Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Come in from the cold

There stands, on my mantle, a lovely wooden angel with wire wings, her head tilted slightly up, her hands outstretched, not in supplication but in receptivity. She is often the last thing I see before I close my eyes in meditation, and I've often imagined myself in the same posture as I move into that receptive space.

But this morning I realized that yet another piece of what I know in my head has not yet planted itself in my heart. Because that receptive posture, charming and humble though it may be, still implies that the Divine is something that exists outside and above me. I have been, for these last few months, trudging through the cold, watching my breath, breathing in the divine spirit as if furnishing an empty cabin: I never stopped to notice the light within, never really internalized at the heart level what my head has known for some time to be true, that this space is already occupied.

Perhaps it was only this wintry darkness, this sense of having been out in the cold, that has finally allowed me to see at a deeper level that the light and peace, warmth and hope I've been longing for is already there waiting for me.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Reaching for the color

Several years ago a friend whose son is rather a handful told us he'd taken the boy to stay at a farm for the weekend.

The boy, who was in his early teens at the time, had grown up surrounded by electronic gadgets and video games, and had a great deal of trouble adapting to an environment which had none of those attractions, no TV's, and no computers.

After a time the increasingly frustrated teen apparently threw a tantrum, and the phrase he kept screaming over and over was this: "I am not in my happy place! I am not in my happy place!"

Remembering that incident, I am struck again by the aching poignancy of that cry. There is a self-awareness in it, an attempt to articulate a frustration that remains wordless in many of us.

But what makes it particularly sad is our understanding that his awareness of self is clearly not yet balanced with an awareness of reality, of other, of place, culture, or responsibility; with the discovery that not only do we not always get to live in our "happy place," but that for the most part society doesn't really care if we're not in that space.

My mother-in-law once informed me that the job of a parent is to civilize her children. The dictionary defines civilize as "to cause to develop out of a primitive state," but for her that meant raising children to be responsible, cooperative, productive, contributing members of society. The primitive state, as she defined it, was self-centered; the civilized state would be other-centered. And the sad thing is that many of us civilized folk are as out of touch with our self centers as that young boy was with the realities of civilization.

I got lucky this morning. I began reading Cynthia Bourgeault's book, The Wisdom Jesus, and for some reason my meditation period this morning was clearer, less cluttered, more like a "happy place." And for me that means that there were moments in the time that were filled with color.

Color has always been a key indicator for me: as I have mentioned before in this column, I am a synaesthete, so in my world words and letters and thoughts and dreams all have characteristic colors. Which means that when I am making decisions, I have learned over time to select the choice which comes draped in color; to walk away from the browns and the grays. And meditation lately has been definitely mired in browns and grays, so it was a delight to find the rainbow again, if only for a moment.

The trick is to understand that sometimes the only way to the color is THROUGH the browns and grays. And how can we ever know when to leave and when to play through; which colors are false and which colors are true? As I watch my marriage and my meditation practice both cycling through their seasons of dark and light, dullness and color, I also watch my friends as they progress through jobs and relationships, and I find myself aching both for those who leave too soon, always drawn to the appearance of color elsewhere, and for those who stay too long and forget there even IS color.

Somehow we need to find the balance -- between dark and light, between colors and grays, between self and other -- because I think it may be in that balance that the truest, richest, deepest, most saturated colors live. And I suspect that working to achieve that balance is not just the work of a parent -- it's the work of a lifetime.

Monday, December 29, 2008

When restlessness seeps in...

Here, resting on a sand bar in the part of Shaw Island known as Squaw Bay, sits a decrepit old boat whose name declares her to be The Bedouin.

She is indeed a wanderer: she was a British boat, built in the 60's if memory serves, and had a lot of ocean sailing under her twin keels when we bought her in 1987 with the proceeds from an unexpected inheritance.

We kept her on Lake Champlain in Burlington Vermont for a year or so, and then trailered her out to Seattle when we moved out here in 1988, sleeping in her along the way to save hotel bills, then installed her at a somewhat disreputable marina on Seattle's Duwamish River.

After moving out west, we had a few exciting adventures with her, ending in a rather spectacular engine failure that resulted in an attempt to sail through the Ballard Locks and under the 520 bridge. But by then both of us were working and raising kids and it soon became clear that we had neither the time nor the energy to maintain or sail her, and eventually we sold her to a friend on Shaw for a dollar.

My guess is she had a few more adventures before she finally came home to roost in Squaw Bay, where she now sits, balanced slightly tipsily on those same two ocean-loving keels that once kept her steady in the storms, and adds her own unique charm to the view. I suspect, though I can't know for sure, that her fate will parallel that of other similar elderly boats that dot the shoreline around the island: she's in for the long haul, decorating the landscape until old age or fierce storms carry her away.

Like the Bedouin, most of us have weathered lots of seas and storms before we go into that final settling down. And far from offending, the scars of all those travels give us character, evoking memories of a life well lived and a purpose served. But those of us who are built to sail will inevitably find the transition to the more sedentary role a challenge. How gracefully do we negotiate that passage from functional to symbolic, from torchbearer to beacon, from sailor to old salt?

And writing this now, in the season of Christmas, I can't help thinking of Irving Berlin's classic White Christmas, which we watched again as a family on Christmas Eve. There are always teary moments, but this year they came in two places: first with the words of a song:

"What do you do with a general
when he stops being a general,
Oh, what do you do with a general who retires?"

and then, as always, at the moment when the general marches down the stairs of the inn. Everyone stands and salutes, and he plays his old role, marching down the ranks and chewing them out; then stops, turns, and says with tears in his eyes that they are the most beautiful sight he has ever seen.

Perhaps this is the root of that post-Christmas malaise: it's all tangled up with the fact that another year is over and a new one is about to begin, and will bring with it changes, shifts, losses, gains, and inevitably new roles to play. We sit, waiting tipsily on the cusp of the year, hoping to draw on and realize old skills while knowing new things will be required of us as we learn to cope with whatever is to come.

No wonder restlessness seeps in...

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Spiritual greed

I don't remember filing this image in my folder of contemplative images, but when I found it this morning it resonated with this poem I read today in Joyce Rupp's Prayers to Sophia:

Stream of Enduring Love,
I yearn to have a feeling of oneness with you.
I wish I felt a driving passion, an insatiable thirst.
Instead, there's just this steady hum of fidelity,
with an occasional flicker of intense longing.

Each day I deliberately place myself
in the midst of your stream of enduring love.
I want so much to feel spiritual refreshment,
to have your divine passion sweep over me
with the power of an energizing waterfall.

