Deserts and the Eight Worldly Dharmas


Hello all ! It’s been forever since I stopped by, so I thought I’d say hello.  Blogger Slacker, indeed!  Truthfully, I’ve been out living my life instead of blogging about it.  As part of those life adventures, I spent some time in the southwest, rambling around in the desert.   This picture was taken while hiking in the canyons of southern Utah, one of the most gorgeous places on the planet.

I was thinking about the desert and my Utah trip this morning.  I love the southwest.  LOVE IT.   And as I proceed across the landscape of my life, with grief from recent deaths, lots of shifts in many areas and a renewed sense of intention about some things, I was thinking about how the desert represents that journey for me.

Sometimes I look into the depths of my life and it feels like the desert:  Wide open, sort of dry in places, yet full of Light that knows how to get into the tiniest of cracks of the surface, into the deepest places inside of me, those places where there are just no words.  Only stillness, a deep stillness inside of me.  The desert is like that place… still, so still.  Not silent necessarily, but still.  It teems with life at night, when it’s easier and safer to be out, out of the harsh sun that gives life but can also take it away.  In the desert, the most common ways to die are from dehydration or drowning, hence this sign.  Paradox, paradox.  The desert is full of life, full of mysterious canyons and deep drop-offs, ancient dwellings full of art painted or chiseled into the stone walls centuries ago, the artists long gone, yet their creative spirit remains.  It’s also full of potential death if you are not prepared and observant, aware of your surroundings and willing to take care of the basics.

I think that’s part of why I crave the desert~~there’s nowhere (now here?) to go, nowhere to be, other than right here, right now.  The basics matter.  So when all else fails, sometimes it’s really important to remember the basics.  Like, water and food and shelter.  Like, fire burns and when it rains the earth gets wet.  Like, my safety is my responsibility.  Like, it’s important to know current and predicted conditions, because something happening miles away can sweep me off my feet in a second, a flash flood of emotion or information or experience, just as surely as a sudden storm in the sky.  My journey truly is my responsibility.

This is one of those interesting times, the kind when it all sort of flows and time bends softly and warmly around the looking-glass, the kind that feels somehow touched by the Divine yet is sort of emotionally exhausting in that same way.   I was thinking about all of that this morning, which led me to think of Rumi, one of my favorite poets.

I’ve been thinking of Rumi a lot lately actually, and also about the Buddhist sense of the 8 Worldly Dharmas.   For the uninitiated, the 8 Worldly Dharmas are: praise and blame; pleasure  and pain; fame and disgrace; gain and loss.  Buddhism basically says that these become our attachments and aversions in life– we want the ones we enjoy or make us feel good.  Therefore we constantly seek  something outside of ourselves to hold onto, trying to do what it takes to feel good.  Conversely, we try to avoid the things we think will feel “bad.”  This creates a cycle in which we are forever caught in the wheel of life, trying to have pleasure, praise, fame and gain.  At the same time, we frantically try to avoid the things we perceive as painful, and so the cycle continues with us trying to seek an ever-elusive happiness that cannot be found outside of us.

Our whole culture, as well as our whole economy,  is based on the search for these things that we believe will bring us lasting pleasure.    We are led to believe that if we have the newest shiny whizbang or the right car or the right mate or the right beer or the right whatever, then–Finally! you can be happy.  And as humans we fall for that, over and over and over again.  But then that changes too, and the new whizbang goes out of style, the spiffy new phone becomes a dinosaur in a few months, you wake up with a lump in your breast,  the kids go to school or the person you love dies or the job you thought would be so good falls apart. And then, there we are, back into what is viewed as the opposite, the “bad” feelings, the aversions and the pain.

This happens to all of us at some point, and there are so many choices.   But one of the choices is to look in the mirror and ask some hard questions, like… So now what?  Who am I without my  stuff, my comforts, my stories, my attachments, my distractions, my toys, my “isms,” my work, my need for control?  Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher, said,

“As humans we are always running after something— some pleasure, some reward, some way to avoid pain.  But here’s the real $64, 000 question–when all of that is over, how much have you ever really connected with yourself in your whole life?”

All of this led me to again ponder this Rumi poem…

Why Cling

Why cling to one life
Till it is soiled and ragged?

The sun dies and dies
Squandering a hundred lives
every instant

God has decreed a life for you
And will give you
another and another and another and another….

