A Little Bit of Bliss

Image © Issare Rungjang courtesy of Dreamstime.com

Sometimes when I do yoga I am filled with this sense of calm contentment…happiness is what some might call it. Today was one of those days.

It’s flat and the surf has been non-existent or marginal since I returned from Canada on the 13th of May. I’ve been frustrated and irritable, in part, because of the poor conditions, in part because life hasn’t been cooperating, hasn’t been giving me what I want in other ways either. But today, today I meditated for the second time in a week after months of neglecting that practice and then I did my yoga.  By “my yoga,” I mean I did a series of asanas (postures) that were prescribed for me by my teacher and some that I do because I like to do them. They speak to my body in a way that is pleasing and brings a pleasant, healthful feeling to my being. Today the result is that, despite the way I’ve been feeling of late, I’m smiling as I type this (a gentle, non-tooth-revealing smile…one might even say a Mona Lisa-esque smile).

It wasn’t just the meditation or postures that led me to bliss today, it was a whole combination of things. The music that played as I moved into the next series of postures (Rejuvenation by Ron Allen), the uncharacteristically cool breeze wafting through the windows and across my body, the slight scent of pineapple in the air from the fruit left, like an offering, by my dear friend upon departure. It’s the book I’m reading too, that has given me a sense of inner peace and acceptance of things I have little control over. Things like who I fall in love with and how they react to my love. This little book is so full of wisdom and Truth that it blows my mind every time I pick it up. I’m underlining, in pencil, the passages that strike me and that I know to be the kind of wisdom that will set me free. Free from anxiety, free from loneliness, free from the depression that comes from anxiety, loneliness and a sense of having no control over one’s destiny that plagues me from time to time (particularly when the surf is off).

The book to which I am referring is “Love, Freedom, Aloneness: The Koan of Relationships.” It’s a compilation of teachings given by Osho, an eastern mystic to whom westerners flocked in the 1970s. I was introduced to the teachings of Osho by my Dutch artist friend. He too flew to India to hear him speak after a colleague of his underwent a dramatic, positive transformation by the experience. Like so many mystics, Osho is not without his detractors, nor flaws, but more than twenty years after his death he maintains a loyal following and his teachings continue to be published as theme-based collections by a major New York publishing house, St. Martin’s Press.

Of love, Osho said:

Love yourself…This can become the foundation of a radical transformation. Don’t be afraid of loving yourself. Love totally, and you will be surprised: The day you can get rid of all self-condemnation, self-disrespect – the day you can get rid of the idea of original sin, the day you can think of yourself as worthy and loved by existence – will be a day of great blessing. From that day onward you will start seeing people in their true light, and you will have compassion.

Create loving energy around yourself. Love your body, love your mind. Love your whole mechanism, your whole organism. By “love” is meant, accept it as it is.

Love is possible only when mediation has happened. If you don’t know how to be centered in your being, if you don’t know how to rest and relax in your being, if you don’t know how to be utterly alone and blissful, you will never know what love is…[because] Love is a sharing of overflowing joy. [During] meditation one is bathed in one’s own glory, bathed in one’s own light. One is simply joyous because one is alive, because one is… The greatest miracle in the world is that you are, that I am. To be is the greatest miracle – and meditation opens the doors of this great miracle.

When my meditation practice of many years waned a while back, as it often does, my yoga teacher said matter-of-factly, “You must make time to meditate. It is the most important thing. Everything else comes after.” I looked at her in disbelief and she responded, “Yes, more important even than asana practice.” Then, sensing my resistance, she looked at me sideways and said in her don’t-mess-with-me voice, “Just do it! Just sit. How hard is that?”

I’d love to hear from readers about your experiences with meditation. Or perhaps you’ve wanted to begin a practice of your own, but don’t know where to start. Here’s a link to a great little book that helped me get started.

