PUTTING YOUR STORY DOWN

For some time now, my three children (20-somethings) share this little mantra with me, often accompanied by a big grin. It goes like this: “Just do you, Mom!”

Whether that means wearing a funky flowered hat, leading a guided meditation on the quad of a local campus, or making friends in line at the RMV, I find this call to just be myself a lovely affirmation every time I hear it.

I believe their call to me is an echo back from my daily attempts to encourage their discoveries about themselves ever since they began that discernment process.  Of course, like all of us, they have shifted and morphed as they “tried on” various versions of jock, artist, rock star, philanthropist, hipster, and general badass.  Some they have tossed out of hand.  While others have become integral pieces of who they are.


be yourself

And of course, like all of us, they have suffered. There have been grave losses, illness, dark times, and broken dreams.  Yet, I have seen these unwanted crucibles, time and again, transform them and others in miraculous ways to live life fully present.  There seems to be no profound personal or spiritual advancement without them.

However, these are the places where we can get stuck.

The journey of who we are and why we are is a life-long one. The task is made more difficult when we hold on to identities about ourselves that don’t tell the whole story.

Often, in my classes, when I ask people what they would like us to know about them, their first identifier may be, “I am a recovering alcoholic” or “I am a survivor of abuse.” These are hugely important facts.  It is vital to share these parts of ourselves. They demonstrate strength, resilience, and a tenacity to rise above.  They are living proof to yourself and others that you have been through the worst and have come out the other side.

These experiences help to shape us, AND THEY ARE NOT US. Each of us is much more than even the sum of all our stories.

Clinging to your personal history as it is you, is still living in the past.    121

Transforming your past into a happier today includes sharing your experiences with others, whether they be hard tales of abuse, addiction, neglect, or poverty. Both speaker and listener heal, grow, and connect deeply with one other.

Embracing your past from this perspective, you can honor and accept where you have been, utilizing it in the present where need be. But releasing the attachment to these stories.  They will not disappear. Nothing gets lost.

Just doing you is a call to the present…

In fact, this release allows us to live in the only time there is: now.

There is no need to put labels on who we are.  Living unencumbered by our own or other’s definition of who we are: we see things with fresh eyes.

nompondo dp“Just do you” is the vibrancy of noticing what’s around you right now: a smooth pottery coffee mug, cloud formations or rain at the windows.  People and creatures, landscape and cityscape, offering themselves for enjoyment.  The authentic you arises naturally from this place.

There is a lightness and rightness about being you in this moment.

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NOTICING

Have you ever noticed that a lot of the time you are just not noticing? For instance, you are driving to the grocery store or to work (both of which you have done a million times), and not remembering when you arrive how you got there.  Just traveling on auto pilot, or absorbed in a phone conversation, you have missed the ride. Perhaps you think, “I’ve done this trip so often I could do it in my sleep!” And guess what? In a very real way, you are!  Conscious but not truly awake. 090514a127_2780 (1)

Our daily tasks of necessary repetition and ritual, whether it brewing the coffee, throwing in another load of laundry, walking the dog, become so automatic that these activities become the things we do between the times we actually are doing something that we are fully engaged in and are aware of.  The unfortunate thing is, if we add up all of these moments each day, we are actually “checked out” for a solid portion of our life.

You may recall the internet sensation a few years ago, where participants were asked to watch for how many times three white shirted basketball players came onto a scene. A shocking fifty percent missed seeing a person in a gorilla suit sauntering in, pumping his chest.  Even when looking right at him!  This phenomenon, coined “inattentional blindness” has been demonstrated time and again.

In Smithsonian (Sept. 2012), psychologist Christopher Chabris and journalist Mark Strauss set up an experiment where participants were told to jog behind a man and record how many times he touched his hat. As they jogged, they ran by a staged fight where two men were savagely beating a third man.  In broad daylight, 45% missed the altercation entirely and at night, that number rose to 65%. trapeze artist

We become so focused on what we think we need to see or so confident of what we know is there that nothing has the ability to enter.

While anthropologists posit that there is indeed an upside for why we have this ability to filter attention–specifically the benefit of being able to disregard distractions while trying to focus on a task, it appears we have become too proficient.

The limitations of inattentional blindness are felt everywhere. Complicating this issue is the overloading distraction dumping at all times.  The myriad forms of instant communication continuously clamoring for our attention, leaving us breathless…and mind (less).

We feel the effects of our inattention in automobile accidents, addictions, rises in ADD/ADHD, and the rampant sense of isolation that occurs with the breakdown of intimacy and congeniality in all manners of relationships.  The lack of simple presence of attention leads to misunderstanding and disconnection, and this includes our relationships with ourselves.

