Washing

“Keep close to Nature’s heart…
and break clear away, once in awhile,
and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods.
Wash your spirit clean.”
John Muir

I love being outside, yet sometimes I resist that love and stay inside. After all, I have things to do. Laundry, cooking, cleaning, work related things, doing nothing in particular, letting the cat sleep on me, drawing, reading, tidying up, catching up on TV shows, being at work, writing for this blog. The list is endless and mostly trivial. Yet, some days I still resist going outside.

When I break away and out, and feel the wind on my face, smell the fresh air, feel the heat or cold, get wet from rain, feel hidden in the fog, receive a kiss from the sun, hear a bird sing or watch a chipmunk play, I am transformed. I often feel I am healed. Perspective returns. Priorities become clear.

“Give away the things you don’t need
Let it all go and you’ll soon see
And you’ll wash your spirit clean
Wash your spirit clean
Go and pray upon a mountain
Go and pray beside the ocean
And you’ll wash your spirit clean
Wash Your spirit clean
Be grateful for the struggle
Be thankful for the lessons
And you’ll wash your spirit clean”

Lyrics ‘Wash Your Spirit Clean’, Walela

forest home waterfall

Give away the things you don’t need. That probably includes the computer and TV!! But more subtly and I think, more importantly, it means to give away resentment, fear, desire, want, worry, doubt, anger, regret, some of the stories we tell ourselves over and over.

I “pray”, but I do not pray as in a petition to God. I pray as in sending “energy” into the world. My foundation and inspiration is the Metta Prayer. With many variations it says, ” May all beings be safe. May all beings be free from suffering. May all beings be healthy. May all beings be loved. May all beings be filled with Loving Kindness.” I pray that I may be responsible for acting in ways that will make these things happen. I pray to be aware and mindful. I pray that I will be kind and compassionate. I pray that I will be quiet so I can hear. Still so I can observe. I pray that I may understand that the struggles and the lessons in life are things to be thankful for. They are how I learn, change, grow.

In Nature my spirit is washed clean. I am soaked, scrubbed, restored and hung out to air dry. I can feel the weight of all those stories I make up about myself and others, all the resentments, fears, desires, wants, worries, doubts, anger, regrets… all of them being washed and rinsed out of the fabric of my being. Sometimes I find I was not even aware of how dingy, stained and faded my thoughts, being, spirit had become.

When Nature has cleansed my spirit, my prayer becomes a continuous prayer. It becomes a living prayer.

Nature allows my senses to come alive. I can fall down in the snow and let the cold make me shiver.  I can feel the wind and the rain on my skin . I can hear the waves break along the shore and the birds sing. I can hear the tree branches creaking and leaves crunching under foot. Looking up there is the insane pairing of colors at sunset and the humbling expanse of the Milky Way. I swat at a mosquito and watch a butterfly. The smell of roses and lilacs require me to close my eyes, overcome by sheer pleasure. I allow myself to be immersed in Nature and my spirit is washed clean.

And then, the dirty dishes just are. The laundry just is. The crying child is only that. A long day is over. Being tired is nothing more than that. Good/bad disappear. Dreams of a new sports car, a bigger house, a new pair of shoes don’t seem to matter so much. Grandma never remembering my name, someone saying something mean, a person not living up to my expectations, me not living up to someones else’s expectations don’t really matter any more. Feeling overwhelmed and frustrated at work melts away. Desire to be in control, to be in charge, to be right, to look and act strong and determined don’t seem so important. The stories repeated of how smart, clever, kind, important, creative I am just seem silly. Memories can become that…things in the past that do not have to impact this moment. I can just be in this moment.

When I go out into Nature perspective is restored. My spirit is soaked, washed and rinsed….the weight of worry, disappointment, desire are all swept away as my spirit is washed clean. I am lighter, softer, more flexible….I flow and swirl.

