Sitting on a Bench

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

highbanks1mh

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

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

Nourished

Sometimes I forget. I forget I need to be nourished. I forget I am no different from any other living thing. There are things I must have to thrive, to blossom, to succeed.

suna

Sunrise, March 3, 2027

Sometimes I forget. I forget I need a specific kind of nourishment. I put time and tender thought into living with certain intentions: to be loving, to be kind, to be compassionate, to be considerate, to be humble. I put time and tender thought into my job. Yet, it is so easy to forget I need to put the same, if not more, time and tender thought into remembering to be aware of, to feel the cycle of my breathing, the beating of my own heart and the tiny pauses between both. Those pauses, felt only in the fleeting moments of stillness and silence are the source of my nourishment. My source of renewal. Of healing. Of remembering.

“Even the smallest shift in perspective can bring about the greatest healing.”
~
Joshua Kai

Sometimes I forget about restoration. My restoration happens in those quiet, transitory pauses when I am able step out of the busy-ness of life and step away from “important” things and return to that which is timeless. My restoration happens when I am aware of the breath I take, when I feel the wondrous, rhythmic beating of my heart. It happens when I listen to my soft-spoken inner voice that has a connection to that which is in a symbiotic relationship with the world, the universe. Something eternal. Here, in this restorative process I have the chance to be reminded of and reconnect with my heart’s calling.

The nourishment of my “being” is about balance. It is about finding the balance that includes stillness and silence walking in unison with my daily life. It is about acute awareness of those pauses that ensure my heart will be open in order to love and serve others, but also to love and serve myself.

“The warm and radiant yes of the heart is perfect, like the sun,
in bringing all things to life and nourishing all that is truly human.”
~John Welwood

What I’ve been reading:  This Week

Words We Need

There are a lot of words being spoken and written these days. At times it is difficult to turn some of that noise off.

In between those words, there are whole languages that are disappearing. There are 7,000 languages spoken around the world. Languages with words that convey hopes and dreams, love and beauty, fear and anger to one another. Language. The power of words.

I encourage you to read this beautiful article :The Last Word: Protecting Our Vanishing Languages

“Imagine knowing that within a few decades,
every beautiful turn of a phrase,
every poem that stirs your heart will be
unintelligible noise
to everyone on Earth.”
~ from the article

Here are some inspiring words from some shrinking, forgotten, slowly dying languages that might be of benefit to us, especially those so very concerned about our country and world right now.

What word speaks to you?

Hózhó from the Navajo language. “Striving for balance in life, towards oneself, others and the earth.”

Wantok from the Tok Pisin language, Papua New Guinea. ” The community where I find belonging: we speak the same language and are responsible for each other.”

Woohitike from the Lakota, North and South Dakota, US. “The brave and courageous spirit that lies in every person.”

Piliriqatigiinniq Inuktitut, Canada. “Togetherness, community spirit. Working together for the common good.”

 Fago Ifaluk, Ifaluk Island, Pacific Ocean. “A combination of sorrow and the optimism to be found in human compassion”

honoring-you-namasteWhat are the words we need to think about using now? Today. To heal. To support and uplift. To express compassion. To encourage empathy. To commit to respect, inclusion, acceptance. To temper greed and power. To foster possibility and hope. To strive for knowledge, demand information and fact. To allow for any one of us to be Christian or Muslim, gay or straight, Black or white. To remember….we are all human beings on one fragile earth.

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
~
Mahatma Gandhi

Discover more inspiring words here : Inspiring Words

Check out recent readings: This Week

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.

 

Rest In The Grace Of The World

                                                                    The Peace Of Wild Things

heron2When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
~Wendell Berry

This is a favorite poem of mine. I come back to often, looking at the written words. Saying them out loud. Bringing them into my heart. It’s all there. All around us. The reminder of what matters. What the foundation is. A path that leads to resting in the grace of the world.

There are some days when I do feel as if I am waiting for the light of the day-blind stars. For me there is comfort in the star light of night. It is in the darkness with what appear as tiny specks reflecting light from an unseen source, that I feel small, not so important….where I experience awe, wonder, amazement in the most profound way. The world becomes quiet. Harshness softens. Reflection and gratitude have their time.

