Thursday, June 30, 2011


Last night, Gary, his friend Tom, I, and 1000 other people experienced Braco. (pronounced Bras-co) It was an event where this croatian guy stands on a podium and silently gazes out at the audience for what seemed like about half an hour. Everyone was completely silent. I felt a very strong sense of well-being and waves of energy moving through my body similar to creas or energy releases that sometimes happen in meditation. These sessions had been going on for two days. Ours was the last and the largest. It also featured the voice of Braco. As his voice began to be piped into the sound system I experienced strong anxiety because I couldn't understand what he was saying at all. I started to go off into a story about the woes of my hearing challenges. Aware of what I was doing, ( conscious incompetence- or the awareness of a habitual automatic behavior) I was kind to myself about being in mid-story and brought myself back to the present. I listened in a more focused way, trying to understand what he was saying and realized he was speaking in croatian. I had a giggle to myself and then hung out with the sounds.
I'm not sure how it works or what it was all about exactly and I felt very loving today. I am glad I followed my intuition to go to the event. When I listen to that still, small voice it is always validation to listen some more. I am living my life by honoring that voice more and more.
Two practices came to me this week that I would like to share with you:
One is the stay here mantra. First you draw your circle around yourself in the air- a symbol of sacred space that's made sacred by bringing yourself your own attention.
On an inhalation you say to yourself silently STAY
When you exhale you say to yourself silently HERE
You keep focusing on your breath and repeating stay as you breathe in and here as you breathe out. It is a way to gently call yourself home to this present moment and to being with yourself in your circle. I have been using it both as part of my meditation practice and in my daily life to call myself back when I wander off into a story or feel anxious. It has been very helpful. Tone of voice is important: the stay here is spoken in a kind inviting voice, rather than a voice you would use when training your dog.
The second practice is to place your hand over your heart and feel your love for yourself. Even if it is the size of the head of a pin. Breathe into that love and let yourself feel it in your heart, imagining your love growing and your heart filling. Say to yourself, "I love you and use your name. When I feel my own love for myself and say, I love you Andrea, I imagine that my love goes to the little girl inside me, too. I feel my love for her. In this way I connect to myself and to her and to love. This practice has been comforting and empowering to me. Doing this practice feels as if I am growing love. I hope you enjoy experimenting with these practices.
My computer is not willing to get different sizes, bold or italics or colors of printing right now. So this will be plain and simple and good enough. Blessings, Andrea.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Nature is my temple

Nature is my Temple. I just returned from a silent, camping, hiking meditation retreat in Rochy Mtn Natl Park. This was the second annual solstice vipassana retreat and Gary and I went last year, too. I was struck by how much has happened since last June. Last year I remember being really upset because the ending group sharing was in the darkness and I couldn't hear anyone. I felt very disabled and realized how dependent I was on lip reading. In general I had a good experience at the retreat enough to want to return this year. Little did I know at the time that Gary's house would burn down three months later and that he would loose everything. I had no idea that we would find our dream house in Boulder and that I would be living in two places that I love, that Gary and I would be engaged and that I would move my mother to Boulder. What an exciting and challenging year. I was so aware of my sense of gratefulness at the retreat. My friend Wendy told me at lunch today that she had seen a quote that said that gratefulness is great fullness. That is how I felt- filled with a great sense of fullness that moved like molten gold from my head to my toes. I also felt strong fear as it rained and thundered and lighteninged and we were in our new tent because the old one had burned up. We didn't know if it would hold up in all of the strong wind and rain and it did. The last night of the retreat there was a big rainstorm in the late afternoon and cold temperatures and rain and maybe snow were predicted all night long. We met as a group and decided to stay to finish out the retreat the next day. Half of dinner blew away and everyone managed to still get enough to eat. The cook was very skilled and her food was delicious. She said she had never cooked in those kind of conditions before and it really stretched her out of her comfort zone. It helped her a lot that everyone was really helpful. During the retreat she made special food for those of us with food allergies and placed them in a square made with blue masking tape on the picnic table. I felt very loved and cared for and realized that all of my worrying about what I would eat and all of the extra food I brought were unnecessary. I was aware of how much I worry and saw my worry as an overprotective misguided parent who wanted to protect me from imagined pain. I could be kind to myself about it and even laugh at my urgent attempt to be prepared for the worst only to have the best happen.
That night it stopped raining before dinner. We went out into our meadow surrounded by gorgeous mountain peaks to meditate and listen to a darma talk and meditate again. As the last meditation was finishing at 10pm the thunder and lightening started again and heavy rain continued all through the night. It stopped just after our morning bell rang at 5. We were able to return to our meadow to sit. We could see that where we had hiked the day before was now covered with snow. The retreat was about being in nature and allowing nature to teach us about impermanence, change and connection. She was a persistent teacher offering up many challenges with the weather. I am grateful to get to hang out in my nature temple and pray for a whole weekend with loving teachers and fellow members of this impermanent sangha or community. It's amazing to me how much love I felt for people I didn't speak a word to. I love not speaking because I don't have to worry about hearing. It is such a relief to eat in silence and really be able to taste food. It was inspiring to me to come home and eat more consciously. Although I came home and ate in front of the computer for one meal I do think the rest of the time I have been more aware of what I'm eating. I also decided to go to sleep earlier and get up earlier to allow more time for meditation. I did that last night and today did all of my disciplines before my group at 8:30 this morning. However, right now it is late and I am still writing and cooking and washing clothes. I guess my inspiration from the retreat is to accept that change comes slowly and to treat myself with kindness. It isn't about all or nothing. It is more like the changing from one season to the next little by little. Happy Solstice and a delicious longest day to you.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

