Monday, February 22, 2010

Winter’s Guidance

Snow falls outside my window. Black bean soup simmers on the stove, and a fire is laid in the grate. As the last of the light slips from this gray day, we’ll pull chairs close to the hearth and eat our simple meal bathed in the soft light of a warming fire.

Winter is here, and I find myself settling into this cold day like a long sigh. It feels so good to be still.

Our lives seem way too busy these days. Nearly every moment is filled with a hustle and a bustle~~a do, do, doing with a compulsive flair. Few of us keep the Sabbath anymore. We allow not one day a week for true rest and reflection. On days like today, I find myself wondering about that.

The world outside my window teaches me, any time of the year, about natural cycles and rhythms. And today it highlights the value of repose.

The vines in my courtyard are mostly bare wood beneath their coating of snow. They waste no energy trying to produce leaves or fiery trumpets of orange during the short days of winter. The trees are likewise bare~limbed, their energy withdrawn into roots nestled deep in the earth. And our vegetable garden lies dormant, with nothing reaching from the soil but last summer’s tomato cages and bean poles.

Outdoors, all is hunkered down and silent. Yet in this quietude, much is spoken of the importance of stillness, about the need for respite. The natural world does not repeatedly urge production. No, times of activity alternate with periods of rest. This is as it should be.

But oh, we humans~~and particularly we modern westerners~~have such difficulty with this concept! It makes me wonder if this might be one reason for some of the imbalance we find in our world and in ourselves.

While serious depressions can come from the diminished light of this time of year, could the milder winter blues stem from an expectation that we operate at summer capacity all year long? If we took our cues from the bears and the snakes, the yucca and the lilac, we just might make it through winter a bit more easily.

So today, I’ll sit by my window and be still. I’ll absorb the beauty of bare branches silhouetted against a leaden sky. And later, we’ll pull chairs near a warming fire and eat a hearty soup, thankful for the hush that surrounds us.

Today, this is my spiritual practice~~not action, but receptivity. Not seeking out, but opening to. Not effort, but repose. Ahhhh.

May you, too, be filled with the hush of winter.


Loanne Marie

Monday, February 8, 2010

Grace and Grit

I’ve just finished reading Grace and Grit by Ken Wilber, a memoir of his wife, Treya Killam Wilber’s life with, and eventual death from, a particularly virulent form of cancer. Told through his own reflections and excerpts from Treya’s journals and letters, this is a frank and inspiring tale of one woman’s quest to deal honorably with a harrowing disease.

I value this book on many levels. First, it is a real~life love story, taking us deep into the effects a chronic and life~threatening illness can have on a couple, in this case nearly destroying yet ultimately enlivening that relationship. The book also directly confronts the complexities of illness and healing, providing no easy answers but raising important questions about both traditional and alternative treatments and the philosophies behind them.

This story is also, though, an intimate portrayal of one woman’s choice to use her experience with cancer for psychological and spiritual growth. We see her heal that all~too~human wound of assumed separateness as she becomes more deeply and lovingly connected to life even as her illness progresses toward death.

One of Treya’s central challenges was to balance the urgency of doing everything she could to foster healing, with acknowledging the limits of her control and the need to accept what is and will be. On a spiritual level, as she grappled with blending these two seemingly opposites imperatives, she took cues from the passion inherent in western mystical traditions as well as the equanimity stressed in eastern schools, particularly Buddhism.

“I thought of those moments in meditation,” she writes, “when I’ve felt my heart open, a painfully wonderful sensation, a passionate feeling but without clinging.” And suddenly two words, which had seemed in conflict, coupled in her mind to form a new concept, one that was to support her throughout the rest of her life~~passionate equanimity.

She understood this to mean being “fully passionate about all aspects of life, about one’s relationship with spirit, to care to the depths of one’s being but with no trace of clinging or holding.” Passionate equanimity. I don’t know about you, but that phrase calls my name.

To live this concept would have me do what’s mine to do~~with my whole being and my best effort~~but without expectation or attempt to control outcomes. In other words, to do what I do simply for the love of it, for the love in it.

But how does one pull this off exactly? How do we, in Treya’s words, “work passionately for life, without attachment to the results?”

I think it requires a primary allegiance to something greater than our small selves. With this in place, we can fully engage in the experience of the moment, while holding that experience within the larger context that includes yet surpasses it. That broad vision helps to moderate our ego’s understandable desire for a particular outcome. We begin to cultivate the ability to hold our wishes lightly and to let go the delusion that the world ought to conform to those wishes.

As Treya’s spiritual practice swells with an intimate and intricate awareness of this larger reality, we stand beside her as she negotiates the challenges brought by her illness while, at the same time, more wholly expressing her unique gifts in the world. Increasingly, Treya fully engages in what is truly hers to do, while wasting less energy attempting to control what is not.

And if Treya could do that, so can we all.


Loanne Marie