Making Friends with Sadness…

Solidarity Saturday
Saturday, January 26th 2013

PeaceOfferingSmall

 

 

sometimes

it is all i can do
to just sit

here in this naked moment

this uneasy
space

my heart broken open

how else can all this Love pour out?

 

 

Hmmm….“Making Friends with Sadness.”

You may be asking, “Who would want to do that?!”  And this would be a good and understandable question.  Sadness, like pain and quite a few other uncomfortable aspects of this life, is a thing that we are normally trying to avoid, or escape if caught by it.

Now, to be clear, in this blog entry I am not referring to clinical depression, which is a serious condition that needs professional assistance.  I have had some depression in my own life and have had a number of close friends and family who have suffered from this illness.  Many have benefitted from both therapeutic and medicinal assistance.  And if you are suffering in a way that limits your life, affects your ability to work or function normally, or is causing harm to yourself and those close to you, then please care for yourself enough to seek help.  If you had asthma and were constricted in your ability to breathe, would you not seek help?  Why drown when all around you is shore, wanting to feel your tender feet grounded on its warm sand?  This being said, understanding sadness in the way that I am talking about with this blog entry will, I think in addition to therapy, also benefit those suffering from this illness.

There is a social aspect to this.  Society, particularly a culture built on seeking pleasure and attaining, frowns on sadness and melancholy.  As the sayings go, “Stiff upper lip”, “Pull up your bootstraps”, and “Get back up on the horse.”  Perhaps it isn’t such a bad thing to stay on the ground a bit, laying there – taking it all in, before we get back up on the horse.  Perhaps we can allow ourselves a frown now and then, perhaps we should just take off the boots and let our feet breathe.  Perhaps if we gave ourselves permission to have the experience of feeling sadness, we could do just that – feel sadness, rather than pretending it doesn’t exist or secretly identifying as sad.

If we allow sadness to rise and fall, to live and die, to arrive and pass, then it will do just that rather than burying itself deeper within as we ignore it and hush it away.  I think a lot of our non-clinical or chemically induced depression may lessen or go away if we would allow ourselves to feel sad when life presents sadness.  The Franciscan Richard Rohr quite popularly says, “What we don’t transform, we transmit.”  Allow sadness for what it is, and give yourself – your heart, the opportunity to transform.  Transformed people are awesome people, benefitting the world through their own lives.

 

The great Tibetan meditation master, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, talks about this practice of opening heart and staying with sadness in the following…

“When you awaken your heart…you find, to your surprise, that your heart is empty.  You find that you are looking into outer space.  What are you, who are you, where is your heart?  If you really look, you won’t find anything tangible and solid.  Of course, you might find something very solid if you have a grudge against someone or you have fallen possessively in love.  But that is not awakened heart.  If you search for awakened heart, if you put your hand through your rib cage and feel for it, there is nothing there except tenderness.  You feel sore and soft, and if you open your eyes to the rest of the world, you feel tremendous sadness.  This kind of sadness doesn’t come from being mistreated.  You don’t feel sad because someone has insulted you or because you feel impoverished.  Rather, this experience of sadness is unconditioned.  It occurs because your heart is completely exposed.  There is no skin or tissue covering it; it is pure raw meat.  Even if a tiny mosquito lands on it, you feel so touched.  Your experience is raw and tender and so personal.  It is this tender heart of a warrior that has the power to heal the world.”

~ Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
(Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior)

Likewise, one of my favorite teachers and one of Rinpoche’s foremost students, Pema Chödrön, says it like so…

“Sometimes the completely open heart and mind of bodhichitta is called the soft spot, a place as vulnerable and tender as an open wound. It is equated, in part, with our ability to love….Sometimes this broken heart gives birth to anxiety and panic, sometimes to anger, resentment, and blame. But under the hardness of that armor there is the tenderness of genuine sadness. This is our link with all those who have ever loved. This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great compassion. It can humble us when we’re arrogant and soften us when we are unkind. It awakens us when we prefer to sleep and pierces through our indifference. This continual ache of the heart is a blessing that when accepted fully can be shared with all.”

~ Pema Chödrön
(When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times)

This is, I believe, the heart of Jesus as when he said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…” (Matthew 23:37)  So often we have been Jerusalem ourselves, so often we have been deaf to such wisdom, closed to such love, blind to a heart capable of holding the entire world and its pain – ours included.

We can sit and “meditate” all we want.  We can wear as many WWJD Bracelets as we can fit on our arm (for those who don’t know, WWJD is short for the phrase – What Would Jesus Do?).  But unless we are willing to open our hearts to sadness, ours and others, to face it and allow space for it, to care for it with gentleness and compassion – unless we are willing to be this brave, then we will continue to suffer.  We cannot avoid sadness, just as we cannot avoid pain.  But like pain, if we continue to work at evading sadness, because it makes us uncomfortable, then we will live a life not whole – a life incomplete.  Surely if we are to know joy and abundance fully, then we must also know sadness and loss.  Life is both.  Love holds both.

So we practice and we learn to live with sadness as we live with joy, knowing that both are a part of the whole.  Gaining insight that both serve as teachers as we continue to expand our hearts’ capacity to hold this entire world with compassion, but also the wisdom of mind to let go.  It is not that we should hold onto sadness, grasping.  We should simply allow it and then let it go on its way.  It may seem in the moment that it never will leave, but we simply breathe with it.  Breathing in, we say to ourselves “so this is sadness”.  We sense how it feels in our body, where it rests.  Is our chest heavy?  Is our throat tight?  Do we feel pressure in our eyes or queasy in our stomach?  It is important to recognize the reality of what we are feeling.  However, rather than getting caught up in these feelings, we simply label them.  “This is sadness, this is how sadness feels.”  We are that which is observing.  We are not the sadness, we are not the storyline.  We are watching it as it happens.

And something amazing happens as we make friends and peace with this sadness rather than ignoring it or fighting it…it eventually lessens and loses its overwhelming grip.  And another miraculous thing happens.  As we feel this sadness in our bodies and recognize it, we realize that this is how other people feel.  This is what other people are experiencing…loss, pain, sadness.  And this sadness that has pulled us from life has now given us a great gift – awareness.  We are now aware that we all share in this sadness and knowing how it feels – the heavy chest, the eyes ready to burst, the stomach flipped over, and the throat tight – we wish everyone to be free of such suffering, wishing no one to have to go through this.  That wish for no one to go through such suffering is, as Pema says above, bodhicitta.  And perhaps after feeling this wish to have no one suffer as we have, we begin to work to end this suffering not only for ourselves, but for others.  This is what it is to be a bodhisattva.  This is what it is to be a peacemaker. This is what it is to be a healer.  This is what it is to be truly YOU.

And this isn’t all gloomy.  Transformed people, those who have faced their sadness, often with their wisdom have a great sense of humor and the heartiest of laughs.  The Dalai Lama comes to mind along with two of my favorite comedians – George Carlin and Ellen DeGeneres.

Being you means feeling happiness at times and sadness in others.  This is the joy and fullness of our life – to be whole.  With this appreciation, with this awareness, we are capable of laughing and crying fully and completely with all who have come before and all who will come after.

One laughing, one crying.  One joy and one sadness.

Namasté

 

 

For more reading on this Solidarity Thursday topic, please check out these wonderful blogs: Ben at The Horizontalist, Esther at Church in the Canyon, and with a unique perspective, Triskaidekapod.

Compassionate Eating…

Solidarity Thursday
Thursday, January 17th 2013
Compassionate Eating

Compassionate Eating

What we ingest and how we ingest, should be of importance to us….because it is important.

How we eat is one part, a very important part, of how we can live our life in a connected way, in a way that is whole.  How we eat – what we ingest, is not only important to our physical health, but can also be a way of building community and experiencing fulfillment and joy.

This is so foreign to many of us who have, in many ways, been conditioned to experience eating as just one part of our multi-tasking lives.  In the rush to be busy, often a mark of our success and achievement, we have made eating a task…something we do, while doing other tasks.  We eat driving down the highway from one destination to another.  We eat while walking, while watching TV, quickly as we run out the door, or right before bed.  This has been our practice for so long that it has become the pattern we see all around us and one that we participate in.

How can we change this pattern?

Awareness is the key.

What are we eating?  Where did it come from?  From whom has it been taken?  From whom has it been given?  Taking time to ask these questions, to look honestly at our food, will undoubtedly benefit us.  Taking time to ask these questions, to look honestly at our food, will undoubtedly lead us to growth, to change, and perhaps to an alteration in how we look at food and our relationship to it.

This growth will manifest differently for each of us, as we are all unique.  Each of us approaches food and our relationship to it, informed by our family experience and traditions, our culture, and our religious practices.  We all eat for various reasons outside of pure physical nourishment.  Some of us use food for numbing pain, for calming fears, or easing anxiety.  As our awareness grows, so does our clarity of why we eat what we eat…and what it is we are eating.

This awareness and then the growth from it, begin with mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a practice that brings us to the present moment.  Mindfulness is a practice that can help us to clearly see what we are eating and how we relate to it.  Mindfulness is a practice that can help us to slow down, to appreciate, and to benefit not only us, but all life around us.

AppleWorld

“With mindfulness we can see that many elements – the rain, sunshine, earth, the labor of farmers, drivers, food sellers, and the cook – have all come together to form each wonderful meal. When we eat in mindfulness, we can see that the entire universe is supporting our existence.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Born out of this mindful-awareness, comes great gratitude.  We are grateful, because we realize that this isn’t just a piece of bread in front of us.  It has within it, the merchant who sold it to us, the farmer who harvested the wheat, the soil rich with nutrients, the rain and sun that brought nourishment.  When we look at an orange we see the tree, its blossoms, its roots and the seed from which it began.  They are all there, present within the orange.  The orange, just like us, is a combination of a multitude of phenomena co-arising – coming together to form what we recognize as an orange, or as us.  We have within us, a multitude of organisms that form us.  We have our ancestral DNA passed down from generations.  We have within us, the very same need for nutrients, for water, for sun.  How humbling!  How miraculous!  What a gift!

What a responsibility…

Not very many of us have thought of it this way or even like to entertain thinking of ourselves in this way, but if we begin to see that we are not just us…but a community of organisms, we may feel a responsibility to feed these organisms the very best of what we can gather for their survival.  After all, the survival of the cells that make up our organisms that make up us, is our survival as well.  And as we begin to see that life supports life in such a way as this, then we begin to see how precious it is and how sacred it is that we are careful in how we consume such life.

This is mindfulness, this is awareness.

This doesn’t necessarily manifest for everyone the same way, as I said before.  Not everyone will become a vegetarian or vegan.  Not everyone will immediately seek to eat only locally grown or locally raised food sources.  But once we are aware, we should think about all of this.  Once we are aware, it is hard to forget.

For me it was a clear conviction of heart.  I had always loved animals in a way that saw them more as equals under heaven than as objects of service or consumption.  Even as a kid, I saw myself as a bit of a St. Francis –

St Francis (2)                  JaysenAndJiselle

– talking to and relating to animals as kindred.  Who wants to eat friends and family?  But it was watching some videos of how horrific the food industry is in their treatment of animals that turned me for good.  It was an immediate and lasting decision, made some nine years ago, this spring.  For me it has been beneficial not only in my physical health, but more importantly for me, in my sense of communion with all of Life.  It has been an inevitable outgrowth and inextricable companion to a life devoted to peace.  If I am offering my life as an instrument of peace, as service to compassion and love, then in my heart I know I am no longer able to eat animals if given the choice.

Although this cuts to the core of my spirituality, I am not very political about it, other than trying to live by example and giving money to organizations that share this view.  It would seem contradictory – even hypocritical – for me to espouse a path of compassion, yet withhold compassion from those I disagree with.  Compassion is compassion.  So I exercise and practice a view that is long in its vision, seeing societal transformation as something to nurture and grow rather than force.  This is just me, though.  Many moved by the horror and tragedy of how animals are treated (for which I am no less grieved) exercise their passion more politically.  I am thankful for them, and know that they are needed.  I also feel that those with a contemplative approach, living their truth persistently – if quietly – are also needed.  This is balance.  And at this point, even if the industry were to be completely transformed into an industry that exercised humane living conditions and lives of dignity for animals before their lives were ended for consumption, I will still remain vegetarian.  Part of this is my spiritual belief, from the Buddhist approach of non-harming.  Practicing to live a life that does not harm, knowing full well that life consumes life – even if it is plant life, and that it is impossible to not harm on some level.  This is part of life.  This teaches and opens us to grace.  I also know that I am fortunate enough to live in a place where I can access alternative food choices; I have an income (even if modest) that allows me to afford to make alternative food choices.  This is not the case for everyone.  To practice one’s beliefs while having understanding of this and working towards a resolution, while respecting differences of belief and tradition.  This is compassion.

For others, and I have many friends who feel this way, who don’t see animals as equals, there is still room for transformation and beneficial action.  I have friends who from a more traditionally-western-religious view see humans as set apart from animals.  In this view, animals can certainly be seen as a source for service and consumption.  However, these same friends also see humans as having a responsibility towards animals.  They see themselves set apart as stewards of the animals’ care.  This can also be mindful and compassionate.  This can go a long way, perhaps in an even more effective way, toward changing the norm for the animals in the food industry as we know it.  People who eat meat, mindfully, who choose to buy from local farms where they can meet the farmer, see that the animals are treated with dignity and affection in their lives leading up to death – these people also can make a significant difference.  People who eat meat, but choose to eat less for the benefit of health and environment, are also exercising compassion.  People who eat meat with a sense of gratitude, with a sense that this is a sacrifice and sacred act – perhaps offering prayers of thanks and prayers for the benefit of the animal’s life that has been sacrificed, this is also a way of eating with compassion.

Ultimately compassionate eating is eating in a way that looks at consumption and what we consume honestly.  It is about practicing consumption in a way that sits well with one’s heart.  It is about practicing consumption in way that not only appreciates life, but benefits life – not only ours, but that of our animal friends, our families, our community, and the environment.

Wishing all of you, dear friends, much happiness and peace as you travel your journey into compassionate eating.

Namasté

For more reading on this Solidarity Thursday topic, please check out these wonderful blogs: Ben at The Horizontalist, Esther at Church in the Canyon, and with a unique perspective, Triskaidekapod.

A Return to Nature as Sacrament…

Solidarity Thursdays
Thursday, January 10th 2013

“You are sitting on the earth and you realize that this earth deserves you and you deserve this earth. You are there—fully, personally, genuinely.”
~ Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

For the majority of my childhood, I grew up in Valley Center, California.  It is a rural town in the northeast of San Diego County.  If I had to pick one thing to be thankful for, from my childhood, it would be this – that I had the opportunity to fall in love with nature at such an early age.

Even as I write this, I feel moved to express my gratitude to my parents, yet again.  What a gift it was to fill my days with hands in dirt, running through fields, sitting and watching lizards, insects, and squirrels. I was given the freedom to just sit – listening to birds in song and the wind dancing through the great oak trees.  These early experiences began in me a journey of appreciation, respect, and love of nature and this tiny blue planet we call home.  It was in these early experiences that I began to see the sacred, the divine.  If philosophy is in the head, then Spirituality is in the heart – it is experiential.  And for me, the most spiritual experiences I have had have been in the presence of nature.  Nature, has for me, been a Sacrament.  A window into what is Sacred, what is Divine.

I miss the days when I allowed myself such freedom.  At times I long for the great oak trees, their strength, their music.  So much so, that when shopping or running errands, I even find myself subconsciously picking the parking space with the tree, if there is one, rather than not. I long for these experiences for my nephews and niece.  “Play outside” I remind them, maybe too often, because I know that love grows in experience and in time and space.

Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful – very grateful for technology in all of its embodiments.  I use my iPhone, maybe too often (it’s sooooo wonderful!)  I know that much of my life is dependent on computers, that I enjoy computers (they are sooooo wonderful!)  But they don’t inspire my heart to sing, my hands to open – to reach out, my feet to dance, or that deep breath that I instinctively know to take when I see a vast blue sky.  I like technology.  But I love nature.

So I worry a bit, for my nephews and niece.  Though, they too have a fondness for nature (especially the oldest), as long as they’ve known nature they have also known video games, iPods, and DVD players.  Nature has so much competition.  And although it is certain that all of this technology has benefitted humankind in a myriad of ways, there has been a cost – a shadow side to this great revolution.

We have in a way been distanced from nature, in very real, tangible ways.  We have been distanced not only in geography as we use up land for resource and move closer to cities for work.  But also in our psychology as so much of the resources nature provides are manufactured, packaged and then put on a shelf for us before we consume.  This applies to almost all we purchase in the West, from materials to food.  There is a distance, a disconnect that develops with a life thus lived.  We forget how deeply we are connected to nature, when are so far away that we don’t see the source of what we consume, we just know the store names.  We have even manipulated our religious practices, perhaps unknowingly – conveniently, in such a way to support this disconnect.

ONE2010

“The entire cosmos is a cooperative. The sun, the moon, and the stars live together as a cooperative. The same is true for humans and animals, trees, and the Earth. When we realize that the world is a mutual, interdependent, cooperative enterprise — then we can build a noble environment. If our lives are not based on this truth, then we shall perish.”
~ Buddhadasa Bhikkhu
 

“…then we shall perish…”   

This isn’t a judgment, it is our reality.  If we are of nature, if nature is where life is to be found – then as we are distanced from nature, we are distanced from life.  I see this not only in our environmental changes, but also in our psychology – our increased anxieties and depression.  Not that playing in dirt will end all anxieties and depression, but feeling connected and whole would – I believe – go a long way in healing many of our wounds.  In my experience, being close to nature has been a grounding force in my life.  And as we find ourselves grounded in nature, we find ourselves connected to all life.  To paraphrase Neil Degrasse Tyson – we are connected to each other biologically, to the Earth chemically, and to the entire Universe atomically. 

I think there is great reason for hope, when contemplating our future.  For one thing, the Earth and nature itself is supportive of Life.  The Earth has seen a lot of destruction and extinction of many species, even as it has also promoted healing from such destruction and supported the evolution of new species.  The Earth and life on it, most likely, will go on.  But will we?  If we begin to see ourselves not only as consumers and benefactors of the Earth, but as partners and co-creators with the Earth, with nature – then yes, I think we will.

And this is why I see reason to hope.  Even as over time, we have strayed away from the connected – grounded practices of indigenous and native culture, and from the ancient earth/nature-based spiritual traditions, there is now a resurgence and the beginnings of such awareness and (I believe) a rich desire to reconnect.

I believe we are beginning a new age, a return to nature as Sacrament.  I see it in the new movement of integrated contemplative Christianity (which is, perhaps, actually a return to a more original – less corporate Christianity) and also in Engaged Buddhism, a term of which Thich Nhat Hanh has said, “was created to restore the true meaning of Buddhism.”  And perhaps, our brothers and sisters from the indigenous, native and nature-based spiritualities will lead the way.  I think those of us not from these traditions, would do well to listen and learn from their reverence for and relationship with nature.

BuddhaWitness

One of the most iconic images of The Buddha, is of him sitting under the bodhi tree, his left hand palm up on his lap, his right hand touching the Earth.  It is said that on the night of Siddhartha Gautama’s enlightenment and realization of being The Buddha, he was attacked by the demon, Mara.  Mara, proud and jealous, challenged Siddhartha’s right to sit there, claiming enlightenment to be his.  Mara’s soldiers shouted out, bearing witness to Mara’s great accomplishments and right to be there.  When Mara then asked Siddhartha, “Who bears witness for you?”  Siddhartha sitting there, calm and grounded, reached out with his right hand and touched the Earth, at which point the Earth itself answered, “I bear witness.”  It is at this point that Mara disappears and as the morning star rose in the sky, Siddhartha realized his enlightenment and becomes The Buddha.

The Earth has indeed been bearing witness for us, for all life, as long as it has existed.  It is now, perhaps, our time to return the favor.  It is our time to return to nature as Sacrament.  And it is up to each of us to find the practice that best helps us to do so.

I have a practice I do every morning as part of my meditation.  It is a practice I do to realign myself – to remind myself of my connection to all Life.  I use the mantra “Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om”.  Om is said to be the primordial sound of Life itself and Shanti means “peace”.  Sitting, I place both hands on my heart.   I allow myself to feel my heart beating as I breathe in and breathe out.  I then while breathing in, with both hands over my heart, say in my mind, “Om”.  In between the breath, I say in my mind, “Shanti Shanti Shanti”. As the breath leaves my body, I say in my mind again, “Om”.  I repeat this with one hand on my heart and one hand touching the Earth.  I then repeat it a third time with one hand on my heart and one hand resting in space.

HeartBless          EarthBless          SpaceBless

I then end this practice with hands together, as I bow my head in reverence and gratitude to Life.  I have started my day establishing first, a wish for peace within my own heart, that I may have peace and be an instrument of peace for the world.  Then a wish for peace to all who share this ground, this Earth with me.  And then a wish for peace to all who breathe this same air and share this same space with me.  And finally a bow to ALL of it.  Then as I go about my day, I try to recognize the Divine in all I see, greeting Nature as a relative rather than stranger, as part of me rather than an other, as Brother Sun and Sister Moon, as St. Francis would say.

I think it is imperative that we all find a way to do this.  Not only is it necessary for our survival, it is necessary for knowing who we are.  So when out and about take some time to sit and watch the ocean, to lay in some grass watching clouds move across the sky, look out at the vast canopy of night – dotted with light as you hold your lover’s hand, to hug a tree, or talk to ants marching.  Connecting with Nature is connecting with You.

Namasté

For more reading on this Solidarity Thursday topic, please check out these wonderful blogs: Ben at The Horizontalist, Esther at Church in the Canyon, and with a unique perspective, Triskaidekapod.

saying “yes”…

Solidarity Thursdays
Thursday, January 3rd 2013

saying “yes”…

YesEnso

Happy New Year friends and welcome to my first blog for 2013 and the first coordinated blog of 2013 as part of our continuing series, Solidarity Thursdays.  I continue to be grateful for the opportunity to share space with Ben, Esther, and Zachary.

This week’s blog topic, appropriately, is “New Beginnings”.  Ironically, I have had quite a bit of difficulty…beginning.

You see, I find myself – my heart and mind – still bound up in 2012, at least where it has bled into 2013.  Try as I might, sitting in meditation, chanting “let go, let go”, I have discovered that even as I sit on that cushion I am harboring anger, frustration, and sadness over recent events.  I am grieving in empathy with the families of the numerous children so tragically taken from life.  I am grieving the ever increasing reaction we have to greet such horrific violence, with preparation to impart even more violence as a means to end violence.  And in this, I am not speaking of the families who were directly affected.  I would expect and understand such a reaction from such pain and suffering.  Ironically, most victims are not calling for what is being set forth.  A peripheral audience of opportunists, along with those guided by fear seems to be framing the discussion. I am grieving that politics can seemingly – so callously – ignore violence towards women or victims of Hurricane Sandy by not renewing The Violence Against Women Act or securing funds for these destitute people still without homes, still without assistance so long after the event.  I am grieving for our over-consumption of resources resulting in an increasingly fragile environment and increasing poor.  I am grieving that there is such continued imbalance of power, not through legitimate means, but instead through manipulation and dishonesty.  I am grieving that this is so often a cause for celebration, rather than a wake up call to compassionate change.

And in this grieving and attachment, I feel disconnected.  I feel disconnected to this world, where life is seen as so fragmented – where people entertain the idea of the “other” – where violence is seen as normal and in some cases even morally right and even a “necessary evil” – where for a matter of convenience we can look the other way, even as so many unnecessarily starve to death.  I grieve that I have played a part in this just as anyone else has.  I grieve, because Life itself is grieving. I grieve, because I am, indeed, connected to this world.  I grieve, because I so love the people in this world.  I grieve, because I long for people to stop and remember their nobility, their Divine Heritage as children of God, of Life, of Love – however you want to define or frame it.  We are better than the violence, we are better than the overconsumption, we are better than the indifference, and we are better than fear.

I remember, I read quite some time ago when I began my meditation practice – specifically Metta, or loving-kindness meditation and with it a practice called Tonglen – that it isn’t unusual for a practitioner to become more aware and in touch with sadness…because even in its joy and beauty, life is always tinged with what I would call a sacred sadness.  It isn’t just in Buddhism where this is recognized, just look to the artwork of Christianity where Jesus is depicted pointing to his exposed and Sacred Heart.  Or even to the story of the crucifixion itself, where it is implied that it wasn’t just the wounds but the great burden of carrying within himself the brokenness of life that extinguished his.  Loving until the heart itself breaks.  As our heart opens to the world, we begin to see and connect to the pain of the world – pain we have participated in and pain we have been victims of.  This coming of age to pain, this befriending of sadness, is an opportunity for compassion.

So I sat on the meditation cushion this very day, my breath interrupted by the thoughts listed above.  I sat, with my heart heavy, my emotions ready and raw.  And all I could do was what my practice continues to teach, what the Buddha taught 2500 years ago, and what Jesus encouraged with every person he encountered – begin anew.  Beginning anew – coming back to my breathing, connecting my mind with my body, and in doing so reminding myself to live as a Whole being, a being of compassion, a partner to Life, a child of Love.

And I was reminded what it means to begin anew.  It is our way of saying “yes” to Life with our life.  It is our way of aligning ourselves with Life itself, of saying we are not separate, rather we are partners.  It is our way of living Love, of acting with compassion.

It is a given that we need Life…but have you ever thought that Life, in fact, needs you?  That this may bring meaning to why you are still breathing?  That this may bring inspiration and motivation to why you are still here, to say in continuance – Yes, yes, and again, yes.

YESensos

We fall, we rise.  This is the pattern.  The New Year is a wonderful way to ritualize this, but then again, so is each breath that we take.

May this New Year be blessed with many new beginnings as our hearts continue to open to Life and in service to compassion.  Here is the blessing I shared on Facebook for New Years, may it be so:

“May you know your own beauty and sacredness just as you are. May you feel understood and valued. May you continue to learn, grow and open to all of what Life offers you. May you still experience peace when troubled, healing when wounded, patience when angered, and joy after sadness. And most of all, may you know that you are loved.”

Namasté

For more reading on this Solidarity Thursday topic, please check out these wonderful blogs: Ben at The Horizontalist, Esther at Church in the Canyon, and with a unique perspective, Triskaidekapod.

Cynicism ~ a wake up call…

Solidarity Thursdays

Thursday, December 13th 2012

The long awaited film adaptation of The Hobbit, GandalfEpicopens this weekend. I have been excited about this film coming into being since I first heard it may happen. I love The Lord of The Rings trilogy and I have watched the extended cuts multiple times. So, I have been revisiting these films, some of the text from the books, and my emotional connection to these, this past week. What do I love about these stories about an old wizard and a little guy with fury feet?

Hope.

Despite all odds, incredible darkness and tremendous burden, one person because of another, sees reason to hope. One person sees in another an innocence, a pureness of heart, and an openness to life. Imagine if it were different. Imagine if Gandalf were cynical instead of hopeful. There would be no unexpected journey…because we would expect the journey to end in doom, darkness and destruction.

Doom, Darkness and Destruction.

This could be the mantra of a cynic. I mean it will never work out. He always acts that way. Nothing is ever going to change. I’m not surprised. She’ll never understand. Nothing can be done, the banks have all the power. The poor will always be with us. What does it matter? The world is going to end anyway….apparently on 12/21/12.

We love drama.

12/21/12 is a great example. Do people want the world to end? Do they want catastrophe to strike?  One might think so with all the energy we have put into focusing on what horrible thing may happen on this date and how there is nothing we can do about it. Meanwhile, quietly in another room that very few are paying attention to there are others discussing ideas of transition and transformation, the ending of one era and the beginning of another. Why isn’t this as compelling or exciting – the idea of an opportunity to grow, to evolve, to mature, to transform? Then again, perhaps we will all wake up that day (of course at different times in different time zones) and nothing extraordinary will happen…I mean, besides waking up, still having a heartbeat, and breath going in and out of our lungs. Perhaps we will just be grateful to be alive, with life, in that moment. But why wait until then?

Cynicism is death.

I mean it. Cynicism is death.

It is death to hope. It is death to growth. It is death to love. It is death to living. Close all the doors, board up the windows and lock the gate, because I am not leaving any room for possibility. I am going to bury myself and keep myself company with the words “never” and “always”.

Cynicism is a lie.

If you live life long enough, if you look at life honestly, if you practice keeping your heart open…you begin to see that in an existence so full of change, so filled with impermanence, that there is no truth to “never” and “always”.  Life is full of “it could be” and “not always so”. Life by its very nature of being impermanent and changing, IS possibility.

Cynicism is a signpost (Cynicism – the lie that points to a truth…)

The heart of the matter is this: cynicism is what happens when we leave our hurt unattended, when we do not take care to heal, when we allow our wounds to fester. Like an infection – our hurt, our woundedness – doesn’t just sit there, it isn’t sedentary. Like an infection, it moves, spreading and growing. Our pain, left unattended, evolves into bitterness. Soon, if left too long, this bitterness graduates into an overall negativity. We become jaded and our language is marked with “nevers” and “always”, we leave little to no room for possibility and life is slowly strangled. Sometimes, this is disguised as humor or indifference, but no matter how you change the costume…the actor underneath is the same. Cynicism is a wake up call that we have turned off the lights and are closed for business…that we have given up and don’t care…cynicism is a wake up call that we are not fully Living.

It can be sneaky too. Something happens to us and all of the sudden we have connected it to a past hurt that we haven’t visited for a while.

Here’s an example from my own life. We had our holiday party for work, earlier this week. I am single and have basically been so in all the years I have worked there. So…the holiday party can be a reminder of this. I step up to the table, “Just one?”  I say, “Yes.”  *Reminder #1.  I walk around searching for friends and run into couples – couples mingling with couples. Couples taking pictures of other couples in front of the Christmas Tree. Couples lined up behind couples to take pictures in front of the Christmas Tree. *Reminder #2.  I sit at a table with friends, who for the most part, are coupled. *Reminder #3.  In general, I am used to these reminders and the love I have for my friends and the love they have for me is more than enough to fill my heart with happiness on such an evening. So, I blend myself into The Group and all is good. This year, however, I got separated from The Group. Miscommunication on seat-saving, left me out of the group. I was fortunate to sit next to another friend and his significant other. But as lovely and gracious as they were, I felt like a third wheel. It was somewhat downhill from there, mainly due to my attitude I have to admit. As I stepped out of the room and into my own pity party, I heard myself saying, “I’m not going to attend next year, because nothing is ever going to change. Nothing has changed in the years past. I’m 37 years old and if I haven’t found someone, if they haven’t found me, it isn’t going to happen.”

Wow.  Hold the phone…or better yet, call for help.

Signpost.

Someone (me) hasn’t been dealing with what is quite obviously a hurt, a disappointment, that has been living just deep enough for me to conveniently avoid. It isn’t that my hurt is unjustified. It hurts to want to connect in such a way, to desire sharing your life with someone, and not have it happen. The problem, as I see it, is that it had grown to a point that I was saying things like, “Nothing is ever going to change…it isn’t going to happen.”  I had allowed myself to get to a place where possibility is buried six feet under and hope is a candle extinguished.

Cynicism as gift.

Insofar that cynicism calls attention to our hurt, and connecting with our hurt – opening us to connecting to others who are hurting, it can be a gift. Insofar that cynicism wakes our attention and calls us to action, it can – as like all of what Life offers – be a gift. Like a siren calling, it showed me that I have some work to do, on a heart-level. To unravel some hurt and salve some wounds. To connect with what is the opposite of cynicism – with Hope.

Why hope? Because I have seen the Sun rise and Winter give birth to Spring…

photo (2)

So I meditate for myself and for all who are wounded (all of us), all who have hurt and disappointment (all of us), and all who have danced with cynicism (all of us)…

May we be happy

May we be peaceful

May we be free from hurt and anger

May we be free from negativity and despair

May we be free from all forms of suffering

May we be open to life

May we be open to love

May we be free to let go…

For more reading on this Solidarity Thursday topic, please check out these wonderful blogs: Ben at The Horizontalist, Esther at Church in the Canyon, and with a unique perspective, Triskaidekapod

Sustenance…what gives Life to your life?

Solidarity Thursdays
Thursday, December 6th 2012

Question Enso

Sustenance…what gives Life to your life?

There are more than a few ways to look at sustenance and what it means in our lives, I suppose.

Fuel for life…

The most basic way to look at sustenance, and yet no less important than any other way – in fact most important when in relation to our biology – is food. We have all heard the numbers. Unless you’re Gandhi (who quite famously survived a near starvation fasting of 21 days without food at the age of 77) most people can only make it two weeks without food. And we diminish even more quickly without water. Although there are always exceptions based on one’s general health and outside factors like climate, etc. – in general, most people cannot make it any longer than a week without water. It is interesting isn’t it? We are mostly made of water, yet we are unable to retain or store it. We are in a somewhat constant state of needing to replenish it. We are built to be in a constant state of want, of need, of assistance. We are not able to survive, biologically, independent of other life. We need water and food to survive; we need water and food to sustain biological life.

And although it will not be the focus of my blog today, I would be remiss to not mention the impact this need has on the geo-political landscape – what it means for this world to have resources unevenly distributed – what it means to the world to have so much poverty and famine, for some to have so much and for others to have so little. It is important that we ask ourselves, “What do I need to biologically, to chemically, sustain this life?”

We should reflect on our consumption. Perhaps, to dump the two terms – sustenance and consumption – into our melting pot minds and swirl them around a bit. The very few of us (by world population standards), consume much much more than we need to sustain our lives biologically. And even though it is uncomfortable to recognize this, it is important to be aware that our over consumption has a cost – loss of life elsewhere. Life consumes life. This isn’t a guilt trip. We should feel gratitude that we live where we live, to have been born in a region of such privilege. This should also produce some humility, knowing we didn’t cause ourselves to be born into a country of such privilege. But I think it is healthy and beneficial to recognize, while some others are just barely sustaining their life with a few spoonfuls of rice and grain a day, we tell ourselves that we need a Venti at Starbucks, because a Grande or Tall just doesn’t cut it. (confessional: I’m guilty of this) It is also important to become aware of what this need of others, and imbalance of resources does to our heart. Are our hearts called to compassion as we see so many suffer under famine caused by drought or oppression? If we are lovers of peace, are we able to recognize that this imbalance, these conditions of starvation and famine, often lead to unrest and violence? This isn’t just for followers of Jesus (who, perhaps, was most clear on this proclamation); it is true for anyone with or without a spiritual practice: if we want to be authentically and fully human, we must align ourselves with the poor.

After all, we don’t live on bread (or water) alone…

So your belly is fat and you are happy, now what? You don’t have to look far to see statistics that even in this fast-paced land of plenty we suffer from multiple health issues and have had a rise in anxiety and depression. Something is missing. To paraphrase the well known and celebrated Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh – A tree is simply content with being a tree. A tree doesn’t try to be anything else, it just is. LightColorTree2 (2)We aren’t trees and don’t seem to be content with just being (perhaps, we’ll get there some day). There seems to be a deep yearning and desire within us for meaning. The great wrestling with God, the existential questioning that we humans seem to be a unique in experiencing here on this tiny blue planet. We are often and consistently asking ourselves what it means to be human, why are we here, where did we come from, etc. etc. We are always asking each other upon meeting, what it is that we do. We set off to colleges and universities to find what it is we want to do with our lives….and it better be successful (whatever that means). One might say that we should change our name to human-doers rather than human-beings.

And we often find ourselves and find great value, meaning, and insight from what we do and what we experience. We find what keeps us going, what inspires and motivates us in life, we become aware of what sustains us. Perhaps it is our art. I think the majority of artists would indeed feel like they have died, if they were unable to create. Perhaps it is our romance. Having a broken heart, always feels like death. You should try it, it is good practice.

For what it is worth, we seem programmed to eat from the Tree of Knowledge and leave the Garden. We have to leave, to return. We have to Fall, to Rise again. There is no fault here, no mistake. It is a journey into God, into Life, into Love, into one’s Self. It is written upon the heart…so it is good to wrestle with these questions, to set off on the quest. It is good to listen for that calling and to search out meaning. For many of us, this is what sustains us – this is our sustenance – our art, our love, our passion. It is what keeps us going.

monkmoon

The fingers are not the Moon…

There is a Zen story of the Sixth Patriach Huineng who in talking to a nun about the meaning of things, said, “Truth has nothing to do with words. Truth can be likened to the bright moon in the sky. Words, in this case, can be likened to a finger. The finger can point to the moon’s location. However, the finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger, right?”

So what does sustain us? What is our sustenance? It can be said that all of the things above are such. Food and water sustain our bodies, keeping our mechanics in motion. Our passion, our desire, our searching fuels our spirit and keeps us living, and gives meaning to our life…but these are simply fingers and not the Moon.

You have to find the Moon for yourself. Each of us does. However, I will share what I believe the Moon is for me.

I do believe that the underlying sustenance, that which sustains us, is in fact the quest to be like the tree, to be. To be known, to be understood, to be loved as we are without having to achieve, having to impress, having to earn. While doing may fuel the spirit, it is in being that the soul finds its rest and peace.

So would it help if I simply said to you
that you are okay,
that you are already complete
and Whole?

Would it give you comfort and rest,
to know that you have
nothing to earn or achieve –
that you are beautiful as you are,
that you are understood and loved?

Would it fulfill your purpose and life
to know that you are,
like the tree,
in your own way,
uniquely rooted in the rich soil of this earth?

and yet so exquisitely,
like the tree,
stretched toward the warmth
of the Sun?

I did not think so.

So, journey on, beloved friends
And may those fingers,
perfect as they are,
point you to the Moon…

For more reading on this Solidarity Thursday topic, please check out these wonderful blogs: Ben at The Horizontalist, Esther at Church in the Canyon, and with a unique perspective, Triskaidekapod.

fasting ~ the practice of letting go…

Solidarity Thursday
Thursday, November 15, 2012

“Stop, look around, and see how wonderful life is: the trees, the white clouds, the infinite sky. Listen to the birds, delight in the light breeze. Let us walk as free people…”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Fasting…

I was raised Lutheran, which is a denomination of the Protestant branch of Christianity. If Episcopalians are “Catholic light”, then we were even a bit “lighter” with just a few Sacraments short of the full deal. Nonetheless, giving up something for the Lenten season was a pretty regularly encouraged practice, though not rigorously enforced. It is the season of fasting bookended by Ash Wednesday at the beginning and ending with Holy Thursday or Easter Eve in some cases. It is about a six week or 40 day period to commemorate the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert. We would “fast” or give up something important to us during this period. Adults often gave up drinking alcohol and perhaps other “vices” during this time. As children, we often gave up candy or dessert or some other thing that made us resent the whole practice, leading us to see it mainly as a way for adults to oppress us further…what did candy ever do to anyone?! Just because Jesus didn’t have dessert in the desert, why can’t I? In any case, at the very least, Lent would provoke a roll of the eyes if not a fully committed grimace. Why does God want me to do without? How is this, an act of worship?

What? There’s a practical purpose to this nonsense?..

It wasn’t until the end of my early early adulthood that I began to see the subtle genius in fasting as a practice. It takes time to break habits. It takes time to create habits. There are many differing opinions regarding how long it takes to break or create a habit. It can depend on how deeply imbedded these patterns are and everyone is different. That being said, there seems to be some consensus that it can take about a month and a half…six weeks.

Here’s an example….

A number of years ago, my friend Mitch and myself discussed giving up stuff for Lent and possibly taking on a good habit or two as well. It was an opportunity for me to return to this practice as an adult and for Mitch who had not been raised with a particular religion, it was an opportunity to try it out. We took up the challenge. One of the challenges (thing to give up) was coffee. I know this is sacrilege for some, however, I knew I wasn’t addicted – I mean, I can drink a cup right before bed and then promptly lay down and go to sleep. And I knew I didn’t need coffee, so I thought it would be a no-brainer, easy-peasy, walk in the park. The first day was a breeze. None of that headache or body ache or lack of focus stuff people lament after giving up coffee. Day One = Success….then Day Two happened. Day Two began with one of the worst headaches I’ve ever had. Nothing seemed to help and somehow knowing that I still had more to gain from this experience, the headache decided to last for another two days….just to make its point. I couldn’t believe it. I had been physically addicted to coffee.

I did go back to drinking coffee, though not nearly as much since I fell in love with tea, but I learned a valuable lesson about myself and my body through fasting.

It isn’t about taking away…it is about letting go…

Now here I am today, nearing the beginning of middle adulthood, seeing my younger days in the rear view mirror and fasting has become something else. I now see fasting as an exercise, a practice in simplicity and letting go. I think this lesson is very much within the body of fasting within the Christian context and certainly a lesson within Jesus’ 40 days in the desert, or even the 40 days for Noah riding – waiting, during the flood. It can be good to surrender; it can be good to grow in our capacity to wait. But for me, it has been through the lens of my Buddhist practice – where letting go is the main theme – that I have seen and experienced this practice anew.

As a child, or as I did with my friend Mitch, it was a practice of community, of support, of accountability. Now it is a solitary practice, one in which I discover what is actually necessary, what I can do without, what is real. Fasting has become a practice of not only the letting go of physical or material things, but of looking deeper to emotions and patterns of the mind. Fasting from anger, from despair, from fear and grasping. Fasting is a way to promote simplicity and create space, so I am available to this present moment, to what is here for me now in this moment, that I may be aware and free to dance with Life and sing the song of Love with all.

When I can do this, when we can do this, we will be able as Thich Nhat Hanh says in the quote above, to walk as free people.

In the meantime, every once in a while, I will give up things like shaving…that can also feel free.

BTW ~ Fasting can also be a form of protest…perhaps another blog related to forms of protest?…

Ben at The Horizontalist is off traveling this week and will return soon. For more reading on this Solidarity Thursday topic, please check out these other wonderful blogs: Esther at Church in the Canyon. And with a truly unique take on all things Solidarity Thursday is Triskaidekapod. Join the conversation!