Posts

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.

Please follow and like us:

STOP RUNNING

For many years I had been obsessed with running…a little too obsessed is what friends and family members had hinted over the years.  I ran in any weather, like the postman, through rain, sleet, and winter’s snow.  I was out there.

Partly it was simply a well ingrained habit, like teeth brushing. And on those days when I was exhausted and blown out, pushing myself to “just do it”, I often returned with a renewed sense of energy…a clearer energy.

Lastly, lacing up those Asics and taking to the streets was a ritual akin to meditation for me.  The rhythm of my breath and the sound of my sneakers hitting the pavement always took any remaining frenetic energy down a notch.  Mindful running- a time to think and to not think…both realities of meditative practice.  Sometimes, I spent the first two miles or so simply repeating to myself, “one, two, one, two.”  Often, returning to work feeling calm with the added occasional bonus of gleaning some insight on a problem that has been bedeviling me for a while.

That all sounds good, right?  This is all reasonable and healthy…right? (bad knees notwithstanding).

But there was a fly in the ointment that only the sweetest, daffiest little lady that used to walk her dog as I ran could see.  Smiling wisely as I run past, shouting, “Good morning, can’t talk now, gotta run” and her kindly reply, “What are you running from today?”

What are you running from today?  Good question.  There was often a sense of urgency that I had felt for much of my life. Perhaps you too have experienced this at times, or more times than you can count?

What a shock when this urgency is unmasked as a terrible illusion.  When feelings or situations APPEAR too hard to face, when being in our body is more than a little uncomfortable, this is when we need to stop running. The only thing that will allow for transformation is letting all of it…all those monsters real and imagined… just BE.  To sit still, to allow painful emotions, whatever is there to wash over us like waves, while we sit like the mountain, like a Redwood, like the Buddha.  This is where peace resides.

Mark Nepo, in The Book of Awakening, speaks to our instinctive flight or fight responses, ” The doorway to your next step of growth is always behind the urgency of now.  Now more than ever, when all feels urgent,  you must cut the strings to all events.  Now more than ever, when the weights seemed tied to your wrists, you must not run or flail.  Now more than ever, when each decision feels like the end, you must believe that each question is a beginning.” He continues, “In this way, pray to have your True Self inch through your turmoil.”

I have been taking this advice for a time now. Renewed courage and expanding compassion bubble up from where my True Self resides.

Of course, in accepting my own human frailties, there are moments when I don’t dip that proverbial bucket down deep enough in order to access that well where ease and wisdom exist eternally.  Again and again, I need to be reminded to go back to the well, to tap it.  It is a well that never “runs” dry.

I’d like to close with a quote for the day (haven’t done that for a while!):

“All man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone.”  – Blaise Pascal

 

Please follow and like us:

BE WITH THOSE WHO HELP YOUR BEING

I was sent this poem written by the Sufi poet, Rumi, sometime ago and it continues to inspire me on many different levels:

“Be with those who help your being.  Don’t sit with indifferent people; whose breath comes cold out of their mouths.  Not these visible forms, your work is deeper.

A chunk of dirt thrown in the air breaks to pieces.  If you don’t try to fly, and so break yourself apart, you will be broken open by death, when it’s too late for all you could become.

Leaves get yellow.  The tree puts out fresh roots and makes them green.  Why are you so content with a love that turns you yellow?”

This poem has become a daily invitation and a challenge to me,  to bravely face all of my preconceived notions of who I am or who I thought I was and what my purpose is.  It reminds me that in this moment, and then in that one, I have to commit to the truth of the hard work and courage that goes along with being that person who is not content with “a love that turns you yellow.” 

It involves becoming a person ready and receptive to the fearless and  dangerous and REAL love that coaxes, prods, and pushes your being towards the flight God intended for you from your moment of creation.

Let yourself be thrown up in the air like a chunk of dirt breaking into tiny pieces?  Wow, this is a radical letting go of the Self that sounds like Bungee jumping to me.  Intellectually, I know that living without a safety net reaps rewards that the majority of folks will never taste…yet still, there is that  jump…

For much of my life, while I have outwardly appeared bold and brazen, my choices reflected a need for security, a tendency to complacency, and a holding on so tightly…I’m surprised I didn’t instantaneously combust!  Being broken open was not on MY agenda…emphasis on the word my.  

