In Vino Veritas

Wine tasting. It’s something many older (and younger), primarily white, people do for fun. It’s still a new thing for me, and I have not yet perfected the art of it. There clearly is a method to do it correctly. I have a friend who is 20+ years into this game, and he says it’s all about the pacing. Go to a couple tastings, get a substantial, late lunch, do a couple more tastings, then have a good dinner. We did one tasting this morning, then went straight to another tasting where we had tapas, which was a light lunch. By the time we got to the third tasting at 2:30, I had to stop because I was the designated driver for the afternoon. This was just as well as I am not a regular drinker and, as a smaller person, I am a cheap date. If I hadn’t sat out the third tasting, I might have needed help getting back to our car. After a couple hours sobering up while the wine and conversation flowed, I was good to drive the fifteen minutes back to Walla Walla.

I am going to need more practice at this. It’s a good thing I will have at least four more years of wine tasting in the Walla Walla valley now that our youngest has decided to attend Whitman College also. Maybe by the time he graduates, I will have honed my wine tasting skills. Hubby and I will be heading home with a case of wine, so I can start sharpening my skills straight away.

Here are some photos from our uncharacteristically snowy tasting day. Here’s hoping the vines and the fruit trees in the area survive this unexpected snow. I will need to taste and buy more wine from the area later in the year.

My final takeaways on wine tasting are 1) it’s a fun way to spend a weekend if you can afford it and have wonderful friends with whom to enjoy it and 2) it takes some practice. I’m still learning the lingo. I am learning what to look for as I sample the wine. I love the word terroir and, although I don’t have a textbook definition of it memorized quite yet, I can pronounce it correctly. It’s a whole new world for me, but it has been around for a long time. With some attention and practice, someday I might honestly understand a wine list.

Thank god I found this school for my sons in wine country. It’s going to be a win all the way around. I likely would not have been admitted to Whitman College, but I was smart enough to get my kids here and that has to count for something.

The One Where Fun With Flags Pays Off

On Wednesday nights, our neighborhood coffee shop/bar/gathering space hosts DJ Trivia. We have gone a couple times with some of our awesome neighbors. This week, none of our neighbors were available to join the festivities. We thought about skipping out too but, with Joe home from college and Luke without homework before spring break, we decided we had enough of a team with just the four of us. The boys were so not thrilled that we were dragging them along that Luke decided the only appropriate team name was Two Willing Participants since they didn’t want to be there.

We got through the first round with all the possible points, but it’s the easy round. We clinched the bonus question because of my gift with lyrics. Who knew that my brain would pull Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar On Me out of its cobwebby recesses? I haven’t willingly listened to that song since, well, ever. Anyhoo, we struggled the second round and ended with 20 out of 40 points and didn’t even dare take a stab at the bonus question. We were sitting in 6th place out of 7 teams, and our confidence was flagging. Somehow, though, we rallied in the third round, scoring 60 out of 80. Luke knew the bonus question about the alloy of copper and tin (it’s bronze), and we were right back in it. Suddenly, we were sitting in third, which meant we were in prize territory.

The final round is fill-in-the-blank questions rather than multiple choice. We got the first two fairly easily, but missed the next two. We were somehow still in third place as we waded into the final bonus round, called the Do Or Die Dare round. We strategized how to play it and decided it was go big or go home. If we got the question right, we would double our entire score and could finish in a higher place, or at least hold on to third and win a prize. And then, as if the gods were on our side, the title of the bonus round question hit the screen. The title was Fun With Flags. We all looked at Joe. This was our Slumdog Millionaire moment. Joe has long been a fan of geography and flags. He’s a regular vexillologist. In his senior year, he had to give a 45-minute presentation on a topic of his choice. The title of the presentation he shared with his classmates? Fun With Flags. I shit you not.

