Monday, July 27, 2009

A Meditation

Carrying my Mexican blanket, worn soft from years of use, I walk the path that leads from our campsite in the national forest. I move slowly, touching the ground gently with each step. My breathing, too, is slow, each inhale and every exhale felt fully in the rise and fall of chest and belly.

Pine needles and various green growing plants cover the ground, with flowers of a delicate lavender rising here and there under the deep shade of the canopy. The trilling of birdsong punctuates the steady thrum of the rushing waters of the Conejos River.

And I want to miss none of it. I want to fully experience the gift of being here.

The path carries me up to a tiny alpine meadow. Its wildflowers are an orangey~yellow, magicians who have transmuted to physical form the golden sunlight streaming from above.

I wend my way to the meadow’s western rim, step over its edge and down into the shade of trees spanning the distance to the tumbling river below. I place my folded blanket in an indentation fashioned by the roots of an old spruce.

And I sit. And I breathe. My body quiets further as it settles into this spot of earth.

I gaze into the river below, watch water spilling over submerged rock, doubling back on itself, spray flying.

A hummingbird appears to my right, hangs in mid~air not three feet away, trying to place the colors of my shirt into her vast store of flora knowledge. She drops briefly onto a needle~bare pine branch before flying on.

The soft breeze whips suddenly to a frenzy, and I turn my head to greet it. Skin cools, hair blows, shirt ruffles. And the smells of this hillside become my breath, fill my lungs, and radiate throughout my body by capillary splendor.

As the breeze softens again, my eye drops to filtered sunlight brushing the pine needles at the edge of my blanket. My vision moves to my left, skipping from one patch of light to another and another.

Varying shades of green walk me to the top of an adjacent mountain until I touch the sky. I reverse my course, eye flowing from blue to green and green and green, until I arrive back at my blanket’s edge.

The forest suddenly darkens~~a cloud conversing with the sun, no doubt. Though the breeze remains light, it seems to draw moisture from the river below. On this day in mid~summer, I am chilled.

Mentally, I begin stringing words like beads, wanting to describe this for you to read. But I call myself back~~to my body on this blanket, to lungs filling with clean mountain air, to the bird now singing from a tree branch above me.

Sunlight returns to the high mountaintop to my left. Light sweeps down that hillside and up my own, returning a dappled light to these woods once more.

And through it all, the river dances and laughs and careens ever downward.

Today, this is my church, my temple, my mosque. The forest, with the river below and azure vastness above, my Sacred Circle. My unwavering attention, my Sun Dance.

Edges blur. Nothing stands distinct, separate. A deep unity hums.

All is holy. And if all is holy here, is not all holy everywhere? Surely it is simply easier for me to perceive it amid such beauty.

I stand, lean down, retrieve my blanket, and begin the walk back to camp.


Blessings of all that is holy to each of you, this week and always,

Loanne Marie

Monday, July 13, 2009

Tolerating the Intolerant

Linda writes, “Do we tolerate intolerance? Do we draw a line and say we'll tolerate this but not that?” Excellent questions, and ones of importance to those of us who strive to express our spirituality in our daily lives.

Whatever example of narrow-mindedness I see before me, when I recognize that I have that same capacity, though possibly expressed in different forms, the fires of my own reaction calm and a subtle shift occurs.

Intolerance is, after all, part of the human repertoire. Remembering that, I will be less likely to vilify the other person for his or her intolerance, and more likely to recognize a kindred soul challenged by a very human tendency. Definitely a better stance from which to begin an interaction!

If I am unable to find such a starting point, perhaps intervening in any way will only make matters worse. No matter how perfect the language of my response, judgment will likely bleed through to fan the blaze, rendering that response ineffective. To meet someone’s intolerance with my own may only add more negativity to the mix. And as my Mama used to say, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

So, yes, Linda, I think we do need to be tolerant of the intolerance of others. As Voltaire put it, “We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other’s folly.”

Yet recognizing the shared nature of our human flaws needn’t make us passive in the face of injustice or condoning of harm done another. Our interconnectedness, in fact, seems to require us to speak out. How do we respond skillfully and effectively to intolerance?

Obviously, there are no one size fits all answers, as situations and temperaments vary so greatly. Yet if we center ourselves, imagine our favorite saint or deity sitting on our shoulder, and ask for guidance and an opening~~if responding is, indeed, ours to do~~likely a path will show itself.

Consider these possibilities:
  • When intolerance seems to stem from frustration, as when a frazzled parent behaves harshly with a child in public, a simple show of empathy and support may do much to ease the situation.
  • When an acquaintance makes a judgmental comment, you could reply that there are other perspectives and offer to share yours. Or conversely, you could share a similar view you once held and what led you to rethink that position.
  • When the actions of an individual or an established institution tread on the rights of a person or group, you might seek opportunities to stand up for what you feel is right, possibly invoking that venerable tradition of non-violent resistance.
Clarity often takes time to rise in our awareness, and delaying our response may be preferable to reacting unconsciously. Seldom will we miss entirely a chance for a conscious response. Creating an opportunity to continue an interaction, days or even months later~~perhaps even sharing the evolution of our reactions~~demonstrates an interest that might very well have a powerful effect. And if we can't resume a particular interaction, likely we'll have a chance to put into practice what we've learned with someone new.

None of the above is meant to imply that we can’t be passionate in our response. Showing that we care deeply about an issue can often be inspirational. But if our goal is to have a positive effect, blame is better left behind.

Of course, no response of ours is guaranteed to make the slightest change in another. Changing others is not our job. We are called only to do what is ours to do, in the best manner possible. This includes, of course, managing our own penchant for intolerance.

As the clergyman and abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher wrote, “Nothing dies so hard, or rallies so often, as intolerance.”

Transforming our own intolerance is our primary task. If we can also assist a fellow traveler in coming to see his or her own with a clearer eye~~either through witnessing our example, or in our skillful response to a shared interaction~~we have been a good friend, indeed.


Loanne Marie