Monday, April 23, 2018

Tea Party


The story is told of Milarepa, an 8th century Tibetan Buddhist, who came back to his cave one day to find it filled with demons. He didn’t know how to get rid of them. He got angry and shouted at them to leave. They just laughed. He regained his composure and tried to teach them Buddhism. They yawned and ignored him. Finally, he gave up and said, “I’m not going anywhere and it seems that you are not either. I guess we will have to live here together. Let’s have tea.” He turned to make tea at which point the demons promptly left.

A lot has happened in the last few months that has stirred up feelings. Deep feelings relating to things that happened long ago. Disturbing feelings. Even scary. Churning up long settled silt to muddy the clear water of the present.

What to do with these feelings?

First I dismiss them.

How silly to be upset about things that happened so long ago. I know better. I’m not even upset about things that really happened, because who really knows what happened? As A Course in Miracles teaches, “the only wholly true thing you can say about the past is that it is not here.” I’m upset about the stories I’m telling myself about the past. Stories I’m telling myself right now about times lost in the mist. Why am I doing this to myself? I can simply change the stories and not be upset. Of course, that is just substituting stories. The feel good stories are no more true than the feel bad stories. They are all just stories. Drop them all. Why are those feelings still hanging around?

Next I try to analyze them.

What are these feelings really about? If I can understand them, I can control them. I can put them in a properly labeled container and be done with them. So I think and think. But my thinking gets me nowhere and I find myself circling by the same thoughts repeatedly, like seeing the same tree over and over when lost in the woods. I am hopelessly confused. I cannot think my way to peace with these feelings.

So I invite them to tea.

I remember the story of Milarepa. Okay, feelings, sit down and have some tea. Sit right here. Drink this. But no one comes.

And finally I give up.

A good host does not command her guests. She prepares the table and welcomes who shows up.

I remember the little tea set that someone gave my daughter years ago. It is covered with hearts. It sits on a heart shaped tray, and the four tiny cups are shaped like hearts. Seems like a gift from destiny.


I fill the little pot with water and sit down to wait.

One by one, they arrive – pain, anger, fear, sadness. As each one arrives, I bow in welcome. I think of the teapot as representing the courage to open my heart to these guests, and the water is the nectar of mercy and compassion. I pour water into the cups and offer one to each guest with another bow.


And I listen to what each has to say.

I would like to tell you that they each spoke their piece and then left, but the truth is that they are still here. They are not finished yet. And that’s okay.

We are all friends here.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Water Song


Rain taps the melody
While creek sings the bass
Water comes to sing me clean
Pouring through my soul
In fluid harmony
Flowing into dark and hidden places
As only water can
Deep 
Deep
Wash away the secrets
And sing me into light

Monday, April 16, 2018

Two Stories of Healing


In the Bible, Jesus and his followers encountered the funeral procession of a widow’s only son. Jesus had compassion for her and told her son to rise. The dead boy came back to life and was returned to his mother. 

The story is told in Buddhism of a mother who brought the body of her dead son to Buddha and begged him to bring the boy back to life. Buddha told her that if she could bring him a mustard seed from a house that had not been touched by death, he would grant her wish. So off she ran, going from house to house, but nowhere could she find a family that had not suffered death. She returned to Buddha, understanding that death comes to us all. She was released from her emotional struggle and went to bury her son. Buddha, in a different way, also had compassion for a grieving mother.

Two stories of healing. In one the boy was healed; in the other the mother was healed. These stories fascinate me, especially because as the mother of an autistic son, I spent much of his childhood praying for him to be healed. 

Interesting that a mustard seed appears in the Bible and in Buddhism. In the Bible, Jesus says that if we have faith even as much as a tiny mustard seed, we could command mountains to move and they would. So imagine how I felt – apparently I could not summon even a mustard seed’s worth of faith to heal my son. What a failure I was. 

Later I came to realize that my son did not need healing. He thinks he is terrific. I needed healing from my own grief and anger and despair. I came to understand that I am not alone in suffering as a mother. I turned to Mary, who might have been mother to the son of God, but still had her maternal tribulations.