Stream of Enduring Love,
I must let go of my desire to desire.
You provide for what I need.
You keep my heart alive in your love.
More than this I do not need,
but my ego clamors greedily for more.

I will rest in the stream of your goodness,
let your enduring love quietly wash over me,
be grateful for all that I have.
I will quiet that incessant voice in me
that whines for something more.

Rupp refers to the emotion expressed in this poem as "spiritual greed," which seems a perfect way to describe this restless longing for peace. I know there is a lovely pure flower of serenity in there somewhere, but I just can't seem to fight my way through the weeds right now.

The blessing of memory is that I know this feeling well, and know it always arises at this time of year: it's one reason I have for so many years planned a retreat for January. And I find, as I sit in the midst of all these mental weeds, that the memories of all those past retreats sparkle like glimpses of refreshing water. I know the peace will come again, and must be content for now with the memory of that.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Housebound and restless

Lovely as all this snow has been, I don't seem to take much pleasure in it as a photographer. It's odd, because I do love other people's photos of the snow. And I do appreciate -- very much -- black and white photography, which is essentially what snow pictures seem to become.

It may be the lack of mobility: because snow is so rare here, our roads are never adequately plowed. And because our half of the sandspit has 10 speedbumps in the space of as many houses, it never gets plowed at all.

One neighbor who attempted to drive out got stuck almost immediately and had to be pushed back home; another slipped on the ice leaving work last week and broke his hip. So I haven't been out since the first day of the storm, and most of my photos have been taken through kitchen or living room windows.

All of which, despite the rush of creative juices that were flowing just before Christmas, now seems to leave me feeling restless and unfocused, longing for the peace and the color I normally find in meditation, but unable to reach that objective. Perhaps it's just the post-Christmas letdown, or maybe it's the relentlessly negative news pouring into my ears from the radio that's almost always on when my husband is home.

But what I actually suspect is that Cynthia Bourgeault and the Benedictine monks are right: we need to balance the meditative exercise with physical exercise; to stimulate the body, bones and muscles as well as the heart and mind. Which may be borne out by the fact that the best snow pictures I've taken since this storm hit were the ones I took while out walking. Observing from a safe perspective can be good, but, for me at least, it's the actual engagement with life that seems to produce the more cogent insights.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Helpless, helpless, he-elpless

Years ago we had a contractor working for us who had a sticker on the back of his truck which read "Lord, let me be half the man my dog thinks I am."

I suppose there are lots of ways one could interpret this bumper sticker, but for the moment I'll just concentrate on one. It seemed to me yesterday, as I photographed this look on the face of my Polish sheepdog, that there were lots of people -- and animals -- needing things from me.

The hard part was not that I didn't want to give it; what really was disturbing was that I didn't seem to be able to know what it was they wanted or needed. Or in some cases I knew but just wasn't capable of providing it.

I feel particularly helpless at times like this. I can guess what might be needed -- and in Nemo's case, I suspect he was desperate for a walk -- but what he really wanted was for the street to be clear and easy to walk, so he could indulge himself, sniffing all the bushes along the way. And the fact is that all those bushes were covered with snow, and neither of us could get more than a few feet before giving up and going back home.

Christmas often leaves me feeling this way: I long to be able to give the gifts my loved ones need and deserve, but I can't always know what that might be, and sometimes circumstances -- like our inability to leave the house for the last few shopping days before Christmas -- prohibit my being able to follow through.

This morning I read that "there is no way to the true Self except the narrow way of renouncing all the false selves of the ego-system. What is left when I have let go everything that I am not is who I truly am."

So perhaps this sense of failure, of not being able to live up to my expectations of myself, is a good thing, another step along the road to oneness with the Divine. If I could accept that I cannot be half the man my dog -- or anyone else -- thinks I am, perhaps I might come closer to being more me and less a reflection of what my ego thinks all those external forces need me to be.

That's the hope, anyway. But for some reason an old book title comes to mind: "I'll Get There, It Better Be Worth the Trip." I guess that's my resistance speaking...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas Day: Still, Still, Still

I would like to dedicate today's post to all those for whom stillness means the manger is still empty; for all who woke this morning to find that the child or spouse is still gone, the job is still tenuous or terminated, the money for the next house or car payment or grocery bill still hasn't appeared, the illness is still there, the stockings are still empty, the snow still blocks the exit, or the hurt and pain of life still loom large despite all the promises this season appears to make. I pray the light will shine anyway, somehow, somewhere, and you will find some peace and hope in this day.

Readings for today:
Psalms 96, 97
Psalm 98
Isaiah 9:2-4, 6-7
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-14

Advent: Christmas Eve

Readings for today:

Psalms 45, 46
Psalm 89:1-29
Isaiah 35:1-10
Philippians 2:5-11
Luke 1:67-80

Friday, December 19, 2008

Advent: Tuesday, Week 4

Readings for today:

Psalms 66, 67
Psalms 116, 117
Isaiah 11:10-16
Revelations 20:11-21:8
Luke 1:5-25

Advent: Monday, Week 4

Readings for today:

Psalms 61,62
Psalms 112, 115
Isaiah 11:1-9
Revelations 20:1-10
John 5:30-47

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Advent: Sunday, Week 4

Readings for today:

Psalms 24, 29
Psalms 8, 84
Isaiah 42:1-12
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 3:16-21

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Advent: Saturday, Week 3

Readings for today:

Psalm 55
Psalms 138, 139:1-17
Isaiah 10:20-27
Jude 17-25
Luke 3:1-9

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Advent: Friday, Week 3

Readings for today:

Psalms 40, 54
Psalm 51
Isaiah 10:5-19
2Peter 2:17-22
Matthew 11:2-15

Advent: Thursday, Week 3

Readings for today:

Psalm 50
Psalm 33
Isaiah 9:18 - 10:4
2Peter 2:10-16
Matthew 3:1-12

Monday, December 15, 2008

Advent: Wednesday, Week 3

Readings for today:

Psalm 119:49-72
Psalm 49
Isaiah 9:8-17
2Peter 2:1-10a
Mark 1:1-8

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Advent: Tuesday, Week 3

Readings for today:

Psalm 45
Psalms 47,48
Isaiah 9:1-7
2Peter 1:12-21
Luke 22:54-69

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Advent: Monday, Week 3

Readings for today:

Psalms 41, 52
Psalm 44
Isaiah 8:16 - 9:1
2Peter 1:1-11
Luke 22:39-53

Advent: Sunday, Week 3

Readings for today:

