Sitting on a Bench

I went for a walk with my husband earlier this week. It was a glorious blue sky July day.

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Highbanks Park, Cols. Ohio, photo by me

Sometimes my hip bothers me, and it did on this day. So, I sat on a bench in the shade, facing a small stream, eyes closed. It was very quiet. Except for the sound of gurgling water. It was very still. Except for fluttering birds and scurrying chippies.

The setting, the silence and the alone-ness were a recipe for a little meditation.

I felt my feet planted firmly on the ground. Silence and stillness. I was alone.

I opened my eyes after a little while and listened to the quiet sounds of this place. I saw in front of me the pale purple of vetch, the greenness of leaves. I could smell the earthy scent of slightly damp soil.

An emotional wave of humility and gratitude washed over me. I was so aware of the gift of sitting there, on that bench, in that spot, with the trees and flowers and a singing bird there with me. There was nothing that could have been more complete. And as I sat there in the awareness of the moment, feeling small and insignificant in a larger world, I also felt a pang. There was an out-breath that seemed to release from deep inside of me the sorrow and sadness for Others. Those struggling in poverty. Those who struggle with addiction. The incarcerated . The misunderstood. Refugees. The people in Syria and South Sudan. People we make invisible because of fear or misunderstanding. Or simply because we are unaware.

It was a profound moment. It was a bit of a confused feeling. On the one hand I was so grateful to be in this calm, serene, safe place under a blue sky, feeling the warmth of the summer sun. On the other hand I felt guilty, uncomfortable. This is where I often find myself. This weighs on my heart and my soul. Why am I blessed with all of this when so many others struggle and suffer so unimaginably?

Some folks read these blog posts and contact me with comments like, “I’m sorry you’re so sad.” These thoughts often don’t feel good and they do make me feel sad. But the feelings tell me I haven’t shut myself off to or given up on caring, on feeling, of being concerned for others, of wanting others to be lifted out of pain and suffering. I’d rather experience the sadness than have no awareness, thoughts or feelings about these things. Sometimes people say, “Just turn off the news.” Nope. I dial it back sometimes, but not off. I don’t want to be dumb and blind to the realities of the people on this planet. I want to be informed. To understand. I want to know so I know how to help. To learn. To grow. To learn what needs to be done to heal.

Healing and transformation are possible the moment we accept the actuality of things as they are—good, bad, or ugly—and then act on that understanding with imagination, kindness, and intentionality. This is not easy or painless, by any means, but it is both an embodiment of and a path toward wisdom and peace.” ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn

I do not accept that this is as good as we get as a country. There is much to be improved on. As a piece of the global puzzle and as a home land.

“What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this; what greater form of patriotism is there; than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals? ” ~Barak Obama

All kinds of people and communities have to make a choice. To decide to do, to be, something different. Or not. To respond, react and act differently. Or not. We have to be unafraid rather than afraid. Or not. We have to ask questions and listen in order to understand instead of assuming we “know”. Or not. We have to figure out how to look outside of the box for new ideas and solutions. Or not.

In among all the struggles what are the common threads? What do we share with the people we fear, disagree with, hate? There has to be engagement, generosity and community building. We have to figure out what inspires us as individuals to act from a place of integrity even when it means going contrary to the status quo. And how can these circles of compassion widen? How do we, you, I, facilitate this?

I know I do not want to be afraid of anything simply because I do not understand or agree with someone or something. I do not ever want to feel I need to distance or separate myself because something or someone is different from me. With that kind of defensive behavior I run the risk of running back to and hiding in what is familiar, what is comfortable, what I identify with. I run the risk of being closed off. Of being constricted. And, in all honesty, I do these things. I am trying so very hard to be stronger than my fears, than my anger. But it is very, very hard.

It’s a tough job reining in all our identifications with the worries, the fears and the narratives our mind creates. Our expectations, judgement and opinions create divides that we give great importance and power to. All those things come from our biases, our lack of trust, our sense of protecting what we perceive is ours.

