Monday, July 16, 2018

Unknown

















Start with “I don’t know.” Why not just start with where you’ll end up anyway? ~Adyashanti

I was never a legit Trekkie but I did enjoy and was inspired by two of the series – Next Generation, and Voyager.

Each series had a crew member characterized by intellectual and logical prowess – Data, the android in Next Generation, and Tuvok, the Vulcan in Voyager. Occasionally they were confronted with a question they could not answer.

“What is the composition of the gasses in that nebula?”

“What is the origin of that ship speeding towards us on an intercept course?”

“What dimension did these aliens just emerge from?”

When unable to answer, Data or Tuvok would simply reply “unknown.”

Lately, when feeling that urge to understand what cannot be understood, to describe what cannot be described, to have certainty where none exists, I have interrupted my endless mind loops with a simple word – unknown.

My mind hates that. My mind is useful for many things, and I appreciate its contribution to my life. But minds are wired to know, to identify, to categorize, to understand, to store and retrieve. Confronted with mystery, our minds continue to search for an answer. That’s fine if the mystery is about what is making that scratching sound in the attic, but it doesn’t work when the question is beyond the limits of mind, when the answer is not only unknown, but unknowable.

Not one to give up, the mind solves the dilemma by latching onto an answer. Then a problem arises when someone else’s mind latches onto a different answer. Which answer is The Answer?

How can we know? We can’t. As one teacher says, we cannot think our way to truth. Thinking is always one step away from truth. Truth just is, regardless of what we think or don’t think. When we drop everything we think we know, there it is, shining like a light that has been uncovered, shining as it always has been and always will.

But as soon as we try to think about it, or understand it, or explain it, it disappears again, not because it isn’t there but because our efforts to hold it in our minds block our inner sight. As the song says, how do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?

Someone recently joked that I’m like Oprah. (Really, they were joking.) Oh no, I replied. Oprah’s monthly magazine ends with a column titled “What I Know for Sure.” Oprah knows something for sure at least twelve times a year. I don’t know doodley-squat ... ever.

Footprints lead to the shore of the sea
Beyond that point no trace remains
~Rumi

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Homesick


At night
When darkness makes the edges soft
And thins the veil
The boy wept
I miss home, he cried
We are home, his parents soothed
No, my home before, now sobbing
His parents stroked his back, perplexed
You mean our old house?
No, not that one, the one before!
There was no other
You were born in that house
No! he wailed. The one BEFORE!
His parents understood at last
And cried with him

Friday, July 6, 2018

Water Moves the Color


I am participating in a four part Art and Meditation workshop. That doesn’t sound like such a remarkable thing until you know that I am a bit phobic about art. I joke (but not really joking) that my sister got all the artistic talent in the family. She is indeed a wonderful artist and my home is graced by several of her lovely paintings.

I feel about a blank piece of art paper the way some people feel about a blank screen when they are trying to write. So if you really understand how reluctant I am to do anything even remotely artistic, you will marvel at my willingness to try out this workshop. I marvel at it myself. The meditation aspect was the hook – THAT I’m comfortable with. And so I went.

And here is what happened....

The director of the workshop, Margaret, began with all of us in a sitting area. So far so good. I can sit. Tables and shelves in another part of the room were filled with all kinds of art supplies. I tried not to look. Her presence was calm and her words aimed to reassure. This was not about producing a certain product using specific techniques. This was about exploring, playing, discovering, allowing. Blah, blah, blah. Anxiety nipped at my heels.

Then, in giving us a brief orientation to the materials, she used the phrase “Water moves the color.” My soul phone rang and I hesitatingly answered. Hello? As we settled into meditation, those words held out their hands, inviting me to dance.

After a period of silence, we moved into the art area. I felt excited and a tiny bit brave. I picked a large piece of watercolor paper taped to a board and sat with it flat on the table in front of me. I closed my eyes and moved my hands over the paper. It wasn’t so scary if I couldn’t see it. I chose a few colors and squeezed the paint out beside the paper.

