October 13, 2017

Building a Committed Practice - A Reflection

I am in week 6 of my first semester of a master's degree program in Mindfulness Studies. As part of the Theory class, the professor assigned reflection and analysis of our practice, as it stands now. This is my reflection. 

I started setting time aside for a committed practice prior to the term starting. I knew it would be required, so I figured that I should just get a start on it as soon as possible. So, after our move, getting settled, and recovering from graduation, I got serious about meditation. I picked up my yoga practice again in earnest, since it had fell by the wayside in my sprint towards graduation. But, it wasn’t until we started class that it really sunk in that I was building something consistent and enduring, as opposed to a hit-and-miss hobby or comfort measure in times of crisis.

As I reflect on these past 6 weeks of meditative practice, I realize I have become comfortably addicted to what has become a morning ritual. Upon awakening, instead of lying in bed letting my mind wander toward panic, I embrace the dark quiet of my meditation area, light a candle, get settled, and breathe. Sometimes guided, sometimes not – it doesn’t really matter. What I am after is the stillness that comes over my body first, then my mind. The deeper the stillness, the more aware I become. Focused awareness, for me, is beautiful. I really am home in the present.

I have always been an aware person. Being highly sensitive and empathic, I have had to learn to tamp the receptors down – there is little benefit from sponging everyone’s emotions and motivations, especially while trying to figure out which are my own. Undisciplined awareness is like many radio stations all playing at the same time – absolute chaos. This is something I am still, and always will be, dealing with and working on. I have realized that meditation was the life ring I had been needing all this time. Yoga is wonderful, especially if it is practiced as a meditation, however sitting in stillness gives me a glimpse of the balance and equanimity that I struggle to maintain throughout the day.

No, it is not always easy. I have fallen asleep during body scans (sloth, perhaps). I have struggled with keeping awareness on my breath (or on my toe!) that may be attributed to restlessness. I have dealt with feelings of failure and other unsolicited emotions that have arisen. But, I am determined to “aware them lightly,” as Lama Surya Das encourages, and not attach to them or judge myself. The compassion I desperately want to give to others I am finally giving to myself. And not just when I am on the cushion, but in all areas of my life.

This is a process I am happy and willing to continue. I have no expectations of greatness, accomplishment, or accolades. I will just continue to sit and be grateful for the great pleasure and privilege it is to explore the inner secret garden of which I now have the key.

Over earth wind blows,
within the body breath flows;
cleansing timelessness.

