Where We Live

The past is a well deep, full-bodied and well-aged hope. Just a single sip, sweet and cool, can quench the thirst of an arid and errant present. It’s tempting to drink away the life I have in favor of one already done. After all, I know how it all turns out but that’s not why I visit.

The past is a draft deep enough to launch hope full-sail, an acceptance of what is done is done and cannot be changed– at the helm am I, confident in the knowledge that it cannot. If there is value in the past, and I think there is, it is to immerse myself in the thought of then–remembering who I was–without judgment and with the benefit of who I am now.

After all, I am only visiting the past, not staying. I have no intention of repeating it. In acceptance, I study what happened, turn it inside out, peel back every layer of the why and how. How else to learn from being alive? Experience primes the pump.

There are times I am tempted to stay, like these days in a world growing dark with fear but my well would soon run dry without me living in the day to day. To drink of the past is sobering, no matter how refreshing its waters, but it’s not where I live.

Acceptance exposes all lies, opening my eyes to life as it is, especially when it isn’t the life I would have. Acceptance frees fear and without it, I can do a lot, even as one person. Living without fear is to live with equanimity, it knows no bounds, but that takes courage. Finding it may be the hope of the present.

The world seems drunk on fear. Increasingly, it is a globe of nation-states (large and small), each devoted to its own brand of isolationism, every day another hill to die on. It is as if the world has lost its past with its walls for the white, the straight, the binary. Everyone else, excluded.

Nationalism has never served our species other than to take us back to the cave, guard our fires fiercely, and stay drunk on stories inflated with glory that cannot stand the light of day. Without acceptance of who we have been, the past is a well too deep. To sip of hope is not for the faint of heart.

Sexuality and the color of skin are the story of humanity, a well of experience that never goes dry because it is never revisited for its failure because of what might be found: another way to live. Not one way for everyone but for everyone a way. Accepting who we are as we are.

Until now, there was enough time and space to accommodate world wars, nuclear bombs, and xenophobia but our lust for more has eliminated resource after resource. Rain forests have been generous for millennia but we have not been grateful.

We are at the end of thousands of years of history, on the precipice of deciding who will sip from precious waters and breathe air not yet too thin. There is no cave left in which to hide.

It’s tough, beginning at the end, having squandered all we once had and tougher still accepting what we have done but we are not without hope, and we can live without fear if we live without walls and with boundaries. I wonder how many generations will have the opportunity to try.

Endings are beginnings. There is a true fondness for that idea among us. It has a clean slate feel to it, but slate scraping will not take us to the core of who we are, a deeply flawed species. Best to begin as we are, ragged and rough, without lofty ideals, alive in our pain, but with succor from where all beginnings flow, our past.

I have spent time in caves sitting round false fires–too many years those– nothing I can do but accept every moment of them and not return. There is no life in firelight, its glow becomes all, only with the rising sun does light blind, like truth.*

Our planet can do very well without us but for now, it is where we live. May we be generous.

*My recent post, “Fascism, a False Twilight,” explores Albert Camus’ idea of light blinding like truth. The post seems a prequel to this one. 

One with the Wood

Morning mantra…I don’t remember the day it started, years ago certainly, but its why is another matter. I wanted a way to define being in the moment for if I could confine it, then I could experience it. Ha!

I lost the control and kept the mantra, which doesn’t hold back: mine is to meet each moment with compassion, lovingkindness, joy, and equanimity, which is not to say I do. I’m not setting goals just reminding myself to open the door of each day and begin there.

Just waking to some days is easier than others. To meet what happens after that and look to the heart and not only the face is never easy. Feelings may not be facts but they are powerful for at their core is pure energy.

Mindfulness–awareness like no other–helps me open that daily door, which is sometimes to a forest, rare and rich. Every day is a stroll, indoors or out, but a forest floor with sun shadows is stuff for my memory banks.

It is summertime in the Florida panhandle (although the calendar considers it spring), the humidity almost as high as the 90°+ temperatures, some of my best days for my body.

My walking stick is wood, a live branch now fallen, stripped of bark and varnished clear, its knots remembered. I have added black rubber tips to its top and bottom, one to ground and one to grip, for ease of grasp.

My left side is weaker, so much so my left hand cannot hold the stick with any certainty but my right hand, used to leading, finds the walking stick a useful prop. Sometimes, balance looks lopsided.

I waddle and wobble, a slow stagger sometimes, but an evenness of mind and body down a forest path on a late spring morning just after sunrise is–to me–all that and lots of birdsong.

This greenway is 50 acres of forest and meadow with 12 miles of dusty sand trail but to me it is boundless, yet forests have their limits these days and are now carefully tended not to exceed. What is done is done.

