Resting By Still Waters

There is still a great deal of processing going on for me. I am still battling demons who repeatedly whisper to me that if I was “stronger”, “more determined” I would recover more quickly. I put up a resistance to these thoughts mostly before sleep or as I awake in the morning. You know, the quieter time of the day when the world is quiet and I am nestled in warmth and comfort.

A few days ago as I was safe in this space of quiet and comfort I remembered the image of still waters reflecting back the treasures and beauty of Nature on the shores that contained them. Various Buddhist and other meditative narratives speak of the meditative mind being like still waters rippling in concentric circles as thoughts are tossed disruptively out like throwing stones into the calm waters. I realized that is what my mind is like these days….on occasion it is still and reflective, while other days it is full of the ripples and disruption of thoughts of feeling impatient, harboring doubt and regrets. Not unlike waters in Nature, my mind is not easily stilled or calmed. One small stone or another always seems to be thrown in from somewhere behind or within me. Whatever reflective, peaceful state I may be in, the waters and mirrored images are sometimes disrupted and ripples begin to distort the reflection.

(photographs by me, Ithaca NY)

Granted, my figurative tossing of stones into the calm waters of my thoughts is my decision, and just like in Nature, there is no true prevention for something causing ripples in the waters or in my thoughts and emotional well being. My reactions to words, events, experiences, other people all create ripples. I then must take  deep centering breath and just like stopping along the shore of a lake to watch the ripples slowly melting back into still waters, I wait for my own thoughts to settle again. If I pause long enough I understand that things are not always tossed into the waters. There are times when the mirrored calmness remains as such, void of disruptions. It is here where I am nurtured and embraced, free of the distortions of the ripples, wrapped in a soft blanket of clarity and focus. This is where I can see the calm waters of my heart and soul. These are the shores where I pause to look out over the waters of my life and find peaceful spaces to observe what is reflected.

Times when the waters are particularly kinetic, I find myself going back to the Metta prayer:

prflg_gr_metta

These words line the path back to the shores where calm waters softly kiss the land. My own thoughts, fears, desires are gently redirected to less turbulent places. My life as reflected back to me by these calm waters is in focus and framed by the eternal clarity and beingness of “just this moment”.

 

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Of Being In The World

“We have places of fear inside of us, but we have other places as well—places with names like trust and hope and faith. We can choose to lead from one of those places, to stand on ground that is not riddled with the fault lines of fear, to move toward others from a place of promise instead of anxiety. As we stand in one of those places, fear may remain close at hand and our spirits may still tremble. But now we stand on ground that will support us, ground from which we can lead others toward a more trustworthy, more hopeful, more faithful way of being in the world.”  ~~Parker Palmer

Horton Bay heron

drawing by me, Kathryn Howlett. Heron in Horton Bay, MI.

We don’t have to “BE” our fears.  You may be  familiar with ” be not afraid” . There are two dozen examples in the Bible.  It doesn’t tell us not to fear. It means we don’t have to “BE” our fears.

‘Fear’ feels like my middle name these days. It follows and haunts me. I feel as if my body and brain have betrayed me with this aneurysm. Some days I feel as if my fears weigh heavily on me and I am sinking. I don’t know how to toss the weight overboard. Sometimes it feels like I am holding on to a bouquet of helium/fear filled balloons and am being swept away and carried here and there with no control. To contemplate letting go of the fear only presents as another fear, falling and crash landing.  So, how do I get across the fault line of fear and to move instead to firmer ground of trust, hope and faith?
I look for places and time in the day where I can stand on steady ground and regain my balance and perspective. From these vantage points I can look out at the world and life around me with hope and trust.
To be aware of these places and times, I have to pause now and then to create a place of non movement and silence or near silence in order to be aware of them and to allow them to come to the forefront of my thoughts. In so doing I move gently towards a place of promise, away from fear.
“Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day 
is the rest we take between two deep breaths.”
Etty Hillesum
Sometimes I close my eyes and listen to music, or just close my eyes in silence. Sometimes I draw. Sometimes I read, but often that makes me think even more!! Focusing on my breath helps. Whatever aid I enlist has to come from a birthing point of awareness. I have to be mindful to create these spaces because they do not always give birth to themselves!!
These spaces of rest and quiet between my breaths nurture something deep inside of me. They set in motion self care and healing .
Within this space come the words and thoughts “Allow this to be a learning experience that you will grow from.” I don’t have to live from the place of, or to be “fear”.
I have to do three things. One, be mindful of the pauses and allow them to bring me a sense of peace and grounding. Two, to rest in those pauses. Three to look around and reach out to those who are near.
There are some days, or moments in the day when I forget and get wobbly and off balance. In those moments I have to call upon “trust” and reach or call out to those near by to steady me or maybe even catch me. It is okay for me to do that. Not only don’t I have to be perfectly balanced all the time, I need to give up the thought of possibly even being balanced all the time.
I am coming to understand that while I may not be able to be even keeled all the time, there is a centering that happens through the awareness itself. When I breathe deeply and regain my balance, there comes an easy awareness of the pause between breaths and I can rest for a time in the presence and grace of that pause. And healing comes forward wrapped in a gentle blanket of quiet, trust, hope and faith. And when I am wrapped in that blanket the whirling of my thoughts slow down, and I am able to “be” in a space of less worry and fear. A place of balance and awareness where allowing just being to be enough.
Awareness allows me to have days that do contain moments of the healing pauses. The softer hours of sunset and sunrise seem to be the more fertile times for the pausing to arise. The slowing breaths, the quieting of the mostly ever present endless commentary of dreams, thoughts and worries, opens the door and allows for the stepping out into quieter, less kinetic places in my mind. And here, not unlike being out in Nature on a mountain top or standing next to the lullaby of ocean waves greeting the sandy beaches, I find myself in the places Parker Palmer refers to : places with names like trust and hope and faith.
Signing off now to go visit one of those places for awhile. Going to reflect on the way I want to choose to “Be” in the world as I recover and recoup.
A previous post: The Pause Between Breaths