Psalms 63:1-8 (9-11), 98
Psalm 103
Isaiah 13:6-13
Hebrews 12:18-29
John 3:22-30

Friday, December 12, 2008

Advent: Saturday, Week 2

Readings for today:

Psalms 30, 32
Psalms 42, 43
Isaiah 8:1-15
2Thessalonians 3:6-18
Luke 22:31-38

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Advent: Friday, Week 2

Readings for Today:

Psalm 31
Psalm 35
Isaiah 7:10-25
2Thessalonians 2:13 - 3:5
Luke 22:14-30

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Advent: Thursday, Week 2

Readings for Thursday, Week 2 of Advent:
Psalm 37:1-18
Psalm 37:19-42
Isaiah 7:1-9
2Thessalonians 2:1-12
Luke 22:1-13

Monday, December 8, 2008

Advent: Wednesday, Week 2

Readings for today:

Psalm 38
Psalms 119:25-48
Isaiah 6:1-13
2Thessalonians 1:1-12
John 7:53 - 8:11

Advent: Tuesday, Week 2

Readings for today:

Psalm 26,28
Psalms 36,39
Isaiah 5:13-17,24-25
1Thessalonians 5:12-28
Luke 21:29-38

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Advent: Monday, Week 2

Show me your ways, O Lord,
and teach me your paths.

Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
in you have I trusted all the day long.

Psalm 25:3

Readings for Today:
Psalm 25
Psalms 9,15
Isaiah 5:8-12,18-23
1Thessalonians 5:1-11
Luke 21:20-28

Head of the Year

by Marge Piercy

The moon is dark tonight, a new
moon for a new year. It is
hollow and hungers to be full.
It is the black zero of beginning.

Now you must void yourself
of injuries, insults, incursions.
Go with empty hands to those
you have hurt and make amends.

It is not too late. It is early
and about to grow. Now
is the time to do what you
know you must and have feared
to begin. Your face is dark
too as you turn inward to face
yourself, the hidden twin of
all you must grow to be.

Forgive the dead year. Forgive
yourself. What will be wants
to push through your fingers.
The light you seek hides
in your belly. The light you
crave longs to stream from
your eyes. You are the moon
that will wax in new goodness.

Advent: Sunday, Week 2

Readings for today:

Psalm 148,149,150
Psalms 114,115
Isaiah 5:1-7
2Peter 3:11-18
Luke 7:28-35

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Advent: Saturday, Week 1

Readings for today:

Psalm 20,21:1-7 (8-14)
Psalms 110:1-5 (6-7), 116, 117
Isaiah 4:2-6
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Luke 21:5-19

Friday, December 5, 2008

Advent: Friday, Week 1

This morning's readings brought this picture to mind, though I have used it here before. Here are three different ways of looking at it: In the first, we are one with the woman, knowing God's care for us through her sorrow. In the second, we see a crushing indictment of the practices that brought her to this place. And in the third we see the redemptive nobility in her suffering.

For he does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty;
neither does he hide his face from them;
but when they cry to him he hears them.

Psalm 22:23

O my people, your leaders mislead you,
and confuse the course of your paths.
The Lord...stands to judge his people.
the Lord enters into judgment with the elders and princes of his people:
"It is you who have devoured the vineyard,
the spoil of the poor is in your houses.
What do you mean by crushing my people,
by grinding the face of the poor?"
says the Lord God of hosts.

Isaiah 3:12-15

He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury; and he saw a poor widow put in two copper coins. And he said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all the living that she had."
Luke 21:1-4

Readings for today:

Psalm 16,17
Psalms 22
Isaiah 3:8-15
1 Thessalonians 4:1-12
Luke 20:41-21:4

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Advent: Thursday, Week 1

Readings for today:

Psalm 18:1-20
Psalms 18: 21-50
Isaiah 2:12-22
1 Thessalonians 3:1-13
Luke 20: 27-40

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Advent: Wednesday, Week 1

Readings for today:

Psalm 119:1 - 24
Psalms 12,13 and 14
Isaiah 2:1 - 11
1 Thessalonians 2:13 - 20
Luke 20: 19-26

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Advent: Tuesday, Week 1

Readings for Today:

Psalms 5 and 6
Psalms 10 and 11
Isaiah 1:21 - 31
1 Thessalonians 2:1-12
Luke 20: 9-18

Advent: Monday, Week 1

Readings for today:

Psalms 1,2 and 3
Psalms 4 and 7
Isaiah 1:10 - 20
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Luke 20: 1-8

Advent begins: Sunday, Week 1

One challenge I face in writing this blog is that my morning meditation sometimes gets consumed by thoughts of "What shall I write today?"

I see that, on the first Saturday of Advent, there is a clear response to this in Luke, chapter 21, verses 14-15:

Settle it therefore in your minds, not to meditate beforehand how to answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom.

In order to spend some time honoring questions rather than answers, I have decided that for the next 4 weeks I will take on the daily readings for Advent, selecting a verse for each day and pairing a photo with it. I hope to keep my own observations to a minimum, so that the blog may take its shape from the readings for the season.

So today I begin with the readings for Sunday, the First Day of Advent, from the Daily Office Year One in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.

The Morning Psalms for today are 146 and 147.
The Evening Psalms are 111, 112, and 113.
The Old Testament Lesson Is Isaiah 1:1-9
The Epistle is 2 Peter 3:1-10
The Gospel is Matthew 25: 1-13

Unexpected shoals

For whatever reason, I woke up feeling vulnerable this morning: unfocused, unsure, undefended, anxious... It was more a body feeling than a mind feeling; as if I hadn't gotten enough sleep, or if my body chemistry was off in some way. But it was interesting to watch where my mind went with these feelings -- definitely off into some old tapes; definitely some replay action.

And then, in my study group this morning, it became apparent that several of us were left with some unresolved "stuff" from Thanksgiving. Discussing some of the difficult interactions various folks had experienced, one wise friend said something that jolted me back awake: "I figure, if I ask if there's something I did that upset them, and they say no, then I did my part and I can let it go." Hearing that, I realized I had asked the same question -- did I do something wrong? -- and had gotten the same response -- no, I'm fine, it's all okay -- but for some reason I was stuck in the second-guessing, worrying zone: did she mean it? Will this come back to bite me? Why didn't I handle that differently? Was I being manipulated?

So I asked my wise friend: how do you get to the point where you let go, and the woman said, "Oh, I study a lot of Buddhism, and I understand that we create our own suffering; I just choose not to play those tapes."

