Salix's Shiny Things

A magpie blog.

The transcendence of the ordinary. October 14, 2014

Filed under: Buddhism — LP @ 9:49 am
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A quote from an article I read this morning:

“In our ordinary struggles with life and our interminable retreat into the compulsiveness of ordinary being, if we can look honestly, we may experience our religious sense as fully as in many high-flown writings. Looking deeply at our foolishness, we discover truth.”

Since I’ve started dating, I find myself being struck constantly with the transcendence of ordinary things.  Like the sound of him brushing his teeth while I lay on his bed.  It wasn’t as if I hadn’t experienced that set of circumstances before, but for whatever reason, this time, the simple ordinariness of it seemed utterly transcendent.  I was fully aware of the sounds, the buzz of the electric brush, wavering in tone as it was worked over the various contours, the spaces and corners of his teeth and cheeks.  Fully aware of the weight of my body on the bed, and the softness of the covers.  But beyond these local matters, I was also fully aware of the presence of this moment in time, and how this one moment was a part of all moments, like a droplet of water is part of the whole sea.

And I find myself very glad to be here, living in the world.


Beginner’s Mind and Renewal August 12, 2014

Filed under: Buddhism — LP @ 12:15 pm
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I really love the Buddhist concept of “Beginner’s Mind”.  This is one definition:

Beginner’s mind is Zen practice in action. It is the mind that is innocent of preconceptions and expectations, judgements and prejudices. Beginner’s mind is just present to explore and observe and see “things as-it-is.”


Or, as Shunryu Suzuki Roshi wrote in “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”:

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”


It’s not easy to cultivate this mind state.  Habits of mind are deep things, knowledge is important.

But so is a sense of wonder and delight at the new.

I’ve been thinking about this a great deal this week because I’m at a new beginning for myself, or a renewed beginning, really.  I’ve started an exercise and stretching routine, and I have been diligent about keeping it up for the past several days.

It’s not that easy to get back into doing something you haven’t done in a very long time.

In fact, sometimes it downright sucks.  Trying to do even simple stretches and situps and pushups is difficult, but knowing that you used to be able to handle so many more reps with ease, remembering how this stuff used to be so much easier… really sucks.

But getting frustrated is very unhelpful.  It was the main reason why I haven’t been able to keep up any kind of exercise routine for very long for years.  I’d get started, all excited to get fit and feel healthy and slim down, and then… the awareness would grow that all of this was so much easier before… and if I had been a better person, then I would have never stopped training, god it’s so frustrating, I still can’t fit into those pants, why isn’t this working? God, what’s the point?  May as well give up now, I’ll never be able to regain what I’ve lost, I’ll never be that 105 pound kid, so lithe and strong.  That explosive, ever-moving ball of energy on the fencing piste.   I’ll never be able to kick above my head like I used to.

Who could persevere against such cruel judgment?

But this time, I’m meditating.  I’m learning how to let go of judgmental thoughts.  To treat myself with the kind of care and compassion I would show a friend, to treat myself as I would want a friend to treat me.

I’m learning to embrace impermanence, to learn to appreciate change.

I’m learning to see with fresh eyes, to delight in the ordinary.

I begin, again.

Now, I focus on the fact that every time I stretch, I can go a little further.  Every time I do sit-ups, I can do a few more.  Every time I do pushups, they get a little easier.  Every time I do leg swings, they get a little higher.

Now, when I get up in the morning, I feel stronger, lighter on my feet, my core muscles coiled and ready like a spring.  Every day I get a little more confident about my body’s abilities.

This time, I’m not doing it to fit into those pants, to be slimmer and more attractive, and therefore more worthy of love.

This time, I’m doing it for me.  I’m training, you see.  I want to do martial arts.  I want to learn how to fight with a staff.  I’m doing this for fun, for the delight in being able to launch my body through space with strength, grace, speed, and power to meet an attacker.  For the strength and grace to be able to take the blows and still keep going.

