He was there.
Standing in the cereal aisle at the grocery store.
His cropped hair, dark.
Eyes even darker.
Jaw clean and sharp.
He was looking at Rice Chex and waiting with a couth eye for exactly what he knew would come.
Sita arrived in aisle four, her arms wrapped around a dozen eggs, a half gallon of milk dangling in her hand. Beside boxes with leprechauns, rabbits and elves hawking their sugar coated delights, she stood, frozen, debating whether a woman her age should be buying frosted flakes or something more responsible, wavering in that moment not just about her breakfast choices, but the path of lunch, dinner, and everything beyond.
One doesn’t expect to meet the devil while shopping for cereal. We think his reddened grin will creep up on us while we dwell in the abyss misery, not while we’re contemplating our whole grain, fiber rich options. But that Tuesday afternoon, the Price of Darkness leaned past Sita and reached for that same box that she had her eye on.
“I love these things,” he said as he glanced her way with a smile that simultaneously spoke of triviality, yet also seemed to say “I know who you are.”
She smiled back, took a box for herself and nodded, for she knew him too.
In the parking lot, her cart rattling with a faulty wheel, she saw him again. He was loading his trunk with the groceries of a middle aged man.
“Enjoy your frosted flakes,” she called, as if she were a clumsy girl at fifteen.
“Absolutely.” He smiled again.
And from there they began, talking about weather and civic involvement and the price of gasoline, but they both knew these words were just costumes for a deeper message that passed between their eyes:
“I know you.”
“I know you”
“I know you.”
He did not need to make an effort, nor did she for future meetings to occur, for the collaboration of external forces, these unseen hands of life and fate, seemed to guide them.
One morning over iced Americanos he said to her, straight and clear:
“Sita, I’m the devil.”
“But of course,” she laughed.
It was then that he began to talk. Sita listened. Intently. She was entranced by the way he understood suffering, the way he could see exactly what everyone desired. She marveled at his disdain for humanity and the way he could control it all.
She didn’t falter. She was not afraid. To her he was like a dark, seductive snake coming in close. She liked how he moved, concealed so slightly by blades of grass, his tongue flickering as he spoke. She didn’t question his words, the way he boasted about his skills of studying and devouring his prey.
An espresso machine hissed behind them and Sita slipped in to the sound. This married woman with a loving heart had been in a dilemma, not just of which cereal to buy, but which life she should live. She yearned for the freedom of no longer having to live a self-imposed notion of goodness…of being the one who must bring light to a room, mend broken backs, and soiled hearts.
For here, in front of her was the antidote.
Here was her mirrored opposite.
Greed, anger, jealousy, revenge – the things she resisted and loathed about herself were his daily companions. His closest friends.
So one day she went to his home. There amidst his tidy walls, his carefully made bed, she gave in to her cereal box needs. With no regard for what she would lose, she let his precise, planned version of passion make its way in, calculated, controlled. She let this creature of the night take her breath, choke her, swallow her whole.
But all the while she smiled…and laughed, for the first time in maybe her whole life, she allowed darkness to rule, without guilt. Freedom spoke. She was no longer a slave to the plastic goodness to which she had bound herself.
But one does not sleep with a lion and expect to not be scratched.
Her husband knew what had happened the moment he saw her. Without falter, he asked her to leave. He was not angry, simply just broken.
So she moved into a home where the sounds of loneliness echoed against the walls.
Then one day the Prince of Darkness returned.
In her new bed, in a house without family, she once again allowed the devil’s skin, marked in alabaster and blue to meet her own.
There both of them tried desperately to get their fill and as they did she watched his face. It was not the familiar one of power and mastery, but a look of smallness, sadness. And as her body moved obdedient with the pulses of his, she observed his starkness, and it occurred to her that perhaps what she saw was not him at all, but herself.
Shocked to see the depth of her own pain marked on another’s face, she starred, transfixed. Harsh pain and the beauty of loneliness danced before her eyes. Swept now fully into the tornado between them, she felt as the rhythms he pounded out melting into the rhythms of the world. Hunger, dissatisfaction, greed, jealousy, self-loathing were conjured on her ceiling, upon the walls.
