Saturday, December 26, 2020

Face to Face

For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face. 1 Corinthians 13:12

When we read this verse, we might yearn for that time of seeing face to face, when all things become clear and we see things as they really are. We don’t often pause to wonder if we will like what we see. 

2020, the year of perfect 20/20 vision, is coming to a close. We have had the opportunity to look into that glass and see through the murky darkness. And what have we seen? 

We’ve all watched videos of animals seeing themselves in a mirror. Some are puzzled, tentatively reaching out to touch their reflection. Some are threatened and attack. Some are excited and offer to play. All of them think that they are seeing an “other,” separate from themselves. 

Is that what we see when we look at this year? This year has set the table with an unending buffet of “other” possibilities, so many “thems.” Thems of other race, gender, political party, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, age, economic status, education, and more. All the thems who are causing all the problems.

This year has brought us face to face. Do we recognize ourselves, or like the animals in the videos, do we mistake our reflections as “other,” as “them”? Are we willing to look in the mirror and see things as they really are? To see ourselves as we really are? 

When I look at my own reflection in the mirror of this year, I see some things I wanted to turn away from. It has been revealing, embarrassing, disappointing, frustrating, and most of all humbling. Very humbling. And in that, there has been some relief, shedding false images, releasing burdens of control (which I never really had anyway), grieving loss. Acceptance. Forgiveness. Gratitude. And that has been good.  

The Gospel of Thomas says that when we find what we are seeking, we will be disturbed, and that disturbance will lead to marvel. I love this verse because it promises that when we are willing to tolerate, even to embrace, the disturbance that comes from looking at ourselves honestly, individually and corporately, we will move through that disturbance to marvel at who we really are, jewels in the net of Indra, all connected, all reflecting the perfection of creation. 

In the No Way CafĂ© contemplation group, we often end a gathering by sharing what we can take from our time together as we go forward. Looking at this year as a gathering, I am taking so many things, but perhaps primarily some heightened awareness of race and privilege. As I go forward, I hope to be more self aware, to listen more and speak less, to look more deeply at assumptions, to inquire rather than suggest, to trust. 

What has this year reflected back to you? What will you take from this year as you go forward? 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Friend or Foe

The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe. ~Albert Einstein

What power we hold, and most of us don’t even know it. We mistake our lens of judgment for objective reality and fall victim to it. I remember a furious friend telling me that a particular person was a b- - -h and that a related situation was really f- - - -d up and that that was a FACT! At which point I confess I quit listening and started considering the implications of confusing judgment with fact. 

And of course, once we make that initial decision about the universe, then what we notice or see around us reinforces it, especially in today’s world of closed loop information. 

Today I went on YouTube for an experiment. I clicked on stories of the “three P’s” of this year – politics, pandemic, and protests. It’s hard to take in all these stories without experiencing a sense of frustration or despair. After a while, I switched and clicked on stories of random acts of kindness. If all you watch is news, which is so often skewed towards a particular bias, and to the negative aspects of that bias, you might be surprised by how many stories there are of people being kind, people being kind without regard to all the things that seem to so deeply divide us. I felt like I was bathing in these stories of kindness, drinking them, inhaling them. I felt uplifted and grateful, and inspired to look for opportunities to be kind.

How can I reconcile the two visions of the universe represented in these videos, one which seems friendly and the other than seems hostile? Do we believe in one only by denying evidence of the other? Are they mutually exclusive or can one include the other? If I make the decision to believe in a friendly universe, how do I explain such an overwhelming appearance of hostility? How do I include everything, denying nothing, and still choose to believe in a benign universe that is not out to get me? 

Perhaps the lens we choose is not about selective seeing and denying, but rather about orientation or perspective. If I choose to believe that I live in a friendly universe, then can I see everyone and everything with broader or deeper view? A view that connects us rather than divides us? A view that keeps my heart open even to those who act in ways that I find anathema to my own values? Can I protest without hatred? Can I advocate without condemnation? 

A Course in Miracles teaches that everything we do or think or say is either an expression of love, or a call for love. These are the only two choices, and there are no exceptions -- everything is one or the other. When I view my world through this lens, then actions that I find indefensible become calls for love, evoking not outrage, but sorrowful compassion. And while I might not consider some people to be friends I want to hang out with, and while I might stand against their agendas of hatred and division, I can still acknowledge our basic human connection and not reject them as foes.

A friendly universe can hold it all, including everything and everyone, like the sun that shines on the evil and the good, and the rain that falls on the just and the unjust. 

I can choose to see this differently. ~A Course in Miracles

Sunday, November 29, 2020

At Least There’s No Volcano

My grandson, who can sometimes be a glass half empty kind of kid, was telling me the other day that he had decided to look on the brighter side of life. 

“Yep,” he said, “if I’m feeling bad, I can just look out the window and think at least there’s no volcano.” 

There is that.

I read an article a few days ago about how it was okay this Thanksgiving season to give yourself permission to not feel very grateful. Hmm.... I can’t argue with the premise that we should feel our feelings, but is feeling ungrateful really helpful? 

A different approach was chosen by my friend, who has reason after a devastating year to not feel full of thanks. She said she was practicing “ruthless gratitude.” 

Wow, what a concept. It reminds me of “fierce grace,” something I am all too well acquainted with.

