Considering Critical Mass

Imagine what critical mass consciousness might mean for our planet. That’s what I have been considering this past week. In this context, I am referring to critical mass as “a threshold value of the number of people needed to trigger a phenomenon by exchange of ideas” (Wikipedia).

In a recent Super Soul Sunday interview with Oprah Winfrey, Deepak Chopra suggested the possibility of critical mass consciousness because of the advances we have made in technology.  Imagine all of us aware of being aware.

The idea of awareness or wholeness reaching such a threshold does seem more than plausible as we are able to communicate globally on a daily basis, if we are so inclined. Whatever technology may or may not be, it is bringing us together face by face, word by word, video by video, an ongoing parade of points of view. It seems there are few places or events that we cannot access.

The recent US presidential election is a good example of such an event. The reelection of President Obama revealed much about us as Americans, not the least of which is that we, too, are moving toward that segment of the planet where white is just another color. In revealing ourselves, warts and all, we relied on the risk that is hope, on the spark that is genius.

“Genius is a crisis that joins the buried self, for certain moments, to our daily mind” (William Butler Yeats). Whenever we are jarred into genius, we have the opportunity to become whole–once again aware—to perceive yet another perspective on what it is to be human. Through crisis, we absorb all that we have been so that we may be yet again anew and maybe, just maybe not as attached.

“The purpose in crisis, if there is one, is not to break us as much as to break us open” (Mark Nepo). Letting go is a lifelong lesson. To be broken open is to detach from the outcome of crisis, no matter how difficult it is or how long it takes. To become aware of all around us requires us to love enough to let go. As the Buddhists say, “to be a fisherman you must detach yourself from the dream of the fish. This makes whatever is caught or found a treasure” (Nepo).*

Perhaps that is what takes us to crisis, our ever narrowing inability to let go of the dream. We attach our lives to a candidate, to a belief, to a fish, and we close ourselves to any and all outcome outside of our narrowly defined dream. No such dream could ever come true for our attachment to its outcome is beyond the dream.

St. Francis told us that “[we] are what [we] are seeking.” As seekers, we break open, teetering on the edge of ourselves, where awareness begins. Extending all that we are to all that surrounds us is consciousness, motivated only by compassion, love, gratitude, and joy. Just consider that we have the technology to reach such critical mass consciousness.

*(All Mark Nepo quotations are from The Book of Awakening, Kindle version).

The Power of Pause

Emily Dickinson wrote, “To live is so startling it leaves but little room for other occupations” yet how easy it is to be more startled by our occupations than living our lives. We slide into the demand of our daily requirements, although all of the ancient traditions advise observation–the power of pause—in order to act rather than react.

Dave R Farmer Image
WANA Commons

The power of pause allows us to trust the skies to clear, the fog to dissipate. It is the quiet courage of the heart resonating throughout our bodies while our heads consider whether or not to act. The power of pause requires us to listen as if we were hearing for the first time. It is that crisp, that charged.

The power of pause resides not in analysis but in awareness, a reach into the unknown. It requires us to empty our minds much like Randall Jarrell’s bored, sick child who entreats existence, “all that I’ve never thought of think of me.” It is a trusted leap from comfort to change, embarking on the voyage in to all that we are.

Within in each one of us, there is a unique, natural rhythm to living our lives. Only we can discover our own flow, our tributary that connects us to all life. It is a “startling” discovery, not lending itself to a life of daily lists or to the inertia of self-absorption but to commitment without being attached to its outcome. We take a breath, go “all in” and we’re in the moment.

Rather than outcome, we focus on the emotions not ruled by ego–compassion, gratitude, love, and joy–for they emerge from the thoughtfulness requisite to the power of pause. We go within ourselves to discover the best we have for the world outside of us and then deliver.

The power of pause requires us to quiet ourselves, to allow the storm of the world to swirl round the calm eye of our lives. In the stillness, we discover who we are beyond the business of the world of to-do lists. In the moment that it takes to breathe, we feel the spark of us–our own light–reveal our way.

