Sunday, January 31, 2010

On breathing and space

"Even a stone...could show you the way back to God, to the Source, to yourself. When you look at it or hold it and let it be without imposing a word or mental label on it, a sense of awe, of wonder, arises within you. Its essence silently communicates itself to you and reflects your own essence back to you."
-- Eckhart Tolle, Oneness With All Life

Fueled by my experience with the spirit doll the day before, I spent much of yesterday restoring energy to the little office (which used to be my laundry room) where my computer now lives. I put on some wonderful flute music (Desert Spirit), lit some incense (something I rarely do), and spent my time clearing surfaces, putting things away, and arranging what are essentially sacred objects around the space. And breathing: breathing new life into the space, and allowing it to breathe new life into me.

I found a little metallic bag, given me long ago in some circumstance I no longer remember, with a stack of sayings in it. The one I pulled from the stack said "Make Music," and since, in the cleaning, a number of recorders appeared, given to me over 20 years ago, I took the one whose range was closest to the music and played along with the CD, allowing the notes to breathe through me. I loved the vibration of that; it's been a long time since I felt that.

I'm nearing the end of Tolle's book now, and he's been talking a lot about space -- the space within me, but also the space within all things -- even a stone. "That 'empty space'," says Tolle, "is life in its fullness, the unmanifested Source out of which all manifestation flows. The traditional word for that Source is God." So I'm -- and actually, I suppose this flows out of the intention from last week, about stopping to breathe during the day -- attempting, when I stop to breathe, to feel the space inside me, and inside the things around me. I think of all the cells in me, and in the oak desk below my keyboard, and of the space inside those cells echoing with the presence of Holiness.

And when I do that, it feels like I'm breathing pure oxygen, scented with salt and pine; the oxygen I find when I am on my favorite island, in this space pictured here.

It was lovely; one of those rare times when doing and being coincide. I'm hoping I can carry that coincidence into other parts of my life.

And isn't that cool; that the root word for those coincidences, which we all love, is "coincide," as in doing and being coinciding?


Saturday, January 30, 2010

... and all manner of things shall be well...

Good morning!

I thought I'd share this with you: this little doll is what emerged from yesterday's restlessness.

I wasn't quite sure, when the day began, why I felt so off-center. Thinking it might be because I had awakened WAY too early, I went back to bed, but was only able to get a small nap in; mostly I just lay there, churning.

But when I did get up, I had a little more energy, and I had in my head this vision of a small face made of blue clay -- which meant I would need to go out shopping. So I tackled two of the chores on my to-do list, cleaning a desktop and installing Photoshop; made myself some lunch, and then headed for Michael's for some clay.

I haven't worked with clay in years, so when I got home and sat down with it, it took several tries to get a face that had any wisdom in it. But once it seemed right, I poked holes in the edges with a toothpick (thinking she would have yarn sprouting out of them, like a lion) and set her in the oven to bake.

I'd given most of my fabric away to Katie's Comforters Guild last year, but tucked away in the garage I found a small box of unfinished quilting projects. (Note to Chris: I don't always finish projects before I start new ones. It's a goal, but clearly I still have work to do!) There were enough loose patchworked bits in there to create a body and some lovely wings, and there were enough bits of yarn floating around (more unfinished projects!) to give her hair. The holes ended up being too small to turn her into a lion -- though they were perfect for stitching her face to her head -- so I guess she'll just have to stay holey!

I then poked around in my grandmother's button box and found these four tiny heart buttons, still pinned to their yellow card in the old way, with tiny loops of wire. They'd obviously never been sewn to anything (I guess unfinished projects run in the family!), and I hadn't intended to use pink -- I'd been looking for yellow -- or hearts (too cutesy for me) -- but these were too perfect to resist.

So once she was complete I carried her all over the house, looking for a place to hang her so I could give you a photo. She looked good just about everywhere, but the best light was on the purple wall of my bathroom, so I took a picture.

By then it was almost 11 pm -- a long day, but a rich one -- and I carried her off to my bedroom, thinking I'd figure out where to hang her permanently tomorrow, but not quite wanting to let her go. And then I realized (my bedside lamp is tall, and turns on and off with a long chain) that I could hang her from the chain (she has a loop at the center of her wings). Here's a picture; she's kindly turned her back on you so you can see the loop and her wings, but she prefers to face away from the wall.

And when I did that, it was as if she came alive. She didn't want to be pressed against a wall, on a nail; she wanted to fly. And the heart buttons -- well, it turns out she was ALL about the heart buttons, and suddenly I felt this wonderful sense of peace, and love, and safety welling up from within me. She had become an expression of the divine Trust in me, and was there to reassure me (I've been feeling a little anxious lately) that "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well." (Thank you, Dame Julian of Norwich!)

I may not be perfect -- this whole project gave me SEVERAL reminders of that! -- but something in me knows I am loved. And that, my dears, has been a total blessing.

Friday, January 29, 2010

What rises up...

I woke up early this morning, feeling out-of-sorts; restless, hungry -- what my first husband used to call "Wandery."

So this curious image -- shot after the fog with the two from yesterday -- speaks to that state: something in me has lost contact with that which normally keeps me afloat, and so I am awkwardly airborne, yet tethered; straining at the leash yet clinging to it; aware of a lot of darkness below yet determined to rise above it, to stay in the light.

And my wrist is telling me it just doesn't want to type today.

So perhaps I won't spend the day as planned -- pinned to the computer, installing my new copy of Photoshop. Perhaps instead I'll listen to that wandering spirit, and follow where it leads; step away from all the shoulds piled up on my desk and just breathe. Something tells me I need to be still, and listen for a bit to what's stirring in the wind...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

When the haze clears...

"Forgiveness happens naturally when you see that your grievances have no purpose other than to strengthen a false sense of self."
-- Eckhart Tolle, Oneness With All Life

One of my chief worries about this blog is that it might get overly preachy at times, and that it might become an unfortunate example of "Those who can, do; those who can't, preach." So it was with some trepidation that I posted yesterday's quote about negativity.

After all, that's not really something any of us really wants to deal with: when sharing our problems, to be told it's our own fault. I mean, OUCH! And, of course, one friend did tell me that as soon as she saw that quote she skipped the blog for the day...

So of COURSE the universe had to come up with a perfect opportunity to practice what I was preaching -- you have to love the synchronicity of that.

So here's how it went:

Last week I had to swap two exhibits: I spent most of Friday taking down the black and white one at our local clinic, taking it to the nearby hospital; taking down the boat exhibit at the hospital, mounting the black and whites there, bringing the boats back, and mounting them here. But yesterday I got a note from someone at the clinic saying she had set aside one of my black and whites and wanted it for her office: would I be willing to sell it to her for a reduced price if she put the card with my name on it next to where it would hang?