I walk until I tire, reaching a picnic table made of concrete, its bench table tops painted brown for natural reasons I suppose. Still, I am grateful for such tables, as well benches, for there are days I stop briefly at each one but today, it is the second picnic table where I will stay.

Not far along, I know, but in the forest, distance ceases to matter, like time. It’s forgotten. To neither, the forest bends. Rather, it gives its all.

Regular readers of this blog may recognize the above picture of a magnificent live oak split down the middle by lightning some six or seven years ago, not even nanoseconds in its life. See how its heart has sprouted so many new lives.

In the distance, in stark contrast, stands another oak, a sentinel stripped of its bark, possibly by lightning but by life, nonetheless. At the tip of one of its limbs, I notice movement, the shape of a turkey vulture when its head switches to profile, but mostly it is one with the wood.

In awe, I watch as all else disappears.

Not even the heart of the magnificent tree, with all its new lives distracts from being one with the wood. No sound nor single thought or emotion, only nothing consumes mind and body. I am neither on the ground or in the air, only nowhere.

In some moment I return to being a human alive with the energy that animates everything rather than being one with it. Such moments never repeat, not in the same way or same place, and in some moment I became comfortable with that, just meeting the moment I am in, grateful for a day as a human being.

Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything” (Gordon Hempton, Ecologist).

Questions Are the Helpers

Seeds of doubt disturb. What else their purpose other than to poke and to prod? Only life’s discomfort opens my eyes.

I’ve lived most of my life without that appreciation but as John Muir said, “the clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.” I’ve walked my years. Mine was not to waste experience but to live passionately, which is to say rarely did I look before I leapt.

I may not have been averse to risk but I missed its potential, the fluid intelligence that is life and its infinite supply of questions. With few exceptions, I walked passed the gold. In a flurry of abandon to answer I didn’t realize every answer morphs into a question, again.

That’s the gold.

And then one day, I stopped running around the forest, in and out of life’s caverns, to experience it in daily doses, appreciating the uniqueness of every dawn and its dusk, each day fraught with doubt, eventually evening out.

It’s fluid, that evenness of energy, and there are days it seems impossible another sun will rise but so far…. That is the power of the present, never absent, even in rage and the time of Trump.

If I watch the world through his lens, I have the perspective of a pinhead, ego run amok, a desperate need for attention at any cost. At his rallies of like-minded MAGA hats, all are assured of answers as if they are forever.

Perhaps they would hide the sun–control its narrative–if they could, but that is not the nature of life, no matter the determination of mere men. I do my best to remember that and view them through the broadest lens I can find.

And that means questions.

What is it in me that brought them to the world stage? It’s an intimate question, a BREAKING daily dose, but I don’t have to go deep to discover my own egoic need for attention and what feeds it. Fortunately, mine isn’t magnified by the office of the presidency. Ego loves a circus, the more sleight-of-hand the better, but the question is, why do I pay the admission of distraction?

I do, far too often, and it is a high price to pay. Trump cannot exist in a world that doesn’t hear him as a human being or as president. True as well for his followers. All oligarchs need a platform in addition to a puppet president or the like. As I say, it’s a high price to pay.

Like the forest wild, I look through a glass darkly. Every day. Awareness grinds my mind, broadening my life lens. How else to clear my way to the universe? Certainly not by looking behind me or holding onto a way of life already gone.

I’ve tried that so many times, expecting different results by doing the same thing over and over. That’s paying the circus to go away which it won’t. It is always here but each time I face it, it loses a bit of its attraction and thus its attention.

That is the power of the present and what a gift it is. Always available, every event a teacher, ultimately one a traveling professor. For me it is a chronic disease whose assured outcome cannot be changed but everything else can. How’s that for empowerment?

Any circus, no matter how many monkeys, just doesn’t compete, which is not to say I ignore the tenor of the times. Far from it. I just won’t go to the circus. My attention is elsewhere, a freeing of the narrative from any who would control it.

Fear is quite vulnerable. It’s the minutia, every day details, even a single sentence, that chips away at control. The pause for thought is the stuff of change. It interrupts the flow. Like I said, it’s an intimate experience but its effects are external. Anyway, that’s what I do.

It is not mine to tell any human being how to live. Life is constant choice, one question after another. My beliefs are not sacred but fluid, alive with potential. I look to the questions for they are the helpers.

“There is a crack in everything. It’s how the light gets in” (Leonard Cohen).

The Magic at the End of the Lane

Not long ago, I wrote a post about where magic lives, at the end of a rutted lane, canopied in cypress and live oak, a sanctuary of second chances.

It is a farm of family, no species denied. No one is turned away for being too old, too young, too sick, too maimed. Those who find their way to Second Chance Farms find home and love that lasts a lifetime.