But life broke me open anyway (against my will) and what a ride! When you surrender and allow yourself to be broken open, people serendipitously appear who connect with you on a deeper level and bearing such gifts as love and wisdom and compassion that you wondered where all of these souls had been hiding.  They benefit from your person, your gifts, and your love too.  Nature mirrors this vibrancy of living in the light, of moving towards the light, the way a tree strains and grows towards the sun.

So here I am again in this moment, palms open, with the way of Jesus Christ, the path of the Buddha, the latest bestselling self-help book of Eckhart Tolle; loosening by bits that hard scab of self-will that seems to be resistant to removal, yet ripped off it must be as it blocks true joy.  Expanding my love beyond the border of friends and family, to include those difficult to love, those who have caused great hurt, the stranger, the plants and animals…

There are bright green shoots sprouting in my soul, fragile with promise and vulnerable to much, anticipating and percolating under the fertile food of the spirit.  It is a waiting time, much like the buds in winter.  It can be dark and scary at times, like it is at the roots of all things. Yet actively waiting is anything but indifferent and lucky for me there is still heat coming from my mouth.

Please follow and like us:

THOUGHTS ON THE TRINITY BY A UNITARIAN CHRISTIAN (what and huh?)

Note: Please hold this quote from Walt Whitman while reading today’s blog: “Do I contradict myself?  Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

Ever since my days with the nuns (the real ones, who by the way I drove crazy with my incessant questioning during Catholic catechism classes), I have struggled in vain with the dogma of the Trinity. Try as I might, my rational mind has always found it to be too much philosophy and too little of the practical.  It has been only recently that I have begun to admire its poetry, for me personally, its’ saving grace. 

The construct of the Trinity originated with a handful of  Church Fathers, around or about 345 CE.  Before that, Christians had their own local “covenant groups”as it were, which met in people’s homes or shops. Ideas about who and what Jesus was flowed freely and unencumbered.

First, let me try to explain what the meaning of the Trinity is.  It means one God in three persons. They are all coeternal with one another (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). They all have their own substances, but at the same time are consubstantial.  And oh yes, they are all one essence (and other stuff called hypostasis, which means the substance, essence, or underlying reality).

What is an essence?  You must look to the tomes of Greek philosophy for this.  Words such as substance, consubstanital, essence, all have their roots in the Greek philosophers’ discussions of ontology (the study of what it means to be, to exist).  Thank you, Aristotle… NOT! 

So I’ve decided to blame the early Christian clergy’s infatuation with Greek philosophy for introducing a tradition that I can’t find in the Old or the New Testament.  In fact, in John 20:17- Jesus refers to, “my Father and to your Father, and to my God, and to your God.”  How could Jesus say that and then add, but my Father is me and my God is me? I guess  maybe because he was in his human body and at that point had limits in his knowledge of actually being God himself?Also, Jesus was a pious, practicing Jew, which means that he was a strict monotheist.  “The Lord our God is one God.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)

A multitude of proponents point to the familiar refrain of the “unfathomable mystery” of the Trinity. I’m all for unfathomable mysteries, although life itself is already a mystery,  do we need to make it any more complex?” Yet, I quote humbly from the words of Simone Weil: “I am not a Catholic; but I consider the Christian idea, which has its roots in Greek thought and in the course of the centuries has nourished all of our European civilization, as something that one cannot renounce without being degraded.”

Nun Tuck may be a heretic, but at least one in good company.  In 1531, a scholar named Michael Servetus wrote a treatise called “De Trinitatis Errorbus” or “The Errors of the Trinity”.  He was promptly burned alive at the stake for it.  He spoke of the Oneness of God, the Unity of God.  Many Unitarians consider him to be the first Unitarian martyr. 

I wonder if it would have helped any if they had known about the popular slogan, “What would Jesus do?” before choosing to burn him alive.  It’s difficult to believe that the Jesus in the Bible would have been as intolerant. Instead, if someone disagreed with him, Jesus would have done as he advised his apostles in Luke,  “Shake the dust out of your sandals”…  forget about it (or them), and move on.

