Walking meditation practice has been an important helpmate for a while now. It teaches me to be present with every step, to experience the movement of body, mind and breath. I learn about being attentive in the midst of sight and sound and uneven surfaces underfoot. Resting afterwards, I appreciate the wonderful gift of respite.
The Meditation Group
Eight of us sit, a small group in the heat.
We practice cooling breaths, sip ice water
before silence begins, before a rotating fan reaches
skin. That vast field of the mind stretches at warp speed
through oak after oak, and overheated birds begin
to sing, joining a chant to protect the planet
and bring the forest back to life.
Gudrun Mouw (c)
Today is another anomaly, different from the general, coastal patterns of wet, windy winters and scorching, dry summers. The hills and meadows have greened. There is still rainwater in various containers, but it has been sunny for a few days with unusually cold mornings. Supposedly, it was 28 degrees earlier and by noon, 79 degrees, with 80 degrees anticipated.
This last Monday, I was startled awake, in the dark except for my cell phone which seemed to be going crazy. I jumped up too quickly and triggered an old injury. We were given tornado warning.
Last year, there was no warning, and we got hit. We are still looking at the impact. This year, we escaped the tornado landing by 2 miles.
Even more troubling, is that the national conscience seems to be having a panic attack. I am adapting in various ways and for more than one reason. For example, upon special request, I’ve scheduled next month’s meditation group to do some healing work. Hopefully, this will help. I need to find my teacher’s chant on the subject and refresh my Sanskrit pronunciation.
Today, I would still like to work on the current manuscript. Those first few drafts, done so many years ago, set me up for a personal yoga journey around parental skepticism and initial disapproval. With both parents gone, do I have enough distance? Or is it yet too painful? So far, the work has been emotionally challenging. Also, I’ve been merciless in my deletions.
Gudrun Mouw (c)
I wrote a blog in the last days of February, which I did not post because I was concerned it was too personal. As I take another look at “Valley Canyon Selfie,” I realize this piece is one example of a long-time interest I have had in describing the journey towards happiness.
Remembering the year 1970, I was 26 years old, single and working at the Stanford University Graduate Library having recently completed my M.A. in English Literature. It was lunchtime. I sat on a bench near the library, but I do not remember eating. I remember feeling completely miserable.
Within 3 years, I was married, had a child, met my spiritual teacher and was on the way to learning about the art of happiness. To begin with, I had the insight that happiness was my birthright, which was news to me. The birth of my daughter touched a joy I hadn’t known existed. Still, it has not been an easy, straightforward, upward climb.
In the past, I have often been disappointed by external circumstances or people; that is when happiness has been elusive. It’s taken a long time for me to take responsibility for my internal landscape. It took even longer to recognize that a difficult childhood, for example, were not enough reasons for me to be unhappy. I didn’t always get how joy is its own reward and doesn’t require a narrow groundwork of perfection to bring about happiness.
For me, formal sitting, meditation, has been a primary practice to help clear the mind of unhelpful baggage. In recent years I have noticed that what some meditation teachers call “ordinary dharma” has come into my life quite naturally and without fanfare. By “ordinary dharma,” I mean ongoing mindfulness, or what I like to think of as conscious living. A commitment to what my teacher often called “constant vigilance” leads to greater peace, gratitude, happiness and insight through everyday awareness of each moment. “Valley Canyon Selfie” is one of my attempts to describe how such a process can work.
2-FEBRUARY—Valley Canyon Selfie
February close to completion, the first of the long-stemmed Valentine roses fades. Outside, the meadow is mowed, paths cleared and walkways weeded, somewhat. I do what I can, aware of the need to prepare for another drought season ahead, knowing there is always much more to be done.
After yesterday’s walk with a friend who likes to move fast, I woke up this morning not wanting to sit, or even do yoga. The body ached. I pushed through a threatening cloud of negativity, gently searching for and, gradually, finding a way to do my morning practice until it released a threatening reactivity like a dissolving fog. I became grateful. I answered emails, washed dishes, walked, put off some paper work.
I am satisfied, now, without much justification, it seems, since there is still that mental to-do list. I’ve checked off several things, except, of course, the one I am putting off. Perhaps, I will put it off a little longer. Rest. Do nothing. Examine, once again, the card that arrived in the mail yesterday. On the front of the card is the photograph of a pig-tailed little girl with her outstretched arm on a pooch sitting next to her; both look straight ahead at a large body of water; both wear a swim ring.
I receive a request for Face Time from my daughter. Seeing the youngest one in her lap, it is as if the sweetness of the photo I had just been looking at has, suddenly, come to life. I display the 3 year old’s drawing I had received from him in January. “I did that,” he cries out. He shows me his new toy. My daughter and I walk our iPads outdoors into what had been, for me, a cloudy morning, but as we share each other’s environments, the sun comes out overhead by our meadow where I am standing and shines across my screen.
It is time for lunch. We say goodbye. Soon after, I smile with the realization that one of my early morning activities, which I had not planned but had enjoyed spontaneously, was also the perfect preparation for that which I thought I was putting off. I could not easily do the latter without the former. And so I continue to be uplifted by an awareness of the natural connection and flow of life when I allow that to happen and don’t get in the way with hasty judgments or self-criticisms.
The Sun She Comes and Goes
February’s night creatures
and frank impatience.
Sometimes warm, sometimes hidden
behind high clouds, today’s sun teaches
about the pleasant and unpleasant.
Though thoughts arise,
light continues to spread
This morning I woke up late. It was close to 5:30 am. I was not happy about it, because of my schedule to teach a morning yoga class. I was concerned there wouldn’t be enough time for morning meditation and yoga practice. I lit two candles, took some water and, instinctively, began the yoga pranayama called Bastrika, or rapid breathing with retention.
I remember a story told by one of my teachers, Swami Vishnudevananda, at his ashram in Grass Valley, California where my daughter and I stayed for a time. He said, “Meditation is like jumping into a mountain stream. It is crystal clear when you look at it, but even when you just step in, it becomes murky. With stillness and patience you will see how natural currents wash away sediment stirred up from the bottom.”
I realize how the breathing practice quickly created currents that washed away a challenging mind state. My lack of ease about how much time I had or didn’t have could have impaired the meditation process, but the breathing practice released this obstacle.
I am reminded of a story from another Ashram where I lived for nearly two years with my daughter. I asked one of the Swami’s living there: How can I tell the difference between my thoughts and the thoughts of others? I’m having a great deal of difficulty with that, I told him.
He said, “Observe, carefully, how the thought arises, then, you will see where it is coming from.” This has turned out to be very good advice. It has relieved worry and cultivated compassion for the human condition common to us all. It has made it easier to take responsibility for my inner landscape. Today, for example, I was able to observe how anxiety arose but did not arrive, or find a place to reside.