May 31, 2017

Spirits, Deities, and Magic - A Conversation

“You have to hear what I learned in history class yesterday.”
Lisa, my best friend and roommate, is always eager to hear what I learn in class. And sometimes she can take what I have learned to her 6th grade classroom of screw-beanies. My four years of classes at PLU have given us much to discuss, to be sure.
Today, as we headed from the coast inland to the outlet mall for a little retail therapy, I was eager to narrate the lecture and discussion about animism, totemism, and shamanism, as it is a completely different perspective on religion than I had heard in my various former lives. Combined, Lisa and I have clocked multiple decades of religious experience, and this was definitely worth an animated conversation.
So, I started with stage 1, which is the best place to start. I explained that throughout history many peoples have believed that everything has a spirit – from teddy bears to volcanoes. We laughed as I recounted the classroom discussion – we are endlessly fascinated and informed of the culture by the perspective revealed by my younger classmates. It has been many years since I was twenty-something, and that is all I am going to say about that. Anyway, I continued, we all easily believe that all the things in the universe have a spirit, and noted how it is an easy way to explain natural phenomenon, as well as unexplainable events, such as earthquakes and such. Animism, such as that displayed by just about every living human, is the personification of objects, imposing human likes, dislikes, and emotions onto the breathing and non-breathing alike (such as cars, phones, stuffed toys, animals – even rocks can ‘cry out’). Further, all items in our environment, even the entire universe, possess a sentient spirit.
After commenting about how animism has often been discussed as so much unacceptable paganism in our past lives, I moved on to stage 2. Totemism, I enjoyed explaining, was picking one spirit or divine personage out of the entire universe to focus on, since no one could do justice to honoring the entirety of surrounding spirits. And then, I dropped the bombshell – Abraham of Old Testament fame, (as well as Akhenaten, the heathen Egyptian New Kingdom pharaoh), was simply picking one of a plethora of supernatural divinities to revere, in hopes of good fortune and prosperity. My sweet friend responded with the appropriate gasp of revelation. Could that be? Could it simply be totemism that prompted Abram to choose YHWH rather than Ba’al? And further, what if he would have chosen Ba’al? We both laughed at the thought of all the interpretation and homilies we have heard and studied over the years and marveled at the indignant outrage of disbelief those leaders would exhibit if they were presented with that information!
So, if animism is the concept that everything has a spirit, and totemism is choosing one out of many to honor (such as a spirit animal for the individual or group), then the final stage (3) is shamanism, I continued. The word alone causes immense repulsion by any good monotheist. As I explained that a shaman isn’t just one who performs magic (as we had been led to belief), but a mediator between individuals and their chosen divine, I was very aware that we were enjoying this way too much. To think of a priest, pastor, rabbi, or leader of any religion for that matter, as a shaman tickled us in a way that I almost felt guilty! The religious folk of my past would be turning inside-out at the thought, I am sure. I shared the class discussion prompted by my fellow classmate who self-identified as Sunni Muslim; he was a very good example of how the blood would quickly run out of the collective face of my former congregation at the thought of them sitting under a shaman. But, technically they are – they all are. There is no difference, in my view, between the voodoo Mambos (female priest) and the LDS Bishop – they are both assumed to possess a position closer to the supernatural and are sought for counsel, prayer, healing, and other assorted rituals specific to their belief system. So, would that be considered magic? Depends upon who you ask, I suppose.
Lisa and I freely pondered these things together while driving through the lush, leafy trees dotted with the golden sunshine that lined the 2-lane country road that cuts through several small towns on the way to our favorite shopping-mecca. Somehow, being out of organized religion has given us the freedom to contemplate history in ways often warned about, even forbidden, by most religious leadership and dogma.  Their loss.

January 10, 2017

First Stickies of the New Year...Brrr!

Yes, that poor baby is standing on what is usually liquid. It has been so cold this winter! The canal at our beloved beach house froze so much that we could throw medium sized rocks on the top and they would bounce! 

Along with these cold temps, I started my last J-Term at PLU, and my last official  religion course. Gosh, I have taken so many religion courses, but there are so many more I would love to take! But, alas, it is time to wind up this chapter of my life by intently studying medieval Christianity (a favorite of mine, really). 


Speaking of Star Wars, (and who isn't!), check out those sticky note pads! Cool, eh?

We went to see Rogue One: A Star Wars Story for the second time - love it! What a great back story to take you right into A New Hope (Ep. IV). I really resonated with the Jyn Erso character, and the blind martial artist/monk, Chirrut Imwe. I won't say anymore, and won't give spoilers, but I think if you like Star Wars at all, you would enjoy this one.

a sweet little Jyn to live in my speeder...
So much techy-love:

The app Bloglovin' - what, you haven't heard of it?? You really need to jump on that iPhone and grab this one. Then load it up with your favorite blogs. Pure technological love!

Another app I really love is Quartz - but, I have mentioned this one before. Check it out for a more 'controlled' news source. And, it will make you smile, too.

And, one more: Gaia online; this is not a freebie, but at $10/month, it is a good way to stay fresh with your yoga practice, and guided meditations, if you are into that. I just gave Cameron Gilley and some Yin Yoga a test-drive - pure love! You may love it, too.


So, since it is so cold, and we are fighting the sniffles around here, how about some yummy soup? I found this tasty recipe (that is not labor intensive) called Detox Immune-Boosting Chicken Soup. It will be great cozied up with a blanket and a video...how about Ben Hur? That is our choice for tonite. Or perhaps something a little more medieval...like Cadfael? OK, tell me you love Derek Jacobi! I know, right? Loved him in I, Claudius, too. Highly recommend both.

