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

Starfish

“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.”
~Anne Lamott

Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said,
“It made a difference for that one.”
― Loren Eiseley

It’s a big wide world with lots going on. Billions of people all over this pale blue dot wake up to a life of ease or suffering, joy or sorrow. There’s a million things “right” in the world. And a million things “wrong”.

Despair and hope dwell and linger in everyone’s life. Some days we try to close the door against despair. Other days we open the door to hope.

In this story the wise man walking along the beach knows what a huge act of hope and faith he is undertaking tossing star fish, one at a time, back into the ocean in the hopes of offering each one a chance at life. Something inside of him was incredibly strong, calling on him, to act for the benefit of one starfish each time.

 “It made a difference for that one.”

Isn’t that all any of us can do at any one time? Lift each other up one by one. To reach out again and again and to just try our best.

I cannot, even in my dreams, believe I can make much difference in this world. But I do know when I go to work and hug a child, it matters. I know when my husband and I hold each other in joy or sorrow, it matters. I know that my children knowing they have a home to “come home” to matters. I know that when I look someone in the eye and call them on a racist or misogynist comment or joke, that it matters. My taking action, one action at a time, matters.

And I know, like the man on the beach, that each star fish is worth the effort and hope just like I know each person is worth, and deserving of, the same kind of effort and hope.

One by one, even against the odds. It is about what we are called to do. This showing up, this reaching out to lift others up, this hope that is born in the light of love, and hope, and patience that glows in each one of us.

Again, from Loren Eisley:

Looking so, across the centuries and the millennia, toward the animal men of the past, one can see a faint light, like a patch of sunlight moving over the dark shadows on a forest floor. It shifts and widens, it winks out, it comes again, but it persists. It is the human spirit, the human soul, however transient, however faulty men may claim it to be. In its coming man had no part. It merely came, that curious light, and man, the animal, sought to be something that no animal had been before. Cruel he might be, vengeful he might be, but there had entered into his nature a curious wistful gentleness and courage. It seemed to have little to do with survival, for such men died over and over. They did not value life compared to what they saw in themselves — that strange inner light which has come from no man knows where, and which was not made by us. It has followed us all the way from the age of ice, from the dark borders of the ancient forest into which our footprints vanish… Man may grow until he towers to the skies, but without this light he is nothing, and his place is nothing. Even as we try to deny the light, we know that it has made us, and what we are without it remains meaningless.

Let that Light that is in you guide you. Show up. Bend down and toss the starfish back into the ocean in an act of love and kindness. Simply because for that one star fish it made a difference.

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Like those star fish the wise man believed worthy, so is each human being.

*Readings This Week

*NEW!! Little Works in Progress

 

Who Is Listening?

Many years ago, at the Farmer’s Market in Ithaca, my husband and I were slowly wandering from booth to booth soaking in the colors and bounty from local farms. My dearest friend, Connie, was with us as we paused in front of the booth of a local artist, Jim Hardesty. Before us were dozens of Chinese brush paintings….sinuous strokes of ink and pigment transformed into birds and flowers. And, Kwan Yin.

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I felt like she was calling my name. Calling me to invite her into my life.

Kwan Yin, Quan Yin, Kuanyin, Guanyin, Padma-pâni. Her name means

One Who Sees and Hears the Cry from the Human World.

Many of us have felt compassion towards someone else. We feel the pain and suffering of others, especially of those we love deeply. We long, almost ache, to find a way to ease their suffering.

Life is a series of waves coming ashore. There are waves of love, kindness, forgiveness and generosity. And right behind those waves are the waves of violence, division, indifference and cruelty. Lapping the shore. Pushing and pulling on our heart and our fears. Some days we may feel as if we are drowning in our own suffering or in the pain of someone we love. Barely, we keep our head above the waters churning and foaming. Some days we soften, relax, let go and float softly, cradled in a lullaby of the calm waters.

When we turn away from, run from, harden ourselves against that which is painful, we are turning away from that which is a part of life. We can become protective. We may begin to live in fear.

