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!


           
             




Sunday, August 6, 2017

Standing at the Intersection

I find myself thinking these days of justice. I do not mean the external system of man~made laws and the courts designed to enforce them. What is most of interest to me is the internal, subjective knowingness we each have, that sense of living from our deepest code, one that is in alignment with All That Is.

While certainly important, a formal legal system can never take the place of attuning to one’s own conscience. Wiktionary traces the word conscience to the Latin conscientia, meaning “knowledge within oneself”. Yet another root is conscrire, which literally means “to know with” or “to know together”.

A conscience is not merely an individual matter. An internal guiding mechanism fit to meet the varied challenges life brings our way, must be grown and continually nourished within a rich contextual soil. The Hopi and Navajo, for example, know themselves to be part of a vast and interconnected web. When this sense of interrelatedness is routinely nurtured, acting casually or carelessly from self~interest is simply unthinkable.

In her book Motherpeace, Vicki Noble suggests that, as our sense of relatedness has broken down, we rely more on an external system of ethics to “summarize what people once knew without the need of words and concepts.” 

To explore the concept of justice, Nobel takes us back to the Greek goddess Themis, who holds scales of balance in one hand and, in the other, a sword to cut through deceit and confusion. An ancient symbol of justice, Themis is the daughter of Gaia, the Earth Mother, and Ouranus, the sky god. Symbolically speaking, therefore, Themis represents the intersection of heaven and earth, the harmony of Yin with Yang.

Justice can never be merely a cerebral endeavor. Right conduct cannot be determined from rational thought alone. True justice must be firmly rooted in a vibrant awareness of our place in the diverse community of living beings on this planet, as well as whichever larger spiritual perspective speaks most profoundly to us. 

Yet in the busy, modern world most of us inhabit, it is easy to be lulled into forgetfulness. So we take to churches, synagogues and mosques. We read sacred texts, sit on cushions or lie on the ground beneath rustling aspens or a star~filled sky. And we re~member ourselves into connection with something far greater than our small concerns.

And when we return to the world, refreshed and nourished, we are better able to add our own voice to those of many, many others calling for a deepening awareness of the interrelatedness at the core of life.

As we do so, we feed a living justice, both external and internal, one that knows in its bones that we are all one, a justice that acts accordingly. Whether in our legislatures and courts, the marketplace, or our own homes, that’s an expression of justice worthy of its name.

Standing with you at the intersection,

Leia



Sunday, July 9, 2017

Let There Be Magic

I read fantasy fiction. There, the secret’s out! This professional woman in her early sixties curls up, during lunch breaks and on many evenings, with tales of fairies and dragons, heroic quests and enchanted kingdoms.

Near the end of my current book, The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks, Wil Ohmsford confronts the fear that has kept him from accessing the power of the Elfstones, power needed to combat the evil that threatens the land. In this pivotal moment, Wil realizes his fear was not “of the thing that haunted…his dreams, or of the Demon that hunted Amberle and him south from Arborlon…It was his fear of the magic.”

Fear of the magic. Something in that phrase grabs me and won’t let go.

In our own epic journey as a species in this world, many things frighten me…hate, greed, and the harm inflicted upon the Earth and our fellow inhabitants, to name a few. But could I also fear the magic?

The magic I’m referring to is not, of course, contained in Elfstones or legendary swords. It is the magic of the human spirit, imbued with love and aligned with a greater force for good. But am I afraid of that magic? I don’t think so. If I’m truthful, though, I often forget about it. And sometimes, even when remembered, I don’t fully trust it.

The obstacles facing us are, indeed, formidable…and mostly of our own creation, born of spirits and psyches out of balance. Things can seem rather grim. Dismal. Hopeless. When I’m snagged by such reactions, fear has me in its clutches for sure. Magic seems a distant thing at best.

As I hear of another hate crime~~against a vulnerable individual, the Constitution, or the Earth itself~~I have a choice. To what shall I give my energy? I can certainly lend it to fear in its various guises~~dread, anger, apathy~~and thereby strengthen fear’s grip on the world. 

