Wk6, Day2: The First Refuge

by Denise Bike 0 Comments
Wk6, Day2: The First Refuge

I’ve always been an avid reader. As a child, I spent hours in the Fairfield public library. Beginning with the card catalog, remember those? The dusty scent of the years-old softened paper index cards held in place with a single hole punch in the bottom center of the card. Proudly applying my Dewey decimal training, I’d track down the aisle of books storing a topic of interest and follow my way from one book to the next, winding up with an untenable pile by my side when my mother finally found me sitting on the cold marble floor reading a find. “Pick three,” she’d say. An impossible task that I’d nonetheless accomplish each time.

I never thought I’d find joy in reading for pleasure again after a decade of training then working in academia. Or writing again, for that matter. A true personal loss, both thankfully only temporary. I never thought I’d want to study again after the past six months preparing for the licensure exam. I’m so grateful that after only a week off, those scholarly urges re-emerged.

So much has been happening in meditation practice the past five weeks. An important first step has been articulating the experiences first-hand. Now, I’m curious what the teachings have to say about it. Coincidentally, the teachings are the second refuge.

There is so much in the teachings; these initial explorations are necessarily cursory. For now, I seek labels and constructs. Over the years, their depths will unfold.

Last week, I looked into dukkha. This week, I’ve had repeated experiences with the first of three jewels or refuges: “I take refuge in the Buddha.” Many of the contemplations I’ve read on this refuge explain that it means to align with one’s own capacity to awaken. The awakening experiences people have described seem similar to the glimpses of timelessness and open space emerging in recent meditations.

Over the weeks, this meditation process is taking the form of an infinity loop: the practice teaches firsthand, sending me to the teachings for deeper understanding, sending me back to the practice, anon. Being a writer has a similar quality: writing what wants to be written, then reading and conversing to fill the well and gain some perspective, then writing and revising, then back to reading and conversing. Being a therapist has this quality as well: the more I work on myself, the more space I can provide clients, the more I find to clear from myself, the more space I can offer clients.

A gratifying life’s worth of work.

Wk6, Day1: Enchanted Rock

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When I was 24-years old, I met my first real boyfriend. We both worked for an after-school care program and that summer were selected by the director for the coveted positions as staff at the week-long end-of-summer sleep-away camp. He was earthy, grounded, straightforward, outdoorsy. Just what a (at the time) flighty, restless, scattered me needed. We spent weekends driving to natural areas about Austin in his beat-up Bronco, going rock-climbing in the day and camping at night. His golden retriever came with us everywhere.

One weekend, we drove an hour and a half outside of Austin, stopping in a nearby town just before our destination to grab essentials. To him this meant water and beans; to me, cigarettes and eclairs. We arrived at Enchanted Rock and as excited as he was, all I saw was dirt, rocks, and cacti—classic hill country scenery, which had never met the standards of my northeastern aesthetic of what outside ‘should’ look like. This video captures its true beauty, which I was too young to appreciate initially.

We unpacked our gear, hiked to a camping spot, and did some climbing on the smaller rock* in a cool valley which was a nice respite for the warm sun. The granite was so different from the limestone we’d climbed to date—what he’d taught me on. I was variously happy with it (you could stick to it like glue and ascend quickly) and disgruntled (granite tears up your fingers and knees).

We had a couple of hours before dinner, and I went for a walk on the rock. As I walked, I gradually gained appreciation for where I was. Atop one of two huge monoliths in the middle of Texas Hill Country. These formations arose eons ago and still draw people as sacred space and respite alike. I found a spot on the far side—away from campers and climbers—to spend some time alone.

As I sat, I gazed out on the parklands, which ended beyond where I could see. And it happened again, just like in the Grand Canyon the summer after 6th grade. Time stopped, everything got silent. I disappeared, but at the same time, I had never more fully occupied each cell in this body. I descended the slope and returned to camp as the sun went down.

More and more often, this type of experience is happening during each day’s meditation. This begins the 6th of 12 weeks meditating twice daily. What more could possibly await?


Wk5, Day7: Mindfulness of Utility Bills

by Denise Bike 0 Comments

After five full weeks of practicing meditation two hours daily, subtle changes are making their way into my life. For instance, an unusual series of events began Monday related to my utility services. The most recent being a sudden $1300 charge on my bill and an inaccurate letter from the company attempting to justify it. My responses have surprised me.