As she felt herself peak, she could now see in her mind’s eye her own empty wound of dissatisfaction, her lifetime of paper grins, self-hatred, and the forced flat happiness she expected of those around her. And as she watched the man who called himself the devil fight to relieve his pain within her, the truth arose.
She had become exactly what she feared.
He finished incomplete, a lion without a kill. She watched as he put on his shirt, fixed his hair. They talked about the weather, civic involvement, and the price of gasoline and she walked him to the door.
Two months have passed and the devil is gone. He has moved on to more promising prey, new forms of deception, self-torment, new spaces to burn.
But for her, in the place where scorched souls lay, life is coming. With diligence and love her new home is now filled with flowers, butterflies dance on her walls, and she breathes in the joy of no longer denying the unnamable spaces in her heart.
She has met the devil, seen his truth. And she knows, in the barren land of honesty – anger dissolves into sadness. Addiction, greed, and lust dissolve into wounds of lost love. And for this reason the woman, in her new home of butterflies and daisies, eats her sugar coated cereals and dances with light, for she knows there is nothing to fear. She has peered into the darkness, held its hand, looked in the mirror, seen its sadness and finally understands the horrific elegance of loss, hunger, and love.
I wore my past like a woolen coat,
pockets laden with lead.
Each stitch, each thread held a story,
woven tight with
the ‘who I was’
But today the summer sun is bright,
the silken lining of ‘should have beens
and so I slough off this layer,
strip down my burden
to my golden skin,
a naked girl,
of air and light.
In this sun I am nothing but
the glorious Now,
no longer a slave to my own legends,
to the books of other writers’ words
i am just.
Bare to the sun
and completely free
of my woolen coat
As a teen I had an eating disorder. I prided myself on my 89 pound weight throughout high school. My classmates praised me. I loved my size zero jeans, but I was miserable. Much of my life revolved around food. I denied myself the pure joy of eating.
To this day I struggle with food.
But this isn’t just me. We live in a culture that has denied itself the true joy of food. We worry about fat, fiber content, calories, gluten, sustainability, pesticides, GMOs, antibiotics, etc. etc. to the point that many of us can’t eat without feeling guilty. Being mindful of our food is good in and of itself, but I know (at least for myself) I feel bombarded with “shoulds” when it comes to eating….and well, I’ve forgotten how to eat well.
I have a hunch that most of the eating disorders today are rooted in the mixed messages we’re given about food. We’re taught to use it as a mood stabilizer, a tool for self flagellation, or a means of controlling others and ourselves. And we’ve forgotten how to eat…how to love food for it’s essence…for the life that it gives us.
I admit, I like donuts and will eat the occasional hot dog off the roller grill at 7-11. Whether I will die an early death from the sugar, sodium, gluten or processed meat, or suffer for my poor karmic choices, I don’t know. All I know is that when I tuck the guilt away, slow down, and allow myself to take pleasure in my food, happiness and joy always follow.
So today, as an experiment, here’s my suggestion: take a moment to sip your drink a little slower, eat your sandwich, salad, donut, or hot dog with a little more awareness, or simply savor the sensation of an apple as it crunches in your teeth. Enjoy the food for what it is and what it gives you. This may not solve all your problems, make you thin like a super model, or alter the course of humanity, but it might, just might, put a smile on your face.
In two weeks I will be flying fifteen hours over land and sea to Maui, where I will stay for a personal retreat in the guest house of spiritual teacher Ram Dass. I’m excited, nervous, honored, and thrilled all rolled into one big bundle.
I began meditating three years ago, inspired by several of Ram Dass’ books and videos and since have developed my own flavor of practice. As I work on myself, I am noticing subtle, and some not so subtle changes in the way I do life.
But none of this “spirituality thing” looks as I expected it to. Rather than heading towards a life of serious contemplation, as I thought I might do, I seem to be lightening up, laughing more. In fact, the deeper I go into my practice, the more it seems I have inadvertently signed on as an actor on some sort of cosmic sitcom. I’ve become Lucille Ball in yoga pants!
On any given moring I might find myself feeling joyous, alive with the breath of existence, but then by noon, mad because I’m stuck scrubbing my kid’s pee off the bathroom wall. No one ever told me that oneness with the Universe would involve Lysol.
