Friday, December 31, 2010

Planting the seeds of intention

It's New Year's Eve (and my daughter's birthday; our little tax deduction!); traditionally a time for all to set intentions for the year to come.  So it should come as no surprise that my reading this morning in  After the Ecstasy, the Laundry included this passage about intentions:

"Over decades of difficulties, as a political and spiritual leader and a worldwide exemplar of nonviolence, the Dalai Lama has had to make wrenching decisions for his nation and his people.  He admits that sometimes he is not sure his decisions are the best ones, that sometimes he has made mistakes.  

"The only thing I can rely on," he explains, "is my sincere motivation."  His heart's motivation is to foster compassion and liberation as best he can in each act.  He takes refuge in the seed of intention behind his acts.  By one's planting seeds of goodness, eventually something beautiful grows."

We who carry the hope for a better world are often overwhelmed by a sense of failure, and by the lack of obvious successes.  So it is reassuring, as we look back over the year that has been and set intentions for the year to come, to remember that we can take refuge in the seeds of intention that lie behind our choices for the year. 

And if your past intentions have been more about losing weight, eating less, and exercising than about learning compassion and working on behalf of all beings, just know this: it's never too late to begin.  As Jack Kornfeld concludes after those words from the Dalai Lama,

"When we see with wisdom the heavy press of time, the responsibility for all things is transformed.  We find perspective, a long view.  We are not in charge.  In our relationships, in our community, on this earth, we may not live to see all the changes we work for -- we are the planters of seeds.  When the seeds of our actions are caring and sincere, we can know that they will bear nourishing fruit for all beings.  

No matter what has passed, we can begin again.  We can only begin now, where we are, and it is this now that becomes the seed for all that lies ahead.  Our responsibility, our creativity, is all that is asked.  With such sincere motivation, we will naturally ask wise questions and offer true care, tending what we love with a far-reaching wisdom.  This is the long-term tending of a farmer for his orchard, a parent for a child....It grows naturally out of a committed life of spiritual dedication."

So as you set your intentions tonight and tomorrow for the year to come -- even if your foremost concern is to lose the ten pounds you put on eating this year's holiday goodies -- remember it is not too late to begin also to work for compassion, to intentionally and consciously pray that all beings might benefit from our work and our gifts.

As Pema Chodron says:

"Breathing in, breathing out, feeling resentful, feeling happy, being able to drop it, not being able to drop it, eating our food, brushing our teeth, walking, sitting -- whatever we're doing could be done with one intention. That intention is that we want to wake up, we want to ripen our compassion, and we want to ripen our ability to let go, we want to realize our connection with all beings. Everything in our lives has the potential to wake us up or to put us to sleep. Allowing it to awaken us is up to us."

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Shining the searchlight

When I was a child in Cincinnati, my parents used to take me with them to their bowling league practices on Tuesday nights.  It was a long drive -- the bowling alley was way on the other side of town -- and (since these were the days before seat belts) I would lie down in the back seat on the way home and watch the stars and the city lights go by.

One of the things that used to fascinate me was the searchlights they'd set up at the car dealerships; their big beams sweeping across the sky, crossing and circling in the darkness up above.  I think that's what this image reminded me of when it caught my eye this morning.

Childhood -- the early years, anyway -- can be such a time of mystery and magic: there's still so much we don't understand -- and we are so much more content to just appreciate the mystery of it.

When is it that control becomes an issue?  When did we decide we needed, not only to understand, but to convince others that our understanding is the correct one?  At what point do we lose the joy of "batting around ideas"?

Hmm.  Maybe that's what's wrong with me -- I haven't quite grown up yet: I'm still so curious; so eager to shine the searchlight, to sweep the sky looking for invitation and meaning...

Wednesday, December 29, 2010



This is what I pulled up for a photo today.  But I didn't get a chance to meditate this morning, so some part of me is resisting writing about it; I even wondered if maybe it was meant for the poetry blog, not for this one.

But of course the messages I've been getting lately have all been about persistence, rootedness, groundedness, going the distance, staying the course... and here it's clear that however small and light they are, the roots, and the natural determination of them, are winning out over the manmade obstacles placed in their path.

It's funny, you know: I never used to be a quitter.  I stayed in my first marriage LONG past the point where I should have bailed, hoping against hope that something I could do might change things.  And though I don't regret that -- mostly because I KNEW beyond all shadow of a doubt when I left that there were no other choices left to me -- and I'm grateful that it taught me to say no, I do sometimes wonder if now I may be too quick to walk away from things that don't appear to be working out.

Not that I can really think of any recent examples of that; it's more a feeling than an actual experience.  But still -- I've been feeling pretty discouraged lately, about any number of things (though, please, on so many levels life is good; this is not me begging for sympathy, just stating a fact).  Perhaps this image is just telling me to trust; that there are seeds planted that have not yet borne fruit, but it doesn't mean that growth is not occurring.  It's just not so visible right now.

And that's okay.  There need to be fallow seasons, seasons of rest and renewal.  And that which we know as growth and light WILL return.  Patience, my friends.  Patience...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Exercising those compassion muscles

Graffiti looks pretty much the same, no matter where it is displayed or what the nationality is.  This one, from Naples, seems little different from anything I'm likely to find in Seattle, apart from the more obviously italianate words an phrases.

Love looks pretty much the same everywhere, as well -- though I did notice that the young lovers in Italy were FAR more public in their displays of affection  than I'm used to seeing.  Love, pain, friendship, loss -- these are the universal human experiences that cut across the range of cultures, races, and religious beliefs; these are the things we share with pretty much every human being we're likely to encounter.

These are also the experiences that drive the behaviors we find endearing and frustrating in the people around us.  I read a story today in After the Ecstasy, the Laundry about a military man in a hurry who stood in line at the grocery store behind a woman with a baby and a single package to check out. 

He tried hard to talk her into entering the express line, but she seemed determined to stay, and even slowed things down further by handing her baby to the checkout girl, who hugged it tightly and cooed over it as if it were her own.  The man grew extremely irritated; it was as if these people were deliberately slowing him down.

It was only after the woman left with the baby that he learned that the she was the checkout girl's mom, that the baby was her daughter's; that the checkout girl's husband had been an airforce pilot, killed in action, and her mom was watching her baby girl during the day so she could work.  And then, of course, he berated himself for his impatience.

It seems to me that upon closer examination we almost always learn the same thing: that the person who is bugging us -- for whatever reason -- is human, and probably has some perfectly good reason why they're doing whatever it is that irritates us.  Sometimes, of course, those reasons may be deeply buried in past experiences, and challenging to articulate.  But still -- it's probably best to assume that if we knew their story, it would be far easier to understand their actions.

