Monday, December 26, 2016

Loving Kindness in this Moment

The theme of the recent meditation retreat I attended was summed up by this mantra: May I meet this moment fully, May I meet it as a friend.  The wonderful teachers of the retreat laughingly stated about 10 minutes into the retreat that this was pretty much all we needed to know and the rest of the retreat would be just repeating this theme.

When you think about these words you realize how profound they are.

May I meet this moment fully.  In other words, breathe and be here now.  Meeting this moment, I can no longer worry about the past.  I can forget about what happened yesterday or last week or many years ago.  We all hold on to so many memories that don't serve any purpose for us.  I was especially touched by a story one of the teachers told at the retreat.  The teacher was Sylvia Boorstein, a very well known Buddhist educator, who is also 80 years old.  Despite being 80 she could recall in detail a humiliating experience she had in elementary school.  That would be more than 70 years ago!

I think we all have those certain episodes that replay in our mind of when we were embarrassed or ashamed or saddened.  And sometimes elated too.  And it isn't that memories are bad but when they pop up and still create anxiety or sadness then they take away from our contentment with the present moment.

It may not be a long festering memory either.  Often it is what happened yesterday or this morning that we are still fretting about and missing the experience of the moment.  When I went on retreat last week I flew to Oakland and rented a car.  At the rental agency they asked if I wanted to fill the tank myself or pay for a tank ahead of time.  I thought I might not have time to fill it myself so I agreed to pay for the tank.  I wasn't sure but it seemed like it was $40 for the tank.  As I drove to the retreat, I realized I would only be driving a small amount.  I anxiously watched the gas monitor not dropping, ridiculously annoyed that I was using so little gas.  Even at the retreat it kept popping into my mind that I made a wrong choice about the gas!  Finally, at the end of the trip, as I dropped off the car, I mentioned to the woman at the agency that I used less that 1/4 of the tank. Guess what?  She gave me half my money back which it turned out was only $24 anyway.  So I only paid $12 but stressed over it off and on the whole weekend.  It was so silly and I tried to reason with myself to not worry about it or think about it but that didn't work.  What does help?  I'll get to that in a minute.

Meeting this moment, I also no longer worry about the future.  We get swept up by stories of what could happen.  And so often, it doesn't happen like we think it will.  I've mentioned this before but one of my favorite quotes attributed to Mark Twain is "I've had a lot of worries in my lifetime, most of which never happened."

The second part of the mantra, May I met it as a friend, is about love.  May I meet this moment with kindness.  Even if in this moment you are worrying about the past or the future, meet it with love. Be compassionate toward yourself for forgetting to really be here and then take a breath and see what is. To see and to love.  To meet the moment in kindness.  It is all the same.

So it is about being here and now but it is also about how you are in the here and now.  Be a friend to yourself and to others.  Is this moment, whether you are arguing with your spouse, hugging your child, or driving to work, greet the experience with kindness.

I mentioned above that I tried to reason with myself to not worry. I told my self that I was being ridiculous and stupid to worry about the gas tank.  I have learned that "reasoning" doesn't really work.  It is not really nice to chide myself or berate myself for thinking or feeling something.  In fact, what does work is to, wait... you got it... greet it with kindness!  I can say oh hello painful memory, I love you, now I am going to take a breath and be in this moment.

May you meet this moment fully.  May you meet it as a friend.

Monday, November 14, 2016

We Are One

The title of this blog is To See and To Love.  Both are essential.  To see is to be aware, to know, to understand.

This seeing can be internal. Who am I?  What are my deepest desires? What are my unconscious habits?  The questions abound. Some say our purpose in life is to uncover who we really are.  It is in this finding of ourself that we can find freedom.  And it is in this freedom that our suffering lessens.

On the surface, it seems to me, the purpose of life being to find yourself sounds awfully selfish.  However, with more thought, I find that it means to live with more truth.  In so doing, you can express yourself honestly without fear of not being genuine and also without fear of what the response will be. You know who you truly who you are so you can express your authentic self.