So today, I am thinking of many things, watching it all sort of spin by, lazy on its axis, watching it pass through in the most interesting of ways…I ponder the $64, 000 question and think of worldly dharmas of pleasure and pain, attachments and aversions and all of the many ways in which they disguise themselves.  I love Rumi’s take on the clinging, somehow understanding that it is in the letting go, it’s the fall into the soft spots of the heart and soul that bring us to new life.   It’s not just about who you are, but who you are becoming, and if you are OK with that.  And, like the child crying “do it again!” to a fun silly grown up trick, the sun will rise tomorrow and we get to choose all over again.  And how cool is that?  Always another chance to accompany the changes in life.

So today, I am pondering the desert and this garden party of philosophers and poets, and I thank them for their contributions to my life and soul.  And I offer thanks for all the changes and chances to do it again.    I hope this finds all of you happy and at peace.

Grief is its own Medicine


“Grief is itself a medicine.”                        ~~William Cowper (1731-1800)

I went to visit my dad over the weekend.  It’s been almost five months since my mom died and Saturday morning we went to the cemetery.  It was an overcast Ozark day, one my mother would have called “dreary.”  Too many days in a row like that and I start to get sort of squirrely, but today I found the starkness of the country landscape beautiful.  It seemed like a good day to go to a grave.

My mom is buried four or five miles back on an old country road, in Clubb Cemetery, outside of Zalma, MO.  The road is a dusty, red dirt affair, full of remnants of the red clay that is in and around the area.  You have to drive slowly so even though it’s not far in miles it takes about half hour to get there.  I find the drive beautiful, the landscape dotted with old barns, some abandoned white churches with steeples still intact, wide open fields and woods.  My dad was born and raised in an old house on one of those hills, near a place called Pond Creek.  He attended a one-room school house and they didn’t have electricity in that part of the world until the mid-1950’s, when he was about ten years old.  His dad never lived in a place that had running water and my dad didn’t have it until he was nearly twenty, when he came to St. Louis to find work.  His mom died when he was a teenager and he and his dad farmed and hunted the surrounding land for years.

My dad is an old country boy, a decent and kind man, a southern gentleman at heart.  Even after all the years he lived in the city, he always thought of this place as home.  I am in my forties now and live in the heart of the city.  While I love the convenience the urban life affords me, I find as I get older I crave the solace of the country.  My soul resonates deeply with the land here.  I suspect this is at least partly because life is slower and the pace kinder here, not so connected to the rat race.  The older I get, the more I realize that being in the rat race mostly just turns people into rats.  I got off the mainstream hamster wheel years ago, but have yet to find a way to reconcile my living being made in the city with my soul being made in the country.  In the meantime I go back and forth a lot and have a big garden to play in, sort of an Urban Homestead.  It will have to do for now.

Lost in this thought, I was surprised when we arrived so suddenly.  Clubb Cemetery is small, about the size of an average city lot.  It’s not much bigger than my front yard, surrounded on all sides by hardwood forest.  The woods are dense here, full of oaks as hard as the stones and boulders surrounding them.  Sometimes I think it looks like a bowling alley for drunken giants, with fallen trees scattered like pins everywhere, rocks strewn all around them like a child hurling his toys down a hill in a fit of glee to see how far they can roll.  It’s a gorgeous place, a quiet final resting place for people long gone, headstones dating back to the  early 1800’s.  There are old Civil War grave markers there, although no one knows who lies beneath them, the details of their lives long gone but the stories not forgotten.  The Missouri Department of Conservation has taken over the land but my dad’s family still maintains the cemetery, cutting the grass and tending the graves with care and respect.  Every Memorial Day the family comes and they clean the cemetery, straighten up what needs to be taken care of and have a prayer and a picnic under the pavilion near the edge of the woods.

My dad’s grandmother was a Clubb and on the way over he tells stories of his growing up, stories about these people now resting in this garden of stones, stories of people I had heard about but had no true connection to until my own mother was laid among them.  I sit on the back of the headstone where his brother Glenn lies and stare at my mother’s grave marker, feeling a multitude of feelings, memories and thoughts washing over me in waves.  My father is not comfortable with much display of emotion, so I do not cry when I am there with him.  I just sort of sit in The Big Empty of grief and listen to him talk.

They haven’t come out yet to chisel in the death date and this is beginning to irritate him.  He talks about needing to spread grass seed in the spring, because the heavy equipment tore up the earth in digging the grave.  These are not the manicured lawns you may be used to seeing if you live in a city or visit a large, professionally tended cemetery.  This is a small place in the middle of nowhere, surrounded in every direction by dense woods.  The way the funeral procession brought her over was almost five miles in the other direction, but still down that same red dirt road, dust blowing all over the hearse and cars behind it, ground as hard as the rocks in it after a long, dry summer.  I’m sure it took a lot to dig the grave and a lot was disturbed in the process.