 Nisargadatta says, “The mind creates the abyss, and the heart crosses it.

What could we be without all the crazy, worry filled, fear based ideas that come into our minds and our lives? What would it be like if we stopped separating ourselves from others and Nature? What would happened if we nurtured our fundamental awareness and being that realizes the connected-ness in life rather than the isolating, separated-ness that sometimes happens in life?

Wisdom is knowing we are all one.
Love is what it feels like.
Compassion is what it looks like.”
Ethan Walker III

We really need to get to the point of healing, bridging the abyss, regaining the power and force of being connected to others and other living things. Of cradling Earth in gentleness and respect.

This force of separateness grows fear. We claw at and grab in attachment, to things, ideas, places, power. We become constricted, grow defensive, ambitious, and territorial. We protect things that cause us to feel separated from, better than, more deserving of, entitled to. We work to bolster and protect these things, forgetting to look up and around. It is seen in religion, in politics, in National pride…..it manifests as jingoism, racism, intolerance, aggression, repression, oppression….

If we stop. Just stop. What whispers to us? What calls out to us? Who are we? Who do we want to be? What is our true nature…?

Do we find ourselves standing at the place that is common ground for each one of us? All of us? The shared Earth? The need for the fundamentals required for a healthy life: food, water, shelter, medicine, clothing. The human need for love, both in the giving and receiving of. Companionship. A sense of belonging. A sense of purpose.

So, how do we inspire ourselves and others to work towards this? To walk away from apathy, isolation, separateness, our sense of correctness/ superiority?

“…we must also inspire, because inspiration is how we motivate action.”  Ian Reifowitz

Please share, please tell me: What inspires you? What calls you to action? What bridges do you want to build?

**Readings from This Week
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Waterfalls From Heaven

I feel differently when I am outside. I think differently. I see differently. I hear differently. I smell things differently. I feel the air around me differently.

I change. I slow down. Calm down. I shed wants and unknown fears.

Nature heals.

Our part of NYS was in a pretty bad drought last year. There was briefly talk of having to truck water in to our community.

About 20 minutes from my home is a narrow, 215 foot waterfall. Not tall by some standards, but still beautiful. During the drought, the water stopped. The waterfall had become just a cliff. The thundering water was silenced. The mist vanished.

This spring we have had rain. And rain. We are now in a flood warning. Our lake is high, yards and homes are flooded.

Easter morning we walked the gentle trail to our waterfall, Taughannock Falls. The water was flowing.

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Taughannock, photo by me 4/16/17

The mist purified and baptized me in a way no organized dogma could. The thunder of the raging water muffled noises in my head of worry, fear, doubt. I could smell the scent of the earth, damp, decaying and, also, alive. I focused on the force and power of the milky water launching off the side of rock cliff that was too old to comprehend. Somewhere in those rocks and cliffs are fossils of life from ancient sea beds.

The Waterfall at Lu-Shan

Sunlight streams on river stones.
From high above, the river steadily plunges–

three thousand feet of sparkling water–
the milky way pouring down from heaven.

Li Po

Surely our little waterfall is a tiny bit of the milky way pouring down from heaven. Heaven reaching down towards Earth. A reminder of things inter-connected. A reminder to seek beauty and tread lightly. A reminder to look up in wonder and awe at the stars in the universe. A reminder to look all around this biosphere called Earth with humility and and respect, gentleness and stewardship. A reminder to live in moderation and care, balance and understanding. A reminder to pause in gratitude and appreciation for our Mother Earth and all the life she supports.

**It’s spring!! That means Earth Day, marches and standing up to protect the only home we have: Earth. Here are some readings to ponder This Week

 

 

Counting to 12

Settling in. Settling down. Close your eyes and count to 12. Take a deep breath. In and out.

easter blog2

For many people around the world this is a season of religious importance. For me it is Spring. Rebirth comes in many forms. Literal. Spiritual. Let us pause for a moment and just be, in stillness and silence.

