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In this sacred time…Passover, Easter Week, Spring at hand…I am fasting and spending more time on my mat and more time on my cushion in meditation. It is Retreat Week at Yoga School. We gather on Sunday for three hours and then attend two Hatha classes and two meditations daily during the rest of the week. We journal and look deeply into our lives.

Outside Moodna Creek is turbulent–white capped muddy water. Fields are flooded. The first hint of blue sky appears at sunset after what seems like interminable rain. Inside, my mind is alternately turbulent and subdued. My dreams are vivid. All of my senses are heightened. The smell of my husband’s Nespresso coffee in the morning, the symphony of bird songs, the taste of toothpaste, the sound of the clock ticking in my office…all amplified.

We are asked to explore where we are suffering…to name our pain and to see it’s source clearly. I see that bliss and suffering are not two…they are not separate. The more expansive my bliss, the more aware and sensitized I become to suffering. I see and sense the interdependent co-arising of all causes and conditions. My body electric and vibrating.

MAKER OF ALL THINGS, EVEN HEALINGS

All night
under the pines
the fox
moves through the darkness
with a mouthful of teeth
and a reputation for death
which it deserves.
In the spicy
villages of the mice
he is famous,
his nose
in the grass
is like an earthquake,
his feet
on the path
is a message so absolute
that the mouse, hearing it,
makes himself
as small as he can
as he sits silent
or, trembling, goes on
hunting among the grasses
for the ripe seeds.

Maker of All Things,
including appetite,
including stealth,
including the fear that makes
all of us, sometime or other,
flee for the sake
of our small and precious lives,
let me abide in your shadow–
let me hold on
to the edge of your robe
as you determine
what you must let be lost
and what will be saved.

– MARY OLIVER –

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CASE 19–NANSEN’S “ORDINARY MIND IS THE WAY”

Joshu asked Nansen, “What is the Way?” “Ordinary mind is the Way.” Nansen replied. “Shall I try to seek after it?” Joshu asked. “If you try for it, you will become separated from it,” responded Nansen. “How can I know the Way unless I try for it?” persisted Joshu. Nansen said, “The Way is not a matter of knowing or not knowing. Knowing is a delusion, not knowing is confusion. When you have really reached the Way beyond doubt, you will find it as vast and boundless as outer space. How can it be talked about on the level of right and wrong?” With these words, Joshu came to a sudden realization.

The ordinary Way is samadhi, it is peace of mind. When you are in samadhi, you are simply in samadhi, there is no searching after the Way, It is an experience, not a conceptual understanding. Samadhi is vast and boundless and beyond right and wrong.

– THE LITTLE BOOK OF ZEN: THE GATELESS GATE –

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Well, finally. FINALLY. I did pass the Yellow Exam at Yoga School…at last. Odd. I now realize that it’s not about attainment…it’s not about getting to the “next level.” I will still have to take the exam three times a year with fellow aspiring yogis. I have already been attending the Yellow Class and LOVING it. I will, however, get a new yellow shirt.

You might ask, what is it about? At best, it’s about non-attachment. It’s about non-achievement. It’s about letting go on a grand scale. It’s about no-mind. It’s about flexibility. It’s about center. It’s about breath and no thought. It’s about balance. It’s about focus and concentration. Steady practice. More steady practice brings results.

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Tonight at Yoga School, we meditate. As we deepen our breathing and settle on our cushions, the instruction is to “do nothing” and “be nobody.” To drop our roles and responsibilities; to breathe, feel and be.

I breathe. Thoughts of my father arise. I breathe…

The years, the layers of responsibility–some of it accepted unconsciously; some of it accepted in a spirit of generosity; some of it becoming increasingly challenging.

He calls daily. Several times. He seems restless; ready to move on. To where? He no longer walks; can stand, but barely. He has a foley; needs oxygen periodically; takes countless meds. His memory is good ’til the end of a sentence…usually. He demands financial updates; wants to take control of his checkbook. Lord help us. I imagine him putting his checks in a “really safe” place. Wherever that is, when the day comes that he remembers, we will find his wallet, credit cards and at least four keys to his scooter. Of course, his bills would also be put in a “really safe” place; might get paid but not mailed. All requests from sketchy organizations offering greeting cards and personalized note pads would be considered urgent and would be honored immediately with a $25.00 check.