For me, being a Christian means that if I follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, I will live wholly and holy.  It’s hard work with limited success, but like those who follow Buddha or Muhammad to the best of their ability, life is more abundant.

I mentioned earlier that what moves me is the more metaphorical understanding of the Trinity; a phrase that resonates for me is “The Dance of the Trinity.” Modern poet Ruth Duck describes it beautifully:

“Holy Spirit, who moved at the beginning of creation, teach me your divine dance, that I may move with you./Through my hands, invite others to the circle of love, that we may move in rhythm together./Praise to you, Spirit, who breathes the pulse of life, through Jesus Christ, who danced among us, to the glory of God the Source, in whom we live and move and have our being.”

Please follow and like us:

OIL ILLS HAVE NOT BEEN FOR THE PELICAN BRIEF

This past week I was listening to a woman being interviewed on NPR.  She has been volunteering for some weeks now cleaning the thick oil off the pelicans in Louisiana.   Her voice faltered several times as she described the heartache of watching several of them die or struggle with wings to laden to lift.  I hear the weary gratitude when her scrubbing efforts with simple dish soap and water restore a number of these birds towards health.

The photos of oil slicked birds display in Technicolor detail what havoc we humans can wreak on the rest of the animal kingdom in our insatiable need for more. Even if you are the unusual “bird” who doesn’t get too emotional about animals or feel a kinship with nature, amongst the gazillion other lessons we can glean from this disaster, one is the absolute necessity to put our environment before the profits and desires of big business.

We are discovering the hard way that this paradigm of short term gain is actually putting the “people on Main Street” out of their small businesses and livelihoods that have been a family’s source of pride for generations.  We all have become accustomed to being an active consumer in a consumer society (myself included).  So, to a degree, we are all complicit in the continuing crisis.       

One of the sources of healing, that can change our thinking and shift the collective perspective is the wisdom of Celtic spirituality.  Theirs is a language that can guide us to a new or remembered perspective about the creatures (on land and sea) and the landscape we inhabit. As John O’Donohue relates in his book Anam Cara- A Book of Celtic Wisdom, we are the newcomers here: 

“The animals are more ancient than us.  They were here for millenia before humans surfaced on the earth…Animals live outside in the wind, in the waters, in the mountains, and in the clay… (They) know nothing of Freud, Jesus, Buddha, Wall Street, the Pentagon, or the Vatican.  They live the politics of human intention…The Celtic mind recognized the ancient belonging and knowing of the animal world.  The dignity, beauty, and wisdom of the animal world by any false hierarchy or human arrogance.”

Instead, Celtic spirituality was a reservoir of stories that told of the union between animals and humans.  These tales fastened us to the wild landscape, grounding ourselves as a part of the circle of life, not as apart.  

My friend Kim has a saying she often uses for when her deepest intuition guides her to make a difficult decision or leads her to a clear perspective.  She says, “I know it in my knowings.”  That’s what Celtic spirituality calls us to.  Not to heed the heated and divisive mob mentality, but to listen in stillness to a saner, less selfish approach. 

Instead of “drill baby drill”, what we have gotten is “spill baby spill”.  This too shall pass (with a heavy toll for years to come), but LET’S LEARN THE LESSON IT IS TRYING TO TEACH US.

Please follow and like us:

SAINTS ARE SINNERS WHO KEEP ON TRYING

I admit it; I am enamored with saints.  I am fascinated with those who have reached the pinnacle of spiritual freedom, unity with God.  Regardless of their religious traditions, these are men and women who are deemed “scientists of holiness.”  We can learn from them. They are not only guides to the grail of enlightenment but they teach us how to live in a practical and substantive way that can enrich our everyday living. 

Saints never think of themselves as such.  Each has had their own personal demons to face down.  It is in choosing not to run away in the million ways we humans do, but utilizing their trials and struggles for personal growth and focusing on the inner life that they demonstrate another dimension of human potential.  Recovering a bit of the asceticism that has always been the foundational gristmill for spiritual advancement can help us tremendously.  What I mean by this is we don’t need the severe self-denial and austere lifestyle of a Gandhi or a Buddha or a St. Francis, but to give up the current wave of entitlement, to be able to say no to our temptations on occasion, is freeing.  We become able to resist our own compulsive consumption.   

