The View from Down the Hall

A lesbian lives down the hall from Connie, not that she cares.

It’s a label she has avoided all her adult life and now, at 88, a neurologist asks if she and Babs “are a couple of queers.” It isn’t the first time she has heard that question (in so many different words) for she and Babs lived together for over 40 years but now they live apart with separate lives.

Babs promised to stay but finally, she found a relationship with her daughter, who lived 300 miles away. And then there was the volunteer job as a docent at a local museum. Connie was invited to move, even offered a house, but Connie liked being the one with the money and doing the offering.

It would be five years before she moved to be with Babs in the same town but in an apartment. All their years simmer, a pot constantly stirred, frequently boiling over, their differences the only constant they have ever known.

In her remaining years, Babs is immersed in what it means to be in the workforce at 86. She kept the house, washed the pots, and cared for Connie’s every need for decades. She doesn’t miss the life but she misses the Connie “who could sell ice to an Eskimo.” Business after business, Connie was a success.

Now, her mind is a jumble. Intersecting thoughts, their edges jagged, her past seeping into her present, a rapier seeking its mark. She doesn’t know daydream from daylight.

“If this is me, I don’t want it anymore,” Connie says, turning her snow-white head from side to side, blue eyes red rimmed, but her thin face younger than her years. Babs took good care of her, it seems. Still, Connie’s snake-like spine increasingly betrays her with pain and immobility, but that’s nothing like the longing she has for Babs.

Connie never had to care for herself so she never learned how. She always had enough money to hire everything and everyone. “I just can’t do any of that,” she has told me time and again, and I have come to believe what Babs told me, “I waited on her hand and foot.”

Their bond was that they never tried to change each other. Their differences keep them plotting, stirring the pot, making sure the pilot light never goes out. They live as if life–this one right here–is eternity and they have all the time in the world to mold life as they need it to be, at times demand it be.

I admire that, I really do. Of course, I cannot  know their lives, only what I watch through my life lens (with my own boundaries and biases) but it seems a badge of love, this life, for Connie and Babs.

That’s the view, anyway, from the lesbian who lives down the hall.

Reflections on a Seesaw

“Maybe, maybe not” is a phrase I’ve carried with me since first reading Robert Fulghum’s Maybe Maybe Not: (Second Thoughts from a Secret Life). If memory serves, Fulghum focuses on the certainty that anything can happen. In maybe (and maybe not as well), lies the wonder of certainty.

Some 20 years later, I still do not disagree. After all, existence is ever-evolving, never given to any absolute except change. For me, certainty lies in change.

Maybe this is hair-splitting, maybe not.

It is only recently I realized that “maybe, maybe not” is my catchphrase for equanimity. I do not know when that happened but it did. There is an evenness of mind in the seesaw quality of “maybe, maybe not”—at least for me–an ongoing balancing act in meeting life’s experiences.Winds of Change 0214

As Pema Chodron says, “cultivating equanimity is a work in progress.” Indeed, it is. Yet, I find a kind of certainty in creating an environment of equanimity. If anything is certain, it is change; perhaps that is the permanence in impermanence.

Maybe impermanence is the heart of Fulghum’s belief in wonder for no thing ever stays and anything can happen. Maybe, maybe not.

Cultivating equanimity means we respond rather than react to the emotional and physical storms that make up the drama of our lives. If we meet the storms with an evenness of mind, we learn the nature of our pain.Storm Clouds 081913

To open one’s self to the fury of any storm—to sit in its eye–is to accept the promise of impermanence, the certainty of change. In acceptance comes the realization that one’s life changes forever. No storm is without its pain yet every storm has its eye.

I am reminded of the Buddha’s words, “I teach nothing but suffering and the end of suffering.” For me, equanimity provides the evenness of mind to accept that pain will always be part of the life experience. But I do not have to suffer. The choice is mine.

We suffer when we are becalmed, wrapped up in our pain, wearing it as our identity. In aversion, we also suffer, trying to outrun or outmaneuver the storm— we may actually do more than once — regardless, we will meet it again, may be different circumstances and perhaps when least expected.

In equanimity, we brave the storm, accepting it will forever change us. We sit in its eye, safe in knowing the storm state always passes, and in its aftermath, we rise once again, buoyed by the energy of existence.

With every storm, there are lands lost to us, yes, but if we sail with the current—an evenness of mind— there are so many new shores to explore, so many experiences yet to come. There is always another sea to sail.

And all the while there is the wonder of maybe, maybe not, a seesaw balancing act, certain to change.

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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.

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