I’ve always pictured real yoginis to be soft spoken and kind, to wear dangly crystals and Om themed jewelry. Although I may own a bit of Om themed paraphernalia, I have also been known to laugh loudly in public places, swear like an angry pirate, and occasionally dress like one too. And yes, I’m that mom in the minivan chanting Sri Ram with gusto, while pulling into the McDonald’s drive-through.
So you can imagine three months ago, when I applied for a personal retreat with Ram Dass, I was a little anxious. I mean, I buy my underwear at Walmart and take my kids to Chick Filla on a regular basis. How could me, the lady with Super Girl pajama bottoms, qualify for something so sacred?
The thing is that spirituality isn’t about how groovy your pajamas are. This thing we call spirituality is not about the trappings, what books you read, classes you go to, or retreats you attend.
In the end it’s about learning to be still and listen. It’s about stripping away everything you think you are and listening to your own true voice…a voice that is so pure, that sometimes it ceases to be your own and becomes that of the cosmos.
The joy of life is that it’s so incredibly awkward at times, so demanding, so puzzling. It’s as if we’ve been put on this earth to solve this enormous jigsaw puzzle and all we can do is pick up one piece at a time, smile when we find one that fits….and laugh when we don’t.
The truth is that our daily lives and our spiritual lives are not mutually exclusive. In fact, being in the thick of things is where we seem to learn the most. In my life, my current, my most challenging spiritual exercise is playing referee in the screaming matches between my son and daughter. Trust me, it takes a true Aikido master to neutralize the sibling rivalry in my house.
One of the phrases I’ve heard Ram Dass mention in his videos is “There’s nowhere to stand.” I say this to myself a lot. I realize that my life—actually all our lives—teeter between the divine and the earthly. It’s a dance of form and formlessness. I am simultaneously a women, with the power to alleviate suffering in the world and a proud owner of a Toyota Sienna Minivan. Similarly, I exist somewhere between being a divine being of light and love and a bi-weekly Target shopper.
When I choose to not hold on to either state of being, and simply hang out in the beautiful state of is-ness, I am absolutely free. That’s when the two worlds merge and things get really, really cool.
For me laughter is the place where the housewife and goddess meet. It’s the sweet spot between realms where golden divinity and fumbling humanity coincide, where the goddess and the housewife settle onto the couch of life together, turn on TV and watch the comedy unfold. As they sit there, watching maybe Lucy and Ethel in their first yoga class, the housewife turns to the goddess, smiles says, “Life is really hard, but it is also so beautiful.” The goddess gives her a loving grin, puts her hand on her leg and says “Yes. This is very true.” She then pauses, glances down, begins to chuckle and says, “By the way, nice pajamas.”
In preparation for my trip to Maui, I am choosing to not prepare. I can only be what I am in the moment. No more, no less. In the great words of the great yogi and canned-spinach condenseur Popeye: “I yam what I yam”. I am a student and a master. A child and a teacher… and of course, a housewife and a goddess.
Namaste, my sweet friends.
I did the unthinkable yesterday. I deactivated my Facebook account. And you know what? It felt really good.
A year ago, you would have found me on Facebook for hours at a time, scrolling through my feed and messaging friends while claiming to be hard at work on my next book. Several times during these “work” sessions my husband would pop in and tease me: “Have you beat Facebook, yet?” as if I was one of our kids, compulsively attached to their newest video game.
I may not have won, but I must admit over the past eight years, I got pretty darn good at the Facebook “game”. As a writer, I know how to engage folks and pull them in. I know how to elicit responses. But being a decent writer is not the key ingredient to succeeding at Facebook. Like many of us, I have the tendency to believe that I’m a rather important sort of human. Couple this notion with a mild need for approval and a dash of narcissism and I am the perfect candidate for advanced level Facebookery.
About three years ago, in the midst of my Facebook fascination, I started meditating regularly, listening to the likes of Ram Dass, Eckhart Tolle, and Thich Nhat Hanh. As I did I noticed a change in myself. I was still acting in all my silly, neurotic ways, however I was now finding that I was able to step back and gently observe all these quirky habits. I was starting to see the whole me. Gradually, as I acknowledged my weaknesses, changes inside were happening. Meditation was forcing me to look at the parts of me that needed work (which are many!).
