In Stillness, the World Awakens

It is still dark on this new day but what was night—despair–gives way to the light that is the hope of the new.

In some parts of the world, this particular day has already spent its light but where I live, the light only now gently overtakes the dark. It is my first moment of a day, fresh and unique.

I press the button to adjust the bed to a sitting position to begin meditating.  On more days than not, feline EmmaRose, all 5.5 pounds of her, makes herself comfortable on my soft belly.

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We begin together. She purrs, kneads my stomach, and then lies down to sleep or to stare out the bedroom window. I focus on my breath–in and out, in and out–I stare into the darkness as it becomes light.

I breathe my way into stillness as the world around me awakens. My body recognizes the opening of our daily dialogue.

A mind scan of my body reveals the concrete block stiffness from the previous day but as yet no pain stirs only tingling and numbness in my thumbs and index fingers. I begin there.

Tingling turns into the familiar electrical “bzzt” in the tip of my right thumb, then the left as well. Another “bzzt” charges through my right thumb and then through both index fingers.

I take a deep breath in an attempt to release my thumbs and fingers from the buzzing but the breath seems off, stale. My focus is on thought and not on breathing. Quickly, I attempt to exhale what I have not yet breathed in.

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For a while now I have been aware of this futile attempt to suppress a breath, as if I could. I breathe in fully this time so I may release completely  the fear that it is: my doubt of regaining the full strength of my thumbs and fingers.

As the fear breath goes through my upper body, its weakness seems to increase as does the stiffness in my legs. Only when it has traveled my body am I able to exhale fully what has no substance ever, fear.

Once again, I am one with my breath—in and out–as I sense each finger and then my thumbs until warmth flows through both hands releasing the  electrical “bzzt.” Stillness softens the stiffness of my upper body as it warms to the day.

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The pain in my right leg announces itself. It is a frequent caller so there is no fear as I focus on the pain, searching it out with my breath—in and out—until I reach its core.

We “sit” together for as long as it takes for the stillness to make its way through every cell of my body. I never know the precise moment that it stills, only that it does.

Now, it is the mind’s turn, a movie all its own.

A fragment of a Louise Erdrich quote is first to float through, something about  sitting under an apple tree to “listen to the apples falling all around…in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself that you tasted as many as you could.”

In the stillness, an entire world awakens around me in this day that is now bursting with light, inviting me to partake in all I can as I am able. It is a gift to taste the sweetness of a new breath and in gratitude, let it go as it must.

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Feline EmmaRose decides to stir, sometimes to bathe but other times, just to get on with her day. And as happens more often than not, her movement coincides with the ding of the timer silencing the stillness.

I try to hold it, of course, but like the breath, it, too, must leave. And in response, my body sends signals from everywhere, announcing this issue or that. I am ready to taste the apples of this day, to savor as much sweetness as I am able.

As long as you are breathing, there is more right with

you than wrong with you no matter what is wrong.

Jon Kabat-Zinn

A Day in Search of the Theory of Everything

I am at the point in my life where I can appreciate every day of the week as just another day.  I keep plans to a minimum. It keeps me open to just what any day can bring.

Every once in a while, a day does take on a life of its own. Often, when there is a plan involved. So it was with last Monday and my plan to see the movie, The Theory of Everything.

The day began like any other Monday as I perused my WordPress reader for a #MondayMusing post to share on my Twitter feed. The first post I read–Core Spirit–made an indirect reference to the Theory of Everything.

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It is a thoughtful essay on consciousness, in particular the differences between the scientific perspective and the spiritual experience. These differences are centuries old.

To me, science confines itself to the natural world, what it can prove/observe.  Those in the spiritual community—poets, philosophers, religions—confine themselves to the experience of just being alive.

In the Core Spirit essay, scientists seek to define the natural world; the spiritual seek “communion” with it. Yet, it is a world we all share. That we have unique and different perspectives should serve to broaden understanding—fuel curiosity—ultimately, it still divides rather than informs.

As for the Theory of Everything explaining all the laws of nature and accounting for all that has ever happened? The essay ends with: “Einstein said that knowing this equation would be reading the mind of God” (Core Spirit).

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To my mind, agreement upon that equation will not come readily but then I am one who immerses herself in the wonder of the moment. Science may  find the equation; some say it already has. For me, science only adds to the awe.

I was pleased at the coincidence of coming across the post on the day I planned to see the movie about the Theory of Everything.

I checked the movie’s show time once more before leaving but paid no attention to the movie theatre location. That, I was sure I knew.

When I arrived at the third movie theatre location, I was told the movie is now out on DVD. The movie theatre employee looked at me askance, of course, but she did have to make a phone call to discover that information. We both learned something.

If I had read the complete movie listing, I would have discovered the fourth location where the movie was, indeed, playing at that specific time, out on DVD or no.

Of course, it was too late to drive to that location. I was not dismayed. There might be a day to see the movie but it was not that day.

