Thursday, January 3rd 2013
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.
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.”
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
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!
Today’s Solidarity Thursday blogging topic is “support networks”…which like most things for me, I see through a particularly spiritual lens. This is not to say that this lens is sans practicality. From my perspective spirituality is best when it is practical. It is not just sitting on a cushion or attending Sunday services. Spirituality IS feeding the poor, visiting the prisoner, working for peace, opening our door to our neighbor, and greeting the person working behind the counter with a smile and an open heart. It doesn’t seem to matter much if we can answer the big questions like – Why am I here? Is there life after death? Is there a God?” – if we are unable to feed the hungry next door, or properly take care of the earth, or even find peace in this moment. Perhaps they all go hand in hand. Perhaps as we practice at being kind and compassionate, mindful and awake, patient and open, we discover who we are and why we are here. Perhaps we find God within all of it – the joy and suffering. Perhaps if we are living life so fully in this moment, in love with one another, in love with life, then it doesn’t matter much if there is life after this.
Perhaps it does.
Whatever the case, walking this journey together is a gift. No matter how much we want to believe that we are completely self-reliant, that we can conquer and attain anything we set our minds to if we work hard enough…Life, fully and honestly lived, will humble us. We will face illness and loss, we will face death. And in those moments we will realize that having loved ones, family, friends – people who support us and hold us up, who care what we do and how we do it, people who feel our pain and seek our happiness – is a great part of what defines what this life is about.
Why is The Buddha so emphatic about this? Why does he correct Ananda with such clarity? Would you argue with Ananda on this point? It seems fair to say that good friendship is a “part” of life. The Buddha in his teachings seems to be pointing toward something greater though – to wholeness, to unity. It is, after all, our perceived separation and deep desire to avoid change that causes us to suffer so greatly. If we see ourselves as separate, then we grasp – we cling – we are unable to let go.
Life is letting go…and becoming aware that the nature of life is change, that the nature of life is us. There is no separation. Life is One, expressing Itself in all the beautiful diversity that you see in you, around you. All is gift.
For some reason, though, we need to learn this or perhaps re-remember this through first experiencing separation. Life is so often paradoxical. It seems we first need to learn duality and eat from the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil, before we can see through to the deeper unifying Reality, Wholeness that contains light and shadow. It seems we must first leave the Garden before returning to Paradise. We must fall, before we can rise above. We begin life within the body of our mothers. Living as one – eating as one, breathing as one. Doctors say we continue to feel as one with our mothers even after birth. Soon after though, we begin that very difficult journey of becoming aware of being other from our mothers, becoming aware of being separate. The best of religion, the truest of spirituality points us back to our Wholeness with all of Life…not just our mothers. And what is most fascinating and inspiring, is now science is showing us how this is true biologically, chemically, and atomically. All is gift.
It is like the Zen proverb says – first we notice the mirror clouded as it is, then we wipe the mirror and wipe the mirror, only to one day realize that there was never a mirror at all.
How do we learn this? Where do we learn life?
In our relationships. In community. In Sangha. Sangha is the Buddhist term for spiritual community. Isn’t all of this spiritual community? Aren’t we all one Body of Christ? Aren’t we all one expression of Life? I challenge you to find this out for yourself. In this One Body, this One Community, this One Life – we learn patience, we learn humility, we learn grace. In this Sangha, we are broken and our hearts are grown wide and spacious in their capacity to hold and let go in love. In this Body, we are wounded and healed, we die and are reborn. In this Life we don’t become Whole, we become aware that we are already Whole. All is gift.
Is there a better “support network” than that?
For more reading on this Solidarity Thursday topic, please check out these wonderful blogs: The Horizontalist and Church in the Canyon. And this week, joining us for the first time with a truly unique take on all things Solidarity Thursday is Triskaidekapod. Welcome!