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


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.


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