Maintaining Moderation Requires Graceful Shifting

For me, moderation is elusive. I struggle for balance—the measure of moderation—at times, my struggling is painful.  When I become aware of pain, however, is when I cease suffering from it. I aim for even on the day I have rather than going in search of the day I want.

[When] balance comes of its own accord…

[it] has tremendous beauty and grace.

You have not forced it, it has simply come.

By moving gracefully to the left,

to the right, in the middle,

slowly a balance comes to you

because you remain so unidentified.

~Osho~

Osho’s words remind me of Michael Singer’s observer: “There is nothing more important to true growth than realizing that you are not the voice of the mind. You are the one who hears it” (The Untethered Soul).

I find his image of the observer quite helpful in finding the balance in any moment but especially in those where I am on the edge of right or dropping off far left.  As the observer, I have an immediate distance and thus, a broader perspective much like what happens in writing.

The thoughts are in my mind and with my fingers on the keyboard I search for consonants and vowels to create a physical representation of the thought.

The distance between the ever evolving thought and its concrete representation—the word(s)—moves me closer to the center. I am not identifying with the left or the right as I move to the center–not always with grace, I admit.

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That may be the overall process of moderation—each of us has our unique way with it—and at one time or another, we struggle with it. Why? We have to let go of what we have to receive what we are given. To me, that is the grace of moderation.

It means keeping the “big picture” in mind.  Whether we are discussing diet, climate change, or the world future generations will inherit. And that’s difficult to do. In terms of global issues, the big picture now looming is an ominous one.

In seeking a balance for a better world—finding moderation—we have to change the way we live, maybe even who we are. Balance—the measure of moderation—is a constant shift, an adjustment to the world as it currently exists. That will determine the world that is yet to come.

Often, the task feels overwhelming, especially if we anticipate a future we cannot know or gnash our teeth over a past that cannot be changed. All we have is the moment to gracefully move a little left or right to maintain our balance.

We begin with observing the life we know best–our own—ever aware of doing no harm to no thing, to no one. Then, we move gracefully to the right or to the left as life comes at us only to leave us. And when we leave, ultimately, both left and right are increased rather than diminished.

The Beauty of Being is the Truth of a Woman

This week, I am participating in August McLaughlin’s Beauty of a Woman Blog Fest (IV). It is an honor to support boaw-logo-2015-originalAugust in her tireless work to help women recognize how remarkably beautiful they are—just as they are.

The beauty of a woman is in her having the freedom to be who she is, free to evolve as the unique human she was born to be.

The unfolding of the beauty of a woman knows no barriers for it is within her body to give life, should she choose. In this, she is one with the earth.

Yet, the world of a woman is not equal in opportunity or access. That we still cannot find equanimity in the most basic difference between human beings—gender—speaks volumes about where we are and how far we have to go.

If we cannot equally support men and women in their pursuit of living their truth–and what else is beauty–how we can possibly eliminate the other labels that diminish each one of us?

We are one, each of us a unique thread, our own blend of beauty that is our moment in the tapestry of existence. That the beauty of a woman unfolds with all other human beings is the only opportunity she ever needs.

Perhaps beauty is the key to the door of equality that we cannot seem to unlock. Far too often beauty has been seen as a barrier rather than as an avenue to equanimity.

I died for beauty, but was scarce
Adjusted in the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.

He questioned softly why I failed?
“For beauty,” I replied.
“And I for truth, -the two are one;
We brethren are,” he said.

And so, as kinsmen met a night,
We talked between the rooms,
Until the moss had reached our lips,
And covered up our names.

~Emily Dickinson~

We are one in our humanness more than we are separate. Unique, yes, but we are not diminished by each other. Rather, we are truly increased. Our truth is our beauty—our path.

As of yet, we are not comfortable in our beauty so we cannot lie down with our truth. We are not yet on the path of equanimity but that we have not given up is to our credit.

To realize the full potential of humanity is to see the beauty in every woman as her truth, her unique contribution to the worldwide web of human beings.  There is no one path for everyone but for everyone there is a path.

Once you realize that the road is the goal and that you are always on the road, not to reach a goal, but to enjoy its beauty and its wisdom, life ceases to be a task and becomes natural and simple, in itself an ecstasy.

~ Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj ~

In the ecstasy of life lies equanimity.

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(The Blog Fest runs  through March 1, 2015. You can read other blog fest posts here. )

An Interlude…of Sorts

This post appears a bit late. It is an interlude of sorts–an interruption of my usual posting schedule—to revisit St. Mark's 0215some recent travel along the north coast of Florida, beginning the first weekend in February.

For me, the first weekend signals the promise of spring. If nothing else, this first weekend is the WHO festival–Wildlife Heritage and Outdoors–at one of my favorite places, St. Mark’s Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge.

Each year, spring’s promise seems a bit soggier and maybe even a bit colder but  my memory is less sharp. I always remember the previous spring as warmer but then, I seem to A Winter's Day 0215require warmer temperatures.

This year’s WHO festival kicked off a week of exploring. A dear friend had come to visit. It was a true vacation, our visit of north Florida, its Gulf coast, its rivers and an occasional inhabitant.

We enjoyed winter temperatures—I complained; she did not–but the promise of spring never left either one of us.

It is one of the many treasures of long friendships that in seeing new lands, old lands are remembered, different as each is. In the discovering, memory relays moments long forgotten. In the creation of new memories, the old is perhaps even more golden.

We grew up knowing rivers of the Rocky Mountains, clear and chatty, sometimes white in their rapids. In north Florida we visited blackwater rivers mostly, their own southern brew of organic acids and tannins.

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On a particularly brisk day we “went down upon” the Suwannee River; she is deep enough that steamboats once paddled her strong currents. In these days, wooden gliders afford the visitor a comfortable seat for reflection.

The Ochlockonee River (“yellow waters”) intersects with the Dead River, perhaps so named because its movement isWho Has My Back 0215 barely perceptible. Together, the two make their way to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Ochlockonee State River Park is one of the most pristine parks I have visited in Florida and is particularly rich in wildlife, some whose existence were unknown to me such as the white squirrel.

The “history” of the white squirrel is rich and varied, sometimes involving King Charles of Spain (1499) while other explanations are more scientific and involve gene mutation. We enjoyed all the brochure stories and went in search of the white squirrel.

After some time on our own, we decided to ask a park ranger. Memories of past searches reminded us we might not be in the right location but we were among the live oaks, prime squirrel territory regardless of color.

What we did not have was a bag of chips to shake. Yet, we are a resourceful duo and are not given to giving up. While I rested, my friend walked among the live oaks, crinkling a bit of cellophane from a tissue package.

It was only as we began to drive away that we spotted a bit of white at the base of a live oak. It did not move—we almost did—before it did. While the squirrel snacked on acorns— aware of our underwhelming presence—we worked with the digital overload of our cameras.

For me, focus is always a challenge. Mine is the “aim, shoot, and hope” philosophy of photography. That may be why I prefer shots of the sea for no matter where I focus, there is always a wave.

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On some days the Gulf chopped, white capping in stark contrast to its tannic underbelly. Near the lighthouse of St. Mark’s, spring seemed a distant promise.  Off the shores of St. George, a barrier island, the clear Gulf waters lazily made their way to shore as if to say spring is on its way in its own time—as always.

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On Monday, February 23, this blog is participating in the Beauty of a Woman BlogFest, which my next post will feature. On March 1, regular Sunday blog posts will return. For now, let’s enjoy the interlude.

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Testament of Friendship

The past ripples round me. It is a time of reflection—one last look—before I let go. In reflection is the unchanged past but looking through the eyes of the present, I am changed.

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Sometimes, it feels like we are not remembering as fully as we might those loved ones who have died. It is the nature of life to evolve, one experience after another, changing us as we learn to live with the love from loss.

We cling to our memories. Our reluctance in letting go is as physical as it is emotional. It is a mind and body hold. Our cells store the emotion of a memory, often as pain. In letting go of the emotion, we release pain. The cell is changed.

Our body and mind are what we eat and how we meet each moment we live. In letting go, it is not that we love less but that we love completely.

My recent blog posts have been awash in memory. One post was about finding anger long forgotten; the other remembered the Zen master who taught me acceptance. That the anger has been denied longer than acceptance learned does not surprise me.

Both posts lead me to this one as this week marks one year that my beloved friend died of endometrial cancer. Our friendship spanned more than half a century. We grew up in the Rocky Mountains and eventually we both moved east, she to the north and I to the south.

I still think of her as frequently as I did when she was alive. Often, I have to remind myself there are no more conversations for us. I search my memory for the conversations we did have. They are a comfort and sometimes, I learn something new.

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I was not able to be at the celebration of her life service but her partner sent me a DVD of images and music that completely capture her life. I have lost count of the number of times I have watched it, especially in the early months.

Always, I stop the DVD at one particular image. It is a long quotation, in her handwriting, regarding friendship. It is the opening and ending sentences that stay with me. It opens as:

Never cast aside your friends if by any possibility you can retain them. We are the weakest of spendthrifts if we let one friend drop off through inattention, or let one push away another, or if we hold aloof from one for petty jealousy, or heedless slights or roughness….

