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Filtering by Tag: buddhism

falling {11/14/13}

Kelley Clink

Three years ago, in October, my grandmother died. The following October I lost over 20 percent of my body weight, was unable to eat, and doctors were unsure what was wrong with me. The October after that I lost the only pregnancy I've ever had. And then, this October, I lost my best friend.

I don't want to be paranoid, but I'm sensing a pattern.

Fall used to be my favorite season. I loved the crisp air and clear skies, the sweet smell of decaying leaves. I loved pumpkins and apple cider. I loved Halloween. And this year, before my dog died, as the air began to cool and the leaves began to change, I found myself reaching backward, scouring my memory for that feeling. I let myself hope that a piece of my life could revert back to what it used to be. 

I really ought to know better.

No, that's too harsh. I don't think we ever stop hoping to recover what we've lost, whether it's a person, a place, or something as simple as our innocence. It's part of human nature. We seek pleasure and push away pain. We struggle against change. We try to keep solid ground under our feet. 

Unfortunately, we're not capable of building ground solid enough to withstand life. As Pema Chodron says, trying to control our experience "is setting ourselves up for failure, because sooner or later we're going to have an experience we can't control." We are going to lose someone we love. We are going to get sick. We are going to die. And, not surprisingly, we aren't going to feel very good about any of it.

But guess what: we don't have to. "We always want to get rid of misery rather than see how it works together with joy," Pema says. "The point isn't to cultivate one thing as opposed to another, but to relate properly to where we are." It's okay to be sad. To grieve. To be frightened or angry or anxious. Joy would not exist without sadness. Love would not exist without death. Spring would not exist without fall.

I think I loved fall so much as a child because it was a little death. I knew spring and summer would come again, and so it was easy to be right where I was, to enjoy everything the season had to offer. As the deaths in my life have gotten bigger, as the metaphorical springs and summers have become unpredictable and unknown, I've learned that love changes, life changes, and I change, too. The ground beneath my feet will continue to shift. It's time to get comfortable with falling.

text break {8/18/13}

Kelley Clink

Suffering is what happens when we are lonely and forget that we participate in the world. People often complain about love, or at least about its consequences, but welcoming the consequences is part of the game of generosity. The earth gives a Yes without regard to what is given back, and being a human is also a gift, not a purchase. Even the No’s we get are gates to the generosity of the world.
                                        - John Tarrant, “The Erotic Life of Emptiness” 

I have some images saved up, but this weekend I felt like closing my eyes. I need to see with my heart. I need this week's No to transform into a gate. I am waiting, world, for your generosity. Please don't make me wait too long.


 

defacebooking: an experiment {5/30/13}

Kelley Clink

You may have noticed that I've been quiet lately, Internet-wise. This is in part because I continue to focus my energy on physical rehabilitation. But there is another reason. In the past five years social networking has become de rigueur. It started innocently enough with blogging, LiveJournal, MySpace. Facebook swallowed them all whole, but that seemed okay because it was about 'staying connected.' Then Instagram, Google Plus, Four Square, Twitter. Now it's a bunch of shit I haven't even heard of (Vine?), in addition to the old standbys. If you look up from your phone, you'll see that everyone else is...looking at their phones.  

Clearly I'm not a Luddite--anyone who wants to have a career as a writer can't afford to be. But I've noticed more and more the uncomfortable itch that comes over me when I sit at my kitchen table without my computer. I wanted to understand where that itch comes from. I wanted to sit with it.

So for the past few days I have been. And wow. WOW.

For me, social networking started out as a way to 'stay connected.' It was a novelty to check in with friends I hadn't seen or heard from since high school. My current friends posts are always smart, funny, and interesting. I'm not sure when the change occurred, when status updates and tweets took the edge off lonely moments. When I started squeezing my life into 140 character chunks. When I began needing people to like, to follow, to comment, to reply.

What I didn't realize until I sat without it, was how much I've been using Facebook as a distraction, an escape from the present moment. 

During meditation, thoughts and feelings arise. We acknowledge them, we sit with them, and we let them go. This is supposed to help us do the same while we are not meditating. The more we realize the transitory nature of thoughts and feelings, the more peace we will cultivate in our lives. This is especially necessary for me as someone who experiences depression and anxiety. The problem with social networking is that it's all about tightening your grasp. Every little thought, observation, or experience becomes fodder. Becomes relevant. This is speaking just to speak. This is the opposite of mindfulness.

This isn't to say that mindful social networking isn't possible. It is. There are people doing it. Some of them are in my newsfeed. I'm just not one of them. Yet.

