Five years ago this month, my marriage ended.  We didn’t separate for several more months and the divorce took over two years to be final, but the marriage ended in April of 2009.

I have never experienced anything quite that painful.  It didn’t help that I had also lost my job because of the economy and that on June 9, 2009 my mother died.  And my daughter decided to move to California and then I had to move.  So with two dogs and no job, the end of a 23 year relationship and the death of my mother, I somehow managed to get through the most intense period of fear and grief I had ever known.

I got so much support from friends.  I was so lucky to have resources like therapy and different communities (especially Friends In Deed).  The grief was so intense I don’t think I could take a deep breath for months and I know that I lost probably 20 pounds within the first two months.  That was a perk, to be honest.  For years I’d struggled to lose those pounds and they simply fell off.

Five years later, I feel stronger in many ways and happier most of the time.  I feel grateful that I’ve learned to live an independent life and that the loneliness I feel sometimes is better than the loneliness I felt when I was married.

This too shall pass.  One day at a time.  Surrender.  

All those trite expressions really are true.  Everything I learned from reading Pema Chodron helped me.

I think I will go back to the Big Group at Friends In Deed tonight just to give thanks for all the support I got there and to listen.

Five years later I am not the same person was and I am deeply grateful for the lessons I learned.   They were painful lessons, but I think maybe that’s the only way we really ever learn them.  And I am grateful most of all for my sense of humor — which I sometimes forget about — but somehow I’m always reminded to laugh.

In October, 2004, my mother nearly died. All her organs were failing and it seemed unlikely that she would last more than a few days in the hospital where she had been for several weeks. I remembered a friend of mine was a volunteer at a wonderful hospice, Jacob Perlow Hospice at Beth Israel Hospital, and I called my friend to ask how to get my mother admitted for hospice care. It seemed crazy to think about moving her at that point, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that normal hospital procedures were torturing her. If my mother was to die, I wanted her to die in peace.

The doctor who came to the hospital to examine her called me afterward and said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone more in need of hospice care. She is going to be transferred immediately.” Read More →

But listen to me
For one moment quit being sad

Hear blessings dropping their blossoms all around you.

Rumi

Every morning when I wake up these days, I find I am in various states of sadness, hopelessness, despair, discontent. And every morning I have a practice of reading, writing and meditating.

This is where I find God. Okay, before you stop reading or think I’m nuts, I honestly don’t know what I mean by God. I certainly don’t mean the kind of God who’s sitting in a big throne somewhere, looking down, but I do mean something, some kind of force that is greater than myself, kind of like “let the force be with you” thing. Because, when I do let go and let God, I find answers. Daily.

Read More →

IMG_24741This morning I woke up at 5 a.m. from a bad dream. I was on my way to a job interview somewhere in midtown Manhattan and I ended up in Canada. Lost. No offense to Canada, but I felt an overwhelming sense of anxiety and dread. I was too embarrassed in the dream to call the person I was meeting, so I just quickly woke up and tried to shake off the feeling that the dream left me with.

In some ways, I do feel lost. And sometimes I feel sad and sometimes I feel depressed and sometimes life feels too hard.

Someone I actually love, my ex-husband, is on his fifth week of chemo Read More →

“Wherever we are, we can train as a warrior.  The practices of meditation, loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equinimity are our tools.  With the help of these practices, we can uncover the soft spot of bodhichitta, the tenderness of the awakened heart.  We will find that tenderness in sorrow and in gratitude.  We will find it behind the hardness of rage and in the shakiness of fear.  It is available in loneliness as well as in kindness.  

Many of us prefer practices that will not cause discomfort, yet at the same time we want to be healed.  But bodhichitta training doesn’t work that way.  A warrior accepts that we can never know what will happen to us next.  We can try to control the uncontrollable by looking for security and predictability, always hoping to be comfortable and safe.  But the truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty.  This not knowing is part of the adventure, and it’s always what makes us afraid.  