About this time, I started taking morning walks on the beach by my house and snapping pictures of the sunrise. Without knowing it, this little morning exercise became a form of meditation as well. As I walked, reflections about life percolated. I began entering my life observations down into my phone and posting them with my photos on Facebook. It turns out the people liked what I had to say. Pretty soon I started a small following of people who looked forward to my introspective sunrise posts. It became sort of “a thing”.
However pleasant and insightful my thoughts were, Facebook wasn’t going to let me get away with simply sharing my messages. Instead it did exactly as it’s designed—to get me and my friends to engage and respond. And that they did. Friends responded with comments, hearts, laughy faces, surprise faces and in turn, me, the latent attention seeker, watched with secret glee.
As the ‘likes’ blossomed… so did my ego.
So, there I was, like a lab rat, tapping the lever to see who applauded my insights of love, the cosmos, and humanity. I knew something wasn’t right about this picture. I could feel it nagging at me every time I tapped that little blue “f” on the phone, but I kept on doing it, with the hopes that my meditation practice and those Youtube talks I watched about the perils of ego attachment would neutralize my distraction, but it wasn’t working. Turns out, I’m still purely human—an absolute sucker for that little, computer generated thumbs up.
Then just a few days ago something happened. I was hanging out with an acquaintance who decided to give me her brash opinion about my presence on Facebook. She told me that she thought my posts were exhausting. She said reading them was like watching a bipolar person. She then proceeded to go in depth about how much I overthought things, pointing out how I needed to ‘just be’—the exact thing I had been striving for in all my spiritual work.
I drove away from her that day feeling a whirlwind of shame, doubt, and anger. On one level she was right. After all, I am bipolar. I live a very intense life, and I’m not afraid to share it. And yeah, I am all about self-reflection. However her critique showed no kindness, no attempt at understanding who I am or why I act the way I do.
But something good happened from this woman’s remarks. It forced me to look at myself. My reaction to her abrasive statements made me realize how wrapped up I had become in people’s opinions. I had been making myself sick trying to get approval. Everyone loved me online, but as soon as someone showed disapproval I was crushed.
Stepping back I could now see my behaviors in their rawest state. I could see that I was seeking love from others, while simultaneously preaching peace, mindfulness, and self-forgiveness in my posts. I was living a dual life. I was both a radiant, wise being and a hungry little girl dancing for applause. I decided then that it was time to give that little girl a break.
So, after that car ride home, I decided I wanted out. I no longer wanted to wait around to see how many likes I got on Facebook. Nor did I want to be the one scrolling through other people’s posts judging them or enabling their own ego trips. Although I can see the many benefits to Facebook and may return at some point when I have a healthier perspective, right now I need to get away from the machine designed to awaken my narcissistic self.
I was (am) an approval addict, and though Facebook is not the root of my addiction it was the fuel. Facebook may not be the heroin, but it’s the needle used to stick it in.
If I have learned anything on this journey, it is that love is not out there. It’s not going to be found in a little blue icon at the bottom of my screen, or in any human being for that matter. I can seek the opinions of others day in and day out, wait for them to pat me on the back, but in the end, that is empty. The love I found on the beach all those mornings or on the meditation cushion didn’t come from my eager fan club awaiting my words; it didn’t even come from the rising sun, or the rolling waves. It came from me. I chose it. I chose, in those moments, to be free.
Social media is not inherently evil. Facebook creates lasting friendships, it connects people across the world and functions as a wonderful community builder. However as users, it’s important that we understand the reason Facebook exists. In the end it’s not there to make sure you’re having soulful engagements with other humans. Facebook is there to make money and we, in all of our positive and unhealthy behaviors, are the tools it uses to create revenue. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it simply is what it is, but it’s important to see it for what it is. Just as you wouldn’t place full trust in the guy selling you a car, we need to watch carefully and be conscious of what social media wants from us.