For now I'm going to continue my experiment. I'm going to sit at my kitchen table sans computer. When status updates pop into my thoughts I'm going acknowledge them, sit with them, and then continue washing dishes, or folding laundry, or reading a book. I'm going to try and get back to breathing. I'm going to pet my dog. I'm going to look at my face in the mirror, smile, and say "Welcome back."

living with a broken heart {2/8/13}

Kelley Clink

Over the past few years I have learned this: there are different kinds of grief, and each kind of grief has its own rhythm. Grief for my brother came in steady, pounding waves, like a hurricane. Grief for my grandparents pulled like an undertow. And now, grief for my inability to have a successful pregnancy rises and falls like a tide.  

Today the tide is high. At a doctor's appointment this morning the waiting room was full of babies, and the water rose up through my chest until it began to spill over into tears.

A decade ago this would have been the end of my day. I would have gone home, locked myself in, and spent hours obsessing about my feelings. More accurately, I would have spent hours searching for a way to change my feelings. This panic would have layered over the original pain, leaving me paralyzed for days, weeks, even months. Today, instead, I am trying something different. I am trying to live with the pain.

The crappy news is that there is no step-by-step guide, no "top 10 ways" to push through your grief. Some days you can walk the dog, take out the trash, read a book, or make a meal. Some days all you can do is keep breathing. The important thing is to treat yourself gently and honor your pain. That pain is valid. That pain might even have a silver lining. It might encourage you to reach out to someone new, or hug your family and friends a little closer. 

That pain also might do nothing but suck. That's okay too. In this culture of incessant positivity, it's hard sometimes to remember that we don't have to make something good out of everything. Actually, we don't have to make anything out of anything. If we can be mindful of our experience for what it is, without judging or trying to change it, we are succeeding. WILDLY. 

Mindfulness isn't about feeling good. LIFE isn't about feeling good. By trying to convince ourselves that it's possible to feel good all the time, we are setting ourselves up for more suffering.  

Today living with a broken heart looks like this: I fold a little laundry, make baba ganoush, talk to a friend on the phone, cry in the car, go to the gym and walk on the treadmill. I hug my dog. I hug myself. I write a blog post, even though it is scary to admit to the world that I am hurting. But I do it anyway, because maybe someone else who is hurting will read and know that they are not alone, that they don't have to look on the bright side, and that whatever they are doing is enough. 

compassion {12/11/12}

Kelley Clink

The front yard of the house where I grew up was shaded by two large trees. In spring they were home to dozens of twittering birds, and of course, the nests of their young. Inevitably some of the newly hatched fell (or were pushed) out of the nests. Every year my brother and I would find their small pink bodies on the driveway, the sidewalk, or in the grass. Once in a while we would discover a baby bird that had survived the fall, wriggling blindly, chirping in fear. We would scoop it up and run to the house, begging our mother to help us save it. On the advice of a local veterinarian, she would procure an eyedropper and some dog food. My brother and I would fashion a makeshift nest from a shoebox, which we'd place under a lamp for warmth.  

My heart is not a baby bird, but sometimes it feels like one. And, nowadays, I try to care for it like one. 

Self-compassion is a relatively new concept for me. For years I excoriated myself for having depression and anxiety. Why do you have to be so weak? I asked myself. Why can't you be like everyone else? I told myself that I was a burden on the ones I loved. I told myself that I was worthless, a failure as a human being. And the harder I was on myself the more depressed and anxious I became, and the more depressed and anxious I became the harder I was on myself.  

It seems sort of obvious, now, that my response to my illness started a vicious cycle. But it took over a decade for me to realize what I was doing, and half a decade to stop doing it. In fact, I'm not even sure I can say that I've stopped--but I'm trying. There are days and weeks when my heart feels naked, vulnerable, and bruised. During those times I try to nurse it like a baby bird.

I'm not calling this a cure and I am definitely not saying this is easy. For some reason (I tend to blame the Puritans), many of us feel that we are unworthy of compassion, though we tend to give it to others. "Treat yourself the way you would treat your best friend," is the first mantra that got to me, and it's one I return to again and again. "Treat yourself the way you would treat an abandoned baby bird" works just as well.

I am not naive. There will always be suffering in the world. The baby birds of my youth, despite our best efforts and my mother's round-the-clock care, never survived. But we never stopped trying to save them. I can't stop myself from experiencing difficult feelings, but I don't have to add anger and self-hatred on top of them. I can hold myself gently.  And I've found that when I do, I recover more quickly than ever before, with less scars.

Besides, my heart is not a baby bird. It beats, it bounces back, it lives.


 

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