Saturday, May 30, 2015

Awash in Grace

One of the current meanings of the word "grace" connotes a boon from God or a Guru. People attribute all sorts of fortunate circumstances to "grace," large or small. Utterances such as, "It's pure grace that I found a parking spot in mid-town Manhattan," to "Grace saved us from drowning in that flood," signify the surprise expressed when an unexpected or difficult situation turns out for the best.

In fact, "grace" dwells not only in the domain of a God or Guru but free floats through the very air we breathe. As an integral part of an energetic universe, it is possible to absorb through invisible pores an influx of pure joy, to be the recipient of blessed synchronicity, or suddenly wake up to the vibrant Oneness of it all.

On the macro level, our entire planet belongs to a web of perfectly synchronized intergalactic systems; on a nano level, the same applies. (If you are afraid of bugs, do not look at your eyelashes or skin through an electron microscope lest you see what is crawling around there with five eyes, three antennae and 35 legs.)

Perhaps that is why one of the pith instructions of a highly evolved being was, "Relax!" If we "do" less and "be" more, space arises between the thoughts where grace flows mightily.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Thought For Today

Let it not be death but completeness.
Let love melt into memory and pain into song.
Let the flight through the sky end in the folding of the wings over the nest.
Let the last touch of your hands be gentle like the flower of the night.
Stand still, O Beautiful End, for a moment, and say your last words in silence.
I bow to you and hold up my lamp to light you on your way.
                       --Rabindranath Tagore

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Not a Lone Planet

Houston, Texas had a sudden and massive rainfall that caused rivers to overflow their banks. The resultant rampage of water, equaling the force of Niagara Falls, tore through homes, uprooted 500 year old trees, swept away men, women and children to a watery death.

Today, a relative of one of lost made a statement on television: "Her body was found but she is not alone. She is with God."

The theme of alone returns again. In the case of a devout Christian, the notion that a being dwells within the Godhead means that she is connected to a benevolence that comforts, brings wholeness.

When my husband lay dying, he left a comment on this blog that I only discovered 49 days after his passing. He wrote, "Hell is being alone in total solitude. That is not the hell I am experiencing. I have my love next to me."

We also feel the balm of Mother Nature in her kinder and gentler form: direct, sensory experience of our interdependence within the biosphere dispells the illusion of separateness.

Whether one believes in God, the milk of human kindness, or the power of Nature, one thing remains clear. Humans need connection, relationship, energy exchange, in order to be to be at peace.

As John Dunne so aptly put it, "No man is an island."

Taking an intergalactic viewpoint, one could say, "No world is a lone planet."

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Anti-Anxiety Ride

A close friend that happened to be a therapist once told me, "There is no such thing as 'free-floating' anxiety. A root cause always exists." My assumptions had been challenged and her statement caused much reflection then and now, 20 years later.

I wake up this morning feeling reasonably sane. My adult children are ensconced in their respective bedrooms because they like to come back to the nest now and then. An editing task with a deadline defines the morning hours (a good thing). Life has a tinge of normalcy.

As soon as the work of the blue light hours is completed -  around noon when the light transitions to orange - free floating anxiety strikes. That awful feeling in the chest signals panic and sets off alarm bells. My body seems poised to run, but my thinking brain reminds me that I am in a house and there are no enemies a foot. Then my therapist-friend's remark comes back to me. "There is no such thing as free-floating anxiety."

So I do what my Buddhist teachers tell me to do. I lay my body down to rest on a comfortable ergonomic chaise in the bright sunlight and practice what is popularly termed "mindfulness." In other words, becoming aware of "the what is" when one's consciousness has become lost in a dreamland of nightmares.

The root cause surfaces to be transformed. The fear of being alone without my mate, the terror of being abandoned on a lonely planet. An irrational thought, but one that has caused a flurry of vivid discomfort just moments before.

The sun scorches my freckled face; wind rustles tree leaves; birds twitter and tweet; heavy machinery groans in the distance. 

Life exists and I am part of it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

I Love Love

My daughter asked me if losing my husband (and her dad) last year was the worst thing that ever happened to me. It was an interesting question and my first response was also surprising to me. It was, "No."

