The Light in Our Stars

Single movin' 0614It is the second day of summer in the northern hemisphere, June 22nd, the first day when the amount of sunlight no longer increases for the longest day of 2014, the summer solstice, has passed.   

In what will seem no time at all—just a jumble of days and nights—it will be the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, followed by December 22, the first day the amount of daylight no longer decreases.

The seasons cycle as does all life on the physical plane. Some pass away and others remain longer. It is love that sustains the coming and going of life.   

I made the above notes in my journal while I was at Waverly the afternoon of June 22nd. This is the first summer my dear friend, Maurya, is not here, having died this past winter. It is a lifelong habit, this marking of seasons and remembering love given and received.

It is my way of accepting that all pass away, as will I someday, and remembering that love is beyond time, form, or condition. One need only look to the light in the stars or to the shimmering light of the sun on a pond to see love expressed over and over as life.

And on this June 22nd there was something else occurring, a gathering of cyclists and walkers at 2 p.m. on the Charles River in Massachusetts. The event was Movin’ for Maurya, another celebration of her life and a fundraiser for endometrial cancer research.

Those unable to be in Massachusetts went to places they walked or cycled with Maurya or to places she knew only through pictures or conversation. Wherever we gathered, the memories of Maurya were many and rich in the equanimity and compassion that flowed so gently, so easily from her.

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Each friendship was unique to her, treasured and nurtured. To have known such love in a lifetime is to feel invincible, awash in waves of unconditional love. On many occasions it has nearly brought me to my knees for the sheer wonder of it.

And for me, not surprisingly, it is at Waverly that Maurya seems so near, although she knew Waverly only through the pictures and posts on this blog. But then, Waverly is like stepping out of time and into the endless energy of existence.

We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.
~Thich Nhat Hanh~

The oneness of existence is beyond this body, this I that experiences life on the physical plane, one of seamless sensations, boundless as the breeze upon my face. On this physical plane love announces itself as sight and sound, as touch and taste, a heady aroma this experience of existence.

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It is just after 2 p.m. when the goslings and their parents slip into the waters of Waverly as I look to the northeast and to the Charles River. Endless existence washes over me in waves of gratitude that is no less than the light in the stars.

On some nights, it seems the stars wink in recognition. Perhaps they do for one day I, too, will be among the energy of existence as are those who I loved and who loved me during our shared experience on the physical plane.

Occasionally, I have thought our time together too brief but then I remember that I am not separate but one with existence beyond form, dimension or condition. I look to the light in the stars and sometimes, I wink back.

The First Peace in Relationship is Life Anew

This past Monday, feline EmmaRose and I experienced the imperative inherent in impermanence. One being can never know another completely, which is as it should be. The richness of relationship, its mystery, keeps us curious and often, in awe.

In her sun 0413As a cat, EmmaRose is ever present. Routine is her preference for that means food and shelter—her sense of security—is not threatened.  For the three and a half years she has lived with me not even the furniture has been rearranged. It seems she appreciated this more than I knew.

We spend most of our time in the bedroom, which doubles as my work area. I work from an adjustable Tempurpedic bed complete with laptop and bed table. EmmaRose is quite partial to sleeping on the Internet router, especially in winter, or near/on my lap while I write.

Our living room has never had much furniture. There is still a lovely antique, wooden rocker with a padded seat. It is more comfortable than it looks. Also, there is a large, rust-colored ottoman suitable for human and feline window gazing.

There WAS a twin bed box springs and mattress that I tried to disguise as a sofa-daybed. For me it was ugly, uncomfortable, an unpleasant reminder of another time. From time to time, however, I would find EmmaRose curled up and asleep on it.

That I regularly removed accumulated cat hair from its quilt cover should have told me that this was a nocturnal sleeping place. Did we not once watch a possum in moonlight from the sofa-daybed?

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In hindsight, it is obvious that a good deal on a used loveseat and recliner changed our relationship. In fact, EmmaRose seemed to sense imminent change the moment we heard the knock on our front door.