There is a well-known story regarding two scientists who travel halfway around the world to meet with a Hindu Sage, eager to hear the Sage’s thoughts on their theories. They meet in the Sage’s garden. He pours tea and continues pouring although the cups overflow with the tea.

Finally, one of the scientists says, “‘Your holiness, the cups can hold no more.’  The Sage stops pouring and says, ‘Your minds are like the cups. You know too much. Empty your minds and come back. Then we’ll talk'”(Leroy Little Bear in The Book of Awakening).

No matter how frequently we revisit various versions of the two scientists and the Sage, the light of awareness flashes: empty our minds so we may live our life aware of our breath, as we begin yet again.

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens. (“The Red Wheelbarrow,” William Carlos Williams)

Freedom in the Unknown

For a while I have been residing with two, well-worn nemeses, the past and the future.  I am deliberate in my use of the terms future and past rather than a specific moment, incident, or person for what keeps the past and future ever present is what Deepak Chopra calls “the conditioned response” or the known.

Each one of us has a myriad of conditioned responses for every situation that arises. Regardless of whether or not there is a replica of a particular situation, the mind enthusiastically emits a thought barrage of past experience and future possibility. Both future and past are attached to what happened or what might happen but not to the moment that is. Living in the moment is the unknown, free from past or future.

Essentially, every moment is free. We choose between the known and the unknown, between what we have always been and what we have never been. It is that basic. What is not free is the situation surrounding each and every moment.

Situations reside in the past or in the future–they have strings–and where there is attachment, there is ego, a constant chatter of what you already know. Only when we practice what Chopra calls “choice less awareness” (Moksha), are we in the unknown of the moment and truly free. It takes a lifetime of practice and ceaseless awareness.

For without awareness, we get comfortable and our practice becomes what we know and not what is. Increasingly, my enthusiasm was on the wane, whether for the revision of my novel or for my nonfiction manuscript on consciousness. While I love what I am doing, I could not deny a familiar tug of weariness. Briefly, even the malaise of lupus loomed as I turned more and more to the known of the past.

Mindless television is a tried-and-true response of mine to whenever “the world is too much with us” (William Wordsworth). Some would argue that I could not have picked a better time than the broadcasting of the two major political conventions in the United States. There may be something to that. For completely opposite reasons, both conventions made me weep but as I reached my saturation point for both weeping and politics, I discovered my enthusiasm for republic and democracy.  Both are messy, completely life-like, wherein lies the sliver that is hope.

No matter the moment of life, hope is always the light of the unknown and may be the heart of risk as well. In hope lies enthusiasm, the total immersion into life, “the ripple that follows the stone…[as] we are each faced with the endless and repeatable task of discovering or uncovering our enthusiasm, which means in essence being at one with the energy of God or the divine” (Mark Nepo). Not surprisingly, God and the divine are within the political whirlwind of the United States while the world watches.

Regardless of how we perceive our relationship to one another–Einstein’s “spooky action at a distance,” the Tao, the Universe, the Source or quantum physics–we are all connected to consciousness, which is so much more than a mere pinprick of light. Consciousness connects us to existence, transcending all we have ever known; it moves our heads under our hearts so we may hear one another. When we listen, we observe. We make a response within the moment.

In observing the political conventions I listened, dropping my decades-long conditioned response of ranting and raving. Rather, I was grateful for living in a republic brave enough to reveal the messiness of its democracy to the world, at considerable risk perhaps.  I immersed myself into the enthusiasm that is the noise of life, the unpredictable but eternal moment.

It is such a small step from the known to the unknown. In the unknown resides the “choice less” awareness that is the freedom inherent in risk, the heartbeat of hope. It is neither the past nor the future but only the moment, which is all we ever have yet is always more than enough as long as we are aware. “Despite our endless limitations, it seems that the qualities of attention, risk, and compassion allow us to be at one with the energy of the whole and the result is enthusiasm, that deep sensation of oneness” (Nepo).

