There is Life After the Thesis

After chronicling my thoughts, feelings, ideas, and experiences throughout the thesis process on this blog (formerly entitled Rites of a Thesis), it seemed odd to me to simply let the blog go just because I had turned in my thesis and graduated. I don't want to merely "shelve" my thesis nor do I want all that I got from my time at Naropa to lie dormant. I want my thesis to continue to live and breathe and become, and I would like all the teachings and experiences I had during my time at Naropa to do the same. So I am keeping the blog (changing the title), and am commiting to myself to (w)rite on as I journey forward.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Becoming Comfortable with Impermanence (Kinda, Sort-of, More-So-Than-I-Used-To-Be)

One must accept the serenity of the winged life, of ebb and flow, of intermittency.
~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Buddhism acknowledges impermanence as a way of life. Old time members of Alcoholics Anonymous tout (and rely on) the slogan, "this, too, shall pass." Though I have intellectually understood the idea of change - and, of course, have experienced it for over 46 years - emotionally, at times, I have often fought against this idea with a vengeance: holding on to what I [think I] want, how I would like things to be - often leaving deeply embedded nail marks on people, places, things, and situations, as I have, to no avail, refused to let go.

Over the past couple of years, I have started to release my tight grasp, have begun to let go (or, at least, let be), of what I want or how I think things should be and have started to accept people, places, things, and situations as they are right now. Not always. Not in every moment and not in every situation. But definitely much more often.

This past summer and this new school year have given me the opportunity to practice flowing with impermanence on a very conscious level. First, I graduated in June, and while it has been a luxury to have some extra time and to have the pressure of assignments, papers, and deadlines removed, the loss of the intensity, the intellectual, emotional and spiritual challenges, and the loss (albeit, not completely, just daily) of a close community of people who share a common language and goals has left me feeling a bit hollowed.

I also let go of a relationship that I had been hanging onto two years too long. While I am aware that this is actually a positive change, it has been an adjustment.

This current school year has given me the chance to switch teaching hats. I moved from a full-time 6th grade teacher into the role of Drama teacher, where I spend my days teaching both sixth and twelfth grade students. I have missed having a contained classroom, and have struggled with the transition of teaching older students, who are in many instances, "set in their ways."

However, there have been some lovely moments through all of these changes as well. There is a kind of serenity within that I don't recall having before. I am more want to notice what I am feeling, as well as my responses to different people and situations, with an "Isn't that interesting?" perspective rather than a reactive one. I believe that all my years in AA coupled predominantly with my Naropa education and continuing journey in Buddhist practices are helping me to become much more mindful of who I am and what I am doing in the here and now.
Psychotherapist, writer, teacher and co-founding member of Spirit Rock Meditation Center, Sylvia Boorstein says:

Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience.
It isn't more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.

Maintaining my personal ritual practices (i.e. daily meditation, awareness walks with my dog, Love - albeit only about once a week now) since graduation has helped immensely to be sure. Shamatha, in particular, has been a very important component - I believe - in my ability to ebb and flow with daily impermanence, as well as with the "bigger" changes that have come my way.
Also, deepening my practice through the time I spent at Deerpark Monastery, continuing my Shambhala Training (I completed my Level 3 Training a few weeks ago and will be taking my Level 4 Training in November), and also beginning to meet with a monthly sangha meditation group have also helped to keep me balanced when life's winds seem to kick up and throw me a bit off course. I "take comfort" in my continuing practice.

My friend, Debbie, snapped the above photo outside a Starbucks store recently and sent it to my cell phone. It made me smile, as I received it while I was at work and the timing could not have been better. I had been ruminating about my classroom rituals. Last year they were such a meaningful part of my class work. This year, they seem to be practiced more along the lines of routine. I have been wondering if it was the way I introduced them....or if it is the way my students have seemed to only semi-embrace them...or perhaps there is something else that has led me to feeling that the rituals we are practicing don't feel sacred like they did in the past.

However, by simply continuing to practice them, I do take comfort in the rituals themselves. It reminds me of Mother Teresa and how she wrote in her diary and confided in her spiritual counselors that she had experienced the loss of her faith and yet she continued to perform service work and prayer. I am also reminded of my acting training where I was encouraged to be present and to "come from where you are" and at the same time, knowing when it is important to rely on technique.

And yet, I know - I really do know - that this, too, shall pass. My classroom rituals will have meaning again. Or perhaps I will let go of some and add anew. And maybe in being present for the fact that my classroom ritual practices feel a bit meaning-less, I can begin to understand what they might mean on a deeper level. I trust "that nothing is static or fixed," as Pema Chödrön reminds us:

Everything is in process. Everything—every tree, every blade of grass, all the animals, insects, human beings, buildings, the animate and the inanimate—is always changing, moment to moment.

And so it is.


Frank Leonard - Photographer said...

Thank you, Nicky. I love it when you write. Such honest appraisals of yourself and helpful thoughts for my own journey. Take comfort in rituals. Joyce and I are finding our morning hike somewhat more elusive these days, and with Winter coming, that won't get easier. So, what other rituals might emerge? Certainly the basketball hoop I put up, as well as the home gym. I know these are rather practical responses to your words, but as I'm sure you'd agree, it's in the living out of those practical things, which can become meaningful rituals, that life's depth can grow even richer. Again, thank you, Nicky! :o) Frank.

Griffin said...

To paraphrase Churchill, "Life is just one damn present moment after another."

Slowing down to let them "be" is also slowing down and watching them slide through your fingers. I'm sorry there is some discomfort, dare I say suffering, around the huge changes that have taken place in your post-Naropa life. But you seem to be wisely using this opportunity to observe and grow.

I am proud of you for continuing to pursue the wisps of enlightenment that you have glimpsed, inwardly and out in the "real" world. In doing so, not only do you gain wisdom, but like a Bodhisatva, you bring joy to those around you, including those who only get to read your blog posts.

Thanks for writing another thought-provoking essay.

Genét Simone said...

Hey Nicky, Surprise! I was talking with Joan earlier today about my own little blog (just started it), and Mary also told me to check out yours. Loverly! In your most recent post, the part that really resonated with me was your new experiences being with older kids this year, and how that feels. There's something about coming across a new situation that is still housed in the familiarity of our teaching that gets us out of our habitual practices and belief systems ... If we are open to possibilities and being vulnerable, we DO let go of older baggage, and there is indeed (as you say) "a kind of serenity within that"; we are calmer and less harried. Sounds like you are filling out that "hollow" post-master's thesis feeling just fine. Looking forward to more!