Monday, June 29, 2009

Of Butterflies, Candles, Blossoms and Fruit

The butterfly effect is an intriguing concept. It presumes an interconnection in life so profound that slight variations anywhere on earth can affect seemingly unrelated events occurring thousands of miles away. It is said, for example, that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil causes minute atmospheric changes that could result in a tornado in Texas or influence its trajectory.

The implications of this theory are far-reaching. We can never know the varied and layered effects of the choices we make in a given moment.

Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, writer, and educator, uses another example to illustrate this idea: a lit candle. A candle burns in a vertical direction, beginning as a long taper and finishing as spent wax. However, this candle burns horizontally as well, as heat and light expand outward into the world.

We are like that candle. Certainly, our lives move in a linear fashion. We are born, mature, age, and die. But at the same time, we shine outward as well. We offer to our surroundings our thoughts and feelings, each action we take, and every kind or harsh word we speak.

Living cognizant that our current actions create unknown ripples can inspire us to proceed wisely. We may opt to bestow worthy gifts rather than give of ourselves unconsciously or in ways that may evoke harm.

“My practice,” writes Thich Nhat Hanh in No Death, No Fear, “is to be reborn in such a way that my new forms of manifestation will bring light, freedom and happiness into the world.”

By rebirth, he is not referring to the classic theological concept of reincarnation. We are being reborn in each and every moment of our lives as we live them. We expand outward through our very demeanor. Each time we interact with another creature we extend, just like that candle flame, beyond our vertical dimension.

We give of ourselves and that manifestation lives on. Just as we are influenced by the actions of others, our essence flows out in every moment and is carried forward through those we touch. The end point, if one exists, simply cannot be known from our current vantage point.

This perspective comes with a responsibility to act honorably. While unseen good may, indeed, result from our shortcomings, by consciously and openly admitting an error, we send a precious gift into our world.

We are living members of an interconnected whole and cannot avoid this reality. If a butterfly’s tiny wings can have such unforeseen effects, how much more potent might our own words and actions be?

We are reborn many times each day, in each interaction and in what we bring to every moment. As we seek to become more conscious participants in this vast relay, this dance of life, the words of the poet Dawna Markova can guide us:

“I choose…to live so that that which came to me as seed, goes to the next as blossom, and that which came to me as blossom goes on as fruit.”

May our blossoms be bounteous and beautiful, and our fruit soulfully sweet.

Have a lovely, wing~flappin' kinda week!


Loanne Marie

Monday, June 15, 2009

Growing Hearts of Compassion

Recently a friend shared an evocative experience that occurred during a field trip with her elementary school class to the Ludlow Monument near Aguilar, Colorado. 

The Monument stands as a haunting memorial to those murdered on April 20th, 1914, when the Colorado National Guard attacked a tent colony of striking coal miners and their families. The 1200 residents of the tent village had lived there since September of the year before, surviving a brutal Colorado winter under harsh living conditions. While some tents were built atop wooden platforms, crude cellars had been excavated beneath others to enlarge living space, allow for storage of supplies, and offer refuge from the bullets often fired through tent walls as tensions with the coal company escalated.

At the current site, just one cellar remains. Lined now with concrete, it allows visitors a first~hand glimpse of what life in the camp might have been like. My friend’s third graders had just ascended from this cellar and were seated around the Monument itself~~granite column, plaque listing the names of the dead, and statues of a miner and a woman holding her toddler. An interpretive guide was explaining that members of the militia had set fire to the tent that had been erected above the very cellar the students had stood within just moments before, killing 2 women and 11 children through suffocation.

This is what happened next. Three students, moving as one, silently and without prompting, placed their hands together in the universal gesture of prayer and bent forward, “bowing their little heads until they rested on the base of the monument.” Four more children spontaneously followed suit.

“It was one of the most amazing things I ever saw!” my friend whispered, tears springing to her eyes. Tears come to mine as well.

I am grateful to these children. They remind me that compassion is part of our instinctive nature. No one instructed them in their response. It came naturally because their hearts were open. The suffering of others encountered no barriers; welcomed, it elicited an innate empathy. Such is the way of a healthy heart.

