Featured Articles

Staying Present and Going Away

Family vacation on Cape Cod conjures up all sorts of images: lobster, lobster rolls, corn on the cob, big tables . . . just like this picture. In fact, this is an actual picture from my family vacation on Cape Cod. It looks pretty much like the the Cape Cod picture in my imagination. Even down to the great white shark from Jaws (?!?)

Yes, I have come to the Cape and there are great whites off the beach where we [were going to] swim. Lots of 'em; many of the Chatham, Massachusetts, beaches are closed. Less beach time leaves extra time for my meditation practice, eh?

Certainly, I have had a bit of extra time for meditation practice, both on and off the cushion. The shamatha meditation I practice, in the Shambhala meditation tradition, includes a big chunk of teachings devoted to "post-meditation" practice; i.e. daily life. All the rest of the time when I'm not on the cushion. All the rest of the time . . . with my family.

Being fully present, alive to the present moment, resting in it and acting fully in it, and feeling it; that sounds just great. But sometimes feeling it all, even in a beautiful big house with lovely people in it, is a lot of feeling.

We have eaten many lobsters and oysters and much corn. And we have been present, more or less, for many moments of weird family tension as son-in-law and daughter-in-law and sister and brother and Mom and Dad create joy, culture clashes, misapprehension, love, and confusion along with large tables of excellent food and entire encampments on the beach.

Living in a house with that rare gift, an intact nuclear family of two parents, three grown children, their spouses, and a grandchild is very, very . . . very.

I've been working with not going away while I'm away, with being present. While I'm away with all these people and our variously combined strands of DNA, it's been fascinating how tempting it is to go away.  With the click of a button, the touch of a screen, the flip of an app on my iPhone, a quick "I'll just check in at work," or "I'll find out when the movie is on Fandango! It's right on my phone. . . " The touch of a screen, and I'm not there, not really. Not listening to them, or looking at them, or feeling them.

Yet, the technology doesn't really have all that much to do with it. Sometimes I'm more there because of it--in that Fandango example, I was able to be of service, to participate and help because I could get information we needed very quickly.

What has a lot to do with it is how much I want to get away when I'm away, to get away from the moment, from the conversation in the car, from the confusion and friction and conflicting desires and power struggles and jokes that are thinly disguised aggression and the not-at-all disguised aggression.

And the love. Sometimes just looking around at the sun glinting on the water and the marshes and the two goldfinches flittering around each other so close to me and the people who are so close to me it hurts . . . that hurts.  It's painful to be there and painful to realize they won't always be there, all in the same minute. And then it all clears up. I can feel that stuff and it doesn't need to be fixed or changed. It's fine. There's enough room for all of it: The corn, the lobsters, the family, the impermanence.

Right before vacation I was fortunate to hear Phakchok Rinpoche, a guest teacher at the Interdependence Project, speak. He talked about how we can just look up at the sky, at the vastness of the sky, and think of our minds just like that. Vast, and spacious, and untroubled. Tho birds may flit or fly or pour across it, clouds may roil or float or skim across it, but the sky remains vast, clear, and spacious, and our minds are like that too.

It's an image that I seem to have seen pretty often in Tibetan Buddhism. The founder of Shambhala, Chögyam Trungpa, famously wrote: "All thoughts vanish into emptiness, like the imprint of a bird in the sky."

Sitting on the beach, looking at the sky, looking at the birds . . . it's a good place to remember that. Even if the great white sharks haven't vanished into emptiness quite yet.

Vote for this article to appear in the Recommended list.

Comments

On Cape

Excellent, Ellen. I'm on Cape presently with my girlfriend visiting her parents at their cottage. It's one of a baby's handful of places I feel relaxed with little extra effort. Sitting at the iPad watching Jen's mom fix herself eggs and an English muffin I too am checking in with technology. It seems best as I don't know much about school budgets, less about unions and taxes, little about the guy that cleans the beach weekly and nothing about the politics of parking on this private drive. I'm present with body and spirit but dunno how good a listener I'd be if I didn't have something else to work with. It's often like this in my life. Drawing in math class was the only realistic way I could absorb the information, proven a number of times throughout my public school career with each math teacher I had. I listen to audiobooks while painting and the Deftones while drawing so my mind isn't distracted and I don't force or ruin a drawing with overly critical thinking.

I'm new to Shambhala and Chogyam Trungpa and fully enthused. A couple of months of the summer season's demands on a performance artist/entertainer girlfriend have left quite the vacuum for me to fill which is being done so triumphantly by Chogyam Trungpa's books and a return to daily sitting practice. The benefits are great. I wonder why I ever stray from it in the first place. Mindlessness I'd guess.

So far so good here on Cape. We are luckily situated on the shallow five sandbarred great white shark free portion of the area. The sand pipers are back with their scurrying cuteness avoiding incoming waves then rushing back to eat whatever tiny life the surf revealed. I'm glad to be here.

I love that quote!

something else Chogyam Trungpa said

"It's possible to be completely enlightened, except with your family."

Site developed by the IDP and Genalo Designs.