Friday, October 28, 2011

Peaceful and at Ease

May I feel peaceful and at ease.

You might think that repeating this phrase as part of meditation would be easy for me.

If I'm in the right mood, just saying the words makes my body relax the tension it's holding and settle.

If I'm in the wrong mood, however, a dry-voiced and smarmy monster begins to explain that ease is not possible for someone as disabled as I.

When I first began using a wheelchair, I comforted myself with the semi-affirmation that "Nothing is easy. Everything is a blessing." It was designed to respond to the many frustrations I felt whenever I tried to take action.

As my disease progresses, things I used to do easily become difficult. That's the truth.

So where does ease come in?

I resist the idea that it's a matter of attitude. My left hand is pretty floppy today. Manipulating the mouse takes effort. I have to move my hand consciously and think about where I am aiming the cursor. During good times, I can think about where I want the cursor to go in my hand moves it there without trouble. My mentally assuring myself that moving the mouse is easy doesn't make it so.

My daughter has been visiting a hypnotherapist to help her with math and test anxiety. I am in the sessions, listening to the therapist reassure Alexis that she can do math without upset, that it comes easily for her. She advised Alexis to say, "math is a challenge for me" instead of "math is hard." She explained that the subconscious mind believes what the conscious mind says.

I'm willing to play along, so I will stop advising myself that everything is difficult. I can believe that "many things are a challenge; there is blessing in everything."

I chose the word "feel" to be part of this phrase because I find it difficult to consider ease an absolute.

Much of my life is a challenge, but I don't have to feel distressed about it. If, as I mentioned last week, I am living with joy, that means I am turning away from disturbance.

I can feel at ease amidst challenge.

Peace is easier for me. A child of the sixties, I have always seen peace as an unquestionable asset – not worth fighting for, but worth dying for… worth living for.
Interviewer: Do you know what peace is?
Four-year-old girl: A wagon – a purple wagon that someone pulls.
.................Purple Wagon
That wise girl teaches me that peace and ease are not the opposite of effort.   If the wagon is purple there is joy in the pulling.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Living with Joy

The third phrase of the meditation I am learning has evolved into, "May I live with joy."

The older I get, the more I realize I am a struggler. I don't allow things to come easily. I argue with myself over ideas and only after a good argument do I find acceptance. (Maybe I should have been a lawyer…)

The third meditation phrase my teacher presented was, "May I be happy."

Simple enough, eh?

Not in this mind! As soon as I was given permission to change the phrases so they resonated more strongly with me, I went to work on that third phrase.

At the time, I was in the middle of reading "The Happiness Project." If I were willing to accept Gretchen Rubin's I'll-know-it-when-I-feel-it definition, I might've been able to live with repeating "May I be happy."

No. Happiness feels to me like a state of being that relies on outward circumstances being Just Right. Can I be happy and in pain? Not in the way I think of happiness.

Joy, on the other hand, is a deep attitude that can last for moments or a lifetime, irrespective of outward circumstances. I can feel joy and pain simultaneously. (Childbearing springs to mind. Come to think of it, so does child rearing!  )

One of my options was to use "May I feel joy." That works for me, but saying, "May I live with joy" seems more of a commitment. I am choosing joy as my internal constant.

Like life itself, I will have to choose it again and again, each day, each hour, each moment.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Gaining Strength (for what?)

The second phrase in the metta meditation I am learning is "May I be strong."

Since I am working the metta phrases into my stretching routine, I do have a bit of monster-mind feedback. I lean forward and stretch my left arm out thinking "May I be safe." Then I lean forward and stretch my right arm out thinking "May I be strong." My right arm is much weaker than my left. Sometimes I can barely straighten it. The monsters are quick to shriek "you're not strong. Look how weak your arm is!"

An internal argument follows about mental/emotional/spiritual strength versus physical strength. (The fact that all these voices are arguing is evidence of some kind of goofy strength.)

The definition of strength uses the word "power" liberally: "having, showing, or able to exert great bodily or muscular power… Mentally powerful or vigorous… Able, competent or powerful in a specific field… Great moral power…"

If I was working with the phrase "May I be powerful," the monsters would really be hollering! [My monsters have no doubt that power corrupts…]

The definition of power, though is "ability to do or act; capability of doing or accomplishing something."

