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