I breathe. My “daughter” identity drops away. The last nine years; really, the last seventeen years; maybe my whole life as his caretaker drop away.

I am humbled by his losses and his dependency…by his absolute and unending love for me…

I breathe. Thoughts become silence. Breathing…being….doing nothing…being nobody.

SWIMMING, ONE DAY IN AUGUST

It is time now, I said,
for the deepening and quieting of the spirit
among the flux of happenings.

Something had pestered me so much
I thought my heart would break,
I mean, the mechanical part.

I went down in the afternoon
to the sea
which held me, until I grew easy.

About tomorrow, who knows anything.
Except that it will be time, again,
For the deepening and quieting of the spirit.

– MARY OLIVER –

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Last night, a meditation intensive at Yoga School. We talk about “sky meditation.” Gazing into a cloudless sky; breathing; gathering clarity; closing eyes; breathing; opening eyes; gazing into a cloudless sky… When I leave, the sky looks like this and I feel spacious and expansive. There is something about knowing that my sixtieth birthday is on the horizon. Hard to define or name. Perhaps I am shaking hands with Mortality. Small things seem important. Urgency, not in a pressured way, is my new friend. Self-reflection has a kindly tone. I read an article–a book review–that says dying people only say four things: Thank you. I love you. I forgive you. Forgive me. Life seems that simple to me. I am reading Mary Oliver’s new collection of poems, Red Bird. So lovely. An economy of words. Precise and true. WHO SAID THIS? Something whispered something that was not even a word. It was more like a silence that was understandable. I was standing at the edge of the pond. Nothing living, what we call living, was in sight. And yet, the voice entered me, my body-life, with so much happiness. And there was nothing there but the water, the sky, the grass. – MARY OLIVER –

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THE BUDDHA’S LAST INSTRUCTION

“Make of yourself a light”
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal-a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
even green.
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire-
clearly I’m not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.

– MARY OLIVER –

Tonight at Yoga School, my friend Barbara (who is a faithful reader of MY INNER EDGE) said “I’m feeling blog deprived.” I rolled out my mat and thought, “Me, too.”

My posts have become sporadic; my camera hasn’t had much use and my life has gone on. Dad had his 85th birthday yesterday; my younger daughter has decided to take a trip to Burma (Myanmar); I’m meditating for 45 minutes most days; I went to a two day conference titled, Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There with Ron Siegel; the lilies are blooming in my overgrown garden; I’ve taken the HATHA YELLOW exam yet again; I do iChats with my grandson Dashiell at every opportunity; I’ve been cooking more, spending more time with friends; reading more and working a lot.

This poem came to mind tonight after I gave a short talk to my fellow yogis about my experience of taking the Hatha Yellow exam four times.

I love the opening…”Make of yourself a light.” I vividly remember the first time I read it. The line, “clearly I’m not needed, yet I feel myself turning into something of inexplicable value…” made my hair stand on end…I feel that, sense that…deeply know and celebrate that.

And so, I’m baaaaaaack. Blogging…at least for today.

A bow to Barbara. It’s a matter of wholeness!

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Tonight we do a rigorous Hatha practice…designed to strengthen HARA. Our hour of Hatha practice is followed by an hour of Raja yoga…walking meditation, pranayama and sitting meditation.

I sit blissfully on my cushion, momentarily thought-less; empty; following the instruction to “be nobody and do nothing,” Suddenly, there are tears streaming down my cheeks.

Two images of my father float to the surface. Yesterday when I arrived, his curtains were drawn. The television was on; he was slumped over in his wheelchair. I put my hand on his hand and it felt cold and waxy. When he didn’t respond, I had the momentary thought that he was gone.

When I was leaving, we hugged several times. I reached the door and blew him a kiss and said, “I’ll see you soon.” He waved and said what he has been saying for a long time now, “I hope so.”

Tonight, on my cushion, I touch the raw edge of the inevitable.

“Each day, we’re given many opportunities to open up or shut down. The most precious opportunity presents itself when we come to the place where we think we can’t handle whatever is happening.”

– PEMA CHODRON –

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