Why? Because having had him for thirty years was the best thing that ever happened to me. Gratitude for the love, care, the learning, our family, all overwhelm the loss. What we shared was rare in this world and I can only thank the All-That-Is for a gift that will last a lifetime.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Tie Your Camel First

A Sufi saying, "Trust in God but tie your camel first," offers wonderful advice. To live a less stressful life, one needs to have certainty that we live in a mysterious universe with a logic that is life-affirming, even if it defies human comprehension. Some call it God, some call it the Unified Field Theory, ad infinitum. Although no one has cracked the code, faith, belief or direct experience of a higher power gives a person a notion of safety and comfort.

On the other hand, ignoring the practical cause and effect ways of the world can lead to many a mishap. Common sense, coupled with honed intuition and concrete action, are mighty safety nets in our three dimensional reality.

Most of us don't have camels that need securing, but it is wise to lock your car when parking it in a public area, or put on a jacket when its cold, or not drink and drive. Of course the analogy "tie your camel first" extends to the deepest levels of human endeavors, including insight into one's true Self.

The point being, take responsibility for your actions, thoughts and deeds. Give God a break.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Ancient Remains

ISIS has now conquered Palmyra, a city in present-day Syria that has historical remains dating back to the Neolithic era. Archeologists designate this site as one of the most precious records of humankind; it is even referenced in the Old Testament, amongst other tomes.

Given the penchant of ISIS to destroy everything precious to mankind and the environment (as did the USA in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan), it would not be surprising if the last of the ruins of Palmyra are blasted into oblivion - much like the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia tried to level their country to "year zero" with wide-scale human and cultural genocide of their own people.

The angst of historians around the potential destruction of Palmyra is ironic; Palmyra has been razed to the ground more than once since 2500 B.C. It's location has an unfortunate feng shui and with its current occupiers, the cycle of destruction and reconstruction, destruction and reconstruction, will continue.

Couldn't mankind get a grip from studying history and not behave like teenagers who insist on learning the hard way (and not from their parents' painful lessons)? It seems that almost every civilization re-invents the wheel.

Note the below face of this woman, who lived in ancient times. She looks just like us albeit with a botched nose job; proof that we are at the dawn of civilization, not its peak.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Value of Teeth

No one can deny the value of those white enamel chisels that masticate the food of virtually every mammal and many reptiles and fish on this planet. Though they may vary is size, shape and usefulness (dogs seem to inhale their daily dinner despite excellent chompers), teeth are an excellent evolutionary advantage.

"Teeth" also have a metaphoric meaning as well, i.e. the local water district has now put "teeth" in their request to conserve water by mandating a specific window within which one can water their landscape. A useless request formerly, a new mandate comes with a $500 fine for second time offenders with an escalated price tag thereafter.

This, my friends, is what I call "putting teeth" in the law. Even a water conservation nut like myself went poste-haste to my water controller and readjusted the watering times to the now required schedule, even though I had already put in drought tolerant plants with drip lines maximized for watering efficiency.

The only good laws are laws that have teeth in them. Otherwise, who cares, except the exceptional individual with global awareness coupled with an unswerving, exacting discipline. Most humans have an uncanny ability to deny or simply ignore that which does not serve them in the immediacy of the now (infantile behavior).

Note the phrase good laws. Having "teeth" in unjust laws equals a draconion society wherein much suffering occurs. But just imagine, as John Lennon would say, a world in which beneficial laws for all would be installed with a massive set of chompers for those who would ignore the common good!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Raising an Adult

Last night I was invited to film a presentation by an expert on parenting. Her talk was attended by parents with problematic issues in dealing with their kids, mostly between the ages of 2-21 years.

Along with oodles of insight on how to govern the household with a compassionate yet firm hand, this wise woman made an interesting comment: "You are not raising children, you are raising adults..." (if they or you are lucky enough to survive the passage of time).

This struck me as a profound way of looking at parenting. From the very conception of a child, a "present" parent's every motive is to build their offspring's character, develop his or her skill set, and support an entire spectrum of behaviors that will serve the being in good stead when adulthood arrives - ostensibly when the grown child will need good survival skills.

When a chargling falters in school, exhibits antisocial attitudes, behaves recklessly, acts unkind and/or has disregard for the environment, why do we parents worry so much?

