/* /* Eclectic Contemplative

Eclectic Contemplative

Driven by a need for a more reflective approach to existence, I am exploring contemplative thought from a variety of traditions, particularly Catholic and Buddhist, in an effort to find a practice that will enable me to access that "inner room" that is at once still and luminous.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Practicing with teenagers

Ken McLeod challenges practitioners to bring their lives into their practice rather than merely trying to bring their practice into their lives. But from what I can see, it's almost literally too big a stretch. I am lucky to bring attention to one aspect of my life these days as I deal with teen fallout.

Maybe I thought my relationship with my children would buy me a pass on all that teen angst and rebellion, but it hasn't. It's only made it more perplexing and painful because, at least at first, I took it personally.

So I meditate every day, trying to hold things in awareness without judging them. I try to be present to my children without, at least at first, thinking about how their actions are going to affect me (usually negatively these days). If I am not ready to address something, I try not to engage them about it.

But being the target of so much callous behavior makes it hard to do right by them. I don't "feel" like running them around to their activities when they've done their best to turn the house upside down, often over the real important issues like bedtime and chores. I think about their resistance to helping with the dinner dishes as I'm cleaning the dried on pizza, etc., from the plates and bowls left from their overnight snacking. The two things seem connected, and not in a way that flatters them. But I know, or think I know, that the only connection is one I impose.

Still. Things work best for me when they are sleeping in and my husband is at work. It's just me and the dog. Doing laundry is soothing with no one around to distract me before all the clothes are hung out, or before they're taken down at the end of the day. Making the dinner salad at 10 am is a fine use of my time when I'm alone, but onerous when someone is complaining in my ear, or jockeying for recreational commitments from me.

Better still is the part of the day when I get to go to sleep myself. Things happen when I'm asleep, but they usually hold till morning, so there is one span of time that I'm not "on duty", not expected to react to the most outrageous things with calm deliberation.

I no longer assume that my children and I will have a good relationship when they're grown. I thought I would miss them, but now I wonder...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A good day

Today was a good day. It was a busy day, filled with activities that served others. But I did it well and cheerfully and got to the end without feeling over-taxed and grouchy. That's not unusual for me, but it's still good.

I accept the fact that although the evening is "mine", I don't have the energy left for some of the things I might otherwise like to do. That's okay. That means those aren't the things I should try to do tonight.

What I should do tonight is relax in my jammies, watch a TV show that doesn't hurt my brain too much, have a diet Root Beer, and go to bed on time. And that's what I'm going to do!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


I looked forward to summer the way I always do, thinking it would be a time to catch up on personal projects as well as family projects, but the family projects always take priority and by the end of the summer I feel I missed out somehow.

But there isn't something ELSE I was or am supposed to be doing other than what I am doing. Many times when I was free to choose how to spend a given day, I chose a family project because there were no "personal" projects. From a Zen point of view, there is no such thing as family projects and personal projects, unless all projects are personal and projects are indivisible from any activity of mind or body I could engage in.

Care giving is not only what I spend most of my time doing, it is probably my most highly developed skill. When I am done educating and raising my children, their need of me will be replaced by no need of me. Like an on and off switch rather than a cumulative accomplishment. I think.

I also thought that simply "no more need" wasn't much of an outcome for all this effort, that at the same time I am raising my children it would also be good to have something I am doing "just for me". That way when they no longer need me, I will have something else to show for that time - a different developed skill or talent maybe, or the product of a skill or talent.

But this dualistic thinking just keeps me rushing towards an imaginary place of equilibrium or finish line and all the way feeling dissatisfied. That can't be good. I don't have two parallel lives I am pursuing, one as a mother and teacher and one as an individual. It is just me as an individual, giving my time and effort and contributing my resources to the cause I consider most important at any given time. If I am doing it, it is important, it is "for me", whatever it is.

Developing other skills or talents isn't at odds with raising a family, though it takes great commitment to find time for anything but caregiving. I know that taking care of myself is part of what I do to be able to take care of others, and developing skills and talents other than caregiving is good for me. But I can do what I need to do without classifying things in ways that make them appear to be in opposition, or indeed different "things" at all.

