Krowing While You Work

Not My Desk; Marzipan is More Tidy

“Krowing” makes a change from whistling — and while whistling while you work is often a good thing, krowing may well be better, both for you and for the work.

(Krow, krowed, krowing — “krow” is “work” playfully spelled backward. Very early on in school, we learn that many teachers think you aren’t really trying to do the work unless you sit hunched over your paper, tightly clutching your pencil, with your feet all twisted painfully around the chair legs. Ungrounded. It’s best if you frown too. The thing you mustn’t do is look relaxed. None of this actually helps you think better, and it takes a lot of energy while the discomfort is distracting. The fae believe all of this is seriously weird and wonder how we ever get anything done.)

It’s fascinating the way we seem to keep learning the same lessons over and over — until we finally get it really truly deep down. Whoever is in charge of all this seems to be endlessly patient — much more patient with me than I am with myself.

Eileen Herzberg phoned me to say she was planning to run a meditation course and to discuss a few ideas she had about it. “First, I’ll do what you do,” she said blithely, “and start them off with an inner journey to meet their inner meditation teacher.”

I gently pointed out that I had never met my inner meditation teacher, but that it was a really brilliant idea, and I wished I had thought of it. After a brief muddle while we sorted out whose idea it really was (Eileen’s, of course), we went on to discuss how best to set the scene for the inner journey she planned. While we were doing that I took an inward brief peek at my own inner meditation teacher.

The image that flashed up was of a tiny, upright, ancient oriental lady with a face as brown and wrinkled as a walnut shell and bright, bright black eyes. I knew as soon as I saw her that I’d better come back later and listen to what she had to say, and so I did as soon as I got off the phone.

Old Mama Li, she said to me,
Look, kid, you’ve got
to get your act together.
What you’re doing is OK, but
there is so very much
more to be done. For starters, let’s
Keep It Simple, Sweetheart. Choose
one task each day, and do it
as a meditation. It’s all
very well, even necessary, to Sit
in meditation, to rest into the silence when
healing is happening, and it’s
not that hard to do
when you are building
a dam in the burn, or painting, or walking
in the hills — doing something
quiet and fun — but
there is much more to it than
that. Meditation has to happen
all the time. Don’t try
to do this all at once, don’t try
to go too fast. For a while,
take just one task a day. In time, this
will give you the place to stand
so you can move the earth —
if you are silly enough
to want to.

She suggested that I start with getting out my quarterly newsletter on my courses and things the next day. That, she said, would give me plenty to practice on. She obviously knows how very much I dislike doing those mailings — thousands of pages to collate, thousands of newsletters to fold and staple, thousands of newsletters to put in envelopes and seal, thousands of mailing labels to put on, thousands of stamps to stick down, thousands of return address labels to put on. Arrrgh! Boring!

The next day, I tried to focus on my breath while I worked on the mailing, but I kept getting muddled about what I was doing. Then I tried to work in time with my breath, but it was so slow — and I found my breath going faster and faster — or my hands racing while I didn’t breathe at all.

My usual way of trying to get through a distasteful task is to rush madly at it, so I kept finding myself sitting on the edge of the chair, panting.

I felt so frustrated! I’d thought this would be so easy, but I couldn’t seem to do it at all. I even caught myself thinking that I ought to be able to do it; that this should not be a problem for me. I was messing up on something I ought to be able to do easily. When I caught myself ‘oughting’ and ‘shoulding’ all over myself, I stopped. I ‘ought’ not to be doing that either!

I just sat there with a page in each hand, almost in tears of frustration. For a while I simply focused on my breathing with some vague idea of getting a running start at stability that way. Finally I asked for help. Why does it so often take so long to remember to ask?

The answer came at once — focus on the energy of the task. It has its own natural rhythm and focus. Find it.

A rhythm established itself as soon as I stopped trying to do something: collate while grounding myself and the newsletter with the earth, center while stapling and folding, put it in the envelope while connecting with the Source, seal it while filling it with healing energy. This was easy.