Do I get all this right all the time? Nope. Do I falter and stumble? Yup. Will I stop/give up? No. Do I keep trying? Sure do.

Wash your spirit clean. Over and over again.

After thought: many of you tell me via email, Facebook, in person how much you enjoy reading these posts. Some of you even go as far as to say they help you look at things differently, or think about things differently. I sincerely wish you  would consider sharing your thoughts in the comment section of the blog post itself. I feel so strongly we have to have dialog to help each other maneuver through tough times. I learn a lot from all of you…even, and especially if you have differing thoughts and opinions. There is more to be gained in sharing what we think with one another in a respectful manner than in being silent. Regardless, thank you for your kind words and support.

No One Reads A Blog On Thanksgiving Day, Right?

“Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.”
–Mary Oliver

No one reads a blog on Thanksgiving, right?  Well, perhaps….I’ll take a small chance.  In this country today is Thanksgiving….it has different meanings for different people. Here’s my take….a day to commit to transforming the way I live.

heron

As I grow older the choice to make each day a day to give thanks, to feel gratitude, grows stronger. It is not enough to have one day to pause and reflect and count blessings. Living in gratitude has become a resolute intention. I understand, as Mary Oliver says, “I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.”

To share each day with a loving, giving partner and to watch our children grow into loving, compassionate, grateful, aware individuals, who strive to make a difference in the lives of others in the world, is a blessing. I never want to take them for granted.

I feel blessed every day. To wake up from sleep in a soft, comforting bed and take in a breath as I open my eyes to a new day is a blessing. I do not want to ever take that for granted.

At the end of the day as I shed clothing, activities, words and emotions from the day, I am blessed to be able to recline in a tub of hot water and reflect on having had a day where I did not have to think of food, safety or shelter. I never want to take that for granted.

As I fret and worry of things I could have done better or differently, or worry about things that may or may not happen in the future, I recognize the relevance of living in the present. I pause to “stand wherever I am to be blessed.” I am blessed. I do not ever want to take that for granted.

When I get in my head I need or desire something and it lingers and hangs on every thought as if it were important and can’t be put aside, I pause and look around. I live in plenty. There is nothing I need. I do not ever want to forget that or take for granted what I have.

When I feel sad, small, confused, I know I have only to reach out my hand to find the absolute love of family and friends. In their embrace I am uplifted and restored. I never want to take that for granted.

thanxgiving morning 2015

It Was Early

It was early, which has always been my hour to begin looking at the world
and of course, even in the darkness, to begin listening into it,
especially under the pines where the owl lives and sometimes calls out
as I walk by, as he did on this morning. So many gifts!
What do they mean?  In the marshes where the pink light was just arriving
the mink with his bristle tail was stalking the soft-eared mice,
and in the pines the cones were heavy, each one ordained to open.
Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.
Little mink, let me watch you.
Little mice, run and run.
Dear pine cone, let me hold you as you open.
–Mary Oliver

May you know you are blessed. Each and every day. In the joy and hopefulness of your day as well as in the bruised and distressed moments, you are blessed. The pilgrimage towards inquiry includes the effort to stand still and receive and acknowledge those blessings. No matter how small and feeble they may feel, they are there….the sun, your breath, your shoes, a glass of water, a smile received, a hand held…..

Stand where you are, be silent and still. In that stillness may you be filled up with gratefulness for all the blessings in your life.

Happy Thanksgiving!

5 O’clock in The Morning

“Let the waters settle and you will see the moon and the stars
mirrored in your own being.”
~Rumi

charlevoix moon mh(Moon over Lake Charlevoix, MI)

I woke up at 5 this morning. There are no curtains on our bedroom windows. Our bed faces east, and there are French doors that bring the outside in. When I opened my eyes and looked out, there was the deep, soft blackness of night pierced with millions of stars sparkling. Venus and Jupiter were showing off. I felt very small. I felt awe.

I spent Saturday at a silent retreat. Silence is important to me. The silence created by not speaking. The silence created by being swaddled tightly in silence. In silence I let go of noise. The noise of ego, the noise of fear and worry, the noise of the unknown, the noise of want and desire. Then I hear. I hear the beating of my heart. The gentle whisper of my breath. Thoughts come in all forms like handfuls of confetti tossed from somewhere above. They float and swirl around and cloud the view, then settle and rest.

This morning I woke with my mind settled as in Rumi’s quote and saw the beauty and light of the stars and planets mirrored in my heart, in my quiet, rested being. On retreat I found the same while simply sitting in silence and hearing only life’s murmuring in my body and a quiet mind that was not crowded with volatile emotions and jumbled, confused thoughts.

In this gentleness, this softness is something I cherish.

At the end of the retreat there is a group discussion…one can come and join in through conversation or through listening. Yesterday I listened. Dialogue came around to the idea of the narratives of our lives…how they are “written”, how they “read”.  Someone brought up the idea that entwined in our storytelling are mirages. Ideas, hopes, images we chase after. Imaginary apparitions. Phantasms. In the narratives of our life we often are looking for something, chasing something only to “get there” are find we haven’t really attained what we hoped we would, and poof, the mirage is gone.

I thought a bit about my narrative. Yes, there is a narrative that has gotten me here to this point. Some of it was written in early life by my parents…they made choices, they filled my days with words, ideas, experiences and I interacted with those things and then they responded and we continued on in this way. They have not been involved in my narrative for quite while now. And the story line has meandered this way and that way without their editing.  And yes, I chased after mirages, watching as they became fainter and fainter and finally vanished right before I got “there”.  Tomorrow, there may be a surprise addition to life, an unseen twist.

As the narrative of my life continues, some mirage or another will float seductively in front of me. Trying to lure me towards something that I believe will make me happier, or free from this or that. So, as I strive to live in the  present moment, I try not gaze towards the mirage. I look up at the pre-dawn sky in awe and see those stars and planets in their momentary beauty and splendor and know as present truth that they are mirrored in my being. I have a light. I am a light. I radiate and reflect light. And I am but one in a million lights that all shine and sparkle in their own way and own time, in their own place. In the silence of light my narrative tells the story that I am not separate but joined together with millions of people who are good and kind, as well as those who are not good and unkind. People who are happy and joyful and people who are hurt and afraid. People who are climbing up and out, as well as people who are weighted down and feeling buried. People who have been found and people who are lost. People who are full of compassion and love. People who feel hatred and anger. People who are the fabric and mosaic of humanity. They call themselves by many labels. White, Black. Male, female, trans-gendered. Christian, Muslim, Jew. Agnostic, Atheist. Hindi, Jain. Untouchable, Brahmin. Doctor, patient. Lawyer, criminal. Adult, child. Teacher, student. Oppressor, oppressed. Rich, poor. Awakened, asleep. Lost, found. Loved, unloved. Hopeful, hopeless. Strong, weak. Blessed, cursed. Leader, follower. Romantic, realist. Educated, uneducated. Healer, injurer. Inventor, copier. Doer, idler.

What I understand in silence and cherish is that humanity is a collective reflection of who we are. Perfect or imperfect. Good or bad. We all open our eyes at birth. We all walk our own path, to the same end.  We all will close our eyes and die. The narrative we write in the middle contains a part that is choice. We are the story tellers of our own lives. When the waters settle in my sometimes turbulent, fearful, worried mind, I catch a glimpse of the reflection of our common humanity sparkling like a million predawn stars.

This year two new stars have been born into our family. One tiny star was born just yesterday. The light we shine will be the light that creates her sparkle and will be the light she reflects out into the world. My hope is that it be light of love, tolerance, understanding, peace, respect, hope and humility.

 

As Soon As The Doors Are Open

One evening this past week Bruce and I and 1,600 quasi or verified hippies of all ages gathered with Arlo Guthrie, his son, daughter and grand daughter to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Alice’s Restaurant. You remember, the song about littering that became a call to resist the draft and end war.