As the Rev. Jean Pierre de Caussade, a French Jesuit who died in 1751, wrote in Abandonment to Divine Providence, the most direct course to holiness, to emptiness, to doing the will of God, is in each moment to take care of what is in front of us, what has been given to us to do. There is nothing else that can be asked or desired.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Lovingkindness towards a crow

Late yesterday afternoon, I watched from the deck while my dog raced into the yard to chase away a crow. But even as the dog got closer, the bird didn't move, and I watched at first in surprise as the dog pounced on the bird. Then I sprung into action.

It's not like crows are my favorite animals. They are large, loud, predatory, and generally obnoxious. And it's not like the dog doesn't kill things that wander into the yard. He has dispatched his share of possums and gophers and roof rats. But I don't care to watch him tear something helpless limb from limb right before my eyes, or to clean it up afterwards.

By the time I got to the dog and the bird, the bird was splayed out in an awkward pose with his mouth gaping open. I dragged the dog by the collar back into the house, and came down again to check on the bird. He was hopping around in the corner of the fenced yard, apparently looking for a way out. Besides the fact that he looked like a full grown bird but wasn't flying, there didn't seem to be anything wrong with him.

So up I went to Google wildlife rescue options. Instead I found out a lot more about the way baby crows fledge than I knew before. Apparently they leave the nest a week or 10 days before they can actually fly, though they are in fact almost as big as they will get as far as weight, wing size, and leg length. They spend this dangerous transition time on the ground or in low trees or bushes until they learn to fly. Meanwhile the family - Mom and Dad and the siblings born last year and even the year before - guard the fledgling, warning him of danger, trying to drive away predators, and feeding him when necessary. So there was nothing wrong with this bird that time wouldn't cure - if he survived my dog, and the neighbors' dogs, and the various neighborhood cats and wild predators.

When I went out to check on the bird again, he had made it over the fence into some bushy ground vines in my neighbor's yard, a neighbor with no dog. Bravo.

This morning I heard a crow commotion outside and found my dog with his muzzle buried in a tangle of ground vines. Turns out the bird was nestled in there having hopped back over the fence into our yard. Once I got down there, it was clear that the dog was mostly licking the crow, as it is a big bird and hard to get one's teeth around. Again I dragged the dog into the house, and returned to the yard with gloves. I plucked the little guy out of the vines and checked him out. He seemed fine, and they're right, the young ones have blue eyes. I placed him back over the fence into the neighbor's vines.

Throughout the day I checked on him to make sure he hadn't wandered back into our yard. I never did see where his new hiding place was, but it wasn't far from where I left him if the objections of his nearby family were any indication. The closer I got to the spot, the more noise they made. One particular bird would hover overhead while he squawked and I think he was capable of dive-bombing me. But he didn't.

So the dog was confined to the house and front yard for the rest of the day. I took him out to the backyard late in the afternoon on a leash, and sat on a wall while he dug up a gopher run. Where I was sitting I was hidden from the view of the most vigilant crow relative by a large oak tree. But from his perch in a dead tree on the other side of my neighbor's yard, he could still see when I moved, and every time I so much as stood up, he starting that horrid raspy screeching. I did it ten times in a row, and ten times he started up, then stopped when I sat down. It was really quite amusing.

Now as I said, I have no love for crows. My husband and I were so determined not to have a flock of suburban adapters adopt our canyon as their home that we used to take turns firing the BB gun in their direction to scare them off. They got so used to it that eventually all we had to do was grab the gun and they would take off. But we eventually lost interest in the project and it seems a small flock has indeed made a home in our canyon. At one point to help myself adjust to and approach acceptance of their raucous presence, I deliberately tried to find something to like or admire about them. It didn't take long to realize that they were smart; I watched more than one of them take a nut to a high branch overhanging the street and drop it again and again until it broke open. I watched them grooming each other meticulously. They always seemed to travel together, in two's and three's, and frequently six-to-ten's. There is clearly a highly cohesive social structure in the crow world.

So for two days now I've been trying to keep an eye on this crow till it learns to fly. I have a headache from being squawked at every time I walk outside, too. Five or six of those birds get going and it's a "flaysome din" all right. My dog is breathless with impatience to get back to his big backyard and whimpers every time I go out but won't let him come too. My catty-corner neighbor keeps looking out his window in puzzlement as I walk around and scan the area around our common corner. He can't figure out what I'm looking for.

