Saturday, March 31, 2012

Of Kisses and Politics

As a young adult, I was quite politically active. Boycott, demonstration, or letter writing campaign~~I was your girl! As my spirituality deepened, though, I became less politically engaged. I continued to vote regularly, of course, and even got out on the streets at times to march or campaign for a candidate whose election seemed particularly crucial. But I didn’t like the rancor, the messiness of the whole thing. It just didn’t seem very spiritual, ya know? 
The truth is, politics had begun to scare me. To be involved in such divisiveness seemed to run counter to where my soul was leading me. Yet I didn’t quite buy the either/or split I was setting up there. If one purpose of a vibrant spirituality is to bring a fuller and deeper awareness to the entirety of one’s earthwalk, how could politics be off limits? It wasn’t, of course. I just needed to find a way to “do politics” differently. I also needed help not despairing as I watched us careen into an uncertain future.
Author and social activist Parker Palmer helped on both counts. On his facebook wall, he writes about individuals who commit to “big values like love and truth and justice.” He goes on to note that “at the end of the road, not a single one of them could say, “The goals to which I devoted my life have finally been secured, now and forever.”            

How do such folks find the fortitude to continue on when things often look so bleak? Palmer suspects it’s all in the perspective held. “Without ceasing to work for whatever results are possible,” he surmises, “they assess their lives by a standard that trumps effectiveness—the standard of faithfulness. They ask themselves three questions: “Have I been faithful to the gifts that I’ve been given? Have I been faithful to the needs I see around me? Have I been faithful to my opportunities to serve those needs with my gifts?”
Great questions, huh? With faithfulness as a measure, politics becomes just one more sphere in which to practice. If I remain loyal to my gifts, I will be less likely to add my own twist to the venom I encounter in the political realm, and less likely to become discouraged when things don’t progress in the way I think they should.
Palmer’s questions, though, are helpful in assessing any area of our lives. Have we been true to our gifts~~in our family, in our work, in our spiritual lives, in our world? If our answer is mostly yes, then we have been loyal to our purpose here. If not, perhaps it’s time to commit to faithfulness from now on.           
Politics and I remain uneasy playmates, and I’m still cautious about the ways I involve myself and how much I absorb of the daily news. But as this election year heats up, with simplistic bumper sticker talk replacing substantive discussion, and nastiness seemingly the name of the game, I am trying to do my part. I hope we all do, for if those who seek harmony and the greatest good remove themselves from the arena, who will be left to make the decisions that affect us all?
Being faithful to our gifts and to using them as best we can, reminds us that our job is not to force a particular outcome. Rather, we are asked merely to add our perspective to the mix, and to do so in a way that just might elevate the quality of the discussion.
I end with a quote from the mystic Rumi. “Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”
Could politics be one of them? Yes, it could.

Wishing you each lots of kneeling and ground kissin'!

Loanne Marie

Here's a link to Parker Palmer's facebook and to his organization The Center for Courage & Renewal.

And here's Coleman Barks, one of the most popular of Rumi's translators, reading a few poems including Spring Giddiness, the one that includes the above quote. The performance is kinda beat and quite fun!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Come Play!

The Vernal Equinox is on its way! In the mountainous regions of the western U.S., it occurs this Monday at precisely 11: 14 pm. At that moment, the sun pauses directly above the Earth’s equator before continuing on its northward journey.
Of course, it doesn’t pause at all, and it is not the Sun but the Earth that has moved into this position, but let’s not quibble. And contrary to what the term equinox implies (Latin for “equal nights”), the days and nights are not, in fact, truly equal on this date, even at the equator. But let’s not quibble here either. We’ve nearly made it through another winter. Spring is upon us. Yippee!
Looking at online images of this grand dance~~Earth around Sun as both sashay across heaven’s ballroom~~my mind feels a gravitational pull of its own to all the great cycles of our Earthly existence.
Spring blooms into summer, as autumn gives way to winter. Morning becomes noonday becomes dusk becomes the deep darkness of midnight. A human life cycles from birth to the transition that is death. Everywhere we look, we see examples of the interplay of light and dark, growth and decay, this and that.
What a delightful and instructive word~~interplay, “the play between” the opposites that create our world. How much easier our lives would be if we could hold the tension between them lightly, even playfully. So many of us struggle so, fighting to hold on to what we want, pushing away what doesn’t please us. Where in nature do we witness such foolishness?

The squash plant that will grow in our gardens this summer accepts sunlight by day and the darkness of night. Its blossoms give way to butternuts that, when ripe, fall into our hands with only a gentle tug. She doesn’t fight to hang on to the fruit of her effort or begrudge us her seeds. She doesn’t seem to fear her leaves withering as sunlight grows weaker and temperatures drop.
While animals have freedom of movement and, therefore, a greater ability to choose their experience, there seems here, too, an acceptance of what is. Just watch cattle during a winter storm, backsides facing the biting wind as white stuff accumulates on toughened hide.
Life happens. 