Yeah…I know that flag

Steve pushed himself back from the table with a “this is it” flourish of glee. A flag appeared on the trivia screens. Joe looked at it for a nanosecond, leaned forward, and said quietly with the utmost confidence, “Uzbekistan.” I grabbed the paper and wrote it down. We handed it to the DJ judge in five seconds flat while the rest of the tables sat hemming and hawing and conjecturing. It appeared no one wanted to risk all their points with an answer. Finally, a representative from the Vandalay Industries team stood up and walked to submit their answer. We all knew Joe had provided the right answer. Not because any of us had a clue about the flag of Uzbekistan but because Joe. The DJ did all the tabulating and then announced that only two answers had been submitted for the Do or Die Dare and only one of those was right. The correct answer was Uzbekistan.

Yeah, baby!

The DJ read off the name of the third place winner. We smiled. Second place went to the team that often wins each week, Hot Fuzz. The room was dead silent. Someone had pulled off an upset. The DJ put our team name on the screen, and we high-fived all around while Hot Fuzz looked over at us like we’d just kicked their puppy. Two Willing Participants won largely due to the efforts of its two unwilling team participants, and the coveted $25 brewery gift card and bragging rights for the week were ours. It was positively glorious.

A member of Team Hot Fuzz, still flabbergasted by their unexpected loss, shouted over to Joe to inquire how he knew the answer to the flag question so quickly. To which Joe replied, “I have the flags of the world memorized. It’s a good party trick.” This twenty year old kid just ruined their evening, and I couldn’t have been any prouder. It made all the hours I’ve spent quizzing Joe on flags and listening to him prattle on about the poorly designed ones totally worth it.

Joe with his personal Uzbekistan flag at home after our win

I guess there are a few lessons to be learned from our trivia evening. First, never, ever assume something you are asked to do (like attend a trivia night with your parents) will be a waste of time because you never know what you might learn about yourself or others. Second, if you encourage your child’s obsessions, they might pay off. Third, if you’re going to trivia night, take Joe and Luke with you. Their arcane knowledge about flags or every letter of the Greek alphabet or the names of Roman emperors might be just what you need to humble Hot Fuzz. And finally, if your kid wants to collect flags, let him.

TOWANDA!

“I too am not a bit tamed. I too am untranslatable. I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.” ~Walt Whitman

I’ve been implying here for years (literally years, there are archives of proof) that I am going to get my shit together. Yes, indeed, I’ve proclaimed. My poop is nearly in a group. Nearly. Like it’s so close I can almost gather it in with a poop scoop. I’ve said these things time and time again. Truth is, though, I really am there now. For real. All those years with the training wheels on, getting closer to the growth I was craving and then pulling back in fear before finding a nugget of courage to continue forward again, they’ve created a muscle memory of being brave, of putting myself out there, of pushing the boundaries of my history, and of finding my voice. All those things are far easier for me now than they were seven years ago when I started this journey. I know my worth. I know what I am and what I am not. I’m willing to walk away from people and situations that are toxic to a healthy mindset. I am done playing games. I’m finished living my life to make others comfortable. I’m choosing me now.

I found this shop on Etsy that creates these cute little rocks. You choose your word and a color from their selection and they make it for you. I originally just wanted a couple that read “TOWANDA!” from the movie Fried Green Tomatoes, but then I decided this was an opportunity to set my intentions. Small tokens with actions words to remind me what I want to do, how I want to live intentionally, in whatever time I have left in this life. I didn’t choose love because that seemed too obvious. Instead, I chose words that asked me to go beyond my comfort zone. I chose words I’ve struggled to live in the first part of my life. I chose dare, believe, dream, relax, stretch, practice, create, and shine to be my words. These words represent growth. These are my new core values. This is the future I want and am prepared to enact. TOWANDA is my rallying cry, my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

Dream Big — If You Can’t Dream It, You Can’t Do It

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

A few weeks ago, I bought a journal and new pens. I bought one for my youngest sister too. Then I told her we would use our journals to get our poop in a group. Because she and I are on similar journeys of self-discovery, I told her we would come up with writing assignments for our journals and share what we were writing so we could lift each other up and support each other to reach our goals. To that end, a week ago I created our first assignment. I called it our Dream Big Assessment. We were to come up with a list of things we would like to see, experience, do, or have in our lives in the next twenty years. The caveat is that we have to dream big. No worrying about money or practicality or health or reality. It didn’t matter if what we listed was pie-in-the-sky. It was meant to be. You can’t manifest something if you can’t first envision it. And if you’re going to envision a future you would love to live, why would you let reality tether you? I started my list with this statement to make sure I kept my intentions clear.

