, or I get worried that I am being taken advantage of, or I belittle the offering of the other person, or I act strong when I am not.  Seeing these trends in your life is the first part of growth–you have to figure out what is calling out for your attention.

Once you hear the call, the second step is affirming your commitment to growth. I want to be better able to receive.  Or even better, state it a la Louise Hays, in the present tense, as if it is already true.  “I am open to receive everything life has to offer.”

Even though you have identified the trend and affirmed a commitment to a new way of being, does not meant that the trend will instantly reverse.  Our bodies and minds are habitual creatures.  So to help invite change into your life, you can find small ways to practice in your every day life, in situations where you feel comfortable enough to try new things.

This morning, for example, I went to a Zumba fitness class.  Within ten minutes, I was thinking: “This class is too slow.  The instructor is not keeping up the pace.”  I asked my body what was really going on.  It felt closed down, tight.  I realized this was another time when I did not want to receive.

This is the third step: identifying moments to practice.  The best way to stay attuned to these opportunities is to stay in close touch with your body.  The moment you feel tense and uncomfortable, drop down and see if you can figure out why.  If it puzzles you, file it away later.  It may later reveal itself to be part of a trend.  If it matches with some resistance you have already identified, you have a moment to train!  The fun part is that it turns even the smallest, mundane activities into a potential opportunity to practice some soul skills.

So in the Zumba class, I was able to match up my body discomfort with a larger “trend” I had already identified.  Because I had a already made a commitment to being open to receive, I welcomed this moment as a great time to practice my receiver skills.  So that is what I did.  I consciously chose to receive whatever this guy had to give.   I relaxed my body.  I inwardly thanked him for showing up.  And I let my expectations go.  Gimme what you got!

I ended up having a great time in the class.  It was not the world’s best workout, but it was fun and upbeat.  More importantly than my sweat level, there was a moment when I was shaking out to some salsa that the instructor flashed me a smile.  I smiled back.  I realized I was happy I was supporting his efforts to put on good class.  That heart connection  would not have been possible if I was caught up in wishing I was at the treadmill class instead.  I viscerally felt the joys of being open to receive.  So even small practice can lead to measurable rewards, which act as incentive for more practice.

Most importantly, this experience also affirmed my own capacity to grow.  I already have the ability to receive, if I just take advantage of life’s opportunities.  I have the choice of how I show up.  And I had the power to do it the way I would like.

You can practice any number of skills.  I read a fantastic blog post from Jonathan Fields (actually a guest blogger Emilie Wapnick–both of them former lawyers no less) about how she took “mini-risks” to practice courage and help her business.  Using the exact same concept I am describing here, she tackled a “trend” she noticed of fear and self-doubt.  By practicing speaking with strangers at a coffee shop, she nailed an important job presentation.

So have some fun with this.  Remember to check in with your body.  Ask it what is is feeling.  Identify trends.  Affirm your commitment to a new state of being.  Then find small ways to practice the soul skills you wish to have.  Gradually, you will find the strength to practice these skills in more difficult or intense situations.

With love,


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We Are All Stuck Being Human, Together

“If we begin to surrender to ourselves—begin to drop the story line and experience what all this messy stuff behind the story line feels like—we begin to find bodhichitta, the tenderness that’s underneath all the harshness.  By being kind to ourselves, we become kind to others. By being kind to others—if it’s done properly, with proper understanding—we benefit as well.  So the first point is that we are completely interrelated. What you do to others, you do to yourself. What you do to yourself, you do to others.”

— Pema Chodron

Sometimes, when you learn a really Big Lesson you have to learn it again and again, in smaller and softer ways.  Until you can recognize that lesson like a welcome old friend.

My Big Lesson came when I left my relationship/non-legalized marriage last September.  To get clear about what was actually in the relationship, I stopped trying to help, do, fix, argue, convince, plead, support.  All that mental and emotional chatter just had me going  in circles searching for an answer.   I was exhausted.  At that moment, a Buddhist teacher told me to get real about my life.  Stop spinning my wheels.  I took his advice and stopped focusing on trying to help the other person (who really did not want to be helped) or fix the situation.  In that space and silence,  I began to feel my pain, instead of avoiding it.   Instead of being destroyed by those intense feelings, I gained clarity and resolve.