The Messenger

Our dog Zee is going blind. The vet informed me that she has glaucoma and an auto-immune disease that’s making her body attack itself. Yes, not one, but two diseases affecting her eyes. One at a time, her eyes swelled up into big, bulbous, blood shot orbs with milky irises at their centers. The first to swell then shrank to a fraction of its size, sank back into its orbit, where it now sits wrinkled like a raisin and useless as the tit on a boar. Then the left eye followed suit and blew up to twice its normal size. We’d already taken her to the vet for the right eye, so when the left started expanding I squeezed in the same drops and shuttled her off to the vet with great trepidation  – I knew that the news would not be good. He kept her for observation for three days (it broke my heart to leave her there, wondering why I’d abandoned her in a strange-smelling cage). When I returned he gave us more drops and told me to keep applying both. At this point, he was convinced that she was completely blind, that the pressure in her eye caused by the glaucoma had ruptured the connection between the retina and the optic nerve, but I hold out hope none-the-less. I continue more than thirty days later to drop the clear liquid medicine into her left eye twice daily.
I knew things were looking bleak when she walked off the retaining wall one afternoon. We’d just been to the beach and she seemed to be doing pretty well, when I watched, dumbfounded, as she walked along the edge of the retaining wall and then stepped right out into open space, falling a good four feet to the ground below. I’m somewhat relieved that from my vantage point I couldn’t see her land because when I ran the hundred meters or so around the wall to see if she was okay (silently praying please be okay, please be okay) she clearly had landed on her face, poor dog. She was spitting sand and dirt, closing and opening her mouth and shaking her head as she stumbled to and fro about the yard. I checked her for serious injury, somehow she’d managed to escape with nothing more than a mouth full of dirt (mind you, I suspect the next day, if she could have, she’d have requested an Advil or two for the pain in her nose, neck and goodness knows what other body parts). Then I noticed a thick branch of one of the bougainvillea shrubs I’d just pruned was broken through. I said another prayer, this time of thanks, that she hadn’t poked one of her failing eyes out altogether.
After the fall from the wall, I took extra care to make sure she wasn’t going to pull a similar stunt while I stood idly by. My heart ached when she started walking into walls, cabinets, stone columns and wooden posts. I started yelling the command, “CAREFUL Zee!” every time I saw her approaching a solid upright surface. Slowly she learned that this meant danger and pain were imminent. She fell a couple feet off the side of the stairs to the beach one day, again ending up with a mouth full of dirt and sending my heart squeezing down upon itself in empathetic pain. I began walking her on a leash up and down the long uneven stairs and issuing commands as we approached each step, “Step Zee,…Big Step,…Step.” I’d become a seeing-eye human.
On the beach I worried about her getting carried away in the beach break that she’s always loved to roll around in. It is her habit to trot down into the white water as it rushes up onto the sand, flop onto her side and then onto her back, her legs waving back and forth as she gets wet and her coat becomes a sandy mess. She rubs her head into the sand, flops around a few more times and then gets up and shakes it all off, refreshed, renewed. I imagine it’s like a mini spa treatment – exfoliating and invigorating.
“Zee” is short for “Crazy,” a name she earned when she first arrived in Vinorama and turned the then two-dog household upside-down with her high energy hi-jinx. Most evenings, as the sun sinks towards the horizon, the dogs and I like to walk or run down to a place where there are several rocky islets out in the water.  The rocks are too often inundated by the waves at high tide, making them poor nesting grounds, but Pelicans, seagulls, terns and petrels use them as a resting place. Up until a few years ago Zee, seeing the birds, would swim the 30 or 40 yards out to the rocks and, with the tide and swell tossing her about, somehow manage to scramble up to chase those birds with all the energy and gusto of a pup.
It’s astonishing and, yes, a bit depressing what a difference a few years make.
She has always been and, in spite of current circumstances, remains a happy dog. More than any of our other five dogs who are given to bouts of worry, fear or bad temper, Zee has always been content. Even in the haze of pressing darkness, she trots down the beach head held high, tail wagging. She still enjoys a snack of sun-dried porcupine fish – her nose clearly unaffected by what it is that ails her eyes – and a good roll in the surf. But I watch her closely now, tuning in to her mood, acutely aware that in time she may be given over to bouts of depression or confusion. I see concern wash over her face when she ignores my cries to be careful and walks headlong into a wall of granite where just a moment ago it was smooth sailing over soft moist sand. We give her extra treats and let her lick the dinner plates as compensation.
Watching her struggle I am acutely aware that this is beginning of the end for her. She’s ten years old and on the high side of a slippery slope. We used to call her “Zee the Intrepid” for her adventurous nature with the sea. Now I think “Zee the Messenger” might be more appropriate. She serves to remind me every day that we are mortal and have little say in when our time here is up. I feel the volume on the urgency to leave behind some legacy I’ve been feeling in recent years get cranked up full bore. What have I done with this life of mine? What of value will be left behind?
So I keep writing in the hope that it will mean something to someone.

A Love Poem

Aimless Love
by Billy Collins

This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.

In the shadows of an autumn evening,
I fell for a seamstress
still at her machine in the tailor’s window,
and later for a bowl of broth,
steam rising like smoke from a naval battle.

This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.

The love of the chestnut,
the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel.

No lust, no slam of the door –
the love of the miniature orange tree,
the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,
the highway that cuts across Florida.

No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor –
just a twinge every now and then

for the wren who had built her nest
on a low branch overhanging the water
and for the dead mouse,
still dressed in its light brown suit.

But my heart is always propped up
in a field on its tripod,
ready for the next arrow.

After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods,
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink
gazing down affectionately at the soap,

so patient and soluble,
so at home in its pale green soap dish.
I could feel myself falling again
as I felt its turning in my wet hands
and caught the scent of lavender and stone.