Gradually the understanding grew in my mind — each newsletter should have its own connection with the earth and the Source, its own healing energy, and this could be available to anyone who touched it, if they wanted and were open to it. Because each one had its own connections, it would constantly be brimming over with healing energy, more than enough for everyone who might need and want it along the way. Some of the envelopes might be reused and carry the energy even further. And what will happen if the paper is recycled? Hmmm. Like ripples from a stone thrown in a pond, out to the edges of the universe and back. What fun!

Then the mailing labels — each one went on with a friendly energy ‘hello’ to the addressee. The stamps each had a smile attached, and the return address labels each went on with a wash of ‘love you’ from me.

I couldn’t believe it when I suddenly ran out of mailing labels. I scurried around the house to see if I could find any more names and addresses on scattered scraps of paper so I could do some more — it was such fun! When I realized what I was doing, I had to laugh at myself. I went off to the post office with bags full of energized newsletters, smilingly stamped.

When I got to the post office, there were hordes of people waiting, and the clerks were all working frantically. By the time I reached the counter, the clerk in front of me had an obvious headache, a scowl on his face, and a fierce impatience with the world. Besides the newsletters, I had several fiddly things to do — letters to the States and other places, each to be weighed and postage calculated individually. You could see him getting more and more impatient as I handed him one thing after another. Finally, putting all of the bags containing the thousands of newsletters on the counter, I said, “And this is the last.” He touched them — and stopped.

For a moment he just stood there. Then he turned and slowly put them in the big mail sacks a few envelopes at a time. He could have dumped them in a bag at a time much more quickly, but he seemed to be savoring each handful. He came back to me with a cheerful smile spread across his face. “There,” he said, “that’s a job well done, isn’t it?”

I was quite taken aback — it was actually working! Up until then I suppose I had just thought it was a game for me to play by myself. Now I realized that it was something that really could spread out, like the glittering ripples on a pond.

So, what did I do the next day? I forgot. Didn’t remember at all to find a task to do mindfully. And the day after that as well. Then I chose things I really didn’t want to do at all for my special task and then just didn’t do them. There is obviously a big resistance here to enjoying the boring, tedious, mundane things of life. What would one have to complain about? Procrastination wouldn’t be any fun if one were procrastinating on having fun. And I can’t scold myself because that is getting trapped in my oughts and shoulds again, so I really can’t just indulge in feelings of guilt or remorse instead of actually doing something.

The only thing left is either to do a task with the clarity and mindfulness thing or not to do it at all and just leave it undone or do it resentfully — but it feels so silly and perverse not to do it.

I hate to feel perversely silly.

It may provide a bit of harmless amusement for the Otherworld folk, but I’d rather not do it that way. ‘Undignified’ I have no problem with, but “perverse” and ‘silly’ combined are just too much. The thing that had become a regular practice was to have a good laugh at myself when I review my day, just before I go to sleep.

Okay. I wrote the above in early 1994. I added this in the middle of the next year: I’m just recovering from a prolonged bout of pneumonia and am taking this opportunity to reformat and update my disorganized web pages, which have gradually become all helter-skelter. I can do this on my laptop while I technically stay in bed, as instructed. And now, I’m thinking about how I can apply these principles to healing myself. What can I do while confined here — besides my regular meditation and self-healing?

I have recovered to the point where I can go down and up the stairs once a day, and I’ve learned to pause on each step and take two healing breaths. And to take five minutes worth of healing breaths on the landing halfway. This way I don’t collapse before the top. (At first, I unconsciously held my breath as I tried to hurry up the stairs before I collapsed. Needless to say, that didn’t work well. But I can’t climb the stairs very often, so this doesn’t seem much of a task to apply this technique to. It seems that there isn’t much I can be doing with it…

But wait! I’m working on these pages. How can I incorporate meditation/self healing into this? Well, breath seems very important just now. Pneumonia messes that up. So perhaps I could incorporate breathing consciously and in a healing way into this somehow. I’m going to try something for a few minutes…

Ah, yes. I just need to stop at the end of every paragraph and breathe in healing energy for a few breaths. Three slow ones feels about right. It changes the whole energy of what I’m doing. Instead of getting a feeling of self-induced pressure building up, I feel tranquility. I smile while I work. That alone tells me it is right. So. I shall stop here and do another page.

