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 captures 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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There’s Still Time to Make Art

natural art 0514Perhaps each life is a painting, an infinitesimal rectangle or even the equanimity of a square. Beginning with a blank canvas, an entire life swirls with the colors of choice, shifting scenes until ultimately blending into the tapestry of existence.

Existence is endless art, it seems, as delicate and precise as a sand painting—a mandala—once a life is complete, the sand shifts and returns to its state before shape. Always, there is another shape to come.

There is an art to life, I suspect, no matter how minute one’s tile in the mosaic of existence may seem. It is not the size or shape of a life that looms but rather the choice of options from the palette provided.

The colors of choice vary as does the brushstroke that reveals them. Some moments the stroke is as subtle as moonlight and just as changing. During the dense, life-changing events–dark moments that mark a life for its duration–the swath of the brush is broad and opaque.

Yet each life has an array of choices—a palette of options—to absorb change as it colors a life, ultimately illuminating, much like light of the moon.

At night, I open the window

and asked the moon to come

and press its face against mine.

Breathe into me.

Close the language-door

and open the love-window.

The moon won’t use the door,

only the window.

~Rumi~*

We might want to look to the moon when facing the doors it ignores. Sometimes, the broad brushstroke Art 0514wrinkles the canvas in a determined color of choice. Other times, the subtle stroke turns opacity into transparency, rather like darkness leaving for light.

The tapestry of existence is in constant flux, swirling with infinite possibilities as we work through daily decisions, choosing our colors. Some are doors and some are windows but both eventually open, either by the light of the moon or by the love of life.

Our living canvas is not yet a still life nor is our sand mandala complete. There is still time to make art.

*This lovely Rumi quote comes from a favorite blog of mine, ZenFlash.  Thank you.

 

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 Universal Stuff of Us

From earliest times we have wondered about our existence and our connection to the stars. Many myths and stories reveal our longing to return to the skies, as if we are trying to remember how to fly home. We wonder about the return trip after this adventure, our life, is over.

We are a way for the universe to know itself. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from.

We long to return. And we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff.  

~ Carl Sagan ~

This “star stuff” is the stuff of our minds as well as of the natural world. In our art and our philosophy we explore the questions of who we are and from whence we came. This spiritual universe is more personal yet eternal, emotional rather than rational. It is the light in our stars, this comfort from the cosmos when we look to home.

The physical universe is one of rational laws, measurable and impersonal. Essentially, these laws are true throughout the physical universe until proven otherwise. Continual discovery and exploration of the cosmos seems to be what makes or breaks such laws yet in the physical universe constant inquiry is essential for law.

There is room for both a spiritual universe and a physical universe,

just as there is room for both religion and science.

Each universe has its own power.

Each has its own beauty and mystery.

~ Alan Lightman ~

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To recognize and appreciate the uniqueness of the physical as well as the spiritual universe is to observe life with a sense of wonder. In wonder, the physical and the spiritual do not contradict but co-exist so we are able to observe both.

In the observer effect, the act of observing influences what is being observed. One of the many marvels of science is that attributes and behaviors invisible to the naked eye are still observable.

We cannot see the law of gravity or the Higgs boson. We are left observing that what goes up comes down, although the law of gravity is much more than that. The Higgs boson may be observed after protons collide about a trillion times but even after all that, its existence lasts less than a billionth of  a trillionth of a second. Even so, the boson is observed only because of what it becomes.

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In the more personal spiritual universe, belief systems underlie our reactions. Do we observe every event or experience with our complete attention or are we more concerned with how to respond?

My sense is that our observation is obscured. If an event is familiar, we search for a previous and similar response; if an experience is unknown, we search for some kind of  familiarity so we can respond. We are not observing fully so our influence is incomplete as well.

The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand.

We listen to reply.*

We may be missing the wonder of being alive, of being part of this adventure that is both spiritual and physical, each universe complete in its beauty and mystery. We are star dust, this universal stuff of us. Ours is a guaranteed round-trip. Why not observe this life with wonder?

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*This quote seems not to have an attributable source.

Reading Alan Lightman’s The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew is like having your own personal guide to the cosmos. In my post “No Separation of Time and Space Here,” Kay mentioned this Lightman work as well as his novel, Einstein’s Dreams.  I enjoyed both immensely. Thank you!

A recent post from Tiramit mentions the observer effect in his thoughtful post, “Responsibility & Mindfulness.” Thank you!

