Thursday, October 18, 2007


(Statue of Kuan Yin, Nelson-Atkins Gallery, Kansas City, Mo.)

I blame the Dalai Lama. Apparently, his calming influence quieted Congress yesterday, and last night he got to me, too, I think. After a couple of years of not meditating, I felt absolutely propelled out of the house, into my car, and onto the freeway to go downtown to the Tibetan Buddhist Temple where I used to go for Sunday services. I wasn't thinking of the D.L. when I did it, but who knows how far and how wide his good graces extend? :) When I got there, I discovered there were only three of us for the "group" meditation, but as that other famous spiritual leader once said, "When two or more are gathered in my name there is love." It has been so long since I sat in meditation that I didn't even try to cross my legs on one of the red mats on the floor. I wimped out in a chair, instead. The leader made the "singing bowl" ring, and I folded my hands in my lap, lowered my eyes and focused on my breathing.

In, out. In, out. Frantic thoughts. Back to In. Back to Out. In. Out. Breathe.

As I sat there in the temple, it came home to me that one of the tenets of Buddhism is devotion to the "sangha," which loosely translates to "spiritual community," and that the purpose of a sangha is "refuge." It was an interesting notion on a night when I needed refuge from my own fraught thoughts. All day, yesterday, I had become increasingly irritated by someone. I was also really worried about the fact that my work is not going well, at least in the short-term sense of things.

You're not "supposed" to want anything to result from meditation, but I am an unenlightened soul and I wanted peace of mind and heart last night. I was furious at the annoying person and at my own work, and I wanted my anger to do no harm. By the time I left the temple I felt calmer, and I knew that I must start meditating again. I do that best in groups. Kind of like blogging. :) Both have a salutary effect on my soul. There was even a nice moment in the temple when I felt appreciation for the annoying person and my work troubles, because when they got bad enough, they forced me to go for refuge where it could do me the most good. The annoying person is only that way every now and then, and a book is just a book, but the growth of character lasts a lifetime, or maybe even many lifetimes.

When I was in college, my refuge was to come home, let no one besides my parents know I was here, and then go hang out at the art museum, especially in the reconstructed Buddhist temple where I could sit on a bench and soak up the peace and beauty. I hadn't even connected then and now until just this minute.

Do you have a heavy-duty refuge when things get fraught?


AndiF said...

I've got it easy -- all I do is go outside, sit on the deck steps, stroke a dog's (well usually multiple dogs) silky ears, and watch the woods, all the while thinking how lucky I am to live where and how I do.

Family Man said...

Morning Nancy and Andi.

Naps! Naps are my refuge. It's amazing what thinking I do, just before I doze off.

Glad you found some refuge yesterday.

Beth said...

Morning andi, fam and Nancy. I feel peaceful just having read your post. I'm glad it helped you work through some of the "schtuff" that was bugging you.

Your refuge sounds wonderful, andi. And I have to get back to napping again, obviously!

Mine is the beach. Just listening to the steady pattern of the waves, and acknowledging how vast the ocean is, my petty problems melt away and I find peace.

Nancy P said...

G'Friday, andi, fam man, and beth!

Dogs, woods, naps, beaches. . .

Sounds wonderfully relaxing and mentally healthy to me.

I woke up just now having a Very Buddhist thought, namely, "Okay, so some things suck, but being unhappy about them is your choice."
The longer I live, the truer that gets, dammit. :)

Nancy P said...

Ha! I asked the I Ching for advice, and got this:

No plain not followed by a slope.
No going not followed by a return.
He who remains persevering in danger
Is without blame.
Do not complain about this truth;
Enjoy the good fortune you still possess.

(I think I must have been Chinese in a former life. :) )

AndiF said...

Okay, so some things suck, but being unhappy about them is your choice.

and sometimes you choose the simple pleasure of wallowing in the gloom ... not just cuz it feels so damn good but cuz you ain't gonna be happy if you ain't been sad.

Family Man said...

I've always gone by the old saying, "Don't sweat the small stuff." As I got older, I found a lot of stuff I thought was big, is really small. However, if the TV or computer go out, that's another thing. :)

katiebird said...

I think books are my refuge.

No matter how frantic the activity around me, or intense the situation or annoying the personalities of my roommates -- I've ALWAYS been able to escape into a book.

Well -- ALWAYS as long as I have the sort of book that's an attractive escape for me.

Mister likes to meditate. But his mother won't allow it.

FARfetched said...

I'm glad you found a way to get through/past/around the problems you were having with whoever it was, and with your story. Clearing your mind can do wonders for getting perspective on stuff. Like FM said, "don't sweat the small stuff." The second part of that is, "it's all small stuff."

There's Studio FAR for my refuge, at least a momentary one. Mrs. Fetched got on my nerves the other night, and I went out there. Picked up an old Asimov's and wondered why I couldn't remember reading "Fly-by-Night" when that particular issue came out. I guess some stories stick in your head while others just don't.

