Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Why We Practice

Last weekend I was walking along a trail with a friend. We had our dogs with us – my little fur ball and her big Lab. We came to a small single plank bridge over a tiny creek. The plank was 12 inches wide. I started across. Just then her dog decided that she wanted to be in front. Before my friend could warn me, her dog came up behind me and in racing to get past, bumped into my left leg, knocking it upwards and spinning me sideways on the plank.

By all reason, I should have ended up in the creek, which was only a short drop and the worst result would have been wet shoes and maybe a wet rear. So not that big a deal. But somehow I didn’t fall. As I turned, I managed to maintain my balance, sinking smoothly into my right foot and bringing my arms up in a pose that looked something like the photo above.

Poised there as my mind took in what had happened, I felt sort of foolish and amazed at the same time. I slowly stood back up, looked at my friend, who was just staring at me, and said, “I have no idea how I did that.”

Perhaps that is not entirely true. My martial arts practice involves a lot of balance and responding to the unexpected. When the dog bumped me, my body just did what it is trained to do. I really had little to do with it in terms of analyzing the situation, making a plan, and executing it. It was over before my mind caught up and figured out what had happened.

In reflecting on it later, I understood that this is why we practice. We practice so that when needed, our training kicks in and operates without much conscious supervision. We internalize our practice and it becomes part of who we are.

Here’s the thing. We are always practicing something. I got to wondering what else I’m practicing. Am I practicing kindness or meanness? Compassion or judgment? Forgiveness or anger? Generosity or withholding? Connection or separation? Faith or fear?

We practice intentionally and consciously what we want to manifest when something catches us off guard, so that our training will kick in when needed, guiding us as we engage with others and the world around us.

So I’m going to be paying more attention to what I’m practicing as I go through my day. For example, thinking of some recent events, I want to practice not taking things personally. I could also use some brushing up on taking responsibility for my own feelings. I would like to practice taking the long view when considering my response to something in the moment. And I definitely need to fluff and buff my practice of maintaining good boundaries.

How about you? What would you like to practice?

An ounce of practice is generally worth more than a ton of theory. ~E F Schumacher

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Each Day

Each day
Is one day less to live
Do not waste it
So that when death comes
As it surely will
You can lay your body down
Satisfied that not one day
Was left unloved

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Everything – No Matter What – Is Perfect

I’m reading a book titled “What is Mysticism” by Jon Mundy. Yesterday I read this passage:

Mostly, it’s a profound inner knowing and an awareness of the interconnectedness of all things – a sense that everything is perfect just the way it is.

When I read it, I got chills because I was blessed to experience this perfection once. Some of you know this story, but I haven’t written about it in a while, and reading this book has brought it back to the forefront of my consciousness.

I have a cabin in the mountains, my little forest retreat, with no phone, TV, or internet. It nestles under huge evergreens, on top of a small but steep rise overlooking a creek. One time, years ago, I left my kids with a trusted friend, and went up to the cabin for an overnight respite.

For some reason, I decided that I needed to clean all the little branches and pine needles off the roof. I stood on an extension ladder and raked the debris to the ground. After moving the ladder all around the cabin, I was on the last section. The base of the ladder was on the deck. There was one branch stuck further up on the roof. I leaned forward over the top rungs of the ladder and reached as far as I could with the rake. And then I felt the ladder slip.

My first frantic instinct was to grab for something. But there was only the slanted roof, with no gutters. In the next instant, I knew I was going to fall. And that is when everything changed.

I will try my best to describe what happened, knowing that I can’t. There are no words. So I will try to fail well, using words to do what words can never do.

The moment I understood that I was going to fall, the world changed. I did not leave my body. Indeed, I was very aware of being in my body as it bounced off the falling ladder. I felt my back land on the edge of the deck, and experienced the disorienting tumble as I flipped off the deck and rolled head over heels through the brush down the hill.

But that is not the story. The story is what was going on as all this was happening. At that exact instant when I surrendered to the fall, all fear evaporated. Arms of angels embraced me in peace and light. No, I didn’t see them, and “angel” is not even the right word, but I felt surrounded by unconditional love beyond anything you can imagine. Everything that I knew or thought I knew fell away.

Surprisingly, I did not sense that I was being protected from bodily harm. On the contrary, as I felt my body crash and tumble, I was quite sure something was going to break. The blow of my back on the edge of the deck might leave me paralyzed. I might even die. At the very least there was going to be a broken bone somewhere. And I was there by myself with no way to get help. All of this was floating through my mind, but totally, completely without fear.