Because - we are afraid they will forever be stuck in childhood patterns that could create mega-problems down the road. No one initially (or ever) receives training on effective parenting, and many do the very thing that will ensure a maladjusted adult, i.e. beating a child into submission or other draconian measures. Or conversely, overindulgent, wimpy parents might foster little narcissists who become big narcissists that think the world revolves around their every whim.

Since many of us are confused adults or at least highly opinionated ones, parenting becomes quite the sticky wicket. 

We require public schooling, driver's license tests, and certifications for all sorts of professions. Yet, anyone can let loose a sperm to meet an egg and voila!. A child is born with no pre-requisite training for the parent-to-be.

Who invented this crazy system?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

They All Look Alike

An American who has never traveled throughout Asia, nor has been in contact with an Asia population, will not be able to distinguish between Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Thai, Cambodian, Burmese, etc.

Likewise, a friend who lived in Japan told me that many of the more isolated Japanese population can't tell the difference between "white" people because to them, all white people look alike.

In the United States, one of the fundamental problems today is that black males under the age of 60 all look alike to police and other paranoid people who think they might be "gangstas;" thus, the disproportionate numbers of unlawful arrests, imprisonment and death.

Today, finally, the white American male got his due. One of the more abrasive voices to my ear is that of Ashley Banfield CNN, who happens to be on the air about the time my feet hit the kitchen for a cup of Joe. She was reporting on the horrendous gang turf war in Waco, Texas; nine people dead, scores injured, and 170 in jail, each with a million dollar bail (and it's not likely that mommy or daddy will spring for their over-age delinquent sons).

The kicker as their mug shots rolled across the screen came straight out of the loud-mouthed Banfield: "They all look alike!"

Let's give her one for the team!

Probably their uniformly orange jumpsuits and the raw and rugged countenance of their faces is what made the impression. In fact, they are quite distinct from one another in terms of facial features but their macho idiotic and hostile expressions do give off an air of commonality.

With television news bringing so many woeful tidings into the airspace of my home, Banfield's quip gave me a much appreciated laugh today. Thank you, white American biker gangsters, for your little rumble in wacko Waco that has brought us refreshingly different bad news.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Ides of May

My sister and I had one of those precious times today where the collective experiences of our lives were least the ones we remember given our ripe old ages of 68 and 66. 

For example, we spent the first five years of our lives together in a shared bedroom. Yet, we only remember that her bed was by the door and my bed was by the window (and the time I stabbed her in the knee with a pencil, imprinting a lead pencil-point tatoo still plainly visible 6 plus decades later).

Why do we remember that we don't remember anything from that era?

As we mused on this shared repression of memory, my subconscious threw me a bone, perhaps to prove that senility had not yet set in. Four years ago - during the last week in May - my entire immune system collapsed under the weight of chemotherapy. Nine blood transfusions later in an isolation room at the hospital, I turned a corner and was granted a Life sentence by early June.

During the exact same time period one year ago, my husband learned of his potential death sentence. In early June it became clear that he would have no reprieve.

The symmetry of these dates, mirroring each other three years apart, seems uncanny. Nonetheless, it explains just a little bit more why a certain funk, an unwanted dread, has haunted my heart these past weeks.

Knowledge shines a light into the dark places of the soul. With this retrieved factoid-nugget from deep mind strata, an "ah-ha" moment was born.

Exhumed dead thoughts and fears are set free to vanish into thin air. Halleluyah!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Disappeared

When children learn of the death of a beloved adult, often they are told things such as, "Grandpa is in heaven," or "Mommy is an angel now," and so on and so forth. As my parents were atheists, I was given no such pablum when my wonderful Grandma Bea passed on. Besides, I was seventeen and rock 'n' roll was much more important in the here and now than contemplating the hereafter.

Fast forward to mid-May 2015. One year ago, my husband was in terrible pain, only to learn in a few days that his body was riddled with cancer. At the time I was realistic. With no cure, the family simply loved him, completely in the moment, until his last breath. With the help of relatives, friends, spiritual teachers and my own insight, I was able to accept "the what is."

Once the body grows cold, attachment to the form wanes and that person becomes a memory. I get that. Nonetheless, as the season of May 2015 rolls around, an unpleasant feeling brews in my heart chakra and my mind plays tricks.

