Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Soft Word

A soft word turns away wrath.... –Proverbs 15:1

My daughter called me the other day, all upset because someone had been rude to her on the phone. She was going to have to talk to this woman again to get some information, and Mia was already agitated and defensive about the prospect. I would like to say that I imparted some great wisdom to her, but I was in a hurry and sort of brushed her off.

Later when I came home, Mia was chatting amicably on the phone. After she hung up, she told me that she was talking to the woman who had been so rude earlier.

Please click here to read the rest of this post at Vidya's most excellent blog, Going A-Musing.

related post: Speak Wisely

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Purrrrr-fect Day!

Yesterday, I took my son James on our annual trek to the state fair. James likes to look at all the animals, so we walk through every barn looking at cows, sheep, goats, and pigs. There is always a sow with brand new piglets to ooh and ahh over.

After looking at the farm animals, we look at the other exhibits, have lunch, and get James’s photo taken at the old time photo place. The people at the photo place now recognize us and always give James a great time, helping him dress up like an old western gunslinger. He hams it up and gives himself a different outlaw name every year. Black James, James-y the Kid, Dirty James. Each year’s photo takes its place on his bedroom wall with the others.

This year, however, before the photo, we had a special surprise. After lunch, we noticed a small sign pointing us to an exotic animal exhibit. Tucked away in a corner of the fairgrounds was a modest exhibit with a tiger, a few other wild cats, and a baby lion. For a very reasonable fee, which went to conservation, we were able to have our picture taken with the baby lion.

While I would normally let James do this sort of thing on his own, I was too excited myself at the prospect, so we sat down side by side and held the cub in our laps. Now this cub was not tiny. He was almost four months old and was probably 35-40 pounds. Think giant kitten! He was playful and absolutely adorable. And a very good sport about getting his photo taken with a bunch of strangers.

James took it all in stride, but holding the lion was the highlight of the day for me. I woke up still thinking about it, and remembered the story of Christian the lion. If you don’t know the story, it really is wonderful. Briefly, two guys bought a lion cub at Harrod’s in London (back when you could buy exotic animals in a department store!) They raised him until he was almost grown and then managed to return him to the wild in Africa. A year later, they returned to see how he was doing. I won’t give this part away–you need to see it for yourself.

You can Google “Christian the lion” for many sites and videos to give you the details. Here is a link to a short 2:32 minute version. Please watch. You won’t be sorry.

Life is a wonder.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Welcome to The Joy Book Club!

I wrote a while back that the title “The Joy Book Club” was dancing around in my head. (The title is inspired by one of my favorite books, Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club.) I didn’t know at the time what would come of it, but now I’m happy to share with you what is now in place.

As some of you know, I’m writing a book based on my blog. (In fact, the book will be released October 2. More on that in another post soon.) In putting together a further reading section for the book, I realized that I have been reading books about joy and happiness nonstop for over two years. I read a variety of other books, too, but there is always at least one book about joy on my night stand.

All this reading has saturated my thoughts and consciousness with a mindset of joy. I can see now that reading about joy is in and of itself a way to increase the happiness in our lives. The books I’ve read represent a range of authors and topics. Some are self help. Others are spiritual or faith based. Some are only indirectly about joy. What they all have in common is that they have helped to build and strengthen in my life joyful habits of thought, word, and action.

If reading about happiness increases our happiness, then this is something I want to share with you. My next door neighbor and friend is co-owner of a marvelous independent bookstore in our neighborhood, Broadway Books. She graciously offered me a page on the store’s website to create The Joy Book Club. On the page, you will see a list of books. You can click on any book to get a description of it. If you like, you can order the book from Broadway Books directly from the page. (Of course, you can get the books elsewhere, but what a wonderful way to support an independent bookstore!)

There are many other books that could be on this list, and I hope to add to it as we go along. But this list is a good start.

There are no requirements for belonging to this club. Just pick up one of the books and enjoy. Further down the road, we might consider other possibilities, like discussions about specific books. I welcome your ideas and suggestions!

Click here to visit The Joy Book Club.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Praying Without Ceasing

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.... –1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

When asked in an interview when he meditated, the person responded, “I am never not meditating.” Unfortunately, I can’t remember who was being interviewed (Can someone help me out?), but the statement “I am never not meditating” stuck with me. I wondered what that meant, never not meditating. Did it mean that he sat on his cushion all day, candles lit, eyes lowered, softly chanting or silent, perfectly still, finding nourishment in the air itself, ever and always serene?

Well, I’m sorry, but I have children and grandchildren to care for, friends to see, a blog to write, bills to pay, and if I don’t eat regularly, I get headachy and cranky. Sitting on a cushion all day is fine for some folks, but it won’t work for me.

Please read the rest at the The BridgeMaker.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Dance of Fear

If we truly wish to learn, we should consider enemies to be our best teacher! –The Dalai Lama

I was involved in a situation a few days ago that I have been deeply reflecting on since. The details of the situation are not important. My reaction to the details is.

What happened is that someone behaved in a way that triggered fear in me. The fear in turn manifested as anger. Fear often does this because we don’t like to experience the vulnerability of fear, so we opt for the delusion of power in anger. My anger manifested in an attempt to control what I could not control – someone else.

Pema Chodron tells the story of a young warrior who had to battle fear. She did not want to, but her teacher insisted. On the day of battle, the warrior stood on one side, feeling small. Fear stood on the other side, looking big and wrathful. The warrior bowed to show respect and asked fear, “How do I defeat you?” Fear thanked her for showing respect and replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast and get in your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I say, I have no power.”

Looking back at my own behavior, I see that I was doing exactly what fear was telling me to do. So was the other person. We were engaged in a dance of fear, whirling and jumping like puppets, with fear as the puppet master.