My dad frets about the grass, channels his emotions into “doing,” a very instrumental griever.  He was a good caregiver for her in her final years and I think he is beginning to sort of live his own life again.  This gives me a sense of relief; I was not quite ready to begin taking care of him too, as selfish as that may seem.   I think about all of these things while he picks up sticks and small rocks and flings them into the roadside ditch.  His cousin and her son came over the morning my mom died and cleaned up the place, used a weed eater to make even the ditch and roadside look nice.  I love the country way of doing things, an interdependence here that makes it seem like family and community still really mean something.  The sense of it is tangible in small acts of kindness and respect, things I find tremendously reassuring in the midst of what at times seems like a world gone mad.  My mother would have been pleased.

The drive back is always easier than the drive over, the weight of the anticipation of seeing her fresh grave and the rush of feelings is always strong for me.  We pass the open fields again, remnants of old homesteads still evident by the stone chimneys seemingly rising up out of nowhere, by the random pump handle along the side of the road. No doubt water would still flow if you needed it, and I’m sure at times people do.  Deer and wild turkey abound here, as do deer and turkey hunters.  Cords of wood line the sides of the homes, for it is all they have to heat their houses in the winter.

The sky is stark, and I am mesmerized by it today for some reason.  It’s like an Ansel Adams picture come to life, still black and white, the trees as gray as the sky beyond them.  The occasional white branches of sycamores or the green of the pines and the cedars stand out against the cloud cover, making it seem almost surreal.  The sumac is tall this year, fodder for deer and other game, a glorious deep burgundy color with oval pods hovering tall above the thinner stems beneath them.  Soybeans and corn are staple commodity crops here and in recent years they have begun to grow rice as well.  Rice is a pretty crop, not one people think of as growing in southeast Missouri, but it grows in abundance here and is gorgeous to behold.  Some of the farmers have put in winter wheat and it is coming on, blanketing the otherwise barren landscape with swaths of emerald green, like an Irish angel sent to give some life to the otherwise quiet fields.

We passed a curious sight on the way back and my father actually stopped the truck.  Sidebar—for the uninitiated, there are only a few modes of transportation here, trucks and what you may think of as a car.  Here, however, they are not called cars.  For the most part, anything not called a truck or tractor is called a vehicle, and it is pronounced “vee-hick-ill.”  Do not confuse this or you will be confused when attempting to ride with someone.

So back to the topic at hand.  My dad actually stopped the truck and said, “Now, look at that.”

I wasn’t sure what I was looking at, so naturally I said, “What?”

“That,” he said, pointing to an open field.  A ratty old trailer was perched on stilts, high above a cornfield, near the edge of the woods.

“What’s that?” I asked again.

“Well, I imagine it’s his idea of a deer stand.”

“What’d he do it like that for?” I asked, innocently enough.

“Well personally, I think he’s ate up with the dumb-ass.  I mean, look at that.”

Now. Two things.  First, my father is 68 years old and has hunted and fished his whole life, in his younger years as much as for survival as for sport.  He has probably forgotten more about deer stands and deer hunting than I will ever know.  Or hope to, for that matter.  So I do not have the clinical training to ascertain if a ratty old trailer perched on stilts is a fitting deer stand or not.  But apparently not.

But as for the second part of this equation, I have worked in and around clinical mental health for years, hold a masters degree in a related field and make my living doing such things.  This is an area in which I feel qualified, or at least I pretend to be.  I can, therefore, assure you with no hesitation whatsoever that my father has a rare diagnostic ability when it comes to spotting anyone afflicted with the dreaded malady known as Being Ate Up With The Dumb-Ass.  If we had been in mixed company or around some of the churchier folks among us, mostly Baptists, he would have dumbed down his clinical assessment and said something like, “Well personally, I think the boy’s cheese done slid off his cracker.”

But it was just the two of us, so I got the full clinical evaluation and diagnosis.  If you have ever lived or worked with someone suffering from the dreaded malady known as Being Ate Up With The Dumb Ass (as you surely have), you know this is an affliction for which there no known cure.  Furthermore, the more you try to cure it, the worse it gets.  So in general it’s best to just leave it alone and let nature take its course, as it surely will.  Because the Universe is a kind, generous and largely harmonious place, I find that most people in this state of affairs are blissfully unaware of their condition and if no one tells them about it, they’ll never know.  Which often seems like the kindest way to handle it.