But there is a way out, and it starts today, in the here and now.  The only time there is.  We can begin in this moment to begin to purposely notice.  We can purposely and voluntarily take mini breaks from our devices throughout the day.

We can pay attention to our breath and body as we enter our car on the way to the grocery store. We can take stock of our surroundings while driving.  We may discover a beautiful old home along the road that we never knew was there, all these years on this same path.  We could discover the cool breeze or warm sun on our face with our windows opened just a bit. Or we can simply marvel at how this car of ours gets us safely from one place to another .

In other words, there is nothing that is unworthy of our noticing.  All parts of our days can be enriched by our very presence.

photo_12481_20100214Gary Snyder, in his work The Practice of the Wild points powerfully to this:                                  

”All of us are apprenticed to the same teacher that the religious institutions originally worked with: reality.  Reality-insight says…master the twenty- four hours.

Do it well, without self-pity.  It is as hard to get the children herded into the car pool and down the road to the bus as it is to chant sutras in the Buddha-hall on a cold morning.

One move is not better than the other, each can be quite boring, and they both have the virtuous quality of repetition.

Repetition and ritual and their good results come in many forms.  Changing the filter, wiping noses, going to meetings, picking up around the house, washing dishes, checking the dipstick–don’t let yourself think these are distracting you from your more serious pursuits.

Such a round of chores is not a set of difficulties we hope to escape from so that we may do our “practice” which will put us on a “path”- it is our path”.

 

 

 

 

SCIENCE AS A SPIRITUAL PRACTICE

dreamstime_13267733It is human to crave certainty.  Especially as people find themselves feeling less and less safe in a world where senseless violence occurs randomly, indiscriminately. People seek out messages that promise salvation, that give unwavering answers to their ultimate questions of the whys and hows and meanings of life.  With underlying fear serving as a primary motivator, it is any wonder that many major faiths perceive any conflicting idea as a threat to their “proclaimed truth” that must be squelched?

And yet the world is an uncertain place.  Immature religion makes specific promises to those who follow blindly and there are many takers.  But a faith that believes that our current knowledge is not complete, but is continually being revealed, takes the greatest leap and reaps the greatest reward.   It is Religion that knows that Science is not at odds with its practice. Instead of a penchant for polarizing, splitting our thoughts into atoms of absolute truth or fervent absolutism, we can know that we all hold only partial truth and we all but “see in a mirror darkly”.  Instead of a world view that smacks of self-righteousness, forming our views of what is right and what is wrong on either the most rigid religious beliefs or the latest scientific discovery, we can find God in science and science in God.

Full MoonAmong the many discoveries made by the Hubble telescope in the last decade is that there is considerably “more” to the universe than scientists had previously believed.  I mean a lot more.  It is expanding.  And this expansion is happening at increasingly faster rates as time passes.  Twenty years ago, scientists posited that there were two galaxies for everyone alive. Now, that figure is closer to nine galaxies for each of us or about eighty billion galaxies total.  Each of these  galaxies harbors at least one hundred billion suns.  In our galaxy, the Milky way, there are four hundred billion suns-give or take 50 percent-or sixty-nine suns- for each person alive.planetearth

One more mind bender: according to the Hubble European Space Agency, cosmologists estimate that what we can “see” in our universe accounts for only about 15 to 20 percent of the “matter” that is actually out there.

These astronomical statistics affirm a spiritual sense of awe in the vastness and mystery in which we live, direct my daily personal concerns with a backdrop of perspective, and strengthens my firm belief in the perpetual power of creativity from the single cell organism to the complexity of several billion galaxies.

I don’t know about creating the universe in 6 days and resting on the 7th, literally speaking.  I do know that it has provided structure for thousands of years to millions of Jews and Christians, satisfying the human need to know how we began and ingeniously giving a rhythm to life.  When Darwin shook up this notion of our origins, what remained was still the hand of order and amazing adaption.

I have a dear friend who believes that the scientists today are the true theologians.  That those devoting their lives to finding out when life as we know it exactly began, that singular occurrence, and how it happened, they are trying to solve the mystery of why we are here, how we came to be here.  How come something, rather than nothing?

This is no dichotomy of science and religion, but a thinking, open-hearted spirituality. Both are true.  “Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light‐years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual. So are our emotions in the presence of great art or music or literature, or acts of exemplary selfless courage such as those of Mohandas Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.”― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

 

 

MYSTERY

Underpinning all our knowledge of the world and its workings is mystery. 