People need to experience God, not be told about God.  Living examples, being very much in the world, do that by inspiring the lives of others.  These are not “feel good” pseudo-spiritualities or for the spiritual elite, but for everyone. Our experience of the Divine informs the self and yet continually needs to be balanced with community.   Reaching out to others is both a natural progression and a means for necessary connection. Indeed, those with spiritual depth often understand social service to be as important, if not more important, than the more traditional activities of preaching and teaching. 

Saints would probably also scoff at the idea of them being mystics, though that is what they are.  Yet mystics are not so mysterious, rather I’ve heard them described as “ones who see into the depth of things through the fissures and fragments of our human experience”.  With single-minded purpose, these friends of God (or to the ALL that IS) are granted a special way of seeing, a heightened awareness of a presence or absence. 

Casting the mystical net wide as the awareness of some sort of ultimate reality that transcends all religions; religion can unify instead of divide.  We can recognize that different traditions can learn from one another, if one if grounded in one’s own tradition and open to another. Christian, Sufi, Buddhist, all can enrich each other’s practices.  For instance, Thomas Merton, a Trappist Monk, was influenced by the teachings of Zen Buddhism.

It is not the visions or miracles attributed to those regarded as saints, during their lives or posthumously, that should be the reasons for  reverence.  In fact, that kind of thinking leads to idolatry rather than the harder working of following by example.  It is the spiritual practices and articulated paths that are to be learned from.

That is not to say that we should disregard profound and unusual human experiences. It’s just that without a conscious effort to seek out these mystics, both past and present, their voices quickly become drown out by the difficulties of daily living, the heroes who win World Championships and are given parades, and the Hollywood stories of celebrities.  In an effort to reclaim the saint, human foibles and all, we are being re-called to something larger than ourselves.

Please follow and like us:

ON BEING A HERMIT

Sometimes it feels like the “world is too much with us”.  It’s a busy time of the year and I, for one, start to get to feeling like a hamster on a wheel. Graduations, weddings, end of the year concerts and recitals, and their attending to-do lists can leave little time for the prayer and meditation that helps to slow us down.  You’ll may have noticed I haven’t provided a post in over a week.

The idea of being a hermit begins to look like an attractive alternative.  Well, maybe just the solitary part, for three or four days…

For to be a true hermit in the spiritual sense is to muster more than a modicum of self-discipline and a sustained commitment to embrace the demands of soul work.  The word hermit comes from the  Latin word eremita, meaning desert.  While hermits are found in many religious traditions, “desert spirituality” or “desert theology” as it is called, has an aged Christian history.  The idea of going into the desert to remove oneself from the world and its distractions in order to form a more complete union with God can be found in both the Old and the New Testaments.  In Exodus, the Jews wandered for 40 years in the desert, and in Matthew, Jesus was tempted in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights.

The harsh and unforgiving nature of the desert becomes a means of surrender to God, physically and metaphorically.  The earliest “Desert Fathers” practiced this solitary living as part of a wholly ascetic life.  They would live in caves and huts away from civilization for years at a time, attempting to “pray without ceasing”.  Utilizing a centering prayer (meditation), they were undergoing the grueling task of training the mind to continually turn toward God.  Hunger, lust, memories, all kinds of distracting thoughts were all part of the inner struggle to reach a spiritual union.  Their prayers and their own penance would then also become a means to absolve others of their transgressions.

In this vein, it was not a selfish act to live as an ascetic, but a way to better serve others spiritually as well.  Examples of Christian hermits abound, the first two being St. Paul of Thebes in Egypt (in the 3rd century) and his disciple St. Anthony of Egypt (251-356CE). They were said to have miraculous powers and were sought out for advice and blessings.  As news spread that some of the hermits had “powers”, it became increasingly difficult for them to remain solitary. 

 At the time of Robin Hood (this is Nun Tuck’s Almanac!), many of the hermits lived in the woods, on the outskirts of communities where they might earn a living, or they lived as a monk or a nun in a monastery. From the earliest forms of Christian monasticism, religious communities arose that incorporated the basic premise of solitary life with the necessity for human relationships.  Orders of monks and nuns devoted solely to God began with the name of their founder to identify them.  Benedictines, Franciscans, Carmelites, and Dominicans lived spartan lives of prayer, meditation, and service.  Members often have a simple cell within the monastery where their quiet lives follow an obedient rhythm of silence, solitude, and devotions.

