I was talking to a friend earlier, who was feeling down. I was glad I called, it’s good to be able to listen when someone is feeling blue. I suggested that she might want to go for a walk to feel better, as I was doing and then I remembered that the truth is, this is life and we aren’t supposed to always feel great. I’m sitting in the muck right now, feeling worried about the election, the economy, my own future, my daughter, my poor old dog, Lucy, who isn’t doing all that well. I am sitting in some sadness and worry and it’s perfectly okay.

I saw a story on Rock Center about the Daily Show and how there are several dogs who come to work with their owners. They said it really helps everyone to cheer up when they can pet the dogs.

So here’s my dog, Lucy, from several years ago, wearing a $6,000 sapphire, emerald and 24 carat gold necklace. She looks very royal, doesn’t she?  (The necklace does not belong to me!)

Please let President Obama do a good job at tonight’s debate…please.

I have been reading a new book called “Falling Upward” by Richard Rohr and essentially it’s about, as the book jacket describes:

“In the first half of life, we are naturally and rightly preoccupied with establishing our identity — climbing, achieving, and performing. But those concerns will not serve us as we grow older and begin to embark on a further journey. One that involves challenges, mistakes, loss of control, broader horizons, and necessary suffering that actually shocks us out of our prior comfort zone. Eventually, we need to see ourselves in a different and more life-giving way. This message of “falling down” — that is in fact moving upward — is the most resisted and counterintuitive of messages in the world’s religions, including and most especially Christianity.”

If I’ve experienced anything in the past three years, it has been this. Reading the book affirms so much of what I’ve been learning. And though it may sound bad in some ways, actually it is good! It actually is great. The years of pain and sadness have given way to wanting to share in the deeper truths that I have been learning. This morning, in a chapter called “A Bright Sadness” from the book, I read this:

At this stage, I no longer have to prove that I or my group is the best, that my ethnicity is superior, that my religion is the only one God loves, or that my role and place in society deserve superior treatment. I am not preoccupied with collecting more goods and services, quite simply, my desire and effort — every day — is to pay back, to give back to the world a bit of what I have received. I now realize that I have been gratuitously given to — from the universe, from society, and from God. I try now, as Elizabeth Seton said, ‘to live simply so that others can simply live.'”

This is a big shift in my consciousness because for so many years I craved “specialness” and recognition. And I wanted stuff. I bought “stuff” and though it brought me very little satisfaction or joy, I still wanted it. (This is not to say that I would turn down any presents that anyone wants to give me. Ever.) But “stuff” isn’t a priority. I love being curious about life now. I love the life I’m living and much of the thanks go to all the spiritual teachers I’ve encountered along the way. It started with Mike Eigen (a therapist who writes a lot about spirituality) and continued with Pema Chodron, who I believe saved my life, and Eckhart Tolle, and Regena Thomashauer, and Friends In Deed, and then my dance teachers and too many others to name. I’m not quite sure where it’s all leading, but it definitely feels like a move upward – and outward. It feels that it is about paying back and giving to the world a bit of what I’ve received.

Yesterday, just as I was getting on the subway, I glanced at my iPhone and saw an email from Abigail, my loftmate, which said “Certified letter.”  There was no body to the email just the subject, because my phone didn’t have any signal.  I sat on the subway for ten minutes wondering what the letter could be about.

I came home and read the letter (it really doesn’t matter what it was about – let’s just say it wasn’t great and it had to do with money, always something that is upsetting.)  I read it, then took my eye pads (I’ll have to share the story about going to the eye doctor to get contact lenses and as a method of increasing moisture, taking a pair of socks, filling them with rice, heating them, and putting them over my eyes every day…but that’s another story) and I rested.

I decided, since I couldn’t read with the eye pads over my eyes, to listen to a download of a Pema Chodron talk.  I found it on my computer and the talk began where I had left off six months ago:  enlightenment.  She said that no one she had ever heard of had ever really reached “enlightenment” – that is a place where they felt completely at peace with the world.  She said even the most enlightened teachers still have moments when they get angry, or get ‘hooked” by something, but that the more we practice meditation and have tools, we find that so many of the things in life that used to drive us crazy, no longer have that power.

That is what I felt about that certified letter.  I didn’t feel nothing, I just felt “okay, well, this is something to deal with.”  This is such a huge shift for me.  I admit that I used to be and can still occasionally be a bit of a drama queen, but now I have tools and I know that I can always make a call to a good friend (which is what I did earlier in the day yesterday when I was having trouble with a real estate deal) or go for a walk, or listen to a tape, or go to the gym, or do yoga, or get a neck massage (I did that Thursday).  Dancing is also a great way for me to let go of everything that has hooked me during the day.

I wonder if the Buddha ever did swing dancing?

