June 2, 2012
A visit from a friend the other day brought an unexpected gift. One of the greatest things a friend can do is to help us to love and appreciate ourselves more, and that’s exactly what my friend did when she visited my home. My friend, also named Mary, is a beautiful woman, beautiful inside and out. She is always beautifully dressed, her hair perfect, and you could drop into her home at any time to find a picture perfect, lovely and orderly environment. We share a love of nature, and I have always admired her meticulously cared for, orderly (and weedless) garden and yard.
Mary always makes me feel special and loved, yet despite this I felt a bit intimidated about having her visit me at my home for the first time. I am not a perfect housekeeper. My garden, as filled as it is with beautiful things, is never weed-free and certainly not symmetrical or planned with any sort of special arrangement in mind. You could say that these things, as well as how I dress, is “casual”. As I ushered her along the patio to the door, she immediately remarked on how beautiful my yard is. I was really struck by this. While I was seeing the weeds that need to be pulled, plants that need to be replaced and spots where something needs to be planted, all she saw was the beauty of the flowers and shrubs. Her appreciation was genuine, and what I saw as a “deficiency” in my gardening, she saw as delightful. She was enjoying the casualness and spontaneity of it, which mirrors nature itself.
Mary helped me see things, myself included, with new eyes. This continued once we were inside and she commented on the peacefulness and quiet in our home — that was what she noticed, not the details of the furnishings. I showed her a painting of wisteria by my mother. I have always enjoyed it as I love wisteria and the painting seems to capture it in a charming way. Mary said she liked it because of the way the wisteria is casually presented — not contained neatly inside the picture in a symmetrical way. There is a certain sense of abandon in it. Now when I look at the painting, I see it as a reflection of my garden and some of the traits my mother passed on to me.
Mary’s visit left me with a greater acceptance, and even appreciation, of myself. My experience of my garden and yard is different. I see it with new eyes, and appreciate it more everyday. As I thought of sharing this story with you, I couldn’t help but see the connection with the style of meditation I’ve embraced. It’s one of acceptance of what is, including acceptance of oneself. I hope our visits together in the meditations bring you the same gift Mary’s visit brought me.
June 21, 2010
It’s the summer solstice where I live – the longest day of the year. A lover of warmth and light, I celebrate the day with a mixture of emotions. At the same time that I rejoice in the light and beginning of summer, there’s the knowledge that from now on the days will gradually shorten. The concept of Yin-Yang expresses this perfectly – in the light half resides the seed of darkness, in the dark half resides the seed of light.
It seems as I grow older, the two sides of the coin of life are more evident in every experience. When young, I would be totally happy or totally sad, and at some level there was actually a belief that life could be all one way or another. As I age, with more and more up and down waves of living under my belt, there’s a sense of the impermanence of all experiences. Love is tinged with the knowledge of loss, and life takes on an increasingly bittersweet quality. Sadness dances in happiness and joy dances in sorrow. There is an incredible aliveness in this. Life itself dancing in my heart!
Related post: Musings on the Winter Solstice six months ago — Finding Harmony in Diversity with Meditation
January 28, 2010
Dan on Facebook asked for some thoughts on seasonal depression. A lover of the outdoors, he’s finding it challenging to spend so much time inside. Winter is a challenge for me too, even here in California where the winters are far milder and shorter than in my native New Jersey. Finding ways of getting through winter has been a big focus for me, and for the first time this year, winter’s not so hard. In fact, at times I’m even enjoying it!
Seasonal depression is quite common, and it can range from simple “winter blahs” to something much more intense. The darkness of winter, combined with the cold and the necessity to stay indoors, can all lead to feeling blue. But I think sometimes winter can also trigger a stronger depression that has to do with unresolved emotional issues that surface when winter forces us to be less active and we have less things to distract us from what lies within us. In that sense, winter can also be an opportunity to see what parts of yourself need healing and attention. For example, for most of us, there’s grief from a variety of losses in life that we’ve never fully processed. Our culture doesn’t do grief well. We get a “stay on the sunny side of the street” kind of message that causes us to avoid the painful feelings of grief. But avoiding, suppressing and distracting ourselves from feelings doesn’t make them go away. Given the more restful time of winter, these feelings can surface.
Although I’m going to share list of some things I’ve done to make winter easier, I have to start by saying that inner work I’ve done in the past has a lot to do with my good spirits this winter. Your everyday, garden-variety winter doldrums might be helped by some of the things I’ll share, but it may take more than that if the depression is more intense. If you feel your depression is more than simple winter blahs, I’d encourage you to explore the possibility that there is more going on. You can find lots of reading online about depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder. It may be that winter is helping you to see that there’s some inner work to do. Attending to your depression can lead to a more fulfilling life later on. There are lots of good therapies for depression, so I hope you’ll get some help if needed.