The Christian theologian Karl Rahner writes: “Mystery is something familiar, something that we love, even when we are terrified by it or perhaps even annoyed or angered and what to be done with it… In the ultimate depths of our being we know nothing more surely than that our knowledge, that is, what is called knowledge in everyday parlance, is only a small island in a vast sea, but ultimately it is borne by the sea.  Hence the deepest question for us humans is this.  Which do we love more, the small island of our so-called knowledge or the sea of infinite mystery?”

I have discovered for me that “the small island” that comprises the traditional religious beliefs I was raised with and the dogmas and creeds that were spoon fed to me give me no reliable information about the nature of mystery.  The tenets and closed ended affirmations, the once and for all proclamations of what brings salvation and what is the meaning of life, may bring for many a craved sense of security, and be enough.  But they leave me feeling like I’ve only stuck a timid toe in, never plunging down into the depths of the ineffable.  

Religious practices that place us in relation to the real, transforming power of mystery, the power of God, the ones that have as a participant with this creative force, this energy alive but resisting definition, that puts us squarely in the face of mystery, in a direct experiential way; that’s what I’m talking about. Hoping to risk my significance for this.  Hoping I can. 

What has been most imperative it seems is that I empty myself, or perhaps more accurately, be more self-giving.  I must commit myself to the process, as much as I can each day.  And as only God knows, this level of commitment shifts from day-to-day, moment to moment. 

How do I know if I’m actually floating in this vast sea of mystery?  It’s usually what I never initially intended.  It always when I am not attempting to shape the world closer to my own heart’s desire but instead am somehow having my heart transformed so that what I now want is something very different that what I desired at the beginning. 

While I can dally in the idea of God beyond space and time, I need a religious reality than must be some aspect of the observable, natural world. It is infallible because it holds together when I am broken, and while great disasters are not averted here in the real world, personal ones, local ones, global ones, they are not the final answer.

When what had once appeared as mundane events in a life of what can at times feel like an endless loop of dry cleaning, dog walking, work, dinner preparation, sleep, repeat again,  now is punctuated with encounters and events pervasive with meaning. Where once had been merely material happenings randomly occurring, there is now richness and trust in the very process of life, perhaps even prophecy, that is mystery.

There is not longer just my story, my will. Letting go of control, of plans,what is exposed is a collective tendency within the world to create ever-increasing complex wholes, in which the parts work together to enhance and magnify each other. 

That these daily moments of grace happen is a practice of noticing.  How they happen is mystery.

UBUNTU

Ubuntu is an African term that says, “I am because you are, you are because I am.”  It is an age-old African philosophy of compassion and being in harmony with all of creation.  This idea of harmony can be a helpful construct when learning to live at peace with yourself and others.  It allows for flexibility and individuality, and a mutuality of purpose. It clears for us a vision of shared humanity.

Musically speaking, harmonizing is essential.  An orchestra may all be playing the same piece but the various instruments are stressing minor and major chords and their own particular sound to enhance the piece.  Without each of the players in harmony, the finished work would be different, less, or just plain awful.

This can be applied to our personal and professional lives as well.  Do you harmonize with other people or do you expect them to harmonize with you?  When someone says no to something, do you find yourself ready to argue?  If you ever feel like you are forcing a situation with a little too much self-will, what would happen if you just said, Okay?

If we can bend a little or are willing to see something from another’s point of view, we can find resolution’s not seen when we are trying to force our hand.  We find compatibility, when at first all were seeing is discord.  We can remember Ubuntu, “I am because you are, you are because I am”.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  If we really aren’t compatible with certain situations, it may be time to leave.  In addition, there are moments when we do need to stand up for ourselves. There are also times when it’s fun to say or do things to deliberately challenge or provoke others.  A good banter now and again has its pleasures.

However, we (myself included) self-reliant types would do well to practice a wee bit of nonresistance.  We do NOT lose our identity when CHOOSING to harmonize. Wouldn’t our energy poured out in harmony, instead of attempting to overpower someone or to resist for resistance’s sake, be cleaner and more efficient?!

Ubuntu is not just saying live and let live.  It’s living together.  It involves enough self-awareness to be ourselves, and enough adaptability to fit that self into different situations.  We can be ourselves and still be part of a couple, team, environment, or group.   Interdependence really does provide for the healthiest and most creative solutions for our relationships and our world.

When you begin to practice Ubuntu, friends, lovers, and colleagues will most likely notice a change in your interactions with them, and ask what’s up.  You can simply say, “Ubuntu.”