Keeping Quiet, a poem

I am basking in the contentment and deep joy of being with family and friends and offer this poem. Hoping you will stop for a moment and keep still.

“KEEPING QUIET”
Pablo Neruda

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.

Fisherman 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,
victories 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.

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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.

—from Extravagaria

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.

The Flow of Blessings

“… the blessing that flows into us
through everything we touch…”

My dad knew many interesting people. Here and there throughout my life, quite a variety of people would come into our lives and home. Many of them became colorful threads that helped to sew together the person I am. They were blessings in my life. Their smiles and hugs, their values and hopes flowed into me and became a part of me. A few of them found a special little niche in my memory. It is the spot I visit often and work to keep the memories there dusted and cherished so they have a chance of staying sharp and crisp. My memories of them are small, and sometimes of silly things. Yet, remembering them and following their lives and stories as I grew up continued to shape and form me.

One such person was Hans Kloppenburg from Germany. I think he was from Bremen. He came to the US  with his family to visit a doctor for his son. This was in the 60’s, and I seem to recall his son had a medical condition and they were looking for guidance that might not have been available in Germany at the time. I don’t really know what the connection was with my dad. Hans was a round and jovial man with a white beard that connected to lamb-chop sideburns. He had a great laugh that sort of echoed around no matter where he was. He brought me two little dolls that I still have. The girl has red pom poms on her hat! He smoked cigars. He smoked cigars sticking straight up out of the bowl of a pipe. I think this was the first time I discovered the creative aspects of pipe cleaners. Years later we visited his family in Germany. His wife taught me how to properly fluff a feather bed each morning.

There was Udar Pinto from Pondicherry India. A not very tall man, bald on top, who emanated love and calm. He was involved in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and tread lightly on this earth. Clearly he not only loved life but rejoiced in all the experiences and experiencing of it no matter how difficult, mundane or manic. His presence added a brightness to everything. When I remember Udar I can smell the jasmine that twisted and twined throughout Pondicherry. If I close my eyes I can see him leaning against a pillar covered with red and orange exotic flowers that were everywhere. A smile on his face. He lived well into his 100’s.

There were the Berrigan brothers…mostly Daniel. Daniel would often come over for dinner. Or donuts. Father Berrigan traveled with Howard Zinn to Hanoi during the Tet Offensive to “receive” three American airmen, the first American POWs released by the North Vietnamese since the US bombing of that nation had begun. Daniel was director of Cornell United Religious Works. He was a member of the Catonsville Nine and was sentenced to Federal Prison for his protests. My dad would visit him often at the Federal Correctional Institute in Danbury Connecticut. One year I painted a peace dove and sent it Daniel at Danbury for Christmas. He never received it. Many years later the envelop found its way back to us, tattered and disintegrating, marked, “Undeliverable”.

Sometimes I brought people home too! One was the an Orthodox priest I introduced myself to in the Cleveland airport while waiting for my brother. Father Anthony occasionally visited an Orthodox church in Lansing and would come over to our house to visit. For many, many years I would receive small packages from around the world as he traveled. Olive-wood beads from Jerusalem. An ivory necklace from what was then the Belgian Congo, now the DRC Democratic Republic of the Congo. We maintained contact for almost 20 years…..

Juliet Hollister was a dynamic, tall woman. When she walked, she flowed. She founded the Temple of Understanding. She was always brimming with energy and love. She believed respect and understanding of cultural and religious diversity was the only way for people to survive together on this planet. She believed social change would bring about the possibility of global citizenship.

