Minding Love a Simple Pleasure

I’ve learned through my practice of meditation that joy and inner peace are usually wrapped up in the simplest things and we have a choice.

Sometimes we get caught up in the spirit of wanting to our detriment. We think that if we’d just hit the lottery, for example, we would find joy and peace. Having come from humble beginnings, I know money is a necessity but it’s not everything. I’ve seen great suffering in people with money in the form of pain, loneliness and self-loathing. I think we can get lost in wanting when we don’t know who we are or we know but don’t allow ourselves to be.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the renowned psychiatrist who dedicated her life to the study of death and dying believed that deep down, at our core, there are only two emotions that drive everything: love and fear. I tend to agree. I would also add that fear breeds when there is lack of loving. Where there is loving, there is happiness and peace. Where there is fear, there is lack and suffering.

I’ve been thinking a lot about these two scoundrel emotions that we often feel cheat us out of a quiet life. I’ve been wondering how we can make decisions that lead us to joy and peace. In other words, how can we choose love over suffering?

Let me share an anecdote to elucidate my thinking. I woke up this morning and my knee was hurting. I had been running hard on it for weeks. I immediately tensed up and felt worried. Running is an activity that makes me feel happy and anxiety-free. My mind raced. What would I do if my leg stopped working?

I decided to sit and ice it. I put my leg up and chose to embrace the moment as an opportunity to focus on my inner world and breathing. Within moments, I slipped into a casual meditation. I became aware of my thoughts and realized that my tension was fear of losing control of my physical body and simply, getting old. Running for years had made me happy and anxiety free because it makes me feel strong, carefree and my appearance pleasing. I was scared that if I stopped running I would lose all these things which would lead me to feeling weak, trapped and unlovable. Who will want to be with me when I’m old and useless?

Now, I understood the pain in my knee to be insight. It was showing me my self and my self was showing me the condition of the human being. After all, we live in a society that values youthfulness, beauty and utility. We are all susceptible to this thinking. So what to do with this? What does one do when it’s time to stop running?

As I allowed these insights to sit with me, I began to appreciate how vulnerable I am and how vulnerable we all are. I appreciated how important it is to feel loved and useful. We are all growing old and dying is part of the human experience. Everyone loses vitality until we perish. So, what to do? What to do with this knowledge?

Then, I thought about love. The antithesis to fear. I thought about how powerful and precious love really is. What does it look like and feel like to shower love upon yourself at a vulnerable moment? What type of relationship characterizes your love experience? What simple pleasure can we offer ourselves, even in adverse conditions? And, how can we find the courage to be with the lover who makes us feel valued and delicious?

After the meditation, I got up from the couch and walked to my office, slowly and gentle on my knee. I knew I couldn’t run but I could sit and write with ease. It was the most loving thing I could think about doing for myself and for you my dear reader. To share this news. We are indeed getting older with each passing day and sometimes your years on your body will be hurting… but you can be mindful of that simple pleasure, like what writing means to me. You can choose to wrap your arms around your lover, whoever they may be or you can love yourself, in the best way you know how. Simply, choose. Choose the next loving thing and decide only upon those things that will bring you closer to love.

What is Bardo?

Bardo is a Tibetan word that means in-between. It’s sometimes translated as intermediate state. Chögyam Trungpa, author of The Tibetan Book of the Dead: The Great Liberation Through Hearing In The Bardo, says Bardo means gap. It’s not only the interval of suspension after we die but also the interval of suspension in the living situation. In other words, we can experience a ritualistic death while living.

After the loss of my husband, I’ve come to know Bardo. In many ways, I’m still in the in-between stage. After a year though, I’m more aware and observing, less agonizing. A greater consciousness is emerging. Something about it feels good suddenly. It’s like a rock that hits water and sinks but rings of consciousness emanate out from it. I’m observing what was and simultaneously observing what will be. In this present state, time appears to collapse entirely.