But ruthless gratitude. I had to think about that one. A deliberate and determined choice to be grateful no matter what. As the Bible teaches, to give thanks “in” all circumstances even when you are not grateful “for” the circumstances. 

What would that be like? 

Some years ago, I wrote a blog and published a book titled Ten Steps to Finding Your Happy Place (and Staying There). Step 9 is to develop at attitude of gratitude. During the years I wrote and taught about this topic, I did a lot of reading and research. So many studies show that gratitude is one of the easiest habits to develop and one of the most beneficial, definitely a winner in any sort of cost/benefit analysis. 

In case you need some ideas about how to develop such a habit, I went to my old blog and linked all the posts about gratitude. There are a lot! No need to read them all, or any of them for that matter. But in case you are interested, here is the link. You might just skim through until one catches your attention and gives you an idea about something to try. 

Here is the refrain from a wonderful song about gratitude.

All that I am
All that I see
All that I’ve been 
And all that I’ll ever be
Is a blessing
It’s so amazing
And I’m grateful for it all
For it all
     ~Nimo Patel

Click here to watch a video of this song – guaranteed to lift your spirits and awaken gratitude.
And if that doesn’t work, you can always look out the window and be grateful that at least there’s no volcano! 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Autumn Beauty


Leaves paint autumn beauty
Yet trees still let them go
Knowing that life demands release
That breath cannot be held

Monday, November 9, 2020

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 76

A person at birth is soft and gentle
At death is hard and unyielding
Sprouting plants are tender and supple
At death are brittle and dry
Stiff and unyielding are associated with death
Soft and gentle with life

The wisdom in this chapter is easy to understand from our own observations. Babies learning to walk fall a lot, yet they are rarely injured. Their bones are flexible and they are relaxed in their efforts. An older person is sometimes unsteady on their feet. They are afraid of falling because falls often result in broken bones or serious injury. 

I also experience the truth of this chapter when practicing martial arts. People believe that muscular strength is the key to success, but there is always someone stronger. Using force based on muscle strength is easily defeated. I watched an 80 year old tai chi master, small in stature with a little pot belly, deflect attacks from young, buff, highly skilled kung fu teachers. He stood calm and relaxed as his opponents, some of whom towered over him, tried to grab him. With a barely detectable shift in stance and a subtle movement of his hands or wrists, he sent his attackers flying across the room. 

Where did that power come from? From being relaxed and centered, yielding and fluid, opening up the channels of energy that move freely when not blocked. From being unafraid, fully present, and responsive rather than reactive. He didn’t meet force with force but rather allowed force to pass by him as he remained unaffected.

What I noticed the most was that he was having a great time. He was always smiling. And at the end of the practice, he was not even breathing hard. 

Not all of us practice martial arts, but all of us encounter conflict in our lives. How do we respond? When we are rigid in our opinions, when we insist on being right, when we try to force others to comply with our demands, or to conform to our expectations, we invite resistance. We feed the energy of division and hostility. 

If you are a parent or a teacher, you have no doubt heard the excuse “She started it! I had no choice.” And we have probably heard that plenty of times from adults too. But what this chapter teaches is that we always have a choice – the energy of life or the energy of death. 

So think about it. What does the energy of life look like in a particular situation? It’s not always exactly the same because it is always open and receptive, responsive to the moment. It is fluid, adaptable, alert, appropriate. 

Next time conflict arises, try to be aware of how you engage with it. No need to be judgmental, just curious. Learn about yourself. Then make your choice. 

I could see peace instead of this. ~A Course in Miracles

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Back to Basics

Lately I’ve been feeling drained, like my life force is seeping out of me. Absent any other symptoms indicating illness, I’ve been puzzled by this general malaise. Last night I gave it some focused thought. What is different in my life? What has changed in recent weeks? Two things came to mind.

First, I’ve been spending a lot more time online looking at the news. I don’t have a TV anymore, but apparently that doesn’t stop me from overindulging in screen time. Click click click. Read this article. Watch this video. Just one more. I hadn’t fully appreciated the toll that takes. It’s like stuffing yourself with toxic junk food, except that it doesn’t taste as good as powdered sugar donuts. It feels icky. 

So this morning I went back to my usual avoidance of the incessant drumbeat of outrage. That doesn’t make me an uninformed or uncaring citizen. It makes me sane. I’m saying it makes me sane – I’m not speaking for anyone else. The urge several times today to just take a peek made me realize how this addictive habit had infiltrated my life. 

Second, I realized that my usual practices of martial arts and meditation had been shortchanged recently because of some other commitments, primarily helping my grandson with his remote learning every day. That is an important commitment to me, and I enjoy my time with him, but it has definitely affected my daily routines that nurture my body and my inner well being. 

So this morning, I got up and made sure to carve out enough time to spend with some cleansing qigong exercises and an extra long time of meditation. After the school work was finished this afternoon, I practiced with my martial arts weapons and took a long walk. I may not be able to fit that much in every day, but I see now that for me, it needs to be a priority that I honor better than I have been lately.

As I went through my day today, the phrase that kept coming to me was “back to basics.” Going back to what I know works for me. Nothing fancy. Simple. Like ABC. 

Attend. One of my favorite words. It calls me to the present moment. It guides me to suspend my inner chatter and to look and listen. Pay attention.

Breathe. You’ve probably heard me say before that everything we need to know, we can learn from breathing. Breathing is our best teacher, mentor, guide. Everything is in the breath.

