Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tasting Life

Life often feels good. Life sometimes also feels bad. Sometimes it's bland. Sometimes it's delicious. Slowing down helps us notice and honor--maybe even welcome--whatever life feels or tastes like.

I love this Jean Janzen poem. It supports my own bias--to grow in openness and skill to taste life to the full.


Wild Grapes  --Jean Janzen

Grandfather, dying in November,
asked for wild grapes from
a distant creek. He remembered them,
sweet under the leaves, sent Peter,
his eldest, on horseback.
Through the window the light,
golden as broth, filled his bedside cups,
and the dusty air shimmered.

I have known others who, at the end,
crushed the flesh of nectarine against
the dry palate, or swallowed bits
of cake, eyes brimming.

What to drink in remembrance
of each morning that offered itself
with open arms? What food
for the moments we whispered
into its brightness?

Grandfather, the last pain-filled days,
dreamed cures. He who loved God,
who would go to him, but who also
loved this world, filled as it is
with such indescribable beauty that
you have to eat it.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Pilgrimage and Presence

There's a wonderful old prayer, formatted below as a poem:

O God of peace, you
have taught us
that in returning
and rest
we shall be saved,
in quietness
and confidence
shall be our strength.
By the might
of your Spirit
lift us,
we pray,
into your presence,
where we may be still
and know
that you are God.

If you haven't already, take an unhurried moment to read, to move with these words at a pace where you neither get ahead of them or fall behind. 

If you find a word or phrase unhelpful do your best to translate them into something that’s truer for you. 

What else might you change to make this prayer a prayer that describes what takes you into Presence? 

I can imagine God might want to make changes too (though we can never be really sure what changes those might be)!

I experience this as a wonderful prayer. Almost every time I pray it, it functions for me like an incantation--like Gandalf chanting "Speak Friend And Open," at the Gates of Moria. If I slow down and move with these words, literally at the pace of comprehension, doors open, and I am present for Presence.

Lots of people used to invest lots of time and effort in order to come into Presence. People made pilgrimages to holy places. 'Holy Place' is how 'Sanctuary' translates. The thing that sanctifies a place is Presence

Read this snippet from an R S Thomas poem:

In cities that
   have outgrown their promise people
   are becoming pilgrims
   again, if not to this place,
   then to the recreation of it
   in their own spirits. 

We live at a time when people are becoming pilgrims to holy places in their own spirits. This doesn't mean we don't also find Presence in traditional sacred places. It's a both/and thing for many of us, though for some, for one reason and another, it's often necessary to make new paths.  Both old and new pilgrim paths move people toward Presence. And both take people into community and adventure. 

And both involve inspiration, effort and grace. But neither guarantees Presence—though it's very rare when Presence is not experienced on the way to and within the holy places of pilgrimage. 

Just slowing down and 'entering' the prayer at the beginning of this post is a kind of pilgrimage. The 'returning' describes a path we take and take and take. No guarantee of Presence. And yet....

And yet...it is on journeys like this, short or long, where we find the quieting and the stilling and the knowing that something in us is always longing for.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Pace & Peace

Wanna find God? Simple. Drive slower--God doesn't break the speed limit unless somebody's pregnant and needs to get to the hospital.

Wanna find peace? No problem. Let the worries of your driven self race on ahead while you stay behind with what's left.

Wanna be joyful? Easy. Chew slow enough to taste your food. God prepares a table for us every day--and even though it's often in the presence of our 'enemies,' each bite of God's cooking is too good to miss.

Do these and similar things figuratively and literally.

By 'literally' I mean at least once a day drive slower than usual. Use your car as a hermitage. Be kind. Make room for others on the road. Take the scenic route.

When you feel anxiety like a squirmy bunch of catepillars in your gut, pick one, just one, and watch it until it metamorphs into a moth or butterfly and under it's own power flies away.

At 3:45 in the afternoon say to yourself, "How about a nice cuppa tea?" Then put a kettle on and call the time it takes to boil a sabbatical.

All those wise ones over the years are right, you know?

Going faster than the actual speed of life keeps us perptetually just out of reachof what life actually can be--Real, Pithy, Delightful, Full of Flavor.

