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I am the Ocean

February 6, 2017

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I am the ocean.

I am the ocean.

I am the ocean.

This meditation, which I learned from Tara Brach, is the only one that brings me peace right now. When I wonder how my splayed-open heart is going to make it through our national horror show, I remember that I am the ocean, and while my grief and terror may be mighty waves, they cannot consume me. The ocean that is my true nature can hold them all.

We, the people, are the ocean of our roiling country. The waves are breaking constantly, some seem purposefully to be tsunamis. I pray that our democracy is deep and wide enough to see them dissipate in her vastness.

Zen Buddhist priest Karen Maezen Miller writes in her beautiful book Paradise in Plain Sight, “The nature of life is impermanence. One day it will get your attention.” Life has indeed gotten my attention.

As a young girl in the 70’s being raised by a feminist mother, I grew up singing “Free to Be You and Me”:

There’s a land that I see where the children are free

And I say it ain’t far to this land from where we are…  

I see a land bright and clear, and the time’s comin’ near,

When we’ll live in this land, you and me, hand in hand…

And you and me are free to be you and me.

I know this vision of our country did not yet fully exist for everyone, and many have suffered horrendously in its pursuit. I believed though that we were headed there. At recent protests and at the Women’s March, I felt it still.

There is so much to fathom about our democracy’s potential demise. I grieve the thought of living in a country that does not prize compassion as one of its highest values. My greatest fear is that my child’s young life will end instantly in a nuclear war.

This national, international and earthly calamity hit at a time when I had lost my confidence in an interventionist God that can or will help. I’m embarrassed to have had such an understanding in the first place – surely if such a power existed, there would have been no slavery, no Holocaust, no Hiroshima, no Sandy Hook, no desperate refugee families refused at America’s door.

Then I watched the documentary White Helmets about the Syrian volunteers who dig for survivors and pull the dead bodies of their neighbors, families and fellow citizens out of buildings bombed by their own government. The White Helmets’ incredibly loving service in the midst of unspeakable horror is one of the most stunning and humble examples of Goodness manifest. For me, it is God.

I know that goodness exists everywhere and, I believe, within everyone, however covered up by our crap, or as the Buddhists would say, our ignorance. I am choosing to rest my hope for our country’s salvation on each of us rising to the occasion from our true nature whether we are a judge in Seattle, a Republican Senator who can stomach it no longer, a mother trying to make life feel normal for her child, or thousands of volunteer lawyers showing up at airports to help the stunned, stranded and bereft.

Journalist Sarah Kendzior writes, in this must-read piece (among all of her must-read reporting), “Do not accept brutality and cruelty as normal even if it is sanctioned. Protect the vulnerable and encourage the afraid. If you are brave, stand up for others. If you cannot be brave – and it is often hard to be brave – be kind.”

I do not know if goodness will win this time, but I hope so. Regardless, I will take great heart in the millions of mighty acts of love that have already begun rolling in like waves. I pray that I will remember that I too am the ocean, and that I will be brave and kind. One day in yoga many months ago, I prayed to God, “Please let me feel you.”  The response I heard was, “I am you.” I think perhaps this is what God meant.

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Choosing My Life

June 26, 2016

“… we begin to sense a larger possibility that calls our heart and our soul towards our own natural awakening.” (Tara Brach, Talk, 6.1.2016)

I have a different sense of God lately. When in calm or desperate moments, I breathe low and shift my attention back and out from center; there I find Her. She is wide, free and kind. She doesn’t judge. I like to think that Her awareness is of the same Awareness that is present in everyone and is also greater than all of us. I understand better now how to surrender. The boundaries of me-Her ebb against the River of Life and, though I am scared to, She merges willingly and trusts the current to take us where we are meant to go.

With each mass shooting, each whole family murdered by an abuser with a gun, and each child accidentally killed with an unsecured firearm, I wonder when or if things are ever going to change. I beg God to please help our country. May we be safe. May my loved ones be safe. May all beings be safe. Yet that kind of prayer doesn’t seem to work, at least not on my small-mind timeline. The killings keep happening. Every day. There are scores of new grieving families every day.

