The Silence that Speaks the Eloquence of the World: Two Liberating Questions

In every breath we can experience the whole of life, and death. We breathe out, and reach a point where there’s no breath left, almost no oxygen. We must let go, shift focus, and breathe in so we can live. And when inhaling, we reach a point where we’re too full. We must stop and let go. Life depends on these two ways of letting go⎼ to let us open more to life, or to stop what causes hurt and delusion. A sort of yes, no. Living and dying together.

 

When we inhale, there’s a pause, or can be⎼ if we put our attention on it⎼ when everything naturally gets quiet. We might hold our breath to hold the silence, the peacefulness. When we exhale, there’s also a point where we easily pause. We can become very awake and focused on everything that’s right there with us. We breathe ourselves awake.

 

Zen teacher and author Susan Murphy talks about the deeply mortal fear sitting at the back of every breath, unless we take time to notice and examine it. The fear of death, of breathing out for the last time, or feeling we lack something we need or want. It sits there, unseen, in the breath, waiting⎼ a fear that we can’t face life moving on, that nothing is forever⎼ that we can’t face reality and must separate ourselves emotionally from “it.” Or we cling to the delusion that we will always be here, that we can step out of time.

 

But there are several practices that help me feel the strength to examine and even transform that fear. Here are five: creation, exertion, being in nature, compassion, and love.

 

It’s not just any sort of creative act that does this, but one we do with total honesty. When we get very quiet inside, and nothing is in mind but the moment of noticing, then insights emerge seemingly on their own. They speak, not me. Even a brief visit beforehand to this silence, to take a breath with full attention, to meditate opens a natural door to creating.

 

Walking in nature can do something similar. I’m walking in a forest, next to a stream; or I’m on the rural road near my home and hear water running. And I want to get lost in the beauty of the sound. I look at the gulley beside the road, to see where the sound originates, or to better hold onto it, but can’t. It disappears on me when I try to grasp it. Maybe trying to grasp or cling to anything does this. We can grasp a hammer, a shirt, maybe even a Presidency, for a while. But a musical note, a moment, love, peace, even life⎼ no.

 

We spend so much of our time now enraptured or entrapped by the ways corporate and social media distract and manipulate our attention, and break everything into tiny bits of information or enticements. We focus so much on not missing out, on doing more and more, and the internal pace of our lives speeds up. We can habitually feel we’re falling behind. We feel what philosopher and Zen teacher David Loy calls a sense of lack, of inadequacy, in ourselves, in our lives. That if we don’t own the latest I-phone, hear the latest record, believe the latest theory, join a certain group there’s something wrong with us.

 

All this fragments our attention and speeds us to the edge of feeling threatened and anxious. But it might also open us to what was the central question in the life of Buddha, to maybe a central question of modern psychology and human society: what is, what causes, what ends what Buddha labeled Dukkha, or unsatisfactoriness, suffering⎼ or mislocating the sense of lack, suffering as being out there, separate from us, so we never get free of it….

 

*To read the whole article, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

Transformative Moments with Trees: The Limits of Usefulness and the Beauty of Imperfection

My wife and I live in rural America on a dirt road on a sometimes-steep hill. Near our home, rising out of a steep bank, is an old red maple tree whose extensive root structure was torn open years ago when the road department widened the road to accommodate large snowplows. Many of us who live in the neighborhood resisted this move very loudly, because the trees lining the road were beautiful and made the road look so ancient.  A neighbor, inspired by other activists in the news at the time, tied herself to one of the trees.

 

But the resistance was short-lived. The crews with chain saws, excavating machines, backhoes, etc. came up the road cutting trees and carving out the banks. Exposing the roots of this one large tree which remains there even today as a reminder.

