Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Pink T-Shirt


When my daughter was little she would put a pink T-shirt on her head and pretend it was long hair. She would stand in front of the mirror swishing it around and styling it. Yes, that child could braid a T-shirt. And make it into a ponytail or a bun.

One day we were getting ready to go to the store. She ran to get the pink T-shirt, and when it was arranged to her liking, she headed to the door.

Looking back at me, she asked, “Will people think I have long hair?”

“No, sweetie,” I said gently, “they will think you have a pink T-shirt on your head.”

She paused as a shadow of doubt flitted across her brow. But just for a moment.

“No they won’t,” she said resolutely. And flipping her long, cottony tresses over her shoulder, she skipped away.

That is one of my favorite stories of her irrepressible childhood.

I was reminded of it recently when I caught myself in a pink hair story about a situation that I wanted to be a certain way. I told myself that it was indeed how I imagined it to be, and was puzzled and frustrated by all the evidence right in front of me that didn’t comport with my desire. I wanted to dismiss anything that contradicted the image I had created.

It didn’t work, of course. I saw pretty quickly what I was doing, and still I was reluctant to let my dream go. The hold that our delusions have on us is strong. And so I did what I’ve learned to do when out of sync with what is.

I sat.

And I began to inquire. What is the nature of this desire? Of the reluctance to let it go? Where do I feel it in my body? What is underneath?

I became aware of the energy it took to sustain the delusion, and I could already feel how tiring that was. I could observe the suffering of attachment, even a minor attachment such as this one. I saw, as is often the case, that our attachments are rarely about the object or story of our desire. We have to go deep for the source to be revealed. And as my hold softened, compassion welled up to soothe the loss.

I pulled off the pink T-shirt with gratitude, and lovingly put it away.

It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring. ~Carl Sagan

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 44


Fame or self, which is dearer
Self or wealth, which is greater
Gain or loss, which is painful

The first two lines remind me of a popular question – would you rather be rich or famous? Although here, we are asked to evaluate both fame and riches in comparison to our self. The character for self also means body, so we could make our evaluation in terms of our physical lives, or in terms of our identity or sense of self.

The third line asks us to look at the effect of gain or loss on our lives. Most of us would prefer gain to loss, but if we examine our attachment to gain and our aversion to loss, we might see that both can cause anxiety.

Excessive love comes at a great cost
More acquisition is balanced by more loss
Knowing contentment avoids disappointment
Knowing when to stop avoids trouble
Thus one long endures

The message here is one of balance and equanimity. Fame comes and goes. Riches come and go. We receive and release. There is a point of equipoise where the self remains balanced, not seeking to force or interfere.

Sometimes people misinterpret this to mean that we should just sit around doing nothing. That is not in harmony. When it is time to work, we work. When it is time to rest, we rest. We take responsibility for our lives. We provide for our families. We contribute to our communities.

We can do all of that from a centered place of contentment and gratitude, knowing when we have enough, or have done enough.

My sister is an artist, and I often wonder when she knows that a painting is finished. There seems to be a point where she has done enough, and more would be too much. She just knows. That fascinates me.

I have a friend who lives in a gorgeous, palatial home, but is always worried about money. How can a person who lives in such luxury have such a joy crushing sense of lack?  That fascinates me too.

This chapter invites us to examine our own lives, to notice where we are out of sync, where we struggle hold the scales out of balance, and to consider the effort it takes to maintain our disequilibrium. Can we observe without judgment? If we can, then perhaps we can gain some insight that might allow us to release even just a little of that burden.

Be cool at the equator; keep thy blood fluid at the Pole.  ~Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Longing


You are the face of my longing
But you are not my longing
You are the name of my longing
But you are not my longing
You are the form of my longing
But you are not my longing
You break my heart
But it is not you
It is my longing

Monday, June 11, 2018

Eye of the Beholder


There is a rhododendron bush outside my window. A few minutes ago, I saw a squirrel perched on one of the branches, grooming itself. It was so cute, washing its adorable face and stroking its fur. It looked so soft and cuddly, bringing back sweet memories of the friendly pet squirrel I had as a child.

I was lost in pleasant reverie when I noticed something was a bit off. Where was its fluffy tail? I looked more closely and recoiled in alarm. It wasn’t a squirrel at all. It was a rat! Its beady little eyes were full of evil threat. It looked filthy and diseased. I immediately started doing a mental scan of my house, hoping there was no way for it to get inside. I wished one of the feral cats in the neighborhood would come to the rescue.

It was the same little creature going about its business, unaware that in one moment I was gazing upon it with pleasure and enjoyment, and in the next moment I was wishing it a swift and violent death. Nothing had changed except my perception of it and the emotional reaction to that perception.

