Cat Consciousness

Calico Downloading Buddha

Calico Downloading Buddha

Calico arrived in my home almost eight years ago after living as a barn cat in central Nevada. Though too scared to allow herself to be touched, she used to follow the family around the ranch, so when they moved away the children insisted she be brought with them. They already had three cats, so they gave her to me.  She arrived on the same day as 6-month-old Rocky, who immediately set about turning her into a play pal.  Though it took some time, she eventually relented, and they are good friends.

It took much longer for her to relax and warm up to me.  About six months after she arrived, I awoke one night to find her perched on me, purring.  Next she began allowing me to pet her when she was on her condo.  She always hung around when there were people present, but would not let us near her.  Fast forward seven years to last summer when she jumped up on my lap for the first time.

Calico on Retreat

Calico on Retreat

Recently she has been climbing further up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (modified for cats–she’s not self-actualizing).  Having achieved satisfaction of physiological needs, safety, and love and belonging, she is now working on self-transcendence.  Her new favorite napping spot is on my meditation cushions. When outside she likes to be under the Buddha, downloading directly from him.  And, like me, she sometimes needs solitude, so she retreats to her meditation cushion in the closet.

Ever calmer, ever more at ease, Calico is a true bodhisattva!

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The Schnoz

Kindergarten silhouette

Kindergarten silhouette

When I was nine years old, an artist friend of my parents told me I had a classic Roman nose and profile.  I wasn’t sure I knew what that meant, but almost fifty years later I remember it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my nose the last ten days, as I am recovering from surgery to repair a deviated septum.  My nose and its non-stoppable mucous production have been at the center of my existence as the need for rest and a fuzzy mind have precluded much else from consideration. (Surgery went well, and there’s been no pain, just discomfort and tiredness.)

Portrait age 11

Portrait age 11

By the time I got to high school, I was well aware I didn’t have the kind of beauty celebrated in the media, and it was painful for me.  I made my best attempts to “fix the problem” with hair style and makeup, but was never very skilled so that didn’t work.

High School Senior Photo

High School Senior Photo

Salvation (at least to some degree) came from an unlikely source:  my mother’s subscription to Vogue magazine.  In the mid sixties, during my high school years, Barbra Streisand and Cher became popular, and Vogue often featured them in multi-page spreads, with full-page facial portraits, including in profile.  These were immediately cut out and taped to my bedroom wall, reminding me that there is more than one archetype of beauty. In fact, it was clear that Barbra would have had a nose job, except that it could change her voice—too big a risk! Still, Vogue clearly considered her beautiful.  So that when people told me I looked like Barbra, I could smile and say “thank you.”  My senior photo shows my homage to her in hairstyle and (softened) makeup.

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One Hundred

Offering, Pashupatinath, Kathmandu, Nepal

Offering, Pashupatinath, Kathmandu, Nepal

A Mindful Breath began over two years ago as a way to share my photos, ideas and experiences.  This post is number one hundred!  As I began I asked advice of a friend who enjoys subscribing to blogs.  She suggested that I post on a regular schedule at least once a week, publishing on a weekday.  I’m glad I followed her advice as otherwise I doubt I would have continued this long.

Making the commitment to have the post come out every Thursday (except if there were technical difficulties or I was away) meant that often on Wednesday evening I would be sitting down at the computer wondering what I would write about.  I would moan and groan, remind myself that there were absolutely no consequences if I didn’t post, and begin scrolling through my photos or reviewing my idea list for inspiration.  It continues to amaze me that the inspiration arrived.  I’ve been grateful too that I tend to write quickly, usually with little revision, so I always got the post into the queue at a reasonable time.

I’ve been reminded that it is often difficult to resume a habit after we take a break, so my plan is to continue, perhaps with less regularity.  I have many photos in my library, continue to take more, and I am certainly always learning about this mysterious process of being human.

Thank you to all who read AMB; I’m especially grateful to those who comment either by replying to the email, going to the website and posting a comment, or saying something to me in person.  Although I enjoy doing it for its own sake, it’s even better to know that others enjoy or benefit from my musings.

May you and all beings be happy!