(All Mark Nepo citations appear in The Book of Awakening)

The Quiet Teachers

As I have mentioned more than once, I’m spending this year with Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening, meaning that I begin my daily meditation by reading one of his 365 observations. More often than not, a series of readings—one day after another—will seem an awakening designed only for me. This past week, Nepo introduced me to the quiet teachers.

The quiet teachers are often ignored but are everywhere and are as solid as the ground upon which we walk. We know these quiet teachers by their “lessons [that] dissolve as accidents or coincidence…offering us direction that can only be heard in the roots of how we feel and think” (Nepo).

For me, the lessons have been clear but somewhat noisy for I am in the process of completely restructuring a novel I wrote seventeen years ago. What that means is the destruction of a weakly structured novel in order to salvage a stubborn story that has waited a long time to be told. It has required me to immerse myself into an old world, awakening characters long silent and provoking images fraught with memories. There has been much shattering of ideals but the shards of those ideals proved to be quiet teachers, the first of others that I met this week.

Nepo also introduced me to an observation from Megan Scribner: “‘I’m only lost if I’m going someplace in particular.'” I could not have described my own first attempt at writing a novel more succinctly. For over 80,000 words and seventeen years, I stayed with a story I no longer believed rather than facing the story that was trying to emerge. Once I began stripping away the façade, I heard the heart of the story and found myself at journey’s beginning: “Practice letting go of your plan and discover the path of interest that waits beneath your plan” (Nepo).

Not being attached to outcome or plan reveals the story waiting to be written. It is only when I have the courage to face failure do I heed the lessons of the quiet teachers. Accident and coincidence dissolve into the direction of the story. I am struck by the synchronicity of my own life’s direction with that of my writing life. Not for the last time, I am in awe at the oneness that is all.

“‘Be serene in the oneness of things and erroneous views will disappear by themselves'” (Seng-Ts’an) became clearer and clearer to me as I separated the heart of the story from the remnants of what was once a novel. All of the tearing apart and leaving of words is less difficult than I imagine. There are thorny moments but eventually, they give way to the relief of no longer having to hold up the façade of novel.

While the shininess of a new structure of a novel is a gift, the fear of idolizing structure at the cost of story, wherever it may wend, is a battle that will wage until structure and story support one another as a whole. I am confident in the lessons of the quiet teachers but mostly, I am vigilant for like life, writing is fraught with accident and coincidence as is the beating of my heart.

“As you enter your day, try not to reach for life. Try not to leave or arrive. Try to let life into you” (Nepo).

Gifts at 60

On this first day of my being 60, I am not writing the blog post I had planned; living in the moment is like that or so I am learning. Certainly, I thought about this particular post much more than I usually do—I kept considering it my first blog post of my next decade–but by mid-week, that ego balloon went airless.

The last week of my fifth decade proved to be a week of surprises, mostly in the form of sugar, but not entirely in the obvious way. For the most part, my system no longer tolerates sugar in any form other than what it produces itself. Generally, this is not a statement I have to consider but in my last post, I mentioned that I had an appointment with a practitioner of Eastern medicine. Not so surprisingly, she and I had different interpretations regarding Eastern medicine–and sugar–but rather surprisingly, I agreed to try two different remedies at least one time, which proved to be more than enough.

Buoyed by the possibilities presented by the practitioner, I decided to have one (1) glass of red wine, my first in three years.  Although my glass of wine and my dose of “remedies” were days apart, literally, my week collapsed before Wednesday noon. I am more recovered than not and leaning toward awareness.

KM Huber Image

I suspect I was caught up in birthday bliss for it has been a week of gifts beyond remembering the lesson of sugar.  Once again, I discovered that I really can, and should, trust my instincts and not my ego. It was not my instincts that chose the remedies or the wine but my ego filled with the idea of birthday, a balloon born to burst. I am reminded of Georgia O’Keeffe–“To see takes time”–a sentence for the rest of my life, yet another gift.

KM Huber Image

I was pleasantly surprised by lovely flowers from  Dr. Mac and all of the sanctuary “critters” at  secondchancefarms.org. As you can see, EmmaRose wasted no time in her inspection, and yes, all are “kitty safe” petals.