Wave your wand. Take one small step...backward. Exhale. Move at the pace of Life.

(MH--re-posted from last year)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Healing: The Mind

Jesus said, "You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free." This is a favorite Wisdom saying for me these days. Only I've been adding President James Garfield's addendum to it: "But first it will make you miserable."

This isn't always true. And Garfield says it in a way that shocks for emphasis. Yet when we're on a spiritual path, and we're inspired and brave enough to stay on it, it's true enough. 

The following passage from Jack Kornfield is a good description of one of the unavoidable views we get along 'true' spiritual paths. It's the prettiest picture. Yet "True" trumps "Pretty." Doesn't it? 

Or at least, Shouldn't it?

Mindful practice trains a person to observe the mind honestly and compassionately. What follows from JK is the honesty part--a truth that steady, clear, and brave observation always reveals. As you're reading it, remember the compassion part--the combination of clear eyes and warm hearts is the very prescription for deep and lasting healing. 

('Sweeter' bits will follow soon)

Just as we heal the body and the heart though awareness, so can we heal the mind. Just as we learn about the nature and rhythm of sensations and feelings, so can we learn about the nature of thoughts. As we notice our thoughts in meditation, we discover that they are not in our control—we swim in an uninvited constant stream of memories, plans, expectations, judgments, regrets.

The mind begins to show how it contains all possibilities, often in conflict with one another—the beautiful qualities of a saint and the dark forces of a dictator and murderer. Out of these, the mind plans and imagines, creating endless struggles and scenarios for changing the world.

Yet the very root of these movements of mind is dissatisfaction. We seem to want both endless excitement and perfect peace. Instead of being served by our thinking, we are driven by it in many unconscious and unexamined ways. While thoughts can be enormously useful and creative, most often they dominate our experience with ideas of likes versus dislikes, higher versus lower, self versus other. They tell stories about our successes and failures, plan our security, and habitually remind us of who and what we think we are.

This dualistic nature of thought is a root of our suffering. Whenever we think of ourselves as separate, fear and attachment arise and we grow constricted, defensive, ambitious, and territorial. To protect the separate self, we push certain things away, while to bolster it we hold tightly to other things and identify with them. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Healing: The Art Letting Go

Richard Rohr, in the three paragraphs that follow, connects 'letting go' with forgiveness. Both these practices, Forgiveness and Letting Go, are part of the life work we do to heal ourselves and our world.

It's a beautiful teaching. Embodying it, practicing it, letting the habit of doing it become familiar (and almost delightful!) transforms us.

What does letting go on the practical level tell us? Letting go is different than denying or repressing. To let go of something is to admit it. You have to own it. Letting go is different than turning it against yourself; different than projecting it onto others. Letting go means that the denied, repressed, rejected parts of yourself, which are nonetheless true, are seen for what they are; but you refuse to turn them against yourself or against others. This is not denial or pretend, but actual transformation.

The religious word for this letting go is some form of forgiveness. You see the imperfect moment for what it is, and you hand it over to God. You refuse to let any negative storyline or self-serving agenda define your life. This is a very, very different way of living; it implies that you see your mistakes, your dark side, but you do not identify with either your superiority or your inferiority. Both are equally a problem.

Forgiveness is of one piece. Those who give it can also receive it. Those who receive it can pass forgiveness on. You are a conduit, and your only job is not to stop the flow. The art of letting go is really the secret of happiness and freedom.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Healing: The Heart

We continue the 'healing' thread. This week: healing the heart.

Following is a short and very helpful 4 lines by Thomas Keating, the godfather of a resurgence of Contemplative Prayer in North America. And a longer section from Jack Kornfield's A Path with Heart.

In this section JK quotes a wonderful poem by Windell Berry, I Go Among Trees and Sit Still. I've added a stanza that was left out.

I find all of this very helpful, but also deeply intuitive. I had to read WB's poem 5 times before I could even begin to absorb who was scared of what, etc.

Yet these re-readings were wonderfully rewarded--a growing understanding began to light up some of the typical stuff that troubles me, body and soul.

I wish the same light for you.