Both Brother Cadfael and Claudius had it pretty easy when it came to clothing choices, to be sure. However, unless you wear a toga regularly or don a monk's tunic, that is not our lot. I am currently reading The Curated Closet, by Anuschka Rees - this woman is a genius. I firmly believe that every woman, and even some men, would benefit from this book filled with fashion wisdom. She won't be telling you what to buy, or what your 'capsule wardrobe' should consist of, but it is more of a workbook-type affair that leads you to your own personalized style and direction for dressing that is fun and stress-free. It builds wonderfully upon Marie Kondo's Magic of Tidying book, too. Another high recommend!

OOOOOooooh, looky!

Isn't it great?? 
My honey has been working so hard on this display quilt for my graduation.
It is even better in person...


And, one more sticky for my dear friend Kevin, who just was gifted a Vitamix:

Salsa Mexicano, the Liz-version

1/4 to 1/2 medium yellow onion (dependent on your taste)
2 cans stewed tomatoes (Mexican style, if available)
jalapeno peppers (optional, amount to your taste)
1 small can diced green chilies with juice
2 T white vinegar
2 T tomato paste
1 T dried cilantro
1 T chili powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
black pepper, to taste

Place onions in food processor (I use a Vitamix) and pulse until just shy of puree. Add remaining ingredients and pulse until well mixed but still chunky. You may need to scrapes sides to integrate ingredients halfway through mixing. Do not over mix.

Bust out the chips.

And now, off to study.
Until next time...

December 30, 2016

Clearing the Deck

I love this blog. It seems to be a refuge in a way other venues just cannot. It is no wonder that throughout history people have withdrawn to writing as a way to both record moments and history, and to think deeply about their human experience. And, what's not to love about that?

As the fog moves up the canal this late December morning, I am again awed at the place I find myself. Call it fortunate, or blessed, or just plumb-ass lucky...I am so very grateful for my circumstances. I think the seagulls that bob along with the winter migrating ducks agree.

So, a bit of clearing the clutter is in order, I suppose. I took the luxury, during this school break, to clean out my closet. Gosh, I have another bag to give to donation; at the risk of sounding redundant, have you checked out the Fast-Diet yet? It is neither a fast nor a diet, but I have been quite successful in dropping pounds and improving my health - which is the major benefit. Anyway, it was nice to clear out the old in anticipation of our final move down here in June. I can tell you one thing: I will be re-reading Marie Kondo's tidying book prior to that endeavor. No need to bring extra baggage with us!

Other cool things worth sharing:

Have you ever tried TokyoMilk perfumes or products? Lisa and I discovered it in the coolest little shop in Centralia called Shady Lady - what a find...both the perfume and the shop! I actually walked out of the shop and then had to turn around and go look at things again! That perfume came home with me...

Another product that is enjoying a lot of popularity is handmade soaps. I even saw some made by-men-for-men using beer, of all things! However, if you are looking for some really high-quality handmade soap made from goat milk, check out a local Ocean Shores producer named Laura Brannon. She and her husband run Gaia Blends Natural and Organic Soaps, Salves, and Candles. The salve is definitely worth trying, especially if you suffer from any dry skin ailments. She will be back in Ocean Shores in March, in case you are near-by. If not, check out her link above.

Under the heading of techy stuff, since I am no longer on facebook, I needed some way to keep up with at least the bare minimum of news. I tried the iphone app Newsify, but it seemed a bit cumbersome and not very adaptable to my needs. Then I tried Quartz, and I absolutely love it! With the appearance and tone of a texting friend, I get just the facts, or I can get a bit more. If I need even more information on the subject, I can follow the link to the actual article they are citing. Very cool! If you are like me, and not wanting to be inundated with our next president and his every move, check out Quartz (I actually have it as an app on my iphone, but if you follow the link, it takes you to the ability to subscribe for email updates. Very handy.)

And, speaking of scary news nobody is considering, how about THIS?

