To Poach An Egg

March 3rd, 2012 | Posted by Laura Dorfman in Buddhism | Mindfulness | Practice - (2 Comments)


If I think about the mindfulness it takes to poach an egg, all of a sudden it seems stunningly similar to my life.

If I could live my life like the best poached egg I’ve ever made, well, I think I would be present all the time.

There’s only a few seconds you can look away when you poach an egg, otherwise you will lose it.

I can imagine many situations where people would give their right arm to get a few seconds of time back. A few seconds of mindlessness or not being present can make a huge difference in a life, and an egg.

There are people who can cook poached eggs like experts and there are people who live their lives like experts. But most of us flail along and just keep trying. Some of us try harder than others, some of us try longer, but I would think most of us at some point in our lives attempt to make really good eggs.

The chances of an egg being poached perfectly is low. It’s also relative.

It appears, in the end, to really be all about practice.

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Two weeks ago was my birthday. I felt sad that Little Star wasn’t included in the menagerie of sleeping beings next to me. I wanted so much, for my birthday present, to be the same thing that I’d wanted for the last 10 weeks. It was simply to “just have my dog back”. That physical being that walked next to me for eleven years. Eleven very hard years, which didn’t seem so bad because I had my beautiful family of which she was a grounded, centered, and secure force. She first came as a vision quest, as my spirit guide. She then showed up a year later in real life. It was a dream come true, this beautiful creature that appeared in my mind, came true. I had the honor of being her human.

And then her body grew weak and she left the earth.

It was one of the most beautiful nights of my life and it was supposed to be one of the saddest. It wasn’t. It was peaceful and full of depth like I have never known. An unmeasurable feeling of content and safety that had power to last. This feeling could heal deep wounds and not allow new ones to form. I was only sure of one thing. This night that I had played over and over in my head as something I may not be able to handle turned out to be one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.  These are the only words I can use to describe the death of one of the most beautiful spirits I was honored to reside with on this planet. It seemed a short ten years, but the wisdom I feel she has left me, is astounding. I am new.

I had a beautiful meditation the other night. While attempting to confront and welcome sadness, the very subject of that sadness come to me and offered a dance. It was a beautiful scene. A beautiful dance. One I hope to visit many times. One I am complete in. Safe. Comforted by joy. She is so close to me. I feel her every moment at my side. She will not let me be sad for too long, just for short times, and then she dances for me. Her silly, beautiful dance on the beach where I fell in love with her for the first time.

Little Star hasn’t left me and I am so grateful to her. She has been so close to me that mostly I do not mourn. My grief is limited to the time when I want to touch her body so badly that I can’t see straight. Those times are few. Mostly I walk with her right at my side. I can feel her so close to me, that I know I am with her, and I do not grieve. I rejoice in the ability to keep her with me so strongly, and to be able to allow her to stay with me so close.

She is there when I need to make hard decisions, she is there when I’m scared of some creepy dark moment, and was here, just last week,  body blocking me to stop me from getting my heart broken.

Most importantly, she is always here when I need to laugh. She is always here when I start to take things too seriously. Just as the dread comes about, so does Star doing some goofy, funny dance on the beach.

Our dogs:  the time often seems short but the gift is so rare, so precious, it can last our lifetime.

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My brother tells this funny story about when he was in college, he and his roommates used to hang out by the Buddhist’s houses because eventually they would start giving away “stuff”. My brother and his friends used to bring home all the material items of the Buddhists who were cleaning out the attachments in their lives. We always had a good laugh about that and when I started to follow my Buddhist path seriously, I too told this story many times. I thought I knew about “attachments” and “stuff” and “happiness”. I thought as long as I was aware of my attachment to my Ipod or my very cool bicycle, I could continue on with that plan. I was studying, I was learning, I was struggling and I was on my path.