The more you know yourself perhaps less time needs to be spent in self-discovery.  This may be why people report being happier as they age.  You express yourself with less fear because you have learned to accept who you are.  You are also more free to put energy in the second part of my title, love.

One meditation teacher writes, "Our full attention is our deepest expression of love."

Seeing can also be external.  Do we see what is happening around us?  The social and political times of late have been scary and sad but also exciting in their potential.  We are seeing so much of what has been hidden.  Yes, we are seeing racism, sexism, and bigotry and under that we are seeing fear.  And how will we answer that?

Just like when we see parts of ourselves that we find unacceptable, it is in giving these issues attention and love that we can evolve.  When you have something inside of you that you don't like, have you ever found hating it more to make things better?  No, it is in loving attention that things change. This isn't something that happens quickly.  Very few are enlightened to the point that there is no more work to be done.  We may go to church or meditate on a cushion or take a walk in the woods but over and over again we witness and then we forgive and we love and we grow.

So, too, in our world we face these ugly truths.  And, as it is with ourselves, we give notice and care to these longstanding problems.  This leads to a path towards growth and change.  It has been said by all the great leaders that love is the answer.  These  outside problems like racism and sexism are complex but if we see them, just as we see our own inner depths,  we can work on them and we can little by little grow together.

We can find ourselves in each other.

And in giving ourselves love and each other the same we will find freedom.  And in freedom we will find peace.

Monday, October 24, 2016

It's okay and I love you

We sure do judge a lot don't we?  It seems like every other thought is a judgement of some sort.  Most days I meditate for 20 to 30 minutes in the morning.  After I meditate I write in a journal an intention for the day.  I also write a few words about a dream I may have for the future and lastly I write 5 things I am grateful for.  What I write down for intention is often words like breathe, present moment, loving kindness or forgiveness.  But lately, I have been declaring my intention each morning as non-judgement.

I write these intentions down but, honestly, I usually forget them as the day goes on.  But since I have been choosing non-judgement daily for the last couple of weeks I have carried it with me through the day a bit more than usual.

For instance, I may be driving and catch myself thinking,"what a f*&**g idiot" and instead think,""he must be stressed and in a hurry, some days that's me,".  Or I may be waiting to buy groceries and a person is taking forever to pay, writing a check and filling in all the details and I think "what the hell is she using a check for? Hasn't she heard of atm cards?" and instead think "it's okay, but really, checks??" Okay, I'm not perfect.

Of course, judging others doesn't just happen in these classic situations described above.  It also happens at work.  In the morning I get a list on the computer of all the patients I will see that day.  It has the patient's name, medical record number, age, etc and it also has the reason for the visit. When I am not mindful I find myself judging how the encounter is going to go just by the little tidbit I know from the description of the visit.  For instance, routine ob is good (easy), pelvic pain is bad (hard), routine gyn exam of a long time patient is awesome(love my patients!) and recurrent vaginal infection for 15 years is horrible (how can I fix it if every other doctor has already tried).

But the amazing thing about this is that most of the time when I actually see the patients that I think are going to be difficult it either is good and satisfying or at least not nearly as bad as I anticipated.  So that judgement really only caused me anxiety and stress and sometimes if I don't let it go prior to seeing the patient it caused a less helpful visit.

Most days now, I say to myself, prior to seeing each patient,"may I be present and may I be of most service to so and so" and I say it for every patient.  It helps me let go of my judgements and be in the moment with the person.

Another concept that has helped me let go of judgement is the phrase 'just like me".  Most of us want the same things, care about the same things.  We may have different ideas on how to get there.  This certainly is apparent during the political season we are currently wading though.  We all want our families to be safe.  We want enough to house and feed our selves and our loved ones.  We want good schools.  We all, I think, even want peace.  So when I am ready to judge someone for their beliefs I think they are "just like me".  It doesn't mean I don't express or fight for the way I think things need to be done but it gives more common ground and more love between me and the other person.  I am not always able to practice this but I like it as a goal.

We judge others and we judge situations before they ever happen.  A famous quote attributed to Mark Twain is "I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened."