“If I could dream anything for the next twenty years of my life, these things would happen. I would…”

It was a good idea to start with active statements, but my statements started out rather prosaic. I suppose this is because I am a practical person, but I suspect it is also because I’m accustomed to living smaller than I am. When you have spent your life in a box someone else designed for you, it’s a challenge to stretch and imagine yourself or your life as something so much bigger than you ever dared to dream before. So my list began mostly realistic and, therefore, understated. I would….

  • Publish something I have written
  • Speak about said published work to interested readers in a public forum, like a book club
  • See my sons in happy, healthy relationships where they feel loved and supported
  • Hold and love on a grandchild or two or three
  • Own more dogs

Most of these items are intentionally vague. I mean, “publish something” could mean an article in an online newsletter with a readership of 25 people. By not elucidating an action more clearly, I am giving myself a safe space to continue being small. After realizing I was being too calculated and cautious with my dreams, choosing things that had a decent probability of happening, I started to get a bit more specific with my choices:

  • Cycle through Provence when the lavender is in bloom
  • Spend a year traveling the US and living in an Airstream trailer
  • Learn how to scuba dive, knit, and tap dance

Again, all these items are fairly attainable and not huge stretches of the imagination, but at least they were more specific. I was making some progress with my wording and specificity, but I felt the list was sounding rather shallow. All the endeavors I listed were about doing, not about being. So I commenced traipsing down more of a life-philosophy path:

  • Feel more comfortable being myself regardless of the situation
  • Be less defensive and more contemplative, curious, and forgiving
  • Be mindful and grateful as often as possible
  • Lead with compassion and empathy

While all these items are good goals and, when compared to my normal modus operandi, are definitely dream big enterprises in terms of personal growth, they don’t really fit the assignment either. Try again, sister. So I let my mind get a little crazier and stretch a bit farther and dig into dreams I had when I was much younger and had more life ahead of me than in the rearview:

  • Own a Jaguar E-Type convertible in British racing green with camel interior
  • Travel the Greek islands in a private, chartered yacht
  • See the Northern Lights in Lapland
  • Visit the Maldives or the Seychelles or both
  • Live in either Italy or France as an expat
  • Try a psychedelic drug*
  • Swim with the jellyfish in Palau

I feel I am beginning to get to what I originally intended with the creation of this list. I plan to keep working on it. Items that resonate with me more than others will be added to the vision board I started creating a few weekends ago. If I can dream it, I need to see it to manifest it in my brain as part of a future to strive for.

What would make it onto your Dream Big list? Maybe something I wrote here will inspire you? Maybe something on your list would spark an idea for me?

*This idea came from a book I read by Michael Pollan called How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence

Escape From Reality: The Me-Time Tour

One of my happy places

To get their needs met, most people require a little “me” time. This looks different for everyone. For some, it might include time with friends. For some, it might require solitude. Others might find their peace through travel. For me, it often requires a little of both of the last two items. I am midway through my Escape From Reality: The Me-Time Tour. I have taken this particular tour once before. I’m staying in Boulder, where I attended the University of Colorado approximately four hundred years ago. At the foot of the Flatirons lies Chautauqua, a park, auditorium, dining hall, and collection of quaint cottages where people are welcome to relax, experience culture and nature, and simply enjoy a quieter pace. How is it going, you ask? Writing time on the sofa with a cozy blanket is how it is going. In other words, I am relaxed for the first time in over a month.

Very meta this photo of me writing this blog

The cottages at Chautauqua offer everything a writer needs…solitude, beautiful surroundings, quiet, comfort, and no television. There is WiFi because it is helpful, especially if you are a writer, but other than that the distractions are minimal unless you count the squirrels running across the roof. Time here allows me to unwind, silence the noise in my brain, and determine where I need to place more attention when I return home and what I need to jettison to usher in a calmer, steadier existence. The last time I visited here was September 2020 after full-time lockdown with my family had me frazzled.

