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 :)

Advertisements

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.

You May Say I’m a Dreamer, But I’m Not The Only One…


Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you also refuse to hate him…                                   ~~Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor…        ~~Anne Lamott

Hello again!  I know, I know.   You don’t get a post for days on end and now two in one day.  How fortunate you are!  I just couldn’t let today pass without acknowledging Dr. Martin Luther King, so here it is.  There has been a great deal of recent media attention about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his famous  “I Have a Dream” speech.  I absolutely do not want to politicize this blog, but I would like to talk about the background of non-violent resistance and the spirituality of the choices we make to non-violently engage aggression or  oppression, in ourselves and with others.

Dr. King based a lot of his approach to non-violent civil disobedience on Quaker philosophy and Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of Ahimsa, which means non-violence in every aspect.   Ahimsa is the philosophy of total non-violence.  It refers not only to physical violence, but all violence– all cruelty, all unkind words, thoughts, values and behaviors toward self and others.  Teachers and committed practitioners of non-violence emphasize that peace begins within, with disciplined and mindful practices of prayer and meditation.  True peace involves cultivating skillfulness in these areas.  We cannot be peaceful toward others if we hold self-hatred in our hearts.  To love one’s neighbor as oneself means we must practice peace and self-love first; not in an indulgent, mindless way, but with true mindfulness and balance.   We must truly practice non-violence within first in order to extend that to our fellows.  We must be kind and gentle with ourselves first if we are to ever be consistently kind and gentle with others.

Gandhi struggled  with what to name this movement of active resistance and eventually coined a term he called Satyagraha.   Satya means truth, the equivalent of love, and both are attributes of the soul.  Agraha is firmness or insistence.  Satyagraha is therefore translated as Soul Force.  Gandhi wrote, “Satyagraha is the vindication of truth not by infliction of suffering upon an opponent, but on one’s self.  The opponent must be weaned by patience and sympathy…”

Weaned, not crushed or in anyway violated or retaliated against.  A true adherent of Ahimsa shows the patient love of a mother to endure pain for the greater good of the birth of a beloved child.   Soul Force assumes peace is possible and returns good for evil until the evildoer grows weary of the evil itself.  That’s amazing to most of us and a life-long practice for anyone who seriously believes in this practice.

Some of the great Gandhi thoughts on this philosophy and his beliefs can be summed up in these quotes…

When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall — think of it, ALWAYS. …Non-violence is the article of faith…It is easy enough to be friendly to one’s friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business… Hatred can be overcome only by love…

Buddhism, Hinduism, the Christian Gospels and the Religions of the Book all teach peace at their core.  Gandhi understood this and thus his  ideas and practices were based on the Hindu scriptures from the Gita and from the Sermon on the Mount.  Dr. King and many others have followed those examples throughout the ages.  With that in mind, a few thoughts on the Sermon on the Mount…

Matthew 5: 38-42

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.  But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles….”

These verses are taken from the Sermon on the Mount, a sermon in which Jesus addressed an oppressed people.  Many consider the Sermon on the Mount to be the key address on Christian non-violence.  It’s important to note that the people hearing this sermon were not rich and powerful;  they were the poor, oppressed and downtrodden subjects of an occupying military force, as well as people oppressed by their own religious authorities.  They were tired; they were in need of a Voice which told them they were loved and worthy, a Voice to speak of a deeper truth of Love, a Voice which reminded them, “You are the Light of the World.”   They were abused by the rich and powerful every day.  What Jesus is advocating in this passage is about social justice, but in a manner which emphasizes non-violent active resistance to a violent system.

The phrase, “do not resist an evil person.  If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also,” refers to the custom of the day and meant more to them then than it means to us now. A better translation of this from the Greek  is “do not meet  violence with violence.” This is not instruction to passively accept brutality or injustice, it is instead encouraging a courageous stand which exposes the violence.   During that time, the master or slave-owner had the right to strike the subject or slave on the right cheek—but only the right cheek, with the back of the right hand.  To strike the left cheek would indicate a loss of temper or control and bring shame upon the one doing the hitting.  But since it is impossible to strike the left cheek with the back of the right hand, what Jesus is advocating here is exposing the violence, but doing so non-violently.

