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 :)

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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!

🙂





Whole Hearted Courage


Courage is the power to let go of the familiar…

~~Raymond Lundquist

Hello all 🙂  Blogger Slacker returns…

I took this pic a few weeks ago in  a remote place called Cathedral Canyon, in The Middle Of Nowhere, Missouri.  To reach this place, you have to leave all that is familiar, drive 2 hours from a major city, then hike  even further  into the more-middle-of-nowhere.  I must say~~ it was totally worth it.  The pic doesn’t do it justice.  I spent a few days in that part of the world, totally off the grid and reconnecting with myself.  It was lovely in a million different ways.  During that time, I pondered why it is that I often have to leave all that is familiar on the outside to reconnect to what I love that is familiar on the inside.  But that is another blog post for another day.

I was thinking today about all of the horror in Japan, reflecting on the impermanence of everything we think is familiar, all we hold dear.  The funny thing is that as things change or become unfamiliar, the human tendency is to engage in our familiar patterns that often don’t serve us….old patterns of shutting up or down, lashing out or in, running away instead of running toward the change.  Yet there  is so much change happening all the time and that’s what we call life.  When we like the changes we say things are going well, when we don’t like the changes we say they aren’t.  But that’s familiar too.  I think it takes real courage to go with all the flows of life, to swim through what might feel like a tsunami with an open heart.  I’m amazed by how many people are able to do just that and I’m grateful when I can do it myself.

This is a time of Lent for some…fasting, prayer and reflection.  This is a time of loss and horror for others…unprecedented, horrible loss on a scale I can’t even begin to comprehend.  This is a time of joy for others…birth, new jobs, new homes, dreams coming true.  This is a time of death and illness for others  and on and on the list of changes goes.  No matter what the circumstance, it takes courage to face it and walk through it with an open mind and heart. And in the middle of it all, in the middle of all the magic and all the tragic, we all crave connection with others.  I have come to believe with my whole heart that the only way I can have a connection with you is if I have a connection with myself first.  And, at least for myself, I feel most connected in a helpful way to myself if I feel connected to the Divine and all of the ways in which God moves within.

All of this  made me think of Brene Brown and her work.  Brene has done some very interesting research in the fields of courage, compassion, shame and how to live with a whole heart.  She speaks of the original meaning of the word “courage,” meaning to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.  Her research is very interesting and beautiful, I’ll post a clip at the end of one of her TED talks.   It’s well worth the 20 minutes or so it takes to watch.

As you ponder courage and living life with a whole heart…If you are so inclined, please remember those for whom this is a hard or tragic time.  If you are further inclined, perhaps you could hold yourself and others in the gentle and loving space of a whole heart, or at least hold the aspiration that you can do so, for yourself and others.  We are all we’ve got, sweet friends.  And I think it’s important to remember we are all enough.  YOU are enough.   Yes, you. May you go forth with that knowing and the courage of a whole heart of peace and kindness toward yourself and others.

With that, I leave you with Dr. Brene Brown, her bio and video.

Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past ten years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. Brené spent the first five years of her decade-long study focusing on shame and empathy, and is now using that work to explore a concept that she calls Wholeheartedness. She poses the questions:

How do we learn to embrace our vulnerabilities and imperfections so that we can engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness? How do we cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection that we need to recognize that we are enough – that we are worthy of love, belonging, and joy?

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!!!! 🙂

 

Big-Beautiful-Wonderful


I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

~~From The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver

It’s a gorgeous  here, an Indian Summer day that begged me to, as John Muir  once said, “Grab a bag of tea and a loaf of bread and hop the back fence into the wilderness.”  So I did, and I did so as a prayer.  I wandered and watched the trees flex their muscles and waltz with the breezes, limbs doing yoga, rising and falling like the breath of some Great Being in love with Its own Creation.  While the wind whispered her sunny autumn songs and  played with my hair, I watched deer and hawks and squirrels stop in awe of this perfect day, all of us being idle and blessed.  I wandered around on a tie-dyed carpet of  autumn  forest,  and I thought  about prayers… what  a prayer is and how that gets played out in our lives, about all the fences into the wilderness of our souls, about these wild and precious lives we are given.

I’m honestly not sure what’s happening out there, but a lot of people are feeling rather anxious  and experiencing a lot of  fear, confusion and grief.  I’m watching a lot of people around me deal with a lot of things…broken hearts, broken glass, broken bones, sick and dying parents,   lots of questions about what love and faith and prayer means in times like this.   The truth is that I don’t know either, but I have my own stories about it, and they bring me some comfort and hope, so I thought I’d share that.

First, it’s always helpful to me to remember that somewhere on this planet, 24/7, people are praying for us…The Jews at the Wailing Wall, the contemplatives of all stripes in monasteries all over the world, the Buddhists in faraway temples, Muslims at the Kaaba, the folks at Global Peace Project and Neve Shalom, and many, many more.  Imagine that!  Somewhere on this planet, no matter what time of day, someone is praying for us, for YOU.  For your peace, for the end to suffering, for health and wellness and abundance, for shalom, for us to remember All is One.

Beyond that, I often find it helpful to remember a Buddhist piece of wisdom regarding times like these.  There is a belief in Tibetan Buddhism that says when your world starts to crumble and everything appears as though it’s falling apart, it’s time to step back and get still, to just be with that a minute.  I think a lot of us were raised to believe that when things “go wrong,” it is obvious evidence that we are somehow bad people or at fault in some way, but  in Buddhism the belief is much different.  As it was explained to me, when that many things get wacky all at once, it doesn’t mean I have done something wrong.  It actually means that the gods are trying to birth something big and beautiful and wonderful in my life, and they know if I am not distracted  I will get my sticky little fingers all over it.   The Powers That Be  just want to be left alone to create something beyond my wildest dreams, so like redirecting a toddler, the gods distract me so the Big-Beautiful-Wonderful can get itself born.  I have seen this happen over and over again, have experienced it so many times that I believe it to be true.

I was talking to a good friend about all of this, about how we try live our lives out as prayers, about all the suffering in the world…toxic sludge in rivers and in our emotions, in our politics and in so many places.  But there are also so many kind and skillful people out there to meet those needs, to engage the suffering and work to heal it and bring relief. There are many  places of opportunity for the Big-Beautiful-Wonderful  to get itself born and for us to be the answer to someone’s prayer.   I also see how this unnerves people, to think they could be used by God in some way, to become part of the Big-Beautiful-Wonderful for someone else, but it’s always been that way.  And I suspect it will continue to always be that way, for which I am enormously grateful.

All of the prophets and “chosen people” of God have been afraid of their call, never believing they were “good” enough to be used by God.  But as the saying goes, God doesn’t call the equipped, God equips the called.   Moses  stuttered.  The Prophet Jeremiah said he was too young.   Gandhi tried to be a lawyer but was afraid to speak in public.   Mohammad and Elijah ran away and hid in caves.   Mother Theresa thought she would just teach school.   The Prophet Isaiah said he couldn’t do it because he “was a man of unclean lips.”  I love this, Isaiah the prophet and poet a potty mouth–   It gives me some hope for my own unclean lips 😉    All of the people from each tradition have said they couldn’t do it, all were afraid and tried to avoid God and their call.   But I’ve come to believe that’s part of the prayer too, part of living this wild and precious life.

I believe prayer is always heard and somehow answered, even if it doesn’t appear to be so on the surface.  I believe the work we do and the prayers we say help no matter what.  I believe that by giving into the flow of the prayers of others, we get sticky with that Big-Beautiful-Wonderful nectar too, all sharing in the abundance  because All is One.  In God’s economy nothing is wasted, so sometimes I get to have my prayers answered, and other times get to be the answer to a prayer, and somehow that all ends up being the same thing.  So I’m not sure what a prayer is, but I do know when we pay attention to the glory, the abundance and the need around us, all of that begins to look as if it is One and the Mystery somehow deepens and yet opens at the same time.  And how cool is that?

Sometimes seeing so much suffering in the world is just overwhelming.  But there is also so much good and beauty and joy in the world.  I think the confusion arises in thinking I have to go “out there” somewhere to meet the need, that it has to be a healing center or build a city on a hill or be another Mama T in India.  But the truth is that Jesus said to everyone, “You are the Light of the World.”  One of my favorite stories about this is from Father Gregory Boyle, the founder of Homeboy Industries.

In 1992, as a response to the civil unrest in Los Angeles, Fr. Greg launched his first business,  Homeboy Bakery.  The mission was to create an environment that provided training, work experience, and above all, the opportunity for rival gang members to work side by side. The success of the Bakery created the groundwork for additional businesses, thus prompting an independent non-profit organization, Homeboy Industries, in 2001. Today Homeboy Industries’ nonprofit economic development enterprises include merchandise, retail shops and cafes. Undoubtedly, innumerable prayers have been answered through just this one organization.  But I bet those answering prayers have had some of their own blessings too, because we are all the Light of the world.

When discussing how to live as a prayer, Fr. Greg says,

Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.”  I like even more what Jesus doesn’t say.  He does not say, “One day, if you are more perfect and try really hard, you’ll be light.”  He doesn’t say “If you play by the rules, cross your T’s and dot your I’s, then maybe you’ll become light.”  No.  He says, straight out, “You are the light.”  It is the truth of who you are, waiting only for you to discover it. So, for God’s sake, don’t move.  No need to contort yourself to be anything other than who you are.

I love that.  So from civil unrest arose something which remains Big-Beautiful-Wonderful, and like everything it just evolved from one thing to another.  I love that we don’t have to try so hard.  I love that maybe the thing we are supposed to do with our Big-Beautiful-Wonderful lives is to live in the question of our own prayers and perhaps then live as if we believe we are the answer to the prayers of others.   It’s good to have needs and ask for help–it allows someone else to be the answer to your prayers, and so the blessings extend far and wide.  That’s a good thing.  As the writer of Hebrews says,

Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.

Hebrews 10:24

So tonight, first a shout out to all of you who have always been and continue to be an answer to my prayers–I bow in humble gratitude.  I hope I can be the same type of blessing for all of you.  And for all of those experiencing a loss of hope or faith, feeling anxious or overwhelmed, saddened or grieved–may you experience the Big-Beautiful-Wonderful and remember the beauty of your own Light, and remember you are not alone, and prayers abound for your health, healing, peace and wholeness.

Peace and blessings,

T

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