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

The Worst

What’s  the worst that could happen?  Have you ever asked yourself this?  What is the worst that could happen right now for me in my relationship with J?  The worst thing that could happen is that is over for good.  Okay.  What’s the worst thing in the world that could happen to me?  The worst thing I can think of is losing all of the people I love and being alone, truly alone.

So, that gives me a little perspective in terms of how difficult my situation is.  I have it pretty good, to be honest.  I’m not a horrible person, as I like to judge myself to be.  I’m a human being that loves people, that has made mistakes, but is making an effort to better understand why I’m doing what I’m doing and making an effort to change.  I have friends who love me, I have my health, I have my education, I have drive, I have passion, I have freedom.

The last few weeks I’ve really recommitted to my running and it feels so go.  It is one of the most cathartic things I do.  I love the feeling of my body being strong.  It is also a time for me to mediate.  Running mediation.  I don’t know if it is a real thing, but it should be… like walking mediation, just faster.  I focus on my breath, my feet striking the ground, keeping my upper body relaxed, how my body mechanics are working by taking inventory of what muscles in my legs are doing the work and adjusting as needed.  It is a very liminal experience.  I focus on breathing in the smells and seeing the smallest elements of the world around me.  While I’m doing this, I often listen to music because it helps focus my mind.

Meditating in general can be very liminal.  The focus on specific things gets your mind prepped for meditative moments.  I think it is important to note that meditation doesn’t have to be done over long stretches of time, just doing it little by little and acknowledging those events will eventually lead to longer periods of meditation.  It will be episodic, especially when you are running while meditating.  Although in general your mind tends to be a bit episodic when doing sitting meditation as well.

~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.

Comfort

There are few things more difficult than watching someone you care about in pain and being helpless to do anything about it.  Compassion is all you can really offer, but there is always a desire to do more.  An INFJ is known as the “Protector”.  My best friend had a bit of a rough day and I wish there were some way that I could help him not feel pain, disappointment, frustration.  As a kid I would pray that God give me the pain of others so that they didn’t have to suffer.

As I’ve gotten older, however, and through my Buddhist studies, I’ve come to realize that pain, disappointment and even loss are opportunities that help us experience greater compassion for others and overall Bodhichitta.  They are unpleasant, but often provide us with an impetus to reevaluate our lives.  I know this has been true in my life.  Many alcoholics talk about “reaching bottom”.  These moments of suffering in our lives are sort of like the moment when you reach bottom.  Suddenly there is no story to hold on to and nothing to prevent you from seeing your true heart and the true world.

When I was a teenager, I experienced some significant loss.  Three of my friends were killed in a car accident on July 5th.  It was a devastating experience.  I was 15.  They were 16, 16 and 17.  This was my first experience with death.  Three friends.  It was horrible.  I remember going to the wakes, there were lines and lines of people waiting to pay their respects.  Two of the girls had open caskets.  I’ll never forget how much sorrow I experienced when I saw Lisa.  She was in a green turtleneck dress with short sleeves.  She looked peaceful, overall, radiated a bit of cold.  But all I really remember were the bruises on her arms and face.  They tried to cover them as best they could, but you could see them under the makeup.  It was truly a devastating experience.  Nikki’s casket was  closed due to the severity of her injuries.  She was the driver (decapitated).  I think knowing the circumstances of their deaths makes it that much harder.  It is believed that Lisa and Dawn were not killed instantly.

It was my first experience with mortality and pure suffering in the sense that I knew these people.  This experience led to me shutting down from people.  It was very hard.  None of us knew how to process this and this wasn’t during the time when they would have grief counselors at the school.  We just had to learn to deal with it.  Unfortunately, two months later my grandmother died and then my cat.  It was a lot of death to deal with.  Eventually, however, I found my way back to letting people in emotionally; although it took a considerable amount of time.

The first dead body I saw was when I was around 12 years of age.  My parents and I were on vacation and a man went into cardiac arrest.  His wife came banging on the doors and my parents, both being nurses, immediately went to the dock.  He had been sleeping on a boat and arrested.  My brother and dad pulled him out and put him on the dock, my parents began CPR.  I was in my nightgown and was sent to flag down the ambulance.  I remember seeing his big body, completely lifeless and slightly purple.  Eventually the EMT’s got there, but unfortunately it was too late.

In college, one of my sorority sisters was killed by a drunk driver.  I remember going to her house with some of my sisters and cleaning all the stuff out of her closet…mostly the stuff that we knew her parents didn’t need to see (sex toys and tapes, LOL).  It was a very interesting experience, but we wanted to spare her family and it, strangely enough, gave us a great outlet to mourn her exuberance.

These experiences also opened my eyes to the preciousness and brevity of life.  My family has always been one to tell each other they love one another as the last thing we say before parting or getting off the phone.  Each and every time.  I had a boyfriend in college that told me that he thought that I lived in fear of  death and that I said “I love you” too often.  I found this interesting.  Because we truly don’t know when the end will be and it is naive to think that you have all the time in the world.  I think it is more accurate to say that I live life more aware of its preciousness.

Anyway… some more insights into why I am who I am.

Be kind to one another.

~AA

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.