It was a lovely opportunity for ALL kinds of negativity in me to emerge, and all sorts of things in me leaped up to do battle. My history with the person wasn't that great to begin with, but the setting aside, the bargaining, the extra trip that would be required if she didn't take it after all -- all guaranteed to get my juices flowing. But of course it was a lovely opportunity to practice what I preach.

So I sat down with a pencil and paper and asked myself all the questions posed by yesterday's quote: What in me WANTS to be angry, and WANTS to feel unfairly treated? What in me gets PLEASURE out of this fury? What do I think I will GET out of this reaction? And, while I was in the midst of all that, another friend suggested I ask, "What feeling is this reaction protecting me from?"

The answers to the first three weren't pretty, of course; it's NOT really pretty to walk in there and look at those parts of you that respond in situations like these. So I was particularly grateful for that last question, which allowed me to see -- and love -- the wounded soul beneath, the one that was hurt and frustrated and anxious and fearful.

In the end, after the angry haze cleared (which is why I chose this image, taken yesterday after the fog cleared) I was able to pen a perfectly reasonable response -- well, at least it seemed reasonable to me. I thanked her for solving the puzzle of the missing image, hoped she hadn't set it aside too long (thereby keeping it from other potential purchasers), told her that if she wished to purchase it she could leave a check for the full amount with the woman in charge of the exhibit, and if not to please leave the image with the woman so I could take it over to the hospital as soon as possible. It wasn't a warm response, but it was even-tempered.

As I meditated after writing the response, I felt an unexpected sense of power, that I'd been able to overcome that initial egoic lashing out. But, more surprisingly, I felt a sense of forgiveness welling up within me, not just for her actions, which I had initially found so distasteful, but also for our past history. It happened just as Tolle says: "With forgiveness, your victim identity dissolves, and your true power emerges -- the power of Presence. Instead of blaming the darkness, you bring in the light."

So let me just say this: I know there are many things that happen in the world that are much harder to forgive than this one tiny incident. And there are things that have happened to ME that are much harder to forgive; that I still have trouble with. But I find it very heartening to see that it's possible -- if you stay with it, go into it, see what you're bringing to the problem-- to emerge back into the light. And perhaps if I can keep practicing this on a small scale, I'll be able to tackle some of the bigger stuff that still haunts me.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

In stillness, calm reflections

"Whenever you are in a negative state, there is something in you that wants the negativity, that perceives it as pleasurable, or that believes it will get you what you want."
-- Eckhart Tolle, Oneness With All Life

There's a thick fog hovering over the island today, providing a quiet backdrop for the tree that fell from the opposite bank and somehow floated through the channel to land on our beach. The small log floating by stands as an appreciative audience for the branches dancing above the tide and the graceful reflections on their watery stage.

Without the calm backdrop of the still water and the fog, these branches just look like clutter on the landscape; it is the stillness that allows us to see their beauty, grace, and playfulness. The irritations in our lives, I think, contain that same possibility: they can be perceived, when our minds and lives are busy, as clutter to be removed, problems to be solved, frustrations to be whined about.

But if we can create a stillness around them, there's a chance we might be able to see the gift in them; see also that it is the attitude with which we surround them that adds that irritating quality.

So when you find a situation is really irritating for you, see if you can create a stillness around it. Ask yourself, "What am I doing to make this worse? What am I getting out of staying agitated about this? And where is the gift in this situation?"

There are no magic answers here: no guarantees a tide will come along to carry the irritation away (and even if it did; who knows what new challenges that tide will bring!). But it might be that this irritation -- like this tree, which now seems permanently mired on my beach -- is becoming a home for a host of new possibilities. It's all in how you look at it.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Challenge for Haiti

I found this marvelous image by Haitian artist Dieuseul Paul on the Artworks for Haiti website, and display it here today as a way of announcing my Challenge for Haiti.

I've been very impressed with the work being done by Partners for Health in Haiti (see Tracy Kidder's wonderful piece on that here) and so I have decided, inspired by my blogger buddy Maureen at Writing without Paper, to donate $1 to Partners in Health for every comment posted to today's poem on my poetry blog.

My donation goal is $100. That means I will donate $1.00 for every posted comment up to a maximum of 100 comments. Well, maybe I'll stretch that a little... let's see what happens!

If you're worried about visiting a poetry blog, because you're not that into poetry, well - don't be. It's a short poem, and shouldn't be too painful. It's based on prompts from two different sources: Carry on Tuesday and the One Word at a Time Blog Carnival. Today’s Carnival prompt is the word PEACE, and today’s prompt from Carry On is a quote from the 18th century artist Sir Joshua Reynolds:

“A room hung with pictures is a room hung with thoughts”

So I played with both those ideas, and they took me down an interesting path. Click here, or on the "Today's Poem" image at left, to see where they led me... Or you can donate directly to Partners in Health by clicking on the link below:

Stand With Haiti

Thanks for joining me in the challenge -- and tell your friends to drop by!

Perspective on the crevasses

"To end the misery that has afflicted the human condition for thousands of years, you have to start with yourself and take responsibility for your inner state at any given moment. That means now... become alert, attentive to your thoughts as well as your emotions.

Watch out for the low-level unhappiness in whatever form, such as discontent, nervousness, being "fed up," and so on. Watch out for thoughts that appear to justify or explain this unhappiness but in reality cause it. The moment you become aware of a negative state within yourself, it does not mean you have failed. It means that you have succeeded. Until that awareness happens,, there is identification with inner states, and such identification is ego."

-- Eckhart Tolle, Oneness With All Life

This photo shows the view from the Huston Camp and Conference Center, where I went for some quiet time last weekend. It's a place I love to go, but there's a part of me that finds it uncomfortable as well. Because when I'm there, alone in my room, or out in the woods, or sharing meals in this dining room in the company of strangers, I am away from all the little distractions of my homelife. The distance is a blessing, in that it gives me an opportunity to get the big picture, to see all the little cracks and crevasses in my life, the dark and light spots, the cloudy and the clear. I get to watch the workings of my mind.

But the truth is, it's not all that much fun to watch my mind go off on its tangents; to see how much energy it spends spinning through its cycles of whining and discontent, criticism and competitiveness, comparison and contrition. It can, in fact, be not just humbling but discouraging. So it's good to be reminded that awareness, not perfection, is the goal.

Yes, that crafty ego has a way of consuming lots of brain time with its incessant negativity. But any time you catch it "doing its thing," you have an opportunity; an opportunity to breathe, release, and know that the part of you that SEES those bad behaviors is being brought to fruition in the act of seeing. And once you can see, you can also see that it's your ego, not your circumstances, that feeds suffering and discontent -- always good to know.