But there is another response common to humankind~~the tendency to recoil from hurt. While this might be an appropriate reaction to physical pain, brought into the emotional realm this tendency can cause grave difficulties. Hearts restrict, become wooden. We close off from life, falsely believing that in doing so we limit our pain.

We do not. By closing down, we simply diminish our experience of all that is joyful as well. Hardened hearts also limit our ability to heal from the sorrows we absorb anyway, despite all our attempts at protection.

With my friend’s third grade students as our guides, we can renew our relationship to the responsive heart we were born with. It is our birthright, and we can reclaim it at any time, and as often as needed.

Pema Chodron, Buddhist author and educator, writes, “When you begin to touch your heart or let your heart be touched, you begin to discover that it’s bottomless…that this heart is huge, vast, and limitless. You begin to discover how much warmth and gentleness is there.”

By allowing ourselves to be moved, our hearts open further and grow deeper. And we expand with them. No longer needing to withdraw into a false safety, we allow life to touch us and to grow us into the precious beings we are, and have always been~~in our hearts.

May your huge, vast and limitless heart be touched throughout the coming week, and may that touch deepen you and bring you home.


Loanne Marie

Monday, June 1, 2009

Enlarging Our Screen

My husband has a terrible time with gray weather. He knows, of course, that just beyond those low-hanging clouds, a brilliant sun shines in a deep azure sky, and that farther on, galaxy upon galaxy swirl in an ever-expanding universe. Yet without a bit of effort, dreariness is all he knows.

Most of us are like that. Perhaps external weather conditions don’t challenge us, but when our lives get socked in by metaphoric dark clouds, we too narrow our focus. The screen of our awareness shrinks so that our discomfort entirely fills it. Discontent is all we see.  

While there may be truth in our misery, we deceive ourselves when we fixate on that misery at the exclusion of all else. There is always more. 

The fact that we are not aware of the wonder that lies outside the confines of our meager vision does not render that immensity non-existent. Just like the sun shining on the far side of the clouds, beauty and peace exist whether or not we perceive them in a given moment. 

Remaining cognizant of the vast reservoir of life is the task of evolving consciousness. Choosing our focus wisely, particularly in times of difficulty, is a skill we must cultivate.

The Gospel of Thomas is one of the ancient texts unearthed in Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945. Echoing Christ’s statement in Luke 17:20-21 that “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you,” Thomas too cites Jesus urging his disciples to recognize heaven on earth. In Thomas 113 and 3 respectively, Jesus says, “…the kingdom of the father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it,” and “…the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you.

How do we learn to recognize heaven here amid earthly concerns? Answers to this question are provided by many spiritual traditions, a multitude of methods offered for every temperament and situation. These are the things that work for me.
  • I begin each day with a period of silence. I orient myself to a larger vision and set my intention to honor that perspective throughout my day. 
  • As the hours unfold, I try to notice and respond promptly and effectively when my screen contracts. When my vision is consumed with a petty annoyance, for example, I consciously enlarge my view. 
  • When I encounter true pain in myself or others, I strive to bear loving witness rather than collapse into despair or rush into attempts to force a change. I try to broaden my sight, reminding myself that there is much, so much, that lies beyond the largest vision I can ever hope to attain. 
  • I bring my awareness to the present moment periodically. Whether washing my hands or walking down the street, I breathe with the fullest presence possible to me. 
  • I invite peace into my life through the activities I engage in and the attitude with which I enter them. I consciously seek and open to joy.
Yet, the parameters of my screen frequently revert to diminished mode without my noticing. If I feel any discouragement at my pace of this path of mine, I remind myself that I am still new at this, still but a little sister on this journey of consciousness. 

And life is infinitely patient with me, taking me by the hand each time I fall and raising me up once again.

There is a great vibrating pulse that thrums through us and around us. Just because it is so often outside our awareness does not make it any less real.

The kingdom is spread upon the earth. It is for us to develop eyes to see.

Have a lovely couple of weeks!


Loanne Marie

PS. For a delightful little book that makes clear the importance of our perspective, you might enjoy Zoom, but Istvan Banyai