Which seems to me to be a good place to begin if we are going to get more intentional about practicing compassion.  If someone is driving you crazy today, try to imagine what their story might be; what might be driving their odd behaviors.  It might make it easier to be patient; it might help strengthen your compassion muscles; and it might even exercise your imagination in a way that could improve ALL your mental processes...

Monday, December 27, 2010

Time to become a cup

One of the best parts of grad school is the joy of finding kindred spirits, fellow travelers to share the journey.  I got to spend yesterday afternoon with one of those fellow travelers, who brought some new perspectives across the Sound with him, in the form of Tarot cards.

Though the day was a bit broken up because I had a Schola Nova rehearsal and performance (which he kindly attended), he did find time to read my Tarot for me, and it was quite illuminating. 

I won't go into the details, but the issue of balance definitely came up again (no surprises there) and the reading clarified some current patterns in my life, so when I was given the luxury of a long meditation period this morning, I could take the time to reflect on the issues that were raised, the pieces of my life that are presently out of balance, and how I might work toward getting them stabilized, and getting myself more grounded.

It helped that the last thing I read before heading into meditation were these lovely words from Rumi:

You say you can't create something original?
Don't worry about it.
Make a cup of clay so your brother can drink.

Those words, combined with the Tarot reading, allowed me to see that I've been feeling/acting rather driven this past year, and I think it may have been a mix of things -- the pressure of my husband's unemployment,  and the transition into my sixties -- that threw me off balance.  I think I may have lost sight of a couple of things -- that it is enough to be me, and that it is more important to love, and to share, than it is to "live into my potential."

I suspect some part of me was trying to step up to the plate financially, hoping that I could somehow find a way to contribute to the family coffers by exploring creative possibilities.  At the same time something in me sees that life is growing shorter; sort of a biological clock, not for baby-making, but for creativity, for being a conduit for whatever needs to be born through me before I depart this life.  

Which is not to say I'm not pleased with my labors -- it was a bit of a banner year, that way (I was actually surprised when, in response to my blogsister Joyce's post on Peaceful Legacies, I listed out the year's accomplishments) -- but only that I feel a need to step back, to relax, to accept, to release, and to enjoy the blessings that are here and now.

I'm hoping that just by being more conscious about that, and about the strain all this relentless productivity has put on me, my time, and my relationships, that things will shift back into more balance.  But mostly I just need to be able to really SEE that it's all good, rather than just SAYING that.  I think it's time to return my fingers and my feet to the earth, to feel the clay and mold it simply; to become a cup -- and no more -- so my brother can drink.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

In search of balance

Today, in  After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, I'm reading about the inevitability of feelings and emotions, and the importance of acknowledging them.  It seems like pretty obvious stuff on one level, but at another deeper level it really resonates for me this morning.

So I decided to just sit a bit and think about what I'm feeling, what I want, what calls to me.  I didn't come up with anything revelational or earthshaking, but I have to say it was very refreshing to just pay attention to me, to listen to me... no decisions required, just a willingness to be present to myself, open to possibilities.

After that I came to my computer to see what might be wanting to be posted today, and this was the image that sang to me.  I suspect it has to do with all the dark, and the red and green that are so prevalent during this season; something in me is hungering for a different color scheme, and for light.

Isn't that interesting, to think that if we listen to our bodies, they might be always seeking balance?  It makes me think of an article my husband sent me yesterday, about patients who were knowingly given placebos and told about the placebo effect.  "People in the placebo arm of the trial got better—clinically, measurably, significantly better—on standard scales of symptom severity and overall quality of life. In fact, the volunteers in the placebo group experienced improvement comparable to patients taking the actual drug... Scientists believe the remarkable findings are the result of the body's "powerful self-healing network," which can be activated by "nothing more or less than a belief that one is receiving effective treatment."

To me, the odd curiosity that after weeks of exposure to red and green my body hungers for blue and yellow is another sign of that "powerful self-healing network," one of the many gifts we encounter if we take the time to pay attention.   I suppose that means that at some level I am equating healing with balance... but still, might that not mean that, whatever is troubling you, belief -- that it will pass, that it will heal, that you are being loved and cared for -- could bring you a long way toward healing?  And that part of belief is a willingness to listen to what your body wants and needs? What a wonderful testament to faith -- and doesn't that mean that it doesn't really matter if there is or is not a God; what matters is whether or not you believe?

Hmm.  I think there's a lot of juice in this; lots of places we could take this.  But at the very least, it's certainly something to ponder...

PS: After I wrote this post, I sat down for coffee and opened John Welwood's Toward a Psychology of Awakening (given to me yesterday as a Christmas present by a dear friend) and the very first page of the introduction says, "Spiritual practice, when cut off from the rich feeling-textures of personal life, can become dry and remote, just as personal life becomes narrow and confining when cut off from the fresh breezes of spiritual realization...we need to find new ways of integrating spiritual wisdom into our personal lives if we are to meet the great challenges we face heading into the new millennium."

So there you go: pay attention to feelings!  Balance personal life and spiritual life!  Oh, boy -- so much work to be explored!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

a virgin shall conceive
and bear a son,
and his name shall be called Emmanuel,
which means "God With Us."
 Matthew 1:23

May God be with you this day, and in all your days to come --
Merry Christmas!

(PS: Here's what I woke up to this morning...)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Grateful for my Crocs

I remember the first time I saw a pair of crocs: they were a dull shade of yellow, much stained, and very large; they were on the feet of a fisherman, and I remember thinking how fun and practical they looked.

What I hadn't realized was their orthotic value: once I discovered that, I bought a pair, and eventually I had them in several colors.  In fact, back in the day when I was 20 pounds heavier and lived in jumpers, I also lived in my crocs.

But now I only have a pair or two, and I just use them as slippers around the house or to throw on my feet when I go out to walk the dog.  And this morning I am really grateful for my crocs.

...Because I had to take my daughter's boyfriend to the ferry around 6, and I'd forgotten to check the tide calendar before we left -- there didn't see any point as the tides have been half an hour later in the day the last few days -- so I just threw on my crocs and drove out.

OOPS!  When I returned from the ferry, around 6:20 or so, the water was already over the road, so I parked my car at a neighbor's house (something I'd planned to do anyway so I could get out later) and started to walk around the edges.  But the water was already deep (something I hadn't expected).  Fortunately my crocs are perfect waders, so I rolled up my jeans and waded through; it was already up over my ankles in places.  It was (as I'm sure you can imagine) REALLY COLD, but not too bad.