mom's meds

When I moved my mother to Boulder one of my intentions was to get her off of some of her anti-psychotic meds. Her affect was very flat and she was zoned out in sort of a waking sleep. When a glimmer of wakefulness would come through she would seem to undertstand what was being said to her and sometimes respond, mostly with yes and no. Monnya and I felt Mom's presence very strongly on our trip from Alamogordo to Colorado. It was such a relief to bring her from the locked alzheimer's unit where she was maintained to Anam Chara where she is respected. My doctor, who is a knowledgeable and conscious woman, agreed to have my mother as a patient. The staff at Anam Chara agreed to an experiment to begin to lessen one of my mother's many drugs. The doctor supported this plan and gave us a safe way to begin.
In the first week my mother was agitated and frustrated. In addition she was much more alert and present. She was in her body yet didn't quite know how to handle her new energy. The staff at Anam Chara, used to my mom vegetating, were surprised to find her getting up and walking outside by herself. She fell three times. Once she was found under a lilac bush in the front yard. It isn't clear whether she fell or was just resting. So we all messed with her meds some more trying to find a balance between comfort and presence. Could we find a mix that preserved her new found presence and responsiveness and also allowed her to be comfortable? The doctor has been patient and persistant. I am so grateful to her. She treats my mother as a person. Most people do not treat my mother as a person. Older people with dementia are often treated as disrespectfully as small children and talked about in third person when they are right there.
The caregivers at Anam Chara work hard to create relationships with the residents. One caregiver in particular has really gone to bat for my mom going through her adjustment process with her meds. She knows it will take time to get it worked out and that it may be somewhat uncomfortable for everyone involved. I don't think discomfort is necessarily a bad thing. I think it is important to weigh the pros and cons of change to see what is for the highest good. It is with delight that I watch my mom become more and more responsive.
Her opinions and judgements are returning. In some ways it was a respite from all of that to have her zoned out. However, it is worth it to me to have her quality of life expanding. From what she says it is also worth it to her to be experiencing a heightened level of anxiety in order to be more alert.
I am not around her all day every day. The caregivers are. I so appreciate their efforts to support my mother in returning to her body mind and spirit as much as she is able to. I feel held in love by the whole support team. I am blessed. A caregiver took my mom to a physical therapist yesterday to evaluate her for a walker so she can be more mobile. Before the meds were changed she would never leave her chair or bed unless someone walked her. Now the PT said she felt my mom could navigate learning to use a walker. That is very exciting.
I have to work with my ego about all of this. When I go visit my mom I want her to be more alert and present. Sometimes she is and sometimes she isn't. It seemed last weekend that when I had time to spend with her she was completely zoned out and when I was there for a rushed visit she was alert and interactive. It is a good opportunity to let go of my attachment to things being different than they are and surrender my delusion of control. Letting go and opening to what is has never been my strong suit. I am getting lots of practice.
My mother's process looks like what it looks like. I need to be willing to feel my excitement, disappointment,frustration, boredom, and fear. If I am willing to feel all of what I am feeling it makes more space for the love that bubbles up. This love exists between my mother and I as two human beings sharing this earth school together. I am grateful for the chance to have her be close and to grow with her.