Rituals of Approach

“What you encounter, recognize or discover depends to a large degree on the quality of your approach. Many of the ancient cultures practiced careful rituals of approach. An encounter of depth and spirit was preceded by careful preparation.

When we approach with reverence, great things decide to approach us. Our real life comes to the surface and its light awakens the concealed beauty in things. When we walk on the earth with reverence, beauty will decide to trust us. The rushed heart and arrogant mind lack the gentleness and patience to enter that embrace.” ~ John O’Donohue

Imagine beginning and traveling through the day by following a ritual of approach that includes careful preparation in order to meet experiences of depth and spirit. Waking and remaining nested for a bit in that fuzzy stillness and (near) silence and making a commitment to meeting the day with a feeling of reverence, allowing “real” life to come to the surface. And, as “real” life is  allowed to float to the surface, sensing that the light of this “realness” “awakens the concealed beauty in things.” All things.

Millions of moments of perfection, beauty, hope, love, gratitude, potential float in and out of our day, all day long. Our “busy-ness” and “focus” can make it hard to see and acknowledge the concealed beauty in things, people, moments, occurrences.

We are all but blind to the beauty that is found even in those things we would not label as beautiful: grief, silence, death……

When I began this post a few days ago, it admittedly had a negative slant. News in and of the world had taken a toll on me, my heart and soul.

Of all things, it was a workshop on how trauma (physical, emotional, environmental, psychological, etc) causes the problem solving part of our brain to shrink, that triggered a shift in perception for me. It came from discussion on our “fight or flight” response. What kind of beauty and hope could be found in this you may ask?

The concealed beauty is that the power of a kind word, a gentle touch, of being present and being concerned, and reaching out do make a difference. These things physically change the brain.

MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

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And that is the power each one of us has. The power to make a difference if we choose to.

My personal “work”, and I have to say I am not comfortable calling it that, but do not know what else to call it, is to listen to some  ancient, primordial sense deep inside of me that I believe once understood the idea of a revered preparation for encounters in this world, with beauty…of walking with gentleness, gratitude, awareness and patience on this world and in this world.

There is an assault happening to us, ridding us of this wisdom and respect. We respond with fight or flight. We see this all over the world and in our own homes and communities. How are we approaching life, each other, our world, the universe? Are we preparing for encounters of depth and spirit?

We tend a garden full of rushed hearts and arrogant minds. There is little gentleness and less patience.We are tired because we lack sound sleep. We are overwhelmed, overfed or underfed, unsure.  We stumble over fear and hate. We are either drowning or parched with thirst and withering. We hide in front of the TV and behind other screens. Constant noise, conversation, TV, clatter and chatter over occupy our brains and numb us a bit. Doing, doing, doing. Being important seems to out weigh being gentle and kind. Quantity and appearance seem to matter more that quality and simplicity. We fertilize our lives with all this and grow flowers that are big and bold, but lack perfume and prevent light from reaching anything growing beneath or nearby. These flowers hog the water, the light, the nutrients.

So, lets start paying (more) attention to the quality of our approach to the this planet, each other and the experiences that unfold before us. Approaching them with reverence. Like preparing a garden bed and soil in an empty, deserted lot so it will support and sustain life and beauty, the health and stamina of the small seeds working to grow. If we put some of our time and energy into preparing mindfully for encounters in life maybe we will be able to see that a garden that includes variety is healthier and more beautiful. While each plant has it’s own needs and requirements, the fundamental needs for living and growing are the same for each plant and flower. Like people.

Perchance great things will approach us and the light of what matters and is important in the world may illuminate the concealed beauty in an abundance of things we are or have been blind to. So that

” …beauty will decide to trust us”

and then we understand

“When we approach with reverence, great things decide approach us”

“Infinite Storm of Beauty”

“When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop,
striped and dotted with continents and islands,
flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one,
the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.”
~by John Muir, Travels in Alaska, 1915

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I read John Muir with a pang of jealousy. I believe he lived in a time, and chose a life style that allowed him the privilege of thinking and writing words like these.

In this world of today, with its busy-ness, lists of important things to do, lights shining everywhere for safety and hiding the night, noise to keep us entertained, visual pulses everywhere that keep us hyped/amped up, who looks up and realizes the wonder of being here at all?

We are so enclosed in our compartmentalized spaces of home, community, job, identity, country, that we forget we are tiny little specks on a twirling dot of blue in the vastness of an expanding universe.

We are dust particle in a tumultuous whirlwind of beauty.

And we don’t know it.

We are a part of a universe, a part of Nature that we barely understand. We believe ourselves to be something important, and yet….

The universe is just fine with or without us. We are however, arrogant enough to live on a vibrant, living planet and not care about whether we are going to be responsible for destroying this marvelous, unique, irreplaceable planet that is, to our knowledge, the only home of intelligent life in the….universe…….

 We are such a very, very miniscule part of something that is almost inconceivably immense.

Contemplate what our lives, our existence means or doesn’t mean. Question the wars and violence. Question the resources of the planet and the people who control them and give or deny them. Question our choice to be humbled by our smallness or bask in the assumption that our intelligence is somehow permission to take and take and take.

Just beyond the atmosphere that is our bubble of reality, is an infinite storm of beauty that doesn’t care about us at all. Yet, here we are. For what purpose?

