Loved

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A once in a lifetime moment I want to remember happened this week.  I sat on the grass and meditated in the sun, then lay down flat, sunk into the moss and allowed ants to crawl over my skin.  I closed my eyes for a moment, and suddenly I sensed movement.  When I looked up, a mother deer and her fawn settled down to sit beside me in the grass, maybe two feet away.

I have not had as much time to connect with nature as I would like of late, and still it finds me.  How did the mother/child deer know I was reflecting about my own child and our connection, as she grows into adulthood and makes wider and wider circles into the world?

 

 

 

 

The Place I Want To Get Back To by Mary Oliver

is where
in the pinewoods
in the moments between
the darkness

and first light
two deer
came walking down the hill
and when they saw me

they said to each other, okay,
this one is okay,
let’s see who she is
and why she is sitting

on the ground like that,
so quiet, as if
asleep, or in a dream,
but, anyway, harmless;

and so they came
on their slender legs
and gazed upon me
not unlike the way

I go out to the dunes and look
and look and look
into the faces of the flowers;
and then one of them leaned forward

and nuzzled my hand, and what can my life
bring to me that could exceed
that brief moment?
For twenty years

I have gone every day to the same woods,
not waiting, exactly, just lingering.
Such gifts, bestowed,
can’t be repeated.

If you want to talk about this
come to visit. I live in the house
near the corner, which I have named
Gratitude.

Mary Oliver

Love and Sadness

“Maybe they’re going to need to leave the flag at half staff for a long time.” ~ my teen

Lots of pain these days reflected in the world. Sometimes the tears come when you least expect it, because one event touches your heart more than another, or one piece of news reaches you when you least can hold it. What to do.

Not only do I practice tonglen, holding pain and sending love, peace, calm with each and every suffering that crosses my path, but I also try to practice appreciation of whatever evidence of love, peace and calm I see. Sometimes I fail to notice.

For example, I had completely forgotten about the existence of SNOJ (super novas of joy) until I dropped kiddo off at Camp Goodtimes this week.

Here’s a little SNOJ for you all from a couple years back:

I have been ruminating about turning 50 by year’s end. So I asked myself, what can I do that I have not yet done that will put an end to my whining to self about deteriorating from a marathon walker to a flat-out blob over past months of working 70-hour weeks sitting on my buttinski and feeling that slow burn of depression?  The answer:

I’ll definitely be among the last to reach the top and no one better put a photo of my legs in a video, but it’s NOT a race.  I’ve got 3 months to train.

The Space Needle was built for Seattle’s 1962 World Fair during which my mom remembers making deli sandwiches in the food pavilion as a teen.  If you would like a jaw-dropping glimpse of the builders at that time – without harnesses!!!! check this out:  Stunning photos capture the workers

Or watch this fabulous time capsule. Helps me appreciate the era I was born into and the decade my grandparents made Seattle their home. I had no idea how many dignitaries and celebs (and JFK) appeared at that World Fair:

Not Alone

(Lake daughter and I “discovered” first time today at Ebey State Park)

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“Human beings are not replaceable.”

“Racism is absurd.”

“Indifference is not an option.”

“God alone is alone.  Humans are not alone.”

~ Elie Wiesel

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My daughter attended We Day in Seattle a few years ago, so I choose this youth-oriented clip to share from an incredible being, tireless teacher, writer, and “accidental survivor” (his words) who left this world today a better place.

Historical Context

I believe in lifelong learning. So I have been collecting a reading list to give myself some historical context as an antidote to the deep disturbance I feel by the trends I see in my national discourse. Possibly I am extra sensitive to the power that rhetoric can have in society because my ancestors fled Germany during WWII. But I try to maintain hope amid the disbelief I have at some statements I am hearing (and the public support I see for those statements) that go beyond an issue of “political correctness.” It’s an issue of humanness.

Along those lines, I encountered a most powerful TED talk.

 

Reading list including people not in my American history books. If you click on the images, it should take you to a link. Then again, there’s always the library.

I could not believe I had never heard of this person:

Pauli Murray Autobiography

A Pulitzer winner:

Slavery_by_Another_Name_(book_cover)

Then there’s a whole slew of women authors coming out with historical analysis of how social programs that were thought to be helpful actually contributed to what we see today.

The First Civil Right, Naomi Murakawa

Civil Rights and the Making of the Modern American State, Megan Ming Francis 

 

By Erin W

Peace With Paradox

Wild huckleberries, a favorite image and taste of summer.

I am creating a low-budget retreat for myself in August during a high anxiety time for me. A pause from endless sedentary work, from endless yard maintenance, from endless junk my mind throws at me.

I will walk among the blackberries which will be fully ripe by then, among the cedars and ferns, hike for four days, watch sunsets, returning home at night. A blackberry apple cobbler might be made. No promises to self with an order of events, just flow. The theme of my retreat is “Making Peace with Paradox.”

“Courage is the same thing as desperation.”

~ A wise young man

When I was 17 in my freshman year of college, I met an extremely unusual person. He was unique among my peers with music scholarships at a small liberal arts college in many ways. He was years older than the rest of us (someone mid 20s was old). Unlike the rest of us, he had capital L Life experience.

In addition, he couldn’t read a note of music on the page and had never had a piano lesson. He had hitchhiked across America, slept in tents, lived in a few communal living situations along the coast. The reason he was in the same place I was, plopped in the middle of small town American Midwest, was because in addition to composing his own tunes, he could hear an entire piece of complex classical music once and play it back beautifully by ear.

I have no idea what happened to him since that single year we attended the same school (I left).  But now that I am taking Pema Chodron’s course on the topic of courage, the words he spoke to me echo over and over in my mind.

When someone does something to create a life they want to live against all odds, or leave a comfort zone for the unknown, we tend to praise that person as having courage. But is leaving what we know also an act of desperation?

I believe so. We can feel desperate to leave our comfort zones, regardless of whether they involve abuse, neglect and poverty or privilege, “security”, and material abundance. 

So many life lessons are paradoxes that I think it’s safe to say all of life is paradox. Being able to allow and accept that is the tough thing. Being certain only one half of the paradox is true (monodox?) is where pain lies. Kind of like when half the people in a country vote for something the other half detests but both halves are required to live within the outcome. If only I could think of current examples in the Western world. [crickets]. It can feel like we are splitting apart. On a cellular level, it’s mitosis.

I have found that making peace with paradox is the most difficult but only way I can truly embrace the life I’m in.

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Which is real? Light or shadow?

Some paradoxical considerations:

Are all relationships cages? I worked with this one for a few years and finally accepted they are both cage and freedom,whether we are born into them or seek them.

Is seeking happiness important? Is creating happiness possible for self and others? Is joy or suffering predominant in humanity?

Can a person behave with both kindness and meanness?

Can an economy or anything man-made experience continual growth, when nothing in Nature does?

Am I a part of Nature or is Nature me?

Can people who meditate in caves or isolation for lengthy time offer a path forward for how best to interact with others? (All prominent spiritual guides through history have done some version of this and I am currently working with teachings of one who lived in a cave for 20 years and had no living relatives).

Can doing what needs to be done ever lead to doing what wants to be done?

Can politics be separate from corruption?

Can we learn more from silence than words?

Personal paradoxes:

I highly prize direct experience with the natural world, yet spend 99% of my waking hours in front of a computer screen.

My present life in some ways is similar to existing in a cave. A nice one without stalagmites or stalactites. I rarely leave it, except through my ears. They absorb life stories from all over the world, expanding my existence far beyond where my physical being can travel.

I have completed athletic feats, yet I’m the last person to be picked out of a lineup as an athlete.

I don’t know if I can love another person in close relationship and am content to live the remainder of my life alone, yet I hold deep love in my heart for humanity and cry often when I witness acts of kindness and suffering. I experience loneliness 12 days per year. No more, no less. If emotions are any barometer of success, my math goes something like this:  Close adult relationship = greater moments of sadness, loneliness, alienation + fewer spontaneous moments of happiness than when alone. If math doesn’t lie, then I may not have participated in a healthy relationship and/or I am truly my own best soulmate, despite the mega-billion-dollar industry of relationship coaches and authors telling me otherwise. When asked to provide relationship advice for my cousin’s upcoming wedding: “Go for a walk” was all that came to me. Essentially my go-to life advice that fits most occasions.

I’ve lived 15+ years paycheck to paycheck, yet no matter how much I worry or don’t worry, every need has been met.

I grew up among and value racial/cultural diversity, yet live in a mostly homogeneous community. I attended a private, predominantly white liberal arts college, yet wrote my thesis on African American writing.

I’ve been both giver and receiver of social safety nets and giving feels by far the best.

I can be friendly yet friendless. I can be uninhibited and pathologically honest in writing, yet reticent in person. I can also not stop talking to anyone who shows an interest.

I yearn for peace in the world, yet I became involved with someone in the military.

I have over 5 years of higher education and took 25 years to pay loans, yet my most satisfying jobs have been delivering mail and volunteering, both of which do not require much formal education. Education sure leaves a person with a lot of questions. You too can reach midlife with a propensity to make peace with paradox while wandering the woods.
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A visitor

 

The Mirror

We are the Mirror as well as the face in it
by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

We are the mirror as well as the face in it.
We are tasting the taste this minute
of eternity. We are pain
and what cures pain, both. We are
the sweet, cold water and the jar that pours.

 

Recently, I looked at a bigger picture of US gun violence.  That more Americans have died from gun violence over the past 50 years than in all the wars America has been involved in.  Add to that fact-checked figure the fact that suicides by guns are far greater than homicides, and it becomes clear we are a greater threat to ourselves than from any force outside ourselves.  (Click here for context)

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As someone who meditates regularly, I support people taking a moment to “sit in” anywhere for any reason. This moment has less to do with political parties for me than it does for drawing a circle for public safety, for breaking out of the mesmerizing idea that we are powerless in the face of such a violence-permeated society, for peace. This is the most moving scene I have witnessed from Congress in my lifetime.  (Fortunately my life is full enough I do not that spend hours in front of C-SPAN, so I may have missed something).

Representative John Lewis’s Speech:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/185d1738-38a2-11e6-af02-1df55f0c77ff

This spurred me to see how decision makers local to me are framing the discussion.  I learned that despite a many-year Congressional ban on funding for gun violence research as a public health issue, Seattle took on its own initiative without federal funding and in 2013 became the first city in the nation to conduct basic gun research.  The results not surprisingly:

The Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center that established that “gun violence begets gun violence.” 

This entire month I have been working increasingly with Tonglen practice for personal issues that feel unsolvable and experiencing some sense of self-compassion growing from it.  Considering the cultural view of many Buddhist practitioners that equal or greater compassion is necessary for the aggressor/abuser as it is for the victim, it seems interesting in the case of the United States how we might work with this for ourselves.  What to do when it seems we are a nation of self-abusers, self-aggressors?

I am reminded we need be wary of taking positions of belief so fixed that we become the person holding up a peace sign hitting someone over the head to defend our views.  In other words, we must constantly zoom out to consider context while taking moments to understand our own pain so that we can understand others.

Here is a brief description of a way to work with suffering in this world, that anyone can do at any time regardless of what belief system. If starting with the big picture feels too big, you can start with yourself.

 

And because time in Nature is my greatest source of healing, I am sharing this interesting study out of University of California on the topic of aiding communities directly impacted by violence (veterans and inner city youth) via nature connection.

Inspiring Women

All the years I’ve worked from a desk using my god-given keyboarding skills and sitting on a couch to knit my meditative knits, I’ve always known a woman living an alternate life.  An adventurer, living outdoors for more than a few hours at a time, exploring, enduring challenges, soaking up life as it happens.  Occasionally she has opportunity to express herself, like in my 20s when expenses of equipment and travel for outdoors treks in three states were covered by school financial aid (most valuable experiences of my 5-1/2 years of higher education).  Or when I briefly had arms like Popeye after joining forces with a boyfriend who owned two sea kayaks.  Or in more recent years, when I walked several marathon distances.

And now, when I’ve gained 20 pounds since completing the Portland marathon only months ago and am back to seven days a week at the desk, I use my special powers to remind myself the parallel woman is thriving and can intersect the current me’s path again.

Here’s what I do when I despair at my inevitable crawl of aging parenthood, I remind myself being a parent opens up a part of the heart inaccessible any other way and I am forever grateful.  And I question how decrepit a person can be while still doing what the parallel me is doing. She’s free of financial worries and childless.  Right now I can’t walk 3,000 miles coast to coast across the US or sign up for some group adventure trek in Costa Rica.  I can’t start intensive training, survival skills classes and equipment gathering to complete the Pacific Crest Trail.  I can’t visit every national park and freelance write about my journeys.  So here’s what I do:

  1. I relish encountering inspiring people that keep that flame alive for some outrageous goal I’ve dreamed.
  2. I remind myself I’m not a failure yet simply because the clouds in the sky haven’t parted for me to take that first step.
  3. The 30-minute rule.  If I can do something each day for 30 minutes that resembles my parallel me’s life, that’s keeping the ember of connection between current me and her burning.  So if I walk 30 minutes a day in the woods or stay outside for a sunset or a moon rise, I pat myself on the back.
  4. I want to do whatever I do with some modicum of support and/or logistics preparation, and that will take money and patience, both of which I can work on each and every day.
  5. No matter how large the marshmallow covering of my inner core of steel gets, I remember that I do know how to train and work steadily toward something I put my mind to.  So when a challenging opportunity opens that fits my resources, I’ll be able to say “Yes.”

Here are inspiring women whose stories have crossed my path over the past few weeks, all gathered in one place to remind me the parallel me is cheering from a distance:  Go girl, go!

  • The most inspiring senior “project” I’ve ever seen, taking flight this month.  Since Denali takes at least 3 weeks to summit, fortunately the 50 peaks clock starts at the summit:

 

  • One final note of inspiration.  For a decade, I have visioned offering nature walks to ease people’s stress while in the environment of hospitals.  I happened to be in a hospital elevator this week for annual long-term followup.  I nearly fainted when I saw a poster with an image of beautiful green woods offering “30-minute walks to ease stress.”  I contacted the person responsible.  What are the chances the one day of the year I happened to be in the elevator was the first offering?  Those are some good chances.  I hope to schedule a day off work to attend one of these walks soon and reinforce the importance of what they are doing.  It makes my heart sing to know that someone is doing the work I cannot at the moment.  If you would like a nature break in your day, check out one of my wanderings:

 

 

 

Planetary Time

Astronomy Picture of The Day: Solstice 2016 Sunrise at Stonehenge

MACRO TIME

Last night we had a full moon that coincided with Summer Solstice for the first time since my first summer of life, 1967.  And it may well be the last time a full moon coincides with June Solstice during my life on Earth, since the next time it is projected to happen will be 2062.  I’d need to live to 95 and I really don’t know what life on Earth will be by then or whether I’ll be around to see it.

I could make it my life purpose to live that long and see that moon in 2062, but the sky might be cloudy.  Would I have the physical health and money to fly to somewhere not cloudy?  One thing I can guarantee is I will be one eccentric person regardless of where I see the moon.

It’s overcast and cool where I am right now.  But I love Solstices for their reminders of planetary and universal time, because it zooms me out of my little sense of “self,” evaporates all my “problems,” and allows me to consider a larger scale of the flash of existence everything in this very moment is.

Slowest sunsets occur around Summer Solstice, so this gives me a great reminder to step away from the screen and be an audience participant on cloudless days.

MICRO TIME

I nearly fell off my chair with planetary excitement (I’m easily amused) at discovering this celestial pattern.  It’s absolutely brilliant, and I applaud the woman who went to such lengths to design the night sky in something you can wrap around you on a cool evening.  I intend to make it once I have completed the three projects I’m currently working on.

Here’s the version of Celestarium pattern on Ravelry.

Now, off to complete a blanket design of multicolored rectangles for my kiddo by the time she graduates high school to take with her through life.  A sort of Tetris of love. Three years is the kind of runway my projects tend to need, with the pesky distraction of working seven days a week.  Congrats to her and all her peers for never having to go through freshman year of high school again.  Woohoo!   Let the summer resting begin.

News of Transformation

Humanosphere

A source of news you may not have seen

 

As tired of US politics as I am but not apathetic?  Check out a refreshing transformational approach to societal problems.  Medellin used to be the murder capital of the world.  No longer.  A tenured professor left his beloved career to become a politician because a group of people got tired of saying “This is how things should be” and decided to act on their idealism.

Slideshow of Medellin transformation

 

Ecological Transformation video series called What If We Change from around the globe following success of Loess plateau restoration.  There are cultural blind spots in China’s case story and lessons learned, but the task was enormous and the example of the Loess plateau restoration provides hope for other large-scale restoration in other areas of this precious planet.

Brave Happiness

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“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.”

― Dalai Lama

Someone asked me, “Are you happy?” I didn’t know how to answer.  What I know about happiness is the best kind feels more like contentment than the fleeting context of pleasure. And that quiet type of happiness feels accessible in any moment I become aware of all that sustains me and all my senses.  I often feel happy while doing routine tasks, and most often when immersed in Nature.

This summer I am gifting myself an online course offered by Pema Chodron on the occasion of her 80th birthday.  To that end, I am reading a thoughtful interpretation of a 13th century monk, Tokme Zongpo’s verses written as reminders to himself of how to be in the world.  They are amazingly resonant to many people seven centuries later.  It’s an awesome thing to encounter expression universal enough that it reaches people’s hearts through time.  Like the verses of Shakespeare or any writer who understands the human condition.

I find myself resisting some verses like this one that feels foreign to the culture I was raised in.  In fact, the inverse of it is written into foundational documents of my country.

All suffering comes from wanting your own happiness.  Complete awakening arises from the intention to help others.  Therefore, exchange completely your happiness for the suffering of others.

I experienced this precise awareness when living for a year communally among families with hospitalized children and recognized at the time that the greatest happiness I could experience in this life was in service to others suffering.  That year was my spiritual awakening.

A decade later I find it necessary to work 7 days a week, except for family obligations and medical appointments.  So nearly all my time is used in service of self and child.  It can feel stiflingly selfish, yet necessary in order to meet my obligations.

Because my work is solitary and involves 100% intense listening to a broad spectrum of voices and views in media, tears actually came to my eyes when reading this verse:

Listeners and solitary buddhas, working only for their own welfare, practice as if their heads were on fire.  To help all beings, pour your energy into practice:  It is the source of all abilities.

Tonglen is (as crudely described by me) a practice of breathing in venom and suffering, then breathing out peace and well-being a person experiences now and may experience in the future.  Reading Zongpo’s verse gave me the idea of doing my daily work this way, expanding my solitary efforts by remembering to exhale peace, well-being, compassion.  If I can do this even in the midst of all the venom I listen to in my country’s political and social upheavals expressed through media, on some level I feel I may contribute more than my job allows.

I am recommitting to my meditation practice, but I am also doing walking meditation to compensate for all the seated hours.  I do not expect myself to be a monk or live up to a standard that feels impossible.

Instead, I appreciate being reminded to start wherever I am, be fully there, and plod forward steadily.   Someday I may have more freedom to do more with my life and dreams, but until then I can practice brave moments of happiness.