Keeping Still

Now we will count to twelve 
and we will keep still.

For once on the face of the earth
let’s not speak in any language,
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines,
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victory with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

~Pablo Neruda

What does happen when our thoughts are slowed? No rush or worry.

It never could happen, but, what if, for a moment, the people of the world could stop. And just be? Be together. In silence and stillness. No spoken language as a barrier. No arm waving flurry of activity. No going or getting. No having or wanting.

What if we could collectively experience unity as human beings as well as unity with Nature, with all other living things?

What if we stopped hurting each other in this moment? What if we just tried, with our hearts, to understand each other? What if people forgot to hold each other down, forgot to hurt or oppress others? What if those struggling and in pain forgot their pain, for just a moment? What if for a moment we became united?

What if we tended to Nature as our own child? What if we protected Earth as if it mattered. As if it was a life or death choice? What if war was obsolete and we walked side by side, doing no harm, causing no violence?

What if we just had a moment of silence to think about what it means to be alive.  Not to worry about death and salvation, but to be alive. To survive. To thrive. To love. To heal.

Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive

It is spring. What slept as if dead is awakening. Rebirth. Nature can teach us.

Count to 12 and be still.

Readings This Week

Thousands of Words

For many of us there is something supremely healing being in the presence of the ocean. It may be the color, the light. Or the sound of the waves and gulls. Or the briny smell and salty taste of the water. For me, it was never about the sand!!

My grandfather lived across the street from the ocean in Florida.  Every visit there was a re-acquaintance with something in Nature I couldn’t have anywhere else except by the ocean. The ocean always brought comfort and a kind of healing. The world slowed down along the edge of the beach. Worries seemed to get washed out to sea as the waves came and went. It has been the same for every ocean I have stood next to or swum in. It heals.seaweed

The walks along the beach always gifted treasures. Broken shells. Maybe a whole shell! A small, asymmetrical piece of sea glass…worn smooth from the power of the sea. Maybe a “mermaids purse”. Alien looking pieces of seaweed.  Perhaps a withered Man-O-War. A little crab claw. Sometimes the sand itself was the treasure. A myriad of sparkles and color….minute pieces of minerals, quartz, rock, shell and coral skeletons.

“Breakage”
by Mary Oliver

I go down to the edge of the sea.

How everything shines in the morning light!
The cusp of the whelk, the broken cupboard of the clam,
the opened, blue mussels, moon snails, pale pink and barnacle scarred—
and nothing at all whole or shut, but tattered, split,
dropped by the gulls onto the gray rocks and all the moisture gone.
It’s like a schoolhouse of little words, thousands of words.
First you figure out what each one means by itself, the jingle, the periwinkle, the scallop full of moonlight.
Then you begin, slowly, to read the whole story.

tidal-pool

As Mary Oliver said, each gift, each small–each broken miracle of  treasure from the vast, moving, living ocean, was like discovering a new word. A piece to the puzzle of the language of the ocean. Of Nature. Of Life. Collections of whole and broken parts from the ocean, told a story. You could read in the brokenness, the color, the bleached out parts, the smoothed edges, the Story that only those pieces together could tell.

There is nothing in the whole world that is any different. There are broken pieces everywhere that, when put together, allow us to read the Story….. But brokenness isn’t always comfortable, it isn’t always pretty. It might hurt to know the beauty of the wholeness that was or could have been. There is so much we are blind and deaf to. So much we try not to touch or feel, smell or taste. We turn away.

“That smells fishy.” “Turn a blind eye.”  “Rough around the edges.” “That’s a bitter pill to swallow.” “That just falls on deaf ears.”

Every  broken part. Every completed whole. Everything we happen upon, every person we meet, every rain drop that falls, each sunrise we witness, is a new word in the language of Life. Each conflict, each treaty, the hate and fear, each love story. The woman with acid burns on her face, the crying child bleeding after FGM, the crumbling shell of Aleppo, the flooding streets of Miami, the parched land on fire. The protest chant, the psalm being sung. Parts of the Story….a wondrous Story. A titan of a Story.

