Unplugging Blocks With Insight Dialogue Practice

IMG_1135There’s a lot going on at the Rough House these days.  Along with trying to keep some sort of social life in tact and weeding the garden, the launch of my new website took much of my time. I felt anxious about getting it up, feeling I’d never understand the technological stuff behind it.  Thank goodness I had lots of help.

I’ve also been cranking away on my memoir. Most of the time I have a clear view of the road ahead but occasionally I get lost, winding down picturesque side streets, looking for the perfect beginning or ending for a story I’m particularly keen on. And when I write about the tough stuff, like my Mother’s last years of life, sometimes a thunderstorm is set off in my brain and I need to take a break.

In the past when that’s happened, I sat around bemoaning the fact that I didn’t feel like writing or revisiting the past. I’m a very happy person right now, living a tranquil life, and though I’ve dealt with most of my s%#t, I can sometimes find it uncomfortable to go back to a time that was particularly hard for me. But you can bet that I’ve always learned something new about myself in the process of visiting those dark days.

That’s what happened last week when I was trying to complete a chapter on the dynamics of my family of origin. I sat in front of the screen, rereading what I had already written. I couldn’t find a place to jump into a new thought or paragraph. And I was unable to find words to describe how I felt when I thought my world was falling apart, bit by tiny bit. All I wanted to do was take a nap, read a book or see a movie that would make me laugh or inspire me to go off on some new adventure to a place I’ve never been before.

So instead of sitting around fighting my lack of written words, I took action.  I went to see the movie, Francis Ha, about a young woman trying to figure out where in the world she belonged and with whom.  It was funny, and occasionally a bit depressing. But it was also about the serendipity of life and provided me with something I needed to be reminded of … that Francis would just have to trust that she would eventually find her path, by being open to whatever came her way. And so it is with me. This is a lesson that I often forget, as I try to control everything around me.

This past weekend, I did what felt like a spa weekend to me.  No, I didn’t get a facial or a massage or a pedicure.  I went to a one day Insight Dialogue Retreat taught by one of my favorite teachers who lives right here in Central Virginia, Sharon Beckman Brindley.

Insight Dialogue is a practice developed by Gregory Kramer, co-founder and president of the Metta Foundation, and author of INSIGHT DIALOGUE, The Interpersonal Path to Freedom. Sharon has studied with him. And this was my fourth one-day retreat with her.

If you go to the Foundation website you’ll read that, “Insight Dialogue is an interpersonal meditation practice. It brings the mindfulness and tranquility of silent meditation directly into our experience with other people. As humans, we are relational beings; as we begin to wake up, clarity and freedom can illuminate our relationships with others.”

And though it draws upon traditional Buddhist wisdom, it is not necessarily a Buddhist practice. People of any faith and belief system would find it useful in building more meaningful relationships with the people in their lives.

During Saturday’s retreat I partnered with another participant; someone I didn’t know well or at all. We sat facing each other, and with eyes closed, were led in a guided meditation, concentrating on our breath, the way our bodies felt, relaxing, pausing, and opening to the process. We were then given five or so minutes to silently contemplate our own generosity, something some of us rarely speak about because we’ve been taught that publicly showing that we are generous is bragging.

When the bell rang announcing the end of the contemplation, we opened our eyes. One of us became the speaker and the other became the listener. The speaker’s job was to tell the listener about his/or her generosity or lack thereof, pausing, relaxing and regrouping when the body felt a sudden tightness or discomfort.  The listener was to listen deeply without judgment to what was being said, noticing how her body was reacting. The roles would then be reversed. Further discussion can follow with the partners telling each other how it felt to talk about themselves and their kindness.

In the second half of the day we partnered with new people, this time working in groups of three. We continued our contemplation, this time about our virtues, another topic most of us rarely speak of. It was a freeing experience, especially for those of us who haven’t believed we have much goodness within us.

At the end of the day, we spoke to the entire group about what we had learned about ourselves and what new thoughts came our way. I can’t speak for everyone, but I left feeling relaxed and pampered.  What could possibly be better than being listened to deeply, without judgment.

During the retreat I came to the conclusion that this tweaking this practice would be helpful in my writing process, especially when I feel blocked and unable to forge ahead.  In taking a few minutes to relax and have an inner dialogue with myself instead of another person, concerning the difficulty of the situation I’m writing about, I’m now finding words, where  none existed before.

The weekend was topped off on Sunday by an hour and a half of Restorative Yoga, taught by another gifted instructor, Christine Davis. For me it was a perfect weekend and one I hope I’ll be able to participate in again sometime soon.