And now, as someone who has always dreaded the coming of winter, here are the things I’ve found that are making a big difference for me:
- I bring more light into my home – light candles, have some pretty lamps lit. If I had a fireplace, I’d make lots of fires. It’s amazing though, how much even one lit candle can mean in winter. Whenever possible, I spend a least a few minutes in the sun, really soaking it in. Full spectrum lighting can help as well.
- Exercise. Exercise helps with depression, and part of the blahs may come from being more sedentary in winter. I used to rely a lot on walking and when it was too cold to go out in winter, I was at a loss. A few things have made all the difference — an elliptical machine, a bodybar and the hula.
- I do whatever it takes to stay warm. Lots of layers of clothes, especially yummy wool sweaters with beautiful colors that lift my spirits. I use an electric mattress pad to warm my bed before I get in. If I feel chilled, I’ll even warm my clothes in a dryer and put them on. I can’t tell you how good the heat feels. I have no shame when it comes to keeping warm. People joke about it when I wear two wool hats, one on top of the other, but my comfort comes first!
- Find enjoyable indoor activities. For me, lately, it’s been the hula. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me. Find something that really lifts your spirits and do it!
- Bring nature indoors. If you, like me, are a lover of nature, having plants indoors can really help. Taking care of them, seeing them grow brings a bit of spring and summer into your home. Forcing bulbs in winter is also wonderful. How about some lovely, fragrant narcissus or hyacinth? The Nature Attunement Meditation is perfect for this as well!
- Attitude. Oh yes, lest I forget, that all important ingredient. Cognitive therapy is effective in depression, and I think of an attitude adjustment as being just that. If I focus on how long and dreary winter is and how much I want it over with, it does seem incredibly long and dreary. Instead I’m learning to focus on the positive side of winter — the opportunity to be more restful and go within. It’s a time to hibernate and meditate. It’s a time to contemplate.
- Surrender. Finally, perhaps the most important ingredient is surrendering to the melancholy when it’s present. We’re conditioned to fight it and resist it, to feel it’s bad or wrong. It’s a natural part of life. So often our suffering comes from feeling we should be different than we are (as in always happy and upbeat). Life as we know it couldn’t exist without the poles of opposites – joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain. Let it be OK to feel blue.
Perhaps some of these things will be useful for you. Or you may have some other strategies to share. I’d love to know what works for you!
January 15, 2010
A friend just shared a beautiful poem she wrote about winter. Although the title of the poem is Winter’s Resurgence, I titled this post “Winter as Meditation”, because for me winter is a season of meditation. It brings an invitation to go within.
In the dormancy of winter, all sorts of things are going on underground and these underground stirrings are the foundation of the blossoming of spring. In the same way, the deep rest of meditation is a foundation for creativity and productivity when meditation is finished.
Here is K’s poem. It spoke to me on so many levels and in so many different ways, but I’ll be quiet now, like winter, and let the poem reveal its special meaning for you. I’d love to hear what it means to you…
Winter has come upon us with her
majestic stillness and fierce storms
Blanketing us in her winter’s lair
Beckoning us to breath in rhythm
And it is here that I speak my prayer:
‘Take a part of me deep into your forested womb
Keep me there, giving me rest, away from worldly
desires and despairs
Cover me with your insight and love
Hold me like there is no where else to go, nothing
more to become
Heal me of my tired and disenchanted ways
Let me be still inside, my belly connected with yours
like the dormant snake of winter lying securely in you’
And when your mists begins to lift, may your
nurturing womb flow me out and birth me new
August 3, 2009
Blackberries can be sooooo delicious when they’re soft and sweet, and sooooo disappointing when they’re not. I’ve been picking them on a nearby road where they grow on a fence by a field. It’s a great summer for blackberries. There are tons of them, enough to lure me back into berry picking after having given up on it last summer when I seemed to always come home with a bag of tart berries. But this year I discovered bring sweet, juicy berries home. What’s more, honing my fruit picking skills has given me insights on creativity and life.
It all began with our plum tree in June. The plums are outrageously delicious — incredibly sweet, juicy and perfumed with their own unique fragrance, but only when they’re really ripe. We learned last year that when they fall off the tree, they are just perfect. Only problem is they often split open when they land, and a bagful of split plums soon degenerates into a mess. The trick then is to get the plum when it’s just getting ready to fall, and you can do that by grasping them ever so carefully and giving just the slightest tug. Not a tug even, a faint whisper of a tug… If the plum falls into your hand, it’s ripe. If it resists your tug, it’s not ready. It may still be good, but not incredible, and why settle for good?