But then you have to forgive your imperfections.

Sometimes that's harder.

But it's all good.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Synchronicity abounding

I've been reading and blogging for a week now about various aspects of the hunger for belonging. So this morning, before I left for church (right about the time I had PLANNED to jump into the shower, so I apologize to any fellow parishioners...) my husband called to tell me a wonderful story.

He happened to be in Mississippi, and decided to drop in on an old college roommate who lives outside of Jackson. As it happened, it was the roommate's birthday (a curious synchronicity of its own: this is the third birthday my husband has accidentally ended up celebrating on this trip) and so they spent the afternoon chatting and the evening partying.

My husband had a wonderful time: apparently he got the full brunt of Southern Hospitality, and loved every minute of it. And he was eager to tell me that he (who, though married to me, does not tend to engage in things spiritual) had had a number of conversations involving religion, poetry and the Bible, and that his host, a self-confessed Jewish atheist, attends a bi-weekly gathering with several clergy in which the Bible is discussed at length. It turns out -- because it is the south -- religion is a way of life in his community, and to engage you need to be conversant with the language, the theology, and the stories.

Interestingly enough, I'm not sure my husband has ever felt quite as welcomed and at home as he felt this evening with this group of southerners. And I found myself remembering my childhood, when most of America was that way, with so many people in church on Sundays, sharing The Stories and socializing in that context. However flawed those communities may have been, they were nonetheless communities. But every time someone, or some group was shunned, another piece broke off, and now it feels sometimes like our whole society is fractured as a result...

So then I went off to church, and our reader today (one of our most gifted readers, I have to say) read (and very beautifully) this wonderful passage from First Corinthians 12:

Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

And our priest, in response, told a story of having been shunned from a group of playmates in 5th grade -- complete with how he felt -- and still feels-- and what happened after, all as part of -- you guessed it -- a rumination on that hunger we ALL have to belong. He concluded with a plea for inclusion and value, not just within this church or this community, but within The Church, and between All Churches, and All nations. Because each of us hungers to belong, and each of us has gifts, and each of those gifts has value. By inviting us to live together as the Body of Christ, Paul was inviting us to set an example of inclusion and acceptance for all humanity. And we have failed badly. But it's not too late to try again.


I was feeling really jazzed by all this synchronicity, and came home eager to blog. But I've promised myself I would always do the Thomas Gospel first, putting God's Word before my own. So I posted today's logion and opened the meditation I'd written -- however long ago that was -- and, well, here it is:

Who are you to decide
which is the weed;
which is the flower?
Just grow,
rejoice in your companions;
cease your endless judging.
Let the burning come later
when the season for growth
has come to an end.

Oddly enough, it turns out to be another riff on the same subject we heard in church this morning.

And how cool is that? Do you think this is a message that is needing to be heard?


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Is that all there is?

My photographer daughter is home for the weekend, so I'm having her look over some of the images I've been preparing for the Center for Fine Art Photography's new Red contest.

She hates this one (I may send it in anyway) because she doesn't like images with lots of noise (all those grainy looking little black dots) in them.

So I decided I'd put in on the blog today -- is that a gesture of defiance? Maybe a little; I do sometimes get a little annoyed when she knows more about photography than I do -- or claims to... But mostly I just want to know why I like this; what it's saying. Because it's actually fairly rare for me to add to images; I mostly just pare them down to their essentials. So when I do actually create a new image, it feels like I'm actually being an artist. Which is cool, because -- as I said to my friend Robin a few days ago -- though I want to belong to that community of people we call artists, I don't always tend to feel we photographers are actually qualified to be considered artists.

I didn’t say that to put myself down: I get that I am an artist: that I have a unique vision, a way of seeing and portraying beauty; that I express a lot of emotional content through my work, and that it has value. (When I was hanging my work at the clinic yesterday a patient walked by and said, "Wow. I feel better just LOOKING at your images!" I can't imagine anything I'd want to hear more!)

But photographers don’t work from scratch the way painters and sculptors and designers and quilters do; we are never confronted with a pile of materials or a hunk of stone or an empty canvas and asked to turn it into something. We are given beauty -- it's everywhere -- and we're only expected to see and reproduce it.

I once took a photography class whose instructor explained to us right from the start that a good photographer -- or was it a professional photographer? -- doesn't Take pictures; she MAKES pictures. And I don't feel I actually do that all that much -- I mostly just respond to stimuli by clicking the shutter. So, again, it feels like "maybe I don't belong."

So when I take something that already exists -- like this red hallway at the Seattle Public Library -- and add an element from some other photograph -- like these two girls, taken at the Roche Harbor Mausoleum around 10 years ago -- then that feels more like art; like I'm making something rather than just taking something. And look at the connotations of those words: Make implies creativity, but Take is just a kind of glorified theft. No wonder certain tribal people worry that the camera has a way of stealing their souls...

But for me, making is more like playing: there's just something in me that says, "hmm, what if...?" and then goes off on an adventure, exploring possibilities -- rather the way our priest's sermons go: he looks at the week's passages and then just sees what stirs in him. Because even if each of us photographers is looking at the same subject, even if each preacher is working from the same passages, even if each painter uses the same canvas and pigments -- the questions we ask, the directions we travel, and the resources we bring to the creative process -- whether it be writing, or painting, or sculpture, or photography -- are uniquely our own.

Maybe there doesn't always need to be a why. Ours is a society which tends to operate out of a masculine/left-brained/rational approach: we need REASONS for the choices we make and the things that we do. But maybe there aren't always reasons. Maybe it's okay to just play, and to enjoy the results of our labors, without it actually saying much of anything, except once I was at the library, and once I photographed two girls climbing stairs, and I thought it would be fun to put the two images together.

"But really now," I hear Freud asking from his couch up in the sky. "Is that all there is?"

Friday, January 22, 2010

Blessings in the Distance

One of the many joys of living on an island -- or at least, this island -- is that a trip to the city always includes a ferry ride. Which means that, both coming into the city and leaving it, you have a chance to rest and look at the big picture; you're not fighting traffic all the way in and all the way home.

As I continue to ponder this idea of distance, I'm thinking it's not only good because it creates a creative tension -- that longing to belong -- but also because it gives us sense of perspective; a chance to examine our own contributions to the situations in which we find ourselves.

Eckhart Tolle says this morning that we need to see what attitude we are bringing to our actions. And if it's not acceptance, enjoyment, or enthusiasm, we need to step back and reconsider, as our actions are inevitably bringing suffering to ourselves and probably others as well. And this, I think, is the function of meditation and contemplation: to give us a chance to separate ourselves -- however briefly -- from the hurly-burly of everyday life and assess what we are bringing to the picture. As Socrates said, the unexamined life is not worth living.

