Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How Slow Can You Go?

The red squirrel nation was thick in the treetops today; squealing and sputtering, alerting me to my own loud presence, feet crunching on twigs and dried pine needles. I stopped in front of a white pine, the dogs sitting next to my legs, as we all looked up, watching as a squirrel ran up and down getting closer to us each time. I stared, laughing, as it ran down shrieking, tail twitching back and forth. It was seemingly as curious about us as we were about it. Either that or it was simply pissed off that we were standing so close to the tree.

As I stood there watching this tiny furry creature I started to think about slowing down and what it really means. How slow and simple does one have to be in order to have a healthy and balanced life without dis-ease? How much stimulus and stress can a human organism handle?

I contemplated this as I continued down the trail to one of the spawning areas on the river. Sitting near a waterfall while the pups patrolled for cougars I ate dried mango slices from Mexico and watched hundreds of dragonflies swarming in the air feasting on small gnat like insects; the food chain in flight against the backdrop of a clear blue sky. The dragonflies were the color of my moss green metallic water bottle and had transparent wings. I had never seen so many at once. I pondered that perhaps I have missed out on a lot in my previous fast paced life, and wondered even if perhaps it was still too fast (even though I'm not working and I sleep a lot and take naps and sit by rivers frequently).

This brought on more questions in my busy mind: Are humans only meant to focus on one task at a time? What are the consequences of constant over stimulation without adequate rest (for the mind & body)? Is Attention Deficit Disorder a by product of too much, too fast for an organism struggling to be in the present moment?

The day before I had procured a sandwich from Amazing Grace and spirited it away to Lester River. I had the pups with me and had planned on sharing half of it with them when we got settled somewhere on the river bank. I was most excited about the pickle. For me, the pickle makes the sandwich. Those sandwichs are awesome but they are more awesome with the pickle.

The dogs were playing in the water as I chomped on the sandwich; sun shining, cool breeze, East Duluth paradise on a river rock. I picked up the pickle with a twinkle in my eye, mouth already salivating. I was making a conscious choice to savor this pickle as I took the first bite when suddenly I noticed that Che had poop hanging out of his butt and was running around, scared because he didn't know what it was.

I began to chase him trying to pull the poop out with a big leaf, noticing that the long grass he likes to munch on was the culprit. I was laughing and he was running and I finally caught him and pulled it out (ah, kids!). Sighing, I returned to my sandwich looking for my pickle. I was ready to enjoy the rest of it!

But alas, there was no pickle. I was confused, where was my precious pickle? I could still taste the sour vinegar in my mouth and that was when I realized I had eaten it completely during the poop chase.

I missed out on my pickle!

I ate it unconsciously because I could only focus on one thing at a time. This revelation led me to a more solid belief that if I am multi-tasking I am probably missing out on something, perhaps something even as awesome as the perfect pickle.

That being said, let it be known that I, Hilary Danielle Buckwalter hereby question the value of multi-tasking, in the name of sanity, health, pickles and all that is holy.

So there you have it, more questions. How slow is slow enough?

How slow can YOU go?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Macro Meditation: One Day at a Time

Meditation: the dynamic discipline in which attention flows without breaking toward a single inspirational focus within the mind, until the mind becomes completely absorbed and all distracting thoughts disappear. -From "Conquest of Mind" by Eknath Easwaran

Training attention. This is what I was pondering yesterday on the trail with Che. Training attention not with grandiose hopes of a remarkable spiritual experience, simply training my mind to focus in service of mastering the thinking process.

Admittedly, I have been off of the meditation wagon for quite some time despite India, despite my longing for it, despite blogging about the untrained horses run amuck. I have also noticed the fruits of this lack of training and have watched my mind have a field day; reveling in emotional reactions, giving in to constant cravings (as of late its been Gobstoppers), identifying with "me & mine."

And even though I haven't been meditating as often, I've still been watching the circus, and man, I'm ready to get back to basics.

In his book, "Conquest of Mind," Eknath says that every moment, from the time we get up in the morning until we go to bed, is an opportunity for training the mind. He also says that training the mind is one of the most difficult tasks a human can undertake...

So why would I want to do this? And believe me, I was really mulling it over on the trail as the first cool breeze in weeks uplifted my senses.