Each experience we allow, acknowledge and process, each person we meet the eyes of, each story we listen to, each hand shake or hug we offer, is another word in the language of life on this planet. Our vocabulary is enriched as often as we pay attention to what is before us.

We may want to turn away from all the broken pieces, the bitterness in life, the things we don’t want to hear or think about. But they won’t go away. Each broken part offers us the chance to see the whole. To mend the pieces. To gain the new words to read and understand the whole Story. The bitter pill may heal us. The seeing eye is witness. The sound of crying makes us long for laughter. The feel of roughness and jagged edges helps us know where to smooth things out.

I’ve been working on learning from all the broken pieces I encounter. Looking at them instead of turning away and in so doing I am coming to understand my own biases and prejudices. These are the jagged shards of poverty, the broken shell that is oppression, the piercing thorn of injustice. I am trying to learn the vocabulary…to listen, in order to hear and understand, the painful and heartbreaking stories of those I do not know. Of things I will never experience. When I feel roughed up emotionally and spiritually I know it is part of the process of finding where my work needs to be done.

Are any of us whole and unbroken? Can we be when others are not? Look around the world, in our country. So many of us are fragmented and broken. All of us are missing so much of the vocabulary…all those broken pieces we step over, throw away… that we need in order to read the whole story. To understand. So many of us are afraid of pain and hurt. For ourselves and others. Yet, being afraid of these does not make it so that others do not live in fear and pain. Because the world is full of people living in fear and pain. So many of us are fearful of loss and aloneness. You or I may not be fearful of loss and aloneness, but millions live with these feelings every minute of every day. Many are filled with mistrust and anger. You or I may not feel anger or mistrust, but people all of the world are angry at and mistrustful of others, their government, their circumstances. We are content in our ignorance of many things.

That is not what I hope for. What I believe is possible. What I trust the end of the Story to be.

Now is a good time in our history to become fluent in the language of the Story of Life on this Earth. To understand we do not know most of the Story. To learn how to read all the words. To pick up new vocabulary for the sake of broadening our understanding. You might not want to think about racism or oppression, or fully understand the meaning of the words. But racism and oppression exists everywhere whether you want to think about it and understand it or not. Both of them hurt people. Both of them diminish the possibility of the individual and society. It’s time to piece together the broken and fragmented words, feelings, fears, hopes and people. To understand. To read all the chapters of the Story. To care. To give a damn. To strive towards wholeness.

Please check out what I’ve been reading this week This Week

Of Telescopes and Microscopes

I remember the first time I looked through a microscope. It opened a new window not only to curiosity, but to understanding. By studying the smaller picture I understood the bigger picture much better….more accurately. A simple leaf whose primary attribute, in my mind, included being green became a work of living art….a biological imperative. A life sustaining miracle.

Likewise, the telescope. My first experience with binoculars was when I was a child. I remember the weight of those large black binoculars of the 60’s. There was the little dial in the middle you turned with your finger to adjust the focus….to bring distant things into focused view. Later there were back yard telescopes and the rings of Saturn and the craters of the moon. Eventually there was the Fuertes telescope at Cornell University’s Observatory. Celestial wonders could be see by looking through an eye piece and brought into focus in a way the human eye could never see unaided and the human mind could never imagine. Now we can look at the images from the Hubble Telescope and experience the magnificence of the cosmos in a way never possible before. We can see the birth place of stars…and understand they are “born”. We can almost touch the edge of the universe and become infinitesimally small against that backdrop. We know we are made of star dust.

Marcel Proust:
“The real voyage of discovery lies not in finding new landscapes
but in having new eyes.”

Using a microscope and/or a telescope gives us “new eyes”. We can see things we could not see before. By seeing these things in perspective and in focus, perhaps we can better understand the whole picture.