Sometimes, that life is a short one, as it was for Phoebe Louise Dooley who died of pediatric brain cancer at the age of six. Her time on earth and at the farm was only a moment, but that’s all love ever needs to live on, as hers does in Bruno, the first Phoebe’s Foster.

Emily and Bruno

Her farm family misses the light that was Phoebe, her laughter and love of all dogs, the old and the overlooked, those so far from the ideal.  And that pretty much describes Bruno:

“It’s like he’s always been here at the farm. He is intelligent, eager to please, extremely gentle and of course–as all hounds should be–a bit stubborn and definitely very goofy. He is definitely Phoebe’s dog and just having him here helps to remind us that sweet Phoebe is still at work in this world.”

She was no stranger to the farm and understood how and why animals came to live at the sanctuary, a second chance not necessarily free from pain but a life of love nonetheless, however long it lasts.

And that’s what Phoebe’s Foster continues in Bruno, who comes with considerable medical baggage, living life as a hound, on a farm in a forest where magic lives.

Phoebe’s parents miss her every moment of every day, and this first holiday season without her is especially difficult but Phoebe was born not only out of their love but their courage. They share their daughter with the world through the works of the Phoebe Louise Dooley Foundation.

May we follow in Phoebe’s footsteps.

Dying Alone

My neighbor, Eva, and I share a wall. It divides our apartments, intersects our lives, leaving jagged the edges where we do not meet. One of those edges was Harriet, who shared a wall with Eva.

This past week, Harriet died. She was found in her favorite chair. It seems hers was a peaceful death but it required a police presence to prove, so for a while her apartment was a crime scene.

Our apartment complex is a 55+ community, and most of us are well beyond middle age. Death is part of the deal of living but in the tenor of these times, death by natural causes has to be proven when a woman dies alone.

We should have known is what Eva and I say to one another but we never know death’s arrival.

It is not that death visited, it is that death came and no one noticed. For days. And then, someone did.

When there was no answer on Harriet’s landline, an extended family member called the police. Later, Harriet’s son, Dave, arrived. To be fair, the police could get here more quickly. Dave lives an hour away

No neighbor checked on Harriet with any regularity, if at all. Eva tells me she is working through her guilt. She and Harriet have a history, and it’s a good one, but their daily strolls around the apartment complex are long gone, almost another lifetime.

Only a few walk with us forever. Yet, living in a community where moving out usually means either nursing home or death, it seems as if connection–being good neighbors–would transcend our differences. It doesn’t.

Harriet’s death troubles me, too. Like Eva, I know I could have done more, much more. I didn’t try hard enough. When Harriet’s chihuahua, Hal, was dying, I did everything I could except give Harriet the one thing she needed, support.

She was angry, afraid, lashing at everyone. Losing Hal was losing her connection to life. All I needed to do was listen. I don’t remember doing much of that. Nor did I see her often after Hal died.

Son Dave took Harriet to her appointments, picked up her medications, and brought her groceries. He saw to her needs but he never came just to visit. That was not their relationship, and both accepted their differences. They loved, regardless.

Dave is not a talker. He just gets on with the next thing, which rarely works out for him. Like the time he brought Harriet a new-to-her recliner. She loved overstuffed recliners and wore out at least three in the time I knew her. It was where she watched TV, slept, ate, and smoked.

She all but burned up each chair. Harriet had congestive heart failure and terribly painful neuropathy. Heavily medicated, she would fall asleep in her chair, cigarette still burning. Eva tells me Harriet had all but quit smoking but just a couple of months ago, Dave brought another recliner. It had bedbugs.

As Eva says, some people are born under a dark cloud, and Dave is one of them. So it seems.

Pencil-thin, husky-voiced, and quick with a southern-spun retort, Harriet never pretended to be what she wasn’t, which is not to say she usually told the truth. Like all of us, sometimes her lies caught up with her, but she held onto them as long as she could.

I could have offered Harriet more. I didn’t. I live with that jagged edge, but in pain is the expression of experience. Mine is not to fix anyone or anything but to meet people where they are, as they are, and walk with them long enough to hear their story. In death, there are no more chances except for the living. Thank you, Harriet.

Eva says we should go no longer than two days without calling each other. Okay, I say. Maybe Eva wants Harriet to know that she, too, is grateful.

Note: For a bit more about Harriet and Hal, you might enjoy “Love Lives in Inconvenient Places.”

The Sound of Breath

Lately, the sound of my breath is interrupting my morning meditation. It’s noisy, calling attention to itself. I am not just exhaling. I am “pushing” my breath, hurrying it along.

It is as if I hear the sound of my thoughts and use my breath to expel them–emptying my mind and closing it off.

These thoughts are a part of me, words with images. With each breath, I expel a load. These days, the sound of my breath is gale force, far from mindful.