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Once home, I checked my email. Within the last twenty minutes, I had received an email from the Washington Post, asking to re-publish “Learning Zen from a Beagle,” my post about a blind beagle showing me the way.

Had I gone to see The Theory of Everything, I would have missed being available for a back and forth email session with the Post editor. I would have missed this moment in my life. Maybe, I would have missed everything now unfolding.  Maybe not.

As for my next plan to see The Theory of Everything, my name is in the local library queue. On another day, my name will come up. Who knows what will unfold.

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For a thoughtful and concise post on the equation and the Theory of Everything, here is Matthew Wright’s “How Stephen Hawking Reconciled the Irreconcilable.”

For a considered discussion on consciousness, here is “The Akashic Field and Consciousness.”

If you are interested, here is the link to the Washington Post’s republication of “How My Blind Beagle Taught Me Zen.”

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.

 

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.

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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.

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 never begin as all others had. As an ever-present, sentient being, one day or forever were the same to Cooper. His 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.

 

Of Alarms, Animals, and Awakened Hearts

When the fire alarm went off, feline EmmaRose and I seemed sure it had something to do with me. She gave me her usual look of what now? My thought was I had finally succeeded in leaving an empty tea kettle on a hot burner long enough to melt the kettle’s bottom.

Quickly, I realized it was not our smoke detector but the fire alarm for the entire building. It was someone else’s burner/pan/tea kettle. I went outside into the warm, North Florida midnight air as did the rest of the building’s residents.

I did not put EmmaRose in her carrier and take her with me for she has such dread of any interruption of our routine—it upsets her for days—and although she is not fond of the fire alarm, it is not an unknown to her. Was this not yet another human event occurring for no apparent reason?
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That seemed EmmaRose’s attitude, and she was correct. We never knew who pulled the alarm and probably never will. However, it would take 40 minutes before the alarm was finally silenced. Neither management nor the fire department could locate a key. This was not routine.

Within minutes, I decided the alarm was too much for EmmaRose’s ears. Standing among my neighbors, I heard myself say, “Well, I’m going to go get my cat.” I turned and walked toward my apartment.

Why I said aloud what I was thinking I have no idea but it produced another kind of human alarm.

“WHAT GOOD IS A CAT GOING TO DO??!? HOW WILL THAT HELP US?!?”

My back was to the man who was bellowing. I knew who it was, Carl. He had been talking nonstop to anyone and everyone but no one seemed to want his opinion, especially the firemen.

Still garrulous with my thoughts I shouted, “I think a lot more of animals than I do of people.” His retort was a strong suggestion that I grow up. I offered he might do the same and walked into my apartment.

EmmaRose met me at the door, ready to get into her carrier, and together, we went outside and away from the building but still in the vicinity of Carl’s voice.Eyes Open 0513

“I’ve been on the battlefield! I was in Special Ops! This is nothing! We are all upset!” Then, he stopped and looked around. After a few breaths, he mumbled something to the effect that I was making it worse for everyone.

It seemed more residents were bringing their pets outside. Maybe I had made it worse.

I looked at Carl. “Well, I didn’t think I was but if I have, I apologize.”

“Well, I apologize, too,” he said, adding, “peace?”

“We’re done,” I said.

Both of us remained quiet for the duration of the alarm as did every dog and every cat.

The next morning, Carl and I found ourselves face-to-face, again. We rarely saw each other.

“Good morning,” I said to Carl and meant it.

“So, we’re okay after last night?”

“We’re fine, really.” I extended my hand to him, and he shook it.

“I don’t know why I said that about your cat.”

“The alarm is hard on animals’ hearing,” I said, adding “I didn’t need to say what I said, either.”

“No, that was all right.”

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At this point, we actually heard each other; our own alarms had finally shut off. For longer than the 40-minutes at midnight, Carl and I acknowledged each other’s value—a traditional Catholic soldier and a Buddhist animal lover—each worthy of respect for the human beings we are, a veteran and a hippie.

Carl is a fine teller of stories and excels at revealing the punch line. We laughed a lot and genuinely. We found common ground in a thoughtful discussion on democracy, in our mutual disdain for both prejudice and the healthcare system.

As he started up the stairs to his apartment and I to my vehicle, I heard the limp in his step, something I had not noticed.

I called out to him. “How do you feel about acupuncture?”

“I believe in it. Why?”

“I know a good one. Would you like her card?”

He says he would. I return to my apartment for the card, and he comes down the stairs to get it.

He thanks me and adds, “When you make a mistake you just have to own up, don’t you?”

“Yes, and then let it go,” I say.

And so we separate with hearts awakened.

The quality of modesty, or humility, comes naturally when we’re attentive. When we see how reactive and unkind we can be, this humbles us considerably.

Instead of causing despair, however, this painful realization can connect us with the tenderness of bodhichitta [or, awakened heart].

Modesty, or humbleness, is the opposite of armoring ourselves: it allows us to be receptive and hear what others have to say.

Pema Chödrön

(No Time to Lose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva, pp. 134-35)

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