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I didn't just whip over the provinicial border into all-beef-Alberta to get some coconut bacon (though that is always a good excuse for a road trip). I did it so I could find the specific places where my practice needs some serious tweaking (oh, and spend some time with the fam) I remember being at a retreat where a mother of 2 small children said something like, "I get up every morning with the best of intentions, but in a few minutes I hear myself saying things I feel bad about." Her comment came to mind this week, because I arrived for a family visit all starry eyed with good intentions to take on the family pain and mishigas (which means craziness in Yiddish) with skill and compassion. It didn't take long to find myself wondering why I agreed to this trip and when can I leave. I learned how quickly good intentions can turn to ethereal puffs of dust and how short the lit fuse of patience can be.
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I could see the urge to take things personally, rather than accept them at face value. "Are you insinuating I'm weird when you ask about my chia seed and hemp milk breakfast?" You might be, but I don't know that for sure and I only aggravate myself with this assumption. It's a story of my own making, based on what I think you think, based on your tone of voice, the look on your face and our past history. The petri dish of misunderstandings. Everything in this pot is simmering below the surface. Why can't I simply process the question without an emotional charge? Truth is, sometimes a question feels like just a question and sometimes it feels like an innuendo. To see that was helpful. To see that my irritation was based in my thoughts often formed at lightning speed, concocted out of my own defensiveness and self protection was humbling.
And so I learned that I needed breaks and walks to renew my intentions to be kind, compassionate and open hearted. I needed to toss some of that compassion in my own general direction. The stuff that felt annoying was simply a collision of their pain and my pain, of their habits and my differing ones. When our habits coincided we were all fine. What irritates me might not irritate you. Sometimes I could quickly catch myself and reorient and renew my intention to be kind, maybe even curious. "What is that person really saying, what is that all about? Why are they only interested in the past? Why do strangers frighten them? Why does my strange food bother them? Can I just listen with an open heart without needing to respond? Can I simply enjoy this person's company? Can I simply enjoy this moment? Can I simply be with what is?
And so the teaching and the practice continued; in fits and starts, me rushing into the jousting ring in full armour or completely naked, getting poked and running for cover, sometimes laughing at the absurdity of the whole thing, sometimes grumbling to myself like a disgruntled 5 year old. In the end I can say I learned that it's about renewing my intention each time I get pushed off course, of cutting myself some slack, of cutting others some slack and sometimes having a good laugh about the absurdity of the whole human predicament. It is about remembering to look at the sky or listen to the raucous call of a magpie or simply appreciate the dharma practice of being in a family.
PS, I bought 2 sudoku books, and one of them is for me which is solid proof that if you are open, you never know what will happen.