New eyes (and focus) from a wasp nose-landing



An image from the book The Wizard of Oz illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger. The book is a retelling of L. Frank Baum’s original story. Found on Brain Pickings.

I’m sapped. Outta gas and ready to drop.

It’s not physical fatigue. (Well, maybe a little.) I’m mentally spent. I should, right this minute take a flying leap into the bed to rest this weariness, but I’m charged up up up as in oh-I-just-got-a-juicy-realization.

So here I am tap tap typing.

What is it now?

My active, alert, awake, apperceptive nineteen-month-old Grandson is a wasp.

Yes, a wasp.

Oh, gee. How do I explain this? (No, he doesn’t sting.)

When I’m with him, when he’s in my care, he’s like a wasp in the room. I go on high alert. Owl-eye alert. I’m awake and focused. Just like the time a wasp flew into our home and stayed a few days before it flew out. (That was some of my finest being present practice.)

This is how my aha unfolds:

I’m in the car listening to Pema Chödrön’s Walking the Walk talk. It’s from a weekend retreat at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY. This part grabs my attention: she says the mind has an inherent ability to focus, to be present and know what’s happening.

Inherent? Oh really.

When I meditate, the tendency is that active mind leaves my mantra and goes off questioning an article about kale causing hypothyroidism or wondering what kind of snail it was I saw crawling up the screen.

And then Pema offers an example of what she means by inherent.

“Take tooth brushing,” she says. “I can brush and brush, froth it up, and all of a sudden I’m off thinking about something else. But what if I have an infected tooth? I’d be pretty attentive while brushing.”

There’s the inherent ability. (Thank you, pain, for the reminder that this focus is always there.)

I’m enraptured, enchanted and believing in my potential.

Okay. So I’m still listening. 

And, just after Ani Pema tells that part about the inherent strength of the mind, a wasp lands briefly on her nose. Out of the blue!

“Hello, wasp. Who are you?” she asks, and then, “Darling, it won’t be so funny if you sting me.”

I notice by the intonation in her voice that she becomes totally focused on that wasp. I can feel her heightened awareness. I’m positive she gets that it’s a synchronistic explanatory gift.

And then it’s my turn.

A few days later...

I’m sitting in a chair near the pool. My gaze focuses on Grandson who walks the organic-shaped perimeter edge. Around once. And then again. He pauses on the deep end side. (He cannot swim on his own yet. Close, but if he fell in unwatched, uh oh.)

He turns and faces the pool as a diver might, toes curled slightly over the coping. He bends his elbows, raises his eyebrows, and stoops a bit.

(I remain in my chair. But, yes you guessed it: owl-eyes, quiet mind.)

He stills and watches the pool vacuum slowly sweep the bottom and inch up the sidewall. He squats deeper, a malasana stance that balances his forward lean, as his eyes follow the slow graze of the brush.

An upward swoop over and down moves Grandson two steps sideways.

And he begins again, with both of us, yes, yes, yes—accessing our inherent ability to be with what is happening.

That’s when I notice a few things.

One.

I’m at full attention. It would be dangerous not to be. (Fear is one way to bring about the being present thing.) I’ve never seen a pool pump move so beautifully.

Two.

He’s at full attention. He’s with that brushing activity as if he’s been strengthening his mind to be present for eternity.

Three.

He shows me what we naturally know. 

This isn't a fluke focus. Earlier, Grandson came to a complete halt when the air conditioner intake came on, turning his face upward and pointing at the air duct, smiling as if he just heard Leonard Cohen sing Hallelujah live.

I can learn from him how to be and see.

Ani Pema reminds us that it might be hard for us to be still, quiet, and focus. Yet, she encourages us to just keep practicing. Over time awareness becomes vivid and clear. 

So I practice. 

When I'm with Grandson, the instruction is to be there. All there. Awake and alert as if a wasp-beckoned my attention. 

Note: Originally published 7/14/14.

A shift in my thinking comes sometime between walking meditation and Thây’s last talk



Calligraphy, Thich Nhat Hanh


I recently spent six days at Magnolia Grove Monastery in Batesville, Mississippi with about 900 others in a mostly silent retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh (Thây) and a monastic community. This is the fifth consecutive post in a series of six about my experience. Originally published October 2013.

Around the last day of the retreat, I decided to let go of the fact that I have incurable cancer.

What this means is that, after this post, I will not talk or write about it. I’m not even interested in thinking about it anymore. 

Thây helps me with this decision.

It isn’t a lightning bolt shift in perspective. The change feels more like a soft, gentle, soaking in rain.

I remember it like this:

Sometime between walking meditation and Thây’s last talk, there is a session where he invites questions.

Questions such as “How do I deal with my angry friend?”, “Is it possible for humankind to achieve world peace?”, “How do I let go of the fear of someone dying?”, and “Should communities organize in civil disobedience to reduce violence?” They grab my 100% be-here-now attention. I feel my mouth open in marvel at the profound simplicity of his responses.

I write each question and his response. I know, I’m supposed to let the words and ideas water my heart without pencil and paper, but I tried that for three days and feel my memory needs some loving support.

I sum up what settles into my heart and mind:

So you want to help?

Start with yourself. Heal yourself. Breathe. Smile. Practice kind, loving speech. Honor all life. Be generous. Make peace with your body, perceptions, thoughts, and feelings, and if you know how to do that, you’ll inspire others to do the same. Consume peace. Be peace. Learn to listen deeply. Allow sharing. Don’t interrupt. Give time and space. Start anew. Write love letters (rather than protest letters). Give your time and energy to creating a happy family and community. Practice diligently.

I realize the retreat is designed to practice all of this. 

My fears about a peaceful world leave entirely after my first walking meditation

It is one of most beautiful experiences of my life.

Thây leads. Though it is 85 degrees, he wears his winter coat, scarf, and hat. I wonder if his need for heavy clothing is about how much energy he gives off.

Children hold his hands and 900 of us begin to walk together. In silence.

Ten minutes into the walk I feel an emotional rush. A rising tide of peace, as if I’m part of a larger walk. Others’ steps echo ours—people such as Susan B. Anthony, the Freedom Riders, Gandhi, Jesus, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandelathe Peace Pilgrim, and Malala Yousafzai. I feel like I’m part of a moving river of peace.

My question about whether there will be peace in the world disappears. Peace already is—its river is already moving. 

And then I feel a connection to the cloudiness of my personal wellness. That river of peace is not just about our world. It’s about my well-being (and yours).
  

The note said, “I hate you."


Disgruntled PrincessKate Hindley, illustrator. Find her cards, zines, prints.

I ring the bell for circle just before lunchtime. Catie stands in front of me, silent and with downcast eyes. She unfolds a narrow strip of paper. “I found this note in my folder.”

“What does it say?” I ask.

Choking back a sob, she reads, “Dear Catie, I hate you,” and hands the note to me.

I know the writer from the handwriting. I don’t think Catie knows though it is one of her best friends. I ask, “Would you like a hug?” She says, “Yes,” and I hold her until she lets go. “We’ll talk about this during circle time.”

(Each child has a folder where they place work to take home. It also holds friendship notes children write to each other. The friendship note activity was presented as a way to practice using caring words such as “I'm glad you are my friend, “ or “I like sitting next to you,” or "I like your smile." 

After writing the note, the edges are colorfully decorated and the note is folded and placed in the receiver’s folder. There is an agreement that all notes are addressed by name to the receiver and signed by the writer.)

The children put their work away, come to the circle, sit, and quickly quiet.

“I want to read this note that Catie found in her folder.” I read it, look at Catie and pause. I ask, “What are you feeling, Catie?”

Catie’s eyes are red from crying. “Sad,” she replies.

“Is there more?” I ask. Catie shakes her head no.

“Before we talk about the note, does anyone have anything to say to Catie?”

“I like you,” says Brenna.

“I’m sad too,” says Anna.

“You can sit next to me at lunch,” says Miranda.

“I’m sorry you got that note,” says Graham.

After the children finish sharing their thoughts and feelings, I say, “When I’m uncomfortable I know that there is a hidden lesson. I wonder what I can learn. So, let’s talk about what happened.” 

“Is there anything good about this note?” I ask. The children are quiet and I wait.

“It’s good to write notes,” says Tomas.

“Nothing,” says Graham.

“We can know our feelings,” says Ashlinn.

Ashlinn says that a good thing about the note is we can know our feelings. I agree. It helps to know what the writer is feeling.

I pause.

What’s not helpful about this note?” I ask.

“It’s mean,” says Will.

“What's mean?” I ask.

Max raises his hand, “No one signed it.”

Jake adds, “Catie doesn’t know who it’s from.”

“Why is that important, Jake?” 

“Then Catie doesn't know who to talk to,” he answers. “She can't say stop writing that.”

"That's helpful, Jake. If the note was signed, Catie would know who the writer is and how the writer feels and they could talk about it." I can tell the children are thinking about what Jake suggested. I continue, "Let’s talk about the feelings of the writer of the note. How do you think the writer might be feeling?”

“Mad at Catie,” says Miranda. I look at Miranda and nod that I hear her.

“Bad,” says Will.

Say more about that, Will, why might this person feel bad?

“Like she wrote a mistake.”

“What can the writer of the note do about writing a mistake?” I ask.

Sophia raises her hand, “Write her another note and be nice.”

Jake says, “The writer can write another note and say, 'I'm mad,'” and he adds, “The person has to sign it. Catie can ask the person about feeling mad."

(Dublin Montessori Academy, a circle conversation, about 2004)

NOTES - The kids never found out who wrote the note. Catie received many friendship notes later that day including one from the person who wrote the original note. I wrote a friendship message to the writer of that note that said, "I like you and I'm glad we learn together." We did not have another unsigned note that school year. First posted August 26, 2012.