And now, safely back at my house, my crocs washed and my feet dry and toasty, I see that the tide won't be cresting for another 40 minutes or so but it's already up under the wheels of all the cars.  Good thing I moved them up next to the garage last night! 

So as we move into Christmas Eve, I find myself feeling grateful -- for crocs, for foresight, for our neighbors, for a warm house and dry toes, for the friends who will join us tomorrow and for the shrinking of my to-do list.  No time for meditation today, but there's always time to count our blessings and be grateful.  So what are YOU grateful for today?  As the old gospel hymn says --

Count your blessings
Name them one by one
Count your blessings
See what God has done
Count your blessings
Name them one by one
Count your many blessings
See what God has done!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mountain Moon

This was the moon from my back deck yesterday morning: what a gift!  You can see another of yesterday's moon images on yesterday's entry in my poetry blog -- I was wandering up and down the spit shooting photos of the moon for almost half an hour yesterday; so beautiful!

... which is, of course, one of the blessings of the shorter days of the season: because the sun rises later, we're actually awake when these beautiful moments happen -- although, of course, that doesn't mean we get to see them often.

For one thing, the sky is rarely clear here this time of year.  But it's also true that many of us are wandering around with our heads down, noses to the grindstone, trying to forge a path through the Christmas to-do lists.  In order to see this, I had to have taken a moment to look up, away, beyond my immediate concerns, to notice the beauty of the sky.

I'm so glad I did!  And though I rarely indulge this ancient habit, I can only say in the immortal words of the PTL club (what can I say, it's part of my heritage) -- Thank you, Jesus!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

All is calm, all is bright

I woke up this morning craving blue: calm, stillness, reflection...

So, on the off chance that you -- in the midst of holiday preparations and craziness, surrounded by flashing reds and greens -- may also be craving blue,
I offer you this soothing image.

I invite you to step into it -- not to drown, but simply to sink down, to float, and release; to feel the depths of your soul rocking gently in the waves, to let that ribbon of light reach deep into your heart; to let it reflect and resonate there. 

Feel the lightness of the mountain lifting the tension in your brow; feel the groundedness of that dark horizon softening and opening across your shoulders and your chest.  Know the permanence of mountain, sky and sea; feel the brief tempest as the boat full of activities stirs the waters, then passes on...

Breathe in the blue, and rest.

Breathe in.



Peace, my friends.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Unwrapping our hearts

You know I, like, don't believe in Santa Claus or anything, right Mom?


So... even though I don't, do you think you could hold back some of the packages until Christmas morning, so it looks more like a surprise?

No problem!

There's something about the game of peekaboo that is somehow every bit as appealing when we're grown as when we're kids.  And sometimes I wonder if our hunger for the spiritual isn't really at heart a hunger for those early days, when there was magic in the air, and surprises, and the idea that someone out there somewhere -- like, at the North Pole -- actually noticed us, and cared how we behaved, and knew what we wanted, and just gave out of the goodness of his heart.

How about you?  Is some part of you waiting at the top of the stairs for Santa to show up; hoping for magic and surprises?  Does that part REALLY want to hear that the mystery is already here, right here, right now, waiting in your heart  for you to notice?  No wonder we continue to place the hope outside ourselves -- it seems so much more special that way.

But the truth is that the hope is within us, waiting to be birthed.  And the good news is that it looks and feels just like that wonderful sense of anticipation we feel, just before we tumble forward into Christmas -- except the gift we'll find, if and when we take the time to unwrap our hearts, will actually last a lifetime. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sometimes I'm singing in a minor key...

Yesterday's post, about knowing we are loved, was actually written in response to the last thing I read before heading off to church yesterday.

It was the opening quote for the chapter entitled "No Enlightened Retirement" in  After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.  The quotation is attributed to Julian of Norwich, and it goes like this:

"If there be anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me.  But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love."

The chapter, which is about the inevitable struggles of returning to daily life after any kind of spiritual high, has really been resonating with me; I find myself wanting to underline phrases on every page.  And when I read this section, a few pages into the chapter, I began to see why:

"When the Christian mystic Julian of Norwich says she knows of no lover of God who is kept safe from falling, she is voicing the understanding that to descend is also God's will.  Whether we understand this or not... the fall, the descent, and its subsequent humility can be seen as another form of blessing.

Whatever success we have is usually one-sided.  Then our less developed aspects, our shadows, come into the light.  These are more raw, less controlled aspects of ourselves.  There are certain truths we can learn only by descent, truths that bring wholeness and humility in surrender.  In times of our heart's greatest vulnerability, we come close to the selfless mystery of life.  We all need periods of fecund time, fallow time, of being drawn closer to the humus of the earth.  It is as though something in us slows down, calls us back.  And out of that time a deepened knowledge and beauty can emerge."

So, ruminating on this passage, and thinking about the contrast I've been encountering lately between who I long to be and how I've been behaving, I sat down and prepared to meditate.  And I sat for way longer than I normally do (our early riser is sleeping elsewhere today) and found a section of myself that is walled off with cement blocks, no entrance or exit, though I can see into it from above.  Inside that small circular space there lies, curled upon itself, a large bird, wounded and starving; almost skeletal -- which could explain something of my attitude toward food lately (always hungry, but it doesn't seem to feed me).

What's even more odd about this bird is that it appears to be a stork.  So it's somehow connected with what Kornfield calls "fecund time," and with Advent, with what needs to be birthed into the world, my role in that, or my perceived role...

And here's what I believe: something in EACH of us was born to fly -- something in you, something in me, something in the homeless man who sleeps in the parking lot, something in the crooked business executive who grants himself and his cronies huge bonuses after losing money for all the customers he serves... And for so many of us that something lies in various stages of woundedness and starvation, walled off and lost.

Christmas is about the promise that Someone Cares; that for each of us there is a Star watching over us, there are Wise Ones traveling infinite distances to bring us gifts and honor us, and there are Angels hovering, singing that which lies within us into life.  So I hope you have a chance to stop, to slow down and sit for a few minutes, sometime during this busy holiday season; to feel the lowly stable within you -- the waiting manger, the anxious parents and the straw beneath their feet, the warmth of the star and the animals around you, the genuine respect and affection of the Wise Ones -- and to hear the angels singing what needs to be born in you into wholeness.

And now for some reason I'm hearing the words to that old spiritual, There is a Balm in Gilead:

Some times I feel discouraged,
And think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my hope again.