On that happy note, I just want to say that I am back on instagram under the moniker OceanShoresJedi, if anyone feels so inclined to follow. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em...right?

The appropriate music at the right time:

I cannot clear the clutter without mentioning the sad fact of the passing of Carrie Fisher (and her mother, Debbie Reynolds the very next day). The world of Star Wars fandom is in mourning. She will be greatly missed.

in Force Awakens

I love these two shots...

Well, I cannot end on that unhappy note...so how about some words of wisdom?

"You can say anything you like, as long as you say it the right way."

And, this one:

"Are you building up or tearing down?"

Definitely things to think about when considering relationships of all flavors. Our words have meaning, and what you say has the potential of reverberating in another's head long after the conversation has ended. It is wise to be mindful with our words; they may outlive us!

Well, that's all for now. The sun has come out again, there are a couple of geese swimming casually by my window, and the hummingbird just checked in to see what we were talking about before taking a sweet sip from the feeder.

December 22, 2016

A little bit of reminiscing - 2016

So, here we are at the end of another year - I can hardly believe it!

I left my beloved religious community and said goodbye to my mother in 2010, and then left my relationship of 20 years in 2012. I entered university in 2013 and now am getting ready to graduate with honors this coming spring. And, best of all - I am privileged to live life with two of the sweetest, most loving souls alive. Who could ask for more?

I am grateful to come to this time healthy and the most happy I have ever been.
I am grateful for my children, and their continued health and happiness.
I am grateful for a beautiful and peaceful home on the coast.
I am grateful for things to learn and for those who are willing to share their knowledge.
I am grateful for an innate curiosity and motivation to learn.
I am grateful for the wisdom that is available.
I am grateful for good food to eat, and the joy that comes from preparation and sharing.
I am grateful for life's necessities - power, heat, running water, soft beds, and laughter.
I am grateful for the nature all around us.
I am oh-so grateful for life.

December 19, 2016

A Little Slice of Heaven

Dante's view of heaven - God as a point of light surrounded by angels

Define heaven.

Heaven, the heavens or seven heavens, is a common religious, cosmological, or transcendent place where beings such as gods, angels, jinn, saints, or venerated ancestors are said to originate, be enthroned, or to live. (wiki)

I would define it a bit different...

Heaven is a physical state of relaxation, freedom, and acceptance.

Heaven is a state of feeling comfortable, safe, and at peace.

Heaven is a state of mind - at rest and free from worry or fear.

Not so much a place where anyone, supernatural or otherwise, actually lives, but an experience. Perhaps heaven and home could be defined similarly. I guess it would depend on if you felt all those things at the place you call home. I am very fortunate and privileged to say that our home at the beach is very much those things. A sanctuary in a world that can seem like it is spinning out of control. It has been said that we create both heaven and hell in our own hearts, minds, and lives. I believe this to be true.

Time off from school is a slice of heaven, as well. However, I can never just stand completely still (although I do try!). Did you know that there are free classes from Harvard Divinity School that can be accessed online? We are embarking on a wonderful series that features each major world religion through their scriptural texts...here is the LINK, if you are interested. Another goal is to read through the texts required for my next class; currently learning about St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Benedict is on deck immediately following. Medieval Christianity is fascinating, without doubt.

Speaking of Christianity, I was doing a bit of pondering on the bit of wisdom that is (currently) featured in the sidebar:

To study the Buddha's way is to study the self;
To study the self is to transcend the self.
To transcend the self is to be enlightened by all things.
To be enlightened by all things is to remove the barrier between self and others.