I wonder now if it is not an external Being that is going to help us, but the God within each of us. I imagine that most gun owners and most members of Congress want the same safety for their families that I want for mine, even if we differ on the means of ensuring it. Were we each somehow to access and make decisions from our greater nature – that which encompasses peace, compassion and a fire that serves all humanity –  perhaps we could find meeting ground to save our children’s lives.

One of my favorite experiences in divinity school this year was interviewing several classmates about their understanding of God: what formed it and how it has changed over time. Listening to each of them share so sincerely about their traditional and off-the-beaten-path ideas and experiences of the Sacred was quite moving. Though this blog is an exploration of what God feels like in my own life and body, I do not want to tell anyone what they are to believe about their Higher Power. The children’s book Old Turtle by Douglas Wood speaks to how I feel about anything that insists that “my God is better than yours”:

But the people forgot.

They forgot that they were

A message of love,

And a prayer from the earth.

 

And they began to argue…

About who knew God,

And who did not;

And where God was,

And was not

And whether God was,

Or was not.

 

I went to divinity school because I thought that to reach people’s deep hearts, I needed more depth of knowledge about God, more than my experiential understanding. I had hoped to understand Jesus’s being and learn to interpret his teachings as the contemplatives do, recognizing now that this likely comes over the course of a lifetime (or more) and by the heart and mind sitting in silence. I uprooted my family and moved away from my home state even though I was told by a psychic that it l didn’t look right for me, and I was warned by a meditating priest to “run the other direction.”

I quit divinity school recently because what I was actually meant to learn was courage.

“It seems like something broke in you,” said my blessed mentor after a professor’s criticism of a paper led to copious tears. It had been a long time since I’d felt so belittled after giving my best (which, admittedly, was not very good by academic standards, but was indeed the best I could do within the boundaries of motherhood, marriage and self-care). When my son sweetly laid his head on my shoulder the next morning, it was balm for the wound.

What broke, actually, was my lifelong pursuit of outside validation of who I am, what God is for me, and the worthiness of what I have to give. That, I believe, was the River’s intent in getting me here.

Sarah Norris, my beautifully-spirited Nashville yoga teacher, often says as we lay in savasana with hands on hearts, “This is the life you choose.”  I chose to sit in a hard lecture hall seat this past year when I prefer to learn (and pray) sitting cross-legged on a mat, and it forced me to finally choose my soul’s path, instead of someone else’s.

I didn’t know that my “natural awakening” (for now at least) would happen like this. Its authenticity is freeing and powerful. It has created more joy in my family. I will never be a scholar nor will I ever walk solely on any one path. What I will do though is teach from who I am and share my own truth. At long last, that is enough for me.

Love

February 21, 2016

This morning in a rare moment of quiet conversation while our three-year-old son slept late, I asked my husband, “Why did you let me go to divinity school if you think it is a bunch of hooey?” He responded, “The realization that I might not be right.”

Little Arms

August 11, 2015

My family and I moved to Nashville so I can attend Divinity School and our son can grow up surrounded by music, progressive community and a church we love. My husband is also starting a new career after seven years of intense preparation. We are all glad to be here and at least one of us is also a little freaked out. “Will you be scared to go to your school?” my three-year-old asks, wondering if his own apprehension is okay to feel. “Yes,” I tell him, “because it matters a lot to me.” What I don’t say is that this will also be the first time my sweet son is going to pre-school every day and I will miss him. I fear losing our connection.

During the long hours of my husband’s training, I complained often about the resulting days of solo parenting. At times I felt desperate for a small break from lone responsibility for the all of the immediate needs of a small human being – entertaining, calming, teaching, feeding, protecting, bathing, changing, consoling and negotiating. There were bedtimes where I prayed for Divine intervention to help me through the last 30 minutes. There were regret and amends-making for losing my patience with my strong-willed boy.

Then I’d lifTandEsnugglingt up him up for our last hugs of the day, he would nestle his arms between us and rest his head on my shoulder, and I would be grateful for all of the two-of-us time. I get to experience feeling intertwined with his soul.

