Who Has the Power?

Silence is a response, deafening. It fells the tree in the forest. It may be centuries before anyone even notices, as no one heard the fall.

When white supremacists march in the streets but no one waves a flag in response, who has the power? Certainly not the ones carrying AK-47s. They only have a parade permit.

It is not that hate isn’t powerful–it is–its appetite is insatiable. We need not feed it. Hate is ego run amok–fear.

I don’t know about you but I cannot remember the last time my ego stopped chattering, which is not to say it always gets its way but it does far too often.

Silence is the power of emptiness. Without an audience, what good is the bully pulpit? Silence is the one state the ego cannot abide.

It is a coat of many colors—always a choice—perhaps best saved for last because silence knows no equal. It is deafening in its inattention and cannot be defeated. It is its own narrative, invincible and not inactive.

Silence carries with it a sobering responsibility—facing change as it happens—not as we would have it revealed.  I find this really hard, at times impossible.

Life turns on a dime, one side or the other. Whether heads or tails, each iteration is new, no matter how the label.  Sometimes, we look longingly–with hope- and other times we rue the side. To what purpose, either one?

Change does not ask for or require permission. Trees fall in a forest or don’t. Some I hear and others not. I don’t have a say. What I have is life.

I want to live in a world where all lives matter but that is not this planet and never has been. I don’t want white supremacists and Neo-Nazis marching in the streets anywhere but they are and do. Fear is for mobs.

Change is the stuff of centuries. I remind myself of that–now–on a daily basis.  I did not always, a mistake. Mostly, I have viewed change through the lens of history.

For me, context matters. It is how I accept that life is impermanent, that change is its own master. That means I accept all that I am—my shortcomings wrapped in my privilege—my history of being human.  I am responsible for me–all of me.

I do my best to take that context into every day, remembering that my past is not my present. There is nothing in my past that I can undo. That tree has fallen.

The hardest is to wear the armor of compassion always–first for myself so what I offer to the world is genuine. Compassion shatters ego—silencing it with action–a life-giving light.

No darkness can withstand compassion. It is its own narrative. The open heart is not the cloak of sycophancy or the “good soul” who never takes an uncomfortable step.

Do not underestimate the shield of compassion. It is a narrative like no other, a response to the hollow fear of white supremacy. Compassion is life for all always.  No exceptions, no distinguishing characteristics.

Unwittingly, the white supremacists have revealed us. They have ripped us open—ego usually does—but it is a boomerang, I suspect.  No ego ever listens much less hears.

It is not the change we want or some expected–this upheaval–but it has been centuries in the making. It is our narrative of we the people. This republic still stands, although divided.

We are far from coming to grips with all that we are—that is a long moment—change has more to reveal, I suspect, much more. That means accepting responsibility. Change always does.

It turns at will, this life that upends us at the most inconvenient times. I cannot think of a time when change was convenient—it is its own master.

Acceptance that we are here to experience life is to let go of the fallacy of control. To cling is completely illogical. We are a long way from that kind of acceptance but I think we are learning not every forest is felled by fear.

One Long Moment

Acceptance is a lifetime practice–one long moment–less about events and more about impermanence.

You know the drill. Everything is going fine, life is good, and in a nanosecond, the entire landscape changes. It’s a new life lens: the joy of the extraordinary or the bottomless gulf of grief–and everything in between.

Life will not be as we want it, no matter how hard we hold onto or push it away. Somewhere between these two is a moment of not clinging and not avoiding–accepting what is–where forgiveness is not such a chore, its heady fragrance in the crushed petal of the violet, never to be undone. Life has changed.

Mine is to accept the experience–come what may–I am neither doormat nor fortress. In acceptance, I respond with compassion. It may not be what others want but if I am mindful, I offer all I am able. It is all I have.

The older I am, the more I accept what a treasure change is.  Still, I am a slow learner and sometimes given to stubbornness, steeped in the fear of being old. Yet, at any age, I am who I am.

Acceptance is a lifelong moment but it will not sit with fear. There is no room. The fragrance of forgiveness too heady. The pull of the life experience too strong.

I think that is the seat of self. Ageless? I don’t know.

