1. You’re stressed out.
2. It’s been a long day.
3. You would like to just buy a one-way ticket to somewhere like Bali and never return.
4. It’s raining.
5. You have bug bites.
6. You want to stuff yourself with ice cream, but you know you can’t.
7. You want to go shopping somewhere, but you know you can’t.
8. You’d like to pick up someone, but you know…
9. You’re thinking about a dance break, but it requires too much energy.
10. You’re feeling lonely.
11. You wonder about the meaning of life?
12. You wonder why you’re still wondering when you’re so well beyond the halfway point of your life and shouldn’t you know by now?
13. You’re not in acceptance about what is.
14. Or what isn’t.
15. I guess breathing is the way to go.  Sit and breathe.  
16. You’re thinking you could probably come up with at least another 16 things, but why?
17. 20 seems like a good cut-off.
18. Uh-oh you may have to stop at 18.
19. You could call someone, but you can’t think of who?
20. This living one day at a time sucks.  You know? 
21. The meaning of life is enjoying the passage of time.  There ain’t nothing to it, any fool can do it. Really?
22. I’m on a roll.
23. I miss my daughter.
24. I’m onto the “I’s” now, and that’s not good.
25. My bug bites itch. Did I say that?

POST SCRIPT:  Rather than meditate, I decided to put on my Ipod and sing and dance, while cleaning out a couple of drawers.  It worked!  LSD, laugh, sing and dance, everyday! (Okay, I didn’t quite laugh, but I did sing and dance.)  And I feel MUCH better.  

I started this blog a few years ago to write about my journey in meditation.  Life changed course along the way, if you’ve followed the blog you’ll know that there were a few other matters, like a divorce, the death of my mother, my daughter moving far away, and a few other major life changing events that I’ve had to deal with.

But I want to share that through all of it, I have continued with my (imperfect) meditation practice.  And I think it saved my life. (At least that’s what Deepak Chopra tweeted about this morning.) 

There’s something so peaceful about sitting for 30 and sometimes 60 minutes every morning, in silence.  It’s one of my favorite times of day.  I try to also do walking meditations sometimes, or even biking meditations.  I think that any time you’re alone with your thoughts and you try to focus on your breath and quiet the thoughts, is a meditation.  

Even 5 minutes, a couple of times a day, can be a great way to come back to the moment and rein in all the crazy ideas that constantly go through our heads.  That’s what Pema Chodron promised when I started this practice and that’s what I’ve received.

The past week has been a challenge.  But right now, after a good hour of breathing and sitting, I feel ready to take on the day.  And I think it’s going to be a good one!  I really do. 

And I pray that everyone in Washington, President Obama and the entire Congress, start meditating, so we can get this budget crisis under control. 

My meditation practice is terribly out of control.  I try, in the early morning, to meditate for at least fifteen or twenty minutes and I was successful at that for a long time.

But now, for some reason, I can’t stop the chatter in my brain and I keep wanting to go on-line and look at the NY Times, or waste time on Facebook, or check email, or look at my astrological chart, or see what kind of camera Amazon is having a discount on, or whatever.

So, I am taking a vow, that right after I walk the dogs this morning, I’m going to come back and shut everything off (I may quickly check the camera deals first) and then sit and breathe and allow myself that time.  I don’t know why I resist it, I always feel better and it’s a lot easier than running three miles or taking a yoga class.  Five minutes can be enough – it’s just about taking that time and allowing myself the luxury of being in the moment without cluttering my mind with nonsense.  Or allowing the nonsense to pass through without adding to it.

Last night I went out to dinner with the friend I am moving in with in a few weeks, Abigail. She is also a writer and perhaps the nicest person in the entire world. She brought over some things for the stoop sale my friends Anita and Megan and I are having today. We’re selling books, household things, clothing, all the stuff I want to get rid of so my move is easier. Although it is sad to let go of my books, I’ll be living around the block from a public library and I will be fine.

Abigail and I went for sushi and had fun talking about relationships (she and her husband split up over fifteen years ago) and men and life and sex and work. We have known each other since our kids were four years-old and they are now twenty-one. The four of us went on a vacation to the Yukatan in Mexico when we barely knew each other and had a fantastic time, but that’s a story for another day.

When I came home after dinner, I continued going through my belongings, tossing out what I don’t need, reading old emails, looking at photos and then I went through my jewelry to decide what I wanted to sell. A friend called while I was sorting the jewelry, so I was distracted and probably less emotional about deciding what to sell.

As I was looking at old papers, I found an article about Daniel Gilbert, the Harvard professor who wrote “Stumbling on Happiness.” I cut out the article over a year ago (April 22, 2008.)

In the article, Gilbert says that at one point in his life he went through so many crises at once, his mentor passed away, his mother died, his marriage ended and his son had serious problems in school – but what he found that: “the truth is, bad things don’t affect us as profoundly as we expect them to. That’s true of good things too.”

“People have an inability to predict what will make them happy – or unhappy.”

Gilbert says that if you “take a scale from 0 – 100, people, generally report their happiness at 75. We keep trying to get to 100. Sometimes, we get there. But we don’t stay long.”

“We certainly fear the things that get us to 10 or 20 – the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, a serious challenge to our health. But when those things happen, most of us will return to our emotional baselines more quickly than we’d predict. Humans are wildly resilient.”

“Wildly resilient.” I love that.

He says that most of us are great rationalizers. “We expect to feel devastated if our spouse leaves or if we get passed over for a big promotion at work.

But when things like that do happen, it’s soon, ‘She was never right for me’ or ‘I actually need more free time for my family.’ People have remarkable talent for finding ways to soften the impact of negative events. Thus they mistakenly expect such blows to be much more devastating than they turn out to be.”

And then he goes on to say, “We know that the best predictor of human happiness is human relationships and the amount of time that people spend with family and friends.

We know that it’s significantly more important than money and somewhat more important than health. That’s what the data shows. The interesting thing is that people will sacrifice social relationships to get other things that won’t make them as happy – money. That’s what I mean when I say people should do ‘wise shopping’ for happiness.”

“Another thing we know from studies is that people tend to take more pleasure from experiences than in things. So if you have ‘x’ amount of dollars to spend on a vacation or a good meal or movies, it will get you more happiness than a durable good or object. One reason is that experiences tend to be shared with other people and objects generally aren’t.”

“You’ll always have Paris” is so true. I certainly feel it as I discard so many things that I thought would bring me happiness, a necklace, a book, a coat – and they never did.

Reading the article made me realize, that as difficult a period as this has been (mother died, marriage ending, daughter moved away from home, have to move, need a job) – it’s also been an amazingly transformative experience too. I have spent more time with friends and in social situations than I have in years and I have found that my friends have really shown up for me. I’m so filled with gratitude and, although I do at times feel grief and sadness, I also feel happy. My sister and I even had a great talk the other day and that felt really good.

So last night, the song “You Send Me” popped into my head. I played it and danced around the loft to Aretha Franklin. As I danced, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of well being and joy.

I guess last night I hit 100 and today I’ll be back at 75.

I woke up again this morning very early, around 5 am, and couldn’t get back to sleep. I seem to be sleeping about six hours a night and waking up early and dragging through a good part of the day. And then I have started slipping caffeine into my diet again and I’m not so happy about that.

Meditation also seems to be more of a struggle for me lately and I realize that when I’m not at least trying to meditate every day, I feel worse, sadder.

There’s not much tougher than feeling that you’ve failed at something and right now I’m feeling a lot like a failure as a mother and in other parts of my life. Intellectually, I know I’ve done my best and beating myself up isn’t going to help anyone. It’s how I’m feeling and eventually it will pass. I’m also having a rough time with my husband and our living situation. I don’t have a room of my own anymore and it’s driving me a little crazy. It’s my fault, for not being able to say what I needed. I need a room of my own, it doesn’t have to be much, but I need a place to be by myself.

So because I was so down, I thought I’d better give meditation a shot this morning and also do some reading. I picked up Pema Chodron’s book “When Things Fall Apart” – and once again found exactly what I needed to read. This chapter is called “The Trick of Choicelessness” and it’s about “Samaya” which means “not holding anything back, not preparing our escape route, not looking for alternatives, not thinking there is ample time to do things later.” It’s about “total commitment to sanity, total commitment to our experience, an unconditional relationship with reality.”

“…through years and years of gentle training and honest, intelligent inquiry, we begin to trust our basic wisdom mind. We find that we have an essential wisdom, an essential good heart, that is stronger and more fundamental than our unkindness and aggression.”

“It’s like finding that the sky and the sun are always there and that it’s the storms and the clouds that come and go. Somehow, feeling that we are ready to have no exit just occurs by itself.”

I started feeling more able to sit with the place that I am at and continued reading.

“At first, meditation instruction is all we have to keep us from dissociating from our body, speech and mind. Year after year, we just keep practicing coming back to our own experience of being in the present moment.”

“We are thoroughly conditioned so that the minute the seat gets hot, or we even think it’s going to get hot, we jump off. The trick is to sit on the hot seat and have a commitment to our experience of hot-seatness. With or without a formal samaya (relationship) to a teacher, this remains the main point.”

So I guess that for today, I wanted to be able to stay with my feelings and be okay with them. And not have to distract myself with eating, or shopping, or watching TV, or getting angry, or whatever would take me away from the feelings. And that is hard. It really is.

I was just meditating and some sad feelings came flooding over me. I don’t think that’s supposed to happen in meditation, but maybe it is.

I’ve been here before. I know it doesn’t last, but when you’re in it, it’s not fun and it definitely makes me miss the ability to eat a giant cupcake or to go shopping without being overwhelmed with guilt. Those two addictions are pretty much off the table, although I do slip up now and then. The other day I bought myself a watch for a hundred dollars, simply because it was reduced from $380 and I thought, “Wow, what a deal. Can’t pass that one up.”

So – back to the blues. My beloved dog, Lucy, is sick again. She’s 12 1/2. We got her from the ASPCA when she was 4 and although it wasn’t love at first sight (she was cowering in her cage), as soon as she came out she climbed in our laps and started licking us, then we knew she was our dog. She is simply a kind, sweet, adoring, loving, neurotic god (oh, I actually wrote that) DOG, who has been with us through more ups and downs than the Cyclone at Coney Island. I remember leaving her in our loft on 9/11 to run up to Zoe’s school to pick Zoe and her friend Willa up, wondering if we’d ever see Lucy again. (We weren’t sure what was happening at that point.) She’s been there for me while I’ve been the primary caregiver for my mother for the last 7 years. She’s been there when we all took turns being seriously depressed. She’s moved with us three times in the past five years. She’s tolerated sharing us with Lola, who has a bit more of an outgoing personality than Lucy.

The last time Lucy had surgery, this past summer, I was reading a brochure in the vet’s office about dealing with the death of a pet. I will try to bring home a copy today if we’re at the vet’s office again. At the time, Steve’s father was dying and I was reading this brochure and thinking that as much as we love humans, and we obviously do – our animals are with us every day of our lives, through all kinds of struggles, they’re often the one constant in our lives and they love us unconditionally (unlike any human I know.)

UPDATE: Just came home after two hours at the vet. Lucy’s got a pretty bad urinary tract infection and another hematoma in her ear. She has blood in her urine and was throwing up this morning, but hopefully with the antibiotics she will be feeling better in just a few days. I brought home the brochure about losing a pet, the one that really got to me that time I read it in the vet’s office. Here is the quote: “For some, losing a pet can be a truly devastating experience. The animal was an important family member who provided unconditional comfort and support over many phases and changes in a person’s life. As you begin to reflect on what has happened since your companion came into your life, a certain chapter in your life closes. As animals commonly live for 15 to 20 years, these life chapters often include major transitions such as becoming an adult, moving homes, changing jobs, marriage, children, relationship endings, etc. Obviously then, may memories are associated with a pet, all of which come to the surface when the pet dies.”

That really got to me.

So aside from feeling sad about my dogs’ eventual deaths (Lola’s only 6), my concerns for my daughter, and money issues, and worry about my family and my friends’ health (Steve has to have eye surgery soon) and I always worry about my own health, and let’s not even get into the election…and the environment and the war and the economy and and and…

…wondering how I got here in my life, to the place that I am at, which doesn’t feel so good right now. I just don’t quite understand it.

I think that one answer may be yoga. I think I have to continue with my meditation and find a good yoga class because at other times in my life yoga has helped me. I also know that this feeling will pass and that life is really about the ups and downs and all the challenges. And that all the answers are inside of me (according to that book I recommended a few weeks ago) – even if I don’t really have a clue about how to find them.

I think I’ll do a few yoga postures and start with Downward Facing Dog, in Lucy’s honor. And if any answers come, I’ll let you know.

It’s not exactly difficult to meditate for ten or fifteen minutes when you’re surrounded by beautiful trees, blue skies, mountains, and you’re breathing in clean air. It feels like quite a high actually, but years ago, being here was hardly easy.

We would arrive after a long flight and a long drive, and a stop at the grocery store in Willets, and then we’d have to open up the cabin, turn on the water (sometimes there wasn’t much of it), set up the beds, take down the sheets and towels from the attic, and all of this was with Zoe. The first time we came she was two months old and we came almost every summer as she grew up.

Relaxing – was never something I was all that good at. I would always get bored and anxious and want to leave after a few days. There was no electricity, no phones, no TV, no indoor showers, it was basically about one step up from camping, which I really could never handle. Now we have cell service, some electricity, L&L have a large screen TV, all of that makes it easier to stay here. I like hiking and so I always do a little of that, and it’s hard not to appreciate nature. Over the years we had many fun times here, barbecues, singing camp songs late at night, swimming in the Eel River. I will put some photos up when I get back. It truly is gorgeous. But for most of the past twenty years – after one week – I was ready to get back to NYC and eagerly packed up the sheets and the towels, swept and closed up the cabin and couldn’t wait to go home.

Somehow, now my meditation practice has made it much easier to be in the moment. I’m reading a wonderful book called “Wherever You Go There You Are” by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Here are a few good quotes: “It is a commonly held view that meditation is a way to shut off the pressures of the world or of your own mind, but this is not an accurate impression. Meditation is neither shutting things out nor off. It is seeing things clearly, and deliberately positioning yourself differently in relationship to them.”

“One way to envision how mindfulness works is to think of your mind as the surface of a lake or of the ocean. There are always waves on the water. Sometimes they are big, sometimes they are small, and sometimes they are almost imperceptible. The water’s waves are churned up by winds, which come and go and vary in direction and intensity, just as do the winds of stress and change in our lives, which stir up waves in our minds.”

“It is possible through meditation to find shelter from much of the wind that agitates the mind. Over time, a good deal of the turbulence may die down from lack of continuous feeding. But ultimately the winds of life and of the mind will blow, do what we may. Meditation is about knowing something about this and how to work with it.”

“The spirit of mindfulness practice was nicely captured in a poster of a seventy-ish yogi, Swami Satchitananda, in full white beard and flowing robes atop a surfboard riding the waves off a Hawaiian beach. The caption read: “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”

So here I am, about thirty miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, surfing.

Today in the Science Times, one of my favorite sections of the New York Times, is an article entitled “You’re Checked Out, but Your Brain is Tuned In.” The article states that “it’s time that boredom be recognized as a legitimate human emotion that can be central to learning and creativity.” (The quote is from The Cambridge Journal of Education.)

This is good news for me. For years I was the kind of person who was always doing something. Working, exercising, reading, writing, going constantly. I loved when Zoe was little and I could spend hours in the park talking to other parents and babysitters. I really enjoyed the feeling of community, but then I would have to race home and work on something. I even enjoyed doing the laundry because it gave me a feeling of accomplishment and that was always the goal. The only time I watched TV was when I was too exhausted to do anything else and then I generally passed out on the couch in the middle of “Law and Order.”

Sometime in the past couple of years though, that attitude has shifted for me. Maybe it was when I was dealing with some serious family problems, my mother was very ill, Zoe was having issues at school, and I started walking a lot to help me deal with the stress. I always went to the gym, but while I was there I usually talked to friends or listened to music, so I was always distracted. But somehow walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, or walking through Central Park, I came to really enjoy having no distractions. Essentially walking with my own thoughts, or trying not to think, just being.

I have friends who have always been good at this. As the article states: “It’s the difference between the sort of person who can look at a a pool of mud and find something interesting, and someone who has a hard time getting absorbed in anything.” Susie (if you’re reading this) – you are the pool of mud person and I really admire that about you. I can almost always get absorbed, but I understand that for many people, there’s a constant search for distraction.

I do find that I often get my most creative ideas when I just let my mind wander. And meditation is another way of clearing my mind, which is why I enjoy it.

Yesterday I was talking to a friend about Buddhism and the idea that when you are feeling really bad, really suffering, Buddhism says you should allow yourself to sit with the pain. And therapy has taught me that too, that rather than fighting it, you should allow yourself to wallow (well, maybe not wallow, maybe just BE in it.) And then my friend and I agreed that when you do that, sit with it, it really stinks. It’s really misery to be so down. But then eventually it does pass. And you find that you haven’t gained ten pounds in one weekend, or spent too much money, or drank too much, or slept with someone you never want to see again. (Although it’s been awhile since I did that.)

Anyway, it’s possible that I’ve managed to bore you to death with this post and if I have, I am quite pleased.

One more thing…I got the DVD of our monologue performance night and I have to say that I wasn’t miserable about it, it was pretty good. Except that next time I perform, I will have done thousands of biceps curls so my arms look tighter, I will have lost ten pounds and will be wearing my contact lenses. The best part of seeing it though, is being able to study and learn from it.

Thank you Jake!

Monday morning. It’s a gorgeous summer day. I walked the dogs in the park, came back, made myself a cup of white tea (it only has a little caffeine), read a chapter of “When Things Fall Apart” which was called “Servants of Peace.” Regarding meditation it said:

“When we sit down to meditate, we can connect with something unconditional – a state of mind, a basic environment that does not grasp or reject anything. Meditation is probably the only activity that doesn’t add anything to the picture. Everything is allowed to come and go without further embellishment.”

I guess that’s if you do it right. This morning, I had a hard time not embellishing. Why is sitting and connecting with the breath so hard? I like the stillness, but this morning I kept thinking about…writing…about what I want to say…regarding some of the events that happened this weekend and have shaped my thoughts.

On Saturday I heard from three different men. They were all feeling some degree of pain about their lives. One is a dear friend I’ve known for twenty-five years. We’ll call him Jim. He has a job that he isn’t enjoying and he’s extremely talented, but he’s not using most of his talents for this work. He would also like to make more money. He loves his family and knows how blessed he is to have them. His wife and child adore him.

Another friend, (we’ll call him Pete) has had a very abundant business for the last few years, but this year it’s been much more of a struggle. He enjoys the work and has ideas about how to enrich his services, but he’s very nervous about not taking more actions to increase business as he takes the time to study. His wife is even more nervous and she’s angry at him. She’s been freelancing and taking care of their kids, but will probably have to get a full-time job to add to their income. He spends a great deal of time with his children and is a good father. Right now their relationship is tense and they are both pretty miserable.

The third man I heard from is someone I met recently. Ed. Ed is single, his business has also sharply declined and he is freaking out. He doesn’t know what to do and he’s having a hard time coping with the anxiety.

So all of this started to get to me as I thought about the culture we live in and how stressed out we all are. And about what is valued and how hard it is to manage everything; work, kids, parents, our health, money…and most of us live in relative affluence compared to the rest of the world.

One of the headlines in today’s NY Times is that a second wave of people defaulting on their mortgages is coming and it could be even larger than the first wave. Life is tough for many people right now.

I don’t have any answers to these problems. I am dealing with my own struggle. But I am grateful that today is an absolutely beautiful day with bright sunshine and blue skies.

And maybe later today I can try meditating again. With no embellishments.

I was reading an article somewhere, I think it was “O” magazine, and the author mentioned that she was a ruminator. I have been a ruminator all of my life… imagining everything that could go wrong, obsessing about the past, anxious about the future, writing scenes in my mind about some encounter or event.

I’ve also been a bit of a risk taker, so all that ruminating isn’t about what to have for breakfast. But ultimately, I’ve come to realize that it was silly and useless to think that much.

For example, I would worry about winter, because I don’t love it. Cold weather is tough for me. And then I would worry about March. I would make lists at the end of February about what I was worrying about in the coming month. Spring break, which occasionally meant getting on an airplane. Zoe’s birthday, March 17th (what kind of party? present? theme? I stink at kid’s birthday parties.) Mondays were always cause for concern. And vacations. And certain phone calls. And confrontations. And on and on the list goes.

I’m quite sure that even in the womb I was busy…”Oh, who’s she yelling at now? Is she smoking? Oh, goodie, here comes the caffeine!”

Then recently, just since this past February in fact, I started a meditation practice. And from that “practice” one interesting result seems to be that I spend less time ruminating (and worrying) and more time breathing and staying in the moment. I have slips, many, in fact. But overall, if I take the time to be still and pay attention to the breath, sometimes more than once a day, I find that I am…well, happier.

Now some people are naturally like this, relaxed about life, and probably don’t ever need to meditate. I don’t know too many, but I’m sure they exist. Given how much there is to worry about in these times, it’s almost impossible not to. Four more years of Republicans in power? HELP! Disease. Global warming. Wars. The economy. Hunger. Tainted fruits and vegetables. Etc. etc. etc. STOP!

So all of that brings me back to the breath, to being in the moment, to being grateful for right now. For the quiet. “Monkey mind” is the term that Buddhists use to describe that constant ruminator that lives inside us.

Shhhhhhhhhh…….

Breathe.