I suppose I could get the same calming results if I stayed at a hotel, but this place holds special memories for me. I love hiking in the Flatirons. I love the park here. And, seriously, how cute are these little cottages? In a place like this, approximately 420 square feet, I am reminded of how little I need to be comfortable and relaxed. Our home is massive compared to this space, but I could totally live in one of these cottages and be content. Not sure where my husband would live. He might need to be in the cottage next door because I am well beyond the days of happily sharing a full-size bed with another human being.

Cozy place for resting, requisite stuffed dog already in place

I had three main objectives when I came here. First, I wanted to have enough time to write some extra blog posts. Writing every day can prove challenging. It isn’t that I can’t find something to say each day. Heaven knows there is enough insanity in my head to spill onto pages for days and days. It’s just that sometimes the days get away from me, and I don’t like having to resort to a photo-and-haiku post (although those can be fun too) because I have run out of time to function as a rational person. So having a few extra posts stashed for days when I simply cannot has become crucial. Second, I wanted to work on a vision board. I’ve been trying to figure out where other people’s wishes for my life end and where mine begin. To live intentionally in a direction that makes sense for me, that is my goal. I figured creating a visual reminder for myself, a map of sorts, might help keep me on my own best track. Finally, I wanted to do some journaling and planning. I wanted to check in with myself and determine what my priorities are right now. I know I need to set up some boundaries in my life so I can keep my tank from running on empty. I also need to diffuse some mental land mines others have left for me. But getting to the bottom of problems like these requires ample time without distractions, and I am not getting that right now at home.

Old school journaling

I have been feeling for months as if I was coming to a tipping point, a point from which I would either springboard forward into a period of exponential personal growth or slump back into my lockdown hole of mindlessness and go back to full-time life on the Animal Crossing island. I want to go forward so badly, but first I need to dig deep and find the courage to do it. And that is what this weekend is about, self-reflection and goal setting. It is about making a plan for growth and pointing myself in the right direction. I’m thinking I need two weekends like this a year. Maybe three. Possibly four, but no more than five. I think. That’s reasonable, right?

The Midnight Library And The Lives We Left Unlived

I started reading (okay, fine, listening to) a new book today, now that I have finished The Gifts of Imperfection. This book is a novel by Matt Haig entitled The Midnight Library. My sister mentioned it in passing twice last week and seemed so taken by it I decided to go ahead and get on the bandwagon. I also jumped on the Wordle bandwagon yesterday, but that matters not at this point. In any case, I’m a few hours into this damn book, and my mind is in classic overthink mode. This means it is a meaty story.

The Midnight Library is about a woman named Nora Seed who, feeling lost and depressed about her life, decides she no longer wants to live. She takes some pills and washes them down with wine. She drifts off and ends up at a library. The librarian, a woman Nora knew from her childhood, shows her a book filled with Nora’s life regrets and tells her she can go to any of a million different iterations of places her life might have led had she made different choices. She simply needs to select a regret and she will be transported to that divergent life, already in progress. The books allow Nora to answer the age old question “what if.”

It has taken me a long time and a lot of therapy to land at a place where I no longer abuse myself over my “what if” regrets. I’ve discussed that here before. Your what ifs are impossible because in the past you made choices based on who you were at that time using information you had available to you at that time. Looking back now, with a different mind and different experiences, alters the light you shine on those past events, people, and opportunities you let slip away. It makes them either shinier and more attractive or duller and less attractive but, either way, your current consciousness transforms them into something they are not. All of this makes our regrets like our worries…thinking about them will give you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.

I am curious to see where Nora lands after exploring these alternate-ending lives. If she finds a better existence for herself or if she decides to go back to her old life or if she dies from her overdose as she had originally intended. But all this thinking about disparate endings to our one (as far as we know it) life has me stuck on one thought. We can’t go back and change our past, which has led us to our present. We are, for better or worse, here where we’ve arrived as the result of millions of small, insignificant choices and a few quite large ones. Our story, thus far, has already been written. It’s the future that has yet to be determined. In some cases, our what ifs might still be able to come to fruition if we take steps in that direction today. We just have to find the courage to believe we can change the outcome. If we couldn’t do it in our past, perhaps we can now.