We can, instead, choose to look at that pain and fear and open our heart to compassion. Like a beautiful garden, tended with love from the heart, compassion grows from generosity, wisdom, loving kindness, empathy, equanimity and courage. The fruits and flowers from this garden have the power to heal suffering.

Compassion is a way, a path, of maneuvering through a world and life that brings each one of us beauty and love and well as pain and suffering.

Compassion is not reserved only for those we love and respect. It is also for those who may threaten or frighten us. This is a world full of billions of people we will never know, yet our compassion in thought, and deed must include these people too. There are human beings in the world facing intolerable suffering. Of such magnitude that I will venture to say no one reading this can even imagine the degree of suffering.

Somewhere in all this we have to think about and come to terms with the fact that our ability to heal through compassion walks side by side with our capacity to cause the suffering. And we choose…..we choose and then learn to heal or we increase the divides between us.

Enter Kwan Yin. She is sometimes holding a willow branch, flexible, able to bend and not break, even in the strongest of winds or fiercest of deluge. Other times she has a thousand arms and one, all seeing eye. She is in constant awareness and her response is all embracing. Sometimes she is a warrior brandishing weapons to root out suffering. Mine holds quince blossoms from time immemorial. Kwan Yin hears the cries of our suffering. The suffering of the people of the world. And she reaches out with compassion to heal that suffering.

I know I feel overwhelmed sometimes by the magnitude and breadth of the suffering of people around the world. I don’t, and I don’t believe I can, have the answers. But, I can choose to hear the cries, to listen to the stories, to care. To not run or hid from the suffering of others. In so doing I begin to see “the rest of the story.” The loneliness and fear in and of others, the blame and anger, the mistrust, the intolerance and ignorance. Awareness teaches us how to be helpful through compassion, kindness, strength. It gives rise to understanding and and a desire to bring about the end of suffering.

We don’t have the power to change the hearts of others. We do, however, have the power and responsibility for our own state of mind, the values we carry within our heart. We make the choice to stand hand in hand with those who work endlessly to alleviate the pain of war, disease, hunger, oppression. Or, we walk hand in hand with those who spread fear, mistrust, violence, persecution, revenge.

In order to hear the cries of the world and to find the courage and strength to uplift through compassion we first have to allow our own hearts to be open. We have to look within. We have to close our eyes and listen. To the noise of the world, the cries of those in pain and who are suffering. When we have heard, we open our eyes to see, then we choose what we will do. We take action.

Who is listening?

“later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.”

~Warsan Shire

Who is listening?

Check out this week’s readings:  This Week

About That Box Of Photos Under My Bed

I bet you have one. Maybe it’s not under your bed but perhaps in a closet….a box with dust on top. Filled with faded and curling reminders of moments in your life that were captured through a lens. If you’re like me, there are snapshots that make you laugh until you cry while others leave you pondering, “What the heck is this? I don’t remember this at all!”

I actually have a couple of boxes. The larger box is under my bed and I look through it more often than the other. This box contains a mishmash of memories of childhood friends, college friends. My children. There are photographs of India, Japan and Europe. There are family pictures and pet pictures. There is one of me at 6, floating in a pond in Puerto Rico getting my toes nibbled by little fish…you can see on my face that it tickles. It’s mostly a heart warming box of memories.

The other box is buried deep in the back of the closet. Some of these photographs  are of Belgium. I was there in 1974 to participate in the Second World Conference on Religion and Peace.

“The Second World Conference on Religion and Peace (2nd world assembly) was held at Louvain, Belgium, from August 28 – September 3, 1974. Attended by participants from 50 countries, the general theme of this assembly was “Religion and the Quality of Life.” It was more of a working conference than the 1st assembly, with more time spent in four simultaneous commissions (disarmament and security, economic development and human liberation, human rights and fundamental freedoms, and environment and survival), and in working parties and panel discussions. The Louvain Declaration, adopted overwhelmingly, was widely distributed after the assembly.” ( link Swarthmore Library )

At this conference I met many people I came to love dearly. People of all ages, from countries all over the world and of many religions. This was a breath-taking mosaic of people coming together to build bridges, to foster and work towards understanding and compassion. Young and old, white and Black. Muslim, Christian, Jain, Jewish, Buddhist…and from religions I had never heard of.

