Category Archives: Open Heart

Day of Rest

To rest is not self indulgent, to rest is to prepare to give the best of ourselves, and to perhaps, most importantly, arrive at a place where we are able to understand what we have already been given. ~David Whyte

I’m posting this on the day of rest, but it’s every bit as much a message from the universe post, the message being how to be brave, the nature of courage, how to practice fearlessness, and that through it all, I am fundamentally wise and compassionate, basically good and already whole — as are we all.

In all the ways I am struggling, suffering, at the center is fear, fatigue, despair, feeling like I’m just not strong enough, can’t do “this” anymore — can’t keep losing those I love, can’t continue being so confused about my body and what it needs, can’t stand the anxiety and worry and impermanence, can’t live with this level of simultaneous determination and exhaustion, can’t compete with the discursive, erratic nature of my mind or the fierce emotional force of a tender and raw open heart in a world that is so loud, so fast, so full.

As a member of the Open Heart Project at the Practitioner level, I receive a video each Monday from Susan Piver in which she suggests a contemplation for the week. Our theme for this week? Fearlessness. In the video, Susan suggests that meditation is an act of “confronting our own tenderness,” and that,

Practice itself is a gesture of fearlessness, because when you sit down…you basically are consenting to release your agenda, and witness and be with what arises — and that is our definition of fearlessness.

She goes on to say that,

This definition of fearlessness has almost nothing to do with certainty or arrogance certainly, or feeling like you can dominate any situation you happen to enter. It’s actually almost the opposite. Here fearlessness has more to do with how vulnerable you can be, how much you can trust yourself when your emotions start to roil, how deeply you can feel, how wide you can open to let this world touch you…So our definition of fearlessness is a willingness to be vulnerable.


Then yesterday, this, from Kute Blackson: Stop beating yourself up. It won’t work. You won’t change that way, nothing will, and “what if you didn’t need to be fixed?” Accept yourself, love yourself, this is where the healing happens, in this way you will be transformed, free. Kute also says,

True healing is applying love to the part of you that hurts.

Brave BellyAnd this,

What if the way you might be going about trying to transform yourself or heal yourself, in and of itself, is causing more suffering?…Perhaps it’s not just about changing something, but it’s about the process of how you change something that has an impact on the thing itself. So consider this — your relationship with yourself is as important as the thing itself. Consider this — that the issue that you might be judging or dealing with in your life…is not simply the issue, that the real issue is how you relate with yourself as you deal with the issue. And if you are able to create some space, a certain compassion, a certain openness, a way of holding yourself through the issue even while the issue’s there, then you don’t need to heal the issue or clear the issue or get rid of the issue or exterminate that part of yourself in order to be okay, in order to be loveable, but that as you are right now you are loveable, just because.

I wonder how many times, from how many places and in how many forms I’ll need to hear this message to finally get it? This time it was coming from a person and in a form where I’ve seen it before, a Kute Blackson video and blog post. In this one, he delivers simple but powerful truth with his characteristic enthusiasm, makes watching it feel like you just attended the best church sermon ever. He suggests that,

There comes a moment when no matter how much healing or therapy you have done, how many books you have read or seminars that you have attended, you must make the bold choice to love yourself no matter what.

Loving yourself is a great act of courage. The simple yet powerful decision to love yourself no matter what is the key to your freedom.

Then on facebook this morning, Jeff Oaks shared a link to an opinion piece on The New York Times, The Value of Suffering by Pico Iyer, a beautiful essay full of truth. In it, he shares a story about the Dalai Lama visiting a Japanese fishing village that had been destroyed by the tsunami.

As the Dalai Lama got out of his car, he saw hundreds of citizens who had gathered on the street, behind ropes, to greet him. He went over and asked them how they were doing. Many collapsed into sobs. “Please change your hearts, be brave,” he said, while holding some and blessing others. “Please help everyone else and work hard; that is the best offering you can make to the dead.” When he turned round, however, I saw him brush away a tear himself.

Pico ends the essay by saying,

The only thing worse than assuming you could get the better of suffering, I began to think (though I’m no Buddhist), is imagining you could do nothing in its wake. And the tear I’d witnessed made me think that you could be strong enough to witness suffering, and yet human enough not to pretend to be master of it. Sometimes it’s those things we least understand that deserve our deepest trust. Isn’t that what love and wonder tell us, too?