Cooper and I began our morning on the Gulf of Mexico, near this palm tree at St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge but here is where we will both end our day.

Almost always, Cooper takes command of the remote. Like me, he is a bit ambivalent about television but he has a preference for the remote.

Thank you, Dear Reader, for stopping by to read my posts and to chat, from time to time. It is such a gift you give, and I am most grateful, always.

“Once during the day, think of who you are as living energy and not as a goal to be achieved or obstacle to be overcome. Feel yourself without inventory” (Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening).

Final Days of 59

“… Transformation always involves the falling away of things we have relied on, and we are left with the feeling that the world as we know it is coming to an end, because it is” (Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening).

This past February, I wrote a post about some unexpected milestones at age 59 ½. At the time, I was struck by the synchronicity. Still am. As this is my final week at age 59, I decided to revisit those milestones before I step into my sixth decade, one that promises even more transformation.

KM Huber Image

I have continued to lose weight beyond the 59 ½ pounds of February; I am down 69 pounds with another fifteen-twenty to lose but no more than that. My eating habits have not changed in the past six months but my taste buds have adjusted to other options, and I enjoy eating again. I found millet-buckwheat bread made with chicory root and without refined starch, absolutely critical for me.  Almond butter sandwiches are now a staple. While my future remains gluten, yeast, sugar, dairy and soy free, my grocery list items are crisp and fresh.

In my last week as a fifty-nine-year-old, I am in better health than I was at 58, sans an arsenal of allopathic medicine. I remain convinced that Eastern medicine– Ayurveda and Chinese–has a better understanding of autoimmune disease. Ted J. Kaptchuk’s The Web That Has No Weaver is an excellent overview of traditional Chinese medicine, and I am searching for a similar Ayurveda text. Until I find it, I am enjoying Deepak Chopra’s Perfect Health, an informative volume regarding Ayurveda traditions.  This Tuesday, I have my first meeting with a practitioner of Eastern medicine.

KM Huber Image

But in these final days of my 59th year, it is my writing that is undergoing the greatest transformation. My numbers alone are major personal milestones.  I no longer publish blog posts twice a week as I did in February but on June 2, I began writing the initial draft of a nonfiction manuscript. Currently, I am producing over 9200 words per week on this manuscript alone. At my 59 ½ milestone, my word count was 9800 words for the entire month of February.

While I do not write for a specific word or page count, numbers gauge a manuscript’s size so I knew the end of the nonfiction manuscript was close: currently, it is 330 pages or just over 91,000 words. But even before I tallied the numbers, synchronicity had come to call; what Deepak Chopra calls “a quantum leap of creativity…a relinquishing of the known for the unknown.” And like milestones, coincidence comes wrapped in the ordinary.

In February, I included my participation in ROW 80 as part of my regular blog posts.  Frequently, I discussed the initial draft of a novel that I wrote seventeen years ago; in some blog posts I’d opt for rewriting the novel and in other posts I’d refer to the novel as a life once lived. Rather than letting go, I was very like the speaker in Linda Pastan’s poem, “Ethics,” unable to decide whether to save the old woman or the painting.

So, I signed up for an online workshop, Conflict and Idea with Bob Mayer, and learned about “kernel idea.” I have not been the same since so I consider it my toehold in the unknown, a piece of a milestone.

Bob says that the kernel idea is what initially inspires the writing of a novel–it is the Alpha and Omega of a book–it starts and completes the creative process but here is the key point: the story that you write may and probably does change but the kernel idea of a book does not, ever.

KM Huber Image

During the course of the workshop, I came to understand that the “kernel idea” for my novel was not the story I had written. The kernel idea had not changed but the story I wrote moved away from the idea within the first 100 pages. Finally, I realized what I was hanging onto for seventeen years—my kernel idea and 100 pages—yet, it took me a while to understand just what that might mean but when I did, it felt like a “quantum leap of creativity.” Still does.