Because none of that mattered. It didn’t matter because I was being held in the absolute certainty that whatever happened was perfect. I understood, not with my mind but with my entire being, that everything is perfect. That was the word I “heard” from the angels, or beings, or energy that surrounded me – perfect. Always. No matter what. Perfect. Just let that soak in for a minute.

Everything is perfect. Always. No matter what.

The sublime peace and exquisite joy of that moment was...ah, I can’t even try to express it. All I can say is that I knew it was real. That it was the only thing that is real.

I would like to tell you that this moment of awakening or enlightenment or whatever you want to call it lasted forever. At the time, it did seem like forever because time was suspended while I was falling. But I returned to the “ordinary” world. After my body came to a stop, I lay there on the side of the hill, fearing to move in case some part of me didn’t move! I started with my toes and moved on up, reassured that everything was functioning. Scraped and bleeding, and not yet feeling the bruising and soreness of the days to come, I crawled back up the hill and sat on the deck trying to process what had just happened.

As my thinking mind started to rev back up, all the “what if” thoughts started to dance a frantic, fearful dance, playing out scenarios that never happened, yet seemed real in my imagination. But I stopped them with a quick rebuke. I had been given a priceless treasure and I was loath to toss it aside in favor of worthless mind trinkets.

So I sat there, looking at the ladder lying innocently on the deck, tracing with my eyes the track my body took from the roof to the bottom of the hill, and giving up any effort to make what had happened make “sense.” I breathed in the smell of evergreen and listened to the creek, humbly grateful for this glimpse of...what? Heaven, truth, reality? The word doesn’t matter.

I might not have become an enlightened being that day, but I had an enlightened experience. Since then, especially in challenging times, I have drawn on the memory of what happened, reminding myself of what I learned that day. That things are not what they seem, that I understand very little, and know even less. And that no matter what happens, even if I can’t understand it, everything is perfect.

Nothing real can be threatened
Nothing unreal exists
Herein lies the peace of God
    ~A Course in Miracles

Friday, July 12, 2019

Who Is Talking?

I want to understand
-- To understand what

What is the meaning of this suffering
-- Suffering has no meaning here. It does not exist

Where is here
-- Home

I want to come home
-- You never left

Then why does it seem so far away
-- Because you have hidden yourself from love

How do I find love
-- You can't find love because you are love

Please explain
-- To explain is to separate. Love cannot be explained

Then why are we talking
-- Who is talking

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 60

Governing a big country is like frying a small fish

Hmm, this sounds like a set up for a punch line in a bad joke. But the punch line is:

Thus use Dao to govern all under heaven

Okay, that’s better. Using Dao (Tao) as a governing principle is a theme of the Tao Te Ching. It can apply to actual government, and can apply just as well to how we govern ourselves. And as with cooking a small fish, less is more.

Think about the proliferation of laws we have in the United States at all levels of government. Our answer to many problems is to make up more rules and then try to enforce them. We do this in our legislatures, in our communities, in our families, and with ourselves. And how is that working for us?

I’m not suggesting that we toss out all the rules. I am wondering, though, if we look to rules to solve problems that rules can’t solve, or can’t solve well.

A friend related a story about leading a meeting during which a woman was being disruptive and obnoxious. Feeling responsible for the governance of the meeting, he approached her during a break, intending to confront her about her behavior and to insist that she change her behavior or leave. Instead, at the last minute, he shifted his perspective and asked her if she was all right. After a brief exchange, she broke down in tears and shared with him a challenge she was experiencing. Feeling heard, understood, and respected, she was able to release her combative stance and engage in a more productive way.

Either way, he would have prevented further disruption. But look at the different outcomes. He chose to focus on connection rather than content, on understanding rather than force, on relationship rather than judgment.

This chapter goes on to observe that “demons” have no power when Dao is the guiding principle. Force and resistance feed conflict and opposition. In contrast, Dao follows the natural flow of energy in the universe.

Thus harmony and peace are integrated and restored

This works just as well in our individual lives. Recently I was struggling with a situation that churned up a lot of emotion for me. My initial response was to try to control the situation, to direct an outcome of my choice, to force others to comply. Not surprisingly, I was not very successful, and even to the extent that I was, my emotional turmoil was not alleviated.

I’d like to say I got smart, but what I got was exhausted. And finally, I just stopped fighting. I let go of what I couldn’t control (most everything), and focused on regaining internal alignment and equanimity. And what do you know – once released from my desperate interference, everything began to unfold in a natural way. True, not entirely to my liking, but in a way I could see was inevitable and perhaps for the best.

I’m cooking a small fish for dinner.

For peace of mind, resign as general manager of the universe. ~Larry Eisenberg