The key to social media (and anything, for that matter) is to be mindful. Watch how it affects you. As you go about your day, observe yourself in different environments: work, hanging out with friends, alone in a place of peace, and then look at how you feel as you scroll through Facebook. See what it does for you, what it doesn’t. For me I learned that not matter what I did, I was unable to not be seduced by the game. It always left me feeling ill.
This morning I walked on the beach at sunrise and didn’t post any pictures, nor did I stop in my tracks to tell all my friends on Facebook about my deep reflections. As I strolled, a smiling woman approached me. I had seen her several times on previous walks, but we had never talked. Today as she came up to me, she formally introduced herself. We chatted for a bit and laughed at our shared, quirky perspectives on life. She then looked at me with a beautiful, warm smile and said, “Hey, let’s do coffee, sometime.” My first impulse was to pull out my phone, so I could immediately look up her name on Facebook to friend her, but I stopped. I put down my phone and simply said, “I’d love to do that, very much.”
It seemed like any other night. I had made mac and cheese, sliced apple wedges and put them on the table. My seven year old son talked happily about a new video game, while husband listened and scooped noodles on his plate. I settled in my chair and looked across at them and smiled. Although on the surface this night was uneventful, the undercurrent of my own emotions was radically different.
Over the course of the previous four years, I had been undergoing invasive fertility treatments in an attempt to have a second child. I had become pregnant with my son easily, but now this second time, after two miscarriages, things were not happening.
For anyone who has had infertility issues, you know it is laden with frequent doctor visits, aggressive medicines, and invasive tests. However these are small in comparison to the emotional pain one faces each month when your desires fails to come to fruition time and time again.
Although I spent a lot of time worrying about the outcome of each month’s treatments, here, at the dinner table with my husband and son I was feeling a departure from my normal worried brain. To my surprise I was not staring into space yearning for a baby, but in fact quite the opposite. Looking at the two of them that night, something had clicked for me in that moment. My heart was warm with satisfaction, absolute joy, realizing that all I ever needed ever was to be here in this moment.
I don’t know what stirred it on the particular night, but something cracked open in me and I saw that life was good…more than good, it was beautiful. Yes, I didn’t have that little baby, the sibling for my son that I longed for, but there in the moment listening to my husband and son chat about this and that, I saw that there was nothing to pine for. I had everything I needed. I knew then that a new baby need not be part of the equation for my happiness.
Two days later I went into the clinic for the final injections. This was to be our last attempt. I was done trying. I was ready to accept my losses and enjoy what I was given.
However on the final appointment I went in and lo and behold, I was pregnant. With twins!
I look back on that time and wonder if something had clicked for me at the dinner table, that the act of releasing my desires was exactly what I needed. Once I was no longer after my goal, it was now coming for me.
Eleven years later, I sit at the dinner table and look at my husband, teenage son and my beautiful ten year old boy and girl and smile with that same feeling of warmth in my heart that I felt that night and know that this is good. Equally as good.
The funny thing about joy is that it can’t be chased or grabbed at. It’s like seeing a reflection in a lake and trying to pull it from the water. The minute you declare to the world “I want happiness!” It slips from your hands. It’s not something you can have – like that baby I dreamed of. I was chasing after it so hard that it evaded me. But now I know, happiness isn’t something you own, it’s something you are.
I had told myself over and over, “A baby will make me happy,” but what I didn’t realize is that nothing can make me happy…except me. If I was discontent in a family of three and someone dropped another child into the mix, nothing says that I would then be happy. In fact I can pretty much guarantee if I was unhappy before, another child would not fix that.
My joy that evening eleven years ago with my husband and son came from being in the moment, content with where we were, three happy beings sharing a meal together. Nothing more. In that uneventful night, I had inadvertently opened up the window to my heart and allowed the beauty of the present moment to wrap around my soul.
After the twins were born there have been joyful times, but also some very difficult ones. I am still continually amazed and grateful for their presence in my life, but I know it is not their role to give me joy. I have to do that myself.
The twins did not fix anything in my life, in fact they made it whole lot more complicated, however I am learning the importance of pausing, breathing, and making the space for joy to slip in, no matter where I am or what I possess.
The bottom line is if we stick to our old habits of dissatisfaction we will always find new things to yearn for. Sure, I might have my babies, but what about getting a new house, or a new job? Dissatisfaction is a choice. The cycle is endless unless you choose to stop it.
