Sunday, November 27, 2011

Be The Web

When I was young, we said grace before our evening meal.
“Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
No one taught me this blessing. It was simply an ever~present part of our evening ritual~~which likely explains why I rarely thought of its meaning. I loved how the words cascaded one over the other in an engaging rhythm. But did I think about their significance? Seldom.

As I matured, things began to change. I became influenced by forms of spirituality that recognized that all was sacred. This, of course, included the food that came from the earth and nourished the body. During this time, a new grace appeared, one that continues to be a part of my eating life.
The silver rain, the shining sun,
The fields where all the wild things run,
And all the ripples of the wheat,
Are in this food that we now eat.
So as we sit for this­­­­ ­­­­­­______ (adjective~~lovely, delicious) meal,
With ______ (adjective~~grateful, joyous) hearts we know and feel,
That we are eating rain and sun,
And fields where all the wild things run.
Though I loved the poetry in these words, still I used this blessing infrequently. Earth’s bounty and my incredible good fortune in having such wholesome food were too often intellectual concepts rather than heart~felt experience. The habits of unconscious eating were still strong in me.

And then Thich Nhat Hanh came into my life. This gentle Buddhist monk forever changed my relationship to food and the process of eating. The first line of the eating prayer in Nhat Hahn’s tradition is~~
“This food is a gift of the whole universe~~the earth, the sky, numerous living beings and much loving work.”
The oatmeal that warmed me this morning was possible only because of photosynthesis, moisture, vibrant soil, farmer, salt miner, trucker, grocer, stove manufacturer and propane producer. One chain, many links. One web, many strands.

In Buddhism, though, a blessing before meals serves primarily to orient us. As a preamble to the experience of eating, its intent is to encourage us to be fully present throughout the entire process. Full awareness~~an appropriate response to “these Thy gifts,” don’t you think?

I now say grace before most meals. As I look at my plate, I recognize all that it holds. And I see myself there, too. I re~member myself into that vast web. By nourishing my body, the food I eat allows me to move out into the world. How will I honor these gifts and carry them forward into the web?

If someone cuts me off in traffic, letting out an expletive or flipping the bird is certainly not being true to “these Thy gifts”. Walking in a haze through my day, reacting carelessly to whatever arises, does not do them justice either.

No, “these Thy gifts” asks more. It invites a loving attention, a soulful presence. When I’m operating from my best self, I bring nourishment to others. I hope, though, that even when I’m behaving badly, folks can take what I pass to them and turn it toward greater wisdom and overall good.

Many of us honored our gifts this past Thursday. Perhaps we can keep that thanksgiving going. In fact, I’m asking that everyone reading these words~~yes, that means you!~~ commit to sitting in gratitude before your next meal.

If we would each also vow to consciously use the nutrients within that food to fuel our own unique contribution to the world~~and to make it our very best offering~~that would be a lovely thing indeed!

And while we're speaking of gratitude, please feel mine streaming right now to you~~and you~~and you, too~~for all that you do, and all that you are, in this world.


Loanne Marie

P.S. For other Thanksgiving~themed essays, here are some earlier posts~~


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Soldier's Heart

Yesterday we honored our veterans. Today, I ask that you extend that observance just a bit longer while you read these words.

While all who left their homes and their families deserve our appreciation, those who endured combat have earned a special place in our hearts. The wounds sustained may be physical, visible in the body or not. Their afflictions may be of the psyche, visible in their behavior or not.

As a psychotherapist, my experience is with these psychological wounds. What our leaders ask of these men and women is not without cost. Of course, we’d rather not face this fact. Not really. Not fully. Just as many of us turn away from the vet with physical scars, we avert our eyes from his or her emotional suffering as well. We diagnose. We blame. We incarcerate. We ignore.

In a marvelous book, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit, educator and activist Parker Palmer refers us to a riff by the brilliant comedian and social critic George Carlin.
Carlin made a career of drawing our attention to the various oddities of our culture. In "Euphemisms," he hones in on how we use language to avoid painful realities, particularly the hurt sustained by our combat veterans.

“There's a condition in combat,” Carlin states, “…when a fighting person's nervous system has been stressed to its absolute peak…can’t take any more…The nervous system has either snapped or is about to.” Carlin then traces the various names we’ve used for this condition throughout the 20th century.

“In the first world war,” Carlin reminds us, “that condition was called shell shock. Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables, shell shock. Almost sounds like the guns themselves.”

Then a change occurred in our language, one that took some of the bite out of the harsh realities of war. In World War II, “the very same combat condition was called battle fatigue,” Carlin explains. “Four syllables now. Takes a little longer to say. Doesn't seem to hurt as much.” Surely nothing a nap or a week of R&R wouldn’t take care of.

Time marched on and one war was replaced by another. During the Korean War, the term had morphed into operational exhaustion. “Hey,” Carlin quips, “we’re up to eight syllables now! And the humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase…Operational exhaustion. Sounds like something that might happen to your car.”

Next, of course, came Vietnam and these psychological wounds were repackaged yet again as Post~Traumatic Stress Disorder. “Still eight syllables,” Carlin notes, “but we've added a hyphen! And the pain is completely buried under jargon.”

It’s that last line that haunts me. Carlin always makes me laugh, but my laughter has an edge to it this time, an uneasiness born of the recognition that his observations may be about language, but the realities he points to are about human beings. Fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives. Children all. Children of our human family. Not statistics. Not machinery. Real human beings, living and breathing~~or trying to~~like the rest of us.

But Carlin missed one name for the psychological wounds of combat. Palmer tells us that d
uring the Civil War,“traumatized combatants developed a condition…called Soldier’s Heart.”

Soldier’s Heart. How incredibly beautiful. How honest. How true.

Heart comes from the Latin cor which, as Palmer notes, "points not merely to our emotions but to the core of the self, that center place where all our ways of knowing converge...The heart is where we integrate what we know in our minds with what we know in our bones." And this is where these kinds of battle wounds reside, at the very core of a the Soldier's Heart.

So on Veteran’s Day 11/11/11, we honored all our veterans~~the living and the dead, those here and abroad, individuals serving in any capacity. But let us each take a moment~~right here, right now~~to sit quietly and envelop every Soldier’s Heart within our own.

Blessings on every Soldier's Heart.

Loanne Marie

PS. Here's a link to Carlin's Euphemisms. Geesh, but I miss George Carlin!

PPS. And for those interested in learning more about an organization seeking to make sure the prevalence of Soldier's Hearts diminishes rather than grows, here's a link to Veterans For Peace.