There is a balm in Gilead, To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead, To heal the sin-sick soul.

If you cannot sing like angels,
If you can’t preach like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus,
And say He died for all.

There is a balm in Gilead, To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead, To heal the sin-sick soul.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Come into and be a House of Wonder

Growing up in the midwest, reading romantic novels and SEVENTEEN magazine, I thought this was what love looked like.  Now, of course, I see it differently; there are lots of varieties of love, and it comes in many guises, all of which are but a piece of that overwhelming gift of love in which we all share.

Last night I was reminded by two dear friends that I am loved, and this morning, since I seemed to be led to go to church, I got to hear that wonderful news again in several different ways.  From a poem read to us:

"And if it happens that you cannot 
go on or turn back
and you find yourself 
Where you will be at the end,
tell yourself,
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are."

 -- from "Lines for Winter," by Mark Strand

From the prayers for the day:

"Restore to us, O God, the light of your presence."  We offer prayers for strength and a sense of hope and personal worth during economic hardships.

From the familiar words of my church's liturgy:

"We rebelled against you, and wandered far away.  And yet, as a mother cares for her children, you would not forget us.  Time and again you called us to live in the fullness of your love."

And then, at the end, we were left with a poem, unsourced:

O Christmas saints, come gather here
in my Bethlehem:
let the miracle unfold in me.

Come, Gabriel, interrupting angel,
and tell the innocent Virgin within me
that she shall bear holiness into the world.

Come, dreams, and haunt me with the courage
to marry the blessing I would spurn

Come, tender Joseph, and walk with me
along this road of not knowing.

Come, natal star, build your nest in my darkness
and guide me to seek, and keep seeking.
Mark my life with your promise
that beauty may be found here.

Come, magi, from your wanderings,
and teach me to follow; teach me to behold.

Come heavenly choir, breathing wonder:
Astonish my routine.  Awaken me.
Send me into this village
looking, looking.

Come, shepherds and all who are shabby and shady,
and show me how to recognize glory
swaddled in the mundane.

Come, Holy Child, and be alive in me,
wordlessly, helplessly
drawing out all my love.

O Christmas miracle,
come to the little shed of my life;
enfold me in your strangeness
and make me a house of wonder.

So many different ways to invite love into our lives... and each of us is so loved!
Come -- make us each a house of wonder!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Where has the power gone?

I'm getting to this a little late today; we had a really nasty windstorm this morning and it took out a tree at the top of the sandspit -- which fell (of course, don't they always?) on a power line and knocked out our power for the day.

I had a rehearsal in the morning, but spent the rest of the day Christmas shopping, checking in at the house from time to time to see if the power was back.  Since our street was the only one affected and it only has 50 houses on it, they took their time getting to us so we were down for just shy of 12 hours.  C'est la vie!

But I was checking in with our neighbors this evening, dropping off some photos they'd requested, and she mentioned she liked our little church; I realized she was describing this charming birdhouse, which rests atop the post on which our electric meter sits.

So when I spotted this picture with the cobweb this evening, I was amused.  Because it's not really a church -- though it feels a bit like one -- and if it is a church those cobwebs are pretty accurate; I haven't been in a church in quite a while; I may be getting a bit rusty.  Does that mean my faith is covered with cobwebs?  Or just that the God I used to believe in -- the one who lived in church and only came out on Sundays -- is a bit out of date?

Frankly, I'm finding it hard to think about this, as there is some sort of action movie blaring loudly in the room next to me -- that's what I get if I don't do the blog first thing in the morning -- so I think I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions about what is church and where God lives.  Which I suspect you're already doing, or you probably wouldn't be reading this.

I'll be back tomorrow, when it's quiet.  TOO MANY EXPLOSIONS to think right now!  But at least we're warm and fed, and for that I'm grateful.

Friday, December 17, 2010

At peace with the dance of the world

"All that we possess and are is a gift given us by the wholeness from which we come and to which we return... Awakening to oneness, we discover that we have the same last name as the mountains, the streams, and the redwood trees... 

When our identity expands to include everything, we find a peace with the dance of the world.  The ocean of life rises and falls within us -- birth and death, joy and pain, it is all ours and our heart is full and empty, large enough to embrace it all."
  -- Jack Kornfield, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry

It sounds wonderful, doesn't it?  We read this and think, Yes!  That's what I'm hungering for!  And then time passes, and the excitement fades and the practicality of making room for spiritual practice becomes less obvious... and then, BOOM!  Something new hits, and you're wishing you'd stayed on top of things so you had the resources to cope.

That was me yesterday; I spent much of the day counseling, advising, comforting, and I found myself SO MANY TIMES sitting there, on the couch, staring out the window, feeling helpless as the person beside me continued to wipe tears from her eyes.  What can I say?  I thought.  But mostly, "I got nothing."  And, occasionally, when a statement of hope escaped my lips, "Ouch" -- because those mostly seem to come back at me as angry projectiles.

I definitely seem to have lost my chops as a counselor.  But it's also true that the older we get, the problems get more complex and the solutions less easy to find or offer.  And so I think it's time to forgive the poor Transcendental Meditation instructor who, when I asked for help with a straying husband some 35 years ago, said "You need to take up meditation."  I didn't do it -- and I was furious with him for giving what I saw as a totally pat, self-serving answer to my pain.  Now I see myself longing to say the same thing.

Maybe it IS pat and self-serving.  All I know is that it helps -- and I've been missing it.  So I made time this morning, and I'm so grateful.  I may not be "back in the zone," but at least I found a few minutes of peace.  I wish you the same...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Driving into the rainbow

I overslept again this morning, and rushed through my coffee and toast to be ready in time for the drive to the ferry.  No reading, no meditation, no time to relax stiff muscles before getting into the car...

So, though I wasn't in a foul mood, I was aware of my inner judge having a field day as I drove home from the ferry terminal.  And then I turned onto our little street, and the sun had somehow miraculously managed to peep through the clouds and rain: through the steady sweep of my windshield wipers I could see a perfect rainbow -- and I was driving right into it. 

I kept watching, through the wipers, dodging potholes, seeing as the rainbow dappled each successive house with color, until I came to the turnaround, when I could see it actually ended on the far side of the water.  And then, as the road swerved to the left for the last narrow stretch (the part with the ten speed bumps) I could see the other end of the rainbow, hovering just above our house.

As I kept driving that last bit of road -- which basically goes through everyone's front yards --  I realized the rainbow's end was really across the lagoon from us.  And then, as I drove, it turned into a double rainbow, with both ends reflecting in the water on either side, all beaming across at me.