No brushes, I decided. Just my hands, water, and color. I cupped my hands into the water container and soaked the paper until it was saturated. Then I stuck my hands in the paint, closed my eyes again, and let my fingers dance in the puddles. There was color everywhere. I picked up the board, tilting the paper this way and that.

And guess what...water moved the color! Across the ridges and into the valleys created by the wet paper. It was amazing. But the water wasn’t done. I laid the board on the table again, and over time, as the paint and paper dried, shapes and lines emerged that could not have been predicted. It was like the water itself was painting. I was simply a witness to its own creative dynamic. It was all a beautiful surprise, one I neither envisioned nor controlled.

Just ... like ... life.


To learn more about Margaret and her soul enriching offerings, click here to visit her website. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 45


This chapter reminds me of 1 Corinthians 13:12 – For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face. We think we see clearly, but when we look through the fog of our own judgments and beliefs, our hopes and fears, we see illusion yet think it real. We try to make sense of the paradox of our perceptions, seeking the safety of certainty instead of the mystery of truth.

Great perfection seems imperfect
Yet its use is not impaired

Great fullness seems empty
Yet its use is not exhausted

Great truth seems wrong
Great skill seems clumsy
Great eloquence seems awkward
Great richness seems poor

The repeated use of the character for “seems” suggests that things are not always as they appear. Or, as the saying goes, don’t believe everything you think.

This is especially true of the second couplet above. The fullness that appears empty is the unlimited potential of the formless, undifferentiated Tao, the source of the entire manifested universe.

In martial arts we practice wuji stance, or empty stance, as pictured above. From this perfectly aligned, relaxed stance, all movement is possible. The internal circulation of qi (energy) is unrestricted; the potential for outward expression of power is unlimited.

We can cultivate this same “stance” in our lives, by finding our inner balance and alignment. When we are fully present with an attitude of open awareness, we engage with life as it truly is, as we truly are. We see face to face.

Every object, every creature, every man, woman and child
has a soul,
and it is the destiny of all
to see as God sees, 
to know as God knows,
to feel as God feels, 
to Be
as God
Is
~Meister Eckhart

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Let It Go






The creek whispers
Let it go
Let it go
There is so much more
There is 
                so
                    much
                               more

Sunday, June 24, 2018

A Divided World


The world is divided into people who think they are right.
~Tara Brach

It took me a few seconds to understand that there was no more to this sentence. Each side of the divide claims the higher ground of being right, being righteous, being morally superior, being more ethical, being smarter, being better.

Nowhere was this more evident to me than in the case of two business owners, each of whom denied service to a customer based on their own sense of morality. The customers in both cases were denied service because of who they were, not because they were engaged in any behavior disruptive to the businesses in question.

I’m not here to debate the legalities, the politics, or any other aspect of the owners’ decisions. What caught my attention was the reactions to the decisions. One group of people condemned the first owner and praised the second. Another group of people praised the first and condemned the second.

Neither group seemed to see any contradiction in their own opposite reactions to basically the same scenario. And of course each group saw their reactions as the “right” ones.

But how can any of this be right? How can any of this lead to anything other than more division, more distrust, more judgment, more hatred, more insistence, more fighting, more of everything that brings us down as human beings?

Kuan Yin, goddess of mercy, please pour your nectar of compassion over all of us, over both business owners, over both customers, over all who have furthered the divide, and over all who seek to bridge it. Help us love with the love that we profess to believe in, help us open our hearts to receive the grace we long for, help us reach through our fear to find a hand on the other side. May we shine like the sun and nourish like the rain.

For the sun rises on the evil and the good, and the rain falls on the just and the unjust. ~Matthew 5:45

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

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Apologies!

I just realized that my comment notification is not working. I usually get an email notification that I have a comment awaiting moderation, but after not getting any email notices for a while, I went to my comment moderation page and found a lot of comments! Oh dear. 

I have now published all of those, and I will go back and respond right now. I'm so sorry for the delay. 

Meanwhile, I have heard from a blog buddy that my site is not allowing her to comment. Another oh dear. If you are having similar problems, will you please email me at galenpearl@gmail.com and let me know.

If you are a Blogger blogger and are having similar problems, do you know how to fix this? Again, please email (or try to comment!) and let me know. 