The next instruction, “And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well…” refers to the time in which they lived and more customs of the day. At that time, the wealthy and those in power abused their authority by suing the poor and oppressed who literally had nothing but the clothes on their back.  The court would then say the person had to forfeit their tunic, leaving them essentially standing in their underwear in court.  What Jesus is saying is that if they want to try to humiliate you through abuse of power, to again resist non-violently and expose the violence.  Be empowered but do so through your own sense of internal power, of knowing  you are valuable and worthy as a child of God, but do not resist the evil of abuse with more violence.  So if they want to strip you of all you have—fine.  Counter with stripping down in court and exposing it all, literally.  But do so from a position of non-violent empowerment, not angry retaliation.

The next line, “if someone forces you to go a mile, go two miles...” is part of an expression we use all the time without understanding its context.  The Romans were an occupying force of that time and under the law a Roman soldier could force a person, usually an oppressed subject, to carry his pack one mile.  While this might not sound like a big deal, it was abuse of power with serious consequences.  The poor laborers of that time worked each day for their money and bought food for their families each night with their earnings.  So to force a man to carry a heavy pack a mile meant he would then have to turn around and walk back to town, ensuring he would miss a day of work; this meant he and his family would therefore go hungry that night.  Going the extra mile was again a way to expose the violence of the oppressor and be empowered in doing so, but again to choose to expose the injustice and violence through non-violent means.

There is much more to the Sermon on the Mount, as well as to the philosophy of non-violence called ahmisa.  I will cover some of that in a future post, but for now, if you have never watched the full I Have a Dream speech, you can do so in the video below.  It’s about 17 minutes long, so give yourself the time to really sit with it, and maybe ponder a few questions….

What are your dreams?  Are you willing to work toward them without force,  starting with yourself?  Are you ever forceful or violent toward yourself or others?  Do you practice self-hatred or self-oppression which leads to aggressive behavior with yourself and others?  Will you turn the other cheek with that voice inside that may be the oppressor and gently wean it from the harshness with which you speak to yourself?  Are you violent and aggressive with yourself while you smile and pretend life is good, do you act as if all is well when you are enduring great pain inside?   Does life have to be forced and perfect, or can you strive for an excellent peace? Can you cultivate inner peace and share that with others?

What are your dreams today?  What keeps you from your peace?

If you would like to work on any of these things this year, call or email me and we can explore your dreams in our sessions.  We may be dreamers, but we are not the only ones…

If you have never taken the time to watch the full “I have a dream” speech, it is worth the time.

peace 🙂

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!

🙂





The Mountain Remains…


I am always with all beings, I abandon no one.  And however great your inner darkness, you are never separate from Me.   Let your thoughts flow past you calmly.  Keep Me near, at every moment.  Trust Me with your life, because I Am you, more than you yourself are…

~~~Bhagavad Gita

Hello all!  Blogger Slacker returns like a thief in the night, surprise!  A lot has been happening, and the truth is I’ve been living this life instead of blogging about it.  But I wanted to come by so the Spirituality blog and our dear readers don’t get too lonely 🙂

We signed my mom into hospice last week and I’ve been coming and going a lot.  I was thinking about all of this stuff the last time I was down there, and this post was the favorite of many, so I’m going to re-run it.  I wrote this post last summer and the funny thing is that not much has changed, but everything has changed.  Not much is different, but it’s all so different.  And such is the nature of life.  And so the mountain still remains…Enjoy 🙂

~~~

I spent the last few days with my parental units, in a little town in Southeast Missouri.  This is an area I blogged about last week when I was thinking of my grandmother and my memories of smells, heaven and so on.  Lest I sound too romantic, the other reality is that this area located in the buckle of the bible belt boasts some pretty startling stats:  Highest illiteracy rates in the state.  Nearly 30% of children and seniors live below the poverty line.  A neighboring county claims the state prize for the most arrests for operating meth labs  and is rampant with child abuse and domestic violence, drug abuse and alcoholism.  It is literally in the middle of nowhere, a dot on a state road map  in the foothills of the Ozark mountains.  My cell phone doesn’t work because it is so far from civilization and if there is ever an emergency, there is no ambulance service.  You buy into a 911 package that allows a helicopter to transport you to a hospital about 50 miles away.