It is the body that does age and mine not so well. I look older than my years; I have since my 50s. In my mid 30s the right side of my face began to sag.

Too much medication, wrong kind of medication, not enough medication. I don’t know. Maybe it would’ve happened anyway. I really haven’t noticed these last years.

These days my visage sags with wrinkles, like the smoker’s lines above my lips. I don’t single out any one face furrow. They are the lines of my life, altogether.

Although I no longer drink, I once drank heavily. I know how fortunate I am in not missing alcohol. I thought it a change I would never make. Same with smoking.

I discovered that finding “life in the present” is as heady an experience as any martini—more so, actually—even better than the cigarette after dinner or sex.

Aging keeps me curious; judgment feels unreliable because it is. Aging reveals me as I am, flawed but ever viable. I need neither regret nor expectation. Who wants boomerangs?

In awe, I sit in the seat of self, where all gifts are given and received. Some are surprises, not all an easy open.

I may have an expiration date but the energy that animates this entire physical dimension does not. I’m not trying to stop any processes. I want to learn the grace of acceptance.

The body is a marvel at adapting to change. It is lifetime acceptance in action, forgiveness a given. All I need do is follow its lead and keep my life lens open.

No Ground Beneath My Feet

I wonder how many times letting go is accepting what has already gone.

When reading a book, I have been known to pause at the end of a chapter. I like to sit with good writing and let it wash over me. Sometimes, the better the writing, the longer it takes me to finish a book, as sentence after sentence illuminates.

This past week has been one of letting go, recognizing that a beacon now shines in another direction. It no longer lights my path, and I pause in acceptance and gratitude but also in love and loss.

I change my routine and walk away from the written word. I call a good friend and say, “Let’s have coffee.”

We did, which was stimulating for my mind-body and lasted into the evening. I do not remember the last time I drank a cup of coffee, much less two.

I was awake most of the night but this brief foray into the world was not one I regret. All day long, there were smiles and no doubt a bit of giddiness. And when this moment revisits, it will wash over gently in remembrance.

Not all the week’s memories will be so kind but that is also the life experience. I continue to work with a group of women committed to a better world through the written word—we wrote a book together–through our resistance, we join a larger grassroots movement. That path is not without its obstacles.

There is so much light in this group it sometimes blinds me–I step back–before I can once again bathe in the light that is these women. Here, I know wonder again, the kindness of human beings and of what they are capable–so much good, which is so easy to forget.

Only to the extent that we expose ourselves

over and over to annihilation

can that which is indestructible

be found in us.

Pema Chödrön in When Things Fall Apart

This quotation is from a sign that Chödrön had on her wall before she embraced Buddhism in any form. She said it was her first inkling to the core of Buddhist teaching.

It hurts when things fall apart but in letting go— experiencing groundlessness–there is at the very least familiarity if not comfort. For me, the more I open myself to the impermanence that is life– exposing myself to the annihilation— the less I struggle with accepting there is no ground beneath my feet.

Groundlessness is never all dark. Always, there is light, be it a sliver or a beacon, and I immerse myself in it. I know it will not stay and that when it leaves, I will discover something I did not know previously.

And on mornings like these when I know the light is already gone— some lights are that bright— my heart is not heavy but joyful. Yes, there are tears– for light is always love–sometimes a great one. I know only gratitude in that it lit my path for a mere moment.

It will live on in the caverns of my heart, this light, for there are still shadows that reside there. Each time such a light crosses my path, my heart opens just a bit more to the world around me, no matter how difficult a moment.

I now appreciate that the bodhisattva’s greatest power is compassion. My practice is limited, of course, but I know of no other that can dismantle fear, perhaps even crack open a heart or not.

Compassion extended may be felt in days yet to come.That is not for me to know nor should it be.

Rather, I return to the wisdom of the written word. This time, May Sarton’s “loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.” Of all this past week brought me, it was not poverty of self.

As I told my friend yesterday, it is Zen that opens me to my life. I’m not afraid, which is not to say I am fearless. My knees wobble and threaten to buckle from time to time.

