Thursday, December 31, 2009

Find Comfort in Listening

I don't know about you, but when I'm sick I tend to look for comfort -- comfort food, comfort clothes, comfort shoes, comfort books...

... which is how I ended up returning to Brother Tolbert McCarroll's book, Notes from the Song of Life -- its brief meditations have a way of soothing me back into my best space. This morning's reading -- which I may have shared with you before -- is called "Listening," and it really resonated with me, so I will share it with you here. He says all I needed to hear today:

"In every corner of your world there blows a gentle wind that sings a silent song. You must listen for that song.

Usually your mind is filled with questions, arguments, and expectations. Do not add more by considering how you will go about listening, or congratulating yourself on how well you are doing. And especially do not believe that you know what you are going to hear. It is enough that you know the beginning. If you try to guess what will follow, you will not hear what you were meant to hear. So you must listen without expectations. Indeed you must not expect that you will hear anything at all. For there is no object or goal to your listening. You are not listening for something. The listening itself is the end of the journey. Do not climb a mountain in order to listen. Go down into the valley.

Listening is emptying out. It means giving up everything. Remove your inner noise and the silent song will enter in. The song is being sung all the time. The breeze that bears this song comes from deep stillness. It is its nature to enter into any silence it encounters. You do not have to capture the song. It is not possible for you to do so. If you would experience the song you must be silent and listen to the stillness at your core.

Men and women do not hear what is constantly being spoken to them. Even those who profess to be longing for the song often make so much noise in their quest that there is no room for the song to enter in.

All that is required of you is that you learn to be truly quiet. Do that and all else will happen without your effort. The willow has only to stand still and the wind will move its branches. If the willow tried to create a wind by frantically waving its branches it would miss the real wind when it came. The attempt to create a wind will quickly exhaust you. When the wind of the silent song touches you, you are refreshed. So, like the willow, stand still.

All your life your heart has been singing a little soundless song. Listen to the song of your heart, because it is part of the great silent song. Open the door of your heart and the wind of the Spirit will come."

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Standing together in Divine embrace

After a week of uncharacteristically blue skies (and the biting cold that comes with them) I awoke this morning to gray and clouds and drizzle -- so much more typical for the Pacific Northwest in winter -- and though I still have this nasty cold, some part of me has relaxed and softened into acceptance; the resistance is gone.

Which reminds me once again of how much of the discomfort in our lives is not in what happens to us, but in our reactions to it. The cold weather is so much harder to bear when we stiffen ourselves against it; the pain -- whether physical or psychological -- affects so much more of our bodies when we tighten up in response.

But how can we resist that temptation? It's so natural, to push away what we designate as bad or uncomfortable. Perhaps the way to open and soften is not just to tell ourselves to open and soften, but to re-label that which we find so threatening; to redefine, to welcome, or perhaps just to accept.

In the end, whatever it is we're dealing with -- a pain or sickness, a loss, a struggle, or just the holiday blahs --well, it is what it is. Resisting it will not make it go away, so why not choose to stand with it, like these trees in the forest; allowing the light to touch you both; accepting the briers and grasses which caress and irritate you both; feeling the coolness of the forest which surrounds you both.

And as the rain takes on strength and begins to thrum lightly against the skylight above my stairs, I find myself thinking of Matthew 5:45 --

In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.

Somehow, in our constant labeling of things as good and not-good, me and not-me, we begin to be cut off from that all-embracing quality of the Divine. Perhaps it is acceptance that will bring us back to the comfort of the fold.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

When a photo takes you on an odd adventure...

I grew up with the phrase "Lights on, Nobody Home" -- usually used to indicate a certain vacuousness in someone who appears at first to make sense. And flipping through some random images this morning, this one called out to me and brought that phrase along with it (although clearly there could be no confusion about this building's occupancy; there are no lights to be had anywhere).

At any rate, I was so pleased to be awake and blogging, feeling a little better -- if still pretty stuffed up and coughing rather a lot -- that I thought, well, I'll follow this trail and see where it leads.

I vaguely remembered that the phrase was also part of a Talking Heads tune we used to play a lot when the girls were little, so I googled it -- and came up with numerous references to Sarah Palin. Ouch!

But the first one led me to a blog on Beliefnet. I'd gone to Beliefnet just a few days ago, following this trail from my friend Joyce's blog to find out what denomination I most match up with (it seemed to think I'd do well as a Unitarian Universalist) so I thought I'd go see what a Beliefnet blog had to say about Sarah Palin.

Once I clicked on it (and this probably had something to do with the fact that I couldn't seem to dump the ad that was obscuring part of the blog) the remarks themselves seemed inconclusive, but I found myself wondering how you get to be a beliefnet blogger. I mean, I blog about faith, right? Maybe this could be an option for me, a way to broaden my readership...

So I poked around a bit, looked at their blogger collection -- which appears to represent a fairly impressive array of religious stances and interests -- and finally clicked on "Contact us" to see if there might be anything there about how to get approval as a certified Beliefnet blogger. Still no indicator, but there was a link to "Careers" and when I clicked on it, lo and behold: it was a link to careers, not just at Beliefnet, but at the Fox Network!

Whoa. That was a surprise.

Okay. No comment. Stop here.

I decided to backpedal and see if I could track those Talking Heads Lyrics. Hmm. Kinda creepy, actually -- and as confusing as the blog entry on Sarah Palin. So then I'm thinkin -- maybe the cabin in this picture -- the empty-headed one -- is just me this morning? My eyes are open, I'm taking it in, but my mouth is kinda hangin open, too.

I sat with that for a minute, and then it came to me. I just started with the wrong Talking Heads song. The one that really works here, and explains that curious sequence of events, from the picture of the cabin all the way to Fox, is called "Once in a Lifetime" and seems perfectly apropos...

You May Find Yourself
Living In A Shotgun Shack

You May Find Yourself
In Another Part Of The World

You May Find Yourself
Behind The Wheel Of A Large Automobile

You May Find Yourself In A Beautiful House,
With A Beautiful
And You May Ask Yourself-
Well...How Did I Get Here?

... And You May Ask Yourself
How Do I Work This?

You May Ask Yourself
Where Is That Large Automobile?
You May Tell Yourself
This Is Not My Beautiful House!
And You May Tell Yourself
This Is Not My Beautiful Wife!

... You May Ask Yourself
What Is That Beautiful House?
And You May Ask Yourself
Where Does That Highway Go?
And You May Ask Yourself
Am I Right?...Am I Wrong?
And You May Tell Yourself

Monday, December 28, 2009

Just circling around...

This seems to be one of those days when everything is conspiring to keep me from blogging. I feel like I'm just wandering around in circles. It's probably because I seem to have caught the cold my daughter brought home with her from college. I felt so disoriented after meditating this morning I just went back to bed.

I tried to blog again when I woke up (2 hours later) but couldn't find a photo, and then the cat insisted on sitting on my hands. I gave up and took my daughter shopping.

So now it's after lunch, and I've finally found a photo that feels right, but then the dog demanded to be taken for a walk, and now that he's back he wants to play ball.

I think I'll just give up, and suggest that instead of reading anything wise from me today (since there seems to be no wisdom to be had) you might want to read what my friend Sue has to say. Sue and I have been in plays off and on together for years and often try out for the same parts, but she's way more flamboyant and goddess-y than I am.

I first met Sue in Midsummer Night's Dream -- she was a magnificent Titania, and I played Egeus as an angry woman. Though we both tried out for the part, she got to be the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz (probably a good thing; I'm sure all that green makeup would have wreaked havoc on my skin). And we both tried out for Liza/Gabby in Peter Pan; I'm still amazed I got the parts.