She did not watch the daybed leave the apartment, preferring the familiarity of the bedroom to wait for the moving in and moving out to cease. Only then did she return to the living room.

Although she is only five and a half pounds, she has an immense presence, especially when she communicates. We don’t focus on the actual meow or word. Rather, we pay attention to tone, and her feelings regarding the loveseat and recliner were quite clear.

Here we were in the reality of impermanence. The known furniture was gone and the unknown leather furniture was here. Accepting loss precedes learning to live with what is. Becoming once again secure in one’s world is unique to each being–there is no set amount of time.

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We can immerse ourselves into the newness of our world or we can skirt the change for awhile. Regardless, it is up to us to seek that first peace so integral to relationship, which is precisely what EmmaRose did three days and four nights later.

It was during the opalescent hours, as one day becomes another, that EmmaRose beckoned me to the loveseat for window gazing. In the light of the waning crescent moon, I glimpsed an occasional firefly but soon the purr of EmmaRose brought me, too, to sleep.

 

No Separation of Space and Time Here

I do not remember ever distinguishing the dimensions of space—length, depth, width, breadth, height—from time. Edgar Allan Poe, H.G. Wells, and even Marcel Proust wrote of space and time as one. I came late to the word space-time (or spacetime) but not to the concept, not really.

For me, space-time has always been more about mindfulness, paying attention to the details of life as they unfold. The space of a moment is a combination of any three of the spatial dimensions–width, depth, breadth, length, or height. Its time is its unfolding as a scene in life. It is as if each moment has four dimensions, a trio of space in time, 3+1.
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Space-time gives me a better sense of the present as a bridge between the past and the future. The present provides open-ended access to both yet serves as a reminder that the only time we actually live is now.

Having access to the past and to the future is not the same as being in either for we are always only in the present. Yet, it is in paying attention to the details of our lives as they unfold that provides the access to both the past and to the future.

If being completely immersed in the moment reminds us of a similar scenario, that past moment might flash through the mind. It usually does for me. In that flash of familiarity, I have accessed the immutable past but the present scene is of its own unfolding. The scenes are similar but not the same.

Awareness also seems to color the future. Sometimes, I wonder whether or not awareness is the source of infinite possibilities. When we are truly present maybe we are stockpiling for our future; perhaps by minding the details of the present, we provide options for the future.

It is tempting to try to re-create the past as well as frame the future, as if either were possible. Neither is. I know. I have tried. The present is all there ever is and to ignore it is like separating space from time, something I cannot do.

After all, everywhere I go, there I am. I might as well be who I am in the moment that I am.

The Well of Compassion is Full of Emotion

When we get to the core of any emotion, even anger, we discover a wakeful energy free of drama, unattached to any situation. We have come to the well of compassion into which all emotion empties eventually. No longer do we thirst for we drink what we once found undrinkable.

It is a story we relive all our lives.

Immersed in our own drama, we exhibit behaviors to hide the heart of our anger. It is only when we strip away the story we have told ourselves—perhaps for years—that we discover the core of our anger. Once revealed, we empty ourselves, slaking our thirst with a cup of compassion.
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Not surprisingly, I am thinking of a story about the Buddha and an angry, young man. As the Buddha was walking through a village, he was approached by a young man who screamed at him. He taunted the Buddha, calling him stupid and a fake. The Buddha, the young man declared, had no right to teach anybody anything.

