Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Friday, October 25, 2013
SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
- John Keats
Thursday, October 24, 2013
The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience.
A nun friend of mine once told me that Colorado is so close to God it's a local call to heaven. Again today,it feels like that is true. Yet the day started as it often does, in a rush of stress, lateness and lost objects. Aden asked me to help her study last-minute notes for social studies, Daniel hated the snack I packed and couldn't get out the door for Reading Together, and William misplaced a Battle of the Books book that he needs to find and finish by - wait for it - tomorrow. When I finally completed dropoff this morning my heart rate was up and the hamster in my brain was sprinting away on its wheel.
But I made time for a swim, and during the repetitive laps I got my brain to slow down, to focus on one thing at a time. I remembered a quote from Eknath Easwaran's Passage Meditations: "A mind that is fast is sick. A mind that is slow is sound. A mind that is still is divine." Easwaran attributes the quote to Meher Baba, a mystic of India, and it reminds me of the quote "go slow to go fast." So I slowed down and focused on one thing at a time. I have yet to get to my poetry reading or my packing (or finding William's book) but I made cookies, had a gorgeous drive up to the Middle School, and spent a lovely lunch hour watching Aden's guitar concert. Afterwards, she was in a rush to get to science but waited for me at the bottom of the stairs where I had gotten pinned against the railing by a horde of 8th graders. She patiently explained that she was going to student council today, and then - in the midst of rushing middle schoolers - she lifted her face for a kiss goodbye. I couldn't believe that I didn't embarrass her - that she wanted me there and would even share an embrace in public. That moment was my forever now, my ecstatic experience. I'm so glad that we both slowed enough to share it. No task seems to large after that sweet moment. May we always go slow enough - and leave the soul ajar - to catch moments like these.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
No one would want to leave Colorado this week. The perfection of the day is almost too much to hold in a wheelbarrow. Perfect strangers have called out to me, "how great is this?" and nearly given me high fives out of the joy of our sunshiny, Crayola day. Today place inhabits us, grabs us by the collar and refuses to be ignored. What a gift to be jolted out of to-do lists and mind games to recognize the gift of this high-altitude desert.
Rob just returned from a ten-day trip to India, and his observations of that trip have led him to a new awareness of how blessed we are in this country. The infrastructure - roads, electrical production and distribution, water - does not exist in the same way in India. I think one of the most outstanding memories Rob has of his trip is watching a fuel truck park itself in a river. When he asked what the truck was doing, befouling the wash-water and potentially drinking water of those downstream, the driver answered, "Oh, he's just washing his truck." And the truck driver proceeded to scrub and rinse his truck in the river. The air pollution was also notable for Rob, who noticed constant low lying smog on his trip out to the Taj Mahal (on a corporate - owned road). I know that he appreciates this place even more on his return.
Crazy as it seems, we are planning another trip: this time to Florida for fall break, and many of our friends also have trips planned. I hope to travel with intent and notice the different sights, tastes and smells, and the kids' reaction to all of the same. We're excited for Harry Potter, lukewarm about Mickey Mouse, hoping to catch some time at the beach, and certainly some days to just relax. On days like this when I can't imagine leaving home for any length of time for any reason, this quote from my Stanford instructor helps me prepare to be excited to travel, to really notice and not be too busy in my head to take in all the wonders that exist. I also thought of a dear friend who is moving next week, and though I will miss her desperately, I know that she will be awake to her new surroundings, intentional and open to what comes. I hope she will relate her experiences to those of us back 'home,' and then, of course, I can't wait to visit. We can be awake every day as we travel through our lives, but sometimes the change of scenery is a good shot of coffee to our intentions.
Monday, October 21, 2013
The song above, “John’s Garden” addresses this question in a pumpkin patch on the eve of Halloween, when farmer John comes to tell the pumpkins that their lives will soon change forever. The big moment, the climax of their existence, is at hand and though it may be unfamiliar it will be glorious. When John leaves the pumpkins call a meeting and most are confused, scared and reluctant to become the jack-o-lanterns John has planned. One boldly speaks out and calls the promised eyes and candlelight a lie, a trap that will not be worth the sacrifice. Another counters with the verse I included, saying that their moment of glory will encompass splendor and vision (maybe even starlight!) and be worth any sacrifice.