Lesson learned right?  Not so fast.

Fast-forward to this week.  I was in a Facebook discussion group with some people, where some pretty heavy sharing was going down.  Everyone was being totally unconditionally supportive of each other.  You are so brave!  Way to show up and be real!  I was being very supportive too.  But–I was also offering some thoughts.  Okay, some advice.  Some solicited.  And some not.

I started to hear a Small Voice in my head, saying “Hmm, maybe you should just listen and not say anything else.”  Oh, that is silly I told the Small Voice.  This is an open discussion.  I am just offering thoughts.  And they are good thoughts!  Really, I just want to help.

Small Voice didn’t buy it.  So, I decided to stop the mental back-and-forth chatter about what I “should” be doing.  Get quiet, and see what was up.   How did I really feel?  What I saw was that sometimes my efforts to help were genuine and open and warm.  But sometimes my efforts to help were a bit . . . hmmm . . . anxious? forced?  In those cases, I saw that I offered help as a way to avoid MY OWN strong discomfort when I witnessed people I cared about “stuck” in pain.  I got uncomfortable for two reasons.  One, I did not want to see my friends stuck.  Second, I was quietly afraid that if they could not get free, then they would somehow drag me down too.  Oh.

And then I saw it.  This lesson-learning that it is not my job to help-is the exact same one I learned from my break-up.  And one I know goes back to childhood too.  Damn it.   My worst fears are true–I AM “stuck” with me and all the crap of being human and in pain.  This whole time I am so worried about the other person getting trapped in their habitual behavior, I failed to notice I am completely caught up in mine.  And I got there completely on my own!  This realization, ironically, makes me feel sort-of free and light and prone to laughing at myself.  My mind cracks me up.

So, hello again to my lesson.  It does not need to hit me over the head this time, but I appreciate it showing up in this small way.  It is letting me know that I need to go back to focusing on my own heart.

And of course, when I center myself in love, I stop fearing other people’s pain.   It will not eat me alive.  I am strong enough to stay firm in my open heart.  And I am weak and human enough to completely, totally relate.  I can see a bit more clearly that what I feared from other people is really my own deep worries reflecting back at me.  Once I can see that, the thought of others struggling to deal with their own stuff makes me feel warm and loving.  Like when you watch a great romantic comedy, and at the end you get teary-eyed at how everyone is just incredibly themselves and imperfect, but perfect at the same time.

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I Am Not Loveable, I Am Love

Today is the first time in twelve years I do not have a Valentine.  Well, my mom did send me a super sweet card from across the country.  Okay, correction.  Today is the first time in twelve years I do not have a Valentine other than my awesome loving mom.

When I think of other solo Valentine Days, my mind kicks me back to grade school.  Ah, grade school.  I remember that my enlightened school cleverly designed an anonymous Valentine’s Day carnation ceremony, with the obvious goal of traumatizing grade school girls.  The way it worked is that guys would go and secretly buy $1 carnations in the cafeteria.  They could attach a secret message professing their love and giving clues about their identity.  Giggle giggle.  Later that day, the people in charge would deliver the carnations to the lucky girls.  Super-squealy fun if you got a carnation.  Apparently, painful memories that last until your thirties if you did not.  Rejection sucks.

The whole Carnation Ceremony thing might sound juvenile, but I just got done watching The Bachelor, which is basically a grown-up version of this same ritual.   Come to think of it, it is exactly the same thing–they actually have Rose Ceremonies, for god sake.  And just like the little girls in my middle school, the women on the Bachelor really, really want the magic and wonderfulness of love.  More than anything, they want to BE loved.  When rejection looms, even the strongest, cattiest woman among them breaks down into gut-wrenching tears and sobs about how she is heartbroken.