Center. We all have some sort of practice that centers us. For me, it is martial arts and meditation. For some it is prayer. Or yoga, art, music. Or a walk. Or a bubble bath (I like that one too.) Whatever brings you back to yourself in this moment. Fully present. Fully balanced. Aware. Awake. 

My straying away from these basics over recent weeks has shown me how essential they are to my well being. I am ending this day feeling better than I have in a while. 

I hope that if you are struggling with all the things happening in our world right now, if you feel the drain of stress or anxiety, you will take some time to identify what is basic for you, and then give yourself permission to honor what will sustain you and nurture you. 

We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves. ~the Dalai Lama

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Love Your Thymus

This is not my typical post (do I have a typical post?), but I wanted to share this because it helps to support our health during these times when our immune systems could use a little energizing.

Do you know about your thymus gland? I am not an expert at all, so this post is from the perspective of a lay person who listens to her body and tries to understand how all its energy systems work together. About the thymus, I know that it nestles on top of or in front of your heart behind your sternum. It is critical in generating and “training” the cells that boost our immune system to protect our bodies from infection. The thymus is largest in childhood and decreases in size and potency as we age, but we can nurture it at any age to increase its power and effectiveness. 

Here is a little exercise I use to give my thymus some support. It only takes a minute. Give it a try and see if it feels right to you.

First, lift your elbows and hold your hands in front of your chest, fingers curved inward.

Now holding your elbows in place, gently tap your fingertips on your sternum, alternating hands, 15-30 seconds, or as long as feels right. Your alternating hands will settle into a rhythm that feels relaxing and refreshing. This tapping loosens up any blockage and activates your thymus energy. (Note that you are also tapping over your heart, so that’s good too!)

After you finish tapping, rest for a few seconds. Feel the lingering vibration from the tapping. 

Then once again, lift your elbows with hands facing your chest. This time, interlace your fingers. Place them directly on your chest over your thymus. 

“Rake” outward by keeping your fingers in contact with your chest as you pull your hands apart. As your hands reach the edge of your chest, “flick” them outward. Do this several times. 

This movement takes the density or blockages that have been loosened up by the tapping, and clears them from your thymus and surrounding area. (Again, the heart benefits as well.) 

Finally, rest your hands quietly over your thymus, sending some love and appreciation to this little powerhouse of immunity.  

That’s it. If you give it a try, let me know what you think. Meanwhile, keep practicing safe and healthy habits. Wishing everyone good health and happiness. 

Friday, October 16, 2020

The Liminal Space of Possibility


Sitting by the fire
In the dark early morn
Watching out the window
As shadows emerge from blackness
Shadows becoming trees
As light seeps into the forest
The sun will be here later
Now is the time of in between
The liminal space of possibility
The secret taste of sweet unknown

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 75

When rulers tax too much
People starve
When rulers interfere too much
People rebel
When rulers demand too much
People give up
One who lives in harmony with life
Enjoys true wealth

I have taken great liberty with the Chinese text in my translation here. However, when I contemplate the Chinese characters, this is the essence of what emerges: We create imbalance in our lives and in our communities through excessive control. 

All the Tao Te Ching passages about governing can apply literally to a government, but I find them most helpful in a more personal context. We have created so many layers of control in our lives – the external control of laws and moral codes, and the internal control of self-improvement and self-judgment – that we exhaust ourselves with the constant struggle to always do better and be better. We have lost our connection to the natural energy that permeates all creation. 

Nature is inherently balanced and self-correcting. A friend recently observed that when we stand, our bodies are always making micro-adjustments to keep us vertically aligned. We don’t consciously direct our bodies to do this; nor do we calibrate the needed corrections and send instructions to various joints and muscles. Balance is our natural state, and it is naturally maintained. Imagine what would happen if that weren’t the case. 

We take this kind of balance for granted. We trust our bodies to take care of certain functions without our interference. Yet we are hesitant to trust nature in general, and our own natures in particular, with respect to how we function as individuals and how we function as a society. Why is that? How have we become so distanced from nature’s harmony and rhythm, that we no longer hear its wisdom and guidance? We no longer sense when we are out of alignment, and if we do become aware, we seek to restore alignment by the very same artificial methods that got us out of alignment in the first place. 

We don’t need to change who we are; we just need to be who we are. We need to trust that who we are is exactly who we should be. The strain of trying to be something else is wearing us out and killing us all. So perhaps we can explore this trust and investigate the fear that blocks it. No need to judge them. Just get to know them – the trust and the fear. Let them teach us. Let them show us the way home. 

Friday, October 2, 2020

It Is Done


It is done
All efforts have failed
"Effort" will inevitably fall short
In our quest to contain the infinite

Thursday, September 24, 2020

How to Calm DOWN When You Are Riled UP

The answer is right there in the terms we use to describe ourselves when we are upset or at ease. It is a matter of direction. 

A few days ago I had an appointment with someone who was coming to my house. The person didn’t arrive on time, and as the minutes ticked by, I became irritated. I texted her and didn’t receive an immediate response which irritated me even more. I kept going to the window to see if she had arrived and checking my phone to see if she had texted. My mind was spinning stories – judging her for being late, worried that it was I who had made a mistake about the time, and so on. I felt agitated and restless. My heart rate was up a bit. I felt disappointed and angry. 