   The mind deceives.
   The body never lies.
   Listen to the wisdom of your body.
   Hear its truth. --Fr.Thomas Keating

Just as we open and heal the body by sensing its rhythms and touching it with a deep and kind attention, so we can open and heal other dimensions of our being. The heart and the feelings go through a similar process of healing... Most often, opening the heart begins by opening to a lifetime's accumulation of unacknowledged sorrow.

As we heal through meditation, our hearts break open to feel fully. Powerful feelings, deep unspoken parts of ourselves arise, and our task in meditation is first to let them move through us, then to recognize them and allow them to speak. A poem by Windell Berry illustrates this beautifully.

   I go among trees and sit still...
   Then what is afraid of me comes
   and lives a while in my sight.
   What it fears in me leaves me,
   and the fear of me leaves it.
   It sings, and I hear its song.

   Then what I am afraid of comes.
   I live for a while in its sight.
   What I fear in it leaves it,
   and the fear of it leaves me.
   It sings, and I hear its song.

   After days of labor,
   mute in my consternations,
   I hear my song at last,
   and I sing it. As we sing,
   the day turns, the trees move.

In truly listening to our most painful songs, we can learn the divine art of forgiveness; both forgiveness and compassion arise spontaneously with the opening of the heart. Somehow, in feeling our own pain and sorrow, our own ocean of tears, we come to know that ours is a shared pain and that the mystery and beauty and pain of life cannot be separated. This universal pain, too, is part of our connection with one another, and in the face of it we cannot withhold our love any longer.  --Jack Kornfield, A Path With Heart

Monday, August 5, 2013

Healing: Suffering Is Optional

Deep in the DNA of mindfulness is the insight that suffering is optional. If you practice mindfulness, even after a few weeks, you'll likely begin to see this for yourself.

However--there's a catch. There's some playfulness here with the definitions of pain and suffering. The Buddha used an example.

You get shot in the arm with an arrow. It hurts. A lot. That's pain. It's very, very real.

Ah, but then, you react to getting shot with an arrow. Who did this! Why me? Will my arm become infected? How long will it be before I can play tennis again? Maybe the Buddha didn't actually say this last bit. But he did say that this secondary discomfort is like getting shot by a second arrow. This is Me shooting Me, and You shooting You. This second arrow is suffering.

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Mindfulness both invites us and trains us to see which is which.

We are invited to take pain for exactly what it is and to work with it skillfully. We practice giving our best attention to the first arrow and dealing with it wisely and kindly.

And we are invited to take suffering for exactly what it is and work with it skillfully as well. We train in slowing down enough to note this second arrow--and who shoots it. In doing this we see (over and over) how reactive we are to pain.

Pain is inevitable; pain visits us regularly. Suffering visits us regularly too. But it's not inevitable--in many ways it is truly optional. And we can progressively come to understand what causes suffering and what cures it.

Below is another wise and helpful teaching on this from Jack Kornfield's A Path With Heart.

We can learn to be aware of pain without creating further tension, to experience and observe pain physically as pressure, tightness, pin pricks, needles, throbbing, or burning. Then we can notice all the layers around the pain. Beyond this may be an emotional layer of aversion, anger, or fear, and a layer of thoughts and attitudes such as "I hope this will go away soon" or "I feel pain: I must be doing something wrong."

Some practices try to conquer the body. Sometimes healers will recommend consciously aggressive meditation for healing certain illnesses. For certain people this has been helpful, but for myself and others, who have worked extensively with healing meditation, we find that a deeper kind of healing takes place when instead of sending aversion and aggression to wounds and illness, we bring loving kindness. Too often we have met our pain and disease, whether a simple back ache or a grave disease, by hating it, hating the whole afflicted area of our body. In mindful healing we direct a compassionate and loving attention to touch the innermost part of our wounds--and healing occurs.

Bringing systematic attention to our body can change our whole relationship to our physical life. We can notice more clearly the rhythms and needs of our bodies. Without mindfully attending to our bodies, we may become so busy in our daily lives that we lose touch with a sense of appropriate diet, movement, and physical enjoyment. Meditation can help us find out in what ways we are neglecting the physical aspects of our lives and help us hear what our body asks of us.