Walking In Hope

“Hope is like a road in the country: there was never a road,
but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.” 
Lin Yutang

We all walk along many paths and roads towards a variety of destinations. I often feel as if there are times when I am walking simultaneously on parallel paths…generally headed towards the same end, but having to be reached by a slightly different route.

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Some paths I have to walk alone. No one can walk them for me. Other paths, as Lin Yutang writes, don’t really even become a path until more people join in the walk.

On these walks, the ones that have deep meaning and purpose for us, we have a mind-set that does not allow us to give up or turn back. Our thoughts, our mind-set keeps a light focused ahead. It is important to consider the way we interpret experiences in life. Those responses and reactions may become habitual and become part of the mind-set. If we are always responding to life with thoughts and emotions that are negative, condemning, unyielding, we will experience much frustration and suffering. If we respond in ways that are mindful, compassionate, patient, flexible, we have the possibility of experiencing greater joy, fulfillment and contentment.

“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth,
so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind.
To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again.
To make a deep mental path,
we must think over and over the kind of thoughts
we wish to dominate our lives.”
Henry David Thoreau

Perhaps though, the greatest awareness we can have as we walk on a new, lightly trodden path or a well worn one, is whether we can walk on it with love and reverence, with compassion and patience.

“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked,
in which you can walk with love and reverence.”
Henry David Thoreau

Our mental and emotional paths and our physical life path have to run together. It is probably a good idea to pause now and then to check our maps…..our thoughts, our hopes, our purpose and goals. It is important to listen to our thoughts and internal dialogue to hear what they are saying, to understand where they are leading us. If we hear words and thoughts of anger, fear, hate, distrust, isolation, resentment, division, hurt and anger, should we stop and listen and hear in order to understand the meanings and ramifications of those words? We have to pause and think of what kind of guidance those words are offering us, what course they are laying out for us. To look and see where they are sending us as we walk our paths in life.

I hear those words sometimes too. Louder yet, I hear words like hope, peace, yes, compassion, solutions, encompass, embrace, patience, responsibility, social conscious, respect…..

I am working on following the path of Hope. Perhaps it is not well trodden, nor clearly marked, but as more people join in the walk, the path, the way, will become more clear.

 

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The Simple Understanding

Once upon a time,
When women were birds,
There was the simple understanding
That to sing at dawn
And to sing at dusk
Was to heal the world through joy.
The birds still remember what we have forgotten,
That the world is meant to be celebrated.
Terry Tempest Williams

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When I first read these words I saw in my mind colorful birds, large and small, all over the world rising up from their nests, settling on branches. In the east, the sun began to light the sky. Their songs joined together in a chorus of celebration. Of a new day. Hope and possibility. As the sun silently rose in her fullness, the birds fluttered to earth and became women. Women who gave birth, picked up crying children, built homes, cared for the sick and dying, buried the dead, painted wildflowers, created, explored, planted and tended gardens, harvested food and herbs. Women who wiped tears from those who felt pain, foraged in war ravaged cities, taught people to read and write, sealed corporate deals, spoke before and to leaders around the world, stood up for the poor, homeless, abused, defended human rights, fought injustice. Women who worked to save the injured planet, became astronauts, discovered cures for disease, healed from abuse, wrote music, told stories. A pallet of women who each knew their own voice and used it to say what needed to be said in order to do what needed to be done. A myriad of beautiful, vibrant, women who used their strong bodies to tend to the earth and all of her creatures. Women who used their intelligence and compassion to facilitate love, empathy, change and growth. Women who loved others with passion. Then, I saw the sun begin to set at the end of the day and in one synchronized motion, the arms of these millions of women spread open and in so doing, the women were lifted into the air in an ethereal ballet, returning to the form of a bird. Lighting on branches, their voices once again became a chorus of gratitude and thanksgiving for the blessings of the day. It was a simple understanding. Life is to be celebrated.

This is a poem written by a woman grieving the loss of her mother. In working through the emotions she ponders what it means for us to have a voice in our world. Have we forgotten our voice, our song? It is a poem that asks to think about finding the full power of our own voice. It is a call to tell the truth about our lives. A call to celebrate it all.

The simple understanding.

That we have forgotten.

What the birds remember.

The world is to be celebrated.

Is it possible to heal the world through joy? The joy of celebration. Can we all, once again, find our song of celebration and gratitude and sing it each morning and night?

How do we, each one of us, find our true voice and  join all the choruses of life together in harmony? Alone, each one perfect. Yet, when softened and flexible, they blend together creating a new, insuppressible rhapsody that is an unquestionable celebration of respect, love and support for all of life on earth. In finding our voice we give others the chance to find their voice.

Have we forgotten the simple understanding that our world and all that live upon her, are surely meant to be celebrated?

When do we begin the party?

” Darling”

It’s all about love.  After all, it is Valentine’s Day…the day of love. People seem to have a lot of questions about love.

So, why not let the Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh help us sort it all out!

Sometimes I hear people talking about falling in love, being in love, falling out of love, looking for a soulmate, finding “the one”. There is a good amount of energy spent wondering about and looking for love. People often look surprised when I tell them I’ve been married for almost 37 years….They whisper, “That’s a long time.”

When we find love, some of us are surprised to find “being in love”, and “loving” someone can be hard work. Maybe challenging. It’s not always like the fairy tale romance of living “happily ever after.”

In Buddhism “mantras” are used somewhat like “prayers” found in other doctrines and religions. Words that help us stay focused on something. We repeat them because we deem them to be important. Perhaps they help us work through tough times or bring us a sense of calm in rough waters. Maybe they provide strength and courage as we let go of situations, things or people.

blog vdayThích Nhất Hạnh talks about what he calls the four “Darling” mantras. While “Darling” is not an often used word anymore, it is a sweet word with tender denotation and connotative power. I first heard about these four mantras while listening to a talk by Tara Brach. I settled into listening, smiling over the word “Darling.” Afterwards, I listened to the talk again. And then, again. It isn’t about sexual or romantic love. It is about a deep, unlabeled, perhaps undefinable love. The kind of love where we leave our self unguarded and vulnerable. It’s about the relationship where trust (in ourselves and in the person we love) and unquestionable love are born and thrive.

The “first mantra” is when we truly and deeply care for someone and offer them the greatest gift we can: to be there for them. To be present for them. Not necessarily being present by going out to lunch, or tending to them only in times of crisis or joy, but in those moments of silence when there are no words. In those moments, eye contact or holding hands in silence, speak volumes. When we sit with someone, when we are present for them.

When we look someone in the eye and in perfect concentration and presence say to them, “Darling, I am here for you”. At that moment three things happen. “You become real, the other person becomes real, and life is real in that moment. You bring happiness to yourself and to the other person.” Who on earth does not want to know and feel in the fiber of their being that someone is there for them?

The “second mantra” is holding that moment and saying, “Darling, I know you are there and I am very happy.” This kind of being so completely present is something to be fostered and honored. “Whenever you are really there, you are able to recognize and appreciate the presence of the other – …..the person you love the most.” You tell them in no uncertain terms that in their pain, their imperfections, their doubts, their whatever, you know they are there and you are grateful for just that. To have them in your life. To be sitting there with you, by your side.

With the third mantra we verbalize their suffering and pain, “Darling, I know you suffer. That is why I am here for you.” It is not about you or your discomfort. It is about witnessing another person’s pain and suffering and simply telling them you are there for them. That is why you are there with them, to sit with them in their pain and hurt.

The last of the ” Darling” mantras is when it is necessary to approach the person you love and who has hurt you, and say to them, “Darling, I suffer. Please help.” With an open heart, letting pride, fear or hurt fall away, we ask for what we need because we know there is no other way. We have to be open and honest. We have to ask for what we need. We now need the person we love to understand that we need them, their full presence, love and care. In love, when the other person hears your words, they may come “back to themselves“and be able to practice looking deeply at you, the person they love. And the mantras begin again with your “love” offering to you “I am here for you, I know you are there and I know you are suffering.”

What exists if we do not start by saying “Darling” to those we love and those who love us?

I have found this to be a fragile, sometimes challenging path. I have stumbled, tripped, fallen flat. I have not always been able to hold to these four mantras, but in full awareness of my own imperfections I keep trying. I am learning. My darling is learning. Together we are nurturing, growing love. And we are over 37 years into a relationship. Love is not always easily defined. Sometimes it is not easily given or expressed. And, although it may seem odd, sometimes love is not easily received. It is not only about feeling good, or happy. It is about something not definable. It is about growth, change, learning, trust. It is about being hurt and sad, confused and lost. It is about sharing happiness and joy. It is about crying and wiping each other’s tears. It is about holding the other through all of life. There is so much focus on “protecting” ourselves….and I understand that. I maintain, that these four mantras can eliminate the need to protect ourselves. These four mantras give us permission to take a different route. To allow our heart to be unguarded. For many this is too much of a risk. I do not mean that we allow ourselves to be abused or walked all over. I mean we work towards a relationship with someone where each one looks at the other in happy times and in painful times, in anger and in joy, in fear and in excitement,and says, “Hello darling.” And both know without doubt that the response will be, “Hello my darling.”

*The Four Darling Mantras

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evelyn

I remember her name. I remember she was kind and that I loved her. I remember where she lived.

I do not remember what she looked like, or that she had a son. I do not remember her actually doing anything for me. I do not know what made me love her.

Her name was Evelyn. Fifty years later, whenever I drive by “her” house I say to myself, “That’s Evelyn’s house” as if it was holy.

A few years ago I discovered a folder on FB where all the messages from people you are not “friends” with go. In it I found a message from Evelyn’s son.

“Are you the Kathryn, whose mother was Marjorie?”

Michael shared his memories with me. My mother was the kindest person he knew. My siblings were wonderful and he thanked me for playing with him when we were little. I don’t remember Evelyn’s son at all.

My mother had given Evelyn a job that changed the lives of both Evelyn and her son. My mother paid for his summer camp for several years. My siblings taught him to swim in the lake. And we played together.

Fifty years later he looked me up on FB and found me. To say “Thank you.”

“It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.” Mahatma Gandhi

I don’t know if my mother ever truly knew how her decision to help Evelyn and her son changed their lives. I don’t know if Evelyn ever knew I thought she was the kindest person I ever knew. For my mother and for Evelyn I don’t think they thought about seeing the fruit of their kindness, they just acted and did the right thing. They cared, showed compassion and reached out. They each offered and received. As a result two six year old children grew up to remember only the kindness and love.

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” Jane Goodall

jane goodall

Every single day we interact with people in ways that may have a profound impact on their lives. Few of us may even be aware of this. I doubt Evelyn could have guessed that 50 years later I would have strong memories of her. I don’t remember her son but my playing with him is a strong, happy memory of his.

“Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.” Jane Goodall

We all matter and we all can make a difference. Once we acknowledge that we do matter, all we have to do is put a little thought into what kind of difference we want to make. Evelyn ( I think!) “chose” being kind and loving….whether is was a conscious action, a sense of gratitude or inherent in her being, I don’t know. My mother made a decision for “right action” by reaching out to Evelyn and her son and lifting them up. Evelyn’s son held on for a long time the desire to express gratitude and say “thank-you”. This led him to go out on a limb and see if I could be found on FB (computers and FB could not have ever even been imagined by us ‘back then’!) and then reach out to contact me. Small things that are important things to people.

It’s no different in terms of what we stand for humanistically, politically, religiously, spiritually, globally, environmentally…..we matter. Our voices matter, our actions matter, our choices matter. These things matter for us, and for others. It is not important whether we will ever see, witness, know of our impact. It is about doing the right thing at the right time without ever considering not doing what is needed.

I can believe I have every right to some things, to feel entitled to some things, but in my heart and mind any decision I make to do or not do something does not rest alone on my needs or how it will impact me. I am required by my conscience to consider other people, the environment, other perspectives.

It goes the other way too, maybe I feel the environment doesn’t matter, or that is doesn’t matter if the other person has health care, or food, or water. I still feel I have a responsibility to care. I believe there are no “others”. I want my grand children and great grand children to have a healthy planet with breathable air and clean water. I want them to see an elephant in the wild or be able to eat a fish from the ocean. I want them to value the life and richness of other cultures and religions. I want them to care for the sake of others they do not know and for others who will come after them.

There are many, many wonderful and beautiful things happening all around the world and in our own cities and neighborhoods. And there are many, many unconscionable, horrendous things happening in the world, our own cities and neighborhoods. The first choice we have to make is to see or not see. Be aware and informed or unaware and uninformed. Then we make the choice to do or not do. To care or not care. To hope or not hope. To work for change or remain the same. It’s up to each one of us to decide like my mom did, to make a difference for one woman and her child, and like Evelyn did, to be kind and loving or, to turn the other way.

Either way, you will have an impact on someone. Having an impact is not the choice. As Dr. Goodall reminds us, “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

What kind of difference do you want to make?