Or I can heed Sharon McErlane’s words from her book Casting The Net. “Let your hearts open,” she writes. “Let compassion well up in you and then serve…with your hands, your voice, and your listening. But most of all, serve with a loving heart…This is all you need to do. This is everything.” 

Every spiritual tradition offers such sentiments, as well as practices to align our hearts with that greater good. The choice, though, is always ours.

Perhaps that fictional line stuck with me so that I might confront the fact that I don’t always trust Love, with a capital L, that unfathomable essence at the heart of all things. It also offered me a choice to trust anew.

So once more, I give myself fully to the magic and offer it safe passage into my world. Like Wil Ohmsford with his Elfstones, I too say, finally and again, “Yes!”

Leia

PS. Be sure to read the comments...there are many today...and feel free to leave your own! Blessed be!!!



Sunday, June 11, 2017

Living The Full Catastrophe

In a talk on mindfulness and psychotherapy, Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the most respected researchers in the field of mind~body medicine, makes the following statement. “We are dealing with the full catastrophe of the human condition, from intense beauty to intense madness.” 

While he is speaking to psychotherapists who witness daily human qualities both amazing and agonizing, Kabat-Zinn's words fit for us all. Life is, indeed, a mixed bag. Joy and sorrow, delight and hopelessness, our highest aspirations and moments of wretched selfishness…all coexist, woven into the braid that is our experience of living.

In the late 70s, as Professor of Medicine at UMass Medical School, Kabat-Zinn began studying the effects of mindfulness practice on chronically ill patients, folks for whom traditional medicine could do nothing more. Having studied meditation himself, he was curious to see if these practices would be of benefit to such patients. 

After nearly four decades of study, consistently replicated by others, the answer has been an emphatic yes. Mindfulness has also proven effective for conditions such as depression, anxiety, trauma, and eating disorders.

The practice consists of activities that bring us to the present moment, simply as it is and without judgment. When we engage life in this way, even the most debilitating conditions and situations soften and become more manageable. 

The sense of well~being that results, though, is not merely subjective. Research has demonstrated changes in brain structure and response, such as increased activity in areas of the brain associated with positive emotions, improved focus and memory, and an increase in the size of areas associated with emotional regulation. 

Moreover, the benefits of even a few weeks of daily mindfulness practice have been proven comparable to those received from psychiatric medications and psychotherapy. And it soothes, too, the familiar stresses of a modern life. 

So, wanna try it? Of course you do! Read my words slowly...

...as you now become aware of your body. Tune into how it feels in this moment, hungry or full, tight or relaxed, agitated or calm. (Pause)
Let your awareness come now to your breath. Note the sensation as your chest rises and falls, as your lungs fill and release. Feel each breath fully from start to finish. (Pause)
Become aware now of the sounds that surround you, offering your attention to whatever rises out of the background stillness. Settle even more deeply into this moment. Without judgment, know it simply as it is. (Pause)

You’ve just had a taste of mindfulness, which is truly so much more than the term implies. Open awareness might be a more apt description of the experience. With practice, we become better able to lay down our many and varied preoccupations and concerns to attune simply to what is.

In this way, as we live “the full catastrophe of the human condition” in our own lives, we are able to more easily access the beauty. Hidden though that beauty may be, it is always there, waiting patiently for us to arrive.

May we each find that patient beauty, the underground river that flows softly through our lives.

Blessings!

Leia

P.S. The full catastrophe quote above is a play on a line from Zorba the Greek, which you can see here~~

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHAqdZ2f5cM

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sunrise Meditation

I rise early, dress quickly. Birdsong greets me before I even open the door, a joyful noise from wee friends compelled, as am I, to greet the morning.

I hurry up the hill, anxious for a view of the eastern sky. It looks clear, but as I make the rise I see a series of clouds extending ladder~like from the horizon, the perfect scaffolding for a spectacular sunrise. As I reach the lake, a first blush of color has just touched the clouds closest to the Earth. I know, though, that this is a mere hint of what is to come.