Having mastered plum picking, I was ready for the more delicate task of picking blackberries. One has to be ever so careful, not just dodging thorns, but tugging on the berries just right, being careful not to mush the ones that are truly ripe. It’s a delicate operation. It takes patience, sensitivity to the bush’s readiness to let go of its fruit. After all, the bush thrives by having bird’s eat the berries when they are ripe, when the seeds are ready to be dispersed. There’s a reason the fruit gets sweet when it does.
It takes patience to cooperate with the timing of the bush. It takes respect for its natural rhythms to enjoy the treasures it holds. You learn to listen, to cooperate with the life cycle of the bush, and when you do you are rewarded with a berry that drops effortlessly into your hand and tastes incredibly delicious.
Picking berries this way has allowed space for reflection as I pick. Since I am still in the midst of creating a new set of meditations, the parallels in the process of berry picking and giving birth to a new project became obvious. The ideas have to gestate and grow, and when they are ripe, they come easily. Like the berry bush that I return to day after day to cull the berries that are ripe that day, I have to leave the project to mature and ripen at its own pace. I spend time with it and then leave it. It percolates inside me and then when I work on it again, the latest “fruits” are ready for the picking. Inspirations come in their time, and I can’t force them.
Letting the new project grow requires the same respect and trust that I’m learning in berry picking. I can’t make the berries ripen faster. It’s always tempting to try to pull off a berry that isn’t really ready. It just doesn’t work. It’s not fun, actually. It feels as if the bush is resisting. If I do manage to get one off, it doesn’t taste good. Creativity can’t be forced. It comes in its time fueled by the same vital force that ripens the fruit. Sure, you can make sure a fruit tree is planted in the sun and gets enough water and fertilizer, but then you just have to wait. You can nourish yourself with adequate rest, exercise, meditation — but you still have to wait.
My fruit picking is teaching me that patience, respect, and trust. The blackberry bush is teaching me its lesson as I learn to listen. The new project will be finished on its schedule, in its time. I can try to push it, but it will only result in frustration and will get me nowhere. Or I can surrender to the process. I don’t have any more ability to hasten the creation of my new meditations than I have the ability to make the fruit ripen. This realization is humbling, and it’s also a relief. If I don’t seem to be making progress on a project, I can just let it go, knowing it will come in its time.
May 15, 2008
While I was recording my latest podcast episode, I found my attention drawn to a fountain outside my window. A fairly large fountain, it’s water shoots several feet straight up. It captivated me with its grace and beauty and as I was talking, I found myself being drawn into a meditative state. That experience got spontaneously incorporated into what I was talking about and became an example of two ways of meditating — one is “contemplation” and the other is what I’ll call, for want of a better word, “diving”.
Had I wanted to stop recording, I could have used the experience of watching the fountain in a number of ways to meditate. If I were to use it for contemplation, I would have found meaning in the way the water moved, the shapes the water takes, the whole phenomenon of the existence of the fountain. I could have thought about how the fountain was a reflection of life or how it mirrored my emotions and inner world. I could have found all sorts of meanings in the patterns of the water. Contemplation involves the exploration of meaning. Traditional contemplative practices might start with a brief reading followed by time spent exploring the meaning.
The other type of meditation, the one which I was drawn into, doesn’t involve meaning. Rather than thinking about the fountain and what it might symbolize and mean, I was simply watching the movement and patterns of the water. In such a meditation, meaning is left behind. The object of attention is viewed without meaning. Meaning keeps the mind actively engaged and when we let go of meaning, the mind can “detach” and go within. This allows for a deeply restful and rejuvenating experience.
Meditation always involves a shift in attention. When we meditate, we use our attention in specific ways to achieve specific effects. In this case the focus of attention was the fountain, and I could have used that focus in a number of different ways. Another effect of watching the fountain, or anything in nature, in this way is that you take in the qualities of what you see. Everything we see, hear, touch, taste or smell has an effect. It’s as if our nervous system is a complex tuning fork that resonates in different ways depending on where we put our attention. Allowing in the impressions of the patterns of nature realigns us with our own life force. As I remember the experience with the fountain now, I can feel the energy and vitality of life as it is expressed in flowing water.
Spontaneous meditations happen all of the time. Usually we’re in too much of a rush to take advantage of these moments. The next time you step outside and the sound of a bird, sight of a flower or light of the moon captivates you, pause for a bit to drink in the experience. Notice those times during the day when your attention naturally shifts in a way that is nourishing and brings peace. It could be something as simple as a smile from a co-worker or an image on the web. Take advantage of those shifts by slowing down a bit and giving yourself time to sink into them.
April 21, 2008
I’ve heard from a number of people about how much they’ve enjoyed the Nature Attunement Meditation. After hearing the meditation, freelance writer Amanda Wegner interviewed me for an article she is writing. It’s about how adults can examine their relationship with nature and reconnect with and better appreciate the great outdoors, whether it’s a national forest, city park or their own back yard.