I began to look more deeply at the Bible story of the mustard seed of faith. If faith is wanting things to be other than what they are, that is, imposing my own will on the universe, is that faith or denial or just wishful thinking? If faith is trusting in the innate order and basic goodness of the universe, then perhaps even a tiny mustard seed of faith will align me with God’s will. When my will yields to God’s will, then indeed all things are possible. 

For me, moving the mountain meant releasing my own resistance, making my peace with James’s autism, accepting him just the way he is. Terrific.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 41


I love this chapter because it starts with several lines that reveal a lot more about the reader than whatever point the author was trying to make.

The high scholar hears Tao and diligently practices it
The middle scholar hears Tao and sometimes keeps it, sometimes forgets it
The low scholar hears Tao and has a great laugh
Without laughter it wouldn’t be Tao

What do you first think when you read these lines? Do you identify with the high, middle, or low scholar?

I always loved school, and I was a diligent student. I worked hard and enjoyed my academic success. So I gravitate toward wanting to be the good student at the top. Indeed, many commentators and translators appear to place more value on being the high scholar. “High” and “low” are sometimes translated here as “superior” and “inferior.”

But as I considered this chapter more deeply, I began to question the assumption that we should strive to practice Tao diligently like the high scholar. Nowhere else in the Tao Te Ching are we encouraged to make such effort. On the contrary, we are taught that the way to harmony with Tao is not to learn, but to unlearn. Not to practice diligently, but to flow effortlessly.

Perhaps we have missed the point in these opening lines by so quickly admiring the high scholar. The low scholar hears Tao and laughs. This seems more in keeping with other descriptions of the sage as innocent like a child, without ambition, acting without effort, even appearing foolish to others. 

The image of the person hearing Tao and laughing reminds me of the Dalai Lama. He laughs a LOT! True, he does have a diligent practice of meditation, but I get the sense that he never takes himself too seriously.

The second part of this chapter revisits a familiar theme in the Tao Te Ching of opposites, listing twelve contrasts. For example,

Bright Tao seems dark
High virtue seems like a valley
Genuine truth seems uncertain

To me, this supports the consideration of the first lines as not meaning what they first appear to mean. That is, what seems like high achievement is not necessarily in harmony with Tao. And what we might dismiss as the fool’s laughter is really the sage’s deep awareness of Tao’s essence.

My quick identification with the high scholar has given me a great laugh ... at myself!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Hooked by Habits


When I’m up at my cabin, I have no TV, internet, or phone service. I don’t miss it. I don’t even think about it. Or if I do think about it, I think about how glad I am to be free of all these things for a few days.

However, yesterday at home I ran into TV problems and was told that no technician is available till next Wednesday. No TV for a week. Okay, I thought, this will be good. Maybe I will find that I don’t even want TV anymore. I don’t even watch it that much.

Or do I?

Around 5:00, I walked into the living room to flip on the news. Oh right. Then came dinnertime – I usually eat in front of TV. How will I eat? Later in the evening, I wanted to watch a favorite show. Couldn’t.

Got up this morning and I don’t even watch TV in the morning, but the TV was just sitting there all silent, and even though it’s silent every morning, this felt different. I noticed and felt uneasy.

Wow.

Do you ever walk into a room when the electricity is off and still reach for the switch? That’s what this feels like. Habit.

So I’m becoming aware of how I feel when a habit is disrupted. It is interesting to watch. I wonder where else in my life habits run their programs below my conscious awareness. I wonder if I have behavior habits, or belief habits, or thinking habits that dictate my experience. How do they affect my interaction with others and the world around me?

I’m not suggesting that habits are bad. Some habits are undeniably beneficial. I’m suggesting that now and then, it might be good to just take stock of the habits that are in the driver’s seat and watch how they operate.

About that TV, I’m curious about how I will feel after a week of adjusting to not having it. Is that long enough for the habit to loosen its grip? We’ll see.

Have you had a habit disrupted recently? What was that like?

[I’ll be at the cabin this weekend, so please excuse the delay in posting your comments. I look forward to hearing your habit stories when I get back!]

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Invitation to In Person Gatherings

To my Portland area readers--

Greetings!