 

Sometimes, when I focus on the tree, it looks beyond sad. I feel a vulnerability, a pain constantly renewed, a wound that can never heal.  A wound that we humans caused, we humans with our frequent disregard for the health of the earth we depend on. Other times, the roots look very different, look like a secret layer from underneath the surface of the earth, a mystery that had been exposed. Unseen by us, there’s layers of possibly infinite interconnections all twisted and woven together. This is what we stand on.

 

Or maybe the two viewpoints are really one. Maybe there’s an infinite layer of vulnerability and pain, life and death woven into everything. And the pain is what we feel when we can’t sense the infinite weave.

 

We built our house room by room many years ago, in an old, abandoned apple orchard, fitting it in-between trees so we wouldn’t have to cut any. Outside our front door is one that is probably over 100 years old. It barely holds itself together anymore. Its trunk has a large hole running through its center and only three medium-large branches are left alive. It has some blossoms every spring but no edible fruit. Yet, it persists, and we can’t bear to cut it down.

 

Our cats would object strenuously if we did. They depend on the tree as a ladder to the roof and the second story of the house, where their cat window is placed. They love siting on a limb of the tree and looking down at the wildlife that enters the yard. The tree also provides some shade to the front of the house keeping it cool.

 

One morning years ago, when we had almost completed the first room of the house, and the tree was younger and still bearing fruit, I went out to feed the birds. We had a feeder, but also scattered seeds on the ground. This was before we had any pets. A few birds quickly appeared. The first was a chickadee. Maybe the tree had been feeding it for years, so when I held out a hand open with seeds, one bird flew into it to grab some food and fly off.  I was so excited; I offered my hand again. And the bird, or some bird, returned. Maybe the birds saw us as kin to trees.

 

The tree speaks to us, although at a frequency beyond our hearing, but not beyond our feeling. It speaks of a bond between us. I used to clean old bark off the tree every spring, which exposed new growth. It felt to me that the tree took it as a massage, because afterwards it always looked refreshed, more colorful, and alive. I don’t know if that feeling was in the tree or in me, or maybe there was no difference. Maybe this was what the tree spoke to me about. About silent bonds. About living for relationships. Maybe because of my affection for the tree, it felt like the tree had affection for me….

 

*To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

What Underlies Our Creativity? The Infinite and the Finite are Two Hands that Clap the World into Existence

When I was teaching secondary school, students often asked: Where does creativity come from? Does it come from me? Is it a gift we are born with? Does it arise from how we relate to our lives? Is it from the universe itself speaking?

 

In a similar way, I sometimes wonder how I can keep writing blogs. I try to write one a week, but sometimes don’t succeed and can barely say a word. I worry that I’ve run out of ideas. Other weeks, I write three or four blogs and it seems everything I see or hear has hidden treasure in it.

 

Sometimes, even if I have something to say for myself, I wonder if I have anything helpful to say to anyone else. When I was in college, and about to go out on a date, I feared I would run out of topics for conversation. Or if I had a paper to write, I wondered if I could come up with anything original or real to write about.

 

Right now, I’m looking out of my window and see the edge of the forest. At first, I see the forest, a whole grouping of trees, grass, the dried stalks of flowers⎼ all at once. Then I notice a rhododendron bush, with green leaves that shine even though it is very gray right now, and rain or snow seems about to burst from the air. Or just beyond it, the naked, old branches of a lilac ⎼ thin fingers reaching out to heaven.

 

Even in this seemingly simple setting, there is a vast universe of unrecognized details. At first, an unverbalized, un-languaged sensing, a taking everything in. Then, words arise, individual details, singular things are born, but the vision of the whole obscured.

 

To make sense of all of this, my mind utilizes patterns of thinking I’ve found useful in the past, theories about reality, memories of recent as well as distant events. Everything I have ever thought or felt is alive in this scene that stares back at me as I stare at it. But I’m only conscious of one bush, one tree, one Buddha statue covered with shades of green moss, one memory of feeling as gray as the air now looks.