My pace is brisk, interspersed with the short bursts of speed that are, I read somewhere, particularly good for cardio health. Yet I suspect that this landscape~~sky, mountains, fields, lake~~infuses my heart with a greater vitality. The color soon brightens and deepens both until magenta, hot pink, and peachy light streak the sky. It is breathtaking. 

And then I see him. The great blue heron, that granddaddy of birds, stands on sun~baked soil at the lake’s edge, shoulders hunched in his grey cloak, long spindly old~man legs supporting his weight. The game we play never changes. I hug the far side of the path, trying to pass by without disturbing him, shy granddaddy that he is. After years of effort, I won the game for the first time last week.

He will not give me a second win. He rises now, silently, unhurriedly, huge wings pumping slowly, even serenely, as he crosses to the other side of the lake, where his morning fish~filled meditation will not be disturbed by an earthbound human.

Old Man Heron, however, is an integral part of my own meditation, as are the colors reflected in the lake’s still waters, the surrounding mountains piled with snow, and the swing of my legs as I turn now toward home.

Meditation comes in many forms~~sitting on a cushion or chair, worshiping with others in temple, church or mosque, being swept away in moments of intimacy with a loved one. Of course, all these things can be undertaken without full presence, with no sense of awe or awareness of the precious. What a waste! 

Whether a result of intelligent design, sheer chance within the stunning process of evolution, or~~my personal favorite~~some glorious interplay between the two, it is astonishing that we’re here at all. What an opportunity, to be alive on this small planet twirling its way around its star, in one galaxy among more than a trillion others. That really is worth showing up for, isn’t it?

So we practice attending. We practice awakening. We practice simple presence. In just this way, we hope to most fully experience the time we are given, however long that might be.

And with gratitude overflowing, we lovingly give back what is ours to give.

Love!

Leia 

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Windows and Walls

In an article in Sufi magazine entitled The Secret Kingdom is Everywhere, Mark Nepo writes, “Each moment that touches us is a window to the vastness of life.”
           
We’ve all had such moments, times when we’re pulled out of our small concerns to stand in awe before that which is so much greater than ourselves. To live consistently in such moments, though, is not easy. Our minds seem intent on carrying us anywhere but here. This afternoon’s tasks. Yesterday’s argument. Last night’s splendor. Tomorrow’s worries. 

Even with bodies still, our minds are restless, wriggly things. This is why some folks engage in regular meditation practice, time set aside to quiet on the inside. In meditation, we intentionally sit before the window Nepo refers to, the one that opens onto vastness.
           
Nepo has not, however, exhausted the metaphor. He notes that the spiritual journey is “about the relationship between our walls and our windows.” If windows open us to wonder, walls close us down. While walls come in many forms, each shuts us away from the vivifying essence that permeates the present moment.
           
So we practice stilling ourselves, employing various techniques to calm our scuttling minds. And we open to what is…to this moment…and this one..and this next one. Until, that is, we’re swept away again by an onrush of thoughts. While beginning meditators are often frustrated by the mind’s dogged busyness, seasoned veterans usually gain at least a grudging acceptance of the process.
           
“Trying…to keep our moments of love, mystery, and wonder from going back into the unseen depth of life,” writes Nepo, “is like trying to keep a whale from re~entering the sea once it’s breached the surface. Better to have windows that face the sea.”
           
We can’t compel the sacred. We can’t demand grace. We can’t even force a change in our own attitude. All we can do is turn to face the sea, intending an open window, offering a heart inclined toward receptivity. We can also remind ourselves, with unflagging regularity, that our walls are illusion. Unfathomable vastness is the enduring reality, and it stretches to infinity…and beyond.
           
As we remember ourselves into this larger view, our orientation spontaneously shifts. We recognize that the secret kingdom Nepo refers to in the title of his article is not so very secret after all. It is simply concealed by our many and varied walls, puny and insignificant things when seen against the backdrop of eternity. 

Remembering this, we become more inclined to let those walls come a tumblin’ down. And, as Nepo writes, “When the walls are down, the opening is everywhere.”
           
Everywhere. The not~so~secret kingdom is everywhere. May we each open to it, in whatever ways fit our disposition and our lives, now and repeatedly throughout our days.

Leia Marie