Remnants of Michael's life energy abound in what was formerly called "our" house; the precious books he meticulously arranged, the paintings we decided to hang in certain areas, the rocking chair with pillows his body had flattened with years of use. 

Despite nearly a year of reality-based thinking, magical thinking is setting in. I want him to walk through the door. I want to straggle behind him as he charges ahead of me up our steep driveway at the end of a walk. I want to get on a plane with him and go to Paris for one of those innumerable business trips we had made over the years (even with the dreaded experience of immersion in a language I couldn't master).

For a pragmatic person, this yearning seems counterproductive and almost silly, but the mind-body understands differently. Embedded in my sense memory are the particular qualities of daylight, the growth of new vegetation, the familiar sounds of the neighborhood.

Everything is the same and yet nothing is the same. Within this paradox I must live.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Best vs Better

A "Beyond Mindfulness" event is being aired online for five days, ending May 17th. Free to the public and choc full of prominent American Buddhist teachers, it is an act of generosity in an era when mindfulness teachings can cost a pretty penny to attend.

Nonetheless, the title remains a mystery, as there is nothing but mindfulness teaching going on. To date, no one has addressed the title of the entire event: what is "beyond mindfulness" if all the teachings explain mindfulness?

Is this title meant to be a Zen koan or what? 

Having been a student of Tibetan Buddhism for over four decades, learning only from authentic lineage holders who were raised in the rigors of a monastery or nunnery old world style, I see in this whole "Beyond Mindfulness" endeavor a conundrum.

Buddhism was born in India, but when it spread to Tibet, China, Thailand, Japan, and many other lands, it took on the flavor of that country - in terms of customs and traditions that were then attached to the inherent purity of Buddhist methodology. 

In a similar fashion, many American Buddhists endeavor to translate the metaphoric and culturally specific elements of Tibetan Buddhism into a language more accessible to the western mind - without watering down the potency of the transmission. That "translation" is my intention as well.

Nonetheless, my analytical mind has been doing backflips as I peer into the level of understanding expressed by 90% of these nouveau American Buddhist teachers. Granted, their mindset is eons ahead of ISIS or Halburton executives, in terms of what would bring about a better world. And for that, I salute their noble efforts with gratitude.

However, the whole event, with 24,000 online enrollees worldwide, seems to linger many stories below the wisdom of the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh and other great ones less known to the general public.

As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous and its offspring (Alanon, Alateen, etc.), take what you like and leave the rest. It is always upon the individual to maintain intelligence and awareness and not swallow the teachings of others indiscriminately.

The only conclusion that can be drawn from this 5 day marathon, which will in fact reinforce mindfulness meditation to the hoards, is a French aphorism that my late husband used to quote: "Sometimes the best is the enemy of the better."

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Stories We Tell Ourselves

What better entertainment than to spin yarns that make life more engaging? Where would we be without the Grimm Brothers, Maurice Sendak and Mark Twain, to name but a few?

Legitimate story tellers are the myth-makers and arbiters of popular culture (not to be confused with "pop culture"). These imaginative folks lend meaning and insight to the human experience.

And then there are the stories we tell ourselves that are born from faulty perceptions and preconceived notions; seeds of negative thoughts that have been watered to grow a neurotic bundle of neuronic pathways. 

Understanding the difference between pure feelings such as grief, sadness, joy or fear - and the thought patterns that justify those sensations - makes a world of difference as to whether we will hold ourselves with an open heart or a rigid position against which all things are judged.

Feeling our feelings without attaching an agenda to them is liberating. If we could pause and sink into those sensations as if they were a feather bed and simply relax...rather than react...what a peaceful planet we could live upon.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

More on Kindness

The longer I live on this planet, the greater my appreciation for acts of kindness and not just human kindness. Animals, birds, fish, and other creatures are capable of compassion not only for their own but for vastly different species. Thanks to my ever-present Facebook page and the newsfeed with uploaded videos, I have seen the most astonishing behaviors exhibited by animals, fish, reptiles and birds - which confirms the notion that all sentient beings have awareness.