At any rate, she has just started blogging, and sent me a pointer this morning to her new years wish/resolution. It's wonderful, and so I share it with you here; perhaps tomorrow I will have slept off some of this cold and will be back online with observations of my own... In the meantime, enjoy this peaceful photo and her post, and have a lovely day! I think I'm just gonna head back to bed...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Waiting at the Crosswalk

This time of year I don't get out to photograph much, so I like to poke around in the year's files to see if there are unpublished possibilities in there. Today I was looking at scenes from our trip to Chicago, and got stopped by two different images I could swear were taken from the same place.

We were about to cross State Street, I believe, and what I remember is the stairs up to the elevated, but at the same time, just before I shot the stairs, I seem to have shot a crosswalk. So -- what the heck -- since the two experiences seem superimposed, I'll see if I can superimpose the two photographs to capture that odd memory of having been in the same place but seeing two completely different things.

And so this image emerged, a surprisingly graphic representation of how I've been feeling this last week or so about my spiritual path. You see, I'd been thinking-- well, probably it was my ego that thought this -- that I'd been climbing steadily toward a new perspective, but in reality I'm beginning to suspect I'm still just on the same path, in the same dimension -- and maybe even standing still.

What's interesting is that there are rails here -- presumably protecting me from cross-traffic -- but when I get to the top -- or the other side, depending on how you view it -- I can no longer see the path ahead: instead, there's a door. I thought I knew what was on the other side, but now I'm not so sure...

I love this process (as you can tell); it's like exploring dreams. And part of me is itching to climb these stairs and get to the other side. But another part of me is wondering what "traffic" I might be closing myself off to in the process -- which is tangled up somehow with some concerns I've had lately about where this path is taking me.

It seems like I should be (uh-oh; a should -- look out!) gaining in compassion, and some part of me thinks that would mean I'd be more engaged with the world and with my fellow humans. But what actually seems to be happening is that I'm spending more and more time at home, and am less and less inclined to "go out and mingle." My worries about this surfaced again last night, when we went to see that great new movie, "It's Complicated" (which I loved).

A friend of ours came late to the theater, and, seeing that there was an unusually long line for tickets, she asked if she could cut in with us. We of course agreed, and as we chatted before the movie began I learned that she had spent some time on Christmas Eve serving at a soup kitchen downtown. She told me some of the sad things she had seen -- apparently they had also driven by Tent City, Seattle's wandering homeless community -- and I could feel myself wondering again why it is that my work isn't leading me into that sphere.

I get that we can't all be Mother Teresa. But... perhaps it's the protestant in me: what is faith without works? Thinking about this, standing in front of my coffeepot this morning and feeding my daughters' fish, it occurred to me that the pulling back and staying home could easily be a response to the Empty Nest. And though the day-to-day chores of child-rearing are now pretty much over for me, the girls are pretty unsettled right now: perhaps my motherbird instincts are what's keeping me fluttering so close to the nest? Or could it be my husband's unemployment?

What's great is that I'm not actually flagellating myself over this. I'm sufficiently detached from my ego to be able to say there's little blaming or shaming going on. It's more just a wondering: is there a course correction needed? It's good to ask the question; better still to sit and be patient long enough for the answer to become more clear, rather than dashing across to the other side against the light, on the assumption that that's where I'm supposed to go or what I'm supposed to do.

And so another scene from Peter Pan comes to me, one set on the Jolly Roger near the end of the play, after Hook has set his trap for Peter Pan and the Lost Boys:

Starkey (in a stage whisper): "What are we doing?"
Me, as Gabby the Cook (also whispering): "Waitin' "
Starkey: "Waitin' fer wot? Dinner?"
Me/Gabby: "There'll BE no DINNER!"
Starkey: "So what are we waitin' for, then?"
Me/Gabby: "I dunno."
Hook (shouting): "The Lost Boys and a FAIRY, you fools!"

Yup. Feeling a little foolish. Feels like I'm waiting, for something I'm not altogether sure I believe in. I've not been doing my normal job -- feeding the pirates -- but spending my time whipping up gooey treats in hopes of capturing something pretty elusive. And now? Only one choice: We Wait.

Sounds almost like Christmas hasn't happened yet...

Saturday, December 26, 2009

All part of the picture

I finished Richard Rohr's The Naked Now this morning, and I'm feeling a little low. It's not just that "morning after" feeling you get after Christmas, or the wondering what comes next -- it has a lot to do with Rohr's statements, toward the end of the book, about what enlightenment looks like: clearly I'm not there yet.

So when I was wandering through my image files this morning, looking to see what needed to be posted here, this one really leaped out at me: I think it's the pondering quality, the between-ness of it. One project done, more on the way, and now a chance to stop and briefly evaluate where she's been and where she's going next.

Plus it has the double whammy of having been shot at the Rivendell Retreat Center on Bowen Island, where -- for four years in a row -- I used to spend a week each February on a Centering Prayer retreat with Cynthia Bourgeault. I'm missing those retreats -- have been, since they stopped 3 years ago -- and longing for a chance to go back and feel that peace again.

It seemed to me that those weeklong meditation sessions worked to jumpstart me into new insights, and that without them the road has become a rather long slog with no clear light at the end of the tunnel. But that could also be that during the holidays life is busy and routines are thrown off; meditation has certainly been less fulfilling lately... but of course, at the same time, I'm loving having the kids home and all the extra energy in the house.

At any rate, once I decided this was today's picture I took the next obvious step, which was to crop it; to remove all the distracting bits at the bottom and all the blank unnecessary stuff at the top. But I was surprised, when I did that, to discover that the image lost all its emotional impact for me. And, oh, isn't there a lesson in that!

Even the best moments in our lives -- whatever they may look like to you -- must need to be framed by the distractions, by the routine, and the dark edges of life. A tidy composition isn't necessarily a good composition, and we need the balance of busywork, difficulty and boredom to highlight the value of those rare and precious moments of peace and insight.

And what I see is that where I am is exactly where I need to be at this moment. It's exactly okay to be 60, to feel a bit restless, to be coming down with a mild cold and longing for a better cup of coffee and wishing I'd been able to make even one of the Christmas services. It's okay to be feeling a bit overwhelmed by the mess and the backlog , to be wishing my camera and I could go shoot something new and different, to be missing those retreats and to be anxious about continued unemployment, both in our immediate family and beyond; to feel discouraged about the mini-wars in our family and the larger ones beyond our shores.

It's all good, it's all part of the picture, and there are opportunities for growth and change everywhere. Blessings abound: we only need to see them.

Friday, December 25, 2009

I wish you Love

It's Christmas morning.

My children and husband are nestled snug in their beds.

The dog and cats are fed and medicated, and my daughters' fish seem to have survived another night (one, an almost 4-year-old betta, has been on his last fins for some time now).

The stockings are hung by the chimney with care, the floor below the tree is covered with presents, and the boardwalk beyond the windows is white with frost below the clear and star-filled sky.

It is that peaceful moment before the chaos of the day begins, and, sitting here reveling in the Christmas lights and breathing in the scent of evergreens, I offer it to you: may your holidays be full of peace and joy; sweet smells and light; and -- most of all -- Love. As that wonderful old Charles Trenet song says:

"I wish you shelter from the storm
A cozy fire to keep you warm
But most of all when snowflakes fall
I wish you love."

Peace and blessings, my friends. Peace and blessings to you all.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

As an only child, I have as little understanding of what it means to have -- and be -- a sibling as I have of enlightenment. Which is to say, I can grasp some of the essentials but there's a lot that still eludes me -- and I find myself wondering at times if it's possible that those who DO have siblings might have a better understanding of what it might actually mean to be One with the Universe.

I say this now, of course, because the holidays are upon us and both daughters are home. I watch their squabbles, and their jockeying for position, and I despair sometimes of their ever being able to just BE together. At the same time, watching them I find myself having to visit some of the less functional pieces of my own psyche -- which is a good thing, of course; it always brings new insight. But it's a challenge to do that without feeling guilty for whichever of my own hangups I seem to have visited on my children.

I was discussing this with Anita Feng during my visit with her two days ago, and she reminded me: "It's easy to get caught up in that sense of responsibility," she said, "but our children have so much more than us in them: they have ancestral DNA, and cultural DNA, and all the influences of society..." All of which is a gentle reminder that I alone am not solely responsible for their struggles.

But I cannot help but see that the way they hover on the edge of family, watching for and inflating signs of inclusion or exclusion, is not so different from the way I hover on the edges of other groups, particularly church. It is, I think, a particularly unattractive and self-absorbed way of being: is it part of all humanity, or is it just us? And can I learn to see it -- in myself and in them -- with the calm acceptance with which this latest Buddha of Anita's -- still unfired -- seems to look upon the world?

My dear friend Robin sent me a clip from this morning, a Christmas newsletter addressing the question, "Who was the real walking, talking, preaching Jesus and what lessons can we take from him today?"

The responses were taken from Cynthia Bourgeault, Deepak Chopra, and Michael Berg, a Kabbalah expert whose name I had not heard before. I loved what each of them had to say, but wanted to share with you these final lines from Berg's response:

"To be religious or spiritual means a constant process of growing and changing, consistently becoming a better and better person, knowing that none of our beliefs can – nor should they – bring us anything but a growing sense of love, compassion, and tolerance for those whom we love, and, more importantly, for those with whom we disagree."

As I watch my daughters struggle to find a way to be together when they come from such different life perspectives, I find reassurance in Berg's reminder that this is all a process. We are all growing and changing, all the time, and it would be foolish of me to expect that all these tensions could be resolved -- and I cannot help but wonder if that hope doesn't both fuel the process of change but also make it doubly disappointing when it doesn't progress as quickly as I'd like.

It's another reminder that sitting in NOW and being patient with what IS could be the best -- indeed the ONLY -- way to find the peace I see in this Buddha's eyes.

And in this often painful holiday season, so often fraught with family tensions and disappointed expectations, I wish you that so-elusive quality that Christ and the angels sought to bring: PEACE.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Finding in all faiths, One

Yesterday I paid a visit to Anita Feng's pottery Studio, which sits nestled in the woods on the side of Tiger Mountain, about an hour from my home (including the half-hour ferry ride).

I already have three of Anita's buddhas in my house, but my friend Robin happened to mention that Anita was making some beautiful new tea bowls, and when I went to Anita's Etsy site I fell in love with yet another of her buddhas.

I wish I could share all of the glorious pieces Anita showed me during my visit, but today is my ONE CHANCE to actually go Christmas shopping, so I need to leave soon and haven't time to display them all as they deserve. But I did want to share this one with you (this is not the one I bought) because, for me, it captures the essence of a faith that reaches far beyond the often arbitrary borders of religion.

To me, Anita's work resonates because her Buddhas are more than Buddha: they are Mary, and Sophia (Wisdom); Native American spirits, and Jesus weeping for our wounded world, and ever so much more.

I could sit and stare at them forever.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Walking the Middle Way

A few years back I took a couple of classes in the art of pastel from a wonderful woman named Gillian Bull, who has since become my friend. I haven't much talent for drawing, so the results of my labors in the class were mixed, but I learned one VERY important lesson in her class: any work of art, to be successful, needs some strong darks and some strong lights.

My photography made some significant shifts after that class, but I was still working overtime to lighten my darks and find definition in my whites when a neighbor convinced me to attend a weekend seminar given by the folks at Washington Courage and Renewal, a Parker Palmer-based organization whose purpose is to revitalize and inspire those who work in service professions, especially education and the ministry.

It was an incredible weekend, and lots of good awareness came out of it, but at one point we were presented with a roomful of images and invited to walk around, see which one spoke to us, and then to write about what the particular image had to say. There were several images that drew me, but the one that chose me was a black and white image of a dove flying out a window above a stairwell. Outside was very bright, so above the stairs was greatly over-exposed. You could kind of see the banister, and then below the stairs was very dark.

So there were almost no grays at all in the picture, and I think if I had shot it I would have been desperately trying to bring out what was below the stairs or to find some texture in the over-exposed wall. What struck me was that the image had a lot of impact without my doing any of that to it. I was impressed by the self-acceptance of the photographer -- because he didn't seem to mind that some sections were over-exposed and some under-exposed.

I was also struck by the impact of the mystery inherent in those strong darks and lights. The fact that you couldn't tell what might be under the stairs or on the wall actually drew you into the picture; it was engaging. And so it was that I learned, not only the importance of dark and light in an image, but also the value of mystery in an image.

What seems to be a bit harder to learn is that dark and light and mystery have value in a life as well. Mystery, in particular, can really frustrate me. I've come to accept that there are dark times; to step slightly apart from them and watch to see what learning there might be. But mystery, not-knowing, is still quite frustrating: I'm always impatient for what might come next, what might be revealed. Ambiguity is fun and even thrilling, but mystery is still a challenge, more a problem to be solved than a situation to be accepted. And I find, in relationships, I am always reluctant to keep a part of myself veiled: I'm pretty much out there, for all the world to see, even trying to clarify any parts that might confuse someone.

Which is probably why I love shooting in fog as much as I do. Despite all the training and learning from Gillian and from the Courage and Renewal folks, I still tend to limit my darks and lights; still prefer -- even delight in -- the gray areas of life. Which may explain why I love it when Richard Rohr talks about non-duality in terms of balancing good and evil and makes that statement about "holding it all and eliminating nothing."

I know we need darks and lights. But I seem to be more interested in transforming them, in finding the dark places in the light and the light places in the dark, and less interested in emphasizing the difference between the two or creating drama -- more dark and more light -- to give more contrast to my images -- or to my life.

Which makes me think of something my friend Barbara wrote in a recent email:

"I am an Episcopalian through and through - shades of grey and I go hand and hand through life."

... and I'm thinking, too, of that wonderful old hymn:

"In Him there is no darkness at all; the night and the day are both alike..."

When I was studying Episcopal History at our Diocesan School of Theology I learned to call that curiously Episcopalian approach, the determination to find the balance between and not label as bad or good, the "via media" -- the Middle Way. And though I've seen a lot of dark and light since then -- especially in my Episcopal world -- I guess that's still the path I walk. Some things just don't seem to change!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Moving from blame and shame into light

For some reason, when I look at this picture, I hear a line from Monty Python: "The one with the braces; He done it!"

I don't know about you, but I have a terrible tendency to play the blame game. If something goes wrong, particularly if I do something wrong, I have a part of my brain (I suspect I should just call it ego and be done with it) that delights in pointing the finger elsewhere.

I suspect that the shame game is part of the same phenomenon: when I cannot avoid the blame, then I feel a shame -- usually disproportionate to the problem. Both of these games -- blame and shame -- play into our troublesome notions of duality, because they are so entangled with our understanding of good, bad, right and wrong and that unfortunate conviction that if you -- or I -- exhibit one we cannot exhibit the other. If I have done something wrong -- and admit it to myself -- I find myself falling down the rabbit hole of "I never do anything right and I am a terrible person."