So we drove on, more relaxed than on the way over, pointing out the sumac and the cattle laying down, which indicates further “falling weather,” as it is called here.  It was cold, cloudy and we had just been to my mother’s grave.  I’ve been there many times since she died, but for the first time I felt relaxed afterward, in awe of nature and the turning of the seasons.   I laughed with my father on the way home from my mom’s grave.  Grief is its own medicine, and it was a beautiful day.

Hope yours is too!

Spiritual Fruits or Just Nuts?


Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading. Take down the dulcimer. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground. Let the beauty we love be what we do.   ~~Rumi

I love this picture, taken when the Christ the Redeemer statue was under construction.   One of the New Seven Wonders of the World, it was built in Rio di Janiero in the 1920’s and is huge, overlooking the whole city.  It captures how I so often feel on the path and I look at it from time to time to remind me of what it symbolizes to me in my own life….I often think of the words of Jesus telling me that the kingdom of heaven is within, that all is One, that we are safe and all is well.  We are not abandoned here, we are not alone here, all we have to do is plug into that larger place within us that is unobstructed, open, free, full of peace and love.  Pretty easy to say,  much harder to really practice.

A lot of times I feel like that picture…there might be a Christ within, but it is under construction most of the time.  My Buddha Nature is always available to me, say the teachers of the dharma, but I have to practice skillfulness in cultivating those seeds in order to really taste the fruit they bear.   Anyone who has ever really tried to work with this knows there is a reason they call it a practice 😉

I have had enough training from teachers of many paths to have a certain perspective on things, a certain approach, my own beliefs and so on.  I work with a lot of people on a lot of issues; there are a variety of reasons people seek out a coach or healer.  But underneath the presenting reason, I  believe we are all seeking healing which leads to union with God, with our true nature, with our essence.  I wrote about some of this in a few posts on the Blessings Blog, about distance healing and how that works, spiritually and physically.   True healing has evidence of the spiritual fruits and I believe taking daily bites  of our intended fruit just scatters those seeds out into the collective to benefit all.  But we have to be intentional about it in order to fully experience it.

It is my belief that how I feel or remember an experience has little to do with the qualities of the experience itself.  Some people leave our sessions feelings relaxed or energized, feeling happy or crying as grief releases.  I don’t see any of those as good or bad or right or wrong.  It’s just how you feel in the moment.  Healing and growth aren’t always comfortable, but they are always optional and not everyone chooses it.  So how an experience feels in the moment doesn’t tell me a lot about the experience itself–not everything that feels good is good.  Cocaine feels good in the moment and crying often doesn’t.  But that doesn’t mean snorting coke is good and crying is bad.  So we have to look for the fruits of an experience over time.

Buddhism and Christianity approach this in different ways, but work with the same qualities of discernment and fruition over time.  You really can tell a tree by its fruits and pear seeds  won’t grow into apple trees.  Both traditions tell us that if we practice prayer and meditation, working with our own process around seeking that Light, that heaven within, your Buddha Nature, or whatever else you may choose to call it, then you can predict certain fruits.

The Fruits of the Spirit are Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-control…

~~ Galatians 5: 22-23

The limitless qualities of loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity are your deep-down, ultimate reality,  and those are qualities that can’t be improved upon. If you’re not feeling particularly kind, compassionate, joyful, or equanimous at the moment, take heart: the Four Limitless Ones are there like seeds, waiting to be cultivated through practice—and, being limitless, they’re rich enough to be worked with for a lifetime.

~~Pema Chodron, Dharma Teacher

I find this incredibly encouraging.  I love that in every tradition, the teachers or prophets tell us we are good.  People or bad theology  may try to tell you something different, but that’s their own stuff–take it all with a grain of salt and look for the fruits.   This is why having community and teachers or spiritual directors is so important, why we are meant to grow together in community, rather than just try to figure this all out alone–sometimes our own stuff gets in the way and we either don’t hear valuable feedback to help us grow, we have our own blinds spots,  we can misunderstand something and turn it into a shame spiral.  Other people can provide valuable feedback,  but  it is important to be discerning about those fruits as well.  Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what someone else says or does, what matters is how I respond to that and what I choose to believe about myself as a result.