But of course, we all know what happened to Socrates! Those around us are often threatened by our willingness to observe and question -- precisely because we might choose to act independently, to explore what John O'Donohue in Eternal Echoes calls "the wonder of being a human: the freedom offered to you through your separation and distance from every other person and thing."

""You should live your freedom to the full, because it is such a unique and temporary gift," he goes on to say. "When you suppress your wild longing and opt for the predictable and safe forms of belonging, you sin against the rest of Nature that longs to live deeply through you. When your way of belonging in the world is truthful to your nature and your dreams, your heart finds contentment and your soul finds stillness. You are able to participate fully in the joy and adventure of exploration, and your life opens up for living joyfully, powerfully, and tenderly."

Yes, of course -- we sometimes feel our inevitable distance from the people and the life around us as a painful separation. But there is a blessing in the distance as well. Today I hope you will take a minute to sit in that distance, to get comfortable in it; to FIND comfort -- and perspective -- in it.

It's all good. And as Bette Midler sings (however corny it might sound) --

From a distance you look like my friend,
even though we are at war.
From a distance I just cannot comprehend
what all this fighting is for.

From a distance there is harmony,
and it echoes through the land.
And it's the hope of hopes, it's the love of loves,
it's the heart of every man.

It's the hope of hopes, it's the love of loves.
This is the song of every man.
And God is watching us, God is watching us,
God is watching us from a distance.
Oh, God is watching us, God is watching.
God is watching us from a distance.

Here's what I believe: when we take a minute to experience that distance, we will invariably find that we are not alone. That which is Divine within and around us joins us in the watching, mourns and rejoices with us at what we come to see, and works with us to bring a more loving and powerful way into being.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Step away from that pancake!

"All human creativity issues from the urgency of longing...The arduous task of being a human is to balance longing and belonging so that they work with and against each other to ensure that all the potential and gifts that sleep in the clay of the heart may be awakened and realized in this one life."
-- John O'Donohue, Eternal Echoes

Reading these thoughts this morning, in the context of yesterday's readings and discoveries, I see that all that is great and good and terrible in us humans seems to stem from our efforts to bridge the distance between what is and what could be; and that all the times we hunger -- whether for food, or "stuff", or love, or belonging -- arise out of that longing, which, O' Donohue says, comes from this: that "The one who dreamed the universe loved circles and created everything with such beautiful incompletion that we need others to complete the circles of identity, belonging, and creativity."

These thoughts came clear to me in my morning's meditation (however muddy they may seem in the re-telling of them), and I arose from my chair eager to write them down. But that, too, is a hunger, and so I created space around it by choosing to follow my normal routine and complete today's entry in the Gospel of Thomas first. And there I found the poem I had written -- at least a year ago, if not more -- for today's Logion:

I understand:
there are things you want,
things you need,
even some things you crave:
this life cannot be easy.

Those wants,
those needs,
those cravings --
bring them all to me:
let me demonstrate
how I can fill your emptiness
with blessings beyond imagining.

Every step away from riches
is one step closer to Heaven.

Don't you just love the synchronicity of this?

And, oh-by-the-way, yesterday's practice of stopping to breathe was good: not enough, but good. I missed the serenity of my meditation practice, but I want to do both. So today I will try to keep that up, but I will also attempt to notice, be conscious, of the hungers I feel over the course of the day, and see if I can allow them to remind me of my deeper hunger -- the one that fuels my creativity; the one that feeds my soul.

Pancakes alone are not enough!

After writing this, I left to go in for my weekly coffee date, and this was the song I heard, waiting at the one stoplight between here and there:

The hills are full of secrets
Owls watch by night
Down in town the bars are full
And the drunks are picking fights
These are things I know
But the facts are filtered through
All the ways I want you

2:19 freight train
Moaning somewhere near
I see you in the distance
But I can't get there from here
Hard to believe it's happening
But my whole world's shrunken to
All the ways I want you

Stars look down and laugh at me
I ought to take a bow
Don't have to tell them life's hard sometimes
There's one falling now
Nobody's here beside me
I can talk about it to
All the ways I want you.

-- Bruce Cockburn, All the Ways I Want You
(to listen to a Jimmy Buffet version, click here.)

I don't know. It was beautiful. And in its own way, totally relevant. But maybe that's just me.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Chad Theory

Inner space comes as a stillness, a subtle peace deep within you, even in the face of something seemingly bad. Suddenly there is space around the event. There is also space around the emotional highs and lows, even around pain. And above all, there is space between your thoughts. And from that space emanates a peace that is not "of this world," because this world is form, and the peace is space. This is the peace of God.
-- Eckhart Tolle, Oneness With All Life

I don't normally write about dreams, but this one was so amazing I just had to share it. I dreamed a young woman, college-age, came to me and wanted to show me her art. So I wandered over to where she was working, and she was creating amazing images of women and children interacting together. The images were painstakingly constructed out of chad-sized pieces of magazine photos: in essence, she was doing collage work, but out of these teeny tiny pieces, rather like those computer generated images that are made from thousands of smaller images pieced together.

She had several of these images -- she was putting them together with tweezers and glue -- laid out in a sort of grid on a tabletop, and I turned to tell her how impressed I was, but she had walked away to talk to someone else. I started after her, and then decided just to wait at her workstation, and turned back to look at her table. But from the slight distance I had aquired, the images became a unit together on the table, and formed a soft and pleasing landscape scene, completely different in character from the harder-edged pieces she was creating.

So I called her over to show her the larger effect, and then dreamed I woke up. But actually, I was still asleep, and somehow I had become a a physicist, complete with lab coat, and was examining the phenomenon of the layers of images to figure out why the smaller ones had such a completely different character from the large one.

And in my scientist mode I had this amazing epiphany: that her individual images, the ones created so painstakingly out of chad, were not really important; that unlike the chad pieces, whose colors and values were so critical to her collages, those collages, sitting disconnected on the table before me, contributed almost nothing to the larger image but a sort of soft, ethereal background: it was the space between her pieces that told the larger, more important story -- rather as if you were looking at a painting of a horse in a field behind a lattice fence, and the chadpieces were the little glimpses you could see between the lattice strips; not really contributing much to the overall painting.

So then I awoke and came downstairs for my coffee and my reading. And this morning's reading included the above quote. Coincidence? Hmm. I think not: it's inevitable that what I am learning and reading and writing about will begin to manifest itself in my dreams. And so I sat down to try and create an image which would convey visually (although it's not nearly as rich and complex) the concept of my dream. If you look really closely at the fence, you can see the soul collages I made over the weekend, which offered such fascinating (and occasionally worrisome) insights into my thought patterns. But those images -- and the thought patterns that infused them -- are just like little bits of computer chad -- a very small part of the overall picture, which is built into the space around them.

