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Archive for April, 2013

As I have mentioned, one of my Happiness Project goals for this month is to put up at least one blog entry per week, and I missed last week.  Lately I have had a number of brainstorms for blog post topics.  The first one I had came during meditation, so naturally I had to “let it go” and hope that I would remember it again by the end.  I didn’t, and I was upset that I hadn’t jotted down the idea.  While out walking another day recently, I came up with another idea.  This time I grabbed my phone, opened my notes app, and wrote down this:  “blog: great ideas strategies.”  Huh?  I have strategies for coming up with “great ideas”?  I do?  Why can’t a remember any of them?  Clearly they are not that useful if I can’t even remember that I know of such strategies.  I have to laugh at myself.

So I do not have any “great ideas” currently on the books, nor do I have any strategies readily available for eliciting any, but I have been thinking a lot lately about Spring and patience.  There was a little part of me that actually was not looking forward to the emergence of Spring this year.  (Side note:  I generally don’t love Spring — despite all its hope and beauty — because I tend to ALWAYS be so cold during this time of year.  People turn their heat off, and yet it is still often cold and, worse yet, damp outside.  I feel like I can never quite warm up.  Still, I tend to embrace it because it is the season that ushers in Summer — the time of year where I can bask happily in the sun and heat).  We moved into our new house in October, as Fall was winding down and Winter was beginning to take hold.  I found refuge in our combined den and kitchen area, keeping warm and cozy alternately with cooking and the fireplace.  I spent many happy evenings there watching Jeopardy and crocheting, drinking tea and eating cookies with friends, and cuddling with my other half.  I was bonded with the inside of the house but not the outside.  I wasn’t sure what to expect and was resistant.

Spring has been very slow to emerge this year.  We are almost upon May 1st, and still most nights are getting down in the 30s.  Once in the past week, the cars have been covered in morning frost.  Still, there have been nice days as well, and on those days, D and I have spent time in the yard, preparing the beds, mowing the lawn, and most of all observing the new Spring growth.  We have a hibiscus plant that we cut back in the Fall, and it still have not produced any green this season.  Similarly, our lavender plants, which need to be cut back are waiting for new growth to occur.  Finally, we also have a bunch of ornamental grass (which I don’t really understand, but D likes it) that just looks ugly — brown, dead wisps and stiff twigs sticking up into the air.  I keep checking on these plants anxious to cut them back or have them grow or to just DO something.  D keeps saying to me that “it’s still a bit early; there’s still time.”

Spring feels a bit like a holding pattern to me.  I feel like I am just waiting and waiting:  waiting for consistent warmth, waiting for the school year to end, waiting to get started on all my Summer plans and projects; waiting for everything to be reborn and come alive again.  Birth, of course, is often a slow (and painful) process.  The results, however, are entirely worth the wait.

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Happiness and Prayer

One of my April Happiness Project goals is to put up at least one blog post per week, and it is almost the end of the week, so I figured that I should work on composing one. The funny thing is that I am actually rather excited about this book proposal idea that I have, as well as some of the other scholarly writing projects that are currently percolating. Typically I would much rather devote my short bursts of writing time to blogging, but this morning I felt torn, wanting to do both. In keeping with my monthly goals, however, I chose to blog and just mention the other projects. Just by putting out there my desire to work on these projects reminds me of their importance and place in my life.

Instead of actually focusing on the details of that writing, though, I think I want to address prayer. Today after meditating, I did a quick prayer. This is something I used to do commonly at the end of meditation after my “om, shanti, shanti, shanti,” I would pray for internal peace for myself and external peace for the world — sometimes focusing on a war torn country or place with civil protest and unrest. When I returned to meditation after the move, I felt a lot of pressure time-wise and began leaving out the actual prayer part. Today when I added it back in, it reminded me of the fact that I have gone to church for the past two Sundays and got me thinking about the role of religion and prayer in my life.

I think that figuring out religion and spirituality for ourselves on an individual level, and maybe too on a larger philosophical or intellectual level, is one of the great human struggles. How many people do I know who grew up Catholic, moved away from it as adults, and continually struggle with whether or not to go back to the church? (This is a rhetorical question, but the answer is lots).

In the past two weeks I have attended a Lutheran service and a Methodist service — both Christian denominations, the services are very similar to the masses that I attended for most of my life (although I suppose I am getting to that age where I have actually spent about 50/50 in and out of the church). Praying more regularly certainly seems to bring with it a kind of power; however, this morning I was thinking about whether or not we prayer primarily because we want something and we want help from a higher power. I guess this is a slighly obvious observation and statement. Perhaps the more loaded or pointed question is: Does belief (faith) really “count” it if is motivated by want or desire? In other words, am I a “true” believer if I just kind of make myself pray because it’s what I should do and have been told it is the way to facilitate miracles?

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Years ago (shockingly six years have somehow passed since I started this blog!) I wrote a lot about my struggles with choosing a form of meditation and whether that choice encouraged me to keep my eyes opened or closed.

Last week a friend came over for our “happiness project” group, asking if she could borrow a room in our house for a bit before the meeting started because she needed to fit in some meditation.  First of all, I truly admire her flexibility in finding time and space for her practice.  I really need to take that in and try to apply it to my own life (for example, once I arrive at work I act as if any chance at meditation is impossible.  When, in fact, I have my own office with a door at the end of a hall that few people venture down — a completely viable space for meditation to happen whenever I need a quick break and time to refocus my energy).

After my friend wrapped up her meditation in our den, she talked about how relaxing her practice is and how she can get so far into it that the outside world melts away.  I have never achieved this in meditation.  I told her how I am lucky to achieve three breaths before my monkey mind jumps in.  It turns out that she does a mantra based meditation (eyes closed, one sanskrit word with “good vibration” — she didn’t tell me what word — in her head).  This got me thinking about shifting my meditation practice again — back to where I began.

For the past few years, my meditation has been in the tradition of Shambhala instead of the mantra based and metta meditations that I practiced early on.  So for the past week or so I have gone back to doing eyes closed with the mantra –” om mani padme hum.”  This has been going well, but also meditation has been doing the work that it is intended to do by revealing my continued obsession and difficulties with decision making.  While I am meditating, I keep getting hung up on whether or not this is the “right” mantra for me.  Additionally, at night I have been reading Sylvia Boorstein’s Happiness is an Inside Job.  Her method is metta meditation, which I learned from her on a retreat and found it to be both delightful and truly challenging (compassion toward my enemy = not easy).

I think that my issue with the “jewel of the lotus” mantra is that I have trouble understanding its meaning.  It is difficult to accurately translate Sanskrit into English, and this phrase, for whatever reason, seems particularly elusive.  The 14th Dalai Lama, however, gave a simplified meaning as follows:

“Thus the six syllables, om mani padme hum, mean that in dependence on the practice of a path which is an indivisible union of method and wisdom, you can transform your impure body, speech, and mind into the pure exalted body, speech, and mind of a Buddha[…]”

Ultimately most meditation practices that come out of ancient/historical religious or spiritual tradition have, at their heart, the goals of mindfulness and compassion.  Metta meditation works this directly into the meditation practice, but this does not mean that meditating in a different way somehow excludes that focus or those goals.  So perhaps this mantra isn’t as distant or distinct from my beliefs about meditation as I once thought.  Practicing the transformation into pure body, speech, and mind of a Buddha does actually consist  of mindfulness and compassion toward humanity and all living beings — the same way that another of my favorite mantras does:

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