The Other Side of the Wall

Saturday, I read an exchange between Jack Kornfield and Pema Chödrön about ”shortening the fuse,” loading up language for an assured explosion.

My mind went to social media warriors lining up on respective sides of the middle–no one’s land–where no one goes because it means giving up ground. There seems none to give.

And then I found a remarkably insightful article regarding secret Facebook groups. Think about it. Secret groups for free speech in a republic whose constitution protects freedom of speech for ALL.

I am a member of more than one secret group and am not averse to joining others. It is the tenor of these interesting times in which we live, unfortunately. We are closer to being underground than I ever thought possible.

It is a war. I see that now. I am on one side of a wall but it is in no one’s land where I found myself Saturday. I cannot lay claim to taking the first step.

It was my wise neighbor, Grace. Literally, there is an apartment wall that separates our lives but it joins us as well. Where we live is our bond.

Together, we weather the changes in the management of our apartment complex. We have no input but we do have a suggestion box. Such is the tenor of the times.

Grace is not a member of  #TheResistance and is always relieved when I do not cause a “revolt” in a meeting with apartment management. Often, she will put her hand on my arm.

I do not wear my pink pussy hat or my Nasty Women Project shirt when she and I go out, especially not to a meeting with management.

Maybe I’ve been walking this wall for a while. It’s not as noticeable as I thought it would be.

Grace is important to me, for where we live, friendship is not for the faint of heart. Ours is a 55+ apartment complex–low income–for many of us, this is our last home. It’s a shorter friendship for life here.

When Grace and I discussed Puerto Rico, both of our hearts closed. We could not bridge the divide. It surprised us, and it hurt. We discovered the wall.

I cannot say when or if I would have called her, again. These are dark days for everyone; loss looms on both sides. After all, we are losing the middle. The world feels fragile because balance is.

It is Grace who goes to the wall with the announcement: ”Judgment Day has arrived.” I am stunned because I feel that, too.

However, Judgment Day appears to have more than one cause–our apartment complex gates are now operational.

Neither one of us can understand the need for gates. They are anything but a security feature and present mobility issues for both of us. We are not an exclusive community.

Yet, what seeks to exclude brings Grace and I to the wall, the fuse no shorter.

KMHuberImage; Gulf of Mexico, FL; St. Mark's Wildlife Refuge

The Grace of Acceptance

I continually grasp at life, clinging to what will not be held. I want to lie in the arms of acceptance, wrap myself in its grace.

Because once in a while I get a glimpse of Buddha nature, the backdrop against which the chaos of our everyday lives plays out.

I want to define what defies definition.

I suppose I just want to know where I stand, to which Pema Chödrön would remind me that only in groundlessness do I find my center. And that’s where acceptance is too, I think.

There is a lot of worry in that word, acceptance. I know it is a long moment and has nothing to do with approval, agreement, or acquiescing. Acceptance is living the every day with grace, embracing the daily risk.

That requires acceptance of circumstances–as they are for as long as they are–with “unconditional friendliness” toward ourselves. Who we are, as we are. That is Maitri. That is grace.

It moves us to deeds we once thought impossible. It unlocks us, and each day brings us “new grace” as Eberhard Arnold tells us.

I am a risk taker. Won’t settle for satisfactory. Never have. That doesn’t sound unconditionally friendly, does it? It sounds more like someone in search of a key for a lock.

Yet, I am not inflexible. I know the future is limitless. It is mine to explore the full experience of being alive. I really try to do that, no matter how many times my life lens changes.

I am most engaged when I’m completely present to my task, immersed in risk without ever a thought to it. Mine is not to control but to experience.  Without fail, the more groundless I am, the more centered I feel.

While it seems impossible at first,

you soon recognize that with everything

there is a point of balance

and you just have to find it.

(Amy Tan)

I suspect this is how we effect change everywhere–in tiny touches–surprising feats of strength all on their own. They allow us to enlarge our sense of things.

Far too often, I get lost in the minutia.

There is an oft-told story about a Hindu master and his apprentice who–I think–had a similar problem. The Hindu master sends the apprentice to purchase salt.

He tells the apprentice to put some salt into a glass of water and drink it. The apprentice says the water is bitter. The master agrees.

They go to a lake where the master tells the apprentice to throw in a handful of salt. The Hindu master instructs the apprentice to drink; he says the water tastes fresh.

Life is bitter the Hindu master says, “pure salt.” The taste of life depends upon whether we sip it from a glass or a lake. “The only thing [we] can do is … enlarge [our] sense of things.… become a lake.” (Version of Hindu story from Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening).

This is why I meditate, to sip from something larger than life. Not to escape its bitterness but to become a lake, as comfortable with chaos as I am with constancy. To live where grace resides, in impermanence.

St. Mark's Refuge; Gulf of Mexico; KMHuberImage

Whether we confine ourselves to a single glass of water or become a lake depends upon how “friendly” we are with ourselves, whether or not we drink in our confusion as readily as our sanity.

Accepting that what fuels our fire creates the circumstances of our lives. May we live in the grace of that acceptance.

Life is like that.

We don’t know anything.

We call something bad;

we call it good.

But really we just don’t know.

Pema Chödrön

The Case for Chaos

Increasingly, I choose chaos over suffering. It’s a conscious act, one I have come to know as sitting in the seat of Zen.

The Buddha taught suffering and ending suffering. There’s no avoiding pain. It is integral to the life experience. How I deal with pain determines whether I suffer.

This is usually where chaos ensues. 🙂

Pain arrives like any other experience, a visit from the unknown. If I sit in the seat of Zen, I am without expectation, open to what is being offered. Welcome or unwelcome, the experience changes me.

It is not the nature of life to suffer. Pain is only one experience and like all every other one, it is merely passing through. No one experience frames a life unless we do not let go.

Being chronically ill offers me various levels of pain but sitting in the seat of Zen offers me a life lens to adjust to whatever light is present in varying perspective.

I have demanded much of my body. It has responded beyond my wildest expectations, often adjusting in ways I am late to discover but become aware of nonetheless.

As Anne Lamont said, grace finds us in one state and leaves us in another. It strips us to our core—revealing us as we are, transforming us from what we were. It is the heart that must make the mind bold to life anew, and somehow, it always does.

This past week, I visited my neurologist who advised that while there is no improvement in my cervical spondylotic myelopathy, there is no change, either.

The tingling in my fingers will not subside nor will sensation replace numbness in my hands.

I’ve known this since the cervical fusion failed in 2015 but to know and to bear are often different worlds.

I may be able to push my fist through a wave of impermanence but I will still be knocked to the ground. And there is no out running the wave—ever. Mine is to be, to experience.

Hollow comfort that when fear is in abundance but I don’t have to be fearless, just a little bit curious, that is sliver of light enough.

What now for my hands and arms? The answer is what it has always been, world-building “around the tiniest of touches” (Carol Rifka Brunt).

I have a reverence for the capabilities of the “opposable thumb,” probably because my thumbs feel more in opposition than opposable. Yet, there remain possibilities.

If I ignore the “tiniest touches,” I will drop the plate or the egg. I must be completely present to my task. Less focus is required in lifting my collapsible walker in and out of my car. In gripping the walker, tingling streams through my hands, the “tiniest of touches.”

I no longer wrap my mind around that one moment when all life will seem in balance. I once worked toward such a freeze-frame but it left me lacking. In all the imperfection of impermanence, I would rather its wave.

How easy it is to forget that we are world builders–our one life experience so chaotic, so full of grace.

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.

 * * *

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.”

With the Dawn, the Every Day Miracle Begins

Settling into the miracle of life may be all that we ever require. The miracle of the every day is the field of infinite possibilities available at every dawn. Distinguishing what is from what is not is a lifelong dilemma, a constant in humanity.

“Every particle of creation sings its own song of what is and what is not. Hearing what is can make you wise; hearing what is not can drive you mad” (Sufi poet Ghalib).

We are prone to making sure that events turn out as expected, keeping wonder in absentia. We are more comfortable when we confine the outcome to known boundaries. Trusting the miracle that we are requires a shift in perspective.
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“There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle” (Albert Einstein).

Viewing life through that lens, merely appreciating that we are alive seems more than sufficient. Yet, there is the matter of day-to-day relationships and situations.

The Vedic sutra Sankalpa–Sanskrit for purpose or intention—can be a way to frame our choices and decisions. “Every decision I make is a choice between a grievance and a miracle. I let go of all grievances and choose miracles” (Deepak Chopra, SynchroDestiny, DVD version).

Sankalpa opens up the field of infinite possibilities by encouraging us to choose courage over fear. When we accept our fear, all that is left is courage.

It means loving ourselves for who we are, not for whom we want to be or for the person we have been but who we are in the dawn of each day. In loving ourselves just as we are, we connect to the miracle of being alive.

“… Loving [ourselves] requires a courage unlike any other. It requires us to believe in and stay loyal to something no one else can see that keeps us in the world—our own self-worth” (Mark Nepo, Book of Awakening).

When we settle into the miracle of all that we are, we open ourselves to the world. There is no guarantee the world will open to us in return yet to live the miracle of the every day is to rely on the constancy of our own self-worth, confident in our ability to absorb the day no matter how it is presented to us, whether as pain or pleasure.

Every moment of our lives is like an opening night performance for our roles are constantly evolving through plot twists and scene changes. All the acts of our lives play from beginning to end, sometimes to applause and other times to catcalls. Such is the stage of life.

“And all moments of living, no matter how difficult, come back into some central point where self and world are one, where light pours in and out at once.…a fine moment to live” as is the next. (Mark Nepo).

The Wisdom in Compassion, a Matter of Nuance

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The practice of compassion requires considerable courage, for the way of compassion is living an active life amongst all beings. Practicing compassion means we trust ourselves enough to connect to life completely, making ourselves vulnerable, a daring in its own right.  Such is the wisdom of compassion.

Compassion (Late Latin: com=”together” + pati “to suffer”) offers us a perspective on suffering. Its etymology—the peeling back of the layers of its life—reveals its nuance, allowing us a peek into its past. Much of the mystery of life lies in such nuance.

The practice of compassion is a commitment to connect with the suffering of all beings, including those we do not like. Connecting is not condoning but rather a revealing of the nuance inherent in every being. “It involves learning to relax in allowing ourselves to move gently toward what scares us” (Chodron).

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Moving toward what scares us allows us to soften rather than harden, to open to options previously hidden from view. In acknowledging that all suffer, we recognize that all know pain in its various guises. Suffering reveals our connection to all beings.

In practicing compassion, especially when to do so challenges us to our core, we appreciate the pain of other people. The nuance is in recognizing the suffering without judging the behavior. In this coming together with those who suffer— the etymology of compassion—we glean the wisdom inherent in living such a life.

Dr. Grace Damman terms this as the aligning of compassion with wisdom: “What I mean is that when I am served by other people who are driven by their own standards of excellence, and not by the demands of my ‘whiny self,’ then I am best served by them.” It is what she discovered in her recovery from a serious car accident, a truly vulnerable state.

In reaching for the wisdom within compassion, our perspective broadens, leaving us less susceptible to shenpa or getting hooked by our emotions. When we are hooked, we soar with our neuroses, oblivious to objectivity. We sever our connection with all beings, hearing only our own demands, our own needs.

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The churning of our emotions slips us into solitary confinement with our suffering, devoid of compassion. We sharpen our selves, harden our hearts to resist what scares us–creating the classic boomerang effect—the life of the infinite loop.

When we finally stop and peel back the layers of our pain, we open up to compassion, softening into the realization that all suffer. We connect to the nuance of life. The practice of compassion is not for the faint of heart but for warriors—bodhisattvas—who trust their vulnerability, for they know it is their connection to the wisdom of existence.

“We cultivate bravery through making aspirations. We make the wish that all beings, including ourselves and those we dislike, be free of suffering and the root of suffering” (Chodron).

Such is the way of a life of compassion.

After Silence, Music Expresses it Best

The power of music was the Bloggers for Peace challenge for August. It brought to mind Aldous Huxley: “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”
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Throughout the history of humanity, music has permeated barriers often considered impenetrable. Music unites continents, as the deeds of humanity are recounted in song. Human existence is the song of the ages written across bars of hope and measures of peace.

From Paleolithic time onward, every major tradition—Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Taoism Tao, Hinduism—embraced song as one way to reveal the stories of human existence. Combining music and story, each of the major traditions expressed compassion for all in the community as a way of daily living. Similarly, each tradition warned of the pitfalls of hoarding riches and extolled the virtues of giving to the least among us.
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In each verse of the song of community, all give and all receive, the song of the ages expressing the inexpressible.

For many in my generation, “We Shall Overcome” was the song for civil rights for every American as well as every citizen of the world. We are still singing this song, still committed to overcoming what divides us in order to live with what unites us–peace. Globally, it is the melody of the human heart, expressing the inexpressible. Within its coda is the constant vigilance required for compassion and thus, for coexistence.

Peace is not passive but like compassion it is alive, an aria to overcome what we have yet to accomplish in twenty-one centuries: to live with one another in the harmony of acceptance sans the labels of race, creed, color or any dissonance that divides rather than unites.

Since we began composing the story of human existence, there have always been notes of hope. Perhaps the power of music and its ability to express what we cannot will one day lead us to a vigilant, vibrant life of peace and compassion.

It is and always has been to our great credit that we sing.

If memory serves, the video clip of Joan Baez singing “We Shall Overcome” is from the 1969 movie, Woodstock.  There was a time I would have recognized it immediately. Well, I still know all the words.

Other Bloggers for Peace Posts:

Grandmalin: The August Post for Peace

Rarasaur: One Little Candle Burning Bright

The Seeker:  Music That Will Make You Smile

Rohan Healy:  Alien Eyes

Electronic Bag Lady: Music and the Brain