Words

I love new perspectives. So often they are such a surprise and a wonderfully new way of seeing the world. Here’s one I just read on words and sound in Looking at Mindfulness by Christophe Andre.

As soon as we produce words, we tend to leave the experience of our senses behind. We are no longer in the world of sound; we have left it for our mental world. . . . As with all our mind’s automatic reflexes, it is important to realize what’s happening inside us. It is important too to make a regular effort to free ourselves of these reflexes, and to return to listening to life neutrally and receptively: Listening with mindfulness, which sometimes gives us access to something unheard-of. Something we have never heard, because we were never really listening. . . .

Southwest Harbor, Maine

It is so true that when we hear a sound our mind goes into action. Occasionally, say when we are at the ocean or beside a stream listening to waves and running water, we are drawn into reverie out of thinking. Typically, however, a sound generates mental activity. What a novel idea to just listen and hear without reaction of any kind, without interpreting, without judging whether we like it or not, just hearing it.

And to have the prospect that we will hear something we’ve never heard before! Love it.

Buonconvento in Tuscany, Italy

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The Body-Mind Connection

Surprisingly, mindfulness and meditation are very much about the body. As usual I wasn’t making the connection until it was pointed out to be in Looking at Mindfulness. As I read the chapter “Inhabit Your Body” I realized how connected the two are. Yet we mostly don’t think about it or unaware of it.

“Body and mind are totally inseparable; neither ever lets go of the other. Calmness in one affects the other, and so does excitement.” True, no?

Oranges in the Orvieto market

One of the intriguing things about meditating is that I do focus a good deal on the body. I feel sensations in it and in a vast array of different ways. Until I read this chapter I wasn’t making the connection on the duality of the mind-body relationship while meditating – my mind focusing on my body and its sensations.

Author Christophe Andre says “Body and mind are neither one and the same nor two separate things. They are two different but very closely connected realities. Being aware of the connections between them can teach us a great deal. This is what it means to experience your body.”

And about meditating he says, “Sometimes, when we allow our body to exist for our mind, we feel strange sensations, as though we were leaving our body behind and it was floating, or very heavy, or changing shape.” I’ve experienced this meditating. For whatever reason it is one of the reasons I enjoy it.

The physical practice of yoga on the yoga mat presents opportunities to look at the mind-body connection as well. I have a hard time doing it, but it is becoming increasingly intriguing to me to try to be aware of the connection. When I am being pushed, my body shaking with the effort, what is my mind doing? How can I simply “be” with the feeling watching it. It requires incredible discipline and fortitude. My teacher is guiding me in this and offering the opportunity to practice in class. The first thing she says is to breathe. Then I need to relax. Relax! Dang. But if I can, it helps. Then feel it. Not a problem there. But going forward to watch how I am reacting and simply allow it to be there is really, really tough. Maybe this is why I like it. It is a whole new kind of challenge.

New/Old in Sydney, Australia

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The Lessons of Breath

Breathing is a big part of meditation. I have yet to master it or understand it well. I see how it is used, I just am not there yet as a strong practitioner. It is so subtle, breath, yet imperative to life. Looking at Mindfulness has some nice reflections on breath and breathing in a chapter called, not surprisingly, Breath!

  • Breath teaches us about awareness. Our breath is invisible; we constantly forget it is there, but its role is vital – we have an absolute need to breath. Similarly, there are many things in our lives that we rely on but are unaware of.
  • Breath teaches us about dependence and fragility. Our need to breathe is even more clear and immediate than our other vital needs to eat, drink, love and be loved. Breath teaches us that we are dependent in many ways, and that these forms of dependence feed and develop us.
  • Breathe teaches us about subtlety. It is simultaneously inside and outside of us. It blurs the distinction between what is me and not-me.

    Seen through a glass not so dimly!

  • Breath teaches us about humility. Breathing is at once voluntary and involuntary, teaching us that we cannot control everything.
  • Breath teaches us about reality. Breathing is so important, yet breath has no identity of its own.

These are subtle lessons to be sure. But when you stop to think about all that breath can mean to us, and that it is ever present and available, it becomes this wonderful tool we can use in so many different places and with so many different applications.

More directly and obvious he talks about the resource that breath is. “Are you in pain? Breathe. Are you in distress? Breathe. Start by breathing. Then everything will become clear. Breathing does not change reality, but it does change how we experience it.”

One thing I love about this book is that it brings attention to so much of life and paints it with a new perspective. That is always useful.

Blind shadows

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Meditating – A Huge, Rowdy, Chaotic Bazaar

I think a major challenge for anyone starting to meditate is that it is not what you expect. This from Looking At Mindfulness:

“We expected – or hoped – to find calm and emptiness. We often find ourselves in a huge, rowdy, chaotic bazaar. We aspired to clarity, we find confusion. . . . It all looked so simple from the outside! We thought it would be enough just to sit down and close our eyes.”

