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A couple of weeks ago we were hit with an early-season snowstorm. The snow was wet and heavy and piled on to trees that were still wearing their gorgeous russet fall leaves.

The result was devastation.

Huge cottonwoods cracked under the pressure and lost branches.  But they weren’t alone.

Trees of all shapes and sizes broke under the weight of the snow. The sound of cracking limbs, sharp as gunshot echoed in the night.

Now each day as I make my way out to the pasture to feed my two old sweeties, I pass by a landscaping company that has become a repository for mountains of tree branches. I often must wait because a flagman has halted traffic to make way for the funeral-like procession of trucks bearing dead trees.

In town we were instructed to pile our tree limbs by the side of the road, and eventually one of the trucks will make its way to our street, and cart the limbs away. City officials who estimate such things, tell us it will take somewhere around four weeks to get to every street.

At the landscaping company, I watch as the mountain of dead trees expands. It looks as if they are getting ready for the mother of all bonfires, though in fact what they are doing is shredding the trees into mulch, as fast as they possibly can.

This whole experience – the snow, breaking limbs and the clean-up effort has got me thinking about flexibility. Why is it some trees cracked under the pressure, while others didn’t?

I know it has something to do with the leaves still hanging on and the flexibility of the branches.

Those few trees that had lost their leaves early, fared well in this storm, as did young trees that hadn’t yet grown thick, strong branches.

There’s a saying rumbling around in my head, though I can’t quote it accurately, and can’t even remember where I first heard it. My version goes like this: In life, learn to be a willow that can bend, rather than a cottonwood that remains rigid and in danger of breaking.

And that’s the nubbin of truth that I keep pondering.

I want to remain pliable and able to bend with what life brings my way. I don’t want to crack under the weight of life events that come out of the blue.

Because they will, and they do.

Life is full of snowstorms or their equivalent, and deep in my heart I know that I want to weather them. Seeing those piles and piles of dead tree branches on nearly every street in town reminds me to stay flexible, or become flexible, if I’m not.

Rigidity sometimes accompanies aging.

Bodies don’t bend as they once did. Neither do attitudes. We become set in our ways – body and mind. And I don’t want that. I don’t want to be one of those stately old cottonwoods, beautiful, but unable to hold up under the pressure of a surprise storm.

Because this I know: Unlike that cottonwood, I have a choice about my own personal flexibility.

You do too!

And I want to be ready for the next storm. No cracking limbs for me.

So, maybe I’ll see you in a yoga class!

Or Pilates.

Or meditating.

What do you say? Let’s get “bendy.”

Three Friends: Red, Baby, Pepper

I’ve written about the meditative aspects of my time with the horses on several other occasions.

Here are a few examples if you’d like to wander down memory lane.

Pasture Zen

Horse Therapy

A Summer Evening in the Pasture

It’s a Beautiful World

This past Saturday I had a lovely grace moment in the pasture.

So This is Why They Call it Work!

It has been a rough few weeks (months?) for me in terms of a work project. I’ve felt like a gerbil running on a wheel. I run and run and run, but at the end of each day, I can’t see any progress, except my exhaustion.

Apparently they’ve named it work for a reason!

So late in the day on Friday, I had a breakthrough of sorts. At least I could see a small shift.

I began to breathe a bit easier.

I slept all night for the first time in a long while.

I felt infinitely more relaxed.

A Saturday Filled With Grace

Then Saturday was a glorious day. The wind of the past two days had died down. The sun and fifty degree temperatures warmed the horses and me.

The pasture glowed in a golden, sunny light.

I spent longer than usual hanging out with my horse friends. I brushed Bud and Pepper as they ate. I handed out numerous alfalfa cubes to the herd of oldsters.

I talked to them and they listened. Horses are excellent listeners.

I sang to them.

I could be kidding myself, but I think they are especially fond of the oldies rock and roll songs.

It was a mellow afternoon, and the stress just oozed out of my body.

My Friend Joe

When I finally packed up the horse gear and drove off, I had to stop the car to close one of the gates. I saw a horse and rider in the adjoining pasture and I waved, though I wasn’t sure who it was.

As they came closer, I saw that is was Old Joe, the other spotted horse in the herd. We’d named him Griz when we first met him, before we knew his real name. He sometimes hangs out with the oldsters.

“I think he wants to see you,” the man said.

Indeed, Joe was making his way toward me to say hello. So I stroked his neck and asked him how life was going for him. I also talked to the man who sat atop Joe.

“He likes you,” the man said.

“I like him too,” I answered.

After a few minutes of chitchat and horse petting, I drove off, and Joe and his rider went on their way.

I was so touched that Joe recognized me and came to say hello.

It was just the sweetest moment.

To the herd of oldsters and Old Joe, I just want to say this:

Thanks Guys! You’ve enriched my life in ways I never could have imagined.

A couple of Sundays ago I was driving out to the pasture listening to one of my favorite programs on National Public Radio – On Being with Krista Tippett.

In this particular episode, she was talking with Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine Emeritus and founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic and Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. One of his great gifts, I believe, is that he has made the practice of meditation and mindfulness accessible to regular folks like me. As he describes meditation, I actually think I could do it.

One of his statements that afternoon was this: “The real practice is living your life from moment to moment as if it really mattered.”

He means each moment. Each tiny moment is all we have, and when we don’t tune in and pay attention and act as if that moment really matters, well, we’ve lost it forever. I’ve heard the statement before, and each time it smacks me upside the head.

How can I forget something so profound?

Something so urgent to remember?

But I do forget. In fact, here’s something I find really funny. I’ve heard this exact interview before. It was a repeat show. But I didn’t realize it until about two-thirds of the way into it.

When I hear Kabat-Zinn speak, it’s often as if I’m hearing him for the first time. Then I remember. Think there’s something for me to learn here?

Here’s the thing – one of the few times in my day that I am totally focused in the moment is when I’m with the horses. In a round about way, that hour or so is my spiritual practice. I turn off the radio, stay away from the cell phone and simply be with my old sweeties.

And honestly, time stands still, just as Kabat-Zinn suggests.

I notice the sky, the geese flying overhead, and a hawk sitting in the tree.

I’m able to totally focus on the horses and my surroundings.

It feels otherworldly, like I’ve stepped out of my day-to-day worries and commitments and into this beautiful, serene, quiet place.

And that, I believe, is mediation.

Sometimes I have to give myself a pep talk to get going. When it’s below zero or the wind is howling, or I’m up to my neck in a project that needs to get finished, I could easily talk myself out of trekking out to the pasture. But I don’t.

I’ve made a commitment to these two old horses and it feels really good to be able to keep my word with them.

But there’s a bonus in this act. I’ve also committed to myself. For sixty or so minutes in my day, every day, I show up to whatever moment I’m in. And at the end of the hour, I feel good.

Really good.

So now I’m working to be more present in other moments of my day. Because honestly, life is sweet and wonderful and stressful and hard and easy, all at the same time.

As I get older (and I’d like to think smarter) I see so clearly that I don’t want to miss even one moment of my life. I sometimes wonder why I’ve settled for not being present for so many years.

But then I let the thought go, because it takes me away from this very moment that I’m in right now. And this is where I want to be.

 

I’d love to hear from you and your thoughts about this journey. Do you find that time stands still when you are totally present with yourself? What about mediation?

Feel free to leave your comments below. And thanks!!

 

 

I do!

 

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