The Magical Spice of the Gingerbread House

Perhaps the real spice in ginger is its magic, similar to the sparkle more in evidence this time of year than during other seasons. Resembling ginger’s spice, there is a warming of hearts and sometimes, even the healing of them. Of course, that’s where the magic is.

Ginger, and in particular gingerbread, has been associated with Christmas since the 17th century when gingerbread became a popular art form across Europe. It was in the 1800s when the Germans began baking and building gingerbread (lebkuchen) houses.

Hansel 1214The popularity of these houses coincided with the publication of a Grimm’s fairytale about “Hansel and Gretel,” two children who could not resist eating a gingerbread house. Very few people ever have, young or old.

Gingerbread houses are still associated with the holidays, a remembrance of one way the magic is celebrated. After all, gingerbread houses have their own kind of magic, rather like the hearts of children in any season but during Christmas, well….

You can see it in their eyes every day of the season, reflected in the soft glow of colored lights, mirrored in the round, red baubles hanging from the branch of a Christmas tree.

If you are fortunate enough to catch a child’s image in a bulb, you might also look more closely into what the ornament reveals for you. It is not as if the magic excludes.

It is as if we are once again that child in stolen moments wondering just what awaits us. Perhaps wishing for a certain gift or just being dazzled by the sparkle of everywhere we look. The scent of the freshly cut tree, an aroma reserved for one time of year only.

As an adult I may be mostly Buddhist but I delight in remembering the Christmases of holiday seasons past. Also, IGretel 1214 am almost child-like in enjoying the wonders of this giving season, be it gingerbread houses or their creators with their works in progress.

For me, there is no greater love than in the eyes of these two children, my great-niece and great-nephew. In their home, they carry on their family tradition of celebrating Christmas. They share it with me—some 2,000 miles away—courtesy of their grandmother’s love—and her camera.

The Artist 1214Every time I look at these photos, it is Christmas.

And yes, there is my naïve hope that the heart of the giving season—the magic that the heart of a child knows—will stay as the heart of the world this year and not be boxed up with the shiny bulbs and colored lights.

We can hold onto the spirit of the season—there is no need to keep it locked away for another year—its spice will sustain us, heal us like the ginger so necessary for a gingerbread house.

The spirit opens our hearts in ways we find difficult—even impossible–during other seasons. Increasingly, we are weary of the shininess of the season yet we thrill to the glow of colored lights, imagining lives behind windows in gingerbread houses, as if magic only lived in the imagination.

It does not. It lives within our hearts.

Any child can remind us on any day. It is for us to return to a moment in our lives–maybe it’s Christmas or maybe it’s not–when we believed in magic, the spice that heals.

Gingerbread houses 1214

 

If We Learn to Read Hearts

There is one gift appropriate in any season or on any occasion. It is the gift of relationship. After all, we are always in relationship, one of the many miracles we experience every day.

Most miracles have a certain sparkle, and relationship is no exception. Eckhart Tolle says in this amazing miracle “ultimately, you are not a person but a focal point where the universe is becoming conscious of itself.”

Here we are, having this remarkable experience as human beings, born with this and without that but physically each of us travels the life cycle from two major states, birth and death. What happens in-between those two events is the unique, individual experience of you and me.

It is not as if we reside in existence, it is that we are existence having these individual experiences. And it is not just about humans, either. It’s everything we can imagine and all we cannot.

The flower is aware of the fact that it contains everything within it, the whole cosmos, and it does not try to become something else.

Thich Nhat Hanh

No matter how many ways I write about relationship or how many quotes I find, I am astounded by the reality of always being in relationship. Often, its immensity is beyond my grasp.

I look to the elephant as the creature that most embodies relationship.

Elephants define family beyond any words we have ever written. For elephants, relationship is forever, absolutely essential to life and not broken with death. Elephants remember their dead, travelling miles to visit graveyards.

It seems a miracle that elephants maintain this richness of relationship as they come closer and closer to extinction. Yet, these loving and compassionate beings know what we have not learned: they are always in relationship for everywhere they go, there they are.

“They can read your heart” are the words of Daphne Sheldrick, a woman who has, for 50 years, given love and created family for orphaned elephants. It is the kind of story that always opens our hearts—giving season or no—sometimes, we donate to such a cause but what of learning to read hearts?

Not living as separate from existence but as existence experiencing itself is learning to read each other’s heart. Like the elephants, we must have the physical touch, comfort, and compassion of family—no matter how family is defined.

We must learn to read hearts so that when family is lost, family is created again, and we are not orphans. We have role models such as Daphne Sheldrick. We need not be orphans. We need only to read hearts.

Note: This writer and this blog thank Zen Flash for the post and video on Daphne Sheldrick and the orphan elephants.

Reading Both Sides of the Label

The giving season 1014
It is the “giving season,” wrapped gifts are tagged to identify who is receiving and who is giving. These labels tell us that we are thought of, sometimes in a way that surprises and, unwittingly, may separate us.

Labels do exclude as well as identify—they play a necessary part in our lives—sometimes, we come to rely on a label as finite when in reality, it is not.

This labeling of life as a known quantity is easy to do. Some labels last a lifetime.

If the doors of perception were cleansed
every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.
For man has closed himself up, till he sees
all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.

William Blake
(“The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”)

For most of my life, I did not appreciate there are two sides to any label, much like the dark and light wolves that live within us. Just as both wolves require feeding, both sides of any label balance the life experience.

Lone tree 1014It is not merely a matter of turning over the label—that is sleight of hand, yet another illusion—it is in the turning transformation occurs. The unknown emerges as the known fades.

Right now, my health is somewhere in-between what always has been and what has not been. I do not know what the other side of my chronic disease label may reveal.

It seems fair to say it is still a blank. It is also more than fair to say I am a bit befuddled but just as intensely curious. Amazingly, I seem rather patient, something I am not, usually.

Wear a label long enough, and it is how the mind wends its way. If the mind—the head–leads the heart long enough it will grow silent, aware it cannot be heard.

What matters lives,

Hidden or not,

Within us

So that when the right words come

We recognize them as something

We tried to say but did not know how.

Fanny Howe
(The Wedding Dress: Meditations on Word and Life, “White Lines,” P. 70)

Let me give you the right words that came to me as I began to peel back the label of chronic disease: I am no longer waiting to die; I am creating a life new to me.

The choice between no longer waiting to die and creating a life is not an obvious one. There is a chasm, decades deep, between the two sides of this life label. Grief is what bridges them.

I grieve for my life of chronic illness that consumed all of my middle age and most of my youth. I have to grieve soRock and Hard place 1014 I stop trying to regain health that was possible only in the years then but is not in the years I have now.

“People wait until nothing else works,” is what my acupuncture physician told me. Yes, it was only when I believed I had nothing to lose that I was able to lose the label of a lifetime.

Who knows what life will emerge. What I do know is that it has not been nor is it about what I might gain. There is no desire to wrap up this gift and slap a label on it. As it is given, so is it received.

An Unconditional Life for all Seasons: A Remembrance

Cooper Birthday 12; KMHuberImageAutumn is my favorite time of year, and when Thanksgiving is all but-on-the-doorstep of December, I begin my review of the year in preparation for a final toast on December 31.

This time in-between, for me, is one of reflection, a time of note writing or even a phone call just to say, “I am thinking of you.” Being thoughtful and having compassion for all sentient beings is peace on earth regardless of the season.

I remind myself of that every year but this year, the memory of Thanksgiving of 2012 with beagle Cooper James loomed large. Longtime readers of this blog may remember our adventures together.

Mine is a mostly vegetarian home for I am mostly Buddhist. Yet, in 2012, I could not let go of the thought—even through meditation—that I needed to purchase a fresh turkey for Thanksgiving.

As is often the way with these nagging thoughts, it was not about a mostly vegetarian/Buddhist human purchasing a turkey. It was about canine Cooper being on turkey watch, his personal aroma therapy.

It would take me two years to make the connection.

Cooper was curious about life, always willing to explore, yet he had a respect for boundaries, especially when it came to human food. He had learned treats come from behavior that humans like.

He was a master of canine kitchen behavior; always, he waited until I left the room. I was grateful for the way Cooper kept the floor clean–I hated sweeping and mopping floors more than any other chores–Cooper seemed born to both.

Thus, Cooper on turkey watch was at a respectable distance from the oven door but in full view of every possible Cooper James; KMHuberImageangle of the kitchen. He quickly mastered the timing of turkey basting. His low, beagle keen was within minutes of the timer’s announcement.

From afar, he watched in complete contentment as I basted the turkey. It was as if he loved the aroma of anticipation as much as the turkey he knew would come his way. Cooper was in the moment, and it was one of his best.

Food was Cooper’s first love. I never minded playing second fiddle. He was not greedy in the way he ate or how much he consumed. For a beagle, he was remarkably patient.

He simply got through moments as they were presented to him, no matter how familiar or beloved the scent. He met each one as if it were for the first time. He lived with an enthusiasm I have not met again.

KMHuberimage; larch in autumnThe aroma of life is heady in itself for life is a banquet, and we need not starve ourselves with conditions or certain ways to partake of it. It need not always be set up like a Thanksgiving dinner eaten off plates used once a year.

The zest of life is in each new moment we have, whether it is the aroma or the actual bite of turkey, there need not be conditions or expectations.  We need merely experience the joy of the moment.

Cooper had an unconditional love for living life unconditionally. I do my best to remember this on all the days of these years I live without him.

His last Thanksgiving was that November 22, 2012, the year that some believed the world would end thirty days later. I was not among the believers. As an ever-present, sentient being, one day or forever were the same to Cooper. Cooper’s presence on this planet ended on the last day of 2012.

I do think of Cooper on New Year’s Eve but it is on Thanksgiving that the heady scent of Cooper’s memory wafts through my mind. And yes, there is the aroma of roasting turkey.

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A Kindness Note for All Seasons: The awesome August McLaughlin is hosting the first #SparkleFriday kindness event on November 28, Black Friday. Check out her blog post or RSVP the Facebook event page.

 

Monarch Moments in a Sunny Land

The Monarch Bush 1014

It is some weeks since I spent a morning among the monarch butterflies at St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge. On their way to Mexico to overwinter, the monarchs make a multi-generational trek of 3,000 miles in spring and fall.

It is in the sunny lands they survive.

It seems to take at least four generations of butterflies to complete the trek. Only the monarchs know when it is time to go and for that matter, where to go. Some monarchs live as long eight months but others only long enough to mate and to lay eggs—a life of two to six weeks.

Because the trek is multi-generational, how do the butterflies always know? That is the mystery of the monarch migration. Inadvertently, mystery may be the greatest asset the monarchs have as they struggle to survive as a species.

Humans love a mystery. Often, we will take steps to preserve what we “have not yet figured out.” Recently, the monarch migration attracted the attention of the Canadian, American, and Mexican governments.

Perhaps the uniqueness of the monarch migration—its mystery—will hold their attention span long enough to restore butterfly habitat, thereby helping other pollinators as well. Perhaps….

At St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge, there has been a Monarch Festival for 26 years but in 2014 there was worry as less than a handful had arrived–but the monarchs did not miss their festival—they showed up one day before it began.

Monarchs on the Water 1014

All these thoughts were mine as I sat among the monarchs—and that is almost literally true—for I was the lone human on a bench by the sea, next to bushes of butterflies. Gulf and sky were one shade of blue, shimmering in a sunny land.

Knock on the sky and listen to the sound!
Zen saying

In my moments with the monarchs, there seems no mystery, just a longing for sunny lands whether north or south. Neither the trek nor the distance matters. It is a migration for sunny lands, a yearning for survival, realizing that in order to arrive one must leave.

I watch the monarchs flock to saltbush, goldenrod and dotted horsemint bushes, diligent and methodical, trusting in the sun of this day as they spread their wings. They are on the move, after all.

He who binds to himself a joy

Does the winged life destroy

He who kisses the joy as it flies

Lives in eternity’s sunrise

(Eternity, William Blake)

So it is to knock on the sky and listen.

Postscript:

As I sat among the monarchs that day, the refrain of “Sunnyland,” a Hot Tamale original ballad, played in my mind. On one level, it is a song of the human desire to migrate to sunny lands but like the monarch mystery, it has other levels.

Within a week of my moments with monarchs, Meredith published the succinct, “Milkweed Meditation.” The milkweed is the monarchs’ favorite bush.

Finally, the initial count of monarch butterflies may be up this year, a first in a long time, and the migration mystery remains.

Seems I am on the Right Planet After All

I have never been fond of the practice of finishing someone else’s sentences. Memory reminds I am guilty of it but Just beginning 1014less so in later years. Of course, it depends on who’s having the conversation and the nature of their relationship.

Certainly, some topics lend themselves to a cooperative effort in constructing a conversation, sentence by sentence. Consider the combined effort of Pema Chödrön and Oprah Winfrey regarding suffering and impermanence:

Chödrön: “If you’re invested in security and certainty—

Winfrey: “Then you’re on the wrong planet.”*

Yes, indeed.

For me, in this sentence of combined effort is the essence of suffering. We invest in what is no longer possible, seeking a security in what once was. Pain, physical or emotional, comes, goes and will come again only to leave once more.

That we all know pain in our lives is part of the human experience but whether or not we suffer is up to us. In suffering, we hang onto a discontent, staying with a storyline because it is what we know, a trusted buffer.

Such buffers may just as easily blind rather than reveal. In these last two months, I have removed many blinders and buffers, once trusted tools, as I perceive physical pain with a perspective more consistent with the planet on which I live.

The needles of acupuncture, intent in balancing my Qi (energy), present my physical pain to me. Like the crescendo of a wave, the pain intensifies only to even out on the shore that awaits all waves.

These past eight weeks my physical pain has been high as my body awakens, attempting to return to a balance it has not known in decades.  The pain does not stay and it does return but each time the pain is its own new wave, and I, its waiting shore.

It is no longer a battle as I allow my body to do what it does best, repair itself. In fighting my pain I was fighting my body, trapped in the drama of battle, masking my pain as suffering.

on the right planet 1014More and more, I am convinced that all physical pain has an emotional component. It is not that the pain is emotionally created but emotion becomes the storyline of physical pain. Humans tend to respond to stories. We suffer if we stay with them rather than feel the pain.

It is the hardest thing I have ever done, and I don’t know where it will lead. I can tell you where I am right now–living a kind of health that I thought no longer possible. Some days feel like a setback but that is an old storyline of a moment past.

Whatever else, traditional Chinese medicine is affording me an opportunity, challenging as it is. It is not a panacea but hard work. This medicine–herbs, acupuncture and whole food—is helping me remove the ring of fear that surrounds my pain. I just do not suffer as I once did.

It feels as if I am completely rebalancing my life, emotionally and physically. Well, I am, at 62 after nearly four decades of disease. It is balance by moment.  I am definitely on the right planet.

Note: My dear readers, posts may continue to be a bit irregular for a while. To my fellow bloggers, I am quite behind in my reading but I am beginning to catch up. Thanks, everyone.

*Conversation on Super Soul Sunday, aired October 19, 2014.

 

The Eddying of Experiences

Seattle stars 012512

We are stardust—we know that—but as we are dust so are we energy. It is from this energy that we have a momentary experience as a human being, a blade of grass, or an armadillo.

And when we are no longer in this physical dimension, we remain energy, perhaps to know an experience in some other dimension or maybe to return for another physical life, leaving only our dust once again.

Our physical experience is unique to us—each of us has our own vibration—sometimes we’re a wave and other times, a particle.

Since subatomic matter makes up everything we can see and touch and experience in our macro world, then in a sense we—along with everything in our world—are also doing this disappearing act all the time. And so if subatomic particles exist in an infinite number of possible places simultaneously, then in some way so do we.

(You Are the Placebo: Making Your Mind Matter, Dr. Joe Dispenza, p. 183)

The quantum model is staggering with possibility, fascinating and even spellbinding, reality rooted in the pure energy we are. That’s the power of possibility, revealing that magic is real.

KMHuberImage; McCord Park; Tallahassee; Florida

I have always believed in magic, always sensed we had not yet grasped its true nature. For me, the quantum model is a magic carpet ride where the magic is the pure energy of life riding on reality, soaring and swooping, sometimes swirling.

The energy comprising the oneness of reality resembles a whirlpool as it “…fades out and the water passes on, perhaps to be caught again and turned for a moment into another whirlpool,” each its own eddy of experience (Charlotte Joko Beck).

Each whirlpool caught up in its own moment of existence yet ever connected to the energy of coming and going. Sometimes, we’re the  whirlpool, and other times, we’re a drop but always, we are the river.

There are many names and beliefs for the energy animating existence–God, the Universe, the Source. Each expression of this energy—as a human, as a blade of grass, as an armadillo–is a unique experience of life, a momentary whirlpool in the river that runs eternally.

When we learn to move beyond mistaken concepts and see clearly, we no longer solidify reality. We see waves coming and going, arising and passing. We see that life, composed of this mind and body, is in a state of continual, constant transformation and flux. There is always the possibility of radical change. Every moment – not just poetically or figuratively, but literally – every moment we are dying and being reborn, we and all of life.

~ Sharon Salzberg ~