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Legs

Lake of the Woods Trail, Desolation Wilderness, CA

Lake of the Woods Trail, Desolation Wilderness, CA

I was walking on the trail last week feeling puny (love that word), slogging along, when I heard a voice from decades ago:  “You have strong legs—use them!” said the Aikido sensei to me during the brief period when I studied that wonderful, non-violent martial art.

I felt a jolt of energy, my speed naturally picked up, and my mood shifted.

When I shared the insight with my hiking buddy, he said “yes, I imagine my legs are the driver wheels of a steam locomotive.”  Another friend uses the image of the tracks of a (non-military) tank gliding along, effortless rolling over any obstacle.

Lamoille2For me simply being mindful of my legs has been enough to power my walking.  As I learned with meditation, the mind keeps wandering off; the trick is to notice it sooner and come back.  On this week’s hike it was my negative, worried thoughts about my fatigue or feeling my posture resume its old slumping position that cued me to re-focus.

Upper Velma Lake, Desolation Wilderness, CA

Upper Velma Lake, Desolation Wilderness, CA

Hike on!

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Sacred Waters

Dawn under full moon, Lake Tahoe

Dawn under full moon, Lake Tahoe

Last week on a meditation retreat I was inspired to swim in Lake Tahoe at dawn under the full moon.  Joined by my friend Christy (if she hadn’t said yes to my invitation, I might have slept in instead!), we braved the cold water to fully immerse ourselves.  It was interesting to have an hour-long meditation period to explore our cold bodies as they slowly warmed up.

Lake Manasarovar and Mount Kailash, TibetIt reminded my of several times I was fortunate to be in or near other sacred waters in Asia.  Lake Manasarovar, at the foot of Mount Kailash in Tibet, is one I sat near or dunked in. 

Varanasi, India

Varanasi, India

The Ganges (Ganga in India) is probably the most sacred river in the world; its headwaters are at Kailash. Indian pilgrims bathe in it in various cities along its course. 

Holy man, Sun Kosi, NepalAnd the Sun Kosi, which I kayaked in Nepal, also feeds the Ganges. This man was at our take-out, where there was a temple.

Full moon or not, I may make it a tradition to bathe at dawn in Tahoe at our annual summer retreat!

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Accountable

Larry and meGretchen Rubin posits in Better Than Before that we tend to fall into one of four tendencies, depending on how we hold ourselves accountable.  We are generally accountable internally (Questioners—we’ll only make external commitments if we understand and agree with what is being asked), externally (Obligers—we’ll follow through commitments to others, but not always to ourselves), both (Upholders—we keep our agreements with ourselves and with others), or neither (Rebels—we need to think that what we do is our own idea).

This explained a lot to me. I am mostly an Obliger.  I find it hard to keep my commitments to myself. “I’ll only eat one cookie”—then eat four.  “I’ll write my blog early”—then find myself, like now, writing it two hours before the time it’s due in the queue.  But I AM writing it, because I made a commitment to send it out to the world every Thursday, barring vacation or technical difficulties.  That is why I am nearing my hundredth post!

Last fall I discovered that my friend Larry is also an Obliger.  And like me, he is single and self-employed, so there is no boss or family member compelling him to act.  And, like me, he can get lost on the computer and avoid doing what needs to be done.

So we made an agreement.  For six weeks or so we texted each other every week day with our action plan.  We didn’t particularly follow up with the other’s commitments nor shame or praise each other—we just reported daily.  And it worked.  We were both very productive.  Recently I heard from him, and his timing was great.  I’d hit a trough and my Inner Slug (who is a Rebel:  “I’m going to do what I want, and that is to sit around and play solitaire!”) had taken over.

So we’re back to our daily posts, and I’ve already done more today than I have in too long.  Feels great!  Thanks, Larry!  Now, what to do when he leaves for Mexico in 2 weeks…

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Reunion

Lembert Dome, Yosemite

Lembert Dome, Yosemite

I should have known better.  When I casually announced I’d like to go up Lembert Dome in Yosemite, I imagined a relatively easy switch-backing trail to the top.  It does exist, but that’s how we went down, not up.

Version 2

Tenzin, Dick, me, Christy

This was a reunion of sorts.  Thirty years ago on an adventure in the Himalayan dragon kingdom of Bhutan, I bonded with our guide Christy, tent mate Dick, and logistics manager Tenzin.  All mountaineers, for them there was only one way up the dome:  directly up the face.