This is an area about an hour from a hospital, an hour from a major grocery store or movie theater, an area settled centuries ago by native mound builders and which later experienced some fierce fighting and plundering during the Civil War.  The Trail of Tears was prominent all through this area and various Indian tribes lived there for centuries before the Europeans arrived.  Much of my ancestry can be traced to the Irish  who settled there then married Cherokees who managed to escape from the Trail and find a new life in those rugged hills.  An old Civil War road runs along a ridge toward the back of their property, a heavily wooded area full of deer and other game, birds and bugs and snakes of all stripes.  In the cemetery where my father’s mother is buried, about two miles back on a dirt road, there is a large hand carved stone, noting only that it is at the head of a mass grave of slaves and Indian mound builders.  No one seems to have other information, but it has always fascinated me.  So it’s not exactly Heaven on paper, but I actually believe Heaven is within, regardless of where I may or may not be.  And besides– God I love it there.  It’s nature at its best;  the people, landscape and its inhabitants wild and untamed, with rolling hills and valleys, which in this part of the world are referred to as “hollers.”

During this trip, we made pickles and tomato juice with ingredients straight from the garden, ran a few errands and I worked in the yard some.  This is my favorite part, the garden and cutting acres of grass.  My father has some big lawn mower things that are nicer than one of the cars I owned in college, a ratty old 4-speed copper colored Datsun  my friend Tom affectionately referred to as “The Turd.”   I learned pretty quickly as a child that if you are cutting grass or doing dishes, people just leave you alone to do your own thing.  This remains true even now. So I like to cut the grass.

Going to their place is always an adventure.  The drive down takes close to 3 hours and rolls through some gorgeous country, through little towns and hamlets named after characters and areas from the Bible, after people long forgotten other than a passing through their creeks or farms.   Yet these mountains and valleys remain, solid witnesses to the passage of time.   I thought of my grandmother a lot on the way down and her uncanny ability to predict the weather, among other things.  She swore that if the cows were laying down (which they were on Thursday) it was a sign of  “falling weather,” and to expect rain or snow or whatever seasonal precipitation falls that time of year.  For the record, the cattle were all sprawled out like college kids after a drinking binge, but the skies were sunny and  earth-bound blue, with no rain in sight.

So these are things you can’t help but notice on the way down.  Part of what I like about going is that I’m never sure what I might end up doing while I’m there.  My mother is not in good health  but is in this Energizer Bunny Holding Pattern, just sort of plugging along.  My clinical brain knows that one of these days, probably sooner rather than later, the batteries in the Bunny will stop working and she’ll sign into hospice.  When that time comes, I’ll go down there for the duration, but for now I just come and go and do what I can.   And when I can, I cut the grass and admire the rolling hills, these foothills of the Ozark mountains.

So I tooled around on the Cadillac of lawn mowers, very Zen-like.  Well, Zen-like other than being lost in thought.   But at least Buddhist in the sense of mostly being really present to the moment.  I love watching the birds dive into areas I just cut, scooping up the bugs that bounce around like kids in bumper cars, scattering wildly to escape the whirring blades.  I love watching the clouds come and go, love hearing the cicadas sing their bluesy summer songs, love the heat and sun, love the ways the earth seems to stand still and move so  steadily at the same time.  The snakes really will leave you alone if you return the same courtesy and they provide the valuable service of keeping the mice and bugs away, so there is a general sense of “live and let live,” which is fine with me.