Oh, right. Duh. That's exactly what I was doing, allowing my own insecurities to tie me up in knots. I know better, or at least I thought I did, but I got so caught up in the drama that I didn't even notice -- which is the other bad part about those vulnerable days: it's like I forget everything I know about how to deal. It's pretty humbling, actually.

Sigh. More grist for the mill.

So why this picture?

Because it looks so safe and solid: the boat is home, tied up, resting. But that's not what the boat was made to do: it may be safe, sitting on land, but it's tipping, unsteady; it's not in its native element. No wonder I was feeling off-balance: I'd somehow gone aground, tripped up on what one skipper calls "a nasty bit of underwater topography." Because the real problem here was not whether or not the other person in this interaction was okay. The real problem is my own need to "do it right", to be loved, and my own sense that if I do it wrong all hell will break loose.

Hmm. I'd forgotten I was still carrying those treacherous subliminal shoals... or perhaps I just hadn't noticed the tide was running low.

Good to know, I guess. But now what? Do I just wait till the tide rises again so I can float off this little sandbar? Or should I untie the boat and wade right out into the depths?

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Space Within

While in Arizona we visited Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright's winter home and school, set in the desert hills outside of Phoenix. This quote from Laotse, inscribed in brass on the wall of a small theater in the Taliesin complex, reads: "The Reality of the building does not consist in roof and walls but in the space within to be lived in."

I am reading Charlotte Joko Beck again this morning, and she talks about how we allow our thirsts to define us: our thirst for a mate, or for perfect children, or for a bigger home or a better job; our thirst for fame, or fortune, for beauty or even for enlightenment -- all these thirsts get in the way of happiness and freedom.

And it seems to me that these thirsts, like Lao-Tse's walls and roof, like the body itself, do not make up the reality of life. What is truly real, what truly defines our sense of well-being, is not that which is exterior to us but rather the life we live in the space within.

If all our thoughts and energies are focused on anger, or revenge -- on getting, or acquiring, or achieving; on worrying, or longing, or hurting -- the space within will be cluttered and claustrophobic, forcing us to depend more and more on what is outside of us. It is only when we stop to breathe, when we step into the silence and release our obsessive thoughts of past and future hurts and hopes, that we are able to open up the space within -- allowing it to breathe, allowing freedom and movement of thought without getting stuck or attached in a single pattern -- that we find the peace, joy, and acceptance that bring true happiness.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Atonement as At-one-ment: Breaking the Cycle

For some time now I have known that there is a cycle that plays out in me: I get hurt, I get angry, and then I feel guilty. I never really thought about it much, except to be aware enough to realize that any time I act on the anger I'll be left with the guilt -- and to know that -- and I always thought this was my fate, having been raised as a protestant -- guilt seems to be as natural to me as breathing. Not necessarily good, you understand, just... there. It's probably the root of all the times I say I'm sorry.

This morning, having been restored after a four day hiatus to my morning ritual of strong coffee, reading, and meditation, I have realized that there is a fourth step in this cycle, and it is not apologizing (which may explain why I can't seem to break out of the cycle) it is atonement.

I always thought of atonement as a sort of creepily Catholic term, having to do with self-flagellation, sackcloth and ashes, that sort of thing. But that's not the sort of atonement I'm talking about here. What I realized this morning is that atonement is not about making up for the harm you have done by inflicting harm on yourself in some way. Atonement is about at-one-ment; about understanding our underlying connection with all of creation; understanding (as we heard in church last Sunday) "insomuch as you do it unto the least of these my brethren, you do it unto me." (Matthew 25:40)

Charlotte Joko Beck, in Nothing Special, describes the cycle by using the word sacrifice as a verb. When we feel hurt, we feel like we have been made a victim (and of course, as we all know, it's quite easy to get stuck in that phase of the cycle): we have been sacrificed. At this point in the cycle, for many of us, the urge is to sacrifice back, to strike out in return, either at the one who hurt us, or, if we are powerless to do that, to strike out at someone or something else as a way of releasing that impulse. We all know people who get stuck in that part of the cycle as well.

But feeling guilty -- apologizing -- doesn't really move you out of the cycle either: it's just another place to get stuck. Here's how Beck explains it:

"We can't wipe out what we have done in the past; we've done it. Feeling guilty about it is a way of sacrificing ourselves now because we have sacrificed others in the past...feeling guilty is an expression of the ego: we can feel sorry for ourselves (and a bit noble) if we get lost in our guilt. In true atonement, instead of focusing upon our guilt, we learn to focus more upon our sisters and brothers, upon our children, upon anyone who is suffering."

How do we stop the endless cycle? Not by staying in our bitter thoughts about the past hurts and possible future revenge; not even by feeling guilty or apologizing. We escape the cycle by staying fully in the present, by staying aware of our reactions, by noticing when we feel hurt, and by making a conscious choice to break the cycle, by choosing not to snap back.

I have no siblings of my own -- which may explain why I get stuck in the guilt part of the cycle. When I was growing up my hurts came not from siblings but from parents, which meant that lashing out in response was punished. Powerless to lash back, the thoughts festered and became anger, and then I would feel guilty, internalizing the parent and punishing myself for my own frustrations.

But I have just spent four days with my daughters, who are siblings, and with my husband and his siblings. And what I see, watching them, is this same cycle that I know in myself playing out in family, and it doesn't seem to be any easier with siblings than it is as an only child. One hurts another -- either accidentally or on purpose -- and rather than being present, knowing the hurt and saying "ouch", the victim nurses the hurt and strikes back in other ways. The other, hurt in turn -- and possibly not understanding that it's a strikeback -- does the same.

This cycle, unbroken, seems to have a life of its own -- kind of like what Eckhart Tolle calls the painbody. And as the Bible says, "the evil is visited upon generation after generation."

But there is a way out. If we can stop nursing our victimhood and instead choose to be committed to healing, we can make a conscious choice to break the cycle. And the way to do that is through atonement -- not through apology, guilt, self-flagellation or revenge, because none of those ends the cycle -- but through understanding that we are "at one" with each other, that what hurts one hurts all, that by lashing out we continue the cycle, that by choosing not to we can break it.

If I were, like Beck, a Buddhist, this sermon would stop here. But as a Christian, I believe that another piece may be necessary for full healing. And that piece is forgiveness. Being who I am, it's not enough to break the cycle. I need to forgive my brethren, my sisters and brothers in humanity, for the harm they may have inflicted on me. And I need to forgive myself for any harm I have inflicted - or have longed to inflict - on them in return.