To love or hate? To create or destroy? To abide by violence or peace? To rejoice or to fear? To reach out or to hold back? To protect or abuse? To cause harm or to heal? To seek revenge or forgive? To see the good or the bad? To have an open heart or a closed heart? To discover and create for the good of others? To reflect the glory of God? To end the cycle of suffering? To speak of and walk with life-giving intent, or with hate and inhumanity? To live with grace, love, beauty—or ugliness, hate, rage and fear?

 I suppose it is how you look at life in the first place. Either it is a cherished miracle or it doesn’t matter.

“A man sees in the world what he carries in his heart.”~ Goethe

When you look around, what do you see? Do you see the whole globe as one great dewdrop, flying through space in the middle of an infinite storm of beauty? Do you feel as if you/we are all singing and shining together as one? As one?

What do you carry in your heart?

Love Lights

1128 1 editedWhen the Sun of compassion arises
darkness evaporates
and the singing birds come from nowhere.”
Amit Ray, Nonviolence, The Transforming Power

It’s difficult watching and listening to the news lately. Difficult to sort out fact from fiction. A challenge to balance our personal hopes and dreams with the hopes and dreams of others. A struggle sometimes to balance what we enjoy with the health of the planet.

 In my class of preschoolers we talk about the light that is in each one of us. We call this our “Love Light”. This is the light that illuminates us from within. This same light is in everyone. All of us. The people we love. The people who uplift us and bring us joy. The people we have shared experiences with. The people we do not feel love towards. The people whose experiences we cannot grasp. The people we don’t understand. The people we fear. The people who hurt us.

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This is an inner light of love and compassion. It is what illuminates all that is good in us, all that is nurturing in us. All that is humane in us. It is the light that shines in darkness and fear. Our Love Light ignites our love for fellow beings. It lights up tenderness, generosity, empathy and hope. It allows us to wish for the dreams of others come true just as we wish for our own dreams to come true. Like a sun lighting up the dark morning sky, our Love Light is the light of our heart and soul that radiates out with an open hand of love, goodwill, compassion, acceptance, hope and trust.

“See the light in others, 
and treat them as if that is all you see.”
~Wayne Dyer

Somewhere along the way I wonder if we have forgotten how to see that light in each other. If maybe we have come to believe not everyone has a light worth seeing.

The other day in yoga during shavasana, it was very quiet and still. For  a moment I rested in that wonderfully nested place of safety, quiet, stillness, calm, awareness and was what I can only define as being present in the moment. Fears, worries, anxieties, thoughts, hopes, dreams…all those things were shuttered away somewhere and not raising their chattering heads and voicing their distracting opinions.

As my body slowly but surely softened, something in me just stopped. This is important because this is when all the thinking stops. The mind chatter stops. The anxiety ceases. The fears melt. The unknown and the what is not knowable doesn’t matter.

At the end of the class, with my heart, mind and body in this space of stillness, my teacher read:

“There is only one light shining through every person’s eyes.
When you look into that light in others, your mind falls silent.
The two of you share that one light and melt into a profound experience.”

~Swami Nirmalananda

There it was. Light. One, common and shared light. We have to remember to look towards, and at each other, not away from each other. Right in the eyes. To see that Love Light. We have to allow ourselves the trust and space to melt into each other. We have to stop  and look into the eyes of each other. Every “other”. We have to honor the one light that is shining through every person’s eyes. And then maybe we will all hear the same thing; Amit Ray’s singing birds.

 

It Rained This Morning

We are in the middle of a serious drought here in central NYS. This morning I awoke to the soft pattering of rain.

There are the folks who say “Uh oh climate change.” The “others” say “Good thing it’s just weather.”

Lenses. We all look through lenses. Rosey colored ones. Dark colored ones. Clear ones. Lenses that help us make up our mind and decide if it is weather or climate change.

I lay in bed, eyes closed, no lenses in use. Just listening.

rainThen the lenses popped on. “Oh, we need this rain! This great! Rain Rain Rain!” and in the other breath, “Crap. There go the plans for the day.” Both understandable. Both true. After actually opening my eyes the lens that was now focusing was the clear one. “I am glad to have my daughter home. Her friends are so fun! Maybe it will just be a relaxing day playing games and eating good food.” All lenses focused on different, real points of view. I just had to choose which one to look through.

Every morning I make a point of taking a few very deep breaths. Slow and long. Pulling in the fresh, clean air and exhaling the stale, depleted air. I try to take a few minutes to get grounded for the day. My thoughts are not so different from the ones at night. Focusing on gratitude and compassion. I always give time to remember how many people are suffering in this world and as in the Buddhist doctrine, pray for all living beings to be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.

And I never, ever forget a wish for peace in the world:rain bells

Prayer For Everyday For All Creation

Let us see one another through eyes
enlightened by understanding and compassion.

Release us from judgment so we can receive the stories
of our sisters and brothers with respect and attention.

Open our hearts to the cries of a suffering world
and the healing melodies of peace and justice for all creation. 

Empower us to be instruments of justice
and equality everywhere.

~Collectively authored by Millionth Circle Initiative,
5th World Conference on Women & Circle Connections.

 

I choose to look through the lens of understanding and compassion. It could easily be anger and fear. Or, longing and desire. Or, day dreams and wishes. Or, judgment and blame.

