Shenpa

Shenpa is a Buddhist concept  that I’ve been spending a lot of time studying and contemplating recently.  I study mostly Pema Chodron’s teachings and this is a big construct for her.  Shenpa really causes us great pain and makes us continue to reach for ground.  The Tibetan translation is “attachment”, but the construct is much more.  It is about the sticky, clinging, distracting reactions that we are so hardwired to have to both external and internal thoughts, feelings, and actions.  I felt this was a good analogy of what shenpa is:

Here is an everyday example of shenpa. Somebody says a mean word to you and then something in you tightens— that’s the shenpa. Then it starts to spiral into low self-esteem, or blaming them, or anger at them, denigrating yourself.

I struggle with this a great deal… the experience of someone (even myself) saying/doing something mean or hurtful and the following spiraling down of low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness that happen after.

One of the interesting things is shenpa’s relationship to meditation.  One of the goals of meditation is to learn to stay with feelings that we normally pull away from and to work to see our true minds and self.  Quite often during meditation we will have to face insights into ourselves and these insights are often of things that we might label “bad” or “wrong” even though it is never a good practice to label things as “good” or “bad” in general.  They just are.  So, ironically, the more insight we have into ourselves, the greater potential for shenpa to take hold and to bring us down.  It is a balancing act…awareness and acceptance without judgment.  Very difficult.

~AA

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Cinco de Mayo!

Happy Cinco de Mayo…A day that once celebrated Mexico’s defeat of French troops and that has subsequently  been bastardized into a day of drinking and food!  Oh well, I’ll take it.  My girlfriend B is on her way over and we’re going to head to the pool to do a little lounging, drinking, and eating.  I have to say that I am so very blessed to have some really amazing friends.  I don’t know what I’d do without them or where I’d be, honestly!  I think it very likely that I would have been committed without B’s care of me.

The last few months have been very difficult for me.  I feel like I’ve lost, lost, and lost some more and was threatened with the potential loss of one of the most important people in my life… my mom.  While I don’t believe in organized religion or the power of “God” with the capital “G”, I am so very, very thankful that my mom is doing well and I’m thankful for the pain and insight this journey has provided me.

Life, as we all know, is a journey with a lot of twists and turns.  Sometimes there are more and sometimes there are less, but they will always be there.  Life is not intended to be easy.   I believe it is intended to be a journey that transcends our physical bodies.  There is a religious saying that says something to the effect of, “God never gives you more than you can handle”.  I feel that this sentiment is true.  I have been put through the ringer these last few months, but I am stronger for it.  And I know that the next few months will be similarly difficult, but I have greater insight into my needs and myself to get me through this… insight that would not have happened without all the pain, fear, and loss.  One of my favorite sentiments from Buddhism:

Only to the extent that we expose ourselves to annihilation over and over
do we find that within us that is indestructible. 

And now it is time to go celebrate my little life by soaking up the warmth of the sun with a good friend.

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

~AA

Fate

It never fails… when you are suffering, something comes along to give you the refocus and hope you need.  Perhaps it is a friend, which I am very grateful for B…she has been such an amazing support, or perhaps it is an article.  I follow a blog that has some wonderful words of wisdom.  Today, the one that I found it my inbox was “11 Ways to Become the Person You Love“.  How appropriate!  The first one is really important and I need to spend some time contemplating it and learning to practice it:

Stop judging, and appreciate the beauty within you. – Judging yourself is not the same as being honest with yourself.  When it comes to living as a compassionate, non-judgmental human being, the only challenge greater than learning to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, is learning to walk a lifetime comfortably in your own.  In every smile there is beauty.  In every heart there is love.  In every mind there is wisdom.  In every human being there is a soul, there is life, there is worth, and there is the ability to see all these things in everyone, including one’s self.

And number 11 is one that I will spend more time working on:

Keep looking and moving straight forward. – Moving on doesn’t mean you have forgotten; it means you have accepted what happened in the past and choose to continue living in the present.  Moving on doesn’t mean you’re giving up; it means you’re giving yourself another chance by making a choice to be happy rather than hurt.  Through all the problems you have faced, the burdens weighing down on your shoulders, the pain in your heart, you have only one thing to say, “I survived and I now know better for next time.”

It is important that I continue to work on forgiving and accepting myself for my failures.  And that I never forget my struggles because they have helped me become the person I am today.  I’m worth the effort.  I’m not a horrible person.  I’m a person who has made mistakes and I have the ability to learn from those mistakes.  I’m a compassionate person with the ability to forgive others and need to give that compassion to myself.

~AA

Life as a Business

My girlfriend B and I were talking about how it is so much easier to be successful at work.  I have a job I like and have been informed that the executive team “has plans” for me.  I’ve only been there 4 months.  I think I’m pretty good at what I do and B is really good at what she does.  So, while we were talking last night, I brought up the fact that I feel like two different people….the professional me and the personal me.  I’m doing well in on the professional side, but not so well on the personal side.  It can be a bit confusing.  But the personal stuff is, ultimately, more important.  But I know more about how to get things where they need to be in business than I do in relationships.

So, it got me thinking that maybe I should run my life like a business with a Vision Statement, Mission Statement and develop a strategic plan around clear goals, have some definitions.  In my life business, there wouldn’t be “policies”, per se, there would be items of negotiation and non-negotiation that have guidelines allowing for some interpretation, like the Constitution.

Here’s where I am so far…

Vision Statement:  To depart this world knowing that I made others’ lives better, that I experienced all that I could, that I took risks, that I gave myself completely, that I continuously learned, that I never settled, that I stayed true to myself, that I developed compassion for myself.

Mission Statement: To take appropriate risks in pursuit of a fulfilled life.

Goals:

  1. To always love
  2. To be devoted to my family
  3. To be a leader, educator and healer
  4. To understand and incorporate my spiritual philosophies in everything
  5. Take the road of most resistance when necessary

Annihilation

In on of my Pema Chodron books, she talks about a sign that she used to have over her office door.  Something to the effect of,

Only to the extent that we expose ourselves to annihilation over and over can we find that within us that is indestructible.

I absolutely love this saying.  It is a very true saying.  We spend so much time wearing our masks, deceiving ourselves and our hearts, deceiving others of who we really are.  It is a very Buddhist perspective to embrace annihilation as an opportunity to discover your true heart and your true self.

I’ve been thinking about getting a tattoo for a very long time, but never knew what I wanted to get.  I’ve been obsessed with the Kokopelli as far back as I can remember.   You know what it is, you just may not have known the name.  Kokopelli is a Native American god of music, fertility and cacophony.  Here he is:

I bring this up because I’ve been thinking about getting annihilation as my tattoo.  I think annihilation of who we think we are is a rare gift.  Often painful, but so beautiful at the same time.  I never want to forget what a gift it is to be having this experience and the opportunity it has given me to learn more about who I truly am.

~AA

Complexity

Life is complex, but I assume that you are completely aware of this.  My Buddhist studies are in full swing right now.  I seem to obsessively write/talk about it (ad nauseam), but  it truly helps me become a more compassionate and accepting person.  Perhaps this is why we are giving these piercing opportunities to feel pain and the end of our story line.  It was time to rediscover myself and to recommit to my practice.

I am grateful for these experiences; although sometimes it takes me a while to remember that I am.

Walking Meditation

I just took a wonderful walk around campus.  Enjoying the trees, the cool air, the squirrels… there are hundreds of squirrels busily working to get ready for the winter; feverishly burying nuts all over campus.  It is one of my favorite things to watch.

While walking, I just focused on breathing and letting my mind be open.  Open to to the world around me and open to my heart.  And focusing on relaxing.  I need to do this more often.  As previously mentioned, I become a much better practitioner of Buddhism when I’m going through a change.  Perhaps that is what the change is for!?  To get me to refocus on the things that I need to be doing.