Let’s be real here.  The majority of these women are not crying because they are not going to be with this specific guy.  Lots of guys could look pretty hot diving for sharks and routinely picking you up in a helicopter.  The guy is just a placeholder symbolizing the possibility of love.  When the guy turns them away, but not the other women, the women interpret this as a message saying: “Love is not possible for you, in particular.”  These women are crying because they are secretly worried–just like my sixth grade self–that they are unlovable.

What a crappy story to tell ourselves.  Seriously, to believe that just because someone else–for whatever reason–does not want to be with us, that we are cut off from love?  And wow, what a lot of power to give someone else.  How crazy to think that if a person does not want to be with you, your inner spirit is lacking.  When we tell ourselves this story, we literally deliver our self-worth into someone else’s hands.

Today, I am working on consciously changing my story (sixth-grade old Nicole, you better listen good sweetie).  The truth is that no one can ever cut me off from love.  Call it Basic Goodness, call it Buddha Nature, call it God, call it Spirit.  My fundamental, uncluttered awareness is alive (as I wrote at the beginning of this month)!  It is full.  It is vibrant.  It is all inclusive.  It is joyful.  I am not “loveable.”  I AM love.

So I am going to stop worrying about whether or not I get a carnation.  I officially choose to opt out of the Bachelor game.  To put it bluntly, it seems ass-backwards to beg other people to give me something that is already part of me–that is me.  Instead of waiting around for someone to tell me I am special, I am going to fall into my own wide-open heart.  I am going to focus on tuning into the free and abundant and ever-present love inside of me.  Rejection and loneliness will probably always hurt, but I am going to stop believing that they say anything about who I am.

And you know what else?  I am also going to practice loving others, regardless of whether they love me.  Guy in sixth grade who I secretly pined for but didn’t send me a stupid $1 Carnation?  I love you.  Friend who has not called me back in a while?  I love you.  Guy who I told that we should just be friends after one date?  I love you too.  Not the romantic, messy, I-want-something-from-you kind of love.  The I-sincerely-wish-you-the-best-as-another-person-on-this-path-of-life-no-matter-what kind of love.  There is no loss of dignity in loving someone when you do not need anything from them.  There is also no danger in becoming blind to the current state of someone’s character when your love has no strings.  Practicing unconditional love is entirely consistent with healthy boundaries and skillful discernment.

So happy Valentine’s Day to me and you.  Carnations and roses for all.  It’s pretty amazing to realize I do not have to wait for anyone to love me to (a) be connected to love, or (b) love them back.  I can just open my heart.  It is just that simple.

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Practicing Patience, Big and Small

Impatience…can you feel it with me for a second…the small tickly feeling when you have sat at that restaurant table for hours…the far-away detached glaze when someone has been talking and talking…the unsettled, anxious knot when you want something to happen and nothing is going on.

Lately I have been noticing impatience in my life in big and small ways.  Rather than glossing over it, I am tuning in.  What is this feeling?  What I come up with is that I get impatient when I get fixated on something in the future, and I am not allowing myself to be in the present.  I have already checked out.  Why do I check out?  Lots of reasons.  Because I do not think anything will happen right now.  Because right now is uncomfortable and I want to escape it.  Because I am nervous about what is going to come next and I sooth myself by mentally jumping into the future and playing it out.

But really, there is only one reason to be impatient:  I am trying to lead life, instead of letting life lead me.  I am trying to substitute my will for Spirit’s.  I am trying to control things because I am scared to let things unfold in their own time.  So when I notice myself feeling impatient now, I try and use it as an opportunity to practice self-awareness, compassion, and surrender.  I notice how it feels in my body.  Oh, hello impatience.  Why are you here?  I have compassion for the part of myself that thinks it needs to be in control or the world will fall apart.  And I tell myself, “It’s okay.  Let life show you around.  Trust.  Let go.  See what happens next.  It could surprise you.”

Usually this is a relief.  For example, when I am rushing out of my apartment in the morning and all of a sudden I notice that I am already mentally at the office (35 miles and 45 minutes away), I can check in and slow down.  I notice how my body is all tight.  I use my breath to release this tension.  I have compassion for the fact that I am worried about work.  But then I remind myself that I’ll get there in due time, and worrying won’t speed it up.  And then I give myself the pleasure of opening up to what is going on around me.  Like the amazing view from my front door of the ocean.  The fresh morning smell.  Don’t want to miss that because I was in such a rush to get to work.