 

And yet, every once and awhile, if I’m attentive⎼ if I take a moment to just breathe; to take a walk or meditate⎼ then the normal noise of rushing from one concern to the next is paused, juxtaposed against a blank screen. I get quiet enough to hear what before was hidden. Maybe feel that original, pre-language sensing. The pattern of my thoughts or assumptions pops out in my mind. And when I do read a word or hear someone speak, I have a much better chance of perceiving not only the words but the feeling and reality beyond the words.

 

Author Robert Pirsig, in Part II of his novel, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Ethics, talks about how, in science, the more you look, the more you see. This sounds simple until you get to his conclusions. Pirsig, speaking of his main character, says:

 

“He coined a law.… ‘The number of rational hypotheses that can explain any given phenomenon is infinite.’ It pleased him never to run out of hypotheses. Even when his experimental work seemed to dead-end in every conceivable way, he knew that if he just sat down and muddled about it long enough, sure enough, another hypothesis would come along….

 

If the purpose of scientific method is to select from among a multitude of hypotheses, and if the number of hypotheses grows faster than experimental method can handle, then it is clear that all hypotheses can never be tested. If all hypotheses cannot be tested, then the results of any experiment are inconclusive and the entire scientific method falls short of its goal of establishing proven knowledge.” “[A]s you try to move toward unchanging truth through the application of scientific method, you actually do not move toward it at all. You move away from it!”

 

Substitute logic for scientific method and a hypothesis jumps out at us. Reason and science increase our understanding. They allow humans to develop and survive. But reality far exceeds any rational thought about it—and the value of the world, of reality, far exceeds anything we can imagine, certainly exceeds any use we can imagine for any part of it…..

 

*To read the whole blog post, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

How to Be Who We Truly Are: Sometimes, Our Dreams, And Those Closest to Us, Can Show Us Exactly What We Need to See

When I was in college, I was totally engrossed in learning, studying philosophy, psychology, etc. Equally I was involved in demonstrating for everything from stopping a war to getting funds to feed and clothe children. I felt that the life of the world and my life shared the same stream.

 

But right now, in this time in history, the link between most of us and those in power has grown too distant. The sense that what I do influences world events or that life has meaning in and of itself is getting lost. Sometimes, I can feel like one overwhelming cloud is darkening all our lives.

 

But other times⎼ for example, last night. I don’t know why, but even something little can change everything. I went to bed, did a short meditation, said goodnight to my wife and cats. And when I turned out the lights, like usual, the darkness surrounded me. But it was a different sort of darkness, amazingly quiet, except for the soft purring of the cats, and so much like an embrace. The anxiety and worry disappeared. No thoughts were anywhere.

 

And right there, while resting my head on the pillow, I felt in the middle of everything. The quiet of that specific moment encompassed everything. I can barely describe it now, other than to say the night seemed to open to me. All that was needed was to let myself in. And a sense of peace would be waiting for me. And then it was.

 

We so benefit from better understanding ourselves. I’d been having a painful and possibly serious health issue. And last week, I needed to undergo a medical procedure to help heal it. The night before the procedure, I was anxious. Since I had to wake up earlier than normal to get to the hospital, and my condition often interfered with sleep, I was worried about how much sleep I would get.

 

But I fell asleep just fine. And soon entered a dream. Without going into too much detail, my dream-self heard, and then saw through a window, someone outside our house. There was snow on the ground. The person was walking away from me and suddenly fell into the snow. I got up to go out after them. But before I could, the dream changed location.

 

I was in a huge barnlike structure occupied by a group of maybe ten, maybe twenty people. I couldn’t see any of them clearly. And someone was just out of sight, partially hidden. But I could clearly feel this mystery person was important and was getting ready to lead the group in an activity.

 

However, one person in the group, who I felt to be an outlier, an independent sort, started chanting Ooommm. Or AUM. On their own. A few others joined in. I joined in. This was a simple OM, very natural. It’s a practice I first learned in a college improvisational theatre group. Just taking a breath in; and as we breathed out, we let the air pass through the vocal cords and naturally vibrate out the sound. Concentrating on the feel of the sound, we then heard the silence we created in and around us….