What I have learned is that forgiveness is not always easy, and I can't always do it alone. But there is that wonderful line that we Episcopalians say over and over again in the Baptismal Covenant: "I will, with God's help."

And what I have learned this past year is that once I have made that choice, to will forgiveness, that with God's help the choice can actually become reality; that actually I CAN, with God's help, forgive. And the blessing of that God-assisted forgiveness is a truly exhilarating sense of release.

So, as they say in the old commercial: Try it -- you'll like it!

I guarantee it.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Blessings for the journey

I had planned to blog Friday morning about a long conversation Thursday night with my daughters, but when I tried to load in the photo I had chosen it failed, and then my brother-in-law came into the lobby to talk with me, so I abandoned ship; it just wasn't meant to be.

Today we dropped our younger daughter at the airport at 10 then went for a drive (we didn't need to be at the airport until noon) and ended up visiting the Gilbert Ortega Museum and Gallery in Scottsdale. This sweet madonna was waiting by the door just as we were leaving and blessed us on our trip; the sunset I shot from the plane window just as we were landing. Since most of you who travel at Thanksgiving will be returning home tomorrow, I send this off to bless you on your journey.

Mothering is a journey, too, full of satisfactions and failures, obstacles to overcome and opportunities for faith and bravery. So this is also a blessing for all of us who mother friends, lovers, communities and children as they embark upon their own journeys. May you have beautiful skies and an easy landing, and may all that attentiveness, nurturing, challenging, forgiving, and exhorting you do bring growth and tenderness and love to all.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

May you be in her tender care

Today we visited the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Arizona Biltmore Hotel, and there were several of these figures around the property. I love the grace and tenderness of this one, so at odds with its crisp edges and squared features; it's a delightful and surprising contrast. And as I look at her, I think of the people of Mumbai, and ache for their pain and fear and loss.

It's another day without meditation or reading, and again this blog, which I am trying to write in a hotel lobby (the internet doesn't seem to work in our room) is suffering from the lack of preparation, lack of silence, lack of privacy... But I offer this lovely lady as a gesture of Thanksgiving for all of you who continue to read this blog, and who continue to send encouraging words my way, even though there are many of you whom I have never met. I am grateful for your ongoing presence in my life, and I wish you all the best in the year to come.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


I found this today in a museum shop, and loved the juxtaposition. Nothing magical to say about it -- I had no time to meditate or read this morning -- but I wanted to share this image.

Sheep, goats and chickens
dancing across the fenceposts:
Music to her eyes.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Reflections on a yellow wood

I finished The Cloud of Unknowing this morning, and in the last section of the book he points out that if meditation does not bring you great joy, you may well not be called to it; it is okay to walk away. And then, of course, he admits that the joy won't always be there, and that's okay, too.

And then, because I finished my first chapter of Jesus, The Teacher Within yesterday, I thought I'd embark on the study questions we had been given. The first one on the list was this: Are there other questions you have experienced as redemptive in your life? And, having just read that passage in the Cloud of Unknowing, I remembered my first year on Shaw Island.

I had quit a job I loved, a job I had thought I would hold for the rest of my life, because the political climate where I worked made it impossible for me to do the job in good conscience. I had moved to a small island with my two daughters, only seeing my husband on weekends, with the idea that I would write a book. The book was written, I had a publisher interested, and then my mother died, suddenly, after a routine surgery.

Hers was the fourth death among friends and family in the space of less than a year, and the combined total of all the losses -- the deaths, the job, being away from my husband, in a home not my own -- threw me into a tailspin. I was angry, depressed, lost and lonely, all of it playing out in my body with various aches, pains and illnesses, and my computer and email were my lifeline to the world.

And the question my dear friend Nan Cobbey emailed me when I was at the bottom of that spiral was this: what sort of job or activity would make you leap out of bed with joy in the morning, eager to tackle another day?

It was a wonderful question, simple, and yet redemptive -- perhaps because it reminded me that joy was possible, reminded me to look for joy, and assured me that I deserved joy. It was also life-changing, because in seeking the answer I came to realize how much photography meant to me; how much joy it brought me; how consistently it seemed to bring me closer to God -- unlike the job, which I missed so much, which I thought I had been DOING for God.

That question allowed me to engineer a subtle shift of direction that also helped me discover my deep desire for meditative/contemplative activities. And that, as it says in the Robert Frost poem, has made all the difference.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 5

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Travelin' Light

They say a man's home is his castle, but now, having seen this castle in Naples, I realize my home is FAR from a castle. Like this castle, it sits on the edge of the water, though not quite as close!

But unlike this castle, it is made of wood, and glass; vulnerable to wind and tide. And as I prepare to walk away from it again for a few days, I find myself looking around at my home and its contents, imagining what life might be like if it were to disappear in my absence. And if I had a plastic box, in which I could place those things (not animals, or people) which mean the most to me, what would go in there?

It's a good question to ask, I think -- especially as a photographer. Because it's not really a question about what would cost most to replace; it's really about what is irreplaceable: what, if lost, could never be found again. Which means (to me, anyway) which photographs and photo albums would I save; which works of art; which letters, papers, and books...

In the end, of course, the real question emerges: are any of our possessions THAT important to us? And now that I bump up against that one, I see that I already had to visit that space, when my father died and everything I had grown up with -- books, games, records, china, furniture, tchotchkes, piano, my father's Karmann Ghia, his stamp collection, my grandfather's desk, my grandmother's four poster bed... all of it went to my stepmother. She passed on the family photographs, a quilt my mother had made, two boxes my grandfather had made, and all my mother's paintings, but the rest was gone.

I mourned it for a few years -- especially the books, the records, and the Ghia -- but eventually I learned to let go. And I realize now, looking around me, that there was a life lesson learned in that as well. It is actually possible to live, and to live happily, without "the stuff;" the tangible relics of a life lived in a certain time and space. Not that I wouldn't miss them; not that I wouldn't be devastated to lose so much that has nurtured me over the years. But in the end it would be okay.

Which is probably why now, looking around me, I see that though there's a lot I would miss if this particular castle of ours were to fall into the sea, there's very little I would need to put in that mythical plastic box: our wedding album, the album of photos from our first year on Shaw Island; the piece of glass I brought back from my first trip to Venice... Which is good. I can walk away feeling easy -- especially if I have my laptop full of photos with me!