On the way home I asked my daughter which were her favorite songs. “John’s Garden” was at the top of her list, and I asked her what she would decide if she were a pumpkin at Halloween. She quickly and decisively replied that she would want to die on the vine. Hmmm. She did not ask which option I would choose and I held my counsel, pondering instead her perspective. I asked why, and she said, “I don’t want to be carved.” Perhaps I would have answered the same way when I was her age, withholding my promise and potential from the mere thought of endings, of fading away, of bruising and carving.
Now, at what I hope is the midpoint of life, I tend to favor the road of the jack-o-lantern. I know life will carve me up (there are a few slices already), and if either original or reflected light burns within me, I’d opt to have it shine through the cracks. Hopefully the candle within is long and slow-burning as opposed to the short and stubby blackened nubs that we usually place in our carved pumpkins, but I have no wish to die slowly and peacefully on the vine. Who knows, if my jack-o-lantern self is not too bruised and blackened at the end of the party I might even be used in a pumpkin pie.
Friday, October 18, 2013
I hope you have a weekend full of good fall fun and plenty of occasions to get enthusiastic about life. I have a water polo game and a flag football game lined up,a fall festival on Sunday, and the - oh joy! - we get to pick Rob up at the airport on Sunday evening. So I'll be feeling good for all of you and grateful for you, too.
Thursday, October 17, 2013
"Free from gross passion or of mirth or anger/
constant in spirit, not swerving with the blood,/
garnish'd and deck'd in modest compliment,/
not working with the eye without the ear,/
and but in purged judgement trusting neither?/
Such and so finely bolted didst thou seem."
Shakespeare also gave this warning about passion: "What to ourselves in passion we propose, the passion ending, doth the purpose lose." (Hamlet, act 3 sc 2) It seems that the nature of passion allows it to flame and fade away, and if we want lasting effort or success we need to turn our energies and enthusiasm to the long effort rather than the volcanic short burst. As always, Shakespeare gives a nuanced and shaded perspective to one of humanity's most interesting emotions.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
(Available through Franciscan Media) Father Richard Rohr
Last year when I lost the ability to do just about anything: laundry, shopping, cooking, cleaning, kids' homework help, I realized how much work people do on a daily basis and how deeply I wanted to return to doing the work of caring for my family. I remember telling a friend, "all I want to do is take care of my kids." Now, a year later, I am not totally "well" but I can take care of all the daily tasks required of a mom of three, and I don't embrace them with the same passion that I expressed a year ago. The strength and ability to accomplish the daily routine has already been taken for granted, and I feel that I am not doing enough, instead of being grateful and joy-filled because what I can do, and be.
Rohr's statement returns us to the idea that passion, or feeling deeply, is from God and should be a constant presence in our lives. This application feels gentler than my initial concept of passion - feeling deeply is less threatening that the idea of a tidal wave overmastering me. But the effort to recognize our gifts while we are in the midst of them, of feeling each moment as it comes without being overpowered by our feelings, still feels like a huge big deal, which maybe can only be accomplished through a lot of time and practice.
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Here's another quote on passion for your consideration, which separates passion from detached reason in a different manner: "Man is to be found in reason, God in the passion." -G.C. Lichtenberg.
This quote suggests that our passion comes from God and ties us to the spirit / creator energy. I struggle with this idea. If passion is from God then why does it lead to conflict, pain and suffering? Is there a pure essence of passion that comes from God that man corrupts and twists into darker forms? I find that when I calm my rational mind through meditation I emerge calm and passion-less, yet mystics say that we are closest to God at that time.
Just a few more ideas to struggle with; please post or email with your own thoughts!