One morning after a wrenching pre-school drop-off with my son’s teacher hurrying me along and my child begging for one more hug, I went to yoga instead of my part-time job. My head and heart were torn in opposite directions “Should I have snatched him back and run out of the school? … They tell me he’s ok…. Am I failing him?… No, he loves being with friends…. A good mother would work during nap and at night instead of putting him in daycare.”

In the middle of class my teacher Meaghan told a Hindu tale of two sons:

One day Shiva and Parvati look out the window at their mango tree and see the most beautiful mango. They can’t decide to which of their two sons, Skanda or Ganesha, to give the mango. So they decide to have a contest: the fastest to race around the world will receive the fruit.

Skanda immediately takes off on his peacock around the world, while Ganesha sits down in meditation, perplexing his parents. Skanda returns ready to receive the mango. Ganesha arises from his meditation, circles his parents and says, “You are my world,” which earns him the mango.

I realized then that I am my son’s world – he is supposed to not want me to leave. My heart is supposed to ache when he aches. Being someone’s world, and doing it well, is a mighty purpose to fulfill. I fear that my stumbling and outright mistakes at parenting will scar him. I think, “if I only drink less caffeine, meditate more, do yoga but not be gone too much, stay by his side but not hover, keep him safe without filling him with fear, build a strong marriage, breathe, laugh, let go, hold him close” – maybe he will have a chance at a happy life and a strong sense of self.

I have now moved 1000 miles away from the hug of my own mother which, fortunately, is imprinted on my heart and my nervous system. As my son’s world opens further at his “Nashville preschool” (as he calls it), I pray that he will feel my love even when he is away from me. I recently met several Divinity School classmates for the first time and while listening to them talk about meaningful things – conversation I have long craved – I knew I had made the right choice to go back to school. After a couple of hours though, I drove home yearning to be with my husband and my child, who are my world.

I have been re-reading Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon for an infusion of the Great Mother before I dive into Christianity (and Eastern religions) in school. As a woman wanting to feel my real Self, and a wife and mother wanting to accept my imperfection, I pray often that I may be held in Loving-Kindness, as Tara Brach suggests in Radical Acceptance. While meditating recently on what feels like this more feminine aspect of God, Jesus showed up and said, “Let me change form.”

Ok, yes, I will.

Be my mothering, dear Jesus, comfort my son and inspire his joy when we are apart. Hold me like my own mother would when my heart is torn. Show up on occasion as the Great Mother, please. I need Her and you.

Leaning on Something Greater

July 11, 2011

This morning in church I received more than I gave. For a mere two-dollar offering and two hours of my time, I was reminded that God is in charge of what grows when we humans sow seeds. After a few weeks’ absence, I was grateful to have pulled myself away from the New York Times Style section, put on a sun dress and lip gloss, kissed my studying husband goodbye, and made it out the door by 9:53 on a Sunday morning (when I’m usually still in my PJ’s). It was good for my soul to be there. Surrounded by a lot of people I don’t know and a few smiling friends, I felt part of a community. I prayed more deeply today than I’m normally able to in church. I always blame my inability on the bright lighting, the dress clothes, and the feeling of being watched. This morning I must have needed humility and God more than I needed to hold onto my excuses for not surrendering to prayer.

As I looked around, I wondered if my fellow parishioners rely on their belief in God as much as I do while, like me, not really knowing for sure if there is a God. I wondered if they were feeling overwhelmed by the pressure of work and life “to-do’s” and the immensity of big goals they hope to accomplish. Do those who come regularly feel calmer because they believe a greater power is here, available to us, at all times?

I can’t tell if it’s from drinking too much iced green tea or if I’m really experiencing anxiety, but lately I’ve been thinking I need to find some calm inside me. The doctor of a dear friend once refused to give her anti-anxiety pills until she changed the pace of her life. Good doctor, I thought at the time. Lately, I need to follow her prescription myself. My mind and my heart feel jam-packed during the week trying to make things happen – good things, fulfilling things, just a lot of things. At night, I’ve started dreaming about work, colleagues, papers shuffling around before me, and unread emails. This is my fear: “What if I don’t get it done? What if I can’t make it happen? What if I don’t succeed?”

