"Mindfulness and Meditation allow us to open our hearts, relax our bodies, and clear our minds enough to experience the vast, mysterious, sacred reality of life directly. With Practice we come to know for ourselves that eternity is available in each moment.

Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call:
Musings on Life and Practice
by a Longtime Student of Meditation

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Journey of Five Thousand Miles

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
-- Lao Tse

“…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back...
They’re like messengers that show us, 
with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. ”
Pema Chödrön

OMG! The Grand Canyon was even grander than all the hype.

In case you hadn't noticed, this is the first post here in about five weeks.  What's up with that?

Well, in case you are interested -- or even if you're not -- here's the scoop:

I hadn't taken a real vacation since I was asked to teach a meditation class seven and a half years ago.  Within the first year of offering Monday Morning Mindfulness, I was then asked to begin Mindfulness Circles elsewhere.  At this point, I facilitate four weekly meditation groups, participate in the community life of two peer support networks, and have been posting an article here each week.  For a retired old coot, I am pretty busy.  

I'm also a recovering workaholic.  I tend to overdo a feeling of responsibility.  Except for a couple of weeks each year spent traveling to visit my children, and a few long holiday weekends, I've pretty much been "on duty," day in, day out, holding space with my CircleMates  and communards as we share Life and Practice. 

It's kept me off the streets and out of trouble -- at least most the time.

Go West, (not so) Young Man 

When Migdalia decided to retire from her full time social work position, she immediately pitched me to join her for an extended vacation.  At the time, I couldn't come up with a good reason not to take a Sabbatical and join her for a journey in the Southwest.  Decades ago, I had wandered into New Mexico a couple of times and, although one of these times was during a particularly dark night of the soul episode in my life, I clearly remembered that the state's motto, the Land of Enchantment, rang true to me at the time.  There was an aura of magic in high desert air of the Colorado Plateau.  A palpable sense of a vast and majestic mystery sang silently through the landscape.  I loved the gentle warmth of a culture strongly influenced by the hispanic and indigenous majority.  Buoyed by those memories, I was ready to let go -- and Go for It! 

Or so I thought.
Almost immediately after "deciding," I noticed that I was experiencing moments of deep discomfort at the thought of leaving life as I knew it.  After decades of chaos and struggle, life had smoothed out for the past couple of years.  I was quite happy with the routines and rituals that structured my days.  I loved what I was doing most the time. 
Although it was sometimes difficult, I valued the ongoing Human Connection of my circlemates, recovery community cohorts, and the other co-conspirators that graced my days in this somewhat sleepy, small town in Western Massachusetts.  I'd get up most mornings, cast my Lojong Slogan for the day, meditate for an hour, read a bit, then walk into the day to meditate with others and compare notes on Life and Practice.  Most days, there was also plenty of solitude, time to play some music, do some writing, engage in political projects, even take a nap if I felt like it.  Then on the weekends, Migdalia and I would gather at her place or mine to share time and space relaxing and reveling in the wonder of our unfolding relationship. 

In the past, the Road had always seemed intriguing and exciting.  Yet, at age 73, having spent most of the last decade pretty close to hOMe, the notion of launching forth on a journey that would involve about 5,000 miles of travel by train and automobile, weeks and weeks of sleeping in strange beds, days upon days of having to figure out where to go and what to do, brought on some serious heebie-jeebies.  After living a fairly structured, disciplined life, the Unknown seemed daunting.

A Rude Awakening

After a few weeks on the Road, even with the joy of spending time with Migdalia immersed the unimaginable beauty of White Sands and Petrified Forest National Monuments and the incomparable grandeur of the Grand Canyon, it wasn't the Unknown that managed to lay me low.  The hardest thing I was to encounter along the way was myself.  I became increasingly unhinged, experiencing many moments of feeling stressed, anxious, frustrated, and unhappy.  Then, one morning, I left an encounter with Migdalia seething, angrier than I had been in years!  Yikes! I had reincarnated as my previous self, adrift in the dysfunctional patterns of my working class male conditioning.  That caught my attention.   

It was time to sit and review what had happened: 

After the initial 20+ hour train ride and five days visiting my son's family where the early rising of twin toddlers made my extended morning practice impractical, Migdalia and I had launched off on another 20+ hour train ride to Alburquerque.  Then, "on vacation," we had filled most days with the usual activities of the contemporary American turista.  Covering the vast distances involved in the Southwestern US, I had spent hours and hours behind the wheel some days, and, most days, we spent hours sightseeing, shopping, eating out in restaurants, then returning to a motel room where televised entertainment, movies, and sports dominated our late evenings. 