Loving Kindness Meditation

There is an ancient and transformative meditation that the Buddha encouraged that elicits a gentle spirit, towards ourselves and others.

It is a practice that opens the heart toward forgiveness, even towards those who we may have deemed enemies. We may have people in our life who have caused us great pain or we may feel have stolen from us our essential self.  This, of course, is an illusion (though it can hold a powerful and long lasting spell on us if we are not awakened to it).  With loving kindness meditation, we can be restored to remember who we are, to listen our own good heart, our own best Self.

We can discover the wisdom to open the doors and windows of the Spirit.  It begins, always,  with a loving kindness towards ourselves.  It is after all, almost impossible to truly love others…until we know, love, and accept ourselves.  From this touchstone, we can spread our ability to love towards those in our inner circle, and then out into the wider world.

Begin with the breath of mindfulness, it is the breath that calls us to this moment.  It is life’s breath.  It is the breath that breathes through you, that you do not have to control, that you do not ultimately control. Be in your body.  It is a good body, and worthy of your care and respect.

Each day, for as many days as you can be present, repeat these ancient words:

“May I be filled with loving kindness/May I be well in body and mind/May I be safe from inner and outer dangers/May I be happy/Truly happy and free”*

*(taken from Jack Kornfield’s Audio Meditation on Loving Kindness)

I do this, dear reader, and it is changing me.  I watched a woman laughing on a 100 degree day in Charlotte, NC with her labrador retriever, getting cooled off in a beautiful fountain in the park.  She was directing her dog to the places that he could catch a drink of water.  She maneuvered him so deftly, so joyfully…it was only as I left that I realized that she was blind, and that this dog was her eyes.  Or perhaps something more?

With loving kindness, we are given eyes to see.  She was seeing, though not without the aid of  natural sight.

And last night, I caught a glimpse of early summer evening light on two church steeples and the glint  of their brass weathervanes…signs of old New England, and felt blessed, blessed to be exactly where I was.  Steeped in love and kindness towards myself, the ones I have been given to love, and towards those who crossed my paths…all bathed in this light.  Blessed be.

THE TORCH OF REASON AND THE FIRST AMENDMENT

On the eve of the elections and the “increasing heat and decreasing light” of free expression, I think it apropos to remember that in the end it is the torch of reason that should determine how far our first amendment (the right to free speech) is allowed to go.

In the Oct. 4th issue of the Christian Science Monitor, the article “Free Speech, How Free Should it Be?” covered this very topic.  Using many recent examples, among them the US Supreme Court case now underway examining whether members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, went too far when they staged a protest at a fallen marine’s funeral in Maryland.  The demonstrators hoisted signs proclaiming: “You are going to hell” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers”.  Fred Phelps, pastor of the Westboro church, has made a career out of using blunt and offensive statements to try to shock Americans into joining his crusade against gay rights.  His followers show up at military funerals and announce that God is killing American soldiers for the sins of the country.  Funeral goers are urged to repent…or else.

In Maryland, it was too much for the grieving father, Albert Snyder, to endure.  He sued. The case pits Mr. Snyder’s First Amendment right to peacefully assemble in a church to mourn his son’s passing against the Westboro protesters’ right to chant  harsh slogans and display shocking signs in their campaign for so-called moral salvation for the nation.

The Monitor adds: “The essence of free speech in America is not that you can say whatever you want.  There is no constitutional right to libel someone, or to use ‘fighting words’ that are sure to provoke fisitcuffs…there is no constitutional right to falsely yell ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater.  Government regulation of that speech is appropriate because of the predictable outcome of panic.”

Yet we are also a country that can paint a Hitler mustache on the president’s likeness without fear of the government’s wrath (something I personally find utterly deplorable nonetheless), while a poem critical of the King in Jordan can land its writer in jail.

So what is the yardstick?  Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis provided a sage response in a 1927 case: “To courageous, self-reliant men, with confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning applied through the processes of popular government, no danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion.  If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

In other words, “It is the principle that the best way to counter a stupid idea, a hateful idea, a dangerous idea, is through the expression of better ideas.” 

Sound advice.  We have been hearing from the rabble rousers, the stirrers of the pot, and the haters for months now.  We must use our first amendment to speak up and out against those who will not let a family bury their dead in peace.  We must vote for those who represent us in the forum of public civil discourse, that will be, well, civil. It is not in yelling back, but in providing thoughtful responses that seek consensus and equanimity that the wonder of our first amendment stands.  If we do not use our first amendment right to counter the “stupid, hateful or dangerous ideas, we have no one to blame but ourselves, and oh yeah, as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert would say, “the media”!