And while I noodle on what I want my life outcome to appear, for as much control as I have over it, please don’t comment here about the book if you have finished it. I will likely finish it tomorrow, and we can talk about it then. I look forward to it.

Meow Wolf: You Are Here

Meow Wolf. Have you been? Have you heard of it? Do you have any idea what I am talking about? Meow Wolf is a lot of things. It’s a permanent art installation. It’s an immersive experience. It’s a mind-bending imagination and creativity trip. And it’s not to be missed, if you can help it. The first Meow Wolf, the House of Eternal Return, was opened in Santa Fe in February of 2008. Thirteen years later, Meow Wolf Las Vegas, called Omega Mart, opened in February 2021. The Denver Meow Wolf experience, called Convergence Station, opened September of this year. And it had been on our list of things to do since we learned about its planned opening. Today, we made it!

I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I think the best way to give you an idea of what the over 200 artisans of varied mediums do to create a Meow Wolf experience is share some photos. Convergence Station is otherworldly. Combining some items from our current reality within a futuristic, alien world, it’s a walk through both the familiar and the fantastical.

This is not your typical art museum. Here you can touch the art and take flash photos and no docent will reprimand you. There is no set path to follow, no recommended journey to take. It’s all about letting the creativity pull you through. We spent two hours entranced, wandering from room to room, through random doorways both obvious and not so obvious. We marveled at the variety of materials were used in fabricating this world, from felt to plastic, metal to paper. Everything you see is art. It’s unbelievably overwhelming. I’m positive we could return and notice myriad details we missed the first time. I’m ready to visit the installations in Santa Fe and Las Vegas and discover their wondrous worlds as well.

Two things make Meow Wolf a fully worthwhile endeavor. First, Meow Wolf makes art accessible to people of all ages. You don’t have to know a thing about the Impressionists or Picasso to appreciate the creations inside the building. Second of all, Meow Wolf’s mission is to elevate art in such a way that artists are no longer “starving.” It’s hard to make a living as an independent artist. This collective, though, allows artists the opportunity to use their skills, to show their work, and to be compensated fairly for their time and talents. This makes these alternate-world art exhibits a win-win.

The sign as you enter commands you to remember and utilize your own creativity. After leaving Meow Wolf today, I can tell you that it did inspire me. As I was walking through, blown away by the art, I was also excited to realize we weren’t on our phones other than to snap an occasional photo. We were in the moment…for two whole hours! Everywhere I looked families and friends walked together, discussing the art around them, pointing things out to one another. It was heartwarming to see faces (behind masks, but still) looking directly at you as you passed instead of into phones. It made me think about how fractured my mental life has become since becoming addicted to my phone. It made me think it’s time to start a detox from devices that draw my attention away from the present. It made me think about checking in with myself and my environment daily instead of checking out on social media. It also reminded me that I’ve always wanted to try knitting and welding.

The sign on the building says, “Meow Wolf…You are here.” You are here. It’s kind of nice for a change.

If you haven’t been to a Meow Wolf yet, make plans. It will be worth it. If you have been, I’d love to know your thoughts!

Hopefully Not Sleepless In Denver Forever

When my husband and I were first together, we shared a full size bed, and we were totally happy with it. Young love, am I right? When we bought our first house, though, we upgraded to a queen size mattress because we were asserting our adulthood and buying a grown-up bed. When we bought our second house, we stayed with the queen size frame we had purchased, but bought a Sleep Number bed because I was pregnant and realized that I needed a softer bed. We would no longer have to argue about a mattress that was too firm for me but not firm enough for him, or so I thought. But when that bad wore out after ten years, I let hubby talk me into a memory foam mattress that showed up at our house like a big taquito. We cut the plastic off it and let it slowly unroll into a plain tortilla in square shape. Oh, how I hated that mattress. It was way too firm for me and made my hips fall asleep when I laid on my sides, which as a side sleeper was highly problematic. To fix my pins-and-needles hips, I got an egg crate topper, which he hated because he thought it was way too hot. So we went back to another queen size Sleep Number bed, hoping that would solve both my need for a softer bed and his need for a cooler bed.