I did get a notice from Blogger about OpenID changes. I have no idea what this means.

Again, please excuse my blog blips. Your comments are always valued and I'm sorry I didn't realize faster that there was a problem.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Lost in Translation


The Tao Te Ching has been a source of inspiration in my life for many years. I don’t remember how I first encountered it in my young life, but I do remember that its simple wisdom resonated in my soul and I have loved it ever since.

Several years ago, I gathered various translations with the intention of taking one chapter at a time and comparing the different interpretations. However, I quickly saw that this was not enough. I needed to go to the source. And so I began a journey into the original ancient Chinese text. It was like finding a door hidden in the overgrowth to a secret garden of unimaginable beauty.

“Here there be dragons,” say the old maps designating uncharted areas at the edge of the known world. Dragons indeed, bursting from the depths of the sea, water diamonds cascading from their wings, dancing in the air, their form too brilliant to behold, then disappearing in a puff of smoke. I had no idea.

And that is the point perhaps. Having no idea.

The Chinese text dances like those dragons, defying analysis or intellectual understanding. It is poetic, with rhythm and music to delight the soul. The characters are cryptic, with multiple meanings swirling in fluid mystery. Trying to pin down a single meaning is like trying to catch with your bare hands a single slippery fish in a vast school of fish. Better to float in the water, watching the colorful fish dart and twirl. I quit trying to understand and just immersed myself in the experience.

We see such variations in translation, not because one is right and one is wrong, but because translators by necessity must dip their net into the water and catch a single meaning to put into language that we recognize. We form ideas about the meaning so that we can use words to share our ideas with each other.

My daughter grew up in China with Chinese as her first language. When I shared with her my exploration of the Chinese text of the Tao Te Ching, she brushed her hand through the air and shrugged. “No one understands this,” she said dismissively.

I had to laugh. But her response gave me a deeper insight. Even if we were native Chinese speakers, we would have to form ideas and use words to communicate with each other about the meaning of this wisdom teaching that defies explanation in any language!

Expanding even more, we can include all of life in this process. All of us, all the time, are “translating” our experience into ideas, concepts, beliefs. And using words to communicate these to each other. That’s not bad. Or good for that matter. It is a necessary process for us as embodied separate individuals. Our ideas, beliefs, and concepts then in turn shape our experience because we will only recognize what comports with the internal structure we have built. We create a loop of what we call reality through what we create and perceive.

Meanwhile, our direct experience of true realty has been “lost in translation.” To me, this is what the Tao Te Ching teaches. If I can embrace all the possible meanings in the mystery of the text, then I can appreciate the various translations without judging them as right or wrong, good or bad. Likewise, if we can embrace the direct experience of what is, then we can engage in and enjoy the dialogue of human-ness without the added suffering of attachment. We can dance with dragons.

Any belief limits my reality, because any belief is a prejudice. Any belief imposes an artificial structure on the free flow of experience. ~Paul Ferrini

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 43


This short chapter highlights a theme that runs through the Tao Te Ching.

What is most soft
Overcomes what is most hard

Two characters are used for “overcome,” literally meaning to gallop on horseback. Having grown up riding horses, I have wonderful memories of galloping bareback across meadows, hands entwined in flowing mane, hanging on as my horse ran free. It was exhilarating and powerful.

The horse’s strength came from being supple, its speed from finding its rhythm. This is the image I have of softness overcoming rigidity.

The next line uses a different image.

What is without form or substance can enter the impenetrable

While not exactly on point, I am distracted by a memory of being inadvertently caught in a revolution in another country. With just minutes of warning, I and some fellow travelers crowded into a hotel room as chaos erupted in the streets below. When we saw the tear gas canisters exploding, we began stuffing wet towels around the windows, hoping to seal them. But within moments, our eyes were stinging red and watery as we looked at each other helplessly.

Flipping to the other side of the concept, much of what I practice in martial arts is about not being stiff or forceful. As one teacher says, “I know you, but you don’t know me.” He means that he can sense where our resistance is, where his advantage is, while we are unable to find any vulnerability on his part. If I push, I meet nothing and suddenly my own effort is my defeat.