And if someone ELSE does something wrong, I have a truly unfortunate tendency to "otherize" them, to want to condemn them and separate from them. Worse yet, I find myself on guard much of the time, watching for signs of potential bad behavior so I can isolate (read "protect") myself sooner from potential harm (or temptation). I generally call these "trust issues" and can easily claim that they are based on past experience, but the fact is that as long as I have these filters up I cannot claim to be the compassionate, enlightened soul I so long to be.

I suspect the reason this is coming up again is because both my daughters are home, and in watching and listening to their struggles I see this pattern so clearly in them that I am forced to face it in myself: that as long as we keep fixating on how others hurt or betray us, or how others are at fault, or not what we want them to be, and as long as we use that understanding to isolate ourselves we will continue to suffer. Projecting our own negativity outward only seems to make us more miserable, and the more we justify our distaste and malaise by pointing fingers, the less likely we are to feel harmonious, in tune, at one with ourselves and our surroundings.

This morning, in Richard Rohr's The Naked Now, I was reading his chapter on Love and Suffering, and how it is these two experiences that most commonly break us open to a truer experience of the Divine. And he offers in passing the notion of mercy as a means to compassion:

"In facing the contradiction that we ourselves are, we become living icons of both/and. Once you can accept mercy, it is almost natural to hand it on to others...You become a conduit of what you yourself have received. If you have never needed mercy and do not face your own inherent contradictions, you can go from youth to old age dualistically locked inside a mechanistic universe."

I know. It seems obvious. But it does mean that every instance in which we find ourselves playing either the blame or the shame game, we also have an opportunity to experience -- and convey -- the mercy that is an integral part of openness, compassion, and non-duality. In every real or imagined slight we either experience or deliver there is that possibility that we could transcend our egoic notions of right and wrong, and, knowing God is merciful with us, be merciful with ourselves and others.

Which brings me back to the idea expressed two days ago in this blog, of forgiveness as a means to non-duality -- and I've decided to post that quote again, because it bears repeating:

...When you are concerned with either attacking or defending, manipulating or resisting, pushing or pulling, you cannot be contemplative. When you are preoccupied with enemies, you are always dualistic... Dualistic people use knowledge, even religious knowledge, for the purposes of ego enhancement, shaming, and the control of others and themselves, for it works very well in that way.

Non-dual people use knowledge for the transformation of persons and structures, but most especially to change themselves and to see reality with a new eye and heart. They hold and "suffer" the conflicts of life instead of passing them on or projecting them elsewhere. They do not get rid of life's pain until they learn its necessary lessons. Such a holding tank that agrees to hold it all, eliminating nothing, is what I mean by living in the naked now and being present outside the mind.

And here's what he has to say in this morning's chapter about the transformation of suffering:

"Things happen against your will -- which is what makes it suffering. But over time you can learn to give up your defended state... the situation is what it is, although we will invariably go through the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, resignation, and (hopefully) on to acceptance. The suffering might feel wrong, terminal, absurd, unjust, impossible, physically painful, or just outide of your comfort zone...Remember always, however, that if you do not transform your pain, you will surely transmit it to those around you -- and even to the next generation."

Uh-oh -- another opportunity for shame: that I have somehow transmitted my own "trust issues" to my daughters is profoundly disturbing. With work and prayer, I hope to find some mercy for myself, and be a conduit -- i.e., pass that on to them as well. Perhaps together we will be able to find a place where we can step away from blame and shame into light.

(PS: A hearty thank-you, once again, to my dear friend Karen, who took me on a walk long ago to share the multi-colored starfish on her beach)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Opening to the shift of Light

Today will be our last performance, and I confess I am relieved. Though I've loved these roles -- definitely the most fun parts I've ever played -- I'll be grateful not to find myself exhausted -- and running lines -- during my morning meditations.

I remember periods in our marriage, when my husband was working ridiculously long hours either learning a new role or trying to get a product out the door, when he would be terribly distracted and inattentive to me and to the girls. Being me, having come out of a difficult prior marriage, I had an unfortunate tendency to take it personally; it was only years later that I finally came to understand that these periods of inattention were purely work-related.

But I do remember how that feels, to be looked at but not seen, and I worry (though I know God is WAY more together than I was/am) that I am doing the same thing to God. I'm showing up, but I'm not really there.

... Which makes me think of this book I'm reading at my husband's behest. I should back up for a minute and say I've ALWAYS got at least two books going: the "spiritual" ones I read over my morning coffee before meditating, and the more secular ones -- usually a romance or a mystery -- that I read if I'm eating alone and at bedtime.

My husband's reading matter is almost exclusively non-fiction -- primarily historical or scientific (and often both) -- and he's in the habit of mocking my taste for fiction, always trying to get me to read (or listen to) something more edifying. About once a year he finds something which he insists I read -- though I don't always go along -- and this year it's the book he just finished, called The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible.

I'm sure I've mentioned here before that my husband is NOT strictly speaking a spiritual person (I suspect it's because he's naturally a good soul and doesn't need the constant reminders to behave). He's curious about it, and occasionally reads religious histories, but mostly he likes to poke a bit of fun at my pretensions, and I feel certain he bought this book for the same reason he took me to see Bill Maher's movie, Religulous: he has fond hopes that I will see the foolishness of all this, just as I harbor fond hopes that he will see "the light."

At any rate, he chuckled rather a lot while reading this book, and placed it firmly on my bedside table when he was done, so when I finished my latest junk novel I obediently picked this one up. And it's marvelous. I honestly wonder if this man, A.J. Jacobs, an Esquire magazine writer who decided for a lark to spend a year trying to live by all the rules in the Bible, will not convert more people to faith than any church or religious writer. Because what he is discovering as he walks through this year is that going through the motions of religion actually has a huge effect on you. And what's curious -- and wonderful -- is that the faith his actions are revealing or awakening in him is not the churchy hypocritical rule-based faith so many of us have rejected, but the same deeper abiding presence -- the now -- that we read about in Thomas Merton, Cynthia Bourgeault, Eckhart Tolle and Richard Rohr.

It's clear he started his walk as a joke, and as a clever opportunity to write a book exposing the foolishness of faith. But it's not turning out that way; rather it's like those two scientists in Malcolm Gladwell's Blink (the LAST book my husband had me read) who were studying facial muscles and learned that making angry faces can make you feel angry. Apparently going through the motions DOES make a difference, however empty the process may seem. Which might explain the rampant materialism and self-absorption of this country over the last few decades: however flawed church may be, we lost a lot when we stopped insisting on going there once a week.

All of which is a way of reminding myself that even when my mind wanders off into Neverland, it's still good that I show up for meditation every morning. Because even just showing up can make a difference. So I do my best to stay present, and I'm learning to forgive myself when I can't. But most of all I look forward to releasing that part of me that's anxiously rehearsing my lines. Because Christmas is coming, and I want to be as open as possible to that marvelous shift of light.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Both/And: Forgiveness as a means to non-dual thinking

I spent quite a bit of time on the phone yesterday with a neighbor who wanted to rave about the play I'm in. He happened to see it the night we had to stop production and turn on the lights because the curtain had gotten caught on one of the pieces of scenery, and he was proud to claim he'd led the round of applause when we were finally able to untangle things and roll out the missing wall.

For him the whole evening was an opportunity for rejoicing: he is new to our little community, delighted to be a part of it, and thrilled with the intimacy of our theater. At intermission he raved about the production to the man behind him -- only later realizing that the man was our director -- and yesterday he was joyfully listing all the things that impressed him: the actors, the sets, the costumes...