Now I ask you -- who could remain cranky and frustrated after such a display?

If, like me, you're finding Advent feels a bit more like Lent this year, well then.. just know you're not alone.  And know this: when things seem most cloudy and rainy, even a tiny burst of light can create the magnificence of a double rainbow.

So, watch for it!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Allowing the Holy to move through us

"Out of emptiness God has made the world, it exists in the heart of God alone.  To know our place we must again become as nothing, and then what is holy will move through us and illuminate all we do."
--Jewish mystics, quoted in  After the Ecstasy, the Laundry

I find it very challenging, especially during the holiday season, to empty myself in this way: the to-do list gets really long, and begins to take over my meditation time as well as the rest of my days... which is why I need that quiet time more than ever. 

And now that I'm running my daughter's boyfriend to the ferry every morning, it's suddenly gotten much harder to find that time -- especially on days like today, when I've overslept AND I need to head off to Pilates class.  Without the meditation, it's like the day's gotten away from me before I've even begun.  And the blog definitely suffers; doesn't feel illuminated at ALL.

But these are new patterns, and over time I will learn to adjust my schedule to accommodate ferry runs and whatever else emerges.  Mostly, I'm really really thankful he's found a job; fiddling with my schedule to make that work seems a really small price to pay.  So looking at this image -- even though I shot it in San Francisco's Academy of Sciences and honestly can't remember what it is -- makes me feel that kind of relaxed floaty feeling meditation can bring.  And that will have to suffice for now.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Staring us in the face

I sometimes find it amusing that I so rarely photograph "normal" things anymore -- at least, the kinds of things people normally find beautiful: waterfront scenes, animals, boats, rural landscapes, sunsets...

I do still occasionally take pictures of such things, if they happen to show up while I'm carrying my camera.  But these days I mostly carry the camera into less obvious places, and I go with the understanding that I'm primarily looking for what calls to me -- "blog-fodder" -- something that triggers me or kick-starts my brain;  something that will speak to me if I just listen hard enough.

I love this image, shot in the Westgate Mall in downtown San Francisco.  And I've been looking at it for days, trying to find an excuse to share it with you here.  Today it finally hit me; the hook that will enable me to tie it in.

Because -- I think it's really a message about Christmas.  While we're supposed to be struggling through the dark days of advent, most of us are actually surrounded by all this artificial light.  We're out in the shopping malls, and everything sparkles and shines, and it's all about selling, about getting us to buy from the manufacturers whose names  are constantly flaunted before us.  And we think that's what Christmas is: the sparkle and the shine, the piped-in music and getting a good deal on a few designer trinkets.

But the truth is (and yes, I get that this is trite; I just think it needs to be said; we need to be reminded:)  We've got it all backwards.  It's not about the designers and the sparkles and the bright lights; it's really all about the amazing and miraculous gift that is love.  And the most miraculous part is this: that even when we get it totally backwards, it's still there, staring us in the face.

It might be big letters, or a nativity scene; a tired dad pushing twins in a stroller or the old couple holding hands on the bus. It might be in a church, a barn, or a battlefield; a shopping mall or a barrio.  But I'm sure that if you look, you'll see it; that miracle of love.

Monday, December 13, 2010

An empath's thoughts on pass-fail systems

My husband asked me yesterday what I thought of pass-fail systems (in that tone of voice that clearly indicated he thinks this is one of those stupid-is-spreading ideas and does NOT APPROVE.)  And I had to say, as a student, that I think they are wonderful -- at least for someone like me.

I have spent my entire life trying to please other people.  Especially my parents, who held success in school to be a VERY desirable thing.  And I remember my father telling me (though I'm not certain how old I was at the time) that the way to be successful in school is to figure out what the teacher wants and give it to them.  Yes, the teacher may be stupid or a jerk or whatever, but they are the ones who grade you, and you need good grades to get ahead in the world, so figure out what they want and give it to them.

I suppose the good news is I took that to heart, and as a result, was reasonably successful in school.  The bad news is that theory definitely contributed to this "work to please someone else" phenomenon that seems to be handicapping me at this point in my life.

So the truth is, having been raised in that environment, I actually find pass-fail systems utterly freeing.  I mean, I know I'm going to pass -- it's just common sense.  I show up, I do the work, I turn it in on time, and I put some thought and energy into it.

But since it's a reasonably automatic pass, I don't have to worry (beyond showing up and doing the work and putting thought and energy into it) about pleasing the teacher; about getting the citation format exactly right, or delivering the right messages, or covering all the bases.  What I DO get to worry about -- or rather, indulge myself in -- is figuring it all out: what did I actually learn?  What did I get out of this course, and where exactly did it come from?  Who said the magic words that gave me a dose of enlightenment, and what exactly WERE those words?

Do you have any idea how amazing it is to be able to approach final papers from that perspective?  I feel like I'm absolutely exploding with awareness right now; my discoveries, when I put all my notes and readings together, were SO EXCITING!  And the fact is, I'm still processing.

But in discussions last night and today, discussions that flow out of this simple question about pass-fail systems, I'm learning -- or rediscovering -- some interesting things about myself and about my view of the world, and also about how that view has both protected and handicapped me over the years.  And it's all tangled up with this idea of having to please others.  Which turns out to be a two-edged sword.

The bad part of having been raised to sense other's needs and meet them is that it can be challenging (if you are this sort of person) to figure out who YOU are and what YOU want, where YOU ends and OTHER begins. You are so busy being a mirror, reflecting others' needs, that you're not certain anything lies behind the mirror; you "pay no attention to that man behind the curtain" because you're just too busy making sure everyone else is getting what they need.

In my case this comes primarily from having a mother who needed to have the world revolve around her; from having -- in self-defense -- to anticipate all her moods and needs in order to survive.   But the good news is that this is a very useful skill: it could conceivably make me a wonderful bridge for whole communities of people, to help move them forward from now to next in a way they barely detect.  People like us are pretty unthreatening, because we never try to make folks move more than a step or two from where they are.

But what that also means, I think, is we hold the space of their being.  So when someone or something comes in that is a major disturbance WE are the ones who start vibrating, because we can feel the tension between what's coming and what is before anyone else is aware there's any change in the wind at all.  And because we feel the pain of that tension so deeply, we become sensitized to change, not so much because we're afraid of change (we may actually embrace it!) but because we know what it's going to feel like for everyone else. 