And in a related thought -- John O'Donohue says in his book Eternal Echoes (which I picked up shortly after I read the Tolle piece) that it is the distance between us and within us which protects us and fuels our longing for intimacy and oneness. So there's another way to look at the importance of the space between...

So -- if we want to become more conscious of that space between-- Tolle offers this a few pages later:

"Be aware of your breathing. Notice how this takes attention away from thinking and creates space... One conscious breath is enough to make some space where before there was the uninterrupted succession of one thought after another. One conscious breath (two or three would be even better), taken many times a day, is an excellent way of bringing space into your life. Even if you meditated on your breathing for two hours or more... one breath is all you ever need to be aware of, indeed ever can be aware of. The rest is memory or anticipation, which is to say, thought....Also, notice the brief cessation of the breath, particularly the still point at the end of the out-breath, before you start breathing in again."

I've decided I will try this today. Instead of meditating, I will create small spaces for myself around the work I do, taking two or three conscious breaths, feeling the space between thoughts... I'll let you know how it goes!

PS: AFTER I wrote today's blog and poem I opened my mail to find this quote, sent to me last night by my friend Robin:

"The mind creates the abyss, the heart crosses it." -- Sri Nisargadatta


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

From Ego to Awareness

To become free of the ego is not really a big job but a very small one. All you need to do is be aware of your thoughts and emotions — as they happen. This is not really a “doing,” but an alert “seeing.”
-- Eckhart Tolle, Oneness With All Life

Though I was somewhat less anxious last night when I went to bed, I knew from the weather reports that the high tide would be even more significant this morning than it had been yesterday -- and this is the scene that greeted me when I awoke. Yes, the water is all the way up to the garage and under the wheels of both cars.

I took some pictures, let the dog out to pee, and then settled in with my coffee to read more Eckhart Tolle. I began thinking about the blog, and knew this quote would need to come first, but as the sun rose higher it also seemed like a wonderful opportunity to take photos. So instead of meditating, I put on my husband's high top rubber boots and headed out into the water.

By the time I had gotten past the worst of it, the neighbors had begun congregating: two new residents drove down in their car to see what was happening (this is their first year on the spit). And then, behind them, one of the other neighbors was driving our oldest resident -- still in his jammies and robe -- down to see what was happening at our end. So I obligingly walked back through the water (and this was an hour after peak) to show them exactly how deep it was (yes, it slipped over the top of my boots at one point).

By then all the commotion had awakened the neighbor in whose yard the cars had parked (because the water was too deep to go any further) and he came out to chat (can you tell we have a wonderful neighborhood?) and said it made him think we should all go floating about in umbrellas, like Pooh.

So of course I had to go get a teddy bear and an umbrella, and yet another neighbor brought us a pole so we could do some careful staging in the deep places with out losing our model to the outgoing tide... We ended up spending almost half an hour watching the bear float on the tide. After I was done, my closest neighbor spotted me on my way back and invited me in for coffee and a long chat about religion and ecology.

It was a hoot -- what can I say? Yes, I didn't meditate. But I was present, aware, conscious -- and it was all good.

When I came home it was to find the day's mailing from Spirituality and Practice Catalysts for Change program. I thought this WONDERFUL Portia Nelson poem, Autobiography in Five Short Chapters, spoke beautifully to the process of moving from ego into awareness, and so I share it with you:

I walk, down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in
I am lost . . . I am helpless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in the same place.
But, it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in . . . it's a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

I walk down another street.

Today I walked down another street -- well, waded anyway -- and I have to say, it was enlightening!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Lessons in the Forest

When we go into a forest that has not been interfered with by man, our thinking mind will only see disorder and chaos all around us…Only if we are still enough inside and the noise of thinking subsides can we become aware that there is a hidden harmony here, a sacredness, a higher order in which everything has its perfect place and could not be other than what it is and the way it is.”
Eckhart Tolle, Oneness With All Life

Having spent some time in a pretty messy forest this weekend (though, as you can see from this sign, not completely untouched by human hands), it was wonderful to approach it having just read the above lines from Tolle -- and to see that these thoughts are hardly new.

I could begin to see that some things are growing and others are rotting and decaying, and that each process seems to feed the other. It was a gentle reminder -- again -- that good and bad, light and dark, death and life coexist in a holy balance, and it is only our projection, our attachment to form -- and to its continuation -- that separates them and assigns value to one over the other. I was, as Wordsworth says, letting nature be my teacher.

But of course I don't always think and feel that clearly -- as I had plenty of opportunity to observe last night and this morning. When I went through the mail that had arrived over the weekend (and how fortuitous is this?) I discovered that our tide calendars had finally arrived, so I just happened to check the tides for this morning and realized they would be high right when I would need to leave for this morning's car appointment.

And, again, I "just happened" to look over at the barometer and notice that it was riding unseasonably low, which means the tide would be higher even than predicted (with less air pressure, the water rises). So I moved the car to higher ground and went to bed, only to be awakened by a fierce windstorm (out of the south, thankfully; it's the ones from the north that want to slam the logs into the house) about an hour and a half later.

A quick look at said that, indeed, there were both high tide and high wind warnings through til 10 this morning, so I padded around the house in my jammies, moving things away from the garage door (in case the tide comes in) and battening down the deck chairs so they wouldn't blow away. I tried to move the other car to higher ground, but it wouldn't start, so I just had to leave it where it was and head back to bed: I had done my best.

Any sudden awakening gives me an adrenalin rush, and of course we are all haunted by the devastating images of Haiti these days (speaking of which, Episcopal mission friends tell me there are two more great places to contribute if you want to help: Partners in Health, and The Children's Medical Mission in Haiti) so I was pretty wired up, with visions of incipient devastation dancing through my head.

But I was also very tired, so I did eventually fall back asleep. By morning the wind had died down considerably, but the tide was clearly high and rising, and I spent much of my meditation period not being in the present, but running what-if scenarios. Which means I was resisting, fearful, protective, reactive -- all those things that happen when we get attached to form.

It makes sense that I'd respond that way, of course, but it was also good to be able to step back and see that there is a deeper peace, a deeper value, that goes beyond the "stuff" we might face or the "stuff" we stand to lose.

In the end it was all good: the tide WAS really high, but it didn't come in the garage, and didn't get TOO high over the wheel wells of the car that wouldn't start. I managed to get to my drivable car without water pouring into my boots, and though more of the road was underwater than I'd seen before, it wasn't deep enough to cause any trouble, and I made it to the car dealer right on time. Yes, the repairs are going to be PAINFULLY expensive, but given our 100,000 plus miles of service, it's probably time we paid for the privilege of having such a reliable vehicle -- it's been incredibly inexpensive to maintain up til now.

