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 guarantee that it will happen. I’m not setting myself goals just reminding myself to open the door of each day and begin there.

Just wakening 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.

It 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.

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 Undertow of Thought

When I started meditating, nothingness was my goal. I wanted to sit in the peace of living, determined to eliminate my every thought for at least one hour every morning. Upside down and inside out thinking, of course, and utterly impossible.

Big thoughts announce themselves by snatching up space as if it only exists for them. They don’t stay long, for they require too much attention. It’s the undertow of thought, subtle and inviting, that is a constant thief. *

And what it steals in meditation, it steals in life. I miss my life when I wander with the thief, creating scenarios for existence elsewhere. In other words, nowhere.

Meditation does not jail the thief for like the undertow, it will not be defeated by brute stubbornness. Awareness is sufficient. It does not take more than that, which is not to say that mindfulness is not without effort. It’s just that it’s worth it. It’s the real deal, not a scenario.

Authenticity does not abide thieves selling snake oil, the positive thinking of nary a cloud in the sky no matter the storm raging. Mindfulness delivers life as it is and stays the would-be thieves of rose-colored glasses.

There is nothing quite like that first clear-eyed view of acceptance. Nothing. Equanimity seems not the stretch it once was. Regard for the undertow reveals more of life not less.

And nowhere in my life has that been truer than in adjusting to the various levels of chronic illness. Disease is a robber only if viewed through a lens of loss. There is no shortage of lenses in life; there is one for every moment.

It’s a matter of looking at what I have rather than what I don’t. It is how I stand in my truth, my power.

This does not happen without a bit of mental wandering with the undertow but there is a magnet to mindfulness, a groove of practice. The less that I am physically, the more I am mentally. Less function equals mindfulness magnified, more prowess with the would-be thief.

Mine is the life that many fear is inevitable in aging. Nothing is inevitable. It’s about choices. I haven’t always lived mindfully. It only matters that I do now, swimming with rather than against the undertow.

An hour’s meditation alerts me to my body’s strongest signals, setting the agenda for the day. A body in stillness is my way of stripping the drama from pain and listening to its signal, going to its core. So often, I would rather steal away but going nowhere is always a disappointment.

Both physically and mentally, I have places to be–the kitchen, the shopping, and the writing, which is increasingly tedious. My fingers cannot seem to select the correct key the first time but readily (and constantly) my hand palm finds the space bar or even caps lock.

No matter the type of voice recognition software, my word structure exasperates, especially if I consider the poetic or commit the greater sin of passive voice. There is constant correction on my screen of words trying to become sentences.

Some days, I persist just because I can but my mind tires of the stop-and-go writing and finally forgets what it was trying to say. My hands stay asleep, tingling.

I’ve had to recognize and actually appreciate that it takes me two to three times longer to write an initial draft, some days more than that. It’s a lot of additional hours.

Clear-eyed acceptance is not an easy lens but it offers options. Real ones. Should I struggle with the undertow, I am only out to sea, aimless. Best to be in the life I have, as it is, exhausted and frustrated, but not so far from equanimity.

How Not to Become a Zen Master

“That’s right. Blame it on Zen,” my neighbor, Grace, says.

With Zen, I just don’t hold onto names or nouns anymore was what I was thinking, aloud it seems.

Grace is a Zen master not because she is 90 but because she is contemplative in all ways. She was born to it. And she attends tai chi twice a week. Her whole life is a practice. She would never label herself a Zen master.

We were in the middle of a project that began simply enough but soon involved another neighbor. Specifically, I opened a package that was not mine.

The package was one of four I was expecting but as you can see, there are five packages. The shocking pink garment stunned but it was the thank you card that intrigued–one American meme of gratitude after another, the length of a paragraph.

I read the card aloud to Grace.

“Which company?”

“Doesn’t say.”

All these packages were dumped in the mailroom of our apartment complex on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. They were there for the taking and so I did.

It was not until I straightened the cardboard boxes Grace had so beautifully broken down with her seriously sharp knife that I saw the name on the box of great gratitude was not mine.

And now I was writing a card of explanation to a woman whose name I kept forgetting. Grace selected the blank note card, rejecting the polar bear in favor of the fir of a mountain. Appropriate for any occasion.

“Well, when you decide to get dressed, I’ll take you.” Grace was sitting on my leather loveseat, waiting, with her small knife lying next to her.

She wasn’t taking me anywhere in a red polo shirt so large and so long it was more skirt than shirt, nearly covering my khaki shorts. The logo read Elder Affairs.

I finish writing the card and read it to Grace. “That’s classy,” she says.