Isn’t all of life like that? We are like a little piece of something placed on a slide under a microscope. We can see the magnified parts of our lives. There’s the physical body we take care of through food, exercise, clothing, medicine, etc. There are the organs that keep things moving. Our mind. Blood. Hair. Eyes. All that stuff. We tend to be very concerned with how things, events, circumstances, stories, emotions affect our body. Not only in a physical sense of being safe or nourished, but in the capacity to be happy, fulfilled, challenged, valuable.

When we put our eye to the telescope new worlds comes in to view. We use a new lens to see a different perspective. We see how we are only a very small part of a much bigger picture. The exploration of space has allowed us to view our literal Earth in a new context. There are no boundary lines. There is a sense of shared resources, of a shared life. A sense of belonging to the same family. Our home is a shared home. It not just our home alone, but one we share with billions of others. We have a responsibility of shared stewardship for the next billion people. Our planet is alive and can die.

The Hubble telescope has allowed us to see further into space than ever before. Opening our eyes to the unimaginable vastness of the the known universe. Seemingly unexplainable things seen, even if not understood. There. Real. And when we look back at Earth, we see it is one very, very small dot among billions, trillions…..

When we look through the microscope we can’t see that. We see the small picture. The facts that relate specifically to us as individuals and our smaller family units. Using that lens, having that perspective doesn’t mean that the reality we would see through the the lens of a telescope, the bigger picture that shows the connected-ness of mind boggling amounts of stuff, isn’t equally important.

We don’t think or forget, to change lenses. We don’t think or forget, to turn and rotate to see a different perspective. We don’t think or forget, to learn about things we never thought to learn about or understand. We don’t think of or forget, that our perspective can change. Our understanding can change. The reality and truth we hold on to can change because we can learn and discover new things that are true and factual. New understanding that means we have to adjust to bring things into the best possible, most clear focus.

We forget that because we see something one way and label it as true and unchanging, it does not mean it is ultimately true.  We see this in medicine, in science, in technology, in evolution, in energy, in space, in history, in beliefs, in going from Newton to Einstein to quantum physics, from Mendel’s study of peas to molecular biology, from fear of taking baths to the understanding of hygiene.

Our curiosity and ability to dream and  imagine has brought us great things that were deemed impossible or unrealistic 50 years ago. Who would have thought people would ever fly in something called and airplane? The Hindu epic the Ramayana (written in the 4-5th century BCE) included detailed information about flying in machines. Jules Verne wrote a fantasy stories of submarines and flying to the moon. Aldous Huxley wrote of anti-depressants. In 1911 Hugo Gernsback imagined a “video chat.”

In reading the book Octavia’s Brood, we enter into the writers imagined future.  Activist writers present stories of the future changes in society based on issues of social justice. The narratives hurl us into the “next phase of humanity.”    http://www.thenation.com/article/why-science-fiction-fabulous-tool-fight-social-justice/

Co-author Walidah Imarisha says: “Any time we try to envision a different world—without poverty, prisons, capitalism, war—we are engaging in science fiction. When we can dream those realities together, that’s when we can begin to build them right here and now.”

And isn’t that what dreaming and imagining is about? Isn’t that what looking through a microscope or telescope tells us? Dream, look harder. Discover. Learn.  Rotate and turn. Change lenses and perspective. Maybe the reality we have now in our world is not the final truth. Maybe we are capable of compassion, tolerance, community, shared resources, social justice, equality, peace.

We can ask “What do we want” and not “What is realistic.” If we choose to ask “What do we want?” we can choose to seek answers to the question. If we use the microscope to look at ourselves, what do we see? If we use the telescope to look up and out and broaden our range of seeing, what is there?

If we see in the small parts of our being the capacity for love, compassion, hope, tolerance, shared humanity, determination, how do we get others to see this is what they too possess?

If we look out beyond ourselves and “our world”, and see that there are other “real” things out there, unlike ours, perhaps difficult to understand, but nonetheless there and dancing with us, perhaps we can join hands and dance together in harmony.

dancing people(photo by me, Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh)

The Shelter of Each Other

“It is in the shelter of each other that people live.”

