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 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.

An Unconditional Life for all Seasons: A Remembrance

Cooper Birthday 12; KMHuberImageAutumn is my favorite time of year, and when Thanksgiving is all but-on-the-doorstep of December, I begin my review of the year in preparation for a final toast on December 31.

This time in-between, for me, is one of reflection, a time of note writing or even a phone call just to say, “I am thinking of you.” Being thoughtful and having compassion for all sentient beings is peace on earth regardless of the season.

I remind myself of that every year but this year, the memory of Thanksgiving of 2012 with beagle Cooper James loomed large. Longtime readers of this blog may remember our adventures together.

Mine is a mostly vegetarian home for I am mostly Buddhist. Yet, in 2012, I could not let go of the thought—even through meditation—that I needed to purchase a fresh turkey for Thanksgiving.

As is often the way with these nagging thoughts, it was not about a mostly vegetarian/Buddhist human purchasing a turkey. It was about canine Cooper being on turkey watch, his personal aroma therapy.

It would take me two years to make the connection.

Cooper was curious about life, always willing to explore, yet he had a respect for boundaries, especially when it came to human food. He had learned treats come from behavior that humans like.

He was a master of canine kitchen behavior; always, he waited until I left the room. I was grateful for the way Cooper kept the floor clean–I hated sweeping and mopping floors more than any other chores–Cooper seemed born to both.

Thus, Cooper on turkey watch was at a respectable distance from the oven door but in full view of every possible Cooper James; KMHuberImageangle of the kitchen. He quickly mastered the timing of turkey basting. His low, beagle keen was within minutes of the timer’s announcement.

From afar, he watched in complete contentment as I basted the turkey. It was as if he loved the aroma of anticipation as much as the turkey he knew would come his way. Cooper was in the moment, and it was one of his best.

Food was Cooper’s first love. I never minded playing second fiddle. He was not greedy in the way he ate or how much he consumed. For a beagle, he was remarkably patient.

He simply got through moments as they were presented to him, no matter how familiar or beloved the scent. He met each one as if it were for the first time. He lived with an enthusiasm I have not met again.

KMHuberimage; larch in autumnThe aroma of life is heady in itself for life is a banquet, and we need not starve ourselves with conditions or certain ways to partake of it. It need not always be set up like a Thanksgiving dinner eaten off plates used once a year.

The zest of life is in each new moment we have, whether it is the aroma or the actual bite of turkey, there need not be conditions or expectations.  We need merely experience the joy of the moment.

Cooper had an unconditional love for living life unconditionally. I do my best to remember this on all the days of these years I live without him.

His last Thanksgiving was that November 22, 2012, the year that some believed the world would never begin as all others had. As an ever-present, sentient being, one day or forever were the same to Cooper. His presence on this planet ended on the last day of 2012.

I do think of Cooper on New Year’s Eve but it is on Thanksgiving that the heady scent of Cooper’s memory wafts through my mind. And yes, there is the aroma of roasting turkey.

********

A Kindness Note for All Seasons: The awesome August McLaughlin is hosting the first #SparkleFriday kindness event on November 28, Black Friday. Check out her blog post or RSVP the Facebook event page.

 

In the Presence of Coffee and Oatmeal

Each morning, I drop into a reverie that is becoming more routine than not. It occurs after my meditation and yoga practice but before that meditative state settles into my day.

It is a time in-between, this hour between the dog and the wolf, this waking up to the day Bloom of Peace 0613where thoughts define what must be done but being present provides the focus.

Breakfast often serves as a bridge for the meditative state to make its way into my day. A steaming bowl of oatmeal and coffee brewing simultaneously reach a point requiring a similar action, to pour.

The thought of pouring defines what is required but being present focuses the thought, which is either to pour almond milk into a steaming bowl of oatmeal or to pour freshly brewed coffee into a mug. If the general thought of pouring swirls between oatmeal and coffee, what was one or the other might just become another.

Such coffee-in-the-oatmeal mornings bring reality to our attention, courtesy of the meditative state. The realization of what has occurred intensifies our focus on what might happen next. This shape shifting of our lives uncovers us.

Give your real being

a chance

to shape your life.

~ Nisargadatta Maharaj~

Mindfulness does not multi-task but awakens us to where we are, to what we are doing. It is a snapshot, a jolt of opportunity to consider the untried, the untested. When our real being emerges, it is an hour between the dog and the wolf not so much of reverie but of reality.

I have many coffee-in-the-oatmeal mornings and just recently, I watched a writing life I had envisioned evaporate. The writer I was trying to be was not the writer I am. It was just that basic. I was trying so hard to secure a writing life not meant for me that I almost missed living the writing life I have.

I used to think I wrote because there was something I wanted to say. Then I thought, ‘I will continue to write because I have not yet said what I wanted to say’; but I know now I continue to write because I have not yet heard what I have been listening to.