First of all, Dogen, born in 1200 CE, was a was a Japanese Buddhist priest, writer, poet, philosopher, and founder of the Soto school of Zen in Japan; in fact, he promoted the sitting practice of meditation called zazen. But, really, all that is fascinating but beside the point. My pondering focused more on his words than who he was. Basically what he was saying was to study the self, to gain self-knowledge, is to transcend the self, resulting in being "enlightened by all things." Enlightenment dissolved the barriers between the dualism of 'us and them' or 'you and me.' This all reminded me very much of what St. Catherine of Siena taught; that one needed to develop a "cell of self-knowledge" in order to know and commune with God (by solitary contemplative prayer, not so unlike sitting meditation). When knowledge of self was known in relation to God, then one would understand how to fully and selflessly give love to others; in essence dissolving the barriers between you and your neighbor. Both teachers, separated by about a couple centuries, thousands of miles, and religious doctrine, were saying the same thing: one must somehow rise above self-centeredness (call it either self-knowledge or enlightenment) in order to understand the reality of ourselves, our circumstances, and the ultimate goal of giving unconditional love to others. It is in this endeavor that we truly live. 

And with that, we are back to the concept of heaven. Giving selflessly, with no motive other than to give happiness or rest to someone else, is creating heaven in ourselves, and possibly for others. Some might question whether this is even possible - can someone act without self-serving motivation? I suggest giving without any expectation of return is possible.

The sun rises without getting anything in return.
The flower smells sweet without receiving anything but a short life.
The wind carries rain to water the land,
and the birds spread seeds and give pleasure to the eyes with no pay.
I think humans can be selfless, as well;
giving without expectations of return.

I guess this is my radical idea of heaven.

December 13, 2016

Thoughts Run Amok

"Thought and intellect are good servants - great tools, but poor masters...Our restless imaginings, obsessions, and incessant anxieties, uncertainties, and worries run amok, leaving us not a moment's peace." ~Lama Surya Das

I laid in the bed this morning two whole hours later than I have been for the last 14 weeks of my life. For me, taking an intensive Latin course, or any language for that matter, required me to rise early to take advantage of the quiet - a quiet world and a sleepily-quiet and somewhat refreshed mind. It took all that I had to survive my second intensive ancient language course. I indulged my mind mulling it all over, again.

It was so awful...14 weeks is just too damn short to memorize such volume. It is just plain ole difficult for an older mind to retain so many disparate charts and conjugations (although, the younger minds struggled, as well!). It is beyond uncomfortable to be called out every day to perform publicly to the excessively high expectations of retention. It left this student feeling discouraged and rather resentful. The final was excruciating, to put it simply. I watched as one of the students worked the exam for about 45 minutes of the 2 hour time allotment, then gave up. When I handed my paper in, I stated flatly, "that's enough." It was enough. I had given, studied, and agonized enough and felt completely defeated. Yes, I let my mind rehearse and play with all these thoughts, again.

I am so very grateful that it is over. But, it is true that these thoughts really are poor masters - do I let these thoughts control my outlook, my attitude, or how I perceive life around me? Are my worries, random opinions, and rehearsals of the past so vastly important that they can be like a master dictating my actions and reactions? I sure hope not. But, the real question is how can I get a handle on my hard-to-control mind.

The answer lies not in the conditioned thought patterns and solutions of a dualistic society - it is not that I need to control my mind to be either disciplined or not - that would require value judgments that are just not appropriate nor helpful. If that was the answer, I would have experienced much peace and happiness long before now! Perhaps the answer is turning to face the situation straight on; observing the thoughts as they come and not attaching them to myself or owning them. Watching them arise, bloom, and age - then allowing them dissolve into the vapor from which they came. Just like pain, emotional hurt, or anger that arises, they all fade if we don't give them value and life.

And with that, I am back to the (much-ridiculed, but highly insightful) Jedi philosophy of holding that which occupies your mind in your hand, looking deeply at its nature for understanding, then letting it go. Attachment happens with the act of defining ourselves by our thoughts - I am my pain, I am my emotional hurt, I am my performance, I am what others think of me. These are the labels and assumptions the esteemed Lama refers to as "restless imaginings, obsessions, and incessant anxieties, uncertainties, and worries" that really do cause our happiness and peace to evaporate. I can easily say that the last 14 weeks of this intensive Latin course has caused my happiness and peace to evaporate as I had taken on the prof's perceived disappointment in the class' performance. And with that I say "enough."