There's a wonderful old Billie Holiday song that comes to mind as I write: It's called "Travelin Light."

I'm trav'lin' light
Because my man has gone
And from now on
I'm trav'lin' light

He said goodbye
And took my heart away
So from today
I'm trav'lin' light

No one to see
I'm free as the breeze
No one but me
And my memories

Some lucky night
He may come back again
But until then
I'm trav'lin' light

Hearing the lyrics to this song again, I realize that for all the pain and abandonment I felt around my father's death (yes, there is way more to that story), there was in fact a gift (isn't there always?) in the midst of it. Because that man has gone, I'm free as the breeze...

... and travelin' light.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Food for thought

When I am alone in the house I am usually working in silence; I love music, but rarely listen except in the car or when I am doing some particularly onerous task of housework. But it is the weekend, which means my husband is in the house, which means -- inevitably -- that the radio in the kitchen is on, set to NPR.

Usually I can just tune it out, but yesterday I overheard someone say to Rick Steves (what this has to do with travel, I'm not sure) that Americans seem to be obsessed with personal happiness, but for him (whoever he was) he felt that happiness was 100% relational.

I was intrigued by that, and by the implications of it -- particularly since he was so matter-of-fact about it. "Of COURSE!" he seemed to be saying, "Everyone but you foolish Americans seems to understand that happiness is about connecting with others!" And so, being one of those agreeable sorts, I smiled to myself and said, yes, those foolish Americans, its why we are so greedy, and fight wars, and poison the environment, because we do not understand that we are all connected, that one person cannot be truly happy unless all are happy.

But then I thought -- but wait: everytime I look outside myself for happiness, it fails. For me, happiness wells up from within, when I am feeling centered and whole. Are these irreconcilable differences? It seems to me that whenever we look to relationships to provide happiness we are disappointed.

So then, this morning, still reading Laurence Freeman (this book is really dense, and very slow-going, so I may be reading it for a while!), he talks about what he calls "divine love-longing":

"It is found deep in Jesus, in God, and in the human being, and it unites God and humanity in their common thirst for each other...the consuming longing to transmit the whole of one's self to another...this passion for self-communication is at the very heart of reality."

Which brings me back to what he calls the "Key Question" -- Who do you say that I am? I think we humans do indeed hunger deeply for relationship. We long for that childlike trust and connection that allows us to safely ask that question, hoping the answer will be a gift of love; that the person will "get" us, see who we really are at the deepest level, and respect and honor that.

Which is why Charlie Harper, in the TV show "Two and a Half Men" can always get a woman into bed by saying "I understand." The longing to be known and understood is at heart a longing for intimacy -- emotional and spiritual intimacy, that is -- but all too often we confuse that with sexual intimacy, settling for the second when what we long for is the first.

Hmm. I suppose I got off topic there, distracted by what I see as I watch the young people I know trying to find happiness in relationships...

But Freeman also says that we cannot answer the question for Jesus until we answer it for ourselves; that we cannot fully comprehend the Divine until we are able to give that childlike trust and acceptance to ourselves. But what does it take to get to that point?

And as I was standing there at the kitchen counter, my mind wandering down all these paths, the radio personality -- or perhaps it was Rick Steves -- mentioned Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

So I looked that up before embarking on this post. And apparently Maslow (yes, I knew this long ago as a college student, but had forgotten) objected to the fact that so many psychologists drew their conclusions from studying troubled people. So he elected to study healthy people instead. And his conclusion was that to be a happy and healthy person there are a NUMBER of needs to be satisfied, and that they come in a particular order, a hierarchy, usually displayed as a pyramid. The Wiki kindly offers this image, which I share with you:

And interestingly enough, Maslow calls the lower four tiers on the pyramid "deficiency needs (or D-needs)," saying that if we do not get them we will be anxious and tense. But if those needs are met, then we can begin to tackle what he calls Growth Needs or Being needs (B-needs), those listed in the Self-Actualization category. And then the Wiki goes on to say that "the motivation to realize our maximum potential and possibilities is considered to be the master motive or the only real motive, all other motives being its various forms."

Hmm. Sounds very 70's to me. Apparently Maslow put forth this theory in 1943, around the time all us baby-boomers were beginning to be born; do you suppose this stuff was at the heart of the behaviors attributed to the so-called "Me Generation?" Or did we all just get stuck at the esteem level and never make it to the top tier?

I guess I just don't buy it. Because, yes, I agree that humans have all those needs. But it seems to me that the behaviors at the top of the pyramid operate independently of all the others; that in fact we may be more likely to see those admirable qualities in people who are lacking fulfillment at the basest of levels than in, say, someone like Dick Cheney, who presumably has it all at the D-need level.

So perhaps this is the unique American fallacy, that happiness can ever come from satisfying any or all of those D-needs for one human being. Because all of those things are individual, where as the B-needs seem to me to be more relational -- and, in fact, to flow out of an understanding of our deep connection with the Divine and with all of creation. I'd like to think it is by setting aside our craving for all those D-needs and just focusing on the B-needs (isn't that what Gandhi did?) that we find true fulfillment and joy. But that's easy for me to say, because for the moment my D-needs seem to be mostly met. Would I be as "good" or "happy" a person if they weren't?

Oy. How did I wander down this road, anyway? Perhaps it's because I minored in Psychology in college; the temptation to analyze can still hook me after all these years. But what the heck: it's all food for thought -- and some of it quite tasty!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

There are places I remember...

There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed:
Some forever, not for better:
Some have gone and some remain

All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall.
Some are dead and some are living;
In my life I've loved them all.

When I rose from my meditation this morning, it was to discover that a thick fog had rolled in. The tide was pouring into the lagoon as well, and the gulls were squabbling over the fish in the shallows, trying to grab them before the deeper waters came in and carried them away.

Several images had wandered into my head during my meditation, but I loved watching the gulls -- though they were hardly photogenic -- and I thought I'd look for something foggy to share. And there, in my file of fog pictures, lay this photograph, taken some three and a half years ago in Mexico.

I love this image: the color of the morning sky, echoed in the buildings; the shapes of the mountains, the string of lights marching down the hill, its shape echoed in the road below; the tree in the middle with its graceful web of branches, the contrast of the light peach and the dark green... It has the fog, but it has color, too; subtle, but inviting.

The only problem is, I didn't like being there. On the advice of a friend we had chosen to vacation in Ixtapa. But on arrival we realized the hotel she'd recommended had definitely seen better days, and the now seriously depressed town -- unlike Zihuatenejo, the utterly charming fishing village nearby which I became too sick (on hotel food) to visit -- had been created out of nothing, its sole raison-d'etre to be a tourist trap.