 

*To read the whole article, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

Reading, and Sensing an Immense World: It Takes a Universe

A wonderful friend and former colleague recommended a book to me that I found fascinating. It’s called An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us, by Ed Yong. It speaks to so many issues and concerns of our world today.

 

We both live the truth, and an illusion. The world we perceive can be so clear, immediate, and vital to us. Yet it sits imbedded in innumerable other worlds, universes, though we don’t and can’t perceive almost any of them. We mistake what we see for all that is there. What we perceive is not the world but one our human brain and body have evolved to perceive.

 

For example, Yong points out that we humans “cannot sense the faint electric fields that sharks and platypuses can…[nor] the magnetic fields that robins and sea turtles detect.” Our ears can’t hear the ultrasonic calls of hummingbirds or the infrasonic speech of elephants and whales. We can’t perceive the infrared radiation that is the heart of what snakes detect or the ultraviolet light birds and bees sense every moment.

 

Each species has what Yong, borrowing from Baltic-German zoologist Jakob von Uexkull, called an umwelt or perceptual world. A tick does not perceive a tree, green leaves, blue skies. It doesn’t ignore them. It simply is incapable of sensing or knowing them; they are outside its umwelt. Likewise, we can’t sense the tick’s world.

 

Too often we ignore, or are ignorant of these co-existing realties, and we harm other species by imposing our perceptual system bias on them. For example, our submarines use underwater noises that confuse whales and drown out their calls. The glass panes in our homes appear as bodies of water to a bat’s sonar. We hurt our cats and dogs by interfering in their use of their primary sense activity, sniffing, and unknowingly impose our human visual bias on them.

 

If we can’t understand what the other worlds are like to live in, Yong points out maybe we can use our reason and imagination to honor and recognize them. For example, we can imaginatively enter the world of a dog, or even more so, an elephant. Scents, unlike light, do not move in straight lines. They go around corners, up and down, swirl, and twist in all directions. Humans have fine noses. But a dog not only has more sense receptors, a larger olfactory bulb and scent-brain than we do, but a more complicated nasal structure.

 

When we humans exhale, we purge odors from our nose. But each nostril of a dog is divided in two so it can exhale carbon dioxide while inhaling more aromas. This is one reason they can detect low blood sugar levels or tumors in humans or discern a single fingerprint on a microscopic slide even after it was outdoors for a week. They can smell in the air an oncoming storm.

 

For dogs, everything around them includes the scent not only of what’s here, now, but the past and future. And smell has the most direct link to the brain of any sense. And since that link goes right to the brain’s emotional center, I imagine their world is dominated by emotions. Some might doubt the rich emotional lives of many animals but this science argues otherwise….

 

*To read the whole article, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

 

When We Don’t Try to Appear Divine, The Divine Within Us Speaks: Last Night, I Spoke with the Pope in A Dream.

I am not Catholic, and not religious in the usual sense. Yet last night, I spoke with the Pope in a dream.

 

In the dream, he was clearly the Pope. Everyone recognized him, even though it wasn’t clear which Pope he was. He was tall, thin, with a clearly expressive face, and energetic in his speech. But he was lying down, in a bed.

 

Whether he in the dream bore any resemblance to him in history or in any daytime reality, I have no idea. Maybe the dream Pope was closer to who the Pope was before becoming Pope. Maybe he was an archetype of a Pope or spiritual leader or teacher and his dual nature, and my own, was speaking in the dream.

 

The setting was night, in New York City. Probably, I was attending a conference on education, or maybe philosophy. In the dream, he was younger than Pope Francis I is now. Friendly. Not a stickler for protocols. Attentive. Wise. Dignified, like someone very familiar with being on stage, or making big decisions. Yet, down to earth. He was just there, lying down yet there with me, talking.