And with that I balance the report of my daughter, who, though she claims I was the best part of the play, left at intermission because she was so put off by the stiffness of the other actors and the poor quality of the dancers. (Granted, she's become a bit of a dance snob, attending the college known for producing Martha Graham).

Some of the difference between these two viewpoints can be traced to age, of course: at 21, most anything that happens in your home town is dust you want to shake from your sandals. But much of it is because of how they see. Which is why I post this picture I found in my files this morning, a picture that probably belongs with the set of images I had in the Women Behind the Lens show last month. I found the subject in a local junkyard. And while most people, looking at it, would only see one of those old rubber welcome mats from the 50's, I saw -- and loved -- the pattern.

Yes, this image -- like my play -- is both/and: both a flawed vehicle and a thing of beauty. And to appreciate either the image or the play, you have to hold the both and the and in a kind of creative tension, both accepting and appreciating what is, and forgiving what is not. Which is really what we do when we choose to live fully present, in the moment. It's all about non-dual thinking, about choosing not to declare that one thing is good and another bad -- or as Richard Rohr says, it's about choosing to eat from the Tree of Life, rather than from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Rohr writes about this beautifully in this morning's chapter from The Naked Now:

"Whenever we can appreciate the goodness and value of something while still knowing its limitations and failures, this also marks the beginnings of wisdom and nondual consciousness. Most humans are not very good at such "allowing;" it often feels like what Paul calls "groaning." Perhaps a more familiar word is simply "forgiveness."

The struggle to forgive reality for being exactly what it is right now often breaks us through to nondual consciousness.
...You cannot bypass the necessary tension of holding contraries and inconsistencies together, if you are to live on this earth. These earthly experiences, these daily presentations will teach you nonduality in a way that is no longer theoretical or abstract. It becomes obvious in everything and everybody, every idea and every event, almost hidden in plain sight. ...

I think this creative tension, this "opening and holding pattern" is the very name and description of faith...the balancing act is itself the very way we go deeper, just as in marriage or other relationships. It is the work of "and."

...When you are concerned with either attacking or defending, manipulating or resisting, pushing or pulling, you cannot be contemplative. When you are preoccupied with enemies, you are always dualistic... Dualistic people use knowledge, even religious knowledge, for the purposes of ego enhancement, shaming, and the control of others and themselves, for it works very well in that way.

Non-dual people use knowledge for the transformation of persons and structures, but most especially to change themselves and to see reality with a new eye and heart. They hold and "suffer" the conflicts of life instead of passing them on or projecting them elsewhere. They do not get rid of life's pain until they learn its necessary lessons. Such a holding tank that agrees to hold it all, eliminating nothing, is what I mean by living in the naked now and being present outside the mind.

For some reason I can comprehend this more clearly now that I have the specific example in mind of this inherently flawed production (and my flawed performances in it). I guess that's why Jesus taught in parables -- it's so much easier to understand when we can relate what He's saying to instances in our own lives.

So what in your life gives you the opportunity to practice this balance, this holding good and evil in appreciative, creative tension? Rohr says we get lots of opportunity to practice, including "irritable people, long stop lights, and our own inconsistencies." So I guess the answer is -- well, Duh! Everything!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Tuned, and ready to receive...

My Advent started off with a bang, with the O Antiphons: who wouldn't be moved by the poetry of Malcolm Guite? Doesn't this poem perfectly describe the state of mind with which we begin this season in search of the Light?

O Radix

All of us sprung from one deep-hidden seed,
Rose from a root invisible to all.
We knew the virtues once of every weed,
But, severed from the roots of ritual,
We surf the surface of a wide-screen world
And find no virtue in the virtual.
We shrivel on the edges of a wood
Whose heart we once inhabited in love,
Now we have need of you, forgotten Root
The stock and stem of every living thing
Whom once we worshiped in the sacred grove,
For now is winter, now is withering
Unless we let you root us deep within,
Under the ground of being, graft us in.

But I feel like I've been sitting "shriveled on the edges of a wood" for the last few days, so it was with extraordinary joy that I encountered these words from Richard Rohr's Naked Now this morning:

"Prayer is actually setting out a tuning fork. All you can really do in the spiritual life is get tuned to receive the always present message. Once you are tuned, you will receive, and it has nothing to do with worthiness or the group you belong to, but only inner resonance and a capacity for mutuality. The Sender is absolutely and always present and broadcasting; the only change is with the receiver station...

Most simply put, prayer is something that happens to you, much more than anything you privately do...God stops being an object of attention... and becomes at some level your own "I am."

...You are already a child of God, equipped with everything you need to begin resonating with the divine. That does not mean you are morally or psychologically perfect. Not at all. But you will now have the freedom to see such failings in yourself, to grow and to love better because of them."

That's really what I needed to hear -- ALL I needed to hear -- to begin moving back into that rooted, grounded space where I can begin again to resonate with the Divine; to know again that God -- and you -- and I are truly One.

And not a moment too soon, for Christmas is just around the corner!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

"Oh Lord, won't'cha buy me a Mercedes Benz?"

Remember that old Janis Joplin tune? Well, way back in 1987 when we were flat broke and jobless with an 18-month-old daughter and another kid on the way, a friend of ours (who had been a Mercedes mechanic) told us (since we desperately needed a second car) that the sturdiest, goin'-est, longest-lasting cars ever made were the 1978 and 79 Mercedes 300D's.

So we found one in what was laughingly called "British Red" (the car had faded to a sort of burnt orange) and, truth to tell, the thing went like a top for as long as we drove it.

Which meant that when it began to grow seriously tired, around 10 years later, my husband elected to buy ANOTHER used Mercedes -- a 1987 300SD. And, 10 years after that, in 2006, when our daughter learned to drive, she elected to purchase yet another used Mercedes, this time a 1977, because it reminded her of the old orange car. Each of these cars cost about $5K when we bought them, and they were definitely fabulous cars for the money. But old cars are still old cars, and eventually even a Mercedes comes to the end of its normal life cycle.

We gave the orange one to our mechanic a few years back after it got inundated in one of our high tides, and the 1987 has been a bit iffy for a couple of years now, but our daughter's '77 is still going strong, so my husband's been driving it while she's been off at college. But she took that car to Vancouver with her this week, and he needs to take my car (a roomy Honda Pilot) down to Portland to retrieve our other daughter and her piles of household goods, so we decided to get the 87 running again to get me to and from the theater.

Unfortunately the '87 appears to have lost all its oomph: it can't get up the hill to even get off the sandspit. Which means that all of a sudden life has gotten rather complicated.

I know. It shouldn't matter, and it shouldn't affect my meditation. But though I sat for half an hour this morning I was incredibly itchy and restless the whole time -- first time I've encountered those feelings in a LONG time -- and the blog just wouldn't come this morning. I went to coffee with a friend, took the cat to the vet, looked at lots of pictures and still -- I got nothing.

Which just goes to show. The peace and joy I find in meditation are an incredible gift, and -- for now at least -- due as much to my relatively peaceful and predictable life as to any superior spirituality on my part: clearly I fold as soon as the going gets tough.

Yes, there's a lot on our plates right now, all four of us transitioning through some impressive life changes. But wouldn't you think that's when we need that peace the most? As I watched them tow the '87 off to the shop -- and spent the next half hour texting back and forth about schedules to my daughter on her boyfriend's cell, because hers is broken and a phone call to Canada apparently costs a fortune -- I realized again how ridiculously dependent we are on having things work, and on having them go according to plan.