The Buddha quietly considered the young man before asking him a question. “’Tell me, if you buy a gift for someone, and that person does not take it, to whom does the gift belong?’”*

The question was not what the young man expected, and he readily replied, “’It would belong to me, because I bought the gift.’*

“The Buddha smiled and said, `That is correct. And it is exactly the same with your anger. If you become angry with me and I do not get insulted, then the anger falls back on you. You are then the only one who becomes unhappy, not me. All you have done is hurt yourself.’”*

That the Buddha did not react to the young man is anticipated yet in not accepting one gift, the Buddha offered another, the compassionate response: “If you want to stop hurting yourself, you must get rid of your anger and become loving instead. When you hate others, you yourself become unhappy. But when you love others, everyone is happy.”*

The story ends with the young man giving up his anger and deciding to follow the Buddha. Stories are illustrative, sometimes metaphorical, but always they enrich our lives with what is possible. Compassion is always an option, which is not to say it is an easy response. Anger confines, love expands—our choice.

Anger is not easily eschewed either, whether it comes from within or whether it is offered to us. Like love, anger has survived and evolved with us. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche observed: “Meeting anger with anger is like following a lunatic who jumps off a cliff. Do I have to go likewise? While it’s crazy for him to act the way he does, it’s even crazier for me to do the same.”**

In the 21st century, opportunities abound as daily we crisscross our planet and the paths of others. Each meeting is an opportunity to drink a cup of compassion or to go crazy with the craziness.

*Buddha and the Angry Young Man

**Reacting With Anger

Love Lives In Inconvenient Places

Love lives in places and ways often missed for love only needs an open heart to thrive. Such is the story of Harriet and Hal, a human and a Chihuahua.

They shared food and constant companionship as they spent their days in a well-worn, overstuffed recliner not far from a medium-sized, flat-screen television. Sometimes they watched current events and other times they just left the television on “for the noise.”

They did not care for quiet so when they tired of the background noise, they talked to each other. Hal seemed to take sound seriously. When they walked outdoors, Hal greeted neighbors with a steady stream of squeaks and yips that had a lower and upper register. He always had a lot to say. Harriet translated, if she felt it necessary.

Harriet is older, mid-70s, and Hal was in the middle of his eighth year. He put on weight but Harriet did not. Her health is in decline—congestive heart failure and significant vascular issues—she is a smoker, although she has tried to stop and prays every day she will.  Other than a steady increase in weight, Hal’s health was remarkably good.

Harriet often worried that Hal might outlive her. From time to time, she would formulate a plan to provide for Hal but each idea faded. She seemed to recognize their way of life was unique to them. It was as if she decided she would just have to outlive Hal. And so she has.Clarity in the wild 0413

On the second day in October, Hal’s health went into decline. Like Harriet, he developed congestive heart failure and there was fluid in his lungs; then, he had trouble walking and finally, could no longer stand.

Harriet rearranged their lives as best as she was able, including securing a new veterinarian who makes house calls. Hal did spend just over 24 hours at the animal hospital but his need for Harriet was greater than his need for better nutrition, a smoke-free environment or medical care.

Upon Hal’s return home, he yipped and squeaked until he had told Harriet all he had to say. They spent their last night together in their chair with Harriet doing most of the talking. The next day, Harriet held him in her arms as he died.

In Hal’s last two weeks I was a part of their world more than I had ever been for we only saw each other in the way that neighbors do these days, fleetingly. I was aware and not aware of how they lived.

Once inside their home, I struggled to keep judgment at bay. At times, my compassion left me, and I should have followed. I was trying to change the outcome as well as the story line, neither of which was mine to do.

It was only in embracing the pain of two friends saying goodbye–living as they had always lived—that I was able to help them, which is all they had asked. In letting go, another way of living began.

We are pure awareness experiencing life in all its appearances. In breaking open, all the labels and judgments spill out, leaving only the raw, pure energy of being alive. It is then we touch what is deepest in us and extend it to another.

This month’s Bloggers for Peace considers the challenge of embracing life as it is when everything in your being resists. Harriet and Hal showed me one way.forpeace6

Other Bloggers for Peace Posts:

Chronicles of a Public Transit User

Faith Fusion

A Quiet Prayer of Thanks

Life Churns for Everyone so Why Swirl With the I?

As Pema Chodron says, “there is no way to make a dreadful situation pretty.” Often, I find myself searching for language that removes the dualistic labels of good or bad, happy or sad. For me, writing makes this somewhat easier for it affords a pause, whereas in conversation, I tend to forget the gap between thoughts and even my breathing is shallow.

These past few weeks have been full of opportunities for me to “make a big deal” out of situations or to remember that the underlying emotion of my experience is what every other human being feels at one time or another. Remembering that we are all in this together reminds me of what I have in common with all sentient beings.

My specific moments are unique to me yet woven into the undulating life “web that has no weaver.”* One week it was a car mishap and the next moment it was a family member facing a life-threatening situation. The illness was not entirely unexpected, unlike the car incident, yet both provided a life-changing moment. Life churned.

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The car is repaired but the loved one’s recovery remains uncertain. The human body, our personal vehicle, endures a life of dents, and occasionally, broken parts. We heal or get replacements but I suspect the heart and mind–and in that order–have more to do with longevity than repairs to the physical body.

Regardless of the wearing out/replacing of parts, all are allowed a life, a length of time known to none but allotted to each. The not knowing churns the emotional pool within each of us. Whether we choose to immerse ourselves in the eddies of emotion or await the stillness that comes with reflection is the ongoing dilemma.

“Like water which can clearly mirror the sky and the trees only so long as its surface is undisturbed, the mind can only reflect the true image of the Self when it is tranquil and wholly relaxed” (Indira Devi).

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KMHuberImages

Initially, I swirl within the emotional eddies more than I sit in reflective pause yet I know it is the motion that separates me from everyone else. The swirling, downward spiral isolates me in my own pain, unaware that my pain is what connects me to humanity.

“Shantideva said that since all sentient beings suffer from strong, conflicting emotions, and all sentient beings get what they don’t want and can’t hold on to what they do want, and all sentient beings have physical distress, why am I making such a big deal about just me? Since we’re all in this together, why am I making such a big deal about myself?” (Pema Chodron).**

Until we see in ourselves those emotions that we so readily assign to everyone else, we cannot pull ourselves out of our own pain to reflect on the pain that connects us all. In recognizing the human bond, we come to reflect on what is common to all.

We must dive deep to sit at the still waters of our own existence to reflect upon the life force that binds us all.

A personal note: As of this writing, my family member’s recovery continues to be remarkable as well as inspirational.

Text Notes:

*This phrase is from the title of Ted Kaptchuk’s thorough book, The Web That Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine. I highly recommend it.

**Omega Institute is offering another online workshop with Pema Chodron on October 25-27 with early bird pricing. The event is sold out for anyone wishing to attend in person. Click here for more information.

The Wisdom in Compassion, a Matter of Nuance

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The practice of compassion requires considerable courage, for the way of compassion is living an active life amongst all beings. Practicing compassion means we trust ourselves enough to connect to life completely, making ourselves vulnerable, a daring in its own right.  Such is the wisdom of compassion.

Compassion (Late Latin: com=”together” + pati “to suffer”) offers us a perspective on suffering. Its etymology—the peeling back of the layers of its life—reveals its nuance, allowing us a peek into its past. Much of the mystery of life lies in such nuance.

The practice of compassion is a commitment to connect with the suffering of all beings, including those we do not like. Connecting is not condoning but rather a revealing of the nuance inherent in every being. “It involves learning to relax in allowing ourselves to move gently toward what scares us” (Chodron).

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Moving toward what scares us allows us to soften rather than harden, to open to options previously hidden from view. In acknowledging that all suffer, we recognize that all know pain in its various guises. Suffering reveals our connection to all beings.

In practicing compassion, especially when to do so challenges us to our core, we appreciate the pain of other people. The nuance is in recognizing the suffering without judging the behavior. In this coming together with those who suffer— the etymology of compassion—we glean the wisdom inherent in living such a life.