~Mary Ruefle, “On Secrets”~

Footprints 1013

I am not a writer of fiction but for years fiction is what I thought I heard yet no center of any story I wrote ever held.

In my poetry, prose crowded meter, and the lines went flat. I did not distinguish what I heard.

Some sentences stand alone until the day they pour into a single paragraph not about one or the other but another, like coffee in oatmeal. For me, this shifting of my writer’s shape is my awakening to the writer I am.

Rather than hearing story or rhyme as one or the other I hear another, a beat in-between, a meditation on the story of a human being, sometimes a verse worthy of song.

If you begin to understand what you are without trying to change it, then what you are undergoes a transformation.

~ J. Krishnamurti ~

The New Now: A Possum in Moonlight

The possum’s size was considerable enough that first glance indicated it might be an armadillo but the sheen of its fur, seemingly silken in the moonlight, proved it a possum, and a rather deliberative one at that.

Browsing the ground and grasses, the possum foraged with pause, as if such a night of light was evident even with possum vision. Feline EmmaRose (ER) and I had also been drawn to the full moon’s light, as we often are.

EmmaRose in Meditation KMHuberImage

In stillness, ER sits a window sill and I sit abed, watching the possum peruse the moonlight. Contentment reigns on either side of the window.

When the possum finally leaves our viewing area, ER yawns and decides it is time to eat so she, too, leaves the moonlight viewing. And after she eats? Well, that now is not yet here, is it?

Every moment is the new now, a peeling back of another layer of the present, offering an experience all its own. It is the only way ER and the possum know–each moment is its own clean slate, free from what was as well as from what might be. Each moment is its own entity.

This musing in moonlight is familiar but there is something in this light at night that seems…well, revelatory.

I remember Anita Moorjani explaining that she begins each day by surrendering herself to whatever the day may bring to her and ends her day by releasing everything that she received. Thus, each day is new and her slate is clean every morning.

For some months now, I have been in-between dances, unable to let go of what was in order to immerse myself in what is. In the moonlight, such struggling against time and tide seems silly and without substance.

A cramp in my hand reminds me I am still clinging to my beloved Kodak camera.  There are no possum pictures this night nor will there be from this aged camera. It works beautifully but I had to replace my laptop and the camera software is not compatible.

The Kodak recorded the last years of life for two, aging canines; captured five years of life along the Gulf Coast and the occasional snapshot of the Gulf’s waters; almost, it walked with me through two years of change on Waverly pond. Few objects become dear friends but it is possible, and in the moonlight, I am convinced, yet again, of the sentience of all things.

I suspect every moment is a clean slate but I am not that present and may never be, yet in appreciating that every moment is the new now, I hold onto less and am open to more.

After all, I have watched a possum strolling by the light of the moon.

The Mirror That is All of Us

What is it we see when we look into the mirror of humanity, the oneness that is all of us? We recognize traits in others because we know hints of them in ourselves. In our oneness, we are mirrors for each other, reflecting the world to all.
Waverly bridge in spring 0413

There is a Sanskrit “great saying” or pronouncement from the Hindu Upanishads–Tat Tvam Asi–that is often translated as “you are that” or “that you are.”  Essentially, the idea is that each one of us is unique and our uniqueness is essential to the oneness of all existence.

Oneness never diminishes the individual but rather, each is part of the whole, occupying a unique space in a single moment of existence.  That is the gift of oneness, allowing us to mirror the world for one another. It is how we recognize ourselves.

If we celebrate our relationship to one another, our focus shifts to what connects us and not to what separates us. Imagine the possibilities in this 21st century. For the first time in the history of humanity, we have the technology to create global awareness one person at a time, the only way change is ever truly affected.

We live in a fractious and fearful world but our moment, our time is unique to us, just as it was for all who came before us. That seems to be the way of existence. Yet unlike previous generations, we are able to criss-cross the globe electronically, offering ourselves to relationships we would never know otherwise. Technology brings us closer to one another than we have ever been.
Co-existence on the Row 0713

It is not an opportunity that has come before, and perhaps it is not an opportunity that will come again. The world grows smaller as we grow closer to one another. “It is only by risking ourselves from one hour to another that we live at all” (William James). Such is existence.

Each moment is rife with infinite possibilities if we are aware, completely present to what is occurring, giving it our complete attention. In becoming more aware within ourselves, we let go of past ideals and future wishes to look into the mirror of what is, the present.

In the present, we recognize that we are always in relationship no matter where we are for we are always connected to life. That is our connection to oneness, our sharing of life with every pollinating bee, blade of grass, drop of water, and mountain peak. Everywhere we look, the world holds itself up to us.

The reflection of all that connects us is so much more than what separates us. If nothing else, such a look in the mirror that is the world broadens our perceptions for rather than being attached to only one way of being, we are presented with the life force that flows through all beings. It seems so worth the risk.

Bits and pieces of this revised post originally appeared as “The Mirror That is You.”