FOUNTAINS FOR ETERNAL YOUTH

What is it about fountains that make people go, ahhh, or that entice little kids to run through them (clad or unclad)? You know how they make you feel happy in either a peaceful kind of way or in a ‘yippee it’s a party’ kind of way?

I’ve been thinking about this for off and on for a while now.  My posts “Place” and “Gonna Take a Sacramental Journey” back in April reflected on how certain environments and elements awaken in us a deeper connection with our spiritual self.  And just as certain religious rituals provide sustenance for the soul (my grandmother was nourished by the food of daily holy communion for years), the sight, sounds, and sometime scents of moving water always brings me back to myself. 

I hear the continual but varied splashing of water against stone and it calls to me from an open window. My simple little wheel of a  fountain blends into the landscape like a miniature grist mill’s stone. Tucked into a shady corner of rambling pink rose bushes and low-lying Vinca (the prolific green ground cover with bright purple flowers),  it is your ear that first finds it. I love to hear the sound and even from an upstairs window, I can almost feel it. And it’s not just fountains either….it’s water than moves continually and evenly uneven, rhythms as varied as our own breath. 

I recall spring and summer days as a small child where I would spend an hour in the late afternoon with nothing but a twig as my paintbrush and I would pull stones up out of the water’s bed, sit by the gurgling brook in the woods behind our house letting them dry, and then “painting them with water again” to watch the colors change.  The coolness of that busy brook emanated right up to the mossy patch from where I took my respite, sometimes for a moment so tiny I would only catch it when a breeze sent it to me.

My current front yard fountain and my old back yard brook shared similar sounds of quiet tinkling.  I am grateful for their offerings.

Then, there are the ones that are “OH, WOW”.  I have had the great blessings to have seen, felt, heard, and yes, even smelled, the many incredible ancient and modern fountains that dot all of Italy, especially Rome.  The Trevi Fountain with its awe-inspiring statues and the pool filled with coins from luck hopeful tourists is heart lifting joy.  For me, these fountains, each more beautiful than the next, was like my children on their visit to Disney World.  They ran from one exhibit to the next…”Hey, Mom, look at this!  Hey, Mom, come over here quick, look at this!”

That is exactly how I feel. Get me around fountains or bubbling brooks or the ocean or a rushing river or oh yeah, A WATERFALL (so cool, such a rush) and yet all of these simultaneously peaceful. 

So on this last day of July, for us here in New England perfect bliss, you’ll find me near the water, listening.

THE FIERCE SWORD OF COMPASSION

Today’s post is about compassion, what it is and what it isn’t. The title for the post comes from Jack Kornfield, world renown Buddhist teacher and guide, from a book I can not recommend highly enough entitled The Wise Heart. Citing from Kornfield’s introduction of what Buddhism is and isn’t provides a helpful backdrop to the universal application of compassion. It is a principle that is a cornerstone of every life well lived, whether one adheres to a particular faith or not:

“In approaching this dialogue, I’d like to underscore a point the Dalai Lama has made repeatedly: “Buddhist teachings are not a religion, they are a science of mind.”  This does not deny the fact that for many people around the world Buddhism has also come to function as a religion.  Like most religions, it offers its followers a rich tradition of devotional practices, communal rituals, and sacred stories. But this is not the origin of Buddhism or its core.  The Buddha was a human being, not a god, and what he offered his followers were experiential teachings and practices, a revolutionary way to understand and release suffering.” 

In fact, an Italian scientist named Giacomo Rizzolatti and his colleagues discovered a class of brain cells called “mirror neurons.”  Their research showed that through our mirror neurons we actually feel the emotions, movements, and intentions of others. It is part of our social brain, “a neural circuitry that connects us.” 

Linguistically, the word compassion has its roots in Latin and Old French.  From the Latin compassionem, com (with), pati (to suffer), ion (state of, act of), it means “the act of suffering together.”  When we feel another’s sorrow:  at a friend’s husband’s funeral, with a mother whose child is undergoing chemotherapy, we often weep with them and for them. On another level, we feel the anguish also for ourselves.  We too are not immune, we all have experienced or will experience pain and death, of one kind or another.  There is much healthy connection in feeling sympathy for another’s pain.  If we have experienced similar tragedies, we may have something insightful to contribute to alleviate the suffering.  Yet, even if we have never had that experience, as humans we contain the urge and strong desire to end their suffering. Our willingness and openness to become a vehicle for healing can, in and of itself, bring comfort. 