Healthy spiritual traditions and practices  tell me that if I am truly on the path, my love and compassion toward myself and others will grow, not diminish.  So how it feels in the moment may be uncomfortable or make me face my deepest fears– and that can be a good thing.  But pay attention to the fruits, because what I’m working with and looking for to discern if choices and experiences are good for me are the spiritual fruits.   I am seeking to cultivate the seeds of spiritual fruits, but honestly sometimes I’m just nuts.  So cocaine may feel good in the moment, but the fruits won’t be sweet over time.  Crying, looking at my own reactions to things or facing some hard truths in life  may be challenging and bring up a lot of grief or old feelings, but over time that can yield a lot of compassion, inner peace and joy.  These things are predictable and proven methods of discernment.

It’s nice to know that on this journey so many have come before me and will come after me.  It’s nice to know there are teachers, books, communities and practices to help me develop skillfulness, cultivate the fruits of the spirit and share that with others.   It’s so nice to know every tradition tells us we are already good and really just expected to be nice, to love, to extend love and kindness, mercy and forgiveness.  The Prophet Micah tells us,

He has showed you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God…

Yogi Bhajan reminds us,

Never compete, never compare and never confuse yourself with everything here. You have come from God. Be with your God and see the glory of God in all, big and small. God shall be with you.

Pema Chodron teaches on the Four Limitless Qualities,  reminding us that our basic goodness, our Buddha Nature, what others might call that Christ within, is always available to us because we already have those seeds planted within, we only have to nourish them.   I have a sign on my desk that reminds me, “Divine Peace and Love surround me and dwell in me.  I am safe and trust the process of  Life.”  I find that when I plug into the Divine Peace which always surrounds me and dwells within me, that I feel safe and can indeed trust the process of life.  But I have to practice it.  I have to decide which fruits I will choose to eat from today, which seeds I will nourish and cultivate over time.

I have a variety of Questions I ask the Blessings Coaching clients.  Here is a set related to these things….

Humans get angry or upset about a variety of things. What is upsetting to me may not be upsetting to you. What’s important to your spouse, boss, friends or family may not be important to you, or you may find a situation presents itself as the other way around.  Hurt feelings and reactions often result from unmet expectations and the fruits can be sweet or bitter.   Getting upset about certain things is human and normal—a full range of emotions is normal and healthy.  It’s when we get triggered and go to extremes in our unmindful reactions that it creates problems for self and others. So as I sit with these Q’s, what comes up in me?

1.  When I’m angry or upset, what do I do? Do I blow up or shut down? Do I just check out and run away—physically or emotionally leave?    Do I make choices or behave in ways I later regret?  Am I willing to take responsibility for this and change?

2. When I experience “negative” emotions about something or someone…anger, envy, jealousy, resentment, and so on, what do I do? Do I injure or harm myself or others?  Do I punish them physically, emotionally or spiritually?   Do I make it all about them? Do I spread gossip about them that is untrue? Do I slander them? Do I suddenly begin to speak ill of or blame someone I once praised? Do I ignore them?   Make snide remarks?  Engage in retaliation with destruction of property or something dear to them?  Do I retaliate with destruction of their reputation?  Do I lie to them in order to avoid them or my feelings about it?  If in a committed relationship, do I run up debt or spend money we don’t have to get even?   Am I willing to take responsibility for this and change?

3. If the uncomfortable feelings or negative emotions come into play and I am around children or animals, do I take it out on them? What about elders, children or people under my care or responsibility—do I abuse my authority and take it out on employees, helpless patients in a nursing home,  students in a classroom or the clerk at the gas station? Do I manage my own energy and emotions well, or does everyone feel my moods change and take cover from the storm?  Am I willing to take responsibility for this and change?

4. When I feel positive emotions like joy, for myself or others, can I celebrate that?  Can I celebrate the good fortunes of another, or does it turn into envy or resentment?  Can I celebrate my own good fortunes and my own life, or do I feel like I don’t deserve it and have to work harder than ever now?  Do I have balance between my ups and downs, or am I dependent on external circumstances for my own moods?  Am I willing to take responsibility for this and change?

5.  What do I do with myself when these things come up in me?   Do I run away, work more, drink more, eat more or less, hide in retail therapy or other addictions?  Can I just sit with the uncomfortable feelings without lashing out or shutting down?  Are the fruits of my experience bringing me to greater wholeness, or do they disintegrate me and create bitter fruit?  Do my reactions and behaviors when I am stressed create problems in my relationships, at work, and result in self-hatred, guilt or  shame for me later?  Am I willing to take responsibility for this and change?

6.  Am I willing to work on this, to take responsibility for myself and my life force?  Am I willing to grow and change?  If so, how?  When?  If not now, when?

