I feel as if I need to explain that without having encountered Jizo on the hillsides of Kyoto in 2006, the stuff I write about would be more grounded in knowledge than experience. I had no idea how much I lived in my intellect, in my mind, and how little I resided within my body. It was not safe to be “at one.”

Enlightenment means “awake” and I have found that the combination of yoga and sitting meditation has been the best prescription for me to practice mindful living, to wake up. The operative word is Practice. We Practice yoga, we Practice mindfulness.  We have a meditation practice. I found a definition of practice: “the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method as opposed to theories about such application or use.” There are thousands of books about this stuff and then there is the Being. The Doing.  Over and over again. And then, again.

Sitting wasn’t enough. I still fidget. I fuss. Yeah, I am far more compassionate toward myself than I was 25 years ago, but STILL. A daily mindfulness practice is not about staying mindful, it’s about realizing we have stopped being mindful and returning to the present moment, again and again, with a kind attitude toward ourselves. Mindfulness is not a strict religious training, it is a relaxed way of breathing life into each moment as it is.

And yoga isn’t enough. Leaning into the breath and the body, mindfully moving through each gesture to set up an asana is an act of self-worth but STILL.

It is the surrender of my impatient, ‘monkey mind’ in a yoga studio, surrounded by people half my age (yes, half) who are fidgeting, huffing and squirming, fixing their hair and outfits who drive me bonkers. And, yes, I have written about this before but this time it’s even a deeper understanding and surrender: whatever is bugging me gives me a chance to meet my darkest corners of my own shadow.

I need to repeat that: whatever is it that you are doing ‘wrong,’ that I am judging as annoying me, hurting me, bothering me IS MY GREATEST TEACHER because You Are Me. The girl fidgeting behind me and wriggling around in her new yoga duds is Me, My Mind, while I am in sitting meditation. The guy doing all the loud mouth-breathing after the instructor has mentioned fifteen different times to keep breathing through the nose, He Is Me, My Mind when I cannot be still and kind to my own self, especially when those feelings are dark, depressive, angry, scary and even terrifying.

Our minds are vast, our thoughts and feelings rampant .  I cannot remember anyone ever trying to teach me to face them with equanimity. Maybe my parents said “Calm down” and “Don’t be silly” when my feelings seemed too big for the moment at hand — but no one ever said, “Valerie, meet yourself and say hello.  Be kind when you meet yourself and be curious, be teachable.”

We feel feelings and we want to make them STOP. The people we live with do things that annoy us and we want to make them stop. The only thing I need to change is my reaction to my thoughts. The only thing I need to change is my reactivity in relation to the world. My pain lies not in what is wrong with the world but in the discrepancy between what I think should be … and what actually is.

I think this is what Buddha meant when he said that he was awake. That things are what they are and all the other busy-ness in our minds is just that: a busy trance that blinds us to the present moment where, often, things are doing just fine without any help from us.

backyard jizo, miyajima island, japanThis is the first Jizo that rang a bell within me, set in someone’s back yard, down an alley, on Miyajima Island

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