On Meditation (Where Vulnerability & Rootedness Coexist)

Open Palms

Photo MO 2019

First, we try things because we are curious. 

Eager to learn.
Eager to touch.
Each to feel.
Since our eyes first opened from the womb.
———-
I loved to walk in snowy stillness in the woods.
To look into specks of light shining from dark sky without speaking.
To lie in grassy meadows.
Surely, meditation was like that, right?
Only a stirring pot of edginess swirled around my veins and entered my head.
I wanted to run.
Or at least push it off until tomorrow
When what I really need to do was  s t a y .

When did planned stillness become the alarm bell for
every pushed away thought, desire to squirm,
to return to my old task-oriented habits?
Perhaps to evade change.
Or because I wasn’t ready to open up my insides,
because I knew there was stuff inside that I already thought I was working through well enough in my daily life.

It appeared that the silence of meditation wore a cloak,
bearing a name tag that I couldn’t quite make out.
I leaned into the beats coming from my chest
and slowly discovered that its presence was not as foreboding
as I once thought.
This presence had a moniker,
and I likened the ring of its name to Uncertainty.
Uncertainty was uncomfortable to be around.
Uncertainty made me want to grip my hands into a fist,
to stand my ground, to prove myself.
But Uncertainty didn’t speak; it just sat beside me
and made sure the candles stayed lit,
befriending my heart.

Over the years, I desired more than two minutes
a night of this quiet silence,
this curious being that whispered of another way of being alive.
So I dared to spend more time with it.
It guided me through changing life seasons,
in cities familiar,
in countries whose languages I cannot speak,
in times of grief,
in times of immense joy for the very breath rising and falling,
rising, and falling.

And so I learned that dances in the dark with Uncertainty’s shadows will forever be a part of my evolution.
That what can start out as a loud cacophony can turn into the last reverberating string as quiet enters in.
But more than anything, this thing started to whisper to me.
“Open your palms. Soften your countenance.
Breathe in. Breathe out.”

Life—and therefore, change— persisted.
My palms slowly uncurled
wider
as my heart rate slowed.

And slowly I could look out the window,
or from my tent,
or from the black of my closed eyelids and return to being.

B e i n g.

Breathing.
With an open palm.
The quintessential aspect of my practice.
In the beginning, I said I could live with my heart on my sleeve.
But I didn’t live firm and authentic, day in and day out, in tune with my values, a deep internalized knowing that I could be accepted as loved in my truths and curiosities.
Not good enough?
I didn’t think I actually believed that.
But when I peeled back the layers, that’s the negative thought that explains the people pleasing, my avoidance of conflict, the imposed limits of my fullest freedom.
Because when you believe wholeheartedly that you- that everyone- is worthy of love, belonging, connection, and enough, you don’t need to self protect- the most fragile form of “protection” that robs us of growth.

To open your palms to the cognizance that a better way might be possible
than the thoughts, actions, and behaviors in which you currently exhibit—
that our fixed ideas will need fine tuning periodically, or drastically at first—
that my circumstances and the people around me all need freedom and grace,
even if that means I will experience loss or heartbreak, yes, especially then—
that is open palmed vulnerability.

But when I rest these open palms,
I am resting them on rooted sitbones.
A rooted core.
A heart and mind whose intention is to live life curious,
A pilgrim walking into the long arc of Uncertainty
Because I choose to set my gaze on love, justice, connection, that essence that I think holds us all together, though we all know it by many names, so I just go back to love.

When I go awry, those around me, and that gentle spirit which kept me coming back, show me where I can love better,
own up to my shit,
and that makes life much deeper.

So I sit here,
with open palms and a rooted core,
trying to be completely open
to this precarious existence.
In breath.
In gratitude.
In meditation.

Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

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60 Seconds of Beauty Before Smashing Your Head Into The Keyboard

smash headToday is one of those “smash face into keyboard to continue” days. Smartphoneless, I discovered I missed several important emails, including a few deadlines. I began a grad class this week. Work, often feast-or-famine with the patient population I work with, who experience several barriers to medical care, was definitely a feast this week. A large one. Thanksgiving with all your extended relatives, kind of feast. Add triathlon training, a conviction to be a better friend/family member, and a few other commitments, I noticed the all-too-familiar trap of spreading myself thin in a flurry of perfectionism.

But before I could drag myself into work for one final day this week, I marveled at an urban creek that I pass on my commute to work each day. Sun kissing ice blocks in emerald green water, a gem amongst graffiti and the click-clack of trains off in the distance. “Lord of Lords,” an old hymn, comes to my mind, and I suddenly find my soul in a pining connection to the lyrics, “Keep my eyes fixed upon Jesus’ face. Let not the things of this world ever sway me.” As much as I refuse to go back to my former version of Christianity, there is so much that I want to make sure I don’t let go of. And one of those things is to keep steady resolve on Jesus’ ways, because that way of living feels more fulfilling, more rich. A teacher who catches us in the midst of snowballing worry, and looks us in the eye to say, “Hey! Snap out of it. Can worry add a single minute to your life?” (aka what I hear from Matthew 6:7).

Copyright: MO Baltimore, MD

Copyright: MO
Baltimore, MD

This winter, I’ve been blown away by the beauty of the Falls. Each morning, I give myself permission to temporarily fix my gaze from the road to this scene of peace. Usually frantically running late to work, I often glance only long enough to smile at it. But today I decided to stop long enough to hop off my bike, take a picture, and remember the words of Anna Quindlen: “And realize that life is glorious, and you have no business taking it for granted…” (From “Life’s Little Instruction Book.”)

Biking along the Falls, I feel as though I’m being taken away to Canada. One to share my voice only to the shower vapors, I softly sing aloud, “on the lakes of Canada…” Instead of aimlessly passing up the opportunity to be transported, I intentionally decide to stop whooshing by it and stop for just 60 seconds to soak it all in. 60 seconds to let my eyes dilate, absorb light and movement, to not think about anything in particular, to just be. 60 seconds to create experiences of beauty.

It was the best 60 seconds I’ve spent today. I’m so tired of rushing through life, not pausing to create moments of peace, order, beauty, serenity. Because unless we stop, unless we do something to forge scenes of beauty, unless we sew them together with beautiful seams of peaceful patchwork, we can easily forget. At least, I do. We forget the peace that can be found in this world. Forget how beautiful it is, because in the celerity, in the achievement-oriented rat race, it can seem like peace, beauty and order have left the building.

It’s no coincidence to me that as I hop back on my bike, the next piece of graffiti I find is the wall that over the summer read in big letters,

Go placidly amongst the noise and haste…
                             and know the peace there is in the silence.

go placidly amongst the noise and haste

I’m going to stop more. Because it’s up to us to create scenes of beauty in our lives. It’s up to us; it’s our responsibility because if we can’t find peace and order and beauty, then maybe we aren’t stopping long enough to actually exhale and find it.

Yes, I will take ownership for having peaceful moments in my life. And be gracious to myself when I forget to stop—When I’m at my desk, smashing my head into the keyboard for one more day, kicking myself for not stopping.

Tomorrow, I’ll begin again. The Falls will be there. Birds on Trees will be there.

“Flowers in the garden.
Laughter in the hall.
Children in the park.
I will not take these things for granted…
…Anymore.”

-Toad the Wet Sprocket