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!

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 🙂






Be Still And Know …


Be still and know I Am God…

~~Psalm 46:10

Hello all 🙂   Blogger slacker strikes twice in a week, how bout that?

I’ve had lots of calls and emails this week about things going on in Japan, in the States, in personal and professional lives…lots of stress for people right now.  In times of stress–and I realize this is counter-intuitive for some folks–but in times of stress, I think it’s helpful to remember that usually the best thing we can do is get quiet, regroup, get still and just breathe.  It is only in the present moment that you can  hear the still, small voice whispering in your ear… kind things, loving things, reassuring things, helpful things.  That other voice…the one taunting you about mistakes of the past or fears of the future, the one that says you must be perfect, accomplish more in a day, hold on tighter, work harder, run faster and not rest…that is the voice of the oppressor, not the voice of the Divine. In this time of global tragedy, upheaval, turmoil and unrest, I think some deep breaths are in order.

So I was thinking that perhaps a gentle reminder to listen to the still, small Voice might be helpful today.  One of my favorite reminders  comes from The Vision of Enoch, found in a larger text called the Essene Gospel of Peace.  I’ll let the scholars and archeologists and theologians hash out what they believe is true or not true or authentic about the origin or intention of that piece of literature.  I’m honestly not concerned about that so much, I’m much more interested in the sweetness  of the content.  This is one of my favorite prayers and regardless of origin, I think no prayer is ever wasted.

So with that in mind….May you find the Vision of Peace  within.  May you hear a still, small voice whispering that you are good, that you can rest, that you can know and be known, that you  are safe and all is well.  If you are so inclined, feel free to share that stillness and rest with others, or at least aspire that they can also experience that level of peace and rest.  Be still and know Divine peace and love surround you and dwell within you and that you can trust the process of life.  Be gentle with you, have a great day and remember to breathe.  And enjoy Enoch! 🙂

THE VISION OF ENOCH

God Speaks to you

I speak to you.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I spoke to you
When you were born.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I spoke to you
At your first sight.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I spoke to you
At your first word.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I spoke to you
At your first thought.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I spoke to you
At your first love.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I spoke to you
At your first song.
Be still
Know I am
God.

I speak to you
Through the grass of the meadows.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I speak to you
Through the trees of the forests.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I speak to you
Through the valleys and the hills.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I speak to you
Through the Holy Mountains.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I speak to you
Through the rain and the snow.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I speak to you
Through the waves of the sea.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I speak to you
Through the dew of the morning.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I speak to you
Through the peace of the evening.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I speak to you
Through the splendor of the sun.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I speak to you
Through the brilliant stars.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I speak to you
Through the storm and the clouds.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I speak to you
Through the thunder and lightning.
Be still
Know
I am
God

I speak to you
Through the mysterious rainbow.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I will speak to you
When you are alone.
Be still
Know
I am
God

I will speak to you
Through the Wisdom of the Ancients.
Be still
Know
I am
God

I will speak to you
At the end of time.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I will speak to you
When you have seen my Angels.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I will speak to you
Throughout Eternity.
Be still
Know
I am
God

I speak to you.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

Showers of Mercy (rerun)


Surely Goodness and Mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of God forever…

~~Psalm 23

Hello all 🙂  I’m going to be off the grid the next several days, but I wanted to do another 2010 post before I leave.  It seems like a good time for a few “best of” posts, so here ya go…  It is interesting to me that I originally posted this one in July, but I won’t have to change a single word for it to be applicable again today.  A lot of folks are having a rough time right now, it’s been a deep year for a lot of people.  I think that given the year a lot of folks have had, being reminded of goodness and mercy might be good thing.

I love that part of the 23rd Psalm, I love thinking that the deepest qualities of the Divine–Goodness, Love and Mercy–are always with me.  I love knowing Love is the House of God and I am always in that house.  I love knowing that even with all the pain and fear we all experience in a lifetime, there is also goodness and mercy.  There is something comforting to me about knowing these qualities have been around as long as humans have roamed this earth.  Even things that feel so personal are also so universal, and there is something deeply comforting to me in that.

I hope this finds all of you experiencing Showers of Mercy today….without further ado, here is your holiday double dip ;)…

I’ve gotten a few 911 calls this morning from people in crisis or pain. This is such a deep time for people, it seems like everyone I know and most of my clients are in some kind of relationship shift, some kind of transition or deep grief. Lots of people are sick, lots of things are in a big transition. I am acutely aware of the pains and joys of the people in my inner circle and beyond…aware that like the breath rising and falling, life ebbs and flows, ever moving into something new and different. But the memories linger, the hopes and dreams and hurts and forgiveness become part of the fabric that is the weave of our lives, and I am always amazed by the way the taste of those things remain, lightly sweet yet heavy on the tongue.

As I am witness to the journey of others today, I am also thinking a lot about my grandmother. She’s been gone 9 years, the anniversary of her death is this week. I have never known a woman with more ancient wisdom about people, lumber, the growing of crops, of plants and what to do with them. She was a sharecropper and a child in the Depression, and could make anything out of nothing. She chopped cotton for years, worked in a saw mill for much of her life and somehow raised 9 kids on, as the expression goes down South, “spit and baling wire.” Everything she cooked seemed to have gravy on it, everything just tasted better at her house. She could take a cut rose (usually from a funeral arrangement, no less) and 1/2 a potato and — I’m not making this up– dig a hole and put them in the earth together and end up with a rose bush. I have tried this at least a dozen times and I just end up with a dead rose and a stinky potato. I’ve asked other family members about this–they all remember that she could do it, but no one knows how she did it.

I think wisdom is like that…not just knowledge, although that’s part of it. But a true wisdom of the ages, an understanding of how to do things that is simply long gone. Yet just because something is ancient, it doesn’t mean it’s obsolete. I watch myself and many others of my generation relearn things about gardening and sustainability that she just lived because it was what they did then. She was from a time that has entered the larger flow of history and is a distant memory for those left from her generation. She lived through an abusive husband, through wars and the development of antibiotics, through the advent of television and ballpoint pens, through computers and space travel and life and death and things that would destroy most people.

So this morning, I’m thinking of her and all those who knew and loved her, and all of us who love and have lost someone we love. Certain people leave a lingering taste on the lives of others, a smell and a sound that is always present, ripples in the waters of our souls that just keep echoing out into all we become. If I believed in Heaven, I would believe it smelled like her house and tasted like her cooking. It would smell like beans and cornbread, biscuits and bacon, fresh air and cookies, it would smell like wood stoves and sweet tea and a scent that was hers alone. It would have that same quality of light, that ringing laughter that made anyone with her laugh even more, a full-on delightful laughter that made babies grin and giggle. Even at the end when she was in hospice, she had the same quality of light…that mystical quality twilight has about this time in the summer when the fireflies are dancing in the fields, bestowing upon us a shower of grace and wonder as time rolls by; the quality Light has as a life becomes a memory but the love remains, ever-present, ever accessible, ever with us.

As is the nature of my stream of consciousness, this led me to thinking about other things, which led me to thinking about George Washington Carver (I realize this is quite a leap, but just try to follow the bouncing ball). Someone once asked him how he figured out so many things about peanuts and what to do with them. His response, “Anything will share its secrets with you if you love it enough,” is so beautiful, so instructive. I think this is why my grandmother ended up with rose bushes and I ended up with a pile of compost. She lived with and in her life, not at it. She went through a lot in her life, saw a lot, learned a lot, finished her GED when one of her daughters graduated from high school, made do and thrived on it. She is remembered fondly by all, and we still laugh about her laugh and how much we miss it. Stories about people don’t get a great deal better than that.

So that led me to thinking about a quote by Rabindranath Tagore, “If you cry because the sun has gone out of your life, your tears will prevent you from seeing the stars.” She saw the sun and stars in everything and I just love that about her.

So today, when so many are having such a hard time, and I remember one of the beloved people in my life with sweet sadness but a big smile, I think of another Tagore poem, a beautiful prayer…

“My God, when the heart is hard and parched up, come upon me with a shower of mercy. When grace is lost from life, come with a burst of song.

When tumultuous work raises its din on all sides shutting me out from beyond, come to me, sweet God of silence, with your peace and rest.

When my beggarly heart sits crouched, shut up in a corner, break open the door, my king, and come with the ceremony of a king.

When desire blinds the mind with delusion and dust, O holy one, ever wakeful, come with your light and your thunder…”

To those experiencing grief today, we hold you in the tenderness of hope and joy, of compassion and sweet silence, of peace and rest. May you experience ever present showers of mercy and find the comfort of the ages in it. Above all, may you love something enough for it to tell you all its secrets, and bloom in that love. Years from now, may you remember those you loved, and they remember you, and may enduring loving relationships brighten your life. Showers of Mercy, indeed. Stories just don’t get a great deal better than that.

Happy New Year–May it be full of peace, blessings and Showers of Mercy

🙂 T

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

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 🙂






Showers of Mercy


I’ve gotten a few 911 calls this morning from people in crisis or pain.  This is such a deep time for people, it seems like everyone I know and most of my clients are in some kind of relationship shift, some kind of  transition or deep grief.   Lots of people are sick, lots of things are in a big transition.  I am acutely aware of the pains and joys of the people in my inner circle and beyond…aware that like the breath rising and falling, life ebbs and flows, ever moving into something new and different.  But the memories linger, the hopes and dreams and hurts and forgiveness become part of the fabric that is the weave of our lives, and  I am always amazed by the way the taste of those things remain, lightly sweet yet heavy on the tongue.

As I am witness  to the journey of others today, I am also thinking a lot about  my grandmother.  She’s been gone 9 years, the anniversary of her death is this week.  I have never known a woman with more ancient wisdom about people, lumber, the growing of crops, of plants and what to do with them.  She was a sharecropper and a child in the Depression, and could make anything out of nothing.  She chopped cotton for years, worked in a saw mill for much of her life and somehow raised 9 kids on, as the expression goes down South,  “spit and baling wire.”   Everything she cooked seemed to have gravy on it,  everything just tasted better at her house.   She could take a cut rose (usually from a funeral arrangement, no less) and 1/2 a potato and — I’m not making this up– dig a hole and put them in the earth together and end up with a rose bush.  I have tried this at least a dozen times and end up with a dead rose and a stinky potato.  I’ve asked other family members about this–they all remember that she could do it, but no one knows how she did it.

I think wisdom is like that…not just knowledge, although that’s part of it.  But a true wisdom of the ages, an understanding of how to do things that is simply long gone.  Yet just because something is ancient, it doesn’t mean it’s obsolete.  I watch myself and many others of my generation relearn things about gardening and sustainability that she just lived because it was what they did then. She was from a time that has entered the larger flow of history and is a distant memory for those left from her generation.  She lived through an abusive husband, through wars and the development of antibiotics, through the advent of television and ballpoint pens, through computers and space travel and life and death and things that would destroy most people.

So this morning, I’m thinking of her and all those who knew and loved her, and all of us who love and have lost someone we love.  Certain people leave a lingering taste on the lives of others, a smell and a sound that is always present, ripples in the waters of our souls that just keep echoing out into all we become.   If I believed in Heaven, I would believe it smelled like her house and tasted like her cooking.  It would smell like beans and cornbread, biscuits and bacon,  fresh air and cookies, it would smell like wood stoves and sweet tea and a scent that was hers alone.  It would have that same quality of light, that ringing laughter that made anyone with her laugh even more, a full-on delightful laughter that made babies grin and giggle.   Even at the end when she was in hospice, she had the same quality of light…that mystical quality twilight has about this time in the summer when the fireflies are dancing in the fields,  bestowing upon us a shower of grace and wonder as time rolls by; the quality Light has as a life becomes a memory but the love remains, ever-present, ever accessible, ever with us.

As is the nature of my stream of consciousness, this led me to thinking about other things, which led me to thinking about George Washington Carver (I realize this is quite a leap, but just try to follow the bouncing ball).   Someone once asked him how he figured out so many things about peanuts and what to do with them.  His response, “Anything will share its secrets with you if you love it enough,” is so beautiful, so instructive.  I think this is why my grandmother ended up with rose bushes and I ended up with a pile of compost.  She lived with and in her life, not at it.  She went through a lot in her life, saw a lot, learned a lot, finished her GED when one of her daughters graduated from high school, made do and thrived on it.  She is remembered fondly by all, and we still laugh about her laugh and how much we miss it.  Stories about people don’t get a great deal better than that.

So that led me to thinking about a quote by Rabindranath Tagore, “If you cry because the sun has gone out of your life, your tears will prevent you from seeing the stars.”   She saw the sun and stars in everything and I just love that about her.

So today, when so many are having such a hard time, and I remember one of the beloved people in my life with sweet sadness but a big smile, I think of another Tagore poem, a beautiful prayer…

“My God, when the heart is hard and parched up, come upon me with a shower of mercy.  When grace is lost from life, come with a burst of song.

When tumultuous work raises its din on all sides shutting me out from beyond, come to me, sweet God of silence, with your peace and rest.

When my beggarly heart sits crouched, shut up in a corner, break open the door, my king, and come with the ceremony of a king.

When desire blinds the mind with delusion and dust, O holy one, ever wakeful, come with your light and your thunder…”

To those experiencing grief today, we hold you in the tenderness of hope and joy, of compassion and sweet silence, of peace and rest.  May you experience ever present showers of mercy and find the comfort of the ages in it.  Above all,  may you love something enough for it to tell you all its secrets, and bloom in that love.  Years from now, may you remember those you loved, and they remember you, and may enduring loving relationships brighten your life.  Showers of Mercy, indeed.  Stories just don’t get a great deal better than that.

Peace and blessings,

T

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