I’ve been suffering, more specifically struggling with my suffering, and Pico’s piece was so helpful, as were Kute and Susan’s videos. They remind me that being with suffering, being able to sit and stay with it rather than running away or closing my eyes and heart to it, is an act of courage, a practice of sanity and love.

Today, I am practicing the courage to love myself, to heal by applying love to the parts that hurt, and keeping my heart open — no matter what. I am trusting this practice, trusting myself.

couragecircle

When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of your own being and of reality, you increase your capacity to love and care about other people and your capacity to not be afraid. You’re able to keep your eyes open, your heart open, and your mind open. ~Pema Chödrön

Day of Rest

*sigh*

This picture is the last one I took at Lee Martinez Park, the place we walk almost every day, sometimes twice. On that morning, that walk, I had no idea that the next day would be the day Dexter died. I knew it was coming, we’d known for a year it was on its way, but on that particular morning it still felt unknown, uncertain, undetermined.

We haven’t been back to Lee Martinez since Thursday morning, the last time we walked there with Dexter, the walk we took knowing it would be our last. We’ve been to City Park, Big South Trail, and this morning we walked at Colorado State University, but we haven’t been back to “our park.” It still feels too hard, too sad.

We’ve managed other grief hurdles. Eric cleaned the living room floor yesterday. The raw wood in that room was covered with tiny spots where Dexter’s nose had dripped, (because of his cancer, he basically had a constant runny nose). I washed some of the blankets from his bed, along with his Little D baby, (I’d originally planned to have him cremated with Big D but in the end I couldn’t stand to lose them both). Eric brought home his ashes, and I put those on top of his mostly empty crate, along with his collar and a clay paw print.

memorialWhen I’m able to, I’ll open the ashes and put some in the urns I have that contain Obi’s ashes (one is on my writing desk and another on my meditation shrine) — I left room for Dexter so they’d be together again, they loved each other so much.

pawprints

I still haven’t been able to put clean sheets on our bed (the ones that are there were slept on by Dexter) and his toothbrush is still on the counter, and I’m still putting a tiny offering of food in his bowl every time I feed Sam. I know it’s silly, but I was devastated yesterday when I went out to do poop patrol in the backyard and couldn’t find any of Dexter’s. I was so sad that I’d never get to pick up anymore of his poop — that’s a crazy kind of love.

Eric has been dealing with his grief, in part, by cooking. Yesterday, he made three pies. We did a pie drive by to our friends’ house last night because even as much as I love pie, we couldn’t eat it all ourselves.

griefpie

Jamie Ridler’s mom, who also had cancer, passed the day after Dexter. Jamie invited me a few weeks ago to do a guest post in honor of her mom, the prompt being something her mom had recently said, “It’s not about being tough, it’s about being tender.” I have so much to say about that, will be finishing up my post and sending it to sweet Jamie later today. These losses (something we all face as we live and love), this prompt, has me thinking about how important it is that we have confidence in our basic goodness, the essential wisdom and compassion and power that rests in each of us, that we practice self-compassion and keep our hearts open, knowing that life is beautiful and brutal, tender and terrible.

In this audio recording, Pema Chödrön talks about basic goodness. She tells a story about burnt cookies and a fox that is such a great metaphor for how we can approach difficulty — we can allow ourselves to become hard, closed off, or we can stay open to reality, to be present for whatever might arise. Yes this means we will be vulnerable, we’ll get hurt, but we will also be amazed, healed.

My heart is broken right now. It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last. But there is so much worth showing up for. Such as:

A chance to get away. We hadn’t wanted to do this when Dexter was still here, were worried about being too far away from a vet if something happened. But now, sometime soon, the three of us are going to rent a cabin in the mountains and spend some time together in the green and the quiet.

Pie. Especially the ones made by my person, who is as sad as me, who knows just how I feel, just what I’m missing, who will talk all day about what we’ve lost and never get tired of it, who wants to do whatever he can to make me feel better.

peachpie

Friends, near and far, sending us love and light. So many have reached out to me, offering such kindness, making this heavy thing so much easier to hold.

The sweet animal bodies that are still here, that long for love and need care. It’s Sam’s turn to become my favorite, and when we are all ready, there will be another dog.

sam

Laughter. Last night, on the way to our friends’ house to deliver the pie, Eric suggested that they expected this happy gift of pie, so it would be funny if when they opened the door, we gave them a pie in the face instead. It was such a ridiculous and awful idea we laughed the rest of the way to their house. It felt good.