Perhaps one of the most significant friends of my father’s was Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk. They maintained a long and nurturing relationship over many decades. They traveled together in Europe and spent hours sitting in our home talking. Almost  two decades after my father’s death, Brother David sent me a picture of the two of them in Europe. (Brother David is the inspiration for the website Gratefulness.org)

Each one of these people ignited something  inside of me. Through the process of knowing them and having them touch my life I received the blessing of each one of them. Hans and his pipe brought me the element of silliness and thinking outside the box. Even though I was very young, I remember feeling bad that Hans could not find what his son needed in their own country…perhaps the first inkling of the developmental disparity among countries. There seemed to be an inequality or differing national priorities. Udar gave me the possibility of calmness, appreciation for the moment and the understanding that we are all a very small part of something much larger. I wonder if people know who Dan Berrigan is any more…..poet, anti war activist, pacifist. He instilled in me that peace is the way we must learn to travel. Father Anthony gave me the world in little gifts. A lesson that no one is too small or insignificant to care about….he had no reason to stay in touch with me for 20 some years as he traveled the world. Juliet made me believe we could become one world, all citizens of the same global community that could honor and respect vibrant, diverse, living cultures and religious freedoms. Brother David gave the blessing of the smile, of being totally present for a person. He brought the power of gratitude and simplicity into my life.

I found this quote the other day and it caused a ray of light to saturate that dusted and honored place in my memory, shining a light on the kindhearted smile of Brother David.

brother david (2)“The more alert we become to the blessing
that flows into us through everything we touch,
the more our own touch will bring blessing.”
Brother David Steindl-Rast

My heart, soul, mind, all of me, needed this reminder. Sometimes we all need to pause and allow ourselves to be alert to things we have forgotten about. Like our blessings. The ones we receive and the ones we give.

Today, please find a moment to pause, to be still and quiet and tune in to the blessings of life and love that flow into you infinite amounts of times each day. Pause to be aware of and honor the blessings you bestow on others all through the day with your concern, your laughter, your interest, your patience, your love, your time, your support, your respect….your taking notice of them.

Our own touch, thoughts, awareness, interactions can bring a blessing to others. How wonderful is that? By being aware of what we receive, we increase the awareness and ease of what we give so freely to others. Compassion. Love. Recognition. Hope. Companionship. Strength. Wonderful, nurturing things! Let’s make time to feel the back and forth flow of human kindness.

*photograph my dad and Brother David around 1959.

Letting The Light In

Tomorrow the Winter Solstice arrives and Earth (in the Northern Hemisphere) will have reached the point of the shortest day. Nature in all its mystery and wonder now prepares for the return of light.

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The word solstice comes from Latin origins, “sol” (sun) and “sistere” (to stand still). For thousands of years this time has been a call to restore our connection to all other living things. To stand in awe of Nature and be reminded of not only the power of the sun, but the life force that it is. It is time to metaphorically turn from dark to light. A time to reflect inwardly and then because of that, be ready once again to open to light and walk in light with a pure heart that has released the old to make way for the new or renewed.

“Light gives of itself freely, filling all available space. 
It does not seek anything in return; it asks not whether you are friend or foe. 
It gives of itself and is not thereby diminished.”
~Michael Strassfeld

As the sun and heavens “stand still” we have a wonderful opportunity to be still also. To stand in awe of the power of Nature, the sun, Life, Light. Of the possibility of seeing and being open our own Light.

“We are each gifted in a unique and important way.
It is our privilege and our adventure
to discover our own special light.” 
~Evelyn Dunbar

A time to understand the brilliant potential in each one of us. Our own Light. Our own gifts. We see them daily in a smile, a kind action. There, in a loving embrace or in the wiping of the tear. We see others glitter and shine in lightness of heart. This does not mean that times of darkness cannot also magnify sight through different light. Sometimes we need the muting darkness to let our eyes adjust to this other Light…

People are like stained-glass windows. 
They sparkle and shine when the sun is out,
but when the darkness sets in their true beauty is revealed
only if there is light from within. 
~Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

When we allow this inner Light to shine, and adjust our eyes to see it, there too we may find what is called the ‘boundless heart’ that is in each one of us. Infinite. Vast. Unlimited. Inexhaustible. No strings attached. And in this standing still, in this waiting for Light to return, and preparing to let it in, we can also allow an opening in our heart as it too is warmed and lit from the Light that is within us all.

“Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world:
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.”
-Sutta Nipata

This boundless heart. The one I am just beginning to let myself be open to. The only one that will change the world. This is what I believe will let Light shine unfiltered. This is what I believe will happen when Light is allowed in. This is what I believe can happen beginning with the Winter Solstice.  If we stand still, and then turn to face the returning Light with an open heart. Our open heart will become a boundless heart.