As most of you know, the last several years I’ve been studying and contemplating the original Chinese of the Tao Te Ching. I have read and loved the Tao Te Ching for decades, but delving into the original language has revealed a profound mystical beauty that is necessarily lost in translation. This ancient wisdom teaching is not a religious text, but is rather a concise and poetic philosophy, both mystical and practical, that is compatible with all faith traditions.

Watching what is happening in our country and in the world, I feel led to share in whatever way I can the transcendent beauty and practical wisdom of this ancient text, to explore how this wisdom from ancient times might light our way today. Many people now are looking for a better way. And there is a better way, but it isn’t “out there,” but rather deep within us, where it has been all along.

In addition to sharing through my No Way Café blog, we have twice monthly gatherings at my house, on the first and third Thursday mornings of the month. The group runs in four month cycles, with the next cycle running May through August.

Our gatherings last 1 ½ hours, beginning at 9:30. Folks arrive around 9:15 so we can start right on time. After a quick check in, I usually share some of my experience with a particular chapter of the Tao Te Ching. (We take turns choosing which chapter to highlight.) We then have a time of silence for individual reflection, meditation, writing, drawing, however you want to spend the time. After that, we reconvene to share thoughts and reflections.

If you are interested in coming to check it out, you are welcome to come to the first gathering to see if it resonates with you. Please let me know if you are interested and if you can come to the first gathering of the May-August cycle on Thursday, May 3.

Feel free to email me at galenpearl@gmail.com with any questions.

All the best,
Galen

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Kan Li


Blue black tiger
In the night
Red crane
In the moonlight
Bowing to each other
Dancing 
Dancing


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 40


This lovely little four line verse has been described as the “Tao Te Ching’s theology in a nutshell.”

Returning is Tao’s motion
By means of supple tenderness
All under heaven is born of being
Being is born of non-being

I have always interpreted the first line as referring to the return of the manifested universe back to its source in formless Tao. It recently came to my attention that this line could also mean the other side of the cycle. That is, it could refer to the return of formless Tao into form once again in the ten thousand things of the maniested universe.

Interesting to see it both ways. Form and formlessness, being and non-being, the named and the nameless, in an eternal dance of tender exchange. So beautiful. As near to us as our breath.

The Tantric sages tell us that our in-breath and out-breath actually mirror the divine creative gesture. ~Sally Kempton

Saturday, March 17, 2018

When We Walked with God


The Garden of Eden story fascinates me. I’m going to ask you, just for purposes of this post, to take the story out of Biblical context. Put aside all the theology, all your beliefs and opinions, whatever they are, about the Bible and religion. Just for a few minutes, consider this story without any preconceived notions. Disregard for the moment issues about obedience, sin, and punishment. Please understand that I am not challenging or disrespecting anyone’s beliefs. And I’m not asking anyone to change what they believe. This is just an invitation to look at the story itself without any additional context to see what we notice.

Okay, so you have the first people living in this beautiful place, where they have a life of ease, with plenty of food. The weather must have been pleasant because they were without clothing. They walked in the garden with God, in whose image they were created.

There are many trees in this garden paradise, but only two are named – the tree of life, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The people are free to eat the fruit of any tree, presumably including the tree of life, but they are warned not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for if they do, they will “surely die.”

Let’s pause right here. One of my first questions is why, if a tree is forbidden, would it be in the garden in the first place? Is that entrapment? When you tell a child “Whatever you do, DON’T do that!” what is the first thing that child wants to do?

And why do these two trees, the only two named trees in the garden, stand in contrast to each other? The tree of life gives immortality, but the tree of knowledge of good and evil gives death. What is it about the knowledge of good and evil that is incompatible with life? It might be easier to understand if the forbidden tree was the tree of evil. But it seems like knowing the difference between good and evil would be a good thing. Why isn’t it?

One way to think about it might be that knowledge of good and evil created duality. Before this knowledge, there was un-self conscious harmony with God.

What is the first thing that happens after they eat the fruit? They become aware that they are naked and they are ashamed. They try to cover themselves up literally with leaves. And figuratively, they try to cover up what they have done by hiding from God.

So in effect, they become self conscious in a way they weren’t before, and separate from God. They are afraid.

