Duck Meditation

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Tara Brach’s podcast on Equanimity: A Heart That is Ready for Anything kept me company this afternoon while I sat at home going through an entire Kleenex box nursing a cold.

She read what she called a duck meditation, and I just looked up the source. It’s a poem that was published in The New Yorker on October 4, 1947. I wanted to share it with you, along with a personal note at the end.

 

 

The Little Duck

By Donald C. Babcock

Now we are ready to look at something pretty special.
It is a duck riding the ocean a hundred feet beyond the surf.
No, it isn’t a gull.
A gull always has a raucous touch about him.
This is some sort of duck, and he cuddles in the swells.
He isn’t cold, and he is thinking things over.
There is a big heaving in the Atlantic,
And he is part of it.
He looks a bit like a mandarin, or the Lord Buddha meditating under the Bo tree.
But he has hardly enough above the eyes to be a philosopher.
He has poise, however, which is what philosophers must have.
He can rest while the Atlantic heaves, because he rests in the Atlantic.
Probably he doesn’t know how large the ocean is.
And neither do you.
But he realizes it.
And what does he do, I ask you. He sits down in it.
He reposes in the immediate as if it were infinity—which it is.
That is religion, and the duck has it.
He has made himself a part of the boundless, by easing himself into it just where it
touches him.

***

It’s been a month of many waves, the biggest of which was Greg’s Mom dying two weeks ago. She had been ill for awhile so it wasn’t a surprise, but it’s hard nonetheless. Both of us getting sick right afterward–Greg last week, me this week–hasn’t helped matters, but all in all I think we’re both being compassionate with ourselves and with each other. I’ve had you all in my heart even though I haven’t been around online very much.

***

Image found on etsy.com

Waking Up from the Trance of Unworthiness

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I am loving this Sounds True audio/video series on self-acceptance. For those who learn better by reading, here is rough transcript of the session with Tara Brach, Ph.D. I watched on one computer, paused it as I went, and dictated into my phone. I am breaking it into two posts, as it got a little long. You can still listen to this interview online here.

Tara’s first book Radical Acceptance helped me so much on a personal level, and I frequently recommended it to my clients over the years. Her newest book is called True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart. I have already read it once, and I highly recommend it.

In this episode, Tami Simon speaks with Tara Brach, PhD, clinical psychologist and founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington. Tara has been practicing and teaching meditation since 1975 and has led Buddhist meditation retreats at centers throughout North America. Her audio programs with Sounds True include Radical Self-Acceptance: A Buddhist Guide to Freeing Yourself from Shame and Finding True Refuge: Meditations for Difficult Times

Tami: What was happening inside of you, and in your teaching, that got you in touch with this idea, this need for radical self-acceptance?

Tara: I realized that my deepest suffering was a sense of not being enough, and when it was very bad, even a sense of self-aversion. I saw it in my students and clients.

I believe that the sense of not being enough is the most pervasive suffering in our society.

I had a friend in college who was reading “Learning to Be Your Own Best Friend” and I thought,  “Oh my gosh, I am the furthest thing from that.” And it was even more than that—it was that I didn’t trust myself.

We don’t recognize what I call “the trance of unworthiness”–how much we are trapped in the sense of falling short. And usually it’s on every front in some way. It’s a background noise that’s always saying, “How am I doing now?” Usually we find there’s a gap in how we think we should be and our moment-to-moment awareness. In that gap, we feel like we are always not okay.

noname-1A palliative caregiver told me that the number one grief of the dying is that they didn’t live true to themselves. They lived according to the expectations of others, but not the truth of their own hearts. At the end, there was the sense that, “I didn’t live this life true to who I am.”

If I did a show of hands and asked how many people speak unkindly to themselves, every hand would go up. But I think what we don’t realize is the overall sense we have that, “Something is wrong with me,” and how it pervades our day. It contracts everything. It’s a deep feeling of being flawed and deficient. It’s a trance that imprisons our moments in a way that we’re not aware of.

Tami: What do you think wakes people up from this trance?

Tara: The suffering. For example, if you’re in a relationship and you realize “I can’t really be close to anyone.” If someone got to know me, they’d reject me.