The thing is, I find myself thinking there is only one “it,” one version of success. Today I was reminded that perhaps God’s ultimate design is unknown to me right now. So I do my best in the sowing and then let go. For me, this kind of trust is only possible when I give myself some down time – time to be instead of do.

On weekday mornings, I often take a walk before work and listen to sermons by Rob Bell or the Brothers of the Society of St. John the Evangelist. It grounds me in the deeper calm and bigger picture of Love. Their prayers remind me that I’m human, not the machine I expect myself to be. And I forgive myself for not doing things as well as I wish I could.

Save for sivasana at the end of yoga, I haven’t meditated on a regular basis in quite a while. I miss connecting intimately with God through breath, presence and an open heart. This weekend, I made time and I feel a bit healed. It feels similar to coming home at the end of a stressful day and resting in my sweet, strong husband’s hug. I completely lean on him, he makes me laugh and it all feels instantly better.

I’ve preached the being/doing balance to others many times without knowing how hard it was until I was put to the test. My apologies if I’ve done that to you. I do believe it is critical for our health, happiness and effectiveness in the world to regularly lean on some greater power while we take a break. I’m practicing right beside you.

A different kind of thanks

November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving might not the best time to talk about evil. Or maybe it is. Perhaps acknowledging what seems lately to be an overabundance of evil in the world makes me even more grateful for the good I do see and the good I can create.

It overwhelms me how huge some problems seem – systems of violence, inequity and greed. Maybe I’m watching too many shockingly real episodes of “The Wire.” Or maybe it’s because my favorite character on “Private Practice,” Charlotte, was brutally raped. In real life, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted every two minutes. My current obsession with the dark side could also be driven by my disbelief at the inequitable opportunities that exist for children to succeed. I need only check the “most viewed” articles in my local paper to see a daily list of shootings, murders and cases of abuse. 

“What a bummer of a message,” you might be saying! I felt the same way the other night while trying to decompress from “The Wire” Season 4. I decided that even though I want to lessen the bad in the world and will work to do so, I can choose to focus on what is good in my life. Sometimes, I just need to notice how pretty the golden leaves are on my street, and take a minute to be in awe at the magnificent full moon or mindlessly silly with my boyfriend. It’s rejuvenating.

I do wish though that God would just eradicate evil – all of it. I’m beginning to wonder if that’s not what God is for. Wouldn’t He have already done so if He were going to? There’s certainly been plenty of monumental suffering in the history of time that could have been stopped were that God’s job.

A friend of mine, a funny, wise, lawyerly woman, believes in the devil. She believes there is a force intentionally creating and orchestrating evil in the world. I’m not quite there yet, but I do think it might just be semantics. I can understand that there are deep psychological and sociological reasons that may cause a person or a society to commit atrocities against other living beings. Even though I understand where it might come from, I will never get over the fact that it actually happens.

Sometimes I think evil exists so that we will continue to evolve as humans into our higher selves. I heard Rob Bell say in an interview, “Your divine calling is to meet the world at its greatest points of suffering.” Maybe God is waiting for us to do the good we are capable of doing. Maybe that’s what we are for.

I believe there are solutions to the issues we face – many have already been identified, just not fully implemented. I think God will indeed help us when we help each other. Maybe this is our job. The point of being here. In the face of evil in our world, we are not helpless and we are not powerless. I’m grateful for that.

Happy Thanksgiving.

What are we doing this for?

September 13, 2010

You haven’t heard from me in a while as I haven’t felt ready to publish.

I wrote a piece on Glenn Beck and my realization of how alike we are. Though I have far different opinions than he, I spout them off just as much and often base them on little to no research. There’s too much of that in the world right now.

Then I wrote a piece about saying goodbye, after a dear friend’s father suddenly passed away. How can we possibly say goodbye to those we love the most? And what circumstances are we granted to do so? It was too soon and too personal to send.

So I’ve waited. Waited until new inspiration came.

And it did, in a Washington, DC yoga class. In tree pose, to be exact. Now, usually, in tree pose, I’ve had too much iced green tea to be able to balance, or my head is spinning with thought and I can’t focus. Tonight was markedly different. Earlier in the day I had toured the National Cathedral with my boyfriend. We walked slowly through detail after detail of beauty, dedication, and devotion to God. A place where people of all faiths, or no faith, are welcome to pray, to wonder or just be reverent.

I thought of the cathedral while I was in tree pose. “Do this for God.” My standing foot pressed more firmly into the Earth, my hip relaxed, my hands reached higher above my head, and a calm strength spread through my body. When my teacher asked us to look up to the sky, I didn’t fall.

I’ve been thinking about this lately – doing something for a purpose larger than myself rather than for my desire for praise. I’ve come to discover that when I do things to gain someone’s favor, be it my yoga teacher, my colleagues, my boyfriend, or God, it doesn’t really work out so well. I trip up. I start thinking I have to be perfect or I will lose something precious.

I’ve come to believe that it’s my effort and my intent that matter. Not perfection. Effort to follow God’s will and not my own in a relationship. Intent to do my job well for the good of children, not the praise of others. Effort to stay in tree pose – even if I fall out.

Part of what inspired me at the National Cathedral is that no part of its design was too small for dedication. Every corner, inside and out, was hand carved for a purpose. Not to please God, but for God.

When I’m able to make the switch from doing something for a lesser motive to doing it for God, I feel an immediate, visceral difference. I exhale. I let go of control. I’m easier on myself and more in sync with the natural flow of life. This is my source of living, working and loving with gentle strength and less ego.

What would feel different for you if you did it for a greater purpose? I’d love to know.

Being Human

May 17, 2010

During an email discussion about the latest in a string of horrific attacks on children in China, my family asked me, as they do after nearly every tragedy, “So Nerd, where is God?” (I’m disclosing my family nickname here because it requires an appropriate dose of humility when I am asked to give my opinion on such matters.) Luckily for me, one of my sisters took the lead on trying to answer this most difficult question, she said:
 
“God wants you to take responsibility for your own actions. He may have created the universe, but he is not going to save you (over some other poor soul) if you are in danger. He (?) created the force of Nature, and the ways of Nature cause these awful things to happen… On the flip side, many, many wonderful things are happening at the exact same time as the awful ones. Good WILL prevail as Good is stronger than evil and therefore will survive.” 
 
Thomas Keating expressed a similar sentiment in The Human Condition:
 
“God invites us to take responsibility for being human and to open ourselves to the unconscious damage that is influencing our decisions and relationships.” 
 
It seems to me that we are given a mind, body, heart, and spirit to do with as we wish – to tend with care and effort so that we may use ourselves for good. Or not.  
 
Like my sister, I believe there exists more good than evil in the world and in the majority of humans. I often forget to acknowledge the good, though. Especially when facing a challenging situation, I don’t give good its due credit for my cozy apartment, my health, a felt sense of God, cute pillows on my couch, plenty of food, iced green tea, an amazing church which asks so little for all it gives, the sound of birds, a strong and kind boyfriend, a loving family that has experienced relatively few tragedies, enough money to pay my bills… the list goes on. 
 
I believe taking responsibility for being human includes opening to and respecting the range of what it means to be human. The whole range – good, bad and in between. A favorite priest once suggested that I, “feel it all, welcome it all and let it all go.”  
 
Within each person and each spiritual tradition, good and bad are subjective. So how do we all figure out how to be with one another? Whose code (and which interpretation of that code) are we following? And how do we know whether our well-intentioned contributions will be received as we hope? I’m not sure, but perhaps we need to expand our “good” portfolio to allow for different perspectives while being true to ourselves and our values.
 
It’s an individual journey – this moment-to-moment decision-making. Serve my understanding of good or add fuel to the fire of evil? Which will I choose? Which will you? As the poet Mary Oliver asks in “The Summer Day”:
 
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life
?
 
I look forward to finding out.