So -- yeah. Even if I can't keep myself from reacting to what appears to be bad, I can step back enough to see that there is value all around me. Am I turning into a Pollyanna? Perhaps. But that could be a nice change from the fearful reactive mode that often consumes me... As Tolle says, later on in the same book, in a passage I read just this morning:

"People who look upon the present moment as either marred by something that has happened or as deficient because of something that has not happened but should have... miss the deeper perfection that is inherent in life itself, a perfection that is always already here, that lies beyond what is happening or not happening, beyond form. Accept the present moment and find the perfection that is deeper than any form and untouched by time."

I'm not there yet -- that's clear. But it helps to see that's where I could be heading...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Contemplating the Unfathomable

When you contemplate the unfathomable depth of space or listen to the silence in the early hours just before sunrise, something within you resonates with it, as if in recognition. You then sense the vast depth of space as your own depth, and you know that precious stillness (that has no form) to be more deeply who you are than any of the things that make up the content of your life.
-- Eckhart Tolle, Oneness With All Life

It's late, and other than the brief time in the parking lot outside the Barnes and Noble in Bellingham (when I was able to load in yesterday's blog), I haven't had internet access all day. But I've been thinking of you, thinking of the beauties I saw this weekend (this is the Wallace River, seen from the trail to Wallace Falls) and I knew when I read this quote this morning that I wanted to share it with you.

I'm home now, and should be back in full form tomorrow; I have lots to share!

Saturday's post (delayed due to lack of internet)

“Awareness is the power that is concealed within the present moment. This is why we may also call it presence.The ultimate purpose of human existence, which is to you’re your purpose, is to bring that power into this world. Your primary purpose is to allow consciousness to flow into what you do.” -- Eckhart Tolle, Oneness With All Life

I am away – for a day; away from my dog and cats, away from my untidy office, from the phone (though not from my cell) and from all the other distractions that keep me from what Tolle tells me is my primary purpose.

Only, of course, those are not the things that keep me from that space. It is my ego, and its constant squabbling with itself and with life, that keeps me from living fully in each moment. So while I am away, I am trying to give the ego permission to take a break; trying to follow whatever paths present themselves at any given moment.

There was a rainbow I wanted to photograph in the dining room – where I was waiting, with my computer, hoping to hear they’d gotten their internet connection up and running so I could blog. So I ran back to my room, left the computer there, grabbed my camera and ran back to the dining room, only to discover I’d left the memory card in the computer.

Back to my room, get the card, back to the dining room and – surprise, surprise – the rainbow is gone. So I decided to spend some time with what there was, in the room, in that moment, and got the image you see here.

I had come prepared with glue sticks and mat board and scissors and magazines and a guidebook to do some SoulCollage – something I’ve been itching to do for several months now – but the images I’m cutting out are too big for the cards, so I just put them together without glue and stacked them for later – which freed me from the mechanics of production to watch what my choices were telling me. When I woke up in the morning, I realized I could photograph the images against the background of the tabletop on the little desk in my room, so now – though the images are grainy because the light in the room is low – I have my soul collage cards online – there’s a sample posted in today's poem.

I was planning to spend all my time alone in my room meditating, blogging, and collaging. But when I sat down to my first dinner, I met a woman who had moved here five years ago from the town where I grew up. Her children are the same age as mine, our interests in life are similar, she feels about church as I do, and instead of meditating we went on a hike together after lunch, and I discovered (because she knows this place well) the labyrinth (which we walked) and the river (which I photographed).

And then, in the evening, because the internet was still down, I played for a while with the image above -- and ended up with this one. It feels inspired to me -- and I loved the process that led to it.

Nothing planned, but a lot of presence – and presents. I am reminded again that there must be a reason these two words sound so much alike: surely it’s because there are so many presents in presence…

Friday, January 15, 2010

Accepting what is

I'm sure I've written about this before: I seem to belong to that class of people who are unduly sensitive to or influenced by what they see. Which means I was taking a risk yesterday by volunteering to go with a friend to see the new movie Avatar in 3D.

It was hard, I won't deny it: there was way more violence than I'm comfortable with, and the underlying assumptions -- or should I say, reminders? -- about the lengths to which our society will go to assuage greed were equally horrifying.

But I loved the color -- of course -- and the idea of a world where people understand the essential oneness of life and can physically connect to it was enchanting. I'm just not sure it's enough to postulate that such a world exists, or that there might be some of us who are capable of crossing over into it.

Because there was still a sense of insiders and outsiders, of good guys and bad guys, and it bugged me that the bad guys had no redeeming features, and that the only way to overcome their evil was with more killing. On the other hand, if the two civilizations had managed to somehow strike a balance or achieve a truce without all that firepower the lines outside the theater might not be so long (even in mid afternoon!)

When I left the theater to drive home through the dark and the pouring rain (never my favorite thing to do) I was still under the influence of the movie -- much of which depicts the heroes flying around on giant pterodactyl-like creatures -- and as a result my car felt almost alive under me. So when I was reading Eckhart Tolle this morning, and being encouraged to stop and get a sense of some nearby inanimate object, I could better understand what he might be getting at.

Reading Tolle's observations about the connection we can come to feel in the wildness of the forest, it brought me back to images of the movie, and so this shot -- of a remarkably anthropomorphic tree -- seemed to speak to me this morning.

We are so surrounded with life, and yet our minds keep lunging forward into worry and anticipation, or back into regrets and nostalgia. I encourage you to take some time today, not necessarily meditation time, just a few minutes, and try to be in tune with where you are, with now, with the hum of your computer or the purring of your cat; with the power of the car you're driving or the feel of your seat, or the floor beneath your feet, the warmth of your coffee cup.

There is something amazingly precious about this moment, right here, right now: something valuable in the pain or the challenge that you face; a rightness to things. But we have to stop projecting past and future onto what's around us to feel that sense of connection, that deep openness that comes from accepting what IS.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Let the haunting begin

I had an opportunity to visit with my favorite neighbor for a while yesterday evening, and we got to talking -- as we often do -- about dreams. So of course, when I woke up with a somewhat bizarre dream still festering in my head, I was more attentive than usual, and spent some time looking at it during my meditative process.

But dreams are a bit like photographs: you can read lots of different things into them, depending on who you are and what's going on in your life at any given time. I'm particularly aware of that after yesterday's post: both comments and emails revealed lots of different ways of reading that image of the two different boats.

So now I'm thinking -- wouldn't it be fun to start a new blog, a cooperative one, where I'd just put up images and let people dialog about what they see in them? Because I think we could learn a lot -- both about ourselves and about each other -- from our responses... I've often thought it would be fun to lead retreats that just consisted of posting photos around the room and inviting people to respond to them.