 

I kept on wanting to scream out with excitement to any passersby, “Here is the Pope. This is the Pope lying here. On this bed.” And to totally focus on him. Just ask him questions, like “How are you doing? What’s it really like to speak to God? What’s going on with the Yankees?” Or “is heaven really a realm separated from the known physical universe? Or is it a metaphor for what we could experience right here and now?”

 

I didn’t ask those questions. Didn’t even ask about the sex abuses of priests or justice for DJT’s crimes. Those questions would break the mood, the atmosphere, and send him and me back to daytime reality.

 

He asked about me, who I was. About my teaching. Not intrusively, but respectfully, subtly. He was a very subtle person.

 

And humble. I think he was enjoying the conversation and enjoying life. But why was he lying down? Was he not feeling well? Was he tired? Was it because in my actual body I was lying down and in bed? Was this a reference to the Buddha, reclining or lying down during his final illness, and death, before he entered parinirvana or complete enlightenment?

 

It was never clear how it happened that I came upon the Pope.

 

I soon woke up. It was the middle of the night. I wrote down what I could remember of the experience and then fell back to sleep.

 

And re-entered the dream ⎼ but from a different angle….

 

…But I can accurately record the feeling that remained after part one and still remains now. It was of grace and beauty. Or of love and compassion actualized in a person. Or maybe of the potential lying in all of us, to speak from God ⎼ or from whatever truth lives within us. If only…

 

**To read the whole post, please go to The Good Men Project.

The Sound that Quieted the World: Saying Farewell to a Friend and Regrets

Max died recently. He was one of our three cats. When we were out of town visiting my brother last week, there was an awful storm here that knocked out the power for 18 hours. We don’t know for sure, but from the report of the cat sitter and the awful images in our imagination, the loud scream of our generator joined with the lightning and thunder to frighten him into hiding, a hiding he never came out of. Or maybe, he just knew it was his time. Cats seem to know such things.

 

We looked for him for days. We looked and looked and called and called and always expected, or maybe so wanted him, dreamed of him, prayed for him to just emerge from the bushes or from wherever. But he didn’t emerge. I finally found him hidden out of sight in one of his safe places. Until that moment, we could never accept that he was dead.

 

He was such a good friend. He was originally found on the streets with his sister before being taken to the ASPCA. And he remained a street cat in spirit all his years, loving to be outdoors. He’d come inside at dinner time, ask for food, but not eat it until we put it outside. But when he did come in to see us at night, or to rest or sleep, he was our only cat who cuddled. Who sat in our lap or slept on top of one of us.

 

He had a heart problem. One night, when he was a few months past his first birthday, we heard a scream outside. We guessed he was in a fight. I ran outside, looked up into the ancient apple tree that sits outside our front door. And Max fell from a high branch into my arms. Literally.

 

We took him to the best vet we knew. She said Max wouldn’t live for more than a year. His heart was not able to adjust to any deep stress he would face. She prescribed surgery to give him a pacemaker. We then took him to Cornell Veterinary College for a second opinion. They said don’t do the surgery. It probably wouldn’t work, and if it did, he’d never be able to roam outside again. That would have killed him. He clearly didn’t die that year, or for another 12.5.

 

It hurt so much when I found him. All the worry and wondering where he was and what had kept him away turned to anger, guilt, and pain. When the fearful wall of death meets the universe of love, an intensity of what ifs, of should and could have beens, can arise. The intensity of regret increases with the number of half-lived, half-hidden moments we’ve stored away. And it decreases, hopefully, with the gratitude, amazement, even grace mixed in with the grief. There’s something so naked and mysterious in many relationships between humans and beings of other species.

 

We had a funeral for him in our yard. As we covered him with soil, we also covered him with memories, with “We love you, Max.” “We’re so sorry.” And then, unplanned, I started chanting “Aum.” My wife joined in. The notes seemed to rise up and quiet the world….