But maybe the meditation is helping after all. My friend at the vet's office -- when I explained all the confusion -- said she thought I was surprisingly calm, given the circumstances. And, yes, I guess that's true. But however calm I may appear, I know I'm snapping a bit more than usual. Time to go have some chocolate -- and maybe add another meditation session this evening: looks like I may need it!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The God of Expectant Delight

This charming imp sits in the yard of my friends' wonderful home in Vermont. I love the delight in its face, the happy expectation that whatever happens next is going to be fun: there's a trust here, and an innocence, that I see also in the face of the Dalai Lama, and long to find for myself. And the fact that it's not there yet -- in me, that is -- is my constant reminder that I've not yet reached the fullness of enlightenment.

Due to the play and various family obligations I've missed my last two spirituality classes, and a quick query yesterday reminded me that I'm a bit behind in my reading of Elizabeth Lesser's The Seeker's Guide, our text for this year. And, interestingly enough, one of the passages I read this morning echoes my post from yesterday:

"If we can change the way we see, we can change the way we respond. Meditation changes the way we see and therefore respond to the unavoidable stress in life."

What intrigues me is that it also echoes the chapter I was reading this morning in Richard Rohr's book, The Naked Now, in which he talks about conversion as a matter of changing the way we see. And then, of course, the subtitle of Rohr's book is "Learning to See as the Mystics See."

All of which is intriguing me because I have two roles in this play I've been doing: I am Liza, the children's maid, who is all about love and discipline, and Gabby, the pirates' cook and fiercest member of the gang. As Liza I can wear my glasses -- I have an old rimless pair that are quite appropriate for the period -- but as Gabby I have to wear my contacts. Since it's a fairly quick change and I have to change back to the glasses before the end of the play, I eventually figured out I could get by on one contact, and I've chosen the right one because (since I'm right-handed) it's easier to get in and out.

It's amazingly easy to get around backstage, even though I'm only seeing out of one eye and have little depth perception, but I've been watching to see if there are any odd shifts in the way I think or act or move. Because by turning off the left eye I am essentially unplugging my right brain -- at least as I understand it -- and therefore, for that brief period of time, changing the way I see; fortunately in a way that is quite consistent with the character I'm playing.

So I was thinking about all this when I was meditating this morning: about how much of my work life was spent doing primarily left-brain work, and how much joy I used to get from engaging my brain in that particular way, organizing complex projects, translating complex concepts into accessible language, managing budgets and people. And yet now I move in an almost entirely right-brain environment, so that people seem genuinely surprised when my left brain appears, all suited up for work. And how does all this left-brain/right-brain stuff affect how I see?

What I do know is that back in those days the religion I was embracing -- though I felt it deeply, and am still moved when I read the sermons I wrote back then -- was still primarily a left-brain concept. God was still "out there, somewhere," a being capable of punishment and retribution, a being who sorted the world into believers and non-believers, good and evil, right and wrong and allowed His followers to do the same. There was good stuff in that religion, but it lived primarily in my head, and didn't seem to have all that much to do with my heart.

And now?

Now I subscribe more to the Gerard Manley Hopkins version of God:

Wild air, world-mothering air,
Nestling me everywhere...
I say that we are wound
With mercy round and round,
As if with air, the same...

And if I were to imagine now a face for such a God, I expect it would look at me with the same delighted expectancy of this imp, as if to say -- as I do in the play, speaking as Liza, both brains engaged -- "Ah, the imaginations of these children, Mum -- what will they think of next!" I'm hoping that with time and meditation I can open more to that divine delight that lives within me, and come to view the world from that same perspective.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A little closer to then

One of the frustrations that affects anyone who's ever tried to take a photograph is that there is a significant difference between what our eyes see and what the camera sees.

For one thing, our eyes have a gift for balancing light; for seeing the blue of the sky as well as the green of the grass, while the camera must often choose between the two. To get the green grass, the sky is over-exposed and becomes white. To get the sky, the grass is under-exposed and turns a dark muddy brown.

To compensate for these challenges, I often find myself taking two or sometimes three different images, one exposed for sky and another exposed for cabin, or for grass, and then layering them over one another to find the necessary balance.

The human eye also has a gift for filtering out unnecessary distractions: when we look through a screened window, we see the beauty in the field beyond. And when we look at the face of a loved one, we automatically filter out their surroundings -- and then are startled later, when the film is developed, to see a branch sticking out of her ear, or a gray haze over the garden where the window was dirty.

I think the difference between the way God sees and the way we see is equally significant. I think God is even better at balancing light and dark than we are, because God's seeing has the added dimension of time. Just as we can see the balance between dark and light in a particular view, God can see that there is a balance between the dark and light periods over the course of our lives. Where we -- in a dark place -- have to call up a memory or imagine a future where there is light, and layer it over the present in order to achieve a feeling of emotional balance, God can take it all in at once.

And where we see more narrowly -- the things in our lives being divided into that which is loved and should be highlighted, and that which is a distraction and must be erased -- God sees as a sort of magnified version of what the camera sees: everything -- and everything is loved; everything contributes to the beauty and mystery of life. For God there are no screens, no filters; everything is good and beautiful in its way.

My husband has been a little stressed lately, preparing to re-enter the job arena, and I have found myself saying something I've always in the past been careful NOT to say: that I think it's possible he might find meditation helpful. Yesterday he asked what benefits I thought might ensue for him from meditation, and my first thought was that it would help him be more responsive in the now; help him to be more attuned to what is being communicated by those around him, more aware of undercurrents, less likely to get so caught up in his own need to communicate that he misses what is really being asked of him.

Which is, essentially, a way of saying that meditation -- I think, anyway -- brings us a bit closer to seeing as God sees; closer to the big picture, in which the distinction between now and not-now, between light and not-light; between loved and not-loved becomes more blurred, while at the same time we become more aware of all of those pieces as key ingredients in being present and offering presence.

All of which brings to mind that curious line from First Corinthians: For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known. Maybe by meditating we move into that space between now and then -- or at least a little closer to then.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The sands are shifting...

As I believe I mentioned earlier, I've been making it a practice to post my Gospel of Thomas pieces first every morning. It's sort of an Advent Bible Study commitment, but I also do it because they load in easily, since most of those meditations were finished 2 or 3 years ago.

But this morning's meditation -- though I like it -- didn't seem to fit all that well. Which probably means that my understanding of the Thomas passage it goes with has evolved since I last sat with it.

So instead of going to this blog first thing this morning, I found myself writing a new Thomas meditation for Logion 19 -- which I've posted. It was really fun to go back and revisit that process: reading the passage, thinking about what lines jump out at me, searching for the image those lines call to mind, and then seeing what the image has to tell me about the rest of the passage.

As we continue living in this job-free zone (a practice I hope will be broken sometime in the immediate future) I do find myself thinking about what my ideal job would be. If I could do anything in the world, get paid to do what I love, what would it be? I did apply for another job this week -- a writing job, this time -- but I realized this morning that putting together meditations on these Bible verses is what I most love doing; blending photography and writing, adding a dash of spirit...

The combination of reading Lynn Bauman's wonderful translations, being led by the imagery to a photo, to have been led to take the photo in the first place; to have the photo help in my understanding of the whole passage, and then to overflow with words in response AND get to lay it all out for you... Hmm. Just my idea of heaven. I felt particularly blessed this morning, to get to do it once again.

So, as my first year of daily poetry blogging draws to a close -- with somewhat mixed results -- I find myself wondering if I should do that differently next year; if I should add some Biblical intentionality, instead of just letting the poem and photo flow out of what happens here in this blog, which flows out of life and reading and daily meditation.

Hmmm. More to think about.