I tried to think my way out of my distress. Maybe she was stuck somewhere and couldn’t get in touch. Even if she forgot, I have done the same on more than one occasion. Nothing terrible was happening. It would all sort itself out. That helped a little, but I was still unable to relax. I reflected on this a bit.

When we are upset or angry or agitated, our energy rises. Our breathing is shallow. Our weight shifts forward and upward. Our attention is in our heads. Our thoughts run amok, shouting stories about whatever has initiated our distress. We fuel the stories with fiery emotions. Or perhaps we try to douse the fire with other thoughts, which still keep us in our heads. 

So many terms identify this upward direction of energy. We get riled up, churned up, revved up, for example. Tempers rise. 

Other terms suggest a way to restore our inner equilibrium – calm down, settle down, slow down. The direction away from distress is downward. So how do we do that? Because we rely so much on our brains, our first instinct is to think our way out of a problem. However, thinking often is the problem. Our distress is in our thoughts. And while it is possible to think ourselves back into balance, a more direct way is to move out of our heads and down into our bodies.

So I did a simple exercise to bring my energy down. I inhaled and stood on my toes, raising my arms away from my body. I paused there a moment, then suddenly released my weight as I exhaled and dropped into my feet, letting my arms fall at the same time. I kept my knees relaxed so that when my heels hit the ground, there was a soft bounce, like I was shaking all the tension loose and letting it sink into the earth. 

On the third repetition, I felt an internal release and everything immediately relaxed. My body felt calm, my mind stopped chattering, my emotions settled. Equanimity was restored. Just like that. Only a few seconds. Not complicated. Simple. Effective. 

As I was marveling at the wisdom of my body, my friend texted. Indeed we had miscommunicated about the time. I’m not even sure which one of us was at fault, or indeed if there had been any fault at all. At that point it no longer mattered to me. We got together and had a good visit. 

At a time when many of us are feeling so much stress and anxiety, and other “up” emotions, this is a great exercise to help us stay balanced and grounded. Try it. I hope it’s helpful. 

Get yourself grounded and you can navigate even the stormiest roads in peace. ~Steve Goodier

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Embracing Yin

Summer is the season of pure yang energy. Its element is fire. Its organ is the heart. Yang energy is active, hot, rising, powerful. When someone is wildly successful, driving forward, dominating the competition, unstoppable, we might say, “Wow, she’s on fire!” 

Our western culture highly values yang energy. Idle hands do the devil’s work, make the most of every minute, increase productivity, we can rest when we’re dead, time is money, move up or move out – these are just a few familiar sayings that reflect this preference.

There is nothing inherently wrong with yang energy. On the contrary, it is a necessary and natural aspect of life’s rhythm and harmony. It is the manifesting energy of all creation. But it is not the only energy. Its complementary energy is yin. 

Yin is still, receptive, dark, nurturing. It is the womb from which creation emerges. It is the fertile earth. It is the energy of gathering, returning to the source, the energy of harvest. Its season is fall. 

This year in my area of the world, wildfires are racing across the land. Nature’s expression of yang energy is exploding with the hot dryness of a rainless summer, ignited in unstoppable fires scattered up and down the west coast. Smoke hangs thick over my house, keeping me inside, while friends not far away have had to abandon their homes to take refuge from the inferno.

We sometimes describe such fires as raging. I can’t help but wonder if these fires in particular, and global warming in general, aren’t reflections back to us of the imbalance we have created by such a devoted enslavement to yang energy. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the yin organ of fall is the lungs, the organ most directly vulnerable to the fire and smoke.

Nature seeks balance. First the pandemic kept us home, and now the smoke keeps us inside.*  Growing still, turning inward, where yin energy welcomes us, and encourages us to rest, to contemplate, to listen, to receive. The fires won’t last forever. Hopefully, neither will the pandemic. When we emerge on the “other side” of all this, may we find a more sustainable balance in our lives and in our world. 

*I write this post as one who has the luxury of sheltering in place, in a safe home with plenty of food and water, and lots of time to sit and wonder about the questions I raise here. This is not true for everyone. The circumstances that give me this opportunity for reflection call firefighters to the flame, risking their lives, and cause others to flee to safety, while volunteers step up to serve. Heroes of all kinds abound in crises such as the ones faced this year with the pandemic and the fires. I am not one of them, and I am humbly grateful to those who are.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 74

If people are not afraid of death                                                            How can death be used to threaten them

These opening lines remind me of the story of the monk who was threatened by a marauding soldier with a sword. When the monk sat there calmly, the solder yelled, “Aren’t you afraid? Don’t you know I can run you through with this sword without blinking an eye?” 

The monk replied, “Don’t you know I can be run through with your sword without blinking an eye?” At the point, so the story goes, the soldier released his sword and dropped to his knees, begging to be the monk’s disciple.

The chapter goes on to say that if people are afraid of death, they act out of fear. To put it another way, they are no longer in alignment with the natural flow of energy in the universe. They are no longer acting in harmony with all of creation. Acts of fear are often attempts to control our circumstances or other people. They are often met with resistance as fearful people vie for the upper hand, the classic power struggle. 

The chapter finishes by observing that those with the upper hand then use their power to force others into compliance. This is not the way of nature. It is like trying to usurp nature’s power, or, to put it in other terms, it is like playing God. 