Arlo and members of his family sang familiar songs from the Guthries as well as from others of the 60’s. Many were known and the crowd sang along. A few were lesser known and while we couldn’t sing along, we listened and knew the meanings of the lyrics were timeless.

Partially expected, Arlo sang This Land Is Your Land, including the usually unsung end versus. He paused to reflect on this song and the meaning it had for his father as well as himself. With a gentle smile he said he recognized not everyone then, or now, could appreciate the power of song in general. The power of this song in particular.

At the end of the show during what in essence was a small encore, Arlo sang a song based on a short poem of sorts his father had written and he had put to music. He spoke passionately about the continued movement to end war and reminded us all that everything we do consciously and conscientiously to that end is paramount. We may not understand or believe it possible, but the sentiment, the passion, the resolution, the conviction and unceasing effort to bring an end to violence, hate and war does not live momentarily in 1,600 people singing it together in a theater, but spreads with and by the wind as soon as the doors are open.

My peace my peace is all I’ve got that I can give to you
My peace is all I ever had that’s all I ever knew
I give my peace to green and black and red and white and blue
My peace my peace is all I’ve got that I can give to you

My peace, my peace is all I’ve got and all I’ve ever known
My peace is worth a thousand times more than anything I own
I pass my peace around and about ‘cross hands of every hue;
I guess my peace is justa ‘bout all I’ve got to give to you.

Lyrics by Woody Guthrie, Music by Arlo Guthrie

In these unsettled times it is difficult to know what to do, what to believe. It seems naive to some to believe that the sentiments in a song can spread across the world and make a difference. This song reminds me that I am a vehicle of peace and love or violence and hate. I choose peace and love. I will always stand up for both, believe both are possible, work towards peace and love as long as I live. It’s all I’ve got.

Banksy on Twitter Paris(by Jean Jullien, shared by Banksy on Twitter)

On the Saturday morning news, as a reporter on CNN was reporting on the situation in Paris, you could see something caught her eye just out of view to the side of her. You could tell that whatever distracted her caused her to hesitate just for a breath. As she finished her report she looked briefly in the direction of her distraction and said that someone had wheeled into the streets of Paris a grand piano and was playing John Lennon’s Imagine. You could hear it softly in the background of her reporting.

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one.

Someone opened a door and wheeled a grand piano out so that a song could travel on the wind. Reminding us. It is up to us. We can go forward in hate and fear or we can forward in the spirit of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr, in hope and peace.

Saturday after the attack on Paris a blogger from India posted a poem that reminds us of what I see as a truth. We are selective in our outrage and grief. Tragedy matters to us if it is done to people like us. In John Lennon’s world, in Woody and Arlo Guthrie’s world, in Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr’s world, it matters when violence, hate, war, terrorism strikes anyone.

“It is not Paris we should pray for.
It is the world. It is a world in which Beirut,
reeling from bombings two days before Paris,
is not covered in the press.
A world in which a bomb goes off
at a funeral in Baghdad and not one person’s status update says” Baghdad”
because not one white person died in that fire.
Pray for the world
that blames a refugee crisis for a terrorist attack.
That does not pause to differentiate between the attacker
and the person running from the very same thing you are.
Pray for a world
where people walking across countries for months,
their only belongings upon their backs, are told they have no place to go.
Say a prayer for Paris by all means,
but pray more,
for the world that does not have a prayer
for those who no longer have a home to defend.
For a world that is falling apart in all corners,
and not simply in the towers and cafes we find so familiar.
Karuna Ezra Parikh

Many of us are quick to toss out quotes like:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

MLK Jr.