There is a beautiful practice in Buddhism called Tonglen.  It is a meditative practice focused on taking in the suffering of others.  I’ve been doing this for C since this entire mess started.  Basically you breath in the pain of others and exhale happiness in an effort to reduce suffering.  You can do this for an individual or for a group of people.  I encourage you to try it.  The beauty of this philosophy is that you are not exhaling bad things from your body, because you don’t create bad things…  you exhale things to reduce the suffering of others, because we do have the ability within us to do that.

 

Hopelessness

Today has been better than the last few days.  I feel a bit more stable, like things are evening out a bit.  Hopefully this will last, but I’m not naive.  Life is an interesting beast and I’m just trying to manage.  Perhaps I’m approaching the stage of “acceptance”.  I have a feeling that I might be.  This was, I suppose, an inevitable conclusion to our relationship; I just hope it isn’t the end of our friendship.  The last thing I want to do is to cause further harm…. to anyone involved.  Thus, I submit to hopelessness.

Hopelessness is not a bad thing.  It just means that I’m not going to try to hold on to things that naturally change.  I don’t believe that anything is permanent…relationships change, people change, the world changes, our needs change.  This loss is simply a change.  It also doesn’t preclude me from being able to look forward to future changes and future things that will come that I am unaware of.

Hopelessness is another Buddhist construct that I need to remind myself to embrace.  I tend to forget.  It is the desire to hold on to things, people and events that cause so much pain.

Fear

I have been a teacher in higher education for more than 7 years now.  It is something that I love doing.  I love teaching curious students and even working with difficult students who want to fight you at every turn.  This recent change (the loss of something that I loved) has made it a bit difficult for me to really focus on what I enjoy doing and what I do for a living.  I just don’t feel motivated to do much more than the necessary motions of the day.  Getting back into a good routine, however, is really helpful for me.  I’ve been blessed with the ability to keep pushing myself when I want to give up and I’ve been relying on that instinct to work through all of this.  I just have to remain vigilant about moving forward and allowing myself the possibility of falling back.

I’ve studied Buddhism for a number of years and always become much more studious about my reading when I am in a personal transition.  I have my favorite Pema Chodron book, When Things Fall Apart, with me almost all the time…reading the same healing passages over and over.  There is a story in one of my books that talks about fear and I’d like to share it with you (I’m paraphrasing).

Once there was a young warrior who was sent to do battle with Fear.  Fear had been running ramped throughout the village and people were terrified that their village would be destroyed.  The young warrior was very young indeed, but took this honor to heart and set off to find Fear.  As she came upon Fear, she began to question her ability but moved forward with steadfast courage to face Fear head on.  In an act of respect, the young warrior asked Fear if she could do battle with him.  Fear pondered her and said, “yes”.  Moments passed with neither side making a move.  Finally, the young warrior said, “Fear, may I ask you a question?”  To which Fear replied, “yes”.  “How can I defeat you?”, said the young warrior.  Fear inhaled deeply and stared the young warrior in the eyes, studying her.  Finally, Fear said, “Well, I fight with words and speed.  I talk really fast and I get in your face and I paralyze you into submission; but if you don’t listen to me, I have no power.” And, thus, the young warrior learned how to defeat Fear.   

I love this story because I feel that it captures exactly what happens in my head when I am scared, lonely, insecure, sad, etc.  Fear is also the reason why we resist change.  I know that I am terribly guilty of being fearful about change, particularly in relationships. Voices are constantly shouting at us, screaming conflicting directions.  I have to remember to tune them out.  For whatever reason, we are so unkind to ourselves, the ones that we should be most compassionate with.  Truth be told, I’m scared that I will never have a connection with another person like the one I had with C.  I’ve been around for 31 years and it has only happened once.  But, even if that ends up being the case, I’m still very grateful to have experienced such beauty in another person.