attention…a rung on the wisdom ladder 8-22-19

Except for suffering long heat spells, I adore summer.  I suppose even a hot streak has its upside, creating hibernation energy reminiscent of deep winter. And it sure forges  conversational bridges with random strangers…people really bond over weather extremes.  I can commiserate with the best of them.  But more than anything, I love the way summer pulls me out of my cozy nest of the school year. 

Especially August, designated years ago as a no-teaching-zone.  While a bare bones personal practice keeps me functional, there’s been lots of travel and camping in the wilds interspersed with languishing doses of down time.  Like dreamy floating in Lake Tahoe, Sunday New York Times immersion, window gazing in the VW bus loft way past wake up.  Three weeks in, I really feel the effect.  It’s an unraveling, a pull on a dangling sweater thread that, unabated, would eventually dismantle the whole garment. 

When I’m in the teaching zone, my radar is almost always on: conversation, songs, witnessing a dance, chance meetings, words, rain/sun/wind/moon, a traffic jam, fear arising, snippets of news, sensation from rolling, a view from a ledge, an ache in my thumb, a line from a book, a poem, a podcast, a patient’s spine.  Everything potentially holds a teaching kernel.  It is simply about keeping the volume up on life.  Not being blind to what is right in your face. Paying attention.  I truly love that requirement.

And it feels really good to let go, indulge in laziness, let things slide.  Bursts of the spontaneously creative happen when I am full of empty.  It can be so paradoxically fertile. It feels really healthy.  My life these days? Not really very stressful, but I know about being busy and that can create an aura of stress at times.  In the prevailing absence of busy right now, I appreciate the way stress lives in me.  There’s an urgency, a pushing, a lack of breath that is just gone missing from my field today.

I recently listened to Sylvia Boorstein articulate her Buddhist take on the human response to pressure and tension. She listed five default behaviors that arise with challenge. She says it simply comes with the human equipment, like being short or having blue eyes.  If we accept the fact we’re predictably programmed to respond in certain ways, it may be possible to let go of judging what naturally arises in all of us.

And what are those five defaults?

  1. Some of us worry.  We fret under stress.  You know if this is you.  I live with one.
  2. Some of us fly off the handle when things get hard.  We lash out in anger when challenged.  I used to live with one of those.  Sometimes I wish I had better access to this one.
  3. Some of us lose heart.  Just shrivel up and die.  Give up.  I know this one well.
  4. Some of us fall on the sword, absolutely know the whole situation is our fault.  Take the blame.  You can imagine a relationship between default #2 and #4.
  5. And then there are those of us who turn to sensual soothing.  When I am not losing heart, I am eating ice cream.

According to Boorstein this list covers all the bases of human response to stress.  And what good is it to know this?  Well, if we believe its just part of being human, then we can sign on to working with it wisely.  We can create a pause when the shit hits the fan, recognize our response, have a sense of humor about it or love ourselves despite this quirk or maybe even choose to do something different. This is the basis for wisdom.  And who doesn’t want some of that?

The first rung on the wisdom ladder is paying attention.  Which gives us a shot at what an old Japanese proverb points to: “fall down seven times, stand up eight.”  Attention will be why we stand up that eighth time and it is a skill we develop on the cushion or on the mat or on the dance floor.  I’ll be back with you in devotional practice soon enough.  Look at all the juicy offerings in that side bar… each and every one an opportunity to hone wisdom.

Let’s keep standing up together Sacramento…, bella