And, as many of us have learned in our lives, such attempts often backfire, bringing more harm than good to all concerned. 

Whenever I find myself in an anxious or fearful state, my first impulse is to try to control something or someone in order to relieve my own distress. I can usually find some justification, for example, thinking that circumstances or someone left me no choice. I can usually find some pure motivation, for example, thinking that I am improving the situation or helping someone. But really, if I’m honest, I’m trying to make myself feel better or safer or happier. 

And how does that work for me? Hmm, usually not so great because I’m basing my sense of well being on things I can’t really control, like circumstances and other people. So even if I get relief in the immediate situation, the underlying impermanence of, well, everything, leaves me on some level still unsettled. 

What if, instead, I addressed the underlying root of all my unease – fear. What if I made my peace with the fluid movement of all creation, always changing, always manifesting and returning in cyclic rhythm. What if I found this natural energy wondrously magnificent instead of scary and threatening. What if I allowed it to move freely in me and through me, and gave up the exhausting and futile quest to be in charge of everything and everyone. 

Might be worth exploring....

A moment of Radical Acceptance is a moment of genuine freedom. ~Tara Brach

PS -- As an example, I continue to struggle with the new Blogger interface. I just spent 20 minutes trying to get things spaced the way I wanted. Hmm, perhaps I need to practice some radical acceptance....

Friday, September 4, 2020

Entering the In Between


Arising in darkness

As summer's light fades

Entering the in between

Where mystery beckons


Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Courage at the Testing Point

Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point. ~C. S. Lewis

As the tectonic plates of culture alternately drift further apart and then crash into each other with increasing violence, I am reminded of blog posts of the past, written in times of heart pain and despair over the fear and separation manifesting in our world. 

When I went back to read these posts, my first thought was that nothing has changed. Those posts could have been written today. Specific circumstances and events might change, but underlying it all is the same need for a better way.  

The posts observe a divided world, encourage us to be healers, and assure us that there is a better way if we have the courage to follow it. 

We are, I think many would agree, at a testing point. We are called now to be this time’s “righteous among the nations.” To march together across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. To be the small but mighty child in the crowd who sees through illusion and says that the emperor has no clothes. 

We are called not to accuse but to model, not to condemn but to lead, not to fight but to free, not to know but to understand, not to inflict but to heal, not to win but to unite, not to hate but to hold.

What does that look like? It looks like listening to our own inner guide, leading us on our own path. It looks like inner alignment that manifests in everything we do or think or say. It looks like integrity, being fully integrated in body, mind, and spirit. 

It looks like courage at the testing point. 

The way we seek is not out there but within.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Please in Kind Prevail


You think you know yourself until things start happening, until you lose the insulation of normality. ~Robert Wilson

The photo above shows a label on the side of a jigsaw puzzle box. I was immediately intrigued. 

“Specification colors and contents may yary from illustration, pls in kind prevail.” [sic]

If I consider just the first part of the sentence, does that mean that the puzzle inside the box might not be the one illustrated? Could it be a different puzzle altogether? Maybe the same picture but with different colors? Or could it possibly not even be a puzzle? A total surprise? Not  at all what I thought I was buying?

This year might have well come with such a cautionary label. I laugh now at my January post about 2020 being the year of perfect vision. I suppose in some way it is that indeed, showing us with sometimes shocking clarity some things we may not wish to see. But that is not what I meant when I wrote that post. I thought I was “buying” a very different type of year, a year of insight, wisdom, enlightenment. And above all some peace, especially after the intense last two years in my personal life. 

Instead, this year has, for many of us, stripped away the insulation of normality. And we are discovering that perhaps we don’t know ourselves as well as we thought we did. The year of perfect vision has brought us face to face not only with the world around us, but with ourselves. And who is it that is staring back? 

Perhaps our reflection varies in “specifications, colors, and contents” from the illustration of ourselves that we have painted and displayed to others, and most importantly to ourselves. What do we find when we open the box and take a look inside?

Maybe this is where the second part of the label comes in. “Please in kind prevail” could mean lots of things. I’ve had a fun time exploring some of the possibilities. But I this context, I like to think that it means to have an attitude of tolerance, acceptance, forgiveness, and kindness, when things or people, including ourselves, are not what we expect or want them to be. 

This might involve venturing beyond our comfort zone, questioning our underlying assumptions, willingness to tolerate uncertainty, humility to surrender to the unknown, courage to keep our hearts open when fear wants to shut them up tight. 

Perhaps this little puzzle box label is all the wisdom we need in this year of perfect vision. If we can see and manifest kindness in the midst of chaos, then surely we will prevail. 

My religion is kindness. ~the Dalai Lama

Friday, August 7, 2020

So Blessed

 How have I been so blessed

To have this life

To be life

Released from all knowing

Falling gratefully

Into the current of the infinite

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 73

Courage to dare leads to death
Courage to not dare leads to life

Both daring and not daring are linked to courage in this couplet. So the distinction is not about having courage, but rather how that courage is directed. In a western culture that values daring and boldness, this sounds like a play-it-safe admonition. However, I think daring in this context is probably closer to the idea of interfering, or forcing one’s will on people or circumstances. In other words, daring that goes against the natural energy and wisdom of the universe. 

Such daring is always rooted at some level in fear. Because it is in opposition to our true nature, which would always be in alignment with universal power, it drains us of energy and leads ultimately to death, that is, disconnection from our innate life force. 

