Thursday, August 16, 2007

drama queen

I don't set out to be a drama queen, I honestly don't. I intended to settle my mind down yesterday, stop it's endless fretting and worrying. So, as I needed fresh air and had about an hour left of my morning before I absolutely had to get ready to drive to the city to my paying job, I decided use that hour for a walk around the point, but doing it a bit differently this time. I usually simply meditate every morning anyway and then I either practice yoga or go for a run, but I thought I'd try something I'd read about, a walking meditation.

The process sounds simple, but as usual I have to bring my thoughts back from the wild journeys they take into all sorts of worrying, imagining, problem-solving escapades they want to take, instead of just keeping my awareness on walking, noticing the sensation of feet touching the ground, noticing the motion of legs and muscles, noticing the adjustments your body makes in the centre of gravity through each step, the breath, the swing of your arms, then noticing my mood, my thoughts and feelings and then noticing the surroundings, without becoming attached to any one idea. Just observing and letting the observation float away like soap bubbles in the wind.

The tradition of buddhist monks while doing walking meditation was the practice of "Loving Kindness", deliberately radiating loving kindness to every living being they encountered while walking. Starting by deepening one's awareness of one's body, feelings, emotions and thoughts while walking, without holding on to anything, simply observing as they come up, the idea was to progress from there to a focus on a feeling of well-being, radiating warmth and light from one's heart centre to everything you encounter. An ancient mantra many buddhist monks use in the practice of Loving Kindness is: “May all beings be well, may all beings be happy, may all beings be free from suffering.

I imagine in India, a challenge to this universal offering of goodwill to all living beings might be the cobra. But I set out with absolutely no thought or worry of any challenge to my practice of loving kindness -- you see, I didn't think I'd encounter too many people on my walk, the usual source of all my conflicts! I had walked perhaps 1/2 km and had just entered the forest when I noticed a motion out of the corner of my eye. I looked into the forest to my right and could just see over the top of some of the underbrush about 10 m away, what seemed to be the tops of a creatures ears. Hmmnn, a large dog? I thought at first. A large bear? Ooooh, yes, more like a black bear!

And just as I realized it must be a bear, it stood up on its hind legs to get a better look at me! I was already turning, thinking maybe I should go back to the house and calling Misty (my beagle) back when it -- the bear, that is -- decided it didn't like the look of me either and it turned and headed south, away from me, perpendicular to the path I was on along the laneway. I was still repeating the mantra to myself, but getting it a bit muddled, perhaps babbling a bit in my indecisiveness, but not at all afraid:

"May all beings be well...may all free from suffering....I hope that means me too...I'm a being....the bear is a being...may the bear be happy...but not too happy if, it's okay...I actually don't feel afraid and I don't think the bear is afraid either, we are just going to avoid crossing each other's paths...we're just going to stay out of each other's way...may all beings be well..."

So I continued on my walk after all. The dog completely ignored the presence of the bear, for which I was grateful. I looked behind me a couple of times, but I honestly didn't feel any fear. I kept thinking, why am I not afraid? I should be afraid, shouldn't I? But I really didn't expect to find the bear coming after me at all! In fact, I forgot about the bear as I walked along and continued the walking meditation, noticing all sorts of tense muscles in the usual places, my upper back, shoulders etc. The route I take around the point is about 6 km.

I was nearly home, when the hilarity of the situation struck me: the extreme test of my practice of Loving Kindness so unexpectedly (I didn't even expect to be bothered by mosquitoes at this time of year!), and my complete lack of fear -- no racing heartbeat, no rush of adrenalin. Honestly, it makes no rational sense. Just me noticing that I'm mixing up the words to the mantra: "May all beings be well. May all beings be happy. May all beings be free from suffering. Happy bear, I'm not suffering, the bear is happy, the bear is not suffering. I'm not suffering. I'm a being. The bear is a being...I can't outrun the bear. I expected to feel fear but I don't feel any fear.... May all beings be free..."

It still makes me laugh. I shared my amusement over myself with some people at my paying job. Dr. A. thinks I should carry a jingle-stick like hikers are encouraged to do in the Rockies out West to scare away grizzlies, a stick with a rattly noise-maker on it so that bears hear you coming. And M., a nurse I work with, who grew up on a dairy farm not far from here, added that I should carry a gun in the other hand! Good grief, I'm more scared of guns than bears! She doesn't understand my practice of loving kindness meditation at all whereas Dr. A. thinks I'm really brave. Ha-ha-ha, how can I be brave when I didn't feel any fear? I think you have to feel fear and do it anyway to be brave, don't you?

So there you have it. My experience with the practice of the Loving Kindness meditation!
omg, it still makes me laugh, the way sometimes, your good intentions are truly challenged by the universe!

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Anonymous M Sinclair Stevens (Texas) said...

I agree--to be brave means you have to overcome fear. If you are fearless, then you aren't really making any effort.

I've never encountered any bears on my walks near downtown Austin, or anywhere else. I'm pretty sure I'd be afraid--since it's hard for me to even imagine your situation.

Did you ever read the childrens' book by Robert McCloskey, "Blueberries for Sal"? Your encounter reminds me of it. You and the bear are both minding your own business and find your encounter with otherness to be somewhat unnerving but not necessarily bad.

9:05 p.m.  
Blogger sisah said...

What an experience, and a story you might tell your grandchilds and they will admire you for the rest of your life. I am myself full of admiration for that coldblooded behaviour! The only dangers I encountered were -typical for a big city like Berlin is- with some hooligans on a S-Bahn station and a weird skinhead some months ago. But I could handle the situation as well and noticed I was fearless at that particular moment and became all calm. I still wonder they never attacked me. And this was without practioning meditation!
I learnt this kind of walking meditation in spring when I spend a few weeks in a hospital because I was a complete nervous wreck, I am sure that´ll help to keep calm in dangerous moments.But I never did it again, now you remind me of keeping it up!

7:42 a.m.  
Blogger kate said...

I have never heard of the practice of 'loving kindness' - it sounds most appealing. And good thing too that it worked so that the bear had no fear of you and vice versa.

The reaction of the nurse is interesting ... I'd be more terrified of carrying a gun since I would no doubt shoot off my foot instead of a potential marauding bear. I remember once playing cards in Banff while camping and having a bear foraging nearby. The bear was totally unconcerned by our presence. We kept on playing not wanting to draw any undue attention.

I'm surprised Misty didn't react at all ... good thing that!

7:46 p.m.  
Blogger Kati said...

mss,the book you mention twigs something...I might very well have read it to my children. Otherness is often unnerving, but as you say, it can also be a bit of a thrill. Now, that the peskiness of the bears very frequent presence is starting to sink in, I'm finding my attitude is changing to annoyance because I'm afraid to go for my runs around the point...

sisah, I'm so sorry to hear you've had such a hard time. I had wondered where you had gone. I find meditation does help me in so many ways!

kate, I was glad too that Misty ignored the bear. She is still quite interested in the deer. I sometimes wonder if it might not be possible afterall to co-exist with animals in peace. I read something about that in a book on cats, about native tribes in the Kalahari desert and lions, I think it was...must track that down.

9:52 a.m.  

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