And that bed was fine until we bought a bigger house. Then we decided we should get a king size bed to fit the bigger room. We agreed it had to be a Sleep Number bed, so that was good. But, twenty-five years into marriage, we had learned some things about each other. Other than the fact that we both want the bedroom to be cold year round, we are not similar sleepers. Steve is one large exothermic reaction who emanates heat. Like, you can feel it coming off his body under the covers. It’s like he’s melting. It’s spooky. He also doesn’t stay in one spot when he sleeps. He is expansive and likes to travel. And despite his complaining he is always too warm, he tends to move a lot in his sleep and take the covers with him. I sleep cold in every season except summer. To combat his cover stealing and stay warm, I sleep with extra blankets (yes, blankets, plural). I remain in one spot all night, rotating like a chicken on a rotisserie. Despite my taking up very little space, I want to be surrounded by a lot of it. I do not want to be crowded. Cuddling is for warming up for exactly three minutes on a cold January night. After that, I want to be left alone under my cozy covers in my space. You stay where you are.

We’d solved the space issues when we bought the king size bed. But now we had cover issues. The king size bed means Steve has even more room to move around, which means he can steal even more covers. So now I am cold all the time. For winter, we bought a dual side comforter, cooler for him and warmer for me, but you guessed it. He steals the warmer side and then complains he is too hot. And he only lets me have it on the bed for six months, and I need it to be there for nine.

Tonight we decided it is time to pull the emergency lever. We’re going full on Scandinavian, which is something Steve talked about doing after we spent a week in Norway in 2009. I ordered us each our own twin size, down comforter, lightweight for him, mid-weight for me. Hopefully this solves our temperature and cover thieving problems. If it works, I promise to give him all the credit for the solution I wanted no part of for 12 years because it involved more damn bedding. If it doesn’t, I hope he likes the queen sleeper sofa he recently got for his office because that is where he is headed, where he can spread out and steal all the covers he desires from his own self.

And if anyone mentions getting twin beds for our twin comforters and putting that ensemble in our bedroom ala I Love Lucy, I will lose my mind. I am finished analyzing, talking about, and problem solving sleep. I would just like to get some damn sleep already. Please. I’m begging.

Running Out Of Time

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Before our run this morning, my son summed up how I felt about our run this morning.

Joe decided after his successful foray into track last spring that he would go out for cross-country this fall. A couple times during the summer, he received emails from his coaches encouraging training plans and providing workout schedules, emails which he deleted because denial ain’t just a river in Egypt. Once August hit after an entire summer of remaining exercise free, I suggested he do a few weeks of a Couch to 5K training app to dip his toes into the water again. Being a teenager dripping with disdain for anything requiring effort, he had less than zero interest in or enthusiasm for such an endeavor.

If there’s anything anyone who truly knows me knows about me, it’s that I don’t run. I think you should only run when you’re being chased by something bigger and heavier than you, like a large carnivore with sharp teeth or a runaway grand piano. While I have participated in a plethora of 5k events because I enjoy doing fun activities with people I like, I have not finished even one race where I ran the entire course because, as I mentioned, I don’t run. I. Don’t. Run. If you know anything else about me, though, it’s that I am doggedly determined once I set a goal. And this goal was to get Joe on his feet again.

To that end, being the super annoying mother I am, I downloaded the Couch to 5k app to my phone, waltzed into his room at 8 a.m. one oddly cool morning, tossed some socks and his running shoes onto his chest, and told him we would be leaving in 10 minutes. That was two weeks ago. I have been running with him every other day since then because it turns out I love complaining about running while running with Joe more than not running.

Today we were finishing up the last minute of our brisk-walk warm up when I noticed an elderly couple traveling side-by-side on the narrow path in front of us. He was moving along unsteadily with the aid of a cane while she held a walking stick in each hand to assist her. It was a bittersweet scene, at once a charming vision of long-term commitment to a life partner and yet a heartbreaking exhibition of the difficulty of aging. I couldn’t decide how I felt about it.

