Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Can Of Pain

Can of Pain Can Be Bought At The Pharmasave Price
Don't you love it?  A can of pain!  A large can of pain at that...  Tea and sugar and coffee come in small cans, but pain, it's always the giant sized one.  Why is that?  This photo opp was too good to pass by, honestly.  And you know how I love a cheap joke.  Loaf of pain, anyone?  White, whole wheat, gluten free perhaps?  How do you like your pain?  With butter, goat cheese? It has such a lovely rich feel then.   Sometimes we just slather it on.  Or perhaps sweetened with a little jam.   There are some of us who like our pain dry and crusty.  Is that our Puritan heritage peeking out?  We like to choke on it a little as it goes down.  But I digress foolishly.  What other way is there to digress, really?

I have had a number of occasions lately to ponder suffering, which in some sense is different from pain.  Pain is inevitable in this human life, suffering is optional, right?  Suffering, it's what we add on to the pain.  Do we all agree on that?  Twisted ankle = pain.  Ain't it awful = suffering.

And so it was suffering I pondered the other day as I brushed on my favourite chartreuse paint, rubbing it deep into the textured crannies of the canvas.  I was worrying about something, the usual.  We have our go-to's of suffering, don't you think?

Over and over this little nub, I went in my mind, rubbing and scratching at it.  I was so tired of myself and my way of chewing on this little bristle of fear by mid morning, that I knew I needed to do something different before my head exploded.  I was tired of being both victim and perpetrator.  A Dharma teacher had told me to comfort my fear, to befriend to it like I might a small child.  I was having a hard time doing this.  This child and I were just not feeling the love.

I thought, "so if I can't be friends with this furry little beast, maybe I could just spend a little time with it, quality time.  I had observed that what I do with my fear on a regular basis, is that I push it away.  I want to fix it, I want to banish it from the planet.  I want it to eat my dust.  Then everything will be okay, right?

But there it is running behind me.  Always this is the scene, me running, fear in hot pursuit.  We are both so friggin tired, I thought.  I've had enough.  Fear, how about you?  I have worn out so many pairs of fear drenched sneakers, it's ridiculous.  So I just stayed still.  Fear got up close and personal.  It had fangs and whiskers.  It was smelly.  And there I was feeling it's qualities, noticing it's ripples and roughness, it's warts and bad breath.  And I didn't self destruct.  I felt squirmy at first.  And then the longer I stayed, the quieter I got.  I got to feel my own strength for the staying.  It felt strangely good, like muscles waking up, flexing, seeing it was possible to just be still with fear.  Ha, fear I can be with your bad breath.  And then after a bit, it moved on without me.  No sneakers required.

Another visitation of "pain" came one day in the weekly qi gong class I take.  I realized at one point what a "struggler" I am, how this is a mode I go into when I am learning something new, doing something unknown.  Assumption number one of the struggler is: "this is going to be hard".  This thought is followed by physical tensing and tightening and the holding of breath.  "Remember to breathe" our qi gong teacher reminds us regularly.  (Apparently I am not the only struggler in the building.)  So first there is the thought,  followed by a body state that supports a depletion of energy and potential failure.  And off goes the little line of dominoes....  A way of being that makes new things seem daunting and unwelcome, a way of being that encourages a retreat, a shrinking from life.  Could this be anything but painful?  Could this be suffering come to life?

And that lovely little book "The Buddha's Brain" reminds us that the neuroplasticity of the brain allows us to change our response when we become aware of it's unhelpful nature.  We can choose to do things differently.  Sometimes we need to look those little demons in the eye a whole bunch of times before it occurs to us that we have a choice.  Sometimes we need to get so tired of ourselves that we are motivated to  get out there on the neural pathways with a big shovel and do a little path realignment .

So I ask you, how big is your can of pain?  And how do you usually serve it up?  And have you found any ways to take the lid off this can?  A bientot, mon ami.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wandering Down Memory Lane (My 7 Links)

Winter In The Pacific Northwest

I was invited by the lovely Donna Iona Drozda of Following The Moon to be part of ‘My 7 Links’ project. Of course I felt pleased to have been chosen, but once pride left the building, sloth and torpor moved in while I considered the work involved. But then I thought it might be fun to look back over my blog posts, so off I trundled into the deep woods of blog posts past.
The idea is to go back to your own posts and find one to fit each of the 7 categories, then ‘choose’ 5 more bloggers to do the same, and so on, and so on.
The project is described as a way of “uniting bloggers (from all sectors) in a joint venture.