There is one set of responses very interested in tracking the information, putting together the puzzle pieces, and resolving this issue. With it comes an emotional tone of curiosity (“I wonder how something like this could have happened?”) and interest (“What will be a good way to address this?”).

There is another set of responses very angry at this error, fearful about the large amount suddenly appearing on the bill, and determined to make the utility company ‘pay’ for this affront. With this latter set of responses, the mind makes itself busy churning away the series of events, ratcheting up a sense of righteousness and other unpleasant emotional reactions.

I initially watched these two sets of responses happen over the course of the week. It was nice to have the alternative of curiosity and interest arise organically, rather than intentionally inviting them as has been the case in the past. I credit that to regular mindfulness practice. It was also nice to recognize how much more space there was to choose my actions, based on which set of responses I wanted to continue engaging. That comes from this meditation practice as well.

Today, I turned the meditation into a more formal off-the-cushion practice. Each time the mind began to churn about injustice, I let it know I was not going to feed that part of the story. I reassured myself that I’ve already been conscientious with my paper trail and am taking appropriate steps. Further rumination serves no purpose.

Mindfulness in this daily form has so much to offer. And I believe this is made possible from the extension of daily practice I’m undertaking this twelve weeks. I’m very grateful.

Wk5, Day6: Surprise Eggs

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I sit each day, in meditation for an hour when I wake up and another hour before I go to sleep. I have been meditating for around eight years now, though this 12-week project is the most dedication I’ve given to daily practice.

Over the years, I’ve become more familiar with the internal patterns that arise in response to daily life, in response to my responses to daily life. I’ve also developed a little bag of tricks, a friend calls it. The skillful means (upaya) that work for me. The various approaches that invite me back into the present.

I sit each day, open my mind, open my bag, and respond to what arises.

As known as this process is, and (as a dedicated soul-searcher for the past 47 years) as familiar as I’ve become with myself, each sit is a new experience.

Surprise eggs come time mind. I’m a little late to this trend, as is usually the case. Toddlers apparently are entranced by these online videos of a woman with brightly colored fingernails opening plastic eggs with little toys, stickers, etc. in them as she describes the process. A close friend with a young daughter, and several authors of articles I’ve read about surprise eggs, noted that children can watch the same ones over and over again equally enthralled. Each new unwrapping enthralls as much as the last. Just like meditation.

What awaits inside your surprise egg?

Wk5, Day5: Open Space

by Denise Bike 0 Comments
Wk5, Day5: Open Space

In the summer between 6th grade and 7th, my family drove across country the month of August. My father re-tooled his work van with collapsible bunk beds on either side, a blow up mattress for my parents on the van floor, and a foam-covered plank placed across the driver and passenger seats for my older brother. My mother refashioned the letters of the HoneywellTM logo to read, “Hello,” inviting beeps and waves as we journeyed from Connecticut south and west to California then back home along a north and east route.

Five people in a van—two parents, 12- and 7-year old boys, and a highly introverted 11-year old girl—is a lot, and by the time we reached Arizona, we were all ready for a break. The Grand Canyon offered one to me, quite unexpectedly, at an overlook. These days it’s been built out. In 1979, it was just rock. There was not even a fully protective fence, just a single linked chain, draped through poles around five feet apart, giving the hint at where to safely stand but without obstructing the view. These were less litigious times.

I sidled up to the chain and leaning on it hung my feet over the edge, my then 4’8” frame easily clearing the space below the links. As people behind me chattered away, I got lost in the canyon. Time stopped, everything became silent. I disappeared. And at the same time, I had never more fully occupied my cells in my life.

Unaware of how much time had passed, I was eventually roused by my parents and brothers shouting my name. “Denise, for the millionth time already, come on. We’re leaving.” Up until that time, I did not know that life could feel so full and complete. I wandered behind them back to the van, took my seat on an upside-down bucket in the back, and spent the rest of the day’s drive gazing blankly as the scenery disappeared behind us.

Sometimes, when I’m in a sitting meditation, everything falls away. Just like that day at the Grand Canyon more three decades ago, I’m just sitting there, and suddenly time tops. Everything becomes silent. I disappear in one way and simultaneously become more present than I can remember is possible. That happened this morning.