I really enjoyed this interview and wanted to share it with you. You can read the interview below. (Excerpts from the interview will be published in the summer 2008 issue of Successful Living magazine.)
Amanda: What benefits does nature bring to our lives? Why is an appreciation (or, more basically, a recognition) of nature important?
Mary: We speak of nature as if it is something separate from ourselves. Your ask “what benefits does nature bring to our lives”, and I often find myself saying “I love to be out in nature.” It’s interesting that we speak this way when we ourselves are part of nature. The same life force that moves the planets around the sun circulates our blood through our veins, and yet because of the way we experience ourselves as separate from each other and life, we lose touch with our essential nature. When we spend time outdoors and experience the sights, smells and sounds of the natural world, we are awakened to ourselves. Nature is like a mirror in which we see our own reflection and remember who we are. Spending time in nature attunes us to our own life force and rhythms. It helps us to feel more alive.
Amanda: Obviously, some people are much more in tune with nature than others. Do you think it’s important for people to examine their attitudes toward nature? How might one go about this? What questions should they ask of themselves?
Mary: It can be valuable for people to explore their relationship with nature, as well as their attitudes. As we become more intimate with nature, we become more intimate with ourselves. I feel that as we feel our connection with the earth more strongly, we naturally take better care of the earth. There’s no difference between caring for the earth and caring for ourselves. It’s all the same thing. We’re not separate!
One way to explore ones feelings about nature is to spend time outdoors. See what happens when you are in a natural setting. Be aware of how you feel. Let yourself connect with things more than you have been. Listen carefully to the sounds, with you full attention. Notice the smells. Let yourself drink in the sights. Notice how these experiences affect you. You can also try bringing more of nature into your home. Have some plants and form a relationship with them. Find out what makes them happy and helps them to thrive.
As far as questions, you might ask yourself how important nature is to you, and why. Examine your habits about recycling, and if you garden, how you go about it. Do you recycle because it’s “in”? Do you recycle out of guilt? Or do you find your actions motivated by a sense of love for this amazing planet we live on? Watch a bee nestling into a flower and see how you feel about that experience. Observe things closely, noticing how you feel, and ask yourself if it reminds you of how you feel in other parts of your life. You may start to notice that a bird’s song is your own voice speaking its sorrows and joys.
The Nature Attunement Meditation is a great way for people to connect (or reconnect) to nature. For someone who uses meditation, what might be some other ways (if they don’t have an iPod handy) to meditate in nature?
Listen and observe carefully with your full attention. If you’ve been listening to the meditations in our podcasts or CDs, you can treat your experience in nature the same way you treat the experience in meditation. Let the sights and sounds of nature be the focus of your meditation. Don’t strain on it, but if you find yourself getting “into your head” and caught up in your thoughts, gently bring your attention back to nature. Even though all sorts of thoughts and feelings may be going on, you can “favor” the experience of nature and notice how that makes you feel. As you observe nature, let go of the tendency to label and name things, simply experience them directly. You can close your eyes and listen to the sounds of the birds or a running brook. Anything can be a focus for your meditation.
For someone who isn’t “into” meditation, what other suggestions might you offer to even the most urban people to get out and enjoy their natural environment? How can people better “tune in” to their natural surroundings?
I’ve already spoken about ways to “tune in” to natural surroundings. Even in an urban environment, you can find something natural. There’s always the sun to feel and the sky. Clouds are a great focus of meditation. Sit down on a patch of grass somewhere. Feel the grass and earth with your hands. You can also bring nature indoors. Create a natural sanctuary on a patio or balcony, or even inside your home. Plants, small trees are an easy way to start. Construct a fountain with stones you find. Listen to the water in the fountain. Visit the beach or a forest and bring some of it home with you. Grow some bulbs indoors. There is always a way to connect. And when all else fails, you always have your breath. Attending to the flow of your breath brings you in tune with the natural rhythms of life!
January 16, 2008
Why is time spent in nature so revitalizing and nourishing? Why does it make us feel so alive? Is there more to it than just taking a break and getting away from it all? My sense is that nature is like a tuning fork fork that attunes us to our life force, to our very being. Nature is like a mirror that reflects back to us the qualities that make up our bodies, minds, emotions and spirit. Depending on the kind of work we do and how we spend our time, we may become disconnected from those qualities and life can become somewhat dry and flat. Time spent in nature wakes us up, makes us feel more alive.
The Nature Attunement Meditation is meant to bring much of the benefit of time spent in nature to us wherever we may be. This meditation focuses on the earth itself, creating an experience of grounding and strengthening. Water, sun and moon light, and plants also play a part in the meditation, as we attune to the essential elements that make up our lives and imbibe the energy and life of the vegetation of the earth.
This meditation is quite different from any of the previous ones on the podcast. It was a new experience for me to create it and I really enjoyed it. It will be interesting to hear how some of you respond to it.