Yeah, for the sheer badassery of being able to dance with a staff.

Jennifer Garner, Elektra

Jennifer Garner, Elektra

pic credit:







Metta – Learning about Lovingkindness August 9, 2014

Filed under: Buddhism — LP @ 11:24 am
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I am at the very beginning of learning about lovingkindness.  My meditations so far have been mostly breath-focused, mindful breathing, as I think (and so the books tell me) that cultivating that ability to focus on a single thing is a critical component to all meditation.  And if there’s one thing I need to learn, it is how to steady my mind, my very active, flexible, overthinking, mind.

I have started to work in a little metta, which is basically lovingkindness.  According to the Wildmind website,

The Metta Bhavana is a meditation for developing lovingkindness.
“Bhavana” means “cultivation” or “development,” and “Metta” is a word that means “love,” “friendliness,” or “lovingkindness.” So this is a meditation practice where we actively cultivate some very positive emotional states towards others, as well as to ourselves.
This meditation practice helps us to bring more harmony into our relationships with others, so that we experience less conflicts, resolve existing difficulties, and deepen our connections with people we already get on with.
This meditation helps us to overcome anger, resentment, and hurt.
It helps us to empathize more, and to be more considerate, kind, and forgiving. We can also learn to appreciate others more, concentrating more on their positive qualities and less on their faults. We learn to be more patient. 

(emphasis mine)

It is important to cultivate metta towards yourself, and expand outwards.  Now this is a bit difficult for someone like me who was raised in a culture that tends to see any such emphasis on “self” as suspect, a road towards narcissism.  I was socialized to understand that self-criticism is a good thing, otherwise people would think you’re “above” them, a snob, a bitch.

But on the other hand, how can you be truly kind to others if you cannot grant yourself the same kindness?

So when I meditate, I say these words in my mind, and notice the sensations evoked by them:


May I be well.  May I be happy.  May I be free from suffering.

It helps.  I do feel less angry, resentful, and hurt.  I am more able to see the patterns of others behaviors and predict them, so that I do not feel personally injured when they lash out at me, understanding that their behavior comes from a place of deep pain and suffering for them.

Not that I’m good at that yet, but it’s a start.


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Suffering, pain, joy, peace. August 8, 2014

Today I hurt.  Physically.  Mentally, I feel joy.  I’ve started an exercise routine and I’m sore all over.  And, for the first time in a very long time, I love the feeling of physical pain earned from good, hard work.  It feels good to ache, deeply good.

I’ve known for a very long time that physical activity is good for the mind as well as the body, that it can help depression and anxiety, and I have tried to get into an exercise routine, but it only went so far.  The exercise (mainly walking 2 miles to the store and back) was a good thing, it was helpful, but it seemed to have only superficial impact.

And now I’m beginning to understand why exercise hasn’t felt as good as it should, or as I remembered it feeling in college when I was on the fencing team (NCAA athlete!  Yes I was!) or in school when I was doing serious amounts of dance (ballet, mostly).

The bruises from my years of emotional abuse went deep.  My mental pain made me super-sensitive to any kind of pain, and it was overwhelming.  Therefore, I avoided all other pain as best I could.  The psychological pain turned me into a walking bruise, and everything hurt.  I could not find much joy or pleasure in exercise because it was mostly like pain on top of pain with no relief.

My mental and emotional and spiritual suffering was like a fog that made everything around me into more sources of suffering.

It has taken a lot of work and time to get to the point of truly recognizing that fact, and being able to do something to change it.

Beginning a formal meditation routine has been key, but what inspired me to begin meditating?  Those roots begin in the decision to get my son into Karate.  Then, being the nerd that I am, I decided to check out what the library had on karate, and martial arts in general.  That lead me to the connection between the martial arts of Asia and Buddhism, as the martial arts were said to have started at the Shaolin Buddhist monastery as a way to help the monks endure the rigors of meditation.