This can also work with difficult experiences, like when someone is talking when I think I “should” be doing something else.  I notice that I am fighting the experience.  I drop into my body, forgive myself for being so tense, forgive myself for ignoring the other person, and then relax.  I am here.  I do not need to go anywhere.  Nothing needs to get done.  The most important thing I can do right now is give this person my full, undivided attention.  And really, what is more important than truly being present with someone?  Once I have given myself permission to stop worrying about all these illusionary things I need to do, and remind myself of the honor it is that this person wants to share something with me, I start to actively engage in the moment again.   The impatience disappears.

The one area of my life where I am having real trouble applying this right now is my job.  I am in a one year position, and at the end of this year I need to decide what I want to do next.  I could go back to my old position.  I could go to a new job, but still work at a law firm. I could do something totally different.  I am not getting any clear answers and it. is. driving. me. crazy.  Even though out of all the examples I have given this is the one that allows me the most physical time, it is the one where I am least able to chill out.

So right now I am at the stage of tuning in to what is making me so uncomfortable about the whole thing.  And I can see that the reason why I am so impatient about my career choice makes perfect sense.  I have this underlying belief that I need to actively take control of my career and “make” things happen–the perfect remedy for impatience.  This vision is given extra juice by my underlying fear of finding myself 20 or so years down the road, realizing I am not fulfilled by my job and wishing I had “done” something about it.  I don’t want trust in the universe to devolve into passivity and missed opportunities.  On the other hand, I do not want my desire to be active and engaged in this process to snowball into a big mass of anxious impatience that leads me to make a rash decision before the time is right.  Especially when I do not have a clear vision right now of my goal.

I know that when I have patience about getting out of my apartment in the morning or listening to someone, it doesn’t mean I entirely abandon the idea of doing what I need to do next.  It just means that I have a different attitude towards the pace at which it is going to happen.  But for some reason, I am having more trouble trusting that an answer about my job will come to me unless I frantically worry away at it.

On the ride home tonight, I heard great advice that helps me put this situation in perspective.  The speaker, Michael Neill (a life coach) said that there are two ways to use your mind.  One is to solve problems.  Your mind can go into the filing drawer of learned skills and accumulated information and help you out.  Two plus two equals four.  My brother’s name is Gabriel.  You go in, you ask the question, you pull out the answer.  I keep on trying to use this method on my career.  Guess what?  The answer is not in the drawers, no matter how many times I go back to try and figure it out.

The second way to use your mind is to access a deeper web of intelligence–sort of like surfing the internet for an answer.  This is intuition.  When you silence your mind and allow it to go into “internet search mode” it will come back with an answer from wisdom far greater than your conscious mind.  But you have to trust the process, otherwise your little mind will be too busy frantically searching in the file drawers to hear the response when it does arise from that deeper source.  This is not a passive process.  You have to ask the question.  You have to listen.  And most importantly, you have to trust.  I know this is how I am going to get my answer.  Man, does it require patience in the deepest sense of the word.

To give you an example of this second kind of  knowledge, here is a story about a famous Buddhist monk named Thich Nhat Hanh.  He was organizing the rescue of 800 Vietnamese refugees from small boats that lacked food or water off the coast of Singapore.  After his activities leaked to the press, the Singapore police arrived at his apartment, took his travel documents, and ordered him to leave within 24 hours. They would not allow his boats to leave the harbor to pick up boat people.  What did he do?  Did he immediately gather a council to debate the answer?  Did he freak out and start brainstorming possible solutions?  No.  He practiced walking meditation for the rest of the night.  Five minutes before he was going to be expelled, with his mind calm, he received the guidance to turn to the French embassy for assistance.  They intervened, and the boat people were saved.  Wow.  Kind of puts my job worries in perspective.

I am just really getting started on my journey of practicing patience.  It is important for me to focus on making sure I practice patience in the small ways, because those help prepare me for the bigger experiences.  So I will remember to check out the ocean and enjoy long conversations while I am waiting to get clarity on my career.  All in its own good time.

