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Finding Perspective in Your Practice: Dealing with Distractions August 01, 2017 14:33

 

What’s right in front of you matters.  This moment matters.  Navigating now seems simple in theory, but in practice…distractions can compete for your attention and hijack your intentions. They can dominate your view and force you to take unexpected detours and delays.

Last month, I took a personal retreat and spent a few days nestled in a small, circular cabin in the woods. My intention was to use this time to practice yoga, meditate, read, write, and simply enjoy being mindful and present.

On the first day of my retreat, I noticed a small spider that had created a web on the railing of the deck.  Stretching to a cluster of branches in a nearby tree, this web was a perfect circle, and the spider sat in the center, patiently waiting for her lunch to arrive.  She was beautiful. Her pale green body shimmered in the sun, and each leg curved like a tiny arch. I wanted to capture this moment, this now, by taking a photo.

Over the next three days, I attempted many times to snap a close-up photograph of this lovely, eight-legged architect. I had a small tourist camera—nothing fancy or expensive, but it had a decent zoom capacity. Unfortunately, it didn’t recognize the spider as the focal point of the shot, so it would zoom in on a nearby cluster of leaves or the trunk of a tree that was behind her instead. I struggled to capture the image that was right in front of me—the image that mattered most was elusive—the lens of my camera couldn’t recognize it as meaningful like my eyes (and mind) did.

I changed position, experimented with different angles, moved furniture around…no luck. In the meantime, I practiced yoga, meditated, read, wrote, hiked, and simply savored just being in each moment.  Morning eased into evening. Sunlight shifted, moved, and disappeared through branches as the days progressed.

Meditation can be like this, too. Your intentions are good—you want to practice—you want to sit and focus on mantra recitations—but the phone rings, a siren sounds in the distance, a random memory or thought surfaces and will not let go.  Distractions are a part of navigating now.  Ignoring  them, or growing impatient with them rarely helps.

Acknowledging them, however, is essential.  It’s part of the practice. The phone is ringing…that’s an ambulance…this is a thought…that is a memory from the past. Taking a moment to breathe, briefly acknowledge what surfaces, and then offer a little time and space for these distractions to move, shift, and pass will help in navigating the detours.

Be gentle, and give yourself permission to continue your practice—to pick up where you left off—without berating or judging yourself for succumbing to yet another distraction.  Be kind, mindful, and consistent with your practice. Eventually, the benefits will unfold and appear.

On the last afternoon of my retreat, I had returned from an hour-long hike in the woods. The sun was at just the right angle on the deck, creating enough shadow for me to zoom in and capture a close-up shot of the spider and her web.  As an added, unexpected bonus, tiny orbs of dappled sunlight appeared to be caught, glistening and suspended in her web. Patience and consistency, these are the jewels of any practice.


Relax and Allow: How a Mantra Practice Can Invite an Appreciation for the Present Moment November 01, 2016 00:00

          As often as I can, I like to go to the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington on Sundays for a morning lecture.  This past Sunday, Geshe Kunga presented a teaching on patience.  During these lectures, Geshe Kunga speaks in Tibetan, and another monk, who’s actually in Virginia, translates via Skype on a small laptop. I know, it sounds like a scene from Lost, but I actually look forward to these weekly “Dharma transmissions.”

            Last Sunday, the weather was absolutely beautiful.  The double doors on both sides of the main room in the temple were open, letting in mild breezes and the sounds of rustling leaves and birdsong.

            The view to my left was especially scenic, and my gaze kept drifting toward it throughout the lecture.  My student self was listening to Geshe and the cyber monk, but my artistic self was growing a little antsy. I had my camera with me in my bag, and I wanted to capture a photo of the open door—the sunlight streaming through lace curtains, the contrast of the brightly painted temple walls against the shadows of falling leaves, the literal threshold between the manmade and the natural. It was stunning….and very distracting.

            My attention was divided, and I was holding the tension associated with grasping and clinging attachment. I could feel it in my body and mind. Technically, I could have taken a photo during the teaching, but it would have been weird. The room is small; there were only a dozen or so practitioners in attendance, but it was a lecture in a temple, not a scenic overlook or tourist attraction.

            I mentioned that the lecture was about patience….so, I waited.  At the end of class, after the bows and prostrations, I returned to my cushion, and just as I was lining up the shot, Geshe Kunga walked across the room to close one of the doors and was headed to the second set to close it, too, in preparation for the prayer session after lunch. I had just enough time to grab my camera, focus, and snap the shot just as the door shut. 

            The photo was not what I had expected, and it wasn’t the shot that I thought I had wanted. It was better.  It was better than anything that I could have planned or anticipated.

            The universe keeps giving me opportunities to relax and allow.  The more present I can be without clinging to attachments or preconceived notions, the more I can enjoy and receive the benefits of what these moments have to offer.

            One of the best ways for me to practice this present-moment acceptance is through japa.  Reciting mantras with a mala helps to still the obsessive thoughts and the constant anticipation and planning that goes on in my head.  The repetition of the mantra itself is soothing, and each complete circuit of a mala is a way for me to mark time with presence.  I can relax and allow into this practice, which permits me to relax, allow, and enjoy other aspects of my life as well.