So I cut grass and soak up sun and sometimes I’m so present to the moment that it aches.  So many people I know are feeling apart from the Divine right now, so apart from who they believe themselves to be, so soul-weary.  I watch my own mother and remember the hundreds of people I worked with in hospice, knowing that you can hold onto life for a long time, but eventually you just become a weary traveler wanting to get home.   I was thinking of the verse from the Gita I listed above and many others, just letting the blades whir around and letting the sun melt some of my own thoughts away.  The Gita is part of the Hindu Scriptures and translates as “The Song of God.”  I love the passage that says God is more me than I am.   I love thinking that I am One with the Divine and those mountains, with all that is happening, all that is so big and small, so real and so surreal.

Later, as one storm after another brought the most ominous looking clouds and dark skies, pounding rain, thunder and lightening vibrating the house and illuminating the mouth of the George Ward Holler (I have no idea who George Ward was, but the storms always come through the valley of his old farm) near their home,  I thought of my grandmother and of how the storms in our own lives just roll through like that.  Some sun, some rain, and usually some warnings for dark skies if we are paying attention, even if that is cows laying down on a hot afternoon.   But then that passes through too, dripping with much needed nourishment for the soils of our souls, lit up, maybe even shaken or stirred a bit. This weekend reminded me of all of these things, and I thought about it a lot.   Mostly the skies in this life are clear, but clouds pass through, that’s just part of it too.  But doing this inner process in deep communion with the Earth makes it more do-able for me and reminds me of a passage from the Prophet Isaiah,

You shall go out in joy, and be led forward in peace; the mountains and hills will break forth before you in singing, and all the trees of the fields will clap their hands…

So I thought about all of that while I mowed and cleaned and made sweet pickles and tomato juice, trying to soak up time like a sponge, feeling it slipping through the hourglass, knowing you can’t hold onto anything or it just cuts as you try to grasp it, feeling time pass with a sense of Amazing Grace.  I find the only way to do this time (or any time, for that matter) is to be present as much as possible– so present that it aches a little…but there is also so much joy there, and that grabs you too.  The Buddhist word for that place is Bodhicitta, which the Dharma teacher Pema Chodron describes as “the soft spot.”   Volumes have been written about this, but it’s basically that soft place inside all of us that holds some pain, some joy, some tenderness, like an old scar that never fully heals.  And all you can do is touch it lightly, like painting a prayer on a cobweb, holding it all in the tenderness of a mother with a sick child, knowing that you are the mother and child all at once.

There is something powerful about that soft spot, knowing it is as eternal as the mountains and valleys, knowing that mountain remains in spite of its own soft spots and pounding rains.  There is something really comforting about the eternal yet so very temporal nature of time and the passage of it, something so very comforting about the deeply personal nature of this time and the universal nature of it as well.    At some point we all experience death–hopefully we all experience a life.  That’s really my primary aspiration with all of this, to be so present to all of my life that it aches, but to take this life, as shaken and stirred as it may feel at times, and really live it.

The poet Li Po pondered these same things, as we all have throughout lifetimes and the ages.  Yet the mountains remain, a witness to our grief and joys, to knowing no matter how dark it feels, we are One.  Nearly 1300 years ago in China Li Po wrote, possibly on a weekend like this one,

The birds have vanished into the sky

And now the last cloud drains away.

We sit together, the mountain and me,

Until only the mountain remains…

So tonight I sit, honoring mountains and time, watching the clouds drain away.  And like clouds in the sky,  we all  pass through, changing forms and moods like the weather, always changing, always eternal, always One with All That Is.   And the mountain remains.

Night moon.

Night stars.

