Sunday, December 24, 2017

Settling Down Into Capital L Love

I hit the ground running this morning. After a half~hour of aerobic exercise, I dashed through several items on my to~do list, all before the clock struck eight. Yes, I was a busy gal. And that’s exactly what it felt like inside. Busy. Pressured. Rushed.

And then my husband and I had differing views about something that was not at all relevant in the large scheme of life on the planet. I didn’t behave badly. I did, though, recognize the impulse to push my way through. The urge to be right. The desire to bulldoze over his view so that mine would prevail. Egads!!! 

I knew, then, that it was time to do that other morning activity, the one that usually comes first each day but had gotten lost in this morning’s hubbub. I sat, finally, to meditate. Given that I had been advancing toward maximum velocity, it took several minutes to quiet down. Gradually, though, I calmed and found myself reoriented to what truly matters.

A tendency to move fast is one that is encouraged, even rewarded, in our culture. Getting a lot done in a short period of time certainly has its advantages. There can, of course, be drawbacks as well. Full steam ahead mode works best when no obstacles plunk themselves in the roadway. Life being what it is, though, impediments to self~directed forward motion are pretty much a given. 

And then what? Nearly every instance of bad behavior on our part arises from not meeting such challenges respectfully and creatively. And inner stillness is much more conducive to a positive response than plow~through mode can ever be.

The writer Kurt Vonnegut, Jr is credited with the now famous line, “I am a human being, not a human doing.” And yet, many of us live in a frenzy of doing, particularly at this time of year. Rather ironic, wouldn’t you say?

The Winter Solstice is just three days past. Outside our windows, the natural world demonstrates again the importance of quietude after periods of riotous activity. And this is Christmas eve, that sweet night dedicated to opening our hearts and souls to a sacred, capital L Love. With New Year’s following close behind, this is a perfect time to come back to center.

Joining with the cottonwood and the aspen, the lilac bush and the winter~fallow gardens, we can quiet ourselves. As we settle back into stillness, we will find a bedrock of Love waiting for us there. As 2017 comes to a close, we could also make a vow to love more fully in the coming year…and for the rest of our lives.

Happy belated Solstice. May your Christmas be sacred. And may a Love~filled new year come to us all. May we slow down enough to remember that Love is everything. Always. And may we thus make it so. Amen.

Many blessings to us all!

Leia




Sunday, November 26, 2017

Magma, Anyone?

In the spiritual core of the human psyche, there lies an inherent tension between the thirst for direct experience of the Divine and the desire to understand, even to catalog, that experience. While the wisest of them know it folly, theologians from every spiritual tradition have attempted to explain the inexplicable, and to provide a list of precepts and practices for us to follow.

Humans yearn to know. We want our questions about life and death and meaning answered in ways we can grasp. Looked at honestly, we want to reduce the ineffable Mystery into bite~sized, digestible chunks. Even now, after sitting on a cushion for decades, I want to put words to a particularly sweet or intense or transcendent meditative experience. I want to figure out how it happened, so I can do it again.

In a scene from the savagely beautiful book Prince of Tides, an awe~filled child turns to his mother after they watch the sun sink beneath the horizon in spectacular glory, and cries, “Do it again, Mama! Do it again!” It’s like that. We may not want someone to do it for us entirely, but we would at least like to know how to “do it again” for ourselves. The intention is pure, but there is no recipe for direct experience. And if we become too focused on finding one, we will surely lose God in the process.

In The Mystical Core of Organized Religion, Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast writes that the revelatory impetus for all religious traditions “were like the eruptions of a volcano,” full of fire, heat and light. But like lava flowing down the mountainside, that vibrancy cooled as it moved from its source. Gradually, it “turned into…layers of ash deposits and volcanic rock…(that can) separate us from the fiery magma deep down below.”
            
Direct experience requires us to find our way back to the magma. Spiritual teachings can help, but as the Buddha reminds us, these are fingers pointing to the moon, not the moon itself.
           
For me, a Sufi phrase is one such finger pointing. Written phonetically, it is Ish ka la ma bood le la which means “God is love, lover and beloved.” It reminds me that love is at the core, and losing oneself to love is the path.
            