That healthy connection means that I will stand with you in your pain and you will stand with me in mine; and we will bear it together.  We CAN bear it.  It is the opposite of fearful aversion that does not want to look, that feels like it can’t look.  This keeps us tucked away in our separateness, holding on for dear life with the delusion that such and such could never happen to me. This paradigm contains the seeds of suffering for everyone.

So what is meant then by the fierce sword of compassion? It is the “no” of compassion.  We can know and serve others, but we are not going to save the world.

 Again, Kornfield:  “Compassion is not foolish.  It doesn’t just go along with what others want so they don’t feel bad.  There is a yes in compassion, and there is also a no, said with the same courage of heart.  No to abuse, no to violence, both personal and worldwide.  The no is said not out of hate but out of unwavering care.  It is the powerful no of leaving a destructive family, the agonizing no of allowing an addict to experience the consequences of his acts.”

It is the learning to finding the harmony between holding on and letting go…in love.  May you find courage in the yes and no of your compassion.

WHAT YOU THINK OF ME IS NONE OF MY BUSINESS

I have often times thought about how others might be perceiving my actions.  What do they think of me?  Do I look foolish or unworthy or are my thoughts ridiculous?  Even when I know that to take things personally is an unproductive action of the ego, I still do.  Yet, truly, intellectually, I know that what you think of me is none of my business. My father spoke of this often.  He lived free, allowing his own judgments of his actions to be sufficient.  For me, it is a daily act of affirmation and recognition that not only do I try not to take things personally, but that I strive not to judge anything or anyone that crosses my path today.  

People judge us by the surface of our lives; we compare other people’s outsides to our insides and we inevitably lose.  They look at how we raise our children, and judge us too strict or too lenient.  If our children succeed in academics or athletics or rise to any number of great heights, we are such good parents. If they wind up slacking off, drinking beer, smoking pot, or any number of shenanigans that teenagers get into, we are responsible and should hang our heads and be ashamed.

What silliness and small mindedness is involved in this black and white way of thinking.  It is easier to take part in when we are younger and more naive.  Judging is a fearful act of separating and protecting oneself.  If you are not feeling particularly secure in your own skin, pronouncing that you “know the answers” and that others fall short of the mark, feels subconsciously at least, safe.

Later, of course, when we mature and life hands us our own inevitable “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, we learn that life is too complex to judge, that why people do what they do is made up of a unique mixture of nature and nurture.  We have not walked even close to a mile in their particular skin.  Tragedy throws itself on the most unlikely and undeserving victims.  Addictions and disease befall the greatest of characters.

With luck, with God’s grace, with help of friends, family, and the kindness of strangers, we are sometimes blessed with peace which passeth all understanding, with endurance that lasts beyond all signs of exhaustion, and most of all, hope that all will eventually be well.  Somehow, someway.  Regardless and in spite of, what anyone else has to say about it. 

So, just for today, let other’s opinions go.  Let the harsh judgments of the crowd silence in the quiet of your heart.  You are doing the best you can with what you’ve got…and it’s enough.

THE TWO MOST BEAUTIFUL WORDS IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE

Henry James once wrote that “the two most beautiful words in the English Language were Summer Afternoon.” I, for one, couldn’t agree more.  So, instead of any sort of diatribe, here, instead, is my little ode to summer memories:

Summer Snapshots

Take a sip of Clarity

Roll it around with your tongue

Like a fine red wine

Like a warm cup of chocolate.

Savor

Moments Divine are just that.

Moments

Nourishment for the spiritual journey.  Allow yourself these thimbles of quiet joy, let them go.

Skipping down the jetty/Skimming flat smooth rocks/Slate blue Brick red Stone gray granite

Counting tiny waves

Then

Watch gnarled driftwood float on by.

Summer breeze flaps the skirt’s fabric/Tightly around spindly legs/Catching a band-aid on the right knee.

Vivacity

In a coral gingham pinafore

Swinging on her new metal swing set in the backyard.