-Irish Proverb

golden trees

(photo by me….and, shhhh..it’s a sunset, not a sunrise!!)

I love this proverb. We live in the shelter of each other. It is difficult some days to be aware of this and believe it to be true.

My mind has a million lines of thought about this…how it is uplifting and hopeful. How it is false and impossible. How our shared world requires us to be bound to one another, connected, interdependent. How it sometimes feels as if we are none of those things.

I DO live in the shelter of others. I live in the shelter of others on many levels. I live in the security of a strong community, nurturing friends, neighbors, co-workers, loving family. I live in the shelter of a community that shares a common bond of respect, tolerance, patience, understanding, conversation, dialogue, valuing education and personal growth. I live in the shelter of the dreams of my ancestors. I live in the shelter of the possibility of change and growth, of opportunity.

“It is in the shelter of each other that people live.”

I also live in the shelter of circumstance and privilege and as such I feel I bear a responsibility to provide shelter for others. They don’t have to be like me, the same as me, hold the same beliefs, eat the same food, wear the same clothes or pray, or not pray, to the same God.

When we are sheltered we are taken care of, protected. When we are sheltered, we feel safe, or at least safer. When fear is diminished hope and possibility come out of hiding. We can plan, take action, dream, explore. Fear can be a great catalyst too, but it comes at a price: anger, reaction, separation, isolation,  intolerance. Often it is a reaction to a threat or to violence. We are more vulnerable.

When we are sheltered, physically, spiritually or emotionally, we are supported and uplifted. Mistakes become learning tools not a punitive sentence. Faltering becomes a point of concern and we begin to listen to discover what happened. We listen to the stories of others and hear what it is that is spoken from the heart. The stories don’t have to be the same as mine, or familiar to be true. Stumbling and floundering become stepping stones to a smoother path. The journey is as valuable as the destination.

When we are sheltered we feel we belong and are able to care for one another without thought of gain. Compassion flourishes and our effort is one of easing suffering, pain, want.

“To be human is to belong.
Belonging is a circle that embraces everything;
if we reject it, we damage our nature.
The word ‘belonging’ holds together the two fundamental aspects of life:
Being and Longing, the longing of our Being
and the being of our Longing.”
John O’Donohue

So often our tribal instincts, once so important for survival, click in and we want to isolate, protect, be fearful and cautious. Yet so much in our world now tells us we are all bound together by our humaness and even the boundaries of our living earth, rather than the arbitrary boundaries of our countries. As a global community we also find shelter in the firm grounding of the earth and gravity as we are hurling through space. We find shelter in sustainable and limited resources that are present. We find shelter through understanding, sympathy, shared experiences, universal stories, tolerance and acceptance. We find shelter as nurturers and builders of communities and family.

“The earth community, the Life Community is not the property
of any one religion or group or part of the world,
it is the Commons that embraces us all, our planetary home.
And it needs us as never before.
It calls us to become, not heroes, but community builders, builders of home,
gatherers and embracers, bearers of hospitality,
keepers of the shared space that cultures us all.
It calls us not to go forth and come back laden with honors
but to honor where we are, who we are,
and from that place to reach out
and connect to and honor each other in the community of life.”

David Spangler

Spangler also wrote:

“To embody a new paradigm of civilization-
to learn to think like a planet in order to nurture a planet-
it is not a hero’s task…it is more the task of a gardener.
The planet does not offer us the challenges
to be overcome to prove the worth of our individuality,
it presents us with a community to understand,
a community with disparate needs and identities
that are nonetheless intertwined in mutual dependencies.”

We live in the shelter of each other on this planet. Our culturally distinct and sometimes contrary needs and beliefs, dreams and desires do not mean we are not bound to one another with universal similarities by way of love, compassion, fundamental needs, respect, spiritual longing, familial bonding and community fellowship and support.

“It is in the shelter of each other that people live.”

If it is true that we do live in the shelter of each other, and we do not offer shelter to one another, where does that leave us?