Because the benefits far out way the task at hand; transforming the powerful currents of negative thinking that swirl deep in the unconscious mind. This in turn nourishes kindness, compassion, awareness which nurture deeper relationships and ways of being in the world. Sounds lovely doesn't it?

So why is it so hard?

We all carry deep conditioned tendencies to particular ways of thinking and acting, usually negative or self willed (so says Eknath), which have been dug in to the mind through many years of repeating the same thought over and over. When we meditate we come in to contact with these hidden parts of ourselves and it is here where we can learn to make our responses to life a matter of free choice.

The Buddha said, "All that we are is a result of what we have thought." Eknath says that what the Buddha is trying to tell us is that if our thinking is based on stimulus and response (rather than awareness and choice) then most of us live like puppets, moved by patterns of thinking built up over years of repetition.

But it is possible to cultivate that space of free choice, to recondition the nervous system, to rise above duality.

"Yoga," says the Bhagavad Gita, "is evenness of mind." This means that through good and bad, highs and lows, ups and downs, when you can accept all-even those you don't like that you have reached freedom.

I realized yesterday sitting next to the river watching Che bask in the present moment (that's the great thing about dogs, always Awake!) that I have tasted that place. I have tasted, touched, smelled, felt and intuited that place and I want more of it. So I decided I would start with a walking meditation, taking a slow pace back down the Superior Hiking Trail, watching my breath.

As I walked I noticed things I had missed, in particular how the mushrooms (with which I have a particular fascination) were popping up all over the trail in a vibrant display of pinks and yellows.

Breathing, I took out my camera and crouched down turning it to the macro setting; designed to capture a smaller perspective, perfect for focusing attention. And for the next two hours I was completely absorbed in the tiny bright world of fungi, my breath, the mushrooms and the click of the shutter registering as meditation; unifying consciousness, deepening concentration.

I left the forest with a deeper appreciation for the ability to focus and the sense that this is a process that takes its own time (much like Everything!).

The best we can do is to take it in digestible pieces; one day at a time with consistency in practice and compassion for ourselves.

I leave you with Buddha's Twin Verses, from the Dhammapada:

All that we are is a result of what we have thought: we are formed and molded by our thoughts. Those whose minds are shaped by selfish thoughts cause misery when they speak or act. Sorrows roll over them as the wheels of a cart follow the hooves of the bullock that draws it.

All that we are is a result of what we have thought: we are formed and molded by our thoughts. Those whose minds are shaped by selfless thoughts give joy when they speak or act. Joy follows them like a shadow that never leaves them.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Second Breakfast

I am standing on a dirt road in front of a row of wild raspberry bushes, pregnant with fruit ripened in the Northern sun. I am smiling, happy that the berries managed to maintain their hold during the deluge of rain that drenched my garden and sent the river rising a few days ago.

This is the second day this week I have had a second breakfast on this road. I've gotten into a habit of taking the pups on a bike ride down the North Shore Scenic Drive in the morning to Stoney Point and by the time we get there, they need the cool water and dive right in. They run beside my bike and I keep them to the inside, unleashed, and they are blissfully happy; tongues lolling out the sides of their mouths, paws pounding the pavement.

After our bike ride we stop on the Knife River hiking trail for a run, or on alternate days for a leisurely walk and a second breakfast. Alternating running and walking is healthy not only for my body and cortisol levels but ensures that the next batch of raspberries will be ripe, right on time.

These bursting, shining red little seed filled berries are a gift from nature that last for only a season and a moment. I stop and enjoy each handful, completely present to the experience; seeds crunching between my teeth, a small moan escaping my lips. I can't help it, it is a seductive party in my mouth and with each exploding berry, I am completely alive. It's like making love; no time, only a sweet passion between you and the other.

As I walk to the next bush, emptying a handful into my mouth and sighing with a smile I notice some berries hanging lower to the ground. I crouch down and am amazed by the amount of fruit that I had been unable to see from an eye level vantage point. I chuckle to myself as I begin to pull them from the bushes as this second breakfast is also replete with lessons, "One must come down from the proverbial mountain and into the valley to see an alternate perspective," "There is more than meets the eye, "Balance, peace, and joy are the fruit of a successful life." All is available to us if we only have the patience to look.

And yes, this is what happens when one has all the time in the world; bushes talk to you and berries sing and pirouette in the breeze, a dance unfolds between being and slowing down, existance slows to a crawl and there is always time for a second breakfast.