Peace 🙂






What Love Is


Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres….And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

~~1 Corinthians 13

 

Today’s post is a direct cut and paste from What Love Is, by Ayya Khema, a Dharma Teacher.  Born in Berlin of Jewish parents in 1923, Ayya Khema escaped Nazi Germany in 1938  to Glasgow. She joined her parents two years later in Shanghai, where the family was put into a Japanese POW camp  in which her father died.  Four years after her camp was liberated, Ayya Khema emigrated to the United States where she married and had two children. While traveling in Asia from 1960 to 1964, she learned meditation and in 1975, began to teach. Three years later she established Wat Buddha Dhamma, a forest monastery in the Theravada tradition near Sydney, Australia. In 1979 she was ordained as a Buddhist nun in Sri Lanka. She is currently the spiritual director of BuddhaHaus in Oy-Mittleberg, Germany, which she established. She has written numerous books in English and German, including Being Nobody, Going Nowhere and When the Iron Eagle Flies.

I’ve thought a lot about “love” lately and what it means to really love and love well.  I wrote some thoughts on this a few months ago in a post entitled Love is Kind.  You can find that here if you are interested.  More and more I realize it is only middle and upper class people who demand to pray or meditate in clean, “spiritual” places.  People have prayed and felt love in concentration camps, mine shafts, wide open prairies, ghettos and slums since the beginning of time.  Love has always been with us and can always be if we choose it.  I find a great deal of inspiration from Jesus, Buddha, Mother Theresa and many other teachers, but honestly at times they seem very removed from my daily life, perhaps “not understanding” what I might be up against.   Reading teachings by Ayya Khema and others who have come through experiences like hers somehow makes distant teachings seem more present, accessible and real.  There is no real new information here…all of the great teachers and sages tell us the same things again and again.  But today, when our country spends millions of dollars on cheap chocolate and Hallmark, I thought I might pass along a wonderful reading on What Love Is.  Enjoy!

~~~~~

MOST PEOPLE are under the impression that they can think out their lives. But that’s a misconception. We are subject to our emotions and think in ways based on our emotions. So it’s extremely important to do something about our emotions. In the same way as the Buddha gave us the Four Supreme Efforts for the mind, he also outlined the Four Emotions for the heart.  The Four Emotions–lovingkindness (metta), compassion (karuna), joy with others (mudita), and equanimity (upekkha)–are called the “divine abodes.” When we have perfected these four, we have heaven on earth, paradise in our own heart.

I think everybody knows that above us is the sky and not heaven. We have heaven and hell within us and can experience this quite easily. So even without having complete concentration in meditation and profound insights, the Four Divine Abodes enable us to live on a level of truth and lovingness, security, and certainty, which gives life a totally different quality. When we are able to arouse love in our hearts without any cause, just because love is the heart’s quality, we feel secure. It is impossible to buy security, even though many people would like to do so. Insurance companies have the largest buildings because people try to buy security. But when we create certainty within, through a loving heart, we feel assured that our reactions and feelings are not going to be detrimental to our own or other people’s happiness. Many fears will vanish.

Metta–the first of the Supreme Emotions–is usually translated as “loving kindness.” But loving-kindness doesn’t have the same impact in English that the word love has, which carries a lot of meaning for us. We have many ideas about love. The most profound thought we have about love, which is propagated in novels, movies, and billboards, is the idea that love exists between two people who are utterly compatible, usually young and pretty, and who for some odd reason have a chemical attraction toward each other-none of which can last. Most people find out during the course of their lifetime that this is a myth, that it doesn’t work that way. Most people then think it’s their own fault or the other person’s fault or the fault of both, and they try a new relationship. After the third, fourth, or fifth try, they might know better; but a lot of people are still trying. That’s usually what’s called love in our society.