As I look out my kitchen window, watching the gulls frolicking in the lagoon, I feel suffused with joy: it is a familiar scene, not particularly photogenic, almost devoid of color (though full of sound!), but I am happy to be here.

The photo, though, lovely as it is, fills me with sadness: for that depressed town, for that once magnificent and now almost empty hotel, for the misery of being feverish and ill in a room whose air conditioning smelled of sewage, and most of all for the young girl we took with us on the trip, a friend of our daughter's whose father was killed in a freak car accident shortly after we returned from Mexico.

Which is why the song above drifted into my head, I suppose: the sort of wistful quality fits the scene. And despite its beauty, I associate it with change, and loss; with missed opportunities, with hopes disappointed, and with the deep abiding sadness that still fills that young girl's heart.

And how does that relate to this question: who do you say that I am? Perhaps it is just that the answer to that question will always be -- whoever asks or answers -- complex; a mix of joy and color, sunny days and fog, sadness and loss, sickness and health, home and away, silence and sound, hope and despair, life and death... And a careful, thoughtful answer, voiced in love and tenderness, will hold and accept them all.

Freeman says, in my reading for today,

"Jesus asks Who do you say I am, not What am I or even Who do you think I say I am? It is an intimately personal question. If we do not feel its intimacy as disturbing -- even intrusive -- we have not listened to it. It is not twisting our arm however. Its authority is not violent but vulnerable, not forceful but humble. To ask a person who they really think you are is a declaration of love."

And somehow that brings me to that final verse:

Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before --
I know I'll often stop and think about them;
In my life I love you more.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Art as verb, question, and sacred mystery

Yesterday evening I took some time to visit some of my favorite blogs. And in the November 10 post on Bob Cornelis' art blog (see link on left) there was gorgeous image, very simple, with intriguing layers and colors. And what he had written about was his own reluctance or inability to specialize in one single kind of art; to focus on one single subject matter.

The comments on this post were great, raising lots of interesting questions, and one woman, Miki, actually said that none of her own pieces graced the walls of her home because "I can’t bear to be confronted with my art.... Why is it like that? I don’t know exactly, but ... when I look at my paintings, I have the feeling to look directly into my past, and it is something like “dead” for me. I have no emotional connection to it."

This is, I should add, not how I feel about my own work, but it posed some interesting questions, which lay there, fermenting in my brain. And then in his November 20 post Cornelis offered this quotation:

“The thing made is a work of art made by art, but not itself art. The art remains in the artist and is the knowledge by which things are made.”

- Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy

Reading his thoughts about this, and about Art, it felt like what was being said is that Art is about the creative process: it has life, and movement; it is a verb. And the result of that process is a noun: once complete, it is unchanging, stagnant -- in Miki's words, dead.

But, having seen Miki's work, I don't find it dead at all, and I think perhaps good art, even though it may be unchanging, will continue to evoke life, and thought, and response in those who look at it. So then I thought perhaps the created work, the painting or photograph, is an icon for the creative process as it is lived out in that particular artist.

Which of course took me back into my post from yesterday: the painting is the icon of the creative process in the artist, and yet the artist (in yesterday's language) is an icon of Jesus. But isn't Jesus -- Divine in human form -- an icon of the Divine? And isn't it possible that one way of looking at the Divine is as this intense, creative, compassionate, driving impulse of creation and love that serves as the spark that ignites all living things?

So then, this morning, I was reading about the importance of questions, particularly about the open questions that continue inspiring us to search for answers. And it occurred to me that at its best ART is a question: How do I see this? Or how can I express this? What choices will I make as I create this? It works almost like a zen koan: at some level it is unanswerable, but at another level there can be an answer that may work in that one moment, in that one person. And I think if we see art as a question, we will always be exploring new ways of answering the question; that would be an integral part of the creative process.

And if an answer is like closing a door, then of course, once Miki has finished a painting, it may no longer hold interest for her. Which doesn't mean that her work, as an icon of her creative process for that one piece of time, doesn't pose additional questions for those who view it.

"When we stop questioning," says Freeman, "We die. We only stop asking questions when we have despaired of life or when delusion or pride have mastered us. All the same," he goes on, "we hardly ever give up dreaming that a single definitive formula could solve all of life's problems... But the right questions constantly refresh our awareness that life is not fundamentally a secular problem but a sacred mystery."

Questioning is about openness; about remaining open to the possibility that we do not have all the answers, that there may be something else for us to learn, to experience, or to express. It's about not closing down, even in the midst of intense pain, or anger; frustration or loss... It's about listening, about waiting, and about vulnerability; about keeping the heart and mind open so that we may listen for what each moment has to teach us.

Which is why this image was the one that leaped out at me today: she is a reliquary, of a saint (I don't know which one) and I found her in a gallery in Naples, tucked away with lots of other reliquaries. I love that she is so open, and yet her pen is poised to write, or to draw, the insights she gains as she listens.

She, too, is an icon, and she speaks to the fact that each of us is an artist, creating a life, making choices, engaging in that iconic dance of exploration, listening for the promptings of the divine and expressing that divine light within us.

And what I love is that all of this possibility has been triggered by that one question: who do you say that I am?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Image, Imagination, and Icon

Yesterday evening, in response to Stacey's comment on yesterday's blog, I decided to try that photoshop technique on my own self-portrait, to see what would emerge. This is my first attempt, and I'm not too happy with it: it looks a bit like some sort of swamp monster!

But it was an intriguing exercise, because instead of just using layers of images chosen for their texture and dynamic range I found myself considering content: what is this a picture OF, and is that subject an important part of who I am? Things got pretty complicated at that point -- I even tried to see if I could somehow work in a buddha face -- and when I finally decided to stop "fiddling" with the image, I was tired, stiff, and discouraged -- which doesn't mean it wasn't an interesting exercise, or that I won't attempt it again at some point.

But then, this morning, reading again in The Cloud of Unknowing (which I have not quite finished yet) I saw this:

"Imagination is a power by means of which we make all our images of things...[and] Unless it is restrained by the light of grace in reason, the imagination never ceases, whether we are asleep or awake, to present various unseemly images of bodily creatures or else some fanciful picture that is either a bodily representation of a spiritual thing or else a spritual representation of a bodily thing. Such representations are always false, deceptive, and compounded with error."

