How Do We Bear What’s Difficult to Bear?

My one-acre property has been a virtual wildlife center this season. Bears have returned repeatedly, even though there was no food to be had. I spied a bobcat prowling along my hillside, and a female turkey returned time and again, seemingly intent upon nesting in my front yard (giving up after what I presume to be too many human encounters – with me). At dusk one evening, a raccoon peered at me just feet from my back door before scuttling under the safety of my deck. The Phoebes are on their second brood of young ones, and the air is filled with the sounds of birds of so many different persuasions I cannot count or pretend to know. Such joy, such life, such bursting forth.

Newborns by Webcam

I’ve also been captivated by webcams featuring many newborn events at different locales all around the world. Two baby ospreys in Bremen, Maine caught my attention just after they hatched from their shells in early June. Scrawny and awkward, they were hardly recognizable as the magnificent raptors they would become. Teetering in their attempts to hold themselves upright, they cried open-mouthed for food as their mother obliged with the utmost of tenderness, gently feeding each with bits of the headless fish brought by her mate. Satisfied, the chicks would collapse in sleep until hunger roused them again.

I checked in on the family daily, witnessing the babies’ rapid growth — the early signs of feathers, their talons almost adult sized, the unwieldy limbs destined to become the massive wings that would one day propel them forward in flight and in pursuit of their prey. The mother was ever-present and vigilant day and night, in fair weather and foul. On one stormy day, she remained hunched in stillness over her babes as the rain endlessly pelted her feathered body. Her devotion was unwavering.

Even the Utmost of Vigilance

Then the awful happened. About two weeks after their birth, an eagle attacked the nest, snatching first one chick and then the other. It happened in an instant with only a glimpse caught by the webcam. The mother attempted to attack the attacker. She failed. The babes were gone.

It was heartbreaking. The parents were stunned and clearly grieved. Quietly, they stayed with the nest. One unviable egg that will never hatch remained. The male took to laying on it for a time, his partner nearby. Yesterday, they did some pruning of the nest together. Today, the female is perched at the far end of the nest’s beam, still watchful and protective.

Mother ospreyThe community of webcam viewers has been mourning with an outpouring of comments. I am among them.

Nature has her way, at once lovely and terrible. We love her beauty but decry her dark side. How do we bear what feels unbearable? We can become angry and indignant, turn away, never be present in the first place, or otherwise run from the suffering that life inevitably delivers. The truth is that we all respond in all of these ways to some degree at one time or another, but ultimately these are bandaids over our wounds, not remedies that heal.

Lessons from Loss

We can also take a lesson from the ospreys who did something different: they simply stayed.

This is the training of a lifetime for me, one that I’ve only been able to begin to cultivate through years of mindfulness and meditation practice. I am a self-proclaimed imperfect student of being with whatever feeling arises, of getting myself out of the swirl of thought and leaning into experience, as Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron advises, with as much kindness, compassion and patience as I can muster. This means feeling – both more of the good stuff and the kind that hurts.

I feel such sadness about the loss of the baby chicks, posthumously named Big and Little, and for the bereaved parents that I hope will try again next year. It only makes sense that the delight I felt at beholding their trembling newborn lives would turn to anguish when they were taken. And so this is another sweet opportunity for practice.

Kathy Simpson is a freelance writer with Copper Beech Institute who specializes in mindful living and holistic health. She is a regular contributor to Copper Beech Institute’s mindfulness and contemplative practice blog, Awaken Everyday.

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Summer Solstice

by Miranda Chapman

Sunday was the longest day of the year: that precious turning point when the day’s light starts waning rather than waxing and the inevitable movement from spring into summer takes form. An important part of my personal practice is doing ritual on these days, the equinoxes and solstices, to remind myself of my connection to nature and to tap into that powerful energy of transition. Some years I have found myself among the company of many but this year I found myself in the company of me.

I was out on the lot where my partner and I are building a home. The winds changed as storm clouds emerged on the horizon. Saturday I had spent in communion with nature through the sweet daylong retreat Nancy Murray led at Copper Beech Institute called The Yoga of Connection. Sunday morning we celebrated my dear father and the afternoon was spent in the righteous, hard work of building a house. In the early evening everyone packed up to leave before the rain set in but I decided to stay back.

I had been building an altar for the solstice the last couple of days on a large tree stump in the middle of the land. Placing stones or branches, mica or other objects that caught my eye on this tree in preparation to celebrate summer. I relish the practice of building altars: totems to the five elements and the earth and sky that provide everything; I build them everywhere I can.

It started to rain as I stood in front of this meaningful creation and I called in my awareness of all of the gifts around me. One of the reasons I like to do ritual four times a year is that it is a pointed reminder that I have a choice. I have a choice to let go of things that no longer serve me and I have a choice to plant the seeds of greater bounty, beauty, and being aliveness.

So, I proclaimed the things that no longer serve me and asked them to burn up in the glory of the longest day’s sun. Then, I went to stand in front of the dear little herb and vegetable garden that I planted and gazing at the beauty of new life I set intention to plant my proverbial seeds of love and abundance and being more awake.

As the rain fell around me I danced the dance of gratitude and freedom and life. And, as I breathed in the freshness of rain soaked earth the sun broke through the clouds and bathed me in its resplendent light.

Miranda Chapman is the Program Director and Senior Faculty at Copper Beech Institute, the nation’s newest retreat center for mindfulness and contemplative practice. Copper Beech Institute offers more than 40 transformational retreats and courses, as well as mindfulness practice and mindfulness at work offerings to help you awaken to the beauty of your life.