I want to understand. I want to be compassionate. I strive to be released from judgment and grow understanding instead. I try to hear the real life stories of people who live life similar to mine as well those whose lives are unimaginably and fundamentally different from mine. I strive to grow respect over ridicule. And to hear. Always to listen and hear and never become deaf. I try to use the clear lens, but sometimes I forget and the judgment and comparison begin. Anxiety may arise. I may even begin to turn or look away.

Anyway. I am grateful for the rain. I obviously can’t make it rain or choose where it will fall. I know it is needed, that it is helping to refresh, feed and cleanse the world…..even if it is just this little part of the world right now. And I know I don’t have any kind of power like that, but I do have power and choice. I choose ever day to help the next generation learn what conversation and communication is. I help them understand the power of their words. Words that can hurt, deflate, cause fear or pain. Words that mock and humiliate. And words that can ask to be forgiven, heal, comfort, uplift. And you know what? These very young children learn this and they grow and they become compassionate, forgiving, and uplifting to their peers. One mother told me her 3-year-old talked her through a panic attack by helping her do mindful breathing.

It is a small but effective thing I do. But it matters. Just like this small amount of rain. I can pray my prayers and send my wishes of goodwill out into the world all day long. If I do not take some form of action I feel I am in part responsible if those prayers do not seem to be heard and answered, if the good wishes and kind intent seems to never go very far or anywhere at all.

In this world today with all the contentious and combative words, with all the posturing and flexing, with the all hatred that seems so much more fashionable than forgiveness, with fear that seems to be filling some of our lives rather than hope, all our lenses become covered with dust. When the rain falls near you, and cleans and refreshes your little bit of earth and washes the dust of uncertainty and fear off your heart, and fills you up again, which lens will you choose to dust off and put on, to walk out into the fresh and new day?

 

Keepers of Hope

“….hope becomes a calling for those of us who can hold it,
for the sake of the world…..
It references reality at every turn and reveres truth.

Krista Tippett

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Peace Cranes in the hallway of the Tea House, Botanical Gardens, Montreal

When I was little I played with little green plastic soldiers fighting each other and brown plastic cowboy and Indians killing each other. Internally it was about the good guy winning, defeating the others who were different from me. Externally it was about having something to play with.

I remember in Middle School practicing duck and cover…crawling under a desk in case the drill for a bomb threat became a real threat. Internally there was annoyance because I didn’t fully understand what was happening in the world, and crawling under a table was uncomfortable. Externally there were groans and giggles, even a little smirk of gratitude that class would be cut short by the amount of time the drill took.

When I was in college I was in South Korea when a coupe took place. Corner kiosks selling silk and trinkets were replaced with soldiers with automatic weapons and bayonets. Tanks replaced taxis and buses on the road. We could not leave the country. Internally there was fear. Not a fear of safety but of uncertainty. Externally there was confusion and hesitation. We didn’t know what to do, where to go…even how to get information.

During my first years of teaching I was cleaning out a closet at school and found an old map of the world. Pictured criss-crossing the ocean were intercontinental missiles headed towards the enemy. We were attacking Russia as they were attacking us. Internally there was a deep sadness, almost a sorrow. Externally I took the map and folded it and threw it away.

This past fall in Montreal at the Botanical Garden’s Tea House we saw an exhibit of photographs of the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. There was art done by survivors—dark, painful, powerful, helpless art of human suffering that is beyond imagining or understanding. Internally I felt a sharp pain and confusion. Externally I shook and cried. All we could do was to stand there and wipe the tears away.

In the past months we as a world have witnessed hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war, violence, death, famine, leaving family members behind to trek hundreds of miles to safe countries to find borders closed. No one wants a refugee. We witnessed aid workers carrying dead babies out of the water, and there were more pictures of abused and homeless dogs on FB than outrage for these innocent children and their shattered parents. What the hell are we doing to each other?

Last week, in the inflamed world of advancing fear, hate, intolerance, threats, violence, it all became a little too real. My daughter was to arrive in Nice, France the day after the attack during Bastille Day. If they had decided to be there for that day; it is sobering to think what might have been.

In talking with her hours after the attack, I found myself groping around for hope….trying to find it before it became buried under the mounting weight of fear.

And now these smart, loving, compassionate women walk with hesitancy and fear.

What is happening? To our world? To the countries of the world? To the people of the world? To us all?

Who are, who will be the Keepers of Hope? The voices that trust in possibility, goodness, beauty, compassion, unity,  peace? The voices that call out for us to stop and think. To get control of our egos. To check our biases, to challenge racism, to make space for truth over fear. To call for compassion and non-violence.

The world around us seems to be spiraling deeper and deeper under the spell of fear, hate, distrust, despair, violence.

“Hope begins in the dark,
the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing,
the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”
~Ann Lamott

I watch people all day shrug their shoulders. Filled with apathy—not really concerned or interested in what is happening around the world. Pessimism in their eyes. Others are full of anger. So much anger it is turning towards hate. Hate of people, beliefs, the hopes and dreams of others they don’t understand. We are afraid to ask each others questions. Afraid to listen. Afraid to learn. Afraid to have the conversations that will bring us back towards each other.

In her poem I Believe, Elizabeth Alexander asks, “Are we not of interest to each other?”