“I’m trying...,” I begin. “That is your problem,” he laughs in response.

Just like in life. I’ve learned with my grandchildren something I never mastered with my strong-willed children. Don’t meet force with force, but rather yield and overcome. Deflect and redirect!

I’m reminded of the fable about the wind and the sun arguing about who is stronger. They agree to decide the question by competing to see which one can remove the coat of a person walking along the road. The wind blows as hard as it can, but the person grips her coat and wraps it tightly around her body. The sun shines gently and soon the person removes her coat to bask in the sun’s warmth.

The chapter ends with a lament that few people understand this principle. So true, isn’t it? We exhaust ourselves with our force and resistance, trying to make the present moment something other than what it is.  But each new moment gives us another opportunity to mount up and go for the galloping ride.


Sunday, May 20, 2018

Not That, Not That – This Too, This Too


These apparently contradictory statements are at the heart of spiritual awakening, representing the two practices of release and acceptance.

“Neti, neti” is a Sanskrit expression from ancient Hindu texts. It can be translated as “Not that, not that.” It reminds me to not grasp onto my beliefs and opinions, my judgments and fears.

“This too, this too” is a phrase I learned from Thich Nhat Hanh, teaching me to accept what is, whether that is my circumstances or my feelings or yes, even those opinions and judgments.

I find that acceptance rather than resistance is what allows me to soften my grip and release whatever binds me. If I make a mistake, as I did recently, I can replay the situation endlessly, feeling worse and worse. But no matter how wise I am in hindsight about what I should have done, or wish I had done, I can’t change what I did. I try to deny, rationalize, justify, reframe, tell a different story – anything other than just acknowledging that I made a mistake. So now not only have I made a mistake, but I have created a story about it evoking feelings of shame, embarrassment, anger (at myself), and judgment.

So I quit fighting with reality and accept what happened, without embellishment. This too, this too. And I accept my feelings of regret and sadness. This too, this too.

Everything is workable, everything becomes my teacher, everything has a place in my life.

And when I can accept my circumstances and myself, as is, the thoughts that torment me begin to fade. I can see through them. They are not real. Neti, neti. They do not bind me. They have no power over me. They no longer separate me from others. I need not defend my position, nor impose my views. I don’t need to be right. Not that, not that.

Harmony is restored.

Years ago when I was in therapy, my therapist would respond to my frequent descriptions of how I had somehow fallen short, or not been my best, with a tilt of her head and a little smile. “Welcome to the human race,” she would say. I hated that. I held myself to a higher standard. Than being human? “And how is that working for you?” was another one of her standard lines. I hated that too.

But now I am older, and if not wiser, certainly more tired. Too tired to struggle against what is. Too tired to pretend. Too tired to carry the heavy baggage of a lifetime of judgments and failings. Too tired to do anything other than the best I can do in this moment.

What a relief.

No wonder sages are most often portrayed as old ... or as Yoda.


Monday, May 14, 2018

Organizing Water


You can’t organize truth. That’s like trying to shape a pound of water in wrapping paper. ~Bruce Lee

I was having a discussion with a friend about a particular theological concept, one that has defied any sort of sensible explanation for centuries. We had read various scholars’ analyses; we had listened to podcasts interviewing well respected teachers and experts. I listened as my friend tried various approaches to understanding, until she finally threw up her hands in unhappy defeat.

Then she asked what I thought. Hmm....

I think that what I think doesn’t really matter. As Adyashanti says, we cannot think our way to truth. We are so wired to analyze, to categorize, to explain, and by so doing, to understand. Our sweet little brains just cannot stand to not know. It’s like a toothache that we keep probing with our tongue. Relief comes only when we have an answer, and we are so relieved to have one that we are loath to question it in case we find it lacking and have to start again.

But our answer is not truth. I can put water in a cup, but the water is not the cup. I can put truth into a belief or a concept or some sort of thinking structure, but truth is not that structure.

So is there a test for truth? Maybe...

Can you explain it? It’s not truth.

Can you describe it? It’s not truth.