At the time, of course, I did not see this. What I saw was my own story that the other person was doing something wrong, creating a problem that I, in my righteous fury, was going to correct. In fact, my fury only served to add fuel to the fire. The dance accelerated. I was in a vortex of chaos.

Later, in the safety of my own home, I was teary and trembling. I could feel the effects of the tsunami of adrenaline that my terror had pumped into my body. I began to reflect on my own behavior. The first thoughts that came to me were judgmental. What’s wrong with me? What good is all my inner work if, in the heat of the moment, my training fails and I react in fear? How can I write about and teach the 10 Steps if I am such a poor model of applying them?

Then I saw what I was doing, but I didn’t change course. Wow, look at how judgmental I’m being against myself. I can’t even feel compassion for myself or forgive myself. I’m such a fraud. I can’t follow any of the steps when it really counts. What a loser. I might as well just give it all up.

Talk about a meltdown. I felt embarrassed, ashamed, inadequate, unworthy, hopeless. I went to one of my spiritual teachers and began to “confess.” I opined that if I had just paused to take a belly breath before reacting, I would have behaved differently and the outcome of the situation would have been so much better.

He listened quietly, and then said gently, “Who do you think you are? You are talking about your anger, your fear, your power to affect the course of events. Why is all this ‘you’? There is just fear. There is just anger. How do you know if it is good or bad? It was there and now it’s gone. Now you are here. This is where your practice is.”

My body relaxed. My mind stopped spinning its looping tale. Oh.

Compassion was released. And forgiveness. I thought about the other person and how terrified and cornered he must have felt himself, exactly the way I felt. He wasn’t my enemy. He was my brother.

I realized that indeed, this is where my practice is. On the razor’s edge. Not where I feel comfortable about my “serenity skills,” but rather where I have an opportunity to expand, to reach further, to keep my heart open when fear is up close in my face, talking fast.

Who knows if what happened was good or bad? Unpleasant, yes. Scary, yes. But I’ve learned more than I knew before. In an odd way, I’m humbly grateful for the experience.

Perhaps next time, I’ll pause and take a breath.

You meant it for harm, but God meant it for good. –Genesis 50:20

related posts: It Is Not So; Breathing Like a Baby; Which Wolf are You going to Feed?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Chipmunks Playing Chicken?

I wrote last time about a zen master squirrel leaping off my roof to a branch which seemed impossibly far away.

Now I have another rodent story but nothing so profound. On a recent trip to see Crater Lake in southern Oregon, I was driving on a remote two lane highway. Suddenly a chipmunk zoomed across the road right in front of me. No one was behind me, indeed there were no cars in sight in either direction, so I safely slammed on the brakes and he scampered on to the other side.

Good grief, I thought. No car in sight and he picks that moment to zip across the highway? Not too bright. I drove on. In the next mile or so, this scenario was repeated about fifteen times. I’m not kidding. They were all running from the left side of the highway to the right, all racing lickety split with their tails straight up, not looking or slowing down.

A mass chipmunk migration timed to coincide with the only car for miles? A bunch of adolescent chipmunks lolling about on a slow day, daring each other to see who could get closest to the car? What in the heck was going on?

Having written about the wisdom I gleaned from the squirrel, I searched for meaning in the chipmunk caper, but I’m stumped. So I’ll turn it over to you. Any life lessons here?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Leap of Faith

Be like the bird, who
Halting in her flight
On limb too slight
Feels it give way beneath her,
Yet sings,
Knowing she hath wings
–Victor Hugo

Just off my dining room is a small porch, barely big enough for two chairs. The dining room and the porch sit above the garage and driveway. My next door neighbors have a huge maple tree, whose spreading branches provide morning shade on the porch.

Yesterday, I was sitting on the porch, eating my customary breakfast of granola. I became aware of a soft thumping sound. Please read the rest of this post at Reflecting A Life.

related post: Falling Into Now; Love Your Death

Sunday, August 5, 2012

I Gave Up Childish Ways

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. –1 Corinthians 13:11

The minister spoke this morning about childhood and adulthood, about immaturity and maturity. Was there a time, she asked, when you knew you had left childhood behind? One person said it was when he was old enough to have to buy adult tickets at the movie. Another person said it was when she moved into her first apartment and paid her own bills. Several people said that having children was the awakening of adulthood.

I thought back. When did I ever feel like a child? When my mother had headaches and sometimes fainted, I had to run for the smelling salts and revive her. Once, when my dad was out of town, Mother and I thought we heard someone in the house. I got Dad’s shotgun and walked through the house, hoping that the unloaded gun would be enough to scare the intruder away, even though I was only ten years old.

I felt the weight of adult responsibility at those times, but I still thought and reasoned like a child, and I certainly behaved in childish ways. Indeed, looking back, it’s fair to say that maturity did not coincide with adulthood in my life. Maturity came much later and is still coming.

Maturity seems like a good thing. And yet Jesus said that “unless you change and become like a child, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” So how do we give up childish ways, and at the same time become like a child? Hmm, a Christian koan.

Perhaps the answer is in the balance between taking responsibility for your life in a mature way, and maintaining an open heart, a heart full of wonder and joy and trust in the basic goodness of the universe. In that sense, I suppose I am more childlike now than when I really was a child.

As a child, I saw the world as a frightening place, threatening all kinds of bad things if I let down my guard. As I’ve gotten older, I see the beauty and the mystery that I overlooked in my childish anxiety. And I’ve come to believe in the perfection of, well, everything, even if I can’t understand it.

A child’s faith.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. –John 14:27

related post: A Child Will Lead Them