Brilliant nature — blooms and fruit and animals and trees and landscapes and sky and deep water and weather.

Practice. Yoga, meditation, writing, and dog — this regular attention, showing up and being open to whatever arises, moving in ways old and new, creativity and discovery, is medicine.

Music. I heard this song for the first time yesterday, and am totally in love.

because nothing lasts forever
some things aren’t meant to be
but you’ll never find the answers
until you set your old heart free

I’m so sad, kind and gentle reader, but at the same time I am so in love with my little life, my heart so full of every last wonderful thing that sometimes it feels like it will explode.

Letting Go

Susan Piver at Shambhala Mountain Center

Hold your experience with tremendous gentleness. Stay with yourself–always, always, always. Be kind, feel kindly, be loving… As you become friendly toward yourself, you see that actually you can trust your own mind and heart. From this trust and friendship arise unconditional self-confidence. ~Susan Piver

About a month ago, I went to a retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center (SMC) led by Susan Piver. This is the second retreat I’ve been lucky enough to do with Susan at SMC. It was an Open Heart Retreat, “a weekend of meditation practices, journaling, small group dialogue and an exploration of ways we can bring our raw and tender hearts home to the world of family, politics, work, and love.” For me, it was perfectly timed. That morning, I had met for the first time with a new doctor, and she told me “you are obese.” I left for the retreat confused, irritated, and sad.

The retreat provided a safe, supportive space in which to process. And yet, it was not easy. Meditation practice can be difficult because when you sit, the thing that needs your attention, that you’ve maybe been avoiding, is the thing that shows up. And as Susan said at the beginning of the retreat in reference to another activity we’d practice that weekend, “journaling is a very potent way to begin a dialogue with your own heart.” So essentially, there was no place to hide.

On the first full day, we did a practice I’ve done with Susan before. In the most simple terms, you sit across from a version of yourself, imagining who she is and how she sees you, and then you switch perspectives. You start by being your smallest, most scared self looking at your strongest, most brilliant and actualized self, finishing by taking her perspective and seeing your small self from that side. Later, we spent time journaling about, telling the the story of our small, scared self.

The next day, we spent time remembering both perspectives, and wrote a letter from our wise, strong, kind self to the person who is small and scared. It had to begin with “Dear Jill, this is what I have to say to you,” and end with “I love you.” I wrote,

Dear Jill,

This is what I have to say to you–It’s okay. Cheer up. You’re perfect. Yes, there is a tender spot, like a splinter in your foot or a paper cut in your finger. But, it is that small–that irritating and present, but still small and impermanent. It is there so you know, understand the shape and flavor of this particular suffering. It is there to speak to you of darkness, but also of compassion and wisdom. It is a path.

Look for the exit, the off ramp, the sign. It’s there. You have a GPS that is set to lead you into your own open heart, into your life, into wakefulness, into space. It is an open door. It is a blanket you can wrap around yourself. It is your mother.

Ask for help, allow people to help you. You know Eric is there to help and love you. He said this morning in that way he does, “We’ll figure it out,” and you know you believe him, that it’s the truth.

There is nothing to be afraid of or worried about, no rush, no reason to push. You can simply be with this, ride it, be curious and gentle, relax. In this are the seeds for compassion, for love, a fuller life–more time with the dogs, more time with Eric, activities that make you feel nourished, that feed what you are truly hungry for–love, connection, activity, movement, breath. This will all come together and you will take it out into the world with you.

There’s no failure, only trying or success. There’s no end point or goal, only breath and life. This is genuine, truth, love, and you are open to its wisdom and compassion.

Remember what Lisa Field-Elliot said, “it’s not about the accumulating, it is about recognizing and eliminating what does not speak the truth.” Let go of thinking any external validation, truth, wisdom or acceptance has any meaning. You can save yourself. Your body is wise and if you listen to it, to your heart, it will tell you the truth, always the truth, and you never need to apologize for it. You never need to explain or justify it. It is, as you are.

You are your own mother, your own doctor, your own guru. You will ease your own struggle and suffering, and go on with a deep knowledge, an understanding of truth that will benefit others. You will ease suffering, in yourself and in the world, through the good effort of your practice and your open heart.

I love you.