Courage to not dare (to not presume or interfere), on the other hand, transcends fear and allows the power of the divine to course through us and manifest into the world. We are aligned, filled with light, experiencing and expressing the life energy that is our true being. 

This courage to not dare is reflected in the last part of the chapter describing the essence of this universal energy.

Heaven’s Tao 
Does not strive yet achieves good victory
Does not speak yet expresses good response
Does not summon yet itself comes

I especially like this last line. I’m comforted by the idea that this energy is ever present, not demanding of me, but rather offering itself. 

Heaven’s net is wide and vast
Infinitely spacious, holding everything

These lines remind me of Indra’s net, connecting everything in the universe, with a jewel at each intersection of the strands, reflecting the image of all other jewels. If we are made in the image of God, as the Bible says, then this passages tells us that we are all connected, not only to God but to each other, held in an infinite embrace, each reflecting to everyone the divine spark shining within all of us. 

So beautiful.

Friday, July 24, 2020

All Is Known in Love

The soul knows not of time
It has no measure for success
Nor does it fear
For what is there to fear
In the realm of truth
Where division disappears
And all is known in love

Monday, July 20, 2020

Just the Way They Are

What is the difference between an enlightened person and an unenlightened person? 

The unenlightened person sees a difference.

I read this joke recently in Miracles Magazine. I wanted to find the source for it, so I Googled the question. And what do you know? I found LOTS of answers seriously offering a variety of litmus tests to distinguish enlightened people from unenlightened people. Wow, I thought. The joke is the truest answer of them all. All I could do was shake my head.

A few years ago, I went to a presentation for a popular method of meditation. I already had a meditation practice, but a friend had gone and recommended it, so I was curious. The presenter was a slick salesperson, and peppered the promotional speech with possibilities of enlightenment. Just sign up, give them a lot of money, practice your mantra, and lo and behold, “enlightenment just might happen.” 

As people rushed to sign up, I asked what I thought was an obvious question to someone who had practiced this method for many years. “So are you enlightened?” 

He paused, raised an eyebrow, and replied, “Well, isn’t it obvious?” 

“Yes, I suppose it is.” I thanked him for his time and left.

At a time when the divisions between us seem wider than ever, I have struggled to find our commonality. Where is that universal spark of divinity that shines in all our souls? I confess I find it more easily in some than in others, and yes, most often in people who think like I do. The Bible tells us to “judge not,” and A Course in Miracles teaches that all judgment comes from a fear-generating, mistaken belief in separation. 

I believe that, and yet I found my patience growing thin, and words – judging words, criticizing words, words of frustration, exasperation, despair – started popping up in my thoughts. So I did what I have learned to do when I am losing my way. I sat on my meditation cushion and asked for help. And waited.

The answer came to me phrased this way:  Everyone is just the way they are

Hmm, okay. Obvious. Not helpful. Or is it? 

I kept repeating the sentence. And like a mantra that promises enlightenment (ha!), it opened me up inside. A deep welling up of compassion flooded my spirit, compassion not just for some of us, but for all of us. Everyone. Even me. 

I understood. I don’t have to agree with everyone, or like everyone. I don’t have to stop advocating for justice. I don’t have to stop having uncomfortable conversations. I don’t have to accept violence. I don’t have to be silent in the face of hate or ignorance. I don’t have to stop my own process of self reflection and accountability. 

I just need to recognize that the spark of universal energy that shines in me does indeed shine in all of us. Just the way we are. If I lose that deep connection with all beings, then all my other efforts operate only on the surface, in the realm of duality. Healing is never ever achieved by separation. 

A blogging friend once posed the question: Are we our brother’s keeper? Yes, I replied, because we are our brother. All of us. Just the way we are.

They want us to be afraid.
They want us to be afraid of leaving our homes.
They want us to barricade our doors
and hide our children.
Their aim is to make us fear life itself!
They want us to hate.
They want us to hate 'the other'.
They want us to practice aggression
and perfect antagonism.
Their aim is to divide us all!
They want us to be inhuman.
They want us to throw out our kindness.
They want us to bury our love
and burn our hope.
Their aim is to take all our light!
They think their bricked walls
will separate us.
They think their damned bombs
will defeat us.
They are so ignorant they don’t understand
that my soul and your soul are old friends.
They are so ignorant they don’t understand
that when they cut you I bleed.
They are so ignorant they don’t understand
that we will never be afraid,
we will never hate
and we will never be silent
for life is ours! 
 ~Kamand Kojouri

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

It’s More Fun

My grandson and I watched an animated movie recently in which a main character was a star celebrity athlete who couldn’t stand to lose. So much so that he returned to his small home town to humiliate and defeat the one person who ever beat him, and to buy up the town in order to destroy it. After the movie, we discussed what that overpowering urge to win, and the corresponding rage at losing, meant to that character – the benefits he got and the price he paid for them. 

That led to a conversation about games and competition in general. I commented on the way that my grandson seems to approach games. He plays to win, but he is a gracious winner when he does, and a gracious loser when he doesn’t. Moreover, he is quick to help another person who is lagging behind. For example, in a recent checkers game, he was beating me soundly, but paused to point out a move I had overlooked, one that cost him one of his pieces. He also mentioned his friend who, while they were playing a video game, congratulated my grandson on a good move even though the move was to his friend’s disadvantage.