And then one of my most precious attachments was threatened. My mind started spinning and did not settle. It was a brand new roller coaster I wasn’t aware existed and a lesson I learned very deeply. I had never been on this particular roller coaster before and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how I felt and I had nothing to attach to.  Being so off center I had to grab onto something. It was easy to unattach when I had a strong foundation and when I was centered. It was also easy to unattach when it was my iPod or baseball collection, but the moment I was thrown off center, I went into the unknown and I barely knew what day it was.

At that moment of total confusion, I grabbed ahold of the biggest, loudest voice in my head and attached. I clung on hard and fast and didn’t look back. It was eight words and they ran my life for months. It was a different kind of attachment I wasn’t aware could happen. It’s worse than any connection to any Ipod or big screen TV I could ever have.

“Your best friend has two weeks to live”. Those were the eight words. They are quite powerful and with them I went on a “journey through darkness”. I had all the reactions one would expect. I cried, I ached, I listened to heart crushing songs, I stayed close and I did all I could to make her safe. When two weeks went by, I was exhausted. I had been up all nights watching her sleep, I stayed home every day with her. We started the healing team, but all I could think about were those eight words. Because I had attached so hard on those eight words when two weeks came and went, I got lost. First I got upset with the bearer of those words. I latched on to her in my mind and was angry that she was wrong. How could she say these powerful words and not be absolutely correct. Even though her mistake meant my miracle, I was determined to be attached to her. What a lesson. As she said those words, I prayed that she was wrong, yet when she was, I couldn’t handle it.

I kind of expected my best friend to be here longer than two weeks. It had happened once before when three days turned into ten weeks. Then I called it “The Gift”. I had ten weeks to spend with my soulmate, who was leaving me, and those ten weeks were beautiful. So I thought when this happened again, perhaps I could get another “gift”, but I wasn’t sure I could be lucky twice.

When the two weeks became four and six and then ten, I got more and more off center. I was totally attached to those eight words and I didn’t know what to do next. It was a statement made, a very powerful statement that grabbed me and twisted, and it didn’t stop. I wouldn’t let it stop. I didn’t know where I was because I was living in weeks passed. I had trouble meditating, studying. I had trouble in my mind. That’s usually the place that’s the calmest for me. My body and spirit seem to give me more challenges, so to have my mind in constant turmoil was hard for me.

So all of a sudden my material possessions were the least of my worries about attachments. Attachments on a whole different level are the attachments we develop from ideas, thoughts and even expert statements made from statistics and analysis. They are all just words. Until they actually happen, they are always only words.

This definitely supports “living in the present”. It gives a powerful lesson of, “If you’re worried about something and can do something about it, do it. If you can’t, then don’t worry”. And it gives a huge boost to, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow’s a mystery, today is a gift, that’s why they call it the present”.

It took me months to settle my mind. As I sit here with my beautiful best friend five months after “the words”, I have learned a most important lesson. I have become aware of the way our minds can easily fall into the agony of attachment not just to material things, but to words, ideas and thoughts. I am learning to love the moment, which allows me to be fully present with the precious being that still sits with me. I will continue to try and release into the big sky the concept of what’s to happen, what could happen or where and when something might happen.

I live today with my best friend at my side. Practicing.

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 I watch her sleep all the time now. I’m watching her now as I type. In fact I’m becoming a better typist. I watch her and not the keyboard, which is what I’m supposed to do when I type, but never having formal typing skills, I usually watch the keyboard. But not anymore, now I watch her sleep.

I love it when she sleeps outside and her ears fly around with the wind. Her right floppy ear flops, little floppy flops, really cute. Her other ear flaps big waves, long stylized waves. It’s possible to be able to describe it so well because I watch her all the time. Only her ears can help one understand the difference between floppy and flapping. It’s a very important thing to know.

I don’t think she minds when I watch her sleep, in fact I think she likes it. I think she feels my eyes and I think it makes her feel better. My thoughts are for her these days, almost exclusively. I want to do this well for her.

Of course I also watch her eat, I watch her walk, I get down right giddy when she trots, and now when she barks, I watch that too, but with different eyes. I watch her bark with eyes that say, please little one don’t ever stop barking. I won’t mind it like I used too, please just don’t stop. Don’t stop eating or sleeping either. Please just don’t stop.

