Tuesday, February 28, 2012

So I'm walking home from the dentist in a pained daze, with my face half paralyzed, and in the distance I hear a man on a megaphone shouting, "Never! Stop! Inquiring!" and the crowd yells, "YEAAAAHHH!" and when the next megaphone voice is Sue Sarandon, I realize I'm not hallucinating, and I feel really really glad I live in New York City.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The 0th finger

I walk a lot. I try to keep track of "how far"and meditate as I walk, by counting steps. Meditation is really just a trick: you're essentially letting go of conscious thought, to simply be -- aware. It's easier of course, if you're in a quiet place with no distractions, counting out your breaths in and out. The idea of slowly breathing to a count is the way you keep your mind empty: your brain likely can't do more than two things at once, so by counting out the timing of your breaths in and out, you're pulling your attention away from the conscious thought process. At some point you drift away from the counting, just as you allow thoughts that arise to drift away, rather than attending to them. You let your mind un-wander.

In walking, the counting serves somewhat the same purpose. You're not exactly out of it when meditating in motion; you're aware, but the sense of external vs internal allows you to be present without being caught up in it.

I know that 100 of my steps = 1 NYC up/downtown block; but I count anyway, to let go of the inner distractions. Like all physical activity, it can be hard to keep count for long, either because it's strenuous and you lose brain power after awhile; or it's complicated and there are distractions, like other players, or in my case, window displays, tourists, gunplay, what have you. So I use my fingers as a rudimentary abacus. Each finger on my left hand is a set of ten, each on my right is an entry in the 100s house.

At one point, I remember finding myself confused (not a rare occurrence) when I'd begin a new hundred: your natural instinct is to start with that first finger, as you count 1-10, but being both distracted and out of breath from walking fast, I would realize I'd hit the 20s but had tapped my third finger. Because I'm in a meditative state as I walk, I'm not really thinking about why. I'm not really thinking at all. But this time I thought of Roman numerals, and the abacus, and that this is the exact purpose of 0, to create a meaning to absence. In other words, if your fingers stand for tens, you must begin counting on your 0th finger. In meditation, you want to reach something like that-- an absence that is all presence. As in the tao, the emptiness is what makes the thing useful, like the hollow of a bowl, or the hole in the wagon wheel.

In zen Buddhism there is much reference to the concept of "beginner's mind" -- the idea of being open, approaching all with few preconceptions, willing to learn what is there to learn. You can't pour anything into a full vessel. It's hard for me to let go of my know-it-all attitude, although I realize my doing so must come as a relief to those who know me.

Accepting that I don't actually know much at all is a relief to me too. And research on the adult brain shows that neurogenesis occurs most when we are learning something new -- not when we've mastered it, but in the beginning, when we are working hardest and making mistakes. What if you could approach everything as if you were just starting out? Start on your 0th finger. And don't worry if you lose count.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Another thing

My sister says grief is a bit like drowning. I know that despair, and have felt it at times far less desperate than these. I tell her, stop struggling, let yourself float up, and breathe slow and deep. Lungs full of air cannot sink.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

What I'm learning from the mountain

I'm just collecting these thoughts here for now. There's a reason for them, I'm just not ready to put it all together yet. I've been planning to climb Kilimanjaro with a group of friends and family and in preparing myself for that, I realize how much it is like surviving losing Jesse. So I'm keeping track of what I wake up thinking, when it's something that helps me survive a day a little better. 
For people who find this blog by googling things like "insanity of long term grief "or "mourning loss of child"  (it hurts to know you are out there suffering, and that this is one of the few small lifelines the Internet has tossed you, when you are falling like I did--like I do) I hope this gives you something -- I know it's not much, but knowing that this is part of being human -- beyond culture, across time from before we all walked upright -- means that you are not alone. That your grief transcends you even as you transcend it; and that we are closer connected through it-- and as alone as grief may make you feel, it's exactly because of it that you are not alone. 
You are one with everything that makes us human. Learning how to manage this newly discovered part of your greater self is not easy. It's painful. But it is exactly what you need to do. I'm not all that good at it either, so take the lessons that appear here for what they are worth, some things I've learned that seem to help me avoid despair, but also things that make me feel life is still worth living, that there is a reason to take another step, even if I don't know where I will end up.
1. There are stretches where the path is very narrow and steep, and the dropoff seems to fall straight down for miles. People say "don't look down," but you'll have to look down once in a while to find and keep your footing. The trick is to avoid letting your mind consider how far you might fall, or how much longer you can climb. Keep your focus on where you want your foot and hand to go next.
2. Letting go of falling is not the same as having no gravity. I can guide my foot back from the edge, but that's not the same as walking across my own room. Respect the cost of keeping balance.