Monday, March 30, 2009

A week off!

Hello there!

Things conspired to give me a week off from writing. Perhaps you'll read through some previous essays, or maybe take a week off yourself. 

I'll have something here for next week.


Loanne Marie

Monday, March 23, 2009

Avenues That Beckon

When I write, I become absorbed. Not just minutes, but often an hour or more passes with only my peripheral awareness. Writing transports me from my small self into something that feels larger and deeper both. It is one of the ways I touch the life in the present moment. In addition, the process and its results have brought me into contact with individuals and ideas that have further shaped and enriched me. Writing, it seems, is a lure beckoning.

A natural extension of the idea of Spirit’s omnipresence is that opportunities to touch the Divine are ever-present as well. As the mystic poet Kabir put it, “Wherever you are is the entry point.” While these points of access exist in each moment, they are often most enjoyably and easily perceived in those activities that attract us.

In the late eighties, Joseph Campbell, author and educator in the field of comparative religions, made famous the phrase “follow your bliss.” He felt that by so doing, “you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and (then) the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living.” It seems that bliss, then, is the voice of our deeper selves reverberating down the avenues that beckon.

Now, of course, discretion is needed. Addictions and other soul-harming practices can, after all, be quite compelling as well. But most often we know the difference between pursuits that bring us to the warm center of an absorption that feeds our soul, and activities that numb us and pull us away from our true self. And if we’re ever uncertain, the fruit of an activity will tell the tale.

I find it curious, though, that we often resist doing those things that bring us into this rich experience. Some of us seem almost determined not to allow ourselves such abundance. It may be as simple as mistrusting our ability to choose wisely. Or perhaps we believe that we are undeserving, that a full life is for others, not us.

But often I think there is something else involved. Sometimes, as I sit to write or meditate, I recognize a certain resistance, an inkling~~or at times a huge dollop~~of avoidance. What’s to avoid? Both activities nurture me.

Of course, sometimes it’s simple laziness, since something is exacted from me by both endeavors. But when I search down to the bones of this phenomenon, I find a hint of fear. When we step forward into an unknown, no matter how enticing it may be, we are never quite certain what we will encounter or who we might become in the process. Intuitively we know that whenever we respond to our soul’s guidance, things will change, and often quite quickly, too. This can be unnerving. The alternative, however, is to live in the shadow of what we might be.

Whether we yearn to create art or a garden, to hike through the national forest or dance, to develop a spiritual practice or a new career, that urge may very well be the voice of our deeper self coaxing us forward.

Perhaps we would be wise to gather up all the insecure, lazy, frightened, and undeveloped pieces of our soul, grasp hands with our Higher Self, and step forward over the threshold into the future that awaits us, the one that calls our name.

I wish you well turning toward the voice of your own deepest self this week.


Loanne Marie

Monday, March 16, 2009

Cultivating Compassion

I have just finished reading about Rwandan women. It was a hopeful article, celebrating the resilience of lives rebuilt. Still, I find myself shaken. I am particularly touched tonight by a widow, now mothering seven traumatized children~~three born to her and four adopted ones, little beings orphaned by hate.

Perhaps it’s the weariness born of a long day, but this family’s story hits me hard. Tears do not melt the heaviness I feel. Rwanda’s tragic past has seeped into my heart. What to do?

Loving-kindness meditation is a practice designed to cultivate compassion. Just what I need to lighten my spirit while perhaps sending something soothing into the world.

I walk to my room, sit, take a few breaths. In this method of meditation, various key phrases can be used to encourage the opening of the heart. Tonight, words arrive spontaneously.

As the form instructs, I begin with myself.

“May I be healthy. May I be whole. May I be at peace.”

I silently repeat each phrase in sync with my breath until my heart softens and words drop away. I wrap myself, fill myself, with love.

After several minutes, I shift my focus to a dear friend.

“May you be healthy. May you be whole. May you be at peace.”

Again, one phrase flows into another until love moves of its own volition, and we are both bathed in its light.

Warmth now fills my chest, vanquishing the gloom that held me earlier. I am ready to do what I realize I arrived at this moment to do. I visualize the Rwandan mother from the article, seven children gathered ‘round her.

“May you be healthy. May you be whole. May you be at peace.”

The repeating words and the tenderness behind them envelop this constellation of living souls, stroking, nurturing, whispering encouragement as they rise from the rubble of war.

But after several minutes, I remember there is something else required of me, something I must steady myself to do. For in loving~kindness meditation, one also offers goodwill to those perceived as harmful. I resist this, recoil from the very idea of wishing well those who have murdered this woman’s husband, these children’s parents. I can stop short of wishing them harm, but can I wish them well? I can, and I must.

I envision these murderers, likely men consumed with fear or hatred from perceived wrongs done them. And I know again that healthy and whole humans at peace do not commit atrocities. I know they, instead, make amends for wrongs they have committed.

“May you be healthy. May you be whole. May you be at peace.”

Something shifts as these words reverberate. I remember that I, too, might erupt in similar ways, given certain circumstances. I also recognize my link to those who watched from afar and did nothing to stop the genocide. Hard kernels of anger and self~righteousness rise up and melt away. Love flows into the spaces thus freed.

My focus expands now to include all of Rwanda.

"May you be healthy. May you be whole. May you be at peace."

This rippling continues, crossing continents and oceans until I gently and lovingly hold our brilliant planet and all its inhabitants in my awareness.

“May you be healthy. May you be whole. May you be at peace.”

My meditation is now complete. My heart is warm, open, healed.