Emily Dickinson wrote, “The soul should always stand ajar to welcome the ecstatic experience.” But how do we open that door and keep it open? A simple piece of advice comes from the comparative religion scholar Joseph Campbell. He urges us to find or create a sacred place, and simply be there, repeatedly and often. He promises that something will arise.
            
It is not about making anything happen. It is about allowing. It is about opening. It is about losing oneself in surrender, sweet surrender.
            
So, sit by the open door. Let the red~hot fire wash over you. And offer yourself to the Beloved, in sweet surrender.

Leia

And I have lots of extras for you today!

For a link to Brother David's The Mystical Core of Organized Religion, click here.

To hear Joseph Campbell speaking of the importance of creating a sacred place, click here.

And for a beautiful chant about sweet surrender by the lovely S├íra Rain, click here, and then select All That I Am at the top of the list. Warning, you'll be singing this for the rest of the day. But don't worry, it's not Louie Louie. You'll love it!
           
           



Sunday, October 29, 2017

Worry Transformed

Worry. I am no stranger to that particular affliction, one to which the human mind is particularly prone. Evolutionarily speaking, the brain’s ability to anticipate potential problems kept us fed, sheltered, and safe from predators. In other words, worry kept us alive.

But in our modern world, this same tendency leads to chronic stress, which is harmful in any number of ways, wreaking havoc with body, heart and soul. Fortunately, the plasticity of the brain lends itself to the development of new habits. We can choose what we cultivate.
           
I once worked with teen prostitutes. When my coworker and I found ourselves in alarming situations on nighttime streets, after we decided the best strategy, Alyson would chuckle and say, “Well, this is going to be interesting…” While I often wondered if her view of interesting meshed with mine, I knew she was teaching the value of curiosity. When nothing else can be done but await the unfolding of events, isn’t curiosity a worthy response? 

Worry wants to force the outcome to its liking. It yearns for control, thereby seeking to collapse the unknowable into bite~sized and pleasing morsels. But we can’t know what will happen or what is ultimately best. While our minds thirst toward the future, they do so blindly and without the capacity to weigh the myriad factors that weave together in any situation. 

To show up fully while recognizing how little we actually know, to live graciously with our essential unknowingness, is a life~enhancing stance that opens us to the mystery of existence. We are not in charge here. In any given situation, all we can do is choose the action we feel is best. That action~~even if it is to take no action in that moment~~is our offering to life. And as with any true offering, we must willingly let it pass from our hands. We surrender the outcome~~and ourselves, as well~~to something much larger.
           
The capacity to worry is part of our human wiring. So, too, is the ability to transform that worry into something else. Curiosity. Surrender. And, of course, gratitude. Jazz great Lionel Hampton said, “Gratitude is when memory is stored in the heart.” I would suggest a slight change. For me, gratitude is awareness~~a full and rich awareness~~stored in the heart.

We have been granted an opportunity to play our own small part in the vast sweep of life on this planet. When that settles into a human heart, gratitude naturally follows. And that heart must grow larger, simply to hold it. And still it can’t hold it all. Gratitude, and the love it engenders, pours forth of its own volition and out of its own abundance.

Transformation is never easy. Yet lively curiosity and heartfelt surrender, with gratitude and love overflowing, are particularly sweet rewards for our efforts.

Overflowingly yours,

Leia





Sunday, October 1, 2017

Harvest Festival

It has happened once again. The turn of that great wheel has dropped us into cool nights, with aspen quivering in all the shades of yellow. The sun slides farther to the south as it travels the sky. Shadows elongate and become more pronounced, a hint of things to come. Autumn has returned…and aimed us straight toward winter.  

Harvesttime has historically been an occasion for thanksgiving. For modern folk whose food comes largely from supermarkets rather than backyard gardens, it’s easy to lose touch with these natural rhythms. But with that first whiff of wood smoke, the plaintive call of southward flying geese, or colored leaves whirring to the ground, doesn’t something in us yearn for return?