We’re the only ones who can open up that window in our hearts and let the joy in, but we have to find ways to cultivate it. This means finding ways to listen to our own hearts – through quiet, reflective activities like prayer, mediation, dance, walking, time with the people we love. The more we relax and free ourselves from our desires, the more the light shines in.
Life is filled with gifts – from the act of witnessing the dew on a petal to the arrival of a brand new baby. Whatever it is, it’s our choice to see the beauty.
May you always let the light of joy shine in.
How Meditation Changed my Life, One Circus Act at a Time
My dad was a psychiatrist—an old school one who believed equally in the power of medicine and talking things out. When I was a teen and started showing signs of anxiety and depression the natural course of action as prescribed by my parents was drugs and psychotherapy. These methods helped a great deal early on, but as an adult I found myself overly dependent on tools that no longer empowered me. So, four years ago, seeking something different I found a therapist who introduced me to meditation.
I began a practice as she directed, meditating for ten minutes a day, but it didn’t go as I hoped. I was fidgety and distracted, wanting anything but to sit in that chair. On day two I declared to my husband, “I suck at mediation.”
I returned to my therapist frustrated, and embarrassed.
“Hmm…” she said, thinking for a moment. “Why not try just meditating for a minute a day instead?”
Well this should be easy, I thought.
But about a week into my one minute practice, I still felt itchy and dissatisfied. There was no bliss, no joy, just total frusteration. It had become clear in my mind that I would never be a candidate for Buddhahood. So I quit.
However two years later, still plagued with discontent, I decided to try it again. I ordered a book from Amazon: Journey of Awakening: A Meditator’s Guidebook by Ram Dass.
The instructions for sitting meditation were simple: Set aside time each day to be alone in the quiet, keeping the length of time and location where you meditate consistent. Then sit yourself in a comfortable position, close your eyes and breathe. There wasn’t much more to it than that. Ram Dass suggested at first focusing solely on the air going in and out of your nostrils and nothing else. Every time your mind wandered, bring it back to your breath.
This time I started a practice in a different mindset. I went in to it knowing that a wandering mind was part of the game. I understood now that there was no such thing as a good or bad mediator. Knowing this completely changed my experience.
So, for the past two years, every morning, I have sat cross legged in my special chair, eyes closed, timer set for twenty minutes, simply breathing.
Usually the first few moments of mediation are quite lovely. I’m fresh and ready. I’ve got my mind focused on my breath. Life is good. But then inevitably, a thought wanders in. If I’m going through something rough, this will be the time that that murky, uncomfortable feelings rear their ugly heads and I notice negative thoughts come to the foreground.
But I’ve learned to not give these thoughts or emotions any energy. Like Ram Dass instructed, I simply bring my awareness back to my breath. My thoughts inevitably wander again, so I do the work, bringing them back again, gently, with love. This back and forth may happen ten, twenty times in a sitting, but I’m learning that it’s not the “sparkly” movements that are important, it’s the returning. I see meditation sort of like going to the gym. Every time you lift that weight, or do another sit up, you’re making yourself stronger.
On some days as I sit, I’ll admit, I feel really good, connected to everything, but lots of times it’s just me with my monkey mind in high maintenance mode. On those days I become convinced that there is in fact a three ring circus residing in my head. Not a real one of course—but some days I wonder.
The trick with my inner circus however is in the awareness. I remind myself that I am in the stands, not part of the show. On these days, the key is in knowing that the fate of the world is not dependent on whether the tight rope walker makes it to the other side or how many clowns that day will get sprayed with seltzer. It’s all just a show. So, as I breathe I remind myself (no matter how hard those clowns are working to bring me into their antics) that I’m just the observer.
The tigers of my mind may be jumping through flaming hoops and a multitude of mental clowns may be trying to fit into a tiny car, but I gently, through my breath remind myself that what happens down there does not need my immediate attention.
During meditation this morning, in the center ring of my mind was a doozy of a performance. Right there (dressed in a sparkly leotard) balancing on a high wire was a looming thought:
How am I ever going to survive summer break with the kids home?