Rosemary Harris said...

Meditation for me is spending time in my garden - weeding, pruning, moving things, no machines, no Ipod. It really seems to slow down time, - and rejuvenate me for the inevitable next round of activity.

Nancy P said...

Hi, katiebird, farfetched, and a special howdy to Rosemary! (It was great to see you in Ct.)

Gardening works wonders for me, too, Rosemary, and I'm thinking that digging a new bed would work some of this out.

Far, I wish I'd also worked out the problems in my book, but that didn't come in the same package with the calmer mind. :)

I want to get those kinks worked out so katiebird can have another book!

AndiF said...

Friday bonus picture post: my refuge, a view from the deck.

Nancy P said...

Oh, man, is that ever beautiful. That's going on the front page the next time I feel frazzled. Could be as soon as tomorrow. :)

Thanks very much, Andif.

katiebird said...

What Nancy said. (sigh) (peace)

Jen said...

I used to use workouts for refuge -- nothing could quiet my mind like pushing my body to its physical limits -- but can't manage it anymore. It's been very difficult, finding something else that works. Nothing is as good as that was.

I've had some fascinating experiences with paired/group meditation, though. I would love to have a better understanding of the phenomena of consciousness going on there.

Gorgeous pic, Andi!

Rick Bylina said...

In my formative years, anger fused with my spirit. It lives as part of my soul. It simmers below the surface like like a geyser that erupts at irregular intervals--weeks, months, or years between hot steaming bursts. But when it erupts, inanimate objects suffer the consequences. I meditate every day to control it, but I have no special place to do so.

I finger my belly-button often. I seek moving water. I listen to nature and work the earth. I eat copious amounts of Extreme Moose Tracks. I listen to my heart beat and pretend I can control it as it lowers into the middle or lower 40-beats-per-minute range. I hear my breath. I don't chant. It comes out as hubba-hubba-hubba and my intentions are often misinterpreted. I walk. It makes me tired. I sleep. I love to sleep though my wife thinks it leads to depression. (The only depression is on my side of the matress.) When all the negative thoughts crowd around me like people a subway platform in Tokyo, I yell, "F... it." (My ex-military potty mouth still lurks.) For some reason, that calms me, because I realize that I can only control the things I do and not what anyone else does. I can only influence them, not control. They don't make me angry. Anger is an emotion with which I sometimes respond to outrageous things. So I breath deep and finger my belly-button again, and amile crosses my face. I'm easily amused.


Nancy P said...

And I'd love to know about some of your group/paired meditation experiences. I'll show you one of mine if you'll show me one of yours.

Years ago. Group of maybe 15 mostly strangers. Meditating using a technique that called for us to note what appeared in our inner visual fields. After the meditation, the eader had us go around the circle and "report." At first, it seemed like random visuals, but then the weirdest realization dawned on all of us. We were each reporting a different view of the same thing! I can't remember what it was. But it was exactly like that old thing about the elephant. So one of us reported a "tail," another one an expanse of something grey, another one a peanut. . .like that. It was pretty stunning when we realized that we had, bit by bit, described an elephant. (Or whatever it was.)

I hope I explained that so it made sense. Sixth sense?

Nancy P said...

It comes out as hubba-hubba-hubba and my intentions are often misinterpreted.

lol, Rick!

I need to find a place to be able to yell F***, too. Hard to do when you live with your 91-year-old mom. :) I can yell it around my friends, but sometimes a girl just want sto yell it all by herself when there's nobody else around.

Magic belly button, huh?

Much wisdom in what people are saying here this morning.

AndiF said...

Hey kb, you inspired me to post the picture after I read your comment at Olivia about meditating on my deck -- I thought I should offer some encouragement to have you come to just that. :)

Glad you liked the view, Nancy -- it certainly inspires a lot of very frazzle-free moments for me.

Jen, you're sure welcome to cruise on over and join The Pack in their group meditation exercises. ;) said...

I was furious at the annoying person and at my own work, and I wanted my anger to do no harm.

Key, Nancy. Anger, even justified, is dynamite dangerous. When you find the key that unlocks anger, you are a place to receive many rewards.

Andif: Your lovely weathered bench looks like a beautiful cat to me. said...

Oh boy, paired mediatation has proved scary powerful in my brief encounters with same.

Much more so than group meditation, which contributes it seems to a genereal effect. Paired mediation has had such immediate, striking effects that I quickly abandoned it. Kind of like the Ouija board.

My paired meditation, though, was more along the lines of earth craft, and in both cases was "cause" or "result" specific. A third party appears, it seemes, and takes over.

The power of contentment and peaceful rest found in meditation is, no less, a power. And I have found it a frigtful one when paired with another. Careful, all.

Jen said...

