the simple minded suburbanite

#5 Meditation. 5 Transcendent Principles
February 21, 2012, 2:20 pm
Filed under: authenticity, voluntary simplicity | Tags: ,

“Meditation is probably the only activity that doesn’t add anything to the picture.  You might say this is setting ourselves a task that is almost impossible.  Maybe this is true.  But on the other hand, the more we sit with this impossiblity, the more we find it’s always possible after all.”  Pema Chodrom When Things Fall Apart 5 trancendent principles

We are here.  That’s all I have to say.

Except, do you meditate?  Any thoughts on the act?


My Nose Itches
November 29, 2010, 1:47 pm
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I’m thinking having more free time on my hands, as a result of cutting out the non-important things in my life, is a little like meditating. I’m fighting the urge to fall asleep. I’m trying hard to focus. I’m trying not to notice that my nose itches and that I have to pee and the buzzer just went off on the dryer. Trying not to open my eyes and look at the clock. Finding it challenging, yet exciting, to settle in to some peace.

Nothing upstairs
March 3, 2010, 2:37 am
Filed under: authenticity, voluntary simplicity | Tags: , ,

Just thinking again about my recent trip to meet my oldest, dearest friend for our annual reunion.  We met in Mexico.  It was a four-hour flight for me and I left Friday morning and returned on Monday.  I was so thrilled about seeing my friend and even jazzed about the plane trip.  Hours!  Imagine, hours of uninterupted me time!  Just think about all I can read!  Reading is one of my passions so, as I do every year on this trip, I packed books.  Three of them.  And purchased two magazines, the kind with real articles in them.

I have a phobia when I travel.  It’s not about losing my passport.  It’s not about not packing the right shoes.  It’s purely about running out of reading material.  It’s a phobia because it is completely irrational.  How many places do you go that you don’t pass a bookstore, newsstand or at least a convenience store that carries magazines, newspapers, or the latest trashy paperback?

But reading material I did pack, to the point that it hurt my shoulder to carry my purse on the plane.

I was astounded.  This trip I was amazed at one literary revelation.  It wasn’t the unpredictable story arch.  It wasn’t the surprise hero.  It wasn’t the turn of phrase or twist of fate.  It was that I read next to nothing.

Zip.  Next to nada.

I stared out the plane’s window at the cumulus clouds.  I got lost in the cool, crashing waters of the ocean.  I gawked from behind voyeuristic sunglasses at the winter/spring couple across the pool.  I closed my lids and dreamed lightly. 

My mind was quiet. 

And I guess that’s where it needed to be with nothing going on upstairs for a little while.

How often does that happen?  How often do we think that a good thing?

It just so happens, I highly recommend turning the lights off once in awhile.

If I Could Teach the World to…Shower?
January 25, 2010, 1:25 am
Filed under: suburb, voluntary simplicity | Tags: ,

“If everyone in the world would take a shower every day, I bet there would be no more war,” my mother in law says.  She has a theory that in countries that don’t take hot showers as part of their personal hygiene regime, opting for, say, rubbing themselves in spices or washing in a cold river, there is a high correlation to warfare and atrocities against humanity.  I mean, I’ve seen a documentary that claims that a country’s treatment of its animals directly correlates to violence against people.  But a hot shower?

Tonight I was reminded of my mother-in-law’s foreign policy statement as I stood in a steaming shower, temperature just below scalding, breathing in the steam and the smell of olive oil soap (not much smell, if you’ve ever smelled olive oil soap).  I focused on my breathing and clearing my mind, gently dismissing thoughts of all I have to do this week, and mentally giving thanks for my health and my curvy body as I massaged shampoo into my own scalp.

I didn’t always have such a leisurely approach to showering.  When I worked, I would lay in bed, hitting the snooze, thinking, I can sleep 2 more minutes if I don’t shave my legs today.  I can sleep five more minutes if I leave my head slightly damp.  Another 30seconds if I don’t condition.  And then I would leap from my bed, rush through my shower, though my body begged my to linger a little longer, and hurry through the rest of my morning routine, and run to the subway.  And my mind raced exponentially faster than my body on those harried mornings.

I now apply the stay-at-home-mommy approach to showering which basically consists of…not showering often.  PTA is a favorite philosophy of the approach (that’s pitties, titties, and ass for those who aren’t familiar with the approach, with a warm soapy wash cloth and then a warm, clean cloth.  It’s proven, scientifically.)  And my new favorite, the bang scrub.  Pull hair back in pony tail.  Wash and dry bangs only and…BANG!  You look showered!  And yes, once every other 48-62 hours, I do actually shower. 

Sometimes, I shower at 7am after I get the kids on the bus.  Sometimes at 2 in the afternoon before the bus.  At night is a favorite time, because I get straight into my pajamas…those 1950’s man-looking kind and fuzzy pink slippers I swore I would never wear. 

But it has occurd to me, as I quest to find more quiet, more peace in my life that I have missed an opportunity.  It occurs to me that once I actually get into the shower, I do enjoy my shower.  I do feel better.  Refreshed.  Relaxed.

It has also occurred to me that, though I don’t have to catch the subway anymore, my mind does still race while I am in the shower.  I grind my teeth.  I get so absorbed in my thoughts that I sometimes forget, Did I condition yet?

So, in staying with my New Year’s goal of emptying my cup, I am working on being more present.  More mindful.  Thinking less.  To be grateful in the everyday moments.  I am meditating more.  I am getting back to yoga starting tomorrow (really!  I am!) and I’m feeding myself spiritually in many different ways.  But sometimes, that can seem like more things to add to my “To Do” list.

