Monthly Archives: June 2016

Does it feel like you’re running on empty?

A friend of mine recently told me that she hadn’t realized how much of a weight she had been under from the duties involved in administering her father’s estate until the day she gave the final checks to her brothers and sisters and was truly done with that sad responsibility. Weight lifted, she could suddenly see how much her energy had been depleted, and how much strength had been sapped. Because of course, being life, it wasn’t just the one thing. At the same time she was dealing with work transitions, other family matters, health challenges and of course the lingering grief over the loss of her father.

They say ‘when it rains it pours.’ We recognize the truth in that. Life doesn’t always present challenges in an orderly queue, each one waiting its turn. But whether they happen all at once or in succession, we may doubt if we have the strength and energy to handle it all. It just becomes too much. Sound familiar?

The Fifth Paramita is Strength / Energy, another quality or ‘Perfection of the Heart’ for us to explore and consider. We can see that it’s relevant in all our lives, because even the hardiest among us sometimes feel physically exhausted, mentally fatigued and emotionally drained.

Speaking to energy, the Buddha’s teachings have us look at the Hindrances of restlessness and of sloth and torpor. Just recognizing when they arise in our experience, not making an enemy of them, we can see how they cloud our ability to see clearly what is happening in our lives and in our way of relating to our current experience. One student in class noted that when she has a decision to make she feels a sense of restlessness until she decides on a course of action. That restlessness is discomfort with things not being settled. Another way handling that discomfort is to give up, become a channel-surfing couch potato or lose ourselves in any one of a variety of addictions in order to avoid being present with what is going on with us. A couch potato is sloth personified, and a mind lost in addiction is in a state of torpor. We can become mentally fatigued when we exert a lot of energy leaning into or living in the future, planning, daydreaming or worrying; or when we run away from the challenges we are facing in this moment.

In the Noble Eightfold Path, we learn about Wise Effort. Certainly this has to do with how we use our energy. Are we striving in a way that depletes us? Are we not making any effort at all, ending up lethargic and unmotivated? So how do we bring ourselves into Wise Effort when we’re feeling things are off but aren’t sure why?

Wise Effort is based on Wise Intention, so when we get that ooky feeling that our effort is unskillful in some way, we can ask ‘What is my intention here?’ The answer will let us know if we are trying to be perfect, trying to prove something — to ourselves or someone else, living or dead. Or if our hidden intention is to harm or sabotage ourselves or someone else by making no effort at all, a kind of passive-aggressive reaction. This is all worth exploring in a skillful way, either by ourselves after meditation or with the help of a therapist if it just feels too tangled and we’re not able to break the cycle of judging ourselves or blaming others. Another skillful question, always, is ‘What am I afraid of?”

Because my spiritual path, and my meditation practice, was renewed through a serious encounter with depletion, the subject of energy is central to me. When in the early 1990’s I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome and eventually had to give up my career, I had a lot of time to meditate and investigate the nature of energy.

I began to see that when I am caught up in living in a tight fearful way, my energy is limited, finite, shallow. When I am living fully in the moment, creating spaciousness and compassion to whatever degree I am able, I loosen into a loving relationship with whatever arises, and my energy is equally spacious, unrestrained, infinite. When my life was one big to do list with no time for meditation, walks in nature or anything else that connected me to true joy and understanding, then I got depleted very quickly. During that period of my life, that state of depletion became the extended norm, and I got very ill.

Women's Ceremony by Anna Petyarre and courtesy of the Aboriginal Art Directory
Women’s Ceremony by Anna Petyarre

But what does that mean: finite and infinite energy? Well, scientifically speaking, this solid-seeming world is really energy, vibrations at varying frequencies coming together in patterns that form and dissolve all the objects we perceive to be solid, including ourselves. For convenience we perceive everything as solid, but it’s very inconvenient really when we get attached to that self-limiting view, believing it to be reality. It can also be very painful, because we cling to one fleeting version as the way things should be.

As we sit in meditation practice, we relax and release pent-up tension. We attend the vast field of physical sensation we experience, and we are able to let go of the idea of our skin being the edge of our being. Because it is not a solid edge at all, but porous. And we are breathing in and out air that defies our desire to name exactly when it is a part of ‘me’ and when it suddenly is not. But in meditation, attending actual sensation, we are in this vast sphere of experience — no boundaries, infinite. Yes, it is centered in consciousness here and now. We are not flying off to some other realm. All the realms of experience are available here and now, passing through our field of experience, named or unnamed.

This is how we access and come to understand the infinite. We don’t need to explain it to ourselves. We only need to know how through our practice we can experience it. Quite naturally, without striving, we let go of thinking that life begins and ends with our to do list. We create enough space to check in with ourselves to see what is important to us, and what is not. We access infinite energy and our relationship with life and the world shifts into something joyful, where we are able to do whatever is necessary in a mindful way, another part of the dance of life.

