A Found Day

David and I went to Massachusetts to visit our daughter, and on the way back enjoyed a “found” day in Harrisburg, PA.  That afternoon, we went downtown–where both of us worked at one point years ago–to wander around, have lunch, take photos, and let Fergus make friends with every homeless person he encountered. There were a lot of them, too, just as there were in the cities we explored in Massachusetts.

So I was hanging with Fergus while David went to get us some coffee, and we moseyed down toward the river. David took forever to get back to us, and when I asked him where he’d been, said he’d been talking to a seemingly homeless guy who was “meeting someone” who would give him $12 to keep his electricity on. So maybe he wasn’t homeless. I asked Dave if he’d given him some cash, and he said he didn’t have much. I didn’t have a cent (maybe we all use plastic these days?), but I laid a guilt trip on Dave and made him turn out his pockets and head back to the guy to give him what he had, which turned out to be $12.The man was delighted and thanked him and prayed for us. On the way back to me, David looked down and saw one of my gold earrings on the sidewalk–rather valuable, I don’t have many–which had evidently fallen off my ear.

I thought the whole thing was a pretty good deal. We came out the winners, with prayers said (I’ll take all I can get) and my gold earring restored to me.

It doesn’t take much to make me happy.

Take Thought

 

Take thought tonight. Take thought tonight when it is dark, when it is raining. Take thought of the game you have forgotten. You are the child of a great and peaceful race, an unutterable fable. You were discovered on a mild mountain. You have come up out of the godlike ocean. You are holy, disarmed, signed with a chaste emblem. You are also marked with forgetfulness. Deep inside your breast you wear the number of loss. Take thought tonight. Do this. Do this. Recover your original name. – Merton

Merton, Thomas. A Book of Hours (p. 88). Ave Maria Press.

Waiting for Nothing

Thanksgiving-2016 with Rilke

 

You have made me fall in love with you,

At my request,

And now my days and nights are spent starving, bleeding, weeping for you,

Hollow, emptied out with longing, flesh clinging to disintegrating bone,

While I resist giving in to the terms I think you offer and that I am mistaken about.

 

You have given me this silence, this blessed emptiness going right up to the roof,

This crowded silence,

Thick with the souls of the waiting,

Longing for my surrender to what they don’t yet know.

 

You play your music for me,

And I feel my way from note to note,

Striving to find the silence within each

Where you conceal yourself, waiting for me while you play.

 

Day by day, I wait,

Irresolute with longing,

Thinking there is something I must do to be worthy,

Bleeding from these open wounds that do not heal. – Amidha Porter

 

(I used to have a friend named Charlie Hopkins, who made it clear that no poem of his was ever finished.  I think he was probably right.)

Another remembrance

I am a recovering person in two different 12-Step communities, both outgrowths of the original Alcoholics Anonymous.  I have loved that path for many years, worked with it professionally and personally, and considered it an important adjunct to my own Sufi path.  I remember years ago when my life’s teacher, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, was introduced to this work, and said “Why it’s so much like Sufism it might as well be Sufism!”  Indeed, because this healing path is derivative of all the great esoteric systems of the world’s religions and is an inspired gift to those suffering from addictions and the effects of addictions in their families.  It is a simple path, simply followed.  One of its two founders, Bill W., said this is all it takes:

Burn the idea into the consciousness of every [wo]man that s/he can get well regardless of anyone. The only condition is that s/he trust in God and clean house.” (Alcoholics Anonymous)

Perhaps you are old enough to be familiar with my all-time favorite television series, China Beach. It’s about the Vietnam war (during which I grew up), and in our family we pull the discs out and watch them every few years, because we find the series to be profoundly moving, a meditation itself.  One of the main actors in it is Jeff Kober, who played Dodger. He’s a well-known actor and has been in many other things, but he also–interestingly–teaches Vedic meditation. I’m a committed meditator of many years, and I love the daily newsletter I get from his organization. In yesterday’s newsletter, he speaks of the interconnectedness of all being, and points out our constant opportunity to act from the standpoint of who we really are, or from our “mistaken” identities. He cites Alcoholics Anonymous as a good example of this (yes, he is a recovering alcohlic and addict). He says:

“There is a beautiful example of this in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. The power of this twelve-step program is based in the singleness of purpose of the members of the program. All that matters is that everyone is trying to stay sober today. There is an acceptance of anyone and everyone, so long as they are willing at least to lend lip service to this common goal. The result is that a field of unconditional love is formed, in spite of the broken nature of the personalities involved, and all things that may work against this field of unconditional love are at least momentarily set aside. It is this field of unconditional love that lends alcoholics the ability to not drink, something that on their own was not possible. This is the ‘power greater than oneself’ that is necessary to overcome the power of the substance of alcohol.

This singleness of purpose is such a precious (as well as life or death) commodity that discussions of religion and politics, those subjects that can be most fraught with the danger of separation via difference of opinion, are by general consensus commonly avoided. People of wildly disparate political and/or religious views behave as brothers and sisters without ever a thought as to their differences. Of course judgment of others abounds, as it does in any gathering of humans, but it is not lent any credence. It is, in effect and in actuality, trumped every time by the common intention of everyone involved, and so the opportunity to heal remains available to anyone and everyone who chooses to seek it out.” (Jeff Kober, http://jeffkobermeditation.com)

It occurs to me that our common pain and bewilderment at the shock of this horrific earth plane of ours carries the opportunity to reach out to other parts of ourselves, simply because we eventually realize that all people are really just like us, struggling and weeping with the pain and injustice of living, doing their best to grow back into themselves. I have often said to newcomers in the other 12-Step fellowship I belong to “Yes, we’re all crazy here, don’t worry, no one will judge you.” And by and large, it’s true.  Jeff points out that in “the rooms,” as they are often called, judgment is inevitable, but “not lent credence.” (Kober)   In other words, gradually each of us learns to see ourselves in the Other, to mind our own side of the street while sharing compassion and solidarity.  Kober goes on to say,

“We, too, always have this as an option. At any time we have the power to set aside our individuality and embrace our unity. This field of unconditional love and the possibility of miracles always is awaiting us. It is in fact what we are in our deepest self. We simply must be willing to let go of the ideas of separation that stand in the way of our experience of it.” (Jeff Kober)

As someone who grew up with the “all is one” New Age rhetoric of what I sometimes humorously call the “Baba Ram Das Era,” it strikes me that in our common suffering, we are united in doing globally important work.  Just think: this is exactly what our search for wholeness means, because we can only find ourselves in other ourselves.

In this sense, our work affects all beings. Who knew?

All day I have been waiting for You with my faculties bleeding the poison of unsuppressed activity. I have waited for Your silence and Your peace to stanch and cleanse them, O my Lord. You will heal my soul when it pleases You, because I have trusted in You. I will no longer wound myself with the thoughts and questions that have surrounded me like thorns: that is a penance You do not ask of me. You have made my soul for Your peace and Your silence, but it is lacerated by the noise of my activity and my desires. My mind is crucified all day by its own hunger for experience, for ideas, for satisfaction. And I do not possess my house in silence. But I was created for Your peace and You will not despise my longing for the holiness of Your deep silence. O my Lord, You will not leave me forever in this sorrow, because I have trusted in You and I will wait upon Your good pleasure in peace and without complaining any more. This, for Your glory.

Merton, Thomas (2007-03-01). A Book of Hours (pp. 146-147). Ave Maria Press.

A Country Between

a-country-between

Woman, whom destiny has made to be man’s superior, by trying to become his equal, falls beneath his estimation. – Inayat Khan

I have been reading Stephanie Saldaña’s new book, having loved her first, Bread of Angels, and finding this one to be wonderfully meaningful and heartening.  It is the continuation of Bread, her first years of marriage to the French monk she married after she lived in Syria for a year on a Fulbright scholarship to learn Arabic in order to study the teachings of Jesus in Islam, and both books have been lovely and poignant instructions on how to live in a war zone and still find beauty and life.  I was amazed to think that she would, after her first book, return not to Syria–we know what tragedy is transforming that ancient culture beyond belief–but to Jerusalem, with her husband.  When I read that she would, I thought, well, we will hear that she is living in some middle-class suburb and teaching or something, but not so:  she and her husband found an amazing house in the heart of life in that ancient, now-partitioned city, moving daily from one sector through checkpoints to the other,  from that house that was part of a convent and an adjunct to a neighborhood that was still holding on in the midst of of the terror breaking out all around it, and eventually in it.  We Americans would find such a life far too difficult, but she and her husband plunged right into a world where a local man sold sesame bread right on her doorstep and gave it to her family, refusing payment,  where the entire neighborhood became family, Muslims, Sufis, Christians, Jews.  And they did indeed have their first child  there, in the midst of violence and poverty and war and inconveniences that would send most of us fleeing.  And they found and became a part of Life.  This story is largely about the birth of her first child, one of the eventual three, and although they have had to leave their huge house, they still live in Jerusalem in a smaller one.  Perhaps they have chosen Life over Convenience, the great god of this culture.

I wrote a brief review of this book on Amazon, where I purchased my copy, and said that Stephanie (I can’t call her by her last name, it doesn’t seem right) is the girl I always wished lived next door.  By this, I mean that we as women have become so caught up in becoming equal as to often lose the uniqueness of womanhood, which is to be tender and tough at the same time, knowing innately what is most important, in a world of far too many women who have perverted their true natures beyond belief, all in the cause of equality.  [Redaction:  my millennial daughter who often edits for me points out that most of the women she knows are not working for equality, but equity.  A most compelling thought!  And when I wrote that, I have to admit I was thinking of the Kellyanne Conways of this world, not the countless women who struggle in a man’s world just to survive and become themselves.)  Her lyrical and poignant writing bespeaks her values:  she places her children above any other accomplishments she could have, and her love for her husband is perhaps most important of all.  Yet that is always a conundrum when we become mothers, isn’t it?  We thought falling in love with our soulmate was all-important, and then we fall in love with our children and are lost forever.  She writes of making a home and giving birth in the midst of danger and violence and the common family passages that take place in all families, as her father dies of cancer back in the States.  Her story is a common story set in a place we think to be uncommon, but that is an internal space in all of us, one that is becoming projected on our own landscape in the West, more and more.  I love most about her writing that she is a woman who is more soul than body, more being than striving, more watching than doing.  She is, perhaps, what “traditional” women are currently fleeing in the cause of becoming equal to men, in the mistaken belief that becoming like them is then the answer, instead of being what she already is:  better, innately.  It is understandable, I think, because of the world we live in, but here is someone who intuitively found a better way of carrying forward the divine heritage of womankind.

I hope you will read this wonderful book, which has made me think again about the confusion and despair of suddenly living in the age of Trump here in the States.  I think we Americans became complacent:  believing our own rhetoric, we fell asleep at the wheel, thinking we were safe, and all the while the projection of our collective shadow was growing and growing, ready to pounce, all the while complacently dreaming of our first woman president, of the fated progress of humanity, and we became derailed when our shadow overcame us.  Reading Stephanie’s book shook me out of the fog of malaise and despair most of us are experiencing increasingly after his “election,” and I realized–had been trying to articulate inwardly all along–that this is Life.  We Americans know so little of what our neighbors have been enduring for thousands of years, and we are soft and all too trusting.  Our ideals may stab us in the back yet.

Here is what I think:  a while back, I wrote about a piece by Llewellyn Vaughn-Lee that is about the cyclical nature of the universe.  He stated that we are nearing the end of one cycle, and the beginning of the next, and that such a time is always a time of darkness, of confusion, of….waiting, as in the Christian concept of the “In-Between Times”, the time between the Resurrection and the Second Coming.  I didn’t want to accept that, I wanted to continue in my New Age-y beliefs of love and light and imminent joy, and I know that there is a place where Joy waits, but for now…he was right.  We wait.  Trump and his ilk, Brexit, the tragedy of the Middle East and all countries where darkness battles with light, seemingly with imminent victory, are all symbols of that change.  Those who think they can make time hold still, who think they can return our country, at least, to the 1950s and its complacency and acquiescence to the Man, may think for a time that they can make that happen, but they are as nothing next to that power that is both might and tenderness that is moving over and closer to the world with every heartbeat.  And Stephanie, I have slept better because you did  your part to show us where and how to go.  We await the Kairos.

Be of good cheer.

“Remember that all through history, there have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they seem invincible. But in the end, they always fall. Always.” – Gandhi