These can be frightening questions, and are not meant to be worked through alone.  Find a teacher, a coach, a spiritual director, good therapist or community as you try to work through these things.  We are not meant to be here all alone, just working on these things for ourselves.  We are born into communities and what impacts one impacts all.  So know that working on these things and cultivating sweet fruit in life benefits not just you, but everyone.   If you have questions or would like more info,  feel free to make a comment or contact me directly.

Peace and blessings, have a great day!

🙂





Dealing with Difficult Relatives


Your friends, family and your love must be cultivated like a garden. Time, effort, and imagination must be summoned constantly to keep any relationship flourishing and growing.
-Jim Rohn

Hello all and Happy Late Thanksgiving!  Or maybe it’s Early-Merry-Happy-Whatever-You-Celebrate-This-Time-of-Year, I’m not sure.  I do know I’m not wishing anyone a Happy Black Friday 🙂  Whatever this time of year means for you and your family, I do know that what most of us want is Happy-Merry and what a lot of us feel is pressure or disappointment.  Contrary to what the Hallmark store tells you and Black Friday retailers want you to believe, this can be a stressful and sad time for some people.  I actually think it could be a much happier time of year if we weren’t all so pressured to make it a happy time of year.

I mean…really.  If you don’t see your family on, say the 4th of July, do you feel like you’ve missed out on something?  I think there is so much pressure on this particular holiday season because paradoxically it reminds of us of what we are missing, rather than what we have. I don’t mean to sound like Eyeore, I actually had a lovely Thanksgiving, the first big family gathering since my mom died in September.  It was a bittersweet day but there was actually a lot of freedom that came with it, to be honest.  We really mixed up the old traditions and a good time was had by all.   The funny thing is that I think she would be happy we did that now that she’s gone, but I also think she probably would have not wanted to change the tradition while she was still here.  Funny how that seems to work out.  I actually enjoyed the way we did it this year a lot more than how we’ve done it in the past and it was considerably less pressured.

So I’ve been thinking about family and what we seem to want this time of year as opposed to what we might give or get around the holidays.  Which leads me to something I read quite some time ago that I want to share in case it might be helpful.

Having said that….OK, so I admit it.  I’m not normally a reader of Max Lucado’s work.  He and I disagree on many things theologically in terms of belief and approach.  But this is a great piece and I have had so many chats lately with a lot of people feeling pain about the “hellidays,” family time, obligations and expectations, stresses and so on that I feel compelled to address it.  So, I thought I’d pass along something someone sent me about how Jesus dealt with his own family. Nothing original here…not in terms of what I’m posting, but also not in terms of the challenges we all face with the folks we want to love, or wish would love us.

It can be so painful for a lot of people this time of year…it’s lonely for many and the truth is that I think most of us wish for some version of Norman Rockwell when in truth we have some version of the Manson family.  So, as we go into a time that is intended to celebrate the harvest and abundance of another year, I thought I’d post this as a reality check.  Because if the guy a lot of people believe is God in the flesh wasn’t understood or appreciated by his family, then maybe it’s a little easier for us to let go some too…

So, even though I didn’t get here before Thanksgiving,  here’s my wish for all of you anyway….May you feel the blessings and peace of a loving and abundant universe.  May you live in peace and dwell in gratitude.  May you feel the arms of a loving God in the hugs of friends and family.  May you celebrate another year of bountiful, joyful harvest in your life.  May you giggle and chuckle, rest and play, eat, drink and be merry.  May you be blessed with good friends and a spiritual family that is deep, rich and wide. May you feel compassion for and peace with difficult relatives.  May we all experience love and forgiveness in our families. And, if you are so inclined, May you remember all for whom this time of year is painful and send them a few prayers and some of your own joy as well.  Thanks.  Peace and blessings to all…

With that, I leave you with Max Lucado…

Dealing with Difficult Relatives

by Max Lucado

Does Jesus have anything to say about dealing with difficult relatives? Is there an example of Jesus bringing peace to a painful family? Yes, there is.

His own.

It may surprise you to know that Jesus had a difficult family. If your family doesn’t appreciate you, take heart, neither did Jesus’.

“His family … went to get him because they thought he was out of his mind” (Mark 3:21).

Jesus’ siblings thought their brother was a lunatic. They weren’t proud—they were embarrassed!

It’s worth noting that he didn’t try to control his family’s behavior, nor did he let their behavior control his. He didn’t demand that they agree with him. He didn’t sulk when they insulted him. He didn’t make it his mission to try to please them.

Each of us has a fantasy that our family will be like the Waltons, an expectation that our dearest friends will be our next of kin. Jesus didn’t have that expectation. Look how he defined his family: “My true brother and sister and mother are those who do what God wants” (Mark 3:35).