Can you disagree with someone about it? It’s not truth.

Can you understand it? It’s definitely not truth.

The Sanskrit expression “neti, neti” meaning “not this, not this,” is a practice or meditation to reveal truth by identifying what is not truth. It is comparable to the via negativa or apophetic theology, which seeks to remove all blocks from direct experience of the divine.

We don’t find truth. We don’t need to find it because it was never lost. We live in truth the way a fish lives in water. Its eternal presence is revealed when we drop all the barriers we have put up with our beliefs.

If you can understand it, it’s not God. ~St. Augustine

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Longing Soul


Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls. ~Psalm 42:7

For the last six weeks, my usually busy schedule has been emptied. I suspended my martial arts classes, my piano lessons, my Chinese tutor. I made a choice to devote my mornings to a writing project. (Mornings, I’ve discovered, are really the only time I have even the slightest bit of self-discipline and productive energy.)

So I cleared my calendar and set to it. Coincidentally, I also found myself temporarily without a TV, and then decided to not replace it for the time being.

That’s a lot of alone time with less distraction than usual. After a couple of weeks, I began to experience an inner discomfort, a restlessness, a vague dissatisfaction. I wanted something. But what was it?

My typical approach to such a question is to think about it. So I thought ... and thought. But got no answer, proving once again that thinking is highly overrated. Nothing seemed quite right, like when you’re starving and standing in front of the open refrigerator but nothing looks good.

Meanwhile, this undefined feeling was expanding, like a spring welling up and spreading over the ground, like a wave swelling as it rolls toward the shore. It was painful, and a little scary. But there was no escape. It was inside me, calling me, touching my heart, drawing me deep.

Longing. My soul was longing. As all souls do. We long for home, for awakening, for remembering who we are, for union. Like salmon returning from the sea, this is the longing of creation, to manifest into form and then return to the formlessness from which it is birthed. We miss its quiet beckoning in the roar of our lives.

But now I heard it, unmistakable and compelling. I was distressed because I was resisting, wanting the familiarity of my distractions, the comfort of certainty, the safety of understanding.

This longing of the soul brings none of those. It is a call back into the mystery, unknown and unknowable. It is terrifying, and ultimately irresistible. We all hear it. We hear it in the beat of our hearts, in the rhythm of our breath, in the silence of our souls. Deep calls to us, and what is deep within us answers.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. ~Psalm 42:1

Friday, April 27, 2018

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 42


The first part of this chapter carries its deepest meaning. It begins with a brief version of creation.

Tao gives birth to one
One gives birth to two
Two give birth to three
Three give birth to the ten thousand things

Using symbols, this progression can be illustrated by the movement from wuji, or unlimited potential,


to taiji, commonly recognized as the yin yang symbol.


It is the separation of oneness into the complementary energies of yin and yang that creates form from the formlessness of One. This reminds me of the Buddhist teaching: “Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form.”

The union of yin and yang then produces the manifested universe, referred to as the ten thousand things.

The ten thousand things carry yin and embrace yang
These two energies exchange in the middle creating harmony

The character for carry suggests carrying something on one’s back. Thus carrying yin and embracing yang (in front) give a sense of yin and yang circling through us and around us in perfect balance, one fading as the other manifests.

This also reflects our breathing. We breathe in and manifest; we breathe out and release. The point of exchange is that moment when we are neither inhaling nor exhaling. There is a moment of balanced stillness as the two energies meet in the center before exchanging places and repeating the cycle. Within that stillness is the eternal harmony.

In Shambhala training, this point between the breaths is called the gap. It is the gateway of the holy instant described in A Course in Miracles. Within that tiny portal in time is the transcendence of time into the vastness of infinity.

This is our practical way to practice something mysterious and indefinable. We breathe. And as we reach that point of exchange, when we have fully inhaled or exhaled and are poised to reverse , we can be aware of the perfect harmony in the stillness.

A law professor, speaking English as a second language, once gave us an instruction to turn to a particular page and “be amazed.” Our breath is like that. It seems ordinary and we take it for granted. But within each breath is all the wisdom teaching of the universe.

Be amazed.

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 strums 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