Of course I know that in the grand scheme of things, the life of this crow isn't very significant. But from a Buddhist perspective, it is very significant. In previous incarnations, he has been been my mother or father or child. And even notwithstanding that, in his current incarnation, he is not really a separate being from me. From a mystic or contemplative Christian perspective, he is Christ himself, as is every creature (and the rocks and plants and moon and stars, according to St. Francis). Crows aren't endangered or even negatively impacted by human activity. Quite the contrary. So what this is, I guess, is a small opportunity in a miniscule part of the universe for me to practice lovingkindness by keeping my dog inside the house and keeping the crow out of harm's way, to some extent anyway (if he flops into the catty-corner neighbor's yard with the mini Pinscher and the pit bull, it's all over).

We'll see how it goes!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Honing in on a daily practice

I've fallen victim to the "reading about more than doing" syndrome of the intellectual dilettante! I'm even losing interest in reading about contemplative prayer or meditation or non-attachment methods, but the need is still there.

It would be enormously helpful to commit to sitting at least once a day, and beyond that to choose one or two other practices to pursue, whether it's mindful listening or lovingkindness mantras. I suspect that mindful listening would be a good practice, since it's easy to assume you know what the people you live with think and feel before they even open their mouths.

Another thing I should work on is letting go of my expectations for the outcome of the things I do, particularly with my children. They are getting to an age where they will make and live with their own choices, and I have far less influence than I used to. I'm merely a facilitator; they have their own independent relationships with the universe and eternity.

Hmmm...I felt far more inspired about writing about a few practices to focus on before it took me half an hour to reclaim this blog from the blogger/Google tangle! Perhaps I'll try again another day!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Annual Silent Retreat

This year's silent retreat during Holy Week was a mixed bag. My room was sandwiched between two rooms being occupied by married couples - who do not observe silence in their rooms! The security staff still insists on locking the chapel at 10 or 11 pm each night, even though the entire retreat area is locked at dark and many rooms, including the library and refreshment center, are open 24 hours a day. This is inconvenient for me as I am frequently up late at night and prefer to use the chapel for meditation.

Consumer complaints aside, the weather was perfect and the experience was...wholesome is the word that comes to mind for some reason. After a day of coming down from the "outside world", I fell into a rhythm of sitting meditation, walking meditation, and spiritual reading. I allowed myself the luxury of buying books that were available for sale, which is usually a budgetary no-no. I also skipped the holiday masses at the adjacent parish church and all but one of the daily "direction" meetings with the retreat director.

But wouldn't you know on Easter morning at brunch when silence officially ends, one of the retreatants asked me if I had "slept in" that morning, since I wasn't at the morning meeting? He remembered me from a prior year when I had attended the meetings each day and apparently wondered why I didn't this year. Truth was, I just didn't get that much out of them, and even though you don't have to be a practicing Catholic to attend these retreats, it seems that most of the retreatants assume it's a "members only" event.

I try not to be conspicuous about not attending mass or the meetings or not being a practicing Catholic when you get right down to it, but it doesn't always work out. Next year I think I'll out myself as a Buddhist (which is as accurate a description as anything else, I suppose). They would probably have more respect for that. Or maybe I'll take my cue from a fellow retreatant who not only attended no meetings and no masses, but came to the dining hall only long enough to pile his food choices onto a paper plate and head back to his room or out to a private spot in the courtyard.

Well, if this is all I have to say about that, I guess it wasn't all that successful a retreat. But sometimes showing up is the best you can do, like meditation or centering prayer. Not all sessions are great, but consistency is important nevertheless.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Annual Silent Retreat

I am about to embark on my second annual Holy Week silent retreat at a nearby Mission. It is the countdown during which I have to decide what to bring to read and do. Last time, I was very ambitious indeed! I will have to be more realistic this time! The first silent retreat I ever went on lasted only a weekend, but it was the most mentally liberating thing I had ever experienced - freedom from even small talk when I pass people in the hallway! Silent meals take getting used to, but lend themselves well to mindful eating. The second silent retreat was not so fecund, but I have high hopes for this one. I am mentally parched and in need of refreshment. Let's hope I find it this time!