And lastly we judge ourselves.

The funny thing, though, is as I am more aware of my judgements of other people and situations and practice letting these go I find I also have more compassion for myself.  I judge myself less too.  Loving kindness, compassion, non judgement; these spread like wildfire.  The more you practice them the more you have.  It's a sweet phenomenon.

From Tara Brach, "When I am in judgement I am no longer in the flow of grace."  May we all be more in the flow of grace.

Friday, October 14, 2016

At Home in Our Hearts

Wherever we go there we are.  But how come in some environments I feel totally myself, happy and at peace and yet, at other times, I feel anxious, lonely and disconnected from myself and others.

Recently I was in Anaheim for a few days to attend the International Plant Based Conference for Health Professionals.  It was awesome.  Not only did I learn a ton and see my heroes in person but I was surrounded by vegans!  And not just vegans but vegan doctors, no less.

Each meal was served at a table of 10 or so people and the conversations were fabulous.  I enjoyed learning how people put nutrition counseling into their practices along with how the plant-based diet has affected their own lives.  I was in my element and felt like my true self.

A while back I mentioned to a friend that if I ever got a tattoo I might want it to say, "let your freak flag fly".  I elaborated on what it meant to me and he said to me that I didn't need a tattoo to remind me to be my true self. He stated that I seemed to be already doing that.  It pleased me that he thought so, but inside, I felt that my real self often struggles to be free.

Another conference I attended last month was in Las Vegas and was put on by Kaiser for Ob Gyns.  A number of fellow San Diego Kaiser people were there.  I knew many but none were close to me.  My close friend from Northern California didn't show up until the second day.  That first day I felt awkward and unhappy.  I felt unseen and alone.  I was away from my family and my safe place.

 I sometimes feel like everyone else is great friends but I am on the outside. I felt like this at school when I was young, sometimes now when out with groups of friends, with colleagues at work, at church events or in big family gatherings.

Now don't get me wrong.  Sometimes I feel very close and connected.  But it interests me when I don't.  Certainly, it happens much more in group environments.  I typically try to avoid those.  Why any one would want to go to a big party full of near strangers I have no idea.  But then again, why not?  If you truly feel comfortable and happy with yourself, does that make group activities easier and actually fun?

When you can't be your authentic self it is hard to feel like you belong.   One of my teachers writes, " Caring what others think of us leaves us not at home."  I am not sure if this sense of isolation in a group is caused by my concern of what others think. But, it is possible, for it happens more often when I am with people I perceive dislike me or with people I don't particularly like myself.

Another teaching that hits home for me is "the self  can not fix the self".  So, perhaps there is not an answer my brain can find to fix this feeling of separateness.

"Forgive yourself for not being at peace.  The moment you completely accept your non peace your non peace becomes transmuted to peace" writes Sharon Salzberg.  I do know it helps to accept myself in whatever moment I am in: the happy, lovely moments and the bored, lonely, anxious moments.

"Anything you accept fully will get you to peace. This is surrender." from Salzberg again.  I believe this acceptance comes not from our minds but from our hearts.  And in this wholehearted acceptance lies true freedom.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Your last breath

The hardest part about being a doctor isn't the long overnight calls, the busy office schedule or the challenge of helping a patient.  The most difficult aspect, at least for me, is when I make a mistake. And since I am human mistakes have happened.

I first want to say that everything I write below is all about my perspective.  And please, let me be clear, I know I am not the one who was the recipient of the mistake.  It may be much harder for her.

A while back I made a mistake that has haunted me.  It was one of those mistakes that if I could do it all over again I would definitely do it differently.  It was a complex decision, I evaluated the options and in retrospect I chose the wrong one.  Now, I make small mistakes here and there. Thankfully, I catch most or I have back up systems in place that help me catch the rest.  This was bigger than that.  It was one of those that I can count on the fingers of my hand.  One of the kind that I rarely make.  (no one died or was seriously physically harmed and that is as much detail of it I want or can discuss)

Right after I realized what I had done my very first impulse was to vent to caring coworkers and eat some chocolate.  And I am not kidding about the chocolate.  It was my second thought right after wanting to scream.