What about you? How would you spend a perfect weekend?

The Courage Of A Seed

Water Lily Seed Head, © Joan Z. Rough

Water Lily Seed Head,
© Joan Z. Rough

“In nature, we are quietly offered countless models of how to give ourselves over to what appears dark and hopeless, but which ultimately is an awakening beyond our imagining.  All around us, everything small and buried surrenders to a process that none of the buried parts can see.  We call this process seeding and this innate surrender allows everything edible and fragrant to break ground into a life of light that we call Spring.  As a seed buried in earth can’t imagine itself as an orchid or hyacinth, neither can a heart packed with hurt or a mind filmed over with despair imagine itself loved or at peace.  The courage of the seed is that, once cracking, it cracks all the way.  To move through the dark into blossom is the work of soul.”

Mark Nepo, Seven Thousand Ways To Listen, Staying close to What Is Sacred

 Last Sunday, found me shuffling through a pile of books that I had started reading and put aside because something else called to take their place for the moment.

I had started reading Mark Nepo’s, Seven Thousand Ways To Listen, in early December.  Wanting to preserve the sweetness of the experience of reading Nepo’s words, I opened it daily, reading only a few pages or even just a few paragraphs at a time.  I would ponder what I had just read, savoring the wisdom, as I might a raspberry lozenge that I don’t want to dissolve on my tongue too quickly.

Obviously, it was slow going and in the midst of total chaos and my failed time management in February, I set it aside until things calmed down and I could once again tap into the richness of Nepo’s writing.

Sunday, I opened the book slowly to the page where I had left off, starving for a shot of spiritual wisdom. I sat in my reading chair, while a chorus of birds sang just outside my window, and read the words above.

It was like a homecoming … finding a long-lost relative who I haven’t seen in years.  I was awed by the words and found myself rereading them over and over, filling up the empty spaces in my heart that had been drained over the past month or two.

I am so ready to begin reading just a bit of this book again every day … without rushing, so that the words settle in my soul and I again carry within me the courage of a seed.

What are you reading?  Do you have a book that you cherish and read only a few sentences at a time?

Meet Max

IMG_0652I can’t help myself.  Today is the day I usually post a quote that inspires me.  But we’ve a new member of the family and just can’t wait to introduce him to you.  If you haven’t read this blog before you need to know that I love dogs. There are many posts to check out here if you do, too.

Just over a week ago we lost our dog, Brody, to pneumonia.  My family, the people who took such good care of him at day care every Thursday, and Brody’s veterinarian team were all devastated.  He had lived with us for only six weeks and I could not understand how I would be able to go on without filling the enormous hole he left in my heart.

My very kind and sensitive dog trainer friend, Karen, sent me a picture of a picture of Max and so began the task of my beginning to come to terms with what I now understand to be part of my job description in this life.  I was an abused child. I find it comforting and necessary to take in small abused and abandoned dogs. That does not mean that I stop grieving for all of those gentle souls who have shared their time with me.  There will always be cracks and crevices in my heart through which sorrow and tears will seep when I think of them.

This new little guy in named Max and he came to live with us this past Sunday.  He weighs in at about thirteen pounds and is mostly, if not all, a Shih Tzu. He lived with a single mom and her two kids.  One day she decided she’d had enough and packed up the kids and the dog and dropped them off at her mother’s house.  He was turned into a shelter because the kid’s grandmother couldn’t take care of the children and the dog, too.

Max hadn’t been clipped for a good long time and was covered with mats and infested with fleas.  The caring folks at the Louisa Humane Society, took him from the shelter. They had him shaved down to his skin and put him in a foster home until he could be adopted out.  His foster parents took great care of him and were kind and generous to be able to give him up.  I would not have been able to.

IMG_0632He is a sweetheart of a dog. Gentle, quiet, and he loves to cuddle more than anything else.  He and Sam are beginning to make friends and Lily, who tried to avoid him altogether, has finally given in.  Just this morning I found her rubbing up against Max, the way cats do to mark their belongings and territory.

Yesterday, Max passed his test at doggie day care with flying colors.  I took him in for a brief visit where he was introduced to a number of other dogs to make sure he won’t cause trouble in the big day care pack.  Tomorrow will find him there, mostly following big brother, Sam, around and figuring out the ins and outs of day care.

He’s been sleeping at night in a crate since he’s been here, but at 5:30 this morning he woke me, asking to be let outside.  When he returned instead of going back into the crate, he jumped up on the bed and curled up next to me under the covers.  Uh-0h!  I wonder where he’ll want to sleep tonight.  Although I prefer that he sleep in the crate, (Sleeping with dogs in the summer time can get overly warm.) he just might get the best of me.IMG_0630

Compassion And Being Enough

Hellebores ready for the garden.

