We’ve Moved!


Hello!  We have streamlined the Blessings Blog and this Blog into one main site, which can now be found at the main Blessings Enterprises site.

Thanks for stopping by, please visit us at Blessings Enterprises.

Peace

World Hunger Day Fast for Charity


Hello all! I know it’s been awhile!  Things are good here and I’ve been out living life instead of blogging about it.  More to come on a recent trip and much more.

In the meantime, I wanted to update you on some things that are coming in October.  This time of year is traditionally about honoring the cycle of the seasons, pausing to reflect on our abundance and blessings, and preparing for winter.    To call attention to the ways in which many people on the planet are unable to take part in the abundance of harvest, UN World Hunger Day is held every October.    Also called World Food Day in the US, it is a time to come together to move towards a solution to end world hunger.

I know, I know.  It’s a crazy time of year.  Some say it’s not possible to end something as huge as world hunger.  I say, we do not have a supply problem on this planet.  What we have is a distribution issue.  There is already more than enough to go around, for all of us.  Enough food.  Enough time.  Enough love.  Enough money.  Enough.  Enough to share.  Enough to know you are already blessed and abundant, right here, right now.  It’s more about mindfulness and awareness for most of us.  But for some, it’s only about being aware of their stomach growling, their physical hunger, their need for food, their need to feed their children.

I also think many of us hunger for much more than food, but often use food to fill the hole inside of us that says we aren’t good enough, that there isn’t enough for you to slow down and enjoy a meal or time with family.  I say there IS enough, and that there are many kinds of hunger.  I think a lonely, spiritual hunger can be as bad, if not worse, as physical hunger for many of us.  But above all, I believe in abundance and living as if there is already enough to go around for all of us.

It is in this spirit that we approach World Hunger Day.  This year, for this world wide event, we have partnered with one of our favorite charities, Micro-Financing Partners in Africa, also known as MPA.   MPA gives micro-loans to those living in extreme poverty, allowing them to start a small business and work their way out of what once seemed like an impossible situation.  Their tag line is we give a hand up, not a hand out,” and that captures it beautifully.  In Kenya, they give loans as small as a quarter in US currency (seriously, $.25 can change a life!) and these amazing women start a business and lift themselves out of poverty and the slums.  They do much more, including a cow project and a soy milk factory, and you can learn more about those projects here.

This year we have started a team through FirstGiving to raise awareness and money for MPA and World Hunger Day.  We are fasting for 36 hours, during the day October 19 and ending the fast the morning of October 20.  We always joke, “why do they call it a fast when it goes so slow?”  and yet there is a deep spiritual component to fasting.  All of the religions advise it, and most have sacred times of year built around fasting.  If you do not feel called to fast from food, or do not feel ready or able to do so, perhaps you could consider fasting from TV or the news or soda.  Several years ago during Lent, I fasted from self-criticism for 40 days and instead feasted on acceptance.  It was one of the most transformational experiences of my life.

So think outside the box on this one.  The purpose at one level is to support MPA, but at a much deeper level, it’s to face those hungers within, to get in touch with things you might not be aware of or maybe didn’t want to face until now.  You can do this in any way you’d like, but the key is to be aware of some kind of hunger and be in solidarity with those who experience hunger daily without a choice.

If you are interested, you can  can join me HERE or start your own team by going to the MPA website and looking at the Hunger Fast page.   Feel free to engage in some friendly rivalry with family, friends or colleagues on this one. You might be surprised how many relationships can be built and fostered through this sort of commitment.  I also invite you to not focus on food but on your abundance and gratitude, your ability to join in with something like this, and the opportunities we all have to offer a hand up to someone in need.

Blessings to you and your families this time of year!

Peace,

Terri 🙂

Ancient Paths, New Journeys


“Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls…”

~~Jeremiah 6:16

Hello all :)

A friend and I just returned from Santa Fe, where we did some hiking, some writing and a lot of playing.  We are working on a book about Spirituality and Grief, and I cannot think of a better place to ponder such things than the desert.

I snapped this picture near Skull Bridge, at the Continental Divide Trail (CDT)  near Abiquiu, New Mexico.  The Trail head is just over that bridge and heads south into the Rio Chamas Wilderness area, a gorgeous place no matter what time of year.  I wrote about another trip here in a post titled Smile at Fear if you are interested, you can read that entry from the Blessings Blog here.

It’s funny to me how small the world seems when I sit at my desk and type, when I can instantly communicate with someone in New Mexico or Australia, when I can click a few buttons and pretty much anything I want is at my fingertips.  But the world takes on whole new dimensions when you are actually out in it.  I am often filled with wonder and a deep sense of unease that it is easier to speak with someone hundreds of miles away via text  than it is to walk across the street to talk to a neighbor.   I have a house full of things  my grandmother’s generation was told would save time and make life easier and I suppose in some ways they do.  But time for what?  More work?  TV?   Stress?  Family and friends?  What do we do with this supposed extra time and ease we were granted?  We live in a world moving so fast that when something takes mere seconds I say it is moving slowly. But that’s when I’m inside, dealing with the non-human, unnatural world.   Traipsing around on a trail that literally runs from Mexico to Canada makes the whole thing suddenly come into a more realistic perspective.