There's more, I think, to ponder about this.  But that's my thinking for this morning; for what it's worth...  and some days -- well -- it kinda makes me feel like I'm from some other planet!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Perhaps I want everything

Our next door neighbors kindly house-sat for us over Thanksgiving week -- coping with the snow and the cold and the demanding feeding schedules of our dog, cats and fish -- and as a thank you I wanted to give them some prints from the sailboat race we all watched together from our decks a month or so ago.

So my friend came over yesterday to view all the possible images I'd put in the folder for her.  She chose three, including this one, but I'm sharing this one because ... well, it was funny.  There was another picture she liked more, but the sails were red, and she wanted blue.

There was another one with blue sails that was more balanced, but the jibs were luffing and she wanted them full.  There was one with three loons in it, but it was vertical and she wanted horizontal.  And she really really wanted it to pair up nicely with another one that featured the back deck of her house with the dune grass in front of it, but in the other picture that had grass the sail boats were too tiny and far away.

So I started with the full blue jibs, took the grass from the tiny boat picture, added the loons from the vertical picture, and reversed the direction of the boats to coincide with the boat in the photo she was pairing with this one.  The wonders of photoshop: she wanted everything, and she got it!  Magic!

So it was amusing to come across this Rilke poem this morning, quoted in After the Ecstasy, the Laundry :

You see, I want a lot.
Perhaps I want everything:
the darkness that comes with every infinite fall
and the shivering blaze of every step up.

So many live on and want nothing
and are raised to the rank of prince
by the slippery ease of their light judgments.

But what you love to see are faces
that do work and feel thirst...

You have not grown old, and it is not too late
to dive into your increasing depths
where life calmly gives out its own secret.

I love that idea; that our depths are always increasing; that when we dive in, life calmly gives out its own secret; that it's never too late, and I have not grown old...  I felt all of that last night, sitting in a local restaurant, sharing conversation with a dear friend from school, and feeling possibilities expand both beneath my feet and around my heart.  It's amazing to me that the depths of discovery can still be increasing, even at my advanced age, and that in the middle of a crowded and noisy bar, while I sip a cup of decaf coffee and try to listen above the insistent twang of live country music, life can calmly -- once again -- reveal her amazing secrets.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Step into the waterfall

"When our heartfelt attention begins to separate the reality of the present from the endless waterfall of our thoughts, the world shines with a brilliant beauty.  We also begin to see how much our unnoticed interior states and unrecognized beliefs control our lives."
  -- Jack Kornfield, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry .

I love that idea, the endless waterfall of our thoughts -- it makes that constant flow seem less of an enemy; more of a constant rush and flow that can carry us to new places.  It makes it less muddy, more something to stand in and peer through to the hidden treasures; the rocks that glisten beneath, the caves still to be explored -- if we're willing to step through to the other side.

I'm not sure I understood, when I began meditation practice, that it would not only help me to find those quiet peaceful caves inside; that it would also reveal those -- often unpleasant, and hard to love -- patterns that so color our perceptions.  At first I remember being horrified to watch where my mind went: it was so often selfish, anxious, or angry; eager to please and impress...

But with time I've learned to be patient with that, to accept the inevitable failings, to watch for projections, to be wary of assumptions, and to look through and beyond the relentless flow of ego to the treasure and the tenderness that wait, open and vulnerable, still hopeful and longing, beneath the cynicism and occasional despair.

Because the truth is that you have to be willing to step into the waterfall, walk through the cold and the tears and the occasional terror, if you want to see beyond it to the open, aching heart that lies beneath.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The hunger, the longing, and the light

"Our hearts shine in the same way as the fireflies, with the same light as the sun and the moon.  Within us is a secret longing to remember this light, to step out of time, to feel our true place in this dancing world.  It's where we began and where we return."
  -- Jack Kornfield, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry

This particular Kornfield book has been sitting on my shelf, unread, for years.  I remember buying it because it was recommended to me, and because I loved the title (so like my life!) but I was never able to get into it.

But when I finished with 365 Nirvana, I went to my bookshelf, planning to reread one of my favorite inspirational texts, and found this one jumping out at me.  And as I read, I can't quite see why I never got into it before; it seems perfect for where I am now.

So much of life seems to be about timing and readiness, doesn't it?  So many things seem to happen that we only come to understand years later; so many people cross our paths with gifts we only learn to unwrap years after they have passed on...

But that light that shines in our hearts seems to have a way of persisting, even through the darkest of nights, and then, suddenly, when we least expect it, it seems to sparkle forth again...

In a way, I think, that's what Advent is all about: sitting in the darkness, waiting and trusting that somehow the light is still there, and will return.  And I find it very amusing that, without my even being aware of it, the Advent consciousness is seeping into my reading, my photo choices, and my thoughts.  Is it years of programming?  Or is it just the natural cycle of events; that as the days grow shorter and shorter we find ourselves hungering for the light?

I'm not sure what the answer is, but then -- I'm not sure it really matters.  What matters is the hunger, and the longing... and the light.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Plan, but trust the emergence

It takes a lot of planning to create a bridge.  It takes a lot of planning to get through life, as well.  And the more people involved, the more complex the process.

But sometimes, well, life just gets in the way of plans.  We've had a lot of that in our house, over the past 24 hours.  I had a presentation to give yesterday; something I was to be paid for as part of the offerings of our local arts community.  I spent some time planning it, and then had to call it off; I was just too dizzy, and exhausted as well, so I spent the afternoon sleeping. Which was a good decision, as it turns out -- I'm definitely feeling better this morning.

Our daughter was to come over this morning to join me on my Thursday morning coffee date, but she just called to say she needs to sleep in -- which will complicate things later in the day.  My husband was planning to join us as well, but he lost sleep last night, so he, too, will be sleeping in -- and then taking the car into Seattle, which will make things tricky for the Seattle daughter, who will need a car when she comes over.  And our other daughter has a doctor's appointment around the same time the Seattle daughter comes over... it's all a little confusing. 

But it will also all work out.  Which is kind of true across the board, with life.  Things get complicated and confusing; some things get dropped, plans change, people accommodate, and eventually everything works out.  Maybe not quite the way we planned it, but it will work out.  And things are infinitely easier if we can just learn to trust that. 

I keep thinking of the last slide from my last class of the term, which is all about acceptance.  It emerges out of Open Space Technology, and goes something like this:

Whoever shows up are the right people
Whenever it starts is the right time
Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened, and
When it's over, it's over.  