My meditation was not ‘perfect’. My focus wavered often. However, each time my thoughts or emotions strayed, I returned. In defiance of despair, loving~kindness bloomed, again and again. And again.

In this and every week, may you be healthy. May you be whole. May you be at peace.


Loanne Marie

Monday, March 9, 2009

Habits Of The Heart

With the ground shifting beneath our feet in so many ways, feeling a bit unsettled is to be expected. Our choice of how we respond to the turmoil around and within us, though, is ours alone to decide.

Some of us may react with fear, withdrawing into cynicism or despair. Others might instead cling to idealistic notions that are unable to withstand the tumult of real~world application. While these responses may appear to be in opposition, they are actually twin temptations, linked by the truth that both prevent effective action.

In a recent interview with Bill Moyers, author and educator, Parker Palmer, articulated the need to “hold the tension” between these two poles, recognizing the value each contains but succumbing wholeheartedly to neither.

Notice the phrasing. Palmer did not encourage us to tolerate the tension or to withstand it. He urged us to hold that tension, for holding requires us to grow larger than either pole, greater even than both together. As we enlarge ourselves, we achieve the vision that allows us to assess both extremes, discern the truth lying within each, and conceptualize a viable path forward which incorporates the best of both.

Whenever we confront a choice between seeming opposites, it is wise to search for the synthesis between them. This has been described as going through the horns of a dilemma~~which certainly beats being impaled by either!

As we consider the current state of our world, though, how do we negotiate between the horns? This middle way includes facing head~on the very grave difficulties before us, but doing so with trust that effective solutions can be found and enacted through our hard and sustained efforts.

Simplistic and emotionally~laden thinking is the easy way. Far more is required of us now~~to fully appreciate the serious difficulties we face, accept that there are no simple, easy, or perhaps even already envisioned answers, and nevertheless trust that we can develop a viable strategy for moving forward.

With this in mind, Palmer also spoke of the challenge to cultivate appropriate “habits of the heart.” The ability to hold the tension between despair and idealism is one such habit. But there are many others, including...
  • Commitment to substantive discourse with those with whom we disagree.
  • Tolerance for ambiguity.
  • Compassion, meaning literally “to suffer with”.
  • Appreciation for diversity.
  • Conscious use of our unique energy, in ways minute and grand.
  • Trust in the inherent goodness of ourselves and others.
We live in turbulent times, to be sure. Our response, though, is anything but certain. We could use these times to nurture precious habits of the heart.

In Parker’s words, we could then “take (this) broken~hearted experience in a new direction, not towards the shattering into a million pieces but toward a heart that grows larger, more capacious, more open to hold both the suffering and the pain of the world.” And, I would add, its piercing beauty and possibility, as well.

Whatever challenges we face personally and collectively, we could see in them opportunities, fodder in our quest to grow a healthier, more soulful heart.

Have a lovely week growing your own heart!


Loanne Marie

Monday, March 2, 2009

Light Streams In

One day last week, our nearly 16-year-old Husky, Sasha, let us know it was time to help ease her out of her ancient body. We had spent the last year watching closely, tiptoeing the line between acting too soon and waiting too long.

But as we lay beside her on the blanket, stroking that impossibly thick and luxurious fur while Dr. Lori administered the injection, we knew we had timed it just right. Sasha was ready. We had made the final decision in a lifetime of loving choices. And now we begin the task of living without her.

In the novel, The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy uses a recurring metaphor for grief. Applied to our canine friend, we would say that her death created ‘a Sasha-shaped hole in the universe’. What an evocative picture for the hollowness that comes with grief! The image hooks me and draws me in.

If the death of a loved one creates a rending in the outer edge of existence as we know it, to where might such an opening lead? Where else, but to that which lies beyond. Each of us will have our own conception of this beyond, depending on our personal and spiritual bent. For me, it is not a place, but rather a space outside ordinary awareness, the same space touched in moments of deep absorption, prayer or meditation.

It would seem that a hole which bears the imprint of a dear one could, if we let it, offer access to and from that which lies beyond, however we imagine it to be. Could this, perhaps, complete Roy’s metaphor?

See yourself in a room, dark shades drawn against the brilliance of the day. These shades, however, are old and worn, their once smooth surfaces peppered now with cracks and holes that allow daylight to enter.

Certainly as we adjust to the absence of a loved one, our focus needs to remain primarily in the room itself, experiencing the depth of this change that has come to our life. But as time passes, we might find ourselves turning more often toward the light slipping through the shades.

I have now experienced the loss of four special animals. My godmother and aunt. A friend. And most profoundly of all, my mother. Each is represented against the inky screen at the edge of my universe, and each in her own way, provides an opening to what lies beyond.

When we are deeply bonded to another, our connection doesn’t evaporate when a body is discarded, or when that soul breaks through the barrier to elsewhere. Yet all relationships naturally seek transformation over time.

For example, one of the many ways my relationship with my mother has evolved since her death is that the filament that joins us, while remaining uniquely personal, seems to have broadened, too. It feels as though, through my enduring connection to her, I move closer to that Essence that lies beyond all things, while also opening to it more thoroughly.

Grieving is hard, and it is not wise to attempt to bypass the full range of electrifying emotions it engenders. The holes fashioned to the contours of our loved ones will rightly command much of our attention, particularly in those first months or years following their deaths.

But increasingly, our eye might be drawn to the radiance shining through these familiar openings. And in such moments, we may find ourselves rising up, arms outstretched, to welcome the Light that streams our way.

May you each bask in the beams shining through the familiar holes in your own universe.


Loanne Marie

For an essay written in honor of another canine companion, see Her Name Was Arrow.