Bruce Lee and Butterflies: Absorbing What Is Useful June 30, 2017 17:04
I have entered my fifth decade, and yet I still occasionally struggle with self-acceptance. I wonder if I’m doing life “right,” whatever that means. Even though, on an intellectual level, I know it’s important to honor what resonates with me, when I observe others or hear them speak about their yoga or meditation practices with such confidence and authority, it can stir up questions and doubts.
This morning, I saw my favorite type of butterfly in our garden. I don’t know what it’s called. It’s not fancy or famous like the Monarch or the Tiger Swallowtail. This butterfly is very small, and it flies around in a very haphazard and erratic way—almost as if it’s surprised by its own ability to defy gravity. Its wings are white on one side, and pale blue on the other, so when it flies, it looks purple, lavender or lilac, really.
Even though it’s small, and a wobbly flyer, it’s still a butterfly, and it serves its butterfly purpose. It’s not trying to be the Monarch, the Cabbage White, or the Blue Morpho. It’s in the garden, hanging out with the lilies and hosta blooms being true to its quirky self.
I have deep admiration for people who do this, too. People who can embrace who they are unapologetically—who can “absorb what is useful,” like badass Bruce Lee, and integrate it in such a way that they still honor and maintain their own individuality. Even if they wobble or teeter a bit, they have the courage to stay on course, their course, the path that best suits them.
I tend to descend into doubt and second-guessing when I hear a yoga or meditation practitioner singing the praises of his or her own personal practice—elaborating on how great Iyengar or Ashtanga is…hot yoga…goat yoga…or some complex, esoteric sadhana found in an obscure, scholarly text.
If Ashtanga resonates with you…great. If you can achieve Samadhi by practicing yoga with hooved livestock…awesome. If reading complicated, philosophical texts resonates with you and enhances your meditation practice…fabulous. By all means, rock on with your enlightened self.
I prefer a slower, gentler practice. One lineage is not enough for me—I like variety. Diversity matters…a lot. I like reading meditation texts that are clear, concise, practical, and…well… a little funny (thank you, Brad Warner).
So, why do I feel prickly and antsy when I hear about other people’s practices? It can feel a little jarring to me—it can make me feel like my path is inadequate somehow…less than. During these moments of doubt, I offer myself tenderness and permission to question, investigate, and reflect—to explore these practices and texts objectively, whether up close or from a distance—and then decide if they’re appropriate for me or not.
I’m not a Monarch or a Tiger Swallowtail. I’m more like that nameless lilac butterfly haphazardly zipping around the yard. I’m still learning to navigate this life with ease, grace, and acceptance. I'm still figuring it out. I’m still learning to be gentle with myself, but strong enough to keep going and growing in my own way, even if I teeter and wobble a bit. I'm still learning to absorb what is useful, and to adapt and apply it to my own life in an authentic way...to be compassionate (and patient) with myself, and with others. Whether it's on the mat, on the cushion, with or without a mala, this, too, is the practice.
The Benefits of Keeping a Spiritual Journal June 03, 2017 15:17
Over the years, I’ve kept various types of journals and logs. For the past three years, I’ve been keeping track of my japa practice in small, portable notebooks.
Though I’ve been pretty diligent about writing in these logs, I am horrible about taking the time to read over the entries (they’re more like lists, really) to reflect on what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown as a practitioner. Being in the present moment and recording the present moment is one thing—but taking the time to look over a year of present moments to note tendencies and patterns is a really daunting task. Honestly, I thought I might be bored out of my mind—many of my daily observations are really mundane and repetitious, but I did manage to find a few nuggets of wisdom among the pages.
*THE REPETITIOUS AND MUNDANE ARE EVIDENCE OF DEDICATION
8.12.16 “Chanted with the Olympics on mute.”
12.26.16 “Practiced yoga for over an hour to tango music in the living room.”
1.4.17 “Chanted before Yin—then watched Portlandia after class.”
Countless entries made reference to the practice—the yoga practice—the chanting practice—the meditation practice. Regardless of the day, the time, the location, or the circumstances, the practice was the hub, and the driving force of these entries. Practice requires commitment and dedication, and these entries, while repetitive, were solid proof of this resolve. Taking the time to reread them has bolstered my desire to continue all of these practices, including the writing practice.
*CELEBRATE JOYFUL MOMENTS (BIG AND SMALL)
10.1.16 “Jim and I attended a wedding (apprentice from the shop). The groomsmen had superhero action figures in their shirt pockets.”
10.15.16 “Took a photo of the full Hunter’s Moon as Hugo kept me company out in the yard.”
11.21.16 “Prajnaparamita arrived today. She’s beautiful.”
1.20.17 “Received a handmade card from a nun I’m sponsoring in India. Venerable Tsundue Palmo. She’s 12.”
There were several unexpected surprises hidden among the ordinary entries. Some of these nuggets of joy I had forgotten about; others, I remembered vividly. Reading these entries was a lot like looking over photos in an old album. The brief notations and descriptions were like faded photographs, but they were clear enough to trigger these pleasant memories so that I could enjoy them again.
* DISAPPOINTMENTS AND TRAGEDIES ARE OPPORTUNITIES FOR GROWTH
1.23.17 “This lifetime is like a flash of lightning. Be hard on your delusions, not on yourself.”
2.10.17 “Went to Mike’s funeral. Jim did such a fabulous job. He spoke at the service—honest, sincere, tearful, funny. So proud of him. What a sendoff!”
4.3.17 “Hugo was really struggling this morning. Jim and I took him to the vet in the back of my car. Elise met us there. We said goodbye as a family.”
Just as there were many moments of joy—this year also brought challenging moments as well. Sadness, anger, despair, grief, and doubt were opportunities to implement the practice in order to heal and grow. This is where all of those mundane moments really paid off. I needed the help of all of the practices in order to allow and be, to sit patiently with these intense emotions until the storm surges settled. Taking time to remember and acknowledge these moments gave me an opportunity to appreciate what I have endured, and to value each fleeting present moment even more.
*TRUST… RIGHT PEOPLE, RIGHT PLACES, RIGHT TIMES
6.25.16 “Love and compassion are the keys to happiness, not money, power, and things.” HH Dalai Lama Lecture at State Fairgrounds
8.27.16 “Attended Teaching—Had lunch with sangha—watermelon slices with Geshe Kunga and Ten Pa. Stayed for afternoon prayers—Rinpoche blessed Josie’s mala—Green Tara—Heart Sutra—Lovely.”
11.2.16 “The Cubs haven’t won a World Series in 108 years. There are 108 laces on a baseball. Just strung the 108th bead on a Kumbaba Jasper mala—sending much love and light out to the Cubs.”
Every cell in my body resonates to the frequency of the belief that the right people and events will come into your life when they’re supposed to, and they’ll leave when they’re supposed to. I’m all about right place, right time, and this year was no exception. Whether it was listening to The Dalai Lama deliver a live lecture in Indianapolis, chatting with dear friends, working with students, discovering the right book, documentary, YouTube tutorial, or movie at just the right time, the best lessons and teachers have arrived at the perfect time and in the best way. I know that as long as I continue to practice—to sit, to chant, to breathe, to write, to step onto the mat, to be present…I will continue to learn, grow, and blossom, and, with a little luck, benefit others along the way.