The gentleman heard us approaching, turned to verify our presence, and slowly moved behind his wife to allow us room to pass. Billie (our annoying, imaginary running coach) barked from my phone that it was time to jog. Joe sprinted off with his long, sixteen-year-old legs. I plodded along behind him and offered a polite greeting as I prepared to pass the couple. The gentleman replied in kind.

Then as I hit my stride next to them and began to leave them behind the way Joe had left me, she sighed and spoke.

“To be that young. Oh, to run again.” 

That hurt. I mentally clutched my heart with my hands.

We spend a lot of time bitching about what we must do. Our monkey minds run a non-stop chyron of obligations through our heads, preemptively sucking the joy out of doing. I’ve spent considerable time the last two weeks bitching about running, mainly while running. It didn’t make the running any easier.

Life is not about what you have to do. It’s about what you can do, even if you haven’t found your way to enjoying it yet.

 

 

Putting A Lid On My Monkey Barrel

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Bowls so full they almost look solid

(Snapped this photo quickly on my way out of my first Buddhist meditation class tonight. It’s not an impressive photo or anything, but I was drawn to these glass offering bowls from the moment I saw them. How did they fill them so precisely? They remind me a bit of the offering candles in the Catholic church we attended while I was growing up. I’m not sure if the intentions are the same behind both, but I find it intriguing where different traditions intersect.)

The idea of physically attending meditation classes, rather than attempting to learn meditation solely through an iPhone app I bought, came to me through my incredible drum instructor, who also happens to be a Buddhist monk. He is a calm, centered person who listens intently, thinks before he speaks, and is a perfect antidote to my nervous personality. He has talked to me about how mindfulness can help me get into a better mental state for my drumming, and I certainly could use any help I can get. But, beyond that, I noticed recently that I have been letting my mind run away with me too often. It’s embarrassing what the lawless monkeys in my head will get into if I leave them unattended.

Before Christmas, I was speaking with my father about world religion and he said, “Buddha is good for personal improvement, but I don’t need it.” While I appreciate his self-assurance about not needing help with personal improvement, I don’t have that same certitude. I openly admit that my head is a mess in need of a maid. If I want to overcome negativity and increase happiness, if I want to foster the mental fortitude for writing a book, then I need to rein in those damn monkeys and harness their energy for later use. Given how active they’ve been lately, this may prove a harder task than I imagined. And given that I was also born in the Year of the Monkey, perhaps I was doomed from the start?

Still, hope springs eternal so Steve and I drove to the Kadampa Meditation Center downtown where tonight’s theme at the beginner’s class was New Year, New You. Ruth first spoke a bit about New Year’s Resolutions and how people (myself included) think that by changing external things in our lives, like getting a new job, finding a significant other, or getting fit, for example, we will find happiness. She then burst our bubble by telling us something we probably already knew…happiness only comes from within. So, all our work running around trying to establish new habits or make changes to create a better sense of self are more or less worthless if we don’t change our minds at the same time. We can create the illusion of happiness externally but, the minute something derails, our minds will still freak out and remind us we aren’t really happy after all.

After speaking to us for a while about meditations and Buddhist teachings, she guided us through a short meditation. I have meditated before, mostly for short periods of time, and I’ve some experience with conscious breathing courtesy of yoga practice, so I didn’t find the exercise altogether impossible. I was able to redirect the monkeys that began jumping around when my legs got twitchy and even shut up the ones that started chattering when my phone vibrated in my bag courtesy of an unexpected, ill-timed Facetime call from my sister, although Steve did mention he could hear my yoga breathing get louder during that episode. Hey…wait a minute. He shouldn’t have been focusing on my breathing. He was supposed to be paying attention to his own breath and keeping his mind on his meditation. Hmmmmm….guess it’s a good thing we both attended this class.

Before we left, I took a moment to notice where my mind was. I felt relaxed, focused, and confident, which is the way I usually feel after a yoga class. I thoroughly enjoyed my evening and learned a thing or two as well. I’m ready to train my mind not to fly off the handle or to become overwhelmed by negative thoughts. I think I’ve got the timing right on this journey too. If the current media reporting is any indication, this country is on the precipice of major upheaval. I’d best begin taking lots of meditation classes and getting a lid on my monkeys. 2017 may be a bumpy ride.