 

*To read the whole post, please go to The Good Men Project.

 

Remembering Those Who Have Loved Us: Only By Being Open Can We Understand What Love, And Life, Can Bring. Revisited.

Love is a mystery. Certainly, we can talk about what it feels like when we love or feel loved. Neuroscience can tell us about our brains in love, poets can expose some of the depths of the emotion, and psychology and mindfulness can awaken us to how it arises in ourselves. Yet, relationships touched by love have qualities that go beyond anything we can consciously explain.

 

My Mom died 15 years ago, yet every Mother’s Day I still have an urge to do something for her. I feel she is alive and have to remind myself she is not. She so often reminded me to be aware of other people’s feelings, not just my own, that I still search for her within myself.

 

She didn’t talk about empathy and compassion but showed it. She was able to take people in, to see who a person was and embrace them. When I first brought Linda, who is now my wife, to meet my parents, my Mom accepted her right away. There was no mother-girlfriend conflict. The same was true with her relationship with my brother and his wife.

 

She still appears in my dreams at times and talks to me. Maybe we all have similar experiences, not only with our moms but with anyone dearly loved.

 

One night, just as my wife and I were about to enter a restaurant in our hometown to eat dinner, I got a lesson about just how deep a connection can exist between two people. As I grabbed hold of the door to the restaurant, I suddenly felt an intense pain in my chest. I let go of the door and bent over. I stayed there for a few minutes, unsure what to do. In a few minutes, the pain dissipated, and we went in to eat our meal, feeling a bit worried and confused.

 

When we left, I checked my cell phone for messages. I often turn it off.  I had only one message; it was from my Dad. However, as I listened, I didn’t hear my Dad speaking to me. Instead, I heard his voice, sounding upset, and at a distance, mixed in with other loud voices. At first, I was bewildered. But as I listened, it became clear I was hearing a recording of EMTs trying to revive my mom. It turns out she had had a heart attack just as we were about to enter the restaurant. My dad found her a few minutes after the attack and called the EMTs. Then he called me and accidently left his phone on recording my Mom’s death.

 

If I didn’t have a witness, many people would doubt that this occurred. I even doubt it myself sometimes. To borrow from Shakespeare, there is more to love than can be dreamt of in any of our philosophies.

 

My mom modeled what it is to love. She did this in the way she took care of us. She did this with my Dad in the way they cared for each other. My parents showed me what relationship was about. They showed what life could give us. Whatever or whomever I love carries their influence. My Mom and Dad live in my ability to love.

 

It’s weird that we must learn and re-learn these basic lessons over and over again….

 

*This revisited blog was published by Medium and an older version posted by The Good Men Project.

A Strange Illness: Reflecting on What Plagues Us and What Links Us to Everything

Since COVID, it’s clearer than ever that illness is a lot stranger than we might think. Illness isn’t just a matter of catching a bug or being a victim of a pandemic or exposure to environmental pests or pollution, or of aging⎼ although pandemics, bugs, aging, and the environment are certainly involved. So much seems to be involved.

 

When I was in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone, West Africa, I caught a bug, or a few bugs of different kinds. And when I became ill and had to leave the village and country where I lived, I found out the people I left behind felt responsible for my illness. Not that they thought they should have taken better care of me. They believed someone in the village had caused me to get sick. For them, the germ of all illness was bad thoughts and intentions spread from one villager to another.

 

And in the U. S. many feel illness is a sign of weakness; that we or the sick person is somehow deficient, not strong enough to fight it. At work, we might denigrate someone who stays home to treat an illness ⎼ or we used to before COVID. Now, we hopefully just wish them to get well.

 

Ill can have several meanings and connotations, most are relative or comparative. To be ill is to be in an abnormal, unfavorable, undesirable state, and that we’re hurting, threatened, suffering, or have some defined condition called a disease.