So a few weeks ago, I decided it was time to meditate for real, waking up early and getting down to it first thing (even before coffee!).  I can’t say that I’ve been perfect in keeping my schedule, there have been slip-ups, but more often than not, I’ve practiced meditation.

Meditation has allowed me some space, some freedom of mind, to be able to face myself and realize that I don’t need to suffer all the time.  I can find peace.  Maybe not every day, maybe not every minute, but peace and joy can be found.  And that’s enough.  Even a small opening can let light into a dark room and illuminate it.

My son and I have also been exploring martial arts movies, and have discovered that they can be real sources of inspiration to him.  Learning karate or sinawali is not easy, and it takes courage to persevere.  Martial arts movies, especially anything with Jackie Chan, whose characters my son can relate to, inspire that courage in my son.

And also in me, as it happens.  Watching the classic Jackie Chan movies from the start of his career, I find myself remembering how much I love that kind of physical activity – the stylized fights are not unlike dance.  And fencing as well – facing your opponent, knowing that he or she is probably going to hurt you at some point in the bout, but launching into it anyway, using your training and reflexes to parry blows and deliver ripostes.

A real turning point happened a couple of weeks ago (July 25, actually, as I posted the event to Facebook).  I had a dream in which I had been transformed into Jackie Chan, and it made me so happy.  Not just in the dream, but throughout the day, I was happy.  I have been carrying that happiness and cultivating it since then.

I am realizing that, to be whole, I need to recover that joyful fierceness, that part of me that loves a good fight, the scrappy me, the me that likes to dish it out as well as take it.  I think I’ve been afraid of that, of my “fight”, because, for one thing, it connects me in uncomfortable ways with my ex, who was quick to anger, and quick to lash out, and wanted to fight to put others in their place, who punched cars because she was angry at their drivers who were driving or parking in ways she thought were bad (mainly, getting in her way).

But that’s not my kind of “fight”.  I fight to defend, to dance with an equal, to compete, to challenge myself, to grow, to understand my abilities and my weaknesses, to overcome those weaknesses.    I fight for myself, not to punish others.  I fight because there can be joy in the dance.

Thank you, Jackie Chan, for showing me the way.

Jackie Chan, Legend of the Drunken Master

Jackie Chan, Legend of the Drunken Master

pic credit:










An atheist Quaker attends Church and Buddhist Meditation Group August 2, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — LP @ 7:07 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

or, an Atheist Lutheran who used to be Wiccan and thought about becoming a member of Society of Friends (Quakers) finds community in going to Church and Buddhist Meditation gatherings.

or something.


Ok, so at this stage in my life, my core belief is that there is no supernatural anything outside of our imaginations.  This is essentially a natural progression of my thinking from childhood, where I was a good church kid, Acolyte and everything, through teenager-hood, where I had a stint going to Baptist church with a friend which made me feel like I was evil and about to be struck down by God at any moment, to breaking free of that fear-of-god church with help from a Jewish/Wiccan girl who had Zen Buddhist grandparents.  I learned that God need not come in a patrician, angry male body.  God could reveal herself as motherly, which made much more sense to me – if God is love, then why not a woman?  Besides, Wiccan ceremonies looked really fun, and involved crystals and herbs and such.  Later, I went to Quaker high school and college, where I learned about the “quiet, still voice” of god that exists within everyone.

Which brings me to today:  I really do believe that God exists within everyone – as a part of our imagination, conscience incarnate in the mind.

Ideas are extremely powerful.  God is an extremely powerful idea.  Sometimes it provides us with the strength and courage to do what is right and good in the world, to help others, to overcome suffering.  Other times it serves as a force of divisiveness, fear, and control.

I am very comfortable and at home in this philosophy, my non-theistic Quaker-ish humanism.