There is still tenderness about it and anticipation.

A person who loses a loved one transforms in mind, body and spirit. If you were unaware of this, know it’s a ritualistic death– a Bardo. If this hasn’t happened to you yet, know it will happen one day because everybody dies eventually. I think it’s good to understand this because maybe we might fear death less. We might suffer less. It doesn’t mean we won’t feel pain. It means we change our perception of the pain and that makes a difference.

In the Bardo, I discovered a bridge. I think now that where there is a gap, there’s always a bridge. The bridge of Bardo is our access to the infinite.

I know that when we lose a loved one, we can expand our consciousness. We can become aware of our capacity to move through life with more love and tenderness. We come to realize that the love of our beloved is infinite and can be an eternal source of energy for us, an energy that we can absorb and recycle as we move into the next stage of our lives.

Over the last few months, I began to visualize how I can help others navigate this time. It took me a while and I depended on others to be there for me and I’d like to do the same. I’d like to share some strategies that were essential for me, essential nutrients so to speak.

Starting this January, I’m facilitating a mindfulness meditation support and learning group. For more information about joining this group, please go to my Mindful Bardō page.

On Dog and Man

This morning I jogged past an interesting dog couple. They got me thinking about the relationship between dog and man. He was a medium sized, grey terrier and the owner was a blond in her thirties. They were both sitting on a bench together. The dog was looking one way and she the other. She was on her phone chatting and he was observing the scene. As I got closer, the dog leaned further out and looked toward me. He was tracking me from afar, his deep set black eyes hounded me. As I passed, he jumped up on all fours and pulled hard on his leash. He clearly wanted to run, like me. His owner engrossed in her conversation, barely looked up when she gave his leash a hard pull to the effect that the dog cowered and sat back down instantly. His eyes, however, did not stop watching me. The last I saw was his head turned the other way, while seated and waiting.

Dogs are domesticated creatures but they are kin to wolves and coyotes. Although teachings vary from tribe to tribe, according to Native American tradition, each animal carries a special medicine energy (Sams & Carson, 1988). The dog is loyalty, a protector and a servant. Wolves, in contrast, are the pathfinders, the teachers of new ideas. The coyotes, are the tricksters with a keen sense of humor and a hidden wisdom that reminds us not to take life so seriously.

What is the true nature of dog without training? What can we learn from the relationship between dog and man to understand notions of love, loyalty and security?

Dog owners spend an inordinate amount of time and money training their dogs to be obedient. In this teaching, there’s something we can learn by thinking about this practice and the outcomes we seek. For example, to train a dog, you make them obey orders by way of reward and punishment. Orders like: Come here! Go! Lay down! Stop playing! Sit! Stand! Calm down! When they follow the rules, they get a treat and when they don’t, they get beaten or neglected. Over time, this process conquers their nature and reduces their ability to do anything without fear. In this relationship, the master justifies the beatings, touting the benefits. Dogs are given food, shelter and stability! In exchange, a good, domesticated dog bestows upon man unconditional love, protection and loyalty.

As I watched the behavior of the grey terrier this morning, I wondered if it’s possible to completely destroy one’s natural instinct, like the yearning to run and be free? I wondered about safety and stability. I even thought about government and how human beings pay a price for a sense of security and loyalty. What is the right balance, if any, between honoring our true nature and taming?

Where I live in New York City, there is a preponderance of dogs. Truth be told, from the outside looking in, they look happy. They are so clean! Their owners take them out for walks along the river, allow them to get some fresh air, poop and pee amongst trees. Sometimes, the owners keep them on very long leashes to get the illusion of space. It’s as if they own the city. Every so often, a van arrives on my corner that caters to dogs. They call it a ‘dog spa’ and they go in there and take breaks. In fact, sometimes I’m jealous that dogs can get spa treatments in the time of COVID so easily. On other days, I think it’s just a van, the apartments are quite small in the city and leashes are leashes no matter how far they reach.