When Jesus’ brothers didn’t share his convictions, he didn’t try to force them. He recognized that his spiritual family could provide what his physical family didn’t. If Jesus himself couldn’t force his family to share his convictions, what makes you think you can force yours?

Having your family’s approval is desirable but not necessary for happiness and not always possible. Jesus did not let the difficult dynamic of his family overshadow his call from God. And because he didn’t, this chapter has a happy ending.

What happened to Jesus’ family?

Mine with me a golden nugget hidden in a vein of the Book of Acts. “Then [the disciples] went back to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.… They all continued praying together with some women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and Jesus’ brothers” (Acts 1:12, 14, emphasis added).

What a change! The ones who mocked him now worship him. The ones who pitied him now pray for him. What if Jesus had disowned them? Or worse still, what if he’d suffocated his family with his demand for change?

He didn’t. He instead gave them space, time, and grace. And because he did, they changed. How much did they change? One brother became an apostle (Gal. 1:19) and others became missionaries (1 Cor. 9:5).

So don’t lose heart. God still changes families.

From He Still Moves Stones
Copyright (Thomas Nelson, 1999) Max Lucado

Bringing Compassion to Religion


Hello all!  This is a great TED talk by Karen Armstrong.  Well worth the time to watch.

Hope this finds all well, enjoy!

Here is her intro…

As she accepts her 2008 TED Prize, author and scholar Karen Armstrong talks about how the Abrahamic religionsIslam, Judaism, Christianity — have been diverted from the moral purpose they share: to foster compassion. But Armstrong has seen a yearning to change this fact. People want to be religious, she says; we should act to help make religion a force for harmony. She asks the TED community to help her build a Charter for Compassion — to help restore the Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) as the central global religious doctrine

Forgiveness and Priorities, Life and Death


True forgiveness isn’t colored with expectations that the other person apologize or change. Don’t worry whether or not they finally understand you. Love them and release them. Life feeds back truth to people in its own way and time—just like it does for you and me.        ~~Sara Paddison

Hello all, blogger slacker returns 🙂

I’m at my parental units home in The Middle Of Nowhere, MO for a bit.  My mom is in hospice and is declining steadily so I’m here with her for the duration.  I’ve been up with her most of the night, just being with this experience, being with her in the last few days of her life.   It’s a deep and rich time,  full of life and death and all the depth times like this hold.  It’s like being a midwife… full of extremes,  full of emotion, a time of holding on and letting go.  It’s  Bodhicitta at it’s finest.

One of many discoveries in this time is that when one’s mother is dying it also creates a sense of oneness with others who have walked this path before me.  It seems to open up a well of deep grief in us that is almost primal in nature.  I’ve heard many stories from people about their own mothers and their own journey down this path, pensive stories full of laughter and tears.   These conversations inevitably involve themes of love, sacrifice, priorities and forgiveness; many have talked about how making forgiveness a priority  is such an integral part of the journey and a good life.   I agree.   Forgiveness comes from words meaning “to allow,” and literally means “for giving.”  Naturally all of this emotion swirling around got me to thinking about feelings, what we do with them and about for-giving.

First and foremost, forgiveness does not mean accepting unacceptable behavior and it does not mean condoning abuse.  There is nothing “spiritual” about putting up with abusive behavior.  Compassion begins with self and good boundaries are compassionate to and for everyone.  But I do think forgiveness means to let go of my anger about someone’s unacceptable behavior.  Forgiveness means that I give up the hope of a better past for the more realistic hope of a better future.  As the saying goes, forgiveness is to set a prisoner free and then realize the prisoner was me.  I think when we forgive we give up the sense of being a victim so we can set ourselves and another person free.  Really what we are giving up is the sense that we have a right to continually punish someone for harming us.

I find a lot of people hold onto past hurts, thinking they will somehow lose a lesson if they forgive too soon.  My experience is that the opposite is actually true.  When we forgive,  we really give the lesson and resulting freedom to ourselves.  If I hold onto old hurts or abuse, the truth is that I’m the one hurting myself over time, not the original person I charge with the harm.   So when forgiveness becomes a priority for me  I can experience a deeper sense of overall freedom in every area of life.  I think the whole of the spiritual life can be summed up as let go, let go, let go.   Granted, some things are easier or harder to let go of or forgive than others.  But let’s get honest:  Sometimes I need to be forgiven too and at times the hardest person to forgive is me.  At the deepest level, I have come to believe that it doesn’t really matter what other people do.  What matters is how I respond to that and what I choose to believe about myself as a result.