Watermelon dripping down a chin

While

Wispy clouds waft perfume

Old-fashioned roses

Thorns and All.

Climbing up the Lattice/White wooden trellis

Just a little linger/Just a little longer.

A verdigris weathered vane remains as muse. 

Russet equinox autumnal

Churns maple walnut ice cream

Marks the end of scallop season.

Dense breads and muffins

Soul food for dark days to come.

Shortbread is my name/Wrapped in a linen handkerchief/Tied with a spool of sage green satin.

Apples steeped in caramel

Candy wrappers strewn/”No shenanigans here please!”/Nighttime escapades suspended

I just want to lay on the sofa awhile

Remembering the last yellow leaves of the Aspen, the last tasty clam fritter.

Each season with its own paraphernalia

Containing moments the size of an atom

Simpatico with the whole of the universe, where all is now.

Amen

HERE’S YOUR HAT-WHAT’S YOUR HURRY?

There was a hit country and western song some years back with this refrain:

I’m in a hurry to get things done/Well, I rush and rush until life’s no fun/All I really gotta do is live and die/But I’m in a hurry and don’t know why

It seems the popularity of that song could have been the fact that so many people in Western culture (Americans, in particular) can relate to its message.  The “rat race”, the “to do” list, and the attending “road rage” are shared and common images in our culture.  Knowing that others are as out of sorts as we are makes us feel that we are not alone, right? 

In addition, if that’s the way it is, maybe we should just learn to grin and bear it  After all, removing ourselves from the status quo, changing, is scary and a discipline and hard work.  The truth is the “quick, get me a band-aid” balm that we all want so badly in order to continue on our own well-worn path, with its arteries of impulses and ingrained habits, creates such lasting infections of mind, body, and soul that the journey back to any semblance of wholeness becomes treacherous indeed.

We do not need a specialist to tell us that this manner of living is not healthy.  But the questions remains:  what do we do?  There remains a chasm between knowing something is out of whack and doing something about it.  For me, God bridges that ravine.  Developing a relationship with the God of my understanding has given me the wide perspective of eternity and a comfort that I am being cradled in God’s ever and ever presence.  God is the breath that I take and closer than that.  With this knowledge, I can challenge that clamor of my days with the breadth of my life.

Like all relationships, this takes commitment, time, and attention.  The fruit of blending the rushed routine of our everyday self with the person who we are, way down deep, is a kind of spiritual maturity that does not jump at every tugging.  Of course, in order to find a slower cadence in the flurry of daily activities requires us to stop at intervals throughout the day.  In my experience, without time for prayer and meditation, true inner peace cannot be sustained in any meaningful way. 

Once an ongoing sense of the Presence of God has been established in the subtleties that encompass and extend well beyond the epiphany moments of our lives, the roominess of eternity can get good and cozy in our souls.  The erratic pace kept up in averting the eyes from death, is like the proverbial ghost in the closet.  He frightens us less and less, as we come to know him more and more. 

From the lazy river of a timeless spirit, our cup overflows.  We can promote peace, bring mercy, and be comforted.  We can then wholeheartedly ask that “Thy will be done.”  As Howard Thurman states, “the will of God is native to my spirit.  It is the fundamental character of me.  It is the foundation of my mental, physical, and spiritual structure.  It is what I find when I am most myself.  It is what I find when I get down to the deepest things in me.  It is what is revealed when all the superficial things are sloughed off and I am essentially laid bare.”  Then, and only then, can Thy will be done.

“LIFE-WHAT HAPPENS TO YOU WHILE YOU’RE BUSY OUT MAKING OTHER PLANS”

John Lennon wrote these lines for his song “Beautiful Boy”.  A bit of wit and concise wisdom, these words have been a refrain of mine for some years. They remind me that my BIG plans for the day, week, month, or year are just that…plans.  As an example, many of us have had similar experiences like this one: you’re about to go for a hike and as you walk out the door, you hear a loud banging sound coming from the washing machine. Water is seeping onto the floor.  You are not going for a hike, you are going to have either fix it yourself or call a plumber, or least get the water to stop running and then go for the hike. 

