All Of A Peace?

Back in October a gifted Buddhist teacher, Sharon Salzberg, offered a “Ten-Day LovingKindness Challenge” course online—recommended by my friend, Diana Lopez, who draws upon the wisdom of multiple faith traditions. Salzberg’s accepting, compassionate voice guiding me through a series of increasingly challenging scenarios, by the tenth day, I could inwardly whisper, “May you feel safe. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live with ease,” to, as Salzberg prompted, “someone filled with anger, jealousy, fear, greed.” (Can you guess who I chose to be the recipient of these metta prayers, Reader? Hint: He was still in office at the time.)

“Your mind will wander,” Salzberg noted, both her words and her gentle voice assuring me that this was okay. It’s the intentionality, she explained. When we bring our consciousness back to the repetition of the four lovingkindness statements, back to the practice, back to the center, again and again and again, that matters.

I don’t understand how this re-direct works but its Mystery intrigues me—and tapers my disbelief. Still intrigued, I pondered this Mystery at meeting for worship yesterday. In that Zoom quiet, the phrase “The peace that passeth understanding” came to me. (At some formative stage of my life, I’d internalized King James language, apparently!)

Mystery: it’s all one thing, right? All of a piece/peace?

Peek Experience (No, that’s not a typo)

These days, I’ve noticed that when my dear friend Alex is asked how he’s doing, he’ll often respond, “Given the givens? I’m . . . ” Alex is also the first person I know to use the phrase radical acceptance. Indebted to Alex’s namings, I’ve been mulling over Three Givens that powerfully inform my spiritual life and, sigh, I have no choice but to radically accept, right!?

The first Given, of course, is Death. (There is some controversy as to who first quipped The only certainty is death and taxes. Benjamin Franklin? Mark Twain? I’m going with Anonymous—who, of course, was a woman!) I am going to die. So what is it I plan to do with my one wild and precious life ?

Radically accepting the second Given requires faith—and deep humility: contrary to Corinthians 13, even as an adult, I can only see through a glass darkly. I can only know in part. I can be as loving and compassionate as Paul counsels, I can be faithful and live up to the Light that has been given me—but there’s more; there will be deeper understandings. Always. There will always be  continuing revelations. After reading Isabel Wilkerson’s   Caste:The Order of Our Discontentsfor example, I am painfully aware that what seems the natural order of things* isn’t!

The third Given—and what most interests me right now—makes me sad but there it is. A Given. So maybe I should radically accept? And it’s about the transitory nature of transcendent moments; aka peak experiences. What can’t we instantly recreate such glorious moments; these sneak peeks at All That is Holy and Divine, huh?  Why, when I whisper All my relations before I begin eating dinner every night, do I only remember that moment when those three words encapsulated All? (Another sigh.)

Here’s the feeble light I can shine on this question for now; this light comes in the form of another question: maybe it’s my longing, my yearning to connect to All that matters?

Hmmm.

*Caste is insidious and therefore powerful because it is not hatred, it is not necessarily personal. It is the worn grooves of comforting routines and unthinking expectations, patterns of a social order that have been in place for so long that it looks like the natural order of things. 

Grounded

Urged to do so, I dutifully watched the first two episodes of the Ken Burns’ documentary on Ernest Hemingway—and, much to my surprise, look forward to the third. (Thank you, PBS, for making such wonderful programs accessible to luddites like me who do not own a television.)

Why surprised? Because although I define myself as a writer and am proud of my very modest body of work, it is a very modest body of work! So I’d anticipated that spending hours learning more about one of the most successful writers of all time would reinforce my own sense of inadequacy—which waxes and wanes but is undeniable. Delving deeper and deeper into Hemingway’s story, however, I felt solidified.  Confirmed. Grounded. “My oeuvre may be skimpy as hell—but I am glad I’m me.” Another way to put this might be: “Thank you, God, for making me a woman!”

I began to work on my craft after my first daughter was born; in those earliest days I’d copied out passages I found particularly well-written. I’d study these bits, word by word, coma by semi-colon, partly to learn from such close reading and partly, I think, in the childish hope that the genius of that particular writer might magically become my own. So, in Episode 2, when I heard the excerpt from A Farewell to Arms I’d copied long ago read aloud, it was a wonderful moment, like suddenly remembering a beloved teacher but also remembering myself as the yearning, open-hearted, grateful student. And to be reminded that every time I begin a sentence with And I know whom to credit!

Here’s the thing: leafing through the battered notebook containing that A Farewell to Arms excerpt, I found so much more to remember. For I’d copied out bits from Alice Munro, Virginia Woolf, Paula Gunn Allen, Shirley Hazzard, too. I’d written poetry; many poems had been about being a mother. A harried mother. An anxious mother. A mother in solidarity with mothers in my neighborhood. I’d written journal-like entries about my struggles to find time to write. I’d written outlines for possible stories, novels, a screenplay. (I have actually completed some of those projects, too. Some.) And pep talks, lots of pep talks/coaching!

I’ll end with this one:

Hold the image in your mind

Make it clear and true

Then all you do

Follows naturally.

 

 

 

 

What I’m Adding for Lent: Week Six

Week Six:

“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”

So the Aramaic word, waahboqlan, can mean “forgive” but it also can mean “embrace with emptiness.” Which instantly recalls my yoga teacher, Annie Hoffman, talking about learning how to let go of attachment/old hurts/holding on to negativity, etc. “It’s like the command people give to their dogs when the dog comes upon something tasty but maybe disgusting on the ground: ‘Leave it!’ ”

I’ve heard dog owners give this command a couple of different ways; both are useful as I struggle with my own embracing with emptiness:

The first version gives those two syllables equal weight. they’re firm, stern, no-nonsense. (During menopause, when I sometimes struggled with anxious thoughts, telling that panicky inner voice to “Shut up, shut, shut up!” was ridiculously efficacious!)

The second version is almost a question. “Leave it?” my voice rising as if to acknowledge, “Yup, darlin’. I get it. This is hard. You’ve held on to this hurt for a long time. And, let’s be frank. You’ve enjoyed being pissed, right? But just do this.” It’s a coaxing voice. Forgiving.

And isn’t that the woman’s voice I most need to hear?

Week Five:

Give us this day our daily bread.”

So lachma can be both “bread” and “understanding.” And the verb, here, has several variations; my favorite is “animate with fruit”! But hold up. It seems as though the last Aramaic word in this sentence, yeomana, hasn’t been translated?  Hmm.

So what to do? Maybe I’ll just do what I’ve been doing since Ash Wednesday: let women suggest possible interpretations and meaning and metaphors for this prayer. “This day” + lachma =  Caroline Fox’s famous quote, right?  Especially its last bit: Live Up to the Light that thou hast and more will be granted thee.  You’ll receive more understanding, more light tomorrow. Next week. The same Source that animates with fruit will offer you further enlightenment—if you’re listening to your Inner Guide.

Week Four:

. . .on earth as it is in heaven:

“In the fourth and most central line of the prayer, heaven meet earth in acts of compassion,” Douglas-Klotz writes.

The Aramaic scholar’s words immediately conjure up for me one of my favorite places is the world, Crete, and standing on the beach, the  blue-green Mediterranean behind me, looking up at Mt. Ida, the birthplace of Zeus. There, at its snow-capped peak, where clouds obscure the delineation between earth and sky,  is where early Cretans believed earth met heaven.

If I can connect with how joyful, how grateful, how filled with love I’d felt standing there on a perfect day in March of 2003, can I remember to let go of whatever keeps me from acknowledging—without ceasing—Spirit’s abiding Love?

Week Three:

“Thy will be done . . . ” The word will tripped me up this week; “tzevanach” in Aramaic. Which translates as “desire” but bears an ancient, layered meaning of “harmony and generation.”  Which might mean, again, a verb, a motion towards, an inexorable, cosmic, supreme force ever-striving, yearning for balance, harmony, Love?

I don’t know for sure; I suspect others don’t either. But I certainly relish the idea of praying to, acknowledging that inexorable, cosmic, supreme force!

 

Week Two:

I found “Thy kingdom come . . . ” very confusing. Something in the original Aramaic hinted at a nuptial chamber? Other ancient words implied co-creation—and possibility, too? I couldn’t wrap my brain around it.

But on Sunday, at meeting for worship, someone read that lovely quote, “Live up to the light that thou hast and more will be granted thee.” And I saw a deep and powerful connections  between those Aramaic-to-English keywords and the message of early Friends: that the kingdom of God is here and now and  accessible. That when we live up to the light we are in right relationship with Spirit. We’re co-creating the beloved community. And we’re promised  updates. Continuing revelation. We’re in this together.

Week One:

Giving up something for Lent lost meaning for me years ago; this year my reluctance to take away rather than to add seems particularly appropriate as we collectively mourn the over 500,000 Americans who have died from this pandemic. Such an enormous loss!

So this lenten season I’m spending a little time every day with a remarkable little book, Prayers of the Cosmos: Reflections on the Original Meaning of Jesus’s Words by Neil Douglas-Klotz. An Aramaic scholar, Douglas-Klotz has translated the Lord’s Prayer back into the language it had been originally spoken—and, oh my. According to him, not just “something” has been lost in translation!  As my shero Joanna Macy says, “For many of us who want to peel away centuries of dualistic, patriarchal forms and recover the life-affirming beauty of our Christian roots, nothing could be more welcome than this exquisite little volume.”

In the spirit of Increase not Decrease, I will add on to this post every Wednesday until Easter.

February 24: First gleanings after Week One:

The Aramaic version of “Our father who art in heaven” reminds me of this wonderful passage from Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass:

“Puhpowee, she explained, translates as “the force which causes mushrooms to push up from the earth overnight.” As a biologist, I was stunned that such a word existed.
The makers of this word understood a world of being, full of unseen energies that animate everything. I’ve cherished it for many years, as a talisman, and longed for the people who gave a name to the life force of mushrooms. The language that holds Puhpowee is one that I wanted to speak. So when I learned that the word for rising, for emergence, belonged to the language of my ancestors, it became a signpost for me.”

 

 

 

 

This is Me, This is Us

Today, here’s how I’m remembering a moment at the end of the documentary, “Knock Down the House.” It’s election night and Alexandria  Ocasio-Cortez arrives at a Bronx or Queens function hall—or maybe it was a restaurant?—to join hundreds of her supporters and campaign workers as they all await the election results. But the security guy at the front door won’t let her in.

“No, no, I’m—” she argues. And the way I remember that filmed moment, the future congresswoman points to her shoulders, to herself; to her body. Because that’s who she is. She’s not an ID. She’s not her driver’s license or her signature on the rental agreement to book that space. She is not her own face on a campaign poster. She’s The Incomparable AOC; she identifies as a woman.

Today, reading her painful account of what happened when an angry mob occupied the Capitol on January 6th, I learned that like millions of others, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez is a survivor of sexual abuse. How she cinematically describes her horrifying, triggering experience that afternoon; how, although she’s received multiple death threats and misogynist slurs and knowing she’ll receive ugly blowback she nevertheless bravely declares: #Metoo; how she speaks her vulnerable truth to power in the halls of Congress? How she connects the forceful voices in Congress urging, “Let’s get over that Capitol attack. Let’s move on”  to what survivors of sexual abuse are told over and over? I am so moved. And so grateful.

Another she-ro of mine, Joanna Macy, the great eco-philosopher and visionary, speaks of “The Great Turning”: a shift from the Industrial Growth Society to a life-sustaining civilization. May AOC’s illuminating account contribute to that great, paradigm-shifting turning!

 

 

 

Not In The Wind?

Quakers often quote that passage from 1 Kings when a depressed and confused Elijah, standing on top of Mount Horeb, experiences a wind so powerful it rends mountains and shatters rocks—but subsequently hears God/Spirit/The Holy in a low murmuring sound.

“Possibly the experience of prophetic inspiration,” my Oxford Study Edition of the New English Bible posits. “Not possibly,” most Quakers would say. “Absolutely!” (My edition notes other Old Testament inbreaking moments when God, indeed, is found in “natural phenomena”: I am now coming to you in a thick cloud, so that I may speak to you in the hearing of the people, and their faith in you may never fail,” God tells Moses in Exodus 19, for example.)

Three weeks after a furious mob rended and shattered our Capitol, I find myself wondering if I can find prophetic inspiration in both that low, murmuring voice, aka a still small voice, and that terrifying, powerful and roaring wind on Mount Horeb?  Raised in a binary, Yes/No, War/Peace/, Here/ There world—and definitely aware of my own, raging, vengeful “seeds of war” whenever I think about what happened on January 6th—can I discover something beyond, something greater than, something different from my heretofore Murmuring/Roaring cosmology? I don’t know.

I just know my Inner Teacher asks me to wonder.

 

 

 

 

 

The Light Returns

I distinctly remember how I’d felt, years ago, probably in a Philosophy 101 class, when I realized that light becomes darkness and darkness becomes light. I remember how it felt when I realized that what I’d always understood as binary, light versus dark, wasn’t! I remember how the hairs on the back of my head prickled;  how I’d felt encompassed in fuzzy warmth as I contemplated a radically-different way to look at the world around me. I didn’t have language, then or now; something about wholeness? Something about transformation? Something about how, at the flick of a switch, 180s can happen? Something about how darkness contains light and vice versa?Something about needing to always remember how quickly that On to Off, Off to On can happen?

Today, the day after the Inauguration, that metaphorical light switch robustly On, it seems important to note how, on January 6th, that switch had definitely been Off. I don’t want to ever forget that. I want to be mindful that my searing memory of that devastating, horrific attack is folded into the joy and hope I feel this morning.

How grateful I am that on the morning after that attack, despair for the world  heavy in my heart, like Wendell Berry,* I could come into the presence of still water. Walking through the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge, I’d stood at the edge of Taylor Brook. In utter quiet I’d stared at a beaver lodge—fuzzily visible and framed by two trees in this picture—as long as I needed. As long as my soul needed. I stood there as long as it took for me to feel ready to return to my peopled, urban life.

The (complicated/nuanced/layered/storied/. . . ) light returns.

 

 

*When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

An Audience of One

[Snarky Puppy, House of Blues, Boston, May 12, 2019]

Every year between Christmas and New Year’s, I read my journal from the previous year. This year, lying on my couch under a down quilt, the Christmas trees lights on, my belly rounded from a week of rich, delicious holiday treats, this yearly ritual has proved especially poignant.

Because the ate-too-much me on the couch knows how this story-told-in-daily-installments will unfold, right? But the me who’d been earnestly writing every morning in her journal did not. So I feel so tender, so protective of naive, confused me, the me who’d slowly realized, OMG, we’re dealing with a global pandemic!

But a little exasperated, too: “Will I even get to read what I’m writing here?” she’d written in late March, terrified, I guess, that being over seventy-five probably meant she’d die from Covid. How astonishing and gobsmacking humbling it is to now see, in stark black and white, how little I’d understood my own privilege!

As I move into this new year, may I not forget this; all of it: my gratitude to be alive and my deep, painful, never-to-be-denied realization of why.

 

 

Call Me Fred

Hoping to see the once-in-a-lifetime sighting of Jupiter and Saturn last night, I’d traipsed all over my neighborhood trying to spot this wondrous sight. (Densely-populated and sorely lacking in open space, Somerville is not ideal for star/planet-gazing.) Stubborn clouds at the horizon, too-tall buildings blocking what I believed was my view—although I was not exactly sure where to look—cold and hungry and discouraged, I’d started walking home when the moon, a crescent moon, appeared high in the sky.

And I remembered the Gospel of John’s prologue and the Light which the darkness has never mastered. I rejoiced to walk beneath the soft, gentle, opalescent light of a partially illuminated moon.

“You’re outside on ‘a cold winter’s night’,” I reminded myself. “You never do that! You’re experiencing this silvered moonlight. You’re seeking.  Like Balthazar, Melchior, and, um — Fred? That’s enough.”

Close to home, I was walking down L-shaped Preston Road and just at its elbow when I looked up and lo, perfectly positioned between two houses and just above the branches of a nearby Norway maple, Jupiter and Saturn, bright, distinct, and miraculously unlike anything else in the night sky.

Joy to the world!

Inner Landscape

[Edward Tufte’s Hogpen Hill Farm’s Sculpture Landscape Park, Woodbury, CT; October 12, 2020]

Yesterday afternoon, as it has done for the past couple of years, Friends Meeting at Cambridge held a Called Memorial Meeting for Worship for Transgender Day of Remembrance. Each in their own Zoom tile, a flickering candle nearby, volunteers slowly read off the names of all the transgender people, many of them people of color, many with Spanish or Portuguese names, who have been murdered this past year.

What struck me most this year was how many “Name Unknown”s there were! Every time I heard those desolate syllables I found myself drifting away from the present moment to create stories, scenarios, all of them tragic, horrible, all of them very real, as if I, too, were an unknown victim. Instantly I grokked how each story began, where each took place, what each person had been wearing. I grokked, too, how each story was predicated on racism, violence, sometimes domestic violence; toxic masculinity.

When we find ourselves drifting off during mediation or prayer, both Buddhist and Christian teachings encourage us to come back. To realign. And how it’s that conscious coming back, that stern, inward “No, I will focus on Here and Now—again” that actually matters.

But yesterday something very different happened—as if to drift off to create these instant stories was the only and the best way to mourn each “Name Unknown.” As if my soul yearned to fill in the blanks, these yawning, heartbreaking gaps—no matter how fictitious. So I did.

You’re Evicted!

I’ve heard lots of people talk about “the real estate in my head” lately but have had no reason to use this expression myself—until last night. After three days of euphoria that, hallelujah, the great storm is over, after three joyful, relieved days, I found myself tossing and turning at 3AM. Again. Like I’ve been doing, over and over, for the past four years. You, too?

But that trendy phrase came to me: “Why am I allowing That Man to occupy so much real estate in my head?” I wondered. “Mr. ex-President,” I announced to the dark, “you’re evicted!”

But a vague, 3AM understanding of how my brain works—something about neural pathways, maybe?—came to me in the dark, too. So although I don’t know much about brain chemistry, like most writers, I can work with a good metaphor: “Okay. That space has been vacated. So, now:Who should I invite inside? Rent-free.”

And, almost automatically, I began my new, spiritual practice of metta, also known as loving-kindness meditation:  And since 3AM anxiety also means a pounding heart, I began with myself: “May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I live with ease.” Then, after my anxiety lessened and my heart rate improved, I moved on to all the people who’d stood in long lines to vote over the past month. “May you be safe. May you . . . ” I moved on to all who were awake. And then to those who were asleep. (Did you sense this, dear Reader?)

And gradually, as it always does if I do this long enough, my silent mediation produced waves of Love. (A neurologist would probably say that’s the dopamine kicking in.) And I went back to sleep.

 

 

Slough of Despond

Is it slew? Is it slahw-rhymes with cow? Does it matter? No. What matters, Pilgrim, is that you and I stay in this desolate place for a while. We need to spend some time here in this dark, crushing depression. We need to open our hearts to desolation, to intense sadness. We are being called to truly feel this despondency.

While here, you are allowed to wail, “How could seventy million people vote for that despicable man?!” You are allowed to cry out, “I can’t believe this!” If you dare to— this will be very painful, Pilgrim—you may even snicker at the you of last week who’d actually believed that this election would repudiate Trump. Racism. White supremacy. Greed. Blatant self-interest. So go ahead, Pilgrim. Rant and rail as much as you want. Do whatever you need to do to get ready.

Because Pilgrim? We have a problem. It’s fundamental: we Americans share a devastating history. That is an irrefutable fact.   

So when you are ready to move on, when you are ready to take a good, careful look at that history, which so much shaped this election, when you are ready to ask, “What am I called to do to help heal my broken country?” let Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson guide your first steps.

May I join you, Pilgrim? May we stumble forward together?