... which seems to me to be all about trust -- trusting that what needs to emerge will emerge.  I don't actually think it works all that well for bridges.  But for meetings, and for daily life -- well, at least it's reassuring.  And if things aren't going quite the way you'd hoped,  OST has another great rule that may work equally well:

The Law of Two Feet

If at any time you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing: use your two feet and go someplace else.

I'm not sure I agree with this one; it goes against my instincts around loyalty and commitment, and seems a little New-Agey.  But it's certainly something to think about.  Does it flow inevitably out of that kind of acceptance?  I'm not sure...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Unexpected ripples

One of the women in my spirituality class yesterday mentioned the pleasure she finds in looking at circular ripples like these.

It made me think of this picture from the California Academy of Sciences, which I've been meaning to share with you; there is something very soothing about both the ripples and the colors of this aquarium shot.

But I also realized yesterday, in talking with my husband, that not all ripples are calming.  I was trying to explain to him how much I wish he would begin actively looking for work, and as I began to articulate the feeling it quickly became apparent that I'd tapped into some sort of volcano; that actually I've been upset for some time -- however much I've tried to stay calm and go with the flow -- by his procrastination in this area.

Once released, of course, it was hard to stem the tide of feelings; they were rippling out with a momentum of their own.  I never actually yelled, or burst into tears (though I felt myself on the edge of both), but I could feel how deeply distraught I've been about this situation, and, worse yet, how long it's been coloring my interactions with him, and how rude I've become to him.

Yes, I get that by ordinary standards these variations in my behavior are small, but I also realize I've not been liking myself all that much lately, precisely because of my reluctance to engage in meaningless chatter with him.  Apparently some part of me decided -- without actually checking with the rest of me -- that if he wasn't talking about his job hunt I wasn't interested in what he had to say.

It's pretty disturbing to see how unconscious I can be even when I'm making a deliberate effort to be more conscious.  Disturbing also to see how separate I can feel when I work so hard toward oneness.  Fortunately we are reading about acceptance in spirituality class, and this week's learning is to accept, not only the challenges life throws us, but also our own sometimes fishy responses.

And so I look at this image and long to slip into its depth and color; to accept that the ripples of feeling may not just be on the surface; may be bubbling up from a far deeper place than the reflections I've been sharing.  Nothing here is all that clear; there are lots of distortions, and will continue to be for a while.  And it's all good -- the striving, the procrastination, the attempts to hide and the overflow, the recognition and the distortion... it's all part of what is here, and what is now.  And every moment I spend getting to know it better, sinking into it, is time well spent.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Taking flight

One redeeming factor
of tears and rain
is the way they pool together
to reflect the light and the stars,
leaving behind
this soothing radiance;
a tender reminder
that there are other worlds than this,
other feelings to be experienced,
new lines to be drawn
between what is
and what could be.
to dance in the puddles, my friend:
dawn is emerging
from the scattered darkness:
soon we'll be revving up our engines,
preparing for takeoff,
climbing beyond the clouds,
our wings brushed with color
by the new sun.

* * *

Monday, December 6, 2010

Coping with earthly limitations

With Thanksgiving over, Christmas begins to loom, and for some -- my guess is, women in particular -- it has the same sort of ominous, overwhelming quality of this incoming plane: that sense that something huge is speeding toward you, that if you don't move quickly you will be flattened; often accompanied by a sort of deer-in-the-headlights paralysis.

And I find, as I get older, that the least little glitch will take away my confidence that I can accomplish everything; will pretty much throw me under the wheels.

This year that glitch is classwork: though class is over, I have several final assignments, and though I know they'll probably be completed in the very near future, they are looming particularly large at the moment, and I'm wondering if I should decide NOT to produce calendars -- other than the family calendar -- this year.

So every year for the past 8 or 9 years I've been producing three different calendars each year: a family calendar, with photos from our annual Thanksgiving gathering; a Sandspit calendar, with pictures I've gathered from the neighborhood over the course of the year; and a Diane Walker calendar, with favorite images from this year's wanderings.

The family and Walker calendars are giveaways to families and friends; the Sandspit calendars I sell to neighbors, who have come to expect it.  And the fact is that all of them require a substantial investment of time and money -- both of which are pretty scarce this year.

If I were smart, I'd put them together earlier in the year -- and sometimes I manage to do that -- but this year, with school, I just figured I'd wait til all my other responsibilities were done.  So here I am, down to the wire, wondering what to let go...

Which may be why, when I read the lyrics to this old Woody Guthrie song in my readings this morning from 365 Nirvana, I immediately rose from the table and went to Youtube looking to get the sound of the music. Because when I'm feeling overwhelmed, it's awfully appealing to think that something major could shift, and I could step outside these earthly limitations:

This Morning I Am Born Again

This morning I was born again and a light shines on my land
I no longer look for heaven in your deathly distant land
I do not want your pearly gates don’t want your streets of gold
This morning I was born again and a light shines on my soul

This morning I was born again, I was born again complete
I stood up above my troubles and I stand on my two feet
My hand it feels unlimited, my body feels like the sky
I feel at home in the universe where yonder planets fly

This morning I was born again, my past is dead and gone
This great eternal moment is my great eternal dawn
Each drop of blood within me, each breath of life I breathe
Is united with these mountains and the mountains with the seas

I feel the sun upon me, it’s rays crawl through my skin
I breathe the life of Jesus and old John Henry in
I give myself, my heart, my soul to give some friend a hand
This morning I was born again, I am in the promised land

This morning I was born again and a light shines on my land
I no longer look for heaven in your deathly distant land
I do not want your pearly gates don’t want your streets of gold
And I do not want your mansion for my heart is never cold.

If you'd like to hear what this sounds like, you can listen to the Slaid Cleaves version here:

...and if, like me, you're feeling a bit overwhelmed by the demands of the season, I wish you this sensation -- if only for a moment: to stand above your troubles, and on your own two feet; to feel your hand unlimited, your body like the sky, and at home in this sweet universe where all these planets fly.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Another learning experience

Though I still have some homework assignments to complete, yesterday was the last class for this quarter, and I'm sad to say it ended on an unpleasant note for some of the people in my table group.

We'd volunteered to facilitate the closing piece of the day's activities, so we had a phone meeting to plan that, and decided to invite our classmates to share the treasures they were bringing away from our journey together.

And then, as part of the day's exercises, we were asked to design another facilitation: we were given an extra long lunch break, and were expected to use that to plan out a meeting which would happen as soon as the break ended.

As we began visualizing how the meeting might go, things started getting very sticky, and it soon came out that one of our group's members felt that the last phone conversation had been controlling and non-inclusive.  The news came as a shock to the rest of us, and our attempts to plan the additional facilitation were severely handicapped as a result.