Bodhichitta training offers no promise of happy endings.  Rather this “I” who wants to find security — who wants something to hold on to — can finally learn to grow up.  The central question of a warrior’s training is not how we avoid uncertainty and fear but how we relate to discomfort.  How do we practice with difficulty, with our emotions, with the unpredictable encounters of an ordinary day?”
Pema Chodron

I haven’t written any posts since November, when my dear friend Emily Squires was in the hospital.  Sadly, she died a few days later.

I just haven’t had the heart to write anything because the fall was so bleak and I’m still struggling to get through the days.  I miss Em and life feels so uncertain. This morning, I had to read some Pema Chodron to be reminded that this is just the part of life that is real – that we do live in uncertainty and we always will.

When I fight my sadness, it always seems to dig in deeper, so I will try to sit with it.  It’s a bleak January day.  We went through Hurricane Sandy (which isn’t over for thousands of people whose homes were destroyed.)  We saw a horrible school shooting and still there is a battle over gun control.

I’m sitting with sadness this morning and I’m trying not to fight it.  I know this too shall pass and that I have so much to be grateful for.  Emily is no longer with us and that is truly sad.  I just had a thought though, to call a mutual friend this morning, who is probably also missing Emily.

It’s hard to lose someone you love and I loved Emily.  I’m watching my dog, Lucy, falling apart.  She is 17 now.  I’m not sure of the future, but then who is?  I wish for happy endings, but if I’m to be a real warrior, I guess I have to accept that there is no promise of happy endings, just this moment, and growing up and relating to discomfort.

“How do we practice with difficulty, with our emotions, with the unpredictable encounters of an ordinary day.” 

Lately, it seems as if I have heard of a number of friends and acquaintances who are dealing with some difficult situations.  I think that the economy and the struggles that so many people are having financially, is often at the root of it, but it also goes much deeper.  It is a struggle with aging parents, illness, young people searching for jobs, opportunities.  A very difficult election.  

I am at another crossroads and I’m not sure where it is leading, but if I’ve learned one thing in the past few years of studying Buddhism and spirituality it is to stay in this very moment.  It’s one of the hardest lessons, since we human beings are always looking towards the future and worrying about what is coming, rather than appreciating and staying in the present. 

I went to help out a friend this morning who is about to give birth and is in a difficult situation with her new husband.  I can only imagine how hard it is for her to stay in this moment, when in six weeks she will be giving birth to her baby and life will get even more challenging.

One of the greatest gifts we can give each other is to show up – so that was what I did.  I listened and helped her unpack and just sat with her.  And now I am sitting with my own anxieties, as I have many days over the last few years.

I love what I have been learning lately from August Gold, a spiritual teacher.  She says:  “Life is a conversation.  We need to stop asking ‘why is this happening to me’ and start asking ‘why is this happening for me?'” 

In reading about the Kaballah it says:  “This challenge is an indication that there is a great amount of Light to be revealed here!  I may not understand how yet, but I can make the effort to see why this opportunity has been given to me.  I can choose, instead of reacting or worry, to continue the development of my soul.  I can choose to not allow negativity in, and as I do this more and more, I will grow my certainty in the Light.

Negativity has power over us only when we allow it to.

So my choice now is to put on my shoes and go for a walk and get out of my head and my apartment.  And stay in this very moment, which is a rainy autumn afternoon, and be grateful for all the blessings in my life.  Starting with the fact that my daughter lives in Brooklyn and last year on this day I was visiting her in San Francisco. 

Enough sitting, it’s time to move my feet. 

I just finished re-reading the Tao Te Ching (translation by Stephen Mitchell) and in reading the notes at the end, there were two good stories I wanted to share.

Honoring the Tao means respecting the way things are.  There is a wonderful Japanese story (adapted here from Zenkei Shibayama Roshi’s A Flower Does Not Talk) which portrays this attitude:

A hundred and fifty years ago there lived a woman named Sono, whose devotion and purity of heart were respected far and wide.  One day a fellow Buddhist, having made a long trip to see her asked, “What can I do to put my heart at rest?”  She said, “Every morning and every evening, and whenever anything happens to you, keep on saying, ‘Thanks for everythingI have no complaints whatsoever.'”  The man did as he was instructed, for a whole year, but his heart was still not at peace.  He returned to Sono, crestfallen.  “I’ve said your prayer over and over, and yet nothing in my life has changed; I’m still the same selfish person as before.  What should I do now?  Sono immediately said, ” ‘Thanks for everything.  I have no complaints whatsoever.'” On hearing these words, the man was able to open his spiritual eye, and returned home with great joy.