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Ripping Away the Band-Aid of TV

For about four months, I did not have a TV.  I was also in the middle of a lot of changes (new apartment, new job, ending of a relationship, living alone for the first time in a while).  Suddenly, everything became very new.  And not having a TV in the middle of that newness was another element that woke me up to what the present moment actually felt like.

Before, a typical routine (when I didn’t go out) would go something like this.  Come home to my floor-plan B apartment on the top floor of a managed building (complete with carpet and sound-proofed walls).  Put on pajamas, get food, and turn on TV.  For just a little bit.  A little bit would turn into an hour, while I watched whatever reality show happened to be on.  Get caught up in the drama on the screen.  My partner would get home and we would cuddle and chat and then next thing I knew it would be time for bed.

The way I come home over the past four months has been very different.  I moved to the top floor of a duplex in Manhattan Beach.  It feels like such a big, creaky space, with high wooden ceilings and full of the smell of ocean air.  I open the door, and take off my shoes.  Feel my feet on the hardwood floor as I walk across the living room.  Listen to the wind rip across the roof, and the neighbors play music across the street (no sound-proof walls).  Get into pajamas.  Pause.  Then, maybe . . . get food, write, or read.  Feel that small moment when I crawl into bed and realize I am not waiting for anyone else.

As I get re-adjust to life in all of its little ways, I have done it without the band-aid of having a TV.  I kind of miss it.  But TV enables an automatic life.  It lets you come home and skip right past all of the bumpy parts, and instead watch someone else tough it out (or pretend to live life, at least).  Without it, I have had to come face-to-face with some pretty empty times.  Sometimes, I have felt like I have nothing to fill them with.  I am just alone.  No partner and no TV.  But other times, something quiet and beautiful emerges, and I happy to be alive.  Or I feel inspired to create something.  For example, I have (re)-discovered how much I like to write.

I recently got a TV again, and a roommate.  Part of me is drawn to just . . . flipping that switch . . . and getting sucked back into a “comfortable” routine.  Especially when that comfort lets me ignore the  part of me that really wishes I had someone coming to bed with me.  But I like staying alive, and vulnerable, and awake.  I like not having a set, mindless routine.  So I will try and keep my TV for movies (small concession for the Bachelor and roommate time), and life–new, uncertain, sometimes empty–for me.

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Turning Arrows into Flowers

Alright 2011, here is the last of you.  The second half of my story about my breakup begins on the night when I learned some information that answered my request for a clear sign as to whether to stay or to go.  I had to go.  That night, I ran down to the ocean in my pajamas and spent an hour listening to the waves (not a huge trek, I live four blocks from the beach).  Then, I came back up to my apartment and spent about half the night in my car.  The last half of the night, I spent on the couch.  I was in pain and wanted to be alone, but thought I was pretty pulled together, considering.  Looking back, I think I was in a bit of shock.

The next morning, I headed out for the last day in a three-day Buddhist meditation weekend retreat with the Eagle Rock Shambhala Center.  I got to the Center and got into the breakfast line.  Still relatively pulled together.  Someone said hi.  And I lost it, in the morning sunshine, trying to put a damn bagel in the toaster.  I just broke down into big, sobbing tears.  Someone was kind enough to immediately ask the leader of the retreat if she would meet with me quickly before we began the day.  This wonderful woman pulled up a chair facing me in her small office, and listened to me pour my heart out.  She hugged me.  And then she sent me out to sit.  Buddhists are great listeners, but they are not there to take you away from your experience.  God bless.

For the next six or so hours, I did two things.  I felt my pain, and I watched my response to my own pain.  What I noticed as I sat there was that every time the pain got really uncomfortable, I would want to do one of three things.  First, I would want to “blame” my ex-partner.  I would feel these huge surges of anger and resentment well up.  That got me the momentary relief of “pushing” the pain away from me, towards him.  The second thing way I would react would be to blame myself.  I would feel intense remorse and sadness and shame.  I would then beat myself up.  This got me the momentary relief of punishing myself for the pain I was feeling.  The third thing I would do would be to try and avoid the pain altogether by ignoring it.  Again, it was a passing relief of “stuffing” the pain away.