“An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.”
Gandhi

“Nonviolence is the first article of my faith.
It is also the last article of my creed.”
-Gandhi

Finally, brothers, rejoice.
Aim for restoration, comfort one another,agree with one another,
live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”
2 Corinthians 13:11

“We seek peace, knowing that peace is the climate of freedom.”
– Dwight D. Eisenhower

“Kindness is a mark of faith, whoever is not; has no faith.”
Muhammad (PBUH)

“It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it.
And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt

“If we have no peace,
it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
Mother Teresa

“Humanity is but a single Brotherhood: so make peace with your Brethren”
The Qur’an 49:10

“Peace cannot be achieved through violence,
it can only be attained through understanding.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“We will only be mighty when we turn our enemy into our friend.”
Rabbi Sydney Mintz

“There is no way to peace, peace is the way.”
A.J. Muste

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
Matthew 5:9

“It is possible to live in peace.”
– Gandhi

“Peace is every step.”
– Thich Nhat Hahn

“Nothing is more precious than peace.
Peace is the most basic starting point
for the advancement of humankind.”
– Daisaku Ikeda

“Peace may sound simple – one beautiful word –
but it requires everything we have,
every quality, every strength, every dream, every high ideal.”
– Yehudi Menuhin

and on and on and on. None of them say for white people only. Or for Christians only. Ikeda and the Qur’an both remind us Peace is for humankind.

For me, the time is now to open the door. Time sing, shout, march, protest, work for, believe in peace. For all people all over the world. We have one world and we are one race. We are human beings. It is time to bring peace to the world and stop hate and fear.

 

What Grounds Me

nov7 path

Over the years I have journeyed down several different paths hoping to find peace of mind and peace of heart. I have been blessed with a life that has not made too many difficult demands or presented too many roadblocks. Still, for me, it is helpful to have a “prayer” to use. In my case “prayer” as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary: “an earnest request or wish”. I try to begin each day with a centering of some kind to get the day going, and then a different focus at night to let the day go and find peaceful rest.

I grew up the daughter of an Episcopal minister. I went to church on Sundays, Sunday school classes, confirmation classes and was confirmed. I understand it is not just about comfort, but I never found comfort in any of this. There was never a stirring in my heart from any of this. No song that wanted to sing out in joy, praise, humility. Anything.

In a previous post I wrote a bit about this:
https://kathrynwonders.wordpress.com/2014/09/28/be-soft/

Over the years I have tried this and that. I’m not really able to articulate what I was looking for. It was not about a supreme Being. Maybe not even about “spirituality”. More of a path that I could walk on in kindness, compassion, empathy and love. Free from fear, hate, judgement, right or wrong, self pride. For myself and for others.

As I sit here now, if I had to, I guess I would call what I practice, the path I try to follow, Loving Compassion. It’s just about trying to be a “good” person, a caring person, a loving and compassionate person. Someone who tries to cause no harm.

nov5

My “prayer” for many years now has been The Metta Prayer.

There are some variations, but each one has the same pattern: a prayer for yourself, a prayer for someone you love, a prayer for a mentor or someone you do not know well, but see often, a prayer for someone you struggle with and a prayer for all beings everywhere.

It is humbling to include all these people in my prayer and thoughts. It takes time to be comfortable in beginning with myself….but if I am not “taken care of” by myself, how can I take care of others?

And it helps me to ground myself in this moment. It connects me to others. It helps me embrace all others, no matter what. I can always wish for others, and myself, happiness, peace, health, love.

May I be safe.
May I be healthy.
May I be happy. 
May I be at ease.

Begin with yourself. This is often hard at first…..we tend to take care of others before ourselves. But we have to. After being offering this kindness to yourself, change the prayer to focus on someone you care about and love unconditionally. Imagine them sitting in front of you. Say their name. And then move on to someone who plays any role in your life, but you do not have a strong relationship with…maybe the cashier at the grocery, the parking lot attendant, the mail carrier….someone you see and interact with often. Or, perhaps it could be someone who is a mentor to you in some way. Someone you have regular contact with. Say their name, visualize their face. Now move on to someone you have difficulty with. To forgive, understand and accept is difficult. It may be a struggle, but don’t give up….And finally, your love flows out to the world.

May all beings be safe, healthy, happy, at ease.

When we wrap ourselves in love and care, and embrace others with the same, something changes in us.

I began this years ago before going to bed. A way of closing the the day and letting go in order to find rest and renewal in sleep. I began at a time when I was having the relatively new emotions of anger, hurt and resentment towards someone who had been an important part of my life for many years. The burden was so heavy. I had to find a way to work towards acceptance and forgiveness. I found that this worked very well, although it took time. I discovered it also changed me in other ways. As I gave directed thoughts of love and kindness to others in my daily life, I softened and found a quietness and calmness in life. It also reflected back to me in the way others interacted with me.

When I wish all others safety, good health, love, happiness and peace, it helps me find the bond with all others….every person, everywhere, hopes for and deserves these things by virtue of our shared humanness. They are no different from me.

There are many variations of the words and if this is of interest to you I encourage you to do some research and find the version that speaks to you.

prayer flag1

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjfCS88Gc7Q

The Music of Life

It’s all music. Like the song a river sings as it meanders over rocks and bends to the curves of the ground. All the voices in our lives, the goals we set, the dreams we dream, sing. Even our yearnings and sorrows sing for us if we listen. All the good in the world, and all the evil in the world flow together to make the music that is our world, our lives.

“And all the voices, all the goals, all the yearnings, all the sorrows,
all the pleasures, all the good and evil,
all of them together was the world.
All of them together was the stream of events, the music of life.”
–Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

Think about all the things that wear and sometimes hold us down. Fear, disappointment, desire, anger, forgotten dreams, unrealized hopes, sadness, worry, exhaustion. Often these are the only things in our life that we attribute to being our life. And we get lost in them. It feels as if we are them. We sink into them. Like quicksand, the more we struggle to get out the more it feels like we are being pulled down deeper.

Emotions, desires, want, wrap around us like a tangled bed sheet that is too tight and it becomes difficult to move. We desire happiness to smooth out the wrinkles.

In Hermann Hesse’s book, Siddhartha comes at last to sit by the river. He has finally learned to listen. He hears, in the running of the water, the many voices and events that are the music of life, of the world: the good and evil, the pleasures and the sorrows, the grief and the laughter, the yearnings and the love. All of them together. As he sat in stillness and listened, he heard truth in the song of the river.

walk3

As Siddhartha sits and listens he has an unveiling of sorts. All of life is interconnected. It moves in a circle. As such, there is no beginning and no end. Rain falls to the river. The river flows into the ocean. Moisture rises only to fall again as rain. Even birth and death are all part of this timeless unity.

Siddhartha saw that  all the yearnings, all the sorrows, all the pleasures, all the good and evil are parts of the whole. All part of the river that sings as it flows. In the flow is the music of life.

He realized that for every true statement there is an opposite one that is also true. He understood we want to hear one song, one voice, but in fact there are many that make up the full truth. There are many songs being sung. The music of life is a blending and harmonizing of everything together. The music may change each moment as we experience life. Some music may seem more beautiful and softer than others. But each note is a part of something greater. Life. It is up to us to decide how to respond to the music.

As he sat by the river, the struggles and the conflicts Siddhartha sometimes felt in life, lifted and floated away. As he sat by the river and listened to the music of life, Siddhartha understood that along with struggle came joy.

Without struggle we will not have joy. In having joy we will have struggle. The music of life plays in this moment….. ribbons of many melodies that ripple and twist. In silence we can hear the music that is the song of life. We come to understand the cycles of life that circle endlessly, looping everything in inter-connectedness.  From struggle comes joy. With good comes evil. From pleasure we gain sorrow. With grief comes the laughter. Yearning brings love. It is all connected. Not separate. It is all a song of life.

Be still and close your eyes and listen to the music of life.