The pain is a wake up to explore how we begin to stop the war against ourselves.

So it’s the suffering that starts as the wake up.

Tami: How do we learn to trust ourselves?

Let me give an example. A woman came up after a class and told me that she didn’t deserve to accept herself because she was not being a good parent to her five-year-old. She was yelling at her all the time and being critical. It’s true, her behavior wasn’t ideal. But I asked the woman, “Do you love your daughter?” She said, “Of course, I wouldn’t be so upset if I didn’t love her.” Then spend some time getting in touch with that feeling of loving your daughter, I told her. That you can trust. (Editorial note: I believe it was implied in the way Tara described the story that eventually radical self-acceptance gives way toward aligning your behavior with what is in your heart.)

We can’t trust our ego self. It is unreliable, out-of-control, striving, and afraid. A true sense of trust comes from connecting with the deeper part of our self, and that takes paying attention.

noname-4Often the pathway to acceptance comes from pausing when we feel unworthy. Training in learning to pause when you feel the suffering is critical. Victor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. So the first step is to pause.

Next, you have to deepen attention–to get underneath the thoughts and determine what is going on in the body and in the heart.

You have to bring awareness to just how painful it is. I call it the sense of “Ouch!”

It’s helpful to put your hand on your heart. All you need is the intention to be kind to that place of suffering. You can’t manufacture feeling kind, but you can say, “I want to be able to be gentle to this place that feels so bad.” Then there’s a shift. The shift is a move from the unworthy self to a compassionate presence that is witnessing the unworthy self.

In the past decade I have had bouts of sickness that have been very humbling. I can feel irritable and self-centered, and then I start not liking myself for being a “bad sick person”. I think I’m not being spiritual in how I’m being sick. The Buddha called it the second arrow. The first arrow is being feeling sick, and then the second arrow is feeling unworthy because I’m judging myself for not being a good sick person.

In part two, Tara talks about how she deals with her own feelings of unworthiness, the importance of conscious community, and how to use the tool called RAIN.

Small Blue Thing

Greg and I had planned to go to Kansas City tonight to see Suzanne Vega in concert. She has always been special to us, as we listened to her a lot in the early years of our relationship. We love the images in her lyrics and her simple singing style. When we bought the tickets a few months ago, it seemed so doable. But riding in a car really aggravates my pain, and Kansas City is a three-hour drive. As the time has approached, I realized that it would take a lot out of me–not just the drive, but then sitting for several hours for the concert, sleeping in a strange bed at a hotel, and then another three hours home the next day. To a lot of people, it wouldn’t seem like much. But when you have chronic pain, certain things take their toll and you have to weigh whether it will be worth it or not. A weekend like that would probably take me a month to get back to my normal level of manageable pain. I asked Greg to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how much he wanted to go. If he had said anywhere from an 7/8 to a 10, I would have gone. But he said a 6. I don’t know if he was being honest, or if he realized it would be hard for me. Anyway, we’re not going, and it’s okay. Really okay. That is the wonderful thing about being married to your best friend. Plans change and it’s okay. We’ll listen to her records instead. Greg is into buying vinyl records now…I think of all the ones we’ve sold at garage sales over the years, and now he’s buying them again 🙂

Here is a video of her performing our favorite song of hers, Small Blue Thing and the lyrics are below (they are not formatting right, and I’m getting frustrated trying to make it work–UGH).

Lyrics:
Today I am
A small blue thing
Like a marble
Or an eye
With my knees against my mouth
I am perfectly round
I am watching you
I am cold against your skin
You are perfectly reflected
I am lost inside your pocket
I am lost against
Your fingers
I am falling down the stairs
I am skipping on the sidewalk
I am thrown against the sky

I am raining down in pieces
I am scattering like light
Scattering like light
Scattering like light

Today I am
A small blue thing
Made of china
Made of glass

I am cool and smooth and curious
I never blink
I am turning in your hand
Turning in your hand
Small blue thing

Protecting the Tender Heart

Photo by Greg Markway

I don’t want to dare greatly*.

I don’t want to speak dangerously*.

I don’t want to tell my story*.