In my primary reality where I see myself as a writer and a mother, thoughts like this hold a hell of a lot of weight. In this realm, not only do I have a book to write, but I also need to make sure the kids don’t drown each other in the pool or spend the next three months eating nothing but Hot Pockets.
Important stuff, right?
But the truth of the matter is, in the realm of meditation, as I breathe slowly, the identities and jobs I subscribe to are not even real. In the moment I am nothing but my breath, a quiet observer in the stands of an otherwise chaotic big top. How liberating it is to be able to let go of all my worries, even if sometimes it’s only for a moment.
I’ll be the first to admit, lots of days my meditation doesn’t end in sublime moments of rainbows and bliss. Some days I’ll check my meditation timer three or four times, fighting the urge to get my day moving. As with everything, some days are harder than others, but I am learning that the effort itself is what is key.
In spite of the “work” required for mediation, good things have come from my practice. I’m not sure outsiders would even notice, but it seems that I don’t linger on negative thoughts quite so long. I forgive quicker, love stronger. And more often now, when I’m on my morning walk and the light hits the leaves just right, I find myself pausing, quietly watching, wrapped in an effervescent sense of joy.
Don’t get me wrong, I can still be cranky, obsessive, jealous, and moody, but somehow these circus acts don’t last quite so long. Problems arise, but now I’m not as frequently a victim of my own circus mind.
The number one thing I’ve learned with meditation is compassion for the self. For those of us who tend to be self-critical, perfectionists, or fixated on deadlines and time, mediation provides an absolute freedom, as it trains you to forgive and let go. Like a mother gently guiding her child away from trouble, when we wander, we gently bring ourselves back to a place of safety, over and over. In the moment of the breath, there are no standards, no anger, no judgement, just a loving, subtle sense of calm.
I used to take all that noise in my head very, very seriously, but now, during meditation I often find myself smiling at thoughts and ideas that used to be seem like a really big deal. Believe it or not, the pageantry of my own mind is quite amusing. These days, when I see an image of Buddha smiling, I can’t help but wonder if he grins, not because he has reached the pinnacle of self-awareness but because he is also a witnessed of the “Greatest Show on Earth”–I don’t know, maybe these are one in the same.
Many of us put this notion of spirituality on a pedestal. Enlightenment is a serious thing, right? I used to think in order to find inner peace I needed to be solemn and only the right books, the right mediation cushion, and the proper string of mala beads, blessed by the Dalai Lama himself would bring me salvation. I believed that whatever this ‘bliss and oneness thing’ was, it was far from my reach. But it’s not.
Happiness is always just a breath away. It resides in all of us, in that precious moment of finding our center time and time again. I now mediate when I’m peeling carrots, sweeping the floors, listening to music, kissing my kids goodnight. All it takes is the awareness that you are not the circus of your mind…just a happy observer, finding joy in the moment of being you. All you have to do is breathe.
Seated safely behind glass, an audience of twenty-five onlookers watch as Carl and Anne Barden mindfully bring out six plastic boxes to a well-lit table. Each one is labeled respectively: cobra, coral snake, cottonmouth, rattlesnake.
Carl removes an angry five-foot long creature from a drawer labeled “monocled cobra” and lets it loose on the table. Instantly it rights itself, “standing” with its tell-tale hood flared, its eye on the crowd.
Carl moves about like a Kung Fu master, shifting gracefully, fearlessly around his “opponent”. Then with nothing but a modified golf club, he secures the snake to the table, just below the head. He then grabs it by the throat and brings the snake to the window for the crowd to see up close. Mouth open, fangs displayed, the snake is clearly pissed off.
That’s exactly what Carl wants.
When he knows the cobra is sufficiently worked up, Carl dips it’s fangs into a glass jar. Onlookers gasp as the yellow liquid is excreted into the vial. Carl swiftly returns the snake back into its warm little drawer, tucks it away, and pulls out another snake. According to Carl the snake has “paid its rent” and won’t be asked to perform for another fifteen days.
The Reptile Discovery Center, in Deland, Florida is home of Medtoxin Venom Laboratories, where Carl and Anne educate audiences on the nature of poisonous snakes and allow guests to watch as they collect venom samples for research and anti-venom purposes.