Now here we are in 2018! Have I learned this thoroughly? Do I automatically do it on new things as well? Noooo. Do I need to start again? Yes, I do. These days I’m working on writing my first fantasy novel — it seems that it should (there’s that word again!) be easy to apply the paragraph above to that.

Also, I have to use a walker these days, and I do already get it that I have to monitor myself closely and not push myself too hard at that. The rhythm needs to be to walk, stop and sit and breathe, and walk again. And sit and breathe again. But much of the time I push myself to a hazardous edge before I stop. If I were to insert a little more mindfulness in the walking, I might not be so exhausted so soon.

There are also gentle exercises, I’m supposed to do — perhaps I could find some way to keep myself from rushing things there too.

O! I think I see the key here. It’s the rushing at things that is the problem, not the things themselves. I wonder where that comes from? Perhaps if I could find a way to be aware of that before I fall into a self-created hole — perhaps I could really finally get this? What do you think?

Copyright © 1994, 1995, & 2018 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved. This originally appeared in Crann Beathadh, 1994.

The Last Goat

 

Once upon a time, there were three goats who lived on a tall mountain that overlooked a grassy plain. Every morning, they watched the sun rise. Then, they meditated. Every evening, they walked around the mountain and watched the sun set. After that, they meditated.

They were very contented goats. They spent their days doing goatish things and thinking goatish thoughts. They spent their nights dreaming goatish dreams.

One day an airplane flew over their mountain. The three goats watched it as it circled once and flew away.

“I’ll bet I can do that,” the youngest goat said. He spread his forelegs and leaped from the crag. He went splat on the rocks below.

The other two goats peered over the edge at the scattered remains of their companion. Then they looked at each other and shrugged. What else could they do?

Months passed, and one bright day, about an hour after sunrise, another airplane flew over the mountain. Both goats watched it.

“I think I’ve figured out how it’s done,” the oldest goat muttered.

Before the other could say anything, he trotted back along the path, turned and galloped toward the crag. Running as fast as he could and with a look of utter determination on his face, he spread his forelegs and leaped over the edge.

He went splat on the rocks below.

The Last Goat shook his head sadly.

The days passed. The moon waxed and waned and the shadows cast by the sun grew taller and shorter with the seasons. Every day, the Last Goat watched the sun rise and the sun set. He meditated. He thought goatish thoughts and did goatish things and dreamed goatish dreams.

At last, another airplane flew over the mountain. The Last Goat looked at it. He looked at the crag and peered over at the rocks below. He peered thoughtfully at his feet. He sighed and rubbed his shoulder against a rock to ease an itch. He remembered that he’d found a patch of especially tasty grass in a hidden hollow the day before and went over to munch some of it for breakfast.

The years passed. The Last Goat was content. Younger goats lived lower down on the mountain now. He knew they were there, but he didn’t feel any need for their companionship; he was accustomed to solitude and peace. The inner quiet of meditation had permeated his days and nights and sang in his blood. The other goats referred to him as “the Wise Old Goat” but he didn’t know why they did that—he didn’t seem especially wise in his own eyes. He just knew that each sunrise brought joy; each sunset brought peace.

Finally, when the Last Goat had noticed his legs were beginning to tremble with age, another airplane flew over the mountain. This one was quite high and glinted silver and almost silent in the sky. He raised his head and watched it until it disappeared into the sun. Again, he looked thoughtfully at his feet.

“It’s the ground,” he thought. “It’s the ground that is important—the ground of being. You have to always keep your hooves on the ground of being.” Carefully, he walked over to the crag, feeling the ground of being touching his hooves every step of the way. Cautiously, he put one foot out over the abyss, testing for the ground of being. When he felt it solid beneath that hoof, he moved himself out onto this transparent ground.

He looked between his feet, at the rocks far below, nodding, “Yes, I thought so.” He began climbing up the invisible trail, seen only in his heart. Soon, he overtook the airplane, laboring through the thin air. “Poor souls, making such hard work of this,” he thought. And he continued climbing clear into the sun. History does not relate what he did once he got there.