And return we can. If a traditional harvest festival is not available to us, we can create our own, pausing to relish the bounty of the past few months in our own lives. Let’s do so now…
Begin by tuning into your body, adjusting as needed to find a comfortable position. Become aware of your breath as you welcome this brief period of stillness and inner awareness.
Now let yourself move back to the depths of last winter. As the film runs forward now, see your life moving from winter into spring, from spring into summer, and from summer to reading now these words on the page. 
Perhaps it’s been a time of great personal growth or change, perhaps not. Whether challenging, delightful or a mix of the two, simply tell yourself the truth about it all. Catch up with your own experience.
No matter the particulars, recognize the fruits of these months~~the lessons learned, the gifts received, the new facets of yourself grown. Just like the corn we savor directly from the cob, extract the nutrients, hopefully even some sweetness, from all you’ve experienced these past few months. 
And with the gifts of these kernels in mind, if any regrets or resentments linger, you might consider releasing them now. Like the cob, the husk, and the stalk, perhaps these things have served their purpose and can begin to drop away. They then become available as compost, energy to be transmuted for the next cycle.
The Autumnal Equinox has just passed. It was the balance point, a place to pause and give thanks before we’re swept forward again. The Equinox is also the harbinger of winter, a reminder that it is time to begin turning inward.

Snow now crowns the high mountaintops, and we shall soon take shovel in hand ourselves. The rollicking expansiveness of summer will find then its counterpoint in the colder, more reflective days of rest.

We’re not there yet, but it won’t be long now. Hear the geese calling...feel the chill in the air...see those leaves brightly shining...and know it is so.

With wishes for a lovely and quieter fall,

Leia




Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Long Time Sun

Several of us gathered in a meadow between two lakes, lugging chairs and cushions, water bottles and pinhole cameras. Clouds had moved in and continued to build throughout the morning, and though they softened the dramatic effect of the eclipse, it was still a rare and delightful experience.

The setting was magnificent, with mountain views in three directions, a bowl of sky above. And then it began to darken, and a lone goose shouted out his coarse song. 

The humans in attendance wove periods of meditative silence with delighted exclamations as one pinhole camera in particular revealed the tiniest toenail of a sun. 

Amidst this odd, noontime gloaming, I sat in a copse of low scrub oak and felt a quickening in my core. Perhaps I was imagining it, or even creating the sensation. I felt it nonetheless.

Now, as I think back on that day, I’m struck by how this very same moon travels between us and the sun each month, though the angle is seldom precise enough to block the sun’s light as it did that day. For eons, humans have honored the new moon as a time for quieting. A time to turn inward, listen for guidance, or simply to be. 

But we modern folk largely ignore this monthly near~eclipse, and our pace often remains frenetic. Balance is lost, and balance lost brings with it consequences. The hate in Charlottesville, the President’s disturbing response, the alarming presence of advisors in the White House sympathetic to white supremacist and fascist ideologies…it is all quite harrowing.

During times of spiritual eclipse, though, the solar eclipse offers counsel. Darkness will come, it says…and darkness will go. Though shadow may at times obscure the Light, it will not, it cannot, extinguish it. We can choose hatred and the fear that gives rise to it, or we can align with a spiritual Light, one that shines always, regardless of whether we humans, with our limited vision, can see it.

We have been given life on a rare and beautiful planet spinning through space. Perhaps we might be enticed to open to awe in the many moments of our lives, small or grand may they be. And when we open to awe, Light is not far behind. It rushes in, guiding our actions and working through them into the world.

And yet, fear and all the disturbance it creates will invariably rise up to block what an old song calls “the long-time sun”. Whenever it does, we must open again to that eternal luminescence, one that may produce a quickening in our core.

And in those instances when we can’t quite find our way, we might think back to last month’s eclipse, and remind ourselves that Light shines on, just on the other side of the blockage. Shadows come and shadows go, but Light remains. Always.

May we live in harmony with the Light,

Leia

And for those of you interested in the song referred to above, here it is by The Incredible String Band, the folks I first heard sing it~~ 


Enjoy!