I anticipate less. Often, I forget about expectations altogether so when fear comes calling, I respect its appearance of power but recognize its façade. And that is the result of only a sliver of light in my heart.

Imagine a heart full of light–not a shadow to be found–when risk and grace are intertwined as one and the bud bursts into bloom–one bright, shining moment.

Revolutionary Acts

Awareness.

Compassion.

Equanimity.

Loving-kindness.

These are revolutionary acts. Their endgame is peace. Their leitmotif, trust that we will do what is required.

Just as peace is available to us in the experience of every moment so is the ability to commit revolutionary acts. They change us, usually forever. In trust, we experience the flow of change.

Change cycles through our lives like seasons. Acknowledgement or no, we will experience it, often as a storm, for change is energy. As we know, energy, even on its best behavior, is chaotic.Lake Ella Fountain 0115

Trust reminds us there will be another morning, another opportunity for revolutionary acts.

It is one thing to know the sun will rise but it is another to trust in what the rising of the sun brings. Regardless, each day dawns in total vulnerability, the wellspring of trust.

It is an extraordinary example of tenderness, this daily dawn reminder of what we are capable.

This revolutionary act of treating ourselves tenderly can begin to undo the aversive messages of a lifetime.

Tara Brach

It is no effort to store a lifetime of aversive messages, for each experience can be so labeled, if we choose. The energy of boxing up a life is minimal for it requires no updating just the initial experience and then re-runs. It becomes its own newsreel, skewed in comfort.

Ah, aversive, the coming undone of an attitude or feeling. Ours is a slow dawn, this throwing off of aversion, yet we do rise as we face what we once would not.

We stand in revolutionary awareness, ready to commit acts of compassion, loving-kindness, and equanimity.ocean pine 0215

Rage has its own set of acts—not revolutionary–its endgame fear, pain, and death. We are averse to its message, its messengers, and its weapons–guns, knives, poison, bombs—we are diminished by each death, all of the life landscape forever changed.

Revolutionary acts may or may not make us stronger—I do not know—I am not sure that is their purpose. I suspect it is awareness. What I do know is the open heart is a revolutionary beat ready to rush rage.

To undo rage is to undo the averse messages of a lifetime. It takes tender conviction, a commitment to a lifetime of revolutionary acts. That is my call to action, my arms open to all.

These are not days for sunshine patriots for the dawn is grey.

Revolutionary acts do not require the radiance of a sunrise, just a dawning, a promise the sun will rise. Trust is enough to keep the open heart beating. Revolutionary acts rise not to war but to the absence of battle. Theirs is the tender touch of awareness.

Note Regarding This Post: Once again, there has been a mass shooting in the United States. As a Zen Buddhist, my position is obvious. This post is about revolutionary acts that involve a call to the heart. I am not the first to do so or, unfortunately, the last. Would that I were.

My position is often called naïve. That it may be but this is what I know: a change of heart produces results every time. It is our hearts that ultimately get our minds to re-thinking.

To open our hearts is a revolutionary act, requiring constant vigilance, and a belief that the sun still rises.

Miccosukee water lily 0713

A Small World It Is

Wondering 0614Having “virtual” access to one another–day and night–leaves little doubt how small the world really is. We are ever connected.

That may have always been an issue as even the 19th century romantic Wordsworth observed, the “world is too much with us late and soon.”

For all of our existence, thoughtful connection has been a human issue. We have always told stories to understand our relationship to life and our reverence for it but now, our stories seem out of sync with both.

Every minute of every hour we show each other who we are, and now that we have revealed ourselves to one another, thoughtful connection is even more of an issue.

Internet or no, to connect is to send and receive thoughtful messages, most often with language but sometimes with symbols or images that reveal more than words. Connecting is the light dawning, a window opening, an idea born.

In the 21st century, a virtual message is sent at speeds faster than we are able to think, making it not only easier to be thoughtless but at a speed beyond what we are able to physically experience.

This is a new wrinkle in our history and it is yet to be shown whether or not we will smooth it out. In the ancient traditions, the thoughtful life is living in the moment that one has rather than wandering to moments already lived or imagining days that do not yet show a sunrise.