Buddhists speak at length about the roots of suffering and happiness, and in cases of cruelty or harm, aspire for the wrongdoer,

May you experience happiness and the roots of happiness.  May you be free from suffering and the roots of suffering.

There is understanding and acknowledgment that harm has been caused, intentionally or not, but that holding onto it only creates more suffering.  There is acknowledgment that pain and betrayal are not just personal but also universal.   I’ve probably hurt others too, so maybe it’s best that we all experience happiness and the roots of happiness.  In cases of extreme cruelty or harm, the kindest thing that can be done for all is to be free of the roots of suffering and instead tend to the roots of happiness.

Christian scriptures tell us, “if you don’t forgive, you won’t be forgiven.”  Theologians and scholars tell us this does not mean God won’t forgive us, but the truth is that unforgiving people tend to be somewhat vengeful people and vengeful people tend to harm other people,  so round and round it goes.   So if I refuse to forgive you, it probably signifies a deeper wound or hurt  in me and if I can’t forgive myself for mistakes, I probably will find it hard to forgive others.  Holding onto that kind of hurt and resentment often results in depression, rage, or a soul-sucking detachment which separates us from God.  Therefore we don’t feel the love and mercy of the Divine because we don’t let it in.  It’s always there, but if I don’t let it in then I can’t experience it.  If I can’t experience it, I certainly can’t embody it or give it to you.

So I was thinking about all of that this morning…thinking about priorities,  thinking about the folks I know who make letting go and forgiveness a priority–the truth is that they are the happiest people I know, in spite of a lot of past pain.  I’m feeling a full range of emotions today, experiencing deep awareness… I’m almost too present, if that’s possible.  I’m watching my mother decline and observing how those around her deal with their own pain and fear about her passing.  It’s abundantly clear to me that in many ways their pain is much greater than her own.  She’s actually pretty comfortable and ready to let go and move on, like a weary traveler just wanting to get home.  Those left behind are the ones in the most pain, much of it related to the normal human fears of the unknown.   Sometimes  it’s hard to watch yet I find myself really wanting to stay present to it, looking for the balance between care-giving, clinical knowledge and my own feelings.

I was thinking about my mother’s grief about the death of her own mother, about how that is especially poignant in this time of her own decline.   My mother had more time with her mom than I will have, probably about 15 years longer than I will.  Ten years after the death of my grandmother,  we all still laugh about and grieve that powerhouse of a woman and  I think about all she had to endure and forgive.  She seemed to make forgiveness a priority and she had a lot of things she needed to forgive, from what I know about her life story.  But rather than use those things as excuses to put up walls or shut down, she instead used them as a means of prayer, of letting go, of moving on.  Not in denial, but in a choice of how she wanted to live.  God knows that wasn’t perfect or constant.  In spite of my memories of her as how Heaven would smell, she was quite human and had her own issues.  But she kept plugging along at it— she made it a priority.

I have been thinking about that a lot.  I’ve been sitting with my own feelings about all of this and thinking about all the relationships in my life.  The truth is that my experience is up to me,  so I’m working on making this time as peaceful and fluid as it can be– that’s my priority today.  I’m borrowing prayers today, and sending out a few of my own…I got a lot of calls this week from people going through a hard time…broken hearts, broken bones, broke and hungry, broken lives.   I’m observing all of this with keen interest and curiosity.  The veil is very thin today and as hot as it is here, the air feels crisp, like the first bite of green apples in the fall.

Given all of that, I had a chat with myself this morning about priorities and what is important to me.  Today my priority is loving-kindness to myself and others and, as of this writing at 6:00, I think I’ve done OK with that so far. But we’ll see. I don’t have enough coffee in me yet to do much damage.  But given all of that, I am making metta my priority today.  I’ve been practicing metta meditations for years.  There is a reason they call it a practice.  Metta basically means loving kindness.  If you’d like to learn more about all of this, you can read about it here.

This is part of the instructions from the Buddha to his followers about this practice…

Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings:
Radiating kindness over the entire world
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill will,                                                                                                                                   May all beings be at ease…

Today I am thinking about all of these things and about all the relationships in my life.  There are so many, and they are so good, and I am so grateful.  Today I aspire we all experience happiness and the roots of happiness.  May you be free from suffering and the roots of suffering. May you experience love and forgiveness, be clear about priorities and maybe give those around you an extra hug today.  May you live in peace,  love and experience giggles, joy and a boundless heart of happiness.

Peace and blessings 🙂

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