Deserts and the Eight Worldly Dharmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Cling

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

The sun dies and dies
Squandering a hundred lives
every instant

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

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

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


The Power of Words

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

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

Have a great day!

Forgiveness and Priorities, Life and Death

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

Hello all, blogger slacker returns 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace and blessings 🙂

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,


Object Impermanence

Today I am thinking of Jean Piaget and his theory about object permanence.

As you may remember from your college psych 101 class,  Jean Piaget  theorized that the role of maturation was instrumental in a child’s increasing capacity to understand their world.  Put another way,  we cannot undertake certain tasks until we are psychologically mature enough to do so.    For those of you who didn’t make it to class that day, or had more sense than to major in psych and minor in Eastern philosophy,  here’s the bottom line:  Jean Piaget had a bazillion theories about the cognitive development of children.  Some of his research has been questioned, but it is still taught and used, especially in early childhood education.

One of  the many terms Piaget coined was object permanence, which is the basic understanding that an object exists even when it cannot be seen or touched.  Until this stage of development is reached, it’s basically “out of sight, out of mind” for the child.  This is illustrated by the utter joy adults and babies get playing peek-a-boo.  The child squeals in utter delight each time the adult’s face suddenly reappears again, and of course the adults (all being well)  love to hear the giggles of happy children.

This is all very lovely and (all being well) part of normal childhood development.  It obviously creates stability– you know the ball doesn’t really disappear from existence when your crazy Uncle Joe hides it behind his back,  you know mom is coming back (again, all being well), you know your bed really exists even when you leave the room, and so on.  The fun part of the developmental stages, and in my mind the most fascinating, is at about age 3, when children believe that if they can’t see you, then you can’t see them.  So a 3-year-old will stand in the middle of everyone and cover his eyes, believing this makes him invisible.  And wouldn’t that be a lovely trick during high stress meetings?

In case you are beginning to wonder if all those psych and philosophy classes fried my brain and if we will ever get to the point, the answer to both of those questions is yes.  So, here we go:

I’m fascinated that we need to know things are predictable and stable, that there is object permanence, but also that this very same need and belief creates enormous stress for people.  It is the belief that things are permanent and will never change that creates a lot of fear and grief in humans.  It is my clinical experience that people who are depressed are stuck in the past, and people who are anxious are stuck in the future.  People who are in present time and mindful of their present life tend to be pretty relaxed.  But most anxiety and depression comes from the experience of loss, or at least the projection of the fear of loss or change.  The anxiety comes from being afraid of losing something you think you have, or of not getting something you think you want.  We know that things are not permanent, yet we tend to fear change.

I don’t think we ever outgrow the need for knowing there is object permanence, what as an adult I call predictability, stability or security.  We rely on it, need it, thrive under it.  And, just like a child giggling playing peek-a-boo and crying, “do it again!”  I find myself trying to be that present, joyful and mindful of my own little corner of the world.    C.S. Lewis said he thinks sometimes God delights in creation in this same way, making the sun rise each day, like a giggling child each morning, saying “do it again!”  I love that image of the Divine, as a happy, giggling child, full of trust and goodness, and that the Divine sees us in that same  giggly, happy way.   It’s a great way to view my world…thinking of daisies blooming all summer and giggling while saying do it again, the moon cycling through and saying do it again, the joy I get from watching my tomatoes grow or the cicadas sing their  bluesy summer songs, the redness of cardinals and the flow of rivers.   And when I pay attention to the natural world, I find stability and a deep spiritual connection there.  And, just like a child with object permanence, I have to have a certain level of maturity to trust it in this way.  And I find that ability also seems to ebb and flow, just like everything else in the universe.

It is when I confuse  predictability  with permanence  that things can get sticky.  So the sun comes up each day, yet we are in a different place.  The river is always there, but as Heraclitus said, you can’t ever step twice into the same river.  So things remain constant because they are always changing.  But it is the belief that things will always be the same and never change, or at least the desire for this, which creates much stress and grief in life.   Buddhism teaches that understanding the concept of impermanence is central to our liberation from suffering.

The Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hahn said of impermanence,

Nothing remains the same for two consecutive moments. The Buddha implored us not just to talk about impermanence, but to use it as an instrument to help us penetrate deeply into reality and obtain liberating insight. We may be tempted to say that because things are impermanent, there is suffering.

But the Buddha encouraged us to look again. Without impermanence, life is not possible. How can we transform our suffering if things are not impermanent? How can our daughter grow up into a beautiful young lady? How can the situation in the world improve? We need impermanence for social justice and for hope.

If you suffer, it is not because things are impermanent. It is because you believe things are permanent. When a flower dies, you don’t suffer much, because you understand that flowers are impermanent. But you cannot accept the impermanence of your beloved one, and you suffer deeply when she passes away.    If you look deeply into impermanence, you will do your best to make her happy right now. Aware of impermanence, you become positive, loving and wise. Impermanence is good news. Without impermanence, nothing would be possible. With impermanence, every door is open for change. Impermanence is an instrument for our liberation.

So today I am pondering our need for stability with our need for understanding the ever-changing, impermanent nature of things.  Today I recognize that my parents are sick and one day will die.  Today I recognize that while there is war and some folks are experiencing a tough time economically, this too shall pass.  Today I recognize that it’s about 100 degrees in my little corner of the world and the tomatoes are coming in, but in a very short time I’ll be donning sweaters and jeans again because that will have changed too.  Predictability can be a wonderful and grounding thing, and it is necessary to create a sense of safety in children and in adults.  But taken to an extreme it can create a false sense of control and result in terrible anxiety when we lose that false sense of power regarding people, places and things.

Einstein said the most important question to ask is, “Is the Universe a safe place?”  He said we formulate all of our understanding of the universe and beyond based on the answer to that question.  I think he was right.  I believe the Universe is a safe place, full of predictable change.  And the truth is that when I like the changes, like the seasons always flowing into one another, knowing it will flow back around again, I like it.  It’s when I try to hold on, or grasp or cling to how things are in this moment, or how I think I want myself or someone else to be without ever changing, dying or leaving that things get cumbersome and stressful.  I think it’s human nature to want things we label as bad or hard to change quickly, but want to hold onto the things we enjoy or love.

So today I am thinking about object impermanence and trusting that just like the sun coming up today and tomorrow and probably the day after that, the Divine delights in me and all of us, in our changes and growth, in our ponderings and questions, in our holding on and and letting go.  And each time I hold on or let go, make a mistake or learn something new, I trust the Divine is there, unchanging and permanent in that giggling joy.  And that we can all just keep doing it again and again and again, ever mindful, ever giggling, ever present to predictable change.

A child has to have a certain level of maturity to understand objects are permanent.  And I have to have a certain level of maturity to understand that they are not.  Things are ever flowing, ever changing, flowing back into the One, into cycles of beginning and end, knowing I can always start where I am and pick up the flow.  And then do it again… how cool is that?

Have a great weekend.

peace 🙂

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