Monthly Archives: February 2017

Meditation and a viewfinder

viewfinderI cut out a rectangular shaped box in the middle of the piece of cardboard and look through my “viewfinder.” The angles of the table are now easier to sketch. When I look through the small box, I can perceive the smaller picture and the relationships of the table within the small opening. I’m less distracted from the images that the cardboard blots out. Now I can close one eye, and like a monocular, focus on a small part of the bigger whole.

I think meditation works like a viewfinder. They are both tools to enhance our lives. One allows me to draw more accurately, to hone my attention skills while sketching. The other allows me to concentrate and pay attention to the present moment. Both tools render clarity and focus. Both make things simple and transparent. Both eliminate clutter.

Since Christmas I have been lost in a number of nesting projects – clearing out old unfinished stuff that has cluttered up the corners of our bedroom, and projects that have tumbled about in my head. Nesting and resting. It’s one of the reasons that I enjoy the winter months so much, as I get a huge delight in disposing of the yellow sticky-notes (my to-do list) that line my computer screen: Shutterfly album for son, done. Old photos scanned and uploaded, done. Library wall of books dusted, done. New blind for the kitchen window, done. New sketching pen purchased, done. Watercolours purchased, done. How-to watercolour YouTube videos  watched incessantly,  done. Dining room table now a temporary art studio, done.

Writing, not done. EBook about meditation, mindfulness, dementia and me, not done.

Makeshift artist's studio

Makeshift artist’s studio

The irony doesn’t escape me: lost in projects, losing focus. (My viewfinder’s not working.)

Over the holidays I spent a few days writing about dementia and mindfulness, and because I had no plan (no organized thoughts about an eBook), I sat down and began in the middle. But disorganization unsettles me; I feel uneasy when I see disorder. It’s a trait that I have possessed since I was a child and I own it. Order, neatness and cleanliness are a good thing in my book.

Eventually my struggles with writing led me to abandon the eBook. The middle was too weird for me – I kept asking the Universe for a beginning. My intention had become: A plan! A plan (the middle isn’t working for me)!

As humans, we sure complicate things. Instead of perceiving life as it is, accepting the Now, our minds search for something greater. In my case, I went searching for answers – for a plan, one that had a beginning, middle and an end.

So for the past couple of weeks, in spite of meditating and sitting in silence, and instead of accepting the sacred in the present moment, I kept searching.

When we do it right, there is a simplicity in mindfulness: when we see the grace in each moment – in peace or unease – then we are practicing mindfulness, complete acceptance of what is. The simplicity is in the awareness.

But I ignored those moments, I chose to struggle and complicate them:

I would meet people and we would begin a discussion on Alzheimer’s, dementia, and mindfulness, and instead of acknowledging the signs and the synchronicity – the repetition and constancy –  I dismissed them. I would take long, solitary walks and soon my head would fill with memories of my father standing on the counter (how I had to find a ladder to help him down); how my father jumped out of a moving car one morning and I still ignored the signs of his illness; how my father refused to go outside (when it was he who taught us to appreciate a sunrise, while camping); and memories of my mother sobbing over the washroom sink because she couldn’t turn the taps off. All of these memories and more would continue to assault me when I found myself in stillness. Thoughts and narratives inundated me – all about dementia, mindfulness and me.

And yet, I still didn’t see the connections. Instead, I found myself wishing that the thoughts of dementia and memories would move over so that a plan of a new eBook could enter! The plan, the plan…I need a plan!

We complicate things.

The moment’s simplicity eluded me, and I continued on the quest for answers:

Why do these narratives of mindfulness and dementia keep intruding into my thoughts and meditations? Why can’t I organize my thoughts into a plan with a beginning? Why would I want to write another eBook about dementia? Why is meditation not working for me? Why am I so filled with thoughts when my meditation should be about letting go? Why can’t I let go?

Begin at the beginning. Hold the viewfinder up and see.

Immanuel Kant once said,  “We see things not as they are, but as we are.”

When we struggle, life is a struggle. When we embrace life’s flow, life flows.

My meditations had been quite clear all along, transparent even.  The whispers were getting louder and more insistent, but always constant. It’s not monkey mind and clutter. Well, it is. But there’s a message within those thoughts – the thoughts are the message:  Write the thoughts down. That’s the plan.

I let go and finally sat still. And I listened to the silence behind the silence and that’s when I sensed that everything  – my writing, my lack of writing, my projects, my painting, my thoughts about dementia, mindfulness, meditation and me –  was interconnected, including my resistance. And that in spite of my intention to be in the flow – I had been swimming upstream.

My resistance had created diversions and distractions to prevent me from writing.  My resistance had shown up as nesting. Nesting was comfortable and safe. My projects were my attempts to clear out the clutter; or more accurately, to stop the narratives. Because I am afraid of the narratives. I am resistant to writing another eBook about dementia.  The truth is I have already written an eBook about that subject and I do not want to do it again. My resistance is actually fear: My fear of having nothing new or fresh to say; my fear that because there is no order in the book, that the book is not worth writing.

