The Eyes of Perception

Corner Reflections medBecause I was very different in my interests as well as my life circumstances from that of many of my classmates I was badly bullied in grade school. However what was worse was that I had no good way to respond to my classmates’ unkind behavior. It wasn’t until I discovered meditation that I acquired a way of controlling not only my reactions and responses but also of avoiding the potential complications of thoughtlessly spontaneous and perhaps provocative words and actions.

As I grew in my ability to see what was in my mind and/or heart before I made things worse for myself, I also discovered ways to make my life much happier and less complicated by negative thoughts and emotions. Some believe that meditation is a form or religion or at least connected with it. However it is actually a form of exercise for the mind. As physical exercise preserves the body, so meditation practice helps to preserve the mind.

Is my glass half full or half empty? Believe it or not, that depends on the nature of the thoughts I have concerning both the glass and what is in it. Am I looking with feelings or thoughts of fear of emptiness? Am I anticipating or being grateful for what is in the (metaphorical) glass? My days go better when I am aware of what is going on within me.

Since nearly fifty years ago when I began practicing meditation, I have become able to be much more aware of my thoughts and feelings. It is a great help to my ability to remain calm and aware during difficult circumstances. I’m still working to remain conscious of my inner processes, and I expect to do so for the rest of my life. Working on the mind is like doing scales on the piano. A good musician must keep on practicing.

When I find myself dreading an activity or event, I can remind myself that fear is False Evidence Appearing Real. My “glass of hope” will then appear to me to be half full rather than half empty. When I feel a sense of joy as well as of gratitude concerning whatever might be approaching, I will have a “glass half full” of optimistic feelings. This approach has the effect of helping me to get the best from whatever does happen, even if that differs from my expectations. The same is true concerning what someone might be saying to me: I can better monitor my responses and reactions.

When I am mindful—aware of what is going on in my mind and heart, I have more control over what I do or say next. If I am able to anticipate my words or my inner reactions to what is happening or to what someone is saying, I am better able to control them. Thus I can to avoid potential mistakes as well as difficulties. In addition, when I am able to take advantage of my perceptions, I may ward off the far larger problems that might otherwise evolve were I not able to see clearly or to be prepared with positive words or actions.

 

 

 

 

 

Intentions, Resolutions and Reminders

Dead Branches and reflections 2

Growing up I was somewhat clumsy and awkward. I was always tall for my age—I stopped growing at the age of twelve and was even taller than most of the boys in my class, who soon outgrew me. My parents also thought I was careless. I wasn’t really, just lacking in experience. I also had poor proprioception. That word defines an actual sense: awareness of where one is in space and how much effort is being put out. I once embarrassed myself dreadfully when my best friend’s mother asked me to help her set the table, by pulling it completely out of the sideboard and dumping its contents on the floor.

While I outgrew the awkwardness and with the aid of yoga even became quite graceful, I still struggle with the proprioception. However I found that mindfulness helps greatly with that. Centering myself, slowing down, and practicing deliberate awareness when I am moving around or even pouring water from a pitcher into a glass, is a must. Over the years I have tried to make this a habit, like washing my hands with frequency, especially lately.

The flu season has made it vital to remember to wash my hands each time I return home, especially when I’ve been touching things like Grocery cart handles, restroom doorknobs and even counters or tabletops. The other day in a restaurant a woman near us was coughing with frequency into her hand as well as into the air around her. We are told that washing hands well is more effective than using sanitizers and better for our health.

I learned this the hard way. Last week I picked up a germ that invaded my sinuses and hit my right eye causing me great pain and rendering me unable to read for any length of time. As a result I have strongly resolved to wash my hands carefully not only when using any restroom but especially immediately upon arriving home. I hope to avoid not only the flu, but any other germs.

Resolutions are better kept when we have a reminder to do so, and a deliberate intention is well bolstered by any negative experience that happens when we haven’t. Hand washing is now an imperative for me, and while I regret the suffering and pain of my illness, I am grateful for the positive reinforcement of my intentions. Powerful reminders are not always pleasant, however they certainly are useful. Making lists helps too. Without a list my intentions, let alone whatever I have resolved to do may be forgotten.

Getting older has its good and its bad aspects. Becoming wiser by virtue of experience is helpful. Becoming more mindful as a result of that experience helps greatly also. On the other hand, becoming forgetful is a nuisance. However, my lists do help considerably. The trick is to remember to write things down and then also to look at the list. When I was a young parent in order to stay on top of things I had to outwit my children. Now instead in order to stay awake and aware I have to outwit myself.

Making Priorities and Cheering Deadlines

Porch Icicles 3When my children were small it was easy for me to set priorities. First and foremost they were related to the needs involved in parenting. Children let you know when they must have something, whether it is changing, food or the toy they saw on TV. Sometimes they yell until they get it. Later on they can be more subtle yet any concerned parent can figure these things out sooner or later and if they do not they will find out eventually what is needed.

Now it is much more difficult for me to figure out my priorities, especially if there is not a deadline connected with the task. I looked up the definition of deadline. It is a printing term that was originally connected to the size and shape of the type the press was using. Anything that went beyond a certain limit was “dead.” Later the term was adopted by editors and related to time rather than type. I find deadlines to be very useful in forming priorities.

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to pay better attention to priorities. For instance, when something needs doing I need to do it in a timely manner and not put it off, only to discover that I have missed out or messed up in some way. One small example is coupons. They have dates on them; if I do not keep an eye on the dates they go by and the coupon is useless. No doubt many of my readers have the same issue.

I once read an article that suggested that when getting ready for a party one ought to put the most important things to do last because then they would surely get done. While is merit in that idea, and I have tried it for myself, what works for a party may not when it comes to everyday life. It’s been my experience that something I believed would take a certain amount of time actually took longer, and when I am working with a deadline that can be a problem to be dealt with.

On the other hand sometimes absent a deadline, it can be difficult to know what constitutes a priority. Vacuuming comes to mind, as does dusting. Of course if someone is coming over for a visit, cleaning and tidying become a priority. Then there is the email load. If I fail to answer an email sooner than later will there be a problem? It can be tricky to decide. Then there are the bills: Paying a bill involves a deadline and I hope not to put it somewhere I will forget about it and pass the deadline, thus accumulating interest or worse, a fine.

Nowadays I am thankful the Public Library sends out Internet reminders when a book is due. This is a great improvement on my having to remember the date it must be returned by. I can even look it up on line to do the renewal rather than make a phone call or perhaps drive to the library itself to do the renewal. The bottom line to my prioritizing is to rejoice for deadlines I have and make lists that will remind me to work on that which does not.

 

Walking Through My Mother’s Life

Mom profile by Nina005The medium sized cardboard carton was waiting for me to open and sort through the contents. My mother lived to the age of ninety eight, and it looked as though she never threw anything out that she received in the mail. I had brought it back with me from the storage unit in South Carolina. It contained paper of all sorts, including old photographs, that she had seen fit to keep for many years. Until I opened it I had no idea just how long those years had been.

Now for weeks and then months it had waited for me to go through it. In an effort to motivate myself I kept moving it around. I knew it would take the better part of several days to do, and I was reluctant to set aside other tasks to address one that had no deadline. Finally I put it where I could not ignore it: right under my desk. I had to look at it every time I sat down to do anything. Finally I got tired of looking at it and set to my task.

Some of what I found was reminiscent of my mother’s life in the 40’s and 50’s: bills and sales slips from department stores, electric bills and bills for milk delivery, drycleaning, and so on. The prices of things from those days were interesting. It was both surprising and sad to see what a dollar used to buy.

The names of the stores brought back memories of being with my mother when I was small, taken along on shopping trips. To my young eyes, the department store was a wondrous place holding all sorts of interesting things to look at. She also kept paid bills for expenses related to her art and the galleries she had under her own name. I set these aside for my daughter who is planning a future retrospective exhibit of her grandmother’s art.

The quantities of letters on thin airmail paper were impossible to read. Plus many of them were in German or Spanish. The dates on some envelopes went back to before my mother married my father. It seems she had quite a collection of boyfriends and there were many letters, some I could decipher a little addressed to her in endearing terms. It amazed me that she had managed to keep and haul around that collection for so long. The earliest went back more than 70 years. I had a wonderful walk through her life and times, and I found myself happy to have been able to touch into my own memories of those days..

It seems to me that things were far more innocent then. There were rules to be followed. These had been handed down from generation to generation and applied as long as life was stable and people’s roles mostly well defined. There was more safety in living that way. There are people who wish it were still like that today, however their numbers are dwindling. Once change begins it cannot be stopped or the results will be like a cancer that devours its host. Growth often comes about with pain. However, the freedom of being out from under the rigidity of the life my mother lived with is precious. I am grateful for it.

 

The Many Ways to Happiness

Grafton sky 2When I was a child one of my favorite occupations was to rearrange my mother’s pantry shelves. I delighted in doing this. It seems to me that I was born with a need to accomplish. In many ways, this has been a source of my happiness and a way of making myself feel good. I can remember when I was a young mother that time spent in the kitchen helped to heal any disappointment or dismay. Baking cookies for my children did wonders for my spirits and helped keep me cheerful. Even simple tasks like the ironing I did then were useful to me in lifting my spirits.

I learned long ago that whenever my spirits need lifting I have a choice. Beyond dwelling on whatever it is that may be bothering me, I can seek happiness or I can stop and look around me for something to be grateful for or to enjoy. When I do I have taken a significant step toward being kind to myself as well as making myself feel better. But there is more: I can keep reminding myself to take note of the many things to appreciate that surround me. My happiness is made up of small smiles harvested daily.

While the link between accomplishment and happiness is still strong within me, this other link is even stronger: the opportunities to notice what makes me happy. It functions for me whenever I notice whatever is beautiful around me; it is delivered in the joy I receive when I walk with Stephen in the mornings and listen to the birds twittering and chirping around us. When I get a phone call or an email from a friend I haven’t seen or heard from for a while, my heart fills and I smile. I feel happy when I read the morning newspaper and find interesting stories from it to share with my husband.

It is truly said that happiness does not work as a goal. If for instance I buy something I have wanted, it may make me happy for a little while yet that kind of happiness does not last. Not unlike taking a drink of alcohol or indulging in sweets, the good feelings gained this way dwindle soon. This diminishment is one of the stimuli for addictive behavior. Once the good feeling is gone it is normal to wish for more in order to regain or prolong it. This experience leads many people to practice self-destructive behaviors.

However, the happiness that comes from the appreciation of what is given is not addictive nor can it be sought. It comes from the practice of awareness, of noticing some small joy or gladness that comes to us as a kind of gift. It also helps to have an understanding of what makes us feel happy so that we can take extra care to notice it when it is given to us. I must open my eyes and ears to notice the beauty around me in order to appreciate it. I need to remember to look out the window to see the lovely sunset when it glows there. This kind of happiness lasts beyond the experience and nourishes me always.