Although I had initially made a point to get outside and meditate before Migdalia got up for a few mornings once we got to New Mexico, when the weather turned cold, my daily sitting practice became intermittent.  Then it disintegrated entirely for almost a week.  Although I had taken several of my favorite Lojong commentaries with me, the books remained in my suitcase. Instead, I spent hours "researching" the various details of the local geography, geology, and culture on my cellphone. 

To make matters worse, adrift in the patterns of a lifetime, I became increasingly withdrawn and unable to communicate with Migdalia that I was struggling and needed to have more silence and solitude in my life.  Projecting my own mental self-absorption outward, it appeared to me that she became self-absorbed, needy, uncaring and unresponsive.  Her addiction (not mine) to television and the cellphone began to vex me.  Zounds.

At a certain point, I finally worked up a modicum of clarity and courage and asked for a "television-free" evening.  She spaced out my request and turned the television on when I was in the shower -- and the stage was set for the drama that unfolded.

 When I came out of the shower, I was appalled.  But, of course, by then I was locked into my ancient "victim" pattern.   I said nothing.  I went to bed, pulled the covers over my head -- and fumed into a fitful sleep.  Even though I did make a point to meditate first thing the next morning, it was too little, too late.  The first words out of my mouth were surly and sarcastic.  (I don't even remember what the "issue" was. )  Fortunately, I had the good sense to immediately go out for a walk -- and Migdalia, being her kind and insightful self was able to engage in a constructive conversation when I returned.  Whew.

I haven't missed a morning's meditation since then.

There but for the Grace of Practice...

A Moment's Peace
Sitting here now, with the season's first serious snowfall dancing in the street lights outside the window, I feel deeply grateful -- and humbled -- by what I experienced this past month.  I've seen, in living color, that the cultivation of wisdom and compassion in my life is not solely a matter of individual intention and will power.  It requires Ceaseless Practice and Community -- and Grace.

Spending days and days without devoting time and effort to meditation and study, moving through an extended period of time without the support of a community of kindred spirits clearly doesn't work for me.  For, as much as we've been trained to believe otherwise in this capitalist culture, who I am at any one moment is a function of the interplay between all my past conditioning and the environment that surrounds me.  

In those moments that I am actually mindful of what is going on inside and around me, I may have a degree of choice in the matter and manifest some kindness, clarity, and compassion.   Otherwise I'm likely to resonate with the mainstream energies of our patently neurotic and clueless materialistic society.  Without Practice and a Community of Support, who I am at any one moment is just a bad habit at one end -- and the entire Universe at the other.  

Thankfully, the Universe doesn't keep score. 

*I was arrested last fall for crossing a police tape to protest the town's eviction of a homeless encampment on the Greenfield Town Commons as I participated in our #OMG! (#Occupy Meditation Group!) daily noon meditation vigil. )


Jenn B said...

thank you for sharing this ❤️. this was very much appreciated!

JeanErlbaum said...

Thanks for your honesty. I think given those circumstances, I would have been just as cranky. (I will show your blog to my husband who is always asking me why I don't want to travel. You spelled out my answer perfectly, all the gory details, aspects of traveling that would lead me to being cranky, blaming, sarcastic, etc.) I agree that daily practice and a supportive community are what keep me going too. I have also had to learn the hard way that enlightenment is not a permanent condition. No matter how clear I feel for even a long period of time, eventually fog rolls in. The true test is how graceful and accepting and compassionate I can be with myself and others during those foggy times. Glad you are back (on all levels.) Love, Jeanie

Lance Smith said...

Thanks for your kind and insightful words, Jeanie.
One Love,
Lance ❤️🙏

Carol said...

I just read your adventure west. LOL! Welcome to chaos of life outside your walls. Yes travel can be wonderfully overwhelming, and.....stressful when we can't have our routine pulled out of our suitcase and make everything all better. God bless ya Lance, I'm impressed you did it. All of your joyous memories flood out the uncomfortable moments for sure. Finding our joy and peace wherever we may be, goes with the saying " wherever you go, you are there" Jon Kabat Zinn. The other saying that fits like a shoe,? "There's no place like home"