When we go on a silent meditation retreat, each person is assigned a daily yogi job. This might be vacuuming the hallway, washing pots and pans, cleaning a bathroom, sweeping a courtyard or scrubbing a shower. Whatever it is, after a few days it somehow transforms from drudgery into a labor of love. And that sense of aliveness in the moment of doing any activity can be brought home and applied to everything we do.

Which is a big relief, because most of us most of the time are functioning with a heavy reliance on finite energy, which isn’t very reliable. Finite energy is manufactured out of caffeine, striving, willpower, pushing, scolding, demanding that we work harder, go faster, and accomplish more. We give our all without taking time for ourselves. We are out of balance. And our energy is quickly depleted. Finite energy may seem to be getting the job done, but there is some crucial aspect missing: That infinite quality of connection, loving-kindness and pure attention. We may think it’s working but at some point an unwelcome amalgamation of stressors can force us to acknowledge that when push literally comes to shove, finite energy doesn’t work.

Through regular meditation practice, and particular through going on retreat, we begin to see how our striving was based in fear, and that fear just creates more and more tension in the body and mind. When we release the tension by attending sensations arising and falling away in our field of experience, relaxing the tight kinks that hold us in a forward-leaning fearful striving mode, we discover something very interesting. Life does not require us to push it or shove it into shape. We don’t need to push the river of life! We can become skillful in navigating it instead.

So notice for yourself to what degree you are trying to push the river instead of coming into skillful relationship with whatever arises in your experience. Notice how much energy you exert when you could be rowing — merrily, merrily, merrily — gently down the stream.

 

How to access your own inner wisdom

tapping-coverTo conclude our exploration of the Wisdom Paramita, I’ll share an excerpt from my book Tapping the Wisdom Within, A Guide to Joyous Living, on how to find your own access to universal wisdom:

In your hectic daily life where your priorities always seem to be outside yourself, the internal voices you are likely to hear are the ones that speak the loudest. The squeakiest wheel. But when you take the time to listen in — through meditation, nature walks, time alone in a quiet place without distractions — the wise inner voice with its rich deep true resonance, rises above the clamor.

You can be sure it is your wise inner voice because it is calm, loving, positive, and non-judgmental.  Unlike the other voices in your repertoire, it is never hurried or desperate. Next to it the other voices feel jangly, almost caffeinated. The wise inner voice will never tell you to do something violent, unethical or wrong. It will never demand that you do what it says. It is not a master, but a guide. Its purpose is to put you in harmony with your own nature, not to change you into something other than yourself.

Once you have found your inner voice, and it may take time, be sure to continue listening in. Never take your wise inner voice for granted.

The language most effective to stir the inner voice to action is the question. Ask yourself “Why am I so upset?” “What is going on here?” “What should I do about…” or simply “What do you want me to know?”

After each question be very quiet and let your own wise inner voice answer you. Be patient. Your inner voice speaks in many different languages — symbolic, synchronistic, intuitive, and dream. Pay attention. Perhaps the book with an answer for you will pop off the library shelf into your hands. Perhaps you will feel suddenly compelled to call a friend, whose experience will help you with your problem. And always listen when you find yourself giving someone else advice. It is often meant for you as well!

If you listen in on a consistent basis, you will eventually be able to hear your clear wise inner voice speaking in very plain language. It is the voice of the wellspring that feeds you, rooted in the collective consciousness, deeply connected with all that is. Staying in touch with that inner voice will keep you balanced, assure you that you belong right where you are, deepen your sense of connection, and enhance your pleasure in every moment.

That is joyous living.

I wrote this book in the early 1990’s when I was physically incapacitated for almost a year. It is a compilation of notes I took during intensive meditative sessions that I organized in a way that made them readily accessible. I did not change a word of the writing, just rearranged it.

You may notice that, unlike anything else I write, it is written to ‘you’. The ‘you’ was me. I was asking questions and the answers rose up from within. I never considered this channeled writing with some other being or entity. It was just an inner conversation with the universal wisdom available to all of us. Still, I wasn’t willing to claim the words as mine, so on the cover of the book it doesn’t say ‘by’ Stephanie Noble, but ‘from the meditations of’ Stephanie Noble.

I still have a few dozen copies of Tapping left, so I gave each student in attendance their own copy of the book as a gift of appreciation for their practice. Together we read through some of the ‘Roots of Joy’ — the common themes that run throughout the book. Some of the themes are much the same as the Buddha’s teachings, even though this was before I ever attended a Buddhist class or studied Buddhism. For example, ‘All is one’, ‘Be Present in the Moment’, and ‘Meditation as Connection’. But a few, while compatible with Buddhist thought, are very specific to chronic challenges women in particular face. Here is one such example:

Be the subject of your own life

If you are not the center of your own universe, who is? And why? Of course you are the center of your own universe. Each person, animal and plant is the center of its own universe. You must hold that perspective, or no one will. That is the perspective allotted to you in this life. That is where your consciousness seeded and grew. To pretend that you are not the center of your own universe is to go against nature. And who will thank you? Who are you expecting to fill the void you have vacated? Where have you put your consciousness? And isn’t it crowded over there? Is that person thanking you for moving in on his or her space? Of course not.

