Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Last Breath

What separates life from death is our breath. If your heart stops beating or an organ fails you cannot live, but it is the air flowing in and out of the lungs that is the final arbiter delineating the space between the mortal coil and what lies beyond.

Oddly, or not oddly, I have a distinct memory of my husband's last  breath. The time was 11:45 PM; the view through the window was a rich black. No moonlight or starlight penetrated the ineffable sky. The family was gathered around his bed, all eyes trained on his face softly lit by a flickering candle. His countenance yielded no signs of distress, even as his lungs were compressed by massive tumors. 

And then his last breath slipped away - quietly, softly, as if in a simple meditative state. He was still warm, his body relaxed and magnificent in death as in life. And yet, the great mystery had just unfolded before our very eyes.

When a baby is born, the delivery is not complete until that being draws its first breath. Rebirth into the infinite is a mirror reflection in reverse as the angels of light carry the spirit, buoyed on its last exhale, beyond the confines of our knowing.

That simple act, breathing in, breathing out, is the life force in action. Someday ours will flow in, then out for the last time. Knowing that our breaths are numbered, I cherish the air as it flows in and out; a delight more subtle, more refined, than any earthly pleasure.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Feed Your Inner Lion

“Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself”: FDR’s First Inaugural Address

This oft-quoted statement by Franklin Delanor Roosevelt has earned a lofty place in the annals of history. While offered up as a pedigreed insight, it is in fact an oxymoron - a Gordian knot bereft of the bold followup that would unravel its chokehold. 

Fear is fear whether triggered by a lion chasing you across the veld or a response to an imagined threat with no rational basis. Fearing fear in and of itself is the same as feeling fear with a distinct cause attached to it.

Fear has the same function for the mind as pain to the body. Bodily pain is a physiological language developed to call attention to an imbalance in the form. Fear is a red flag that informs a person that that his or her perception is a distortion of the "what is." Some clever being once used an acronym to nail it: F.E.A.R. stands for False Evidence Appearing Real.

Then again, there is no such thing as free-floating fear - or anxiety, its first cousin. The phenomenon that resembles a stinkweed in full bloom has its roots in an event, buried though it may be in the sediments of time. The bold person experiencing fear knows to look more deeply into the causative factors rather than suppressing it with drugs, alcohol,  unhealthy co-dependency, or other escapist strategies.

The key is to nourish the feeling of fear with insight and relaxed contemplation... and voila! The Gordian Knot is liberated from its convolutions. FDR, could we revise your worthy attempt to say, "There is nothing to fear?"


Friday, November 3, 2017

Simplicity Within Stillness

Today is Friday, a time when the workaday world feels the gravitational pull of the weekend. A shaft of light filters through a crack in the darkened cocoon of responsibility, and the indwelling spirit senses freedom.

For some, Friday night is date night, a time when the psyche sheds it's clock-watching persona and flies into an expansive sky of hope. Hope of what? Depending on the person, those enticements vary wildly: beer, sex, weed, movies, shabbat dinner, clubbing, meditation marathon, a night at home with kids or pets or mate or oneself welded to TV, or simply alone. Silent.

For those who are servers, cooks, truckers, babysitters, caregivers, entertainers and so on and so forth, Friday night is just another day in the life, with nothing out-of-the-ordinary. However, as most of us live amongst the ranks of daylight worker bees, !!weekend!!! remains the germaine topic.

Having lived in Southern California for 43 years, my network of friends and acquaintances has mushroomed into a diverse chain of beings who nestle in every sector of greater Los Angeles. Given this diversity, my choice of potential amusements runs the gamut from gardens of worldly delights to out-of-body forays into subtle realms of existence.

As I contemplate the impending weekend on this Friday morning, the wide-open blank pages of my ICalendar trigger a bi-polar response. Ah! Nowhere to go, no one to see: a peaceful, still and uncluttered span of time when anything becomes possible and ethereal dreams remain untested by real time rubes.

Then the pendulum swings to the opposite extreme and low-level panic sets in. What if I am missing a phantasmagoric movie or party or dinner or dharma talk or theater or a be-here-now-in, or any other life expanding event of which I have yet to know about? If I don't pick up the phone, text, or email someone with a plan of action might I fall into a big black pit reserved for lost souls?

In the center of this bi-polar swing lies an answer that quells the wild mind of either/or. Simply allowing for each second to unfold, without pre-conceived notions of "weekend!!!" bubbling in my brain, a simplicity arises like cream floating to the top of unhomogenized milk. No need to do anything or be anything; by simply breathing and noticing what my senses are taking in, a simplicity arises out of stillness that is a balm to the mind. Ah yes! Breathe in breathe out. And then,"doing" is done.

Thursday, November 2, 2017


All things have a beginning and an end, which is why mans' classic search for immortality seems like a fruitless, irrational pursuit. Perhaps it is the very inevitability of change, of birth and death, that causes human beings to resist this inconvenient truth when faced with the demands of survival on a daily basis.

What to do in this fleeting interlude we call life?

Some play hard, most work hard, and those holding the middle ground sleepwalk through the tedium of daily life maintenance. Granted, in the spinning 24 hour wheel of daybreak to daybreak, many choices can be be happy? To be sad? To be angry? To be depressed? To be joyful?

Choice can be a difficult concept to grasp when one is flooded with emotion, especially negative ones. No one seems to mind being happy, and when in that enviable state, there is no need to choose. One simply is. Yet, given the inexorable march of change, that happiness will morph into something less desirable.

How those ups and downs are navigated will make the difference between a life well-lived and a life of suffering. If we choose to hold the big picture, while simultaneously attending to the niggly details of life on planet earth, a certain equanimity will overtake us. In that space of equanimity, choice becomes a viable mechanism to shift gears and enter a more productive and positive zone.

To be empowered is to realize that we can choose our perceptions, and that the ability to flip the switch is a gift inherent to us all.

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...