The Tao Te Ching says that we only know goodness because of evil, and that goodness only comes into existence when we have lost Tao. So when we are living in harmony with Tao, concepts of goodness/evil, kindness/cruelty, and justice/injustice are meaningless, because Tao transcends duality. Everything happens naturally and without effort. There is nothing to fear because there is acceptance of what is without struggle.

Putting this back in the context of the Eden story, good and evil had no existence or meaning when we walked in harmony with God. By introducing the duality of good and evil, we also created the cycle of life and death. We separated unity into conflicting opposites. We labeled them good and bad. We tried to hold onto the good and reject the bad. We began to struggle with what is. And we suffered.

So what do we do now? How do we restore unity and harmony? Again, leaving aside religious doctrine for the moment, the generic answer is that we repair the breach in our own selves. Where do I struggle in my life against what is? What do I judge as good or bad? What do I desire or reject? In what ways do I separate myself from others through judgment, unforgiveness, fear?

We might have specific answers to these questions, but we can go deeper by contemplating the nature of what creates the breach. If I am angry, for example, I can get stuck in the story I’m telling myself about why I’m angry. Of course, my story will justify my anger, and will probably blame someone else or some outside circumstances for causing the anger. I will be right and the other person will be wrong.

But what if I put the story aside and just observe the nature of this anger? What does it feel like in my body? How does it shape my experience of myself, my relationships with others, my view of the world? What can I learn from anger? How can it lead me back to harmony?

In contemplating this in my own life recently, I realized that I was judging myself for being angry. As I offered myself compassion instead of judgment, the anger softened and I could see that under the anger was pain, pain that I blamed someone else for. When I looked closer, I could acknowledge that what I was blaming the other person for was something that I either had done or was capable of doing myself. I could see that the other person was in pain too. My compassion expanded to include the other person.

My breathing slowed and sank into my belly. I felt lighter. Free. Without forcing anything, I easily released the anger I had been holding onto. I accepted what had happened as well as my reaction to it. I let it all go.

And I went for a stroll with God in the garden.

[Note: The painting above is by my awesomely talented sister, Susan E. Inman.]

Sunday, March 4, 2018

It’s Not Always Kumbaya


People think that when you live a spiritually awakened life, you are always serene, always la la happy, always wise.

But that’s not true.

First of all, spiritual awakening is not a one time thing. As Adyashanti says, there is no such thing as enlightenment. There are only enlightened moments, because enlightenment, or awakening, can only happen in this moment. And this one.

Second, even enlightened moments are not always kumbaya. Enlightened moments are those in which we are fully engaged with what is, directly experiencing the present moment. Without the filter of our judgments and stories about what is happening. Without the desire to hold onto or change or avoid reality. Without the refuge of alternative facts. Just realizing and accepting that what is, simply is.

Sometimes what is happening is hard, or sad, or unpleasant. We might have a variety of feelings, including some we might label as “bad.” Perhaps I am angry. I can try to deny it and hide it, especially from myself. Or I might try to transform it into something more lofty, more spiritually acceptable.

Or I can just let it be, knowing that without my adding energy to it through struggle, it will soon dissipate on its own. I need not express it outwardly towards others, but I can acknowledge it with compassion and hold it tenderly like a cranky baby until it is soothed. I can refrain from adding judgment to whatever is happening and however I’m handling it.

One time something happened that was so startling and frightening, I was immediately thrown into my reactive, reptile brain. I lashed out in a violent response that later, when the adrenaline was spent, seemed like a humiliating abandonment of all my “inner work.”

Pouring out my misery to my qigong teacher, I bemoaned my lack of spiritual fortitude. I felt like a fraud, preaching what I utterly failed to practice in the moment of testing. He listened patiently, his face open but neutral. When I finally wound down, I looked to him, seeking guidance, penance, redemption. I expected he would tell me where I went wrong and how to do better. I wanted to do better.

He didn’t say anything for what seemed like a long time but was probably just seconds. Then he leaned forward and said gently, “How do you know that what you did wasn’t exactly what was called for in that moment?”

Oh.