To be in a subject mode does not exclude developing empathy and understanding. Quite the contrary. It gives a piercingly straight connection to others, a direct line into their hearts. When you are subject, you are residing where others expect to find you. It is like having an ‘Open’ sign on the door to your heart. When you are object, your sign reads ‘Out to Lunch’ and no connections can be made. Because you are out trying to guess what others are thinking of you. Always of you. The object mode spends a lot more time thinking about the self.  The derogatory term ‘self-centered’ refers to people who are being objects, always looking from the outside in, imagining what the world thinks of them, and adapting themselves to suit.

Climb back inside yourself. Explore who you are, what you like, what you care about. Learn what activities and experiences replenish your inner wellspring, and take the time to give that to yourself.

Then, from that centered grounded position, that great sense of belonging and completion, look outside yourself, tap into that infinite bounty within you and share your talents with the world.

Only as the subject of your own life can you function effectively in the world.

My women students nodded their heads to the shared challenge we face in being there for everyone we care about, sometimes almost or completely forgetting our own needs and preferences.

The body of the book is ‘Topics of Concern’ arranged alphabetically. Readers of the book often told me that they just open to any page and find just what they need in that moment. So we tried that in class, and there were several ahas of understanding as to why the topic on that page was relevant for each person right now. One student awoke to her calling! So who knows what riches are possible when we open to the wisdom available to us all at any moment?

If we practice quieting down and being open to it, wisdom shines through with a warm loving light on all that had seemed dark and scary. Learning to listen in is part of what we do in our meditation practice. That’s why it’s called Insight Meditation. Aha!

Thoughts? Comments? (I appreciate all the emails I receive, but even more would appreciate comments right here, where we can all appreciate them.)  – Stephanie

 

 

It’s not the road that’s bumpy!

We’ve been looking at the three characteristics of awakening as clues to what wisdom might be. We looked at anatta (no separate self) and anicca (impermanence), and now we will look at the third, dukkha, and how it relates to the other two.

deluxe-dukkha-delivery-serviceThe word dukkha has no exact English translation. In Pali, the language of the Buddha, it literally means ‘ill-fitting axle hole.’ So imagine yourself driving along and one of your wheels is out of whack so that at every revolution you go ka-bum. Ka-bum. Ka-bum. Eventually you probably get used to it, but there’s an underlying discomfort and dissatisfaction with the experience, right? That feeling, that way of being in relationship with our experience, is dukkha.

What a perfect word! There’s no English word that comes close to so accurately describing this experience. Dukkha combines the scatological sounds of doo-doo and cah-cah. So whenever you could use the word ‘shitty’ in regard to your current experience, you’ll be reminded, ‘Oh, this is dukkha!’ And that is a really important bit of awareness! The first of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths is about the importance of acknowledging dukkha.

Note that dukkha is not the external situation or the condition we are going through but the way we are relating to whatever is going on. We are ka-bum, ka-bum, ka-bumming along the road of life, dissatisfied and not knowing why.

When we pause to pay attention to this moment of angst or misery, we might notice how we take the naturally occurring pain of life — physical or emotional — and exacerbate it by piling on thoughts about the past and the future. We might say to ourselves, ‘Oh no, not this again! I thought I was over this pain,’ and ‘How long will this pain go on?’ imagining relentless agony for the rest of our lives.

Anicca, anatta and dukkha, the three characteristics of awakening, have a relationship to each other. Without the insight into the oneness of all being, we suffer dukkha because we struggle to connect, to be seen, to be loved. We are like fish swimming around in the ocean wishing for water, not knowing we are already at home.

Without the insight into into the dance of impermanence, we rail against the natural systems and patterns of life, longing for and fearful of change, thus creating dukkha.

Conversely, when we embrace the oneness and the impermanence that is this life,  the dukkha is released. We experience pain, sorrow, grief and all human emotion, but we don’t add to it.

Once we understand the nature of dukkha, it’s easy to see how we activate the Deluxe Dukkha Delivery System in our lives and the ways we make ourselves more dukkha-prone. Maybe we’re striving to be perfect. Maybe we are seeking approval and validation. Maybe we are caught up in longing or feel strangled by fear. But instead of making an enemy of dukkha, thus creating more of it, we can befriend it as a messenger. We maintain our practice of meditation and practice being mindful and compassionate in our lives to whatever degree we are able. In this way we set the stage for awakening to the wisdom of no separate self and the cyclical dance of impermanence, and thus free ourselves from the ka-bum, ka-bum, ka-bum of that ill-fitting axle hole of dukkha.