So this morning I found this image in my files, and liked its haunting quality. I like the rows converging in the distance; the way the fog obscures the mountains and trees; like the structure in the distance -- is it a tent? a pavilion? -- and love the brightness of that lone orange pumpkin in the foreground. But there are SO MANY different ways I could approach this story, and the choices are so colored by the discoveries of self-critical thought patterns revealed by the dream that I find I just want to stop here and let you tell this story.

This week in Lesser's book, The Seekers Guide, we're dealing with the foes and demons that rise up in meditation. And now I see the foes and demons aren't content to interfere with meditation; they seem to want to leap to the foreground in dreams as well. But rather than lay the shadows out before you here I think I'll wrestle with them in private for a bit.

All of which brings to mind the lyrics of a Talking Heads song called "Name."

There's a word for it
And words don't mean a thing
There's a name for it
And names make all the difference in the world

Some things can never be spoken
Some things cannot be pronounced
That word does not exist in any language
It will never be uttered by a human mouth

Let x make a statement
Let breath pass through those cracked lips
That man was my hero
And now that word has been taken from us

Some things can never be spoken
Some things cannot be pronounced
That word does not exist in any language
It will never be uttered by a human mouth

Give me back my name
Give me back my name
Something has been changed in my life
Something has been changed in my life
Something must be returned to us
Something must be returned to us

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The courage to embark

The last two posts from Catalysts for Change have to do with repetition and patience. After reading them this morning, I opened the rest of my mail and found a friend had sent me a column which preached on the virtues of the monastic cell.

I opened the column with interest, because I am living a bit of a monastic life at the moment. But upon reading it, I found my hackles going up: always a good thing to explore!

I do believe that there are lessons to be learned wherever we find ourselves -- even (and sometimes especially) in a very narrowly circumscribed existence. I cannot extrapolate from that, however, that to leave that cell -- especially the particular cell of housewife and mother that he talks about -- would of necessity be bad. My suspicion is that this writer, who shall remain nameless, would also object to those of us who begin to find the church a bit confining to our growing faiths.

Repetition is good, but repetition will never make a wrong thought right, even though it may hammer resistance into hiding. Patience is also good, but sometimes it is only the mask of co-dependence, or low self esteem, enabling the continuation of constraint or abuse.

Which, I suspect, is why this photo sang to me this morning. I see the rusting ferry on the right as a sort of burned-out safe haven. It's probably very stable, and it floats, but there is nothing left to feed you, and it can no longer carry you to shore. Yes, the smaller boat is scary, and, yes, those who are sailing can probably only see the fog, not the clear sky beyond. But there may come a time when we have to embark on a solo and courageous journey if we are ever to hope of returning to home port...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Beyond the striving, a gift

Back when I lived on Orcas Island, I began singing with a wonderful group called "Those Guys from Orcas." Those Guys started out as a barbershop quartet: they had sung together in Music Man and liked it so much they decided to keep going. When one of their tenors left town, they advertised for a new one on the bulletin board outside the Post Office, and on a whim I called them.

I'd grown up listening to my dad's barbershop groups, and I had memorized all the songs from Music Man as a child, but I'd never actually performed in a small group, so I was a little anxious about it. But they welcomed me with open arms and soon I was rehearsing weekly and performing in churches and nursing homes -- and I loved it. One of the hardest things about moving to Bainbridge was leaving Those Guys behind.

So I've been looking for an opportunity to sing ever since moving to the island: I sang in a women's compline choir for a while -- and loved it -- but I missed the liveliness of the guitar. I got involved in musical theater, but eventually every play comes to an end. I didn't want to do a church choir because I wasn't sure I wanted to commit all those Sundays, and the other groups on the island seemed... I don't know; stuffy? There seemed to be a rigidity, standards, striving for perfection -- all good things, when you're working toward a paid performance, and important for the quality of the music. But Those Guys was essentially a musical comedy group: our main purpose was to entertain, and have fun doing it, and I missed the looseness of that.

Yesterday morning I had coffee with a friend, and we were contemplating taking a road trip to see Avatar in 3D when she explained she couldn't do it that afternoon because she was singing at a local nursing home; would I like to join her? BINGO!

So I did, and I can't wait to do it again. It's not a group, per se -- just a motley collection of singers who come when they can. There are no rehearsals, and no new songs or interesting harmonies to work up. But that's fine: it turns out what I missed was just the chance to sing in a nursing home, experiment a bit with harmonies, and smile out to the patients. There's no striving in this beyond sharing and giving; no reaching for new heights of perfection. The only reward is to watch the folks who were sunk in their chairs at the beginning of the hour begin to straighten up, to tap their feet, to risk eye contact, and -- eventually -- to smile.

Striving and ambition are great; trying always to be better helps us grow and keeps humanity progressing. But sometimes it's wonderful to just relax into what is, and to enjoy it. What IS is that I have a reasonable voice -- not a great one -- and I love to sing. And now I get to do just that. What a wonderful present to start off the new year!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Achieving balance through affirmations

"Your beliefs are merely habitual thinking patterns that you learned as a child. Many of them work very well for you. Other beliefs may be limiting your ability to create the very things you say you want. What you want and what you believe you deserve may be very different. You need to pay attention to your thoughts so that you can begin to eliminate the ones creating experiences you do not want in your life."
— Louise Hay in You Can Heal Your Life Affirmations Kit

With my family out of the house, I took some time last night to indulge one of my favorite guilty pleasures: I watched reruns (via netflix) of Project Runway.

It was a great way to unwind after having been on the road all day, driving my kids to Portland and getting back in time to give my dog his nightly insulin shot -- and I'd stopped for a coke along the way home to keep myself awake, which meant there was no way I'd be falling asleep before midnight.

The last episode I watched before falling asleep involved what would probably be a dream assignment for my younger daughter (who is majoring in photography and costume design): They sent the designers out with digital cameras to shoot New York City at night and in the rain. The object was to come up with an image which would serve as an inspiration for a gown they would design to wear for a night on the town.

So then this morning, it's not surprising that this is the photo that sang to me. Wouldn't this be a fabulous design for a really sexy bustier?

Okay. That's not exactly a set of spiritual paragraphs, or a particularly meditative thought, or a particularly inspirational photograph. But here's the deal: I could flagellate myself for having watched TV last night, or for not blogging about something really spiritual this morning. But that would be not accepting who I am, or how I deal with exhaustion. And it would not be rewarding the creative streak that responds to shows and images like these.

When I read the quote posted above in this morning's message from Catalysts for Change, I decided it's time to stop criticizing myself so much; to start listening for all the ways I put myself down for merely being human. And affirmations, as Louise Hay so kindly reminds us here, are a great way to redirect that negative thinking and bring me back to that balance I spoke of yesterday.