Then the shame came.  Why did I do this?  What is wrong with me?  I am the worst doctor.  I hope no one finds out.  I hope my colleagues, especially, don't find out.

Then a bit of fear.  What if I get sued?  I'll have to go through an arbitration.  It will be so painful.

Then regret, then anger, then self hatred, then all of this over and over again in my head. Please, I told myself, stop thinking about it.  Stop thinking...

Of course, I meditated.  As I meditated the whole scenario would go around and around in my head.  But I would take a breath in and then out and maybe for a few moments I could find peace.

It was painful.  And I guess I just had to be in the pain.  It still is tender to touch.  And that is okay.

I learned a few things from this experience, though.   On day two or three I was listening to Jack Kornfield from the Insight Meditation Society.  He has an amazing audio book called Buddhism for Beginners (and we all are beginners).  In it he mentions the concept of the last breath.

What if this were your last breath?  Would you want to be lost in thoughts?  When you are not in the moment, even in good thoughts, you aren't really living.  And in "bad" thoughts then you definitely aren't living.  I didn't want my last breath to happen while I was worrying about what happened in the past or what could possibly happen in the future.  I found the idea of the last breath very helpful because it not only brought me to the present moment whatever it was (driving the car, talking with Aiden, listening to music etc) but it also made me aware of my breathing which was therapeutic in itself.

I also learned that this long drawn out story of what I did and what could happen and how bad I am is JUST A STORY.   We all have these stories.  Tara Brach, another meditation teacher writes, "The whole sense of self is just a story we tell ourselves."  I am not bad. I am not good. I am not the worst doctor on the planet.  I am not even really a doctor.  I just play one on this life I live, if you know what I mean.  "Our stories are real but they may not be true" Tara Brach also powerfully explains.

Lastly, again from Tara Brach, "When I am in judgement, I am no longer in the flow of grace."  How can you be at peace, be able to give love, be real if you are judging yourself and others.  I do it all the time but if I can do it even a little less, what will my life be like?  Imagine not judging this moment but just being in it.  How would that feel?  Pretty peaceful and soft and open, I think.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Just Be Here Now

Giving up things seems to be a habit of mine.  It doesn't feel like I am giving anything up though. In fact, it feels like the opposite.  The act of giving up becomes the act of gaining.

The most obvious example in my life is the giving up of meat.  It doesn't feel like much of a sacrifice. Sometimes it is a bit difficult at a restaurant or when invited to a friend's home, but most of the time it is quite simple.  I kind of like that at a restaurant there are only a few options that I can eat.  It makes it a lot easier to order.  When I go to a vegan restaurant it is exciting to have so many options, but also overwhelming.  And my friends have all adjusted to my eating habits and have a vegan dish for me or accept it just fine when I bring my own food.

I gave up meat and I gained health, a slimmer body and less guilt over the suffering of animals and the polluting of the environment.   I also gained a new community of like-minded people, albeit mostly online. It also has led me to take classes on plant-based nutrition and teach my patients a true way to health.

In March, Kelly and I gave up alcohol.  We didn't decide to do this forever and still haven't but what at first would be a few weeks has turned into 6 months.  Sometimes I miss a nice glass of wine but I gained better sleep, less pounds, and no hangovers.  It also interests me to see what a social life is like without alcohol.  I like interacting with people as truly myself and not a slightly inebriated self.

A few weeks ago I decided to stop watching TV.   I admit it is an easy time for me to make this change.   All my old favorite shows are either gone (Jon Stewart, Colbert, Downton, Larry Wilmore), on hiatus (The Walking Dead), or have diminished in quality or interest (Homeland).  And the Padres suck and the Chargers, well, we'll see. On a side note, giving something up when it is the easiest is a really smart thing to do. Especially at first, when it might be challenging, it is nice to not have extra hurdles to get over. (for instance, don't give up turkey on Thanksgiving or TV during the Olympics)

Giving up TV has been surprisingly beneficial.  I actually didn't watch that much compared to many people.  But, an hour or two a day really gives you a lot of time to practice the piano, walk the dog, read a book, listen to music or play a card game.  Or meditate for that matter.