 

In Buddhism, the word for suffering is Dukkha, although the translation is debated. Zen teacher Steve Hagen, in his wonderful book Buddhism Plain and Simple: The Practice of Being Aware, Right Now, Every Day, says Dukkha is in opposition to Sukkha, or satisfaction, so instead of suffering we get unsatisfactory. But more accurately, he says, imagine a bicycle wheel out of kilter. Every time the wheel spins around to the “off” spot, there’s a bounce or wobble that’s bothersome, produces pain, and makes us unhappy. Suffering is being out of kilter. Another Zen teacher, David Loy, analyzes suffering as the sense of something  missing, lacking, in ourselves, in life.

 

We can see suffering all around us. In Buddhism, the first of the four noble truths Buddha realized in his enlightenment was Dukkha, recognizing suffering, being out of kilter is just part of life. The other three are that there’s a cause of suffering, a way to let go of or cease suffering, and a path to that cessation. So, is all life tied to illness? Is suffering the same as illness? Or a response to it?

 

Part of me says, “you know what it is to be ill.” But do I? I know when I hurt and something in my body is off.  But when I try to define illness, I can get lost in the complexity. And sometimes I am ill or in pain, but I’m not suffering. The pain sort of reassures me I’m alive.

 

There are conspiracy theories, exaggerations, lies about illness, especially the pandemic⎼ but there’s also science. The mind and body, despite having separate labels are never separate; they are two words for ways to view one reality. When we feel powerless, or depressed emotionally, for example, we’re depressed physically. Likewise, when we do things like mindfulness meditation, we improve immune response, digestion, heart rate, etc. and the breadth of our awareness. We don’t suffer as much, depending not on what’s happening but on our response to it….

 

 

*To read the whole piece, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

When Sleep Eludes Us: Instead of Focusing on the Sleep We’re Losing, Notice the Moment We’re Gaining

Last night, I fell asleep around 12:30 am and woke up about an hour later. It’s not unusual for me to wake up several times in the night due to pain and other reasons. Or to wish the hour was later and the night closer to being over. Or to hear myself wishing that for once, couldn’t I just sleep through the night. Then I tire of that.

 

I look outside the window at the night sky. The trees, stripped naked by winter, form a delicate lattice pattern made visible by a graying sky. The sight broadens my perspective. And I sit down and hold both the discomfort and pain that woke me up along with the sky that surrounded me and everything else. And I go back to bed and sleep.

 

I notice the quality of the night because I’ve learned from previous sleepless moments and writing about them how important it is to do so.

 

I learned that how I responded to waking up was crucial to getting back to sleep. And to be aware of my response required a specific sort of sensing, and monitoring, a mindful, open, non-judgmental one. One that allowed me to see the reality I was facing with more clarity.

 

Pain and sleeplessness can be so awful and disruptive. But maybe the worst part of it, and what deepens it into suffering, is feeling powerless before it or not knowing what caused it. If we think our chest pain is the beginning of a heart attack, we feel the pain more intensely than if we think we have stomach gas. If we’ve had the pain in the past and seen a doctor, received answers about what’s causing the symptom and how to treat it (and that it’s treatable), it’s often easier to face.

 

And when we are ready and can face what we feel, or expand our vision beyond it, we have the possibility of transforming it. In dreams and nightmares, when we run from the monster that chases us, it gets bigger. So far in my life, almost every time I turned towards the monster, it turned away from me or transformed into something either friendly or less fearsome.

 

So how we respond to what happens is as important as the fact we experienced it. Knowing this is powerful. It can take us out of our ideas of who we are and let us return to the broader reality of what we’re feeling right now.

 

I learned from being awake in the depths of night to notice and let go of any thoughts or expectations I had about what I’d see or hear. And to look specifically for beauty. To befriend the night as much as I could. To recognize darkness can be intriguing and can illuminate what was formerly hidden….

 

*To read the whole piece, please go to The Good Men Project.