Monday, August 30, 2010


"You say you don't want it,
The circus we're in,
But you don't,
You don't really mean it."

-Tori Amos, "Spark"

I certainly think that my taste for drama has subsided substantially over several years, but it never seems to want to go away completely. I say I don't want drama in my life, but my brain is always trying to whip something up out of nothing. This isn't necessarily a problem. It is very distracting, but it is a natural occurrence. I have no judgement about it. Habit energies can be very strong, to the point where we don't really have much control over them. But to see them does take the edge off. The mind still spins off, yet I watch and say to myself, "Wow, look at that! Look how crazy the mind is right now!" It can't be anything other than this. All I can do is return to my breath or mantra in an attempt to put a dent in the cycle. And of course, there is always self-restraint. I may not be able to stop the flow of drama in my mind, but I don't have to act out any of it. It is easier not to act on drama in the mind when it is seen clearly as drama. It doesn't necessarily go away very easily, but at least it is seen. There truly is value in that seeing. What is seen can be transformed.

Something from the James Baraz talk I heard some time ago that continues to stick in my mind is that people who are mindful still get stuck in our dramas - but not for as long. We spin off, but we recover much more quickly than we did before we practiced mindfulness. We should give ourselves credit for this and see that we are that much more happy than we were before the practice! We are that much more free. Keep up the good work!!

"The world is so dramatic...
I can't believe
That we're still livin'
Oh in this crazy crazy world
That I'm still livin'
With all the problems of the day
How can we go on
So tired of hearing people say
How can we go on
Fantasy people
Make believe people
How can you go on
But you're still livin'..."

-Erykah Badu "Drama"

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Walking Meditation

I put off sitting down and meditating last night until it was very late and I really needed to go to bed. I was restless though, so I went outside and just walked for 15 minutes. It was a good call.

Hearing crickets,
Feeling pavement under my feet,
Looking at the pavement rocks sparkling in the the moonlight,
Mosquitos biting, skin itching,

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Joyful Backpacking

How was it possible to feel such immense joy while hiking 24 miles of mountainous terrain carrying 40 pounds on the back of my 105 pound body? But that is exactly what happened. Joy happened. Gratitude. Love. Peace. Clarity.

The purpose of this four day backpacking trip on the Superior Hiking Trail was to practice Dhamma. And so, I made every step my practice. Every thought, every word, every activity – under the microscope of Dhamma, of mindfulness, of the way it is.

About halfway into the second day, a hike of about 11 miles, I realized that 15 years ago, even though I had a younger and stronger body then, I would have bitched and complained the whole way. I would have taken seriously the complaints that came to mind. It would have stressed me out and I probably would have become sick and miserable. But when complaints (too hot, too tired, too sore, “I can’t do this”) came into my mind under the mindfulness microscope, I looked at them; I smiled, breathed and continued on.

This is the practice of endurance. When doing long periods of sitting meditation, a challenging mental activity just like any challenging physical activity, many of us reach a point where we feel like we can’t take it anymore. The pain, boredom, or emotions become very intense and we want to get up and run away. But when we stick it out and stay with it, we get to the top of the mountain. We break free from the things that hold us back and we can stand at the top with a fantastic view. When we experience this breakthrough, there really is no going back. We now know what is actually possible and can never take those complaints as seriously ever again. The next time the pain starts up, we can clearly see how it isn’t as solid as we thought before.

Our thoughts do form our reality, but only so much as the power we give them. When we identify thoughts that are limiting, we don’t have to believe them. We should always question limiting thoughts and consider the alternative possibilities. I can see now how different my life would be now if I had discovered this earlier in my life. Still, I am benefiting now from practicing in this way now. And it can only set positive things in motion for my future.

When things get tough, we just have to keep our heads down and put one foot in front of the other. As I climbed steep hills with a load on my back, I found the best way to stay calm was not to look too far ahead. I was mindful of each place where my foot landed and the pace in which I moved. I listened to my body and if it needed a break, I slowed or stopped. When feeling energized, I moved more quickly. When hungry, I ate. When thirsty, I drank. Such simple things make such a big difference. Sometimes we get so busy and distracted in life that we don’t pay enough attention to the simple needs of our bodies. That is so important.

Listening to a talk by James Baraz in the car on the way up north really helped set the tone of this trip for me. The talk is located here: Awakening Joy - Talk by James Baraz at Common Ground Meditation Center 3-3-10. For some of us perfectionists, it can be really easy to get into a very austere mode of practice, thinking practice has to be a certain way or thinking that we have to act in a certain way in order to become “enlightened.” For me, my thinking went that I must deny myself of pleasures in order to become pure and this is simply just not true. It is good to remember that we really can just live our lives and experience joy and pleasure when it comes to us. We had pleasures before we practiced and we have pleasures now when we practice. Just the experience of it changes. Before practice, we cling to pleasure, thinking we could make it stay somehow. After practice, we may still cling, but we just can’t cling for as long as we used to – because we understand that clinging is the cause of suffering. We may not give up that clinging right away, but certainly when we are mindful, we are able to let it go more quickly than when we are not mindful. As a result, we actually do suffer less. And more and more over time, it isn’t even that we are able to let go, we just do, naturally. We don’t have to make it happen. It just happens.

The practice James teaches is very simple; when hearing a complaint in the mind or finding that one has already popped out of your mouth, simply add the statement: “But my life is really very blessed.” It is just one simple statement that stops the cycle of negativity in its tracks. Even if we don’t fully believe that simple statement to begin with, the more we say it, the more it pokes holes into our very serious story lines.

My body is tired and achey today, but my life is really very blessed!

Maps of my journey:
Cascade River State Park to Caribou Trail
Caribou Trail to Lutsen
Lutsen to Oberg Mountain

Monday, August 2, 2010


The more you want something, the more you push it away from yourself. So you may as well just be content with the fact that you will never get what you really want. At least not the things you want in a greedy, obsessive and clingy way. You’ll never be successful in getting the things you would sell your soul for. And even if you do get them, you will never really have them because of the fear of loss that comes from such tight clinging.

We suffer from desire when we become hyper-focused on getting what we want. When we suffer from tunnel vision. When all we can see is the object of our desire. When all we do is spin stories about it in the mind and believe those stories to be total reality. These are the stories that my meditation teacher refers to as “self-centered dramas”. The self-centered dramas our minds create feel real, they feel like Me, we take them personally, they make us feel like we exist in a solid way.

But there is hope. There may not be any getting rid of desire, but desire can happen without clinging. When desire occurs in a spacious field that doesn’t require a particular outcome, there is no suffering from desire. When there are no stories about desire, there is no suffering. When there are stories but we don’t believe in them, there is no suffering. When there are stories and we believe them, but we see how believing in them is an error, we only suffer a little.