There are 4 pictures from that box that I put in the other box. Of people I came to love during that week. Of myself discovering the miracle of a chocolate filled croissant.

louvain

( Belgium, 1974. Yes, there are chocolate croissants in that basket.)

I moved these photographs from one box to the other because in the hidden box are strikingly grey, cold, sterile, pain filled photographs of a Nazi concentration camp.

Breendonk.
You can take a virtual tour here  Virtual Tour of Breendonk

In 1974 I was a 16-year-old white, Christian girl. I had no insecurities in life. I was loved. I had plenty of food, trendy clothing and a comfortable, safe and secure home with a TV, dishwasher, washing machine and dryer, flush toilet and running water. There were lights in every room. In the winter the heat came on. I was healthy. I had a bike, a cat, a dog. I went to school. We had a sail boat, a motor boat and two cars. Family vacations happened several times a year. I was planning to go to college in a few years. I was traveling in Europe. My future would be similar.

Then I met Breendonk.

And a man named Philip Noel-Baker, the 1959 Nobel Peace Prize recipient. He was 89 in 1974.

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The Names Room

I have tried before, and it is really not possible for me to clearly express the feelings and emotions I had walking through the halls, into the cells, standing before the execution site of Breendonk. And this wasn’t even the “worst” of the “Camps”.

It was however a testament to the greatest expression of man’s inhumanity towards his fellow-man. The perfect witness to hatred, power, violence, intolerance, fear, greed and ego.

Looking at the photographs I have of Breendonk causes a visceral reaction in my body.

After our tour of Breendonk we were gathered by our bus, collecting ourselves, our emotions and our things. Someone asked where Philip Noel-Baker was. Another person and I offered to go find him. It meant going back into Breendonk.

We found him in The Names Room. Standing before the urns holding the remains of the prisoners executed at Breendonk. Alone and sobbing.

“I do not understand.” That was all he said.

This was one of those life altering experiences some people talk about. An experience so powerful it is etched deeply and permanently into your heart. Never to be forgotten even if the concrete memory of it is delegated to a box tucked into the back corners of a closet.

Friday, two days ago,  was International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

In 1939 the United States closed it’s doors and refused thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing the nightmare that was the Nazi regime. Shunned, abandoned, deemed unacceptable, they were forced to return to the remaining countries that had accepted them before, and would accept them back. Unsure of and fearful for their future. Hundreds of these rejected souls were subsequently murdered by the Nazi’s. In total, the Holocaust witnessed 6 million human beings exterminated by the Nazis. 1.5 million of those were children.

The Holocaust.

“destruction or slaughter on a mass scale”

The International Day of Remembrance was created to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust. It represented the call to stand in unity with the promise of Never Again. This day of honoring and remembering was Friday.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day 

On Friday President Trump closed the doors to the United States again and has forbidden the entry of thousands of refugees fleeing for their lives. They are fleeing war, torture, genocide, famine. Running from a high probability of death. Things most of you reading this can not with any sense of reality comprehend.

It has happened again. On the day dedicated to remembering and never forgetting.

We have forgotten.

donate

Speak out. Do not be silent.

As of this writing the Federal Court temporarily stayed/froze President Trump’s executive order.

 

New Year Resolution

My hope for the new year is that it be filled with healing. That we have the courage and commitment to every each and every one of us on this earth to look around and see we have to do things differently. For each other. We must do something. I know there is much that is good and beautiful in the world. I see both every day. I feel, see, hear the goodness, the kindness, the beauty. Hopefully I also help to contribute the existence of both. And yet….