“I want her to know what I did in case she’s not there when we return the package.” And with that, I pick up the flat cardboard box that is not addressed to me.

“You’re not going to tape that back up, are you?”

“Trust me, Grace. Perception is everything. I’m admitting my guilt but I’m returning a taped package.”

Just another of the many ways I avoid becoming a Zen master. I was born to it.

KMHuberImage; St. Mark's Wildlife Refuge; Florida; USA

And so, we began our journey to Grace’s car. I with my three-wheeled walker and the re-wrapped package tightly cornered into my walker’s lower bag, and Grace with her walking stick in one hand and under her other arm, four cardboard boxes now flat.

Grace decided who took what. She is Sicilian. We do things her way.

We drove halfway across the apartment complex before I told Grace, “I forgot the card.” We look at one another and then, Grace turns the car around.

Again, we drive across the apartment complex and we score the nearest accessible parking spot, the one near the elevator. As we ride to the second floor, I try to channel Grace, but I am who I am. Still, my focus remains mountain.

I tell the woman what happened, as it happened, all the while holding her package. She does not take it from me.

“Do you know how many people would not even bother to do this?”

I wasn’t clear. She doesn’t realize I opened her package. I should not have taped up the box.

As I look into the kind face of the woman accepting her package, I am determined not to burst into her life but I tell her my story, again, with profuse apologies and my concern about the boxes being left unattended.

“You’re an angel,” she says. I assure her I am not and introduce Grace who smiles and stays silent. We leave.

As we drive back, Grace says, “You know, I think she would have difficulty getting to the mail room.”

“I’m no angel.”

Grace laughs.

On this day I have Grace, and for that, there are not enough expressions of gratitude in any form.

Of Arugula, Alarms, and Available Lenses

Mostly, I meet the energy of the day. What other lens is available? It’s not always what I want, the energy or the view, so sometimes, I look elsewhere.

These are the moments I am the center of the universe, as if I were a match for the energy of any day. Sometimes, the reminders that I am not are fierce.

Like my apartment filling with smoke or my garbage disposal clogged with arugula, sprouts, and spinach gone sour. Who wants to be present then?

I ignore the mundane at my peril. I set myself up.

KMHuberImage; Wood Stork Fishing

The “smoke” in my apartment is a slight exaggeration, more like opening the freezer on a summer’s day. So, vapors. Enough to set off the smoke alarm, which did get my attention. Some of it, anyway.

I opened my front door, certain it was the fire alarm for the building. No one else was in the corridor.

“I wonder if anyone else hears this,” I say, realizing I am the culprit, as my smoke alarm continues to go off. Quickly, I shut my front door.

It is true the vapors were only in my living room, not in the bedroom where I work. There was nothing to notice other than the faint aroma coming from a small saucepan cooking pasta (gluten-free because I must not because I want).

And I had set a timer for the pasta. It had not gone off, just the smoke alarm. Nor was the pasta burned. There were drippings in the burner pan, obviously oil from?? Fresh so perhaps from the morning’s baking. Cleanup was quick.

No memory for moments I am not present, and sometimes, absentia becomes a boomerang. Something starts, and I am unaware, ignoring the energy I am. Mind elsewhere makes for thoughtlessness, fertile ground for boomerangs.

Such as arugula, sprouts, and spinach meshing with a green scrubber in the garbage disposal. Rarely, any of my food meets the garbage disposal but again, awareness.

This time, arugula getting shoved to the back of the refrigerator, along with the sprouts. In my mind they were still fresh–I had plans for them–alas, that was not the energy of the day. The handful of spinach was sour.

Nor was I particularly present as I shoved the greens into the garbage disposal. Promptly, the sink filled with swirling, green water, a whirlpool. What was to clog? Arugula, apparently.

I have battled with this garbage disposal so my kitchen has its own plunger. Such force in suction, the clinging and the letting go. So it was to be with the arugula, finally separating from the green scrubber, indisposed but not yet disposed, only drained.

In some past moment, the green scrubber found its way down the garbage disposal. What choice for the arugula except to wrap itself round the scrubber? The disposal was doing what it does. Same for the plunger.

Not sentient beings, those things, but all at my whim, like the energy I bring into the space of every day. Will I look through the lens available or stare elsewhere in longing? And when I look away, what change will I effect?

No doubt, it will find me.

KMHuber Image; St. Mark's Refuge, FL; mirror

Shoving My Snark Elsewhere

There was a time I whittled my wits for social media, a kind of  “computer warrior” as a friend calls them. I sought battles that may have not been there. Seizing on one word or phrase and letting go of context.

Snark. You know the drill. I wasn’t any good at it. Zen showed me how bad I was. Embarrassing, actually.

