Monday, December 30, 2013

Clarity & Mindfulness: Practicing Buddhism with Sacrifice and My Vows for 2014

Today is a day for writing.  I say this because of the heaviness of emotions, including a sorrow, that has cast itself upon me and I have shrugged off, but still feel the impression.

Despite the meditation, despite the constant focus of being aware of the present moment, I find that the holidays are a time when the singular loneliness I feel is exacerbated, and I am sure it is that way for others.  That is not to say I am alone. I am surrounded by others, family, friends, coworkers, acquaintances, but it is a time when dreams of what could have been creep back in again, and the reality of what is happens to be so very different than expectations.  It becomes a time of reconciliation. Renewed acceptance and letting go.

In April, I took a week long vacation to get away from the constant chatter in my life.   It started in Denver where I stayed with some close family members,  I rented a car, then spent a couple days in Moab (Utah), Sedona (Arizona), and Sante Fe (New Mexico), before returning to Denver. I wanted to have my own Mecca, my own rite of transformation, and I knew I had to be alone to perform this.  It was an empowering experience, but there was one aspect upon which I want to elaborate today.

When I was in Sedona, wandering the streets which are not unlike the quaintness of Lake Placid, I happened to come upon a Spanish restaurant that looked inviting.  So, in I went.  I saddled up at the bar and the bartender served me some drink, followed by a menu.  After a few minutes a woman sat next to me and we began a conversation.

Ultimately, the conversation ended with her telling me about the Buddhist sacred site, the Amitaba Stupa, which she said, I must visit.

After dinner, I googled the address and programmed it into the GPS.  Before I began toward it, I read a little about it on my phone.  It indeed was one of a few Buddhist sites in the west.

 In a matter of minutes I was at a red dirt road, lined with trees and a steep wall of yellow stone backlit by a sinking sun in the immediate distance.

The path to the Stupa was worn, and framed by stones that were stacked in a pattern that reminded me of Stonehenge, although on an obviously much smaller scale.

 When I reached the end of the winding path, it opened to a very large area in which the giant statue of the Buddha sat, easily 10 feet high, but the center was the stupa.  

There was an area south of the Buddha for seating and ceremony, and there was a bench directly in front of the stupa where people had left small gifts.  Some gifts were also scattered around in the dirt.

I had read that when a person visits a stupa, he or she may walk three times around it with a question in their heart.  Around the stupa there was a very worn path where many had done so before me.  I did so, and each time I passed the little bench, I took off a piece of jewelry I was wearing and left it as a token to the spirit of Buddha.

Perhaps you are wondering what it is I wished.  My wish was simple.  I wanted to know my path.   I asked, "Show me the way.  Give me the courage to follow the direction my life needs to take."

As the sun set, I walked around the rest of the site and created some stone structures myself.

That night I had a vivid dream, of which I still return and find solace.  As I woke the next morning, the vision in the dream clung to me.  I packed the car and by 6 am was on the road heading for Santa Fe.  Traveling the hundreds of miles on the empty road, I revisit the events in my dream:

I return to my old home, the gorgeous 1878 Victorian home that I had lived with in Brasher with my husband and children and that he and I, with the help of my family, had gutted and rebuilt.  From the outside it looks exactly the same, but the inside, it is empty.  While it is empty, it is also very clean.  Spotless.  There is no furniture.  There is nothing on the walls.

I am searching for something.  No, not something.  I am searching for someone.  Then, it comes to me.  I am looking for the twins.  Lily and Jerome. (I do have two children but they are not twins.  They are girls, named Madeline and Elizabeth).  I wander from room to room with an ache in my heart, feeling like I had lost them.  When I get to the bathroom, I study the shape of the wall.  It looks normal, but as I get closer, I see the foundations and the walls are all slightly bent.  The paint is fresh, the room untouched, but the walls are bowed out, convex. As is the floor.

In the bathroom, I hear a sound, a loud screeching, coming from the yard, I turn to it.  It is a man, and without speaking to him, I know he has come to help me find my twins.  I do not see this man emerge from the vehicle, a flat bed truck, a powerful vehicle, that he has driven onto the lawn, but I am compelled to him, desire his company.  He has come to help me, but I feel as though he is also searching.  Is he searching for the twins?  We both have something we are missing, and each balances the other.  It is a complete feeling.  A feeling of resolution and harmony.

The dream ends.

My analysis of that dream led me to many conclusions, all of which have resulted in my true forgiveness of myself and my part in my divorce and my ex husband and his part.  When I arrive in Santa Fe, I did further research about the names Jerome and Lily.  I was startled to discover some interesting information regarding Saint Jerome... and about the flower Lily and what it represents.  In this context and to those of you who know me, it will also make sense when I tell you that the flower that represents my baby brother that died when I was 8, is an Easter Lily.  My mom planted that flower in his remembrance and each time I see it I am reminded of him.

I won't analyze the dream to you, but it certainly spoke to me, as have others that have come since. I hope that you give your dreams an opportunity to do the same for you.

When I left the southwest and returned home, many things happened, but they happened slowly. My life began to take the shape that felt right.... felt natural... and was satisfying... but there was still something missing... and that something was this loneliness that I sometimes experience as I continue to strive toward my goals.  I feel like I deserve a partner on this path, but I have yet to find someone who could possibly accompany me on this path.

Yet while I did not find someone to join me, I did have a realization this year with a man I dated for many months.  I came to understand that, some people come into our lives to open doors for us, but not walk through the door with us.

I continue to work on the healing that comes from being broken after loving someone (my ex-husband) to the point of emptiness... but this year was a start for me in the right direction.  I know now that I want to love again.  Deserve to find someone who not only will open that door for me, but walk through it with me.

I know that will happen in its time, and I have been reading Rainer Maria Rilke whenever I become impatient.  In his Letters to a Young Poet he says, "...believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance and trust that in this love there is a strength and a blessing, out beyond which you do not have to step in order to go very far."  

I believe in that.  And I won't settle for anything less than that kind of blessing.  I will make the effort to allow life to be and not force what I want or desire upon it.

But, the initial thrust of my blog today was in regard to sorrow.  It leads me back to wondering what is this sorrow?  Why do I suffer? And the path of Buddhism offers clear answers regarding suffering.  I have made slight conversions to that path,  but overall my journey has not been a Damascus Conversion, more instead of a subtle, convenient conversion. Sparked by occasional moments of will power.  I want to go all the way this year.  I want to follow the Buddhist path with more commitment and discipline.

Buddhism is a life philosophy, not a religion.  I stumbled upon it a couple years after my failed marriage when a kind woman came to my door to discuss religion with me.  I don't remember which faith she represented. I welcomed her and we had an in depth conversation about the spirit and its place in modern culture.  She recommended some books to me, and not to be outdone, I returned the gesture.  one book she left in my safekeeping and which I now own is called, Mankind's Search for God.   Within the book there is a chapter devoted to all the major religious philosophies,including the spiritual philosophy of Buddhism.

When I read that chapter, I continuously found myself connecting to the words, the principles and beliefs.  Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths:

1. All existence is suffering.
2. Suffering arises from desire or craving (and/or attachments as I see it).
3. Cessation of desire means an end of suffering.
4. Cessation of desire is achieved by following the 8 fold path, controlling one's conduct, thinking, and belief.

Buddha believed that enlightenment came from the self, not from God, but from good and kind acts and from clarity in thinking.  Just like there are divisions in the Christian "schools" there are a variety of types of Buddhists, but the four noble truths and the 8 fold path are the foundation for them.

Buddhists believe that is soul is not "immortal" and is a combination of physical mental forces.  Buddhists belief is that humans are in a state of suffering based on past and present actions (karma) and are reborn countless times to give the opportunity in new lives to reach Nirvana, which is almost like the existence of a salvation or a heaven.  Nirvana is a re-acquaintance with the energy force that drives all life (kind of like Kabbalah) .  As defined in the text mentioned above, "Thus, some describe Nirvana as cessation of all passion and desire; an existence free from all sensory feelings, such as pain, fear, want, love, or hate; a state of eternal peace, rest, and changlessness. Essentially it is said to be the cessation of individual existence."

How do I become mindful?  It is hard to be so in this culture because to be mindful, we must allow our minds to be free of the chatter and to focus on what is happening to our feelings and our thoughts.  Like looking and studying ourselves from outside of ourselves.  How can we do this very well when  we are so accustomed to having whatever we want, whenever we want?

"It is ignorance that smothers, and it is carelessness that makes it invisible. The hunger of craving pollutes the world, and the pain of suffering causes the greatest fear."

We are bombarded with every type of entertainment, pleasure of the flesh from alcohol, drugs (both illegal and legal), social recreation, material recreation... we are gluttons.  We have numbed our minds and bodies, feeding them to the point of overindulgence.  And we crave more and more and need a bigger "hit" to get the same kind of high...just like an addict.  (Keep in mind gluttony is one of the 7 deadly sins as well).

Being mindful of that craving (the desires) and making a conscious effort to stop that cycle is what is necessary.  A great short read on this topic is at

This past year and a half I have made many changes to my body to train it to stop craving.  I have made some headway working also on my mind, but it has not been enough.  The work on the mind must be accompanied by a deeper commitment to be conscious of the desires I have for sensual pleasures and those connected to my 'desire for becoming'.  The desire for becoming I believe is linked to the ego, which when being mindful, turns the ego off.  The ego is in love with pride, which, again, one of the 7 deadly sins....

The desire for becoming is explained as (from the website above):

...  it is actually linking to the craving or grasping after something immutable within us, which we feel constitutes our reality, or our self–it is this that you desire to go on forever.
 It is also the craving for novelty, innovation, new phenomena. You are craving to become this and that, in a round of endless stimulation, linked very much with [desire]. We are always looking for the new thing that is going on.
In an effort this year to live more aligned with the idea of being mindful of craving I have made a huge leap and am sharing that I will take the following vows beginning today and lasting through 2014: one of celibacy and one for the abstention of consuming alcohol. I will also make more of an effort to be mindful, cutting out the "mind candy" that is  a distraction to clarity of mind.

We shall see how the year ends.  I look forward to this journey with you!

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