A thoughtful connection is not without its weight or burden for a thoughtful connection is considerate, perhaps even painful but not unkind. It is the compassionate connection that allows us to know pain without being consumed by it.

We know what to say, because we have experienced closing down,

shutting off, being angry, hurt, rebellious, and so forth,

and have made a relationship with those things in ourselves. 

(Pema Chodron)

In the Beginning 0614

We have to heal the relationship we have with ourselves if the world that we are so passionate about in our rhetoric has any chance. Relationship on our planet is at a tipping point as thousands of species become extinct or face extinction.

We are the one species that can make a thoughtful difference. Indeed, we are the one species that has had more impact on this planet than any other.

`There are people who are past being hurt, beyond being hurt. You should know this is true. You should try to become one of those people, to make an understanding with yourself that you are not your body, you are something bigger. That is your work on this earth, do you see? Every experience here is to teach you to do that. Living, dying, every experience.’

 (Volya Rinpoche to Otto Ringling, Breakfast with the Buddha P. 275)

As humans, we have to get beyond our reactions. If it seems impossible to be kind, it does not follow that the only response is to return hurt. Silence is ever a thoughtful connection for it reveals a reverence for life, for getting beyond hurt. It reveals that we are something bigger.

 

(Note: Regular posts will resume August 3, 2014.)

 

 

The Well of Compassion is Full of Emotion

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

It is a story we relive all our lives.

Immersed in our own drama, we exhibit behaviors to hide the heart of our anger. It is only when we strip away the story we have told ourselves—perhaps for years—that we discover the core of our anger. Once revealed, we empty ourselves, slaking our thirst with a cup of compassion.
Hawk 3

Not surprisingly, I am thinking of a story about the Buddha and an angry, young man. As the Buddha was walking through a village, he was approached by a young man who screamed at him. He taunted the Buddha, calling him stupid and a fake. The Buddha, the young man declared, had no right to teach anybody anything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Buddha and the Angry Young Man

**Reacting With Anger

Compassion Totters on Friday the 13th

Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.

~The Tao~

A car accident allowed me a “real-life” opportunity to practice the three treasures of the Tao—simplicity, patience, compassion. The Friday the 13th mishap found my compassion tottering, like an amphora (vase) too close to the edge.

Frankly, my patience held, even when my tone of voice betrayed me, as I temporarily strayed into the tentacles of story so very far from the simplicity that is “the source of being.” As far as I know, the story strands still abound outside my being.
Compassion Crash 091313

At the core of the story is an uninsured driver, momentarily distracted by a text message, hitting one parked car and sliding it into another (mine) in the parking lot of the apartment complex where all involved live. The driver left a phone number, unable to remain at the scene. That is the source of every story that followed.

Thoughtful neighbors who witnessed parts of the accident notified me. My initial thought on seeing the two cars together was I am very fortunate. The car that slid into my white Scion was severely damaged on both sides. After more than one call to the police, an officer did arrive to assist with details and separate the two vehicles.

My compassion vase moved ever closer to the edge as the hours ticked by, bringing no response to a voice mail I left for the driver. His late night call to me with strands of story unconnected to the accident wrapped round me, and my emotions swirled to the surface. My compassion went into free fall.
Compassion Jug 092113

Over the next 72 hours, the driver’s story would emerge in various versions, sometimes tangentially connected to the incident but often not. In a face-to-face meeting of all three car owners, I peppered the driver with questions in a cold, staccato tone devoid of compassion, a tone I once used far too frequently.

However, that realization was not what returned me to compassion but this thought: I really have to stop reading/watching so many murder mysteries. I am not a chief inspector solving a crime. I smiled, stopped my questions, and leaned back in my chair, finally listening to the driver’s story. Then, I let it go.

Securing my amphora of compassion—returning to my source of being—meant more to me than staying in a never-ending story. Once, I had lived that way, for most of my life, actually. Those years pale to how I live now.

Of course, I still have moments when my compassion totters, and there will be others, no doubt, but such is the human experience. My vase is secure for now. As for the final reconciliation, the driver and I have entered into a payment arrangement. After all was agreed and signed, he said he had not expected me to be kind. I responded that he and I had one bad moment but we need not have another.