When I wrote my last post, Busy Be Gone, I thought I had turned a corner in my self-compassion project. I was loosening the connection between my self-worth and being productive. But I think I jinxed myself. I soon lapsed into a cynical malaise where I didn’t care about anything (well, I still enjoyed Ben and Jerry’s ice cream). I found pretty pictures and inspirational sayings on Facebook annoying. The usual blogs I read sounded sappy. I couldn’t pick up a pen to write. I worried, maybe I’m doomed to feel “tortured” as I described in my post on January 1st. Maybe that’s just my personality. Is there going to be a tortured personality disorder in the new DSM-V?

I thought to myself tonight, if I don’t write something soon, it will be over. This blog will follow the fate of many blogs before–it will wither away and die. And I really don’t want that to happen. So I picked up my pen and spiral notebook, my Kindle loaded up with my favorite books, a bottle of water, and sat out on the patio with my beloved Bichons, birds, and a few annoying bugs.

After skimming through some things, I found a section of Pema Chodron’s book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, that seemed to describe what I was experiencing. She says it is normal that when we start letting go of our defenses, and when our old ways of coping don’t work anymore, we can get even more neurotic. (Oh my, that does not sound good.) But she reassuringly says that this is okay. This is when we need need to develop “compassionate inquiry” into our moods, our emotions, our thoughts. We need to be curious about our “personal myths” and the way we are “divided against ourselves, always resisting our own energy.” She describes it as an ongoing process that takes years (Okay, so my year-long “project” may not be just a year…Somehow, I already knew this.) And I especially love this part, which jumped right off the page screen: “With precision and gentleness, we surrender our cherished ways of regarding ourselves and others, our cherished ways of holding it all together, our cherished ways of blocking our tender heart.”

Yes! I have been blocking–protecting–my tender heart. I have been afraid. I’m not sure of what, but I sense that fear is behind all this.

That’s all. It’s just fear. It’s not that I’m doomed to be tortured for the rest of my life. It’s not that I’m going to quit writing. It’s not that I’m never going to speak dangerously, dare greatly or tell my story. I’m just letting go of defenses and having a momentary, even predictable lapse, into old patterns of self-protection.

My heart feels so much better now.

***

*Daring Greatly is the title of Brene´ Brown’s forthcoming book, which of course, I’ll buy and love.

*Speaking Dangerously is a reference to Susan Cain’s best-selling book Quiet, and her “Year of Speaking Dangerously”. Susan is an inspiration to me.

*Telling Your Story (or Your Story Matters) is something I see frequently, but I mostly attribute it to Kelly Rae Roberts. If you follow this blog, you know I’m obsessed with her work.

Surrender

Growth demands a temporary surrender of security.

-Gail Sheehy

I was feeling a bit blah this morning. My second appointment for accupuncture didn’t go according to plan, but I don’t feel ready to write about it yet. I perked up when I clicked on my blog and found some comments that made me smile. Sara, from North of Chicago, was researching the word “surrender” and she found my blog. How cool is that! I just googled “surrender” and mostly found links to bakery shops and references to a song by Cheap Trick called Surrender. I did find the quote above, that I really like. Anyway, she read several of my entries and suggested I listen to the song, Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head. The lyrics are lovely.

Raindrops keep fallin’ on my head
And just like the guy whose feet are too big for his bed
Nothin’ seems to fit
Those raindrops are fallin’ on my head, they keep fallin’

So I just did me some talkin’ to the sun
And I said I didn’t like the way he got things done
Sleepin’ on the job
Those raindrops are fallin’ on my head, they keep fallin’

But there’s one thing I know
The blues they send to meet me won’t defeat me
It won’t be long till happiness steps up to greet me

Raindrops keep fallin’ on my head
But that doesn’t mean my eyes will soon be turnin’ red
Cryin’s not for me
‘Cause I’m never gonna stop the rain by complainin’
Because I’m free
Nothin’s worryin’ me

[trumpet]

It won’t be long till happiness steps up to greet me

Raindrops keep fallin’ on my head
But that doesn’t mean my eyes will soon be turnin’ red
Cryin’s not for me
‘Cause I’m never gonna stop the rain by complainin’
Because I’m free
Nothin’s worryin’ me

If you want to listen to B.J Thomas performing it live, click here.