Like everyone, my strength is limited. Like everyone, I can increase my strength by practicing. Just as an occupational therapist has given me exercises I can do to maintain what I can of the strength in my arms, my meditation exercises will help maintain (maybe even increase) my emotional and spiritual strength.

19th-century thinker Henry David Thoreau wrote, 'It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?'"

It is wonderful that I am encouraging myself to be strong. The question is: strong enough to what? The answer lies in the rest of the metta phrases. My version is:
May I be safe.
May I be strong.
May I live with joy.
May I feel peaceful and at ease.

I am practicing to develop the strength to believe those phrases and embody them with every breath.

[Intrigued by this metta practice? Follow the work of Janice Lynne Lundy.]

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Feeling Safe

When I first started taking time in the middle of my work day to stretch my body, I found it difficult. I am not talking about taking a lot of time to practice a yoga pose.  I downloaded a software program called Big Stretch Reminder that pops open a (customizable) window advising me to move around. (Mine says "breathe, stretch and smile.") Many times, I would just click okay and close the window. After some practice, I realize thinking "it's safe to take this time" helped me do the stretches.

Safe? Really? I work for a human-friendly nonprofit organization. My bosses frequently remind us to take lunch away from our desks, stay home when we are sick and take time to connect with our families. They are certainly not going to complain about my two-minute stretch breaks.

I am learning a new form of metta meditation. The first phrase in the quartet we are using is "May I be safe." My monsters rebelled against this idea. "There is no safety in this modern world," they shriek. "There are wars, terrorism, people who intend to do harm. Your body itself is attacking you. That's what auto immune diseases mean. Prove to us you deserve to be safe!"

Now the monsters are getting to their core message: proving, proving, proving. It is not enough to be. They want activity designed to gain approval.

mid-14c., "to attest (something) with authority," from O.Fr. aprover (Fr. approuver), from L. approbare "to assent to as good, regard as good," from ad- "to" + probare "to try, test something (to find if it is good)," from probus "honest, genuine"
Ironic that I've taken an idea rooted in honesty and genuineness and made it mean trying to be better than I am. I am always busy proving myself and never rest from that effort.

I need to realize that who I am is enough. Not who I can be, not what I can accomplish, but who I am.

"We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience." --Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Book Response: The Happiness Project

A week ago, I finished reading The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Ruben.  It was recommended to me months ago by a happy woman I met at one of my speaking gigs.
I confess there is a part of me that thinks that happiness is not cool.  As a sophisticated thinker in the modern age, I should understand that happiness is an unrealistic, na├»ve response to life .
The world is so full of a number of things,
I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings,
and you know how happy kings are.
-James Thurber.
For her happiness project, Gretchen Rubin studied happiness and created a list of personal commandments and a resolution chart. Each month for a year, she addressed a theme (vitality, marriage, work, parenthood  etc.) and acted on resolutions related to it .

In her parenthood month, for example,  her resolutions were
  • sing in the morning
  • acknowledge the reality of people's feelings
  •  be a treasure house of happy memories
  •  make time for projects
She followed her progress in a blog and the book includes comments on the blog from readers who were participating in their own happiness projects.

This is the second book I've read this year in the new genre of "method journalism," where the writer takes a year to do something and documents her process (Eat, Pray, LoveJulie and Julia).

As someone who loves process, I find it a delightful genre. I'm also cheered that it often uses a blend of old and new publishing technologies; blogs informing books engendering websites.

The Happiness Project also satisfies the obsessive-compulsive in me. Its reliance on charts and checkmarks is comforting. Ruben identifies her Resolution Chart as perhaps the most powerful tool of her happiness project.

The project is inspirational. The book is fun and engaging.

Along the Way, Rubin began a Happiness Project Toolbox website, which is an online community containing resources and stories of people embarked on their own happiness projects. It has become a Movement!

I'm not planning to create my own happiness project, but the process has added another blossom to my "what's next" thinking bouquet.