Now, obviously, given the title of the blog, I appreciate the sunrise also….that is when I wake up in awe, and listen to bird song, watch colors that cannot be recreated float across the sky. My mind wakes up and thoughts percolate. I have the feeling of being something very tiny in a world, in universe that is very large. Nature. It is Nature where I experience the sublime. This is what is holy, spiritual for me. Standing outside with the wind giving voice to the leaves, softly brushing my skin, feeling the heat of the sun or the seeing by the light of the moon, I am reminded over and over again


“we all dwell in a house of one room…”

~John Muir

There is grace enough for all of us in this world. Sometimes we have to stop, slow down, stop thinking in order to see it. To feel it. To know it. And sometimes we need to reach out and help others stop, slow down, stop talking to see it. Feel it. Know it.

We have to step out of world of important things. We have to stop the movement, the doing. We have to turn off the noise, the music, the computer, the phone. We have to figure out how to “……..go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.”

Here, resting in the beauty we have a chance to find clarity and balance. These two things are so needed in our world today. When your back is flat against the earth and you have to close your eyes to the brilliance of the sun and your skin feels the heat, all that heals you. The music in your ears, the rythym of the rippling water and the singing birds, is the most beautiful music there is.

Go now, go and lie down. Rest in the peace of the wild things.

A Gift of the Highest Nature

We are all familiar with asking a friend to “save a spot” for us, or requesting someone to “hold a space” for us. But what about holding interpersonal, emotional spaces and spots for others?

3 26 two2

 (Sunrise March 26, 2015)

I recently read a wonderful article on the Courage and Renewal Facebook page that begins with thoughts on palliative care and the idea of “holding space” for someone. It then moves on to the idea of holding space in our lives, our being, for anyone. (The link will be at the end of this piece.)

Holding space for someone.

“Holding Space” means holding space in your being, your life, your heart, where someone else can enter and be safe, free of judgment and hurry. It means allowing there to be space for someone else to feel and be vulnerable. A space for them to process whatever needs to be processed: grief, sorrow, anger, fear.  Anything that may cause someone to feel broken, tender, raw.

Why? Because we are all fragile. Flawed. We all feel frightened, saddened, embarrassed. Maybe even shamed.

James Tolles breaks down the art of holding space into four key components: “Letting go of judgement, Opening your heart, Allowing another to have whatever experience they’re having, and Giving your complete undivided attention to the situation/other person.”

Letting go of judgement: no thought of what the other person should have or should not have done. No thought of right or wrong.

Open your heart: just open it up. Let the other person in. Let them know you’ve let them in. Care enough to be present to them.

“However we do it,
when we hold space for someone in need,
we are offering a gift of the highest nature.”
Daily Om

Allowing the other person to have their own experience: It’s not about you. Put your ego in the closet. Just listen to their story and let it be theirs alone. It is not about you.

Giving your complete, undivided attention to the other: Don’t take the phone call. Don’t make an excuse to leave. Be there.

Why? Because we have the ability for compassion and empathy. We have the capacity to want to make  things better for others. Because we can make a difference in the life of someone else. It is our humanness.

Of course our first responsibility is to hold space for ourselves. We have to cradle and nurture our own being.

And then, we open our hearts and create space for those who come into our lives. A place for them to know that here they will always find a little space, protected and respected, to mend and rest. A place to pick up pieces from whatever has broken: a heart, a life, a dream, a boundary, faith, hope, belief, purpose, will, security……

I know many people who have experienced and suffered almost unimaginable things in life. I know many people who have been blessed with a good life and admit to not having experienced too many difficult times. But every person hurts. Every person has doubt. We all feel sorrow, grief, deep joys, love.

Every one of us has had a time, or will have a time when we stumble and fall. Maybe we trip over a shattered dream, or the loss of someone we have loved deeply. Maybe we have experienced betrayal or shaming, abuse or injury. Maybe our life has been rattled to it’s core and all that seemed secure is gone.  Perhaps our whole world has not only been turned upside down but shaken so vigorously we fear we might fall off.

Our common humanity calls us to hold space for others. Our humanness requires us to protect and shield those who are suffering, hurting, lost, afraid.

“May I be the healing medicine for all who are sick.
May I bring healing to myself and others.”
Buddhist Dedication

http://heatherplett.com/2015/03/hold-space/

http://www.couragerenewal.org/