In the end, both facilitations went reasonably well, but two of the women were unable to resolve their differences in the time we had, and I think both were left with a bitter taste in their mouths.  It was sad, because I care about and respect them both: if they had been able to work together I know we would have been able to create some really terrific work.

Which brings me back to my biggest concern about the schooling I am getting: it's all very well to talk of cooperation and collaboration, but in the real world -- even in the mini-real world the classroom has come to symbolize -- it can be extraordinarily difficult for people to look beyond their preconceived notions and childhood experiences and see how much each person has to offer the whole.


However much we long to reach out and embrace the whole of humanity, there will always be scars, snags and glitches -- our own, as well as others -- that make our efforts less than smooth.  But if you step back from the whole picture; well, even if the whole thing isn't perfect, it carries within it the seeds of perfection, and conveys, even in the worst of times, a clear understanding that the Creator had an idea of perfection.  And if the lumps and bumps we encounter along the way get in the way of that, well... it's all good, and all a learning experience.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Making me dizzy

I spent most of Thursday at Antioch: they were having a craft sale, and I thought it might be fun to participate and sell some of my matted prints and cards.

But there weren't all that many people on campus Thursday, and while the Tibetan scarves to the left of me did well, my photos proved to be of little interest to the few people who wandered by.

So I spent most of the day sitting by the moldy fountain with my head in a book, drank too much coffee (and a Coke: BIG mistake) and awoke in the middle of the night with a terrific dizzy spell: a result, I suspect, of the bend in my neck while reading, the heat of the lobby, the excess of sugar and the mold in the fountain.

But I had to give a two hour presentation in the morning (I'd been up til almost midnight working on it, and had to be up at 5 to shower in time to catch the early ferry for a morning meeting before class.  So I drank a ton of water, wolfed down some Sudafed (which pretty much guaranteed I wouldn't sleep any more) and then compounded the problem by drinking coffee before heading to the ferry so I could stay awake long enough to present.

Oy.  The presentation went amazingly well, but I spent the day in an uncomfortable fog, drank WAY too much water before remembering you need electrolytes to go with that or the dizziness becomes self-replicating...  So I'm still in a bit of trouble this morning, though I've had two glasses of salt water and a couple of bananas to try to replace the lost electrolytes.

There's a term I learned in class this quarter: FFE, or Far From Equilibrium.  It perfectly describes my mental state as I struggle to get the liquid in my inner ears back in balance.  But in Systems Theory it is believed that complex systems evolve far from equilibrium at the edge of chaos. They evolve at a critical state built up by a history of irreversible and unexpected events.  In other words, it is precisely at the point where things get horribly complicated and confusing that growth and evolution happen.

I find this theory enormously reassuring; don't you?  Not as it reflects my current state of disequilibrium, which I suspect is less efficacious (wow, where did THOSE vocabulary word surface from?) but with regard to the challenges humans and human organizations face.  If we could simply trust that nature has been designed in such a way that the unexpected and inconvenient and difficult are all signs of impending evolution, well, it would be a lot easier to stay calm in a crisis, don't you think? 

This just feels like one of those places where science and religion are beginning to overlap -- and I find that very exciting.  When my brain is working.  When I'm not reeling with dizziness.  But maybe it's that overlap that's making me dizzy!  Maybe I should just look at my dizziness as a sort of tipping point; if I get TOO dizzy, I'll just tip over!  the question is -- into what?  It would be so nice if I could just tip over into Now...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

What emerges from the silence

A friend of mine, recently widowed, elected to fly to England to spend time with her family there, and this morning I received a note from her saying they've gotten 15 inches of snow in the last 24 hours, and it's still falling.  She's not at all sure she'll be able to get to the airport, and she's deeply concerned that by the time she DOES make it British Air will have gone on strike.

So she's tearing her hair out a bit at the forced inactivity, and wondering (as she often has in the path) why on EARTH I would ever choose to go on a silent retreat!

So it's intriguing to me that I heard from her right after reading this passage from David Steindl-Rast in this morning's readings from 365 Nirvana:

"Monasticism's central message, expressed through the chant, is the supreme importance of time and how we relate to it: how we caretake and respond to the present moment, to what is before us now.

The message of the hours is to live daily with the real rhythms of the day; to live responsively, consciously, and intentionally directing our lives from within, not being swept along by the demands of the clock, by external agendas, by mere reactions to whatever happens.  By living in the real rhythms, we ourselves become more real.  We learn to listen to the music of the moment, to hear its sweet implorings, its sober directives.  We learn to dance a little in our hearts, to open our inner gates a crack more, to hearken to the music of silence, the divine life breath of the universe."

Reading this, I feel an incredible longing to set aside the time-based demands of my life, to stop trying always to move forward, to relax into what is now and just listen to the music of the moment.  Those who are called to monasticism do that for all of us, but we who are not called in that way need to make time for those moments as well.  And I suspect it is the longing for that peace that keeps me wary of returning to fulltime employment.  Perhaps the time has come to just acknowledge that this period of my life may call for simply that; that now is a time for stopping and listening, for seeing what emerges from the silence.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Basking in the now

"It's no use to seek truth,
just let false views cease.
Don't abide in duality
and take care not to seek,
for as soon as there is yes and no,
the mind is lost in confusion."
   --Seng Ts'an, in 365 Nirvana

One of the many attractions of the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco is their rain forest biosphere.  As you near the top of the rain forest, there are lots of lovely butterflies.

This was the only butterfly I was able to successfully capture with my camera, and I remember feeling a bit disappointed at the time because the butterfly and the flower were the same color.  But that very feature makes it a perfect illustration for today's quotation, "Don't abide in duality." 

Why, after all, do I need to distinguish between the butterfly and the flower? Why, for that matter, do I need to distinguish between myself and the butterfly?  Or between myself and anything?  And as I ponder this, I realize I've always been a seeker, and that very act of seeking really does divide the world into yes and no.  Because as long as we're seeking, everything we see and do is being evaluated: "Will this bring me closer?  Is this what I'm looking for?" -- which is, essentially, continually dividing the world into acceptable/good and not acceptable/bad.  If we're looking for something better, the implication will always be that now is not good enough.

Which is sad -- because now is truly wonderful.  And can I stop here and appreciate that?  Drop my shoulders, stop planning for what comes next, and just breathe?  And if not, why not?  Why is that so hard?  What dreadful fate would befall me if I were to release that search and bask in the Now?