But here’s where the magic lies in recognizing the interconnections: Instead of writing, I have been painting, and as a beginner – learning a new craft – I am learning to let go of the need for perfection.  As a beginner, I have a beginner’s mind. I have become open, curious, and willing to experiment and make mistakes. In a state of beginner’s mind,  I am learning to let go…of a plan. I am content with imperfection.

“Meditation doesn’t solve anything, but it helps everything.”   Ethan Nichtern, Buddhist teacher

I’m humbled when these thoughts arise because they remind me that I had the answers and the wisdom within all along.

The viewfinder has changed my perspective. I need to be aware and recognize when I am nesting, and not lost in avoidance or distractions.

Lastly, in allowing myself more creativity in my life, I allowed myself to return to beginner’s mind – a state that I want to transfer to my writing, and other parts of my life.

Through this process I’ve learned to trust myself. The answers are all within. Everything I need flows to me: Nesting, creativity, wisdom, insights. And, yes, resistance. Our greatest lessons come in the disguise of resistance.

Challenges are here to awaken you and even if you’re awakening, life continually gives you challenges and then the awakening accelerates and deepens.             E. Tolle

It’s time to get back to writing an Ebook, in spite of my fears. My fears are no longer hidden under distractions and diversions; my fears are transparent. I will trust that I am to begin…in the middle, and not at the beginning which would feel more comfortable. I will need to trust the process. And I will need to trust myself.

I want to fall into  beginner’s mind when I write.

But first, I need to go for a walk and see the sky. And I don’t need a viewfinder for that.

 

 

 

 

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Re-gifting Valentine’s gifts

It’s the day after Valentine’s Day and I am visiting my friend at the long-term care home where I volunteer, and when I ask her how was the Valentine’s party, she smiles.

I won two prizes, she tells me, and I gave both of them away.

Now it’s my turn to smile. Tell me your story, I urge her.

She proceeds to tell me about her day, how she was late for the party because she needed to take a nap for a couple of hours, and almost missed out on the festivities. She’s smart, and she wisely informs me that she didn’t really win the prizes…the activity director was winding down and gave her two prizes, instead of one.

When she won the two prizes, the woman who was standing beside my friend’s wheelchair let out a long breath when she sighted one of the prizes – a big, fat pristine writing pad. I know why she coveted the writing pad, my friend informs me, after all, she is a beautiful artist. Paper and artists are meant to be one, she intuitively knows.

So I gave the writing pad to her, my resident confesses.

I smile. Ah, you re-gifted the gift of joy, I explain to my friend. She shrugs, but I can see she is thinking about that statement and it is giving her pause.

What about the second gift? I further inquire.

Oh, that. I won some Valentine candy that filled a flower vase; you know, the hearts looked like flowers.

I begin to chuckle as I had just visited another resident down the hall (my friend’s neighbour) and this woman had excitedly shown me her Valentine’s gift from her neighbour down the hall. I remember clearly that the vase filled with chocolate hearts that looked like flowers occupied center stage in her room.

My friend who I am now visiting grins when I relate how excited her neighbour was to receive the chocolates/flowers gift, and she now re-assures me that re-gifting ‘joy’ is a gift – that I gave myself! (It gives me such pleasure to watch my friend’s face when she reflects on re-gifting.)

When I drive home from the long-term care home, I reflect on my gift – it is these moments of hope and joy that fulfill me, as a volunteer. I bank these gifts of hope and joy – I deposit them daily in mindfulness. I’m grateful that the depository is full and overflowing because I make withdrawals whenever I find myself watching the news on television, or when I find I am caught up in a conversation about the world going to hell in a hand basket. (Who coined that frightful image?)

Now more than ever we need hope to sustain us. Hope allows us to balance the despair. Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us that we need equanimity in our daily lives: equanimity is one of the Four Virtues that embody Buddhist practice, along with compassion, loving kindness, and sympathetic joy or empathy. Equanimity when translated into English means The Middle Way – the core of Buddhism.

The Middle Way allows us to live in balance, or as one of my son’s likes to quote…not right, not wrong; just is.

I’m reminded of the story of the Zen master who throughout many trials and tribulations greets each challenge with “Is that so?”

I had told that story of the Zen Master’s equanimity to my husband one time, and we spent the next few weeks proclaiming “Is that so?” to every mishap, argument, and challenge that met us. Alas, in time we forgot about the story and “Is that so?” has now morphed into long, complex, analytical sentences…none of which reflect equanimity at all.

I’m glad my friend told me her re-gifting stories. When she re-gifted her prizes, she re-gifted joy – one woman’s eyes lit up with visions of creativity; the other woman’s Valentine’s Day became special…because her neighbour down the hall had remembered her.

And I received a gift, too. Hope. Because it is in these moments throughout my day, when I interact with others, when I notice the sky change colours, when I can hear the birds chirping in the silence behind the silence, that I find grace.

Joy. Hope. Grace. All gifts.