Everything We Do Counts

by Denise Bike 2 Comments
Everything We Do Counts

Every week, I get an email containing a quote from one of Pema Chodron’s books. It’s called “Heart Advice.” The last part of this week’s quote said,

“Never underestimate the power of compassionately recognizing what’s going on.”

In the full quote, Pema reminds us that being aware in small moments, in small ways, counts. I love hearing this. It’s so easy for the mind to rush to judgment about all the ways—large and small—that I’m not meeting my ideal image of self. As meditator. Why was my mind so distracted for most of this morning’s meditation? As friend. Did I make clear how proud I am of the big steps my friend’s taking in her life? As therapist. Is there more I can be doing for my clients? As human. How can I live in such a world and be so ineffectual at helping improve it during this crucial time in our history?

The mind thinks. The mind judges. That’s its job. My job is to discern what content I choose to use and how I choose to use it.

  • As meditator. Yes, my mind was distracted. And, I still meditated for an hour. I show up at the cushion every morning. This counts.
  • As friend. My worry about expressing my feelings with this friend shows how much I care for her. We’ve known each other a long time. Even if I did not fully communicate to her today, she knows I am her cheerleader. This counts.
  • As therapist. I can always be doing more to serve. And I do enough. I am thoughtful and caring. I express this directly and indirectly in the work I do. This counts.
  • As human. I am one person. I am doing my internal work (meditation, contemplative practice, etc.). I am bringing that work out into the world in the way I treat others, in the opinions I share, in the ways I welcome others’ opinions. This counts.

As someone dedicated to personal growth and development, I’m wont to translate the mind’s opinion into fact. Then I am further inclined to translate its critique into criticism. Pema’s quote for the week ended with an important reminder. The things I am already doing are enough. If I choose to do more and different things in the future, those opportunities will be there. When I do them, they, too, will be enough. Everything we do counts.

Wk10, Day2: What Are You Practicing?

Wk10, Day2: What Are You Practicing?

I subscribe to a weekly email from Pema Chodron Foundation called “Quote of the Week.” It contains a short excerpt from one of her books or articles. Today’s proposed that we get good at what we practice. Her example was traffic: do we use humor, loving-kindness, and other skillful means to greet our circumstances? If so, we’re getting good at those skills for more difficult times by practicing them in times when there is less at stake.

The flip side: are were practicing (getting good at) responding with anger, frustration, or intolerance?

I carried that wisdom to the bank with me when I went to open a business account today. After initially leaving my home without the EIN number, I first practiced frustration with myself. As I returned to the car, I paused before starting the car back up. I made the choice to recognize that I noticed something I was missing right outside my home, which was a boon in that I only had to walk up the sidewalk to go back and get it. I then acknowledged that there might be other things I may not have when I get to the bank, but I could use this as an instructional trip to find out what I needed. I was going to deposit a check anyway. I could enjoy this as a fact-finding mission (which may or may not culminate in an account) or I could practice attachment to goals that may or may not be met on this trip to the bank.

Practicing in this way really turned the trip around. I learned which forms I needed, good times to come back when I had them (when the bank was less busy), and other tips for making my next trip faster.

Practicing in this way, I like to think, also added to my ability to respond similarly in future situations. Just like Pema said.

Wk3, Day2: Reaching for Compassion

Isn’t it amazing how selective the attention can be, especially in rough waters. Seeking guidance after the other night, a difficult one, I found some quotes from Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart. You’ll notice in yesterday’s blog post, I focused in on the message that there is suffering and used it as a dictum for meditation: that I must release any quest for ground.

Releasing the desire for a respite from suffering was difficult last night, as I went to some deep places to heal them. I needed breaks. I sought them in a sense of solidity, however illusory. No surprise, chastising myself for needing and seeking a break increased the suffering.

Today, as I re-read Pema’s quotes, it could not be more obvious that she also teaches that the practice is a way to gradually build our muscles over time. That we can treat ourselves with compassion for the “1.6 seconds” we are able to spend awarely in a difficult place compared to the zero seconds we were able to spend there the day before.

When we practice meditation we are strengthening our ability to be steadfast with ourselves. ~ Pema Chodron in Meditation for Difficult Times

The irony that this blog is called “Letting the practice teach you” is also not lost on me. Once again, mid-meditation, the practice naturally showed me what I needed (such as breaks from the waves the other night). Once again the pattern of resistance emerged: I ignore, judge, or seek to change what the practice is guiding me towards.

At the same time, I chose the blog’s name for a reason. I believe a central part of the practice is learning to trust ourselves by way of trusting the practice, and that’s a gradual process in a world in which people are conditioned to follow ready-made paths built to fit so few. Designing a site around this intention is helping me meet it.

In what ways have you noticed an opportunity to be kinder to yourself, accepting what arises, as you practice?

Wk3, Day1: The Waves Arrive

Wk3, Day1: The Waves Arrive

When I was quite young, my dad and his brothers co-owned a dive bar in Bridgeport, CT. The Paramount. As the story goes, they’d pooled their money to buy it after returning from service during the war the U.S. waged with Korea. The Paramount had a softball team, and weekends after they played, my older brother and I would occasionally be taken to the bar. Spinning on my bar stool, I savored the scene along with my single bag of bright orange popcorn pulled from the wire snap. (Jay’s?) One kernel at a time.

They continued to pool their money to buy up old cottages along Fairfield Beach, which was a different place back then. College kids rented them spring and fall. All the cousins earned our money doing make-ready in May. Vacationers rented June and July, and in August, each family got two weeks in one of the cottages.

Having the last two weeks was, to me, luck of the draw. On the tail end of summer, the weather change reliably brought several very rough days of high tides with higher and wilder waves than we’d seen all season. Nancy, Angela, and I would brave them in various creative ways.

Sometimes we’d use the beach chairs—the fold-up kind with the plaid woven slats that always snapped by the second use. With one of the metal arms that always bent and would scratch your leg as you got up because you forgot to remember to watch out for it. We’d park ourselves in the chairs at the middle of the sand that the waves had just pulled back from, and let the next round of waves coming in roll over us, pull us down and back into the sea. Then we’d fight the few feet to push our heads up for an exhilarated breath.

Other times, we’d grab what was left of the Styrofoam surfboards bought two weeks prior at the Grand Union. If we made the mistake of wearing a two-piece, our stomachs paid the price. Still other times, we’d brave our way out to the end of the short jetty that formed one border of our cottage’s cove. There were multiple challenges with this approach—keeping your balance as waves crashed from both sides, making it to the end as they became higher and stronger, and (having accomplished those feats) jumping out far enough and with good enough timing that the next round of waves carried you away from, instead of into, the barnacle-covered rocks. The barnacles inevitably won.

We ignored our mothers’ calls to put life jackets on. We were invincible. Besides, they were never more than a few homes away, and they always put a stop to our fun before the waves got too high or the lightening started. That’s what kept the thrill intact—there was danger, but help was nearby.

Last night, the practice brought itself to me in waves as high and wild as those of end-of-August Fairfield Beach. I barely slept a few half hours off and on. Sometimes I needed to bring friends to mind, other times I grasped for a mantra, or put on a guided meditation—something to float on, to grab a breath amidst the waves I knew to anticipate. This deepened practice has been building a safe enough harbor for the waves to come.

After feeding Amelia and sitting for this morning’s hour I read through some Pema Chodron quotes. She talked over and over about how suffering is the way things are. Intellectually, I get that. But this spiritual letting go can feel threatening in the spaces I’m newly traversing. Having not yet seen them from the safety of shore.

What do you think? Is there room for respite, to reach for ground in the short-term as we’re making our way toward fully letting go?