Our notions of how we “should” act, our efforts to mold ourselves into some walk-on-water guru, our judgments of how we always fall short, all do violence to ourselves by perpetuating the very separation that we seek to heal.

What we yearn for is right here, in this moment, in plain view if we look with unclouded eyes and embrace what we see with the arms of compassion. And while it might not always be kumbaya, it is always perfect.

I am what I am, and that’s all that I am. ~Popeye the sailor man

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Oneness Game


Okay, this is going to seem silly at first, but consider giving it a try.

The idea for this post grew out of a game I was playing with my grandson. We were taking random objects and identifying qualities that were alike and different. Then the conversation moved to people. As we played, I started thinking we were onto something profound. Of course every grandparent thinks that everything they do with a grandchild is profound.

But it got me to thinking about situations and people that seem irreconcilably opposed. Naturally, I’m thinking of the current social and political climate in this country and in the world, but let’s not make this about politics. Let’s start with something not so emotionally charged, and simplify it to consider what unites us instead of what divides us.

Just like the game with my grandson, start with a few random objects you see around you right now. For example, I’m looking at my computer, my phone, and some paper I’ve written notes on. While the computer and the phone are both more technologically advanced than paper (and they are both smarter than I am), all three have in common that I use them for communication.

Another example – I was in a diverse group of people recently and we were trying to find something we all had in common. It turned out that we all had a Memphis connection.

See how it works? No matter what or who is being grouped, there will always be something in common. And with people, this is the beginning of connection, relationship, understanding, dialogue. It doesn’t always mean we like the other person or agree with them, but finding common ground means that we are opening a door rather than closing one.

Give it a try. And have fun!

You shall be called repairers of the breach. ~Isaiah 58:12

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 39


This long chapter is divided into two parts that mirror each other followed by a “coda.” The theme is Oneness. When we are in sync with the oneness of the universe, everything is as it should be – effortless, in harmony, sacred, full of life. When we are out of sync, life becomes a struggle, and our life force becomes depleted.

In the first section, we see how various aspects of the universe manifest Oneness:

Heaven is clear and pure
Earth is serene
The soul is divine
Valleys are full and abundant
Creation (the ten thousand things) is alive
Rulers are virtuous and honorable

But if these aspects lose their connection to Oneness:

Heaven without clarity would split open
Earth without tranquility would collapse
The soul without divinity would wither away
Valleys without abundance would be exhausted 
Creation without life force would become extinct
Rulers without virtue and honor would fall

The chapter ends with an admonishment against vanity:

Embrace humility as your foundation
Do not shine or tinkle like jade
Rather chime like stones

These last two lines can be understood a different way:

Do not shine or tinkle like jade 
Or clatter like stones

Either way, we are being warned against thinking ourselves special or superior. Instead, when we see ourselves as part of the vast Oneness of the universe, we are part of something much more vast, more beautiful, more perfect, than our individual egos could ever attain.

This chapter reminds me of a poem by Emily Dickinson. In it, there seems to be a delicious secret in recognizing our inherent oneness and connection to each other.

Nobody

I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us — don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

At the Gate


One of my favorite movies of all time is King of Hearts, a 1960s film starring Alan Bates and a young Genevieve Bujold. The story takes place in a French village during WWI. The inhabitants flee the town, leaving behind the inmates of an asylum with the gate open. They filter out into the empty town and take on the roles of normal life, full of joie de vive, such that a Scottish soldier (Bates) sent into the town is unaware of the situation, with hilarious and profound results. 

This brief description does no justice to this gem of a movie, but sets the stage for the final scene. After opposing armies meet and kill each other off in the town square, the inmates realize that the villagers will be returning. They quietly abandon their adventure and return to the asylum. 

Finally understanding what has happened, Bates reluctantly rejoins his unit and prepares to move out. But at the very end, he returns and walks towards the asylum, shedding his uniform along the way, until he stands before the gate, stark naked, asking to be admitted. 

The people we find most appealing in the movie are those who have been judged insane – the ones who seem to appreciate life, reveling in the present moment, with open hearts and flashes of deep wisdom. When confronted by the dismal reality of the life he had never up to that moment questioned, Bates, along with the viewer, is led to consider that the inmates of the asylum might understand more about the precious nature of life than those who so thoughtlessly cast it aside. 