Copyright © 2003 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.

Within Stone (or The Altitude of Wu Wei)

My good friend, Nancy Hendrickson of TarotExplorer.com, strongly recommended that I go on an inner journey. Specifically, she suggested that I go to the heart of a stone and there talk to the Hierophant of the tarot and ask him about what the stones are trying to teach me just now — because clearly they are trying to teach me something.

The stone whose heart I’m going into was given to me by a good friend, Jerry George. It came all the way from the high land of Tibet to live with me. He had found several of these small, smooth, pieces of jade and had been surprised to find those particular stones in that place — he knows his geology and they would not have been expected to be there. Where had they come from? How did they get there? No one knew. He brought them all the way back, and for thirty years now he has carried one in his pocket. I carried mine in my pocket or in my purse. (Why do so many women’s clothes not have useful pockets?) Then a terrible thing happened — I lost it. It must be somewhere in my house, but I cannot find it. I feel bereft and ashamed, guilty of being careless of its well-being and special value — unless it ran away, which is also possible.

But tonight I realized that of course I still carry this precious stone in my heart along with many other stones — the standing stones of Calanais, the stones of the blessing cairn here at home, my outdoor altar at home, the cairn on Dun I on the Isle of Iona, Castlerigg stone circle, the huge lump of white quartz that I brought home in Scotland and eventually had to leave behind because the movers refused to try to lift it, and so many others, large and small. I can only begin to acknowledge them all. They live in my heart and sometimes I feel them murmuring in tones too deep, too slow to hear. Trees and other beings live there too, but tonight it is the stones who wish to speak, especially the small Tibetan stone that I have mislaid but that is still with me.

So I begin this journey within at the gate to my own heart. At this moment, it is a small wooden gate with hinges that squeek their own song, swinging loose in the wind. It opens itself for me, and I freely pass through.

The path to the stone is grassy — greenly aromatic, gentle underfoot. The stars in the dark sky above are shining brightly. A soft breeze lazily plays with my hair. Ahead in the darkness the stone rests on the ground. Although the stone I was given is quite small, here it is its true size, as big as a house. In front of me there is a door, the door to the heart of the stone. The door is small, just big enough for me to enter. All around its frame rune-like symbols are carved. The door swings itself open for me, and as I enter in, I see that it is someone’s home. A bright fire burns on the hearth. On either side of the fire, turned so they both face each other and the fire, are two comfortable armchairs. I sit in the one on the left, and as I do, I remember that the dark column is on the left side of the High Priestess tarot card, so I am sitting in the yin, receiving place.

Faint shadows move in the other chair in the flickering light of the fire, and gradually the hierophant becomes visible. He is dressed like the pope, but in a shimmering cloth that seems to be all colors at once, even white, even black. I am distracted, fascinated by that cloth for a while and when I come back to the present moment, I see that the shadows have solidified, become someone visibly real. It is the hierophant. He grins at me, almost mischievously, as if inviting me to enjoy his neat arrival trick. Without moving, he is here, as if he had always been solidly and really here.

I rub my nose and apologize for having entered uninvited. He both acknowledges and dismisses my apology with a casual wave of his hand. “The first pope,” he elucidates didactically, “was Peter — and as you may recall “peter” comes from petra and means rock. He was the foundation rock of the church. I am not that pope, but I am the foundation, the true rock of the earth. Now, why are you here?”

I’m not sure of the answer — is “I was told to come” a true answer? My mind is a blank. Is this going to be one of those journeys? The ones that go nowhere? I think of leaving and coming back later, but know that only rarely do I come back to the same place again after leaving it. Catch the moment or let it go… which? I feel more like a butterfly than a rock — and how do butterflies communicate with rocks?

I rise from my chair and sit on the floor at this honored teacher’s feet.

“On these journeys of yours,” he prompts me, “you usually ask, what do I, the guide, need from you — remember?”.