Thus, as I started writing a new nonfiction book—my current manuscript–I discovered the way to tell the story of my original kernel idea. Maybe the years sorted themselves, maybe I was letting go of what no longer serves but with transformation there is also revelation. In letting  go of a seventeen-year-old-story that no longer served, I discovered the kernel idea for a new nonfiction book.

“When faced with great change—in self, in relationship, in our sense of calling–we somehow must take in all that has enclosed, nurtured and incubated us so when the new life is upon us, the old is within us” (Nepo).

Life at Sixty

I had been dreading the evening when I would no longer have May Sarton’s The Education of Harriet Hatfield to read. Yet, as is often true with the really fine writers, Sarton pushed me along, knowing it was time for another book, another story.

I want to tell you about Harriet Hatfield.

The novel opens at the death of Harriet’s partner. It is the late 1980s in an exclusive, upper-class neighborhood in Boston—Chestnut Hill–where Harriet and her partner had lived for thirty years. It is not a novel in which a great deal happens but, of course, a great deal does happen to a sixty-year-old lesbian who has an opportunity to begin life completely anew. With the money she inherits from her partner’s estate, Harriet moves from Chestnut Hill to a working-class neighborhood where she opens a feminist bookstore that also serves as  her residence.

Harriet soon learns that hatred and prejudice run roughshod over any sense of security she may have once had. The anonymous but ominous threats Harriet receives do not weaken her resolve but strengthen her determination to stay in a neighborhood that does not want a “lady” lesbian or her feminist–and therefore must be pornographic–bookstore, Hatfield House.

Harriet Hatfield’s feminism is a belief in equality for all in all things–jobs, housing, existence–and is a constant source of tension throughout the novel. Hatfield House, with its overstuffed chairs and afternoon teas, is “‘the equivalent these days of men’s clubs…places where women can talk to each other, find sustenance, and come to some idea of who they really are.'” Yet, Hatfield House is much more. It is, perhaps, a “bridge” to and for all in Harriet’s neighborhood–including hate and prejudice–but as Harriet says of metaphor, “‘if you run it into the ground… it suddenly doesn’t quite work.'”

I was introduced to The Education of Harriet Hatfield on Cynthia Newberry Martin’s blog . While I am familiar with most of Sarton’s work, I was not aware of this novel but I was aware of a bit of a coincidence, being a sixty-year-old lesbian myself. Like Harriet, I, too, believe that at sixty I have been given a rare opportunity to live a life I have never lived. Unlike Harriet, I am anything but financially secure–her complete opposite financially–but I am rich in ways that continue to surprise me every day, which is so very like Harriet. One of the greatest perks of growing old is finally appreciating all that one is and how little, how very little is necessary to live a life fulfilled.

“‘I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion.
These are your greatest treasures.
Patient with both friends and enemies, you accord with the way things are.'”
–Lao-Tzu (Translation provided in The Book of Awakening, Mark Nepo)

Above all, Harriet Hatfield has patience. She does not believe that all of her neighbors will accept her or her bookstore even eventually–she knows she will not outlive prejudice–the temporary truce in the neighborhood is indirectly provided by her dog, Patapouf: “‘there is a residue of compassion… that suddenly comes into view where an animal is concerned, as though the only pure thing left in this corrupt, hate filled world is the love of animals.'” The neighborhood belief that animals are beyond prejudice provides a brief respite as well as some consideration for what another human being may or may not be, even a lesbian.

This is a novel in which not a lot happens and in which everything happens. It is not a novel about understanding one side or the other much less taking sides. It is a novel about living one’s life fully and completely every day–whatever is presented–even if it is a new life at sixty.

“…Given enough time, most of our enemies cease to be enemies, because waiting allows us to see ourselves in them. Patience devastates us with the truth that, in essence, when we fear another, we fear ourselves; when we distrust another, we distrust ourselves; when we kill another, we kill ourselves”
(The Book of Awakening).

(All quotations from May Sarton’s The Education of Harriet Hatfield are from the 1989 Norton edition.)