This was written late in the summer shortly after my Mother died.
One Saturday, in an effort to take a break from the heat, I took my friend Hugh and my dogs Sophie and Luke and headed up the mountain, about 8 miles from my house to a local river. A short but steep hike through the wood leads to a beautiful waterfall and a small clear pool. We all quickly got in the water which was cold enough to refresh us, but not take our breath away. We sat comfortably in the water, chatting and looking up at the sheer rock wall where the waterfall descends, and at the red columbines and yellow lilies that grow right out of the rock itself. One of my favorite things to do every summer is to visit this waterfall and to stand under it. If I stand right under the stream of water, I can only stay for a couple of seconds, the force of the water is so strong; it hurts and will send me off balance. If I get behind it, or just to the side of it, I get a wonderful shower, and I can watch the water run past and over me picking up rays of sunlight at is goes by.
This reminds me of my meditation practice and what it has to offer. In the early days, I thought meditation was there to help me stop thoughts and naturally, since this is impossible, it made me frustrated. Working with a meditation teacher, I learned that the practice of meditation is actually designed to change our relationship to our thoughts. So we can see them for what they really are- passing phenomenon. Much of my suffering came from believing all of them. Some of the thoughts I had caused me pain and stress. I find this is also true for many people I have worked with in my Stress Reduction Classes. A thought like, “what if I lose my job?” after listening to the latest news, can set off a cascade of stress hormones, and breed other fear based thoughts as well, leading to homelessness and destitution, as we sit comfortably in our own living rooms. Stepping to the side of or behind the cascade of thought allows us to see them and to perhaps simply say, “Oh I guess I am scared right now”, and then deal with our fear mindfully, instead of feeding it with more thoughts.
I invite you to enjoy the waterfall with me, allowing your thoughts, and worries to stream by seeing them with clarity while feeling refreshed and cool. I find this works well with emotions also. At times the recent loss of my mother feels overwhelming and the strength of the emotion is like the full force of the waterfall- pounding on me -causing me to lose balance and slip on the rocks. Here too, I can step to the side, or behind the feelings. I still feel the spray, I still feel the grief welling up and spilling out in tears. But I can also bear witness to my own feelings and take care of myself in the midst of them. Mindfulness of my emotions allows me to bear them.
The next day we took a different route up the river. This hike is very strenuous, there isn’t a well defined path and the ground is covered with slippery oak leaves. The incline is so steep that you have to almost go up on your belly grabbing on to branches to pull yourself along. Why do this? At the top is a series of rock pools where you can take a swim and gaze out at the San Jacinto Mountains in all directions. The main pool is difficult to get to because it is completely surrounded by rock. But it is so beautiful and deeply refreshing. Water runs in one side and out the other keeping the water fresh and clean, you can even slide into it down a “water slide” made of the rock!
This experience also reminded me of my meditation practice. Meditation keeps life fresh; as water running in and out keeps this pool perfectly clear and clean. With my practice, I don’t have to recycle thoughts and experiences over and over where they become like stagnant water and breed germs and mosquitoes. Getting to this pool takes a lot of effort, and it so worth it. Sometimes when people first start meditating they say it is so hard. They are scared when they encounter their minds activity and spend a large part of their meditation practice criticizing them selves. They resist the commitment it takes to begin. I always want to tell them, to stick with it, because the practice will take you to another way of being on the other side of the activity of your mind where you can see yourself and your life as clearly as the water in this pool. Take a dip and refresh yourself deeply in your life. And don’t give up before you get there.