Wow. Lots to contemplate. I can see how this plays out in my life. I look at a situation from one perspective and witness all the judgments and emotions that flow from that perspective. Then I shift to a different angle and everything changes. My whole “reality” shifts. Meanwhile, the universe just goes about its business.

So thank you, Master Rat, for my spiritual lesson today. I bow in gratitude. And I confess I’m still hoping one of those cats is nearby.

We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are. ~Anais Nin

Friday, June 8, 2018

The Mercy Seat


He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge. ~Psalm 91:4

In the Hebrew Bible, God gives directions to Moses to build a temple. Within the temple, in the most sacred inner room, Moses is instructed to build a “mercy seat” of pure gold and to place it above the ark of the covenant. “There I will meet with you,” promises God.

I am no Bible scholar, so my mind is uncomplicated by specific knowledge about this seat. In my imagination, the mercy seat is the thin place where we encounter the divine (by whatever name we choose).  God does not meet with us on the seat of judgment, or the seat of vengeance.  There is no separation here, no hatred, no fear.  Only mercy, only love.

If I sit on the mercy seat, I will be bathed in the light of divine love, filled with the basic goodness of the universe.  My spirit will be purified and mercy will spill over like a golden fountain, flowing wherever I hold judgment and condemnation, washing away everything that is born of fear, imbuing what has been dark with a light so brilliant that nothing is left in shadow. 

I have held this image in my heart recently as I have struggled to forgive and release a situation that continues to churn in my spirit.  When I feel myself sucked back towards that whirlpool of anger and blame and fear and pain, I picture myself on the mercy seat, opening my soul to the sacred energy of the universe, asking for mercy for myself and for those against whom I harbor thoughts of separation and judgment. 

The true gift of grace is that the line between giving and receiving mercy immediately disappears as soon as mercy is asked for or offered.  Mercy never flows only one direction, but washes over both the giver and the recipient.

Imagining myself on the golden seat of mercy is humbling.  Grace is so exquisite, the limitless generosity of the universe so sublime, that my grievances simply melt away.  I am bewildered that I ever thought them important, worthy of my attention and energy.  What are they compared to this glorious freedom from what entraps my soul? 

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.  –Lewis B. Smedes

Monday, June 4, 2018

W.A.I.T.

Why Am I Talking?

So much of the news today seems to be about what someone said on social media. Or what someone said in an interview or on the phone or in a meeting or on a blog or in a hotel room or inadvertently in front of a hot mic. Then other people have to talk about what was said. And others have to react. Then the person who initially spoke either doubles down or apologizes. Then people have to talk about it some more.

At least until someone else says something that eclipses the story and begins another news cycle. This usually doesn’t take very long.

It’s exhausting.

When my daughter was little, she talked nonstop. She had a husky voice. We joked that she was perpetually hoarse from all the talking and that we had never heard her normal voice. I was often her audience of choice, and she would follow me around, peppering me with questions that she didn’t even want an answer to. (I figured that out because she never waited for an answer before asking the next question.) She just wanted me to react. She talked until my ears hurt.

Sometimes I was the talker. I tended to explain too much when I was upset with the kids. Their eyes would glaze over. My son would hold up his hand in a stop signal and say in a robotic voice, “Talking...is...over.”

What is it about our need to talk? What is the nature of this urge? For us to contemplate this, we need to stop talking. We need to listen. Not only to others but to ourselves. Perhaps we are looking for connection. We want to be heard. We want to feel valued. We want to not feel alone.

I’m sure there are other reasons. But I suspect that a good part of our motivation to talk so much isn’t really about the content of what we are saying. And whatever the underlying need is, I suspect that it will not be met by using more words or a louder voice. Underneath all the screaming words, attacking words, manipulative words, lying words, judging words, complaining words, or even just too many words, I suspect we might find a reservoir of pain and fear.

If we could hear that in others, and recognize it in ourselves, perhaps our speech would take on a very different quality.

The acronym above is a wonderful reminder to pause and gently question our use of words. I like the Buddhist concept of “right speech.” Before speaking I can ask myself three questions about what I’m going to say.

Is it true?
Is it necessary?
Is it kind?

And if I can answer yes to all the questions, then I might hold out an open hand to my son and say, “Talking...has...just...begun.”

Friday, June 1, 2018

Take the One Seat


Take the one seat, Beloved
And wait
Wait without knowing 
      for what is beyond knowing
Wait without words
     for what is beyond words
Wait without thought
     for what is beyond thought
Take the one seat, Beloved
And wait



Note: Comments are closed on poetry posts