Monday, October 14, 2013
Full Definition of PASSION (from www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/passion)
This week I am going to tackle a subject that has been dancing around my mental periphery for some time: passion. I have always been a passionate person, pursuing relationships, sports, school, and volunteer work with vim and vigor - sometimes to my detriment. After last year's bout of overtraining to the point of hospitalization, I have been reading about, and practicing, techniques to be centered, focused and calm. Activities like meditation, yoga, practicing guitar, writing poetry populate my daily routine, and they seem to be helping to alleviate definition 4b - when passion means the feeling or conviction is overmastering. I don't want to eradicate intense feelings but I don't want them to master me.
Growing up Catholic, I always identified the word PASSION with the sufferings of Christ, and with suffering. It's interesting that Merriam Webster considers definition 2 (suffering) to be obsolete. I believe that passion can be equated with suffering, particular in terms of relationships or desires that are not achieved or do not manifest in the way we want. It's one of the facets of passion I want to eradicate. In reading Buddhist works, I've learned that the basic principle for that religion is non-attachment. Gretchen Rubin discusses this idea in The Happiness Project:
"But although I admired many of its teachings, I didn't feel much deep connection to Buddhism, which, at its heart, urges detachment as a way to alleviate suffering. Although there is a place for love and commitment, these bonds are considered fetters that bind us to lives of sorrow - which of course they do. Instead, I'm adherent of the Western tradition of cultivating deep passions and profound attachments; I didn't want to detach, I wanted to embrace; I didn't want to loosen, I wanted to deepen."
So ponder along with me the possibility of pursuing relationships, ideas, causes, pursuits with passion, while detaching from results. Is this possible? Can we have the best of both worlds? To be continued . . .
Friday, October 11, 2013
You cannot avoid sin or mistake anyway (Romans 5:12), but if you try too fervently, it often creates even worse problems. Jesus loves to tell stories like that of the publican and the Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14) and the famous one about the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), in which one character does his life totally right and is, in fact, wrong; and the other who does it totally wrong ends up God’s beloved! Now deal with that!
Such a down-and-then-up perspective does not fit into our Western philosophy of progress, nor into our desire for upward mobility, nor into our religious notions of perfection or holiness. “Let’s hope it is not true, at least for me,” we all say! Yet the perennial tradition, sometimes called the wisdom tradition, says that it is and will always be true.
- Richard Rohr - Adapted from Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life,p. xx-xxi
Autumn is my favorite season. This time of year shakes out its best dress and beckons you to the fire sale of all the goods your senses want to feast on: glorious colors, misty mornings, apples in season, the cool bite to the air. But the name "fall" has me thinking about other topics this year. Richard Rohr has been writing daily about the necessary fall/break/collapse that comes to each of us in our life and is required for the passage to wisdom. I struggle with that requirement - and I usually love to fulfill requirements - and the idea that it's true makes me quite sad, not only for myself but for everyone.
Yet I wonder that the season of fall, death and decay does not strike me in the same way. I enjoy the transition time of autumn even though the death of winter is on the way, and I know without a shadow of a doubt that the wheel will turn and bring green life again. If I could just have that belief about my own life, and the others, perhaps the fall and descent through illness, pain and suffering would not seem so bad.
Thursday, October 10, 2013
What he did was not so bad, but what worries me is that he started the fuss because two boys were laughing and chatting loudly. "Was it about you?" I asked. He said he didn't know, though they often discuss people. Of course, my adult brain says "who cares?!" but I know as fifth-grader in pre-adolescence, people talking can be threatening. For better or worse, William's temperament matches mine and our imaginations can run wild with our emotions following just a split-second behind. I worry, because split-second overreactions have not served me well in life, and they won't help him either.
So I sat down on his bed last night and we talked about breathing, about finding an mantra that he can repeat to himself to calm down or distract himself. These are things that I do, too, but not always successfully, especially if it's during the witching hour between dinner and bedtime or in the morning trying to get everyone (ie Daniel) out the door. So I am left with the feeling that I had better work hard to improve my command of emotions and reactions to model this for William. Kids need to develop interior strength and control to get through middle and high school, and he needs to do the emotional weight training now.