I watch her chest go up and down and I remain at ease. A scared ease, but still an ease. She is still here, still here with me.

She brought me out of a darkness that I never thought I would survive. She taught me compassion. She brought back laughter.

She is my partner, my best friend, but most important she is my teacher and I don’t know what I’m going to do without her. I only know one thing.

I’ve been practicing for this all my life.

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It’s been a challenging and terrifying year. I was familiar with terror as a child. I thought pain was good and it let me know I was alive. I didn’t like it, but I was used to it. I have always been aware that my life could slide by without my knowing it. It was and is the single most important thing I have always been aware of.

A year ago last week I was told by my trusted MD, after an MRI, “One wrong move and you could be a quadriplegic” The words stung like nothing I’ve ever heard before. I was stunned and stayed that way for the two weeks until surgery to relieve that threat. A surgery which was much less dangerous than walking around. The doctor told me “not to slip”, get in “a fender bender”, and definitely, “don’t fall or jerk your neck”. The damage to my disk was extensive and the bone spurs on my spinal cord were large and looming. “One wrong move” was my mantra for the rest of the month. It was December in Chicago and the very next day, we had an ice storm. I stayed in the house, moved slowly, very mindfully. The two weeks until surgery felt like years. I don’t remember Christmas. I also don’t really remember the pain. I remember the pain before I was told. I remember it was months leading up to the tests, but I don’t remember the pain during the wait. That’s one of the perks of terror, you don’t remember pain.

I remember thinking then about not being able to move and spending the rest of my life completely still. It still sends shivers done my now healing spine. I still think of it. I never want to take for granted the blessings I have. Being able is often a choice, being able bodied is something I don’t think we think about until we are threatened with losing it or we do lose it without warning. I was lucky, I received warning, understood the importance and only lived in that particular place for two weeks.

With Christmas coming, I have had many thoughts in my mind regarding this last year.  It has changed me in a profound way,  a way I’m not even sure of yet. I feel different. I am still in pain. I am still not sure of the outcome. Four month’s after the first surgery, I had another. It makes recovery complicated. More muscle damage, more spurs on the nerves in my shoulder, the one I use a lot. I learned to use the other one.

Life is impermanent. As long as we are aware of it, we have it. I’m new again. I’m so grateful, sometimes I can hardly breathe. I am loved, There is no better feeling than to be calm inside. To be loved and be able to love. I do that so deeply, that often it hurts. I am not moving very well these days and I hope to do better. I am feeling, I am loving.

I used to think pain was good, it let me know I was alive. I think I still think that, but I also think love can do that too. I am very different than I was last Christmas. I love deeper, stronger, and with much more compassion. When I was young and I felt terror, I used to run. Now when I feel terror, I feel the need to love.

Last Christmas there was very little holiday cheer, no cookies for Santa, we were num.  That’s the place I’ve always feared.

This Christmas we send the one thing we know for sure, and we send it out to all sentient beings. May you love someone, very deeply, and may you be loved.

First Noble Truth: Life is suffering. First Reminder: Life Is Precious .  Still practicing

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There is an old Tibetan saying:

 “If you walk with haste, you won’t reach Lhasa. Walk gently and you’ll reach your goal.”

When I was growing up there were many people, all the time. My house was hectic and crowded and I was in need of space and freedom. I grew up in a city, never feeling comfortable with concrete. I dreamt of space and openness and freedom. Mine came in the way of a hand-me-down 16” blue bicycle. It was the coolest bike and I loved it dearly. I don’t remember many things in my body from then, but the feeling of jumping on that bike and taking off has never left me. So of course, it took no time at all when I started biking again as an adult to achieve that very same feeling. I sailed through the streets like I did when I was 10, fast with no looking back. It was the closest, I thought, to being a bird, flying. I was never really going anywhere, but I went fast and I powered my own energy.

“If you walk with haste, you won’t reach Lhasa. Walk gently and you’ll reach your goal.”