His walk towards the gate, to me, represents the process of awakening. It requires utter surrender, leaving behind everything we use to clothe ourselves – our beliefs, our judgments, our shame, our stories, our hopes, our fears. We must be willing to let it all go, layer by layer, like the uniform left strewn behind him. 

Until we stand at the door naked, with nothing to offer except ourselves, asking to come in. And we will be welcomed, because we are standing at the gate of home. And as the saying goes, home is where they have to let you in.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. ~Matthew 7:7

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Only Way


There is another way
The only way
Some think it secret
Yet it beckons all
Some think it leads afar
Yet it leads nowhere else but here
Some think it hard to follow
Yet it asks no sacrifice and requires no effort
Your soul's deep yearning
Your heart's desire
Is already yours
Now and always
Just let go of everything that is not it
And you will see

Sunday, February 4, 2018

I Just Like To Do Things My Own Way


My son James is autistic. For those familiar with the spectrum, he would probably fall somewhere at the very low end of high functioning. Several years ago, I had a conversation with him about his adult life. I was trying to ask in a sensitive, diplomatic way how he felt about not being able to do some things that he might see other adults doing. I was trying to understand if he saw himself as different, and if so, how he felt about it. 

James thought for a minute and then he shrugged. “I just like to do things my own way.” 

So true. He does. He has always marched to the beat of his own drum, and happily, at least when allowed to march unimpeded. 

When he was a boy, I once asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. 

“A deer!” he said. Not the sort of career choice answer I was expecting.

“Hmm, I’m pretty sure you are going to be a man when you grow up,” I replied. 

“NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!” 

Looking back, I can see so many times along the way when I tried to make James fit into a mold. I believed that being a good mother to James meant trying to help him overcome the difficulties that I saw facing him. It meant making him more like everyone else.  

Then one day, I was passing close enough to hear James talking to himself in the mirror. 

“It’s great to be James!” 

Wow. 

I regret now all the ways that I became the impediment to James’s happy life dance. 

As I look around I see that this is not an isolated example. How many ways do I do this to others? To myself? How many ways have I tried to mold myself into the person I thought I should be at the expense of person within longing to be free? 

We want others to agree with us, to act like we think they should act, to believe what we believe. We hold others and most of all ourselves to a standard ideal. And meanwhile, the natural universe of beauty and energy and wild variation longs to express itself through all of us and each of us. 

The universe just likes to do things its own way. And who are we to stand in its way?

The universe is saying: “Allow me to flow through you unrestricted, and you will see the greatest magic you have ever seen.” ~ Klaus Joehle

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Guides from Beyond


This poem by Rumi has come as a guest into my “home” recently. A series of events over last fall and the beginning of this year have left me at various times elated, terrified, energized, devastated, regretful, confused, excited, upset, exhausted, stunned, content, happy, and lost. This poem knocked on my door and offered me a framework for holding all these events in my heart with gratitude. 

The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness
comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if a they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

“Each has been sent as a guide from beyond.” That’s a comforting, or at least an encouraging way to view things, isn’t it? Each guide comes bearing a gift, if I’m willing to receive it. Every experience, the pleasant and the brutal, has something to teach me, to reveal to me. 

Guiding me towards...what? Something profound? Maybe even enlightenment? Dare I hope? 

Perhaps nothing so grand. Perhaps putting our welcome mat out for whoever or whatever stops by leads us towards the simple acceptance of what is. We cease to judge. We cease to struggle or resist. Or to grasp and try to hold on. We make our peace and fall in love with life. All of it.

The Buddhist story is told of Milarepa, who came back to his cave one day to find it filled with demons. He didn’t know how to get rid of them. He tried to teach them Buddhism. They ignored him. He got angry and attacked them. They just laughed. Finally, he gave up and said, “I’m not going anywhere and it seems that you are not either. I guess we will have to live here together. Let’s have some tea.” 

The story says that upon Milarepa’s offer of hospitality, the demons promptly disappeared. But I wonder. I think perhaps they stayed, along with the neighbors and artists and pets and politicians and dust bunnies and laughing children and kings and beggars and lost lovers and birth and death and everything in between and beyond.