Like the Buddha, himself a hermit for a time, the practitioner needs to give up worldly pleasures and go within to experience the insight, wisdom, and peace that passeth all understanding.  It is then, and only then, that he can come back and share it with others.

Book of the Day, Teresa of Avila: Ecstasy and Common Sense by Tessa Bielecki 

Quote from the Book of the Day:  “Beginners in prayer, we can say, are those who draw water from the well.  This involves a lot of work on their own part, as I have said.  They must tire themselves in trying to recollect their senses.  Since they are accustomed to being distracted, this recollection requires much effort. They need to get accustomed to caring nothing at all about seeing or hearing, to practicing the hours of prayer, and thus to solitude and withdrawal- and to thinking on their past life.”   St. Teresa of Avila

Please follow and like us:

THE POWER OF PLACE

There is power in place to move us and feed our spirit.

Nature has the perennial power to return us to ourselves and find unity and harmony in nature. Lots of  places are people made places built especially for worship, for prayer and meditation. Houses of worship with their spires, their domes, their minarets.  Inside, there are altars and private corners, to listen, to light a candle, or unload a burden.  Outside, there may be a sanctuary where one can quietly reflect. These are sacred spaces.

There are also the spaces we make for ourselves.  It could be an Adirondack chair we set up purposefully near a shady tree or bird bath.  Writer Sarah Ban Breathnach tells of a “meditation table” she set up in her bedroom.  She gathered items that had meaning for her: “a large golden pillar candle, a Victorian lithograph of an angel, a print of the Madonna and Child, pictures of family and pets, a small blue and white vase for fresh flowers….this encourages me to meditate more often.”

Down the main road from me, there is a man who has been building a cairn for several years now.  A cairn (Gaelic, old Scottish) is essentially a pile of stones, sometimes elaborately stacked with smooth and rounded rocks which act as a land marker or as a memorial.  They often appeared inspired, like sculpture, works of art.  This guy down the road… his is a tower.  I don’t know how he does it.  It’s been climbing upwards for several years now.  It’s like the game where you don’t want to be the last person to knock all the marbles down.  Every time I drive by, I think, “How is he doing it”?

Then I found out what this marker is for.  Each rock stands  for each month our country has been in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He wanted to have some tangible way to show how long it’s been, he is keeping watch and  remembering.  Those stones are both marker and memorial.  This cairn is no longer just a thing of beauty, it reminds me in a haunting way that as I run through my busy day, others are in harm’s way.

Personally, three places come to mind that rarely fail to inspire, heal, and quiet my soul.  The first is the Cape Cod seashore.  There are particular beaches I could mention, but what’s important is the time of day. The early morning and just at dusk, times when the beach is empty or almost so, and I can sit and listen to the promise of each new wave, watch the sandpipers scurry after their infinitesimal food, and become peacefully blurred into the expanse of sea and sky.  As JFK once noted, there is indeed something about the ocean and humans, something about how we are mostly made of water and it may because we all came from it.  I don’t know. I know it’s powerful.

And my antique French pine writing desk with its worn top and soft yellow cabriolet legs holds my sacred menagerie.  There are funky framed  photos of my children (when they were little and sweet!), stacks of favorite, dog eared books, watercolors by my artist daughter, always a brightly colored coffee mug, and a giant jar filled with writing utensils where I have taped a poem by William Henry Channing.  Outside my window is a very old apple tree (now blossoming) and birds of all sorts stop by to delight.

Where are your places?  What is it that moves you about them?  Is is time for you to create your own space?  Or is time to return a place that perhaps is a long overdue visit?

Professor Joseph Campbell (another folk hero of mine) spoke many times about the importance of finding or creating a sacred space: Quote of the Day: “You must have a room or a certain hour of the day or so where you do no know what was in the morning paper…a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are, and what you might be…At first you may find nothing’s happening…But if you have a sacred place and use it, take advantage of it, something will happen.”

Please follow and like us: