Wednesday, November 27, 2013

It Is Enough

He who knows enough is enough will always have enough. ~Tao Te Ching

Greetings, my friends. In the United States, it is the day before Thanksgiving, a holiday celebrating our blessings. (Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every day was a day of thanksgiving? It can be!)

For me, it is a time not only to reflect on my blessings and enjoy the company of family and friends, but it is also a time to reflect on the year to this point and consider how I want to spend the remainder of it.

A story keeps circling in my mind, one you might already be familiar with, one I’ve passed along several times before.

A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about Zen, holding himself forth as an expert on the topic. The master poured the visitor's cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself. "It's overfull! No more will go in!" the professor blurted. "You are like this cup," the master replied. "How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"

So it is with me. My cup is overflowing with thoughts, plans, activities, ideas, and, sometimes most of all, words. Strange to say that. I love words. I built a career on words, and always felt so lucky to get paid for having so much fun. No one is more surprised than I have been this year to find myself pulling back from what has for so many decades fed my spirit. And yet....

My one month break from blogging in June stretched to two and then three months. I came back in September, but since I’ve been back, I can sense a change. I have enjoyed reconnecting, but my attention seems elsewhere.

Where? Not in a place, perhaps, but in a process. A process of emptying, releasing. Michelangelo said that when he was sculpting David, he chipped away everything that wasn’t David. I have no claim to a masterpiece, but I do have a sense of allowing everything to fall away that isn’t ... hmm, words fail me. I guess that’s the point.

I have loved writing this blog for over three years. I treasure most of all the connections I have made with so many wonderful people whose paths I would not have otherwise crossed. I have appreciated more than I can say (again words fail me!) the friendship and encouragement I have received from the generous spirits that populate my blog world. And of course the fun! This has indeed been a happy place for me. A very happy place.

I have run out of words, at least for now. Thanksgiving seems like a perfect time to say thank you, and to let this blog take a rest. I would like to spend the rest of this year visiting your blogs to say a personal thank you. I will be by to see you soon.

I’m not closing the site, so if there is something here you would like to revisit, the door is always open and you are always welcome. My book will continue to be for sale, and the proceeds will continue to be donated to Edwards Center. And if you would like to reach me, please don’t hesitate to do so by email or Facebook.

May you all find your happy place, and live there always.

It is enough.

Monday, November 18, 2013

You're Invited!

God doesn’t call me to judge you. God calls me to love you. ~Joel Osteen

I’ve been thinking about labels and reactions to labels. We sometimes reject the whole concept of labels, because they are often used to limit, or to divide “us” from “them.” We use them to dismiss, to separate, to stereotype, to discriminate, to judge. In the United States, we are all too painfully aware of the damaging and tragic use of labels based on race, gender, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, and physical or mental disability.

So is the answer to throw out all the labels? Maybe. On the other hand, maybe the problem isn’t with the label itself but with how we use it.

For example, my son James is autistic. When he was a boy, he was mainstreamed in a regular classroom. His behavior seemed odd to other children. The children who tried to talk to him or include him in play were confused by behavior they didn’t understand. They were sometimes even afraid of him. They stayed away from him.

I made a decision to give them information, to use a label and explain it. Every year, near the beginning of the year, the teacher and I would arrange for someone to come in and talk to the kids about autism. James was not present for these discussions so that the kids could freely ask questions.

Without exception, once the kids had some knowledge, they showed tremendous acceptance and compassion. They went out of their way to include James.

Towards the end of his last year at that school, the PE department put on a presentation, showcasing the skills that the kids had learned. It was all very impressive, and the parents’ applause was constant. Then it was James’s turn. He started across the stage but then hesitated. Everyone got just quiet enough for me to hear one of the kids near him encourage him. “You can do it, James.” James tucked his head and did a crooked somersault. He stood up beaming. The whole gym erupted in applause. Tears were streaming down my face.

Labels don’t have to divide us. They can invite us in. Knowing that someone is from a different country, or practices a different religion, or is of a different ethnicity can be an invitation to get to know that person. We can be curious instead of judgmental. We can be welcoming instead of fearful. We can celebrate our differences, and in doing so, we can move past all labels and find our common ground.

Enjoy this short video of a dog who sees past labels.

related posts: The Water Is for Everyone; There Is No Them

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Embracing Transformation

What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly. ~Richard Bach

Years ago, I was a mess. Chronic fretting and stress were affecting my health. My determination to control my world was wearing me out, and of course it was a complete failure. I yelled at the kids...a lot. I didn’t sleep well. Relaxing and having fun were out of the question.

After ending up in the emergency room twice with excruciating pain that had no medically detectable origin, I knew that this was my wake up call from life. As Step One of the Twelve Steps says, my life had become unmanageable, and I had to change or die. So I set about to transform my life.

Please read the rest of this post at Always Well Within ....

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Surprise Blessing

A few minutes ago, my phone rang. The caller asked for someone who lived in my house many years ago. I happened to have that person’s current number. After reassuring myself that the caller was someone that my former housemate would want to hear from, I shared the current number.

The caller repeated the number back to me, and then said, “Thank you. You are a wonderful human being.”

I laughed in surprised delight. I felt an energy, generous and loving, wash over me. “Thank you,” I replied. “You are a wonderful human being, too.”

I didn’t know this person, but I’m sure that what I said to him was true. He could have just said thank you, but he offered me a gift of blessing, a blessing to a stranger.

Wouldn’t it be great if we took simple encounters with people and turned them into blessings?! I’m going to try it.