After we wrote our letter, Susan sent us aimlessly wandering. This is a particular mindfulness practice, “exploration without destination,” movement without intention or judgement, a walking meditation. As I walked, I was drawn towards my favorite trees at SMC–two pine trees, one straight and one bent, but so close together they almost look like a single tree, growing mostly by themselves in the corner of a meadow. I stood between them, looking out at the land, and the wind blew, a cool gust that filled my lungs, pushing against and past and through my body like a physical thing. In that moment, a voice inside me whispered, “you can let go.” I made a deal with the wind, with the pines, with that sacred land and vast open sky that I would.

Looking in my wallet, as I’d packed to come to SMC, I’d found a rock, picked up, collected and kept from our trip to the beach this past summer, carried with me ever since. It was a joke from Eric. I’d been finding so many heart shaped rocks on the beach, that one day he came home from a walk with the dogs and said, with a crooked grin on his face, “I found you a heart rock.” What he put in my hand was deep red and meaty, shaped like an organ, rippled like muscle, a tiny petrified heart.

After the weekend at SMC, I was ready to let it go, this closed, hard heart. I couldn’t drop it just anywhere, throw it away. It needed to go somewhere I could trust to take it, needed to give it away and have it accepted with kindness, to have it held it for me, to place it somewhere safe, to allow for a letting go. On that final morning, I walked back to “my” trees. I hugged the one that stands straight and tall, (I confess, I first looked to be sure no one was watching), this spot where I’d made a deal with the wind, where I could return my closed, hard heart to the earth, let it rest in that place.

It would release me, I would release it. I could move on, go home. I could leave the self there who hurts, who is afraid. She could stay there safe, comforted, and I would leave, cracked open, soft and tender and raw.

There was a spot in the bent tree where a branch had been cut off. It looked like an eye. I took the heart rock from my pocket, smooth and warm, and shoved it as far as I could into the center of the eye. Then I stood between the trees, in the same spot where the wind had touched me the day before, and looking out over the land, I let go.

I opened my heart.

I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.
~Mary Oliver

Three Truths and One Wish

The function of a torii gate is to mark the entrance to a sacred space.

1. Truth: Really, really bad things happen all the time. I don’t need to tell you what they are or give you a list of examples. You already know, have seen and experienced it for yourself, and will do so again and again, over and over. There is no safe place, no protection, and no magic that can change this truth.

“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. ” ~Pema Chödrön

2. Truth: There is no stopping all the bad things from happening. We simply don’t have that kind of control, that power. People are hurt and confused, all of us generate suffering at some level, for ourselves and others, and there’s just no way we can stop all of it, no way to consistently interrupt aggression before it turns toxic, dangerous, before it hurts someone.

“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” ~Pema Chödrön

3. Truth: There is something we can do. When bad things happen, when we are confronted with suffering, instead of numbing out or running away or looking for someone to blame or something to fix, we can settle our minds and open our hearts. We can stay with what is happening, with reality as it is, as we are. We can drop our judgements, our agenda and simply be with what is. We can soften and open up, approach ourselves, the situation, the environment, and others with gentleness and compassion, allowing enough space for wisdom to arise. In this way, we will know what to do, if there is anything that needs doing.

“When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of your own being and of reality, you increase your capacity to love and care about other people and your capacity to not be afraid. You’re able to keep your eyes open, your heart open, and your mind open. And you notice when you get caught up in prejudice, bias, and aggression. You develop an enthusiasm for no longer watering those negative seeds, from now until the day you die. And, you begin to think of your life as offering endless opportunities to start to do things differently.” ~Pema Chödrön

Shinto shrine at Shambhala Mountain Center

One Wish: That when we are in the midst of suffering, we can approach it with compassion, can be gentle and allow space for wisdom to arise. That we can be brave and keep our hearts open, that we can be tenderhearted warriors.

Day of Rest

packagefromsusannah

I got the most precious package in the mail yesterday. It got me thinking about how grateful I am for all the amazing women in my life. This morning as I was writing in my journal, I made a list of names. It took up two full pages, and I wasn’t even done–friends and teachers and artists, women who offer support, wisdom, inspiration, and encouragement.

I have a clear vision about where my life is headed, an “exit” plan that will make my paid work and my heart’s work one and the same. I aspire to make my living, my loving teaching ecourses and workshops and retreats and “face to face” courses, blogging and writing books, maybe also offering some kind of one-on-one creative coaching or therapeutic support. Writing and yoga and meditation would be at the center of these offerings, my core practices, with the intention of bringing women into relationship with their creativity, opening their hearts to what is and who they are, and helping them to develop trust and faith in their own basic goodness–their essential wisdom, kindness, and power.

I feel so lucky that I have support and such amazing role models. The books and blogs they write, the classes and workshops and retreats they offer, the art they make, the friendship they extend, their open and tender and brave hearts. I aspire to be like them, and in so doing be more deeply and authentically me.

superhero earth necklace made by andrea scher, a gift to myself

Today I rest in honor of the essential kindness, wisdom, and power of all women. I offer my rest, my self-care, my gentleness, my joy, my mindfulness in gratitude to all those women who’ve shown me how to sink into myself, how I might love myself, and what I have to offer. They have collectively crafted a map to the center of my own heart, at the same time that they have urged me to trust myself, to make my own way.

Gratitude Friday

1. Dexter’s continued good health, and the help we’ve had with that. After his physical therapy appointment yesterday, he was so happy, had so much energy, felt so good. He’s even been cleared to run a little again. We were in the backyard after his appointment soaking up the sun when Eric came home from work. In celebration, Dexter started tearing around the yard like a much younger version of himself–ears back, butt tucked, smile on his face. Such joy.

2. Clarity and space. A clear mind and a somewhat clear environment.

3. Spring. The sun, the birds singing, the green, the bud and the bloom. When I was in the backyard yesterday with the dogs, I thought to myself, “I am so happy right now.”

4. Open Heart Retreat. Later today, I am headed to Shambhala Mountain Center for a retreat led by the brilliant Susan Piver. I am so grateful for her, our shared practice, that I can afford to go, that Eric will be here to take care of our boys, and that Dexter is doing well enough that I won’t worry about him too much, (although, I’ve already warned Eric I’ll be calling three or four times a day to check on him).

5. Health care options. I am going to meet with my new doctor in about an hour. I am so lucky to be able to make choices, to get support in my efforts to be as healthy as possible.

Bonus Joy: You may have already guessed, but we had another week with sweet Mr. D. I took this picture this morning after we got done playing with his Little D.

bigdlittled04

Full Moon Dreamboard: Full Worm Moon

Jamie says of the Full Worm Moon:

I share all the time that when I first heard the phrase “Full Worm Moon,” I was less than enthusiastic, but as I discovered that this March moon is when the earth starts to soften and the burrowers of her soil find their way to the surface, I started to change my mind. What if we took our cue from spring and allowed ourselves to soften? What if we let what’s within us find its way to the surface? What tender dreams would be revealed?

Under this Full Worm Moon, open your awareness. Pay attention to the the dreams that are wiggling their way to the surface. What wishes are asking for your attention? What is beginning to emerge? Let your dreamboard guide the way.

What dreams are emerging? What’s stirring?

fullwormmoondreamboard13

As they all do in their own way, this dreamboard surprised me. I began with the guess that it would be about my intention to train to be a yoga teacher, about the ecourse I’m developing, the way I want a small and simple life that is at the same time deep and wide.

What came through that I didn’t expect was focused on art and creativity, healing and courage and practice.

Cobra pose
back bent
heart open
eyes turned towards the sky.

I want art to take me
up and away
away from the expected and the normal.
To me.
Art is the first phase
in a spiritual journey
toward the great mysteries.

And again, Kaun Yin, the Bodhisattva of compassion.
She who hears the cries of the world.
She holds a lotus flower, the innate purity of Buddha nature.
She holds a sutra, the enlightened wisdom of the Dharma.
She holds a mala, the vow of the Bodhisattva to save all beings from suffering.
She holds me.
May I ease suffering,
in myself and the world.

Making a positive difference means:
being more conscious
having the courage to create
being calm and focused
cultivating peace of mind
and the art of asana
staying relaxed
practicing contemplation
allowing the healing power of creativity
inviting grace
giving, making space
breath, life, and vitality of the spirit
opening to love, to joy.

Art & gentle words heal.
Move with ease,
stretch, and breathe.
By balancing effort with ease,
learn to stay open to experience.

There are a thousand different ways to access creativity.
(“A thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground,
a thousand ways to go home again”).
Each one, at its bottom,
is about tapping into the stillness of each of us
call it grace, God, or Big Mind
the place, the moment where all things are possible.