Graduating is a Lifelong Practice

Single Path 0313We graduate from one moment to the next. Every breath we take has a beginning and an end, and what occurs between that beginning and end is a lesson in living.

From the intake of the breath and all that it holds–the experience of it–to the release of the breath as the moment unfolds is an exercise we practice all the days of our lives.

Graduation is neither success nor failure but a series of milestones, markers of where we were, indicators that we have gone on to what comes next. Sometimes, that is only the next breath. Other times, graduation is a moment of accomplishment, of adding another tool to the toolbox that we carry through life.

Life is its own school, with assignments unique to each one of us. Always, there are questions; always, there are options.

I get up every morning determined to both change the world

and have one hell of a good time.

Sometimes, this makes planning my day difficult.

E.B. White

Graduation does not guarantee changing the world or having a hell of a good time but it does get us from one point in life to the next. It is a reminder that breathing is always an option. For the rest, we have our ever-expanding toolbox.

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Throughout our lives we make choices. It is indeed a milestone when we are thoughtful in our word, taking nothing and no one for granted, doing our best not to take things personally. This moment of graduation is available in every moment we live. Its lifelong tool is awareness.

Awareness helps us sort our options wisely, carefully, especially when our choice is one difficult path or another. Awareness reveals the hollowness in magical thinking for no decision made with heart ever rings hollow.

Many times, we approach crossroads that seem so familiar that we are sure we have been in this same spot before yet life does not afford us that luxury, not quite. We are not the same as we were, and neither are our options. Each moment in life is as unique as each breath. We graduate from one decision to the next.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

(“The Road Not Taken,” Robert Frost)

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Graduation requires we immerse ourselves into life with our head below our heart so that we do not leave the difficult choices to someone else while we wither in weakness. Rather, we lead with our heart as we stand, perhaps alone, for what we know is right.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

Martin Luther King

Our graduation from the womb to the outside world is the first of many, the beginning of miles of stone markers of the path traveled, the one that made all the difference.

 

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.

Perhaps a Glimpse of Buddha Nature

Every once in a while I think I catch a glimpse of Buddha nature. Actually, it is more of a feeling than an actual sighting. In other words, any “aha-moment” vanishes the moment the recognition is mine. I suspect that is how it always is with Buddha nature.

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Even the term, Buddha nature, is known by many other names. For me, it is the eternal aspect of existence–energy vibrating in infinite dimensions and form as matter and anti-matter—creating a background of immutable harmony so that we are able to live our lives with choice.

The reason everything looks beautiful is because it is out of balance, but its background is always in perfect harmony.

This is how everything exists in the realm of Buddha nature, losing its balance against a background of perfect balance.

~Shunryu Suzuki~

Suzuki’s description is a familiar one on this blog, as I have cited it many times. For me, it is the essence of the feeling I get whenever I sense Buddha nature. No matter the definition or description, the idea of a balanced background against the days of our lives means we always have options.

For me, Buddha nature is what I am and have been from my inception, the blank canvas that was me at birth. If I look closely at this painting that is my life, its background is in perfect balance, allowing me to lose and regain myself moment after moment.

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Dates and years frame the triptych of my past, present, and future. I am the artist’s brush, swirling with the color of every choice, stroke after stroke on the canvas that is my moment in Buddha nature. Its balanced background—the context of my life—absorbs the outcome of each moment that is my life.

Buddha nature does not allow me to slide through my life unaware or it does. The choice is mine. In any given moment it is up to me how aware I am of my own brush stroke. In mindful moments is when I glimpse Buddha nature.

The moment is hazy at first, floating in and out like any other, yet its rhythm is different, like an undercurrent that absorbs rather than pulls. Maybe this is what synchronicity is; regardless, I am immersed in it. In such a moment, the ending is as uncertain as is the beginning but I am bothered by neither.

Rather, it is like a story that begins with “once upon a time” and ends with ever after and forever. I am confident there is a bridge between the beginning and the end and indifferent to the outcome. Buddha nature has the essence of a rainbow, a bridge to and from and back again.

Only life is in flux, neither ending nor beginning but always being, not a snapping of photographs or a study in stillness but a series of scene changes as the stroke of the artist aligns with change against the constancy of Buddha nature. The painting that is my life is only one scene in the tapestry of existence yet mine mirrors all others in that it is lived.

As I say, every once in a while I think I get a glimpse.