So, tonight when I took my shower after an emotionally taxing weekend of supporting with my pre-teenish boy who is experiencing trouble with a boy at school and juggling house, games, errands, life, I got in the shower and breathed.  It was quiet in there all but for the sound of water against the porcelain tub.  Once the door was shut and the curtain drawn, I was in my own little world.  (ooo!  I just got a flashback of my first-born who, from about 9mos-18 mos, used to bang on the glass shower door and scream until I finished my shower.  He couldn’t stand being away from me.  Perhaps why I stopped taking daily showers to begin with.)  I love the heat and the steam on my body and there is nothing to look at but white tiles, so I close my eyes.  I treated my body with reverence, taking time to enjoy the sensations of the water and the soap.

I began to worry about a dear friend who let us know that she was divorcing her husband.  He should’ve don’t it long ago, what a dick!  Breathe.  I started thinking of all I should do tonight to get a jump-start on the week.  Breath, massage my head.  What time should my husband and I go out for dinner next week.  We haven’t had a date night in months.  Should we see a movie too?  Breathe.  My skin is soft and I still have pretty legs.

And before I knew, I had meditated.  I felt great.  I rejoined the boys who were watching the NFL playoffs and I could concentrate on a book while being surrounded by their chatter.

Perhaps this is what my mother-in-law was talking about.  Who knows what kind of war was avoided in my house tonight just by me enjoying the quiet, everyday experience of a long, hot shower.

Grandmothers’ hands
October 22, 2009, 3:03 am
Filed under: voluntary simplicity | Tags: , ,

I’m a writer.  And a reader.  I like to paint.  I like viewing art.  All of these things take time and I do try very hard to make time to do all of these things.  Yet, the fact is, these things take focused concentration.  It’s difficult to field a phone call, converse with your husband, or quiet honestly pay attention to the newest MadMen episode when reading a novel or banging out an article.  I often feel that I bounce between extreme brain activity (work, literature, writing) to exteme lack of brain activity (the usual: dishes, laundry, picking up dog poop in the foyer) constantly every day.  In my quest for simplicity and gratitude and presence, I have even taken to morning meditation, which is very satisfying… sometimes.

Last winter though, I had a craving, one that could not be satisfied with cerebral activity or spiritual centeredness.  And that craving for something, to do, to try, to create has, though dull at times, has not gone away nor has it been satisfied.  It’s like going to the fridge and then to the pantry in search of something to eat and never finding the food that hits your “ahhh…yes…” spot. ( This usually is the result, in my case, of a near empty hot fudge jar.  Nothing can replace a spoonful of hot fudge!) 

Then it hit me.  On a recent visit with my sister-in-law’s, she showed me a primitive penny rug she was blanket stitching.  Chills went up my back.  “Try it,” she said.  “It’s easy.”  I took the needle and, like a former junkie, my craving returned.  Like lust.  I sank the needle into the red felt; I pulled the black string taut.  And then a sweetness filled my thoughts, a release, a satisfaction.  I used to do things like this, I thought, and visual images of my grandma and my great-grandma and my aunts and my mother and their hands, constantly moving.  And how, as a little girl, even a young woman, I learned to do the same.

Never quiet were their hands.  Not as they relaxed in an evening chair humming to the radio. Not as they chatted with me about my school day at the crumbless kitchen table.  Not as they watched the news, or Lawrence Welk, their head nodding in fatigue.  Their hands pushed needles through canvas, pierced pins through hems, danced crochet hooks amongst delicate thread.  And their eyes, always with a sense of peace.

They never thought about meditating.  This was their meditation.  They never pushed themselves to expand their minds through literature and travel.  Their mind was open to all that was around them because they practiced presence through their crafts.  Their hands worked with their minds worked with their spirit and the rhythmic clackity-clack of their knitting needles or their gentle humming, to which they were unaware, with the rhythm of their stitches created a peace around them. 

And they didn’t make it difficult.  They didn’t say, “I need a girls’ weekend, damnit!”  They didn’t feel they had to contribute something thought provoking at this month’s book club.  They simply wove their peace into the fabric of their everyday life.  They accepted that time to oneself was limited or, in some cases, unavailable.  Yet, instead of complaining about it and demanding something better, they sat calmly, with gratitude, in acceptance of the life around them and found their own meditation, their own creation, filled their own craving.

And I’ve re-discoverd how to refill mine, through the use of my hands.  My penny rug is perhaps the ugliest color combination ever seen by human eyes, but I love the rhythm of the stitches.  I love not feeling resentful when my little boy comes down the stairs and says, “Mommy watch how I play my Ukelele!” because I can watch him and still continue what I’m doing.  I love not knowing what the hell I’m going to do with the hideously ugly thing when I’m done, or even what “being done” means.  It could be a throw pillow, a table runner, a table cloth, or even a bedspread or nothing at all.  Their is no goal achievement here.  No expectation.  No neccessity.  I love the simple experience of doing something with my hands and calming my mind. 

I have fallen back in love with crafts (Ugg!  I can hear all of the black patent, monogrammed, coifed women groan.)  I admit it.  I’ve come back to craft.  It’s not an ugly word.  It might be an ugly craft, but the beauty is in the process and it’s a process that bridges my day to day for me.  And for this, as well as for all the nimble hands of the women I grew up with, I am grateful.

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