Each of these changes has given me the opportunity to learn something about myself or about my process. For instance, I have noticed how these actions came about.  I didn't set out to stop drinking for 6 months but in each moment it has felt right.  A zen master wrote about meditation "that you do it not because you are supposed to stick to it but because you enjoy it.  When you enjoy it you don't have to worry about sticking to it. "  That is the key, right?  It doesn't feel hard to not eat meat or not watch TV because I enjoy what I am doing instead.

An important concept in Buddhism is impermanence.  Part of happiness comes from not clinging to something because change always comes.  So, who knows, I may drink again or watch TV or even eat meat. It's okay if that happens.

Give your fullest attention to what is.  Honor the present moment.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Happy For No Reason

I started meditating every day about a year and a half ago.

At first, I did it lying down in bed with earbuds in for 10 to 20 minutes.  No one would have known I was even doing it.  Not even my husband, Kelly, who was often lying next to me.  It was an easy, noncommittal way to start.  I was a little shy about doing it back then.

Then I got the Headspace app and started doing it sitting up, often during my lunch hour.  That app has ten free ten-minute meditations.   I liked it so I bought the app and used it quite often until I got tired of the guided meditations and wanted something different.

Now I use the Insight Timer app.  My practice is to meditate almost every morning for 30-45 minutes.  I sit on a cushion in a space in our guest room that I created specifically for this.  I have a small altar with a Buddha on it.  I put the timer on and focus on my in-breath and out-breath.  Of course, most of the time I am thinking about other stuff.  I am planning my day or worrying about something from yesterday.  But then I catch myself and come back to my breath.

A friend the other day asked me if meditating was hard.  Not really, I said.  If you have a goal to be a "perfect" meditator and never lose your focus then yes it would be hard.  But if you are compassionate with yourself and forgive yourself each time you think about what you are having for dinner or what you are going to wear to work that day then no it's not hard.  And to me, that is one of the major points of meditation in the first place.  Awareness and love.  Notice what is happening and then be okay with it.

Try not to get caught up in it. In the story.  Go back to your breath.  Forgive yourself when you can't.

My meditation practice slowly evolved.  I didn't start out thinking I would do this every day for the next year and a half.  But a year and a half later and now I am reading Buddhist books, attending a Sangha (a weekly group that meditates together and discusses a Buddhist talk) and planning on attending a meditation retreat for a few days in December at an Insight Meditation Center in Northern California.

I find it so interesting the way things develop.  A small first step can often lead to so much.  And it happens without specifically planning it.  For instance, I became a vegetarian when I was 22 years old. I went vegan a few times in the past but it never stuck.  It was too hard.  Then 2 1/2 years ago it stuck.  And at first, I was just vegan at home.  At restaurants or at friend's homes I ate vegetarian.  But then that stopped working.  Now it is just an occasional bite of Godiva chocolate.

One of the tenets of Karma Yoga is non-attachment to results.  Or from Nike- just do it.

This, of course, goes along with being in the present moment.  Which is what meditation is all about.  And if you are in the present moment you can't really be worrying about what will happen down the road.

One last thing for now.  The Insight Timer app has a feature wherein at the end of your meditation many small round photos of  people that are meditating at the same time as you come up on your screen.  Over the months of using it, I have become "friends" with some of these people.  Being friends just makes them pop up first in your list of fellow meditators.  I have about 10 friends.  A few of them are; Andy from Everett, WA, Melissa from Berkeley,CA, and my favorite I Ketut Gede Budastra from Palembang, Indonesia.  At the end of your meditation when the photo pops up you can tap on it and send a message that says "thanks for meditating with me."

 It never ceases to amaze me that I have this small connection with this random man from Indonesia.  But it makes me smile each time and I imagine it does the same to him also.

The heart has to be soft before any of us can be free.