Bringing it back to the personal, I see proof of the balm of kindness almost every day. Yesterday morning I woke up deeply depressed. This time last year, my husband was descending into the throes of terminal cancer. This time last year I was vetting spine surgeons to fix a bulging disk when it fact it was the ravages of cancer that would take his life 5 weeks later.

Without many distractions, my mood grew more and more maudlin until I decided that he was my only real friend on this earth and now he was gone, leaving me alone.

After spinning this sad tale all day, much to my mental discomfort, dinner time came and a date with friends pulled me out of the house and into a restaurant. This particular group of friends work tirelessly to ease the pain and suffering of their fellow humans, in various and sundry methodologies. In this company of compassionate people, all feelings of loneliness, abandonment and pain simply vanished.

No one took on "the shrink" mode, no one tried to "fix" me. Just the presence of gentle, aware, kind people flipped my dark world upside down and righted me in a world of sunlight and laughter.

How simple.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Flaming Sword

Today a 25 year old rookie policeman of African-American descent was shot in cold-blood. What was not reported was the race of the shooter, who had been stopped for a routine traffic violation. He fired point blank into the officer's body before the officer even had a chance to ask questions.

The reverse has also been happening with frequency, where police officers have willfully shot and killed men of African-American descent for no justifiable reason.

It seems that a cycle of vicious karma is in full swing. Kill and be killed. Despite this troublesome wheel of samsaric hell, the equal and opposite phenomenon is happening on the very same planet.

One frequent reaction of human beings during a catastrophe, either personal or societal, is that their behavior reflects kindness. After September 11th, 2001, New Yorkers exhibited a heretofore unheard of solicitousness in the streets. They felt each other's pain and delivered the balm of compassion.

This higher form of human interaction has been observed in many other scenarios as well when there is no solace except - empathy - and a helping hand.

Observing the suffering of others, delivering kindness is the best gift. One may not be able to change the actual circumstance, but in the inner worlds, a light ray shines through the darkness and healing begins.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Actionless Action

The practice of mindfulness-awareness reveals many nuances when surfing the waves of life. Ostensibly, heightened awareness brings about a sensitivity to varied phenomenon as a practitioner notices that life forms have a drive to thrive and survive. 

But what does one do with this heightened sensitivity and even compassion for all living things, including Mother Earth? 

Here is where the nuances can get sliced and diced by metaphysicians ad infinitum. For example, prayer (a form of focused intention) tangibly affects a healing outcome in sick people who don't know they are being prayed for, let alone believing in the power of prayer. So is it enough to pray in order to alleviate the varied and sundry ways in which beings suffer?

If that were true, then no money would ever flow to victims of earthquakes, no laws that violate human rights would be changed, and everyone could sit in a cocoon of pleasurable vibes and never get their collective asses off the couch (or meditation cushions).

Thus, developing awareness must hold within it a balance. An infamous Tibetan Buddhist teacher coined the phrase "meditation in action," and this seems to address the conundrum. Yes, we must practice mindfulness-awareness in order to clear egoistic thoughts and ground our physical/emotional/mental/spiritual/enlightened being. 

However, this grounded and clear space is only the beginning. From there, a kind of "actionless action" springs forth, where we intuitively know when and how to move; we hear the call and respond.


Friday, May 1, 2015

Love Love Love

A world class healer held a seminar recently and did an experiment with the audience. He asked an attendee with physical pain to be a guinea pig (my words) and sit silently as the rest of us were instructed to think "lovelovelovelovelove" over and over as quickly as possible. We were to send those word-thoughts in her direction.

After a minute, he instructed us to stop and asked the recipient, "How do you feel now?"

She reported that her physical pain had subsided and that a state of peace and calm descended upon her.

Case in point. Whenever obsessive negative thinking overtakes my brain and no logical analysis will stop the trainwreck, I start chanting "lovelovelovelovelove" silently - replacing those daggers of emotion with that high vibration word.

The effect on me is instantaneous, transforming extremely unappealing thoughts and bodily sensations into neutral, happier places.

No need to scale the heights of Himalayan mountain peaks or go to the ends of the earth to find truth. Just keep on thinking "lovelovelovelovelove" nonstop and notice the results.

Between the Frying Pan and the Fire

When the first inklings of a pandemic started brewing in late January, I was in Bodgaya, India, the place where the historical Buddha attai...