I asked him what motivated him to take this approach to competition rather than the approach taken by the character in the movie. He didn’t hesitate:

“It’s more fun.” 

He looked at me like that was obvious and didn’t need further explanation. 

Okay, so there you have it. 

Take someone who doesn't keep score, who's not looking to be richer, or afraid of losing, who has not the slightest interest even in his own personality: he's free. ~Rumi

Friday, July 10, 2020

Live the Seeing

I cannot tell
What I now see
I have not words
It matters not
It matters only that
I live the seeing

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 72

When people do not fear power
Great power appears

These first two lines have been translated and interpreted so many ways, it’s difficult to find any footing in a particular meaning. Like many passages in the Tao Te Ching which seem to address governance, this couplet could refer to actual political government, and could also refer to the way we govern our own individual selves internally. I tend to lean towards the internal application of these passages, because harmonious external governance is rooted in harmonious internal alignment. 

With that in mind, the power referenced in these lines is not necessarily the external imposition of superior force, but could mean the power inherent in all of us when we allow the limitless natural energy of the universe to move in us, through us, and manifest outwardly. This is not the power of individual will, but rather the power of all creation when our own individual will is surrendered in alignment. 

The power of this universal energy is blocked by fear. As Marianne Williamson said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are powerless. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” Thus, great power appears when fear is released. Sit with that for a moment.

The chapter continues by observing that this power is not oppressive. It does not interfere with or disrupt or burden people’s lives, but rather operates in natural harmony with the people’s homes, families, and activities.

Thus the sage is self aware without seeking recognition
Loves herself without arrogance
Moves freely without attachment

Here is a description of inner balance and freedom. When I read this I get a sense of someone who delights in life, walking humbly in service to others, appreciating the miracle of each moment. 

Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly. ~ from Micah 6:8

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Carried by Practice

The last several days, I have been caught up in a spiritual tantrum. A patient friend listened to me rant about my frustration.

I’m not feeling very kumbaya. I don’t want to cultivate compassion or acceptance. I feel judgmental and angry. I don’t like people very much right now. I’m mad at the universe for its relentless offering of opportunities to practice. My personal life, my family’s life, friends' lives, and I don’t even know what to do with all the global angst and suffering. I am tired of practicing. Practice, practice, practice. I am bone tired, soul tired, heart tired. Energy exhausted. 

After giving voice to my meltdown, I didn’t feel better. I felt worse. After releasing all that pent up churning, I went home and plummeted into sadness, crushing, heart breaking sadness. I sank into surrendered silence. Breathe. One breath. Another.

Then Practice spoke to me:

That’s okay. You don’t need to practice right now. Stop struggling. You are wearing yourself out. Needlessly. I will carry you. I will get you through this.  

Oh. I realized practice is not a discipline. It’s a relationship. A healthy relationship of give and take on both sides. A relationship of trust and familiarity. And love. The deeper I go with my practice and the more consistent I am, the more I learn to trust that in tough times, the practice sustains me. Indeed, it does carry me and get me through.

I had forgotten. Wow, forgetting used up a lot of energy. I felt a bit foolish. But accepting of my foolishness. What’s that? Compassion peeked out and smiled. And okay, I might have felt a little bit kumbaya.

Behind the hardness there is fear
And if you touch the heart of the fear
You find sadness
And if you touch the sadness
You find the vast blue sky
 ~Rick Fields

Friday, June 26, 2020

Nature's Cotton Candy

Wild rhododendron
Splashing pink in the forest
Cotton candy fun

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Gone to Ground

People in the United States have traditionally greeted each other with the question “How are you?” It is often intended as a perfunctory politeness, not a genuine question about health and well-being. The typical answer is “Fine thanks. You?” 

Lately, however, I get the sense when asked, that people are sincerely asking how I’m really doing. And when I ask, it is with an openness and a willingness to listen. Times have changed.

My most recent answer is that I’ve “gone to ground.” That phrase usually has a connotation of hiding, especially when being chased, as a fox might hide in a burrow when pursued by hunters. I don’t have a sense of hiding, and I don’t feel chased, but that phrase popped into my mind as a perfect metaphor for how I am experiencing life right now. 

Layer upon layer. Cope with this. Holding steady. Well, how about this? Tougher, but okay. Very good, and now this. Hurting.... And boom. Crushed.

How to breathe through all this pain. Go to ground. Get out of my head and into my body. Move. Breathe. Be still. Go to the earth. Lie in the grass. Watch hummingbirds. Sit by the creek. Bask in the sun. Walk in the forest. 

Our battered minds cannot encompass all this suffering. But our hearts can. Our hearts can expand infinitely to hold the entire universe. The earth and the heavens fill our empty vessel with all creation. We are strong. We contain multitudes. 

Going to ground revives me and renews me. I touch the earth and it holds me, nurtures me, inspires me. 

I am ready. 

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Heard Only in the Heart

The words are spoken in silence
Heard only in the heart
Do not doubt what they reveal
More real than any heard in mind
Trust the truth of what is known beyond knowing
And do not be misled by thought
That seeks to hold illusion
Be thou thus ignited 
With what has always burned

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The Way Out

Reason says, the world is limited in six directions
There is no way out
Love says, there is a way
And I have traveled it many times
~ Rumi

I’ve been reading a book titled Shadow Mountain, by Renee Askins, who was a central figure in the wolf restoration project in Yellowstone. One of the biggest hurdles was the forceful resistance of ranchers and others who feared the impact of wolves on livestock. In writing about this standoff, Askins says:

We needed to understand the opposition better by really listening to their concerns. Although many ... would call that accommodation, I called it compassion. I really wanted to obliterate the “us against them” model ... by recognizing human concerns rather than enemy positions.

