Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Allowing troubled waters to deepen our reflections

I've been working hard to stay above the political fray, to remain calm and trusting in the midst of all our country's current turmoil.  But yesterday I got hooked: a post came across my facebook path a couple of times that seemed both eminently rational and utterly terrifying.

But instead of re-posting the link, I decided to pass it through the bubble, to a dear and trusted friend who lives and works "on the other side," a man whose political and religious persuasions, though we grew into faith in the same environment, differ markedly from my own.

... and I have to say it helped.  Not just because he debunked some of my worries, but because he reminded me of the importance, in such times as these, of deepening our spiritual center, and because he believes -- as do I -- that somehow God is working through all this for good.

But still, sleep was hard to come by, and my dreams were troubled by nightmares I'd not previously experienced: houses tumbling; children covered in white ash, permanently frozen in attitudes of terror; fire-blackened cars that wouldn't start... So it was with great eagerness that I opened my reading for this morning, knowing as I do from experience that often what I need to hear will be revealed in the day's text.

I've been reading Cynthia Bourgeault's latest book, The Heart of Centering Prayer: Nondual Christianity in Theory and Practice,  and though I'm not quite halfway through the book has already had a significant effect on my meditation/Centering Prayer practice.  Sure enough, today's reading helped enormously, so I'll try to share the gist of it here with you. 

She begins my passage for today by explaining that the word "passion" comes from the latin verb patior, which means to suffer; literally, to be acted upon -- as in "he did not suffer fools gladly." (my example, not hers). "Thus," she says, "in the ancient insights on which this spiritual teaching rests, passion did not mean elan vital, energy or aliveness.  It designated being stuck, grabbed, and blindly reactive."

So a major practice of Centering Prayer is the releasing of thoughts.  But, she goes on to say, when a thought becomes entangled with our sense of identity (I read ego here), then an emotional value or point of view is suddenly at stake and we get hooked. "Once the emotion is engaged, once that sense of "I" locks in, what follows is a full-scale emotional uproar."

Yup.  A perfect description of the state I was in last night. So what do we do with that? Cynthia tells us that the trick here is that if we can disengage that sense of "me," we can channel the energy that's been generated back into a sort of deeper heart awareness.  "A heart that is divided," she says, "pulled this way and that by competing inner agendas, is like a wind-tossed sea: unable to reflect on its surface the clear image of the moon."

If we understand our meditation practice -- and our role in life -- as a way into the reflective stillness that enables us to see the connectedness, the goodness in the world, then we can view the rising of this energy as an opportunity to deepen that reflective stillness.  I know -- it sounds impossible. But somehow, for me, thinking of it that way helps me past the passionate turmoil into a kind of deeper confidence that what is meant to be will be. Not that I will not act when so led, but that my actions, fueled by that deeper understanding, might be more effective.

And so, after reading, work, thought, and meditation I can find myself again in a place of hope.  But given the nature of things, I feel certain this process is going to have to keep circling around, over and over -- and hopefully deeper and deeper -- over the coming times. I hope I have the courage, faith, and motivation to continue in the face of the storm.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Working for Integrity

When you're working for Integrity,
it's hard not to get discouraged.
Make time to stop and breathe;
enjoy the beauty of the day.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

How can the heart...

How can the heart continue to soar
when so many are in pain?

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Immigrants, all of us

We are, all of us, immigrants, are we not?
Who among us has not left one community for another,
to build new lives for ourselves?
(photos of my Swedish grandmother and Danish grandfather;
painted memory of their 4th floor walk-up in Hoboken.)

Friday, January 27, 2017

Hearts to love or wound

The sacred challenge of art -- even this graffiti -- 
is to remind us of our commonality;
that whatever our gender, race, or creed, we share so much:
eyes to weep as well as see -- or look away;
ears to listen or close; mouths to smile or curl in disgust;
arms to hold, resist, or fight; hearts to love or wound...

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Some days...

Some days you just want to move to a cabin in the woods
and surround yourself with art...

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Open our hearts

Open our hearts, that, like newly furrowed fields,
we might welcome the generous thoughts and intentions
that might be planted there.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A different brand of blues

Round about this time of year
I start hungering for sunshine;
get thirsty for a different brand of blues...

Monday, January 23, 2017

Return to nature

In times of trouble, we turn to nature,
finding peace in the babbling of the brook;
reassurance in the mountains;
sweetness and hope in the garden.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Seeking reconciliation

So -- I spent inauguration day in my studio, burning incense and candles, meditating, reading, and slapping black gesso onto black canvases, covering some and, when my arms got too tired, just whipping the brushes around on others.