It appears we are not, because if we were we would stop the violence, the hurting, the fear, the anger, the hate. We would embrace each other in hope and possibility. If others were of interest to us we would have conversation and ask questions and not just decide someone is worth our thought and time or not, because of some label that has been placed on them: migrant, black, Muslim, Christian, deserving, undeserving, lazy, enemy, immigrant-illegal alien (what a term..)

“One way or another, we all have to find what best fosters the flowering of our humanity in this contemporary life, and dedicate ourselves to that.”
Joseph Campbell

Who of us are strong enough to reach out for and hold on to hope? To revere the truth that we are all here on this planet together and all must share the bounty of this earth. Who of us are strong enough to hold our hands out, open and welcoming, ready to offer hope to others? Who of us are the keepers of Hope?

For the sake of the world.

If believing in and empowering hope is a calling you hear, you must use your voice. You must take action. It is not enough to feel sad or bad about things. It is not enough to engage in prayer without action. It has to be about the parts of religion that bind us rather than separate us. It is beyond political parties. It has to be social justice for all those who are oppressed, persecuted, violated, ignored, abused, left unseen and uncared for. It has to be about uplifting the most vulnerable in our world and not protecting our comforts. If you want peace, justice, possibility, opportunity, safety, the possibility of being healthly, clean water, healthy food, safe pregnancies and deliveries, a job with fair pay, to be treated fairly and with respect…..I believe you have to want it for everyone or you won’t really have those things either…because they will come at the exclusion of someone else, at the expense of someone else. How could any of us feel comfortable with that?

“Beware how you take away hope from another human being.”
~Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

We have to look at what we feel and think internally and take action externally. We have to make a choice—accept what we have and go with it like I did with the cowboys and Indians killing each other because it’s what history has shown us we always do to people who are different from us. It’s about taking the old map of attacking with the intent to kill and throwing it out and not teaching that scenario in the hopes that there are alternatives to conflict and that war is not the answer.  It is about standing in front of a painting and wiping tears and internally feeling that horror and externally making the stand to always speak out against this choice in the world. To always have hope that there are other choices even if they seem unfamiliar or out of reach.

Others, “the Other’s” are of interest to me. I want them to have the same kind of hope I do. I want us to be Keepers of Hope and not prisoners of Apathy and Fear.

To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places — and there are so many — where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand Utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.
~Howard Zinn
You don’t give up.
Be a Keeper of Hope.

First: Listen

This is attempt number 4. I’m sticking with this one.

There are two challenging things to teach young preschoolers, who have fledgling social experience and skills due to their age. In a time of “conflict” with another friend, these are stop and listen. Stop moving . Make eye contact and listen. Everyone has words they want to use, usually to defend their own position. Usually there is some worry or fear thrown in too. Worry they may have knowingly or unknowingly done something wrong. Fear, perhaps, that part of personal accountability may be one of those things called a “consequence”. Fear and worry are defense mechanisms. We all experience them.

Turn on the news and people use lots and lots of words. But, it seems to me, many of the words come from fear and defensive posturing rather than in response to listening.

When you listen you gain the opportunity for discovery and understanding. Discovery and understanding do not mean agreement and acceptance. They means you have the chance to learn something you did not know.

And then, you can have a conversation.

The usual reason for stop and listen, for a preschooler, is that they hurt someone’s feelings, took something without asking, or hit someone. When they stop and listen, they hear “You said I couldn’t play with you, it makes me sad.”, “You took the shovel I was using may I have it back?”, “You hit me and hurt my body. That’s not OK. Don’t do it again.” Most of the time the child listening really doesn’t grasp the cause and effect of what they did, and now they do. Usually the hurt person just wants a hug, a show of care and compassion from the other person, and confirmation that next time will be better.

Things most certainly become more complicated as we grow up.

I went to a Black Lives Matter protest because I am concerned and care deeply that a part of our American population, the Black community, is suffering so deeply. I go to meetings on Autism  becasue I care about the struggles and pain people who are Autistic experience as they work so hard to find a meaningful place in society. A place of acceptance and where they can feel valued. I go to meetings on Child Abuse becasue I care that there are children who suffer deeply from abusive situations. I go, and I listen to learn. I cannot offer much, because Autism and Child Abuse are not areas I have much training in or experience with. But both affect part of the community I work with, preschoolers.

I went to a Black Lives Matter protest to listen. I do not know what it is like to be Black in America. I don’t. Just like I don’t know what it is like to be Autistic or a survivor of abuse. I do not know. They are a part of my community and the quality of their lives and the degree of their suffering affect the community I live in.

I can only become a more educated person through listening. Going to a protest is not saying I don’t care about something else. Caring about the oppression of one group of people does not mean I don’t care about a group that faces different forms of challenges, risk, oppression or suffering.

So, I heard stories of pain and fear. Pain and fear affect people. These are traumatic emotions that scar and are difficult to overcome.The consequences of fear and pain change the way people respond in life. The way they interact with and live life.

I have never, in 58 years of life experienced the level of pain and fear that was shared. Yes, I have felt pain and I have experienced fear, but not on the same level of magnitude where I fear for my life and safety and for the life and safety of my loved ones. I have never experienced that.