And the second story:

A poor farmer’s horse ran off into the country of the barbarians.  All his neighbors offered their condolences, but his father said, “How do you know that this isn’t good fortune?”  After a few months the horse returned with a barbarian horse of excellent stock.  All his neighbors offered their congratulations, but his father said, “How do you know that this isn’t a disaster?”  The two horses bred, and the family became rich in fine horses.  The farmer’s son spent much of his time riding them; one day he fell off and broke his hipbone.  All his neighbors offered their condolences, but his father said, “How do you know that this isn’t good fortune?”  Another year passed, and the barbarians invaded the frontier.  All the able-bodied young men were conscripted, and nine-tenths of them died in the war.  Who can tell how events will be transformed? 

 

One of the most important lessons I’ve had to learn, struggle with, accept – was something my therapist, Michael Eigen, always tried to teach me.  I couldn’t get it for years.  Then Buddhism and 12 Step rooms re-enforced the concept and now I still struggle with it, but I’m getting better at it.  The lesson is to not fight whatever feelings are in me – to accept them – to welcome them.  The more you fight them, the more they linger.
It is like drowning.  When you fight the waves, when you struggle and exhaust yourself, you drown.  When you relax into the water, when you find the moments you can breathe and trust that you will not drown, then you live.  That was my experience in a rip tide when I was in my early 20’s.  I was in Malibu, swimming on a beach with no lifeguards.  I went out into the waves, confident, having grown up on Long Island beaches, and I experienced, for the first time, what a rip tide is.  At first I was tossed around underwater and I was terrified.  My first thought was “this is it. You are going to drown.”  And my second thought was, “Do not panic.  That is how people drown.”  Since there was no one there who could save me, I had to do it on my own, I somehow managed to stay calm and not exhaust myself, and I lived.  It was a lesson in trusting myself and that inner voice that knows the truth.  I wish that I had remembered it all these years – it’s a good way to live.  Quietly, listening to that voice. 
Not the other voices, that are louder, and more critical.  You’re doing it wrong, you’re a fuck-up, you’re going to make a mistake, you’re not good enough.
No.  Just calm down and trust.  That will be my mantra for today.  Let’s see how it goes. 

Right now I have two obsessions. One is seasonal – cherries – I can’t seem to get enough of them. I’ve already had about 10 so far this morning and I can’t wait to eat more.

The other obsession is meditation. (I love blogging too, by the way, this may be my next obsession.) I started meditating every day last February and I began with around ten minutes and now I’m up to twenty minutes. I could never understand the purpose of meditation, to tell you the truth. It seemed to me that sitting in one place without doing something, made no sense. Years ago I ran three miles every day, went to the gym at least four times a week for years. Now I walk all over city, I love hiking, riding my bike. Burning calories, that I understood. But just sitting was really a crazy idea to me. And then once I heard someone say, “Sitting in one place and paying attention to my breath is the most important part of my day.”

I thought he was really crazy. But that idea stayed with me.

Years ago, when I was dealing with a rather full plate…my mother was in a hospice, my sister was hit by a car, my daughter wasn’t too happy, my husband was depressed about his lack of work, I was a very dark place. A friend of mine (Jacqui – thank God for Jacqui) suggested that I read a book called “The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness” by Pema Chodron.

I was feeling hopeless and blaming myself for everyone else’s misery. I was feeling angry and wanting to change everything about myself, but in the first chapter she says, “loving-kindness – maitri – toward ourselves doesn’t mean getting rid of anything. Maitri means that we can still be crazy after all these years.” I liked that.

And “The idea isn’t to get rid of ego but actually to begin to take an interest in ourselves, to investigate and be inquisitive about ourselves.”

“Precision is being able to see very clearly, not being afraid to see what is really there, just as a scientist is not afraid to look into the microscope.”

So that was a good beginning for me to start reading more about Buddhism and then it took a long time to start meditating. It doesn’t burn any calories though.