I'm not sure I would have marched yesterday even if I had been healthy, but with a sore foot and 15 black stitches under my eye (minor surgery to remove a basal cell carcinoma) I wasn't going anywhere.  But I watched.  And cried from time to time at the magnificence of it all.  And realized one of my paintings from the day before was a stylized version of our new president, so I photoshopped him into it.  I found myself hoping that if I worked with his face I could find a way to send him the love he so obviously lacks.  It hasn't worked yet.

And then, just before bedtime, I saw a post from an actress friend -- a single mother who shares her life and love with her disabled 20-something daughter -- reposting some inflammatory statements from one of the right-wing sites she subscribes too, bemoaning the fact that because she opposes abortion she would not have been welcome at the march.

I put a comment on there, saying that there were thousands of women marching, singing thousands of different songs, and that I felt certain her own beautiful voice (she does have one) would surely be welcome. And then I went to bed.

I woke up this morning still thinking about that.  Still wanting to talk with her about it, though I probably won't.  Because yes, there were lots of women there with lots of different issues to shout about.  But I still think the root of the objections is the disrespect el presidente has shown women.  And are we any better if we disrespect those women who disagree with us?

I would like to believe that most of the hundreds of thousands of women who marched yesterday would invite my actress friend to join them despite her views on abortion. Perhaps they could have some civil discourse while they walked together. Because, just as I believe children are better off if raised by two different parents, I think our country is better off if we can somehow hold differing points of view in balance, seeking compromise and collaboration and communication in order to find a way together. 

But I'm not sure how -- given the current fear-mongering on both sides of the aisle -- we will ever get back to that sense of balance, of respect for opposing views. Perhaps the gift of our current president's obvious demagoguery (if that's how you spell it) is that he'll become a common enemy, distaste for his tactics uniting a seriously divided electorate. But what an ugly path to unity that will be -- and I can't imagine that all that hatred won't just make the man's temper and behavior worse. And at what grievous cost to the rest of us, only time will tell.

I find this all so terribly sad.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

For those who march

For all who choose to march today, for our daughters and our sons,
for all who've been abused and disenfranchised
for the safety and the future of our planet and its children;
for hope, and for all whose lives are linked with ours.

Friday, January 20, 2017

An inaugural prayer

I pray today for these divided states of America,
that somehow we may find our way back
to the wholeness and compassion
that led our founding fathers to declare
that all are created equal and entitled
to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;
that we may once again become one nation, indivisible,
working together to ensure liberty and justice for all.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Be prepared

Be patient, hold to what you know to be true,
make time to listen for wisdom, 
and be prepared to act as you are guided.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Crimson complications

When the crimson complications of the present
seem impossible to surmount,
take a moment to look up; take the long view, then return.
We'll get there: we just have to find our way.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

When we erect those walls

In times of stress, our instinct may be
to wall ourselves off from others; to each his own.
Help us to know the grace that comes
when we lower the walls and let the Other in.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The humble gifts we bring

These are the humble gifts we bring to the healing of the world:
To listen without judging, to discuss without arguing,
and to resist without attacking;
To be welcoming but not a doormat,
To be hopeful but not deluded,
To work for change without destroying,
and to seek the truth that lies behind inflammatory tales.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

A determined gardener

A determined gardener will always find a way 
to bring new growth to life.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

May the light of love shine through

Do not bemoan the dark, but trust
that darkness will help true light to be revealed,
and pray the light of love will illumine all.

Friday, January 13, 2017

First World Problems

When you're standing someplace warm and dry,
The very things protecting you from the elements
Might be cluttered, obscuring your vision.
Make time to step outside and feel the cold:
Perhaps you'll finally see the magnitude
Of what's in front of you, and where you're heading.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

In times like these

Stalled as usual by the demands of the holidays, my painting urges got a bit of a jumpstart this week from a friend who suggested I explore some primary colors I don't tend to work with.

But when I went to the studio I realized an absent-minded departure over Christmas had left a thick skin over the paint in my jar of titanium white. Rather than toss the jar (which was, fortunately, only about an eighth full) I decided to see if I could use what paint remained relatively fluid beneath the skin, and use the skin as well to add to the texture.

So this is the result -- a highly textured painting with lots of yellow, some pretty strong oranges, a little turquoise to sooth my artist soul, and some lumpy white to pull it all together. I'm not saying it's a work of art, and I doubt I'll ever enter it in a show, but I'm pleased with it nonetheless. It's bold, it's bright, it breaks away a bit from the rather boring (if more saleable) horizontals I was working on in the fall, and it feels a bit more free.  I've been hoping to find again that sense of joy and freedom I felt when I first started painting, four years ago this week; to revel again in the textures and colors, and in the joy of watching them all interact on the canvas.

Most of all, I think, I needed to get back to painting in the moment, to respond to the painting as it was emerging, rather than going into it with preconceived notions of how it would evolve.  In times like these, when events seem to be spinning out of our control, it becomes more necessary than ever to stay in the moment, to be in tune with the promptings of the spirit, to live and move as we are drawn to do and trust that somehow we are working in the service of the universe and its future.