Bruce and I were stopped for a significant traffic violation a while back. We did not pull over into the opposite lane when a police officer was stopped with their lights on and out of the car. When we were pulled over we were asked for the registration it was taking time to  find it in the mess of the glove compartment. Finally he said,”It’s okay. Go ahead. Be careful next time.” We both understood, for real, “This is white privilege.” Personally, we both felt ashamed and embarrassed.

I  have no right to assume I know what someone’s life is like. Whether their struggles are real or not. I have no right to judge someone’s pain and suffering, anger and fear without listening first. I have no right to make a suggestion or offer advice until I listen first. I do have the choice of asking someone to tell me what they are experiencing, feeling. What life is like for them on a daily basis. I do have a choice of asking what do they need, what will make things better, healthier, safer for them.

As an educated adult, I have a responsibility that I take seriously, to never assume I know the answers or that I know all I need to know. I have a responsibility to keep listening, learning, developing, becoming more knowledgeable, informed, aware. Not less. Not even the same. More.

I have a personal responsibility to understand I may have to admit that I have been wrong. Uninformed.  That I may learn things about myself and my society that I would rather not know, let alone accept as fact.

So, I listened. And I listened and heard that I do not understand the struggle of the Black Community in Ithaca and in the US. It does not cause harm to me or diminish me to say this. It is just the truth. I do not understand. “Do all Blacks share in this struggle?” Is that the correct question? No. “Why is anyone suffering in this way?” is the question. That anyone struggles and suffers is the issue.

When I listen, it becomes difficult to lay the blame on the victim. It becomes difficult to say “She deserved it”, “They asked for it”, “They are just ‘takers'”, “They’ve got to work harder”, “How bad could it be? They have a cell phone”, “If she didn’t sleep with so many people she wouldn’t have so many kids”, “They need to just buck up and try harder”, “That’s the choice they made. They have to live with it”, “My Black friends say this isn’t true”, “I made it. They could too, if they wanted to”, “They are lazy”, “If they wanted to stop drugs, they would”, “There are lots of jobs out there they could do”, “If they are so poor how can they go on vacation?”.

Do not blame victims. Listen to them. Talk with them.

I don’t know the answers. I feel conflicted. I am confused. I have the ability to work to find out what the answers are, or might be and how to make them happen. I have the strength to look at why I feel conflicted and change it to being informed. I can embrace confusion without embarrassment and ask for conversations so I can be clear on what is the truth. Not my truth. The truth for the person I am listening to and engaging in a conversation with. I must have many conversations and listen to many, many stories because each one will be different. This is not one person’s story or one person’s interpretation.

I care and I am grateful I care. Because not caring is apathy and apathy allows for things to remain the same. And now, for me, the same is not something that is ok with me if it means we are stereotyping, marginalizing, oppressing, killing people out of fear and ignorance.

We are going to have to look inward and then open our hearts and work together to make things better. To make things right.

 

The Best I Am Capable Of Being

“I will soothe you and heal you,
I will bring you roses.
I too have been covered with thorns.”
~ Rumi

I first read the poems of Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī in college. Poems of love. Just authentic, unadulterated love. The kind of love the Greeks spoke of. All six kinds…..eros (sexual passion), philia (deep friendhsip), ludus (playful love), agape (love for everyone), pragma (longstanding love) and  philautia (love of self, two kinds)

I have come to drag you out of yourself, and take you in my heart.
I have come to bring out the beauty you never knew you had
and lift you like a prayer to the sky.”
~
Rumi

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Baby Mourning Dove. This is one of the babies from a pair that nested in the sandbox rafter. S/he is unafraid of the children who sing and coo to him/her. Mourning Doves mate for life.

love, love, love

It also seems I have always loved Rainer Maria Rilke. I do not even know when I first discovered him. There are very few of his words that do not penetrate my heart and cause it, and my thoughts, to soar.

“Everything in Nature grows and defends itself any way it can and is spontaneously itself, tries to be itself at all costs and against all opposition. We know little, but that we must trust in what is difficult is a certainty that will never abandon us; it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be one more reason for us to do it. It is also good to love — love being difficult. Love is perhaps the most difficult task given us, the most extreme, the final proof and text, for which all other work is only preparation.~Rilke

The classic existential conundrum: why are we here?

“But because life here compels us, and because everything here
seems to need us, all this fleetingness
that strangely entreats us. Us, the most fleeting…
Once for each thing, only once. Once and no more. And we, too,
only once. Never again. But to have been
once, even though only once:
this having been earthly seems lasting, beyond repeal.
~Rilke, The Ninth Elegy

True? Because everything needs us? What needs us? The trees, the air, the Earth, the universe? Someone? Or, is it not so much about things needing us, being needed, but rather about having been here at all?

Knowing that our time, and the time of everything, is fleeting, what compels you to be the “best” you can be? For me, I am not sure I really know what the “best” me would be. I’d like to believe it would include being compassionate. I do know what, albeit in a certain context, I want to be here for. Living in and with and sharing the love the Greeks referred to as agape: selfless love. A love that is shared with all things on Earth and extended to all people, whether family members or distant strangers. To all. Even the “Other”, those I may dislike, fear, misunderstand, judge, condemn, turn from, ignore.

And it is not easy. As Rilke says, love is the most difficult task given us. I cannot do it without effort. I fail often. I feel whatever the opposite of love is…hate? I think hate is probably not the right word because truly it more of an anger/fear or an unknowing.