Aside from that brief stint with the fire and brimstone Baptists, my experiences in organized religions have been mostly very positive.  Lutheran and Episcopal churches structured much of my childhood, and provided connections to family and culture and values.  So unlike many of the atheist writers I enjoy reading on a daily basis (Pharyngula’s PZ Myers, Greta Christina, Dana Hunter, and others on the Free Thought Blog network), I don’t feel the need to lash out against religion in general.  I feel like I’ve stepped out of the need to either rebel against specific religious doctrines or accept them as real.  I can set them aside, or look at them like jewels or tangled roots.

I am enjoying this freedom, this ability to attend church and sing songs and participate in communion and become a part of the community.  The ability also to attend a Buddhist meditation group, to feel the silence deepen, to be wrapped in the energy of others experiencing this silent, focused breathing.

To find in myself the ability to be truly kind to others, to realize that we’re all a bit (or a lot!) awkward, that meeting new people is difficult, that a new person in an established group is a weirdness, that it’s hard to balance the need for wanting to include and being inclusive with your need to be alone or with an old friend you haven’t seen in many years.

Accepting that nothing is permanent, not even God or the Universe, is a step towards freedom.  A scary leap, actually, but not into the void you fear, but into the life that is.


Sunrise over Yolo Bypass Wilderness Area


“To oppose something is to maintain it.”

Ursula K. LeGuin wrote the above in Left Hand of Darkness (1969), which I am rereading for the first time in about 20 (possibly 30) years.

This is good stuff, so let me quote more of the passage here:

To be an atheist is to maintain God.  His existence or his nonexistence, it amounts to much the same, on the plane of proof.  Thus proof is a word not often used among the Handdarata, who have chosen not to treat God as a fact, subject either to proof or to belief:  and they have broken the circle, and go free.

To learn which questions are unanswerable, and not to answer them:  this skill is most needful in times of stress and darkness.

To break the circle and go free – that’s Nirvana, is it not?

I’m excited to explore these ideas in greater depth as I study Buddhism more.  But as I’m just beginning that journey, I’ll save writing about it for a later date.

Speaking of writing…

I’ve always adored LeGuin’s writing.  Her language sparkles with shiny turns of phrases, and rumbles with deep emotion.  On my re-read, though, I find that I have become, somewhat sadly, a much more efficient reader than I had been in my past.  I blame grad school, where I trained myself to read tons of (frequently poorly crafted/written) articles and extract facts.  The articles and books and chapters held much useful information, but presented in language that was so stripped of beauty, wit, or even conciseness, that I learned to stop bothering about the words and just suck out the facts.  I’m not saying that I was expecting scientific articles and site reports to be literary gems or anything, but good lord, the writing could be so dire that it would impede understanding.  I was utterly surprised at how scientists, professionals in their field, authors of papers and books, (and native English speakers to boot!) could write with so little care for conciseness and control of narrative.

So I have become a very efficient reader, a reader of plot and character.  The structure beneath the words on the page.  This is good in some respects, as my age and experience allow me to touch the depths of books, their connections with other stories, their roots in culture.  But on the other hand, I am prone to missing some beautiful words arranged in beautiful ways.

Time to slow down and enjoy the journey more, I think!





Serene Sunday. And hello! (again!) April 6, 2014



pic credit:

Hello again, world!  I’ve been inspired to blog more in the last few weeks over at zisforzener and then, out of the blue, this blog got some attention.  I’d been ignoring this one because it’s a bit more painful.  It was a useful way at the time to write about things to help me get through the emotional and mental abuse I was experiencing with my partner, but it also reminded me too much of that dark time in my life.  But it has been a year exactly since I left her, and I have been wanting to write more about my journey towards self acceptance and lovingkindness, and this is the perfect way to do so.  I want zisforzener  to remain primarily about parenting, of course, and so this blog will be my everything-else blog, my “magpie” blog.  Expect ramblings about buddhism, mindfulness, recovery from abuse, mental illness (depression and social anxiety, mainly), and an occasional poem or short fictional story.  Like I said, “magpie” – all the shiny things, collected here!