My family and I have seen this venom extraction here five times now and honestly, it never gets old. What impresses me more than the snakes themselves is the gentle, fearless dance that this “snake charmer” and his assistant do time and time again.
After the “show” Carl was asked about the number of times he’s been bitten.
“Eleven, but every time it was my fault, not theirs,” he said, making clear that snakes aren’t the bad guys. He explained further, “All the snakes want to do is curl up safe and cozy in their warm boxes and then I come around and bring them out into this bright room…” Carl clearly feels deep compassion for his venomous friends.
This last time we were there, as I was watching these snakes ooze venom from their mouths I was struck with a realization…
This relationship Carl has to his snakes is not unlike our own relationships–both with the people around us, and more importantly with our own “snakes” within.
Like the charmer’s snakes, each of us is simply trying to get by with the tools we have been given. When we are not mindful of our actions, we are animalistic in our behaviors, reactionary. Most of us do not go seeking trouble, however if we are prodded, our snake-like emotions emerge and we behave in ways that can hurt others, as well as ourselves.
But as our friend the snake charmer showed us snakes are not inherently evil. They simply are what they are: Snakes. He expects nothing less, nothing more. Treating a rattle snake like it was, well, let’s say a kitten would simply be foolish.
Our own snake-like tendencies can be brought to the surface merely by the complications of day to day life. When this happens our dark-side emerges and sometimes, when it gets bad enough, we strike. For humans “striking” can be lashing out at others, but it can also be lashing out at ourselves, acting jealous, greedy, needy, or hopeless. We each have our own personal snakes. There’s no reason to be ashamed, angry, or afraid of these parts of ourselves. We are what we are.
The trick however is to recognize is that we are also the snake charmer.
It is our job to keep our personal snakes in line. How is this done? Just like Carl does. Understand the implicit behaviors of our own inner snakes and those around us. When we can learn to do the dance of the snake charmer, our serpents are kept at bay.
A good snake charmer knows all about his snake’s venomous dark side, yet is not scared. He shows up and does his work every day. He loves his snakes, for they are his life and livelihood. The secret? The more he charms them, the more balanced and mindful he becomes…and the less he is bitten.
The greatest part of the snake charmer’s journey is that as he develops the skill of taming his inner snakes, he also acquires the greatest skill of all—the ability to transform the most toxic of venom into something that has the power to help and heal.
Now that said, the snake charmer will make mistakes. Of course he will! He is only human. Errors happen. All the time. In fact, the other day, I watched a cobra lunge uncomfortably close to Carl’s leg. But Carl did not falter, instead he reacted with kung fu deftness and gently corrected for his error.
The goal is thus to keep learning, dancing, and developing our skills and in doing so we are able to “extract” wisdom from our errors and eventually heal ourselves (and others!) along the way.
Listen closely to the calling of your own soul and the dance of the snake charmer will be yours for the keeping.
Peace and love,
I’ve been listening to the Beatles a lot lately. In fact, even though their music has been a back drop to my life since I was a kid, I still can’t get enough of them.
What astounds me about the Beatles is their timelessness. They were my parent’s music, yet my kids love them as much as I do. On one level their music offers these brilliant surface messages. On this layer they act as an accompaniment to our daily rituals, our love lives, our hopes and aspirations, but then when we listen more, we are touched by something even deeper that speaks to our core….to who we really are as humans.
Few musicians, actually few artists in history, have done this as well as these four “boys” from Liverpool.
Along with my Beatles listening, I’ve been reading a lot about Buddhism. The Buddhists have the Four Noble Truths which speak to the basic core of the human condition….as far as I can tell, Buddha had it right…but dare I say? So did the Beatles.
In honor of two very different, yet impressively similar wisdoms, I’ve put together a collection of core “Noble Truths” pulled from Beatles songs–words that echo in my heart every time I hear them…
The Five Noble Truths (according to the Beatles)
All you need is love
Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream
Nothing is real…and nothing to get hung about
Love is all and love is everyone
Let it be
Ahh…such simple words, but oh so powerful as well.
Tell me, what did I miss here? What Beatles lyrics ring true for you?
Goo goo g’joob to You,