Discovering the best I am capable of includes making the time to look, to go within.

“Your task is not to seek for love,
but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself
that you have built against it.”
~ Rumi

Many folk consider this kind of “love for all” to be a cornerstone of human behavior. Lately however, I wonder. It is a difficult time we live in. And while there is certainly the case to be made that this is not the first time this may have been believed, we are so aware of all the suffering and violence that permeates our world, it does seem to indeed be a dark time.

When I have the presence of mind to “seek and find all the barriers within” that I have built against love, I find they are in fact there. There is Fear. Of many things. Especially fear of the unknown. There is Hurt. Anger. Mistrust. Clinging. Comparison. Disappointment. Sense of Entitlement. Lack of Knowledge. Misunderstanding. Assumption. Protection and Defensiveness. Confusion. Doubt. Separation.

And when I allow myself to see those things in myself, then I am able to work towards becoming the best I am capable of being. I cannot do it without the self-realization of what the barriers I have built are.

My parents, with their sense of service and care for others and the people they brought into my life built a certain foundation. All the traveling I did and living in other countries, my friends, my husband, my children and my career choice, my own faith and melded spirituality, have helped me open the door and look in and face these barriers of mine. Each day I own up to them and chip away at them, with the hope that one day they will be gone. Because that is the best I am capable of….

….breaking down all my barriers against the love called agape.

Agape, the evolving love that I know is inside of me for the sole purpose of being extended to all people the world over. The best I am capable of is allowing and sustaining the agape inside of me at all costs and against all opposition.

The Illusion of The Rising Sun

During late spring and summer, and a wee bit into fall, I am able to wake up and look sleepily out the window to watch the illusion of the sun rising. Sometimes I think it is very telling that we refer to this time of day as “sunrise”. For in fact, the sun does not rise, but rather we are spinning.

jan 2013a

This past week there were two special sunrises. One, as my neighbor described it, was electric pink. A full 360 degree jolt of varying hues and intensity. The other sunrise was just a jumbled, raucous, out of tune, off beat, brouhaha of crow noise. It was deafening.I don’t even remember if there was color!

As I lay safe in bed, safe in my house, safe in my neighborhood, safe in my town, I felt the weight of a terrible suffering that left me feeling deflated and weak as I thought about the shooting in Orlando. I felt for days as if I had been punctured and was slowly being flattened . It was almost as if I could feel the world spinning…..but it felt out of control, not finely choreographed by the Universe.

Recently there was a post on Pema Chodron’s page:

BEYOND OUR COMFORT ZONE
“Compassion is threatening to the ego. We might think of it as something warm and soothing, but actually it’s very raw. When we set out to support other beings, when we go so far as to stand in their shoes, when we aspire to never close down to anyone, we quickly find ourselves in the uncomfortable territory of “life not on my terms.” The second commitment, traditionally known as the Bodhisattva Vow, or warrior vow, challenges us to dive into these noncozy waters and swim out beyond our comfort zone.

Our willingness to make the first commitment is our initial step toward relaxing completely with uncertainty and change. The commitment is to refrain from speech and action that would be harmful to ourselves and others and then to make friends with the underlying feelings that motivate us to do harm in the first place. The second commitment builds on this foundation: we vow to move consciously into the pain of the world in order to help alleviate it. It is, in essence, a vow to take care of one another, even if it sometimes means not liking how that feels.”
(From her book Living Beautifully With Uncertainty and Change)

One of the comments cut through these words like a razor edged sword:

So we are supposed to step into the shoes of the killers, and understand them?
I don’t think I can do that.”

How do we do this when it seems as if violence and hate are blanketing the world? Has there always been what seems to be an unbearable amount, and the internet and 24/7 news loops help us see it as spreading disease? And…..desensitizes us to it through endless replay until we are so overwhelmed that we believe there is nothing that can be changed?

How do we get to the point where love IS a verb not an emotional enigma? How do we disarm hate? How do we end violence? How do we allow peace into the world?

How do we get the place where we can imagine ourselves in the shoes of the shooter AND the shoes of the victims. The shoes of our “brothers and sisters” and the shoes of the “Other”.

For us to alleviate the pain we have to commit to taking care of each other. Caring about each other. Every single each other.

Going beyond my comfort zone has led me to places I never thought about going. Places I never wanted to go. I have stepped over dead bodies. I have walked through the hell of Concentration Camps. I have seen unimaginable beauty in the eyes of a young child whose arm was cut off so his begging would be more lucrative. I have sat with 13-year-old mothers cradling their sleeping child. I have seen the sadhu with their arms frozen in contorted positions. I have smelled burning flesh. I have seen a woman beaten. I have been circled and touched for being female, tall, white, light-haired and blue-eyed.  I have grown so much as my children have navigated adulthood and seen, thought, experienced, been made aware of and expressed things I had not thought about. Coming into older years in life I have more time to think back on what my mother and father instilled in me.

Everything has a tag line now……a label identifying it as something that seems to isolate it from other things. From other people. Movements, Groups and Causes. I don’t know where I fit or where I belong. Or where it is okay for me to be. Where I am supposed to be. Why do I have to be in any of them?

I am a human being on the planet earth. Those two things bind me to every other single person on the planet. There is nothing in those two things that can separate me from anyone else. And that is what I hold on to….finding what does not separate me from the dead in Orlando, the bombed in Syria, the oppressed in Palestine, the young hostages of Boko Haram, the terrorist, the murderer, the mentally ill, the black youth shot dead in streets, the addict, the sex worker, the starving, the dark, sometimes invisible side of humanity.

I can choose to be separate by identifying myself  as American, Christian Buddhist, white, married, heterosexual, a mother, a wife.

Or I can say yes, I fit in those labels, but first I am a Human Being on planet earth and I will not use those categories to separate myself from feeling compassion for all others and to embrace love as a verb and do something to lift others who by reason of chance are in pain, suffering, struggling……

I don’t have answers. I don’t always get it right. But I do try to be aware and not allow the news to desensitize me. I make financial donation where I can. I go to vigils because of respect. I challenge racist and bigoted comments, I get information from all sources not the ones that support my beliefs. I write to my Representatives. I vote. I know there are always 2 or 3 sides to a story. I can and should do more.

But mostly I challenge myself not to dismiss the life of anyone as being insignificant or irrelevant. Or useless. Or evil. At a bare minimum I can choose to recognize the common and shared threads that are spun out of love. So, when I put myself in the shoes of another, they fit. They fit because at a bare bones level they are a Human Being, they live on this planet, they have been loved by someone, they have loved another and they have experienced joy and they have suffered.

I can condemn their actions, their motives. I can work to define solutions to war, poverty, starvation, disease, mental health complexities, fear, isolation, racism, and class to possibly prevent someone from having the anger, fear, hate, suffering, oppression, stigma that leads to horrible, violent actions.

I do not ever want to be blind to or complacent to the fact I am a white American living a middle class comfortable life. Sometimes this brings pain to my heart. It is a privilege and as such it brings responsibility to help, love, care for those who do not have shelter, food, clothing, a job, medical care, education, safety, a voice. It brings the responsibility to end things that divide: religion, race, wealth.

It is time to swim out beyond our comfort zone and “vow to move consciously into the pain of the world in order to help alleviate it. It is, in essence, a vow to take care of one another, even if it sometimes means not liking how that feels.”

The more you swim, the stronger you get. The further you go. There is another shore we can walk on together. If we are not afraid to get in the water and start swimming beyond our comfort zone.

Sign the Charter for Comapssion

 

 

 

So Much More

It was a powerful experience listening to people from all walks of life, all faiths, talk about the man they knew as Muhammad Ali. A boxer who could float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, and yet he was so much more than that. He was in fact a brilliant reminder of what people can be when their hearts are full of love, respect and compassion.

He spoke the truth. He refused to kill people and go to war. He knew war was wrong on a multitude of levels.

He played patty cake with children and shook the hands of Presidents.

He was a physically powerful, articulate, vocal, Black Muslim man who an entire nation paused to pay its respect to. Flowers rained down as his body traveled miles through a red state, in a nation that seems to be currently wrapped in a scratchy blanket of intolerance, racism, fear and hate.

He believed in a God of compassion and kindness. Of Peace and Community. And he was very, very, very clear about what his God, Allah, expected.

If you love God, you can’t love only some of his children.”

A few days after his death I was listening to Krista Tippet from OnBeing interview Rebecca Solnit. She talked about love like the love Ali spoke of. Ali found his love for all under the banner of his God. Let’s be clear though, God is not the only channel love travels along. Others find, give and share love for the sake of love. Just love. Just love for all. Rebecca pays attention to events we call “disasters” and takes note of the transformation that takes place when ordinary divides and patterns are shattered and people come together and understand we are our brothers keeper. Joy, purposefulness and connectedness arise.

It’s easy to love some groups of people. Usually we love our family. Our parents. Our children. Our partner. We have groups of friends we love, and people in our neighborhood or church.

We know instances where love binds, heals, nurtures, gives life. Rebecca points out there are so many things and people to love besides those in our groups.

So many things and people in the world need love.

“There is so much work love has to do in this world.” Rebecca Solnit

There is so much fear, hate. There is so much persecution, oppression and racism. There is so much violence, injustice, poverty and profound suffering.

How do we step away from those things and walk towards love? Do we want to? Are we able to?

How do we lend a hand to love and get to work in this world? What will it take for our hearts to be as full and giving as the one of a boxer who grew up facing racism every day, won an Olympic medal for his country and then, in his own country was still refused seating in a restaurant because he was Black, who refused to go to war and kill people and went to prison for that, who called all people God’s children.

For all of Ali’s hype, all he wanted was to be remembered in this way:

“I’d like for them to say he took a few cups of love, he took one tablespoon of patience, teaspoon of generosity, one pint of kindness. He took one quart of laughter, one pinch of concern, and then, he mixed willingness with happiness, he added lots of faith, and he stirred it up well, then he spreads it over his span of a lifetime, and he served it to each and every deserving person he met.”

There is Trump. There is Syria. Today there is Orlando. It was Paris and Brussels. It is the refugees drowning by the hundreds. It will be someone else and someplace else where fear, hate, pain and suffering reign rampant.

And there will be more Ali’s, more Berrigan brothers, more Jimmy Carters, more cities like Salt Lake City working to end homelessness, more European countries with 100% literacy. There will be more countries like Switzerland almost totally eliminating poverty, or the UK with the lowest gun related violent deaths. There will be more Icelands where childhood mortality has almost been eliminated. There will be more countries like Canada who open their doors to refugees…..let’s stop calling them migrants shall we? They are not looking for work, they are trying to stay alive..to not be killed by bombs and guns.