We humans, with our ability for conscious choice, have the greatest say in how we greet it. It’s not so impressive to “be spiritual”,  loving and kind when all is moving as we’d like, though we need to remind ourselves even then to practice these virtues. No, it is when things are going exactly as we don’t want that we are tested.
The cycles we observe in sky and garden have corollaries in the ups and downs of our own lives. Relationships change. Good fortune blooms and may wither. Things shift from this to that, often in ways not to our liking.
Do we greet these developments with grace, using them to grow wisdom, or do we instead allow them to strengthen our unwholesome attributes? If we approach life playfully, holding tenderly both the light and dark, things will go much easier for us.
In a dream last week, I came across an interesting symbol. A multicolored vertical line separated nearly halfway down into two parts, looking much like a stick figure without arms or head. As I moved closer in my dream state, I realized that this was no abstract symbol. Instead, two rainbow~hued birds leaned into one another, neck and head entwined in a loving embrace.
The play of opposites is like that, a loving embrace that creates our world~~and us. May we greet it warmly, hold it playfully, allow it to surprise us into something new.

May you and your own brightly colored birds create an exquisite dance all your own. Dance your heart out. Dance it open.

Happy Spring!

Loanne Marie

For a bit more info on the Spring Equinox, including a short video and a stunning long exposure photograph from last year's vernal equinox, click here.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Judge Not

I sat unmoving on the sandstone rocks. Light was coming to the eastern sky, but all remained a deep stillness. The world hadn’t yet awakened.

And then it did. Slowly.

A lone goose honked insistently toward the southwest, passing almost directly overhead. Silence returned. Dogs from a distant yard mounted a barking frenzy lasting several minutes. Quiet came again. Tiny birds rustled the branches of a bush, a car drove down an adjacent street, a slight breeze moved past my ear. Each sound arose from and was followed by a sweet hush.
This silence was glorious and grace~filled. It flowed like an underground stream beneath each sound, every form, all thought, even the slight movements of my body.
This stillness was like air, too. Always present. Always available. Usually unnoticed.

I noticed it now. As the sounds of daytime busyness increased, each seemed a wave rising from a vast ocean and falling back again. The ocean was all, and I vowed to remain in contact with it throughout my day.
Fast forward five hours. I’m sitting in the steamiest pool at the hot springs irritated because the couple with whom I share the water won’t shut up. Believe me, I was well aware of the irony!

I tried to find the stillness beneath their too~loud voices, but I couldn’t. Why was it effortless while sitting on the rocks, but darn near impossible now, immersed in healing waters? I knew the answer. I had been snagged again, caught in a judgmental response that closed me off to all but itself.
I didn’t act, but let the searing mineral water cook me a bit. Gradually, something else arose. Judgment gave way to a clear~eyed discernment.
When I judge, I see simple wrongdoings. A deeper, fuller wisdom comes when I discern. Discernment may acknowledge the same facts, but its vision is broader, with a context that is more complex and, thus, truer. 

In this case, discernment agreed that, by speaking loudly and incessantly, this couple was violating one of the basic norms of hot springs etiquette. But it also saw that these folks meant no harm. Though in their 50s, their love was new and they were in the wrapped~up~in~each~other stage that made them unaware of anything else.
Discernment also highlighted my own harsh reaction. It urged against imposing myself on the situation in a way that, given my level of annoyance, would be awkward, hurtful and ultimately unsatisfying. Discernment accepted the learning this couple offered me. Rather than asserting myself on my surroundings, I was to allow my surroundings to work on me. And so I did.
Rather than indulge and thereby strengthen my judgmental tendencies, I chose instead to give my tolerance muscle some much needed exercise. I let my spa~mates’ need for words override my preference for quiet. Very soon after I made that choice, of course, my unwitting teachers stepped out of the pool, their work complete. As they padded away down the boardwalk, delicious silence returned.
Judgment raised to a higher frequency becomes discernment. Without the aggressive emotional charge, it is free to work in harmony with what is, finding the most helpful way to proceed. Unbound by duality, discernment sees the good within the bad and can sense the Oneness that transcends and infuses them both.
Which brings us back to that blessed silence I perceived so clearly earlier in the day. That silence which is here now as I type and now as you read.
Underground stream. Air. Vast ocean. Whatever the metaphor, it is right here, right now. Always.

Blessings to my fella drops of ocean!

Loanne Marie           

Those who regularly read these pages are acquainted with a certain Monica Wood, who often leaves comments here. I recently came across (without any help from Monnie, by the way!), a story she wrote for Oprah. A link to the online edition is fitting, as in it she honors a dear soul who discerns always and judges never. Here she is~~dear Betty.