So I was grateful to come across this old Tibetan saying while reading the other day. Perfect timing. It is the key to this phase and I ‘m sure, all the phases of the rest of my life. I’ve never walked very gently with my body and it’s never been very gentle with me. Now we must make peace. I have been humbled this year. I have been stopped on my way to Lhasa and now I must learn to walk again, gently this time. For now, only when I go gently will I be able to move forward.

I’s time for to be mindful of my body. If I want to go fast, I have to decide with a clear, safe mindful decision. I may no longer make the carefree habitual decisions we all tend to make and then regret.

“If you walk with haste, you won’t reach Lhasa. Walk gently and you’ll reach your goal.”

It is then explained in the saying that the Tibetans that just want to get there, and are not mindful, don’t usually make it. It is a very hard walk and those that rush usually need to turn back due to illness or lack of proper nutrition. Those that complete the trip mindfully, make it to Lhasa.  This mantra must become part of my body, spirit, and most importantly, my mind.

Slow and Steady to Lhasa

Every movement, motion and step needs to be thought about carefully now, paid attention to, and most of all, respected. I know people who do that naturally, every day. They are mindful. I imagine we all would do good to follow that path.

Most of us walk through this life with our bodies and our minds. Most of us struggle with different aspects of each. They must work together with whatever our body brings to the table. They must work together wherever our mind is that particular moment.

“If you walk with haste, you won’t reach Lhasa. Walk gently and you’ll reach your goal.”

I’m still that same 10 year old trying to be free. Trying to play catch on the street and basketball in the driveway. Trying to ride as long and fast as I want, whenever I want.

And I think I can do those things again (well most of them anyway ), differently maybe. I only know one thing for sure.

“If you walk with haste, you won’t reach Lhasa. Walk gently and you’ll reach your goal.”

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“Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings” by Pema Chodron was sitting on the shelf many years ago and I gratefully scooped it up. There are certain authors that I buy without even looking or thinking, and Pema Chodren is one of them. A well respected Buddhist nun with many best-selling books, she is a wise compassionate teacher. So I was actually a little surprised when I saw this book, Comfortable with “Certainty”: 108 Teachings. I was confused. After all, most people are comfortable with certainty and why even read this book. So I didn’t at first. I put it on my shelf and walked by it several times a day for months. Then one day I was looking at a book nearby and I saw the real title for the first time. “Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings”, oh that made so much sense, I couldn’t believe I had read this title wrong all this time. But then again, it is totally believable. The reason for the book I would suppose.

I used to get very anxious when something was coming up that I didn’t want to do, or was out of my comfort zone. I would not sleep for days. If an anxiety event was in the future, I could not rest until it was over. I was lucky though, I did have peace in-between events and there were times that I was calm with the future. I have a friend who does this, but goes from one uncomfortable event to the next and never has peace in between. I was lucky, I got a break.

I started noticing that I was doing better with planned events that used to make me nervous. One time, years ago I was anticipating a relative visiting who I really didn’t want to come to my home. I was a mess, I couldn’t concentrate, I was upset, and I wan’t sleeping. This anxiety lasted about two weeks and in the end, he canceled his trip and never came. I was upset with myself for the time lost and learned a really good lesson that day. Impermanence surrounds us. The sooner I jumped onboard, the sooner I would be “Comfortable with Uncertainty”.  Ah, now it made sense. I was determined not to ruin another hour of my life waiting for the future, which may or may not ever happen.

I was very aware when I was at my retreat home this last July, that I was not painfully missing the part of my family still at home. I was very aware this last September as I was planning a very complicated trip with many different scenarios for all of my five family members, that I was as calm as I could ever imagined. I was very aware that when I left, I was happy to be going, but I would have been happy to stay also. Now as I prepare to go home from my paradise, which has always been very difficult for me, I am not so sad. Although as the time moves on toward departure, it is getting harder.

There is an old Buddhist belief that has recently been heard in the movie “Kung Foo Panda”  “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.”

As much as I have ever imagined, I am living in the present and it is so much easier than any other way I have chosen or relied on before. I’m still not “there” yet, but I am moving forward, or actually,

I am staying still.



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Most mornings I water the plants outside. When it’s raining, nature waters for me. It is always different. Sometimes slow drizzles all day long where the flowers glow and stand up proudly to receive everything the sky is offering. Sometimes it comes without notice, really hard downpours causing the plants and flowers to recoil in protection. They wait, they nourish and they come back, most of the time, stronger, brighter and taller. When I water it is similar, depending where my mind is. When I am quiet in myself, I water with great care for the plants and every second is a mindful thought of how and where the flow should fall into the leaves. When I water slowly with mindfulness the water flows and trickles into the dirt with ease. It seems to know where to go, weaving in and around the new formed rivers in the soil. When I’m mindful, I do not waste.

As I watch the water flow through the leaves of the potted plants, I am reminded of my challenges of late. These are not the struggles of injury, or surgery. These are much more serious and have much more effect on life than physical struggles. As I begin to heal, I watch my mind and body disconnect. It is a very difficult path. This is what I’m learning.

When I try to predetermine the path, it becomes unclear.

When I go too fast, I become unbalanced.

When I think that my path is more difficult than some, I become too much and cannot think clearly.

When I expect to go in one direction, I get lost.

When I get overwhelmed with what I cannot do, I cannot practice.

When I water the plants next to the Buddha with much more care and respect than I do the plants on the other side, I can never be fully present.

This is what I hope to know.

When the tree comes down, there is a beautiful star in the core with which to begin anew.

When I walk the path instead of run, I can continue.

The difference between nature and precious human birth is the ability to calm the storms, and maintain mindful watering.

As long as I know I’m breathing, I can practice all that I believe.

As long as I can practice, I can heal.

And for now, as long as I can water, I don’t have to play basketball.

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Buddha with flowersIt’s a funny balance. From everything I know about Buddhism, everyone I can think of and everyone I know would smile and maybe giggle when they heard this story. Then they would say very gently “try again” and maybe gently, maybe not so gently, I would.

As I sat down today to a fairly new meditation area outside my home, it couldn’t have been more conducive for a good, deep “sit” with perfect conditions all around. The weather was beautiful. I had time and it was fairly quiet, although that doesn’t usually matter to me.

I sat down, looked at the Buddha. I put my hands together, crossed my legs and straightened my spine. I thought about how nice the new stand looked. I took a deep breath and began.

Breathing in, breathing out. Breathing in, breathing out. I forgot my clock, no problem, I’ll go without it. Breathing in, breathing out. Breathing in, breathing out. The Buddha looks nice, maybe he should be higher so I’m not so above him. Breathe. Be here, be present. I wonder if my friend is right and the Buddha shouldn’t sit on the glass, maybe he should be on a rock, much more natural. I wonder if he thought about the tree while he was sitting under it. Should the flowers next to him be less or more.  Breathe Laura, redecorate later.

I am breathing in, I am breathing out.  Breath, the wonder of it all. Present. Those purple and white flowers look great, I wonder if I should move the blue pot further away and just have it be the one pot next to him. Less is more, you know, I think the blue. Thinking not breathing. Focus on the breath.

Big sky, open sky. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathing in a long breath, breathing out a long breath. Maybe I am too high above the Buddha, maybe this stand is too low and maybe he shouldn’t be sitting on glass. It should be a rock, he should sit on a rock that’s higher. OK but now breathing, stay with your breath. Breathe in, I wonder what the Buddha was thinking under that tree? Breathe out.  Breathe in, I need a new zafu, I’m definitely going to get that new one I saw at the store yesterday. It’s a perfect height. Breathe out. I think I’ll get it in blue. I like the blue one.

Standing up feeling refreshed, I giggle. Many people wonder about meditation and worry that they can’t do it. I do it, sometimes well, and sometimes I redecorate, I almost always stand up refreshed. Do I worry, no.

Why do you think they call it practice?

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