Hmm, I thought, reading this, perhaps all this work with faces is not a good thing? Certainly my back is suffering this morning; could this be why? Is it a mistake to wander down this particular path, to invite my imagination to engage with my spiritual life?

And then, in Jesus the Teacher Within, Laurence Freeman talks about the question, "Who do you say that I am?"

"Every culture has its own images of Jesus and so no response can ever be the final answer...We can only imagine Jesus with the means provided by our cultural and personal imagination...Once we have pictured Jesus in our magination, it is tempting to enroll him in support of our opinions and prejudices...Because of the distance between the historical and the imagined Jesus, Christians often seem more concerned about promoting their Jesus in support of their moral or social opinions than in discovering who he really is...[but] According to the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. How can this timeless identity be described?"

So here's the dilemma: how are we to understand Jesus without visualizing Him? And how can the Jesus we visualize ever begin to be anything more than a reflection of our own imperfect imaginations and egoic desires?

Fortunately I had time yesterday to flip over to the Oriental Orthodox blog (the one at the bottom of my blogroll to the left of this post) and happened upon this entry from Lynn Bauman:

Iconic Life

As pilgrims across the horizontal landscape of space-time, we are being summoned to an "iconic life"--to live as icons, not as egos. Egoic life is the polar opposite of iconic life, for an icon and an ego stand at opposite ends of the human spectrum.

An icon, as we know, manifests in visual form the essence of a person. Whereas an icon shines with it own unique inner light, which is the non-constructed and eternal nature that was present from its eternal origins, the ego is merely an externally constructed form made up out of the stuff of human society and manifest as the "mask" of its deepest nature.

To discover the icon in ourselves is the inner work required of us. It is our highest vocation to ourselves, but also the greatest gift we can ever give to one another.

... which somehow, for me, pulls it all together. Instead of visualizing or imagining a Jesus who is separate from ourselves -- which must inevitably mean constructing a Jesus who supports our own cultural perspectives -- we can visualize ourselves as icons of Jesus, which allows for the timeless perfection that is Jesus to shine through our own imperfect egoic selves.

If we look at it that way, then those cultural differences which lead to different imaginings of Jesus (which can then be manipulated to support our own selfish aims) are instead transformed into unique individual iconic manifestations of one whole, complete, creative and timeless truth. So then imagination, rather than constructing a Jesus who will bend to our whims, becomes a way of understanding and expressing the unique way that Jesus is working for transformation within each one of us.

It is in that context that we can begin to explore that important question: Who do you say that I am? And that, I suspect, will prove to be an amazing journey.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The encouragement of light

For some reason, this week I seem to be fixated on faces.

It began, I think, with a comment my daughter made on my blog around the time I discovered Anita Feng's raku buddhas: she suggested that perhaps I needed to make some buddhas of my own.

When in art class last week we learned a deliciously simple way to make prints from sheets of styrofoam, I realized I'd found a perfect vehicle for making buddha faces. So I began attempting to draw them -- they always seem so simple -- but they weren't quite coming out right, and I decided I might need to be more intentional about it, to draw while in a meditative state, drawing more out of my own understanding of what Buddha is rather than copying other people's renditions.

On my last morning in Portland I was awakened at 4 a.m., and for the next two hours, my dreams were haunted by Photoshop, of all things: I had an idea for playing with portraits that insisted on replaying itself over and over in my head. So when I got home I began working with this technique, trying to achieve the images that seemed so clear in my dreams.

And then yesterday, in my study group on Jesus, the Teacher Within, we were given this assignment: to take time to look in the mirror and gaze into our own eyes and ask – “Who am I?” “Who do I say I am?”

Looking obediently at my face in the mirror this morning, I realized, all of this activity is revolving around faces. And as a photographer, wouldn't it make more sense to use what I KNOW to create the face of Buddha, rather than to leap into another field where I have so little expertise? Perhaps I need to combine the desire to create Buddha faces with the Photoshop technique I dreamed up, and somehow know that I am coming to understand my own face and the face of Jesus in the process.

So before blogging I sat down at my computer, planning to try this new technique on a buddha face. But when I went to my file of statues to seek out a buddha face to work with, I realized I wasn't quite ready to tackle a buddha, and I chose instead to work with a statue I had photographed at my friend Carole's house up on Shaw Island. And this is the result.

I have not given up on the idea of making prints of Buddha faces: I think it's important to stretch myself, and any activity that involves drawing is a stretch for me! Plus I suspect that the act of concentrating on the face of Buddha is a valuable kind of active meditation.

But I also realize that in creating this particular image I am also answering -- for today, at least -- the question of who I am. I am reflective. I am woman. I am more comfortable with a camera than with a pen. And I am drawn to and bathed in light. Which brings me to the Hafiz poem with which we began our meditation session yesterday:

“How did the rose ever open its heart
and give to this world all of its beauty?
It felt the encouragement of light against its being:
Otherwise we all remain too frightened.”

It takes courage to look in the mirror and truly see our selves. And it takes courage to open to new ideas, to learn new skills, to see familiar objects in new ways. But I feel the encouragement of light, and will press on.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A moment of color

My time in Portland was lovely, and I came back overflowing with ideas for creative expression, a reflection of the joy and love I felt being with my daughter; of the time alone, which often results in the springing forth of new ideas; and of the glories of autumn in Portland.

While many of the larger trees in Portland have already shed their leaves, others, like this one tucked against the side of my daughter's dormitory, have just begun to turn. And there's something about that rich blend of colors that just fills my soul.

This morning I will be embarking on a new study group, reading Laurence Freeman's "Jesus, the Teacher Within." The book arrived while I was away, but I had time to read the foreword -- by the Dalai Lama (!) -- while sipping my coffee this morning. He had some wonderful things to say about "the enormous potential for mutual enrichment in the dialogue between Buddhist and Christian traditions," and it feels a bit to me like what happens when so many colors meet in a single tree.

I like to think that in remaining open to the brightness of the different traditions, holding them all loosely within our branches, we can still remain uniquely ourselves, producing our own characteristic leaves, growing at our own unique pace, and yet serving as a beacon of creativity for all whose lives touch ours.

But maybe it's more than just the colors of the different traditions. Perhaps what the tree is really telling us is that it is the blending of all of our life's experiences, of all the different colors and flavors, the dark and the light, the passionate reds and the soothing greens, the joys and the sorrows, that together have the potential to inspire and enrich the world.

Or maybe this is nothing more than a beautiful tree, and it needs no words of explanation. Wherever the truth lies, I just wanted to share the colors with you.

Have a lovely, color-filled day!