Friday, March 30, 2012

The Experience of Life

Joseph Campbell, as my faithful readers know, is my favorite teacher. I return to his books again and again for insight, guidance, a warm voice that reminds me where to look when I lose my way. There are many great writers, teachers, but so few are so human and so relevant.

The past year has been hard. It was a year of many small and some very large losses. It's why I've been practicing daily gratitudes, looking toward regular sources of comfort and wisdom and practical advice. It's why I've returned to seeing my therapist on a more regular basis, as a means of releasing pressure safely and constructively.

Losing the little sprout back in June of 2011 affected me and my husband and our marriage more than I could have ever predicted. That's not to say that we lost our love, or our warmth, or even daily joy or enthusiasm. But what we lost was something like certainty or peace or open-handedness.

For both of us, but to a larger extent for me, clutching entered our lives. In many senses. Clutching at what we had. Clutching of our breath. Clutching for what we wanted, what we couldn't have. And in that desperation, or tight-breath, or closed hands, we dwelt more in the past and in the future -- and thus not in the present -- than we may ever have before.

For nine months, all I could think was: I should be pregnant. Then, when what would have been the due date rolled around at the end of February, the only thought I had was: I should be having a baby today. And while my son was asleep, while I chopped vegetables for dinner, I listened to some beautiful music and I cried. For an hour.

I cried as I imagined how the birth might have gone, how my arms might have felt holding a new baby, all of it. I felt the loss as an experience, instead of as a thought or even just as an emotion. I may have healed to functioning shortly after the miscarriage, but I realize only now that I had not been able to experience my grief -- to live the grief-- enough to let go.

For nearly a year I was full of sadness. Full of fear. Full of regret. Full of anger.

A very wise woman and teacher I know shared this: What you appreciate, appreciates. And "appreciate" here is used in the sense of "looking on" or "emphasizing."

And so, my life filled more with sadness, fear, regret and anger. It's, after all, what I was appreciating, trapped as I was in my clutching mindset.

My biggest question surrounding Buddhism (which I have yet to ask anyone who is expert enough to know the answer) is if all this talk of attachment and the source of suffering is meant to guide humans to a place where we are not to suffer at all. Because I think one has to be incredibly spiritually advanced not to fall into the trap of confusing the intellectual idea of detachment with the actual experience of detachment.

I knew I could not know the baby we lost. I knew I could not know why we lost it. I knew, intellectually, that what had passed had passed and the present was where I should be. But.

But knowing those things did not create the experience of being detached, or of living in peace or in the present moment. Indeed, I believe I may have made my suffering more prolonged, more intense by thinking I had done those things, and then pretending I had dealt with what needed to be dealt with. Not so much repression as inattention. An unconscious ignoring.

I recently saw a very wise midwife for some massage. We talked a bit about the miscarriage, and she said this: "Children are these amazing things, and they change your life in a miraculous and profound way. And once you're on that path, it's not as if you can just say, "Oh, well, that didn't work out."

Those words, combined with my experience of the release of my grief (as well as all the other work I've been doing), made my heart felt heard in a way it hadn't been before.

It's so simple. I am a mother and I am in this experience of life.

And so back to Joseph Campbell. He says, in his interview with Bill Moyers in "The Power of Myth:"
[The definition of myth is] the experience of life. The mind has to do with meaning. What's the meaning of a flower? There's a Zen story about a sermon of the Buddha in which he simply lifted a flower. There was only one man who gave him a sign with his eyes that he understood what was said. Now, the Buddha himself is called "the one thus come." There's no meaning. What's the meaning of the universe? What's the meaning of a flea? It's just there. That's it. And your own meaning is that you're there. We're so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget that the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it's all about.
I don't think I'm spiritually advanced enough to experience detachment in such a way as to not suffer. Maybe I don't want to. I don't know.

But I know that I want to practice the opposite of what I've been doing over the past year. So, openness, love, joy, peace -- the absence of clutching. I want to experience these things. And so I am practicing the gratitudes. Taking deep breaths. Appreciating what I want to appreciate. I am practicing life so that I might be able to dip into actually experiencing it the way Campbell describes, pain and all. 

And, happily, it's working.

Peace and love to you,

Friday, March 16, 2012

5 Gratitudes a Day

Every morning, my husband and I, via email, exchange 5 things for which we are grateful. We've been doing this for a little over a month, and I am pleased to report it is a practice that is already paying great dividends.

In accordance with the Shawn Achor talk I posted recently, I have learned that happiness takes some work, some practice. Or, rather, happiness is already there, waiting to be found, if only you are willing to look for it. Then, once it is uncovered, the radiance of the happiness already present in your life surrounds you and infuses you with more joy, more gratitude, more happiness.

Happy is a verb. I choose to happy my life. One of the ways I do so is by doing this quick, daily practice of five gratitudes.

Go ahead. Try it.

Today, I'm grateful for:

If you're so inclined, leave your gratitudes in the comments. They don't all have to be deep and profound, either. Just the other day, I gave thanks for automatic dishwashers. Or really good dark chocolate. The point is to look at your world and see what you feel gratitude for. 

I challenge you to do this for 21 days. If I were selling something, I'd make a money-back guarantee that you will see a positive shift in your life by the end of those 21 days. Fortunately, doing this is free. Nothing to hold you back. So...what are you grateful for today?

Peace and happiness,