In reality, love is a quality of our heart. The heart has no other function. If we were aware that we all contain love within us, and that we can foster and develop it, we would certainly give that far more attention than we do. In all developed societies there are institutions to foster the expansion of the mind, from the age of three until death. But we don’t have any institutions to develop the heart, so we have to do it ourselves. Most people are either waiting for or relating to the one person who makes it possible for them to feel love at last. But that kind of love is beset with fear, and fear is part of hate. What we hate is the idea that this special person may die, walk away, have other feelings and thoughts-in other words, the fear that love may end, because we believe that love is situated strictly in that one person. Since there are six billion people on this planet, this is rather absurd. Yet most people think that our love-ability is dependent upon one person and having that one person near us. That creates the fear of loss, and love beset by fear cannot be pure. We create a dependency upon that person, and on his or her ideas and emotions. There is no freedom in that, no freedom to love.

If we see quite clearly that love is a quality that we all have, then we can start developing that ability. Any skill that we have, we have developed through practice. If we’ve learned to type, we’ve had to practice. We can practice love and eventually we’ll have that skill. Love has nothing to do with finding somebody who is worth loving, or checking out people to see whether they are truly lovable. If we investigate ourselves honestly enough, we find that we’re not all that lovable either, so why do we expect somebody else to be totally lovable? It has nothing to do with the qualities of the other person, or whether he or she wants to be loved, is going to love us back, or needs love. Everyone needs love. Because we know our own faults, when somebody loves us we think, Oh, that’s great, this person loves me and doesn’t even know I have all these problems. We’re looking for somebody to love us to support a certain image of ourselves. If we can’t find anybody, we feel bereft. People even get depressed or search for escape routes. These are wrong ways of going at it.

IN THE spiritual path, there’s nothing to get, and everything to get rid of. The  first thing to let go of is trying to “get” love, and instead to give it. That’s the secret of the spiritual path. One has to give oneself wholeheartedly. Whatever we do half heartedly, brings halfhearted results. How can we give ourselves? By not holding back.  By not wanting for ourselves. If we want to be loved, we are looking for a support system. If we want to love, we are looking for spiritual growth.  Disliking others is far too easy. Anybody can do it and justify it because, of course, people are often not very bright and don’t act the way we’d like them to act. Disliking makes grooves in the heart, and it becomes easier and easier to fall into these grooves. We not only dislike others, but also ourselves. If one likes or loves oneself, it’s easier to love others, which is why we always start loving-kindness meditations with the focus on ourselves. That’s not egocentricity. If we don’t like ourselves because we have faults, or have made mistakes, we will transfer that dislike to others and judge them accordingly. We are not here to be judge and jury. First of all, we don’t even have the qualifications. It’s also a very unsatisfactory job, doesn’t pay, and just makes people unhappy.

PEOPLE OFTEN feel that it’s necessary to be that way to protect themselves. But what do we need to protect ourselves from? We have to protect our bodies from injury. Do we have to protect ourselves from love? We are all in this together, living on this planet at the same time, breathing the same air. We all have the same limbs, thoughts, and emotions. The idea that we are separate beings is an illusion. If we practice meditation diligently with perseverance, then one day we’ll get over this illusion of separation. Meditation makes it possible to see the totality of all manifestation. There is one creation and we are all part of it. What can we be afraid of? We are afraid to love ourselves, afraid to love creation, afraid to love others because we know negative things about ourselves. Knowing that we do things wrong, that we have unhappy or unwholesome thoughts, is no reason not to love. A mother who loves her children doesn’t stop loving them when they act silly or unpleasant. Small children have hundreds of unwholesome thoughts a day and give voice to them quite loudly. We have them too, but we do not express them all.

So, if a mother can love a child who is making difficulties for her, why can’t we love ourselves? Loving oneself and knowing oneself are not the same thing. Love is the warmth of the heart, the connectedness, the protection, the caring, the concern, the embrace that comes from acceptance and understanding for oneself. Having practiced that, we are in a much better position to practice love toward others. They are just as unlovable as we are, and they have just as many unwholesome thoughts. But that doesn’t matter. We are not judge and jury. When we realize that we can actually love ourselves, there is a feeling of being at ease. We don’t constantly have to become or pretend, or strive to be somebody. We can just be. It’s nice to just be, and not be “somebody.” Love makes that possible. By the same token, when we relate to other people, we can let them just be and love them. We all have daily opportunities to practice this. It’s a skill, like any other.

….I hope this finds everyone resting in Big Love today!!!! 🙂

 

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: