support networks…

Solidarity Thursday
Thursday, November 8, 2012

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!

the power of words…

Thursday, November 1, 2012

“Before you speak, think – is it necessary? Is it true? Is it kind? Will it hurt anyone? Will it improve on the silence?”

The words above are from the somewhat controversial Indian Guru, Sai Baba. You can read about him here. He was controversial due to reasons other than this quote and I think the quote stands alone as a pristine piece of wisdom as it relates to how we speak…how we use words.

Words are powerful.

Though most of us may not be witches or wizards (at least in the Harry Potter sense of those words – bows of respect to friends who really are Wiccan or Pagan), our words have the ability to evoke emotion, to invoke harm, to heal, to break down, to build up, to reject or embrace the recipient. Even the recipient we tend to forget about…us.

So why is it that we use our words so carelessly? Why is it so easy to use our words as ammunition towards another to suit our own interest and gain? It does seem like we see this activity more in this current election year. I feel like I’ve seen it more on Facebook and Twitter. “Friends” aggressively commenting on other “Friends” walls and instigating confrontation with their Tweets – what a silly word, really, that you’d think would diffuse the situation immediately. Why does this feel okay in the moment we are doing this? Would we so readily engage a stranger, much less, our “Friends” in such a careless way if we were sitting across from them face to face, or even chatting with them on the phone? Perhaps, but I think it would happen less often, more sparingly.

How do we get ourselves to a place of good communication of, as we say it in Buddhism – Right Speech? Good communication, Right Speech – these are about connection, which is empathy and within empathy is understanding. These manifest compassion, in our thought, in our actions, in our words. I believe the groundwork for all of this is gratitude which is in a constant dance with humility.

Do we see our life as a gift?

Our life, of course, is a gift. We do not exist apart from the conditions that brought us into being. Conditions, that though we are inextricably connected with, are also far beyond our imagining. We would not be here in this moment, in this place, if it weren’t for a Universe that could manifest a planet such as Earth that so specifically can support a life form such as ours. You would not be here if your parents, or their parents, or any of the parents before them had not had life. Without the Sun where would we be? If not for the farmer, what would you eat? Can we breathe without oxygen? Can I heal without the aid of a healthy immune system, or doctor, or medicines? All of us are one breath away from illness, from death. The person we are angry with (perhaps reasonably so) and are lashing out at with our words – that person will lose a loved one to death, they will experience illness, their heart will be wounded, and they like you or me will at times feel lost.

Do you see my point?

“We are all in the same boat in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyaly.” ~ G.K. Chesterton

We are deeply connected to all other things through interdependent relationship that we seldom take time to be aware of, but nonetheless is there. Our life, our being here is a gift.

So back to my question – do we see our life as a gift? Because if we are able to do this, to see our existence with humility and gratitude, then rather than having to live by a set of rules – we are getting to the root, the foundation, the groundwork of being kind and gracious with the way we treat people, the way we speak to people, the way we choose to use all of these powerful words that we have available to us.

But of course this is a practice. We have, over time, developed patterns in our brains – kneejerk reactions to what we see as an attack, as offensive. It takes work to undo these patterns, to unthread these connections. If we have gratitude though, and see our lives as gift rather than some entitled state, then I believe we are planting the seeds that will grow and give us the ground of support to be aware and be kind with the power in our words.

In the meantime, when we speak, we should ask ourself – Is it necessary? Is it true? Is it kind?

To read more and continue the discussion on this Solidarity Thursday topic please visit my dear friends and fellow bloggers Ben at The Horizontalist and Esther at The Church in the Canyon.