If you’re reading this you’re most likely fairly privileged, and you get to have a choice. You have a voice you can use. You have opportunity and resources you can use. Stand side by side with all your brothers and sisters who have only their often unheard voice and help them be heard. Use your voice to stand up to injustice, hate, fear, poverty, violence. Do not become apathetic or unconcerned because you are not affected. Your sister is affected. Your brother is affected. You are a part of this family that is in pain and suffering.

We champion the reason for, and the protection of, the freedoms we enjoy in this country. There is only one problem. Millions of people in this country do not genuinely share in those freedoms.

 “There is so much work love has to do in this world.”

Like the familiar adage “Many hands make light work”, let’s join our hands together in and with Love and get to work.

 

Where Do You Dwell?

I know it rarely ends well, so I try not to do it often, but sometimes I read the comments about articles on-line. I try to scan for ones that are free of hate and anger. I am not looking, I don’t think, (but probably am because most of us do..it’s in our nature) for confirmation bias. I just don’t want to read words of hate and anger. For goodness sake, I spend all day long teaching preschoolers how to use words that don’t hurt, even if they are angry, mad, sad or frustrated. Anyone can disagree with me, have differing thoughts or spiritual beliefs. Just please don’t label me, or call me names or insinuate I am not caring or intelligent.

But, I do read some of them. Sometimes I am dumbfounded by the frothing anger, the raging arrogance and the blatant racism and bigotry expressed. How can a soul hold so much anger, fear, hatred and not just explode? I cannot image knowing or having these people in my life. And we know there are others who may be just like these outspoken folks, but don’t seem to share their thoughts out in the open very often. What emotional and spiritual turmoil do they live in?

There were some articles circulating recently about studies on how the words we think and speak impact our impressions, interpretations and connections in life. Not really a surprise is it? It isn’t just about saying things out loud, it is also about the words we think but might not say out loud. If we are a closet anything, never admitting it out loud, the words and thoughts we keep to ourselves of course impact the kind of person we are. Our judgments, assumptions, worries, fears, anxieties and even our expectations, spoken or not, reflect in the person we are. The words that make up our thoughts (and emotions) determine our actions.

There is an article on Christopher Chase’s blog called Perpetual Curse of the Warrior Mindset. It begins with this quote from Albert Einstein,

“We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.”

I think it is time to take a look at where we dwell within our own thoughts and heart. Protected and private or blatant and assertive, where do we live when we are being honest with ourselves? Where do we retire to at the end of the day to process? Where do we step forth from in the morning to go out into the world?

Collectively, is it time for a new manner of thinking that is not born of fear, protection, possession, suppression, greed, materialism, war, militarism, distrust, racism, hate…? Not all of us harbor these things in our spirit, but in honesty, we do cling to some of these, or others. You know the words that come with these things: superiority, defend, collateral damage, mine, God-given, God-fearing, wealth, earned, deserve, what’s in it for me, undeserving, entitled, takers, thugs, scum, losers, socialist, not my problem, why should I care, go back where you came from, whore, sicko, psycho, homo, alien, migrant, Muslim, supremacy, foriegner, wetback, anchor baby…..add your own. It was difficult just to write some of these.

Is it time for a collective shift? Could we even do it if we wanted? What are we at risk of loosing, or never knowing, if we don’t try?

“In beauty I walk.
With beauty before me, I walk.
With beauty behind me, I walk.
With beauty below me, I walk.
With beauty above me, I walk.
With beauty all around me, I walk. ”
The Navajo

Most religious and spiritual practices have lessons on love and tolerance, as well as retribution and hate. We can choose whatever we want.

“Peace before me
Peace behind me
Peace at my left
Peace at my right
Peace above me
Peace below me
Peace unto me
Peace in my surroundings
Peace to all
Peace to the Universe”
RootLight

We get lost in our fears. We are swayed by thoughts and fears of hurt and suffering, of things being taken away from us or denied to us. We forget: we do not have to dwell in fear.

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6:27-31

We each of us have the power to be a light to others. It is an image and belief we all know, “be a light unto others.”

Oh God Make Me A Light
O God illuminate our heart with Light,
our heart with Light,
our ears with Light
and Let there be Light on our right, and on our left.
Let there be Light above us and below us,
let Light be in front of us and Light behind us.
O God, make us a Light.
The Prophet’s Prayer

This Little Light of Mine

The words we say to ourselves or say out loud, the prayers we offer silently or out loud, the thoughts we think and express, create the person we are.

“As we recite the words ‘ose shalom‘ (make peace)
we bow to the right, left and center,
bringing Peace to the entire world.”
Center for Jewish Spirituality.

Bring Peace To The World performed by BB King.

In many places in Asia when greeting another person, hands are place together over the heart, a slight bow is made and the word “Namaste” is spoken. It means “I honor the light in you.”

What if the words we thought and spoke out loud to each person we met or thought about resonated with the meaning of “Namaste”?

Namaste

Where do you dwell? In Light or in Fear? In Love or Hate? In empathy or apathy? In possibility or impossibility? In the status quo or in activism? In friendship or as enemies?

gandhi2

Gandhi