I know, that sounds like a rather grandiose description of a rather cluttered and ordinary painting.  But at this point my cluttered and ordinary life is all I have to offer the world. There's nothing out there I can fix; I can only be the best that I can be and somehow hope that it will prove to be enough.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Devouring the moon

I lie in bed, still sulking,
and ask the moon whose light streams through my window:
Am I really being bullied? Or am I just upset
because I'm not getting my way?
The morning sun consumes the sky,
devouring the moon. Was that my answer?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Around the bend

Be safe out there --
however beautiful the scenery,
you never know what's waiting
just around the bend...

(dedicated to a friend who just lost her son in an auto accident)

Monday, January 9, 2017

Where am I going with this?

One of the blessings of a gratitude practice is that over time you can develop a more open response to challenges -- by which I mean you begin to trust there is a purpose in the present; that whatever is on your plate today has something to offer you.

That said, I am still, like slightly more than half the voters of our country, finding our current political climate particularly challenging.  But I was very struck by Meryl Streep's speech last night at the Golden Globes, not just because it was both courageous and articulate, but because she seized the opportunity to make a difference, to use her moment and her credibility to state what she believes to be true.

Will the rest of us have that kind of courage? Will Congress? Will the press? But, more importantly, will I?  Awake and fidgety last night at 3 in the morning (my personal witching hour -- or perhaps my twitching hour), I decided to run a sort of test. An odd test, to be sure, but still...

I mean, there I was, warm and dry, in a comfortable bed; think of all the people in the world who do not have that luxury.  And yet, deeply restless, all I wanted to do was get up, get out, get moving, get food -- to do something, anything, to tame that hyperactive beast within. So I decided that this would be a good spiritual test: to commit to staying in one place, unmoving, as if I were on a Zen meditation retreat, in honor of all the people in the world who are imprisoned, or cold, hungry or homeless; who are trapped in untenable life situations; or just those who voted for our president-elect, not because they liked him or even approved of him but because they were desperate for change. I needed to experience how that must feel.

I went into it confident that I'd be able to sort of meditate my way through; get beyond the fidgets and into that serene space. But nope, never happened.  It just got worse and worse; I found myself staring at the clock, willing time to pass so I could finally be free. Truthfully, the last minute before the 2-hour deadline I'd given myself seemed to go on -- literally -- forever: I kept waiting for the number to roll over and it just wouldn't.

So -- as my husband always says to our girls -- what did we learn from this?  In my case, I am forced to realize that I have more in common with our senators and representatives than I'd have been willing to admit a day ago.  It is appallingly difficult to put ourselves in someone else's shoes.  Easy to say we care for the marginalized; hard to give up the slightest bit of comfort to make that actually happen.  I would tell myself that if I could stay in bed for one more minute, some child might not go hungry, but still I found it difficult. Perhaps if I knew that were true I'd be better at stillness, but the truth is that I am human, and far too attached to the life I have, the choices I am free to make, to be at all sanguine about relinquishing any of that for those in need. And though I claim to have a reasonably successful meditation practice, it's really just an easy one; easy to sit quietly in a familiar spot for 20 minutes a day with a body conditioned to do that for that time in that space.

Assumptions, projections -- we all have them, make them, do them, whatever that verb should be.  A humbling reminder: my perspective is only mine, and not necessarily accurate.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Differing perspectives

Though we may see things from differing perspectives,
it would be foolish to ignore the fact
that we inhabit the same planet.
Why not share our views, and learn from one another?

Saturday, January 7, 2017

A leaf of faith

Deep in the tangled forest of lies and obfuscations,
let there be one bright leaf of truth, or faith,
to guide us ever forward into light.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Nestled in the Divine Embrace

Deep within, at the core of being,
we rest in stillness, bathed in light
and nestled securely in the infinite divine embrace.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The coming storm

From this perspective, you'd think the world
divided in two parts: a lower one where everything
is broken, and the water's always rough,
and an upper, where folks live like kings
and the sea is smooth and clear.
How massive must the storms be
for us to realize we're all in this together?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Wherever your travels take you

Wherever your travels take you today,
I wish you clear skies and calm seas.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

It never hurts to dream...

It never hurts to dream, 
even if the chances of fulfillment may be slim...

Monday, January 2, 2017

Mum's the word...

Now the old year's laid to rest, 
let's speak no more of its indignities
but offer up on wings of hope
our prayers for grace and light in the year to come.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year

And now the new year has arrived,
the path before us fresh as new-fallen snow --
who knows where it will lead?
Tread lightly, try to stay upright, and hold on to your hat --
there may be chilly times ahead...