Who is knocking on the door of your guest house today? Will you let them in?

You give yourself to life out of love, and it is to love more fiercely that you walk through the fires of sorrow that forge the heart into boundless affection. ~Adyashanti

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Storm


Sometimes a storm roars through your life
A sudden wind whipping, lightning flashing, thunder crashing, rain gushing, heart thumping storm
Over as soon as it begins
Leaving you breathless 
And more alive than you have ever been
Snapping, sizzling, sparking
Like lightning hit and lit you up
You look out and see
The world is new


Saturday, January 20, 2018

Minutes to Live


A friend was in Honolulu visiting family last week when the alert went out that a ballistic missile was headed to Hawaii. The alert stated that it was not a drill. She was absolutely convinced that she had just minutes to live.

We know now of course that the alert was a false alarm. But for the people who went through it, who believed it, something profound happened. How could it not?

What my friend experienced is her story to tell. But hearing her tell it made me imagine the experience for myself. A beautiful day in paradise. I’m enjoying the sun, maybe strolling along the beach. I feel good. And then I get a warning that in minutes everything is going to blow up and we are all going to die.

That seems different to me than becoming ill, or having an accident, or even being attacked by another person. In this scenario, everything around me still looks the same. I still feel good. Nothing seems dangerous. And yet I believe that in minutes something is going to fall out of the clear blue sky and my life is going to end, and there is no escape.

We don’t know of course what we would actually do. Some things you just can’t rehearse. But what can we learn from imagining such a scenario? What would I think about? What would I do? What would I feel?

And after learning that the alarm was false, what would I carry with me into a life that just moments before I thought was never going to happen? How would my life be different? How would I be different? Would I remember the lessons of those minutes when death was imminent, or would I settle back into my life as it was before?

There are many ways that the people in Hawaii who lived through this last week could look at what happened. It was a mistake. Perhaps it was also a gift. How many of us are given a few minutes to look our death that closely in the face and then live to tell the tale?

And perhaps the rest of us can share a little of that gift by listening to the stories of those who were there, and by imagining what we might have experienced and learned if we had been there ourselves.

Isn't it sad that so often it takes facing death to appreciate life and each other fully? ~Lori Earl

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 38


This chapter contains one of my favorite passages in the Tao Te Ching. Before you read it, consider for yourself what you think the best qualities are for a society or an individual to manifest. 

When Tao is lost, Virtue (Te) follows
When Virtue is lost, kindness follows
When kindness is lost, justice follows
When justice is lost, ritual follows 
Truly ritual is the husk of faithfulness and honesty, the beginning of confusion

So here is the hierarchy:

Tao, the Way
Virtue (Te in the Tao Te Ching), meaning the harmonious                   manifestation of Tao
Kindness, also meaning compassion, benevolence, impartiality
Justice, also meaning righteousness, morality, rules of behavior
Ritual, meaning empty ritual without deeper significance

Did any of the qualities you listed appear in this list? If so, where?

When I taught law, I had my students read this passage on the first day of class, and I had it taped to my office door. We pride ourselves in the United States for being a country guided by the rule of law. Justice is one of our highest ideals, and as lawyers we vow to seek it and uphold it. 

However, as I pointed out to my first year law students, look how far down the list justice falls. Justice rises to the top as a guiding principle only after we have lost Tao, Virtue, and kindness. Justice is the last stand of society before empty ritual gives way to chaos and confusion. 

The Bible tells us to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God. Which seems most important? 

Don’t get me wrong. As a member of the legal profession and as an individual, I honor my commitment to justice. And ritual can be beautiful and deeply meaningful as a way to connect us to each other and to the sacred. 

But this passage reminds me of Steven Covey’s admonition that the “main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” If my focus is on living in harmony with Tao, then everything else in the hierarchy naturally manifests. I wouldn’t have to do justice, because injustice would never occur. Loving kindness would be my natural state. I could walk no other way than humbly, because I would know myself as part of something far greater than my individual ego. 