At every moment where language can’t go, that is your mind.
Bodhidharma

I guess that is where I try to go every morning for an hour or so and then take a bit of that into the rest of my day. It’s tricky, this mindfulness stuff.

I remind myself about the stories of the Buddha realizing what enlightenment means. It is a gift but the experience of it is life changing. It is not floating around in peace in a never-ending story.

Well, it is but getting there is giving up a lot like language, labels and learning to share space with all living things. The activities of daily living don’t magically stop or become unnecessary.

It’s just the perspective that changes. It’s a completely different lens.

Sogyal Rinpoche illustrates with the example of empty jar or vase. There is air inside and outside. What separates is substance, clay in this case.

Our Buddha mind is enclosed within the

walls of our ordinary mind.

But when we become enlightened,

it is as if the vase shatters into pieces. 

 Sogyal Rinpoche, Glimpse of the Day

And then the sound of breath is soundless. Until then, patience is my practice.

Marianne Williamson says “infinite patience yields immediate results.” I don’t disagree. I think there is a glimpse, a moment when there is a favorable shift in the odds. In other words, growing awareness.

No overnight enlightenment for me, and I’m okay with that.

Patience resides in the hard places, where it hurts the most to be, physically or emotionally. To sit with the pain is patience. It takes trust.

The minute the struggle to sit stops, that’s the when the odds shift from suffering to acceptance. The pain may be less or may be more but there is no more holding onto it.

Infinite patience, immediate results.

It is the “unpleasant experience” in which I hear the sound of my breath, forcing words to empty the mind, which is not to say the words will not return.

They do, in Technicolor–full image–even a movie if I allow my memory its way.

My ego has superstar status when I lack compassion, refuse to listen to a point of view so opposite from mine. It is unpleasant, at times frightening, and every time I turn away from “the enemy,” I turn away from myself.

I hide in the jar of my “ordinary” mind, seeking solace but staying separate from my “Buddha” mind. In frustration, I breathe and the words keep coming.

I know of no Zen or Buddhist teacher that does not advise both patience and tolerance as well as interaction with our enemies. Not on a full-time basis but to seek what separates us.

Break through the clay, completely cast it aside.

It’s not about changing anyone into what they are not.  It is about breathing the same air with everyone else, soundlessly.

Always a Nasty Woman

I scroll screens by night and have been since November 8, 2016. It is how I first learned of the Nasty Women Project.

Arguably, many believe I am and have been a nasty woman all my life–in every sense of the term–I’m not disputing that. 😉 I am also a citizen in a republic whose duty is to be vigilant but I admit to complacency.

I’m on duty now. That’s all I can do anything about.

I contact members of Congress–someday, maybe I’ll be able to attend a town hall meeting—until then, I read newspapers and books like Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s My Own Words and Ron Chernow’s Hamilton.

#TheResistance is not about going back–that world is gone–it is about working through this moment. Yet, the past is not without its information.

Sometime around last Christmas, editor-in-chief Erin Passons put out a submissions call for a book she wanted to publish March 1–an anthology about the effects of November 8, the night the world changed.

I knew I would submit a piece but I had no idea my essay would begin 18 years ago–1998–on the day of Matthew Shepard’s funeral. Then, I was a middle-aged lesbian living in Wyoming. I was angry and too naïve to be afraid. I believed hate would not win but on that day, it did.

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church gained worldwide attention for their protest of Matthew Shepard’s funeral. I joined others in holding up my umbrella to block the signs of Matt in hell and God hates fags.

Our umbrellas sagged under the weight of snowflakes. I looked into the eyes of a young man from Westboro and found the hollowness of hate. He had won.

These 18–now 19 years later–I know winning is not when the heart is hollow.

My essay, “Confessions of a Closet Activist,” appears in the Nasty Women Project: Voices from the Resistance, Volume 1. 80 women, 80 stories of what it means to be a woman in the 21st century. 100% of the profits go to Planned Parenthood.

In the first two weeks, we raised over $2500 for Planned Parenthood. Our support continues no matter what Congress decides about healthcare, on any week. The attack on Planned Parenthood is a long and familiar one.

For me, it goes as far back as 1976. It is not impossible to be pro-choice and anti-abortion. Human beings are “walking contradictions.” There is no one way for everyone but for everyone there is a way.

Complacency is easier than activism. I’ve always known that but I’ve not always been aware of the privilege I have. As an old, white lesbian, it is considerable.

We all have privilege. It is not something new but an awareness of who we are, how we intersect with everyone else. We live in a republic whose survival means we must participate–always.

The failure of the healthcare bill shows us we are still able to make a difference. We are not yet staring down the hollowness of hate but we are not far from it, either.

Sometimes we see the danger and it kills us—

and sometimes we see the danger and it sets us free.

(“I Saved the World Every Night,” Erin Passons)

I scroll screens by night.