I nod. I’ve only been making these intentional spirit journeys for a little under 50 years in this life — you’d think that by now I’d remember how to get back on track when I get lost. Why do I feel so confused?

Ummm. Because I’m not grounded. Here I am, sitting inside a rock, talking to Rock, sitting on the stone floor, and I am not grounded. I try to “sit like a mountain” as I do when I meditate. Not working — I’m still fluttering. How about sitting like a tree, roots running deep, leaves moving in the breeze?

My spirit self stubbornly persists in randomly floating like a butterfly. Why?

The hierophant’s intense dark eyes pin me in place, my invisible, intangible wings still fluttering. To him, to All Stone, I am like a butterfly — light, floaty, ephemeral. As permanent as a mayfly. It dawns on me that I can be nothing else! To the deep stone, I am impermanent, even evanescent. Fizzy me. I stop trying to be grounded like a stone and instead rise gently in the air. The stone I feel most like is a reverse meteor rising slowly up through the air, slipping free of gravity, burning in my moment of bright insight.

I have spent all of these years trying to be grounded. What am I, what will I be if I let myself go free — ephemeral, short-lived, momentary… floating? This is so relaxing. There is no effort in floating. Being a grounded, practical doer is so effortful… and exhausting. I remember with a feeling of d’oh! that I learned once before, long ago, how relaxing and healing it was to just float, just be free, be diffuse and unfocused. I even made a “meditation technique” of it and taught it to others. (At the right time in the right circumstances, this is a valuable skill  — but it is not a substitute for meditation or being well earthed in the right circumstances for that.)

At this realization, the rigid Stone around me melts and becomes Tree, branches waving in the breeze, roots reaching into Earthmama. Yet, though I may sit like a tree to meditate — usually — I am not a tree, not rooted. Mobile. Bouncy sometimes. Sometimes I flop down on Earthmama, my heart energy connected with her, sometimes I float on her waters or sit in the branches of trees, drifting.

Looking for my right place between the states of stone and vapor, I find my own specific gravity, the place where I am at home — the place of perfect balance, effortless, free, not holding, not releasing, just being. Sensing, noticing that this point changes moment by moment, like the balance of a surfer on a wave. The surfer, too, is in a medium where he neither sinks nor rises above — his natural place is on the boundary between. He bobs with the waves and with his own breath, a complex single movement flowing from many natural forces.

I have earth within me, solid bone, flesh, and bonded blood, and I have air and spirit within me, boundless. There is bright fire and flowing water too. All of the elements are part of me. My natural place is to be just as earthed as I need to be to do what I need to do at this moment. That’s it. That’s all.

Yet at other times I may need to soar freely to listen — to catch the messages that waft between the stars. Or at other present moments it may be time to be between the ebb and the flow to rest in my own specific gravity place — to rest, to restore, to recover, to recuperate, to regenerate, to re-create. Note that word STILL. Being connected to the universe, to stone beneath and stars above, is important. But it is equally important to allow Self to just BE, to rest, silent, not rigidly straight, not effortfully rising, but a living stillness that is in constant motion floating on the waves of the breath of the universe, letting my own breath be what it is and find its own harmony.

Tension is about holding an unnatural, inappropriate, or unskillful way of being. We know it is unnatural and unskillful because it requires tension to hold us there — how simple is that? Relaxation is about consciously letting go of that tension by focus and attention (“at tension” — isn’t that sneaky?) Both are doing. Peace is the place between, the point where nothing is needed, no action at all.

Wu wei.

Good God/dess, how could I have forgotten that?

Everything around me dissolves, becomes esse, being, even the man who is Stone. Nothing is left but a smile that isn’t even there.

The Mountain Shifts, Becomes A Tree…

(I like to put a photograph up here,
but I’m practicing using my own photos—
and I don’t have one of a Giant Sequoia.
So please, imagine, if you will,
a picture here of a magnificent Giant Sequoia
with the rising sun just touching
the topmost branches…)

After all these years, all these many years of practicing shikan taza meditation, I suddenly made a shift that felt quite profound. Part of shikan taza is to “sit like a mountain”. This morning, sitting with a Buddhist group in Second Life, I was feeling chilled, my back felt all wrong and heavy, hurting. Either I couldn’t find the mountain, or when I could find it, it felt… just wrong. Suddenly, like an unexpected gift, it came to me to sit like a tree, like a giant Sequoia, upright, stable, yet… lifting.

I don’t know what the essential difference is between tree and mountain. The mountain has always felt solid, real, immovable to me. Perhaps that is the change—from immoveable to flexible, from stone/earth to living wood. The mountain has always felt alive, but this was still a shift from alive like Earthmama to alive like a tree, rooted in the earth, branches spread wide in gratitude, and mind illuminated with the warmth of the sun.

Looking at the Chinese five elements—fire, earth, metal, water, wood—I notice that earth supports wood, trees grow out of earth. So perhaps this progression is simply a natural one. It feels like that.

The shikan taza meditation, as I’ve known it, was to “sit hard”, sit like a mountain, mind like a cloud, holding expectant gratitude. This different view was still sitting, focused and solid, but like a tree with deep roots, somehow lighter than the mountain—still a part of the earth, but… different. Lighter. Capable of motion, of flexibility, giving with the wind yet being strong. Growing upward.

This ability to bend and adapt seems important just now—accepting whatever changes come, accepting the increasing wear and tear of age, not expecting to be rigid, unchanging. Letting go of the deep roots in the earth. You know, it’s only now I realize how uncomfortable those roots were becoming and how much they needed to change and soften. Accepting the roots of the trees, impermanent, growing, changing, eventually dying, was such a relief! And oddly enough, it felt like gravity shifted, as if something—the life of the tree, the sap rising perhaps—was lifting me up.

As I followed the energy up from the tree roots, the enclosed grateful heart of the mountain became branches spread wide, receiving light, receiving warmth, vital and alive, in deep gratitude.

The “mind like a cloud” became branches at the top of the tree, bathed in the light of the rising sun. Illuminated. While the cloud always felt light, it didn’t feel quite like this, as if infinite warm light was flowing in and through… the most remarkable feeling.

For me, the whole of shikan taza has always been rooted in feeling, not in thinking. It’s a shift of focus from “thinking about” to “feeling” and then to “being”. I don’t know if this is the “right” way, the proper Zen way to do shikan taza, but it has helped me immeasurably over the years. And now this change that feels so profound?

Who knew? I’ve been practicing shikan taza for over a quarter of a century, ever since I first read about it in Roshi Philip Kapleau’s Three Pillars of Zen, and suddenly, sitting there in the virtual world with a small group of people, it shifted. This feels like a gift, a benison of warmth and light.

I am so grateful.

October Dreaming

Have you ever dreamed that you could see in the dark? As if everything were faintly luminous? Dreamed that you were small and powerful with a body so lithe and agile that you could dance in moonlight like a wraith?

Have you ever wakened from a dream like that and found a cat beside you, paws twitching on the blanket and her breath coming fast?

Did you wonder whose dream that really was?

When a cat wakes and looks at you with a question in her eyes, do you wonder what she is asking? Do you wonder if she wants to know what you heard, what you’re thinking, dreaming?

Do you ever wonder if all around you everything understands something — except you? Is there is a web of communication between all things—cats, trees, slugs, coyotes, stars? Do you ever wonder if we humans have fallen out of that net somehow? Dreaming that we are better, smarter, more important because we are too headblind and deaf to hear, to see what everything else knows? And we, sleepwalking in our dreams of superiority, blundering around destroying, trampling, wrecking that scintillating, intricate web of life?

Have you forgotten everything? Do you wonder what the cat knows? Is there any way at all to get out of your own head? And into the bigger world outside?

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Guess what? There is a path — several paths. Meditation is one of the best ways to begin.

Meditation links:

Basic Meditation by Jessica Macbeth. On Jesa’s Woo Woo Classes home page you can use the search function to look up more meditation information on those pages.

Shambala Basic Meditation Instructions This one also has a link to a helpful video.

And a meditative exercise applicable to daily life:

Meditating While You Work by Jessica Macbeth

© Copyright 2013 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.