Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Seat of the Soul

A couple of weeks ago Wes and I went on a three day silent meditation retreat. It was at a Buddhist retreat center. The schedule was basically this: up at 6:15 a.m., 45 minutes of sitting meditation, 30 minutes of walking meditation, 45 sitting, 30 walking, meal. It went on like this until 9 o'clock at night.

Wes sat in a chair (as did many people), but I chose to sit cross-legged on a meditation pillow and then switch off and sit on my meditation bench. I sit half-lotus all the time in yoga, no big deal. However I have never sat like that for 45 minutes. It was brutal.

Cross-legged was brutal on my ankles and my knees. Meditation bench was brutal on my butt and my knees. By the end of the second night, I thought I was going to die. So I thought for the last sit of the night, I would be in a chair.

There were these green plastic lawn chairs that cost about 25 cents to manufacture. I was a little late getting in and everyone was in place so I quickly grabbed a chair and sat down in the back.

Instant nirvana. It was like sitting in the lap of a lover; like sitting in a hot fragrant bath; like sitting on a heavenly throne. Why had I been torturing myself for two days? Why this was the most comfortable chair in which I had ever sat! I felt embraced by the chair, loved by the chair.

We were supposed to be doing vipassana meditation which is being in the present moment and simply watching your thoughts arise. Here were my thoughts:

I love this chair.
I want one of these chairs.
Could I could put it in the living room?
I would meditate every day if I had one of these chairs.
I wonder if they have them at Fred Meyer?

You can see this was not keeping me in the present moment. So I decided to do metta meditation which is "loving kindness." You think of someone and then send them unconditional love.

May you be peaceful and happy.
May you be safe and protected.
May you be strong and healthy.
May you live with ease and joy.

So I started with that, praying for myself first, which is what you are supposed to do. I couldn't help thinking how peaceful and happy I'd be if I had one of these chairs.

Stop thinking about the chair! And then I thought, "Ah, Grasshopper! What you resist, persists!" So I did metta for the chair.

May you be peaceful and happy. You would be in my house.
May you be safe and protected. I would never leave you out in the rain.
May you be healthy and strong. May you never break a leg. Or your back. Or your seat!
May you live with ease and joy. I would give you your own little corner.

I couldn't stop. At the end of the sit I realized that it was my physical pain that kept me in the present moment. For the rest of the retreat I was either on my pillow or on my bench. Brutal, but focused.

Enlightenment eluded me that weekend. And I've never found those chairs. But I'm keeping my eye out for both.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Parent's Reaction

Spray-paint around the bumps? Did I say someone should spray-paint around my parents? How about a giant CAUTION sign and then red flashing lights?

My mom is so mad that she couldn't even speak to me just now on the phone. My dad however, spoke to me and explained. "She thought you used too many cuss words. And she didn't like the part about sex. She's not even sure now that she wants anyone to buy it. "

Let me just say here that ANY swear words would be too many for Mom. In 256 pages I use maybe ten swear words. But to tell you the truth, I breathed a sigh of relief because what I thought she would be mad about--my writing about estrangement in the family--he never even mentioned.


So I explained to Dad that patients tell me all the time that no one ever talks about sex after cancer and no one is writing about it, so that's why I thought it important to write about it.

"Well, I see your point, honey, but your mother's so upset she's been snapping at me all week. She's like an alligator with PMS."

I thought that was pretty funny, but felt bad that she was taking it out on him. It made me wonder about what she thought I was going to write. Sigh.

I believe I have to speak my truth with love and compassion and then let the chips fall where they may. I'm not responsible for anyone's emotions but my own. At the same time I'll confess there is this little girl in me asking, "Mommy doesn't like it?"

Friday, August 17, 2007

How To Handle The Bumps

So I've been riding my bike to and from work every day since May. I take the Burke-Gilman trail because it goes along the lake and there are no cars allowed on it. It's about seven miles each way.

There are lots of big bumps on it caused by tree roots and some kind soul has spray-painted around many of them so at least you can see them coming. Here is my latest observation about that, which of course, I find to be a perfect metaphor for coping with life.

One way to approach on-coming bumps is to hold tightly to the handle bars and just coast over them. This makes you feel as if you have more control, but it transmits the force of hitting the bump right up into you arms and shoulders. It also hurts your butt.

The other way is to keep pedaling and sort of post, like on a horse. You rise up just a tiny bit from the seat and loosen your grip on the handle bars and hold them lightly and gently.

It is somewhat counterintuitive, but after riding for the last three months I can tell you that the latter approach is superior. It hurts way less.

I think this goes for things like test results, performance evaluations and your family's reaction to your new book. Our tendency is to brace ourselves and rigidly hold on for dear life. We would be better served by relaxing and holding the situation lightly and gently.

So I continue to move onward and breathe as I wait to talk with my parents and my sister about their reactions to It's Not About the Hair. I sent them advance copies last week. My sister e-mailed that she liked it and liked reading about my patients. She didn't say anything about what I wrote about our family.

I'll call my parents tomorrow and let you know how it goes. I wonder if someone should spray-paint around them?