This was not how she talked but it is how she lived. It took me a while to locate a source for the quote. The words have changed a bit over the centuries—language evolves with us–but the meaning is unchanged.

We accept our shortcomings and our strengths, knowing that sometimes one becomes the other. We lean less on distinctions and more on acceptance.

And while I never knew the quote before Maurya’s death, it is what I have now, a testament of friendship for the life I still have to live, as the closing line of the quote reminds me:

It is easy to lose a friend but a new one will not come for the calling nor make up for the old one.

(Mother’s Magazine)

I do not know that she ever lost a friend. And yes, the diversity of her friendships is a rich legacy. I am changed by her death but more so by the way she lived. I hold close this testament of friendship for the years left to me, for the life I have yet to know.

We meet today.
We will meet again tomorrow.
We will meet at the source every moment.
We meet each other in all forms of life.

Thich Nhat Hanh

In letting go, I find forever.

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Learning Zen from a Beagle

Humans have to work at equanimity for often there is a well-established mindset that stifles openness. Mindset often closes the door on mindfulness. There is, however, an enviable equanimity—evenness—that we associate with dogs. They can meet a moment with all they have and let it go.

If you can sit quietly after difficult news; if in financial downturns you remain perfectly calm; if you can see your neighbors travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy; if you can happily eat whatever is put on your plate; if you can fall asleep after a day of running around without a drink or a pill; if you can always find contentment just where you are:

you are probably a dog.

Jack Kornfield

 A Lamp in the Darkness: Illuminating the Path Through Difficult Times

My mindset in reading the Kornfield quote was, “Great! A pithy, Zen quote about how to meet difficult moments.” Well, it is and it is not—such is the nature of Zen. Mostly, however, I thought of a dog named Gumby.

First Days 0708A beagle mix–maybe dachshund, maybe rat terrier, maybe neither–Gumby was mostly black and tan with a bit of white on her chest. Long-legged yet petite.

I was thinking of the evening when diabetes claimed her sight. We were on our walk with Gumby determining our route, as always.

In an instant, her long legs searched wildly for the sidewalk that seemed to have disappeared. Yet, she did not stop but kept going until she found her stride again.

That evening and every walk thereafter, she decided our route by beagling– scent memory.  She walked me miles—some days as many as five—I followed, trusting her to take us where we needed to go.

Blind but completely present, Gumby walked me into the world so I could see it as it is. It was not the world I wanted but it was the world we were in. We walked, every day and every night for two-and-a-half years.

We even appeared on the evening news as concerned residents regarding a dangerous cross walk. Gumby’s blindness went unremarked. Few ever noticed she was mostly blind, unless they looked directly into her clouded eyes. And even then, who could be sure?  Gumby remembered 011812

But if any light ever entered her eyes it was in listening to Puccini’s La Boheme. Whether it was a “Live at the Met” radio performance on a Saturday afternoon or from a CD, we sat through all four acts together every time.

She came to me as an older dog with few teeth—hence the name, Gumby–I never knew the origin of her love for classical music or opera.  It ceased to matter how she had once lived before her life with me.

She taught me to meet the moment with whatever I happen to have wherever I might happen to be. She took me many miles through many difficult moments. Years later, I am changed and unchanged.

I still sit through all four acts of La Boheme, completely present in its story, as if for the first time. It was my favorite opera before I knew Gumby but now each performance is a new experience. Was it her favorite opera? That has ceased to matter as well. It was the only opera in which we sat together in meditative stillness.

Mindset comes from experience, our memory of a time past. But sometimes, with enough time and space, we can reflect on difficult moments, returning to the unchanged as the changed being we are.

I took her beagling. She taught me Zen.

 

What the Heart Reveals in a Beat

“I feel your anger in your pulse.”

Yet again my acupuncture physician revealed my heart to me. Immediately, she ignored my statement of “I’m okay” and began listening to my pulse.  She always seems to know when to dismiss my words for what my heart has to say.

It is not that I am being deliberately dishonest. My mind says I am fine but as Dr. Gold keeps reminding me, the pulse of my body–my heart—reveals the truth, no matter what that may feel like.

This time Dr. Gold showed me how to feel the anger in my pulse. I was stunned at feeling this bubble, this thickened middle of a single beat. I remember my mind flashing the word “sadness” but I focused only on the beat of my heart.

Currently, my life is one of movement, so much stirring and shifting physically and emotionally. It is exciting, this palpable energy I am discovering through traditional Chinese medicine, this literal listening to the beat of my heart.

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I feel as if I am sitting with a trusted friend for I am. It is a friend that allows my mind to reflect on but not to linger in what has passed. It is a lifeline for revisiting anger.

This broadening of the beat of my heart takes me first to the movie, Selma, and then to 1965 as I remember it. That August I would change labels—no longer just a child but now a teenager as well.

The Beatles had already arrived. The Civil Rights Act had passed. Lyndon Johnson had been elected president by the largest landslide in history. Martin Luther King recently received the Nobel Peace prize.

But what the movie Selma awakened in me was the feeling of that time.  Even in the sparsely populated, high-plains desert of Wyoming, it was obvious momentous change was on the horizon.

For all Americans this energy would explode into their living rooms mostly on black and white television screens for it was an anger of black and white.

The heartbeat of the Civil Rights movement was palpable after just one moment of watching televised events in Selma and the subsequent protests. It was energy, it was hope, and ultimately, it became a movement for all faiths and for all races as the five-day March on Montgomery would show the world.

There was a belief that we would overcome. And the fact that President Johnson used those very words in his televised speech on the Voting Rights Act shocked many and angered some.

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Fifty years later, we still fall short but ”tolerance, like any aspect of peace, is forever a work in progress, never completed, and if we’re as intelligent as we like to think we are, never abandoned” (Octavia Butler September 1, 2000 NPR interview with Scott Simon).

We may be struggling “to be the change we seek”—maybe that is the never-ending human struggle–sometimes a great cause and other times, a true movement.

Our world is now even smaller as we meet one another screen to screen on a daily basis—connected is the word bandied about—we are faced with all we are and are not. We are a work in progress, ever in motion.

For a moment, we can reflect on but not bring forward the hope of another time. We move along with the real pulse of life all around us, a collective heartbeat. And if we are angry, that is our pulse. It is our truth.

What if we all learn to listen to the heartbeat of our anger? It is more calming, this expanding of a heartbeat, than you may think for it is the truth of what one feels. In knowing the truth we find our way to compassion and possibly tolerance, once again taking up the banner of believing we will overcome.

What kind of world might be possible if we turn to our hearts for the truth, for the real pulse of our lives? Are we intelligent enough to try?

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Note: Tom Michael, who walked the miles from Selma to Montgomery, writes a thoughtful and powerful essay on that time. You will find it here.

Monarch Meditations on Butterfly Warriors

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It is just dark, the morning darkness that precedes every dawn, the stillness before the splash of the sun that becomes the light of day. This is the pause—the moment of stillness—before the stirring begins yet again.

Most mornings I immerse myself into the stillness—my meditative state I call it—for when I do, there is a shimmer to the day that seems to rub off onto me as well.

Yet, there are days upon leaving my sleep state that I am aware of a mind-body consensus considering “what if we just rest today” and not really awaken. Mind knows that skipping meditation means body will not have to stretch itself with yoga.

There is a cascade of memories—perfect in their replaying of such lazy pleasure—of what past days of rest have meant: comfort food, marathon movie watching, binge reading.

It is the escape offered to the day at hand. Almost always, I decline the escape route. But every time I do, there is an acknowledged appreciation for what that escape once meant. It remains an old friend rarely visited.

Instead, I sit and remember the warrior monarch butterfly, a true bodhisattva and a welcome memory on the mornings I hesitate to meditate. The complete metamorphosis of the butterfly reminds me why I meet each day I am given.

It is the butterfly who gives up one way of life after another—each stage fraught with life-ending possibilities—for to fly is to know the freedom of walking on air. From the stillness of the larva the caterpillar stirs to its search for sustenance, consuming one leaf after another.

There is a reward for all this eating, and it is not one of rest but rather it is the spinning of a pupa—the chrysalis—a chamber of life as tissue, limbs, and organs of a body that once crawled become a body that now flies.

No new life emerges until the old is transformed into what is necessary for the life that awaits.

And for the monarch warriors, there is a 2,500-mile migration critical to its survival, a quest that relies not on individual warrior monarchs but on all monarch warriors living their lives to ensure the species.

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The monarch warrior moves through one form of life after another without wondering about the ways of existence. Such consideration falls within the realm of the human species.

We yearn to be like the monarchs, warriors working together, not singularly, to ensure our species survival. We might ache for metamorphosis but we do not easily let go of our accumulated experiences, especially those that seem to require so much of us.

“We don’t want to go through that again,” we say, which we won’t, of course, not exactly. Perhaps the monarch warrior does know this.

We want to spread our wings without changing who we are. We are agreeable to making necessary changes—an adjustment of our very being—as long as we are allowed to keep what is most dear.

We may not be as fearless or as selfless as the warrior monarch but we are just as connected to existence. We are born with the capacity for complexity rather than the singularity of purpose of the warrior monarch.

I have to wonder just what the warrior monarch might know for it is my nature to wonder. And so I do. On most mornings in the stillness before the stirring begins yet again.