Okay, one meditation story before I do the erranding and then go back to bed. :)

In the late 80s, I had been watching as my best friend's health deteriorated. He was in one of the first waves of American gay men to contract HIV, and was thus sort-of a guinea pig for the medical establishment. The big thing at the time was AZT, the early versions of which messed Kevin up badly. He turned to alternative medicine for relief of his symptoms, and with that came lots of meditation.

Usually on a Friday night Kevy & I were late for some gay bar on one beach or another, but one Friday night he managed to convince me to come to this healing group thinger at this alternative wellness center in Ft. Lauderdale. Sounded like a bunch of crunchy granola hooey to me, but Kevin was into it and needed a ride and I loved him dearly.

The agenda that night included a large group guided meditation. There were maybe 25-30 of us, and the guide directed us to envision ourselves meeting in this field by a river and then guided us down the river in a relaxation/healing program. There were a lot of specifics, but notably, when we met in the field, it was described as this huge open meadow type space. Huge open spaces tend to make me a bit nervous, as do groups of people I don't know, so to comfort myself, I envisioned myself hidden and perched in the large protective branches of a fantastic old giant banyan tree that was actually a real tree that I used to hang out in/around/under when I was a little kid. (It was not this particular tree, but that's kinda what it looked like.)

After the guided meditation was over, I was significantly more at ease. The guided imagery tour had been fun! It was almost like watching a movie come to life in my mind or something. Anyway, we went outside to have a cigarette, and I overheard some of the other attendees talking about, "...and who the hell brought that massive banyan tree?! So out of place on that riverbank, but still, kinda cool."

I said nothing, but I thought that was VERY cool. :)

katiebird said...

{{Andi}} Thank you. I've been thinking of your deck and the photo all morning.

Nancy, Rick, beth, Jen, familyMan, Ghost.folk and FARfetched -- it's been wonderful sharing these thoughtful moments with you this morning.

Nancy P said...

Jen, that is SO cool! I'm delighted that I lured you into telling it. :) Plus, now I'll think of you up in a banyan tree.

Consciousness is one strange and interesting dude, ain't she?

Beth said...

I was born in the Pine Barrens of NJ, in a house my father built on the bend of a river, in the deep woods.

When I was 4, we moved to LA. And then Milan, Madrid, Tokyo, and London.

I can remember when I was 11-12, standing in my bedroom looking at the lights of Tokyo spread beneath me, and swearing that I'd live in a log cabin in the mountains some day.

I went to college in a small town in the Adirondacks of upstate NY. I worked as a ski bum in Aspen. Lived in a log house on a golf course in ID. Lived in a garage way back off the grid in the mountains in WA. Now am indulging beach fantasies.

But my dream is still that log cabin in the mountains. With a view like andi's. And a dog or two.

Thanks for sharing your piece of heaven, andi.

Kelly McCullough said...

Action is my first refuge. I know funny for an old secular Taoist like me, but it works. I don't meditate any more but I come very close to the same state when I'm out beyond the break point and bobbing like kelp with a boogie board or when I'm on solid rock in the mountains. Of course, with no surf and no mountains here in Cheeseland, I'm a bit out of luck on that front, but walking in the woods or diving deep into my writing both make a good substitute-action of a type that allows me to seperate from my problems.

Beth said...

PS - very cool story about the banyan tree, jen!

Kelly McCullough said...

Sigh-should have been "I know, funny" etc. Must remember not to post before I wake up, or at the very least to reread first.

AndiF said...

Beth, I'm delighted to share. In fact, I think everybody should just come on by for a visit (as long as no one expects me to clean up the place or entertain).

P.S. GF, that bench is very much like a cat in that it wouldn't be safe to sit on it.

Beth said...

Be careful, andi, I'll take you up on it - I've been known to drive hours out of my way to visit friends. And I never expect to be entertained, or cleaned up for. As long as I can sit on your deck and play with the Pack, I'll be happy. :-)

FARfetched said...

Uh-oh, Beth... you're about 11 hours from my planet, maybe a little less if you drive fast. We're not in the mountains, but they start climbing about two miles from FAR Manor.

My bro & a cousin have been bugging me wanting to know when I'm coming down that way, too. Maybe spring break; Daughter Dearest has a trip with her chorus group then. Maybe the holidays. One or the other, anyway.

Beth said...

I'll visit Planet Georgia whenever I have an invite, far. :-)

And your rels are in Clearwater, aren't they? Or somewhere around here - I remember thinking that they weren't that far away. I'd even buy you a beer or three if you come down!

Conda said...

Hi Nancy.

My front room is my refuge. It is always "clear" not cluttered like my work room and filled only with a few objects close to my spirit. I also meditate in my front room (in a chair, even as an exercise instructor, I'm still a 51-year-old).

Hm, is there a connection?

boran2 said...

That was an interesting post, Nancy.

I have nothing quite comparable, just a few places that take me away from the real world for a few moments. One is our old porch swing, now showing signs of advanced age. But it still swings nicely, providing a comfortable rhythm.