Dr. Grace Damman terms this as the aligning of compassion with wisdom: “What I mean is that when I am served by other people who are driven by their own standards of excellence, and not by the demands of my ‘whiny self,’ then I am best served by them.” It is what she discovered in her recovery from a serious car accident, a truly vulnerable state.

In reaching for the wisdom within compassion, our perspective broadens, leaving us less susceptible to shenpa or getting hooked by our emotions. When we are hooked, we soar with our neuroses, oblivious to objectivity. We sever our connection with all beings, hearing only our own demands, our own needs.

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The churning of our emotions slips us into solitary confinement with our suffering, devoid of compassion. We sharpen our selves, harden our hearts to resist what scares us–creating the classic boomerang effect—the life of the infinite loop.

When we finally stop and peel back the layers of our pain, we open up to compassion, softening into the realization that all suffer. We connect to the nuance of life. The practice of compassion is not for the faint of heart but for warriors—bodhisattvas—who trust their vulnerability, for they know it is their connection to the wisdom of existence.

“We cultivate bravery through making aspirations. We make the wish that all beings, including ourselves and those we dislike, be free of suffering and the root of suffering” (Chodron).

Such is the way of a life of compassion.

After Silence, Music Expresses it Best

The power of music was the Bloggers for Peace challenge for August. It brought to mind Aldous Huxley: “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”
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Throughout the history of humanity, music has permeated barriers often considered impenetrable. Music unites continents, as the deeds of humanity are recounted in song. Human existence is the song of the ages written across bars of hope and measures of peace.

From Paleolithic time onward, every major tradition—Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Taoism Tao, Hinduism—embraced song as one way to reveal the stories of human existence. Combining music and story, each of the major traditions expressed compassion for all in the community as a way of daily living. Similarly, each tradition warned of the pitfalls of hoarding riches and extolled the virtues of giving to the least among us.
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In each verse of the song of community, all give and all receive, the song of the ages expressing the inexpressible.

For many in my generation, “We Shall Overcome” was the song for civil rights for every American as well as every citizen of the world. We are still singing this song, still committed to overcoming what divides us in order to live with what unites us–peace. Globally, it is the melody of the human heart, expressing the inexpressible. Within its coda is the constant vigilance required for compassion and thus, for coexistence.

Peace is not passive but like compassion it is alive, an aria to overcome what we have yet to accomplish in twenty-one centuries: to live with one another in the harmony of acceptance sans the labels of race, creed, color or any dissonance that divides rather than unites.

Since we began composing the story of human existence, there have always been notes of hope. Perhaps the power of music and its ability to express what we cannot will one day lead us to a vigilant, vibrant life of peace and compassion.

It is and always has been to our great credit that we sing.

If memory serves, the video clip of Joan Baez singing “We Shall Overcome” is from the 1969 movie, Woodstock.  There was a time I would have recognized it immediately. Well, I still know all the words.

Other Bloggers for Peace Posts:

Grandmalin: The August Post for Peace

Rarasaur: One Little Candle Burning Bright

The Seeker:  Music That Will Make You Smile

Rohan Healy:  Alien Eyes

Electronic Bag Lady: Music and the Brain

The Mirror That is All of Us

What is it we see when we look into the mirror of humanity, the oneness that is all of us? We recognize traits in others because we know hints of them in ourselves. In our oneness, we are mirrors for each other, reflecting the world to all.
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There is a Sanskrit “great saying” or pronouncement from the Hindu Upanishads–Tat Tvam Asi–that is often translated as “you are that” or “that you are.”  Essentially, the idea is that each one of us is unique and our uniqueness is essential to the oneness of all existence.

Oneness never diminishes the individual but rather, each is part of the whole, occupying a unique space in a single moment of existence.  That is the gift of oneness, allowing us to mirror the world for one another. It is how we recognize ourselves.

If we celebrate our relationship to one another, our focus shifts to what connects us and not to what separates us. Imagine the possibilities in this 21st century. For the first time in the history of humanity, we have the technology to create global awareness one person at a time, the only way change is ever truly affected.