I think this is a very real challenge for people to get started with meditating. It certainly was why I went at it in fits and starts for a year or more,  never, ever feeling like I was doing it “right.” There is no right but we don’t know that at first. We are filled with expectations.

After the rain in San Lodovico courtyard in Orvieto, Italy

The path for me was through the yoga mat, where my teacher kept exposing me to the deeper aspects of yoga. That got me looking and reading and yes, longing – one of those qualities counseled against in yoga. But that longing had been there all along I know. My yoga just scratched it. And that led to a meditation series with my teacher in which I gained comfort with all the messiness that comes with meditation.

Then it just felt like I needed to do it. I began in earnest before our May trips to Italy this spring. And when I returned I began again. I’ve not missed a day since. And my meditating usually starts in a rowdy, chaotic bazaar. But it almost always settles down and I find myself not wanting to end. I am being counseled again by my teacher. Support helps. I am fortunate to have a truly gifted guide!

The Colors of Parma, Italy

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Meditating

I am going to start something here. We’ll see if I stick to it. I may not, but then again . . .

I’ve been meditating for 2 months now. Prior to this I had tried but found I could not stay with it. Now its different. I am committed. And I’m loving it. My good wife asked me what I get out of it, does it bring me calm and peace? My teacher asked me to set down goals for it and I told her I don’t do goals. All I can say is I am drawn to it, just I have been drawn to the yoga mat. In fact, it was yoga and the deeper aspects of it my teacher keeps touching on in class that ultimately got me looking more closely at meditating. Meditation is very much a part of yoga.

I have just finished and am starting over again Looking at Mindfulness: Twenty-five Paintings to Change the Way You Live, written by Christophe Andre. Repeatedly in my first reading I wanted to write about it here, but it is complex, not easily done without a lot of words. I’m hoping, as I begin to reread it, I can relate what moves me in a succinct way. We shall see.

Stream in Wales

He uses paintings to help understand what mindfulness and meditation is. Some of the paintings are extremely evocative helping me sense and feel. Too, some of the paintings are simply beautiful pieces of artistry.

So why do I meditate, try to be mindful, beyond just the call I feel to do it? Here from the book are reasons I could now include, though truly I simply was called to it:

  • In today’s world of frantic demands and frenzied connections, our relationship to ourselves often goes untended. We abandon our inner world. The outside world is easier to travel and better signposted.
  • Mindfulness means intensifying our presence to the moment, stilling ourselves to absorb it, instead of escaping it or trying to alter it, through thought or action.
  • Mindfulness does not recommend that we cut ourselves off from the world or retreat to hermitage, nor that we adopt the posture of a sage who is distanced from everything. It simply encourages  us to savor our lives more fully.

And this reason, which I have been able to experience in a very few, brief moments of being completely present while meditating.
         “When we fully live in the present moment, we feel that we are in eternity.”
I didn’t go into meditation knowing this could happen. And it is pure grace that it has. This connection to eternity is not some earth shattering, bell jangling occurrence. It is very simply  being calmly present. And, if it had not been for reading this book, I don’t know that I would have made the connection of those brief moments of presence being connected to eternity. That eternity is really the absence of the mind being connected to anything that induces fear or worry or anything other than being where you are. Simple really – not easily achieved, but simple. And beautiful!

Art student masks in Orvieto garden

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The Joy of Not Knowing

I have always found it difficult to admit I don’t know something. To be sure, this is partly a human condition, but it has been strong in me. For some reason I’ve felt it is really important to have the answers. I guess I thought admitting I don’t know something implied a lack of intelligence and/or laziness.

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Charleston, SC Waterfront Park

I’ve read a couple things in the last couple of days, which have resonated because of their truth relative to not knowing. The first:

“Almost all my epiphanies have been the same one: I don’t know. I keep having to learn to let go of needing to be the one who knows. I keep having to let go of trying to master life through thinking about it. And every time, the result is the same. Relief. Like relaxing into a river whose current I have been resisting with all my might.” Stephen Cope in The Wisdom of Yoga

I too have proudly used my agile mind a lot, relying on it. No question it is an asset. But I can’t know everything, and it is a relief to admit I don’t, to surrender to the many mysteries of this life.

Then this single line from Rolf Gates in Meditations on Intention and Being.

“If we can admit we do not know something, then we can learn anything.”

What a beautifully humble and powerful  statement. We can learn anything. And if you care about something, then what a thrill to know you can learn, even if it is difficult.

One of the great joys of this time in my life is that I no longer need to know, I am happy being the beginner at many, many things. Life is so full and mysterious and enchanting when you are a beginner. Learning something new opens the doors to so many more things to learn.

So yes, there is a hell of a lot I don’t know and I am discovering  it is pure joy!

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Rain slickened road – Orvieto, Italy

This image is in color. Mist in the air and the light made the landscape black and white! This after a glorious thunderstorm.

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Sparkling Spring Days

The last few days have been exceptionally clear and bright with the bluest of blue skies. Magnificent.

Blue on blue

At Palazzone Vineyard

Stripes become checkerboard

So lucky to have been here the past few days.

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