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Monday, Fun Day

by Kim Green

All day long today, I’ve had the song, “Manic Monday” by the Bangles, playing in my head. Remember the lyrics?

“I wish it was Sunday, ‘cause that’s my fun day, and I don’t have to run day…”

Felt like I was already running when the alarm went off. Crazy busy with little jobs around the house: find Torrie’s uniform for tonight’s game, meet a friend for a “working” lunch that goes 45 min. longer than I had planned, phone calls, florist for corsage for prom, FedEx, forget something (#@$&*!), back to FedEx, emails, Stop and Shop (forget dog food, @#$%&*!), and finally to CLASS.

 

My MBSR Class. That is, my Mindful-Based Stress Reduction Class. Ha!

 

I enrolled in this class earlier this winter with the hopes of learning a new method to help cope with the chronic pain I have been in. It is an 8-week, 2-½ hour class offered by Copper Beech Institute in West Hartford, CT. It is based on the research and writings of Jon Kabat-Zinn and the subject of his best-selling book, Full Catastrophe Living. Research indicates that a majority of people who complete the course (more than 20,000 have already) report: Lasting decreases in physical and psychological symptoms, increased ability to relax, reduction in pain levels and an enhanced ability to cope with pain that may not go away, greater energy and enthusiasm for life and an ability to cope more effectively with both short and long-term stressful situations. SOLD!!

 

The irony is that I almost have a coronary every Monday just trying to get there! It is truly amazing that I am struggling to find the way to carve out time for the class and the 45-90 minute daily home practices.

 

Right now I am feeling an underlying current of frantic as I begin the countdown to my surgery. There are so many things that I had planned to do this summer because of being laid up last summer. DIY projects, getting Tessa ready for her apartment at Villanova, painting the patio, purging the basement, re-seeding the yard, birthday bash for Torrie, birthday bash for Ken, 20th Anniversary celebration for us – all going to be put on hold. Again. Except for the anniversary thing. Five more weeks laid up. Lots of pain, for a long time. Big sigh. I should also include that I am weaning myself off of caffeine and sugar – loads of fun.

 

I am learning a lot in this class. The instructor is remarkable. We have been practicing a ‘body scan’ as a form of relaxation which involves lying down with eyes closed and slowly visioning each part of the body beginning with each toe, all the way up to the top of the head. I routinely fall asleep at the ankles and wake up around mid chest. I sincerely hope that I don’t drool or snore, it would be so embarrassing.

Everyone is kind and tells me that I shouldn’t worry about things, that all of the important stuff will be taken care of one way or another. In my head, I know they are right. I just wish I could tell my heart that.

In floor yoga tonight, when it came to roll onto our bellies to continue, I could not. A feeling of sadness came over me. In a few weeks, I won’t even be doing the little yoga I am doing now. I pictured the walker and cane in my near future (pink, of course). I remembered the athlete I used to be…

But then, what I have learned in the course came to me.

Just be in the moment… now. Breathe.

No judgment; just be.

Relax.

Trust God.

It’ll be ok.

Exhale…

Kim Green is a mother, wife, and author of the blog, Sixteen Years of Pink. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in June of 1989 at 34 years old. Her cancer has metastasized twice and she is now Stage 4. Hers is the journey of living with cancer, raising a family and trying to keep a sense of humor. Kim participated in the MBSR course at Copper Beech Institute to help her cope with chronic pain and build resilience in her life.

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The Cobwebs of my Heart

by Dr. Brandon Nappi

There are some days when I realize that what I set out to do will be left undone. I say things that I don’t truly mean. I leave unsaid what my heart longs to say because of fear, distraction, or simple unawareness. I forget to be grateful and stumble past a zillion blessings on the way to bed at night. Too often, I complain that if people simply did things my way life would be so much better. Then I complain to myself that complaining doesn’t help. I try to rationalize why my actions are nearly always totally justified. I judge others and then turn the insidious critic toward myself.

These are the cobwebs of my heart. Perhaps disappointing oneself is even more crushing than disappointing others. The very act of reflecting on my own life patterns can trigger a familiar and strangely comfortable self-loathing. There is a temptation to hate all of this about myself and wage war against it. In my wiser moments I recognize that a battle with oneself will always be a losing one.

Mindfulness is about paying attention to the truth of what is happening without judgment. It invites the courage to see things clearly and honestly. Seeing these cobwebs allows me to imagine a new way of moving through the world that is not motivated by fear, ego, craving, or aversion.

Mindfulness practice generates a light of awareness that can illumine the darkness of ignorance. The light doesn’t fight the darkness; rather, in the light, the darkness simply disappears. In truth, there is nothing to fight because there is nothing to defend or protect. Fighting simply continues the same tired battle which drains me of life and severs my connection to others. The invitation is to extend kindness and compassion universally–even to the cranky, judging dimensions of myself that I sometimes deem unworthy of care.

The following words are a mantra that greets me each day in my living room: I have enough. I do enough. I am enough.

Even in my imperfection, I am enough as I am. Somehow this acceptance opens up a space in me to more fully share the love, acceptance, and compassion that I treasure when I receive it from others. Acceptance is the best fuel for growth and change. These cobwebs are perfectly imperfect.

Dr. Brandon Nappi is founder and executive director of Copper Beech Institute, the nation’s newest retreat center for mindfulness and contemplative practice. Copper Beech Institute offers more than 40 transformational retreats and courses, as well as mindfulness practice and mindfulness at work offerings to help you awaken to the beauty of your life.

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