And, in honor of today's image, which is about layers of reality (sand, water, tree reflected, and tree), here's today's favorite quote from Rohr's The Naked Now:

"Theism believes that there is a God. Christianity believes that God and humanity can coexist in the same place. These are two utterly different proclamations about the nature of the universe. In my experience, most Christians are very good theists who just happen to have named their god Jesus... The result is that we still think of ourselves as mere humans trying desperately to become "spiritual," when the Christian revelation was precisely that you are already spiritual ("in God), and your difficult but necessary task is to learn how to become human."

I particularly love this because it so clearly resonates with the Thomas passage I just finished illustrating, which is about the importance of understanding how rooted we are in that part of us that existed prior to our temporality. Spirituality is not something we need to strive for; it is what IS. What we are striving for is a way to be human while maintaining our awareness of what lies beneath. It's a subtle difference, but once comprehended can result in a huge cognitive shift...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Clinging to Grace

It was one of those mornings. Exhausted from lack of sleep, and from back-to-back play performances; angry with myself for forgetting a key prop -- TWICE; feeling dissed by a comment made in the lobby afterward; sad to be seeing so little of my daughter... And then awoke in time for church (but no time for meditation) and could only see all the ways I was saying "No" after having so boldly posted "Yes" yesterday.

The self-critical demons were out in force, the wrong preacher was preaching, and my friend didn't show: I could feel the day going downhill already, and I still had another performance to do. Things were looking bleak.

But the message -- even though I could barely keep my eyes open (and they're doubly chafing from 6 days in a row of multiple makeup applications) -- was a good one: there is grace, and we are loved. There was probably more to it than that, but that was all I needed to hear. I rested my eyes on the priest's gloriously patchworked Advent robes, and on the lovely advent poem included in the bulletin, written by one of our parishioners. Another parishioner, whom I didn't know, but whose face was familiar, greeted me on the way out with joyful acclamations about the play, which he'd seen the night before, and I left the church to find the temperature finally lifting above freezing -- both inside and out.

It's such a gift, this faith of ours; so nice to know that Grace is present in our lives even when we are not really quite there to feel it. Grace to know we are forgiven for our tiredness and self-absorption, for the times we screw up and the times we have nothing left to give. Grace to be walking through this season of Advent and know that we are not -- EVER -- alone.

And so I share that Advent poem, written by Barbara Hume, whose singing voice is every bit as glorious as her poetic voice:

An Advent Song

A child is born, a heart begins

to the pulse of God's own Son.
Hidden in each longing heart,

new life for a hungry soul.

Chorus: Cantante domino (Sing to the lord)

Cantante novum (Sing a new song)

Pushing, prodding, enlarging our lives

giving birth to a sacred soul

Caring, longing to anchor my heart

to a long lost love of old

Chorus: Cantante domino

Cantante novum

New each advent morning

embraced with the arms of grace

Celebrate the desert blooms

a hope mirrored in each face

Chorus: Cantante domino

Cantante novum

A child is born, a heart begins

to the pulse of God's own Son.

And then I came home to a post from my friend Alice, sent via Blackberry from a bedside vigil for her stepson, who is suffering an acute attack of peritonitis. She has written to say that "nothing more can be done for Todd and we have to wait 48 hours to take him off life support. We're going home to regroup."

Yes, faith tells me there is Grace in this as well. But sometimes it is very hard to see. I am clinging to Grace, and hoping Alice and Todd and his father Bob and sister Kelly are all feeling embraced by Grace, rooted and grounded in Grace, and somehow, somewhere, abounding in Grace.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Saying Yes to Inclusion

I just realized something this morning, as I was mulling over last night's performance, and I thought I'd share it with you, as I think it may have larger implications.

Directors always seem to be telling us actors, "Turn OUT, Turn OUT!", meaning "please face the audience when you speak --" which has always felt weird to me.

I've always assumed that turning to face the audience would somehow make the play less believable, harder to engage with -- and isn't going to the theater, like going to the movies, an opportunity to engage with some other reality?

In which case, shouldn't my character be speaking to the other characters on stage? If I just face forward, doesn't that make it all less believable? I just figured that for some reason the directors wanted to be sure the audience could watch the expressions on my face, but it was still a struggle. (Can you tell I'm relatively new to acting? I've only been doing this for seven years...)

My new realization is this: turning out is a way to include the audience in the story. If I face them as I speak, and actually speak TO them, it is as if the audience and are colluding together, or "in cahoots" (wherever that expression comes from); that they and I are united together in whatever emotion I am expressing to the other players.

By turning out, I blur the boundaries between what is happening on stage and the people in the chairs; in fact, it's not unlike the sort of flow between me and not-me that happens in meditation. By turning out, I invite the audience into the experience -- it's why shows like The Office, where the principals occasionally turn and address the camera directly, are so successful, and why an actor like George Clooney is so engaging: because it feels like you're on his team.

What's exciting about this discovery is that a stage performance -- including something as simple as leading a worship service or giving a sermon -- need no longer be about perfection, or ego. You are no longer alone out there, even though you are in the community of actors (or acting on behalf of God). If you say "yes" to your audience, as in "yes, we are in this together," then you are in collusion with the audience: they are WILLING you to be successful, and willing you to be the best your character can be -- eager, in fact, for "the willful suspension of disbelief."

Theater -- and preaching -- are then no longer about audience as something other and outside that you need to impress, indoctrinate or inform. Instead, it's about reaching out, including, and sharing; about working together WITH the audience to create an experience that transcends our separation, that takes us beyond immediate reality into unity.

And somehow that brings me to what I read this morning in Richard Rohr's Naked Now:

"Never underestimate the absolute importance -- and the difficulty -- of starting each encounter with a primal "yes!" ... To start each encounter with "no" is largely what it means to be unconscious or unaware. You eventually become so defended that you cannot love or see well, and so defensive that you cannot change... If you start with Yes, you are much more likely to get a Yes back."

I know. It should be ridiculously obvious. But I just never got it before. And suddenly I'm hearing in my head an old Ella Fitzgerald rendition of this Gershwin song: How Long Has This Been Going On?.

"I could cry salty tears:
Where have I been all these years ?

Little wow, tell me now --
How long has this been going on?

There were chills up my spine,

And some thrills I can't define.

Listen, sweet, I repeat:

how long has this been going on?

Oh, I feel that I could melt;
Into Heaven I'm hurled!

I know how Colombus felt,
Finding another world.

Kiss me once, then once more.

What a dunce I was before.

What a break ! For Heaven's sake!

How long has this been going on?"

Friday, December 11, 2009

Waterfall of mercy

Hmm. I seem to be getting off to a bit of a slow start this morning. I did take some pictures of the frost, but they didn't turn out that well. So I pulled up a picture taken in Florida, but after two tries that seems not to be what today is about either. All of which makes me wonder: if I WERE to take on a full-time job, would I still have the energy or the inclination for blogging? Because I'm sure it's the play that's taking it out of me today -- all these late nights, and the concentration required...

I'm also distracted because our younger daughter's flying home today, and her planes are being delayed -- which results in numerous phone calls as she tries to rearrange her rather complex social life based on estimated times of arrival.

After the first two tries on the blog I realized I was exhausted, and decided to go back to bed for a nap in hopes that would rejuvenate me. And as I was heading up the stairs my husband said, "You know, you could just take a day off from the blog." Of course he's right; "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds," and all that. But there were things I wanted to share -- I just can't figure out how they all tie together. So I think I'll just list them and let you make whatever connections seem to need making.