I sometimes feel frustrated or discouraged when I look around me in the world. When I am in a certain frame of mind, it appears to me that indeed we have fallen all the way down the list into chaos and confusion. People fight over rules, shouting justice, when it seems evident, at least on some days, that there is no guidance being sought from further up the list. 

But, as the saying goes, as within so without. So I need look no further than my own life – my own thoughts, words, and actions – and consider where in the hierarchy my own guidance falls. Can I see when I am not in harmony with Tao? And if I can’t align myself completely with the naturally flowing energy of the universe, can I at least move up one level? 

For example, if I am stuck on the level of justice, perhaps seeing a situation as unfair (especially if it’s unfair to me), can I move up to view the situation through the heart of kindness? Although we might initially view this hierarchy in one direction, losing one level to fall to the one below, I’ve found that sometimes I can work my way back to Tao by seeking guidance from the next step up. 

And no matter where we find ourselves, especially when we feel stuck, can we turn the light of kindness towards our own hearts, accepting ourselves as we are in that moment? 

My religion is kindness. ~the Dalai Lama

Friday, January 12, 2018

In Our Mother's Arms


We think ourselves unworthy
Always falling short
Damned by fatal flaws
We have forgotten who we are
Beloved children all
Of the Divine Mother
Ever held as babes
In her sacred embrace
Rocked in her arms
To the rhythm of her heart
Listening as she sings away
Our dreams of separation
Gazing into her eyes of grace
Reflecting back to us 
Our own perfection

Monday, January 8, 2018

Be Nice


You wouldn’t think of that advice as relating to martial arts, but indeed, that is what the teacher taught us this morning. Oh yes, and also be generous and be patient.

What?

All true, as the teacher proceeded to demonstrate. On me. For thirty minutes.

Be Nice

If I made any sort of aggressive move towards the teacher, I found myself immediately in a disadvantageous position. Force equals defeat. Got it. He was always nice.

Be Generous

If I wanted to move in a certain direction or occupy a certain space, the teacher yielded and quickly moved into unclaimed space, again to my disadvantage. He would smile and say something like “Oh, you want this space? Okay take it.” He was always generous.

Be Patient

If he took hold of me in some way, my instinct was always to try to escape the hold immediately, which never worked. But if I took hold of him, he would be still...and wait to see what I would do. At which point, well, see “be nice” and “be generous” above. Let's just say it was never to my advantage. He was always patient.

Throughout this training, he was always smiling, always reminding me to be nice, be generous, be patient. We think sometimes that following this advice makes us weak, pushovers, vulnerable. But when he was done with me (not much of a challenge), I watched this small man, maybe 5' 2", take on the best martial artists in our school, teachers themselves from a variety of martial arts traditions. All of them were bigger than he, and two of them were at least 6' 4" or 5". They had no more success than skinny old me. The teacher never even broke a sweat.

Once again, martial arts lessons teach me lessons in life. Being nice, generous, patient, could get me through many situations better than my tendency to try impatiently to force a particular outcome.

So when faced with challenges, I'm going to try to remember his advice -- be nice, be generous, be patient. And keep smiling.

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. ~Dalai Lama

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Year of the Heart


Y’all know the story of The Little Mermaid. She longs to leave her underwater world and enter the world above. She wants to walk on land. She wants to dance. She wants to love.

She wants it so much that she is willing to leave everything behind. Even though every step will feel like she is walking on razor sharp knives, she is willing to endure the pain. She is willing to risk anything to realize her heart’s deepest yearning. To answer love’s call. To melt into the arms of the Beloved.

Love calls us out of the formless void into form. Love takes form to delight in its reflection. One becomes two to touch. To dance. To embrace.

There is a price, yes. A heart open to love is vulnerable, tender and raw. The exquisite rapture of love brings equally exquisite pain. We risk loss. A child dies. A lover leaves. A friend betrays. We can protect our hearts behind a wall of fear. But, as the Bible teaches, perfect love casts out fear. Love holds out its hand to lead us through the darkness, to comfort us in pain, to awaken us in joy.

I enter this year fearlessly, with a heart willing to open ever more widely, to embrace ever more inclusively, to hold ever more deeply, to dance ever more joyfully.

Dance, then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be
I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said he

   ~Sydney Carter