Last night, I was watching “The Daily Show” and clips from the Republican debate.  What can you say about these debates other than you wish these people were running for office in another country?  Some country whose name you can’t pronounce, preferably on another planet.  

I’ve been to Occupy Wall Street a few times, marched, I’m glad that they have have managed to change the conversation from what it was a few months ago (the debt ceiling) to jobs and the issue of money and inequality, but it’s hard not to feel incredibly hopeless about how we are going to fix the mess we’re in.

I’d like to make this blog funnier.  I’m grateful that people like Jon Stewart, Bill Maher and Steven Colbert can find humor in the political scene.  I am still reeling from seeing “Miss Representation” – the documentary about women in our culture, the way we are portrayed, the lack of power we have even though we are 51% of the population.  I’d love to be able to laugh more, which brings me to news about my play, it is moving along.  As Robert at Friends In Deed says, “…totally committed, completely unattached.”  I hope SE gets to have a production and at this point, it’s out of my hands.  I’m so grateful for all the people who are working so hard and having meetings to get it up.

We need to laugh.  We need to remember what’s important and sit quietly with all the feelings.  I always try to fight the sadness rather than embrace it.  I’m sad that so many people all over the world are struggling.

Pema Chodron says in our meditation practices we can “breathe in suffering and breathe out God.”  So that’s what I try to do every morning in my imperfect practice.  I don’t know if that helps anyone other than me, but it’s good to remember.

Today is Tuesday, August 23, 2011.  It is 8:50 am, the weather is totally beautiful, not humid, not hot, a perfect day.

Today, Libya is in chaos.  The rebels seems to be overthrowing the government, although there are still some questions about how they will manage to actually govern, if they do succeed in getting rid of Qadhafi. 

The world economy remains in a tenuous state.  There is fighting all over.  There is illness and birth and great sadness, and memories of 9/11 as we get closer to the 10th anniversary.  Today’s weather reminds me of 9/11/01.

This is what I read today in “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron:

“The trick is to keep exploring and not bail out, even when we find out that something is not what we thought.  That’s what we’re going to discover again and again and again.  Nothing is what we thought.  I can say that with great confidence.  Emptiness is not what we thought.  Neither is mindfulness or fear.  Compassion – not what we thought. Love, Buddha nature.  Courage.  These are code words for things we don’t know in our minds, but any of us could experience them.  These are words that point to what life really is when we let things fall apart and let ourselves be nailed to the present moment.”

Whatever we are feeling in the present moment, is good.  Yesterday afternoon, I was feeling some discomfort and I didn’t enjoy it.  But I sat with it and then I had a conversation with a friend who had also had some difficult feelings during the day – and before too long, we were both laughing and somehow the feelings lifted.  I remember saying, if I just let the feelings in and don’t fight them, somehow they lift.  After we hung up, I received an email thanking me for something I’d said in an earlier email and that totally lifted my spirits.  

Today I will live in the present moment and experience whatever shows up. But first I will buy dog food.  

I imagine there’s a way to look up how many times “fear” has appeared in the title of these blog posts.  Many times, I am certain, would be the answer. 

It’s a constant, although not always acknowledged part of everyone’s lives, I believe.  And the more you try to live a more conscious life, the more you are aware of it. This doesn’t mean it should stop you from taking risks and enjoying life, but it does mean you have to learn how to live with fear.  

“Intimacy with Fear” is the title of the first chapter of “When Things Fall Apart.”  

“If we want to go beneath the surface and practice without hesitation, it is inevitable that at some point we will experience fear.”  

Yesterday we met with two general managers to talk about the play and where it should go next.  It all sounded great – they are enthusiastic and interested and believe it has definite commercial potential.  As our director says, “We have a lot of ducks to get in a row.”  Fortunately, we only need to get one duck at a time.   

In Steve Chandler’s book, “Time Warrior” he quotes Michael Jordan:

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career.  I’ve lost more than 300 games.  Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed.  I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life…and that’s why I succeed.”  

Last night, I found out from a dear friend that her husband has been in and out of the hospital much of the summer.  I am thinking of her and praying for them both.  I hope I can do more than that, but for right now, that’s all I can do.  

In the reading this morning of “When Things Fall Apart,” Pema Chodron’s introduction to the book includes some quotes from Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, her Buddhist teacher:

“Making friends with our own demons, and their accompanying insecurity leads to a very simple, understated relaxation and joy.”

I really hope that someday, I can honestly say I’ve found this to work in my life.  Right now, I am pretty far from the experience of “a very simple, understated relaxation and joy.”  

Rinpoche also gave her the instruction to relax and write. At the time, she never imagined that she would be able to.  She has spent many years now doing just that – so I think that there is hope.  