We live in a fractious and fearful world but our moment, our time is unique to us, just as it was for all who came before us. That seems to be the way of existence. Yet unlike previous generations, we are able to criss-cross the globe electronically, offering ourselves to relationships we would never know otherwise. Technology brings us closer to one another than we have ever been.
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It is not an opportunity that has come before, and perhaps it is not an opportunity that will come again. The world grows smaller as we grow closer to one another. “It is only by risking ourselves from one hour to another that we live at all” (William James). Such is existence.

Each moment is rife with infinite possibilities if we are aware, completely present to what is occurring, giving it our complete attention. In becoming more aware within ourselves, we let go of past ideals and future wishes to look into the mirror of what is, the present.

In the present, we recognize that we are always in relationship no matter where we are for we are always connected to life. That is our connection to oneness, our sharing of life with every pollinating bee, blade of grass, drop of water, and mountain peak. Everywhere we look, the world holds itself up to us.

The reflection of all that connects us is so much more than what separates us. If nothing else, such a look in the mirror that is the world broadens our perceptions for rather than being attached to only one way of being, we are presented with the life force that flows through all beings. It seems so worth the risk.

Bits and pieces of this revised post originally appeared as “The Mirror That is You.” 

Dear ?: A Peace Letter

July’s Bloggers for Peace Post is to write a letter for peace, which was a real challenge for me beginning with the salutation. The forpeace6question mark is preferable to a mere blank as there is an acknowledged mystery in the question mark as well as an implied unknown and perhaps uncertainty. Yet, as mindfulness or present moment awareness reminds me time and again, it is in this unknown and uncertain realm where the infinite possibilities lie.

Dear ?:

This is a letter to existence, the life force that runs through everything on the physical plane. Deliberately, I have settled for a punctuation mark rather than a name, although there are many from which to choose, but more and more, I am convinced that putting a label on anything only excludes.

Now that I am past the salutation, there is the body of the letter that contains my current thoughts on peace. Like existence, peace is ever undulating, for peace is not a destination or even a goal but rather, a way of being.

“Peace begins when expectation ends”

~ Sri Chinmoy~
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The onus is on us, where it always has been, yet the planet seems so much smaller now for we crisscross it on a daily basis through images and words on screens. It is reminiscent of when the world wrote letters, and the challenge still is to respond rather than to react. Pen and paper required more of us physically and may have delayed reaction time somewhat.

The ability to communicate instantaneously to almost anywhere in the world has brought us face to face with ourselves. Ideals, illusions, and even institutions have been shattered as we find ourselves in immediate relationship with so many voices from so many places. There are few gaps between thoughts.

Peace is not some sort of lofty ideal nor is it an illusion or an institution. Peace is not a finite but an infinite state of being. Peace is not a one size fits all but is unique to each one of us. The oneness of peace is the acceptance of all of us just as we are for then—and only then—have we removed expectation. The possibilities are infinite.

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As always, I am overtly optimistic, which is not to say that I am not aware of how taxed our planet’s resources are or how many species are either being pushed to the edge of their existence or are already extinct. I am only too aware that “the world is too much with us” to the point of making my head explode but then I remember:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has

~Margaret Mead~

We begin from within, putting our own house in order from the inside out, which is a lifetime task. And that is how the world changes for we cannot give the world what we do not have within ourselves. If we are not at peace with ourselves, we are not in peaceful existence with the world.

It is no wonder that peace eludes us for we look everywhere except where it resides, within our own existence. It may seem more practical to fix ideals or institutions but change—impermanence–is the nature of all existence.

Discovering our own oneness is how we recognize our connection to all of existence. When we love ourselves completely and compassionately for the beings that we are, recognizing our faults and forgiving our mistakes, then our house is in order for we accept our own existence, unconditionally.

It is the task of a lifetime and always has been.

Yours in Impermanence,

KM Huber

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