I’m a water girl, not a granite scrambler, or at least that’s my old story.  This was a 700-800 feet gain, sometimes so steep Tenzin had to haul me up.  Thirty years ago he had carried me up a high pass trail in Bhutan when I was sick; I joked that thirty years from now he’ll be spooning pablum into my mouth (with a shaking hand, he joked back).

Tenzin helping Heidi

Tenzin helping Heidi

There were nine of us.  The youngest, age 15, declared near the beginning that she couldn’t do it, but she conquered her panic and was the first one up (on mismatched sneakers, to boot!).  The oldest, age 86, walked on a badly hurt ankle and beat me to the top.

Sammy and I getting centered

Sammy and I getting centered

The lesson I’d first learned in Bhutan thirty years ago still held.  When I entertained negative or fearful thoughts I’d become unbalanced.  When I stayed positive I’d find the hand or foot hold, be able to look down the steep slope or out into the view, and carry on.

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Hope

Bodh Gaya, India, 2007

Bodh Gaya, India, 2007

I think Anne Frank said what is in my heart this week:

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death.

Guides in Thailand, 1087

Guides in Thailand, 1087

I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too,

IMG_1545

Bodh Gaya, India, 2007

I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”

Guides, Galapagos, 2014

Guides, Galapagos, 2014

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Alert and Relaxed

Rocky sprawled w.Cali

Rocky and Calico are very relaxed

When I hit menopause, I lost my excellent ability to nap—gone, gone, gone.  I’d lie there totally alert, practicing breathing and relaxing to no avail.  Recently I’ve had the luxury of more down time.  Those who know me will know my Inner Slug has been delighted—she’s discovered that I am sometimes able to sleep again when I nap, which has led to more napping, but a concomitant feeling of lethargy, drifting, and purposelessness.

Cali is very alert

Cali is very alert

Bali thru Heather 844

Rocky is very alert

Too alert, too relaxed—my napping behavior perfectly embodies two extremes the Buddha talked about 2600 years ago as hindrances to meditation (and, I would say, a balanced life).

When we are too alert, it’s like we have some feeling of danger, and we’re trying to pounce on every little thing that pulls our attention: an itch, a task, a worry.  When we’re too relaxed, we’re prone to sloth and torpor.

Bali thru Heather 890

Rocky and Cali are alert and relaxed

Sometimes these states are so familiar that we don’t realize we are caught in them.  Recently I told a friend I felt like I was treading water—fun to do for awhile, but not for long.  Being able to verbalize it helped me get more active again and I do feel more alert.  And, I intend to keep napping when appropriate!

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Moving Meditation

Seeing

Seeing

At a meditation retreat years ago I mentioned to my teacher that I was taking a long walk every day. He didn’t see that as a distraction, but rather an opportunity to practice another form of meditation.

When practicing concentration meditation, we direct our mind towards a single chosen object, bringing it back again and again (with kindness) every time we realize it’s strayed away.  Over time, the mind tends to settle down and is able to maintain this focus more easily.  Familiar forms this practice takes include working with a rosary, repeated prayer or mantra, or staring at a candle or other object.  My practice usually takes the breath as “home base.”

Hearing

Hearing

What my teacher suggested that day was to use four different objects to pay attention to, one at a time.  They were:

seeing

hearing

moving through space

touching (or gravity)

Moving through space

Moving through space

With seeing, it is a soft-focussed awareness of what is seen, not a searching out each thing we see.  With hearing it is similar, simply noticing sounds arriving at the ear.  Moving through space is a full-body awareness, and touching can be any felt contact, though I tend to focus on the feeling of my feet with each step. 

Touching

Touching

At no point are we to make judgments, tell stories, or otherwise get lost in content.  When that inevitably happens, we gently bring our mind back to the object we strayed from.  Since one of the ways my mind would generate thoughts is to think about when to shift, I find a landmark up ahead which will be the place where I change focus to the next object/process.  When I get there and change, I look ahead for the next transition spot.

Sometimes one’s concentration can be so strong that they all merge, and one is present to all experience as it comes and goes.  This can’t be forced, but is lovely to enjoy if it happens.

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