So I hereby declare that it was appropriate for me to be both tired and wired when I finally got home last night. And I hereby declare that I like the fact that in that state I chose to watch other people being really creative. I also like the fact that the last thing I saw last night influenced my thinking in a fun way this morning. God made me the way I am -- and though there may be weak points, they serve as whetstones to further refine my gifts. Hmm: I think that this may be the root of that affirmation:

It's all good!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Balancing humanness and divinity

The ego is poised in the same delicate balance as physical gravity... Ego's excessive pressure can be experienced as an overidentification with our individuality -- a sense of self-importance or of isolation. Conversely, a weak ego is felt as a fearful state of helplessness, no boundaries, a lack of a center.
-- Elizabeth Lesser, The Seeker's Guide

As I've been pondering the questions around change and intentions that are raised by this online course, one of the areas that has kept coming up is a concern that I may not be giving enough; may not be engaging enough -- that I may be too isolated.

So when I read the above quote this morning, I had a wonderful epiphany (4 days late, but then -- Easter often doesn't arrive on time for me, either!): It might not actually be true that I'm too far over into the individuality end of the spectrum. It's possible -- and I do get that this could be ego talking, but it does seem possible -- that I have spent so much of my life on the "right" side of this balance sheet -- lacking boundaries and a center -- that to move anywhere to the left of that feels dangerously self-absorbed or even self-aggrandizing.

But by focusing on that and worrying about it, I am missing what Lesser explains is the point of this whole adventure:

"In moments of enlightened thinking we may understand that there really is no distinction between our "nobodiness" and our "somebodiness" But usually the two feel quite distinct. Our goal should be to unite them -- not to deny either one -- because we won't get very far if we enter into holy warfare with our own minds... I am interested in a spirituality that respects both our humanness and our divinity -- one that shows us how to include our ego as we transcend it."

So here's my epiphany -- for what it's worth. My awareness of my own selfishness and isolation is an inevitable consequence of sitting in meditation: as we watch our thought patterns, we cannot help but be aware of the extraordinary self-centeredness of the ego. But this isn't something to flagellate ourselves over: it's an opportunity. We can't "fix" ourselves -- can't hope to attain anything approaching a holy unity -- until we understand that we are broken.

But once we get there, we don't need to get stuck. These repeated discoveries of our own broken humanness are each opportunities to practice the forgiveness we are born to share with the world around us. Every time we spot the ego's posturing, her attempts to derail our efforts to broaden consciousness, it's an opportunity to smile and reassure her, just as we would smile and reassure a child or a friend who is wrestling with failure.

It's all part of the cycling we do toward center -- and parallels the process of centering prayer, in a way: we notice, we accept, we release, and we return to the journey. Once we notice, the job is to accept and forgive and return to the light.

It's a bit like this image: when we sit, we are not alone. The thinking mind is noisily occupying one chair. But there is a broader, forgiving, mindful divinity that sits with us. And whenever the thinking mind wants to rise from her seat and follow some passing thought, the mindful divinity calls us back to the center, which is light. Together we work toward that balance between humanness and divinity.

And it's all good.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

It's not pretty

My younger daughter, who's majoring in photography, got into digital photography a bit this fall. Which means that when she came home she was SHOCKED and HORRIFIED to see that I am using a positively ANCIENT version of Photoshop. She was SO CONVINCED that this was an anathema that she decided my husband should buy me the latest version of Photoshop for Christmas -- which (of course) doesn't run on my ancient computer, which means (of course) he decided to buy me a new computer.

Now, don't get me wrong: my computer has grown VERY sluggish of late, and it's a pain to have my photo files sort of randomly distributed across three different disk drives because my main one can't hold them all.

But I was COPING, you know? And I knew that once I opened a new computer all sorts of problems would ensue. So I kept putting it off.

Yesterday I opened the box, at last, and set it up (it's lovely, and the screen is huge). And, following the instructions, I hooked up the old machine to the new one and allowed the two of them to spend some 16 hours chatting back and forth and sharing files. But this morning, when I opened the new one up, most of my photo files were marked with a red circle and wouldn't open.


So I am back on my old (and thankfully unaffected) computer and looking at a day or more to be spent on the phone trying to figure out what went wrong and then trying to fix it. Sigh.

These are minor concerns, of course, in the scheme of things, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have at least the hope of more speed and all my files in one place somewhere in my future. But it's hard to miss the parallels between what's happening with the new machine and the lessons I'm learning from the Spirituality and Practice Catalysts for Change course. Just as I'm trying to resolve to eat less, I have this sense that I've bitten off more than I can chew. And just as I'm determined to tackle some of the creeping chaos that's taking over my cupboards and closets, this enormous organizational task looms in front of me on my computer.

Sigh -- we're back in Buckaroo Bonzai land: "wherever you go, there you are." There's no escaping the challenges, and it's not pretty. I'm just going to have to wade into the muck and start throwing stuff around.


Friday, January 8, 2010

Divine Disruptions

"We have only this moment,
sparkling like a star in our hand...
and melting like a snowflake.

Let us use it before it's too late."
— Marie Beynon,
as quoted in
This Year I Will:
How to Finally Change a Habit,
Keep a Resolution,
or Make a Dream Come True

by M. J. Ryan

Having arisen at 4:30 to make an airport run, when I finally returned home 3 hours later to sit in my meditation chair I wasn't too surprised to find myself nodding off a bit, even after 2 cups of coffee.

The cat, whose routine was also disrupted by the morning's activities, was determined to come indoors and join me in the chair, midway through my time, and the dog developed an itch -- probably itching for attention -- and kept scratching and jingling in the silence.

And so begins another day -- a little off, a little discombobulated -- and another opportunity to carry what calm I can find in the midst of it all out into the world; another opportunity to practice finding peace and illumination in the very obstacles that disrupt my careful routines and plans.

So often we catch our moments of quiet and our flashes of insight while on the way to something far more obvious, and yet, because they don't fit in to our grand visions of how we thought they'd happen, we tend to disregard or ignore them.

I signed up for Spirituality and Practice's online course called Catalysts for Change, and today's offerings invite us to do or change one small thing in our lives as a step toward the larger transformations we seek to implement. I wasn't quite sure what that small thing might be, given that there are so many larger changes happening without my engineering, but today I decided my act of change would be to let the cat in and let him sit on my lap as he chose, despite my need to meditate in peace.

He hopped up, of course, and patted my face a time or two, nuzzled into my elbow, and then to my surprise he wandered off. No resistance from me meant no challenging from him. And perhaps that's the lesson for today: it is our resistance that creates the distraction and the struggle. Perhaps the cat that leaps on your lap, the dog's persistent jingling, or the bird that cries out as she flies by is a Divine Disruption -- and we are foolish to resist.