Hellebores ready for the garden.

During the last seven years of my mother’s life, I was her caretaker.  Except for the last five months of her life, she lived in my home with me and my husband, Bill.  It was a hard time for all of us.  My mother was narcissistic and difficult in the best of times.  But as she  crept slowly into the world that awaits all of us at the end of our lives, she became even more difficult.  Her behavior triggered responses in me that I regret and have been difficult for me to come to terms with.  No, I did not physically abuse her.  Above everything else I wanted to help her through the darkest of days and to feel loved by her.  Now, six years after her death I know that she did love me, but at the time I did not see or understand what was happening.  I searched for comfort where ever I could find it, especially in books.  I often read the following quote from Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s book, The Dance, to help me through those dark times:

“In My humanness I forget that who I am is enough, especially when I am hurt or afraid of being unloved.  Immersed in the pain and fear that are part of this forgetting, I sometimes hurt another.  Yet even this failure, for which I must take responsibility, calls me not to change who I am, to hold myself within my innately compassionate heart.  And I learn about the expansiveness of who we are, an expansiveness that makes us capable of compassion where we thought it was impossible.”

Getting Lost

DSC00269“When we lose our map, our real knowledge of the path begins.”

Mark Nepo, Seven Thousand Ways To Listen

One Halloween evening, a very long time ago, when I was maybe in second grade, my mom helped me get dressed up as a gypsy. We drove to town and got lined up to be in the village Halloween Parade. It was complete with a high school marching band, police officers on horseback, and lots of other kids just like myself, all in costumes, ready to pick up the candy that the watching crowd would be tossing along our path as we marched down Main Street.

Mom stood right next to me and as we all started to move along, she dashed off to the side of the street, promising she’d be there, walking along with me the whole way. I remember being scared. I didn’t know any of the other kids and I’d never been in a parade before. I was a shy little girl, so there was no spontaneous going up to other kids and introducing myself.

I tried to keep an eye on Mom, as I moved down the street picking up O. Henry Bars, Almond Joys and all sorts of other sweets that were tossed my way. I was sure these goodies would overflow the orange paper sack I carried and that at home, I’d have to hide all of it from my little brother.  I imagined having enough candy to last me until next Halloween when I would simply do it all over again.

But halfway down Main Street, I realized that Mom wasn’t where she said she’d be.  I stopped in my tracks, looking up and down the street for her, as all of the other boys and girls kept marching by picking up all the loot.  The street was lined with what I thought were millions of people, but I couldn’t find my mother among them.

I started to cry. I stood there in terror, not knowing whether to follow the crowd or to go back to where I thought we had started.  A very kind man, dressed up in firefighting gear, came up to me and asked what the matter was. I told him I was lost and didn’t know where my Mom was. He took my hand and led me down the street to where the parade was breaking up. After a few very long moments, there she was, as concerned about me as I was about having lost her. She gave me a big hug, thanked the Fireman, and we piled in the car and went home. Needless to say, there were few pieces of candy in my bag, but I did have my mom and I was safe and sound.

I think about that story a lot whenever I’m in a strange place and don’t know exactly where I’m going. Fear still stalks me when I think I’m lost and will never be able to find my way home again. And too often I’ve held back, not allowing myself to venture out into the world, afraid of finding myself in a rundown slum, surrounded by the world’s most incorrigible creatures, begging for my life.

But then I tell myself, “Hey, what’s wrong with you?  We’re always lost and like Dorothy in the Wizard of OZ, we never know where we’ll find ourselves from one minute to the next.  Might as well, slow down and enjoy the scenery.”

Like the time Bill and I found a tiny perfumery, tucked away on a hillside on the Burren in County Clare, Ireland. Driving through that rocky stretch of ultra rural countryside, we got mixed up and horribly lost.  The road signs all seemed to be pointing in the wrong direction.  We were trying to find our way to Galway from Shannon where we had just that morning arrived on the Emerald Isle. It was a scenic and beautiful route and had we not gotten lost I never would have found the little vial of flower mastery that I later took home with me.  And we would never have found the roadside restaurant where we enjoyed some of the world’s best mussels flavored with heaps of garlic.

wr-1These days I still get lost both outwardly and inwardly. I’m discovering that allowing myself to wander about in the unknowing of life is much easier to manage than I thought … and the best way to discover the beautiful world I live in.

How do you feel about getting lost? Do you turn it into an adventure or like me get scared?