One of the reasons I love hiking is that the planet truly takes on a whole new dimension when you are walking through it– deserts and woods are not like other places.   For one thing, they are huge, but more than that they are full of wonder and scenery, challenge and  solitude, hope and a sense that we are not alone.  Interestingly, when I get away from all the stuff that is supposed to save me time, I have all the time in the world.  When I get way from the hustle of the millions of people on the planet, the less alone I feel.  Wilderness trails  offer  a chance to reconnect to myself and in doing so I reconnect to my God as well. I love the water, but put me on a trail anywhere, especially in the mountains or the desert, and  I have found my bliss.  A path simply takes you from one civilized place to another, but a trail…Ah, a trail takes you from what we like to call civilization into the unknown.   I believe the further we travel into the Unknown, the more we travel the path the ancients knew led to the Heart.  By doing so, we allow the soul to take the ancient paths which lead to peace and rest.  I think of Augustine’s line,

My soul is restless, O God, until it finds rest in You…

There is something so comforting about knowing that just as this area on the CDT was traveled for centuries before Europeans “discovered” America, so too has the Path of Life has been journeyed for generations before me.  The Prophet Jeremiah wrote those words about ancient paths  sometime around 600 B.C.E.  We really haven’t changed that much in all of the years we’ve roamed this planet…we’ve always been restless, we’ve always sought rest for our weary souls.  Leaders and subjects come and go, tides ebb and flow, children are born and someday die in old age, relationships are complicated and endure, money is made and lost and on and on.  Cravings have always been with us, as has emotional pain and bliss, but time marches on and the search for meaning transcends generations.  This has always been the nature of humans and  I assume this will continue on long after I am gone from this body.  Our technology has changed, but deep down we all want the same things we’ve always wanted…health, love, safety, joy, freedom from suffering, the chance to live and love and enjoy those with whom we live and love.  These are the ancient paths we all walk, and while the details may change, the human story is pretty much the same over time.

The ancient paths are the ones I think we all long for in our depths…we all long to connect to ourselves and loved ones, to something greater than ourselves and to all Life can offer.   Tillich said the word “solitude” reflects the joy of being alone, while the word “lonely” reflects the pain of being alone.  We all need to have time alone to walk the path, to feel the pain and the joy of that “alone-ness” at times.  And while it is comforting to know others have gone before me and I am never alone, the truth is that it is still my path to walk and the choice is mine to walk it.  Growth is optional and not everyone chooses it, but that is also an ancient path.   Buddha said, “You cannot travel the path until you become the path itself,”  and I realize more and more how true that is.   As they say in Zen, the obstacle is the path, and we can only truly travel that path with an open heart.  What fascinates me is that we all have teachers and endless opportunities to open to the path, but we can only apply the lessons within if we choose to do so with an open heart and mind.  So we all travel the path, but our choices can lead to a path of heartache or one of joy.  As usual, discernment is the key.

What the ancients knew, that we all must learn, is that the good path will only open to us as much as we can or will give ourselves to it, without judgment of ourselves or others.  In doing so, eventually we find what all the mystics tell us over and over about the path…such as, we are not punished for our anger, but we can be harmed by our anger.  We are not rewarded for our good deeds, we are rewarded by them, including the ways in which our  immunity and our cellular structure becomes stronger and more resilient as we practice compassion and joy.  The deeper we go, the more love and humility and compassion we find,  thus the more rest we find for our weary souls, which leads to more compassion and humility.   I’ve come to believe essence of true humility is knowing I am neither too much nor too little, and that I don’t have to prove myself to anyone—even me.  But that was one of the lessons of my path, I didn’t come in with that understanding at all.  Like all of us, I grew into it and hopefully will learn to walk this path with a wise  heart.

Just as Jesus said to love one’s neighbor as self, and Buddha said there is no one more deserving of your love than you, we all have to walk the path of embracing our own goodness.  We have all faced demons and struggled on the path.  We have all embraced the path or run from it, not realizing it was all still the same path.  We have all had conflicts with parents or children, friends or bosses, teachers, lovers and maybe even someone we called an enemy.  But choosing the good path leads to rest, and a rested soul is a wise soul, and wise souls usually come to understand the conflict is within, not outside of us somewhere. Thus they seek the wise path of peace.

We all walk these ancient paths, and the paths often diverge into addictions and an experience of suffering.  The path always eventually leads to the same place of Home,  but not everyone knows to ask up front, “Which one is the good one?”  But the Universe, in all of its gracious abundance,  always lights the path before us until we know to ask, until the answers become clear.  Because this too is the nature of the path, leading us from one civilized place to another, ever offering the Light yet another day.  Gautama Buddha addressed this hundreds of years ago with his own disciples, hoping to shed a light on the path for them, yet hoping they would also take responsibility for illuminating it themselves.  He said to them,

All that we are is the result of what we have thought. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.

But do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

So today, for all of us standing  at the crossroads and asking, ‘Which one is the good way?’   I wish you peace and clarity, and rest for your souls.

peace :)

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.

The Power of Words


It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it…

This will take less than 2 minutes of your time, I promise you’ll be glad you watched!  🙂

Have a great day!

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!

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