I watched some old movies over vacation. From the 40’s and 50’s. I feel, in many ways, we are in the same place with some things. I’m talking about the things that haven’t improved, changed. I’m talking about the same social prejudices and oppression. The same racial profiling. The same stereotyping. We still try to fix things through violence and killing, bullying and punishing. We still live in fear. We still discriminate because of many things. It appears we haven’t gotten very far.

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I find the different responses to this blog interesting. There is the group who says, “Wow, so serious. Lighten up. It’s all good. Just let it go.” Another suggests I not be political. There is a smaller group that keeps saying “I am so sorry you are hurting so much.” The largest group says, “Thank you for inspiring me and making me think. Thank you for challenging me.” And, there it is….I hear people don’t want to talk politics, or to be serious. I hear lighten up, EVERYTHING is good…just let go, don’t worry. I hear that “hurting” is sad. I hear I may inspire others.

I will be political because that is what governs us as a whole. So many of us are left behind. Invisible. Ignored. I am serious and I will not lighten up or let go of feeling empathy and compassion for those suffering, in pain and being oppressed and held down. I do hurt and I think that is a good thing, not something  I or others should feel sad about. I care. I hope I do inspire people…even a little bit. Someone said something very powerful to me a little ways back, they said “You make me think about things differently.” That’s all I want to do. You don’t have to agree with me. Just think. Learn something new that doesn’t play into your confirmation biases. I work hard every day to try to check in on these for myself…it is very difficult, but so important.

Now here we are at the dawn of a new year. We’ll celebrate in infinite amounts of ways from drunken stupors to running for life as homes are being bombed. Some will watch a loved one die tonight, while somewhere else a new life will burst forth and cry the air into his or her lungs. Many of us will pause and be grateful. Thankful. Many of us will cry out.

Some of us will light bon fires and throw pieces of the past year into the flames to symbolically release them from our lives for ever. Some will sing and dance and honor Nature. Some of us will make a list including the promise to loose weight, eat better, give up something, make time for ourselves, travel, do something new.

Me? I am going to use this poem to guide me through the new year.

Kiss the Earth

Walk and touch peace every moment.
Walk and touch happiness every moment.
Each step brings a fresh breeze.
Each step makes a flower bloom.
Kiss the Earth with your feet.
Bring the Earth your love and happiness.
The Earth will be safe
when we feel safe in ourselves.

~by Thich Nhat Hanh

My resolution is to use this poem to ground me daily. With every step, to kiss the Earth.

For my action, I will use Thay’s poem as my centering prayer, my chant, as I go through my day. To be mindful of each step. As it kisses the Earth.  To walk with awareness and find and touch peace. To walk with awareness and touch happiness. To bring the Earth my love and happiness combined with concern and care. To work towards all of feeling safe in and with ourselves so the Earth will be safe too.

I am also choosing one word to be my lamp lighting the way through the year. I will carry it with me throughout the day, as a reminder of my intentions.

My word is “open”. My intention is to be open. Open to Empathy. To Compassion. To Truth. To Hope. To the stories of all. To not shut myself off to the suffering and sorrow in the world. To be open. To not turn away. To bear witness.

I’d really like to hear from you. Tell me your hopes for the new year.

As always, a link to what I’ve been reading:  This Week

 

 

Favorites

I’ve started three different posts and cannot finish any of them.

Recently I was contacted by a woman who told me she read my posts on India to her mother and that her mother had cried. Her mom had not returned to India since leaving as a child. In hearing her daughter read my posts, her mom was transported back to the India she remembered as a child.

There is almost too much going on for me in the world right now. Processing and understanding takes longer.

I know I grew as a compassionate, caring person through my travels and living and sharing with people with different values, religion and upbringing than what I had. I became more thoughtful, less fearful, more open. Embracing and rejoicing in differences was easy. It was about respect, love, interest, faith, hope, understanding.

I feel like we are loosing that idea. That possibility. Of becoming richer, in all senses, and wiser through embracing diversity. Fear and isolation are taking hold and it hurts my heart.

So here are two of my past favorites and most popular:

Every Single Day

Be Soft

we-are-all-visitors