This is life. We need to be easy in our saddle for when life interrupts our agenda. The little annoyances, which are more numerous,  can be viewed as daily practice drills for developing spiritual and emotional resilience, gaining a modicum of patience, and as a way to avoid the soul’s arch-enemy, complacency.

I, for one, need to be continually reminded of this.  Generally speaking, I consider myself a good-natured, happy sort of person.  When life goes really smoothly for any length of time, my human tendency is, I want it to continue! I don’t want (notice how many times I am using I) to have to deal with unexpected unpleasantness.  Yet it is the perennial curve balls that are a part of life that polish us our edges and hopefully keep us humble and grateful.  There is always grace in  “embracing the whole catastrophe”. 

That includes the REAL (i.e. IMPORTANT) stuff too.  Not just the washing machine, the flat tire; but the sick kid, the dying parent, the divorce… the losses that take our life’s journey as we  had known it and catapult it onto another plane entirely. We are temporarily disillusioned, disoriented, and at times, disheartened.  It is these big things that can and do stop us in our tracks, seize us (for a time) from the endless being busy making other plans.  We are present in a way that only suffering and great change provides.

Now I’m not a believer that everything happens for a reason or that God saves some people in a car crash while letting others die.  I don’t want a Puritanical God who like Jonathan Edwards envisioned, “holds us like tiny spiders over an open pit.”  If there is a tally maker up in the sky counting transgressions, He/She/It has too much time on their hands.  I know that sometimes things make no sense, and that bad things happen randomly and without warning.  I believe God is our co-conspirator in grieving, in healing, and in finding creative ways to make some larger meanings in our life from ALL of our experiences.  I do.  I have witnessed it too many times to doubt it. 

It’s necessary to make plans. It’s good to be busy (as long as we also take some time to just be).  Yet it is those surprising events (in turns gleeful and terrifying), chance meetings, or tiny disasters that change us.  Take courage. If we let them, our life will grow in miraculous ways.

Some food for thought from a great little book entitled “The Right Questions” by Debbie Ford:  “Will I use this situation as a catalyst to grow and evolve or will I use it to beat myself up?”   

When someone whines, “life is just one thing after another”, I always think, yeah, right, life IS just one thing after another.  The difference in whining about it or in simple acceptance is Your REALITY.

CAN YOU DIG A HOLE TO CHINA?

As a kid, I can recall long summer days on the beach when my brother, sister, cousins, and sometimes just random kids would spend a better part of an afternoon helping to dig a hole to China. It was largely a group effort, the attempt being short lived if you were solo.  Invariably, however, we would be shoveling madly, with our plastic jelly bean colored diggers when we would hit water.  I suppose that’s what would happen in real life, if you tried to dig to China with big fancy high-tech equipment, your hole would eventually fill up with water.

Still the concept behind digging to China (besides keeping gainfully busy on the beach) was the idea that we could create a portal to take us to another place, a foreign world.  What would they think of us when we showed up in our bathing suits and pail and shovels?  Where there children in China at that very moment digging to Cape Cod?  What would we eat?  How far do you think we have to go; how far do you think we’ve gotten? We would discuss all sorts of thoughts like these while digging.   

It’s summer. Summer is a time for the imagination to run wild.  Good ole’ Will Shakespeare knew this only too well.  He let loose a host of fairy fantasties and sultry shenanigans in A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

“The cowslips tall her pensioners be/In their gold coats spots you see/Those be rubies, fairy favours/In those freckles live their savours/I must go seek some dewdrops here/And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.”  The fairy’s description of cowslips as gentlemen who wait upon the fairy queen. 

 Whether you are revisiting the surreal world of Alice in Wonderland this summer or are, like The Beach Boys dreaming of an Endless Summer;  I, for one, second that notion.  The pulse of life, the green on the trees, the warmth of the sun, the joys of being plant or animal, all revels in the present moment during this time of long days.  We’re not waiting for summer to be over.  We’re just happy it’s here.  Anything is possible, anything can happen. 

We can plant a garden, build a castle made of sand, sit on a beach all day and read a novel, bike, swim, sail, and row….or we can simply be.  The whole of it is just like one giant prayer.  Mystic and theologican Meister Eckhart once said that if in your whole life you only said one prayer, “Thank You” that would be enough.  I’ve heard this many times.  Right now I mean it, Thank you.