I’ll start with you. Thank you for being here. You are a wonderful human being.

related post: Make Someone's Day

Monday, October 28, 2013

Animal Wisdom

I asked once in a blog post about what animal you would be if you were an animal. [I would be a wolf.] But today, I’d like to raise a different kind of animal question.

Is there an animal that has some special significance to you? For me, the praying mantis has caught my attention this year. As some of you know, my word of the year is Wait. I had not thought of this word in connection to an animal, but the image of a praying mantis kept popping up here and there, so I started looking a little closer.

The mantis is described as an ambush predator because it gets its food mainly by being still and waiting for something to come close enough for it to attack quickly and seize its prey. Patience is key.

Beyond the obvious connection to waiting, the mantis symbolizes stillness and inner peace, insight and divine wisdom. It is the sacred symbol of God to the African Bushmen, or San people.

So these days I have a little glass praying mantis sitting with me as I meditate. It is a reminder to be patient, alert in the stillness, waiting until it is time to act.

What about you? Any special animal speaking to your spirit these days?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Touching the Earth

Each blade of grass has its spot on earth whence it draws its life, its strength; and so is man rooted to the land. ~Joseph Conrad

In Greek mythology, Antaeus was the son of Poseidon, god of the sea, and Gaia, mother earth. As long as he was in contact with the ground, his mother gave him strength to beat anyone in battle. He vanquished all foes until Heracles figured out his secret and held him in the air, rendering him weak and easily dispatched.

In tai chi and kung fu, our teacher repeatedly reminds us to root through our feet into the ground. All our power comes from our connection to the earth. I got a memorable demonstration of that today. Our teacher was showing us how much energy can be generated by “sinking” into our root. Using me as his partner, he stood in front of me with his open palm facing me, his fingers lightly resting on my chest.

Without withdrawing his hand, he made only the slightest visible move, sort of a dropping of the hips and a settling of the wrist. Power exploded from his hand. It felt like a horse had kicked me in the chest. I flew backwards across the room and landed unceremoniously on my behind. It surprised everyone, including, I think, the teacher, who ran to help me up and was very solicitous of me the rest of class.

As I’ve told people about my martial arts practice, it is a practice in humility! Beyond my wounded ego and derriere, though, I learned something today about the giving and receiving of energy.

On the giving side, it is abundantly clear to me that we are the most powerful when we are grounded. This is true whether we are talking about physical power or spiritual strength. When we are connected with an open channel to our source, by whatever name you want to call it (nature, God, chi, the universe), we are able to offer to others the energy that flows through us and out. People who manifest beauty, whether through art or love or martial arts or any other form, often speak of something coming through them rather than from them.

On the receiving side, the same is true. We are the least powerful when we try to block the natural flow of energy. Knowing what my teacher was about to do (even if I did not anticipate the degree of power), I braced myself to resist. I was not rooted, but rather rigid. Whatever harm I suffered was from my own resistance. Had I been able to stay fluid and rooted, his energy would have moved through me and back into the earth.

And what was my resistance but fear? Fear blocks energy. We can neither offer nor receive energy when we are stiff with fear. Fear uproots us because it disconnects us from the ground of the present moment, from the fluidity of our breath, from the loveliness and the lovingness of the universe.

How often in my life do I resist what is? How often do I get pulled from the perfection of the present moment into fearful thoughts? Yes, too often. So I’ll be back in class tomorrow, and I will ask for another demonstration. Because this is where my practice is, on the ground.

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain. ~Frank Herbert

related posts: Invest in Loss; Step Away from the Thought

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Baking Bread

For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them. ~Aristotle

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I was a back to the land hippie. I lived in the mountains of northwest Montana, far from neighbors, with a view of Glacier National Park from the front porch of the little shack I called home. Without electricity or running water, life revolved around getting water from the spring nearby and wood for cooking and heat. I hiked miles through the woods with my dogs, and watched the big Montana sky. Life was good.

I prided myself on my self-sufficiency, learning about foods and medicines that grew wild all around me. I learned to cook on the wood stove and fixed some pretty tasty meals, if I do say so myself.

But baking bread was something I just couldn’t seem to master. I bought wheat from a farmer, ground my own flour with a hand cranked mill, and meticulously followed countless recipes. The hard loaves I produced were more useful as weapons or doorstops than for eating.

Finally a woman from a ranch in the next valley took pity on me. She invited me over one day to make bread. First, she taught me the right water temperature for activating the yeast. She taught me by having me put my hand in the water when it was just right. Then she added flour until the dough was ready for kneading. She didn’t measure anything. She just knew from experience. She had me feel the dough and knead it when it was just right.

At every step she had me looking, touching, poking, kneading, pressing, smelling, teaching me not by words in a book and precise measures, but by sight and feel, by the experience rather than intellect. The bread finally came out of the oven. Perfect. We sliced off steaming pieces and slathered them with home churned butter. I think I ate a whole loaf all by myself.

From that day on, I baked delicious bread, all kinds of bread. I never looked at another recipe.

Now I’m not saying that recipes are bad, and I certainly needed instruction, but I couldn’t learn how to bake bread until I could feel it.

Sometimes I look at all the books I have on my bookshelves about happiness, meditation, forgiveness, martial arts, mindfulness, grace, bring present. I’m looking at them right now, in fact. How many more books do I think I need?

Billionaire Rockefeller was once asked how much more money he thought he needed. Just a little more, he replied. I get that. Perhaps I need just one more book.

But I can’t read myself into inner peace unless I practice, just like you can’t read about running and then go run a marathon. I need to actually have the experience of meditating, forgiving, practicing martial arts, whatever. I need to feel the dough.

The doorbell rang just a few minutes ago. Oh good, my new book on tai chi just arrived.

Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired. ~Martha Graham