On another note, Rob heads to India tonight for ten days. It's the longest we have been apart in 15 years, so I am preparing best I can, but if you have a chance, please say a prayer for his safety and my sanity.
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Within the first twenty minutes, Dominie referenced a "secret, undamaged self" which, she explained, is a nondenominational way of describing the God self, the true self or Buddha nature. The concept enchanted me; is it really possible to have a secret self, one that is teflon-coated to all my mental, physical and emotional mistakes? As we developed this image further it only got better. The true self is vast. warm, unlimited, and it can provide the font of energy and resilience for all that we do.
Can you imagine having an unlimited source of energy that does not spring from coffee, the morning workout, lazy nap time or a charged relationship? I constantly feel that I may run out of energy for the kids, for Rob, for myself. The measuring - out of energy and calculations required to determine how to replace it are exhausting in and of themselves. The idea of having access to an unlimited supply bubbles up the same feeling delight I got when I learned a new yoga pose called "cow face," just a sense of 'no way, you've got to be kidding, how great is that!'
May we all find the 'secret undamaged self' within us and let that self provide us with all that we need.
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Monday, October 7, 2013
Friday, October 4, 2013
Thursday, October 3, 2013
So I'm muddling about with my computer, trying to re-write the piece and figure out who to be mad at, when I took a little time out to read Eknath Easwaran's book on Passage Meditation. After about three minutes I received this little lightning bolt from the universe:
"For most of us, conditioning - habits of thinking, feeling, and acting - flows through our days like a powerful river. Understandably, we usually lie back and float downstream. When a river of anger rises, for example, it is so easy, so apparently satisfying, to let it carry us along. Just try swimming against it! Your teeth will chatter, your breathing will become labored, your legs will grow weak. But the spiritual life requires that we do just that: reverse our conditioning and swim upstream, like salmon returning home."
Now I'm not sure whether my chattering teeth and weak legs are derivatives of my anger issue or of my chelation therapy, but it looks like I better jump back in the pool and start swimming upstream. I'll see you all at the salmon ladder . . .
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Hopefully I can get some work done while hooked to the IV. Today I only chatted away with the nurse/receptionist at the office; we're good friends now that I've spent a significant portion of the last year in those confines. But I do get to do some reading and I wanted to share a great quote from a new book on meditation:
"Compared to the immense capacity for spiritual awareness latent in the human being, the great majority of us can almost be said to be living in our sleep - dreaming that if only we could have a million dollars, win the Nobel Prize, get our portrait on the cover of TIME, or marry the screen star of the day, we would be happy. This is like chasing the horizon, because happiness does not lie outside us. It can only be found within - a most elusive realm which the modern world, with its overwhelming emphasis on sensory experience, has effectively hidden from our view."
-Eknath Easwaran, Passage Meditation
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
After I presented her with a marathon finisher's medal and certificate, Pam told me a little about her treatment. She noted that when she walked into MD Anderson, in Houston, she immediately felt like she was in a "roomful of warriors." She also noted that an illness like cancer forces you to find another dimension of yourself, which she, like many thousands of men and women, has found.
When I left Denver and headed for the gym I ran into another indomitable friend in the locker room. My dear friend Chris, who had a catastrophic compound fracture in her ankle last May, is now up and walking with only one crutch. She has come through two serious surgeries and many, many discouraging days; not only is she close to walking again but she has finished a full-sized portrait of the David and done many other art projects while she was laid up on her couch. When I noted that new challenges help us pass the time and stay motivated while we are ill she said, "that, and we have only touched a fraction of our potential."
The human spirit is flexible, resilient, amazing. Life can be harder than one can possibly bear, but we bear it. My heart goes out to everyone fighting their way through the valley and up the mountain, and to their caregivers and families as well. You are warriors, and you will find your other dimension.