Her year of “doing nothing” in 1995, as she explains in the introduction, led her to one of her most important books, “When Things Fall Apart.”  

“If your life is chaotic and stressful, there’s plenty of advice here for you.  If you’re in transition, suffering from loss, or just fundamentally restless, these teachings are tailor made.  The main point is that we all need to be reminded and encouraged to relax with whatever arises and bring whatever we encounter to the path.”

The first time I read the book, I was in transition. The second time I was suffering from loss.  Now, I am just fundamentally restless.  My life has moved forward in a very challenging way, but I am still feeling fear and discomfort sometimes.  I think that this is life – and I am learning how to sit with it and not try to escape it. 

The final quote:

“Chaos should be regarded as extremely good news.” 

A few years ago I read Pema Chodron’s book “When Things Fall Apart” when I was going through the most difficult time of my life and it helped me enormously.  I underlined it and re-read it and it was one of the ways I survived the break-up of my marriage, my mother’s death and my daughter moving away from home.

I decided now is a good time to re-read it and so every day I’m going to read just one page and some days I will write about it.  Today I read the first page of the introduction and Pema mentions that in 1995 she took a sabbatical and “essentially did nothing.”  She read and hiked and slept.  She meditated and wrote.  She said she had no agenda, and no shoulds.  That alone sounds like a great accomplishment in a society that values achievement, to step back and take time off.  I wonder if that was also the year she spent in silence.  I wish I could do something like that and maybe someday I will. 

She also spent the year reading the writing she had done over the years from her teachings and she discovered that she talked a great deal about maitri (loving kindness towards oneself) and from that practice, a fearless compassionate attitude towards others’ pain.  

Last night I went to Friends In Deed’s Tuesday night group and it was a very large meeting (they are about to go on vacation, so I guess many people felt the need to be there.)  I noticed how much compassion I felt towards most people, but there was one person whose pain was so intense, it made me uncomfortable.  I have to work on that, because sometimes pain is extremely intense and unbearable.  I did feel compassion, but I also had a difficult time allowing myself to connect with this particular woman.  She is definitely in a period of “groundlessness” – uncharted territory. 

In Pema’s words, “dissolving the dualistic tension between us and them, this and that, good and bad, by inviting in what we usually avoid” – made me think about how I reacted to this woman. And I hope that during these next few weeks, she will be able to cope with all the fear and find her way through a maze of doctors and treatments and decisions.  

I finally had time to watch the entire Bill Moyers interview with Pema Chodron and it really was such a fantastic learning experience.

She talked about several concepts – the one I want to talk about now is “groundlessness.”  It’s when something happens in your life that is so difficult, like a serious illness, or the loss of someone you love, or a divorce, anything that shakes you up and causes you to feel like the ground beneath your feet is gone – and at first you feel scared, but later on you come to realize how important that experience is to your personal growth.  

I can’t imagine what my life would be like now if I hadn’t been through these past two and a half years of fear, anxiety and challenge.  I would be living an unhappy life instead of an awake, scary and one day at a time kind of life.  I wouldn’t have done all the reading and seeking I’ve done, I wouldn’t have learned about standing on my own two feet again, I wouldn’t have allowed myself the time to grieve and I wouldn’t have moved through what felt like both a nightmare and a test.   

It’s something I really want to write about and I’m trying to write about it – but I think I still need a little more distance before I can really do it justice.  I’m glad I kept this blog, even though I couldn’t always write everything I wanted to write, I wrote enough to serve as a reminder of where I was and where I am now.

Grateful.  Filled with gratitude for the challenges.  And I’m happier, even though I miss my daughter and my mother.  I’m going to see Zoe in two months and I am so excited to see her again.  And I talk to my mother now and then and she doesn’t have anything too annoying to say, so that’s pretty nice. 

The other day I found out that my ex husband did something that really made me angry. I won’t go into it, because I don’t want to hurt anyone, but I will say dealing with anger is always a challenge for me.  I don’t like it.

So this morning, in my daily meditation, along with the challenge of just breathing and not letting this one incident hijack the meditation, I inhaled the anger and rage I was feeling and then I moved onto the situation in the horn of Africa, and the millions who are suffering and dying there, and the violence in the Congo, and then I breathed in the rioting in London and the rage of people there who are angry at their government, and then I breathed in the Tea Party and the Republicans, and the Democrats who seem to lack the courage to fight, and I tried to pretty cover the entire world in my meditation, breathing in the problems and breathing out the light. This is one of Pema’s teachings, that all of us could connect in our meditation and she writes about it “Practicing Peace in Times of War.” 

Do I feel better?  Not so much.  But I do feel more grounded and ready to face my day.  And fortunately for me, the overwhelming feeling I have in my life now is not anger, it’s gratitude and appreciation.