I haven’t given up on social media. Just the opposite. Rather than preparing for battle, I just take a stand when or if it is necessary. Awareness is my armor and suits me better than snark ever did.

I’m wondering if worldwide connection is changing battle and its field. Connection is changing everything else. There is no absence of compassion but in its lack evil lurks, more patient than any of us might credit.

Awareness reveals evil as easily as compassion and in comparison, evil withers, kind of like snark, unable to stand the long light of day. Scrutiny. Either way, we are revealed; our hearts clench and open in response.

We’re seeking the security of the steadfast but awareness is shaky ground, ever shifting. And that is tiring. So why not throw some shade. Maybe give up for a while. Nothing seems to last because nothing does.

I think social media makes that clearer than any doctrine. All of life is an experience, one after another, the coming to and going from any one moment–all on shaky ground.

We’re like tectonic plates, and sometimes there’s an earthquake. And still, there is existence in spite of it all. In that, I am in awe.

So why not, as Pema Chödrön says, “be generous with your joy.”* Why not, indeed. Joy does so much with so little. Sort of like snark in that regard but joy is never-ending. Snark is more of a single position and like evil it evaporates for there is always more joy, and it comes from unusual places.

Just this past week I received a mint plant whose roots were all but bursting from the top and bottom of its plastic pot. Some strands had found their way through air holes. Life searching to stay.

I have not “shared” my apartment since feline EmmaRose left. There are fewer and fewer insects but I celebrate those who pass through. “We are always in relationship” Pema Chödrön once remarked regarding the insect in the room.

And now, it is a mint plant with rust on its leaves and a few shoots struggling for life.

I asked neighbor Grace for her expert assistance. What she teaches me about flora and fauna is such a gift. Within 24 hours, we visited the nursery where Grace once worked to select the proper potting soil, drainage rocks, pot, and tray.

It was a celebration of Grace and her years tending the native plants and the friendships of her life. She gave me the complete tour, including the goldfish pond.

When was the last time I knew such joy in the morning amid native species that somehow make room for me and my kind. Only they know why.

And that is what we brought home to the mint. With the care that comes with years of living, Grace aerated the soil around the squared roots, opening up more life, as we provided the breath of carbon dioxide.

Offering life for life. It’s existence, this joy.

*The idea of being generous with joy is from Pema Chödrön’s The Compassion Book: Teachings for Awakening the Heart, page IX.

 

Sail More, Land Less

Life ajumble, presented in pieces disordered, or at least in an array I have yet to understand. It’s up to me to find what I need. Availability is not the issue. It’s awareness, a matter of rearranging, turning round each piece.

How else perspective, for none of the sides are the same.

I find this in writing as well. Not every story fits a frame, a structure, and some pieces remain snippets but none are without worth. There is no lack unless I write it.

All of this is to say I’m back among my pirates, again. It’s a big story, beyond an essay and larger than a novella. It’s a novel, I am not a novelist, and that doesn’t matter.

So, why go there?

No story is ever wasted, not on me, anyway. What else is life other than stories and questions about stories, which often result in yet more stories. It’s how we live.

A trip to a pirate ship rearranges the pieces of my mind, it’s a new view, but not for long as whether it’s 1865 or 2018, the mandala of human nature is only so varied and quite repetitive.

A dip into the past puts me in the present in a way I never am. The questions I bring from 2018 are outmoded in 1865. How can that be?

The irony of life ajumble, finding new perspective in the past for the present. Maybe that is knowing history. I doubt that it matters how I find more relevance in 1865 than in 2018.

It is like reaching into the future to find my limitations, my biases, and yes, my prejudices, all of which are alive and well on a pirate ship, as I write wrongs that seem to know no death.

It is with a fervor I do not live, disappointing but true. Sometimes I have to stay on the pirate ship to accept truths about myself. Lately, I’ve been there a lot, my questions insufficient, but the lives of the pirates lead me to new ones.

They have few possessions and what they treasure is buried on land, where they cannot stay, no matter how they try. Afloat on the seven seas, they are in constant danger of losing their lives but they never do. It is only on terra firma they die. It lies in wait.

Almost obviously, the working title of this pirate story is “Fish on Land,” as they fly any flag that will get them into a port but with boots on the ground, they get lost no matter how good their map or how well thought out their mission. So often, some die trying to return to the safety of the sea.

That’s how it seems so far. I don’t know all of the pirate perspectives yet, not having looked round or even met all the characters but being human is to know that “it’s always something,” especially in fiction, the world must turn and twist.

Life ajumble, so many pieces, each a unique perspective, more stories than a single lifetime affords. It matters not the vessel, just that we sail and maybe, land less.