1. My husband came home grinning yesterday because he'd seen a bumper sticker that read "Political Correctness means always having to say you're sorry." So I of course said (showing my age), "Does that mean Political Correctness is the opposite of Love?" but he didn't get the reference (to the tagline from that ancient movie, Love Story -- "Love means never having to say you're sorry." -- all of which ties in with a poem I wrote yesterday and posted as a comment on Seedlings in Stone, a poem called "Offensive Apologies," about when you're expected to apologize and do so but in such a way that clearly puts the fault on the other person.

2. I read this morning's post on the Image and Spirit blog and was really struck by David's piece, particularly these lines:

I’ve allowed Netflix and caffeine into my space (again) to make their claims and set me down on the couch-of-my-life. These are all the low-level comfort/addictions of a typical middle class life – and the unconscious fear of the unknown that goes along with it...The Three Wise Men, the Kings of the Orient, represent a kind of inner soul bravery of spirit, a curiosity that trespasses barriers, an expansive outlook, a search for our Origin that leads out into far flung territories, something that follows a Star. This is all wrung out of us here in the West – in the West-of-our-lives – doesn’t matter if you are reading this in China – we all have a ‘West’ – a place of safety and drunkenness with safety. A place in the self with a lot of very human preoccupations and No Trespassing signs. The signs and barriers are there - even when we don’t see them - especially when we don’t see them."

...And I've just started, on the advice of my dear friend Nan, reading Richard Rohr's latest book, The Naked Now, and am finding it to be a marvelous gift on many levels. Here's my favorite quote for today:

"No wonder all of the great liturgical prayers of the churches end with the same phrase: "through Christ our Lord, Amen." We do not pray TO Christ; we pray THROUGH Christ. Or even more precisely, Christ prays through us. We are always and forever the conduits, the instruments, the tuning forks, the receiver stations (Romans 8:22-27). We slowly learn the right frequencies that pick up the signal."

Perhaps that's the issue -- I'm just not tuned properly today. Maybe it's the coffee, or the late night TV (to help bring me down from the highs of performance) that are interfering with my signals, keeping me from following whatever star was shining out there today.

Luckily Rohr has one last thought for me that keeps me from being too hard on myself:

"You are standing under the same waterfall of mercy as everybody else, and receiving an undeserved radical grace which gets to the root of everything."

Are you feeling a bit out of sorts -- discombobulated, as my mom used to say? Come join me under that waterfall of mercy; there's room for everyone, I'm told.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Don't look at this one!

Why is it so difficult to look at our own faces in the mirror? For me it's not so much about aging -- a few wrinkles and sags seem a small price to pay for the pleasure of still being alive -- but more about the discomfort of seeing my mother's face.

That mouth -- in this picture, anyway -- is completely and irrevocably hers, and this particular expression of it is one I associate 100% with her own peculiar blend of longing for acceptance mixed with insecurity.

But wait, don't we all have that blend in us? And don't I find it endearing in everyone else? So why is it so unacceptable in her, and therefore so unappealing in me? Perhaps because in her it manifested as a stiffness, and an innate tendency to criticism: unable to love herself, she found it equally hard to love others, including me, and was therefore always watching with a critical eye, waiting to condemn for some imagined slight or imperfection.

And so, when I see that face, I cringe, waiting for the next critical comment to fall. And even though it doesn't, I tend to turn away. Perhaps I need to look instead at the eyes, the windows to the soul, and see instead the joy that lives in there...

I asked my husband what he saw. His responses were pretty amusing. "Gums!" "You look really happy, and very comfortable with yourself." "It's the lipstick that makes the mouth look like your mom's... and the makeup accentuates the bags under your eyes." But the funniest response of all? "Good thing I married you when you were young and beautiful!" (I got a hug with that one).

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Morning blessings

This is a crazy week: rehearsals Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evening; performances Thursday and Friday evenings, 2 performances Saturday and a matinee on Sunday. Plus our younger daughter arrives with her boyfriend on Friday, and I have 3 calendars and a directory to get to the local printer so they'll be done in time for Christmas.

I'm doing my best to conserve energy (my husband's being really helpful, taking up the slack in housework) but my body decided to help out by sleeping late this morning. Instead of getting up at 6 to feed and inoculate our diabetic dog, I slept until almost 8 -- and was greeted by this spectacular sunrise when I came downstairs.

Which was particularly amusing because my dreams -- the morning ones, at least -- had the same feel to them: they were big, vast, full of possibility and color, anchored in reality but at the same time so much more. It was as if something inside me was determined to remind me that the world is much wider than the stress of my immediate concerns, and I awoke refreshed and ready to face the challenges of the day, grateful for whatever it is that was so determined to bless me this morning.

... and I'm going to replace one of those calendar images with this one -- it's just too beautiful not to share!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Becoming more

Back before the economy fell apart, the Washington State Governor had a wonderful plan for cleaning up our waterways by installing more effective sewage treatment stations at our state parks. There's a state park at the end of our street, and so the plan was to build a treatment system there and to allow both our street and the street on the hill above us to use that sewer system.

The plan has involved numerous city council meetings, and on one of our many visits to city hall we encountered this intriguing fellow standing in the window. He was there to protest a plan to eliminate liveaboards from Eagle Harbor -- i.e., to no longer allow people to live on boats anchored out in this rather public harbor (which is surrounded by elegant homes).

In short, he was there to protest one kind of change, and we were there to request another kind of change -- and, interestingly enough, both changes were being justified by a claim to be cleaning up the waters of Puget Sound (though some studies have shown that most of the pollution in Eagle Harbor comes from the surrounding homes, not the liveaboards). And the question for our City Council, in such cases, becomes, "Where does the truth lie, and what is best for our community?"

But isn't that always the question? Isn't every decision about change? And aren't we always attempting to discern where the truth lies, and what is best for all concerned? And isn't it also true that most of the conflicting information we get to sift through has to do with egoic coloration: I want this outcome because it is best for me, and so I will color the truth in order to achieve that end?

A friend sent me Katrina Kenison's sweet video on The Gift of an Ordinary Day, and I found myself thinking about all those decisions we make as parents -- when to be fierce with our kids and when to be gentle; when to have high expectations and when to lower them; what to give freely, and what to make them earn -- and how those decisions, too, all have to do with change, truth, and what is best for all concerned, and those decisions, too, are colored by ego -- both ours, and those of our kids.

How many times, I think, looking back over those child-raising years, did I get angry with my daughters, not because what they were doing was really bad, but because it reflected badly on me? And how many times did I coddle them and solve their problems rather than pushing them to find their own solutions, just because it was easier for me not to deal with their whining? And how different are those decisions from the decisions my city council has to make, really?

If there is, as my husband believes, such a thing as absolute truth, how do we find it? And how do we come to forgive ourselves for all the times we made -- or influenced -- decisions that weren't really truth-based, but more ego-based? My sense is that we are, each of us, and our communities and our societies, all works-in-progress. As David Richo says in my readings this morning, "Identity is a process, not an established structure. Our identity, in other words, is an evolving phenomenon. It is impermanent, not only because it is contingent, but also because it is continually changing to become what it will never fully be. We will always be more -- and never final."

And then he goes on to say, "The more we affirm that others matter as much as we do, the more we find our personal path and our purpose in life. This interconnectedness is how universal evolutionary -- that is, ever-ripening -- yearnings fulfill themselves in individual lives." So perhaps this constant process of responding to change, making decisions, seeking truth, overcoming ego and looking for what is best for all is all part of what moves us forward on the path to becoming... well, maybe not what we were born to be. Maybe we don't quite ever get there. But at least we can become... more.

So it's all good.