I realized each of these three reactions were just different ways to avoid pain.  So I began to consciously try another way of relating to my pain.  I sat right in the middle of it, without pushing, pulling, or burying it out of sight.  I didn’t blame him.  I didn’t blame me.  I didn’t try and pretend I was not hurting.  I just felt it.  But more than felt it–I opened my heart to it.  This act of opening your heart to what you are feeling is sometimes called “creating space” around the pain.  It means that you access a part of you (or of Spirit, depending on how you view it) that is bigger than pain.  Love.  Love for yourself and the other person.

I began to perceive that being in pain is a completely different question than how you dealt with it.  If you handle it poorly, you add what Buddhists call “suffering” on top of the original hurt.  You are just floundering around, and drowning in your own hurt.  (Think of someone who, years after a break-up, is still vengefully obsessed with their ex.)  But if you confront pain directly, you process it cleanly, and can even open your heart.

There are two beautiful stories related to this practice that I would like to share.  First is one that I actually heard the day before all of this went down.  I was waiting for my private teacher interview and reading a book.  In the book, there was this story about this dude who went off to India and wad meditating and wasn’t really feeling it.  He was wondering how he could have a break-through.  Finally, he went back to his hut in frustration.  There, in the middle of the hut was a large rattlesnake.  This guy was petrified of snakes.  He was so afraid that he didn’t want to move.  He was worried that if he rushed towards it or away from it the snake would strike.  So he just sat there, and locked eyes with this snake for hours.  What he was really facing his own terror in a very direct and naked way.  There was no escape.  And a funny thing happened.  As the night gave way to day, his fear turned into total joy and gratitude.  As the morning sun came up, he rose, walked to the snake, and bowed in thankfulness.  The snake slithered away.

I remember that after I read this story, I went in to talk with the teacher and said, “Wow, I wish I had a snake to amp up my practice.”  Again, you get what you ask for.  After reading that story, I was able to understand that my own difficult experience could serve as a a spiritual teacher if I could face my own pain and fear without any filters.  And I began to understand how that practice could lead to joy and gratitude.

The second beautiful story is an oldie but goodie and one of my favorites.  The story is about that very important moment when Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree, determined to rid his mind of all confusion and finally reach enlightenment.  The god of illusion, Mara, decided to try and scare Buddha and get him to give up his seat from under the tree.  Mara sends his armies to go fire arrows at Buddha.  In response, Buddha did not attack.  He did not flee.  Instead, he said “I see you Mara, and I am not afraid!”  (Some stories even say Buddha invited Mara to join him for tea!)  Buddha held his ground.  As Mara’s arrows met the force of Buddha’s light, they turned to flowers and fell to the ground.

I kept on thinking of that story on that day.  I felt the companionship of Buddha holding his ground in love and light.  And every time something came up that threatened to “unseat me” I would say, I see you!  And I would try and meet it with my heart.

In the small group sessions that we held  towards the end of the afternoon, someone asked about Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s (the founder of Shambhala Buddhism) phrase “the genuine heart of sadness.”  They wanted to know what it meant.  I felt like I could now answer that question, because that was where I had been living all day.  My insight was this: the genuine heart of sadness is what you get when you allow yourself to tenderly meet pain without struggle.  Yes, there is sadness.  But that sadness is not scary anymore . . . instead, it fills you with love and strength.  It is a beautiful and tender place to be.

At the end of the day, I had made friends with my pain.  I felt like I had just weathered a storm and the seas had calmed.  I knew that I would be able to get through whatever came next.  What has happened since then?  More storms.  For me, unlike Buddha, this is not a one-shot deal.  I have had to meet my pain with love over and over and over again.  It comes in different forms.  Now, I am not struggling so much with the actual event, but I do struggle with loneliness and loss.  And there are other pains of life.  But now, I try and recognize them as opportunities to keep on practicing opening my heart and holding my ground.

With love,


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