I’ve been thinking about how easy it is to put someone in that “them” category, and about the effects of such a label on my willingness and ability to listen. And even when I do listen, I catch myself listening from a perspective that seeks to reinforce my own position, to protect myself from having to question my own assumptions, to avoid having to acknowledge things I’d rather not face. 

In other words, I’m not really listening.

Years ago, I was having an intense, emotionally charged argument with someone. I wanted so desperately for the other person to understand my position. What that means is that I wanted the other person to agree with me, to see that I was right. What that means is that I did not want to be seen as the “bad guy” in the situation. The conflict escalated as we continued to state and restate our arguments. 

It appeared that there was no way out. We were both reaching exhaustion when I suddenly had what seemed to be an out of body experience. I had the sensation of switching into the other chair, looking through the eyes of the other person, seeing myself and the situation from his perspective. And what I saw shocked me. He was absolutely right. I was making a decision that hurt him deeply. I was indeed the bad guy. 

What happened next was that I felt tremendous compassion for him. And for me too. I could acknowledge the impact my decision had on him. And how hard it was for me to face that. We connected through our shared pain. 

I wonder how much of our insistence on labeling someone as “them” is about wanting to feel better about “us.” That is very human, isn’t it? And yet all our justifications keep us trapped. Meanwhile, love beckons, whispering, “This way. This is the way out. Follow me.” 

Go out into the world today and love the people you meet. ~Mother Teresa

Friday, May 29, 2020

Morning Sun

Morning sun
Casts tree star shadows
Light and dark dance in dewdrops
Embracing as lovers do
Joyful in the green

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 71

Understanding that we do not know is wisdom
Believing that we know the unknowable is suffering

First year law students often arrive expecting that they are going to be told all the answers to legal questions. After a few weeks of hearing professors say, “That depends on ...,” they begin to suspect that the professors know the answers but for some pedagogical or sadistic reason are keeping the answers a secret from the students. It takes a while to convince them that legal analysis does indeed rest on a number of factors and variables.

Oprah Winfrey’s magazine always ends with a column titled “What I Know for Sure.” I used to joke that I was in awe of Oprah because she knew something for sure at least twelve times a year. 

Buddha understood that attachment or desire is the root of suffering. One of the things our brains are wired to desire is unchanging certainty. So strong is this craving, that our brains will grasp onto a false answer rather than tolerate the discomfort of not knowing. Once securely attached to an answer, the brain resists the trauma of releasing it even when a better answer is presented. I have seen my own brain do this. It’s kind of amazing. 

And it leads to suffering. Because on some level we know that we are floating in an ocean of mystery paddling a leaky raft. Our soul swims lazily alongside, beckoning. “Come on in; the water’s fine.” And we just paddle harder. 

Until we don’t. Until we are so tired of the suffering we cause ourselves, that we are willing to dive into our fear because we are less afraid of the murky depths than of staying where we are.

And guess what. The water is fine. And so are we. 

You know nothing, Jon Snow. ~Ygritte, Game of Thrones

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

This Is What I’m Doing

During a recent conversation with a martial arts friend and mentor, we were discussing our practice. Although we are at very different levels (he is light years ahead of me), we both find ourselves in a time of transition, partly affected by the shutdown and interruption of our usual routines, but that is not the only impetus to change. I was describing my sense of “where do I go from here” lack of clear direction. Did I want a different teacher? Did I want to learn a new form or a new style or a new weapon? 

Describing his own shift in practice, he explained that he had dropped the notion of a specific teacher or learning a particular style. Instead, he was going back to fundamentals and exploring wherever his curiosity led him, following the guidance of his body’s wisdom after years of practice. Striking out on his own, everything felt fresh and exciting again. He said without apology or need to justify, “This is what I’m doing.” 

Wow. I loved that statement. The simplicity and honesty of accepting ownership and responsibility. The self awareness and permission to not know, to explore, to be curious. To turn inwardly and listen, rather than to continue seeking “out there” for direction and guidance and instruction. 

I immediately recognized what he said as the inspiration I was looking for, and I embraced his statement as my own declaration. My practice was reinvigorated, fun, and empowered.

And, as with all martial arts lessons, I quickly appreciated how the idea spilled over and permeated the rest of my life. Going back to basics, trusting our inner wisdom, listening rather than imposing. As MSI wrote, “Life becomes extraordinary in its simplicity – the response to everything that comes to us is the same:  acceptance, compassion, and unconditional love.” 

“This is what I’m doing” is a call to mindfulness, whatever our activity, a reminder to be aware, to be present, to not be so distracted that we miss our life. It is an assertion of responsibility for ourselves and our choices. It is liberating and empowering. It is grounding in a time of uncertainty and anxiety. It is a reassurance that we are enough.

So as we go through our day, let’s pause and listen, and choose. Then say with confidence, “This is what I’m doing.” 

For in the sacredness of every moment, Divine Grace is telling you alone all that is required. ~Jean-Pierre de Caussade