The following are the 7 categories:

Most beautiful post

Most popular post

Most controversial post

Most helpful post

Most “surprisingly successful” post

Most neglected post

and finally….the post that makes them most proud  

So here goes:

  1. Most Beautiful:  Blush.  Here's the deal.  In western culture we suffer from the cult of "not good enough" and so it feels odd to call something we have created "beautiful".  But here's to changing habits and creating new neural pathways.  I like this post because it felt lyrical.
     It's about a magical retreat I went to here on Salt Spring where someone kissed a cow and French man read Pablo Neruda poetry to me.

    Most Popular: goes to the post with the most comments.  That's scientific right?  The numbers never lie?  It's a post called "A Malpractice Suit" from Aug 5th of this year about the realization that sometimes I use the Dharma to beat myself up with!  Apparently my twisted-ness attracted some attention.

    Most Controversial:  My blog is not exactly a snake pit of controversy but maybe someone out there might be offended by Brad Warner singing "Buddha Was A Good Ol' Boy"  It's a little post I wrote about seeing Warner speak in Victoria and finding he is a lot less controversial in person than he is in his books and blog posts.  Anyway enjoy his little ditty here.  He may get you humming.

    Most Helpful Post:  I picked a post called "Enjoy Your Difficulties" because, well, it's not that easy to do, so I figured we could all use a little help in this department.  It's from March of 2009 so a lot of current readers of this blog probably wouldn't have read it and they might get a kick out of seeing me as a blog toddler.

    Most Surprisingly Successful Post:  Well I'm always surprised when they're successful and how do you judge that anyway?  Again I picked a post with a larger number of comments than usual.  You vote with your comments, right?  It's called "Hearing The Still Small Voice"  from Jan 2011

    Most neglected post: Well when I first started blogging, that could cover quite a few posts! but I chose "What Do You Expect?" from Jan 12, 2009, not to long after I started posting.  It's about our many expectations, subtle and not so subtle.

    Post the made me most proud:  Well I'd have to say it's the one I wrote about being with my mother when she died.  I posted it the day after she died.  It's called "Quickly The Body Passes Away" from Aug 30, 2009

    And the blogs I love and visit regularly that I invite to join me in this little project are as follows & with a little post script saying if this seems like it's not your cuppa or you're up to your eyeballs in other projects, not to worry:

    Mystic Meandering

    Lynne Hoppe

    Art It

    108 Zen Books

    Michelle Meister

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Three Questions

Pyramid Lake, Jasper, Alberta
"Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung?" Did you ever wake up asking yourself this question?  Maybe not in those exact words but you know what I mean.  Ajahn Brahm, an upside down Therevaden  monk,  has cleverly anticipated our question and written a book to help us find the culprit.  How can you not love this title?   I'm a total sucker for a sense of humour especially if there's a handful of  wisdom thrown in to seal the deal  .  And he's a good listen here, with a generous truckload of Dharma talks.

In one of the stories from the book, an emperor after much study, found he only had to ask  3 questions to receive all the wise guidance he needed.

Here are the questions.  Don't cheat.  Answer first.  Read second.  Find out your batting average.  Remember Babe Ruth.

1 When is the most important time?
2 Who is the most important person?
3 What is the most important thing to do?

That's right, according to Ajahn Brahm, answer these questions correctly and you can never go wrong in any situation.

Let's compare notes.  You probably guessed that the answer we're looking for in number 1 is "now".  You're a good test taker.  Now if we could just remember this in each moment, especially the dung loaded ones!

Question 2.  I got this one wrong.  The interesting answer is, "the person you're with" which includes you!  Ajahn Brahm reminds us, "Communication and love, can only be shared when the one you are with, no matter who they are, is the most important person in the world for you, at that time.  They feel it.  They know it.  They respond."  He points out that when we are the only one around then we are the most important person we're with!  " Do you ever say, "Good morning, me.  have a nice day!" he asks.

And question # 3, did you get this one?  Nada.  I was really stumped.  One answer, for all situations?  What is the most important thing to do?  "to care" he says,which he describes as bringing together "careful and caring.  The answer illustrates that it is where we are coming from that is the most important thing."

Now we can go out into the world armed with 3 things and not be dangerous.  We have some new tools in the spiritual toolbox, especially helpful when the next truckload of dung is delivered.